Thursday, March 6, 2014
Leaves and flowers make wonderful photographic subjects, and many of us love to shoot them. Often we see and photograph what appears before us, and we do our best to create lovely images of some of Mother Nature’s finest creations.
A fun change of pace is to look for the hidden, the unexpected, the unique. This shot is of the edge of a green leaf (yes, a GREEN leaf), with other green leaves forming the background.
It is exciting to go stalking possible subjects (plants, not people!) at botanical gardens. Usually there are many species of plants that provide a wide variety of opportunities for unusual subjects or unusual views.
If you have a macro lens, it is perfect for this type of shooting. But even if you don’t, you can still find many subjects that will work well for up close and personal views.
Either wide angle or telephoto lenses will work, and will result in very different images. With a wide angle lens, get as close to the subject as your lens will allow you to focus. Pay very careful attention to the background since the wide lens will encompass much of that. With a telephoto lens, also get as close as your lens will allow to focus. The background will be rendered blurrier than with a wide angle lens, but even so it is important to pay careful attention to the background elements and make sure they are not distracting.
Take your time, look at everything from the top, side, bottom, front and back. Look at the light direction - backlight can be especially appealing, but sidelight and front light can also work well.
Look for lines or shapes. Look for pleasing color combinations. Be especially careful with the backgrounds, since a distracting background can ruin an otherwise lovely image. The best way to diminish background issues is to use shallow depth of field. I often shoot flowers and leaves with the lens set at a very large aperture like f/2.8 or f/4. That assures that what I have focused on is sharp, like the edge of this leaf, and allows everything else to go soft.
Try many different views, different angles, and different f/stops. Try hand-holding instead of using a tripod. Doing so will enable you to more easily and quickly compose your shots. Keep in mind, though, that if you use Live View for checking focus (which I rarely do), your camera will have to be on a tripod.
Go out for the day with no preconceived ideas of what you want to shoot. Be open to whatever moves you, and take your time to enjoy your surroundings. By doing so, you will most likely return home with lovely and unexpected images that expand your creativity and provide good feelings of a day well spent.
Shutter Speed 1/400 sec. Aperture f/2.8. ISO 200. Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8. Camera: Canon 40D. Handheld.
TODAY’S QUOTE: “If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail.” --Heraclitus
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Silhouettes can create an eye-catching, graphic photograph. Typically it involves a very dark main subject against a brightly lit background. One example would be someone standing just inside the open doorway of a darkened room with a bright sky outside behind him.
While capturing a silhouette in the situation shown above is a bit unusual, it was easy to create. It took the right lighting conditions and the right clothing to make it happen.
I was photographing expansive desert southwest scenery when I stopped for a moment to look around and just enjoy and appreciate the red rock surrounding me. That’s when I noticed a photographer on a rocky outcropping. His body position was perfect with his legs, tripod and camera clearly outlined against the cloudy blue sky. It was early morning and the sun had not risen enough to light the area where he was standing, but the sky was already fairly light behind him.
The net effect was that he was mostly in shadow against the much lighter sky. His dark clothing enhanced the silhouette effect. When I snapped the shutter I did not know how dark he would actually appear in the image. There was no time to think about exposure. I just shot and hoped for the best. Since the light sky behind him occupies the vast majority of the image, the camera exposed for that, resulting in him and the rocks being rendered quite dark.
After downloading the image and optimizing it in Lightroom, I reduced the Shadows slightly to enhance the silhouette effect.
This was one of those serendipitous moments that do not happen often. He was in this position for only a few moments. I was able to fire off four quick shots before he lifted his tripod and moved on. It was simply good fortune that I just happened to look away from what I had come there to photograph and noticed him and this shot.
This was an important lesson. Always take a short break from whatever you are photographing to survey everything that is around you. You never know when something completely unexpected and wonderful will present itself.
Shutter Speed 1/400 sec. Aperture f/14. ISO 400. Lens: Canon 17-40mm, set at 40mm. Camera: Canon 40D. Handheld.
TODAY’S QUOTE: “Serendipity always rewards the prepared.” --Katori Hall
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Photographing moving water is fun and unpredictable. Fast-moving streams with a few rocks here and there are a favorite of mine. The rocks are the sharp anchor points, and the moving water and reflected colors create interesting designs.
Waterfalls are also great subjects for moving water shots, but often we have to go farther afield to find them. Most of us have more opportunities to find photogenic streams closer to home.
Here are my Dirty Dozen tips for getting successful moving water shots:
1. Use a sturdy tripod. It is crucial to use a tripod that is rock steady, no pun intended. A flimsy tripod may move slightly or might be shaken by a strong wind.
2. Find a relatively flat and solid place to stand. The area around streams and waterfalls can often be wet and slick, especially if there are wet leaves underfoot. You don’t want your gear or yourself to end up in the drink.
3. Look for areas with both whitewater and smooth water with reflections. The combination of the two adds visual interest to images.
4. Whenever possible, shoot either early or late in the day. At those times it is more likely that there will be no direct sunlight on the surface of the water. It is better to shoot moving water when the light is soft and even, and the area you are shooting is in the shade. Areas of sunlight can cause the whitewater to be very bright and easily overexposed with no detail. Soft light assures you that the whites will still be white, but with detail as in the shot above.
5. While you want the water to be in the shade, the best reflections occur when the shoreline is sunlit. The sunlit areas are not in your frame, but they provide colorful reflections in the surface of the water. Autumn trees will reflect golden and warm, spring leaves will reflect green and bright. And any blue sky above will reflect as well. This shot was taken in the early morning in autumn when the sun was lighting the trees on the far bank, but the surface of the stream was still in shadow.
6. Set your camera to Aperture Priority (Av on Canon, A on Nikon).
7. Set your ISO to 100.
8. Set your aperture as small as it will go on your lens (f/22 or f/32 or smaller).
9. Take the first shots at whatever shutter speed your camera has set itself to, often half a second or slower. For fast moving water this might be slow enough to create the silky look that moving water can provide. For slow moving water, a slower shutter speed might be required. If you cannot slow the shutter speed down enough, place either a polarizing filter over the lens, or use a solid neutral density filter if you have one. The polarizer will cut exposure by about 2 stops, enabling you to get slower shutter speeds. Solid neutral density filters come in different strengths - mine is a fixed 10-stop filter, meaning that it cuts exposure a full 10 stops. Depending on conditions, this can allow exposures of 30 seconds or longer.
Try different shutter speeds if possible. Start at half a second, then one second, and so on as far as your camera will allow you to go and still provide good exposures. There is no “magic” shutter speed that will always be best for moving water.
10. Camera height and angle can change the location and appearance of the reflections. Check out different angles to determine which ones give you the best color and reflections.
11. Have a rain cover or plastic bag handy if there is a lot of water spray. Moving water can kick up a good deal of spray and you want to keep your camera and lens high and dry.
12. Shoot many different angles and different shutter speeds whenever possible. Once you have found a spot you like, try different views to see which ones you like best.
So get out there, practice, and play. You will find the possibilities exhilirating.
Shutter Speed ½ second. Aperture f/20. ISO 100. Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 78mm. Camera: Canon 40D. Gitzo tripod with ballhead.
TODAY’S QUOTE: “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” --Loren Eisley
Monday, March 3, 2014
Rules. Expectations. We all have to follow them in most aspects of our lives, including in our photography. BUT there are times when we have to follow our own path, our own vision. While at times that might fly in the face of what is expected or presumed, it can result in unusual or lovely or compelling images.
This image is a study in shape and color. It is not a traditional representation of a calla lily, but rather an almost abstract rendition. The fact that most of the flower is out of focus may bother some viewers since what is in focus occupies a very small portion of the picture.
But what IS in focus was chosen deliberately. By focusing only on the upper edges of the flower, the viewer can grab onto something that is sharp, and then slowly move around the rest of the image.
The complimentary colors enhance the ability to move through the image as well. The composition flows (from left to right) from green to white to purple to darker areas on the right side and bottom. The green and purple colors balance each other, the white is a bit of eye relief from the strong colors, and the dark areas act as blockers preventing the eye from leaving the image. The design is such that the eye can circle around the shapes and colors, and be kept within the image by the dark tones on the right side.
Also notice how the flower is placed in the frame. It is on a diagonal running from lower left to upper right. Had it been placed on a straight horizontal line, the flow would have been entirely different and not as interesting.
I tried several different views of this flower with different areas in focus and with greater depth of field. Ultimately I liked this one the best since it added a sense of depth, movement, and maybe even a touch of mystery.
In order to excel in most endeavors, it is necessary to move beyond the normal, the usual, the expected. Don’t be held back by what you have seen others do. Use that as a starting point and then follow your own vision. Experiment. Not all your attempts will work, but even the unsuccessful ones will help you hone your vision and your style.
Shutter Speed 1/400 sec. Aperture f/2.8. ISO 160. Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8. Camera: Canon 40D. Handheld.
TODAY’S QUOTE: “True originality consists not in a new manner but in a new vision.” --Edith Wharton
Friday, February 28, 2014
On a recent trip to Chincoteague, Virginia I was in search of its famous wild horses, and birds as well. This beautiful egret was preening on the far side of a canal, with thick grasses and trees nearly blocking my view of him. I almost passed it by in hopes of finding an easier shot, but then decided to experiment.
I thought perhaps I could find a small area where I could get a more or less unobstructed view. While there was no place where he was completely in the clear, I did find a place where the branches and grasses parted a little, providing this view. It was a bit like shooting through a porthole, with the tree trunks creating a natural vignette along the left and right sides of the image. Other out of focus branches are visible to the right of the egret.
I was lucky to find a spot where both the bird and its reflection were in the small open space available.The foreground branches create a feeling of seeing into the bird's private protected domain.
Shallow depth of field of f/6.3, and the use of a long telephoto lens, caused the trees and branches close to me to be rendered very soft and out of focus. Had they been sharper, this shot would not have worked, since the distracting foreground would have competed for attention with the bird.
By focusing on the bird, I was assured that the nature of lens optics would not allow the trees to appear sharp. Often shallow depth of field is used to deal with distracting backgrounds, but in this case it helped to minimize a distracting foreground.
Previous blogs (posted on February 5 and 6) explain depth of field in much more detail. They are a good primer to help you understand the concept and how to use it to your best advantage.
When you are out shooting, use every option that is available to you. Lens choice, camera position, and depth of field are three primary creative tools that can help you design interesting images.
More photographs from Chincoteague will be posted in future blogs. Join me for the Chincoteague Challenge workshop to be held November 19 - 21. We will be there at a good time for the fall bird migration. This is a lovely wild area with many various shooting opportunities. Details here http://awakethelight.com/chincoteague-2014/
Shutter Speed 1/5000 sec. Aperture f/6.3. ISO 800. Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with 1.4x extender for effective focal length of 560mm. Camera: Canon 5D Mark III. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.
TODAY’S QUOTE: “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” --Ralph Waldo Emerson
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Dramatic skies make for dramatic photographs. And what gives the sky drama is clouds. They can be light and puffy, or dark and threatening as in this image.
Even dark clouds can have very bright areas that can be difficult to expose properly. This scene includes dark clouds, a bright area of clouds, and sunlit and shadowed foreground. The contrast range was extreme. As many of you already know, I am not a big fan of HDR, and I prefer to use Lightroom to control extreme highlights and shadows. Of course the basic exposure has to be fairly accurate, which keeps the dark tones and light tones within controllable limits.
In difficult lighting situations, always ALWAYS (and did I say always??!) check the histogram after every few shots, especially in changing conditions. It is virtually impossible to guarantee accurate exposures without relying on the histogram to provide invaluable information.
If the histogram “graph” has information jammed up against the right edge of the histogram box, that is an indication of overexposure. If it is against the left edge, it indicates underexposure. Overexposure is also shown by the “blinkies,” those areas that flash black on overexposed white areas in the image. If the blinkies show only in small areas, it is usually OK to leave the exposure as-is. If, however they appear in large areas like bright clouds, white birds, or other significant areas of the image, then it is wise to use exposure compensation to reduce exposure by 1 to 2 stops. Your camera's Owners Manual explains how to employ exposure compensation.
After you have set the new exposure, take a shot and again look at the histogram. If the blinkies are gone and the dark areas are not too underexposed, your exposure should be fine. If issues still exist, refine the exposure compensation settings, take another shot and again check the histogram. Do this until you have hit on the best compromise. Then do the final refinements in post-production with Lightroom, or Camera RAW in Photoshop, or other image optimization software you have access to.
Shutter Speed 1/320 sec. Aperture f/20. ISO 400. Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L, set to 26mm. Camera: Canon 40D. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.
TODAY’S QUOTE: “Heavy hearts, like heavy clouds, are best relieved by the letting of a little water.” --Christopher Morley
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Today's blog is just for fun. When I was revisiting some images in Lightroom I came across this one and was about to delete it when I saw the face. Can you see it? It is the shriveled visage encased within the outer petals, the bud of the flower. To me it looks either like a crying baby, face all contorted, or an old man who has just eaten a terribly sour lemon!
Recent studies indicate that our brains are hard-wired to recognize faces almost above all else. Perhaps that is why we sometimes see faces where they do not exist, as in in this flower. The man in the moon and facial forms in natural rock formations also come to mind.
I do not look for faces in subjects that I photograph, but at times, like this flower, they seem to reveal themselves upon a second or third viewing.
A fun winter's day project could be to review your old images and look for faces. It can be fun, and who knows, you might find some interesting images.
The other element to notice in this image is the lighting. See how the out-of-focus sunlit leaves on the right add a nice circular counterpoint to the round bud. This shot was framed deliberately with the smaller bud on the left and the light green areas on the right. Sometimes a small change in your position can completely change the background. Be as observant as possible when out shooting in order to use these sorts of elements to your best advantage.
Shutter Speed 1/60 sec. Aperture f/2.8. ISO 100. Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8L IS. Camera: Canon 5D Mark III. Handheld
TODAY'S QUOTE: "I think your whole life shows in your face, and you should be proud of that." --Lauren Bacall
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
This handsome guy was enjoying a swim in a small man-made pond, and he was fun to photograph. He swam back and forth under a small spray of water, and the water beaded up, well, like water on a duck’s back. Ducks' oily and tightly knit feathers do a good job of preventing the water from penetrating beneath the surface.
When photographing wildlife it is best to use a tripod with a true ballhead. There are many types of tripod heads available, and some are better than others.
The most basic entry-level head is a pan-tilt head, operated with two separate handles. One enables vertical movement, and the other is used for panning or horizontal movement. While these heads are functional, they limit your control and the camera’s ease of movement.
A better choice for most people is a ballhead. A true ballhead can be loosened with just one knob which allows for faster and more accurate movement and positioning. An offshoot of ballheads are pistol grip heads which can be loosened by squeezing one handle, and then they instantly tighten when you release the handle. While these have a few advantages for photographing some subjects, they are not the best choice for nature and wildlife shooting because you have less control over exact positioning of the camera.
There are many true ballheads available, and many are excellent quality that will last many years. My personal favorites are the heads made by Really Right Stuff. They are well-tooled with smooth movements and are easy to tighten exactly where you want it.
When photographing birds and other types of wildlife, an additional tool is very helpful. It is a partial gimbal head which attaches to the ballhead. A gimbal head is designed to be able to perfectly balance the camera on the tripod WITH ALL HEAD CONTROLS LOOSENED. If you have never seen these in action, you owe it to yourself to get on the Wimberley website and watch some of their tutorials. http://www.tripodhead.com/
My personal favorite is the Wimberley Sidekick, which is a partial gimbal head that attaches to the ballhead. It weighs a little over a pound and is small enough to pack easily. It is an indispensable tool for easy panning or following wildlife on the move.
Of course it helps to have a good sturdy tripod as well in order to assure yourself of getting the best pictures possible.
Shutter Speed 1/200 sec. Aperture f/5.6. ISO 400. Lens: Canon 400mm f/5.6L. Camera: Canon 5D Mark III. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.
TODAY’S QUOTE: “Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all. -–Thomas Carlyle
Monday, February 24, 2014
Sometimes photographing multiple subjects can be more interesting than just one. This trio of orchids was nicely grouped together and stands out against the dark background. These are cultivated orchids photographed in a botanical gardens.
While tripods may be allowed in some places, many public gardens do not allow them, or restrict the times or the areas where they can be used. Also, many times it is not possible to get the tripod positioned where you want in order to get the shot.
For all those reasons and more, it is important to become comfortable hand-holding your camera. There are some simple tricks to hand-holding that will increase your chances of getting sharp shots almost every time.
1. Use a fast shutter speed, at least 1/125 sec. Depending on the lens you are using, the basic rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed of approximately the same number as the focal length of your lens. If you are using a 100mm lens, a shutter speed of about 1/125 sec. or faster will minimize the chances of camera shake during the exposure. With a 300mm lens, use a shutter speed of about 1/320 sec. of faster, and so on. If you cannot get a fast enough shutter speed, increase the ISO as needed.
2. Hold your camera with your left hand supporting the camera and lens. Avoid the temptation to place your left hand on top of the lens since this does not provide support.
3. Turn your body into a tripod of sorts. Stand comfortably with your feet about shoulder width apart. Once you have focused and framed the shot, make sure the camera remains pressed lightly against your head, tuck in your elbows so that they are against your sides, take a breath and either hold it or slowly exhale, and press the shutter.
These simple steps will help you get sharp shots almost every time. The added benefit to not using a tripod is an amazing sense of freedom. You will be traveling light, and easily get into positions that you would be unable to with a tripod.
1/640 sec. Aperture f/5. ISO 400. Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8L IS. Camera: Canon 5D Mark III. Handheld
TODAY’S QUOTE: “Freedom is the oxygen of the soul.” --Moshe Dayan
Friday, February 21, 2014
Mother Nature can play the role of a Drama Queen very well. Storms, both approaching and clearing, can create fantastic conditions. This was an approaching storm over Lake Powell in Arizona. We were standing on a high promontory and the wind nearly blew our tripods over at one point.
As the clouds blew across the brilliant blue sky, the sun’s rays put on a spectacular show. These conditions often provide extreme contrast that makes proper exposure difficult. The white in the clouds was extremely bright, and the shadowed ground was getting quite dark.
I chose an exposure that held some detail in the dark areas, and kept the blown out whites to a minimum. I knew that Lightroom would be able to return detail in both areas.
When shooting in these conditions, it is important to keep a wary eye out for lightning. In the desert southwest conditions can change very quickly, and lightning even miles away can travel rapidly in your direction. No shot is worth putting yourself in danger.
We were fortunate that our cars were close by and as the wind escalated and the sky became more threatening we retreated to the cars and took the last few shots from an open window.
Notice the composition. The cloud at the top right is not cropped at the top, and the one on the left edge is also fully visible. Small details like that can improve the overall composition and add to a feeling of completeness to the image.
The dark ground along the bottom acts as a base, supporting the entire weight of the image.
Shutter Speed 1/250 sec. Aperture f/22. ISO 400. Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L, set to 17mm. Camera: Canon 40D. Gitzo tripod with ballhead.
TODAY’S QUOTE: “Everything can have drama if it’s done right. Even a pancake.” --Julia Child