Moving In

Oftentimes you’ll see a cool scene but you’re unsure how to frame it. Or you’re afraid the subject may move and ruin the moment. I highly recommend starting wide and narrowing down your vision. Try different perspectives, vertical, horizontal. Start wide and move in. Move around the subject or scene and try different angles and backgrounds. Spend some time, don’t grab a quick snap and then run off, you might miss the key shot.

In this sequence I really liked the guy playing guitar. I grabbed a quick shot from a distance, but the guy in the background is quite distracting.

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As I moved in closer he didn’t notice me or wasn’t concerned and kept playing, so I got in closer and did a full frame shot of him playing.

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Then I tried a horizontal shot since that seemed like the natural composition with him squatting down and the guitar is horizontal, but I wasn’t overly fond of the trash can.

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Then I returned to what I liked in the initial image, using the sign in the image.  It provides an anchor for the guitarist and places him in the scene. Notice that I moved in and out and changed the perspective from horizontal to vertical in order to find the composition that I liked best.

Street Guitar Player

In this second sequence with the fence lizard I was afraid he’d run off. I didn’t want him to see my shadow so I started from a distance away and grabbed a quick shot.

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Then I gradually moved closer. Each time I’d grab a few more shots, never take just one, take a few to make sure you get a sharp one!

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He seemed to be tolerating me well so I got even closer.

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After shooting a bunch more I decided to try changing my angle to him. He was quite cooperative and I got a better angle with the light on his face.

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So if you see something cool, take your time and move in bit by bit, then try various angles to see if one pops out better than the others. You won’t always get lucky, but most of the time your hard work and patience will pay off!

 

Grooming the Scene

Spring is here, time to get shooting!   I love shooting the spring ephemerals. These wildflower gems pack a lot of beauty in a tiny package. However, due to their small size there may be a lot of distractions around them. I like my subject to stand out from the background. This involves choosing a subject that has as clean a background as possible. Despite your best efforts, there are usually distracting elements around your subject. It may be another plant, bright or dark spots, color, pollen, dead leaves, anything that draws the eye of the viewer away from the subject is distracting.

Distracting elements in the image below are sheen on the leaf, the leaf of another plant in the lower left and a dead leaf on the right leaf near the bottom.

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The first problem I addressed was the sheen on the leaf. This was resolved by using a circular polarizer. This removes sheen and lets the color of the subject come through. This is why everything looks better through polarized sun glasses.

The next thing I did was recompose slightly to the right and tuck the offending leaf out of the way. The rule here is ‘Tuck don’t Pluck’. This image was taken on public land, so don’t go messing up the environment and ripping stuff up. I often times gently tuck a leaf or blade of grass out of the way. Finally I removed the dead leaf on the right leaf near the base. I have no qualms rearranging a few dead leaves.

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This image is better but there is another leaf encroaching in the lower right corner. The color of the leaf draws your eye away from the main subject.

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Here, I’ve tucked the lower right leaf out of the way. It’s looking much better, but there is a tall green grass stem sticking up on the right side intersecting the tip of the right leaf and creating a competing line with the main subject. I tucked this out of the way and WaLa!

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The final uncluttered image with no major distracting elements.

Good nature photography takes time and patience. Compose and take a shot. Then review it! Ask yourself what worked and what needs improvement. Do you have distracting elements? If so can you groom them out of the scene without tearing anything up?

Grooming your scene helps the subject to stand out. Never pluck or damage surrounding plants.

Use a tripod! As you see this took several shots to get the final one. Having the camera on a tripod eliminates the need to find the perfect spot again and helps you notice some of the distractions prior to pressing the shutter button.

This series is of a Showy Orchis that I photographed at Ivy Creek Natural Area. Other local Charlottesville areas good for photographing wildflowers are Secluded Farm at Monticello trails and Preddy Creek Natural Area. Happy Shooting!

Larger than life

Spring Peeper
Spring Peeper – 100mm Macro lens

I like to photograph almost anything in nature. This past weekend I spend some time looking for salamanders and frogs. These guys are small and low to the ground, so how do you capture them?

First off you need to get low. Down on their level. This means the proper clothing and knee protection. I always wear my rain pants so I can wallow around in the mud and wet leaves. Knee pads or a garden pad are great ideas to protect your knees – we’re not getting any younger. A couple of Ibuprofen may also be in your arsenal to help with those aches and pains of getting low!

A macro lens, extension tube or close-up filters help you focus close and make your subject bigger if you’re using a DSLR or mirror-less system. If you’re using a point and shoot camera, then switch to macro mode. This is marked with a flower usually. This mode will allow you to focus closer. Try not to use the zoom when in the this mode, unless you can’t get close enough to the subject.

A macro lens is the best as it will render your subject life size on the sensor at it’s closest focusing distance. They have wonderful quality and a wide range of f stops, often opening up to 2.8. They also make great portrait lenses so you have multiple uses for them. They usually come in 50mm, 60mm, 100mm, 180mm, and 200mm focal lengths depending on your manufacturer. I prefer the 100mm for it’s size, distance to subject and  focal length. However, this may not be in everyone’s budget.

An extension tube is a great alternative that I used for years with my 70-200mm lens until I could afford the 100mm macro. This is a hollow tube that goes between your camera and the lens. It changes the focal length of the lens so it will now focus closer and it doesn’t impact the quality of the lens you are using unlike the close-up filters.  I also used it to great effect on my 400mm lens by reducing the 11.5 foot minimum distance. Now I was able to focus on a subject out in the water that I couldn’t get real close to but was closer than 11.5′ and still make him good sized in the image.

Bull Frog - 400mm lens with  25mm extension tube
Bull Frog – 400mm lens with 25mm extension tube

The cheapest method, but also lowest quality, are close up filters. These are essentially magnifier filters that enlarge the subject. They are an economical way to get started and see if you like this type of photography.

Armed with your set up, get low and get close. This brings your subject to life! You don’t want to have to crop 75-90% of your image to see your subject.

Marbled Salamander
Marbled Salamander – 100mm macro lens

 

Techniques for Photographing Landscape – Layers

You’re out enjoying the vast beauty of nature all around you. It’s spectacular, you set up your camera and snap a few shots. You look down at the view screen and you’re… disappointed. That’s not what it looks and feels like, what happened? The experience of a place live is much different than the experience a viewer of your image will have. They don’t have the benefit of sounds, smells, the feel of sun, wind, cold, nor do they have the same emotions you have while immersed in all of this.  All they have is a 2 dimensional representation of what you saw and experienced. So it’s up to you to bring that landscape to life. To entice others that they wish they were there. That they can almost feel those other sensations.

One technique for landscape photography is layering. Imagine building a sandwich, you have a bread layer, a condiment layer, a layer of veggies and/or meat and then another layer of bread. Layering a landscape works much the same way, except you usually have a foreground layer, middle layer(s) and a background layer – usually sky. This technique keeps the image dynamic and interesting.

For this to work, all of the layers must have something of interest, such as color, texture or a strong subject element such as a barn, tree, mountain and so forth. If you include the sky it must be interesting. Look for color and/or dynamic clouds. A plain blue sky is often just as boring as a washed out sky. But it can be used as a layer in your image, just don’t include too much of it.

Now that you have some layers it’s time to proportion them. Is the foreground or background stronger? Are they equal in strength? You might emphasize a foreground and minimize the background or you might have equal amounts of each layer. See below for some variations. Mentally divide the layers into proportions.

The first image has a foreground layer of grasses with a strong element immersed in them. Then there are two thin layers of rolling fields and a small strip of blue sky. The sky is minimized as it is not that interesting. The truck element is the strongest part of the image and is emphasized proportionally.

Red Truck

This image has a foreground layer of grasses with a strong element, the barn immersed. Then there’s another layer of rolling hills and finally a sky. This image is more 50:50 with the sky as there are dynamic clouds and color.

Palouse Barns

Here the sunset lit house is minimized against a very menacing sky. There are only 2 layers, the foreground field with house and the sky. The effect and feel is quite different from the previous 2 images.

Palouse Farmhouse

The foreground of this image has color, texture and a leading line of tire tracks that leads the viewer into the vast landscape. The middle layer is a fallow field and the remainder 50% of the image is filled with an interesting sky of blue and clouds.

Palouse field

Here the image has a diagonal foreground triangle with the sign. A diagonal road line divides the foreground from the middle ground of fields and then another dynamic sky of color and texture.

Dead End Sign

 

Next time you’re out shooting landscapes, look for layers to include in the image. Then decide what is more interesting or powerful. If you’re uncertain, take several images emphasizing the foreground and then the background. One will more than likely stand out from the others. Good Luck and Happy Shooting!

All images above are from the Palouse region in Eastern Washington state. It’s a beautiful area for landscape photography. My friend Rod Barbee and I teach a workshop out there every summer. For more information and see more images from this area visit my website.

Directional Light for portraits

Light is paramount to your images. Understanding light will improve your craft. Today we’ll talk a little about the direction of the light. Straight on frontal light often results in an evenly lit boring subject. You are taking a 3 dimensional subject and rendering it 2 dimensional in a picture. The last thing you want to do is make the subject more 2 dimensional by erasing any shadows that give depth and modeling to the subject.

On camera flash is one source of frontal light. This straight on light washes the subject out and erases any depth or dimension to the subject. Also using the old technique of placing the sun behind you and having your subjects stare into the sun. Not only is there no depth to the subject, but they are cranky and squinting.

Frontal flash
Frontal flash

So work on finding ways to change the direction of the light. When outdoors find an overhang and face the subject so the light comes in at an angle, usually around 30-60 degrees to give depth to the face.

Under bridge to create side light
Under bridge to create side light

Get a flash for your camera with a rotating head. This way you can bounce the light off of a wall or ceiling. Use window light and adjust the subject so it is lighting the side of their face.

Side window light
Side window light
Side window light only
Side window light only

Observe how the light strikes your subject. Look at portraits made by professionals and see how the light is striking the subject. All of this will teach you to see better and subsequently make better images.

Spring Abstracts

Viewing the world abstractly offers a wealth of creative freedom. Blurring out recognizable subjects or using water reflections are 2 techniques to create abstract images. The first image blurs tulips by using a shutter speed of 1/15 of a second on a windy day. The wind moves the flowers around to create an impressionistic effect.

The second image uses the same shutter speed but now I moved the camera up and down while the shutter is open to create a blur effect.

The next set of images were taken on a pond right after sunrise. The intense warm light creates lovely color on the trees while the gently rippling water distorts the images for a creative effect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final image of a lone feather is all that remains in the wake of an epic battle of Mallard males. The tranquility of this image greatly contrasts with how it came to be.

Get creative and try these techniques!

 

People add Scale

Many natural wonders are so vast they are hard to express. I personally find the Grand Canyon overwhelming beyond belief! But other natural structures are vast as well. If you just photograph a waterfall or rock formation it may be technically great, compositionally pleasing, but the grand feel you felt from it is lost. What to do?

Add a sense of scale. Use a person in the image to scale the subject. Both of these images give a sense of the scale of the feature. The person on the bridge behind the rainbow is tiny! (My friend and fellow photographer Rod Barbee, check out  his site: www.barbeephoto.com). The person gives a sense of scale to the vast old growth forest and the waterfall in front of him.

The second image to a lesser degree also conveys a sense of scale. I posed my student Sam in this narrow area to show the size of where we were walking. I like the fact you can’t see the top or bottom. It leaves the scale to the imagination.

So next time you are overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of nature, add some scale!

 

Happy New Year!

So it’s cold and the landscape is barren. Most popular photography magazines say winter is a wonderful time to shoot and show you spectacular images of snowy landscapes and colossal mountains(well at least they look that way to east coasters). So unless you live out west and up north you are out of luck for consistent amazing snowy landscapes. We get a few here and there but they are few and far between. So what is there to do? While our landscapes are not the most inspiring this time of year, look to the details. Today we’ll look at ice formations.

While the temperatures may fluctuate wildly down here, up in Shenandoah National Park and George Washington National Forest it stays relatively cold and all of those weeping rocks you see driving along during the spring and summer turn into amazing ice formations.

I found these images a few miles down the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ice creates interesting unique formations. Find some icicles or look for interesting patterns in a mass of ice. Also notice what the light is doing. The image on the right was taken at sunset and gives an interesting warm glow to an otherwise cold subject. The color of the light greatly influences the feel of an image.

I love close up patterns. Take your time and experiment with different views and focal lengths. Once you find a good shot don’t just click on auto and move on, use the camera and what you’ve learned. Set up your tripod and set the camera to manual. Adjust the depth of field to maximize how much of the ice is in focus and clear. Using a tripod will give you a sharp image since the shutter speed will not matter. All too often we are in a hurry. Why? Winter is a beautiful peaceful time of year. Make sure you are comfortable and warm. Slow down and create a few great images instead of running  from shot to shot like some caffeine crazed hyper psycho. SLOW DOWN and ENJOY the experience. Life is too short to run from thing to thing never remembering what you saw.

So bundle up and take a drive up the parkway/skyline drive, it’s incredibly uncrowded this time of year.Have fun, get up close and take your time! If you want to learn about how to get more out of your camera in the manual modes I have a ton of classes open for registration this spring in Charlottesville and Richmond. PVCC is registering and filling up fast, plus I offer one day workshops and private lessons. So click on Classes/Workshops above and sign up for some fun classes!