I’ve been a big fan of nearly dark photography for a long time. A couple of days ago Brian and I headed out to enjoy our garden after our usual late dinner. We didn’t get far, as the view from our driveway compelled me to run to the studio and grab my camera.
These ‘Russell Hybrids’ lupines, paired with ‘Fireglow’ euphorbia, are right in front of the house. The red-orange euphorbia came with the house when we moved in, but Natalie started the lupines from seed and planted them out a few years ago. They self-seed as well as being perennials, so we continue to enjoy the combo each spring. Continue reading →
Last Saturday evening Brian and I were hanging out in our living room after dinner when we noticed that the sky was getting dramatic outside our window. The photo above is a fairly conventional sunset view, pretty representative of what we saw with our naked eyes. But that’s not the first photo I made in the course of the few minutes of celestial drama. Continue reading →
As photographers, the lenses we choose can dramatically change the subject’s appearance in the finished photograph. I find that much of the time I fall back on my trusty 24-105mm zoom lens, which covers most of the subjects I photograph very well. But when I visited the patch of ‘Flore Pleno’ Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Flore Pleno’) in our woodland-edge garden yesterday evening I left “old trusty” in my bag and picked three different lenses as I explored this spring ephemeral. Continue reading →
We’re enjoying balmy mid-50s sunny afternoons this week as we turn the corner from winter to spring. It’s still too early for many of our native (or non-native) plants to be blooming, yet we can be fairly sure that a profusion of blossoms isn’t too far away. Continue reading →
We had guests over for dinner last Saturday evening and in preparation Brian went out to the garden and trimmed our big purple-leaf plum, along with a few sprigs of cornelian cherry, to make an arrangement for our dining room table. He chose an antique red vase that’s been in our family for decades. The plum blossoms were just starting to open on Saturday, but a couple of days later they’d opened fully.
The vase continues to sit where we can enjoy the flowers and the sweet fragrance of the blossoms. We’ll come close and stick our noses right up to the flowers and inhale deeply. It’s a pleasantly sweet aroma, but not overpowering.
Last night when Brian and went to the kitchen for an evening snack we looked out the window to the garden and were surprised to see moonlight casting shadows. It was crisp and cold (mid 30s F), which is when we tend to get clear skies in the winter. I set up my tripod, mounted my camera, grabbed my puffy coat and a warm hat, and headed outside. The view above is from our patio, very much like what we saw from the kitchen window.
I love the convenience of my iPhone camera for spontaneous photos wherever I may be. If you’re among the 77% of Americans with a smartphone you probably make a lot of pictures with yours, too. Smartphone cameras have gotten significantly better over time, but they’re still not ideal for night-time photography. But you’ve got a camera in your pocket and you’ll shoot at night, especially the holiday lights on display this month.
Here are a few tips to help you make better photos of your favorite light display.
Your camera’s auto exposure system may not be able to figure out how to properly expose bright lights in a dark environment. You might get lights that are washed out or lacking much color or detail. The solution? Under-expose. With the iPhone’s Camera app, touch the screen to focus and notice the little yellow sun that appears. Now take your finger and drag up (to make the picture brighter) or drag down (to make the picture darker). What you see is what you get, so adjust until you have a nice balance of the lights and the environment. You’re usually going to want to darken the photo to hold detail in the lights.
My favorite time to photograph holiday lights is at dusk, 20-30 minutes after sunset. At the winter solstice in Bellingham, sunset is 4:15 pm so shoot at 4:35 to 4:45 to hold a little deep blue color in the sky.
Hold it Steady
Longer exposures are the norm when shooting at night, so you need to take extra steps to hold your camera steady. I like to find something solid to brace my camera on before I gently touch the shutter button. I’ve used walls, door frames, light posts, tree trunks, fences, the top of a trash can, a traffic control bollard, or the ground at various times for night photos with my phone camera. You can usually find something to brace your camera on.
Embrace Movement and Blur
Although I generally like my photos crisp and sharp, sometimes it’s fun to play around with moving my camera during the exposure. On my iPhone I use an app called Slow Shutter Cam ($1.99 in the App Store) for long exposures. Experiment with different shutter speeds and rates of movement. For the holiday lights on the Fairhaven Village Green I settled on a 2-second exposure to record just enough movement for an interesting effect. I like to start moving the camera and then press the shutter button for a smoother effect. Try both panning (sideways movement) or rotating your camera for different effects.
While there are lots of apps that let you add filters and effects at the moment you take a photo, I’m a firm believer in capturing the best possible exposure and then adding any enhancements later. I edit almost every smartphone photo I make before sharing it with anyone. My favorite editor is Snapseed, available free for both iPhone and Android. There are other apps with some of the same features, but I keep coming back to Snapseed. It’s powerful, flexible, and pretty easy to use. If you want to learn how to use it (and are afraid to play on your own) sign up for my iPhone photo class at Whatcom Community College (next offered February 27, March 6 & 13). You’ll be able to crop, adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, highlight and shadow detail. You can even adjust different parts of the picture selectively and edit out bits that don’t belong.
Print Your Favorites
Although it’s tempting to just keep your photos on your phone or share them on social media, prints are still a great way to enjoy and preserve your photos. You can print to your home printer or get prints made at Quicksilver here in Bellingham or at Costco. Both Quicksilver and Costco have apps that let you upload directly from your phone, order prints, and then pick them up a day or so later.
I made all the photos accompanying this story with my iPhone in the course of about half an hour walking around Fairhaven. I had fun playing and experimenting with my camera and then edited them when I was back home and curled up on my comfy sofa with a favorite beverage at hand. The point is to engage your playful spirit and have fun. Delete the experiments that don’t work, polish the good ones in your favorite editor, and then share as you see fit.
As photographers we can easily fall into a rut of always seeing and photographing our world just one way. We find something that works and repeat. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, and done well it can be an important aspect of your style. But if you’re always photographing from eye level with a 50mm lens you’re missing out on alternative ways to tell visual stories.
The spring 2017 issue of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) magazine, The Designer, features examples of my photography that show alternate views of the same garden. The story was written by Katie Elzer-Peters, a garden writer colleague I’ve known for several years. Continue reading →
Before you press your shutter release, take a good look at what’s in your frame. Pause a moment and take care of any little details you see that might detract from your photo.
In this pair of photos of the daylilies growing by our back door, in the first frame you see all the spent blossoms. That might be OK if the story you’re trying to tell is that daylily blossoms don’t last long and they linger on the stems until they dry up and fall off. But if what you’re after is a nice photo of daylilies blooming, then I think the photo looks a lot better with the spent blossoms removed.
It’s always easier to clean up details like this before capturing the image. Imagine how much time it would have taken in an image editing program like Photoshop to remove the spent blossoms and replace them with plausible background material.
I apply the same principle when photographing people. Let’s get that cat hair off your jacket before I trip the shutter.