One of the challenges in two-dimensional art, including photography, is creating the illusion of depth on a flat piece of paper or computer screen. Layering the elements in your composition is one way to do it.
Layering is a variation on having a foreground, middle ground, and background in your image. You can place your main subject in any of those positions, although layering is most effective when your subject is in the middle layer. The technique works for many subjects, whether you’re photographing your family, your car, or a favorite landscape. Continue reading →
One of the strengths of compact cameras, and even cell phone cameras, is their ability to shoot wide-angle close-ups. These little cameras focus closest at their widest zoom setting. That seems counter-intuitive but it’s the way they work. So take advantage of this by going close to your subject, but leaving some space around it to show a hint of the environment, too. It’s a great technique for wildflowers, garden flowers, and other nature-type subjects, but not so good for people because the exaggerated effect that can make your sweetie’s face look fat and her nose like Pinocchio. Continue reading →
One of the most powerful creative tools photographers have at their disposal is choosing which parts of a photo should be sharp and which parts should be soft. This sharp/soft contrast is a very good way to set a subject apart from the background. We call this depth of field because we’re controlling apparent sharpness from close to the lens to the far distance.
In the pair of landscape photos above, one was made at the relatively wide aperture of f/5 (left side of the slider)and the other stopped down to f/16 (right side). Notice the difference in sharpness in the foreground flowers. My focus point was on distant Mount Baker in both versions. These images were made with my lens at 70mm, a short telephoto. Continue reading →
Last week I was photographing Southern Oregon forests under a brilliant clear blue sky. The fresh green foliage sparkled, reflecting the bright sunshine. These are the conditions that call for a polarizing filter. It’s one of the few filters I use with my digital camera, and there’s no good way to simulate its effect in post-processing software like Photoshop or Lightroom. Continue reading →
Have you ever come back from a photo excursion, looked at one of your pictures and wondered, “What was I seeing when I snapped that photo?” My mother even saved some of my early “what’s that?” pictures, like the one above. I must have seen something interesting in that early spring messy corner of my dad’s garden but it sure didn’t come across in the picture. I don’t know why she didn’t toss those clunkers, because that’s what she should have done and what I do today. (I was 7 when I took that picture in 1961.)
Sometimes it’s downright hard to find the photograph in a chaotic scene. I’ll feel there’s something interesting in there somewhere, but it’s not always obvious how to convey what I’m seeing or feeling in the frame. Slowing down and really looking for the story is a good first step.
A few days ago I took a walk through our woods with my camera. Spring growth was fresh and green, the early morning light was soft, and I felt engaged with the forest. I wanted to capture how the woods looked and felt to me. Continue reading →
One of the exercises I give to all of my photo class students is to find a subject and photograph it from different viewpoints. The idea is to expand creativity and explore new ways of seeing a subject. You can apply this concept to almost anything you’re photographing.
Last month Natalie and I spent a week vacationing on the wet side of the Big Island of Hawaii. The weather was mostly overcast, with periods of heavy rain, not the brilliant sun most people think of for Hawaii. We spent a lot of our time exploring for plants and birds, including a couple of days at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Almost all the plants we saw were new to us. A lot of them blended together — mid-sized broadleaf evergreen shrubs and small trees that didn’t have showy flowers. But a few stood out and I made several photos of them with my pocket camera. Continue reading →
Little details matter when you want to set your pictures apart from the masses. You don’t want anything to intrude into the frame that shouldn’t be there. Your viewer’s attention should go to whatever it is you’re photographing, without distracting stuff getting in the way. I call it “cleaning up the frame.” Here are five ways to clean up your photos before you press the shutter button.
What’s that growing out of your head?
Watch for objects like telephone poles, trees, or lampshades growing out of people’s heads. It’s usually pretty easy to move over a little, or ask your subject to move, to fix the problem. I have a snapshot of myself and some climbing buddies commemorating our climb to the top of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming many years ago. I handed my camera to another climber and our party posed around the post marking the summit. I failed to realize that when I sat with my back to the post the spike came out of the top of my head. It would have been a better photo if we’d grouped ourselves with the post between two of us. Continue reading →
Aperture, the size of the hole letting light through your lens, is the third variable you control to get properly exposed photos. Last October I discussed ISO, the sensitivity of your camera’s digital sensor. In November I wrote about shutter speed and how your choice is a creative one as well as an exposure control.
Like shutter speed, the aperture you choose affects the “look” of your photo as well as the exposure so it’s both a creative and technical choice. The family portrait above was made at a middle aperture to balance depth of field and shutter speed with proper exposure.
You can think of the aperture as the size of the “light pipe” carrying photons through your lens. The larger the diameter of the pipe, the more photons go through, just as a 2” water pipe carries more than a ½” pipe. Continue reading →
A few days ago, during our recent cold snap, I stuck my Canon G12 compact camera in my pocket and headed out the door for a walk around our block. Where we live, that means walking at the side of the road for about a mile and a half. It was crisply cold and the late afternoon sun was low in the sky as I left the house.
I found several nice photo subjects along my route, but spent the most time lingering over a single frozen puddle, exploring the patterns and textures in the ice. It’s an intriguing and ephemeral subject, one temporarily frozen in time as well as temperature. I was reminded of the patterns in the sand from waves washing ashore, or the waves themselves when caught by an instantaneous exposure. There were figures, akin to the what you might see in the clouds while laying on your back on a warm summer day. And there was this luminous quality to the late afternoon light as it caught the ridges and textures in the ice. In short, I was entranced by this simple frozen tableau and lingered until the knees of my Carharts were soaking wet, my fingers frozen, and the sun had dipped too far below the horizon for a reasonable shutter speed. Continue reading →
Last month I introduced the three things you can control on your camera that affect exposure: ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. I explained how changing the ISO setting changes the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor. If you missed it, or need a review, read about ISO here.
Shutter speed is this month’s topic. Choosing an appropriate shutter speed for your subject is a creative choice as well as being one of the variables that affect exposure. All cameras have a hole inside the lens that, when open, lets light hit the sensor (or film). The shutter controls how long the hole is open.
When the shutter is open for a very short time you are able to stop motion and freeze action. Conversely, a long exposure can blur a moving subject. If you’re hand-holding your camera you need to choose a shutter speed that is short enough to compensate for any movement of the camera in your hands. The longer the focal length of your lens the shorter the shutter speed needs to be to avoid camera shake.