Archive for the ‘People’ Category

Foto Talk: Flow & Photographing People   4 comments

One of my favorite portraits, from Cambodia.

One of my favorite portraits, from Cambodia.

The series on flow continues.  I’d apologize for not posting this on Friday as usual.  But I have a pretty good excuse.  I was busy running away from a little storm called Hurricane Matthew.  Flow, or “being in the zone”, is that state of hyper-concentration and engagement that we’ve all experienced.  Check out Part I for ideas in flow with photography, and Part II for its connection with meditation.

 The goal of these last few posts is to apply the idea of flow to various common types of photography.  I started with, beginning with Landscape and continued with Travel.  You’ll find useful tips on each genre covered, some of which may not seem to have much to do with flow.  On the other hand, I’m not offering comprehensive tutorials on each type of photography here.   The posts don’t cover many of the basics, for example, concentrating instead on more subtle stuff.  I want people to not only make great pictures but to have great fun doing it; to experience the satisfaction of being able to shoot anything and everything well.

Whew!  I didn’t plan that tangent.  Now let’s look at photographing people.  Shooting any live subject, including pets and wildlife, is in many ways quite similar to people photography.  But for brevity’s sake I will focus on people here.

Candid portrait of a Nicaraguan vaquero.

Candid portrait of a Nicaraguan vaquero.

I believe one not often mentioned reason that novice photographers gravitate toward landscape is they believe it to be simpler than photographing people (which they’ve done a lot in snapshot mode).  It seems to be more straightforward to produce professional looking results when shooting landscapes, with rules that are easier to follow (do this and then that, and you’ll get beautiful pictures).

Of course this is not really true.  With either type of photography your goal should not just be technically good photos.  This is what so many of those people who have gotten into photography in recent years stops with.  I’ve said it more than once in this blog:  an excellent photograph elicits emotion and/or tells a story.  Since your viewers are human, it’s easier to reach into the emotional parts of their brains when you photograph people than any other subject.

This young Mayan girl from the Guatemalan Highlands was easy to approach.

I ran into this young girl on a hike in the Guatemalan Highlands.  I think her smile speaks eloquently of the natural playfulness and warmth of Mayan people.

People Photography Tips

  • As with all photography there are really no rules when photographing people.  The only “rules” are those that cover all social interactions, with or without camera.
  • In my opinion there are only three keys to photographing people:  (1) be curious about your potential subjects and what they’re up to; (2) spend a little time with them rather than expecting a quick shot; and (3) relax and have fun with them.  Notice I didn’t mention lighting.  Since light is important in all photography, it goes without saying.
  • Number 3 above is probably the most important thing when photographing people.  For me it’s critical that both photographer and subject have a good time.  That way the posing takes care of itself and is most natural.  Best of all, experiencing flow is easiest when you’re just shooting and playing around with someone.  Sure, shooting a professional head shot is going to be more structured, but even there you can make things relaxed, thus capturing a more natural facial expression.

I met this young Nordic couple at a nature reserve in Nicaragua and we had some fun times together before I asked to shoot their portrait. It made a difference.

  • Next, think about the kinds of images you want.  Do you want a portrait or something more candid and active?  How obvious should the surroundings & background be?  Do you want an image with the frame completely filled, as in the image at top?  Think about that stuff ahead of time and be very familiar with your gear.  That way when it’s time to click the shutter you can concentrate on your subject, not technical matters.  You’ll also have a better chance of experiencing flow while shooting
  • Most photography teachers will tell you to talk to your subjects, that silence is awkward.  While I agree, the nature of your interaction will depend on the situation.  You need to decide when to be interactive and when to slip into the background.  It’s a feel thing.  For example if you’re shooting a group, being a part of the fun and then quickly switching to passive observer role to shoot might get you a great candid.

Moving away and being passive observer is sometimes necessary, in this case to let the horses as well as the girl be themselves.

  • Since some interaction is always necessary, what should you talk about?  Be curious about their lives and keep it light.  Joking around, being self-deprecating, even making a bit of a fool of yourself, all that can help.  It’s fine to talk about the photography & what you’re after.  It can help keep them engaged.  But unless you’re shooting a pro model you can easily overwhelm and even bore your subject.  You don’t want forced and unnatural poses and expressions.  Finally, complimenting your subject will obviously make them feel good, leading to better pictures.  But pouring it on is usually (and correctly) viewed as being false.
Although she's a model, I found talking and joking with her made it easier to move in closer for this shot, necessary since I had a 50 mm. lens.

Although she’s a model, I found talking and joking with her made it easier to move in closer for this shot, necessary since I had a 50 mm. lens.

  • While I believe photographers tend to control posing too much, some direction is called for.  You have to move people around for the best light and background.  But you can do that in a sneakily natural way.  “Hey, that looks like a cool spot to get a few shots.”  Or, “a shot of you in front of that (background) would look good, wouldn’t it?”  They don’t have to know that you’re going to blur it.  Again, the thing is to make your time together come first and the photos second, in order to ‘let it flow’.

I will follow up on Sunday by looking at a distinctive sub-category of people photography: those serendipitous opportunities we often encounter while traveling.  Have a wonderful weekend and happy shooting!

After a fun afternoon with these two Botswanans, they couldn’t help but be relaxed and happy at sunset. Rare for me, I used a flash and balanced its output with the background light.  That usually takes a number of tries to get right, so a slow-paced, relaxed atmosphere was key.

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Wordless Wednesday: Kid Brothers   4 comments

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Two for Tuesday: Waterfall Photos   3 comments

The two-fer today is a little different than previous posts.  It’s something to think about if you get bored with a frequently-shot subject (flowers, rainbows, etc.).  In this case it’s waterfalls, which I shoot a lot of.

It takes a bit of effort to shoot a subject in a way that is authentically different than the usual way.  For me at least it also takes a certain mood, sort of a rebel attitude.  At Bennet Falls, a gorgeous cascade in the southern Appalachian foothills of eastern Tennessee, I decided without thinking about it much to do just that.

We hiked the trail down to the falls.  Since it was down, we arrived at the top before the bottom.  Shooting in front of a waterfall, usually at or near the bottom, is where most of us shoot from.

Despite a disaster that happened last year, I really like photographing from the top of a falls.  So I stopped and let the rest of our small little group proceed to the bottom.  It would’ve been worrisome for them to see me leaning out over the top in order to get a straight-down point of view.

This gave me an abstract that, like any shot from a height looking down gives, very little sense of depth.  Height is flattened when you do this.

Leaning out over the top looking straight down.

Leaning out over the top looking straight down.

Joining the group at bottom I started to go for standard shots of the beautifully tiered falls.  But the mood for something different was already on me, so I got my nephew Michael and his wife Cassie to pose in front.  It was her idea to kiss, and it was a good one!

The challenge was to get the kissing couple to remain as still so as not to be blurred during a long exposure.  But I didn’t go too long, just a half-second.  Why push my luck?  It turned out very nicely and I decided to give it a sepia tone.

A cascading kiss!

A cascading kiss!

I hope you like them.  Have a great week!

Posted March 31, 2015 by MJF Images in People, Photography

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Two for Tuesday: Humbled   13 comments

I think the power of images to tell stories is one of the biggest reasons so many of us enjoy both making and viewing them.  It’s very hard to make a single picture tell a story, at least a story that a wide variety of people will connect with.  While that’s no reason to avoid trying, it also means you’re likely setting yourself up for failure if you expect images like that to come along frequently.

Certainly easier than a single-image story is putting together a group or collection of pictures that together tell a story.  But that may be too easy.  Which brings me to the idea behind Two for Tuesdays.  A pair of pictures is the perfect compromise!  And heck, Tuesdays didn’t really have a good (that is, unforced) theme.  So on occasion I’ll use this day of the week to post a pair of images that will tell a story or make an important point.

Like Wordless Wednesdays, I’ll let the images do the talking, and thus (from here on out) provide words only in the posts’ titles.  By the way, one of these images I already included in a post not long ago.  The second one begged to be posted as well, but I resisted for some reason.  Turns out this was the reason!

Arlington_Rodeo_5-13-12_5D_304

!!

Arlington_Rodeo_5-13-12_5D_306

 

Posted January 27, 2015 by MJF Images in People, Photography

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Friday Foto Talk: Depth of Field II   19 comments

Sometimes quick off the cuff shots are the best. At a small rodeo in Oregon, not only the perfect depth of field, but the expression on this rider’s face was perfect as he looked respectfully at the bull that’d just “had fun” with him.  180 mm., 1/2000 sec. @ f/4.5, ISO 200.

This is the second of a three-part series on depth of field.  Take a look at my 1st one, where some basics are covered.

Depth of field plays a big part in how most images look. Thus it’s important that you are deliberate. I’m not saying be rigid; experiment with different apertures, focal lengths, etc. in order to get different looks. But when it comes time to select your best, when it’s time to decide which pictures you will put out there as representative of your subjects and your photography, then I think you need to take a more conscious approach.

It’s a fact that your choice of depth of field will influence the impact each of your images have. But your choices will also help to set the tone for each of them.  And what’s more, your choices will to some extent collectively influence your photographic style.  It’s like a sort of flow where you select and filter on the way to your unique identity as a photographer.  How you use depth of field is simply one aspect of that.

Along the Kafue River in Zambia, this black-backed barbet had some personality, so I went for shallow depth of field.

Along the Kafue River in Zambia, this black-backed barbet had some things to say, so I went for shallow depth of field.  400 mm., 1/640 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 200.

Who needs shallow depth of field when you place your subject at the entrance to a relatively dim barn.  This is Gold Dancer, apple of my eye for 8 happy years, who I just had to sell last week.

Who needs shallow depth of field when you place your subject at the entrance to a relatively dim barn. This is Gold Dancer, apple of my eye for 8 happy years, who I just had to sell last week.  121 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 200.

Honey-sellers in Ensenada, Mexico pass the time playing cards.  I wanted to put them only slightly out of focus.

Honey-sellers in Ensenada, Mexico pass the time playing cards. I wanted to put them only slightly out of focus.  28 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 160.

Whatever you do, you should not think of a particular aperture or depth of field as being right or wrong as judged by some imagined body of photography “experts”. It’s not even strictly right or wrong for your subject and conditions.  Rather, it can only be right or wrong based on your particular interpretation of the subject, light, mood, etc.  Trust your instincts and tune out the noise on Facebook etc.

That said, there are some general considerations:

      • Shallow depth of field is used most often to isolate a subject. The photographer wants the viewer to put maximum attention where the focus is and nowhere else. Along with relative brightness, focus is a great way to force a viewer’s eyes to go where you want them to go.
      • Large (deep) depth of field is used to show the whole story. In fact it’s known by many as a “storytelling” aperture. I’m not so sure that you can’t tell a story with an image that has shallow depth of field, but in general giving everything equal weight, focus-wise, facilitates movement of a viewer’s eyes through the scene. How you guide that eye movement is a big part of the art of composition.
      • Moderate depth of field is used when you don’t really have a good reason to go either shallow or deep. When everything in your frame is roughly the same distance away or when your subject is set against a featureless background, you might as well shoot at a medium aperture like f/8. The aperture at which most lenses are at their sharpest is in the f/5.6 to f/8 range.
Two Nicaraguan vaqueros, one of whom I wanted to focus on and the other not totally blur out.

Two Nicaraguan vaqueros, one of whom I wanted to be the focus while the other a supporting character (thus not totally blurred out).  127 mm., 1/250 sec. @ f/4.0, ISO 200.

 

When a large male great curassow stepped out of the jungle at Tikal, Guatemala, I didn’t worry about the fact that I had a messy background that was too close to blur no matter how shallow I went with depth of field.  I just thanked my luck and snapped the picture.  200 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/5.0, ISO 200.

With this brown pelican in Sian Ka'an, Yucatan, I didn't need to go shallow with depth of field because the sky is featureless and would not distract.

With this brown pelican in Sian Ka’an, Yucatan, I didn’t need to go shallow with depth of field because the sky is featureless and would not distract.  200 mm., 1/2500 sec. @ f/6.3, ISO 200.

There are many ways to play around with depth of field, many ways to create a variety of looks in your images. Add to that all the additional control afforded by post- processing software, where you can simulate any lens effect and more, and you have a plethora of options.  Take it slow is my advice.

It all starts with the capture, and this is where the decisions you make regarding depth of field will make the most difference.  As I laid out in the 1st post in this series, aperture, focal length, positioning and lens choice are all worth adjusting and playing with in a wide variety of photographic situations. Soon enough you’ll know what works for you, and getting the look you want will become quicker and more unconscious.

But don’t let it become too automatic. Depth of field is too important a part of your photography to put on autopilot. Instead it should remain an integral part of your photography’s growth. Learn by shooting and making mistakes, by thinking and reevaluating, by questioning assumptions and yet going with it if it feels right.

Thanks for reading!  Next time we’ll look at an example or two.  All these guidelines are well and good, but how are decisions about depth of field actually applied while shooting in the real world?  Stay tuned.

Mount Hood Oregon and a blooming blue dick, and no way to possibly put them both in focus (without blending 2 shots), so I played around with different depths of field and selected this one.

Mount Hood and a blooming blue dick, with no way to put them both in focus without blending 2 shots.  So I played around with different depths of field and selected this one.  100 mm. (macro lens), 1/20 sec. @ f/32, ISO 160.

Monument Valley's Totem Poles at sundown.  This shot was all about maximizing depth of field.

Monument Valley’s Totem Poles at sundown. This shot, with elements I wanted in focus from the bushes a few feet away all the way out to the moon at a quarter million miles, was all about maximizing depth of field.  28 mm., 1/40 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100.

Weekly Foto Talk: Depth of Field I   8 comments

 

California poppies bloom in an impromptu roadside wildflower garden.

California poppies bloom in an impromptu roadside wildflower garden.  65 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/13, ISO 200.

Depth of field is one of the most important elements of photography. For most of your captures, you’ll need to more or less consciously control depth of field. You probably already know that aperture is the way to do that. You may also know that it is not the only tool at your disposal. This post will briefly summarize the art of controlling depth of field, then I’ll discuss some of the factors you should consider when choosing depth of field for your images.

What is depth of field? A good working definition goes like this: The extent to which parts of an image are in focus from front (near the camera) to back (far away) is that image’s depth of field.  As you can see it is rather subjective.

Depth of field is often confused with depth, which I posted on awhile back. Giving your images a sense of depth, though related to depth of field, is quite different. Depth is the degree to which you foster the illusion of three dimensions in your two-dimensional pictures. A photograph with good sense of depth, for example, can have a depth of field that is shallow, deep or somewhere in between.

In the northern Guatemala forest, near the ruins of Tikal, a young brown basilisk posed for me while I worked out a good angle for the background depth of field.  200 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/8, ISO 320.

In the northern Guatemala forest, near the ruins of Tikal, a young brown basilisk posed for me while I worked out a good angle for the background depth of field. 200 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/8, ISO 320.

A hoary marmot high up on Mount Rainier, Washington.

A hoary marmot high up on Mount Rainier, Washington. 280 mm., 1/1600 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 200

I wanted this young Himba in a Namibian village to be the star of the picture, but I also wanted the village to be noticed too, so a moderately shallow depth of field was necessary.  68 mm., 1/320 sec. @ f/8, ISO 200.

I wanted this young Himba in a Namibian village to be the star of the picture, but I also wanted the village to be noticed too, so a moderately shallow depth of field was necessary. 68 mm., 1/320 sec. @ f/8, ISO 200.

 

Control depth of field in your images using one or a combination of the following methods:

      • Aperture: Small apertures (big f/numbers) yield greater depth of field, where more of the scene is in clear focus. Large apertures (small f/numbers) give shallow depth of field, where just your subject is in clear focus.
      • Focal Length: The longer the focal length you use, the shallower your depth of field will be. A short focal length (wide angle)will give yield greater depth of field.
      • Relative distance:  To get greater depth of field, increase the distance from you to the closest thing you want in focus. To get shallower depth of field, simply move closer to your subject. That’s the simple way to explain it. Really what you want to do is change the relative distance between you and the subject as compared with the distance between the subject and background. For greater depth of field increase this relative distance. For shallower depth of field decrease the relative distance. See the example images below.
      • The right lens: It may not seem so, but a particular lens’s characteristics can lean the images it produces toward greater or lesser depth of field. This is a minor factor compared with the others, but it’s real. I’m not talking about lenses with large maximum apertures (“fast” with low f/number designations), in order to achieve shallow depth of field. That’s all about factor #1 above.

I’m talking about how some wide-angle lenses allow you to photograph scenes where all is in focus, even if elements are both very close and far away. And how other lenses tend to yield an especially smooth out of focus background, or nicer-looking bokeh (out of focus highlights). Tilt-shift lenses are a somewhat extreme example of lens build influencing focus characteristics. And of course macro lenses have much shallower depths of field than other lenses do (see images below).

A macro shot of the inside of a flower.  Shallow depth of field is virtually guaranteed.    100 mm., 30 sec. @ f/16, ISO 200.

A macro shot of the inside of a flower. Shallow depth of field is virtually guaranteed. 100 mm., 30 sec. @ f/16, ISO 200.

Fairy Bells bloom in the forest with more shade than most flowers prefer.  100 mm., 1/25 sec. @ f/7.1, ISO 400.

Fairy Bells bloom in the forest with more shade than most flowers prefer. 100 mm., 1/25 sec. @ f/7.1, ISO 400.

This will get us going on the discussion.  Please let me know if you have anything to add or any questions.  And if you’re interested in any of my images, whether on here or on my main gallery page, please let me know by contacting me.  I would be happy to honor any request no matter how unusual.  Stay tuned for more on depth of field.  Thanks for reading and have a great week!

My girl, Gold Dancer.  70 mm., 1/1250 sec. @ f/4, ISO 200.

My girl, Gold Dancer. 70 mm., 1/1250 sec. @ f/4, ISO 200.

 

Friday Foto Talk: Clouds   12 comments

Low clouds and fog filling the Columbia River Gorge help add impact to this image of the Vista House catching day's last light.

Low clouds and fog fill the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, helping to set off Vista House, subject of this recent image.

I think photographers take clouds for granted.  Most of us seem to believe there is nothing special or difficult about photographing them.  But most of us also seek out clouds when we are out shooting.  So I think they’re worth a second (and third) thought.  Whether doing landscape, outdoor portrait, street, really any photography is made more interesting with clouds.  They make the light that much nicer.

Winter weather brings moody clouds in the forests of western Oregon.

Winter weather brings moody clouds in the forests of western Oregon.

I’ve been going out in bad weather lately, looking for low-clouds and fog to set the typical atmosphere of the oft-stormy Columbia River Gorge near home.  It got me thinking about all the things one needs to consider when including clouds in photographs.  By the way I consider fog to be simply a cloud at ground level; blame the scientist in me.

So here are a few things to keep in mind when including clouds in your compositions:

      • When composing images, use cloud patterns to your advantage.  For example, when clouds form lineear patterns, use them to complement the patterns in your foreground.  They can help to define a vanishing point.  And layered clouds can help bring out the often more subtle layering in your foreground.  Also you can use clouds to help frame things, sort of like a natural vignette.
In this image from the Canyonlands area, Utah, layered clouds help to highlight the layers of color in the landscape.

In this image from the Canyonlands area, Utah, layered clouds help to highlight the layers of color in the landscape.

      • Depending on what you’re shooting, the right amount of cloudiness is key.  So it’s worth trying to match the type of photography you’re doing with the clouds.  Some examples follow.
      • With landscape photography near sunrise or sunset, a broken, partly to mostly cloudy sky can yield amazing light.  The ideal situation is when the low sun peaks underneath the clouds.  The light bounces off and is refracted by the clouds on its way to your subject.  This lengthens wavelengths, making light more orange or red.  It also bounces that reddish light onto the landscape, and generally gives things a beautifully soft glow.  You can easily be skunked too, when the sun sinks into a bank of clouds while the rest of the sky has perfectly scattered clouds.  Nothing ventured nothing gained.
Light can be a little harsh & contrasty in the desert southwest.  Clouds very late in the day help soften things in this image near Moab, Utah.

Light can be a little harsh & contrasty in the desert southwest. Clouds late in the day help soften things in this image near Moab, Utah.

      • If you are shooting outdoor portraits, a relatively thin overcast sky can act like a giant soft-box, diffusing the light source so that it falls evenly over your subject.  Of course beautiful light at golden hour can result in wonderful portraits too.  But sometimes the light is just too warm on your subject and you need to adjust for that later on the computer.  Overcast skies give you light that ‘gets out of the way’.  Macro photography is similarly benefited when there is a continuous cloud cover.
This spring tulip has nice even light due to the overcast sky.  Clouds also blessed it with the droplets.

This spring tulip has nice even light due to the overcast sky. Clouds also blessed my subject with water droplets.

      • When low clouds and fog invade your scene, a scenario that’s very common at sunrise, you should not be too disappointed.  Shoot the fog if it looks good, or simply wait for it to lift.  Sometimes it begins to dissipate very soon after sunrise, giving you magical light and atmosphere.
Mist and fog shrouds the celebrated view of Mount Rainier from Reflection Lakes.

Mist and fog shrouds the celebrated view of Mount Rainier from Reflection Lakes.

The images above and below were shot at Mount Rainier National Park as this was happening.  Other photographers had arrived at this popular spot, only to be discouraged by the thick fog.  They drove away as soon as they arrived.  Meantime I was hanging around shooting the fog.  When the sun started breaking through, they rushed back (I heard slamming doors up on the road).  But the transition from fog to full sun was very quick and I was the only one who was able to catch it by the lake (instead of from the road).  I was too busy shooting to feel smug; that came later!

The fog lifts quickly!

The fog lifts quickly!

      • When the cloud cover is heavy and there is very little chance of seeing the sun, certain types of nature and landscape subjects shine.  This is a great time to shoot during the day, with none of the time pressures you feel at golden hour.  Another advantage: it’s a great time to try black and white.
An angry sky in the Columbia River Gorge develops as a warm moist front moves in right after a day of snow and freezing rain.

An angry sky in the Columbia River Gorge develops as a warm moist front moves in right after a day of snow and freezing rain.

      • Low, heavy clouds can lend a moody feel similar to fog.  I will often go out in the worst weather just to see if I can capture one of these moody scenes.  Be selective; featureless cloudy skies do not tend to create this atmosphere as easily.  Go for times of rapid weather changes instead.
The Columbia River Gorge in Oregon draws in clouds and rain, viewed from a small back-road.

Along a back-road in the Columbia River Gorge, with typical clouds and rain.

  

      • A day with continuous cloud cover, however, is a great time to shoot in the forest.  It’s similar to outdoor portrait and macro photography.  The light is even, without the hot spots that plague sunny days in the trees.  Since the light is usually very dim, bring a tripod.  While more open landscapes lack color in these conditions, the forest’s green-dominated colors are richer and more vibrant.  If it has rained recently, use a circular polarizing filter to tame reflections and make colors pop.  If things are real dim and dreary, go with the mood – try black and white.
A small creek in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge rolls through a mossy forest.

A small creek in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge rolls through a mossy forest.

Forest Mist

      • Clouds can easily be the main element in a photo.  If they are interesting enough, you shouldn’t be shy about featuring them in your images.  For instance when crepuscular rays invade a foggy forest (image below), a situation my friend calls “Jesus rays”, I almost always shoot so that the foreground is subtle or completely absent.
Winter is a great time to catch fog in the redwoods of northern California.

Winter is a great time to catch fog in the redwoods of northern California.

      • And speaking of  making clouds the focus of your shots, you can always shoot nothing but sky.  This rarely makes a good image on its own, but can always be combined (composited) with other images that lack a nice sky.  I can count on one hand the times I’ve done this; it’s because I really prefer capturing a single moment (and I’m painfully slow with Photoshop!).  But I continue to shoot interesting skies.  I place them in their own collection inside Lightroom.  Who knows, there may come a day when I want to do more compositing.  I try never to say never.
An early winter storm moves across the Alvord Desert in Oregon.

An early winter storm moves across the Alvord Desert in Oregon.

      • When the sun is bright, contrast between the blue sky and white clouds can be pretty intense.  Be careful about overexposing the clouds.  A little overexposure and contrast is okay; viewers expect this in a sky like that.  Programs like Lightroom do a great job of recovering highlights, so you can tame the contrast to some extent.  But no software can recover highlights where exposure is completely blown out (lacking detail).  Sure the sun, moon, and a few other exceptions can look natural when they’re blown out.  But you should avoid it in clouds; you don’t want solid white with zero detail.
Gokyo Lake in Nepal has that distinctive color that only glacial lakes can have.

Gokyo Lake in Nepal, with that distinctive color that only glacial lakes can have.

To deal with the situation of over-exposed clouds, start by turning on your camera’s highlight warning (blinkies) so that you see on your LCD screen where you have blown out highlights.  If your camera doesn’t have that feature, look at your histogram on the LCD and make sure it isn’t climbing way up the right edge.  Or you can simply judge over-bright areas by eye.  Bring down the exposure and re-shoot until the blinkies go away and you recover some detail in the bright portions.  If doing this makes your foreground too dark, use a graduated neutral density filter to darken just the sky and leave the foreground properly exposed. 

The Alvord Desert, southeastern Oregon.  I used a graduated neutral density filter for this high-contrast scene.

The Alvord Desert, southeastern Oregon. I used a graduated neutral density filter for this high-contrast scene.

      • The opposite can happen too.  You can underexpose your sky, especially when you have dark, brooding clouds.  Though you can, as above with highlights, recover shadow details later on the computer, it’s not ideal to do this.  You can end up increasing noise.  It’s better to capture dark clouds either perfectly exposed or somewhat brighter.  You can always darken them on the computer later.  This is much better than brightening.

So let’s take an example.  Say it’s a few hours before sunset and the sky is looking interesting, with broken or layered clouds.  You have some decisions to make.  Of course, as mentioned, you can go to the trouble: burn gas and time…only to be clouded out.  Or you could luck out and get a spectacular show!  It’s a gamble that will, sadly, not usually pan out.  But it’s worth taking that chance.  After all, it’s the only way you’ll get shots with truly amazing light!

      • So you wisely decide to go for it.  Now there are more decisions.  For starters, where to shoot?  If you think the sky will be really awesome, consider water, snow, or some other reflective surface.  Water can reflect those beautiful clouds.  Who doesn’t like double the beauty?
The Lamar River Valley in Yellowstone National Park is a peaceful place at dusk.

The Lamar River Valley in Yellowstone National Park is a peaceful place at dusk.

      • If Mother Nature plays a trick on you and clouds thicken, graying out the sunset, don’t despair.  Wait for a bit.  I have seen gray, boring sunsets turn into truly technicolor skies after sundown.  It doesn’t happen frequently, but on occasion our home star performs a final encore after it’s passed below the horizon.  The atmosphere has a wonderful way of bending the light (it’s how mirages are formed).  Patience and hopeful realism, along with a headlamp to get back to your car, is all you need.  The same thing can happen before sunrise, so try to get there early in case the sunrise itself is dull.
The Grand Tetons in Wyoming appear to have caught fire just after an autumn sunset.

The Grand Tetons in Wyoming appear to have caught fire just after an autumn sunset.

      • Lastly, Mother Nature can also play the opposite trick, clearing the clouds out before golden hour.  Stick with it.  Though clouds are in many ways preferable, remember that a rainy and cloudy stretch has a way of cleaning the atmosphere.  When it clears, it’s a great time to shoot pictures with far-away elements.  For example, distant mountain and desert vistas are beautifully clear and pristine in fresh-scrubbed air.  And if you are using a telephoto lens to capture wildlife, recently cleared air helps get the detail you want in your subjects.
The Colorado Rockies!

The Colorado Rockies!

As always, these images are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  If you are interested in purchase options for any of them, just click on the picture.  Please contact me if you can’t find what you want or have any questions or special requests.  Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

Clouds gift a colorful sunset the other day at Crown Point in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

Clouds gift a colorful sunset the other day at Crown Point in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

 

Friday Foto Talk: Photographing Couples   2 comments

A couple spends some time near the cathedral in Campeche on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.

I caught this couple spending time together near the cathedral in Campeche on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.

This is a topic I’ll admit I don’t have a ton of practice with.  One reason is my aversion to ever shooting weddings.  That said, I do love photographing couples, either in portrait or candid.  There is very little to it, actually.  All depends on how comfortable the couple is with each other (how long they’ve been together) and how comfortable they are with you, the photographer.  A few tips:

      • The Closer the Better.  For portraits, when you first get a couple in position to photograph, they will most likely be too far from each other.  You will invariably need to ask them to get closer.  Keep a light atmosphere, don’t make it seem like you want them to swap spit or make the shot look otherwise classless.  But get them touching.
      • Focus is Key.  Unlike with a single person, it’s more difficult to get focus right with couples.  You will likely need to use a smaller aperture, with larger depth of field, in order to get both people in focus.  This is a much bigger deal when you position one in front of the other, but watch it even when their faces are side by side.  Try to position yourself so both pairs of eyes are the same distance from you.  Then you have the option to open up your aperture more and go for less depth of field.  Every few shots call for a mini-break and check out the shots on your camera’s LCD, making sure (at minimum) both pairs of eyes are sharp.
      • Create a Relaxed Atmosphere.  Do what feels natural to you in order to get them comfortable.  Be yourself.  Music can work wonders, just make sure you’ve asked them what they like and play that.  Often all it takes is a little time, and a somewhat stiff poses disappear, replaced by natural and attractive ones.  Take that time.  And be ready to shoot away when poses and expressions turn natural.
      • Expressions.  The idea is to avoid the stiff, formal look.  Smiles are great but I’ve found they can look phony if you just ask them to smile (depends on the person).  Do things to get their expression to change.  Try telling jokes, or asking them questions that pique their interest or get them thinking.  In fact, if they are thinking about anything but the fact their picture is being taken, even if it’s only for a second or two, you increase your chances of getting more natural and attractive expressions.
      • Get it Right in Camera:  Move stray hairs, get rid of lint or smudges, and have them position their faces so as to minimize anything less than attractive.  For example, you may need to remind people to move their chins forward slightly to give faces a slimmer look and avoid double chins.
      • Mix it up.   Though I do very little “directing”, you can easily mix things up by changing their positions, asking one to look at the other, or asking them both to look at various places.  Before you start, get in mind whether you’re just going to use one place/background or several.  Also think about whether you want standing, sitting, lying or other positions.  Nothing wrong with keeping it simple and working variety into it in more subtle ways – such as with expressions.
      • Candids:  Although it’s not nice to be a paparazzi, you should consider sneak shots if the light and setting is right.  If you’re found out (which is more common than not), just smile and walk up to tell them it was just too tempting, that they are too attractive a couple, then show them the shot.  It’s usually a lot easier to explain than it is with individuals (though that isn’t hard either).
      • More on Candids:  Candids can work well with smaller apertures, where more of the scene is in focus.  Though the couple receives less attention than with portraits, don’t worry so much about their getting ‘lost’ in the shot.  The viewer will naturally lock on to any person in a picture.  Look for story-telling pictures with couples, think beyond cuddling or gazing into each other’s eyes, go for unusual settings.
      • Background Matters.  See the discussion below.  Just realize that whether you are shooting a candid or a portrait, the background can make or break the shot.
      • Lighting Matters.  I won’t go into artificial lighting (flash) here.  That’s worth a separate post.  See below for a discussion on natural lighting considerations.
An attractive Norwegian couple on holiday on beautiful Laguna Apoyo, Nicaragua.

An attractive Norwegian couple on holiday at beautiful Laguna Apoyo, Nicaragua.

BACKGROUNDS

If you’re using a natural background or inside in a room, the background will likely be too busy.  It will have too much detail.  If you shoot so both your subjects and the background are in focus, that detail will draw attention away from the lovely couple.  So your depth of field will need to be shallow; that is, you will use a large aperture (small f-number).  But don’t use such a large aperture that one of their faces are out of focus.

If you’re shooting portraits, you can always use an artificial (paper or fabric) background, in which case your aperture can be smaller.  Then you can shoot at an aperture that is sharpest for that lens (usually two stops above wide open).  Make sure to get the lighting right on the background, as well as the couple.

The guy on the left was sweet on this young woman from Ometepe, Nicaragua.  Though I should have had him tuck his shirt in completely, I think it's funny that he apparently hurried to do it before the picture.

The vaquero on the left was sweet on this young woman from Ometepe, Nicaragua. Though I should have had him tuck his shirt in completely, I think it’s funny that he apparently hurried to do it before the picture.

LIGHTING

With natural lighting, the more diffuse the better.  A cloudy day is great, as is indoors next to a window, so long as the sun is not shining directly into it.  If you have bright sunshine (and the sun is not setting or rising), go into the shade of a tree or building.  Often you can get great light on a bright day by moving to a place that is at the edge of shade but near a reflective surface (white pavement, water, etc.).

More ideas:  If you can, consider using a reflector to bounce natural light back into the shadowed side of their faces.  An assistant or stand is likely going to be necessary, as is a reflector that’s larger than one you might use with a single person.  Don’t let one person cast dark shadow on the face of the other.   Try shooting them right at the edge of shadow for a little drama.

I hope you got something out of this.  I wrote it partly to remind myself that I haven’t been shooting enough people of late.  But you are the main reason.  Let me know if you have any questions, or have any interest in one of the images.  They are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.  This is especially important since individuals’ privacy is at stake.  Have a great weekend!

A couple kisses at sundown at the top of Rocky Butte in Portland, Oregon.

A couple kisses at sundown on top of Rocky Butte in Portland, Oregon.  They didn’t know I shot this until immediately after, and were not bothered.

Single-image Sunday: Surfing in Winter   4 comments

The great thing about surfing in winter is you have some elbow room.  Or so it seems to me.  I’m not a surfer.  I’ve tried, believe me.  I even took a couple classes in El Salvador.  I found it to be a great way to drink seawater…most of it through my nose!  There were other problems, but for me that was the major one.  I can see the attraction however.

This is a beach near San Diego at the foot of some nice bluffs turned golden by the setting sun.  There were certainly other surfers around.  But when I saw this guy walking down the beach alone, I could see (even at this distance) that he was having a great time.  It was the way he was walking, barefoot and alone in the late-afternoon sun down a beautiful stretch of coast.  He had apparently finished for the day, enjoying the post-surfing glow after some good rides.

I had to use my 200 mm. lens to capture him from atop the bluff where I was walking.  I just hand-held the shot even though I had my tripod.  For one thing, I had to be quick about it.  Also, since he was moving along at a good pace, I needed a faster shutter speed anyway to keep him sharp.

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A lone surfer on the California Coast.

Posted December 29, 2013 by MJF Images in People, Photography, Travel photography

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Wordless Wednesday: Fishing in the Fog   8 comments

Lost_Lake_9-19-13_5D3_036

Posted September 25, 2013 by MJF Images in Nature Photography, People, Photography

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