Archive for the ‘background’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Point of View, Part I   2 comments

An image from Guatemala, where just the right point of view on the street created interesting angles.

Having tackled fairly heavy topics recently, it’s back to basics this week.  Basic but definitely not trivial.  Although point of view could describe your own subjective take on the subjects you shoot (part of your style), the term is used most often in photography to describe the physical location of your camera.  It’s abbreviated to POV.

It boils down to a very simple idea:  constantly vary your points of view.  Don’t stand in one place, and don’t shoot from the same height above ground.  Move around; get low, lower, and even all the way to the ground; shoot from under your subject; get high and shoot directly down on the scene.

Snow Canyon State Park, Utah offers some amazing points of view. It felt like I was perched atop a huge animal’s foot here.

Point of View:  Angle & Position

When we start out in photography we tend to shoot with the sun behind us so that our subjects are illuminated.  This is natural and not a bad way to go (exposure is a breeze, for one).  Then we see something interesting and naturally turn our cameras that way.  We just changed our angle of view.

But then, as novices, we stop there.  We don’t vary that angle.  We don’t look behind us very much.  We also don’t consider the direction that the light is coming from.  Better photography comes from shooting in more than one direction (look behind you!) and from remembering the light.

For this one of a termite tower in the Okavango Delta, I moved close to it and shot upward to emphasize its height.

For this one of a termite tower in the Okavango Delta, I moved close to it and shot upward to emphasize its height.

To start varying POV, simply turn a bit and take a shot.  Go ahead and continue to rotate through the entire 360 degrees of the compass, shooting as you go.  But this is just panning.  It’s important to change position too, particularly for close-up subjects.  That will bring you closer or further away from your foreground subject relative to various backgrounds.

The idea is to vary POV by combining changes in position with changes in angle of view.  But not in a half-hazard or willy-nilly manner.  Don’t be that indecisive photographer you sometimes see, constantly putting the camera up to his eyes, swinging it around and zooming in and out, hoping to land on a good shot.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing using your camera to test compositions, but I recommend the following.

Avoid pointing your camera hither and thither before you decide on a shot.  Use your feet to change POV instead.  Use your unaided eyes and keep the wider view; you’ll see more.  I almost never put the camera up to my eye until I’m ready to shoot, then I shift or zoom only slightly to dial in the exact composition I want, paying special attention to the edges and corners where unwanted distractions may lurk.

So, in order to move with thought and purpose, read on…

  • POV and Subject:  Generally speaking getting closer to a subject makes for better pictures of it.  But let’s go beyond this simple yet important bit of advice.  When you have multiple elements in an image (a landscape with close-in foreground for example), changing position and angle of view changes perspective in significant ways.  Even for things that are further away it’s surprising how a small change in position can change the look of a picture.  Many shooters don’t appreciate this enough.  They don’t think it will matter to walk 10 or 20 yards (meters).  But it does (see images below).
Saratoga Springs, Death Valley, CA., from on top of a small hill.

Saratoga Springs, Death Valley, CA., from on top of a small hill.

A closer & lower POV than the image above, only taking a few minutes to walk down off the hill.

A closer & lower POV than the image above, only taking a few minutes to walk down off the hill.

  • POV, Background and Light:  Most of us go for the more spectacular, dramatic background.  But think about it first.  Where is the light coming from?  How will changing your position affect how the light falls on your subject or supporting foreground elements?  In a past Foto Talk I detailed how to use differing angles of sunlight in your photography.  That’s a good post to check out.

 

  • POV, Background and Composition:  If you change your POV to change background, how will that change how your overall composition works?  For example, will the color palette or texture of the background be consistent or clash in some way with your foreground or other elements?  I’m not saying don’t take the picture, but when you take a look on the computer later think about this stuff when you choose selects.
I had to get fairly close (but not too close!) to this buffalo for just the right balance with the background at Yellowstone National Park.

I had to get fairly close (but not too close!) to this buffalo for just the right balance with the background at Yellowstone National Park.

  • POV and Subject Weighting:  For relatively close subjects, where you stand and which direction you shoot may not only change the background; it may also change your subject’s relationship to it.  Will that more dramatic background overwhelm your subject, making it “disappear”?  How close do you want to be to your foreground?  Remember it’s your choice how much to emphasize a foreground subject.
Wanting both the covered bridge and Bollinger Mill, Missouri in the same shot, some careful positioning (and a wide angle) was necessary.

Wanting the covered bridge to be the main subject, I also wanted Bollinger Mill, Missouri in the same shot.  So careful positioning (and a wide angle) was necessary.

Next week’s Foto Talk will go into the ways that changing POV in terms of height affects your photography, with tips for varying things to get the best possible images.  Have a wonderful weekend and happy shooting!

It required careful positioning to get this image from Oklahoma. I didn't want the usual composition where the bales are front & center. The cottonwood was my focus.

It required careful positioning to get this image from Oklahoma. I didn’t want the usual composition where the bales dominate. Instead my focus was the cottonwood in warm light from the setting sun.

Friday Foto Talk: Overcoming Obstacles – Background   2 comments

Morning sun and a rare full water-pocket in Utah's Snow Canyon State Park.

Morning sun and a rare full water-pocket in Utah’s Snow Canyon State Park.

On your way to great images, you’ll need to overcome a lot of obstacles.  You can instead think of it as doing the right things.  But what is right and what is wrong can be a subjective thing in photography.  So at the risk of appearing negative, I like to think of it as avoiding those things that keep you from capturing pictures you can be proud of.

Last Friday was all about finding the right subject, one you find interesting.  But you can’t discuss subjects in photography without mentioning backgrounds.  So that is what this week’s topic is.

The moon & Black Butte form the background to these burned trees while skiing above Santiam Pass, Oregon

The moon & Black Butte are a strong but supportive background to these burned trees while skiing above Santiam Pass, Oregon

FINDING SUITABLE BACKGROUNDS

If your background is in decent focus it needs to be interesting as well.  It needs to support not clash with or overwhelm your subject.  As long as you’re using a small aperture with good depth of field, thus emphasizing the background as much as the foreground and subject, try always to think about how the two complement each other.  If they clash make sure they contrast with each other, make sure they do it in the right way.

For example, a soft and beautiful model against a gritty industrial background, while a bit cliche, is the right kind of contrast.  It adds interest.  Conversely, there’s not much point in shooting an interesting subject/foreground with a boring, in-focus background (or vice versa).  In that case you’d want to use a large aperture and put the background out of focus.

And there are cases where you may want something in between.  In the image below, the jars of miel (honey) are dominant, but the honey-sellers playing cards are in partial focus in order to give them an important but still subordinate role.

Raw miel (honey) for sale on a Mexican street.

Raw miel (honey) for sale on a Mexican street.

As another example, let’s take night photography, starscapes in particular.  Many people (including me) have photographed the Milky Way as background for many different subjects.  I’ve gotten away from that in favor of more subtle star fields, where foreground subjects have most of the attention.

Super high ISOs are used to make the Milky Way appear very bright & detailed.  For me that’s usually too much brightness & detail to work as a proper background.  Of course that doesn’t stop hoards of photographers from going out and replicating images they’ve seen.  I still shoot the galaxy occasionally.  But I usually strive to make it appear much as it does to the naked eye, in order to work as a good supporting background.

Orion the Hunter plus Jupiter highlight the background at Turret Arch, Arches N.P., Utah

Orion the Hunter plus Jupiter highlight the background at Turret Arch, Arches N.P., Utah

Friday Foto Talk: Depth   6 comments

Beavertail cactus grows abundantly in Snow Canyon State Park, Utah.

Beavertail cactus grows abundantly in Snow Canyon State Park, Utah.

Although I don’t like much structure in my life (understatement of the day!), I’m going to force myself to introduce a regular feature in this blog.  Although I won’t drift over to a photography education blog (already too many), just as I won’t drift over to a blog strictly focused on travel, I’m feeling the need from time to time to share some of the more interesting things I’ve picked up about photography.

But please do not think me some sort of expert who is passing on his considerable (in his own opinion) photography knowledge.  That’s exactly the sort of mis-impression I want to avoid.  Instead, please feel free to use these posts to give your take on the subjects covered.  I would very much like feedback on the images as well.  Enjoy!

The four images here were taken on my recent photo sojourn around the American West.  The subject today – depth – is one that’s near and dear to my photographic heart.  To this point I have been sticking with my passion, that is landscape and nature photography.  Perhaps if I ever wish to make a living at this I will need to change that focus, but for now I’m in my comfort zone, and depth is very relevant to this kind of photography.

Ancient sand dunes, petrified and laid bare at Snow Canyon State Park in southwestern Utah.

Ancient sand dunes, petrified and laid bare at Snow Canyon State Park in southwestern Utah.

One of the most rewarding yet challenging things about landscape photography is introducing a sense of depth into your images; 3-dimensionality if you will.  Think about it: you are taking a three-dimensional scene and rendering it on a two-dimensional medium.  So it’s not easy.  But it’s no where near impossible to accomplish either.  Here are a few tips:

  • Firstly, try to include at least two out of three of the following: foreground, mid-ground, and background.  All three are best.  When you’re starting out, you might forget about foreground.  But then you learn that it’s important, and end up going to the opposite extreme.  So while it’s important to have detail in your foregrounds, don’t forget about the mid-ground and background.  Don’t let your foreground overwhelm the rest of the image, at least not all the time.
  • The closer you can get to your foreground, the better, up to a point.  The foreground has to be sharp, and it’s usually best when the background is in focus as well.  What this means is a small aperture (say f/22) and focusing on a point in your scene that will provide the sharpest results front to back.  This point varies depending on your focal length and the characteristics of your lens, but is always somewhere in the front third of your scene (sometimes only a few feet in front).
  • Also, it helps if there are details in each of these parts of your images.  Don’t confuse detail with texture.  Texture is always nice of course, but I’m speaking of things that are interesting to look at.  Things that draw the eye are good for depth, but you want to keep your image as simple as possible too.  It’s a balancing act.
  • Light is important.  This is difficult to pin down, but if you’ve been taking pictures for awhile you probably are well aware of the difference between flat light and light with depth.   Unfortunately, good light is not always light that will provide depth.  In fact, flat light can be good for some scenes/subjects.  Sorry I can’t be more specific; my best advice is to try getting pictures with depth in different kinds of light.
  • Leading lines can help with depth.  The classic is a one-point perspective, like the railroad tracks merging in the distance, but your lines don’t have to be this obvious!
  • Dramatic clouds in the sky (as in the second image above) can really help.  It can put a sort of “roof” on your image.  Make sure to include enough of the sky to accomplish this.

Back to these four images.  I chose them because of the varying combinations of light and depth.  In addition, they are all desert scenes and so easier to compare.  The light in the first two, and to a lesser extent the last image, is fairly hard, as is typical for deserts.  The first two were taken around mid-morning, so we’re not talking classic golden hour here.  The second image has better light because of a filtering effect from the clouds (a storm was approaching) but neither has truly excellent light.  The third image has nice soft sunrise light, but little depth.  And the fourth has a great combination of depth and beautiful dawn light.

Gorgeous dawn light greets me as I enter Death Valley from the east.

Gorgeous dawn light greets me as I enter Death Valley from the east.

The first image has, at least in my opinion, nice depth.  It has a detailed and interesting foreground (the cactus) plus a mid-ground (the angled sandstone formation) that leads the eye deeper into the scene.  The background is a fairly detailed skyline plus clouds.  It would have been even better if the clouds were more dramatic (in which case I would have included more of the sky).  Note that the background rocks are not too far away, and so have some detail.  This can help with a feeling of depth.

The second image is dominated by leading lines and so can’t help but have decent depth, but the dramatic clouds really help put a roof on the image (even though they take up a fairly small part of the frame).  The third image was taken during the first rays of light in Death Valley.  Although there are much better images from this place all over the web, the light here is unusually soft (for a desert) and thus demonstrates that an image without much depth can still work well.

The last image has a lot going for it depth-wise, despite its weaknesses.  It lacks leading lines and the foreground and mid-ground are not delineated well.  It has a good sense of perspective from the decreasing sizes of the polygonal cracks in the salt.  It also benefits from interesting detail both in the foreground (the salt) and the background (the moon).  The moon helps to give the already somewhat 3D clouds even more depth.  Lastly, the image is topped off with a beautiful pinkish glow that results from the sun (which is still beneath the horizon) reflecting off clouds close to the eastern horizon.  It’s no surprise that this is one of my favorite images from Death Valley.

A full moon sets over Death Valley's salt flats as a pink dawn approaches.

A full moon sets over Death Valley’s salt flats as a pink dawn approaches.

Thanks so much for reading.  If you have interest in any of the images, they are available for purchase either as a download or beautifully printed (framed or unframed).  Just click on an image and the rest is easy.  Note that they are all copyrighted and not available for download (the versions here are too small anyway).  Again, thanks for your cooperation and interest.  Please don’t hesitate to ask questions, add your thoughts, or give feedback (positive or negative) on the images.

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