Archive for the ‘how-to’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Meditation & Photo Flow   10 comments

Sunrise at Reflection Lakes, Mt. Rainier National Park

This is the second in a series on the state of flow in photography.   Check out Part I for introductory ideas and general concepts.  Flow, known also as being “in the zone”, is a mental state most of us are personally familiar with.  While it includes intense concentration, it’s a whole lot more.  Photo flow, at its essence, is not any different than flow in any other endeavour.  As with, for example, flow in writing (especially nonfiction), photo flow is marked predominantly by an intense engagement with your subjects.

Macro is custom-made for slipping into flow.

Macro is custom-made for slipping into flow.

Meditation & Photo Flow Compared

I mentioned in the last post how photo flow is like meditation.  But there are also contrasts.  The point is not to have a blank mind, as in (zen) meditation.  It’s to shoot without thinking too much.  Photo flow is marked by intense engagement with the process, and that involves conscious thought, punctuated by many small decisions.  It’s too active to be synonymous with meditation; but then again, flow can be thought of as a type of meditation.

Meditative on the northern California coast.

Meditative on the northern California coast.

I think of flow as a very relaxed, largely unconscious focus, one in which your body may be anything from very quiet (while writing for instance) to intensely active (I’ve entered flow while climbing mountains & skiing powder).  Meditation, on the other hand, normally implies a quiet body, one that mirrors a quiet mind.  I realize that people think of things like long-distance bike rides as meditation, and I can understand the comparison.  But in general I believe flow not meditation characterizes those sorts of activities.

So how does flow most resemble meditation?  It’s when you’re actually tripping the shutter.  Just like anyone who excels at something, good photographers think about photography for a good chunk of any shooting day (if not every other day!).  But they don’t think about it at the moment of capture.  As that quote machine of a photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson put it: “Thinking should be done before and after, not during photographing.”

Next week we’ll look at some examples of photo flow in landscape & nature shooting.  Thanks for looking, have a great weekend and happy shooting!

Being alone near sunset in the desert dunes with the fractal patterns and stark light you can easily slip into flow.

Foto Talk: Letting it Flow   4 comments

 

Beach grass on the dunes under a crescent moon along the Atlantic coastline.

The idea of flow has been around a long time, although doubtful that it’s had so many different names in the past as it does now.  Hyperfocus and ‘being in the zone’ are two other terms for it.  One of my pet peeves, by the way, is when people take an old concept or idea, slap a new, sexier name (or three) on it, and then pretend it’s brand new.  People have known about flow for a long time.  It is an experience common to all humans and undoubtedly as old as our species.

At some point in time everyone experiences flow.  It is that wonderful feeling of getting lost in an activity.  You lose sense of time passing.  You forget to eat.  And you don’t stop until you are finished or otherwise satisfied.  It’s what all artists strive for and what everybody wishes their jobs allowed them to do.

Flow is often described as a state of total concentration, but for me it is more than that.  It’s when awareness and action combine with total focus, but in sort of an unconscious way.  I find flow very hard to enter into without having a genuine interest in what I’m doing.  Anything worth doing is worth doing in a state of flow.

A historic building all by itself along the Santa Fe Trail in New Mexico.

A historic building all by itself along the Santa Fe Trail in New Mexico.

A rock formation called the Lighthouse in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas.

A rock formation called the Lighthouse in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas.

Photography flow is just like flow while doing anything else.  It’s complete absorption.  Nothing is capable of distracting you or takes your mind off the act of finding the best compositions and the most authentic ways to portray your subjects.  There are a few things unique to photography flow that are worth keeping in mind:

  • First off, don’t expect to enter into photography flow without some shooting experience.  It’s like anything else.  The more you shoot, the easier it is to flow along without a lot of conscious thought of what you’re doing.  But as soon as you’re comfortable with your gear and the basics of photography, flow is achievable.

 

  • It’s critical to be acutely aware of your surroundings during photo flow.  I’ve stressed the value of observation many times in this blog, and I’ll repeat it here.  If you want to get better at “seeing the shot”, practice observational skills whether you have a camera with you or not.  The goal is to see everything without needing to remind yourself.

 

  •  Photo flow is also aided by awareness of position with respect to your subjects.  Purposely moving through space, walking closer to the subject, getting very close to the ground, all of this variation of point of view helps to put you in close touch with the scene and your subject.  It avoids the bystander role (which in my opinion gets in the way of good photography) thus allowing you to ‘let it flow’.
A hoodoo in Bisti/De Na Zi wilderness, New Mexico.  What does it look like to you?

A hoodoo in Bisti/De Na Zi wilderness, New Mexico. What does it look like to you?

 

 

  • Working the subject, good advice for several reasons, can also help you enter photo flow.  If you don’t think you’re in the right frame of mind or your mind is wandering, try working the subject intensively.  By its nature this tends to eliminate distractions, allowing the sort of focus and concentration that leads to flow.

 

  • Obviously, entering flow is difficult if you’re thinking of things other than photography.  Clear your mind before beginning a shooting session, and if thoughts enter unwanted, just let them go on.  Don’t follow them to more distracting thoughts.  In this way flow is like meditation, which is discussed in next week’s post.

 

  • Focus on the seeing and shooting and leave for later your judgments about how good the shots are.  The only thing that should distract you from the act of shooting is a quick review on the LCD to make sure a shot was properly focused and exposed.  Avoid lingering over reviews and move right on to the next composition or subject.

 

Next time I’ll use a few examples to illustrate photo flow and also show how it is like meditation in some ways.  Have a wonderful weekend and happy shooting!

A recent sunset somewhere in New Mexico.

A recent sunset somewhere in New Mexico.

Friday Foto Talk: Shooting around Weather   4 comments

Dust and sand from the dunes at Mesquite Flat blows up-valley ahead of a storm.  Surprising for this hyper-arid place, I got soaked hiking back.

I took a break last week from Foto Talk.  Hope you all didn’t give up on me!  This week I passed by an area that was readying itself for a hurricane.  And there’s been plenty of rain besides.  So I’m taking the hint and posting on the subject of photography and weather, in particular photographing in the wet stuff.

Shooting in stormy conditions presents both challenges and opportunities.  You’ve probably heard the advice to keep shooting right through stormy weather.  While I won’t disagree with this in general, I prefer a less absolute, more realistic attitude.  It’s a matter of weighing the upsides against the downsides.

On the plus side, depending on the clouds and sky, you may get some of your most atmospheric or dramatic shots during bad weather.  On the downside your gear is at risk.  In wet weather you are taking the obvious risk of getting moisture inside camera or lens.  Since that’s where your sensitive electronics reside, this is of course not good.

A storm blows itself out over the Columbia River, Oregon.

SHOOTING IN THE STORM

I’ve lived in both Oregon and Alaska, two places where dramatically bad weather is very common.  Here is what I’ve learned over the years about photography in bad weather:

  • I just mentioned the risks of water inside the camera.  But that’s not nearly as bad as putting yourself at risk.  It doesn’t happen often but dangerous weather does occur.  Use common sense and know when to beat a hasty retreat, to high ground and/or shelter.
  • Find camera protection that works for you.  I’ve posted before with tips and recommendations in this regard, and this post isn’t about that.  Just realize that no matter how good your rain cover, lens changes and other occasions expose your camera to the weather.  So no matter what you do some moisture will likely fall on your camera.  If you have a well-sealed professional grade camera and lenses, you can get away with wetter conditions.  The key is to know how well sealed your gear is and act accordingly.
I shot this lighthouse on the Gulf Coast of Florida recently just after a heavy shower had passed.

I shot this lighthouse on the Gulf Coast of Florida recently just after a heavy shower had passed.

  • At least as important as having camera/lens protection is having good clothing that keeps you reasonably dry and comfortable.  But since no clothing is perfect, be ready to put up with a certain degree of discomfort.  I always remember what my grandmom used to say whenever I complained about getting wet.  “You’re awfully sweet but you’re not made of sugar.  You won’t melt!”
  • Unless I see something quite compelling, either while driving or hiking with camera in a pack with rain-cover on, I usually don’t bother getting my gear out when the rain (or wet snow) is coming down hard.  Shots I may try when it’s dry I won’t chance when it’s very wet; that is, unless it’s really calling out to me.  It’s a simple calculation of risk vs. reward.
  • When it’s raining or snowing, contrast tends to be subdued.  So I tend to be attracted to compositions where low-contrast helps instead of hurting.  Low contrast in the wrong shot can rob it of impact, but in the right situation it helps establish the mood of your image.
Hiking up into the Oregon forest during a rainstorm near dusk was the only way to get this shot.

Hiking up into the Oregon forest during a rainstorm near dusk was the only way to get this shot.

  • I shoot from within my vehicle a lot more when the weather is bad.  And I don’t think it makes me a wimp!  It does require sometimes pulling off in odd places.  If you do this, take it from me:  turn your attention away from the light and pay attention to your driving until you’re stopped, and even then continue to keep one eye out for traffic.  Unless the road is truly empty, I won’t block the travel lane.  I always make sure there is good sight distance behind and in front.  Having good sight distance is key, as is using emergency flashers and being quick about it.
The rain was coming down hard for this shot from inside my van: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

The rain was coming down hard for this shot from inside my van: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

  • Being near big waterfalls can be just like being in a rainstorm.  So all the precautions you take in rainy weather you should also take when shooting a big waterfall in high flow.
  • Normally I don’t use UV filters, but when it’s wet I like to put them on. Lenses seal much better with a filter than without.  Any filter will help seal a lens.  If I’m shooting in a forest and especially along a stream, I use a circular polarizer instead of a UV filter.  CPLs cut down on reflections from wet leaves and rocks, bringing out their colors.
  • If you like shooting the stars at night, consider also shooting on moonlit nights when clouds or even storms are around.  Lightning is an obvious draw for many photographers, but if you let your imagination roam you can find unusual night compositions.
Most photogs. want clear skies when they shoot at night, but the clouds added drama to this overview of Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone Park.

Most photogs. want clear skies when they shoot at night, but the clouds added drama to this overview of Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone Park.

SHOOTING TRANSITIONS 

As I’ve gone along, shooting in weather of all kinds, I’ve learned that shooting on weathery days is all about transitions.  Periods when weather is moving in on you or just clearing away very often offer the most rewarding light and atmosphere.  That’s why I titled this post Shooting around Weather, not in it.

  • Given that weather transitions usually happen quickly, it’s important to be ready.  That means, for a start, getting out there.  Some people think it strange, but a landscape photographer looks at bad weather forecasts and plans to go out shooting.  And it’s not just landscape shooting that can benefit.  You’ll get some of your most interesting architecture, people or wildlife shots when weather adds some drama to spice things up.
The interesting light here at Bollinger Mill & Bridge, Missouri is from a rapidly approaching violent thunderstorm.

The interesting light here at Bollinger Mill & Bridge, Missouri is from a rapidly approaching violent thunderstorm.

  • So how to plan for something so capricious?  First, identify “transition days” ahead of time.  They are days when weather shifts from one regime to another, and the weather-person will sometimes call them out for you.  Otherwise you can see them coming yourself, once you’re familiar with the weather in your area.  Because they are full of change and thus unpredictable, you can easily get skunked with either socked-in conditions or clear blue skies.  But you can be rewarded with fantastic light as well.
  • Because they are literally defined by change, success on transition days is anything but guaranteed.  So instead of trying to outsmart the weather, go out on storm days too.  Transitions in the middle of stormy periods, often featuring brilliant sun-breaks and colorful rainbows, occur between fronts and generally don’t show up in weather forecasts (although you can sometimes see them on radar).

Within seconds, the rain stopped and light of the setting sun shot out from behind the Grand Tetons, Wyoming.

 

  • Watch the sky carefully and try to anticipate transitions.  This can take practice, and expect Mother Nature to throw you many curves.  During dry times, get to where you want to shoot and wait (hope) for the shift to stormy weather at the right time, when the sun is low.  During the storm, get to your spot and shelter there with camera & tripod at the ready.  As the sun lowers, there is always the chance it will dip below the storm clouds, illuminating everything in beautiful light.

Thanks for reading.  Now I’m off to get some shots of the ocean and sky in tropical storm weather.  Wish me luck!  Have a great weekend and happy shooting!

Recent sunset in a coastal area along the Gulf of Mexico where Hermine was due to hit.

Recent sunset in a coastal area along the Gulf of Mexico where Hermine was due to hit.

Friday Foto Talk: Point of View & Staying Safe   13 comments

A recent shot from a lovely place in the Colorado Rockies called Bluebird Lake.

Let’s follow-up on the topic point of view (POV) and in particular last week’s Foto Talk on ethics and legality.  As you begin to dream up and try a wide variety of positions to shoot from, you’ll find yourself getting more deeply involved with it.  It’s what photography is all about.  But before you get lost in the moment, take another moment to consider the following cautionary tales.  The phrase “safety comes first”, after all, applies to photography like it does to any undertaking.

Flowers grow on a lichen-covered rock outcrop at 11,000 feet in Rocky Mtn. National Park, Colorado.

Flowers grow on a lichen-covered rock outcrop at 11,000 feet in Rocky Mtn. National Park, Colorado.

POV & Safety:  People

  • Property Territoriality.  I mentioned last week how you might run afoul of property owners or officials.  Yet anybody could take strong exception to your shooting near their “territory”.  One time in a lonely rural area I was getting some sunset shots.  Not far away was a farm house.  I was on the side of a county road, not even pointing the camera directly at the house.  But driving away in the gathering dark I noticed a guy following me in a pickup.  He continued for quite awhile until I stopped, got out and challenged him (something I don’t recommend).  Later I was pulled over by a cop (the guy had called) and had to explain who I was and what I was doing.
While shooting this barn in central Oregon I was approached by the owner who told me I was on a private road. I was honest about my reason for being there and he let me shoot away.

While shooting this barn in central Oregon I was approached by the owner who told me I was on a private road. I was honest about my reason for being there and he let me shoot away.

  • Compositional Territoriality.  It’s not always property owners who have issues.  You can also get in the way of other photographers too.  Although I generally shy away from popular locations and subjects and so don’t run into many others, on occasion I have inadvertently stepped in the way of a fellow shooter.  Some of these guys (they’re always guys) are extremely possessive of “their” compositions (see bottom image).  I don’t know why but they seem to like shining flashlights or (worse) laser pointers at me in a sort of passive aggressive way.  Weird.
  • See Below for more on staying safe in populated areas.
Dusk falls at Bluebird Lake. I balanced on the edge for this shot 'cause I wanted a POV highlighting the metamorphic rock textures in the foreground.

Dusk falls at Bluebird Lake. I balanced on the edge for this shot ’cause I wanted a POV highlighting the metamorphic rock textures in the foreground.

SOLUTIONS    

  • Stay Cool.  I probably don’t have to tell you that situations involving angry people can spin quickly out of control.  But if you remain relatively calm and listen to what the person is saying you’ll thank yourself later.
  • Be Honest.  It’s always best to state honestly what you’re doing.  If you try to obfuscate in any way you’ll just put yourself under suspicion.
  • Be Sensitive but Firm.  I try to strike a balance between (1) being sensitive to both the law and to people’s concerns and (2) being firm about my right to be on public property and my right to use (especially to keep!) my camera gear.
  • Know when to Walk Away.  I don’t always handle people the way I later realize I should have.  The main thing I’ve done wrong in the past is to not apologize and walk away when someone gets very angry.  Apologize even if you don’t think you’re in the right.  If they won’t let you go and want to get physical, just pull out your phone and dial 911.
St. Vrain River, Colorado.

St. Vrain River, Colorado.

POV & Safety:  Animals

People are obviously the biggest danger, but other animals can be dangerous as well (see what I did there?).  How close to that buffalo do you really need to be?  Seems we read on a weekly basis about tourists getting hurt when they get too near buffalo or other wild animals in Yellowstone Park.  And it’s not just tourists.  Pro photographers with not enough wildlife experience or common sense get too close.  Don’t take domestic animals too lightly either.  For example I give Brahma bulls more respect than most wild animals.

This large African elephant in the Okavango Delta gave us a fright when he bluff charged.

This large African elephant in the Okavango Delta gave us a fright when he bluff charged.

SOLUTIONS

  • Learn.  Start by reading about your animal subjects, paying particular attention to body language, territorial behaviours, “comfort distances” and related info.  But remember to take anything you learn on the internet or in books as a general guide only.  Animals are like people.  It’s not just that each individual is unique; it’s that each situation you find it in is unique.  Animal behaviour depends not just on instinct but on the individual and its circumstances.
  • Observe.  There is no substitute for careful observation of body language while you’re anywhere near a potentially dangerous animal.  Don’t approach until you take a good look.  For example, ears back is a common warning sign with prey animals.  For predators you may get ears back if they’re feeling defensive, or ears forward and alert if they’re on the hunt.
  • Go Slow.  Approaching slowly will not only avoid frightening the animal and blowing your chances, it will also give the animal a chance to get comfortable and keep it from becoming defensive.  It will also allow you more time to observe your quarry and stop if a behaviour indicates you should.  As a rule you should never turn your back on or run from any potentially dangerous animal.  There are exceptions to this however.

I’ve posted this one before, but it shows so well how animals use body language to warn you about getting any closer (arched tail).

POV & the Blinder Effect

  • The blinder effect is when you are dialed in to what you’re doing, changing positions and POV.  Our minds are on the shot, not on possible dangers.
  • As photographers we are more vulnerable than the average person.  To see why, let’s take mountain lions as an example.  If you’re a smaller man or a woman you need to be particularly careful in cougar country.  But even if you’re big and ugly like me, think about it.  As a photographer we often choose to shoot near dawn or dusk when the light is good.  And that’s when most predators are active.  Further, we tend to crouch down (making ourselves smaller) with faces pressed to the camera instead of directed toward danger.
  • In populated areas, simply substitute the word mugger for cougar and the situations are perfectly parallel.

ANIMALS

It’s not just when they’re the subjects that wildlife is a potential danger.  On a couple occasions I’ve been so focused on a landscape shot that I allowed a curious animal to approach me quite closely.  Depending of course on the animal and the situation, this could be either a pleasant surprise or a dangerous development.  For example cougars inhabit even populated areas.  And don’t forget venomous snakes.  Adjusting POV often means walking through tall grass or thick brush.

I definitely avoided turning my back on this Komodo dragon on the island of Rinca, Indonesia.

This Komodo dragon on the island of Rinca, Indonesia snuck up on me while I was photographing a bigger one. It’s a bit chilling to be stalked.

PEOPLE

  • Urban Areas:  In cities, wandering into a sketchy neighborhood near dark is easy to do when chasing a shot.  I did it in Kuala Lumpur once while trying for a photo of the Petronas Towers at blue hour (dusk).  That is, until a kind local noticed and let me know I was putting myself (or at least all my camera gear) at risk.  I got a shot but it wasn’t right, so next night I did something different (see image).

Not as famous as the Petronas Towers, but still worth shooting, the Kuala Lumpur Tower & the perfect POV on my hotel’s roof. I don’t think I was supposed to be there.

  • Remote Areas:  One reason I like wilderness areas is because there’s normally no need to worry about other people.  But the other side of that coin means you are more vulnerable if a bad character does appear.  Several years ago I was in Colombia on a hike through a jungle known for its bandits.  I stopped to watch some very cool-looking monkeys.  There was a small noise and I turned around to find that two young native guys with machetes had caught right up to me.  Chills went down my spine.  But happily they turned out to be friendly and we ended up hiking together.  One even climbed a tree and used his machete to cut a huge fresh papaya down (yummy!).

SOLUTION

For the blinder effect there is really just one solution:  Be Aware of your Surroundings.  Take your face away from the camera and look around from time to time, particularly in lonely places.

Summary

I feel like I’ve sounded a tone that’s a bit too paranoid.  We all know what can result from too much fear: paralysis.  In fact you’ll probably never run into most of these situations.  But they are worth being ready for in the same way that it’s wise to prepare for a natural disaster that’ll probably never happen.  So be careful out there, just not too careful.  Shoot with as many POVs as you think is necessary.  Practice awareness and common sense and all will be well.  Have a great weekend!

At Deadhorse Point, Utah, a popular spot, I arrived pre-dawn & was able to shoot this gnarled juniper while another photog. who arrived after me circled around with his little flashlight.

At Utah’s Deadhorse Point, a popular spot, I showed up very early (rare for me).  While shooting this gnarled juniper a guy who arrived after me but apparently wanted the same shot circled around trying various ways to hurry me.

Friday Foto Talk: Point of View, Part II   4 comments

In a forest I often find stumps or fallen logs to stand on, raising POV.  Like atop this fallen giant in California's redwoods.

In a forest I often find stumps or fallen logs to stand on, raising POV. Like atop this fallen giant in California’s redwoods.

This is the second of two parts on Point of View (POV) in photography.  Last week Part I looked at general position and angle related to subject and background.  This time I’ll focus on what most people think of when they think of POV: height.

Point of View:  Height

Let’s go back to when we first picked up a camera.  What did we do?  We shot from a standing position.  Then when we got hold of a tripod we extended the legs and again shot from eye level.  This isn’t surprising; it’s almost always the way we experience the world.

Unfortunately, it quickly becomes boring to see picture after picture from this same position.  You start to wonder what it’s like to see things the way the world’s shortest man or the tallest woman sees them.  Going further, what is it like to see the world from an eagle’s point of view, or an insect’s?  There’s only one way to find out.  Get up or get down and shoot!  It’s the other major way to change point of view: change the camera height.

Long's Peak, shot last night from the highest point I could find on Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mtn. National Park, Colorado.

Long’s Peak, shot last night from the highest point I could find on Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mtn. National Park, Colorado.

LOW POV

The easiest way to change height POV is to lower it.  You go down on one knee, assuming the classic shooter’s pose.  Or you squat, getting a bit lower.  Or you lay right down on your belly with elbows propped in a sort of tripod.  When you’re using an actual tripod and want to go lower, you either change the length of the legs or spread them more widely.

You can also remove the center column or otherwise rig up the tripod to go even lower.  For ultra low POVs you can just plop the camera right down on the ground.  Or you use a beanbag, your camera bag, or a piece of clothing for cushioning, giving you a POV very near ground level.

This small cholla cactus I wanted to highlight against the stormy sky of Death Valley, California.  So I used a very low POV, a foot or two above the ground.

This small cholla cactus I wanted to highlight against the stormy sky of Death Valley, California. So I used a very low POV, a foot or two above the ground.

When you lower your point of view a few interesting things happen:

  • Foregrounds draw nearer and get bigger.  For compositions with close foreground elements, lowering POV brings them even closer (see image above).  If you want everything in focus front to back you may have to stop down to a smaller aperture (higher f/number).  Or you can take more than one shot and focus stack the images.
  • Foregrounds change position.  Lowering your POV also changes how foreground subjects are set off against the background.  As you go down, close foreground elements rise in proportion.  This can set them against the sky instead of the landscape and even put them in silhouette.  You also need to be aware of foreground elements blocking important parts of the background.  Make small shifts in position to compensate and get the composition just right.
  • Backgrounds recede.  This depends on how wide your lens is, but when you lower the camera the background can lose prominence in favor of foreground elements.  Even tall mountains tend to shrink.  Not as much as when you change from a 50 mm. to a 17 mm. focal length, for example, but the effect is similar.  It’s another way that lowering POV helps to emphasize foreground elements in an image, by de-emphasizing the background.
For these two elk this morning, I got low to set them against the rising sun.

For these two elk this morning, I got low to set them against the rising sun.  Compare with image below.

Another recent elk from Rocky Mtn. National Park. But this time from a higher POV gained by walking uphill.

HIGH POV

Another way to vary height POV is to raise the camera, so you’re looking down on your subject.  It’s more challenging than lowering the camera, but it’s often more interesting to try.  And it’s more satisfying when it turns out well.  That’s because, as hard as it can seem to get very low (especially as we get older), going up usually requires the most effort and imagination.  You need to either climb with your gear up to some perch or do some outside-the-box thinking, or both.

Here are some ideas:

  • Climb a rock or mountain.  We tell ourselves it won’t matter so much, but that’s our lazy side talking back to us.  In actuality, scrambling up onto a rock or heading up a steep trail is often all you need to make that landscape photo pop.  It can also add interest to a group photo.  Depending on your subject, even a modest increase in POV height can help to add a sense of depth.  The image above only required a short (but breathless) walk uphill.  I also gave him plenty of space and shot with a longer focal length (600 mm.) so as not to disturb him from his morning “zen spot”.
  • Or a tree!  Last weekend while photographing these moose in Colorado I was becoming frustrated by the tall willows.  While the moose were more than okay with it, happily munching on one of their favorite foods, the willows were also limiting my view to head and antler shots.  So I did something I rarely do anymore: I climbed a tree.  I only had to go about 6 or 7 feet up to make a big difference in POV.  I ended up liking the shots with lower POV, those few without obscuring willows that is.  But how would I have known for sure without trying?
I had to get part-way up a tree to even get this much of a moose in the willows, Colorado.

I had to get part-way up a tree to even get this much of a moose in the willows, Colorado.

A fairly low POV, helped by finding an avenue through the willows, emphasized the size of this rather rude fellow.

A fairly low POV, helped by finding an avenue through the willows, emphasized the size of this rather rude fellow.

  • Tote a ladder around.  This is something I’ve only done a couple times, but it’s certainly a good solution in some circumstances.  For photos of people, just those few extra feet can really add variety and shift perspective dramatically.  For landscapes when you’re in a flat area, especially when shooting from the road where vegetation blocks the view, it can make the difference between getting the shot and getting skunked.
  • Go flying.  I’m always on a budget, but on occasion it has worked out to charter a flight in a small plane.  In the Okavango Delta, for example, I went in with a couple other people and took a spectacular flight over the enormous wetlands in northern Botswana, looking down on elephant and antelope herds.  If money is no problem, a helicopter flight is the best option of all.  You can hover for one thing, allowing extra time to shoot.  In addition, being able to land anywhere (if regulations permit) makes choppers my all-time favorite mode of air travel.

 

  • Get a drone.  I don’t really like drones.  For some reason they annoy me, and besides I like to be physically behind the camera.  But I have to admit that drones allow you to dramatically raise point of view in a hurry.  They also allow you to put the camera into places that are impossible to get to.

A low POV and wide angle helps to lend a sense of depth to this shot of a glacial tarn high in the Rockies.

I sometimes catch myself getting lazy when I’m out shooting.  Not often, but it happens.  I’ve learned that attitude has so much to do with photography, and occasionally the enthusiasm and motivation is just not there.  In those cases I think it’s best to just enjoy the place you’re in without photographing anything.  Of course us photogs. have a hard time doing this.

But if you are standing in one place and not varying your point of view, ask yourself if you really want to be out shooting that day.  A good way to check if you are truly motivated  is to simply observe yourself.  Are you moving your feet?  Are you changing position and height?

The bottom line is that if you want better photographs you simply must vary your point of view as much as possible.  All this shifting around to get the shot can lead to problems both legal and safety-wise.  So nextFriday I will add a post-script to the topic of POV.  Thanks so much for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

For this sunset shot at Red Rock Lake, Colorado, I wanted to get low enough to emphasize the grasses yet not so low that Indian Peaks would appear too small.

For this sunset shot at Red Rock Lake, Colorado, I wanted to get low enough to emphasize the grasses yet not so low that Indian Peaks would appear too small.

 

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: Visualization, Part I   18 comments

This image was the result of waking up just after sunrise and while still sleepy walking into a fog-suffused meadow in the Sangre de Cristo Mtns., New Mexico, visualizing an image that would capture that mood.

The result of waking up just after sunrise and while still sleepy walking into a fog-suffused meadow in the Sangre de Cristo Mtns., New Mexico, visualizing an image that would capture that mood.

I want to follow-up on last Friday’s post on Pre-visualization. This is Part I and next Friday I’ll conclude with Part II.  I strongly believe that most of our best pictures are captured when we are in the right frame of mind, and a big part of that is visualization.  Although pre-visualization can result in great images as well, I don’t think it’s as important a skill as visualization.  It’s not easy to put these ideas into words, but here goes!

At least it is easy to describe the difference between the two types of visualization.  I thought about calling the subject of this post Syn-Visualization; that’s because it takes place while you’re out photographing.  Pre-visualization on the other hand happens before-hand, while you’re planning a shoot.  A simplistic distinction I admit.  The two certainly overlap and lead one to the other.  Observation while out shooting is directly related in that it can lead to and be spurred by both kinds of visualization.

I had walked by this tall cliff of andesite near Mt. Hood many times, waiting for the right conditions to image it so as to show some of the lush environment along the creek that cut into the lava flow to expose it.

I had walked by this interesting cliff near Mt. Hood (Oregon) many times, waiting for the right conditions to show some of the lush environment along the creek that it borders.

Oklahoma_Sept-2014_6D_030-Edit

While in Oklahoma, I’d been pre-visualizing images of tall-grass prairie in wind.  The warm mood of this sunset allowed me to capture it, but with just the barest sense of movement instead of a longer exposure that would blur the textures of the grass.

Visualization in Practice

Let’s use a hypothetical example to show both kinds of visualization at work.  On a first visit to a place you might observe something about a subject that you want to highlight.  Unfortunately the light and other conditions aren’t quite right, so you shoot a more or less documentary (objective) photo of the subject.

Thinking about it afterwards, you spend some mental energy visualizing your desired image, planning that second visit (it may be the next day or next year).  Then when you’re onsite again, you are faced with different conditions, different from last time and different than your pre-visualization.  Your mood and state of mind are different.  There may even be things that have changed about the place.  A large log has fallen into a waterfall, for example.

Unfazed and with an open mind, you observe everything about the subject and conditions.  You observe the mood of the place, and inevitably your own state of mind influences your interpretation of that mood.  You begin to visualize an image that may to some degree be influenced by your pre-visualization and planning.  Or you may throw out all thoughts of realizing your pre-visualized image and visualize a different image.

All of this should lead to getting the best possible image.  A picture that does more than just record your being there.  One that is deeper than what you thought was possible after your first visit.  And as a bonus, you could end up being more artistically satisfied with your image than with one that is simply about the light, one that gets a lot of “wows” & “stunnings” online (although it could do both).  The more conscious visualization you do, and the more time you spend behind the camera, the more all this “virtual photography” takes place in your subconscious (read on).

Any safari-goer would love to get an image of a charging black rhino, right? This one wasn't charging but he was covering the ground between us a bit too quickly, especially since he had caught me outside the vehicle (a no no in Kruger N.P.)

Any safari-goer wants an image of a charging black rhino, right? This curious guy wasn’t charging, but was covering the ground between us a bit too quickly, especially since he’d caught me outside the vehicle (a no no in Kruger N.P.)

The result of visualizing pretty Mexican girls who wanted to clown around, and I borrowed a piece of fabric with Mexican flag colors as a backdrop.

While in Mexico I pre-visualized images of a pretty Mexican girl smiling.  I ended up with three young friends who wanted to clown around, causing me to change my mind and visualize them together, a borrowed piece of fabric with Mexican flag colors as backdrop.

Subconscious Visualization

Let’s go deeper into how visualization might help your photography without much conscious effort.  Both pre- and visualization can happen in the subconscious as well as the conscious mind, but there’s an important difference.  Subconscious visualization while out shooting is made conscious (or explicit) when you make the photograph.  It doesn’t always happen of course, but there’s at least a decent chance it will.  In contrast, subconscious pre-visualization moves to the front of your mind in the less useful form of an explicit pre-visualization.  Who knows if it will be made into an image or not, but the chances are slim compared to onsite visualization.

Pre-visualizing aspens in front of the Grand Tetons for most has them in fall colors, but spring green and their exposed trunks meant visualizing something different.

For most photogs. pre-visualizing aspens in front of the Grand Tetons has them in fall colors.  For me, spring green and exposed trunks meant visualizing something different.

I believe that visualization (both conscious and subconscious), much more so than pre-visualization and planning, leads to images that accurately reflect the nature of the subject and your own take on that subject.  It’s for the simple reason that visualization happens when you are faced with your subject, light and other conditions of the moment.  Images based on good observation and visualization reflect your own style better too.  Pre-visualization is subject to extraneous influences.

All of these benefits depend on how observant and conscious you are when you photograph.  If, while you’re out shooting, you are thinking about an argument you had with someone, or about the election and that guy with the fake hair, you can’t expect much useful visualization to take place.  I’m the first to admit I don’t always succeed at this level of attention while shooting, but the effort is worthwhile.

Visualization concludes with the next Foto Talk.  Thanks for reading, happy shooting, and have a super week!

The Columbia River Gorge in Oregon is a good place for visualization. Here at a restored area I was trying to depict the gorge the way it was before dams, with wetlands lining the length of the river.

The Columbia River Gorge in Oregon is a good place for visualization. Here at a restored area I was trying to depict the gorge the way it was before dams, with wetlands lining the length of the river.

 

 

 

Friday Foto Talk: Pre-Visualization   6 comments

From the Columbia River Gorge, this was a completely unexpected image, only captured because a traffic jam forced me to take a detour. Although I've been here many times since then, the conditions have never measured up to that day.

From the Columbia River Gorge, this was a completely unexpected image, only captured because a traffic jam forced me to take a detour. Although I’ve been here many times since then, the conditions have never measured up to that day.

The past half-dozen or so Friday Foto Talks have focused on landscape photography.  The topic of this one, pre-visualization applies to all photography.  But it’s become apparent to me that many photography “experts” believe pre-visualization is critical when making landscape images.  That triggered my always-ready skepticism, so I thought I’d examine this assumption with a critical eye.  Is it really possible that, at least with respect to pre-visualization, I’ve been doing landscape photography wrong all this time?  (In general I don’t pre-visualize my images.)

Mount Rainier from Eunice Lake, an image I had pre-visualized, though I did not know about the flowers until I hiked up there.

Mount Rainier from Eunice Lake, an image I had pre-visualized, though I did not know about the flowers until I hiked up there.

Pre-Visualization Defined

What exactly is pre-visualization?  In order to distinguish it from visualization (the subject of next Friday’s post), I’m defining it the following way: Before you’re out shooting, imagine in your mind the way you’d like an image to look.  You’re starting to pre-visualize.  Going further, you imagine the place and subject, the composition, all the supporting elements and even the light that makes the image look perfect.  In short, everything about it.  You also make the necessary plans to execute that image, including when and how to get there, where exactly to stand, etc.  You may even imagine all the praise you’ll get, but that’s a different topic!

I had come here to Great Sand Dunes National Park photograph the dunes, but found myself on a dry lake-bed nearby, and an un-pre-visualized image.

I had come to Great Sand Dunes National Park to photograph the dunes, but found myself on a dry lake-bed nearby, with an un-pre-visualized image.

Problems with Pre-Visualization

CHANGING VARIABLES

With landscape photography, I sometimes pre-visualize when I’m making a repeat visit to a place, rarely on a first visit.  But here’s the kicker: I mostly don’t get the precise image I’ve visualized.  Often I don’t even come close.  Does that mean I fail at getting successful landscape images?  Only you the viewers can judge, but in order to keep going I assume the answer is no.  Instead of getting discouraged, I recognize there are far too many variables at work for me to consistently realize my imagined images.  Light is the obvious one, but access and other compositional restrictions, unexpected extra elements, even the exact mood (both of you and the time/place) all come into play, most of the time ruining our best-laid plans.

While in the middle U.S. I wanted an image of a covered bridge or other historic architecture, but with a different composition. This one at Bollinger Mill, Missouri, fit the bill.

While in the middle U.S. I wanted an unusual composition of a covered bridge or other historic architecture, but didn’t visualize anything too specific.  This one at Bollinger Mill, Missouri, fit the bill.  

THE NEED FOR FLEXIBILITY

To be a photographer is not to always stick to your plan; it’s to be ready at a moment’s notice to enact plan B (or plan C).  It’s to be almost hyper-aware of your surroundings, observing the changing weather, light and other conditions, and to adapt, making the most of what you’re given.  You could lay out a pre-visualized plan and stick around until all the light and other variables cooperate.  But the time and patience required for that is not very practical, at least for the majority of us.

Sure, the occasional image might be important enough to you, so go ahead and do it.  Or if you’re shooting architecture, portraits, or some other type of photography with more easily controlled variables, then pre-visualization can work without great amounts of extra patience and time.  But your usual mode of operation for landscape and nature photography should be much more flexible and open-minded.

I had pre-visualized a starscape image featuring the Milky Way (when I was more into those), then I came upon this different kind of image with the Big Dipper & Vermillion Cliffs.

I had pre-visualized a starscape image featuring the Milky Way (when I was more into those), then I came upon this different kind of image with the Big Dipper & Vermillion Cliffs.

SNEAKY INFLUENCES

Changing variables and the need for flexibility is only the most obvious reason to take pre-visualization with a grain of salt.  Isn’t it possible that many of our pre-visualized images are influenced by images we’ve seen online, even down to the exact place and composition?  I think so.  This is perfectly fine if you’re a tourist or otherwise casual shooter and simply want to take some photos for fun and memories.  I was casual about photography for years, so I mean that sincerely!

If you’re more serious about photography and want to develop a style all your own, if you view your photography as artistic expression, it’s extremely important to avoid influences that could lead you to capture too many images that are derivative in nature, simple replications of the photography of others.

I had pre-visualized this image of Jackson Lake with the Tetons and the Milky Way. The setting moon was an unexpected addition.

I had pre-visualized this image of Jackson Lake with the Tetons and the Milky Way. But I’d planned on waiting ’till the moon set, not including it’s light behind the Grand.

When & Why to Pre-Visualize

Despite these downsides and cautions, I believe there is a place for pre-visualization.  For one thing, pre-visualization helps to develop at least a preliminary plan.  And it even works sometimes, with some luck.  I’ve posted the image at bottom before.  I’m posting it again because it’s the most recent successful image that I deliberately pre-visualized before arriving at the location.  But it’s the exception.  Most of my successful landscape images were not explicitly pre-visualized.  However, this doesn’t mean visualization was not involved (see below).

Definitely pre-visualized image of a small exploration drill rig. I even planned the pipe as leading lines plus the blurred movement in dim blue dusk light.

A pre-visualized image of a small exploration drill rig. I even planned the pipe as leading lines plus the blurred movement in dim blue dusk light.

The most important reason to engage in at least occasional pre-visualization is that it can help you to be more conscious about your photography.  Consciously thinking about your pictures before you go out shooting leads to more subconscious pre-visualization, tapping into your creativity.  Going further, the practice of pre-visualization (either consciously or subconsciously) can lead to a greater amount of visualization, which is done while out shooting.  Next time we’ll examine these things in more depth, specifically visualization and its role in making good photographs.  Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

I had pre-visualized this image of the barn and cliffs of Capitol Reef, Utah. All I needed was at least one of the two horses being out in the pasture, plus good light of course.

I pre-visualized this image of the barn and cliffs at Capitol Reef, Utah. All I needed was at least one of the two horses being out in the pasture, plus good light of course.

Friday Foto Talk: Black & White, Part III   6 comments

A sea cave on the southern California coast I entered recently. See below for color version. 21 mm., 6 sec. @ f/9, ISO 200; tripod; converted in Nik Silver Effex 2.  A little selective color was left.

This mini-series on black and white (B&W) imaging concludes with some tips for post-capture.  Be sure to check out Part I and Part II, as this post builds on those two.  My main goal in doing these is to motivate you to do more monochrome images.  It really can help your color photography.  You learn to pay more attention to texture and tonal variations.  Although I focus here on landscapes, B&W is great for any kind of subject.

As mentioned previously, I think it’s just as valid to make a B&W image by deciding later to convert from color as it is to shoot for B&W during the capture phase.  But you should find that the more images you convert to B&W on the computer the more often you will shoot specifically for B&W while you’re out photographing.

My little boy is sorely missed. 116 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/4, ISO 200; handheld; converted in LR.

My little boy is sorely missed. 116 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/4, ISO 200; handheld; converted in LR.

Here is my general procedure post-capture:

  • Work from the RAW color image.  I always shoot RAW, which is by default color.  You can set up your camera to display in monochrome on the LCD, but the image file (as long as it’s RAW) always includes color information.
  • Import & apply keywords.  If I had shot specifically for B&W during capture, I already know in general what’s going to be converted to B&W.  For those images I apply the keyword “B&W” and usually “monochrome” as well.  If everything from the shoot is to be B&W (a rarity for me), I apply those keywords on import.  If you have a favorite B&W preset you may want to apply that on import as well, but I don’t generally use import presets.
A fishing cabin along the Quinalt River, on my recent trip up to the wonderful Olympic Peninsula.

A fishing cabin along the Quinalt River, on my recent trip up to the wonderful Olympic Peninsula.

21 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100; tripod; converted in Nik Silver Effex.

21 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100; tripod; converted in Nik Silver Effex.

  • Decide which images to convert.  Probably a more common situation is to not know exactly what images I’ll be converting to B&W.  So just after importing the shoot into Lightroom, key-wording & rating the selects leftover from culling, I consider whether some images might look good in B&W.  Again, texture and interesting tonal variations catch my monochrome eye, as do old-timey subjects.
  • Set aside my B&Ws to-be.  A good idea is to push the shots you want to convert to B&W temporarily into a collection you have set up for the purpose.  Just make that the target collection by right-clicking, then for each one you’d like to convert type ‘b’ while it’s selected.  Make virtual copies so you can work on the virtual copy instead of the original.  This way you have the convenience of being able to compare the two side-by-side after you’re finished.
Color version of the image at top.

Color version of the image at top.

  • Try some presets.  I have some presets I downloaded from the internet and the ones that come with Lightroom.  I’m not a huge preset person, which is probably not the best thing for efficiency.  But there are enough there to give me a nice start for quickly converting to B&W while in Lightroom.  So I take the virtual copies and try some different preset looks.  Sometimes it’s a look I like, so I spend more time editing to come up with a final image.  But for the majority of B&W images I…
I love the soft texture of this white-tail doe's fur in B&W. From Glacier N.P., Montana. 600 mm., 1/2000 sec. @ f/8, ISO 640; hand-held; processed in LR.

I love the soft texture of this white-tail doe’s fur in B&W. From Glacier N.P., Montana. 600 mm., 1/2000 sec. @ f/8, ISO 640; hand-held; processed in LR.

  • Go to Silver Effex.  Nik’s Silver Effex is the gold standard for black and white editing.  It is used most commonly as a plugin for Photoshop or Lightroom.  For example in Lightroom I just right-click the image, hover over ‘edit in’, then choose Silver Effex 2.  A dialog box comes up and I always edit a TIFF copy of the RAW image.  By the way, I occasionally use Topaz’s B&W plug-in.  It’s also very good.

 

  • Edit in Silver Effex.  Again there are a selection of built-in presets, along with a nice selection of film looks that you can add on.  I have made a few of my own presets too.  Through the use of so-called control points, the program gives you the ability to work on small areas of the image.  There are a lot of toning options too.  By clicking save the image comes back into Lightroom as a TIFF, where I may need to do a little tweaking.  This is when I scan around and clone out sensor spots, something you should always do at the very end of editing.
Springbok "pronk" through the grasslands of Namibia. 400 mm., 1/1000 sec. @ f/8, ISO 200; hand-held; converted w/cream tone in LR.

Springbok “pronk” through the grasslands of Namibia. 400 mm., 1/1000 sec. @ f/8, ISO 200; hand-held; converted w/cream tone in LR.

  • Double-edit the odd color image.  Sometimes, not often, I will edit an image for color either using Lightroom or a plug-in, then decide to convert it to B&W as well.  For example I’ll take an image into Nik Color Effex & edit to a final color image.  After it’s back in Lightroom I make a virtual copy and convert that to B&W within Lightroom.  The image at bottom was processed this way.  Or I’ll go into Silver Effex, in which case there’s no need to make a virtual copy (you work on a TIFF copy).

I’m careful with this procedure, as it’s possible to end up with something that looks a bit over-edited.  One great thing about working from Photoshop instead of Lightroom is that you can edit in the plug-in on a layer.  That way you can lower the opacity of the layer, making the editing effects more subtle.  I’m most comfortable with Lightroom however.

I know, a bit long this time.  Sorry ’bout that!  Happy (black and white) shooting!

Bollinger Mill and covered bridge, Missouri, in sepia. 19 mm., 1.3 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50; tripod; processed in Nik Color Effex then converted to B&W in Lightroom.

 

 

Friday Foto Talk: Black & White, Part II   4 comments

Oregon's upper Salmon River in the Cascade Mtns. is an amazing place to photograph in cold wintry weather.  70 mm., 1/6 sec. @ f/16; tripod; B&W conversion in Silver Effex.

Oregon’s rugged upper Salmon River valley, an amazing place to photograph in cold wintry weather. 70 mm., 1/6 sec. @ f/16, ISO 100; tripod; converted to B&W in Nik Silver Effex 2.

This continues the mini-series on black and white (B&W) photography.  Check out Part I for tips on what types of images lend themselves to B&W.  I really like trying monochrome processing with any shot, because you never know until you see the image.  A few things to keep in mind while shooting B&W:

  • See in B&W:  This can be tough to do, since we see all day everyday in color.  One thing to try is setting up your camera to display in black and white while shooting.  If you’re shooting in RAW (which you should be), the image is still recorded in color.  It just displays in B&W on the LCD.  Also try going out and shooting only B&W, as an exercise.  Shoot Jpegs and deliberately limit yourself to B&W.  I don’t recommend doing this regularly though; give yourself options by shooting RAW.
Sunset on the Olympic Coast, Washington.  50 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200; hand-held.

Sunset on the Olympic Coast, Washington. 50 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200; hand-held.

B&W conversion in Nik Silver Effex 2.

B&W conversion in Silver Effex 2.

  • Look for Texture:  As mentioned in the last post, textures are just made for B&W.  That’s because color often distracts us from the underlying texture of a scene.  Remove it and voila!  Interesting textural patterns are revealed.  Many people have too limited a view of texture.  They think of peeling paint, tree bark, or a patterned rock wall.  That is texture at one scale.  In reality texture comes in all sizes, from the very fine to much larger patterns.  Try to get used to looking for texture in all its forms.
Ancient sand dunes near Page, Arizona.

Ancient sand dunes near Page, Arizona. 32 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/16, ISO 200; hand-held w/polarizer.

Converted & processed in  Silver Effex.

Bringing out the texture: converted & processed in Silver Effex.

  • Don’t Forget the Basics:  The same principles of composition that make color images work apply to B&Ws as well.  Limit the “junk” in your comps., and seek balanced scenes that are interesting and pleasing to the eye.
The foot bridge at Ramona Falls, Oregon.  50 mm., 4 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50; tripod; processed in Lightroom.

The foot bridge at Ramona Falls, Oregon. 50 mm., 4 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50; tripod; processed in Lightroom.

  • Go for Monochrome Scenes:  These are situations where the light and your subject are already monochrome, either nearly or completely so.  Often it’s when the light is quite low, since light begets color.  When things are already nearly monochrome, it’s quite easy to see and shoot monochrome images (funny how that works!).
Zooming in on Faery Falls in Oregon's Columbia Gorge, the image became nearly monochrome.  50 mm., 0.4 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod; Processed in Silver Effex.

Zooming in on Faery Falls in Oregon’s Columbia Gorge, the image became nearly monochrome. 50 mm., 0.4 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod; Processed in Silver Effex.

This version, a panorama of 6 shots combined, includes the surrounding green lushness.

This wider composition of Faery Falls is a panorama of 6 shots combined & includes the surrounding green lushness.

  • Get in the Mood:  Finally, try to feel the mood of a scene and shoot it accordingly.  Foggy and mysterious is the obvious one, but there are many other moods, including bright, contrasty and optimistic.  Try to mentally impose different post-processing looks, such as toned to sepia, high-key, low-key, and so on.  For example, with a monochrome scene that is already a bit dim, I’ll try to imagine what it might look like even darker and toned with a subtle sepia or cyan.

Okay that’s it for today.  Stay tuned for more on black and white.  Have a great weekend and get out there!

Beacon Rock on the Columbia River, a landmark that Lewis & Clark mentioned in their journals in 1803.  106 mm., 1/200 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200; hand-held; processed in Nik Color Effex then given antique sepia tone in Lightroom.

Beacon Rock on the Columbia River, a landmark that Lewis & Clark mentioned in their journals in 1803. 106 mm., 1/200 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200; hand-held; processed in Nik Color Effex, then given antique sepia tone in Lightroom.

%d bloggers like this: