Archive for the ‘subject’ Tag

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: Overcoming Obstacles – Subject   6 comments

Late afternoon light on the Guadalupe Mountains, west Texas.

Late afternoon light on the Guadalupe Mountains, west Texas.

Obstacles crop up as often in photography as they do life in general.  It’s tempting to think only in terms of technical problems (exposure, focus, etc.), and it’s true that techniques of photography can take up a lot of your thought and effort.

But I’m not covering these sorts of obstacles for a simple reason.  Shooting a lot (see Part I) will allow you to handle those things easily enough.  This series of posts is about the bigger obstacles, those that stand in the way of becoming a very good (or even great) photographer.

Finding Good Subjects

As Joe McNally, the famed National Geographic photographer said, “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff”.  With photography, putting yourself in front of interesting subjects is the pathway to success.

Of course what one person finds interesting others may not.  But it is true that some subjects photograph much better than others do.  For example, put a human in any picture and you automatically connect with people (funny how that works).  Do me a favor though, resist the urge to picture someone with tripod and camera in front of a sunset ;-).

Enjoying the last flat section of the Cooper Spur route, north side of Mt. Hood, Oregon.

Enjoying the last flat section of the Cooper Spur route, north side of Mt. Hood, Oregon.

Here’s one simple example of how to include interesting stuff in your photos.  If you’re going on safari (anywhere not just Africa), why not try to time it for just after most of the animals bear their young?  Nothing is cuter than a baby animal of course.  But more importantly, the presence of youngsters means a better chance to photograph interesting behavior.

A young zebra glances back at me as his mom  uses her tail to brush flies away, Hwange N.P., Zimbabwe

A young zebra glances back at me as his mom uses her tail to brush flies away, Hwange N.P., Zimbabwe

SUBJECTS AND YOU

While the above considerations factor into making good images, ultimately it’s really about your relationship with the subject.  In order to get great pictures, it’s best to be into your subjects, to like (or better, love) them.  If you like them enough you’ll spend more time with them and learn lots of interesting stuff about them.  As a result, your photos will come out better.

It’s true that what will make you an accomplished photographer is an ability to shoot anything well.  After all, why not be up for shooting any subject?  Approach it with respect and an open mind.  But don’t get in the habit of settling for easy-access subjects when you really want to shoot something else.  By the way, don’t think your desired subject has to be in a distant exotic locale.  It just has to be what you’re fascinated by.  And you’ll overcome any obstacle to access and photograph it.

As an example, a subject like the high forested Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, shown below, for a time became a personal quest to shoot in just the right light and weather conditions.  This particular image is of Mystery Ridge, one of the toughest off-trail scrambles in the Gorge.  After hiking it (can you call that hiking?), I wanted badly to photograph it in classic mist-shrouded conditions.

 

Mystery Ridge, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Here’s another example: I had always wanted to visit and photograph Carlsbad Caverns.  But its out of the way location had been putting me off.  Recently, after coming across some smaller caves in Arkansas, my urge to go was stoked again.  So I made the drive to New Mexico and was so glad I did.

The great thing about going somewhere out of the way is that you so often discover other places you never realized existed.  It makes the trip that much more worthwhile.  Just south of Carlsbad lies the Guadalupe Mountains (image at top).  What a nice bonus they were!

Carlsbad Caverns N.P. above-ground.

Carlsbad Caverns N.P. above-ground.

 

Carlsbad_Caverns_Dec-2014_6D_040

It’s a fantasy-land below ground.

 

No sunset this time, don’t want to be too predictable!  Thanks so much for reading.  Stay tuned for more of this series next Friday.  Have a wonderful weekend.

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