Sunday, April 27, 2008

10 Best Methods to take Great Photographs

In this article, I will list tried and proven techniques to improve the photographic images you are capturing and to keep the momentum going. These are not my original ideas but a compilation of proven methods by many of the great artists and photographers who have shared with their communities.

Each theme below is unique in one perspective but is definitely tied to the other themes and is best when it is an integrated package of practices.

There is no magic solution where you perform a task and voila, you are now a better photographer.

It is only by spending time with your passion and learning about ‘you’ as the artist that improvements will accrue.

Stand in Front of Great Images

This may seem totally obvious, and really there is a lot of truth in this, but the catch is that you must believe that what you are seeing is great.

In the simplest approach, it is somewhat easy, except for travel costs and any restrictions in place within the country of visit, to stand in front of great scenes. We all know those 7 wonders of the world, the seven man-made wonders and any other list of wonders.

While these great views are breath-taking when you are standing in front of them, they have also been photographed into oblivion at least to the sense that we have seen them so often, that we take them for granted. The challenge with these wonders is how to capture some of that grandeur and majesty in a new frame/view that will allow people to see them as new wonders again.

There are all sorts of wonders around us. I love the intricate spirals created by just opening up fiddlehead ferns, the soft translucent leaf-like casing that run down the stem. The challenge is to move this object from the ordinary to the spectacular.

How To Tips
Hire the best guide money can buy (I wish).
Look at travel or geographical magazines.
Look at the winning images from competition sites such as Fred Miranda -FM , dpchallenge , , etc.
Take a travel excursion photography course.

Understand Art and Composition

It is important to understand the works of great artists, photographers and sculpturers and how through colour or lack thereof, composition, form and contours they were able to convey the mysteries and majesties around us.

By looking at the works of great artist both past and present and not just those related to photography, you will be able understand how the artists through their chosen medium, were able to convey the emotions and feelings through their use of light and colour.

While looking through art books is useful, there is nothing quite like looking at the original works of art. Books cannot always convey the true colours and subtle tones that are contained in original art works. There is something special about the size and texture that adds to the image. I always find a well-printed image far superior to any screen display unless you are trying to over saturate the colours.

Understand Light

This is probably the most important of all and is also probably the hardest and longest to master. There are so many variables and so many subtleties that the permutations are almost unlimited. Light separates object from the background, provides focus. It can bring objects into clear focus or hide them in the background. Light can lead you in a direction or scatter you about.

Understand how light influences the scene and subject before. This can be hard light, soft light, colour of light and even the absence of light. There is no photograph without the presence of light. Even with night vision imaging the object is emitting infra-red light.

The photograph is all about light. From the intensity, angle, diffuseness and colour they all help to enhance and set apart the subject.

The types of lights all help to tell a story: from the soft wrap-around light of fashion industry; the harder light to give you more rugged manly features; the late evening warm light creating added texture due to the deeper shadows; and specular backlighting giving us the impression of what is there.

The use and control of light is all about creating contrast, which in real terms means creating lit items or edges to help differentiate the subject from the background or other objects.

Light should be a standard tool for your use and not as a preset condition to the shooting environment. What I mean by that is that when you plan to take an image, before you actually get to the location, you should already have in your mind the type of light that would make this image perfect. That way, you will either know which days and times are best to shoot images and when you get to the location, which light modifiers you might need to overcome the lighting limitations present that day.

Light can be natural as with landscapes or fully controlled as in a studio setting. More often than not it should be a mixture of both, where fill flash, reflectors or diffusers are used to provide more control and separation within elements. This should be in your standard kit along with your lens.

The human eye is able to capture an extremely wide dynamic range of tones, some 14+ stops. The Camera and its associated output devices can only record about 6-8 stops. We therefore need light-control to translate real-life scenes into images that are able to be captured by our imaging devices. We can control this blocking or diffusing light, increasing f-stop number for brightly lit parts or some fill light or reflected light for the darker shadows. With High Dynamic Range (HDR) images we now have the ability to control some of the light after images are taken.

How To Tips
When looking at an outdoor photograph, try to determine time of day and lightning conditions.
Look at the angle of shadows and the softness or hardness.
For areas with good texture what angle is the sun.
For Studio photos I recommend Strobist and Lighting Mods .

There is also a good photography reference book – Light Science & Magic, focal press.

Take B&W Photos First

When you have the time, take a digital B&W photo of your image first. This will allow you to better see the elements in the image how the light is creating depth and focus. Colour rarely makes a B&W image better. It only adds more confusion and initial punch.

Also, some images are better in B&W. By looking at the display in B&W first, you may realize that there is an area in the image which you could improve and would not show up now in colour.

How To Tips
Set your digital camera to B&W mode.
If you are a film person, buy a cheap digital with B&W display capability.
Convert some of your favourite Colour image to B&W and compare. You will develop new ways of seeing images.

I am 4th from the right

Hang Out with Artists
Originally I wanted to state ‘Hang around better Photographers’ but in actual fact every artist or photographer has the ability to give you something new, even to the most experienced photographers, while not technical can be a new way of seeing that it is unique in itself.

Occasionally do hang out with photographers who have better skills in areas you are trying to improve.

How To Tips
Join local Camera Club
Join On-line Forums
Join a Facebook local city photography group
Join or organize a photo walk-about
Take a course with a good photographer/artist with a good track record.

Undertake Projects

It is one thing to go out with no real plan in mind and shoot interesting images like flowers, buildings, landscapes etc. Over time, you will improve your ability to take better images of these subjects. To truly progress as an artist you need to have projects that challenge the way you think about your art.

It is only by exploring every facet of a subject and trying to render the feelings and impression in photographic form that you truly come to appreciate how the camera can enhance and accentuate this experience and expressions of life.

I have joined the SoFoBoMO project (Solo Ph(F)otography Book Month) which was started by Paul Butzi and began officially on April 1st and can start as late as April 31 (that’s me). For the one month period, you must have at least 35 images printed in a Book form of your choosing. This for many will just be PDF and some may actually have it printed in a book. The challenges for me are having such a tight timeframe and picking a suitable subject and then layout the pages of the book. If lucky, I may add a few corny words.

How To Tips
Have a good friend give you a project theme.
Explore in nth detail one of your favourite subject in all conditions.
Participate in one of the web projects such as Neil Creek .

Be a Critic

Learn to be a good critic. Learn how to critique the most mundane to the stellar best.
I encourage you to spend time on the many critiquing and critiquing others. The ‘Wow great image’ doesn’t quite cut it as a critique. When you do critique someone’s image spend a fair amount of time with analysis and a detailed review. Discuss what works and what areas might need improvement from your perspective.

Take these skills and objectively critique your own images, preferably after a period of time so that your own memory of the event doesn’t cloud your judgement.

Examine a shoot or series of images to better understand your shooting style, as we are all able to have at least one winner within a set. Better to focus on the images that don’t work as opposed to giving you praise for the few.

Take notes, as these over time will help you identify consistent areas to focus in order to make improvements.

Even a year or 2 later, go back over some of the series you reviewed (don’t look at previous notes) as you will find that you have improved your skills and abilities and you will be able to find new subtle areas for improvement.

How To Tips
Supporting elements
Tonal range
Focus (control of DOF or clutter)

Learn the Capabilities and Limitations of your Equipment
You can make an image with almost any tool. How about using a stick in the sand while slowly drawing the scene in front of you. This is just a very low ISO but good grain.

A better camera and its associated equipment will not by itself make you take better images. I guess if you still have plastic lens or poor colour rendition these would be good cases.

Learning the capabilities of your camera will help you understand the types of images that are easier to record and understand which settings will need some camera adjustments from shutter to lighting. Make a review of images that did not record well and note the shutter speed, f-stop and lightning conditions so that you can identify the problems, locations and settings.

By understanding your camera, there is more time for creativity and there is less concern with how your camera is going to perform. You now know this and adjust your style as the shoot unfolds.

How To Tips
Slower shutter – tripod
Shutter Lag – pre-focus
High ISO noise - more light
No zoom – learn to position yourself closer

Buy Btter Equipment
By understanding the limitations your are having with your current camera you will now be able to focus on buying better equipment because you are focused on specific goals and problems that you are encountering and not just chasing better technology because its better. If feels great when you do get that new piece of equipment and it delivers exactly what it needs to.

How To Tips
Review your current list of limitations with your equipment.
Review the EXIF data for you images to determine if there are particular lens settings you use.
Read good equipment review forums like dpreview , Seve’s Dgicams ,
Imaging Resource , Megapixel , DC Resource

Rent the equipment, if practical, to confirm it meets your needs.

Listen to the Twinkle in your Eye

This especially applies when you are moving along (Bus, Bike, Car) and out of the corner of your eye you think you saw and interesting image.

Stop and go back, as that brief flash you caught in of the corner of your eye has a good chance of being correct. This is an area that still troubles me as too many times I do regret not going back, but I have made some improvement and I do stop more often. While its not quite 50/50, it’s still high enough with good images that I find going back like a treasure hunt. Occasionally some gems.

Going back another day may be a possibility, but I find more often this doesn’t happen and then the weather has changed. Part of what caught your eye was the light and that’s gone when you leave the scene.

Be Kind
Simply, just be kind to all those you come across in your photographic endeavours. Even those who may be giving you grief. Most people are just working for someone and you never know the day they’ve had. Some people may feel threatened by the camera and even when it’s within your rights to take a photograph, it is a lot better to be friendly and see if it can’t be worked out first.

Share you passion and knowledge with others as it helps to focus and sharpen your skills in the process.

These are just a few of the possible many ways to help you improve your ability to capture great moments.

If you read the writings of many great photographers, you will notice the same tread they all re-iterate and that is that learning never stops and it is important to give back to your community as a method to re-fresh your own skills.

If you have any thoughts on these themes are have tips please do post a comment.

Niels Henriksen

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Do You Love Your Subjects ? Man on Bench

Not in the romantic sense, but spiritually or camera wise, even though I am sure many of us do have subject in the former description.

On the way to the Ottawa Busker’s Festival , I ventured through Confederation Park and I came across this gentlemen sitting on a park bench. There was something about his expression, the wildness in his face and a certain glint in his eye that I knew would capture well in the camera. I believe he is a homeless person who had his belongings in a cart with him and was probably staying in shelters at night, as he wasn’t completely dishevelled.

I did fall in love with his face and I asked politely if I could take his photo. At first he was somewhat withdrawn or apprehensive about my intentions and he did not give his permission. We spent a few minutes talking about things and told him that I thought he had a great face that would photograph well. I told him that I was with a local camera club and I like to collect photos of interesting people. When he realized my intentions were proper and that I would not portray him in a bad light, he agreed to let me capture a few images.

I do hope that the final image above does capture some of the majesty within this person, maybe a little Hemmingwayest.

A few of the other images taken are presented below and from the series you may see some other elements of his character and his natural world.

I liked the mangyness of his hair, but the darkness and clutter of the background leaves would cause this hair to be lost in all the detail and therefore a conversion to B&W image would solve this problem and might show off his expressive character better.

cropped to 8x10 format

The first B&W image is from the standard B&W setting from the new CS3 B&W settings (6 separate colour slider settings) . Since there is yellow in the both leaves and face I decided to use 2 separate B&W layers. One layer to darken the face and the other layer to lighten the foliage, to create more separation between the hair and leaves.

In the last B&W frame I cloned in parts from other leaf areas to remove the larger white sections, which are visually distracting. The final image, at beginning of article, there is lens blur applied to the foliage only. This extra softening creates more separation between the hair and background without destroying the patterns and it also helps to blend in the cloned parts better. Just a final touched up on the little white spot on the tip of the nose.

There are many interesting people and faces that we encounter as we travel about. Many of them do have goodness with their lives and we should try and capture the best ways about them. I do feel that if you have a strong passion and love of your subject, this will come across as you ask for permission to take their photograph. They will come to understand that you wish them no harm with the use of their image and therefore will be more willing to grant permission.

For photos I never offer street people money at first as I feel this would put them under undue pressure to accept. A kindly donation afterwards shows respect.

Niels Henriksen

A Photographer’s Adage

I like people for their weaknesses and faults. I get on well with ordinary people. We talk. We start with the weather, and little by little we get to the important things. When I photograph them it is not as if I were examining them with a magnifying class, like a cold and scientific observer. It's very brotherly. And it's better, isn't it, to shed some light on those people who are never in the limelight. - Robert Doisneau

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Creativity – What else do you Do?

In the last few articles I have been focusing on how, as photographers, we can keep our creative juices flowing. In part, this is a result that I have been suffering from cabin fever and have not been able to get out as much as I want.

This is only a bad excuse I am telling myself, as I know there are many things I could do within the house. I am not a robot, which means that I have a chance at being creative, but your state of mind is the most important element and it needs to be excited so that your everyday chores are getting in the road of doing what you love to do.

This week the snow has been melting like water going down the drain. I can finally see bare patches of ground and in a few days I should be able to wander outside where I want to, at least with rubber boots.

You may remember a similar image in a previous blog Perth on the Tay River there is a summer image of the bridge.

Art has always been my passion, somehow getting a ‘Real Life’, probably defined by TV shows, has shaped who I am to arrive here at the age of 57. Working, learning, chasing a career, raising a family and spending time with great friends has taken up most of my time.

Creativity, which is something we all have within us and are born with, is not something that needs to be learned, but needs to be practiced and nurtured.

Watercolour – Fall sumacs in pine and birch forest

If you are a photographer, I think it is important that we have other outlets to pursue creative passions. Therefore, I thought I would show some other outlets I have, which help to shape the approach to my photographic artistic endeavours.

Take a sketchpad with you as you wonder about. This could just be at noon hour as you take a break from your job. With sketching, it is a lot easier to control the DOF as you only have to draw the parts you like. Find some interesting but very ordinary compositional elements such as flat rocks on the path with weeds growing out of the cracks as with the pen and ink drawing below.

By only drawing those parts that you find interesting you are helping yourself to see better with a camera. By Sketching it will help you to reduce the multitude of clutter within an image and how to best compose and focus the image to enhance the strong compositional elements.

I find rock and its formation interesting in its texture and patterns but extremely challenging to render into an image. As you can see with the practice page below I was trying different techniques and render round boulders by using either water bottle spray or the sponge to add texture. This is no different than when I use my camera and shoot different angles and light to best bring out the rock detail. This is probably still my largest challenge to render rocks in an interesting manner.

In the practice page below I was just using the brush for paint both round and jagged rock formations. For me rocks are not easy.

In sketching, you definitely don’t want to include every piece of the scene before you and understanding what to include will help in developing your own photographic images. This practice, in seeing less, allows you to focus on your photograph and decide which elements you will enhance with image editing software to bring forward the stronger parts with colour and contrast and to partially remove the other parts with the opposite effects.

An image is made up of many parts and with painting, learning how best to describe these parts is part of the learning experience. In the watercolour practice piece below I wanted to render the distant late fall foliage with just enough texture for the viewer to understand the element but not enough detail for realism. Similar to controlling DOF.

Last year I went to an exhibit of Renoir landscapes and after seeing his images I felt I had to quit my job right there and then (I didn’t) and pursue my painting passions. But I am getting close.

Do take the time to visit galleries as the feelings and understanding of composition, abstractness and colour will all help you to better compose an image with your camera.

If you look at the landscape paintings of the impressionist they are about everyday, almost boring landscapes that they were able to bring to life with their palettes. Studying these masters and others will help you as you travel about to also realize the great beauty in everyday life and with your camera and its multitude of settings best bring it to life in an image.

This is a 2 ½ foot ‘papier maché’ Blue Whale I am making. I used the metallic marbles for eyes and now I just need to paint it to really bring it to life. It was built using chicken wire as a frame, covered with the standard process of thin newspaper strips soaked in a mixture of water, flour and wood glue. I then used the ‘papier maché’ pulp to add the final texture and shape.

The image below ties in the discussion of art and street life. I find the street beggar just as interesting as the images in the window.

He is a gentle Ottawa regular and I did get his permission for image and donated to his living expenses.

There are signs of spring and life emerging after winter as the image below shows with the melting dirty snow and the few leaves of the covered plant struggling to find the sunshine.

At the Luminous Landscape there is a great article Balmoral Mist – Deconstructed on examining a moody photographic image and what make this a great photograph.

Also do check out 25 Ways to Jump Start Photography Inspiration 25 Ways to Jump Start Photography Inspiration

Niels Henriksen

A Photographer’s Adage

Whether a watercolor is inferior to an oil [painting], or whether a drawing, an etching, or a photograph is not as important as either, is inconsequent. To have to despise something in order to respect something else is a sign of impotence. - Paul Strand - Camera Work, 1917

Sunday, April 6, 2008

What to Photograph on A Rainy Day

It always feels invigorating to go out of a photography outing on a warm sunny day, with just the right amount of clouds in the sky to create interest and at times casting interesting shadows across the landscape or as they pass over the sun, which acts as a temporary diffuser. Weather being what it is, unpredictable at best, downright miserable at other times does not always give you what you want.

While in Tokyo visiting our daughter and her husband, there were several days when it was dreary and heavily overcast with light constant rain. When almost very store is selling $1.00 umbrellas you get the feeling that there might just be many days like this.

I am truly a daylight person, as night and darkness are not my friends nor are confined spaces. With the very tiny apartment I needed to venture out before my pacing about wore through the tatami goza mat (soft reed) carpets and with such a lovely and charming city, the motivation was easy.

I always believe in carrying my camera on any walk-about and it was on such a rainy day journey that I started to notice the umbrella culture in Tokyo. Every store has an umbrella holder outside and for stores where you might leave by another door, there are umbrella stands that sheath your umbrella in a plastic cover so you don’t drip water inside.

There were so many different colours, shapes, sizes and different ways of holding them that it almost became a flower garden when looking down of the streetscape. For many people the umbrellas were fashion accessory matching in colour to their outfits.

Why is it always so easy to see the ordinary, as new and exciting in a different location and yet in our own towns see nothing? From time to time we do see things in our hometowns, but never at the same frequency when we go somewhere else and it almost becomes a forced endeavour.

This got me thinking about how to overcome this mindset and took me back in time to when I was a young child and anything could be exciting.

A Zen Moment

Pretend and Make-believe

The ability to pretend and create make-believe situations I think is one of the great losses of childhood. Not fully lost, but buried deep, because as adults we are taught that life should be real, important and perused with a stern focus and joy only obtained after serious work. Well really not that bad but I think for most of us some truth in these comments.

I think creativity is a large part imagination and also not taking yourself too seriously and with that in mind or out-of-my-mind, I will suggest an approach to hopefully help you think differently.

While we with our vehicles have spare tires notice that she has a spare umbrella

So on a Rainy Day why not pretend that;

You have only lived in a tent in the middle of the Sahara Desert and your one-day trip into a big city or countryside setting is on a rainy day. What photos would you take to show your family and friends back home?

Or pretend that you have been hired to do a shoot for a local magazine that is situated deep in the Australian outback. Or you have been hired by a lost indigenous tribe (now that is real make-believe) to show them this different location.

You might take photos of

Water running down a sewer grate
Reflections in wet pavement especially at night
Car wipers moving (slower shutter to show movement)
Water cascading off building
People with umbrellas (as with these examples)

People in rubber boots
People jumping puddles
People just plain wet

If in a more rural location, rain drops on foliage
Reflections in puddle on dirt road
View through a window with raindrops or running streaks

I know I have and I think most of you have seen images like these and I suspect that these were not all taken by Bedouins living in tents on a tourist trip. Something got them to see the special in the ordinary.

Therefore, if in a slump one day pretend that you are from somewhere completely different and shoot with new eyes. I know most of you take great photos and you just might capture an interesting way of looking at the ordinary if you can once again embrace make believe.

Therefore go out and get wet, but do take care of the camera by either keeping often under you rain jacket or buying a professional rain protector for camera or even just a simple shower cap with the elastic band.

Niels Henriksen

Photographer’s Showcase

There are so many great photographers, artists and writers that I come across that if I were to list them all in my sidebars, it might go on forever. I have therefore decided to augment the Photographer’s Adage with photographers that you might find interesting and are not already listed.

Peripheral Vision - Inner Sights by Lynda Lehmann

Lynda uses both the camera and paintbrushes to create wonderful images, but for me its her writings that really make you stop and think and reflect on life and the beauty around us. Do check out her slide show dated March 26 where there is a breathtaking collection of graphical images.

Chuck Kimmerle Photography has just a stunning collection of B&W images taken from the northern plains. It is amazing how he is able to capture a sense of wonder from what most of us might at first glance just describe as boring open spaces.


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