How Close Can You Go?

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This week, I thought that instead of just harping on some of the do’s and don’ts of composition, I would show you what I did with a Canon DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex).  This can also be accomplished with a point and shoot camera or even a cell phone one.

In the past, I have talked about thinking before shooting.  What do you want in the image?  What is your subject matter?  What “feel” do you want the viewer to have?  What’s the story?  The next step is to take the image, of course.  So….

I went for a walk on a  spring day.  It was slightly cloudy but the sun was coming through enough so that a flash was not required (I prefer non-flash images, anyway).  As I walked down my city sidewalk, my head was on a swivel, looking for that one image that yelled “spring has arrived!”  Most people tend to look toward the ground for fresh greenery just breaking ground after a long winter.  Me?  Well, there are days when getting low to the ground for a good shot just aren’t in the cards!  As it was this particular day…

So, heads up and full speed ahead.  Literally.  My eyes were on the trees.  Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to be quite ready for spring.  The branches appeared to be bare.  No apparent budding happening yet.  At least it seemed that way so I changed my though process (I mentioned this in a previous blog. Don’t be afraid to change your mind when out on a photo jaunt).  My new thought was to capture something that reflected the last of winter, like a brown leaf or a fallen acorn left over from last year.  And voila!  I found what looked like an old brown tree flower.

Brown Flower Seed

Brown Flower Seed

It looked so lonesome on the brown branch.  As if it had weathered the rough winter and still hung on for good measure.  The petals were still nice and crisp.  The last of the fall tree flowers.  That was my thought, anyway, when I looked at it.  (Pretty sure there are no such things as Fall tree flowers but my brain doesn’t always accept common sense when I am out with my camera!)

My thought process; focus on the forefront one and keep the farther one out of focus because the back one did not have the nice flowery look to it.  The petals seemed to be bent backward from the center (you can kind of see it in the picture) and the sun highlighted them a bit.  Also, I wanted the background very blurry because it was distracting with fencing and buildings.

Since I was using my DSLR on manual mode, I was able to play with a few settings (ISO, F-stop, and speed) to get what I wanted.  My lens was a 18-135mm zoomed to about 64mm.  We will get more into these numbers and how to play with them in another blog for those of you who have the ability to do it with your particular camera.  But most digital point and shoot cameras as well as telephone cameras have the ability to zoom, so you should be able to get somewhat the same effect as I did.

After finally settling on the image I “envisioned” as the final product, I downloaded it to my computer.  Mind you, I took about 30 images from different angles before I decided this is the one that captured what I wanted to say.  The digital age is a wonderful thing for photography!  No more wasting film or paying for processing of unwanted images!

Now it was time to check out all the details of the petals.  This is when I received my shock…this was not a flower at all.  It was a tree bud of sorts.  The so called-petals were protecting the seeds that the tree would eventually drop.  Since I tend to be very focused when I look through the viewfinder attempting to get the “framing” the way I want, it means sometimes I miss some of the finer details that the camera will pick up.  My focus was on the “flower” and not what it was hiding.

In the middle of the bud are several seeds.  You can seem them in the image below. I cropped the image so that you could see what I missed!   It’s probably one of my favorites of bud images as I have never seen one like it before or since. The bud almost seems to look like a face and is sticking its tongue out at me (that’s just my imagination running wild!).

Close-up of

Close-up of “flower”

As you can see, only the bud shows detail and the branches are out of focus.  All attention is on the “petals” and when you look closely, you see the seeds.  This is what I had talked about in previous blogs about composition.  When someone looks at your image, what draws them into it?  Or is it “flat”, meaning that what you see is what you get.  Had I simply shot this piece without zooming in, the background would have detracted from the bud.  Everything around it would have been as sharp as the bud and the person looking at the image would probably miss the seeds all together.

But with focusing and zooming in on my subject (and a few minor adjustments), the viewer now sees the detail and is drawn into the bud by the white petal that supports the seeds.  My subject matter stands out without anything to impede on the visual aspect of it.  The out-of-focus bud in the background lets the viewer know that this is some kind of tree or bush and not a ground flower.  I purposely placed the subject in the lower right quadrant of the frame so that the viewer would see it first and the lines (branches) lead into the image to show that there are other ones like it on this tree. It would have been nice to have had the sharper bud in the upper left quadrant with the “lines” leading to it but mother nature decided that was not to be.  Sometimes you just have to go with what you got. And yes, this is the actual color of the bud.  Definitely not a spring color!

So, the next time you head out with your camera, look around.  Try getting closer to your subject.  You never know just what your camera will capture.  The human eye adjusts and takes in tons of information.  It’s the camera that actually captures what you really see.  Grab your camera and go!

What’s the point?

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When you look at a picture, your brain immediately decides what the image is all about. It could be a family party, a wedding, a beautiful landscape shot, or a wonderful pet portrait. The more you look at a particular image, say a family gathering, you start to pick out things that don’t hit you the first time around. Aunt Sally holding an empty wine glass, Joey spitting up on Uncle Tim, the birthday cake about to fall off the table, or maybe that everyone has the same, silly smile on their face! These are fun shots that years from now will be priceless.

But if you are looking to shoot more refined images that you would like to hang on your wall, sell as fine art, or as stock photos, now your thought process has to change from point and click to “what do I want to the viewer to see and yes, feel”.  What do you want to evoke in the person viewing your piece of work?  Beauty, vastness, happiness, lightheartedness, sorrow or sadness, life?  Unlike a quick snap photo you take at a party, the image you create needs to “speak” to people who look at it.   It is similar to those artists who paint beautiful pieces of work on canvasses.  They don’t simply slap on different colors of paint onto the canvass.  In their minds, they already have an image and a feeling that they want to portray.

Japenese Garden Bridge-

This image was taken in the spring at the Chicago Botanic Gardens.  The bridge crosses a man-made lake and joins the Japanese Garden island with the main land.  It took me many shots from different angles to get what I wanted.  My thought process was that I wanted to show the changing season. The water still has ice on it in some areas and the trees are just beginning to bud.  It still looks cold and not very inviting with the cold blue sky but if you look closely, you can see the tiny buds on the trees and bushes (the promise of warmer days).  The red bush in the forefront is just about to bloom.  Although the feel is of a cold day, one can see the beginning of new life about to burst forth.  What do you see?

On another one of my jaunts to the Chicago Botanic Gardens with my camera, I found a very unusual friendship between between a cactus plant and an aloe plant.  As you can see in the image, the cactus has an “injury” and the aloe plant appears to reaching out to the injured one as if to console it, even though itself has a broken “arm”.

A Friend in Need

A Friend in Need

The cactus was about two feet high so I had to get low to capture the feeling of a friend consoling a friend.  Ironically, when I went back a few months after this shot, the workers decided to pull the one on the right away from the “hug” position, clipped the hanging “arm” and repositioned it on a straight pole to hold the plant upright.  I was so glad I caught this image when I did!

What did you see when you first looked at this image?  Did it strike you funny or did it just look like a picture of two plants?  Was it the storyline that made the image or the image that caught your attention?

Being in the right place at the right time can make for some great pictures.  But that “right time” does not happen often enough to count on.  So, remember to look beyond what you see right in front of you.  Practice thinking outside the box.  Change your angle and you may see a totally different image.  The light angle will change, the perception will change, and so will how you look at the world change when you take your next picture!

What’s in a Frame?

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Your first thought when taking a photo, (and it happens like lightening in the brain) is “what do I see”.  Second is “how do I capture it”.  This part of the thinking process takes a bit longer but with practice, comes naturally every time you pick up your camera to shoot.  Building on the idea of composition from my previous blog, it’s time to take a look at how to “frame” your picture.  No, I don’t mean a physical frame, but your visual frame.

As you all know, a frame consists of four corners and four sides.  Well, a square or rectangle one does, anyway, which is what you will be using.  Your camera has a frame inside the viewfinder or on the back screen.  Even those of you using a cell phone camera have a “frame” already in place to work with.  Here’s an exercise I do every time I look through my viewfinder.  Before I snap the picture, I look at the four corners and sides.  Do I have what I want in the image?  Are the corners set the way I want?  Do I have an object in an area along the frame that interferes with my vision? (It takes longer to type this that than to actually think it!)

A bay area in Cinque Terre Italy

A bay area in Cinque Terre Italy

As you can see in the image above, I did not notice the leaves on the left because I was so intent on the boats I completely missed them!  It happens…

My next shot was without the leaves.  This time I checked the “frame” to ensure I didn’t have any “stragglers” along those lines.  But then the image became “boring” for me.  No oomph or specialness.  Just a touristy picture of some boats.

Not all that great!

Not all that great!

So, I expanded my view inside the frame (I had been using a Canon 18-135mm zoom lens) and came up with an image that really was what I was looking for.  There is so much going on in this scene and I got my boats!  The image below tells more of the story of the people living in the Cinque Terre area of Italy and their love of the sea.  It’s filled with the colorful boats as well as lines that draw the eye around the image (more about that later in another blog).  It’s all about the story you want to tell your viewer without having to say a word.

Success!

Success!

You might like the first one and that’s great.  The only thing I would ask you is “why”?  What makes it better than the second or third one.  It isn’t that you are wrong in your thinking, but you might see something I don’t and that’s great!  You are developing your own “vision” and to me, that is what photography is all about.

Ask yourself these two questions when setting up a shot (yep, couple more questions for your brain to ponder).  1. Are you taking a snapshot for a vacation album?   2. Or, are you trying to capture an image to hang on your wall, give as a gift, or to sell?  A well-framed image makes all the difference between a snapshot and a wonderful piece of imagery that you can take pride in.

Practice looking at the corners and sides before snapping and you will be much happier with your results.  It only takes a second.  After a while, it comes naturally (unless you zero in on something like I did and completely missed the huge leaves on the left side!).  One more tibit, be sure to leave some space on the sides, top and bottom in case you decide to crop later.  I will cover this aspect of composition later.  It is one of my worst faults as I try to capture the “perfect” picture in-camera.  Have a great day and get out there and shoot!

What Do You See?

There is so much information out there on the do’s and don’ts of composition that it can be quite overwhelming.  You might want to just put the camera down and forget about it. Don’t do it.  Don’t give up.  Pick up your camera (or phone camera) and just start shooting what YOU like.  This blog is one of several that will cover how I compose my images and my thought process when I shoot.

To me, its important that I capture my viewer’s attention and hold it for more than a  quick glance at my work. The image below is a farm field I shot on a cloudy day.  I wanted the farm in the distance to give the feel of the immense size of its fields.  Kind of boring.  Just a picture of farmland.
Farmland with little sun

As you can see, the cloud cover is not that thick, so I waited for the sun to poke through.  My thought was to highlight the field with the sun.  My second image came out OK but I still was not pleased.  Notice that I kept the same distance shot of the farm.

Farmland with foreground sun-0673

My third idea was to capture the sun as it hit somewhere about the middle of the field which is what you see below.  Still not real happy but it’s much better.

Farmland with middle sun-0675

I changed my mind about where I wanted the sun as the farm no longer seemed to be the focal point.  Waiting a bit longer, the sun finally hit the spot of the field I wanted.  The end result shows the immense size of the farmland, the impact of clouds on light shining on the fields (the darker foreground), and the sun highlighting the farm buildings in the distance.

Farmland with background sun-0670

This is what I envisioned.  The farm buildings as the focal point, the foreground with the muted colors of fall, and a tall plant on the left pointing towards the farm (that was an added bonus!).  So, go out there and start shooting.  Think about what you want your final product to be and don’t be afraid to change your mind in the middle of the shoot as long as it enhances your original vision!

I’ve Finally Done It…!

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Hi Everyone! I have finally entered the world of Blogging that everyone else has been in for years! Sometimes it takes time for those of us who were not born into the computer age to finally figure out how to use the “techy” stuff.

After I retired from my second love (where I had to make money to help raise a family), I jumped back into photography only to find myself completely perplexed and confused with all the new technology in this arena. Although I love photography and all that it entails, I was lost amid all the new digital cameras, post work programs, and information available on the internet. Half the time, I would read an article and still be lost as I don’t have a computer or techy mindset. All I wanted was an answer to a simple question in PLAIN english. And so, a blog is born…

In future blogs, which I plan on keeping it short and to the point (at least that’s the plan. Who wants to read long, run-on articles all the time?), I will share what I learn as I move on with my photography. Currently, I use both Photoshop CC and Lightroom CC for my filing and post-work (boy, were they a struggle to learn for me!).

I invite you to join me on my journey into the world of digital photography as I find my way around . Future blogs will contain helpful hints on composition, framing, and post -work, all written in a plain, down to earth language.

Well, here goes nothing…click!