More on What Do You See


In this post, I want to talk about seeing one thing, light!  Like it or not, photography is about light more than anything else.  If you doubt that, try taking a picture in a totally dark room, what do you get…total black aka nothing.  I’m going to touch on a number of aspects of light.  Each of these topics can cover volumes, so if anything I mention piques your curiosity, please do your own follow up research.

The first thing to understand about light is that our eyes are much better at perceiving and interpreting it than any of our cameras.  Yes the cameras are getting better, but they still have a long way to go.  To use a little techno speech, our eyes are analog devices, that is they see light along a continuous spectrum that we think of as visible light.  Our digital cameras need to break colors down into numbers.  The camera has three color sensors.  Each pixel registers a certain amount of red, blue and green.  Each of these is translated into a number from 0 to 255.  (Yes I know 16 bit goes up to 65,000)  When all three have a value of zero you get white, when they are all 255 you get black.  When all three have the same value other than 0 or 255, you get shades of gray.  It is the blending of the three values that produce all the colors your camera captures.

What’s your angle: Where is your light source?  For simplicity, let’s consider just the free one, the sun.  The angle of the sun to the horizon is hugely important.  There are photographers who will only shoot outdoors when the sun is close to the horizon.  The hour or so before the sun rises and after it sets are known as blue light.  The hour starting when the sun rises and ending when it sets are golden light.  These produce some incredible images, strictly because the angle of the light interacts with elements in the atmosphere to create these wonderful colors.  The following image is an example of golden light at sunset.

DSC_4632COu-LR

You can see all the beautiful colors in the sky which make shooting in this light so special.  Notice, that without filters or blending exposures, the capture of the great light in the sky causes most of the rest of the image to be under exposed!  You can’t see much detail on the couple on the beach, but in this case, I don’t think you need to.  The message or sentiment is clearly there.

The opposite of this light is the bright of day.  Whether shooting around noon when the sun is pretty much overhead or earlier/later with the sun in full view creates some very different light.  In this light, it is easy for colors to wash out and the image to be high contrast.  The farther from noon one gets in this light, the more you start to see shadows.  Shooting in this light can be tricky.  You need to understand what it is you are likely to get and work accordingly.  Shots in this light often convert well to black and white.

Following are two versions of the same shot.  It was taken mid afternoon on a clear bright day.  I had to do a bunch of post processing to offset the bright sunshine.  Interestingly, there’s been some discussion among my colleagues and friends as to whether the shot works better with or without the three people walking in the surf.

DSC_4581COu-LR

Here’s the same shot converted into Black and White.  To me, while I know that these two are the same shot, they strike me as two completely different images conveying different messages and meanings.

DSC_4581BWuCO

Well, I’ve once again gone on and on.  There’s still plenty to talk about on the subject of light and a few other things about seeing like the camera.  I may start interspersing these with some other topics in the weeks ahead.  As always, I’d love to get your comments and feedback on this or any of my postings.

Advertisements

What Do You See?


One of the hardest things about learning to be a real photographer is learning to see what the camera  sees.  The amusing side of this is the old portrayal of a Hollywood type making an open box with his thumbs and forefingers and trying to frame a shot.  While these portrayals are usually done for comedic effect, there is a point to it.  The human eye sees a lot more than most cameras do!

I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of thinking we’ve taken a great shot only to take the image off the camera and groan.  What’s the reason, there are many.  I’ll start looking at some of them, and if there’s too many for one posting, I’ll spread it over two or more:

Look in the Corners:  When composing an image, we tend to look at the main part of the image.  Take the time to look at more than just what’s in the center of your view.  There are a number of threads on Facebook, etc. that just love to show these kinds of goofs.  (I’ll let you research those)  The classics are things like a loving couple walking down the street only to have a truck in the background with wording or pictures that distract the viewer and effectively ruin the image.  Clearly there are limits on how effectively you can do this depending on the type of shooting you are doing.  If you’re working on scenic, nature shots, there’s little excuse.  On the other hand if you’re doing candids at a wedding, it can be very hard to get the happy couple and not Uncle Harry doing something silly close by.

I don’t have an Uncle Harry, so I’ll use the following as an example.

_DSC7864CO-LR

I took this shot some years ago.  We had planted peppers and my wife wanted some pictures.  Okay, there is a picture of the yellow pepper growing.  There is also way too much “stuff” in the shot.  The hummingbird feeder, or at least part of it dropping in from the top, the road and parked cars in the background.  You get the point.  I don’t have a “good” version of this one.

I Can See for Miles: How often have you taken a shot of some really nice flowers from five or more feet away?  The result is usually the flowers are very pretty and very lost in the bigger image.  I usually try to fill most of the frame with whatever it is I am trying capture.  There is a but to this.  When taking portraits, macros, sports and other action type shots yes, you need some space.  For action shots to convey movement there needs to be space to the direction of the action (e.g. don’t have the front wheel of the bicycle at the edge of the shot!).  If you’re doing big views, landscapes, etc., yes you need to fill the frame.

Let’s use the following shot as an example:

DSC_5439_HDRCOu-LR

In this shot I was looking to get the long view across the ice with the many details and reflections.  If I was trying to get the large pine tree and the details around it, I failed miserably.  Now let’s consider actually getting that tree.

DSC_5442_HDRCOu-LR

This image does a much better job capturing that tree.  What I wanted to convey was not just here is a tree, but put it in its natural setting and make it clear that it’s winter and that the sun is setting.  I’d like to think I accomplished that.

So, I’ve babbled on enough to get through two areas.  In the next installment, I’ll continue looking at learning to see like the camera.  Please feel free to add any of your experiences, goofs or techniques in this area.

The Eye of the Beholder


One of the really hard lessons we all need to learn is that everybody sees things differently.  I’m not talking about my seeing something and calling it a tree while you call it a peanut butter sandwich.  The reality is that we all have different experiences and education which significantly influences how we see things.

As a photographer, I always try to capture meaningful images.  Yes, what is meaningful?  If all I am trying to do is capture images for myself, the job is easy…shoot what I like, end of story.  Most of us need to have a broader view.  In some cases it’s because that’s what your customer wants, perhaps you’ve been asked to capture a family function or something else where many others are looking to you to record an event in a way that will be meaningful to many people.

Perhaps my first lesson in this arena came quite a few years ago when I was best man for a college buddy.  While the groom and I were waiting in the church, the photographer came to get shots of the groom.  The photographer really wanted to take some shots of the groom with his chin resting in his hand, looking whimsically skyward.  There might have been some poses that were more atypical of the groom, but we couldn’t think of any.  My buddy made it very clear to the photographer those shots were not going to happen!

One thing that I do like to do is to create several versions of the same image through differences in their treatment and ask a group of people one question…which do you like best and why?  The amusing part to this exercise is that there is almost never a consensus on one image or one reason why!

Following are three versions of the same image.  I took the shot about a year ago in the morning golden light.  The setting is on the grounds of a retreat house where I have been going every January for many years, so I always try to get shots that capture the spiritual feel of the place.

What I ask of you is to leave a comment telling me which you prefer and why.  (If you don’t like any, that’s fine, please tell me why.)  Depending on how many people read and respond, you might find it interesting to check back a couple of days after you post your preferences.

The first image is the original color image.  That is followed by two black and white treatments.  For simplicity’s sake, let’s call them 1, 2 and 3 starting with the color version.

_DSC1746-3COu-LR _DSC1746BWCOu-LR_DSC1746-3BWCOu-LR

Taking this theme farther, we get into the idea of photographing people.  I know there is a very strong branch of photography around glamour shots.  These can be for magazine covers, product endorsements or publicity for the subject.  To me that category of image only shows a very superficial view of the person.  Those images are in the same category as the Barbie doll!  They are typically processed to remove some editor’s definition of every flaw, blemish and imperfection.  While they show that stylized ideal, to me they are not real!

To me the real art and beauty in photographing people comes in capturing the inner beauty and personality of the subject.  In many cases the person or image would be an absolute fail in terms of the mass market idea of beauty.  To me, however, that is the real beauty.

Capturing this kind of beauty, and again everyone sees it differently, is very different than how one gets the glamour shots.  I find that the way I get the best results is shooting candids, often from a distance so that the subject does not even know that they are bing photographed.  Yes I know there are huge discussions out there on the pros and cons of this, but that’s a topic for a different posting.  Almost everyone changes when they know that they are being photographed.  This is not so much based on deep rooted vanity so much as an inbred reaction from our society.

So what brings out the inner beauty?  First and foremost, the eyes.  Remember the old saying that the eyes are a window to the soul?  In this case that is absolutely true.  The eyes convey feeling, expression, mood and so much more.  The structure of the face, its features and complexities are the other big component.  In this environment, the nose typically is not the result of plastic surgery, often the glamour folks would scream that it needs that!  Is the skin smooth and flawless?  Not at all.  Life creates wrinkles, creases and blemishes.  Some would call them character lines.  These are the things that distinguish us.  They show that we have experienced life, both the ups and the downs and how they have effected us.  All of these little pieces help to convey a sense of dignity that tell our individual stories better than all the make up and retouching in the world.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

DSC_1313-BWCOu-LR

This gentleman is one of my favorite subjects.  Take a good look at the image.  Is this classically beautiful? No. Does the face tell many stories of a life? Absolutely.  To me what makes this image special is the way it conveys a quite dignity.  I will leave it up to you to put your own story around this image.  That’s one of the great things about this type of shot.  To me images like this (even if I haven’t made them) are the kind that can pull at your heart strings, no words required.  That is one of the truly great things that a well made image can do better than almost anything else.