Thursday, June 30, 2011

Photography Tip: Have One Subject

Try to have only one subject per picture. Any more and it gets confusing. A group of people or objects can function as one subject if you compose them as a single unit. You can separate the subject from a busy background by using a shallow depth of field.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Photography Tip: Try Different Types of Light

Not every picture needs to be lit by either sunlight or flash. You can obtain interesting images with candlelight, fire, blacklight, incandescent light bulbs, fluorescent lights, etc. Your camera allows you to select a white balance setting that best describes the lighting conditions you're shooting in, but I much prefer fixing it in post production with the temperature slider or the white balance dropper in Camera Raw.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Photography Tip: Don't Be Afraid of Backlighting

Many people shy away from backlighting because it puts part (usually the front) of the subject in the dark/shadow. A common example of this is when taking someone's photo under the shade of the tree but the background behind the subject is fully lit by midday light. The easiest way to get around this is to use fill-flash to light your subject from the front. Just make sure to set the flash exposure compensation so that the flash isn't overbearing (thereby blowing out the subject's front details).

Monday, June 27, 2011

Photography Tip: Black & White

Once in a while, I dabble in black and white. It's not my strongest point, but I do occasionally check the "Convert to Grayscale" box in Camera Raw, just to see what the outcome is. I suppose I could have lied and said something airy like how I wanted to emphasize the dominant shapes and lines in the photo above, but, really, I decided to do a quick B&W conversion since the majority of the image was already primarily black and white (there was very little blue sky). :P

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Photography Tip: One More Class You Should Definitely Take

In high school, I took a mandatory art appreciation class that I never imagined would be applicable later in life. Fast forward to today, I thank my lucky stars that I did (surprising revelation, right?). Taking a basic art class lays the foundation for concepts like
  • Color theory: complementary colors, the color wheel, symbolism
  • Elements of design: points, lines, planes, solids
  • (A)symmetry, (dis)harmony
  • The golden rectangle
  • Linear perspective, vanishing points
  • And much, much more!
At one of the colleges I attended for photography, Art "101" was actually a prerequisite for photography majors. Gee, I wonder why.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Photography Tip: Portrait Orientation

Amateur photographers often shoot the majority of their pictures in landscape (horizontal) orientation. Professional photographers mix it up, particularly when the situation calls for it. A common instance of using portrait (vertical) orientation is when doing portraits (of humans or animals ;) ). Another one is when shooting vertical objects (e.g., trees, buildings, columns). So, don't forget to turn the camera 90 degrees once in a while. The composition takes on a completely different dynamic.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Photography Tip: Get Close (I Mean, Really Close)

When an amateur takes a shot of a flower, it's usually from five feet away. That's fine. The pro, however, will then walk 3 feet closer, then take the shot. And, then, walk 2.5 feet closer, and take another shot. And, then, walk so close the lens becomes a part of the flower.

The real lesson, of course, is that you should just walk right up to the subject and get in so tight that the camera can't even focus (if that happens, back away an inch or so, buddy). Rarely, do you regret wasting digital film by taking close up shots; in fact, you usually wish there were more. So, make sure you get right up to the very thing you're shooting. If you're shy, wait until the crowds have gone or invest in a good telephoto lens. I prefer the former (it's cheaper). :P

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Photography Tip: Golden Hour (a.k.a. the Best Time to Shoot)

The half hour after sunrise and before sunset gives photographers a warm, golden light to work with. Also, unlike sunlight that you get during the middle of the day (which is contrasty and casts harsh shadows -- particularly, on the face), the light comes in sideways. Here are a list of things that improve with "magic hour" light:
  • Texture: the directional light emphasizes things like the wood grain on the pier posts in the photo above.
  • Skin tone: great for portraits because it flatters the skin, giving it a more pleasing tone.
  • Landscapes: everything is bathed in a rich, yellow glow.
  • Shadows: they get longer for a more dramatic effect. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Photography Tip: How to Eliminate Blur in Photographs

Get it? We're discussing things that are "tack sharp"? Hehe.
Hate losing good shots because of camera shake? Want tack sharp photos? Well, there's hope! The answer is, of course, a tripod. If you have a wireless remote that activates the shutter, even better (cable release ones are fine, too). If you don't have a remote, you can always use your camera's self timer (that's what I do).

No tripod? Well, if you're lucky, there's either a steady, flat surface you can place your camera on or there's a sturdy wall you can lean against for stability. Make sure your "Image Stabilization" or "Vibration Reduction" feature is turned on.

Still don't have a wall or table to use? Try holding your breath when you press the shutter button (I'm serious! And don't jab it!). Have as much light on the subject so that your shutter speed is at least 1/60th of a second. If necessary, kick up your ISO.

If all else fails, there's "Unsharp Mask" in Photoshop that will help do the trick in post production (but don't rely on post processing!).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Photography Tip: Use Plain Backgrounds

When possible, simplify your background. Whether that's using a studio backdrop, moving your subject in front of a plain wall, or slipping a piece of paper behind a decorative ball (see above), it'll prevent visual distractions and makes sure the attention is solely on your subject.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Photography Tip: How to Get Horizontal Horizons

Unless you're deliberately doing something artsy-fartsy, please keep your horizons horizontal. When I see land/sky or sea/sky horizons even 1/2 a degree off level, it drives me nuts, primarily because there are two EASY ways to fix a misaligned horizon. 
  1. In camera (when you're shooting it) - Some cameras' LCDs even display the grid for the rule of thirds (my el cheapo DSLR does!). Just line it up to the bottom or top horizontal line on the grid and voilĂ : instant composition AND a level horizon. Wow. They just couldn't make that easier for you.
  2. In Camera Raw (Photoshop/Bridge) - In case you managed to screw it up while shooting, Camera Raw has a miraculous tool known as the "Straighten Tool." Just use that sucker to line up two points on the horizon and you'll look like a pro.
And if you still couldn't/didn't do either, just try your best to rotate the picture (when cropping) to make it level.

Now, I expect no more lopsided photos. ;)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Attack of the Tiny Ladybugs

I didn't even get a chance to get closer.
A few nights back, I noticed a cute, little ladybug on my paper towel dispenser. So, naturally, I grabbed my camera. Before I could zoom in on it to get a closer shot, I heard a distinct "crunch" as I leaned forward. I looked down in horror to find a dozen dead ladybugs, rolled on their backs. After screaming "ew" about a thousand times and frantically washing my foot, I tried to figure out where they came from. Just then, I noticed about 50 more ladybugs sprawled out all over my floor, crawling their way from my front door to the kitchen. A couple were even flying around! It was like attack of the tiny ladybugs! I almost completely lost it.

After calming down and doing research online, I realized that
  1. There was nothing I could do about it.
  2. They don't eat furniture/curtains/etc.
  3. They leave yellow trails.
  4. There was probably a hive nearby.
After reading #4 and getting rid of all the ones on my floor, I opened my front door to find a hundred dead ladybugs near my doormat. I can only imagine what the gardeners thought when they cleaned it up the next day.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Photography Tip: Why All the Negativity Around Negative Space?

A photograph's subject doesn't necessarily have to fill the entire photograph. Photographers shouldn't be afraid to use lots of "empty" or negative space to tell a story along side with their subject. In fact, negative space may tell a story in its own right or it can just give eyes a place to rest.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Photography Tip: Mind Your Foreground!

Many amateur photographers forget to pay attention to their foreground. They either
  • Exclude it entirely: which may ignore possible framing possibilities (this then usually puts the subject in the foreground).
  • Include too much: which produces visual clutter. 
Photographers should first determine if foreground adds to the composition (it's perfectly fine to not include it). If so, they then need to determine how much to add.

Here, I used the foreground to give us a feel that we're part of the game. I suppose I could have angled the camera lower to further emphasize this point of view, but I wanted to demonstrate all three visible levels: the foreground (black pieces), middle ground (the two center pawns), and background (the gray/white wall and the brown pieces).

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Photography Tip: How to Get Blurry Backgrounds

A frequent question that seems to pop up is how to photograph a subject in front of a blurry background. This effect is actually rather simple and can even be done on a point and shoot camera. Here's how to do it:

If you have a digital point and shoot camera/compact camera:
  1. Set your camera to "macro" mode (usually indicated with a flower icon -- consult your instruction manual if you can't find it).
  2. Get really close to your subject (make sure the focus is on the subject).
  3. Get far from your background.
  4. Take the picture.
If you have a DSLR (or can manually set your aperture on your camera):
  1. Open up (wide) your aperture: set it to a small number (e.g., f/1.2, f/2.8, f/5.6, etc).
  2. Get really close to your subject (make sure the focus is on the subject).
  3. Either get far from your background or use a long focal length (telephoto!)
  4. Take the picture.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask. :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Photography Tip: Creating A Smooth Water Effect

To achieve the gentle, smooth water appearance for streams, fountains, waterfalls, and other flowing bodies of water, reduce the shutter speed to be slower than 1/60th of a second (preferably a full second or longer). This will probably require you to shoot on a tripod or on a level, steady surface, but you may get away with hand-holding the camera if you hold really still (like I did for the shot above). Here, I shot at 1/8th of a second. Any faster than 1/60th of second will result in freezing (somewhat to very) individuated water particles as they drop.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The "Unglamorous" List

I haven't posted a travel-related post in a while because my plans still haven't solidified (the perils of dealing with other people's schedules!). Hence, all the photography-related posts. In the meantime, I thought I'd share a story.

I can't recall if I was in New York or San Francisco, but I do remember the moment I was downgraded to "unglamorous." The conversation went something like this:

Me: "Toothbrush... check!"
C: "You're using a checklist to pack?"
Me: "Yeah. Why? Is that bad? I've got like 90 unique items that I have to pack for any given trip!"
C: "Well, it's just that I always had the impression that you would pack last-minute before you would fly up to meet up with me."
Me: "Well, I sort of do! I can pack in 45 minutes before any trip, thanks to my travel checklist."
C: "But that's so 'unglamorous.'"
Me: "You travel practically every week. And, you don't have a checklist?"
C: "Nope."

So there you have it. I lost my glamorous, jet-setting status in two seconds thanks to my travel checklist.
But, I'd rather be unglamorous any day than relive moments like when I had to buy a non TSA-approved nail clipper (I broke a nail! It was a dire emergency! I was in a foreign country!) only to have it confiscated by airport officials. :(

Monday, June 13, 2011

Photography Tip: The Rule of Thirds

One of the first "rules" of photography (or art, for that matter) that most people learn is the "Rule of Thirds." This is achieved by dividing a photograph horizontally and vertically into equal thirds. This rule is actually not set in stone and is meant to be more like a guideline. Here are a few common suggestions:
  • The horizon should be as close to the top or bottom horizontal line (see above). One of the marks of an amateur is placing the horizon dead center, effectively cutting a photograph in half.
  • The subject should be as close to one of the four intersection points (see below).
  • The eyes of a person should be on the top horizontal line (when doing a standard portrait).
  • Vertical subjects should be lined up to one of the vertical lines. Don't put a person dead center, as well.
Just because you use the rule of thirds does not mean the photograph is automatically a masterpiece. You must consider the composition as a whole. For example, if you place a person on one of the vertical lines but that person is then positioned with an electric pole or tree branch that appears to stick out of their head, then that is not a good composition. After getting the hang of this rule, you are encouraged to break it to produce equally, if not more, intriguing photographs.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ode to my Canon Rebel XSi


Oh Canon Digital Rebel XSi
Your lens is so round
Just like a pie.

So much for my attempt at poetry.

Seriously, though, I love my camera, even though I've outgrown it at this point. But, I do for one main reason: it's cheap (relatively speaking -- the Rebel series is on the low end of Canon's DSLRs).

Before you start getting the wrong idea that I think anything that was worth $799 (new) a couple years ago is inexpensive, you first have to understand a couple things:
  1. I'm the world's biggest klutz. I've dropped my camera and lenses more times than should be legally allowed for a photographer (amateur or not). God help me, if I actually own something designed for the pro-consumer or professional. Knowing my luck, I'd probably take it out of the box one minute, and then promptly shatter it to pieces on the kitchen floor the next. 
  2. I sometimes go to scary places. I don't know what it is about photography that makes the average person morph into the crazy person determined to get "THE shot," but between shooting for contests and just getting lost in foreign countries, I've been in places where my shiny, fancy-pants camera would make this 5'1" Asian girl the easiest target in the world.
  3. I like to shoot in bad weather/locations/circumstances. I leave my camera hanging from my shoulder in the rain (outside my camera bag) just in case! I've been known to put my camera on the beach (translation: on the SAND) in order to get another perspective. I've even changed lenses a few times in front of a fan. If that makes you cringe, you're not alone.
I think if I actually owned something really expensive, I'd be too paranoid to shoot with it. Being comforted that my camera has now probably depreciated to the point of being worth somewhat next to nothing allows me to relax and just focus on shooting. :)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cherries & the End of Reviews (For Now)!

That's it. No more daily reviews. Maybe, I'll do them once a month. What happened? Well, I was watching "Douglas Kirkland on Photography: Editorial Assignment," yesterday, when I realized that I was about to write a review nearly identical to one that I've already posted. I'd only watched about a dozen photography videos this week, before realizing that I'd begun to become delirious from over-studying a topic. So, for those of you that complained, let's breathe a sigh of relief, and hope that I can apply what I've learned during this incredibly educational past week. Specifically, it's time to start shooting again.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the cherries my mom gave me the other day. It took me all of 10 seconds to set up this shot (translation: transferring the cherries into a glass bowl from an opaque one). I know there are hot spots, but I like that look. So, :P.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review: "Douglas Kirkland on Photography: Natural Light Portraiture"

I happen to really like doing portraits made using only available daylight (as opposed to artificial lights: strobes, hot lights, etc.). It made sense then that I watched (on lynda.com) the video "Douglas Kirkland on Photography: Natural Light Portraiture" hoping to gain some tips from a renowned photographer. I came in with the expectation of learning tip after tip, like in an instructional video, but instead I found myself watching a master just doing his thing.

The video takes place in four locations within and around Kirkland's house. The first location is accidental as Kirkland realizes that the dressing room his subject is sitting in is casting beautiful light on the her. The second scene takes place in the living room that has directional light coming in from a skylight. Outdoors, he uses a diffuser/white tent and a canopied daybed. Despite having assistants to help him with make up, reflectors, and backgrounds, the tips he gives can apply to anyone interested in doing natural light portraits.

Practical tips he mentions include forming a tripod with one's arm and leg when in a seated position, using a longer lens to prevent distortion and to soften the background, and taking pictures without the intention of fixing it in post production (or doing minimal work in Photoshop).

He emphasizes that the relationship with the subject is important as exhibited by his constant attention to his subject comfort and his encouraging words. For example, he peppers her with compliments to keep her feeling relaxed and good about herself. When in the uncomfortable situation of having light in her eyes, he has her close them, only to open them back up after a countdown, so that he still gets the shot.

He concludes that we have to learn to recognize good natural light and not to attempt to alter it (e.g., add extra fill lights). If we do, changes must be "delicate" since "less is more."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Review: "Foundations of Photography: Exposure (& Lenses)" by Ben Long

On lynda.com, I just finished Ben Long's two online instructional videos: "Foundations of Photography: Exposure " and "Foundations of Photography: Lenses." Combined, the series provide a comprehensive look at how to use and care for a camera and lens, how to handle particular shooting situations, and what to take into consideration when purchasing equipment and accessories. The courses covered nearly everything I learned in my first photography class, so I didn't really learn much (I actually had the videos playing in the background while I was doing something else because it served as a review/refresher for me). Nonetheless, it was entertaining and informative.

If learning via instructional videos works for you, I recommend this series. If you access the videos through lynda.com, it'll only cost you $25, if you can do the entire series within a month (versus buying each of the DVD series for ~$100 each or paying for a real class). You can do the course at your own pace, in the comfort of your own home or on a smartphone, and you can rewind parts if you miss or forget something. Both courses combined totaled 6 hours in length (versus weeks during a full semester/quarter at a college).

The biggest downside of taking an introduction to photography course using these videos is that you don't get the interaction between you and the teacher and other students. Particularly, you don't receive feedback on your photos and on how well you are progressing. In my opinion, critique (both of your work and your classmates') is essential to learning photography.

In the end, I would highly recommend taking a real life course if you can. But if you can't, this is a nice alternative. However, it'll also come down to practice. Watching every lesson in the videos or attending every real life class is pointless, if you don't apply what you learn and go out and actually shoot.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Review: "Photo Assignment: Natural Light Portraits" by Derrick Story

Derrick Story's 22-minute tutorial, "Photo Assignment: Natural Light Portraits," on lynda.com, gives a brief explanation of what to do when shooting portraits outdoors, in the middle of the day, using only sunlight. Shooting directly under mid-day light tends to create problems such as hot spots, placing eyes and the smile in shadows, exaggerating skin texture, and highlighting the nose. He states that overcast light is the safest outdoor light because it mutes those effects, yet still provides some highlights on the hair.

To begin shooting an outdoor portrait, he recommends using a telephoto lens with a DSLR (or telephoto mode in a compact camera). DSLRs should shoot in "program mode" and "burst mode." Also, to get a softer background, the aperture should be opened up and there should be some distance between the subject and the background.

He demonstrates with a photo shoot that, when shooting in the middle of the day, the subject should be under open shade (e.g., either under a tree or a white diffuser). Photo discs/reflectors can bounce different types of light back onto the subject (white, metallic, ambient) to lighten up shadows. When in the shade, he advises toggling the white balance to either "cloudy" or "shade" and to switch from evaluative metering to spot metering. Also, he recommends dialing down the exposure compensation when shooting darker skin.

The tutorial concludes by viewing the shots on a computer and comparing the results of moving the subject to shade, bouncing light to the subject's face, and varying the type of reflected light. He encourages having the subject experiment with unplanned poses for variety. Lastly, he links to a Flickr group where students can post their own natural light portraits.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Notes: "Introducing Camera Raw" by Chris Orwig

Photoshop CS4 for PhotographersI'm referencing Chris Orwig's 15-hour tutorial called "Photoshop CS4 Tutorials for Photographers" on lynda.com (I only have Adobe Photoshop CS 4 ).

Instead of doing a review, I'll be posting notes I took while watching "Chapter 11: Introducing Camera Raw" (1 hour 15 min). Each italicized bullet represents a section within the chapter.
  • What is Camera Raw?: shoot in raw because it's nondestructive, saves file size, and gives more control.
  • Understanding the Camera Raw preferences: don't change anything.
  • Opening files in Camera Raw: open ACR in PS to increase workflow by continuing to work in PS when you process multiple files.
  • The Camera Raw interface and essential controls: discussed the following: 
    • full screen view mode; tool box - zoom (100% view), hand tool (fit in view), rotation, preferences, etc.; preview (for before and after comparisons).
    • basic adjustments: temperature (cool --> warm), tint exposure (more for portraits), 
    • exposure (darker, lighter), recovery (highlighted area only affected), fill light (3/4 tones), blacks (darken shadows) [if u increase fill light, should increase blacks], brightness (1/4 tones, highlights, midtones). contrast (increase whites & blacks & vice versa). 
  • White Balance, Straighten, and Tone
    • white balance: to sample, hover over something white or black. 
    • recovery: detail in blown out part. 
    • fill light: brighten up parts in shadows. 
  • Crop, Rotate, and Vignette
    • Lens Corrections/Vignetting adds density to image, so must increase exposure and fill light.
    • Post crop vignetting
      • amount: black/white.
      • midpoint: how far it reaches inward. 
      • roundness: oval/round, how round. 
      • feather: gradual change/hard edge.
  • Improving color and tone
    • clarity: adds more midtone contrast/depth or lose definition. 
    • vibrance: add more color variety [then decrease saturation].
  • Saturation vs. Vibrance
    • vibrance: nonlinear color adjustments, helps muted colors/protects saturated colors, good for skin.
    • saturation: makes linear adjustments (increase/decrease everything), increase bad for skin.
  • Converting an image to black and white: HSL/Grayscale 
    • hue: shift colors. 
    • luminance: brightness or darkness of tones. 
    • convert to grayscale: becomes black & white.
  • Split-toning an image: can do black & white and color images.
  • Working with tone subjectively: practice.
  • Adjustment Brush essentials: flow = how quickly the adjustment is built up. density: intensity
  • Using the Adjustment Brush: practice.
  • Working with the Graduated filter: practice. can click and drag beyond the picture for subtle adjustments.
  • Sharpening and noise reduction
    • color (noise reduction): gets rid of color artifacts.
    • luminance (noise reduction): for trapped shadows. 
    • radius sharpening: deepens reach of sharpening. 
    • detail: mainly for landscapes, little for portraits. 
    • masking: just sharpens edges
  • Working with multiple images: 3 ways to speed up workflow: 
    • use synchronize(...).
    • select all, modify.
    • copy and paste camera raw adj. in bridge.
Overall, this was an excellent introduction to how to use Adobe Camera Raw (better than any other introduction I've ever had). I highly recommend this as the primary method of learning ACR. Although the actual tutorial is less than an hour and a half, you'll probably be rewinding it to catch a few things because of how fast it is. But, it will be time well spent.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Why I'm Doing Reviews

I'm currently going through a 15-hour tutorial on Photoshop that I won't be able to write a review for for at least a couple more days. Since I can't publish a review today, I thought I'd explain the reason of why I've been doing reviews for the past four days (and will continue to do so until I run out of material).

I suppose this all started when my cousin asked me what camera he should buy and if I could teach him how to use it. After consulting a friend, T, on how to go about teaching someone else photography, I realized that I may not be the best teacher, as my own skills are a little lacking. So, I am now attempting to create a somewhat more whole foundation of knowledge that I hope I can relay to my cousin when he starts asking me questions beyond "what does this button do?" Then, coincidentally, I got access to Lynda.com a few days ago, which has a sizable collection of online photography courses. I'm picking and choosing chapters from videos to watch (I would die of boredom if I had to re-watch over and over tutorials on how to turn on my camera).

T (my more knowledgeable photographer friend) recommended that I start with teaching composition. So, my first reviews were about composition videos. Just to break the monotony of content, I decided to do a Photoshop one next, but it is a behemoth. I'm learning quite a bit, actually, which is how I have the patience for this. I just wish now I had taken these courses before paying for $500 real life ones (each!) a couple years ago. I may not have taken those earlier ones at all knowing what I know now.

So, that's the backstory. If you want to read reviews of other topics, just let me know; otherwise, I'll continue on this haphazard trajectory that I've started. I'm enjoying myself and learning quite a bit; so, I don't mind. :D

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Review: "Getting Pro Results from a Compact Camera" by Derrick Story

I finished watching Derrick Story's 1-hour series called "Getting Pro Results from a Compact Camera" on lynda.com. The videos demonstrate how to properly use a compact (point-and-shoot) camera. He explains the basics of macro mode, camera presets/scene modes (landscape, night, sports, indoor, and beach and snow), and exposure lock. Using photo editing software, he details how to stitch together panoramas and to crop a telephoto shot (with sharpening). There is a lengthy discussion on how to eliminate camera shake (e.g, use a tripod & self timer) and what is ISO. Lastly, he delves into when to use flash (e.g., sunset shots, for fill), and when not to (indoor shots).

When I first started going through his videos, he recommended the use of one's sunglasses to act like a polarizer in front of the camera lens. Other than that unconventional suggestion, the rest was of the information was straightforward (and a bit dry). He assumes more than a basic level understanding of photography as he refers to aperture and stops (which a typical point-and-shoot camera owner does not understand). Overall, it was a simple review of the basics sprinkled in with professional tips (e.g., shoot with the sun behind you, use "free transform" on panoramas in Photoshop).

Friday, June 3, 2011

Review: "Composition Considerations" by Chris Orwig

I watched five clips that comprise a 20-minute chapter named "Composition Considerations" on lynda.com. It is part of a greater body of work called "Narrative Portraiture: Foundations of Portraiture" by Chris Orwig. The first clip, "Photo review: Composition examples," compares a few photographs that demonstrate the power of moving either the subject or the camera, despite using only a simple camera and lens. The second part, "Thinking about composition," emphasizes the concept of framing. It's not good to place the subject dead center or to have too much clutter within the frame. He recommends using the "rule of thirds" to create mystery, but within reason. The goal is to have the viewer look at the subject and then travel around the frame to look at everything else. "Composition and the story," the third installment, has the camera person actually mimicking the actions of a photographer as he considers leading lines, moves closer to the subject, tilts the camera, shifts the camera to the left and right, and drops down or raises the camera for more options to tell a story. Relaxing the subject is the focus of the fourth video, "Position and positioning your subject." By having the subject do anything with their hands/arms (holding them up, leaning against something, hiding behind the subject's back, etc.), the subject is able to breathe and look more natural. Even having the subject briefly look away can be effective. The last clip, "Photo review: Composition in print" explains how although a photo (as a stand alone) may not be great, it may still be compelling together with other photos in a portfolio.

If you're looking for hard and fast rules, these are not the videos for you. If you want a demonstration of how to react to a particular shooting environment and the decisions you may make, then perhaps this series would help. I suppose I'm looking for the former, but it was nice to see a good photographer walk through the thought process of shooting.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Review: "Creating Effective Compositions" by Dane Howard

I watched a 10-minute clip on lynda.com by Dane Howard on "Creating Effective Compositions." He explains that the elements we need to pay attention to for photographic compositions are 1) lines and direction, 2) motion and direction, 3) depth of field, 4) focal point, and 5) value. The important idea that I walked away with was the concept of a "first read" and "second read," which pertain to what the eye gravitates toward in a photograph. He states that we, as photographers, have control on how we effect the read. To understand the process, he recommends blurring one's eyes and then seeing what sticks out in the photograph. For example, in the first read, we may focus on human eyes or the brightest part of a photo. I also liked how he discusses the use of triangles (leading lines, forced perspective) to emphasize something in the first read.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Review: "Image Composition" by Taz Tally

I watched a 20-minute video clip on lynda.com titled “Taz’s Guide to Shooting Fundamentals: Image Composition” (which is part of Taz Tally's "Digital Photography Principles"). Taz briefly discusses the significance of the following concepts:
  • Orientation - portrait vs. landscape: depends on what you are emphasizing (e.g., trees are vertical; therefore, use portrait).
  • Asymmetrical composition: place the subject anywhere other than the middle.
  • Fore-, middle, background: we don’t want flat pictures. The goal is to let the eye to take a journey though the photograph. We don’t always have to add foreground though.
  • Horizon placement: placing the subject in the middle = dull.
  • Add interest (people, paths, tree, sky, etc): you can use a zoom lens to add/subtract things from picture.
  • Avoid busyness: too much foreground detracts from the subject.
  • Crop images: either in camera or in post production to emphasize the subject.
  • Use a tripod or monopod: to maintain focus/sharpness.
  • Control depth of field: lower the f-stop to create a blurry background, while keeping the subject in focus.
  • Use focus to soften the image: create a dreamy effect by deliberately making the picture slightly out of focus.
  • Use polarizing filters: especially if u shoot outdoors, polarizers create more contrast (particularly in the sky/clouds).
  • Bracket exposures: if uncertain which settings look best, bracket.
  • Use fill flash: for example, if near a window, the camera will focus on the light coming through, leaving the subject in the dark. Use flash to light the subject.
  • Control image placement: redundant topic to “asymmetrical composition” (above).
  • Use framing effect: used a tree to frame mountains.
  • Create eye lines: want to move eyes through a picture, like following a river’s path.
  • Shoot early and late: shoot when light is the most interesting (mornings and afternoons/twilight/dusk).
Overall, the clip was a cursory introduction to many elements one has to consider when thinking about a photograph’s composition. It was not intended to go into full detail about how to apply these elements. He shows effective examples of what to (and not to) do.