Light, in all its forms, is the most essential element that is required for photography. Of course it is visible light for which allows us to see with the human eye as well. Light is nothing more than electromagnetic wavelength visible to the human eye. The wavelength ranges from infrared to ultraviolet or about 400 to 700 nanometres. This electromagnetic wavelength is made up of photons, little energy packets causing changes in molecular bonding or chemistry allowing us to see. As photographers we take light for granted, but we shouldn't for the more you know about and understand light, the better you are at harnessing it in a positive method to improve your images.We say that there are various sources of light, the sun, a flash, a lightbulb, etc. and we further say that light has a direction from which it emanates, in front of the subject, to the side of the subject, in back of the subject, from on top or on bottom. Finally we refer to light and color in. terms of its temperature, warm versus cold (that is why you camera has different settings for different types of light as it relates to temperature), daylight versus overcast. etc. Light and color also has a luminance (brightness) and a hue (color palette), and intensity (saturation). The new digital cameras are designed to take advantage of all these various aspects of light, yet I am amazed at how individuals just get their camera out of the box and start shooting, without giving any thought to the light profiles saved in the camera for use in various situations. We should and this post, the first of several on light, will hopefully demystify the concept of light and camera custom settings.
From a very practical standpoint for photography there are only two types of light, spectacular and diffuse. Spectacular light emanates from a single source and is harsh, strong, pure and directional. It often produces strong contrast with dark shadows. Human skin tones are usually never flattered using this light which is why you will see photographers using deflectors and other efforts to manipulate the subject when shooting outdoors in the middle of the day. This light can be harnessed effectively to make dramatic nature images or it can be a hindrance, such as the old adage of keeping the sun behind your shoulder when composing a photograph. Because spectacular light is directional, you can take advantage of this property by taking some time to think about your subject and how it can be highlighted with spectacular light. Everyone has probably heard of "Rembrandt" lighting where there is a rim of light behind that outlines the subject and provides a glow. This type of light arises when the light source comes from behind the subject. Very often however, another source of light is used as the primary light to evenly light the subject (usually diffuse light). The point is that by moving around the subject you can create different effects by harnessing this type of light to make the subject standout from the background.
Since spring is just around the corner perhaps the best way to showcase this is by a flower example or two. In the case of the bloodroot, the source of light comes from directly above the subject (this means lying on your belly looking upward) and you will notice the strong shadows on some of the petals. You will also notice that there is a dark background because it is absent of direct light (and it is in the shade which is naturally darker than the surroundings - again as a result of strong spectacular light). The lighting in this case serves to emphasize these flowers and nothing else. Also notice the high contrast of this image and the pure bright white and yellow colors (make sure you always balance the light to white which is easy in this case with these white petals).
The image of this hepatica is using the same technique and was taken the same day. Note where the shadows arise. In this case the lighting brings out the color of the flower but more importantly the hairs on the stem and sepals of those yet to open. One key thing to remember when using this technique is to keep the source of light from hitting the front element of the lens. A lens shade or hood is essential but in some cases you can still get lens flare and I have used my hand, a baseball cap, a leaf and a whole lot of other things to keep the light from hitting the front element.
Monday, February 24, 2014
Monday, February 17, 2014
Now this is where other aspects of composition might come into play and you can consider the rule of thirds when composing the image in the viewfinder. In this case the organization of the image placed the whole flower raceme in the upper right quadrant of the photo.
The last type of pattern is called an irregular pattern where the objects are randomly placed, not particularly ordered, but close enough to give the sense of a pattern. When using this type of pattern it is best to fill the frame with the subject. Since spring is rapidly approaching now is the time to begin planning those outings in the field and I suggest you think about looking for more patterns with the flowers to create more visually enticing images, but don't forget to do the close-ups and portraits too.
Monday, February 10, 2014
I give powerpoint programs all over the state and I give lots and lots of them (or at least I used to). One of the most common questions that I get asked is what is the one thing I can do to improve my photography? That is a difficult question to answer because lots of things need to be considered before answering that simply question. For example, is the image properly exposed and have the appropriate contrast? Is it in focus (or at least the critical part of the image)? What are the lighting conditions? You get the point. Once the basic questions have been answered, the biggest single thing that can improve your photography is to tnk about what you are trying to say with this image? What is the point of taking a photo because it can range from simply documenting a situation to trying to create some emotional impact. Much of the public believes you can fix everything in photoshop or some other post processing software and there is this entire group of tech savy folks, who can do amazing things with software. For example, the new hottest thing is something called HDR which is a method of expanding the exposure range to get more detail in highlights and shadows. But most of the HDR stuff I have seen are not accurate representations of what happened in the real world. In addition, I think many people have gotten so used to over-saturated images on the web (and those aren't real either) that we come to think of it as the norm. Or even adding or changing something significant about the image (check out the latest Audubon magazine about a fellow who inserted one owl for another and was disqualified from the competition). Which gets us to the simple question, what is the one thing I can do to improve my photography? Well the answer is subject, subject, subject and more subject. Think about what the subject is and how you can emphasize the subject and how that relates to the purpose of the image. This can apply even to those candid family photos and you probably have them with the lamp post or floor lamp splitting someone's head or growing out of their head, or having people stand too close to the wall so that the shadows take away from the people? So remember what is the purpose of the image and how do can you emphasize your subject and the best advice is to keep it simple. Keep it elegant and don't have a lot of clutter or distractions that take away from the subject. Below are two images I took yesterday with friends in Edmonson County Kentucky on Indian Creek (private property). The first image is more of a portrait of the waterfall where the waterfall is definitely the subject of the photograph. The second image is a landscape view, putting the waterfall into the perspective of where it occurred and the various pieces of a puzzle. In the landscape photo, I took great care where I set up the camera and tripod and what lens to use because upstream there was a bunch of dead trees scattered all over the creek. By selecting this location and the focal length lens I used, I was able to effectively keep out the distracting elements and get a unified image where the waterfall is part of the scene and not the entire subject.
Monday, February 3, 2014
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Notice in the photo of the deer the snow is white, not gray or blue yet the white-tailed doe is the proper exposure. This does not happen by chance and the reason snow is gray or white has to do with proper exposure and white balance, both easily correctable with today's digital cameras. Because your camera's light meter wants to make everything 18% gray it means when something is white you need to make an exposure compensation. Adjust your exposure settings to anywhere from +2/3 to +2 and look at the histogram on the back of the camera in the LCD to see what settings work best for that particular situation. Then you can make any minor adjustments in your post processing software. Look at the histogram to make sure the whites aren't blown out because you will not see any details in the white snow. Now take your white balance off auto and dial in light temperature values (looking at the LCD) to make sure the images appear white (if shooting in the shade the cloudy setting might work pretty well to get rid of the blue). Then you can make minor adjustments with your post processing software. These are just a few tips and pointers on photographing in the winter. Now go outside and have some fun.