Archive for August, 2011

HOW TO: Pleasing Backgrounds

August 31, 2011 2 comments


Some photographic subjects just love to be the center of attention. Single flowers are known for this. Especially if the background is not competing with the flower for recognition.

Some backgrounds can be just too distracting if you are trying to emphasize a particular object. The good news is you can alter the appearance of your subject’s surroundings in several ways

One of which is to use a fast lens (i.e. apertures of 1.2 or 1.8 etc) with the aperture close to wide open. A fast lens will tend to blur the background better, so your subject will be more prominent.

Another method is to use a telephoto lens with the aperture close to wide open. If you are at a reasonable distance from your subject, the short depth of field that these lenses offer can be utilized to blur the background.

If the conditions warrant, meaning it won’t be in the way of passers-by, a tripod should be used along with a cable release, remote, or self timer to avoid camera shake, especially if slower shutter speeds are involved. It will also aid in composition.

Composition can also be a major factor in making your subject more prominent. Use the rule of thirds. Rather than have the main subject right smack dab in the middle of your frame, adjust the composition so it is a little to the left of center or a little to the right. Or even adjusting a little towards the bottom or the top of the frame can alter a composition to make it more appealing.

Experiment…you’ll be pleased with the results.





August 29, 2011 4 comments

In the part of the world where I live, we have four distinct seasons. Each has it’s own mood and characteristics.

Spring is cool, rainy and lush with its new growth after the long harsh winter. Summer is green and typically dryer than Spring, except for this year, as there has been an abundance of rain. In Autumn, plants and trees are slowing down their growth process and preparing for dormancy. Winter is cold and barren, yet beautiful in it’s starkness. And in the past few years it has been purty-darn snowy.

Right now, Summer is beginning to fade into Autumn. Soon the garden centers will be filled with mums, cornstalks, pumpkins and gourds to welcome the next season. Summer wildflowers are being replaced with goldenrod, wild asters and chicory. A few of the black tupelo trees are beginning to show the colors they will bear for the next few months. And the warm lazy days of summer are giving way to cooler days and nights.

I look forward to the change of seasons. From Spring’s rebirth to Summer’s abundance, to the vibrance of Autumn and the beauty of Winter…each season brings a renewed fascination for me.


INSPIRATIONS & ASSIGNMENTS: Abstracts-The Kitchen Table

August 25, 2011 6 comments

Last week I was sitting at the kitchen table reformatting a bunch of data cards in the camera.

Cards all cleaned up…cool, now it’s time to play.

It was far too hot and humid to go outside and way cooler and easier to play inside.I sat there looking around for something to photograph. Right in front of me was a hand-blown pale green vase with a milky white and red candle inside.

Most of the light on the vase and candle was from an overhead incandescent light. And natural sidelight was coming in through the double sliding glass doors. With these two light sources, the bubbles in the glass were clearly visible.

I decided to use my Nikon 18-135 mm lens and set the camera to manual. The camera and tripod were setup about 18 inches away from the vase, so I could eliminate anything in the background and distort colors and shapes. I used many different combinations of white balance settings, exposure and flash, just to see what would happen.

I played around for about an hour and got some pretty cool shots. One of my favorites is featured in this post.

This photo was taken with the camera white balance set to sunny, ISO set to 400, shutter speed was 1/5 second, aperture at f5.6, the lens was zoomed to 90mm and no flash was used.

IN THE FIELD: Weather – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

August 22, 2011 6 comments

Not long ago I was in the woods photographing trees that were beginning to show their fall colors. It looked as if the weather could change from good to bad any minute.

It did. A rogue rainstorm blew through and it got ugly.

When I felt the first raindrops I knew my priority was to protect the camera and lens. There are many options available, however I have had success with the Rainsleeve from OP/TECH USA. They are inexpensive, easy to use and effective.

I always keep several Rainsleeves in my camera bag for just these occasions. Chalk it up to the old Boy Scout training to always “Be Prepared.” On this day, it allowed me to continue photographing the trees with my equipment protected from the passing storm.

Whether it is a sunny day or rainy day, I rarely shoot without a lens hood. It is helpful on sunny days to prevent lens flare from the sun. And also on rainy days to keep water droplets off the front lens element…unless you are in a monsoon. Then all bets are off.

Another handy accessory to use on rainy days would be a polarizing filter. It will help eliminate unwanted reflections from foliage, streams, waterfalls, flowers and non-metallic surfaces and allow more detail and color to show in your photographs.

Shooting in the rain does have its benefits. There are no harsh shadows to deal with since the light is more even due to the cloud cover. Also, colors tend to be richer and more saturated in these conditions since direct sunlight is not reflecting off of most surfaces.

If you stick it out through the bad weather, often times after a storm passes you may be rewarded with unusual cloud patterns that are lit up by the sun. Or maybe a rainbow will make an appearance or even a great sunrise or sunset. One of the best aspects of photographing in the rain is…you will probably have the whole place to yourself.

Enjoy being out in the rain. It can be a great experience. Just “Be Prepared.”

IN THE FIELD: Don’t Forget Your Own Backyard

August 19, 2011 6 comments

Traveling to faraway and exotic places can be a real adventure, but we do not always have the opportunity to do so. I have found that exploring my local area, and even my own backyard, can be a journey of discovery.

In our rural areas, the farmlands, old structures and country fairs can provide a variety of subjects. The gardens, parks and playgrounds located in many suburban areas allow for a wide range of opportunities. And because of the cultural diversity of many urban areas, including the regional architecture, exploring your own city can be inspiring.

And don’t forget your local historical landmarks, which give you the chance to capture the flavor of the past. Or you could document changes that may be taking place in your region, whether it is man-made or from nature. Or even areas that are environmentally sensitive that may be threatened due to development, allowing you to help raise public awareness, if that is your buzz.

Check your local newspaper, or talk with your family, friends and neighbors to help you find places you may have overlooked. I saw an article just last week in my local newspaper about a field of sunflowers planted by a local businessman for the community to enjoy. I popped down there to check it out and realized that I had stumbled upon a real treasure.

Think of it this way: if you had boarded an airplane and flew off to some new location, you probably would have your eyes and ears open to what you could find there. Try taking that same approach to where you live right now. Anytime I have done that, I have never been disappointed.


August 17, 2011 13 comments

Patterns are all around us. They can be found in colors, shapes, textures and light…a field of wildflowers or clouds or raindrops on a windowpane or shadows…plus a thousand other things I am not mentioning.

And if you change your perspective, by positioning yourself and your camera in a way that is out of the norm, you may find a pattern you did not notice before. Get up close, get down low, look at something from above. Find that different angle.

A low vantage point looking at ripples or movement on the water can create a pattern that is either soft and soothing, or rough and powerful. Looking up at tall buildings may produce interesting patterns with converging lines and reflections. A wide view of a farmer’s field with plowed or planted furrows can result in unusual patterns in any season.

Reflections of trees in a pond or buildings in a puddle mirror the source, creating an abstract visual. Shadows, with their alternating tones of dark and light, can provide a mysterious quality. Long night-time exposures of cars and trucks on busy streets form patterns of light trails that can be addictive.

Have some fun with it and see what patterns you can find.

BACK TO BASICS: Buying A Camera

August 13, 2011 3 comments

There are many things to consider when purchasing a new camera, but if you keep the basics in mind, it does not have to be difficult. By asking yourself a few simple questions and doing a bit of research, you can gain the knowledge you need to buy a camera that will fit your individual requirements.

One of the most obvious, but important questions to consider, is how you will be using your new camera. The answer will help you define the features you want and need.

Do you want to take photographs of family birthday parties or children’s sporting events, of your vacation, garden, or scenic landscapes? Or do you want a camera that is more specialized for taking macro photography, as an example?

Does your new camera need to be weather resistant? Will you be shooting outdoors in all types of weather? Or do you have more indoor applications?

Do you want the camera to make all the decisions for you? Or do you want the ability to have more manual control, and for example, be able to set your own exposure?

Do you have previous experience in photography? Do you understand the basics of aperture, shutter speeds, focal length and composition? Do you want a camera you can use with the knowledge you have now? Or do you want a camera that will give you more features allowing you to learn more about photography?

Do you take a lot of photos, or are you a special event shooter?

Is size and portability important? Would a compact point-n-shoot fit your needs, or would a DSLR allowing you the option to change lenses be a better fit?

What is your budget? Will you need additional equipment like a camera bag, tripod, or specialized filters? Will you be printing your photos or posting them in online galleries?

When I made my latest camera purchase, I spent some time with my research, compared several different brands and narrowed my selection down to two options that I liked. And I originally thought I was going to purchase Camera “A” versus Camera “B”. Then I went to a camera store and held both cameras in my hand. I realized that I liked the feel, weight, overall build, menus and brightness of the viewfinder in Camera “B”. I ended up buying the Nikon and have been very happy with my purchase ever since.

One of the resources that I found invaluable is a website that I trust and am comfortable sharing with you: I found their reviews to be unbiased and their site includes comparisons of all major brand cameras in all price ranges.

Another one of my favorite sources is Outdoor Photographer magazine. As a photographer who specializes in the outdoors, this is a no brainer for me and I have been a subscriber since the magazine started. However, one of the main reasons I recommend this publication is that it is filled with information for everyone, from beginners to advanced photographers. And the featured photography is not too shabby either.

Nowadays, cameras are packed with amazing features, some of which you may find useful and some you may never use. Irregardless, technology has come a long way since the days of film. You can keep it simple or get more advanced. The choice is yours to make. And I am confident that if you stick to a few simple basics, you will find the camera that best suits you.

IN THE FIELD: Turn Left Not Right

August 13, 2011 6 comments

Yesterday morning, I left the house heading for a location shoot and pulled up to the stop sign at the end of my street. Usually I would turn right to head towards town, but a maintenance crew had the road closed for repairs. So, I had to turn left. No worries. I was on my way early enough that a detour to take the long way would not be a problem. I decided to keep my eyes open for anything that might spark my interest. Two miles down the road, I hit pay dirt.

I drove past a horse farm and saw two foals in one of the pastures. I pulled over, walked to the fence and greeted the man standing there. Turns out he was an old acquaintance. I asked him for permission to photograph the horses. Since he was only boarding his horses there, he suggested I check with the owners of the property first, which I did. They were nice folks and very accommodating.

It was early morning, the skies were a deep summer blue and the air was unusually cool and crisp for an August morning. One of the foals was four months old, and the other was just born a month ago. My friend suggested I walk into the pasture with him, to allow the foals to get used to my presence there. Eventually, they became curious about this new visitor and came to see who I was.

After standing a short while, I opted to sit down in the field to gain a better perspective. Since the foals were so young, I did not want to have a typical downward view in my photographs. I wanted to be more at their level.

Did I get some great shots? Absolutely. But the thing that stands out in my mind the most was the experience. It wasn’t long before those foals were sniffing at my head and my camera. I chatted to them in a soft voice, made no sudden movements and after a while, I became a part of their scenery. That allowed me to photograph them while they were relaxed and content.

Yes, I did make it to my original location about an hour later than I had planned. But again, it was not a problem. I was still able to complete that shoot while the morning light was still good.

I have been thinking I should drop that road crew a thank you note. If it wasn’t for their early morning schedule to do those road repairs, I would have turned right and never had this experience.

Moral of the story: sometimes it pays to turn left rather than right.


August 9, 2011 4 comments

Contrast is simply defined as the degree of difference between the lightness and darkness within an image, either in tonal ranges or in colors. Contrasts can be also found in shapes and textures.

Now for the fun stuff…let’s apply this to photography.

A good example of dark versus light, or tonal contrast, would be dark shadows that are cast on a light surface. Like shadows from a building onto a sidewalk. Or a person silhouetted against the evening sky. Or dark-colored sea shells on light-colored sand.

Contrasting shapes could be white eggs on a white square plate. Try photographing it in color. Try it in black and white. Try it with flash. Try it without a flash.

Color contrast can be found in a bouquet of light yellow and dark purple flowers. Or brightly colored fall leaves on a dark forest floor. Or even a single red flower growing in a field of green.

Contrasting textures can be anything from the softness of moving water against the hardness of rocks, to a shiny metal surface against an rough wooden one.

The image featured in this post is a white iris against a dark background. The delicacy of the iris is captured and the background maintains a subtle definition. The contrast provides drama within the image.

Contrasts are everywhere…the more you look the more you will see.

What did you find today? Let us know…we would love to hear.

BACK TO BASICS: Tripods, Monopods and Cable Releases

August 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Of all the equipment available to photographers, in my opinion, the tripod is one of the most important. After I purchased my first camera and lens, it was the next item on my list.

The primary function of a tripod is to provide stability for the camera. And because of the time it takes to set up, you are forced to slow down. You will find yourself taking more time with composition to eliminate unwanted or distracting elements from the scene. And to experiment with exposure, depth of field and ultimately achieving a sharper image.

Though not as sturdy as a tripod, a monopod will provide an increase in stability versus hand-held, in those situations where it is not practical to set up a tripod. I find myself pulling out my monopod at a crowded location, such as at a sporting event, car show or flower show.

Tripods and monopods come in all styles and materials. Aluminum, carbon fiber and wood are the most common. Prices range from $25.00 to as much as you would like to spend. Cost is dependent on the type of material, weight and features. I’ve been using my one Bogen 3021 tripod for twenty-plus years, so I can say with confidence, it was a worthwhile investment.

Another accessory I find handy is a cable release. I use it whenever my camera is mounted to a tripod, due to the slower shutter speeds I am shooting and to avoid camera movement caused by pressing the shutter release with my finger. I use an electronic cable release, but you can use the self-timer built into the camera as a substitute, although it is less convenient.

One of my rules of photography is to never go on a shoot without a tripod, or at least a monopod. But I don’t always follow my own rules. There is nothing more frustrating to be in the field and realize you forgot your pod. Makes me wish I had stuck a big red sign on my dashboard that reads “Did you bring your tripod today?”

On those occasions when I find myself pod-less, I have turned myself into a human-pod. I squat down, tuck my elbows in, hold my breath and fire away. Only problem is, sometimes I lose the feeling in my legs and standing up is a real challenge. So, my recommendation to you is: always remember your pod. Or go make yourself a really big red sign to put on your dashboard. Right now. I’ll do it if you’ll do it…