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Archive for October, 2011

IN THE FIELD: Water In Motion

October 14, 2011 27 comments

Earlier this week I was back out in the field and stopped at an area I hadn’t visited in awhile. It is one of the many places where I love to spend some time and to photograph the surroundings. The area is heavily wooded and the Autumn colors were starting to appear. The skies were clear and the temperature was around 75 degrees. Perfect for being in the woods with camera backpack and tripod.

My intent was to photograph the water in the creek swirling and tumbling over the granite boulders. Numerous rocks were left behind from ancient glacier activity and were huge. Some of them were the size of a small car

I clambered over the exposed tree roots and rocks and made my way to the creeks edge. A giant boulder made for easy climbing and an ideal place to rest. I sat there and immersed myself in the surroundings. It was stimulating to just sit and watch and listen to the water roar past me.

I was mesmerized by the sights and sounds, then finally remembered why I was there. Now I had to find the right light, the right scene and a safe place to set up the tripod. This would be a good test of my balance and nerves. Wet rocks, fallen leaves and camera gear in hand can be treacherous.

I found a few settings that would lend themselves to interesting compositions. I set up the tripod, mounted the camera and the zoom lens and then attached the cable release. Because it was a bright day and the water was mostly in sunlight, I used a polarizing filter to cut down the amount of light entering the lens and to eliminate glare. The camera settings used were an ISO of 100, shutter speeds of 1/20th of a second and slower, and small apertures. This combination of settings tends to make the water appear silky. I also shot a number of frames with faster shutter speeds and wider apertures to freeze the movement of the water.

Showing the motion of water as super silky is a popular style of photography these days. I tend not to make the water look too etherial, but rather let the viewer realize that they are looking at water. That is what is special about photography. You can make the water look any way you want. Whatever way you decide, that is the right way for you.

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IN THE FIELD: Reflections

October 12, 2011 26 comments

With the cooler nights we have been having lately, the Autumn colors are beginning to change quickly. Capturing nature’s splendor reflected in a small pond near my home has been a mission of mine for several years.

A few days ago I was heading home after finishing up a photo shoot. Traveling past the pond that has been on my photographic to-do list, I noticed that the water was unusually calm. Ordinarily, a breeze is blowing and the water is full of ripples. And in past years, just as the leaves have begun to change colors, a storm will blow through and strip the trees bare, spoiling my plans.

Quickly making a U-turn, I headed back to the pond, determined not to miss out on my chance to finally capture the image and complete my quest. After parking the car off the road, I gathered my stuff and looked for a good spot to set up. The steep banks of the pond don’t offer very stable footing. But I managed to find a clearing in the trees, didn’t fall in the pond, and got myself and the tripod set up. Of course, the inevitable breeze kicked up, but not before I was able to squeeze off a few shots.

For a few minutes that day, Mother Nature was on my side and everything worked out.

INSPIRATION: Still Life

October 10, 2011 12 comments

My mother has always had a love of gardening. As children she taught us to appreciate flowers and all growing things. She would set aside a portion of her flower beds so we could plant whatever we wanted. And boy did we! My sisters and I would plant seeds from every packet she gave us. Our little garden plots were organized chaos, but we loved them.

She has her personal favorites that she plants every year, but will search for new options to add. Her selections create an explosion of color in her garden. Sitting on her patio surrounded by all the floral displays is a truly peaceful and relaxing place to be.

Indoors throughout her home, she displays vignettes of small vases and decorative pots brimming with flowers from her garden. Always special treats to admire, no matter what the season. In the spring and summer, she will use flowers of the season. And in her fall and winter arrangements, she’ll use twigs from shrubs with colorful berries, or sprigs from fir trees with pinecones.

The other day we popped over to her house for a visit. And after we said our hellos, but before we even had a chance to sit down, I noticed a small pitcher on her coffee table filled with zinnias. I said, “Hold on a second, I have to get a few shots of this pitcher.”

My mother smiled and sat down, as she has become quite used to me doing that. I took the pitcher outside and placed it on her patio, still wet from the early morning rain. Doing a quick set-up, I managed to find the best composition and take several photos before it started raining again.

After ducking back inside, we looked out her sliding glass door and were able to enjoy the garden in it’s full glory…without getting wet.

Good garden again this year, Mom.


HOW TO: Comfort and Flexibility In The Field

October 8, 2011 9 comments

Imagine how annoying our lives would be without camera bags and camera straps. Our pockets would be bulging and spilling over with lenses, filters, cable releases, batteries and all sorts of other paraphernalia. We would be spending most of our time picking stuff up off the ground rather than shooting.

I have been through a whole gamut of camera bags, from the small square shoulder bags to a photographer’s vest, all the way up to a large photo backpack. Each one has served me well over the years and I have kept them around to store older camera gear. Last year I was in the market for a new bag. I wanted an option that was smaller in size, would hold all the gear I use now, and could be carried comfortably.

The go-to bag I am using now is a crossover of two styles. It is not a large backpack nor is it a small shoulder bag. It is worn like a backpack, but with only one strap crossing over your chest, rather than the two shoulder straps of a traditional backpack. When you need something from the bag, you sling it around front to access the main compartments, without having to take it off. It has the easy access of a small shoulder bag, but stays securely on, leaving your hands free. I can also carry it as a bag with a handle if I want to, so it provides me with the flexibility of use I need.

Some folks like to take every piece of gear with them at all times, and options are available if you need a bag designed to hold gobs of equipment. Other folks carry just enough for what they are anticipating to need on their shoot, and options are available if you want to take your camera and a few small items. I fall somewhere in-between, so my crossover bag fits my current needs perfectly.

If your old bag is on it’s last legs, or you just feel the need to upgrade, there are more choices available now than ever before. Over the years, manufacturers have developed designs to fit anyone’s requirements. There are shoulder bags, backpacks, pouches, waist packs, holsters and vests, just to name a few. Many of them are customizable with removable inserts, multiple pockets with several different ways to access compartments. Most are made with modern materials that are weather-resistant, durable and lightweight. Others are still made with classic materials, such as canvas and have an aged appearance.

Camera straps are another item I have changed out over the years. Straps that come packaged with most cameras are typically a one-size-fits-all. Aftermarket straps can be found in many configurations, styles and colors. And most are designed with a higher level of comfort and ease of use. Long straps, short straps, wrist straps, and heavily padded straps are just a few of the choices.

The strap I am using now is super comfortable and easy to attach to the camera. It can be made into a small handle by removing the shoulder pad and reattaching the quick disconnects. So I actually get two straps in one.

When you need to take your equipment in the field, comfort and flexibility will make your outings more productive and enjoyable.

INSPIRATION: Viewpoint

October 5, 2011 12 comments

I’ve touched on viewpoint in previous posts, and for me, it is an important part of my process and how I approach my photography. By viewpoint, I am not only talking about my personal perspective, but how I use the camera to share my experiences through my images.

When I get to a location, the first thing I do is take a moment to get my first impressions. Even if I have been there before, or am returning to shoot a specific subject, I want to get a sense of that place at that moment.

I walk around with my camera in hand and start looking for the first scenes that capture my attention. I look for vignettes and the subtleties…light, shadows, texture and pattern. I move around. I look up. I look down.

And I look through the camera. Because what you see with your two eyes will be captured in a different way with the camera lens. Sometimes I pull out the polarizing filter, and without attaching it to the lens, rotate it and see how affects a potential subject with the light at that moment.

By this time, I have identified those subjects I know I want to shoot during this session. If I end up shooting additional scenes, or explore others as I go along, that is fine too. But at least I have selected my must-haves. Then I set up my shots, using the tripod, if needed.

Why is viewpoint so important? As a photographer, one of my goals is to share my experience of a location, or subject in a specific moment in time, with my viewer. I want to have a sense of the place I am shooting, so I take time to do that. And it is reflected in my photographs. Because when I do not follow this part of the process, my images become snapshots and not photographs.

And there is nothing wrong with snapshots. We all take them. However, if I am inspired by a scene and I believe my goal is to share that experience with you, why wouldn’t I do everything I can to make it my best?

INSPIRATION: Mission Architecture

October 3, 2011 6 comments

I always have a long-term personal commission running while working on my regular photographic assignments. My current mission is to photograph the architecture and old structures in the area where I live. This region is heavily wooded with rolling hills creating valleys rich for farming. The older buildings and farmhouses built of fieldstone and wood appear to merge seamlessly into the landscape.

Photographing older structures is a special interest of mine. They document how things were done long ago and provide all of us with the opportunity to learn about the time when they were built. Along with various historic properties in the area, many of the old buildings have been restored and are now used as a place of business or a private residence, preserving them for future generations. And the textures of stone and wood yield many possibilities for interesting subjects and compositions.

I like to shoot at various times of the day, since the direction of the light and the color temperature changes, giving a different look throughout the day. Using a wide angle lens can alter the way the building appears and offer a surreal look, or can encompass the building and its surroundings. Using a zoom lens may help eliminate distracting elements in a composition or isolate a particular aspect of the architecture. I look for leading or intersecting lines along with colors or patterns to add interest.

Photographing architecture at night can produce stunning photos. You tend to see more dramatic shadows and highlights cast across the face of the building from spot lights or streetlights.

As an alternative to my current quest, you may be interested in photographing modern buildings. I have found that subject to be just as fascinating. By getting up close to exaggerate perspective or changing your position from the typical viewpoint can add drama. Or even the sensation that the building is imposing itself on its surroundings. The glass and various metals used in contemporary structures can offer interesting reflections and patterns, sourced from streetlights or the sun.

So, find your personal quest and make it a long-term project. Explore those subjects that have a special interest to you. Whether they are man-made or built in nature, as long as they speak to you, the images you create will reflect your mission.