Tuesday, December 2, 2008
If you are using a body of water as the reflector, you might be able to disturb the surface, maybe by tossing a stone, to get a second effect and image after you've shot with the smooth reflection. You can see many more examples of reflection as a compositional element by clicking on the link to a feature in Smashing Magazine. Some of these are outstanding, going beyond reflection as an element of mood (like I did in my photo) and using it to create unworldly scenes, where the original and the reflection meet and turn into abstracted patterns. At the bottom of the feature are additional links to other collections of reflection in images.
Monday, April 7, 2008
Go To Composition Extremes and OppositesIt's easy to get stuck in taking the same sort of shots, over and over. This is different from having your own "eye," in which you express things visually in a certain way because it comes naturally from your own upbringing, education, personality, and inherent tastes. I'm talking about being in a rut. When you find that each picture seems like the last, it's time to shake yourself loose. Here are a couple of things that might help.
OppositesFind a few of your habits and deliberately work against them. If you usually take photos from above, try from below. Like wide angle? Go for a telephoto. Shoot color? Move to black and white. When you force yourself out of your habits, you temporarily lift yourself out of the rut. This can become as much of a habit as what you are used to doing, of course, but used judiciously, it can help broaden your view of the world around you.
ExtremesInstead of doing the opposite, you can push your habit to a degree you normally wouldn't use. If you like a tight focus on the face in a portrait, you might push in on just one feature: eyes, nose, mouth, a wrinkle, a freckle. If you realize that you're responding to a texture in an image, then drive in the center on just the texture. If you find yourself always far back from a subject, you could pull back even more and see if the former subject can become one part of a bigger pattern.
In either approach, you don't have to like the resulting images. The point isn't to come up with a substitute, but to jar your perceptions enough to open your eyes to new possibilities. This can be a useful exercise to do on a periodic basis, even when you aren't feeling particularly stuck. It's the essence of why experienced photographers will often move all around a subject, getting at different heights and distances, just to see if there is something that they haven't been noticing.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Technique: Adding Scale to ImagesPhotographs can offer an odd view of the world. When you look at a scene, you may focus on one part, but you really see it in a larger context. That isn't necessarily so in an image, leaving it seem unreal. A good example is the type of landscape you'll see many people take - a beautiful vista, but somehow off-putting. Often the problem is that everything is far away and there is no visual comparison in size. Great landscapes usually have some sense of scale, to make the viewer better understand the grandeur of the scene. For example, look at the Ansel Adams photo Bridalveil Fall. Seeing the tops of the trees adds a reference to give a sense of just how far the water is falling. You might include a person, a vehicle, a building, an object, or almost anything else to act as a type of measuring stick. What is interesting is that something can act as a scale reference when included in a picture, but can lose that quality when photographed by itself. To provide a scale reference, you need an item that offers a contrast in size, and which is also familiar enough so that the viewer will be familiar with its size from ordinary experience.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Think Like a Film ShooterWhen I was first learning photography, it was with ancient cameras and roll film that I developed at home. I was a kid without a large allowance, so I couldn't be extravagant in my use of film. Instead, I'd look for the shots I really wanted.
Digital photography opens some great doors: low cost per image, quick gratification, and ability to manipulate images, whether b&w or color. But one thing people today are missing is visual discipline. You can take hundreds of images without thinking about whether you have enough film. When you are limited, you have to be judicious; you learn to get by with only a handful of shots that must count.
It's a good discipline worth trying. Go out to take pictures and limit yourself to 24 or 36 shots - and add a twist by using only a normal lens and make your eyes get creative.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Technique: Use Negative Space in CompositionWhen composing an image, you want to call attention to your subject. One way of doing this is using negative space - the blank areas of your image. Now blank is a relative term. You won't see unexplained missing sections. Instead, the negative space is generally uniform in contrast to the rest of an image. Look at this example:
Negative space can become a powerful element of your compositional tools. Notice that in the picture there is largely undistinguished areas of grey on the right-hand side. That very lack of content and detail helps define the placement and arrangement of the arm with its painting equipment.
Friday, August 10, 2007
What Not to See (in the Viewfinder)When in the throes of shooting, you can get carried away and miss things that will make your picture look bad, Here's a quick list of what can be problems and ways to solve them:
- Busy backgrounds can distract from your subject and draw someone's eye away. Try shifting your position relative to the subject, getting the subject to move or using selective focus to blur the background.
- Scenes often have natural horizontal and vertical lines - like a tree or the horizon. If you work in haste, you can make them look tilted, causing the whole scene to seem odd. Line the horizontal or vertical lines up with the edges of your viewfinder to get closer to level. If you do make a mistake, fix this in your image editing program.
- Tip a camera and look up or down or along something's side, and you'll find that formerly parallel lines will start to meet. You can just be careful or use something called a perspective correcting lens, which is generally expensive. However, your image editor should let you stretch things back more or less to normal.
- Iif two things are close to the same shade, they may blend into each other. This can lead to some pretty funny things, like having a person in a black turtleneck in front of a black background and getting a picture of a floating head. Your choices are to increase the lighting on one of the objects, moving the subject in front of something else, getting the subject to change clothes, or use your digital darkroom to change the image contrast enough to separate the two.
- If you're in a hurry to take someone's photo, you can inadvertently become a surgeon and lop off some part of the body or head. If you do it to a great enough degree, you could try to bluff your way out and call it artistic. Otherwise, pay attention when looking through the viewfinder.
- You can also become a Dr. Frankenstein and add things that nature never intended. Juxtapositions between subjects, foreground, and background can make for some odd effects, like the telephone pole behind your cousin Rita that will look as though it's growing out of her head. You'll need to move yourself or the subject or be ready for some intensive computer work to actually retouch significant portions of the picture[md]possible, but a big pain in the shutter finger. If the pole actually is growing out of her head, there's probably nothing I can do for you. Or her.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Using Leading Lines in CompositionWhen you're trying to compose a photo, one of the classic techniques you can borrow from painting and drawing is leading lines. Edges in an image have the tendency to direct the eye. To use leading lines, you arrange things so that the edges all point the eye where you want it to go. Look at this photo, for example:
Notice how the lines appearing naturally in the portrait direct your eye to the model's face. In this case the lines came from her arms and jacket, but these just as easily could have been tree branches, a ribbon of road, or a fishing pole.
The real trick to making this work is to get a physical sense of the lines - the rhythm of what you see before your eyes. When I took this shot, during some test shooting we were doing, it was when she was putting her hair up. I didn't intellectually plan out the image. Instead, I do as I always do: keep my eyes open and try to feel for those fleeting moments when you understand that there is something worth shooting.