Venice, Arcades, Doge's Palace

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Good Composition is a key element of good photographs yet is something that is hard to define.

I would like to describe it as a set of ‘tools’ that can be taken out of one’s compositional tool belt at any given time in the construction of a great image.

The key is to remember that in the same way as a chef rarely uses all the ingredients at their disposal in any dish – that a photographer rarely uses all of the ingredients of composition in the making of an image.

Today I’d like to look at five of the ingredients (or tools, or elements) of composition that I draw on in my photography. They’re not ‘rules’ – just things that I consider when setting up a shot.

 

Pattern

Jail window

There are patterns all around us if we only learn to see them. Emphasizing and highlighting these patterns can lead to striking shots – as can high lighting when patterns are broken.

 

Symmetry

Tokyo, Holy Temple                 Venice, Arcades, Doge's Palace

Depending upon the scene – symmetry can be something to go for – or to avoid completely.

A symmetrical shot with strong composition and a good point of interest can lead to a striking image – but without the strong point of interest it can be a little predictable. I prefer to experiment with both in the one shoot to see which works best.

 

Texture

different clouds on sky

Images, a two dimensional thing yet with the clever use of ‘texture’ they can come alive and become almost three dimensional.

Texture particularly comes into play when light hits objects at interesting angles.

 

Depth of Field click here

close up water drop             Grand canal tour through Venice.

The depth of field that you select when taking an image will drastically impact the composition of an image.

It can isolate a subject from its background and foreground (when using a shallow depth of field) or it can put the same subject in context by revealing it’s surroundings with a larger depth of field.

 

Lines

Fountain at World Financial Center              NYC Ground Zero

Lines can be powerful elements in an image.

They have the power to draw the eye to key focal points in a shot and to impact the ‘feel’ of an image greatly.

Diagonal, Horizontal, Horizontal and Converging Lines all impact images differently and should be spotted while framing a shot and then utilized to strengthen it.

These are just some of the elements of composition that I consider in my photography. They reflect my own style and personality but there are plenty more.

 

fall, leaves, maple

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Over my twenty-six years of working in the photography business, I’ve come to discover that one area that many photography enthusiasts often have the hardest time mastering is depth of field. Whereas beginning students usually manage to work well with their cameras in manual mode, which forces them to make their own selections of apertures and shutter speeds, they often seem to overlook using a limited area of focus to create more striking images.

 

I think one explanation for why this approach isn’t explored more by many people is that they aren’t active enough when they’re out shooting. They see something in the distance that interests them, and too often they just take the shot from that point and don’t investigate much further.

What, then, is depth of field (DoF)? Basically, it’s the term used to describe the area in a photograph that is in focus from the point nearest to the camera to the point furthest from the camera. What’s interesting about this concept is precisely that this distance can change radically according to different settings and choices made by the photographer.

 

What Creates Different Ranges of Focus?

 

  1. Aperture size. Large aperture openings like f 2 or f 2.8 will have among the shortest or shallowest of range of focus. A smaller portion of the photograph is in focus when using these larger apertures. Smaller openings, like f11, f16, and f22, result in a progressively bigger depth of field, as the opening is smaller (bigger numbers = smaller openings). More of the photograph is in focus.
Palm Trees in a row
  1. Lens type. Wide angle lenses tend to have a greater range of focus than longer telephoto lenses. The same is true even with zoom lenses. When you’re zoomed to a wider angle, such as 35mm or smaller, you have a bigger depth of field than when the lens is zoomed to 100mm or higher.
Between_Earth_and_Sky
  1. Focal distance. This may actually be the most important setting for determining whether you have a very narrow or very wide range of focus. If the absolute focus point is set on a point less than a meter away from the camera, you will have a much shallower depth of field than if your focal point is 10 meters or more from the camera. Consequently, although an f2.8 aperture setting where you focus on a subject less than a meter from the camera has a shallower range of focus than the same picture taken with a smaller aperture (f8, f11, f16, etc.), both images will have relatively shallow DoF precisely because the camera is focused very close. You’re likely to find that the DoF becomes narrower as you move into tighter quarters which prevent focusing on objects from a greater distance.
clematis

Now, why is all this important?

 

Clearly, when something is in focus it draws the attention of the viewer. In this way, a shallow range of focus helps direct the viewer’s eyes toward parts of the picture that are more important. Likewise, when taking a portrait against a background that is a bit distracting, a shallow DoF can limit the area in focus primarily to the subject and soften the background.

As always, practice is the key to success. So go out and have fun!

Ice covered branch after freezing rain

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You can create a blurry background in your photography with a very simple process.

When you are photographing people or objects, a soft focus background can help rid your photo of any potential distractions. This effect is called a shallow depth of field.

 

With a shallow depth of field, just the face or person or desired object is in focus, and the background is progressively blurry. In a longer depth of field, your subject and everything in the background is sharply in focus.

Here are the four ingredients to consider when creating a dramatically shallow depth of field:

 

  1. Wide Aperture

One of the first lessons in manipulating exposure is that the size of your aperture controls your depth of field. The larger the opening for each shot, the smaller the amount of your photo will be in focus. Choose lower numbers, like f/2 to f/4, to get the most dramatic effect. Remember that aperture f-stop numbers work in reverse; the lower numbers represent the larger openings.

Ice covered branch after freezing rain
  1. Distance to Your Subject

Getting close to your subject is a great composition principle anyway, but it is even more important when you want to knock out your background. If you are 10 feet from your subject, it is much easier to create a shallow depth of field than if you are 50 feet from your subject.

66sw
  1. Amount of Zoom

When you zoom in, you compress the elements of your photo, so everything behind your subject becomes more dramatic. A wide angle lens might not create a shallow depth of field, but if you zoom in a telephoto lens to 100 mm to 200 mm, the results become far more dramatic.

Bee on Echinacea
  1. Size of Your Sensor

Your sensor size will impact the final quality of your image in many ways. Making your background blurry is just one of them.

 

Don’t try to get a shallow depth of field with a camera phone. The sensor is so tiny, you won’t see much effect. With a compact camera (point and shoot), it is possible to manipulate depth of field, but difficult. With a DSLR, you can start to see really dramatic effects because the sensor is much larger.

Blurring out your background is one of many composition techniques you can use to create great portrait photography. With four easy ingredients, you could be on your way to making outstanding pictures.

 

 

 

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philosophy

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Saint Matthew's Church in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania.

 

Consider a few important questions.

– What is it about this scene that inspires you?

– What elements found in the scene have attracted your attention?

– Which elements (such as theme, line, or point of view) do you wish to   preserve?

 

As you ponder these questions, remember that the best landscapes are rarely found along side the road. If you are prepared for hiking with a map or GPS, then you’ll be more apt to come across some of the truly stunning scenes that will motivate you to find answers to the above questions.

Then, as you seek out the most interesting locations, you will begin to create a habit of viewing the beautiful and asking how you can recreate the essence even in scenes that are more challenging.

 

Rising Moon at Monument Valley

 

Concepts

One simple concept that is extremely helpful in creating balance is dividing the scene into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. You can do this by using two vertical lines and two horizontal lines evenly spaced, but your horizon (or any other prominent line) should still fall on one of the two horizontal lines. Then, a general rule of symmetry would be to place your focal point on one of the four intersections created by these lines.

 

With balance in place, you can then leave yourself room for creativity. Portraits can even be changed into landscape shots when you feel you’ve explored all other options. Shooting a portrait in landscape is best when up close and personal, such as a head and shoulders photograph. As you try placing the main subject off center, you create interest that can be enhanced with a few graphic elements, such as lead-in lines or interesting background. In this case, visual interest is the key to displaying your creativity.

 

tree on a foggy lake

 

Equipment

While many believe that the trick to getting great landscape photographs is having the right lens or the proper setup, there are few successful images that won’t have either of these. These shots demonstrate that composition and creativity can determine a photo’s success more than anything else. Even with remarkable clarity, sharpness, and ideal lighting, the image can still utterly fail due to a lack of adequate composition and content.

While no special equipment is really needed, a macro lens could be useful, depending on how much of the scene you are planning to capture in minute detail. A telephoto lens, to eliminate a bland and uninteresting sky, can be useful as well at times. Still, a tripod, will probably be the most practical piece of equipment that you will take with you to get the sharpest images.

 

arizona_wilderness route_8

 

Wide angle lenses are commonly used for landscapes because they allow you to include more in the frame and enhance options for perspective. Thus, a wide-angle zoom lens gives you more latitude in framing the scene and cropping out distracting features, but you’ll still want to abide by the rule of thirds. With these simple suggestions for equipment, you’ll be able to go out and create incredible landscapes!

 

Have fun and enjoy the nature that surrounds you!

 

 

Bee on Echinacea

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Macro Photography is a wonderful way to get to see the world from up close.There are a number of ways to get into macro photography ranging from inexpensive to outrageously expensive. Tough decisions to make, especially for someone who doesn’t make their living from photography.

Bee on Echinacea

If you decide you want to explore macro photography you have a number of options. I have listed these options starting with what I would consider to be the best equipment for the job. This doesn’t mean that buying a dedicated macro lens will always be better than extension rings but in general you will get the best results by going this way.

 

Important Items to Consider:

  • – dedicated macro lenses
  • – extension tubes or bellows units
  • – reversing rings
  • – close up lenses and
  • – macro zoom lenses

DEDICATED MACRO LENSES

Dedicated macro lenses are the ultimate way to go if you’re serious at all about doing this type of work. It doesn’t have to be expensive; If you’re serious about macro photography, buying a lens specifically designed for the purpose is the best way to go. The lens designs are optimized for close focusing and the lenses are also generally flat field (focus in a flat plane) producing sharper corners on flat objects such as pieces of wood or slabs of rock.

Purple_Iris

EXTENSION TUBES OR BELLOWS UNITS

Extension tubes or bellows units are pieces of equipment that put space between the camera body and the lens thus allowing the lens to focus closer. They can work well with certain lenses. For instance, if you have a 50mm prime lens this might be a good option to get into macro work at an affordable cost. Extension tubes often come in sets of three of different lengths (high quality tubes tend to be sold individually) that can be used singly or combined to get the close focusing distance required.

 

Bellows units work on the same principle but are expandable like a “bellows” allowing a great deal of flexibility. There real downside is the expense, and they’re bulky and heavy as well. I expect most people use bellows units for studio work only, as they aren’t terribly practical in the field. One area where extension tubes really shine is for making long focal length lenses like a 300mm focus closer—great for photographing dragonflies and other critters.

water pearls on leaves

for more images, please click here.

 

CLOSE UP LENSES

Close up lenses are clear “filters” that screw onto the front of your lens allowing the lens to focus closer. Quality varies from mediocre to quite acceptable depending on the quality of the filters. This is likely the least expensive way to start shooting macro but does have its drawbacks. A big factor that has to be looked at is the quality of the camera lens you will be using. Inexpensive zoom lenses will likely produce less than stellar results while high quality prime lenses can produce excellent results but none of these will produce tack sharp results like the dedicated macro lenses. The biggest advantage? As these are just fancy filters they are very light, no extra tubes or additional lenses to carry.

 

REVERSING RINGS

Reversing rings allow you to mount a lens “backwards” on the camera body. When used with high quality prime lenses, the results can be stunning and if you reverse a wide angle lens often you can achieve high magnifications on the order of 2X or more. For people interested in high magnification shooting, this is often the way to go, especially if you are on a budget.

 

MACRO ZOOM LENSES

What about the macro zoom lens that you already own? Many of the new lenses that come as part of a kit are labeled as macro zooms and while they do focus a little closer than normal they are not true macro lenses. My experience has been that most of them are very suspect in terms of sharpness, as these lenses are not designed for this sort of application. In a pinch they will work, but to get in really close to your subject one of the above options would be best.

Have fun and happy shooting!