Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Testing my iSight one last time

I'm afraid the time has come to wrap up all the wonderful tidbits that have helped write this blog. Quite a few topics have been covered, but I must say I am really addicted to experimenting with and achieving bokeh-licious(I swear it's a word I heard in a photography tutorial!) scenes, high and low key shots, and night photography.


What is bokeh? This is the soft, fuzzy effect on the background when shooting. Two variables I have experimented with were getting as close to my subject as possible and leaving as much space as possible between my subject and the background. This photograph was a reshoot from one I had taken using bright, sunny daylight(which I haven't seen in weeks!). I tried getting my scene as bright as possible for a nice high key effect, but ended up using some reflectors to warm up the skin tones in a darkened room instead. By shooting into a mirror, I wanted to trick my camera into thinking there was actually more space between the hands and the subject's reflection in the background. Since the lighting was so dark, The subject was posed with more of a sinister look on the half of the face that is exposed, while the camera is actually the other mechanical half of the face. The camera was used to take up a large portion of negative space as were the subject's hands.

ISO 500 f2.4 1/15s
 Candid Portraiture

While trying to take some night motion photography, I encountered a problem – an unwanted subject was blocking my view. Since it was night time, I kept getting her reflection and I decided to shoot her instead. What resulted was candid shots of the young woman's reflection with a hint of motion in the background. These photos would have been better if I had had the chance to change the young woman's pose. Although I like her expression, I would have had her turn her head slightly so we could see both eyes. I would have also had her sit more to the edge of her seat to make her left leg appear smaller than it looks in the photograph. 

ISO 800 f2.4 1/15s

Rule of Thirds

This photo was taken while experimenting with the auto focus lock on the camera. I was trying to shoot the most boring thing I could find on the way home, which were the lamps, to prove that a photograph could still be considered interesting if the eye is led to the right spot using the rule of thirds. I framed my photograph so that the lamps go off into the distance from right to left. The main focus is on the large lamp on the right hand side of the photograph because it was framed to fall on the right vertical gridline of the photo. The eye then goes to the next lamp, which was placed on the left vertical and lower horizontal gridlines.

ISO 800 f2.4 1/15s
High Key Photography

This high key photograph was taken during a fun walk in the park. Normally this effect is used to give the subject a happier, lighter feeling. Since I saw this tree, which I normally associate with icy, cold weather, on an unexpectedly warm day, I decided to get a closer look and some photos of it. I was shooting up into the sky on such a bright, overcast day, so the background is blurred and a bit washed out. 

ISO 50 f2.4 1/40s
Low Key Photography

After learning about high key photography, low key photography seemed like the next natural progression. This was shot was created by experimenting with new backdrops, reflectors and a lamp. I love photographing the nude as I find the form of the human body fascinating, so I decided to use what I learned about posing models for portraits with the information I had gathered from research for the 'In Camera Flash' assignment.

As I said at the beginning of this blog, I took on the challenge of a digital photography class with a point and shoot camera. I had no idea about what to look for or what I wanted in my future camera. However, I am now happy to announce that I have figured out what I want in a camera and a lens. I would like to find a Canon 50D with a 50mm lens.  I feel this camera is a good start for someone like me since I want a strong but simple camera I can use in the studio with flash or out in nature when I'm on the go. It is 15 megapixels, so I can print very large work if I want to, has an ISO range of 100 - 3200, a shutter speed range from 30s - 1/8000s which can also be used manually, and a few kinds of remotes for shutter release and flash. If any of you know of a good camera you recommend, just leave a comment for me. I'd like as many recommendations as I can get!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Makes A Good Portrait?

This is like the $10,000 question. There are so many things that make up a good portrait. Many of the technical elements like choosing the ISO, using the in-camera flash, or good composition using the golden mean or rule of thirds, were already covered in my other blogs, so now I'm simply going to focus on the other things I have personally noticed and used in my experiments that really help to bring portraiture together.
Although candid shots are often very nice at capturing funny or natural expressions, sometimes the very opposite can be true. This is why we want to pose our subject in a way that really makes them stand out and look good. The first thing I noticed was that when taking a portrait, be it candid or posed, it is generally a good idea to know how to pose a person to bring out their best features. Here is an example of a very uncomfortable subject being photographed in a park. Since she felt self-conscious about being photographed, it is clearly seen in the expression on her face.
Here, the same subject feels much more comfortable and relaxes to be photographed with ease. The expressions that follow show her comfort in the situation.
Shoot in bright light to reduce blemishes on the face.
The subject loves her brown eyes in the sun.

One thing is for sure, we cannot change genetics, but we can change the expressions on our subject's face. How? By making the subject feel confident. How can we get a comfortable subject?

Get to know your subject before shooting them. Talk to them and ask them some questions about what they want or why they need to be photographed. Try to get more of a feel for what they like and feel comfortable with before starting the photo shoot.

Does the person look more conservative or open and daring? Sometimes even the simplest things we notice about a person reveal the most information. Look for distinguishing features by observing their clothing or style of dress and making some small talk with them while we discuss the kind of photographs the subject wants to have.

Observation is good, but it is important not to make assumptions or force our opinions here. Either ask or make suggestions based on what you as the artist and professional feel might look good on your subject once you have learned more about them.

During your interview, you may find that the subject has a sport or hobby they enjoy. In this case you might want to consider using some props in their photos or shooting them at a special location, if possible.
This person's interest is in jewelry and accessories.
Sometimes a subject will reveal something special they enjoy that has nothing to do with a sport. Other times, they just don't want to be seen or recognized on camera. In such situations, photographing just body parts helps and can serve as a warm up to a larger photo session. In this case, choose body parts the subject feels confident about showing off in a photograph.
The subject likes the abstract textured look of the nylons on her leg.
The focus here was on the curves and form.

Once these well shot photos are seen, this can also lead to the subject feeling more comfortable with taking other photos that may be more daring which will look good as well.

The focus here was on the light and shadow.
The focus was on light shadow and form.
The focus here was also on light, shadow and form using a one light system.
 Beauty is most definitely in the eye of the beholder. So get to know your subject's taste and be creative. Shoot as many photos as possible. You may be pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

6 Guidelines for better composition

How does a photographer know how to compose a good photograph? There are many different things one can look at when asking this question, but this week I will only focus on 6 of the basics.

One of the first things I realized about photography was that while you might have envisioned one thing, your photographs may be conveying something completely different. It's really important to build the scene in a way that communicates the beauty you saw to your audience.

The first guideline I'll be taking a look at is creating your scene. If you're really interested in photography and have been brainstorming some wonderful ideas for your next photograph, sometimes you wake up in the morning with what you think is the best idea in the world. You run, grab your camera, and shoot this one subject that you've been dreaming up all night. Here's an example of this very same instance.
Cluttered scene
My focus was on the wine glass. It was partially full and exactly what I wanted to photograph. However, I did not create the proper scene for this photograph. Just take a look at the background. It's filled with all sorts of clutter that actually detract from the subject. So how do we get get rid of this? Well, I cleared the scene.

Boring, unbalanced scene
If what I wanted to capture in this photograph was the wine glass, then I needed to remove everything from the scene in order to make that happen. Okay so that has been done. But what happened? Well now the wine glass is completely alone and it looks quite boring. So that moves me on to the next one of the basics in composition - adding balance to your scene.
In adding balance to my scene, I decided to add some oranges for color to make it look more lively.
This would have been okay except for one small problem, the edge of the wineglass is cutting off the edge of the oranges.
Merging - unintentionally cutting off parts of your subject
This is a problem with merging. When building a scene, be sure not to cut off any of the important objects such as hands, feet, limbs, or in this case, wine glasses and oranges, unless it is done purposefully.
So now that we've corrected the merge by moving the bowl of oranges slightly to the right and the wine glass slightly to the left the scene is more interesting and balanced. However, I found that the oranges might look quite nice if shot alone as well. So I decided to shoot the bowl of oranges on their own.
This led me to the next group of photographs where I shot the bowl of oranges with a sliced half in the bowl for variety. But when you want to balance your scene, how do you know exactly where to put your object so that it attracts the viewer? Will this goes back to a rule we covered last week - the rule of thirds.
Adding more appeal by placing an orange on the lower left intersecting grid line
When looking at the rule of thirds, one should simply 1. divide their scene into nine equals squares and 2. place the objects being photographed on one of the intersecting grid lines or directly on the grid lines themselves. This is something that helps to add to the composure of the photograph. Yes, that means not placing things exactly in the center of the photograph. This also means that when you're dividing your photograph, try not to place your horizon line directly in the middle of your photograph. Either place it on one of the four grid lines.

Since this concept is easy enough to work with, let's move on to another question. How can we as photographers develop into artists? This is where creativity comes along. In being creative with photography it's important to do a few things. The first thing is to look at your idea and shoot what you have already planned. Then take a step forward or backwards, maybe change your lighting or even take a step to the side. All of these things can lead to different perspectives. These changes are abstractions that lead to more and more creativity in photography.
Uncomposed, random scene
Use of the "Golden Mean"

An example of this if the "Golden Mean". The Golden Mean has you divide your scene in half diagonally. Then, you add elements on the opposite diagonals. That is what I did here with this group of oranges.
The first scene is a little bit messy, as you can see. There are oranges, but they're not really placed well in the scene. You can see how some of the orange have been merged, making for a disturbing image. However, I added more balance by changing some of the items around, taking a step forward, and divide my scene diagonally.

The scene still balanced well because the oranges are divided evenly in a diagonal way which is much more pleasing to the eye than across the middle of the scene.

Okay, I have to admit, this blog was not about wine or oranges… what I really dreamt about all last
night was chocolate lava cakes!
Chocolate lava cakes!
It turns out, the half bitter chocolate goes really well with red wine, and the oranges are just a nice, healthy garnish!

So to get a better photo of my dream cakes, I zoomed in on my subject, which was the cake, and then I added something a bit more interesting, the oozing chocolate!

Strategic placement of the chocolate oozing from the cake helps make the cake more appealing to the viewer
So if we take all of these things out to the field, we will see how putting these 6 elements together will make for a well composed, balanced photograph.

Remember when composing your photographs:

  1. Remove all clutter from your background
  2. Add variety to your scene
  3. Avoid merging objects
  4. Use the rule of thirds
  5. Try the Golden Mean
  6. Be creative!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Rule Of Thirds - How To Capture Interesting Yet Balanced Scenes

So many new photographers out there start off their careers by learning to take taking the perfectly centered photograph. I know I did, and I couldn't have been prouder of myself for having learned to do so. I had no idea that the photos I was taking could have been considered more interesting and eye catching had learned and made use of the rule of thirds. I remember when I first started taking photographs. It was a really fun time for me as I was just learning how to balance my photographs by placing everything directly in the center, making sure that the horizon line split my photographs directly in half. I thought I was pretty good for an eight-year-old.

When I got into high school, I knew that something was a little bit different and I wasn't necessarily concerned with taking photographs that were evenly balanced by centering all of my objects. In fact, by this time I had started experimenting with my photography and was doing lots of time lapse and night photography. I was focused on stargazing but was also interested in sports and action photographs. I never stopped doing my landscapes, but I don't remember learning about the rule of thirds. Or maybe I did, but I just thought that my eight-year-old method of centering everything directly in the middle was much better. Either way, this is not something that is particularly difficult to learn although it is quite important if you want to have a more interesting photograph.

So what exactly is the rule of thirds? This rule basically states that the human eye is drawn to for major points of a photograph and not dead in the center.

How do you use the rule of thirds? It's simple. Divide your photograph into a tic-tac-toe board. Now, place the most interesting objects that you want your viewer to focus on along one of those grid lines on your tic-tac-toe board. If you really want to draw attention to one of these subjects, place them where the grid lines cross. It's just that easy. The rule of thirds is something that is supported by most cameras these days as you usually have the option of turning this grid on and off in order to build and frame your scene.


There are some interesting things about the rule of thirds that can help to make your pictures even more interesting than normal. First, the rule of thirds can be used horizontally or vertically. A great Example of the rule of thirds being used horizontally is with the set of train tracks. These train tracks curve and would generally split my photograph directly at the middle. However, by offsetting my camera and placing the railroad tracks and the curves along the lines of the grid, I am able to draw my viewers eyes in the direction that I want them to travel. 

By using the rule of thirds in this next train photograph, I was able to evenly divide my picture into three distinct parts. I left the train in two thirds of the photograph and gave it some room to move forward in the last third. Using the rule of thirds to add in some lead room, one is able to see that the train is moving from the left side of the photograph to the right side of the photograph because of the extra room that is left in front of the moving train. Ideally, I would have liked the train to have had more lead room, but it caught me off guard and I was lucky to have gotten a shot of it so quickly.

Something else that is important to remember with the rule of thirds is that the horizon line can be at either the upper or lower horizontal grid line. The main thing to remember is that the horizon line should not be placed directly in the center of the photograph. In the photo seen on the left, I chose to divide the scene into three parts; the mossy tree, the ground covered in leaves and the sunlit trees in the background.

Like all rules, the rule of thirds can be broken. There will be some times when you feel you need to center your subject. If this is the case, find what your focus is and try to divide your subject using the grid lines of the rule of thirds and place your centered object evenly across the intersecting points of the grid lines. This can be done for portraiture as well as for macro shots of things like plants in nature. Below you will see some examples of different shots taken in nature that make use of the rule of thirds to capture both close-up and long distance scenery.
Baby tree centered
Baby tree offset to the right

Baby tree featured as a close up, not centered directly in the middle of the photo

Baby tree's leaves - horizon line in the middle

Baby tree's leaf close up #1 using rule of thirds
Baby tree's leaf close up #2 using rule of thirds

In the two photos two the left and right, I have used the rule of thirds to divide my picture plane into three parts, and left some of the photo free of any subject matter. On the left, my focus was not on how much space was left unused in the photo, but instead on capturing the light behind the leaves. The photo on the right made much better use of the rule of thirds in that the branch is dividing the frame across the top horizontal third of the photo while the leaves are cutting across the scene diagonally, touching two of the four points needed to make a more interesting photo.

Remember, if you want to shoot more interesting photos, make use of the rule of thirds to place your subject in a more intriguing way. Place your subject along one of the four grid lines to make them stand out more. Place the subjects at one of the four intersecting points on the grid if you really want to attract your viewers' eyes and make your photos stand out like never before.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Experiment With In-Camera Flash On A Sunny Day

ISO 64 - 1/569s
If you have been reading this blog, you know that I am using my point and shoot iPhone 4S to take all of these shots which limits me to the aperture setting of f2.4.  This camera has a built in flash which is good for illuminating a scene that's about an arm's distance away from the camera itself. I tested what was possible regarding lighting by photographing several portraits in different lighting situations.  Instead of deflecting or diffusing the flash on my camera, I decided to work with that light, changing the distance to my subject or the other ambient lighting sources available. Among the awkward stares are few interesting results that I hope you are able to use in your photographing.
 The first set of photographs were taken indoors in the morning just before sunrise. No real light was coming from any of the windows, So I turned the room lights on and used the flash to take this photograph. What resulted was a washed out photo of the subject. 

ISO 320 - 1/16s - Flash

 To adjust this, I increased the distance between the camera and the subject. This change was a positive one, but left some hot spots on the subject's cheeks and between her eyes that could be edited in the digital darkroom.   
ISO 320 - 1/16s - Flash

ISO 400 - 1/16s - Flash

This next photo was an experiment with using back light from a bright window on a clear, sunny day. Since the camera's light meter was pointed at the subject's neck, it took a dark photo of the subject. 

ISO 50 - 1/141

The next photo was taken with the same back light while using flash. The result here was a photo where the facial features were distinguishable. A reflection of the back light can be seen on the collar of the subject's jacket and on the right side of her jaw bone.

ISO 50 - 1/35s - Flash

The next two shots were taken in front of the same window with the subject turned about 45 degrees to her right to capture the light on the right side of her face. The in camera flash was used at this time, too, which illuminated the left side of her face well to reduce shadows and flatten out her facial features a tad bit. However, the right side of her face was overexposed due to her close proximity to the light source.  

ISO 50 - 1/38s

This second photo corrects the overexposure a bit by moving the subject further from the window. The results can be seen under her right eye and on her right cheek as the lines of definition in her face are actually visible as opposed to the first shot where everything was washed out.

ISO 50 - 1/44s - Flash

The next stop in this series was outside into the sun. In the picture on the left, the subject is standing with her back to sun, which leaves the background properly exposed and her front under exposed. In the picture on the right, the subject hasn't changed position, and no flash was used as fill lighting to illuminate both either her and or her background. The fill natural lighting worked well to capure the subject's face, but was a little flat due to her positioning.

ISO 50 - 1/700s
ISO 64 - 1/120s

This shot uses the back lighting of the sun, the camera's flash and parasol to help tone down the lighting on the subject's face. I feel this worked well to keep the subject from looking too pale and flat while not compromising the background lighting or scenery.

ISO 50 - 1/129s

These next three shots were taken in the same fashion except that the subject had back light hitting her face from the right side.

ISO 50 - 1/317s - Flash

ISO 50 - 1/131s - Flash
ISO 50 - 1223s - Flash

Close to window, no flash
ISO 50 - 1/60s
The last two photos were taken indoors, beside a big, bright window on a clear, sunny day. The first shot was made just using the natural light provided by the window. Although it wasn't horrible, it was a bit too bright on the right side. The second shot corrected for this by moving the subject about two feet away from the window and introducing the in camera flash as fill flash.

Further from window, with flash
ISO 64 - 1/120s

Just a few important things to remember when shooting with a point and shoot camera are:
  • use the camera's flash as fill to capture back lit shots on sunny days. 
  • if the in camera flash is too bright, move away from the subject and zoom in 
  • move subject away or towards ambient light sources when possible to make use of available lighting
  • shade your subject when necessary if available lighting is too bright.