Lighting – Part 3

Lights are not easy to work, however not impossible. Directly lighting an object without first being reflected or diffused should be carefully handled. We will get into the reason for this point in a moment but let us first remember what transpired bringing us to this point.

In the time this blog has been in operation, we have discussed contrast, highlights, shadows, elements, focus, scene design and light source positioning in preparation for this new level of photography design. Direct lighting will be harsh and bright; so what else around the object should be lit to make sense of the scene?

What elements are important to the message of your photo? Remembering to keep it simple and thus unifying the message, light the desired elements enough for the purpose. If this photo involves a model, be sensitive to their comfort. Natural poses may be comfortable for a short period but if continued may become an irritation.

Irritation can be something the model will have to fight through for proper facial expression, motion stability to prevent blurring with moderate to slow shutter speeds. None of these issues are worth battling when they are avoidable.

Take a look at some advertisement photos and notice how little they add to the photo. At the same time, notice how they add, what they add, why they add and where they add those extra elements. This is not to learn the style or technique of another photographer, but to learn a principle, “Too much spice can ruin the soup” and not enough means it is a good start though undesirable.

Light can change the focal point of shot by misdirection, improper power setting and poor timing with the camera shutter. Be sure to know your equipment. Acquaintanceship means nothing when you are entertaining a customer and simultaneously troubleshooting your lighting system. You are the expert of your equipment. Learn it well.

Simplicity – Made Complicated…

I am just kidding about simplicity being made complicated.

My goal as a photographer is to capture images that make a clear statement. My integrity, character, skill, morality and intent respectively should not/cannot be with-held or disguised. This is not a case for a lack of discretion but rather the purpose of clarifying our visual communication.

Visual communication is vital to many areas of life, like business, self-preservation and interaction (both personal and professional). Communication by hand signs is called Sign-language. Sign-language combines motions or gestures that give intuitive and definitive meaning as well as a visual alphabet. These signs are simple and distinct from any other sign making its meaning clear.

This is purpose we want to have in photography, so several things should be brought to its least complicated form to communicate well.

Glass trinket box

First, what is my object or subject? What about my object or subject am I communicating? What draws out the subject? What clarifies my point of communication? What distracts from my subject? What obscures my point of communication? These questions seem tedious and a waste of time, however I can assure you that as soon as these questions become sub-conscious and your actions to correcting these issues are instinctive your image quality will rise with all haste.

The picture above of a glass trinket container is an example of keeping the setting simple. This image communicates the object is the glass container and that the design is important because of the glass clarity.  The surrounding set-up is designed to support the showcasing of the glass container and its design. The lighting of the object is important or there would be no exposure to see the container or its design.

A simple surrounding, focus on the object, light the object well and if necessary add intriguing lines. Enjoy!

Portraits – Versus ?

Stock Photography is not well-known by that name publicly, but what is the true difference between Stock Photography and Portraiture?

This is as basic as I can make it without getting into a bunch of tedious details:
Portraiture often if not always requires or at-least involves an existing emotional attachment between the customer and subject which was photographed.

Stock requires no emotional attachment to the photographed subject, but draws from interest in design, style or object. (Perhaps even an emotion but coming from a experience or time in a place and not a relationship with the photographed subject.)

Stock photography ranges from advertising art for retail stores to examples of the effects of dentistry cleaning products. It is used to illustrate the help or use of the product in your daily projects.

Blogging cooks use stock photography to show the completed recipe as many readers are visually motivated over reading or hearing.

As you can see with these two examples Stock photography appears in many places and we do not even take notice of the kind of photography.

Internet sales use a stock photograph of the product to show what the product looks like accompanied the functions of the product in written description. This is not false advertising because these mass-produced items are all made the same and function the same. On the other hand sites like eBay, and other auction sites very carefully manage their resources so as not to misrepresent the product they sell but also tell the customer that this specific product. The reason for this detail is for the purpose that the customer is aware of the precise condition of the product whether new, unopened, used, partially functional or non-functional.

Photography is used as a visual description sometimes because we have put great stock in the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Often pictures are used as the best way to communicate what seems to lack in word.

Portraits – Candid

Candid shots can be hard to pick out from a few select pictures because posing does not have to show the subjects awareness of the photographer. However for our purposes we will call those posed shots candid anyway for simplicity’s sake.

What does “Candid” really mean? :

“Truthful and straightforward; frank.
(of a photograph of a person) Taken informally, especially without the subject’s knowledge.”

So we could even say that the most important quality of a candid photo is not, the lack of knowledge on the part of the subject but how truthful the image is to practical life versus our Utopian fantasy. This is not to say, a photo should include our frustration, irritation and messes, but rather kept simple and uncomplicated.

Is that easier said than practically applicable? Perhaps, although here are some suggestions to inspire your own creativity for simplicity.

  1. Focus on your subject and what has drawn their attention.
  2. Beware of your frame corners so as not to include distractions.
  3. Intentionally use backgrounds that support your shot and not stealing your viewer’s attention.

Focusing on your subject and the object holding their attention: Using a macro lens will crop a lot of the surrounding scenery bringing your focus to rest on your subject and their object of attention.

Being aware of what your frame corners catch which may distract a viewer is easy to forget. In fact I have found that if I am not paying attention I still catch minor undesirables. It can sound like photography is an art impossible to meet or only for the totally devoted  who do nothing else but study for the next super-image. I can nearly guarantee you this is not the case in most photographer’s cases.

Intentionally using backgrounds that are not flashy or precisely perfect have helped me draw out more of my subject’s presence versus a nice scenic shot with a presence.

Portraits – Perspective

In the field of Photography, the word perspective comes up every now and again, but what is it and how can it better my photos? Good questions! I will answer one at a time.

What is “Perspective”? For an example I would like to illustrate an a subject with an immovable object like a tree. For illustrative purposes say this tree is a sapling about your height with strong and well-formed branches. Now a practical explanation of “Perspective” is looking at the tree from the side, below, top or anywhere in-between. Please do not misunderstand, “Perspective” is not only speaking to the “X” or vertical axis (from top to bottom) but also the “Y” or horizontal axis (side to side).

Now a tree does not so well show good reason for taking a different perspective side to side, but what if this tree were replaced in your viewing frame with a human subject? A human is not symmetrical like a tree and because of this fact, moving to one side or another can add or subtract from the viewers interest.

This leads into the second question, “How can ‘Perspective’ better my photos?” Take as an example a simple, straight on portrait as compared to a portrait taken slightly from the side with their head turned toward you. Not that there is a problem with the straight on portrait, however the perspective change can be a useful addition to the photographer’s tool-box.

This is one of the reasons that photographers will have subjects sit at a funny angle to them and then have the subject turn their shoulders one direction and have the subject look toward them. Now perhaps the strange “contortions” or poses will make some more sense at your next portrait session. *Grin* Enjoy!

Portraits – Soft light

Softening light is a process in which light is made to evenly fill the viewing area. This can be done in many ways but often the simplest methods are the best. Soft-light is not only about adding light, it also involves making sure that the natural light in your shot is not too concentrated in one place.

Basics: When lighting a surface it is important to light the surface evenly to prevent overlapping coverage. Light is a key element to showing the rise and fall of a surface. So as you can imagine, if a person’s face has areas of their face better lit than others it can give them a very strange appearance.

Softening the light can be done basically two ways by either diffusing the light or reflecting it. Diffusing the light uses a direct light on the subject with a partly transparent piece of material between it and your subject. Lighting companies sell “soft boxes” which fit over the light making it easier to soften the light than holding a diffuser in-front of it for every shot.

Reflecting the light is indirectly lighting your subject by bouncing the light coming from your light source (sun, porch light, strobe, flash, etc) directly on your subject. Indirect or reflected light will not be as “harsh” as it would be from the light source but can still be too harsh if physically placed too close to your subject. So use distance (close or far) to your advantage here as well!

Listed below are some examples of diffusers and reflectors. Have fun and use your imagination! This is the stuff of artistic shooting!

Diffuser:

  • Umbrella (Great for artistic element in a shot too!)
  • Translucent fabric (not darkening fabric)
  • Plexiglas (colored Plexiglas)

Reflector:

  • Water
  • Disk (sold at any videography and photography lighting store)
  • Fill card (Light or dark-colored – darker colors absorbing more light)

Shooting In A Low-Light Situation

I do not often have the opportunity to shoot with other equipment other than my Canon SLR camera body and lenses. However this week, I was asked several times at a convention to use other people’s cameras for differing shots. Now that I have some experience with other cameras I have a few tips that will help you take better pictures in low-light situations.

First off, I would like to define what “low-light” means. Very often “low-light” is any situation indoors. “Low-light” is not having enough light for your camera to shoot a well exposed photo at the following settings:

  • ISO 200
  • 1/30 of a second or faster
  • At your preferred Aperture setting (I prefer to shoot at an average of 13)

(I understand that not all of you, my readers, have cameras which allow you to set each of these settings independently of the others or options such as Aperture. If your camera does not give you the option, disregard the information and work with shutter speed and/or ISO.)

Cameras as we have discussed see things differently than we do even though they are based off of our visual capability. If you wish to understand more about this, please refer to the blog posts “Camera Troubles through Camera Trouble – Part 6“.

Here are the tips that I have promised will help you capture better photos with less motion blur and camera shake.

Say you are in a hall with a person on stage who is lit with a spot light. You subject of the photo is the person on stage and you are currently in the darker corner of the hall.

  1. Get closer to you subject (physically).
  2. Zoom away from your subject (using a wider viewing angle).
  3. Step into the light of the spot light.

Hint #1 is a practical help by the principle of object relativity. For the rest of us non science majors, motion is more easily seen and anticipated when the viewer is more closely located to the viewed object or person. Yes the object will more quickly leave you viewing area, but movement is more fluid and easily tracked in closer proximity than further away.

Hint #2 is a light receiving issue. The more light that your camera receives the faster your shutter speed. The further your lens is extended means the less light is being received within the same shutter speed as if you were to shoot at widest angle. This works because if forces you to get closer to the light source.

Hint #3 allows more light into your camera lens and will adjust your shutter speed.

Enjoy!

Construction Zone – Part 2

As I continued thinking about the post “Construction Zone“, I realized that some of it may not have made sense. Safety is also a rather obvious subject in regards to “photo ops” inside a Construction Zones, but a time wherein we each would be wise to heed these reminders.

It is not my desire to list shots for you. Creativity has its place in your work as it does mine. However, I want to play the salesman and in a friendly way “demonstrate” to you that such a style of photo are great for portraits. Ready?

Construction Zones provide you with a unique opportunity to see a physical transition from  a natural landscape to intentionally designed architecture which into it has had many hours of labor and planning invested. Does this sound like a graduate, or engagement, perhaps a wedding? These also are relationships which are being constructed in individual people. This is to set the subject of you photography within a pictorial statement of what is happening in their life.

To illustrate setting your subject in a pictorial setting of their life happenings, I will find in my archives of photos a picture I set-up and took while in college. My college time was a time of testing and maturing, so within this picture you see a few statements such as I suggested for Construction Zones.

Now there is more to this photo than just the setting, but let us first address the surrounding settings. Since I am the subject in the photo above, the photo setting I was in reminds me of being isolated from distraction. This isolation for me was beneficial so that I could focus on course work but also provided an aspect of quiet reflection.

This quiet reflection is part of the maturing process I mentioned earlier. I was able to consider my motivations and match them against the standard for living a quiet and peaceable life. This is the other part of this photo. My actions in each pose speak to my attitudes because of my choice motivation. As I questioned my motivations and looking to understand where attitudes came from, the very foundation of my beliefs were settled, suitable for building.

This is the same purpose that your stock images taken from Construction Zones can serve as portrait backgrounds.

I will leave the rest to your fertile imagination!

Personality

Have you ever been around people who always make you feel welcome and valuable? They just seem to exude an appreciation for your company, a genuine interest in your thoughts and statements.

Some people would call them a “Type A” personality.

There are times that I see the personality of the subject perfectly captured in a photo. I take a long, hard look at those pictures while asking myself questions similar to the following:

  1. What element say “personality” to me?
  2. Why do these elements communicate “personality” to me?
  3. How can I re-create the element?
  4. How can I distinguish between elements and the personalities they portray?
  5. What color tones were used?
  6. How do the color tones in this photo add to the subject’s personality?
  7. What clothing colors bring out subject personality?

As you can see there are a lot of things that can add to or take away from personality. In the blog post “Simplifying The Message” I mention that it is important to keep the message uncluttered and intentional. It is possible the only thing that shouts “personality” is the pose they assume as the shutter opens. Sometimes the simplest things are what makes the shot rather than the complicated set-up or costuming.

There are a lot of options at your disposal when displaying personality and be free to explore them!

Elements of…SURPRISE!

I have for years, been thinking about “the perfect shot” and how I would shoot it, so as to contain all elements and little background pieces that will make it refreshing and new at every glance. In short I wanted my photos to be timeless, refreshing, new and always showing something new to the viewer.

Bringing together every element in one photograph can either take so much time that you lose the interest of your subject, lose money or make the scene too busy. The object of photography is quite different in that each element draws the viewer’s focus, directing their attention to and unifying the photo as it all points to the primary subject.

For instance: say a photographer is shooting a cover photo for a band. There are five members in the band and they want to show case the instruments as well. If each member of the band plays different instrument, that means there are 10 things to fit in the frame besides finding the right background to fit the music album’s theme. [Notice we have begun to number the elements that will be in the shot. This is ways I begin to organize a group shot.]

The last article we posted “Rough start…Smooth finish” we talked about texture and how it can add to your photo. Now we are looking for a background that will bring the band members and their instruments together as a visually cohesive group. The background should resemble a place that the band would frequent, such as a recording studio room, city square, performing arts center or even walking through a parking garage on their way to a performance. (Feel free to think “outside the box.” No one really likes the stereo-typical band shot.)

One thing is certain, that when one thing is slightly out of the “norm” but obviously intentional, it will captivate the attention of the observant viewer and usually becomes a favorite. So have fun as you add to your “repertoire” of creativity!