Terms – Soft Focus

A soft focus leaves nothing in sharp focus keeping your subject partially obscured for the viewer’s imagination to fill-in.

Normally in a photo the focus would be sharpest at the point you want the viewer to look. So obviously total focus is not always desirable. Keep this in mind: the human eye will search out a point on which it can rest. The purpose for resting is not important now but to know this is huge.

A resting point for the human eye is important so keep your focal point in context.

Search for yourself and find some examples to illustrate your findings through research.

I have found that the eye is looking for the point with the most detail and least distraction. This leads me to believe that the point closest to fully focused (if properly achieved) should be a type of funnel apex. While this makes the most sense logically it may not always work out as intended because of the effects of lighting, contrast and other factors.

I was once told there were four steps to building habits that can be applied to such things as finding the right portrait locations and photographic practices. These steps are:

  1. Unknowingly ignorant
  2. Consciously ignorant
  3. Consciously implemented
  4. Unknowingly implemented

It is “Okay” to make mistakes. It is “Okay” to even repeat mistakes that you do not know are being made. This is giving you the opportunity to consider a possibility in refining your skill and work. This may be your help to see that you are halfway to being a better photographer!

If you choose to make some changes when mistakes are called to your attention and consciously fix or avoid the problem, you have made it to step 3! Keep it up because all that is necessary for step 4 (unconsciously implementing the solution) is consistent good practice!

Showcase Lighting

Have you seen those pictures that take your attention and your will to look at any other photo dwindles? Maybe it is a picture of a young woman looking out the open window with the curtains blowing toward her.

The “best lighting” is directed from natural light source placement. This is what I mean by “natural light placement”, light should be coming through the window (back to the photo description above) and not around the window.

There is an important lighting technique which I refer to as “even lighting” or as others say “flat lighting.” “Flat lighting” means that the light is spread across the subject without creating harsh shadows or excessive amounts of light. Not meaning the shadow is absent but having control of the harshness or contrasted effects of the shadow is important!

I used to think that I needed no other light source but the ambient light of the outdoors; while the lighting is always perfect outside with the sun as the source, reflectors, diffusers and shades are great ways of flattening the ambient light.

Adding light with flash and strobe was my primary apprehension, because it is so easy to displace the natural lighting with one overpowering light source. This is not to say adding light with flash and strobe is bad, just a word to the wise that adding light in this way brings a lot more skill and thought to the table than anticipated.

“Showcase Lighting” is all about drawing the viewer’s attention to a specific place in the photo. This is to say, consider what your picture shows. Motion? Draw the viewer’s attention with the movement direction. Personality? Highlight the facial expression including eyebrows, eyes and/or mouth.

Lighting really is a way of communicating where you want people to look without words. Learning how to do this is not easy nor can it be reduced to a formula (at-least not to my knowledge).

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.

Back Lighting – Part 3

Back Lighting within the confines of a room will fill with light faster than outdoors. In contrast this same room will take more time to fill than a soft box. This is a rather obvious statement I know, however I must often remind myself of this fact within the context that light moves at the speed of 186,000 miles per second. I still have a hard time truly comprehending that number.

Perhaps this will help to comprehend the speed of light from our flashes to think of light in miles traveled in 1 second contrasted to the circumference of the earth. Light traveling at 186,000 miles per second around the earths 25,000 miles (rounded to the nearest thousand for simplicity) will lap the earth 7 times and then some in 1 second! Is that fast enough for you?

The theory of Back Lighting has more to do with the saturation of light into the camera lens than light’s speed, so I will not distract us with more facts. I do want to impress you with the speed of light in that light is reflected, refracted and split again throughout the staging room while your shutter is open. So position your flashes and other light tools wisely so as to capture the most light as possible with you camera.

In your style of Back Lighting, do you want to see the light source? Place so as to draw the viewers focus to you subject. The picture above unintentionally captured the light and movement of a passing vehicle, so it is not as I would have set-up the shot, but is a good demonstration of being spontaneous in life’s unique moments. The picture below illustrates my point of using the light source to draw a viewers focus toward the subject. The light from the moon is vignetted in a spreading ray toward my subject while at the same time Back Lighting him in dramatic effect.

The first photo in this post also uses some techniques of Back Lighting without silhouetting my subject. Silhouetting is most often used to emphasize the edges or shape of the subject (whether it is person or object). This is done in both pictures: Picture 1, by illuminating the side of the subject and letting the shadow on the other side disappear into the surrounding background. Picture 2, is contrasting the head and shoulders of the subject against the semi-illuminated sky in the reflected light of the moon.

Enjoy these techniques. Get out and play with long shutter releases and beautiful skies!

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!