Where meaning & editing meet…

Personally, I tend to think about the meeting point between meaning & editing or, in simpler terms, vision & refining quite a bit, or at least I should. Out of all the things that frustrate me and cause me to go nuts, it’s this thing that drives me nuts every time because I never quite now if I’m going to be able to put up or shut up. And, to be honest, I’d rather put up than shut up, especially when it comes to getting it right when I match my vision to my refining in photography. Most of the time I don’t even come close and that’s what really gets me frustrated…Much more than it should.

- Q E Snow -
– Q E Snow –
- Q E Pond -
– Q E Pond –

These photographs have been festering for some time in my photography library for this year; they’re from at least a month ago and I haven’t touched the first one up for at least three & a half weeks and the one with the frozen pond is a recent edit, and a quick one at that, but that doesn’t mean I did it half way…I just used what I saw in the other edits I did on the photographs from that place and translated it onto this one. Personally, I hate photographs that have a strong blueish tint to the white balance because when I do get that, it looks hazy & weak to me; this makes winter photography a bit trickier than it should for me. I’ll be the first to admit that there’s some restrictions I place on myself I should be smashing down because all they do is frustrate me, and my preference for white balance should be one of them I should at least calm down so that it comes more in line with what I see in a scene.

How do I do that? I’m lost at times about how to do just that, but I’ll keep working at it, trying to get my brain to cooperate with my vision and then, just maybe then, I won’t get so darn frustrated when things don’t turn out. Like I’ve probably said so many times before, it’s a work in progress and something I should keep working at every time. So until I get it right, which I doubt it will ever happen, I’ll keep searching for where vision & refining meet.

Just ordinary…

Where we sometimes get disappointed, myself included, is when we set out to get a shot or two and the light turns out to be what we think is just ordinary & lifeless. The thing is, thinking that the light is just ordinary is, for the most part, wrong and the reason why I say this is that we then tend to put the camera away and ignore a potentially great photograph right in front of us. There’s essentially nothing wrong with what we call ordinary light because it’s how we choose to deal with it.

- Purple on the Vine -
– Purple on the Vine –

Take for example the above photograph & the lighting; it’s in shade with a slight bluish cast that makes the colors appear cool. Being a sunny evening, the shade is naturally cool in tone, so warming it up, as I played with in editing, made the colors murky & unfaithful to the scene as I had seen it. The light was what I would call ordinary, but only in that it was a clear day with little to no clouds and the shade had a bluish cast to it; I shot it with a white balance of about 7000K (for Olympus users, it’s the Shade setting) so it already did bring in a bit of warmth to the image itself. Shooting in RAW, the white balance isn’t hardwired into the data, but it does influence it a bit when processing the image which has to be done thanks to the file format; in this photograph, I ended up taking the yellows out a bit while still trying to remain truthful to the original scene.

Because of what we think is ordinary light, we tend to ignore scenes that could be really something, mostly due to being accustomed to it. If you really think about it, we’re so accustomed to blaring sounds & images, things that stick out, and the newest & latest item that we really forget what it means to slow down and really take a look around. The above photograph doesn’t speak loudly, but it wasn’t meant to; it was meant to show ordinary light on an ordinary flower growing on a vine. For me, it speaks about the balance of purple & green on a vine growing on the edge of a gazebo, showing how the flower can still stick out quite a bit even under ordinary light among the greens. So…get out there and make the ordinary extraordinary!

Sunrise…

Taking sunrise shots can be one of the most rewarding, and most challenging, shots in photography out there. Not just because of the dynamic range or the time of day, but because of the gear you might need to get the shot you’re looking for. Most of the way I shoot is hand-held because I prefer to use other objects to brace myself when I take the shot…like taking a wider stance, bracing myself against an object (wall, fence, bench, rock, tree, etc.), or slowing down my breathing to steady myself, not that it always works. So sunrises & sunsets are trickier for me, mostly because it creates a challenge for me and it makes it easier to move without people looking at me like I’m a gear freak, which I am not, but that’s just me.

Q E Sunrise
Q E Sunrise

I’m really the last guy out there that has it all together when taking these kinds of shots, but I figured I take a shot at it again on my week off work. The above photograph was more about the flowers and the editing (bringing out the shadows) worked well enough because of the exposure that I had used. The one thing that I always end up struggling with is translating vision into the shot and with this one, the foreground was too dark, but by bringing back the shadows from darkness, lighting them up in Lightroom, I was able them to show what I actually saw at the spot without HDR. By using the tools I had, I was able to keep the scene done just right, the exposure being good for the background and holding just enough data so that I could pull some detail out of the shadows without too much noise. Sure, I could have used flash, but I’m not one to fiddle with artificial light when it can be done without…Flash could have also created unwanted shadows & lines that weren’t there.

With regards to flash, I’m not to keen on it, but to each his own; with sunrise shots, there also can be the chance that flash can ruin it. How so? Flash will illuminate the foreground and this can distract from the sunrise in the background itself by lighting the foreground too much and changing the color cast of the overall scene. With sunrise shots, as well as sunset, the color cast is important because of the color of it all; I find that cloudy/shade white balance works best and doesn’t kill the color cast like auto white balance has a tendency to do.

Terminology…

So it’s been some time since I last posted something…Quite a bit of time in internet terms. And, speaking of terms, ever wonder what the heck the difference between color temperature & white balance is? In short, the answer is…nothing; they’re exactly the same thing. They are virtually identical; the terminology changed probably around the time when most were making the conversion from film to digital. The thing that bugs me is that we sometimes, myself included, get way too caught up in terminology to get anything practical done.

Not that there is anything wrong with knowing the terms, it helps to know what we’re seeing & doing, but it should also be a help to us, not a hindrance. Take, for example, white balance: if we get caught up in it, we might miss the shots because we’re overly worried about how white is going to look while we’re taking the shot when we should’ve been thinking about it beforehand so that there’s less to worry about when it comes time to press the shutter button all the way down. I’m in no way suggesting that we forget the terminology, but we need to back it up with actual practice or else it’s just empty, dead words.

Getting back to the white balance-color temperature, there’s something to be said for not using auto white balance (AWB); using it in a shot means that it adds another step to post-processing because it’s removed the color cast from the sunrise/sunset shot or shots similar to the ones below. Sometimes it might be alright to use it, but when you’re going for impact, you might as well forget about it; there are some photographers, professionals, who can make it work, but it’s a rare talent and one I definitely don’t have. Besides, why go auto when you can have better control over it? Choose it ahead of time and work with it, or change it on the fly. If you’re going to go auto, then don’t forget about it when you get into post-processing (editing on the PC/Mac).

Wild Grass at Maplewood Conservation Area
Wild Grass at Maplewood Conservation Area

On tones…

Now for a simpler topic: tones of color. When looking at the different quality of light, we often see that there is a color cast on the subject that will vary with the light source; i.e. a warm cast for early morning or a blue for a gentle midday light. The beauty of this is that it can set the mood of the scene, especially if you have the right white balance set up, or change the mood with a different white balance set. Auto White Balance actually tries to remove the color cast, so using that for sunrises & sunsets especially won’t work as well, because it could potentially hurt the mood of the shot by changing the color cast. I’ve talked about this before, but I’d like to add the fact that white balance choice can significantly alter & influence the mood.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Boundary Bay Sunrise
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Little Whites

Take for example the first of the above photographs and it’s color cast & tone. Taken at sunrise, it has a warm glow, a nearly deep red tone to it and because of that, it adds a warming sense to the scene. Like the slightly warm color tone/temperature in the one below it, it makes use of the fact that a warmer glow produces a sense of warmness to it, but the shot below does so in a more subtle way. So which can be more effective? It all depends on what you’re photographing and why; if you’re going for warmth, we might want to stay away from too much of a blue cast because that usually presents a cooler mood and if we’re going for a more peaceful mood, then a blue cast is usually the right choice. Now if we’re going for power & stability, we’d want a large object with a dark blue color cast. This may sound like basic color theory, but for photography, it definitely helps.

All this is what mostly goes in to thinking about color in a photograph in terms of tone & color cast, or, as it’s been called, color temperature & white balance. Although this is far from being in-depth, it’s a start point and it kinda does help to know color theory along the way, especially with color cast in a scene.

Temperature & mood…And the benefits of a monopod

When thinking of sunrises, one would think of warm color temperature and a bright mood, but what about overcast skies? Living in a city known for rainfall, sunrise can be quite interesting for sunrise because of the diffuse lighting that occurs when the sunlight tries to come straight through the cloud cover. What does come out really well during these conditions is the lighting that hits the ground; it provides a softened light that can make colors pop or glow, depending on where the sun is and the angle it is from the ground. These conditions make for some great mood shots and are just right for testing out your skill in taking them.

Have you ever looked closely at the news broadcast and noticed what the camera guys are using? The other day, I caught one using a monopod hanging from his camera, but it wasn’t extended to the ground. Having talked with a close friend about it, I’ve been told that it works as a kind of counterbalance, potentially helping as a kind of bubble/spirit level without even being a level. Knowing perfectly well that it wasn’t meant to be used this way, I can’t help but think that it has acquired this trait purely by coincidence. The best part about a monopod it that it is much easier to set up & carry around than a tripod, even if you can’t let go of it to take a shot; it is basically used for helping to stabilize the camera & the photographer’s stance in making a clear shot.

Being the lazy photographer I am, I would rather carry around something light and not something that adds an extra 1-2 lbs. to my camera. Besides, would you rather spend a good 2-5 minutes setting up a tripod when you could spend half that time with a monopod? The one thing about using a tripod is that it can also make you less mobile because of the setup, while a monopod is much quicker and doesn’t take much mobility away while shooting or moving around; that and it can make taking a large panorama much easier, as a friend of mine has done on a few occasions.

Winter white…

Deep Cove - Winter White

Shooting in weather where there’s more white than anything else can be quite tricky especially when you’re already overexposing to compensate for the white snow; the other side to this is the shade of the snow. If you look close, the snow has either a blueish tone or something along those lines; the cleaner the snow, the bluer it will be as it cast shade & in its underside. Shade can be cast in different colors, but, on a clear day, it’s usually blue, making for a rather cool(er) color temperature in the shot overall. In the old days of film, according to what I’ve read, this was solved by the use of filters, but nowadays, it’s done by white balance alone; the problem with this is that it leaves the door wide open for a kind of artificiality in how the scene is presented because it can be tweaked to the point that it no longer looks natural, or as shot.

The problem with this is that it can lead to a false representation of the scene, which is completely fine if you’re going for a purely artistic interpretation of the scene, but not so good if you want to go for a realistic representation…HDR (high dynamic range) images use multiple shots blended into a single image to get past dynamic range limitations of gear. The issues I sometimes have with these is the idea that the photograph/image is actually taken later, refined in some photo program to look like something most likely nothing like what was actually shot. To some extent, it cheats the experience of being able to get it right the first time; it makes the photographer rely on software instead of relying on his/her talent with the camera. For me, it’s always been about trying to make it in camera first & foremost, software being a far second…and last resort.

To get back to the original topic, winter white & color temperature, the simplest thing to do is use filters and/or adjust white balance to work in camera. Doing it this way, reduces the time spent on it afterwards and possibly the need to make the camera take extra shots so that the exposures can be blended afterwards. Bracketing should be for reducing time spent hunching over the camera to see where the exposure went wrong by making it take multiple shots with varying exposures to get the right one…or a slightly different angle on motion in the scene. So the idea is that keeping it in camera saves time later on when you’ve decided to transfer them from the camera’s memory card itself.