That ol’ drunk horizon…

Thinking about it, how many times have we taken a photograph without checking out the horizon line? I’ve done it quite a few times and, I’m ashamed to admit, it’s all about not paying too much attention to where it is in the overall composition. It’s all too common for me to ignore it and end up with a crooked horizon like that really makes it look like I was drunk at the time I took the photograph (just to be clear, I’m not one to drink booze). Sometimes, a little slant to a horizon is just a new perspective and in life we want to look for a new angle on things, but we need to make sure that we’re not far off or we’re going to really fall down. Considering what my personal tastes are, especially in music, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m not just more than a little crazy.

- Red Red Pond -
– Red Red Pond –

The above photograph does have a slant to the horizon, but it’s because it’s a broken shoreline and it helps aid the composition; or at least I personally think it does. Now I’m writing/typing this while listening to Good Charlotte’s Youth Authority album and it might count for some oddities in what I’m saying, but hear me out; the horizon has a great effect on the photograph, so we need to pay attention to its placement, but unless we’re going to the whacky & outlandish, we should be purposeful in our placement of it. If we’re going to be purposeful about it, we need (myself included) to realize that a horizon that is slightly off looks like we were drunk while one that’s way off can work if it’s meant to convey motion and doesn’t look like a total screw up.

The above photograph was recently taken and I have to say it took some time to refine it, mostly because I didn’t use a polarizer which meant that the reds were off, but I managed to correct for that with red & orange tweaks in Lightroom. That reminds me, when is Adobe going to wise up and release Lightroom 7? I sure don’t want to be restricted to a month-by-month subscription for something that’s the backbone of my digital photography when it comes to working on the computer, but that’s off topic (stupid Adobe). Until next time, keep the horizon straight, watch where it’s placed in the frame, and pay attention to what’s going on in the composition.

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Thoughts…

Color can be a tricky thing to get right when photographing various subjects; I can just hear the gearheads saying that all that’s needed is the latest camera. While that’s nowhere near the truth for the most part because there’s usually a way to achieve it through the use of computer programs, correct filters, or even cleaning the glass; it’s more so about interpretation into a workable file for printing. We’re supposed to be translating what we felt when we took the shot, not necessarily transliterating it; like life, photography is all about feeling, not tired formulas.

In life, we get stuck when we get the two mixed up (transliteration vs. translation), because we forget to bring across what something makes us feel…I’m so at fault for this most of the time as well. Most of the time, we can’t just say “here you go” and then just leave it at that; for me, at least, it doesn’t quite work that way because, half of the time at least, I want to know why, or at least some attempt at the answer to my questions. There’s so much out there that has literally no depth to it (i.e. pop culture), so why intentionally add to the noise? This is one of the things I end up struggling with because I don’t really want to be adding to the noise, but inspiring someone.

In the end, for me at least, the biggest reason I began this blog was to not only air out the odd grievance or two, but try to reach out & inspire someone…by my photography or otherwise. I’m not one for making a point too quickly, so most of the time, these posts turn into a rambling rant and, maybe they do add to the noise, but I at least hope that they add to it in a positive way. The idea that color can easily be transliterated in a photograph instead of translated just right does get me at least a bit upset, mostly because I’m so guilty of this, and doing this can easily make something uninspiring, but that’s my personal opinion; it’s one that I can’t necessarily flesh out in an argument or debate, so I’m just going to leave it at that. So, get out there & inspire!

- Tree & Flowers -
– Tree & Flowers –

Blur…

We often think that any amount of blur is wrong for every shot because we like everything tack sharp where nothing is a surprise. I mean, who really likes a surprise that doesn’t give us something? In photography, we tend to like images with everything in focus because it means we don’t have to use our brains too much. Blur makes us think something is wrong with the shot and that there’s something being hidden, or taken away from, us.

- Leaves of Autumn -
– Leaves of Autumn –

The above shot was shot with an open aperture (f5) to make lighting easier with a shutter of about 1/30, but that’s next to useless information if the shot doesn’t do anything at all. For me, it was making eye movement possible through use of blur; I wanted to draw the eye inward to make it stop & ponder the colors of autumn. If everything had been tack sharp, there would’ve been too many elements that were a muddy brown in complete focus, distracting from the greens, reds & yellows and I wanted to keep the image free of distractions while making it look natural at the same time.

We all see blur in different ways, love it or hate it, but it’s something that can easily be used for creative ends or even to make the shot speak volumes. The thing we’ve got to get into our heads, mine especially, is that there’s something to say with each shot and we’ve got to make it count or we’re just adding to the noise in the end, once everything is said & done. It’s both simple & complicated at the same time because it’s easy to say we’ll do it but harder to actually go out & do it. My big fear was too much blur from a wide open aperture, but the above shot turned out alright in my books, so I had to just get out & do it.

Colors…

We tend to think of color photography as anything other than pure black & white photography, but even black & white can seem as if it has its own color to it. How we view color influences how we see a scene in front of us, especially when the colors are those that we don’t like; personally, I can’t stand a brownish yellow, bright (flaming) pink, or yellowish green. I tend to stay away if a scene is overly dominated by these colors, mostly because of personal taste; what can I say, flaming pink isn’t my cup of tea!?

Personally, preferences play a large part in how we perceive color, but what about when we’re trying to say something? If we can’t say anything, should we give up, pack up, & go home? I’d rather look some more and see if I’m not missing anything, like I’m so prone to do. Often times, color is so present if what we’re seeing that we can miss what it really says to us, because we’re used to it. Color says something and it’s up to us to show & capture how it relates to us through our photographs; it affects how we see, what we see, and, most importantly, why we see what we do in a scene.

- Log & Leaf -
– Log & Leaf –

Take for example the above shot, one I’ve posted a few times before: if there had been a cooler cast to it, the warmth of the image would be completely gone. Even if there had been a small blue flower in part of it, the scene’s warmth & coziness would have been nearly gone, if not completely. I did warm the image up slightly in post-processing to match the feel of it, but it was true to what I saw, when I saw it. The colors in this image mattered quite a bit and it showed in the log more so than the leaves themselves, because, as I tinkered with it, the log showed warmth much better than the leaves due to the closeness of the log’s color to yellow/brown…or at least that’s what I’ve come to believe. So get out there and work with the colors around you!

Thoughts on color…

I’ve heard that the real art in photography is in black & white, sepia, duotone among others, but what sticks out to me in these claims is that the one common thread is color. Sure, black & white is devoid of color, but in the whole scheme of things, it’s either a lack of color or an overabundance of it; in subtractive color (think paintings), black is the mix of every color and in additive color (think electronic displays), white is the mix of every color. I know I’ve oversimplified it, but this makes it easier for me to understand and, hopefully, easier for others to comprehend as well.

- Purple Rhododendrons -
– Purple Rhododendrons –

While values & ethics are better in black & white, in photography, color makes up what we see and how we feel in a scene; I’m not arguing against black & white, but, hopefully for a more careful consideration of it. Using the above photograph as an example, converting would’ve gotten rid of the purple/violet tone in the flowers and made it solely about the tone of the image; for this one, I wanted it to be about color & tone. Without the purple, it looked dry and somewhat lacking in mood, or at least the warm & stable (as if this makes any sense) mood of purple. In black & white, it looked good, but just not the way it did in color; a duotone treatment would’ve brought back the purple, but then other colors might’ve suffered. As it usually is, color treatment is a balancing act done either well or badly, depending on how we go about it.

The trouble that I had in capturing the above image, was the interplay of light on the colors, especially because it was a bit spotty because of buildings. My solution was to wait until the spots of light were in the right place for the right colors, in this case the purple & yellow, and then work the shot, using exposure bracketing as a backup (knowing that I’d most likely find some way to screw it up). Sometimes, I tend to take a while in figuring this stuff out (it’s admittedly like figuratively banging my head against a wall) and other times (as rare as they are) it comes near instantly, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. What I’m getting at is that color is, and should be, a careful consideration in how we present an image, both in capture & in post-processing; if we forget that, then our shots may not carry the intent & vision that we originally intended for them.

On spots…

What is it that drives us nuts/crazy when we come back and look at our photographs on the computer, tablet or phone? My guess is, if you’re anything like me, it’s significant spots on the photograph. Working with a Fujifilm FinePix S5200/S5600 (yes it’s a 5-megapixel zoom camera that probably predates the advent of the modern tablet computer, or the affordable smartphone) at a high-ish ISO of 400 indoors, this was a common problem because, for the most part, the lens could get dirty easy and digital noise was a problem. Having switched to a 10-megapixel Olympus DSLR (I know it sounds like ancient tech, but it’s amazing, at least to me), I still find dust on the lens and, with software, it’s easier to remove…That doesn’t mean we should be lazy in not checking the lens for spots in the first place, though.

- Purple Bells -
– Purple Bells –

The spots in the above photograph aren’t from dust, however, but from reflected sunlight; they aren’t spots I’d necessarily would remove, because then the shot would most likely fall flat, taking away some of the dimensionality of the image. I’d be lying if I said that the lighter purple & blues weren’t among my favorite colors, so I’ll admit that they are; the spots in the image somewhat help to balance the shot against these right-heavy purples & blues. There’s something soothing & peaceful in the colors along with the spots of reflected light, but that’s color theory; blue & purple are calming colors while the spots are more to the yellow side, bringing a more active color to the shot. The spots add balance to the shot and vary the color balance and, while it wasn’t something I purposefully did, it was a happy accident that I might just be tempted to take credit for, but then I’d just be lying outright.

Sometimes, spots of lights or color show up in photographs and make us think they are glitches, or faults, in the lens and/or camera itself. We freak out, think that our gear is to blame and then go hunting for new gear; I’ve done this before, not realizing that it was a spotty polarizer, but the camera, the old Fujifilm I mentioned before. Sometimes they show up as parts of lens flare, the result of direct sunlight and these can often be corrected (somewhat) in post-processing or by using a polarizer. But, sometimes, they show up as reflected light off of water drops or bright surfaces; my thinking, with theses kinds of spots, is that if they don’t detract from the image, but enhance the shot, then they don’t need to be removed. Looking at it again, there’s a need to see it in the light of the entire shot: does it balance out if indeed it’s not a fault, noise, or unwanted flare? And if it does balance out, then does it work with the shot or against it? I’m far from perfect and I know I’ll be asking myself this for years to come, especially in post-production (editing) stages.

Colors of Autumn…

So I’ve used the American spelling here, does that really matter? Nope. Does getting the color right matter? Only if you’re trying to go for feeling & impact. This means bright, saturated colors and, for some, a polarizer or modifying the saturation in post-processing; while I’m partial to either, using the vibrance & definition/clarity sliders (sparingly of course) work almost exactly like a polarizer without diminishing reflections in water.

For me personally, I tend to take out the polarizer only when it’s bright outside, the rest of the time, I’m using a UV/Skylight filter; many professionals will say this degrades the image because it’s basically a protection filter, but it does filter out some UV light…Each to his/her own on this opinion. Just don’t go for the cheaper filters; I prefer Hoya because of the good quality and I haven’t had much luck with Tiffen because they tend to seem cheap to me. If you prefer always using a circular polarizer, then go for it…Pros like Art Wolfe & David duChemin do and they’re among the best out there. Sometimes, it helps to work at it the way you feel more comfortable doing, but taking into consideration other possibilities (in camera or otherwise) while doing so. Could I have used a polarizer and not been so darn lazy? Sure…But that would mean pausing for a bit to replace the UV filter with the polarizer, something I’d have to admit I’m most often way too lazy to do.

Colors of Autumn
Colors of Autumn

Being lazy is no excuse, I know, so now my post-processing might involve slightly tweaking the clarity & vibrance sliders like I’ve done in the shot above, but they were close to what I hoped for in the original. In doing so, I brought back the shot to how it felt & looked like as I worked with the image; the colors were quite important and the raw file was quite close to what it looked like, so I just boosted them slightly to make the image shown above. In the end, it was about staying true to the scene and how it looked, so I didn’t use a polarizer because of laziness and the fact that it can cut out reflections & possibly saturate the colors way too much. The lesson here: just go with what works for you and learn something new along the way.

On color & mood…

Taking a simple look at color & mood, it basically boils down to the realization that they are interrelated (And, yes, I am restating the obvious here). Yellow, orange & red tend to portray a warm or happy mood, while blue & purple tend to portray a calming or cool mood. Looking at it closer, complimentary colors, like blue & orange, can mix those moods while giving a good, pleasing sense to the eyes because they tend not to clash.

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

Looking at the above photograph, there’s a warm mood to the overall image/shot, not just because of the white balance, but because of the subject matter, wild grass, it also brings out a kind of rural feel or mood to it. Depending on where you’re from, or family history, this can also recall feeling of home in a rural sense and the warm color of this definitely helps with a positive connotation, for some at least. When I was out taking shots, this scene presented itself and my first reaction was to groan; I’d tried it before and failed, so I figured I would fail again. But, being my usual stubborn self, I tried it and it came out really well, even without the editing. Coming from a family that has a long history of farming (even though I live in the city), this shot gives off a cozy, homey mood.

Getting back to the idea of color and how it influences mood, you don’t need color to convey a mood, especially if it is a hindrance. If it works better through black & white, sepia, duotone or monotone, then, by all means, take the color out. If impact or feeling is what you, or I, am going for, then mood is important and is what become the underlying, integral part of the image. No mood usually makes for a blank, so-so image that doesn’t really convey any meaning or message…most of the time. The big thing is to work it all out for yourself and then put some feeling into the shot by making it say something (not something I’m always good at doing). Just work at it and it just might come through alright!

On graphics (lines & shapes)…

When you think about it, flattening the scene into two dimensions from three, lines & shapes take a strong position in the frame because they show distance, emphasis & motion. No lines can stop any sense of motion because there’s nothing to follow for the viewer and at the opposite end of the scale, lines can direct the viewer right out of the frame all too quickly. It’s something that presents itself as a challenge when going for shots that can’t be prearranged like studio shots can be. Shapes can also stop the motion, especially if they have self-containing attributes like circles & octagons (i.e. stop signs).

The trick in all of this is how to compose a shot from a scene that will turn out dynamic and hold the viewer’s attention for longer. By dynamic, I mean a shot that doesn’t become a simple snapshot and just look like any other shot, but conveys some kind of motion or mood that can have some impact; something that doesn’t look like a mugshot used for driver’s licenses. Using different shapes with different colors in a pattern to somehow convey mood and/or motion usually gives a sense of impact; I only say usually because there are exceptions, most of which have been unfortunately encountered by myself. Being far from perfect, I’m just trying to get some kind of impact with photography and I’ve come to realize that while working through photography, it’s important to study why a shot works & why it fails; so, for me, trying to work the above into the shots does take work, but it is completely worth it.

Pinks in light & shade
Pinks in light & shade

Like in the above photograph, there is a faint stream of light from the upper right, but held back when taking the shot to make it quite soft so that it’s only hinted at; it doesn’t convey motion, but it works because of the peaceful, blueish-green color of the leaves set against the pink flowers. It stops the motion on the slight beam of light, while giving it some mood (the cool green tones, as well as the pink ones). While I wasn’t completely analyzing the scene before taking the shot, I was trying to capture how the flowers looked & felt at that exact moment. In the end, learning to bring the elements of lines, shapes & color/tone into the shot are basically what photography’s about, at least for me…And I usually fail at one or more of those things, but it’s a learning process.

On graphics…

Ok, so this doesn’t sound like a title for a photography post, but bear with me…When we think of graphics, we either think of computers or design, but what happens when we unpack that concept in a subject like photography? What does graphics look like in photography and how does it relate to taking/getting a shot?? It’s a bit of a large topic, but I’ll at least try to answer some of it.

To answer the first question, it’s about the overall graphic design in a photograph (how the colors & shapes, among others, relate to each other) and how it gets arranged in the shot itself; basically it’s how the photograph takes form and how the subject is portrayed. Does the shot come across with a feeling of warmth, coolness, or something in between and how does that convey the feeling/ impact in the shot the way we intend it to? That’s the question we should be asking when we go for, and take, a photograph (something, I have to admit, I usually forget to do in depth). This kind of brings me to the second question in how it relates to getting the photograph to begin with; it’s about a kind of ‘arranging’ of elements in the frame in that we pick & choose what goes in to it to begin with.

To really get into the second question though, where I’ll finish this post, we’ve got to think of lines, shapes & colors because, rather obviously, the camera turns a three-dimensional scene into a two-dimensional one (unless you’re shooting in three-dimensional mode included on some digital cameras. It’s using a diagonal line or S-curve to convey motion, blur & focus points to convey depth and colors to convey motion that are all design elements that do indeed bring graphics into play in photography. The thing is, how much do we think about the photograph & feel for it before actually taking the shot and how much does that play in to how we treat photography in general? It’s all in how we deal with the various elements of graphics & design that makes a photograph truly a photograph; it also effects how the photograph is interpreted…by how we use the various elements in the frame itself.

1941 Willys Hot Rod engine
1941 Willys Hot Rod engine