For all the light’s worth…

For what it’s worth, I’m not totally convinced we’ve got this whole bit about light & photography down pat; mostly because there’s always something that’s happening in the atmosphere that effects the light itself, changing how we see it. We get caught up in chasing the latest gear & tech to supposedly help us adapt our photography to this that we forget how to deal with it. When we see something new come out, we tend to jump on it, instead of studying it to see what it’s all about and working with what we have to get what we see with, and within, our vision.

- Snowy Glow -
– Snowy Glow –

The above photograph came about when I was out trying to capture a snow scene at the local park and I realized that I could use the reflected light from the snow as my primary light source, instead of relying on the overcast, diffused light coming through the clouds. While I exposed for the snow at about +1 or +2, I worked with what the snow presented me with (simple white reflected light) to allow the rest of the scene to glow. It allowed the green branches to brighten up and seemingly glow in the scene, lightening up the scene & bringing it out as a subject, set against the snow. In simpler terms, I tried working it for all the light’s worth; whether it worked or not is not really for me to say, because it might look completely different by the next person that it did to me.

Photography is about getting the most out of light while saying something of meaning and, while the above image doesn’t directly say much, it was about the glow of a plant still very much alive despite the cold winter storm that it had just endured. It’s basically saying that after the storm has passed, there’s still hope that the greenery will return and, indeed, it already has as this tree has shown. So often we hear that we’re supposed to expose for the right (in regards to the histogram), but I’ve come to think that in shots like this, I’ll expose for the green at about -2/3 of a stop, or for the snow at about +1 to +2 stops, whichever one tends to work better for me. So, in conclusion, trying to get it right for all light’s worth is where we should be in terms of photography.

Diversion…

It gets a bit tricky when we can’t get the shots we thought we could, doesn’t it? It’s like aiming for the bullseye & completely missing the target. It’s in these somewhat frustrating times & situations that we need a diversion to get our creative juices unstuck. Sunset photographs are the same way for me because, for some reason that escapes me, I always end up screwing them up, but not sunrises for some reason; if I focus on a subject within the scene and use the setting sun as a far-off background, I’m fine, but otherwise I’m hopeless. What I usually end up doing, as a result, is looking for a kind of diversion…a scene that will help distract me from my creative rut.

- Rim Light -
– Rim Light –

The scene above was just the one I was looking for; I had decided on looking for scenes with rim lighting and this worked just right, even if it was somewhat of a happy accident. I figured that, when my sunset shots weren’t working for me, I’d try rim lighting, not something I thought could work out given the sunset; to put it simply, I was completely, and utterly, dead wrong. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the light bent around the subject, stalks of dried up flowers, in this case and lit up the two strands of thin spider webbing. Now, don’t get me wrong, but I never pictured that rim lighting could show up this well with anything I could possibly do; I always left this for the masters to do, never really thinking about how I could get it done myself. The color of it all was more of a duotone, one of rich golden hues & strong contrasts, so I guess it worked out alright.

The thing is, with a diversion-type of shot like this, it helped the creative rut all but disappear and provided some good, strong ideas for more shots, even if they didn’t pan out. It doesn’t so much matter that the others didn’t turn out, it matters more that it made me think more about what I was doing and opened me up to new possibilities. Sometimes, we think of these types of shots as only temporary, because they might not lead to any others, but they provide us with learning experience, if we study them further & examine what makes them work.

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.

When the light shines…

Looking out at the sunlight coming in on a bright day, we’ve got to think that being outdoors is great. Photography gets us outside and into the great world, if indeed we’re into landscape, nature, or any other kind of photography that primarily uses natural light. The funny thing about me saying this is that I’m inside, listening to Thrice (a band I highly recommend) playing from my iTunes library on my computer as I type this up; I’m only a few feet from the bright & sunny outdoors, but yet it still shines in through the open window. Even indoors, natural light has an effect, mostly because windows act like light boxes, letting the light inside, unless blackout or thick curtains/blinds are covering the windows.

- Fuzzy Tongues -
– Fuzzy Tongues –

Sometimes, we can get caught up in the how the light shines on a subject, getting caught up in the technicalities of it all, without really stopping to think about how it’s reflecting off of things in the scene. The color cast of the light reflecting off of surfaces affect the mood just as much…like in the above photograph which was taken in the middle of the day with a short tree above providing spotty shade; the yellow parts of the flower reflect yellowish light onto other parts of the flower, warming it up a bit. With slight Clarity adjustment, the reflected golden light becomes a bit stronger and more noticeable in the color cast. Editing was kept to a good medium and only that high because of a medium tone curve; usually I don’t use this option, choosing instead a higher Clarity adjustment, but in this case, I figured that a tone adjustment would be better.

The light shining off of something, on something, or through something is basically what photography is. We’re capturing light and, thanks to current technology, the color of it as well, so why not try to get the feel of it in the shot, showing how it made us feel at the time, instead of just being technically correct? Editing can, and often does, take a role in doing just that, but getting it right in camera is the first step to being more than just technically correct. I’m no where near perfect at this, just trying to get at least close to it, so just try to do your best and put some feeling & mood into it.

Light/Dark & Mood…

Looking at mood, on its own, exposure, whether it’s dark or light, can have the single, most profound effect on an image. Now that sounds quite basic, but just try hashing/working it out logically because it is actually quite deep, especially when you’re going for a moody shot that seems to be brooding instead of cheerful. I’m far from getting the exposure right every time, but it also makes me think about what exactly is the right exposure to begin with; is it darker, lighter, or something that’s in between?

Purple & Yellow
Purple & Yellow
Purple & Yellow II
Purple & Yellow II

Now, the top photograph is much lighter than the bottom one and a bit closer to the overall exposure, but the bottom one is a bit truer to the mood of the scene. Sometimes, I’ve found, you’ve either got to go darker, or lighter, than the overall ‘correct’ exposure just to get the mood right and it’s in that decision where you should be deciding which way to go. Looking at both shots, I was going for a kind of way to make the flowers either stand out (the top one does that well with the light background) or be quite moody (the second one takes that direction pretty well). With the second shot, there was some minor editing done as well (a bit of Clarity & a slight touch of Exposure), but only in so much as it doesn’t affect the overall mood of the image; especially because I intended to give the flowers a somewhat brooding sense about them, which meant going a bit darker than usual. Lines, in these photographs, form a major part of the photograph, especially because of the violet petals on the flowers with their yellow centers; they help draw the eye and the color & tone help with the mood.

The reason why I figured on focusing on these photographs was partly because, under the right lighting (overcast in this case), they portray mood quite well and have a good complimentary color scheme (violet & yellow). When going for mood, the one thing I have to keep reminding myself of is how the tones show in the image: if I go too dark in the shot, does the image then portray a mood opposite of what I want for it? If I’m going for a happy mood, then the answer is usually a resounding yes. And often times, mood affects impact & vision because it’s basically in how the image is presented and, sometimes, in how it’s edited/refined in the computer or darkroom.

On shadow & light…

When we think of the contrast between light & dark, we often associate that with black & white and sometimes grey. In photography, there’s also the interplay between light & dark, but what about the depth created by this interplay of both? And how does it factor in to the depth of field projected by the interaction of light, shade & color in the shot itself?

Fallen Whites
Fallen Whites

In the above photograph, the shade reveals the texture of not only the tree & lichen (I’ll call it moss just to bug some of the biology-centered people who are reading this), but also the fallen white flower. It also gives depth to the entire scene in the gradient of the shadows themselves, cast in diffused, overcast light. What really makes the shot stick out for me was not the subject, fallen white flowers, but the shadows themselves which seem to make the photograph itself and give it the dimensionality & impact it should have while nearly overpowering the subject itself. While it should usually be the case where the subject takes center-stage, the overpowering of the subject, in this case, works alright and even enhances the overall shot by giving it the depth it needs to assist the shot.

What works about the interplay in the shadows in the photograph is the molding it seems to do of the textures in that it gives dimension to what the viewer is seeing. It’s as if it is telling the viewer to reach out & touch it because it looks like it’s more than a two-dimensional shot, getting close to a three-dimensional photograph. Personally, this works because it makes the viewer feel as if he/she is a part of the scene, instead of just looking at a print or screen. In the end, it’s about getting the viewer involved with the scene and bringing dimensionality to it because a big part of it, especially in this shot. It is the getting the viewer involved or at least making the viewer believe that he/she was involved that can really & truly make a photograph worth it in the end.

But it’s not bright enough…

Now how many times have I heard that before? Plenty. It’s about exposure & light as well as how the scene is treated by the reflections of light on the various surfaces on the subject(s) in the shot. Most of my shots over the years have slowly, too slowly if you ask me, have gotten better with the amount of light let in in, but it’s a learning process, something that does take me rather long to do. Learning curves, in general, aren’t really friendly towards me, mostly because of stubbornness & stupidity on my part.

Orange Tongue

The above shot was shot around 12 noon in complete shade, but what it has going for it it was the reflected light from the concrete driveway about a good 3-4 feet away. I figured that I’d let the background blow out, but it didn’t do too much to distract from the flower itself; thanks to the reflected light from the concrete, the blown highlights didn’t distract too much from the flower and it gave it a much warmer tint, thanks to the brownish color. No reflectors were used (apart from the concrete) and the only filter on the lens was a Hoya 58mm UV filter, making it a simpler shot to take, one with less reliance on gear, but greater reliance on technique & vision. Doing this let the colors naturally speak for themselves; a polarizer would’ve fixed the barely blown-out bit in the background & enhanced the color, but I figured that I’d be lazy and just use a UV filter…Out of laziness can come beauty, just not all the time.

The interplay between light & dark is perhaps the one thing that can really make a shot tough if the metering isn’t right or if the scene just doesn’t feel right. The above photograph was probably one of the tougher ones for me, not just because of the bright background, but the dark shade. In the end I ended up going with something in between, making a decision to work more about the shade instead of the background; I ended up worrying about the background a distant third, after the much more important foreground & subject. After all was said & done, the order of emphasis & the overall focus come out just right, at least for me, and the shot worked out alright, something that I can’t really take too much credit for.

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.

Someday when the world’s much brighter…

Or so goes the song by the Five Stairsteps (O-O-H Child), one of the more popular songs rereleased on this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 1 soundtrack. While the movie was probably one of the funnier action movies this year and among the top 3 (in my humble opinion), the song hits at a point that every person hopes will be true: the world will get brighter someday. For photography, the brighter the scene, as long as it’s not too bright, the easier it is to take a photograph, but the problem is when we start relying on that instead of taking the odd risk.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s really nothing bad about a bright scene, but what about when the light source isn’t too bright? At the risk of repeating myself yet again, twilight (the time of day, not the movies) is good for taking photographs as well because of the soft blueish color cast it makes across the skies. Not just after sunset, but before dawn as well it can make for some good impact/mood photographs and then, if you’re waiting for sunrise to come, you’ve already been shooting to the point that you’re basically ready for the bright oranges, reds & yellows that come as a result of the rising sun. Being ready for the sunrise is more than just a good thing and this way, you’re ready to catch the rapidly changing colors & hues as a result of the sky brightening up before your eyes.

When you really think about it, it’s often that twilight is the best time for waking up because you see the sunrise in its progression; that and almost every coffee commercial about waking up takes place just at the end of twilight and the beginning of sunrise. From what I’ve read about it from photography literature, twilight also makes for amazing photography because of its color cast and because it allows for more time to get ready for the colors of sunrise instead of having to show up and begin shooting already.

Twilight Log

The above photograph was taken, in the cold, just before sunrise and you can see the changing hues from a pale color to a more vibrant orange; what made me take this one was more than just the twisted branches/roots stuck in the air, but just how the changing light reflected on the wood itself. Although it was taken at the end of twilight and pretty much at the start of sunrise (just before the sun had actually come over the mountains), it shows the reflection of the changing light on its surroundings. In the end, that is what the light is about in photography: reflections of its color & hue on the environment.

So have a good New Year and think about other times than just sunrise for photography, even if it is way to early in the morning to be up!

Frost & Dew

Grass & Frost

Now here’s a topic that directly relates to the title of this blog: frost! Defining it in the most basic terms for the sake of brevity and keeping readers from falling asleep: frost is the crystallization of water that takes the form of ice deposits. Now that it has been said, frost takes on many forms in the late fall months as well as in the winter, most often as a kind of sugar-like coating; in the photograph above, it especially looks like a sugar coating on the grass. Capturing it isn’t as tricky as snow is, not requiring overexposing by a full stop or two, but, because of it’s size & detail, it does require using either a macro lens/filter or finding a way of magnifying it later (something not easily done).

Frost & dew, both made of water share many of the same characteristics when photographing them because exposure can be tricky because of light refraction and/or deflection. Mentioned many a time in the Bible (see Judges 6:37-40 for one such example), dew is basically melted frost after the air has warmed up or water droplets that haven’t frozen because the weather isn’t cold enough. Photographing dew is about the same as frost despite the smooth surface and how light doesn’t scatter like the multi-faceted frost; for the sake of arguing, dew-covered spiderwebs often shine better compared to frost-covered spiderwebs, even though frost, looked at closely, has more elaborate forms. Dew comes out transparent while frost is solid & white.

Both give off a certain feeling; frost feels cold & brittle while dew gives of a feeling of freshness in the morning. While frost hardens the ground, dew softens the ground somewhat; both form overnight and manifest themselves in the morning. Photographing both can be rewarding, requiring a steady hand (more so for frost) because of size, and sometimes, because of stabilization, a tripod; for me, this often means getting down low, using my elbows & knees to brace myself & stabilize the camera. While this can be tricky, especially on wet ground, it can yield some surprisingly good photographs, especially close up. If you don’t mind getting wet or getting down on frozen ground, then frost/dew photography is definitely worth it because of the way light reacts…Among other things.