Summer…

Thinking about warm weather sometimes makes me glad that air-conditioning was invented; I’m not really a hot weather type of person, so anytime the temperature outside reaches about 26 degrees Celsius (78 degrees Fahrenheit), I’m usually the first to find shade. What it does mean for me is good, soft light for sunrises if the night has been cool; with the air slowly warming up, it seems to make the morning a little more tolerable. Summers, for me, usually end up being better for sunrises because then it’s not so darn cold that early in the morning; sunrises in the winter months are amazing as well, but the upside is that thick gloves aren’t needed in the summer for shooting the sunrise.
With the summer months, there isn’t as much of an outburst of colour, or at least as big a variation of it, as there is in spring, but there’s something to be said for being able to handle the different lighting that comes with a longer midday sun. Most people, myself included, usually think that shooting under the midday sun is a bad thing because of the harsh overhead light, but, once you get used to it, the light can be really good for backlit shots of flowers or in forested creeks where you want to see specular lighting to bring out the mood. We get stuck in certain mindsets when it comes to photography that we can either fix it later on the computer or just ignore the midday hours, but there is something to be said by learning through photography in the midday hours because it makes us, or at least it should, a little more focused on getting the shot right so that we have more to work with later and learn a bit more about ourselves in the process. Personally, I learn more in the summer months about lighting because the angle of the sun makes it that much more challenging for me to work on my photography.

- Rock & Moss -
– Rock & Moss –

For example, with the above photograph, taking it in the summer would mean a harsher, overhead light and the shadows would have been more pronounced because of it. While I have shot this scene in the summer before, it often means a great deal more work in post-processing because of the lighting; the highlights & shadows would need more tinkering because of that greater contrast in that kind of lighting. In the spring, when this shot was taken, the sun wasn’t so high or harsh, so the contrast wasn’t as much and the dynamic range was much easier to deal with. Simply put, summer means a little harsher light, but more learning opportunities.

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A glowing light…

I’ve often toyed with close-ups to the point that I’m just experimenting with how light bounces off surfaces, creating dimension in tighter spaces; I mean, if we’re given this amazing world by the Creator, why not explore it? Sure, we’ve messed it up, but there’s still some beauty left for us to really explore, even if we have to get out of the concrete jungles. Just think of all the centuries where hymns talking about nature have been left to us…There’s got to be something left to explore, even if it’s in a small space no bigger than that of a car tire; after all, that’s why macro photography is so fascinating (it shows the small scenes made much bigger). Often, it’s in these small spaces that we can find inspiration…Just look at a photograph of a small flower growing out of cracked mud or a cracked cement block.

- Bells of Spring -
– Bells of Spring –

The above photograph is of a few stalks of bell-like flowers in a really tight space, no wider than that of a car tire, with only one stalk in focus; what gets me about these flowers is the creamy texture & dimension that they have, especially when they’re white. They’re quite common around here in May, and they’re easy enough to come by, but the challenge is getting the light right for them at midday when the sun is overhead; being partly shaded helps, but the rest is pretty much all positioning of the camera & point of view. I’ve done my usual refinements (localized contrast & saturation as well as noise) only because they worked for the image and they suited my vision for the scene; in reality, it only works better when in post-processing because my previsualization skills kind of stink (sometimes they work, but they’re really hit-and-miss most of the time).
With the way I approach things and the way things don’t always work out, you would think I’d learn to get shots like this without much cognitive thought, making it all second-nature; truth is, I am pretty far from getting this right most of the time and, while it does annoy me, I am getting a bit better at it. Previsualization doesn’t always come easy for us and, to most of us, it doesn’t really come all that well when it does come; that’s all okay because, thanks to technology and those that have written many a resource, there’s plenty to help us figure out photography as we go, as long as we’re carefully taking it with a grain of salt, not following it blindly. It becomes so easy to just take things like photography tips & tricks at face value that we forget to really look at the reasoning behind them and why they just might work, or not work.

Amazed by the lights…

Taking some time on Sunday after the morning’s church service to photograph some smaller flowers under an overcast sky after overnight rains, I was tinkering with how the light played up against the tiny flowers, called forget-me-nots (Myosotis for the gardening geeks out there), with the idea of purpose and living with meaning in mind. What this did is make me think about how I was portraying the small flowers because I had just passed them by so many times, ignoring them because they are so incredibly common around where I am. The light was dull & spread out evenly and the weather cool enough that it still meant I needed to wear at least a light coat or hoodie and it kept things on the cooler side.

- Raindrops on Myosotis -
– Raindrops on Myosotis –

What the above photograph did is make it look like there was artificial light; after all, when does natural light really look like that? I can assure you that there really was no artificial light at all…It’s all organic, natural light. While I try not to get amazed by the lights of the city at night, I need them to drive during those times, but this time, during mid-day, I didn’t need city light at all, or at least not the artificial, buzzing lights that are so common. Around here, in the Pacific Northwest, bees don’t pass these flowers by and, I guess, it’s a sign that we shouldn’t either when we’re out looking for subjects for close-up & macro photography. Life’s a bit too short to be passing things by, but, at the same time, we shouldn’t be jumping over the big things just to pick at the little things around us.
When it comes to photographing after the rain, there’s a few things to take into consideration: the wetness/softness of the ground, reflections from drying surfaces, surfaces that are still wet, and the effects of light bouncing off wet/slick surfaces. Now, I’m no genius at this, and I still make more mistakes than I’d care to admit, but it’s a challenge that we might as well accept, because it brings out scenes like in the photograph above and we just might learn as we go. In this day & age, when the mainstream media continually just throws stuff our way, we (myself included) would do well to watch out for the crap and really think about what’s really important. I’m still struggling with this, but I hope that, by being completely honest here, I’m just showing that perfection in this art thing called photography doesn’t come within a lifetime, especially if honesty & humility are really at the center of it all.

 

Lighter or darker…

This decision is one that we all tend to face whenever we’re at the moment of capture because we want to keep the highlights to a minimum, but we don’t want to make the shadows too dark. Exposing to the right side of the histogram makes it so that we have more data to work with…For some reason, this is how digital photography works. This also means that the dark parts of the image get darker and the possibility of digital noise gets greater; this isn’t a problem if the shadows aren’t all that important (HDR can always try to fix this), but if they are and we want to preserve them without causing too much noise, then we might just have a problem. Preferably, I tend to want to get the image right as best as possible in camera, but I can easily muck this up; so, sometimes, it doesn’t quite work out the way I had planned it and adjustments later on in post-processing muck it up.

- White Trumpets -
– White Trumpets –

The above shot was one of those where post-processing made it a little too dark; tweaking the contrast & clarity darkened the greens too much, so I bumped the exposure up by +0.2 in Lightroom to bring back some of that light & some of its glow that I saw when taking the shot. The white was good, but in the process of tweaking the contrast & saturation, the overall image, apart from the white flowers, got darker and that was what I didn’t want to happen. The initial exposure was really close, but I wanted to tweak the localized contrast & saturation a bit and it had the effect of darkening the greens a little too much. I’m not much of an ‘expose to the right’ kind of photographer, so refining becomes a bit trickier for me and, truth be told, it’s definitely something I’m going to live with as a result; what this does mean is that I’m having to rely on exposure adjustments more often than I otherwise would have to deal with, but that’s the trade-off.
Most of the time, dealing with a single shot, there’s a trade-off because of range, but that’s the thing about it: there’s always a trade-off and how we adapt to it is how our vision shines through, or doesn’t shine at all. If we miss it, then we can choose one of two things…learn from it or go stomp off & forget about it. In the end, it’s about making a choice to do one of the two things and I’m pretty sure I don’t always make the right choice.

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.