Blue hour & sunrise…

The best way of testing our photography skills is definitely shooting the sunrise or blue hour…Blue hour is the time directly before sunrise & directly after sunset. Why would it be good for testing photography skills? It’s early in the morning and there’s little light when it comes to blue hour; personally, I’m beginning to like shooting at the tail end of blue hour when it’s almost sunrise because you end up getting the best of both times mixing together. The worst part of it is getting up early and going to the site ahead of time in the dark; doing just that, shooting at blue hour, in the winter, makes it even colder. The benefit of this is that there are few people out for this time of day while the colors are just beginning to show for sunrise; when I tried this recently, I only noticed just under a handful of people out for this time of day, and only one was taking photographs…He waited for the sun to fully come over the trees.

- Blue Hour Sunrise -
– Blue Hour Sunrise –

Working with a scene like this, I decided to let the trees go black and the geese in the water go dark as well just so that I could capture the approaching sunrise while staying handheld. A HDR (High Dynamic Range) image would’ve worked really well here, but it would’ve taken away from the feel of the scene, in my opinion. The adjustments that I made were simple & not too drastic, typical for me; I stuck with minor clarity, global & localized saturation, slight contrast and some luminance noise tweaking…There was a slight exposure increase (+0.2) as well. I was aiming for a simpler, pre-sunrise look that wouldn’t betray the sense of anticipation for the sun to fully rise over the trees. While didn’t bother tinkering with the colors in the color panel of Lightroom, I don’t think I needed to; sure, I could’ve made the sky more bluish, but that would’ve betrayed the changing light & the feel of the scene.
It all comes down to, in these times of day, is the feel, emotion, & mood of the scene in front of us; to be sure, what I’m trying to say is that we react to what is in front of us at the moment we first see it, how we see it, and the moment of capture. I may never be perfect in doing this myself and I don’t really think I will be, but I know that, in this world that’s so messed up, there are still glimpses of something more and we’ve got to strive to get out there, get inspired, and try to show meaning in what we do so that we can inspire others…Maybe, just maybe, we might just be able to take a stand and show that there’s more than just the superficial, self-serving crap that society throws at us.


The mood…

Sometimes I get a brilliant idea, or I get bored and just decide to mess around with my camera to see if I can grab a few decent shots. The funny thing is, when the two collide, I usually end up with shots that I thoroughly enjoying and really learning from. The other day, for example, I was getting a little bored and wondering when I’d get a chance to get out and just photograph something, anything, of any decency. So, I went outside and found some hibiscus flowers to photograph in the evening light; needless to say, it had been raining & the sky was a little too dark, but it worked.

- Raindrops on Hibiscus -
– Raindrops on Hibiscus –

On the above photograph, I ended up tweaking the colour temperature, clarity, saturation, & using the tone curve adjustment apart from adjusting the noise levels. Sure, it’s a darker image & a moodier one than I’m used to, but it is a more emotional image than I’m used to; I could’ve lightened it up, but it works, in terms of feel, just as it is here. I’m never really even close to perfect with this, but I did score this one a slight touch darker than it was in reality and I kept it that way for this version because of the feel of it all…And it isolates the flower & raindrops just right for this specific composition. With other shots, I had them a bit lighter, but this one, at least for me, easily holds its own when put up alongside the others.

Personally, I just wanted to get something right on this shoot, so getting even one close to decent was good enough for me; getting several really good ones was definitely a good thing for me. To a certain extent, it’s like that in life because we need to be willing to go out there when the weather isn’t all that great and we might just be surprised; sure, we all need to take our time, but we need to be able to also reach out for help & inspiration. In a way, we, myself included, always need a little inspiration to get out there go about things with a positive mood, breaking away from defining ourselves by the labels that society puts on us.

Back to basics…

Thinking that I’m going to screw up sometimes comes with the territory when I go about photographing a small area no bigger than that of a football. Why do I do that? I do that as more of a training exercise to get my creative juices flowing; it helps to train me to see things that I would normally just pass up because of their small size. Shots, like the one below, help me hone my focus a bit and work on composition & colour in tight spaces.

- Raindrops & Flowers -
– Raindrops & Flowers –

The above shot had slight contrast, clarity, black clipping, vibrancy (called Vibrance in Lightroom 6), noise, & exposure adjustments to refine it, but it stayed totally true to what it had been when I first captured the shot. These flowers are tiny (about half the size of a penny) and have colour variations that are often tricky for me to capture, hence the colour & clarity refinements. For me, it’s about trying to capture the mood at the time in a small space; even though I was outdoors and free to move around, I confined myself to a space no bigger than that of a small vehicle in order to make myself get used to smaller, more refined movements & adjustments to how I was photographing. In a way, this kind of exercise forces me to get back to the basics & work with what’s directly in front of me.

This kind of thing is a way for me to continually make myself work on the basics so that I don’t forget them as easily as I usually do…This comes WAY too easy for me. Remember the old saying that sometimes we need something to jog our memory? Well, sometimes I need a good swift kick so I don’t forget. Another good thing about exercises like this is that they help to reinforce the basics through repetition that isn’t quite mindless, at least for me. So get out there & challenge yourself.

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.

On workflow…

Sometimes, we all think of workflow as a set-in-stone way of doing things: taking a photograph, importing it onto a computer, tagging & processing it, editing/proofing it, and then printing it. The funny thing is, the order can change with each photograph…apart from the first two stages, which usually stay the same. If we take vision to be the key element in a photograph, then it influences not just which stages we use & which we don’t, but how we go about them; editing might be used a bit more, or less, tagging will usually be done more thoroughly, and often times, printing might be done a bit more to get a physical copy in our hands to proof instead of on a computer screen.

- Pondering Food -
– Pondering Food –

Take, for example, the above photograph and how it looks; I followed the stages above word for word. The thing about it is that the editing stage had a certain flow to it, for me, that goes about something like this: fiddle with the tone curve (but scrap that particular adjustment), tweak the clarity slider, adjust for the blown shadows by tweaking the blacks, tweak the exposure, and then soften the digital noise. I’m not too sure of the order of the last two, but they were done and I finished off with a barely visible vignette. Why do all these adjustments? My reasoning was to make sure the contrast was better (Clarity slider), unblock the blacks (no super-black spots in case of physical printing), brighten it up slightly (to help with the blacks & recover some dark areas that were slightly too dark), fix the noise (it was a bit noisy) and add a ever so slight vignette (to narrow the focus)…And, along the way, I’m trying to keep it a believable shot. Although I don’t always follow these steps, or do these adjustments, they serve a purpose: to make the photograph reflect the feel & mood of scene as I shot it.

Sometimes workflows are tweaked, especially when it comes to the order of anything between taking a photograph & printing, or displaying, it. The thing about this is that it should depend on our vision for the shot(s) we take; I’m never perfect in this regard, just trying to be. Working through each photograph doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll follow a specific workflow pattern, but it makes it a little simpler if we work at our workflow while remembering the joy of taking photographs and keeping that itself (and what it felt like) at the center of the workflow. We all have different ways of going through our varying workflows, depending on how we take photographs, and I’m definitely not saying one is better than the other because there’s a certain uniqueness in how we go about it and apply different treatments to each photograph in the editing stage, if any treatments at all.

On Easter & cherry blossoms…

While most of the attention around this time of year gets directed to the cherry blossoms or the change to Daylight Savings Time (or the vehicle accidents that happen because of it), Easter is an important time as well, not just because of the Christian holiday (the death, burial & resurrection) or the Easter egg hunts (who ever heard of a bunny laying eggs?), but because of the hope it brings when both the cherry blossoms & Easter occur at the same time. You get beauty in nature with the promise of what the real meaning of the holiday is, combined…a two for one deal!

- Cherry Blossoms -
Cherry Blossoms

For me, the above photograph sums it up nicely, because it shows the blooming flowers that seem to bloom with the hope that the holiday brings…new life. Sometimes it helps to picture the flowers blooming at the empty grave, even though I doubt these kinds of flowers even grew anywhere near Jerusalem at that time. What I did to this photograph was the usual (tweak the clarity, recover blown highlights, fix noise levels, & remove chromatic aberration) and subtly bring out the blue in the cloudy sky. Now I didn’t have to make those adjustments, but I did so to bring out the feel of the cherry blossoms and try to bring out the beauty in them, something that the promise of the holiday brings. I could’ve let the cherry blossoms speak for themselves in a zeroed RAW file converted to JPEG for display in this blog, but I wanted intent & vision to shine through, so I did the adjustments.

When it comes to putting symbolism in photographs, we need to be mindful of what the symbolism is and how it affects people who view the photograph. Each carries a mood with it and that is where intent comes in; if it’s too strong, it runs the risk of looking like a piece of propaganda and some people, like myself sometimes, tend to tune out. Subtlety goes a long way in making a good theme, mood, or point, stick; truth be told, I’d rather not be the one to figuratively hit someone over the head with a message unless it’s absolutely necessary. So I guess it’s time to get out there and enjoy the fresh spring air…if it wasn’t raining here again.

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!

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 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.

Boundary Bay Sunrise
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.