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.

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.

Rain…

Red & Black Log

As Christmas gets closer and the chance of snow grows, I’d be the first person to say that I’d prefer the snow over the usual rain around here. Getting my gear wet isn’t fun, but sometimes it yields some pretty moody shots. Rain is just not that much fun to walk in; sure, I could’ve made it look as if the day was brighter by opening up the shadows much more, but then the soaked sands would look off & not quite real. The rain had slowed enough for me to get this shot off and by then my feet were starting to get soaked; I guess it’s true what they say…we all need rain to grow.

The best part of waiting is that it gives you time to think over how to shoot and why; it also means down time where there might not be any productivity whatsoever. There’s usually two sides to the coin (heads or tails) and if it’s only got one, then it may just be a trick coin. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that we’ve got to take the good with the bad; sometimes it doesn’t seem as if anything is going right, but then you find out later that there was a diamond in the rough that just needed slight tweaking.

Now, back to shooting in the rain…While gear can get wet, or soaked if it’s not shielded or protected, from the water, it also pushes for greater effort in getting the shot. Having been in this situation any times, thanks to living in the Pacific Northwest (or Wet Coast), it keeps you from being too lazy because you have to look much harder for the shot; it definitely has kept me from being too laid back because it makes me think harder before taking the shot. It also makes me think more of mood while I’m shooting because of the damp weather that surrounds me as I’m trying the get the shot. If you’re more of a wallflower, then this situation is most likely easier, in my opinion, because you’ve already managed to be more introspective and think to yourself, making the thought process a little easier due to already being used to think through things alone.