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MAKING STRONGER PHOTOS - Learn How To Exclude

As children, most of us were taught that it is not nice to exclude but in the quest to make stronger images excluding is essential.

 

YOUR BRAIN EXCLUDES, YOUR CAMERA DOES NOT

Sometimes we don’t realize that visual exclusion is something our brains do for us automatically. When you look at a scene your brain knows what you want to focus on, very swiftly analyzes all of the visual details and blurs or eliminates that which it deems unimportant.  Your camera regardless of how complicated a device it may seem is not as sophisticated. It doesn't know what you want the focus of a scene to be - it simply records the entire scene.  So when we lift the camera to our eye, everything included in the frame is given equal importance.

 

STRONGER IMAGE = CLEAR FOCUS = EXCLUDE DISTRACTIONS

It’s up to the photographer to make the subject or focus of an image clear.  One simple way (and there are others) to start making better photos is to ask yourself - what is it about this scene that made me want to take a photo in the first place? Then make sure that whatever you answered, fills the frame.  Cut out all the rest either in camera or in post-production.

 

EXCLUDE BY GETTING CLOSER

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
Robert Capa

I’m sure you’ve heard this saying before.  It's another way of saying cut out the clutter and focus in on the subject.  Getting closer will help to fill the frame with the subject, making it the focus and allowing the audience to see what moved you.

This image is not bad... but it could be stronger.

I took the image above last week at the sailing club where my son trains.  I was there to photograph him, but the light was lovely and while I was waiting I noticed that there were some beautiful reflections of the red metal dock in the inky blue water.  I made this photo.  The beautiful reflections are there but so are several distractions, including the "legs" of the dock and the pattern of ripples on the water.  The beautiful painterly part of the reflection is what caught my attention but in the image, the lake and the rusty red dock take up the bulk of the frame and distract from the focus .

In this second version I have cropped out all of the distractions. Even though it becomes an abstract image, it is stronger than the first version because it does a better job of highlighting the beautiful reflections in the water that caught my eye and made me want to take a photo in the first place.

Here is another image I made at the same location on the same day.  In this case it was the beautiful red, blue and white colours and the reflective quality of the lake that caught my attention.  Having learnt from the first example I immediately cut out the surrounding environment in the field by zooming in (with my feet) on the buoy and its reflection in the glassy surface of the water.

 

EXCLUDE DISTRACTIONS = CLEAR FOCUS = STRONGER IMAGE

Next time you are out shooting, give this simple tip a try. Be ruthless and exclude. Be mindful of what caused you to want to take a photo in the first place and then make sure to make it the focus of the frame - even if that means leaving other things out. If this makes you nervous then go ahead and start out by shooting wide and including everything. Just don’t stop there. Zoom in (either with your lens or your feet) and take another shot, and then another.  Try filling your frame with what caught your attention in the first place.  If that still feels uncomfortable then play with cropping in post production. Either way, I bet you'll notice that the more you exclude, the stronger your images will become. 

 

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HOW TO FIND YOUR CREATIVE EYE - SLOW DOWN

There is something different about a great photograph isn’t there?  You’ve probably got one (or more if you’re a seasoned pro) in your collection.  But I’m betting you’d like to have more right?
There is a certain “je ne sais quoi” about “great” images.  Most of us understand that it has nothing to do with technical mastery of the camera (although that is important) we instinctively seem to know that what elevates a good photograph to greatness lies in the realm of creativity.

I know that many photographers complain they just don’t have the “creative eye.” But here is a little secret.  Seeing creatively is not a gift that some have while others never will.  I believe it is a skill we all have - just some of us have fallen out of touch with it.  So how do you get it back?  The first step is deceptively simple.  

SLOW DOWN.

Yup.  That’s it.  Slow down so you can see.  

Seeing takes time.  Think of it this way…  how well do you see a scene when you travel past it in a car?  Compare that to how well you see a scene when you walk past it.
Most of us don’t give ourselves the time we need to see creatively.  We arrive on scene, pull out our camera, fire off a bunch of shots and move on.  We might as well be in a car!!  How can you expect to get great images when you didn’t give yourself enough time to really observe the scene in any detail?

So here’s something I’d encourage you to try the next time you take your camera out.  Give yourself permission to slow down and give your creative eye a chance to process the scene before you.  Pause and let the details of your surroundings really fill up your senses.  Then tune into what moves you… and let your creative eye guide where you focus your camera. 

I guarantee you have a creative eye… you likely just haven’t given it the time it needs.

 

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ELEMENTS OF BLACK AND WHITE - Simplicity

This is my 5th and final image for the Black and White Challenge. 

It’s entitled WINTER'S ICY GRIP. Last December for two days mist and rain fell as temperatures hovered in the perfect zone for precipitation to freeze on contact, coating everything with a 3cm layer of ice.  Many trees were unable to withstand the ice load but those that did were beautifully encased resembling a scene out of “Frozen.”  For this image I isolated the branch by moving until the background was a simple dark colour and set the aperture to a low f-number (2.8) so that branch was in focus and the background was blurred.  Check out my tip here for more on shallow depth of field.  

The image worked in colour, but when I converted it to black and white the details in the ice suddenly popped.  The story in this image IS the ice and the black and white version tells it best. 

High impact monochrome images have a simplicity about them.  The subject is clear and distracting elements are removed.  Many photographers will tell you that when they shoot for black and white they purposefully look for simple subjects and isolate them in the composition.  But sometimes, converting a colour image to black and white can also have the effect of simplifying.  As is the case with my image.

Participating in this challenge has taught much more than just the technical process of making a monochrome image.  I’ve enjoyed how the challenge has impacted my thoughts on creativity, making art and photography. I now know that:

  • making art and posting every day takes discipline and commitment
  • doing something completely different from what you normally do can boost your creativity across the board
  • good black and white images are not made from poor colour images
  • the elements of contrast, texture, pattern and simplicity play a key role in producing high impact mono images
  • the elements of good art are the same as for good photography (not sure why this is such a surprise)

Have a wonderful week my friends - may you find your own challenges are ones that inspire.

INSPIRATION THIS WEEK:

 

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ELEMENTS OF BLACK AND WHITE - Pattern

This is my 4th of 5 images for the Black and White Challenge.  I have taken some liberties and stretched a few days of rest in between so technically I am not following the rules which say I am supposed to post one image a day for five days.  But rules are just guidelines right?

Regardless, along with a new image, today I offer you another element of effective black and white - patterns.  It seems that pattern plays a very big role when colour is absent - providing interest and helping to move your eye through the frame.  Repeating patterns often show up in architecture and nature and without colour to distract us their beauty really shines in black and white.

I call this image “INTO THE WOODS.”  I joined a group of photographers on a hike in search of waterfalls but along the way came across several captivating miniature scenes like this fern vortex.  A collection of miniature frond ladders appeared and beckoned me to climb down the dark centre to another world. 

Again if I were following the rules, I would nominate another person to participate in the challenge but in this case would like to simply mention the gifted photographer and all round great guy who organized and led the hike that day.

+Mike Goodwin has long completed the Black and White Challenge (plus the Split Tone Challenge at roughly the same time) and his image “Looking Inward” inspired my own consideration of the million little worlds full of beautiful patterns that one can find if you dare to go hunting with the camera. 

Only one more image (and one more Michael to nominate) and my challenge will be complete.  I hope you find some fun things to challenge you this week my friends.

 

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IN THE WEEDS ... IN A GOOD WAY

I had a lovely little "microadventure" last week.  And while I didn't end up sleeping on a river bank as Alastair Humphreys might recommend in his book Microadventures, I did end up at the water's edge at sunrise.  "In the weeds" in fact, though not in a bad way at all.  

Do you ever find that sometimes the best view is not a grand one, but rather something quite small and perhaps right in front of you?  On the shores of Georgian Bay I found just such a treat.  The beautiful gradation of sunrise colour reflected in the water, the quiet lapping of tiny waves illuminated by the sun and an interesting pattern of silhouetted weeds breaking the smooth surface of the water - all right at my feet.  

Have a great week my friends.  Perhaps this is the week to make space for a micro adventure!  Don't forget to look down - you just might find your own grand little view!  Be sure to let me know what you find won't you?

 

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WINTER'S ICY GRIP - a forced time of reflection

Nature has thrown some fierce winter weather at us here in Southern Ontario.  Freezing rain storms, snow squalls, sub zero temperatures - all this and the season is less than a month old!

With the weather conspiring to keep me inside the result has been a forced pause in "doing" and a distinct increase in "thinking."  I don't usually do my dreaming/ scheming/ planning at this time of year. Normally I'm like a kid in school and break out the goal setting in September.  

But who am I to argue with Mother Nature?  She has her icy grip on me and I am frozen - stilled.

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