PHOTO TIP

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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LEARNING TO PHOTOGRAPH THE SEA OF STARS - ASTRO PHOTOGRAPHY WITH A TWIST

For most of our short summer we spend our free weekend time as a family sailing on Georgian Bay to quiet overnight anchorages. Away from the city lights, we are able to see the stars very clearly.  I have been trying to capture our experience of the beautiful night sky for a few years now.  It is a tricky thing. When you are on a boat - there is so much movement.  Wind and waves make it difficult to get a solid platform on which to shoot.  The conditions are usually anything but ideal.

Occasionally we get a windless, waveless & moonless, clear night - as we did this past weekend.  You could say the “stars aligned.”  I waited until everyone had gone to bed (people moving rocks the boat too) and then set up to experiment. 

The last time I tried this I missed the focus completely in the dark and the images came out soft. But I noticed in those first images that if I shot directly up the mast, the stars appeared to rotate around it.  I guessed that it had something to do with our rotation on the anchor line… but that didn’t quiet make sense… so I thought I would try it out again to see if the same thing would happen.  It did.  And I still don’t know why.  If you have any ideas or explanations (physics was never my thing) please let me know. 

I usually only share images I consider to be portfolio pieces.  This one is not one.  But I'm hoping that by sharing it you might be able to help me.  

My main complaint is the noise.  I don't like the noise which came as a result of using a high ISO and long shutter speed.  As you can see from the processing notes below I used both Lightroom and Noiseware Pro filter in Photoshop to try and reduce it.  I am not a fan of the way noise reduction makes the mast look “plastic.”  I'd rather not have to do any noise reduction work.  Not sure how to solve that problem - better camera? different settings?  Maybe I could take a series of images and stack them instead of doing a long exposure to get the star trails.  If anyone has suggestions I am all ears - leave me a comment below  

So while it's not technically well done, I think the subject matter resonates.  One step closer on the journey to getting an image that captures the real beauty we feel so lucky to witness on our family sailing trips.

TECH DETAILS:
Nikon D700
14-24mm Nikon Lens
ISO 1600
14mm
f/2.8
25.0 sec

PROCESSING:
Lightroom:
- exposure adjusted
- white balance set to Fluorescent
- Dehaze tool used to get rid of some of the haze (it was a humid and hazy night)
- Luminance smoothing, detail and contrast adjusted
- Highlights, shadows, white and black clipping & clarity adjusted
- Colour noise reduction and smoothing
- Vignetting added
Photoshop:
- Color Efex Pro - pro contrast (dynamic) added & lighten/darken center added
- Noiseware Pro - nightscene noise reduction filter added

 

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WAIT A MINUTE - NATURE'S SIMPLE LESSON FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS

Every time I head out with my camera I learn something new.  Each and every time - without fail.  One recent wintery morning, the lesson was a simple one.

It's to wait.  Wait for a few minutes.  And then wait for a few minutes more.  When you first arrive at a location the beauty of the moment may not be immediately recognizable.  I was early for sunrise on this particular morning and it looked like it was going to be unremarkable. It was cold and I was tempted to head home but I recalled a quote and decided to wait.

Adopt the pace of nature:  her secret is patience. 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

If I'd left I would have missed the scene above.  The storm rolled in fast and furious and thank goodness... I waited for it.

 

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A ROOM WITH A VIEW - how to get a great night shot of a city from your hotel room

I’m not much of a city girl (I’ve said it before) but I do love the way a city looks at night.  When I travel to a city I do my best to try and get at least one night time image that captures it’s sparkling features.  Sometimes (often) it is from the hotel room window.  I’ve not always been successful but I have learned a few techniques that have helped me improve my hit rate.  Here are few tips you might find helpful when making your own sparkling city images.

 

PICK A ROOM WITH A VIEW

You can use google maps to locate a hotel that might have a good view.  Perhaps one that overlooks the skyline or a well lit landmark of interest. Once you have chosen your hotel you can check trip advisor to get suggestions from previous guests as to what rooms have good views.  To narrow down your choice further, try www.room77.com to actually see and compare one room’s view to another.  

 

GET A CRISP SHOT

Shooting through glass at night can present some difficulties.  Here are a few things you can do to ensure you get the best shot possible;

  • Turn off all of the lights in the room and try closing the curtains behind you to block out the light and get rid of your reflection in the glass.  Take a few shots and look at them closely before proceeding to see if you have any unwanted reflections.
  • Stabilize your camera.  Either bring a tripod or be sure to place your camera on something stable - sometimes the window ledge is deep enough other times you may need to get creative with furniture or use your luggage to prop the camera up on. Be careful.  Damage is not the goal.
  • Get as close to the glass as you can with the end of the lens. (But please don’t lean against it - I’ve heard terrible tales of glass breaking).  If you are using auto focus, mind that the focus is on the city and not on the glass - you may have to flip it to manual focus to stop the camera from “hunting" for focus.  Once you get the focus right, if you haven’t already, lock it in by carefully (without bumping the focus ring) switching the camera to manual focus so that it doesn’t shift back when you depress the shutter button. 
  • No flash please.  You may need to open up the aperture (low f-stop number) and or increase the ISO to get the exposure right.  To start, I place the camera in manual mode, with my aperture at f9,  ISO at 100 and shutter speed in bulb mode.  I then press and hold the shutter button and start counting. At 8 seconds I let it go and check the shot to see if I am getting what I want. I adjust the length of time I hold the shutter open either up or down to get the right exposure.

 

HAVE FUN 

It’s actually not that hard to get some interesting shots… and you have the added benefit of being warm and dry so take your time and experiment.  For example:

  • try zooming the lens out on a long exposure shot for an interesting effect
  • try long exposures to get light trails on a busy street (as I did in the image at top)
  • take some at sunset and catch the reflections off the buildings
  • try creating some abstract images by zooming in on a building with interesting patterns
  • busy intersection below you? take a few images and process them using a tilt shift filter (or do it in camera if you have one of those lenses) 
  • try bracketing -  take multiple shots at different exposures and then blend these later using photo editing software
TRY TAKING A DOUBLE EXPOSURE  Some cameras will let you do this in camera.  If not take two photos - the first in focus and and the second one purposely out of focus then combine them in post processing.   (click the image above for my post on creating this NYC image)

TRY TAKING A DOUBLE EXPOSURE 
Some cameras will let you do this in camera.  If not take two photos - the first in focus and and the second one purposely out of focus then combine them in post processing.  
(click the image above for my post on creating this NYC image)

So the next time you find yourself in a city don’t forget to have a look out the hotel window and consider trying to make a few sparkling city night shots. Have fun my friends.

 

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WARM SUN COOL RIVER - How to convey feeling in landscape photography

I've been absent from the online world lately - spending my precious warm summer days in, on and near the water.  Waterfalls, rivers, creeks and lakes beckon loudly to me when the mercury climbs.  

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to join several very talented Google+ photographer friends on a hike to Tew's Falls in Dundas, Ontario.  It was a hot and humid day but we kept cool in the dappled light along the forrest path and sloshing around in the water of Spencer Creek.  

The hike to the main falls is moderately difficult. There is a path - but it weaves up and down the embankment, can be hard to find at times and is muddy and slippery in parts. With so many small falls along the way to photograph though, even if you didn't make it to the mighty ribbon falls at the end it would still be a rewarding outing.

The image here is from the lower falls.  A fair bit of post processing went into this one.  Mostly balancing out the dappled light and getting rid of hot spots.  I also warmed the light ever so slightly on the rocks in the foreground.  The contrast between the cool water on my feet and the warm sun on my shoulders was a strong sensation and I wanted that feeling to come across in the final image.

Conveying "feeling" in an image is often sited as one thing that can make the difference between a good and a great image. I heard Varina and Jay Patel speak about this once, and they called it the "emotional appeal" of an image.  When it comes to making images that have impact, sometimes if the emotional appeal is strong it can even compensate for poor technical and creative merit of an image.  

HOW does one convey feeling in a landscape image with no people?  I focus on making the viewer believe they are in or want to be in the image.  Sometimes, as in the case with the waterfall image above, it's a matter of enhancing the light and the mood.  Warm light, cool water, lush green, earthy forrest tones, silky water and strong textured rocks all of these contrasting elements enhance each other and help to transport us to the waterfall in the forrest on a summer day.  Getting right down in the water and placing rocks in the foreground helps to draw the viewer in and invites them to dangle their feet to cool off.

Can you feel it? Can you imagine sitting on those rocks?  I hope the answer is yes.  If you have other suggestions on how to convey "feeling" in landscapes then do be sure to share them with the rest of us in the comments below.

 

SOURCES OF INSPIRATION FOR THIS WEEK:

  • Jay and Varina Patel have lots of great information on their website, including some tips on photographing waterfalls.  Which you can check out here.
  • Fellow Ontario Photographer Wesley Liikane of Cowboy with a Camera was also out photographing a waterfall this week.  You can see his image on Google+ here.
  • I LOVE this article on how to connect with your subject from John Davenport at Digital Photography School.  He says "to truly capture powerful images we have to learn how to translate our emotions from the scene we’re photographing through the camera and into a still image."  Exactly!!  Best part is he offers more ideas on how to do that.
 

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PHOTO TIP - Simplicity is the golden ticket to high impact images

One Rock One Bird One Sunrise
“Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.” - Frederic Chopin

I'm beating the minimalism drum again.  One thing many high impact images have in common is simple composition.  In high impact visual story telling "less is more" seems to be the golden ticket.  It's not a new concept but it's not always easy to execute.   Here are a few tips I’ve picked up that might help you move your images towards greater simplicity.

DETERMINE WHAT THE VISUAL STORY IS
In it’s most basic sense this can be described as a feeling.  In the field this means being aware of what moved you to pick the camera up in the first place. What do you feel when you look at the scene and what do you hope others will feel when they look at your image of it.  In the image above I wanted the sense of serenity and peace I felt to come through.  

SELECT THE LEAD TO TELL THE STORY
What is the detail or subject here that conveys that feeling and tells the story best? Find the lead and compose the image so that it is central (not necessarily centered - but most important)  In my image above the story of a peaceful sunrise is told by the lead - the smooth water and the smooth blend of colour in the sky.  It is the prominent feature.  

HIGHLIGHT THE LEAD
There are several ways to do that both in the field and in post processing… here are a few that I use.
Crop - sometimes it's not always clear what that main focus is when you are out in the field but you instinctively know there is something and you may only have a fleeting moment to capture it.  Go ahead and take the shot and then don't be afraid to use your crop tools later in post to help highlight it.  Many times I end up cropping down to a much smaller final image in order to simplify it and to place the lead that tells the story in a spot of focus.
Give Space - let the lead of your image stand on it's own with a bit of space around it.  In the field try moving around until you can isolate the subject.
Selectively Blur/ Sharpen - Sometimes it is impossible to give the lead space, so in that case I try to give it importance and make it stand out in other ways.  This can be done by selectively blurring everything else, giving slightly increased detail to the lead (through HDR or sharpening).
Keep Away from the Edges - a small detail on the edge of an image can draw the eye away so I am often careful to either crop unwanted things out (like the rocky shoreline that was in the bottom left corner of the above image).  If it is a small distraction use the clone or healing brush in post to remove it.  You can also use vignetting (darkening the edges and/or lightning the centre or subject) to bring the eye away from the edges.

CREATE SUPPORTS FOR THE LEAD
This can be leading lines, framing elements, or objects that help to direct the attention to the lead. Again in the image above, the silhouetted shoreline and rock are the supporting anchors for the colourful sunrise giving a sense of place.  With their lack of detail they play a supporting role - more of a frame than a distraction.

Editing out, and boiling down a scene to a minimalist aesthetic takes a bit of extra time both in the field and in post processing.  But the results can be an image with a strong lead that really sings the clear visual story and has incredible impact.  That’s the prize I’m after and if you are too then hopefully you’ll find these tips useful.  

As I work on improving my own images I find inspiration and pick up photo tips from lots of different resources.  If you follow me on G+, Facebook or Twitter you may have seen my links to some of these articles already.  If you'd like to follow along with my discoveries then be sure to circle, friend or follow me at any of those places.

Here some of the articles I've read recently and photographers work that has helped inform my ideas about simplicity: 


Do you have any others to add to this list?  Please share them with us in the comments below.  Have a simply beautiful weekend my friends.  

 

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PHOTO TIP - SILHOUETTES - aiming for more impact, less detail

Have I ever mentioned how much I love images that have silhouettes?  I didn't realize how much until I tried to pull together a portfolio of my portrait work and discovered that most of my favourite people images are of folks you can't see.  Ha.  Wonder what that means?  Stick to landscapes maybe.

But here is the interesting thing... I tend to create landscape silhouettes too. Why? Because my goal is to make images that have impact and silhouettes are an easy way to do that.

To create a silhouette you need to expose your image for a bright background and allow your foreground or subject to be under exposed so that it becomes a solid black shape.  

Do this and your image impact goes up for three reasons:

  1. Less Detail - Have you ever noticed that sometimes you have a great image but it is so packed with detail that you can't really tell what the subject is?  By turning your subject into a silhouette, you immediately remove some of that detail.  This is really useful when you have trees or rock outcroppings or people as your subjects - sometimes the details of these things can actually distract you.
  2. High contrast -  There's no rocket science here.  A dark subject against a bright background creates high contrast and makes the subject pop.  Watch carefully though - you want to make sure your subject makes a strong distinct shape otherwise your audience won't be able to tell what the silhouette is.
  3. High Intrigue - With little to no detail the viewer is left to imagine it and create their own story for the image. Viewer engagement heightens impact.

So how about trying it out.  See if you can capture more attention by leaving out some detail.

The image above is out of the archives.  Interestingly enough, the subject here is the sky and the gorgeous colour that arrived at sunset on what had been a rainy Saturday in cottage country.  In our part of the world, summer weekends in cottage country are precious.  The good weather season is short.  A full day of rain on a Saturday can be very disappointing... but sometimes Mother Nature makes up for it by sending a spectacular sunset.  More image details and prints for sale here.

 

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PHOTO TIP - FUZZY DETAILS - using shallow depth of field to make subjects pop

A bit of spring for you today.

I pulled this image out of my archives.  It was taken two years ago in March. Spring was in full swing this time two years ago.  Not so this year.  Although my allergies seem to be saying otherwise.

I remember we ran some errands that Saturday morning and I thought I saw a large bunch of willows go by in a blur as we drove across a bridge over a ravine.  Later that afternoon I decided to take a walk with the camera in tow and check it out.

Turned out it was a group of pussy willows, and since the sun had finally come out, the colour on them was lovely and golden.

For this image I wanted to really emphasize the fuzzy nature of the pussywilow. And though the big bunch made an impressive sight, the wide shots I took were busy and the buds were so little that the fuzzy detail was getting lost.  So I isolated one of the nicest branches, opened my shutter up (small f-stop number) and used that shallow depth of field to get the one branch to pop against the blurred background. 

I was using an old lens that came with my first Nikon film camera - a Nikkor AF 35-70mm 1:3.3-4.5.  It was not the lens of my dreams, but it seemed to do a fair enough job.  Though there was always something odd about the way it blurred backgrounds.  They were never as “creamy” or “fuzzy” as I wanted. But that was easily remedied in post - I just added a blur filter to the background of the images to get them the way I like.

If you are waiting on spring like I am, I hope you see some signs of it this weekend.  And if you do spot some consider capturing it up close in way that highlights all the fuzzy detail.  Have a good one my friends.

Feeling out of your depth with depth of field?  Here are a few links to articles I found that you might find helpful.

http://jaypatelphotography.com/tutorials/aperture-and-depth-of-field-a-simple-comparison

http://www.lightstalking.com/dof/DOF.pdf

 

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SIMPLE TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR PHOTOGRAPY - get it straight

A STRAIGHT HORIZON LINE CAN MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE

This is an issue I had with some of my work.  I look back now at my early photos and see many images with great potential that leave me feeling a bit off kilter.  UGH!  If you want an easy way to improve your landscape photography, straighten things out and ensure that people are focused on the beauty of your image and not on a crooked horizon line.

There are two ways to do this; either avoid the problem by getting it right in camera or fix it later in post processing.

GET IT RIGHT IN CAMERA
Some would argue that it’s easiest to start by getting it right in camera.  Many of today’s cameras have a menu function that overlays a “level” right in your viewfinder.  On my Nikon, I will often set up the shot and then before I start snapping I quickly flip to “live view” which places a funky flight simulator type level meter on top of my rear view screen and lights up green when I have got things level.  Check out your camera’s capabilities in the manual or do a quick google search online… I would bet many have this feature buried someplace in the menus.  

If for some reason your camera doesn’t have this feature, you could pick up one of those nifty little green cubes (link) which fit into the hot shoe on the top of your camera.  They work just like a traditional level - line the little bubble up between the lines and you are good to go.  These little gadgets are generally not expensive and they look intriguing which has the added benefit of being a great conversation starter.

If neither of these suggestions will work for you then I recommend that you just be aware of the issue as you prepare to take the shot. Take a few extra seconds to scan for the horizon line in your viewfinder and see if it looks straight.  If you are shooting on a tripod (which I recommend for landscapes) then sometimes a small tweak will do it.  If you are hand holding the camera sometimes it’s just a matter of adjusting your stance and shifting your weight more evenly.

USE POST PROCESSING
But maybe you don’t have either of these tools and/or time and are stuck with a great shot that lists to one side.  No problem.  Most importing and processing software gives you the ability to straighten things out - either by your own hand within the cropping or rotating tool or automatically, so be sure to take advantage of it.  In my own workflow, straightening the horizon line is one of the first items on my initial processing checklist which I do in Lightroom.  Yes - it's still an issue for me a fair bit.

ADD STRAIGHTENING TO YOUR WORK FLOW
Of course there are lots of times when a skewed horizon line is chosen on purpose for artistic effect and that’s great.  But if that’s not your intention, then give this simple tip a try.  Add straightening the horizon line to your photography workflow. I guarantee that ensuring your images have a straight horizon line will help you keep your audience focused on the beauty you were trying to show instead of wondering why they feel slightly seasick.

Hope this helps.  Keep it on the straight and have fun out there friends!

 

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ONE STRANGE TIP FOR IMPROVING YOUR LANDSCAPE IMAGES

Are you a landscape photographer who embraces post processing as a part of creating beautiful artistic images?  If yes then here’s a tip I picked up from Trey Ratcliff while attending his New Zealand Photo Adventure last year.  It might seem like a strange one at first but it’s one I used on this image and honestly I love the results.

Don’t process all of your photos from a trip or shoot right away.   

Yup.  That’s it.  Simple right?  But why on earth would you do that?  Why wouldn’t you edit all of your photos right away so you can share them?  Well, here’s the rationale.  What you know today is only a fraction of what you will know in a few more weeks, months or years.  So this means that when you re-visit your images after some time has passed, you will have more skills to bring to the editing table.

The problems I encountered while making this image - like very heavy chromatic aberrations for example - I wouldn’t have even noticed a year ago let alone known how to fix them.  It’s a proven truth that practise improves our results and practise needs time.  So why not time capsule one or two of your favourite raw captures from your next outing.  Hold them for your skilled hands of the future.

Of course regardless of the outcome, you still get the joyous side benefit of re-visiting memory lane.

Have a wonderful weekend friends. 

 

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PHOTO TIP - Can studying old paintings improve your photography?

I love when the same idea or piece of information comes at me from multiple places.  I don’t know what this phenomenon is called - ("multiple discovery" was all I could find on wikipedia) but I have noticed it many times. Studying the works of master painters for clues on how to improve your photography is certainly not an new idea.  But the concept has recently hit my radar enough times from various sources that I'm compelled to investigate it further.

I’ve started with the work of Canadian landscape painter and member of the Group of Seven, Lawren Harris.  Why Harris?  Two simple reasons; he painted Canadian landscapes and I like his paintings.  

I love to travel and shoot exotic locations but I live in Canada so 90% of the time that’s the landscape I photograph.  It made sense to me to start close to home.  Joe McNally confirmed this wisdom in a recent interview on The Grid saying “You don’t have to go to Afghanistan or Tibet or Siberia to get good pictures.  Identify things that are accessible to you, that are near to you, that you love or that are you are interested or curious about and then start to make that happen.  Even on a simple level.”  (@ 30:10)  Lawren Harris and in deed all the members of the Group of Seven were dedicated to showcasing Canada and their art conveys so appealingly the beauty of the wilderness that is in my backyard.

But more importantly, I like his work.  It wows me. Stops me in my tracks.  And this is the quality I want my images to have.  

So the investigation begins... what is it about his paintings.   My favourites depict winter scenes.  They are minimalistic in detail and have a restricted colour palate.  They have dramatic skies and light.  There are strong contrasts -  the land is silhouetted while the light is almost white.  The shapes are graphic but the lines of the natural elements are smooth and rounded.

When I headed down to the frozen shores of Lake Ontario the other day it was these components that I love about  Lawren Harris’ landscapes that I held in my mind’s eye.  
And while I don’t believe for a moment that the images I came away with hold a torch to Harris’ masterpieces… mine are at least informed by his work. Certainly they share some similarities - the natural colour palate of winter in canada - blue, white and black/grey. Dramatic light and high contrast. Obviously the subject of the lake, ice, snow and rock.   Finally, the composition - a bit of shore line in the foreground to ground it.  Our mediums may be different but our goal is the same -  to stun our audience with the beauty that can still be found even in the cold Canadian winter climate.  

Do you have a favourite artist or piece of artwork?  Have you ever explored what it is you like about that piece?  Perhaps there is a clue in it that which could help your own photography.  

Have a lovely weekend my friends.

 

Morning, Lake Superior, by Lawren Stewart Harris (1885-1970) around 1921.
Lawren Stewart Harris
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Purchase, William Gilman Cheney Bequest
c. 1921
oil on canvas
86.3 x 101.6 cm
© The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

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BETTER LANDSCAPE PHOTOS - two simple tips

There are a lot of things you can do to that will help you take better landscape photos, but I am going to suggest that there are two simple things you can do today that will start to have immediate impact.

1.  GET OUTSIDE FOR SUNRISE AND SUNSET
Have you taken a close look at the landscape images you like the most?  You may have noticed that many of them (if not all) are taken at either sunrise or sunset.  It's not a coincidence.  These times of day serve up some beautiful light.  So why not stack the odds in your favour and plan to take your landscape photos at these times.  They don't call it "magic hour" for nothing.  The trick though is not to just arrive at sunrise ... the hour or so right before and the hour afterwards can be really lovely.  It's all about the light.  I find it has a "softness" to it that can almost be felt... that's when I know the time is right for making good photos.  There are reasons why these hours make produce good results and if you are curious about understanding it try a google search of "magic hour photography" - loads of better folks than I can tell you all about them.

2.  DO IT OFTEN
So this is old advice - no secret here - just a reminder really.  Get out and take photos at sunrise and sunset or whenever you can, as often as you can.  Getting good at something requires practise.  I've looked back at my images from even just a year ago and it's shocking to see the effect practise has had.  I can barely stand some of my earlier images now.

Time is the key.  My two tips are all about time; showing up at the right time and repeating that many times over.  And while I claim these are simple, I mean simple in concept. In practise is a whole other thing.  Trust me, I have no illusions about how difficult it can be to find/make/claim time.

I've recently managed to free myself from parental commitments to photograph the sunrise one morning a week.  Sunrise (and sunset for that matter) occurs at a very civilized hour here in the winter but unfortunately those coincide with my mom taxi hours.  Some day my kids will have a great laugh recalling how often their drives to school were punctuated with "Look at those clouds over there!" and "Do you see those colours? "

But now I have one day a week to capture those clouds and colours.  Of course the clouds and sunrise don't seem to know that yet.  In the end the image I was hoping for this week didn't materialize.  But no matter... for now I will take what I can get.  I am out and I am practising. 

So my friends, a whole weekend stretches before you now.  May you find yourself inspired to get out there and chase down that goal - of making better landscape photos or something else - all it takes is time.

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HOW TO CREATE A MAGICAL IMAGE OF NEW YORK CITY

The thing I love best about a city is the lights!  A city at night is a magical thing... the grit and grime gets washed away by the shadow of night and bathed anew in the multi-coloured glow of lights.  Alright, I admit -  that's a bit pollyanna but you know what I mean right?  I was in New York City a while back and couldn't help but snap a bunch of photos of all the lights.

I've been working on this image (which is looking towards the epicenter of lights at Times Square) for a while.  It's the result of my attempts to blend photos that are related to create a new image with greater impact. In this case I took several photos of the same thing - 5 focused exposures tone mapped in Photomatix, and 2 out of focus images of the same thing with nice round bokeh of the lights. I played with the with bokeh to get the right intensity on the colours, then created a tilt filter effect on the in-focus HDR layer using Topaz Lens Efex and and finally stacked them up and used the lighten blend mode in photoshop to give the feel of a double exposed image.

If I've lost you now, my apologies - go ahead and skip down to bottom of this post (below the video).  BUT if the last paragraph got the wheels spinning in your brain... read on to find out what inspired all this plus a cool how to video.

My new experiment on this New York image was inspired by several things - a love of bokeh lights, tilt shift and double exposed images.

I've been playing around with creating bokeh images for a while now.  Between holiday time and the ice storm I've been served lots of opportunities lately to experiment.  You might remember images from some of my recent posts - like this one? And this one?

Add to that my recent discovery of takashi kitajima, who's tilt shift, bokeh, city lights photos I find nothing short of captivating. Go ahead - google him, circle him, plus one him or follow him - I'll wait.  Just make sure to come back here afterwards. :-) 

Then layer on the idea of making "double exposure" images.  Yes - I came across some beautiful examples of this recently made by Dylan and Sara Photography and then found their video below of how to do this in camera!

So I got wondering what would happen if I combined all these things I loved.  Bokeh, tilt shift and double exposure ideas.  My image posted here is a first crack at it.  It's not 100% there yet but it's moving in the right direction... it has the right feeling... a little bit magical.

Which is exactly what I wanted - 'cause that's what I love best about cities.  

What about you?  Do city lights captivate you?
Have you ever tried to blend a few different techniques on a single image?  Did it turn out the way you had planned/ hoped?

Go ahead and let me know in the comments below, and have a magical weekend everyone!

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DECEMBER - A MONTH OF SHADOWS AND MAGIC


There is something magical about December.  Perhaps it's because here in the northern hemisphere the days are getting shorter.  Or rather more to the point, night comes earlier and lasts longer.  

Candles, twinkle lights, fire light  - they all owe their enchantment to the dark.  Without shadow the light would would be undefined.  It's the contrast that makes things interesting.

The Christmas Market in Toronto's Distillery District is charming.  We arrived around 4pm and wandered around enjoying all the displays and poking in the stores.  But as night fell and the shadows grew, the lane ways lined with glowing gas lamps and twinkling lights morphed into a more captivating world.  Even the horses on the brightly lit carousel seemed to come to life.

As  photographer, I find I'm always paying attention to the light... but my newest discovery is that there is magic in the shadows.

Of course I'm not the first to consider this.  I recall Trey Ratcliff talking about this with regards to processing HDR photos.  A side effect of producing photos with a high dynamic range of light is that often the shadows can be completely eliminated.  This is what allows one to see greater detail in an image.  Trey cleverly recommends making adjustments to bring some of that shadow back into your image.  And I agree it makes a big difference... you need a bit of shadow to define the light and to bring the magic.  (By the way if you haven't already - check out Trey's latest magical endeavour www.thearcanum.com)

So embrace the shadows of December my friends and have a magical weekend.  


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PHOTOGRAPH AND ABSTRACT ART - walking the fuzzy line between

Do not adjust your screen.  This image is out of focus on purpose.  I've been experimenting again.  Having some fun walking a fuzzy line between photography and art.  Abstract art in this case.  

When you were a kid, did you ever stand still and squish your eyes half closed to look at a scene?  It makes everything blurry and simple.  That kind of visual play seemed pretty normal to me as a kid - I did it all the time. I look back on it now and wonder if I did it instinctually as a way of eliminating excess detail in a scene that seemed too cluttered.  A simple way of making visual art perhaps.

I still think it's a valuable technique for finding the beauty in a scene. It has the effect of distilling things down to the basic elements - composition, colour, line and shapes etc. 

The image above was taken on a road I drive along often that runs alongside a field.  There has always been something about it that I find beautiful. Strangely the photos I've taken of it for the most part I find unappealing.  The other day I realized that perhaps it's because what I see as I zoom along it in the car is not the same thing as what my camera captures when I stand still at the edge of it.  Flying past/through a scene in a car has a similar effect to squishing your eyes shut.  So for fun, I stopped and decided to try taking a photo out of focus.  

It worked! Suddenly I can see the beauty again.  The image becomes all about the colour palate (cool winter blues, white and tans), the lines (of the road, telephone poles and the bushes at the edge of the field) and the shapes (lovely round and layered bokeh from the sparkling ice on the tall grasses and bushes).

I know this image doesn't fit with the others I usually post and I would be the first to admit it is unpolished - falling rather haphazardly someplace between art and photography.  But there is something about this that appeals to me.  

If photography is an art form, why should photos only be in focus?  

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