PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

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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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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