Saturday, 30 May 2009

RAW, HDR and related resources

Since my post about RAW there's been a lot of interest and a number of questions have been thrown up. So this post gives links to and discusses resources that answer them and that I've found useful.

Expose so you bias the histogram to the right

...but without blowing the highlights.

In the full article from The Luminous Landscape, you'll read that most of the available levels of brightness that come out of a sensor's cell get allocated to the right hand side of the histogram, only a few to the left and a middling amount to the middle.

It's essential that you get this point because when you do you'll realise that the right hand side of the histogram is where you get most sensitivity to differences in shades and the left hand side the least.

Note that for HDR this means that you'll need more exposures for the shadows than the highlights to get the same number of shades (tones) in each.

The Luminous Landscape have also got a useful link to an article on understanding histograms.

Work in 16 bits for as long as possible

The topic of bit depth is covered in a quite digestible way here.

I only convert to 8 bits at the end of my workflow, when moving to jpeg:
  • I save my final file while it's still 16 bits so I can go back to it later, when needed
  • Then I convert to 8bit, do some final touch-ups such as noise removal and sharpening suited for the uses I'll put the jpeg to,
  • Then it's a save as, using jpeg as the file type.

Downloads and other links

Rawshooter Essentials

I still use Rawshooter for working with RAW, whether for preparing multiple exposures for my HDR workflow or the single 16bit TIFF ready for the Photoshop part of my workflow. It supports my Canon 350D's RAW files. If you do use it, it's vital

Before you download it, consider some things first. The company and software was bought by Adobe in 2006 and incorporated in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop (see a tutorial on using their Camera RAW plug-in). Rawshooter doesn't support a lot of cameras released since the buyout, including Canon’s 5D, 40D, 450D/Digital Rebel XSi, and 400D/Digital Rebel XTi; and Nikon’s D40, D40x, D60, D80, D3, and D300. Download it here.

Noise Ninja

I use Picturecode's Noise Ninja to correct the noise I get in HDR work when I wasn't able / didn't(!) follow the advice in the article above... There's a free version but it only works on 8bit images, so useful only as a final step when converting to jpeg. Download here

DynamicPhoto HDR

I haven't tried Photomatix, though many swear by it. My own preference is DPHDR. Download here. The page gives a great explanation of where HDR is useful and what it does.

Video tutorial

I've put together a tutorial showing the processing from RAW to finished HDR image. It's twenty minutes long but don't let that put you off -- lots of people have said how they found it easy to follow and understand :) See it here.

The image used is one from my Urban Decay, Lost Spaces and Industrial Ugliness photo essay.

RAW explained in more detail

For those who want a more detailed explanation of how RAW works (rather than what it does for you, as I covered) read this.



That's all for this post. As usual comments, additional info, opposing views(!) are all welcome :)

Friday, 29 May 2009

A global conversation on B&W Photography

I'm really excited by this new "web element" that Google has introduced and have added it to my blog already

Wot is a Global Conversation?

It's explained very well in the Learn More link within the gadget - a quick summary is that anyone who uses the same conversation topic for the gadget / element on their blog or site, will automatically join in to the global conversation already taking place on that topic.

And the cool thing is that, if you blog about it like I have here, people who use Google and other readers can join in right within the reader itself... Excellent :)

Here's the conversation that I've just started, the first in the world on the topic BW Photography ! All you "black and whiter"s, do join in - and embed the gadget in your site to meme the conversation :) Let's get the ball rolling! [NB The gadget you get to embed isn't specific to my site, there's no hidden links or other reference to it]





Comments welcome as always... will you put it on your site? Same topic as mine?

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Some photo basics

I'm sure this doesn't apply to you! But on lots of blogs I follow I see photos that could be so much better if they followed the simplest of rules when shooting them.

Squint uprights and horizons

Make sure horizons are straight -- this is really, really important with shots over water. If you forget this, you end up with what I like to call "downhill water". It doesn't occur in nature, which is what makes it jump out at you. (It's a shame 'cuz water skiing would be so much easier on downhill water!)

The same sort of thing applies to uprights. If they're not -- and they should be, then it just jumps out at you as wrong.

So remember, when you're taking a shot, just before you press the button, check the horizon and uprights. It only takes a second and your shots will start to look better right away. So you will remember, won't you! NB That's me planting an instruction in your subconscious to help you along :)

Telegraph pole hats

By this I mean anything which intrudes onto or across your subject. Sure, we've all seen shots where a pole seems to be growing out of someone's head but there's also the ones where a stray branch or boat aerial sticks up, sort of cutting the shot in two.

Easy enough to sort out with a step or two this way or that.

Shoot from eye-level

Theirs, not yours!

I mentioned this in a recent posting and it fits in nicely here, too. Whenever we're connecting with someone we don't feel natural about it unless we're at their eye-level.

Think about it... If you see someone stopping for more than lust a quick hello when they spot a friend at a table, what's the chances they'll hunker down as they speak? If someone's talking baby-talk (to a baby!), they'll get down to their eye level.

And so photos should be taken from the eye level of your subject. Kiddies playing on the floor, get down on one knee, babies crawling? Then get down on your tummy. You get the added bonus that, as you come into their field of view, they start connecting with you and you'll find your photos will take on that added atmosphere.

The same of course goes for pets, too, whether action or portrait.

Subject in the centre

Just don't! Unless it's a group photo, you know, friends, wedding....

Your subject is always doing something, within their immediate surrounds, even if it's only daydreaming and looking off into the middle distance. To convey that feeling place your subject off to one side (away from where they're looking, if that applies) or up, or down but not centre, please!

Imagine a game of oxo, or maybe a dolls house with 9 equal-sized rooms. Wherever the lines are, wherever the interior walls are, place your subject, the horizon, that nice tree, their eyes, whatever.

For even more impact in your shot place it on one of the points where two lines (walls) cross. PS This is known as the "rule of thirds".

Finally, short and sweet...

Rules are there to be broken. The only reason for having them is so that you think about it before you break them. Get used to them and then happy breaking!

As always, comments, additions, thoughts, denials -- all welcome :)

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

RAW setting / file type explained

One of my followers, Gail (thanks for the question Gail) asked about RAW and I said I would answer it in my next post. So here goes -- note that I keep mentioning jpeg but the same pretty much applies to tiff (an option on some cameras), too.

In short

A RAW file records the output of all the tiny cells on your camera's sensor when the shot was captured, with each cell producing a brightness value for the amount of red, blue and green light falling on it.

In a sense, it's much the same for film cameras. When you take a shot, what's on the film? Just the chemical gel, with some of the light-sensitive chemicals changed by their reaction to the red, blue and green light falling on them. You then take the film to be processed to produce a negative -- a one way process.

Without RAW, your camera immediately converts the sensor output to jpeg, before storing it on your memory card -- a one way process. And because the sensor captures far more information than can be stored in jpeg format, a lot is discarded during the conversion.

What is the extra information that is lost?

The range from dark to bright recorded by the sensor is much wider than can be held in a jpeg; in a RAW file, it's like you have 7 different exposures in one, from -3 stops to +3 stops. Say you took the shot at 100 ASA, f8, 1/100s, then most digital cameras' sensors will capture the equivalent of f22, f16, f11, f8, f5.6, f4, f2.8 all in one RAW file.

Of course, with a jpeg, it records things at just one exposure setting, the one you (or the camera) set when you took the shot.

What other practical things does a RAW file allow you to do?

White Balance

This is real useful. You see, another thing that conversion fixes in stone is the "white balance". Unless you remembered to set it correctly, shots taken indoors or under street lamps can end up with a horrid yellow or blue colour cast. But with RAW you get to play with the white balance (also called colour temperature), try it this way, try it that, to see what works best for the shot.

Sharpening

Even when perfectly focused, all sensors produce a slightly unsharp image and your camera, in converting to jpeg, applies a standard amount of sharpening. Well, you guessed, a RAW file doesn't have any sharpening applied, it's something you get a chance to play with once it reaches your pc.

Downside to shooting in RAW

The size of a RAW file is much bigger than jpeg and therefore fills up your memory card much quicker, and also takes longer to save to it. It also means it takes longer for you to end up with a finished image, as you have to make all the decisions (after playing around!) rather than the camera making them for you at the time of the shot.

To sum up

RAW is like an exposed but unprocessed film.
Shooting in RAW leaves all the important decisions to you and, maybe most importantly, gives you a lot of flexibility to correct exposure and white balance where the camera (or you!) gets it wrong.

As usual, your comments and questions are welcome :)

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Introspective ...Hay303 Stacks

Hay303 Stacks

A shot of the fields alongside the A303 near Stonehenge,
just after hay making. Wiltshire, 2008.

Composing and making the capture

I had seen the landscape dotted with these obelisk-like haystacks over a regular journey I make. On this particular occasion the light was right, so I kept on diving off the road down farm tracks and entrances to fields, whenever it looked like there was half a chance of a shot.

I'd not long passed Stonehenge, heading west, when I got lucky with this and another shot. [Hint: note how you "make" your own luck by giving the good lady chance to smile on your efforts!]

Placing the horizon low for airiness

The rolling hills and low clouds with the clear sky above made the scene light and airy, and I knew to capture that feeling, I'd need to put the horizon low in the frame. The rule of thirds suggests that the horizon line should go about one third of the way up in a shot like this, but I wanted more emphasis, so placed it even lower.

Three's the charm

The eye tends automatically to "zone in" to odd-numbered groups, giving them power in a shot. The scene in front of me wouldn't play ball and insisted on four haystacks, but again I was lucky in that three went nicely on the skyline with one below it.

Exposure, ISO etc.

I always keep my Canon EFS 17-85mm IS USM mounted on the camera and again it was perfect for the shot. The day was beautifully bright, so I checked the ISO was set to 100. For maximum depth of field, I set to f9, giving a shutter speed of 1/320s. As I was shooting across the road with the view often blocked by the frequent lorries that were passing, the fast shutter speed would only help. I focus- / exposure-locked around a third of the way in to ensure front-to-back sharpness before recomposing and dropping the shot into the box.

In the digital darkroom

HDR

I never have the camera set to anything other than RAW, a pre-requisite for the sort of HDR treatment I intended for this shot. I went overboard and, using RAWShooter Essentials 2006 (now a part of PhotoShop LightRoom), made 12 separate exposures from the one shot. I did this, anxious to get as much texture in the clouds and razed crops as possible. I brought them together using Dynamic-Photo HDR before moving to PhotoShop.

PhotoShop

Again, fairly standard for my workflow, I applied a bit of TLR capture sharpening first, converted to mono using the black and white filter and judicial use of the channel mixer sliders. While adjusting the sliders, I kept an eye on the interplay between sky and ground but couldn't quite achieve a conversion that convinced me. I ended up treating the sky as a separate conversion on another layer.

A tweak on the curves to increase the contrast and a slight adjustment to the levels to deepen the shadows and lift the highlights a bit and that was it.

Any comments or questions, fire away :)

Friday, 22 May 2009

May Free Prize Draw

This month's prize draw date is approaching - 31st May. Last month's winner, Muza Chan, was delighted with her mounted fine art print of Knot A Rope Knot

How do I get a chance of winning?

All you have to do is be a follower of my blog / member of my website AND we must be mutual friends. Not my friend yet? Send me an invite!

How do I improve my chances of winning?

Get over to my black and white gallery and review and rate some of my work. Every time during this month that you write a considered comment (and give a star rating), one more copy of your name goes in the hat!

It's that simple :)

When is the winner to be announced?

I'll hold the draw after midnight (GMT) on 31st May and get in touch with the winner. As soon as we've made contact, I'll post the winner's name here.

Good Luck!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Useful tip for remembering photo facts

If you're on holiday, touring or just out and about taking shots of interesting places or objects, make it easy on yourself later.

Snap the information board

If there is an information board, or even just date markings, take a quick snap of it (and check the image on your camera to make sure you can read the text). That way, it'll be there to hand in the same place on your pc as your treasured photos when you need it for your blog, flickr, deviantart or your own photo portfolio.

Go on, you know it makes sense :)

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Last of the Pomeranian shots

I finally found some time to process the last of the successful shots taken the other day of a friends' pomeranians.

Hamish and Bonnie

Mum, Bonnie, was exhausted after spending a manic 30 minutes or so training her puppies and, heck, what a racket they all made!

Quite interesting to watch her chasing them and nipping their ankles, something to do with herding instincts being encouraged with practical demonstrations, I think.

This was taken during a lull in training. I'm not sure where Willow was but here's Hamish saying something like "Come on mum, that was great fun, let's play some more!".

It would have been even better if I'd got more of Bonnie's head in the shot but they were hard at it again before I could recompose. That said, I do like the softness in the image of Hamish and the way Bonnie's coat came out.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Shooting pets without a studio setup

On second thoughts, I'm not so sure that's a good post title - still I'm a photographer so peeps should know that I don't imply I'm killing them!

Anyway, this is aimed at folks who don't have a studio or expensive studio lighting or, if you're like me and you're an opportunist photographer, you don't go everywhere armed with tripod, reflectors or any form of lighting other than a flash gun.

All you'll need -- a camera, a flash gun and an off-camera flash cable ( because you won't be wanting the flash mounted on the camera). And if your camera supports it, shoot in RAW mode for maximum exposure flexibility.

So how do you make the shot when the situation arises? Well here's one I made, following all the suggestions below.

Finished shot

This is how the shot of Bonnie, a Pomeranian, turned out. I'm pleased with the composition, the lighting, the texture of her fur and the sharp focus on her eyes. I did get a little softness, caused by movement blur, but it's at an acceptable level to my eye.

Tips to make the shot

Spend time getting to know and befriending the subject

They must be relaxed with both you and your camera (and the fill-in flash if you need to use it).

When they're relaxed with you, their inner character comes through and it's a a look that the owner will identify with.

So have the camera round your neck and stroke and talk to the pet. It's rather easy with our four-legged friends but needs a different approach with pet birds.

I'm not focusing on birds in this post, but I will say this about gaining a bird's confidence and befriending it. With birds, instead of stroking, you can offer food, talking to the bird gently and quietly the whole time. When the bird comes to take the food, blow very gently at the top of the neck and behind where you'd imagine the ear to be. Do this against the lie of the feathers, so your warm breath gently penetrates to the skin. They'll be a little unsure at first but will get to like it real quick.

Natural Lighting

Go for low ambient lighting, ideally on a bright day with light coming through a window and falling obliquely on the subject, but leaving the rest of the room quite dark. This will give shape and form to the animal's head and body and nice areas of highlight and shadow. It will also provide good texture in the animals coat.

I'll talk about fill-in flash below.

Background

Make sure the background is uncluttered. If they have a favourite dark blanket, then pose them on that. If not, use one you've taken with you (very unlikely in my case!) or get one from the owner. Obviously if it's the pet's favourite, it'll feel much more at ease on that, familiar smells etc.

Composition

Well, with no tripod you'll be hand-holding the camera. Unless you're an absolute whiz with a tripod, this gives you a lot more flexibility -- you'll be able to focus your energies on composition rather than have to keep moving a tripod around.

Think about whether you want just a head shot or whether and how much of the body to include. Make sure the animal isn't looking directly at the camera but off into the middle distance -- and make sure there's enough 'space' for it to look into.

Get down to their eye level. In our day-to-day lives, those who we're 'connecting' with are at our eye-level -- we're not looking down at them and we're not looking up to them. So to get this same connection in your photos, you have to be at their eye-level.

Drawing the viewer's attention where you want it to be. You can do this in many different ways. Positioning that point on one of the rule-of-thirds intersections is one. Another is by choosing a low depth of field -- or how much of the shot is in focus -- and then focusing your camera on the point where you want their attention. With a small aperture number, anywhere further away or closer than that point will then be blurry.

And where should that point of focus be? The eyes of course, as they're the doorway to the soul and will be where most of the character of the pet comes through. And it's ok if the nose isn't sharply in focus as that brings attention back to the eyes.

Fill-in Flash

With all this low light I'm recommending, you're going to be hard pushed to achieve a fast enough shutter speed to prevent blurring a) because the camera is hand-held and b) because the pet naturally moves, even if it's just a slight turn of the head.

Fill-in flash to the rescue - but never when mounted on your camera.

You're really using the flash for two purposes, one to freeze any movement (of the pet or your hand-held camera) and the other, to provide a light source that sculpts the features of the pet, head and body. This is why the flash mustn't be camera-mounted -- because sculpting light has to fall obliquely across the subject.

Don't be afraid to take plenty of shots, trying bounced light shots, if circumstances allow, or just by holding the flash at different angles and distances from the subject. The low ambient light will prevent harsh shadows, even if you point the flash fairly directly at the subject and from quite close.

And all this can be a tall order, holding a heavy-ish camera in one hand and a flash in the other, while still holding the camera steady enough that you don't get motion blur. Still, no one promised easy :)

Once in the Digital Darkroom

Just a quick covering of this area as I've covered this to enough depth in the postings about Hamish and Willow, Bonnie's pups.

What you're trying to do in the digi darkroom is to enhance the lighting, texture and composition.

So in a nutshell, here's the techniques used; pretty standard workflow for me:
  • TLR Capture sharpening
  • Copy of background layer for a touch of dodging the highlights and burning the mid-tones -- this to help the light sculpting and texture of the fur
  • Convert to mono via the b/w filter and adjust colour sliders to get best conversion
  • A v. slight increase in contrast: add a curves layer, unmodified, changed blending mode to overlay and backed off opacity to 9% -- btw, this is a brilliant technique for applying contrast
  • Add a levels layer and give it a nudge to ensure I've got tones from deep black to pure white
  • Add a subtle vignette to help bring attention to her face: new layer filled with black, change blend mode to soft light, use softest eraser (about 2/3rds size of image) and erase from corners to Bonnie's face, change layer opacity to around 50%
  • Save, flatten layers, convert to jpeg, add a slight touch of sharpening using the unsharp mask
  • Save as new file and upload to here.

Your turn

Well, if you find this useful I'd love to see your results. Drop off your links in the comments. If you've got any tips of your own that you want to pass on or to help me improve, please feel free :)

Learning, learning, every day a school day!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

One more from the jazz & blues fest

Sylvia's hair and feather clip looked stunning. I wanted to make a candid shot so didn't want to draw attention to myself - a long lens came to the rescue.

I hope I've done her and the shot justice :)

Feather Fascinators are chic

I had no idea what those feather things were called until I did some searching on the web.

Why am I not surprised to find that feathers are the new chic for Spring 09? Trust our continental friend to show the way!

Anyway, I made the shot of the natural pose I wanted, showing off those cascading, glorious brunette locks and the beautiful feathers she had chosen.

In the digital darkroom

The bw conversion

I was fairly careful in the treatment of this shot. Sylvia was wearing a red coat and the bw conversion I needed to use for the rest of the shot was making the red too dark -- as processing continued I was losing the shape and texture of that area.

There are a few ways to deal with this. Before conversion you can change the red hues of that area to something that works best when using the settings needed for the rest.

Alternatively, if you're too far down your processing when it becomes obvious this is the case, as I was, you can select the offending area with the lasso and a smallish feathering, and then change the saturation (using a saturation layer) of the range of colours that need it (within the selection). Fine tune the result by backing off the opacity of the layer.

Other tweaks

I did the usual slight contrast adjustment using curves, a nudge on the levels and a soft-light vignette.

Dodging and burning

I created a duplicate of the background layer to do some dodging (lightning) of the highlights. When I was happy that I'd done justice to the hair and the feathers, dodge-wise, I copied that layer so I could do the burning (darkening) on the new layer. That way, if I messed up the burning, I'd be able to delete just that layer and not lose the previous one where I did the dodging.

I burnt the mid-tones, often in the areas where the dodging had brought the mid-tones too close to the highlights, providing richer tones for those areas.

Finishing Touches

As part of the conversion to jpg, in preparation for web upload, I flattened all my layers, used a tad of unsharp mask and gave the contrast a very slight boost using a little known technique for contrast on the macro scale. (A tip I'll write up on another day.)

Some more photos from the Barbican International Jazz & Blues Festival

I've been working away in the digital darkroom today and have completed another couple of shots from the festival, with maybe three left to do.

Dad's Girl

A proud dad and his little girl wandered past while I was working on some stage shots.

I was desperately trying to keep my ISO at 100 and hoped the image stabilisation of my lens would help freeze things. Unfortunately no, so many of my shots were just too blurred to use.

Even so, this one didn't suffer too much and had enough redeeming features to make it worthwhile taking through my workflow.

I converted from RAW, reducing the exposure by a tad to try to recover some of the detail in her back-lit hair. I gave it my normal amount of capture sharpening, using a free Photoshop sharpening action set from The Light is Right, and with a tiny tweak to levels and curves for contrast, it was pretty much done.

With a slight vignette and a final bit of sharpening via the unsharp mask the image was done.

A bowler hat bobbing around

Cindy, a good friend who's quite tall, was drinking up the festival music and couldn't keep her feet still. Here she is in front of the stage on the last day.

As I moved around looking for shots, whenever I looked back towards the stage, all I could see floating above and between people's heads was her bright-coloured bowler hat.

I tried to make a candid capture of her obvious enjoyment and hopefully this fits the bill. I did have to make a fairly heavy crop first but pretty much processed it in the digi darkroom as the one above.

As usual, comments / questions are welcome.

Monday, 11 May 2009

First bw shots from the Jazz & Blues festival finale

We were blessed with great weather yesterday and I spent the afternoon at the grand finalé day of the International Barbican Jazz and Blues Festival.

Of course, I had my camera with me but regular readers will know that my style doesn't really cover photo journalism, I'm more into the art side. So here's me attempting something in between. More photos to post later, when I get the chance.

The Kingsize Five

Two of the members of this well-known swing band for the 21st century:
"Stomps like a super charged cabaret horn section. When they really let rip, as in potty mouthed Glen Miller pastiche Big Sis Little Sis, they hit home with bawdy theatrical panache" Thomas H Green, Q Magazine
"A manic mix of rocking blues and jazzy, dirty swing delivered with riffed up panache" Molloy Woodcraft, The Observer

I can confirm they lived up to their reputation and packed the plaza in between The Parade and Quay Road with onlookers, swayers, stompers and dancing couples. Rip-roaring entertainment indeed.


The Steve Tucker All Star Jazz Band

Their style of music ranges from popular swing jazz and romantic ballads to New Orleans classics and we had lots of couples whirling and jigging away. The photo shows Steve sawing away at his double bass.
"The Steve Tucker All Star Jazz Band brings breathtaking fresh life to the jazz classics of the era. The melodic, versatile voice of Steve is underpinned by the dynamic energy, passion and sensitivity of a very experienced front line combining with the powerful, driving, tight, swinging rhythm section." The North Devon Journal
They played in the National Marine Aquarium plaza, a great venue when the sun is shinning, as it did for them.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Willow the napping Punk Pomeranian Pup

...as promised

So here's the other shot I promised late last night. After a long playfighting session with me, Bonnie (her mum) and Hamish (brother), punky Willow went out like a light.

...and here she is, having a wee nap to recharge her batteries, Willow the fluff-bomb.

Willow the Pomeranian Punk

Cute little thing, isn't she?

Hamish the sleeping Pomeranian pup

I was visiting some friends who have mad, yapping, wait-til-the-next-barbecue-and-they're-going-on-a-spit, cute Pomeranians; mum, Bonnie and her two pups, Willow and Hamish.

They have just about accepted me now and only briefly bring the house down with their alarm yapping when I arrive. And they no longer try and nip my ankles, grab my trouser legs, chew my shoes... which is nice :)

Out with the camera and flashgun

I was left alone with them for an hour or so while they my friends were out running some errands and, with them out of the way, I thought I'd get my camera out. It was late afternoon and there was still a little daylight coming through the patio doors, so it was ideal for experimenting with fill-in flash (I've had an off-camera flashgun for ages but my normal style of photography rarely requires one - hence the 'sperimenting).

By this time the dogs were cream-crackered after lots of play, so were zonked out and quite prepared to put up with the camera in their faces, flash going off willy-nilly. So, without further ado, here's Hamish.


Hamish the Pomeranian

I'll post the rather punky shot I got of Willow tomorrow.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Breaking the mould in your shots

Useful techniques for over-photographed locations

So, you find yourself with friends or family at a world-famous location that has been shot by the best and under every favourable lighting condition there is. What's the point in even getting your camera out?

Well people don't often think outside the box when faced with famous monuments or scenes, so if you do, you're likely to make a pretty unique capture!

For me, the best lens for this situation is a 17-85mm with in-built image stabilisation. It gives opportunities for deep perspective and closeups / framing of things a little bit distant. The flexibility this sort of lens gives increases the chances of you making a capture you'll be pleased with dramatically.

In summary

Think about these creative elements and how they might work, camera in hand:
  • Angle
  • Viewpoint
  • Height
  • Extreme close-up
  • Pattern
  • Texture
  • Abstract
  • Observation
  • Think "black and white"
...and the more commonly photographed the monument or scene is, the more extreme you'll need to get!

Unusual Angle

This is the sculpture of St. George and The Dragon (der Heilige Georg als Drachentoter) by Carl Eduard August Kiss, 1855.

I was with a wedding party walking from the church to the reception being held on a canal boat when I saw this fantastic sculpture. I hung back briefly, searching for an angle I could use. Obviously it must have been photographed by thousands of people, but it's quite constrained as to possible points of view.

It was next to the path beside the canal, so you'd have to be on the other side of the canal with a hefty zoom lens to get the whole in frame while giving leeway for composition. The view from the approaches from both up and down the path were obstructed until you were quite close.

But, among some bushes that were just outside a bar, set a little off the path, and then with an overhanging bough pushed up and out the way, this revealed itself through the zoom lens. The thing I liked about it was that you see things from the dragon's aspect; looking almost directly up while being trodden by the horse and impaled by that cold, implacable look from St. George, your slayer, while you desperately rear up to claw and rend the source of your pain.

Viewpoint

I was in Vilnius, Lithuania, kindly being shown around by a friend. She brought me through some back streets to this famous landmark, the Bernardine Church of St Francis and St Bernardino.

As I walked around looking for an interesting and unusual viewpoint I noticed the statue of the famous Polish poet, Adam Bernard Mickiewicz (adopted by Lithuania as a sort of national poet).

As you can see here, it turned out that the almost reverential pose of the poet works harmoniously with the church's fascia and the painting of Christ on the cross. I had to crouch a little to get the alignment I wanted between the poet's head and the church.

Height

This is the clock tower of the Melville building in Royal William Yard. Pretty much whenever I'm down there, I see someone with a camera stood in the front taking the obvious shot.

Well, not being satisfied with the obvious, when I wanted to make my shot of this building, I did a quick run around. The swing bridges looked promising and I could see how a conjunction of possibilities might work. The bridge surface at that time was clad in beautifully grained wood and by getting down to a low crouch (and then a lower one!) I was able to arrange the conjunction between the bridge, the railings and the building.

Close-ups

Ok, so I was at the Eden Project in Cornwall. The Core Building, used for teaching, displays and projects, has some unusual architecture but again, I wanted something a little different.

I looked around and noticed that instead of having traditional guttering, they used water channels -- to me, a layman as far as architecture is concerned, this seemed quite unusual. So that and the texture / patina of the metal roof cladding, was the basis for my shot.

I was pretty much at the far end of the zoom to get this close-up, so I was glad to have my default lens on and not have to fiddle around in my camera case... ah, the joys of a 17-85mm lens!

Seek out the pattern

These "sails" form an architectural superstructure to a superstore in Plymouth. They are designed to carry the wind, which sweeps up the River Plym from the sea, up and away from the shoppers and car park.

They form a great pattern but their full glory is only really accessible from one point where they are unobstructed and no other distracting elements end up in the viewfinder.

...and that one spot was standing on tippy-toes, balanced on the slightly raised surround to a tree planting between some parked cars at the edge of the property.

Texture

A freshly ploughed field in Devon, where the soils are renowned for their fertility and their rich reds.

As a by-the-way, the reds arise from the high content of the iron ores present in the soils, a side effect of the geological history of this part of the UK .

With different framing and a slight turn to the right (and later in the season when the crops are rising), there is a nicely "twee" shot of a typical Devon farm nestling amongst the rolling hills ....which I resisted this time :)

Abstract

I had been trying to get a useful shot of the National Marine Aquarium for ages. It has some quite unusual architecture, embodying the rise and fall of the ocean swell in its curves.

Given it's position opposite Plymouth Barbican, and the fact that on land, there are only two approaches to it -- across the lock bridge from the Barbican or from the Queen Anne's Battery direction, hugging the coast -- the possibilities are quite restricted.

I had tried a long lens from various points along the Barbican but I was getting the same old same old. On one particular day I had walked to the Barbican from home and this took me along the QAB approach. Not the first time I had walked that route but it was the first time I noticed the possibilities. After a bit of jiggling around to get the right point of view and framing, I managed this capture.

Much more effective than a standard NMA shot -- nicely abstract with a "future" feel to it, so I called it Teleportation Module.

Observation

If you've been following my blog you'll have seen this image a couple of times before. I've included it under this heading because it was a shot from nothing while I was shooting the International Barbican Jazz and Blues Festival at exactly this same time last year.

The blues band in session at the time were taking a break and I was hanging around for them to re-start, so I could get on with my brief. While checking out other possible points of view that would work for the band, I noticed that the little rope barriers all finished with a tied knot.

Aha! There's a possibility here, so I checked out all of them until I found one that was just exquisite and, really luckily, also had a perfect, bland backdrop.

So, keep your eyes open -- don't just focus your mind on the purpose in hand, keep aware of likely opportunities that happenstance puts around you.

Black and White

I was staying here at the Holiday Inn, M4,J4 on business and took a wander in the late afternoon searching out possible shots.

This was a subject that couldn't possibly work in colour (well, I couldn't see how, anyway). The concrete of the hotel was aged and grubby, the windows all had the same nondescript blinds and curtains. But, nevertheless, there were aspects of the architecture that I thought would prove quite powerful in a BW shot and the sky was brewing up a great cloudscape.

I slowly homed in on this end of the building as most interesting for a deep perspective shot and saw some trees that might give good framing. Not only did they cooperate but they gave a softening counterpoint to the hard concrete and a sense of scale to the shot that worked quite well.

So if you're at a loss for a new take, forget colour, think line, pattern, perspective, texture and shape. Pay careful attention to the interaction of the lines and shapes with the frame and each other.

Conclusion on being creative in your photography

Don't be constrained by the usual, think outside the box, look for the hard-to-reach point of view, if there's something to climb on safely and legally -- try that. If all else fails go close-up, think black and white, try a worm's-eye view.

Now, as a challenge to yourself, go out in the backyard, try out some of the above and make 50 -- yes, fifty! -- captures.

Tall order? Don't be frightened, they don't all have to be different subjects. Same subject different point of view, different aperture (for different depth of field), different framing, up close and wide angle, a little further away and zoomed in.

Maybe check for interesting textures in logs, old walls, a pile of rubble...

now over to you...

Please feel free to drop off links to what you achieved, if you decide to give this a go :)

Happy hunting!

[Thanks to canonblogger for inspiring me to write this post]

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Saturday at the International Barbican Jazz and Blues Festival

What a great day I had at the festival but for some reason I couldn't get inspired with my camera. I did make one keeper capture -- Benny "Guitar" Carr.

His style is Slip-slidin' blues with a twist of rock'n'roll -- a bottleneck specialist. He was playing in the piazza outside the National Marine Aquarium, accompanied by his brother, Tom, on bass git-fiddle.

Plenty more chances to see and hear the jazz and blues - it doesn't finish until 10th May. See the full itinerary at the International Barbican Jazz and Blues Festival site.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Winner Announcement - April freebie prize draw

...and the winner is.... Muza-chan

Muza-chan stood a much better chance than everyone else. In April she wrote four brief but thoughtful comments (i.e. reviews) against my work and that meant 5 entries in the Hat of Wonder and Hope.

So dear Muza-chan gets a signed mounted print of Knot A Rope Knot

Well done Muza-chan! ...and good luck to you all for the May freebie draw.

Remember, to be eligible, you must join/follow and be my connected friend. Then, for every thoughtful review made against my work during the month, one extra copy of your name will go in the Hat of Wonder and Hope!

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