Smoke Dancer: The Story Behind the Photo

By Lynne Rogers Harris

Smoke Dancer, a black-and-white photo by Lynne Rogers Harris

Smoke Dancer by Lynne Rogers Harris (f/8, 1/125, ISO 100)

I had been wanting to try my hand at shooting smoke as I had seen some really cool images. So, I bought some incense sticks, set up my black backdrop, used two flashes pointed at the smoke from the sides, and started shooting.

I learned quickly that too much of the flash was hitting the background but my setup just didn’t allow me any other options.

At any rate, I pulled the image into Photoshop and played a little and still wasn’t very happy with the result. I then “inverted” the colors and voila. Suddenly, to my eyes,
I saw a sketch of a dancer and fell in love with it. I hope you can see the dancer, too.

How to Maximize Attraction to Your Photos

By Jim Hamel

We all have trouble evaluating our own work as others will see it. As we sit at our computers, we get to the point where we cannot see the forest for the trees. Not only that, but if we do manage to decide what will attract someone’s eye, we need to decide what to do about it.

In this article I want to give you some steps you can take to better evaluate how others will see your photos and some things you can do to attract their eyes to the right places.

Texture and patterns of clouds above tree in landscape. Photo by Jim Hamel

The simplicity of this photo attracts the initial attention; the texture and patterns of the clouds hold the attention a bit longer. Photo by Jim Hamel

1. You Have a Split Second to Impress

It is amazing how fast we make decisions about photographs. It literally happens in a split-second. As photographers, we need to understand that we only have that fraction of a second to impress the viewer. That is especially true when we face a screen full of thumbnails.

One of the reasons photographers are always preaching about “simplicity” in photos is the importance of catching someone’s eye immediately. A busy photo just will not look good in the initial glance. A simple photo will maximize attraction.

This tendency is not only true of thumbnails on a computer screen, but prints as well. There have been studies that measured the entry and exit times of people in photography exhibitions. The average time spent per photo was about 10 seconds. And that was for masterpieces in a museum that people drove to go see. If people don’t linger over masterpieces, imagine the time they are going to give your photo.

So you need to consider that split second decision in your own work. How? One way is to force yourself to look at your photograph for just a split second. Turn away from your screen. Now turn to look at it and allow yourself to register it very quickly. What is your first impression?

Another way is to leave the picture up on your monitor and walk away for a second. Turn around and view it from across the room. Or go into the kitchen to refill your coffee, and then register the first thing you think when you walk back in the room and see the photo.

These will help you take a “fresh look” at that photo you have been editing.

2. Consider the Route of the Eyes

Once you’ve got someone to give your photo more than the split-second initial look, you’ve got to consider what you want their eyes to do next. This is why leading lines and other compositional elements are so important.

Take a look at photos you love and consider how your eye moves around the frame. Do you gravitate toward certain movements? People differ, but I have personally found that many of my favorite photos start with the center of interest in the lower left quadrant and move in a counter-clockwise rotation from there.

dock rope lines to ship photo by Jim Hamel

The dock-lines provide physical leading-lines into the heart of the picture. Photo by Jim Hamel

Once you determine how you want the eye to move around your picture, how do you do that? The primary way is through brightness and darkness. Our eyes are attracted to brightness, so make the path a little lighter, or make other parts a little darker.

The eye is also attracted by sharpness and contrast. You can add selective contrast and/or sharpening to parts of your picture to guide the eyes of the viewer. You can also add a slight blur to unimportant parts.

3. Reward the Viewer

Once you have held the viewer’s attention for a second or two, you need to reward them for hanging around. That is in the details.

Frankly, this is what we spend most of our time on already. We make sure the textures are just right. We shade things a touch. We worry about color hues and saturation. Just keep doing what you are doing here.

4. View Per the Format

Next, you need to consider how your viewer will see your photo. For example, will your photo be one of many thumbnails that the viewer will be looking at on Flickr or 500px? Or will it be an enormous print? Or maybe something in between?

The size often matters to how your photo is registered. Some pictures are striking as thumbnails, but when you get them on your screen you are unimpressed. Other photos look great blown up, but cannot get a second look as a small thumbnail.

Also, consider that many displays will force a crop on you. The thumbnails on 500px, which is how most users of that site will see of your photo, will not allow for long or tall photos. Instagram actually forces your photo into a square format. So consider how the picture will ultimately be seen before it gets there.

5. Let It Hang Around

We live in an era of instant gratification. If we’ve got a good photo, we want it up right now for all to see.

Many times, if you immediately publish a photo to your website or social media, you will later wish you hadn’t. You will see things you wish you had done differently. We always seem to go too far with an edit or not far enough with something, on the first try.

If you leave a photo hanging around for a few days, you will often go back and make some changes. So give yourself some time with your photo. If possible, print it out and leave it laying around or hanging up for a few days. Note the things you’d like to see done  differently. Then go make the changes. Now you’ve got a final version ready for viewing.

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel is not just a great photographer, writer, and teacher, he’s also one of our very own TAPC members. Check out his free photography guides and tutorials at Outdoor Photo Academy. You can also see this original unedited article and even more images at Digital Photography School.

Time to Reflect: The Story Behind the Photo

By Terry Barnes

"Time to Reflect' sunset photograph of the National Memorial on the Murrah Federal Building site in Oklahoma City by Terry Barnes.

Time to Reflect by Terry Barnes (1/320, f/10, ISO 100)

This spring I learned the PhotoPills app can calculate the dates and times when the sun will be exactly centered down the east-west streets in New York City. I wondered if it could be done in Oklahoma City, specifically at the National Memorial.

The Memorial is located at the site of the former Murrah Federal Building. There is a block-long reflecting pool with “portals” on each end about 10-feet wide by 25- to 30-feet tall. I wanted to center myself on the east end of the pool and have the setting sun centered through the west portal with a reflection on the water.

PhotoPills gave me two possible evenings in September, so I entered the dates into my calendar and waited four months. On September 16, the clouds obstructed the sun, so I
only got a few planning shots.

I returned the next evening to a perfect sky. I set my camera to take a shot every 15 seconds, starting about 10 minutes prior to the “PhotoPills time” and continuing until the sun had crossed the portal. This picture was time stamped within a minute of the time the PhotoPills app had provided. What a smart app!

Fast Food Photo Tips

Food photo by Brooke Lark on unsplash.com

Food photo by Brooke Lark on unsplash.com

Here’s some sage advice for this month’s photo competition entrants, who in true Procrastinator’s Delight style may be waiting until the last minute to shoot the subject — food.

Composition is king in food photography. Give careful consideration to the angle of the shot, the direction of the light, and the placement of the props. Keep reading for a little more on each.

Pick a Side

Several factors determine the best angle to shoot from. If your subject has a lot of horizontal layers, like a cupcake, you’ll  want to showcase that by shooting from the side. A straight down perspective can emphasize the shapes of plates and cutlery, and also eliminate a distracting background. Shooting more diagonally can give you the best of both worlds.

Consider the Light

Usually, the most dramatic food shots appear to have one light source, often on the side of or slightly behind the subject. There may be other lights involved to reduce or soften unwanted shadows, but this can often be handled by deflecting, diffusing, or blocking the light. Some photographers love the feel of natural light, but others like the control of artificial sources.

Raspberry cake photo by Anna Tuthfatullina on unsplash.com

Raspberry cake photo by Anna Tuthfatullina on unsplash.com

Choose Props Wisely

A successful shot has several ingredients, including added props. These can help draw the eye to the main subject, but can also distract if not done well. Select items that complement the colors of the food, including the background or table. When shooting from the side, try putting props in the foreground and background to help tell a story, but use depth of field to soften the focus while keeping the main subject sharp.

Shake It Up

Much of these guidelines pertain to traditional food photos. Your best results may come from tweaking the recipe.

 

 

St. Olaf Stars: The Story Behind the Photo

By Bill Webb

Circular star trails behind St. Olaf Church; photo by Bill Webb

St. Olaf Stars by Bill Webb

This star trails image is a composite of 125 images taken using an intervalometer to trigger the camera every 16 seconds. The individual image exposures were 15 seconds long at f/2.8, ISO 1600, using a 14mm ultra-wide-angle lens. I positioned my camera to place the polar (North) star above the steeple.

Capturing the photos took about 30 minutes. In Photoshop I stacked the images to create the trails.

The light on the cemetery markers is caused by another photographer who turned on his car lights (a REAL no-no) while I was doing this. I have another version of this image that eliminated the lights (they were on for just two frames), but I kinda liked this one.

The location is St. Olaf Kirke (The Old Rock Church) in Cranfills Gap, Texas. Gates into the property are locked so you can’t just drive in.

9 Lessons to Sharpen Your Photography Skills

Back to School!

Chalkboard with cursive text, "Back to School" and piece of chalk. Photo by Deleece Cook from unsplash.com

Photo by Deleece Cook from unsplash.com

’Tis the season to start learning a few new things or to remember something you’ve forgotten. Here are nine basic lessons that may help sharpen your skills.

1. Get It Right In-Camera

Sure, you can fix a lot of mistakes in Photoshop, but getting the best shot possible will save you a lot of time and ultimately make you a better shooter.

Learn how to use your histogram, so you’re not blowing out highlights. Move your camera (and your body) to eliminate distracting objects or bright spots.

2. Have a Point

What moved you to take the photo? The light? An interesting face? A majestic landscape?  Be sure that translates to the final image.

Try to remove all elements that take away from the story you’re telling. Be sure the main subject is the sharpest part of the image. Use basic rules of composition to draw the viewer’s eye to it.

3. Fight the Fuzzy

Photos that lack sharpness can be caused by a variety of issues, including:

  • slow shutter speed
  • camera shake
  • low light
  • camera focus setting

That’s too much to cover here, but a quick web search will point you to articles on how to fix this.

A good rule of thumb is to set your shutter speed to 1/ focal length. For example, if you’re shooting with a 200mm lens, your shutter speed should be 1/200 or faster. But some recommend doubling that to 1/400.

4. Go Easy on the Processing

Unless you’re going for a dramatic, over-processed look, ease up on the post production. Yes, adjusting the contrast, color, and sharpness can improve your images, but it’s easy to overdo this and make your shots seem a little off.

5. Don’t Be a Chimp

Back in the day, you had to wait for your film to develop before you knew if your settings were correct. Digital photography offers instant results. So, yes, check the back of your camera (including the histogram) to be sure you’re getting what you want. However, it’s really easy to use this as a crutch and check every shot. That’s a great way to miss some beautiful moments.

This so common, there’s even a name for it (chimping). Check periodically, especially if the light is changing, but keep your eyes up most of the time.

6. Have an Angle

Looking up at the Statue of Liberty from the bottom of the building pedestal. Photo by Juan Manuel Aguilar from unsplash.com

Photo by Juan Manuel Aguilar from unsplash.com

Smartphones have made it really easy to take a picture. Most are taken at eye level because that’s how most people see the world. When you find something to photograph, spend a little time looking for an intriguing perspective.

  • Get low.
  • Shoot up.
  • Shoot down on it.
  • Find a way to frame the subject.
  • Do something to make your image unique.
Climber sitting on high ledge. Photo by Steve Halama from unsplash.com

Photo by Steve Halama from unsplash.com

 

7. Think in 2D

In our three-dimensional world, that lamp post may be 35 yards behind your subject. In a 2D photo, the post will look like it’s growing out of his head.

Remember to search for distracting elements in the foreground and background while you’re setting up the shot and change something to eliminate them.

8. Start at Square One

It’s a good idea to check your camera before you start shooting to make sure your settings are appropriate.

Perhaps you’re going to the zoo and the last time you used the camera, you were shooting star trails. That first shot of the leaping lion gets completely blown out because you’re in Manual and the ISO is still set on a million.

For this same reason, it’s also a great habit to reset your camera at the end of every shoot.

9. Experiment

Most of these points were elementary, but this one applies to everyone. The comfort zone is overcrowded. Get out of it periodically. Learn a new technique. Shoot a new subject. Do something that makes you nervous. Your future self will thank you!

Fuzzy Dice II: The Story Behind the Photo

By Darren Wiedman

Black-and-white photo of dice dancing on glass table top. Photo by Darren Wiedman

Fuzzy Dice II by Darren Wiedman

This shot was one of about three hundred that I took for our “Motion” competition many months ago.

One Saturday afternoon, to my wife’s delight, I spent several hours dropping dice on a glass table with my right hand while simultaneously pressing the shutter release cable with my left.

It took a while to get the lighting right and not have odd reflections on the glass. Timing was also a huge issue. I was trying to capture the dice in a way where some were still falling and others were bouncing back off the glass. But the dice would often ricochet out of the shot.

I included the wall in the background to give a sense of depth, but later I realized that the harsh line was a bit distracting. But it did help if one of the dice was crossing the line. That issue eliminated a lot of otherwise good images.

I wanted to give a sense of motion while still having the dice remain sharp, so I “dragged the shutter.” This is done by using a flash to freeze part of the action, while keeping the shutter open long enough to capture more of the subject with ambient light.

This was a lot of fun, and I could’ve done it much longer. But I ran out of daylight, and my wife ran out of patience.

Fuzzy Dice II by Darren Wiedman (f/4.5, 1/80, ISO 400, 78mm)