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.

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.

 

 

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!

7 Non-Technical Tips for Improving Your Photography Right Now

By Jim Hamel

Seems like every time someone gives tips about improving photography, they start with something technical. That is understandable; there is a lot of technical stuff to learn in photography. At the same time, it seems like there should be some non-technical things that could be done today — right now — to improve.

Turns out, there are. Here are seven non-technical tips you can use right now to make your photographs better. Try them out next time you are photographing. I guarantee instant improvement in your outdoor photography.

1. Fill the frame

This cannot be overstated enough. We all tend to put some background elements in our picture so that our viewers will recognize the location or context of the picture. The trouble is, beginners always put way too much context in the picture and it dilutes the subject. In any event, we humans are amazingly perceptive and can place context of the photo with only the tiniest of clues.

Next time, try to include just the subject.

Dark, dramatic black-and-white photo of an old barn by James Hamel.

Keeping the exposure dark adds drama to this photo of an old barn. Photo by James Hamel

2. Make it darker

Different levels of exposure create different moods. This is especially true of underexposure. It creates a sense of drama and sometimes mystery. Another benefit of slightly underexposing your images is that it makes your colors appear more saturated. Don’t overdo it, but next time try to knock the exposure level down a touch.

3. Get close

A close cousin to the “fill the frame” tip (it bears repeating) is to get close to your subject. Now get closer. Now get closer still. You actually still might not be close enough. Keep at it.

Bird flying above Rock of Cashel. Photo by James Hamel

A nice photo of the Rock of Cashel made more interesting by a bird flying across the frame. Photo by James Hamel

4. Wait for action

So, you’ve got a great scene lined up. Maybe it is a landscape, maybe an urban scene. Go ahead and take the shot, but then recognize that you probably just got the same shot as
everyone else.

The scene isn’t going anywhere. Wait for an interesting development. That might be a person walking through the scene. It might be a flock of birds. It can be anything, so keep your eyes open. That extra something can be the thing that sets your picture apart from countless pictures of the same thing.

You don’t need to wait around all day, but another minute or two might make all the
difference.

Tree branches frame a windmill at sunset. Color photo by James Hamel.

Using tree branches to frame in two sides of a photo of a windmill at sunset. Photo by James Hamel

5. Frame the subject

Oftentimes you will find yourself before an interesting subject, but with no interesting
background. A great solution to this problem is to use a frame within your frame. It can be a complete frame, or a partial. The most obvious examples are doorways, windows, and tree branches, but almost anything can be used.

6. Fortify yourself

Right before you go out to take pictures, look at the best photography you can find. If you don’t already have your favorite place(s), start with the Popular page at 500px. Doing this right before you head out seems to always lead to better pictures being taken.

I know you don’t believe me, but it makes a BIG difference. Try it and your will be a believer.

7. Take multiple exposures

Don’t just take one picture and walk off, assuming you’ve nailed it. Take pictures from
different angles. Get low, then get higher. Get behind your subject and then in front of it.
Pros call this “working the scene” and it is not uncommon for them to take dozens of pictures of the same thing from slightly different perspectives.

Remember that with digital photography it costs nothing to take pictures — so take advantage of this and take a lot of them.

Do it today

These are all tips you can put into action today. You don’t need any special equipment.
The total cost of all extra gear needed to put these tips into action is $0. So give them a try and you should see immediate improvement.

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 (with three more tips) and even more images.

Photography on the Go

Ballard Locks photo by Mangesh Sangapu

Ballard Locks – before

By Mangesh Sangapu

On a recent trip, I challenged myself to take, edit, and post my photography while still on the trip!

Normally, my editing process does not begin until I reach home. However, our toddlers require naps, and this turned out to be great for my photography workflow. During the downtime, I went through my camera to screen, transfer, edit, and share the photos.

Ballard Locks photo by Mangesh Sangapu

I tweaked this image using several features: brush, white balance, color adjustment, highlights, and shadows.

After we returned home, I went through my normal workflow and found only two additional photos needing edits. While my process is not unique, I wanted to share in case it may be of help to someone else.

Getting connected

Transferring the photos from a camera to a mobile device can be done in numerous ways. Some options are: OTG card reader, Wi-Fi, and USB direct connection.

OTG card reader

OTG card reader

The OTG card reader and USB direct connection require an additional hardware component in order to use.

For simplicity, I am a proponent of Wi-Fi. It’s one less item to carry and maintain. However, these are all good ways to transfer, and your workflow should include whichever one works well with you.

Editing Apps

Snapseed Tools Menu

Snapseed Tools Menu

Editing the photos can be done via mobile apps such as Photoshop, Snapseed, and others. For my workflow, I mainly use Snapseed, which is available for both iOS and Android.

Snapseed users can edit photos using swiping gestures. Users can edit history and revert to any prior actions. It has multiple filters and special effects like drama, grunge, vintage, center-focus, frames, tilt-shift (which resizes photos), lens blur, glamour glow, HDR scape, and noir. The interface is simple and easy to use.

Sharing the photos

If you can transfer and edit the photos on your mobile device, then sharing the photos should be a cinch!

highrise building photo by Mangesh SangapuThere are many popular sites today for sharing your photography! I say do it with a group of people who are as passionate about photography as you are.

Snapseed users can directly share the images on social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram. Text/email attachments and uploading to the cloud are also great options.

highrise building photo by Mangesh Sangapu

For this transformation, I used rotation, highlights, shadows, and an image filter.

Final thoughts

Next time you are on a trip, see if you are up for the challenge. Transfer, edit, and share your photography on the go! See how it compares to your current workflow. It might be something you find yourself incorporating more often than you think.

Thirsty Hummingbird photo by Mangesh Sangapu

Thirsty Hummingbird

hummingbird photo by Mangesh Sangapu

To get this image from the one above, I used a phone app to crop tighter and adjust the white balance, highlights, and shadows.

Happy photographing!

Mangesh Sangapu is the creator of OpenFilmmaker.com, where he blogs about photography and film.

Are you fluent in photography?

By Darren Wiedman

photo of dragon fly

1st Grade – Shot from eye level with a busy background, but at least the bug is in focus. Composition needs some work.

“To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.”
~ Emily Dickenson

We are all too old to remember if it was difficult to learn our mother tongue. But we can all probably agree that mastering a second language is much harder, especially if your mind is no longer as spongy as a two year old’s.

In many ways, learning a new language is a lot like learning a new skill, such as photography. It’s very exciting at first as you master a few essentials, like how to turn the camera on [Hola] and how to press the shutter-release button [Muy bien]. Before long, you can actually take a picture, download it to your computer, crop it, and post it online. [La fotografía es muy fácil.]

Since I just had to look up that sentence on Google Translate, this is where the Spanish ends. But the metaphor still works in English. Spend just a few weeks with a camera, and you’ve got the basics down. Congratulations! You have the vocabulary of a 1st grader. [See Spot run.] But as you learn more, the quality of what you can create grows exponentially.

Photo of a dragon fly

3rd Grade – Perhaps a fresher look at the standard dragonfly shot but maybe too far away. Nice light on the subject.

So, as a photographer, what grade are you in? Do you have a basic understanding of composition, the exposure triangle, histograms, focal length, white balance, and flash? Do you have to consciously think about the rule of thirds, or does the most interesting part of your subject automatically land in the right spot while you shoot? Is your camera always horizontal and at eye-level, or are you letting the subject itself influence the way you capture the image?

A beginner may walk through a field, see a daisy, point the camera, shoot in Auto mode, and move on. [Title: “Flower”]

A more advanced photographer may see the same daisy, hover around it to find a simple background, wait for a butterfly to land, and shoot repeatedly until the wings catch the sunlight just right. [Title: “Monarch dancing on a daisy”].

Photo of dragonfly on grass.

5th Grade – Typical point of view but the clean background helps draw the eye to the subject. More post-processing now being used (to clean up the branches).

The veteran photographer is only in the field because she knows daisies are blooming this time of year and the best light begins at 7:30 p.m. She brought her tripod and a macro lens because she wants to fill the frame with the center of the daisy and the body of a bee. She’s using a small aperture to be sure the flower and bee stay in focus. She knows she has to shoot at 1/500 of a second because she wants the bee sharp but the wings blurred. And she plans on capturing several  hundred shots like this in case she decides to do a composite image of a bouquet of different flowers and insects. And most of this is done intuitively. [Title? See Emily Dickenson poem above.]

orange dragonfly

“Hangin’ Around” by Jeanne Crockett

So how do we become fluent? We go to school (or at least online). We continue to learn. We listen to people who are better than us. We practice. We shoot, and shoot, and shoot, and our photographs gradually evolve from stilted sentences to pleasant poetry that others want to admire again and again.

See ya in class on June 24!

Transform Your Landscape Photos

2019-may-jim-hamel-landscape-2

One Compositional Technique to Transform Your Landscape Photos

By Jim Hamel

Turning the corner from taking snapshots to actually composing photographs is a hard thing to do.

Landscape image of mushrooms and red barn by Jim Hamel

Landscape image by Jim Hamel

It doesn’t come naturally, and it takes experience. There is no one hard and fast rule. You can get caught up in looking for various shapes, patterns, leading lines, and other compositional elements until your head is spinning.

To avoid all of this, I want to share one concrete technique to use when you are out shooting landscape photos. It is one way to go about setting up your shot that will give you a path to successful composition. Of course, it isn’t the only way to set up your shot, and you won’t use this all the time, but it is great for helping when you are stuck.

And the tip is …

… the next time you are out shooting in a scenic location, just put on your widest angle lens and get right behind something on the ground to take the shot. I mean right behind it. That something on the ground can be anything from a flower, to a rock, to a pattern in the sand. It does not matter. What matters is that you are down on your knees with your wide-angle lens right behind it.

Why it works

Landscape image by Jim Hamel

Landscape image by Jim Hamel

The wide-angle lens will give the foreground object an exaggerated sense of proportion, but it will also pick up the background. By getting right behind something, you are adding a subject to your picture. You are creating a center of interest. You are going beyond just showing the general scenery. The background will still be in your picture as well; you just do not need to focus on that.

Another benefit is that it gives the viewer a sense that they can walk into the picture. It is providing a real foreground, that adds depth and interest to your photo.

What typifies a snapshot is standing at eye level, trying to capture the entire scene before you. For many of us when we are just starting with photography, that just intuitively seems like the way to take pictures. We want to capture the whole scene and not have it blocked by something on the ground immediately in front of us. The problem is that there is no foreground, subject, or center of interest to speak of. In addition, you are presenting the world in the exact same way as the viewer is used to seeing it, which is bound to be rather boring to them.

Putting the tip into action

Landscape image by Jim Hamel

Landscape image by Jim Hamel

How you determine what items on the ground will work as your foreground elements? That is the hard part. There is no right answer. You will just have to look. In fact, it will not be obvious even when you are out in the field looking around. There are times when you might have to walk around while looking at the LCD in live-view mode or with the viewfinder to your face to find something on the ground to use as a foreground.

Here are some examples of things you can use as foregrounds in different contexts:

  • When photographing water, use a reflection in the water.
  • When at the beach or desert, find a pattern in the sand.
  • When photographing creeks or coasts, use rocks.
  • At midday, use shadows.
  • In the fall, use leaves.

There are obviously a variety of subjects you can use. Go out and try it next time you are shooting.

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.