Flowers as Portraits   

Easter is about a month away and I expect a few readers will be getting flowers from someone or giving flowers to someone. Those flowers will be a great photo-opp.

A portrait photographer’s studio set-up usually includes a backdrop and lighting equipment. The lighting, from small, or large flash units, is controlled by an array of modifiers that can include reflectors, umbrellas and softboxes. And the backdrop is chosen not so much because it is a flat surface but because it is a background to flatter the subject seated in the foreground.

The lighting illuminates the subject and separates it from that background as well as creates depth and dimensional form.

When producing an outdoor portrait most experienced photographers will begin by placing their subject in front of a neutral background or sometimes erect a backdrop and use either flash, or reflectors, to control the light on their subject and create depth and interest.

However, if I asked those same photographers to make me a good picture of a plant they would likely just kneel down next to some pretty flower and snap the picture with little thought to background or lighting.

After years of doing just that to lazily document some plant that caught my eye, I decided that I wanted more from my images. I realized that it was the shapes and plant forms that drew me to gardens.

During my quest to make my plant and garden photos more than flat, lifeless documents, I discovered the flower photography of Robert Mapplethorpe. His portraits of flowers are always posed and include the kind of dynamic lighting one would expect in photographs of beautiful people. His spectacular and thoughtful compositions of flowers, like orchids and calla lilies, convey moods that to me reveal more with each viewing.

When I photograph people I try to be both creative and flattering with my lighting, remembering that a good portrait should have lasting power. I want future generations to see a portrait of their parent or grandparent and still like it. If one gets too edgy, or trendy, the portrait will not stand the test of time and be discarded when trends change.

I have come to think the same way about photographs of plants. Flowers, of course, are so much easier to photograph than people, especially potted plants. Select a good location, turn the pot until the pose looks good and add light. Plants don’t get tired, nervous or jittery. Maybe that’s why I like photographing flowers, they (almost) always cooperate.

Photographing a plant in the garden or in a pot should be more than quickly pointing a camera at that flower in a garden or a windowsill and releasing the shutter.

Put that boring iPhone away, and take the time to make it more than just a repetitive, unimaginative record. Don’t be in a rush; take time to develop a plan, don’t take the lighting for granted, work with it, and above all, be creative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which Button is for the Composition Mode?        

Pritchard store

Open Gates bw

Forest path

Canon Beach 2

Palouse falls 2

Which button is for the composition mode?     Yes, I did get asked that question the other day, but it is not as silly as it first sounds. I’ll go back to the conversation from which it comes.

A customer stopped by my shop wanting to get a different camera other than the one he had been using for over 20 years.

I was showing him a couple of cameras and explaining the different modes like “aperture priority”, “shutter priority”, “program” and “manual” when he made the statement, “All that seems a bit complicated, just show me which button is for the composition mode because mostly I like taking scenics”.

The other customer in the store stopped her browsing, turned, and just looked at me. I’m not sure if she was troubled by his statement, or also wanted to know about this secret button.

I replied, “Composition is what you do, not the camera, to position your subject within the viewfinder frame,” and added; “composition also deals with perspective and the relationship you create between subjects in the foreground and background.”

Does all that seem too complicated of an answer? I was making squares and rectangles with my hand and moving things around on the counter as I explained it hoping to make it clear to him. Now, however, let us go back to his question of the “composition button” and what he was trying to achieve with his camera. Remember his last camera was from the 1970’s. Even auto focus was new to him.

Cameras programmed since the 1980s are pretty capable of getting the exposure correct in all but the most contrasty lighting conditions. If he were to get serious now that he was about to get a DSLR he would be trying to discover how other successful photographers compose a scenic. Or he would be doing some reading, joining a camera club, or taking some classes that would teach him composition. My impression was that he just liked to take pictures and capture memories of the places he has been. So I think either the mode with the “little mountains” or with the “running person” on the dial of the camera I was showing him would give him exactly what he was looking for and we could, if we wanted to, call them composition modes.

The exposure mode I feel most comfortable with is manual and I am continually thumbing through the different menus on my camera to reset things. I make my living using a camera so I have a camera in my hand a lot of the time. I think each of us needs to use our cameras in ways that make us comfortable so we won’t happen to be confused and experimenting with the settings at that moment when the action happens in front of our camera.

I used to call that a “Kodak moment”. Hmmm, I think I need to find a new phrase now that I am no longer using Kodak films and that company has pretty much disappeared.

In any event, I recommended that he not worry too much about composition and experiment with the different modes his camera has to offer other than “P”. Hopefully he’ll stop by again and I can get him using his DSLR as more than just a point and shoot camera.

In closing this article that started with thoughts of composition, I particularly like this quote of Alexander Lee Nyerges of the Art Institute of Dayton, Ohio, when discussing an exhibition of Ansel Adams of the American West.

“His landscapes were operatic in composition, complete with lighting, tragedy and drama—luring those who viewed his works to seek Nature and capture the spirit of the wilderness.” I am certain Adams had a special button for composition.

The Lens – The Most Important Part of the Camera

Lenses

The Lens – The Most Important Part of the Camera

Ask any experienced photographer whether to buy a new camera or a new lens and the answer will usually be, “it’s all about the glass,” or, “a good lens is more important than a good camera.”

A bad lens on a good camera will still make poor images, but a good lens on a poor or average camera will most likely give the photographer good results.

I listened to several friends talking over coffee about reviews they had read about the latest camera offering from Canon. The discussion began with questions like, “why does a photographer that doesn’t shoot sports need a camera with 7 or 8 frames a second” and “I really don’t spend much time shooting in low light situations, so why would I spend extra money on a camera because it is capable of a high ISO.” However, as expected, it wasn’t long before the talk easily turned to an exchange of views on lenses. Remember, because after all, “it’s all about the glass.”

The conversation easily moved from a difference of opinion between those that preferred prime (fixed focal length) lenses, and those, like me, that chose multi-focal length (zoom) lenses. We talked about the importance of wide angle and, of course, wide aperture lenses.

Just because you can change the lens doesn’t mean you have to, but I don’t know many photographers that are that sensible. Mostly we are willing to change lenses as soon as we have extra cash in our pockets, more emotional and impulsive than sensible.

I know very few are content with the short zoom that came as a package with the camera any more than they are with the tires the manufacturer installed on their car. Yes, the lenses, just like the tires aren’t high quality, but that’s not my point. What I mean is that changing lenses is like changing the visual personality of the image, and most photographers I know are engaged in, what I’ll call, a search for a perspective that fits their personality and personal vision.

The camera might capture some subject’s personality, but the lens, in my opinion, says more about the photographer than the subject.

Several photographers standing on a picturesque hillside using the same camera and lens will probably produce much the same image, but give them each a different lens and the resulting images will be diverse, distinct, and individual.

Yes, it is all about the glass, and there is such a pleasing and very exciting diversity of lenses out there waiting for each photographer to choose, discard, and choose again as they explore and create within this stimulating medium of photography.

As I wrote those words I wondered if there were others that I could use that were more applicable than stimulating. I could have used, intoxicating, invigorating, or even compelling. They all fit and, I think, could apply to some of the feelings I could see and hear from those photographers lounging around my shop drinking warm coffee on a cold November day as they talked about the lenses they used and would like to use.

A new camera is a lot of fun, but it really is “all about the glass.

I appreciate any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Why You Should Be A Photographer

Accessory   Linda Photographer

picking the view

getting the shot

shooting Field patterns

I recently received an email from a friend that included a fun article titled, “54 Reasons Why You Should Be a Photographer.”

The author, Lauren Lim, began with, “Being a photographer is seriously awesome.” And continues, “I’ve compiled 54 really fantastic (reasons)…After you read all these reasons you’ll probably be even more inspired by this medium, and be itching to get out and shoot more.”     Reading that introduction intrigued me and, of course, I agreed with him when he wrote, “I think everyone should get into photography. You don’t ever have to do it professionally. That’s not what being a photographer means. Being a photographer just means you really love photography.”

The list of “54 reasons why you should be a photographer” didn’t really include 54 different reasons; it was pretty much made up of the same reason written over and over in different ways. However, I did select seven that I really liked and I think they are prefect as to why anyone should practice the art of photography.

1. “Capture a memory that you can have forever.”

2. “See the beauty (I’ll add the words, through you lens) every day.”

3. “It’s a creative outlet.”

4. “Share your perspective.”

5. “Express yourself.”

6. “Tell a story”

7. “Can make other people think.”

The exciting medium of photography began with inventors like Joseph Nicephore Niepce, when he succeeded in creating the first permanent image. Louis Daguerre with the “Daguerreotype” and Henry Fox Talbot’s “Calotype” that were instrumental in helping us with the first of that list, ““Capture a memory that you can have forever.”

There were the pioneers of photography like Ansel Adams, Galen Rowell and Eliot Porter that showed use how a photograph would help us, “See the beauty everyday.”

Jerry Uelsman, Duane Michals, Edward Seichen and Man Ray were among the first to split with traditional photographers and might even have said, “It’s a creative outlet.”

When I read the words, “Express yourself.” I immediately thought of the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe and Annie Leibovitz.

The last two about how photography can, “Tell a story.” and “Can make other people think.” Absolutely had me thinking about the wartime photography of Robert Mapplethorpe and Annie Leibovitz. and street photographer, Weegee.

I only mentioned those photographers that had a hand in the beginnings of photography and started us all thinking of the things we all might add to that list. And I am sure without hesitation readers can add pages of modern photographer’s names.

If you feel the urge, be sure to let me know if you have additions to “Why you should be a photographer”.

As for me I’ll just be content with Lim’s words, “Being a photographer is seriously awesome.” And “Being a photographer just means you really love photography.”

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

What Does “Composition” Mean?

Cat & Rule of Thirds  White horse in field  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Photography is not like painting. There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life offers itself to you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative.”    I included that quote by famous French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, because he used the word “composition”, and it is that word and how it is currently being used that I have been recently thinking about.

The word composition gets thrown around a lot when discussing photographs.  I’ll read forums where responses to posted images might say something like, “great capture, good composition,” or sometimes, something as meaningless as “I love your composition”.

I know the posters don’t actually mean composition as a photographic technique. I think it has just become an alternative word that means “picture”.  Modern photographers seem to hesitate referring to a photograph someone has posted to an online site as a picture. They want a more modern word, and I guess using the word “composition” instead of “picture” has become that word.

That came to mind, when a young photographer said to me, “I don’t really know a lot about photography, but what I do know is that I am really good at is composition.”  That was one of the few times I have been left speechless.

Photographic composition is defined as, “the selection and arrangement of subjects within the picture area.”  And unlike those who replace the word picture with the word composition, I use composition and compositional guidelines to help me enhance a photograph’s impact.

Photographers are limited by the actual physical appearance of the subjects they are photographing, and depend on camera position, the perspective created by different lense’s focal lengths, and the elements that make up a picture to communicate to viewer’s what they saw when they made the photograph.

I think about what is important and how I want to arrange my composition, and I consciously subtract those elements that I think are unimportant or distracting. When setting up a composition I usually think about and apply the ‘Rule of Thirds’ wherein we divide the image into nine equal segments with two vertical and two horizontal lines. The Rule of Thirds says that you should position the most important elements in your scene along these lines, or at the points where they intersect, and by doing so, adding balance and interest to one’s picture.

I looked up composition online where there are page after page of composition tips. I decided I’d add my own, “apple technique to proper picture making and composition”.  Here goes!

While driving along and finding an inspiring scene.   Don’t just point the camera out the car window!

1. Stop the car.

2. Get out.

3. Leave the camera in the camera bag.

4. Get an apple and eat it as one looks at the inspiring scene. Think about what is likeable about it, and make some choices as to how compose, or arrange, the features within the picture area you photographing.  Photographers should ask; what would someone like to say about the scene to the viewer?

5. Finally, go back to the car, get the camera, and make the picture.

Elliott Erwitt, American, documentary photographer wrote, “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

A photographer asked me, “What is a Good Photograph?”

A photographer asked , “What is a good photograph, and how do I take it?”  That was two good questions I received from a young photographer in my shop last week. The “how to” part was the easiest answer and I talked about taking some classes. However, the response to the first question wasn’t as simple an answer.  I suggested that a good photograph includes proper composition, exposure, and an interesting perspective, but that was, again all “how to” stuff. That question and the discussion that followed was so very much like what I wrote about in  post I made in September of last year, I wrote the following at that time and hope I won’t  bore those that already read it.

A good photograph is one that makes us have a connection with, or think about, the subject.  Or, it could help us understand what the photographer feels about that subject; and can, if successful, evoke some kind of mood, whether good or bad.

When I see a photograph that I like, because of my nature and because I have been studying photography and other photographers for years, I begin dissecting it and try to figure out how the photographer made it.  When the photograph is good I am aware that the photographer had an understanding of the equipment and the subject he or she used to make the picture.  However, I sometimes have to stop myself from doing all of that and just enjoy the photograph.

As I mused about the question of a good photograph I thought it might be of interest to include quotes from some of the great photographers.  On the subject of a great photograph Ansel Adams said, “A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.”  He continues,  “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”  And then he says, “Simply look with perceptive eyes at the world about you, and trust to your own reactions and convictions.  Ask yourself: “Does this subject move me to feel, think and dream? Can I visualize a print – my own personal statement of what I feel and want to convey – from the subject before me?” “

I also like his short quips,  “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”  And “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.”  Then he reminds us, “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.”

The famous photographer, Elliott Porter, maker of spectacular scenic colour images, commented, “You learn to see by practice.  It’s just like playing tennis; you get better the more you play. The more you look around at things, the more you see.  The more you photograph, the more you realize what can be photographed and what can’t be photographed.  You just have to keep doing it.”

Irving Penn, known for his editorial photographs in Vogue magazine, stated, “A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it.  It is, in a word, effective” and in a lighter mood he said, “Photographing a cake can be art.”

I read the words of these famous photographers and think how each one has inspired me to work harder at making photographs that go beyond just a documentary of a particular subject.  I do extend my knowledge with continual viewing of other photographer’s images, and by reading, taking classes and practice.

Do I Need Another Lens?

In my experience, any image can be altered (sometimes dramatically) when one changes lenses.  A subject can be isolated and the perspective in front of, and behind, the subject flattened with a telephoto lens; while landscapes in many cases look better with a wide-angle lens as the field of focus increases and the view around the subject widens.

I select my lenses depending on what I want to photograph and say about the subject. Because control over my image is important to me I question two items.  What am I photographing? And what result do I want?

For close up photography, one will be more successful with a macro lens that is designed to move in close to a subject than a mid range zoom that only focuses ‘sort of’ close, but is really designed for distance work.  For those wide expanse landscapes in the interior of British Columbia one may want a lens with wide-angle capabilities. For example, I might select my 18-70mm or 16-85mm as I search for a focal length that helps me include important features.

Last week I discussed lenses with a photographer who wants to get serious about photographing the abundance of wildlife here in the interior of British Columbia.  I suggested starting with a 70-300mm and then a longer telephoto in the future. Those lenses have a narrow angle of view, but plenty of magnification for wildlife photography.  Most of the 70-300mm lenses available today are lightweight and easily hand held. One can dig into their piggy bank and purchase some of the super telephotos like a 500 or 600mm, but until then moderately priced lenses like the 70-300mm should do.

There are interesting lenses like the 18-200mm that are just great. These multifocal length lenses are lightweight, and excellent for vacations or just walking around.   However, for serious enthusiasts there are wide aperture lenses with maximum apertures like f/2.8 that allow much more light in than lenses with f/3.5 or f/4 that are most common. These large aperture lenses give the user lots of light gathering capability and the ability to use higher shutter speeds for reducing camera shake, and help stop fast moving subjects.

To explain that, there is an optimum amount of light that reaches the camera’s sensor for a correct exposure. When the aperture is closed down it lets in less light and one must slow the shutter speed.  With large aperture lenses the shutter opening can be increased and let in a lot more light, therefore one has the ability to increase the shutter speed and still get a proper exposure.

All this also affects “depth of field”.  Depth of field is best defined as that area around the main subject, in front of and behind, that is acceptably sharp.  Photographers like to blur non-essential elements in the background by reducing the depth of field, and do that by increasing the size of the lens aperture.  In addition, letting in more light makes shooting in low light conditions less difficult.

So we get back to my earlier question:  Do I need another lens?  Even though I like the wide range focal length lenses like the 18-200mm for everyday use there are lots of other choices that will better help me visually say what I want when I make a picture.  A brief summary might be as follows; a macro for close-ups, a wide angle for landscapes, a telephoto for wildlife and, of course, some lenses with wide aperture for low light and for more control of depth of field.

Each year manufacturers introduce more lenses with different technology, which improves imaging capabilities, and naturally, increases the price.  Now you understand why one of the favourite sayings in photography is “it’s all about the glass” as I’ve explained to readers in this short discussion.  So, go ahead, check out the many offerings and ask yourself “Do I need another lens?”.

www.enmanscamera.com