Composing a photograph includes eliminating the irrelevant   

 

 

 

 

Years ago the Hasselblad camera company published a series of photography pamphlets. While I had my Hasselblad I collected and studied the information contained in them.

Recently I thumbed through one titled “The Eye, The Camera, The Image”.  Although meant for medium format film cameras it’s filled with information that is still appropriate for digital camera users.

I skimmed over topics like Using the focusing hood magnifier, Colour film and colour balance, Types of exposure measurement, Double exposure and Polaroid film, all are interesting reads if one is concerned with photographic history, however, not practical or useful for those searching to be a better photographer in our modern digital age.

However the topic, “We see far to much” caught my attention and it said,

“The eye is our organ of sight. It’s lens has a focal length of about 17mm and covers a 150-degree vertical and 120 degree horizontal field; the binocular vision provided by our two eyes gives a 180-degree angular field. We seldom have any need for images encompassing so wide a field. The wealth of detail in such a field would be rendered small and insignificant when reduced to images formed in a camera when composing a photograph outdoors or elsewhere. We always need to crop our field of view.”

In my experience, most successful photographers want to “tighten up” on their composition, by that; I mean they only include those elements that add to the visual discussion of a photograph. Beginners are apt to aim with only the excitement of their subject in mind and don’t pay attention to other additional features captured by the sensor.

Photographers printing or posting their photos are surprised when they look and find a picture filled with irrelevant and disruptive items they wished they hadn’t included.

Hasselblad continues, “This elimination of irrelevance is vital. The trick often involves excluding most of what you see. Making a selection is a basic feature of all art, whether it is painting, drawing or photography. Art consists of picking out the most interesting, most illustrative, most instructive, the loveliest or most emotional components among a myriad of components in a subject.”

Photographers should train themselves to be specific with a subject, only showing the viewer what is important. How do we slow down to do this in an age of auto focus, auto aperture and rapid-fire shutter release? I have an easy answer – get a good tripod!

I know many photographers have never owned or used a tripod and some have only experienced rickety, inexpensive models. Using a sturdy, well-made tripod makes one slow down and pay attention to the subject in the viewfinder or LCD. In addition, the process of setting up the tripod and attaching a camera gives photographers time to think about composition.

I agree with Hasselblad’s contention that “we see far to much” and need to eliminate irrelevant items in our photos.

When an interesting subject is seen, stop the car and get out. Don’t be lazy and merely hunker down against the window to take the shot. Get that sturdy tripod out of the trunk; and as you do that think about, or “previsualize”, the photograph about to be made.

Set up the tripod, attach the camera and look through the viewfinder. I suggest making several shots starting from a narrow, limited view and zooming the lens out to a wide-angle view. That way there will be several choices for that picture.

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To sum up, eliminate those elements inconsequential to the picture and compose for only those items important to the final photograph, not by looking at the subject and snapping away in a hurried fashion to include everything seen in the viewfinder, and take my advice, use a tripod.

Photographing the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train 

A couple weeks ago I wrote about how much I like Christmas lights.

Well, the Christmas holiday season isn’t over yet and to prove it I got a chance to set my tripod up on the cold, winter’s river beach a few minutes down the hill from my home to photograph Canadian Pacific Railroad’s Holiday Train.

CP Rail’s website says, “The CP Holiday Train program launched in 1999 and has since raised more than $13 million and four million pounds of food for communities along CP’s routes in Canada and the United States…. The holiday season is the best time of the year, and we look forward to bringing together thousands of Canadians and Americans this season for this incredibly important cause and a great time.”

As I have in past years, I positioned myself on the beach across the river so I could get a wide shot of the brightly lighted train passing on the opposite side with the dark hills and forest behind.

I arrived an hour in advance while there was still plenty of light and made a few test shots. The schedule put the train at our location a bit after 4PM, just as the sun was going down. The time was about right for my preference of shooting just while there is still that cool, blue light illuminating the sky and I have enough light in my photograph to define the train from its surroundings.

I set my camera at ISO 3200. That allowed me to keep my aperture at f/5.6 for plenty of depth-of -field. I was a bit under exposed, but a stop or two really didn’t bother that kind of low light image. After all, the train’s lights were very bright.

As with past years there was a strong, cold wind blowing down river. In past years it was colder and I had bundled in the car drinking hot chocolate till the train arrived, but this year was warmer and I just stood there enjoying watching my neighbours children running around on the beach. When the train finally arrived the three year old boy and I both yelled, “The Christmas Train” I am sure his mother, shivering in the cold wind, just shook her head thinking, “Boys”.

A young fellow purchased a 1980s film camera from my shop today and we talked for some time about how interesting prints made from film are. He was really thrilled to begin capturing the world around him with film.

As I selected the images that I had edited and worked over using several computer programs for this article I thought of that young photographer and the journey he is beginning with film.

I am sure he will have fun, but the photographs I made of the Holiday train would have been beyond the ability of most popular films he will find at local outlets, and I had the unfair advantage of computer programs with which I could squeeze every bit of data there was in the digital file I made.

Photographing the Holiday train was fun and I am always surprised that there aren’t carloads of photographers joining me on the beach when the train comes by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wells Gray Provincial Park. 

 

The morning news said to expect snow, overcast days and cold weather. So I decided I had better take a last visit Wells Gray Provincial Park with out the snow. I had been lazily putting off spending a day in that scenic park. Gosh, it’s only a two and a half hour drive to get there, and I am not that busy, so I couldn’t come up with an excuse not to throw my camera gear in the car and make the drive.

I first visited Wells Gray back in 1971. A friend and I had driven up the east coast of the US into Canada, traveled around Cape Breton, and then had a leisurely drove across Canada to Kamloops, British Columbia. Someone we met in Kamloops suggested Wells Gray Park.

I remember driving along the rough, rutted dirt road into the park and marvelling at the quiet wilderness encroaching from both sides. Until the road became blocked by many stern looking women carrying placards and standing by a big sign demanding that the road should be paved.  When we stopped someone thrust a petition through the window, while telling how the school bus had driven off the dangerous road we were on, and required our signatures. I am sure they saw the California plates on the front of our 60s Ford Econoline van, but they didn’t seem to care so we quickly signed their petition and were allowed to carry on.

I smiled remembering that as I drove on the pleasant road that had been freshly paved, yet again, and slowed down to look at the Black Horse Saloon and guest cabins that now sits where those women were. I guess they got their way!

The park was empty. There were no cars or tourist filled busses on the roadside. Gosh, I felt special.

I have my favourite stops for when I don’t feel like hiking. There is an old abandoned building on the way into the park that I have been photographing for years. I am always surprised to see it still standing.

My second stop is to climb under the bridge that crosses the Murtle River. Going under the bridge gives a better location to photograph the “Mushbowl” and the large smooth rock surface is filled with big, round, deep holes. It’s a fun place to wander.

Then I made a fast drive to Helmcken Falls. Not so much because I really was in a hurry to get there, but because I had finished three cups of coffee and really needed to get to an outhouse. I got there and rushed to the privy only to find that the door had been unceremoniously pried open and the toilet paper had been shredded off it’s wall hanger. My friend Jo had mentioned that I should watch for bears, but if she does ask me I’ll just tell her that I am sure a large squirrel ripped up the toilet paper and the door was off its hinges because someone else (with long fingernails) that also too much coffee must have been in a hurry.

Helmcken fall was, as usual, in the shadow, but there was a nice fog and the sky had some clouds. Not that bad for photography. I like to wander away from the viewing platform, down past the end of the security fence, and just past the sign that warns hikers that they can fall over the edge of the canyon. That’s best because there is no fence to block my view.

Then it’s only a short drive to my favourite place, Bailey’s Chute. As with the bridge, I climb down under the viewing platform.   My final spot is to park beside Shadow Lake. I like Shadow Lake because sometimes one can see a snow capped mountain to photograph in the distance.

Usually it’s hard to find and empty table at the end of Clearwater Lake to eat lunch at, but the park was empty.

My day couldn’t have been better. Although I have photographed that scenic park many times in the last forty plus years, I always enjoy the drive and the photography. And I am sure I have a good ten or maybe more years left in these old bones to be back photographing that park many, many more times.

 

 

Selecting a Tripod

 

Tripod & Hat        In his book, “Backcountry Journal, Reminiscences of a Wilderness Photographer”   Dave Bohn writes, “The trouble with photographers, and anyone else attempting anything creative, and in fact doing anything, is that they get addicted…(and)…I was addicted to the tripod as a necessity for the photography of large landscapes.”

I remembered (and liked) that quote from an article I wrote in October 2013 and thought I should post it again. I can’t say that I am addicted like Mr. Bohn, but I, too, really enjoy using a tripod when I shoot landscapes.

I reread my 2013 article on tripods and decided to repost some of my discussion after talking with a friend about tripods. He is planning on getting a new one as a gift for his wife, and we were discussing what might be the best for her.

When I select a tripod I want one that extends above my head so I can use it on hills. I don’t like bending over to peer through my camera’s viewfinder. I also prefer tripod legs that can be extended out horizontally when the ground is uneven.

I don’t want a crank to raise the center column as that is just added weight, and becomes one more thing to get caught on things. I like a column lock that turns to lock and unlock so I can easily adjust it up or down.

An important feature on the tripod I select is a strong and easily available quick release on the tripod head. The tripod head is another subject completely and my advice is get one that has a reasonable size ball surface and that is lightweight.

A tripod shouldn’t be so heavy that it’s a bother to carry. Nevertheless, it must be sturdy and capable of supporting my camera without shaking. I am always amazed when a photographer uses a cheap, little tripod to hold their camera and lens that are worth well over the thousand dollars plus mark.

I am pragmatic in my approach to photography. Sometimes the conditions are fine for just pointing and shooting, but if I really care about the picture I know I will have better success getting a quality enlargement if I return to the car and get my tripod. That’s just good sense.

I know there are many modern photographers are of the belief that the difference between a blurry and a sharp enlargement is megapixels or vibration reduction features. I can’t disagree with that altogether, but I do think a good, stable tripod is just as important and in some cases more.

Using a good tripod that allows one to stand up straight, take time to analyze the scene, problem solve, compose, and contemplate is an excellent experience. In addition, it keeps the camera from moving.

I suggest buying from people that have used, or at least can discuss, the tripods they sell.  The department stores will allow you to bring it back if you aren’t satisfied, but I am sure they are not interested in paying for the damages to your camera and lens that crashed to the ground while using their bargain tripod.

In recent years more and more quality tripods have become available and are worth owning and using. All one needs to do is spend some time researching and checking reviews.

Photographers spend lots of effort selecting that DSLR and lenses for each purpose they want to use it for. My advice is to take the same amount of effort with that purchase a really good tripod.

 

 

Christmas Lights are Here Again         

Street Lights

PalmTree Decor

Tree of Hope

Xmas bear

SKating rink

Beach walk

December is upon us again and the visual presentation of bright, festive lights has begun. Yes, the Christmas holidays are coming. The bright colours, the gaudy decorations, the sentimental music, the silly TV programs, and, for me especially, the Christmas lights in the city.

This past week my wife and I had to journey for a late afternoon meeting to Kelowna, which is two hours south from our home, however, that winding country road can be treacherous on dark, snowy nights and so we decided to stay overnight in Kelowna.

For some that means dinner out and just waiting the night out in a motel, but for me it’s an opportunity to have fun experimenting and photographing the season’s sparkling lights. In anticipation I had packed my camera with a 24-70mm lens and, of course, my tripod.

My preference for evening photography is to select a location before it gets dark, and to begin shooting when the lights are first turned on, when there is still some light in the sky, yet dark enough for the lights to be bright. However, our meeting lasted until after dark and I had lost the light.

I have been fascinated by Christmas lights since before I picked up my first camera, and remember family outings this time of year when my parents would pack us up in the old 1954 Ford station wagon for after dark drives along the high roads above the Salt Lake City valley. We would drink chocolate milk and look down on the colourful city lights. At that time my father was in charge of the awkward, accordion-like Kodak camera, that I doubt ever used anything but black and white film.

In spite of the late hour we drove by the downtown Kelowna lakeshore past the Yacht Club. I was sure the city would have lights along the sidewalk and hoped that some of the boats might be lit up. I had also heard that a public skating rink was opening and I wanted to experiment with a slow shutterspeed.

During the time when ISO ratings were limited, photographers who shot after dark ended up exposing for only the lights, and the resulting photographs would show lots of colours, but didn’t say anything about the location, or environment. Nowadays most modern cameras have no trouble with ISO 800 or 1600, with some even 3200, and don’t show the random speckles, which indicate degraded image quality.

Making some test shots I quickly found that the city lights were bright enough to allow me to use ISO 800. I also tried 1600, but I lost Christmas lights detail, and the buildings and walkways didn’t look like they were photographed after dark.

As usual Kelowna had lit up its tall “Tree of Hope”. I photographed that very tall electric tree last year and knew from experience that the best time to get pictures of it was early in the morning. When I left my hotel room at 6am the next morning I was greeted by a couple inches a fresh wet snow. Perfect. More light reflection.

I shot with my camera set to “aperture” priority. When I use aperture priority for this kind of photography I also employ the camera’s exposure compensation feature. If one just used the aperture priority mode the camera will, as it is programed to do, try to correct the lighting and that makes the sky too bright. This time I think I used -1.7 to darken the sky.

A drive this time of year through any town or city neighbourhood is an exciting visual presentation of bright, festive lights, and an opportunity for at least a few weeks, to have fun experimenting and photographing the season’s sparkling subjects.

Photographer’s 2015 New Years Resolutions

 

Auld-lang-sine

 

Marmot-b

 

 

It is time for me to write about New Year’s resolutions. The prospect of new opportunities is always exciting and jotting down a personal list of goals (resolutions) at the beginning of each year is a good idea if one wants personal growth.

This past month I have been asking people that come into my shop what their resolutions for the New Year would be. Here are a few from the many I heard that, in my opinion, are good solid resolutions.

Use a tripod more.

Turn off Auto mode.

Buy a new camera or lens.

Try shooting RAW.

Learn more about lighting.

Take more photos.

Learn about Composition and the Rule of Thirds

Learn to use Photoshop or Lightroom.

However, as good as those are I am adding seven that are a bit more inspirational (is philosophical a better word?) New Year Resolutions that I have put together (seven is a lucky number after all) this past year from all the long, coffee fueled discussions on ways to make improvements in the future with this exciting medium.

  1. Pay more attention to creative ideas. Without creativity a photographer doesn’t have a chance at moving forward. “This could be the year to begin evolving creatively”.
  1. There is too much focus on what is the best camera. When we spend too much time worrying and making everything about the camera we forget about the story. How about this year being more concerned with making images that tell a story”.
  1. Take risks photographically and move away from always trying to please. Make this the year to push-the-envelope beyond the comfort zone without being concerned with other’s opinions. Maybe this will be the year to put “me” in the photograph.
  1. Learn a New Technique. I think it’s as simple as experimenting, and definitely taking the time to “read up on some technique and then give it a try”. Photographers should always make the effort to learn new techniques, maybe by taking a class, or at least buying some books, or CDs, written or taught by experienced, educated photographers.
  1. Choosing new subjects to “get out of the rut of shooting the same thing over and over”. While practicing portraiture or landscapes is good, photographing the same thing the same way over and over can result in a lack of inventiveness and creativity. Sure it’s nice to stay in a comfortable rut, but as with Resolution #4, “Maybe this will be the year to put “me” in the photograph”.
  1. Make every shot count and stay away from the “spray and pray” shooting style. It should be about making each image a quality photograph, not massive picture snapping sessions hoping that a few to turn out.
  1. Become more ruthless with one’s photography and what is done in post-production; conditioning oneself to throw out the crap is the only way to keep improving.

Finally, I’ll wish everyone a great 2015, and end with a quote by award winning English author, Neil Gaiman. “I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”

Do you have any to add? I will be happy to read them.

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com. Thanks, John

 

Photographing the Lights of Christmas Holidays

Kelowna-Tree-2014

Kelowna tree 4

Kelowna-5

Kelowna tree 2

Kelowna-tree-3

Well, it has been a wonderful Christmas holiday and I have enjoyed everything about it; the bright colours, gaudy decorations, the sentimental music, silly TV programs, and I especially like the Christmas lights in the city.

A drive this time of year through any town or city neighbourhood is an exciting visual presentation of festive bright lights and another opportunity for, at least a few weeks, to have fun experimenting and photographing the season’s sparkling subjects.

Photographers that want to make pictures of Christmas lights usually wait until dark and end up exposing for only the lights, and the resulting photographs show lots of colours, but don’t say anything about the location or environment; and a photograph in daylight doesn’t show the lights at all.

The photographer’s goal should be to balance an exposure for ambient light (existing environmental light) to and the electric lights. So to provide help and clarification to my readers here is my quick holiday how to for photographing their city or town’s Christmas lights.

As I suggested when I wrote about photographing the CP Holiday Train, begin by choosing the location well in advance, before it gets dark, and prepare to begin when the electric lights are first turned on, when there is still some light in the sky, yet dark enough for the lights to be bright.

Place the camera tightly on a tripod so it’s nice and steady because the exposures can be long. I like using a cable release, but if you don’t have one available, use the camera’s self-timer. The idea is to stop camera-shake.

Photographers can experiment by setting the white balance to “tungsten”. That setting will correctly balance the different lighting types; and as a bonus it will deepen the blue in the sky. I then control the final intensity with PhotoShop.

The composition should also include reflective subjects in the foreground like snow, sidewalks, cars and anything else that adds to the viewer’s attention.

Expose for the sky or buildings and make several test shots and keep checking the camera’s LCD. The lights will become more and more exciting as the sky light fades and as pictures are captured. There will be some length of time between your first images just before the sun sets and the last when everything gets very dark. I also do this in reverse, starting before the sun comes up in the morning.

Dress warm, so you aren’t uncomfortable and rush things. I expect the whole “shoot” should last less than 15 minutes if one is prepared. When the images on the camera’s LCD look too dark everything is finished and its time to rush home, excitedly transfer the images to the computer and have a warm drink.

Most importantly, the quality of light in a photo comes down to balancing the light; it creates the whole look of your photo and now is a good time, with all the added decorative illuminations, to learn about controlling the light around us. If your goal is a black and white image you will need an exposure that shows detail in all the subjects.

In summary, select the correct time of day just before everything is too dark or too light for a composition with sky, foreground, and bright lights. And be sure to leave enough time to experiment. Readers should be able to successfully photograph their own towns, or any favourite location.

I look forward to any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com