Monthly Archives: August 2014

City At Night

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I know, the title of this post sounds a lot like the lyrics of L.A. Woman by The Doors. Quite frankly, now that I said that, the song is running a perpetual loop inside my head. If my calculations are right, that song is probably now running the same loop inside your head. All I can say is, you’re welcome. Alright, enough of that. I know I said in my previous post, I was done with my Vegas shots. Well, I came across this shot, and it inspired me to write another post about photographing the “City At Night”. Sorry. Had to keep the song going for ya! So, here we go.

Photographing in an urban area at night is all about the lights, colors, lines, and angles. I included colors in with elements of the image, however, black and white can also work quite well depending on the mood and your artistic vision. The success of an image depends on how these variables interact with each other. If you break down almost any urban scene, what you will find is it’s made up almost entirely of lines, and geometric shapes, interacting with each other from multiple angles. How you arrange these lines and shapes in your image, will ultimately make or break the shot. Let’s take a look at each one and see how they affect your composition.

Lines have got to be one of the most important considerations you’ll make when composing a shot. Lines take you places. In our everyday lives, we follow lines all the time. When you drive your car, you follow the lines on the road. Go to a special event, you follow the lines in. Read this blog post. Yep, you guessed it, you follow the lines of text. When you look at a photograph, your eyes will naturally follow the lines within it. It’s critically important that any lines you use in your compositions lead your viewers eyes into the image, and not out of it. Remember, you want to keep them engaged with the image, and the way you do it is guide their eyes where you want them to go. Lines are the key.

You also need to pay attention to the buildings and structures in your image.  Their size, shape, and the direction that they face will all play a key role in keeping your viewers interest in the image. Most often, you want to have the front side of a building facing into the image. Our natural instinct when looking at an image of a building, is to see what building it is. Once you find the sign identifying the structure, your eyes are going to drift in the direction that sign is facing. If it’s facing out of the image, you’ve lost your viewer. The size of the building plays a significant role too. If the building is too large to fit in your viewfinder, use it to frame one side of the image like what I did with the Bellagio in the image above. Use the shapes of the buildings to guide your viewers eyes into the image also. Again, in this shot, the rounded shape of the Bellagio sweeps towards the center of the image and flows right into the Cosmopolitan, which is also facing the center. The result. Your attention stays focused within the image.

Light is where things get a little bit tricky. Light is the essential ingredient for any photograph. With night scenes, sometimes you have an over abundance of light, such as in this image, or very little light depending on your location. Sometimes you have both in the same scene. It’s the latter where the problems arise. If you’re going to photograph an extremely contrasty scene at night, you’re going to need to shoot from a tripod, and take multiple exposures for the different brightness areas of the image. Later on during post processing, you can blend the different exposures together to get a balanced, properly exposed image. If you don’t have a tripod, use the histogram on your camera, and expose the scene as far to the right as you possibly can without blowing out your highlights. Both of these techniques require some advanced knowledge of exposure and post processing software, and are beyond the scope of this writing. Tutorials can easily be found with a simple Google search.

If you have some latitude with when you shoot, try and go out on a cloudy night. Clouds give you two advantages over shooting on a clear night. Number one, they give you some visual interest in an otherwise boring area of your image. Number two, the act as a gigantic soft light reflector, and fill in the shadowed areas of your image with a golden glow from the city lights reflecting off them. Shooting on a cloudy night can help you overcome the problem of extreme contrast we talked about earlier.

I know this sounds like a lot of information to remember, and it is. But nothing good ever comes easy. Get out there and start experimenting. Learn from your mistakes. If there’s one thing that you take with you from all of this, remember, lines take you places. Pay attention to your lines, and your portfolio will start filling up with great images from the “City At Night”. Thought you forgot about the song, didn’t ya!

Until next time, enjoy your photographic journey. If you haven’t signed up for my email list yet, be sure to do it before you leave this page. The sign up box is on the right side of this page, near the top.

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Perspective

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This will be the final installment of my Las Vegas shots. In my standard fashion, I’m going to pass along a little tip with the image. Photography is all about engaging your audience with your images. Just like any of the visual arts, you want to create something that is going to command their attention. One of the ways you can achieve this is through perspective.

We see the world in a pretty straight forward manner. Everything has its place. This perspective gives a sense of normalcy to our lives. When something is out of place, or has an unusual perspective, our sense of normalcy is lost, and our attention is drawn towards it. When you understand this concept, you can apply it to your images. Try to find normal everyday subjects, and photograph them from a perspective that we’re not used to seeing. The difference in perspective will draw your viewers attention, and keep them engaged with your image.

This is exactly what I did for this image of the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Las Vegas Nevada. We’re used to seeing buildings and structures from a straight on perspective. Very rarely do we stop and look up. By photographing this structure from almost directly underneath, it gave a whole new dimension to the image than we a used to seeing. The Eiffel tower fades off into the night sky in a vanishing point perspective, leading your eyes into the image. It draws your attention, and keeps you engaged. This image is by no means reinventing the photographic wheel, but it illustrates the concept quite well.

The next time you’re out in the field, try to get yourself to see the world from a different perspective, and translate that vision into your images. You don’t have to use this technique with all of your images, but it’s one more tool you have in your photographic tool box, that you can use when you’re struggling to find a composition. If you liked this post and would like to be notified when I post again, be sure to sign up for my email list. The sign up box is on the right side of this page, near the top.

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Shooting Hand Held

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Throughout my writings on this blog, I have always stressed the importance of using a tripod. Don’t get me wrong, I still do believe in using one as often as you can. But, what if you don’t have it with you, or it’s not practical to use a tripod in the situation that you are in? In this post I’m going to give you some simple ways you can hand hold your camera, and still get the best results you can out of your images.

In very brightly lit situations, hand holding your camera is pretty straight forward. The amount of available light allows you to shoot with a fast enough shutter speed where camera shake shouldn’t be an issue. It’s in the low light situations where the problem arises. Our whole objective in photography is to get the sharpest, clearest images we possibly can. Typically, this means shooting at a very low ISO setting such as ISO 100. In low light situations, this can cause your shutter speed to be very long, sometimes several seconds. With a tripod, this is not an issue. Hand held, it’s impossible. This is the key to shooting hand held in low light. Crank up the ISO.

Most cameras on the market now produce very acceptable images at high ISO settings, that were unthinkable just a couple of years ago. Yes, digital noise (the grainy appearance in a image) does increase, but it is very manageable with noise reduction software such as that found in Adobe Lightroom™ or Adobe Camera Raw™. There are also numerous third party applications that deal with noise issues quite well. Take your pick. The sacrifice of adding a little graininess to your image is well worth it when you consider the alternative of taking a blurry image, or not taking it at all. I would suggest taking a series of test shots with your camera to see how high you can set your ISO, and still get an acceptable image. Every camera is different. The image at the top of this post was taken at ISO 1600, and post processed in Adobe Lightroom. I think the results are quite acceptable.

In addition to using a higher ISO setting, there are some other steps you should take to maximize your chances of getting a sharp image. If your camera has an Image Stabilizer, use it. Image stabilization technology has improved dramatically over the last several years, and produces outstanding results at shutter speeds much slower than we would have ever considered using before. Basically, when you engage the image stabilizer, the element inside the barrel of your lens floats to counter act any movements of the camera, and achieve a sharp image. It does a pretty amazing job. Again, the image at the top of this post was shot using image stabilization at 1/8 of a second. The results speak for themselves.

Finally, you just need to use some good ole’ common sense. Use whatever you have available to help stabilize yourself when you take the shot. Brace yourself against a tree or a pole. Lean over the hood of a car, and stabilize your arms on it. Set your camera on a sturdy surface. Whatever it takes. For this image, I set my camera on top of a block wall, placed my hand under the barrel of the lens and adjusted the angle of the camera where I wanted it, and used the self timer to take the shot. The results were a clean, sharp image taken without a tripod in very low light.

One last note. Whenever you set your camera to a very high ISO setting, make sure you set it back to where you normally have it when you are done. You don’t want to end up experiencing one of those “Captain Dumb Ass” moments the next morning when you take your entire sunrise shoot at ISO 1600! Trust me, I speak from experience. You won’t be pleased with yourself.

I hope this post helps you out the next time you find yourself in a situation where you can’t use your tripod. Feel free to leave a comment, or ask a question below. I will get back to you. If you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for my email list, and to receive notifications when I add another post. The sign up box is on the right side of this page, near the top.

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On Step At A Time

 

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Photography is a skill that is learned throughout a lifetime. It’s not something you are going to pick up a book, read it cover to cover, and suddenly wake up the next day to become the next Ansel Adams. It takes time. In fact, I firmly believe one can never fully learn everything there is to know about it. The photographic arts are in a constant state of evolution, changing each and every day. New cameras get released, software gets updated, post processing techniques fly at you like confetti in the Macy’s Day Parade. So what’s a photographer to do with all this unchecked stimuli? Simple. Take it one step at a time, and learn what it is that You want to learn.

Photography is a personal endeavor, just like any other art form. It’s not about what others are doing, it’s about what inspires you. You know what it is that you like. Study that aspect of the art, and master it. When you’re ready for a change, move on to another genre or technique that interests you. The point is, do what it is that You like. When you approach photography in this manner, it stays fresh, fun, exciting, and leaves you with a yearning to want to learn more. This is exactly what I did on a recent trip to Las Vegas to visit family.

Most of you that have followed me for any length of time know I primarily shoot landscapes. However, I have always had a fascination with images of city lights, but never took the time to try my hand at it. Well, what a better place to shoot city lights than Las Vegas Nevada! After attending a Blue Man Group concert (of which I’ll be posting images of soon), we took a walk along the Las Vegas Strip. Lights Galore! The image at the top of this post is one of my favorites from the night. It was quite a learning experience, and a fun one at that. I rather enjoyed it, and look forward to getting out and doing it again.

Just remember as you progress through your photographic journey, it’s not about the latest fads, post processing techniques, or the latest gear to hit the market. It’s about you. Follow your passions, dreams, and artistic visions, and learn to create images that have meaning to you. In due time, you’ll be giving the best of the best a run for their money. Just take it one step at a time.

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Working a Scene

LE0104When it comes to landscape photography, we’ve all heard the advice “work the scene”. But what exactly does that mean? It’s easy to hand out a generic piece of advice like that, but if you don’t give them something to “work” with, it’s meaningless. In this post, I’m going to give you that “something” to work with.

When you get to your location, the first thing you want to do is scout out the area. Find the optimum place you can shoot from. Next, examine your scene. Look for the elements you want to include in your composition. Now, look for compositions within that composition. Try to find at least three different compositions that you can take with minimal effort. To achieve this, use the equipment you have to its fullest. If you have a 400mm telephoto, use it if it’s appropriate. The image below was taken with a 400mm telephoto from the same location the opening image was taken. The red box in the opening image shows the area that I zoomed in on. Both images where taken from the exact same spot.

LE0103The next thing you want to be aware of when you’re working a scene is the light. Light literally changes every second that you are on location. Shadows form and then disappear. Clouds light up, then fall into shadow. All of these changes play with the dynamic of your image. Shoot multiple images of the same scene, and work with the changing light. Switch to your alternate compositions if the light becomes favorable there. Don’t lock yourself into those pre-chosen compositions though. If something dramatic happens where you didn’t expect it, react to it and shoot it. The most important thing is to stay with your scene throughout the show. Things happen quickly, and sometimes not so quickly. The two images in this post were taken about 40 minutes apart from each other, and have a completely different dynamic. Stay the course. You won’t be disappointed.

I hope this post helps you out the next time you’re in the field. If you are serious about learning the art of landscape photography, consider signing up for one of our workshops. The two images in this post are one of the locations we shoot on our Smoky Mountains workshops. Our workshops are an intense, four day, educational photographic adventure. For more information about the workshops, Click Here.

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