Reaction vs. Expectation

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Part of being successful as a landscape photographer is learning to react to conditions, as opposed to expecting things to happen. When we expect things to happen, we naturally get upset when they don’t. Getting upset kills the creative spirit, and we tend to abandon what ever it was that we set out to do. On the contrary, when we learn to react to a situation, we will strive to do our best with whatever conditions are at hand. That is exactly the mindset I had the night I created the two images in this post. Let me explain.

Reaction #1:

I originally set out to photograph the Grand Wash Cliffs area about an hour and a half away from my house. This is one of my favorite locations close to home to shoot, and I’ve been there many, many times. While traveling out Stockton Hill Road, a very long desolate stretch of road, I got “squirreled” by God’s Rays breaking through the clouds to the west. Those of you who liked the movie Up will know exactly what I meant by …. Squirrel. After shooting there for about twenty minutes, we continued on our journey. Upon reaching Pierce Ferry Road, and having about twenty miles left to get to our destination, I realized we weren’t going to make it by sunset. Instead of getting upset, I reacted to the situation, and immediately started searching for an alternate location to shoot. Problem solved, and creative spirit still intact.

Reaction #2:

_KPH0139After finding an alternate location to shoot, I began my normal routine of scouting the area for potential compositions. I always try and find at least two-three different compositions, and one that is fairly open, and uncluttered that I can set up quickly if I need to. The image at the top of this post was my prime composition, and I caught it with the perfect clouds and the last light of the day glancing off the distant Cerbat Mountains. Shortly after I took this shot, the clouds started breaking up and didn’t compliment the scene anymore. I then started shooting some close-up shots, all the while keeping an eye on the sky to see what it was going to do. This close-up of a Joshua tree was one that I kind of liked. All of the sudden, one of the broken clouds in the sky decided to light up like a fire ball.

Remember the open, uncluttered composition I talked about earlier? That was my quick reaction composition for a situation exactly like this. I snatched up my camera and tripod, and ran about _KPH0146-Editthirty yards across the desert to that location, set up and began shooting. The first two frames I shot, I didn’t fully get the cloud into, as they were moving fairly quickly. Since I had a wide open space to work with, recomposing was easy, and the third shot I nailed it. Shortly after, the light faded and the nights shoot was done. In my opinion, that image turned out to be the best one of the night.

So, the moral of the story is quite simple. React, don’t expect. When you can learn to do this, good things are bound to come your way. Mother nature is very unpredictable, yet in her own unique way, always beautiful. React to her nuances, and your images will take a giant leap forward.

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Canon 5Ds: Practical Lessons Learned In The Field

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I’ve been shooting with the new 50 megapixel Canon 5Ds for a little over a month now. I have to say, it is one impressive piece of engineering. The image quality and detail this camera is capable of producing is mind blowing! No big surprise there. What was somewhat of a surprise to me, was the way I had to change my shooting habits to get the most out of the camera. The past month has been quite a learning experience, and I thought I’d pass along some practical lessons learned in the field for those of you considering buying one of these cameras.

First off, this is not a technical discussion of the Canon 5Ds. A quick Google search on the topic will give you all the information you ever wanted on the technical side. Instead, this article will focus on the techniques needed in the field to ensure you get the most out of your new camera. In particular, how to work with an image sensor with such a high resolution.

Cameras have always been vulnerable to any type of movement, hence the invention of the tripod. However, with the extreme resolution of the 5Ds, movement is now one of my foremost concerns when shooting in the field. The pixels are packed together so tightly on the sensor, any camera shake or vibration with a relatively slow shutter speed causes a softening of the image. Depending on how much movement occurs, the image might become blurred and completely unusable. Counteracting this problem is what caused me to change my techniques in the field, and to write this article.

Solving this problem is really straight forward. Shoot with a fast enough shutter speed, and your images come out tack sharp. However, the old rule of setting your shutter speed to the reciprocal of the focal length of your lens (ex. 1/100 sec. with a 100mm lens) doesn’t quite cut it. I would recommend doubling that value, especially if your hand holding the camera. Shooting with a fast shutter speed, however, is not always an option. Here’s how I deal with those situations.

A tripod is a must! If you’re going to invest in a camera of this magnitude, invest in a sturdy, well built tripod also, and use it! Using a tripod (which I always do) solves most of the movement problems that cause your images to blur, but not all of them. If it’s windy, try and shoot during the lulls in the wind. Here in the Southwest, wind is almost always present. I noticed the first time I shot with the 5Ds, my images were much softer than I anticipated. This wasn’t a problem with the Mark II I shot with before. I started waiting for a break in the wind, and the sharpness came right back. I even went as far as removing the neck strap from the camera, as it was causing vibration from the wind also. Shoot with a remote shutter release, to ensure your camera remains as steady as possible. Following these techniques produces tack sharp images with wide angle to semi telephoto lenses. Get beyond a 100 mm lens and another problem arises.

The Canon 5Ds has a very sophisticated motor driven mirror built into it. This reduced the amount of ‘slap’ vibration created when the mirror locks up significantly, but it didn’t remove it completely. At focal lengths of a 100 mm or greater, mirror vibration begins to soften your images again. The longer the lens, the more exaggerated it becomes. Fortunately, the 5Ds has a very robust mirror lock up function on it. You now have the option of setting up to a two-second shutter release delay after the mirror locks up, with one press of the shutter release button. Awesome! I’ve been using the two-second delay when shooting with my EF 100-400 mm L lens, and the images are incredibly sharp. Without it, the image becomes to blurry to use. I would highly recommend placing this setting in the custom menu, so you have quick access to it.

To sum it all up, steady is the key to successfully shooting with the Canon 5Ds. Beyond what I discussed earlier, the camera functions just like any other advanced DSLR. If you’re in the market for an extremely high resolution camera, and you do most of your shooting from a tripod, I would highly recommend this camera. However, if you’re more interested in speed and mobility, I would purchase another model designed for that use, like the 1D or 7D series. I’ve posted a gallery on my Fine Art America website with all the images I’ve taken so far with the 5Ds. Follow the link below to check them out, and as always, feel free to start up a conversation in the comments section.

http://jason-keefe.artistwebsites.com/art/all/all/all/arizona+with+the+canon+5ds

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Holy Smokes!

 

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Finally got another evening to go out and play with the new Canon 5DS. As soon as I crested the pass in the mountains I live in, I saw one of the most intense drift smoke clouds I’ve ever seen. A quick search on the smart phone revealed there was a large brush fire burning in Topock Marsh about 50 miles southwest of Kingman. Initially I was disappointed, as I don’t much care for photographing smoky scenes. Not wanting to give up a night of shooting with the new toy, I kept going. The closer I got to town, my drive began to resemble a scene from an apocalyptic movie. I immediately knew where I wanted to shoot from.

 

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The image above was taken from a rock outcrop above historic downtown Kingman, Arizona. The smoke was so intense, one could easily look straight at the sun without squinting. In fact, if you look close, you can see the sun through the smoke near the center of the image. The reddish cast on everything just almost made the hair stand up on the back of your neck! Quite an erie feeling. Despite all this, my photographic mind was still ticking.

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I’ve never taken a telephoto shot of nothing but the sun. Never had a reason to. But the way the sun looked today, and the extreme resolution this camera is capable of, I decided what the hell. The shot above was taken with a 400mm telephoto lens, then cropped in Lightroom to fill more of the frame. I was absolutly astonished when I zoomed in on the image on the camera and realized I’d captured a sunspot! There are two of them visible in this image in the lower quarter of the sun. What a great evening!

I’m working on a post with my first impressions of the Canon 5DS. I’ts coming along pretty slow since this is only the second time I’ve had the opportunity to shoot since I’ve had the camera. I’m off work (hopefully) for the next several days. Tomorrow is the next scheduled shoot. Hopefully more will follow in the coming days. stay tuned!

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The Home Field Advantage

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Whether you’re an aspiring photographer new to landscapes, or a seasoned professional, we all have our bucket list of locations we want to photograph. But the truth is, a lot of us spend most of our time in our home town dreaming about getting there. Stop dreaming, and get out and do what you love. No matter where you live, there is an abundance of photographic opportunities just waiting to be had. Start taking advantage of your knowledge of your local area. Just as it is in sports, you’ve got the “Home Field Advantage”.

Sometimes it’s hard to get inspired to photograph the things we see day in and day out. They just don’t compare to the epic dreams we have on our bucket lists. You have to find a way to break this cycle. Photography is a perishable skill. If you don’t use it, you lose it. The intent of this article is to give you some ideas to get that creative process going, and get you out in the field creating images.

Human nature gives us a weapon we can use to fight off our procrastination and start being productive. It’s called the competitive spirit. Who says you need a competitor? Challenge yourself! One of the ways you can get yourself out in your local area is to find something you have always wanted to learn, and challenge yourself to do it. Whether it be a new technique, using a lens you don’t normally shoot with, or a different compositional style, set a challenge for yourself. Human nature will kick in, and you will set out to accomplish your goal.

The shot of the sun star at the beginning of this article was accomplished in this manner. Although I have photographed sun stars many times before, it’s not something I always look for when I’m in the field. On this day, I was scouting an area I am planning on using for my local workshops. I challenged myself to find a location I could shoot a great sun star from. Viola! Challenge met, shot bagged. Not bad for being a twenty-five minute drive from my house.

Another technique you can use to start shooting more in your local area is get to know what I call “the green space windows”. Almost every city has little green space areas that are free of the chaos and clutter, and offer a view of the natural world. Get to know these locations and cherish them like gold. Epic light has the tendency to rear its head at the most inopportune times. You’re on your way to the grocery store to pick up a gallon of milk around sunset. The sun decides to peek out from behind the storm clouds that have shrouded the city all day, and put on a light show to die for. If you know where your green space windows are, your chances of capturing a great shot just increased tenfold. Otherwise, you’re going to be left sitting in your car, spouting out words I can’t disclose here. Not that I have ever done this myself.

JKP_00005-4-EditThe image of the Cholla cactus and stormy sunset sky was taken in one of those green space windows in my hometown of Kingman, Arizona. I had just dropped my daughter off for piano lessons when I noticed a little color starting to come through the storm clouds that had been around all day. A quick two or three minute drive put me in a location I could capture this incredible sunset right when the light was at its best. Just outside the frame to the left is a housing development, and to the right is a five lane street filled with retail stores. Straight ahead, Bliss.

Next step. Stop thinking on such a grand scale, and focus on the smaller things nature has to offer. Nature comes in all shapes and sizes. The truth is, we allOE0055 walk past photographic opportunities every day of our lives and never realize it. Why? Because we haven’t trained ourselves to look for the smaller things. As nature photographers, we’re always on the prowl for our next grand landscape. If we took the time to look up, down, and all around, we’d realize there’s five more shots just waiting to be had. This is especially true on your home turf. Conditions may not be right for a grand landscape, but I’ll guarantee you there’s some more intimate shots just waiting to be added to your portfolio if you take the time to look. This shot of a barrel cactus was taken less than 500 feet from the sun star shot at the beginning of this article. Two shots, one location. I’ll take it.

Last of all, return to the same locations under different conditions. Often times we’ll find a composition that we really like, but the conditions just aren’t right to get a great shot. When it’s a location close to home, the cost of returning is next to nil, and you have the latitude to get there quickly if conditions start to set up favorably. When I originally found this composition of a hiking trail outside my hometown, I had nothing but a blue sky to work with. Although I really liked the shot, it just didn’t have the punch I was looking for. A week later, the southwest’s monsoon made one final push into our area, bringing with it my missing ingredient. Clouds. I returned to this location two nights in a row, and on the second I hit pay dirt.

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It’s ok to have dreams of getting to the epic locations on your bucket list. But don’t let it get in the way of your passion for photography. Chances are, you’ve never heard of Kingman, Arizona. It’s not on the short list of locations to photograph before you die. It’s not on the longer list either. However, beauty does exist. I’m sure it’s the same in your hometown. So get out, start shooting, and make the best of your “Home Field Advantage”.

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Doing What It Takes

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So, what does it take to get amazing landscape images? Passion, vision, and a willingness to do what it takes to get the shot. To see what I mean by this, let me tell you the story behind this shot.

I’ve been photographing an area just to the west of my home town of Kingman Arizona quite extensively for the last several weeks. Over this period of time I have become very familiar with the lay of the land, how the light falls on it, and more importantly, where to shoot from. I have accumulated several compositions in my mind that I want to get when the conditions are right. On Monday of this week, I was at work nearing the end of my shift when I noticed a large break in the clouds on the western horizon. I knew it was going to be an awesome sunset, and this composition immediately popped in my mind. The cards were stacked against me though. My shift ended at 6:00pm, and sunset was at 6:14pm. Not much time to cover the 10 plus miles to get there, assemble my gear, and hike several hundred yards to get to this spot.

At 5:58pm I left work. I took every back road I could to shorten the distance I had to cover, driving in a manner I probably shouldn’t have. By the time I arrived at my parking area, the show had already begun. I grabbed my camera, not caring what lens I had on it, mounted it on my tripod, and took off at a dead run up the mountain to my spot. Huffing and puffing like I had just finished running the Boston Marathon, I set up, composed, and took the shot. The light began to fade immediately thereafter. Somehow, some way, I had accomplished the impossible.

That’s passion, vision, and a willingness to do what it takes to get the shot. This image ranks among my favorites that I have ever taken.

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Why You Should Always Carry Your Camera

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Why should you always carry your camera? Take a look at the image above….. End of lesson!

I was greeted with this sunrise on my way home from work yesterday morning. As I was heading up into the mountains where I live, I could see it was going to be a great sunrise. Not having a vantage point to shoot from, I decided to just enjoy the show on the road. As I crested the pass and headed down toward the valley where I live, this scene unfolded in front of me. I immediately locked up the brakes and came to a screeching halt on the side of the road. Everything inside my truck that wasn’t tied down found it’s own unique place in a pile on the floorboard. This included my camera. After digging my camera out of the aforementioned pile, I rapidly changed lenses, set up my tripod, composed and took the shot. Immediately after, the sun cleared the top of the clouds, and the scene was gone. All of this took place in less than two minutes. Years of experience, and plain old dumb luck both played a huge role in getting this shot. I guess the photography gods were with me yesterday.

Enjoy!

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7 Tips For Outstanding Fall Landscapes

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It’s that time of year again. Summer is starting to wind down, the temperature is cooling off, and my shutter finger is starting to twitch. That’s right, Fall is just around the corner. I decided to takes some time and share with you seven tips to help you get the most out of your fall photo trips this year. Who knows, I may even throw in a bonus tip. So let’s get going.

Tip 1: Your Polarizer Is Your Best Friend

A lot of beginning photographers think of polarizer’s as being used to enhance a blue sky, but their primary purpose is for cutting down reflections and glare on your subject.  Glare robs your image of color, leaving you with hotspots instead of the color that should be there. Using a polarizer with your fall shots cuts down the glare on the leaves, and enhances the overall color of the image. Circular polarizer’s work best, as you have control over how strong the effect is on your image. If you’re including a blue sky in the composition, be wary of the effect the polarizer is having on the sky. At certain angles to the sun, polarizer’s can cause an unnatural shift in the blue color of the sky, from one side of your image to the other. This is particularly true with wide angle lenses, due to the amount of real estate they are taking in.  This color shift can be difficult, if not impossible to correct in post processing.

Tip 2: Shoot On Overcast And Rainy Days

Cloudy overcast days are mother nature’s very own, all natural soft light reflector. The light produced on these days is ideal for photographing fall colors. Everything is evenly lit, and the colors become very saturated. Setting your exposure is a breeze, and most often, doesn’t change much from scene to scene. Unless you have a very dynamic, textured sky, concentrate more on the intimate close up scenes deep in the forest or valleys, and leave the sky out. If it’s raining, or just rained, take advantage of it. Wet foliage increases the color saturation even more. Be sure to follow tip number one and use your polarizer to cut the glare on the wet foliage.

Tip 3: Include Water In Your Shots

Water is always a powerful element to include in your images. It triggers an emotion inside of people, and creates a sense of peace and tranquility. It also adds a strong visual interest and flow to your composition. Coupled with a brilliant display of fall colors, you’ve got a dynamic, visually appealing, stop you in your tracks shot. Water also gives you an added bonus, which leads us to our next tip.

Tip 4: Look For Reflections

LE0094Reflections on the water are a great compositional element to include in your images, especially when they are very vibrant colors such as fall foliage. Early in the morning is probably your best chance of getting a still water mirror image, as the winds are normally very light at that time of day. Reflections on a rippled surface work well too, in a more abstract way. Pay attention to where the reflection is on the waters surface in relation to the objects around it. Nothing is worse than getting home and finding out you cut the top of the mountain or trees off, when you could have got the entire reflection, had you just moved up the hill five feet. Don’t limit yourself to large surface reflections. Look for smaller, more abstract compositions that only include the water’s surface reflecting the colors, such as in this image.

Tip 5: Look Up

LE0111Vanishing point images looking straight up in the trees have become almost cliché. Everyone has one in their portfolio. And why is that? Because they’re cool! Go ahead and give it a whirl, and try and put your own spin on the composition. It’s fun, it’s free, and oh yeah, did I mention they’re cool!

 

Tip 6: Shoot Backlit Scenes
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Backlit subjects is something I always keep an eye out for when I’m in the field. The glowing affect that you get from backlighting gives a very unique feel to your image. Fall foliage works quite well with this type of light. Setting your exposure can be tricky though. I will normally take a spot metered reading off a brightly lit area, then bracket my exposures around that, to ensure I get a proper exposure. Sometimes I will take multiple exposures and then blend them later on in post processing. It just all depends on the scene. The key is to bracket your exposures. You don’t want to blow out your highlights. Another issue you will run into with backlighting is lens flare. If at all possible, try and find a spot to shoot from that is in the shade. This will keep the sun from hitting the front lens element and causing the flare. If not, just move around a little until you get the flare under control. Sometimes moving just a little bit will bring lens flare under control.

Tip 7: Shoot In Raw Format

This almost goes without saying, and applies to all types of landscape photography. Not just fall. If you’re not shooting in the Raw format, you should be. The number one “thief of color” in a digital image, is an improper white balance. The color cast induced by an incorrect white balance setting can be difficult at best to correct in Photoshop, and robs your image of the natural colors you saw. If you’re shooting in JPEG, and your camera doesn’t get the white balance correct, you’re stuck trying to fix it in Photoshop. With a Raw processor like Adobe Lightroom™ or Adobe Camera Raw™, it’s just a few clicks and your done. If you switch over to shooting in Raw for no other reason than to have control over your white balance, it’s worth it. The image below shows the before and after of a Raw conversion, with nothing more than the white balance changed to the shade preset. The difference is astounding.
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Bonus Tip

LE0075Don’t forget the small stuff. Fall is a great time of the year to dust off that macro lens you hardly ever use, and take some close-ups. Shoot close-ups of the leaves, and look for patterns on the ground. I would have completely missed this shot of an acorn laying on the fall leaves had I not taken the time to look down.

 

 

 

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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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