Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pursuit of the Better Self Portrait ~ Part I

"Photographer's Self Portrait"

I must admit, self portraits are my least favorite project of ALL time. So when I thought about a new two part post on a subject I rarely post about, this totally fit the bill. I say two part post because today I'll show you the first  shot from the beginning of my pursuit for a better self portrait... and next Monday I'll show you the final portrait after my wrestling with off-camera flash, lens choice, and processing... not to mention putting a more positive expression on my face. I was going for smoldering and mysterious.
Seriously. Stop laughing now.

The first part of this session was rough for me. I'm still learning about off-camera lighting. I'm so skittish with light. But I did remember one thing I've learned recently... the closer the light source, the better the light wraps around the entire subject. The further away, the more harsh and hard edged it gets due to fall-off because the light has to travel further to light your subject... er, yourself... you know what I mean. Makes sense but it takes me a second to remember this rule of lighting. So at least I remembered to set my SB-600 on a stand with a diffuser really close to where I would sit... and by close I mean it intruded into my personal space bubble. But it was not directly in front of me either... it sat at a slight angle to me. I also had on the immediate right a large window with soft white curtains diffusing the light. My speedlight was in manual mode, not quite on full power (could have dialed it up a little more), triggered by my on-camera flash which had been dialed down all the way so as to keep from overpowering the shot by itself.
Needless to say, it took many adjustments, and many trips back and forth to the camera to set my flash settings.

But here's where you have to pay attention to the ambient light in the room if you've never worked on this type of shot before, and decide if you want your own lighting to overrule the room's ambient exposure. Or you may want to preserve the light already in the room and simply enhance it. I pretty much overlooked this in the image above, I was so busy just trying to get the camera in a good place, my head in a good spot, and get my gear working the way I learned. Next week you'll see what I decided on.

Oh, and I cloned out all the panicky little beads of sweat across my forehead in this shot by the way. Just saying. It's not easy to put up before & afters, online for all to see. Geez the pressure.

Lastly, we'll talk about lens choice. I used my portrait lens, my 50mm F/1.8 prime, and I think it was the right choice from the start. It gives no visible distortion no matter where you position the lens around the subject... er, yourself... and it has fabulous depth of field. I could have used my telephoto for similar results, but the camera would have been much further away to compensate for it's long range. The wide angle really is a no no for this type of portrait, the minute you angle it the lens slightly distorts various facial features... definitely not a look for me.

So not a terrible self portrait, but not a real prize winner yet. Stay tuned for next Monday when I discuss all the additional things that I needed to change and to see the "after" shot! I will also attempt to have a diagram for you of the final set-up for those that would like to see what worked best in my tiny little work space. Can't wait for PART II... I think.

Have a great day gang, thanks for the challenging ramble!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Direction and Decision ~ Mono Monday!

"Autumn's Last Gift"

Dug into my files for todays image. Truth be told, my photography seems to be in a holding pattern for now. I'm trying to make some decisions, ones that will help my full time approach to photography, and expand my portfolio, and am starting to feel overwhelmed I guess. I'm sure you've all had those days.

The question is "where is all this taking me?"

I have to answer this question in the not too distant future. Not sure how. But I will say this. I'm excited to step out of my comfort zone a bit. If I've learned anything this year it's that there aren't nearly the amount of rules I thought there were as a photographer. So what am I waiting for? I can make my photography go anywhere I want it to! You can too!

Where DO I want my photography to go next?
I'll let you know, when I know.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Changing Seasons In the Camera...

"Before The First Winter Wind"

The days are so much shorter, and the temperature's dropping slowly. I love autumn, mostly because the weather and the light provide ample ways to add a richness to any photograph.

But there's no doubt about it... winter approaches!
I've already noticed that the warm light of late afternoon is beginning to be replaced with the cooler tones of a sun distancing itself for the coming season. Oh sure, there'll still be sunshine. But it's of a different quality for the next while. You're thinking, "she's off her nut! It's the exact same!" But images taken during the winter months have a completely different quality, and science would back me up... possibly.

At any rate, it's a great way to start getting creative with what I might choose to photograph, since I'll no longer have glorious flowers or summery trails at my disposal. I start hunting down older architecture, cemeteries, street photography, and play with my itty bitty studio gear. I switch to more seasonal scenery to inspire, and try my hand at a few new things too... for instance, this week I'm trying to get a self portrait done that I actually like, and next week I'm going to try making my own seamless/backdrop for some fun portrait work I've always wanted to try.

And never fear, I'm not opposed to being out in the weather catching some light on a snowy field or two. I'll keep the landscapes comin'. But much like taking in the patio furniture for the next four months (who am I kidding, more like 6!) I'm already deciding what to change about my photography while the great Canadian winter prepares to give us a good wallop!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

If I Had To Be Honest ~ Telephoto Tuesday!

"The Bomber and The Catalina"

Maybe I'm an odd duck. Let me rephrase that... I know I'm an odd duck. But there have always been a few things in the photography world that have puzzled me or that, despite mass interest, I've been reluctant to endorse as a photographer looking to create a career as opposed to a hobby. I thought I'd get them off my chest today. But please know they're only my opinions, and if you are coming from a different place in your photographic journey they may not apply to you in the same way.

Firstly, online photo communities that have a cost to join. Now if you're just getting started and need to surround yourself with various talent and styles, and haven't pegged your true niche yet, or strengths, these are a great tool for learning. Discussions happen, tips are swapped, and there might even be contests that keep you motivated. But honestly, after you've grown, you're simply paying to remain inside a tidy little photographic playground where the only others there are exactly like you. You generally won't see companies lurking these member-only sites looking for future talent, especially local businesses who can connect with you right away... it's JUST more photographers. There's no one who's looking for stock photos, they have sites of their own where you go to them instead. So I'm sorry, but after a while, these feel like a dead end to me unless they have something to connect anyone who'll ever need a photographer in some capacity. Meeting other photographers from around the world is fun, but there's so many free photo communities that offer that, that the paid members-only just seems stifling. In the end, even the free communities can be a drain on your valuable time that could be spent making face to face connections that might open up new opportunities. In fact, Twitter has brought me ten times the opportunities in less than a year, than all the other communities I was once apart of for several years combined! Why?
Because your photography gets exposed to EVERYONE.

Whew. Good to have that off my chest. Next, the group photowalk. Now before anyone gets upset, I'm greatly in favor of meeting other photographers, getting to know them, swapping funny stories and advice. And I'm also in favor of workshops that challenge you to stretch, try knew things and meet some people in the process, because these are usually groups of no more than ten, and you have a vast location to utilize while you focus on learning. I'm talking about the group walks that take place in the local park down the street and about 30 of you swarm it with cameras, and everyone is trying to get the shot no one else will get. It just seems crazy to try to accomplish so much in such an overexposed area. Maybe it's me, but I much rather prefer working alone, able to concentrate completely on my process of learning, exploring, and redefining what I love about a certain location, instead of having to time everything I do around whether someone else is in my spot, or in my shot. I can count on one hand the people I know I can photograph with that don't feel the need to constantly walk the same paths, keep up conversation, or need to compete for "the" shot of the day. Have I done group walks? Yes. Did I get great photos? Yes. But the cons outweighed the pros after a while, and if you're far enough along that you no longer need a life line, be careful that for the sake of being one of the group, you don't get held back. I've seen it happen.

Lastly, make decisions for yourself. I'm all in favor of continued learning, reading the latest photography books, following the blogs of the pros... but as you do all that decide why something does or doesn't work for you, and avoid the bandwagon mentality. Test things for yourself. Stand up for your creative vision. We're discovering as digital photography evolves that the die hard rules of photography, and processing, and use of gear are all changing too. Labs print jpegs way better than they used to, Raw isn't always necessary, sensor size/quality is still more important than mega pixels, and not everything has to be neon-like HDR or special effects to be fabulous photography. And sometimes it does. Know your camera. Stop obsessing about digital noise so much that you never get the shot with the higher ISO. These are just a few examples of what we all struggle with. Decide what's important to where you are and go with it.

Like I said, I feel like these were things I always wanted to say, and was in the mood to say them today. I don't expect everyone to agree, and my views could even be wrong for all I know. But this is the great thing about owning a blog... I get to have my say regardless. Just bein' honest!

Thanks for the ramble... and have a super Tuesday!

Friday, November 18, 2011

It's Glorious ~ Floral Friday!

"Bloomin' Sunshine"

I love a challenge don't you? Right now I'm preparing to try some new avenues within my photography for the coming new year. I'm reassessing my skills, deciding what needs an overhaul, where I might be wasting my time, and how I want to present it all. It excites me. It intimidates me.
It's a glorious process.

I'm going to try to include this process here on the blog... my attempts at change, what I'm getting inspiration from, what I fail at... all of it. My hope is that it'll help someone else out there step out of their comfy zone and embrace a different approach to whatever their own passion is. And as always, I'll keep posting photos!

Anyways, that's my plan over the next little while... just in case you see some changes! Have a groovy Friday gang, and thanks for the ramble!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Faces of Honor ~ Exploration Thursday!

Every so often the opportunity arises to capture a community event with the camera. For me, it's a chance to try documentary style, or photo journalism type photography. Forget setting up a shot, this is go with the flow-by the seat of your pants photography. Nov.11th provided some practice at this down at the Cenotaph Ceremony in Hamilton. And so this visual tribute to the men and women who have bravely represented freedom and honor, is posted on the blog today.

All these moments become reminders on two levels. One: that great photography doesn't have to have bold effects or massive vistas but can simply share a story with you, and two: that one day we may not have enough "faces of honour" left. I hope a week ago, you took time to honor someone who has fought for your freedom.
I hope we do it every week.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Massive Architecture On The Brain ~Mono Monday!

"Union's Majesty"

Oh what I wouldn't give for a decent fisheye lens, or ultra-wide angle right about now. Because when I think about photographing massive architecture like the powerful looking and massive Union Station in Toronto, I always want to include as much of it as possible. And it's hard to do with a modest, run-of
-the-mill wide angle. Even a Tilt-shift lens would have been doable.

But I gave it my best shot. Those other lenses will come in time.

The other obstacle in photographing this grand terminal is that it sits right up against the street... and I don't know about you but it's never fun being run over by hectic Toronto traffic while on a photowalk. Maybe that's just me.

As I worked on photographing Union Station, I decided if I couldn't use the actual size of the entire building to create a sense of power, then I would have to rely on wide lines, distorted perspective, and a sense of symmetry to convey the same feeling. The strong visual lines up and across engage our sense of space, allowing us to understand the possibility of a bigger picture. The perspective influences our perception of height, and we reason that it's towering over us, as opposed to in front of us. And symmetry seems to add weight to a photo. It worked in this case because the sculpture itself is symmetrical in shape and in it's placement on the grounds of the property. It's okay in this instance for the eye to continue returning to the center of the image, there is engaging subject matter there and makes sense.

Converted to a classic platinum B&W in Corel with some slight tweaking in curves and such, and I think I'm content with today's image.

But the minute I have a wider lens, you'll know. I won't be able to help myself. I'll always have architecture on the brain. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remember Now...


 Fallen Soldiers




True Patriot Love





All Who Went Before

Lives Given



Oh Canada

We Remember

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Muse ~ Exploration Thursday!


What do you use as a muse, to allow yourself to be inspired? Something colorful? Your favorite subject? Your favorite location? Interesting weather? Music? Literature? What talks to your creative side so thoroughly that you then have to grab your camera, your pen, your paintbrush and fill that desire no matter where you are or what you felt prior to.

Tomorrow will be my Remembrance Day tribute on the blog, so I thought I'd post Floral Friday early and ask these questions of you today instead. Why? Well, here's the thing... I asked a talented beginner photographer these questions in a conversation not that long ago, and they couldn't answer me. No definitive reason why they pursue photography. Or what they use to gain inspiration.

It doesn't have to be a complex reason why you love to photograph anything, or pursue anything. I think one of the best reasons to do what you love is because it brings you joy. Simple right?

The rush of color, the tangle of shapes, and the sweetness of the subject in our photo for the blog today is enough to make me anxious to pick up my Nikon right now and find a subject to enjoy and share.

So, think about it? What's your muse?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

You Just Know ~ Telephoto Tuesday!

"Keep Me Hanging On"

It's when the light is doing something magical and it shouldn't be. It's when you spot a surprising element in the middle of chaos. It's when it'd be easier to leave all the gear packed away, and you stop for "one more shot" anyway. It's when your husband is anxiously waiting to get back home to his football game, but you know that if you don't take the shot you'll regret it way longer than he will for missing the first 2 minutes.

All are examples of those moments when you press the shutter and you just know it's the one shot that made the trip worthwhile. You know what I'm taking about. It's the discovery of a moment you know you must get or you'll forever remember the "one that got away". It's that simple.

Today's image was that moment for me. Walking the Albion Falls trail in Hamilton, there were golden leaves everywhere, and we walked the whole trail and back taking nice pictures of the paths, and the light, and the trees... and I had packed up the camera heading back to the car, tired but satisfied with the day... until I spied this leaf hanging on for dear life, caught on a low branch in the midst of it's fall. It was neat looking but I was done shooting. It had this fabulous backdrop of chestnut trees and golden leaves but I was done shooting. It had this wonderful texture and color but I WAS DONE shooting. I stepped away from it... and then turned back, mumbling to myself I was probably insane, got out the tripod, the camera, the telephoto lens and set up the shot. The sun suddenly came out one last time and there it was. I got a few shots off, the sun dwindled, and I was done. Packed up the camera and tripod, and emerged from the trail explaining to the husband where I'd briefly disappeared to. He knows me too well to comment.

But I just knew that this was my favorite shot of the day. And it's everything I love about photography. In fact, every photographer I know is driven by the thrill of discovery at some point. It's what gets their adrenaline pumping. Could be a sudden elusive moment in a studio with a model, could be out in a duck blind when an unexpected species wanders by, could be when your toddler suddenly blows you a kiss when she never has before... exciting right? And you just know that's the shot.

Analyse it later, but get that shot now. It's okay to get a shot "because you just know" it's the shot you've been waiting for. You know?

Thanks for the ramble gang, and have a day of discovery wherever you are!

Friday, November 4, 2011

For Colors Sake ~ Floral Friday!

"The Sweetest Blush"

I'm in love with the subtle range of hues in this image. Until the Annual Fall Mum Show last week, I had no idea 'mums could be grown in such elegant, rich color pallets. Not only that but they are enormous in size. Think blooms the size of a bowling ball and you'll get the gist!

I suddenly have the urge to go bowling... In a garden. Huh.

I pay very close attention to color when I'm shooting nature. I'm always making sure that for the most part I'm not relying on it alone, in place of finding better subject matter, to dazzle the viewer. That's lazy photography in my opinion. BUT... there are times when it's a crucial part of the image, or perhaps color even becomes the subject matter itself. Then it becomes another tool in your arsenal of imagery.

I saw these 'mums and decided that I needed their color to fill the entire frame. That, paired with the repetitiousness of the petals and enhanced by the deep shadows I exposed for, made sure the colors would be the impacting visual factor. And isn't that the reason we even take photographs? Because something made an impact? And we're driven to provide the same visual experience with others? I know that's why I do.

I chose an exposure, I chose a vantage point, I chose a subject, I chose a composition, and I chose my processing approach ALL for color's sake. That's a pretty powerful element when deliberately and carefully put to use.

Skip bowling. I think I'll go find me something colorful to photograph.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What Do You See? ~ Exploration Thursday!

"And Then They Were Gone"

I couldn't wait to post this image. I felt like a little kid when I discovered the scene, felt like a little kid at christmas when I took the shot, and felt giddy as a little kid as I posted. And why?

Well... what do you see?

Your answer may be a bunch of leaves. And you'd be right. But when I was busy hiking past them and happened to glance over, I saw what looked like hundreds of butterflies launching into the autumn breeze. It stopped me in my tracks. The light was dappled, kissing some of the branches along the very edge of the escarpment, and it contrasted well with the forest floor in the gorge below. I did not think twice. I switched lenses (55-200mm telephoto), and I waited for the sun to come out from behind some clouds while I composed. And I carefully underexposed slightly to make sure the colors were rich looking without loosing any detail to too much shadow.

It felt whimsical, and dramatic, and I couldn't wait to post it. Even my husband, who is very used to my giddy outbursts when I get a shot that thrills me (and humours me by rushing over to give me a "nice one dear") took one look and said, "Whoa. That's cool... they look like butterflies!"

That sealed the deal folks.

I may play with this and do an abstract version as well... but for now it just needed some slight saturation and high pass sharpen applied for added oomph. Oomph is extremely technical jargon I know, but try to follow along. Where was I?

Right. I guess my tip for the day is don't be so boxed in to only looking for one type of shot, that you miss the other possibilities lurking in the middle of the ordinary. Ask yourself when out with the camera,
"Self... what do you SEE?"

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bathed in Light ~ Wide Angle Wednesday!

"Incorrigible Path"

I love autumn. The light alone this time of year makes any scene or subject glow. I find it very difficult to stay stuck behind my desk when afternoon rolls around, because the light is magical. In fact right now I'm duct taped to my desk so I can't leave the work I have to finish this week instead of traipsing around the escarpment with the Nikon.

It's painful. You have no idea how it's killing me to be stuck inside right now.

The next best thing is to post images from my latest romp over by Albion Falls. This is how I'll have to get my fix. Both images are centered around how the light looked along the trail. Sometimes we forget to make the light the subject, the star of the show. It seems it'd be easier to remember to use it considering that light is the very basis of any photography. Without light, there's nothing to see.

Sounds simple but you have no idea the amount of comments I get where someone says they want to know what caused me to stop and see a certain subject or scene. My answer? It's almost always the light.

"Canopy of Light"

In fact if you review your own images and find yourself consistently thinking something's missing, you may need to pursue better light. More interesting light. Creative light. Pursue the light and you'll find your photography will improve vastly. It's simple but too many try every other solution first. Instead they just need to return to a scene when it's bathed in interesting light.

All this talk of light and photography is making me fidgety. So I must sign off before I run into the street with my camera yelling "I'm free at last!!!"
The sooner I get my work done, the sooner I can get rid of all this irritating duct tape.

Have a groovy day gang, and thanks for the ramble.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Better 'Mum Show Photos ~ Telephoto Tuesday!

"Floral Waves"

The question has come up regarding what my top advice would be for photographing all the different annual flower shows that happen all year round. The question is well timed, as I just began reviewing my images from my visit to the Annual Fall Mum Show over at Hamilton's Gage Park. So I thought I'd share some tips that have worked for me from day one till now. And as always, you can apply these to much more than flowers. So here we go with my impromptu list:

~No matter what camera or lens, you can always find ways to get in closer. On point and shoot cameras you'd be amazed at how helpful your macro settings are for allowing you to get really close yet still allowing you to focus. And the larger the file (raw or fine jpeg option) the easier it is to crop later in even a simple editing program to give the impression of being closer still.

~With a DSLR it's no secret that a good telephoto lens can be a great substitute for a macro lens if needed. Hence the images posted today. It may require you to stand at a further distance from your subject initially, but it gets you much closer visually. Be very careful to have a tripod when possible though, with tight detail you want the image as sharp as possible. 

~When you can, wait for great light. This is hard to anticipate, but once at the location assess what kind of light you're working with (or against in the case of dark interiors with florescents). Greenhouses are ideal, you know whatever the light is doing outside will be infusing the interior as well. But I have found cloudy weather, though great for even lighting, is still dark enough in a greenhouse that I either need to use a tripod again to use longer exposures with sharpness, or I need to use a combination of subtle flash and a higher ISO. Light in the autumn season is the most wonderful light to work with, even when it's full on sun. It's still warm and no matter the direction, it wraps around a subject. I waited for a sunny day to visit the Mum Show and the wait paid off in really rich light bathing the flowers.

~Stop looking for "flowers" per se, and start looking for engaging shapes, forms, and color patterns. It can be overwhelming to step into wall to wall award winning chrysanthemums, tulips, or orchids and then try to figure out what to actually zero in on. I'll often single out the largest or most boldly colored blossoms and aim my lens at those first. It gets me warmed up, and I start seeing things more creatively. I always look for the petals that might still be holding water drops, that are unfurling in unique patterns, and contrasting colors of petal against others beyond them. Clusters of perfect blossoms can be very dramatic if your exposure is set to maximize deep color.

"Sweet Baby Jane"

~ Change that perspective PLEASE. Many displays are at eye level, and it's easy to forget to change your vantage point after a while. I can always pick out the more intense photographers at a show because they're the ones getting beneath the flowers shooting up, tucking themselves against displays shooting across or into rows of fabulous flowers, or finding the stairs or balcony of a show room and shooting over top of it all. Heck, I've been know to hold my camera way over my head and hope the auto focus does it's job while I shoot blind over the heads of a group of flowers. Or nearly set it on the floor, just as blindly pointing the lens up into identical groupings for impact. Zooming into the middle of a large bloom on a long exposure setting can be magical too!

~Finally, pay attention to your Depth of Field. Understanding how to use a shallow DOF (keeping your aperture wide open, F/2.8 for example) and how it works in relation to the lens you're using, the distance you're photographing at, and what the purpose of the shot is, is key. Dramatic, creative images can be enhanced with a wider aperture. But later when you photograph an entire display with layers of fabulous flowers, you want to close down your aperture to use a narrower DOF to your advantage, getting the whole scene in sharp focus. And be aware if you're not using manual focus that you are choosing a focus point in your viewfinder that allows you to get the most out of the available hyper-focal distance. For landscape format compositions, this can mean being careful to focus a third of the way into the scene so that everything beyond is also continuously full of detail. And pump up that DOF if your goal is to have every petal in the close-up sharp too.

Whew, a lot of writing today. But I find it difficult to dissect what happens every time I consider photographing flowers... I hope this was helpful?
Have a great day gang, and thanks for the instructional ramble!