Friday, December 28, 2012

What You See Is What We Get!

"Atlantic Rock II"
Leading Tickles, Newfoundland, Canada

The post today is an image taken from one of my favorite locations from my quick trip down to Newfoundland this past fall. And if I could be honest, this image is very nearly untouched. I say nearly, because some mild high pass sharpen and fade correction was applied to keep the contrast clean, as well as a slight in-camera tilt corrected. I so loved the weather and the scene from that moment in this frame, that I feel to manipulate it further is too much. Does that make sense? 

Sometimes I fear that unless an image is saturated beyond logic, has a multitude of filters and apps applied, wild edges, and unearthly hues displayed, we won't recognize beautiful photography when we see it. That's just my fear, you may feel completely different. That's what's great about art.

For me it's still the old adage that you can indeed get most of it right in camera. Grab that cool light the minute you see it, or be authentic in how you expose for that weather moving into frame, be confident in your ability to capture what you love... if it grabbed your eye in real life, chances are you can go without the Velvet Elvis HDR effect later. And have I manipulated the light's intensity, or colouring, or the scene's perspective in my photos at any point.... heck yeh! When my intent for what I needed or desired to convey called for it. But I work hard to make sure it's then, and only then... and with extreme care. And I've said it before, I don't pick up the camera this much so I can spend all day parked at the computer. 

Whatever you love to tweak and change in your images, or how much, make sure that what you saw is what we get.... your intent and your final vision for that photograph. That's what it keeps coming down to.

Thanks for the ramble! Hope you all had a fabulous holiday celebrating everything you celebrate!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

When B&W Calls

"Then She Gave Me Flowers..."

Today's image is a return to my love of B&W. It's been a while since I felt compelled to convert an image into B&W, usually the images are more along the lines of cityscapes, or portraits, or heavy on design elements and contrast. But as I realised the quality of sidelight coming through the window against my poinsettias, I knew the textures and highlights being rimmed in light would be completely at home monochromatically.

My good friend and mentor Bob Grauer, who's work you can view here, said in response to my previous post about "Flat Lighting" that you can't go wrong when you "listen to the light." I liked it so much that I wrote his words down and tacked it up near my kit bag.

I knew with the image above (which you can click on to see it enlarged) that it was the light that called to me, but it wasn't till I realised that the best way to showcase that light was in my custom Platinum B&W processing that I knew what my vision for this photograph was going to boil down to. 

That's the excitement of photography... have you converted to B&W lately to showcase the right light?

Thanks for the Ramble gang! Have a good one!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Use That Flat Light!

Ball's Falls Conservation Area, Grimsby, Ontario

We're told there's several things we need to avoid to achieve better photographs. Don't crowd a photo with too much info. Don't put your subject directly in the center of the photo. And avoid flat, grey light. But as with every general principle or guideline, there are always times to use the very things we try to avoid. 

 "Welcome to the Garden"
Ball's Falls Conservation Area, Grimsby, Ontario

Take the images from today's post. They were all taken during flat lighting conditions. And thank goodness. In solid cloud cover, colours in nature stay true due to little or no reflection from the sun, they seem additionally saturated, and deep shadow was never a concern, allowing me to make a correct exposure and worry more about composition and vision, especially in the first image of the close up of the driftwood.

"Doorway to Yesterday"
Ball's Falls Conservation Area, Grimsby, Ontario

I'm wary of only ever shooting in ideal conditions, you should be able to capture the magic, or a story,or the vision no matter what conditions are out there. I challenge you to see what happens when the wrong conditions are the right ones... start with using that flat light as a tool in your photo arsenal!
Feel free to click on each low res image to view the larger version, and thanks for the Ramble folks! Have a good one!

Monday, November 19, 2012

An Epic Ramble

"Standing Tall"
University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Been waiting to find time to post this latest image on the blog and on 500px. Taken on an epic ramble through Toronto a week ago with my friend Dave Pratt of Dave Pratt Photography who I finally met in person while he visited here in Ontario. I noticed over the course of the day that both of us had similar styles of exploring with cameras. Ramble along, let something stand out or catch our eye, content to let a detail or subject speak to us, in the midst of good conversation and idea swapping. But that's not always how a ramble with a fellow photographer has gone. And it made me think... obviously we have all have different ways we photograph something, but sometimes we have different exploration styles that lead to the photography itself.

I'm a happy rambler. I like to head in a general direction, without a set target in mind for the most part. I truly like the process of exploring. What feeds my desire to photograph something is catching it at that moment, the way I've stumbled across it, like finding treasure. There were a number of times Dave laughed at me last Saturday because something would get my attention, I'd raise the camera, get the golden nugget in the lens, snap away, and then cackle gleefully. Victory by Nikon. What can I say, it makes me giddy.

Some photographers are more destination oriented though. It's about already having a more "selective objective" in mind. This is me once in a blue moon. A location or subject that spoke to me so strongly that I knew exactly how I wanted to get it in the camera the next time I photographed it. And when the time is right, you don't ramble, and wander, and stray along the way, you zone in on that one objective and work it for all you're worth while you shoot. This is rarely my personal preference when shooting with other photographers... it means every one's photos look slightly familiar at the end of the day because you had one designated spot you all focused on getting in camera. But I will approach a shoot like this once in a while when I'm on my own, setting out with my own goals. It becomes more about solidifying a vision, a set intention that excites you.

Are you a rambler, a wandering explorer like me? Or do you fall into the selective objective type approach more often than not? Neither one is better than the other... but your approach feeds your overall style at some point. Think about it!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Certain Texture

"Exploring Sleepy Cove"
*Newfoundland, Canada*

If it seems as if the blog has been in limbo lately, you'd be right. Life seems to go from one extreme to the other. One minute business is slow, the next, I have work piling up around me. But I'm not complaining.

I'm embracing the various textures that are making up my life lately. A little travel, adventures into newer job descriptions, a little expanding, facing some personal fears, approaching some personal weaknesses... and absorbing the things each item brings to the table of life.

And having life textured by so many different elements can only mean one thing. It's bound to show up in my photographs. Whether I want them to or not, the things being absorbed by me every day have the ability to pour out of my images too.

Why is this important enough to mention today? Cause I've realized in the past I've tried to shield those things from seeping into my work. And did myself a disservice each time I did. In an attempt to strive for a certain look, or expression, or ideal, or vision, I shucked my ability to use what was going on around me to take my photography to a new level.

Funny that the tag line on my website is "Show The World Who You Are"... and I was avoiding that very thing myself. Let's change that.

Monday, October 15, 2012

It's That Simple...

"This Way To Sleepy Cove"
*Sleepy Cove, Newfoundland, Canada*

Good afternoon my friends! The blog is BACK! I hope you've missed our little get-togethers! I know I've missed it. I've been working hard, and doing a little traveling, and working some more, and it's been rewarding. But I couldn't wait to get back to this. So here we are! Let's chat...

If you asked me right now what I most love about photography, what gets me really excited about the pursuit of this entire vocation called being a photographer, I'd have to say the act of picking up the camera is the best part for me. Sounds obvious I know. But as simple as it sounds, I get the impression from many in the industry that somehow that fundamental action is just their stepping stone to the other things they love. Creating new gear, new websites, new sales, new speaking opportunities, new trends, new apps, and new careers. Not that everyone is like that, or that those things are bad. But as someone striving to pursue photography, I've realized that my favorite thing is still just picking up the camera. And when I forget that, my love becomes a chore. It's that simple. 

My trip to Newfoundland two weeks ago made this very clear to me. I did nothing but carry my camera with me everywhere, and it meant 10 days of only photographing things I instantly connected with or impacted me visually and emotionally. And let's be clear, I can do that in my own backyard too... however I'd forgotten why I loved picking up my camera, the job aspect of all this meant other things had begun to distract. But on the trip it all came back... finding compositions out of chaos, choosing simple details, deciding what light was exciting, what scene was calming, what location was majestic, what elements were at play in the viewfinder, what story or emotion I could capture. I love the doing of it. It's that simple.

So here's an image from my trip where my host and good friend Dianne, and I,  climbed down a mountain trail to get to the ocean at Sleepy Cove. It's a simple shot but never underestimate the simple shot, it can represent so much for the photographer, and later the viewer. My intent was to explore, and let the camera record the things that spoke to me. An easy thing to forget in the mad surge of life. Easier to remember with the ocean roaring against the rocks!

I think I'll hang this near my work desk... to remind me that for everything I do with my photography, it's picking up my camera and putting it to my eye that affects me the most. It's that simple.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Thanks For The Inspiration!

"That All Men May Know His Work"
Gold Mosaic Dome - Royal Ontario Museum

Today's image is dedicated to someone who reminded me last week that no matter what I photograph for a living, lofty perspectives and architecture will always be what excites me the very most, the one thing I can never resist shooting. So much so that this friend, and a band of a few other photographers, now call photographs like the one above the "Duncan shot".

I simply call it "always looking up". My hubby calls it a good way to get a permanent crick in your neck.

So Peter Abbink, this photo is for you today. Your own versions of the "Duncan shot" inspired me to make sure I looked for a lofty perspective this week. And I found it in one of my favorite Toronto locations, the ROM. Can you believe I've never photographed this ceiling yet? That had to be corrected pronto. While on a trip with the family this weekend, I made sure I got a few shots off in your honor.

This is basically straight out of the camera. There was some sharpening to be sure, but I didn't even have to tidy the crop since I used my grid guide in the view finder... and was I ever excited to share it.

What's your approach to photography that's uniquely you? What's your strength, what inspires hands down every time you pick up the camera? Think about, and have a great week gang!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Need To Breath

"Empire Sandy"

Such a busy month. As I predicted it would be. So today on my work break I felt the need to revisit some images from last summer. This one caught my eye so I decided to share. It's from a visit from the Toronto waterfront, and one of my favorite places to take the Nikon whenever I need to get away from the desk and just breath in something new... new skies, new clouds, new people, new surroundings, new scenes.

September will mark my steady return to our little blog, and I even have a photography trip out east coming up... plus I'm looking forward to showcasing some weddings that have come my way. So keep your eye on this page from time to time this fall! I'm excited!

Where do you go when you need a break from your surroundings? Where's your "need to breath" spot?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Flash...From Foe to Friend

"Before Flash..."

Can I be honest? I'm a natural light dweller. I have used the virtues of available natural light to hide from having to learn flash photography. That's right, I admit it. I have had a healthy dose of flash aversion since day one, and with good reason. It always seems super bright, blinds everyone within an eight block radius, and can add the most warped shadows to a scene, taking it from well lit to horror show, in one pop of the flash. Who in their right minds wants to look like their photography is one giant photo essay on deformed shadow puppets? 

Terms like sync speed, TTL, flash exposure, dragging the shutter, and radio slaves sent me scurrying for the safe harbour of a flash-less existence where I understood proper english and simple exposures for natural light. I even tried to psych myself up into barging fearlessly into the flash experience by publicly stating I'd do only flash each week on the blog, which was a huge mistake because the pressure was too much and I chickened out once again.

Well, last weekend I was at a women's conference in Columbus Ohio, and one speaker taught about how to embrace the unknown in a practical way and I knew I could apply her teaching to my fear of flash once I got home. It requires a dose of reality. I only THINK flash is scary and difficult... but what I BELIEVE about flash photography is that when done well, it opens up new opportunities for you and your subjects/clients. Next, ACTION needs to follow your BELIEF, which trumps your unrealistic THOUGHTS. My action? I need to slowly develop a list of ways I can use my flash that best suits my style, and gradually learn how to create those photos with the settings my flash affords me. I need to play with it. When I looked at it this way, flash seemed doable.

So today I'm posting my first real experiment with on camera flash as fill light in low light situations. After some reading, this first approach seemed like the best way to inch into making the big scary foe my friend instead. In low light, my flash can become my ally. Now that's something I can embrace! And I'm reviewing my settings and my choices, and applying them to new sessions, with great success.

At the top of the page is the before image, my subject outside in the evening's last light on a semi cloudy day. Things just look flat, and her face has some dark shadows around her hairline and neck, and no catch lights in her eyes whatsoever. Even with my exposure carefully tweaked after metering, and bumping my ISO way up to 800 after the initial shot so as to keep a decent shutter speed in the darkening scene, things just look bland and shadowy.

But the image below? If you click on it, you can see shadow is gone on her features, she has catch lights in her eyes adding life, and shine to her hair and lips. Nothings over the top, and processing required very little work afterward with only some slight colour saturation, heightening of the warm tones, and some sharpening required. My flash setting was TTL (Through-the-lens metering... meaning your camera does the metering work and relays that info to your flash which will supply the light it assumes it needs) and it was sufficient for the portrait. What I was missing was my sideman who normally would be off the the side with the reflector to bounce more light into the subject. But you get the point....

"After Flash..."

This is no killer portrait by any means but I was able to enhance a set-up I desperately needed to learn from! That's so important to me. I have finally found a way to ease into making flash my friend, and not a moment too soon, as I have several events coming up which will be a good way to establish the new skills I'm  steadily working on. How exciting!

I know this was a lengthy post today so let's just ask this question...

What's your big scary foe? It could be your best friend if approached the right way! Thanks for the ramble... have a great day!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Taking Time Out

"Chipmunk Crossing"

Don't you love it? Took this on the Cherry Hill Gate trail down to the marshes last week with my friendly photography rambler Kelly. Someone working on the local bridge construction definitely had a sense of humour! And questionable spelling skills but I digress. We howled as we both raised our cameras...

How has your summer been friends? I hope it's been full to the brim with vacation days, dining out on patios with oodles of friends, quality time with the family, days spent pursuing a good book in the shade somewhere with a cold Dr.Pepper beside you. Well, something like that...

I get a week off next week and I find myself trying to decide what small photo project I want to set for myself as we take our family hiking, and on day trips into Toronto or Niagara... getting images of the family hanging out before one goes off to university and the other starts high school... and before my August bookings take over. I'm thinking I will keep my eye out for all things humorous... it lifts you up, giving you the chance to take a breath, and feel good. If the rest of my summer felt like that... I'd be laughin'! (Literally and figuratively... I know, I can hear you all groan...)

So enjoy your summer days... I'll be back with some new things on the blog in a week! Thanks for the ramble!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My Time In The Flowers...

"Eating Up The Sunshine"

When was the last time you sat down and reviewed your own work? A deliberate breakdown of what still works, and what has to change before you become stale or appear as if you aren't growing. Deciding what's unique to you, what you'll never change or what your images will always challenge. It's not on our list of the top ten things we enjoy about photography, but when I first started out as a photographer it was a practice I saw being mentioned constantly. But it's been a while since I've heard of anyone actively doing this, so I wanted to mention it today. I even reviewed my own recent work with a critical eye and mind set from my trip to our local perennial gardens, and thought I'd share what I found about my own journey into photography so far....

1) I go with my visual gut every time. And I get consistent results. Sure, I try to use guidelines and principles as my jumping off point for framing up a subject or view... but that's where it stops. If I'm forever trying to shoot within the rules, then I smother the creativity attempting to explore itself and expand itself. Take the above photo for instance. I know it's said that most scenes are better responded to when the viewer can explore the image from left to right... but this one doesn't need to work that way, your eye acknowledges that there's enough to balance out the left with the right side foreground subject. My natural eye didn't flip the scene in the garden before it felt interesting. So don't compromise what excites you for what's considered a normal practice. Sometimes the opposite is the best choice. Not every time, but often enough.

2) My best work is always grounded solely in who I am. I admire many different styles and approaches of photography and digital darkroom. But my art suffers when I try to emulate them too closely in an attempt to remain trendy. This isn't to be confused with choosing to remain stagnant or never grow in my craft, it's a choosing to make sure that when people see my images, they know without a doubt they're mine. There should be telltale signs. I love rich color, I love design elements and height in my B&W's, I love close, low perspectives, I always go for simple shapes and negative space to emphasize nature at it's best. These are tools that stem from my personal approach. If I deny that, my work will never really be mine. And for heavens sake, if you're out there mentoring another photographer, stick to critiquing on skill, not style. You don't want a Mini Me, you want to be able to call them on practices that affect how they shoot and work, not how the end result looks or feels. That should always be uniquely theirs.

3) I still have some stretching to do. I've told myself I need to get back into some street photography and more portraits to hone some skills I've left for too long. Flowers are a great confidence booster, there's no pressure to perform, you can take all the time you want, and you don't have to come out of your shell to talk to them. But if I want to use my photography in the real world I need to be fast with sizing up great light, flattering angles, and anticipating revealing moments... so time to get out of the gardens and into some projects where I'm still learning. Low light is on my radar for self improvement, as is more intimate portraits done right on the street within the community. I'm also still learning how to do a proper panorama, and adjusting B&W portraits for a better, more subtle wow factor.  These are all weak areas that need improvement and I'm not afraid to say it.

I have made a regular habit of peeling apart my little rambles, and sizing up what works and what gets neglected... it gets easier every time I do it. Go back to your last shoot and observe who you currently are behind the lens. It's always revealing!

Thanks for the ramble, and have a super day friends!!!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Nature and Floral Studies...

"Just Beginning..."

Our local park will never cease to be a source of inspiration to me. When I can't get away, or only have a small amount of time available, it's my go-to locale to dust off my skills and have some me time.

This study of a new sunflower is from a ramble I took last weekend. This was not done in a studio. This was out in a perennial bed at Gage Park. I love its color and the elegant way the greenery stretches to each corner or the frame. As I hovered near each brilliant flower or bud with my telephoto or prime lens, I noticed a gentleman watching me work as he wandered around the gardens. Finally curiosity got the better of him and he asked if I was busy taking pictures of only the flowers. I always find this question funny... I'm bent down, crawling on the ground at funny angles, aiming into clumps of flowers I'm obviously photographing classic cars. I said I was indeed and his next question was, "why so many?"

Where would I start? Nature studies are intense and fun at the same time? Floral studies demand I pay close attention to clean exposures, tiny details that will draw the eye, and to feed my need for beauty and color? By the time I'm done I always smell nice and flowery?

Instead of attempting to explain myself, I held up the back of my camera and showed him why. This image was on the view screen and he looked at it carefully then said, "That's THIS sunflower?" and pointed to my subject sitting across from us in the sun. I asked why he was surprised. He pointed to the stalk in the sun and asked why in my photo it was only black in the background, but clearly we could see all the bushes and greenery surrounding the sunflower not five feet away from us. I carefully explained that the bush just behind the flower was in shadow, and if I was careful about how I used my settings, I could use it like a dark screen and make the flower pop.
To my surprise, he asked me to take another one in front of him and prove it. I laughed and agreed. I set up the shot again, and then showed him my result in the screen once more. Satisfied, he shook my hand, asked if I had a website, and said he will watch for more photos from the garden.

We parted ways, and it got me thinking about how we intentionally use exposure to provide the viewer with the story and feelings we wish to create in a photograph. Not just because we know it's good photography to have a good exposure, but because it's a way to showcase the beauty around us. The visitor was expecting to see the rest of the garden within the frame along with my sunflower, and instead he experienced something dramatically different. And that's why I love floral studies.

Photography on any level should be able to do that for you too. Keep that in mind the next time you raise your camera to your eye. Have a great week, and thanks for another ramble, friends!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Whatever Makes Your Heart Soar...

"Sunshine in Your Heart"

I am seeing many blogs and articles lately that I suppose are there to challenge the average photographer. Posts about what's long out of style, what's the latest cool look, where the money is being made, where the money should be spent. Some make a living out of sticking their nose up at the learning photographer still calmly mucking their way through the world of pro photography, and some make a point of telling you to embrace every obstacle and seeing where it all leads.

In all of the mumblings, and overwhelming advice, I hope there are those who still encourage all artists and hobbyists alike to embrace whatever makes their heart soar. I mean it. If art is an expression of the artist's vision and purpose, then how important is it to stop emmulating everyone around you and just be you. Don't worry about what the trend is on 500px, don't fret over the fact that everyone else seems to have their act together, and don't sacrifice what only you can bring to your art for the chance to blend in with the thousands of others who are desperate to copy anything deemed the very best. Because at some point, on a whim, the powers that be will suddenly have a new "very best"... and it starts all over again.

As I work on a new business strategy (yep, STILL working on it... but that's okay in my world) for my photography, I still try to retain a grasp on who I am as a photographer and artist. Yes, I strive to grow. Yes, I try to hone my craft. But I cannot do well if my best is someone elses. Sometimes my need to just be me results in wandering through the local park and coming back with an image like the one above. An image to remind me that no matter what else I do with my skills, this is who I really am. I'm not sure we make an effort to know ourselves that well. We're too busy trying to keep up with everyone else and an industry that seems to be gathering momentum faster than a tornado in a trailer park.

Before you do anything else with your craft, make sure you remember to do whatever makes your heart sing. Whether it hangs in a gallery or hangs out on a website (or just hangs out in your craft room at home), make sure it's all you baby.

Thanks for the ramble gang.... and I'll try never to end a post with "it's all you baby" ever again. Well, hardly ever.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Oh Canada!

"Canadian Pride"

Well it's been busy days around here lately, and I've neglected the blog in the midst of the chaos. But here we are approaching the Canadian long weekend, prepping for Canada Day on July 1st and I wanted to post an old favorite out of my files to celebrate.

Can I share a dream with you? One day, it's my hope to travel across the country in one giant back roads road trip. And take my time, finding small details like this one above, to photograph. Hidden gems in the rural and the urban.... without ever taking a short cut on the highways and freeways. I don't know if it will ever happen but our country was built on the dreams of people who had a heart to explore. And I know I'd get the chance to meet photographers from one end of this beautiful land to the other as well. I think that would be extremely exciting.

It'll be something to plan for when the kids are grown, and the hubby has less responsibilities... for I now I keep dreaming.

To my fellow Canadian photogs and beyond... Happy Canada Day weekend and keep your dreams alive!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Where You Live ~ Exploration Thursday

"The Departure" Panorama

When life permits, I'll one day be able to really travel. I spent some time yesterday looking at travel photography and I know it's a challenge I want to face one day. But for now the timing is wrong, and I'm okay with that. I need to be here for my kids, both starting new journeys in school this fall, and for my hubby as he takes on extra work, and you'll see a new section soon to the blog for portraits.... something I need to work desperately for the next while.

But when I DO have that hankering (sometimes daily, let's be real here!) to shoot interesting vistas, wonderful scenery, or curious subjects, I have everything right here. Where I live. If I time it right, if I look hard enough, if I'm patient and open to possibilities, I can fill that need and get images that still test my skills.

The panoramic shot above was taken at a local marina, one of my go-to places for landscape hankerings. To see it enlarged just click on the image above. I have never tried pano's before, and thought I'd give this scene a try. The last golden light of the day was quickly departing (hence the title) and I liked the cloud cover over the entrance to the boat launch, with equipment standing at attention, ready for the next day's boats to launch out of dry dock. I badly wanted all that sky contoured in the last light. And suddenly I heard the voice of a good friend and mentor, saying, "For heaven's sake CD, make a multiple image panoramic already".... so I did. He's been trying to get me to do this for the last year or so, so Bob - this is for you! This scene has four images stitched together and processed to tweak the light in the photo, allowing me to get from one end of the launch to the other within a single frame. And get all the sky over the whole scene. I was so excited to see this done, that it felt just like coming back from an adventure elsewhere. Now four shots combined isn't genius or anything, but I feel good for my first attempt. That's one for the bucket list!

My point? I will never stop photographing where I live. It is training me now for the places and sights I'll photograph later... that's just too invaluable to ignore, or to sit around wishing I was somewhere else all the time. I hope the scenes I post through the blog inspire my readers to explore where they live, with or without a camera.
Drop me a line and let me know where you live! My stats say that some of you are away across the pond, some away across the world... would love to actually hear from you!

Thanks for the ramble... hope you're rambling about where you live too.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

That Quiet Moment ~ Wide Angle Wednesday

"She Can Reach For The Sun"

Today's image came from needing a quiet moment. My days have been packed with new plans to put in motion, old plans I never followed through on, editing, business matters, family matters, and everything else that comes with family life while working from home.

Of course, my need to pause during my busy day quickly turned into an opportunity to photograph the Clematis overflowing it's trellis for the first time this year. But it was still the act of photographing for myself, no tricks, no special lighting, leaning over the railing of the deck with my 50mm prime, seeing if I could freeze in the frame what seemed so restful to me.

It was rejuvenating to me, and after only a couple shots, I was ready to go back to the desk and the phone, and work with focus again.

Many of my most quiet moments are with my camera in my hand....

Have a great Wednesday, and thanks for the ramble!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Less About Gear, More About The Moment

Sealed With A Kiss by C.Duncan's Photography
Sealed With A Kiss, a photo by C.Duncan's Photography on Flickr.

Someone made a comment a while back that made me cringe. If you take photography seriously, you've probably heard it at some point as well, and it's made you even second guess your skills at times. The comment went like this, "Oh, you should see Christine's photography, it's wonderful. Of course, that's because she has such a nice camera.....!"

Comments like this make it to blogs as a topic of debate all the time, because there's nothing further from the truth and yet, the public seems to think that if we spend enough money, or buy big enough gear, we'll take better photographs than most. I'm not going to rehash this old myth in regards to how camera choice is or isn't a huge factor but I will say I don't have the latest, biggest gear... all I have is continual practice with the gear I have, and the ability to anticipate a worthwhile moment like in the photo above. I have worked tirelessly to hone the ability to compose in an instant and expose for the scene while watching for the sweetest moment possible to press the shutter... all at the same time. And I started out doing it with a point and shoot. It's so over-said by now, but we never say of an artist who creates a great body of work... "wow, he obviously uses the best brushes on the market because nobody paints like that!" Or after being at a restaurant... "hey, anybody would be able to cook like that if we all had a stove that fancy...!" Cause, no matter how nice a stove you give me, I'll never be able to make dinner like Gordon Ramsay... it's the person, not the gear.

For the image above, all I had was my trusty, out-dated but perfectly usable Nikon D80 with it's sturdy little telephoto... and 6 years worth of mistakes and victories, trial and error, till I found my groove, and the perfect moment to press the shutter. And I'm still learning. I'll never stop.

I hope that this is what is more evident to those who look carefully at my body of work. For anyone who works hard at what they love, in fact!

Thanks for the ramble, and have a great week. And tell your local artists this week how much you love how hard they work! They'll truly appreciate it, more than you know.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What I Know About Sunsets...

"At Evening's Bay"

Photographing in sunset light will always make you a better photographer. That is not disputed. That magic golden hour will challenge you, motivate you, excite you, and work you hard. Now that my little family is growing up, I'm finding I have more time for sunsets and I thought I'd share what this means in the camera and to a photographer for those of you just getting started working around sunsets or have been struggling with understanding it's rapidly changing light.

  1. You think you know your camera! Photographing at the pace it takes to catch all the different light in the sky from the setting sun means over time you'll be forced to instinctively know where everything is on your camera without checking. Obviously this frees you to concentrate on being creative and frees you to notice the light on your surroundings or subjects instead of fiddling with the camera. And this skill is needed in many types of photography. Just yesterday I photographed some rescued birds... I had to move quickly with them, and never once looked down at my dials and settings. And I believe your manual setting is the way to go. You'll have total control over what the camera records and forcing yourself to use it means you'll understand your camera that much faster, especially if you make a practice of reviewing your results.
  2. Your meter isn't always your best friend. Or at least that's what I always thought when shooting sunsets till I realized I just needed to understand it's function. And again, this really applies across the photography gamut. But the low light and direction you decide to photograph in during sunset can really mess with your meter. Facing the sun's light, no matter how low will mean straying from 0 on the meter... I find I need to bracket my exposures and have some underexposure so there's color in the brightest sections of the sky but loosing detail in shadow, then swinging the exposure the other way and overexposing to keep shadow areas a little brighter and allow the sky to be blown out slightly. I place them all in processing as layers and pull sections from each to blend the exposures. Even when I'm facing away from the sunset to catch light on certain subjects behind me, I may start at zero but have soon strayed from it into slight underexposure/overexposure to get drama in the colors, rich dark tones and highlights that don't disappear. Know whether you need matrix or spot metering too. Your meter probably won't sync up with your vision at this point and you need to understand how to make it work to your advantage. 
  3. You can plan all you want, but be prepared to go with the flow! If you shoot outside for anything then you know this. The sky and the weather will do their own thing. And over extremely short periods of time. You can hop in your car with great bodies of clouds to filter the sun, then get to your destination 5 minutes later and by then the clouds have gone completely and a haze has set in. Or rain has begun. Or the Extreme Kite Flyers Association has taken over the location and the sky is filled with random shapes instead of the setting sun... in which case GET PHOTOGRAPHING. 
  4. Give your sensor enough time to get it all! Have a tripod please. Have a remote shutter release (or use your timer) for zero camera shake. And get comfortable with long exposures. All these things alone or together give you the means to get the beautiful light lingering in the sky... especially the light still there when the sun is gone.
  5. Know that some locations are more logical than others. We have a wonderful beach not far from our house, but I'll never really have the setting sun in those photos ever... simply because the shoreline faces east. What I can get on that shoreline is the glinting waves from the sun opposite, or the trees on the shore with a sunburst through them if I stand in the water a bit. Or sunrises... and sunrises are for another day. The location seen above however is one I frequent because no matter where I stand in it's open spaces I can get great light. Either the actual setting sun, or the light from it cast across the park and marina behind.
This is just skimming the surface, but for those who have been wanting to photograph a sunset it's about trial and error, and becoming familiar with your personal style, and knowing how to begin approaching the rapidly changing and beautiful light that is a sunset. And with anything, the more you do it, the better you become.

Thanks for the ramble! I know how many of you are beginners, and are frustrated with this topic... I hope this will allow you to dig further into this area of landscape photography.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Floral Friday!

"Ready For Anything"

Another peony from my wander around the much loved perennial rock gardens of Sam Lawrence Park, in Hamilton, Ontario. Today is rainy, gloomy, and cold. So I dedicate this image to all of you weathering something you'd rather not. Hang in there. The sun will shine again, that's a guarantee!

Have a great weekend gang! See you Monday!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

And Then There Was This....

"Solitary Elements"

First there was the lost sunglasses for the third time that day. Then I got chatting with a neighbour and missed the first bus. The driver was heavy on the brakes in short spurts and the man sitting beside me reeked of pot. When I finally arrived at my destination to photograph the sunset in one of my favorite locations, the park was closed off for a water festival (in the middle of the week people?) and I had to hoof it all the way around to the other side, taking up nearly another half hour of my time while the light began to wane....

And then there was this.

My first action in the midst of all my frustration was to launch myself at a bench and have a gripe-fest in my head or out loud to the many Canada Geese lounging nearby. I hadn't decided which yet, when I realized the soothing scene before me. All my frustration leaked away and I got the camera out as I marveled at the serenity and colors the Creator had waiting for anyone who chose to see it. This is why I love what I do.

The first in nearly two hours worth of sunset photographs gleefully taken last night (which I will post in the coming days), I gave it some basic tweaking and posted it for today. A reminder that past the daily obstacles, there's so much waiting for us.

With that in mind, have a fabulous day and thanks for the Ramble...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Why I'll Always Love My Kit Lens

"Where Beauty Grows"

There are some things you'll always love no matter who you are or how you change. Some of my favorite things without question, that I have always loved are old Danny Kaye movies, Anne of Green Gables, the color green, Scrabble, Cortland apples, Patti Lupone, pizza, fresh bread, Spike Jones, the smell of anything drenched in Sweet Pea....and Peonies. Hence today's image, taken over at the Sam Lawrence Park perennial rock gardens.

In regards to photography I have a list of favorite things too. I love towering architecture. I love old architecture. I love sunset light, unique perspective, negative space, the challenge of composing around chaos, and B&W processing. I love Nikons, prime lenses, soft depth of field, lines, contrast, tripods, remote shutter releases and... my 18-55mm kit lens. Hence today's image taken with the most moderate wide angle lens Nikon ever created to accompany a DSLR. But it will always be at the top of my list of favorite gear. Why? Cause it allows me to get photographs like the one above.

Normally I would use a telephoto for a near macro-ish close-up like this, but it doesn't allow me to get the breadth of the massive blossoms while getting up close. Maxed out at 18mm's means I got close and inclusive, the barrel distortion you get slightly at 18mm's means an added depth to this deeply petaled beauty. Every petal stays fairly sharp, this lens doesn't make me struggle with what DOF I can get away with depending on the rest of my exposure like the finicky tele or 50mm fixed lens. And I can handhold this lens in a wide variety of lighting conditions and subjects no problem. That allowed me to get right up next to each peony I photographed and to move around freely, composing on a whim if desired as I framed flowers up in the camera. Tripods are also on my list of favorite things, but sometimes you just don't feel like being held up as your creative flow kicks into gear.

As new and marvelous lenses emerge on the market, don't forget your foundational gear. It's where you are most skilled, where you naturally respond the fastest when shooting, and where your comfort level and creativity feed off each other for consistent results. When it comes down to it... every piece should feel like the equivalent of wearing your favorite pair of jeans, that's when you know each photograph was about what you saw, and not about what gear you used first.

That's why I'll always love my kit lens. It does exactly that every time it's in my hands. What will you always love about your gear? Think about it, and how it adds your photographic process. And have a good one folks! Thanks for the ramble!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Raw is Just Too Important ~ Telephoto Tuesday

"Flamenco Dancer"

Today's image was brought to you by... shooting in RAW. By shooting in Raw I mean that nothing of this original file was compressed or eliminated by the camera as it recorded each shot, and all the digital information was there when I opened this image in Corel's PSPx3 and proceeded to make some adjustments and fine tuning. Yes it means it was a rather large file, yes it means it took up a lot of space on my computer, yes it means I have to have a program capable of opening it but I couldn't have made this shot without it. So for everyone who has banned shooting in RAW for good because jpegs just seem easier, I have some concerns on that way of thinking. I'll use today's image of this regal Poppy to expound further.

The first reason this image was successful being shot in a Raw format was (drum roll please....) "reds" are difficult. You heard me. Intense reds are extremely reflective in nature. They cause your meters to react in wild and woolly ways. Hard sun and you have blowout galore, losing whatever rich color was present. On overcast days like the one I was out in when I took this shot, the blue cast from the clouds overhead did strange things to the color as well. To get a very accurate poppy red in this image, I needed to be able to tweak color temperature, adjust select areas of exposure where the red became too hot no matter what I adjusted in camera, and I needed to use almost a high def processing to keep the layers of petals from bleeding into each other. Bring in some curves adjustment, some clarify, and some high pass sharpen and I had far more control over this in Raw processing than if I had a limited jpeg to work with, no matter how big that jpeg file might be. All without compromising the digital integrity of the file. Here's the unprocessed version with the best exposure possible that day....

Can everyone say "BLECHHHHH"....? Exactly. Dull, with no oomph.
Here's another reason why after all that editing, shooting in Raw won out. The image quality was never compromised after mucking about in all that processing. I could have done the same to a jpeg, but unless you're working with a killer pro camera who's jpegs are bigger than Atlantic City, you're going to notice the image quality begin to compromise. Excessive noise, edges and once sharp details show degradation, and gone is the possibility of a massive gallery print with impact. (All because of an unruly color.) This is just one more reason I work in Raw. But there's more...

At some point, someone is going to want to use your images! You may not think you're heading in that direction right now, but don't purposely eliminate the possibilities folks. This is where I regretted listening to so many people early on in my photographic journey who said I'd never need large files from Raw images, and didn't look into the major benefit of shooting in Raw. I missed my first huge breakout into the world of professional photography when an image caught the eye of another artist/magazine editor and wanted the image in their personal collection and on their magazine cover... and I couldn't give it to them. The file size and resolution was too small because I thought a fine jpeg setting in my camera was enough. Had I used my Raw menu option in my camera, I could have printed the giant canvas he requested, and also could have had a final tiff file that would have more than adequately met his cover page requirements for size and resolution. I can't stress enough that unless you have a monster camera to begin with... you need all the digital info you can get packed into your images. Shooting in Raw does that. Shooting your career in the foot? Not so fun. Trust me.

My advice to the few of you I've had conversations about this with, is don't let the word RAW intimidate you. Do your homework, work out the differences for yourself as you extend your knowledge of shooting with a DSLR, and big, large, slow files or not, Raw doesn't have to hamper your enjoyment of photography. All you need is to find a Raw program in Adobe, or Corel that suits your budget and your needs and the frustration can disappear as you go smoothly from one workflow to the next. The quality of your photography will know no bounds. And that's just too important to ignore shooting in Raw.

Thanks for the ramble... and have a good one!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Take A Little Time

"Have A Little Tea"

Today's image is from a Mother Daughter formal Tea Party I helped host last week for a terrific group of teens I help mentor through the year... and it was so much fun. Everyone went home with the gift you see here, a tiny bag with herbal teas and chocolates. Of course, I had to get a photograph.

I've been off the blog all week. I needed a rest and a chance to regroup. Sometimes we just put too much on our plates. And sometimes we don't put the right things on our plates. Either way, we end up needing to take a little time out. To regroup, recharge, or redirect our efforts. I'll be honest. I'm struggling with staying with finding an outlet for what I love, and branching into the more obvious photography channels for making a living with my skills behind the camera...  so I've taken a little "me" time to help me refocus on what's ultimately important to me and my photography. And make some decisions. And I'm not even certain yet... but I've decided what will be important. And that's important. Ha.

So have a fabulous weekend, and we'll be back to more punctual blogging next week. While you're at it, have a nice cup of tea on me. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

No More "Stealth" Candids! ~Wide Angle Wednesday

"Waiting Game"

Another image of my crazy and beautiful dog Rally. And they really can be few and far between because she avoids the camera like the plague. Actually slinks away if she thinks I'm going to aim it at her. She's really tested my skill at "stealth" candids. You know, when you have to pretend you're innocently taking pictures of something like your laundry instead, from the other side of the room, whilst and at the same time, humming the Mission Impossible theme song, then suddenly swinging the camera over at her and shouting "got you!!!" Meanwhile all you get is a blur of one ear and a tail while she runs from the room. And a very detailed study of your wrinkled laundry.

I'm not fond of "stealth" candids. You might get good light. You might not. You might get a great expression. But you might not. You might have a decent composition.... well, you get the picture. So it's time to photograph smarter. The one thing Rally cannot be distracted from is activity outside the house. She will sit at a window and watch for her despised enemy the squirrel, for ages without blinking. Or birds. Or ants. Or microscopic dust particles on the wind. Tiny atoms floating by. Just look at that concentration, people!

The approach became so easy. Sit with my camera by the window, wait for her to take up her post (which wasn't long because the border collie in her wants to go where you go) and then take my time composing the shot. The window light (what am I always saying about getting window light?) was perfect, no flash needed, it gave some slight rim light around her profile, made her eyes pop and wham! One portrait of her beautiful face while she sat absolutely still. And the whole composition tells you a story of sorts. She's watching for something, she's longing to go outside, she thinking deep thoughts about those floating molecules mentioned earlier... well, again, you get the picture.

So, having trouble photographing your best furry friend? Find the one thing they do well, or stay put for. Find a way to do it near some great light as well. Use your most flexible lens in that situation. And you'll be able to avoid those "stealth" candids once and for all.

Thanks for the ramble, have an awesome day friends!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Change It Up!!! ~Floral Friday

Rainy Day Magnolias by C.Duncan's Photography
Rainy Day Magnolias, a photo by C.Duncan's Photography on Flickr.

Every creative person I know gets stuck. Moments where you're in a rut. You have artist block. Nothing seems new. Or interesting. You'd rather bury yourself in a carton of Super Chocolate Caramel Explosion ice cream and watch reruns of Wonder Woman... well... some of us anyways.

Thought I'd share my go-to list of things I do to switch things up and gain new inspiration. If you've been doing photography for many years, these will be old hat to you. But if you've never tried these, it can put the excitement back into photographing whatever comes your way. Here we go;

Set An Absurd Boundry ~ We all know the ideal conditions for shooting inside, outside, whatever. So give yourself a specific shooting condition and only shoot that way. Only landscapes in the rain. Only portraits at twilight. Shoot every day for an entire month only from your backyard, or along a specific stretch of road. Force yourself to get creative. And tell others about your
self-inflicted project so you follow up.

Use Your Gear... All of It! ~ Use your lenses in creative ways. Wide Angles for portraits! Yep, you heard me. Figure out how to get creative with your perspective and the POV you shoot from and get some cool portraits. Stop reaching for the obvious lens choice. Use your telephoto first when photographing architecture instead of the wide angle. Force yourself to see within a tighter, less chaotic frame. It's simply thinking outside the box but sometimes we're in a comfortable rhythm and can't see anything else, then wonder why our images seem uninspired.

Face Your Weaknesses ~ If you steer clear of macro nature shots because you can't seem to get what everyone else gets in the lens, start exploring what else you can aim a macro lens at. Over the course of a month, those skills will grow. If you avoid portraiture in general, start with a fun project with your family making crazy faces, or only your dog for a few weeks, in different light, in different locations, and hone those portrait skills you were afraid were non-existent. What you learn about yourself you'll be able to apply to what you do love. Or it may open up a new vocation for you completely. And how exciting would that be.

Invoke The Buddy System ~ Invite others to participate. The more the merrier, and everyone stays motivated, feeding off each others energy and experiences. This is what my friend Dave Pratt and I did with our Epic Personal Photo Challenge... we opened it up to anyone who loved photography and every two weeks a new person picks a theme we have to shoot in. We reveal all our images on the same Sunday and discussion runs rampant on what our individual approaches resulted in, and new ways to see a subject. It's fabulous and very inspiring. The fun is injected back into the act of photography, and you can tell by looking at the images each week. You can click the link above to join us if you'd like....

So have a fabulous Friday gang, and let's inject some inspiration back into our photography. Just change it up!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What Do You Suppose... Wide Angle Wednesday

                                         Imperial Cotton Co. II by C.Duncan's Photography
Interesting scene, no? Quite frankly I have fallen in love with the main building of the Imperial Cotton Co. The third floor is one massive space ready to be used for everything from art shows to filming movies, and so full of character. I think I spent more time here during Doors Open Hamilton than anywhere else. This is one of my favorite images from Sunday's ramble through my city. And I think I'll let you decide what's happening in this photo... let your imagination get some exercise.
So, what do you suppose this scene represents?
I'll tell you one thing, photo shoots would be heavenly in a location like this...
Have great day gang, and thanks for the short ramble!