Monday, January 30, 2012

Albumen in Winter... Mono Monday!

When the chilly weather hits, my lens seems to seek out architecture once again, more than any other subject. The hard, short winter light gives angles and lines what they need to stand out. And a trek through the city to photograph large columns and portico's supporting the city's rich history means warming up later over lunch at the local diner or pub.

Ah... the perks of being a photographer in the great white north.

I liked the angle of this solid bank on the corner of James St. and Main in Hamilton, with the empty space in camera right being filled with the contrasting mess of bare branches.

Processed in PSPx2, the Albumen filter gave it all some warmth and aging without being too stark as a B&W. But this winter light is great for Monochromatic images, so you know I'll be heading out with the camera...

Thanks for the quick post! Happy Monday gang!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Got Pets? Sharpen Your Skills!

"Look Me In The Eye"

I love animals. They can add a joyful element to your daily routine. Just go to Facebook and see how flooded pages are with pics of every one's favorite hairy critter. I find the trap for me though, when getting portraits of the animals in my life or a good friend's, is to follow them around and if you get the odd shot that works and is cute, then great. But that's what everyone is already doing! The key to a good pet portrait (and I'm in no way saying I'm an expert on this) is to bide your time, anticipate moments that reveal their personality, and find a way to include their environment so that there's a bit of a story, or even a comical twist.

"Before The Pounce"

I specifically chose three images today that go beyond your typical "beauty shot" per se and instead include an element or two that make the image unique. I could tell you all the basics of good candid photography... get down low, get at their eye level, get action shots, make sure features around the face are sharp, etc... but we know those. What I tried to do with these portraits was include an unusual element, like the point of view up into the cat tunnel, or the bright clean background making our little glossy black gentleman above pop more (and he IS an avid reader, hence the books), and I used an angle that suggests he suddenly placed himself in the shot to have a look right into the lens. And below, even though she is such a beautiful cat, the last look the little calico gave me after retreating to her favorite chair was one of reaching her limit with the photographer. Her expression along with the graphic lines of the chair overwhelming the photograph set the tone, giving it an editorial look, and even adds a touch of humour. This one image says so much more than the classic beauty close-up. Although, those will always have their place too, don't get me wrong. I'll dive more into that on Friday.

"Princess & The Camera"

And one last thing, I did use flash for all of these images, along with my 50mm prime lens for intimate DOF. I had my SB-600 with my Fong Light Sphere attached to evenly flood the space with light, kept the flash on TTL settings and let my camera make most of the decisions in regards to the amount of light so I could concentrate on getting the best moments. I will discuss this further though on Friday...

Till then, get creative with photographing the family pet! Many thanks to my friends Laurie and Josephine for letting me photograph their sweet furry friends! And thanks for the ramble folks!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Flash Fridays are Here!

The SpeedLight I'll Be Using

So here we are, my first Flash Friday for the next while and I almost don't know where to begin. I'd kindly remind you all that this is my first little journey to understanding flash, and am still learning, so would love to hear what the rest of you struggle with or tips on using Speedlights in general. Anything I might miss is simply because... well, I haven't learned it yet!

The first thing I struggled with right from the start was the term "Sync speed" and how regularly I heard it being flung about in conversation. Inevitably someone would use the term as they began talking about their first foray into using a flash, but without explaining what they meant by it. And so from the word go, I'd already be lost as the conversation or demonstration continued.

Except, here's the thing about the term "Sync Speed" and why it applies to you using your flash. You ready? All it is, is a reference to the fastest your camera's shutter can go while allowing the light from your flash to fully enter the camera's sensor for a shot. Why had no one explained this to me? Where was I when they were handing out the Sync Speed 101 brochures? I've discovered that mine for the D80 is 1/200th of a second. If I dial in a shutter speed any faster than that my camera ceases to record all of the light projected from the flash, because the curtains that move across the sensor when you press the shutter are going too fast for there to be any one moment when the whole sensor is exposed to light. Sheesh. Can anyone say "underexposed" and "weird banding across the frame"? That's what you'll get.

So if you're shooting in manual, make sure you are paying attention to your sync speed... the speed at which your shutter AND flash work in tandem. As an aside, my Nikon actually won't let me go past 1/200 on the dial when my flash is turned on. That should have been my first clue that it was already at it's optimum sync speed. And obviously, depending on what you're shooting, you need a fast enough shutter speed to ensure there's no motion blur if doing portraits, candids, or using your flash as fill outdoors in harsh sun. But as you're about to see, you can shoot well below your optimum sync speed (yours may be 1/250 or 1/150... check in your camera's manual pronto if you don't know it) if your subject isn't going anywhere, like with the Lilly photograph below.

"Lilly #2"

This photo was taken with the flash OFF camera about a foot from the flower, since I was just using the flash with a small diffuser attached to it (which we'll get to in an upcoming post) and manually made sure it was on full power and could be triggered by my tiny on-camera flash (dialed down all the way to 1/128 sec.) in Nikon's Commander mode in the Custom Setting Menu and under "Built-In Flash". I chose my aperture for the shot before I dialed anything else in, knowing I wanted a decent depth of field for the petals and stamens. Then I chose my shutter speed after some playing and adjusting and deciding I needed to allow some available light that was already hitting the flower from above to be included in the shot as well as the flash to light any areas that had too many shadows. In the end, my exposure for this one was 1/25th of a sec. @ F/14, ISO100, 150mm focal length (such a slow lens at that aperture in low light situations hence the slow shutter speed regardless of the flash) with the camera on the tripod, and I was very happy with the light. It was a simple set up but you start small and move on from there as you learn right?

Flash is such a broad topic, so rest assured that I'll be blogging about the distance of your flash in relation to your subject, diffusers, reflected and bounced light, soft boxes, set-up, gels, remote triggering, and portrait and outdoor use... and a whole lot more as I learn a little something more each week.

Play with your flash in relation to various light and exposures this week... and thanks for the ramble!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lines = Designs ~ Exploration Thursday!

"Up and Out"

This is the last reflective, sky bound, architectural shot for a little while anyway. Tomorrow I'm diving into what I'm learning about flash photography and apparently this has hit a nerve with many of you. I've gotten tweets and emails from many of you who have mentioned you'll be tuning in because of always having been confused or intimidated by flash... just keep in mind, I'm still figuring it out myself and have a long way to go, but I'll enjoy sharing the things that are beginning to make sense.

In the meantime, I love playing with mirrored effects in PSPx3 when it comes to architecture. You can focus purely on elements of design. I love that the patterns are made of walls of glass reflecting the sky. It's simple, but my screen comes to life with the pattern.

Off I go to decide which area of flash to even start with tomorrow... our jumping off point. And it would seem others have used a flash theme this week too... if you'd like to check out some tips from the master of flash himself, Rick Sammon, you can find his blog feed listed along the right side of my blog in the group of blogs I read or you can simply click here.

See you all tomorrow! Thanks for the ramble!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The City Within ~ Telephoto Tuesday!

"The City Within"

Glass. Steel. Brick. Reflection. Blue. Design. Contrast.

The old being crowded out by the shiny and new. The warmth of the traditional surrounded by cool innovation. A glimpse perhaps at that which still stands the test of time, immovable and sure despite the glitz and glamour.

Or a just lucky reflection caught on a citywide ramble?

See what can happen when you look past the obvious? A whole other world is at your disposal before you even press the shutter.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Flower and the Flash ~ Mono Monday!

Lilly #1 ~ A Study in Flash

A teaser image for a new post coming soon on Flash Photography. Meaning, I really have no time to truly blog today so a sneak peek at a new project is what you get.

I am just learning what my solitary speed light is capable of in terms of light. In commander mode, in manual, outside, inside, it is truly broadening my scope of how I can add drama to any subject and it is allowing me to shoot no matter what the circumstance. This is big for me, I cannot tell a lie.

That I waited for almost five years before I really decided I had enough of being terrified of flash says... well, I'll let you decide what it says. But be nice. At any rate, the first thing I know is that still life and florals have expanded possibilities now that I can play with flash exposure. Today's photograph in B&W is proof. Highly defined subject details, easy use of negative space, lots of drama due to the variety of tones and the contrast created by the seamless back drop. I kept my speed light with a big diffuser very close to the subject, with reflectors to control the light back towards the subject... am working on documenting a shoot to show you exactly what I did for the upcoming post. But for now, if you're not even sure how to activate you speed light, I found this video very helpful last year for the true beginner, as well as this longer video here. If you're not a Nikon user, all you need to do is search YouTube for your flash name and you'll be able to filter through tons of demos.

Exciting isn't it? So Friday, I'll begin my series on exploring flash...
I hope you'll join me!

As you were. Thanks for the ramble!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New Book Review! ~ Exploration Thursday!

Thought I'd do a quick book review today. With a reminder that the author has no idea I am blogging about it, and I am not recieving anything from anyone for endorsing this book. I just really, really, really like it. Really.

I recieved this book as a gift from the hubby, knowing how much I have loved the other three books of duChemin's. And as usual it is infused with David's charm and great ways to approach your photography with the intention of having something to say with each image you make. In fact, if I was only allowed to describe in one word the theme of this book it'd be "intention"!
How you intend to draw the reader in. How you intend to convey those key parts of the scene. How you intend to tell the story you captured. Intention. This was the gauntlet thrown down to anyone who holds a camera.

How I wish this book had been written 5 years ago when I was first waffling through finding my own appraoch to photography. If you pair this book with David's earlier book "Within The Frame", you'll have the inspiring and challenging recipe for understanding just what makes an engaging image tick, and what needs to motivate the decision to take it in the first place.

If you're looking to take your photography more seriously, and are struggling with all the aspects of the various tools composition, and design, and intention have to offer... then I seriously recommend procurring this book.

Study what you love, practice it thoroughly. I'll leave you with my favorite quote from this book, which you can purchase at any bookstore or online here.

"Perhaps the steepest learning curve in photography is learning to see as the camera sees" - David duChemin "Photographically Speaking" 2011

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Waiting on a Sunset ~ Wide Angle Wednesday!

Two Pillars

I spent part of my Sunday standing around at the top of a parking garage with my camera, waiting for the light to do it's thing. The hubby and I were there for about an hour. But I knew it'd be worth it. The sun was going to set behind us, lighting the clouds in sunset colors ahead of us, and more importantly - the two towering condos made of steel and glass.

I don't think I would have taken this shot if the light, the location, and the weather hadn't been so accommodating. It was coincidence we were even on the roof of the garage, it had a level entrance from the street before the street angled downhill and we assumed we were just getting closer to the two beacons shining in the sun. It wound up giving us the cleanest position to shoot from. I wasn't about to pass it up.

We waited for the light to drop and I took various different shots while waiting. But this was what I waited for. I had my exposure ready, having made sure I didn't blow out every highlight along the curves of the buildings. I had this expansive view showing just how well they stand out amongst the rest of the city and how they reach up into that sky. Had the 18-55mm all the way out to 18mm to be sure. Positioned myself where you could see the ripples in the designs, and the ripples in the clouds. With the light disappearing, no bracketing or filters were required.

You can also view a much larger version here.

It was just delightful. I love when everything comes together.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Whose Line Is It Anyway? ~ Telephoto Tuesday!


I love lines. This is nothing new, I've mentioned this before. Primary diagonals or curving, repeating or contrasting, vanishing, vertical, horizontal... they excite me. Have you really thought about the way lines can be used to invite a deeper look at your photographs? The way they can control what the viewer looks at first? What they look at last? The kind of order lines can bring to the chaos of a potential scene.

Remember that show in the 90's "Whose Line Is It Anyways?" Where, without any preamble, the actors were given a surprise scene or significant line and they had to run with it, build on it, and find a way to spontaneously make it workable and enjoyable? That's how I often approach my photographic rambles. Especially when I'm scouting a place I've never been to with the camera. I get to a location, and whatever is at my disposal visually is what I have to work with. I make deliberate choices to size up what has the greatest impact, and I run with it. After doing this for the last five years, I've realized I size up locations very quickly, finding what will be of significance visually or what I really relate to, or what dazzles me, and I begin to build on it. I take the light and the weather into consideration, the other subject matter in close proximity, and then I decide where the most powerful lines and shapes are.

I zeroed in on the stark yellow line of unfinished balconies against the glass of blue sky on this unfinished condo the other day, while visiting a new location on one of my architectural rambles. I knew the colors would pop against each other, helping to define the central theme of the photo. I also knew that placing them on the diagonal in the frame (while often overused) would expand how the eye travelled through the photograph. I chose to place the yellow lines tracking across the frame in the primary diagonal, naturally causing the viewer to travel over and down naturally, with the contrasting blue spaces and lines tracking along the secondary diagonal up and out to the edges of the photo. By the time you're done looking at the photograph your eye has covered the entire image, other little details and items are brought to your attention with an element of discovery in place,  and will come back to rest on the balconies again, grounding a simple scene taken out of context and making it into a subject of it's own.

Whew! See what a little forethought concerning simple lines can do?

Thanks for the ramble folks! Now get out there and use lines to build engaging images, no matter what the subject matter!
And if you'd like to view this image slightly bigger, you can click on the image above or see it here.

Have a good one! 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Right Back Where You Started ~ Mono Monday!

"Salt & Pepper Skies"

Ever feel like you're being taken back to school in order to move forward? To go back to where you started just to get to where you're going? Caught yourself wondering if the author of this blog has a clue in her pretty little head... never mind, don't answer that last one.

I feel like this is what's happening with my photography lately. After reading several books on photography and art over the holiday season, not only did I feel inspired to keep photographing what I love, but to do it with the intention of creating themes, stories, and showing content with real quality. Something I had left out of the equation lately.

Yesterday I scouted an area about an hour from me where I knew there were some fabulous structures and examples of architectural design. I really took the time to make photographs that will lead to more photographs, if that makes any sense... I had never been to the area before with the camera, so I simply went with the intention of bringing home visual notes if you will, photos that will remind me of the approach I want to take the next time I go back. Not that I didn't get photographs I like, I did. But I'm determined to learn to bring more to the table visually. To do that I had to make sure I could remember to shoot with purpose.

And that starts with the beginning. What lines are powerful? What shapes need featured? What POV is the best vehicle for why I saw what I saw? Is there something I'm neglecting? Should the photograph be improved by switching the time of day? Switching what season I take it in? And do I keep it simple in Processing? Or do I choose to present certain ideas through editing?

Today's photograph is a start. Nothing more. I have loved the look of these urban condos since their early construction. And they tower over the other residential buildings, perched way up in the sky. The glass and metal patterns reflecting the sun, nearly blinding the camera's sensor, but accentuating the wavy aesthetic of the architectural design. I immediately think of them as salt and pepper shakers! Taken from an adjacent parking garage, I chose to compose the shot to eliminate the scrubby landscaping below, instead, giving them a feeling of isolation, which is how I think it would feel to live so far above everyone else in a building so different from the surrounding habitats. I think I knew right away it'd be B&W, it resonates with the lines against the cloudy skies and adds to it a more formal feel.
But in the end, it's a simple photo. I'm okay with that.

More photographs from yesterday to come, some better evolved, some revolving around one simple concept. But I knew what to do and how to shoot, when I remembered to go back to the beginning and went from there.

Thanks for the ramble... have a great day!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Lilly Sessions

"A Star is Born"

How do you feel about flash? I can tell you that up until recently I was not a big fan. Unless you learn, play, read up on, compare and experiment with what you can do to control the light it can often be a disappointing mess of weird shadows, hot spots and that washed out look to everything in it's path. It becomes that dreaded last resort when you need light.

You missed it just now didn't you? Read back. Do you see the key to learning what a powerful tool flash can be in your world of photography? Let me ask you this: when you're out somewhere and you see a scene that speaks to you, and if you are intentional with your exposure, you take what light you have and using a deliberate exposure you control how much light to give the camera's sensor and you take your shot, right? In your camera you've controlled the light.

Wait. What? I thought we were talking about flash? Flash is just another means of controlling the light available to you. This isn't a new concept. So why are we always afraid of it? Why was I afraid of it? I think because we see light as being beyond our control. That flash is just going to go off, blind everyone in the room, and it changes everything I know about my camera... right? And we always assume the light is the big problem, so to make matters worse, we find a way to dial down our flash to non-existent levels and voila, now the subject looks like it should belong on some Halloween set. Do you know how many photographs I've trashed that way? Too many.

Here are some things I learned last year about flash that I think I may do a series of posts on in the next couple weeks. Things that took the mystery out of speed lights for me. (Heck, we could start with the fact that "speed light" is just another word for flash...)

1) The closer the light to your subject, the better chance it has of enveloping your subject properly.

2) Diffusing the light from the flash with a scrim, with a light panel, or with even something as simple as a light sphere will get rid of those hated harsh lines. You know the term "Bathed in light"? Yeah, that.

3) Your flash can override all the light available in the room, or it can accent it. Decide which is more appropriate to your vision, and then expose for it.

4) The flash really does need to come off the camera, to allow you to be the creative photographer you want to be. It's simple, you just want to harness the light that can be available to you. Google YouTube tutorials on triggering your flash... then go for it.

The image today was created with my SB-600, off the camera, sitting to the right of the subject on the same table top, at full power and zoomed out manually to it's largest flash length, triggered by my pop up flash on the camera which was dialed all the way down to non-existent so as not to affect my real flash exposure. I had a simple light sphere attached to the flash to disperse the light evenly, and had two reflectors to bounce light up under the subject, and down into the subject. My exposure in camera was adjusted so that the only light that mattered was my flash. Basically my test shot without the flash was a dark screen. Then I chose my flash exposure according to how I liked the lilly to look in the light. Basically, a few minutes of playing. And this was the result. And the more I do it, the more I get it. It's just another way of controlling the light.

One of my motto's for the new year is "Remaining static is not an option." For too long I've let things that give the impression of being hard hold my photography back from being everything it can be. Not anymore.
Thanks for the ramble, and have a super Wednesday!

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012 = More Growth

"Wet Winter Brown"

My first post for 2012. Despite wild winds and sheets of rain, I managed to get my first "ramble" for the new year yesterday on the 1st of January. Mostly I was scouting for a quiet country road on which to ramble along more thoroughly in the spring, with a volunteer 'model' or two, (calling all volunteers looking for a free 8x10 in the greater Hamilton area?) but I managed to stop and get this shot with the rain just moving in on the scene.

I think New Years Resolutions can be too much hype and not enough reality, but there's something to be said for looking back at the last year and finding areas in your craft and your life that need to change and need to grow. Growing is what I need to focus on for 2012. After reviewing my work over the past year I noticed something. I started out the year strong, but somewhere along the way, lost focus and if I can be perfectly honest, became a lazy photographer. Let me explain.

Far too often, my images were based less on work and more on chance. Yes, happy "accidents" are nice but I think in many instances when out with the camera I kept shooting long enough to get just any shot, and not returning or waiting or preparing for "the" shot. I can now see it in my work when I look closely at the images from the past year.

I've also noticed that I'm still waiting for "ideals". The ideal weather, the ideal backdrop, the ideal story, the ideal website to finally show it all on. But sometimes that's just an easy way to not make decisions, and blame your failure to capture greater photographs on your circumstances. Instead there should have been times that I decided to learn to use what I had in a new and interesting way, or move on to something better. But in too much waiting comes remaining still, becoming static, and who needs that for another year?
Not I.

So, I'm looking forward to more growth in 2012. To making decisions that count, to exploring new things, to building a foundation my photography can really expand and then stand on when the time comes. Learning to be a better photographer. Which never stops anyways.

Onward into 2012! And thanks to all those whose support I have had for the last year. Can't do it without you. Have a fabulous week!
And thanks for the ramble.