Friday, October 30, 2009

Colour can make a picture

Just colour is enough to make a picture. Shoot these hosta leaves from some distance, include the whole wilting plant, some leaves flat upon the ground, and you've got a picture of a fall plant - a record shot at best, but most likely a simple snap shot. Get close, shoot just what attracted your eye, the bright gold colour, the mix of tones and the tonal shading in bold, almost quilted appearing, stripes - and you've got a picture.

Now, go out and enjoy the last days of fall.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Small camera, big city

Visiting Montreal, I had my little Canon SD10 ELPH tucked in my pocket at all times. Well, not at all times as sometimes it was out taking pictures. The subway was shut down briefly the first night I was there. I got a picture while standing about waiting for the trains to begin running again. When they did, I got another picture.

In light such as this, experiment with the different scene illumination settings. Try the automatic white balance, the tungsten, and the others. Possibly use more than one setting while shooting your images and then pick the best images when you get home.

With lots of time to kill, even the broken squares in the tile floor began to look appealing. I thought, Photoshop.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tar spot makes a picture

Over the past weekend, my wife and I visited Montreal. Strolling an elegant, older neighbourhood, I noticed many of the colourful, fallen maple leaves exhibited large circular tar spots, the indicator of a distinctive fungal infection of maples.

As the overall health of the tree is seldom threatened, approaching tar spots as  graphic elements in a fall leaves composition did not seem too callous. I tried to find at least three affected, fallen leaves with each a different colour. I framed the image with a triangular composition that also drew on the rule of thirds for success.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Shoot fast, shoot often, shoot well

When I was a news shooter for The London Free Press we never shot just one image from an assignment. One picture leads to another. This angle leads to that angle. The opportunities seem almost infinite.

In the film era there was a check on our drive to shoot just one more picture - the film. You had to pace yourself or you would run out. You only shot the stuff that seemed truly good. You learned to be somewhat discerning. I say somewhat because I still recall seeing photogs returning from assignment with six or more rolls of exposed film.

Well, film is history and the check on our trigger finger has been removed. This is both good and bad. Often pictures that didn't seem that great at the moment they were taken, prove to be brilliant when properly cropped in the enhancement process. There's no excuse for letting a picture opportunity slide by today.

Well, there is one excuse. If you shoot way too much, you'll run the risk of missing some good stuff in the editing process. The room for digital images on your disk may seem infinite but your time isn't. It is still wise to be somewhat discerning.

All of that said, if you get a chance for a picture, take it. And let it take you.

Saturday I was on my way to the mall to buy some jeans. I saw a couple of hot-air balloons and stopped for a quick picture - the image of the balloon with the apartment building in the foreground.

I liked the picture so much that I decide to chase the balloons. They were drifting over the southwestern edge of the city, heading for the open fields of the countryside. I might get a nice hot-air balloon at sunset shot, I thought.

Shooting with a six-year-old Canon SD10, a point and shoot with a fixed wide angle lens, it's work finding images. When one balloon dipped low and near, I pulled my car over, jumped out, leapt the water-filled-ditch and ran into the field. I shot quickly. Composing and recomposing my images. The result is on the left.

I thought I might be able to capture something even better. As the balloon rose slowly to clear some distant trees, I jumped into my car and sped off in search of the next country road taking me to the balloons.

At one point, I thought I was too far away to get a picture but it looked as if the balloon was landing and the fun was at an end. This isn't film, I thought - shoot something. The basket below the balloon was skimming about two or three feet above a field but it did not make a clear silhouette because of some a dark grove of trees immediately behind.

I waited. The balloon didn't touch down but moved past the trees. I had my shot. Click!

Within moment the hot-air balloon touched down and the fun was over. I headed home. On the way home I stopped for the picture of the fall coloured trees reflected in the still pond. I never did stop for new jeans.

The lesson: shoot fast, shoot often, shoot well. Oh, and have fun!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Too tired to post

I'm too tired to post but if you come back on Monday I'll have more pictures and some good tips.


For a clue to what is coming try my post on the Digital Journal. There are four images from the above shoot.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Getting close, really close

My little Canon SD10 finds pictures everywhere but it excels when it can get close. The fixed lens, with the camera set to its macro setting, does quite a fine job on close-ups of insects. The images look really fine, especially if you apply the same rules you use when shooting other kinds of pictures. This means capturing action, playing with composition and controlling colour to name just three things in a shooter repertoire.

Shooting Through Glass

For many years I taught photography to students in a masters journalism program at the local university. Teaching them how to approach flash photography was one of the hardest parts of the job. Everyone wants rules. Here's five do's, or here's five don'ts. Follow these and you'll be just fine. (No you won't!)

I tend to distrust rules. They give folk a way to deal with a situation without thinking. Good photography is all about thinking. Even using a point and shoot, even putting your trust in the little computer chip guiding your camera, demands that you and that chip have an understanding.

If you want to be photographer you have to understand a little about photography and a lot about your camera. If I could tell you one book to read to make you a better shooter, it would be the little booklet that came with your camera. The camera maker has a vested interest in seeing you succeed. They often have some really great tips.

An example of a rule that if followed will stop you from successfully shooting a lot of pictures is: avoid shooting through glass. The assumption is that you will always have a picture-obscuring-reflection in the glass. This is simply not true and you can take measures to eliminate the reflection completely.

The easiest way to get rid of the reflection is to have the flash right against the glass. (Pictures shot by photojournalists of individuals inside police cars are often shot like this.) The second is to shoot at an angle through the glass. The third is to shoot in such a way that the final picture is composed in a part of the frame not affected by the reflection. (The shot of the raccoon is an example of this.) I'm sure if I gave it some thought I could come up with more but I you get the idea.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Grain or Noise

In the bad old days of film, pushing film meant exposing the film at a higher ISO setting than that for which it was manufactured. The resulting image had greatly increased grain. The more you pushed, the greater the grain. Push 400 ISO film to 3200 ISO and the grain could get downright nasty.

Today's digital cameras also have an ISO setting at which they are most comfortable. This is the lowest ISO setting that the camera usually handles. 50 ISO or 100 ISO are common. Set the ISO higher and you are, in effect, pushing the CCD or CMOS chip with a resulting increase in electronic noise. This looks a lot like snow on a television screen.

To give you an idea of what happens when you set your ISO too high, I shot today's picture at 1600 ISO. I like the composition but hate the noise. In situations like this, if you must push the chip do it, but only if you must. If you can wait and take the picture under brighter conditions. Wait. You will be rewarded with much cleaner, stronger, more appealing pictures.

Personally, I prefer the image noise to the harsh and almost shadowless light from the on-camera electronic flash. Generally, the only time I prefer the on-camera flash is at parties when shooting couples and groups of posing friends. At these times, we are not going for art but clean record pictures.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Think support_Steady that camera

After getting the shot in the park (see yesterday's post), I returned to Horton Street to await the return of my wife with the car. There was a street sign beside the roadway that I could use as an improvised monopod. With my little camera it is best to refrain from shooting at the high ISO settings, the images get grainy or noisy. I prefer to support the camera, accept the motion blur, and shoot at the usual 50 ISO. It works for me.

This is a worthwhile tip even if your camera has built-in image stabilization. The IS system helps to keep the image pin sharp, heightening the contrast with the motion blurred automobiles. My old camera does not have an IS system.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The advantage of a one size fits all camera

If you have a bag of lenses and fully manual camera, you think you can do anything. You can't. You can do a lot but not everything.

If you have a small point and shoot, like my Canon SD10, you think, "I can't do anything." It is so restrictive. Restrictive? Yes. But, you can do a lot. And once you have faced the problem, tackle it with imagination and a whole new world of photography will open for you.

I like long lenses. If I had had my equipment from the paper, where I worked just a few months ago, I would have been much farther back from this scene with a 200mm f/1.8 lens. I'd have made a picture that was flatter, more compressed.

With my Canon SD10 I have but one lens, a 28mm* lens. For a working pro, it is a slow lens at f/2.8 but for a point and shoot it is fast as it is always f/2.8. This constant lens speed was achieved by simply not offering a zoom. A low tech solution but still the lens is always fast.

This long lens lover is being forced to get friendly with the wide angle lens. It is at this point that doors begin to open. The moment captured in today's picture is but a brief moment. The fog was thickening and thinning as I viewed the scene and the effect, when combined with the setting sun, was shifting literally by the second.

Forced to use a wide angle, I ran into the park to get close to the trees. I needed something in the foreground. I had to work with, and accent, the steep perspective that a wide angle can offer. I got close and then I held the camera high above my head to capture more of the curving sidewalk. I took picture after picture, checking the composition of each one after it was shot.

I had just a minute before the moment passed.

I also posted this image on London Daily Photo.


Got this comment on another blog. I like the line.
"Nice shot! You know they say the best lenses are those two legs!" Comment by: Christopher Szabo