Sunday, May 18, 2014

Adding extra meaning to family photos

It was John and Ashley's anniversary. Some good friends were there. Their parents were present. Their two young daughters were at the table. A cake and a camera appeared. The only thing missing was a photographer. Fiona, the couple's 4-year-old daughter stepped up and took control with a little help from her grandfather, a retired photographer (me).

Gramps encouraged the couple to get close, they snuggled and Fiona shot. I could have shot the picture, I did help stage it, but having Fiona shoot the photo added an extra layer of meaning and memories to the moment.

Plus a dog-faced photographer was bound to elicit a smile from the happy couple. Did I mention our 4-year-old photographer had recently had her face painted?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Making use of the background

I like clean images. This is not always the best way to shoot a subject and it certainly is never the only way to approach photography, but it is usually my overriding goal when taking a picture. I want the subject of my photo to be immediately clear. No ambiguity. I like my subjects to pop.

Each spring I wait patiently for the magnolia tree in my backyard to burst into bloom. The purple flowers are downright exciting to see after a long, cold and colourless winter. The dramatic break from white is welcome. (My oldest granddaughter screamed with delighted excitement on seeing the flowering magnolia for the first time.)

My favourite images of these magnolia flowers contain only one or two blooms but they are presented to the viewer in a dramatic fashion. This year I managed to capture quite the dramatic moment. I found the angle, the point of view, that placed a striking flower against a background of deep shadow. I found the deep shadow below the evergreens that blanket the hill.

A low shooting angle placed the bright, colourful bloom dramatically against the intense, black background. A recent rainfall decorated the petals with drops of beaded water and the overcast day supplied wonderful, colour-enhancing lighting. (With soft, diffuse light colour defines shape. On a bright day the highlights and shadows carry a much larger share of the visual load.)

To show you exactly what I did, I have included a photo of the entire magnolia tree as it looks in my backyard. Note the hill, the evergreens and the deep shadow behind. Whenever you are taking pictures, watch your background. In many cases, you can control the background by carefully choosing your camera angle.

One last thing in passing, note the colour of the blossom in the close-up and the colour of the blossoms in the overall shot of the tree. The blossoms appear more pink-red in the bottom image and definitely more magenta-purple in the close-up. The purplish flower is much closer to reality.

Digital cameras often have a difficult time accurately depicting colours in the red region of the spectrum. If colour is important, as it is here, taking an image into Photoshop, or another image enhancing program, is the answer. (You may be forced to select the colour in question and to fix the hue without degrading the rest of the image. Colour correction can be tricky.)

Problems with colour accuracy are not new. Photography was plagued with colour shift errors in the days of film. There was a reason that Paul Simon sang the praises of Kodachrome. Shooters loved the colour palette it brought to a scene.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Soft can work online but wilts when printed

Today was my granddaughter's first day of soccer. She was excited. She was up early and dressed for action before 9 a.m. This is not the usual way she starts a Saturday.

I tried to document her first day on the field but it was difficult with only a glorified point and shoot. There is a reason that working pros insist on using DSLR cameras with a strong 35mm heritage. Even when used in auto mode, these high-end cameras can be trusted to always deliver the goods.

The action shot, left, is a really nice picture moment. Sadly, it is out of focus. It works as a small image on the net, but it fails as a print. All too bad but excuses don't make a picture better.

Knowing how iffy it can be to grab a sharp action photo with my superzoom camera, a Fujifilm Finepix HS10, I shot lots. Another image, this one lacking action, shows a great smile that captures the mood of the day.

There are a number of lessons here:

  • Shoot lots. This is always the right approach but in difficult picture-taking situations it is paramount.
  • Try for action when action is the core of the activity but watch for other photo moments as well.
  • Stay alert for pictures and you won't go home empty handed even if you come up blank when it comes to capturing the action.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Photoshop as an electronic darkroom

The electronic darkroom. It was a promise made in the past and kept and still being fulfilled today. Yet, the idea of a program like Photoshop being essentially an electronic darkroom has faded.

The Photoshop software is associated with manipulating photos and not simply printing images to bring out the best. Let me give you an example.

The other day we had lunch at a small, dark restaurant and the meal that I ordered looked photo-worthy. Sadly the room was dark, and worse, it was lit with old style tungsten lights. I took a picture despite all the problems.

The camera, a Canon S90, cleaned up the colours admirably. The mild amount of yellow cast was easily removed by Photoshop using Levels and the white eye dropper. Using Levels again, the white point was raised to brighten the overall image and give it some snap. Finally, the deepest shadows were selected and opened up just a little using Curves

I burned the edges to enhance the detail in the rice and, other than sharpening, nothing more was done. I didn't even have to saturate the colours. The camera and its software and hardware did that just as film once punched up colours. There was a reason Paul Simon sang the praises of Kodachrome.

Could the image be better? I think so. If I made another "print", I'd brighten the overall image in Curves. Back in the days of film and paper, chemicals and filters, I would have done essentially the same thing. Well not exactly the same. It would have taken longer, cost more, and been harder on the environment.

Photoshop and my home computer, a team that makes a true electronic darkroom.