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.

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