Monday, 9 December 2013

Holiday Snaps Part IV - In The Mood

For many photographers, travel photography is not just about recording memories, it is about creating (or even inventing) a mood.

Sometimes that might mean a bit of 'all-in' editing as with the cable cars above. At others it simply means spotting an incongruous element, such as the flatness of a sports pitch amidst the mountains.

Staying in a place called Limone I felt obliged to take a picture of at least one lemon. I framed it in a shadowy patch of background to make it really stand out from the heavy texture of the wall.Keeping an eye on backgrounds helps ensure your main subject stands out.

Love locks are not unique to Venice but they do tell part of the story of the city.

The shot below shows the padlocks in more context (the above image could have been shot anywhere).Both have a shallow depth of field, so the background does not compete to much with the foreground subject matter.

Masks are another important element of the Ventian narative. Spot metering and then under exposing a little helped isolate the masks below from the rest of the shop window, making for a moodier image.

I needed a polariser and a steady hand to capture these images through shop windows in streets that allow little light. The polariser will remove reflections or glare from polarised light on surfaces such as glass and water.

The church scene below was also extremely challenging in terms of light. Lacking a tripod I rested  the camera on the back of a pew.

Colour popping can be over used, but the amusing advertising board below might have been lost without it, and the technique emphasised the mixture of old and new in Limone. If you are going to use a special retouching technique or Photoshop filter it's best to have a solid reason for doing so, rather than just because you can - creativity, like most things, sometimes requires discipline...

...and sometimes less is more.

Shooting long exposures from the hip is hit and miss, but can produce really dynamic results.

Back in the film days you needed a 'bulb' setting on your camera to capture multiple firework bursts in a single frame. These days combining multiple images in Photoshop (using the 'lighten' layer blending mode) makes the process less fiddly. However, you still need a tripod to keep the camera directed at the same spot, and you still need to get your exposure right.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Holiday Snaps Part III - Alternative Views of Venice

Venice is not just about gondoliers, and I wanted to capture other aspects of the city.
The Piazza San Marco and major bridges are usually packed with tourists and freelance handbag sales assistants, but wondering off the beaten track is rewarded by a much more quiet and tranquil experience full of photogenic potential.

Unusual camera angles or compositions can lend themselves to abstraction. Here I was attracted by the blocks of different colour (slightly emphasised in post-production). Can you tell what it is yet?

If abstraction isn't your bag, maybe surreal scenes and juxtapositions tickle your fancy. Some views can only be enjoyed from the water.

Your choice of lens can help emphasise the characteristics of a scene; perhaps counter-intuitively I used a wide angle lens to shoot this narrow alley way. Keeping the camera level helps avoid converging verticals ( you can fix them in Photoshop, but will usually have to crop the image to do so).

A long lens can help you zoom in on people without them realising - but a wide angle lens can aid discretion too; if you keep the subject offcentre they will think the lens is aimed elsewhere. Unfortunately the guy in this image clocked me way too quickly, and shifted his attention away from his girlfriend.

Another way to surreptitiously snap candids of local characters is shooting from the hip. Focussing can be a hit or miss affair of course, but this time I got it just right. Practicing around your local town helps give you a feel for such blind shooting.

The blur in this next shot was a result of camera shake, and not intended.You cannot tell how sharp an image is by looking at the preview in the back of the camera - it's too small. A monopod is a good accessory for crowded places or trips where a tripod maybe too cumbersome to lug around all day.
However I liked the blur in this shot as it complimented the generally busy-ness and dynamism of the scene - a happy accident.

Piazza San Parco is the symbolic home of the not-so-humble Italian pigeon. Lots of tourists let themselves be covered by the rapacious birds in some kind of subconscious homage to Hitchcock. I wasn't one of those them but I did try to get down to the pigeons' level.

I wanted to capture their frenzied mania so combined long exposures with a little bit of panning.

Sapping the colour from the final image lends it a degree of abstraction whilst maintaining the chaotic madness.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Holiday Snaps Part II - The Gondoliers

Cities present as many photo opportunities as dramatic mountainscapes - none less so than Venice

I managed to grab pole position in our gondola - we were sharing with another couple and it could have got nasty (and wet) very quickly. Our rather grumpy gondolier told us not to move about in the gondola - I pretended not to understand English.
On a moving (albeit slowly) boat, camera settings are critical. I set the ISO as high as I dare on my D300 and switched to shutter priority mode so I could make sure to keep shutter speeds fairly quick in the relatively poor light between the high buildings.Scenes could be fairly contrastly where direct sunlight broke in, so frequent 'chimping' was required with the camera's display in histogram mode. The histogram is a more reliable way of judging under/over exposure than looking at the image itself.

The gondolier in front of us was very obliging when it came to striking some action poses. The fast shutter speed and medium ISO helped keep the action sharp.

Our gondolier was less obliging. I got the feeling his mind was elsewhere.

The next guy's mind was definately elsewhere. Candid shots of people doing uncharacteristic things can be much more interesting than shots of them doing what they're supposed to.

But sometimes the cliches work too. I probably couldn't have made this last shot if I'd been shooting JPG rather than RAW. Either the shadow to the side of the canal would have been too dense, or the area behind the bridge would have been blown out. RAW and the histogram view helped me get detail at both extremes without annoying my wife by taking ages over the shot.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Holiday Snaps Part I - Monochrome Italy

This is the first part of my rough guide to holiday snaps. There is nothing especially technical here - the last things most people want to think about on their hols are ISOs and f-stops - it's more a collection of ideas that can help you create more interesting travel memories that will fascinate your friends and family back home.

The locations featured here are the picturesque mountain-hugging village of Limone on Lake Garda, Italy, and the Dolomites (Dolomiti).

Mountains make for attractive photo opportunities, especially if you have a wide angle lens stuck on the front of your SLR - but look for foreground interest too - to give the landscape depth and perspective.

Look for subjects that help tell the story of the area, such as this statue of a cycle racer (many of whom you'll be able to wave to from the comfort of your vehicle as they sweat their way up the Dolomites).

When photographing statues, icons and the like, consider the surroundings - can they be used to tell a story, or add a bit of drama? Think about potential black and white conversions too; I always shoot in colour and convert later (as you can't recreate the colours if you shoot b&w), but here I knew that polarising the sky would create a nice deep blue that would convert to a dark dramatic grey using Photoshop's black and white tool.

Enjoy the grand vistas but don't forget to get in close and focus on some details too, or as above, make the background more abstract and moody.

When framing a shot, an object isolated on the horizon can make a good focal point. The tree in this shot also adds some perspective to the scene.

Backlit subjects can look pretty dramatic, but may test your camera's exposure meter. Take the camera out of 'auto' mode to be sure you're exposing as you wish - the camera could get a scene like this very wrong, depending on whether it exposes for the bright sky or the shadowy mountain side. Bracketing is a good idea for this type of scene - you can then pick the best shot later, or maybe merge elements of the different exposures together (if you keep the camera very still between shots i.e. use a tripod).

The courtyard above is nnother high contrast scene that might cause your auto-exposure mode to throw its hands up in the air. Shooting RAW allows you to reclaim shadow and highlight detail that JPG would lose - though even RAW has limits to how much can be saved.

Eveyone has their own 'signature' holiday pic - the type of quirky image you somehow manage to take wherever you go - mine is rooftops and aerials. Don't ask.

These last two images were shot through a coach window. I needed a fast shutter to avoid blur, but wanted to reduce reflections in the window too. I couldn't risk a polarising filter to remove the reflections, as I would lose too much light. Placing the lens very close to the window kept reflections to a minimum - just mind your glass!

Friday, 8 November 2013

The Kitten's Tale

If anyone had told me years ago that I'd be photographing kittens with flowers I'd have told them they were mad... and yet here we are. Thing of it is, animals - and small, highly mobile ones in particular - present a special set of challenges to the photographer.
Humans don't always like sitting for a portrait, so an important part of any portrait photographer's job is to relax their sitter and help them enjoy the session - it will result in better portraits. Animals are the same, except you can't unleash your best jokes on them and expect them to fall about laughing.
So, rather than a bagful of witty one liners, approach a pet portrait session with a suitcase full of patience. Have your camera ready and watch your pets play, waiting for just the right moment to shoot. The noise of the camera may well attract their attention. If so, snap another quick shot for that 'eye contact' look.

When photographing small animals, get down to their level, and get in as close as you can without distracting them from their fun. Think about what is in and out of frame; try to include elements that help tell a story - after all, for 32,000 years visual art has been all about telling stories. If something makes for a distracting or irrelevant element, whip it out of shot, or crop to exclude it.
One of the biggest distractions in home-shot images can be the background. Houses tend to be cluttered with furniture, ornaments etc. If you are planning a photoshoot with your pets, have a bit of a clear up first. But you cannot clear away everything, so try setting your camera to a wide aperture - maybe f5.6, or even wider - f3.5 or f2.8 - to blur out the background. Depending on how close you are to your pets, you may blur parts of them too, so make sure you are focussing on the most important part of them, usually their faces.
A wide aperture will have the added benefit of allowing you to use faster shutter speeds. This can be very handy with kittens, for example, who rarely stay still except when asleep. The faster shutter speed will stop or reduce motion blur. You might also consider setting your ISO higher to further increase shutter speeds.

If your camera offers a range of metering options, and lighting conditions are contrasty (lots of very light and very dark areas), try the spot metering mode. Make sure you are metering from (i.e. focussing on) your pet, rather than the background. That way your pet will be exposed correctly, and if the background is too light or too dark, it doesn't really matter - it can even look quite nice, as over- or under-exposure of the background will remove more unwanted distractions.

 A word about light sources. Natural is best. Your camera's flash can do a job, but will distract your pets, and also flatten the image. The image will probably be sharp as the flash will freeze motion, but it will also lack character. The image below is an example. Harold and Maude still look cute, but the other images in this set possess a lot more character, I hope you agree.

If your home is not the lightest (as many are not at this time of year), you could put your house lights and lamps on to supplement any window light. However, be aware that in most cases this will introduce colour casts to your images, and they can be tricky to remove entirely when you have different types of light in the same image.

Lastly, don't get frustrated if your pets don't strike the pose you were hoping for, or if you just miss some 'money shots' - it happens to the best of us, but if you remain chilled your pets will too, and they'll be sure to present you with another opportunity for a cutesy classic.