A Low Hanging Sun

Learning to understand and use light is one of the key elements to make your photographs stand out. But it’s also a challenging skill to master. Light can come in so many forms and have so many qualities. If you want to handle light, the best way is to practice one kind at a time.

On my workshop blog, I have written about one that almost never fails to produce captivating photos. If you are an experience photographer you probably already know all I am writing in the post, but otherwise, check it out on Blue Hour Photo Workshops.

Posted in Creativity, Photo Techniques, Photography, Practical Tips | Tagged , | 34 Comments

Space to Breathe In

Space is one compositional aspect I find is often not talked a whole lot about in photo literature. Yes, indirectly as part of the composition, as the point-of-view you choose when taking a photo, as in how you build a photo with for instance a foreground, a middle ground and a background, and sometimes as something called negative space, which is just another word for emptiness, to put it somewhat bluntly. The actually feeling of space, of openness or the room in which the photo resides in, is hardly ever addressed as such.

For me this feeling of space is tremendously important in any picture. It can make or break your photo. Space makes the eye and the mind come to rest in a photograph. If you are able to capture a feeling of space, you open up the viewer’s perception to explorer what lies within and beyond the obvious. Even in an otherwise cluttered composition, space and a feeling of room encourage the viewer to breathe and slow down and spend more time within your photo.

As I mentioned in my post two weeks ago, Some Things Never Change, space along with time are two factors that are completely camera independent. No matter how advanced the camera you have is it cannot pick the space you choose to photograph. Space is yours to handle, whether you use a cell phone or a professional DSLR- camera.

Try to open up the space. Move around the subject and see if you can open up the space that surrounds it. Move out from enclosed and cramped positions and bring space into your photos. Of course, sometimes you want to create a feeling of tightness and constricted boundaries. In that case you might not want to open up the space in you photo, but in most cases, a feeling of space is good.

Think of your subject as been placed on a stage. You have been to the theatres, no? Maybe then, you have noticed how the stage has carefully been arranged to give a feeling of space and depth. You have backdrops placed at different distance from front to back on the stage. And you have an open space where the act itself can develop. It is all done to create a three-dimensional impression and of course a place for the play to be acted out.

That same impression you want to create in your photos, even if they are nothing but two-dimensional and flat «stages». Try to create a perception of an open space where the story in your photo can unfold and try to make it feel three-dimensional. Part of this is the classical compositional advice, which is placing various elements in the foreground, the middle ground as well as the background, just like backdrops on a real stage. For instance framing the main subject with an opening through some trees or through a doorway will emphasize a feeling of depth. If you add some mountains or a city in the background, you go even further in creating this feeling of three-dimensionality.

Of course, on a real stage in a theatre you literally create the backdrops and place props exactly where you want them to be. When photographing real life you cannot really do so. Instead, you need to move yourself around to find a point of view that brings available «backdrops» and «props» into your viewfinder. It does not necessarily have to been more than a step or two to one side or the other, and suddenly the stage falls like magic in place. Or you may just have to turn the camera in a different direction—or a combination of the two.

Along these lines, see how you can open up the space and really create a feeling of a wide stage. In a cramped room, you may not have many options, but in most places, you can easily open up the space, again by either moving yourself and/or turning the camera.

If, for instance, you are taking a portrait on the street, maybe of your family on vacation somewhere, do not place the family members up against a wall; do not even shoot them with a simple wall as a background a bit further back. Yes, that does create some feeling of space and depth, but still nothing compared to if you turn yourself around 90 degrees and instead of a wall have the whole street running into the background. Now place your family in that stage and your photo suddenly tells a much more in-depth story, literally.

However, keep in mind, in doing so you do run the risk of creating a busy and cluttered background, simply because you fill it up with more elements. So while expanding the stage this way, you still need to make sure to clean up the background. Things become a little more complicated, but you will see that after some practise, the open space you capture this way, will give your photos a different boost.

We human beings like space. Nothing is quite as calming and arousing as standing at the boundary of the ocean and take in that open space that curves around the earth. Or standing at the top of a mountain range and literally feel on top of the world and all there is, is space above and abound. That feeling that is so alluring is what we want to bring into a photo, at least to some extent.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken a Canon EOS-1D and a 28-135 mm lens set at 28 mm. Shutter speed: 1/50 s. Aperture: f/20. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Posted in Creativity, Photographic Reflections, Photography | Tagged , , | 48 Comments

Last Week’s Instagram

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Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week (this photo is actually more than a week old, but I haven’t posted any new material the last week). It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Panasonic Lumix LX-100 with the lens set at 34 mm (the equivalent of a 75 mm for a full frame camera). Shutter speed: 1/125 of a second. Aperture: f/2.8. The photo was transferred to my cell phone and then processed with the Snapseed app with the Drama filter.

Posted in Personal Work, Photography | Tagged , | 51 Comments

Pay Attention

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I think all creatives yearn for some kind of success, some kind of recognition for the work we do. Success is maybe not why we photograph, write, paint or travel—or whatever creative activity we do—or ought not to be. The work itself, being creative, is a reward good enough if we only let ourselves not get obsessed with the thought of success. The craving for success can actually get in the way of our creative endeavour.

Nevertheless, we do feel good when we experience some kind of success, whether it’s monetary gain or just some heartfelt feedback from a good friend. I am sure you know what I am talking about.

Success is all in our minds, though. You cannot control how the world will receive and perceive your artistic work, but you can be in command of how you feel about it yourself. If you let yourself feel good about actually having achieve your creative goal, whether it’s a book you have written or a photo project you have undertaken, your creativity may flourish even more.

I know, it’s easy to say. Because we do yearn for some kind of recognition from the outside. And when it doesn’t come —and often it doesn’t or takes a long time to arrive—we feel discouraged or even dumped. What really happens then is we fire up under our own scepticism.

Perhaps the greatest barrier for a creative life is this deeply held scepticism that we all hold inside of us. When we don’t experience the success we so want, we nourish our own scepticism. Then we start to doubt. We doubt our creative abilities. We doubt we have it in us at all, and these doubts are very powerful.

Very often when success doesn’t show up, we give up, let our creative self down. Instead, we let ourselves sink into addictive thoughts. Rather than living now, we spin our wheels and indulge in daydreams of could have, would have, should have. We stop being creative, even resent it and fall into a black hole. Life is no longer what it is, but what it could be or ought to be. According to Julia Cameron, a writer, director and producer—and the author of the book The Artist’s Way—one of the greatest misconceptions about artistic life is that it entails great swathes of aimlessness. The truth, according to her, is that a creative life involves great swathes of attention. Attention is a way to connect and survive.

So when you feel miserable and futile because success has failed to appear, instead of letting yourself sink into despair and resignation, start to pay attention to what is beautiful in your life. Try not to worry about your creative disappointment, be aware of the now. Live in the now. You still have creativity in you; you are still creative, no matter success or failure. Success or failure has little to do with quality of life—creatively or otherwise. Again, according to Julia Cameron, quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity to delight. If you are able to feel delight even when life is hard, success doesn’t show up or when you lose someone you love, you can recover and feel alive again. If you are able to feel delight, you will gain trust in your creative abilities again. You will start to create again.

And here is the point: The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention. If you pay attention to what is right now, the small pleasure that always are, you are on a path to creative recovery.

The award of attention is always healing. It begins as the healing of a particular pain—the lost lover, the sickly child, the shattered dream, the lack of success. But what is healed, finally, is the pain that underlies all pains; the pain that we are all, as Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke phrases it, «unutterably alone». Attention gets us back on the track, and what more is attention is an act of connection. This I know from my own experience.

Some 15 years ago, I went through a divorce. As anyone who has undergone a divorce knows, it’s a painful experience. After my divorce, I pretty much withdrew from everything. I stopped seeing friends, I didn’t go out anymore, I didn’t engage in anything besides work and spending as much time with my kids as possible. In reality I gave up myself, I felt ashamed and I felt guilty. Eventually my creativity—that my work so depends on—stagnated as well.

I would take long, solitary walks, and I would suffer. Then one day, as I was doing a day hike up in the mountains surrounding the city I live in and was immersed in my own ominous thoughts, a little girl ran into me. She had been chasing a butterfly and hadn’t seen me at all, before she bumped into me. «Isn’t that a beautiful butterfly», I remember her saying. In fact, it was a rather dull, bleak butterfly, but suddenly I did see its delicate beauty. And then I started to notice the small flowers that grew out around rocks, I noticed birds in the sky and saw the imaginative figures the clouds formed on the sky above. It was as if I suddenly was awakened. I started to pay attention. I started to live in the now again. I started to appreciated what was.

Not long after my life got traction again—included my creative life.

The poet William Meredith has observed that the worst that can be said of a man is that «he did not pay attention».

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken on Ilford XP-2 film with a Canon EOS-3 and a 16-35 mm lens set at 20 mm. The photo was scanned and processed in Photoshop.

Posted in Creativity, Photography | Tagged , | 115 Comments

Last Week’s Instagram

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Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week (this photo is actually more than a week old, but I haven’t posted any new material the last week). It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon EOS-5D with a 24-105 lens set at 85 mm. Shutter speed: 1/320 of a second. Aperture: f/22. The photo was transferred to my cell phone and then processed with the Snapseed app.

Posted in Personal Work, Photography | Tagged , | 38 Comments

Natural Light Indoor

Nothing beats natural light. It’s versatile, always changing like a facet, thus always surprising and so beautiful. Even in places, you recon you would need to use artificial light; you may take advantage of natural light. Think indoor. Your first thought may be to turn on the flash, but instead of its harsh and contrasting result, here is a different approach.

If you are interested in this practical tip, you will find more about it on Blue Hour Photo Workshop’s blog.

Posted in Creativity, Photo Techniques, Photography, Practical Tips | Tagged , , | 35 Comments

Some Things Never Change

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In my post A Delicate Balance last week, I wrote about the dialectic process that photography is. On one hand, you have the technical foundation, that a photograph comes into being by technical means; and on the other hand, that for a photo to capture its audience it needs to hold some emotional content. I also stated that the later is the more important factor. As I wrote, an emotionally loaded but technically poor photo trumps a technically perfect photo lacking emotional content—any time.

What I find interesting is that today it seems like it’s easier than ever to take photos. Present days cameras have become so advanced and at the same time so easy to handle, that everybody can make a technical well capture photograph without knowing much about the technical part of photography at all.

I want to underscore that I just wrote that it seems easier than ever. Because it still isn’t easier to capture the emotional content—and not even technically is it easier, really, with respect to using technique to emphasize a photograph’s content and story. Yes, it is easier to get a perfectly exposed and focused photo, but technique is not only about this. Technique has a far more important role to play—at least if you take your photography serious. You want to understand how you can use for instance shutter speed and aperture visually and how they impact the visual language to substantiate the story you are trying to tell.

The reality is that taking photos that both engage and capture the essence of a moment requires more than just having a advance and intelligent camera—no matter how much of a technical wonder it is. As much as any camera today operates stunningly well under most conditions—and their capabilities keep improving every year, they cannot make the decisions that result in great photos. Only you can. No automatic setting can determine how you want to frame your subject. No automatic camera can decide the best moment to press the shutter button. No camera can choose what you want to photograph. Only you can.

Photography is a skill and a craft. Yes, the technological development has, on some levels, made it easier than ever to take photos. But if you desire more than just perfectly focused and exposed photos—which, by the way, is not guaranteed in and of itself even with today’s cameras—you still need to learn the craft. The camera cannot think for you or distinguish between a terrible photo, an ordinary photo or the masterpiece. You still have to take command of the photographic moment and the camera—whether it is a cell phone, a point-and-shoot camera or an advanced DSLR you use.

Two very important factors that has a huge impact on the visual expression of photography is complete independent on the camera you use and how advanced—or not—it is. The fact is, these two factors are all yours to decide and this has not changed a bit since photography was invented in 1826 when Nicéphore Niépce captured the first ever photograph.

Your choice of space and time when you take a photo will always be independent on the camera and camera technique. If you want to take photos that respond with an audience, you will need to learn how to use both space and time to capture those telling images. In many ways, this is the classical time-space continuum. This space-time continuum is a mathematical and physical model that combines space and time into a single idea. We all exist in this continuum, whether we are aware of it or not, and every photo captured will relate to it.

Don’t let me over-complicate things, though. Understanding that a photo is taken in a certain place and at a certain time is easy enough to grasp. That in itself will have some historical value, but the space-time continuum has far wider implications on how a photograph is perceived.

Space, for instance, as a primary consideration, goes to what you point your camera at, your choice of subject. You need to be in the same space as the subject you want to photograph in order to be able to photograph it. Maybe one day you will be able to capture images formed in your mind without having to direct a camera towards a physical object. However, as I see it, it would no longer be a photograph.

Therefore, you need to pick a space that coincides with the subject you want to photograph. Furthermore, once you have decided on what you want to photograph you also have to decide how you want to frame it. This is clearly space related, too. Which point-of-view you decide on will have a huge impact on how your story in the photo is told. Then finally, you have to decide how you want this stage to be built. What do you leave out and what do you keep in? All these considerations are related to an understanding of space.

Time, on the other hand, is a variable that has other implications on a photograph. First of all, you need to consider when you want to take a photograph. Traditionally, most photographers know that taking a landscape photograph when the sun sits low on the horizon creates a very different result than a photograph of the same landscape taken at midday when the sun is in zenith. Time has also to do with your choice of moment, when to push the shutter release. In a landscape photograph just mentioned, the exact moment will not be as critical as when you a shooting some sport event in which a fraction of a second between two photos can make a big difference in the end result. Finally, time is also a cause for consideration as to what shutter speed you want use to render your idea of the subject. This later time factor is of course a little more technically depended, as you will have to choose a shutter speed that the camera lets you use.

Being consciously aware of space and time will make you a better photographer. The good part of learning to navigate them? You will never have to relearn how to use them if you want at some point to change your camera, because these factors—which have a huge impact on the visual expression—are complete camera independent.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon EOS-5D and a 24/105 mm lens set at 24 mm. Shutter speed: 1/200 of a second. Aperture: f/5.6. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Posted in Creativity, Photographic Reflections, Photography, Properties of Photography, Travel Photography | Tagged , , , , | 48 Comments