Sunset Photography Tips: The sun is the background not the subject

Great Sunset Photography – Folks, there is nothing more boring than a sun ball sitting on the horizon on a clouds less evening.  Yet head to any beach on the coast and you’ll see people lined up with their smartphones snapping away as if no one as ever seen such a sight.

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These images become meaningless and boring to anyone except the person who took it.  It’s a great memory from a glorious vacation for the picture taker, for everyone else it is the same boring sunset photo they’ve seen a thousand times.

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The trick to a great sunset photograph is to use the sun for its amazing background color but to find an interesting foreground subject.  The sun ball is not an exciting subject – it is a background.  We’ve all seen a sun since we were still using yellow crayons in kindergarten, show us something new.  Show us the beautiful light glimmering off the water.  Show us a fishing pier lit with oranges, pinks and blue.  Show us people silhouetted by the bright waning daylight.  Anything interesting!

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Study your location, learn where the sun will be at sunset and then look around for an exciting subject for your shot including foreground, middle ground and background. Pray for clouds as empty skies can be rather uninteresting and dull.

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Meter your shot for the sunlight and let the subject go to silhouette (you might have to tweak the results in post processing) and bracket your exposures.  White balance can be set to daylight to keep the amazing warm colors.  Auto white balance will most likely remove the warm cast and turn the whole scene cold and sterile.  Take charge and experiment with your white balance setting and by all means, shoot RAW so you can easily change the white balance later in post processing.

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Another tip is to use a tripod and set up the shot before it gets too dark.  Manually focus on your subject as your autofocus might not work too well in low light.  Also a tripod will allow you to shoot at lower ISOs to prevent grainy shots and smaller apertures to keep more of the scene in focus.

 
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Auto settings on a point and shoot camera will tend to open the lens wide giving you a shallow depth of field and will focus on the closest thing it thinks is a person.  Consider these cameras are designed for selfies and family photos so you will have to take control.  Try the “Sunset” mode if your camera has one but test the results and go to aperture or program mode for more control.

Since you will be dealing with a scene that has intense light in one area, its easy to create an image that is mostly shadows.  Take test shots and use the exposure compensation dial to compensate for the tricking lighting situation.

 

 

Capturing a sense of place in your photography

A group of barns in Windsor, Vermont.

Vermont – How does one truly capture a sense of place in photograph? That’s a good question with no definitive answer. There are no camera settings or com-positional rules that guarantee one will come back with a photograph that captures the essence of a place. But there is I think an ingredient in the recipe that is universal and that is time.

I’ve visited this old barn compound in Windsor, Vermont on many occasions in all different seasons.  It’s one of my favorite spots to return to and work out the various compositions afforded by this interesting spot that most would simple drive by on their way to the “top ten” tourist spots.

To truly start to understand a place and then transfer that feeling to others in your photography required spending time in a place. When photographers fail to capture a place in their images, with the result being “ho-hum” or dull photos, its typically because they show up at a spot, say on vacation, and start snapping away before even actually seeing.

When the camera is raised to the eye before the brain actually has time to take in what is being scene, the results are typically uninteresting. Too often we photographers have limited time at a certain place and are rushed to cram in as many “hot spots” or Kodak Moment locations in a day, that we fail to return with a single excellent shot.

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Capturing truly excellent images usually requires more intent and planning then what is afforded say on a bus tour through a national park. The most memorable photographs are taken when the light is at its best rather than when you happen to arrive at the location.

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And I’ve found that visiting a site over time and through out the year is the best way to truly start to understand what it is you are seeing and trying to capture.  Some tips for capturing the essence of a place:

  • Leave the camera at home on your first trip to a place.  (I know this one is tough).  Walk around, study all the angles, thing about where the sun is and what type of lighting will look best.
  • Return to a spot throughout the year.
  • Return to a spot at different times of the day.
  • Go on sunny days, go on overcast days.
  • Don’t set up a tripod right away.  Walk around and look.  See the image in your mind before selecting a lens and angle.
  • Bring a step ladder and view the spot from up high, bring a towel and lay down on the ground for a low angle.
  • Look beyond the obvious, over done shots.   When the crowd looks one way, turn around and see what they are missing.

 

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How to achieve the perfect photograph

How to create the perfect photograph

The perfect photograph – is there such a thing?

I saw a question on Quora that asked how to take the perfect photograph.  I guess in the land of camera equipment there are a lot of hype around things such as “the perfect camera” or “the perfect lens” although they usually have a qualifier such as “the perfect camera for sports” or “the perfect lens for landscapes”.  But in art there is no perfect.  No criteria around perfection.

For some people the idea of a perfect landscape images is front to back sharpness taken with a view camera at f/64.  For others its a close up of a flower with a rich creamy boken background.  Ultimately the image is the creation of the artist behind the camera and their concept of perfection.

As Salvador Dali put it – “Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it”

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Famous football coach Vince Lombardi told his players “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence”. As imperfect photographers, we must stop to enjoy those moments when we do indeed come close to perfection as we strive for excellence. Excellence in the challenge of creating our vision.

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“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”
― Ansel Adams

 

The “perfect” photograph occurs when the idea you pre-visualized before pushing the trigger comes to be with the composition, sharpness level, depth of field, exposure and post processing level that satisfies you, the artist behind the tool.

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”
― Ansel Adams

Here is one of mine I consider perfect in execution to my ideal – Vacation Rental by Edward Fielding (https://edward-fielding.pixels.com/featured/vacation-rental-edward-fielding.html) “Vacation Rental” was the result of several trips to a remote location on Prince Edward Island and the result of careful lens selection and camera position to isolate the old falling down cottage as well as capturing the scene on a day with great clouds and highlighted in post processing.

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I consider it “perfect” when I wish to purchase a large print and hang it in my living room.

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This image of my grandfather’s old broken pocket watch is another image of mine I consider close to perfection in composition, lighting and post processing. It archives the artistic goals I set out to capture – a moody portrait of a family heirloom, created with the book cover market in mind. Excellence is easier to obtain in a controlled environment such as a studio product shot or still life but the same principals of composition and good lighting can be taken out in the field when doing landscape photography.

Better photography comes from always striving for perfection even if it falls short and you are just left with a bit of excellence.

Photography is a good excuse to be in nature

Being in nature is relaxing but in our goal driven modern mindset, few can truly just simply relax.  We typically need a goal, a purpose, a job.  This is where hobbies come in.

I see fishing, photography, extreme fitness, skiing and in some ways golf as excuses to get outside and just be in the natural world.

Golf is kind of a baby step towards being out in “nature” if you idea of nature is a man made, highly manicured lawn.

Did you know? The quote “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” is generally attributed to mark Twain although it first appeared in 1903 in a book by H S Scrivener

Extreme fitness like running marathons or free climbing up a rock face seems regard nature simply as an gym outside.   Skiing gets you outdoors in the winter but typically the attraction is snow conditions, slope and village nightlife.

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Fishing is probably the closest thing to experiencing the outdoors like a photographer.  You head out with a lot of specialized equipment and don’t ever really know what you will come back with.

Photography for many is a good excuse for getting outside and planning exotic vacations in the natural world.

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I was at a dinner recently for a retiring hospital president and sat next to a nice lady whose passion was going exotic photo workshop trips.  She had been on safari in Africa, shot penguins in Antarctica and bears in Alaska.  These are serious trips and expensive trips.  She was telling me about the trip to Alaska where the group of 12 or so photographers were shooting grizzles bears in a meadow as they ate berries.

Her next trip is to Churchill, Canada where she board a portable hotel on the turdra to photograph polar bears.

Of course, I’m jealous as hell during this discussion. As a small business person concerned with expenses and payback period on every piece of equipment, I’m thinking, how many prints would I have to sell in order to make back the investment of $10K on such a trip. Are there that many people in the market for a polar bear photo? And of course there is no guarantee that you will even bring back a great photo, my still life photos which are carefully planned out certainly have a better chance of success.

So I ask her, what do you do with these photos? “Nothing” she says, “I just do it to relax”
See the camera might as well be a fishing pole. It’s an excuse for this stressed out hospital executive to take a trip and be in nature.

Surely the camera manufacturer’s understand this market. No doubt for every professional level camera sold to an actual professional photographer, there are 10 sold to doctors, dentists and attorneys who use them once or twice a year on vacation.

It’s like this retired dentist I know. He has the most amazing collection of gear. High end printers, top of the line computer, every red banded lens Canon makes and he travels the world. Photography is his expensive hobby but he can afford it. And its his excuse to get out in nature.

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The Benefits of Nature

Whatever your excuse, there are plenty of great reasons to get out in nature. And it typically costs nothing to go for a walk or a hike. Spending time in the great outdoors has been scientifically proven to reduce stress levels, help you find clarity, and rejuvenate your mind and body.

Come to the Dark Side – Low Key Photography

How to create low key still live photographs

How to get the low key look in photography

Low key photography is full of dark, black backgrounds, shadows and moody lighting. Highlights define the outlines of objects but there are spare mid-tones. Low key photography requires careful lighting, you need to provide just enough light for the subject without lighting the background.

Low key photography is highly cinematic, film noir like, and dramatic. In the world of painting it would be called “chiarscuro” which has a full range from deep dark blacks to pure white highlights.

Low-key lighting is a style of lighting for photography, film or television. It is a necessary element in creating a chiaroscuro effect. Traditional photographic lighting, three-point lighting uses a key light, a fill light, and a back light for illumination. Low-key lighting often uses only one key light, optionally controlled with a fill light or a simple reflector.  Low key lighting has a higher lighting ratio, e.g., 8:1, than high-key lighting, which can approach 1:1.

Examples of Low Key Photography

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How to Achieve Low Key Photography

Low key photography can be created with lighting techniques in a dark room or within Adobe Photoshop by manipulating the highlights and shadows in levels.

In the above examples the old car was shot during the day and then worked in Photoshop to create a more dramatic low key look.  Same with the silver spoons with leaves.  Shot on an overcast day and then manipulated in Photoshop.

The other examples were shot with a single, low light source in a dark studio, often with against a background of an open door leading to a dark room.  Lighting was from the side to minimize any light hitting the background.  Any background elements that did appear in the shot were burned in Photoshop to make them fade into the shadows.  Highlights are typically dodged to increase their value.

How to Dodge and Burn in Photoshop

In the old darkroom days, a photographer would dodge (block light) and burn (allow more light) certain areas of the print to achieve the look they wanted.  You can do the same in Photoshop.

Dodging and burning contact sheet example
Dodging and burning “map” on a Richard Avedon portrait shows how much dodging and burning goes on in a traditional black and white fine art image.

How to remove people from photographs

Remove People – sometimes you want people in photographs, sometimes you don’t – Tips for People Removal

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Isn’t annoying?  You reach a beautiful spot, get ready to take a photograph and there are some annoying tourists right in the middle of your shot.  You wait for them to leave but then another one walks in front of your camera.  And then a bus load of Japanese tourists drives up and suddenly you have a hoard in front of your lens.  What do do?  Laboriously clone them out using Photoshop’s healing or cloning brushes?

A better solution might be to image stack the photos.  Basically if the people are on the move and you have your camera on a tripod, you can take a dozen pictures and stack them together.  Photoshop can figure out what moved between “frames” and fill in the missing information.  And voila!  Annoying tourists disappear like magic.  Here is how to do it:

  • Take at least a dozen photos in your ideal spot using a tripod.
  • In Photoshop and go to File > Scripts > Statistics.
  • Select “Median” for the stack mode and check “Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images.”
  • Click the “Browse…” button to select your set of photos and hit OK.
Use this Adobe Photoshop trick to remove people from photographs.

Photoshop will process the images to preserve the static background and remove everything that changes between the shots (the moving people). There might be some cleanup to do in Photoshop (lingering limbs, for example), but this might be the quickest and easiest way to get postcard-quality photos of your last trip. – Melanie Pinola

This video shows you how to remove people from the images using Adobe Photoshop and their scripts. It’s Magic!!!! Now you see them – Now you don’t. Use the Photoshop Median Stack Script to disappear the tourists from your photos.

To make more interesting photos, become more interesting

“If you want to make more interesting pictures, become a more interesting person.” – Jay Maisel

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Legendary NYC photographer and workshop instructor, Jay Maisel is a quotable fellow and one of his most famous sayings involves the idea of being a more interesting person leads to more interesting art and photography.

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Being more interesting requires being well-read, exposed to new ideas and different points of view and seeing all that life offers. Think about who the most interesting people are at a party. Is it the guy talking about his new lawn mower and the snow tires he bought at Walmart or is it the gal who likes to eat exotic things and just came back from a trip backpacking through India?

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Who do you think comes back with the most compelling photographs? The one who dusts off the camera every time the roses are in bloom, or the one who ventured into an abandoned factory to capture dust swirling in the air?

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To make interesting and compelling images one has to have a sense of adventure and purpose. Playing it safe or standing in the Kodak moment spots in the most visited National Parks ain’t going to result in exciting images. This is more of “I was there” or “I saw a buffalo” type images that clog up the arteries of Facebook on a daily basis.

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Creating something new, something unique, something exciting requires leaving the beaten path and finding your own voice. Giving yourself permission to follow your own interests and passions, not the “approved” photography subjects that have been done to death.

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Artist, designer and fine art photographer Edward M. Fielding strives to live an interesting life.  Next  stop:  A 10 day trip around the Ring Road in Iceland in an RV.  Should be an interesting adventure of a life time.

Is my photography hopelessly out of style?

Styles change.  Fashion never sits still.  Yet there are plenty of photographers who still churn out the same old style year after year.

Recently a photographer on a Fine Art America forum was moaning about their dropping sales this year.  They had great sales in the past but now nothing.  Perhaps the market has left their style?  Maybe sad looking big eyed children just aren’t the thing any more?  Things do change and people do get tired of certain styles and move on.

Perhaps ten years ago they wondered into a Peter Lik gallery while on vacation and said “wowza, I love this over saturated, metallic paper landscape” and have  been striving to achieve that look ever since.  Or they had a Ansel Adams poster in their dorm room thirty years ago and have been traveling to the southwestern US every chance they get to create dramatic black and white images of Yosemite or the desert.

Or maybe a five years ago they caught the HDR bug and have never left to the realm of surreal colors and impossible dynamic range.

Avoid the HDR and cliche photography trap!

So what happens when HDR becomes a cliche?  Something for amatuers or for people to do with a phone apps?  Perhaps its time to go to a more traditional or classic style.  More retro.  Or more futuristic.  It depends on you, your sense of style and what the market is looking for.

Ask yourself.

  1. Do you have any style?
  2. Can you describe “your” style?
  3. Can you adapt to trends or are you going to wait for your style to come back in fashion?

According to Format Magazine the trendy styles for 2017 are:

  • Minimalist Fashion Photography
  • Plants
  • Chairs
  • 35mm Film
  • Suburban America

  • Girl Gaze

  • Collages and Diptychs

    Read more here:

https://www.format.com/magazine/features/photography/photography-trends-2017-predictions

 

Sometimes you just get lucky

Do you know a photographer who always seems to get that lucky break?  Some amazing shot that looks like he/she might actually know what they are doing?  Well, truth be told, getting lucky has a lot to do with being prepared and ready.

Sure luck happens. But the working photographer puts themselves in situations in order to increase the chances of luck and they are always prepared to capture moments when they suddenly appear.

One of my favorite things is finding vintage cars in the wild.  This particular shot of an old vintage truck in front of a dinner looks like might have been planned and set up for a magazine shoot but it was completely a lucky situation.

American Classics by Edward M. Fielding
American Classics by Edward M. Fielding

We had just dropped off our son at summer camp on Squam Lake (On Golden Pond) and were headed home when we decided to stop off in TIlton, New Hampshire for dinner at the Tilt ‘n Diner.  As we are finishing up our burgers and milkshakes, we start seeing vintage cars roll into the parking lot just as the sun is starting to get low on the horizon.

What timing!  We were dining at a spot an hour from house in the middle of the week and it just happened to be old car night!  So of course my wife took car of the bill and I headed out to get my camera and started shooting.

Unlike at a car show when the cars are all packed in tight and often festooned with awards or signs, this situation was perfect as the diner provided a great nostalgic background for the cars and as they drove, the first cars had plenty of space around them so they appeared more natural.

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More vintage car photography can be found in this portfolio – http://edward-fielding.pixels.com/art/car

The Story of Ronnie behind the scenes at a Sato puppy photo shoot

The Wilson family got more than they bargained for when their Hanover High School senior Daniel signed up for the “Surf and Sato” March Intensive program. Each spring the high school in Hanover, NH (home of Dartmouth College) offers a week of out of the ordinary educational experiences, everything from analyzing classic horror films to hut to hut cross-country ski treks to intensive Shakespeare, drama trips to NYC, college tours in Boston and a trip to Puerto Rico to help with the street dog problem and maybe try a bit of surfing.

Rumor has it that Daniel was under strict instructions to resist all attempts of adorableness and not to return with a puppy but then Ronnie’s cuteness prevailed and after a week of being surrounded by lovable puppies, one managed to come back to New Hampshire. Luckily I was able to persuade the family to bring Ronnie over for a modeling session.

What is a Sato?

Sato is the name for mutt i Puerto Rico.  Puerto Rico has a large population of stray street and beach dogs.  Some estimates put the population of stray dogs at 500,000.

Dead Dog Beach is located on the South-East coast of the island. A dumping ground, it is known for its stray dog population, and the abuse that has occurred on the isolated beach including gang rituals, target practice, and cars running over helpless dogs and puppies.

Dogs are dumped here everyday. The Sato Project, a rescue group founded by New Yorker Chrissy Beckles, is their only source of fresh water and food, and rescues them as their resources allow it. Dead Dog Beach is one of the many beaches of the island overran by stray dogs. (source: http://www.sophiegamand.com/deaddogbeach/)

From The Sato Project Org – Satos are usually small dogs under 30lbs.  The majority have terrier in them so they tend to be incredibly smart and quick to learn.  The street or beach is a very hard life for a dog and the majority do not make it past their second birthday.  Nature seems to have sensed this and females are giving birth to increasingly large litters of puppies.

You can see Puerto Rico dogs who need a second chance on PetFinder – https://www.petfinder.com/pet-search?shelter_id=PR04

About the Photo Shoot

Being a puppy, Ronnie was quite the handful as a modeling subject. I’ve grown accustomed to Tiki the Westie ability to sit for a very long time, knowing that a treat is coming at some point. At this point Tiki anticipates treats when ever I make a move towards my studio strobe lights. During the photo sessions for the book “The Quotable Westie” Tiki was so good I could set him up on a chair and then remember that I forgot the SD card or prop or something, leave the room for a few minutes and he would still be stilling there patiently.

The quotable Westie book
The quotable Westie book https://www.createspace.com/4070210

I’ve dealt with puppies before but its been a while. When I photographed Max, Pete, and Jeanie, my main camera was a micro-four thirds camera, a Panasonic Lumix G3 which had a handy feature for photographing moving objects – an LCD screen in which you could touch a spot on the screen and it would focus and fire the shutter.

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With my Canon 6D and its minimal focal points (only nine) I found myself having trouble getting little Ronnie in focus. I also made the mistake of starting out on the tripod. Not good for a guy in constant motion. But I did manage to get some good shots.

The other challenge I had was too narrow depth of field.  The Canon 6D is a full frame camera which has a narrower depth of field than a micro four thirds camera like the Panasonic G series.

In order to nail the focus on the eyes with a constantly moving subject like this little puppy Ronnie, I had to shot a lot of shots.   I first tried pre-focusing on a certain spot on this antique high chair I was using as a prop.  But the entire first set of photos were ruined by the focus being off ever so slightly.

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I end up re-shooting the entire scene later with with the studio lights cranked up to maximum and the aperture increase to f16 in order to make sure I got his cute little face in sharp focus.

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I also started to abandoned my carefully composed set ups and took the camera off the tripod so I could move the camera main focal point to the dogs eye, fire and worry about composition later with cropping.

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Some Tips

A few things I learned that worked in this latest dog photo session.

  • With puppies, be prepared for puppies.  They don’t know how to stay put, they need potty breaks, they are likely to climb out of what ever you put them in, and they are going to tire out and fall asleep on you at some point.
  • Safety – work with an assistant and try to create an environment like a basket with soft towels in the bottom to help contain the puppy.
  • Use chew toys, bones or a bit of peanut butter on a the edge of a basket to keep them interested and occupied.
  • Use squeaker toys or a weird noises to get their attention.  Don’t be afraid to sound like a wild animal or a complete wacko to get some great expressions.
  • Have plenty of paper towels handy.
  • Limit the number of assistants in the studio so the dog doesn’t get too distracted.
  • Shoot with a fast shutter speed and be prepared for motion.  I don’t recommend a tripod unless the dog can sit still.
  • Get on their level.  I used a small coffee table to raise the puppy up but watch that they don’t try to jump off.

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