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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What to know when shooting in snow

Tired of dull, gray snow scenes? Having trouble taking bright, white snow photographs? Here is what to know when shooting snow!

Early cameras did not have built in light meters. You either had to guess at the exposure based on previous tests or later using a handheld light meter. It was easier when using a flash bulb such as on a press camera you see used in the movies because the exposure with a flash bulb is based on distance – basically the time it takes for the light to bounce off the subject and come back to the camera.

Eventually light meters were included in the camera design. But the most important thing to remember about light meters is that are measuring the object they are pointed at and are trying to calculate the exposure to represent the subject at what is known as 18% gray.

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As the majority of snapshot with cameras are people and assumed Caucasian or Asian skin tones, the camera manufactures assumed that most of the time photographers would want to expose for this 18% gray tone.

This means that every time you take a picture of something that is not 18% gray or in that range, the exposure is most likely to be over or under exposed.

Take a picture of a 18% gray wall and it will correctly expose as 18% gray. Take a picture of a white painted wall, white wedding dress or snow and it will come out underexposed or gray.

Take a photo of a black wall or a black frying pan and it will come out overexposed or gray instead of black.

This is why its important to understand how to use your exposure compensation controls on your camera to purposely under expose or over expose your scene to get the right exposure.

Over expose to get white snow, under expose to get true black scenes. You have to “fool” or “trick” your build in exposure meter to get the right settings.

Another method would be to shot a 18% gray card and then enter those setting into the camera in manual mode. Or use a light meter to take the ambient light measurements. Rather than metering reflected light, this setting on a hand held light meter measures the light falling on the scene.

Why 18% Gray?  Is it really 18% or more like 12%?  Does it really matter?

The story goes that Ansel Adams came up with the “18% gray” figure. Back in the hay day of film photography he was developing the zone system and needed to define a “middle gray”. It was a judgment call. Eventually, the idea caught on, but film and camera companies picked their own middle gray. It is a fun fact that your digital camera probably uses something more like 12% gray as middle gray.

Whatever the number, the idea behind middle gray is not that is “reflects 50% of the light”. Or even that “it is half way between absorbing all light (pure black) and reflecting all light (pure white)”. It has to do with your perception.

Your eyes are logarithmic detectors. That is, if a source gets brighter by a factor of 4, it will only seem brighter by a factor of 2 to you. If it increases by a factor of 32, it will only seem brighter by a factor of 5. If it increases in brightness by a factor of 128, it will only seem 7 times brighter to you.

The above are not the actual numbers. As you can imagine, measuring how bright things seem to people is very tricky, and varies from person to person. The important thing is that it is this weird logarithmic nature of your eyes that keeps middle gray from being 50%.

 

  1. How to use a gray card to determine exposure

Set your camera to manual shooting mode. Select the ISO and aperture you wish to use for your shot.

Set your camera’s metering mode to Spot Metering. This will allow the camera to read a very small area only, helpful if you only have a small gray card. You only want it to read the light off the reflector only, not the entire scene.

Set your focus point to single and choose the center one. Your camera will meter the same place it focuses.

Aim your camera at the gray card and press the shutter button part way down to take a reading. Looking in your viewfinder (eye piece) adjust the shutter speed until it gives you a reading of “0” (zero).

Take a test shot of the model (or subject) and the gray card similar to the one above. (You’ll be able to use this in part four below also.)

Review the histogram – you should have a perfect exposure with the gray card and all tones falling in the correct zones.

Contemporary Trends in Photography

Eileen Rafferty examines major trends happening in the medium today and discuss the key innovators working with these techniques as well as past photographers and artists who used these techniques in the past.

Mixed Media

Mixed media photography - combining 2D elements.
Mixed media photography – combining 2D elements. Arnaud Jarsaillon and Remy Poncet of Brest Brest
Mixed media photography by Sophie Dear
Mixed media photography by Sophie Dear

Constructed Realities

INSTALLATION OF REVENGE OF THE GOLDFISH AT CASTELLI GRAPHICS NEW YORK -JANUARY 1981
INSTALLATION OF REVENGE OF THE GOLDFISH AT CASTELLI GRAPHICS
NEW YORK -JANUARY 1981

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Moving Image

Video. Timelapse. Stop Motion. Cinemagraphs.

Snapshot Aesthetic 

Snapshot Aesthetics from Zeljko Drazovic on Vimeo.

Best of: Better Photography

Tips, how to, advice, product reviews and more – its the best of “better photography”:  http://www.dogfordstudios.com/category/better-photography/

http://www.dogfordstudios.com/take-better-photos-new-camera/

http://www.dogfordstudios.com/sharper-images-photography/

http://www.dogfordstudios.com/fall-foliage-season-under-pressure/

http://www.dogfordstudios.com/perfection-not-attainable/

http://www.dogfordstudios.com/photography-skill-work-scene/

 

http://www.dogfordstudios.com/right-place-right-time/

 

 

http://www.dogfordstudios.com/photography-luck-favors-prepared/

 

 

 

 

Take Better Photos With The New Camera

Learn to use that new camera

Did you get a new camera for Christmas?  Are you hoping that this new shiny piece of technological wonder will bring you better pictures in the future?

Chances are a new camera can be a step in the right direction for taking better pictures but only if you develop your craft.  Here are some tips for getting better photographs from that new camera.

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Read the manual

Yeah, I know.  You’re not the type who needs to read manuals.  You figured out the lawnmower no problem.  But the modern digital single lens reflect camera (DSLR) is one complicated piece of technology.  Within that thick, poorly translated tome of information is a whole lot of usesless features you will want to ignore and a whole lot of important settings information that you will want to read, reread and practice with and then refer back to every once in a while.

Pay particular attention to the section that describe quality settings – RAW vs. JPEG and size/quality of files.  Also how to set White Balence, ISO, Exposure compensation and how to find Aperture Priority mode.

Unfortunately today’s cameras are crammed with all sorts of gee whiz features that look great on the box or coming out of a sales persons mouth — things like special in camera filters and special setting for things like “beach, snow, vacation, pets” etc but if you know the basics of photography you don’t need all of that crap, you can just use Exposure compensation.

I look at my old film camera – the Olympus OM-G and it had everything a photographer needed and nothing else.  Aperture exposure mode, manual mode, bulb mode and that’s it.  Plus a ASA/ISO dial and an exposure compensation adjustment.  White balance was cooked into the film.

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Know your equipment

So get out the manual.  Learn what every dial, button and menu on your camera does and how to use it.  Get your settings the way you want them and shoot a lot of photos, evaluate the results, come back to the manual, make adjustments and keep on learning your equipment until you don’t have to even think about your equipment and you can concentrate totally on the subject you are trying to capture.

I’ve had my Canon 6D and I’m still discovering new things on this camera but when I come across a scene I want to capture, I know the camera well enough and have my settings set up in custom menus that nine times out of ten I manage to capture what I’m trying to capture.

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Know Everything About Exposure

Learn the three sides of the exposure triangle – ISO, Shutterspeed and Aperature and know how to change them on your new camera.