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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Selling Photography, Is it really that easy?

How to create the perfect photograph

Today it is rather easy to offer your photography for sale but are you ready to actually sell your work?

Selling Photography – These days it is so easy to set up an account with a POD such as Fine Art America or Pixels that I have to wonder if camera manufacturers will be begin trying to market cameras as a cash machine.

So many camera owners (notice I didn’t say photographers) seem to think all it takes to sell their photography is pointing their camera at something, uploading the images and voila! people will buy.

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Most of them find it not so easy to sell their snapshots.  Sure maybe once in a while they get lucky and someone buys one of their garden flower photos or their “Look! I saw a duck!” type images but I’d say the serious art buyer is looking for more depth than a camera operator.  They want some proof that they are buying from a serious artist.

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What’s missing from the typical amateur cameraman goes beyond quality.  Professional quality is that base line standard as you are competing on a world market with professional photographers.  Beyond basic quality standards, buyers are also looking for :

  • Authenticity
  • Intent
  • Passion
  • A unique vision
  • A body of work

    Quality buyers see right through a facade of someone simply trying to cash in with their latest camera purchase.  By looking at an artist’s work you can tell if this person is a weekend warrior who dusts off his camera a few times a year when off to the next national park or cruise trip vs. a working artist.

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    Art comes down to authenticity.  Is the photography a result of an intended, well-thought out, pre-visualized idea?  Or is it just a lucky shot?  Is the photographer authentic,  do they know their subjects, have they spent years learning about their subjects?  Does their passion for the subject show through their images or are they simple recording their travels not really seeing the essence of what they are photographing?

Look at their body of work.  Is it a bunch of random images toss together or do you see a reoccurring pattern of ideas and concepts?  Do you see a unique vision or simply a collection of random snapshots?

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Personally I can’t stand gallery shows that have a single image from a number of artists as it is not until you see a series of images from the same artist or photographer that you can understand their vision.  The amateur photographs portfolio will be all over the place while in the profession or more serious artist, you’ll see a unique pattern as they display their vision of the world.

I think buyers pick up on this intuitively.  They prize images from serious artists pursuing their own unique vision over the random snapshot.

Would be photography sellers would be advised to work on their own personal vision before attempting to sell their work.  Develop a body of work with a distinctive style before expecting someone to pay for it.

 

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.

Summer Time and the Living is Easy – Summer Poems

Nubble Light Cape Neddick Lighthouse

Summer Poems

[n] the warmest season of the year; “they spent a lazy summer at the shore”

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Summer

Sweet as a berry
Summer is merry
Popsicles and lemonade
A memory that will never fade
Vacations and going to the pool
Of course Summer has one rule
Always have FUN
Out in the sun

Author: L. Farrington

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Dark

Robins finally quiet.

The mountain has pulled on its blue hood
of night, its spruce-lined cloak
looses owls from deep inner pockets.

Here below, moths flutter around porch lights
gathering secrets at each door:
who’s not home, who’s got an unexpected, unwanted guest.

A few houses away, someone listens to jazz alone,

someone reads a crime novel set in Iceland –
the wind is blowing over a barren landscape
where a boy was lost.

At dawn, lilies called Embers of Vesuvius
will slowly unfurl their hot orange petals.
Robins will start up again.

This whole thing will feel premeditated.

Even when the mystery is solved at the end
someone still lies dead.
Close the book, turn out the light,

it’s too late now.

Poem by Kristen Lindquist

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A cottage

A cottage
at the end of the path,
between maple trees and evergreens,
a front porch, weathered boards,
memories in the grain,
summers by the lake,
green converse allstars,
monopoly into the wee hours of the morning,
pancakes and bacon mornings,
red ginham table cloths,
chasing fireflies, sparklers,
hot dogs on the grille,
spitting watermelon seeds, sticky chins…
a cottage, memories,
and now we make our own,
hand in hand as love
once again sits on the porch,
counting stars and drinking lemonade,
you and me and a cottage
at the end of a path…
love
Good night beautiful

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Summer Cottage

Father’s in the woodshed,
Cleaning forty fish;
Mother’s in the kitchen,
Washing every dish;
Sister’s upstairs making
Every bed we own;
The company is on the porch
With the graphophone.

Father does the rowing,
Brother does the chores,
Mother does the baking,
Sister sweeps the floors;
Everybody’s working,
Here at Idlenook,
Except the company — and that
Sits down and reads a book.

– Edgar Albert Guest

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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.

American Auto Icon The 57 Chevy Bel Air

Chevy Bel Air at the Beach

The 1957 Chevrolet is a car which was introduced by Chevrolet in September 1956 for the 1957 model year. It was available in three series models: the upscale Bel Air, the mid-range Two-Ten, and the One-Fifty. A two-door station wagon, the Nomad was produced as a Bel Air model. An upscale trim option called the “Delray” was available for two-ten 2-door sedans. It is a popular and sought after classic car. These vehicles are often restored to their original condition and sometimes modified. The car’s image has been frequently used in toys, graphics, music, movies and television. The ’57 Chevy, as it is often known, is an auto icon

 

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Life is good when you head down to the beach for sunset, snap a few photographs of an American Bald Eagle chewing on a Sheep Head Fish, get chased out by no-seem-ums and catch a classic vintage red and white Chevy Bel Air parked right up on the sand.

With moments of light fading and the threat of the owner, keys in hand, wandering back towards his baby, the brain has to think fast. Settings, ISO, shutterspeed, composition, aperture, how angle the shot to keep that garbage can out of the frame, owner approaching just over the bend, yikes can I get it? Shots taken within moments and then the moment is gone. Car, beach, sky, captured. Post processing to bring out the car’s beauty along with the colors of the perfect evening at the beach.

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What a day dream to find such a beautiful car parked as if it was ready for a magazine shoot. One of those moments you can plan, you just have to be ready for these special life moments. Sure you could plan it. If you had a fashion spread budget, hired the car for the evening, had a light crew or perhaps a movie budget. But perhaps its somewhat easier to simply put yourself at the ready and in place for these moments of serendipity.

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Recently sold – 20.000″ x 13.375″ print of 1957 Chevy Bel Air to a buyer from Kenosha, WI.

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Bonus feature: Cars in the Wild

Somehow my path and these great old vintage cars seem to cross here in New England.

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.

The rule of thirds in composition

Well composed photographs stand out from snapshots because they are concisely planned out.  Where a casual snapshot often puts the subject dead center in the frame, leading to a forgettable image, the well composed photograph invites the view to explore the frame and contents of the foreground, middle ground and background.

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The “rule” of thirds is a good place for any beginner photographer to start creating more intriguing images.

The rule of thirds is applied by aligning a subject with the guide lines and their intersection points, placing the horizon on the top or bottom line, or allowing linear features in the image to flow from section to section.

The rule of thirds applied in a vertical subject.
The rule of thirds applied in a vertical subject.

The rule of thirds divides the scene in thirds from top to bottom and from side to site.  Where the lines intersect are known as golden spots – great places to place the main focal point such as an eyeball.

The idea is top off set the image so that horizons or subjects don’t land dead center.  The result is a more compelling image with open space to lead the viewer to the subject and allows the viewer to explore the image.

Rule of thirds example
The rule of thirds can be use vertically an horizontally or both.

Example from a recently sold photograph

Today I sold a photograph to a buyer from Phoenix, AZ which is good example of the rule of thirds and executing it when the need arises.  Like any “rule” you learn the point is not to be a slave to it, but when you practice these well accepted “rules” of composition, they become second nature and you’ll instinctively use them in your work.

I usually am more aware of the rule of thirds when my camera is on a tripod and I’m taking a carefully compose landscape shot, but this beach scene was on the fly.  I was walking down Siesta Key in Sarasota, Florida for a brief visit after my son toured Ringling College.  I came across to scene and quickly composed.  Because I have practiced the rule of thirds and other composition suggestions I was able to get a nice composition within a matter of seconds.

Edward Fielding sold a 12.000" x 6.750" print of Couple Sitting On An Old Jetty Siesta Key Beach Florida to a buyer from Phoenix, AZ.
Edward Fielding sold a 12.000″ x 6.750″ print of Couple Sitting On An Old Jetty Siesta Key Beach Florida to a buyer from Phoenix, AZ.

The sky is given about two thirds of the image.  Even though there are no clouds to provide interest, the blue field provides some “white space” for the image.  The horizon and and jetty define the bottom third of the image and the couple and gap in the jetty with the wave provide points of interest in the “golden” intersections.

More at: http://www.edwardfielding.com

 

Champagne Bottle Still Life, deconstructing a fine art photograph

I recently sold a large canvas print of “Champagne Bottle Still Life” which is a black and white fine art photograph of an empty champagne bottle, cork and glasses but there is a whole lot more to this image than these elements.   The arrangement, lighting and focal point create the story.

Champagne Bottle Still Life
https://edward-fielding.pixels.com/featured/champagne-bottle-still-life-edward-fielding.html – framed fine art photograph sold to a buyer in Ramona, CA

Champagne Bottle Still Life was created early in my re-booted career as a fine art photographer.  I uploaded this image to my portfolio back in February 15th, 2013.  At the time I was still experimenting with Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses, trying to sell enough prints to justify a leap to full frame Canon cameras.

I was studying composition and learning the tricks used by painters to create dynamic composition as well as trying to create stories within the single frame.

If you study the photograph you can see all sorts of composition tricks based on the arrangement of the objects that work to tell the story of the night perhaps of a honeymoon, anniversary or New Year’s Eve party.  Which is why I think this image sells well every June during wedding and graduation party season.

In the photograph the sharp focus is centered on the cork and the background of champagne bottle and glasses are allowed to fade from focus into the dark background.  Black and white is use to highlight the black of the champagne bottle and the darkness beyond.  White highlights contrast the bottle label and champagne glasses while the cork is bathed in a rich light that highlights its fine, soft texture which contrasts against the  hard glass surfaces of the bottle and glasses.  So you have small but detailed object vs. large but minimal shapes.  Black vs. white.  Light vs. dark.  Hard vs. soft.  Textured vs. smooth.  The contrasts of objects work to add intrigue and interest to the photograph.

The scene might look natural and random but the placement of each element of this photograph was carefully chosen.   The cork is highlighted by being in the plane of focus and place in the bottom third according to the rule of thirds.

The cork is centered in the frame but the wire is placed to the side and slightly behind to bring the eye off center.  The other objects are arranged in a zig zag fashion to pull the eye back into the photograph.  The viewer is drawn from cork to wire, to bottle opening, to front wine glass and then to the back wine glass.

Notice also how the background is divided in roughly thirds with two thirds being black and approximately one third being the wood which also includes leading lines heading towards the back, drawing in the viewer.

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