Tag Archives: composition

Pic of the week – Friday 17 May 2019

Strawberry splash
Strawberry drops

Making a splash

This is one from the archive, albeit recently.

It’s a shot from a test set-up for a product shoot in which I was aiming for a low key look with lots of contrast to separate the subject from the background. I also wanted to get a lighting set up which would freeze the action but also be fairly even.

I achieved this by using flash positioned to the right of the subject as we look and, instead of using a reflector as fill, I used a mirror to throw back an almost equal intensity of light. I used a black backdrop and set the subject far enough in front of it to get the most benefit of the inverse squared rule to make sure I kept the background black.

Rather than put my signature watermark on the image itself, I’ve chosen to put it on a border which I think looks less intrusive in this case, I created the border by adjusting the canvass size in Photoshop then adding a white layer.


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Pic of the week – Thursday 9 May 2019

Healing Hands
Healing Hands

Adding value

It’s a fine balance set against delivering on a brief, but I believe that one of the added values a professional photographer should bring to work for a client is creative input. So, let me share the story of this one of a set, which I really like.

This is Sharon who asked me if I could do some head shots of herself and the staff at Healing Hands Wellness Centre in Glenrothes. Sharon was looking for photos that would be an improvement on the ones already in place and was thinking of the standard head shot approach. There’s nothing wrong with that but I wondered if she might be open to someting a little more creative which said something about the centre.

I felt that “Healing Hands” was significant in the centre name and ought to be reflected somehow in the head shots. I also have a personal preference to show people in context as much as possible. I had the idea of creating a background shot which illustrated healing hands and put together a mock up of the concept to see what Sharon thought of it. I was pleased when the idea met with her approval and so we agreed on details for doing the shoot.

Each of the head shot images is constructed as this example, with the same background and here’s how they were shot and constructed.

First of all, we shot the background. This involved Sharon and one of her team. The room we shot this in was quite compact and I needed lighting in there along with a camera, tripod and myself. There was only one configration possible for this, which meant me being on the left of the subject with the lighting on the right. I knew this was the wrong way round for the final composition, but it was an easy enough job to flip the image in processing.

I wanted the background image to be muted so that it was very evident but not dominant in the overall composition, This was achieved in Photoshop where I placed a pure white layer under the background image then dropped the opacity of the background image. This was then used for the whole set of head shots.

The portraits were shot in another treatment room which has a pleasing forest image on one wall. I set up a temporary studio there using the feature wall as a backdrop. The lighting for the head shots consisted of two studio lights – one above and behind the subject to add some highlighting to the hair, and one at about 45 degrees from the front as a fill light. The main light was flash bounced into an umbrella reflector.

The final image was completed in Photoshop by blending the portrait shot with the “healing hands” background.

I’m pleased with the final composition and that we have managed to give a fresh expression to corporate head shots. The moral of the story is that we should always be prepared to offer creative suggestions to clients in the interest of adding value to them. Of course, suggestions might not always be accepted – I have experience of that too – but when they are and come off like this, it’s really pleasing.


Avoiding landscapes on steroids

I shot this photo in the pass of Killicrankie, Perthshire, on 11 November and, as usual shot it in RAW. I thought it might be interesting to walk you through the editing I did to get to the final image and I’ll try to explain my reasoning as we go.

Here’s the original shot as it came out of the camera.

Killicrankie

Killicrankie

My aim in editing landscape shots like this, is to get as close as possible to how I saw the scene with my own eyes at the time. There are a few standard initial steps I take in my work flow and I always begin in Lightroom. Seldom do I need to use Photoshop, though there are occasions when that’s definitely required.

The first thing I do is go to lens corrections and tick two boxes there: enable profile correction (which compensates for lens distortion) and enable chromatic aberration – I can’t see any chromatic aberration in this shot, but I don’t think ticking this box does any harm, just in case.

Next it’s off to the basic panel and there I could see that there was a nice looking histogram so there’s no need to do anything with the exposure (at least not at this point – sometimes other adjustments have an effect on exposure which later needs a little correction). The histogram looked very like a standard bell curve with nothing bunched at either end, so no blown out highlights or over-cooked blacks. I decided therefore to increase the whites and reduce the blacks to just before the point where clipping occurs – just to see what that did to the image which was too “thin” compared to my memory of the scene. A quick check on before/after showed that this had introduced a little more contrast and enriched the colours a little. Definitely making headway to “thickening it up”.

The next steps were to drop the highlights a touch, just enough to bring the top of the histogram off the top of the scale and no more, and to add a very small amount of dehaze, which helped to add a little sharpening in the mid-tones. Another quick before/after check to make sure I was still headed in the right direction and I was happy to move on and consider what next. I decided to take the vibrance up a fraction, judging the effect by eye, and moved away from the basics panel.

Looking now at the colours, I was happy with the yellows and greens but felt the purple and magenta tones were just a little muted compared to my memory. So to the HSL/colour panel and minor adjustments to the purple and magenta channels. In each of those I pulled back the hue a little to the left (different small amounts on each), and slightly boosted the saturation before reducing the luminance. All these changes are small and subtle but collectively begin to add up – which is a good reason for never being heavy handed in any one element. Another before/after check and we are looking good so far.

I still felt it needed just a little more “depth” so went to the tone curve and set it to medium contrast and checked before/after. Actually, I kept the before/after window open and clicked the tone curve on and off several times just to decide if I wanted to stick with that adjustment or abandon it. I decided to stick with it.

By this time I felt we were almost there but notices that some highlights had blown out so used the adjustment brush to make local changes to the highlights.

I usually have a look at sharpening, and I find that Lightroom does a good enough job with this, though if I was being really fussy I’d probably do this in Photoshop with a high pass. Working in Lightroom, with a shot like this (and don’t take this as a rule, always trust your eyes) I set the sharpening to around 30. The Alt key I drag the masking slider way to the right. This gives a black and white screen and only the white areas are affected by the sharpening. In this case I needed to slide all the way to 99 until I was happy. I aslo reduced the radius slider to 0.5 and the detail slider to 4. Another before/after check and I was happy with how it was now looking. I felt it was now a more accurate representation of how I had seen it and that it wasn’t overcooked in processing. Landscapes on steroids don’t look good – at least that’s my opinion.

The only remaining question for me was one of composition. This entailed just sitting and looking at the image for a while and pondering if there were any distractions that I could/should crop out and also what final crop ratio I would prefer. I wasn’t sure about the evergreens at the top right of frame and, to be honest, As a leading line, I’d have preferred the railway to enter the frame bottom left, but I was hampered by physical location at the time of shooting. So, what followed as a period of trial and error with different crops. I rather liked a wide format 16×9 crop but was still unsettled by the central entrance of the leading line of the railway. Finally I settled on a square crop which allowed me to bring the leading line in from the bottom left of frame and I was happy to leave just a hint of the evergreens top right.

And here is the final result:

Killicrankie

Killicrankie

I hope you like it and have maybe found the explanation of how I went from the original “out-of-camera” shot to the final image interesting and perhaps useful.

Thank you for reading and, if you do, for following me. Why not check out my Instagram account and also follow me there.

 

Spot the difference

Rannoch Station is one of the most remote railway stations in the UK. Here are two photographs of it. Can you spot the difference? You may need to enlarge the photos.

Rannoch Station

Rannoch Station

Rannoch Station

Rannoch Station

Did you spot it? There are no prizes (don’t stop reading though) for seeing that in the first shot there are wires leading down to the station building from the top left of frame whereas in the second shot they are absent.

The question is, was this worth about 45 minutes in Photoshop to take the wires out? It’s not so easy to answer and is really a matter of personal opinion.

Leaving the wires in is an honest reproduction of what was actually there and there are people who would argue for that level honesty in photography. The curious thing here is that at the time I took the photograph I really wasn’t aware of them. By the time I got round to processing the photo in Lightroom, I became increasingly aware of them. I felt they were detracting from the scene as I had originally enjoyed it. So there’s another little dimension on this minorly ethical matter. When we view any scene live – by actually being there – we tend to focus rather specifically on what we take in and our brains undertake some live editing and we simply filter out things that we’re not interested in. So, by taking the wires out in Photoshop was I being true to my own memory and perception but untrue to the actual reality?

It was a fiddly and time-consuming process to remove the wires but I felt that the scene was better without them. There was no longer competition to be the leading lines into the photo and I feel much happier without that competition going on. I think the composition is enhanced by removing the wires and therefore the effort was worth it.

In the end, I take the view that Photography, of this type is art. I think the debate becomes more pointed when we get into the realms of photojournalism or documentary genres where there is much more of an overriding need to present things honestly.

So, what do you think? I’d be fascinated to read any comments on this.

 

Be prepared … …for the unexpected

This morning when preparing to go out for the early dog walk I decided to go down by the river as I’d passed a heron recently on that route, standing barely 15 metres away in still water. I didn’t have a camera on that occasion – today was going to be different.

Of course, having the camera along meant that I didn’t see the heron but what I did get was completely unexpected:

a pair of deer

Deer

a pair of deer standing in a grassy clearing beside a stand of trees.

My preparation for something I had anticipated allowed  me to get this shot with the minimum of fuss and was taken within seconds of spotting the deer.  Apart from taking the camera along, how had I prepared and how had that prepared me for the unexpected? Let me explain…

All of my preparation was for seeing the heron, but that also perfectly suited the scenario that I faced here. Before I left home I put on a 55-200mm lens and also fitted the sling harness to the camera allowing me to carry it securely across my body but readily available to pull up and take the shot. As I anticipated that the heron could quickly take off I needed to be ready with a shutter speed fast enough to catch the action and avoid any motion blur from camera shake. I also wanted to have an aperture that would give me a safe depth of field to make sure focus should be OK. I set the camera to manual mode and opted for 1/400sec at f/8. All well and good, but what about ISO? My camera has the option to set ISO to automatic, which is what I did. That way, I can shoot with my preferred shutter speed and aperture and allow the camera to determine the ideal exposure by adjusting the ISO. I find that using evaluative metering tends to work well with this, though I almost always need to make some exposure adjustment in Lightroom.

Therefore, being prepared to shoot the heron, I was also happily prepared for this unexpected sighting of deer. All I had to do was lift the camera, switching it on as I did so, quickly frame the basic composition and shoot. All done within a few seconds. I’m not a wildlife photographer but I do know that it generally doesn’t give you time to set up and carefully consider what settings to go for – being prepared is the key.

Having got that photo, I spotted that there was some cow parsley (I think) just a pace pace or two in front of me. I thought that a shot taken through that would provide an interesting foreground bokeh. As I crouched to frame the shot the deer became nervous and made a bolt for it so I just pressed the shutter release as I was also moving . Here’s the resulting shot:

deer on the run

and we’re off…

It’s not the greatest wildlife shot ever as all the movement that was going on has combined to result in a less than sharp image, but I wanted to demonstrate the bokeh effect that I was wanting – only with stationary deer!

And here is what I shot through for the image above; the gap just right of centre…

cow parsley

Cow parsley

Keep those shutters firing, look out for the unusual and be prepared for the unexpected.

A journey worth going on

I think it’s generally a good idea in life not to get stuck in the same old routine and to always remain curious. That’s the essence behind this image.

Drilling rig

a telescope effect

It’s certainly not the best photo I’ve ever taken and it won’t be going into any competitions or exhibitions, but I though this was something worth sharing as a focal point.

This photo came into being as a result of curiosity and experimentation. I’m probably not the first  person to have tried this but I’d never seen any examples I could think of, so I decided to go with it once the idea had formed in my mind. I had taken the dog for an evening walk along the beach and given that it was a nice clear evening I took the binoculars out of the car to have a good look around. There are a couple of old (I presume) drilling rigs out in the Firth of Forth and I was looking at this one when I idly wondered if it was possible to use my binoculars as a hacked zoom lens for my iPhone. Well, it turned out that it is possible and the result is not as terrible as I thought it might be.

I have to admit this was all very ham-fisted as everything was hand-held; binoculars in one hand, iPhone in the other. It was then a very tricky process to line up the phone lens with one eyepiece of the binoculars and refine the positioning to achieve anything like a steady and reasonably clear image. Once I had got that, I then had the challenge of touching the phone screen to tell it where to focus and then, without losing the composition, I had to finally trigger the shutter. All of this was very difficult as the slightest movement lost the alignment and therefore the image. That’s the reason the horizon is not straight in the final image above. I decided not to make any adjustments to that as I wanted to show this as near to the reality as possible. This has had minimal processing in Lightroom, making slight adjustments to colour balance, contrast and adding in some dehaze which seemed to return a better result here than adding clarity.

As I say, this is not an image I’d do anything with but, as the result of an idle experiment, it turned out better than I thought it might. The reason I am sharing this is to encourage you to experiment with your photography – some experiments will work and maybe lead to new areas of creativity; others will not work at all, but I’d say that every experiment borne of curiosity is a journey worth going on.

 

Making the most of it

For the past three days I have been pretty much snowed in, thanks to the so-called “beast from the east”, a weather system originating in a polar vortex, apparently, which has brought sub-zero temperatures and very strong winds driving a dry powder snow. There are, therefore, lots of snow drifts. Where I live, in Fife, there have been no public service transport services these three days as we have gone from the Met Office issuing an amber warning to a red warning and back to amber. It can sound dramatic, but you just have to be sensible and in the midst of this I have a dog which needs to get out for exercise and “comfort” breaks.

This morning, whilst the wind was still strong there was much less snow in the air, so I decided to take my camera along for the walk to see what might be around and worth shooting. I was, if I’m honest, hoping to see some deer and other wildlife but, sadly, all I saw were some tracks in the snow where the deer had been. And so we pressed on with the walk and I started looking around for something in the intimate landscape that might be worth shooting. To be honest, the wider landscape was a world of grey and white, made all the more blurry by the now blowing snow.

Here though are a couple of shots I took this morning which I thought I’d share with you and say something about them.

trees; dead wood; winter; intimate landscape

winterwood

This is the first of the shots I though worthy of doing something with. It’s one of those compositions that just appeared unexpectedly. What I liked was the contrast of the bare wood from the dead tree against the darker background. With the snow being blown across the scene, I felt that a shutter speed just fast enough to minimise camera shake (I had to hand-hold and I was cold) but slow enough to slightly blur the flakes would potentially add some interest. I’m quite pleased with the result which is very close to what I envisaged at the time. For me, the effect of the snow adds a kind of impressionistic painterly effect to the shot which I find rather pleasing and the dead wood seems to stand defiantly against the elements. The two broken inwardly pointing branches also add a kind of framing and connection to the composition.

The route that I took this morning follows the line of a disused railway and I was still reflecting on the deer tracks and bemoaning not seeing any when I came across the railway; “aha”, I thought “tracks in the snow”…

railway; tracks; winter; landscape

tracks in the snow

Here, the old railway tracks were visible being in a more sheltered location. There was little colour on display here so, from the outset, I envisaged this as a monochrome composition. I did, as  always though, shoot in colour so that I had full control in post over how this rendered out to mono. I like the leading lines of the tracks taking the eye through the composition as they curve off towards the top of the frame. One of the challenges in getting this shot was keeping the dog out of it and having pristine snow laying between the rails.

In post, I decided to add a slight blue colour cast to the image, just to add to the  wintry feel of cold steel meandering through the snowy landscape.

Between taking these shots and getting to work in Lightroom, there was the small task of digging out the car and clearing the drive, but I think I managed to make the most of it.