Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Landscape Photography While the Weather is Good

Landscape photography is very challenging. It is hard to compose well, because there are so many shapes. You can't move the subjects, well maybe a stick or small rock, but certainly not a telephone pole. And if you expose for the sky you have land that is probably too dark. On top of that if you don't choose the right time of day the colors can be very boring and you might have glare. You have to be at the right place at the right time and this might mean returning later or hanging out for a few more hours.

Here are some tips I've learned, some you'll recognize from landscape painting.

1. Compose and balance the large value shapes.

2. Look for interesting lines, especially those leading into the composition for a sense of depth, and those pointing to the center of interest.

3. Speaking of lines, make sure your horizon is straight, unless you are making a dramatic diagonal. A slight diagonal looks like a mistake. You can always fix this in Photoshop.

4. What is creating the depth? Converging lines, diminishing scale and/or atmospheric perspective? In other words, if you want more depth look for those.

4. Ideally, you should have an expensive SLR and a graduated neutral density filter so that you can balance the exposure of sky and land. But, if you don't, put your camera on a tripod. Bracket above and below and then in Photoshop using the automated Merge to HDR (high density resolution) to get the best of both. Or, if you really have no other choice expose for the sky and in Photoshop use a mask to change the levels of the land and hope that you don't have much noise.

5. Be aware of the color quality and shadow and light direction that depends on the time of day so you can plan your shot. If the light isn't great right now, what about in a few hours.

6. One third sky or land, two-thirds the other is a good rule of thumb, unless there is an advantage to half and half, like using symmetry to create calm. Center of interest should not be in the center, usually.

7. Consider including the foreground.

8. Study the weather channel. Would a sky full of clouds be better than a solid blue sky? Do you need to return another time to get the right sky?

Example above: I think I composed the lines and shapes well. The time of day was perfect and I have one small area lit up and atmospheric perspective. I even have some foreground and an interesting sky. The problem was this was an unexpected view on our way home and we were on a one-lane bridge. I yelled "STOP!!!" to my husband who was driving and grabbed my camera. However, the person coming in the other direction beeped their horn at us! (Can't someone just take a photo on a summer evening in the middle of nowhere? Where did he have to go in such a hurry in the middle of a national forest?) So, I didn't have time to put on the right filter on or bracket or change my position to get the tree clump out of the center. I had to use Photoshop and masking to fix the dark land. As a result it looks like the slightly unreal colors of a Maxfield Parrish illustration. I'm definitely going back there to get a much better photo... as soon as I save up the gas money.

You can find some fantastic examples on photo.net Choose the Landscape category from the dropdown menu.

Photography Project Ideas

Digital-Photography-School.com has a forum where folks propose assignment ideas, like "Ghetto Lighting" (using everyday lighting like a desk lamp or flashlight), minimalism, eyes, rivers, shadows, self portraits, feet, etc.

At the end of a school year I asked students to type me a little note about what they liked/didn't like about the class. I only had handful of students take the time to do so. One said there were too many projects to complete, and another said she wished I had more assignments because when she finished early she was bored. So, I think I'll make a folder of extra lesson ideas for "If you Finish Early"... or something like that. I'll get some of the ideas from this website.

One of the assignments was "From the Hip". The most exciting one was actually, "Above the Head". I'll think I'll "steal" that idea. It forces students to try different angles and adds some mystery, since you can't see your LCD or viewfinder. Maybe I'll make it one of the steps in an "Overhead Point of View" assignment. Sounds like fun to me.

Also, check out their Digital Photography Tips section with topics like: 10 Ways to Take Stunning Portraits.

What Matters

What Matters to You // Me? from Jr.canest on Vimeo.

This was done by a Vancouver Film School student.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Light Painting

Check out this great video that the Carrot Revolution blog posted on Light Painting: drawing with a light source in the dark while you capture it with a slow shutter speed. I'm going to show it to my students, but might have to make it an extra credit assignment because only some of them will have point and shoots with manual or shutter speed settings.

There are many wonderful examples of light painting on flickr. Here's one set, another, and another. When you see all these images you realize that light painting is not just drawing with a light source, but it also includes shining lights, often color lights, on objects, another version of handpainting an image, but in the camera.

The above photo I took this summer when I was in the audience of a black light dance on stage. They were dancing with light, so I switched to a slow shutter speed and captured a light painting. If you try this, let me know and share your examples with us.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How to Start a Digital Photography Class

One reader left a comment asking for helpful hints for starting a digital photography and video class.

I also had to start the digital photography class for our county and I was feeling lost until I purchased John Hedgecoe's Photography Basics and his New Manual of Photography (mentioned earlier in this blog "Essential Photography Books"). I basically had my students do projects based on finding shapes, line, pattern, texture, light direction etc. as he suggests in his books. He also covers topics, like flowers, portraits, etc. Then I would add project ideas that I would get by reading other books and keeping up with online sites. (I've mentioned several in earlier entries in this blog.) John Hedgecoe also wrote a great book on filmmaking that I had in college, but I haven't checked if it is still in print, or if he has a video version. I only teach one unit on video using iMovie and I mention good video examples for a starting point in an earlier entry.

I think the key is to remember that you are approaching digital photography and video as art instruction. There are so many digital photographers and Photoshop experts who do not have a background in art and you can tell from their writing that they approach it as a technology challenge, not an art challenge. In my blog I try to focus on the ones who approach it as an artist. So, be careful what books you buy and what websites you read. Remember to cover the art elements and principles of design as well as the concept and purpose of expression. I make the technology part secondary, and they learn it as they go, not all at once.

I always start the year with a History of Photography lecture based on http://masters-of-photography.com (the dashes are important because there is another site without them). That site not only has examples but great articles about each photographer explaining their approach and motivation. It helped me remember a lot from college history of photography classes as well (a long time ago). The students love that lecture because they feel like peeping toms to the past. And, of course, if you have to justify that you tie other subjects into your art classes, well, this one is easy since so much of our nation's history is documented in these photos. Since I love history, I ask them to tell me what they know about the subject of the Dust Bowl, the Industrial Revolution, etc. that they see evidence of in the photos.

I try to introduce visual ideas during the lecture. For example, looking at Dorthea Lange, tell her story but also ask questions: "Did she ask her subjects to smile?" "What angle to the subject was she when she took this?" "What would have happened if she had stood 10 feet to the left? The diagonal line would have become horizontal and that is no where near as interesting." etc. This lecture is important because it helps make the students more comfortable with what I am expecting, before they ever have to turn in a project. Before I give them their first assignment, they already have a sense of the big idea of photography as an art form, that it is as much about the composition and lighting as it is about the subject, and that there is a boring way to represent the subject and a more intriguing way. It helps them understand the difference between snapshots and photography as an art form.

I highly recommend buying the two Hedgecoe books . They made my life a lot easier when I was asked to write the digital photography curriculum and my last photography class had been in the 70s.

Also, my first digital photography shooting projects of the year are: Photographing a Subject from Several Angles, and Shadows as the Subject (this one helps them think abstractly about big shapes instead of the subject). When school starts up again, I will show student examples of these early projects.

I have a collection of some beginning Photography lessons and advice for organizing the class on my Teachers Pay Teachers site.  (This is the link to the first set, there are several others as well.)