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Archive for October, 2012

Landscape Photography and Aspect Ratios

October 31st, 2012 No Comments

So many ‘rules’ and guidelines govern photography, including landscape photography.  However, the all-important choice of aspect ratio ‘enters the picture’ as only an afterthought during post-processing.  Instead, the aspect ratio ought to visualized at the time of taking the photograph in order to maximize your chances of nailing an appealing landscape.  That is Elliot Hook’s premise in Aspect Ratios in Landscape Photography.  

From this position, Hook proceeds to take the reader through generally-accepted aspect ratios.  He explains the effects each has upon the eye and perception and also what the strengths are of each.

Note that Hook’s tutorial is about “Landscape Photography.”  As such, aspect ratiosthat are higher than they are wider (what you get by turning the camera 90 degrees) ar

Aspect ratios

Aspect ratios (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

not discussed in any detail but are mentioned at the end.  That doesn’t mean you cannot or should not use a portrait orientation for a landscape.  A minority of situations in landscape photography – e.g. cliffs, gorges, waterfalls – lend themselves to a portrait orientation.  Pronounced vertical aspect ratios can heighten dramatic impact.

Starting with a 1:1 ratio – a square – Hook says that it can be used to “give a subject a striking presence at the centre of the frame” and that it “lends a good opportunity to break the rules we so often follow.”  Simply trying out Hook’s recommendations will easily prove their worth.

Hook differentiates between different ‘landscape format’ aspect ratios.  He says that relatively narrower ones, like 4:3, are useful when wants to lead the eye from the foreground to the landscape itself.  In contrast, wider aspect ratios like 16:9 (and even wider) invite the eye to travel horizontally – ‘sweep’ the image.  They are best used to represent a ‘pure’ landscape; a distant scenic panoramic view.

Another element is also in the mix: focal length.  Hook associates each aspect ratio not only with what photographic material it will work best for, but also with suitable and appropriate focal lengths.  For instance, he suggests using “longer focal lengths” for images with a 16:9 aspect ratio.  This article provides many similar guidelines.


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Weekly Roundup: From the Unusual to the Weird

October 30th, 2012 No Comments

Hurricane Sandy

Yesterday’s post contained a link to a photo of Hurricane Sandy from space.  Today let’s see Sandy up close and personal from the street, courtesy of some skilled – and intrepid – photographers.  

You’ll see flooded roads, submerged cars, 20-foot waves, power outages, and New York in distress in this album.  See the locals getting alarmed and making preparations and cleaning up the wreckage further south down America’s East Coast and the Caribbean in this album.  Now these photos are great examples of that much-used word, ‘Photojournalism’.

Sandy also brought about some unusual nature-made photographic effects further north in Syracuse.  There, photographers didn’t need any filters to shoot photos of an otherworldly peach-pink sky.  Sometimes it’s just about being in the right place at the right time!

Alien Effects, Alien Figures

Some Sandy-like effects can be created artificially by talented craftsmen.  Have a look at these equally arresting, slightly otherworldly landscapes which the photographer, Matthew Albanese, calls ‘Strange Worlds’.  These landscapes are indeed ‘strange’ because they’re all shot inside his studio!  Surely that’s not giving away the game too much?

Just as ‘strange’ is Chris Bucklow’s people photography . . . for he takes photographs without any camera!  Bucklow’s visually striking and artistic images also make no use of Photoshop; he uses a rudimentary yet advanced technique using a cardboard on which a figure is mapped out with “thousands of pinholes.”

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

Even though we close with a ‘straight’ photography item, this one too is well off the beaten track: you see, it’s about an underwater shoot . . . and the subject is turtles!  Closer to home, Australian Geographic reports that Doug Perrine has taken the first underwater photographs of flatback turtles.  

The eight-image album is worth a view even though it offers no tips for aspiring underwater photographers – heck, it’s probably rather unlikely anyway that you’ll be pulling a ‘Thunderball’ anytime soon! 


One Little Post, So Much Stuff!

October 29th, 2012 No Comments

Even as Fuji not only makes a respectable line of digital cameras but even stamps its own distinct brand identity on them and goes ‘high fashion’, it still supports film! 

In conjunction with two other entities, Fuji has announced a photo contest for students.  Only photographs that have been taken using film may be entered.  Though this contest is open only to photography students in the U.K., it is newsworthy worldwide because of the ‘film’ part.  Film is not dead!

Our HDR post on our sister site got lots of views so here is a collection of beach HDR photographs.  Some are in good taste while others are over the top; some are perfectly realized, others verge on the unnatural.  Enjoy the mini-gallery.

Heard about Hurricane Sandy?  Look at her from space, courtesy of a NASA satellite.  There is sooo much a photographer can learn from this awesome image and it’s so obvious that surely one doesn’t need to belabour the point . . . 

From the space to the earth thence from the earth to the sun:– Here’s a staggering collection of photographs of this year’s solar eclipse.  Among the many wonderful photographs of the eclipse itself is one that works in the eclipse into an image that is a lovely photograph in its own right.

Caution: do not photograph solar eclipses unless you (a) know how to do so safely and (b) know what you’re doing, otherwise you risk permanent blindness.

In closing, the Canon EOS M just launched in the U.S. at a sub-$1000 price and is worth taking a look at.  This APS-C mirrorless has 18 MPs, builtin HDR, Night Scene mode and more sharp features.  

This is one of those cameras that make for a very good starter camera for the beginner yet allow him/her to ‘grow’ as a photographer, not only because of the full complement of appropriate Canon lenses but also because of the advanced features and specs of this EOS.


Attention Travellers: Seasonal Photography Tutorials

October 28th, 2012 No Comments

The holiday season is round the corner and some of you will be travelling to the Mother Country or elsewhere in Europe – or even to America.  There, you’ll find radically different conditions for shooting – it’ll be winter!  Here, then, are three tutorials for effective winter photography.

Low sun, bare trees, snow and frost – winter scenes are almost nature-made silhouettes.  Accentuate the mood and effect by following the tips in How to Photograph Silhouettes This Winter.

The author provides exposure techniques that may be informative for beginners, including ‘exposure locking’ – fooling the camera into exposing (as 18 percent grey) for a very light or very dark area in your composition.  The author also assists by identifying what subjects will work best for winter silhouettes.

This article contains a really sharp example of how even a body of water can be treated in silhouette fashion, so to speak – it is in such high contrast that the crests and troughs are in near-whites and near-blacks resulting in a dramatic effect.

Another tutorial provides guidance for exactly the reverse situation: Coping with Contrast in Winter.  This how-to is really about retaining shadow detail and highlight detail in high-contrast situations.  It combines advice on capturing appealing images alongwith a few hard technical details.  

For instance, the photographer is advised to take advantage of the histogram to check that highlight detail won’t be lost.  Also, understanding issues of colour temperature will let you control just how snow looks in your photographs – do you want it to look pure white or do you want it to take on and reflect the cast of the sky or sun?

In Brilliant Prints’s Countdown: 7 Rules for Surefire Holiday Snaps we had said, “the mid-day and afternoon sun’s flat hard light makes for dull, lifeless images (try a polarizer).  Instead, take outdoor photographs in the morning and evening.  Sure, you’ll get shadows but early and late sunlight makes for better colour and finer detail.”

This advice is echoed in Working With Winter Sun: “Regardless of the time of year, the best lighting conditions for landscapes occur when the sun is low in the sky, when the shadow-forming angle of the light creates a strong sense of three-dimensional form in your pictures.”  However, they also mention, “when the sun comes out in winter it remains low in the sky for the entire day. So . . . when the sun makes an appearance it is perfect for landscapes.”

As you might guess, this how-to concentrates on getting the best out of natural lighting.  It goes beyond that to inform you of photographic conditions you can expect to find when shooting on winter mornings so that you can – like a boy scout – ‘be prepared’.

These three tutorials complement each other very well and will lift your winter photography skills to a new level.


A Child Photography Pro who’s a Child Psychology Amateur

October 26th, 2012 No Comments

A week back Shutterbug posted a new how-to by  Lou Jacobs Jr.’s under their ‘Pro Techniques’ banner and well they might, for the tips and techniques in The Photography Of Laura Cantrell: A Pro In The Child Photography Field are all pro.

Cantrell’s beginnings are unusual for a photographer: like so many small accounting, auditing and brokerage firm bosses, she simply carried on in her father’s footsteps!  That doesn’t mean she was not ‘meant’ for this profession; her very sentiments reveal that she’s found her place in life: “It is rewarding to watch a mother’s face as she sees her child’s enlarged portrait for the first time.”

Cantrell keeps costumes, backgrounds and props in her studio to the extent that parents can choose one of different sets.  The article is also helpful in providing details about the gear Cantrell, a ‘Canonite’, possesses and uses.

Though Cantrell does not say so expressly, what comes through loud and clear is that a child photography professional also has to be a Child Psychology amateur.  For example, she says: “Teenagers . . . require . . . a lot more flattery for natural expressions” and “A 6-month-old baby will laugh at a puppet . . . .”  These are a few of the many skills one needs to be a top-class child photographer.

I did find one omission in this how-to.  Like adults, children can have pronounced personalities so what works for one child may not work for another.  Also, some children are quite moody; their moods vary from day to day.  For a child photographer, reading a kid’s personality and his/her mood of the hour, and then adapting to it, is key.  Pros at the level of Cantrell certainly do so instinctively; for those who aspire to get to that same level, this reading and adaptation would require a more conscious effort.

Cantrell clearly has a fairly well-developed ‘Style’ – consider this opinion: “I prefer soft smiles because big grins distort features.”  Indeed, her images are on the gentle, pensive, sensitive side rather than exuberant or boisterous.  That said, even though you and your clients may prefer exuberant and boisterous, there’s something to gain from reading this article (and seeing the photos).


Two Major Contests and Two *You* Can Enter!

October 25th, 2012 No Comments

Amateurs can not only learn something about the craft by participating in a photo contest, they can ‘measure’ themselves.  So why not enter one?!  You may not win it even if you follow the guidelines I had posted our BPro sister site in National Geographic’s Traveler Contest – How to Win it! but an honourable mention wouldn’t be too bad.

Let’s look at a few contests, two that have just finished and two that are accepting entries. 

Serif’s PhotoPlus Photography Competition is a big one and earlier this month the winning photo was announced.  The winner, C.K. Ng of Indonesia, took home an enviable assortment of first-rate equipment worth £2,000 plus subscriptions to two magazines!

The winning photograph is simply stunning and worth a look (scroll down for a higher res image).  It is one of those unusual situations where a front and centre composition dead-on is the best choice, albeit not without posing a hazard to life and limb.  Some more excellent entries are here.

Staying in Asia – near Russia’s Lake Baikal to be precise – we look at Vladimir Medvedev.  He won top prize and ‘best portfolio’ prize in BBC’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest earlier this year.  

Available online are six of Medvedev’s images (not including a self-portrait).   Mountain goats on a snow-clad hillside and a porcupine against the backdrop of a lake and mountain are two beautiful wildlife photographs.  But continue viewing this mini-portfolio and you’ll be rewarded with a couple of truly breathtaking ‘art photos’.

So now your interest is whetted and you want to enter a photo contest?  Try these two; they’re accepting entries.

You have a good chance of getting somewhere in this contest because it’s awarding 120 recognitions besides nine cash prizes with a top prize of $3,226!  The catch is that you’ll have to be in Shanghai or have photographs of Shanghai’s historic or cultural spots in order to enter it.

Much easier to enter but having virtually nothing for a prize is an intriguing themed contest, In the Dark.  The possibilities are manifold – streetwalkers, city lights, nocturnal animals, night shift workers, graveyards, vampires, werewolves . . . .

Happy Clicking!


Weekly Weird and Whimsical Photography News

October 23rd, 2012 1 Comment

See the Earth from the Sky . . .

PETA and the SPCA ain’t gonna like this but if you want some nifty ‘birds eye view’ photographs, all you need to do is tie cameras to pigeons!  That’s what was done back in 1907, reports Jamie Condliffe.  

You see, back in those days they didn’t exactly have recon jets, let alone satellites, so a clever German named Neubronner devised this system for aerial military-related photography.  The pigeons were trained for their task and the cameras had a time-based system by which the shutters were released.  A little hit-and-miss, don’t you think?

Check out the article – there’s even a photo of a pigeon with a little camera dangling from its breast!

. . . Now to WW II . . .

Steve Meltzer takes us to the first half of the 1940s in Vintage color photographs from World War II era provoke technical mystery.  These photos are available on a Flickr album.

Anyone who’s interested in Americana will want to view this album – over three million people have already done so.  

Meltzer is quite thrilled with his discovery but also voices his bemusement, given the quality of the photographs, the era they were taken in, and the novice/amateur shooting crews.  

He observes that “action is frozen, the subjects aren’t blurry” and asks “how did the photographers achieve such great color balance?”  My sentiments precisely!  He closes with an invitation: “let me know if you have any insights about them so we can unravel this decades-old photographic mystery together.”

. . . And see the Sky from the Earth

We opened with a story about photographing the earth from the sky and we’ll close with a story about the reverse – photographing the sky from the earth.

Only a few days back someone took a photograph of . . . a UFO!  Looking at the photo, it looks more like the ghost of or an apparition of a UFO.(!)  What seems to make it authentic is the fact that the area was littered with a dozen or so dead birds and affected by “unusual noise.”  

However, the most believable line in the article is also the most party-pooping one: “some observers have dismissed the above photo as a hoax: This is a photo shop job. Completely fake.”

What do you say?


Eye Versus Camera. And the Winner is . . .

October 20th, 2012 No Comments

In a direct face-off, which is superior: the Camera or the Human Eye?  That is actually the question Cambridge in Colour seeks to answer – even the title reveals that this is a adversarial contest: Cameras Vs. The Human Eye – note the ‘versus’!  

Given that a photographer has at least a tangential interest in sensitivity to, and perception of, light, and issues of optics, this article is quite a fascinating read.

The similarities abound but so do the differences.  For instance, while a camera and lens will capture a sharp image over the full frame, even with an intermediate aperture (for a given lens) for a scene where the depth of field is not too deep, our eye does not ‘see’ a sharp image over the full field of vision.  Notch up one for the camera and also put a tick in the ‘Differences’ column. 

But wait— the article states that we see a fairly sharp image in our central angle of view, and that is 40 to 60 degrees, which is “incidentally . . . close to a 50 mm ‘normal’ focal length lens on a full frame camera (43 mm to be precise).”  Thus, what had seemed to be a ‘Win’ for the camera turns out to be a ‘Tie’ and a ‘Difference’ is in truth a ‘Similarity’.

On other factors, such as Resolution and Detail, a comparison is scarcely possible because of how far apart the eye and the camera are.  Actually, as the article points out, it is more meaningful to compare the eye to a video camera than a still camera.  

After all, a still camera ‘sees’ a picture for an instant – only so long as the shutter curtain is open.  The eye and a video camera ‘see’ a picture continuously.  Indeed, they even have something in common: an iris/pupil or aperture that adjusts dynamically according to the amount of light in the scene being viewed or filmed.

Amidst all the comparisons there is one game-changer, as this article points out: “What we really see is our mind’s reconstruction . . .”  While one can compare the eye to the camera, the eye doesn’t work in a vacuum: you’ve surely read about another organ-technology comparison between the brain and the computer, right?  Well, the human mind and its neuronal circuitry does an immeasurable amount of ‘post-processing’ and ‘Photoshopping’ every nanosecond to convert the ‘raw’ images captured by the eye into what we end up ‘seeing’.  The game-changer is the human brain.

When a photographer reads and studies the educational ‘Eye Versus Camera’ face-off, there’s only going to be one ‘winner’ . . . the photographer!


Craig Semetko: Where Leica, America, and Street-Shooting Come Together

October 19th, 2012 No Comments

Here’s the second part of our exhibition double-header, following up from yesterday’s post about the exhibition of The Hyland Collection.  I had mentioned that we’d look at “a virtual” exhibition “about street photography” “on a ‘name’ website.” 

That ‘name’ website happens to be the Leica Blog.  In their interview with Craig Semetko published a few days back, they feature a one-man virtual exhibition of a kind, America: E Pluribus Unum.  The writer nails just who and what Semetko is in the very first sentence: “A classic street shooter in the great tradition . . . .”  In addition to the images (click on the thumbnails for bigger images), the text is instructive as well.

Semetko is a first-rate “street shooter” – and more.  Witness the arresting underwater set-up.  The quasi-symmetry, the uncorrected blue cast of the water, the American flag – it all makes for a riveting photograph.  What, though, could be the inspiration or impetus for this set-up?  I believe it is an expression in which Semetko takes an observation to its (il)logical extreme: “[I]t’s amazing how many American flags you see driving through the country.  If you’re looking you see them everywhere.”

For the most part the series of images and the interview surround the function and skill of documenting ‘stuff as it happened’ – that’s classic Leica style; classic Magnum style.

Reading the interview and viewing the images provides an insight into how well Semetko’s mindset on the one hand, and his street photography on the other, converge.  For instance, he says: “A sense of humor is fundamental to me, as I believe it is for most people.”  Now see this!

Semetko uses the word ‘story’ in relation to his photography a few times in the interview.  Even when he tells the what-happened-next story of a horse in trouble on a snow-swept plain, the composition is just perfect. 

Or take the ‘Slice of Life’ shot of three strangers at a train station.  Profile, front, profile; each stranger disconnected from the other, and each in his or her private world.  Each one of a different ethnicity too.  I had never realized train platforms were such unutterably lonely places!

 Semetko is one of the very finest photographers in his field.  Any photographer aspiring to the Leica-Magnum ethos would do well to spend some time reading what Semetko has to say and – of course – learning the craft from a master’s images.


A ‘Must-See’ Exhibition: The Hyland Collection

October 18th, 2012 No Comments

We’ll look at two very different exhibitions today and tomorrow starting with The Hyland Collection Of American Photography: At The American Museum In Britain.  Today we’re talking about a ‘real’ exhibition in a museum; tomorrow, a virtual one a ‘name’ website.

The first exhibition makes one reflect about the art of photography; the second enables one to learn about the practice of (street) photography.

Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Herb Ritts are some of the master photographers whose works comprise the Hyland Collection which is definitely about the ‘art of photography.’

The very first photograph featured in the Hyland article, one by Robert & Shana Parke Harrison, is an aesthetic yet charming example of photographic art.  This antiqued photograph, actually a photogravure from 1998, shows a man in a light-generating contraption cycling toward, apparently, a lightning bolt.  This ‘art photo’ is a triumph of conception and execution as much as of lighting effect and (probably above all) composition.

Snap to the middle of the article to the photograph by Marcus Leatherdale.  Notwithstanding the famous Greek’s bust, as much as Andy Warhol makes a show of hiding his face, (a) isn’t he quickly recognizable (the hair’s a giveaway ain’t it?) and (b) doesn’t something about that photograph come across as a little self-conscious?

As for the two photographs – the ‘chromogenic prints’ – by Bill Armstrong that are meant ‘to convey the concept of’ something, is that really a valid form of photography?  Or an artsy self-indulgence?  Do they belong to photography or to painting?  

Thomas Barbey’s Urban Offering seems like a missed opportunity to me.  First, there is no question that the falling sand ‘makes’ the photo; without it the image would have been dull and lifeless.  The falling sand symbolizes something (actually somethings).  

Here’s the trick Barbey seems to have missed.  Note the soft, urban, city-dwelling hands.  Why didn’t Barbey use a model with hard, tough, dirty, grimy hands to represent the anonymous blue collar construction workers who built those buildings held by those undeserving hands? 

Most down-to-earth is Shelby Lee Adams seriously humourous The Fly Swat.  Those are two wonderful expressions Adams has managed to capture and evidently there’s some backstory there!  I can’t help my eyes ping-ponging between those two faces (can you?)

This photo is a terrific example of street photography and it’s the perfect place to close this post because tomorrow’s exhibition and post will be (almost) all about street photography.

This is not an exhibition for the sake of an exhibition; it has some hidden value: an exhibition that is an eclectic collection of photographers with widely different styles allows an amateur to find his identity as a photographer; to find her style.  Watch the trailer, with many more images, here.


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