Many people’s reaction to a rainy day sounds something like this: «Oh, it’s a nasty day; everything is going to get wet on my way to work.» But to a child, a rainy day means puddles to jump in, raindrops to catch, and the possibility of rainbows. And to a photographer, those puddles, raindrops and stormy skies with rainbows can mean great photographs, if you are looking at things for their positive potential.
If you believe there is beauty and interesting stuff around you, you will see it, more and more, as you open yourself up. You just need a willingness to explore and find what’s extraordinary in the ordinary things around you. It doesn’t matter what the subject is: A flower blossom, an abalone shell, a lichen-covered tree. Your goal is to get past what the thing is, and look at it for any visual delight it might offer.
It’s human nature to want to define what something is—a flower, a piece of granite, a type of tree. But more important for you as a photographer, you need to get beyond what it is and see it more deeply. Ask yourself things like, «what does bark look like up close?» or «what are the colours in this piece of rock and what would it look like wet?»
You can train yourself to see beyond the subject by asking how you feel about what you are seeing. What does it express to you? Are you drawn to the subject for its texture? Its shape? Is the light expressing a certain mood? Is the scene funny, or sad? When you get in touch with what you feel, you draw from a deeper well of vision and will find ways to photograph your subject that express this. If you don’t have any feelings about your subject, this, too, will be reflected in your pictures. They may end up being static, lacking expression and possibly lacking a focal point.
The inside of your house may not be interesting to photograph, but it’s a great place to begin learning to see more deeply. Go into your kitchen and notice the chrome reflections and design of kitchen items, their colours and shapes. If you want to make picture, great. If not, use the exercise as a way to begin seeing the things around you. Or, take a walk outside and look at a tree. Notice the texture, the pattern, and the shape of the tree. Walk around it and notice how the light changes its attributes, bringing out texture, form and shape. Or visit your garden or a neighbour’s yard and look at the variety of design in plants and flowers.
The only rule when doing an exercise like this is to leave you assumptions and expectations behind, opening yourself up to seeing what’s really there. Go beyond you left brain, which tells you, «it’s only a rusty old engine and listen instead to the right brain, which says, «look at all those wonderful patterns in rusty texture. The more you move into the right side of your brain, the more you’ll see.
There are so many wonderful pictures to be made when you look at the world with curiosity. Just imagine now how many photographic opportunities there are waiting for you within close range of your home. The potential is endless.
Learning to understand and use light is one of the key elements to make your photographs stand out. But it’s also a challenging skill to master. Light can come in so many forms and have so many qualities. If you want to handle light, the best way is to practice one kind at a time. Here is a one that almost never fails to produce captivating photos.
Light helps tell the story of the photograph. The right light can transform an otherwise ordinary scene into something extraordinary. It can set the mood in a photograph. Light can help isolate an image. It can also reveal form and texture. It can create a feeling of depth. Light has so many qualities; an endless array of ways it can strike and bring out a subject that books have been written about it.
If we limit ourselves to natural light, more specifically sunlight, in particular one kind always makes an experienced photographer’s heart beat a little quicker. Have you noticed how beautiful the light from a low hanging sun is? I am not talking about sunset, although that is indeed beautiful. No, I am rather thinking about sunshine either a little earlier than sunset, like late afternoon or equally beautiful; some time after sunrise in the late morning.
Most experience photographers know that the light in the morning or in the afternoon is gorgeous, particularly when used as side light, that is light that falls on the subject from one side. Generally, side light is a very modulating light, it is a key light to bring out dimensions and textures, and it makes object appear three-dimensional by the distinct shadows it creates. Side light is usually regarded as very attractive and appealing and more so side light from an early or late sun.
Depending on the time, light from a low hanging sun may cast a warm tint on the subject, but what I really want to emphasize is the modulating quality of a low sun. The light sweeps across the scene, creating a pattern of striking highlights and shadows as it comes in from a low sky.
Position yourself so that the light from the sun comes in from one side relative to yourself. Almost anything you photograph in such light will turn into a pleasing photograph. You can hardly spoil it. What about sun from an open sky, is that not suppose to be harsh and rather unforgiving, you may ask. Yes, when the sun is high on the sky that is so, but when it gets closer to the horizon the sun rays moves through the atmosphere at an angle and thus have a longer way to pass before it hits the ground. That forces the sun rays to scatter into the atmosphere, more than at midday, which makes the sky into a light source of its own and wraps the sunlight around any object lit by the sun.
The sunlight in the morning or in the afternoon creates an extraordinarily beautiful light. Try it out yourself and I am sure you will be convinced—if you haven’t already given it a try.
Nothing beats natural light. It’s versatile, so beautiful and always changing like a facet, thus always surprising. Even in places, you recon you would need to use artificial light; you may take advantage of natural light. Think indoor. Your first thought may be to turn on the flash, but instead of its harsh and contrasting result, here is a different approach.
Light from a window or an open doorway brings the beauty of natural light indoor. What more is, it’s a soft and diffused light that wraps around the subject you photograph—as long as you don’t let direct sunlight through the window or doorway.
Furthermore, window light is a natural light that we are all familiar with in our day to day lives. It is easy on the eye and easy for us to decode in a photograph because we are so familiar with the way light rattles around in a room. A large window is essentially a huge softbox that will diffuse light into the room and around the subject you place in front of it. Window light can be wonderful for photographing portraits or still-life subjects.
As mentioned, it’s diffused but still directional so that it brings out the forms of whatever you photograph. One could call it «quiet light» because it has a peaceful quality to it. It reduces contrasts, which makes it easier for the camera to record details in both the deeper shadows and the brighter highlights, which in turn makes it possible to see more details in the final picture.
By using light from the window almost anyone with a good camera and lens can take exceptional indoor images. The soft nature of window light makes it very flattering; the shadows that appear on the face are very natural and don’t accentuate any features.
You can use light from a window in many ways, lighting the subject from behind or affront. However, probably the most beautiful light from a window or doorway is when you use it to cast a sideways light on the subject. Side-lighting will really bring out the forms and details in the subject.
The photo above was lit from an open doorway only. The light brings out the characters of the elderly couple and brings out the weathered faces sculptured from a long life on a farm in Cuba.
What about giving this approach a try? I am sure you will find window light both easy to handler and resulting beautiful images.
Cuba is a country of colour and sensual heat. It moves differently than any other country in the world. Maybe it’s due to the fusion of stiff Eastern European communism with Caribbean salsa. And maybe it’s exactly the contrast that makes Cubans more alive and outward going than even other cultures you will find in the Caribbean. Of course, it has not the least to do with the rich cultural heritage of the Cubans. Cuba is after all where the music son were born and spread to the rest of the world as its offshoot salsa.
During Blue Hour Photo Workshop’s «Street photography in Cuba» you will get ample opportunity to both experience and photograph the Cuban colour and heat. That is really what makes the country and it’s people so attractive for photographer from near and far. The workshop takes place from April 29th to May 6th this year.
When you want to capture photos in the night, there is in particular one thing you should be aware of. Obviously everything is going to be darker and thus you would most likely need to use a tripod or at least amp up the ISO-setting significantly. Otherwise, the captured photo will be very blurry—which of course can be used creatively if that’s your intention.
However, what I really have in mind is quite something different. When you capture a landscape or a cityscape you will most likely get part of the sky in the photo. If the sky is pitch black, it will become a boring, uniformly dark, negative space. Night, right? After all you attempt to shoot in the night which means the sky would be black.
Look at great photos of «nightscapes», though, and you will see that the sky is never pitch black. Instead, there is a flicker of blue light or some lighter parts in the sky that makes the sky much more interesting than a flat and boring black sky.
The trick to get a more dynamic night sky, is not shooting during night time, but rather just before the night sets in. When you shoot during the late dusk or during the few minutes before twilight turns into night, you will be able to capture a much more interesting sky. The photo will still look like a night shot—as long as you keep the exposure dark enough or process the photo as a night shot.
So don’t shoot night pictures at night, but rather just before the night sky takes over, and you will capture a photo with much more atmosphere and dynamics.
Our photo workshop in Cuba kicking off on April 29th is getting some traction. Over the last couple of days, we have reached more than half the maximum amounts of participants and expect more will sign up over the next couple of weeks. If you have been pondering about attending, maybe now is a good time to figure out whether you want to join or not.
Cuba is more popular than ever. The country is changing rapidly, and if you want to experience some of the «old» Cuba now is really the time. Don’t get us wrong, changes are good, development are good, but there is nothing wrong with wanting to experience something that soon will be all but history. Like any other country is developing, so is Cuba. The hardworking farmers are slowly by slowly no longer ploughing with bulls, traditional culture is vanishing and of course ever more tourists have an enormous impact on Cuba—like they have in any country.
The Blue Hour Photo Workshop «Cuba in Essence» will take you to some of the most amazing places in Cuba. This is really a street photo workshop, and we promise you will be able to capture some amazing photos. And the two workshop teachers will help you develop your photographic vision. During the Cuba workshop you will become a better and more confident photographer, no matter your present level.
You will find more info about the photo workshop «Cuba in Essence» on this site.
In the last post before Christmas in our series of simple, practical tips to enhance your photography, we wrote about using flash to accentuate contrast, colour saturation and draw the focus to the main object within the frame. In the post I also made a point of not using the on-camera flash when you would usually think of using it, that is when the subject is dark and badly lit. Usually that will only result in – when for instance photographing people – people in the foreground being burned out completely by the flash light with white faces and every thing else in the background going pitch black.
The technique for using the on-camera flash for some special effects that was mentioned in A Flashy Look, I pointed out was only to be applied in daylight, not when it’s dark. However I wasn’t telling the whole truth then, because the same technique can actually be used when it’s dark. You just have to be aware of the side effect that comes with this technique.
Because you are mixing available light and flash with this technique the shutter speed will often be longer than what is usually recommend for handheld camera use. Of course you can crank up the ISO-setting, but then maybe you don’t need the flash at all. So, once again this technique is best for achieving some special effects. The effect when using it in darker environments or when it’s dark is a combination of a subject that appears both ghost-like and rendered sharply at the same time. The reason is the combination of a longer shutter speed and a very short burst of flash light. The former renders the subject blurred while the latter render is frozen and sharp. The two shapes then seem to be superimposed on top of each other.
The technique is exactly the same as I explained in the post A Flashy Look. Select Aperture Priority mode on your camera (although other modes may work too, but that differs from one camera to another). If you have a point and shoot camera, put the mode to slow sync. Turn on the flash, shoot and let the camera do the rest. Because you choose either Aperture Priority mode or slow sync the camera will set the camera speed so you get a correct exposure of the available light in combination with the light from the flash.
Usually when shooting handheld you are recommended not to use a slower shutter speed than either 1/125 of a second or 1/60 of a second, because of possible camera shake. But with this technique I describe here you can easily use the camera handheld down to at least one second. Keep in mind, though, that the longer the exposure time, the more ghost-like or halo-like the image will look like. However, creatively used, this can produce some both special and interesting results.
Have fun experimenting with you flash!