As for all the arts and works emanating from the heart and mind, we need that spark for our creations. Like wordsmiths who can have writer’s block, image-makers on occasions can also feel unimaginative and face a blank canvas. Here’s how I counter such moments of drudgery and awaken a sleeping creativity.
1. Go on location
The most enthusiastic lensman can capture exquisite images right from his home or backyard. But sometimes it takes a trip outside into the big wide world to give us photographic ideas and insights. Nature never fails to inspire the artist in us. It may not be a grand adventure or expedition but simply a walk in the beach, fishing by the lake, a picnic on a forest reserve. The breath of fresh air and views of new surroundings is sure to stimulate senses and get you grabbing that camera, seeing the world through the viewfinder.
2. View works of the masters
Bless the internet as we can see in an instant the works of the legends – Ansel Adams, Henri-Cartier Bresson, Diane Arbus, Annie Leibovitz and many more. Professionalphotographer.co.uk lists 100 Most influential photographers of all time with links to their works. I get a kick reading on their biography, how they started in photography and how they found their style. Viewing their masterpieces, for me, is an enriching experience. We may never get to reach their level, but surely we can learn a thing or two from their pioneering and innovative efforts.
3. View works of enthusiasts
The masters may teach us, yet it is the works of like-minded photography enthusiasts that influences me and keeps me grounded on reality. At this time when everyone with a smartphone can snap any picture, I actually explore Flickr and other photo sites as well as pages of photo bloggers here at WordPress, looking out for those exceptional images that stand out. I read about the photographer, their experiences, the camera settings they use to take images. It thrills me that I can be of the same level with outstanding enthusiasts, as I can never be with the masters.
4. Join a camera club
We may be members of online groupings, participating in chats and forums to learn from others. However, nothing beats joining a physical camera club where you get to brush elbows with friends and peers. Social engagement is now taken for granted what with all the social media sites around. But “facebooking” or “flickring” is never like the inspired experience of an actual photo shoot/photo walk with your club buddies.
5. Be alone
Social is good. But the clutter and chatter of our fast-paced, noisy environment distracts us from the art of “seeing” or “sensing.” I found that a place of quiet and contemplation, where the soul can be calm and the mind refreshed, can unleash imagination and vision.
Creativity is not an on or off thing like a toggle switch that can be activated at the flick of a finger. Artists are an emotional and expressive batch and they can have moods, sometimes bountiful with a wellspring of inspiration flowing continuously, at times dark and empty, an abyss of nothingness. There are moments we need to find our muse and there are things we can do to realize that. How about you, where do you draw inspiration for your images?
Have a great week ahead!
Observe the picture above. There are layers of textures there – the powdery sand that has seen its share of hundreds of footsteps (or sandal marks), the white strip of surf crashing on shore, the tips of aqua green waves readying their final trip towards land, those fluffy pieces of clouds on their heavenly sojourn, the rocky outcrop of mountains and islands on the horizon. Does this add clutter and confusion to the picture? No, because texture is not the first thing you’ll notice but the blue banca (outrigger canoe) that sits quietly in contrast to its surrounding. The textures here provide an interesting menagerie of patterns, colors, shadows and highlights. Though texture can be a central subject, they can be effective secondary pieces in support of the point of interest. Look out for texture. Designers and graphic artists use them for backgrounds and to fill spaces. But photographers can use texture as a more powerful element – much like shape, patterns, color and light – for subject or composition.
Principles of Visual Dynamics
If you like rules, remember exceptions prove the rules. Being too insistent on the application of hard and fast rules can blind you to many exceptional opportunities. If you don’t like rules, remember that while there are no absolutes there are forces at work that have consistent tendencies. Denying or ignoring universal principles will lead to unpredictable unrepeatable results; you’ll achieve success far less frequently and be far less able to repeat your successes.
Forget rules. Forget absolutes. Forget musts. Instead develop an awareness of visual principles. Look for the unique power each element has to influence a composition. Develop a sensitivity to how elements and combination of elements make the forces at work in a composition stronger or weaker. Instead of composing formulaically, you’ll then be able to improvise. Understanding the principles of visual dynamics will help make your decision making process more informed, it will not make choices for you. Awareness is the key. Better awareness brings better choices bringing better results.
~John Paul Caponigro from his article Photographic Composition: Introduction
When you’ve got islands, unless they are rock formations protruding out from the sea, then you’ve got beaches. What do you do? Plunge right into those inviting waters? Shoot First, Swim Later was the title of my post last October 30, 2012. I’m reposting it:
My country, the Philippines, has 7,100 islands. Put all those coastlines together and it will stretch for 23,000 kilometers, the third longest in the world. As a tropical country, it’s literally beach time all year round. Hence the beach, found everywhere, pristine in its natural beauty, is a mainstay subject of mine. Water, sand, sea, tides, shells, corals, sunny skies, palm trees, all these converge to create an inviting, colorful and exotic environ deserving of the pages of a travel magazine. In fact, we have some of the best beach and diving locations in the world. So how exactly do we photograph the beach, coast and shorelines? We know these images as seascapes. Darren Rowse, founder of the online Digital Photography School, jots down 10 Beach Photography Tips which include looking for focal points, watching the horizon, using flash and filters, utilizing black and white and many others. Unless you live there right by the sea, the chance to be at a scenic coastline or beach must not be passed up. You will be guided by your accumulated knowledge of what to shoot, when to shoot and things to look out for to get that postcard-perfect shot. (Photo location: Alubihod Beach, Guimaras Island)
When I posted the above image at a popular photo sharing site, a viewer commented: “Wow! You captured the whole island!” Well, not really, just one area of the island which happens to be its most visible part. It’s because motorboats and their passengers pass along this sea route on their way to the main island some two hours away. I don’t know if other corners of the island are as gorgeous, but I should say the above area looks the part of a tropical Eden, unspoiled and untouched (unlike the famous Boracay Island which is teeming with people).
Imagine yourself in the island above, lying on the beach, feeling the warm caress of white, powdery sand on your skin as the balmy wind tempers the midday sun and sways the lush palms. Then you arise and dive into those tempting waters, practicing your strokes against the incoming tide. Later you retreat to the natural shade and get your fill of ripe, juicy mangoes, papaya, avocado and of course the coconut fruit…this is gastronomic heaven. Your eyes feel heavy and the cool hut beckons…with the sweet singing of birds above and the soothing sound of the surf below, you get to dreamland…fast. This is back-to-basics living, without your smartphone, tablet, laptop, music player or radio or whatever gadget. I can live with that, but not without my camera!
Another week and another picture series. The Philippines as an archipelago has 7,100 of them jutting out like pearls from the sea. Some are world-renowned destinations but we’ll explore those that don’t have hotels, bars and cabanas on the beach. We’ll go to the untrodden places, quiet, peaceful and free, and where time seemingly stands still. Welcome to Islands Week!
I photograph things which I want to look at a little longer.~Gunnie Moberg
I have been playing with this 16:9 aspect ratio and I’m loving it. Based on what I’ve picked up on my online readings and personal experiences, I found that this aspect ratio provides the following:
- A cinematic feel
- A whole expanse of placing your subjects
- A great way of having a negative space
- A different way of “macroing” focusing only on certain parts of the subject
- A splendid landscape view
Recently I have shifted to using 1:1 square format in my black and white images, now I’ll be using regularly the 16:9 and utilize its full potentials in my color photography. There is so much to learn and I’m enjoying it in this photographic journey of discovery and expression.
Candid photography is about capturing life moments as they happen. This is where the photographer is unnoticed by the subject, hence there is no posing or awkwardness. It’s the real deal, a slice of life that is documented. Candid shots are best for sports action, group activities and street photography.
I’m sharing an article by Sarah Harbuck titled Photography Tips: How to Take Better Candid Photos. In it she presents the following:
1. Become inseparable with your camera.
2. Take lots of photos.
3. Turn your flash off.
4. Use a zoom lens.
5. Get in the right position.
6. Use your creativity.
7. Be in the moment.
8. Observation is key.
9. Melt into the background.
10. Don’t try too hard.
If you can spare a minute, head over to the article and read it in full. Candid images are fun, spontaneous and unreserved. They are images we can relate with, all too human and all too normal – a tick of time and a second of daily life recorded for posterity. The above photo was taken at Sentosa Resort in Singapore where a lone guy enjoys a good read by the beach. Happy candid snapping!
I believe in the resonance and staying power of quiet photographs.~William Albert Allard
Here are a few places to consider when heading out to start your photography adventure.
Water: It doesn’t matter where you live or where you go, you are sure to find lakes, rivers and streams with beautiful landscapes surrounding them. On the coasts, you can get amazing shots of oceans as well. When looking at these locations, determine what makes them unique. Is it a fast moving river or a lazy, slow stream? Figure this out and then decide if you want it to be the focal point of your composition or just a device to use to focus on something beside or in it. You can also find amazing reflections in the water, which will enhance your photographs even more.
Forests: Forests present a photographer with numerous opportunities. Look around and decide if the forest is open and welcome or enclosed and gloomy. When you find the “personality” of the forest, decide what objects in the forest will allow that attitude to come to life in your photographs. It can be a tree, a winding path or a colorful break in the greenery. Find what makes the forest come to life and capture it in your photographs.
Plains: The wide open spaces, especially in the Midwest, can seem dreary and boring but, with the right eye, this can also become the scenic photographers dream. The most important thing to find here is something to focus on. Find an old road sign, a barbed wire fence or an old gravel road and then use these items to show the vastness of the open space beyond it. The plains are also a great place to get amazing shots of the sky as it morphs and changes colors throughout the year.
Mountains: Remember, you are not just shooting mountains, you are shooting something with the mountains in the background. Sure, there can be some amazing pictures displaying the curves of the mountains but those photographs can get boring after awhile. Instead, find something close to the camera, such as a tree or a person admiring the mountain. Using this subject, the mountains will look vast and immense in comparison.
~Shawn Lealos from his article Scenic Photography: Getting the Most out of Your Outdoor Shoot
When I use the camera, I often feel like I know part of the people or places I come in contact with.~Christophe Agou
Besides artistic portraits and street photography, there is another area that captures humans and its called documentary-style people photography. It is about photographing people in relation to issues, situations, places and the environment they are in. It involves documenting their stories as they go about their everyday lives, such as the girl and her little brother in the photo.
They live in a small coastal community in Guimaras Island in central Philippines. The main livelihood of families in the community are fishing but they get a bigger income by ferrying tourists to nearby small islands that boast of pristine beaches, undeveloped and undisturbed patches of nature. The primary means of transportation from one island to another is the banca, a local outrigger canoe that can carry two to three passengers. It is propelled by the sheer effort of paddling, by the girl in this case, with her little brother playing the role of lookout and assistant. The girl has just ferried me and my photo buddy to this small island and I took this picture as they were about to set off to transport more of my fellow photographers waiting in the main island some 300 meters away. I guess we are all chroniclers when we have our cameras and arrive at a new country, city or place. Knowingly or unknowingly, we capture images of people as they go through the daily grind and struggles in life. In the picture above, it is a poignant story of siblings helping their family to make ends meet; their parents are out at sea fishing. The camera is there not only to capture beautiful sceneries but also slices of life, no matter how humbling, as we encounter them.
After a full week of posting color images, I reserve weekends for the classic medium, sort of going back to the roots of photography – the world of black and white. I have been doing this for many weekends now and have racked up a sizeable number of postings on black and white photography which include tips, guides, pointers, techniques and finding inspiration. Let me quickly give a recap on some of them:
Shoot in color then convert to black and white later during editing. The digital camera can capture 16 million colors. There are only 254 shades of grey plus pure black and pure white. Imagine how much information you lose if you shoot directly in black and white. Besides, you have the option to revert to the color original if during editing the image it does not work well in black and white. Which leads us to the next point.
Not all subjects look good in black and white. A splendid sunrise or sunset is best presented in its colorful glory. But there are landscape scenes that look great in monochrome especially if visual design elements are present. Portraits, architecture, still life, abstracts, and even events like weddings are suited for black and white. It is the preferred medium for fine art photography.
Low key and high key are lighting techniques that add drama and impact to black and white images. Low key is when the subject is enveloped in darkness with only key features highlighted by a single light source. High key is when the subject is bathed in white soft light, usually from multiple light sources. This technique is used in commercial and advertising photography and done with studio lighting set-up.
Learn to see in black and white. In the absence of color, what would attract the eyes? These are the visual elements of design: lines, shapes, patterns and textures. Learning to see in black and white is knowing the play, fall and direction of light because it is light which makes visible and creates those visual elements plus shades, shadows, silhouettes and outlines. Photography is all about light – how fast it enters the camera and how large the amount of light allowed to make an image imprint on the film or sensor.
Know their meanings. Color psychology tells us that white stands for purity, perfection, innocence, wholeness and completion. Black represents the hidden, secretive and the unknown. But it is positively identified in the context of protection, comfort, strength, formality, dignity and sophistication. Learn to use black and white well in your images to convey your message.
There you go folks, some samples of my many monochrome postings. However, there are lots of others. To have a complete look at all previous posts and images on this topic, just click on these links – Black & White or Monographs. They are also entries in the Categories section at the sidebar. Have a wonderful monograph weekend!
Let’s talk a little bit about pictures and why we love them.
Pictures can be beautiful. They can decorate a home or an office; be published in books, magazines and calendars; they can even win ribbons or prizes in contests. A breathtaking landscape can transport the viewer to another time and place, if only for a moment. A beautiful still life can capture a mood of serenity, warmth, even magic. A great portrait of a person can look into their soul, and let you share their smiles or tears. A great picture communicates. Think about it. There is a huge market out there for photographs because publishers know that the people who buy their materials will be drawn to good photographs that reach out to them. Visual communication is something that we’re all born being able to relate to. The subjects out there to take pictures of are limitless. The only boundaries are within your mind.
But what makes a photograph successful? The answer is a fairly simple one, and you can improve your photography today by learning a few very basic rules.
One caveat, however. As the old saying goes, rules are meant to be broken. Some of my favorite photographs very purposely break a lot of the basic “rules” of photography. But to break the rules in a way that enhances a photograph and effectively turns it into a great photo, you first have to know the rules and have a reason for wanting to break them…
~from the article Composition and Impact
It’s just seeing – at least the photography I care about. You either see or you don’t see. The rest is academic…It’s how you organize what you see into a picture.~Elliott Erwitt
I don’t know how you imagine an Eden on earth should look like, but if you ask me it should be something like the above.~JJ
Whether you’re photographing wildlife, plants or a wondrous sunset, be aware of your surroundings. Follow these tips to capture the best opportunities for nature photos:
- Be aware of all of your senses: your ear may hear something that your eyes have missed.
- Maintain perspective: when changing locations, check out where you have just been so you know where to travel next to get another amazing shot.
- Pay attention to your surroundings: look up and down, as well as side to side.
- Study your subject’s habits: know how to anticipate an upcoming photo opportunity or when to flee.
Natural light in photography is not as consistent as you may think. At different times of the day, different shades of the color spectrum dominate natural light. For instance, at midday, the blue portion of the color spectrum is dominant, producing a “cool” light. Color photography taken at midday produces the clearest, sharpest pictures in bright light.
In contrast, natural light at sunrise and sunset emphasizes the red portion of the color spectrum. Known as warm light in photography, sunrise and sunset light produces warmer pictures with a softer contrast.
~From the article Light and Color in Photography
April and May are the summer months in the Philippines. It is hot and humid, and people flock to their favorite weekend getaway – the beach. With 7,100 islands and a combined coastline that stretches 23,000 kilometers, the beach is a perennial sight. And we’ve got some of the best beaches in the world. You’ve probably heard, seen or been to some of these – Boracay, Panglao, El Nido, Bohol, Cebu, Subic Bay and Siargao. Now these are just the more popular ones. Numerous other beaches, some still undeveloped in their natural pristine beauty, litter the country’s coast. The beach scene is one of my favorite subjects. I’ve shared some tips on shooting the beach in a previous post. This time let’s explore with more tips on capturing the bright summer scene.
When we talk about outdoor summer scenes, we mean bright intense light, which results in harsh shadows, glare, lens flare and high contrast, especially during midday hours. Here are what I’ve searched and gathered:
1. Use Lens Filters. In the same way that we wear sunglasses to protect our eyes from harmful UV rays, dust and dirt, filters do they same for the lens. There are many kinds of filters and with different purposes – protection from the elements, reduction in the amount of light and reflection, and enhancement of colors. For a better understanding about filters, what they do and how they function I refer you to this article Lens Filter Explained.
2. Underexpose. If you don’t have neutral density filters and the outside scene is quite bright, you may have to underexpose the image by 2 stops in order to properly get the highlights and shadows. This is called exposure compensation, a standard manual feature in DSLRs represented by the plus and minus signs (+/-). Some high-end point and shoots also carry this feature, providing for more flexible manual exposure controls. These Exposure Tips will guide you on where, how and when to use exposure compensation.
3. Use A Lens Hood. This lens attachment is meant to reduce flare which is caused when light bounces into the lens from the side. Know why it is important to use this with this article What Does A Lens Hood Do?
4. The Sunny 16 Rule. It states that: “On a sunny day, you should set your aperture to f16 and your shutter speed to the reciprocal of your ISO value…This means that, for an ISO value of 100, your shutter speed should be near 1/100 seconds (most of the time cameras will offer a value of 1/125 seconds). An ISO value of 200 calls for a shutter speed around 1/200 seconds.” Head over to the article to see the suggested f-stop settings for various lighting conditions.
5. Use Fill Flash. Your subject may be in a deep shade or shadow caused by the harsh light, or the sun is in the back of the subject making it a “backlighted” image. In any case, the camera will not recognize or retain the subject’s image, it will just be a dark mass or silhouette. Time to engage the flash to fill in the dark areas. Ken Rockwell explains it all in his article Fill Flash.
6. Adjust In Post-Processing. Most image editing programs have controls to adjust brightness and contrast. The one I use, the free but feature-filled software PhotoScape, even has special options for adjusting luminance, brightening foregrounds and backgrounds, and lighting particular shadow areas in a photo.
This is not a complete listing. There are many other tips like moving into a shade, using natural reflectors in the environment, tweaking camera settings like ISO and white balance and many others. The point is to be knowledgeable and prepared when we go outdoors in bright, summer, sunny days. The picture above was taken at Tambuli Beach Resort in Mactan Island (accessible by two modern bridges from across Cebu City) while the image below was taken at Subic Bay.
To shoot poignant pictures we only need follow the path of our enthusiasm. I believe that this feeling is the universe’s way of telling us that we are doing the right thing. The viewing public will always disagree over the intrinsic merits of a particular photograph, but no one can deny the enthusiasm that originally inspired us to capture and offer that image to others.~Timothy Allen
Centering your subject is taboo in some photographer circles. It is seen by many as an amateur mistake. However, while you should never just automatically center you subject without thinking, there are times and situations where centering your subject makes perfect sense…
Centering is an effective way to draw attention to your subject when there are very few other items in the composition. When taking photographs of stand alone objects where background and foreground are not shown and the subject will nearly fill the frame, centering works to maintain focus on the subject itself. Portraits (animal and people) and illustrations are good examples of this. Also, centering can be used to good effect on the other end of the compositional spectrum when the composition is extremely busy. When there a lot of objects in a frame that compete for attention, centering a strong and different type object can draw attention to it. This works much like when you are working a jigsaw puzzle and are faced with many similar pieces. If you place a puzzle piece of different size, color, or shape in the middle of the group your eye will be drawn to that difference.
~Liz Masoner from her article Centering Your Photographic Subjects
Being a photographer is making people look at what I want them to look at.~Ruth Orkin
Article Excerpt: “Most of the general tips on how to compose or frame a good shot apply just as well to black and white photography as they do when shooting in color – however the main obvious difference is that you’re unable to use color to lead the eye into or around your shot. This means you need to train yourself to look at shapes, tones and textures in your frame as points of interest. Pay particularly attention to shadows and highlights which will become a feature of your shot.”~Darren Rowse from his article 5 Black and White Photography Tips
Black and white photography does more to evoke an emotion and freeze a moment in time than any other medium.~Bob Snell