Seeing nature up close

Close up photography opens up a whole new dimension for us. It exposes a world that we normally do not see, details that are usually missed. These are things that can be observed only upon closer inspection. Why do we miss them in our everyday, casual look around?


Our eyes are busy organs. They are trained to scan but not to scrutinize. They have a tendency to see things as a whole, but not to examine closely. Our eyes, with stereo vision, appreciate panoramas but, since they are not of binocular vision, will likely overlook a spot in a wide field. Highlighting subjects in photography means going in close, looking in and not looking at. Though panoramic photography affords us to look at the grandeur of vastness, so does close up photography but on a different dimension and scale. And this requires perception and practice. You know the picture above are droplets but what you didn’t know is that they are on a two-inch petal. For all you know they can just be watery bumps on a bridge spanning a chasm. Scalability in the micro world can create illusion. They can be mysterious but at the same time pleasant and attractive. Learn to stay still and peer at nature. In the middle of the forest our inclination is to gaze up with awe at giant trees, yet there is an unseen world right at our feet waiting for us to have a look and take notice.

Take advantage of height

JJWP437The height advantage doesn’t only apply in basketball, it is also much sought after in photography. We call it the vantage point. It is the perspective of altitude giving you a sweeping, broad field of vision. Street level shots are, well, ordinary because that’s the person’s normal perspective. That is why you see photographers hold their cameras above their head to get an alternative shot. The difference may just be a matter of inches but that will drastically change the point of view, and the framing of the subject. We have taken shots of sunrises and sunsets as part of a landscape, and usually without vantage point since the sun is over the horizon almost at street level. Unless you’re watching the sunset from atop of a building or mountain then that’s quite a another view. Now imagine a sunrise over the clouds at 30,000 feet. No don’t imagine it, its in the photo I took from an airplane’s window on an early morning flight to the province. The scene is almost surreal and magical with the textured, cotton-like bed of clouds in the foreground and the sun peering through in the background complete with the morning atmospheric haze. We don’t often take pictures like this which makes it special. Vantage point from mere inches to thousands of feet will change the view of an image. Let’s put it this way – be a soaring eagle and look out into the world around you. Because the outlook is different from a regular person’s eye-level view, an image taken from an elevated position will come out fresh, unique and interesting. So whenever possible, take advantage of height or altitude. In other words, just get high for that shot. Now going low or under is another viewpoint. And that’s for another post.

Shoot in color then convert to B&W


Article Excerpt: “A word of advice, never shoot using the in camera black and white setting. Even though some cameras give you some control with different black and white types, it is better to take the photos in color and then convert them in an editing program. That way, you will have more control over the final result and you will always have a color version of the photo in case you changed your mind and decided the color version is better. So, shoot in color and convert to black and white later, and remember to get an exposure as accurate as possible in order to pass smoothly through the conversion stage…Whatever the thing you want to photograph, the first stage is always preparation and shooting. The human eye sees only in color which is, of course, absent in black and white photos. In this monochromatic reproduction of the world, it’s necessary to find other elements that would highlight the subject. You are only left with lighting, textures, lines and shapes to make the photo stand out.”~Yassine Hakimi from his article The Magic of Black and White Photography

Enhance reality with sharpness


Article Excerpt: “In a precisely sharpened image, we notice and appreciate the details of a scene. We may marvel at how closely it depicts reality. Often this is what a precisely sharpened image is all about: how close to reality is it, at least how reality appears to people with 20/20 vision. And if we turn up the sharpness just a bit more than that, the viewer might be captivated by an image that seems to enhance reality beyond the range of normal vision. It’s the eye of an eagle. It’s Superman vision…image sharpness involves two different factors: the resolution of the image, which determines how much detail it captures, and “acutance,” which is how well defined the edges are. A high resolution image may not necessarily have high acutance, while an image with high acutance may not necessarily have high resolution.”~John Suler from his article On Being Sharp

The photographer’s block

JJWP312Like all artistic endeavors, we sometimes reach a blank wall. For those who use the mighty pen, it is widely known as writer’s block, the inability to produce new work. For photographers who use their eyes to scan, the mind to process and the camera to capture, there is also such a thing as a photographer’s block. The camera as a tool has nothing to do with it, but it has everything to do with the individual. I read bloggers who have decided to pick up the camera after a long hiatus, saying they were inspired to shoot again after seeing some great images. What causes this photographer’s block? Since most of us treat photography as a hobby, it remains just that – a side activity in our daily dealings with life. We are caught up in our everyday struggles at work, family, home, school, business and whatever we are engrossed with that we forget or don’t have time for our hobby. There is also a condition called eye strain (you know this when you sit in front of your computer for hours) which reduces our perception and the ability to notice (we know this is important for the photographer’s sense of  seeing). Then there is the monotony of subjects, shooting the same thing and situation over and over again, resulting in what noted photographer George Barr calls the seeing fatigue. Just these three aforementioned examples are enough to extinguish the creative flame. We need sparks of fresh ideas and inspiration. Though this article, 25 Ways to Jump Start Photography Inspiration, was written five years ago I still find it relevant and applicable to this day because they are simple, practical and can be done (most of them) immediately. Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of tips, they contain just two-sentence explanations each, are short and direct to the point. I won’t mention the 25 of them here, again simply allow yourself a few of minutes to go over them. From among the list, I will just cite one: look at photoblogs and get inspired. I do it here all the time, looking over the incredible works of photo blogger peers. It’s enough to keep my creativity simmering and my passion alive. Kick off the doldrums and take pictures!

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What do we see when we go to Nature? We see exactly what we are trained to see, and, if we are lucky, perhaps a little more but not much…~Henry Peach Robinson (Photo location: Oton, Iloilo province)

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Approach the subject on tiptoe, even if it is a still life. Let your steps be velvet but your eye keen; a good fisherman does not stir up the water before he starts to fish.~Henri Cartier-Bresson

Still life is “full control” photography

A picture is not a painting, but if I can make it look like one, why not? Still life is one of the earliest photography genres borrowing the style of master painters of the past. Still life photography does not need expensive, elaborate studio set-up. Natural light or a couple of lamps will do, and you can set it up right at home. As such you can have full control over the variables – composition, lighting, exposure, angles – and you can have all day to do your shot. Something which you can’t do with a model (unless you’re the agency) or a mountain (try going to the other side of a mountain to get another angle). The options and possibilities of still life photography will squeeze out your creative juices. British freelance photographer Simon Bray shares some fundamentals in his article 10 tips to Getting Started with Still Life Photography. This photo genre is in demand nowadays and you’ll find these kinds of images in photo stock sites. Designers, advertisers, visual artists and websites have uses for still life imagery. The bottomline? Bray points out the only requirement is a camera, strong backgrounds and good light. I will add a couple of things: follow your photographer’s instinct and turn on that “inner” eye. Happy still life shooting! (Photo location: at a cafe in Roxas City, Capiz province)

What is contemplative photography?

I have heard of it and liked the sound of it but didn’t know the concept. So I googled. There actually is a book The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes written by Michael Wood and Andy Karr. Wood is a commercial photographer who is into Buddhist meditation and adopted his experience into photography. The book explores “what it means to align eye, mind, and heart and see with fresh eyes.” I don’t have the book and I haven’t read it but I found an informative book review by Kim Manley Ort. Seems that master photographers like Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand and Edward Weston were practitioners of this art. In essence, contemplative photography is “fresh seeing” – capturing an ordinary moment and connecting it with our core creativity. Combining this creativity with “seeing clearly” results in a contemplative image. Here is an excerpt from the book: “Seeing things as they are is also accepting them as they are, which leads to appreciating them as they are. This is the way to equanimity and a sane and meaningful life. We may not always be able to get what we want and avoid what we don’t want, but by letting go of some of our ideas about these things, we can experience them fresh and lead a life with heart.” Now I have got to read this book!

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A photographer must be prepared to catch and hold on to those elements which give distinction to the subject or lend it atmosphere…Sometimes they are a matter of luck…Sometimes they are a matter of patience…~Bill Brandt (Photo location: Loboc Church, Bohol)

Tack sharp…how sharp should it be?

Not blade sharp, but enough to be clear, detailed, defined and, if you’re gunning for the win, impressive. Let’s put it like this: you can almost feel the hairy fur, you can almost run your hand on the texture, you can almost pluck the individual strands of feather on the eagle at right (though you’ll have second thoughts with those piercing eye and menacing beak). A picture will almost always be judged, perceived and understood by its sharpness and clarity. So how do we achieve this? Travel photographer Ariel Bravy lists 33, yes let me repeat that, 33 Techniques for Creating Sharp Images. You may say “that many?” Well, there are many photographic situations and its not likely that your subject is always still like a statue. You or your subject may be in movement, there may be fast action, and you would want to capture it sharp. Bravy got it all covered in his very informative guide, and number one on his list is, obviously,  use a tripod. There is also a tip on the list which comes naturally almost like reflex when I shoot without a tripod or something to brace myself – I hold my breath two to three seconds before I press the shutter, to minimize the slightest movement. That’s two and 31 more tips to go. The bottomline and I always say this, your image is your story. You wouldn’t want your image fuzzy, blurry and out of focus unless that is your deliberate concept. You want people to understand your story. So make the effort to take clear images. Keep them pin sharp. (Photo location: Ninoy Aquino Parks & Wildlife, Quezon City)

Choices, choices! the tall or the wide?

Photography most often is decision-making. You’ll be confronted with choices: technically, artistically, creatively. You may have noticed in my previous posts that I do not delve much on the technical aspects, you can learn that yourself by experimenting and of course by reading it up because there are lots of technical tutorials around. I’m more subject and composition-oriented, the “art” of taking pictures. Whereas f-stops, apertures, shutter speeds, ISOs, exposures, focal lengths will involve precise numbers to get the picture right, eventually what you will put inside the camera frame will deal with subjective decisions and unquantifiable personal choices. Like for instance, should you go for landscape or portrait mode?. In my case 80 percent of my shots are in landscape orientation. But there are images best taken in portrait mode. Just to make sure, when faced with a photo situation I go around a subject and take both landscape and portrait shots and later review all that I’ve taken during editing. Photography instructor David Petersen provides some perspectives on the matter with his article When To Shoot In Portrait Or Landscape Mode. An enthusiast who visualizes a scene before clicking has that gut feel and will know what’s the best orientation to use for a particular subject. (Photo location: Pictures were taken at Guimaras Island)

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You are the conductor – your orchestra are shapes, textures, stories, objects, patterns, emotions, design, moments, depth, focus, rhythm, shades, colour, movement and light. It is your performance. It is your vision.~Steve Coleman (Photo location: Wishing bell at Top Mountain Park, Cebu City)

The thing with textures

Textures are everywhere – walls, barks, leaves, sand, clothes, skin, carpets and on a whole lot of things and objects. You can even create one yourself (crumple a piece of paper, find good lighting and snap away). Yet, creating a good texture image requires some visual elements like colors, patterns, proper lighting and composition. Photographer and digital artist Rachael Towne gives us a rundown in her article How to Photograph Textures. As a note, texture images are most sought after in stock photo sites. They are used by designers and visual artists as backgrounds and design elements for websites, magazines, publications and advertising. Many times we’ve come across statements that say there are no rules in photography. Each to his own style and concept. But there will always be guideposts to help us come up with interesting and appealing images, and consequently improve our photography.