Posts Tagged ‘Photography Composition’

HDR – How it Works & How to Use it Properly

April 16, 2014

Summary – The clearest explanation of how HDR works I’ve seen. Also uses that explanation to demonstrate why many HDR images look so, well HDR-ish (as opposed to natural).

Another great post

by Ming Thein – a good photographer who is

An even better writer

To be expected if you attended Oxford at 16 ;)


I won’t dwell on my feelings about HDR (not all positive)

Ming pretty much says it all

(BUT – if you really want more – here are my 60 HDR posts)

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Read his excellent article by clicking on this image

(and learn about dynamic range & zone system at the same time

2014-04-14_9-18-19© Ming Thein

 

 


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Visual Design – Shapes (part 3)

November 8, 2013

Summary - Light creates tone & color, the basic building blocks of visual design. Tones & color, in turn, give rise to visual design’s primary elements - lines, shapes, textures & perspective. Previous posts in this series looked at lines. Now – on to shapes. This is part 3 of 3.

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Note – part 2 of 3 had the lowest number of views – by FAR, more than 50% below average – of any post in months. It was well written & informative. My takeaway – this is a topic that holds little interest for the typical follower of this blog who decides to read or not based on the summary topic description that accompanies the email announcement they get with each new post. That said, today’s post will be the last in the visual design series. For those of you looking for more, buy the two Freeman Patterson books I’d referenced previously and again at the end of this post. Get it from the horse’s-mouth so to speak.

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Let’s look a some real world examples that illustrate shapes. The shapes in most images may not be so obvious as the examples but these serve the purpose of making some points about shapes. Click on any image to enlarge it.

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#1 – The circle is a powerful shape. This image shows an obvious large circle. It also has many smaller circles – some are all green and some are warmer colored circles inside the small green ones. Note that a shape can contain other shapes within itself – or be formed by a combination of other shapes. The smaller circles within the large circle create a texture (another visual design symbol to be covered later). Textures do not exist on a two-dimensional surface – just the illusion of one. The illusion is created by some combination of shapes and lines.

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#2 – This is a variation of #1. Although the circle is cut off by a corner of the frame, our mind still recognizes it as a circle. As a side note – the circle is located in the lower left part of the frame. This is the area most favored by our visual system. We tend to start there and return there to rest the eye. (Also, things that start near the lower left and proceed toward the upper right are viewed as “positive” statements.) Place the “circle” in either of the other four corners and ask yourself if your feelings about the “message” changes.

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#3. This simply illustrates that an object can depart pretty far from its idealized shape and still be recognized for what it represents. The reason for making this point is that although this is, and always will be, a water-lily and not a circle – its psychological impact on the viewer is similar to that of a circle.

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#4. Three circles – yes. But combined they form a fourth shape – a soft oblique curved shape extending from the lower left to the upper right. (See the note on upward left to right movement in #2 above).

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#5. A circle derivative. This oval is placed on the oblique which is more pleasing than vertical or horizontal. Further, although a single circle doesn’t suggest movement or directionality (that took multiple circles as in #4) a single oval can – especially when placed on the oblique. Which direction is this poppy bud moving your eye?

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#6. What have we here? If you said three rectangles you’re right. Note the important role played by the frame. It forms three sides of the upper and lower rectangles and two of the middle. Big deal you say. So what?  First – You need to recognize that the frame is every bit as important in creating visual design symbols as are real objects in your scene. Further, you have almost total control over the size and placement of these “virtual shapes”. In this example we can control whether there are one, two or three rectangles as well as the relative size of each as compared to the others, and their vertical placement in the frame. This control is exerted primarily by lens focal length, camera height, and camera angle (tipped up/down/left right) as well as horizontal versus vertical orientation. Lot & lots of design choices to be made for just this simplest of landscapes – and each choice tells a different story.

Do you see that a two rectangle version of this need not include the water?? Yes, the water and sky version is obvious. Water and sand are also obvious. What happens when you get flat on the ground with your camera? The height of the water rectangle, proportional to sand and sky, gets smaller & smaller as the camera gets lower & lower. Stop taking pictures with the camera always at eye level.

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#7 – Two rectangles. The design decision was where to place the horizon (how large to make each rectangle?).  The story here is mostly about the sunrise and clouds and not about Lake Michigan except as context. A very simple image – two textured rectangles with contrasting warm and cool colors.

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#8 – Two triangles, each with two sides formed by the image frame. Since this image is fairly abstract, it could be rotated and flipped without much harm. It wasn’t, but if the actual scene had been as shown but flipped horizontally then I most likely would have flipped it to the way it’s shown here – upward left to right (stated by those who study visual psychology, not me) really works for me to the point that I may over use it.

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#9 – Here we have two rectangles again as in #7. This time there’s a twist – the lower rectangle is made up of two triangles as in #8. This adds a visual dynamic of movement which is missing in #7. Which, if either, appear more restful and calming to you – #7 or #9?

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#10 – This image made up of lines, rectangles, a triangle, texture and perspective (a visual design symbol “full house”). It was done as an “academic exercise”. I was forcing myself to ignore “reality” and to focus (another bad pun) solely on visual design symbols – forcing myself to see photographically and to put the names of the objects (bricks, torn wallpaper, etc.) out of my mind.

A variation on the exercise is to do this in black and white thus removing the possible distractions of color. The right hand image was rotated for display purposes but  since it’s all about shapes (and not a door, chimney, flue cover, wall) no real harm was done.

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Exercise – make images along the lines of these last two. Force yourself to see visual design symbols and try to forget what is actually before your eyes. Try making the same symbols different sizes (focal length and distance) from one image to another. And – try placing the symbols in different locations within the frame. Ask yourself how the different sizes and placements change the “feel”. Also, use the frame to create shapes. Don’t just do this for a few minutes. Stick with it long enough to make at least 25 images – and then do it again each day for several days.

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Freeman Patterson is the master of photographic visual design. If you are at all serious about improving your images buy Photography and the Art of Seeing and Photographing the World Around You.

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Visual Design – Shapes (part 2)

October 31, 2013

Summary - Light creates tone & color, the basic building blocks of visual design. Tones & color, in turn, give rise to visual design’s primary elements - lines, shapes, textures & perspective. Previous posts in this series looked at lines. Now – on to shapes. This is part 2 of 3 – & expands greatly on part 1.

In a previous section we identified the symbols used in the language of visual design (shapes, lines, texture and perspective). In this section we’ll consider the shape.

In general terms a shape is any open or closed form such as a circle, square, or isosceles triangle. Each of these three shapes, in turn, has derivative forms such as ovals, rectangles and right triangles  – and so on. “Organic” shapes (as found in the real world) may only approximate these geometric models, but the human cognitive system recognizes them as shapes and reacts to them just the same.

Shapes are perhaps the most fundamental of the symbols used in visual design. Different shapes have different effects in terms of viewer impact. Factors such as a shape’s form, size, color, angle and placement each affect an image’s message. Squares suggest stability. Triangles are dynamic, suggest action and can direct a viewer’s eye. Circles can be the most powerful shape in terms of capturing viewer’s attention. An important fact to recognize is that symbols and their arrangement is culturally dependent.

The placement, arrangement and ordering of symbols (visual grammar) will be “read” differently by members of different cultures. Black and white (somber and innocent) in one culture may have just the opposite interpretation in another. The order in which symbols are arranged will be “read” differently in a culture where written language is read from left to right as opposed to one where it’s from right to left (or vertical) – “Man Bites Dog” vs. “Dog Bites Man”. Remember – it’s the viewer (and not you) who has the final say in what your image means. Your role ends with being as clear and unambiguous as possible in regards to your meaning.

We will consider visual grammar after completing our review of the symbols of visual design. Just keep in mind, as we review shapes and other symbols, that how these symbols are used determines the message conveyed by the image.

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Shapes are used to:

  • Present information
  • Convey different ideas
  • Create movement, texture, and depth
  • Elicit mood and emotion
  • Create and emphasize entry points and areas of interest
  • Lead the eye through the image

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Illustrated below are examples of shapes – both geometric and organic. The basic form, such as circle, is at the left of a row. Derivatives of the basic continue along the row. Several things to note (some of which begin to touch on grammar) -

  • The size makes a difference
  • Color makes a difference
  • Color can trump size in terms of catching the viewer’s eye. Do you see what I mean (pun intended)?
    • This is an illustration of Proportion and Dominance (an important grammar consideration). Even though an object is small in proportion to the overall picture space, it can still dominate the image in terms of capturing and holding the viewer’s eye.
    • This can be good or bad. It’s bad when the thing that dominates is not the subject and, in fact, detracts from the subject – such as a blown out highlight in the background. Be aware.
  • Angle makes a difference
    • Horizontal – at rest
    • Vertical – position of strength
    • Oblique – dynamic or tension
    • Consider the two adjacent triangles in the example – one pointing up and one down. Which one do you feel sends a message of “stability” and which creates tension?

  • The frame of the image is extremely important
    • It can form one or more sides of a shape to form triangles and rectangles (whether you intended it or not)
    • Shapes which are cut off by the frame (upper right circle) are still recognized for what they are. Your mind completes the shape.
  • Shapes don’t have to be continuous. Your mind “connects the dots” (e.g., the gray discrete shapes near the center are recognized and viewed as a rectangle even though they are not connected). This can be used to advantage (or disadvantage if you’re not cognizant of this type of situation when making an image).
  • Shapes “point”. The obvious case is the triangle, but is also true with shapes such as ovals and rectangles. Be certain they’re “pointing” and leading the viewer’s eye toward your subject and not out of the frame.
  • Lots to think about.

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Photographs & Paintings

October 22, 2013

Summary - Off to the mountains for a day-trip tomorrow. Forecast is rain. Hoping to see some photo-ops like those that led to today’s image – more painting-like than photo-like.

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Odd ball filters, gauze, Vaseline, almost anything

placed in front of your lens can produce

interesting results

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Sometimes almost painterly, in fact

(Used a wet windshield in this case)

Monet Made Me Do It

Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park

North entrance to Skyland looking south down the drive

Click to enlarge & see the “brush strokes”

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Technical – Nikon D300, Tokina 16-50 @50mm, 1/10 sec, f/5.6, EV=-2/3, ISO400, WB=Cloudy, center weighted metering, aperture priority, RAW capture, circular polarizer, hand-held, LiveView with manual focus

  • Taken through the windshield in a downpour (parked)
  • Hand held and braced on top of the steering wheel
  • I wanted the effect of the flowing water on the windshield visible, and the background soft and painterly – a relatively shallow DOF
  • f/5.6 at 50mm gives a DOF of only a few feet (4′ at a focus distance of 12′ which is about the distance to the tree framing the left side)
  • I used LiveView to see the image more clearly & used manual focus to get what I wanted

Composition -

  • Trees trunks to frame left/right
  • Colorful leaves/branch to frame top
  • After zooming my 16-50 to 50, the final “Zoom” was moving the car forward/backward until  the tree framing was right
  • Give the eye a destination – the light area at the bend of the drive
  • Place the “destination” off-center; bulls eyes usually don’t work
  • The car was off the drive at a spot where I could move it safely – but anyone watching would surely have wondered ??

Post-process -

1. Photoshop Elements/Adobe Camera RAW for RAW conversion

2. Tonal & color contrast adjustments in Color Efex Pro 4 using my custom designed recipe for basic image post processing

  Step-by-step detailed illustration in this post

3. Added a border using my saved CEP4 custom border recipe

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Combine techniques like this with camera motion and/or multiple exposures for some really painterly results

Or, if not painterly, then definitely non-photographic

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Composition Techniques – Framing

April 14, 2013

Thoughts on Framing

As a Composition Technique

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Lots of example images

Maybe a few will give you some ideas

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Here are some thoughts on the use of framing as a composition technique. (Click on images to enlarge.)

12mm lens about 8 inches from Darling’s (her name) nose

1. Framing provides several benefits including:

  • Provide a sense of time and place. In the examples of part 1, we immediately know that it’s spring. This, in turn, may trigger viewer emotions and memories of spring in another time and place.
  • Photographs are 2-dimensional. As photographers one of our biggest challenges is to add depth to our images. A frame in the foreground is an immediate sign to the viewer’s brain that the scene, in reality, has depth.
  • Add a foreground element of interest.
  • Focus the viewer’s eye on the subject

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2.The frame can be anything -

  • Natural

  • Placed on diagonal for dynamic effect
  • Waited for nearly an hour for this moon alignment
  • Blade overlapping heron’s leg is not good

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  • Man made

  • A frame within a frame within…

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  • Human

  • Is there any doubt as to the subject; the rest is framing and context
  • Embellishment on an otherwise  typical landscape image

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  • Try a lighted subject surrounded by dark toned shapes for a dramatic effect
  • Are those needles overlapping the moon a problem? See “separation” further on in this section.

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  • Use your imagination; there are lots of frames out there if you look for & see them
  • Note the clear separation, no overlap between all of the (4) major elements. This is why we use tripods – composition and not camera shake.
  • A obvious frame except to the hordes of tourists (I waited for) clustered around the statue taking snapshots.
  • The pine branches are more for depth than framing
  • Look around, frames pop up in the most unusual places

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3. You can use a frame

  • That’s a natural complement to the subject and overall scene, or
  • What could be more natural than this?
  • Two months after I took and posted this image, I saw a nearly identical version in the Washington Post.

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  • One that’s a stark contrast of a man-made object framing a scene of pure nature, or vice versa.
  • Mary’s Rock tunnel, Skyline Drive

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4. Look for a frame whose outline/contour roughly approximates the shape of the object being framed for a pleasing effect.

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5. Separation - this applies to composition in general. Be sure to maintain separation between the frame and important elements of the scene. In particular, do not have the framing element overlap the main subject – a slight overlap might come across as a careless mistake. Go back & look at the moon silhouetted by pines – with a few overlapping pine needles. Does that example suggest that there are exceptions to every rule or does it prove the rule?

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6. The frame can be in or out of focus. The shoot-through technique we considered in the craftsmanship section on focus would be an example of an out of focus frame. Recall, however, the out of focus foreground elements can be tricky if not done well as the human vision system does not “accept” them readily. The good news here is that the eye is drawn most naturally to the area of greatest contrast – in the case of an out-of-focus frame, it’s drawn quickly (albeit possibly troubled) to the subject. When the frame and subject are both in focus there’s the risk of the viewer wondering which is the subject. You pays your money & takes your chances.

Stopped down wide-angle for greater depth of field

Wide open telephoto shoved into the blossoms for shallow DOF

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7. Be Bold. As I mentioned previously, half-hearted attempts at creativity often will be viewed as a mistake. For example, don’t use a frame consisting of a few leaves peeking in from the edge of your image. That will look like an error – one where you failed to examine the edges of your viewfinder for potential infringements and distractions. Try reflections as in the next examples.

My first image with a then new 12 mm lens. Made from just a few inches from the mirror. Needed a subject that would take advantage of “wide” and also demonstrate the large depth of field possible with wide-angle lenses.

Windows – either looking through or with reflections – are good sources of frames (pun?)

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8. Usually, framing is done best with a wide(r) angle lens – but not always. These two images demonstrate perspective, an important element of composition which we’ll address in detail later. For now, look at the two images closely.  The top image was made with a wide-angle (16 mm) and the bottom with a telephoto (135 mm). The line of sight was identical for each, I just moved farther from the gazebo for the bottom image (about twice the distance as compared to the upper image).  In this case the cherry tree framing is probably more effective with the telephoto – but it’s a function of the framing (a less than stellar choice which was made to illustrate this point). Notice how the telephoto compresses distances from front to rear -  with the telephoto the foreground trees appear to be almost in line with one another. It also reduces the angle of view side to side – note that the pond and the red trees beyond the pond in the wide-angle image are completely off the left side of the frame in the telephoto. This is one effect of zooming with a lens as opposed to zooming with your feet. Try this yourself!

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9. The compositional framing device, unlike traditional picture mats & frames, does not have to completely surround the scene/subject. Any single side/top/bottom or combination can be used effectively. Look through all of the previous images for examples of just about every combination.

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