Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Photography Fascination about Doors & Windows

There is something about doors and windows.  Doors and windows tell us so much about the streets, about history, about culture and they are everywhere.  Doors and windows are big, small, plain, colorful, old, new, modern, antique, they come in all shapes and forms.  Sometimes you will find open doors and windows, sometimes closed, with or without people, and even some times the door or the window are gone, but you know where they were suppose to be. 

Doors and windows beg us to be opened.  You are supposed to open doors and walk through them.  You are supposed to open windows and let the breeze come through.  Doors and windows are intriguing and fascinating.

Doors and Windows are there and they are full of patterns, textures and designs.  They call us to be photographed.  They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials.  Some are huge and some are intimidating, some are small and just there.  Some doors and windows are famous and some are also art forms.  These and more certainly bring the fascination of capturing images of doors and windows.

Capturing an image of a door or a window might seem like an easy task.  What can be so difficult about it, they are flat, so nothing to worry about ‘Depth of Field’.  They do not move, so nothing to worry about ‘Shutter Speed’.  But wait, doors and windows too have their challenges.

Most of the times doors and windows try to avoid the sun, they are patiently waiting under awnings, doorways, trees… oh, shadows.  Sun might be hitting them, so there is reflection, that you might not like or that you might want to take advantage of.  Doors and windows in the shade tend to have a cool, low, blue tone light, so sometimes the use of warming filters come into place.

As with most photographs, early morning and late afternoon is the best time to shoot doors and windows, not only due to the warmth of the light but also because porches, awnings, doorways, are out of the light path and no shadows are present.  Side lighting is also interesting it will enhance the texture of the door or the window as well as its details.

The use of the tripod is usually required to capture the details of doors and windows, since you will be shooting in medium to slow shutter speed.  Usually natural light is adequate but if you are not using a tripod then you might need a flash to fill in.

When you find a door or a window that you want to capture.  First thing is to remember your first impression, think about it and review it.  What was it that caught your attention?  The color of the door or window, the overall scene, the wall surrounding it, to door or window itself, the doorknob, the texture, or the window drapes.  What ever it was, make sure you capture that detail, without it the image might loose its magic.

Another important point to focus on is to move in close enough to remove all distractions and isolate your main focal point, the one that caught your attention.  Watch the light and keep the back of your camera parallel to the door or window to keep everything sharp and in focus, maximizing the depth of field as well. 

If what caught your attention was the texture, rusting, peeling paint, the carvings, then move in closer and consider using a macro lens, you really want to capture as much detail as possible.  Side lighting can accentuate those details, use the shadows to add depth to the texture, capture an image in two dimensions.

Doorknobs are interesting details to capture.  Depth of Field plays an important part in your image composition.  If you want to capture the whole knob then use a smaller aperture so that everything is in focus, if you want to capture only the end of the knob and blur the back of it, then use a larger aperture.  Think about other distracting elements involved in doorknobs, like keyholes and other highlights, make sure you know what you want your image to look like.

After capturing what caught your attention, move back and study the rest of the door or the window.  Change your position, your angles, get down, get high and look around.  You might find that there is more, capture different perspectives your choices are fascinating.

When capturing images of doors and windows take your time, remember the door and the window are going nowhere.  

Friday, October 15, 2010

Stitching Panoramas

Capturing and creating Panoramas can be as easy as following three simple steps or can become a nightmare if done wrong.  Great Panoramas will be created if you decide to spend the extra time and follow some recommendations.  Photoshop will stitch your images together, without your intervention, simply by using the function ‘Photomerge’.

Handelskade - Curacao, Netherlands Antilles
So let’s start.  Shooting Panoramas is not that difficult, just follow these rules and Photoshop will do the rest:
·      Always use your tripod.  (I guess you are getting the idea, they are not fun to carry but they are handy, useful and sometimes necessary).
·      Shoot using portrait format, rather than landscape.  You will have to shoot more images to cover the same space, but it will pay off with less edge distortion and a better looking Panorama.
·      Do not use automatic white balance, if you do, your Panorama is going to look patched.  The best option is to set your camera’s white balance to ‘Cloudy’ or if shooting in a different environment use the matching white balance.

Interior of a Yacht
Ok, so we covered three fundamental steps, now lets capture the images.

The first thing that you have to do is set the exposure.  Select the area that you believe has the correct exposure, press your shutter button halfway down, make note of the f/stop and shutter speed.

Bacardi Building - Miami, Florida
Set your camera to Manual Mode ‘M’ and use the settings recorded in the last step, by doing this, it should mean that all the exposures will match during the stitching process.  If you shoot in Automatic Mode you run the risk of having different exposure settings in each segment, a nightmare trying to correct using Photoshop.

The next step is to set your focus.  To set this, focus on your main element using auto-focus, then turn it off so that your camera does not refocus on each shot.  You are now all set, start shooting your Panorama.

Cruise Ship Terminal - Miami, Florida
Shoot the first image, using either a cable release or at least your camera’s timer.  Continue shooting making sure you overlap each image at least 25%.  This is very important for Photoshop to work properly.  All the images have to overlap at least 25%, better if it is close to 50%.

Continue shooting and shoot as fast as you can, you do not want conditions to change (light, movement, clouds, etc). 

The final step is the easy part, if you followed all the necessary steps, Photoshop will do the job for you.  Go to Photoshop File menu choose Automate and then Photomerge.  Select the images and click on Attempt to Automatically Arrange Source Images and finally click Ok.  A couple of minutes will go by and you will end up with a seamless Panorama.

Night Panorama - Otrobanda, Curacao, Netherlands Antilles
Take note of the following tips if you want to even create better looking Panoramas:
Even though Photoshop can accommodate a wide range of focal lengths, it works at its best if you stay away from the wide-angle end of your camera’s zoom range.  Play it safe and use a range between 35 and 80 mm.  Photoshop will have difficulties matching up edges if you shoot for example at 20mm.

Shoot left to right or right to left just be consistent.  The easy part is that if you shoot left to right when you check your photo organizer you can easily tell that you have a set of photos to be used for your Panorama.  Here is a simple trick, before starting to shoot, take a shot of your finger and when you are finished take another shot of your finger.

Kitchen - Miami Beach, Florida
Close-ups don’t work for Panoramas.  The closer you capture images for your Panorama the curvier the straight likes will look, long straight roads tend to curve as if you were using a fish-eye lens.  So try to keep your distance from your scene with a constant uniform distance.

Photoshop creates a wide-angle image while stitching shots together, which in some cases will make cropping a difficult task.  When shooting, remember to shoot more of the scene you are trying to create.  The more the better since your final image will always tend to curve.

Social Event - Cancun, Mexico
The best panoramas are taken outdoors.  This does not mean you can not shoot great looking indoor panoramas, just that you have to be more careful when doing so, since you are shooting closer when you are indoors and objects and furniture will appear to shift and move.  There are two solutions to this challenge the first one is using a specialized tripod head, which can be expensive.  The cheap option, which takes patience and practice, involves adjusting the position of your tripod – after the first shot, pick a near object on the side of your viewfinder and note its position relative to the background, when you turn to take the next shot adjust the tripod so that the object keeps the same position, tricky but effective.

Beach Bar - Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
Shooting Panoramas can be fun and the end result spectacular.  Try it you will be amazed!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Night Photography

Photos taken at night can produce absolutely spectacular results.  In fact many cities, hotels, and residences present their best views of all after dark.  Night Photography can prove to be challenging, but by learning a couple of tricks you can get some great looking images.

There are two very important factors behind successful night photography.  First make sure enough light gets into the camera for a decent looking exposure and the second ensure your camera is steady to avoid any shake.  There are also other tools you can use which we will go over.

A tripod is essential.  It will give you the greatest flexibility to get the angles you need while keeping your camera steady for those long exposures.  There is no way you can hold your camera and not shake it.  This trick is simple and straightforward, set your camera on a tripod and start shooting.

The other part of the equation is the one that is more difficult and it involves trial and error and the wanting to learn as you go.  You will have to rely on a longer exposure time that can go from half a second to 30 seconds, and controlling the aperture to avoid overexposure.  Aperture and shutter speed will have to go hand in hand and some experimenting before you arrive to your desire results.

There is no exact science and settings for night photography.  Just keep in mind that you have to balance your aperture and your shutter speed.  You will need a long shutter speed, but the aperture that you choose will provide the depth of field.  As a standard you can use a shutter speed of 5 to 15 seconds with a very narrow aperture, which will create crisp images with a huge depth of field and all in focus.  If you prefer less depth of field then widen the aperture.

Other tools available for night photography include: wide-angle lenses, a lens hood, a flashlight and a shutter release cable.

Wide-angles lenses work great in night photography leave this tool to your imagination and creativity.  A lens hood will minimize lens flares from light entering at angles that are outside of your frame.  A flashlight either for tricks, lighten up spaces that might be too dark or simply for getting things out of your bag.  A shutter release cable will help you even more preventing and movement in the camera, if you do not have one then use your camera timer.

Rules of composition apply exactly the same during the day or at night, just use your imagination, capture unique angles and break the rules.  Remember: ‘The best night photography is created by experimenting’.  When you figure out the best scenes, the best exposure settings and that you have to keep your camera steady then you will create amazing night images.

Go capture that magical image!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Shooting Flowers can be Fun

Capturing images of flowers is not that difficult and it is a fun way to learn photography techniques and tricks.  Flowers are a great photography topic, they are beautiful, full of color and you find them everywhere.  You can easily find flowers in your yard, the Mall, the park, a garden or in a flower shop.

You can come up with great photos of flowers just by following a few pointers.  Have fun with it and do not be afraid to experiment and try different things, you will be surprised with the results.

The first pointer is to create flower images from angles that we do not see every day.  So, do not shoot down on flowers, instead get down low and shoot them at their level or much lower and from down under.  The trick is to shoot at angles that are rarely seen by the eye.

For flower photography you need either a macro lens or a zoom lens.  You want to shoot flowers tight enough to nearly fill the frame and you want an out of focus background.  To create a blurred background, or out of focus, use your smallest aperture and isolate the flower or a small group of flowers from the rest of your composition.  When you accomplish this your out of focus background will not be a distracting factor to the eye and you will have created a strong visual flower composition.

There are three ideal times to capture flowers:  The first one is on cloudy and overcast days.  The diffuse light produce by the clouds will enrich the colors of the flowers and prevent the harsh direct light from the sun. 

Create great flower images just after a rain.  It is almost magical to capture raindrops on petals and stems.  The sky is still overcast, so the colors are rich and the water drops will add a reflecting factor to your photos.

Last but not least, you can also shoot on sunny days, but do so either early morning or late afternoon.  Shoot with a long zoom lens and position yourself so that the flowers are backlit, which will help you take control of the light.

You can incorporate white or black backgrounds to your flowers.  Leave at least 3 feet between the flowers and the background.  You can buy colored cardboard or use other materials, just position them behind the flowers and use natural light.

Wind is sometimes present when shooting flowers.  Once in a while you can wait for it to stop blowing, other times you can try and stop it with your body.  The easiest way is to adjust your shutter speed to at least 1/250 of a second or higher.  This will freeze the movement caused by the wind.  Or you can play around with the wind and incorporate it to the image by using a slow shutter speed, creating a completely new and different photo.

Have fun shooting flowers!