Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ways to Improve the Way You Do Photography

There are many resources out there to learn and improve the way you do photography.  Websites, books, courses, guidelines, rules, tips, tutorials, your name it, there out there and they are a good source of information.  All this information is useless if you do not apply it and know what to do with it.  In this article I want to share with you what has helped me improve and become a better photographer.

First of all get to know your camera.  Your camera is your most important photography tool and if you do not know how and where to find the different settings that all those resources talk about then you will not learn how to use it.  Learn where everything is, how to change the settings, and what the numbers in your camera mean, what to press and when to press it.  The camera will not do the job for you if you do not manage it.  So make the camera work for you, become its best friend, treat it right and take care of it.  When you know your camera you will be on your way to improving the way you do photography.

You cannot take shot after shot in auto mode and expect great results.  Learn new things.  Try new things.  Experiment with new settings and new guidelines that you read about in all the resources mentioned above.  As you progress and try new things you will be learning and improving the way you do photography.  In photography there is always something new to learn, when you do – try it out.  Trying new things will take you to the next step and will also make you curious about learning more photography techniques.

One other step in your learning process is to shoot, shoot and shoot more.  The more you shoot the more proficient you get at it.  The more you shoot the more you learn about your camera, its settings and different techniques.  Reading a book will make you learn something new, but if you do not practice it and experiment with it, soon you will forget it.  Spend time capturing images of the same object over and over again from different angles and with different settings.  After every photo shoot, go over your photos, see what you like, what causes an impression on you or others.  Review what you did to get to those results and then practice even more with those same settings.

In any activity you do in life, before getting better at it your need to work hard on it.  Why would photography be different?  Figure out what you need to improve at, do some research and work on it.  It is very good if you write a list of things that you do not feel confident about.  When you have your list, concentrate on one item at a time.  Spend time practicing, go over your results, doing research and learning from it so that you can improve your photography.  When you think you have reach the results you wanted, scratch it out and go to the next item on your list.  Practice makes perfect.

In the digital age of photography it is very easy to take many pictures of the same subject, review them and delete the ones you do not like.  Hold on and do not do that immediately.  Take a good look at the images that you do not like, analyze them and figure out what it is that you do not like about them.  If you find things that repeat themselves over and over again then it is time to add them to your list.

Another great way to improve your photography is to give yourself homework.  Challenge yourself, set deadlines and go out and make sure you practice more and work only on the topic that you assigned yourself.  Define what you need to work on, set a topic and work only on it.

Another important point is to learn to receive feedback and positive criticism of your work.  Let other photographers tell you what they think about your art.  Either find photographers that are willing to tell you what they like or dislike about your images or simply post your images on the Internet and let people tell you what they think.  There are some specialized websites that will criticize your photography and will give you tips to improve the work you are showcasing.  Photographers are also doing the same thing as you so do not get feedback only from them, ask around, friends, family, co-workers, and others, ask what they think you will be surprise about their answers, but it will certainly help you improve.

Photography takes time and dedication.  If you really want to improve, and not necessarily to become a professional photographer, do not give up, practice and learn.  You will improve the way to capture images.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Rule of Thirds

Photography is an art, its goal is to capture, produce and preserve images that paint a picture, tell a story or record an event.  Photography creates emotions and the first impression depends on the composition balance of the image.  There are several composition rules that are important in the process of creating images with out them the photograph will be left without expression. 

Photographers have to learn to apply these rules.  They also have to learn how to take advantage of them to enhance the images being captured.  Last but not least they also have to know and understand when to break them, rules are meant to be broken, specially, in photography.

The ‘Rule of Thirds’ is probably the most spoken rule in photography and the first one taught in any photography course or school.  The rule of thirds is a very effective technique in photography but it can also produce very interesting shots when it is broken.  Following the rule of thirds will keep your image in balance and help the focal points to capture the attention of the viewer.

The rule of thirds can simply be explained as the act of dividing your viewfinder into thirds, both horizontally and vertically.  The grid will end up with two vertical lines and two horizontal lines, spaced 1/3 of each other, that will give you 9 equal boxes and four crossing points, a tic-tac-toe matrix. 

When composing your image you should consider placing your points of interest in the crossing points of the lines and using the four lines as guides to position other elements in your photograph.  By placing your points of interest in the crossing points and along the lines your image will be balanced.  A viewer will tend to look at a photograph in those intersection points more than the middle of the image. 

Horizons should be placed on the top or bottom horizontal lines, depending on the focus you want to give to the sky or the ground.  An image with a horizon placed right in the center of the photo will normally produce dull photos without attraction.  Your main subjects should be placed in one of the intersections and other subjects should be placed in the other intersections.  Placing your main object in one of the intersections and placing it in one of the vertical lines will certainly produce interesting and balanced shots.

The rule of thirds has been used not only in photography as early as 1797 for landscape paintings.   The rule of thirds can be used as little or as much as you want, you decide when you want to use it or when you need to use it.

The most important thing about the rule of thirds is that it is a guideline to balance your images; instead of 1/3rd you can use 1/4th or 1/5th, etc., as long as the image as a whole is in balance.  Remember to stay away from the center or in other words to not place your main subject in the middle of the photograph.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Most Important Photography Tip

There are many composition tips recommended by photographers, books, courses, workshops, blogs, etc.  Everyone talks about them and they are certainly important and basic to create images that are not boring and that have a WOW factor.  We also mention them in our blog and in our Photo-Tip-of-the-Day simply because they are important and secondly because the more you hear about them you will eventually learn how to apply them.

Composition rules are basic guides that tell you how an image will go from dull to exciting.  Rules are also meant to be broken, but you have to learn why and when to do so.  Some of the composition rules are even difficult to understand, you need a scientific mind to do so and I will not go into those.  For me photography is an art so why complicate it even more. 

Photographers already have to deal with color, light, contrast, detail, depth-of-field, modes and many other technicalities.  At the end of the day you might be able to learn and apply all the tips and techniques but your images might still not be the ones that win photo contests, that get published, that get exhibit or that simply make you sigh.

The most important tip that hardly anyone talks about is ‘Train Your Eye’.  The eye of a photographer is his or her most important tool.  Train your eyes to see light and you are on your way to creating awesome images.  Train your eyes to differentiate 2D from 3D and your pictures will suddenly have volume.  Teach them what is contrast and they will identify detail.  You will create amazing images as long as your eyes make decisions on what to include in your photograph and what to eliminate, the choice of angles and light.

First tip to training your eyes – look at a scene, close your eyes and open them again.  Does the scene cause the same effect as when you first saw it, in other words, did you sigh after re-opening your eyes.  If you did maybe you have a great shot in hand.  Go for walks and practice framing in your mind different scenes, open and close your eyes.  When you are able to look at a scene and continue to be amazed you will have trained your eyes to actually see great shots.

Our eyes see the world in 3-D, photos are a piece of paper in 2-D.  What sometimes feels like an excellent shot when printed it turns out to be a photo without interest.  Train your eye, go for walks, frame your scene and then close one of your eyes.  If the composition looses spark and now looks chaotic, then you do not have a good image, if you still sigh, see detail and perspective then you have a great shot. 

Now squint with the open eye, suddenly contrast and detail will seem more obvious and things will pop out.  If they do, you still have a great shot if they don’t then you are missing shadows and details.  The more you exercise your eyes the more you will train them to see a great image.

Cameras have certain advantages and certain disadvantages compared to your eyes.  Use them.  Cameras can focus and see details that your naked eye will not see, so train your eyes by closing and squinting.  Your camera will frame your subject and block the rest, your eyes won’t, train them to do so.  Your camera only sees with one eye and your camera cannot read the balance between highlights and shadows.  Train your eyes to see changes and different light angles.  Walk again early morning and late afternoon and see how light goes through the leafs of the trees, how it reflects on water and on windows, move around, go up, go down and train your eye to see how light changes as you move around.

Train your eye to frame as your camera does.  Take another walk but know with a frame made out of carton and pick your scenes.  Soon your eye will be trained as your camera to see what the frame allows you too and block the rest.  Practice a lot using this simple and cheap tool.  Your frame can be a small 1” x 1/5” cut on a 5 x 7 photo paper or as large as a 4” x 6” on an 8 x 10 photo paper, as long as you can see your composition and block the rest.

Train your eyes to see color.  Walk around pick a color and focus on it.  Walk some more and you will see that color popping out.  Continue walking and focus on a different color, suddenly you will now see this other color.  Practice makes perfect.

Train your eye and capture amazing breathtaking images.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Curacao – Natural Photo Wonders

The North and Northeast shores of Curacao are spectacular and a fabulous place to explore and shoot amazing natural wonders.  The long north coast of Curacao is constantly hit by the northeast trade winds, which have created a rough coastline of weather-beaten terrain, limestone cliff formations of old volcanic rock and crushed coral. 

It is possible to drive along dirt rugged roads and to hike around trails that will take you closer to seaside views and photo opportunities.  The trails also provide an opportunity for a glimpse at sea turtles hidden breeding grounds.  Seabirds and iguanas are active in the park, especially during the early morning and late afternoon.

Shete Boca National Park is a series of caves, coves and bays carved into the coastline, with waterfront cliffs and platforms.  Waves can reach high enough to wash you from the edge of the cliffs.  Amazing images can be taken, just make sure you take proper care of your equipment.  Lots of wind and ocean water drops are suspended in the air, so your lenses will end up with a layer of salt, be sure to have protective filters not to damage your glass.  You can also take a dip on one of the friendly ciffs in the island.

The park begins at Boka Tabla, where huge waves thunder into an underground cave.  Steps that have been cut into the rocks will lead you directly into the mouth of the cave, if conditions allow, you can sit on the very edge and watch the surf roll in.  With the proper exposure settings or the use of fill in flash you will be able to take great shoots.

Boka Pistol is a must, huge waves burst into the sky with gunfire like explosions.  Hike for a while and find amazing panoramic overviews from the flat limestone hills and end up in Boka Wandomia and its natural bridge.

Another impressive natural attraction is Watamula in the extreme north of the Caribbean island of Curacao.   Watamula is a large hole, formed in the middle of volcanic rock formations, connected to the sea at its bottom.  Due to the force of the waves, air is pressed in and out of the rugged terrain and tunnels that interconnect, producing a breathing sound.  Watamula is also known as ‘The Breath of Curacao’.  In the same area you will find a spouter hole where the waves cause water to be expelled up into the air in the shape of a fountain.  Prepare your camera and be sure to carry enough memory cards, you might spend all day shooting different shapes and forms.

Christoffel Park, last but not least is a the largest National Park in Curacao with hiking trails flanked by up to ten feet cactuses, weaving through bromeliads, orchids and surrounded by goats, iguanas, dear and numerous birds, as well as caves and beaches that end up at the peak of Christoffel Mountain, the highest elevation in Curacao.

If you ever have a chance to visit Curacao, do not think twice about it and do not forget your camera, the diversity and photo options are everywhere you go.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Absolutely Awesome – Mikve Israel-Emanuel Curacao’s Synagogue

Curacao is home to the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere, Mikve Israel-Emanuel congregation was founded in 1651 by 12 families from Amsterdam.  The synagogue commonly known as the Snoa (short for esnoga, an old Portuguese word for synagogue) was inaugurated in 1732, no Sabbath or major holiday has gone uncelebrated in 278 years.

The floor of the Synagogue, covered with sand, is one of the main tourist attractions in Curacao.  Different stories try to explain why the floor is covered with sand.  Some people say that the sand symbolizes the 40 years that the Jewish people spent in the Sinai Dessert after their expulsion from Egypt.  Others say that it dates back to the inquisition in which Jews from Spain in Portugal used it not to be heard while worshipping in secret.

The sand is a mixture from different riverbeds in Suriname, Guyana and Israel.  The interior setup of the synagogue resembles a desert, the tabernacle is in the middle, the floor is all covered in sand and worshippers sit around the sides, protecting it.  All the furniture is made from mahogany.

The entrance to the synagogue is a portal with the inscription “In the congregations I will bless the Lord”.  Inside there are four large columns, dedicated to the four Matriarchs and showcasing the strength of the Jewish women in the Curacao community.

Small arched windows, full of color, are placed around the Snoa’s thick walls, and when open a light breeze fills the tall sanctuary.  The ceiling is shaped like the hulls of ships, ships that carried Jews to Curacao’s safe haven.  Services are held Friday at 6:30 pm and Saturday at 10:00 am.  Yarmulkes are provided to men for services and tours.

The synagogue is visited every year not only by Jews but also by thousands of visitors, mostly from the cruise ships.  Next to the synagogue is the Jewish Cultural Museum that displays antiques and artifacts from around the world. 

The Curacao’s Synagogue is an attraction where photographers can spend hours, using different photo techniques, playing with light and with color, taking shots of antiques, shooting architecture, doing close-ups and perspectives.  If you ever have a chance to visit Curacao, be sure to make an obligated photo stop at the Snoa, do not forget your tripod and leave the flash in your bag you will not need it.  Make sure to have with you different lenses.  Do not forget a fish-eye, a zoom and a macro.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Curacao's Architecture

Curacao is an island, that some call a hidden and undiscovered jewel, in the southern Caribbean Sea, 40 miles off the coast of Venezuela, between Aruba and Bonaire.  The New Country of Curacao, which includes a very small un-inhabited island, Klein Curacao, is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.  Prior to 10.10.10, Curacao was one of the five islands of the former Netherlands Antilles.

The slave trade in the 17th and 18th Century made the island affluent and let to the construction of colonial buildings.  Curacao features architecture influence from the Dutch and Spanish colonial styles.  The capital city of Willemstad earned a well-deserved place on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.  Former plantation states – Landhouses and West African style huts are scattered all over the island. 

South America’s proximity to Curacao has also had a standing influence in architecture specially parts of Willemstad in the 19th Century.

The combination of buildings, architecture, Caribbean colors and tropical sun light make a delight for the eye and the cameras.  Late afternoon, colors become vivid and crisp, the sun turns yellow into gold and white into silver. 

The waterfront of Punda, Handelskade, is composed by a row of buildings showcasing how individual colors can tell a story of its own.  Curacao’s architecture can also be found in other parts of the island.  Lots of examples are scattered all over, constantly contrasting with the blue sky.

Curacao’s architecture is also influenced by other Dutch characteristics.  Otrobanda, opposite to Punda, is full of narrow alleys and plazas.  Beautiful gables sit on top of buildings in Scharloo, Pietermaai and Schottegat.

Curacao is full of architectural photo opportunities, besides colorful buildings, almost sitting on water, bridges and forts also produce fabulous images.  More than 750 mansions, shop houses, townhouses and small popular dwellings give the photographer daily opportunities to let their creativity flow.  There is always a story to tell while capturing images that can be turned into paintings.

American Way magazine recently featured, in their October’s edition, Curacao.  If you have the opportunity visit this unknown island, just 2 ½ hours away from Miami, you will enjoy the best-kept secret of the Caribbean and your camera will work overtime.  Make sure to carry enough memory cards and batteries.