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November 15 2010


Story Idea 11/14/10

This is for you photogs out there – both the frozen in time types and sound and motion shooters. Do a photo essay on what is not there – try to shoot a series of shots of light and shade without substance.

What brought this on? Waking up the past few weeks the sun has cast shadows on my closet door…that move from high to low, from focused to wide. Almost minimalist in style.

Ties in with a video I shot while in Portland this past spring. Shadow of train and man in window on wall. Mesmerizing. Rhythmic. Compelling.

Story idea: shoot what ISN’T there…

Here’s an example…on a recent vacation up the coast of California I visited all 21 of the missions that established Spanish dominance here. Ducking through a door in the Carmel mission I saw and snapped a photo of a shadow on the wall.

It looked strangely like an angel, with wings unfurling. Then, as I fully emerged into the hallway, I saw what cast the shadow – a workman on a ladder with a shop light behind him.The image impressed me and even after seeing that it had a real-world basis, stayed with me.
Here’s a couple more, shot at a 50th wedding anniversary party. The obvious shadow of photographer on wall…and then the repetitive pattern of balcony railing mirrored with its own shadow.

In these days of decreasing light and lengthening shadows, see what you can find. At my former high school it was the long shadows cast by students walking at daybreak to their gym classes. Leaves dancing an intricate flurry on a wall or the ground. Maybe even a dog trying to catch a shadow.

Asides from the aesthetics of shooting shadows…there is a real world application in shadowing those who prefer to remain anonymous…adding intrigue to portrait photography…and mystery to movement.

August 09 2010


Light, Seeing, and Framing…

Made it to Wyoming and my two pupils and I finally caught up in an office supply store. Why? Well they wanted to learn how to properly (i.e., professionally) mount their photos for the local country fair. So we got a grey and a black matte board (kind of a heavy cardboard, white on one side and colored/shaded on the other…second side is kind of rough texture) and a can of spray adhesive. Not my first choice, but no dry mount tissue available.

Once we got back to the ranch I hauled them outside with their (wonderful) little Canon (model number here) and my Panasonic E300 and Canon HV20 (in still mode).

To protect the identities of the innocent, please meet “A” and “J”, henceforth known as Alicia and Jasmine.

The little cutie pie who keeps popping up in front of the camera we’ll just leave at Cutie.

I get students like Alicia and Jasmine occasionally…so excited about learning something of interest they take in every word. (One of my many Jesus’ at McNair was once trembling with excitement at the prospect of editing some video – scary, but gratifying.)
My goal with the girls was to have them understand seeing light, composition (although they both have a natural talent in that area), and natural framing. In other words, to move away from taking snapshots and into shooting photographs.

First we worked with light…understanding where light comes from and how to move to make the best use of light. The photo of Jasmine above was taken by Alicia as Jasmine sat in a chair near a window. Not direct sunlight, but a soft window light. We had Jasmine turn her face from looking out the window to a 3/4 view of her face where the light looked best.

The shot of Alicia (by Jasmine) is the second photo – Alicia is naturally framed between some trees and has soft lighting. This is not only due to the shade from the trees, but also because of the overcast skies, which make for a giant softbox effect. Sweet.

While we were shooting and walking, one of the local munckins came skipping up, asking if she could have her photo take. Score!! We had a model – Cutie. This little bundle of energy was willing to be placed anywhere…so the girls chose the side of an old shed with vines growing up it.

Here are some of the ideas we tested out by the corral. First, framing using “nature.” What that means is you don’t have to buy a wooden/plastic frame and put your photo inside it. You can use whatever’s nearby and create a frame with it. Take a look at Cutie below.

First a disclaimer…there are unedited shots – straight out of the camera(s). The E300 shoots a slightly more intense photograph.

Cutie was in a chute peering between the boards…both Jasmine and Alicia were shooting at the same time pretty much, but their angles and framing were slightly different. Both photos are good shots with very expressive faces. Besides good framing, these shots are also close-ups showing great detail in both the wooden slats and Cutie’s face. I love that the blonde streaks in the wood echo the color of Cutie’s hair.

So we’ve gone through natural framing and basic use of light. Both girls got to whiz around with the hand trick, which is a great tool for beginners to visualize light. They also got a flash lesson in the difference between a normal, wide angle, and telephoto lens (how each of the latter two distort perspective differently).

Now part of the problem in teaching is that many lessons overlap. The photo above for instance, is an example of stop action, telephoto lens, and composition (and if you want, exposure).
A moment frozen in time as Cutie tries to make a catch.
The telephoto lens has compressed the layers in the photo closer together.
Center framing.
Dark background with lighter point of interest.

Shadow the cat (above) was shot with a wide angle lens…see how the background seems far away. Center composition again. This time a darker subject on a lighter background.

Off track for a moment. The last two shots tie into something called low key and high key.
Low key is when you have a very light picture with little contrast. Think polar bear on ice. Egg in white eggcup on white lace tablecloth. Monochromatic.
High key is the opposite. Lots of contrast…white egg on dark background. Stark differences between parts of the scene.
The shot of Jasmine up at the top leans towards high key…as does the last shot of Cutie.

I’ll just end this posting with a sampling of Alicia’s and Jasmine’s photos. As soon as I know how they did in their country fair photography competition I’ll let yah know.

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