photographic composition – a few guidelines (but no rules!)

“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” – Ansel Adams

For me, if a photograph is intended for an audience, and not just my own records and memories – then its success hinges around impact. Does the photograph make you stop for a few seconds at least to take it in? Then you’re at least in part successful already with the portrait. With portraits so many elements kick in to make a photograph resonate with us: The moment. The expression. Gesture. Movement. Pose and position. Lighting.

In terms of composition, I strongly feel that one should react in an instinctive way. Look at the subject and scene and respond without the mechanical decision-making that all the rules of composition brings into play – the Rule of Thirds, diagonals, mathematical formulae, the Golden Mean, and so on.

Instead, take your time to look at what is actually presented in the viewfinder. Scan the whole frame; look at the sides and corners.

Is everything that you see, everything that you want? Is this the best way that the subject can be represented? Do you need to re-frame or move to another position?

The composition of this photograph of Anelisa can be analyzed in terms of the usual guidelines:
- negative space above her,
- the diagonal line implied by her arms,
- balanced by the S-curve to her pose,
- the vertical line by her body being (approximately) on a line of a third of the frame.

There is also the strong visual dynamic with her face more or less central to the frame, the curve of this industrial chimney structure pulls your eye towards the center.

All these things do appear in analyzing the image after-the-fact. But during the time of taking a sequence of images here, the decison wasn’t step-by-step like that. It was much more that instinctive recognition that, “hey, this looks good!

And, for me, that should be what determines the composition – does it look good, and does it add to the photograph’s impact.

Learn more inside…

{ 10 comments }

photography: gelling flash for late afternoon sun (& deep blue skies)

The warm light from the nearly-setting sun, accentuated with gelled flash. Towards the end of the recent photography workshop, we were shooting on the rooftop – the warm tone of the sunlight contrasting beautifully with the blue sky.

To punch it even more, we added gelled flash via an off-camera speedlight in a softbox. We had to gel the speedlight of course, to make sure the blue color balance of the flash didn’t kill the natural light. We used a 1/2 CTS gel here which brought the flash’s WB down to around 3700K. (This photo of our model, Melanie, was taken by Rosario.)

Learn more inside…

{ 10 comments }

review: Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS – Canon redeems itself

The title there is quite an exclamation - Canon redeems itself. And you may well wonder what Canon had to redeem itself for. Well, my experience with Canon over the years has been a clouded one. A number of years back I moved back to Nikon again when I couldn’t handle the Canon 24-70mm f2.8L going out of calibration every so often. Then, there was the untrustworthy AF performance of the Canon 1D mark III. In fact, I’m still waiting for Canon to send me an apology note for that camera. In fact, for all three bodies that I owned.

But I digress … we’re talking about Canon wide-angle zooms. The final straw for me with regards to Canon, was when I had worked through five copies of the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 II and all five copies had issues and were soft to the edges. It’s all detailed in this post: Canon and Nikon. Then, I finally got to use the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S (vendor), and my struggles with soft Canon wide-angle zooms were over. I finally had a wide-angle lens that was razor sharp to the edges. And a zoom, to boot!

So with that, I was done. I had given up on Canon ever producing a wide-angle zoom that could perform. Sharp to the edges. No optical smearing. Just do what it is supposed to do – be a wide-angle zoom lens. Something the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8G excelled at. And that is something the Canon 17-40mm f/4L and the Canon 16-35mm f/2.L II didn’t quite do as well.

Then the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS (vendor) arrived, and I was curious. Could this finally be? And yes, Canon has redeemed itself. Finally, here is a Canon wide-angle zoom that is an excellent performer. You know, worthy of that red stripe.

Learn more inside…

{ 14 comments }

timelapse photography: project – commercial properties

Always busy, the most recent project that I was busy with, was for a client who had asked for a way to show their various commercial properties in a dynamic way. I had to help them show their warehouses and buildings in a non-static interesting way. I suggested time-lapse photography, and they accepted my proposal.

With time-lapse I could create a video clip that is dynamic in a way that isn’t possible with stills or even video. Above is a shortened version of the final project.

I have created other time-lapse clips with my Nikon D4, which was made easier with the built-in time-lapse mode of the camera. What I envisioned, was that as the day progressed, the shadows would move, and clouds would move. With the Dynamic Perception Stage Zero dolly, the camera would move as well, and it would be possible to get a final video clip that had an unusual cinematic quality to it that wouldn’t be possibly any other way.

All of this sounds easy stated like this, but there were a few challenges:

Learn more inside…

{ 11 comments }

posing technique – adjusting a pose with incremental changes

I’m not a huge fan of “flow posing” where someone is rigidly posed according to formula. I feel this doesn’t allow as much for personality and individuality as a more organic approach. I much more prefer a low-stress approach where a pose is adjusted, to where it looks good, and looks flattering. This does mean that I have to find that balance between allowing “faults” and finessing a pose. Sometimes it just works better for the flow of a photo session to not micro-adjust to the point where your subject might feel it as criticism.

Memorizing poses from a book or guide is a good starting point, but in practice, you’d still have to finesse body, hands, feet and your subject’s head. You have to look at individual elements and fix and adjust.

With this photo of my friend, Irene, I want to show some of the thought-process. She was kind enough to allow me to post some of the more awkward in-between poses, as we finessed it along the way.

Learn more inside…

{ 6 comments }

flash photography questions & answers (FAQ)

Like anyone who maintains a site diligently, I check my web stats daily.  I want to know where traffic is coming from, and how people reach my site. I need to know the referral sites. Of specific interest are the search phrases people use, and then end up on the Tangents blog.  I originally intended there to be a monthly series of posts, with direct answers to some of the questions that popped up in the Google searches. However, since Google decided to hide the exact search phrases, this idea came to a halt. But there were some really good material here, so I decided to amalgamate the best into one longer article.

Okay … let’s look at some of the questions on the topic of flash photography:

Learn more inside…

{ 38 comments }

Light Blaster: image projection effects for creative backgrounds in the studio

Working with an idea in mind – a moody B&W portrait with a stylized cityscape as background. Using the Light-Blaster again in the studio, this final image was a progression of that idea. I knew I wanted to use the cityscape background of one of the metal gobos that came with the Light-Blaster kit.

Because I wanted the final photo to be black and white, I set my camera to Monochrome so that I’d have a good idea during the shoot what the final image would look like. Since I shoot in RAW, the image would pull up in color the moment I start my post-processing. Then I reverted it to B&W again, and edited it for contrast and for the vignette you see in the final image at the top.

The first step of the shoot was to set up the Light Blaster, then get the exposure, and then figure out the lighting on our model, Priscilla.

Learn more inside…

{ 10 comments }

wedding photography lighting – shooting in partial sunlight & shade

I strongly believe that when you have the ability to control a photo session, that you pick your battles. You don’t have to try and make everything work. Set up portrait shots in light that favors you. Of course, off-camera flash really helps you in being able to pick where you want that light that favors you.

Solid advice that I adhere to, is to not have a person or a group of people half in the sun, half in shade. It’s a recipe for disaster, or a tough battle to fight, lighting wise. But then, slightly amneding Sean Connery’s immortal words in The Untouchables, “Don’t bring a knife to a gun-fight.” When you have enough light to match the sun, then it is possible to pull something out of that challenging situation!

I like using speedlights for additional light, but I also have my Profoto AcuteB2 600R Power Pack (vendor), in the trunk of my car … just in case I need something more than a knife. But really, if the Profoto B1 500 Air (retail), was available for Nikon, it would be the Profoto B1 that I pull out. 500 Ws of easily portable light!

I really liked this building as a backdrop, but at this time of the day, half the facade was in sun, and half in shade. And this is where having a really powerful flash on location, is very very handy. I can dump sunlight levels of light (through a softbox!) to match the sunlit areas, and match the exposure levels.

Learn more inside…

{ 22 comments }

flash freezing the action at slow shutter speeds  (model: Oktavia)

Does flash freeze action when shooting with slow shutter speeds (in low light)?
The answer is … maybe. Perhaps. It depends.

It is difficult giving a definitive answer because it depends on the scenario. In short – if your subject isn’t lit by much available light (with ambient light 4 stops or less than your flash exposure), then flash will freeze the action … if there is no bright background. Probably. But it depends on the type of movement, and how critical you are about image sharpness.

See? We just can’t quite get away from those qualifiers – perhaps / depends / probably. But let’s jump into this and see when flash will freeze the action, and when you’re likely to be succeed.

The photo above, of Oktavia dancing, was shot at  1/10 @ f/2.8 @ 1600 ISO
At 1/10th of a second, the flash did freeze her movement.

You can see the background lights streak as I moved my hand-held camera to try and keep up with her movements. I was trying to hide the flash behind her, but I liked the effect here. You can also see the city lights streak through her arm as she moved.

Let’s quickly look at the pull-back shot to see how the flashes were set up, and then we continue the discussion on whether flash freezes action …

Learn more inside…

{ 16 comments }

studio photography – my favorite light modifier: Profoto 5.0′ RFi Octa Softbox

It was exciting when I equipped my studio last year with a variety of lighting gear – so much to choose from. A little kid in the toy store! I want everything. The decision obviously has to be made between various lighting items that are only slight changes from other, with little real world difference. And then there ia also lighting gear that is quite esoteric.

I chose various gridded stripboxes and reflectors, in addition to the soft boxes and beauty dish that I had. Then I had my eye on an octabank – specifically the large Profoto 5.0′ RFi Octa Softbox (vendor). When I first unfurled that thing in my studio, my reaction was, “holy crap, this is huge!”. My studio is 1000 sq ft, which is large, but you know, that’s also not that large. I was wondering if I should just return this to the camera store, and whether my 3×4 soft box would suffice.

Then I started using the 5′ Octa soft box, and something clicked for me – one more thing fell into place for me in my understanding of light. My reaction turned from that perplexed, “holy crap!”, into a “holy smackeroni!” when I realized that the 5′ Octa is probably the single most versatile piece of lighting gear in my studio!

Learn more inside…

{ 4 comments }

12345...10...82