When I received my first digital camera in 2007—a Canon PowerShot A460, a cute little guy—I knew nothing about photography. I’d grown up under my mother’s watchful eye (and lens), so I was used to posing for photos—but never taking them. That camera was a college graduation present, unveiled just before I went to Italy with my family, so I had no time to adjust to the new point-and-shoot. Not that I really needed to.
I was recently thinking about that Italian vacation, the photos I took—and where they were. In an era pre-Flickr, Shutterfly and the iPhone for me, my photos were all burned to CDs and removed from my old laptop. By some miracle, I found the two CDs with my Italian images and started looking through them this week. What an eye-opener.
In the years since that vacation, I’ve upgraded to a “big girl” camera, joined the Calvert Photography Club, met countless photographers and learned tons amount about style, composition and the technical aspects of getting a winning shot. Though I have much still to learn, where I am now is a wide leap from where I was in June 2007.
More than understanding exposure and shutter speed, I’ve learned about what makes a photo . . . nice. I’ve developed a personal style and love playing around with vintage filters. My Photoshop skills have increased tremendously—but more than that, I’ve learned how to take a better photo while I’m actually taking the photo. Everything I didn’t know in 2007.
As I was clicking through the pictures, I kept thinking, “Man, if only I’d had my Rebel.” Looking at the gorgeous scenes of Venice, Rome and Florence made me wistful for what I could have captured had I been interested in photography beforehand. But then I realized, hey—as Guy always says? The best camera is the one you had with you.
And since I can’t re-create that trip and the magic of my first time traveling abroad, I decided to fake it.
Opening the pictures I thought had potential, I made my way through the shots armed with my new knowledge and taste. The Calvert Photography Club has definitely sharpened my critical eye. I cropped out power lines I’d never noticed—along with the clipped masts of ships, the stray arm of someone just off-screen. I fixed the white balance in many, darkened the “blacks” with the levels to make them pop, cloned out unattractive signs in the backgrounds of portraits. I leveled the horizons – something I never, ever noticed until club members began pointing them out in critiques.
But beyond the technical quirks, I thought about what makes a compelling photo to me now. I love vignettes, drawing the eye to action, the serenity of a simple landscape. I’m drawn to paths and bridges and walkways. I love epic mountains, peaceful water, laughing people. Those were the pictures I singled out from the 500 I took on that Italian trip.
Only five hundred photos—in a week and a half. Makes me laugh. On a just four-day trip to London in 2009, I took almost 1,200. And in California this year? About 1,600.
After playing with my old photos for an hour or two, I couldn’t believe the results. What I’d considered basic, “blah” point-and-shoot shots from my vacation had morphed into something else entirely. Though far from an expert, I was impressed with how much I’d been able to change them. Without setting foot in busy, bustling and fume-clogged Fiumicino Airport in Rome, I’d “revisited” a beloved place—and emerged with fresh images.
Though, you know, I’m totally cool with a wealthy benefactor sending me back to Italy—this time with my Rebel. It’s no problem.
The technique is simple and involves opening the two images as layers and using a basic layer mask with a tight gradient. The video and explanation are done with Photoshop but the technique will also work in Photoshop Elements. Lightroom is not required either, although I use that in the demonstration to open the images as layers.
Several weeks ago I wrote about an engagement shoot in DC. During my preparation for that shoot, I needed to determine what time to do the shoot. I was anticipating the sun being out and I wanted to do an evening shoot but I couldn’t figure out what time. The first thing I tried searching for is a way to track the sun and where it would be for a particular time. I tried running a Google search that would tell me but I couldn’t find anything.
That’s when I came across a useful app called Sun Surveyor. There are two different versions available in the iTunes and Android Stores: Sun Surveyor and Sun Surveyor Lite. I decided to purchase the full version, Sun Surveyor, from the Android market for $6.
I absolutely love the app and it was well worth the price. The app allows me to turn my phone into a compass and show me the track of the sun along with the moon. It also allows me to search the map for a particular location and show me the sun track from that location. For this shoot, I wanted to start off at Constitutional Gardens. With the help of this app, I was able to determine what time to start the shoot which was 5 PM. Check out the below example. The yellow line represents the track of the sun while the white line represents the moon.
?I’ll get some great use out of this app for future shoots. I’ll be honest though it took me a little bit of time to familiarize myself with the app and how to use it. The help functions are a little helpful but not great.
One of the great things about meeting up with other photographers is the chance to see your work differently.
Despite having my Canon Rebel T1i for almost two years, I’m nowhere near advanced. Thanks to the great work and tireless enthusiasm of the Calvert Photography Club, I understand basics like exposure and shutter speed and ISO. A few years back, these concepts were foreign to me - and I wouldn’t have known where to begin. But once I took a step back, got my camera off that “Auto” mode and opened my mind, I’ve been able to branch out in new directions.
Having my work critiqued is one of them. Though it can be intimidating to see your photo on a projector while others discuss both its strengths and weaknesses, keeping an open mind regarding others’ suggestions is how we grow. It’s how we learn, improve, get better. It’s how we really “tell our stories” through photos – in whatever way we choose. And just as my writing gets assessed in my day job, my photos get assessed, too.
Thankfully, the CPC features a group of talented, kindhearted and professional individuals - and no one is going to rip you to shreds. For our latest photography assignment, playing with high dynamic range (HDR) imaging, I submitted a shot of the Western New York countryside I snapped in August.
One of the first suggested edits, per Jim, included cropping out a branch on the left. My eye usually goes straight to those sorts of outliers, but it didn’t - and that’s where another set of eyes comes in. Sandy mentioned the photo might be a tad overexposed. Another comment mentioned the wandering path being a little distracting, and guest and amazing photographer Cameron Davidson mentioned the photo being too divided into equal parts sky/ground.
Taking this feedback into account, I opened my original HDR-composite picture in Photoshop and got to work. The branch was the first thing to go, and I didn’t keep my original image proportions; I narrowed the photo to include less ground and more sky. I dropped the exposure a tad but adding some contrast, mostly so the clouds would stay white and pop a bit, and I used the “clone” stamp in Photoshop to remove the farm path.
The changes are subtle, but I’m pleased with the result - and definitely see an improvement in the visual impact of the shot. I wanted to evoke a sense of peace and tranquility while wandering through the country, especially since I’m a suburban girl, and I hope I captured that.
Or started to, anyway. There’s always room for more editing!
Last month I was asked to do an engagement shoot in Washington DC. The bride-to-be saw my pictures on Facebook of the various monuments and buildings I shot and she wanted pictures taken around the monuments.
For me this was a great honor but also a little nerve wracking. This was my first customer and I didn’t want to mess up this opportunity. I also had to plan the shoot. What equipment would I need to bring with me? Would I need my tripod? The bride-to-be wanted to shoot around the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II memorial. I also suggested shooting at Constitutional Gardens. I’ve shot there numerous times and it’s a beautiful spot with views of the Washington Monument.
On the day of the shoot, Mother Nature was not cooperating. It was cloudy and there were chances of rain throughout the day. The bride-to-be still wanted to do the shoot and I felt I might still get some good shots.
I got to the first site early, Constitutional Gardens, to scope out places to shoot along with determine what settings to use. I always shoot in manual mode. I decided to use go with a shutter speed of 200 and an ISO of 400. I also kept the auto focus (AF-Area) set to the closet subject setting.
The shoot went well and I felt I got some good shots. When I got home and starting looking at the pictures I saw several mistakes right away. The biggest mistake I made was my focal area. I should have set the focus area (or AF-Area) to the Single Area and not the closet subject. There were quite a few pictures where the subject (bride-to-be) was out of focus because my camera was focusing on something else (i.e. a monument post) like the one below.
Another mistake was not bringing lens wipes with me. We ran into some rain and despite my best efforts to protect my camera, I got a little bit of rain on the lens and I didn’t realize it until it was too late. I also should have used a different shutter setting. The pictures that did turn out came out darker than I liked. While I was able to fix them in Lightroom, I would have preferred shoot it right with my camera.
As I reflected upon the shoot, I was disappointed with how the pictures turned out but I learned from my mistakes. The most important thing was the bride-to-be was pleased with some of the pictures.