What to leave in, what to take out

Composition is all about making an image interesting to the viewer.  It might be the subject, the story behind the subject, the overall beauty of the image, the processing – any number of things that simply render an image “look-able.”  For me, composition is about the hardest part of this image creation thing.

Hang around photographers long enough and you’ll hear them talk about what’s important in the picture.  Since an image is a static thing, having just the right elements – and no more – in the frame is crucial to a great photo.  Rules of thumb, hearsay, myth, you name it – there are all sorts of ways to approach this aspect of composition.  The final judgement, though, is the photographer’s.  What’s in the photo is there because the photographer wanted it there.

Part of the psychology is about keeping the viewer’s eye in the frame of the image.  The longer you look at a photo the more about it you will see, which usually leads to looking longer for more interesting things.  With that, compositional elements that ‘block’ the eye from leaving the image are usually suggested.  But are they always necessary?

Consider the following:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYour basic autumn image.  For the second image I lowered my camera just enough to capture the next row of lighter color, essentially ‘blocking’ the lower edge of the image.  Does this indeed keep your eye in the photo?  In doing so, however, I lost the strip of white cloud visible at the top of the first image.  Was that keeping your eye in the image?  Does losing it now ‘open’ the top of the image?

My opinion is the lighter strip in the second image distracts from the subject, which is the colorful trees.  For me, the first image starts with a monochrome bottom, with horizontal strips leading my eye up to the trees.  Subtle as it is, the white strip at the top actually does halt my scanning and I return to the trees.  The bottom of the second image feels like a false frame that doesn’t really support the upper part of the image.

So, as the photographer, I prefer (and would display) the first image.  Which would you choose if it were your viewfinder?

Color is what you make of it.

Now that I can use a filter on my digital camera and get infrared effects I’m playing around with false color images.  To make this one I took the original RAW file to Photoshop, opened a Levels layer and adjusted the Red, Green, Blue channels separately until I got the look desired.  There’s enough green and blue light coming through the filter (15 second exposure) to give information to play with.  Fun combinations.

There is a little center brightness I’ve read can be a problem with this approach.  Seems to be more prominent with color than monochrome.  Apparently has something to do with the lens coatings not as effective with IR light than visible.  At long exposures you get a lot of light bouncing around in the lens, all focused on the sensor.  Thus, more exposure at the center than the edges.  Shorter shutter speeds would help; requires converting a digital body to IR only, though.  Think I’ll keep experimenting with filter-only until I feel more skilled.

The ground will look this way naturally in a few months as snow shows up.  Can’t wait to see how well it reflects IR.

More from the red end of the spectrum

First day out to seriously play with the R72 infrared filter on my digital camera.  I found a couple of good websites offering assistance on both making the images and processing them, advice that really came in handy.  For example, my camera has this little screen you can drop down over the viewfinder to block ambient light getting to the sensor.  I’ve never used it, never saw a reason to.  Turns out with long exposure IR you have to protect the sensor more and light can come from anywhere!  Here’s one of the sites I really liked:

http://photographylife.com/introduction-to-infrared-photography

First I found a wonderfully colored maple tree at a local park – leaves were really bright in the sun.  From what I’ve heard, part of learning about IR is seeing what reflects in this frequency and what doesn’t.  What better way than to simply photograph objects with and without a filter to compare the differences.

ISO 100, 1/500, f/5.6

ISO 100, 10 sec., f/6.3

My IR exposure times were fairly long – 15-20 seconds.  Since it was a windy day the leaves and clouds are blurry, but I think this just enhances the glow.  It looks like the fall colored leaves are reflecting more IR than the green ones.

Next I wanted to see how water would respond in these type images.  The lake I found had less fall colored trees around it but there was this great dock stretching out into the water for a subject.

ISO 100, 20 sec., f/6.3

At first glance it almost looks like a normal B&W image until you notice the trees on the distant shore – way too white.  The high haze in the sky is reflecting enough IR to keep the sky from turning black but you can see in the water’s surface areas of dark where the IR light is being absorbed.

False-color IR is a throwback to color IR film.  From what I understand it was developed as a way to selectively see elements in a photograph more easily.  Most people have seen these type images from satellite photographs where vegetation is red and water black.  With digital IR the effect can be simulated by making adjustments in the individual red, green and blue channels – color to taste essentially.

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ISO 100, 20 sec., f/6.3

There are a couple of other coloring tricks in Photoshop I’ve heard about so look for more unworldly images in the near future.

Digital IR

I was greatly pleased with my first attempt at infrared photography using the Kodak film.  I have more film to play with but also wanted to see how to make the digital versions as well.  It’s been in the back of my mind to buy a used camera and have it converted to IR (there’s a filter that has to be removed so the sensor see IR better) but before that expense I wanted to see if digital will give the same results as film.

Turns out you can use a lens filter to experiment.  The Hoya R72 filter fits on the front of the lens and blocks almost all visible light, letting in only the infrared.  On an unconverted camera this means really long exposure times (a minute or more depending on how bright the scene is) but for a landscape photographer that’s usually not a problem.  I just got one of these filters and started playing with it.

Of course it started raining – not the best IR lighting – but some infrared light does make it through clouds.  I set my camera on a tripod and made a 1 minute exposure.  It looks like this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWell, red filter, red photograph.  Thus the magic of digital processing.  A little work in Photoshop to achieve the effect I’m looking for and there’s this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot bad for a poorly lit scene.  All the expected elements are there – bright foliage, dark shadows, even tones, bit of a halo.  It looks promising.  Now for a really bright day with big white clouds.

Actually, I think I could really like this infrared approach.  Gives me something to photograph in the bright sunshine without getting up at the crack of dawn.

 

Glorious autumn

Feels like all the things that have to come together and result in great fall color are lining up just right this year.  Starting to see some really intense and bright colors around the area.  The mix of hardwoods in areas is just right for that ‘patchwork quilt’ look so favored by photographers.  Here are a few images of what I’m seeing right now.  The location for these scenes is along the eastern side of Lake Winnebago in SE Wisconsin.  The mound-like hills in some of the pictures are drumlins, piles of rock and soil left behind by the glaciers.  They give some shape to the state’s terrain and nice dimensionality for a landscape photographer.

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Sleepy morning

Left the cover off the grill last night and when pulled it off the deck chair this morning to put it away there were two visitors who had taken refuge underneath for a quiet night’s rest.  When I find creatures under cover like this I always wonder if they just happen to wander into it or if they are scoping out great places to hide.  As the nights get cooler and days shorter I’m expecting to see more outdoor citizens hoping to ward off the elements.

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Eastern Grey Treefrog just hanging out

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The moth warmed up enough to fly away in a few minutes; the frog climbed on the rail and starting looking around.  Didn’t think it would survive a drop off the deck so I moved him to a retaining wall.  Later discovered he’d moved to a vantage where he could once more survey the world around him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow here’s a frog definitely not concerned about protective camouflage.