Look for the Light
When thinking about taking a photograph, don’t focus on the subject, focus on the light. That’s where the image is. You will find even the most mundane subjects, in the right light, will transform into a very compelling photographic opportunity. In working with landscape photography, lighting is something which you don’t really have control, You have to find it. Good outdoor lighting typically occurs at dawn and at dusk, which means you have to be out there and ready to whip out your camera when chance happens, rain or shine, day after day. I found that a dog dancing on your chest at 6:30 in the morning will do the trick.
While you are out and about, look up. Don’t stare at your feet and especially not your phone, otherwise you will miss all the magic around you every day, everywhere you go. Don’t forget to smile. It doesn’t really help with taking better pictures, but it does make you feel better and it infects everyone around you. After all, you are looking for good vibrations in the light spectrum. Being aware of your surroundings and a healthy dose of curiosity are key to finding those little gems that most people will overlook.
You may have been expecting a long technical list of things like the F stop settings I use for aperture adjustment, shutter speed or ISO settings to achieve a particular look. There are many wonderful tutorials on the web that cover these with much more elegance and sophistication than I can provide here. What I am interested in is helping you to develop your “eye”. I want you to be able to recognize that great shot when you come across it and have the courage to position yourself in a way to get the image that energizes you. Photography, like any art form, is an exercise in opening the eye of your heart to allow your creativity to be expressed. Don’t be afraid to try new and crazy things with your camera. Lay on the ground and look up. Experiment, push it to the limit, look at your results and try again. Every camera is unique with its own strengths and opportunities. It is important that you learn how your camera responds to too much light, too little light, how fast and accurate your auto focus works, how your camera adjusts to changing lighting conditions, etc., so that you can be ready when the light presents itself.
What Camera do I use?
I chose to use an iPhone 6s for this project for many reasons. First, it was in my pocket. Second, since I would be walking Murphy during these shoots, or he walking me, it was not practical to manage an SLR with multiple lens options, a selection of filters, and poo bags while on the go. Third, it really is a great camera.
When I was in film school I once had an instructor tell the class “Just because you have a zoom lens doesn’t mean you should use it.” That is particularly true when shooting with an iPhone, but it is equally valuable for most photography. Don’t be tempted to use the digital zoom. Your image quality will drop dramatically. Use your feet instead. Your most dramatic shots are those you can frame with your position rather than the zoom. That isn’t to say that a zoom lens doesn’t have a purpose. It is an essential tool for wildlife photography whose subjects would be scared away if you get too close.
You may have noticed that there are no pictures of squirrels, birds, water fowl, badgers, or river otters in The Murphy-Cam Project. It is not because we didn’t encounter them on our explorations, but rather because I brought my own wildlife along with me who’s antics made it impossible to photograph them.
Photographic techniques are different approaches to making a creative and compelling image. I have incorporated several of these techniques throughout The Murphy-Cam Project including Silhouettes, Black and White, Long Exposure, Traffic Light Trails, Reflection, and Lens Flares, to name a few. For more detail, Christina Harman has a great article called 20 Amazing Photography Tips and Techniques Take a look.
One of my favorites is the silhouette. A silhouette is an image where the subject in the foreground is dark while subjects in the distance are bright. If there were a cardinal rule in photography it would be don’t point your camera directly at a light source. We will be breaking this rule to achieve our goal here.
In the image below you will see the tulip in sharp focus, but completely dark, creating the silhouette. In the background, you see two Cincinnati bridges: the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge and the Newport Southbank Bridge. They are out of focus with the sunrise just over the horizon. To get this effect, position yourself so that the sun is behind the flower. Tap and hold on the tip of the flower to tell the camera where to focus. After a moment, the camera will go into to AE/AF Lock which will lock your Auto Exposure and your Auto Focus. Then, slide your finger up or down on the screen to adjust your exposure until the sun and bridges become saturated with color and the flower darkens to your taste.
I am also a sucker for water reflections and have used this technique in several of the images included in the project. To achieve this effect, you need a relatively calm body of water, the reflection of an interesting object or land mass, and the right lighting conditions. For this one, you need to wait a little past sunrise in order to get the light refraction at the right angle. It will take some trial and error and a little luck to catch it at just the right time, but when you see it, you will know it.
Note, it does not have to be a big body of water, a puddle after a rain storm can also yield some cool results.
There is a raw power in Black and White photography that is very compelling to me. It adds a timeless quality that speaks to me in a way that a color photo doesn’t. To create a Black and White image I always start with a color photograph. This winter scene lent itself particularly well to Convert to B&W since there were no really vibrant colors to start with, though that doesn’t mean that a colorful pic can’t make a great B&W photo. This is where you must trust your creativity.
I have chosen to use the darkroom tools in Instagram to edit all of the images in The Murphy-Cam Project. Though there are many photo editing options to choose from, I recommend choosing one and focus your energies learning it deeply. I do not use filters, only the editing tools provided there.
To start, select the Saturation tool and bring the slider completely to the left and viola, you have a B&W image! The rest is a little more subjective. I might add a little of the Structure tool to enhance some detail in the contrast of the image. The rest is purely experimental and will be different for each photo. I will play with the Highlights and Shadows tools to see if I can improve the drama in the image. They are also helpful to correct a little overexposure. I don’t use Brightness and Contrast a whole lot, and always judiciously. I do use the Adjust tool on occasion if Murphy is pulling on the leash while I’m leveling a shot and it needs a little straightening. A little bit of the Vignette tool is useful in focusing the viewers eye to a particular part of the image. Lastly, a little bit of the Sharpen tool goes a long way.
As with any creative endeavor, work with ideas that inspire you and chances are they may inspire others. Look at as many photographers’ work as you can and use their ideas, then create something unique to you.
Wishing you all the best