Category Archives: Photo Tips

Add More Color with Black and White

Black and White PhotographyAnsel Adams brought the beauty of the American West through the lens of his camera to the American people. He captured landscapes and scenes that were foreign to many who had never ventured out of a city in their lives. His favorite spot was the wilderness surrounding Yosemite National Park in California, and his favorite technique was the use of black and white to capture and enhance shadows of rocks, valleys and mountain peaks.

His photography was primarily done in black and white in order to capture the depth of color through the use of shades of grey. He believed that color distracted from the overall scene, while black and white allowed the viewer to see everything about the scene. He spent hours getting the right combination of lighting to achieve the photo that he envisioned.

While most digital photography is concentrated on color, there is a whole world that looks beautiful in shades of grey.

Manipulating Color Photos

Manipulating Colour for Black and WhiteThe modern camera and photo manipulation programs allow photographers to shoot their images in full color, and then use a filter to reduce the photo to greyscale. This is a common practice in order to capture the greatest amount of shading. Digital cameras may have the option to shoot in black and white, but there is less control over the photo in the finishing stages when the color data is absent.

The best time to take black and white photos is often on an overcast afternoon. The low contrast will allow the photographer to capture more of the shadows in a softer light rather than the shadows of harsh sunlight. It is easier to control the soft shadows through a graphic program like Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro to maximize the depth of the subject.

However it should be noted a large number of images by Ansel Adams were done in the middle of the day - which does increase the tonal range beyond what most cameras are capable of capturing and he was capable of doing by manipulating the exposure and development of both his film and prings. One can start on sunny days by making sure to keep the highlights from blowing out by reducing the exposure (setting your camera to alert you overexposed ares on the image preview can be found in your camera's manual.) Or you can learn more advanced techniques such as High Dynamic Range photography which is having multiple exposures of once scene combined to have a larger tonal range.

When using a graphic program, there are filters that can be applied to the photos to change the white balance, tones and contrast that will enhance the photo. Adobe's Photoshop and Lightroom can be found at their website and Paint Shop Pro, formerly by JASC, is manufactured by Corel.

(Continued in part 2)

by Andre Smith

Some tips for landscape photography

Been seeing a lot of landscape photography by some very enthusiastic photographers. There's some great photography being created.

However, I do often see a few common issues that can be corrected.

Crooked Horizon Lines: Because of nature (as in bent trees, poles that are actually falling over); or the nature of wide angle lenses - a foreground element may appear to be crooked if the horizon line is level.

Don't let that sway you - the horizon is level.

There may actually be a good reason for the horizon to appear un-level such as a curved shore of water - but that's an illusion and usually means you have to re-orient your camera. Sometimes its as easy as just keeping the camera level side to side and front to back. Sometimes it means you have to move up or down to get the proper perspective.

If your horizon appears crooked - you're photo looses effectiveness. Elements in the photo can be a little crooked - but if the horizon is off the photo will never be as strong as it could be. So really pay attention to that when you look through the camera as you shoot. Its not easy to spot slight problems in level and perspective, but the more you can learn to see that in camera the less time you'll spend on the computer.

If the horizon is obscured by hillsides, mountains, etc - you may have to play with it a bit to figure out what is correct.

There are tools to put on your camera to make sure everything is level - if you continually have problems with level this can be a great investment (and yes I have one in my camera bag.)

Now - if you do miss something, that can generally be fixed in editing. Cropping and rotating can be done with every image software that comes with cameras, or you can find free programs like GIMP (open source image editor - GIMP.org) or with online programs like Picassa, or with higher-level editors like Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.

If you use Photoshop - there's something in the last few editions called "Puppet Warp" which can straighten errant objects if need be.

Horizon Centered
Horizon Closer to top third - notice the road has more drama and depth in this version. Photos by Neil Speers

Centered Horizon: The second thing I often see - and honestly this is something I learned very recently - is the horizon near the centre of the image.

Now, I've known the Rule Of Thirds for a long time so I rarely put the horizon in the middle anyways. The image is typically just more interesting with the horizon one third of the way from the top or the bottom.

But there's a bigger reason - which I mentioned - I just learned. The visual sense of depth of the image is greater by using the Rule of Thirds. By placing the horizon in the middle, you loose the sense of depth.

Now creating a 'flattened image' is fine if you're creating an intentionally 'graphic' image rather than a 'pictorial' image.

Typically however, we're using foreground, middle ground and background to help the viewer sense the same depth which we experienced as we shot it. However because we're translating reality from three dimensions into two dimensions, we have to use tricks to keep that sense of the third dimension and the Rule of Thirds can help with that.

Magic Hour Photography - Bentley
Photographed at the "Magic Hour" just moments after the sun set behind the horizon. Photo by Neil Speers

Not 'using' light to best advantage: Light can hide or reveal, it can bring forward or push backward, it can create moods or not. Many landscape photographers try to only shoot at the "magic hour" which is really about 5 to 10 minutes on a cloudless day when the sun has dipped below the horizon but light is still plentiful.

That's not the only light to use - although it is beautiful when you catch it. Any time of day can be good, but look at where the light is working to create a great picture, and where you might want to 'let that one go' or at least realize it won't be a prize winning shot. Nothing wrong with that - we photograph to capture memories of times and places and not having a picture of something you want to remember is worse than a 'so-so' picture of it. If you can arrange to come back to the same place when the light is better - perfect.

But, sometimes that just isn't possible.

The factors of light to consider: Direction, Quality and Colour.

Trail to Larch Valley - Canadian Rocky Mountains.
Converted to Black and White.
Photo by Neil Speers

Direction: Light from the side brings out more detail than light from behind you. Light from behind the subject can create drama.

Quality: Is it mid-day sunlight which is very harsh, or is it an overcast grey day which happens to make colours in the foreground very saturated? Is there spotty light that can create the dramatic shots (best when you're located under the cloud but an interesting feature/mountain/building is in strong light.)

There is no "bad" light - just "un-interesting" use of it - if its cloudy, concentrait on small subjects, if its sunny concentrait on the big. If the sun is behind you - either look left or right for a subject, or rotate around your subject to get more detail.

One photographer recently suggested if you're shooting mid-day, convert the photos to black and white. Most of Ansel Adams fantastic photos were taken mid day and black and white was part of why they became iconic (although he did do some wonderful colour work as well.)

I hope that helps you create some great landscapes.

Where to focus your camera

Quite often it is best to focus on your intended subject (and if its a person, on their eyes), then hold the focus and recompose the image to make the composition stronger - like having your subject to one side or the other rather than dead center.

Most modern dSLR's have multiple focus points available to get good focus on subjects in the middle as well as to the edges of photos. For most accurate focus it's often best to manually choose a focus point rather than let the camera choose one - an example would be focusing on the subject's eyes.

If you're working with a shallow Depth of Field (see Depth Of Field to learn more about this subject) and use the center point of a multiple point focusing system (common in most dSLRs) then the focus might actually be behind the subject because the 'focal plane' will swing on an arc. Its best to choose a focus point in your camera closest to where you'll want the subject positioned.

Please check out your camera manual to find out how to do that with your specific camera.

Here is an example - if you're shooting a full-length portrait, the best camera height is about waist level and the best focus is on the subject's eyes. (Yes, we've cut off the subject's legs in this illustration, but in a photo you'd show the legs as well.)

However as you swing the camera down to recompose it the focal plane swings in an arc and winds up about the subject's ears rather than the subject's eyes.

If you can chose a focus point nearest where the eyes are, the focus will shift the least and the picture will look its best.

Bathroom 100

This is a great exercise to push your ability to find interesting compositions anywhere. Go into the bathroom, lock the door and take 100 photos of the bathroom itself. The first 30 or so are easy. By the time you're done, you'll find yourself looking at a lot of things a bit different.