Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The twilight zone

Just because the sun’s gone down doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to put the camera away. Some of the most remarkable shots you’ll ever take will be captured in the fading light of day. The above shot of the Wind Point Lighthouse near Racine, Wisconsin and the planet Venus was taken about 45 minutes after sunset. The small beach shot was taken about a half hour after sunset.

Here are a few things to keep in mind should you decide to catch the last light of the day:

The sky slowly takes on a deeper blue cast as night approaches. From about 20 to 40 minutes past sunset is the ideal time to catch the deep indigo color of the sky.

You’ll need a tripod or some other device to keep the camera stock-still during the exposure, which will be quite long.

The rule of thumb I use in positioning the camera – set up low. I usually stay within 14 inches of the ground when shooting night and twilight scenes. The low angle adds to the drama.

If you have a camera with manual settings, I use a one-second exposure at f5.6 using 100 ISO. If you’re using a digital point and shoot, set the exposure to about -1.5 to -2. Autoexposure will want to lighten the photo. Don’t let it.

Embrace the blur. If you can, stop down your lens and increase exposure time. Moving clouds will be rendered as streaks of light in the sky. Waves on the beach will become a ghostly mist.

It takes a fair bit of experimenting to become adept at twilight shooting and many mistakes will be made. But learn from them and over time, catching low-light photos will become second nature.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Be there

Woody Allen once said that “80 percent of being a success is just showing up.” I’m finding that to be the case with my photography. For some crazy reason, I don’t get any good shots when I’m sitting at home with my camera packed in its case. But the odds increase dramatically when I’m out and about with a camera in my hands.

Want to take better pictures? Take pictures. Lots of them. And to stack the deck even more in your favor, follow these hints:

Shoot within a half hour either side of sunrise or sunset. The light is low, warm and soft. Pro photographers don’t call these times the “magic hours” for nothing.

Look for drama. Creatures (human or otherwise) interacting with each other or their environment. Stormy weather. Moving water.

Can’t find drama? Create it. Change your point of view. Shoot from ground level. Find a high place. Tilt the camera. Overexpose. Underexpose. Get closer to your subject. Move farther away.

Compose yourself. Well, actually, compose your pictures. Rule of thirds is a good place to start. I personally try to place my subjects in the vicinity of either of the diagonal lines than run from the top left to lower right corners of the frame and vice versa. But don’t forget to try to go symmetrical every so often. Mix it up.

Build depth. Use diagonal lines in your photos to draw in your viewers. Try to establish three zones – foreground, middle ground and background.

Look for contrasts. Big and small. Near and far. High and low. Colorful and drab.

Then try to do as many of these in one shot as possible.

After you’re done shooting, evaluate what you’ve shot. What worked? What didn’t work? What would you have done differently?

Then go out and “be there” again.

Let me know how it goes.

Photographs © James Jordan.

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