Thursday, October 30, 2008

Photographing kids

As I look at some of my favorite photos of children, I've noticed some similarities among the images. I nearly always try to get up close to the subject and just sit and watch with a camera in hand until the child no longer cares that I'm around, then I'll begin taking pictures. I almost never use a flash, and when I do, I bounce it off the ceiling. If you don't have a flash unit that can adjust direction, tape a piece of wax paper over the front - it will soften the light and reduce harsh shadows.

I try to take advantage of soft natural light. Either outdoors in the shade or inside near a window. Backlight works beautifully on children. You'll need to adjust your exposure compensation by +1 or +2 to make sure the strong light behind the subject doesn't fool the camera into making a darker exposure.

I usually shoot on aperture priority with the lens open to its larget possible setting (the lowest f-number). This creates the shallowest depth of field, which helps ensure the child is the center of attention in the picture.

Oh, and try to focus on the child's eyes. And pay attention to composition.

And if you have the wherewithal to do some Orton processing on your pictures, kids pictures are a natural for some softening.

Photographs © 2008 James Jordan.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wanna see some amazing pictures?

And learn a little bit about how they're done? I'm a contributing editor to the photo site Innovative Digital Photographers. My current post there reviews the work of Lucie Debelkova, who produces some phenomenal travel photography. Lucie travels the world making images that capture the viewer with vivid colors and light. Take a look and prepare to be amazed.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Everything that I know about photography I learned from post cards

OK, maybe not, but racks full of postcards draw me like a magnet when I'm out traveling. When my wife notices that I'm no longer walking with her through a store, she knows the first place to look for me. Postcards are a good reference source to see how different photographers approach subjects that have been photographed a million times already.

So, here are some of the things I've learned from postcards about photographing landmarks:

1. Photograph at a time of day when the fewest people are likely to photograph. This is usually around sunrise. Your photo will have a look that relatively few other photos will have.

2. Show the landmark in its surroundings.

3. Isolate the landmark from its surroundings.

4. Photograph the landmark at a time of year when relatively few other people will photograph it. Early spring, peak color in autumn and mid-winter are good choices.

5. If the sky is doing something dramatic ... bonus!

6. Stick to the rules of composition. Or not.

The above photograph of the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse in Door County, Wisconsin is a bit too typical of a "postcard" shot, but it was begging to be taken. Mid-morning on a fall day when the colors had reached their peak. Sun illuminating the lighthouse through a clearing in the surrounding trees. Blue sky creating a contrast of color to the gold and orange leaves. A spot of sunlight hitting the juncture of the split rail fence. I was there with a camera. What else could I do?

Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

A tip for close up shots - back off!

The natural inclination is to shoot a closeup of an object from, well ... close up. For this shot, I stepped back several yards and used a telephoto lens to bring the object to me. This changes the viewing perspective ever so slightly and can result in a shot that is a bit different than what we may be used to seeing and may compel a viewer to stick with it a bit longer than they would have otherwise. It may not work every time, but it's worth playing with as you're out shooting.

Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008


HDR, or high dynamic range photography, is a process that combines several exposures of a scene into one image. It allows a photographer to capture a wider range of tones than would have been possible with just a single exposure. It also requires software that I don't have. I do have Photoshop Elements 6, which retails from $80-100, which is more suited to my budget. I conducted a little experiment to see if it was possible to create a pseudo-HDR with the software and wound up quite pleased with the results.

As many times as I’ve visited the Toft Point natural area in Door County, Wisconsin, I have never quite gotten a photograph that I thought adequately depicted the rugged, wild nature of the place. I arrived there one more time last month on a day of clouds and spotty sunshine. I noticed an interesting cloud formation to the north and decided to try to capture it against the rocky shore. I camped on a rock surrounded by water, set my tripod low and set my zoom lens to its widest angle. From that position, I took two shots – one of the sky and one of the lakeshore, setting an ideal exposure for each and intending to merge them together later.

I was disappointed with the initial result, which I have bravely posted here. I let it sit for a couple of weeks, then decided to throw everything I had at it to see if I could spice up the image.

In Photoshop Elements 6, I selected the lakeshore and applied an Orton effect – I lightened the image selection by about half, copied it and pasted it over itself on a layer. I put a slight Gaussian blur on the layer, then blended it with the layer beneath using “multiply.” This boosted the color saturation of the rocks and water. I did a similar adjustment to the sky, except this time I converted the adjustment layer to grayscale and cranked the contrast wayyyyy up. I added a slight Gaussian blur then blended the layers using “Soft Light.” The action popped the clouds but added a bit of noise to the sky, which I corrected with Elements’ noise filter. I added a slight vignette to the overall image to finish things up.

Images © 2008 James Jordan.