photography

Ignorant people wandering into your frame can improve the shot.

Inconsiderate TouristTourist who walked into my shotDani waited for the sun to peek through the clouds. She knew exactly what she wanted to photograph and set out to find a perfect point of view. Now all that was missing was a sunray that would put the sparkle into the picture. Finally, the sun started to peek through the clouds. Dani raised the camera to look through the viewfinder when a tourist came sauntering by. He looked her directly in the eye, stopped in front of her camera and pulled out his own camera to take a shot. Eventually he forced Dani to find a new vantage point, since he would not move on but instead started a conversation about the beauty of the place with his wife.
I already got all the photos I wanted from that scene, so I had plenty of time to study what was happening. Strangely, the tourist would look right at Dani, and he would certainly have recognized that she was waiting to take the photo when he positioned himself right in front of her to take his own photo. He would not show the courtesy to move aside after he was finished himself either. The place was Pillnitz Castle in Germany and the tourist was a German.

Incidents like this were common during our recent trip to Germany. We encountered many courteous people, but the overwhelming majority of our fellow men in Germany were completely oblivious to us photographing. Minding only their business, they constantly stumbled into our shots.

A person stumbling into your frame can be a good thing. Instead of getting angry with them, I now try to recompose the shot to include the people in the scene. This may even result in a better picture. I believe that there are a lot less pictures of a couple enjoying Yosemite Valley then there are of Yosemite Valley; the latter being a more static and boring subject, if that can ever be said about Yosemite.

Despite my efforts to make the best of the situation, a careless person walking into my photo really disturbs the scene most of the time. Nearly all subjects do not pose in a spot where you would like them. Some fellow men from India for instance, never position themselves where I prefer. Videotaping every blade of grass through their journeys in ever more head-spinning pans, they have a tendency to stumble into my picture and bounce around unpredictably. Sometimes I wonder if the family back home really enjoys all those pans or if they get as dizzy as I get watching the video action.

Ideally, a couple holding each other's hands and viewing the sunset walks through my frame. Capturing the silhouettes of the lovers creates a much stronger image than a shot of the sunset alone.
If people walking through your picture irritate you, simply try to include them in the scene. If that doesn't work, I recommend photographing the people directly and making sure that they will notice. After all, you were there and someone came to pose in front of your camera. It can't be more obvious that the person wants to be photographed. If they don't like it, I am sure they will move on and clear your picture again.
Courteous people, willing to wait for you to take your shot, are a mixed blessing. I often take multiple photos of each subject. Vertical and horizontal compositions are usually required. Slightly different compositions and exposure values can be other reasons. Unaware of this, most people wait until they hear my shutter and then start walking, pleased with their own good manners. As my own manners dictate, I usually thank them or at least give them a friendly nod before I have to wait for them to leave my scene again for me to continue capturing photos.
However, continuing is not always possible, since people who already waited for you to take your picture are more likely to stop in the middle of your scene. Why would anyone want to shoot the same picture twice, right?
Some of us do, and we have to wait even longer for those courteous people to exit the frame.
Photography requires a lot of patience and understanding for each other. Friendly people will always receive a friendly word or nod and I won't even mind as much if they park themselves in my frame. And people who stroll into my picture, knowingly disturbing my work, sometimes get "shot".

Germany 2007

Church of our Lady in Dresden

Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady)

 I am barely back from Germany,

and I have already been greeted with a traffic ticket from an overly eager sheriff.

After two long flights and several delays due to failures on the fuel gauge of the machine, we finally arrived in San Francisco early Tuesday morning.

Since we had been being awake for nearly 30 hours, we decided that it was time to find a late night snack. We hopped into my old Mitsubishi Eclipse but in the rush I forgot that I had all my papers, registration and insurance, taken out of the car before we went on vacation. As I was cruising down De Anza Blvd., I noticed a car behind me, just as I was about to switch lanes for a U-turn. I slowed down, but the car matched my speed. I decided to turn right instead, but the car followed me and after another right turn the cop revealed himself by turning on his lights. He seemed surprised to see a seemingly normal person behind the wheel, murmured something about speed although he had no reading on his radar and wrote me a ticket for not having my paperwork and for an allegedly not working brake light. He pointed out the dangers of speeding to me and let me go.

Germany

Being back in Germany for almost 3 weeks, my longest vacation ever, felt pretty good. Although we were visiting family, we found the time to visit some interesting places.

One of the most interesting sights was the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) in Dresden that has finally been restored to its old glory. After being destroyed in the bombing raids of the final days of World War II, the privately financed reconstruction began in the early 1990's. The church is unique in its shape and form and is once again one of the landmarks of Dresden.

Lighthouse of August the StrongLighthouse of August the Strong with Summer Sky ;-)The weather in Dresden and other parts of the country was quite strange. The image of the Frauenkirche was shot on one of the few clear days. Most of the time the weather was overcast and rain and sun would take turns in a matter of minutes. Everyone was complaining about the rainy summer of 2007 but as far as I can remember not much has changed.

Some things however did change. One is the fact that they now charge you for every public restroom. I couldn't find a single restroom that was free, including those in public places such as airports and train stations. Many of them have turnstiles installed. The common charge for a pi** is 0.50 Euro, a very unpleasant experience.

Despite some unpleasantness and unforeseen expenses, Germany is a wonderful country to visit and other things such as food can be incredibly cheap. One of the most enjoyable experiences was the Autobahn. Being able to completely open up the car and shoot through the landscape at a mind numbing 130mph was worth the trip to me. Dani tends to strongly disagree, but from the back seat things always look worse. If you think that 130mph is fast, just wait for a Porsche or a newly designed Audi R8 to scream past you with 180mph. I can only recommend trying it out and finding out for yourself how relaxing this can be. And next time you are pulled over by a cop for speeding and he goes off into a tirade of how dangerous 80mph is, you can't help but grin.

 

Racing Stripes

Racing Stripes

Recently I have been taking a (well deserved?) hiatus from blogging. Meanwhile I have been working on some images, but I haven't really put much up on the site (yet?).

While I started writing on my next tutorial, I thought it would be good to bridge the gap with a short tip. Usually I can crank out a tutorial in a day, but as I said, I am still being somewhat lazy. Since I got a very long flight coming up anyways, I will probably find some time to write another one when I am on the plane. I have a head full of ideas for new material, I just need to find the time.

I love nightshots, partly because they are easy and partly because they are very effective. While the picture above isn't really outstanding, it's a fun picture to shoot. During that Night (in San Diego Downtown) traffic was really slow, but if you expose long enough you can get some very effective lights. I set up my camera at an angle (why not?) and waited for a car to take a left turn. I then shot a 30s exposure, capturing the entire turn creating a nice circular track of the blinkers. All you need is a tripod to impress your friends.

As I said, those pictures are relatively easy to take. All you need is a tripod and some traffic (or other moving lights, flashlight anyone? ;-) )

I have also been experimenting a little with my new Canon S3, partly because I wasn't in the mood for anything more serious. I guess I really need a vacation (due next week).

My first attempt at Street Photography

Kid checking out the crabs

After attending a wedding yesterday and staying over night in San Francisco, we had a few hours at our leisure before we decided to drive home. I thought it was time to check out if I could do some street photography.

For a landscape photographer, street photos is a whole new ball game. Landscape and streets (urban landscapes) couldn't be more different. The streets are in a constant flux and beautiful shots come together and vanish in less then a second.

In this post I will summarize some of the experiences I had and give you some tips in case you want to try this yourself. But let me say one thing up front, I liked this a whole lot and I will do a lot more candid photography in the future.

Why does Street Photography fascinate people?

Unlike landscape photography, street photography gives us the possibility to share a fleeting moment of someone's live. The photographer freezes time and documents urban life, something we are more accustomed to. The photographs generally tell a story. The frame becomes a window that lets us experience that moment. The photography style is related to documentary photography and the photographer is forgiven mistakes (blurry, tilts, distracting elements) as we recognize the fast action, making it impossible for to adjust everything before taking the photo.

Challenges

The challenge with this photography style is to observe the action around you and act fast. You need to be completely aware of everything that is going on around you, as you are part of the scene. You are interacting with your subjects to some degree (the lesser the better, as we don't want them to be aware of the camera). Scenes come together in split seconds and disappear. You need your camera to be ready and react before the subject even realizes what is going on.

At the same time you need to be on a constant look for interesting action. Where is something happening? Who are the interesting people?

Simply firing away at people doesn't quite cut it (unless the people are very interesting subjects in themselves). Trying to tell a story with fast action shots is the real challenge (more on this in a later article).

The main obstacle to overcome was my shy nature. Getting up close with a SLR into someone's face and snapping a photograph takes some guts (my Canon 20D shutter makes a pretty loud noise). I used a wide to normal lens, that required me to get fairly close, but is far less intimidating in case I am recognized. I only had a few hours today, so I tried to jump right in. The more confident I grew, the less people noticed me and the easier it became. Surprisingly I was completely invisible to most people, despite my gear and my obvious interest in them. It was almost surreal what happened here.

Some people did recognize what I did, but I smiled at them or kept looking and photographing in the direction they came from. Not a single person got mad or even gave me a stinky look. Only one person turned away and some people asked if I could photograph them too (which I happily did, although I have no use for posed photographs).

To 95% of my subjects I was invisible. A part of the scenery or maybe just a minor annoyance.

Below are a few more shots, but to see the rest you will have to wait a week or two until I have thrown up the gallery.

Self Portraits

For some odd reason people sometimes ask me for pictures of myself or for a biography, so I decided to throw up two self portrait shots.

I think they are fairly original to show here (as most people I don't like seeing myself on photographs, maybe because the camera always adds a few pounds ;-) )

In this shot I chose to clone myself (click for a large version).

Stitched Replication

Its not exactly a self portrait, since it required someone (thanks Dani) to take the shots, but since it was my idea to clone myself, I think it somehow still counts as a self portrait.

I like how the dude on the left looks sceptically at the two guys on the right goofing around. I am a Gemini and we are said to be many people in one. I am basically two goofy guys, one skeptical guy and one guy looking for a photo opportunity all rolled into one.

This photograph is actually 4 exposures put together. I have not replicated myself with Photoshop but with Panorama Tools (which is much easier anyways).

Below is another shot that I took today in the sun.

Photographing Fireworks

Seattle Fireworks 4th of July4th of July Fireworks in Seattle
The photo was shot from across the bay (Harbor Avenue) with a long lens.
It's almost 4th of July again. Millions will watch the fireworks displays all across the country and many of us will want to photograph the fireworks.
Photographing fireworks is actually easier than it sounds.
Two years ago I found myself in Seattle on July the 4th and I decided to give it a go and see what would happen.  
Fireworks photos are almost guaranteed to be spectacular and with a little preparation are really easy. In this article I am going to outline the process of researching locations, preparing, and taking the actual photographs.
Surprisingly, most of the effort goes into a good preparation. Once you are set up, you won't have to do much more then pressing the shutter. 

Let's start with the basic research you should do before going on a fireworks shootout.

Researching Location

Key to good photographs is often proper research. I arrived in Seattle during the early afternoon of July 4th and didn't have a lot of time to research locations.
A while ago I wrote a Tutorial on finding Photo Opportunities with Google Earth and using a GPS receiver to home in on those.
You don't really need a GPS device, but using Google Earth to find spots for taking photos is a really good idea. It has measuring tools, 3D views of Skylines and a whole lot of other tools that can help you find a good location.
I recommend that you check out this tutorial, since it has a lot more valuable information (e.g., how to export a track to your GPS from within Google Earth).
Measuring Distance in Google Earth

I took the photographs of the fireworks from Harbor Avenue Across the bay. In the image above you can see how I measured the approximate distance (2 miles) for the shots. I would recommend not going much above 2 miles, since this would require a really long lens.
I positioned myself across the bay from the fireworks, hoping to be able to capture the fireworks with the Seattle skyline in the background.


I actually found two or three potential places, so I decided to drive by each of them before making my final decision. I took my equipment and went for a drive early in the afternoon. Much to my surprise, the area around my first choice was filling up with spectators already and parking was almost impossible. When I finally found a parking spot, I decided to simply wait until nightfall for the fireworks. Unfortunately, I had left all my comfort items (warm clothes, water, and food) in my hotel room. Don't make the same mistake I did, plan ahead!

On the other hand, I was at my location early enough to secure a good position.  After what seemed like an endless wait and with still a couple of hours to go, I set up my tripod as  the place was filling up quickly with like-minded shutterbugs. I found a guard-rail and I set up against it to avoid awed spectators stumbling into my scene.

Preparing for the Photos

Depth of Field (DOF) and Hyperfocal distance

Half DomeEl Capitan photographed while focusing on the Hyperfocal distance
(Very large Depth of Field)
In this article I am going go outline some basic concepts of Depth of Field and Hyperfocal Distance. As a little extra you can download my Hyperfocal Distance Calculator to create your own tables for use in the field and for experimentation.

Depth of Field is defined as the range in front and behind the focus point that is still in focus and sharp. Since perceived sharpness depends on print size, viewing distance and lighting conditions as well as your eyesight.
Therefore I will use quantifiers like shallow to describe the Depth of Field.

Focusing and Depth of Field

In Landscape Photography I often try to achieve a maximum Depth of Field (picture of El Capitan). Getting such a deep DOF requires planning.
You need to set a very small aperture (large f-stop number). I therefore use Aperture Priority Mode (Av on most Cameras) and place the camera on a tripod, since a small aperture usually results in a long exposure time.
Since I want to keep the foreground and the background in focus, I usually use manual focusing and set my focus distance to the Hyperfocal Distance (see below).
Some lenses (usually prime lenses) offer a Depth of Field Scale. This scale will show you how far the range of the DOF extends at a certain aperture. Although this is a good reference, it is normed. Since perceived Depth of Field also depends on print size and viewing distance, those values are not always accurate in all situations.
Digital SLR usually have a Depth of Field Preview Button that is located somewhere near the lens. Unfortunately most Digital SLR with crop factor have a relatively small viewfinder, limiting the usefulness of this preview. Since my Eyesight isn't what it used to be anymore, I don't use this very much and I rather depend on experience or a cheat sheet I created.
An easy rule to remember is the 1/3 - 2/3 rule: For any f-stop, the depth of field extends about twice as far behind the focal plane then in front. Therefore the saying: Focus 1/3 of the way into your image.
Example: If your DOF is 30 meters and you want to have everything between 20m and 50m in focus, you need to focus at about 30m (1/3 of the distance between 20m and 50m). Depending on your nearest point, you can replace infinity with approx. 50m to 300m (if you focus close, use 50m).
When you focus on a subject at close range (macro) this rule doesn't hold true anymore (the distances become approx. equal).

The Ten Most Common Photographic Mistakes

Here is a quick rundown of the most common mistakes people (like me) make that mess up a good photo or prevent us from taking a good photo. It is a big leap for me to start talking about taking photos, since it is so much more subjective than writing Photoshop Tutorials. I am on a journey and often times I look at older pictures on this site and wonder why I even took the photo (at least I have some negative examples to show you). I am taking the easy way out, starting with things that can go wrong, to kick off this series on photography techniques.

1. Images are too cluttered (less is more)

In Photography, less is often more. Before pressing the shutter-release button, ask yourself what you first noticed in a scene that made you want to take this photo. Then try to isolate whatever you saw, without including too much in the scene. Otherwise the viewer will get confused and will start wondering what you wanted to show and why you bothered taking the photo in the first place.

Compare this photo of Downtown Philadelphia...

Philadelphia Downtown ClutteredPhiladelphia Downtown Cluttered
This image outlines how tight the space is in the city.
Philadelphia ReflectionsPhiladelphia Reflections Philadelphia Apartment BuldingPhiladelphia Apartment Bulding ...with this photo of the reflection of an old building in a new building (left).

The second image (left) is contained within the first image; however, the second image really brings out what I wanted to show - the contrast of old and new. Most "snapshots" would include a lot more of the scene than even the first image shows, dwarfing the actual subject even more. 

The human eye and mind tends to see a 3-dimensional scene differently. You automatically blend out things you don't care about. In a photograph it's exactly the opposite.
The things you didn't even see in the first place tend to pop out and come right at you: Wham, in your face viewer.

The first image is still a good image if you wanted to show how space is at a premium in large cities and how tight the buildings clinch together. For that matter, I didn't even bother correcting the perspective (narrowing down towards the top of the image) as it tends to increase the feeling of tightness.

Even though the photo of the Apartment Buildings (right) is not exactly a photographic masterpiece, it shows exactly why I even bothered to look at the building (repetitive pattern of windows).
Had there been more in this picture, it would be a lot less interesting.

Here is an example of too much going on:

Bruhls Terrace DresdenBruhls Terrace Dresden
If someone even bothers to look at the picture, his eyes will start to wander. Once you are at the parachute in the lower left corner (your eye is almost out of the picture now), you start to wonder about the person that's not even in the picture anymore and you are out of the picture. A good photo however, should draw the viewer in.