PHOTOGRAPHY II – A wet day with the camera.

Principles are all very well and good learning and I happen to be very useful at that method of learning, I can grasp a subject and understand its fundamentals very quickly. However all of that is worthless without getting out there and practicing. It must be noted that I am not very good, here to learn. Bold denotes key points worth remembering.

I decided at 8pm on a miserable day in June to drag out my photographic instructor (who is about to graduate with a 2-1). I told her I want to start practicing with your oversight and start learning to work with available light, as perfect studio lighting is a luxury folks will seldom have when taking pictures.

We set out in a mild drizzle and the clouds were heavy overhead, we wandered to a local park that backs onto a graveyard. At first we started looking at open landscapes across one of the football pitches. The key to a very flat and open landscape with large areas devoid of visual interest is to create some focus.  Below I used the lines that the mower had left to draw the viewer into the corner of the field, creating a focal point of the image. That is probably the natural focus point anyway but the lines reinforce it.

[Fig.1] Basic landscape composition

The other major point I have read and heard many times is that you must choose your horizon line carefully. What is more important, the ground or the sky and consequently, what is there more of in the frame?These two facts directly correlate and care should be taken when framing the image. I decided that there was no priority intended in this image so the horizon is central. It is worth noting that in efforts to better understand my camera, all photos are taken in full manual, including focus. Focusing in these conditions was a nightmare but practice is practice.

Next I turned around and looked for something significant to shoot. By significant I mean a subject; an object, event or scene that the primary reason for taking the image (An interesting comments on the subject of an image [HERE]). I chose a rather looming tree. It was gradually getting darker so things were not looking great for hand shooting but I wanted to keep going.

I remember the rule of thirds and try to do as much framing in camera as possible. I shot with a focal ratio of 5 (f/5), a focal length of 39mm & a shutter speed of 1/80th of a second. Now it came out dark, very dark and grainy. The tree was in the right place and the asphalt edge, hedgerow & receding treeline created a nice path through the image.

Now I will comment on post-production. At the minute there is very little I do after I have taken a shot. I correct temperature, correct exposure, reduce noise and use lens correction. This is because I want to be able to see my fundamental skills improve before I start dressing up my photos in Photoshop. Below for the sake of disclosure you can see my image as shot and after my minor adjustments. It is still grainy as anything. But shooting freehand at dusk when its overcast, it is to be expected on low level DSLR like the 500D.

[Fig.2] This is the tree presented as shot.

[Fig.3] This is the tree after post production.

After this we got the tripods out and went hunting for another subject. I chose two gravestones that were leaning toward each other. I felt it was almost a romantic symbol; that the loneliness of the dead could be gradually overcome by companionship through the passage of time. It was a six second exposure at ISO 200. I used a remote trigger; these are invaluable for long exposures as even pressing the button can blur your shot. An alternative would be to use a time delay. My focus is a little out and seems to be centred on the leaves behind the tombstones. There is no exposure adjustment on this shot.

[Fig.4] Two gravestones lean toward each other.

Moving out through the graveyard we discussed that having a physical path in the image automatically guides a viewer through it and makes composition easier. So we set up at a crossroads in the paths and I had to consider a shot from that viewpoint using any of the four available paths. It was really dark by this point so we were up to 20 second exposures. I chose a long straight path with a bench to one side and some nice artificial lighting from houses as a back drop.

I set up my tripod and framed my shot. I knew I had a nice composition so I checked my light meter, adjusted the exposure time and shot. Disaster, I forgot to focus, and the groundskeepers turned up to lock the back gate, our chosen method of exit, so I had no option but to take what I had and run with it.  This is not always a bad thing as in the end it turned out really well slightly blurred. So well in fact it is my new desktop background.

[Fig.5] A blurry shot that I happen to quite like.

I managed to accidentally end up with some nice Bokeh in the image. Bokeh is the way lenses render out of focus areas of a photo onto the film/sensor. It is the little circles that were points of light and is generally in vogue as aesthetically pleasing. Some far better examples can be found [HERE]. It was a concept I had read about previously and something I do wish to explore further in the future, but it is still amateur hour in these parts and this was a lucky shot.

Moving back out of the graveyard I wanted to take one last photo as the streetlights came on for the night at around 9.30pm (good old meta-data). I chose a trio of trees that obscured a couple of lampposts but were being illuminated by them from behind. I have since been told that HDR would have been more appropriate here but that is for another time. Unusual and varied lighting can add visual interest but is more difficult to photograph. Overall I think this is one of the weaker images presented here.

[Fig.6] Three trees lit from behind.

As a final point I have included my contact sheet for reference. As you can see I only cropped one image of the six I used. Can I just stress again that everyone I have spoken to who does any form of serious photography has said:

Do as much work in camera as you possibly can.

[Fig.7] This is my contact sheet for the shoot. Click on the image to view in full size.

After that we went back and discussed the images, talking through the good points and the bad points and helped me select my best images. It is pretty obvious in each case what is wrong with the images I didn’t use. It wasn’t a very intensive shoot as I am still getting a feel for the camera and that is vital. Once you get used to using your camera, and comfortable with the basics, you will find it far easier to take nicer photographs on demand. Please remember if you enjoyed this post to follow/subscribe to keep up to date with everything that gets posted.

Regards

John

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