Monday, October 12, 2009

Eliminating Distractions

One of the most important aspects of good composition is how the subject relates to the background. This can be important in conveying a feeling.

In this picture
we see two snow egrets flying low across the glassy water. The background is completely void of any distractions. Your eye is drawn to the subject and then down to the reflection. If I did my job right, you feel the serenity and quietness of the scene. Maybe you even feel a bit lonely.

Half the battle of being a photographer is knowing how to post process the image. This can be as simple as fixing a blemish on an otherwise perfect portrait, dodging (lightening) the subject to draw attention, or as drastic as compositing (combining multiple images) to create a something that never actually happened. It all depends on what you, the artist, are trying to convey.

If your goal is
to be as realistic as possible, as in photojournalism, then post processing has to be light. Maybe only adjusting the contrast, reducing the digital noise, or tweaking the brightness is all that's allowed.

For this image, I cropped vertical, and used Photoshop to clone out the background leaving only the two birds. The original image below shows quite a different scene. Shot by the side of the busy road, these two birds were not alone at all.

When I first looked at the image, I almost threw it out. There was so much going on, and my low ISO/slow shutter speed made for some motion blur. But, in post, I was able to clean it up quite a bit.

We, as photographers,
should always try to get it right in the camera, but sometimes things happen way too fast for us to think. These "grab shots" don't often turn out well, but, before you press that "delete button", ask yourself, could I fix this in Photoshop? Many times the answer is Yes!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Contests and Critiques

I look at a published photo and say to myself: "I could shoot that!" We have all said that from time to time, but could you really? How do you know how your work would stack up?

There are two ways that I know of to find out: Contests and Critiques

Entering photo contests can be a bit scary, but rewarding if you can keep at it. The other day I was talking to one of my photographer friends who'd won a photography contest for his school. He was excited at receiving the notoriety and earning the respect of others. We are all a bit insecure on the inside, especially as artists, so winning a contest is like a validation.

As we spoke,
I remembered a contest I'd won back when digital images were far less known. In 2000, our local paper, the San Jose Mercury News was running a digital photo contest.

Entrants were asked to email their best shot to be judged among others. I'd taken this photo four years prior on a Winter's day with my SLR and Kodak ASA 200 film. I have to credit my wife, Lilia, for suggesting the shot after my daughter fell asleep on the baby scale. The image came out a little too blue for my taste; the kitchen skylight was the culprit, so I scanned the print and adjusted the color balance to warm things up a bit.

I remember finding out that I'd won a week or so before the story ran. One of the editors requested the file in TIFF format for printing. The image barely fit on a floppy disk.

The day the paper came out was pretty cool. Phone calls from local family members and a few kind-hearted strangers made that day very special to me. I was published!

Another way is through critiques.
Its so easy for us to share our images these days. Sites like Flickr and Picassa make it simple to expose your art to the public eye. Anyone can comment on your image, but if you are trying to improve, these comments are generally only positive.

What's missing is the critique. There are groups within Flickr that will provide feedback on your images; Try searching for "critique" and join. Keep in mind that you'll get many differing opinions and be ready to get slammed once in a while. Remember, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger!

So enter a contest the next time you see one. Be wary of those with an entry fee. (See the link below for further reading.) Join Flickr and then a "critique" group. Remember only upload your best work, and don't be afraid of the negative comments Each one adds a little clarity to your vision!

Further reading:

Scott Bourne's take on contest legitimacy.
Flicker critique groups