Often you’ll hear artists talking about diagonal lines within a composition. Diagonal lines can be very important to an image because of how they affect the mood and visual impression of a scene. However, diagonals are not just about line. You can have diagonal shapes and patterns as well.
Diagonals are always dynamic elements within a picture. They create a strong feeling of movement because the eye wants to move along a diagonal. There is something about the human mind that wants to follow a diagonal line. We will also follow a vertical line up and down, though we won’t really follow a horizontal line. Putting a diagonal line in with a vertical or horizontal line will create a very dramatic contrast. That can be a dynamic way of using a composition, but it can also be very distracting and disturbing for the viewer. You have to be careful about how you are using diagonal lines, shapes and patterns.
Diagonals also give a very strong dynamic feeling to an image because most diagonals in the real world are objects that have some sort of tension to them. A diagonal will typically be something that is moving or has the potential of movement. Diagonal objects in real life can look like they are ready to fall down so there is always a certain tension there. In addition, we know that if something that can move is placed on a diagonal surface, it is going to move down that surface because of gravity. That doesn’t mean that diagonals used in your photograph are looking like things are going to fall or roll down – it just means that there is a tension and movement there that people react to.
There is something very interesting that happens with diagonals when they are combined with horizontal and vertical lines. They can look like they are a support beam. Think about when you play the game, hangman. Most people draw the hanging post with a diagonal line between the vertical and horizontal lines to make it look like it has more support.
Okay, all of this can seem very esoteric and not very applicable to that landscape with a stream running through it. Yet as you start to look at that scene, you will start to see diagonals there that can help structure your composition and create a stronger design. Once again, becoming aware of these elements of design will help you use them within your composition.
Full midday sunlight is usually the worst for photography. Its direct overhead lighting produces flatness of form and washed-out colors. Most professional photographers choose mornings or afternoons, when light moves toward the warmer end of the spectrum. But it is not just for warmth of color; early and late in the day, the tonal range is less extreme. Digital cameras can record more subtle gradations of tone than was possible with film, but are still limited in how much dynamic range they can capture in a single photo. Under conditions of extreme contrast it is not always possible to record the full range of values.
You could think of the image sensor as being like the human eye, but not nearly as sensitive to the full range of light. In bright light, the eye can see all the tonal values from the brightest highlights to the darkest shadows because the iris automatically adjusts to the different light levels. Our brain also tells us what to expect. For example, a scarlet tanager registers the same color red in our mind, even though we might see it in sunlight or in shade. Cameras, however, have a smaller parameter of sensitivity. Their response to tonal extremes varies depending on the specific sensor used in a given camera model.
AW: I first photographed the Twelve Apostles, sea stacks off the southern coast of Australia, early in the morning, which resulted in a very pastel image.
MH: This series reminds me of the famous painting series, by French Impressionist Claude Monet, of the Rouen Cathedral. He always painted the façade from the same vantage point, but under different light conditions at different times of the day and year. The resulting comparisons were a symphony of color tapestries with varying vibrations and moods. The cathedral was not the point. It was the effect light had on its appearance.
Unlike the tourist who stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon, snapped his photo, and then said, “Okay, let’s go, I’ve got it,” we could stand in the same spot, every day, 365 days of the year, and have 365 different images. The subject will be the same. But it will not look the same because the lighting conditions will differ.
Color, as we saw in chapter 4, elicits an emotional response. Mood by itself can be the subject of a photo, as it is in these four images. But more important, mood is one emotional link the photographer shares with the viewer. Each of us can probably pick a favorite. It might be interesting to ask yourself why you like one more than another.
Creative Live is having a site-wide sale beginning today and running through the rest of the week, and followers of my blog and on social media can save an additional 10%!
This is a great resource for a wide variety of endeavors, from technical photography knowledge, software packages, Art and Web design to lifestyle, finance and fitness classes. Of course, I’m biased and will recommend you check out my courses, but with such a big sale happening I’ll understand if you want to check out some other stuff!
One of CreaiveLive’s biggest sales of the year runs through July 20th, 2018 – use code CLArWolfe at checkout to get the bonus discount!
For the last post on lenses we focused on the super wide angle, and how it affects perspective. Now I am introducing my favorite zoom lens for photographing wildlife, the 200-400mm. It has an internal 1.4 extender which is absolutely fantastic. It pushes the 400mm to 560mm and opens the aperture to get more light to the sensor.
I have been known to add an additional external 1.4 or 2 extender on top of this. This is recommended only in desperate situations, like when the snow leopards are spotted two miles across a Himalayan valley and you are on foot. Not only does the extender restrict light to the sensor, it magnifies the faults of the lens.
I use this lens for more than wildlife, though. Strong telephoto focal lengths are needed for photographing extreme compression effects, such as pulling in background elements like the setting sun to make them tower over the foreground subjects.
In addition, the telephoto allows you to:
cut down the angle of view and isolate aspects of the scene in front of you
get close to wildlife without disturbing it
frame simple compositions–look for little slices of design and interest within a landscape
Last and very important – to use this heavy lens effectively, you’ll need a sturdy tripod and a strong back as it weighs nearly 8 pounds.
As we are in the middle of a couple of West Coast workshops where coastlines, waterfalls, and woodland streams take center stage, now is a great time to discuss the use of neutral density filters. In the summer months where overcast days become rare even in a region fabled for it’s grey skies, ND filters are a necessary tool for outdoor photography.
Simply put, an ND filter will reduce the amount of light your sensor receives without affecting the color of your capture, therefore allowing you to use a wider aperture, capture a longer exposure – or both. This is especially useful when you’re shooting outdoors on a bright, sunny day, or trying to expose for soft waves and motion in water. If you’ve done this without an ND filter, then you know how hard it can be to get the exposure correct without having a blown-out sky and over-bright highlights.
ND filters come in several stops, with the cheaper 1, 2 or 3 stop filters being common – however I highly recommend spending the extra money on a 6-stop or even 10-stop ND filter. These will block out more light, and give you the greatest amount of leeway in using your camera settings to achieve your desired results.
A 6-stop filter will be good enough to expose for blurred waves and streams, and capturing the scene without an over-bright sky, while a 10-stop will create the foggy dream-like haze of water in motion. In either case, you will cut down on blown-out areas of your photo, balancing out the tones while keeping true-to-life colors and exposing for the proper amount of detail.
Though most of my use for ND filters involves apertures in the 11-13 range to capture all the details of a landscape, or as low as 5 for a scene that may not need all the details sprawling to the horizon, an ND filter will also allow you to open up your very wide. This way you can photograph a specific subejct outdoors on a brighter day while still keeping your aperture wide enough to achieve an out of focus background.
It’s almost time for the annual Katmai, Alaska workshops series! The trip at the end of July is sold out, however a few spaces are still available for the second workshop I’ll be leading from August 1st through the 7th.
This is a Katmai experience like no other due to the exclusivity of the location, my decades of experience visiting this region, and of course our close working relationship with local experts and accommodations. We know these bears well, and most importantly where to get the best access to capture unique shots safely. This time of year, the rivers and streams are full of salmon and the bears are so occupied with the fish that they hardly give our groups a second glance.
Along with the expertise of the location and the philosophy behind it’s significance, we will also discuss all aspects of photographing in the field including techniques for composition unique to Katmai. Sign up now online, or give my office a call at 1-206-332-0993 and secure your spot. This trip WILL sell out so don’t hesitate!
The remaining dates for Photography As Artin 2018 are happening over the next couple of weeks! A seminar that keeps evolving, PAA is a finally tuned machine and I’m excited to bring it back east for four dates over the next two weekends!
Check out Photography As Art in the following locations beginning in just a couple of days! I’d like to ask give a special thanks to Canon and Epson for sponsoring these events.
This seminar is designed to completely change the way you view photography, and my intent is to inspire you to bring unique artistic visions to life using your camera as both brush and canvas. With an emphasis on the abstract, imaginary landscapes, and capturing metaphors the lessons learned here can be applied anywhere and with whatever equipment you have available – no globe-trotting or a plethora of fancy gear required.
If you’re on the west coast, I’ll be back in the Pacific Northwest for a couple of workshops before the month is through. A few space remain for the Columbia River Gorge workshop, and there is room for just one more for the Oregon Coast!
Some people are amazed to learn that I still enjoy getting out to photograph wildflowers. The greater truth is that I just enjoy getting out to photograph – anything. It fuels my soul, and as long as I can walk and hold a camera that’s where you’ll find me, out in the field working the subject, whatever it may be.
As spring gives way to summer, the snows on the mountains around Seattle melt away to reveal wonderful meadows of wildflowers. Mt Rainier is perhaps one of my favorite destinations for wildflowers, and so many can be found just a short walk from the parking lot. For those familiar with the area I like to head to Paradise, drive past the main parking lots and down the hill maybe half a mile, parking where the road crosses Edith Creek. From there you hike up towards the mountain and the wildflowers will soon surround you with a rushing creek and smooth boulders to work with. Hiking maybe a mile will afford beautiful views of Mt. Rainier filling the foreground with flowers.
When you head out to photograph wildflowers, one’s first instinct is to often isolate a perfect blossom at a 45 degree angle and go home happy. I call this the trophy shot – It looks just like the image on the packet at the home and garden store. We all have them, myself included, so get that shot – and then open your mind to more creative possibilities.
When I have lead workshops to Mt. Rainier in the past, I’ll let the students know that we have “arrived” at our destination for the next hour and they will politely line up on the trail and begin to photograph the first flower they see, usually right from the very direction they had approached it. After all, that’s why we’re here, no? No! We’re here to stretch our creative imaginations, to see in new ways, and uncover new possibilities. Consider how you approach the flower as you would any subject. Over the years I have critiqued so many photos and the answer is all too often the same, get lower and get closer.
My approach is generally to first walk through the area and get familiar with the myriad of options, perspectives, background possibilities, subtle differences in lighting. I’ll look at the subject from all sides possible before choosing a location to begin. Remember, recolonizing, fragile, easily accessible meadows like those of Mt. Rainier don’t allow for venturing off established trails. So please be aware of your surroundings, trail markers and warning signs.
Initially, I will photograph the larger scene with a wide angle lens (16-35, always with a polarizer adding a 2 stop hard ND filter as needed) helping to establish a sense of location. This can be useful later when trying to remember where I was when the image was taken, perhaps a hold-over from shooting slides when it could be three months before I would see any results from the days’ efforts. The wide angle lens allows me to include the surrounding plants, trees, terrain and mountains leaving the to flowers become a pattern of color in the lower foreground. I’ll look for leading lines in the pattern, gentle curves, a way for the viewer to interact with the image as they move through the foreground, middle ground and background – an old, well established formula from view cameras that still works today.
As I move in closer, I continue shooting with the wide angle lens, allowing first, a group of flowers and then individual blossoms to dominate the frame. This gives me the ability to still tell the story of location and environment through the greater composition. When people first purchase a wide angle lens they see it as an opportunity to get a greater view of the distant vista, to include the mountain and the surrounding hills – and are all too disappointed with the results. It’s not until they begin to see the wide angle as a tool for getting in close to the subject, I’m talking within inches – not feet, do they begin to see the possibilities.
Once satisfied, I’ll switch to my 70-200 lens and look to limit the composition to just the flowers themselves. Here I begin looking for those ubiquitous motifs in nature, patterns of petals filling the frame, alternating colors, lines and form, positive and negative space. Ultimately zooming from the wide end up to 200 mm abstracting the subject as I bring the viewer to see the flower in a unique way. I’ll then put on extension tubes which allow me to focus even closer. As you abstract the elements of the flower, digital photography now allows you to “rack focus” with a middle ground f-stop, say f11, shooting several images as you move the shallow depth of field marching towards the back of the composition, knowing later you will combine them into one image with a sharp focus throughout.
What about wind and movement? Use it! Sure you can purchase a “Plant Clamp” to hold the flower steady in a light breeze but why not use the movement to your advantage just as you would with flowing water in a stream. Try longer shutter speeds to abstract the flowers to a wash of color. Even introduce your own movement by intentionally panning with the camera up, down or sideways during the exposure. You may be surprised by the results, perhaps pleased even.
Working the subject I will be changing my location, moving in closer, shooting from the side as well as directly overhead – ultimately I may even spread the legs of my tripod to where it is less than 12 inches off the ground and be lying on my side in the dirt – why? Because it’s about unique perspectives. Flowers aren’t usually photographed from directly overhead nor do most people bother to look at them from the ‘flowers’ perspective. Great images are generally not made at a comfortable standing height having just walked up to your subject!
Don’t wait for the sunny day to go out and look for wildflowers – your best bet is an overcast day with even lighting. A sunny day is great for a picnic, and the flowers are beautiful to look at – yet the shadows caused by the direct sun put too much contrast in the image. The strong highlights and shadows will take away from the varied hues of the flowers, as well as giving you much less information to work with when editing your videos in a tool such as Adobe Lightroom. Overcast and even rainy days are some of my favorite for flower photography. Good thing I live in Seattle!
Color plays an important role in any visual art form. Along with composition, it’s one of the key elements of any great painting. Watch any film and the costumes, sets, and lighting are all designed with color in mind, meticulously planned by experts in various design specialties. Color photography is no different in situations where you can control your subject and environment, but there are complimentary colors to be found in nature as well.
Today we are looking at the color wheel with a focus on blue and orange. it’s one of the more prevalent colors found in nature, given the interaction of the sky and water in contrast to sunsets and the earthy oranges and browns of the natural world.
If you’re on a photo hunt and struggling to find a subject, consider the colors around you and how they might tell the story of a given location. Sunsets, rust, dirt, wood, leaves in the fall or the orange glow of firelight can all provide a starting point to shoot against a blue sky either directly or reflected in a local body of water. Finding splashes of color and ways to match them up against their compliment can be a fun challenge. If you’re shooting a subject such as a model in a particular location, it can definitely pay off to scout ahead for backdrops and background elements of a certain consistent color and have them dress accordingly!
Mid to late June is a beautiful time to visit the Pacific Northwest, and for that reason we have a pair of workshops happening here with only a few spaces remaining!
Columbia River Gorge workshop – June 14 – 17
Join Art Wolfe in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge, which is arguably one of the most beautiful attractions in the Pacific Northwest! The wide range of elevation and precipitation makes the Columbia River Gorge an extremely diverse and dynamic place, and therefore the photographic opportunities are endless. Explore the Gorge with Gavriel as it transitions between temperate rainforest to dry grasslands in only 80 miles, hosting a dramatic change in scenery.
The field locations will not be limited to the scenic beauty of the Pacific Northwest, Art will also take the group to some locations that will provide opportunities to photograph abstract images as well.
We will also have 6 stop Neutral Density filters for the entire group to try out while photographing long exposures. For one portion of the worksop the group will be taken to a lesser known waterfall for night photography!
Oregon Coast Workshop – June 21 – 24
Along Oregon’s historic and scenic coast, this will be a weekend of imagination! the Oregon Coast has so much to offer with the beautiful waterfalls and ocean landscapes, as well as opportunities for unique intimate landscapes and abstracts. This workshop is slightly different than my popular “Abstract Astoria” workshop as we will focus more on the ocean and landscape photography with a hint of abstracts.
A single image can have the power to stimulate the imagination and the intellect while also telling a story that awakens the senses. Our challenge is to explore the nature of creativity itself and discover ways to bring its power to your images.