Saturday, March 19, 2016

Embrace Light. Love Light. Know Light.

On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Photography is capturing light. Without light there is no photograph.

George Eastman said, "Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you're worth, and you will know the key to photography."

Most of the light that one captures is reflected light--you are not photographing an object or scene, but the reflected luminosity from that object or scene. Different surfaces reflect light differently, giving various amounts of illumination, or, in black-and-white photography, different shades of grey. A blown out highlight is too much light and a deep black shadow is the absence of light.

A photograph is two-dimensional. What differentiates one thing from another is light, or lack of light, or (more usually) both.  It's highlights, shadows, and those in-between tones that make the different shapes and forms within a photograph. In black-and-white photography, if the tones are all the same you won't see a picture, you'll see a grey rectangle.
Web of Neglect - Mojave, California
What appears as different shapes and forms within a photograph is nothing more than different levels of luminance. One can "see" the light--look at the light in a given scene and in one's mind know how that will look in a photograph--and, using this knowledge, understand what will make a good photograph and what won't.

It's possible to photograph something that is quite boring and create a photograph that is very interesting. It requires interesting light. If the light is interesting, the photograph has the potential to be interesting no matter what the subject might be. And if the light is boring, the photograph has a pretty good chance of being a snoozer no matter how interesting the scene might be.

In photography it is more important to find good light than to find good subjects. A fence that no one thinks twice about could make a great photograph if the light is great.

The opposite is also true. A photograph of Yosemite National Park under ordinary light will produce an ordinary photograph. Boring light makes boring photographs.
The Sound of Silence - Mojave, California
The key to great photography isn't about owning the right gear. It's not about visiting the right places. It's about seeing the right light. It's about finding great light. It's about knowing light.

Your photographs will only be as good as the light that exists when the images are captured. Forget looking for great subjects, look for great light instead! Embrace light. Love light. Know light. And, whatever the subject is, you have the potential to create great images.

Once you understand light, you can go about creating your own light if you'd like. No one says that it has to be natural. You can artificially illuminate a scene. You can add your own illumination to the existing light, or you can use artificial light exclusively. You can make your own great light when it doesn't exist naturally. You have the ability to control it.

Photography isn't so much about seeing what nobody else sees. Instead, it's thinking differently about the things that everyone sees. It's understanding light at an intimate level when others don't. It's showing people what was right in front of them, but they couldn't see because they couldn't read the light.
Copy Machine - Mojave, California
Photography is about seeing and thinking. It's not about thoughtless snapshots. It's not about having a certain brand of camera. It's not about placing a watermark on your images. Anyone can do those things, but not everyone can see and think photographically.

Seeing and thinking. That's photographic vision. It's using your creative mind to capture something that only you could create. It's making your own unique interpretation of the scene.

To summarize all of this into a simple and practical application, the next time you are out with your camera, make an extra effort to find interesting light. Forget whether the scene is interesting or not, focus on capturing great light no matter the subject. An ordinary subject can make an extraordinary photograph if the light is right. It's your job to find it.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Art of Compromise - Consider Highlights & Shadows When Determining Exposure

On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Dynamic range in camera speak is the ability to retain details in highlights and shadows. Cameras have a limited dynamic range, and often are not capable of recording the scene without losing details in the brightest and/or darkest spots.

Every camera has a different dynamic range. Some cameras have a larger dynamic range while some cameras have a smaller dynamic range. According to DxOMark, the Nikon D810 has the largest dynamic range out of all the cameras that they've tested, while my Nokia Lumia 1020 ranks 278th.

Cameras have their largest dynamic range at their base ISO. As the ISO increases the dynamic range decreases. Any camera will have a noticeably larger dynamic range at ISO 100 than at ISO 1600.

Some cameras have more tolerance in the shadows and some in the highlights. The Sigma DP2 Merrill, for example, can retain details a little better in the highlights than in the shadows, while the Sony RX100 II can retain details a little better in the shadows than the highlights.
Web of Neglect - Mojave, California
Unless the light is soft and even, the scene you are photographing likely has a greater dynamic range than that of the camera you are using. Your camera is simply not capable of recording it all. You will have detail-less shadows and/or highlights.

This is a part of photography that drives me nuts, but it is a reality that all photographers must deal with. You will lose details in parts of your images. You will have blown highlights and deep black shadows. It's inevitable. You've just got to live with it.

This is where the art of comprise comes in. You've got to decide what is most important and find the best exposure to achieve it. Is it a big deal if the highlights are blown? Does it matter if the shadows are deep black?

It might be that you are more concerned with highlight details than shadow details, so you underexpose the image slightly to retain the highlight details at the expense of shadow details. Or perhaps you are more interested in retaining shadow details so you overexpose slightly.
Copy Machine - Mojave, California
You might decide that you will have both blown highlights and deep black shadows in an image. You carefully balance the exposure so that neither are particularly bad. This is very common, but difficult to determine just what the balance should be.

Ideally, in a perfect world, you don't want blown highlights or deep black shadows in a photograph. But the world isn't perfect and ideal is rare. Besides, limitations can be good if you creatively use them to your advantage. Think about how the limited dynamic range can benefit your photograph.

Each photograph must be considered uniquely. No two photographs are just alike and what works for one image may not work for another.

Exposure is a careful balancing act. Too much light and your highlights are blown. Too little light and your shadows are blobs of black. Often you have to make small compromises to get it right. Carefully and thoughtfully consider the highlights and shadows when determining what the exposure should be.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Two Years With Nokia Lumia 1020

If you were to ask on a camera forum what gear you need to be a photographer, you'll likely be told that a DSLR is essential. Some will suggest a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, but that's essentially the same thing. What you probably won't find is someone suggesting that you use your cell phone.

I shared a photograph on social media, and someone commented that the image made them want to buy a DSLR. They were using the camera on their cell phone to take pictures, but were dissatisfied with the results. The funny thing is that the photograph I posted was captured with my cell phone. The person obviously didn't realize this.

If your photographs stink, it's not the camera's fault! Any camera in the hands of a skilled photographer is capable of capturing great images. A cell phone is just as legitimate a photographic tool as a DSLR is. So if your photographs aren't good enough, it's not a change in gear that's needed.

I've owned my Nokia Lumia 1020 cell phone for two years now (as of yesterday). It's never been my "primary" camera, but I do always have it with me. The best camera you own is the one that's with you when you need it. Often that's the one in your pocket, the one that's also a phone.

A couple of these photographs have been published in magazines. Some have been sold as stock images. All were captured using my Lumia 1020.

Keep Out The Sun - Tehachapi, California
Boss Hog - Tehachapi, California
Better Days Behind - Tehachapi, California
Oven - Cuddy Valley, California
Crumbling Commode - Cuddy Valley, California
Fame - Mojave, California
Forgotten Folding Chairs - Cuddy Valley, California
Yellow / Blue - Mojave, California
Dips In Pavement - Mojave, California
Old Broken Hinge - Mojave, California
Boarded Up Window - Mojave, California
Blue Chair - Tehachapi, California
Purple Beretta - Tehachapi, California
The Compaq Desert - Mojave, California

Forgotten Cans - Mojave, California
Knob - Mojave, California
Cassette Player - Tehachapi, California

Abandoned In The Tehachapi Mountains - Tehachapi, California
Shadows of Abandonment - Mojave, California
Ghosts of the Past - Mojave, California
Living Room View - Tehachapi, California
Tire, Abandoned Ranch - Tehachapi, California
Home Love - Cuddy Valley, California
Cactus, House - Mojave, California
Roof - Mojave, California
Broken Wind Farm - Tehachapi, California