2017 PHOTOCHALLENGE, WEEK 16: Simple, Clean Backgrounds

This week, we’ll focus on one of my favorite techniques: creating a Simple, Clean Background. I absolutely love this technique as it can help turn an otherwise boring subject into a more memorable, professional looking image. Let’s look at some examples:

dice_1a_smDice – Eric Minbiole

The image above was taken by placing a few dice on a piece of white plastic. Notice how beautifully the dice stand out against the minimal background. (The subtle reflection is a nice bonus, too.) In contrast, imagine that the same dice were placed on a wooden table– the photo wouldn’t have nearly the same impact. It’s not the dice that are interesting (they’re not!) but it’s the fact that the dice are shown against a beautiful, clean background that really makes for a memorable, professional looking image.

Choosing a Clean Background

In many cases (especially in still life or macro shots), you have complete control over your arrangement. In that case, you have lots of great choices for background: A piece of dark cloth, a sheet of bright white paper, a piece of acrylic plastic, a clear blue sky, etc. I’ve even had great luck using a bathtub. The main goal is to find something plain and simple that won’t distract from the actual subject.

Let’s start with an example:

HummelBackground

Both images above were taken with the same camera, the same settings, and similar processing. The image on the left was taken on a kitchen counter. The background is messy and distracting, making for a rather poor photograph– your eye spends more time looking at the crumbs on the counter then at the figurine. In contrast, the image on the right is much more pleasing, and allows you to focus on the subject. The setup is incredibly simple: A piece of white poster board, sitting on a chair, lit with sunlight:

setup_sm

Using a Narrow Depth of Field

The background doesn’t have to be perfectly white or black to be clean and simple. Another option is to use a narrow depth of field so that your subject is in crisp focus, while the background is blurred. This technique is especially useful in portraits or street photography, where you don’t necessarily have control over the background itself. As before, let’s look at an example:

HummelDoF

The two photographs above were taken with the exact same setup, just seconds apart. The only difference is that the top image uses a wide depth of field (small aperture), where most everything is in focus– including the background. Notice how distracting the trees and bushes are. In contrast, the bottom image uses a narrow depth of field (wider aperture) to help blur the background, and help the figurines stand out better.

To best blur the background, you want to keep the background as far away as possible– the farther away, the more blurred it will be. In addition, you should use a wide aperture, which helps to further blur the foreground and/or background. (Above, I used a rather basic, inexpensive lens that could only go to f/5.6; If you have a “faster” lens, perhaps f/4 or f/2.8, you can get even better results.)

dutch_3_smDutch Masters – Eric Minbiole

For this week’s challenge, I want everyone to try to capture an image with a clean, non-distracting background. You have lots of options: You can use a plain backdrop, such as a piece of paper, cloth, or plastic. Alternatively, if you want to use a more natural or real-world background, you can use a narrow depth of field to keep your subject in focus, but blur everything else. As always, be as creative as you like!

Optional Twist: For this week’s optional twist, try taking a second shot where you intentionally break the rules, and create a messy background. (Ideally, use the same subject as your main image.) Have fun with this– show people what not to do. This will allow everyone to compare your clean and messy images, and see why a clean background is so important. As always, the twist is completely optional. If you do choose to participate, your “good” image should be your main submission, and your “messy” image should be in the comments.

As with all my challenges, I’m happy to help offer any assistance or suggestions– feel free to ask. Get your camera, and have fun!

The rules are pretty simple:

  • Post one original photograph (Your Image) shot each week per theme posted on this blog to Google+Facebook, or Flickr (or all three). Tag the photo #photochallenge and #photochallenge2017
  • The shot should be a new shot you took for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2017 PhotoChallenge is fun and easy.

2017 PHOTOCHALLENGE, WEEK 10: Frame Your Subject

For this week’s composition challenge, we’ll explore creative ways to Frame Your Subject. Framing uses foreground objects to surround the main subject in the background. Doing so draws your eye into the photo, right to the subject. This is a great technique to help create more interesting, memorable photos.

phillytunnel_sm

Philadelphia Tunnel – Eric Minbiole

The shot above uses the tunnel as a frame for the landscape. Not only does it help lead the eye towards the clouds and the landscape, it also gives the picture a much better sense of depth. If this had simply been a picture of the clouds, you might not give it a second look. However, by adding the framing, the photo becomes much more interesting and memorable.

cupcakes_sm

New Year’s Resolutions – Tonya Bender

The photo above is one of my favorite examples of framing. While the cupcakes themselves are beautifully arranged and photographed, it’s the combination of the cupcakes and the surrounding pan that really make this a fantastic photograph.

The framing can be virtually anything. It can be a bit more subtle, like the branches around this deer:

deer_sm

Peek-a-Boo – Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero

… Or the framing can be more “obvious”, like the literal frame, below:

frameframe_sm

frame – Mario Mancuso

For this week’s challenge, you should frame your subject in an interesting, unusual, or fun way. Your framing can be most anything that you want– Natural, man-made, subtle, or obvious. You are encouraged to get creative and have fun with it!

Optional Twist: As I noted last time, my challenges will include an optional twist. This week’s twist is “Splash of Color“. (Last week, we focused on images that were predominantly red; this week’s twist is the opposite– add a splash of color to an otherwise muted image.) As before, the twist is completely optional. Regardless of whether or not you follow the twist, your photo should still use framing as part of your composition.

Get your camera, and have fun!

Banner Photo: Into the Woods – Eadie Minbiole

The rules are pretty simple:

  • Post one original photograph (Your Image) shot each week per theme posted on this blog to Google+Facebook, or Flickr (or all three). Tag the photo #photochallenge and #photochallenge2017
  • The shot should be a new shot you took for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2017 PhotoChallenge is fun and easy.

2017 PHOTOCHALLENGE, WEEK 8: Long Exposures Animated GIF

This may sound a little strange, but it’s as much fun as you can have with a camera, a computer and a little time on your hands. If you let your imagination run wild, there is no limit to what you can create. The foremost objective of this challenge is to produce a unique visual experience to dazzle your 2017 PhotoChallenge Community Members.

4377021589_861f064e35_o-1

The above image by Pedro Belleza is the perfect example of what we’re looking for, an animated GIF with a mix of long exposures. There’s also an added little touch of Tilt-Shifting. Long Exposures have been covered several times in the past ( SEARCH LONG EXPOSURE CHALLENGES ) and animated GIFs as well. ( SEARCH ANIMATED GIF CHALLENGES )

16423617015_f3787d8ab0_o

Since we’re working with light, long exposures are by definition easier to create at night. With a few simple tools you can work your long exposures during daylight hours. We would usually use a Neutral Density filter or a Variable Neutral Density Filter to reduce the amount of light entering the camera through the lens. For those of you who want to avoid the cost of a pricey filter, you can always use a pair of dark sunglasses from the dollar store. Here are some DIY ideas on a GOOGLE SEARCH

deluz

Incorporating Light Painting and many other techniques we’ve covered in the past will help you create your very own unique touch for this PhotoChallenge.

What you will need to create your challenge image :

  • When working with long exposures, a stable tripod is a must. I would also suggest a wired or wireless trigger to make sure the camera doesn’t  move when pressing the trigger.
  • A way to reduce light. A store-bought filter or a DIY project. You will also want to reduce your ISO and close your aperture to increase your exposure times.
  • This will demand a bit of planning for each frame of your animated GIF. You may want to create a little story board to maintain your creative focus throughout your shoot.

When it comes to creating an Animated GIF there are plenty of resources online for which many are free. You can also use Photoshop and other purchased software.

Searching for LONG EXPOSURE ANIMATED GIF on Google will reveal plenty of inspirational images.

Our Friendly Community Guidelines are simple :

  • Post one original photograph (Your Image) shot each week per theme posted on this blog to Google+Facebook, or Flickr (or all three). Tag the photo #photochallenge and #photochallenge2017
  • The shot should be a new shot you took for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2016 PhotoChallenge is fun and easy.

2017 PHOTOCHALLENGE, WEEK 4: Rule of Thirds / Toys & Games

I’m very excited to join the PhotoChallenge team! My theme for this year is “Composition and Technique”, which will focus on some of the fundamentals of photography. I hope that the challenges will be enjoyable for beginners and advanced photographers alike. To that end, if anyone has any suggestions or feedback, I’m happy to listen!

This week’s topic is the Rule of Thirds. In a nutshell, the Rule of Thirds suggests that you should place your subject off-center (approximately 1/3 from any corner or edge), which results in a balanced, pleasing composition. Let’s dive in to some examples:

crop_coffeeSteaming Coffee – Eric Minbiole

The images above show the same subject, with two different compositions: The upper image has the coffee cup in the center of the image. Note that the composition seems a bit awkward– the steam is cut off on the top, and there’s too much empty space at the bottom. In contrast, the lower image follows the Rule of Thirds, and feels much more balanced: The steam has plenty of space to rise, and the overall image has a more pleasing composition.

Another benefit of the Rule of Thirds is that it can help clarify the subject, especially in case of a landscape shot:

crop_water

The upper image shows a centered horizon. While the water and the sky are both reasonably interesting, it’s hard to tell which is the intended subject of the photo, as both are given the same amount of space in the image. In contrast, the lower image better follows the Rule of Thirds, placing the horizon at the lower third of the image. This helps make it more clear that the sky and clouds are the main focus of the image, since they are given a larger portion (2/3) of the space.

crop_longwood

Longwood Home – Eric Minbiole

Certainly, the Rule of Thirds is not a hard and fast rule. Just like any rule of thumb, there are plenty of times that you can (and should) break it. However, it’s often a very good starting point when composing a subject, and is a technique that every photographer should at least be familiar with. As such, this week’s challenge is to create a photograph that follows the Rule of Thirds.

Optional Twist: Each week, I’ll add an optional twist to the challenge. As the name implies, these are completely optional, and are intended for those looking for a bit of extra difficulty. (Some twists may be harder than others.) This week’s twist is “Toys and Games” — feel free to interpret this in any creative way that you like. Regardless of whether or not you follow the twist, your composition should follow the Rule of Thirds.

Get your camera, and have fun!

The rules are pretty simple:

  • Post one original photograph (Your Image) shot each week per theme posted on this blog to Google+Facebook, or Flickr (or all three). Tag the photo #photochallenge and #photochallenge2017
  • The shot should be a new shot you took for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
  • The posted image should be an animated still image and not a video.
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2017 PhotoChallenge is fun and easy.

2017 PHOTOCHALLENGE, WEEK 3: SELF PORTRAIT WITHOUT SELF

Well, there we go, my first challenge as a photochallenge.org contributor! I’m really looking forward to contributing to the community of which I’ve been a part for some years now. My challenges will be losely grouped around the theme ‘Storytelling’, or how you can use your photographs to convey meaning, emotion, a series of events or a sense of wonder.

For this week, I’d like to invite you to shoot a self portrait…without yourself. That’s right, your submission should be about you, but without showing you as a person. To be frank, this idea isn’t my own, it’s an assignment that many photo clubs and schools use to get people thinking outside the box and have fun.

self_portrait_without_self_by_sabbathphotography-d5d1gq1
Self portrait without self by SabbathPhotography

This assignment invites you to think about yourself from various perspectives: what is it that makes you YOU, and how can you capture this in an image? How do you translate things like personality, character, likes and dislikes into photographs?

How do I do this?

Story-through-objects

There are countless approaches to telling your story. For instance, you can gather some objects that tell a story about you, your hobbies, things you hold dear, or that define you in some way, and create a still life. In this case, it’s the objects that tell the story, like in the picture in the introduction. This is perfectly fine; if you go for this approach, I’d encourage you to focus on composition and lighting.

Story-through-style

Another way of tackling this challenge is focussing on your storytelling style, and how it reflects your personality. The picture below, for instance, shows the photographer’s love for chocolate. However, it’s the minimalistic approach with clear lines and a balanced composition that conveys the main message here: the photographer’s need for order and being in control.

kevinkwee_chocaddict_1
Zelfportret zonder fotograaf – Kevin Kwee

This approach is great for playing around with various techniques. Think: macro if you’re a nittygritty-detailed type of person, blur or deliberate-out-of-focus for the dreamers amongst us, or simply breaking all the rules if you’re a bit of a rebel.

Story-through-feeling

As a final example, here’s one of the shots that I took as part of a self portrait series. With this picture, I tried to convey the feeling of being awake in the middle of the night, and not being able to get back to sleep. As a frequent insomniac, this is a very familiar situation for me, and in a way, it defines a lot of who I am, because people will notice immediately the next day 🙂

a668df32034287-566b59012d803
Self portrait – Maaike Groenewege

Feel free to combine aspects of all approaches, and don’t forget to add your own personal flavor!

Guidelines

  • As much as I like you all, a self portrait without self means that I don’t want to see you at all  🙂 So no silhouettes, no reflections and no pictures of you.
  • Since we’re all on photochallenge.org, let’s assume that we all like photography. Of course, I cannot forbid you to include camera gear in your picture, but I would like to challenge you to go one step further, so that we don’t end up with dozens of pictures including cameras.
  • Other than that, HAVE FUN! Don’t be afraid to experiment, give your own personal twist to a challenge and try something different. The photochallenge community is one of the most friendly groups of people I know, so whether you’re just starting out, or have some experience already: we’re always looking forward to your contribution.

Group rules

The rules are pretty simple:

  • Post one original photograph (Your Image) shot each week per theme posted on this blog to Google+Facebook, or Flickr (or all three). Tag the photo #photochallenge and #photochallenge2017
  • The shot should be a new shot you took for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
  • The posted image should be an animated still image and not a video.
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2017 PhotoChallenge is fun and easy.

2017 PHOTOCHALLENGE, WEEK 2: WE ARE WHAT WE EAT

They say we are what we eat, it’s time for you to show us what you’re made of. This is nothing new for the PhotoChallenge, back in 2010 we would have week long challenges that involved posting your food images on a daily basis. We’re not going to post all our food for an entire week but contrary to our regular challenges, you will be able to post up to three (3), yes THREE images this week.

Steve Troletti Editorial, Nature and Wildlife Photographer: FOOD &emdash;

There’s a catch, they can’t be from the same meal. You can choose Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner or go the route of cool treats, desserts and your favorite bar drinks and eats.

Steve Troletti Editorial, Nature and Wildlife Photographer: FOOD &emdash;

I encourage you to be creative while shooting your image and in post processing. Don’t settle for a snapshot. We’re creating a photograph, it doesn’t have to sell as appetizing, but eye pleasing art is a good start. Naturally one can stick to editorial and give us a lesson in traditional foods from around the world.

Steve Troletti Editorial, Nature and Wildlife Photographer: FOOD &emdash;

Depth of field is important. Rule of thumb, keep your foreground subject crisp and in focus if you’re going to have a shallow depth of field.

Steve Troletti Editorial, Nature and Wildlife Photographer: FOOD &emdash;

On the flip side, you may want to get your entire serving dish in focus. Don’t be afraid to experiment and assemble multiple images together to get an overview of an entire meal or a before and after. In the image above we have an out of the even to the serving plate photo.

Steve Troletti Editorial, Nature and Wildlife Photographer: FOOD &emdash;

Don’t be afraid to experiment with color filters, vignettes and borders. If you have to break the rules of photography to make your artistic vision a reality, then go for it 🙂

Theres a great deal of freedom in this challenge but please stay away from snapshots and apply yourself with composition, exposure and depth of field. Plan your shot and take multiple images at different angles. Food photography is an art in itself.

The rules are pretty simple:

  • Post one original photograph (Your Image) shot each week per theme posted on this blog to Google+Facebook, or Flickr (or all three). Tag the photo #photochallenge and #photochallenge2017
  • The shot should be a new shot you took for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
  • The posted image should be an animated still image and not a video.
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2016 PhotoChallenge is fun and easy.

2017 PHOTOCHALLENGE, WEEK 1: END OF DAY – TIMELAPSE

Here we are, the first week of the 2017 PhotoChallenge. We have a brand NEW YEAR with some new contributors. Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero, Eric Minbiole and Maaike Groenewege have joined the 2017 PhotoChallenge Team. They are all creative and talented members of the PhotoChallenge who have contributed a great deal to our success as a community in 2016. Each with their unique approach, style and culture will lead us into a new and exciting year of photography.

One of our founding Fathers, Trevor, will be making more and more of an appearance throughout the year. Unfortunately, Gary is taking a break for 2017 but will make a surprise appearance as a Guest Contributor. If anyone else is interested in contributing to the 2017 PhotoChallenge as a Guest Contributor, please step forward and let us know.

Until now, for the exception of our last Hyperlapse Halloween Challenge, we’ve only focused on Still Images or Animated Images. Video contributions weren’t part of our focus. For the most part this will remain the same but we will venture a little into the video world with some assembled time-lapse challenges and other surprises to come. However when it’s a still photography Challenge, please only post still images.

This brings us to our first 2017 PhotoChallenge.  Our first ever time-lapse challenge. Those of you who participated in the 2016 Halloween Hyperlapse Challenge will find yourselves on familiar ground. Time-lapse photography is actually easier than Hyperlapse as you just setup your equipment and relax with your favorite drink while your camera and time do all the work. 😉

There are multiple ways to do a time lapse. The most common way is to choose your location, setup your equipment, compose your scene and let the camera shoot the scenes without any camera movement. You can also add movement to your camera with automated panoramic heads and sliders. We’re going to focus on the still camera as the cost of additional equipment can prove to be more than an expensive venture. However if you’re shooting with a small lightweight camera or smartphone then there are plenty of affordable egg timer style trinkets on Amazon and eBay.

I started with the above scene, letting time pass by while at an angle to the facing sun. I wanted to get the deepening contrasts of a low Summer Sun before the golden hour. My main subject was to remain the Hydro Power Plant, but I wanted to get two facets of light and two distinct environments.

I then followed up with a scene composed from the opposite side of the Hydro Plant. A race against time that translated into a second day of shooting. This time I wanted to get the golden rays of the sun as the day came to an end.

The final result, put together the two scenes,  trimmed them a bit and added a touch of public domain music to get this final little clip.

Completing Your Challenge

To complete your challenge you will need to submit an end of day time-lapse clip or Animated Gif with a duration of 15 to 30 seconds.

You can use the intervalometer mode of your camera or a remote controller attached to your camera. Certain cameras offer a Time-Lapse mode that automatically creates a compiled video once the shooting sequence is over. With an intervalometer you will have to assemble all the images into one sequential movie using a basic movie editor or a hyperlapse/time-lapse/stop-motion App.

I used a Tiffen variable ND Filter to get longer exposures and create more movement and smoother transitions.

Tools you may need

  1. A tripod is a must as each image will have to maintain the exact framing over and over again.
  2. A remote for your camera as to not shake the camera if you are manually shooting
  3. Filters such as a circular polarized filter, ND, sunset, etc. to create the mood you want. Remember this is still photography and every image in your time-lapse will reflect that.
  4. A chair as you will be shooting for a few hours
  5. An assistant to make the time pass by more quickly.

The time between frames, the length of the exposure and how long you will shoot is entirely left up to you. There are plenty of resources you can Google such as (Intervalometer & time lapse) to get you started. You can also find tools for your mobile device on the App Store or Google Play. The research is part of the challenge and will allow you to learn by searching for your particular piece of equipment. Don’t hesitate to bring forward your questions and findings to our Facebook community. This will help everyone in the community.

For free music I used soundbible.com. Make sure to respect the licenses for each individual sound track and give attribution when necessary.

This is an OUTDOOR CHALLENGE for the END OF DAY part but nothing keeps you from producing your video indoor. Using an eye-pleasing room with windows to a view, you can strategically shoot your end-of-day-time lapse showcasing a special outdoor view from indoors. You may have to shoot HDR images to accelerate your post production…

The rules are pretty simple:

  • Post one original photograph (Your Image) shot each week per theme posted on this blog to Google+Facebook, or Flickr (or all three). Tag the photo #photochallenge and #photochallenge2017
  • The shot should be a new shot you took for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
  • The posted image should be an animated gif or video.
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2016 PhotoChallenge is fun and easy.