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 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 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.