2017 PHOTOCHALLENGE, WEEK 21: Leading Lines

This week, we’ll focus on a classic composition technique: Leading Lines. Using leading lines is a fantastic way to help highlight the subject of your photo, and help direct the viewer to the areas of the photo that you think are most interesting or important.

launchpad_smjsc2007e050763 – NASA/Bill Ingalls

In the image above, the railroad tracks lead towards a launch pad, used for the International Space Station. What I love most about this photo is that the launch pad comprises a very small portion of the overall picture– it’s just a tiny bit in the background. However, the train tracks pull your eyes into the photo, and lead them directly towards the subject. Without the leading lines, you might not even notice the launch pad.

Leading lines can also add additional interest to a photo:

dock_smLeading Lines – Eadie Minbiole

Just like with the train tracks in the first photo, the railings on the dock help lead you to the subject of the photo. In addition, the leading lines add additional interest to the photo: Had this just been a pic of someone standing in the middle of the frame, it might not have been particularly interesting. However, the leading lines of the railings not only help lead the viewer to the subject, they also provide great framing for the subject. (Remember Week 10!) As such, the leading lines help provide a much more interesting, memorable photo.

Naturally, the leading lines don’t need to be straight lines; They can be curved, wavy, or more abstract.

stairs_smBelleveue Staircase – Eric Minbiole

In the sample above, the curved handrail leads towards the desk in the bottom center. (Perhaps not the best example, as the desk itself isn’t terribly interesting; the photo might have been better had there been someone sitting at the desk.)

manhattan_smLeading to Manhattan – ashokboghani

For this week’s challenge, I want everyone to take a photo that features leading lines. Ideally, your leading lines lead the viewer towards a prominent or interesting part of the photo. As above, the lines can be obvious, subtle, straight, curved, landscape, or macro– it’s all up to you, and what you find interesting. As always, be as creative as you like!

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 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 6: PROPER EXPOSURE USING THE HISTOGRAM

My focus this year will be on Proper Exposure: what it is and how to achieve it. Have you ever wondered why some photos seem to “pop” and grab your attention while others don’t? There can be many reasons why, but often it’s a matter of proper exposure. Proper exposure maximizes contrast and the human eye is drawn to contrast.

Each of the following images has a problem with the exposure. The first image is underexposed, i.e. there aren’t any light pixels. The second image is overexposed, i.e. there aren’t any dark pixels. The third image isn’t too light or too dark, but it looks flat because the darkest parts are just dark gray (not black) and the lightest parts are light gray (not white) resulting in an image that looks somewhat lifeless. This can sometimes happen in shade or cloudy skies.

three-problems-no-histo

In general, a properly exposed image means that lightness values run the full gamut from black to white (instead of dark gray to light gray). There are always exceptions to the rule, but this is very often the case.

color-flowers-proper-exposure

Rainbow Bouquet – Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero

But how do we know for sure when we have the proper exposure? Simply relying on how the photo looks on your camera LCD or phone does not always give you a true representation of the photo. Luckily there is a tool called the Histogram that gives you the information you need at a glance.

What is a histogram? It’s simply a bar chart. As an example, imagine that we want to create a tile mosaic of a sunflower. Because we’re focusing on exposure (i.e. luminosity or lightness values) let’s make the image B&W so that it’s easier to “see” the luminosity values. To further simplify things, let’s reduce the number of lightness values to 10. If we were to count the number of tiles of each value and display those counts in a bar chart, it would look like the chart below:

sunflower-mosaic-with-histo

This is the essence of a histogram: a bar chart which shows the number of pixels in a photo of a particular luminosity value (which runs along the bottom of the chart). The difference is that the histogram of a photo has 256 luminosity values – 0 (black) to 255 (white) – instead of just 10. However if you compare the histogram of the photo with the simple bar chart from the mosaic image, you can see that the basic distribution is the same.

sunflower-bw-full-with-histo

It’s important to realize that there is no ideal shape for a histogram, i.e. you are not trying to get a “bell curve”! The histogram is a tool to help you understand how well exposed a photo is. Looking at the histograms of the three images we started with, you start to see what a histogram can tell you. When the histogram is weighted heavily to the left, the photo is typically underexposed. When it is weighted heavily to the right, the photo is typically overexposed. When it doesn’t stretch across the entire luminosity scale (from 0 to 255), the photo lacks contrast and appears flat.

three-problems-with-histo

While there is no ideal shape for a histogram, in general the most eye-catching photos have a histogram that covers the entire luminosity scale from 0 (black) to 255 (white). Note that the histogram for the good exposure is more spread out than the low contrast one. The left (dark) and right (light) sides of the histogram are more filled out which indicates that the dark areas of the image have gotten darker and the light areas have gotten lighter, thus increasing the contrast.

good-exposure-with-histo

There are two exposure issues that cannot be corrected in post-processing: clipped (aka blown-out) shadows and highlights. “Clipped” essentially means that there is no detail in the very darkest or very lightest parts of your image. Referring to the histogram when you review photos on your camera can help you avoid both situations! If a histogram has a tall spike pushed up against the right edge, your photo has blown-out highlights that you will not be able to recover in post-processing. I’m sure you have seen this in landscape photos where clouds look like white blobs in the sky without any texture in them. Alternatively, if a histogram has a tall spike pushed up against the left edge, your photo has blown-out shadows. Of course, you can have both of these situations in the same photo.

In the photo below you can see that the vast majority of the image is very dark and the histogram shows that with a large spike on the left. In the upper right corner however, there is a section of the sky that is pure white and has lost detail. You can see that in the smaller (but tall) spike on the very right of the histogram. This is a great example of what NOT to do, but at times it is unavoidable. (We’ll be covering how to handle this type of exposure challenge later in the year.)

clipping

The human eye does not easily forgive the loss of detail in the lightest parts of a photo and it is best to avoid clipped highlights unless your goal is to purposefully make a gray sky look white. The human eye is more forgiving of clipped shadows, but don’t expect to be able to lighten those shadows to pull out any detail in post. It is best to avoid clipping on both ends of the histogram!

I encourage you to play and experiment with a bunch of different photos this week. I’ll be referring to histograms throughout my challenges for the rest of the year so you’ll want to get comfortable with them. If you want to read more about them, here are some helpful articles. Remember we’re focusing on the Luminosity Histogram in your camera, not in post-processing (though the concept is the same).

The challenge this week is to take and post a well-exposed photo and also post the histogram in the comments:

  • Take your photo OUTDOORS during daylight hours and do not include any sky in your photo. (Sometimes sky can throw off the exposure. We’ll work on that in a future challenge.) If you have sun, I encourage you to take a photo both in sun and in shade to see how that affects your exposure (and histogram).
  • The actual subject is wide open this week, but don’t forget all of the other rules for good composition, depth-of-field, etc. This might be a good week for macro since you can’t have the sky in your image.
  • Post-processing is fine, but the goal is to get the exposure as perfect in camera as you can. If you do post-process, it would be interesting to see both the before and after histograms for your image.

What you will need to complete your challenge:

  • A camera with the ability to show a Luminosity Histogram when reviewing photos on the LCD –or– a phone app which does the same. Here are some iPhone apps and here are some Android apps. (Be sure to read the app details to make sure it has a histogram. a “live histogram” means that the histogram is active while you take the photo, but may not be viewable afterwards. If that’s the case, you can simply take a screenshot to capture the histogram while your camera app is on.)
  • Knowledge of how to change the exposure in your camera or camera app. This may be needed if you find that your histogram is not optimal and you need to adjust your exposure. If you don’t know how to do this, look up “exposure compensation” in the manual for your camera.
  • Knowledge of how to take screenshots to capture the histogram of your photo. If you don’t know how to take screenshots (aka screen captures), you can do a search for your phone model or operating system (Windows or Apple) along with “screenshot” to find instructions for how to do it. Or you can simply take a photo of the histogram on your camera LCD or your computer screen.

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 a still image or an animated GIF, not a video.
  • 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.

2016 PHOTOCHALLENGE, WEEK 50: LEVITATION

You all know how I always tell you that I do the challenge myself before posting it? Well forget about that for this levitation Challenge. Although I’ve used layers and masking in Photoshop, I’ve never gone through the the steps of creating a levitation image.

catch

We do get the visual illusion of levitation but we all know there’s a camera trick behind it. In this case probably more than a stool, maybe some string to hold part of the dress up.

levitation//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

There’s two basic theories to levitation images. One you do all kinds of Photoshop manipulations to remove stools, chairs and other gravitational defying elements, or you just simply jump and capture an image before gravity sets in.

Magic Slippers//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

We can all see that playing with special effects adds a special touch to a levitation image.  Something a simple jump can’t replicate.

The folks at PETAPIXEL put together a simple tutorial – http://petapixel.com/2015/02/10/levitation-photography-tutorial/

Naturally Photoshop is the tool of choice to post process and complete your assignment. However there is a free compatible program called GIMP that can do the job. You can also do a search on google for (FREE IMAGE MASKING TOOL). That should help you get things done.

Levitation//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Think outside the box and don’t just limit yourself to levitating people. There’s a whole world of objects waiting to defy Newton…

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 #photochallenge2016
  • 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 not be a Video.
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2016 PhotoChallenge is fun and easy.