Essential Composition: Using Frames

Essential Composition: Using Frames

Creativity

Essential Composition: Using Frames

Using frames is an effective compositional technique in photography that provides an powerful way of emphasizing the primary subject in the photo. Framing immediately directs attention and leads the eye to the subject or anything else you feel is important in the image. I’m talking a “frame within a frame” here, not the actual image border, which is a frame itself. Frames are another way or helping manipulate how your audience looks at your image.

Look for frames in architectural elements such as doorways or arches, natural elements such as tree branches and natural arches, or variations in light and dark to effectively frame your subject.

“Spring Garden” Magnolia Plantation, Charleston, South Carolina USA. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-105mm @ 58mm, 1/20 second @ f/13, ISO 500.

In the image above, the arching tree branches not only provide a frame for the walkway and “V” shape created by the azaleas and receding tree trunks, but it also gives some needed balance to the image by counterpoising some visual weight the colorful flowering shrubs in bottom part of the photo (learn more about Achieving Photographic Balance in a previous blog post).

You can learn more about using frames, as well as many other compositional concepts in my e-book, Creative Composition: Image Design Masterclass.

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.

Essential Composition: Achieving Photographic Balance

Essential Composition: Achieving Photographic Balance

Creativity

Essential Composition: Achieving Photographic Balance

There’s a concept in Gestalt theory commonly referred to as the Law of Symmetry, which states that the human mind will constantly seek out balance in all the visual information it receives via the optic nerve. It is said that if something is unbalanced, the viewer will waste valuable time trying to resolve the problem instead of focusing on the contents of the scene itself. With regard to photography and composition, photographic balance is the equal distribution of “visual weight” within the image frame. The placement, size, and brightness of visual elements will determine if the image feels in equilibrium or not. Photographic balance is harmonious. When an image is out of balance, it can give the viewer a negative or uncomfortable feeling or sensation.

There are two types of compositional balance used in photography, art and design: formal and informal balance. Symmetry is a type of formal balance where two sides of a photo are mirror images of each other. Symmetry can refer to vertical balance – where the top and bottom are basically the same – or as horizontal balance – where the left and right sides of the image are equal.

A symmetrical reflection is one of the few instances where bisecting the photo through the center of the image frame works. This symmetrical composition is usually chosen when the photographer wants to communicate or project equality, equivalence, uniformity, or even fairness. There is little visual tension with this arrangement and all the visual elements are harmonious.

With informal balance, visual equilibrium is gained by counterpoising two or more elements at opposite ends of the image frame. The arrangement can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. Image balance is achieved by the strategic placement of two or more of these strong visual elements and distributing them equally in the photograph. While formal balance creates symmetry, informal balance leads to an asymmetrical composition, yet it’s still balanced.

By positioning two strong visual elements at opposite ends of the image frame, you not only give the image informal balance, but you trigger powerful visual tension and energy by moving the viewer’s eye back and forth between the two elements via a virtual diagonal line (see above). These elements could be two competing focal points with varying sizes and colors, as long as they are conspicuous. The end result is an image that is not only achieves photographic balance and harmony, but is also dynamic.

You can learn more about photographic balance, as well as many other compositional concepts, in my e-book, Creative Composition: Image Design Masterclass.

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.

Essential Composition: Seeing Abstractly

Essential Composition: Seeing Abstractly

Creativity

Essential Composition: Seeing Abstractly

“We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.” – Jun’ichirō Tanizaki 

One of the most valuable pieces of advice I can offer a beginning photographer to help see and create more compelling compositions is learning to let go of the literal elements of a scene and embracing the underlying abstract qualities instead. That doesn’t mean you should start making purely abstract images, although that’s not necessarily a bad idea for its own sake, but rather try to see through the literal elements to visualize the scene abstractly. For example, instead of seeing a scene’s obvious aesthetic beauty – the mountains, trees, rocks, clouds and river, you should train yourself to look deeper for interconnecting shapes, space, balance, lines, patterns and how they relate to each other and the image frame.

When working with students in the field, I might ask them to squint their eyes just a little so the literal elements mostly disappear and all that remains is the skeletal structure of the scene – shapes, lines, patterns, etc. This is very good practice if you’ve never tried it before and a good way to learn the art of visualization. The literal elements flesh the image out later when the image is captured.

In the images above, you can easily see how the elephant family creates a virtual triangle. There is aesthetic value in arranging important visual elements into power shapes – triangles, diamonds, pyramids, and circles – rather than random grouping of animals or primary subjects. Seeing abstractly allows you to identify these underlying shapes that help give your image balance and order.

Pretty scenes are a dime a dozen but well designed pretty scenes are much less common. Developing the ability of seeing abstractly will lead to stronger compositions and more compelling photography.

If you find you have some difficultly in seeing abstractly when doing your photography, try the advice I gave above about squinting so that the scene’s literal details are blurred out. If that doesn’t work, you can practice by studying the work of other photography masters and artists while identifying the underlying abstract nature of the images.

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.

How To Calculate Long Exposures

How To Calculate Long Exposures

General How-To

How to Calculate Long Exposures

 

Your camera’s meter does a pretty decent job of giving you an accurate exposure for shutter speeds up to 30 seconds. But what if you want or need an exposure time of more than 30 seconds or perhaps several minutes? How do you calculate long exposures, the proper ISO and shutter speed combination, to avoid having the image be over or under exposed?

It’s easy. First, establish a base exposure by using 30 second as your shutter speed and ISO as the exposure variable for preliminary calculations. In Manual exposure mode, select 30 seconds for the shutter speed, an ISO of 100, and the appropriate f-stop for depth of field considerations (This is all done after you’ve focused and finalized your composition, obviously). During late twilight, early dawn, or if using a strong neutral density filter, the meter should show the image as being underexposed at this point.

Now, simply increase the ISO in full stops until the meter indicates that the scene is exposed correctly. Count the number of increased stops. If it was two stops, for example (ISO 100 to 400) then you just add those two stops to the shutter speed (30 seconds to 2 minutes) after resetting the ISO back to 100 and the exposure mode to Bulb. These are reciprocal exposures (30 seconds and 400 ISO equals 2 minutes and 100 ISO).

An important consideration when doing long exposure photography in the early morning and late evening is that the light is changing very quickly. If you are doing a 3-minute exposure, for example, the intensity of light at the begining of the exposure will be very different than when you finish. That means there’s a risk of overexposure during the fast-changing light of the mornings and underexposure in the evenings. This should be factored into the information offered above in order to get the correct exposure during these times of day.

For additional help, Lee Filters Stopper Exposure and ND Timer are two phone apps that can help  calculate long exposures as well.

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.

Long Exposure Photography: Neutral Density Filters

Long Exposure Photography: Neutral Density Filters

General How-To

Long Exposure Photography: Neutral Density Filters

One problem encountered when experimenting with long exposure photography is having too much light. You can’t get the aesthetic effect of those long shutter speeds without over-exposing the image. If it’s relatively dark – like dawn or dusk – that’s not much of a problem. But what if you want to express the illusion of time when it’s bright and sunny? Neutral density filters are the answer.

Neutral density (ND) filters reduce the amount of light entering the camera, allowing for longer exposure times than would be possible without them. The key is that they reduce light uniformly, so contrast and dynamic range are not affected – unlike a graduated neutral density (GND) filter. The primary purpose of ND filters is blocking light from reaching the image sensor.

ND filters are nothing more than darkened glass placed in front of the lens to absorb a percentage of the incoming light. They are available in different “strengths” usually designated by either the number of stops it slows down the exposure or in terms of optical density strength (see the ND filter strength conversion table below). A 3-stop or 0.9 density ND is ideal for waterfalls in bright sunlight, slowing the exposure to a second or so, depending on the f-stop and ISO used. A strong 10-stop or 3.0 ND filter can blur clouds over several minutes, even on a bright sunny day.

Neutral Density Filters Strength

Neutral Density Filters

The image below, Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina, would not have been possible without the help of a neutral density filter. Here is the exposure data from this image: 4.0 seconds, f/22, ISO 100, 6-stop ND filter. The correct exposure data without the ND filter would have been the same except for the shutter speed, which would have been 1/15 of a second (6 stops faster). As you can see, I am already at the smallest f-stop (f/22) and the lowest ISO (100) possible for my camera and lens.

There’s nothing else I can do in camera to slow things down to achieve the desired effect. Without the ND filter, the correct exposure would have been 1/8 second so a 4-second exposure would have badly overexposed the image. There is simply no way to create the smooth, silky water I desired under those bright, sunny skies without the ND filter absorbing some of the light that was reaching my camera’s sensor. Unless, of course, I wished to wait for less intense light once the sun went down or a cloud passed overhead. But then there’s that pretty little rainbow I would have missed.

So you see, neutral density filters may not exactly be essential, but they will certainly help achieve longer exposures and help you get shots that you wouldn’t have taken otherwise.

Circular or Square Neutral Density Filters?

When it comes to neutral density filters, you have two choices: circular screw-in filters or square/rectangle slide filters. Each have their advantages and disadvantages.

Circular ND filters screw into the front element of your lens. Since you probably have several different lenses, each with a different size front element, you should also own a set of step-up rings for each lens rather than buying a separate filter for each size. Get one ND filter for the lens with the largest front element diameter (77mm for example) and step-up rings for the smaller sizes (52mm or 67mm, just to name a few).

The circular screw-in filters are convenient to carry around and store in your camera bag. They are also more durable and difficult to break. But stacking filters for more ND strength or adding a polarizer can darken or vignette the image corners. Singh-Ray makes a circular screw-in Vari-ND that allows you to adjust the strength of the filter’s density (1 to 8 stops as mentioned earlier) as well as a model with a built-in polarizing filter. But I have found these filters difficult to use and the filters are so thick that they vignette when used with wide-angle lenses.

Square or Rectangle filters (above) are glass or resin slides that fit onto the front of your lens with an adapter ring and filter holder. These filter systems come in different sizes. They usually do not vignette with wide-angle lenses, even when with filters stacked together. They are much more cumbersome to carry around and store in your camera bag, however, when compared to the circular variety. You should always weigh the options of both and decide which is best for you.

What Do I Use?

Over the course of my professional photography career, I have tried just about every type of neutral density filters on the market and I’ve settled on the Lee Filter system. Here’s my set up (All links to Amazon):

Lee Filter Holder – I will only use two slots at one time on the 100mm x 100mm filter holder. With this set up, I can stack two filters at the same time and not have any vignetting, even at 16mm.
Lee 3-stop ND – The workhorse.
Lee Little Stopper 6-stop ND
Lee Big Stopper 10-stop ND
Lee Filter adapter rings for each lens: Most popular lens front element sizes are 67mm, 72mm, 77mm, and 82mm.

For extreme long exposures in bright conditions, you can stack these filters, as I said. 10 + 3 for 13 stops and 10 + 6 for 16 stops.

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.

How To Photograph Stunning Autumn Color

How To Photograph Stunning Autumn Color

General How-To

How to Photograph Stunning Autumn Color

5 Essential Fall Photography Tips

Autumn color season is one of the most eagerly anticipated times of the year for restless nature photographers. The brilliant red, orange, and yellow foliage is like a jarring wake up call for all the creative energy atrophied by the listless and drab dog days of late summer (August through mid- September has always been my least favorite time of year). And since these photos aren’t going to just take themselves, here are 5 essential tips to help you make the most of the autumn color season.

Polarize

A polarizing filter removes glare from almost any non-metallic surface, which includes autumn leaves. Leaves have a waxy coating and they can reflect bright glare when viewed from certain angles. A polarizing filter makes fall color look more colorful and saturated but in reality, it’s only allowing you to see the color that was already there. Wet leaves produce even more glare so during rainy conditions, a polarizing filter is nearly essential.

When working near water, a polarizing filter will also remove distracting glare and refections from the water surface and west rocks. It will cut glare from water vapor and particulates in the air as well, making blue skies darker and richer in color. The direction of maximum polarization occurs at 90-degree angles from the sun, while no light polarizing occurs when shooting directly at or away from the sun. Therefore, no polarizer is necessary when photographing sunrises or sunsets.

Get a screw-in polarizing filter for your lens with the largest front element size, then step-up rings for those smaller lenses. Step-up rings are much more cost effective than a polarizer for each lens. Some recommended polarizing filters (links to Amazon).

B+W 77mm XS-Pro HTC Kaesemann Circular Polarizer with Multi-Resistant Nano Coating ($$$)

Hoya 77mm HRT Circular PL Polarizer UV Multi-Coated Glass Filter ($$)

Lee Filters Circular Polarizer – Glass 100x100mm For Lee filter holder system.

Use Backlight

The leaves of autumn foliage are translucent, which means sunlight is allowed to partially pass through them when viewed or photographed from the opposite side. The foliage seems to glow and radiate the boldest colors when this happens. Seek out as many of these lighting opportunities as possible for stunning, luminous color.

This will work during any time, even when most photographers retire during the “idle light” of midday, you can always aim the lens skyward as the canopy of yellows and reds glow against the complementary crisps blue sky. Stop the lens down to f/22 for a sun star to add additional interest.

Keys to Using Backlighting

  • Aim the camera toward the sun (duh!)
  • Be aware of ghosting or flare when shooting into the sun. Your lens hood might help, although probably not if shooting directly into the sun, so consider using your hand, a hat, a book, anything that can block the sun’s rays from striking the front element of the lens.
  • Avoid underexposure. Your camera’s meter will probably want to underexpose the scene under most backlighting conditions. Consider adding a stop or two of exposure to keep the image from being too dark. Better yet, consult the histogram and “exposure to the right.”
  • Look to add a sunstar for additional interest and a strong focal point of the image – if it needs one. A sunstar is created by using lens diffraction when a small aperture is used. A small aperture is associated with large f-stop numbers so a setting of f/22 usually does the trick. Best results are when you partially obscure the sun behind a tree branch or mountain, leaving only some of the sun’s rays peeking through. Let diffraction do the rest.
  • Try to employ complementary colors by shooting skyward on a sunny, blue-sky day. The warm tones in the backlit foliage fully complement the blues in the sky.

Use Telephoto Lenses to Isolate

You should look to use a short telephoto lens (70-200mm or even 100-400mm) to isolate patterns of autumn color, interconnected shapes, and textures within the larger landscape. A forest of trees, colorful or not, can be a confusing maze of visual chaos. But by isolating smaller vignettes with a telephoto lens, you can help bring some order to that chaos.

Telephoto isolation in landscape photography is the fine art of exclusion, stripping away any extraneous visual elements to reveal only the most essential and important parts of the scene. This is particularly true when shooting autumn color.

In the example above with a focal length of 85mm, I reveal to the viewer only a small section of a larger waterfall and scene, splitting the image into three equal sections: the autumn color, the falling water, and the distinctive glacial blue of the river.

Some short telephoto lenses to consider (links to Amazon):

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM Lens
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens

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Autumn Color

Look Down

When exploring autumn color scenes in the trees and hillsides, don’t forget to look down at the ground at the “leaf litter” scattered along the forest floor, river rocks, trails, etc. This is particularly true in late autumn, my favorite part of the season when a lot of the leaves have already fallen, some of the trees are completely bare or still holding on to a few leaves, and there no longer is any green hanging around.

There are often many tiny scenes within the autumn leaves themselves found in the patterns of veins and variations in color found in a single fallen autumn leaf. A versatile macro lens of about 100mm is a useful tool for these types of images, like this image shown above. Links below to Amazon.

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens
Nikon AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED Vibration Reduction Fixed Lens
Sony SEL90M28G FE 90mm f/2.8-22 Macro G OSS Standard-Prime Lens

Look For Reflections

On any sunny autumn day, find a body of water that is in the shade but also near some brightly illuminated autumn color, such as a grove of colorful trees or hillside. Here is where you will find a great opportunity to photography fall reflections. If the water is still, you can capture some literal refections that create a mirror image of the primary subject. If the water is choppy from the wind or is moving, like you would find in a river or stream, you can make abstract reflections or colored water with longer exposures. The above image is an example of the latter, with a 10-second exposure being used to smooth out the water’s surface.

These type of refection images almost always need some help in the form of one or more visual anchors in addition to reflection. A rock or rocks, a log, or a duck are just some examples to look for when making autumn color photos of reflections. In order to get exposures of 10 seconds of longer during the middle of the day, you will need a strong neutral density filter of 6 to 10 stops in filter strength. I use the Lee Big Stopper (10 stops) and Little Stopper (6 stops) for these situations. Links to these and some other options below on Amazon.

Lee Filters 100 x 100mm Big Stopper 3.0 Neutral Density Filter, 10-Stop
Lee Filters 77mm Big Stopper Kit – Lee Filters 4x4 Big Stopper (10-stop ND Filter), Lee Filters Foundation Kit and 77mm Wide Angle Ring with 2filter cleaning kit
Lee Filters 100 x 100mm Little Stopper 1.8 Neutral Density Filter, 6-Stop
Tiffen 77mm Variable Neutral Density Filter

A Last Piece of Advice

Bookmark this page for next year.

Essential Autumn Color Links

U.S. Fall Color Map by Weather.com https://weather.com/maps/fall-foliage
Fall Foliage Prediction Map for the U.S https://smokymountains.com/fall-foliage-map/
Peak Fall Foliage Map by Stormfax http://www.stormfax.com/foliagemap.htm
Peak Fall Foliage Map for New England https://newengland.com/seasons/fall/foliage/peak-fall-foliage-map/
Your Ultimate Guide to the Smoky Mountains Fall Colors http://www.visitmysmokies.com/blog/gatlinburg/attractions-gatlinburg/ultimate-guide-smoky-mountains-fall-colors/
15 National Parks for Fall Color (Wilderness.org) http://wilderness.org/15-national-parks-fall-color
The 10 Best Places to See Fall Foliage in Canada https://www.tripsavvy.com/places-to-see-fall-foliage-in-canada-1481743
Best Times To See fall Foliage Across Canada with Interactive Map http://www.winnipegsun.com/2013/10/02/best-times-to-see-fall-foliage-across-canada

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.