99 — Controlling brightness in photography

Pho­tog­ra­phy pod­cast #99 dis­cusses how to con­trol bright­ness in your images. Our eye tends to fol­low or rest upon bright objects in a pho­to­graph and very often these objects or ele­ments are not the focal point of the image thus caus­ing our eyes to wander.

Con­trol­ling the brighter ele­ments in a scene takes some plan­ning dur­ing shoot­ing, and some work in post-processing but ulti­mately your images will be stronger. You’ll also have way more con­trol over the final image where you the cre­ator of the image guide the viewer’s eye purposefully.

Bright­ness is well con­trolled in this image. Along with com­po­si­tional curves, part of what makes this image work is that other bright ele­ments in the scene are not com­pet­ing with the bride. All eyes are on her as she makes her entrance. Image by Dominic Fuizzotto

Image by Richard Sparey — This lovely image of deli­cious pears suf­fers slightly from what I call weak edges. This causes our eye to wan­der out of the frame. It’s more notice­able on printed white paper or on a pure white background.

The same image with the edges burnt in (dark­ened) quite a bit to show the effect. This helps keep our eyes from wan­der­ing. Thanks to Richard for allow­ing me to use this image.

Links /resources men­tioned in this pod­cast:
– August’s reg­u­lar assign­ment on the Photography.ca forum — Num­bers — Pho­to­graph some­thing with a num­ber
– August’s level 2 assign­ment on the Photography.ca forum — Cre­at­ing coun­ter­points
– Bright­ness prob­lems and dis­tract­ing ele­ments — Pod­cast #44
– Neu­tral den­sity fil­ters and grad­u­ated ND fil­ters — Inter­view with Dar­win Wiggett —  Pod­cast #77
– Dominic Fuiz­zotto Pho­tog­ra­phy
– Richard Sparey Photography

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Photography forum image of the month July 2011

Every month on our pho­tog­ra­phy forum mem­bers nom­i­nate images that they like. Then at the end of the month I choose an excel­lent image and talk about why it rocks. The photo I choose is not nec­es­sar­ily the best one of the month. I’ve come to real­ize it’s not really log­i­cal to pit images from totally dif­fer­ent gen­res against each other. That’s why there are cat­e­gories in photo con­tests. I just choose a photo that has extremely strong ele­ments that we can learn from.

Today’s Calla Lil­lies by Ernst Ulrich-Schafer

This month’s choice is Today’s Calla Lil­lies by Ernst Ulrich-Schafer.

I chose this image for sev­eral reasons:

Com­po­si­tion — Com­po­si­tion here is very pleas­ing to the eye! Diag­o­nal stems from bot­tom left guide the eye to the focal point of the image which are the flow­ers’ inte­ri­ors. The shapes of the flow­ers them­selves are won­der­ful and won­der­fully placed in the image. The flow­ers even cre­ate quite an inter­est­ing neg­a­tive space due the con­trast against a black background.

Light­ing and Post-processing — Lovely light­ing here shows off the flow­ers very well. The light­ing is soft­ish but doesn’t look over­soft. Shad­ows are well con­trolled here with the deep­est blacks being the back­ground itself. This helps the flow­ers “pop” big-time against that back­ground. Post-processing is also well done here with lovely details in the whites. If I have one nit, I’d nix the black frame as this changes the over­all per­spec­tive of the flow­ers mak­ing them look smaller. That said, I know Ernst put it there 100% on pur­pose and it works for him.

Tonal qual­ity — I really like the mono­chrome (light sepia to my eye) qual­ity of this image. Mono­chrome really helps show off the strong shapes of these flow­ers, as well as give them a nos­tal­gic feel.

For all these rea­sons, this is my choice for image of the month. Since we all have opin­ions, some mem­bers may dis­agree with my choice. That’s cool but THIS thread is not the place for debate over my pick, NOR is it the place to fur­ther cri­tique the image. The pur­pose here is to sug­gest strong ele­ments in the photo that we may learn from.

Con­grats again Ernst Ulrich-Schafer for cre­at­ing this won­der­ful image!

Watch Your Backgrounds by Kristen Smith

Watch­ing what is going on in the back­ground is use­ful advice, not only for cops in urban shoot-outs, but also for close up and macro pho­tog­ra­phers.  Because bokeh and depth of field are such promi­nent aspects of these types of shots, you really have to watch the back­ground to make sure it com­ple­ments your sub­ject and doesn’t com­pete with it.  Some­times I get so focused on the sub­ject itself that the back­ground just fades away.  And because often times a sub­ject is far away from the back­ground, things just don’t get noticed.

With this shot, I was so intensely involved with the flow­ers that I didn’t really “see” my back­pack which was about 4 feet away and clearly in view.  I really needed to stop and look at the whole scene, but I didn’t.  Some­times it can take a few min­utes to set­tle into the groove and start prac­tic­ing good habits and by the time I got dili­gent, it was too late for this one.

Pho­to­graph by Kris­ten Smith

In addi­tion to watch­ing the far back­ground, keep an eye out for stray items close to the sub­ject that might dis­tract the eye.  So many times I get my pic­tures home only to find some annoy­ing leaf, pine nee­dle or branch.  Ugh.  I find that using Live View not only makes tak­ing the photo eas­ier, but gives you a 2D image to look at right away. Many times I catch bad com­po­si­tional ele­ments this way.  Check out this series of shots that illus­trate how I cleaned up my shot –

Pho­to­graph by Kris­ten Smith

Hmm that back­ground doesn’t do the flower any favors, does it?  I need to make the flower really pop out of the bokeh, not just sit there in it.  That stump has got to go. Luck­ily at this mag­ni­fi­ca­tion and per­spec­tive, very small move­ments make for very big changes.

Pho­to­graph by Kris­ten Smith

I barely moved my cam­era, but the dif­fer­ence in back­ground works so much bet­ter.  But this time I notice two things – one, there’s a lot of light play­ing the back­drop and I have to time the shot right so that it is more uni­form back there and there aren’t any hot spots to detract from the flow­ers, two, there are a few stray pine nee­dles and that leaf in the bot­tom right isn’t con­tribut­ing any­thing good.  I pluck those out of the way and lo and behold there’s moss under that leaf and when I judge the light to be the best — Presto!

Pho­to­graph by Kris­ten Smith

So as you can see, the process can take a few steps to get a use­able image.  The key is to develop good habits.

  1. Stop and look at the whole scene, back­ground and fore­ground and eval­u­ate each aspect includ­ing the light if it’s variable
  2. Remove dis­tract­ing things like sticks and leaves
  3. Change cam­era posi­tion for more har­mo­nious back­grounds and foregrounds
  4. Use Live View to see how the 3D trans­lates to 2D

Hope­fully this helps you in the field the next time you’re doing close-up and macro work.  Got any to share?  Feel free to log in to the Photography.ca forum and start a thread.

For more of Kristen’s out­door pho­tog­ra­phy and other arti­cles visit wickeddarkphotography.com