Sunday, November 23, 2014

Go Wide!

The college football season is rapidly approaching the end of the regular season and the beginning of the bowls.   Going wide is something we'll hear when talking about football wideouts and wide receivers. Maybe we'll hear it this Saturday in the Florida - Florida State game, but I'm afraid the passing will favor the Seminoles this year.

We can also go wide in photography.   A wide angle lens is typically in the 24mm - 36mm range with ultra-wide having shorter focal lengths and standard or normal lenses having longer focal lengths.  The are called wide angle because the angle of view through the lens takes in so much more.  A 28mm lens has a 75 degree angle of view, while a 135 mm has only an 18 degree view.

The typical way to use a wide angle is to capture a big wide landscape scene.

Shaker Village

Reel Foot Lake 
Both the Shaker Villiage and Reel Foot Lake photos were taken at 17mm.   They take in a lot of the scene from the far left to the far right.   This is a perfect use for a wide angle lens, but not the only use.

When you place objects close to a wide angle lens their size is magnified relative to objects that are further away, like in this photo of the Cable Mill in Cades Cove.
Cable Mill @ 24mm
What if you turned your camera and took a portrait (taller) orientation shot?   Same effect - things that are close appear much bigger.

In the photo to the left the white flower is the obvious subject.  It is bright and big, demanding attention.   The purple flowers in the background are hardly noticeable, but they do add some depth to the photo.

I've found this is a fun way to get close up shots but include the environment around the subject in the photo.   Wide angle lenses also tend to have a much deeper depth of field, making it easier to keep the close subject and far background in focus.


I've used this technique with flowers to draw people's attention to the flower.  You can use the same technique on other subjects, but beware.  If you use a wide angle lens to photograph a person up close you can get a photo with a large nose or ears.  Not too flattering.

Next time you're out try turning your camera into the portrait orientation and going wide!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Stop, Look and Listen

I may not remember much about growing up, but I do remember - "Stop, Look, Listen!"   We were taught to do this before even thinking about crossing a road.  Look to the left and to the right, and listen for approaching vehicles. It was so ingrained in the minds of our generation that it The Stylistics released a soul song by that title in 1971, followed up by Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross in 1974.

It's a good think to remember in photography as well.   Those of us who are nature or landscape photographers can easily fall into the trap of getting to a place and shooting the first thing that looks good to us, then moving on. I call this the shoot and go approach.  It's easy to do, but we miss the great shots by not stopping and looking around.   The first shot we make is most often not the best one.  There are always other angles, other compositions, and other subjects in an area.  Each one can tell a different story.

Here's two examples.   The first shot shows two  Adirondack Chairs under a tree. What' kind of story does this tell?  The leaves n the gree and the grass are still green, but there are brown leaves on the ground under the tree.  It's early fall.  The chairs are inviting under the shade.   Just imagine yourself with your favorite person you enjoy being with sitting in those chairs on a cool fall day listening to birds and watching horses run in the near by pasture.  Sound like a good place to be?   

A photo is more interesting to the viewer if they can imagine themselves in the photo.  It creates a sense of connection.   Can you imagine yourself there?

This was just outside the room where we were staying at Shaker Village in Kentucky.  It was an obvious photo for me, but not the only shot.   Notice the two leaves on the chair on the right?  There was a photo in there as well.

Taken at the same place and the same time of day, this second photo tells a completely different story.  The subject is no longer the chair, lawn, or trees.  You can't even see those things in this composition.  The subject is the dried leaf stuck in the slats.  The first photo had a lot of green and only a little yellow or brown, this photo is almost entirely brown.  To me it is a story of the end of life for the leaf.   Same place, different story.

I could have stayed in a 20 foot circle for an hour taking different pictures of leaves, grass, chairs, and tree trunks.   What possibilities do you see in these photos?

Here's a suggestion for avoiding the shoot and go approach and slowing down to look for photos beyond the obvious.  When you get to a place just stand or sit for a while and take it all in.  Walk around a little and enjoy what God has made.   Don't even try to make a photo until after you have had time to stop, look and listen.   You'll find many more photographic opportunities right in front of you.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Giving Thanksgiving for Blessings

Just a couple more weeks and we will be celebrating Thanksgiving in the US and Canada.   The photo for November is probably the most recognized symbols for Thanksgiving.  

This was actually taken in the month of April in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.   The Tom was trying his best to impress the ladies.  He would run around to get in front of them, puff up, spread his tail feathers and do his best to get their attention.  There were several hens and none were giving him the time of day.
Look At Me
I took 50 shots of the turkeys that day.  I started out standing on one side of the road and I used my 80-400 mm zoom lens to get in as close as possible.   After they crossed the road I noticed another photographer taking photos while laying in the grass.  At first I thought that the grass was way too wet and cold to do that but after some encouragement from June I was out there with the turkeys and flat on my stomach.  I'm glad I did.   It wasn't that cold and I eventually dried out. The calendar photo was taken in this position.   Getting down to the animal's level makes for a more interesting photo.  Because I was less threatening laying down it allowed me to get closer.

For many Thanksgiving is a time to gather for family, football and feasting.   Originally  a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year, for many Thanksgiving has turned into a time to over eat and prepare to go shopping on Black Friday.   John F. Kennedy said “To those whom much is given, much is expected.”, which is taken from Luke 12:48 - "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."  (NIV).  As we give thanks on November 27, it's a time to reflect on our blessings and think about how we can use those blessings to bless others.

If you enjoy these posts you may want to purchase on of my 2015 calendars.  All the proceeds go to Hope Haven Ministries in Kingsport.   It's one small way to bless others.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Importance of a Good Education

"An investment in knowledge pays the best interest."

- Benjamin Franklin

Last night I attended a photography seminar by one of the premier landscape photographers in the world today.   For the paltry sum of $7 (normally $25 but I found this great coupon) I got 2+ hours of instruction in Composition, Technique & Impact by Art Wolfe from the comfort of my den on my big screen TV.   This is by far one of the best investments I have made in my photography.

Hot Air Balloon Ride 2014

I always encourage people to invest in education as the best way to improve their photographs.   No lens or camera will make as big a difference as time spent with a quality instructor, taking an online course or participating in a photography group.  I've been in several photography workshops and sat through many webinars on photography.  I really enjoyed last night's session with Art Wolfe.  He spent the first hour or so talking about some techniques he uses to create compelling compositions.  The entire time he was showing his own photos as examples of each technique.  Just seeing his photos was worth the price.   The second half was a critique session.  Participants were able to submit some of their photos ahead of time and Art picked several to discuss.   With most of them he spent a minute or so showing what could be done with some creative cropping, exposure adjustments, and color balancing.   I found myself saying "wow, that really made a big difference".   In the last 20 minutes he answered a few questions that had been submitted online.

This was the first time Art did a live Webinar.  His next one is on  light, color and how to get more emotional impact out of your photographs.  Hop on over to and sign up to get notified when it is scheduled.   

Do you want to learn more about Adobe Lightroom?  Kent Ervin and I are planning to do a Lightroom class this winter in Kingsport, TN.  More information will be available in the next month or two.