A Travellerspoint blog

Weather and Photography

An article about the weather's effect on photography - and how to adapt as a photographer to get the pictures right.

overcast 4 °C

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What makes the difference between these two pictures of the same beach - at two different times?
Only one thing - the first shot was taken with the weather in mind - thereby making it a pretty good photo, and the other was not.

This article will serve with ways of how to improve your photography by adapting to the weather - a sometimes very hard thing to do. Basically there are three different aspects of the weather to think of, and they will be explained in order:

1. Lighting - how the current weather affects the light in a photo
2. Atmosphere - how the weather gives a photo atmosphere
3. Effects on motive - how motives can be directly influenced by weather

Lighting

The weather affects your picture in many ways - but maybe most of all it determines how your picture will be lit. A landscape shot on a cloudy and on a rainy day will turn out differently from a landscape shot in bright sunlight. Let's take a look at three common light situations - the Direct sunlight, the Overcast and the Morning & Evening light.

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Direct sunlight

When the sun is glowing bright in the sky - with no clouds to shield it - a photographer is very limited. This type of sunlight casts sharp shadows that make most shots involving people very hard to get right - you always get disturbing shadows in people's faces.
The same problem occurs when shooting scenes - often big parts of the picture are shadowy - while others are very bright. See the above as an example - the line between shadow and highlight is dramatic, which makes it almost impossible to even make out what the sign in the photo says.

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Overcast

When the sun is covered behind clouds - sometimes making the sky totally white - many photographers put their camera back in the bag, thinking there's no use photographing a sky that isn't blue. This is when you should take the camera up. Overcast conditions often provide a perfect lighting to the scene at hand - gently smoothing everything out without creating sharp shadows or extreme contrasts. As long as you're not taking landscape shots where the sky is extremely important - this is the time to act. Portraits of people, macro-shots of flowers - even the occasional shot of some animal running by - are bound to turn out better than in direct sunlight. Know this - and use it to your benefit.

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Morning & Evening light

This is probably the favourite setting of many a photographer - and mine as well. In early mornings just before sunrise and in evenings just about sundown there seems to be magic in the air. Not just do you get the advantages of overcast situations - you also get beautiful colours playing on faces and scenes. In the above photo of a series of mountains you can clearly see the effects of sundown on the clouds - they're smooth and vividly coloured, something direct sunlight could never come up with.

Atmosphere

The weather has a great influence over a picture's atmosphere. First of all the weather determines the lighting (as described in the previous chapter) - but the wind and temperature also dictates conditions that affect the setting. Add to that the eventual rain, snow, fog etc - and you see that the term atmosphere is a very wide aspect of photography.

So, when you've got the hang of different light situations it's time to use it to create the feeling you want - to give the photo an atmosphere. This is a hard thing to plan for - as very few people can actually control the weather ( ;) ). And as always when you head out to get those perfect stormy/windy shots of an ocean - you arrive only to see the calmest ocean-surface in history. But that, I guess, is another problem ;)

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A very boring atmosphere

The atmosphere in the picture above is not very lively. But it's got one thing - potential. On a stormy day - with dramatic cloud-filled skies, a tearing wind and tall waves that break against the rock face - this picture would probably come out better. Think of that, when you pass by motifs that at the time seem very boring. Remember the place - and come back at the right time ;)

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A simple atmosphere

Sometimes the "right" atmosphere for a photograph can be as simple as the above. Taken on an ordinary day, in direct sunlight, the picture is very plain - a road, a meadow and a background of mountains. No dramatic weather or mysterious fog. It is important to note that the most simple solution sometimes is the best solution. So when a plain atmosphere is at hand, there is absolutely no need to chase wierd weather conditions to improve your pictures.

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A complete atmosphere

The above picture depicts a very well documented atmosphere. The lighting gives a feeling of early morning - while the snow gives a feeling of tranquillity. Note that if there had been a heavy snowfall, the picture would have given very different vibes. Also - if there had been a fog, it would give a more dangerous impression, since people often relate mists to uncertainty. The picture depicts what the photographer wanted to mediate - a cool, calm and inviting winter morning. When the atmosphere aspect is correctly used, it really strengthens the will to "walk into" a picture.

Important to note however, is that the general atmosphere of a photograph is greatly influenced also by other aspects. No matter how inviting a picture is, if a child is crying in the centre of attention in the photo - people will associate to that first, making the general atmosphere of your picture seem sad.

Effects on motive

It is very important not to stare yourself blind on only the lighting and atmosphere - you have to think about the effects on the motif as well. If you're chasing smiles and happy faces - don't do it on a rainy day. When the skies open themselves, people crouch and don't look up as much as on sunny days. But if you're out to photograph "sad" pictures, i.e. lonely streets, be sure to choose a windy and unpleasant day - this way you don't run into as many crowds as other days. The picture beneath is a good example - since it's raining people walk around a bit crouched, and some even have umbrellas. It sure wouldn't look like this in summer.

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The motif (the people) are affected by rain

The weather's effects on the motives really involves everything - people wear different clothing and react differently to different weather conditions - and you probably can't take a picture of a bird in the air on a rainy day. Safe to say - it's probably impossible to take a picture of a happy man in flip-flops while there are stormy clouds and flashes of lightning in the background. If you manage to do this, email me ;)

Conclusion

When photographing, keep these weather aspect in mind:

Lighting - Timing is crucial. "Plan" your photographs, and if this means waking up early to get good morning-light-shots - Just Do It!
Atmosphere - Paint the picture you have in mind by using the weather. Use the clouds, the fog or even a clear blue sky to make your image depict your feeling!
Effects on motives - Don't forget this. People and animals are always affected in one way or another by the weather.

Text and photographs, © Martin Edström 2007 - http://www.makini.se

Posted by Makini 22:09 Archived in Sweden Tagged photography Comments (3)

Organisation and Presentation [for Windows]

A poignant look at software, tools, methods, & madness.

This is a guide to the organisation and presentation of your digital pictures. By the end you should be able to: sort through your pictures with ease, make quick touch-ups (red-eye, sharpness, colour), and present your pictures as a rockin' slide show with tunes and Ken-Burns effects to melt the hearts of your loved ones. [Note: This is a Microsoft Windows-centric guide, an Apple OSX guide will follow shortly]

I am going to assume you know how to get the pictures off of your camera, and onto your computer. Likewise if you use a film camera you hopefully know how to get your pictures on CD or something else. If not let me know.

First off, let's get the software you need. All of the software/programs you need for this are free of charge (isn't the world great?!). Open up another window or tab in your browser and head to:

Picasa (http://picasa.google.com/) is a great tool to help you find, organise, and edit your pictures. There are other features such as making screen savers, desktop backgrounds, movies. Once you have Picasa downloaded and installed let me know....

...ok you have it? Good. It should look something like this:
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Now what it should have done is find every picture (.jpg, .gif, etc.) on your computer and organise them in a nice layout. The folders are all where you left them, now you can view them all in one place. You can also hide folders you don't want to show up in Picasa.

Mess around in Picasa for awhile and get a feel for it. I could go more indepth if people want. Now let's make a slide show.

Photo Story 3 for Windows is what you want next. It is free and a great slide show tool. Comparable to the photo program that comes with Apple OSX. Download it and install. Once there you just drag and drop pictures into the order you want. Add music, publish.. and you are all set!

You can get into more details and make different transition effects and Ken Burns effects!

Any questions just comment below!

Posted by Brendan 09:36 Tagged photography Comments (0)

Travel Portraits

-17 °C

Ok, you're in Rome. You want to take a picture of your girlfriend infront of St. Peter's. How do you do it ? Here are a few hints.

Where's Waldo !?!
This is a personal pet peeve of mine. And, yes, I too did this before someone pointed it out to me. So don't feel too bad about it. The average "vacation" shot consists of some gorgeous landscape with your girlfriend, boyfriend, kids, mom, etc. in the foreground. Cropped midway from waist to well above the head. The person takes up less than 1/5th of the entire frame; just sneaking in to the frame to show "Hey, I was there !!". You've all seen it. You know "the picture" I'm talking about. Always reminds me of the front covers from the "Where's Waldo" books where Waldo sneaks onto the cover to wave at you.

So what's wrong with it ? What's wrong is that, is it a picture of a person or a place ? If the scenery is beautiful, it deserves to be photographed ! If the person in the photograph is dear to you, give her the framing she deserves ! Don't go half way !

If your photograph is to say "what a beautiful place", go wide. Fill the frame with the landscape. If you have a SLR, close down the aperature to f11 or above. If you have a point and shoot camera, use the landscape mode (little mountain thing on the dial). Then to show "you were there !", step way back, have your girlfriend step into the frame so that you get the majority of her body in frame, but not taking up more than 1/8th of the frame, and shoot. What will happen is you will have a sharp picture of the entire landscape, with your girlfriend just noticable but not taking away from the great scenery. To add pizzaz to the photo, you might have her make a face, or strike a pose, or put her at one of the cross-points according to the rule of thirds (see my article on rules of composition).

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It was important for me that I capture the background to record my accomplishment of driving across Canada. So I framed it wide and included both the location name and my car. I was an afterthought. ;-)

If your photograph is to say "she was having a great time", go tight. Fill the frame with your girlfriend's face, 1/2 to 2/3's of the frame. If you have a SLR, open the aperature to f3.5 or more. If you have a point and shoot camera, use the portrait mode (little head thing on the dial). Then to show "you were there !", keeping your girlfriend in the frame, re-adjust your aim so that some significant point of interest is in the background, then shoot. What will happen is that her face will be infront, happy and showing her joy, while the background is out of focus, not distracting us from her face, but still showing enough detail to give us some sense of where she is and why she's so happy. My favourite way to add pizzaz to this type of photo is to be sneaky ;-) and take the photograph when the person isn't aware of what I'm doing. This takes a lot of psychology. Usually I'll just follow along watching, noticing what they're doing. You'll notice that certain things give them pleasure. Then you carefully work out a composition, pick an angle where you can get the right background, get your camera ready, then at just the right moment when she smiles or becomes intensely involved in something....*click* and you've got an all-natural photo of her worth a lifetime of memories !

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Portraits don't have to be only of people. I had 1 second to catch this gorgeous cat in this composition.

A few other hints

"Too much space up top !"
My portraiture teacher just about traumatized me with that statement. It's the most common mistake made by amateur photographers. They aim the camera to locate the face in the middle of the frame and leave a huge (1/3rd or more of the frame) at the top. The empty space is neither large enough to be called "whitespace" and is too big to be ignored. Your eye is drawn to it like a magnet, taking away emphasis from the person.

To fix it, simply aim for the person's eye, place the eye level with the top horizon according to the "rule of thirds", zoom in to fill the rest of the frame, then shoot !

Taking pictures of kids
Kids are people too. Get down. Get down on your knees, look them at eye level, then shoot. In my opinion, the only time when it's acceptable to photograph kids from way up is if you want to emphasize how small they are.

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I only went down slightly for this. Notice that the camera is not at eye level with the puppeteer, nor with the puppet. This gave a more balanced shot as the emphasis is on both the man and the puppet.

Forcing flash
Some cameras allow you to manually fire the flash. You see, on bright sunny days, the camera will automatically expose for the bright light entering the lens, making anyone in the frame seem dark (the personal absorbs some of the light). One way to fix this is simply to manually fire the flash in bright ambient light conditions. It's call "forcing the flash" or "fill flash".

Posted by Q' 05:43 Tagged photography Comments (2)

The Rules of Composition

-17 °C

What's the difference between a good photograph and a bad photograph ? Assuming you've gotten the colours right at the printers, you don't have a thumb in the way, and you have proper focus and exposure, photographers are always talking about what are known as the "rules of composition" when discussing the technical merits of a photograph. Depending on who you talk to, there are great differences in opinion about how many actual "rules" there are. I was taught that there are 14. And for no other reason than that, that is what I'm going to teach you.

1) Center of interest
Every photograph has one of these. What's the image about? Is it a picture of your wife? Is it a picture of the Great Pyramids of Giza? It should be very obvious with a single glance to every viewer what the photograph is "about". While it's called the "center" of interest, it isn't necessarily true that the subject of interest is in the center, or takes up a large part of the image, it is nevertheless very obvious that that is what the photograph is about.

This is the first rule of good composition, because it is the most important. Decide before hand what it is that you are taking a picture of. Everything else you do is then focus around
bringing that center of interest out.

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The center of interest is obviously the violin player. Not the wall, not the violin, etc.

2) Fill the frame
This rule is here for mostly practical reasons. Film costs money. Even digital images will cost money to store and print. Once you decide what your center of interest is, fill the view finder with it. Get as much detail as you can. However there is a point at which it becomes too much. You want to fill the frame but you also want to leave some background and foreground to give a sense of context to your subject. I personally use around 80% as a guideline for how much to fill. That's not a hard and fast rule and I break it all the time myself. It's really up to your good taste and the effect you want to create.

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There's a whole building and square behind and around this statue. But I chose to only photograph the statue and filled my frame with it.

3) Lines
Lines are extremely important in visual arts. Lines give us shapes and contours. Lines are what lead the viewer's eyes from one part of the photograph to another.

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The zig-zag lines and twirl at the bottom of the stairs gives a modern twist to this.

4) Flow
After just finishing lines, we should talk about flow. Flow is how the viewer's eye is lead from one part of the photograph to another. One way to give flow to a photograph is to use lines. They can be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, converging or diverging lines. Sometimes the flow created by lines is sharp and distinct (such as the sides of a building converging up into the sky), or they may be less obvious (such as a line of irregularly spaced stones that mark out a farmer's field). Nevertheless, the viewer's eye should be able to spot the same elements from one part of the image to another. Flow creates the illusion of motion (or lack of motion if so desired). Diagonal, converging or diverging lines are considered to be "dynamic" while horizontal and vertical lines are considered to be "static". A careful balance of dynamic and static elements will give an overall sense of motion to your photographs.

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The motion blur and leading lines gives the viewer a sense that everyone is headed into a distant point.

5) Direction
Direction is similar to flow. It also creates the illusion of motion. If something in the photograph appears to be "moving" then it most likely has a direction in which it is moving. One example of what I mean is the little stick man that you find in many traffic lights. One stick man seems to be standing up straight, legs together, arms next to the body. Most people will agree that he doesn't appear, visually, to be moving. This is obviously the "do not walk" signal. His counterpart has bent arms and bent & spread legs. He appears to be moving. This is obviously the "safe to walk" signal. The "safe to walk" signal has a direction in which he is moving as indicated by the bent arms and legs. The "do not walk" signal seems static and has no direction of motion. Direction in photographs can be created in a number of ways. A lone figure in the middle of a convergent path appears to have direction despite the fact that his arms and legs may not be moving. That's because we feel as if we were to see him a split second later, we just know, he'll have his legs moving down the path. Similarly, a partially captured car just entering the frame from the left will lead us to think that in the next split second it will be at the right of the frame.

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The line of figures gives the viewer a sense that everyone was walking towards me. Which infact, they were.

6) Repetition
Repetition of some subject (a bunch of hot air ballons, a flock of flamingos) gives a sense of togetherness to parts of the image. For instance, a group of hot air balloons may all be heading off in one direction. That group may create interesting patterns in the sky and add direction to the image. It can also have important psychological factors such as giving a sense of togetherness and friendship.

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The repetition of the trees gives a sense of solidity. This photograph actually works because there's essentially two different levels of contrasting brightness.

7) Colours
There are warm colours and cold colours:

warm - red, orange, yellow
cold - blue, green, purple

There's a whole psychology thing with colours. Red's are "firey". Blue's are "tranquil". I won't go into it too much since I know there've been entire books written on the subject. So it should be fairly obvious why this is an important element of composition.

With colours, pay attention to contrast as well. Contrast is defined as the difference in the level of brightness between the brightest and darkest parts of your image. However, contrast is also created by placing warm and cold colours next to each other.

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The bright yellow center is surrounded by a field of cooler green.

8) Groups of 3's
I've been told there's something psychologically appealing about groups of 3's. One is lonely, two is too well balanced and static, four and above is too much of a crowd. But 3 is just perfect !!
You know, as in Goldielocks and the 3 bears, 3 Stooges, 3 Musketeers, 3 colours on a flag, books come in trilogies, etc. Some how we humans just like 3's. Don't ask me why, I'm not a psychologist.

Back to photography. If you are going to photograph a group of something, either go big and photograph a bunch of them, or look for groupings of 3's as your center of interest. It works, trust me !

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What a gorgeous group of ladies !

9) Rule of 3rds
This has been around for a long time. If you go into a museum and look at any really good painting. Then imagine a 3x3 grid on top of the picture, you'll notice that important elements such as eyes, windows, tops of mountains, horizon lines, etc. all line up with either one of the grid lines or at one of the intersections of the grid lines. It's claimed that by having your center of interest at one of these points or lines, you get a much more interesting image.

Note: some cameras allow you to super-impose such a grid pattern on the view finder to aide in composition. Check your manual.

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Notice the position of the chandalier. Notice the position of the box. They're exactly on the "power points" according to the rule of thirds.

10) Negative Space
Basically large white or black space in the background (usually off to one side, but I've seen it done in other ways as well). Psychologically, we humans want to fill that space with our imagination (kind of like a cartoon thought balloon). It's a great trick because you can't go wrong. Whatever fills the negative space is interesting to the viewer because he/she came up with it herself !!

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The butterfly is nicely highlighted by the white sand.

11) Foreground/Background
What's in the foreground and background is obviously important. This includes elements from the other rules, such as bright colours, or converging lines. But sometimes you can have too much in the foreground or background which will distract your viewer from your center of interest.

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My little ducky travel companion forms my foreground, while the location is obviously placed by the background.

12) Framing
Look for things such as doorways, bridges, signs and other things to frame your subject under. It gives a sense of perspective and intimacy to the image. Ever notice they always have the bride walk through the big door into the church ? Ever notice how long hair can be used to frame the features of a face ?

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Framing need not be created by solid frames. I positioned the camera so that the trees framed my subject.

13) Clutter
Clutter is having a lot of "stuff" in either the foreground or background. All those different shapes and shadows can distract (or in some cases if done well add to) from the center of interest. Cluttered images seem chaotic and disorganized. This is not necessarily a bad thing and may be used to convey a sense of dynamicism.

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The band and equipment forms a very cluttered group.

14) S-Curves
A lot of people love S curves. It's very sensuous and sexy. It's the shape of a woman's profile. It's also a meandering river, or slithering serpent. It's very dynamic, but not a fast, hasty kind of motion, but a slower more sensuous movement. It's also harder to find in nature, so is considered more interesting.

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The dancer's body forms a natural and energetic S-Curve.

So there you are, the 14 "rules of composition". How you use them is going to be up to you and your good taste.

Posted by Q' 23:51 Tagged photography Comments (1)

Photography's Best Kept Secret !

-17 °C

What I'm going to tell you is the best kept secret EVER in photography. And I mean EVER !! With a captial E and.....well never mind you get the idea.

But really it's so simple that it really shouldn't be a "best kept secret". The "secret" is simply this; if you want to learn how to take a better photograph, go to an art gallery and LOOK!! A good painting, a sculpture, a drawing, or any piece of visual art is a good painting, sculpture, drawing, etc. for some good reasons. What you have to do is understand those good reasons and reproduce them in photographs. So the next time you're in the Louvre, or the Prado, or the MET really take some time and analyze what you're seeing. What makes the painting work? What colours contrast with which? Which shapes and elements stand out? What does the lighting and texture make you feel? And so on. Then once you've understood how these great works of art achieve their mastery, use this same "bag of tricks" in your own photography. Not only will you enjoy the museum art more, you'll be surprised how quickly your photographic technique improves. That's all there is to it. Wasn't that simple ?
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Here's one example to illustrate. I took it on a sunny day walking along on the Charles' Bridge in Prague when I was feeling a bit cheeky. ;-)

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Notice the diagonal posture which hints at motion and power. Notice the dark, foreboding figure in front of the bright blue sky. I would've liked to have a bit more light on the figure's face, but alas Mother Nature didn't co-operate. Now take a look at this famous work by Michelangelo Buonarroti, which "hangs" rather prominently in the Vatican museum. Notice the commonalities ?!?

Creation of the Sun and Moon

Posted by Q' 22:07 Tagged photography Comments (3)

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