12 Ways To Find New Photography Inspiration

12 Ways To Find New Photography Inspiration

 

They say that ‘if you aim at nothing, you’ll usually hit it.’ So I encourage you to set some specific goals on your path to finding photography inspiration. Here are some tasty tips to inspire you – one for each month of the year which will help you improve your Dark Photography skills.

01 Print your images

Are your photographs destined to remain hidden on a dusty old hard drive forever, unseen by the world? Remember the buzz you once had in the pre-digital days (if you were around then), when you saw your photographs the first time in print?

Why not peruse your recent holiday snaps, and select your best work to be immortalized with ink on paper. Frame them and hang them on the walls in your home, or even give them away as gifts.

SnapFish is a great place to go to have your memories printed and bound. These make for some highly personalized gifts, and will strike a chord with even the least sentimental types.

02 Update your camera gear

There comes a time when your old digital camera just doesn’t do your photography skills sufficient justice anymore. While point-and-shoot cameras are convenient and cheaper, they are restricted by their simplicity and do little to provide for true photography inspiration. As a user, you will not be able to fully control the settings, and they have a smaller sensor size too.

Unfortunately, the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ is still the truth when it comes to photographic equipment. Even a modestly priced entry-level DSLR and kit lens will produce sharper and bigger images. It will allow you to play with a wider aperture range, from at least f/4 to f/22, and a whole bunch of other settings.

If you’re into landscape photography, a sturdy tripod is a must. My preference is to go for a Manfrotto tripod, they are extremely sturdy, very well built, and by design, they’re able to take a range of heads for different situations. Another must is a polarising filter; this will help you take stunning photos as it is used to darken blue skies.

A shutter release  (cable or remote) is invaluable and will prevent camera shake during longer exposures. This is where you get that horrible blurry look even when you know your lens was perfectly focused. Choosing the right kind of shutter release for certain conditions is critical. I’ll let you in on a few tips in some other articles that will help you make the right choice for the different types of photography you will be exposed to.

A decent kit bag will protect your expensive gear. You don’t have to go for the top of the line Lowepro here, but if you do you’ll get more than years out of your investment. I’ve had my Lowepro since 1994 and it still going strong! Not only will this keep your gear safer from potential damage (unlike a flimsy bag) it will also enable you to have much more efficient access to it.

There’s nothing quite like the buzz of a new piece of kit to get the fires of photography inspiration burning bright; besides, you’ve worked hard and deserve to treat yourself. No, this isn’t a treat at all, is it? This is necessary!

03 Subscribe to a photography magazine

The racks of most bookshops are stacked with numerous photography magazines. One of my favourites is Digital SLR Photography, which boasts a higher standard of writing than found in other titles from the UK. Of course, these days you can subscribe to digital versions of magazines, and download them to your mobile device of choice.

For  the digital nomad this is a great way to be able to always have your library on hand with you to refer back to should you need. And let’s be honest; who want’s precious cabin baggage allowance consumed by magazines when you can view them on your chosen device that you’re going to have with you anyway?

04 Start a personal project

A popular pastime is to shoot a photo every day for 365 days. The idea is to force yourself into the habit of getting your camera out regularly, not just for holidays, or special occasions. Shoot ordinary events or items.

Dedicated 365 websites give tips and ideas. You could photograph a ‘selfie’ in the mirror to record your beard growth for 12 months, and then create a time lapse.

Another worthwhile project is to choose a specific number (e.g. 4) or a certain colour (e.g. blue). Walk around town for a day, only shooting this topic. You will be amazed at how such a focused assignment will hone your observation skills.

The ultimate would be to jump on with one of our challenges and see how you go there. These are designed to push your skills that bit more and foster photography inspiration. Through participating in the challenges here you’ll be able to put your strengths to work and measure yourself against the skills and abilities of others. The challenges are designed to be a safe place to learn and enhance your skills while exploring your style.

05 Enter a photography competition

Success in a local, national or even international competition is not only a huge boost to your confidence, and reputation – you may collect some fantastic prizes too. Competitions range from promotional gimmicks at local events to non-profit organisations and magazines which run these on an annual basis.

Competitions are a great way to expose your work to a wider audience, and broaden your skill set. The more prestigious competitions will normally charge an entry fee, particularly the umbrella organisations for professionals, where winners are highly acclaimed.

Do a Google search on photography competitions in my area, or photography competitions near me and see what comes up. Once you’ve found one that you like the look of, enter it and come back here to share with us in the forums the information about the competition. You may find others in the Dark Photography Tribe will be able to help (or they may even have entered the same competition themselves).

06 Get your work published

If you love to photograph in a specific niche and find your photography inspiration here (e.g. animals, gardens, fashion, children, or sports), and believe your images will withstand an editor’s scrutiny, why not reach out to them and email your favourite publication? Build a portfolio online to make it easy for them to view your work.

Many editors are consistently on the lookout for fresh takes on old topics. Follow up with a phone call, or better, a personal visit if you can. If you’re a competent wordsmith, even better, as you can often get paid more for quality writing than for just a handful of photos.

However, be warned: many editors are notorious for not replying, so you will need to be tenacious. Don’t give up! The team at Dark Photography are not to be discounted from your avenues of potential writing. Contact us to find out more and check out the criteria on what needs to be achieved for a submission to be published.

07 Learn how to post-process your pics

This is what often separates amateurish photos from professional-looking images: taking a few minutes in Photoshop or Lightroom and adjusting a few basic settings. Things like colour correction, sharpness, and exposure curves are easily done. So is straightening a wonky horizon, or cropping your picture into a more pleasing frame.

Photoshop and Lightroom are popular with hobbyists as they are cheaper, stripped-down versions of Adobe’s flagship software. Beginners may find Faststone Image Viewer a simple yet powerful program – and best of all, it’s free.

08 Push yourself

Very rarely do great images come easy, and for some, neither does truly moving photography inspiration. Persistence pays off, and sometimes it’s just a matter of staying around longer on location, waiting for the right light. Admittedly it can be tough when it gets late and you are tired and cold, but hang in there. Getting out of bed earlier for that stunning sunrise shot might be a push, but the beauty you’ll witness will make it worth the sacrifice.

One photographer that has a capacity to catch the light in such an impressive way is Ken Duncan. Watch the trailer for Chasing The Light below and see what photography inspiration you discover in the amazing ideas that come to mind for your next Dark Photography adventure.

As a passionate Photographer, Ken has put his hand to many projects over the years and I’d go so far as to say that you would have probably seen his work at some time and not even now it. Ken was interviewed on Living The Bucket Lists’s Inspiration Ninjas series and shares an insight into what drives him as a contemporary Photographer and an Australian Icon.

Find a Photographer who has work that you like the look of and see if you can figure out how they achieved the shots they did. See if you can re-create them in your own unique way. We would love to see what you have been able to achieve here. Join the forums and share your experiences.

Here’s a challenge; get out there and go the extra mile this year. Don’t settle for second best, even if it means embarking on solo missions when the family is sleeping or watching TV. Trust me, the sacrifice will be well and truly worth it.

09 Make money from your hobby

Nothing is more likely to fuel your photography inspiration than making some money along the way. There are numerous ways to earn a living from photography – it all depends on your skill level, personality type, and passions. While the market for more landscape calendars or greeting cards is saturated, there’s still room for tasteful stock images, particularly shots of people.

On-line micro-stock libraries such as iStockphoto.com will no longer provide a decent full-time income, but you could make some pocket money. Fortunately, there are still stock libraries that value their contributor’s images highly. If your images are accepted and sell regularly, you can expect to earn several thousand dollars every year, once you have built up a considerable body of quality work.

Of course, if you have the people skills and can think on your feet, wedding photography is where the real money is. As this competitive genre is seasonal, it can be supplemented by studio shoots, or baby portraiture.

10 Join the club

Photo albums have now been replaced with on-line galleries. Host sites include Google Photos or Yahoo’s Flickr, but if you’re serious, why not build your own personal website?

This is no longer such a daunting task, as it was a few years ago. Cloud-based hosts include clikpic.com and wix.com where beautiful templates make DIY web design a breeze. The only down side is that if you really want to rank in the search engines then you will struggle if you are using some of these platforms. On your next Google search pay attention to how many Wix and Weebly type sites show up.

Another option is to set up a profile on a site like Dark Photography where you can showcase your work and provide others with photography inspiration while retaining full control of your images. We will soon have a means for you to do this, so make sure you bookmark our site, or better still subscribe and we will let you know when you can take advantage of this amazing update.

However, if you and computers don’t mix, you can always find a like-minded community of real humans in a local camera club. Have a look at what Meet Ups are in your area.

11 Take a photography course

Dark Photograph - photography master class course - photography inspirationOur friends at Photography Masterclass have put this awesome course together. Take advantage of their amazing course that will catapult your photography skills so far forward that you’ll amaze all of your friends with what you can do. Before you know it you will be a source of photography inspiration to others!

These are broken down into logical chunks that are so easy to follow and put into action. You’ll learn everything from how to effectively use your camera, right through to how to present your finished work. There are over 11 hours of training here that is exceptional.

Let’s be honest, most folks will benefit from attending at least one photography course, especially when they’re starting out. This needn’t be a 4-year university degree. Check out your local high school – many offer night classes for adults, and are great value for money.

Alternatively, many pro photographers run seasonal workshops on portraiture, wildlife or landscapes. You don’t have to go to extraordinary expense to do this, just hit the road and explore your local area armed with some knowledge gained through an online course of your choice, or some techniques picked up in a couple of targeted and specific ebooks.


Dark Photograph - photography master class course - photography inspiration

The greatest chance you could give yourself is to brush up on the skills that you believe you need in order to get to the goals that you have. We’re confident that you’ll get a great deal of value from the course offered by Photography Masterclass.

12 Go on tour

To really improve your photography, you need to grab your camera, and practise, practise, practise. Perhaps the best way to fast-track your camera skills is on an intense weekend shooting on location under the watchful eye of an experienced guide?

He will transport you to the best spots at the best time of day, in the best light. This will ensure you capture great images.

Watch this space! We will be hosting workshops in the field where you will be able to join us on short photography getaways to unique locations. Not  only will this help with fueling your photography inspiration, you’ll also get personal time with us. You will be able to receive coaching on the entire spectrum of Dark Photography. Dates and locations are yet to be announced, in the meantime for more information you can contact us.

Making Your Light Bigger

Making Your Light Bigger

Dark Photography - Master Dark Photography - Making Your Light BiggerIf you want to make your light source larger, but don’t want to diffuse it with a soft box or scrim, you could bounce it off a wall, a reflector or fire it into an umbrella. Give this a try and see how the light source has gotten larger. I appreciate that most of you probably don’t have studio lights, and may never get them, but it is still important to know how to modify and shape light.

With digital photography it is pretty easy to control the color casts on your final photo, so those work lights you can buy at any home repair type store work very well.


Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Making Your Light Bigger


Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Making Your Light Bigger


Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Making Your Light Bigger

These will all work as beginner replacements for studio lights. They will need some post processing to remove color casts, but it’s a low cost way to get started. Caution is needed though, these are hot lights! Be careful about any sort of modification devices catching fire. There usually isn’t a problem, but never leave them unattended while they are turned on.

If you are after some inexpensive photography hacks subscribe to Dark Photography. I’ll show you how to make an soft lighting setups that you can use in your home to create some pretty stunning photos.

Flags, Dots and Fingers

You will soon be able to create photos with your homemade $10 lights that will rival the best studio portraits. And you will be able to use them as hard or soft lights. Another way to shape light is by using flags, dots or fingers.

Flags are like taking one of the flaps in a barn door and just using that to block the light. They come in all shapes, colors and sizes. Generally, larger ones are called flags, if the flag is smaller and narrower in shape – it’s generally called a finger. If it is round, we call it a dot. In reality, they are all different sizes and shapes of the same thing; a way to block light from hitting some part of, or your entire subject.


Dark Photography - Master Dark Photography - Making Your Light Bigger - Finger


Dark Photography - Master Dark Photography - Making Your Light Bigger - Dot

Above are samples of a finger and a dot, a flag is the same thing, just larger. We don’t usually think of permanent, stationary objects as flags, but a tree trunk or an overhanging leaf covered branch that blocks light from hitting your model would be the same concept.

What if we don’t want to completely block the light, but instead want to cast a specific shadow on our scene?

Imagine taking one of the above flags and cutting out a pattern. For example, cut away all but a big Tee and when the light shines through it, it will cast a shadow that resembles the shadow cast by the panes in a window frame. Or you could cut out a pattern of leaves and have that pattern striking your backdrop.

Hard Light

Hard Light

What is hard light? We define a hard light as one that is small in relation to the subject, generally un-diffused and it creates hard edged, dark shadows. What we are looking at here with hard light is the light quality and finding a suitable balance that provides the light quality we are after.

Our key light is the light that we are using as our main light source. It is the brightest light hitting your subject. Now let’s spend a minute or two discussing the light quality being emitted by our key light.

Is it “hard” light? Or is it “soft” light?

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Shaping and SnootThe sun is a hard light. It is unfiltered and un-diffused (unless it’s a cloudy day). Plus, it’s relatively intense and small in relation to our subject.

When a hard light hits a subject, intense highlights and sharp black shadows are created.  The gradation or fall-off of light from highlight to shadow is sharp and very abrupt.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Shaping and SnootWhen you see an actor on stage being lit by a spotlight, it is emulating the sun in that it is a very hard, directional light. When you think of hard light, think of it like a spotlight hitting your subject.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Shaping and Snoot

This creates strong modeling of shapes and dramatically emphasizes outlines and forms. It is also useful to create mood. Imagine an athlete after a big game where he or she lost. Now imagine him, or her sitting in the locker room. They are dejected – beaten. In your imaginary image was the locker room brightly lit? Or was it dark and brooding. You can convey a great deal of emotion with your lighting choices.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Shaping and SnootHow about those old film noir movies where they show a “has been – but never really was” boxer – it’s after the fight and they are in the locker room tending to their injuries. The scene almost always shows them alone or with their one and only supporter. Imagine that scene. You can see every drop of sweat, the ragged edges of the cut above the grossly swollen eye. It’s all in stark relief. The room is dark or very dimly lit. It’s all done by using a hard light source and few if any fill lights. They are attempting to show you the fighter’s “bottom of the barrel” type existence. In fact, the whole film noir industry was built on hard light and shadows.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Shaping and Snoot

By the way, there are BIG BUCKS available to photographers who can duplicate the film noir (hard light) look in portraits! This involves hairstyle and make-up too. Not just the light and shadows. The above portrait shows a butterfly lighting pattern.

Can you see why it is called that? If not, you need my “Building A Portrait”

13 Bad Habits That Can Ruin Your Photos

13 Bad Habits That Can Ruin Your Photos

Do this simple test below. See if you have developed some of these nasty habits. They are easy to pick up, but hard to shake off! For each bad habit, give yourself a test score. Finally, resolve to drop at least one of these habits this year.

01 LEAVE THE CAMERA AT HOME

The best camera is the one you have with you – even if it’s on your smart phone. Not every photo you take is photography competition material, or is of commercial value. Regardless, a huge megapixel count and optimum lens quality on a DSLR is useless if left at home.

02 RELY ON A SINGLE MEMORY CARD

Those little storage cards are hugely expensive, but the temptation to be frugal will bite you on the bum. Murphy’s Law states that your memory card will fill up precisely when you’re shooting that ‘money shot’; when the light is right; or when the entire group is all smiling at you. The remedy? Buy more memory cards.

03 DON’T BACK UP YOUR PHOTOS

I know a friend who fills up a memory card with images, then buys another, fill that up, then buys another – a dangerous habit! He recently confessed he’s lost some of his precious photos. Personally, I have experienced the pain of having a hard drive fail, losing more than a year’s commercial photography work. To be super-secure, you really should store your photographs in three different locations.

04 CHIMP

Constantly checking your images on the LCD display is called chimping. Nothing wrong with it, except if you’re into street photography, or at a wedding or party. You may miss that decisive moment, as you’re too engrossed in the perfectionistic tendency of chimping.

05 SHOOT FROM EYE LEVEL

Amateur shutterbugs tend to hold the camera at head-height. However, this will produce predictable results. When shooting in a location, learn to ‘work the scene’. Drop to your knees, or even lie on the ground, searching for fresh angles. An aerial perspective can be stunning. Remember that the best tool of composition is your feet.

06 FAIL TO CONSIDER THE BACKGROUND

Look for a simple background behind your subject. For example, avoid having a telephone pole (in the distance) that appears to protrude from a person’s head. If you have a long lens, you can employ a narrow depth-of-field to blur the background. This will isolate your subject from the clutter beyond, achieving a degree of separation.

07 CENTRE THE SUBJECT

Ignore the rules of composition at your peril. If you want your photos to stand out, learn and use the Rule of Thirds, rather than place your focal point bang in the middle, like most folks do, (in blissful ignorance). Or, add dynamic by tilting your camera at an angle. Don’t forget to try different types of framing: portrait orientation versus landscape orientation. Or even a really wide panoramic crop.

08 SHOOT ONLY IN BRIGHT DAYLIGHT

Confession time … I am guilty of this. Because I trained back in the bad old days of film, when strong light was necessary to capture good images, I became a fair-weather photographer. Also, I used compact digital cameras for a decade, which were hopeless in low light situations. So I was infatuated with clear, blue skies, as cloudy skies often washed out into a white haze.

However, under a harsh, midday sun, shadows are short and therefore objects do not look three-dimensional, lacking form. Human subjects may squint into the sun, or blink. Worse, they may have an ugly ‘sun-dial’ effect under their noses! Better to pose people in the shade.

Landscapers should learn to work with softer, diffused light – this is mandatory for waterfall scenes. Thunderclouds overhead will introduce a sense of foreboding that blue skies cannot. Golden hour lighting will exude warmer tones and longer shadows.

09 DON’T READ THE CAMERA MANUAL

Same old story: you buy a new camera, put the box away and the camera’s manual stays inside the plastic bag. Perhaps you were too eager to use your new gadget. Well, now it’s time to dig out the manual, and attack it with a highlighter pen.

Be methodical, and diligently work through each function of your camera. You may find features you didn’t know existed!

10 SHOOT ON AUTO

If you haven’t read the camera manual, your photos may suffer from the restrictions of shooting in Automatic mode. Modern cameras are amazing, and can produce great results on Auto, but not consistently. Better to take control yourself. Learn the semi-automatic shooting modes, such as Shutter or Aperture Priority. Then, if you are brave, try shooting on Manual.

11 THINK THAT POST-PROCESSING CAN FIX ANYTHING

This is a lazy habit to fall into. It’s much better to get a shot right in-camera, including the correct exposure, as blown-out highlights cannot be retrieved later. Another consideration is ensuring that the horizon is straight, or you will lose the edges of your image when rotating then cropping it on a computer. Use the 3×3 grid on your LCD display, or a spirit level fitted on the hot shoe.

If you shoot landscapes, buy some ND and ND Grad filters. The most useful filter is the Polariser, the effects of which cannot be replicated using software. Finally, it’s better to do a bit of gardening, removing distractions from a scene, than be forced to clone them out in Photoshop – tedious work!

12 SHOOT ONLY JPEGS

JPEG files are compressed. Unfortunately, this narrows the dynamic range of your photographs, and changes the colour, according to the camera’s presets. This can’t be undone. Shoot using the RAW file format, as this is more forgiving. RAW allows you the latitude to correct exposure and colour, as well as sharpen the image, on computer software. Think of RAW files as digital negatives, that need processing and fine tuning.

13 POST TOO MANY PHOTOS

We all take poor pictures, badly exposed or blurry … but there’s no need to inflict these on the unsuspecting public! Carefully select only your best images, then process these on the computer.

Also, display a variety of images on social media, or online galleries, but limit these to 3–5. Essentially, don’t submit minor variations of the same shot.

So, what’s your score? How many bad habits can you identify with? Tick these habits and tally up your total.

SCORING

1–3 habits: Wow! You are disciplined, and must have done a few photography courses.

4–6 habits: Not bad. But there is room for improvement.

7–9 habits: Don’t despair; there’s still hope for you. 🙂

10–13 habits: You need professional help!

Photo Exercise

Photo Exercise

Exercise 1

Here’s what you do; go into a field in the early morning, just after the sun clears the horizon. With the sun directly in front of you, get down low to the ground and scout around until you find a nicely shaped spider web.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Photo Exercise

Beautiful isn’t it? Now, as long as you’re there anyway, take a few shots for your collection. Get down low and fill the frame with the web. Don’t forget to pre-visualise and write everything in your notebook. Once you are done with that – make a mental note of exactly where the spider web is and go around to the other side of it. Now, with the sun at your back, what do you see? Is it as beautiful? Can you see it as well? Can you see it at all?

Hopefully, it will have some dewdrops on it. If not, bring a spray bottle of water with you and give it a gentle spritz.  By the way, spritzing “dewdrops” onto flowers and spider webs is an old professional trick. It makes them look so much better that few pros would go into the field without a spray bottle! Want bigger drops? Add some glycerin to the water.

The dew drops or the spritz of water should help you see the filaments of the web.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Photo Exercise

This is not just an exercise of hard light versus soft light. You are now learning a bit about the angle of light. When you put the finished photos side by side in your notebook, which one do you like best? Why? This exercise should help you to remember to always turn around and check the scene behind you when you are doing a photo session. By that I mean, the scene in front of you may be beautiful, but the scene behind you could be even better. The angle of the light can make a big difference.

Hmmm… I got a little off topic there, talking about light angle rather than talking about the light being hard. Let’s get back to hard light and talk about how to modify it.

Exercise 2

Go back and look at each of the ways we shape and control our hard light source, then try to figure out a way to manipulate the sun and your on camera flash using these techniques.

Can you make a snoot for your flash? How about a cookie?

Find ways to use flags to control the light hitting your scene.

Stop by a local camera store and ask them if they will show you a flag, a cookie, a snoot.

Just because these modifiers are generally used on studio lights, doesn’t mean that you can’t find a way to get the same look. Try making a snoot out of paper and tape it to your light.

Next time, we’ll go into soft light, you’re going to like this one!

Light Angles Matter

Light Angles Matter

Light angles can make a big difference to your photography. Using a side glancing light to accent an item with shadows can soften and balance out your image. Hard light is great for that.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Angles MatterWhat about the face of a young girl wanting to be a model? How would you light her face? A glancing, hard light is going to show every blemish and line in her face. Do you think that she would want that type of photograph in her portfolio? Probably not! By the way, she doesn’t have to be a model. Any woman is not going to like a photo that shows all her acne scars, and other bumps and bulges in her face. Boys and men generally care less than women, but they won’t like seeing every mark and blemish either.

Many model photographers use a hard light source – an on camera flash – but they use a “ring flash” to fill in all the wrinkles and shadows from blemishes.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Angles Matter

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Angles Matter

There are several drawbacks to using a ring flash. First, there are problems from red eye. Second, it creates really odd looking round catch lights in the eyes. And third, since it eliminates shadows, you end up with a flat, 2D image. I recommend against using a ring flash for portrait work. If you need or want a hard light source, use one but put it at an angle to your subject. Then fill in the shadows as needed.

Want to see masterful usage of angles with a hard light source? Pick up any bodybuilding magazine. They use a hard light source glancing across the body to define and visually enhance the muscles.




Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Angles Matter


Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Angles Matter

Consider the angle of your light. A hard light that is off to the side and glancing across the face (or body) will show every muscle, scar, pit and bulge. But move that same light so that it is shining directly into the model – from the camera viewpoint – and you fill in all those facial anomalies, totally erase all their muscles and give your model smoother skin. Sometimes – a pretty girl for example, shining the light directly into the face is a good thing (but try to avoid using a ring light).

The trade off is that you flatten the face and body, and lose most of the 3D effect you get from shadows. The shadow that defines shape is called “modeling”. Sometimes like with a body builder – shining the light directly into the subject will ruin the portrait.

Every photographic situation has trade-offs. It’s how you deal with them that will define your photographic vision or eye. Stepping away from taking photos of people for a second, here’s another example of how the angle of the light can change everything. Suppose you want to shoot a photo of a spider’s web.

Shooting spider webs can be done with hard light or soft light, but in my experience hard light makes a more dramatic shot. With the hard light of the sun, it is easy to see the thin filaments of the web as well as the glistening dewdrops in the early morning; assuming of course that the angle is right.

If the sun is behind the web (shining towards you), the spider webs seem to pop up everywhere. But if you are looking for them with the sun at your back, you could spend all day searching and never find one!

There is a spider web in the below photo on the left. The below photo on the right is much less obvious as the light is at our back.


Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Angles Matter


Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Angles Matter

 

Light Qualities

Light Qualities

Previously we learned a bit about light qualities that have to be considered when you are planning your creative vision. Some of the questions to consider include; it hard light? Is it soft light? Does the light give off a white or yellow tone?

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Qualities Hard LightThis is a sample of hard light. Notice how the distinction between light and shadow is very obvious. The lighter areas between the nose and lips, and on the chin are a stark contrast to the shadow cast by the nose running over onto the cheek.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Qualities Soft LightThis is a sample of soft light. Notice how there are no strong distinctions between light and shadow, even the shadow cast between the right cheek and jaw line under the layers of hair are subtle. Look at how the balance of light and shadow moves down the neck, gently emphasising the shape of the neck rather than being bold and obvious, which would draw the viewers attention away from the eyes.

We’ve defined and discussed the key light (the main or most powerful light), but we also need to consider the source, the intensity, direction and colour.

We’ve learned that shadow defines form. With no shadows, your subject will appear flat and two dimensional.  So to make our photos more realistic and more 3D, we need to give a lot of attention to the shadows.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Qualities Soft LightNotice how the shadows make this photo of a mannequin look 3D?

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Qualities Soft LightHere is a sample of a photo with fewer shadows. Notice how it looks more 2D (or flatter) than the mannequin photo? Comparatively this photo also looks faded and washed out, there are so many things wrong with this photo and through your Dark Photography journey you will learn how to avoid taking photos that do not convey the message that you want.

We’ve also learned to study shadows. They are more important than most beginners to photography realise. In fact, in portrait photography, all six of the most popular lighting setups are named for the shadows they create! Broad light, narrow light, split light, loop light, butterfly light and Rembrandt light. Always ask yourself:

  • Are there any shadows?
  • What is their direction?
  • What about the shadow’s depth?

If the shadow is too dark, we lose all the facial details. If it is too light, we lose our roundness and 3D effect.

We’ve learned that we can manipulate our shadows by adding in a secondary light called a fill light.

The fill light is generally set opposite to the main (or “key”) light and adjusted so that its’ intensity is less than the key light. In this way, it fills in the shadow areas but doesn’t completely eliminate them.

Your on camera flash can be used as a fill light, so can white reflectors, walls or even a van! There are many different photography hacks that can provide you with the different results you are looking for, and many we will teach you that will cost you almost nothing to use compared to the commercial alternative. To get access to these you will need to subscribe to Dark Photography.

A key thing to remember is that a light source doesn’t have to actually generate the light; it can merely reflect light from another source. Are your shadows not dark enough? Try using a a black reflector.

We learned about raccoon eyes and several ways to fix them. We did several exercises to help sharpen our “creative eye” and learn to predict the effect of various light and shadows affecting our subject.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Qualities Soft LightHere are a couple samples of raccoon eyes.

Can you see why they are called raccoon eyes?

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Qualities Soft Light

We learned how to take a lot of weight off our subjects by controlling the depth of shadows and the color of their clothing.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Qualities Soft LightWe learned how to make our subjects look younger by filling in the shadows created by the wrinkles on their skin.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Qualities Soft LightWe’ve learned about the causes of the glare in our subject’s spectacles or sunglasses and several easy ways to remove it. We’ve learned why studio photographers use umbrellas and soft boxes to soften and diffuse the light in order to control the shadows.

In this review of ambient light we’ve briefly touched on and covered a lot of ground. It wouldn’t hurt you to go back and re-read about light shaping and snoots, and cookies and gobos. Re-do the photo exercises. Light and shadow is an important area to master.

Moving on – Let’s get more into hard light and how to shape and control it.

10 Commandments for Landsacapers

10 Commandments for Landsacapers

To take the stunning photographs you want to there is a lot more to consider than just the old point and shoot. Planning is the key and you will find that the more research and planing you do the less time you will need to spend trying to figure out the how. This will also reduce any potential expense you may encounter through the consumption of not just time, but other resources that don’t come freely.

Let’s explore the ten commandments for landscape photography that have helped us catch that exact shot we have been looking for.

The Photographer's Ephemeris - Dark Photography01 Use The Photographer’s Ephemeris to calculate the time and the path of the sun and moon as they set and rise. TPE is a great little app that has so many handy features built into it. You can set pins in the map to come back to at later dates and plan your attack to get the perfect position in those precious moments of the most creative soft light. The sun and the moon, just like the tide, wait for no man; so be prepared. You can find this great tool online at http://photoephemeris.com/

02 Check thy tide charts. With coastal scenes, an out-going tide will leave a pristine beach, free of footprints. Rocks will still be wet and hence, reflect the light.

03 Check thy gear before leaving home. Batteries must be charged; memory cards must be empty. The tripod shoe should be on the camera. Lenses and filters must be clean.

04 Arrive at thy location one hour early. If thou art relaxed, thou wilt be in a better frame of mind to produce great images.

05 Scout thy location thoroughly, looking for likely compositions. Pre-focus. Wait for the right light.

06 Use a hot shoe spirit level to keep the horizon straight. (This is very useful for video, or when shooting in the dark.) Alternatively, of course, if thou hast a recent-model DSLR, it may have an in-built level.

07 Tell someone exactly where thou art going.

08 Thou shalt look after thyself. Don’t forget to fuel up. Have snacks, hot drinks, music, warm clothes, first aid and cellphone.

09 Know thy gear. (Thou cannot see thy camera controls in the dark). When the sun is setting, thou wilt only have a short window of opportunity to capture the best light. Now is not the time to be fumbling around trying to read the manual in the impending darkness!

10 Thou shalt have fun! If it doesn’t work out, don’t fret. Pack up, go home and treat thyself to a hot shower or a decent meal. It is not uncommon for two out of three photo shoots to fail. That is, thou may not have bagged any great photos. But this can be par for the course, as one cannot completely control the vagaries of the weather… the wind, the tides, the clouds.

Indeed, it is precisely this uncertainty which makes Landscape Photography such an exciting pursuit.

5 Habits of Highly Effective Photographers

5 Habits of Highly Effective Photographers

To be truly effective when taking photographs you need a mix of skill, knowledge and above all, patience. Frustration through a lack of ability to get the shot you want will, more often than not, drastically reduce your chances of succeeding. Don’t let your emotions get in the way, keep a level head and apply these five habits of highly effective Photographers.

01 Don’t expect their camera to do all the work. This means saying goodbye to ‘Auto’ and bravely using other modes such as Aperture Priority or Manual.

  • Read the camera manual, several times, to get familiar with their gear.
  • Gradually work through various functions and features on their camera.
  • Take control of their camea, and the lighting conditions they are faced with.

02 Understand that pressing the shutter is only half of making a good photograph.

  • Modern cameras are no match for the human eye, and still have lots of limitations, especially in low light situations.
  • Post-processing has been done since the invention of photography (either in a traditional darkroom or on a computer). This is where you polish your final images, and make adjustments to compensate for the constraints of the camera.
  • Select and present only the very best images from a photo shoot.
  • Store a back-up copy of their images onto an external hard drive.

03 Publish photographs, so they aren’t destined to die on a dusty hard drive, unseen by the world.

  • Share their work to get constructive feedback from peers, (e.g. via on-line galleries such as 500px, Flickr, Google +, Instagram or a Facebook group.)
  • Present their images as a means of self-expression; their contribution to recording the world, from their point of view, (e.g. framed photos, greeting cards, calendars, art galleries, photo-books, or merely as prints inside a simple photo album).

04 Get inspiration from other photographers they admire.

  • Read eBooks, magazines, blog posts, look at Facebook posts, or view YouTube videos.
  • Visit galleries, take workshops or go on a photography tour to learn from a more experienced shooter.

05 Travel in search of fresh subject matter; this could be interesting locations or photogenic people.

  • On a micro level, they use their feet to find fresh angles and perspectives – they ‘work the scene’, and don’t just settle on the first composition they see.
  • On a macro level, they visit exotic or remote locations away from home, opening their eyes to new possibilities.
  • Avoid shooting clichés, looking for a new ‘take’ on well-photographed subjects.

 

Cookies And Gobos

Cookies And Gobos

In photography we call these patterned flags a “cookie”. They are very useful for adding a little life to a backdrop, or creating a scene.

In the theater, they are called “gobos” which stands for GOes Before OpticS the gobo is physically located between the light source and the lights optics. It is actually inserted into the light’s housing. To avoid being burned up and ruined by the intense heat of the lights, theatrical gobos are generally made of metal.

In photography, we don’t place a gobo between the light source and the light’s optics. Instead we place it in front of the light. It is between the light source and the area we want the shadow to fall upon. So, though it does the same basic thing, it technically isn’t a gobo. In photography we call them cookies.

The term “cookie” comes from the repetitive “cookie cutter” patterns that most cookies have.

The major difference being that since a gobo comes before the light’s optics; it is easier to control the focusing of the shadow images. They are much sharper than what we get with a cookie.

Cookies can be made of most any materials ranging from metal to paper and everything in between. We have this flexibility since the cookie isn’t subjected to the heat that a gobo has to endure.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Cookies and GobosIn this picture of a cat the cat appears to be snoozing with the late afternoon sunlight shining through the window. In reality, it was shot with a hard light source and a cookie cut to resemble the Tee shapes of the window crossbars.

Sometimes the use of a cookie is not hidden and is very obvious, other times it’s hard to tell.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Cookies and GobosHere is one where I was fooling around with shadows and it is pretty obvious that there is a cookie involved.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Cookies and GobosIn this picture of a girl looking out a window in the late afternoon light.  The window covering’s slats are casting a shadow on her face.

Question; is this a real scene of a girl looking out a window? Or is it a studio shot with a hard light source and a cookie? There’s no way to know, and that’s the whole point (I suspect the latter).

Obviously – since they are smaller – it is easier to modify studio lights with flags, dots, and so on… but the sun can be controlled too!

Flags can be put between the subject and the sun to either block the light or cast a shadow. Natural objects, like a building, trees and so on can be used as well.

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