Technique Tuesday: Setting up a Photo Exhibit

Earlier this month I got the chance to hang some of my photographs up at Mitzi’s Cafe in Parkdale in Toronto.

Please ignore my weird half-closed eye and look at the photos instead.

It was a bit of a whirlwind and definitely a learning curve for me, as I haven’t done this before and it was all done in the span of 4-5 days! This includes choosing photographs, buying frames, and getting practice prints and real prints done on time.

However, it all worked out in the end (with a few obstacles that were overcome). It was so exciting to take my visiting parents there this weekend and see my photographs surrounded by bustling crowds in the cafe! I felt really proud of what I had done, and more than anything it made me realize that I would love the chance to show more work.

I thought it would be interesting to make a blog post showing some of the process (I documented it all with my phone so that I would remember!) as well as some of the issues.

1. If things go wrong, that’s okay

The afternoon of I realized that three of my frames were broken, probably from earlier in the day when I had had to carry all 8 onto the subway and someone pushed me into the garbage cans–cool, thanks person. However, I didn’t realize until only a few hours before I was to put them up; PANIC. Luckily, I had time to race to Michael’s and grab new ones, however… there were only 2 stores in Toronto that had the ones I wanted, and they were both a bit of a ways away from the cafe.

2. If your plans have to change, that’s okay too
3. If it’s your first time exhibiting, make sure it is a relaxed place!¬†

I was infinitely lucky to have Sasha, the owner of the cafe, be the chillest man I have ever met. He was very kind and totally okay with many of the problems I had to attempt to deal with.

4. Bring a friend to help

Without the aid of my friend Erin, I would have had to somehow measure, level, and creatively decide how to hang 8 16 x 20 frames having never done it before. Luckily she was there to help me plan what would go where, hand me the tape measure, the level, etc. A lifesaver! It also helps so you know your idea is looking okay (or not).

5. Be prepared… like too prepared

I was naive and a bit cheap when I purchased the adhesives that I used to stick the frames on the wall. The frames are light! I only need one per frame! Easy peasy! Until the next day when a message from the cafe told me some had fallen off the wall. They were okay, but I decided to go in at 7 AM the next day and fix it.

Not only that, the morning I came in prepared, even more had fallen! I felt miserable and embarrassed. My hands kept shaking (!).

Then again, it’s all a learning experience. And now I am SO PREPARED for the next one! Tools are not enough. Overthink every step and be overprepared. You will not regret thinking of everything that could go wrong. I didn’t, and then everything DID go wrong (some other obstacles not mentioned for the sake of brevity).

However, I am so proud of the end result!

This set features 8 photographs from my time in Peru in 2012. I hope that these shots can share some of the experiences I had on the streets of Arequipa, Cusco, and in the north near Trujillo. They will be up until July 30th!

The Process

The first thing you have to do is see the space (or at least get rough measurements), envision your work, and think about how you can make it happen. Remember to plan it in stages, as all at once can be overwhelming… particularly when you have to do it on a short timeline! Breaking it up into small doable steps is possible though, and things mostly work out. ūüėČ

Before I had frames or prints chosen, I went to the location and did rough measurements (like with my eyes only since it was a cafe that was open and had customers) of the space and took photos. Then I jotted out ideas of different framing and layouts. I ended up with the more classic exhibit layout, only because of the space, my budget, and symmetry.

Once I knew I wanted them all to be the same size, I had to decide which size with the wall only a memory and a photo on my phone. I made my own versions (with totally accurately sized images of course) and hung them up on my own wall to try and judge which I liked best. I went for 11 x 14 prints so that you could see them when you walked into the place.

So when I knew the print size and the idea of the layout in my mind, I went frame hunting. I ended up getting a simple frame with only one matte, because I liked the space it gave the photo to speak for itself. However it was time consuming to try and decide and figure out which worked with what. Then I had to traverse to the faraway stores that actually had the frames. Here is my dining room where I laid them out playing around with them. Guest starring my Swiffer!

This took awhile, only to gather the frames. In all of Toronto there were only two Michaels that had them. Again, with the help of my dear friend Erin, she accompanied me to the Michaels way out in Scarborough to pick up the originals (not including my detour to the Michaels up in York to get the replacements the day of…). This probably took up the most time/stress. Plus, 8 of these in one bag is SO HEAVY. The bag was ripped to shreds by the end and I was just hugging them desperately on the streetcar to keep them from falling all over the place.

I then got some test prints done to make sure they looked okay at the size. For these I went to Walmart as it was only overnight, cheap, and if they ended up looking awful it wasn’t a huge loss. Here I just taped it overtop the still wrapped frame to get an idea of what it would look like.

Once I was pleased I sent my photos to be printed at Downtown Camera, who–with a phone call from me sort of begging–managed to get them printed the afternoon I needed them, which was a day earlier than originally scheduled for the prints. What a great company!

Be sure to put up a label that has all of your contact info on it! I opted out of signing and dating my prints/mattes, as I wanted the photographs to simply be. This was my sneaky alternative in case anyone was interested in my work. Notice my lovely hand drawn logos…..

The setting up process is always a bit messy. Make sure to have pencils, a tape measure, a level, and your hanging devices. There will be lots of math, calculations, and re-measuring. It is a bit time consuming and your arms feel like jelly after but it is so exciting to be there and see your prints up on the wall, one by one!

So there’s my little blog post on how my Mitzi’s Cafe Peru photo set went up for the month of July, 2017; one of the most exciting/stressful/fun things I’ve done this summer!


Technique Tuesday: What to Look For on the Streets

 

 

What is Street Photography?

Street photography–or what I also like to call documentary photography–does not necessarily have to take place on the street. It’s sort of a colloquialism that has grown out of the early 20th century when photographers traversed their cities and took discrete photographs of people living their lives in the city. It’s a way of capturing the candid world around you; people, buildings, relationships, quirkiness, sadness, humanity, and so on. I find that what many would call street photography also fits into other categories: documentary, candid, photojournalistic, etc. These are all along the same line and I use the term street photography to generally talk about photographs of the world around us. However, there is some debate that street photography can be more artistic than documentary-style… go with whatever works for you!

Despite not really marketing myself as a street photographer, it is one of my favorite things to do and I absolutely love it. It’s a passion project, for now. ūüôā

PSA

HOWEVER.

There is a debate about the merits of street photography. It is seen as voyeuristic, preying upon the obliviousness of people on the street to snap a photograph you then use for your own reasons: in a show, in your home, to sell for commercial gain, etc. This is actually a concern and something photographers need to think about. The days of no ethics are gone; one must try to be as responsible as possible. I find that asking people for permission for a photograph does not necessarily take away from the ‘candidness’ of a moment; you can still get a great photo, a laugh, a dour look, etc. It does feel a bit weird though. I also know that I don’t like even my friends and family to notice my camera; you can instantly tell a shift in how they are holding themselves and acting. Unfortunately, this is a battle I cannot answer. Every photographer just has to try and do what makes them (and their subjects!) comfortable.

 

 

My Street Photography Woes; and Yours Too?

I have a crippling fear of being called out in public. I try to discreetly lift up my big ol’ camera and snap photographs from the shadows. Then I will try to look away inconspicuously, shuffle around, fiddle around with my camera. It is scary stuff, and I’m still learning. That’s why I wanted to make this post: what do YOU do to take successful street photography photographs? I would love to hear more tips!

So how do we get over this hump? My first suggestion would be that if you are interested in pursuing street photography ONLY, to grab a smaller point and shoot camera: such as a Ricoh, a Canon G-series, or Fuji. It’s still a goal of mine to grab one of these little babies. I am jealous of the Brownie era, when one could walk around with a camera box discreetly hanging from your side and take great street photographs. I mean, some of my favorites have been on my iphone!

Another is to just take photographs CONSTANTLY. Get used to taking your camera out in public. People may look at you and wonder what you’re looking at. They may avoid you. That’s fine. Just keep doing it! Take photographs of everything. I have usually 1 photograph I actually really like to every 150 photographs I throw out. That’s the magic of the digital era. Take them all of the time! Soon you will get comfortable and have no problem whipping out your camera when you see a great shadow falling across a group of people.

 

 

Another suggestion is to use an old film camera. I am blessed that my dad gave me his old SLR Nikon. These cameras are very discreet (well, more than the new DSLRs) and with a 50mm attached they take beautiful film photographs. Go out and try! I am a huge fan of film. Something about knowing there is a set number of exposures makes you really think about the positioning, angles, shapes, and expressions in your photographs. Nothing helps you perfect what you are looking for like film (sorry, interjected personal opinion).

 

 

 

 

What to Look For

So what do I look for on the street? Here are just some ideas to get you going!

a) light and lack thereof: shadows and shadow shapes make great photographs. Look up Henry Callahan for some beautiful examples of light and space in street photography.

 

 

 

b) angles. Building corners, leading lines, symmetry, poetry in shapes.

 

 

 

c) people. This is sometimes the hardest one to do. The thing is, many think you have to take photographs of people doing something interesting. That’s not the case. Many of the best street photographers of the early 20th century took photographs of people walking across the street, turning a corner, or talking to others. The ones with people looking directly into the camera are a bit of a different story: in the past, when people had brownies and other similar camera, they would often take a photo just at the moment the person looked at them and noticed the camera. We never see the moment after, which may include people getting angry, or asking questions, or leaving. It’s that second of realization. Again, today, it has to be a bit different. So how do we as photographers take street photographs of people without stepping on the toes of privacy? Questions, questions…

 

 

 

 

d) composition. Composition is SO important. Street photography is not just random snapshots of the street. Well, it kind of is! But out of the 200 photos you take, not all of them will work. The best ones are the ones that have a composition you like, whether it’s quirky, different, or the standard rule of thirds. Composition matters and the best way to get better at it is to just keep practicing! But I really do think composition and taste is so subjective. What I may see as a lovely stark shot someone else might see as boring… it really all depends, so just go with your gut!

 

 

 

 

e) action. I know I just said they don’t have to be doing anything, but sometimes they are. Try to capture those moments.

 

 

f) on that note, emotions of one kind or another. This delves more into the photojournalistic/documentary style of photography. However, I see them as two halves of one whole. They are different words and frames for telling stories of the candid world around us.

Those are just some of the things I look for. Try them out or try taking photos of what catches your attention: a used candy wrapper on a sidewalk, two people chatting on a park bench, the architecture of a particular street… Try to come at it from a photographer’s eye and just go for it! I am definitely still learning, so let’s all go get better together. ūüôā

Summary

I love street photography: I love looking at it, studying it, learning about it, and taking it. The reason I love it, even with all of its problems, is that it’s a second snapshot of the world around the photographer. It can show viewers glimpses of cities, shadowed back alleys or graceful highway lines. It can show the dusty streets of prairie towns or the eclectic pile-on of urban streets to people that might not know it’s out there. We see people wearing clothes or expression we might not see elsewhere. I love just witnessing the world. When I walk or travel I am always staring, trying to absorb everything around me. Street photography is way to capture the world in a certain time period that wouldn’t exist otherwise. I can envision American cities in the 40s and 50s because some of my favorite street photographers are from that era. That’s the gift they’ve given us photographers today. I find that the more I do street photography, the more I start to see the world around me as possible photographs; a weird byproduct!

 

 

 

So go out, try to be a little sneaky (but not in an evil way), and take some photos of your city, your town, your community, your world! The first step to understanding photography is to take as many photographs as possible. And many of my favourite street photographs have not been the picture-perfect photograph. That’s the best part about street photograhy; everything is something.

 

Now go out and explore!

 


Technique Tuesday: Choosing a Lens

Hello! Long live Technique Tuesdays! It has been awhile since I’ve been able to post one; I spent the summer absorbing my last few months in Vancouver before moving to Toronto a month and a half ago. Suffice to say this last month has been CRAZY trying to get used to school again! But being here has sparked my work ethic (haha) so I want to make sure I keep putting these out there for everyone!

The number one question I get asked the most is:

What type of lens should I use?

This is always an intriguing question to me. Lenses can be versatile, but my number one reply to this question is:

The lens is not as important as the person!

I don’t say this with a passive aggressive undercurrent of being like “oh, haha,¬†lenses?¬†How absurd. I am above them.” The only reason I say this is because I want people to know that THEIR eye is more important than the lens eye. A creative angle, thought, or light choice can happen no matter what the lens. I cannot express how important this thought is:¬†depend on yourself and your eye and not your technology.

(I might also say this because I can’t afford new technology… but that’s beside the point!)

OKAY. So you’ve asked me that question and I’ve responded with the above.

The next thing to consider is:

What do you want to take photographs of?

Lenses can be very situational OR they can be very versatile. Here is what I mean:

Most affordable lenses these days are zoom lenses, otherwise known as telephoto lenses. What I mean by that is that it has a ring on the lens that lets you change your distances (or mm). For example, my favorite of these is 18-200 mm, meaning it can go wide and zoomed out at 18mm all the way up to 200 mm, which is closer to your subject. This is very handy and I LOVE my telephoto lenses because they are versatile. Downside: their image quality is not as good as a prime lens.

What is a prime lens? A prime lens is a lens that focuses on only one distance. An example of this is my beloved 50 mm. These lenses are often more expensive, but their image quality is gorgeous.

giphy-2Oh George! Buy an SLR! Source.

The NEXT thing to think about is¬†image stabilization (IS).¬†This is your camera’s/lens’ ability to stay still when taking photographs, even when zoomed in (which is tougher). Some companies have IS in their camera body, like Sony. More often than not it will be in the lens (such as Canon and Nikon). This is lame, because the lenses with IS can cost 500+ more than their non-IS version (for Canon L lenses for example). This frustrates me because I feel IS should be in every camera no matter what–common sense? Otherwise, say you have an 18-200 mm zoom¬†with no IS; you zoom in to take a photo of a bird–snap snap–and then it’s fuzzy! It will always be fuzzy unless you have a tripod.

Therefore, it is worth saving that extra bit to get a lens with IS; it will make all the difference! If you do not need this and can deal with never zooming in, always using a tripod, etc etc than you are fine getting a cheaper lens with no IS.

The NEXT thing to think about is f-stop. I discussed this briefly in my Depth of Field Technique Tuesday, however it is worth going over again with my handy very professional graphic:

 

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The circles in the image above show the f-stop on the box. The smaller the number, the blurrier your background will be a.k.a the more “bokeh” your image will have. People love this for portraiture, food shots, insects/plants, basically anything close up where you need your subject to be the main focus.

This is something to consider when buying your lens if you are looking into portrait photography. It may be cheaper to buy the 17-85 mm with the f/4.0, however that means your backgrounds will not get as blurry as say a prime 85 mm with f/1.4, which is a great one for small focus points and blurry backgrounds. So consider the f-stop number you may want when purchasing your lens ESPECIALLY if you think you will be taking portrait photos!

OKAY. So, three aspects of a lens to think about:

  • the zoom/prime
  • the IS or no IS
  • the f-stop number

you may want. These are 3 things I usually think about when purchasing a lens.

To go back to the main question though, you must answer yourself:

What do you want to take photographs of with it? 

This is important because if you go out and buy a 2000 dollar wide-angle lens and then NEVER use it because all you do is take photos of plant leaves and people’s faces, that’s a bad thing. A very bad thing. When you buy a lens you want it to serve a purpose. All of my lenses are integral to my photography. I constantly carry most of them with me because they all do different jobs that I actually utilize. This is key.

This does not mean you have to buy a unique lens for every single situation you may be in. This is the DREAM of course, but we are not all that rich (now I’m just thinking about all the new lenses I want!). All it means is that you have to think about the type of photography you enjoy, the type of photography you want to work on, and the type of photography you think matters to¬†you.

Below I’ve made a general list of the types of lenses and what their most common uses are. REMEMBER: you don’t have to fit inside this box! I’ve used my 50 mm for nature or landscape photos; I’ve used my wide angle for close-ups; all sorts of fun stuff!

CANON NOTE

I am a Canon user, so I’ll leave a tidbit for my fellow Canonites, just in case. There are two main types of lenses: EF lenses, which are lighter and have plastic components. They work well but they are cheaper and therefore not professional quality. Then there are L lenses, which are heavier, have metal components, and take high-end photos, particularly for enlargements. They tend to be more (by quite a bit) but depending on what you will use it for it could be worth it to save up!

Lenses are super fun and creative and amazing and constantly changing with technology to be better and better. However, in the end the really fun and creative stuff is on your end!

Happy shopping, and feel free to comment with any questions! ūüôā

PS: Because I am a Canon photographer I will be focusing on Canon lenses because that is what I know best. However, if you have something else just googling it with your camera type will often give you the equivalent!

REMEMBER: most telephotos can be used to get the prime lens ranges; the only difference is that their quality may not be as good. Also, using a prime is fun because it forces you, the photographer, to move your body around! Sometimes this is fun, also good exercise.

LENSES AND MOST COMMON USES

PRIME LENSES:

35 mm (f/1.8 etc) good for portraiture shots and low light situations

50 mm (f/1.8 or f/1.2) have to be a bit further away than 35 mm if taking portraits (can get about 2m from subject) — similar look though

85 mm have to go even further than 50 mm! up to 4m however a bit of a different focal length than the above (get more of surroundings around your subject)

100 mm¬†although this is technically a macro lens it makes for great portraits! If you get one with f/2.8 or around there you’ll get a good background blur.

**NOTE: I’ve never noticed a HUGE difference between these; they are the standard prime lenses for “portraits” but as I’ve said before, they can be used for different purposes. So many people love 85; so many love 50.

TELEPHOTO LENSES:

17-55 mm is thought to be a good focal range for beginners, often the mm used the most in other telephotos! Canon has a good one with f/2.8 and IS.

18-55 mm  this is the one your camera normally comes with! Utilize it!

70-200 mm starting to go into the long end of the zoom but this is useful if you like getting a bit closer shots!) good for event shooting (concerts etc

18-200 mm I use a SIGMA lens for this; I like it for more wide angle landscapes which make for great dramatic shots

24-105 mm¬†my favorite all-purpose telephoto if I don’t need that wide angle!

10-18 mm for wide angle shots¬†only. If you’re a newbie I wouldn’t recommend this, only because it has such a narrow and specific range. Of course, if you LOVE wide angle and it is your PASSION then go for it!

MACRO LENSES: I know this is up for debate a lot, but Tamron makes the best macro lenses, pretty much. I am not sure about specs because I don’t have one myself and don’t do a lot of macro photography; this is worth researching more!

PPS: When you go into a camera store, don’t be shy! Ask them if you can test the lens out. This is important! Sometimes they hover which can be awkward. I hate looking at cameras or lenses. I get all anxious. But if I’m going to spend money, then you bet I’m going to try it out first. Think of it like buying a 2000 dollar coat; you wouldn’t NOT try it on before buying it, right? Have this mentality when you go! Even when just looking. You do not have to commit right away, remember. I usually float into a store 4-5 times before I buy something. No pressure, my friends.

NEXT POST: will be about camera bodies and WHAT IN THE WORLD that tiny writing even means on the labels in the store. I know I’m going a little bit backwards, but that’s okay!¬†Just keeping y’all on your toes.


Technique Tuesday: Black and White Photography

This Tuesday I’ll be looking at one of my favorites… black and white photography.

The general idea seems pretty straightforward: either you make the setting on your camera black and white or change it in post-processing. However, just like color photos, you should have your creative eye and mind in a black and white setting if you take a photo and plan to make that the outcome. Black and white photography is the original photography and should be taken just as seriously and not as an alternative afterthought.

I love black and white photography. Give me grainy, dirty, smudged, mid-movement black and white photography any day and I will be obsessed with it. Black and white is fun because it allows you to:

  • focus on shape, line
  • focus on composition
  • focus on expression and emotion
  • focus on lighting: shadows and highlights, silhouette
  • focus on texture
  • focus on patterns

In black and white photography, you can’t rely on soft colors or Instagram filters to tell your story. It has to be done with the shapes, the faces, the pure feeling that the photo evokes. And that, my friends, is the best part about photography. Take away all of the tools, all of the technology, and yet you still have the chance to do what photography is all about, and that is tell a story.

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Below I’ve listed some tips for black and white photography. This is not my most complex Technique Tuesday, so I hope you will be able to try out some of these ASAP!

Shoot in RAW

Always shoot in RAW! It serves the same purpose as a negative for film, meaning you can go back and work on it again and again and it won’t lose quality; it’s the highest data image file you can have! Which is good for black and white, as you may need to adjust things like highlights and shadows quite a bit.

WARNING: only shoot in RAW if you have a program on your computer that can edit it! That would be the program your camera with, or any Adobe program (Photoshop, Lightroom, etc.) at least the newest versions.

Low ISO 

Be sure to shoot your photos at a low ISO, even if they are in color. As soon as they are turned black and white, grain becomes much more apparent. Here’s one I took with grain to show you the difference between a low ISO photo and a high ISO.

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You can see the grain in the photo above from a higher ISO I used.

Remember what ISO is: your camera’s sensitivity to light! 200-400 is the ISO for normal daylight and counts as a lower ISO number.

Best Times of Day to Shoot

Black and white photographs actually work best on overcast days. So if you’re not getting the sun you want for dramatic colors, try out some black and white instead! Overcast works best because it stops your photos from being overexposed or too shadowed.

However, this may not work for you if you want a more dramatic lighting situation, which would still work for photogs. Sun flares in black and white can be dramatic and beautiful! However they make a more dramatic landscape (either very dark or very bright) and aren’t great for portraits or for certain types of photographs (some architecture shots or general subject-based photography).

Composition! 

Composition matters SO MUCH in black and white photography. The placement of people, things, and even¬†you¬†when it comes to taking the photo is key. This is when you really have to stretch your brain. Don’t just look at what’s happening in front of you but what makes up the scene. Is that just a door on the side of a building, or is it a minimalist rectangular shaped photo that extends to the building shape? Is that railing just a railing or a pattern to study? Look at architecture as a good starting point: watch for patterns, bold designs, straight lines, simple compositions. Once you start thinking this way, it is almost impossible to stop. I’m like this even when I don’t have my camera on me; it’s a great way to be, because then I remember what catches my eye and I go back later with a camera!

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Texture: Active Skies or Minimalist

It’s important to start learning to look in tone and texture, not color, for black and white photography.

“Active skies” refers to the idea that if you are taking a black and white landscape, it doesn’t always work best with a plain sky. It’ll create a drab photo. It might look beautiful and blue in color, but in black and white it just looks like a flat space, which is not always what one wants. Active skies is a term for an exciting sky with depth, however I also mean it in terms of overall texture in your photograph.

One time this won’t apply is when you are going for a minimalist look, with bare accents and mostly shapes and light as your main tool to create a photograph; this works just fine in some cases as well, of course! There are no limits in photography, only different directions.

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An active sky above adds depth to the photo.

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A rather inactive sky here shows a more minimalist approach to black and white landscape photography with similar-sized subjects.

What Kind of Lighting to Look For

Light is one of the biggest elements in B & W photos. What adds depth and variety to these types of photos is the combination of shadows, highlights, and contrast.

Make sure to keep an eye out for varying shadows because it will add different and dynamic depths to your photos. If you see a good contrast–a white building with a black door, say–this makes for a strong photograph as well. Light is¬†so important¬†to keep an eye on in a photo. Go with your instincts; if it looks like a cool light dynamic against a builiding, or there’s a shadow cutting half across a person’s face to add an element of mystery and you like it, then go for it! Document it!

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In color, this photo was rather flat. But with a quick change to black and white, you can see the shadows pop and add depth to the photograph.

Underexpose 

My favorite technique: underexposure! Do this especially if you have the intention of creating a black and white image; if you don’t do this, there is a high chance of blowing out the photo’s highlights in post-processing. This means that when you play around with the image, your whiter highlights will end up becoming too bright and ruining the photo. Underexposing solves this irritating dilemma.

How to Make Black and White in Post-Processing

This is easy!

In Photoshop, you just go to the Image tab, adjustments, and then change to black and white. From there you can play with brightness, contrast, or shadows + highlights if you feel the inclination. You can also do it on your camera beforehand but it’s not recommended. In post-processing you have much more leeway if it is a color photo that has been changed afterwards.

Secret Tip

One of my favorite things is to use my polarizing filter. It helps cut reflection on objects and reduces the risk of having washed out black and white photos. A polarizing filter is meant to reduce glare (i.e.: turns water clear, skies darker, etc.) but I love to sneak it in for black and whites. This is a bit of a cost but fun to work with!

Now these are all a few quick and easy tips. Post a comment if you have any questions or other black and white ideas! My main point is: start thinking and looking in a way that breaks down what is in front of you to light and shapes. Just try it out! Now go have fun. ūüôā

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Technique Tuesday: Wide Angle

Today’s Technique Tuesday focuses on a certain shot type that is fun, dramatic, and creates beautiful landscape photography as well as unique portrait shots! Yes, I am talking about the (often under utilized) wide angle shot.

So what does it mean exactly when you’re chatting with someone and they say “oh, and then I brought my wide angle lens…” and you nod and smile but really wonder “what did they just say?” Let’s look into it!

What is a wide angle lens? 

A wide angle lens is a lens that has a substantially shorter focal length. This means it says something like 35 mm or 25 mm and lower (the lowest without starting a rounding edge–known as a fish eye–is 17 mm). Basically, this shorter focal length allows for a wider view of a shot: perfect for landscapes or for capturing a smaller scene in a limited amount of space.

Truth be told, wide angle lenses are some of my favorite. I bought my Sigma 18mm-200mm zoom when I was in high school. It was the second lens I bought for the sake of diversity. I was too poor for Canon so I bought a Sigma, and let me tell you… it is one of the best purchases I have ever made! I highly recommend Sigma lenses. I’ve had it for 7 years and only now it is starting to clunk a bit, mostly my fault. It has traveled all over the world with me, dealt with sandy deserts in Peru, humid socks-turned-lens-bag in Asia, and more. Unfortunately due to its age I need to start looking into new ones, if anyone has suggestions!

Why do I love it so much? It is¬†so versatile. It really allowed me to work on my landscape photography which I love so much to do. In one move I can go from 18 mm and get an entire scape, and then I can shift and get closer and closer with a few clicks. This allows me to get different perspectives of the same scene much faster. However, the zoom feature is not my favorite part by the wide angle part… the 18 mm!

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My Sigma 18-200 mm resting peacefully.

Downsides: the zoom lens means not as great of photo quality as a prime lens. You can get a smaller zoom (17-55 for example) or go for the wide angle prime lens (a lens that doesn’t zoom). They have the best quality. Any wider than 17/18 and you start to get a fish eye look.

What is a wide angle shot?

Okay so we know what people mean now when they talk about their “wide angle lens”. What about the wide angle shots? As I briefly mentioned above, those are photographs taken when the lens is at a wide angle focal length (anything 35 mm and shorter).

I like them for their dramatic look, as well as the fact that it lets you see everything. As someone from the prairies, I am happiest when I have a big open sky in front of me. The wide angle lens achieves that same feeling with ease! It’s also good for variety when taking photos of people; who wants constant close ups of their face? By the way, this is something I am still working on… ūüôā

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This is an example of a wide angle shot. I took this in Jasper 2 years ago. My lens was at its shortest, 18 mm for this. It allowed me to capture some of the reflection of the mountain as well as getting those in the distance, with still enough room for a sky!

How to know when you take a wide angle shot

If you are unsure of what constitutes a wide shot, make sure to watch your lens as you move it (if you have a zoom). You can see the little line changing focal lengths as you rotate the zoom. Try to stick in the 18-35 mm range for wide angle shots. The more you do it the more familiar it becomes until you can scroll through your photos and know by instinct ones you have taken are within that focal range.

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Between the 18 and the 35 constitutes as a wide angle shot.

Examples: Landscape 

There is no doubt that wide angle lenses show off their best in landscape work. Think of dramatic National Geo landscape shots or those with a subject and a vast background behind it. Photojournalism loves¬†wide angle shots.¬†I’ve used some examples below to show what I like about them. All are taken with my Sigma 18-200 mm lens.

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focal length: 24 mm


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focal length: 18 mm

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focal length: 18 mm

Examples: Portraits

This is something still new to me but I know will be lots of fun! It’s a chance to get the location into a shot with your subjects and gives a feeling of gravity. I can’t wait to make more!

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Technically a portrait… focal length: 24 mm

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focal length: 28 mm

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focal length: 18 mm

There’s some information on wide angle lenses and shots. I hope you all go out and experiment with them now! Make sure to use the rule of thirds from a few Tuesdays ago and see how it looks. If you have any questions about the photos, tips, or more, feel free to comment!


Technique Tuesday: Depth of Field

For this week, I will be doing a general overview of depth of field: what is it? How do you change it? What does it do for photos? Once you gain an idea of how depth of field works, it can be one of the funnest things to play around with!

Depth of field can be used to greatly enhance your photos. You can make it so the focus is on something as small as an eyelash or a strand of hair, or make it so that your entire frame is in focus (this also depends on your lenses). Depth of field is one of the funnest but also trickiest parts of photography. Time to open your mind and hopefully how I explain it will make some sense!

Depth of Field

Depth of field is basically the the distance between objects in a photo that are acceptably in focus. It is controlled on your camera by the aperture.

The aperture in a camera is the hole that light enters; okay, easy so far. What you may recognize it as is the f-stop. F-stop refers to how many “stops” or levels it takes to reach a certain depth of field. These are called “stops” because at each f-stop there is a part of the mechanism that is stopping further light from entering (basically, the diameter of the hole).

Okay, so far: depth of field, or the objects in focus in a photo, are controlled by your camera’s aperture, a hole that allows light in. This hole changes size (diameter) to allow different levels of light in; each of these is called an f-stop.

So far so good, right?

These f-stops are recognizable when you go into a store and look at all the camera lenses on sale. You’ll see on the boxes the focal length (200 mm) and usually the f-stop near it: it’s the number f/1.6 or f/4.5, something like that.

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these things, circled very professionally by me.

 

So what exactly do those f-stop numbers mean? When you are playing around with your camera on the manual setting (NOTE: as you all should be doing! There is no way to get to know your camera like manual) or aperture priority, you see these numbers scrolling past and apparently, they are supposed to mean something. Maybe you’ve ignored them for some time. Maybe they are not of much interest. Here is where it gets a bit tricky. It is very important and very interesting, but it takes some reciting over and over and practicing, over and over.

When I refer to f-stop numbers, I mean the maximum aperture of the lens, which here means not the biggest number the maximum ability of your aperture to change¬†its diameter, which can be a small f-stop number because it’s a large diameter (stick with me here…).

  • The lower the f-stop number, the wider your aperture diameter.
  • The lower the f-stop number, the more light is entering your camera.
  • The lower the f-stop number, the shallower your depth of field (meaning you can focus on smaller things, with more being blurred).
  • The lower the f-stop number, generally the faster the lens.
  • The lower the f-stop number, the more flexibility with aperture sizes the lens has.

For example, f/1.0 is one of the most open apertures. This number means much light is entering your camera. At the same time, it means you have a shallow depth of field, so you can take photos of very specific elements or details of an object, like a leaf, or a ring:

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In this instance, I was focusing on the ring. Notice how even the leaves are blurred and my background (which happens to be the window out of my bedroom) is completely blurred. This is at f/2.0 at 1/500 shutter speed, shot with a 50 mm lens with maximum f/1.4

When you are able to focus on only these types of details, conversely you must deal with more light entering (remember, the lower the f-stop the more light coming in). To compensate for this I will usually make my shutter speed faster. If you use aperture priority shooting for these types of shots you may not have to worry about it as much, however I like complete control over my photos so I usually end up adjusting both elements to get the look I want. Another thing to be aware of is your ISO, your camera’s sensitivity to light. All three of these elements play together to get the exposure you want.

For example:

You hold your camera up and take a photo. Light from the scene goes through the glass lens and through a hole (the aperture) the size you have made it by choosing an f-stop; right behind it is the shutter curtain, which opens for a fraction of a second to allow the amount of light–determined by the aperture diameter–through. The camera’s overall sensitivity to this light is based off your camera’s ISO levels. And.. tada! Photo!

So there is lots going on despite us just paying attention to the depth of field! I wish I could do a big in depth talk about all of it but that is a bit overwhelming. Basically, just remember this: when working on your depth of field shots, you must compensate for whichever f-stop you are using (shutter speed, for example).

What about if we want a shot with everything in focus, like landscapes? For these shots you would change your f-stop to a larger number, which means less light is getting in, which means…? Right! The deeper your depth of field.

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The above barn photo was taken at f/22 at 1/2000 of a second because it was a sunny day. Notice how every detail is in focus, and that is because of my chosen depth of field (f/22). If I had made it smaller, only what my camera had focused on would be in focus.

 

So what have I talked about so far?

SUMMARY: That the depth of field, or what is in focus in your photo, depends on the aperture diameter you choose, which is controlled by the f-stop. The smaller the f-stop number, the wider the aperture diameter (more light) and the shallower your depth of field (less in focus, small details in focus). The larger the f-stop number, the smaller the aperture diameter (less light) and the deeper your depth of field (all in focus).

So how does one figure this stuff out? This is how I did it. One day I set my camera on manual and refused to take it off. I barely even do now, unless I choose one of the priority shootings (Av, Tv) but rarely. I am comfortable with it now only because I forced myself to use it and only it. I took a lot of photos. I fiddled around with just the aperture number to see the difference it made to my photos. Then I would fiddle around with both it and shutter speed. I took lots of bad photos. LOTS. I still take many bad photos. Do not be discouraged! If the depth of field is not what you want or what you envisioned, ask yourself: why is it not working? What can I do to to change it? The fun part of photography is the playing around and testing new things. Not comfortable with your knowledge of depth of field? Force yourself to learn it by going out and taking photos with depth of field as your priority of the day.

It is easy to take photos with everything in focus. Or just what your camera decides to be in focus based on automatic settings. Try not to do that as much. Make sure you are changing the aperture number! Deal with what the camera does afterward. Understand why suddenly everything went crazy bright and how you can fix that exposure. Turn the focus to manual so you can adjust it to what you want; the smaller the detail, the harder it is for auto focus to figure out what on earth you want to do.

Read about it! Look at diagrams! Depth of field is fun because it adds a unique element. When I bought my 50 mm lens last year with its f/1.4 I fell in love. And I still want more with smaller f-stops. More! It’s especially fun for portraiture:

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Wide depth of field is still fun and I love doing landscape photography, but man is it ever fun having a versatile f-stop ability on a lens! I recommend everyone try playing around with both large and small f-stops and see the results.

Hopefully that was somewhat clear and did not overload your brains. Please comment with any questions, ideas, or tidbits! ūüôā

 


Technique Tuesday: Rule of Thirds

Time for Technique Tuesday! These are posts I do every other week or so with different techniques and ideas, tricks and tips that I use in my photography and want to share. This time I’m going to go over a basic move that I learned in my high school photography class (or more likely my dad at an early age) that has saved my life countless times. It is now an automatic reaction of mine to use this “rule of thirds”. Once you know how to utilize it, you will make well-balanced, visually pleasing photos. Not only that but then you get to¬†play around¬†with it and bend it, which is just as fun!

What is the Rule of Thirds?

The Rule of Thirds is a visual mathematic-esque rule (so I’m told). It was actually created by Renaissance painters when they wanted to add a bit more depth to their paintings. The idea is that the eye wants to roam across the screen, not just focus on the center. It splits your photo up into 9 equal parts (hence the term thirds). When you look through your viewfinder, you see the rectangular shape that your image will be framed in. What the Rule of Thirds does is cut that rectangle into 9 equal pieces, like so:

rule of thirds

The goal of your subject placement using this rule is to place it in one of the segments of thirds (the left or right vertical, the top or bottom horizontal, or the cross-section of lines).

Notice the placement of the flower in this case. It is on one side of the screen (the right column), with an unfurling petal taking up the middle column. The left column does have a distant flower in the background but it is not the focus. Your eyes are being pulled to the side and despite it not showing the entire flower, it is still somehow an acceptable looking photography, generally. Some cameras will actually allow you to have this setting on your viewfinder at all times, however I find it a bit too distracting.

These lines act as reference points for framing your photograph. Moving your subject to the vertical left or right thirds will generally help your photo work. This is also true for portraits!

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Notice how her face is nearly right at a cross section of the lines. Her other arm follows the left vertical line almost perfectly. This means our subject is well within the Rule of Thirds.

This also works in terms of your horizon line for things like landscapes:

 

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These are two examples of my photos when I used the lower line and the higher line. When your horizon line is in the middle of your photo it tends to be flat and boring looking. By utilizing the rule of thirds and moving your horizon line either low (image one) or high (image two) it spices up the dynamics of the environment in your photo. Notice in the bottom one how my foreground subject is in the bottom third right at the cross section, fitting nicely into the Rule.

So the way to use this is to go out and take lots of photos! Play around with moving your camera and your body around your subject or your view. Kneeling or squatting may suddenly create a more interesting dynamic in terms of horizon line than standing at normal eye level. Instead of putting your subject in the middle of the camera every time, try moving them around to the sides and the top or bottom.

Once you start producing images that follow this rule and are visually nice, it’s also fun to be able to play around and break the rule of thirds. “What?!” you must be asking. “Why say all that stuff about the Magic Rule of Thirds if you don’t use it all the time?” There is a big difference in not understanding that there is math in photography and just randomly taking photos, and knowing how to set up a geometrically pleasing photo and playing around with options to test it. The Rule of Thirds does not have to be used all of the time! I find, especially in portraiture, that I will consistently ignore the Rule of Thirds and do things like stick people’s heads in the very bottom, their feet at the very top, or place them down at the bottom corner and leave the majority of the photo for the landscape or empty space. That is the fun of photography and art in general: you learn the rules, and then you break them.

But whenever I am in doubt I consistently use the Rule of Thirds, without even thinking about it! All of the photos above were not planned this way. I did not stand and think and calculate. When you do it enough and understand what is visually pleasing to you and to the general public, you will begin to understand how it works. I bet most of you do this naturally already! But now you just know what it is. It’s a fairly natural way to take photos.

I hope this helps if you are interested in pursuing or working on your own photographic journey!

PS: Never underestimate the power of a center subject, either. However, be careful with how often you do it, or how often you place your subjects in the same spaces at all. Be sure to add some variety!