Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Break Free From Your Comfort Zone
Familiarity can hamper creativity. If your photos have been feeling bland lately, it may be time to push yourself into some uncharted territory.
Photography is the art of taking a dynamic, three-dimensional world and squishing it down into a static, two-dimensional image. Our job as photographers is to find a way to re-create the sense of energy and motion that we perceive in the real world. One way to do this is to make motion over time part of your subject. While long exposures can be unpredictable and risky, motion blur can add energy, direction and depth to photographs. A common example of using motion blur is stream and waterfall photography. Such images are relatively simple to make: Just put your camera on a tripod and set exposure for 1⁄4 sec. or longer. But that's just the tip of the iceberg—to really move away from your comfort zone, you need to try motion blur with elements other than just moving water. Some potential subjects include windblown foliage, clouds streaking across the sky, animals running or birds flying, and leaves or ice floating in water. Done correctly, moving elements can create an impressionistic blur that adds mood and additional compositional interest to your photos.
Several tools and techniques are available to achieve long exposures. Shooting during the twilight hours helps considerably, as exposure times of several seconds or minutes may be required in the near dark. Neutral-density and polarizer filters (both of which block light coming in through the lens, although a polarizer also removes glare and reflections) are useful for lengthening exposure times, as are low-ISO settings and small apertures. The trick with photographing moving subjects is to strike a proper balance between stop-action and motion blur. Too little motion, and the subject appears frozen. Too much motion, and the subject loses texture and detail. Somewhere in between is usually just right; of course, that "just right" spot is subjective, giving you plenty of wiggle room to explore your own artistic vision. Experiment freely with different exposure times to get the look you desire.
The best photographers don't just shoot safe "sun-behind-your-back" light; instead, they look for the edges of light, where light and shadow mingle. I prefer to work with directional light, such as side- and backlighting, as much as possible. In fact, I think it's fair to say that I shoot into the sun far more often than I shoot with the sun at my back.
There can be no doubt that the so-called "golden" or "magic" hours (the hour or so around sunrise and sunset) often yield incredible displays of color and light. While shooting during the "magic hours" is a good thing, don't turn your back on photo opportunities during the rest of the day; you can find great photos even during the harshness of midday light. The lesson here is that there's no such thing as "bad" light—there's only the right light for a given scene. If you look to the landscape with a creative eye, you may find unconventional and surprising pairings of light and composition.
Flash is another great way to bring something unique and creative to your photos. The trick is not to overdo it. You generally want to avoid an obvious "flashed" look. Use flash at low power to place emphasis on an important part of the scene. Colored gel filters can be used to add some color to your scene when natural light isn't giving you the results you desire.
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