Welcome to (The Occasional) Photo Tip of the Day! Please also visit my main site jeffwignall.com. Text and photographs Copyright 2014 Jeff Wignall.

"Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty."

Mother Teresa

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Simple Steps for Creating Bold Silhouettes

Silhouettes are very striking because they reduce your subject to a bold shape set against a plain (and hopefully attractive) background and they leave no doubt about your creative intentions. Creating silhouettes is simple and in most cases your auto-expsoure system will create good silhouettes for you if you just set up the right conditions for the shot. Here are some tips for creating interesting silhouettes:
  • Silhouettes are created by placing an opaque (non-transparent) subject in front of a bright background, so look for bold solid subjects set against a bright surface--water in the case of the shot shown here.
  • Look for colorful backgrounds. To make the shot here, I was stalking the shores of a river at dawn while the golden light of the rising sun turned the surface of the river a pretty pastel yellow. Sunset and sunrise skies also work well, but so do brightly colored walls, a sunlit field of grass (picture a rusting tractor against a field of yellow hay) or even a sandy beach (a palm tree against bright white sand, for example).
  • Keep the background as simple as possible. If you're photographing a boat in silhouette against the sunset, for example, try to keep the background completely plain--just the sky. 
  • Avoid "merges" where the primary subject might merge into a dark part of the background. Again, in the shot above, while I used some rocks as secondary shapes, the heron is positioned against a plain colorful background--you can easily trace the contour of the heron and even some of its feathers.
  • Set the exposure for the background. That's the big secret of shooting silhouettes: placing a dark subject against a bright background and exposing for the bright area. Just let your camera set the exposure and don't try to compensate in any way for the foreground and you'll get a crisp silhouette without any effort. You can always enhance the contrast a bit using simple editing software. 
Exposure info: The heron was shot with a Nikon D90 body mounted with a Nikkor 70-300mm zoom lens and exposure (in the RAW format) was: 1/60 second at f/8 at ISO 640. The camera was mounted on a Manfrotto tripod. Scroll down to some other recent postings to see more examples of silhouettes.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Joseph Linaschke: The Panasonic "Master Series" Interview on Pro Photo Daily

My latest interview for the Pro Photo Daily "Master Series," an interview with photographer Joseph Linaschke, has gone live. While most photographers today tend to specialize in just a few subjects, Linaschke loves shooting just one primary subject: the next one. He photographs an incredibly broad range of subjects that includes portraits, live music, sports, journalism--you name it, he's shot it. Among his more fascinating projects is a series of portraits of women battling breast cancer.  If you've ever wondered how a photographer earns a living photographing a very wide range of subjects, this is a very fun and informative interview. This ongoing series is sponsored by Panasonic and Linaschke is a Lumix Luminary. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Facebook Black-and-White Challenge

I was recently fingered to take part in the Facebook black-and-white challenge where you are supposed to post a new black-and-white image a day for five days. At first I resisted the challenge (I have enough to keep me busy without looking for new distractions--however fun they might be), but then the daughter of a friend of mine nominated me and it was an offer I couldn't refuse, so I accepted. It has actually turned out to be quite a fun experience and I'm enjoying going through my photo library and picking out shots that I think might convert well to monotone. The two photos above are the first two that I posted for the challenge.

There are a number of really simple ways to convert images to black-and-white in Photoshop (and probably any other editing program), including the Hue and Saturation tool (simply desaturate the image down to 0% and you'll drain all the color out) and the Black-and-White tool (it's in the menu at the bottom of the layers palette). I used the latter for the two images above. Basically all you do it open that tool and then adjust each color (now a monotone channel) in the image. If you slide the blue slider to the right, for example, the blues will get lighter, slide it to the left they get darker. Very easy.

So, if you are an old timer like me and you used to work with black-and-white films (I lived in a Tri-X world for probably 20 years) or if you'd just like to try on a new look, pick out a few images and convert them to black-and-white, you'll have a lot of fun. Thanks Melissa!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dawn at the Mouth of the Housatonic River

I've spent a lot of time this summer shooting the sunrises at the Housatonic River in Connecticut. I've found that being out before sunrise in the darkness and then watching the day come alive with light is very inspiring--it's worth the effort. (See the previous post for some tips on shooting sunrises and sunsets.) There's a gallery of shots of the river on my main site.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Five Quick Tips for Better Sunset Photos

Like all photographers, I have always enjoyed photographing sunsets. Let's face it, with nature doing a lot of the heavy lifting for you, sunsets are almost always pretty to look at and relatively easy to shoot successfully. But there are a few tips that you can use--with almost any camera--to come up with even more dramatic results. Here are five that are always in my mind when I'm shooting sunsets and sunrises:

  • Find a creative foreground subject. Sunset skies are very pretty, but they work far better if you can provide an interesting frame to hang them in--in other words, an interesting foreground. Having a good foreground helps to create more visual interest and also helps to identify where you are shooting: a sailboat puts you near the ocean, a saguaro cactus puts you in the desert.
  • Think in terms of silhouettes. It's usually (though not always) almost impossible to get good saturated color in the sky and detail in the foreground, so the subjects that work best as a foreground are opaque or solid, like the tree I used here. Silhouetting your subjects also helps to reveal all of their detail.
  • Hide the sun a bit. Shooting directly into the sun causes all sorts of problems with exposure and lens flare (and is also dangerous for your eyes, so always look slightly away). By hiding the sun behind your subject a bit, you avoid some of these problems by putting something in front of the sun. In this shot I was careful to put the sun right between the main stalks of the tree so that you could see it, but most of the brightness of the sun was hidden by the tree.
  • Arrive before sunset. Since finding an interesting foreground is something that takes a bit of exploring, it's better if you get to your location an hour or so before sunset so that you can scout around a bit. It's a terrible feeling to have a spectacular sunset in front of you and have to panic looking for a good composition. I shoot this tree often and so when I think there might be a good sunset, I head right for it.
  • Expose carefully. Even with a good camera metering system, if you aim right at the sunset you're going to get a very underexposed scene. If your camera has an exposure lock (almost all camera have one built into the shutter-release button), then aim the camera away from the sun until the sun is just out of the frame. Then hold your shutter button halfway down and recompose the shot with the sun. But remember, exposure and focus are usually tied together using this feature so be sure to focus on something specific--either the horizon or the foreground subject, whichever you want sharp.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

David Kennerly on iPhone Photography

David Kennerly has been one of my photo heroes since my mother bought me his book "Shooter" for Christmas one year (a wonderful book). Kennerly won the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Vietnam war (and is, I believe, one of only a few Pulitzer Prize winners from that war to still be alive). He was also Gerald Ford's personal photographer and was the first photographer in history to have almost unlimited access to a sitting president. 

I'm not big fan of cell-phone photography, but I've seen a lot of Kennerly's work shot with the iPhone that he has shared on Facebook and it's quite amazing. To create this book he spent a year (2013) traveling around the world shooting a photo a day with the iPhone.  The book contains anecdotes, essays and tips on iPhone photography. he book. In the Amazon description it says, "Along the way he discovered that paring down his formidable photo arsenal to a single, simple camera forced him to sharpen his eye and made him an even better photographer." And what a good lesson that is for all photographers: create the images in your brain and the camera will follow!

Holidays coming, great present!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dave Surber Interview on MAP Daily Master Series

My most recent interview for Motion Arts Pro Daily has gone live and the subject is Dave Surber, a really interesting still and motion photographer. He has worked on everything from commercials and television productions to video newsgathering and mobile events; he’s also been the DP on several feature films and just finished working as DP on the Team Nike series, a 12-episode collection of black-and-white shorts about the Nike World Basketball Festival Tournament of Champions. His most recent collection of shorts, the Big City Hustle series, is a very cool look at some fascinating New York creatives. Check out my interview with Dave, I think you'll find it a very entertaining behind-the-scenes look at a successful young filmmaker.