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

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."


Robert Frost

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sunsets: Timing, Lens Choice and Horizons


Believe it or not, I shot both of these sunsets on the same day standing in essential the same place (on the shore of Long Island Sound) with the same camera (an Olympus UZ-810) and they were shot only about 10 minutes apart. The photos look very different from one another and that is due largely to three choices that I made for each shot: when I took the picture, the focal length that I chose and, very importantly, where I placed the horizon for each shot.

The top shot was taken first and was made with a zoom setting (in 35mm equivalent) of 159mm. That's on the long side of the medium telephoto lens range (typically a medium-telephoto lens is in the 85 to 135mm range, so this is just outside that, but not yet in what I would call the super-telephoto range). You can see in this shot that space has been compressed and that the stone jetty (that dark finger sticking out into the water) is much closer and larger. Also, by aiming the camera down at the foreground the shot emphasizes the foreground, not the sky. And finally, the sun was still a few degrees above the horizon when I took the picture. The thing that I like about the shot is that the color of the sky is reflected nicely in the little tidal area in the foreground. What I don't like is that the sunset sky seems awkwardly  cropped out of the frame. Probably a better choice would have been to widen the zoom setting a bit to take in a bit more sky while still keeping the foreground dominant.

In the second (bottom) shot, I waited until the sun was just touching the horizon--which is my favorite time to shoot sunsets. You have to shoot quickly when the sun gets this low because there is an odd little phenomenon going on: the closer the sun gets to the horizon, the faster it disappears from view. Also, I switched to the widest setting of the zoom lens (around 24mm--and that Olympus has a huge 36x optical zoom--it goes from about 24mm to nearly 900mm!). I also aimed the camera upward because I wanted to emphasize the sky and that beautiful whispy cloud pattern that was happening. The clouds look to me like an artist had put some dabs of white paint in the sky and then smeared them a bit with a wide brush or a comb--and I guess that's exactly what happened with Mother Nature being the artist. Whenever you place the horizon low in the frame you emphasize the sky.

So there you have two very different looks at one sunset based on three simple technical and creative decisions. Both of these shots were made handheld, by the way, something I almost never do. But the camera has image stabilization and I was out for a ride with a friend and just didn't want to inflict a tripod on him. Oh, by the way, you'll notice in the bottom shot that I lined up the sun right over the tip of the jetty. In art terms that's known as a "point of tension" and it's a small compositional trick that really works--your eye naturally goes to that spot because the tight spacing and close alignment create a kind of visual anticipation that something is going to happen there.

My latest book is the Digital Photography FAQs Book and you can read more about it or order it on Amazon or find it in your local shop. Or see if your local library has it and you can read it for free.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dreams of a Young Pharaoh

OK, one more Photoshop montage (for now) and I'll try to move back to photography. I have no idea where this burst of Photoshop energy came from, but I haven't been shooting much lately and so I guess the fire to create something still burns and so I turn to existing images. Combining old images in this way is actually a lot of fun (and I have no idea whatsoever what these images mean) and, as I said in a previous posting, it gives you a lot of editing practice. Creating montages is a nice way to spend a cold winter's evening, too.

One of the more interesting aspects of doing this kind of work for me is that I have no idea where I'm going when I begin. When it comes to taking straight photos, of course, I know exactly what I'm after and I know how to get there. With these montages, on the other hand, I just start with one image, then keep adding more and doing things like changing the sizes, the shapes, the colors and, most fun, the layer blending modes. Another fun thing is that these images come from all different times and places. The montage here, for example, includes the shot of the pharaoh (taken in an antiques store in Connecticut), the water lilies (shot at Longwood Gardens near Philadelphia) and the peacock tail (shot in southern Florida). How could I have any idea they would end up together in one image? Interestingly too, I have a writer friend that wrote a very pretty and insightful poem based on this montage.

So, when you start meandering down a creative path, you never know where you'll end up. Also, I've learned that I need to take some advanced classes in Photoshop. While I've been working with the program a long time (since 1993) and I'm pretty good at it, there are some things I need to learn about montage work--like creating gradients between layers/images and refining selections. But every time you work an image you learn more about Photoshop--and about your own imagination--and so while it might seem you're wasting time, you're really not. At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Today's Creation: The Birth of a Flower

Created from two scanned images: one of a chambered nautilus shell, the other of an eggplant blossom. Both elements physical elements scanned on an Epson flatbed scanner. There is only one flower image, repeated multiple times, re-sized for each layer and then each layer was blended using different layer-blending modes for each flower image.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Little More Montage Fun

These are the same two base elements of the previous posting (the silhouette of the family and the shot of the perigee moon) but without some of the additional elements. The color was manipulated using the channel mixer tool--very simple to use. These images are really just sketches for much more elaborate scenes that I want to create. It's a good idea to sketch out things with fewer elements so you can see how things work together, but it's worth keeping notes so that you don't forget how you got there. The history legend will keep track of things while you're working, but once you flatten the image, it disappears. The one thing that I particularly like about this version is that the color of the moon and the sky/water color go nicely together--something I'll keep in mind when if I go further with these shots.