Lesson 6: Additional Topics

As human beings we’re used to interacting with our visual system in a particular way. We’re used to seeing the world in a particular way. As I look back here now, what I see are some really tall trees and some lemon trees in front of them, and the tall trees are casting long spiky shadows onto the ground, and I see mountains behind those. And that’s a pretty nice way of seeing the world. As a photographer, though, when I look in this direction I see something different. I see a strong series of vertical dark lines with some lighter circles in front of them, and those repeating vertical dark lines are being mirrored symmetrically on the ground. That’s a really formal way of seeing and very often that’s what I’m thinking when I’m taking a picture. I might recognize this is a pretty scene, but once I start getting in to making the photograph and looking to the viewfinder, I’m really trying to see the world in terms of light and dark, shape and line. This is a very formal way of working. You may think that it’s kind of cold because I’m no longer thinking about, “Oh, look at the beautiful trees! I want to capture those photographically”. I don’t have time for that, I’ve got to make a good picture. And that means I’ve got to get in and make sure that all of the lines and shapes are well-composed and organized. So I’ve been walking around the grounds here just looking for pieces of geometry that I think are interesting. This is a difficult place to do this kind of shooting because it’s a very busy setting. But still, I found a couple of strong lines and shapes that I was able to build compositions around. Now, when you look at these you may look at them and see them strictly formally, or you may see the real objects. When you’re looking at the real objects, though, there’s a better chance that you’re going to have a well-organized frame, because I’ve taken this very formal approach. So what I want you to do in this next chapter is to think about the world in terms of lines and shape, to think about it as very literal, graphic, formal objects and lines. We talked about this a little bit in the Balance movie where I mentioned that I was balancing one flower against a flower that was in a completely different plane. You’re going to be doing that same kind of thing here, working with shapes that may or may not be related in the real world, but are tight together graphically in a frame. This is a very powerful way of seeing the world, it’s a very different way of seeing the world, and it takes practice to develop this kind of eye. It also means that there are some additional technical things that you need to think about and we’re going to look at those next.

I have to fess up, I was kind of nervous during that last movie, because the whole time we were standing there I was thinking, “Oh gosh, there’s this thing behind me “that I really want to shoot “and the light’s probably changing.” Fortunately we finished, so now here I am, I’m facing these great trees with these wonderful shadows. I want to approach this just as a big piece of beautiful repetitive geometry that I want to compose around. Now I could try to stand here and figure out where the best shot is and go to that location and take that picture and then go home, except that that’s not how photography works. You, no one can shoot that way. You get the shot you want by working your subject. You move around, you take lots and lots of photos. I cannot stress this enough. In workshops the piece of advice I almost always give when I’m critiquing someone’s images is we needed a couple more shots, we needed to see more around that angle, or we needed to see more from above. You don’t know where the good picture is and that’s okay, it doesn’t make you a bad photographer that you can’t visualize it perfectly in your mind. The way this works is you just start moving and that’s what I’m going to do now. This is also a great way to torture a video crew, because they are going to have to try and follow me and keep up and I’m going to be moving a lot. Now, what I’m thinking here is wide angles are going to really exaggerate and stretch these shadows and stretch the relationship between the shadows and the trees themselves. So I’m starting out by shooting wide. I’m shooting into the sun, which is a little bit tricky, because I’m risking flare, so I’m going to try and shield. Oh boy, I can’t do it without getting my hand in the shot. Oh, there we go. A little bit of finger I’ll have to take out there at some point. Waited just a little bit long maybe. So though I say I don’t know where the right shot is I’m experienced enough to have an idea that maybe the way to shoot this is wide angle, so I’m starting there. But I’m not going to finish there. I’m going to try some less wide shots as well. And again, I’m just thinking about line. It’s really interesting seeing these lines stretch across the frame. And now that I look back that way I realize wow, it’s great, some clouds have moved in some point during the afternoon, I hadn’t really realized that. So that’s cool. And now as I look this way I go huh, maybe I could leave the trees out completely and just play with the shadows. I’m going to tell you also that I am maybe in this particular instance I’ve got an advantage over the situation that we’ve been talking about before, which is I’m not using my kit lens. I’m using a very wide angle lens. I went over to my bag and I got out this nice wide angle zoom. And so I’m probably getting stuff that you can’t get if you’ve got is the stock lens of your camera. Now here’s an interesting balance exercise. Look at this, I’ve got these, I’ve got these trees over here, I’ve got the shadows, but then I’ve got this tree over here that’s just serving as a whole other graphical element that I can work with. So that’s interesting. I should also say that I’m beginning to wonder if maybe these images are going to work best as black and white images. You may not have much experience with black and white. What’s compelling about black and white is that without color in the image you’re down to just line and shape, light and shadow, this type of situation gets really exaggerated in a nice way. That is obviously far beyond the scope of this course, but I have an entire course on black and white that’ll walk you through all of that. When we’re shooting black and white, even if our ultimate goal is black and white we still shoot in color. Okay, now this is interesting. Working a silhouette situation I’m worried about the sun, it’s poking through the trees there, I want it totally blocked. These things are really powerful in silhouettes because I get these nice little bits of light on the ground here and the sky’s really great. So you’ve seen me walk a big loop, so that’s great, I’m moving, I’m trying a lot of different things, I’ve come up with a lot of different angles, but I’ve been shooting them all right around five feet, eight inches off the ground. I’m going to go more extreme. I’m going to get down here. As I said, this is a really great way to torture a video crew. If you have people you want to get back at and they’re a video crew, just do this kind of thing. Make them follow you around while you work a shot. Now one problem with shooting into the light is it’s killing my vision. I’m having trouble seeing detail in the view finder, that’s why I’m shading myself. There’s a play of light right along here that is interesting that I might be able to build something out of. So that’s interesting. I don’t know, I don’t yet actually know if I got a picture that I liked. I’m not worrying about that, I’m not thinking about that at all. This is an exercise in being very, very present and just going, “I think there’s a shot here, “I’m going to take it, I’ll worry later if it’s any good.” One of the other strongest compositional tricks in your bag is simplicity. Trying to eliminate clutter from the frame, trying to eliminate anything that’s extra in the frame. I like the idea of these lines going this way, but I don’t like all of these other trees and things. I think I’m just not going to shoot that way at all anymore because it’s too visually busy over there. Except I really like the light on those trees, but that’s a different subject, I’ll come back to that later. I’m losing light pretty quickly here. These shadows are filling in. I have not yet really gotten anything with these lemon trees in front. So I’m going to put one of these tall trees between me and the sun. I’ll make it this one. And just see what I can get. Oh, now this is interesting. Okay, nevermind the lemon trees, as I get close to these things and look up at them they are starkly silhouetted, they kind of look like flames licking up into the sky. So I’m going to just shoot up at them. I have no detail on the front of them, they’re just silhouettes. In the next movie we’re going to talk about why and what you can do about that. I think I’ve exhausted everything I can see with this lens. I’m going to change lenses. And now I’m going to go to something really extreme. This is the value of a camera with interchangeable lenses. This is not an SLR, this is a mirrorless camera, but I can take this lens off and put on something called a fisheye lens. This is just another, pardon me, I know you shouldn’t talk with your mouth full. This is just another type of lens that you can buy for pretty much any type of camera. This is a very, very wide angle lens. The thing is it is not a lens that has been corrected for the type of distortion that you get at wide angles. You can see it’s very short and it has this extremely round front end. It gives you what looks like what a fish with a big bulbous eye might see. What it gives me is almost 180 degrees of field of view. And this particular fisheye I really like because it’s not actually super distorted. With this lens I don’t get auto-focus, so I’m having to manually focus and it can be a little tricky, so I’m using both the focus markings on the lens and a really nice focus assist feature that this has where it lights up pixels that are in focus with bright white dots. And that makes it a lot easier. This is definitely interesting. It’s a far more abstract image and now I’m really getting the lemon trees in front. I’m not actually sure I like this shot though, I really had hopes for shooting this fisheye. I think I need to go farther back. Now there’s all these shadows out here. Oh yeah, this is interesting. One thing that’s tricky about this lens it’s so wide angle, it’s very easy to get your own feet or your hand in the shot. Think I want to be over here. I’m trying to avoid, if I get here there’s my shadow, so I’m coming over here. And again, I’m still working entirely in the mode of just, I’m not thinking about these as, “Oh, these are shadows of trees, “and trees grow from seeds.” I’m thinking about nothing to do with reality, I’m looking only at line and form. And now I’m staring into the sun. Oh yeah, this is more interesting. I’m not worried about if this is a good shot, or which shot is good. I’m going to figure that out when I get home. Working the shot is how you get the good picture. It’s also something that can be pretty demoralizing, because what’s going to happen now is I’ve dramatically increased my shooting ratio. I’m going to go home, dump all these images out of my camera into my computer and maybe, I haven’t been keeping track, maybe I’ve shot 50 images here. I’m hoping to get one or two. One or two good images out of 50. And I’m going to look at all those and it’s going to be very easy to go wow, I shot 48 bad pictures. No I didn’t, I shot two good pictures. And this isn’t a glass half full, glass half empty thing, it’s about understanding photographic process. I can’t see this scene and know exactly what’s supposed to be the best composition, I can’t do that any more than a very good illustrator can look at a blank piece of paper and know exactly where every line goes. They have to sketch first and maybe they have to throw sketch after sketch away until they work out what the right image is and then, then they start zeroing in on their final composition. But you would never walk up to them and look at all the sketches on the floor and say, “Wow, you’ve got a bunch of bad pictures here.” You would only look at the final one. You would know that the others were what lead to that. That’s exactly what we’re doing here. We’re taking lots of pictures, trying to zero in on the right one. So I’m feeling good about some of these. There was something that I couldn’t get that I could see and I couldn’t get it because I needed to make an exposure change on my camera. And I want to explain that to you, that’s what we’ll look at next.

I’m still working these trees, and I mentioned earlier that when I was standing here looking up at them, I could see perfect silhouettes and they looked like flames and that’s very cool. I’m sorry, I just saw an image that I hadn’t seen before. I’m still working the shot, I can’t stop. This is really nice. Anyway, but what I’m thinking here is, when I look at just these silhouettes like this, that’s nice, but, as I stand here looking at it, I can see detail. I can see lemons on these trees, I can see texture on those trees. Why am I just seeing a silhouette in my camera? That’s because my eye has a much greater dynamic range than my camera does. Dynamic range is the range of darkest to lightest tones that I can see, and with my eye, I can see detail in those shadows, and I can see clouds up above. My camera only has about half the dynamic range that my eye does. So, I have to choose. I can either see detail in the sky or detail in the shadows. The camera’s light meter, by default, is going to choose settings that will ensure that I see detail in the highlights at the cost of the shadows, so I can only see stuff up there in the sky. I can compensate for that, though, with something called exposure compensation. Pretty much all cameras have an exposure compensation control these days. Even cell phones have exposure compensation. Check your camera’s manual to find out where it is. It should be available to you, even in full auto mode. On this camera, it’s this dial up here on the top, and so, here’s what I can shoot from right here with the camera metering as it thinks things should be. I’m going to dial exposure compensation in a positive direction. I’m going to dial it up to plus two, and what that does is basically brighten the frame, so now when I shoot, I get this. And look at here, I’m starting to see detail on the trees. I’m going to go up to plus three, and I can see even more detail on the trees. All of that has come at the expense of the sky though. The clouds are gone. The clouds are completely blown out. I cannot get both in a single frame. I can’t get detail in the sky and detail in the shadows. Now, this is a particularly high dynamic range scene. I’m shooting directly into the sun. I’m shooting into something that’s back lit. You’re going to find high dynamic range in a lot of different places. Even shooting indoors, you’ll find times where you’ve got a dynamic range that’s bigger than your camera can handle. Exposure compensation is going to be the trick for compensating for that, and battling it, and putting detail back where you want it. If you’re working with an SLR, you’re not going to see a change as you dial your exposure compensation up and down. You’re not going to see a change in the viewfinder. You have to take a shot and look at it and see where the detail is. Now, earlier, I said, it’s not a great idea to be shooting and looking and shooting and looking. When you’re in an extreme situation like this, you’re probably going to have to do that until you get more experience and more accustomed to understanding when you need exposure compensation and when you don’t, so take a shoot and look at it. If you’re seeing a full silhouette, and what you would like to see is detail, then you’re going to dial the brightness of the scene up by dialing in a positive exposure compensation. Sometimes, you’ll want to go the other direction. You will be finding that the sky is, or, something bright in the scene is too blown out and you want detail in there, so you’ll dial in negative exposure compensation to pull the overall exposure down and bring those brightened details back, and that’s not just something like a sky. That could even be bright sunlight on a flower. You might need to dial some exposure compensation down. The easiest way to understand this tool is to get out and use it, so, look it up in your manual, go out, work some shots, work some geometry, and play with dialing brightness up and down using exposure compensation, and really take note of the difference in detail in different parts of the image.

In the last movie, I said that your light meter is always going to pick exposures that will make sure that you have detail in the highlights, and it will do that at the cost of the shadows. The reason for that, is an overexposed highlight, a blown-out highlight, an area that’s gone to complete white it’s really distracting in an image, it’s an eye-magnet, you can’t help but look at it. A shadow that has underexposed to complete blackness just looks like a really dark shadow. So, the camera has intelligently made the decision, actually the engineers who built the camera have intelligently made the decision, to make sure that the camera always protects those highlights, always ensures that there’s detail in there. Still, sometimes meters make wrong assumptions, or you’re in a particularly difficult lighting situation, sometimes you will end up with overexposure in the highlights on your images. I said, even earlier than last movie, that you can’t judge anything on the back of your screen but composition. You can actually get your camera, when you’re reviewing an image, to tell you if something in the image has been overexposed. Playback mode on your camera probably includes a feature called Highlight Clipping, that will flash any pixels that have been overexposed. You’ll see them alternate between white and black. Here’s a typical highlight clipping display. It’s flashing areas that are bright. If I had dialed in some negative exposure compensation, those areas would not be flashing, and detail would be back in those areas. I can’t tell you how to turn that on on your particular camera, it varies from camera to camera. But if you look in your manual under highlight clipping, highlight warning, or, and this may sound odd, histogram display, those will show you, those instructions will tell you how to turn that feature on on your camera, and it can be very, very valuable. I don’t use it all the time, like I said, I don’t review every image after I’ve shot it, but if I go into a tricky situation, and I know that the lighting is potentially going to mess up my meter and that I’m going to run the risk of overexposure, then I will review the image, and turn on some of these other tools for evaluating exposure, so I can figure out if I’ve got it right. If I don’t, then I will alter my exposure, possibly through exposure compensation, and go and re-shoot. So, there’s a lot of stuff going on in this course, I know, and a lot of stuff over these last three chapters, but I’m giving you these three different things to exercise. I want you to practice balance, portraiture, and then finally, just working with geometry. Balance and geometry are two compositional tools that you can use in all of your images, and you can practice those with portraiture. Try combining portraiture with some geometry, make sure your frame is balanced through it all. You need to really be working that habit of half-pressing the shutter button, making sure that the camera has focus where you want it to, checking to be sure that your shutter speed is fast enough to freeze the motion that you’re capturing, if there is any motion, and then remembering that you can use your exposure compensation dial, to dial brightness up and down in the frame, to either bring more detail to a shadow area, or calm down areas that are overexposed and too bright. And through it all, while you’re shooting any of the stuff that you’re shooting, you need to be working your shot, you need to be shooting lots of coverage. You need a really high shooting ratio, you need to be experimenting, you need to be moving. If your feet aren’t worn out by the end of the day, if your knees aren’t hurting, and if your hips aren’t sore from bending down and standing up, you haven’t been doing it right. Photography should be painful! That’s not what I’m trying to say. You should be moving around a lot though. Keep your feet moving, understand that that’s how you’re going to find the good shot, and from there it’s just practice, and increasing your technical knowledge.

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