Essential skills for Photography – Skill 3

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RWhalley_5D_2012_04_MG_8820

In my previous blog post I introduced the third skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography. In today’s post I will explain another of these skills.

Composition

This is probably the first of the recognised traditional camera skills and one the many people will answer with when asked what do you think are the essential skills for photography. But a lot of people when starting out in photography (myself included) struggle with knowing how to create strong compositions. I can remember reading lots of books on the subject but never quite grasping what was being said. What I had failed to understand is that composition can’t be reduced to a set of rules that if followed will produce the best compositions.

Whilst it’s true that a strong composition is recognisable, it’s almost impossible to arrive at the perfect composition. What you need to strive for are strong compositions. Whilst you can follow some guidelines, it’s better to train yourself to recognise good composition as well as the faults of poor composition.

If your composition is weak it will hamper your photography as it will hide your vision and communication. When you get it wrong, the composition will jar with the audience and they won’t invest the time necessary to appreciate your work. Your communication will be hidden by the noise of poor composition. It’s a little like experiencing a small amount of static on the telephone line. Whilst you can still hear the conversation it becomes more difficult to hear the message, requiring more concentration. Your audience is choosey with their time as it’s precious. If they can’t hear your message clearly, they will move on to another message that is clear.

I will introduce another essential skill tomorrow.

Essential skills for Photography – Skill 2

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RWhalley_5D_2011_04_IMG_8752

In my last blog I introduced the first skill that I believe is essential in producing great photography. In today’s post I will try to explain another of these skills.

Communication and Vision

Vision is about understanding what we have seen that inspired us to want to take a picture. Once we understand this we can begin to think about how we want to represent this to others. This recognition is something that we need do this at the point we take the picture. If we don’t we will probably find later that we just didn’t quite capture the image right.

When we notice an opportunity and decide to take a picture, we may not make the best capture on the first effort. To know we have achieved the best result we need to take time (where possible) to explore a scene or subject. This is not just to check things such as composition and technical image quality but also to ensure our vision comes through as strongly. If you are not clear about what our vision is, how do we expect others to understand and appreciate your work.

The same argument also applies to being able to select the strongest image that best represents our vision. And when we come to work on our best image we need to understand how we want the finished image to appear. How should it look in order to best represent our vision. We need a clear image before we start to work on any adjustments.

The reason I included communication under this heading is that our image or images need to communicate our vision. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that our photograph is our medium of communication but our vision is our message. The clearer our vision, the stronger and communication, the better people will hear us.

I will introduce another essential skill tomorrow.

Essential skills for Photography – Skill 1

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RWhalley_5D_2011_04_IMG_8628

Someone recently asked me what I thought were the best skills to develop in order to improve their photography. The question is an interesting one as the answer depends on your current level of skill. Despite this I thought I would have a crack at documenting six skills that I think are pretty much essential if you want to produce great photography.

As I’m going to share my thoughts with a little explanation, or you might wonder why I have made the choices I have, I thought I would turn this into a short series of mini blog posts. As you read these you may agree or disagree with my ideas. If you have any strong feelings about a particular post please do comment as I’m really interested to hear the views of others.

So here we go…

Inspiration and Opportunity

This is the ability to tune into your inspiration and recognise the opportunities for great photography. As we go through each day we are presented with almost limitless opportunities to take great photographs. If those don’t register with us we never bother to capture the picture.

Even when we do recognise the opportunity, with so many how do we know which ones to pursue? Each time we pause to capture a photograph there is an opportunity cost to our work in that we have less time to pursue other opportunities. We therefore need to do more than just recognise the opportunities; we need to be able to distinguish a good opportunity from a great one. This requires us to have the confidence in our ability to make the decision of how best to invest our time.

One tool that can help is to understand our inspiration. What is it that we want to take pictures of? What are the specialist areas of our photographic interest? If we understand this and concentrate our efforts pursuing these, it will pay dividends. Let’s not wander aimlessly through our days snapping random photographs. Let’s be led by our inspiration to create great work.

I will introduce another skill tomorrow.

Beautiful Evening Light in Whitby

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Whitby Pier at sunset. Canon 5D MKII, 24-105mm Lens.
Whitby Pier at sunset. Canon 5D MKII, 24-105mm Lens.

I don’t know about you but my photo storage is a bit of a mess. I do like to keep each shoot in a separate dated folder and then import these to Lightroom. But sometimes something goes wrong. A few months back I suffered a Lightroom Catalogue crash and I lost a lot of work. I thought I had recovered everything but it turns out that I hadn’t.

Today I found some folders that I hadn’t re-imported so I had a quick look through the images. Here’s one that I like and thought I would share. It’s a sunset shot taken at Whitby, North Yorkshire in April last year. There wasn’t very much cloud in the sky but the atmosphere picked up the colours from the sun quite well. The low sun has also coloured the pier quite nicely with the low light levels allowed me to use a slow shutter speed (with the help of a Neutral Density filter).

I love looking through old images that I had forgotten about.

Friday image No.030

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Olympus EM5 with Panasonic 45-150mm lens.
Olympus EM5 with Panasonic 45-150mm lens.

Sometimes I’m guilty of trying to create images with too much drama. I need to remind myself that simple can be beautiful and not every image needs a sunset.

The was shot in the early afternoon, just off the point at the Lizard in Cornwall. Please don’t ask where the pink atmospherics came from, I have no idea. But I’m very pleased they are there. I now want another holiday.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Another Example of False Infrared Colour

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GX1 Infrared image converted with a red blue channel swap to create a false colour
GX1 Infrared image converted with a red blue channel swap to create a false colour

In my last post I shared an example of the false infrared colour technique and explained how it was achieved. I also confessed that in general I don’t like the effect, although in some cases it does work well. I thought it would be good to share another example that I think works reasonably well (although not as well as the previous post)  although I will admit that I still prefer the traditional black and white conversion.

This example is a little more stylised than the previous image and was created by first converting the image to colour before applying a Fuji Provia Slide Film simulation in Exposure 6. This was then further edited with a boost to the Vibrancy slider and a negative Clarity to give the soft effect. My reasoning for these adjustments was to prepare the image for conversion to black and white but I found I quite liked the colour image.

When converting the images with the Channel Mixer it can seem a bit hit and miss. It appears to help if you have both sky and foliage in the image. With a Red/Blue channel swap such as shown here the sky will turn blue and the foliage will go red. Most other areas (in landscapes) tend not to be affected.

You can improve the results by picking a white balance point during RAW conversion which causes the foliage to take on a blue tint. Typically this will leave the sky with some red tint and when the channel swap is made with the channel mixer the red tint in the sky turns blue and the blue tint of the foliage turns red.

Also try to avoid images which have been shot in the shade (such as tree lined country lanes) as you won’t get such a good effect. You really need direct and strong sun to make this work well.

Hope this helps anyone who is also struggling with Infrared false colour.

Infrared conversion from my GX1 Infrared camera
Infrared conversion from my GX1 Infrared camera

False Colour Conversion in Infrared Photography

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False colour infrared using Infrared converted Panasonic GX1
False colour infrared using Infrared converted Panasonic GX1

Before I get into the details of this post I need to point out that I’m not a fan of the false colour effect in infrared. That said I do quite like the look of the image above. I realise this is a personal choice and you may or may not like the effect. Despite not liking this effect (other than the odd image) I continue to use the technique as I find it often helps in the conversions to black and white. The increased colour seems to make it easier to separate objects in black and white .

The starting point for the conversion is an infrared image that has been correctly white balanced. You can see the starting point below.

Correct white balance
Correct white balance

As I have mentioned previously in this blog, getting the white balance correct in Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW can be problematic. Here is an example of the image as seen in Lightroom despite using the correct custom white balance.

How Lightroom sees the custom white balance
How Lightroom sees the custom white balance

I have now found out how to correct this and will post something separately on the subject.

Once you have your image white balanced, take it into Photoshop. Here we will do something called a channel swap between the red and blue channels using the Channel Mixer. You can see a screenshot of the channel mixer below.

Channel Mixer in Photoshop
Channel Mixer in Photoshop

In case you are wondering there isn’t a cannel mixer in Lightroom or Elements.

First select the Red channel in the channel mixer. You will notice the red slider is at 100% and the other two sliders are at 0%. Change these sliders so that the blue channel is at 100% and the others are at 0%.

Now repeat this process selecting the blue channel. This time set the blue slider to 0% and the red slider to 100%. The channel swap is now complete and you will see an effect similar to that above.

You can also swap any two channels and are not restricted to the red and blue. The red and blue channels tend to produce the best results though.

Now as I mentioned at the start of this post, I use this technique to support conversion to black and white. With that in mind, here is the final image back and white image. Let me know which image you prefer.

Final infrared conversion
Final infrared conversion