Kenneth Ross Photography: Blog en-us (C) Kenneth C. Ross (Kenneth Ross Photography) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 06:32:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 06:32:00 GMT Kenneth Ross Photography: Blog 114 120 Building Awareness  

Composition talks a lot about "rule of thirds", "leading lines", etc. and those are all great things (and I'll talk about them too in an upcoming blog entry) but what isn't talked about enough (in my opinion) is learning to be aware of what you're capturing in your image.

I'm not talking about your intended subject of course – I assume you'll be able to make sure that's there! No, what I'm talking about is all the stuff that you don't notice until it's too late, until you've taken the picture and are back at your computer looking at it. That's when you notice the light pole sticking out of your subject's head or that red car parked across the street or those power lines or … well, you get the idea.

Photography, unlike painting, is a subtractive art form. We open the shutter and whatever is in front of the camera and fits in the frame is going to be captured, no matter how close or far away it is. Somewhere in there is our subject and our goal in creating the picture is [or should be] that later on when we show people our image they'll understand what the subject is and be drawn to it so they can take in that captured moment in the way you had intended. How does "subtractive" fit into that? Well, in order to help ensure our intended subject is appreciate we need to make sure that we "subtract" from our composition anything that might distract our viewer away from our subject. Realizing that something is competing with your subject is what I mean by building awareness.

Generally we're drawn to our subject because we find it interesting and exciting. Often we find it so interesting that we don't see much else and if we just took the photo in that moment it would be some time later when we started to notice the problems, the distractions. SLOW DOWN! That one bit of advice made a huge difference in my photographs and I believe everything else in composition grows from that first principle. Look through your viewfinder (or the screen on the back of your camera), see what is going to be captured when you press the shutter, decide if that's something that will add to your image or distract from your subject. Is there something bright in the background (brighter than your subject) or maybe something really colorful that isn't part of your subject? How about something with a lot of contrast, a dark area against a light background (like a roof line against a sky)? These are all things that will draw the viewer's attention and if they're not your subject, they'll be looking at the distractions instead of your subject (and may not even realize what your subject it).

Pay particular attention to those things I just mentioned - they're key distractions and so easy to have them end up in your photograph. Just the way our vision works we're automatically drawn to very bright things, areas of high contrast, and bright colors (particularly warm colors like red and orange). In addition to these, be mindful of the "pole out of the head" stuff I mentioned earlier or backgrounds that are very chaotic. Your subject should stand our from the background, not blend into it.

So, how do you deal with this? Well, we have a few basic tools that can be used individually or in combination. First, we need to what? SLOW DOWN - very good. How else can we recognize the problems, right? Okay, next is evaluating how to address the problem; can we just ask our subject to move? Can we move the distraction itself (e.g. a trash can or red sweater lying on a chair)? Maybe we can use our control of "depth of field" to cause the background to blur so it's less distracting. How about we move? Really, if all you did was shift a couple feet to the left or right, or got down a little lower or up a little higher, it would change entirely what the background of your subject is.

Let's take for example the following photographs. I met this young musician in Centennial Olympic Park here in Atlanta while out teaching a composition class. Perfect. He was sitting on a concrete railing near reflecting pool with a background made up of trees, fences, various buildings, and passing cars. A very chaotic and distracting background indeed! I saw it as an excellent opportunity to show just this principle - move yourself to control the background and remove distractions. My instructions to him were simply to stay where he was seated and keep playing while I took a few photos.

Crouching low in front and shifting just a bit to his left so I could have the building in the background but not touching him.


Slightly above - standing across from him and using the reflecting pool as the background. The choice to process this image as Black & White was due to the fact that that most of the tones in the scene were monochromatic - the stone, his grey jacket, even the reflecting pool itself. The color that was there, mostly his face and guitar, seemed a bit distracting to the overall image and if you find yourself with a lot of distracting colors in your image, try converting it to B&W and see if you don't like it better.


Crouching down so I'm shooting up at him, off to his right so he's framed by the trees in the background
(blurred through the use of a shallow depth-of-field).


Standing above with the sidewalk as the background.


See how different each of these photographs are? My subject never moved (well, except for the strumming) and yet they look almost like they were taken in entirely different locations. Each one tells the story of this musician just a little differently and all that was required was for me to move myself around a little bit so that I could choose the background I wanted for each image.

Try this same technique with your next image. Slow down, take the time to frame your subject and really look at what else is going on. Move around and take different "versions" of the photo at different angles. You'll be amazed at how different each turns out and once you start shooting from unconventional points of view, your images will immediately stand out from majority of other photos that were just taken at a normal upright eye level.



(Kenneth Ross Photography) Composition Photo Basics Photography rule of thirds Tue, 05 Mar 2013 22:13:29 GMT
How fast glass helps slow shots

I listen to a lot of photography pod casts and read a lot blog posts and a frequent question that comes up centers around what we call "fast glass". The glass in this case is just a generic reference to our lenses but what exactly does "fast" mean and why should we care about? In most cases, photographers who primarily shoot portraiture and weddings will tell you that these fast lenses (lenses with a maximum aperture of 2.8 or more) are most valuable in isolating the subject from a distracting background by creating that nice blurred background effect, something we call "bokeh".

But I get a bit ahead of myself – first, you might be wondering what I mean by having an aperture of "2.8 or more" (I know it confused me in the early days). The aperture is always stated in "f-stops" and the number itself, simply stated, represents a ratio of the lens's focal length vs. the diameter of the opening where the light comes in (called the "entrance pupil"). Now, you don't need to get deep into the technical side of how aperture works in order to understand it enough to control your images so we won't get into a deep technical discussion here. Instead we'll leave off saying that most of what you need to know is that the smaller the f-stop number, the larger the opening is and the more light you’re letting into your camera; f/2.8 is a larger opening than f/4 and f/1.8 is larger than f/2.8.

Also, I want to make sure you understand that a lens rated at f/2.8 (or f/4 or??) isn't "stuck" at that f-stop; the f/# rating of a lens is just the maximum aperture, the maximum amount of light it can let it. In almost all cases you can adjust the aperture to any value between this maximum and the lens’s minimum aperture (usually around f/22 but does vary). In fact, it's not uncommon for zoom lenses (lenses with variable focal lengths) to have a variable maximum aperture. With these lenses you'll find their f-stop rating expressed something like f/3.5-5.6, which means that at the lens's widest field of view (shortest focal length – e.g. 18mm) the maximum aperture is f/3.5 but at the lens's longest focal length (e.g. 200mm) the maximum aperture changes to just f/5.6.

Ok, so what about this "fast glass" stuff – what exactly is "fast"? Well, like I said in the beginning, a fast lens is generally thought of as any lens with an aperture of f/2.8 or larger – f/2.8, f/2.0, f/1.8, f/1.4, etc. Since I've also said that an f/2.8 lens doesn't need to always be left at f/2.8 (you can happily shoot at f/8 or f/16 if you like), why not always get the fastest lens you can? Well, there are a couple reasons; fast lenses tend to be both more expensive and heavier than their slower counterparts. Every time that f/# goes up or down, it's a halving or doubling of the amount of light coming in and so an f/2.8 lens can let it twice the light of an f/4 lens, which means the lens needs to have a larger diameter to hold the larger/heavier glass lens elements. This often also results in the lens body going from lightweight materials like plastic to metal in order to help with the structural integrity of the lens. Of course all this adds to the price, making that f/2.8 lens 30-40% more expensive than its f/4 cousin.

So, now you start thinking to yourself, "hmm… mostly I'm going to be shooting with reasonably bright light and don't really need anything faster than f/4 anyway. After all, if most of what I shoot is going to be at f/4 – f/8, why in the world pay extra for that expensive f/2.8 beast-of-a-lens?". Great question, glad you asked, and really the major theme of this post.

In most posts I've read and podcasts I've listened to, the guidance would be "you don't" [need the fast lens]. If you’re mostly going to shoot with an aperture at f/4 or smaller (typical of landscape shooters) then you really don’t need a fast lens, right? Yeah, well, you've probably guessed by now that I have a different take on this, and you'd be right. You see, the f-stop that you set your camera to when you take the shot is only activated at the point when the shutter is opened. The rest of the time the aperture is wide open, as open as it can go, in order to make it easier for you to view and frame your scene. Even more important, this "always open" aperture behavior allows your focus system to get the most light possible in order to quickly lock focus. In fact in some camera systems (Canon comes to mind), the focus system includes special high-precision focus sensors that ONLY come into play if you’re using f/2.8 or faster lenses!

Think about that – if you only bought lenses "slower" than f/2.8 you'd never be able to take advantage of those features and they're exactly the sort of features that would most benefit someone shooting a fast-paced soccer game on a bright day…the same shooter who probably doesn't think they need a fast lens because they're almost always between f/8 and f/11, and never want to go below f/4! In fact, they really should be investing in that fast lens in order to help their cameras perform to their full potential, and maybe lock into that critical moment when a slower lens might have been struggling to track the action.

There are a lot of other great things to talk about with lenses and f/stops, with variable apertures vs. fixed apertures but I'll save that for another time. The main point here is that you don’t want fast lenses just to get a nice blurry background behind your subject. Fast lenses can also unlock potential in your camera that can make or break a shot and if the types of shooting you do relies on quick focusing or accurately tracking moving subjects, you'll find fast glass to be exactly what you should be putting on your wish list and in your bag.

















(Kenneth Ross Photography) Aperture Lens Stuff Photo Basics Sun, 24 Feb 2013 22:16:23 GMT