#Photo3 – Three Rule-of-Thirds Techniques

A weekly trio of top photo tips

The rule-of-thirds composition technique often gets a hard time in photography. It’s one of the most simple and effective rules to apply to an image, yet often is attacked for being too bland and obvious and the first rule that you should break to be more original. However, I’m here to defend the rule-of-thirds. It’s a great rule, does it job well and can make or break an image and in my book, that makes it a winner!

Divide your scene

The classic use of the rule of thirds, is to use it for the positioning of a key subject in the framing of a scene. Instead of putting it dead centre, you instead divide your scene into segments and cross-points with four dividing lines, with the crossing points of these lines being the rule’s ideal placement for your main subject. This takes the subject, just off-centre, to a more natural area of your frame, one that the brain responds to as being pleasing and easy on the eye.

A classic use of the rule-of-thirds

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#Photo3 – Matrix Metering Alternatives

A weekly trio of top photo tips

Matrix metering or evaluative metering as it is also known, is the modern and tried & tested standard metering mode for digital cameras. The camera evaluates the whole picture, taking into account subject and scene and calculates the correct exposure for a great picture. Most of the time it works well, but it’s not infallible. There are situations and lighting conditions that can confuse it. In these circumstances, or just when you want to take more control, there are other options.

Centre-Weighted

Before matrix metering, the most common metering mode a camera had was centre-weighted metering. This is going back to the days of film cameras, but many modern digital cameras still have this as an option. As the name suggests it takes a reading from the whole frame, but biases its readings from the centre of the frame, where it expects you to be placing the main subject (of course, this isn’t necessarily the ideal for most compositions!). It’s still a good general one for measuring portraits and landscapes, but like matrix metering, it can get easily fooled in tricky lighting conditions.

Centre-weighted metering

Partial

To take more control of your metering measurements, select partial metering. This takes a reading from the central part of the frame (usually designated in the viewfinder by a large circle etching). Unlike centre-weighted metering however, it not only ignores the rest of the frame, but you can usually lock and hold the reading, by half-pressing the shutter button, so you can recompose and not have to place your subject dead-centre. Used with care you can achieve accurate exposures every time, even in tricky light such as shooting backlit subjects.

Partial metering

Spot

Taking things further, spot metering takes a reading only from the small circle in the centre of your viewfinder. Point this at any area of the scene or subject and you can take small and accurate readings or even multiple readings, which the camera will evaluate. Where you point the spot-meter has to be taken into consideration however. Ideally, this should be from an 18% reflective grey area, as this is how your camera sees the world. Pavement or grass matches this tone and therefore these subjects make ideal areas to take a reading from, whereas white or black areas or subjects for instance, will require a 2-stop exposure adjustment to keep them at their correct density.

Spot metering

You can read more about camera metering and exposures in my eGuides. These are available as part of an e6 subscription or to purchase separately. www.e6subscription.co.uk

Open Wide – the bokeh effect

The aesthetic quality of blur produced in the out of focus parts of an image is known as bokeh (pronounced boh ka). Bokeh can also be defined as the way the lens produces out-of-focus points of light. This is the effect the lens design has on out-of-focus highlights in the background which mimic the lens aperture blade’s shape inside the lens. These may be perfect circles or they may appear as hexagonal shapes, with a good lens rendering these as soft looking circles, making the bokeh effect less distracting.

P7090030

Olympus E-M1, 12mm, 1/6400 @f2

Creative landscapes

A different mindset needs to come into play when shooting landscapes which feature bokeh. If you swop f16 to shooting at f1.8 instead, then you need to consider your composition carefully as well. Using a wide angle, you will need to be nice and close to a foreground subject, just so that you can achieve a suitable bokeh effect. So, fill the bottom of the frame with this and focus carefully on this subject. Check the image afterwards for sharpness and use the depth-of-field preview if your camera has one. You may not be able to reduce your out-of-focus part of the frame to a series of soft circles, but you will produce a nice sense of depth with your results

You can read more about bokeh in my eGuide ‘Open Wide’, available as part of an e6 subscription or to purchase separately. www.e6subscription.co.uk

 

Beyond the Grave & into the Red

For my infrared project having the right subject to shoot was key. Infrared doesn’t work on every subject. Well, the actual process does, but the successful result is a bit more subjective. Some of the results I have seen published or on the web have often been a bit cliché, even if they work well within that cliché. So, I was looking for a subject that would suit the medium that perhaps hadn’t been done before, or was just less-photographed. In fact, this combination happened the other way around. I’d had the subject in mind for a while, but needed a technique to give it an edge. And so my Beyond the Grave idea was brought to fruition. I wanted to photograph cemeteries and the ‘Into the Red’ tag was the infrared medium I would capture them in.

The camera I used or should I say camera’s, were my Olympus EM1 and EP5. These are the camera’s I use for all my photography and they were actually ideal for this medium. The filter I used was a Hoya R72 Infrared filter. I purchased it in 67mm size, big enough for my standard zoom and I also purchased a couple of step-down rings so I could use it on other lenses too, if required.

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Brompton Cemetery, London.  Olympus E-P5, 10mm, ISO 800, Hoya R72.

This filter absorbs at least 10 stops of light, so it’s a bit like using a Big Stopper filter. This effectively means using the camera on a tripod, as the resulting exposures, even on the bright days, lasted several seconds. This was going to be one of a few downsides shooting with this filter rather than with a converted infrared camera, as I wouldn’t be able to get away with any handheld shooting. The other issue was movement. Subject blur from foliage, important for infrared, was not going to look very pleasing on the final result, so a lack of wind and therefore a calm day was preferred.

Now, as I say the OMD camera’s, especially the EM1 were ideal for shooting with this filter, as it avoids a third issue, composition. Because the filter is so dark, I would normally have to compose the scene without the filter in place, then once happy with my position, focus, screw the filter on and take the picture. If moved position again, I would normally have to take the filter off and repeat the process. Not so with the Olympus system. These cameras have a mode called Live Boost, which increases the intensity of the rear screen and electronic viewfinder view for when using strong filters such as this. This meant I could ‘see through’ the filter enough to compose and fine-tune the focus without forever taking the filter on and off. A godsend, I can tell you!

You can read more about infrared project shooting cemeteries in my eGuide ‘Beyond the Grave & into the Red’, available as part of an e6 Premium subscription. www.e6subscription.co.uk

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Lenses for Landscapes

Aside from the common 24/28mm wide angle, the 50mm lens is next up as a favourite for landscape photography . A distant scene will still make a good composition if you frame it correctly. You may not be able to get right up close to include a strong foreground feature and so this focal length will allow you to draw the scene in. Successful landscapes are all about composition and fitting the widest lens in your arsenal is not always the answer to successful pictures. Tight framing and knowing what is negative space or just distracting from the main scene, is as important to your technique.

Loch Leven, Highlands, Scotland

Loch Leven, Highlands, Scotland.  Canon 5D MKII, 50mm.

This focal length is very easy to work with, as it offers the same field of view as we see with our eyes and so it should feel very natural to compose with. If you need to compress the elements within the scene slightly, then this focal length will allow this too. Sometimes the landscape isn’t perfectly placed for you and there can be too much distance between the foreground rock and tree in the mid-ground. A 24 mm will only exaggerate this and spoil the harmony of the composition, A 50mm however, will compress the scene slightly and make the two elements appear closer together than they actually are, allowing for a tighter view.

You can read more about the ideal focal lengths for landscape photography in my eGuide ‘Lenses for Landscapes‘, available as part of an e6 subscription or to purchase separately. www.e6subscription.co.uk

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It’s all in a Quote – part 4

The fourth and final part of this feature on well-known photography quotes…

“A good photograph is knowing where to stand”– Ansel Adams (Landscape photographer)

Another thought provoking quote from Adams and this one points at the art of composition. Having a great subject and light for that matter too, is no good if you don’t know how to use it within the frame of the picture to maximum effect. Even with a glorious landscape view in front of you, standing in the right place to capture it, can be the difference between a good picture and an amazing one. A landscape image should be divided into foreground, midground and background and each is used to take the viewer on a ‘journey’ through the image. Continue reading

It’s all in a Quote – part 3

More famous quotes…

“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it”. – Ansel Adams (Influential American landscape photographer)

This quotes echoes the words of Arnold Newman and highlights that it is the photographer that is important, not the camera. A top-end camera can give you first class results, but without a creative operator, its a mere complex machine in the wrong hands. The camera is merely a tool. It captures the subjects you point it at, but as it can’t see those subjects for you, it can’t pick and chose the light, the composition or what to include or exclude in the frame. It can’t act on emotion and it doesn’t see, hear or smell. Continue reading