Blog of a photography noob - André Speelmans

André Speelmans

Blog of a photography noob

  • 2019-11-03T08:01:02.142+01:00

    How can you ruin a shot?

    As you are doing things, you get better at it. At least in general. Of course you sometimes need to push yourself to try and not just repeat what you know. This qualifies for photography as well as for any other thing in life. The problem is that this improvement goes slowly and gradually. You do not wake up and went from making lousy shots to winning a Pulitzer. I was thinking I did not make much progress, until I looked back at the early photos I made from when I started looking in photography. Which is about three years ago for me. And I picked out one of the very first photos I did post process.

    I shot the photo on the left on the airport, going on holiday, with my brand new Nikon D3200. My first DSLR, my first experience with things like aperture, ISO, and I barely had a clue what I was doing.
    The photo will not win any award, but you might call it okay. You would be fooled, as I probably made every mistake you can. This is the result after post processing it yesterday. The original photo is, being RAW format, much flatter and has some glaring issues. Flatness is, of course, fixed in post. Or at least that is what I thought when I did this three years ago. Looking back that turns out to be an exercise of making a bad photo worse.

    Why am I sharing this?

    To perhaps have some new photographer realise these things, before making the mistakes. To share that this is the learning curve many go through. For me important: to notice I have developed. I can see some of my mistakes, I can see what things to avoid. So, in short: to boost my own feelings. I will of course celbrate this fact with a lot of alcohol and good food. After finishing this post.

    The original

    As already said, the image was saved as RAW, so flat. Nothing with that, but now look at my settings:
    ISO: 1250
    Aperture: f/22
    Shutter speed: 1/400
    Focal length: 220mm
    The first thing I would question is: f/22? Really? Why? You can see the noise in the original clearly. Obvious as it has an ISO of 1250, at which the D3200 with the 55-300 kit lens definitely is showing noise.
    The aperture should be wider, as there is only the airplane of real interest. Nothing besides that thing needs to be really sharp. And that could have lowered the ISO significantly. The shutter speed could otherwise have been lowered a bit as well. The airplane was going very slowly, so even with a high f-stop, ISO could have been reduced. The mode of shooting was aperture priority, so - looking back - it would have been so obvious to dial that down and get much less noise.
    As for composition: it's an airport, so hard to get really clear shots, but perhaps making a bit more space on the left side, so the airplane would have some space in the direction it is going, would not have been a bad idea. I cannot say for certain, as I really do not remember how it exactly looked. It was three years ago after all and my memory is already not so good.

    What did I learn?

    The most important thing is that I actually know way better what the controls on my camera are and what they do. I had a good camera on my holiday, many shots are totally unusable as they are over- or underexposed. Caused by not knowing what the controls do.
    This is tightly coupled with understanding the exposure triangle. That's not really hard, but if you only think you know it, you are making things harder for yourself. While it is easy to already know when to user shutter speed priority or aperture priority mode. Just this knowledge and switching at the right times makes a huge difference. There is more, but these two things are such vital parts. Neither of them has you make great photos, they are merely "technical". But they will certainly help you to at least get decent photos. I learned (a lot) more, but think that these two are the first and most important steps to take as a new photographer.

    The first edit

    Then, after the holiday, you come home. Start with the great new tools, mainly Lightroom. I can assure you that Lightroom is a very, very powerful tool and I love it. But it does help to have a clue what you are doing. What was I thinking when I made this edit? It's horrible! And I know I actually liked it. Yes, I am not lying, I liked it. The main reason? The colors popped. And yes, they do. And yes, I still like popping colors. But this, this is neon colors. They do not just pop, they jump out of the screen and slap your face until it hurts.
    I was using mostly presets, whcih could stack and did not hesitate stacking them. Contrast up, vibrance up, clarity up. All those things that make a photo "pop".  Not always wrong in my opinion, I do like the tail of the airplane, the brightness of the red and blue there. Which screams for a local edit. I of course did none of my edits local, all were applied all over the photo.
    I was not happy with the grey sky, so, up goes the blue saturation. Totally ignoring all the distractions on the photo.

    What has improved?

    It goes without saying that the first photo in this article (the later edit), is much better. The first thing I did there was to remove a lot distracting stuff in the foreground. In many photos less is more. The photo was not to show how many red-white poles there are, the photo was about the airplane and how it moves over the runways.
    I kept the colors much more as they were, making them pop a bit is mostly done by curves adjustment layers in Photoshop. With masks to keep them limited to where I feel they should be applied. The colors of the tail also pop more, because the background is way less vibrant. A much easier and more natural way to have parts stand out.
    Big parts of the white on the plane were blown out in the first edit, I learned to keep an eye on the histogram and kept that under control, so there is still some detail on the airplanes lighter areas.
    The sky, well, I still did not like that. But making it cyan is surely no improvement at all. In this case I did replace it. Not with a bright blue sky. The original is gray and subdued. So I picked a gray sky with a little bit of lower cloudes. I did dodge the top of the clouds, to give those a bit more contrast with those highlights.
    Midtone contrast was added to just the plane, to sharpen the letters and windows on it. Because the letters were not so brightened as in the first edit, it comes out much sharper as the contrast is higher.

    All is great now, right?

    No, most definitely not. Even if it helps me see that I like making photos, but that I like processing them even more. I think that area has improved much more than the photo-making skills. The newly edited photo is still not an awesome photo. Given how little I invest in really making better photos, I am certain that my photos are never going to be the main piece in a gallery.
    But this comparison does help me put my current photos in perspective. My current photos are in general a lot better than this shot.  Just as I am no longer blindly raising contrast and saturation. So, I am pretty happy to actually see my improvement. And I am fine with the slow pace it is improving. It's only my hobby, I do not make money out of it. Although... one of the photos I shot on that vacation has sold three times in Adobe stock. Earning me not even 2 dollar.

    How about you?

    If you're reading this blog, I can safely assume you're not a professional with 30 years of experience. Most likely you're more like me. Clawing your way forward to become a little better. With perhaps the same questions I sometimes have. Like: why don't I improve and make great shots? If you do, go back to your early photos from the moment you thought you wanted to look more seriously into photography. You might be surprised about the progress you made. And if so: join me in celebration and get yourself a nice drink or food, or other gift. Or go overboard and buy yourself that great camera. I would like a Nikon Z7.😀


  • 2019-04-15T17:09:52.302+02:00

    Horizontal, vertical, diagonal

    Orientation

    This time I was thinking of adding some more about composition. And in this case not even about what is on your photo, but about the orientation of the photo.
    Video orientationFor those that want to go quickly through this, I found an awesome explanation on XKCD, which tells the whole story of it. That story includes the new, bold and dynamic method of diagonal! On a more serious note, there is a difference on the orientation. Sometimes one is more suitable than the other.  Even this graphic shows already a bit of that. Horizontal has people and tree, vertical only 1 person and diagonal has half a person and a mountain. In general it can be said that tall subjects are more suited for a vertical orientation and wide subjects for a horizontal orientation. But it is not always that simple. So I grabbed a few example shots I made and try to give some noob-ish explanation. Which you probably had expected, but if you would have wanted a pro explanation, you would not be reading this blog, would you?

    Fairly obvious

    My first example is in my opinion an obvious choice.
    A photo made at a re-enactment at Slot Loevestein in the Netherlands. Some tents, soldiers, water, grass, trees and sky. The tents make a nice horizontal line, they have a nice reflection, which also is horizontal. In fact, I would say all lines in this photo are horizontal. You could exclude the trees, but it's not the trees that are the subject. The line of trees add to the scene as environment.
    Here we have almost that exact line of tents, soldiers and trees. Due to the width, the tent on the right mostly fell off, you just see a small part of it. If I would have wanted to bring over the idea there would be many more tents there, this might have been a possibility.. The water, instead of a horizontal feature, now feels more like a square area and is hogging the lower part of the photo. Unfortunately with little detail, except for a shadow of something unrecognizable on the lower left. There is also more air. Which is not too bad as a background, but not a very interesting air to have much of. The leafless trees of which we can now see more and higher branches also do not add much to the photo.
    The subject of the photo here was the horizontal line of tents and soldiers, plus the also horizontal reflection of it in the water. The air and water at the top and bottom add nothing to this photo. So I think this indeed is a fairly obvious example of that generic rule: horizontal subjects are best displayed in a horizontal orientation.
    Of course, a photographer does not call this horizontal or vertical, he calls it landscape or portrait mode. For the diagonal orientation is no photography term yet, so, giving it is bold and dynamic I opt to call that boldamic mode. Keep in mind where you heard that phrase first, I want due credit for it!

    Less obvious

    My second example is already less obvious, because it might depend on what I would want to bring over. Both photos have a couple sitting in front of a castle.
    At that same re-enactment as the previous photos, I saw these two people sitting and talking. They looked nice enough to make a photo of them, with enough of the castle in the background to give a clue about the surroundings. I would call this a decent photo and am happy with it. To me the composition is nice enough and it brings over what I wanted to show people.
    What the previous photo had less, was showing the height of the castle. Okay, not really fair, you can see the roof starting, so you get an obvious hint. But the left side could be awesomely high. So I added the photo in portrait mode. For showing the height of that left part, portrait mode is more suitable. There are some annoying things on this photo, which makes it not my choice. Mostly: to not have the people tucked away in the lower corner, I had mroe grass on the foreground. It unfortunately adds nothing, but - like the previous one with the water - an undistinguished shadow. The castle seems to lean more backwards here, and I miss out on that table in front of them, which I think makes a decent foreground, contrary to the grass.
    So, I would again pick the landscape photo, because I think it is way more pleasing and better balanced. Plus it shows the people in front of the castle, with just enough information about the size of the castle. The portrait photo gives more information about the height of the castle, but less about the width, as you now do not see the corner. Therefore I would say it's still fairly obvious which is the better photo, but it does demonstrate that the orientation might convey different things.

    I changed my mind

    The next example had me change my mind about the orientation I would choose. Again two photos taken at that same re-enactment.
     At one side was a low hill, from where you had this view of the castle. It offered a nice possibility of showing the castle, including a few of the buildings next to it. I would not call this the greatest shot ever. The leafless trees do frame the castle, but somehow leafless trees rarely make lovely frames. There are also a leafless trees in front of the castle. Nonetheless, there is most likely not much better to get from this angle and it does give a bit of an overview.
    When I arrived at that low hill, I actually wanted to have a photo of the castle and not much of the other buildings. I also wanted to show the castle has a bit of height. So, portrait mode was obviously needed. I did notice the branches on the right poking into the photo, but could not easily find an angle without them, so decided I would later remove them in post processing. This photo obviously emphasize the height much more than the portrait photo does. So you could call this: mission accomplished. Of course, as I looked at both photos later, I felt the landscape mode did bring over way more than the portrait one. Which made me happy that I had taken a shot in both portrait and landscape mode.

    Which is better?

    If you got this far, you probably already know I am going to answer this with: neither. It all depends on what you want to bring over. But from my last example, you might get the idea that I do advise making a shot in both orientations. Even if you think you need only portrait, as I did with my last example, it can be worth making the other one. It can surprise you later.
    I often take both, if I have the time for it. As I am usually just snapshotting, I do sometimes get photos where my original idea of portrait or landscape simply does not work out as good as I thought. And hey, it's a digital camera, the extra shot is only a click away and costs nothing if you decide not to keep it.

    Now just one final remark about this part of composition. In all my examples I preferred the landscape orientation, so you might think I do never pick portrait. The photo I actually published from the first examples was a portrait one. Is it better? I do not know, but it is the one I finally picked. Although it is obvious that I changed my viewpoint a little, because it was not possible to make that photo from the position the other two were taken from. And that shows the number one of Rick's rules on my previous blog entry about composition: value viewpoint.
    Besides the last one, none of the photos was edited, besides a bit of exposure compensation. White balance is not set, nor any other edits.

  • 2019-01-05T10:44:51.626+01:00

    Rules for composition

    What is this composition talk?

    Every site you go to talk about photography has talks about camera's, lenses and other equipment and about composition. Luckily there is nothing magic about what composition entails. A bot of a repetition from my previous post: It is - as the word already says - how you compose your photo. The first thing that pops in my mind when I think about composing, is music. And according to Wikipedia a musical composition refers to the structure of a musical piece or the process of creating a musical piece.
    Wikipedia would not be complete if it would not include an article about composition for visual arts. Whether you call photography a visual art, or whether you would qualify your own pictures as art, I leave up to you. To be honest, I personally cannot look at my own photos and think of them as art.

    Anyway, the article for visual arts says: In the visual arts, composition is the placement or arrangement of visual elements or 'ingredients' in a work of art, as distinct from the subject. It can also be thought of as the organization of the elements of art according to the principles of art.
    Just like the part of music it is talking about structure, here defined as arrangement.
    And this is where those rules come in, as it has been shown that certain arrangements are generally registered as more pleasing. And that makes your photo more pleasing, also known as "better".


    Show me the rules!

    Stop, stop. Not so fast. There are some things you need to know before looking at the rules. The most important is, these are not rules in the sense of law. You have no obligation to follow any of them. And even when breaking all the rules, you can still make some awesome photo's. So, these are guidelines. According to all I saw and read so far, most courses tell you that it is a good advice to follow them, until you know enough to also know when to break them.
    If you want to know: I have not reached that point of knowledge. At least to my knowledge, the problem I still have is that I make mostly snapshots: I see something, I click. I don't do that always, but often. Nor do I actually go re-arrange things to set it up better. I do switch viewpoint, or try to at least follow the famous rule of thirds. But I should really think a bit more before pressing the shutter button.

    The other point is: there is as far as I know not a single list "rules of composition". There are some that seem to pop up everywhere, but there are also some that are less frequently talked about. I saw a course a bit ago from Rick Sammon and he sums up twenty of them. That is a lot to do in just one blog post, so I think I will split that up and handle them in later posts. I also hope Rick won't mind me using them, and if you really want to learn about them with the great examples, you will need to see his course.

    Common rules

    I think most sites will agree on the list below and refer to them as common, these are also the five that Scott Kelby mentions in a video I saw:
    • rule of thirds
    • leading lines
    • fill the frame
    • patterns
    • frame in frame
    I did an earlier post on composition which showed an example about that third point: fill the frame. It is indeed an easy rule, and I doubt I will spend much more time on it. However, I can add that the example of the "wrong" image that I gave, seems less wrong than I said. You could have a quick look and see the photo. There is indeed a lot of redundant stuff there, but if I look back, I think: of the photo would have included a bit more on the left, to show the building the couple came out of, a few more people blowing bubbles, it would bring more over what was going on here. So filling the frame with your subject is not always want you want to do.

    Rick's rules

    1. value viewpoint
    2. rule of odds
    3. fill the frame
    4. orientation is important
    5. negative space is nice
    6. seek separation
    7. love leading lines
    8. don't amputate the joints
    9. patterns/contours/texture
    10. horizon line homily
    11. foreground element
    12. frame it
    13. balance is beautiful
    14. golden spiral
    15. rule of thirds
    16. diagonal lines
    17. triangles
    18. "S" curves
    19. reflections/symmetry
    20. color is cool
    I will in following posts use this list to go on a bit about composition, because composition is really that important. If you want to make good photos, it is an unavoidable topic. My previous post was already inspired by Rick, as it was about his #1 point: value viewpoint.

    André's rule

    I have a blog, so I must be important enough to make rules, right? Perhaps not, and it is not strictly about composition. But I do think that when you can, this is surely one you might want to follow:
    Take your time and try different things!
    If you find a subject that looks interesting, and you have the time: look at it. Preferably from different viewpoints. And look how your subject lines up with the surroundings, what is the background? How does it stand out? Would it be better suited with filling the frame, or will the surroundings add to the story? It's not a thing of necessarily going over a checklist, but most of all just taking your time and trying to find out what might work best. Of course, given this is the age of digital camera's: nothing prohibits you from taking photo's while doing this.
  • 2018-10-15T09:02:06.587+02:00

    Different angles

    Math!

    In case you wonder what photography has to do with math, I am going to talk about angles. Telling you how many degrees your camera should make an angle with the horizon line. And for vertical shots explaining when to use 40 degrees and when to use 60. Of course this is also depending on the angle of the main lighting makes with the subject and the camera. Where you multiply this by 1.3 when poorly lit.
    Okay, enough nonsense and now let's go to the angles I do want to mention.

    Composition

    It is said a good photographer knows when to adhere to the rules of composition and when to break them. As seen from the title of my blog, I am a noob, so far away from that. That does not mean I do not think of composition. I did read books and articles about it. In an early post, I already told one of those rules: fill the frame.
    I think if you want the top 3 you would get a list like:
    • Rule of thirds
    • Leading lines
    • Patterns
    I do miss one remark in most of these books and articles. I think it is as Scott Kelby calls: work the scene. In this post I call it different angles. He means also switching lenses, from zoom to wide. Work with different apertures. I prefer, as a noob, to limit it to: change your position. Shoot from a different angle.

    Boring train

    Zoo train
    Yesterday I was in the zoo and like many zoos, they have a "train" that you can ride on. Knowing I wanted to write a post about this topic, I saw my opportunity and made this not so exciting photo.
    The composition is as you might expect from a snapshot. The subject is dead center and no attention has been paid to the background. You might argue that the empty space on the left balances the train cars and people on the right, but I can assure you: I did not think of that when I made the photo.
    This is the kind of photo you see pop up on someones Facebook page. Nothing totally wrong, nothing of much interest except to the person taking the photo.

    Slightly less boring train

    Zoo train
    As I had made the previous photo, I walked a few meters and took another snapshot. You can see in that photo that I again did not think of any of the three previously mentioned rules. All I did was change the viewpoint. The same lens was on the camera, the same camera was used and in both cases they were post processed by clicking "auto" in Lightroom.
    My change of viewpoint did alter the photo dramatically, though. In my opinion it goes more towards a photo and less a snapshot, but everyone is free to think different.
    I did accomplish some things, though.
    The first thing is the background. Because of the viewpoint, much less of it is visible and thus less distracting. For the attentive reader: this also means there is less information. At the first it would be easier to guess this is a zoo, given the visible exhibit. The second photo has only the tiger print on the train to indicate that.
    The change of viewpoint does bring a more interesting angle to the subject, simply because this is not how you normally see it. Unless crouching down next to zoo trains is your fetish, of course.
    The second photo has a very different feel from the first photo. And this also demonstrates the importance of different angles. By shooting the train twice from different angles, I could now afterwards compare and decide what I find the better photo. Or not necessarily better. The first I could show if I want to let people be aware I was at the zoo. But if it goes about zoo trains, I could then take the second photo.

    What angle should I use?

    Red flower
    A question that for me pops up often is then: what would be the correct angle? Where should my viewpoint be?
    Now we're back to photography. And like so many things in photography there is no rule for that.
    I do like hard rules, where you can be: if situation x, do y. But the first thing of a photo should be: what do I want to tell? What must my photo bring over?
    Like I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the two photos of the zoo train tell different things. Even if they are the same subject and shot just a few moments apart. But that demonstrates nobody can give you a hard rule, as nobody knows what you want to tell. That does not mean there can be no advice.
    I am sure that pro's can give many tips. But even a beginner like me can add his two cents. Or in this case three cents, as I will give three tips.

    My first advice would be: Unless you have a symmetrical photo, do not put the subject in the middle. That often makes a photo feel static and dull. Should you do that, use the rule "fill the frame". If there is nothing besides your subject, the static feel goes away. Of course, your subject needs to be interesting enough to actually fill the frame.

    My second advice would be: do not take a photo from your normal viewpoint. If you take a photo from an ordinary thing just as you see them normally, there is not much incentive to actually look at the photo. It has very little that we do not know.

    My third advice is: Look!

    In the photos of the flowers, I mostly followed my own advice. If you look at the first you can see the cluster of flowers dead center. You can also see I shot it as I was standing there, looking from above. And I paid no attention to any surrounding or distracting items.
    The flower is nice, the shot is crap.

    Compare that with the second photo. Same flower, and even same spot. Both post-processed with Lightroom auto-settings. But a different angle. For this shot I got down and took the photo looking upwards. I had wanted to even go lower and below the flower, but there was a puddle of water and I did not want to get wet, so stayed where I was.

    My first advice about the dead center looks almost ignored, but by changing the angle the flowers at the top also became more a part of the photo, just as the cluster of flowers is lower and more to the right.

    The second advice was followed, which shows you more of the inside of the flower, giving you a slightly different view than you would do normally. To me this is definitely more interesting and thus enhances my subject from "ordinary flower" to "interesting flower".

    The third advice is harder to define. But this image does show it. You can see how the changed angle did change the background. From that light stone to the darkness of the bushes behind the flower. It also mostly removed that ugly, distracting branch that comes in at the bottom of the first photo. And this is indeed where the "look" part comes in. I also had a photo from the same low position, but I was more to the left. That made the green of the foliage the background. I personally like more how the foliage frames around the dark background at that main cluster of flowers.

    The truth

    So, now everybody has read my three cents and noticed how I carefully composed the photo of the flower, you will all agree I am a master photographer. The truth is that I am far away from that. Almost all my photos are still snap shots. This photo is one of the very few times that I actually thought about what I was doing. Because I knew I wanted to make this blog post, so in the 15 minutes I was at the zoo before the others arrived, I actually looked around for possibilities to make photos that could demonstrate my points.

    So, the first truth is that I am no master, but a beginner. There is also a second truth to be found here.
    I think there is absolutely no doubt that the second flower shot is much better than the first. Now, if I can make the flower shots, the train shots (and some tree and building shots that could also demonstrate these points) in about 15 minutes, it does not take much time. And still I often just point and click. That is why I am a beginner, because I do not take time to think and look. Looking is the most important thing a photographer can do.

    So, do not do as I do, but do as I say: Look and change your angle. Work the scene and think.
    Or, if you like clicking: do as I do and not as I say, but still have fun shooting.
  • 2018-09-12T16:56:24.478+02:00

    My glasses

    Tools of the trade

    As the header already says, I was not planning to talk about the glasses I need to wear for driving my car. I sincerely doubt there would be much interest in them, just as I would not really know what to tell about them.
    Girl with huge glasses
    Okay, I will tell you one thing. The picture here is totally wrong. First of all I checked and noticed I was not a girl and second: my glasses seem to be a bit smaller. I have not checked that last in the mirror, so that meant I had the glasses in my hand as I looked at them. They definitely seemed smaller than the one this picture, but perhaps my eyes fooled me, as I was not wearing my glasses.
    Apparently when you're a photographer, you do not talk about your lenses, but about your "glass". Luckily I am just a noob, so can call it whatever I want. But should I below mention the term "glass", it is certainly about lenses and not the thing to wear on your face.

    We need the best!

    Like so many people I have looked at all the available lenses for my camera, and there really are many. In fact, for a newbie I would say there is way too much choice. In an earlier post (wearing glasses) I already said a bit about lenses. Just as I mentioned that bigger is not always needed. I will add immediately that "the best" is also not always needed. Besides that the best is hard to define, as it is mostly depending on what you will do with it, I would advise any beginner to stay away from "the best". Simply because the best tends to be the most expensive.
    What you need to do is determine what kind of photo you want to make and where you want to show it. As I am a newbie myself, I cannot give the pro advice, but what I can do is tell about my lenses, and how satisfied I am with them.

    The kit lens

    My first set was two kit lenses that came with the camera I bought. The camera was a Nikon D3200 and the lenses were 18-55mm and 55-300mm. These lenses are said to be of a poor quality. Nonetheless I think they should perfectly fine photos, especially if you mostly post on the web. Being new, and sometimes looking at my photos, I knew I could make better photos. All I needed were better lenses.
    Yes, I did think that. Not long, but I really did. And if you do too, let me correct you. Better photos are made by better photographers. The lens quality helps, but a good photo is not made by the quality. It is made by what you have photographed.
    So, yes, I was wrong and if you mainly post on the web I think these lenses are great quality for their price.  I did replace them though.

    The telezoom

    Sigma telezoom lens
    The first lens I bought was a Sigma 150-600mm. Although I was ill prepared to decide which I needed, I knew I did want a telezoom. This was bought shortly before going three weeks on safari in Uganda. I wanted to be able to really zoom in.
    Here you can see I for once followed my own advice and first thought about my needs. On a safari you cannot always simply walk up to your subject and this telezoom was indeed used very, very much during that trip.
    After that trip? Not much at all. It is big, it is heavy and it will need a tripod or other support to get sharp photos. Some people seem to be able to shoot sharply without support, but I am not one of them. It's maximum aperture is f/5 - f/6.3. This means in lower light conditions, you need to raise shutter speed or ISO pretty fast. Would I buy it again? Yes, as it really is awesome to have such a beauty with you on safari. I was and am pretty happy with it. But you really need to know what you will use it for, or I would not bother with it.

    The macro

    After I could take photos far away, I was certain that I needed a lens to shoot close up. After all, how else could I get better photos? You guessed it: of I went to the shop. And back I came as the proud owner of a Sigma 105mm f/2.8 macro lens. With that I would be shooting awesome shots of flowers and insects and whatever else I wanted.
    Insect on a leaf
    The photo next to this text was actually shot with that lens. I think it's a nice shot. Will it win a photography prize? I think not. Again, the lens did not make my photos suddenly much better.
    In fact, I only then learned a big problem with macro photography. If you are very close to your subject, the depth of field is very narrow. The photo shows this already, when you look - well whatever those pointy ends are called in English - you can see that some of them are pretty sharp. But the ones further away are already out of focus. trust me, this thing was only a few centimeters long.
    Okay, I mostly wanted to do a bit of macro photography, so the lens delivered as promised. But unless you use focus stacking (Brenda Hoffman posted a link to a guide in one of my Google communities recently), you can quickly find yourself having problems with focus. Taking shots of flowers real close up? It better be inside, or a day with very little wind. Wind is an absolute horror for getting sharp close-ups outside.
    Would I advise people to buy a macro lens? If you want to do macro photography: yes. Otherwise: no. It's that simple.
    Note that there is also a cheaper way to get likewise closeups. You can buy a reverse ring and put your normal lens on the other way. You can read a bit about it on this article.

    Jack of all trades

    I mentioned earlier that I did replace my kit lenses. I like to take my camera along when I go out, I do not want to carry a lot of lenses. Especially not when I am going abroad for work. I already need to carry a laptop then, so reducing the amount of lenses helps. Just as it helps when you are lazy and do not like swapping them. I admit being guilty of that as well.
    The replacement is a Nikon 18-300mm covering exactly what the two kit lenses did. I really love this lens, it can basically do almost anything. I doubt it's the most sharp lens and I am certain a pro would not touch it. But keep in mind that most of my photos end up on the web. I put most of them in original size, but most people will only see the smaller version. My photos do not need to be that sharp, so for me this lens is perfect. It did cost more than the two kit lenses, and it gives no better performance. If you are lazy like me, or travel a lot and want to reduce on lenses, this is a nice one. In other cases, you might simply stick with the kit lenses.

    Wide angle

    Botanic garden
    I was still not done with getting different lenses. Knowing that my camera had an APS-C sensor, which meant an 18mm on it, would equal about 27mm on a full frame camera, I felt the need to have a really wide angle lens as well. I bought myself a Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens. I shot the photo in my previous blog with it, just as the photo next to this text.
    The lens delivers, you can make pretty wide shots with it. And due to its aperture I also used it a few times in museums. These places are usually poorly lit and do not allow flash, so a wide aperture is a real advantage there.
    As with the previous purchases, I am happy with the lens. It is pretty nice to bring on holidays, where you can expect to shoot some landscapes as well. Or shoot a hotel room and have it look bigger than it is. On the other hand, with already 18mm available on the kit lens (or my jack of all trades), it is definitely not a need. This is like the telezoom, it surely warrants thinking before buying.

    Fast glass

    Starfish
    I did it. I meant lenses and called them "glass". In this case on purpose, because fast glass has a meaning. In general it is meant that the lens has a wide aperture and is therefore able to catch more light, allowing it to (auto-) focus faster. That is at least how I understood the term. And this would surely be the stuff I need, right? This is where the pro's go. Fast glass, yes.
    For once I did not run to the shop, but thought about it. In the end I got myself a Nikon 35mm and a Nikon 50mm. Both are f/1.8 and thus have the widest aperture of all my lenses. As they are prime lenses they are cheaper than zoom lenses. They are also supposed to make sharper photos. I believe that, although for my purpose (web content) it is not noticeable.
    Anyway, they are - compared to the other lenses - pretty inexpensive, so you could pick them up. Everyone talks about the nifty fifty and that this is the lens closest to what we really see. That is - as far as I know - true. On a full frame camera. So on an APS-C sensor like my camera has, that would be the 35mm. It works great for what I bought it for, shooting in lower light conditions. The photo of the starfish was shot at the local aquarium and that has very little light. I don't mean dusk or so, but really dark. Having the wide aperture allows the ISO to be acceptable, while still having a bit of shutter speed to prevent blurry photos.
    If you shoot in low light conditions, I would definitely advise getting one of these lovelies.

    Finishing thoughts

    Let's start with a disclaimer. I am not a pro, I am a newbie and tell you what I think/experienced. So keep that in mind when following my "advice". To put a bit perspective in it, I can tell you how much I used each lens in 2018. I did buy the two prime lenses in 2018, so their usage is lower than could be. But I think it gives an idea about how much I use each lens.
    Total photos: 4665
    Nikon 18-300mm: 3893
    Tokina 11-16: 643
    Nikon 35mm: 55
    Nikon 50mm: 48
    Sigma macro: 23
    Sigma 150-600mm: 3

    Which tells me I need to make more macro photos, and will probably tell you what lens tends to be on my camera.
    Now, did these lenses make me a better photographer? No. I think over the years I have made a few nice pictures and made much less crap photos. But that was because I tend to look better and by looking better, you also throw away more.
    Do I regret buying these lenses? Definitely not. Most of them have their specific use and by having them, I can actually do these things. That's not to say it is impossible to do with the kit lens. You can go very, very far with just kit lenses. But sometimes it is nice to have tools better suited for the job. And lenses are the tools of our trade. But don't buy them with the idea that they make you a better photographer. I fear practice, listening to advice and all the stuff that works for all other professions are what can make you better. I also believe that you do not need to be a pro, to have a fun hobby. And that last can definitely be done without many expensive lenses.
    Happy shooting!
  • 2018-06-20T08:08:09.580+02:00

    Processing a photo

    Click and done

    Or perhaps not. When you shoot in JPG format, you might be done indeed, as the camera will process the photo for you. In RAW format this does not happen and you're on your own. I do like post processing, so shoot almost always in RAW format.
    In this post I would like to go over a photo that I did process to show what I did and tell why I did that. It will be specific to Lightroom, because that is the tool I use.

    The start

    This is the original photo. My eyes were caught by the rope holding the ship moored and how it would make a nice leading line. I also found the photo had some kind of geometry in it. The water and air would divide it in half vertically. Then the clouds in the air plus the two ships would occupy the right half of the photo. While the left half would have no clouds and the two buildings. The ship that came into the photo from the left was not planned for, but it added a feeling of movement to the static picture.

    The basics


    My first action was to straighten the buildings on the left, using a guided upright perspective in Lightroom. I felt that buildings should not look like they fall over. The original photo also had a cool tone, which changed to much warmer when I changed the white balance.
    I always start with these things. Cropping and straightening the photo and then the white balance. These two can have a huge impact on the overall mood of the photo. I did not really crop here, but the straightening did modify the photo a bit, so there are some parts cropped away.

    My second step is a global adjustment. here I would definitely want to open up the shadows more. I ended up with a +54 on that slider. As I also wanted to add a lot more punch to the photo, I raised clarity to +48. The photo was quite light and although not foggy, it had a little of that same feeling of being smoothed out. So I actually used the dehaze slider to get it a bit darker and more contrast in (mostly) the sky You can read about dehaze on The Lightroom Queen's forum.

    Local adjustments

    I mostly want to emphasize the two moored ships and therefore thought of darkening the left side of the photo. Because of the ship that sailed in from the left, I thought of making it like coming from the dark to the light. So I added a radial filter that would lower exposure a lot. As I only wanted that effect on the left, I used the brush to remove the right side of the photo from the filter. The left corners being as dark as they are now, gave me the feeling of "opening up" for the ship on the left. Here you do not need to look very well to immediately see this photo is processed, as there is little chance of finding this in reality. But to me a photo does not need to be 100% real. In that case I should have kept the original raw photo. However, be aware that others might not like over edited photos and this one is pretty obvious now.

    While I am happy with the quay being on the photo, as it holds the base of my leading line (the rope), I do not want it to hold attention for long. So I dimmed it a little, by using a gradient filter that just covers the quay. Here I lowered exposure (-0.35), whites (-24) and mostly highlights (-78). The part holding the rope is very dark, so I opened the shadows in it (+54).
    I do not think these settings are too obviously noticeable, unless you have the before and after next to each other. Still, they do improve to what I would like to get.

    To me, the white text on the back of the right ship was an eye catcher. This had to stand out a bit more. For this I added a new radial filter, around the text. Here I mostly raised whites (+63) and highlights (+22) to have the text stand out more. I also added clarity and sharpness here.
    Like the previous adjustment, I think it is step that one will not immediately see, but it definitely contributes a lot. The text stands out better and is more of a point to attract attention now.
    If you look at the image, you can see that in the previous step the text was a bit toned down, like the white of the bridge on the ship. It now jumps out, so for the careful watcher you can surely see that has been edited.

    The last step

    My final step was a slight alteration to the air. Here I used a gradual filter where I lowered the temperature (-15). This gives a more blue tint to the air. Using the brush I made sure the ships were not altered by this filter.
    Like the previous adjustment, I think this one is not attracting much attention. Unless looking at the top of the sky, I think the effect is very minor. But it changes the sky to less gray, for which I am happy.

    Looking at the result, it surely changed a lot from the original one. The leading line and radial filter that darkens the left corners do immediately pull the eyes towards the center of the photo. The ship on the left and the buildings there do give a bit of context, but do not divert attention. From the center the eyes go to the right, where the ships - the topic of the photo - are moored. The text on the back of the right ship keeps attention for a bit due to how it jumps out. From there the eyes can look around at the ships, go to the quay and finally one would look around and glance more at the buildings and the sailing ship.

    The photo is much to my liking, the edits make my eyes go as I described above. Of course, I cannot say how others look and whether they will perceive things as I do.  But to me that is less important. Of course, I hope others like my photo and feel I made good edits. Yet, given that I do this for fun, I mostly strive for photos and edits that please me. Which I think should be the case for all us beginning photographers.
    Do the things you like, make photos that please you. And then enjoy your hobby.
  • 2017-05-31T10:51:54.430+02:00

    Back to the eyes

    Lenses again

    In this post I am going to talk about lenses again. I know I did this before in an earlier blog post, but I think I should get back at that again. The reason is quite simple: last week a friend asked about lenses he would need. Now, I am a noob, but I do happen to have DSLR with three different lenses. And I have actually read a bunch of articles. He was not at that stage yet. So we spoke about what he wanted to do and then I told him what I would buy.
    The funny part is: it is the exact same advice as I gave in that earlier post. During that talk however, we also came to a topic that is not mentioned in the previous post. But it is an important one, so I will talk about that part in this post.

    F-stops

    In case you think every guy loves the Formula 1 and this is about pit stops in the Formula 1, you're mistaken. We're still talking photography, and it's about a thing you can see on your lens.
    Nikon lens 18-300mmNikon 18-300mm F3.5-5.6
    In the image you can see the mention about the F-stop. Of course, they do not make it very clear, as the letter F is not mentioned there. But it is the part with 3.5-5.6 in it. There are also lenses with only one number there. Every prime lens, which has a fixed focal length, always has only one number. But a zoom lens can have either one number, or a range. The F-stop means your widest aperture. If you have a lens with one number, it has that widest aperture on every focal length (zoom level). If you have a range, the lowest number is the widest aperture when not zoomed in at all. The higher number is the widest aperture at full zoom. In general you can say that the lower the number, the better. And that means also more expensive. Just as lenses with a fixed aperture on all focal lengths are more expensive.
    I can see that the question would then be: why would you want these lower numbers? What does this F-stop thing do?

    Light and focus

    And this heading here is the answer to the question in the previous paragraph. An F-stop can be seen as a number telling the wideness of aperture. A low number means a wide aperture. A wide aperture allows more light into the camera. And that means you can shoot in darker situations, or raise the shutter speed to freeze motion. Being able to do so, is of course nice. And that is why you should like a lens with the lowest possible F-stop value you want to pay for. However aperture has another effect, namely the Depth of Field (DoF).
    Hello birdie!Hello birdie!
    The photo here demonstrates this effect. Now, I do not have lenses with really wide aperture like F1.4 or F2.8, but I suppose this example suffices. The photo shows the bird sharp. It's focused on it. You can see the branch it's sitting on is also quite sharp. The branches further away are... well... I guess we know they should be branches, but it's definitely not very sharp. In photography this is often a desirable effect. In this case I want you to look at the bird, not the branches in the back. If you want to show a landscape, it is often not what you want. A wide aperture gives a small depth of field, so with a wide aperture (so: low F-stop), we have a shallow depth of field and get blur sooner. With an F-stop of 1.4 and taking a close-up of a person, you might notice that when you focus on the tip of the nose, the eyes are already not sharp anymore.

    Distance

    That last remark brings us to the second ingredient that makes up the Depth of Field: distance. The closer the object is that you focus on, the shallower your DoF will be. So if the previously mentioned person would be not close by, but say 30 meter away, then with the F1.4 he would still be fully in focus. So, there are two things to consider, the F-stop and the distance to the object to focus on.
    Wide apertureWide apertureSmall apertureSmall aperture And then we go to the last part about this, and that is the difference before and after the object in focus. It would be easy if we could focus on an object and then by setting aperture wider we would make the plane we focus on larger, both before and after the subject. Well, that is not how it works. The depth at the front is half of the depth behind the focus point.
    The images here represent you: the photographer on the left. Your subject, the princess model in the middle and some background: a forest. The first image uses a wide aperture and makes sure your princess is in focus. The green around her shows what's in focus and what is not. And as you can see behind her is clearly more. Everything in the white area would be blurred.
    The second image shows a much smaller aperture. And while the forest is getting into focus, the area right in front of you is still mostly out of focus. Rule of thumb is: 1/3 in front of the subject and 2/3 behind the subject is the focus area. With changing aperture, you can set the depth, but always in these proportions.The other way to set the depth would be walking closer or further from the subject.

    What F-stop do you need?

    So, you want those nice blurry backgrounds? Then you need an F1.4 lens, obviously. Or... no. You don't. The previous examples already showed you can get that also with higher F-stops (so, a narrow aperture). If you are close to your subject, you already make the DoF shallower. And a shallow DoF means your background gets blurry sooner. The other trick would be to move your subject further away from the background. And this is also demonstrated with removing parts in front of the subject.
    bearA bear looking at a snack?
    I took this photo in the zoo, and I can assure they do not let you go near the bears. Nor do they allow the bears to go to you, it might mistake you for a snack, after all.
    So, there are fences, like you can see in the background. Such a fence is also in front of the bear, yet you don't see it on the photo. This is also an effect of Depth of Field. The distance between me and the bear was quite some meters and with an F5.6 it has a reasonably small DoF. The distance between me and the fence was pretty small, so all it gave was a tiny blurry line. Which I mostly removed in post processing. So, do you really need that F1.4? I cannot decide that for you, but I would at least say: unless you want to go the path of a professional photographer - in which case you should not read this blog, but write it - you probably don't. Simply start playing with your aperture, look at the effects and don't forget to try out small apertures and wide apertures, both close by and at a distance. And then, after having seen what your current camera and lens can do, you can decide whether you need that. And in case you happen to have a spare one fitting my Nikon D3200: I would be a happy receiver, even if I think I do not need it, nor feel willing to pay the price for it.

    Now, please go make great pictures with blurry backgrounds and perhaps we will next time talk about bokeh.


  • 2017-04-19T12:56:43.840+02:00

    The Eye of the Master

    I need to get better

    In most activities you can improve yourself. Just as you can in photography. The question then remains: how? Now, before thinking much about that question, perhaps there should be a question before. Just as the heading above might be different. The heading should read: "I need to get better, or not?"
    Like most people, I like to get better at what I do. Or at least good enough to serve its purpose. So, before I can tell whether I need to get better, I would need to know what my purpose is. If you take a random look at my photos, you will most likely notice they are in general not very special. Even if I think I improved, I cannot find much in my photos that makes people go "Wow!".
    VultureVulture, photo taken in the zoo
    Most of my photos are like the one here. Taken while on a day out. Or on holiday. In this case a simple photo from a vulture. I am not going to say it is a bad photo. But it also has no spark, it's a decent photo.
    I have a lot of these photos, because that is how I like to shoot photos. I can tell you that I like going to the zoo. But photography gives me a good reason to be there. I am now not only relaxing, but am also taking photos. The first part, relaxing, I could do at home on the couch. But the second part will become dull quite fast, as my house is not that big that I would not have photographed everything in a day.
    Just as I like taking the time to make photos during holidays or other trips. The camera gives me a reason to take time, to do things leisurely and a reason for being there. Those are my main reasons for making photos. Nowhere in that part is mentioned anything about high quality photos. Nor about becoming an ace.
    So, that brings me to the question: do I need to get better, or am I good enough to serve its purpose. The last part seems to be easily answered: as I had no quality demands, except taking photos, I am probably good enough to serve its purpose.

    Vanity

    I added the heading above, so it would stand out. Why, you ask? Because it's important, I answer. And then you ask me why it is important. My answer could be short: everyone, including me, is vain.
    Vanity smurfVanity smurf 
    There are degrees, but we all like to be complimented and we all like to be noticed in a positive way. Of course, you can be shy and blush furiously when people praise you in public. But even then you cannot deny it feels good to be praised. A photographer, even a hobby photographer like me, likes to be praised for their photos. I have put a bunch of mine online. Partly, so I have access to them wherever I am. Partly, because that also serves as a nice back-up in case something happens to my hard disk. And partly so others can admire them. I admit that last one is just a small part, as I don't give much reason for people to come and admire my photos. But I still like it when someone would see one of my photos and tell me it's a good photo.
    With this in mind, the question whether my photos serve their purpose is much harder to answer. As they rarely get comments that they are great, I don't really get praise. But I am not primarily after praise, it's just a secondary issue. So, I finally settled for: they are good enough to serve their purpose, but it would be nice if they would do so better.
    Getting better is then obvious something I would want for two reasons:
    1. Because humans like getting better,
    2. So my photos serve the purpose of attracting praise better.

    How to improve?

    Only now I have established I do want to improve myself, I can start thinking about how to do that. I could take a formal education to become a photographer. And at that point it becomes clear for me that I don't have enough motivation to improve myself that way. That would take a lot of time and money. Neither of my two reasons above are important enough for me to go that way and invest that. For anyone wanting to become a professional photographer, I would strongly encourage getting an education. But for someone wanting to take photos in the zoo... well, not really.
    The other thing that immediately comes to mind would be practice. They saying goes: "Practice makes perfect." Unfortunately that saying does not mention how much practice it would take to get even near perfect. But I can do a guess: a lot!
    But... who mentioned perfect or near perfect? Well, I did. But I agree with you, I do not need to become near perfect. Just a little better would already be fine. In which case I would need much less practice. So what is stopping me? Obviously: I am stopping myself. I do not like practicing just to get better. I do not want to invest that time, just as before with the education. That is not to say I do not get any practice whatsoever. Every time I take a photo I get some practice. But it is not enough to make big steps forward. This is more like crouching forward and being taken over by a snail.
    If you feel like practicing, one of the easiest way would be to participate in challenges. Those can be set by others, or set by yourself. In the latter case you can make it as easy or hard as you want. You could set yourself challenges like:
    • This month I make at least 5 photos of a sunset, all noticeably different,
    • I want this month to make a collage about the color orange, with at least 8 different photos,
    • I want this month 4 photos of one location, with clearly different lighting conditions.
    These examples have one thing in common, they make you think about a subject. And make you see the same subject in different ways. That way you can compare photos and learn yourself what effect things like lighting and composition have on a photo.
    My personal problem here is: I am too lazy, so I would most likely half way stop bothering.

    I need help!

    The part about practice still has a problem. What if you do not see what should be improved? Or cannot think of how to do that? Yes, even with practicing, help from others is needed. That does not count just fro me, but I think it counts for everyone wanting to improve. And preferably, you need help from someone better than you. Because that person can probably see things that you do not, but can also help in tackling those issues.
    For example, if I think back, I do recall taking shots of landscapes, without bothering about the horizon. Until someone pointed out that a crooked horizon makes a photo feel awkward or uneasy. And then I started noting it myself. I did see photos with crooked horizons, where at first I did not know why I found them "wrong". This is of course a very simple example, and you do not need an expert in photography to tell you. In fact a noob in photography just told you, so this is really ridiculously easy. By the way, a non straight horizon can serve a photo well, but just keep in mind that it's in general not pleasing.
    In the time I have been a little bit more serious about photos than merely taking snapshots... Okay, stop, I still am at the level of merely taking snapshots. So, let's say that I am more serious about giving a photo a bit more thought. Even if only after taking it. Anyway, in that time I did improve. I have read various things about photography. I have moments where I can say in advance that it will make a lousy photo. And I am regularly looking different at photos than I was before.
    What I lack is enough critical views over my own photos, telling me what could be improved and giving hints about how. I need help for that from others for that. Preferably people better than me, but that is not necessary. Strangely enough I improved myself a bit by giving critique to photos of others. Because that forced me to really look at those photos and to think about what I liked or disliked. And to give a fair critique, I needed to mention why I felt that way. I could not always tell the "why", but did my best to provide it. So the other person might improve.
    Eye of the MasterEye of the Master
    So, yeah, I need help. I need the Eye of the Master. But, given that I do not know a master in photography to help me, I would definitely settle for another option: the many eyes of anyone interested in photography. So, you reader, could be one of those eyes, and I would really appreciate if you would spend a bit of time looking over my photos and telling me what needs to be improved.

    As a last part for my fellow noobs: of course, the many eyes would help you too. So don't hesitate to ask others. Make sure to ask people with an interest in photography, though. I found out that asking friends tends to result in: "Good picture!"
    And as friendly as it sounds, it is no help at all. But just as you are asking for the eyes of others, spend some time using your eyes for others. They might benefit, just as you will probably benefit. Take some time to look at photos, take some time to find out the strong and weak points of a photo. And above all: discuss this with peers.
    Happy chatting with your fellow photographers and let's help each other out. Be each others eyes and one day you might be the one with the Eye of the Master!

    P.S. If people would want critique on their photos, the Google community "Society of Photography for Beginners" has a section "Critique my photo". Join and post. You might get more response than just from me. Of course any forum/community/whatever that suits your needs will work. If you have a nice one, please let me know, so I can check it out as well. 

  • 2017-04-05T09:10:01.199+02:00

    Your canvas

    It's like painting

    Past week I was in the zoo, busy with one of my favorite pastimes: shooting photos. Actually it's often the combination of the zoo and the shooting that makes it something I like. It's a calm and relaxing hobby this way. Anyway, this blog is not about what what relaxes me, even if I would say that photography can be a very relaxing hobby. This blog is about photography and so we need to talk about photography. And about painting.
    Why painting? Because photographers and painters do have things in common. For example: we both "create" images. A photographer creates the basic image in less than a second. Usually that is, if you go for long exposures then it might be longer. But in general well under a second. And a painter takes slightly longer for that. Perhaps its better to say he takes much longer, but slightly sounds more friendly. And we're friendly people here, right?
    Anyway, the painter is completely free to put in the image all he can imagine. A photographer would have to find what he imagines. The painter starts with an empty canvas, on which he can start painting his subject and the surroundings or background of that subject. A photographer gets subject and background at the same time, in that less than a second time, which we call shutter speed.
    Now, where am I going with this story? To the background. You see as I was walking around and merrily snapshotting away, I was at a certain spot where I thought: "This will never be a good photo."

    What's there in the back?

    Ostrich headOstrich with green background
    The reason I thought so, was because of the background. And it shows that even a not so fast learner like me can make progression. This might have been the first time I was obviously aware of what the image would be, and looking beyond the subject.
    Take a look at an earlier photo of an ostrich. The photo was taken in Blijdorp Zoo in Rotterdam. I live close by, so am there regularly, resulting in many times the same kind of photos. Trust me, I can give you more photos of ostriches if you want.
    As I suppose you do not want more photos of the ostrich, I'll get back to the photo and what's there to see. Obviously, there is the head of the ostrich. Behind the ostrich is a blurry green and dark background. Some light fence near the bottom and above its head a few light spots. As you will probably see, the ostrich mostly contrasts well with the background, making it stand out. The green background suits this photo as it does not distract from what the photo is to show, namely the head of an ostrich.
    Them the fence and the bright spots above the ostrich. These make less nice backgrounds. In fact if this would be mostly filling the frame, I would have called this a failed photo. Given that they are limited in how much they cover of the frame, they are less disrupting. They are still distractions, but in my humble opinion do in this case add a little to the photo. Wonder why? Because it breaks the monotony a bit. Of course, this is a subjective opinion, but as it's my photo, I am the one deciding whether it remains there or not.
    Should you wonder if I thought all this when I took the shot? No, I did not. I just clicked and when I was at home and looking over my photos, deciding which ones to keep and which ones to throw away, then I found this one fine enough to keep. Here the background makes a mostly non-distracting contrast with the subject, allowing the ostrich to easily grab attention.

    So, blurry it is!

    No, not so fast. As I found out, there are almost no absolutes in photography. The blurry background worked well for the ostrich head. But it adds no context, it tells nothing about where the photo was taken, nor conveys much feeling. There you have the other thing your background can do. Your background is adding the context. It might not always make the subject stand out more, but it still provides information about that subject.
    Monument in SalzburgOn Kapitel Platz in Salzburg
    Look at the photo I made on a business trip to Salzburg. Standing on the Kapitalplatz, near this ball. Now, this is a typical point and shoot image. I was there, and clicked. There is no thought in it about composition, and it's in general not a very interesting photo. Except of course to me, as it is a reminder of my time there. And in this case it also serves a bit as an example in a blog.
    This background is very different from the previous example, which is caused by the aperture. Well, the camera I used for this photo would not even allow me to set aperture, so I would not have been able to change it, should I have wanted. But unlike the ostrich, this photo is better served by this background. The ball is rather boring and the surroundings are adding the context this photo needs even for me. You can see tourists, part of the square and on the hill you see Festung Hohensalzburg. It gives an indication about where this ball is. It probably implies I was there on a holiday or so, having a good time. I can tell you, a bit to the left next to the tent on the photo was a terrace where they sold Schnapps und Bier. They had quite tasty stuff there and as I was there on Friday afternoon after work, I did enjoy the drinks.

    What does not work?

    Birds on stonesCrappy photo, obviously
    This! This does not work. In this quite old image, I suppose I wanted to have a photo of the birds. Besides the birds not even making a nice composition as they are now, the background ruins it completely.
    The background does not help at all with emphasizing the subject. In some points it does not even contrast nice. You can also see there is a lot in the background. There are the stones in different colors, a fence, foliage, some water at the front, a bucket on a pole, branches poking in the frame on the sides. A building in the back. And somewhere between all that are also a few white birds.
    This photo lacks everything, but just imagine that the birds would be sharp on it. And then imagine the background would mostly consist of these orange stones. I bet you can imagine that this "adjustment" would make the photo less confusing. There are at that point two things. The structure of the orange stones and the contrast with the white birds. I doubt it would work well, but it would be a much less confusing photo with more chance to lead the viewer towards the subject.
    The current background does not add contrast, it does not add context, it helps in no way to bring over anything. I doubt you can find any painting that is as messy as this one. Here, I picked the wrong canvas.

    Choosing your canvas

    So, we're back to the painter. Like a painter we could put anything we want on our canvas. But unlike a painter, a photo comes with subject and background at the same time. Even if we can replace backgrounds, or subjects in post processing, we cannot really do that when we make the photo. So while we are much faster filling our canvas, taking less than a second, we are usually taking much longer to search for a suitable subject. Completed by a suitable background.
    When making a photo, try to look behind the subject. What is there? Does it distract? Does it help the subject stand out? Look through your viewfinder and try to determine for the items in your background whether they add something to the photo. And if not, see if you can leave it out of the photo. But also, move that camera away from your eyes for a moment and look around. Would another angle give you a better background? Or perhaps stand on another spot and get a different context on your photo. You're like a painter and before you start, it can be well worth the time to look and think what you want on your canvas.

    Note 1: I regrettably rarely take much time to think about my photo, but they say that you will get better at it if you keep trying. And the fact that I actually had the thought last week, shows I am slowly improving. And if I can, anyone can.

    Note 2: I will grab my pitch fork and torch and hunt down anyone even thinking of sharing that last picture. Unless you accompany it with a photo that is more horrible. And I challenge you to find one that's worse than this.
  • 2017-03-29T16:05:28.484+02:00

    The other kind of exposure

    Attention seeking

    As some of you might know, I have a few of my photos on ViewBug. I came across that site as I was looking for a place to put my photos online, after Google made their site badly working together with Lightroom, which I use for editing and as a catalog of my photos. Recently I was asked how I feel about ViewBug and that made me think about social media in general. Why are we actually uploading our photos to all kinds of media? The word popping up in my mind is exposure. And this time not the technical part of exposure using the exposure triangle. But the social exposure. And from there it becomes a blurred line. Do we show our photos to let others enjoy them? Or do we show them, so others can compliment us?
    Fishing for other things than fish
    The term attention whore seemed to become appropriate. This has a very negative and sexual connotation, but if take the definition from the Urban Dictionary, I think it could be suitable:
    "Label given to any person who craves attention to such an extent that they will do anything to receive it. The type of attention (negative or positive) does not matter."

    Because the more I think about it, the more I feel it's that we seek exposure, we seek attention. Preferably from like minded people or people that can give advice. But I think that getting "likes" or whatever they are called on that specific media would be good enough.
    I mean, just look at some of the photos posted on social media. I am not going to say my photos are art (they most definitely are not), but compared to some of the things I have seen posted around, some of my photos look like masterpieces. Now, if these are just fun photos shared with friends or as a reminder/memory, that is of course to be expected. But some of these photos are actually posted on groups/communities about photography. And often enough many of these people do not respond to comments, or only to comments that say things like: "Great picture!" Comments which really make me look like a totally confused monkey wondering what's great about it. In case you are waiting for examples here, I have to disappoint you. It's not hard to find them, but it is rude to single one, or some, of them out and in a way mock them. So I will refrain from that and you'll have to go look for the examples yourself.

    The fact remains though, that while I might see these photos as merely fishing for attention, I do basically the same. I post some of my photos on SmugMug and Flickr. A few on 500px. And I have some of them on ViewBug. Some of my photos on SmugMug are not visible to others, these are just my photos, kept there as a kind of back-up and a way for me to see them even if I am not at my computer. But many are publicly visible. As that is not needed to see them myself, I must conclude that I actually want others to look at them. And thus, I am fishing for attention, just like the lady on the photo above. Except that she looks much better while doing it. 😀

    Good? Or bad?

    Of course, there are some good things about this behavior. If nobody shared anything, we would not be able to see some of the very good shots that have been taken. And, if you never show your photos, nobody can point out to you how you might make better ones. And by showing photos, we can also share interests and get to talk about those interests. And that's awesome, right?
    Guilty of being an attention whoreHowever, I feel there are also negative parts about it. The first and foremost is that you might actually forget what this was about. I'll explain. Given my age (50 in three weeks time) I consider myself at a point that I will not feel devastated if I do not get many likes. Just as I can survive writing a blog that has only a few readers. If you're curious, I would say that there are about 10 - 15 people reading the blog. Not that much, if you consider the blogs having thousands and thousands of followers. But at my age, you can see that in another perspective. There are a dozen people out there that take some of their precious time, to read my ramblings. Which I do consider not bad at all. In fact, it makes me happy. But anyway, even having the advantage of not needing those amounts of likes, I do recall that
    I had a point where I was wondering: How do I get more people to watch my stuff and like it? Without realizing it at that moment, I had crossed a line. I was no longer concerned with my reason to make photos, I was concerned with what other people would think and how I could get m,ore attention. Yup, at that point I was most definitely an attention whore.
    Luckily for me, that didn't take too long. I never got to the point where I was thinking hard about how to get more attention. As I almost immediately realized what that thought was, and that it would mean I would be losing my hobby. You see: I make photos for myself. It gives me a reason to take my time at places like a museum or a zoo. And then, I get to spend my time editing them. Showing a few of them online, without much care whether they are thought of as great by others. It's my hobby, I like spending my time that way and as such it gives me happiness.
    Going hunting for likes would be the same as becoming a professional. In the latter case you work directly for people who tell you what they want, and they give you money. But if you hunt for likes, you're indirectly working for others, to give them the photos they like. You, are merely a tool at that point. That does not mean I say to avoid exposing your photos. In fact, to share them with like minded people is great. If you can exchange your thoughts about your photos with others, that is very great. But if you are there waiting for random people to press a button called 'like' or '+1' or 'fav', you are wasting your time. Not getting them will make you unhappy. And getting some, will only bring out the urge to get more.
    So my conclusion would be: social media are neither good nor bad. They offer possibilities. Use them as you like, and if well used they can bring lots of pleasure. But beware of the trap there and just keep your mind on what you actually want. If making photos is your passion: be out there and make photos. Share your interesting ones to let others enjoy, but don't wait for their "approval". Discuss your photos. Discuss the photos of others, every honest comment is much appreciated by most photographers. But keep your focus on your photos, do not let the social media dictate what you should do.

    Viewbug

    Now, as this all started with ViewBug, I think it should also end with ViewBug. I answered the question with telling that in my humble opinion ViewBug is mostly about contests. And that I do not expect to ever get a real high ranking in one of them, let alone win one. That perhaps one day I might feel disappointed for never making that. And perhaps stop participating. But I would have to wait and see until that time.
    Still, I have some photos there, and I have entered some contests. I so far have a photo that is in the top 50%. This might not seem much, but given that all members of ViewBug can vote, it actually means that my photo at that point is generally considered better than half of all photos in that contest. It states: we, the voters and frequenters of this site consider your photo to be in the top half. It is really not a bad position.
    Even if you would be the last - which is quite an achievement by itself, as there can only be one - it does not make the photo bad. That is the problem with contests: for every winner, there is a loser. Except, in this case you don't really lose anything. All it tells you is that the people voting liked other photos more.
    Now, to help you a bit on that site: people can 'like' photos. I regularly check the new ones and 'like' the photos that catch my eye. it gives me some time to enjoy watching pretty photos. And I hope someone else will be having a little smile when that 'like' pops up. There is also the 'Peer Award'. I give that when I think a photo has something special. Of course, what that special exactly is, I don't know. Those are the ones I think are standing above the crowd.

    If you feel like entering contests, hop over to ViewBug and give it a try. it doesn't need to cost you money. With a free account you can participate in about 25 contests and have one submission in each of them. I am not going to say it will be easy to win, but you can only win when you participate.
    If you look for people enthusiastic about photography, I would say: find an online community. Not a place to dump photos, but look around for a place where you might get a comment that goes beyond: "Nice", or "Cool". Or simply look for a local photography club. :)

    Anyway, I did share a bit of my view on social media and photography. And I would really love to hear your views on this. As mine are the views of an old guy. More modern people might see this totally different and I would like to hear those views too.
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