Sunny Days are For Raccoons

Solving the "Raccoon Eyes"It never fails. When I go to a beautiful and scenic area on a beautiful bright sunny afternoon, I see people take photos of their loved ones. After all, we want to mark the moment, right? But, more often than not, the photos look horrendous with harsh shadowing such as “raccoon eyes.”

So, what do we do to help out the situation? Remember the old Kodak guidebooks that came along with your new Kodak camera purchase? They would say that on sunny days you should face your subject towards the sun with the sun directly behind you? That would get rid of harsh shadows for sure, right? Well, perhaps. But you get one of two things happening that are not desirable. Either (A) the subject is squinting or eyes watering because of the effects of the bright sun or (B) subjects with unflattering head shapes end up accentuated because now their face appears even more round and flat than before.

So, throw that old Kodak guideline out the door and consider trying these tactics instead if you must shoot during harsh lighting conditions outdoors.

Use your flash, yes, I said flash. Flash isn’t just for night shots and is often one of the most misunderstood tools of a camera.

Position your subject with the sun hitting one side of the face and ensure your flash is on so that it subtly fills in some of the harsh shadowing on the other side of the face. This creates a more dynamic photo because the shading helps provide structure to the face but it isn’t overly dark to where the contrast is too great.

You can also invest in a small collapsible 5-in-1 reflector or even use something white (such as a white jacket) to bounce light from the sun towards the subject’s unlit areas to fill in some of the shadows. The bounced light effect is less harsh and easier to control than many flashes and is used often by professional photographers both indoors and outdoors.

Small reflectors cost in the neighborhood of $25 and often have 5 functions in one reflector: soft gold side for warmer color tones; silver side though this is more for contrast photos that are often desired in black/white photography; white side that produces a neutral-colored light; and a translucent fabric that helps diffuse light similar to tight netting that you can create a less-contrast shadow.

So, if you must shoot in the harsh sun, you’ll drastically improve your subject’s outcome with one of these techniques. Wait for a bright sunny day and give it a try!

To see this and more of my portraiture photos, please visit Memories by Duskin.

Published in: on January 26, 2009 at 11:03 am  Comments (1)  

Slowing Time

Pell Bridge, Newport, RI
Pell Bridge, Newport, RI

If only we can slow down time, we’d live a thousand years! Well, we might not be able to (outside of medical advances) but we can slow down time in the camera.

Whether you want to soften a waterfall instead of freezing the action or see streaks of car lights, it’s all about shutter speed. If your camera has “S” or Shutter Priority, this is where you can control how long the shutter remains open.

The longer it stays open, the more light it allows into the camera. When the light is moving, then you get what are called light trails. In the image provided, I waited until the sun set so that it was dark enough to allow more light into my camera without blowing it out.

Think of your shutter speed like a pail of water. If you let too much water in it, what happens? It spills out. What if you do not let enough water in the bucket? It doesn’t quiet fill up, does it? The same goes for the camera. Too much or too little of something is not a good thing.

An important key to note with slow shutter photography is to have the camera stable. Since the shutter is slow, the camera will shake if not steady. If you have a tripod, use it. If not, ensure it sits on a table, beanbag or some other support where it will not shake. Even with tripods, the camera can shake if it is windy. To help this, stabilize the tripod with some weight.

For the image I shot, I used “Shutter Priority” and set the f/stop as closed as possible. On this particular lens, it was f/22 (often the smallest aperture for manual lenses). With the light metering off the clouds, it gave me a shutter reading of 2 seconds. I know that 2 seconds is not enough time to get car lights streaking. I needed at least 10 or more seconds.

To resolve the issue, I needed to darken my lens to let in even less light over a longer period of time. I put on my dark polarizing filter which dropped it 2 stops and I decreased the compensation by 5 stops. This allowed me to shoot with a shutter speed of 15 seconds thus rendering a nice blur from both headlights and tail lights of cars going over the bridge. Of course, I waited until the scene presented itself properly.

The wind was very strong so to stead my tripod, I hung my backpack from the center column and placed my vehicle in front of the tripod which helped resist enough of the wind’s effect to help stop the vibration on this very windy and cold January day.

To see this and more of my photos, please visit Images by Duskin.

Published in: on January 7, 2009 at 12:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Isolating Your Subject

Isolating the Subject

Isolating the Subject

There’s a serious problem that plagues many photos — clutter. Think of a messy home with toys, newspapers, socks, pizza boxes, and whatever else that makes it a mess in your photo. It’s not a pretty picture, is it? How can you take a strong photo without having the viewer focus on every little nuance? Isolate your subject.

Well, how does one go about isolating a subject? It’s really quite simple though there are many ways to go about doing this. First and quite possibly the easiest way is to reposition the camera so that the clutter is out of the background. It’s amazing how many people will remain stationary and keep the camera at the same altitude as their eye level (or in many cases with digital cameras, at about chin level and a foot or two away from the face). By simply moving a foot or two or even a matter of an inch, a whole new composition can open up.

However, there are times when this is not feasible. For such photographers specializing in wedding, sports or events, they don’t often have the luxury of moving since they are at the “here and now” mode and must rely on their lens to make the difference.

This is where you’d need to know a little more than basic point-and-shoot allows. You need to open the f/stop wide open to have a shallow depth of field. If your fastest lens is an f/2.8, then shoot at that fastest stop. My fastest lens is an f/1.8 and it does a great job of blurring the background so the focus is on the subject I am isolating. Anything that is in the background then becomes severely blurred and often times, you can have beautiful bokeh rings.

But, not everyone has the luxury of a digital SLR system with interchangable lens. For those of you that fit in this category, you may have a setting on your camera that resembles a tulip flower. This setting is called “macro” or “micro” because it allows the camera’s lens to get closer to the subject and remain in focus. Use this setting and get closer to your subject to isolate it properly. Move the subject as far away as you can from the background to get that beautiful background blur.

I hope you get great results! Have fun making and creating new memories in the New Year.

To see this and more of my portraiture photos, please visit Memories by Duskin.

Published in: on December 29, 2008 at 10:47 am  Leave a Comment  

Leading Lines

Leading Lines

Leading Lines

Lines are everywhere. You see them on power lines, streets from above, train tracks, fences, and so on so forth. Finding lines and using them to your advantage is actually quite easy and can make very visually appealing photos. Lines can lead to the subject or show how cluttered a space is.

Leading lines are basically lines that lead to something. Quite simple, eh? Where these lines lead and/or intersect is where the viewer will focus the most attention to. So make sure that what the lines are leading to is what you want your photo to be most about.

The example I use is of a high school senior photo shoot. As we drove around the neighborhood, I encountered and intersection of two leading lines from this white fence. I placed her head at the intersection with a main leading line coming from the left and then trailing off into the distance. She intersects at the most important area, thus leading her to be the main focus of the photo. No matter how many times you look, your eyes will almost always lead back to her head.

Additionally, I had her place her left hand in such a position that it would eventually lead upwards with the post pointing up that also intersects. So, if you follow her art from her shoulder, it creates a “C” curve going back up to the main subject — her head.

This is one of those rather “simple” rules of photography that can help you to make your images all the more powerful. Give it a try!

And, I hope each of your roads are leading you to a wonderful holiday season.

To see this and more of my portraiture photos, please visit Memories by Duskin.

Published in: on December 23, 2008 at 2:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Contrasting Nature of Isolation

Lone Tamarack

Lone Tamarack

One of the hallmarks of my nature landscapes is an isolated subject. In this case, I stumbled across this lone Tamarack Larch in full autumn slendor among the fast carpet of evergreens in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada.

I was with my parents vacationing in Canmore, Alberta when we took this drive. Once I saw it, I knew it needed to be preserved for future posterity. Well, at least preserved as it was emblazoned in my memory.

So, what makes such a plain and simplistic subject so powerful? This image has garnered a few first place awards. How? It’s just a tree. Well, this may be true, but it’s the context.

What happens here is that the contrast from bright yellow to dark greens is quite dynamic. The human eyes usually will focus on the brightest part of an image and that brightest part should be the main subject in most cases. Also, by placing this tree in the lower third section, it’s a natural flow because those of us who read English are accustomed to reading left to right.  I placed it low on the horizon to show the immense size of it that is seemingly diminished and lost among the firs if it were not for the autumn colour change.

I used the “rule of thirds” which derived from the ancient Greeks who discovered the pleasing effect of objects with a rectangular shape. When a picture is divided into thirds, it is often most powerful if the focus of attention is in the intersection of two of the perpendicular lines.

To further explain it, try to divide the photo into 9 even squares, two lines vertically and two lines horizontally.  Where the lines cross (there will be 4 of them) are supposed to be “power” areas of the picture where you should place the main subject. This is one of the “biggie” rules in good, strong photographic composition.

Moreso than just the composition, it’s the whole nature of the contrasting color that is overwhelmed by green but stands strong against it and demonstrates its seemingly superior beauty compared to it. It stands out. It dares the other trees to challenge it.

I hope you enjoyed my explanation of this photo.

To see this and more of my photos, please visit Images by Duskin.

Published in: on December 16, 2008 at 9:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Patience with Nature

Green Heron

Green Heron

One of the worst traits I exhibit is patience. I’m not a patient person at all. But, nature photography has a way of changing that habit — especially when it comes to photographing wildlife.

In so many ways, photography is my therapy — especially nature photography. Not only does it teach me patience, it helps me to appreciate the little things I normally don’t pay attention to; it helps my blood pressure through the calming influence and laid back atmosphere; and it puts me in a good space away from the rigamarole of everyday big city living.

To capture this Green Heron in the camera, I saw it on the other side of a pond. I stood still and it resumed its hunt for food. As I stood still, I saw it was methodically moving towards my way. So, as quietly as I could, I ever-so-slowly walked (and I mean slowly) over to a felled tree near the pond and sat. I placed my tripod and camera into a position and sat still while it took approximately 10 minutes for the bird to make its way towards me.

I only had a 150mm lens on me at the time as I left the 300mm back home. Thus, I knew it needed to be closer. Finally, the bird made its way into a position where I could catch it hunting and have good reflection on it. The results were that the feathers and eyes (most important is the eyes) were in perfect focus and razor sharp.

Had I just snapped away when I first saw the beautiful specimen, the image would be smaller and probably not quite as intense. That moment was a special one because my patience and slow approach entrusted the bird’s confidence that I was not a predator.

I hope that photography can serve as a therapeutic activity for you too!

To see this and more of my photos, please visit Images by Duskin.

Published in: on December 10, 2008 at 8:15 am  Leave a Comment  

The Essentials

Santa, Baby!

Santa, Baby!

What a fun way to start off a blog than to add photos of wee ones with Santa. But this is no ordinary Santa shoot. Where’s Santa’s face? Is it necessary? Or does the suit alone connotate this is Santa?

I began my first Christmas shoots this year and it is themed, “Santa, Baby!” How it works is like this:

  • Have a backdrop
  • Set one strong light out front
  • Have one hairlight on top
  • Have a Santa Suit (XL)
  • Cue the Christmas music
  • Kids pose with Santa, who is a loved one like mom or dad, and I snap the candid or posed shots.

It’s really quite simple! The kids don’t freak out about Santa Claus being a stranger and anyone big enough can be the one they play with. Those were the essential needs to pull of a shot like this. I saw no reason to show Santa’s face. It’s irrelevent unless it’s very authentic as to what you might envision Santa.

The same can go for virtually any type of character or persona whether a superhero, fabled character or whatever.

This image, however, was quite a twist on me. You never know how individual kids will react. The little girl here decided she wanted to have nothing to do with her dad or mom in a Santa Suit. While my wife talked with her, my wife asked how she would feel if my wife played Santa. The little girl liked the idea. So, she took to the stranger instead of her own parents! Talk about twists.

I hope you’ll think about what is essential in your photography to pull it off right.

Happy Holidays!

To see this and more of my portraiture photos, please visit Memories by Duskin.

Published in: on December 3, 2008 at 4:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Simplicity is a Powerful Message

Okay, so it’s been awhile since I’ve posted my first blog. But, hey, I’m going to do my best to get back into the swing of things.

I have a couple of excuses to give that are actually valid ones — that is — (1) Hurricane Ike knocked power out at my home for 2 weeks, 1 day and 1 hour, messed up my office and (2), I really ramped up my portraiture business and it’s taken off quite nicely. It’s a complimentary business to Images by Duskin appropriately named, “Memories by Duskin.” I hope you’ll check it out!

Home is Where You Hang Your Hat

Home is Where You Hang Your Hat

Today, I’d like to share my thoughts on simplicity in photography. The image I’m posting is called “Home is Where You Hang Your Hat.”

I was with my friend Sandra from the Houston Photographic Society at a working cowboy ranch not far from Fayetteville, Texas. It was quite sunny and difficult to take great shots of the cowboys doing their thing in the afternoon hours so I focused on the other intangibles that were more cooperative to lending to a good image — simple things.

The image shows cowboy hats and a lariat hanging in the tackroom. This is a working ranch and they have many hands helping. When done, they all keep their tack and other dirty items in the tack room. While it may not sound exciting and what would conjur up an ideal image of the Wild West, it gives a different perspective to what really goes on.

This photo, to me, says so much more than a photo of a cowboy working directly with cattle. The image portrays a lifestyle, a day-in-the-life, and a legacy of what goes on at this ranch. The mishapen hats that are stained in sweat and dirt says a lot to how these cowboys make a living.

There’s nothing staged here. Everything is exactly as when I stumbled across it. The hats weren’t neatly arranged but rather sitting as they normally would sit. The lariat isn’t all kept up in a perfect wound. It simply is what it is and that can be a powerful tool for communication.

I hope when you are out there shooting, you look at the powerful messages in the more simple things in life. It might be a pair of fireman’s boots with jacket hanging off it. It might be the prescription eyewear on top of papers being graded by a teacher. It might be your grandfather’s billfold set atop the same spot on his dresser as has been for years on end.

Whatever it might be, keep it simple. Simplicity can be one of the most powerful modes of visual communication available giving out much more information than something more contrived.

To see this and more of my photos, please visit Images by Duskin.

Published in: on November 18, 2008 at 9:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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Adverse Weather?

Livingston Dusk

Livingston Dusk

As I sit in front of my laptop computer contemplating what I want to discuss for my first photography blog, I’m bombarded by weather reports of Tropical Storm Edouard headed directly my way. Obviously, my thoughts immediately shift to photography involving adverse or inclement weather.

Here in Houston, Texas, it’s not uncommon to experience tropical storms and sometimes even hurricanes during the warm seasons, which seemingly is most of the year! So, as one might imagine, weather plays an important role for many if not most nature and landscape photographers.

Since I’ve just finished batoning down the hatches, I’ve not had the chance to drive the 50 miles to Galveston Island to see this storm approach. However, my memory conjurs up the image I chose to display captured at Lake Livingston in eastern Texas.

As you will notice, my image entitled “Livingston Dusk” almost seems surreal. Since it was a very hazy and cloudy day in the summer at sunset, I wanted to capture an image that felt as special as what I was experiencing.

Naturally, people love sunsets. Think of the beautiful colors that are warm and romantic. But to capture the essence of what I felt, which was a calming influence filled with warmth and relaxation, I chose to pan my camera from left to right on a tripod with a 3 second exposure. I used a circular polarizer to allow for the increased exposure time for a properly exposed image. I was very satified with this nature abstract I captured.

Many people didn’t see the potential for a beautiful sunset because they never saw the sun on this particular day. Many believe that if you don’t see the sun, you don’t get the beauty. I differ in opinion.

What is it about adverse weather that captivates us?

Why is it that when we see horrible black Cumulonimbus clouds, we’re fascinated?

We know they can bring harsh weather that could include hail, wind shear, flooding, and even tornados. Yet, most of us are attracted to it like fireflies to a light.

I don’t do it as often as I like, but I should start photographing such phenomenon more often than I do. I love weather. I find cloudless skies pleasant, but rather boring. Sunsets and sunrises are never quite as striking without the aid of clouds. It’s like heaven without angels ― that is, it’s not quite as beautiful without them.

So, when you encounter adverse weather, instead of avoiding it, embrace it with your camera and capture that moment in light!

To see this and more of my photos, please visit Images by Duskin.

Published in: on August 5, 2008 at 1:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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