I would like to address the process of intentionally blurring an image. Blurring refers to observable movement in a photograph. Blur is usually created by a slow shutter speed, camera movement, and/or subject movement.
In the photo above, I panned (moved in a horizontal motion) my camera at the same speed Rebecca was walking, resulting in her head and torso being mostly sharp. But since the background was not moving, it appears blurry. This technique creates a sense of motion and helps the subject stand out from her surroundings (her dark dress helps too).
And there's an added benefit of being able to obscure an intrusive or unpleasant background - for example, a parking lot that's behind a field where kids are playing soccer. With the camera panning alongside the moving players, the blurred area behind them can become almost unidentifiable and, therefore, not intrude on the image of the players. In this photograph, there was no need for that. Her environment is appealing, and being able to identify what it is adds a sense of place to the image. The camera settings were 1/15 sec, f8. (click on photo to enlarge)
Occasionally, I’ll blur the whole image. Mentioning this to people often brings looks of bewilderment. So, I explain that the right amount of blur can produce a photograph that's both interesting and dynamic. It’s when there’s too much blur (making the subject unrecognizable) or just a little blur (making it look as if the photographer screwed-up) that causes problems. Properly done, the subject will still be identifiable, but rendered more diffusely, with softer tones, and hopefully more offbeat.
You’ll have to experiment with various shutter speeds and camera movements to determine what the appropriate amount of blur is. A relatively long shutter speed usually is enough to produce an effective blur. If I need more, I’ll use an even longer shutter speed or slightly move the camera up and down, side to side, or in a circular movement while shooting. Again, experimenting is key. In the photos below, each image has been blurred. (click on photos to enlarge)
Here Maggie is peering out her kitchen’s screen door. The camera settings were 1/10 sec, f4.5.
Kimberly is standing in front of her kitchen window and next to a hanging plant. The camera settings were 1/4 sec, f4.
I asked Danielle to bend slightly forward. The camera settings were 2 secs, f5.6.
A very pregnant Tabitha is standing in front of her bedroom window. The camera settings were 1.5 secs, f5.6.
This is Rebecca playing with her hair. It’s somewhat less blurry than the other pictures. The camera settings were 1/2 sec, f4.
Every once in awhile, some oddball reflection will catch my eye. That attraction might be due to one or more of the following:
The photographs below illustrate different reflection types (click on photos to enlarge).
This is a reflection of a skylight inside a shopping mall. Whenever I’m wandering through this mall, I’ll usually pass by this area. Because the reflection appears to have depth, and if I’m not paying attention, I’ll sometimes mistake it for a hole in the floor - something I need to avoid. It’s fun standing near the reflection, trying to see it not as three-dimensional, but as the flat surface it really is.
I was drawn to how this relatively new glass building was reflecting a much older building from across the street.
Looking at shiny polished metal like this, you realize that you’re not really seeing the pots themselves. What you’re actually viewing are reflections of everything surrounding the pots. It’s the same phenomenon as looking at yourself in a mirror. You’re not seeing the mirror - only your reflection.
It’s really the reflections that define this school hallway. The exterior light coming in through the doors and windows, given a fairly long camera exposure setting, would provide enough illumination for a picture to be taken. However, it’s the reflections on the lockers, walls, and floors that provide shape to this photograph. Without them, the image probably would be flat and dull.
I placed these kids’ blocks on a shiny conference table. It was only after several viewings that I noticed the reflection spells, in upper and lower case letters, “herb”.
I'll often harangue my students about the effect a picture’s background can have on the picture's subject. Every time they set up a shot, I tell them, they need to think not just about the subject, but also about the background. Subject and background are both equally important. A bland or lousy background can hurt the subject. An interesting background can greatly enhance the subject. The photographs below illustrate different background types (click on photos to enlarge).
There are times when it may be difficult distinguishing between subject and background. This can happen where little or no distinction exists between the two. An example would be train tracks, which seem to extend towards infinity.
Then there are instances where no background exists. Or more accurately, the background is pure white. This, by the way, can sometimes be a strong selling point for those wanting to market their images. It allows the buyer to easily drop-out the white background and insert one of their own choosing.
But for the majority of pictures, there likely will be a distinct subject and a distinct background.
I was very happy with both the woman's facial expression and the way her hand and arm were angled as she held her boyfriend's hand. In addition, I think the photo is enhanced by the extra light on her face (thanks to a small hand-held flash) and with me kneeling down and shooting upward to get a more dramatic angle. But I'm pretty sure it's the vibrant sky in the background that makes this photograph pop. Think how different the impact on the subject would have been had the sky been clear blue or overcast.
As I looked through the camera’s viewfinder, it struck me that the background resembled the aftermath of a forest fire - burnt branches and scorched earth. I figured that and the bent parking sign would work well together. To me, they combine to create a dark and foreboding scenario.
I think it’s the over-exposed windows and the wall in the background that make this picture work. There was nothing extraordinary about this potted plant, which is the subject of the photograph. But by centering the windows in the frame and placing the plant directly in the middle, a satisfying balance is established. Further, the bright outdoor lighting produces the following benefits: the outside distractions are hidden by the blown- out windows, the whiteness of the windows (with the wall too) provide a clean backdrop for the leaves, and the image is pleasantly soft and mildly desaturated because of the intense exterior illumination.
(click on photos to enlarge)
There are those that might look at the images above and ask why I left so much space around each subject.
I often shoot images where the subject, human or inanimate, is significantly smaller than the empty space around them. I define “empty space” as either the absence of everything (for example, a completely white area), or a continuation of the subject’s environment. This uninhabited area can greatly affect how the subject is perceived by the viewer.
“Empty space” is not wasted space. I’ve heard it suggested that photographers should crop out the barren area of an image, thereby making the subject more important. For certain pictures, this might be a good idea. But for lots of images, this misses the true intent of empty space. People making suggestions like this, I believe, are unaware of how nothingness can affect an image. Empty space can, for example, emphasize the picture’s location, help define the image’s mood, and lead the viewer’s eye directly to the person or object. To that last point, empty space lets the viewer know precisely where their eyes need to go, thus actually increasing the subject’s importance.
The empty space must be set up with the same care that goes into posing the person or setting up the object. One or more of the following must be done to anything found in that empty space that should not be there:
I’ve seen and made pictures where the size of the subject, relative to the total area, is very small - the empty space takes up the majority of the image’s real estate. If done well, having the subject so small in the picture actually delivers a lot more artistic impact. It seems that as the object gets smaller, its importance grows.
In the photographs shown above, I believe that negative space greatly enhanced some rather simple setups.
(click on photos to enlarge)
I believe achieving accurate portrait skin color is not always necessary. In fact, if I’ve taken a few hundred pictures of the subject (which I often do during a photo shoot), I’d find having every one of them a “normal” skin color to be quite boring. Changing skin color can often dramatically improve even the most ordinary photograph. It's one of those transformations that can make an image "pop".
Additionally, changing the color can change the mood of the photo. For example, blue can imply coolness, sadness, melancholy, or depression; red can denote rage, danger, heat, love, or passion; yellow can symbolize sickness, glory, splendor, or power.
My color changes are almost always done in postproduction. I primarily use Adobe Camera Raw, the program that is included with Adobe Photoshop. In addition, I may add a few more changes using Nik Software.
For no specific reason. I like the idea of initially viewing the image with its normal colors. This is quickly done in Adobe Camera Raw by clicking on something in the picture that’s white, gray, or black, using the White Balance Tool. Or, if I’ve taken a few pictures of the subject holding a gray or white card, I’ll click on that instead. This should render all the colors as normal or something close to it. It’s at this point that I may start thinking about playing around with the color.
The six pictures above are just a few of those I've colored over the years. I think my impetus for doing so was thinking they needed something more to save them. In other words, they seemed a bit ordinary to me. The color change on some is subtle and more extreme on others. But, for me, they are far more dynamic this way than if no coloring had been added.