Friday, April 11, 2008

Don't photograph between 10 am and 3pm...

lest you turn into a pumpkin. At least that is almost what you might think if you believe everything you read.

The main reason you see advice like this is that the light during the middle of the day is very harsh and creates very strong shadows. In people portraits this produces big bags under the eyes, nose and chin and looks pretty ugly.

For many landscapes it creates too much contrast for our cameras to render without big splotches of bright, burnt out highlights and black gobs of nothingness in the shadows. Yuck.

Photographing in the softer hours of the morning and evening creates images with less contrast and thus more pleasing results for most subjects - but not all.

As I have said in a previous post there is no such thing as bad light - just the wrong light for certain subjects. The photograph above was taken at Nathan Reef off the far north Queensland coast at exactly 12:55pm - right in the middle of the no-go time zone under one of the harshest suns on the planet.

The reason it works is because there are no shadows worth worrying about. Any shadows that exist don't detract from the main point of the image - which is the vibrant colours of the Great Barrier Reef and the blue sky above. You get these great colours during the middle of the day, with the addition of a polarising filter to cut down on the glare.

Objects consisting of one or two colours (preferably primary colours) photograph really well under strong midday sun. If shadows are a problem you can use a bit of flash to fill them in, put the sun behind your subject to backlight it or turn your top lighting into frontal lighting!

How do you do that you ask? Moving the sun is never an easy proposition so you have to move your position in relation to what it is you're photographing. If you're standing at the same height as the subject you're photographing, the sun will be hitting them from the top. But if you get up high and photograph down on to the subject (so the sun is now behind you) then it becomes frontal lighting. In the photograph above I got up high on the second storey of a Coral Princess ship so that I could look down on the scene.

Try it yourself. Head out to photograph in the 'curfew' hours. Look for subjects that photograph well at this time of the day. Avoid anywhere with high contrast (rainforests, buildings creating shadows etc) and look for more graphic images consisting of one of two bright, primary colours. Think bright blues and reds and greens. And think about having all of your subject in bright sun - not half in sun half in shade.

As I mentioned the image above was taken with a polarising lens on the camera - an indsipensable accessory for anybody photographing around water. It was taken with a very wide-angle lens to emphasise the vastness of the reef, and a small aperture for a large depth-of-field. I placed the horizon just above the centre line because I wanted to emphasise both the water and the beautiful blue sky with fluffy white clouds in equal proportion.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The blue time of day

There's a time of day that professional travel photographers love. Well actually it's two times in a day. About three minutes before the sun comes up in the mornings, and about three minutes after it goes down in the evenings. The farther away you are from the equator the longer it lasts. It's called the blue time of day for obvious reasons. The colour temperature is such that it leaves a lovely blue colour on your film or digital chip.

The reason that professionals love it so much is that it's basically weather proof. Rain, hail, shine or, in the case of the photo above, snow - you still get that lovely colour. And if the blue is not quite intense enough for you you can put your digital camera on to the tungsten white balance and it will be really blue.

It's when most so called 'night' photos are taken. Before the sky goes so black that you can't see any detail in the buildings apart from the lights in the windows. It's still bright enough for the camera to record the scene, with the addition of all the lights being on and everything looks really attractive.

The only problem with living in Cairns is that it's so close to the equator that this lovely light only lasts for about ten minutes or so. So if you have a few buildings you want to photograph you have to go out on consecutive nights to get them all.

I didn't have that problem with the photo here though. This was taken on the very northern Japanese island of Hokkaido in a little port town called Otaru. About 45 minutes from Sapporo, Otaru is famous for its delicious sushi, old brick buildings and this canal. People flock from all over Japan to see this tiny little stretch of water with its gas lamps and historic buildings. It looks pretty lovely in the snow doesn't it. And it looks even nicer in that nice blue light. This was taken on Fuji Velvia film with a 200mm lens to compress the perspective and make the reflections on the water look more prominent.

I find I often use my telephoto lens in Japan because it gives me a very narrow angle of view. Usually attractive things in this crowded country are surrounded by unattractive junk that you don't want in a photo. A wide-angle lens would get too much extraneous stuff in the picture but a long lens lets you just photograph the beautiful bits.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Travelling with munchkins

Like anybody who has ever heard the words 'congratulations it's a boy (or girl!), my life changed dramatically when these two little fellows came along.

Now you may think that little kids would be a major impediment to professional travel photography. Admittedly there are times when I have to leave them at home and get down to work but a lot of times I can take them with me and they become really important photographic subjects.

The difference with photographing your children in a travel style, as opposed to just snapping them is this. They have to be placed in a context that shows where you are. The image above was taken on a famous train in Hokkaido, Japan. The train goes to a local zoo and every carriage has seats that are giant fluffy animals. Bears in one, penguins another and this one has monkeys. It's pretty hard to get people you've never met to agree to you photographing their kids but your own little terrors are happy to ham it up for the camera.

Without an explanation it would probably just be a snap, but when it accompanies a travel article on the train and zoo then it becomes a travel photograph that illustrates foreigners having a holiday in Japan.

When you don't intend to write an article or caption to go along with the picture then you can do something like this.

Kids in kimonos screams Japan. Blonde hair says that they're not locals. The two combined make a travel photograph - albeit in a more family-snap style. If you can capture an image that immediately tells people where you've been on holiday then the picture is successful as a travel image. Of course all the usual rules of composition and style apply but including your own family in the frame will add a new dimension to your travel photo presentations.

Just remember though, they might not always be willing subjects...

Sunday, April 6, 2008


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