Friday, August 12, 2011

Pay Attention: Photos

 A little dividend for my student friends about....

Focus on what you most likely will paint.

Look for subjects that you actually want to paint, not just ones you respond to on the scene. It might be true that the thousand flags flying over the capital are stunning, but ask yourself if you really think you’ll spend the time needed to capture all the myriad colors and details, or if you might more reasonably want to focus on one or two flags for a painting. Serendipity is delightful, but composing the photo with your painting abilities and skills in mind makes for a better resource in the long run.

Take more than one photo of a subject.

If you find a subject you think will make a good resource, don’t limit yourself to one quick ‘grab’ shot if you can. Take several shots from different angles, close up and farther away. You may be able to stitch them into one shot, or make one painting out of several of them. You never know when you’ll want to know what was to the left or right, or what was casting that weird shadow! More is better.

Let the day and place work for you.

It’s easy to say the light is wrong, and you just can’t get good photos, but that derives from your attitude and what you hoped to get. Forget about it! If the day is gray, look for beautiful color amid the gray, focus up closer to details or look for textures, or shoot into things like shops or through car windows. If the wind is blowing, look for subjects that show the movement of the wind, tipsy flowers, blowing hats, or dust and leaves obscuring the sky. If it’s rainy, look for reflections or raindrops. Don’t neglect to take interior shots, or shots looking from the inside out.

Remember what your camera does.

Do more than point and shoot. Pay attention to how the scene changes when you lift the camera to look at the viewfinder. Does it put everything way out at arm’s length? If so, you might need to use your zoom. Would the photo be clearer if you walked closer to shoot the photo? (Sometimes the quality of a zoom shot is lower.) If you’re shooting people, using the zoom is a good thing, as it puts them at ease, unconscious of the camera. Be sure, however, that if you take a ‘character’ shot you get a signed model release. If you have a recognizable person in the painting you need one.

Don’t forget you can control the settings manually.

When shooting into direct bright light you can end up with silhouettes, lens flares, and an overly contrasted photo. Move to one side or point the camera upward or downward, or arrange to shoot with your camera in the shadow cast by an object. You can change the camera settings so that you shoot darker or lighter photos, too. Bracket pictures so you have a range of light conditions, if you’re unsure. Shooting in shadows is equally challenging, sometimes resulting in gloomy photos. Learn how to adjust the ISO to a higher setting, if needed.

Focus on the main thing.

Don’t get distracted trying too include too much in one picture. Are you shooting shadows? Get several shots of the shadows from different angles, close up and further back. Then take a shot of the thing casting the shadow. In this way you defeat the propensity of the camera to average the light. Shoot light pics, then dark pics.

Pay attention to the background.

If you have a choice, try to position yourself to avoid complicated overlapping patterns. Look at what’s in front of the shot, too. Again, several shots might be in order here. As the artist you can pick and choose what to use from each photo.

Straight and level is best.

We’ve all seen the cute tipped-camera shots. You basically get more into a frame that’s straight and level. Sometimes it’s hard to correct the sloping horizon line in a painting, so getting it straight helps.

Horizontal or vertical?

Don’t forget that you can change the format of your camera! There may be times when shooting a vertical shot will give you much more interesting possibilities, including elements in the he foreground to higher in the sky. At other times the horizontal format is far preferable. Just don’t’ get into one habit. Change it up. Shoot the scene both ways!

Basic geometry counts.

Look at the underlying geometry of the place you’re shooting. Compose so that the circle moves into the square, or the oval is at the one-third mark. Don’t forget the ‘rule of thirds’ when composing: visualize that tic-tac-toe game drawn over the scene and place key elements where the lines intersect. Remember that these rules are made to be broken, but it takes good planning to break them effectively.

Get creative.

Lie down under the tree. Climb up on the wall or stand on the bench. Put your hand into the shot, or include your foot. Shoot into or through something. Look for reflections to shoot. Find a strong diagonal line. Look for a smiley face to shoot—they’re everywhere. Sometimes these shots give you a creative boost for a painting. Sometimes they just keep you looking and thinking, so you’re excited by the process again.

Blowin' Blossoms
It's spring in New Mexico!

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