Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pictures vs. Photographs (Part 1)

What's the difference between a picture and a photograph? It's difficult for me to explain the subtleties, but I know it when I see it. Over the next few entries I am going to talk about some of the things you can do to take better photographs.

In this entry I'll talk about perspective. Often times when I am out shooting I will meet other photographers. The first thing I do...I admit look to see what type of camera and lenses they are using. That's a given and probably an unwritten rule (or at least a guideline) among photographers. With that formality out of the way, the next thing I look at is his/her knees. A photographer's knees should be dirty, the pants should be worn and even better if grass-stained. If this photographer with whom I have crossed paths has a dirty and/or grass stained shirt... even better!. This phenomena is due to what I like to refer to as the "Get Down" factor.

When photographing, you should "Get Down" on the subject's level. Regardless if it is a person, your family pet or some inanimate object, the perspective from which you shoot should be on the level of the subject and not from your comfortable standing position.

© David Toczko

Take the above photo of my dog Sam for example. Get in close, fill the frame with that image and get down on one knee or crouch to get eye level. It will make the image more intimate and interesting., revealing more detail and capturing the personality of the subject. This really helps when photographing animals in the wild. It may make you appear less threatening or at least less noticeable.

This photo of a baby goat was taken lying down. Yes, the grass was wet with morning dew, but it gives the viewer a better idea of scale when compared to the boards of the fence and really captures that "cuteness factor". The second photo shows dew drops on the bottom side of the rail and just how damp it was that morning. Had I taken those from a standing position I would not have been able to capture those types of details not to mention his interesting expression. You will also avoid stretching or distorting the subject, making it's head appear twice as big as the rest of it's body for example. We've all seen those types of pictures and while they may be amusing, they can be avoided. All cameras from point-and-shoot to high end DSLRs will distort an image to some degree. How much depends on the photographer just as much as the equipment. Camera lenses are capturing three dimensional images and converting them to two dimensions. They don't "see" things the way our eyes do. I'll expand on that more in a future entry.

The main point to take away is to be aware of what makes the subject you are photographing cute, or pretty or interesting and emphasize that in the image you capture. The dirt on the nose of the ground hog in the image below is yet another example. Had I taken the photo from a standing position I would not have been able to "see" that and his ears would have gotten lost in the fur of his head. His body would have blended into the grass and we would have lost that sense of scale relative to the log in the background.

© David Toczko

Friday, July 24, 2009

Wrap It Up

I recently evaluated a roll of Museo Paper's Maestro Canvas Paper and was blown away with the results using my inkjet printer. The colors reproduced were accurate and vibrant, the image seems to jump off the canvas with a three dimensional quality and the detail is amazing. Museo Maestro comes in both matte and glossy versions. For my evaluation and personal preference I printed with the glossy version. I won't bore you with all the technical mumbo jumbo about the paper here. If you want to know more, just follow the link above.

After printing the images, I had to address how I was going to mount and present them, I suppose I could have gone the traditional route of matting and framing, but this would not do them justice. My solution was a gallery wrap. While they have been common in galleries and museums for quite some time, they have grown in popularity for in-home presentation in recent years. The canvas is stretched over and around the sides of a wooden frame system leaving clean edges and corners as well as the image "revealed" on all four sides. Wraps come in a variety of sizes and thicknesses (how far they stand out from the wall) ranging from 3/4" to 4". My first attempt at wrapping was a 12"x18"x1 1/4".

(Photo Courtesy of Canvas on Demand)

Things I like about the wraps:

  • The Canvas.This stuff is amazing. Not all images lend themselves to printing on canvas. Landscapes, animals and architecture look very nice on this media. Portraits would work in certain special situations such as a bridal portrait or family/group shot. While I really like how the original image appears on the canvas, special after effects can be applied to the image on the computer prior to printing that can give it the appearance of a painting.
  • Lower in-place cost. A gallery wrap comes ready-to-hang. In most cases this can be a substantial savings over traditional framing.
  • No special hardware required. Gallery wraps are very light weight. No need for heavy duty nails and hangers.

  • Distinctive appearance. Gallery wraps provide a focal point in any room and any decor. In a traditional room setting they add a classic look and feel while in contemporary room settings they provide a clean, modern accent.

  • Multiple panel displays. Images can be enlarged and printed on multiple panels. This can create a unique look on large wall spaces such as over a sofa. This also allows the collector to purchase panels one at a time if desired thus spreading their investment out over three or four purchases.

(Photo Courtesy of Canvas on Demand)

While I am not abandoning the traditional matted and framed prints, for those certain images and special applications, the gallery wrap is a great alternative.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fog on the Mountain

This morning's foggy drive reminded me of a recent trip to Cumberland Falls. I had great plans to get up early and photograph the Falls with the rising sun in the background. Well...things don't always go according to plan. It rained the night before and the mountain was socked in with fog when I got up. Undaunted, I grabbed my camera and off I went. When I got to the Falls, the "awesome shot" I had pictured in my mind just wasn't going to happen. I waited around thinking the rising sun would burn off the fog, but to no avail. As I made my way back to where I had parked the car, I looked up river to the bridge that crosses the Cumberland river just above the Falls. There it was...the shot. The fog was lifting over the river but the mountains still obscured by the fog. I climbed down to the river's edge and fired off shot after shot trying various combinations of exposure settings. Here's one example of that morning's adventure.

This was not the shot I had planned the night before, but I have learned you have to take what Mother Nature gives you. And maybe...just maybe things will work out. Like the old saying..."When life hands you lemons...make lemonade".