Photo Lesson; Self-Assignments Page 2

3. Photograph Something That's NOT a Duck
Our art department is always ribbing executive editor Mike about spending way too much time photographing his flyin' feathered friends. That leads us to our next self-assignment: Try something different. If you usually shoot in bright sun, try some night photography. If you usually shoot with flash, try available light. If you usually shoot the great outdoors, try something in the studio (or at least, indoors). If you usually photograph ducks, photograph something that's not a duck.

Above Top: Try zooming the lens from its shortest focal length to its longest (or vice versa) during a long exposure to create "zoom explosions."
Above, Bottom: You can also simply move the hand-held camera in an arc or even randomly for interesting abstract blurs. For both effects, shutter speeds from 1/2 second to several seconds can be effective.
Photos © Mike Stensvold, All Rights Reserved

4. Textures
Texture studies are both challenging and rewarding. The challenge is to show the texture (and create a pleasing composition), while the reward comes from having done so. Assuming your subject has texture (you're not going to show texture in a smooth surface no matter what you do), the key to showing the texture is harsh light shining across the surface being photographed, for it is the shadows of the surface texture that make the texture stand out. Direct frontal lighting casts shadows out of view of the camera, and soft light weakens shadows; thus harsh sidelighting is what you need. For outdoor subjects, you'll find ideal texture lighting early and late in the day, when the sun's rays come from a low angle (although for vertical surfaces such as weathered barn doors, high-noon sun can work, as it strikes the vertical subject at a strong angle).

Top: The rays of low-angle late--afternoon sun light the west-facing ridge faces in this farm field (shot looking straight down from a light airplane), while casting the east-facing ridge faces in shadow. This contrast between light and shadow clearly shows the texture of the field.
Above: Cross-lighting works with living subjects, too (such as these pelican feathers)--shine harsh light across the subject, and you'll really see its texture.
Photos © Mike Stensvold, All Rights Reserved

Harsh light and strong shadows can present exposure and dynamic-range problems, but there are easy solutions to both. As for exposure, bracket exposures the first time or two you shoot in harsh sidelighting, and you'll soon learn how to interpret your meter's readings (some built-in camera meters will provide good exposures without correction). As for the dynamic-range problem, if the brightness difference is too great to record detail in both areas in the photo, expose for the highlights and let the shadows go black. Blown-out highlights almost always look bad, but our eyes (and brain) can readily accept black shadow areas.

Next Month: Depth Of Field

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