Our Picture This! assignment this month was Alphabet Soup, and we asked readers to go on a kind of letter treasure hunt and find either actual mixes of letters or naturally occurring forms that made the shape of letters. Some readers responded with literal, if you will, images and others found forms and shapes in nature and architecture and even sculpture that filled the bill. This is what you could call a “frame of mind” assignment, where once you begin to seek a particular form or shape you almost can’t help seeing that form around you.
Our Picture This! assignment this month was “At the Flea Market.” The amazing diversity of material found at flea markets and antique malls is grist for a photographer’s mill. Not only are there odd and unusual items aplenty—from castoffs to treasures unknown—there’s also the element of the yet-undiscovered art directors, the dealers and vendors who arrange these items in sometimes random, sometimes ironically intentional ways. When photographers talk about capturing “found art” they needn’t go farther than their local flea market to find all they need.
While it might seem odd to have fall colors in late winter, we thought we’d take advantage of the crop of image ops available when the contest began (those luscious fall hues) and to have a bit of color to fight off the winter blahs right now. In any case, readers sent in a host of images from all around the country showcasing the fantastic colors and richness of that very special season. Editing from all the photos received was tough, but we found numerous images that we hope that for you, like for us, was a reminder that seasons do change and that gray and cold (at least here in the Northeast) is not how it always is outside. Please note that while we did not limit the post-processing allowed on these images we tended to choose those where processing enhanced the image and did not overwhelm it.
Our Picture This! assignment this month was City at Night, and we were seeking images that capture the unique combination of energy, light, and activity that characterize the nocturnal urban scene. Readers responded with images of great monuments lit by blazing lamps and tall buildings soaring through the night sky into the clouds, yet our eyes were also attracted to images that included people, admittedly often dwarfed by the manmade environment around them, but making their way through the streets and byways nonetheless. Images like this challenge us to find the right exposure times and ISO settings under sometimes tough capture conditions.
Fill flash, when applied appropriately, can bring out details, enhance color, and open shadows that might not be accessible if shooting with natural light alone. Our assignment for this month’s Picture This! was to bring a touch of fill to subjects that would benefit from this “taste” of light applied to a subject or scene. In most cases readers responded by using fill to highlight natural subjects, florals, birds, and the smaller creatures that inhabit the planet. Details became vivid, colors popped, and all the delight of nature’s design came to the fore.
Our Picture This! assignment this month was “Deep Depth of Field,” creating compositions that rely on focus being sharp from near to far using all the tools of the deep focus kit—wide-angle lenses, closeness of camera to foreground subject, and as narrow an aperture as the lens and light could support. Readers responded with nature, scenic, urban, and abstract images, all made using some or all of the techniques described. There is something that is completely “photographic” about this technique, as the eye cannot “see” this without the aid of photography—it flicks around the real world from point to point quickly enough, of course, but there’s no set moment—except the photographic one—that makes all sharp from the nearest blade of grass to the farthest mountain.
POV—point of view—is what this month’s Picture This! was all about. We asked readers to send in photos made from sometimes dizzying heights to show us all how where you stand and the lens you use can make for some great photo ops. Readers responded with some very exciting images of architecture, nature, and even people made from above. The results might just inspire you to take camera in hand and gain vantage points that make us all see the world in a brand new way.
The world is rich in symbols, some more apparent than others, but if you put yourself in a “graphics” frame of mind, as we asked readers to do for this month’s assignment, you’ll find more than your share of images to capture in the world around you. The nature of this assignment was to find abstractions, to use context merely as a frame and not a reference, and to find the image within the image where a graphic presented itself. In many cases the frame becomes a canvas and the image something that abstract expressionists would understand. While we did receive some composites for this assignment we favored images made “in the field” that used cropping and a “graphic eye” to make the shot.
Our Picture This! assignment this month was Handheld Pan, a shooting technique that involves a long shutter speed and some sort of motion while shooting on the part of the photographer. We generally do everything we can to keep the camera steady and make sure there is no photographer-induced motion in a shot, including using image stabilized lenses, often elaborate tripods and heads, and even mirror lockup. The assignment requested just the opposite—adding motion to a shot that might include following a subject in motion across a plane, jiggling the camera to make lights record as lines rather than points, and even moving the camera in a circular motion to completely abstract the color and form.
Our Picture This! assignment this month was “In the Forest,” and judging by the number of images we received it’s clear that readers love to spend time and photograph in the forest as much as we do. As you’ll see, the photos ranged from mystical to magnificent, with patterns, color, and light and shadow play all playing a part.
Our Picture This! assignment this month was Industrial Design. While nothing can beat the variety and beauty of nature, where patterns and designs have their own rhythm and pace, certain objects have a beauty and grace that speak to an aesthetic that is inherently human. Products of handmade origin or the Industrial Age that satisfy the need for function while maintaining a beauty of form are sometimes taken for granted, and sometimes, with a photographer’s keen eye, transformed into sculptural objects that seem to transcend their utility. We can contemplate them less for something we would use as a tool and more as objects of wonder or beauty that appeal to a deeper aesthetic sensibility. That’s what we sought, and found, in this month’s readers’ images.
This month’s assignment for Picture This! was “Made in the Shade,” photographs made solely in the shadow thrown by tree canopy or roof or even under overcast sky. While light levels might be lower, there’s nothing quite like the soft, diffuse light of shade to bring out every nuance of color and detail in a subject or scene. Using appropriate white balance and exposure settings, shade cast shots can look as if they were made using a large diffusion tent, all using natural light. And while HDR can help with excessive contrast, shade shots have the advantage in that they work entirely with one exposure and the most natural sense of light. Readers sent in a wide range of images covering nature, urban, and portraiture, all of which have a quality of light that bright, contrasty sunlit shots could never display.
While it’s true that photography is “writing with light,” shadows often play an equal and important role. They define form and space, create dimensionality, and concentrate the viewer’s eye on the main subject of the scene. Our Picture This! assignment this month was “negative space,” and we asked readers to send us images that use this important tool of the craft to good effect. We received portraits, landscapes, still life and abstract images, all of which display a thoughtful use of the “dark side” of aspects of the image. Exposure plays a key role in creating this effect, as does a strong scene contrast that allows the photographer to “read the highlights and let the shadows fall where they may.” All this stems from the old days when photographers were often forced by their use of slide film to create deep areas in their images in order to keep the highlights from burning up. Now that we have HDR and other contrast-fighting exposure tools it is a conscious exposure decision made to add so much to an image’s effect.
This month’s Picture This! assignment was Painterly Backgrounds, the use of various photographic devices—namely depth of field—to create a field of color and design for a backdrop to the main theme. The technique not only removes what could be a distracting background but also brings the main subject more into the visual attention of the viewer. It also can be used to complement the color, shape, and design of the entire frame, adding to the emotional content of the image. Readers sometimes used their digital darkroom skills to enhance some of the effects (noted in captions), but, as with other assignments, we view image processing as something that can be used to emphasize the image from the camera, not obtain it entirely from software techniques.
Our Picture This! assignment this month was “Panoramics,” and we asked readers to send us a wide view unattainable by using a single lens, or to crop a wide shot so it had an aspect ratio that mimicked the format. The eye cannot possibly see all that a panoramic photo offers in one glimpse, whether it be in looking at the print or especially in the field.