If you have not been photographing at twilight or night up to now, you have an exciting adventure ahead. Because cameras have the ability to accumulate light over time, nighttime photographs can seem brighter than they do to our eyes. This means that details are revealed that are hidden from view because of the limitations of the light gathering ability of our eyes, and at the same time the dazzling colors of night add a dynamic quality to the scene. Artificial lights at night are a mixture of neon, mercury vapor, fluorescent, and tungsten, and each of these produce interesting colors. Some are cool, some are yellowish or golden, and some are super saturated, and the combination is really something.
As much as I love to capture subjects with saturated color because of the powerful visual impact they offer, I also seek out the opposite end of the spectrum. Subtle and desaturated colors create impact in a very different way. There seems to be a magical quality in nature, for example, when you shoot in fog or low clouds. This is one of the reasons I like photographing at dawn and sunrise because if there is humidity in the air, this is the best time to find these conditions. The colors are so soft and muted that they are breathtaking in a quiet and contemplative way.
Photoshop is a photographer’s best friend today. It has given us unprecedented creativity and the ability to do things to pictures that heretofore were impossible. Some people claim that the emphasis has shifted away from superior picture taking, and in its place people now think “I can fix it in Photoshop.” While it is true that many problems can be corrected after the fact, good photographic skills are still required to take great images. While a full exploration of digital darkroom techniques awaits another volume of this Guide I thought I’d give you a sense of what can be accomplished with this type of after-exposure work. And while I concentrate on Adobe Photoshop techniques here there are many more programs and plug-ins that can do the job as well.
Taking pictures of a family and doing it well is challenging. There are many things you have to think about to please both you and the people you are shooting. First, you should have soft and diffused lighting. An overcast sky works great and so does shade. Second, you should avoid on-camera flash if possible. If it is hopelessly dark and you don’t have any other lighting equipment, then on-camera flash will have to do. However, this kind of lighting is the least attractive type of artificial light we use. It is flat and dimensionless. Only if you use on-camera flash as a subtle fill light to open up shadows will it look good.
I learned a long time ago that I couldn’t rely on serendipity to get great shots of people when traveling. Once in a while I’d get lucky, but most of the time the background wasn’t perfect, the lighting wasn’t quite right, or the person wasn’t wearing clothes that told a story about the culture. In addition, I hesitate to point my camera at people without their permission. I can understand that they may feel I’m intruding on their space and their privacy, and I don’t want to do that. Grabbing shots of people without getting their permission also means that the chance of getting a model release is very small.
There are many situations that you will encounter in your travels domestically as well as internationally where picture taking is prohibited. It’s a constant problem. One of the things I’ve learned over many years is that permission can often be granted to allow you to take the pictures you want. It just takes time, perseverance, sometimes money, and always luck.
Photographing children is a joy because of their innocence, the honesty in their faces, and their beauty. At different stages of their development, a photographer needs to understand how to interact with them and how to elicit the best expressions, whether they are serious, sweet, joyous, or moody.
Photographing people in motion is challenging on many levels. Whether you are shooting athletes, dancers, cowboys, or workers, the same issues come into play. First, it’s hard to keep them in focus. Even with the sophisticated autofocus systems built into modern cameras, it is tough to hold focus on fast moving subjects. Second, it’s impossible to study a subject in motion and then compose the picture with deliberation and forethought. The composition constantly changes millisecond by millisecond, and that means you have to think and react quickly and hope that you captured something good. Third, exposure can change as your subject moves through areas of shade or highlights. While automatic meters do a good job in most situations, they can be fooled into over or under exposure depending on how much contrast is in the scene and how light or dark the background is relative to the subject.
After you buy a good camera that allows you to change lenses, it will become obvious to you that it is not the camera that enables you to be creative in photography. It is the lenses. The features on your camera, like fast auto focus, a large LCD screen, accurate Metering modes, and various custom functions are all important, but it is the lenses that have everything to do with the artistry of the images you take.
I was privileged to be able to photograph a champion Gypsy Vanner horse, Romeo, with a beautiful model in period costume. I chose late afternoon about an hour before sunset to take advantage of the spectacular backlighting on the blond mane, the tail, and the feathering around the feet. For this particular photo session, I wasn’t able to shoot Romeo in an open field, and the corral fence behind him (#1) bothered me at the time but there were no other options. I knew I wanted to separate my subjects from the background at a later point in time during post-processing, but what makes this breed of horse so beautiful—the long, flowing hair—is a nightmare to deal with in composite work.