Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Curves aren't just attractive on woman. Photograph Composition Technique

In this post I'll be discussing a photograph compositional technique involving curves (otherwise known as arch). Just like my last post where I discussed the "rule of thirds", this compositional concept is based on how the human eye naturally scans an image. Unlike the rule of thirds, the "Arch" or "Curve" creates direction, and leads the eye in a particular direction.

(Taken at Sunset Cliffs San Diego, CA)

Here is a good example of an image with a nice curve in it. Take a second to look at it. Where do your eyes go? Do your eyes follow the curve? How about the shore line?

Now lets see how this image was composed. I have added the rule of thirds grid, and traced the curve. Notice how the curve avoids the center. Also, notice how the shore line and the top of the cliff are aligned using the rule of thirds. the curve brings your eye round the image.

(Taken at Sunset Cliffs, San Diego, CA)

Since it was a great day when I shot these photos, I managed to capture another example.

In this example you can also see that the curve avoids the center grid. Also, notice how the curve almost intersects with the intersection lines of the grid. This is not a steadfast rule, but in this example, it works.

The most pleasing, and hardest to find curve is the coveted "S-Curve". Learning to identify, and photograph these curves is a challenge for any photographer.

(Taken in Hawaii by Crystal)

Here's a great example of an image containing an S-Curve. Can you see the curve? Would you be able to notice this curve before looking through the viewfinder?

I hope these examples help unlock the creative photographer in you!

To see more of my tips, visit my other blog entries:

Great product photos using the camera you already have.
Grain and ISO.
Shutter speed, shutter WHAT?
Aperture, and the size of your hole.
Rule of Thirds (sometimes).

My Artfire page:

Sunday, August 2, 2009

One Rule You Need To Know Before Breaking!

While I prefer not too think about composition “Rules” when I shoot, knowing the basics is important. Today I will cover one of the most basic compositional techniques, known as the Rule Of Thirds.

Rule of what?
Basically, the rules of thirds is based on how your eye naturally scans an image. History has shown that there are areas of an image the human eye is drawn to naturally, so placing a point of interest in these areas can make your photographs more compelling.
Draw a grid over your image, dividing it in to 9 equal parts, 3 equal parts vertically, and 3 equal parts horizontally. The area where the horizontal lines cross the vertical lines are areas the human eye is naturally drawn to, so the rule of thirds suggest that a focal point of your image be located at one of these intersections.
When photographing a landscape horizon, align the top grid line to the horizon to highlight the foreground, like this image above.When photographing a landscape horizon, use the bottom grid line to line up the horizon to make the sky the focal point.

Quick Tip:
Some cameras will display the rule of thirds grid right on the LCD screen so that the photographer can line up their shot, relying less on cropping in post editing.

Rule of Not Thirds?
One variation to this rule involves the application of the “Golden Ratio”. Instead of dividing the image into 9 equal parts when making the grid, a ratio of 1.61:1 is used to divide the image and choose the focal point. The concept of the “Golden Ratio” is far too extensive to discuss in this blog but more information can be found here.
In this image, the grid is created using the "Golden Ratio". Notice the grid lines are slightly closer to center.Here is example of an image that was cropped to match the grid. This grid was also created using the "Golden Ratio".

As I’ve said before, the first thing one should do after learning an established method, is to forget it completely. Many times while I’m shooting, I ignore this technique, and let my eyes find my composition. I am surprised during post editing, when I find that I am following the Rule Of thirds without even knowing it.

For more information, tips, tricks, and techniques, visit some of my other blogs.
Examples of my work are available for sale at:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ever Wonder Why Most Artist Are Starving?

Washington Post social experiment
A Violinist in the Metro

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

*Note from Eric (blog owner): Several years ago a record lable rep. gave me an arm full of CDs to listen to. Most of the music they were promoting could be considered crap, but mixed in the stack was a single CD of a performance By Joshua Bell. When I got home and played it, my love for music became obvious to me again. Not only was the perfromance insperational, but the recording was first rate. My sound system came to life.

When one is exposed to thousands apon thousands of artist, only the truly bright stand out, and this was one of them.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Your background Is Blurry For A Reason.

In my previous blogs I discussed ISO, and shutter speed. This week, I will explain Aperture and how to apply this concept to your photography.

Just as the human eye can change the size of it’s pupil in different lighting, your camera can change it’s own pupil. Inside many nicer pro-soumer, and every SLR camera (Lens) is an adjustable pupil. The sizes of the opening, allowing light to enter the camera when the shutter is open is known as Aperture. Aperture is adjusted to alter the amount of light allowed to enter the camera. Just like shutter speed, and ISO, Aperture can be used to obtain a perfectly exposed image. But, unique to this adjustment, Aperture also impacts the depth of field of the image you are shooting.

How to apply Aperture?
Aperture is referred to as “F-Stop”. The lower the F-Stop number, the wider the Aperture size, the higher the “F-Stop” number, the smaller the aperture size, or opening. As mentioned above, Aperture has two effects. The first and more obvious, is exposure. Using a wide open aperture in low light will help you maintain a lower ISO, and faster shutter speed. In bright conditions, you can also open the aperture to use extremely fast shutter speeds to capture fast action shots with minimal of blur. (Note: Using the lowest F-Stop is referred to as “Wide open”).

So why would you ever want to increase F-Stop?
The answer to this involves Depth of field. Depth of field (DOF) is the portion of a scene that appears sharp over the plane of distance. While a larger aperture (Low F-Stop) will allow more light to expose the image, it will reduce the Depth of field of the image you are capturing. A Higher F-Stop (smaller Aperture), reduces the volume of light, but increases the dept of field allowing more of the foreground and background to appear sharp.

A landscape image would benefit more if the entire image appears sharp no matter the distance from the lens. For this reason a high F-Stop is required. Many photographers use a tripod when shooting a landscape even though daylight usually permits a relatively fast shutter. Because, they are using a very high F-Stop, and low ISO, a longer shutter is required, even in daylight.
(This plant is only a few inches tall yet the top of the plant is out of focus while the bottom is in perfect focus. The low depth of field is caused by the Aperture (F-Stop) being set very low, or "Wide Open")


In many close-up images, the photographer prefers that the subject be in perfect focus while the background is blurry. This helps prevent the background from distracting the viewers, and keeps attention on the subject. To achieve this, a low aperture is required. Since a low F-Stop, also permits a faster shutter, many nature photographs are shot in this fashion.

Just as in ISO, and shutter speed, many cameras have an “Aperture mode” that allows you to set the Aperture manually, while the camera will adjust the ISO and shutter speed automatically to obtain a well exposed image. Just turn that dial to the “A” to select this mode.

About the images shown: All the these images were shot close up "Wide Open". The plants were only a few inches in size. Notice that even though there is small difference in distance, in some cases approximately only an inch, portions of the image are out of focus. All images were shot with relatively fast shutter, in day light with an ISO of 80.

Please feel free to comment. If you have any tips or insight on Aperture, also, feel free to share!

For more information, tips, tricks, and techniques, visit some of my other blogs.
Examples of my work are available for sale at:

Saturday, July 11, 2009

If Dinosaurs became Birds, Geese must have evolved from the Velociraptor.

Yesterday Crystal and I decided to visit the lake. Maybe I could get a few new photographs. I grab the left over stale French bread, cut it into small squares so I would have something to feed the ducks, and off we went.

I found myself a nice shady spot on the Shore, set up my tripod, legs collapsed to make a mini tripod that I could operate while sitting. I started to fling the bread into the water to attract the local wild life.With in a few minutes I hear the noisy racket of 4 very large geese as they crossed the lake towards the very spot were I sat. Then I hear a man whistling off in the distance behind me, and I realized that the geese were making their way towards him.
My first thought was “Great, there goes my shots, until this guy runs out of food”. To my surprise, the man, after noticing my attempt to photograph, walked up to me and handed me a whole head of lettuce. Lettuce?, I thought to myself. Ducks and geese eat plain old lettuce? I quickly found out that not only do they eat lettuce, they go crazy for it. I thanked Rick for giving me the lettuce, and offered to email him a copy of any of the photos, if any were good, but sadly, he did not have email. He wished me luck as he walked back towards the parking area. When I turned around from waving him off, I came face to face with four hungry monsters, as they circled around me, eying me face to face.

I began tearing off pieces of the lettuce and distributing them, and they just became more anxious. I felt a poke on my back from one goose, while I was busy handing out food to another. One of them kept poking his beak on my knee. All of a sudden, It dawned on me that I was, in no way, in control here. These birds are fearless when it comes to lettuce.

Every now and then I would place the head of lettuce on my lap to adjust the camera, and the two birds flanking my right and left side would attempt to make a move, un-phased by my waving hands. They would have their lettuce………….and they knew it.

For the next half hour I fed the monsters, and tried to photograph them, Then, all of a sudden, as if a whistle blew, they all started walking past me, up the bank, towards Crystal, who was sitting quietly on the nearby park bench. They start to stare her down, making loud noises, and within a few minutes, made their way to a patch of grass, as the sun began setting. One lone black goose remained, and accepted the last of the lettuce.

Since the sun was setting, I made my way to another area of the lake, to photograph the sun setting behind the hill, across the lake. With my tripod, and the addition of my polarizing filter, I began to snap away. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have seen in a while. The water could have been made of gold.

Like most photographers, it’s incredibly difficult to walk away from a beautiful site. It was now 8:05pm, 5 minutes after park closing time, and Crystal was getting anxious, as she didn’t want them to lock the gates, with my car still there. At 8:30, we drove off for the exit, my car approached a locked gate. Needless to say, I found a way to get my car out of that parking lot. In the end, it was more then worth it.

For more information, tips, tricks, and techniques, visit some of my other blogs.
Examples of my work are available for sale at:

Sunday, July 5, 2009

What Makes Fireworks Special?

I can gauge my progress in photography by simply reviewing the fireworks photographs I take every year. While Independence day provides a great opportunity to shoot, you only get one chance a year, and only minutes at that.

(Taken at lake Murry La Mesa, CA 2009)

Of course, after the grand finale, on the drive to Denny's, all of the things I "Should" have done start to creep up in my mind. This time, in a brilliant flash (like fire works) it dawned on me that I should have used more then one camera.

(Taken at lake Murry, La Mesa, CA 2009)

Digital cameras require processing time when using a long shutter, so a 10 second shutter becomes 20 seconds down time. A second camera could have been used to capture, while the first one was processing the image. I think to myself, BRILLIANT! Sadly, I have 364 days before I can try this idea.

(Taken at lake Murry, la Mesa CA 2009)

This year, I have a newer tool that I feel no photographer should be without. My GPS once again proved it's usefulness, allowing us to leave the house only 30 minutes before the fireworks started, and find a great location. In addition, we had the freedom to take the road less traveled to get home (to avoid the traffic) with no fear of getting lost. GPS gives me the freedom to explore unfamiliar territory, with no fear of losing direction or getting lost. Being able to see the lake on the screen, and knowing I'm only a few yards away made life easier. It was a very nice bonus to view my photos at the Denny's on the GPS's five inch screen.
(While this may appear to be a couple of flowers at first, a closer inspection reveales the subjects as fire works. Taken at Lake Murry, La Mesa, CA 2009)

One should not discount the meaning of Independence day, and how it directly applies to the art and profession of photography. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the Freedom of speech, and that cannot be appreciated enough, as a picture is worth a thousand words (Fred R. Barnard). Thankfully, we are free to express those thousand words, and a million more.
(Notice how the blue lines cross to make a sort of grid)
(Taken at Lake Murry, La Mesa CA 2009)

I hope Independence day was enjoyed by all this year, despite the many current challenges we have faced over this last year.


About the images shown: These photographs were all taken July fourth, 2009. ISO 80, shutter speeds varied from 8 to 15 (8"-15") seconds, Aperture F8.0. Auto focus was disabled to save time, manual focus was set to infinity. A circular polarizing filter was used. And, of course, a tripod (from the trunk of my car).

For more information, tips, tricks, and techniques, visit some of my other blogs.
Examples of my work are available for sale at:

Thursday, July 2, 2009

What Every Camera Owner Should Know!

Shutter speed was the easiest part of photography for me to grasp when I first started shooting. But it can be too easy to let this become a crutch, and ignore other big aspects of setting up your shot (ISO, and Aperture). I will discuss the concept of shutter speed and how to apply this adjustment to maximize your image result.

Shutter what?
When undeveloped film is exposed to light, a chemical reaction takes place, causing the light, or focused image to burn on the film. Only a very brief amount of light is needed to cause this reaction. Film loaded in the camera is kept in complete darkness, and fed behind the lens. When the shutter button is pressed, the camera briefly lets light into the camera so that the image is burned on the film. Shutter speed refers to exactly how long light is allowed to enter the camera, or how long the shutter door remains open to let light in. The longer the shutter is open, the more the imaged is exposed. If the shutter is open too long, your image will be overexposed, too short, the image will be underexposed.

Digital camera behave the same as film cameras, however some film cameras allow the photographer to leave the shutter open indefinitely, while digital camera are often limited to 30-40 seconds.

Shutter speed is often measured in seconds, and fractions of a second. A shutter speed of 1000, typically refers to one thousandth of a second, while 320 refers to three hundred and twentieth of a second. Many digital cameras have a range of 4000 (one four thousandth of a second), to 30 (30 seconds).

How do you apply shutter speed to maximize your shot?
Faster shutter speeds are required for capturing fast action shots with a minimum of blur, but faster speeds allow less light to expose the film. When shooting in daylight this is rarely an issue, but in lower light conditions you may find your images underexposed. You can compensate for underexposure by adjusting the Aperture and ISO (See my blog on ISO), but you will not be able to obtain the higher shutter speeds that would be possible in daylight.

Many very beautiful, artistic photographs have been published using an extremely long shutter. Keep in mind that any vibrations, or movement will cause blur so a tripod and a remote shutter button are a must (If you do not have a remote shutter button, you can set the camera’s timer, allowing the camera to open the shutter without the risk of vibrations when touching the camera). Often a dark landscape, or cityscape can come to life, showing details not visible to the naked eye when shooting with a long shutter in very low light. A long shutter permits a lower ISO, keeping grain to a minimum when shooting in low light (great for sunset photographs).

So next time you’re at your child’s baseball game looking for the perfect mid swing shot, you load those perfect sunset shots in your computer only to find them grainy, or your find yourself standing on a secluded beach with only moon light lighting the water, Start experimenting with shutter speed.

*Side Note: Your camera’s LCD screen will often not be able to give you an accurate preview of considerably long shutter exposures before the shot is taken. Since digital requires no developing cost, feel free to take several shots with varying shutter speeds.

*Side Note: using long shutter speeds will eat up more battery life, so an extra battery is a must.

Tip: Tripods are inexpensive and fold up relatively small, keep one in the trunk of your car at all times, you never know when you’ll need it.

(Images above: Image 1 was taken in in complete darkness with a few LED key chain lights. The guitar was stationary while I manually waved the lights around the guitar while the shutter was open. My girl friend must have thought I was crazy but I guess she's used to me. Image 2 was taken off the coast in Palos Verdes, CA, a very fast shutter was used to capture the crow in mid flight. Image 3 was exposed using only one light source, the black light on top of the entertainment center. I had to dim the TV to prevent the screen light from over exposing the whole image.)

For more information, tips, tricks, and techniques, visit some of my other blogs.
Examples of my work are available for sale at:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Grain Is Only Fit For Consumption.

If you have a nicer prosumer or professional SLR digital camera, you may have noticed the term ISO somewhere on the camera or in the menu. Sometimes it's on the knob on the top right side of the camera. Here I will explain what ISO is and how to effectively use this setting to maximize your images.

Back in the day (which was a Wednesday) many different inexpensive cameras were marketed and sold that did not have a variable aperture, or shutter speed. No matter what the light conditions were, the camera had only one setting. Of course, this would cause problems as shooting in daylight as opposed to indoor or evening, would require something to change. The answer was to make and market film that had different levels of sensitivity to light. This was referred to as "Film Speed". Film speed is measured as "ISO". A film with an ISO of 100 would be less sensitive to light, and great for outdoor photographs, while an ISO of 400 would very sensitive to light and be well suited for indoor photography.

Digital cameras behave the same way even though they do not actually have film. Some digital cameras have an ISO range of 80 all the way up to 3200.

The lower ISO setting will be less sensitive to light and will produce a sharper image. While the higher ISO setting will be more sensitive to light (better in low light shooting), but produces more grain. The higher the ISO, the more grain apparent in the image.

Effective use:
If you are shooting in low light and your aperture is already open, and you cannot use a longer shutter, but you are still getting an under exposed imaged, turn up the ISO. As a general rule I always use the lowest ISO possible, to get a well exposed image. It's all about balance.

If your camera has an Aperture mode, or Shutter mode (the little dial on the top right corner of the camera), you may choose the ISO, and the camera will adjust either the shutter speed or aperture automatically to obtain a well exposed image. In low light, the camera may be forced to use a long shutter in Aperture mode, so a tripod, and a very still subject may be required for a clean and sharp image.

Hope this Helps unlock the potential on your photography, look for my upcoming post on the subjects of Aperture, Film Speed, and White Balance.


For more information, tips, tricks, and techniques, visit some of my other blogs.
Examples of my work are available for sale at:

First Impressions Are Unaviodable to Make That Sale!

Of course you can go to the nearest camera store and just buy a light tent set up with a lighting and all, a decent set up will cost you well north of $100, for most of us who are not gearing for the new Macy's catalog, here are some simple solutions. Enjoy!

Side note: Everyday I hear the same thing, "I need a new camera, my photos look horrible", followed by, "I just spent a ton of money on a new camera, and my photos still look horrible". Even the most simple point and shoot cameras can take great product photos with good light. before you drive to the nearest electronics store and drop several hundred dollars (or worst, over $1,000.00) on a brand spanking new cameras, try these steps.

basics for product photos

Natural light:
1. get a piece of white foam core and a piece of white poster board.

2. Go outside during the day and find a spot in the shade (If the sun is out).

3. Place foam core flat on a table, or other surface, place the poster board behind the foam core, but upright (Back drop), use a bookend, wall, or any other object to hold it up right. Curve the bottom of the poster board so it curves under the foam core.

note: The white foam core background helps the camera distinguish white, and automatically sets the white balance when shooting in "Auto" mode.

4. Find the button on your camera that says "Macro" and make sure it is selected ("macro" loosely translates to "Close up").

5. make sure your flash is OFF.

6. Place item on the foam core and shoot away.Note: Be aware of your surroundings when shooting out side. If there is a blue (or any color) building behind you getting direct sunlight, that light may reflect into your shot (even though you are in the shade) and cause a tinting effect on your subject.

Note: Light may reflect from your clothing and tint your subject. Wear a black shirt when shooting in bright light or outdoors.

Option #2: Build a light tent, I can't recommend this enough.

(Light tent designed and modeled by Eric at SDPhotography)

Several methods of light tent construction are available, here are a few:
how to make a light tent
how to make a light tent
how to make a light tent

Here's a great video on product lighting using 100% DIY materiel, very informative.
Product lighting setup

If you build a light tent and you use more then one lamp make sure you use the EXACT SAME BULBS, and don't let light from other sources creep in (ex: turn off the kitchen light when shooting)

This subject has come up several times. A common question I get is "What do I do when I can't get my camera to focus on a tiny object". While most cameras offer a Macro mode for shooting close up, this method may not always work. You may have to switch to manual focus. Many point and shoot cameras allow you to disable the auto focus, and manually focus the image. Manual focus will, in many cases, allow you to get considerably closer to you subject (as close a 1mm to the lens). Every model is different so it may be time to break out that manual (or download the PDF from the manufacturer's web site) and learn how to work the manual focus.

Also keep in mind that the brighter the light, the higher your camera will set it's aperture, which will result in a higher depth of field, improving the focal appearance of your total image.

White balance: Some cameras let you calibrate the white balance by pointing the camera at a white object and pushing a button. Other cameras refer to white balance as "Scene". Common "Scenes" are shown as: incandescent light, florescent light, portrait, sunset, etc. Once you figure out how to switch this, you just try each "Scene" to see which one works best.

Post Editing: All cameras come with software. look for how to adjust "White point", or "Color Balance" in whatever software you use. If you have a white background, the "auto color correct" edit works just fine in most cases. Adjusting the brightness and contrast can finish your photos with the extra "Pop" needed to stand out.

Hope this helps!

For more information, tips, tricks, and techniques, visit some of my other blogs.
Examples of my work are available for sale at:

*What are your tips and tricks for great product photographs? Share your ideas in the comments!