Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tricky Exposures

Our Newfoundlands can be tricky little stinkers to photograph. You've all received that Christmas Card or had someone send you a family photo and you know immediately that they have a Newf because there is this big black hole in the middle of the photograph - right? The black fur just sucks up all the light and can be a stinker to work with.

Kim Benedict sent me this image of her Newfoundland, Karma, taken on Lake Michigan. The background is lovely and she has caught a nice quiet moment with the dog. The light is getting low in the sky (see how bright it is off to the left of the frame?) and there is a nice quality of light because of that. Kim has also done what is one of the most important things to do when photographing a dog - she's gotten down on Karma's level. She may actually be laying in the sand to take this image. Good! If you are going to photograph Newfs, just plan on getting filthy!

Even thought the dog is pretty centrally positioned in the frame, I think it is fine. There isn't a lot of detail around to balance off-setting the dog. While basically centered, she is nice and close to the dog without crowding it in the frame.

The problem is that the light behind the dog is quite bright and the camera is exposing for the background, and not the dog. Because she is photographing this black hole, she needs MORE light on the dog! The camera flash has gone off (notice how bright the foreground is?) but it is still not compensating for the brightness of the background.

There are a couple things that can be done to help compensate for the background but they are kind of advanced and frankly, with Newfs, can be iffy, so let's take the easy route! MOVE!

See that stretch of sand behind Karma? How about going out there and positioning Karma so that nicely angled light is now striking the dog? Now the dog AND the background are lit. Move around a bit. You can still pick up sand and water as a background by looking for additional vantage points. (When I photograph at a lake or the ocean, I often have my tall rubber boots on so that I can get out into the water while my subjects are on land.) Kim said that this image was taken near a lighthouse. Hum….. What if the lighthouse was in the background?

WARNING - evening light is fabulous! (morning light not so, because you have to wake up to catch it - grrrrrr…..) but beware of shadows. If you are photographing something that is being struck by low light - you have to position yourself so that your shadow is not in the frame. Just another challenge for you!

I took this image and removed the stick that was at the right of the frame because it was distracting. I have tried to lighten the dog. I've also darkened the edges a bit because it was drawing my eye out of the frame - particularly on the left, but this is a reshoot because the detail isn't there in the dog. Again, Kim did a lot just right with this photograph, it just begs for more detail in the black.

One final point. Karma is watching something off to the right of the frame. I keep wanting to pull her nose just a few inches back toward the camera so we pick up a hint of that other eye and her head doesn't seem to be tilting so far back. But, that isn't a deal breaker - now I'm just being picky, but it is something to think about for a reshoot.

Kim, this really is a beautiful photograph and you were working in a really challenging lighting situation. Take that goofy girl back to the beach and let the light hit her - then you've got it nailed! And, please send in a copy of the new version, okay?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Newfoundland in Newfoundland

Deanne McNeil lives in heaven - at least she can see if from there…… Well, kinda. From her home in Nova Scotia, she has fairly easy access to Newfoundland - that wicked island that stole my heart and kept it when we visited last year. She asked my opinion on a striking photograph she took of her Newfoundland Dog, Angel, at Rose Blanche, NL.

When I first saw the image I was impressed with it's simplicity. She has carried off something that isn't always easy to do - photographing a Newfoundland on a white rock with water behind it. It can be a technical nightmare.

One thing that sets a "photographer" apart from a casual "snapper" is care with location. Make sure your background is free of clutter - cars, legs, phone poles - these are all things that can distract a viewer from the subject. Dee has done a beautiful job of isolating her subject and she has set Angel in a location where she contrasts nicely with both back and foreground.

Before I continue, a word of caution - ALWAYS photograph using the highest resolution you can. Yes, if you set your camera right you can get a zillion images on one memory card, but they will be too small to crop or enlarge successfully, so get in the habit of shooting large files.

Now, a couple things that might strengthen this particular image. First, move in closer. There is a lot of sky that doesn't give us any information. I use sky in my images if there are impressive clouds, but a little open blue sky can go a long way, so we're going to crop a bunch of that out. This gives the dog more prominence. We haven't lost the significance of the water, but by allowing Angel to occupy more space in the image, it is now more about the dog and less about the vastness of the ocean. While cropping, let's straighten the skyline up a bit.

Second, consider moving the dog off-center. There is a rule called "the rule of thirds" where you divide a frame into thirds horizontally and again vertically. Place your subject where one of these lines converge for the strongest position. Since I liked the texture of the rocks better than the empty expanse of the sky, I placed Angel along the top third of the frame and to the left. Since she is looking to the right of the frame, this gives her room to look off at the world.

Third, our eyes naturally are drawn to what is lightest and since the rock is white and the sky is light - the eye goes to the dog, then wants to drift away and out of the frame. So, I pulled out a program called Lightroom that I use for times like these and put a slight darkening around the edges of the image. This subtly pulls the viewer back to the dog and has the added bonus of adding just a wee bit of texture back into the rocks. Check the computer program you are using - you may have this feature as well.

When I asked Dee what her motivation was behind taking this image she said it was about her Newfoundland at her birthplace and she wanted to pull in the significance of the water. In a perfect world, I'd have taken Angel down to the water's edge, but I know that location and getting to the water is no easy, or safe, task. I think she succeeded in reaching her goal with this shot!

This is a challenging location to photograph. It is rugged and beautiful and sits high above the sea. It is an amazing coincidence that the image I use in the masthead of this blog of Arayo digging around on the rocks - was taken at the same place!

Thanks, Dee, for letting me use your image as an example. Very nice job in a beautiful but tough place to photograph!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Building Better Photographs

A few years ago I was asked to judge a Newfoundland photo contest. Happy as a pig in mud, I spent a couple hours pawing through images of people's beloved dogs. A great number of the photos went into a thumbs down pile. A couple went into a WOW! pile, and then there were the images in the middle. The "Oh, nuts!" pile.

This pile was the stack of images that had something special going for them but didn't quite make it. Perhaps they caught an amazing expression on their dog, but the background was wrong. Or, the background was beautiful but the dog wasn't positioned well.

"What a great learning experience!" I thought, as I went through this middle pile, mentally removing distractions, exposing better, or changing the light of the image.

"Let's do a quarterly photography article. People learn best by seeing, so what if we took a photo or two every quarter, explain what its strengths are and give a few thoughts on what could take this image from okay, to WOW!" I suggested to those in charge of the competition.

That idea didn't set well with the powers that be, but I still think there is a need for this service within the Newfoundland community.

So, I'm starting this blog. Let's learn how to improve those images. I'll offer up a few tips and then I'm asking readers to contact me and let me know if you have an image you think is good but could use some help. I'll select an image a week or so to critique, with the focus NOT on tearing down the work but offering a couple suggestions to improve it. I'll also point out what I think are the strengths, because that is important to remember, too.

Please don't e-mail me a ton of images as I will not open an e-mail with an attachment, but direct me to a link where I can see the photo you would like me to see. As the process goes along, I'll also post some of my photos and critique them, too!