Creating a “Self-Assignment”

Ways to challenge yourself to become a better photographer

Over the years, I have been involved with several different groups and organizations with a shared interest in photography. Many of those years were with the Sioux Falls Camera Club, where judged competitions helped us strive for better techniques and encouraged us to try new things.

Multnomah Falls

As an off-shoot of those days, I found a personal technique to help when I occasionally found myself in a photographic “rut.” I’m referring to a self-assignment, where I focus my efforts on a specific subject or technique for a period of time. During that time, I experiment with different settings, angles, techniques, or utilize different accessories to expand my shooting abilities.

After the Storm

In the past, I have tackled long-exposure water shots, night and star photography, painting with light, back-lighting, macro photography, and even with black and white captures…a throw-back to the good old days. These have each caused me to look differently at subjects I’ve photographed for years, and to hone new skills for capturing images with new life.

Bars and Shadows

For a good place to start, I would suggest trying something totally different from where your interests currently lie. If you are a nature or landscape photographer, spend some time shooting portraits with a friend or family member. Kids are great to photograph, especially when they’re not aware of it!

Flamingo Nap 2

If you want to excel in wildlife photography, especially with birds of prey, try spending some time at a sporting event or race track. Shooting a different type and pace of action may be helpful in honing your skills at tracking an eagle in flight.

Peek-a-Boo II

If you aspire to be a portrait photographer, spending some time shooting macro and close-up subjects might give you a better understanding of critical depth of field. The world of macro is also full of great abstracts of color, patterns and textures, all of which might inspire a fine art photographer into being.

Bison & Bugs

If you want to really challenge yourself, try photographing a scene or subject differently once each day for a month. The catch is – you only get one shot!

Chicory Snack

The idea is to expand your photographic horizons. In much the same way that our Harold’s Photo classes encourage you to move away from the automatic “Green Box” on your control dial, you can force yourself to explore new ways of looking at the world through your viewfinder. It will help keep you fresh and inspired. And who knows, it may just end up opening a door to a new career path!

By Guest Blogger Marty DeWitt

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Composition 101

Composition is probably the most important area you should master with your photography. Much of an image’s visual impact results from the way in which the subject or subjects are arranged. Although we each may have different opinions when we view photographs, following some simple guidelines may mean the difference between a “snapshot” and an award-winning image! You will notice I referred to them as guidelines. These are simply suggestions, rather than rules, which give you more leeway for creativity. Here are a few for you to consider:

Niagara Falls/Maid of the Mist - Notice how the crest of the falls and boat in the distance are each located at the intersections of the "thirds" (Canon 30d w/18-55mm @ 28mm, 1/1250th  sec @ f/4., ISO200)

Niagara Falls/Maid of the Mist – Notice how the crest of the falls and boat in the distance are each located at the intersections of the “thirds” (Canon 30d w/18-55mm @ 28mm, 1/1250th sec @ f/4., ISO200)

Bulls Eye! - This may be one instance where a "bulls-eye" shot actually works! (Canon 50d w/400mm f/5.6L, 1/640th sec @ f/5.6, ISO 400)

Bulls Eye! – This may be one instance where a “bulls-eye” shot actually works! (Canon 50d w/400mm f/5.6L, 1/640th sec @ f/5.6, ISO 400)

Practice the “Rule of Thirds” – Don’t become so focused on your subject that you place it dead-center in your viewfinder (“bulls-eye” effect). Imagine that your viewfinder is divided equally into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. By placing your subject at any of the points where those imaginary lines intersect, you will dramatically improve your pictures. If your subject is in motion, give it room to move “into” rather than “out of” the image. Being conscious of these imaginary lines will also help you keep any horizon lines level. Some cameras even have a grid or level on the screen to help with alignment.

Check the “Edges” – We’ve all seen the pictures of Uncle Joe with a tree growing out of his head. Be aware of all the elements lurking in your pictures. Look around all the edges of your viewfinder and watch for stray branches, power lines, and other visual “clutter” that might detract from your intended picture. If you include people in your shot, make sure you don’t cut anyone in half, or inadvertently cut off something you want in the picture. At the same time, don’t be afraid to incorporate foliage or elements around the edge to frame your subject.

White Sands V  - These two images illustrate how the same image might be better  if rotated 90 degrees to better suit the subject. The horizontal image gives a better sense of scale and better balance. (Canon Digital Rebel w/400mm f/5.6L, 1/640th sec @ f/8, ISO 100)

White Sands V – These two images illustrate how the same image might be better if rotated 90 degrees to better suit the subject. The horizontal image gives a better sense of scale and better balance. (Canon Digital Rebel w/400mm f/5.6L, 1/640th sec @ f/8, ISO 100)

White Sands H - These two images illustrate how the same image might be better  if rotated 90 degrees to better suit the subject. The horizontal image gives a better sense of scale and better balance. (Canon Digital Rebel w/400mm f/5.6L, 1/640th sec @ f/8, ISO 100)

White Sands H – These two images illustrate how the same image might be better if rotated 90 degrees to better suit the subject. The horizontal image gives a better sense of scale and better balance. (Canon Digital Rebel w/400mm f/5.6L, 1/640th sec @ f/8, ISO 100)

Vertical or Horizontal? – Try to match the orientation of your framing to the shape of your intended subject. If the object is tall and slender, try rotating your camera to a vertical format. If your subject is wide, or spread out like a landscape vista, perhaps a horizontal format would be better. With the recent popularity of smart phone cameras and Instagram, the square format has become a new option. Keep these different formats in mind when you shoot an image, so that it fits the proportion of the final framed print, card or book you might want to design in the future.

Fall Fence and Shadows - In this Vermont scene, the fence and shadows invites and draws the viewer into the image. (Canon 50d w/18-135mm, 1/250th sec @ f/10, ISO 200)

Fall Fence and Shadows – In this Vermont scene, the fence and shadows invites and draws the viewer into the image. (Canon 50d w/18-135mm, 1/250th sec @ f/10, ISO 200)

Leading the Way - It's hard to ignore where this canoe wants you to go. The bright colors and breaks in the pond lilies are pointing you straight into the Canadian wilderness. Would this have worked as well as a horizontal shot? (Canon PowerShot G3, 7mm, 1/640th sec @ f/4, ISO 200)

Leading the Way – It’s hard to ignore where this canoe wants you to go. The bright colors and breaks in the pond lilies are pointing you straight into the Canadian wilderness. Would this have worked as well as a horizontal shot? (Canon PowerShot G3, 7mm, 1/640th sec @ f/4, ISO 200)

Lead Me On! – Make good use of existing curved lines or elements in your foreground to “lead” your viewer into your photo. An “S”curve works especially well, and can be a stream, a road, a fence, a distant valley, a mountain pass, railroad tracks, or a simple trail through the woods. Diagonal lines in your composition can also create a strong image.

Brace for Impact! – Make sure your viewer easily recognizes your intended subject of interest. Use of bright colors, filling the frame, isolating it from a distracting background and utilizing different angles of view can improve your image. Placing a brightly colored object in a landscape (like a little kid with a red sweatshirt on a country road, or a red canoe on a mountain lake) can add interest and a sense of scale to an image.

Back-lit Yucca - Often a great image combines several different compositional guidelines. Here, the yucca flower is directly back-lit by the sun at the intersection of the "thirds" while the shadows create a great lead-in line. (Canon Digital Rebel w/ 18-55mm @ 18mm, 1/100th sec @ f/9, ISO 100)

Back-lit Yucca – Often a great image combines several different compositional guidelines. Here, the yucca flower is directly back-lit by the sun at the intersection of the “thirds” while the shadows create a great lead-in line. (Canon Digital Rebel w/ 18-55mm @ 18mm, 1/100th sec @ f/9, ISO 100)

EXPERIMENT! – The most important tip is to experiment. Try different settings, different angles and perspectives, different lighting directions. Digital images are “cheap” to shoot, and if you goof, delete them and try again!

Want to learn more about composition or other aspect of photography? Check out our classes at http://www.haroldsphoto.com

By Guest Blogger Marty DeWitt

Harold’s Photo Expert – Marty DeWitt

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My interest in photography began back in the 1970s, when I bugged my dad to let me use his old Vivitar 35mm film camera. I used my lawn mowing money for film, and shot pictures of school activities and the local Vermont scenery.

When I enrolled at the University of Vermont, I met a fellow from Cleveland who was an avid photographer. He had also worked summers at Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, and had great pictures and stories to share. Soon, we would become great friends, and I would embark on a nearly 40 year career in Vermont and South Dakota state parks.

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But, before I found permanent employment with a park agency, I took a brief detour and worked as a city patrolman, along with a part-time gig in a local camera store. With my darkroom and shooting experience, I soon found myself developing and printing accident and crime scene photos, and even mug shots – quite a difference from my past experience!

Photography was a tool I found to be very useful and therapeutic throughout my career. Over the years, I produced slide shows and presentations, and shot images of South Dakota’s diverse flora and fauna, as well as special projects and events. My images have also been used for many interpretive displays and exhibits, and have been published in a variety of newspapers, magazines, brochures, calendars, websites and even on a music CD!

I was a long-time member of the Sioux Falls Camera Club, where I was editor of The Sioux Projector. Over the years, many of my images won awards in local and regional competitions. I have also served as a judge for a number of local photo contests.

Most recently, my images are being used in several educational efforts. I routinely present photographic workshops in area libraries and for different organizations, where my goal is to teach folks, young and old alike, how to take better outdoor and nature images.

Since my retirement from state parks, I have joined the team of associates at Harold’s Photo on 41st Street, and, among my many duties, I have the pleasure of teaching many of the “One-on-One” sessions.

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My primary interest has always been in the areas of nature and landscape photography. I especially enjoy taking new and creative approaches to images at places people have photographed for years. Having spent my career in state parks, I was never lacking for great places for outdoor photography. But over the years, my wife Cathy and I have also travelled to more than 130 of our national parks and monuments, and covered 49 states in the process. Yet it seems we’ve barely seen what this great country has to offer for photographers!

So, stop in and say HI! Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or ask to try out a new camera or lens. Sign up for one of our classes if you want to take your photography to the next level. That’s why we’re here!

By Guest Blogger Marty DeWitt

How to Be Unique With Your Photography

shutterstock_112457357If you type in the word “unique” on Google, it’ll tell you that unique is “being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else”. As a photographer, creating a style that is uniquely your own is pretty important. It gives you a chance to express yourself through your art, and it allows viewers to see through your eyes. Unfortunately, figuring out your style doesn’t come to you over night. However, with lots of practice, passion, and the strength to believe in yourself, finding a unique style will come naturally to you.

Firstly, to help yourself find your unique style, you should practice as often as you can. Force yourself to get out there and shoot, shoot, shoot! You should always be thinking creatively and not afraid to try new angles. Sometimes it’s good to take a step back to see things from a different perspective. It’s also important to take the time to learn the manual settings of your camera. That gives you complete control over the shot you’re trying to create. Once you’ve mastered the settings of your camera, and trained your eye to see everything through your viewfinder, you’ll be able to compose some great shots that you should be proud of, and the viewer will enjoy as well.

Equally important, you should be passionate about the art that you’re creating. You’ll learn to love light and see what light does to even the most ordinary subject. An English painter named John Constable once said, “There is nothing ugly; I never saw an ugly thing in my life: for let the form of an object be what it may, — light, shade, and perspective will always make it beautiful.” So be passionate and take the time to see the beauty around you and within you. Bring that passion into your photographs and you’ll find what kind of photography you love doing most.

Additionally, you need to believe in yourself! If you lack a belief in yourself, it won’t matter what dreams you have. Nothing can get accomplished if you think that you can’t do something. Don’t ever put yourself down. You must be positive and remind yourself that you can do anything your heart desires. If you make a mistake, who cares! Keep trying until you’re satisfied. In the end, you should be proud of yourself for pushing your limits and seeing where your creativity can take you. Show the world what you’re made of and make people see what you see.

In summary, creating a unique style of your own shouldn’t be a challenge. It may take some patience and hard work but you’ll be extremely happy with the end results. So get out there and photograph anything and everything! Don’t be afraid to try new things and be confident in your abilities as an artist. Remember, too, that there is no other you, so that alone makes you unique!

By Guest Blogger, Daniele Lonning

Our Favorite Tips for Fabulous Fireworks Photos

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Stake Your Claim (Early)
Working photographers understand the importance of arriving early to scout the best location. This strategy can help you position yourself away from the crowd of spectator heads creeping into your frame – as well as other obstructions that might block your shot. Look for open areas clear of trees and other potential obstacles.

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Try a Tripod
A tripod is an important photography tool and provides numerous benefits. The added stability will be key in helping you capture a sharp fireworks burst. Although we try to keep our hands steady, it’s inevitable that we will introduce a bit of camera shake. A tripod will eliminate this issue and put you in position to capture clearer shots. A tripod can also provide an added bonus of ‘saving your place’ if you stage it (without your camera) in your chosen shooting location.

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Go Remote
A remote trigger release is a perfect complement to your tripod because they work hand-in-hand to give you stability and flexibility in shooting. A remote will allow you to focus your attention more directly on your subject so that your timing is spot on. Remote triggers are often used in timed exposure photography.

Shoot Slow (Shutter Speed)
Part of capturing the perfect fireworks shot is understanding a fireworks burst takes time to unfold and expand, so your shutter speed needs to be slower to accommodate that time lapse. You can select timing from one to several seconds on a DSLR. Ideally, you want the shutter to open at the beginning of the burst and then close at the peak of the burst. This takes a bit of practice and anticipating timing but you’ll find you improve quickly.

Choose This Fantastic Filter

 

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If you’re looking for a filter to combat hazy outdoor conditions while also protecting your precious camera lens, the ProMaster Digital HGX Filter is the ideal choice for a variety of shooting situations. This UV filter absorbs ultraviolet rays and combats variable available light and is perfect for both color and black and white photography. And the low profile anti-reflective frame helps prevent vignetting on super wide digital format lenses. The Promaster HGX UV filter is designed specifically for digital lenses, so it minimizes internal reflections created by CCD and CMOS sensors in your digital SLR. But wait–there’s more! This filter also includes the exclusive Repellamax® element resistant coating, which shields your lens from moisture, fingerprints, dust, dirt and other environmental hazards, ensuring your images are tack sharp. If you have to pick only one filter (and we think that’s an unfair request), choose this one, available in a variety of sizes for your particular lens

Picture This: Photographing Spring Flowers

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The month of May means sunny days and flowers in full bloom, but did you know that photographing flowers is often better when the sky is partly cloudy or overcast? Bright and direct sunlight can sometimes overpower the flowers’ colors, creating a washed out and overexposed effect.

When it comes to photographing flowers, your unique viewpoint plays an important role your final results. You stand before a field in full bloom, and while it’s beautiful in your eyes, the ability to translate its majesty through the lens requires a few techniques and a bit of planning.

For example, instead of standing above the flowers, consider getting low and shooting from that vantage point. Don’t shoot right away, but instead, spend a few moments taking in the scenery and contemplating which parts of nature speak loudest. Photographing from a lower point will allow you to better capture the details in the petals and the center, the small veins in the leaves and the slight change in hue in the bloom. Filling the frame whenever possible will add more grandeur to the image and experimenting with your perspective may lead you to uncover new ways of seeing nature – and sharing it with others.

Finally, consider how much of the background you would like to include in your images as this will affect which aperture you select. Do you want the flower to fill the frame? If so, choose a large aperture. If you prefer more depth of field and want to include the background, choose a smaller aperture. Experiment with your settings to see how this impacts your overall composition. Which do you prefer?

So, rush to the field to enjoy the scenery but take your time as you stand in the blooms and have fun with the options in front of you. This is where your creativity reveals itself!