Why I Flash: Shooting Cats with Flash

Musings of a Feline Foster Dad

I recently had an opportunity to participate in a Twitter chat about pet photography and people seemed to be of the consensus that flash pet photography is a bad thing. Of course there was one person in this discussion who holds the opposite opinion and that would be yours truly. Many photographers seem to be of the opinion that natural light is the way to go because it is natural.

Little Kitten using bounce flash Little Kitten using bounce flash

The problem with the whole natural light vs flash debate is camera flashes are daylight balanced so done correctly it is very difficult to determine if a light source is flash or daylight. I will admit that proper flash photography comes with a very steep learning curve and many of the people who advocate against it are those who tried it, failed at it and decided it was a bad idea.

Given that most professional…

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Tuxedo Kittens Take the Best Photos

Musings of a Feline Foster Dad

I have photographed all sorts of different kinds of cats and kittens. Short hair, long hair, domestic, pedigree and reviewing all the photos I have reached the conclusion that tuxedo kittens take some of the best photos. I was going through some of my favourite tuxedo kitten photos and I thought I would compile them into one blog post  where you could see many of the tuxedo kittens I have had the pleasure of knowing. I could do a part 2 to this if I really wanted but I will save it for another time.

I hope you enjoy the photos of the tuxedo kittens I have captured. I think these photos go so show what beautiful photos tuxedo kittens are capable of.

Take for instance this photo of little kitten Tabitha. Her face in this photo is priceless.

Kitten Tabitha Kitten Tabitha

Here is kitten Tabitha playing inside a cat tunnel…

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Models – To Bring an Escort or No?

Modelling 101 - Tips from a Zombie

For those who’ve never heard the term out of the context of ‘paying women to go on a date’, escorts are people, animals, teddy bears (etc) that models bring along to photo shoots. Models may feel the need to have an escort for security, creative directive ability, or simply to feel more at ease. Escorts have been quite the debate in this industry and I’m going to try and cover it from all sides and give my personal opinion as well. 

While this is a job, career for most, there are still a lot of ‘iffy’ situations that happen and continue to occur in the industry and that’s enough to make someone quit modeling. Instead, these models have escorts. Some clients and photographers encourage it as they know it will give the model a sense of ease during the shoot and therefore get better photos than from a model who…

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The iPad Mini is Here So What or Think Like a Geek For Once

Great the iPad mini is here. What just changed in the world of technology? Nothing really. I have been involved in professional type computer applications for quite a while now. My first Linux install was in 1994. I have known some really great computer minds. One thing that always stood out was all the great computer minds I knew were always making due with older technology.

One of the greatest things about older technology is it forces you to be creative. Suddenly how you use memory and how much disk space you have becomes important. It means you have to give much more thought to how things are laid out and what you do with them. These limitations will force you to become creative and to better understand what you are using.

We seem to have evolved to a point where people buy technology and hope to find uses for it later. Buying new technology should always be about buying it because you have a problem you can not solve with your current setup. Buying it because its new or flashy is the worst reason to be doing it.

One of the debates people seem to engage in digital photography is Mac vs Windows. I am going to tell you that it doesn’t really matter and here is why. Adobe Photoshop is written in a programming language called C++ (I am sure with lots of C as well). Much of the Photoshop code base is the same. Take for instance the Unsharp Mask tool. The code that drives it is the same regardless of operating system. Because both Macs and Windows are run on Intel hardware it gets compiled into the exact same code.

Operating Systems exist to let programs access hardware, organize our files on physical media and let our programs run at the same time (multi-tasking). The whole point of the operating system is so programs don’t have to worry about all the little details. If you do not understand what these details are or why they could be important you really are not in a position to call one operating system superior over another.

If you are always upgrading without having to learn any of this stuff then you never will learn it. You become much more removed from the technology and are less apt to understand it. Understanding technology is less about memorizing keyboard shortcuts and more about understanding technology and why it does the thing it does. Why does a new hard drive need a filesytem for instance?

Before you rush into buying the latest and greatest new product ask yourself what need do you need do you need to solve. Might it just be cheaper to add a new hard drive or more memory to the technology you already have? In many cases the answer is yes. I understand that technology needs to go forward and its great companies are trying to do better but you as a user need to do better and understand what you have.

You need to be aware that going forward can introduce all sorts of risks as well. Windows 8 is going to be released soon and I can tell you its going to have all sorts of security holes that the bad guys are going to exploit. Is it really worth it to have a new OS knowing that all sorts of malicious software nobody knows about yet is running undetected on your system?

Do more with what you already have. You owe it to yourself if you really want to be good at technology.

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Marta

One of the more interesting Photoshop tricks I learned as late is in Photoshop to create a new layer, fill it with whatever colour you desire and change the layer blending mode to soft light.

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How to succeed with your WordPress company

Great article from SteamFeed. Worth a read if you are into promoting yourself on WordPress.

Check it out here

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Think Like a Photographer: Visual Elements – Lines

Introduction to Visual Elements

Lines, lines and more lines. Look around you they are everywhere. Most of the time we see them without thinking about them unless we see an explicit line like a line on the road or a lineup for a movie. Back when we were young we were introduced to lines and learned what they looked like and how to express them in terms of their direction and length.

As we progressed in our education much of what we learned as young children we have forgotten to make way for more complex ideas. While the title of this series is Think Like a Photographer learning visual design can best be described as Think Like a Five Year Old. All the stuff we learned as young children we need to re-learn and we need to see the world not as adults but as young children.

Learning to see the world again in terms of lines takes a lot of work. This is one skill you will need to practise even when you are not shooting. The reason why lines are so important to us is because they are two dimensional elements that work well in the two dimensional world of photography. After you have learned to start to see lines we can move onto putting them together and they can form shapes. Now we have moved into things like rectangles, triangles and circles.

If you are starting to feel like a child again with this discussion then you are headed in the right direction. Thinking Like a photographer means learning to see the world again like a 5 year old child and capturing what you see to make it new and exciting again. One of the best parts about learning to master visual design is with a solid understanding of how it all works you can take boring subjects and make them exciting again.

Explicit vs. Implicit

One of the hardest concepts to grasp is the difference between explicit vs. Implicit lines. While we can agree on what the shape of a triangle looks like many of us would have trouble finding it in a model’s pose or a family portrait. If you know how to look for them they are there and they are referred to as implicit shapes.

Explicit shapes are easy to understand. We can all agree on what a single line looks like and what it’s direction is but when shown a photograph of a model many of us would be hard pressed to find lines or even shapes in the pose. As children we learn all about explicit lines and shapes but thinking in terms of them implicitly is what separates the 5 year old child from a photographer.

Observe some of the implicit and explicit lines in photograph. Explicit lines are marked in blue and implicit lines are marked in red. I have used the example of a landscape shot of the city and a shot with two models. Hopefully it will get you thinking in terms of explicit and implicit lines and shapes.

Lines

Lines come in three basic shapes. Horizontal, vertical and diagonal. Of course we can move beyond that and dray free form lines or curve them in weird in wonderful ways. For the most part we will concern ourselves with with straight lines. The two that we are most familiar with are horizontal and vertical lines.

Both lines when put together can create two dimensional objects which help us to create our images. The problem with both of these lines is that for the most part that is all they do is create two dimensional objects. If you remember from the prior discussion we take a three dimensional world turn it into a photograph and then when other people look at it they attempt to turn it back into a three dimensional world.

If all you have are horizontal and vertical lines then your image is flat. If you have ever heard an image referred to as flat it means an image that looks and feels two dimensional. The line that solves our problem is the diagonal lines. Diagonal lines are the photographer’s best friend because they allow us to see three dimensions even when there is not one to be had. The following (crudely drawn) diagram illustrates the differences.

Even though both shapes are two dimensional shapes the inclusion of diagonal lines in the second shape allows our brains to experience it as a three dimensional object even though it is not. Another important lesson can be learned from the following diagram. If we put 100 new photographers in a room and asked them to photograph the block, I would hazard a guess that at least 90% of the photographs look like the first one. Most of the photographs will end up being flat.

The best place to look at an object is usually not the best place to photograph it from. When we want to look at something we usually stand in front of it. We do not need to worry about it looking flat because we are seeing it in a three dimensional world. However if we stand to one side and photograph it in such a way that we start getting diagonal lines suddenly it will start to look three dimensional in our photograph.

Next time you are getting ready to photograph something remember this diagram and ask yourself if your camera position is best for a human viewer or a camera. If your camera position favours the human viewer you need to move your position.

As another example observe the photo of the Elvis busts at Honest Ed’s Store in Toronto, Ontario. The busts themselves were neatly lined up on a shelf in rows. By rotating the camera and tilting my camera phone I introduced diagonal lines into the photograph which makes it look a lot more interesting.

Convergent and Divergent Lines

Lines in addition to running parallel can also converge and diverge. If I was to use the expression “the whole wide world” you will probably imagine a whole lot of lines that diverge and spread out in all directions. On the other hand if I say “a door at the end of the hallway with restricted access” you will probably think of a bunch of lines converging on a spot where they converge and then abruptly end at a door with restricted access..

We can use converging lines to draw the eye to a certain spot in the photograph or we can use divergent lines to convey a sense of openness. We can use divergent lines to draw the viewer into the photograph or take them out the photograph. Generally we want to favour divergent lines that make viewers want to look at our photograph as away from it.

The converging lines in the staircase and the walkway all serve to draw your eye to the top of the stairs where they all come together at an imaginary point. The use of convergent lines in this photograph serves to bring you into the photograph and draw you to an imaginary point.

Lines Tell Stories

One of the best things about lines is that they can tell stories. Since photographers are visual story tellers, lines represent a way that we can use to help tell our visual stories. Some convergent lines can make for a warm inviting photograph that brings the viewer into the photograph and wants them to keep looking.

An abundance of lines could indicate a natural disaster. The absence of lines after a natural disaster could indicate a violent and devastating disaster. The absence of lines could indicate newly fallen snow while a lot of lines after a snowfall could point to a place where children have been playing. The smooth lines in a baby’s skin vs the hard lines in an elderly person’s skin. A lot of lines can denote age while a lack of them can indicate youth.

You need to pay attention to the lines in your surroundings and ask yourself if they are adding to your story or taking away from it.

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Think Like a Photographer: Be a Failure

How do we learn to compose?

We learn to compose by taking lots of pictures. It seems simple enough, the more you do the better you get but we need to realize it comes with a caveat. Simply taking lots of pictures is not good enough. We need to take pictures and constantly evaluate them. Taking lots of pictures will be of little use if you keep making the same mistake.

Why do we take lots of pictures?

Because you will fail and you will fail a lot. A lot of your shots will be terrible. There is no nice way to put this but you are going to do a horrible job of it. Being a failure at photography is actually a great thing. Once you learn to accept you are going to fail then you can begin to think as a photographer.

SO WHAT?!?!?! Consider a magazine cover shoot. We could shoot 100 photos and how many photos do we need for a magazine cover? 1. Think about it for a moment. We shoot 100 photos and only use 1 that would mean we have a 99% failure rate. Despite a 99% failure rate our shoot would be a success because we got our magazine cover. I do not think that most people would jump out of an airplane with a parachute that had a 99% failure rate yet we gladly accept only using 1% of the photos.

I think that on average the average photographer will only show about 1% of the total photos they have ever shot. That means we need to accept failure as a part of the process. Even the world’s best photographers take photos that go horribly wrong. The secret is they do not show them so we never know about them.

Knowing that we will fail means that when we do fail we need to know why we did fail. Sometimes we know what we did wrong and other times we do not. We learn photography to reduce our failure rate and also so that when we do fail we know what we did wrong. We need to learn from our failures. So many times we are told to go out and take pictures without a clear idea of why we are doing it.

Your composition can only improve if you are honest with yourself as a photographer. One of the hardest things to do as a photographer is take a photograph you are proud of and reject it because it fails on its technical merits. That also means being open to criticism. I see it all the time where a new photographer shows a photograph and invites criticism and when they get a comment they disagree with their retort is “I don’t follow the rules.”

If you read my previous introduction then you will remember that the rules of photography ultimately exist to enhance our ability to tell a visual story by helping our brains to interpret the photograph. If you are a photographer who is out to “break all the rules” without learning the rules and mastering them then you are a failure as a photographer and your photography will suffer a 100% failure rate.

Remember a 99% failure rate is acceptable however we can and should do better then 99%.

How do you work knowing 99% of your photos will fail?

You only show your best work. Many new photographers tend to take lots of shots and show them all and the problem is that your good shots get mixed in with your bad shots and then your work will suffer as a result. If you take 100 shots then just pick one and show that. The less you show the better off you are. The reason is that picking just that one photograph will force you to be super critical of your work and you will find mistakes and flaws you can use to learn from.

Why go to all this time and trouble?

Learning photographic composition will help you in so many ways such as firstly it will allow you to take better pictures. Photography is like a two sided coin. On one side we have photographic composition and the other we have photo editing. Knowing how to compose a photograph will help you with editing your photos. When I say edit your photos I mean look through all your photos and decide what to keep and what to throw out.

As well knowing photographic composition will allow you to evaluate other’s work. If you are capable of editing your own work then you can edit others as well. I would encourage you to look at the photography that surrounds us and when you see a photo take a look at it and decide what you like about it and what you do not like about it.

Finally knowing photographic composition will allow you to express yourself to other visual artists. As your photography develops hopefully you will be able to take on a collaborative project with another visual artist and you can use your knowledge of composition to communicate your ideas as well as understand what is being communicated with you.

Where can we learn photographic composition?

We can learn it from the Internet, books and other photographers works. It is all out there waiting to be learned. Learning it will take some time but once you start to learn it and you notice the improvements that will motivate you to want to shoot more and do more.



TIME OUT

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE GEAR?

You may of noticed that I have spent a lot of time talking photography without referencing any photographic gear or technical terms. Why am I not talking gear? For one simple reason. We don’t need it! When you talk about photographic composition with the aim of using to develop a photographic vision we need to understand that photographic gear is simply the tools we use to recognize our vision.

A vision that is defined by gear is not a vision or even photography! Stop worrying about the gear you do not own and worry about the gear you do own and how you are going to use it to learn photographic composition.



When we talk composition we need to understand that there are two parts:

Visual. This involves elements such as lines, shapes and colours.

Technical. This is things like exposure, lighting, white balance.

The remainder of this discussion will focus on understanding visual composition.

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A Great Way to Think About Exposure

I found this diagram and it’s a great way to think about exposure if you are trying to learn it.

(Source: Understanding Exposure – ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed Explained)

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