Internal Frames

The last two blog posts have talked about using nodal points to place a subject inside of a frame. Up to this point, we have considered the frame to be the outside edges of the photograph.  What I want to consider today is the idea of having another frame inside of the edges of the picture. This frame is often called an inside frame or a secondary frame.

Consider this image of the legs in the fireplace. (The final image was called Between Here And There). The external frame is easy to see, it is the outside edges of the image. However, this image has several internal frames which are used to tell the story of the image as well as drive the viewers attention to the subject.

Internal Frames Example 1
Between Here And There

The obvious internal frame is the firebox. The tonal contrast of this internal frame immediately draws the viewers attention to that area of the overall image where we ultimately see that there are legs in the firebox.

The second internal frame that is utilized in this image in the top 1/3 of the image. It is defined by the top and sides of the image as well as the mantle of the fireplace. the damaged wall above the mantle attracts the viewer to this frame where they soon discover a ghostly face in the wall above the mantle.

Compositionally, this concept opens up many new doors. For example, consider the image Secret Agent Man. Firs of all, this image has a mat around it. The mat now becomes the external frame and the outer edges of the image become an internal frame. The placement of an image in a mat can have a significant impact on the final feel of an image and is a real consideration when displaying prints.

Internal Frames 2
Secret Agent Man

Within  the image I created two internal frames. This was done by dividing the image in half with the wooden edge of the door. The “Secret Agent” in now in one internal frame and “Admiring Onlooking” is in a different internal frame. By Making the one frame larger, it gives it greater significance in the image causing the viewers eye to go to the Secret Agent first. The viewers eye will the jump to the smaller frame to see the onlooker. Selective depth of field helps to strengthen the Secret Agent have greater viewer attraction in the image as well.

I once saw a wedding image that took this concept and used it to make a truly amazing image. The viewer was looking down a hallway and at the end of the hallway where two open doors. Through one door the viewer could see the complete chaos of the brides getting ready room. Clothing and boxes everywhere. I forget what the bride was doing but I remember it be something that looked very confused. Through the other door you could see the the father of the bride sitting at the end of a made bed, the room pin neat, calmly adjusting his tie.

That image was a perfect example of using multiple frames in a single image to tell two different stories, however, the stories were very much connected.

Step Away From The Thirds

Last week we talked about the rule of thirds and how it can provide placement of the subject within the frame.  The Golden Rectangle is an even earlier compositional rule that came from the Ancient Greeks. It is  based on a geometrical progression called the Fibonacci series.

The Fibonacci series starts with 0 and 1.  The series progresses by adding the last two numbers to create the next number.  By extrapolating out, series becomes 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13, etc. What is interesting about the Fibonacci series is that if you take the ratio of any two sequential numbers in this series (ignoring the first ratio of 1/0 which can’t exist), they will always approach 1.618. This ratio is called Phi – not to be confused by the better know Pi which is something else all together.  The Greeks used the Fibonacci series in much of their architecture to build arches and rectangle. Eventually the Golden Rectangle evolved and from that came the Rule of Thirds.

Building a Golden Rectangle

To build a golden rectangle, you start with a square which is the first ratio in the Fibonacci series, 1/1.  Now put an identical square next to it and you have a 2/1 ratio (one side of the box is twice as long as the other). You now have a basic Golden rectangle.

To build the box bigger, take the long edge and add it to the short edge. This will give you a rectangle with a ratio of 2/3, which exactly follows the Fibonacci series. to make the new rectangle even bigger, once again take the long edge and add it to the short end. This will give you a ratio of 5/3, the next ratio in the Fibonacci series. Continuing to add more boxes in the same fashion, you will build a bigger rectangle, but it will always have the same relationship to Phi, regardless of how big you make it.
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The Greeks found references to this pattern in nature and so adopted it to their architecture.  Soon, artists recognized the beauty of this Golden Rectangle and began making works of art composed using this concept.  By making the frame of the art piece in a 1.618 ratio, artists could define focal points by placing the subject in one of the boxes within the frame. The most impact created in the smallest box – the least impact being in the largest box.  Many great works of art exhibit this theory in their compositional elements and I would recommend spending some time investigating.

From the Golden Rectangle came the Golden Mean.  The Golden Mean is a way of finding the impact spot in a Phi based rectangle without having to draw out the boxes.  To determine the Golden Mean, and hence the highest impact point, draw a straight line from one corner to its opposite corner. The draw another line at right angles from the line you just drew up to an adjacent corner.  Where the two lines meet is the same place as the smallest box will be.  This is your Golden Mean. Like the rule of thirds, you can create 4 impact points or “nodal points” in your image.

There is also a spiral that can be found in this series. It starts at a nodal point and expands out from there. This shape is also found in nature (think shells). this line can be used to flow the composition through the frame of your image.
So here is the challenge. Try using the Golden Mean instead of the Rule of Thirds to form your compositions. The difference may seem minor, but, because of the added flexibility of multiple squares to compose in , as well as a flow line, and an overall nodal point, your compositions could take on a whole new feeling.

Divide Into Three

Composition is crucial to a good photograph. I am a big proponent to not following the rules, however, I do belIeve that in order to break the rules successfully, you need to understand them and know how to make them work for you. The following is an article I wrote in 2010 for my old blog that discusses the rule of thirds. I have reproduced it here to save having to search my old blog for it. It will also serve as a starting point for my next few posts on this site.
Every image needs to have a point of interest –  a main focal point that is supported by the rest of the image.   For example, in a head and shoulders portrait, the main focal point will usually be the eyes.  In a full length portrait, the main focal point will usually be the face.  It is very common for a new photographer to want to place the main focal point right in the centre of the image.  In most cases, this will not be the most effective placement of the subject.

First seen in paintings around 1797, the rule of thirds has become the most common compositional rule for subject placement within a frame.  The rule of thirds divides the frame into 9 sections by drawing lines across the frame at one third intervals both horizontally and vertically. By placing the main focal point where two of the lines intersect will almost always create a more powerful composition than having the subject placed in the centre of the frame.  So, when you create a head and shoulders portrait, the eyes should land on one of the cross points.  When you have a larger subject, such as a full length portrait, the point of interest can be placed on one of the lines.  The key is to have your main point of interest on one of the thirds, and where the lines cross will be the highest impact points.

The intersections of the lines are called Nodal Points. When someone looks at an image, their eye flows from left to right, bottom to top to bottom, passing through the nodal points in the order that they are numbered in the diagram.  The eye will stop briefly at each nodal point but will be attracted to stay longer only if there is a reason to.  Placement of your subject on specific nodes can create some very interesting dynamics.

If your subject is placed on nodal point 1, the eye will be drawn to stop there.  However, your brain will want to continue its journey through the image.  This will cause tension and stress, translating into a sensation of tension and stress in your image.  Nodal point 4 will do the opposite.  Because the mind has finished its journey through the image, it is comfortable to rest here before exploring the image again or moving out of the frame.  Hence a sense of calm is given to the image.

Nodal point three will give a similar sense of calm but the subject will have more power, control, or importance in the image. Nodal point 2 will have a similar sense of tension as nodal point 1 but the subject will have a better sense of power, control, or importance in the image.

Here are some tips when using the rule of thirds for portrait photography.

  • The eyes are the focal of a head and shoulders portrait.  Have them on the nodal point 2 or 3
  • In a full length portrait, the head and eyes should be on the upper 3rd line
  • In a 3/4 length portrait, the head is the point of interest and should be in the 2nd or 3rd nodal point
  • Image flow of the main subject should have the viewers eyes moving back into the image

The rule of thirds is the most well known compositional rule.  Use it but keep in mind that it is not the only compositional element.

Seeing Light

 

I am a member of a networking group and part of what we do is give short presentations about our business. We do this so that other members of the group can have a better understanding of what it is that we do. The other day I sat down at my computer and started putting together my next presentation. As is typical, I began by opening my slide presentation program and putting in information. I started talking about how much a session cost, how long it would take, how many files you could get, and all that other left brain stuff that business owners find important. But something was nagging at me.

I wanted to show what I actually do, and that is work with light, light modifiers, and a camera to create portraits of people. So that is what I decided I was going to do. I was going to show the members of the group how I take my portraits and the results of the sessions. A little hard to do in a 4 minute presentation. So, I decided to create a few presentations that worked in sequence to show what I actually do.  The first presentation was about seeing the light.

As a professional photographer, it is my job to be able to walk into a situation and create portraits of a consistent level or quality. This means being able to quickly evaluate the situation and with the tools I have, create a portrait.

The first thing I look for is the light. Light is my most important tool. Yes, a camera capable of taking quality captures is important, but it does not do you much good if the lighting in the image does not work. The next thing I look at is how can I manipulate the light to create the lighting I want for my subject. Sometimes it exists in the room, sometimes I need to use reflectors and flashes.

For most of the demonstrations I took along a Canon 6D camera with a 24-105 lens and two reflectors and a portable flash. Since all the meetings were during the day, I was able to use window light as my primary light source. The reflectors were used to put light back into the shadow areas when necessary.

See the light 04
Poorly light

The first shot I took at each session was an example of bad lighting. Either a backlight situation where the subject came out silhouetted or a very harsh, top down sort of light that was not very attractive at all. I then use the same person in the same spot but moved them so that I could create lighting that was more flattering to the subject. Here are the before and afters of three of those sessions. Remember that each of these shots (both before and after), were done in less than three minutes.

 

See the light 02See the light 03See the light 01

IMG_0549
Captured with iPhone 4s

One session was a great challenge. I was not expecting to do a presentation, but when asked, I agreed. There were no real windows in the place and all the lighting was overhead spots. My solution was to use the light coming from the presentation projector as it was reflected off the screen. There were a number of technical challenges here because of the colour  and the low intensity of the light, but it gave the type of side lighting that I was looking for. The ambient light was bright enough so I used that as fill. My only capture device was a a 3 generations old iPhone, so thats what I used. The limitations of the capture device leave something to be desired, especially when working in low light situations like this, but I also believe that it is better to leave with a less than perfect image than no image at all. I left that session with a usable image.

Being a professional photographer is about being able to get consistent results. To do that, you need to know your camera inside and out. You also need to know lighting. Without a solid foundation in lighting skills, you cannot get consistent results.

Learn to see the light.

Outdoor flash

One of my favourite techniques is to use outdoor flash. And now that sunnier weather and longer days are here, I will be using it more and more. Back in the day, we used to call the technique syncro-sun flash. It is not an easy technique, but once mastered, it gives you great control over your image.

When photographing with natural light alone, you can control the light by using reflectors and gobos and indeed create some very excellent lighting on your subject. The problem is your background. How the background is exposed is at the mercy of how you expose your subject. In the studio, you can control the exposure of your background independently of your subject, however, when photographing using only natural light, you loose this control. But, when you add flash into the equation you can regain that control.

Here’s how it works. ambient light exposure is controlled by three things, ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed. Flash exposure is also controlled by three things – ISO, Aperture, and the volume of light coming from the flash, also known as Flash Output. Notice that flash exposure is not affected by shutter speed (maximum flash sync speed is a limitation of your camera which I will talk about in the next post). This means that if I have my flash is lighting my subject, then I can control the exposure of my back ground relative to my subject by changing the shutter speed. For example, if I want my background lighter, I would use a slower shutter speed, if I want it darker, I would use a faster shutter speed.

Here is trick number 1 for using this technique – your subject should be placed in spot that is one or two stops darker than the background. This will give you more variety when you are adjusting the background exposure.

Subject is darker than the sky
Subject is darker than the sky

In this first image, I was photographing up into the sky. I wanted the clouds to have this dramatic effect so I set my exposure to darken the sky down and bring out the clouds. However this caused my subject to become very dark in the image.

By exposing my subject with a flash, I was able to get the following image

Subject balanced to background using a flash.
Subject balanced to background using a flash.

In my next post I will discuss how to set up this type of image.

Why a Professional Headshot

Headshots are a staple at my studio – Grinke Creative Inc. Primarily the are business headshots but do headshots for performers as well. From a business perspective, a headshot, be it for a business person or a performer, is one of the most important photographs they can have. so it amazes me how many professionals will use poorly produced selfies, old images that no longer represent them properly, or no image at all. There are indeed many good reasons to have a proper headshot – here are five of them.

  1. If you want people to take you seriously, you need to look like you are serious about what you do! A quality professional headshot will tell people that you are serious about what you do.
  2. An updated professional headshot presents a more honest representation of who you are today.  A current professional headshot lets potential clients know that you are keeping up with the times and staying current while an old headshot tells people that you are not moving forward or growing.
  3. For many potential clients, the first connection that they make to you is through your professional headshot. It is important that your headshots connects them to you in a way that is consistent with what they will see when they finally meet you. For example. If you are in a suit and tie in your headshot but when potential clients actually meet you, you are dressed very casually, this will create an immediate disconnect that will confuse the potential clients and possibly cost you their business.
  4. A professional headshot builds trust with potential clients.
  5. A bad headshot can damage your credibility.

 

Loose The Headphones

One thing I love to do is go for hikes. It started out several years ago with the need to  walk the dogs. In other words, it was another chore that needed to get done. So I would grab my device and headphones, put on a favourite podcast or some music and take the dogs for their walk. It was something I had to do and having the podcast gave me a chance to catch up on topics that interested me.In other words, the podcast were a distract from the chore. It took a while but eventually I was not really listening to the podcasts, essentially they became background noise to my own thoughts. So one day I decided to leave them at home – the headphones, not my thoughts.

What a difference this made. All at once I started to observe. Instead of my mind being busy blocking out the constant sound coming from my headphones, my mind was made available to take in what was around me. Not just the visual, but the sounds as well. What a difference. The chore of walking the dogs became something I really looked forward to.

In an earlier post I talked about a concept called Neurochromes. Essentially it is a visualization process to help you understand what will make a great image. What I discover when I gave up the headphones was that I started seeing all kinds of potentially great images. I was taking Neurochromes. It put me into a very creative space. From time to time I took a camera with me to capture some images. I’m not sure how much the dogs liked this because it meant stopping every time I decided to take a shot,  but hey. Interestingly, when I did stop I began to hear things. No, not in my head, I began to hear things around me. The sound of the city below the hills where we were hiking, other hikers, the dogs running through the forest, wildlife. And these sounds lead to new photographs and new ideas. It’s quite amazing.

 

Vancouver SunriseThis morning I was out for a hike and happened to have a camera with me. Between two houses this view of the sunrise presented itself. If I was wearing headphones, I would have probably missed it – and that would have been unfortunate.

So really, all I am encouraging you to do is take the time to observe the space around you – with or with out a camera. What you discover will change the way you photograph.

 

Taming Harsh Window Light Photography

Happy New Year!

Todays post is on a window light photography technique. Window light can provide stunning light when used imaginatively. The rule of thumb when using a window as your light source is to use one that the sun is not directly shining in. I live in Canada so that would generally mean a north facing window. But, if the sun is on the east side of a building, then a west facing window will do, or if the sun is on the east side of the building, then a west facing window will work. If you have a cloudy day, then so much the better. Any of these scenarios will give us a nice gentle, soft, light source.

Sometimes though, you wind up with a window that bright sunlight is pouring through. So much for your nice soft light source. Attempting to use the window directly will create a very contrasty, harshly light image which may not be what you are looking for. So here is my go to solution for this situation. Do not use the window as the light source – directly.

Instead, find yourself a larger white reflector. I use the collapsible reflectors but a sheet or foam core board or anything white that is about 32″ across or more will work. Position your model to the one side of the window so the light does not strike them directly. Use your reflector to light your model by reflecting the window light back onto your model. This will give you that soft light and allow some directionality control of the light source.

Experiment with this technique. Once you have practiced with it, you will love the results you get.

 

 

Neuro-Chromes

Neuro-Chromes. If nothing else, it’s an interesting non-word. I was first introduced to the word by Bambi Cantrell, a portrait photographer out of San Fransisco. I don’t know if she coined the phrased, it was just the first time I heard it. I had been using the technique for years, I just never knew what to call it.

A neuro-chrome is simply using your brain to capture images rather than a camera. How many times have you been somewhere and saw something that would have made a great image? Well this is the start of a neuro-chrome. The next time you you have that experience, take the time to figure out why it would make a great image.

Take time to consider

  • the lighting – where is it coming from, is it a soft or hard light, why does it suit the subject, are there supplementary light sources
  • background – tonality in relation to the subject, distance from subject, texture, layers
  • the subject – what is it, why are you attracted to it, how is the subject light

I am a portrait photographer and I find myself doing this all the time. It could be anywhere but very often I am in a restaurant and I will spot a scene that would make an amazing image. I will take my “neoro-chrome” and later try to dissect the image and recreate it. This technique is one of the best ways I know to learn to see light. Once you learn to see light, you will have a much better understanding of how it works. Eventually, you will get to a point where you can predict light. And this is where you want to be.

Once you are able to predict light, you can walk into any situation and get the best shot possible. Try it, you’ll like it.

Be Intentional With Your Photography

One of the most common questions I get when people hear that I am a photography instructor is “What should I get?”. What size soft box should I get? What lens should I get?  Should I get a speedlight? However, there is no easy answer to these questions. In fact, deciding “what you should get” can be a very involved question.

For many photographers, and in particular new photographers, this can be a very difficult question to answer. If a person says that they want to photograph landscapes, then my answer will be quite different that if they say they want to photograph bugs. So I have to ask the question “what do you photograph?” Most of the time the response is “what ever”, they just want to have gear for everyday use, not anything specific. This is a problem, because, if you want to get better at anything, you have to be very specific about what you want to get better at. This means being very intentional about your photography.

I belong to a camera club, The North Shore Photographic Society, and I love attending the print nights. This is when the members bring actual prints of their work (not digital files) to be viewed and critiqued by other photographers. Members are at various levels and it is interesting to see who is photographing what. The photographers that are just starting out submit images that are all over the map. The same person could submit images ranging from landscapes to portraits. The accomplished photographers, many of them quite outstanding, tend to submit images of a similar type. There are some who submit only portraits, some who submit only birds, some who only submit landscapes, etc. While the goal of all the photographers is the same, to get better at photography, the more advanced photographers have discovered that to get better, they needed to become very intentional in their practice of photography. This is not to say that they are not capable of photographing other subjects, quite the opposite in fact, but to get better, they need to focus on their one area of photography.

So, when someone asks me “what should I get”, I tell that the most important thing to get is intensional about your photography. Once your are intentional about it, then the tools you need will become obvious.