What is "the Eye"?

My posts have been…worse than infrequent, for which I apologize. My work assignment has kept me from doing a lot of new photography, I get bored going through my old stuff, and I’ve been feeling ‘under-inspired’ as of late.

A friend gave me an idea when he complimented me on a photo, saying he wish he had my ‘eye’. This prompted a response that this can be learned and developed, which then led me to the idea of this blog posting.

Just what is that ‘eye’ that photographers speak of? Well, it can be many things. For this post, I’d like to boil it down to composition, and some simple concepts.

First of all, lets look at the Rule of Thirds, and this image. Wikipedia gives us this definition: The rule of thirds is a compositional rule of thumb in visual arts such as painting, photography and design.[1] The rule states that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.While this image isn’t one of my favorites, it’s essentially covered by this rule. The egret is in the middle of the frame vertically speaking, but it’s in the left third of the frame horizontally. It’s generally a good idea to leave space in the frame in the direction that your subject is looking, in this case, the bird, looking to the right.

Generally speaking also, in a nature/landscape type photo, you want to have a good foreground element. Something that conveys depth, or that will lead your eye to the main subject. Taking a photo of a mountain range is a great example of most complaints I hear, i.e. “I can’t do them justice”. Well, the mountain range is spectacular but… what is in front of it? Give it context by a strong or even ANY foreground element and you get a sense of depth and grandeur in the case of that mountain range. A decent example is this: http://www.bokehimages.com/Landscapes/New-Zealand-2009/10319617_3h4L8#713449288_TajDA

The beach rocks and the shape of the water leads the eye to the sharp peaks in the distance. I’ve sort of broken that rule of thirds here, because the peak is centered. It works compositionally due to the foreground elements. I believe there were some distracting elements to the right and left, which forced the centering. You have to know the rules before you can break them, as the man said.

Next post will be some other subjects that will hopefully help you make your images ‘pop’ a bit more.


To some photographers who have cut their teeth on Photoshop, this will be a huge “duh” moment, but bear with this luddite for a bit will you?

I’ve been reading about creating an “action” in Photoshop for some time. An action is a way to automate what amounts to several mind numbing and tedious time robbing techniques. In this case, I created a “gallery print”, which mainly consists of creating some white space around the image, and then adding text as appropriate. Also, there is a “stroke”, which in this instance is a 4 pixel wide black border, which in some photos, can help delineate any white space that may exist in an image from the white space you create in the gallery print. In this instance, there isn’t really any white space, but it does create a very subtle border, which adds a certain elegance to your image. I suspect I can also add my text attributes, more on that to come after I do some experimenting.

The good news? Making actions is bloody incredibly EASY. That’s why I’m so excited about this. Anything I can do to simplify my workflow is all good.

UPDATE: Yes, you CAN create the action with text inserted, and right where you want it, with fonts and styles as you specify. This is really cool!

Just a reminder…

…that it really is Spring. Hard to believe as we look out the window this morning. I’ve lived here in CO for over 30 years and I am still mystified by what passes for a “climate” here.

Anyway, something spring-like to look at. Enjoy the weekend, which is supposed to be nice and warm again.

More Sand Dunes

Just had to post this sunrise shot of the Sand Dunes. The light, shapes and colors of this area are very compelling.

I used a Reverse ND Grad filter for this, which is kinda odd given the circumstances, but I like how it came out. Did a minimum amount of post processing to bring out the colors of the dunes.

Grey skies and green… everthing else

This is another one of those tricky exposures. Grey skies, which is the norm in the Pac NW, and the amazing palette of green that is also the norm. No choice here but to pump up the saturation on the green. Since I used a GND filter in processing, I can’t help but wonder if a grad ND would have been a good idea on the camera. I shall have to try this again. On the other hand, I’d rather come back here on a sunny, partly cloudy day to add to the drama of this perspective. Crown Point is in the middle foreground, and Beacon Rock to the back along the river. This is of course, the Columbia River. Lots of grandeur in the rocks/water/mountains/trees up here. It’s all just huge.

While I love the silky water effect I got here, the movement of the air by the falling water really blurred the vegetation. Yea, it’s a small issue, but it bugs me. I do love the detail and contrast of the columnar basalt behind the falls. The light and contrast here is exactly what I love in an image. I may post this on my web page, just not sure yet.

Pacific Northwest water and greenery

The Columbia River Gorge is full of waterfalls and
this time of year is very green (and wet), with varying shades of green as well. I was looking forward to trying out my variable neutral density filter and getting some classic silky water shots. I think this is the best of the day, which is Horsetail Falls, just to the east of Multnomah Falls, which everyone and their brother has photographed.

A variable neutral density filter is a necessity to get this degree of silkiness in running water. It acts much like a second aperture, effectively closing off even more light, allowing long shutter speeds in broad daylight, rendering waterfalls and rapids into a soft silky appearance. Of course, a tripod is a necessity, but since I didn’t have the room for one, I brought my monopod. In the case of this image, I used a bean bag type of support, on top of a stone wall surrounding this waterfall. It let me adjust the camera position and held it as securely as a tripod, thus not blurring the long exposure. Another problem I ran into was the sheer amount of air displacement from the force of the water on some of the falls, which caused the vegetation to blur due to its movement. I got a few nice shots despite this.

Postings may be a bit sporadic this week, as I am out of town. However, I’ll be doing some shooting so will get some stuff up as I can. Look for a more prolific week next week.

Sometimes bad light is good light

We had a great idea, doing a sunrise and sunset session at
Sand Dunes National Monument. The sunrise session went well. The sunset was looking very promising…until we got there. We had a large cloud roll in, and like a big diffuser, the light went pretty flat. So much for our dramatic shadows and glorious sunset colors. No matter, we aren’t easily discouraged and when we have our cameras in our hands we just can’t help ourselves.

I got out a newer lens that I hadn’t had much time to play with. To say that it’s a large prime is an understatement, but it has such great subject isolation and bokeh, and as you can see on the dunes, really great perspective compression. Even with the flat light, the shapes and curves of the dunes are compelling. We all found our spots to shoot and went for it. This is one of the images I got. With the wind blowing so hard, you can see the sand blowing across the surface of the sand, which softens some of the curves and gives a nice effect. We did have some dramatic clouds, just not the sunset light we had hoped for. Nevertheless, they are a nice contrast to the color of the sand. This was taken with a 200mm f/2 lens on my Nikon D3s, which I am falling deeply in love with. Love this lens too. More to come.

Getting it right in the camera…

Since Brian and I were busy shooting yesterday, I didn’t get a post in for that day. Here is my first photo that I’ve processed from that morning. A good ratio of keepers for the day as well. In the last post, I talked about getting it right in the camera. While I never claim to be perfect, this is a pretty good example of doing that. I used a Reverse Graduated Neutral Density filter here. That let me expose the darker foreground up a bit. The reverse grad let me keep some of the more subtle colors in the clouds and sky, and in some other images, you’ll see darker blues in the sky as well. Money well spent. Processing time was minimal, no more than for most of my images, and I am much happier with the result. Judge for yourself.

This is not the ideal application for a reverse grad, but I wanted to darken the sky, and still leave the foreground lighter, as well as bring out some of the color of the dunes.

Get it right in the camera

Confession time…

This may look like a great shot, because it is after all, New Zealand, and one of the most scenic spots in New Zealand, Milford Road. I mucked it up by being impatient. This is a classic example of why you need to take…your…time… and get it right in the camera. You’re also looking at the end result of several steps in Photoshop to attempt to salvage what was basically blown highlights. I did ok with it. I don’t consider this a saleable image and here is why. Blown highlights means no data, just as much as excessive black means no data. The eye pretty much recoils from blown highlights. You can guess where those are if you look at this image even briefly. You shoulda seen them before I worked on it. Ow. My retinas are still burning.

This is a difficult exposure, due to the snow with the sun blazing on it, and the valley pretty much still in morning shadow. Difficult, but not impossible. How could I have fixed it? Show of hands? Moose, if you’re reading, you don’t get to answer, but thanks. Put your hand down. 🙂

This is a perfect place to use a graduated neutral density filter. Why didn’t I? Hell if I know, but I was being impatient and relying on my technology and perhaps thinking “I can fix it in Photoshop”. Well, I only was able to sorta fix it. If you are on a once in a lifetime vacation, fer Cod’s sake bring these filters with you. I did, and I didn’t use them here. I was using a polarizer, but sometimes, even that isn’t enough. This particular filter is more of a warming polarizer, which tends to warm up colors and doesn’t polarize as much as a regular polarizer does. A great filter yes, but probably not as appropriate for this situation. Live and learn. In photography, these “learning opportunities” can be painful. I may never pass this way again, and even if I do, will I have this brilliant blue sky again? Two friends of mine were there a few months later, and it was very very cloudy. This area gets 30 meters of rain per year. For those not inclined to the metric system, a meter is just over a yard. That’s a lot of rain. Blue skies are not that common. Opportunity…well, not blown but also not fully taken advantage of either.

Had I used a GND filter, I would have been able to preserve the data in the areas that I blew out, leaving the darker foreground, well…lighter, and would have had a bit more latitude in processing this image. Most likely, it wouldn’t have required nearly as much processing, leaving more time to go out and shoot more. The plug ins I use for photoshop have a Graduated Neutral Density filter, which is one of the steps I used here. But blown highlights are blown highlights. Just as you can’t sharpen an out of focus image, you can’t completely salvage an area of no data. Got it? That’s how the camera interprets it. No data. Not just really really bright white like our eyes and brain.

Our modern digital cameras, as good as they are, do not have the dynamic range of our eyes. This is why so many people I know get frustrated with landscape and other kinds of photography, because, and I quote one friend “I just can’t do it justice”. I am here to tell you that you can, but don’t believe me, look at the pro’s. They do it all the time. Because of this limitation of technology, we need to trick our cameras into exposing the way we want them to, with filters, etc.

HDR (High Dynamic Range) is another way of blending and processing images that we take when bracketing for different exposures. HDR, when done right, yields stunning images full of dynamic range. My pet peeve about that technique is when people over map, and make it look like a bad acid trip. Perhaps more on that subject later. Please folks, if you do HDR, don’t do that. That is not what it was meant to do. Artistic effects are fine…but make it mean something, don’t just cover up a bad image with an effect to make it look “cool”.

Many of you may say this is not a bad image. I would agree, its not. It’s hard to call New Zealand ugly; even in a bad photo, you can tell it’s paradise. In a mediocre image, the beauty shines through. This is just not a great image from a technical standpoint. It matters to me, if to no one else.

If you ever get a chance to go there, do it. You won’t regret it.