TAKING BETTER PICTURES PT 2: B&W



I always seem to start out saying I'm not photo expert when I give someone advice. There are many more people that are better teacher and more learned. But I have learned a little over the years and might know a few simple things to pass on to someone starting out. For that, these tips may not be helpful to experienced photographers as they might already know what I'm saying. Feel free to add your two cents though if you would like.

I have never been a huge black and white photography person. I think that some photos look good like that, some don't. I don't think that black and white is better than color or vice versa, whatever works for the picture to look best is the better choice. I have 2 main things to say about Black & White photography...

1. Like I was saying above. Not all pictures look better in black and white. Making your photo into black and white does not mean it is more artful or professional looking. Some pictures will not make good black and white photos at all. When you are looking at converting a photo or taking a picture with plans for it to be black and white, you need to not look at it in terms of color. Something very colorful (as in the example below) may look very blah in black and white. Blue, Red, Green, Purple, all look almost the same in black and white...perhaps just slight variations of gray. Instead look at a photo in terms of it's contrasts between light and dark. Look at shadows and extreme color differences (obviously black vs. white, but also dark blue vs. yellow, the shaded portion of someone's face vs the lighted portion, etc).



That may be a simplified example, I think anyone can see the color in the photo to begin with and not want to convert it to black and white. But the example can be applied to more photos than you might think. Often photographs of people, with the color dropped out of their clothing and face and background the same result happens without one realizing it. Does the contrast of the color make the picture or the contrast of the light and shadows or both?

and 2. This plays off the last blog post I did about learning to use photoshop basics to adjust your pictures. Once you convert an image to black and white, you will most likely have to play with the contrasts of the photograph to get the look you truly want. Simply opening up the contrast option might help here and there, but it is often too much: blowing out the highlights and such. You will want to experiment with the curves and levels features as well. Sometimes using different features to convert the photo to black and white is better than simply clicking the desaturate feature or dragging the saturation tab all the way down until there is no color in the photo. There are basic options in photoshop for converting the whole image to grayscale from a color format and other special features you can learn through practice. You also might want to add sepia toning (just be careful of overdoing it, sepia doesn't make a photo any more artistic than b&w does, it's just a tool) or leave just a small percentage of color in a picture for an interesting effect.

In the photos below, I have taken a color photograph that would make a good black and white with very little work because of the contrasts in the picture to begin with. But then on top of that, made some basic adjustments with contrasts or curves or levels until I got the result I was looking for. (1st is color version, 2nd is basic desaturation, 3rd is after adjustment)





Hopefully this planted a few seeds in someone that is trying to achieve a certain look with their photographs. Don't be afraid to experiment, if you aren't completely satisfied with the way your picture has come out then keep working with it until you are. Don't get too hung up on one thing, like black and white or sepia or some other special effect. The most important thing is to make your picture look it's best.

TAKING BETTER PICTURES PT 1: LEARN PHOTOSHOP



Taking better pictures...

I'm no photo expert. I have met some and read books or other teachings by some. My advice is usually simple, basic things that might be good for someone starting out. So if you are a serious photographer already doing well, you probably don't need to keep reading unless you just want to add your two cents.

I'm sure most photographers encounter this though. People find out you are a photographer and if they don't want you to take pictures, they want advice on how to take them. And my advice goes out to those that are already working at it a bit. A friend was talking to me the other day and it reminded me of one time an aspiring photographer asked me for my opinion on his work. Now I know that photography is art and the quality of art is based on opinion, so I usually don't get too picky with certain things. And there are always rules in photography, like the rule of thirds, that get broken-- I just think you should know you are breaking them and break them on purpose for an intended "look". I thought this photographers work was fine from an artistic standpoint, we all have to find our own voice as far as that goes, but he seemed to have a great eye. My advice was more technical and his objection is one I have heard quite a few times from amateur/aspiring photographers. Although this is not the only advice I have to offer, it is what I am going to talk about now... The advice the photographer ignored was this:

LEARN TO USE PHOTOSHOP

I'm not talking about all the fancy-smansy stuff you might see that turns a photograph into more of a piece of art than a picture. I'm talking about normal processing. And if you are a digital photographer, you need to learn to use at least photoshop elements or some similar program to do that processing. Downloading them to your computer is not processing them. Unless you are perfect, your picture will need some basic contrast and exposure correction, may need some color correction. The horizon line may need to be straightened. And all digital pictures need to be sharpened after downloaded (thought sharpening depends on the size you are going to display it at).

This person told me they like to shoot more film-like, more natural. Well, I used to work in a photo lab processing film pictures and we hardly ever were lucky enough to process everything someone took on a neutral setting. There is a whole keypad there where we shot the light across the film to expose the paper with your negative, that keypad we used to do all those corrections I talked about above. Color correction sometimes, but nearly every picture needed some sort of exposure adjustment. If we had given someone their photos with the "natural" look of the picture they took, we would have had many unhappy customers, blaming us for their bad pictures. Well, now there is no one processing your pictures but you, so if you care about how they turn out, it's up to you to make the adjustments.

The picture above was taken by a friend and I wanted to spend a couple minutes tinkering with it with those same basic adjustments I spoke of above to see if I could bring out the color, the shadows/exposure and sharpness a bit better. It was taken with a snapshot camera on automatic setting (which can sometimes not work how you want when dealing with sunlight and shadows). There could probably be more done to work on the picture, but I think it shows the difference a little photoshop and a few minutes can make with a picture.

(some) LEGAL COMMANDMENTS OF PHOTOGRAPHY



Reposted from Photojojo, some decent information for photographers:

Before we get started here, we have to point out that even though we’re smart and awesome and devastatingly attractive, we’re not lawyers. None of this should be construed as legal advice. If you have a legal issue, get in touch with a lawyer. Much of this information was gleaned from attorney Bert P. Krages‘ website, so we’ll go ahead and recommend him.
The Ten Legal Commandments of Photography

I. Anyone in a public place can take pictures of anything they want. Public places include parks, sidewalks, malls, etc. Malls? Yeah. Even though it’s technically private property, being open to the public makes it public space.

II. If you are on public property, you can take pictures of private property. If a building, for example, is visible from the sidewalk, it’s fair game.

III. If you are on private property and are asked not to take pictures, you are obligated to honor that request. This includes posted signs.

IV. Sensitive government buildings (military bases, nuclear facilities) can prohibit photography if it is deemed a threat to national security.

V. People can be photographed if they are in public (without their consent) unless they have secluded themselves and can expect a reasonable degree of privacy. Kids swimming in a fountain? Okay. Somebody entering their PIN at the ATM? Not okay.

VI. The following can almost always be photographed from public places, despite popular opinion:

* accident & fire scenes, criminal activities
* bridges & other infrastructure, transportation facilities (i.e. airports)
* industrial facilities, Superfund sites
* public utilities, residential & commercial buildings
* children, celebrities, law enforcement officers
* UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, Chuck Norris

VII. Although “security” is often given as the reason somebody doesn’t want you to take photos, it’s rarely valid. Taking a photo of a publicly visible subject does not constitute terrorism, nor does it infringe on a company’s trade secrets.

VIII. If you are challenged, you do not have to explain why you are taking pictures, nor to you have to disclose your identity (except in some cases when questioned by a law enforcement officer.)

IX. Private parties have very limited rights to detain you against your will, and can be subject to legal action if they harass you.

X. If someone tries to confiscate your camera and/or film, you don’t have to give it to them. If they take it by force or threaten you, they can be liable for things like theft and coercion. Even law enforcement officers need a court order.
What To Do If You’re Confronted

* Be respectful and polite. Use good judgement and don’t escalate the situation.
* If the person becomes combative or difficult, think about calling the police.
* Threats, detention, and taking your camera are all grounds for legal or civil actions on your part. Be sure to get the person’s name, employer, and what legal grounds they claim for their actions.
* If you don’t want to involve the authorities, go above the person’s head to their supervisor or their company’s public relations department.
* Call your local TV and radio stations and see if they want to do a story about your civil liberties.
* Put the story on the web yourself if need be.