Time for Contrast

I did a little bit of time travel last weekend. I went back in time in my photos to find some German pretzels for an exhibition submission (the theme is Taste and Flavor: Salty) and I ran into this gem of an image:

A perfect fit for Exploring with a Camera: Chiaroscuro! I love it when that happens. I had visions of creating some self-portraits with dramatic light for this week’s Exploring with a Camera post, but with being sick and having visitors that did not happen. Luckily this image came along and presented itself to me.

The original image was already a good example of strong light/dark contrast, but I edited it to increase the contrast. I also moved the clarity slider in Lightroom to the left instead of the right, to give it a softer feel. I think the result is a bit mysterious, making me travel back in time. Don’t you want to know the story of this pocket watch? If you like the look, I’ll be sharing this Lightroom Preset in the newsletter tomorrow.

Thanks to all of you who have been linking in! I love that you are getting out of your comfort zone and trying a new type of lighting in your images. Stop by and visit those who have been linking in, below. The images are gorgeous! The link up remains open through 30 November.

Also, stop by and visit me on the An Attitude of Gratitude blog today, where I’m talking about what photography means to me.

Exploring with a Camera: Silhouettes

Welcome to February’s installment of Exploring with a Camera! In this exploration we’re going to be looking at Silhouettes — how to capture and effectively use them in your photographs.

Lately, if I have my camera in my hand, it’s because I’m seeking the silhouettes of the trees against the early morning or late evening sky. Perhaps it’s because we’ve had an unusually clear winter here in Oregon, or maybe it’s just what I’m noticing now, but the shapes of the trees against the sky have been fascinating me. Have you ever noticed how different each type of tree looks in silhouette?

Silhouettes are all about shape. You take all dimension, all form, out of an object when captured in silhouette. This can be challenging, since you have to learn to see the shapes, and how they merge together, in order to compose your photograph. You may not realize how much information your brain infers from the knowledge of a 3D form until you distill it down into the 2D shapes using silhouettes. Not only that, but exposure when capturing silhouettes is not always straightforward. This makes exploring silhouettes a great learning opportunity!

Elements of an Effective Silhouette

Chances are, you achieve silhouettes in your images all the time without even thinking about it. There are a few elements that you need to create an effective silhouette in an image:

  • A light source behind your foreground object(s) in silhouette. The light source can range from back light to almost being side light, but the more directly behind the object the light is, the more of a silhouette you will achieve. The light doesn’t have to be particularly strong or directional, as shown in this example of my husband and son peering into an aquarium window.

    Even in side light, you can at times achieve a strong silhouette but some of your object may be highlighted. (See Exploring with a Camera: Rimmed with Light for an exploration of side light.) In this example below, even though it is full daylight and the light is a bit to the side, my son is a silhouette against the sky.

  • You need strong contrast between your object in silhouette and background. The background needs background to be lighter than the object in silhouette. The more contrast, the more the silhouette shape will pop. In this example, the tree is strongly contrasted against the morning fog. Converting to black and white increases the contrast, making the detail of the tree branches clearly visible.
    Reflections of light off of surfaces, like water or pavement, can enhance the contrast. The silhouette of this boat in the Venetian lagoon is created using water as the backdrop.
  • You need a recognizable shape. Unless you are working to create an abstract image, you have to pay close attention to the shapes of the object in your foreground. Multiple elements will blend together to get one shape when seen in silhouette. Being able to recognize how the shapes blend with each other and interact with the background is an important part of achieving a silhouette. In this moment of connection captured, it was important to ensure the figures weren’t merged so much as to not be recognizable. The space between their feet and the shadow helps keep the shape identifiable.

    A complex shape can be made more recognizable by effectively using any openings. In the case of the image below, the openings make the shipwreck on the Oregon coast an effective and recognizable silhouette.

Exposing for a Silhouette

Exposing to achieve a silhouette can be tricky. In-camera meters seek to achieve an average “mid-tone grey” exposure across the frame. When you have strong contrast of dark and light, as in the case of a silhouette, the camera will often choose settings that overexpose – making the background too light and capturing detail in the silhouetted object you may not want.

Since you want the contrast of black silhouette (with no detail) on light background (with most of the detail), you will want to underexpose relative to the camera’s meter reading. Depending on your lighting situation, you may need to underexpose 1 to 2 stops. If you manually choose your settings, this is straightforward. If you use the automated settings on your camera, there are a couple of ways to underexpose:

  • Use Auto-Exposure (*AE) Lock. With this feature, you aim your camera so that the background fills the viewfinder, lock the exposure, then recompose your image with the silhouette where you want it. When you press the shutter the camera focuses and takes the picture, but the exposure was set when you locked it. The exposure resets each time you take the picture.
  • Use Exposure Compensation (+/-Av). With this feature, you choose how much you want to underexpose your image, such as -2/3 or -1 stop. When you press the shutter button, the camera focuses and meters the exposure, then compensates the settings to underexpose as you instructed. This setting remains each time you take the picture, until you change it.

Revisit your camera manual to get the details on how to use these settings for your camera.

Capturing a stained-glass window, such as this gorgeous one found in Heidelberg, Germany, is the kind of situation where you will struggle if you rely on the camera’s automated settings. The camera’s attempt to get an average mid-tone grey across the frame would result in the window being completely “blown out,” or overexposed, with no detail. By underexposing relative to the camera’s meter, exposing for the windows only, you allow the dark areas to be black and you capture the detail of the windows.

You can also adjust your image in post-processing to increase the silhouette effect. If I still have detail in the dark areas, I will darken the shadows in order to increase the overall contrast. I may also lighten the background, but that can in turn begin to reveal detail in the silhouette you don’t want. It’s a give and take, so play around in your post-processing to see what you can do to create silhouettes. In the image below, taken in Salzburg, Austria, I exposed to achieve a silhouette in the towers against the sky, but still had some visible detail in the foreground next to the river. In post-processing, I increased my contrast by darkening the shadows, which created a more uniform black silhouette throughout the image.

Using Silhouettes

Silhouettes can be used as the subject of an image, as in the case of many of the examples already shared, or to set off other elements by their contrast. For example, in this image from the Amalfi Coast of Italy, the silhouette grounds the image and provides contrast for the interesting light in the sky and on the water.

In this image from Venice, the silhouette of the Bell Tower serves as a backdrop, enhancing the sense of place fo the lamp. It’s a simple image, yet it screams “Venice” to me due to the inclusion of the silhouette in the background.

There is something appealing to me about the simplicity of distilling an object down to its shape. I find the emotional impact is greater by the simplification a silhouette provides. The image of the couple in embrace becomes “love” or my son with his hands thrown wide becomes “joy.” A silhouette turns an object into a graphic representation, cutting to the essence and imparting a different meaning than if the object were seen in full light.

I hope after reading this you have become as fascinated by silhouettes as I have been lately. Look through your archive, or go out exploring with your camera to find new silhouettes and come back here to share. This link up will remain open through 24 February. I can’t wait to see your silhouettes!

Weekend Away: Light in the Kitchen

I’m giving myself a little blog break on weekends these days. Rather than leaving the blog empty though, I’ll share one of the many images in my queue I haven’t gotten around to sharing yet. When you see the “Weekend Away” title, the image could be from anywhere!

Today’s image is from Marksburg Castle, in the Rhine River Valley in Germany. This is one of the few castles on the Rhine that was never destroyed, so it was the most realistic view of castle life around. Many of the other castles on the Rhine were rebuilt with a more idealized view of castle life, or are in crumbling ruins.

Can’t you see working in this kitchen? I loved the light. I’ve always thought it funny that when we think of living in the past, many people think of living as the lords and ladies. We have this ideal view of what life was like. The reality is that there were very few people who were in that position of wealth. If I were born sometime long ago, I always thought I would probably have been a serving wench, eeking out a life somewhere. I would much rather live in the present day, thank you very much!

(Hmmm… that didn’t end up being much of a blogging break this morning. A different topic than usual though!)

A Few New Tools

These old tools look well used, don’t they? They were part of a display in the Marksburg Castle in the Rhine River Valley in Germany. I loved the light and contrast, but just as much I loved that they represented the hard work of the people who once lived there. Imagine back when these tools were new. Imagine the lives that touched them, and how they supported and improved those lives.

Today I want to share with you a few new tools, through sites that can help link you up with online resources to further your creative journey and connections.

Finding Photo Link Ups

Yesterday Exploring with a Camera was featured on the blog Through a Photographer’s Eyes. Misty is featuring a different link up every Monday, with a resource list of the link ups you can access here or by clicking the button below. It’s a nice way to get an overview of the different link ups along with a list, so check out her features so far and remember to see who she’s featuring every Monday!

There are so many link up opportunities out there for photographers on the web, it can feel overwhelming at times. You might want to participate in them all, but I believe you have to find the ones that are right for you. I know that I resonate with some and not others, based on my style and interests, and I keep that in mind when I choose where to participate. Check them out and see what fits for you!

Finding Blogging Artists

How do you find new and interesting blogs of other artists? If you’re like me, it’s an organic process. You visit one site, follow a link to another site and over time find a few that you really love.

Geri Centonze has decided to help speed up that process of linking blogging artists by creating artseebloggers.com. On this site, you will find blogging artists grouped by category – Digital Art, Draw/Paint, Fiber Arts, Jewelry, Mixed Media, Paper Crafts and Photography. You can look around and visit the sites, and add yours too!

Artsee Bloggers

Geri says this is just the beginning of her vision and I can’t wait to see where she goes next. I love the idea of connecting artists to each other in new ways! I hope you will check out her site.

Finding Retreats and Online Courses

I know I mentioned the new site, Seek Your Course, a couple of weeks ago but I wanted to call it out in today’s “tools” post again. This new site is a fabulous resource to find courses that cover all aspects of art and creativity – everything from creative blogging to film making to personal growth and so much more. This is my kind of resource! I love to learn as much as I love to teach, and this opens a whole new way to find great learning opportunities.    

Before you had to click around, follow the organic route and, if you were lucky, stumble upon a link to a course that is perfect for you. No longer! How lucky we are to find these courses in one place, and who knows what new things you will find. I hope you will visit and check out the offerings. Tell Jess that Kat sent you! :)

A big thank you!

I love that in all of these cases, someone thought “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” and then did something about that thought. They saw a need and filled it by creating something we can all use. A big thank you to them!! It takes hard work to create tools like these that everyone can use.

I’ve created a new “resource” section on the left sidebar, and will add reference resources like these as they come my way. I’m all for anything that helps us connect with our art and creativity, and each other, at a higher level!

Dramatic Cropping

Today we are going back to the Rhine River Valley in Germany, to the town of Bacharach. This image has been in my file waiting to be shared for ages, and today it won’t leave my head. Isn’t it a beautiful scene? So “German,” with the timber-frame house. So “Rhine River Valley,” with the grape vines growing on the hillside behind. So summery, with the sun, the green vines, and the flowers. This house is the Altes Haus, one of the oldest timber-frame houses in existence, built in 1368.

Take a moment to look below at the original image. It’s just ho-hum. A little overexposed in the sky and the composition doesn’t do anything for me. It’s amazing what cropping can do. Reducing the extraneous information improved the image. I don’t normally crop my images this dramatically, going from vertical to horizontal, but look at the difference!

This morning I’ve been considering what “cropping” I need to do in my life, so it should be no surprise to me that this image comes to mind. Where am I filling my time with extraneous things? Am I spending my energy in places that aren’t moving me in my chosen direction? It is easy to get into a cycle of do-do-do. To join activities because they sound fun without ever considering everything else that you have going on. Ignoring the time and energy loss that being overwhelmed can create. Even if you don’t follow through on the activities, the mere guilt or remorse of having joined and not taken action can drain us.

Today I ask you to consider, is there something that you need to crop from your life? What would make your personal “composition” better, just by trimming a little extra away? Like a photo, where you have no guilt whatsoever about removing extraneous information, just decide and let it go. Focus on the part that makes the image, your life, a healthy and complete whole.

Start Close In

A new year, a new beginning. What castles do you want to reach this year? I have my own castles, dreams that float in my heart and my head. Dreams that require plans and effort. I could set resolutions, or choose a word of the year to move toward them, but this year I decided to choose a poem.

I wrote recently about my journey, and taking the step I can see in front of me. I plan to continue with that idea in 2011, and here is the poem to inspire me along the way. It is by David Whyte from his book River Flow.

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.
Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.
Start with your own
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
To find
another’s voice,
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
to another.
Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,

don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Happy New Year! Today ends 9 Muses Musing with RESOLUTION. I hope you’ve enjoyed the party! Come by, link in, and see what others are planning for their year.