Exploring with a Camera: Signs

It’s time for July’s Exploring with a Camera – Yay! This month we are going to explore Signs. Not signs as in symbols or messages from the universe, but signs as in those things printed on placards, streets, building walls, etc. that give us information. Have you ever noticed all of the signs around you? They are everywhere. I started paying close attention to signs a few weeks ago and have been amazed at the variety and of types and uses of signs. There is much here for us to mine photographically!

A building wall in Astoria, Oregon

Types and Uses of Signs

To prep for this topic, I started observing and categorizing the types and uses of the signs around me and that I’ve captured in the past.

Signs are used to inform…

Hot Dog Stand in rural Oregon

to educate…

A little bit of history about Astoria, Oregon

to direct…

Rainy day in Portland, Oregon

to warn…

Greenwich, England

to advertise…

Milan, Italy

to identify or specify a location…

Madrid, Spain

Do you start to see what I mean? I bet you can add even more to this list. Signs don’t have to have words either. Symbols often work just as well for their intended purpose.

Restaurant Sign in Madrid, Spain

Train Station Warning in Bacharach, Germany

Relative to Place

Signs are one of the “aspects of place” we talk about in my class, A Sense of Place. The language, imagery and surroundings of a sign all give you an idea of where the photo was taken. The signs can be the main subject or part of the background, but either way they are great indicator of place, providing the viewer clues to the location.

Lausanne, Switzerland

Chinatown in San Francisco, California

Signs can also highlight cultural differences. Instead of the bright green, reflective street signs we have in the US on every street corner to make things easy for navigation, the Italian street signs are often small marble placards on the side of a building. Impossible to use for navigation in a vehicle, but they look much more beautiful. A definite clue to cultural differences between Italy and the US.

Varenna, Italy

Modified Signs

A sign is created and placed with a specific purpose, but the age-old tradition of modifying signs to give them a different meaning is wonderful for photographers. The best modified signs are often more subtle than the typical spray-paint graffiti. These signs make you look twice!

All around Europe you will see these stickers on “Do Not Enter” signs. I especially loved this one, where the guy is “carrying” papers tucked under his arm along with the bar.

Bologna, Italy

On a family bike ride recently, I came across this modified sign telling visitors to GO AWAY. My husband and son continued to ride ahead, eventually noticing I was gone and wondering what happened to me. “Just a funny sign I had to photograph,” I explained to their worried faces when I caught up, “Sorry!” To my surprise, they hadn’t even seen the sign that stopped me.

Rural Oregon

Artistic License

We can create some wonderful images with signs, changing the sign’s intended meaning as we frame the photograph. I often like to capture one or two words of the sign with some other context to create a new story.

By framing this image with only the word “ART” and the open door and stairway visible behind, I intended the message, “The door is always open to art.” I think the sign actually said, “Art Studio.” Capturing the full sign would have eliminated this message.

The “Dream More” was added by some creative person to the exit sign of a parking lot. By framing it without the giant “Exit” to the right of the arrow, I focus in on the message of the added text.

One of the most fun ways to use signs is to capture humor or irony. The viewer has to look at the whole and then digest the contradictions within the frame to get the message. Of course, you as the photographer have to see it first, to create the image!

Yellowstone National Park, Montana

Chinatown in San Francisco, California

We can also create new messages during our post processing, combining images or words from various signs. These words both came from an old Levi Strauss ad on the side of a building, but by capturing them individually and combining them in my post-processing I create a new message.

Are you starting to see the photographic possibilities with signs? Chances are, you already have photographed many signs in different contexts, without even thinking about it.

We’d all love to see how you use signs! Go out on a photowalk or look through your archive and then come back and share with us your use of signs. I can’t wait to see what you’ve got!

Loving those Lights

Today we finish up Exploring with a Camera: Creative Lights. I hope you’ve enjoyed some new methods of exploring holiday lights. It seems the zoom technique has been quite popular and somewhat addictive. I completely understand! It’s hard to stop once you get started. Each image comes out so different.

I’ve been surprised that I haven’t seen anyone try the Layered Lights yet, this is one of my favorite creative light techniques. I leave you with one more layered lights image from last Christmas in Madrid, a reminder of how much I love the lights of the holiday season.

You can still link in today if you have Creative Light images, let’s see what you’ve been playing around with. Because of the holidays, the next Exploring with a Camera won’t be until mid-January. See you then!

It’s Open! + Favorites: Tiny Pieces of Bliss

Tiny Pieces of Bliss
Barcelona, Spain, 2010
Today is one of my all time favorite images. A favorite favorite, if you will. With this happy image I also have the happy announcement that registration is OPEN for the July-August Find Your Eye series of classes!  Woohoo! You can find the course details and register here. If you have any problems with registration please let me know ASAP, since I’m still working out the bugs with this new system. I already had a couple of issues after my initial announcement to newsletter subscribers, but I think they are fixed. Now I know why stores do “soft openings” before the official opening. :)
Wow, has this been a crazy week. I can’t believe I’ve been in the US a week already, time is already flying and I’m exhausted. You know when you put together a plan on paper, and it all sounds good, but executing the plan is so much harder than you envisioned when you wrote it all out? Yeah, that’s where I am right now.
For some reason, all of my energy was focused was on the “leaving Italy” part of the plan and I didn’t quite expect the “arriving in Oregon” part of the plan to be as much work as it has been. I think maybe I underestimated because it’s so much easier to get things done in the US as compared to Italy. Things are more efficient here, I speak the language and know how and who to call. Since we are coming back to the same place we’ve lived before, it all seems like it should be ready and waiting. But the boxes still need to be unpacked, trash service set up, addresses changed… you get the picture. The list is a mile long.
Even with all of the millions of details that still need to be done, we are now in our house and sleeping in our beds. We are cooking at home and don’t have to eat out anymore. Stevie the cat is doing well and seems to be adjusting without incident, much better than when we moved to Italy. All in all, things are good.
If you ask me how I feel about being back in the US though, I couldn’t even begin to answer you right now. I’ve been too busy to feel anything. In a couple of weeks or a month, I’ll probably have more to say on that topic. For now, it’s back to that mile-long list.

Letter from Gina

Why Can’t You Go Home Again?

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.” Thomas Wolfe

Living in an unfamiliar place with different smells, tastes, and rhythms can be a jarring experience. Dislocated is a good term for what I was experiencing in my new environment –except I was in my hometown, feeling like a stranger. My family had just returned from a nine month stay in Barcelona, Spain, where our daughters attended public school and my husband did a research project at the University. We fell in love with Barcelona with all its beauty, culture, and bakeries.

I was unprepared for the reverse culture shock that I felt when we returned to our home in Sacramento. This was more than a post-travel funk. Things back at home were both bigger and smaller, brighter and duller. It was a little like being Alice in Wonderland, never knowing what to expect. I was missing the siestas and leisurely lunches with the whole family. Now our family life became more fragmented and hectic, as we moved back into our jobs and schools.

Friends welcomed us back, of course, but only a few seemed interested in hearing many details of our adventures in Spain. Just as we had changed and grown in our time away, our friends had too. We had to find new common ground. Some friendships withered away, others grew stronger. After a few stressful months, I gradually found my new groove – and a new me that included Barcelona as one of my homes.

Kat, I wish you an easy transition back to the U.S – your self awareness and maturity should make for a smooth re-entry!

[Today’s letter is from Gina, author of the blog Here and Now. She now lives in Sacramento, California. You can see all “Letters to Kat” posts here.]

Meeting the Goal (A Swap Update)

Have you ever looked at something big, thought it was insurmountable, but decided to try it anyway? Some things are optical illusions, brought on by perspective, like this building from Barcelona. It almost seems to go on forever, but that’s really because of my perspective, right at the base. It’s a tall building, yes, but it’s not infinite.

That’s a bit how I felt when I set the goal of 200 people in the Liberate your Art postcard swap. I knew it would be a big stretch, and it seemed a bit insurmountable. I knew I couldn’t get there on my own, but guess what – the goal has been met! As of this writing, there are 228 people signed up for the swap. Wow! That’s 1140 pieces of art that will be winging their way around the world in July. Actually, it’s 1368 when you count my postcards too. I’m so excited! Thank you all so much for helping me get to this goal, by posting on your blogs, putting the button on the sidebar, posting on facebook, tweeting – all of that. I couldn’t have done this without help.

There is still a little bit of time to sign up, if you haven’t yet. I’ll close the sign up on 4 June, next Saturday, and then the focus turns to execution of the swap. Visit the swap page here for the details if you would like to sign up.

And… there are new links added to the participant link list this week! Take a few moments and visit a few of your fellow artists who have shared links. I hope you will connect with one or two others this week and say hello.

Links Added since last update:

Grandma’s Recipe Box
Heartwork Photography
Dixon Hill
Just me and my Art
Mia Makes…
Cosrard & Penpen
I miei due bambini
Special Moments in Time
Such stuff as dreams are made on
Darlene Cunnup Photography
Peach Coglo
One Woman, Reinvented
Creative Explorer
Bren’s Bright Corner
Jillsy Girl Studio
Today is a Gift
My Consuming Passions

The rest of the list – so many great places to visit!
How to Feather an Empty Nest
Learning as I Go
Paloma Chaffinch
Ashley Sisk’s Ramblings and Photos
Jenny Shih
Life @ RuffHaven
Here and Now
Living in a Still Life
Donna Did It
Left in Front of Right
The Red Tin
Altered Muse Art
Dreams and Whispers
Maddy’s Stitching Corner
Simply Life Photographs
Pointy Pix
Natasha May
The Vintage Artist
Digital Experiments by Carolyn
WJC’s Digital Designs
Creating my Life
i wanna be me when i grow up
Giddy-Up Let’s Ride
The Creative Identity
Elizabeth GLZ
Jofabi Photo
A New Day, A Different Way
A Rural Journal
Alchemy of Art
Picturing the Year
Hounds in Heaven
BleuOiseau Photography
Aquarel Rivers
The Wright Stuff
The Mrs.
Urban Muser
{Furi Kuri}Travels
A Little Blue Sky
carola bARTz
Same Day: Thirty Years Apart
Cottage 960
Nomadic Notebook
Well of Creations
CindyLew’s Studio
Hysong Designs
The Weekend Photo Warrior
Tina’s Tree
The Studio 56
Kristen Walker
Rosie Grey
This Life through the Lens
Not Everyone Has Film
Sloane Solanto: A Colorful Life
Ravenous Rae
My Midlife Creativities
Tracy Swartz, Whimsical Gourd Art
One Thousand Paintings
One Little Promise
Amber Leigh Jacobs
Marie Z. Johanson
The Queen of Creativity
Expressive World
Random Thoughts Do or “Di”
Lyrical Journey
Karen Koch, Life Needs Art
My Sweet Prairie
dye~ing to be yours
my heart art
Crafty Creativity
Jenna Kannas Inspirations
Going a Little Coastal
Starry Blue Sky
Quilting, Calle and other things
Matthew and Larissa
Studio Mailbox
Poetic Mapping
Simple Mansion
By Jen
Paper Bird
Musings of a Hennaphile
She Dreams of the Sea
The Little Things…
Tangerine Meg
amaze, surprise & delight
love PEAS
Kristen Laudick Photography

Exploring with a Camera: Waiting to Click

Exploring Patience in Photography 3

Welcome to Exploring with a Camera! This next couple of weeks we are going to be Waiting to Click. As always, I have a lot of ideas to share with you in this post and then there is a link up at the bottom for you to share your images on the topic. You can also share your photos in the Flickr pool if you are interested in being featured on the blog.

There is so much of our world that is changeable. When you tune in to it, you begin to notice the ebb and flow of life around us. “Waiting to Click” is about being aware of the changeable things in our environment, predicting what is going to happen and then waiting to capture the image we’ve anticipated. So often photographers talking about being ready, having the camera with us and available to shoot, in order to capture a fleeting moment as we see it unfold. Waiting to Click takes the readiness a bit further, adding a bit of both prediction and patience into the mix.

To get a great image by Waiting to Click requires your active participation. Here is what you have to do:

  1. Be aware of what is changeable in your environment. We live in a world of change, whether it’s the flow of traffic or the clouds blowing by, there are variables that affect the potential for us to make good images. By noticing the things that are moving and changing, and how they change relative to the things that are fixed, we can make use of them in our photography.
  2. See the image you want to capture. You need to see the potential shot. This may mean looking through or past the changeable things in the environment, or predicting their behavior to include them in the image you want to capture. 
  3. Know your equipment. In order to take advantage of a changing situation, you have to know your camera. What is the delay between shutter press and release? What is the timing if you use burst? I know we are talking about fractions of a second here for dSLRs, but those fractions of a second may matter. For point-and-shoots or phone cameras, the delay is longer and you really have to be able to coordinate the pressing of the shutter with the prediction of the shot.
  4. Wait for the shot to unfold, then capture it. This is the key. This could mean waiting for several seconds, or it could mean waiting minutes. Professional photographers might wait all day for the perfect light to capture the image they see. How long you are willing to wait is up to you.

Now let’s see a few examples of Waiting to Click, to further explain what I mean…

Moving Vehicles

Vehicles of all sorts are always moving around us, when we are out and about in the streets. You may recognize the lead-in image for this post as another in my emerging market/wheels series, and the capture of this shot is a great example of Waiting to Click. I saw this image across a very busy street in Siracusa, Sicily. I paused for a while and watched the traffic flow. There were a few moments in each traffic light cycle, where the cars passing by on the street cleared out just long enough to photograph a few frames. While traffic was going by, I looked at possible angles and compositions, and situated myself in the best spot for the image I envisioned. I waited for the next traffic light cycle, and the moment the cars cleared out, I got the shot.

In some cases, you want the moving vehicle in the shot, like this one of the Milan subway I captured with my iPhone camera. This was my first outing with the camera, and I was just getting used to the delay. I was fascinated by the crowd on the other side of the subway platform and thought it would be a great shot to have the crowd behind the train pulling into the station, so I practiced with a couple of shots of the crowd to get the framing and camera timing down. Then, when I heard the train coming, I was ready to click as soon as it entered the frame and captured the image I wanted.

The light this particular evening in the Venetian Lagoon was spectacular. I took several images of the sky but knew the shot would be more interesting with a boat in the foreground. I had my exposure and composition dialed in, it was just a matter of waiting for the right opportunity to come along. When this boat came by, I was ready and waiting to click.


We are often surrounded by our fellow human beings, and depending on the shot you want, that can be a good thing or a bad thing. You might think that Europe is an empty place, from my photographs. I really love to capture an empty street or place, to allow the viewer room to imagine themselves in the frame. To do this, I often have to wait for a lull. Just like cars, the flow of people will change, but it’s less predictable. Here is another in my market/wheels series, captured in Bologna. It looks like this was a deserted street, but this was a busy Saturday afternoon, the weather was nice, and people were out on the streets in force. I used the times when there were people coming by to set up the shot and play around with composition. When I found the image I wanted, I waited for the people to leave the frame, and clicked.

Here is another image where I waited for the frame to clear, with the exception of the people seated on the left. Evening at the Roman Baths in Bath, England is certainly quieter than the day, but there were still many people wandering around and listening to their audioguides. (I’ve learned to dislike audioguides – people stand immobile for minutes on end gazing at something while listening to the commentary, much longer than they do without the audioguide.) Meanwhile, I patiently waited for them to move on so I could get the right image. 

Often, your image will be enhanced with a person or two in just the right spot. The next two examples, from Cinque Terre and Bath, are images where the mood is further conveyed by the people in the frame. In both cases, I had to wait until the subjects walked into the right light to capture the image.

So far I’ve shown you empty or mostly empty places – what about crowds? I’ve learned quite a bit about photographing a crowd over the last couple of years. Capturing a crowd can convey the energy, the hustle and bustle of a place, but it has to be done right. In general, I’ve discovered that for a good crowd shot, you want to have full bodies – partial people walking into the frame or cutting off feet is distracting. For a generalized crowd, you also want the people to either be small enough their faces aren’t easily distinguishable or facing away from the camera. Nothing attracts the human eye quite as much as a face, so your crowd shot can become an unintentional image of a specific person if you’re not mindful. Here’s a comparison of two images within moments of each other in Madrid. The first shot is one I would consider a nice crowd-in-the-street scene, the second has more crowd distractions.

Crowds ebb and flow, which is a great thing. Unless you are in an insanely crowded place (like Venice at Carnevale), you can usually situate yourself in a good location and wait for the crowd to disperse itself in a way that works for your intended image. This example from Venice (not during Carnevale) was one where I waited for a good crowd position before pressing the shutter.

The Natural Elements

So far I’ve talked about human elements, but natural elements – such as light and wind – are some of the more changeable features in our world. As photographers, we live for light, so being aware of the light you are working with and how it may change is an important skill. Partly cloudy and windy days can be great days for waiting to click.

The following set of images from Stonehenge show how just a few moments difference on a partly cloudy day can make a huge difference in an image. Watching the light, and waiting to click at the right moment, can pay off big dividends in your images.

You may remember this group of three image from Cascais, Portugal.  This another time when I waited for the right light to click. The sun was going in and out of the clouds, and without the dappled light this image was not the same. I waited for quite a while for the sun to come out from behind the clouds to capture this scene.
For the next example, it was the wind that made a difference. With wind, you sometimes have to wait for a gust or wait between gusts, depending on what you want to capture. In this image of the main street of Murten, Switzerland, I had to wait for the breeze to die down so that the flags were hanging straight and clearly visible. A subtle detail, but one that means the difference between you being able to tell the location by looking at the image or not.
I’ve shown you a lot of examples where my patience paid off, but also realize that waiting to click doesn’t always work out. There are times when the elements don’t change as you predicted. There are times when you can’t wait as long as you like – the people you with are impatient or you have someplace to be at a certain time. But when you are aware of your environment, seeing the opportunities and waiting to click – sometimes magic happens. 
Wait for it…
Wait for it…
I can’t wait to see the images you captured by Waiting to Click, new or archive shots are welcome. Link your images in below or put them in the Flick pool. If you have the opportunity to comment on how you set up the shot and waited to click, that would be fun to read. I would love it if you want to add my button to your post, you can find the code here.