Themes

An answer to the question, “What is there to shoot?”

Shooting to a theme is one way to keep your mind quietly alert to photographic opportunities. In the context of photography, a theme is simply a coherent set of subject matter. A theme could centre around a set of objects, (Doors, Abstracts, Hands) or it could be a concept (Contrasts, Sorrow, Joy, Indifference). Photographing to a theme doesn’t mean heading out to shoot examples of your theme to the exclusion of all else (although you could); for one thing, good examples of a theme don’t always present themselves every time you are out shooting. Instead, these are ideas that stay in the back of your mind, and that you shoot as opportunities arise. Having them in the back of your mind helps you to be mindful while you are out, always looking for images that fit your chosen theme(s) A few simple themes I work on are “Doors”, “Complementary Colours” and “Colour Harmonies”. Sometimes you get lucky, and more than one theme is present in the same image.

I’m always intrigued by the doors of private homes in Europe. Doors and front porches often seem to be vehicles for personal expression, to difference one’s home from your neighbour. Here are two examples from Provence.

Aside from being eye-catching, these two doorways also represent examples of complementary colours (on the left), and colour harmony (on the right). Complementary colours occupy on opposite sides of the colour wheel, examples include red-green and yellow-blue. When they occur next to each other they reinforce each other, increasing the impact of both. Harmonious colours exist together on the same side of the colour wheel, examples include blue-green, and yellow-orange. Harmonious colours placed next to each other tend to reduce the impact of each other. The images below show the effect of this. Which of the two circles within each square is the most pure and saturated red? The answer is, “Both!” Placed next to its complement blue, the red circle appears more saturated. Placed next to orange, a harmonious colour from the same side of the colour wheel, the impact of the red circle is diluted, and appears less saturated (in fact it almost appears to take on an orange cast).

In the image on the left, the magenta flowers (which have a large dose of red) and the yellow shutter sit on the opposite side of the colour wheel compared to the blue doorway. Their presence next to each other makes each appear stronger than they would on their own. Complementary colours also impart energy and excitement to an image. In the image on the right, all of the principal colours exist on the same side of the colour wheel. This is an example of colour harmony. Rather than reinforcing each other and imparting energy, the harmonious colours in this image impart a sense of calm and tranquility. In other images, colour harmonies derived from the red-orange-yellow side of the colour wheel may impart a sense of warmth and comfort.

So, here’s a short list of some possible themes you might consider:

Abandoned Buildings, Abstracts, Bad Weather, Balloons, Bark, Barns, Bicycle Parts, Black and White, Bridges, Broken Glass, Butterflies, Car Details, Cats, Celebrations, Church Windows, City Skylines, City Street Scenes, Close-up, Clouds, Contrasts, Eyes, Femininity, Fences, Festivals, Fire Engines, Flower Petals, Flowers, Forms in Nature, Gardens, Gates, Glass, Hands, Harvest, Hats, Isolated Objects, Joy, Kids, Lazy, Masculinity, Opposites, Opulent, Patterns, Peeling Paint, People At Work, Peppers, Polished, Porches, Railroad Cars, Railroad Tracks, Raindrops, Rainbows, Red, Reflection, Rust, Rustic, Sand dunes, Sand Patterns, Sea Shells, Seascapes, Seasons, Self, Shadows, Signs, Silhouettes, Skulls, Sky, Smiles, Snow, Soft Curves, Sorrow, Speed, Spring, Stacks, Stairs, Statues, Steam Railroads, Still life, Strange Signs, Sunrise, Sunset, Sweets, Swings, Tattoos, Textures, Toads, Tombstones, Tools, Transport, Tree Knots, Trees, Umbrellas, Uniforms, Urban, Utensils, Vacation, Valves, Vegetables, Vines, Water, Waterfalls, Weather, Weathered Wood, Wet, Wheels, White, Wildlife, Windows, Winter, Woods, Yellow, Zig Zags

Now pick one or two and get shooting!

(Join me for a photo-workshop in Provence or Tuscany next year)

Fun with Texture Overlays

Texture overlays are a great way to add additional depth and dimension to your images. It’s not for everyone, and it doesn’t work with every image. The technique though, has been around long before Photoshop: in the past you might have sandwiched two transparencies (or two negatives) together and printed them as a single image.

What's a texture overlay?
It’s simply an image of some surface with an interesting texture, pattern or colour. In digital terms you add it as an additional layer in your editing program. You can buy packages of texture images from many sources on the internet, or create your own: weathered wood, peeling paint, fabrics such as canvas or burlap, worn leather, carpet, the pattern of burned on grease a well-used roasting pan… the possibilities are endless. A texture overlay cannot be counted on to turn a weak image into a gallery piece, but it can sometimes rescue an image that isn’t quit there, making it into something more interesting.

Don't be a Slave to White Balance

Auto White Balance: it’s one of the first things I ask my workshop students to turn off. When outdoors, choose Daylight or Cloudy white balance instead. Indoors, tungsten white balance will generally provide more pleasing results. Allowing your camera to decide something as important as the colour balance of your images can lead to washed out sunsets, and other less than optimal results as it tries to bring colour conformity to every image you make.

For the most part this is good advice, but there is a world of creative possibility available by occasionally breaking the rules. Colour is one of the prime “mood setters” in image making. Using creative tweaks to the overall colour balance of your images can reinforce the message in your image by influencing the psychological reaction a viewer has to the content of your image.

Let’s look at two examples.

The Brush and the Grad

Taming Lightroom’s Local Adjustment Tools

Lightroom has several local adjustment tools you can use to work on specific areas in your images, including the Adjustment Brush and the Graduated filter. Both have been criticized for been somewhat blunt instruments: lacking the precision of carefully masked adjustment layers in Photoshop. While it’s true that Photoshop offers the possibility of creating very precise local adjustments, it’s unfair to unduly criticize Lightroom’s local adjustment tools: they are more capable than some would have you believe.

The Digital Polarizer

A polarizer is a basic filter which every photographer who works outdoors should have and know how to use. In many ways it’s the only filter, the effects of which can’t be fully reproduced in post using tools like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. But, it does have its limitations.

Photographing the Aurora Borealis

The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis is an awesome sight to behold. If you live in the northern reaches of the globe, or even if you are in areas as far south as the northern tier of US states or anywhere in Canada or northern Europe, chances are good that the Aurora will visible to you at some time this winter.

The Trouble with Wide-Angles

As a group, wide-angle lenses are seemingly the hardest for beginning photographers to master. Why is that? Well, for two reasons actually, both tied to their wide field of view.

Slow Down and Keep Shooting

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while you could miss it.
Ferris Bueller

Life does seem to move faster and faster with each passing year. The pace just never seems to slow down; deadlines at work, soccer practice and dance lessons for the kids, lawns to cut, and a hundred other tasks that all demand our attention, right now!

Overcoming Inertia

How often have you walked or driven by something that caught your eye, and immediately began an inner debate: should I stop and shoot that? Is worth the effort? And having NOT stopped, how often have you later kicked yourself for your decision?