More on cropping

I know that this post is only a couple days after my last one but during the current 52Frames challenge “Fabric” the idea of a good crop applies. Here is the image that I submitted for this week’s challenge.

Scarves shot in studio, 60s @ f20

For this image I took two of my wife’s scarves. My first challenge was how to display the scarves in a way that would provide a good photo. After some digging around in the studio I decided that a studio light with a beauty dish would make a good hanger.

After I had them hung I had to decide the best way to light them. I decided to use the beauty dish light at the absolute lowest power output. Then to help light the front of the scarves I used another studio light with a 30 degree grid.

Because of the amount of light that was still being put out by the lights I had to go with a much higher f-stop. To get a tight shot on the fabric I used an 80-200mm lens at 100mm setting.

Ok, so by now you’re probably asking yourself “So what does all that have to do with cropping?”. Well during the post processing I decided that an 8″x10″ crop ratio gave me the area and detail that I wanted but the lines of the scarves were straight up and down. That is when I decided to rotate the image along with the crop.

With a bit of a vignette to help draw attention to the center of the image I’m very happy with the shot. Hope you found this article of use. Feel free to let us know what topics you would like to see in the future.

Cropping for effect

After last week’s challenge for 52Frames it got me thinking about how cropping can make or break a photo (in my humble opinion). I think most people, at least those not familiar with the art of photography, tend to think of image sizes in the most common sizes (4″x6″, 5″x7″, 8″x10″ and so on). I suspect that this is primarily driven by the availability at the local merchandise store of these common frame sizes.

Let’s start this discussion with a look at the original image that I submitted for the challenge.

Original image – uncrossed

The basic proportions of the image from the camera are 8″x12″. As you can see from this image the main subject, Pikes Peak, seems lost in-between the foreground prairie and the sky. Bearing in mind that the mountain is our primary subject let’s start looking at the more common crops.

Cropped to 6″x4″

In the image above we begin to bring more focus on our subject, however there still seems to be a disproportionate amount of foreground and sky to our subject.

Cropped to 7″x5″

In comparing the first crop to this one you can see that all we’ve done is add one inch to both the width and the height. This is obviously going the wrong direction for what we’re trying to achieve. Cropping to the next common size, 8″x10″, only makes the issue worse

Cropped to 10″x8″

For a sweeping landscape such as this I lean towards crops that are twice as wide as they are tall. For the final image I used a 20″x10″.

Cropped to 20″x10″

Here the subject has a very nice mix of foreground and sky compared to the subject. You’ll also notice that the mountains are not directly center in the image (think Rule of Thirds).

Final thoughts

As you can see the way that your crop your images can have a dramatic impact on the final image. One could say that maybe I should have used a longer lens. While that is true, the fact still remains that any cropping would have given the same effect.

When I first started in photography I was taught to crop the image in the view finder. Experience has taught me that this is not always the best practice. For as you see, if you crop in the view finder you’re likely to limit your options for cropping during post processing. Because of this and the fact that today’s cameras produce such high resolution images I shoot a bit wider. That said be careful not to lose focus on your main subject.

“America’s Mountain”

For this week’s challenge on the subject was nature. The added twist of this week’s challenge was that in order to be eligible for extra credit the photographer must use a tripod. With the unpredictable weather here in Colorado this challenge was going to be just that…a challenge.

Because of the extreme cold April has snow not Spring showers the flowers certainly aren’t blooming. So my next thought was to try my hand at astrophotography. Well, conditions certainly weren’t optimal for that either. We had a great deal of cloud cover and I really didn’t feel like freezing just to try this technique.

Later in the week during a trip down to Colorado Springs I couldn’t help but admire the beauty of the snow-capped Pikes Peak, often referred to as “America’s mountain”. Even though I was over 30 miles away it’s grandeur made it appear as if I was right next to it. I decided that because I was running out of time that I would get up early and try to get sunrise shot.

The alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. Saturday morning and it was all I could do to get out of bed. Thankfully I had prepared my equipment the night before. I had to travel about 20 minutes to the area that I planned to take the shot. With sunrise occurring at 6:00 a.m. I needed to be out of the house by no later than 5:30.

My initial thought was to stop where Russellville Rd meets Highway 83. The closer I got to the location I decided that going South on South Cherry Creek Rd would give me a better vantage point as it’s higher than the original spot. As it turns out my assumption was correct.

Overlooking the highway down below I had a perfect vantage point of Pikes Peak. It was shortly after the scheduled sunrise that the sun rose above the horizon and cast it’s rays across the fields and on the snowy peak of Pikes Peak. Here is the image that was submitted for the weekly challenge.

Giving up control

When it comes to photography, control is the nature of the game. From the initial creation of the photo to post processing and final print most photographers will tell you that they want to maintain every aspect of their work.

As I indicated in a post earlier this week I recently joined a challenge called 52Frames. This week’s challenge pushed participants to a new level of discomfort, letting someone else edit your photo submission. For this challenge I was a participant as well as an editor for other photographers.

For my photo I decided to photograph an abandoned farm house located near the town where I live. I ended up with three photos that I provided to be edited by a fellow 52Framer and high school classmate. The final images are shown here.

Shallow depth of field to focus on barbed wire fencing
Moody effect
Panoramic World

I was please with the final results, especially the third image. I think that it really took the dreary day and turned this photo into a very interesting image.


Well as for most everyone this pandemic has proven to be a challenge on many levels. We as a society were forced to limit our activities and large gatherings quickly became a thing of the past. This isolation not only directly impacted my ability to get out and do much photography, it severely impacted my desire to do any photography.

As the weather has been warming in Colorado it seemed to light the fire to begin doing more photography, but the big question “What to photograph?”. With restrictions still in place this has proven to be an even bigger issue.

The answer came from following one of my high school classmates on Facebook who had joined a weekly challenge called 52Frames. After looking at the website I’ll admit I was intrigued but wasn’t sure if it was something that I wanted to participate in.

After about a month of contemplation, I couldn’t stand the idea of my camera equipment just sitting storage so I decided to take the plunge and join the challenge starting in Week 15. The challenge was titled “Trapped” and the intent was for the photographer to capture the emotion of being isolated or trapped. How appropriate is that for the times we’re living in?

Creative ideas can be a challenge and this one certainly had me scratching my head as to what I’d shoot. So to start off this adventure the image of our dog Bandit popped in my head. He loves hanging out in my office while I work and looks out the window. I thought if I could capture that it would certainly fit the challenge. Here is the image I submitted for the weekly challenge.

While it’s not the easiest task to get him to go outside the look on his face makes it looks like he’s sad because he’s not in the yard.

So now it’s onto the next challenge, “Edited By Someone Else!“. The subject is pretty open so hopefully I’m come up with something interesting. Once I have the image I will provide it to another “Framer” (the term used for people participating in the challenges) to edit.

If you’re like me, at a loss on what to shoot, I highly encourage you to check out the site. After all everyone needs a nudge now and then.

Check back next week to see the challenge update.

I’ve been framed!!!

When it comes to photography there are so many techniques and tips to remember that it can be overwhelming at least initially. As with most things the more you practice these techniques the more they become second nature. Today I’d like to discuss using secondary subjects to “frame” your primary subject.

For this article I will be using some images that I took of an abandoned gold mine located near Victor, CO.

Uncropped image of mine

Looking at this image there are a few things that can easily be identified. First thing that pops out to me is the fact that it was shot straight on from a standing position. Even though the mine is clearly uphill from where I shot the photo, it’s clear that the camera is several feet above the ground.

Another thing that doesn’t really work for me on this image is the lack of depth-of-field (DOF). Without DOF the weeds in the foreground are distracting and take away some of the attention from the main subject. One saving grace is the fact that the road provides a bit of a leading line that helps draw attention to the mine.

So outside of cropping this photo and maybe some vignette, there’s not a lot that would make this photo one that I’d consider to be be interesting. So let’s take a look at shot of the same mine but “framed”.

Mine framed using door opening

There are various buildings located at the site. As I walked around I found one building that provided a unique view of the same mine. As you can see in the photo using the door opening I was able to “frame” the mine which provides a much more interesting look. While I was able to do some post-processing to help bring out some of the interior of the shack, I always wished that I had used a flash.

The next photo, while not the same mine, provides a perfect example of the benefit of a fill flash.

By using a fill flash for this photo there were a couple of benefits. Notice how the light helped to accentuate the wood of the door frame. Because it as situated close to the middle of the door frame it creates somewhat of a natural vignette. Another benefit of the the fill light is that it allows proper exposure in the shack as well as outside of the shack.

Admittedly, framing is not option for every shot, however it’s another tool to keep in your bag of tricks. It can take an ordinary shot and make it a nice shot.

Somethings are worth a second look

I don’t know about you but I’m notorious for just doing a shoot, processing the images and never revisiting them again. For those of you who follow DS Visual Art on Facebook, you know that I’ve been trying to break that cycle.

With the whole pandemic thing and the recent snow storms here in Colorado there hasn’t been a lot of opportunity to get out and do much new photography. This is very frustrating and had me looking for ways to refine my skills.

As I was spending time looking at some photos that I had taken years ago I came across some that in the end were worth a second look. Some required some post processing while others were more about looking at the subject from a different perspective. All that said, let’s take a closer look.

During the first snow storm I found an image that I took back in 2005.

Original (unedited) photo

This was a shot of a bridge that I took out in the greater Boston area. When I first took this photo I thought there was a lot of potential, however when I started looking at it on the computer I began to think that it wasn’t worth saving, so I just moved on.

When I revisited this photo the potential presented itself again. Admittedly, it was going to take some work but what the heck I have nothing better to do.

Obviously, the first thing to fix was the spot created by the dust on my sensor. Then it was time to work on removing those lovely power lines. From there I began working on post processing to include adjusting exposure, highlights and shadows.

Here is the end result.

Another photography technique that has always fascinated me is “tilt-shift”. Tilt-shift photography is a unique type of photography in which the camera is manipulated so that a life-sized subject looks like a miniature-scale model.

Generally this involves special equipment, particularly a tilt-shift lens. Fortunately for me Adobe Photoshop provides the ability to do this type of photo manipulation. After doing some research on how to achieve this using software it was time to look for a suitable image to work with.

For this process I needed a photo where I was shooting from a location above the subject. Knowing that there weren’t times when i’ve shot from a high vantage point the one time that came to mind was when I took some photos looking down a convention center catwalk during the event setup.

The unedited image:

This photo didn’t require much in the way of post processing, which meant that I could get to trying the tilt-shift process. Rather than trying to explain the process I feel it best to give credit to the article at that helped me.

The author of the article does a very good job of explaining how to create this look. Here is the image after working through the steps.

With the second snow storm my mind began searching again for something to do, so back to my photo collection I went. Not sure what I was looking for I just began browsing folder after folder of photos.

During one of my photography adventures I spent some time near Victor, CO. For those readers unfamiliar with the significance of Victor, this is a historic gold mining community located SW of Colorado Springs. During this trip I saw several abandoned train cars, gold mine equipment and buildings.

This was another photo that when i first took it 10 years ago I thought it would be a nice image, but when I got home I just wasn’t feeling it. When I revisited it I thought I would give it another chance.

There were several things about the original image that I really didn’t like, and honestly wasn’t sure how to correct. The first thing that I felt needed to be resolved was the sky. On the day that I took this photo it was a very grey, overcast day.

While a neutral density filter would have helped a bit with the exposure it would have had a negatively affected the exposure on the building itself. Another thing about the image that didn’t work for me was it seemed too busy and distracted from the main subject, the building

This brought to light one of my biggest blunders when it comes to photography. I tend to look at things with a wide view often overlooking finer details. While I say this is a blunder it’s not all bad. This image is a perfect example of why taking photos from a wider angle is helpful.

Sepia tone with a tighter crop

The more I studied the photograph my eye was drawn to the window and the rustic wood-grains of the weathered boards. Along with these factors the idea of a sepia tone for the image seemed more appropriate in order to give it more of an old-time look.

Final thoughts

While the pandemic and snow storms have certainly proven to be a challenge for my sanity it has proven to have some benefits. For me it reaffirms not to be too quick to delete an image just because you think it’s not worth keeping.

Admittedly, if an image is clearly not salvageable for whatever reason (out of focus, way over/underexposed, etc) then yes it’s probably safe to delete. For any that don’t fall into those categories you might want to consider holding onto them, because who knows you might find yourself in the middle of a pandemic or a snowstorm looking for something to occupy your time.

Thanks for reading and until next time, keep sharpening your skills.

Raging water to misty fog

You’ve seen those photographs, you know the ones where rough waters are somehow transformed into a smooth misty fog. As discussed in previous posts we have talked about how using a slower shutter speed can be used to blur fast moving subjects, but depending on the time of day this can be difficult…or can it?

During our recent trip to Kauai, HI, Sharon and I had the opportunity to do some of this type of photography. With numerous beaches and available waterfalls we set out to capture this type of images often during the daylight hours. In order to do this we used a “10 stop filter”, specifically the Ice 77mm ND1000 Solid Neutral Density 3.0 Filter (10-Stop) from B&H Photo

It is worth saying that this technique doesn’t necessarily suit every situation. That said, let’s take a look at some different shots.

First let’s take a look at Wailua Falls (location used during filming of the TV show Fantasy Island).

Both of the photographs were taken at approximately 12:50 p.m. in the afternoon. The first image was taken at ISO 31, 1/125 of a sec at f/8.0 As you can see in the image because of the slower shutter speed there is still some softness in the water but there are still some details. For the second shot the following settings were used in addition to the filter (ISO 31, 30 secs at f/10.0).

As you can see in the images, using this filter we’re able to reduce the shutter speed significantly thereby softening details of the water. Let’s take a look at another example.

The next location was near Poi’pu Beach on the island’s South Shore. We were on location to do some sunset photography, but arrived a bit early so it was a perfect chance to use the 10 stop filter.

Again these images were taken during the same period of time, around 7:20 p.m.. Obviously the waves weren’t exactly the same, however you get the idea.

Settings for first image – ISO 31, 1/60 of a sec at f/13

Settings for second image – ISO 31, 30 sec at f/10

Notice how the waves that were several feet in height are reduced to nothing more than a slight mist around the rocky shore. This relatively inexpensive filter opens up a whole new look for your photographs.

Now the details:

A 10 stop Neutral Density filter is almost completely black making in nearly impossible to see through to focus. The best thing to do when using this type of filter is to set your lens (or camera) to Manual focus mode.

With the camera on a tripod compose your image in the viewfinder and making sure that you’ve focused the image. Determine your shutter speed and aperture for proper exposure without the filter. Using a 10 stop filter calculator determine your new shutter speed to be used with the filter and set your camera to that setting.

Because you’re going to be shooting at very long shutter speed there are another thing to pay attention to in order to reduce unwanted blurring, activating the shutter. When shooting long exposures at a minimum you should use the self-timer to actuate the shutter.

A better option is to use a shutter release cable or wireless shutter release. To further reduce any potential movement, if your camera has it, you can use what’s called the Mirror Up or Mup mode in conjunction with your shutter release. The first press of the button locks the mirror up. It isn’t until you press the button again that the shutter activates, thereby limiting any vibrations from the shutter.

So that pretty much wraps it up. For a small cost you too can be out there taming those raging waters and creating some cool effects in your photos. Thanks for checking us out and hope you continue to follow us here.

What we strive to capture during a session

When doing photography there are a lot of factors to consider.  Lighting, environment, depth-of-field and the list goes on and on.  However the key factor is the subject being photographed.

For this post let’s concentrate on portrait photography.  Before even picking up a camera Sharon and I work with the customer to determine what type of photograph they are looking for.  After all, the session is about them and not so much about what we want as photographers.

This leads to discussions about things such as location, casual vs. formal, etc.  Having these conversations before the shoot help establish a rapport between us and the customer.

“Natural” look

One thing that I’ve always hated about portrait photographs is they generally seem so staged and unnatural.  So may times when being photographed people are told to “SMILE” or “Say Cheese”.  The only thing that this often leads to is look that is not natural for some people.  I personally have a difficult time smiling for pictures and when I try to force a smile it’s obvious (at least to me) that it was forced.

So what is our approach to combat the unnatural look?  This too goes back to establishing relationships early in the session.  Let’s face it there are people out there that are comfortable in front of a camera, but I would venture to say that the number is smaller than you think.  So for the rest of us a softer approach is required.

We do our best to put the subject at ease by having light, casual conversation with them.  It’s amazing how just learning a little bit about your subject and genuinely engaging in conversation about them can help reduce the tension of a photoshoot.

The end goal

All of the preparation leading up to this point to achieve the ultimate “end goal” an image that the captures the subject “naturally” and that the customer will cherish forever.  I can’t state it any clearer than that.

Sure there are many factors that make up a quality image, however those are all for not if you did a poor job of capturing the main subject.  That is why Sharon and I pay particular attention to making the subject comfortable.  From there we use our knowledge of photography to capture the best quality image.

Our passion

Photography is a passion for us not a hobby.  We love getting behind the camera to share our world as well as helping people document times in their lives.  We hope that you’ve enjoyed this article.  Feel free to share it with your friends and family, along with checking out our main site DS Visual Art.  There you can view some our portrait work or purchase prints from our many galleries.

Thanks for joining us on this journey and we hope to hear from you soon.



Painting with light

In last month’s post we looked at natural vs. artificial lighting for photography.  For this month I would like to take a closer look at controlling the appearance of a subject using artificial lighting in a technique called “Light Painting”.

Light painting defined

Light painting as defined by Wikipedia

Light painting, or light drawing, is a photographic technique in which exposures are made by moving a hand-held light source while taking a long exposure photograph, either to illuminate a subject or to shine a point of light directly at the camera, or by moving the camera itself during exposure.

One of my light painting projects

As you’re already aware I’m a big fan of using artificial lighting to created dramatic contrasts in photos.  What interests me about light painting is the idea of illuminating a subject in ways that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible with large light sources.

For this project I photographed a group of decorative vases lit only by a penlight flashlight from different angles.  Using the light like a brush I moved the flashlight to help “paint” the different vases using a long exposure.

Final Composition – Vase Light Painting Project

If you look closely at the light reflecting on the different vases you can begin to see the different angles that each was lit.  This one image is comprised of eight different images (or layers in Photoshop).  Let’s take a look at each one to see how it contributes to the final image.

Layer 1

Top lighting of second vase opening.

As you can see in this image everything was completely dark with the exception of the opening of the vase.  There was some light that bled on to the wall behind the vases so I needed to remove it using a layer mask (the white rectangular shape on this image.

Layer 2

Vases lit from right slightly behind

Again, you can see some areas that I masked out using a layer mask, but notice the edge lighting on the three vases.

Layer 3

Vases lit from the left side

Layer 4

Concentrated light on left vase

Layer 5

Concentrated light on third vase

Layer 6

Concentrated light on second vase

Layer 7

Additional lighting on third vase

Layer 8 – Final Layer

Concentrated light on fourth vase

Detail discussion

Let’s take a look at this composition in Photoshop

Vase Light Painting Composition in Photoshop

In order to make the final image all of the individual shots were brought into a single file as layers.  From here each layer was adjusted to remove any unwanted lighting or other subjects using layer masks.

As I mentioned before this technique allowed me to light each of the vases in very specific ways.  Now that we’ve gone through the individual layers, look at the vase on the far right.  Notice how there there are light reflections on the right and left sides as well as on the front.

If this vase was the only subject you could probably use three different light sources, however having other vases in this grouping it makes things more complicated.

Another factor to consider.  Look at the lighting on the wall behind the vases, notice how it helps provide separation between the vases and the background.  Because of the small profile of some vases it would be very difficult to hide a light source behind them.

Closing thoughts

It’s always fun to experiment with different photography techniques.  I especially enjoyed doing this project.  While there were some challenges to overcome, such as some uncontrollable light spill it was a great learning experience.

Furthermore, I feel that this particular project does a great job of demonstrating that “if you control the light you control the shot”.  I hope that you enjoyed this month’s topic.  If you have any suggestions of topics you’d like to hear more about please let us know.

Thank you.

Doug Shatto