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For people who like to shoot images of cityscapes, the most important factor is timing. Your best results will often happen 20 to 30 minutes before sunrise or after sunset. During that time period, there's a brief window when faint daylight balances with the electrical grid. At sunset, try shooting just as the sun goes down, and then make a new exposure every couple of minutes thereafter. Check your camera's LCD to get an overall feel for your composition, and be sure to check the histogram for proper exposure.
Making A Distinction
One of the most effective ways to draw attention to a photograph is through the use of contrast. There are two types: tonal and color. Tonal contrast is defined as the difference between dark and light shades in a photo, while color contrast is the dynamic between similar or opposite colors as they appear on a color wheel. Understanding contrast allows you to orchestrate the types of photos you want to make in any lighting situation. If you're shooting for a serene look, compose your image using similar colors, like blues and violets. For an attention grabber, use opposite colors like red and green. This will create instant interest under the gloomiest lighting conditions.
Behind the Scenes
I was in Monument Valley recently, waiting for the sun to reappear from a bank of low-hanging clouds. From my vantage point, I could see rays of light striking distant monuments to the north, but I was so intent on what I thought would certainly happen at my location that I almost missed the spectacle behind me. As I turned to grab a second camera, I was treated to a crescent moon beginning its descent behind the Three Sisters. As great as things might be in front of your camera, remember to periodically scan the entire horizon, including the one behind you. You might be pleasantly surprised.
It's a Breeze
Have you ever tried to shoot summer wildflowers in breezy conditions? It's not easy, but there are two methods that work. If you don't need much depth of field (a sharp focus throughout the frame), open your lens aperture as wide as you can. If that doesn't do the trick, raise your ISO (sensor sensitivity). Most DSLRs will render good image quality up to 800 ISO. Either technique allows you to increase the camera's shutter speed in order to arrest motion in your photos.
Play It Cool
Movies are cool in three dimensions, and multidimensional photographs are equally interesting. To add depth to your images, think about using reflections. Quiet pools of water, patterns on the shiny hood of a car or even the reflections in a storefront window can double the impact of what might already be an interesting composition — no 3D glasses required.
People not accustomed to making photos in the Sonoran Desert are often disappointed with their panoramic photographs. Unless you shoot very close to sunrise or sunset, you'll find that the contrast range between sun and shadow is far too great for a film or digital camera to record in a single image. If your goal is to show a detailed landscape, simply crop the brightest portion of your frame — the sky. By doing this, you'll better emphasize the dominant elements of your photo.
Keep it Simple
One of the best ways to present a clear message in a photograph is to keep the composition simple. The fewer elements you work with, the easier it is to design a pleasing image and orchestrate the viewer's eye movement. One way to accomplish this is to move closer to your subject, either physically or by using your zoom lens. Getting closer to your subject allows you to fill the frame, while paring down the composition to its essential elements. Using this technique will also remove unwanted visual distractions and defocus the background, immediately drawing attention to your subject.
7 tips for getting great shots of blue jays, badgers and more.
1. Get out in the field with an experienced photographer.
2. Photograph wildlife when it's most active.
3. The best wildlife photos are taken when the sun is at your back and reflecting off of an animal.
4. For sharp images, use a tripod, especially when using telephoto lenses.
5. Take photos of wildlife at its eye level.
6. When taking action shots, use a fast shutter speed.
7. Practice, practice, practice.
Time to Shine
The tool kit for light-painting is minimal. All you need is a camera, a tripod and a movable light source, such as an iPhone or a small flashlight. Before you get started, make sure your surroundings are sufficiently dark and decide what you want to photograph. Next, attach your camera to a tripod and set the ISO to 100 or 200 (depending on the camera). Working with a small LED flashlight and the camera set on aperture priority, or "A" mode, try shooting at f-8. In manual, or "M" mode, a 15-second exposure at f-11 and the same flashlight placed just a few feet from the subject should provide good results. If you don't have a digital SLR, you can use a point-and-shoot camera set on the "night scene" mode. Keep in mind that your results will vary depending on the camera, subject and light source.
Get Into Shapes
Professional photographers know that scene composition is always important, especially when working with shapes and patterns that are defined primarily with light and dark tones. But some photographic subjects beg to be shot that way — ghost towns, for example. The history and grit of these places is brought to life by using shapes and textures rather than being dependent on saturated colors for impact. Think about making digital photos in color and then converting them to black and white with computer software. Like traditional darkroom work with film, digital software allows much more control over the final images.
So Many Places...
... so little time. Arizona is blessed with an amazing array of photogenic destinations. How should you decide on a good place for your next photo adventure? Instead of throwing darts at a map, consider this: It's January. The lower deserts sit quietly in their monochromatic slumber; the colors of fall have long since been scattered; and spring flowers are a distant possibility. Try using the low angle of the sun at this time of year to bring out nature's natural textures. The red rocks of Sedona are perfect candidates. Warm earth tones against winter's azure skies — plus the potential for snow — have an ethereal quality. If that's not enough, the ancient ruins of Palatki and Honanki ruins are beautifully illuminated by winter sunlight.
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PortfolioSee a sampling of photographs from the portfolio featured in this month's issue of Arizona Highways... [more]
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