Tag Archives: Texture

Review your own photographs

Low flying aircraft

• Low flying aircraft •
Click image to view large
• Low flying aircraft • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page
Every picture has its merits. However is there enough in the picture to interest and invigorate the attention of your viewers? Sometimes, like this picture, if you don’t have a point worth making then you should not really bother with it.

A picture is a wonderful communication.

But like speech if there’s no point there is no impact. To help you see if you have made a great picture here are some guiding points.

We are going to consider…
• What you are communicating:
• Presentation:
• Camera technique:
• Technical Quality:
• Visual Awareness, Visualisation, Seeing and aesthetics:

Looking critically at your own picture

When you make a picture your previsualisation of what you want to achieve is critical to the outcome. If you don’t know what you are trying to make how can you make it convincing? So try to have a mental image of what your picture it going to look like when you make it. If you can see the image before you make it you should have a good point in mind – a reason for making it. All too often snappers see something and just ‘snap’. That being the case, few of the images will have real meaning or impact.

When looking at your own picture you must see if there is really something there. Are you really saying anything? Are you really communicating with the viewer of your picture? Or, is what you have just made only a simple picture? To have real impact is to create in the viewers mind an image. An image that means something to them. So look at your picture and honestly ask yourself what is the viewer going to get from it? What will it mean to them? If you find that you have really said something in the picture then the first criteria for success has been passed.

To this end you should consider how successfully each of these things has contributed to the success of the image…

  • Personal input: have you understood and connected with the subject
  • Appropriate communication the message, mood, ideas, and information you want to pass to your viewer
  • Complementary use of the photographic media (mounting, projection, printing, texture of print etc.)
  • Appropriate imagination and creativity / suitable timing for the shot
What about the other things?

• Presentation: It is important to have a good presentation for your picture. Have you edited out distractions and sensor/lens spots, removed the errant sweet rapper littering the foreground etc. In other words, have you done the little tidying up tasks that make the image stand up as clean representation of your original vision for it? If it is a print, is it well mounted in a non-distracting way. Is the printing immaculate or are there streaks and spots; over-run and smear.

• Camera technique: Is the sharpness the way you want it – deliberate softness is fine as long as that is making an artistic point in a way you intended. Is the depth of field right for the composition? Have you emphasised the point or simply missed the point. Is the digital noise too high, or the contrast too low. What you are looking for here is to see if your prowess with the camera has come through. Did your technique work or were there any errors or mistakes that detract from the delivery of your point? Some of the other things to consider are…

  • Viewpoint to the subject – exciting, interesting, different, right?
  • Choice of lighting – does it complement or complete the subject or is it at odds with your point?
  • Accurate focusing – accurate choice of focus for the subject.
  • Appropriate quality and choice of exposure.
  • Suitable use of depth of field (aperture).
  • Appropriate shutter speed for the subject (and shot timing).
  • Highlights and shadows (ensuring detail is retained)
  • Appropriate quality and choice of exposure – does the balance of light and dark complement or detract from the subject?
  • Is the quality of the light effective or bland; does is make a statement or is it of little consequence?

• Technical Quality:
In this category you should consider exposure, colour and tonal control…

  • Absence of processing faults (dust, spots, hairs, processing artefacts, image damage by sharpening etc.)
  • Appropriate adjustments of colour temperature; hue, saturation, colour balance etc.
  • Appropriate tonal use and control of the range of tones.
  • Good image finishing: removal of distractions, removal of abrupt or discordant features.
  • Appropriate use of levels, curves, colour management, filters, overlays etc (post processing)

In this category you are looking to make sure that the image is digitally developed properly. Is the exposure even or has it been obviously enhanced and changed. Is the light effective to make the point or has the exposure not been fine tuned. It is easy to take a picture, but all these thing go into making an image. Think about what you are trying to achieve and does this picture achieve it with its colour and technical delivery/

• Visual Awareness, Visualisation, Seeing and aesthetics:
Do you think that your shot, the one you have in front of you sees anything different? Are you reporting what you saw or expressing a point, message, communication, feeling… does this picture have IMPACT?

  • Is the composition, design and cropping of the image an effective aesthetic construction?
  • Appropriate simplification (minimising complexity and clutter)
  • Distractions / intrusions should not divert the viewers eye
  • Good use of light, mood, texture and colour
  • Good use of masking/manipulation where appropriate
What you are doing…

Each time you want others to look at your picture you want to impress them, to lift them, to… well, get out your message or point for the picture. The type of questions I have asked above are aimed at getting you looking at your images with a critical eye. If you are honest, you will find that none of your pictures will be satisfactory in all of the above. But if you find you are gradually improving your standard of delivery you will see that the above get closer to ideal with every new picture. Critically reviewing each picture before you publish print or show it to other people helps make sure you are producing something worth showing.

You won’t be right every time. But you will see as you develop, your comments will begin matching those of other people. You will than have a benchmark that tells you if your work is measuring up to peoples view of it. Or, more importantly to see if your picture is measuring up to your original vision of how you wanted the shot.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

Sidelight – How to capture great texture in your photographs

Rippled Sand • Sidelight creates a lovely texture

• Rippled Sand •
Beautiful soft sidelight from bottom left creates lovely shadows after each ripple. Had the shot been taken with flash from above, the ripples would have been near invisible.
Rippled sand by Seldom Scene Photography, on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

The capture of texture depends on the angle of light.

It is that simple. The lower you get your light to the side of your subject the more you will create shadows that stand out. Photographers have long recognised the benefit of long shadows for their definition in landscapes. Beside the great colours of sunset, the long shadows from sidelight provide character and definition to the landscape.

The same idea can be applied to the much smaller scale. Still life, studio set-ups and even drying paint can all be enhanced by sidelight. When working with smaller subjects, “get in tight and sidelight” is great advice.

Vintage Store Photo Challenge

This is the best video I have seen on working with smaller objects and side lighting. Gavin Hoey explains with an off-camera flash how to bring out texture and detail in still life photos. This is a very simple lesson. After seeing it you will want to explore side lighting further.

After the video there are some more resources on the subject…

 

Approaching sidelight with your images

In the video Gavin Hoey used a diffused speedlight, off-camera flash. In the post “Off-camera flash” you can find out all about what they are and the functions they provide.

If you want to improve your off-camera flash working with some sort of diffuser is a great idea. I have worked with a range of off-camera flash diffusers over the years and often been disappointed. I am really enthusiastic about the Rogue Flashbender range of diffusers. I use the Large Rogue Flashbender and the diffuser to go with it for work and my own projects. It is an exceptionally flexible piece of kit and occupies only a tiny space in your kitbag since it rolls up very tightly. The whole Rogue Flashbender range are great products and worth checking out.

One of the great tools I keep within reach when doing table top photography is the little LED light unit below. Designed for camping it has become a great light for my table top product work. It is small, adaptable and very cheap to run as it uses very little battery power.

I have two of these and place them on the table lying down or on end. The light itself is quite white so it will not give you colour casts. If the light is too harsh I just cover the LED panel with tracing paper or ordinary (white) toilet tissue. The tissue-light is gorgeous, soft and easy to use. These are excellent products and inexpensive to buy. They are probably the simplest way to set up a table top sidelight.

Working with people, stronger light gives you more control over freezing your subject. For portrait work a flash helps. To freeze a portrait for a sharp picture use a brighter light and a short exposure. A side-lit portrait is 100% better than a pop-up flash shot where the light is straight on. For this, the off-camera flash is the way to go. You have the flexibility to create a sidelight that creates shadows that define the face. Make the light as soft as possible so the shadows wrap around. Avoid hard or harsh shadow lines on faces. It is not flattering.

At the other end of the scale the low intensity light of the LED panels allows for long exposures when using static subjects. Use a longer shutter time if you want your subject to be lit more brightly. Of course to do that you will need a way of steadying your camera for long exposures. A tripod is probably best in this situation.

The way to go…

In the wilds, or doing table-top studies the best light comes in from a shallow angle as sidelight. It is the shadows that define objects and bring out strong textures. Look for side lighting where ever you can, and create it yourself if the natural light can’t do it for you.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

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The nature of shadows – ideas and inspiration

Shadows are most important in photography.

Without shadows the everyday shapes we see would be ill-defined. It’s shadows that help to give shape to the objects we view. They can also be the very essence of the picture. In this post I am going to look at different aspects of shadows as the subject of the picture. They can be extraordinary elements, message carriers, central attractions or complementary features. They are major influences in our art, sight and our everyday lives. I hope you will be inspired by shadows and appreciative of them as a strong compositional element in your photography.

What is a shadow?

Shadows help us to see. They are not an absence of light (darkness). It is the reduced light in a shadow that creates the contrasts that the eye picks out. In fact the camera does too. Where shadows are well defined, and contrast to the other light around them, we see a lot better than when there are few shadows and very bright light. Brightness makes it difficult to see things because the contrasts are absent and we can’t make out edges or three dimensions either. The variations in light intensities across an object tell us about its shape. If everything was in uniform brightness shapes would disappear.

Aesthetics and shadows

Shadow, and its counterpart light, are the medium of our vision. Decoding the light/shadow relationship is as stimulating as the pleasure of touching a sensuous surface; the electric excitement of a tantalising taste; being immersed in a powerful smell, or mellowing in the caress of a musical experience. Little wonder that as one of our five senses our understanding of light and shadow is also a deep part of our understanding of beauty and ugliness.

Seeing shadow

Of course our eyes sometimes misinterpret shadows and we make mistakes about them as with anything else. So it’s fun to consider the implications of false statements in shadow. In this first picture the shadow as the carrier of a message, but also the shadow as illusion. Shadow views of this sort bring out dark emotions and “shadowy” thoughts, but are also great fun artistically…

366 • 65 • Shadow monster by Pragmagraphr, on Flickr

366 • 65 • Shadow monster by Pragmagraphr, on Flickr
366 • 65 • Shadow monster by Pragmagraphr, on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

In his notes on this picture the author says… “I have a lot of school work hanging over me like a shadow.” The visual pun is interesting and conveys a great message.

We love it when something appears as one thing and turns out as another. One of the endearing attributes of shadow is the other side of the visual story. In this next picture the lovely shape and bright eyes of this animal convey it’s essential “catness”. But the shadow is something different. The author says… “Her shadow makes me think about a French bulldog – with a tail” … shadows easily take on different meanings.

Flibberty and Her Shadow by peter_hasselbom, on Flickr

Flibberty and Her Shadow by peter_hasselbom, on Flickr
Flibberty and Her Shadow by peter_hasselbom, on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

Of course shadows can be so much more than just a passive message. In this next picture the message is clear and the visual pun means so much to an English-speaking person. A clever use of shadow as the subject.

Shadow of 'a doubt' by Jon Downs, on Flickr

Shadow of ‘a doubt’ by Jon Downs, on Flickr
Shadow of ‘a doubt’ by Jon Downs, on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

While the subject of a picture may not be the shadow there is still an important complimentary part to play by the shadow. The cobalt blue of the shadow in the next picture creates a wonderful tonality. The shape of the object is defined by the shadow, but it is the blueness that makes the statement. The author acknowledges that fact by his title…

If you can write a visual story with your photograph you pull the viewer directly into the shot. In this next picture the shadow and its disembodied juxtaposition on the ladder brilliantly conveys a set of meanings that we, the viewer, impose. The interest is the simplicity of the picture and yet the complexity of the possible meanings… fireman, escapee, workman, who is he? The interpretations are endless…

Shadow Climbing the Ladder at Sunset by S@ilor, on Flickr

Shadow Climbing the Ladder at Sunset by S@ilor, on Flickr
Shadow Climbing the Ladder at Sunset by S@ilor, on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

Shadow and silhouette are closely related. The dark-side of a silhouette is the result of blocked light, as is the shadow. Normally the statement made by a silhouette is in its shape. I like this next picture because the silhouette is betrayed by the darkness behind it. The hard light and low light-source has lengthened and strongly defined the shadow creating a strong subject. It has become all the more threatening because the silhouette is only partially seen. What is there – is there a threat? Are we being menaced by our imagination misinterpreting the shadow… This is a clever interplay of light and of mood. Nicely done…

Shadow. by David Giron, on Flickr

Shadow. by David Giron, on Flickr
Click image to view large
Shadow. by David Giron, on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Shadows can convey much more than just mood. They create a picture themselves, but in a minimalist way. The two dimensional aspect of shadow is only partially compensated for by shape. We know that we can so easily misinterpret a shadow. So it is a relief when the meaning is implied without threat or misinterpretation.

Shadows and intimacy are frequently associated. Above, the closeness of the characters shows intimacy. In the next picture the intimacy of the boudoir is so strong that the viewer is relieved by the pattern of shadows to redirect the mood.

Shadows by Pablo Miranzo

Shadows by Pablo Miranzo.


The author says this is one of a series of pictures intended to contrast light and dark and is in black and white to simplify the composition. Oddly enough the composition is simplified by that, but complicated by the opposing mood settings. An interesting picture of mixed tensions.

In this next, the interplay between the textures has become important. While the shadow is a major part of the subject, it is not the only subject. This is a strong pattern shot but is very uniform across the shot until you allow yourself to be drawn in. Often pattern shots have some compositional element to break the pattern, something that draws the eye. Wood grain and the subtle variations in the rhythm of the boards create micro textures and variation providing relief from the pattern. It is that which draws you in.

Texture is an exciting aspect of any picture. It is created by the subtle tonal variations of light and shadow at the micro-level in the picture. If you see a texture and it convinces you that you would feel the texture if you touched it then the picture has convincingly been created as an image in your mind. In this next picture the image I see is all texture. The wonderful curve of the stair rail and its counterpart, the twisted shadow, combine to create great depth in this picture. The combination gives you the feeling that you can reach in and touch… A great image.

The stairs in the next image are pretty minimalist in themselves. However, the elaborate pattern of light and shadow created by them is exquisite. It is a wonderful example of how shadows transform a picture. In this case the shadows have turned the purely mechanical geometry of the stairs into a complex of pattern and curves. It is a wonderful play-off between the simplicity of one and complexity of the other…

Pulling it all together

The shadow as a subject is clearly a compositional feature. It adds to the texture of the shot too. The clever use of shadow can also add a message and/or impart mood as well. Sometimes though, it all just comes together. If you can combine mood, subject, story, composition and texture you have really made the grade. Your picture comes alive in the mind of the viewer. You have truly created an image. To do all this using just shadow is a clever and precious creation. I think this next image is one such example…

Using shadow as a subject is challenging but worthwhile photographic pursuit. Shadow gives you all the essential elements of a good photograph but supplies it with simplicity and meaning if done well. There are untold interpretations and subjects out there for you to tackle. I hope that I have inspired some new thinking on the subject.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

Five easy tips for better photos in difficult weather and light

Its easy to make weather excuses, but….

We can actually find a way to shoot in almost any weather situation. Here are some tips to get the shot even though the weather conditions are not ideal for a photograph.

1. Rain…

Cameras hate water. If there is a sure fire way to ruin your equipment, get it wet. So we want to dodge the rain shots. Actually rain is fun. You don’t need to be shooting right in the rain. Most of the time there is cover you can use to work from for your shot. Shop fronts, cars, through open windows, under canopies… you can think of thousands of rain hides if you try. And, rain provides lots of great things to shoot too. Rain is a great cleanser. The pavements and side roads are dust-free, shiny, or with splashing drops and running water. Yet life goes on. Street photography becomes dynamic, frenetic and full of new behaviours. People are doing things they normally do not do. They run, they put up umbrellas, they crowd under cover… lots of great behaviours that often do not get photographed. Look to catch people in the puddles, jumping, dashing for cover. Look for colours and reflections. Look for droplets, wet surfaces, running water. Most of all try to catch the reactions of people as they try not to get wet. Rain is great fun. Don’t hide your equipment away. Get out and take some great shots. After the rain look for skyward glances, great reflections, splashes and people emerging from cover.

2. High noon…

A high and harsh sunlit situation is not good for any kind of photography. Normally we think of it as pretty awful for any kind of portrait shot. The direct light creates washed out, over-exposed areas of the shot. The faces look flat and colours lose the subtle tonality. You can still get a great shots though. Seek out some cool, even shade. Under the canopy of shops or malls is ideal, or maybe within the shade of a substantial tree. Look for anything that provides enough shade for you and your subject to get out of the direct sunlight. However, stay near to the main sunlight area. The direct sunlit area will act as your main light source. The shade will act as a diffuser. Now, make sure you do not shoot into the direct sunlight or deeper darkness of deep shade. Try to keep your shot on your subject and make sure any background you use is also in the same light-shade level of intensity. That way your contrasts and colours will all be within the same dynamic range of light – which your camera deal with. However, the main light source will be diffused – creating a lovely soft, bright light source. Remember, if you shoot out of the shade into the sun you will find the contrast range too high. You will get bright highlights and over-exposure which will draw the eye away from your subject. So keep the shots tight to the light level you are working within and your shots will be fine and bright. Don’t shoot in mixed or dappled light.

3. Insufficient shade?

Avoiding very hard light or direct sunlight makes sense but what if you cannot find enough shade for you and your subject to be in the same light. If you are trying to photograph a person the impact of this direct light is particularly hard on their face and unflattering. Unfortunately putting your subject into the shade can make the situation worse. The darkness in the shade contrasts strongly with the bright light outside where you are standing. So you get bright spots in your shot and harsh darker areas in the deeper shade – very distracting. To overcome this high contrast situation take your shot on the shadow line. Line up the person you want to shoot on the shadow edge so the bright light is softened. In this intermediate place your subject gets the golden glow from the brighter light but it is softened by the slight shadow.

To help your camera to cope try to shoot from the same half-in half-out of shadow position too. The contrasts will not overpower your sensor there. If you get it right you will split the light to make it just right. Carefully placed you will capture the lovely sky and background but not lose detail in the shadow-darkness under the shade. Be careful not to get dappled light from sun through the leaves, and make sure the shadow line does not cross your subject. Bright contrasts and sharp shadow lines on the subject are very unflattering. Instead shoot along the half shade into the brighter light utilising the foreground weaker light as your main source for the subject.

4. The sun flattens the landscape

Often, particularly on holiday or when out on a shoot, we cannot wait for the golden hour. We are in a place where there is a deadline to move on and you want to get the shot. Unfortunately the high, direct sunlight flattens everything, eliminating shadows and ironing out colour tones. The light is boring and harsh and the shadows minimal.

How do you get the landscape? Include more sky than usual. Often in these situation the most interesting lighting is for the sky. The clouds and far away places look good. So expose for the sky and reduce the amount of landscape you include. This means using the sky as the main bright source of light. Point your focus point to a cloud. If the autofocus ‘hunts‘ and will not focus turn it off and focus manually. Make the sky your subject and concentrate on the distance and sky. This may mean some of your foreground will be slightly underexposed. However, it is easier to brighten the foreground or a near subject later in post-processing if you have exposed for the sky.

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5. Dreary, grey diffused sky light

Another bad light situation for the photographer is the dreary grey day. Uniform light from across the sky leaves little or no shadow detail anywhere. Everything looks flat and dead. The problem here is there is nothing in the landscape that provides relief for the greyness. The sky is difficult too – you cannot do foreground shots as the uniform lack of colour or shadow means everything is pale and uninteresting. The distance has lost its sky appeal too. Even exposing for the sky creates almost uniform grey.

Well, this is the time to get out the flash. Off-camera flash is best, although pop-up flash will also do the trick. Get close to the ground or a surface with great texture. Then, shoot along the surface with the flash. If the flash is off-camera set it off to one side so it exaggerates ground shadows. If you are working with pop-up flash then make sure you work with the shadow at its maximum. This may mean shooting with your camera upside down so the light is really close to the surface and the optical axis is across the surface lit by the flash. If you use a relatively wide aperture, these low-level flash shots will bring out shadow detail in the foreground and leave the distance in bokeh and out of focus.

Some places to find great surfaces for this type of shot are low grasses, sandy or gravelly surfaces, tarmac, along road lines, autumnal leafy forest floors, bare rock… well, you get the idea. Seek out any surface that provides texture for you to capture. Lots of small to medium undulations and detail is best. Large objects will block the foreground so reserve them for the middle distance.

Remember the five rules…

The key to difficult weather and light situations is…

  • Find the right vantage point to shelter/shoot from
  • Maximise the opportunities for spotting unusual behaviour
  • Make the most of the weather opportunities (sky, puddles, splashes etc)
  • Keep the light where you are shooting within approximately the same dynamic range
  • Look for, or create, light situations that exploit texture detail

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

Winter photography inspiration – colour, texture and tone…

• Winter Bliss • By Kyle McDougall

• Winter Bliss • By Kyle McDougall

Winter – free your vision.

Too often the dull, dim and dank days of Winter leave us cold. Venturing out? Photography? Noooo! Yet Winter offers a world of inspiring colours, textures, sights and light not there at other times of the year.

Not grey, great!

Like any other time of the year sunset and sundown are times of the day when the most amazing colours are revealed. The magic of the golden hour pinks and golds is just as exciting in the winter as it is in the summer – and you don’t have to be out so early or so late with shorter days. What is not so obvious to the inexperienced Winter photographer is the mellowness of the colours. There is amazing colour, strong colour. However, especially in snowy environments, the golds, pinks and blues are mellowed into a softness that you don’t see at other times of the year. The wonderful pink tones in the image above show the point beautifully.

I have spent some time today looking over www.kylemcdougallphoto.com External link - opens new tab/page. Kyle is a fine-art landscape photographer based in the beautiful Muskoka region in Ontario (see: About  External link - opens new tab/page). He is a keen, insightful, observer of the natural world around him. You can see the depth of his vision in the quality of the tonal treatments and the beautiful exposures of textures that characterise his work. I was particularly inspired by the winter photographs although his work is equally as insightful for all the seasons.

The particularly interesting thing about Kyles work is his exquisite control of tonal ranges. I have mentioned before in these pages that often the best pictures are captured just after the sun has gone down or just before it comes up. This “blue” period of the day provides infinite tonal blues that caress the eye. I just love these times of day. The great thing is that most photographers have packed up and gone home as the “blue” time starts… you have the stage. Make the best of this time as you will be among the few who use it well. Kyle McDougalls works really capitalise on this time of day when he explores those tones.

In Winter, texture wins the day

The lower light levels, and lower angle of light in the sky, often puts off photographers in Winter. But this is the best time to capture some wonderful textures. Muted winter colours and low light combine to create excellent contrasts and micro-shadows. Along with the soft light these environmental factors are a gift to the seeing photographer. Ice, snow and even water take on an almost ethereal glow punctuated by texture. If you can capture that with a good composition your pictures will create wonderful and lasting images in your viewers mind. Look for opportunities to get the sun low in the sky and those lovely early morning or evening tones and shadows from the side.

Opportunities

In your winter photography look for opportunities to express the colours and contrasts that appear. They are different to those you find in the Summer. The subtleties of tone, texture and colour are there for all to see, but only the insightful photographer will make good use of them.

My thanks to Kyle McDougall for his permission to link to his website. Please take some time to look over the other wonderful pictures available on: www.Kyle McDougall Photo.com  External link - opens new tab/page

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

Simple ideas about sepia effects

• Sepia biplane •

• Sepia biplane •
Click image to view large
• Sepia biplane • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Sepia is an old photographic effect.

It’s a photographic chemical process dating back to the 1800’s. Sepia creates a brown tone in the photograph. Today we sometimes colour our photographs in sepia tones too. What is the background to this old technique?

Print toning in sepia

In the days of chemical processing black and white pictures were processed using metallic silver in chemical emulsions. In the sepia process the silver was replaced by an alternative, silver sulphide. Silver sulphide is a more stable toner than the metallic silver counterpart. Sepia toned photographs have a longer life than alternative compounds making them ideal for archiving and preservation. However, there are in fact a whole range of chemical toners and some of them have brown tones. In some cases the non-sepia toners are not safe to handle. Be careful if you are handling lots of old films and wear protective gloves.

Sepia, the colour, gets its name from the rich brown coloured ink derived from the cuttlefish Sepia. The ink had been used in art and writing for centuries before photography. The richness of the browns in the chemical development process was a close match to the sepia ink. In fact sepia has a considerable tonal range. While it can be used to create rich brown and white photographic prints it can be printed in such a way as to parallel greyscale in its effect.

Modern sepia chemical processing involves three stages. During those stages processes and chemical variations can be applied that allow the compounds to have different toning capabilities or mixed with alternative toners. As a result the modern chemical sepia process can create multi-toning effects, mid-tones and shadow forms. These allow multiple tonal forms in the final print.

Modern digital sepia

Photographic toning is a way of changing a black and white picture to a different, warmer tone – a brown hue. Black and white are starkly contrasting. Sepia is a softer colour and easier on the eye. The sepia tone, while brown produces a ‘brown-scale’ picture, rather than a greyscale picture that would incorporate the black and white tones. As such, both are monochrome.

Of course today we use sepia in many ways. It can be used as it was in the past to create a softer, warmer colour in a print which is easier on the eyes than stark black and white. However, modern sepia no longer carries the archival or protective functions of the previous chemical process. Here are some other ways it is used today…

To:

  • Induce warmer tones
  • Softer colour impact
  • Give a picture a traditional or aged appearance
  • Give the appearance of a more natural tonal range

As a result of some quite flexible toning processes in using sepia the modern equivalent of sepia is a very loose term. In many ways digital sepia use is really just toning. Its the same as would be applied if we used a blue, green or red tone. Of course each image editing package has its own sepia toning colour. As a result you should experiment to make sure that your editor colour is appropriate to the way you use it.

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In fact sepia is, like black and white, a fairly flat colour. Variations in the intensity of the toning can create quite variable light and dark shades. In the final print the flatness of the colour can be enhanced by using textured papers. On a screen image or digital projection textures can be incorporated into the image as I have included above. This relieves the monotony of the sepia when there is a large area of one tone in the image.

If your use of sepia is intended to give the appearance of age then other measures can help too. One idea is to give the impression of a distressed print. The photograph below is a scan from an old print. I have kept the dirt and creases on the image in order to give that “distressed” effect that makes the image look like it has been around for a long time.

The photographs of the past are often distressed by damage and age.

The photographs of the past are often distressed by damage and age. Modern images can be given the same appearance with a little work in an image editor.


The distressed appearance can be reproduced carefully in post processing to give the impression of age and deterioration. You will have to practice such skills to make them realistic, but worth it if the final outcome is effective.

Finally, one of the things that people often forget is consistency. If you are going to do a photograph in sepia in order to make it look old, then remember to make the clothes, objects and environment within the picture match the age of the intended shot. There is nothing more confusing to a viewer than mixed messages. An appearance of old processing, but modern clothes, just looks odd. So try to make your image and processing match.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

Eight ways to bring out texture in your photographs

• Medieval Prison •  Bring out the texture in your shots

• Medieval Prison •
A dismal dungeon! Bring out the texture in your shots.
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• Medieval Prison • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Texture is essential for a 3D effect.

If you want a realistic feel you need to work at it. Convincing texture lies in the fine detail – your picture must look like it feels. Here are eight things you can do to increase the texture from capture to printing…

What is texture?

Texture is the fine detail in your photograph. I am sure you would know what it feels like to run your finger over the surface of a brick. If a photograph of a brick convinces you that touching the photograph would feel like a brick, your depiction of texture has been successful. The term texture is a fine art concept which applies to photography [texture definition].

More after this…

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Eight ways to enhance texture
  1. Pick your subject to ensure it will show texture. Close ups are easiest as you can work large. If you are with a large subject like a person and want to show fine texture on the background you should ensure the background surface you pick is well defined. Look for the largest contrast in shades of colour and in light/dark. Look for shadow areas and bright areas. Make sure that the physical texture (roughness) is roughest where you will be taking the shot. These are the features of texture the camera will pick up.
  2. Hard light on your texture will give it a sharp, unyielding feel, a sandpaper type effect. Soft light will give it a rounded less harsh look, more like weathered stone surfaces. Arrange your light to emphasis the character of the texture you are photographing.
  3. When taking your photograph arrange the light coming at your texture from the side. A shallow angle of light creates light/shadow areas which define the texture. When these little contrasts can be seen they make the texture stand out. If light comes from where you are shooting from these shadows are not created and the texture will be flat (eg. pop-up flash or sun from behind you).
  4. Consider very slightly over-exposing your shot. This will give you room to exaggerate the contrast in the post processing.
  5. In the developing module of your processing (RAW only) use the contrast tool to maximise the contrast potential in your texture. If working in *.jpg enhance the contrast in the normal picture editing view.
  6. Consider making your picture a grey-scale shot in post processing. If possible do not do a direct colour to black & white conversion. Use colour control methods to enhance the contrasts in each colour. You will need a more advanced image editing application for this (PhotoShop, or Elements for example).
  7. Use the ‘burn’ in post processing to deepen the dark areas of the shot. Set it to emphasis shadow. Manually pick out the shadow/darker areas and give them a very slight darkening. Try working at about 10% (or less) ‘burn’ exposure. Similarly, use the ‘dodge’ tool to brighten the highlights. Set the tool to pick out highlights at about 8%-18% exposure.
  8. When printing use paper that has a texture appropriate to the texture you want to bring out. You will need to print a test print. Then hold the test texture up against several paper surfaces to compare the textures. Paper with softer, uneven texture will take the edge off textures in the print. Harder textures with more regular surface will tend to sharpen the depicted texture. However, the eye must be your final guide. There is great skill involved in picking the right paper texture for specific pictures when printing. So you might need to make several tests with different paper textures to get the most emphasis for your texture.

Enhancing the contrast between light and dark or between colours will emphasis texture, but the most effective impact will be what you achieve in the actual shot. Try to ensure you use the light to gain the best advantage from your texture as you do the shooting. It will look more realistic and you will have to spend less time at the computer.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

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