June 23, 2008

Photo of the Week: June 24, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: All professional photographers have a specialty. Although I work for a broad spectrum of clients, my niche is Jewish photography. Whether I'm at a wedding or out on the trail, I try to find images with a uniquely Jewish flavor to them. Living in Israel gives me an advantage, because where else in the world would you encounter a bridge whose railing is lined with cutouts shaped like Stars of David? Granted, there were diamonds and hearts as well, but I knew if I could get a shot through one of the star-shaped holes, I'd have a powerful Jewish image. The sparkling sunlight on Tel Aviv's Yarkon River had already caught my attention, so I decided to push the power of my equipment to the limit.

Each star was about three inches across. I lined up my 70-200 mm lens at full zoom about five inches from the railing, much too close to focus. Instead, I pre-focused on the water and metered the exposure for the sunlight. I only had to wait a few seconds until a boater – there were at least two dozen out on the water – floated through my viewfinder. The blurred foreground was not a problem, because I knew that by exposing for the bright light in the distance, it would transform from ugly battleship gray to a pure black silhouette. The kayaker also darkened up nicely, which preserves the boater's anonymity and avoids giving the viewer any additional, potentially distracting details. Finally, when preparing the image for this email, I cropped it slightly off center, giving more weight to the left side. All photographs have action, or a direction of movement. By cropping more loosely to the front of the kayak, I have given the subject some space to move toward. These tiny subtleties are found everywhere in good pictures, and are the difference between engaging or losing a viewer's interest, whether or not they ever know the reason why.

Photo of the Week: June 17, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I am fond of quoting the master photographer Ansel Adams, who said in a moment of spiritual musing, "Sometimes I do get to places just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter." This image required little more than setting my camera on a tripod and waiting for the curtain to rise. I did make a conscious decision to compose the shot in two equal halves, but beyond that, it's all God's show. I have been asked several times about this photo, Is the color real? A more appropriate question would be, Is this how it really looked? The answer, then, is that it depends who's looking.

One of the most important lessons a budding photographer can take into the field is an understanding of the difference between how our eyes see and how a camera records what it "sees." Simply put, cameras attempt to replicate images the way our eyes see them. As good as cameras are at doing this, they are still not as good at "seeing" as the highly complex human eye-brain system. One of the innovations in digital camera technology is the white balance setting, which gives the camera a reference point for color. You tell the camera what kind of light you are working in (sunlight, shade, fluorescent, etc.) and it uses a preset formula to establish the color relationships so that the resulting images look natural. Most people are satisfied to use the automatic setting and never give this a second thought. In this shot, however, in the fatigue of dawn, I mistakenly left the camera on a white balance setting that allowed more of the blue light to be recorded and filtered out the warmer, red and yellow light of the rising sun. The camera did what it was told to do, and my eyes, although surprised by the dramatic results, were nevertheless quite pleased.