Photography Ideas

Part 1

Article and Photography by Ron Bigelow

www.ronbigelow.com

If you find yourself reading this article, it is likely that you are looking for photography ideas for some photo projects. You might be thinking along the lines of something like a photo scrapbook, picture a day, or nature project. While these are all worthwhile projects, this article takes a different approach. As long as you are going to be spending some time on a photo project, why not select a project that develops your photography skills? That way, you will complete the project a better photographer than when you started.

Thus, this article series presents twelve photography ideas. Each idea is a photography skill and can be used as the basis for a photography project. The recommendation is that you select one of the skills and spend a specific period of time utilizing that skill to capture images. Essentially, your photo project will be to develop a portfolio of images centered on that specific skill. Once you have mastered a skill, you can move on to another skill and develop a portfolio around that skill.

With this approach, you should end up with some impressive portfolios and an enhanced skill set. The skills that will be covered are:

Contents

    Color
    Tonal Contrast
    Triangles
    Negative Space
    Mood
    Low Light
    Balance
    Tension
    Frames
    Color in Black and White
    Chiaroscuro
    Reflections

Color

Figure 1: Color
Photography Ideas: Color

Color is a very good place to start because color grabs people's attention. For instance, a couple of the most popular photographic subjects are sunsets and flowers, and the primary reason that people like sunset and flower images is because of the color. Thus, the utilization of color is one of the most effective means of creating impact in images. However, to use color effectively, one must understand a little about color.

There are three aspects of color that can be used to create dramatic images: hue, saturation, and contrast.

Hue: Hue is what we normally think of as color (technically, hue is determined by the wavelength of the light).

One of the biggest reasons that hue has such a large impact on photography is that our visual system has different degrees of sensitivity to different hues. With respect to the three primary colors (red, green, and blue), the human visual system is most sensitive to red, is moderately sensitively to green, and is much less sensitive to blue (approximately two thirds of the eyes' color detecting cones detect red, one third detect green, and only one percent detect blue). As a result, images with a lot of red (or related colors such as orange) tend to really grab people's attention. So, one way to create eye-catching images is to start with subjects that contain these colors.

However, there is more to hue than just its affect on the human perceptual system. Hue also has an emotional impact. In many situations, the warm colors (e.g., red, orange, and yellow) bring feelings of comfort. The red glow of a fireplace, a gorgeous orange sunset, and a beautiful yellow flower are all examples of the comforting affect of the warm colors. However, in some instances, red can bring feelings of alarm or excitement (that is why stop signs, stop lights, and fire trucks are painted red). Green often brings feeling of newness or freshness (as in a lush, green, springtime meadow). Blue tends to create feelings of calm as in a peaceful ocean as dusk approaches.

So, what does this mean for a photographer? Basically, it means that the predominant hues in an image should be selected carefully to match the mood of the image. As an example, the proper use of green could enhance the mood of a landscape, but it might detract from the mood of a romantic image.

Saturation: Saturation refers to the "pureness" of a color. For instance, a saturated red is perceived as a very intense red while a less saturated red is perceived as a diluted or washed out red. Saturation is important because it helps determine the strength of response a person has to a color. Highly saturated colors create strong reactions in the human perceptual system while poorly saturated colors create a much weaker reaction. From a photographer's perspective, this means that saturated colors will create a stronger reaction to our images.

Contrast: Color contrast refers to using two or more colors that are different enough that they contrast. Using color contrast is one of the most effective ways to create powerful images as the human visual system is highly stimulated by contrasting colors (in other words, our visual system is set up to respond to contrasting color). So, why not use this to create great images by looking for subjects that have contrasting color.

Photography Project: Your assignment is to create a portfolio of images that uses color to draw the attention of viewers. Use your knowledge of how hue, saturation, and color contrast can be used to enhance images.

Tonal Contrast

Figure 2: Tonal Contrast
Photography Ideas: Tonal Contrast

Along with color, one of the best ways to grab a viewer's attention is the use of tonal contrast. Specifically, it is the use of high tonal contrast that draws the attention. As with color contrast, tonal contrast stimulates the human visual system. In other words, the eyes and brain are programmed to take special notice of areas of high tonal contrast. This is a great opportunity for photographers as we can use the way the human visual system has been set up to our advantage. This is done by including high contrast objects in our images.

Now, just including high contrast objects in an image is not enough. The contrast must be managed. What that means is that the contrast must be placed in the proper areas of an image. In most cases, this can be achieved by following two rules:

When the positive space is high contrast, a viewer's eyes will quickly be draw to the positive space. The high contrast at the positive space will also serve to help keep the attention on the positive space. The reason that it is generally a good idea to have no other high contrast objects in an image is that any other high contrast objects will tend to draw the attention away from the positive space. This generally weakens an image.

Of course, all rules can be broken at times. Sometimes, having two areas of high contrast can create an intentional tension in an image. The viewer's attention will bounce back and forth between the areas of contrast -- causing the tension. This can work well, but only if you specifically design the image to create this tension.

Photography Project: Your assignment is to create a portfolio of images that uses tonal contrast to create powerful images. The main goal of this exercise is to manage the contrast in the images -- specifically placing the contrast where it will have maximum impact.

Triangles

Figure 3: Triangles
Photography Idea: Triangles

There are many compositional techniques in photography. One that works very well when there are multiple objects in an image is the use of triangles. The technique involves composing an image in such a way that three or more objects form a triangle.

Three objects are needed to form the points of the triangle. Imaginary, diagonal lines then connect the three points. This configuration creates a very dynamic image. A viewer's eyes will tend to travel back and forth along the diagonal lines from one triangle point to another. If there are more than three objects in the image, the additional objects need to lie along the diagonal lines.

The objects should either be similar (e.g., several flowers) or related in some way (e.g., different types of equipment in a machine shop).

There are a couple of ways that triangles can be used: single positive space and multiple centers of interest.

Many successful images have a single positive space. In this case, one of the objects that resides at a point on the triangle will function as the positive space. The other objects on the triangle will serve to support and enhance the positive space. These other points can be made subservient to the positive space in various ways such as reducing their sharpness, contrast, color saturation, or size.

When multiple centers of interest are used, all of the objects on the triangle should be of equal importance in the image. One example of this use of triangles is a family, group portrait where the heads of the family members are arranged into a triangle. Each family member's head is of equal importance and should be given equal weight in the portrait.

Photography Project: For this project, your goal is to produce a group of photos that use triangles as their main compositional element. You might want to consider trying the technique with a variety of subjects (e.g., people, nature, city structures, and household objects).

Negative Space

Figure 4: Negative Space
Photography Ideas: Negative Space

Any image consists of three components:

When composing images, many people tend to think primarily in terms of the positive space. In other words, they think primarily about the main subject of the image. The area surrounding the positive space, the negative space, ends up being whatever happened to be there at the time the image was taken. This is a mistake! When properly utilized, the negative space can serve two very important functions:

The negative space can serve to help define the positive space by providing detail about the positive space. For example, a close-up of a waterfall may show the beauty of the falling water, but it may not show any hint of the environment in which the waterfall exists. Is the waterfall in a crowded, urban park or in a forest? We can not tell from the close-up. However, if the camera is backed up to show the waterfall surrounded by the negative space of a lush, misty rainforest, that negative space provides much detail that helps to define the waterfall.

However, when using the negative space in this manner, it is important that the negative space not overwhelm the positive space. For instance, in this example, the rainforest might be rendered slightly out of focus so that it doesn’t compete with the waterfall.

The negative space can also help to make the positive space stand out. This is because the negative space can help to control the eye of a viewer. When used in this manner, the negative space is often fairly devoid of detail (this removes any distracting detail from the negative space). In addition, the negative space often contrasts in color or tone with the positive space. This helps to focus the viewer's attention on the positive space -- thus, making it stand out.

Consequently, to create powerful images, photographers need to consider the negative space when composing images. The negative space needs to be deliberately designed to either help define the positive space or to make the positive space stand out.

Photography Project: Creating a portfolio of images that have well designed negative spaces is the goal of this project. For each image, the negative space should be carefully designed into the composition.

Mood

Figure 5: Mood
Photography Ideas: Mood

The use of mood in an image can be a very powerful tool. Mood helps an image communicate an emotion. This helps to draw a viewer into an image. There are many ways to create mood in an image. Two of the most popular are light and weather.

Light: Light has a very powerful effect on the mood of an image. Different kinds of light will create different moods. Light that occurs in the middle of the day generally creates a very harsh mood. This is because mid-day light has a very high contrast and desaturates colors. This type of light might work well with a scene of an abandoned ghost town in the middle of the desert. The mid-day light would help to emphasize the harsh environment in which the town existed.

On the other hand, photographers often want to create a more inviting mood. For this, light that occurs during the magic hour (the half hour after sunrise and the half hour before sunset) is excellent. This light is generally diffuse and saturated. This can be used to create a warm or romantic feel to an image.

Weather: Weather is another excellent way to create mood. Specifically, inclement weather is one of the best ways to create mood. That's right, when your friends are inside because of the bad weather, you may want to grab your camera and head outdoors. The beginning and end of storms is an ideal time to capture moody images. The dramatic clouds and diffuse light work very well for this purpose. Also, misty or foggy days can be used to create images with a mystique.

Whether using light or weather to create mood, the most important thing is to first determine exactly what mood you want an image to convey. Then, carefully select the light and weather to create the proper mood. This may require some advanced planning. You may need to create an idea in your mind of what you would like to create (this is referred to as previsualization). Then, you will need to wait for the proper conditions to capture the image.

Photography Project: Use light and weather to create a portfolio with images that are characterized by mood.

Low Light

Figure 6: Low Light
Photograph Ideas: Low Light

When the sun goes down, many photographers pack up their camera equipment and head home. Experienced photographers know better. Some terrific shots can be captured after the sun has crossed the horizon. There are many such opportunities. A couple of the most popular involve shooting by moonlight and long exposures.

Moonlight: The moon casts a soft, gentle light over the earth during a full moon. This can create some great images. If the moon is to be in the image, the shot will most likely need to be taken slightly after the moon rises or shortly before it sets. This will place the moon just over the horizon. For these types of shots, it is necessary to set the exposure to keep detail in the moon. Otherwise, the moon becomes just a white blob. Another alternative is to set the camera on a tripod and take two exposures. One exposure is set to keep detail in the moon. The other exposure is set to keep detail in the rest of the image. The two exposures can then be combined during image editing.

Long Exposures: Long exposures can also be used in low light situations. Of course, long exposures let more light into the camera allowing images in low light. However, long exposures can be used for more than that. They can be used for creative control. For instance, long exposures can be used to blur motion. One example is using long exposures for beach shots. The wave motion will be blurred giving the impression that the waves have formed a sort of cloud that envelopes the coast. Similarly, long exposures can be used to blur traffic. This produces a blurred stream of the headlights and tail lights of cars that travel along the roads.

The use of long exposures is limited only by your imagination.

Photography Project: This project focuses on low light situations. The goal is to use your imagination to identify and capture images that have been shot after the sun goes down.

Summary

That is pretty much it for this article, but we are not done yet. Part 2 of this series has more photography ideas for your consideration. Part 2 will be published about July 10.

Articles

Photography Ideas -- Part 2