Photography experiments with highlights & shadows

Photography experiments with highlights & shadows

I’ve been struggling lately. . I hit a plateau where my lack of knowledge became frustrating.  I kept fighting my camera trying to figure out ISO | shutter speed | aperture settings. The mighty trio baffled me.  I’ve been flipping between AV and TV modes, trying to get a nice balance but *shrug* everything was a big meh. Then I watched one of my favourite photographer’s latest YouTube video and the penny dropped.  

I like watching Sean Tucker’s photography videos. He uses lush shadows and strong highlights in a way that makes photos pop off the screen. But his Sunday video helped lift some of the confusion I’ve been wrestling with. “How to Nail Exposure using Manual Mode” encourages users to stop being afraid of manual mode and take the plunge.  I dabbled with manual in the past, but at the time I didn’t appreciate how the three settings interacted and switched back to AV. Sean’s description was illuminating. I watched the video 3 times and made a few notes, grabbed my camera  and walked down Yonge St over to King/University, to experiment.  I tend to underexpose, to a fault, and lose out on taking advantage of bright highlights to help set a mood. To break myself of that habit, I focused on capturing strong shadows as well as bold highlights. 

Did I capture great art? No, many photos were still unusable. Did I have fun? OH YEA! There was something so basic and clear about Tucker’s description, that the fear of full on manual vanished. It. Was. Fun.  I was surprised at how quick it was to make adjustments on the fly. The secret though was pretty basic – SLOW DOWN. Think about the shot and use the histogram to guide me.  I’ve been working with histograms extensively over the past month, using it to make micro adjustments, rather than relying on plugins to make broad, overwhelming changes. 

 I picked 4 photos from the day’s shoot. Two black and white, two colour. 

Photo of an old building with strong highlights and shadows

Paul Hahn & Co Piano on Yonge St

This one worked better than I expected. I took about 5 shots from the same spot. I think the colours are still a bit too harsh, but the project was to work with shadows and highlights. I tend to blow the highlights out so badly, the photos aren’t worth keeping.  One thing I noticed while processing the photos, I finally managed to get the shots fairly straight. I can’t tell you how many times I have to use the straighten tool because I find myself tilting my head when looking at the day’s work. It came down to slow down and think about the shot. 

Photo of Elephant & Castle showing strong reflections

Reflections on the Elephant & Castle on King

I can’t decide if I like this one or not. I waffle between loving the highlights and reflected light to hating it because the shadows don’t feel right.  On a positive note, using the histogram and manual helped me capture the blue sky correctly. Very few shots had that irritating fringing around the edges of buildings. I kept checking, adjusting and playing with angles over and over. 

Black & white photo of street musicians on Yonge & Bloor

Music on Yonge and Bloor

I loved the angles and shadows on this one but it wasn’t as sharp as I’d hoped for.  I rushed a bit too much because I was worried about losing the shot.  It’s also smaller than the others because in mid edit I decided I needed to work more on the highlights. I dumped a quick jpg onto the harddrive so I’d have something to post but didn’t check dimensions. So, this looks like the runt of the family, sorry about that.  

Black and white photo of corner King and University showing strong shadows

Long shadows on King & University

The highlights came out so well on the last photo. I even managed to capture the steam whisping up. The linear feel to the shadows came out nice and strong. I moved up and down a bit on the SE corner, trying to figure out a good angle. I wanted the eyes to travel along the cross walk and needed to get the cables above just right to grab the perspective correctly. Not bad. I can see where I went wrong with the shadows though but I’m not sure how to correct them. Make them darker?  Increase the shadow exposure? Don’t know. I’ve been playing around with it in Photoshop, trying to figure out a better balance. I am impressed with the Elephant & Castle on the far left. The light display came out nice and strong but didn’t overwhelm the sidewalk focal point. 

That was Sunday’s expedition. Tons of fun and I learned a lot. The big lesson? Don’t be afraid of manual. If I keep this up, I just may be able to graduate to a prime lens and ditch this kit lens. 

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Check out Sean Tucker’s YouTube channel for more videos on photography – Sean Tucker on YouTube His series on good light techniques and using reflections to capture vibrant street scenes are especially helpful. His calm, introspective approach has been eye opening to this happy amateur photographer. 

His website is an inspiration for photographers at all levels.  I especially love his street scenes.  – Sean Tucker Photography 

 

Still learning the basics of photography – streets of Toronto

Still learning the basics of photography – streets of Toronto

I was wandering around the Queen | University area the other day and was struck by the sheer number of people everywhere.  I hung out on the corner of University and Queen Street for about 30 min doing nothing but snapping crowd shots.

University and Queen Street

University and Queen Street

 

University and Queen Street

University and Queen Street

By the time I got to Union Station, the volume of pedestrians was tiring. I don’t come down at rush hour very often because of the press of humanity, but once in awhile, it’s fun to people watch.

Photo of crowds of pedestrians at Union Station

Union Station

I wasn’t paying enough attention to the settings so not a lot of the photos were crisp enough for my tastes. They’ll do, but other photos I took that day  (not posted yet) were studies of specific scenes, rather than street vistas and came out wonderfully sharp with a good colour balance. 

I set out to keep the photos at around 24mm  to test what type of lens I should consider for my first prime lens. I spent a day doing nothing but taking 50mm another 35 etc. So far, the 24mm seems to float my boat the most.  I’m leaning towards the Canon EF-S 24MM F2.8 STM lens. I like long, full shots that pick up lots of details. I’m not a huge fan of bokeh and prefer seeing details happening in the scene, so I think the 24mm might be what I’m looking for. However, I really  need to work harder on the mechanics of photography before I get to that point.

So … it’s time to return to lessons and read up on strengthening clarity and sharpness. Even the best lens in the world is a waste of money if I can’t get the basics down.