Photography filters (the glass ones that you put on the end of the lens while you’re shooting; not the ones you add in Photoshop) have made a huge difference to the quality of my photos. That said, there is something of a steep learning curve associated with them, in terms of knowing which filters to use in which situations, and also in knowing how each filter will change the image captured. I have been wanting to post an article that visually illustrates the filters that I consider to be essential for a landscape photographer, but didn’t find a scene that really illustrated them well until just recently…
Shooting Without Filters
Let’s start with a couple of images taken WITHOUT any filters at all. The light a little while after sunrise is quite contrasty, and so without using any filters, I have to choose between exposing correctly for the lighthouse and the sky behind it (in which case the foreground is dark and under exposed), or for the rocks and water in the foreground (in which case the sky and lighthouse are bright and overexposed):
There are filters to overcome this dilemma!
Neutral Density Gradient (ND Grad) Filters
ND Grad filters are sheets of glass/plastic that slide into an adapter that you screw onto the front of your lens. One half of the filter is coated with a grey, neutral density coating that gradually fades into no coating at all. The light that passes through the grey area is darkened, allowing us to control the bright/highlight areas in the composition to make them more consistent with the dark/shadow areas. ND Grad filters come in a range of strengths… I have a set of three that achieve 1-stop, 2-stops and 3-stops of darkening, and the adapter is such that I can stack them on top of each other to achieve up to 6-stops of darkening in one half of the image.
Although I have achieved correct exposure throughout the image with thanks to the ND Grad filters, the reflection of the lighthouse is “shimmering” a little too much for my liking…
Black Glass Filter
I have a Hoya NDX400 filter (often referred to by photographers as “black glass”) that screws on to the front of the lens to darken down the whole image by a whopping 9 stops! In mathematical terms, the NDX400 filter allows only 1/500th of the available light to enter the lens. Or put simply, I have to double the normal exposure time 9 times to get a correct exposure when the NDX400 filter is on. As such, a common use for the NDX400 filter is to achieve long exposures in daylight conditions. I typically use the NDX400 to smooth the surface of water, as is my style, and the effect that I need to reduce the shimmer in the reflection of the lighthouse here.
You may also notice that application of the NDX400 filter has resulted in richer, deeper colours here… a nice side-effect of the long exposure achieved through this filter.
While I do think this is a pretty decent image so far, there is one more thing that could make it just that little bit better. We can see that there is some interesting textures below the surface of the water in the bottom right corner of the image… imagine how much better the image could look if we could see some more of that underwater detail!
Circular Polarizing Filter
A Circular Polarizing filter (or CPL) allows us to control the reflections of light that are allowed to enter into the lens when we shoot. Without getting too scientific about it, light emitted from a light source (except for a laser) is omni-directional… it goes every which way; whereas the light we see reflected off a surface only travels along a single plane. The CPL filter allows us to block out the light reflected along any given plane, thereby minimizing the reflections that we see in that plane. The ability to do this has many applications, such as returning contrast and saturation to an overly reflective scene… or in the case of this example, cutting down the reflections on the surface of the water so that we can see what lies beneath:
The Finished Image
With a little post-production work in Lightroom and Photoshop, the finished image can be seen below (click to view larger)…
Once an artist starts exhibiting their work and receiving a wealth of positive feedback, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of thinking we know it all and to stop researching our chosen medium. We go on reusing the same techniques over and over again, until the positive feedback starts drying up and we end up feeling uninspired, seeing the same results day in and day out. Those techniques that we knew so well just don’t do it for us, or for anybody else, anymore… our artwork becomes stale!
Maybe I’m speaking for myself in the above paragraph, or maybe it is a common occurence for other artists, too… I’m not sure. Either way, I’ve found a great way to combat this phenomenon: continuous education. I’ve found that the best way to overcome outputting stale artwork is to go back to basics by finding some new guides or tutorials around the net, often ones that tell you what you think you already know.
When I do this, I find that I am reminded of certain factors that made older artworks successful, but that I have been glossing over while shooting within my “I know it all” bubble. For example, I recently became lazy as far as getting high or low was concerned while on location: a quick read of an article today reinforced this fact for me, and I have realised one area where my more recent artwork has been falling short. Likewise, that same article spoke of shooting at dawn and dusk, which led me to reflect on the fact that my most successful photographs have all been shot during one of those times, and yet lately I have been busy in the evenings and sleeping in in the mornings, leading me to shoot during the daylight hours… another area where recent artwork has been falling short!
Not only did this article highlight the areas in which I have been falling short recently… it also gave me some new ideas! I have also aimed to get as much of a landscape into the frame by using only a wide-angle lens… I would never have thought of cropping a landscape tightly using a telephoto/zoom lens had I not read this article today! Who would’ve thought Mr Know-It-All could pick up a new idea from an article that takes us back to basics?!?
Another great reason for constantly reviewing the breadth of new (and old) information available to visual artists on the net is the inspiration that can be gained from the illustrations that go along with them. As visual artists, we are all more than familiar with the cliche that a picture speaks a thousand words, and this rings true for the countless tutorials and instructional texts that have been published for artists, by artists, around the net! While the text content of such articles does serve to make us think about and extend our techniques, it is the pictures that give us inspiration to get out and get the next perfect picture ourselves. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have read an instructional article and thought, “I want to do that,” in response to the accompanying illustrations!
Coincidentally, the article that I read today and have referred to throughout this post can be accessed here: 5 Opposite Steps to Better Photographs.
I was just reviewing some of my artworks when I happened to notice an (unintentional) optical illusion in one of them! Can anybody else see the woman’s face hidden in the image below?
If you collect optical illusions, please click on the image above to order your print today!
Have you ever gone through your post-processing workflow (particularly when it includes HDR generation), looked at the final image, and found that it was still lacking the vibrance and clarity that you remembered seeing whilst capturing the original photograph? I had this problem after working with the following image from my shoot at the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens yesterday, during which the capturing the vibrant autumn colours was one of my main goals… and found the solution by adapting what I consider to be a derivative of the Orton effect!
When we apply the Orton effect (blending an over-exposed copy of the image with the original), the resultant image takes on a ‘dreamy’ feel… the colours tend to wash out a bit (that is, vibrance and saturation are reduced), while the highlights creep into the shadows to brighten up the overall image at the expense of clarity. For the sake of comparison, the image below shows Alfred Nicholas’ Boathouse with the Orton effect applied:
I figured that, if the Orton effect actually emphasizes the traits that I didn’t like in the original image, applying the opposite of the Orton effect would fix them…
In the image below, I blended the original HDR image with an under-exposed copy of itself:
As you can see here, the colours are a lot richer, while emphasizing the shadows rather than the highlights yields greater clarity and gives the image a more ‘moody’ feel rather than a ‘dreamy’ one. This is much more like the scene that I remember capturing whilst on location!
A Word About Levels
Just as the image’s levels must be carefully adjusted after applying the Orton effect to avoid losing too much detail in the highlights; so too must the image’s levels be adjusted after applying the notrO effect to avoid losing detail in the shadows!
I found that I needed to use this technique on a couple of the images that I brought home from my shoot yesterday. Click any image below for a larger view…
In a recent blog entry (Monthly Review for April 2010) I made a statement as to why online art communities such as RedBubble are not an effective way of selling one’s artwork. However, such online art communities are still a very important tool in the artist’s marketing toolbox!
Apart from the ability to showcase you work to other artists and develop a network of like minds who will give you honest and creative feedback in the process, the market research provided by online art communities can hold immense value for an artist deciding which artworks to promote in other markets, and which to keep hidden away in the private collection. With statistics such as sales, comments, favouritings and views, the artist is equipped with a wealth of information to help make informed decisions as to the marketing potential of individual artworks.
Obviously, making a sale of an artwork through an online art community is the greatest indicator of an artwork’s marketing potential. The fact that someone was willing to show their approval of your artwork by pulling out their wallet (or purse, as the case may be) and liked your artwork enough to spend their hard-earned cash on a print is the biggest thumbs up you’ll ever get. If an artwork sells, it has a place in your folio and should be promoted to the rest of the world… even moreso if it was a fellow artist who gave you the thumbs up in that manner!
To have another artist add your artwork to their online collection of favourites is the next biggest indicator of an artwork’s marketing potential in my book. While not being as potent (or as profitable) as an actual sale, a favouriting tells us that another artist likes your artwork enough that they want to see it again later. It may be that they want to refer back to your artwork as an inspirational reference point for their own artwork, or that they just really liked it that much that they want to see it whenever they log in to the online art community. Either way, a favouriting is another sign that an artwork should be promoted to the masses.
Apart from the subjective qualities of comments left by other artists on your artwork, the number of comments that an artwork receives can be used as an indicator of an artwork’s marketing potential. Although the number of comments can mean less than the number of favouritings (due to dilution from the number of your own replies, or the number of comments left by group hosts accepting and/or featuring your artworks, etc), the fact that other artists have taken some of their time to leave comments does mean something.
The number of views alone is NOT the best indicator of an artwork’s marketing potential! A high number of views without associated sales, favouritings or comments could indicate that your artwork looks fantastic as a thumbnail (therefore encouraging people to click on it), but is less impressive in full view (as evidenced by the fact that people are not following up by buying a print, adding it to their favourites or leaving a positive comment). Don’t be fooled into thinking that a high number of views means an artwork is popular… a lesser number of views with some associated sales, favouritings or comments means so much more!
Putting It All Together
I have a spreadsheet containing a list of my RedBubble artworks, the date each was uploaded, and the number of sales, comments, favouritings and views for each. I regularly update this spreadsheet with live data, and publish the results to my RedBubble profile.
In addition to the raw data outlined above, I have added the following columns to the spreadsheet to express these statistics as conversion rates:
- Sales per View;
- Favouritings per View; and
- Comments per View.
In assessing the relative popularity of each artwork, I multiply these three columns together to come up with “Sales, Favouritings and Comments per View” and sort by this column (in descending order) to come up with a list of the most popular artworks.
With only a couple of sales on the board, I needed to add an additional column, “Favouritings and Comments per View”, as multiplying by sales was giving most artworks a value of 0 in the sort column. After sorting by the first column in descending order, I then sorted by this new column (also in descending order) to come up with a list of the most popular artworks without sales.
Given that some artworks came up with similar numbers in this final column, I then sorted by the artworks’ uploaded dates (in ascending order), as I consider an artwork that achieves a higher conversion rate in a shorter period of time to be more popular (and therefore have greater marketing potential) than an artwork that achieves the same conversion rate over a longer period of time.
With results in hand, I regularly post updates of the top five most popular artworks to my RedBubble profile… click here to see today’s results!
You don’t need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on studio lighting to capture professional portrait photographs at home! In fact, I would go so far as to say that professionals who do spend exorbitant amounts of money on such equipment spend most of their professional careers overcharging clients to pay off said equipment; while any amateurs considering the purchase of such equipment would be better off spending their hard-earned cash on furthering their education of portrait techniques such as composition!
Here are some samples of portrait photography that I captured over the weekend using lighting and other equipment that I already had available to me at home. Click any image for a larger view, or read on below for more details about the lighting…
Using my knowledge of studio lighting techniques, I was able to setup a makeshift studio using the equipment that I already had available to me at home to achieve the results above. Instead of using an expensive backdrop, I had Kristen pose several feet in front of a plain, white wall…
Just as one would use a bright light to minimise shadows on the backdrop in a studio, I used a desk lamp with a bright, fluorescent tube installed to illuminate the backdrop… and this was where I metered the light for the shots.
To give life and definition to a model’s hair, professionals will generally add a diffuesed light off to the side of the model at head height. To emulate this setup using home equipment, I added two bedside lamps with traditional lightbulbs and frosted glass casing in the same position that I would in a professional studio. Coincidentally, adding these lights to the mix didn’t alter my light readings from the background wall at all.
Finally, I did incorporate one item of professional lighting equipment that I already had in my camera bag to flood light Kristen’s features… a mounted flash unit. Rather than pointing the flash directly at Kristen, I turned the flash head towards a nearby wall and extended the flash unit’s built-in reflector/diffuser panel to soften the light and reduce the contrast between highlights and shadows on her face. This is equivalent to the professional photographer’s use of a reflector kit to bounce softened light onto a subject rather than capturing harsh, direct light from a flash or other light source. I have also used sheets of bright, white cardboard to achieve the same effect in the past, when composition hasn’t allowed me to have a plain wall nearby.
As you can see, the lighting displayed in the final images is comparable to that produced by professional studio equipment… but it didn’t cost me a cent!
So here I am, one month on from deciding to share my renewed passion for photography with the world… but how far have I come in that month?
My focus in April was two-fold: establishing a fine art folio on RedBubble, and establishing my presence on the most popular social networking sites (Facebook and Twitter). I’ve certainly achieved both of these objectives, with a popular range of 41 artworks published on RedBubble, 48 fans on my Facebook page, and 933 followers on my Twitter profile.
I have made 2 sales of my artwork on RedBubble: one postcard and one large canvas print (click either image below for a larger view):
Given the popularity of my artwork on RedBubble (with 6,936 views, 582 comments and 218 favouritings), I have to ask myself why I’ve made so few sales? I mean, 2 sales from 6,936 views is a really pathetic conversion rate of only 0.02%. I think the issue is that, through all my online marketing channels, I am targeting other artists and photographers, most of which would prefer to spend their hard-earned cash on developing their own artwork rather than printing mine. This is something that I plan to address in May by moving the scope of my marketing activities to more profitable demographics.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest, on with the show… 9 artworks (including the two shown above) were featured in RedBubble groups during April, giving me great exposure amongst the RedBubble community and helping to establish my presence there. Click on any of the images below to view larger:
In addition to all these group features, which I am very grateful for, Dusk at Middle Brighton Baths #3 (shown above as one of my sales) was featured in RedBubble’s Featured Art Gallery, which was a great honour! The following artwork was also featured in this prestigious gallery (click for larger view):
And with that, we move on with the month of May. Although I will always plan on continuing the development of my fine art folio on RedBubble, I do want to focus a little more on my commercial folio in the coming month… fashion/portraits, cars, real estate, retail products, etc. Work is currently underway on my own photography web site, and I hope to have it up and running for all to see during May… watch this space!