Get Shallow : Having fun with focus

I’m not sure there is another occupation or area of interest where the advice “get shallow” will ever be given. In photography, however, focus plays a large roll in describing mood and isolating the main subject. Using a shallow depth of field can add depth to your photograph and aid in establishing a focal point. Typically used in portraiture, opening your lens up increases the blur in the out of focus areas. Artistically, this can also be used for very creative shots that might otherwise be, well…boring.

Below is an image of some clothes pins I had sitting around. Now, the repetition in form can be an interesting element in a photograph. However, narrowing the depth of field in this image really enhanced it and gave it a little something extra.

How can I achieve this effect? Read On!

3 pins

There are two ways to achieve blur in your photographs.

  1. Open your lens as wide as it will go. Another reason to buy a prime lens. The aperture on many primes, like a 35mm or 50mm, go to at least to 1.8. For extra creamy blur, splurge a little more and go for a good portrait or macro lens. The blur quality (bokeh) is usually nicer on the more high end lenses, but there are exceptions..do the research!
  2. Distance from subject. If your lens will let you get close enough, even at f4 you can achieve a nice blurred background. The image below was taken at f4 with a zoom lens mounted on my Nikon. I was able to get close enough to create a decent quality blur.

Notice the Yellow flower in sharp focus, while the rest of the cast gradually blurs out. This can be such a powerful tool for expression. Desert Bloom

Thanks for stopping by and please let me know what I can share with you to help you with your artistic journey. I will add a couple more photos that utilize a very shallow depth of field to show and extreme example of this technique.

Be sure to join me on instagram: Big_Wide_Lens

Happy Shooting,

Shawn

macro dropsallign

Think Wide-The Art Of Exaggeration

Okay, as I was scanning recent photographs, it didn’t take me long to come up with an idea for a new photography tip blog entry. Yay! I forgot how much I like to share this kind of stuff. Really fun!

After reviewing images from an outing last Spring, I realized many of my photos were all shot with a single wide-angle prime lens. I was following my own advice and limited my focal range for a single outing. Now it’s fairly common for one to use a wide-angle lens for such things as landscape, seascape, and cityscape photography, but shooting wide can also create fantastic spacial effects and transform the mundane into magic.  Objects shot at close range with a wide angle lens (see your lens’s minimum focal distance) can make objects that would otherwise seem relatively near to your main subject, appear quite distant. The perspective of your subject will also appear greatly exaggerated.

Please enjoy the following images I took with a 20mm lens on a full frame equivalent sensor camera.

Note the exaggerated distance in the first image of my two dogs (Danny and Sandy) and then the exaggerated perspective of the bench and the taco truck images.

Thanks so much for stopping by! Be my bud on instagram: Big_Wide_Lens

If there are other things you would like to see, please please let me know!

Happy Shooting!

Shawn Pagels

on the prowlblossomFallsTaco Truck

 

 

A Closer Look

Its been over a year since I’ve posted new content here. I am an active artist and stay-at-home parent, so please forgive my lack of content recently. Visit my art page here–>Painting to see what else I do!

I have really LOVED shooting macro this past Spring and Summer. I will include a few shots in this post, and then I promise I will add more how-too’s and what-nots soon!

Thanks as always for looking and commenting!

Shawn

lilac3allignupcloseDesert Bloom

 

It’s A Photography Contest!

I am officially kicking off my newly revamped photography community blog with the first of many monthly photo contests.

This month’s theme: Motherhood

Prize: $20.00 gift card Best buy and feature on The Daily Viewfinder.com

To Enter, go to The Daily Viewfinder Facebook page and upload your image via comment on the current months contest announcement.

This is definitely open to interpretation. Portraiture of course will lend itself to this months theme, but I will be updating my blog with other ideas that will support “Motherhood.”

Winners will be announced at the end of every month.

Bath-Mary-Cassatt

Mary Cassat

Spring Is In the Air!

It’s been a few years since I have taken advantage of my proximity to the Tulip fields near my home in Bellingham, Washington. What a treat! If you are reading this from another part of the country, do yourself a favor and visit Western Washington in the Spring. I have never in my life seen more color. The Rhododendrons are starting to bloom in about every hue imaginable. The impossibly vibrant Azaleas are due to show themselves at any moment. The fruit trees are lining the streets with their white and pink fluffiness. The spectacle of it all is really magical and appreciated by all who survived the gloomy winters.

Here are some photos I took in Skagit County, in the Tulip fields.

 

Setting Limits

Today was the first day in while that it wasn’t raining or snowing in my little city of Bellingham, Washington. As a reward for working hard in my studio today, I gave my self a much needed walk. I have been itching to get out and find those first little sprouts and buds that begin to appear on the ground and branches this time of year.

As many of you know, choosing a lens can be an overwhelming decision to make. What if I want to shoot wide for a landscape? What if I want to do macro photography?

Normally I would just pick a kit lens or an advance zoom on such an outing. These lenses offer different focal lengths for many situations. But, unless you have spent thousands on a high end zoom (and I have not), you also sacrifice quality. Now, on a little jaunt like this you aren’t always necessarily looking to create a masterpiece… or that’s what I’ve told myself in the past and ended up finding the most dazzling light situation or an incredible display of color on a stretch of grass, and my mediocre kit just isn’t sharp enough to capture such amazing stuff! Ackk!!

Solution: Instead of taking a zoom lens, equip your camera with a 35 mm or 50 mm prime lens. These lenses can be found at a much better price than high end zooms ($100-$245) and are tack sharp! In most cases, they can open up to a f1.8, and some can go to f1.4. These lenses are fixed at the focal length they were designed for, so you will have to use your “zoom legs” to adjust focal length, but the reward is great quality pictures!

*below are examples of shots I took today with a 35mm 1.8.

Happy shooting everyone!

Shawn

Purple MajestyNew WaveModern Dwelling

 

 

 

Expect Nothing, Get an Owl

It has been a long and gradual journey for me from casual to serious photographer. I first picked up a SLR back in community college, when I was being instructed how to shoot slides of my artwork. At the time (and for most things today) tools involving numbers or precision did not appeal to me in the least. For some reason, this tool with its focus ring, light meters and shutter speeds, really spoke to me and it wasn’t long until I spent a hefty chunk of my student-job paycheck on the cheapest 35mm SLR I could find. At first, I went fully automatic on all the settings, but I eventually came to a point where I could work fully manual. Back then, success to me meant creating photographs that were in focus and exposed well. My compositions were just so-s0, and none of my images were of a quality I would consider very artistic. That was frustrating. I was a decent artist that could draw and paint well. I understood perspective, lighting, color, tonality and line, but all my images just looked like snapshots…and I wanted them to look like Ansel Adams. Turns out, composition is HUGE in photography, and it would take me many more years of study for that to really sink in. With painting, if something doesn’t work, you can change it. In photography, you work with what you get! What a challenge. I had to learn P A T I E N C E.

Dang it! Patience. Waiting. Slowing down. Acceptance vs. anxiety. Going with the flow. All that stuff you see in the inexhaustible stream of Memes on social media today. Patience; the word that all of my instructors at one time directed towards my stubborn ears until the one day I finally embraced another concept and patience finally penetrated my young thick skull. I became humble. I realized I could actually get help from people and it was okay. I became a better student and my art and photography began to improve.

Twenty years later and I am still learning the rewards of patience. Learning that some days are going to yield amazing photographs, while others might only provide a single cup of good coffee, is an ongoing lesson for me.

Last week, I was in one of my favorite parks I use to prime my creative juices. I wasn’t really expecting much, but I was hopeful. There are a lot of places to shoot water, but the sun was already high and I wasn’t going to be able to take very long exposures. I decided I would just shoot trees and plants. Since it is a heavily wooded area, I could catch splashes of light hitting random sections of limbs and trunks of the cedar and firs. I wasn’t getting anything spectacular, but I was in acceptance of my situation and allowed myself to enjoy the smells of the park and the coolness of the air coming of the stream. After gathering up my gear, I headed towards a walk bridge and spotted something sitting on a tree limb. Almost immediately after I spotted it, a patch of light hit the object and I saw that it was a Barred Owl!

After a minute or so of admiring this beautiful bird, I suddenly thought, “camera!” I desperately dug out my camera from my bag and fitted my longer zoom and began shooting. To get it’s attention, I began making “hoot” sounds and knocking on the hand- rail of the bridge. It would slowly rotate its head long enough for me to get a few shots before returning back to whatever it was gazing on before. To push my luck, I decided to slowly walk around the owl on a trail that would get me another angle. After snapping some photos from the new angle, I looked over in the direction it was gazing and noticed a mother duck and its ducklings. Bonus! I was too far away to get a tight shot of the duck, but the lighting and the greenery in the foreground made for a nice composition.

It was a great nature photography day for sure. In the past, I would of looked at the harsh lighting and not pursued picture taking on a day like that. Experience has taught me that you can make just about any lighting situation work, and with enough patience and the right mind set, even your worst photo outings will be rewarding.

Thanks for stopping by! If there is a photography topic you would like to read, whether it be technical or artistic, let me know. I am happy to share all I know-Shawn Pagels

The WatchWho Goes There SmallGuardianSmallMotherhood

 

 

 

 

Down To The Ground

As with most things in life, changing your perspective can make all the difference. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, as the proverbial advice suggests, broadens our understanding of the world around us. In photography, changing perspective is a powerful tool we can rely on to strengthen our artistic muscles.

After years of shooting pictures and art making, I still sometimes find myself walking around expecting pictures to make their way into my lens at my convenient, eye level, legs straight, non-tripod mounted,  lazy way of shooting pictures. Many times, simply pointing and shooting will suffice. Often times, you have no choice in the matter. You have to shoot when something presents itself. What I am referring to are those moments when the subject matter is fantastic, but for some reason you can not capture it’s essence. Those spectacular round river rock are white flecked, the water is hitting them midway, and you know it’s a lovely sight, but your pictures are dull and uninspiring. Or, there’s is a wonderful repetition in the way some boulders are placed in a pond, but for some reason the pictures you take are boring. My advice? Get down low.

Shooting from a lower perspective adds overlap , an important visual cue, to more elements in your photograph that you wouldn’t get otherwise. It also gives your images drama by placing more objects in the foreground, strengthening the depth of the image. It also allows for more compositional possibilities, and for me this really gets my creative juices flowing. Suddenly, I tiny leaf becomes a focal point and a major compositional anchor. A tiny piece of root directs the eye towards the focal point. A leafy twig springs up in the foreground providing a strong sense of space in your photograph.

Here are some examples of how I positioned my camera real low, sometimes a few inches, to the ground in order to capture the essence of my environment. Thanks for reading and keep in touch!

SpookyTree

 

peeka BooWeb

 

The Strength Of Solitude

Give your landscape and nature photographs more emotional potency by creating a narrative between a single subject and its environment.

 

Landscape photographers face a unique challenge in trying to simplify their images when there is an infinite amount of subject matter to try and compose in a single cohesive image. A great way to focus your pictures into well composed and poignant works of art is to establish a primary subject and capture the role your subject is playing in its surroundings.

to_the_rock_by_starbirdsky-d6k4aew

The single surfer in the water facing the large rock creates a story. In an image like this, it’s easy for the viewer to make an emotional connection by imagining him/herself as the surfer. This example works well because there is a human subject used, but the same principle can be applied to just about anything.

parked_seagull_by_starbirdsky-d75y1lr

I chose not to zoom in close on this seagull. Instead, I gave the bird plenty of room and placed him resting surrounded by plenty of sky. I prefer the feeling of a free bird over a caged bird and by giving the primary subject plenty of space to breathe, the desired feeling was conveyed in this photograph.

damsel_by_starbirdsky-d7854gv

A leafless little tree isn’t the first thing that pops in your head when you’re thinking of ideas for nature or landscape photography. Here I composed around a single leafless tree that is wedged in a coastal rock. By itself, the tree wouldn’t have given much of a narrative. However, shown here growing out of rough and lifeless rock, the viewer can see the persistence of life; a young tree starting life with a strong and solid foundation.

Challenge yourself to find these narratives. Having a story or an analogy in mind when shooting a photograph will make you grow as an artist. A technically sound photograph will always be admired, but the image that makes an emotional connection will be remembered.

Happy Shooting!

Shawn Pagels

Go Ahead, Be a Square

We are all taught in art school or photography classes about portrait and landscape formats and the appropriate uses of them. Today, I want to demonstrate the power of the square! If done right, presenting an image in a square format can make a bold statement. There is something kind of hip about ignoring rules and putting something out there that looks a little different from the rest. With that in mind, there are a few things you want to look out for to avoid making your image look less like a statement and more like a mistake!

Composition: 

As in other formats, you want to remember some basic rules of good composition. Think thirds and avoid dividing the picture in half will keep the image dynamic(if this is your intent). Try not to pull the eye out of the picture by cropping lines or high contrast objects out of the frame.

Sluggish

In this example, there are lines leading away from the subject matter, but they are minimized by the use of value. The brightest and highest contrast is on the Slug shaped fallen tree.

Abstract:

Another great way to use this format is by creating an abstract image. Use pattern, shape and rhythm to make images that resemble abstract paintings.

Rothko Day

I titled this one “Rothko Day” after the famous painter. There are three major bands going across this picture with enough detail to retain a natural element, but remain abstract.

Keep It Moving:

To counter the stagnant nature of the square, choose a photograph that conveys motion.

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The lively nature of this small waterfall keeps the square format lively and visually compelling!

Thanks for reading. Please follow my blog for further articles with examples. Contact me with any questions or comments.

Happy Shooting!

Shawn Pagels