Photographing Low Angles

Ride 2 Recovery

Ride 2 Recovery

Each year down California's Central Coast is a charity ride for wounded veterans called Ride 2 Recovery, and each year they ride past Vandenberg Middle School down Highway 1 where the kids come out to cheer them.  This year I had the opportunity to witness the event, so I grabbed my camera and got ready. 

I had no idea this guy would ride past cranking a bike with his arms.  When I saw him down the road coming toward me I became as giddy as a school girl knowing that a low angle of him riding past would make for a great photograph.  The kids high fiving him was the icing on the cake.

Why make photographs at low angles?

Great photographs have a different perspective.  Notice how the photographer in the background is shooting from the standing position?  Other than documenting the cyclists riding down the road I doubt her pictures tell much of a story.  We already know what the world looks like from the standing position because we see it from that perspective everyday.  A picture that gets noticed isn't better, it's different. 

If I were standing to take the shot above it would have been just another snapshot.  Instead, I bent my knees and got low showing the world in a way most people don't typically see it.  When you view a photograph with a different perspective it makes you stop and think for a moment.

Whereas, a photograph from the standing position is not too different from any other photo from the standing position regardless of the subject.  I think this is most noticable when photographing kids.  Get low and on their level.  It not only shows their perspective with how they see the world, but it presents you with a different view of the world, too.

Practice getting low, shooting up, change your perspective, add angles, and find different lines that that lead to your subject. Low angles will make your pictures more interesting. 

Which Focus Point Would You Choose?

My two boys are fortunate to have a pile of toys they love to play with.  Their creative energy is astounding.  I try photographing their play in new and creative ways to document their childhood, and to help me improve my techniques. 

My philosophical approach to photography is that anything can make a nice picture.  You just have to "see" it right. Sometimes I am confronted with a photograph that I see in my head, but I'm not always sure if it will work the way I want.

When I saw this picture I knew how I wanted to make it, but I was torn between two different focus points.  Should I have focussed on the airplane, or did I do it right by focussing on his hand?

Either way, I love the juxtaposition between the blue and yellow within this narrow frame.  The bright colors of the airplane draw your eye to it, whereas the hand is used to grab and play with the plane bringing me back to my original question. Which focus point would you choose?

Why I Love Digital Photography

Going through boxes full of photos has proven to be a daunting task.

I recently discussed why I hate digital photography, but in spite of hating it I also love it, and here's why.

Digital Saves Money

The obvious reason digital saves money is that you no longer need to buy and process film, but you already knew that.

The hidden reason digital photography saves money is the inexpensive cost of high quality gear.  Camera technology has advanced to the point where consumer grade cameras can create pro quality pictures.  Though an inexpensive camera can make a great picture, it is still the photographer who makes the image. It's the quality of the story rather than the quality of the pixels that makes for a compelling photograph.

Superior Image Quality

Digital images are clean with little grain when shooting at low ISO.  Shooting at a high ISO in low will add grain to the image, but not so much as to make the picture unusable.  Just about any camera made within the past three years can produce clean enough images at ISO 6400.

Expanding film speed to those numbers is nearly impossible. If you did shoot high ISO/ASA (fast) film in low light you often had pictures that were too grainy to be considered usable.

Another inherent problem of film is that picture quality degrades over time. Oxidation burns holes in slides, prints fade, and negatives yellow.

There is also the issue with fingerprints, tears, and dust. As a kid I remember my dad's slide shows with dust on the pictures, and he would inevitably place them backward in the carriage.

All of these issues with film were the way things were, so you just lived with them.  Today however, dust, backward pictures, and every other photography faux pas from 30 years ago is unacceptable.

Chimping

Chimping is what everyone does with their digital camera.  You take a picture, look at it, take another and look, take another, wash, rinse, repeat.  It can be annoying when someone does this after every shot. 

However, when used conservatively chimping has great benefits that you could never get with film.  The screen on the back of your camera gives you the opportunity to check exposure, see whether someone blinked, you can check composition, focus, and so much more.

In the days of film you shot roll after roll then sent them in for processing. You weren't able to see your pictures for a week. If you missed the shot it was too late. That moment in time was gone forever, and you never knew what you did wrong. 

Learning Curve

When you pay attention to the camera settings, and use them as a learning tool you can learn photography at a much faster rate then when you shot with film.  

In the days of film the only way you were able to remember your settings was to write them down for each shot.  Today, the camera tags each image with metadata.  Now you can get instant feedback with each picture and make adjustments on the fly.  What may have taken years to learn can now take weeks.  Instead of wasting time figuring out camera settings you can instead practice framing, composition, and story telling.

A method to help you learn fast is to photograph the same subject over and over by incrementally changing the settings to see how they affect your picture. You get instant feedback, the metadata tells you the camera's settings, and it doesn't cost you anything to practice.

For example, you can change your lens from f/1.8 one f/stop at a time to f/22 to see how it affects the depth of field.  You can speed up or slow down your shutter, change ISO to see how it affects the other settings, and so on. 

Cataloging & Metadata

Metadata is not only useful as a teaching tool, it also helps keep your library organized. Every photograph has a time and date stamp, it tells you the camera and lens, your settings, you can add copyright information, and lots more. 

With so many pictures taken daily, digital photography makes it easy to catalog them. You can quickly sort through your library, delete the bad one's, rename the good one's, tag them, place them into collections, or any other creative way you want to organize you photos.

Whereas, my analog photo collection is a rat's nest of a mess. I don't know the camera's that were used, the type of film, the settings, the film speed, the date and time, or any of it. This makes it hard to organize pictures chronologically, you have no idea what the camera settings were, or any of it.

Without this information it has taken me years to get my analog collection somewhat organized. When I do get the motivation to work on it I quickly lose interest.  It is such a daunting task. 

Even if my analog photo library was well organized it would still be hard to find certain photographs that were taken years ago. Searching analog content is hard. Whereas, digital searches use tags, keywords, and metadata.

Physical Storage

When you shoot digital you don't have boxes of old photographs stored away in a closet deteriorating and taking up space. All of this material has volume and weight that requires you to spend money transporting boxes of pictures from one house to another every time you move.

There is also the issue of fire, flood, tornado, hurricane, or whatever disaster is waiting to destroy your cherished pictures.  The only thing digital images require is that you have a good backup solution with at least three copies with one offsite.  If the house burns down and everything is destroyed you can retrieve your pictures from your offsite backup. 

The final reason I love digital photography brings me back to my first point... it saves money.  You don't need a large house with lots of storage to keep a huge photo collection.  Smaller homes are less expensive to both purchase and own.  When you compound your savings over decades your potential nest egg can grow into the hundreds of thousands of dollars allowing you to retire from work earlier giving you more time to take pictures.

Why I Hate Digital Photography

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix about the end of Polaroid film called, Time Zero | The Last Year of Polaroid Film. It was an insightful and emotional documentary. The end of Polaroid film was the end of an era in photography, and everyone over the age of 20 has had some experience with it.

The documentary got me thinking about how digital cameras have changed photography. Today, just about everyone has a camera in their pocket. This allows people to take snapshots all day without thinking about composition, lighting, or whether they will become a cherished relic.

Photographs Without Intent

With easy access to the camera in their pocket people take too many pictures that are quickly forgotten. Film cameras required you to think about every shot because every shot had a cost of, let's say, 50 cents.

With digital that's not the case. Because every digital picture is free people take less care when composing, when thinking about the settings, the lighting, or any of it. Today, you take a shot, look at it, make adjustments, take another, wash, rinse, repeat. 

Then there is the guy who motor drives every picture. I cringe when I hear machine gun fire coming from someone's camera when there's no action. You can't possibly frame the shot with proper focus when rattling off 10 frames every time you press the shutter.

Film forced you to slow down and think about what you were doing. You couldn't afford to miss the shot because you only had 36 frames per roll, plus the monetary cost.

You can miss shot after shot with digital and it doesn't matter. Just take another one. The only problem is that you leave with too many pictures and only a few keepers. Whereas, if you just slow down and shoot with intent you walk away with fewer bad images, which leads to the next reason why I hate digital photography.

Sorting Through the Junk

After you snap a thousand photos from the day's shoot it's time to sift through everything looking for the keepers. All these pictures require a computer, hard drives, multiple storage points, multiple copies of your library, photo editing software, time to organize, tag, and name your photos, time to edit your pictures, and so on.

After a few years you will have terabytes with tens of thousands of images that you need to make searchable otherwise you may never find them again. As your library grows your computer's hard drive rapidly fills. When it does, you need to move your photo library to an external hard drive. Then over time that one will fill, and when it does you need to buy a larger hard drive, a NAS, or whatever it takes to store what are mostly mediocre snapshots. 

To battle this problem you need a detailed workflow to quickly clear the clutter so you can find the good shots, edit your images, and share to social media.

After every thing is imported and sorted through you are faced with the decision of how you should organize it all. Do you rename every photo? If so, do you rename them so you know which camera you used? What naming scheme should you use so you can easily search for the images? Should you organize by event, chronologically, or just leave the image name that the camera assigns? Does it even matter?

All of this presents yet another problem - sitting in front of your computer for hours. You sit in front of one at work, you sit writing emails, you sit when you video call with the grandparents, when trolling Facebook, reading this article, and everything else you do on your computer. With thousands of photos it's just more seat time.

Sharing Your Images

How often have you seen someone's Flickr, Instagram, or Facebook page filled with hundreds of pictures taken of the same event. People don't discriminate the good from the bad. They believe that every picture of their kid is a masterpiece, so they share everything they take. 

If I can impart one thing it is this, select only the best image(s) and share those. If you think that 50 of the 1000 you took are amazing then choose the best 5 of those 50 to share. Most often, one or two good images a day are enough. When you flood people with everything the good one's get lost in the clutter.

Backing Up

Backing up all of your data is another inherent problem of digital. You don't want to lose those irreplaceable pictures of grandma blowing out 100 candles to a dead hard drive or accidental deletion. To avoid these problems you need multiple backups of everything with at least one off site. All of these hard drives and backups come at both a monetary and time cost.

Then over the years you purchase new cameras with larger file sizes. This requires more computing power, more RAM, and more hard drive space. Again, all of this comes at both a financial and time cost.

Digital is Not Tangible

Digital images, whether on your phone, tablet, computer, or TV are sterile with little thought put toward presentation. When you show people images that are mounted in a photo album you write little blurbs, you make them into a collage, group like images with like images, place them in a timeline to represent one's life, scrapbook, and so much more.

Much of this can be done with a computer, but it takes time and skill, and the end product is less than personal. There is nothing to hold, nothing to embrace, nothing to cherish. 30 years later there is nothing to discover hidden away in the back of a closet to stir old memories, to have and to hold. The life of a photo on the Internet is only a few seconds, if that.

Yes, old prints fade and slides become oxidized, but that adds to the treasure. When photos are taken with intent the memory is seared into your brain. You remember the smells, the time of day, the feeling of your new sweater against your skin. Those images take you back to the moment they were taken. In your mind you are a kid again playing with your favorite doll, or train set.

Those grainy, and slightly out of focus images are endearing. It's all you have of those moments gone by. They are something to be cherished. Compare that with digital. You take thousands of snapshots because the cost is nothing. Then they hide on your hard drive where only you know they exist.

Too Complicated

The Camera itself presents another problem. Your digital camera is a small computer, and overtime it will become obsolete like any other computer. In a few short years you will need to buy a new one. 

Then there are all the different formats. Should you shoot RAW, JPEG, TIFF, or something else? Which color space should you use? What about white balance? You need to have a working knowledge of computers, digital imaging, proprietary software, and it all needs to be up to date.

A film camera, on the other hand, is just a light box that exposes film. Yes, there have been updates to film cameras, but you can still take great photographs with an old one. Whereas, an old digital camera will leave your images as less desired.

Are you a good photographer or a good image editor?

This brings me to the final point. Are the digital images you see actually what was captured by the photographer? Or are good photographers merely good image editors?

A photographer may take a mediocre picture that is poorly framed under exposed with a distracting background, but after hours of manipulation he creates a nice picture. The problem however, is that the photo you see is not what was captured.

And don't get me started on High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography. On the surface they look cool, but there are no shadows, no emotion, no grit. All those things that create a compelling photo are missing. Yes, HDR can make for some amazing pieces of art, but they are completely manipulated.

Conclusion

I shoot digital like everyone else, but there are so many headaches attached to it that it makes me a conservative photographer. With digital I still think about my shots, the framing, and the settings. If I can't get the image properly framed, or it doesn't appear how I imagine it to be I won't push the shutter button. Why waste the shot?

Who wants to sift through hundreds of shitty photos just to find one gem that you captured by accident? I don't, and you shouldn't either. Take pride in the images you create. Cover the screen on the back of the camera, anticipate the shot, and photograph quality.

Film was certainly a simpler time, especially Polaroid film. And though I hate digital, I also love it. I know that sounds odd, but we all have personal conflicts.

Infancy of Yard Work

As a young boy I remember helping my dad with yard work. I hated it. I would get stuck pulling weeds, moving rock, and raking leaves to name a few. I also remember helping my friends finish their yard work so we could go play baseball. Needless to say kids all too often get stuck helping their parents with yard work, and my oldest son is no different.

In contrast to "forced labor", Timmy asked if he could help clean up the palm trimmings and he actually enjoyed it. Before starting however, he asked for pair of gloves, but all I had was a small pair that were way too big for his little hands. Regardless the size, after he put them on he had a ball picking up the palm pieces and throwing them into the green bin.

His enthusiasm lasted for about 20 minutes, and then decided he was finished and ran back to the garage yelling, "I'm done!"  I couldn't complain about him quitting as I didn't expect him to help in the first place. At three and half years old Timmy did a great job.

Yard work is not the scope of this post, however.  Rather, this post is a metaphor about the future. His age, the current state of the yard, and the size of the palm are changes we will notice when we look back 20 years from now.  This picture will show the obvious transformation of Timmy from a young boy to the man I am raising him to become while the oversized gloves project his maturity.

I'm hopeful the current drought conditions will yield rain while the palm may or may not grow larger. I think it's some type of pygmy.  My plan is to landscape this part of the yard with a French drain and native plants and grasses. In the coming years the yard will certainly look different, and so will Timmy. All things start in infancy and grow over time including yard work. 

I never enjoyed it, and I still don't. I want to create a landscape that requires little maintenance or water, but will look groomed with native flora. With a little luck I won't be doing much yard work, and me and my boys can spend our time playing baseball rather than pulling weeds, moving rock, or raking leaves.

Gear and Settings

I shot this photograph with an all manual 24mm f/2.5 Tamron lens that I bought about 20 years ago. It's an Adaptal 2 style lens, which means you buy the lens without a mount and add an adapter that is based on your camera's specific mount. It's a great little lens and gives an effective focal length of 36mm on my Nikon D7200.

My camera was set to ISO100 at f/5.6 with a shutter speed of 1/200 of a second. I shot it at f/5.6 for a deeper depth of field to capture both the trash can and palm in focus. After looking at this image I should have shot it at f/4 or lower to blur the guy walking in the background.

In spite of that I still enjoy this picture, and it is one we will cherish in the years to come.