Composing Powerful Images in Natural Light

This was the focus of a workshop I attended Saturday led by Seattle-based Anita Nowacka, voted “Seattle’s Most Awesome Family Photographer” in 2012 and works currently as an instructor for National Geographic Expeditions. Thirty plus of us sat in Black Rapid’s Studios for 2 1/2 hours gleaning the key elements from Anita, putting them in action at the always busy, chaotic, and on Saturday, rainy Kerry Park in the afternoon. We returned to the studios to share our best shots, encompassing all that we learned, with minimal time to edit. Here is my shot that Anita said was “on the mark.”

Anticipation

Anticipation

A woman meeting a dog. Hmmm, you might say. What was right on the mark? Read on and then look back at the photo and see if you agree with her.

We learned that the components of a strong, compelling image include the following elements:

Storyline: She reminded us that there are two parts of storytelling – expressing what you see and want to say, and what you want the other person to see and understand.  My photo captured that moment just before the dog and woman actually touched, the brief moment of tension, or anticipation. If I had used the one below, it would not have had the same impact. Anita emphasized that as a photographer we get to decide what the story is and when to capture it.

Greeting

Greeting

Composition: The storyline is communicated through deliberate composition, which involves looking for shapes: triangles, circles, and lines. In the first photo, if you look, there is a small triangle formed between the dog’s nose and the woman’s hand.  As we look at an image our eyes start from the left, then go up around the image, and back to the base of the photo looking at the details.  Think of it as a wave. She illustrated this many times as she critiqued our photos.

Cottage in Iceland

Cottage in Iceland

Exposure: And finally a strong image is achieved with correct exposure.  Understanding the light is what all good photographers focus on if they want to get a good shot. Many photographers love the early morning and the evening just before the sun goes down; however, there are many other times of the day when we are taking photos at a picnic, Camera Walking midmorning, or in the afternoon, so how do we work with the natural light? Anita’s answer is to embrace the light, whatever time of day, and work with it.

Overcast: This is the most even light for taking photos of people and flowers. Although I love taking photos when the sun is out with fluffy clouds, embracing the overcast helps create great photos.

Overcast skies

Overcast skies

Open Shade: Find shady places to take photos of people, such as in the shade of a tree, building, or any place that takes your subjects out of the harsh afternoon sun.

Open Shade

Open Shade

Back Light: Everyone appreciates the beauty of a backlit photo. Works wonderfully for kids and flowers, but as Anita said, probably wouldn’t be best if you were taking photos of a bride.

Back Lit Flower

Back Lit Flower

After Sundown: We all know the beauty of the colors in the sky when the sun is setting, that 15-30 minutes when the earth lights up with luscious colors. It works wonderfully for landscape photos, but also for people and animals.

At Sundown

At Sundown

High Noon: This is probably the best time to do more editorial or concept photography, not for portraits.

Conceptual Shot

Conceptual Shot

There were many other tips and techniques that she shared that I will use to improve my photography while Camera Walking. However, a few key ones that I will embrace include: looking for shapes; composing the shot so that I don’t need to crop as much when editing; including a human element in a photo, even if it is only a person’s feet; and create tension with a foreground and background. Finally, adding a “third element” – something that is unexpected, but can make the shot.

The Third Element

The Third Element

Anita cited many quotes from famous photographers and artists, especially Henri Cartier-Bresson, considered the father of photojournalism. He once said: “To photograph is to put on the same line of sight the head, the eye and the heart.” That is what I will remember the most – conveying what I see, what story I want to share, and communicate that emotion through my photos.

So embrace the natural light, grab your camera, go out Camera Walking, and bring back your stories to share!

 

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