Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What Is The "Golden Hour"? The "Blue Hour"?

Sometimes you'll hear these terms thrown around by more experienced photographers, and I'm sure there are some out there who haven't the foggiest idea what they mean.

It's very simple, actually.  The "Golden Hour" refers to the time immediately preceding, and then immediately following, the setting of the sun.  The quality of the light changes dramatically during this time, and creates deliciously warm, inviting tones.  The light has a golden color cast to it... allowing you to create dramatic and inspiring images. 

I remember first seeing this in the images created by the National Geographic photographers, who I idolized when I was a teenager.  They just seemed to have this beautiful golden quality to them... even though I didn't really understand what it was.

Later, when I became a professional, I learned that the Golden Hour was the ONLY time I really enjoyed doing portraiture.

The "Blue Hour" is a bit different... it's the period of time after the sun sets, but before it becomes completely dark outside... the sky just has a beautiful royal blue tint.  It doesn't last very long... certainly not an hour... that's kind of misleading... but it has a gorgeous quality to it:

This particular light is my favorite to shoot in when it comes to architecture, real estate, and hospitality.  It creates a very dramatic sky that adds immeasurably to the dramatic impact of the image.

Don't take my word for it, though.  Go out this week, and just watch the sky as the sun sets, and beyond.  You'll wonder why you never really noticed it before.

Magical "Perfect Image" Land

Yeah, about that. It's a myth.  It's a lie.  It simply doesn't exist.

Some of the best images I've ever taken have been in the unlikeliest of places.  You wouldn't know that to look at them, but that's kind of the point of learning how to see.  I still get a kick out of giving the "back story" of some of my images, and watching the eyes of the listener get big as they realize that no, that image wasn't taken in Magical "Perfect Image" Land where conditions were custom-designed just for this shot.  No, in fact, it was taken right in front of the local grocery store, who had racks of flowers on display.

I know I emphasize this a lot, but it bears repeating.  There is no such place as "Magical 'Perfect Image' Land."  It simply doesn't exist.

Here's another example.  

I discovered this tree as a result of just walking around.  The background was pretty ugly, but I really liked the patterns and textures in this particular tree... so I just cropped in tight and filled the frame with the tree... which was around long before the Civil War, and was probably had a front-row seat to it.

These are some of the most famous columns in the country.  They are columns that grace the front of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington DC.  Everyone else was wandering around, gawking at the protesters (there are ALWAYS protesters there, it seems), but I ventured up the steps to where the columns were... and just started looking around, exploring different angles, looking at the light.

So get the idea out of your head that there is some kind of special place that allows OTHER photographers to get great shot, and by golly, someday YOU'RE gonna find it TOO.  It doesn't exist.  Walk around.  Look around.  Explore.  It's actually all around you. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Seeing the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

One of the oldest adages in photography is to "see the extraordinary in the ordinary."  I'm fairly certain that the person who came up with this was tired of hearing beginning (and even advanced) photographers bemoan the "lack of subject material."  It seems that to some, there is simply a profound dearth of quality subject matter, while other "lucky" photographers find wonderful shots seemingly everywhere.

The pain inherent in this phrase is that it's absolutely true.  There is no such thing as finding the happenstance "extraordinary" subject, scene, composition, etc.  At least not 99% of the time.  What there is, for those astute enough to learn to look for it, are thousands upon thousands of potentially extraordinary subjects, scenes, compositions hidden in plain site in the "ordinary" that constantly surrounds us.  It all depends on whether your eye has been trained to scour the "ordinary," and see the extraordinary hidden within them.

This image is a great example.  We were on a family outing in Knight's Ferry, CA, which has some interesting old ruins of buildings and a covered bridge.  My daughter was not happy for some reason, and was making it difficult for us to enjoy ourselves, so I had her sit down for a "time out" just inside the end of the covered bridge.  There was a slight breeze blowing, and she had naturally long, luxurious hair... we called her our little "Rapunzel Girl."  Her hair was so long, we could see it waving around in the ultrasound we took before she was born. 

The scene took me completely by surprise when I "saw" it.  The directional light coming in from the end of the covered bridge, the strong geometric shapes of the beams, particularly the triangle that "frames" her, and a bit of compositional "Rule Of Thirds" framing created an image that our family still cherishes to this day.  From a chance look at a pouty child on a family outing.

When I relate this story, I take care to emphasize the fact that it was not "luck" that allowed me to capture this image... I was looking for it.  I was prepared to see it.  And once you get religion on this notion of looking... really looking... for the extraordinary in the ordinary, your life as a photographer will never be the same again.

I learned to hone my skill by simply walking around.  Spending time.  Going downtown, to a shopping center, heck, the train tracks, and just looking around.  Seeing.  Framing in my head.  Looking at how light is striking something.  Evaluating angles, lines, and shapes.  And sometimes you have to really dig.  Sometimes the creative juices just don't flow.  The key is to not get discouraged, but to enjoy the act of visually exploring.  It's actually quite fun, and very relaxing... if you aren't putting pressure on yourself to find something.  Look around, under, up, down, sideways, through... tilt your head... explore different angles as  you look.  You'll be amazed at what you find.

This image to the right was a parking garage in Fresno, CA.  Just a parking garage.  I had a couple hours to kill, so I was wandering around downtown Fresno, waiting for my wife to get off work.  And I looked up.  And saw this.  And I had to wonder how many people had trudged past this parking garage without giving it a second thought... and missed the lines, angles, and interesting composition.

This image was inside a ride at the Magic Kingdom.  We were waiting in line (a very long line), and instead of grousing about the line, or people-watching, I started looking around... looking at lines... looking at how the architects of the attraction had designed it, and imaging what was going through their minds as they were going through that creative process... "What were they trying to say" with this big, sweeping circle?  How did they want this structure to make us feel?  And finally, I looked up and saw it.

This is a learned skill.  So go learn it.  Walk around.  Look at stuff.  Only look at it through new "eyes."  Look at it through the lens of creativity and wonder.  Then tell me what you found.