Don't be a Slave to White Balance

Auto White Balance: it’s one of the first things I ask my workshop students to turn off. When outdoors, choose Daylight or Cloudy white balance instead. Indoors, tungsten white balance will generally provide more pleasing results. Allowing your camera to decide something as important as the colour balance of your images can lead to washed out sunsets, and other less than optimal results as it tries to bring colour conformity to every image you make.

For the most part this is good advice, but there is a world of creative possibility available by occasionally breaking the rules. Colour is one of the prime “mood setters” in image making. Using creative tweaks to the overall colour balance of your images can reinforce the message in your image by influencing the psychological reaction a viewer has to the content of your image.

Let’s look at two examples.

The Brush and the Grad

Taming Lightroom’s Local Adjustment Tools

Lightroom has several local adjustment tools you can use to work on specific areas in your images, including the Adjustment Brush and the Graduated filter. Both have been criticized for been somewhat blunt instruments: lacking the precision of carefully masked adjustment layers in Photoshop. While it’s true that Photoshop offers the possibility of creating very precise local adjustments, it’s unfair to unduly criticize Lightroom’s local adjustment tools: they are more capable than some would have you believe.

The Digital Polarizer

A polarizer is a basic filter which every photographer who works outdoors should have and know how to use. In many ways it’s the only filter, the effects of which can’t be fully reproduced in post using tools like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. But, it does have its limitations.

Photographing the Aurora Borealis

The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis is an awesome sight to behold. If you live in the northern reaches of the globe, or even if you are in areas as far south as the northern tier of US states or anywhere in Canada or northern Europe, chances are good that the Aurora will visible to you at some time this winter.

The Trouble with Wide-Angles

As a group, wide-angle lenses are seemingly the hardest for beginning photographers to master. Why is that? Well, for two reasons actually, both tied to their wide field of view.

Slow Down and Keep Shooting

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while you could miss it.
Ferris Bueller

Life does seem to move faster and faster with each passing year. The pace just never seems to slow down; deadlines at work, soccer practice and dance lessons for the kids, lawns to cut, and a hundred other tasks that all demand our attention, right now!

Overcoming Inertia

How often have you walked or driven by something that caught your eye, and immediately began an inner debate: should I stop and shoot that? Is worth the effort? And having NOT stopped, how often have you later kicked yourself for your decision?

Passion and Work

Is passion necessary to create great images? If you are not passionate about your subject, is it possible to create images that others will find interesting, let alone inspiring? To quote Jay Maisel, “If you’re not excited about your images, how can you expect me to be excited about them?” It’s hard to argue against this idea, (and yet commercial photographers are called upon to do this everyday; against deadlines, and within ever shrinking budgets.) So, if you aren’t feeling particularly passionate about shooting on a given day is there any point to picking up your camera at all? Given the basic premise here, you’re only going to create uninspired, boring images, aren’t you? Is there any point to working at photography simply for the sake of working at it?

Enhancing the Third Dimension

Photography is a two dimensional medium which we use to represent a three dimensional world. The basic visual cues that allow us to infer the third dimension in a photograph include:

Size -- whenever we have familiar objects in the frame, we use their relative size as a clue to their relative distance from us.

Focus -- Something which is sharply focused in an image will be perceived as being either closer or farther away than something which is clearly out of focus.

Visual cues such as receding lines -- the familiar illusion created by the lines a highway that appear to converge into the distance.

The two images above use size as one visual cue to the which elements are closer to the viewer, and which are further away. The flower also uses differences in sharpness to aid in creating an illusion of greater three-dimensional depth: the bloom that is both sharper and larger appears to us as being closer. The image of the Amsterdam canal boat uses relative size, as well as converging liners to create the illusion of depth.

There is also another visual cue that we can use to create or enhance the illusion of “three-dimensionality”: the relationship between light and dark tones in an image. All things being equal, areas in a picture that are lighter in tone will appear to advance toward the viewer, and those that are darker will appear to recede.