Monday, July 7, 2014

Expanding Your Range

It’s official, you finally found your "style’! You have worked hard to find and develop that style. You shot more photos than you can count, read art & photography books, critiqued and evaluated your work, and now you finally feel like your work has a distinctive look. Congratulations! It’s not easy to develop style and if work has a distinctive look to it, you have achieved what many photographers aspire to but not all achieve.

One of the best benefits of having achieved a style is that you can rely on "formulas" that you have learned over the years. With style, you know exactly what lens and what setting that you should use for a sure fire hit. You easily put the composition together, instinctively you just know where to place the camera for a perfect point of view and where to place all the elements of a scene in the frame. To a casual observer watching, it would look like the capture of amazing photos is so easy. You just pick up the camera, hit your formula and make magical images.

Ok, so the formula doesn’t always work. And even when it does, it is not always such a great thing. Imagine always capturing a perfect image every single time. How boring would that be? Without experimentation there are very few bad shots. I discuss that fact in "It’s All About The good Shots." But without experimentation there also is no photographic growth. And without growth, photography becomes very boring.

I photograph many different subjects and I am flexible enough with my style that I can use different styles for different subjects. Most of my nature imagery is done in an "intimate landscape" type of style that uses telephoto lenses and shallow depth of field. For my floral images, I take it one step further and often go into a very painterly interpretive style. For my wrestling photography, I tend to prefer sharp stop motion images, with shutter speeds long enough to capture some ambient light but fast enough to freeze blur. With my rock’n’roll live performance photography, I like to use as much natural light as possible. I experiment with some motion blur and use of flash to fill in the shadows a bit or as the main light if the venue is too dark. And with any other subjects I shoot, such as cityscapes and people for example, I tap into my regular styles and formulas depending on the situation. These styles and formulas are inside my brain for me to tap into whenever I need to work fast and must be certain that I captured a great image.

But photography is no fun without experimentation. Hitting formulas and making the same type of image over and over can be boring. Especially, if like most photographers, you shoot the same subjects or type of subjects regularly.

Every year, before each season, I go through my favorite old images. I think about themes and collections that I want to build on and expand. I also think about what new techniques that I want to try and when time allows I experiment. Sometimes I find myself thinking that I should just stick to my usual style, the failed images are a bummer. My personal photographic weaknesses are deep focus and wide angle landscapes. I shoot handheld (see The Tripod Hater’s Tips For Sharper Handheld Images) and sometimes small apertures are off limits to me due to the longer shutter speeds required to use them. I also find that some scenes just end up looking too cluttered. I lean on wide apertures and shallow focus to make my main subjects pop off the page. Same thing with wide angle landscapes, I find it very challenging to compose a compelling image. Most photographers have some type of imagery or techniques and equipment that they find challenging. Don’t just accept it as fact and rely on your usual formulas. Step up to the challenge and expand your range!

Here are a few tips to get you thinking outside your formulas:

Experiment With Aperture

All serious photographers know about the effect that a chosen aperture can have upon a scene’s depth of field. Very few serious photographers would choose an aperture merely to change the exposure unless there was a particular need to. Wide apertures such as F2 have limited depth of field and small apertures like F16 have a deeper focus where most or all elements of a scene from near to far are in acceptable focus. I often go for large apertures and shallow depth of field, so when I try to expand my range, I use smaller apertures and experiment with deep focus. I have been adding deep focus techniques to my shooting repertoire for a couple of years now and I am finding that I am getting better at it. If you are unfamiliar with the effect that aperture has, try shooting a scene at every aperture to learn the effect that each one has. If you are already familiar with apertures and their effects, try choosing an aperture the opposite that you may normally choose. Like deep focus? Try shooting the same scenes using a wide aperture. Shallow depth of field lover? Break out of your formula and try shooting some of those scenes with deep focus.
F4.5 at 208mm focal length. Soft & dreamy focus as I normally like it.
F9 at 90mm. A slight departure from my norm, but a subject such as this required more DOF.

Experiment With Shutter Speeds

Your shutter speed not only affects the exposure but also how sharply motion is recorded. As a hand held shooter, I have a tendency to choose faster shutter speeds to avoid camera shake. But I still find the time to experiment with longer exposures. I love to shoot images zoomed during longer exposures like 1/15, and also like to experiment with panning techniques (moving the camera in the direction of a moving subject during a 1/30 or longer exposure depending on subject.) Sometimes I will even break out the tripod and experiment further, shooting long exposures of wind blown subjects. If you always capture tack sharp and motion free images, try expanding your range and experiment with longer shutter speeds and moving subjects. You may even choose take it one stop further and shoot a motion abstract where nothing in is focus. Why not?
I normally go for tack sharp action shots when doing my wrestling photography. But over the past couple of years, I have been experimenting more with longer exposures and camera movement.
See more here:

Experiment With Exposure

As a general rule, we should strive to capture an image that is correctly exposed. But what correct exposure is can actually depend on the subject matter, the lighting that is available, and a photographer’s personal preference. I have a tendency to be attracted to scenes that are more low key in nature. Even when I shoot a subject that is high key in nature, such as lightly colored flower against a bright background, I tend to underexpose the image just a touch to bring out the details in the petals. Experiment with exposure by regularly bracketing your shots, or deliberately over or underexposing an image just to see what effect it has.

Experiment With Color

Some people naturally see in black in white. Not literally, although for the color blind maybe so. But some people just know by looking at a scene how that scene will translate into a black & white image. It’s not magic or a rare skill, but something one can learn by doing and training oneself to be observant of tone and contrast. I admit, I am not currently one of those people. While I admire fine crafted black & white imagery, I don’t do enough of it myself. Color is just my thing. But black & white imagery is on my own personal list of photography techniques I want to work on. If you always shoot in color, maybe black & white imagery should also be on yours. The opposite is also true. If you regularly create black and white images, break free of your formula. Sometimes converting an image to black and white can be a crutch for some photographers, just like the shallow depth of focus techniques that I use can be. Try breaking out of your monochrome world, and step up to the challenge of composing an image filled with color.

Experiment With Color Tones / Casts

Photographers and artists are frequently drawn to certain colors and have a preference of warm or cool toned imagery. While the subject matter and lighting conditions should be the thing that dictates whether to record the image with a cool, warm, or neutral color balance, a photographer’s preference or interpretation of a scene can be an overruling factor. If you have a tendency to capture warm or cool toned imagery, you may want to experiment. The best way to do this is to shoot your images in the RAW file format and later experiment during post processing. Change the color temperature during RAW processing to view the effect that color balance has on your images. If you prefer to shoot JPEGs, you can experiment in camera by bracketing your color balance settings (shoot one at 5300 daylight, another at 6000 cloudy daylight setting, etc.) You can also opt to experiment with color in Photoshop or other image processing program

Here I used my camera’s (Olympus OMD EM5) pinhole setting to darken the edges a touch and enhance the blue tones in this image in camera. Captured in JPEG format with all work done in camera, a slight depart from my usual of shooting nature images only in the RAW format.

Read My Blog Post "Developing Your Style."

Any of the tips in that post meant to help you develop your style can also be used to expand your range as well.

Experiment With New Equipment

Lenses are a photographer’s paint brushes. Beyond just the focal lengths effects on your images, a lens’s bokeh and handling can also influence your style and help you expand your range. For me, my telephoto lenses and lensbaby made a huge impact on my style. And last year, the purchase of an extension tube had a serious impact on my compositions. Even on the images where I didn’t use the tube. Don’t buy new gear just to have the latest and greatest but rather buy new lenses and accessories to help you expand upon, or expand beyond, your current work.
Don’t Be Afraid To Experiment

Not every photograph you capture needs to fit in with your personal style and themes. Experiment and learn new techniques to expand your range. When it works out, you can build upon your new themes and adapt and grow your style. And if they don’t work out, you can choose just to file them and never share them. Not every photo you take needs to be shared online or as a print, sometimes you just take them to grow or to have a memory in a snapshot. Experiment and have fun with your photography.

Experiment With "Opposite Day."

Dedicate a day or a session’s shooting to doing things the opposite that you normally do. I already listed some of the things that you can try. Now try them for a whole day. No, don’t do this on a once in a lifetime trip or unrepeatable event. But rather do so during a more local and relaxed situation. It’s fun game to play, and you may find that some of these opposites work their way into your shooting repertoire.

Experiment With Post Processing

Not only for the computer effects, but more so to learn new processing techniques to better your images. Unlike my other tips, I am not recommending that you do the opposite of what you normally do. Although, you can do that as well if you wish. But rather I am thinking more of learning how to improve your current skill level. Experimenting with HDR (High Dynamic Range), sharpening for printing, color enhancements, and more can expand your skill range and make your images even better. I prefer not to do too much post processing to my images, I prefer to capture as much as I can in camera. But every once in a while, I like to break free of that habit and see if I can improve upon some of my already favorite images in the computer. This year I added a new collection to my portfolio, "Altered Vision" in which I use computer techniques to mimic film cross processing. Sometimes such effects can become dated or tacky, but sometimes they can be quite lovely.


Shoot Different Subjects

Always shoot landscapes in nature? Try shooting a cityscape. Always shoot still subjects? Try a moving subject like animals or humans. Always shoot during the day? Try capturing some night time views. Always shoot people? Try shooting a still life. Sure, you may be limited in what subjects are available to you. But take a look around and you will find that there are many things you could be shooting but that your don’t regularly make the effort to do so. Also, very often many more subjects can be just a short drive away. Get out there and find some new subject matter!

I hope these tips help you to expand your range and increase your enjoyment of photography. And if they have, or you have some other range expanding tips, please feel free to comment. Thanks for viewing and I hope you have been enjoying my blog.



Here I experimented with adding a texture effect during post processing. I don’t normally do stuff like this, but every once in awhile it’s good to break free and Expand Your Range!
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