Today is Pi Day. I’m not sure how Pi relates to photography, but Phi does. Pi the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, an irrational number approximately equal to 3.14159. Phi is also an irrational number, approximately equal to 1.61803. Phi is also called the golden ratio. It is the ratio obtained when a line is divided into two unequal parts such that when the longer part is divided by the smaller part the answer is the same as when the whole length is divided by the longer part. (It makes much more sense when you see it as a diagram.) Pi and Phi are somewhat related in that the product of the two numbers (phi times pi) is found in golden geometries.
I am not a mathematician, but I suspect the product of Pi and Phi is related to golden geometries because Phi is an expression of the golden ratio. And the golden ratio is special in photographic composition. Phi, the golden ratio, presents to the human mind a very pleasing relationship. Besides photography, it is found in architecture, painting, and music, as well in nature.
The golden ratio has been used for art since practically forever. The Parthenon is covered with instances of the Phi. It can be found in artworks such as the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper. It is even found in Darth Vader’s mask.
The rule of thirds works, in my opinion, because it is an approximation of Phi. If you take the sweet spot defined by Phi four times in a frame, you get a pattern similar to the rule of thirds, but a little less easy to define on the fly when looking through your viewfinder. Luckily, both Photoshop and Lightroom offer crop overlays that show the golden ratio grid.
The golden ratio can also be expressed in a spiral. A logarithmic spiral with a growth factor of Phi is known a the golden spiral. Again, both Photoshop and Lightroom also have crop overlays based on the golden spiral. The sweet spots of the golden spiral are also close the those of the rule of thirds.
It is easy to access these crop overlays in Lightroom. The various crop overlays in Lightroom are found under the Tools pull-down menu. Or when using the crop tool, use the shortcut of the letter “O” to cycle through the various crop overlays. When using the golden ratio overlay, you can cycle through the various orientations of the spiral (placing it in different quadrants of the image) by using “Shift O”. The same shortcuts are used in Photoshop when using its crop tool.
With a bit of practice, you can imagine the golden ratio proportions in your viewfinder, and you can always perfect the composition with the crop tool in Lightroom and Photoshop. So if you want to move beyond the rule of thirds, remember Phi – the golden ratio – a photographer’s compositional mathematical friend.
On my recent trip to Baltimore, I spent an afternoon at the National Mall in Washington, DC. It seemed to me, with cold weather and snow, as well as being on a Tuesday, there were very many people there. It may have been because the snow closed down the government, so a lot of people had the day off, and that it was sunny and not really that cold. Or it could be there is just always a lot of people there. It is a popular tourist attraction after all. Regardless, with all the people, it made it a challenge to photograph the monuments without a lot of people in my shots.
A great method to remove people from your shots is to use a really long exposure (typically several seconds to minutes). With a long exposure, people moving through the frame are not recorded. To get really long exposures, use a neutral density filter. As I was carrying my tripod and a neutral density filter, I was tempted to use this method to get a shot of the Lincoln Memorial during the afternoon, as it seemed to be the place with the most people gathered. However, even an exposure of several minutes (which I don’t think I could have gotten due to bright light) was probably not good enough in this case because a lot of people were standing in place for minutes at a time. A ten-minute exposure might have work, but I didn’t have the equipment with me for that.
Instead, I came by later, after sunset, when there were many fewer people about. Then using an 8-second exposure, I was able to capture the monument without people (actually, there is the “ghost” of two people in the shot, but I can remove them later with cloning if I want).
Actually, waiting for evening is a great method for controlling crowds. Typically there are many fewer people about and the light is often better than in the middle of the day. In the shot of the Washington Monument from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I planned the shot during the afternoon when many people where in front of the war memorial wall, but came back after sunset to make the shot. I shot from this location for about 15 minutes, during which time, only one group of people passed.
Another method is to frame the people out of the picture, as worked for the image here of the Jefferson Memorial. Look for pleasing compositions above the heads of your fellow visitors. A corollary to this method is to shoot details, rather than the big picture, thereby cutting people out of your compositions.
Of course, that doesn’t always work. Sometimes you want the entire building or you want foregrounds that shooting high above people’s heads cannot give. In that case you can try to go with a wide-angle shot. With a wide-angle perspective, you can make the people visible in the shot look much smaller and less of an obstruction, at least if they are not close to the camera. This method worked well for the shot of the Washington Monument with the flags.
Or you can just go to areas that are not as popular. By visiting less popular sites, you don’t only get the advantage of fewer people in the frame, you can capture shots that are more unique (rather than the same shot of the popular attraction that has been shot a million times). Very few people were visiting the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, which is where I took the shot below of the Jefferson Memorial with the snowy tree in the foreground.
Travel photography presents many opportunities, including shooting interesting people and cultures. But sometimes, you views without the people in them. Using some of the methods described above can often allow you to capture shots people-free.
I’ve been spending the week in Baltimore while Tanya attends a conference. While winter has been very mild back in western Washington, it is very cold here. This morning, the low temperature was 2 degrees. This has not stopped me from getting out to do some photography. Here are a few quick shots from Annapolis, Maryland. Thanks to friend and fellow travel photographer Walter Rowe for suggesting Annapolis. It is a great place for travel photography, and I will have to get back some day when it is not so frozen. These shots were taken several days ago, when the temperature was only in the 20s. I’ll post some more shots from the trip after I get home. Meanwhile, enjoy these shots from frozen Annapolis.
I wish I could say the images accompanying this post are mine, but they are not. They are the work of Royce Bair. Royce is a photographer from Utah who specializes in shooting night-time landscapes that incorporate the Milky Way. He calls these images Nightscapes. He is currently touring the United States give lectures on how to capture such images. I was lucky enough to convince him to come to Tacoma and give his talk to the Tacoma Mountaineers. This will be a great event and a good opportunity to learn how to capture these wonderful shots. As you know if you are a regular reader of my blog, I’ve tried to get shots like these, with limited success. Hopefully, Royce will be able to teach me a thing or two.
The talk will be held Friday, February 13th from 7 to 9 pm at the Tacoma Mountaineers building at 2302 N 30th Street, Tacoma, Washington. It is free to attend and no reservation is needed (though it is first come-first served on seats). If you do decide to come by, be sure to introduce yourself to me as a reader of my blog.
Royce says that many of his shots are captured in a single exposure and have little post-processing. He will be giving a step-by-step recipe for capturing this images. His accompanying slide show will offer a lot of technical, how-to information including planning when and where to shoot the Milky Way, finding dark skies, calculating star alignments, choosing the right equipment, how to calculate the correct exposures, light painting, noise-reduction techniques, and exposure blending.
Royce is a semi-retired magazine photographer who has been capturing nightscapes for three decades. His photographs have appeared in National Geographic, Smithsonian, Reader’s Digest and American Photo, among others. His lecture tour is in advance of his upcoming ebook “Milky Way Nightscapes, A Guide to Photographing the Starry Night Sky.” Can’t make the lecture? You can order an advance copy of his ebook this month at a discounted price by sending him an email. Details are at the ebook link.
Hope to see you Friday!
My intention this morning was to get a lot of work done. Instead, I sat down at the computer and played with Photoshop. I long have wanted to learn how to create the tilt-shift look in Photoshop. You know the look, that of a miniature toy town or city. So instead of working, I asked Mr. Google how to do it, and he directed to a tutorial by Denise Lu. It is quite easy.
1. Pick a photo. It seems to work best with a wide view, taken from a high angle so you are looking downward on the scene. Two of the images here were taken from the Smith Tower in Seattle and the third from the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
2. Open the photo in Photoshop and create a duplicate layer so you are not working on the background layer.
3. Enter the Quick Mask Mode (the shortcut is the Q key) and select the Gradient tool. With the gradient tool, select the reflected gradient (the 4th mode over on the gradient tool bar).
4. Draw a gradient starting in the area you want to be in focus and extending to the area out of focus. You can hold the Shift key down to make sure your gradient is straight. A mask (default color red) will appear on the screen showing the area to be in focus. You will likely have to play around with it to get a mask exactly where you want it.
5. Exit the Quick Mask Mode (hit the Q key again) and from the filter pull-down menu select the Lens Blur filter.
6. Pick a radius of somewhere between 20 and 40, at least those are the values I used. The Lens Blur filter screen will let you preview the results.
7. Consider adding saturation with a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and extra contrast with a Levels or Curves adjustment layer to make the result look for toy-like.
And that’s it! The hardest part is getting the gradient in the proper place. If you have a building sticking out of the in-focus area, such as in my image of Paris here, you can use other selection tools to de-select that portion of the building after leaving the Quick Mask Mode but before applying the Lens Blur filter.