Photograffiti

by Brad Nelson9/19/17

The purpose of this post is as a place to share some photos. We will be setting themes and dishing out assignments. For now, if you have a photo you deem worthy of sharing, email to me. I will be picky. If it doesn’t get selected, keep trying. I’ll try to give feedback on what you need to do better.

Let’s start with one from Gibblet that does make the cut.

Palm Trees, by Gibblet

It’s a splendid shot. You have a lot of interesting subjects in there: the sky, the mountain, the front row of trees, the back row of trees, and the moon. And you have the vibrant colors in high contrast.

I like it. But one crucial aspect to any photo is framing. And I think this wonderful photo can be improved simply by cropping like this.

The uncropped photos sort of pulls your eye to the left into the blank space. It’s out of balance. It’s okay to have that negative space there, but it works best if there is something on the other side to counter-balance it, like a big black dog or maybe an umbrella. Keep things like this in mind.

In the cropped shot (which you may or may not see as an improvement), the two rows of trees now balance each other nicely, with one soldiery row in front and one at attention in back. The moon is now off-center and balanced by the wonderful off-center main trunk of the frontmost palm tree.

It’s a judgment call, but I decided to crop the top off a little. I think this provides more of a wonderful illusion of looking into a porthole to a very expansive space. The cropped center tree is unbound while the other one just sort of stops you and you lose a little visual drama.

Agree or not, these are the types of things to think about when first framing a photo and then presenting it. This is really splendid photo that shows there was some thought put into composition in the first place.


Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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51 Responses to Photograffiti

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s another one by Gibblet: Expansive Sky. I dubbed it so but if Gibblet wants to call it something else, I’ll change it.

    Gibblet is brave and kind to share photos because I tend to fiddle and offer advice where none was requested. This one is certainly good enough to share. It was apparently made as an HDR photo (high dynamic range) which is a setting on many cameras, including my own iPhone.

    It is difficult to capture clouds. Many people, and rightfully so, see the majesty of a cloudy sky, turn their cameras up to them, and proceed to bore us to tears.

    Good photos usually have context. The main subject of this photo is the sky and clouds. But they are set off against the rural and terrestrial setting.

    Another “happy accident” of this photo you might not notice at first. A seasoned photographer will learn to watch how his or her eyes are drawn around the photo. It is is always the case that they are. In this case, the cloud formations, both right and left (but a little weaker on the right), sort of point to the little house in the center. It helps to make the elements work together as an overall composition.

    The trees on the far left and right serve as a natural frame. The only question is, was this taken as dusk or dawn? In photography there is such thing known as “the golden hour.” It is defined as “a period shortly after sunrise or before sunset during which daylight is soft and even with a warmer color temperature. This is also commonly referred to as the ‘magic hour.’”

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Near sunset cumulus clouds can look dark. Does this also happen around dawn? It’s been a long time since I was out at that time. Of course, at other times of the day those dark clouds would be cumulo-nimbus, foreshadowing rain.

      • Gibblet says:

        This photo, shot in May of this year, is taken from my porch looking west just before sunset. I’m so glad I looked up from my gardening to notice it!

        My neighbor in the old white house has lived there for 65 years. She had the tall fir trees you see behind her house taken down last week, on her 100th birthday!

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I don’t know that anyone took a photo of it, but when we had dinner in the large tower in San Antonio (we were attending the WorldCon), I happened to be looking west just as the sun disappeared behind the hills. It was a superb view. This was back in 1997, I think.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I don’t know if Gibblet is a morning person or an evening person. If that were my photo, you could be pretty sure I hadn’t gotten up at 6:00 am and wandered outside in the dewy grass with my camera.

        Also, it is common when presenting photos to list some of the basics, such as the camera/phone used. I’m thinking that we all ought to pitch in and get Gibblet a slightly better camera. The “Expansive Sky” photo is a lovely shot but would have benefitted from being a little sharper. This could be a factor of the quality of the lens and/or a factor of having or not having some sort of built-in image stabilization. Especially for low-light shots (such as this one…ones that will use a slower shutter speed), built-in image stabilization works miracles. Tripods, of course, work wonders, but don’t really apply to camera phones.

        My iPhone 6 Plus, for example, has optical image stabilization. On my Nikon it’s built into the lens. And this technology really works. It gives you the equivalent of up to two f-stops of shutter speed in regards to sharpness.

        But these are guides and goals, not criticisms. And, really, the first act of a good photograph is having the wherewithal to try it. What is marvelous about digital cameras is that the cost of failure is so low. It is a rule-of-thumb in photography that you might get one or two “keepers” from a roll of film. A good photographer learns to separate the wheat from the chaff and take no offense whatsoever at the abundance of chaff.

    • Rosalys says:

      Sheep in the sky! I think it means fair weather for tomorrow.

      Beautiful photo! I love clouds.

  2. Gibblet says:

    Brad, your input regarding my photo, Palm Trees, illustrates why I prefer to work as part of a dynamic team (regardless of the activity), rather than alone. Thanks for the improvements you have made to the composition.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Your friendly editor also includes photo editing as his commandment and responsibility.

      But, really, the work we do after the photo is taken is almost as important as the work we do before we click the shutter. But every journey begins with one click…err…step. I don’t want to discourage experimentation because someone doesn’t have the full suite of Adobe apps (such as Photoshop).

      But perhaps I’lll do a quick workshop on basic photo editing and some free or low-cost apps to do so. I just loaded an app on my phone called MuseCam that makes the basics easy. It does it right on your phone. Doing this on your full-blown desktop computer would be the way to go. But this app is simplified and thus makes for a good way to learn the basics and see the results.

      There are different opinions regarding what order to do these things, but generally I recommend:

      1) Adjust the midtones. Is the overall photo too light or too dark? This can be adjusted. This particular app does so via an “exposure” setting.

      2) Adjust shadow/highlights/contrast. Various apps do this differently, but most will have a way to do it. Don’t just accept what comes straight out of the camera. There may be much shadow detail, for instance, to be uncovered. Or highlight detail. And very often photos need a little upping in contrast. Until you see the results of adjustment, you might not realize how muddy a photo really was straight out of the camera. None of these adjustments need be large (or sometimes made at all). Sometimes a little goes a long way.

      3) Adjust the overall color balance. My iPhone, for instance, consistently shoots things “cold” (a bluish cast). You can also warm-up a photo for effect.

      4) Adjust saturation levels. Don’t over-saturate for the sake of it. Sometimes backing off a little can improve a photo (if only to achieve a particular soft effect). Usually things are as easy as moving a slider bar and comparing results. Feel free to experiment. Also try your photo in black-and-white. This particular app makes that easy.

      5) Crop the photo. Almost never accept the framing that comes right out of the camera. In fact, you should shoot in a way that gives you a little bit extra around the edges to play with.

      6) Sharpen the photo. You should view the photos at full or actual size before sharpening. All photos out of a digital camera need some sharpening even if there is in-camera on-the-fly sharpening..

      That’s the basics. It may sound like a lot, but I suggest some of you try the MuseCam app. And if you know of another app for your phone that works well, let me know. There are plenty of applications (often free) for your desktop computer as well. But let’s leave that subject for another day.

  3. Gibblet says:

    ” I just loaded an app on my phone called MuseCam that makes the basics easy. ”

    Blah, blah, blah Rex (credit: Gary Larson, Far Side).
    [insert kicking and screaming]
    If you don’t mind, I’ll stick with the BradApp, for now.
    Go team!

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      The BradApp is also free, although not downloadable. It rarely crashes but does have the occasional fit. And, seriously, always glad to share what little knowledge I have with the caveat that I fear others will perceive it as holier-than-thou nit-picking when the real goal is what they used to call “pedagogy.”

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here is Red Sky, submitted by Mr. Kung.


    In this case, with Mr. Kung’s photo, I did not want to salvage any shadow detail (although there is a bit there…I can make out the windows on the house and a few more details). The silhouette aspect of this photo is quite appealing as it is. And I actually increased the contrast on the whole shot via Photoshop’s “curves” setting. It brought out the vibrancy of the colors.

    The resolution of the shot was downscaled (33.33%) to make it better for online viewing (and less strain on the servers than with the original’s 5 megabyte size). I also cropped out the telephone wire at the top. Had a bird or two been sitting on it to the upper left, I probably wouldn’t have done so.

    The full-sized photo was a little grainy which is typical and expected of digital cameras in low-light shots. But it was nothing excessive.

    Using “unsharp mask” (the typical sharpening process in Photoshop) can be touchy because you don’t want to sharpen the grain, just the branches of the trees. There is a “threshold” setting that allows for this. This is one of the advantages of a more advanced desktop app for photo editing.

    But I didn’t bump the saturation. That is what Mr. Kung’s camera and eye caught. It’s splendid.

    • Gibblet says:

      Beautiful Red Sky, Mr. Kung. It is a sky one can see and feel. There is something different about the atmosphere when the sky looks like that.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Thanks Gibblet. I liked your sky photo and it made me recall mine.

        There is something about taking photos at dawn and dusk. The colors, shapes and shadows are constantly changing so it is almost impossible to get the same photo just a minute apart.

        Monet’ was obsessed with light and I can understand why. He made a number of different studies of the same scenes at different times of the day. Amazing how different they could be.

    • Rosalys says:

      Wow! The sky looks like it’s on fire!

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s a poser that Mr. Kung presented to me.

    He thought his photo of Ruedesheim Pavilion would be a good one if not for that modern podium and cheap folded table (to the left) marring the scene.

    Well, I took it into the Photoshop lab and did a little post-processing. Let me know what you think.

    Ruedesheim Pavilion (after)

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Amazing that you could get rid of the podium and chairs/tables.

      My first reaction was that brighter was better, but it gives a completely different mood. I am not sure about the different framing. I will have to keep looking at both photos for a while to make up my mind.

      I will say that, generally speaking, I find the Rhine to be a brooding type of river, historically and meteorologically.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        You might be right on the framing, Mr. Kung. I just thought the big fir tree to the left was distracting and a bit messy looking. I’ll see if I can drum up a brooding look.

        Here’s the brooding version.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I love the brooding version. It has a certain look about it that is not exactly impressionistic, but similar. Something in my head tells me that it is like some painter I know, but I can’t yet recall.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I can’t really tell the difference. Partly this is because the pavilion draws all the attention.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s a nice River Scene submitted by our own Mr. Tarzwell. Maybe he’ll tell us what river that is. Or because this is The Great Northwest, maybe it rates only as a creek.

  7. pst4usa says:

    The river is the North Fork of the Nooksack river up near the Canadian border. Taken about 5 years ago with a cheap Sony automatic digital camera.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Okay. If it’s the Nooksack we can give it full river status. I guess I’m showing my Northwest arrogance about such things because what a lot of midwest or east coast people call “mountains” we might not even consider a proper foothill.

  8. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s another one from Pat. He’s definitely showing his creative side: Mossy Tree.

    I think he’s captured this rather well. And one of the most difficult things in photography is translating or capturing what you see with your eye to the camera. All have had the experience of seeing a great scene in nature, shooting a photo, and then wondering why the majesty is lost.

    First off, the camera flattens everything, which is one reason to keep an eye on depth-of-field. Sometimes you need to blur the background so that foreground elements stand out. Sometimes not. But it’s always a matter of framing.

    When the eye takes in a scene, it jumps from point to point and you put it together in our mind as a whole. But the camera can only show what’s inside that flat rectangle. Framing can be a challenge and many a time I was not able to capture a good photo even though I was looking at something astounding right before my eyes. Translation and capturing can be difficult.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Very nice picture, as was the river scene. The sunlight effect is very effective. It reminds me of a very nice painting I once saw by Albert Bierstadt.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I agree, Timothy. And Ansel Adams or anyone else would have to put in some effort to have that sun behind the tree without it blowing out all the highlights. We’ll have to send Pat back there with a higher resolution camera. Or he can keep his eye out for similar photogenic subjects.

        And that’s really the trick of it. In this world obsessed with selfies, you have to learn to pry yourself away from you own mind and look at the world that God has created in all its splendor. Me me me me is not a good recipe for making good photographs.

    • Gibblet says:

      I have a mossy tree I was going to submit, but it was “flat” as described in Brad’s comment. The backlighting on Pat’s Mossy Tree really makes his photo dramatic and highlights the hanging moss.

  9. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s one from Mr. Kung which I think is straight out of a scene in Willy Wonka: Chihuly Glass Boats Your freelance editor has cropped it and color-corrected it as he thought best.

    • pst4usa says:

      Where are the oompa loompas?

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      This photo was taken at the Dallas Arboretum in late April/early May of 2012.

      The Arboretum had a huge Chihuly exhibition from May to November of that year. We were there to attend a lunch given by Margaret McDermott, the widow of one of the founders of Texas Instruments. (She is over 100 years old and still active.)

      Workers were still piecing together several of Chihuly’s sculptures, but enough of his pieces had been completed for visitors to enjoy the show. The Arboretum also had special lighting for night visitors, but sadly, we didn’t get to see it live.

      Some of these pieces as now on display at the Chihuly Museum in Seattle.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Thanks for the details, Mr. Kung. A picture may be worth a thousand words but they don’t alway make location obvious.

        I still haven’t visited the grand Chihuly display at the Seattle Center, although I did spend about 15 minutes one time going through photos with my neighbor on his phone who did visit the exhibit. It’s very impressive.

        I’ve watched a least a couple program on Chihuly that have been presented either locally or on PBS. It’s fascinating watching Chihully and his fellow artisans manufacture these things. And that’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of art and skill on display. But they do have a method to sort of churn these out.

  10. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s another one from Mr. Kung: B17.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Nice. The only place I can see a B-17 is the Air Force museum in Dayton, and I can’t go there anymore due to my physical limitations.

  11. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s the same photo by Mr. Kung but with new clouds inserted. B17 Taxiing

  12. Lucia says:

    My dad flew B17s among others. Cool pict.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      With all that polished aluminum, it’s an art deco wonder in its own right.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I was amazed how small these planes were inside. In the movies the cockpits always seem to have plenty of room. In reality, the cockpits are very cramped.

      The cockpit of the B24 I saw had less space than the front seat area of my Jeep.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        And I think there 3 crewmen in the cockpit — pilot, co-pilot, and a gunner. There might even have been more, because someone had to handle navigation and the radio.

  13. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s one I shot in the garden just now with my iPhone 6 Plus. I call it Red and Green. I don’t offhand know what kind of flowers those are.

    Other than sharpening in Photoshop, I did nothing else. That saturation is real. It’s the bright sun bouncing off these flowers in the prime of their bloom.

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