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Moving Pictures

Sat, Mar 7, 2009

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The quality of your photography can depend on how you adapt to your environment, especially when you can’t control that environment – like in the great outdoors.

I have done many indoor photo shoots for studios where you could control the lighting, the subject and the direction you want to follow but outside there are many elements to consider which often involve split-second decisions on how to get that perfect photograph.

Subject

In a studio, I can sit the subject where I want, talk or arrange it/them perfectly and take a photo pretty quickly. Studio shots are meant to be a bit lacking in movement as they are primarily taken for atmosphere/mood, products or display. They are organised and the items/people are naturally stable in that environment. When taking photos outside there is more movement – nature does not sit still and neither do the products/subjects that work outdoors. Imagine which is more realistic – a tractor driving through a field of tossing grasses or a tractor sitting still while grasses bend in the wind? I guess it depends on the effect you are after, but the real action does depend on a real subject which moves around and reacts with the scenery. When you intend to take action photos, capturing them as realistically as possible means that the subject will be moving, and the landscape will be interacting.

The advice I can give regarding this is to have a brief list of all the items that you have to make sure are right to capture the photo. For example, the subject must look comfortable and natural; the product should be performing as per intended, and you should take a lot of photos to make sure there’s a goodie in there somewhere. Posing in the great outdoors not only takes a long time to shoot properly but can look contrived depending on the skill of the model and of the photographer, and the appropriateness of the product’s intended movement.

Interference

There’s nothing like going outside to take the perfect photo when the weather is against you. Adjust all your camera settings, play with the scenery and still the sun can shine too bright, the wind can blow your model’s hair around too much and honestly, why did that fly have to fly right into the photo you just lined up? The best way to cut interference down to a minimum is to adapt and work with the unusual conditions to create something very different to what you are used to. Instead of worrying about the high contrast in your shots, include it to be part of the style of what you are creating and see if you can get some brightly coloured parts to shine as well as the white sky (and use a polarising lens of course!)

On a dull day, it’s not as hard work, as adjusting the curves in Photoshop will easily brighten up the dull colours while retaining mid-level shades. Another tip is to take a lot of photos in the adverse conditions to make sure that a fly, a frown or a lot of windblown hair don’t get in the way of the perfect photo!

How to make your photos interesting

One of the many ways to make your photography interesting in the great outdoors is to vary the angle and depth. You can do this in a studio too, but without the action part (flying hair, moving product, interactive landscape) it’s just not the same. And sometimes it’s too much trouble to make it appear the same.

Next time you want to capture something interesting outside, try varying the angle and depth. Everybody’s had a go at flower closeups, but have you tried doing a closeup of your child while the background blurs behind them? Have you tried lying on the ground looking up at a moving tractor or looking down upon your subject from a height? The best angles for use in design seem to be the ones that are “from an angle” – they are not straight-side or front-on or back-on shots. They are the ones where you see the “corner” of the product, the person who is facing a 135 degree rather than a 90 degree angle. And the good ones also involve the person looking off into the distance or looking at you from their angle as opposed to facing you and looking at you.

Try to let a bit of real world in and being natural. If someone does have a bead of sweat or a wrinkle or large feet, let the manager within you go and take a photo of it. We are swamped with airbrushed and sterilised photography and it’s great to see something that is believable and real. If the product has a scratch, has some dirt on it or is not quite right – clean it up to an acceptable standard and leave a little on. It helps increase the realism. It helps photos relate to real human beings who are also not airbrushed.

Summary

The most important thing is to take a lot of photos when in the great outdoors. I often take 1000+ photos in one day of shooting and normally I get a handful of absolutely brilliant action shots. I also get about 300 almost-but-not-quite shots and 650 good-for-family-albums duds. The reason for this is that I am working with tractors in particular, where the angle of the front-end loader matters, the tractor name should be readable, the subject’s facial expression should be favourable and the action of the implement should look busy. It’s a little precarious sometimes to get all of them right…but playing with angles and depth and being able to adapt to the weather on the day means it’s much easier to capture something to be proud of.

For more examples of great action photos outdoors, visit www.sotatractors.com

63.1
A very annoying fly

63.2
A good action photo with lots of colour

63.3
Too much sun creates a pink tractor

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