Using Light in Composition

copyright Karen Ulvestad
A storm over the Del Sal Mountains viewed from Arches NP in 1997.

Light. . .without light, there is not a photograph.  With light, there is a photograph.  Using light within you composition can create a breath taking photographic image.

Sometimes, it’s simply luck.  This photo was taken from Arches NP on one of the roads.  It was late afternoon, and the storm over the mountains with the rainbow added to the composition of the image.  It’s one of my all time favorite images, and the first time published.

Sometimes, it takes research, patience and timing.  I didn’t know that the storm was going to happen.  It was truly a serendipitous moment.  It’s also one that not everyone would see.  My travel companions on this trip didn’t want to stop, and one of them was a photographer.

I think it comes down to being aware of the surroundings, and seeing/predicting what will happen next.

More Later. . .Karen

It’s All About the Light

This photograph was taken during a winter storm.

The light makes or breaks a photograph, along with good composition.  You can have the greatest composition, but if the light is wrong the photograph doesn’t turn out well.

This photo was taken on a sunny spring day.

The top photo is taken during a winter storm.  The light or lack of light turns the color of the water to a gray, and the greens are muted.  Overall, the photo is dark, and lacks shadows.  This contributes to the lack of depth in the photograph.

The bottom photo is taken on a sunny spring day.  The sunlight brings out the color in the water, cliffs and vegetation.  The sunlight cast shadows, giving the photo a feeling of depth.
The light in the photos casts a mood for the image.
Time of day is another variable in photography, which will be the topic of the next entry.
Best to All & Happy Shooting. . .Karen

I’m back from my sabatical. . .

I took a little break from writing and teaching (as noted in the date for my last blog entry).  It’s been a good break.  I’ve had the time to reform my thoughts, and explore new ideas.

I took some time to explore the Oregon coast with my camera and family.  My thoughts are still coming together, but there will be more consistent entries into this blog.  There should be a new entry once a week. . .

Best to All & happy shooting. . .Karen

Spring on the West Coast

March is a wonderful time to photograph the change of seasons.  Here on the West Coast of the US, our weather changes between rain, sun, and hail.  Bulbs start to poke out of the soil in February, and the daffodils are blooming.

copyright Karen Ulvestad

In April, the Skagit Valley holds its annual Tulip Festival.  The photo above was taken in the afternoon, on a sunny April day.  The use of color and perspective make for interesting floral photographic images.

This one was taken from below (on the ground) looking up towards the sky.  I held my camera on the ground, pointing it up, with a wide-angle lens set at 17mm (full frame sensor).  I wanted to focus on the idea of color, and the concept of being unique in the crowd.

Below is a shot of the fields with a sense of the surroundings.

copyright Karen Ulvestad

In this image, I used a wide-angle lens set at 17mm (full frame sensor), set the horizon line low in the frame, and used the primary colors to define the photograph.  My depth of field was F13.

For more information about garden photography, attend my class this Saturday at Coupeville on Whidbey Island.  It’s the WSU Master Gardeners extended learning workshops for gardeners of all ages.

More later. . .Karen

Close-up Photography

What is close-up photography?  It is also called Macro photography.  It is the minute details of a subject, that is composed in the camera.  It is usually shot with a macro lens or extension tubes.

copyright Karen Ulvestad
This is a macro photo of a cat's eye.

The photograph above was taken with a Canon 100mm macro lens.  I managed to take three or four photos, before my cat decided to move somewhere else.  The aperture is set at F14, and the shutter is 1/60th of a second.  I used studio lighting.

Many times, we think of macro as a way to photograph flowers.  Macro can be used for many subjects.  It is only limited to the imagination and creativity of the photographer.  Below, I am showing a macro of a flower.

copyright Karen Ulvestad

The photograph above was also shot with my 100mm macro lens.  On this one, my aperture was F5.6, and the shutter speed was 1/60th of a second. 

The difference in the aperture is due to the shape of the subject.  The orchid is relatively flat, thus the depth of field can be smaller.  The cat’s eye is rounded, and it requires a larger depth of field (or aperture).

Tip:  With macro photography, I would recommend a tri-pod for stability.  If your lens has image stabilizer, shoot without it on, when using a tri-pod.

More later. . .Karen

Birds – Eagles, Snow Geese, Swans & the Skagit Valley

Copyright Karen Ulvestad

I am often asked where I find birds to photograph.  I have spent a number of years traveling, and documenting the birds I see.  I have notes that I refer to every year, that lists where a certain species of bird is most likely to be found, and the time of year to look for them.

One of my favorite places to go in the winter is the Skagit Valley, either into the mountains or out onto the flood plains (the flats).  The amount of migratory bird life in incredible.

Through the months of December to April, thousands of Snow Geese remain in the Skagit Valley.  They feed on the winter cover crops that are planted by the farmers.  The pristine farmland becomes covered with these large flocks, and give photo opportunities to professional and amateur photographers.

Along with the Snow Geese are Tundra and Mute Swans.  All three of these species migrate down from the arctic for the winter.  The summer months are spent raising young, in the short arctic summer.

Other birds that may be seen in the winter are Snowy Owls (depending on their food supply), Short Earred Owls, Northern Harriers, Red-tailed Hawks, Sand Pipers, Great Blue Heron and more.

Through-out the area, bald eagles migrate down from Alaska and British Columbia for the salmon runs on the Skagit River.  These beautiful birds can be seen in large number in the mountains along Highway 20, and other roads along the river.  Also, the eagles can be found closer to Puget Sound in the Skagit flats.

Copyright Karen Ulvestad

This past weekend, we discovered an area along the river by the small town of Concrete with 15-20 eagles at a time.  There were both mature and immature eagles roosting in the trees, and flying over the river hunting salmon.

The eagles usually start leaving, and returning North in February. . .

More Later. . .Karen


If one doesn’t choose a point-n-shoot, the other option is a DSLR.  Basically, this is a SLR that is digital.  Manufacturers took all the basics of the SLR, and programmed the information into a digital format.  It is a hand-held computer with manual over-rides, therefore, more creative control over you photographs.

copyright Karen Ulvestad
Shot at F18.0 at 1/10 second

The photograph shown has a slow shutter speed, that would need to be set manually in both a point and shoot or DSLR camera.  This was shot with a wide-angle lens (17-40 mm) at 17 mm.  The F18 is the aperture setting, and allows for the large depth of field in the image.  I used tripod to keep the camera steady.

This type of shot is easier with a DSLR, because the manual settings are easier to use.  The lens optics are better glass, though it depends on the lens purchased.

Copyright Karen Ulvestad
This was shot at F4.5 at 1/60 second.

This image is of a captive Snowy Owl (unable to survive in the wild due to previous injury).  In this image, the aperture is F4.5, which accounts for the background being out of focus.

More later. . .Karen

Happy New Year and Finding the Perfect Camera

Happy New Year to All. . .

Copyright Karen Ulvestad
This is along the Oregon coast, taken during my trip this Holiday Season.

I thought it was time to write about cameras.  It seems like it should be simple to go to the store, and purchase a camera.  From my workshops, I have met many individuals, who purchased a camera that does not do what they want.

Digital cameras are as diverse in their function as software programs for a computer.  First, the camera is a mini-computer.  It is programmed by the manufacturer to take pictures.  Also, it has the limitations that the manufacturer puts into the camera.

When choosing a camera, the first step is to think about what features you would like, such as:  Manual control, full Auto, Scene selection, Flash and Flash control, and what do you want to photograph with the camera.

Many inexpensive point and shoots have a slower processor.  So, they are not the best choice to photograph a child playing sports.  They are great for  subjects that do not move, such as:  Landscapes, Still Life, Portraits and Macro.

The upper-end point and shoots usually have faster processors, Manual function options and manual focus.  Usually, the manual focus is not as easy to use as it is on a DSLR.

For in-depth information on functional usage of a Digital Camera, I teach a workshop for the City of Edmonds titled Digital Photography 101.

I’ll be talking about DSLRs next issue. . .

More Later. . .Karen

What’s in the Weather

The weather is an interesting part of a photograph.  Most of us like to see the sun and blue sky, so many photographs reflect this.

In the following photograph, it was a stormy and rainy day at the beach.  This is the Pacific Ocean, with large waves (approx. 10-20 feet).  It was a torrential downpour, and my partner held the umbrella over my camera to keep it semi-dry.

copyright Karen Ulvestad

The weather caused the photograph to become mono-chromatic (one color), which adds to the stormy mood of the image.  In overcast or stormy weather, color can be brought out in a photograph.  The following image was taken the same same day.  I worked on the color and contrast in Photoshop to bring out the details in the image.

copyright Karen Ulvestad

An overcast sky brings out color without harsh shadow and highlight.  In the second photograph, I composed the image with a focus on a series of waves.  Their color is richer, due to the lack of extreme darks and lights. 

The first photograph shows the starkness of a storm, due to the lack of color and less contrast.  It feels cold.  The second looks warmer, because of the color.  It doesn’t have the feel of a cold, rainy Pacific Ocean storm coming ashore.  The image looks more inviting.

So, the weather can affect the colors that are shown in a photograph.  It can be used to show a mood or feeling.  It can make a photograph appealing to someone else, or truly give a sense of place/environment.

More later. . .Karen

Looking for Photographic Opportunities

Photography is a wonderful opportunity to explore our world.  It requires us to slow down, and observe what is happening around us.  By putting a camera in our hands, we choose to focus on the mechanics of the world.

Yesterday, I had a wonderful opportunity to go to a wildlife rehabilitation center with a class I was teaching.  The students brought their cameras, and listened to the stories of the individual animals.  Many ended up at the center, because of injuries that occurred from human created activities (such as being hit by a car or shot with pellets).

Each permanent resident of the center were unable to survive in the wild.  Their issues ranged from inability to fly to inability to hunt for themselves.  So, the center looks after and feeds them.  In return, the animals are teachers in presentations the center gives about wildlife.

The center encouraged my students to take pictures and learn.  This is one photo of I took on the tour. . .

This image is photographed through a mesh enclosure.  The process for eliminating the mesh includes proximity of the camera lens to the mesh, exposure and flash. 

copyright Karen Ulvestad
This is the Snowy Owl at Sarvey Wildlife Care Center

First, the mesh needs to be near the lens, and remember to place the important parts of your subject in the openings.  In this case, I placed the eyes of the owl in the openings, so that they would be tack sharp. 

Second, I used a shallow depth of field.  By doing this, the background became a blur, and, with the mesh distortion in the foreground, it looks like running water.  Also, it makes the owl stand-out from the background.

Third, I did not use a flash.  I used natural light.  A flash could have made the mesh stand-out, scared the owl and made the background look harsh.  It would have taken away from the soft natural light look of the image.

Next time you visit the zoo, bring your camera, and experiment with exposure for the best pictures possible. . .

More later. . .Karen

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