Creativity: Week 3
We continue our series about overcoming creative slumps this week by discussing experimentation with new or different photographic techniques. Trying out something new can be extremely frustrating, as there is almost always a learning curve. But who ever said that greatness doesn’t demand a little failure every now and again?
There are few things that have sparked a new interest or point of view when I’m in a slump quite like trying a different technique. Just by definition, it forces me to observe the world differently. Even if it ends up being something that I use rarely, or never again, I enjoy the fact that i just know how to do it…and that I could use it if I wanted to. Jack of all trades or master of one, right? In this case, sometimes it’s fun to know a little bit of everything.
Admittedly, this is one of those things that I put in my “rarely used” box. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the artistry that motion can contribute to an image, it’s just not something that necessarily complements my style as well as others. That being said, I’m glad that I have played with it because I like having the option of utilizing new ideas. Kind of like hedging my bets. Most, if not all of us, know that anything faster than 1/125th will stop motion. Easy enough. But what about showing motion? So, we need to slow our shutter speeds down, but how slow exactly?
If the camera is still handheld, a shutter speed of 1/30 to 1/40 is sufficient to blur human motion slightly. To show movement of clouds, a much longer exposure (20-30 seconds) is required. This also necessitates a strong ND filter to allow you to slow your shutter speed down so drastically. To capture movement of water, exposures of 1/15th of a second or longer are necessary. And, again, an ND filter is almost always necessary during the day. Just remember that for any image shot with a longer exposure, a tripod is usually necessary to minimize hand shake.
Okay, this is one of those tools that I use constantly. And, I mean constantly in my professional and personal work. I love freezing the movement of hair as a little girl spins. Or as a dad throws his son in the air. Or, as a little boy comes zooming down a slide at the park. Stopping the motion preserves that tiny, infinitesimal moment of time when it would otherwise be forgotten. The key to stopping motion, and doing it effectively, is that the high energy needs to be conveyed to the viewer even though you’ve “stilled” your subjects. So, while we can always quite easily freeze someone slowly walking down the street or an adult going through their morning routine, those scenes don’t necessarily show energy. As a result, they don’t necessarily have the same impact as, say, a three year old child jumping on the bed. When shooting to freeze motion with children, I’m almost always shooting between 1/500th and 1/1000th. I also NEVER go under 1/250th with small people. It just usually results in an image being OOF.
Confession. I avoided panning like the plague. I don’t have steady hands and the one time I tried two years ago was a failure of epic proportions. (Side note: I don’t like to fail). Tracking a subject at the speed of its/his/her movement to keep the subject in focus while blurring the background is tough. But, this past spring, my son was harassing me to spin him around in the backyard. Why me, and not my muscle-bound husband, is still a mystery. So I did it. And, then I thought it could make a really fun mother-son portrait. He was game and I was willing to attempt panning one. more. time. Not going to lie, this was hard. But, you know what they say about falling off bicycles. I don’t recommend doing this if it’s your first go-round with this particular technique. I might be a sadist for having done that. But, long story short, in the image below, I set my SS to 1/160th…fast enough to freeze him but slow enough to blur the background a bit. Using a lightweight lens is also really helpful. So, I strapped that baby around my neck. Sandwiched the camera body between my elbows, and around and around we went.
If you want to try panning without the hassle of a kid hanging from your limbs, I highly recommend it. It adds a really fun edge to street and child photography.
Last, but certainly not least, is light painting. I save this for that time of year when the sun and warmth have traveled around the globe, and my craving for something new and different is at its height. If you’re looking for an in-depth tutorial, check out this POST. But, the basic nuts and bolts are these. You need to be in an area with as little light leakage as possible. Pitch black if you can get it (think basement or rural area, or dark corner of the backyard farthest from the house). You’ll be working with extremely long exposures (anything from 5 seconds to a few minutes), so a tripod and remote or cable release really are important. Additionally, you need to find something with which you can ground your scene: an old car, tree silhouettes, an interesting building, a statue. Something to act as the backdrop for your painting. When first setting your exposure, try to keep your ISO as low as possible to limit the potential noise. Using a flashlight to illuminate your focal point is extremely helpful to set up the shot. Once the shutter is released, use your light source to illuminate your scene. You will need to be close to the focal point to paint with more direct light, but as long as you keep moving (and keep the light pointed away from you), you won’t be visible in the final image. Dark clothing is always helpful as well. And, in the interest of supporting younger artists, below is an image courtesy of my student Andrew Levine. This kid is one badass photographer…and one really nice human being. I like his beautiful image so much more than my own attempts at light painting, which is also why it’s hanging in my kitchen 🙂
So, pick your poison, kids. There are so many different ways to extend our creativity. Push boundaries. Explore something new. But, above all, enjoy it. Catch ya next week!
Honest & Natural Nyack Family Photographer
Gina specializes in natural & emotive storytelling images. Using carefully chosen locations to provide a backdrop for each family’s story, she is able to create an adventurous and fun-filled session atmosphere. Visit the Session Info page for more details.