Off-Axis Symmetry

Some objects, particularly architecture and flowers, are so powerfully symmetrical that their geometry shines through even without centering on it. Try shooting such images from an angle, or off center, to create a more dynamic balance.  Here, the angled view shows both the geometry of the flower, and the arc of the petals, while the offset location adjusts for that angle, at the same time creating a balanced image.


C. David Tobie

Color Over Detail

When, and how, should a photographer sacrifice detail and focus to color? Its important to determine which element of an image is key, and decide how to strengthen it, even if that means sacrificing other elements that we usually consider important to an image. Here we are looking at a shot that would be all about the classic car, if it was a full focus image. To make it more about form, and especially color, the choice was made to use a LensBaby lens to create a selective focus image. This way the user has little choice but to view the overall forms, and especially the colors, of the image, as there is little else in the frame to distract from them.


C. David Tobie

The Challenges of Selective Focus

It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of focus in an image. Today, the only images a photographer is likely to trash from a session are those that are out of focus, or focused in the wrong plane. Selective focus, using a specialty lens or software effects, can produce very powerful images. But the intent of the image must align with the focus of the image, or the intent will be significantly weakened.


In the image above, if the goal is to move the eye up the spire, then that is working nicely. If it is to stop at the top of the spire, perhaps with a “which way the wind blows” reference, then the image has a real problem: the clouds above the weathervane are significantly sharper than the weathervane itself. However, if the image is intended to point to heaven, or to the blue sky breaking though, or some similar intent where the sky and clouds, not the spire, are the final goal, then it will succeed. For stock use, producing multiple focal point images of such a shot, would be wise; as the designer, not the photographer, gets to decide where the emphasis needs to lie.

C. David Tobie

Comparison: How Using a Lensbaby Affects Photography

I recently had the opportunity to shoot with my long-distance friend David Saffir. We are usually thousands of miles apart, so this was a great chance to work side-by-side. One of the goals of the shoot was for David to experience Lensbaby’s lenses and macro attachments, and since the upcoming webinar Datacolor is co-sponsoring with Lensbaby is on floral photography, we went to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, as a prime location for shooting native California flowers, as well as landscapes.

When reviewing images after the shoot, I was struck by a pair of shots of the same view across Mission Canyon. David Saffir’s image was taken with the Fujifilm X-Pro1, with the 35mm f/1.4 lens. Mine was shot with the Canon 5D Mark lll, with a Lensbaby Composer lens. Comparing the two images is a good opportunity to analyze Lensbaby photography; highlighting some of its unique features.

Final Image by David Saffir

Final Image by David Saffir

Lets start with the “straight” photo, shot with the X-Pro1. David cropped this image to what he felt was the best composition. The slightly hazy air, and its effect on the shaded portion on the opposite canyon wall was part of what had drawn his attention to this scene, along with the powerful silhouetting of the foreground tree trunks, and their dramatically lit leaves. Here the eye moves around the composition, following the dark lines created by the tree trunks and limbs, and settles on the leaves, and finally on the little vignette of the trees on the far side later in the examination of the image. This is how traditional landscape photography controls the eye of the viewer to draw it to the areas of interest.

Final Lensbaby image, by CDTobie

Final Lensbaby image, by CDTobie

Now, lets compare this to the Lensbaby shot. Here the branch with the orange leaves has been placed in the center of the image, where the sharp focal zone occurs, making it a more important part of the composition. And the sun has been placed where it will shine through the trees, producing a dazzling effect. So, even standing side-by-side, the intended compositions are somewhat different. But in both images the small story of the delicate tracery of branches on the far wall of the canyon is important. However, with the Lensbaby image, further emphasis is placed on this scene, as well as on the branch of orange leaves in front of it, by the selective focus of the Lensbaby lens.

Center Detail, David Saffir's Image

Center Detail, David Saffir’s Image

Center Detail, CDTobie's Lensbaby Image

Center Detail, CDTobie’s Lensbaby Image

The outer regions of the “standard” image are as sharply focused as the central area, allowing the eye to move into and out of them at the same tempo as the center of the image, with only the content to control the eye movement. But in the Lensbaby shot, increasingly less focus, and more distortion, occurs in areas farther from the focal center. This creates an artistic blur effect that mimics the way the eye sees, making this image look “right” when the viewer is in the right range of distances from the image, and looking at the center of focus. To look elsewhere in the image is to view the blur that can’t usually be examined, as the focus of the eye moves as the viewer attempts to view these regions, bringing them into sharp focus as well. Here that does not happen, allowing the viewer to examine the peripheral regions, examining the blur and the stretching of the elements further out from the image center, which have a beauty all their own.

Off-Center Detail, David Saffir Image

Off-Center Detail, David Saffir Image

Off-Center Detail, CDTobie Lensbaby Image

Off-Center Detail, CDTobie Lensbaby Image

Both images are good compositions, and interesting images. The less literal and more poetic feel of the second image is caused almost entirely by the use of the Lensbaby lens. Not all viewers will be comfortable with this different way of seeing, but those with a more artistic view will immediately see the beauty of the Lensbaby version of the scene.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012.   Website:   Return to Blog’s Main Page

Review and Sample Images: iOS Photography App “Rays”

Digital Film Tools iOS App “Rays” is currently available as a free download. But even at its usual price of ninety nine cents, its a bargain. Rays is one of those “one trick pony” Apps, that does one thing, but does it well. Its one trick is to add convincing rays of light to your images.

Rays allows you to choose the source location for your radiating rays of light; the only limitation being that the source location must be within the image, when in some cases you might prefer it to be outside the image. There are controls for the color of your light, the length of the rays, and the intensity of the effect versus the image you are applying it to.

Here are answers to the most likely questions about Rays:

Yes, its fun. Yes, its effective. Yes the effect is quite variable. Yes, the controls are reasonably intuitive. And yes, it runs on both the iPhone and the iPad, meaning you can work on your iPhone images right on the phone, and those or other images after sending them to the iPad (in addition to photos shot with the iPad, for those who do that). I’ve been saving the big one for last: Yes, the effects can be appropriate to advanced, or even professional imaging.

Lets look at a few sample images to get a sense of just how the Rays effect can be used. A few comments on process in advance: A couple of these images were shot with LensBaby lenses; LensBaby selective focus images lend themselves to Rays effects. Some of these images have been run through NIK SnapSeed before Rays was used on them. Thats  not unusual; multiple iOS Apps are often used in the pursuit of the best mobile images. And all of these images were checked for color and sharpness in Datacolor’s SpyderGallery after they were completed. There are other Apps that will allow you to zoom in far enough to check the sharpness, but only SpyderGallery will allow you to see a color managed view of your iOS images. I do both in SpyderGallery as it saves a step.

Lets get the obvious out of the way first: yes, you can add a halo, or aurora to a person, place, or thing with Rays. Buddha seemed like a reasonable choice, so here’s an example of the most blatant use of Rays. This is not an effect I envision myself using too often. Using it with backlit trees, as in the background of this image, could be a more realistic effect.

This second example is only a bit more subtle. Rays can be used to create a focal point within an image. If the image has motion blur, focal plane blur, or both, the effects blend nicely, and even create more sharpness in a blurred image that may not be quite sharp enough without it.

This third example uses a light source within the image as a point source for the rays. By matching the tint of the rays to the color of the light source, this can be quite realistic. Moving the source location around allows fine tuning of the rays that are created, allowing you to choose a particularly effective set of rays and shadows. Images which lack a clear focal point can be strengthened by this technique. Keep in mind that, as with other iOS imaging apps, its possible to run your image through Rays more than once. So if you feel that a second source location could improve the effect, try a second pass to find out.

Next comes the use of rays with a source outside the image. Here it would have been ideal to place the source location below the bottom of the image, to more closely align with the actual light source. Short of creating a copy of the image with extra white space at the bottom, generating the desired rays, and than cropping back to the original image size, this would not be possible. I compromised on a source location at the bottom edge of the image.

And finally, here is a macro image, where the Rays effect emulates radial lens blur. Especially with LensBaby macros, this can be quite convincing.

The effects in these images run from much more blatant in the first examples, to much more subtle, or at least more realistic, in the latter ones. Like makeup, perhaps the best Rays effect is the one your viewer never realizes is an effect at all…

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: Return to Blog’s Main Page

Techniques for Floral Photography; or Any Photography

Floral photography seems to be a frequent topic recently. This article is a series of photos, each focused on a single concept that can enrich floral images, or many other types of images.

Include Architecture: Architecture can add to floral images by providing a context, telling a story, and strengthening the visual image.

Shoot LoChro: Flower images are often about brilliant color. But don’t forget to consider low saturation images as a way to produce subtle and unique floral images.

Create Geometries: Flowers have powerful geometries of their own. But that doesn’t stop the photographer from choosing to create image geometries with the camera.

Shoot Texture Shots: Texture shots are “field/event” images without the event, or more often with an unending field of events. Such images can be very emotive, if carefully planned. Here a long lens from above the field, at an angle to the rows, was used to create this unending sea of sunflowers.

Mix In Other Plants: Flowers aren’t the only plants or plant elements worth shooting. Adding in dead branches, other plant types, or in this case wheat heads, enriches the image. Anyone familiar with Tuscany will find a story about a poppy in a wheat field in this closeup, even though it was actually shot in a garden.

Shoot Impresssionist Canvases: Fields without individual events can become abstract expressionist paintings, or impressionist images, depending on the treatment. Here Lightroom’s Clarity control was uses in the reverse direction of usual, to create a smooth, dreamy effect.

Add Unexpected Elements: An image where the floral elements are insufficient to create a captivating image become more successful when another element is added. Here there is an element of surprise, an element of humor, and an increase in the color range added to the image, since the yellow wildflowers don’t provide the level of hot color that the red phone booth does.

Shoot with your Phone:  iPhone photography is becoming very popular, and as the phone cameras improve, and the phone software becomes more powerful, it is becoming possible to shoot, process, and publish great images, especially macros, directly from your phone, as with this image.

Shoot Intriguing Backgrounds:  An image is far more interesting with a contrasting background. Sometimes balancing the interest with an in-focus background element can produce a stronger image than going for the out-of-focus background that avoids competing. Here an old millstone had ferns growing through the hole in the center. The unusual color of the stone, and the lichens growing on it, are far more unique then the fern, and provide a second level of color, detail, and texture.

Shoot Aesthetic Decay: Not all of Italy has the well maintained stonework of Tuscany. Here the plain concrete stucco forms dynamic patterns as it absorbs the rain, the flaking whitewash on the window frame offers a finer texture, and the weathered wood enhances the sense of disrepair. Even the flowers are struggling, adding to the story.

Form Color Relationships: The most interesting aspect of this image is the color relationships between the flowering plants at the right, and the bicycle on the left. Without those relationships, this image would either have not been shot, or have been shot but never used.

Freeze Motion: In full sunlight shooting, fast shutter speeds can be used to freeze birds, bees, and butterflies, adding a dynamic quality to floral shots.

Compose Around the Flowers:  It would have been possible to shoot a number of compositions at this location. Including the flowers as a middle, instead of a foreground layer, adds to the image and the story it tells.

Offset Your Main Element: Don’t automatically center your main element. Symmetrical images are powerful, and are best for many uses, but in a case such as this, the organic nature of an off-center key element improves the composition and interest of the photo. Focal variation enhances the effect, giving depth to what could be a flat field with a single event.

Emphasize the Insects: Sometimes the insects are more interesting than the flowers. Be sure to shoot them for their own sake, as well as building them into floral-oriented images.

Utilize Focal Options: Focus can be a powerful tool. It can emphasize the areas that you want to focus on, and it can create dramatic effects in the rest of the image. Here a LensBaby has been used for both its dreamy variable focus qualities, and its macro abilities.

Replicate Forms and Colors: A shot with this butterfly’s wings up would be more typical, but here the form of the wings and the flower are related, as are their colors, strengthening the relationship.

Shoot the Animals: Nothing adds interest and life to an image quite like a live animal. Here the off-center location of the waterlily is counterbalanced by the location of the frog in the frame, and the contrasting color of the flower is contrasted by the matching color of the frog. All these relationships add interest to the image.

Shoot Dried Flowers Too: Last years flower heads may not look inviting, when there are bright, fresh flowers to shoot, but they offer contrast, and a different dynamic from fresh blossoms.

Include Lichens and Moss: They may not be flowers, but they can enrich an image, as can the color and texture of stone. Without this bright orange lichen, these modest stalks would hardly have warranted a photo.

Shoot Windowboxes: Be sure to include the building involved, for justification and context.

Celebrate Bokeh: The out-of-focus sections of this image are at least as enjoyable as the flower that it focuses on, due to the lovely bokeh pattern the lens forms. A deep focus shot here would be mostly about mulch.

Shoot Buds: Sometimes the story a bud has to tell is more compelling than the full-blown flower it will become. Here a macro lens offers lots of detail and texture to go with the single bit of color in the bud.

Let the Bees Stay: Even when you don’t choose to make them the focus of the image they add interest to an otherwise simple image.

Include Context: Its all too easy to fill the frame with blossoms, especially from a flowering tree or bush. But backing up and finding an attractive context for such a shot increases its interest.

Climb Way In: Some times the most satisfying shot includes only part of the flower, or has only part of the flower in focus. Paying attention to getting a good background is important when there is so little in an image.

Shoot Butterflies: Nothing goes with flowers quite like butterflies. But be sure to justify the inclusion, and form a strong relationship, with similarities or contrasts, between the butterfly and the floral elements. Here the butterfly contrasts as the only warm color, and the only high contrast element. The butterfly and the single in-focus stem combine to form a centered element against the strong focal distortion of the background.

Shoot Shadows: Paying attention to shadows doesn’t only mean avoiding them. It can also mean using them as intentional compositional elements. Here two different stories play out on the same surface. The color detail of the leaf, and the shadow pattern of the flower stalk.

Utilize Dark Backdrops: Dark backgrounds can provide excellent contrast to bright, and brightly lit, flowers, creating a different look in a floral image.

Shoot the Dew: Dewdrops are as beautiful as diamonds if shot with a macro lens. Early  mornings offer a wide array of dewdrop shots to those willing to get just a bit damp.

Form Patterns:  Flowers contain powerful patterns. Its easy to contrast this to random, organic spacings between flowers. But it can also be very powerful to align the lens in a way that defines a pattern of patterns, as happens here with the symmetry of the background flowers behind the central focal flower.

Shoot Dark, Rich Florals: Floral images don’t have to be bright to be beautiful. Deeper, darker images can be satisfying as well. Getting under the shrubbery produced this mysterious shot with no extra effort beyond stooping under the overhanging branches.

Shoot Off-Center: Despite the innate symmetry of flowers, moving off-center, and framing off-center, can produce dynamic, satisfying compositions.

Utilize Shallow Depth of Focus: Shallow depth of focus isn’t just a limitation, its a tool, and can add a sense of depth to a floral image, by defining planes within the flower.

Use Contast, Not Just Saturation: Floral images are so often about saturation, that it can be unique to produce images which are more about contrast. Here the deep green of the background still defines this as a color image, but the flower itself is all about the light-on-dark contrast.

Dare to Be Out of Focus: Most viewers are unwilling to accept an entire image that is out of focus, but the photographer gets to choose which elements are in or out. Here the poppy clinging to the rock is the dominant color element, and the dominant foreground element, but not the point of focus for the image, which goes on to emphasize the steep street, the valley below, and the cloud beyond. Sandwiching together an infinite focus image would lose the poetry of the blurred blossom.

Use One-Point Perspective: Street and Architectural photography frequently benefit from the power of one-point perspective. No reason floral shots can’t do the same, by shooting between rows, down walks, and in other locations where the vanishing point is at the center of the image. This image takes advantage of a number of the methods described in this article; see how many you can find.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: Return to Blog’s Main Page