To polarize or to ND?

Saturday, I shot water details in Timmins:

When shooting water, like rapids, a polarizer is the obvious choice of filter. Turn the polarizer until reflections disappear.

But sometimes,  you need a neutral density filter, because it is darker. The shot above is an example of that: even with a dark (factor 8) ND filter and at f/32 and 50ISO, I could only get a shutter speed of 1.3 seconds. Which, as it happens, was fine; it’s exactly what I wanted. Any slower, and the flow lines would disappear.

For a waterfall I would have wanted even slower. Much slower: 20 seconds.

If I had used the polarizer, I would not have done that, this time.

Why? Because I was shooting on a bright sunny day. Too much light.

Lesson: the best time to shoot water motion is on an overcast day. Bright overcast is fine!


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“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” (Robert Capa)

You have heard me on this theme many times. Getting close can often make your images better. You get close and intimate with the subject, your images have more impact. Like in these two, from that recent shoot:

Now of course you can do this by getting close. But be careful: closer than a couple of metres means you distort faces.

A better way is to use a longer lens. My favourite lens for this work is the 70-200, therefore. That has the additional benefit of not forcing you to be “in your subject’s face”. Yes, you have to have space, but that’s the entire point!

An alternate way is simply to use a somewhat long lens and then to crop for the rest. Those two were taken with the 85mm lens and cropped afterward. That is why you have all those megapixels, after all.

Next time you shoot anything, do yourself a favour and shoot the way you would normally shoot, but also shoot closer. Then when you look at the results, consider carefully which ones you like better. Where you like the close-up better: why? Where you like the wider view better: why? This is how you become a better photographer.

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Robert Capa said: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you are not close enough”.

OK, he was talking about war photos, but he was right in general. Often, pics are better when you get close.

And you can get very close. Here’s student Chantal during Saturday’s flash course:

We call the above an “extreme close-up”. Yes, you can cut off half a face. The result: you get closer than ever, and the photo has a very intimate and personal feeling.

Your homework: try to do some close-ups and extreme close-ups.



Lines, in composing pictures, are important.

Horizontal lines are the main type of line we see – the horizon being the main horizontal line we encounter.

And here’s what they do (in a slide from my composition workshop):

Can you see how this looks silent, stable? I can imagine sighing, almost, when I see this. Layers of horizontals do that. Keep that in mind when composing pictures. Use horizontals when you want to emphasize vastness and quiescence, e.g. by taking pictures in landscape mode.

A tip: avoid having a main line in the very centre since this divides the image unnaturally; and keep the horizontals overall horizontal: a slight tilt is annoying.