Through the Gadling Lens: photographing skies

Oh, how I’d love to regale you with my brilliant photographic skills in capturing the sky’s majesty!

I’d love to, but I can’t.

For some reason, I’m really, really horrid when it comes to shooting skies. Oh, I can manage to get a good sunset photo here and there, and occasionally my blue skies appear shockingly blue, but the truth is that for the most part, I get by with a little help from Photoshop — bump up the contrast here, deepen a hue there, you know how it goes. My husband, on the other hand, is masterful at shooting sky shots — the image you see to the left was taken by him this past weekend. And that image, by the way, is completely unretouched, straight out of the camera.

He kills me with his sky-capturing ways.

Anyway, I thought this week we could drool over the sky photo porn that currently graces our Gadling Flickr pool, for some inspiration as to how to shoot. This time, however, I’m sitting where you are — looking for any clues as to how to make my sky photographs that much better.

So, on with the show.
1. God rays

My husband calls these “God rays” — the rays of light that appear from clouds when the sun is behind them.

When I asked him how he managed to capture this image (because while he was taking this, I was trying to take the same image with my camera, and failing miserably), and he said, “I set my aperture to a pinhole — about f22 — my ISO was set to about 100, and then I played with the shutter speed to get the shot. It ended up working at 1/500th of a second.”

Okay, so that’s pretty technical. Suffice to say, however, that Marcus — I mean, Alien Hamster — took several shots to experiment with the various settings, to see what worked for him. And really, that’s sort of what photography is all about: experimenting and learning along the way.

Another great God ray shot:

This great shot was shot and shared by othernel, of sunset over the East Village in New York City. Notice how the sun is more golden — therefore, I’m guessing, taken at a later time in the day than my husband’s shot — giving the image an entirely different mood. Notice also in both that the objects beneath the sun’s rays are almost in silhouette: remember that when you’re trying to shoot these God rays, you’re shooting for the rays, not the actual objects in the frame. Well done.

2. Clouds

Clouds obviously also make great subjects for photographs, and the following are pretty stellar:

Now, this amazing shot shared by Patrick Powers has quite obviously been processed; however, it’s been done to great effect. Those clouds — those crazy-white, featherlike clouds — look positively three-dimensional, almost like they could float right out of the screen. The entire scene almost looks artificial, rendering the shot more a work of art, then a documentary image. Really beautiful work.

And how impressive is this shot shared by Bonnie Bowne, taken in the Grand Tetons? Notice all the shades that are in the thunderheads, going from snowy white to dark, foreboding grey. I love how the trees in the foreground are in total silhouette, so that their details don’t compete with the colours of the clouds. If I were to guess (and Bonnie, if you read this, feel free to correct me), she exposed the shot for the white of the clouds, “tricking” the camera into thinking it was shooting in bright sunshine — thus resulting in a faster shutter speed, and making the trees look dark. Amazing.

3. Sunshine.

Of course, the most beautiful subject you can shoot in the sky is sunshine, and obviously, sunrises and sunsets are pretty intoxicating. Here are a couple of really stunning ones.

This sunset, shot and shared by Andy Bokanev Photography is stunning — not just because of the colours of the sky, but notice he also managed to get the light in the lighthouse building, as well as the colours of the flowers in the foreground. That’s some pretty stellar exposure right there. The glow of the light in the windows does so much to set the mood of this image — very well done. I’m guessing that this shot was taken using a very long exposure (that is, a slow shutter speed) and a tripod, with the ISO set to a very low number, to reduce graininess. Absolutely stunning.

In addition, take a look at this sunrise:

PDPhotography, who shot and shared this shot, has revealed one of my favourite ways of photographing the sky: from 37,000 feet. I love shots out of airplane windows, and this one is pretty great. I think we often think that we should only pull out our cameras when we’ve finally arrived at our destination — this shot is a great reminder that there’s some beautiful scenery en route, as well.

4. Silhouettes

Finally, I love the use of silhouette to accentuate the sky. A beautiful example:

This is another shot shared by Bonnie Bowne, taken — get his — in the parking lot of a Walmart store. What makes this shot so effective is that instead of just taking the shot of the sky — which might have been the more knee-jerk approache — she took the shot with the stark, dark tree in the foreground. The black silhouette of the tree has the effect of actually making the colours and light of the sky far more prominent, more impressive. It was an inspired way to shoot the sky.

And finally, this amazing night shot by fiznatty:

Seriously, does this shot not take your breath away? Fiznatty says, “the moon rises above the snowy slopes overlooking the Swedish town of Bjorkliden.” Unbelievable.

Okay, again, taking a guess as to how fiznatty managed this: obviously, no flash was involved, and he likely used a tripod and left his shutter open for quite some time, in order to pick up the light of the stars in the sky. If I’m right, then fiznatty stood still for quite some time — maybe a minute or two? — while the shutter was open, taking the shot. Amazing.

So that’s it. Again, if any of the photographers who took these shots would like to share their expertise here, I’d love to learn from you. And if you have any questions or additional comments, as always, you can always contact me directly at karenDOTwalrondATweblogsincDOTcom – and I’m happy to address them in upcoming Through the Gadling Lens posts.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.

Through the Gadling Lens can be found every Thursday right here, at 11 a.m. To read more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.

Through the Gadling Lens: water, water everywhere

Over the last year or so, I’ve become really intrigued with photographing water — I love how organically it moves, I love all the different forms it takes. And since almost 71% of our planet is covered in the stuff, it makes sense that it would sometimes find its way into our travel photographs.

So this week, with some help from the amazing shots in the Gadling Flickr pool (with a few of my own images tossed in for good measure), I thought we could talk about some of the ways that water can be the focal point of our photographs. I suspect we’re not even going to make a dent in all the ways there are to photograph water, but let’s give it a go, shall we?

1. Movement.

One of the most marked characteristics of water is how it moves — and obviously, it can be a bit of a trick to convey this type of movement through still photography. Still, it can be done — generally by holding the camera very still (even using a tripod, if available), while controlling the shutter speed, so that the shutter stays open long enough to capture the blur of the water. If you have an SLR camera, it means playing with the shutter priority adjustment on your camera (or going fully manual). A couple of beautiful examples:

This great shot, captured and shared by CCB images in Colorado is a beautiful example of capturing the blur of the water — notice how sharp the fountain is (as is, indeed, the ice at its base), but the water itself is blurred to the point of being indistinct, thus conveying the speed at which the water was moving. Beautifully done.

Another great example:

Another wonderful shot shared by fiznatty. Says the photographer: “For the first time, I had a chance to photograph the fascinating harlequin ducks at LeHardy Rapids. Harlequins migrate through Yellowstone in the spring, and are commonly seen at LeHardy, where they surf the rapids and brave the raging waters of the Yellowstone River. With their unique look and daredevil antics, it’s hard not to enjoy watching them.”

I love how the ducks appear to be absolutely still as the water races around them. Great capture.

2. Light

Of course, another great characteristic of water is the way it reflects light. Often, however, even though we appreciate the light in water, we don’t always make a point of shooting the light, rather than shooting the water. A couple of examples about how this is done:

Notice in the image above, it’s not the water that’s actually in focus, it’s the light sparkles that are so beautiful captured and shared by jonrawlinson. If, instead, he had focused the ripples on the surface of the water, this photo could’ve easily turned into just another shot of a pool. Instead, it’s a rather stunning shot of light.

Another example:

In this image of a garden hose, I didn’t want to capture the movement out of the hose, so much as I wanted to capture the reflection of light on the water against the brilliant blue sky. And so in this case, the shutter speed was set to as fast as I could make it go, and I had my husband hold the hose up into the light, and I grabbed the shot. The result is that the water almost looks frozen; however, the light is the focus of the shot.

3. Power.

When you’re confronted by tons of gallons of water crashing in front of you, it’s pretty hard to ignore the power that water is capable of. Here are some great examples of how to capture it.

I love this shot shared by Ylwstonegirl98. Oftentimes, when you’re in the vicinity of a waterfall, the temptation is to step back and capture the full length of the waterfall, so that the scenic setting around it also makes it into the shot. By all means, do this; however, don’t underestimate zooming in close to really show the volume of the water that is crashing to the river below. This amazing shot by Ylwstonegirl98 is such that I can almost hear the roar of the falls.

Similarly, this shot, shared by Patrick Powers and captured in San Clemente, California, is pretty great as well — after all, is there any more clear communication of the ocean’s power than the image of a surfer being thrown around like a rag doll? Fun, exciting shot, here.

4. Reflection.

If you ever find yourself face to face with a body of absolutely still water, pay attention to how it might be acting like a mirror, reflecting everything above it. I have to admit that it’s often hard to remember that when you’re framing a shot, you don’t just have to take a photograph of everything above the water, the fact that the water is mirroring everything makes it twice as beautiful. One great example:

The shot of above was shared shared by bovinemagnet, taken in Melbourne, Australia. It’s framed beautifully, so that the lights above the water are mirrored below — as is the beautiful deep blue hue of the oncoming dusk. Wonderfully framed.

And lest you think you need a deep body of water to make this happen, check the shot below:

This image, shared by PDPhotography in Toronto, Canada, was made simply using a puddle on the top of a roof deck. So remember: you don’t need a glacial lake to make the reflection work, any still body of water will do nicely.

5. Up close.

Admittedly, my favourite way to shoot water is using a macro lens, and shoot tiny water droplets. I love the way that the surface tension of raindrops makes them almost defy gravity, and look like little crystals. The following images were taken after area rainstorms:

Had I taken the shot above from farther away, you would’ve seen a rather unimpressive, bedraggled, seen-better-days spider lily. But by getting close up, you notice the beautiful little raindrops, and the same bedraggled petals add a splash of bright red colour.

In the image above, I love how you can see the grasses behind the flower reflected upside down in droplet hanging from the petal. It was hard to focus on such a small space, but I’m thrilled it worked.

Notice the surface tension I was talking about, and how it makes the tiny raindrops cling in almost perfect spheres on the clover, above.

6. At the surface

Another great way to shoot water, particularly if you’re at a beach, is to take a waterproof camera (or place your camera in a waterproof housing), and shoot images taken simultaneously below and above the water’s surface. This is great for shooting snorkelers, or kids, or if you’re as crazy as our own Willy Volk, lemon sharks:


(But admittedly, some pretty spectacular shots.)

7. Kids.

And finally, there is truly nothing more fun than shooting kids playing in water. When there’s a lot of splashing going on (as there is in the fountains of Discovery Green in Houston, where I shot the following two images), the trick is to just set your exposure and other settings to shoot images of the kids (because, let’s face it, when there’s splash water, kids are not going to want to sit still while you try to adjust your shutter speed to create the lovely feathery flows that you see in (1), above). Simply take photographs of the kids having fun, and let the water do its thing:

So that’s it — and again, I’m sure there are lots of other ways to shoot water, and we’ve just — pardon the pun — skimmed the surface. If you’ve got any other great ideas or links to your water shots, I’d love if you’d share them below. And as always, if you have any questions or suggestions, you can always contact me directly at karenDOTwalrondATweblogsincDOTcom – and I’m happy to address them in upcoming Through the Gadling Lens posts.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.

Through the Gadling Lens can be found every Thursday right here, at 11 a.m. To read more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.

Photo of the day 7.20.09

As we wind down Beach Day here at Gadling, it just seems appropriate to feature this stunning image captured by Patrick Powers and shared in our Gadling Flickr pool. Patrick aptly calls this shot, “If it’s a tequila sunrise, does that make this a vodka sunset?”

I dunno, Patrick, but I like the way you think. Meet me at the bar to the right of this image?

If you’ve got some great travel shots you’d love to share, be sure to upload them to the Gadling pool on Flickr. We might just pick one as our Photo of the Day.