Macro Magic

I really do think that macro lenses are magical and I love, not only the results, but I love to play with them. I can spend hours and hours crouched down in a garden exploring the endless possibilities for creativity. As always, I break most of the photography rules. I almost never use a tripod when shooting outdoors. I realize that just breathing changes the focus ground, but I’m OK with that. I often shoot in manual focus and I sometimes use my body to focus rather than the lens.

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I move slightly forward and compose a shot and then I move ever so slightly backward and the scene changes in my viewfinder without even touching the lens. Yes, there is wind and my body sway to contend with, but I always seem to get results that please me. The soft dreamy quality of the shallow depth of field just makes the flowers seem even more delicate and beautiful. There are times when achieving a tack sharp photo is what I want.

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But other times I prefer a slightly out-of-focus painterly look.

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And sometimes I manage to get a combination of both looks in one image.

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One of my favorite things to do is to purposefully stick my lens right into my subject – so close that leaves or vegetation literally touch the lens. This creates a soft, hazy filter effect. The more leaves in the way, the more interesting the result.

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When I originally purchased my macro lens many years ago, it was for a specific purpose. I was shooting small objects in the studio, with the dreaded tripod and lights. I can’t say I enjoyed any of that shooting and never really gave the lens enough attention. It wasn’t until I brought it outside to just ‘play with it’ that I fell in love with it.

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Do you own a macro lens? And if so, how often do you use it? What are your favorite macro subjects?

Photo Inspiration for the New Year

Are you looking for some photo inspiration for the new year? Doing a Project 365 is a great way to practice your photography and have doing it. Have you ever heard of Project 365? It’s a commitment that you make to yourself to take one photo a day, every day for 365 consecutive days and I suggest giving it a try. Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean you can only take ONE photo per day, but that is your minimum goal. It’s meant to encourage you to shoot, at least something, every day. Even on days when you don’t leave the house and there’s nothing interesting to shoot, you must shoot and document your photo. You will be amazed at what you will come up with, especially on the days when you think there is positively nothing to shoot. Those are the days when your creativity will be the most challenged and those are the days that you will grow the most as a photographer.

I, personally, have been doing one of these Projects every year for the past several years. I have to admit, they have become more about specific topics or exercises in my life and less about pushing myself as a photographer, but it doesn’t matter. The commitment of remembering to take a photo every single day (even with your phone) is a great discipline.

Aside from improving your discipline skills, giving you lots of practice shooting and pushing your creativity, there are some other added benefits to trying a project like this. As in my case for the past couple of years, it can serve as a photo diary, giving you a visual record of an entire year in your life. It is so much fun to look back and see an entire year pass before your eyes! Another great benefit to this project is that it will make you more observant. When you know that you have to take a photo a day, you’ll notice a lot more around you. You’ll find yourself looking for photos everywhere and seeing little things you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. And THAT my friends is what is going to make you a better photographer! Even if you end up with 365 silly snapshots taken with your phone, the practice of remembering to take a photo every day will help you.

There are so many ideas to get you started. And don’t worry about not starting on January 1st. You can start anytime and just keep it going for a full year. Here are the projects that I have done over the past few years to show you how you can create your own take on this challenge.

One year I just took one photo a day of something that I wanted to remember about that day.

One year I documented what I was wearing every single day (and to really make it difficult I tried not to wear the same outfit all year. Boy was I relieved when that year ended!)

One year I really changed it up and decided to take a one-second video rather than a still photo. Much more challenging, but the result was fun and rewarding.

One year I broke my year up into 12 different themes and used things like “abstract, reflections, B&W, textures, etc,” changing them up every month. I planned out my 12 themes in advance so there was no downtime transitioning from one month to the next.
(Most of these photos are terrible, but keep in mind that the point of this is the exercise, not the finished results of the photos.)

One year I committed to captioning every photo with just one word (and again, tried not to use the same word twice all year). This got harder and harder as the year went but really forced me to be creative.
(sorry, no link to this project.)

Last year my theme was “my happy moment of the day.” This really forced me to be more mindful throughout the day as I searched for my happy moment.

View Project Here

As you can see, the possibilities are endless. Here are resources for further reading on the subject if you are motivated to give it a try.

Try using a different color each month as your inspiration.

project 365 ideascourtesy of http://www.positivelypresent.com/2012/01/365-photo-project.html

Or try breaking up the year into 52 weekly projects. Even if you just shoot 52 photos (one per week) it would be a great start.

Project 365 ideascourtesy of http://www.sarahhalstead.com/project-52-introduction/

photography project ideas

Courtesy of http://everydayeyecandy.com/16-photography-projects-for-2016/

Or if you really want to simplify it, try what I did and only pick 12 themes, on for each month. If you’re trying to improve your photographic skills here are some suggestions that you may want to try:

  • motion
  • abstract
  • macro
  • depth of field
  • low light
  • long exposure
  • landscape
  • portraits
  • story telling
  • textures
  • colors
  • B&W
  • street

A great free resource to keep track of all your photos in one neat and tidy place is http://365project.org/. What I love about this site is that it allows you to either use their free app and shoot directly from your phone or use their desktop website and upload photos from your computer – the best of both worlds!

I hope this article has motivated you to want to give it a try. Please join in on the fun!

Watercolor Photographs

I recently started taking a watercolor painting class. I have always loved watercolors over oil or even acrylic because I favor a looser more abstract look over realism. This is very evident in most of my latest photographic work. I just love altering reality and taking an otherwise common humdrum scene and transforming it with my camera into a work of art. A recent comment that I received on social media was,

“Almost anyone can take a picture that looks like what we see but it takes a master to create something fresh and different.”

It pleased me so much to know that people, even non-photographers, can appreciate what it takes to do this. It’s not as easy as “just taking blurry photos.” My husband used to always tease me about taking blurry photos. He would even say, “If you want blurry photos, just give the camera to me.” That, in a nutshell, describes the difference between haphazardly taking a purposefully blurry photo and an experienced photographer manipulating reality to create a work of art.

Blurring the Lines

This has become my biggest photographic goal. It is so much harder to bring a unique perspective and vision to what you are photographing over just clicking the shutter and capturing exactly what you see.

Look at what is in front of you as just the start of something new. Notice the colors, shapes, and textures and imagine how you can manipulate them. The photo below is the Rockland Harbor at sunset. The harbor was littered with sailboats, but I used a fast panning technique to “erase” them all. The end result was a surreal dreamy colorful soft ocean.

Calm Seas

It’s sometimes hard to imagine what your camera is capable of doing and the trick is to experiment like crazy. Just keep taking yourself out of your comfort zone. Keep trying new things and pretty soon you will start to understand what is possible.

For more photographic inspiration and instruction, please considering joining me for an upcoming photography workshop.

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Looking for Photographic Inspiration

The Maine landscape is getting duller by the day. The leaves are turning brown and falling at a rapid rate – especially on this very windy day. At times, I look outside and feel sad that the colorful scenery is disappearing. I know it’s going to be several months before I’m back outdoors. Sure, there will be those few snowy winter days that will inspire me to get out and brave the cold in my heated gloves, but nothing beats the colors of spring, summer and, fall in Maine. So what’s a girl to do to find some photographic inspiration?

Well, there are lots of other shooting options and the harder you look the more you may find. Recently, I decided it was too cold and damp to venture outdoors so I sat in the toasty comfort of my house and shot pictures through the window. Sure, it might have been a lazy cop out, but it beat not shooting at all.

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I really liked how the fog seemed to add a natural soft filter to the photos without any editing whatsoever. These photos are straight out of the camera, but they look as if they have been edited. I moved to another window in the house and shot a couple more pictures with similar soft (but in a good way) results.

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Another day, I was about to throw away a container that was filled with a soapy solution. The night before I mixed up this magical red wine stain remover (Please message me if you want the recipe. It was amazing!) and before I threw the solution out I noticed how interesting the bubbles were. I couldn’t help but to take a few minutes to grab my camera and macro lens to see if I could capture their beauty. I snapped a couple of handheld shots and decided that the scene warranted a tripod.

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The next thing you know I had the container propped up on books right on my dining room table. I even got a small LED flashlight and lit the container from below. The whole set up was quick and dirty with very little thought or effort and it produced some very cool shots.
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This proved to me that you don’t have to look very hard or dig too deep to practice your photography skills right at home. Look around you right now. Do you see something that might make a good subject? I challenge you to shoot something ordinary today and make it extraordinary! Send me a shot if you take my challenge. I would love to see it and share it.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining me for the Creativity Bootcamp next fall in Rockland, Maine.

Playing With Macro

I’ve owned a macro lens for many years and never used it. In fact, I sold my first one because I was tired of storing it and never thought I would make good use of it. I’m pretty sure that I originally purchased it to shoot some product shots of jewelry that I used to make. Using a macro lens for that sort of work drove me crazy because trying to get the entire object in focus was a very big challenge for me. And I always thought that shooting with a macro lens required using a tripod – something that I dread.

Fast forward a few more years and the desire to own another macro lens recently came over me. I don’t even remember why, but I decided that a macro was a good lens to have in my camera bag. So I bought another one. And there it sat in my bag for the past several months, lonely and neglected.

It wasn’t until a recent Maine Media Workshop called “The Expressive Landscape” with one of my favorite photographers Eddie Soloway that I dusted off the macro and gave it a try. This time, instead of trying to capture all the details of a piece of jewelry in perfect focus I was purposely shooting most of my subjects out of focus. I was also going to shoot handheld, which is probably a no no for this type work, but rules are meant to be broken. I was going for a soft, pretty, painterly look and I wanted it all done directly in the camera with no post processing. I wanted to achieve this, not only because it was a good challenge for me, but also because I don’t have much time these days for any post processing at all. If I can learn to do things directly in the camera, all the better. So off I went to find some pretty flowers to practice . . .

I started off looking for pretty flowers.

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Then I started to just concentrate on color combinations.

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and then, interesting shapes . . .

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The more I started looking closely at flowers the more fine details my eyes started to pick up . . . like the tiny orange ant on this leaf.

macro white leaves

I quickly started to realize that this macro world was a whole new magical place that I never visited before. I often search high and low for interesting photos and sometimes feel that I need to travel to beautiful places, but the fact is that you can dive into this macro world anywhere you are. There is vegetation everywhere (well, almost everywhere – I don’t live in a concrete jungle) and when you get close enough to it, I mean really poke your nose into it, you see things in ways that you’ve never seen them before. It’s amazing and addicting and I could now get lost in a flower garden for several hours.

macro flower

The macro lens really makes it easy to have short depth of field and create soft backgrounds for the flowers to stand out from. Some of the effects look like paintings and again, these are straight out of the camera.

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Since I really love the painterly look and abstract art is starting to be my biggest inspiration, I started to really concentrated on that and make it my goal. I started off photographing these pink flowers and my first two attempts still looked very much like photographs.

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So I played a little more and got a little bit more creative with my focusing. This next result reminded me of an oil painting.

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And next, I attempted to throw the focus out even more and I think I achieved a more “watercolor” look.

watercolor flower photo

I may never be able to recreate this with a paintbrush, but that’s OK. This method is faster, cleaner, and much easier for me! Now I can’t get enough of playing with a macro lens. I encourage you to dust off yours if you have one that’s been sitting around. Just go out and play for the sake of playing. You might be surprised at what you capture.

Looking for Art in Unexpected Places

Sometimes you really can find art in the most unexpected places. During the recent Art is Everywhere photography workshop my participants proved it. Rather than visiting the Midcoast’s most beautiful spots, we spent time in some rather unusual places including, but not limited to the municipal fishing pier, the back parking lot of Main Street businesses and the water treatment plant. It’s easy to take beautiful photos along the coast of Maine, but finding pretty and/or interesting things in a dirty/ugly parking lot is a real challenge – one that everyone was up for and excelled at.

The simplicity and contrast of this single weed growing next to these mono-toned and rough textures jumped right out at me in the grungy back parking lot.

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Other items didn’t jump at all and were very easily missed, like this rubber mat laying out to dry. It was the glimpses of color peeking through that caught my eye.

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For sure the crew thought I was crazy when I led them to a lobster trap graveyard and a grungy fishing pier stocked with barrels of dead fish. At first it seemed like a joke, but sure enough everyone came away with interesting photos and had lots of laughs doing it.

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 We were all pushed beyond taking the obvious photos because there were no obvious photos to be found. Who in their right might would want to take photos of dead fish or a dirty fishing pier? Yes, we could have looked out over the bay and found some distant lobster boats on the water, but that wasn’t what we were looking for. Instead, we were looking for the less obvious. We were hunting for treasures that most people wouldn’t even have noticed.

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And when all else failed there was always the option to play with abstracts and just focus on colors and pattern as shown with these lobster traps.

Abstract lobster traps

We did also visit some beautiful places like the Camden and Rockport harbors, but even there nobody seemed too interested in shooting the obvious pretty boats in the harbor photos. We were on the hunt for colors, textures, shapes and shadows and those were lurking everywhere.

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One great exercise was to start to notice the reflections in the windows. Windows are everywhere and they almost always have some sort of reflection cast in them. This was particularly true for the shops on Main Street in the late afternoon. Everyone is used to window shopping and looking through the windows at the merchandise on display, but what we were shopping for were the pretty images being reflected back to us. They essentially created a whole new wondrous reality.

wine glass

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And sometimes we broke down, looked through the window, and shot what was actually inside the building.

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While walking the “city streets” of the Midcoast we pushed ourselves even more. Shooting the reflections was fun and easy, but now it was time to try some real street photography. Everybody in the group (including me) was completely uncomfortable with this assignment, but we gave it our best effort and look what we found.

This image of a young girl sitting in her car is simply stunning!

DriverSince it’s just plain scary to point a camera at a stranger’s face and sometimes other parts of the body can be just as interesting . . .

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And then, of course, there are lots of things parked on the side of the road that can be art.

Img2016-06-10-135717 On the less grungy, prettier side of Art is Everywhere . . . we all played with our new abstract skills. All of these shots were taken during the middle of the day. Once you know how to play with your camera settings nothing can stop you from making abstract art!

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Iris

We had two fun-filled and challenging days of shooting and everyone came away with a new sense of “seeing” the world. I hope this post helped you to try to look at every day objects in a different perspective. Please sign up for our newsletter or Like us on Facebook to be notified when the next “Art is Everywhere” Photography Workshop will be held.

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Finding Artistic Photos Under Foot

Did you know that we are walking all over art all day long? Let’s not forget that Art is Everywhere and that includes right on the ground. Sometimes we just forget to look down. I hate to admit this, but I missed this painted sidewalk the first couple of times I walked by it in Mexico. There was so much to see in every square inch lining the busy street that I simply forgot to look down.

painted sidewalk

Looking down usually comes easy to me. I’m constantly walking with my head down, obsessing over what I’m stepping on – not because I’m looking for photos, but because I’m known to easily trip so I’m careful where I put my feet. I spend so much time on trails in the woods that I’m conditioned to always look where I’m stepping. It takes a lot of conscious effort for me to look up and notice the other things around me. In the woods there is a magical world of objects laying on the ground and you could really get lost and spend all day noticing and shooting what you may find.

Droplets on leaves

Droplets on leaves

Leaf in iceTo most people, objects found on the ground aren’t much to look at and I suppose if you just look at them for what they are, that’s true. But when you look at the colors or the textures you start to see differently. A man hole cover starts to take on it’s own version of beauty.

man hole cover

And you start to really notice textures, how the light plays off of them, and how beautiful they can be even with no bright colors.

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Sometimes those covers are painted in vibrant colors and the objects that have fallen next to them perfectly complement them. Somebody walking through the fresh paint and leaving footprints was just an added bonus!

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And other times you may find covers right next to each other in complementary colors. I wonder if the utility guys realized how friendly they were being to photographers when they painted these.

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Walking on a beach presents endless possibilities and here’s where the warning to “look before you step” really comes in. One step in the sand and you can easily ruin your piece of art.

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And other times you may be walking on the beach and curse some stranger for leaving trash in the sand . . . but then you stop and think, “Wait a minute, this might make a nice photo.”

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Beaches and trails are great for endless pretty subject matter and true, it may be more difficult to find interesting things on the sidewalks, but always have your eyes open. You never know what you may find under foot. Sometimes it can be a huge lobster.

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And other times a simple gentle feather that will only stay in place for moments before the wind takes it away. Be ready for anything.

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If you can remember to do it, looking down while out shooting really pays off. You will likely get the shots that most people miss. It’s rewarding when you can find art right under your feet so before you take your next step look down and see what’s there.

If this blog post inspires you to strengthen your creative eye, please consider joining us for the “Art is Everywhere” photography workshop June 9-10, 2016 in Rockland, ME. More info at the button below.

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In-Camera Photography Abstracts

Lately, I’ve been really drawn to photography abstracts. I yearn to be able to create abstracts with a paintbrush and maybe someday I will be able to, but in the meantime I’m practicing making better abstracts right in my camera. The best part of making abstracts with a camera is that you can do it with any subject. All you need is relatively low light and interesting color or shapes.

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On a recent trip to Mexico I was feeling uninspired to shoot. Truth be told, I didn’t even bring along my DSLR. Because I go to the same location in Mexico every year and because I’m mostly uninspired shooting on a beach, I opted to take along my much smaller and more compact Fujifilm XT-1. My favorite feature of this camera is the old fashion aperture ring that you manually twist on the lens. Not sure what it is about twisting the ring to change the aperture that is so appealing, but it reminds me of the good old 35mm days. With the aperture adjustment on the lens itself, and the ISO control also on a dial, I’m able to access all the settings that I need to create these abstracts without fumbling in the menu structure. I really love that. Maybe it’s because I’m not as familiar with the Fujifilm menus like I am with the Nikon or maybe it’s because I just think it’s cool to have the manual dials.

So given the fact that I’ve already shot most of the scenery before on previous trips, this year I was focusing more on color and texture. Now, instead of stopping in front of beautiful scenes I was instead shooting the most mundane, and in some cases ugly scenes. I can only imagine what people thought when they saw me shooting this hideous shot of a dumpster.

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It was the combination of the bright pink, purple, and green that caught my eye. I twisted a few dials and and reshot to get this much more interesting shot. I didn’t even notice that it was a dumpster until I was walking away.

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Most of the pictures that I liked as abstracts were painfully boring technically-correct and in-focus shots. I tried really hard to make a totally green photo of big vegetation be interesting, but I couldn’t. So I gave up and tried this instead.

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My heart sung when I saw the result and these photos are straight out of the camera. I just love adding extra interest to reality. Nature is beautiful in its own right, but being able to control and alter it makes me feel like I have super powers. I think I’m going to start wearing tights and a cape when I shoot.

You can stand in front of one boring scene for an hour and come up with a hundred different abstract works of art. This straight shot was so boring that I deleted it right in camera, but was happier with the funkier blurry version.

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You can still recognize exactly what I was shooting (the various colored vegetation), but I took it a step further and liked it even more.

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Those bright spots that you see in the photo above this one are spots of daylight shining through the leaves. I found it a little too harsh and distracting and decided that the camera needed more movement to spread out that light better. I guess you can say that this is a form of “light painting.”

No matter where I was, and what was in front of me, the object or scene became my next potential abstract. While sitting in the hotel lobby complaining that there was no light outside and nothing to shoot I got bored and shot the flowers on the coffee table.

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Pretty darn boring, but there was nothing else to shoot. I only had a minute before I had to take off so I quickly changed my settings and shot again.

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I want to frame it! Granted not everything produces works of art, but even the subtle abstracts still bring me joy.

So how did I do it? Here’s a photo that I shot at the proper exposure setting without moving the camera.

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This is not something that I would normally shoot, but I knew that the texture and shape might lend itself to an attractive abstract. Now I can’t give you the super secret formula to nail it every time because it depends on the conditions and there’s a fair amount of trial and error. Let me just say that the more you do it, the better you get. The first thing I did was crank the aperture down to f22 (or as low as you can go). This is the one consistent setting that I use across the board. I personally use a combination of aperture and ISO to control my exposure, but you can also use manual mode and use aperture and shutter. This is just my personal preference. So next I used my camera’s built-in meter and adjusted my ISO until my shutter was reading approximately 1”. This is where the setting really is determined by the light. In the above photo the setting sun was still strongly shining on my subject. I set my ISO to approximately 400 in order to achieve a 1” exposure. Then I focused on the leaves, started to move my camera about in nice smooth flowing circles (or any sort of swoopy pattern that you want), and I hit the shutter button during the motion. Just to clarify . . . I did not hit the shutter button and then start moving the camera. Instead, I started moving the camera and hit the shutter button while in the middle of the movement. This is what resulted . . .

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Obviously the pattern of your movement is going to completely dictate the resulting image and the options for movement are endless. You can pan horizontally or vertically, you can twist the camera clockwise or counter-clockwise while keeping your focus point relatively still, or you can wildly move in organic patterns. One subject can give you dozens of looks by changing your movement and your exposure duration.

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As previously stated, you don’t always get something pleasing on the first try. In some cases (depending on the light and the brightness of your subject) 1” may be too long. In that case you can adjust the ISO a little higher. It can be quite a game, but I love the challenge and I love not knowing what my camera display is going to show. It’s always a surprise, some surprises much more pleasant than others. I encourage you to give it a try. Once you get the hang of it your world will change and you’ll start looking for art in otherwise very mundane and boring scenes.

This sort of abstract art will be covered in our upcoming Maine Photo Adventures “Art is Everywhere” photography workshop. We will be spending 2 days in Rockland looking for art in some unexpected places because after all, art really is everywhere. All you need to do is learn how to see it!

Spaces are limited in the Art is Everywhere Photography Workshop. If you are interested, please don’t delay.

Making Digital Abstract Photos Using Panning

Lately I’m obsessed with abstract art and making digital abstract photos. When I walk through galleries it’s the abstracts that I seem to gravitate to. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it’s because I feel that I may have a shot at one day learning how to paint one. I don’t have any real drawing talent and it seems like trying to paint a real object would be very difficult, if not impossible for me. If you make a mistake it would be very obvious. But with abstracts, on the other hand, who would really know what you had originally intended? Anything goes!

Abstract digital photo

So lately I’ve been studying a lot of abstracts. My goal is to some day learn how to paint them or perhaps use mixed media to create some pieces of art and I think it has been influencing what’s coming out of my camera. Lately, my favorite shots are my purposefully blurry “artistic” shots. I have always liked this sort of thing, but the more I play with it the more I’m falling in love with it.

Abstract digital photo of leaves

I’ve been playing with three different techniques. The one I’ll cover today is the panning technique. Normally you would only pan a moving object, but here I’m moving the camera during the exposure while shooting a stationary object. This is an example of side to side panning and this works well when you are shooting a horizon or anything that has a natural horizontal line.

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Trees, on the other hand, usually lend themselves better to up and down or vertical panning.

Abstract digital photo of trees

I used to think this was only possible in low lighting, but the more I’m playing with it the more I’m learning. I’ve taken some pretty interesting shots even while the sun was out. The trick is to set the ISO very low, make the aperture as small as possible and play with the amount of panning it takes to get the effect you want. I usually take no less then 3 shots of each scene and always come away with 3 very different looks.

Abstract digital photo of trees

Not saying one is better than the other, but depending on the scene, or your mood, you will likely favor one over the others.

I find this technique to be easier when there’s no bright sky in the scene, but even when there is I’ve had some interesting results. The streaks of bright colors add an interesting dimension to the photo.

Abstract digital photo of trees

Abstract digital photo of trees

Here are some other examples of this panning technique that I recently took. The fall colors sure do make this fun to play with. I came upon a scene that I would normally not even have looked twice at. It was so hum drum and boring. Here’s the scene shot with the correct exposure and focus. Yawn.

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But here’s the same scene purposefully shot out of focus. I find it much more interesting.

Abstract digital photo of trees

Here’s another example of the only semi-interesting actual scene . . .

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And the scene shot with a more artistic approach . . .

Abstract digital photo of trees

All of the photos shown in this post are straight-out-of-the-camera with no editing. Yes, you can buy all kinds of fancy filters and plugins to achieve these effects, but you can save yourself time and money by just doing it right in camera! You never know what you’re going to get when you start experimenting and looking at scenes for just their color and light values. This really makes you look at things differently and that alone is a great photographic exercise.