Backyard Photo Challenge | Photography 101

This evening I decided it was time for a personal backyard photo challenge!

My self challenge:
– Only use 1 lens, and tonight’s choice was my Canon 70-200.
– No flash. Use ambient light only.
– I had to go outside & find something new on my own property/backyard.
– I would only allow myself a handful of shots.

My Goal:  Capture a good photo in camera, from my own backyard, with limited equipment & limited photoshop.

When I was a new photographer back in the film days,  I could only use 24 or 36 exposure slide film or portrait film.    We were limited, every shot would count, and processing film cost money! Now-a-days, anyone can shoot thousands of pics with a smart digital camera.  This has led us to depend on taking a ton of photos, which leads to a ton of post production & file handling.

How do we re-train ourselves to take more limited photos?

Let’s look at oil painters.  
Most of the time an oil painter will visualize what they want to create on a blank canvas before the painting is started.   Next , they may sketch a thumbnail or small loose image in a sketchbook, just looking at basic shapes and light. The next step might be creating a small oil study with colors to work out any kinks. Once they are satisfied with the image, then they move forward to creating the final artwork. It can take many, many practice steps before creating one painting.

This concept can be a solid foundation for photographer’s too!  Visualize, take a practice shot, change the angle/composition/lighting, and take another shot. Once your satisfied… take your final shot.
How do you want to create your fine art?

Visualize  – set up the shot – get your exposure – then press the shutter.

I walked outside this evening, & the sun was already dipping low in the Texas Hill Country.  It didn’t take long for me to see this single sunflower growing on the back side of my property.

Shot #1:
The Snapshot
1/250   f5.6   + 2/3 stop     70mm     iso800    auto mode
This is a test to look at the exposure.  I let the camera choose the exposure in full auto mode on this shot, so I could adjust and shoot on manual mode for my next shots.  I often use manual exposure in my landscape photography.

Pros: The yellow/green color combo is pleasing to the eye.
Cons:  The sky is weak  & distracting. The pole is distracting. Too many items are competing for the main interest. There is no impact, and basically, this is a boring shot… Its a snapshot.

Sure, I could use photoshop to fix everything, and turn this basic photo into something completely different, but that is not what I’m doing here. I want to get a stronger image – in camera.

My score – below average

Shot #2
I planned on eliminating  the sky, and I wanted to ‘see the light’ in the image.  I had a good idea of what my exposure should be, so I moved in closer for a tighter shot, in full manual.

1/400   f4    126mm     iso800    manual mode 

Pros: The yellow/green colors are pleasing, soft light, interesting backlight, off-centered composition. Water droplets are now more visible.
Cons:  The main stem is too distracting.  The viewer’s eye may travel too much looking for the main focus.  Does your eye travel up & down the image?
There is a little distracting splash of reddish brown background color on the right center.
The water droplet on the petal is weak from this angle, and its directly split between the green leaf and grey background behind it.

My Rating:  Average

Shot #3:
I wanted to move in even tighter and focus on just the petals, the heart and soul of my subject…

1/250    f4     iso 800    200mm    manual mode

Shooting at 1/250 in manual mode, I have a good exposure with details in the blacks, yet I can still get a sharp image at 200mm, hand-held.

Pros:  good colors, tack sharp, strong main subject, off-center composition, great patterns in petals & center.  It has a greater impact.
Cons:  the grey/blue backgound at top is a little distracting, it splits the image in two sections, like an horizon line.
This image could be printed vertical or flipped into a horizontal print. Its versatile and it could make a nice print.
But I’ve seen a ton of sunflower images just like this one.  Would I hang it in my gallery or my house?

My Rating:   Above average

I limited myself to just 1 more photo.   Just one.   That can be tough for a modern day photographer.

What do I want my last & final shot to be? Hmmm.
How am I going to arrange the composition in camera?
The sun is setting fast – I only have a minute.

Shot #4 Last shot.

1/160    f4    iso 800     100mm     manual mode

Overall, I like it.   The colors are strong, background is even and subtle, and lighting is pleasing to the eye.  The adorable little drop of water is barely hanging over the green leaf, as if the leaf is saying ‘I’ll catch you when you fall’.   The two top stems are creating a nice ‘V’, framing the subject & helping to lead the viewer to the flower itself. The petals are creating various shapes against the background.
For me, this simple image is telling a story.  A story of life.

I can remove the stem on the bottom left, but that’s just minor tweaking in Photoshop.   Most of the work has been done already in camera!

My Rating:  Above average

Tonight’s personal backyard challenge is done – in just 4 shots.

  Photographers are artists in charge of documenting life and photography is your tool. When you think about that, it can send chills down your spine! … KWeigand

This sweet little sunflower has a very short lifespan.  Within a few days it’ll be forever gone.   If I had’t gone outside this evening for my personal photo challenge, this little delicate flower would’ve gone completely unnoticed. My photography has captured that moment in time.

I’m thankful for the nature that surrounds me, and I’m thankful for my little personal challenge.

I hope tonight’s photo study might help some other photographers out there…


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