Tuesday, February 17, 2015
A Bird Photographer in Downtown Miami
If there is one thing that I have learned about improving one's photography it is that getting out of the comfort zone is essential. Take bird photography for instance. As with any learning process, you go through a period when you climb the steep learning curve and see dramatic improvements in your bird images. Maybe there are one or two specific locations where you spend most of your time, allowing you to perfect your technical skills without having to learn a new location and where you get to know intimately certain birds species.
But what happens when you reach a plateau? How much more can you improve by simply doing the same thing over and over again? Of course, there is always room for improvement under any circumstance, but the learning curve is more horizontal than vertical. You can spend many hours reading about bird photography, studying other bird photographer's images, watching YouTube videos on how to photograph birds and so on. These are all useful tasks. My suggestion is to step out of your photography comfort zone and try something completely different. Think of this as playtime and nothing more; no pressure.
Recently, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and attempt to photograph the buildings of downtown Miami. Keep in mind that I spend most of my leisure time in remote wilderness areas like the Everglades. To me, downtown Miami is much scarier and intimidating. I had certain doubts as to my ability to walk around taking images without drawing attention.
It wasn't only the discomfort of being in a vibrant urban setting, but it was not knowing anything about architecture photography that blew me away. I could have read up on architecture photography techniques and studied images from those that have mastered it before I ventured out. Instead, I wanted to go into this little experiment as unbiased as possible. I highly recommend this approach when you attempt something new; a different lens, a new location, artificial lighting, macro photography, etc.
So what did I learn from my few hours spent walking around Miami? It really became clear that before taking the shot, visualizing a scene and paying close attention to how the frame interacts with the objects are necessities to good architecture photography. There are so many possibilities in compositions with repeating patterns, strong lines and distorted shapes in the reflections. Upon examining the images closer on the computer monitor, the direction of the lines became more noticeable and it was a task to determine how they should be positioned relative to the frame. Here are a couple images to illustrate my naive attempt. these were cropped to come up with what I thought were the best compositions.
The color blue dominated as the mostly clear sky reflected on the windows. One thing I attempted to do in some of the images was demonstrate a juxtaposition between the unnatural and the natural, commonplace in Miami. Here are a couple images to illustrate this attempt.
One other thing came out of this exercise and that is architecture photography seems to work best in the extreme ends of focal lengths. Here are a couple images where a telephoto lens might come in handy in order to emphasize detail or fill the frame with repeating patterns.
The lens I used is a 16-50mm; however, it is attached to a 1.4X cropped sensor camera. Therefore, my longest focal length appears like 70mm. But, even at 70mm, I still had to crop some of the images to fill the frame, such as this one below.
On the other end, a wider angled lens would be perfect to capture an entire building or dramatize the height of the building. Here's an example where I think a wider angle would have worked better.
Although the color blue dominated, I looked for contrasting colors. The red construction cranes worked nicely for that, as seen above. Here's another image where green and blue complement each other.
I said that visualizing the scene first is essential to architecture photography. But of course, it is essential to all good photography. I just think that architecture has some unique challenges that force you to look at how the frame interacts with objects that are within the frame. Getting use to doing this will only improve your bird photography or whatever the photography subject may be. I doubt very much that I will dedicate myself to architecture photography, but after going into this experience cold, I will spend some time studying it, go back and try it again with an educated eye (or vision) and maybe a different lens. And what I learn will go with me when I photograph birds from my canoe.