Tones, Composition, and Drama – Daily Thoughts 005

A while back, I asked my Instagram followers to send questions for me to answer on the blog. I figured that this new blog series would be a perfect opportunity to answer some of these questions, so every Friday, that’s exactly what I’ll do.

Today’s question comes from user @turazi: “In short terms, how can I set the tone, compose my shots better, and out [sic] more drama in a bland scene?”

Since I aim to be brief in these daily posts, I’m gonna give my rapid-fire response to this. However, this will still be a pretty lengthy post!

How can I set the tone?

There are two ways to interpret this question — overall tone (vibe) and the individual tones (how dark or light specific areas of your photo are).

Setting the tone of the overall image really comes down to what you’re feeling in the moment and how you want to portray what you see. To evoke emotion and tell a story, you’ve gotta pause and consider the final image. I spend a lot of time shooting alone in foreign cities, so I want the viewer to feel that detachment. This drives the way I shoot.

For individual tones, my suggestion is to spend some time shooting in black and white. If you typically shoot RAW photos, change your picture control profile to “monochrome” or “black and white” to see your image previews in black and white, while still retaining color images for post-processing.

Referencing black and white previews while you shoot removes the distraction of color. You get a much better idea of how light is effecting your image and what areas are getting too much or too little attention. Once you learn more about how your camera responds to light and its limits, you can switch back to a color profile and shoot with boosted confidence.

Composing Shots Better

There is so much to say about composition, but I’ll give you three things I pay attention to or look for when composing a shot: 1) Sky 2) Symmetry 3) Solitary Subjects.

When shooting cityscapes and landscapes, I’m always paying careful attention to the sky. The weather and quality of light plays a huge role in determining how much of the sky I want to include. Seoul, where I spend most of my time during the year, is quite hazy most days. Hazy skies aren’t very interesting, so I’ll compose my shots to primarily feature other visual elements or wait for better light.

Symmetry is always on my mind. For more info on ways to use symmetry in photography, check out the DT003 post here.

A solitary subject is something I personally find powerful in compositions. Images that include a single subject that sticks out from the rest of the environment always draws my attention. Sometimes you might have to hunt or wait for the right moment to capture these, but patience pays off.

Adding Drama

Drama is easily brought out in post-processing with adjustments like Lightroom‘s Clarity slider or Luminar‘s Structure and Dramatic filters. However, if you’re looking to capture more drama in your images straight out of camera, there are a few things to consider.

First of all, pay attention to the contrast of the scene. Low contrast scenes are just flat and boring, so don’t even bother shooting them. Instead find areas with interesting lighting and a high dynamic range. You many not be able to capture all of that dynamic range in a single exposure, so you might want to consider bracketing exposures and blending them together in post. Check out Jimmy McIntyre for this sort of stuff!

Second, look for texture in the scene you’re shooting. Surfaces with a lot of texture are going to provide you with better local contrast. Examples of some high-drama textures are asphalt, peeling paint, brick, stone, wood, rust, etc.

Finally, weather is probably the biggest factor in drama for shooting outdoors. Wait for a day when there’s a lot of contrast in the clouds and sky and you’re almost guaranteed to get some truly dramatic photos.

Until Monday,

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