Monday, July 26, 2004

Look down before shooting

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News
Mark McClelland, 9, of the Lewisville Dodgers baseball team adjusts his new catcher's equipment before a baseball game at Lake Park in Lewisville on Thursday, October 2, 2003. Thousands of dollars worth of new baseball equipment was stolen from the Lewisville Baseball Association in August. Local businesses replaced the equipment for the young players.

I should be scrambling to submit my Press Club entry long before deadline, but I'm lollygagging. And you know what you call someone who lollygags? A lollygagger. That's right.


The very first assignment I got in Photo 101 was "Light and Shadow." To a 101 student, this typically means stairs, trees, anything as long as there are no people within miles. Why? Because we had no freaking idea what we were doing with the durn camera-thingy and the borrowed gangly-legs-thingy-holder-thingy. We just want to look cool.

We knew the way we looked on the first day with a new camera and tripod wasn't cool. Read the book, aim, read the book, focus, read the book, check the aperture, read the book, check the shutter speed, read the book, camera falls over, curse...

The end result of the first assignment is some over- and underexposed negatives (if we're lucky). The instructor then uses all her/his brilliance to tell us why we're such failures (hint: it's the freaking light meter).

If we're not lucky, we have no images at all. Develop first, THEN fix. Or, turn the little red light OFF while you load the film on the spool. Or, burn marks on the "best frame" (of tree bark). Or, the temperature and time really DOES matter. Or, "How many pictures did the little dial say you had taken on a 12 exposure roll?"

It's a way of introducing would-be PJs to the torture of image making. As I've said before, photography is all about failure. Once anyone fails enough times, they'll figure out how not to screw it up again (heavy duty steel reels with speed prongs ;-} ). So, each assignment in Photo 101 is yet another way to mess up.

I won't be so mean. Today, I'll save everyone a little confusion and time with one simple piece of advice: Before you shoot, look at your feet.

If your shadow is covering your feet, you should probably find a little better angle. If your feet are brightly lit and have no shadows, you might want to wait for a better time of day or move your subject into a evenly-shaded area. If you can't see your feet at all, use a tripod ...or possibly read the fat-o-journalists entry.

The angle of light creates a feeling of depth for a two-dimensional image. This is most profoundly seen when light is at an 89.5-degree angle to the photographer -- particularly right after sunrise or before sunset.

When I shoot sports, I check light direction with my monopod. I make sure the shadow is pointing generally toward the field from my firing position. Then I aim my claymores, set my tripwires, dig my tiger pit, camouflage everything and cover my tracks... Oops, wrong blog.

If the shadow isn't pointing toward the field, I move around the field until it does. There is no law requiring people to shoot from their own team's sideline. I'm covering both teams.

The point is to light the subject from the direction we're shooting. Yes, it's possible to shoot from the reverse direction (the shadow side), but this is tricky on sunny days.

For most folks, the ideal angle is to see your own shadow at a 45-degree angle from directly in front of you. This affords proper light on the subject with enough shadow to give a sense of depth.

Enough for now,

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