Capturing Details in Moving Subjects

Jackson Pollock lived a short, reclusive life. His famous “abstract expressionist” works are an odd mix of extreme simplicity and desperate complexity. At first glance, his splattered paint on canvas seems like something a child could create… but a closer look reveals so much more. I’ve always loved the contradictory simple-complexity of Pollock’s works, and our recent trip to Australia provided a subject that inspired me to try to imitate the master himself.

So here it is – my tribute to Jackson Pollock. I took this shot from a cliff top at Fisherman’s Bay. The sea was choppy that day, and a thick foam had formed on the surface of the water in an alcove surrounded by cliffs. Every time a wave came in, the foam would crash against the rocks – bursting in a strange, monochrome fireworks display that seemed surreal in its complexity. The details were incredible, and every shot I took was completely unique. I took a few hundred photos – but this one was my favorite… by far. I love the simple beauty of the spray – and the intricate details that make it hard to look away.

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Here’s a close up that shows some of the beautiful patterns in the foam. I could have stayed up there on that cliff all day!

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A few tips for photographers who want to capture details in waves or foam:

1. An overcast day is a perfect time to take shots like these. Bright sunlight would have created really intense highlights and dark shadows that would have made the shot feel harsh and heavy. Overcast light, gave me subtle shadows and soft details for a clean and beautiful mood.

2. Use a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion. I bumped up my ISO to 2000 to get a shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second at f5.6. I probably could have gotten away with a shutter speed of around 1/2000 of a second for these shots, but I was noticing some blur in test shots and I wanted to be sure to get really sharp focus. I chose to use my Canon Mk III because it handles noise pretty well at a higher ISO.

3. Use a tripod. Really. Sure – you can do this handheld. But have you ever spent an hour holding onto a full frame DSLR with a 70-200mm lens and a 1.4x mulitplier? Your hands start to ache. :) I put the camera on the tripod for support, and loosened the ballhead so I could move the camera smoothly. My Induro took most of the weight, and I didn’t have to ice my hands afterward. ;)

The Photographers Companion

40+ Tips For Getting More From Your Camera!

The Photographers CompanionPrice:  $10.00

Format:  eBook, PDF format, 50 pages

Size:  24.6MB

Requirement:  Adobe Acrobat Reader 9.0 or greater


What if you could produce great photos right away – without learning all the technical details first? This is the eBook that will get you there.

This highly anticipated eBook from professional photographers Varina and Jay Patel offers 40+ tips and tricks that will help you improve your photography by leaps and bounds… without a lot of technical knowledge.

You’ll get pro tips on camera settings, equipment, light, and creativity in bite-sized pieces designed for beginners. The Photographers Companion is one ‘Aha! Moment’ after another.

If you are just starting out in photography, mastery can seem overwhelming. The Photographer’s Companion is the hand of a pro on your shoulder when you aren’t sure of yourself – and the steady voice in your head when you are fumbling with your controls.

When my daughter was 13, we took her to Florida for a special ‘coming-of-age’ experience. She swam with the dolphins, discovered the Keys and the Everglades… and learned to use a Digital SLR in manual mode. Kids pick up the basics quickly, and by the second day, Nora was photographing birds in the early morning light along the Anhinga Trail. Suddenly, right in front of her, a cormorant dove into the water and came up with a fish. It fumbled wildly, trying not to lose its grasp on the slippery creature, and Nora started shooting in great excitement. Standing beside her, I could see that her photos would be extremely underexposed because she hadn’t taken the time to adjust her camera settings. I touched her shoulder and gave her a quick bit of advice. “Check your histogram,” I said. She was worried that she’d miss “the shot”, but she followed my advice. She saw the trouble right away, and flicked her aperture button to make a quick adjustment. Then, she was shooting once again. She got the shot she wanted – properly exposed and beautifully executed.

Sometimes, being in the right place at the right time isn’t enough. It’s that personal touch – the voice in your ear that whispers, ‘try this’ when you don’t know what to do. We can’t all walk beside a professional photographer every time we shoot… but this book is born from the idea that those little nuggets of advice are invaluable.”– Varina Patel

Here are some sample pages:


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Shooting on an Overcast Day

Being a photographer means being adaptable. You won’t always get spectacular, “golden-hour” lighting – and some scenes look great on an overcast day. In fact, even lighting is very easy to work with, so even beginners can get great shots when the light is filtered through a layer of clouds. Here are a few tips for shooting when the sky is overcast.


1. Overcast days are perfect for macro shots. Subtle light produces very soft shadows, which can bring out lovely details in a simple scene. Use a reflector if you need more light in shadow areas.


2. Heavy skies make for great moody shots! Use a tripod for long exposures.


3. Waterfalls look great on overcast days. Soft light means you won’t have to worry about blown highlights where direct sunlight is reflected – and shadow areas won’t be too dark. You may still need to bracket and blend, but the result will be much more appealing than a shot taken on a bright, sunny afternoon.


4. Overcast days make for gorgeous black and white photos – especially when there is texture in the clouds. Look for simple scenes that are all about contrast, tone, or form.


Akaka Falls - Big Island - Hawaii, USA

Light and Layers

Akaka falls is located just North of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawai’i. It’s a gorgeous location and well worth the short hike… plus a couple bucks to park and use the trails. When we arrived at the falls, it was bright and sunny. The ferns were brightly lit, but the base of the falls and the left wall of the canyon were in deep shade. But I’d been watching the sky all morning, and I knew that we had enough big clouds in the sky to make the photo work. I set up my camera and tripod (we were testing Induro’s awesome CT113′s that week), and waited until a cloud blocked the direct light from the sun. Then, in that softly filtered light, I took my shot. But I still needed to bracket because the shadows were much deeper down in the valley – and the water was very bright. I took a second shot to expose correctly for the dark shadows, and a third to expose for the bright water.

Once I got home, I opened up my files and got to work. You can see the layers I used in the screen shot above. I stacked my images, and used my Intuos graphics tablet and stylus to draw simple selections. I also made slight curves adjustments to ensure that the layers looked natural together. My goal was to ensure that the scene felt natural, and that details were visible in dark and light areas alike.

A Few Simple Tips:

  • Photograph waterfalls on cloudy days, or wait for a cloud to pass over the sun. Soft light is great for waterfall shots.
  • Check to make sure you’ve captured the details you want in both the highlights areas and the shadows. You may need to bracket to get all the detail you want.
  • Use a tripod when you shoot. Our Induro’s come with us wherever we go. We often use long shutter speeds when we shoot waterfalls. I used a 0.5 second shutter speed to get the soft blur I wanted for the water in this shot.

What other tips can you share for shooting Waterfalls?

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Hakalau - Big Island - Hawai

Light Matters

This is a shot from Hawaii’s big island. Pay attention to the light. Maybe you think light isn’t very important in this shot. There are no brilliant sunbeams or brightly colored skies. But I’ll argue that light is critically important to this photograph. Maybe two more photos from the same location will help convince you.

I took this shot in full sun. (Click to view larger)

As I was taking the first shot in this post, I realized that I was looking at a perfect setting for a teachable moment. I turned around and took a shot of the forest down the road – which was in bright, full sunlight. Compare it to the shady shot at the top of the post. The greens in this shot are intense… but the shadows are way too dark.  The image lacks the depth that is so much a part of the first shot, and the finished photograph is unappealing.

Half of this image is in shade and the other half is in sun. (Click to view larger)

This one is even worse. To get this shot, I turned so that I could capture an image half in sun and half in shade. The colors are washed out – this is because colors look best when they are properly exposed. In this case, the shadows are too dark, and the highlights are too bright.

Soft, even lighting works very well for photographs of wooded areas like this. In the first photo, light is evenly scattered throughout the image. The soft light brings out the rich green and gold tones in the forest, and produces a sense of depth. When you are shooting in the woods, look for shady areas, and avoid a sun and shade mix.

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Rock Garden

When you hike out to this place in De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area (New Mexico) you can’t help but smile at the funny little hoodoos that litter the landscape. They’re everywhere. And they almost seem like sculptures. It’s as if someone came out and placed them one at a time. I took this shot just moments before the sun set. I wanted to capture the shadows stretching across the desert, and the soft, golden light painting the rocks. I also wanted to show how many of these stones there were – without letting the composition get too busy. So, I chose a nice big one and got in close to it. I couched down and placed my camera so that the rock filled the foreground. The wide-angle lens helps to exaggerate the size of objects that are close – and objects that are further away seem smaller. That’s exactly the effect I wanted here. I decided not to include the sky in the photograph because I felt that it wouldn’t add anything to the image.


Bowtie Arch – A Lesson in Light and Composition

Yet another gorgeous spot! Jay and I visited Bowtie arch in Utah, and I recorded this short video while we were there. This is the kind of place that’s great for a personal challenge. The hike was awesome, and so was shooting!

To learn more about composition and creativity check out our eBooks below:


Bowtie Arch at Midday

How do you deal with harsh light? Do you pack up your camera and go hang out in the hotel? Or do you hike a few trails – exploring the area and looking for shots that work even when the light isn’t “ideal”? Whatever that means. :)

You always hear about shooting during the golden hour – and that’s great advice. But most serious photographers aren’t setting up 30 minutes before sunset, and packing it in as soon as the sunset is over. Most of us are out there no matter the conditions – and we’re doing our best to work with the light we have. Learning to handle the light is a huge part of photography. Maybe the most important part. ;)

I took this shot right in the middle of a hot, sunny day. Not a cloud in the sky. Brilliant blue overhead and blinding light bouncing off every surface. Exactly the kind of light that we are supposed to avoid. But that’s actually what I wanted for this shot. I took the shot in the shade – just a few meters to each side, the face of the rock was brightly lit. But here – under a huge shelf of rock, the sandstone was cool and evenly lit. No harsh shadows. No blinding highlights. And to make things even better, the intense sunlight was bouncing all over the place – reflected light bounced and rebounded from every surface. And this is the result. The rich colors in the sandstone really stand out – and even the darkest shadows are getting some light.

I got in close to the stained rock in the foreground, and chose a composition that included the patterns and the arch itself – but none of the bright sunlit areas around me. The results is an abstract shot that shows off the incredible beauty of the location – with none of the distractions that black shadows and blown highlights would bring.

Let it Burn

Shooting in Canyons at Midday

Midday light definitely isn’t ideal for most wide-angle photography. But here’s a situation where bright, harsh light was exactly what we wanted… At least indirectly. In this quick video, I show you the lighting conditions we were working with in Mule Canyon, and how reflected light enhanced the colors in the photos we want to capture.

And here are a couple of the images I took that day. Pretty incredible place, isn’t it?

To learn more about capturing photographs in bad light with vibrant colors check out our eBooks below: