Tag Archives: lighting

7 Whispered Meanings of Koi Art

There are few fish that are as atheistically beautiful as the koi fish.   The koi is a variety of carp that began its relationship with man in a dubious position. Originally they were simply bred for food to help supplement the almost completely rice diet of poor peasant farmers in the Far East.

However, this historical story cannot but help explain the sheer power of art and beauty over the human mind. Or in this case the stomach.   For some reason, one we may never completely understand, there was a mutation to a few of these fish that produced the incredible variety of colors found in some of the fish today.

People began to see this lowly food source as more than just something to eat. Because of their beauty they soon become ornamental and even started to have legends being told about them. These legends include how they are brave, purposed fish who through the sheer power of determination can swim upstream and even in some case up waterfalls.

Since koi fish represent such positive energy of purpose they are also given to a belief that their presence will increase other attributes.  They whisper energy that brings:


  1. Wealth and prosperity
  2. Success of goals
  3. Career advancement
  4. Relationships of long-lasting love.
  5. Symbol of strength
  6. Power of purpose
  7. Freedom from distraction
Koi Fish
Koi Fish

At first these eye-catching color are fish natural subjects for art. However, it was not for the brilliant colors that I captured their tranquil lives. I noticed that the scales of the koi would reflect light almost like a shiny metallic type of armor.  Since one of the finer aspects of black and white photography is about lighting a subject, this work remains a perfect opportunity for artistic enhancement.

The result is consists of swirls of creamy abstract whites on some fish and scaled elements of contrast on others. As the colors change into their respective shades of gray and creams, they gain a definite balance of minimalist quality. It’s just fish, but with their deep visual meanings of artistic display and centuries of eastern influence these simple koi take on a much more elegant and balanced display of nature’s beauty.

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The Potential of This Photograph is Awesome

Last week we started off with a picture of a strange-looking flower blooming off the side of a palm tree. The starting unfiltered picture is typical of what you find on the Internet. It’s certainly not a bad picture per se, but it does have issues that we will need to contend with before one can look at it and unabashedly call it a work of art.

What is the potential?
What is the potential?

One of the biggest difficulties in the picture is the heavy dose of sunlight affecting the overall image and is robbing us of detail that would enhance the picture. This has everything to do with the time day I took the picture.  In this case it’s a trade-off between technique and artistic imagery.  If I were to take the picture at an earlier or later time so that the lighting is perfect, the sun would not be at an angle in the sky to flow directly on the flower. Lighting is what gives an image its dramatic power.

So, one of the first things to do is to rebalance the image reduce the sunlight glare from blowing out our image. Once we mange that, both on the camera through a lens filter and then again in Photoshop, we pull out more detail and move on to any color issues.

The picture is green predominately green and white. It’s a plant so that is to be expected, but I want to enhance that drama we were talking about earlier. I do this by simply changing the image to a black and white one. The advantage is that the white will remain but the greens will turn into varying shades of blacks and grays thus not only preserving our drama but enhancing it.

After this transformation I work with the contrast and brightness and make sure that there is an area of pure white and pure black in the image for aesthetic reasons.

I then move on towards working with a modern day version of dodging and burning the picture to further enhance both the dark areas and the dramatic white. The last step is to make sure that no digital noise has crept in the photograph robbing the image of a silky smooth look. So I use a denoise filter designed to take the noise out .

You may ask why I’m not giving specific details about the exact settings I use in Photoshop or how many filters I may apply. It’s not that my answers are full of trade secrets. Rather, the reason is that there are no set hard fast rules for applying filters and using dodge and burn on your images. Some images may require 3 filters, some 13. It is dependent upon your artistic eye and the individual image.

Thus I am left with the enhanced image below.


Palm Flower
Palm Flower

Hope you enjoyed this look at a simplified version of taking and image and working it step by step and filter by filter into a work of art.


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Black And White Photography in Action: The Sunning Tree

When a photographer/artist takes a picture like The Sunning Tree it only represents half of the overall work put into producing the complete work.  After the camera shutter clicks the last picture of the day, the photographer goes home and usually uploads the shots to a computer for touch-up work. This is to  enhance the magic that the artistic side of the photographer wanted to share with the world.  It is in this place that the raw picture is subtly changed into a worthy piece of art.

Now, we are not talking about or even suggesting changing major elements in a photograph to a way that resembles the modern-day fashion industry.  I prefer to stay out of that dangerous arena when dealing with my subjects.  Not that a squirrel or lizard ever went viral on the Internet protesting that they are victims of overzealous Photoshop airbrushing, at least not yet..

No, the latest embarrassment of Target Corporation The Sunning Treeshowing horribly amateurish computer edited sections of a swim model’s body on their website shows the dangers of over processing that I believe most artistic photographers would very much like to avoid.  We all want recognition for our work, but the type of recognition is important too.

It is with the choice of artistic editing in mind that I present The Sunning Tree. One of the more difficult choices modern-day photographer can face is the choice of light and the colors contained in a particular shot.

Every picture I take has a specific item or thought behind why I take it.  But, like a painter looking at a blank canvas and deciding on watercolor or oil, a photographer discovers a scene and decides on the type of post processing he wants to work with.

It is my belief that all photographers choose to use a form of processing.  There is no difference whether you are dodging and burning in a dark room or clicking on software light curves in front of a computer monitor.  Even if a photographer is a complete “only as the camera sees it” purist and refuses to use processing in his pictures that is his choice for processing.

In this case I turned the picture to black and white.   Why would I do this?  What was wrong with the color version?  Well, honestly nothing was wrong with the picture in its original state.  That is if you enjoy the color brown.

This lizard was a brown anole lizard hanging off a brown tree trunk.  Uninspiring.  Yet the thing that drew me to the picture was the lighting and I knew that only by removing the brown color could we really see the impact of what this little guy had to show the world.

The shades and textures of the sunlight both directly and indirectly give this photograph a sense of place and mood.

You see details it his face and the underside of his chin that blended and were lost in the original brown. Even his ribs become more pronounced and highlight the contrasting lines of the bark that he is sitting on.

Even the small and barely noticeable glint in his eye becomes a notable feature of this unique creature.  But only in Black and White.  So, I took this particular shot and earmarked it for conversion to the black and white print you see.

Will all of my pictures be black and white?  No.  Black and white is a method to help portray my “artistic madness”.  Sometimes it works wonders and other times a subject is best left in it’s original colored state.

There are countless times when I believe that a photograph will look lovely in Black and White only to have it lose the very emotion that made me take the picture.  It’s like a painter figuring out that they used the wrong paint for their vision.

Black and White conversion of photographs is a wonderful tool to have in your photographer’s tool belt.  I hope that you see the results when its hanging on your favorite wall.

Like what you read about The Sunning Tree

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4 Rules of Lighting and the Outdoors Photographer

One of the great aspects of lighting in photography is that it doesn’t work the same for everyone all the time.  There are general guide rules of lighting, but the solutions to making a photographic shot better are not always so cut and dry.  Some typical rules include:

  1. The closer the light source the harder the light and vice versa.
  2. The larger the light source the softer the light  and vice versa.
  3. Sunlight is always hard light unless in the shade.
  4. A flash will always give you a hard light unless you diffuse it or bounce it on the subject with a reflector.

Those rules are pretty easy to live with and with a little imagination you begin to see possibilities that will improve your photography.  However, sometimes the situation you find yourself in is not so forgiving.

Let’s say you are a photographer faced with the task of photographing the lions of the Serengeti.   Your only solutions to controlling the hard sun light is to use filters, the time of day, and possibly something in your environment to help you create some shade.   It’s not always possible, nor advisable to drag your entire studio with you.

Indeed, outdoor photography has it’s own lighting challenges in that you can’t always ask a subject to help you with the shot.  Flashing a strobe light in the face of a large bull will result in a great action photograph but probably not the kind you were hoping for.  Further, location is an issue also.  I know of a tree that, when in bloom, is gorgeous and has not one but two distinct colors of the flowers.  The problem?  The two angles to capture the shot with the best lighting are either in the middle of a busy 2 lane road or standing on active train tracks.  I can’t move the sun, and I can’t move the tree.  Yes, solutions to this problem exist, but none of them are particularly easy or inexpensive to do.

Weather can also play a factor in your lighting plans also. I had a photography instructor who swore that the best weather to take pictures on was an overcast grey day.  The light would be diffused by the clouds and he instructed us to use those clouds as our grey cards to find our neutral grey.

In a way, challenges to correct the lighting or sometimes even getting the lighting outdoors to do what you want is what make this form of photography fun.  The lighting found outdoors constantly create opportunities of creative thinking and doing things  “outside the box.”

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