Florence and Siena – Tuscany Revisited

Posted in Photography Tricks on January 5th, 2009 by MadDog
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It’s hard to think of anything that I did not like about Tuscany. Much as the rest of Italy and Sicily, it is a photographer’s wonderland.

I could do a dozen posts containing photos of the region, but I’d quickly run out of prose. Most of the snaps would be of things that most people have seen many times before. How many times do you have to see a photo of Michelangelo‘s David, before you have it memorized?

Instead, I’ll do a couple of cheap tricks for you and have some fun with winged rats.

Here is a perfectly awful photograph of the lovely villa where we stayed about forty minutes from Firenze – the proper Italian name for Florence:

A badly exposed little villa near Firenze, Italy

The distant background is properly exposed, but the main subject is horribly blocked by underexposure .

In this image, I used the Photoshop Shadow/Highlight filter to balance things out and then used the Watercolour filter to disguise the fact that the photo had been heavily doctored:

A watercolour of a little villa near Firenze, Italy

It captures the memories of the place even better than a properly exposed photo would have.

Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is the oldest bridge in Florence crossing the river Arno. It is, of course, much photographed. This is a poor example. The light that day was miserable – flat, listless, lazy light:

Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is the oldest bridge in Florence crossing the river Arno.

Rather than blame the light for a bad photo, why not take a bit of that photo and jazz it up? Here is a section that has been massaged with the same care as the villa shot above – with a little extra saturation to give it more life:

A Ponte Vecchio watercolour

Sometimes I can hardly wait when I get home from holiday to find all of my bad pictures and turn them into artwork.

I have the obligatory cathedral photos from Siena also. But, what I found more interesting were the pigeons:

Pigeons dissing baby Jesus and his sidekick, John the Baptist

Little baby Jesus and his infant sidekick, John the Baptist are treated most disrespectfully by the winged rats.

Moreover, only a pigeon can stand on its head while drinking water spewing from a dog’s mouth:

Pigeon stands on head to drink from spewing dog - Only in Siena!

Ah, the wonders of pestilence!

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The Rule of Thirds

Posted in Photography Tricks on November 13th, 2008 by MadDog
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The ancient Greeks did a lot of thinking. So much thinking, in fact, that much of it still affects nearly every aspect modern life.

The Greeks thought a lot about what was good. They thought about what looked good. Greek mathematicians came up with an idea that they called the Golden Ratio. There’s a lot of fancy maths involved, but we don’t need to be concerned with that.

It boils down to the idea (hugely simplified) that square stuff and round stuff and stuff in the middle of other stuff doesn’t generally look as good as rectangles (especially the Golden Rectangle), odd shapes, and things that are off centre.

The Golden Ratio turns out to be close enough to one-third for our purposes. (Well, actually  about 2/3, but, never mind . . .)

So, how do we put this time-honoured secret of ancient artists of all stripes to work for us in our point-and-shoot camera? As it turns out, it doesn’t make a hill of beans difference what kind of camera you have, because it’s all in your head.

One gets so used to thinking about the Rule of Thirds that it becomes automatic. When I took this photo of a cute little hermit crab this morning, I wasn’t thinking, “Remember the Rule of Thirds.”I just snapped what looked good to me: (Thanks for the identification of the species Coenobita cavipes (juvenile)  from our correspondent ‘Curlz’.)

A little Hermit Crab demonstrating the Rule of ThirdsHowever, as you can see, it does comply:
A little Hermit Crab demonstrating the Rule of Thirds (with lines drawn in) - Jan MessersmithSo, what is  it?

Well, as you can see from the second shot with the lines drawn in (please don’t check the accuracy of my lines, I was guessing), the idea is that the photo will be more interesting if you place an important point of interest (usually the most important) near a point where two lines cross or along one or more of the lines.

Why is  this? Don’t ask me. It just works.

When does it work? Well, almost always:
Some guys demonstrating the Rule of Thirds by pouring cementI could have centred the workmen and the cement truck. It would have been okay.

But, look at how the negative space of the poured cement forces your eyes towards the workmen and the truck. The cement has its own story, but because there’s so much of it there and it’s so uninteresting, it pushes your attention to the real subject of the image.

Here’s another example of when it works nicely:
A young man looking out a window in Florence, Italy demonstrates the Rule of ThirdsThe wall was pretty much the same everywhere. The young man looking out of the window (In Florence, Italy, if you’re wondering) is the focus of our interest. I could have cropped it differently so that the man in the window and the window above were both on intersections. I tried it. I didn’t like it.

In this shot of a blacksmith at a cultural show in Prague, I’m using two of the vertical lines:
A Prague Blacksmith demonstrates the Rule of ThirdsThere are two points of interest here: the blacksmith and the people watching him. To accent the watchers, I blurred everything but the faces that are turned toward the blacksmith. It’s easy to overdo this sort of funny business and I nearly did so here.

Here’s a shot that uses two intersections:

I'm sitting in front of the Elimo Hotel in Eriche, Sicily demonstrating the Rule of Thirds
It was very hot in Sicily that day. I had to have a rest.

Sometimes the Rule of Thirds works even if taken to extremes. The kind of cropping that you see here is extreme:

Friends demonstrating the Rule of Thirds in the Vienna Woods
The shot works. The couple said that it is one of their favourite photos of the two of them together.

I really had no choice. The couple was standing next to some other people. I had to crop very closely on the man to get rid of a beer can in someone else’s hand. It was a misty morning up in the Vienna Woods. I wanted to get the mood of the scene. The couple seemed to be almost intrusive. I took the shot anyway, thinking that I could crop them out later. When I saw it on the screen, I said, “No way.” They look as if they belong there.

It takes a little time to begin to think of composition when taking snapshots, but sometimes it pays.

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