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Tips: If You Can’t Go Big… Go Small! Be H.A.P.P.Y.

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A big part of being an artistic photographer is how you see the world.

Sometimes, this means making the ordinary into something interesting.

If you happen upon a majestic purple waterfall cascading down a mountain covered in tropical parrots, then your pictures will basically make themselves.

Most of us, however, do not live next to a gorgeous National park with towering forests of Ansel Adams proportions.  Nor do we have the willpower to trek up a mountain at 4AM to get the perfect shot in the cold shadows of the breaking dawn.  The majority of us are not beautiful fashion models who can find inspiration in the mirror every day, nor do we have access (or money) to contract such models.

Perhaps, living in a very normal neighborhood with a family that are tired of being photographed, we assume that we have ‘nothing to shoot.’

There's nothing out here to shoot...

And so our beautiful camera stays in it’s drawer, only to be dusted off for the next vacation, where for it’s lack of use, may be used haphazardly with disappointing results.

Well no more!  Let’s turn everyday situations and things into something creative and artistic.  If we want to portray ordinary things like they’ve never been seen before, then we have to find that angle for ourselves first!  It won’t be presented to us that way, we have to make it.

Here’s an acronym:

H.A.P.P.Y. : Height, Angle, Post Process, You

Height: Chances are, if you’re taking a picture with your legs locked straight, you could probably be taking it from a better angle.  The height at which we stand is always going to be the height at which we normally view the world, and the height from which most things will all look, well, normal.  Boring.  Try shooting something from a very high angle, even top down, like you were on a ceiling above it.  Or get down low, on the floor if you must, and observe the world from an ant’s perspective.  You may be surprised how different the world looks from down there.

Get down

Angle: Wide Angle, or zoomed in?  What do you prefer?  For the most part, I’m a zoomer.  I like to focus on my subject from a distance.  Zooming in will also compress the background area and also help to acheive some nice separation between the subject and background. Wide angle will encompass much more in your scene, and is great for beautiful and sweeping landscapes… which as we said, you probably don’t have.  So for the most part, shooting something ordinary to make it interesting will usually lead you to zooming.

I’m thinking…Stand near the tree, and zoom here.

Here’s what comes out of the camera: (RAW)

1/1000sec @ f/2 ISO 320, 85mm (Nikon D7000 + 85mm f/1.4D) SOOC

Post Process:  It’s cloudy and gray outside and things just don’t look special at all.  You know what?  That’s what pretty much everything in the world looks like, 90% of the time.  And unfortunately, when Magic Hour (which, in truth, is more like Magic-40-Minutes) comes along, most of us are either still working, in the car or bus going home, or just plain don’t have our camera.

First, always bring your camera.  Second, remember that we live in a new digital age of image editing, and whether you’re using an industry solution like Lightroom or Photoshop, or free alternatives like GIMP, or even online free editors like Pixlr and Picnik… just edit it!  Make it your own!  If you have a computer, you have the power to make your photos the way you want as an artist.  Or at least make them incrementally better.

Take the photo in the example above… I think it looked nice as-is, but I LOVE the look of sunset, and a warm glow in a scene like this.

In Lightroom, I perform the following adjustments with the RAW file:

I also used an adjustment brush to lighten the bright top-right of the image with a glowing sunset color, and in contrast adjusted the lower left half of the picture with a darkening brush and a light tinge of purple, this simulates a nice direction of light, and purple shadows often give off a magic feel that people can’t quite put their finger on…

My finished picture:

Better?  I think so. I came upon a scene that I see every day on my way to work and did my best to be a H.A.P.P.Y Photographer! 

  • H – I changed my HEIGHT: Getting down low to shoot UP and through the flowers, not just AT them from my normal height, looking down.
  • A – I changed my ANGLE, zooming and compressing the background so it looked like a great field of flowers and not just a patch planted on a campus.
  • PP – I imported the picture into Lightroom and in POST-PROCESS made it into a work of art. (In my mind, anyway.)
  • Y – You:  I didn’t dedicate a section to explaining this, but remember to put yourself into every picture.  No, I don’t mean every picture should be of you.  Every picture needs to have your artistic touch, something you love, something you care about, something special to you. If it’s not immediately special, then try to make the ordinary extraordinary! This doesn’t mean copying other people’s styles or techniques because they are popular.  Process the way you want to process.  It’s much more satisfying.

Now get out there and make (not take!) those pictures!  More than anything, have fun, and do it for you.

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10 Comments Post a comment
  1. great post! 🙂

    July 28, 2011
  2. On behalf of Greg, I really have got to say Thanks!

    July 28, 2011
  3. David #

    Josh, this is very very inspirational. Thanks so much, my brother.

    July 28, 2011
  4. LaPoetiza #

    Thanks for letting us get into your brain! These are really great tips!

    July 29, 2011
  5. Bryan #

    Awesome, Josh! You’ve helped me a lot to improve my photos! I feel like I’m getting really close to cracking that recipe..the JoshLibaMagicSauce! Thanks!

    September 17, 2011
  6. Felisha W #

    Oh wow…. now that was very informative! Thanks for that. I try to be creative when taking pictures…but never factored in H.A.P.P.Y.
    I will from now on. Nice work!

    February 28, 2012

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