New art in shop and new gallery on 500px

I have been struggling yet again with social media, all platforms, really. I have been feeling lately, yet again, like rage-quitting them all. Watching the behavior of others in this pandemic is really upsetting and stressful, and I see it more on social media. I’m trying to focus on the positive instead, like less time mindlessly scrolling means more time to blog. So continues the cycle: Addicted, burnt out, trying to wean myself off the addiction. Searching, always, for validation, for a ghost in the darkness to prove worth; perhaps that’s what keeps me coming back. The ego, despite better intentions. I’m probably the only person who deletes viral tweets. It’s usually the tweets and posts and grams that I could care less about that get the most likes. It drives me nuts.

I’m not coming back to Instagram, though, for several months, at least. I realized tonight after I checked my 500px that I had discarded it mentally too soon. I visited my site after a month after only putting up a few photos and I had 1,211 affection and 37 followers! I mean, what? I never got that kind of activity on Instagram, except when I posted boudoir. That’s how they get you, I guess; arbitrarily decide to feature one of your photos before you go pro. I digress. Ego, again, always.

Also, WordPress does not have unlimited photo uploads, so I think 500px will be a good substitute for my photo sets.

Anyway, that brings me to the main point of this post. I went on a walk around the neighborhood tonight in breathtakingly beautiful and even golden hour light. My still life photos from tonight’s stroll are in my 500px gallery: https://500px.com/siriusrosephoto/galleries/flowers-05-11-20

You can also purchase some of them at my Redubble shop: http://siriusrosephoto.redbubble.com

Thanks for your support!

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Tip jar: http://www.venmo.com/denise-ruttan // http://www.ko-fi.com/fieldofstars

A few tips to take better photos from just your phone camera

Many people have more time on their hands now and want to learn new skills. Perhaps this is you and you’d like to improve your photography knowledge. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need an expensive camera to take good photographs; you just need a basic understanding of light and composition. A camera is just a tool, after all; and the best tool is the one you have with you.

Sure, you probably won’t be charging $200 an hour for a professional photo shoot on your iPhone. But these cameras have come a long way in recent years and are miles ahead of the point and shoots of even just a few years ago. I am an experienced photographer with six years shooting portraits and street photography, and time before that as a photojournalist. I thought I’d offer some photography 101 tips for you to shoot better camera phone photos. All these photos on this blog post I shot with my iPhone 6s. In fact, I have been shooting more with that camera than my Nikon D5100 recently. It’s more convenient, and less obtrusive.

Light

First, let’s talk about light. Why do your photos taken outside at noon on a summer’s day always appear hot and full of contrasts? It’s because of the height of the sun in the sky and what that does to light. Let’s talk about something called an exposure triangle. Even on a phone camera, you can practice these principles.

The exposure triangle is a photography term that refers to the aperture (the opening in the lens through which light passes to enter the camera), shutter speed, and ISO (aka the sensitivity of the camera’s image sensor). All these things must work together in order to create a correct exposure – one that is in focus, and not overexposed (the photo has too much light and is too bright) nor underexposed (too little light was recorded and the photo appears dark). Now, “correct” exposure is one of those rules that can be broken for effect, but only until you understand how they work and why they are important.

Now, you can’t manually control the shutter speed, ISO, or the aperture on a phone camera. That is the beauty of a DSLR, or a digital single-lens reflex camera. But a phone camera is a cheaper alternative, and one that you likely already have with you; who doesn’t have a smart phone these days? (I see you, flip phone and landline aficionados!)

On a phone camera, it is more about controlling your external circumstances in order to take a better photo. For example, you can control how much light enters the lens by shooting at different times of day. You can control the shutter speed to a certain extent by waiting until your subject is in focus before snapping the photo. You can understand that certain kinds of action sequences will never capture well with the limitations of a cell phone, no matter how advanced the technology.

Golden Hour

One of the foremost principles in photography is understanding which times of day provide the best photography light. “Golden Hour” is a term that is used to refer to an hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset. Daylight is softer at this hour, without the sharp shadows of when the sun is higher in the sky. You can take some truly amazing natural light photographs only by sticking to this magic hour.

Try it with your selfies. Some of the best light in any house or studio is shot through a window. See where the direction of the sun is in comparison to the windows in your house (and I dearly hope you have windows). The window, especially if it has a curtain, often acts as a kind of a softbox for the light outside, softening it still further. Run a light capturing experiment. Take photos from the best-lit part of your house at different times of day. Try golden hour. Try high noon. Take photos of all different angles; pointing away from the window, toward the window, and spin around in a circle. (Just don’t take blurry selfies!) Record what times of day at which each photo was shot at. Even better if your window faces the sun from the south.

If you try this experiment of mine, feel free to share your photos and use the hashtag #spaceshipselfietest. I would love to see your results.

Composition

The final principle to talk about is something called “composition.” This word has so many different meanings in art. In music, it is a score of notes that are arranged in such a way as to form a symphony. In photography, composition too is an arrangement of parts.

Composition has different elements. For example: How do you deal with textures, shapes and patterns? We call them “leading lines” — when you capture the symmetry of lines in such a way that the eye naturally follows them in a pleasingly framed way. What’s the subject of the photograph and how do you position it in the frame? Do you have a cluttered background, or a clean background? How does the clutter in the background serve the story of the photograph? Since a photograph is a manufactured story, how we manufacture the elements of the story must make sense.

There’s also depth of field. This is to say, the distance between the nearest and the farthest elements of a scene, that provide context to the setting. Your camera will only be able to focus sharply on one object out of many in the scene, so how do you show distance, texture, depth? That is partly the artist’s choice. Sometimes you will see other elements in the photograph blurry around the focal point to show that depth.

You can draw inspiration from paintings, drawings and illustrations. A lot of people diss on photography because they don’t think it’s artistic. Anyone can do it because it is so accessible. So it is often seen as a “lesser than” art. It doesn’t take much of an eye to take a photograph. Or does it? Your “eye” as they call it in photography is what makes the photograph art.

Thus we come to the principle of the “Rule of Thirds.” This is another one of those “rules” that you must understand well in order to break it well. You can tell a novice because they immediately scoff at this concept and will break this rule poorly. One must master these basics in order to make a more sophisticated rendition of them.

The rule of thirds is a compositional element in which the image is broken up into three parts, both horizontally and vertically. The subject of the image is placed where those “leading lines” connect. This composition is pleasing to the human brain. We want to know where we should focus our attention. Try it. Try placing the subject of your image at the center of the frame, off to the left, off to the right. You can even do this with your selfies. See how differently your perception of the image changes.

Conclusion

So with a little understanding of the limitations of your device, a perception of light, and an idea of how to look in order to compose an image, you too can create better photographs, even with a smart phone. The elegance of this instrument is that you can take 1,000 photographs and delete them all if they suck. But try taking your cell phone photographs with a little more intention behind them, and watch how they will change and improve.

Good luck, and as they say in photography, just go shoot, already!

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An Eerily Empty Photo Walk in Salem, Oregon

I have no words for today’s blog post; I hope to speak to you instead through pictures. But I will introduce this post first. I live in Corvallis, Oregon, and commute to work in Salem, Oregon. Every week, I indulge my love of street photography. It is a reflective exercise, in a way, as I reach back to my roots and revive my passion for photojournalism and documentary photography. Capturing life as it happens; gritty, real, raw and true.

Every Friday when it’s not raining heavily, I have made it a habit to bring my camera with me to work. I walk around the downtown area to document its comings and goings. Salem’s downtown has a bit more opportunities than the downtown area in Corvallis, which is much smaller. I get bored less often in a new place. Not to say that Corvallis is not photogenic. Far from it.

This Friday, even with everything going on with the COVID-19 pandemic and business most definitely not as usual, I did my usual weekly photo walk. I am clinging in desperation to my routines these days to find order in the chaos. The weather was crisp and fine, approaching a pleasant spring and 60 degrees. I even had time in the morning for golden hour because traffic getting there was so light. It was eerie walking around these empty, ghost-town streets that normally bustled with people from all over the Valley. Out and about were mainly just delivery drivers, a few stalwart state workers like myself, and some teenagers here and there.

(And yes, I have been taking this seriously. I stayed home when I had a cold last week, and I am healthy again. My job is not easily telecommutable and I need to work. I have been socially distancing and washing my hands frequently. When I am home, I don’t go out except when I need food, or for some fresh air in nature, and staying far away from other people.)

Any of these photos are available as a digital or print for purchase; feel free to PM me on Twitter or email me to get copies. You may also donate to my Venmo if you support my artistic and creative efforts. https://venmo.com/denise-ruttan Every little bit helps these days when our budgets are stretched thin.

Without further ado, because I wrote more words than I intended, I present my photo essay. All photos shot by Denise Ruttan, March 20, 2020, Salem, Oregon.