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Photo Tips by Mike Rosen



Hi <<First Name>>,

I'm currently reading a book in which the protagonist is an award-winning Life Magazine photographer. In a philosophical moment she recalls that the ancient Greek derivation of the word "photography" combined "photo" meaning light, and "graphy" meaning draw or write. So photography literally means "to draw with light." I think that's an accurate description, and I urge you to be very aware of it as you're out taking pictures.

Here are some basic principles of light to learn and keep in mind when you're planning your photos: 

  • Pay attention to the light. Make it work for you, not against you. Professional photographers spend much of their time "chasing the light," looking for just the right light to achieve their vision for an image. 
  • It can be hard work to find the best light, and it almost always means getting up early in the morning and staying out late in the day, when the sun is low, the shadows are long, and the light is soft and warm. Your images will have a look of depth and drama and a magical glow. Conversely pictures shot during a sunny mid-day, say between 10:00 and 4:00, can look dead, harsh and much less interesting.
  • If you can't avoid taking pictures during the high mid-day sun, move your subjects into the shade, avoid wide-open vistas, move in close to focus on details or find a place where the light is diffused, like under trees or under a passing cloud.
  • Bright, overcast days can be great for people, nature and wildlife photos even in mid-day because you don't need to deal with extreme dynamic range (highights and shadows).
  • Use backlight for interesting silhouettes and glowing translucence. This is one situation where fill flash can be helpful to light up dark faces. But be alert for sun flares on your lens.
  • Get out and shoot in bad weather: storm clouds, snow, fog, mist and rain.  Create moody, mystical, artistic images.
  • Experiment with night photos. They can be very dramatic and unusual. You'll probably want a tripod to hold your camera steady, if possible, along with a remote shutter release so your hands won't inadvertently shake the camera. Use moonlight, street light or other sources other than flash.
  • Use natural light rather than flash whenever possible. Flash can be harsh and cold (especially your camera's built-in flash), though it has its uses, such as filling in a dark foreground area or eliminating deep shadows on a subject's face. An alternative is using a reflector to bounce light back into the shadows.
  • Indirect sidelight coming through windows can be beautiful for indoor portraits. As mentioned, I don't like flash portraits, but if you must, keep your subject at least five or six feet away from a wall or other solid background to avoid heavy black shadows. 
Below are a few photographs that I think will help you see what I mean on some of these light basics. (Some of these may have been in past newsletters.)

This was an early, pre-sunrise,  scene at the harbor in Essaouira, Morocco, where fishermen were unloading their earlier morning catch. Notice the soft, mellow light and nice detail in the water--an example of the magical glow I mentioned above. There were birds around and I waited to get them into the image as a compositional element.

I really like this sunset view of San Francisco de Asis Chapel in Taos, New Mexico. The low sidelight brings out rich, saturated colors in the adobe walls and the sky. Under the harsh, mid-day sun, this image would have been uninteresting. To simplify it and to emphasize the dramatic light on the bell tower, I moved in close, in effect cropping out the rest of the chapel and irrelevant background items.

This was taken at a farm near Pipestone, MN, around high noon on a cloudless day. But the barn shaded the primary subject (the horse) from the sun's harsh rays, and enabled the subtle patterns on the walls and straw to emerge.

It was a rainy evening in Paris, but the light from I. M. Pei's famous glass pyramid entry to the Louvre was plenty adequate. I centered the subject in the frame because I thought the image would be most pleasing if it were fully symmetrical.

These kids were playing on a Tokyo playground  at about 3:00pm. But because it was an overcast day, there are no burned out highlights or blocked shadows. Colors are soft and natural, and faces aren't lost in dark, shadowy eye sockets. As I mentioned above, bright overcast days are a great time to shoot outside portrait pictures, as well as wild life and nature shots.

I chose this final photo to illustrate the ominous light from a fast approaching storm.  It's fun to experiment with changing light as weather is breaking one way or the other. 

To conclude, I urge you to remember the meaning of "photography" when you're out taking pictures: to draw with light. Pay attention to it, experiment with it, work at capturing images with the best possibe light. You'll be happy with your efforts. It'll definitely be worth it.

I won't be publishing in September--I'll be at a photography workshop in Maine and then tooling around New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Have a great couple of months, and I'll be back at it in October.

All the best,




Other Stuff


You can view and purchase any of my photographs at my website (click HERE). Better yet, just email me (click HERE), or feel free to phone me at 612-374-2766.


My July newsletter--the one I called "Mooning on the Fourth of July,"--induced an exceptionally enthusiastic response from many readers. Thanks so much for all your kind words. I  do appreciate them.

The National Geographic webpage with my fireworks photo can still be accessed by clicking HERE. Then on the left under "Daily Dozen" go to "July--Week 2" and scroll through the thumbnails until you come to it. Here's the photo:


As mentioned, I'll be teaching my photo tips course again this fall. It will cover subjects like composition, exposure, light, photo editing and more. Included is a field trip and critiquing of your work. The course is part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) senior education program at the University of Minnesota. Dates are Wednesdays  Sept. 19 - Nov. 7, from 10 - 11:30am at the Sabathani Community Center, 310 E. 38th St. in south Minneapolis. You can register on-line beginning August 28 by clicking HERE. There is a limit of twenty so register early. 


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