Just wanted to let you know that I’m in the middle of a LIVE REDESIGN. Bear with me – the new version should be complete soon. In the mean time – Happy Thanksgiving!
focus on the clouds
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About Focus on the Clouds

Early in my life clouds began to catch my eyes. During school, I couldn’t sit by windows in class without being helplessly distracted. Later in life, if I needed to clear my mind, I’d just step outside...

Soon I began expressing this fascination artistically. In fact, this attraction has been one of the major muses for my photography and, as my domain suggests, this web site. And so it is also the purpose of the web site - to distract you for a few moments by sharing some of the scenes which have taken my attention in the past few years.

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Striking Indoor Photographs with Natural Light

A few people have been asking about the process and equipment I use to make photographs of flowers with a solid background like this and this. Here is a simple process for taking high quality photographs indoors, using natural light and materials that you already have on hand (a camera, a tripod, a solid color background, and a window).

Technique

  1. Pick a natural light source
  2. Setup the subject
  3. Add a background that fills the frame
  4. Position the camera
  5. Photograph

The Necessities

The most obvious: (1) a camera.

Since we’re taking these photographs inside with limited and often indirect light (2) a tripod is a necessity. Depending on the amount of light and the aperture, exposures generally range from 1/45 of a second up to 1 second.

I prefer a solid color, generally black or white as (3) a background. For small subjects, poster board works well (stay away from glossy finishes) – but if I don’t have any on hand, I’ll simply use a black, three-ring binder. For larger subjects, an open wall or a taunt sheet will give good results.

A single source of natural light, generally (4) a window

Step 1: Pick a Natural Light Source

Choose a room with one large window without direct light. Limit other light by turning off all indoor lighting, closing doors, etc…

Step 2: Setup the Subject

Place the subject about chest level, on a table or stool, so it’s convenient to photograph with a tripod. Rotate the subject until the light creates an interesting combination of detail and shadow. I generally have about three quarters of the subject facing the light source.

Step 3: Add a Background that Fills the Frame

Place the background so it is freestanding – so you can easily adjust the subject. Angling the background away from the light source helps to reduce glare and reflection.

Step 4: Position the Camera

Setup the camera so that it and the light source form a right angle with the subject. Slide the camera closer to the light source for more highlights and farther from the light source for more shadows. Be careful not to block the light, with your body or the tripod…

Step 5: Photograph

I like to take a few exposures of the complete subject, and then work my way down to any details which catch my eyes. Often the detail pictures turn out much better than the subject in full.

Conclusion

This is a simple method for experimenting with your photography. It will yield simple, but polished photographs without much hassle. Also, try different approaches: trade the black background for a complementary color of the subject; compose the subject in more shadow than light; look for intriguing patterns in areas you wouldn’t expect.

Please share your work. Feel free to post low resolution copies of your photographs in the comments (textile is on).

Posted by Matt Harris on Sunday May 15, 2005

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