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Photography: Developing Your Eye II

Daily Resources

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Photography: Developing Your Eye II is a 10-day photo challenge for bloggers of all photography levels, from beginning photobloggers to pro photographers. Like Developing Your Eye I, this course is a fun way to help you sharpen your visual eye, meet your daily posting goals, and dive into photoblogging. You can use any camera you like: the lens on your phone, a point-and-shoot, or a dSLR.

For 10 days, we’ll give you a theme to inspire your image for the day, along with a related photography tip. We’ll share advice on working with light, ask you to experiment with motion and surfaces, and introduce basic image editing steps (from cropping to straightening).

You do not need to take Developing Your Eye I before Developing Your Eye II. This course builds upon the skills and tips covered in the other course, but we don’t have any strict requirements here at Blogging U., and you’re welcome to take (and retake) these courses as you see fit.


Day One: “Warmth” — The Quality of Light

As mentioned in today’s assignment, consider the direction and quality of the light that’s available to you. Front light is great for outdoor landscapes and group portraits, and can certainly capture warmth. A front-lit subject faces the light source and is even-lit and flat, primarily without shadows. Front light is the most straightforward to work with, but isn’t as dramatic.

Side light is fun to experiment with, especially for portraiture, fine art, and architecture. When you light a subject from the side, the mix of light and shadow shows more depth and reveals textures, patterns, and complexities — even flaws — in the shot. It can create unexpected results, and be more dramatic.

You can also use alternate and artificial sources, like candles and lamps, to create certain effects and manipulate an image’s overall mood, which you’ll experiment with in the next assignment.

Photo by Wenjie Zhang, A Certain Slant of Light

Photo by Wenjie Zhang, A Certain Slant of Light

For more on working with light, check out Wenjie Zhang’s post on the fundamentals of light, in which he introduces exposure and three elements of photography: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

In his follow-up, he discusses the quality and direction of different types of light, as well as shadows and highlights.

Day Two: “Mystery” — Manipulating Light

The direction of light has a big impact on your photos. Things lit from the front have few shadows, and are evenly lit. When the light comes from the side, shadows and highlights are introduced, creating more texture and complexity. Lighting from behind throws things into sharp relief, silhouetting your subject. Wenjie Zhang explains different types of light in more detail — and shows great examples — in his post on the quality of light.

Photo by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

Light filters through a window in an otherwise dark abandoned building. Photo by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

Here are shooting ideas that take advantage of light during various times of the day:

  • Take your photo during the dramatic and often moody “Golden Hour”: the time just after sunrise or before sunset when natural light is soft and takes on color tones of its own. (Explore submissions to our Golden Hour photo challenge for inspiration.)
  • Illuminate your subject with a flashlight or candle.
  • Take a street shot, using car headlights or street lamps to light your scene.
  • Try a photo during the day when the bulk of the sun is hidden, revealing patches, shadows, or bursting rays of light.

Day Three: “Scale” — Experiment with Size

Scale (noun):

  • A series of marks or points at known intervals used to measure distances (as the height of the mercury in a thermometer).
  • An indication of the relationship between the distances on a map and the corresponding actual distances.
  • A proportion between two sets of dimensions (as between those of a drawing and its original).
  • A distinctive relative size, extent, or degree.

Scale gives the viewer looking at your image a frame of reference. Sometimes, for example, you’ll want to include a person in your sweeping landscape shot — instead of cropping him or her out — to show how big something is. Or, to show how small your puppy is, you might prefer to keep your toddler’s shoes on the floor in the background — so you can compare the two.

When shooting today’s assignment, think of your scene as a whole. The key here is the relationship between your subject and the objects around it, or the way a subject interacts with its surroundings. So, examine everything in your frame — don’t just focus on one thing.

The placement of the miniature figurine in today’s featured image not only shows its size, but also its size in relation to everything else. Here’s another image that achieves the same result:

Photo by Michelle Weber.

Photo by Michelle Weber.

Our little guy is atop a fence decorated with Mardi Gras beads. You can easily tell, from his placement next to a single bead on a necklace, just how tiny he is. See more examples of scale in this photo tour around New Orleans.

Day Four: “Natural World” — Leading Lines

Photo of Antelope Canyon in Arizona by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

Photo of Antelope Canyon in Arizona by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

It takes time to train your eyes to look for leading lines. Look for strong vertical, horizontal, or diagonal lines in your setting, as well as curves and shapes that draw your eye toward certain parts of your photo. In the image above, the smooth lines that make up Arizona’s famous slot canyon, Antelope Canyon, direct your eyes around the frame — the curve starting at the top left, in particular, leads your eye gently down to the center of the photo.

Do you see any leading lines in your scene? Can you change their direction, or can you play with the orientation of your image, to create a more dynamic composition? Or, another challenge: can you apply — or break — the Rule of Thirds?

For more resources, check our this post on composition, in which Jeff Sinon discusses leading lines, “S” curves, and patterns in photography. These posts by Nate Kay and Anne McKinnell compile great examples and tips on leading lines, too.

Finally, if you can’t go outside with your camera today, not to worry! Photograph something — furniture, architecture — that looks or feels organic, or mimics the shapes and movements of nature.

Day Five: “Moment” — Capture Motion

Photo of a train at Berlin Alexanderplatz Station by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

Photo of a train at Berlin Alexanderplatz Station by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

Tips for photographing motion, for all cameras and cameraphones:

  • Turn your auto-flash off, even in low-light conditions. Today’s image of the Sufi dancer was snapped in the dark, with no flash. It’s grainy and not the best quality, yet the fuzziness evokes being transfixed in that moment.
  • While photographing moving subjects, use a tripod or lay your device on a surface to keep it still. Use a table, an empty seat, or another flat, solid surface to rest your camera.
  • Experiment with panning. Pan your camera across your scene while following your moving subject. It takes practice, but if done right you can produce images with clear subjects against blurred backgrounds.

Tips for intermediate and advanced-level photographers using cameras with manual settings:

  • Slow down your shutter speed (meaning, keep the shutter open longer). When the shutter is open longer, your subject has more time to move across the frame, creating a blur effect. This can lead to overexposure, especially during the day, as you’re letting in more light to take a picture. To compensate, close your aperture (the size of the opening) more and use a higher f-stop number, or adjust to a lower ISO.
  • Alternatively, set your camera to “shutter priority mode” so you can set your shutter speed, but let the camera auto-select other settings — like the aperture — to ensure proper exposure.
  • Check out Marcus Kazmierczak’s night photography tutorial for more tips on working with your dSLR and manual settings.

Day Six: “Landscape” — Crop Your Image

We hope you’re having fun scouting and taking your landscape photos! If you’re looking for inspiration, take a peek at the landscapes of nature photographer Kerry Mark Leibowitz. Her shots of national parks in North America are stunning.

Ready to crop your photo? Sift through your images from today’s shoot and find a candidate that needs cropping. Or, if you come up empty, look back to previous shots from the course or pick an image from your Media Library.

Things to look for:

  • Stray objects in the background, near the frame’s edges and corners.
  • People around the perimeter that have “photo-bombed” your picture.
  • A foreground or background that is too prominent or “heavy.”
  • A composition that is too-centered (with your subject in the middle), that might benefit from cropping along two sides (in other words, cropping to the Rule of Thirds).

You can use an online image editor like PicMonkey (Edit → select your image → Crop) or Pixlr Express (Browse → select your image → AdjustmentCrop). You can also use an application right on your computer like Preview (Mac) or Photo Gallery (Windows) to crop your photo.

Cropping the right side of today's landscape image in PicMonkey.

Cropping the right side of today’s landscape image in PicMonkey.

Day Seven: “Glass” — Interact with a Surface

Not sure how to approach today’s shot? Here are ways to experiment with glass:

  • Look for reflections.
  • Gaze through or between or over or under.
  • Experiment with your flash both on and off.
  • Shine an artificial light source on it.
  • Combine multiple mirrored surfaces.
  • Play with something unconventional (a candle holder, a dirty windshield, an LCD screen).
  • Use the elements — sun, rain, fog, for example — to enhance your shot.
Photo at Alcatraz by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

Photo at Alcatraz by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

Day Eight: “Edge” — Straighten Your Image

Most photo editing software or apps include a straightening tool that imposes a grid over your photo — you move the image until your edge aligns with one of the straight grid lines, and voila! There are a few ways to tackle this, and many of them are free:

  • If you use Instagram, straighten an image with the Adjust Tool. Other phone editing apps — Snapseed, Camera+, VSCO — offer similar abilities.
  • PicMonkey lets you upload and edit any photo. To straighten, click “Edit,” choose a photo from your computer, then click on the “Rotate” tab. Use the slider to adjust your photo’s angle.
  • Pixlr Express works similarly to PicMonkey. First, click “Browse,” then select a photo from your computer, then click “Adjustment” and “Rotate.” Use the slider to adjust your photo’s angle.
  • Photoshop and Lightroom, two popular pieces of software, each have a straightening tool. In Photoshop, adjust a photo’s angle while cropping, or use the Ruler to see the precise angle of your line. In Lightroom, look for the “Crop and Straighten” tool; it’s the first icon on the left in the Develop Module.

You can also use these tools to make sure your leading lines go exactly where you want them, or to straighten a photo to emphasize the Rule of Thirds.

Rotating and straightening an image in Pixlr Express.

Rotating and straightening an image in Pixlr Express.

Day Nine: “Double” — Rotate Your Image

To give you an example of what image rotation looks like, we’ve adjusted today’s featured image to create a horizontal version:

You, too, might need to rotate an image occasionally. After you upload an image to your blog’s dashboard, you can use it in various ways — embedded in a post, inserted in a gallery, or displayed as a featured image on your blog, which — depending on your theme — may display vertically or horizontally. (Not sure if your current theme supports featured images? Check this showcase of themes.)

Use the rotation tool in an image editor (Photoshop, Lightroom, PicMonkey, Pixlr) or your favorite photo app. (In Instagram — for example — click “Filter,” then “Adjust,” and tap on the circular arrow to adjust the orientation of your image.)

Day Ten: “Triumph” — Turn Up the Contrast

Contrast in photography generally refers to the difference between the lights and darks in an image — and the interplay between white, black, and gray. When someone says a black-and-white photo has high contrast, oftentimes the white and black are prominent, while a low-contrast image includes subtler tones and layers of gray. In color images, contrast might refer to the juxtaposition of two bright colors, or a cold color (blue) next to a warm color (red).

Tips on increasing or decreasing contrast:

  • Increase to bring out bold accents (a red lantern, a yellow balloon).
  • Increase to make the blacks blacker, the whites whiter.
  • Decrease slightly to even out a blue sky.
  • Don’t boost the contrast too much — you’ll lose the details.
  • Tweak pictures of people with care — you can easily “wash out” faces.

You can use Photoshop, Lightroom, or other software to tweak the contrast on your images, but our favorite free image editors PicMonkey and Pixlr Express work great, too.