True colors

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I can remember a time when the fluid movement of color in a photograph didn’t interest me. Sitting in a lecture in my junior college photography class I scoffed at the idea of anything less than a tack sharp focus, stop action shutter speed image. How the times of changed. Maybe it growth as a photographer, or maybe I’m learning to see things a little differently. On Saturday’s hike to the base of Mount Diablo I took a close look at my true colors as a photographer.

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My photography on hikes is so different than the rigid journalism photos I take at work. It may have taken some time, but my style is pretty much set I think. At first I thought the dramatic lighting and high contrast scenes were accidental but now I look for them first. But what has come to intrigue me the most on the trail is movement and color.

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In photojournalism it’s all about capturing the moment in the utmost clarity, the sharper the better, the quicker the picture can be read by the viewer the better. On the trail I’m free of deadlines and column widths. And with the freedom comes not lack of clarity in the pictures but a license to interpret the scene. And I have explored that meeting of color and motion. There are many ways to show the movement of color, repeating patterns, composition but my favorite is to take shifting scene and explore the changing colors and lighting contrast with shutter speed.

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It is basic photography shutter speed controls the ability to stop the action of a scene, the path of a runner on a track, the flight of an airplane in the sky or the course of water in a stream. While most people look to keep their photos as still and clear as possible I have come to find the creativity in chaos. The bubbling turbulence lies home to a myriad of colors, shapes and textures. On the trail Saturday recent rains left a few section flooded across the trail as creeks swelled and dipped across the path. In the few surging pools of water I found a perfect chance to look at the colors as motion.

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It seems odd, thinking of color as motion. Looking at leaves or rocks in the stream’s flow I can create a pallete of diffused colors by shooting with a slow shutter speed on a vibrant color scene. The trick is to use a shutter speed slow enough to soften the edges of the image, capture the haze of running water across the scene and still hold enough detail so the image has a familiar shape. Shooting with a faster shitter speed creates hard edges and higher contrast.

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Once I have the exposure I want with the focal length and f-stop combination to control the depth of field, I can control the amount of blur in the color by increasing or decreasing the ISO sensitivity. Shooting on manual I can control the exposure to brighten the highlights or darken the shadows to my liking. The colors become a pattern to my liking, hard or soft edged. The same scene can have a completely different textural appeal with a very slow shutter speed for an almost pastel look compared to a higher shutter speed image, which has an almost plastic look.

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Repeating patterns in color don’t need a slow shutter speed but the right focal length lens to compress the distance and enhance the patterns or exaggerate the perspective into the distance. The flow of color is implied in the composition. In images like these the shaper the detail the better. Early morning or late afternoon light at low angles can help accentuate details and cast shadows that help show depth and perspective.

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Finding color in a scene to photograph is easy, capturing color in the shapes you want takes practice. I am glad I learned that sometimes the clearest way to see color is to view it in a blur. I wonder sometimes what college professor would think of my attempts to capture the motion of color. It’s all about learning to see in a different way, and be willing to take that step into the color’s swirl.