Three Shots of a Storm

A few years back, I spent a decade writing and performing as a musician. While I experimented with a variety of instruments - keys, guitar, mandolin, banjo - my instrument of choice was bass. Bass is the glue between drums, rhythm and melody. 

One of the things that I miss about that life as a hippie bass player is that I was living in the south. Worlds apart in culture from Boston. In some ways more laced up and in other ways more relaxed.

Another thing deeply missed are the summertime storms. Lots of thunderstorms in the south. Almost on a daily basis. So much drama and romance. Big, dark clouds pile up wicked and dump rain and flash lighting and pounce thunder.

Now living in the north, those thunderstorms are just a memory.

The recent weather here in Boston has strongly reminded me of those days in Georgia.

Here our apartment is perched in the West End with a sweeping view of our capital, Beacon Hill, the skyline around the Prudential and westward to Fenway and the Charles River.

Being in this unique place we get to see storms developing to the west and the roll through the city and the dissipate as the hit the shore. Once they are gone, their remnants glow as the sun is free to light up the leftovers.

Two days ago we had some beautiful storms move in. I set up my DSLR and time lapse equipment on our deck and quickly got my Moment anamorphic lens mounted to my smart phone.

The shots below were captured after the storm had done it’s business. We were in golden hour with sun quickly moving below the horizon. 

Let me know what you think!

Vignettes with Benefits

Do you vignette?

These days we are beat over the head and told that our content should have a narrative. 

It should have story, style and tone.

If you are like me, then you have been doing this all along but only now has the world finally caught up!

In truth, when I go out to shoot, I am damn focused that every element in my image supports the message I am intending. If it doesn’t, I remove it. Everything in your photos, too, should support your message.

Having said that, a valuable tool that is often overlooked in the editing process is vignette.

No, not your grandpa’s vignettes!

But vignettes that have kickass style and extra muscle. That is, if you know how to build it.

First off, if you are not yet using vignettes then give it a try. Experiment.

The beauty of vignettes is that it gives you the super power of controlling the movement of your audiences eyes.

Let’s take a look at what Lightroom offers you straight out of the box. 

Located in the Effects panel, the vignette slider set gives you a quick and clean way to darken the edge of the frame and bring eyes into the center of the photo. They also have an extra benefit of adding drama to any image.

To activate, move the vignette in either direction. To the right, you will be lightening the edges of the frame. To the left, you will darken the edges. Adjust them back-and-forth manipulating the roundness, the midpoint and the feather all to your liking. The result is that it finishes your photo and draws the eye to the center of the frame. 

The problem?

Using this tool offers you no customization. 

The solution?

Radial gradients.

Very powerful because once you’ve drawn it, you then have full control to selectively edit specific areas! And to boot, you can manipulate the shape and location of the selection. You have full use of color correction and effects tools that Lightroom offers. You get full artistic and narrative control - which is exactly what we need to build that narrative!

Let’s take a look at this photo I took using my smart phone. It was a muggy, stormy afternoon in Boston. My goal was to intensify the energy of the clouds and the storm while showing the city still washed with sunlight. 

I drew a radial gradient. And made the following adjustments. 

Exposure, contrast, blacks were all manipulated to intensify the sky and draw the eye into the focal point of the image - which was the city still under the glow of the sun.

I then went into the effects panel and manipulated the texture, clarity and sharpness sliders to the left, which are negative values, in order to soften the edges of the frame. 

After a quick reposition and adjustment of the shape itself, I was happy with the look and was ready to export.

When shooting and editing, remember, the human eye is drawn to areas of contrast first and then sharpness second. By darkening and softening the edge your frames and then position the shape itself, you are pushing your viewers to see what it is you want them to see.

The vignette is one more tool in your storytelling arsenal. Experimentation is your ally. A single photo is a story unto itself.

For more on unleashing your inner photographer using the mobile device in your hand, check out my ebook, How to Take Badass Mobile Photos.


Light and dark, good and evil, clear skies and wicked storms.

Last Wednesday afternoon I was anxious. I was going to have surgery the next morning. On the surface, my brain knew this was the right thing to do. Underneath the logic I was nervous. Going under the knife for the fifth time to fix a broken leg seemed nuts. 

While I was on the deck of my apartment in Boston I could see some small but intense storms brewing on the horizon. 

Storms that were going to move in fast, do their thing and be gone in a flash. 

This is the perfect environment to capture contrast. 

The sweeping frame of a city. A swirl of black clouds with a clear blue sky behind the entire scene.

I moved quickly to set up gear and get the cameras rolling for time-lapse capture.

I also captured some frames with my smartphone.

The photo below I captured with my DSLR. I had huge engagement and reach on that photo.

While there can be a bunch of reasons for the high visibility on my instagram, I believe one reason is that there is a ton of contrast in the photo. Not just light and dark, but dark storm and clear sky. To boot, a contrast of colors between the blue in the sky and the sweep of yellows on the horizon.

Keep in mind the eye goes to the area of highest contrast first. When framing your image, place the area of highest contrast in the spot that will deliver maximum impact. Time your tap of the shutter so that you are capturing the moment of highest impact between light and dark.

More about this and other photo techniques in my ebook, How to Take Badass Mobile Photos.

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