One of my favorite ongoing photo projects involves scarecrows. Originally designed for their practical value (to scare birds away from crops), ragamuffin scarecrows have developed into a real art form. In fact, they're made for photography ... such color and character!
Where to find 'em: Watch for Halloween displays in your neighborhood, be on the lookout for fall festivals, pull over when you see a pumpkin patch, take a drive into the country. Or have fun making your own. Or buy one at an arts-and-crafts store, and then personalize it with your own accessories (that's precisely what I did with my Scarecrow-Evening Light subject).
As for field techniques for photographing scarecrow face patterns, consider the following:
Scarecrow - Overcast
© Kerry Drager
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Working with Light: Scarecrow Face Patterns
A solid overcast sky acts like a giant white umbrella to cast wonderfully soft and even light - ideal for shooting scarecrows. The key to success: Leave the sky out of the composition, since the bright whiteness would overwhelm the rest of the picture. In other words, zero in nice and tight on your subject.
In addition early-morning or late-day sunlight can put your subject in a beautiful warm glow. Harsh, sunny midday? Even up the lighting extremes ... by either filling in the shadows with fill-in flash or a reflector. Or, if it's a scarecrow you own and it's reasonably portable, move it into the shade.
Composing Your Image
Full-length photos and head-and-shoulders shots always make for strong images. But don't stop there. Successful portraits - whether people, pets, or scarecrows - often involve facial close-ups. Yet another option is the environmental portrait - which shows a subject in its immediate surroundings. The trick to capturing a subject in its natural environment? Make sure other elements in the scene don't detract from your star attraction.
Beware of Your Background
Simplicity is often the key word here. But that's not so easy for many visually busy backdrops in the outdoors, when many elements and colors compete with your main subject for your viewer's attention. The solution? A narrow depth of field - or selective focus - that features a sharp subject set against a blur of out-of-focus shapes and colors.
Obtain this "selective focus" look with a large aperture (low f/stop number), a fairly close-up subject, and a good distance between subject and background. A telephoto or tele-zoom lens completes this sharp-vs.-blur approach.
Resources for Photographing Scarecrows
- Scarecrow Face Patterns and Other Halloween Pictures
- Photographing Details: Developing Your Close-up Vision
- Overcast Photography: Good Light, Bad Sky
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About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Kerry Drager
The content manager and course advisor for BetterPhoto.com, Kerry Drager is also the co-author (with Jim Miotke) of two books: The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography (2011) and The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light (2012). In addition, he teaches photography online at BetterPhoto's digital photography school. See his instructor bio and list of courses...
Be sure to check out Kerry's Pro BetterPholio website - www.kerrydrager.com.
Also, he is the author of Scenic Photography 101, the photographer of the photo-essay books The Golden Dream: California from Gold Rush to Statehood and California Desert , a contributor to the books BetterPhoto Basics and Daybreak 2000, and a co-photographer of Portrait of California. In addition, Kerry was profiled in the April 1994 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine and in Vik Orenstein's 2010 book The Photographer's Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business, and his website was showcased in the January 2003 issue of Shutterbug magazine. Plus, his work has appeared in magazines, Hallmark cards and Sierra Club calendars, and in advertising campaigns for American Express and Sinar Bron Imaging.
Also see his Visual Creativity photography blog, and follow Kerry on Facebook.
Kerry lives with his wife, Mary, in the country near Sacramento, California, with their six Newfoundland dogs, four cats, two horses, and a mixed terrier.