Terms – Focus

Focusing is an important part of clear sight. In fact focus can be one of the first overt statements in a photographer’s arsenal for effective communication.

Some shots may have a “softer focus” for a glamour affect, but these are specialty shots which we will discuss in another post for the sake of avoiding too many technicalities.

A viewer may be misled if the photographer’s intended subject if a picture is taken out of focus. At-least very confused about what the true subject is. Focus is important.

What is focus and how is it achieved?

20130330-234916.jpgIf you will notice the pansy looks nice enough until you get closer in to see that the pansy stamens are not as detailed as the lace on the table top. The focus placement should draw your eye to the lace over the molded pansy. However, this would not have been my chosen point of focus. Take my next illustration for an example.

The next image of the molded pansy clearly portrays the detail I want to communicate. Looking closely at the pansy it is satisfying to see it in enough detail so to not feel like

20130330-234927.jpg

you should blink to make it clearer. This is the difference between being “in focus” or being “out of focus”.

Achieving a proper focus can be achieved by taking notice where your camera thinks you want it to focus. Digital SLR cameras will flash one or more zones that it detects should be in focus as you look at the scene through the view finder. Consumer model or “point and shoot” cameras will flash boxes around these zones and finally smart phone cameras usually respond to tap point focusing.

I have found that some “point and shoot” cameras will focus better when closer to your subject. To ensure a certain part of your subject is in focus (such as the eye) you might also have to square them in the frame, focus (press the shutter release button half-way down), adjust your frame to your desired place and release the shutter.

Do not feel limited by your equipment, but use it to your advantage for excellence!

Workflow

Workflow is a tool that promises to save you time, stress and money if used and delivers! Allow me to explain.

Say you just finished taking photos of your child’s birthday party and the camera is set down out-of-the-way until you can deal with downloading the pictures and do your minor edits. When do you pick it up again (to download the pictures or on your way to the next event)? Probably on your way to the next event, right? Perhaps I can give you some cheery news.

Cameras now being digital are made to be “plug and play” ready. That means that as soon as it is plugged into the computer the computer recognizes the camera and can do almost anything with the information for you by automatic protocol. This is not scary, just be aware of what goes on after key events.

Key events being the device having been plugged in to a computer (laptop or desktop); opening a program while the digital recording device is plugged in; etc.

Take a moment to read the owner’s manual for your camera or read an internet “how-to” on your software to help yourself better understand the tools given to you and ready for use at your finger tips.

Many digital camera manufacturers offer some basic programs that will download your photos automatically to a place on your computer hard drive. There are many other programs that also do this as a means of processing workflow and personal convenience. Take some time to look, read and make an inventory list of your tools to avoid working any harder than necessary.

Let automation take the work and stress out of your life by taking care of the small details for you.

If you have most of this available to you, try plugging your camera into your computer the next time you set it down after a shoot and let it work for you.

Lighting – Part 3

Lights are not easy to work, however not impossible. Directly lighting an object without first being reflected or diffused should be carefully handled. We will get into the reason for this point in a moment but let us first remember what transpired bringing us to this point.

In the time this blog has been in operation, we have discussed contrast, highlights, shadows, elements, focus, scene design and light source positioning in preparation for this new level of photography design. Direct lighting will be harsh and bright; so what else around the object should be lit to make sense of the scene?

What elements are important to the message of your photo? Remembering to keep it simple and thus unifying the message, light the desired elements enough for the purpose. If this photo involves a model, be sensitive to their comfort. Natural poses may be comfortable for a short period but if continued may become an irritation.

Irritation can be something the model will have to fight through for proper facial expression, motion stability to prevent blurring with moderate to slow shutter speeds. None of these issues are worth battling when they are avoidable.

Take a look at some advertisement photos and notice how little they add to the photo. At the same time, notice how they add, what they add, why they add and where they add those extra elements. This is not to learn the style or technique of another photographer, but to learn a principle, “Too much spice can ruin the soup” and not enough means it is a good start though undesirable.

Light can change the focal point of shot by misdirection, improper power setting and poor timing with the camera shutter. Be sure to know your equipment. Acquaintanceship means nothing when you are entertaining a customer and simultaneously troubleshooting your lighting system. You are the expert of your equipment. Learn it well.

Photography Shopping

Looking for photography equipment? What is your intended purpose with the photographs?

Understanding the equipment and what it will do for you is an important part of shopping. rebel_xTiBuying the best piece of equipment on the market will not do you any good if its capabilities do not exceed your expectations. Each manufacturer has technical and general specifics on each camera they make for your convenience in research.

Do you want sharpness in each photo?

Looking for large format ability?

Want to shoot great photos in low-lit surroundings?

It is important to know what you will do with your equipment. The key to sharp images is good “glass” (or lenses in other words). Good “glass” meaning the quality and design of the lens and its parts. Research is important, especially for lenses because the manufacturer will not put these lenses on the market for no cost. All of that time in material gathering and manufacturing a lens does not come cheap so your equipment cost is going to grow. There is no good way of compromising on price for a lens of this quality. So I suggest that you do not go cheap on your lens for sharp images.

The large format issue begins a new line of questions; “How large is your project?” The smaller SLR camera image sensors can handle image sizes up to 20 x 30 inches. If you want to screen print vehicle window clings or prints for the full side of vehicles, you are looking for camera with a very large image sensor. Now you will be looking at spending the same amount of money on a camera as the lens spoken of above.

Shooting in low-lit situations means you will be looking for camera that does not create a lot of “digital noise” when the ISO is raised above 100.

I hope these “bench marks” are helpful to you as you search for the right camera and lens for you. Enjoy and do not feel obligated to buy from a store. The customer service employees are paid to help you find the right product, so ask them for advice and take their “sales pitch” with a grain of salt. Enjoy!

Portraits – Multi-purpose

In our recent article of property or photo “props”, I suggested using an umbrella as a diffuser. I would like to explain that thought a little more in-depth for the sake of creativity and fun.

To use an umbrella as a diffuser it is necessary to keep it between your subject and the sun, but that does not mean it is not for you to use without being seen at the same time!

‘ “Woe!” you say?’ Allow me to elaborate.

Pose your subject as if they are walking along a sidewalk and turn back slightly to see what they heard behind them, to find you and your camera trained on them. Catch the edge of the umbrella and framing their face is the part which incorporates the tool to diffuse the light as a prop too. Great idea? I like it!

What about having some fun pretending that it is raining and your subject is dancing in the rain? Have them hold their umbrella up in the air as they look simultaneously into it and the falling rain.

Even still, another possibility is to use the umbrella as a background, letting the sun back-light the umbrella. This can light the edges of the face and hair for a wonderful time exposure. [NOTE: Since your subject is back-lit with the sun diffused by an umbrella, use a longer shutter speed to develop their face and not only the umbrella.]

These are a few ideas with which to start and some I hope will adapt in your own style.

There are many good ways of using your lighting tools as portrait props. Try new things, have fun and tell me about them! I love to hear what you are doing! We all can use a help now and again, even me. I am no one special just because I write a blog.

Enjoy!

Portraits – Lighting

Light is what I call one of the “basic three”. Without light, either natural or artificial, it would be impossible to see or photograph anything. Now we have an understanding that light is important, but what are the other two parts of the “basic three”? They really are so practical we think too hard when trying to answer this question; A quality camera and a well designed lens.

Onto our topic for today, light is so common and we have so much of it in so regular a time that we take if for granted. Lighting is essential for contrast and definition but before we scatter into all the areas to which light pertains, let us take a moment to remember some things which we have previously discussed.

Lighting angles are vital:

  • Portraits are best lit when the light source is within a 45 degree angle to the subject on a horizontal plane and not to high above the subject to avoid deep shadows around the eyes.
  • Silhouettes can be made when the light source is behind the subject and the camera is appropriately set.
  • Back-lighting is meant to remove shadows and highlight the edges of the object.

We have also talked about a few things which will add light to a shot by reflecting the natural light which already exists in a setting and how to soften this light. This is all well and good, but I would not serve you well if I did not address equipment which can add light in your photos.

Flashes and studio strobes are wonderful tools for adding light, however I must say they are not the cheapest tool. I am grateful to have some experience with studio lighting but it is this experience I want to share with you.

Studio strobe are adjustable in intensity and power as well as offering tethering ability, which enables the photographer to use more than one at the same time. In our next post we will look into strobes and how they use other methods of lighting with one source.

Holiday Parades

Since yesterday was Labor Day, “Happy Labor Day!” I am grateful for the opportunity and ability to earn a living by labor!

Parades are some of the best times to get shots of the children and the excitement on their faces of the candy flying in their direction or fantastic clowns pulling their usual antics. Keep your camera handy because these moments can come faster and more frequently than every day events! In addition to those great shots of the children there are plenty of opportunities for any number of shots and a wonderful way to meet friends and neighbors.

The plethora of shots I speak of can pose some wonderful opportunities for learning the speed at which your shutter should open and close depending on your style. Artistic shots may use some motion blur while viewers of portraits prefer eyes perfectly in focus. However, more than talking about techniques in this post which we have more than amply covered before, I encourage you to take these opportunities to train yourself to anticipate each shot.

In a spontaneous environment such as a parade the subject of a shot seen is all too easy to forget. When the subject is forgotten, proper lighting can be one of the most elusive prey to capture. Thus when the photo is taken, the subject is either under or over exposed. So be wary to survey the amount of light around your subject rather than the light filling your general surroundings. It is an easy mistake to make, but “perfect practice, makes perfect!”

So enjoy the opportunities you have for pictures, because if I have learned anything it is this, if I don’t pick up my camera and take some shots, I give myself less opportunity to get better by learning from my mistakes!

Learning Your Equipment – Part 3

Learning your equipment sounds really easy until getting out into the field and realize, “I never thought about how to evaluate the amount of light put out by my light source!” Now this opens up a new area for questions and learning. “How sensitive is my camera to light?” “How does my camera’s sensitivity measure against its shutter speed?” “How does my camera’s sensitivity to light change with each aperture stop?”

Some answers can be “too simple” or rather purely informational without direction as to the application of the information. So in this post I hope to bring you two options explaining their application to the best of my ability.

Option 1: Light meter. Handheld light meters get more expensive the fancier features they contain. There is an excellent article by B&H Photo on learning about handheld light meters and information to help you choose the appropriate light meter for you. Most digital cameras are equipped with light meters (if you will remember the light meter I referred to in my first post on “Learning Your Equipment”). However, there is one key difference between a handheld light meter and a light meter in your camera.

The difference in light meters held in your hand or in your camera is this, the meter’s location. Now what will help you most? A light meter showing you the amount of light surrounding your subject or the amount of light around your camera? Answer: You want to know the amount of light around your subject. That makes it a little difficult to measure the light around your subject with your camera when it is more efficient to have it set-up on your tripod.

Option 2: Requires a lot of experience and a trained eye and mind. Using your own vision to estimate the light around your subject is cheapest and builds your skill. I am still tweaking my own skill, so I am not much practical help at this time. Some practical pointers to come in Fridays post.

Learning Your Equipment – Part 2

Asking questions can open a whole new set of opportunities to you and not just in learning your equipment, but also for the availability of “pre-designed studios”. Allow me to explain: Friday afternoon I was in the local IKEA store, and with my camera over my shoulder I kept seeing one stock shot after another. So I found a floor sales assistant and asked for permission to take photos in-store. After some checking up the chain of command I was given the “okay” to take photos of the store product and section design.

Now, please understand this is a casual business agreement. Because I want something to push my business ahead, IKEA or any other company you ask for this kind of  permission will also want something in return. This is a kind of business bartering and be ready to handle it with care and wisdom. IKEA obviously does not want me to obstruct the shopping experience of their other customers, and so I carefully choose which pieces of equipment I will use while taking photographic shots.

Also, IKEA appreciates name publication and rightly so! Each company in a free market thrives on word of mouth recommendations and name recognition. I as a business owner and sole operator understand this and I am willing to give them what publicity I can in exchange for my ability to profit of photographing their store design and product layout.

As a benefit to me and a method of contact for the store management, I gave the employee my business card. In case you didn’t catch it, I just got publicity and name recognition with this employee which IKEA has asked of me by handing out my business card. Now, this is not a game of “one-up-manship”, but on the contrary; this is “I help you for helping me” business. A kind of “Thank you for permission”, “And you for your consideration.” Beautiful business assistance.

Back Lighting – Part 2

Specifics on soft-box set-up:

Lighting the space behind and around your subject requires a lot of care, patience and finesse.

Controlling the amount of light taken into the camera is another important concept to understand when trying to utilize the style of Back Lighting. We discussed controlling the amount of light your camera receives in “Camera Troubles” through “Part 6” and how it is based on the operation of the human eye, nervous system and brain.

Lighting for jewelry is a tricky occupation because of the many shiny surfaces we so enjoy not just of the metal but the gems too. Back Lighting jewelry uses the least direct lighting in my opinion. (I say in my opinion, because like any other profession you will find many an expert who: knows what others do not and used or has seen extremes which others have not. Yes, truly this is experience and opinion wrapped up into one statement.)

There are a couple of ways to back light a subject even in a “light-box”. The first way is to reflect the light off of the back drop. Another way is to light the object through the sheer fabric of the soft box back. I created a kind of soft box, only because I diffused the major lights in my set-up.

So my basic point is; there is no need to buy soft boxes if you are not focusing on staged macro photography. Have fun and improvise with the equipment you have or invest in basic equipment that you can re-use for other projects. Soft boxes are not designed to eliminate all shadows but do a very good job of softening them, especially since setting up proper lighting means more than one light source which the soft box technique so easily facilitates.

Step 1: Soften harsh lighting.