Terms – Exposure

I have written several posts that mention photos should be properly “exposed”. What does it mean to properly expose a photo? Good question. That is exactly the issue I intend to demystify.

“Back in the day” when every photographer used film to capture a scene for posterity the process included light rays piercing the film and chemical coating. When I refer to exposure, it is based on this process and how long the film is “exposed” to the light. If the film was left available to light it will be unintelligibly “bleached”.

So what this means in our digital world is we look at our digital exposures for areas that does not accurately represent the colors of our scene.

Proper exposure is not dependent on your field of photography. For example, a photo-journalist does not use a different measure for proper exposure than a commercial portrait photographer would. Each vocation specialty may prefer different exposures for their purposes, but there is one common key; they all want their subject in this range of proper “exposure”. We will discuss this more in-depth in our next post “Terms – Exposure 2”.

Exposure is effected by length of shutter speed, amount of added light (flash, strobe or constant) and lens aperture. All of these we have covered in earlier posts. For now, what are the keys that will help us discern a proper exposure?

Detail – How much detail is visible in the photograph? Detail represents the photographic subject and the surrounding scene.

Depth of Shadow – How dark are the shadows in the photograph? This will cause detail to be obscured.

Bright areas without detail – What areas in the photograph are saturated with more light than necessary? This will cause detail to not be visible.

As you look through pictures take some time to look at shadows and bright areas. Look for detail and consider other places the photographer could have stood for more or less light to expose the shot.

Showcase Lighting

Have you seen those pictures that take your attention and your will to look at any other photo dwindles? Maybe it is a picture of a young woman looking out the open window with the curtains blowing toward her.

The “best lighting” is directed from natural light source placement. This is what I mean by “natural light placement”, light should be coming through the window (back to the photo description above) and not around the window.

There is an important lighting technique which I refer to as “even lighting” or as others say “flat lighting.” “Flat lighting” means that the light is spread across the subject without creating harsh shadows or excessive amounts of light. Not meaning the shadow is absent but having control of the harshness or contrasted effects of the shadow is important!

I used to think that I needed no other light source but the ambient light of the outdoors; while the lighting is always perfect outside with the sun as the source, reflectors, diffusers and shades are great ways of flattening the ambient light.

Adding light with flash and strobe was my primary apprehension, because it is so easy to displace the natural lighting with one overpowering light source. This is not to say adding light with flash and strobe is bad, just a word to the wise that adding light in this way brings a lot more skill and thought to the table than anticipated.

“Showcase Lighting” is all about drawing the viewer’s attention to a specific place in the photo. This is to say, consider what your picture shows. Motion? Draw the viewer’s attention with the movement direction. Personality? Highlight the facial expression including eyebrows, eyes and/or mouth.

Lighting really is a way of communicating where you want people to look without words. Learning how to do this is not easy nor can it be reduced to a formula (at-least not to my knowledge).

Portraits – Flash

Flashes are designed to do just what their name suggests, “flash”. This operation is different from a studio strobe because flashes do not light as lamps before firing. Flashes are smaller when compared in size to studio strobes and much more portable.

Flashes are a quick and easy way to add light to a photo without requiring a full light set-up and accessories like reflecting umbrellas. Just to be clear a flash is no substitute for the full lighting set-up.

I have so long kept back from writing about strobe, flashes and every other studio light because it is very easy to think “If a little light is good, then more is better!” or “This shot isn’t quite right because of this dark spot, it must need more light.” These assumptions are not always true.

Up to this point I also have not defined the venue of the photography. Many portraits these days are shot outdoors. Yes a good number are shot in a professional in-door studio, but just because more or less are shot in one place over another means absolutely nothing when it comes to doing your best job with each portrait. As I write this article, I have an outdoor setting in mind with some great texture variations and color fusion. Something like your nearest botanical garden.

Never hesitate to use the light already in your setting. The more natural the lighting looks will enable you to focus on your subject’s personality and facial expressions.

I understand there is a lot to think about when taking photos, believe me, I do not work like some photography super hero. We will get better, faster and smoother the more we practice the right techniques and processes.

Having your subject looking into the sun can be hard to do for a while, so offer for them to turn their back or side to the sun and fill your shot with a flash. Perhaps even getting the hard shots over first and then just dealing with the flash in the rest of the shoot will not be as difficult.

Always being considerate to the subject so that looking any one  direction is not kept up too long, find a routine that works well for you and use it!

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.

Back Lighting

Back Lighting in very broad terminology can be used to describe many different photography styles, however it speaks directly to the way that the light illuminates the subject. We will not have the space in this post that would be required to discuss all of these options, but I will provide a list of shot types for you to play with and perhaps we will be able to return to discuss them in more detail at a later date.

Back Lighting is exactly what it sounds like, putting the part or all of the lighting source behind the subject to highlight their outline in light. In using light this way it is possible to capture silhouettes; Wash-out or over expose the back ground (giving a different appearance to the location); Add an infinite amount of light around your subject without making a harsh contrast in shadow and Vignetting. All of these options have more to do with camera settings than lighting, although lighting is still required. So enjoy your time playing with these things; now we will work more on the theory and practical work of Back Lighting.

Necessary equipment:

  • Reflector
  • Flash
  • Studio lights
  • Soft box
  • Bright light source in the background (it is cheaper to work with multiple light sources)
  • Tripod
  • Remote Shutter Release

Setting up your camera for success.

  • High aperture
  • Low ISO
  • Moderate shutter speed (1/10th – 1 second)
  • Prime focal lens (50mm optimal for portraits)

A slow shutter speed is not required for any reason other than to make sure the subject is properly exposed rather than the background. Feel free to shorten the shutter speed if you have enough light to do so. Obviously I know a small amount about photography, but just because I know something does not guarantee that I know everything. So play with you camera settings and have a ball getting the best photos you can!

Light Has Color? Part 2 – White Balance

Have you noticed some shadows have a little bit of color to them? Clouds for instance; some clouds on mostly clear days have a sort of blue hue to them. I can not help but wonder in noticing this and with the understanding of the how and why rainbows are made we can understand the process of a camera’s White Balance.

Looking at pure light as a simple harmony of ROY G. BIV producing a brilliant “white”, we have laid the foundation to working with camera White Balance. Now camera are not charged only to filter natural sources of light but also other forms of light produced by man-made light sources. Since we have seen that light can be divided into 7 color forms, the basics of our study tell us that we will be dealing with more of 1 color than the other 6. It is possible that we would be dealing with a sever lack of 1 or more colors, but since our color pallette is only based with 7, our filters can be adequately limited.

White Balance is the effort of compensating for the lack of or overdose of a specific color through the use of filters. This is also the job of Image Specialists. One of their most common jobs is “color correction”. So software is outfitted with the ability to manipulate the colors which may lack or overwhelm the captured photo.

For interest sake I have made a list of ways that light is produced, natural and man-made.

Element (Metallic element made to conduct enough energy to glow without quickly exhausting the element’s lifespan.)
Vapor (Gases – Fluorescent, Mercury Vapor and Fire are uses of vapor in proper conditions to yield the production of light.)
Chemical (Liquid – Phosphorescence and Glow sticks)
Electronic (LED)

Take care and do not be afraid to ask questions. Learning is a wonderful opportunity!

Getting The Most Out Of Your Camera – Part 2

Call me “Obsessive Compulsive” if you wish, but shooting without a flash has taught me so much about the “ins” and “outs” of my camera that I cannot neglect its value. This education is worth more than any other for which I could have paid or sat under another photographer’s instruction. These things are what I wish to give you by inspiration as we continue to learn together how to better capture the moments in time which we live and see.

I do apologize that all of my information bits are based around Canon equipment, but I have not yet be awarded with the donations of Nikon, Panasonic, Olympus and Sony equipment to learn and write about. Hint, hint. No, I only wrote that in jest! I would be humbled to receive such gifts, but I am not sincerely asking for them. I would be truly embarrassed to do so.

In the post-production process of photo editing within “Canon Utilities Software”; changing a picture from black & white (monochrome) to color is the final last step. If the colors do not come out in an acceptable shade, I often will increase contrast and lower saturation. If this look does not apply to the photo, vibrancy and hue are possibilities within moderation.

All of these terms and solutions are based on Canon equipment and software leaving a large number of readers in the dark, I apologize. This is not intended to be a sales pitch for Canon, even though it turns out to be quite a good one. All other brands will want to bring you the same or greater options for editing photos although they may not call them by the same names.

If you are interested in finding the equivalent adjustments and terms that I have listed for Canon in you own brand, please pass them along to me and I will be more than happy to share these helps with the rest of the readers.

Happy low-light photography shots!

Getting The Most Out Of Your Camera

Have you ever found yourself in a situation and wishing you had a hot shoe flash with you? Well being the biggest “anti-flash fan” you know of (I’m just kidding! I’m not “anti-flash”. My concern and talking point is a caution against built-in flashes.) I have some things for you to look into if you are interested in getting just a little bit more out of your camera’s performance.

Having used my equipment in a lot of situations with varied amounts of lighting, I became very dissatisfied with blurry photos. So, in an effort to understand more about the performance of my camera and lenses, I began searching for methods of shooting without a flash and blur.

As I began my search I discovered that when shooting black & white (monochrome) pictures, my camera was more sensitive in lower lighted areas giving me the capability to shoot with a faster shutter speed.

At the same time, I did not want to only shooting black & white (monochrome) photos in low light, so how can I get around this problem? Some cameras come with editing software. Canon provides “Canon Utilities Software” with their SLR cameras, so there may be comparable software with other camera brands. In “Canon Utilities Software” post-exposure changes are possible by reading the EXIF data from the photo and altering the information in a new file temporarily stored in a separate data file.

However, before I prattle too far afield of my given topic, my point of shooting black & white (monochrome) photos to avoid needing to add light; the picture style can be changed in the editing process of “Canon Utilities Software”. What this mean is black & white (monochrome) shots can be change into color shots!

The camera takes the information of colors with each black & white (monochrome) shot, however not as it would when shooting in color. Do not be surprised when changing picture styles that the color is not as vibrant as when shooting in other pictures styles.

More on picture styles and black & white shooting in Part 2.

Using A Flash

It is not always easy to evaluate the proper amount of lighting for photo composition. Because of this I notice a lot of people use the built-in camera flash to compensate when pictures are too dark.

I do not want to be seen as a “kill-joy” or “professional guru” when I write this, but here it goes: “It is better to leave your built-in camera flash off and use an added floor lamp or other “natural” lighting for proper exposure.”

Adding light does not mean you are required to use oodles and gobs of lights, rather to concentrate the cumulative light on your subject.

Here are some suggestions on concentrating light.

 

  • Take a strand of clear miniature Christmas tree lights (150+ bulbs) and lay them in an orderly “heap” near and partially under your subject. This creates a warm glow of light on your subject.
  • Set-up the shot in-front of a window facing the sunny side of the house and use a reflector to reduce the harsh shadows behind the subject.
  • Using a light-colored bed sheet provides a uniform background and at the same time reflects some light to reduce harsh shadows made by the light source.
  • Use a reading light or floor lamp, positioning it toward your subject for more direct lighting. If it is too harsh, diffuse it with a thin piece of fabric or white reflector. (NOTE: Be careful of colored fabrics so as not to unwittingly color your subject the wrong shade of purple!)
  • Flash lights are another good option for adding light. They may also need to be used in tandem with a diffuser.

The reason that pictures turn out  better 99% of the time without the built-in flash is this: The flash is too close to the camera lens giving the wrong lighting angle. Thus using other forms of lighting prompts us to find the best defining angles for our subject.

This is another reason that professional photographers will turn their hot-shoe flashes to bounce off of a surface near the subject.

It is important to have fun while experimenting with lighting and do not feel pressured to use conventional equipment!

High Dynamic Range

Almost everyone has something to “show off” or say about HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos. Well, I am like everyone else in that I have played with HDR photos, using it and many other techniques to draw out the beauty of each photo’s subject. However, I can not say that I am completely enamored with HDRs more than any other technique.

So why write about HDRs on your blog if you do not like them more than other techniques, right? Ah, well that is the beauty of appreciating each tool that is at our disposal without over playing any one of them!

Please do not misunderstand my position. I like HDR photos, but I do not want the HDR technique to be so commonly used that it is no more amazing than any ordinary thing! A lot of things should be used in moderation. For example, would you add a tablespoon of salt to your bowl of soup? No! Salt is best used in moderate amounts, often spoken of by saying “add salt to taste.” It is this same principle by which I wish to use the HDR technique.

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HDR photos can be used in several ways. Again, I do not wish to disparage the use of HDR or call it “cheating”, because many things are required in shooting HDR. Just a few examples are:

  1. An in-depth knowledge of lighting.
  2. Vast experience in camera handling.
  3. Pointed expertise with image editing.
  4. Measured speed and timing of the shutter releases.
  5. Knowledge of how your camera sees the scene.
  6. Specific settings for each captured image.

So in no way is it cheating! Certainly some who may speak less of shooting High Dynamic Range photos would be correct to say it is not worth the effort because their ‘niche’ does not cater to the technique. Since I am a “minimalist” photographer, I love HDR for the fact that I can get 3+ photos, edit them together and “voila!” the photo has all of the detail we can naturally see!

Yes, I know that there are good reasons to use flashes and studio strobes; but why, with so many other techniques at my disposal, would I sacrifice the artistic ambiance for using flashes? It seems to me, to use such logic would be the same as saying “I cut my nose off because I run into the stone pillar.” Well okay, Cyrano,  but I would rather utilize all of my standard equipment than remove it because I tried to make it occupy the same space as a solid mass!

One other use of an HDR is to draw out the color of the scene creating a “wow” factor unsurpassed in any form of natural art I have ever seen. I have mainly seen the HDR used in this way for landscapes, seascapes and city scenes.

Thank you for reading!