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.

Photography Shopping – Part 2

It is not easy for me to swallow a number on a price tag with numbers that continue 3 or more digits and then appears a decimal, especially when I consider that amount as coming from my wallet. However, this is not considering the purpose for the product purchased.

We considered some questions to ask to help decide the purpose of the shopping trip and each piece of equipment. I also mentioned that I cannot give you any suggestion on “coupons” or price breaks because anyone making this compromise is taking a serious risk that can and most often will be more expensive than the price of the lens.

I write this to urge you to be wise in what you buy, because somethings are not worth “going cheap”. If your photographs are worth good money, then be willing to pay good money for your equipment. I have read many articles on what is most important for creating good photographs. Some have a good understanding of the process and others do well at articulating what they do not understand. I want to both understand and be able to articulate it so that you can learn from my mistakes.

Good photography is not about 1 piece being more or less significant. It is about all the pieces working well together. In any team sport, the team must work together to carry out their goal. Thus it is the same in photography. Photography is my sport and my team consists of me, the camera body and the lens. Also in this team sport the team that will win must use the actions of the opposing team to their advantage. This “opposing team” in my sport of photography is a light source, object and shadow (meaning contrast).

I win the game when my team works together without error, using the light, the object and the shadow to tell the story I see.

How will you choose your team? Will you choose the team that “gets by” or the proper team for the win?

Product – Natural Light

Product photography can be executed with natural light in an everyday setting. Yes, YOU can photograph your own products in your home as long as you have the proper light source – the sun. This is especially beneficial for entrepreneurs of crafts and homemade trinkets who need to advertise their own merchandise.

Pay attention to your home and where the window light spills in throughout the day. The quality and amount of light can accentuate the product you are trying to showcase. For instance, when the sun is newly risen or close to setting, you can catch soft golden hues that will not  been seen throughout a normal day. The sun is also less harsh at those times so you can have a better balance when dealing with “shiny” objects. Shiny objects are any products made of reflective material. Overexposure of shiny objects are much easier to do when the sun is strongest and highest in the sky.

If the sun is still too harsh, it helps to have a “diffuser” at hand. A light diffuser is used to even out the main light source that is being projected on the product. For example, in direct light, a product made of or containing amounts of shiny metal may have a spot that is too bright and visually overpowering. We call that a “hot spot” and there should still be detail visible in those brightest areas. A light diffuser can be purchased already made and in different sizes at a photographic equipment store. If you are on a limited budget, a light diffuser can also be made of plumbing pvc pipe, 90 degree angles, and swimsuit nylon. Determine your chosen size and assemble into a square or rectangle. For ideas and a better visual picture, check out images of light diffusers and normal sizes on the internet. Stretch the nylon tightly over the pvc pipe and sew the corners to keep in place. Swimsuit nylon can be purchased at a local fabric store and pvc pipe at a hardware store. Angle the diffuser between the sun and your product to soften the light.

Proper styling, simple backgrounds, and pertinent lighting can showcase your product in a way that can wow your clients. Bring as much confidence into advertising your product as you showed in creating it.

Portraits – Soft light

Softening light is a process in which light is made to evenly fill the viewing area. This can be done in many ways but often the simplest methods are the best. Soft-light is not only about adding light, it also involves making sure that the natural light in your shot is not too concentrated in one place.

Basics: When lighting a surface it is important to light the surface evenly to prevent overlapping coverage. Light is a key element to showing the rise and fall of a surface. So as you can imagine, if a person’s face has areas of their face better lit than others it can give them a very strange appearance.

Softening the light can be done basically two ways by either diffusing the light or reflecting it. Diffusing the light uses a direct light on the subject with a partly transparent piece of material between it and your subject. Lighting companies sell “soft boxes” which fit over the light making it easier to soften the light than holding a diffuser in-front of it for every shot.

Reflecting the light is indirectly lighting your subject by bouncing the light coming from your light source (sun, porch light, strobe, flash, etc) directly on your subject. Indirect or reflected light will not be as “harsh” as it would be from the light source but can still be too harsh if physically placed too close to your subject. So use distance (close or far) to your advantage here as well!

Listed below are some examples of diffusers and reflectors. Have fun and use your imagination! This is the stuff of artistic shooting!

Diffuser:

  • Umbrella (Great for artistic element in a shot too!)
  • Translucent fabric (not darkening fabric)
  • Plexiglas (colored Plexiglas)

Reflector:

  • Water
  • Disk (sold at any videography and photography lighting store)
  • Fill card (Light or dark-colored – darker colors absorbing more light)

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.

Skin Tone

People can become upset when ethnicity is brought up, which is not my intention in this post. This post simply is to draw out the courtesy which photographers should extend to others whom may have preference to their appearance.

Skin tones vary from person to person and it is not so much the slight variations we will discuss here, but the contrasting tones.

Photography, as we have been discussing on recent posts, is in general terms the art of capturing the subject in the “perfect lighting”, or as I have put it “properly exposing” your focal point.

An interesting point of history quickly; the use of the word “expose” comes from the time when film was the standard medium product for transferring current events to two-dimensional record because of the chemical reaction begun as the film comes into contact with light and the heat created by it. Thus the film was “exposed” to light and heat.

Light sensors in our cameras can be tricky especially when in this case we want to be sure that we show-off the face of our subject. If that means taking a darker shot so that our subject is not “washed-out” or adding light so that our subject is not a silhouette, we know what should be added to make that great shot.

Family photos are always more appreciated too when mom can see the each face of her loved and ever irritating children. (Oops! Did I just type that?) It is important however to realize that art is not void of science and utilizing the foundation of science for artistic creativity in your family photos, is exactly the inspiration we desire for you. I may sound like an expert, but please remember an expert is only a drip, under pressure. So please, enjoy your leisure!

Cameras & Light

Light is an incredible “force” in creation, and just in case you do not believe me, study the effects of light on plants (Photosynthesis), or the ability to permanently transfer the image of an object onto paper with light-sensitive photo paper. Even more so our fragile camera sensors demonstrate just how easy it is to get too much light in a shot, reminding us of the awesome power that we often take for granted.

I should have begun to realize just how powerful light is when most if not all of the camera settings and accessories work to shade the camera from full light or regulate the amount of light so as to properly expose the object in focus. The purpose of photography is not to fight light, but to work with it. Now I am not talking about anything zen or mysterious, I am talking about practical actions and changes to technique so that you will not feel as if you are swimming up-stream but letting the river carry you to your destination.

So how do I work with light? Slow down you exposure settings. Bring your ISO down from 1600 or 800 down to 100 or 200. Raise your aperture from f/1.8 to f/13 and breathe. Yes, it is true you will not be shooting very often at 1/250 of a second anymore. On the other hand, you will begin shooting higher quality photographs and have the opportunity to see possibilities for new shooting styles! When I started making this switch, I began getting more compliments on my pictures than ever before.

Quality is not something someone will always point out as a reason they like one photo over another, but when higher quality means the difference between eyes being out of focus or in, I am certain we all would choose higher quality and in focus!

Keep learning! It is the best way to grow.

Lighting Is Not Everything

I keep bringing everything back to light from almost every post. So perhaps some illustration  and explanation are in order on how lighting is important but “is not everything.”

You may ask “I don’t understand! If lighting isn’t everything, what is lighting?” Without light shots are practically impossible yes. Lighting is important, however just adding light is not the “cure-all” for poorly lit photography. The key to added lighting is its positioning. Light positioning came up in our 6 part article on “Back Lighting” and “Jewelry Photography” single, but how about “simple scenes”? What can be done to improve a shot with “house-hold lights”?

I want to caution anyone who may consider scenes “simple”. It may not  be difficult to see or understand, although a “simple shot” is exactly the photo with which you will come away. Simple shots often do not have depth, intrigue or definition, thus they appear “flat” and are not “interesting”. Lighting properly placed can change this in seconds.

Photographers who specialize in portraiture are aware of the technique “3/4 (‘three quarter’) lighting”; if not by name, I am certain they do in practice. A brief explanation of “3/4 lighting” and I will show you how I applied it in my illustration.

3/4 Lighting is strategically placing your light to the side of your subject and no more than 45 degrees below. From the starting position for lighting directly in-front of your subject’s face, pivoting the light around the side of your subject and then lowering the light in that plain to achieve your desired effect. Positioning a light in such a way will light about 3/4 of the face, thus “3/4 lighting.”

Lighting is not just a catalyst for capturing a photo, but also the important ingredient for making an image which has intrigue, contrast, clarity and definition.

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.

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.