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?

Lighting

This is all rather basic, although it is something key to remember when making the lighting more even. Surfaces range from being flat to randomly corrugated.

Just some examples of varied surfaces include but not limited to clothing, walls, faces, sporting equipment, grass, plastics and tree bark.

All of theses surfaces pose a great challenge when working to control the shadows. Please notice that I used “control” instead of “end” or “remove”. We do want some shadow for contrast, but we do not want the shadow to be uncontrolled.

The light spread in your direction is important for the fact that shadow a created at a low angle is going to be “darker”. Changing the angle should allow the light to spread more evenly across the surface. Lighting illustration Experience is one of the best ways to learn what is occurring and how to resolve the issue.

A large illustration of this topic is the sun against any semi-solid object. The shadow is cast  because the object stands in the way of the sunlight’s pathway to the ground. The direction and depth of the shadow changes as the earth travels its pathway around the sun.

This change of shadow depth and place is effectively the same as moving the light. I have said there is one good way of learning what is happening and how to resolve it, by experience.

Experimenting in available time will help. Give yourself some projects that emulate the same problem. Work out other lighting difficulties without over working yourself. I often will push too hard and run out of creativity when I should stand back asking questions. Questions should lead to answers, answers can lead to solutions and solutions make the way (specifically for us) to better photos.

Enjoy.

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).

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.

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!

Camera Specifics For Me

“Is it really necessary that I purchase an expensive camera to get nice photos?” Answer: “No. An expensive camera is not necessary to get nice photos.”

Even though I now am a professional photographer I still do not own the top of the line digital camera and a studio full of fancy equipment.

I actually began testing myself in the field of photography with a camera in a cellular phone. I have since the age of 4 played with differing film camera models which came from the late 1960’s, but this was different. This time, using a digital camera in a cellular phone, I did not need to buy for film and pay for processing.

This is not to say that I would be satisfied to go back to using the camera inside the cellular phone, however it provided me a great opportunity learn the angles and perspectives which bring the picture together to communicate a logical visual thought. [Woe! Okay Mr. Big Words; Let us read this in an understandable language this time! – Blog editor] It is important to capture the subject in a natural, comfortable pose. If a viewer looks at the photo and says what they are thinking, would they say something like “That does not look comfortable!” Or would they say, “Wow! I wish I looked that good.” Truthfully we all think that about ourselves, super model or not. The important thing to remember is that the beauty we see is inherent within the person and how they look comes from the way the picture was taken.

Go to a camera store, and I mean a camera store, not a computer super-store. Talk to a sales associate about renting a digital camera and take it out with you everywhere; subjecting it to all the situations in which you will find yourself, testing its abilities. Learn the camera’s strengths and weaknesses. If it will help you, treat the time you have rented the camera as a product review and you are a highly acclaimed journalist who could make or break this store’s sales quarter.

In other words, enjoy your time and put the camera through its paces.

Objective Photography

Objective photography is my term for how I explore the crater bottom of “sans creativity” and climb back out again.

Choosing an object and looking for all variations possible to find whether they are only observable or tangible:

  • By observable, I mean seeing the shape or design made by shadows or form. Sometimes shapes are formed when we look at things in two dimensions and when viewed from the perspective of the third dimension it appears nothing like how we first observed the shape.
  • Tangible – an object that can be handled and does not depend on a certain perspective to remain the observed form.

Example: The famous painter “Thomas Kinkade” always creates the letter “N” in every painting. I understand that “N” is the starting letter of his wife’s name and so to honor and amuse her, he hides it in every work for her to find. Sometimes he paints it in plain sight such as on a house (thus my use of “tangible”) or by shadow, object movement and the like (again my use of “observable”).

So, what is “objective photography”? A slide show of motor vehicles is a small illustration of how you can take an object or subject and explore the possibilities.

It does not even have to be a narrow topic, such as “motor vehicles”. Vehicles in general is just fine and leaves a greater opportunity for all types of vehicles. For example some types of vehicles can be:

  • Bicycles (recumbent, mountain bike, road bike, hybrids and scooters)
  • Shoes (sandals, dress, casual, sports, roller skates/blades, ski boots, etc.)
  • Airplanes (paper, balsa wood, project flyer, Cessna and Passenger airliners)
  • Motor vehicles (street legal, mass production, go-carts, gold carts, etc)

Have some fun and play around with the topic by using common phrases like “That cracker is only a vehicle to eat more peanut butter.”

You do no have to keep using the same technique for each photo. The photos of the vehicles above, were taken in time-lapse and the only added light is from other vehicles driving by and a flash light (mentioned in the article “Insider tips”). In fact, there are many different techniques that photographers have used and discovered which can change the feel and message of a photo in an instant.

Remember, this is designed to give you some rest from your normal style of photography. So kick back and enjoy a photographic “stay-cation”!

The Make-up Of An HDR Photo

This is a completed HDR photo. When making a HDR, you want to add to each element. Be careful not to detract from the photo's statement. In this photo the ray of sunlight on the rock is part of the statement, being "the viewer is in a safe place and cool shade" and still maintaining the cheerful bright awareness of the sun. More details are given in the article below.

Welcome to 2012! I hope the Christmas and New years celebrations were enjoyable and filled with family and friends.

In the tender start of this new year, we began discussing the techniques of photography. We like new perspectives and informative articles, but only when simultaneously woven together in artful story form.

There are so many “HDR tutorials” out there that searching “How to make a HDR photo in (your favorite program here)” will bring one or more tutorials! So I do not intend to make this another tutorial, rather I desire to give some thoughts and insight into what make an HDR photo so impressive.

What creates that “wow” factor in the HDR photos I see? From observation of and experience in photography, a photo well made will have the most detail in the moderate range with light and shadowed areas. The technique of using a High Dynamic Range (speaking strictly of light) is designed to add detail to the light and shadowed areas.

Illustrating what I mean by adding detail to areas of light and shadow, this side-show gives you and idea of what each layer of the HDR image brings to the completed work.

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The basic theory is adding detail to the light and shadowed area of the photo, but the HDR technique adds to much more than simply expanding the detail by diversifying the amount of light between image layers. The High Dynamic Range adds more to a photo in color, definition and detail. Light is central to these three things, but when we speak in terms of light, my mind begins to construct a black and white image in which to better understand the use of light. HDRs add much more than blacks and whites to an image. Light expounds the color spectrum, and this is the basic foundation of a HDR photo.

This is why it will be hard to explain every detail of the HDR technique, because light is the core and many scientists admit that they can not define light, but only explain some of what it does for us.

Here is a parting thought: “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (Found in the First Epistle of John; chapter 1 verses 3-5.)

Amazing!

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!