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.

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.

Portraits – Color

It is not every time that a portrait will look best in color. There can be many reasons for this, however let us begin with the fun we can have with color portraits.

Q. How can I use the fall colors in my portraits?

A. Fall color is brought to the fore with fall fruit, vegetables, leaves and more subtly flowers that bloom in fall. City maintained gardens may decorate with large gourds, pumpkins and fall blooming flowers which surely bring the visual cue of fall to viewer.

Q. Shooting up at my subject is not an option. How can I use the fall colored leaves in the portraits?

A. If the colored leaves or nuts as acorns have not fallen to the ground there are always optical “tricks” to play. One of the quickest and easiest ways to bring in that fall color still on the trees is to bring your lens to a wide-angle view and get very close to your subject. This will give a high angle view into the trees for the color and your opportunity of shooting a level portrait of your subject’s face. Possibilities are endless!

Q. How can I simulate the look of fall and fall color?

A. Bringing in elements which pictorially describe fall will help a lot. Jackets, a wrap if your subject is a woman or even little things like having her hair styled so that she can wear it down to gently flow in the wind. One of my personal favorites is a lite scattering of colored leaves on a thick carpet of grass and the subject looking up from the center of the scene.

For what it is worth, I have found a cooling statement which helps draw the visual effect of fall with prominent shadows behind the subject and sun light illuminating their face. Enjoy!

Camera Troubles – Part 4

With this basic knowledge we have built on the human Eye and how the camera lens was designed from the model of the Eye, I would like to venture into some observations of human vision.

Again please take note of my disclaimer from Camera Troubles, “I am not an Optometrist”, so I am not attempting to prove anything for or against medical science but observing our ability and capability.

We have some magnificent capabilities to see detail in deep shadows while focused on well-lit objects. It is in fact this ability that I find most fascinating, because I have tried to  figure out whether I had looked into the shadows subconsciously noting the detail or if I am seeing that wide a spectrum of detail. In either case, the ability to see the wide range of detail in light or shade is a characteristic that I have not yet found innate within a camera, but I find it most common in creatively thinking people.

There are some ways to achieve the look of detail in shadow while focusing on the lit focal point. Before going to the topic of how the camera see a scene, we would do well to better understand what and how we see.

I have a hard time discerning the varying degrees of light and how well the area is lit where I am shooting. This I know from experience and so now I take some test pictures before getting into the heat of the photo shoot. This tells me some amazing things about my Eye sight. The Iris opening so wide that I do not notice the slight shadows between light fixtures and my Brain filling-in details of the wall paneling. We have an awesome device in our Brain to automatically fill-in such detail! Thank God for giving us such magnificence to be used and shared!

Now we have not discussed the process in-depth of taking the photo after exposure from the Sensor to Storage. So in the next posts in this series, I plan to explore “The Data Transfer” and “What the camera sees of what I do.”

Cloudy skies, with a chance…

“The weather forecast for today is cloudy skies, with a 97% chance of distracted photographers…” Have you ever had that feeling of someone watching as you set-up a shot with the thought in the back of your mind, “I am so distracted with everything else but my shot that I will miss it!”

Shooting under cloudy skies can pose quite a challenge, but do not let the challenges get you down! This is only an opportunity to learn more about the equipment you have and how to use it with the utmost efficiency.

Most camera manufacturers have come to realize the difficulty of the outdoor photographer. With such an understanding they have built-in some wonderful features in the White Balance settings that allow for these difficulties.

Thin clouds present the most different obstacle because prevailing winds in the higher atmosphere is either your best friend or worst enemy. By that I mean, if the wind is strong enough to keep the cloud layer moving you will have an even lighting providing that the cloud layer is constant in thickness. However, if the wind gusts or is too slow, the thin cloud layer will be easily burnt through (typical of southern climates) and thus give times of harsh and direct sunlight.

Spotty clouds are always changing amounts of light and seem to be playing the “peek-a-boo” game for that perfect shot. Frustrating? That would be a kind way of speaking about this problem!

Thick clouds project a cold or harsh look on and around the subject, whereas with every subject I have photographed warmer colors are always more inviting. Yes the cloudy setting will eliminate most if not all of the gloom emitted by the clouds, but in all of these scenarios there is the problem of constant change in amounts of light and then the unexpected objects that reflect the sunlight when the sun is unveiled.

What is the answer? In my experience when shooting with ever-changing lighting, I will use the “Shade” White Balance setting. This will lighten the shadows so as to compensate for the sharp contrast in lighting and still avoid most of the over exposure on the surfaces that are given direct lighting!

When I began shooting in these conditions, I came to my senses about halfway through the photo-op. It was easy to have a moment which I call a “professional hissy-fit”, but when you are with a client, it is best to remain cool, calm and collected. As I reviewed the shots, I realized that we had last shot in shade and all of the photos after still turned out very well, with detail I did not expect in the shadows.

Times like this one are great opportunities to learn how your camera functions and understanding precisely how each setting will help or hinder you in achieving your goal.

So the next time you are out and about with a camera in your hand, take the opportunity to master an obstacle and become that better photographer!

*NOTE: These mentioned White Balance settings are not “industry standard”, so their names and usage may vary according to manufacturer specifications.

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!