Architecture

An architect looks to a photographer to match the environmental mood to the structure of the building he/she designed.

Architectural photography takes time and more than one trip to the designated site. Time of day will make or break the success of your photograph. There are 2 key times to take a photograph of a structure; sunrise and sunset. If you want to photograph the outside of a building, you must be very dedicated. First, you must watch where the light falls on the structure. When is the main entrance illuminated? Maybe there is a statue that highlights a dominant area. What is most significant? Maybe you can’t get the key places illuminated in only one session. Visit the building and document where the light falls and how quickly it changes. Proper planning will save you much stress and decrease the unknown when the day of the shoot happens.

Weather and time of year are also major factors. If you live in Texas, like me, expect the unexpected. More than once, cloud cover has caused me to revisit a site 3 to 4 times. The weather channel will become your best friend. Even then, meteorologists are never 100% correct all the time. Don’t get discouraged. It happens to the best.  You may think that you can sleep in and just head out a day late, but you can’t afford to take chances. Depending on a deadline or if it is for your own portfolio, consider the vegetation surrounding the structure. Maybe green grass or fully bloomed trees will emphasize the beauty or geometry of the building. Maybe without it, the area looks cold and desolate. What is the site used for and what feeling are you trying to portray? Maybe you want to capture a few people walking in the area to show usage of the establishment.

Be ready for all sorts of conditions and prepared to wake up at the crack of dawn. It may be tough work and the planning may become extensive, but you will see a major improvement of your images quality. If you want to “wow” your audience then play with sunlight and let it work to your advantage.

Happy shooting!!!

Camera Troubles

I am frequently asked about how to adjust camera settings to reduce motion blur for photos. In each case I try to learn one thing; “How much light enters the camera lens?”

Let me see if I can bring technical specifics down to a lower altitude for us to work on without the fear of nose bleeds.

Taking photos is not all so different from looking at those beautiful scenes we are so blessed to wander through, savoring the grace and delicacy of the garden. However, I would not deceive you, there are some very specific differences between our Eye, Optic Nerves and Brains as compared to camera lenses, censors and processors.

Let me start this post set with a discussion on the make-up and structure of our vision.

Our Eye takes in a lot of information, filtering it through a complex network of cones, rods, blood vessel and finally to an Optic Nerve situated at the back of the Eyeball. This only begins the wondrous process we call “sight”.

As the Optic Nerve receives the information from the Eye, it begins informing the Brain through neurological pulses. The brain then both processes and stores the information.

So, to simplify that chain process down to a basic form is this: Eye to Optical nerve to Brain.

Now, please stay with me, we will be looking at some details within the eye that will later be applicable to cameras.

The Eye is very complex and since I am not an Optometrist I will not pretend to know every detail. The basics we will benefit in knowing are these:

  • The Eye Lid, protects from injury, cleans the Eye of debris and is a front line defense to direct sunlight.
  • The lens of the Eye is called the “Cornea”. It slightly changes shape, with the aid of muscles behind the Eye Lid, to form the properly curved angle for the purpose of focusing on objects near or far.
  • Underneath the Cornea are the Pupil and Iris. It is very easy to start talking about both the human Eye and cameras right now, but I choose to remain on optic…I mean, topic. The Iris is the colored “ring” and the part of the Eye from which we discern the “Eye color”. It contains at-least one muscle which constricts the inner opening of the Eye (the Pupil) when you step out-of-doors and into the sun. The muscle or muscles will also relax and the Iris opens allowing the Eye to receive more light.
  • I just made a statement about the Eye receiving more light, which in a manner of speaking is true. However, there is a part of the Eye called the “Retina” which is the specific receptacle of light. The Retina is very sensitive to light and will easily burn if not protected by the Eye Lid and Iris.
  • The Optic Nerve is next in process from the Retina, sending the neurological pulses received from the Retina to the Brain.
  • The Brain receives the neurological pulses from the Optic Nerve and catalogs those pulses in its own magnificent way.

This article is already pretty long, so I will bring it to a close and bring you “Part 2” on Friday. Before we close though I would like to bring out one last thought.

When you step into a dark area from a well-lit place, it takes your eyes a measure of time to adjust. For some people their eyes adjust faster than others while others employ methods which seem to speed the process along. One way I have heard effective is closing the Eye Lid during the transition.

Have you noticed in a low light situation, quick or faster motions do not seem as smooth or  connected? At the very least in low light situations quick or faster motions are more easily concealed.

I hope this Friday to make the mystery of the “pesky camera” plain.

Stay focused.

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.

Setting a proper White Balance (WB)

Setting the proper White Balance for a shot is a vital key to get a photo that does justice for the “captured moment”.

Getting to the White Balance menu on your camera is going to vary between brands and even models. To save you from having to weed through each brand and model I will share some general and basic things to look for as you learn you camera.

White Balance speaks to the color of light that is used in the surrounds where you are shooting the photo. Most common consumer model cameras will have a pictorial icon of the light source. Listed below are some of the common White Balance icons:

Cloudy:       Cloudy icon

Custom:     Custom icon

Flash:         Flash icon

Fluorescent: Fluorescent icon

Shade:        Shade icon

Sunlight:     Sunlight icon

Tungsten:   Tungsten icon

Thanks to photonotes.org for their great help page on the “common camera symbols”.

All but one of these names make sense. When I first came across the “Tungsten” White Balance, I was thoroughly confused. Every time I have spoken with a hobbyist or new amateur photographer I see my reaction all over their face.

There is no reason for panic or worry. “Tungsten” is simply the normal incandescent light bulb setting. It is a great help to have the icon images next to the names of these White Balance settings, but it still doesn’t really explain why there are so many options and when or where they should be used.

Most of the light bulb options are simple enough to figure out except where the are two types in use. The best way to find which White Balance setting gives the best ambiance in your photo is to take a picture with each setting. Find your preference in ambiance and make a note! Do keep in mind this may change between rooms or if more of one kinda of light is added!

Flashes: if your flash is activated be aware that it almost always will over power every other light source and therefore you will want to have your White Balance set to “Flash”. If you do not have a “Flash” White Balance setting, use the “Custom” White Balance setting.

Some cameras may have an “Automatic” White Balance setting, but it is always best to match the lighting situation as best you can at each location where you are shooting!

A visual reminder of how your photo may come out without using the proper White Balance setting is below.

White Balance Illustration

White Balance setting in image order: Sunlight; Automatic; Tungsten

There are a few questions that come up as you begin to become proficient with your White Balance settings.

For instance, you may be taking a picture of a friend sitting in the shade of a building, but you are standing in the sunlight, should you use the “Shade” or “Sunlight” White Balance setting? The answer comes by what you can see through your view finder or digital display. If the shot is framed inside the shadowed area, your best is to use the “Shadow” White Balance setting.

The best thing is to get to know your camera! Learn how it views the subject you are shooting. You may find out that you prefer other White Balance setting to what most photographers suggest.

Happy Photo Shooting!