Explorers of Light

Snake-River-Overlook---BlogAre we talking about physicists experimenting with a new medium for transmitting light waves? No.

Are we talking about astronomers discovering new galaxies beyond the ones we have already found? No.

We’re talking about photographers. The great painters of Greece knew what extraordinary light meant to their paintings. Today, it also means the same to photographers. Without light, there isn’t a photograph. Even the word photography comes from the Greek words photos meaning light and graphos meaning writing. So photography means writing with light.

What elements make light extraordinary? Basically three elements: color, quality and direction. These elements are all intertwined but each have their own merit and all are necessary to have great light.

Color

We express light color in degrees Kelvin. If you are out shooting in the morning, before the sun comes up, you will notice a bluish cast to the light. The bluish color comes from a high color temperature, about 12,000 degrees Kelvin.

As the sun starts to come up, the bluish color evolves to a golden yellow. The golden light is caused by the light waves having to travel great distances through the atmosphere. While traveling, the light is refracted off of water, dust, smoke and other particles in the air. All of these particles help break up the light waves to create that beautiful golden color. The color temperature now is about 3,500 degrees Kelvin. The same effect happens at sunset.

However, the light can be more of a golden orange at sunset because late in the day there are more particles in the air caused by the day’s activities on the ground. Light records a golden color if you have your white balance setting set to Daylight this setting is balanced for daylight color temperature, which is about 5,000 degrees Kelvin. Because the light is lower in degrees Kelvin than daylight, it is recorded with a yellow cast to it. The same thing happens if you shoot the Daylight setting with household lights. The Daylight setting is balanced against light occurring between about 9:00 A.M. to around 3:00 P.M., however the light during this time if day is not of the highest quality. To eliminate the yellow cast, match your white balance to the light temperature; use the incandescent setting.

Quality

The hard, harsh mid-day light is probably the worst for photographers. During this light, look for tight compositions of flowers, animals and graphic details of buildings. Try to pick subjects in the shade. Spot meter off of your subject for a correct exposure.

Now is also a good time to use your fill flash. Stay away from people and landscape shots during mid-day light. This time of day can be productive by scouting out places to shoot for the upcoming evening light or the morning light of the next day. Thin clouds act as a diffuser and will improve the quality of overhead light. The harshness will be gone and it will be a more even, shadowless light. Early misty morning light can be good light to work with if the mist isn’t too heavy. Mist softens shadows, reduces contrast and brings subtle colors to life.

Of course the light from sunrise to about 1 ½ hours after and again from 1 ½ hours before sunset to sunset are by far, the best quality of light. This low-angled directional light will accent texture and impart a warm glow to your subject.

Direction

The direction of light is the last element. It comes in three different types: sidelighting, frontlighting and backlighting. Each has their application.

Sidelighting, such as the light at sunrise and again at sunset is the best for bringing out the texture in a subject. The light skipping over the high spots and forming shadows in the low spots create texture. People relate to a subject better if they can imagine how it would feel. Texture does that for you. It visually shows them what the surface of the subject felt like when you pressed the shutter button.

With directional light a subject can be backlit, frontlit or sidelit depending on where you are in relation to your subject and the light. The effect you want on your photograph will determine which type of lighting to use.

Backlighting is great for making silhouettes from graphic shapes. Close-up shots of translucent subjects, such as leaves, come out best when backlit. The veining will be very evident.

The last type is frontlighting. This light tends to minimize texture, reduces form and flattens out a scene. If used in early morning, this light is good when shooting landscape shots.

Let’s take a scene, the Grand Tetons, and visually photograph it three times. Each scenic shot will be from the same location, the Snake River Overlook. Each time we will use a different type of directional lighting. The first photograph will be frontlit. As the sun is first coming up, it will start to bath the mountaintops in that soft golden light.

As the sun gets higher in the sky, the light works its way down the mountain. We will end up with a brightly illuminated shot having minimal texture, but nevertheless a great shot. As the sun moves across the sky, the light will become high sidelighting. Gradually, we will start to pick up some texture and the mountains will start to take on some feeling. The light skips across the high points and creates shadows in the recesses.

In the late afternoon, the sun has moved behind the Grand Tetons and they start to become graphic silhouettes. The light in the sky gradually changes from a golden yellow to a golden orange and is finally gone.

As explorers of light, we constantly look for the three intertwined elements making up extraordinary light. Look for the color. Look for the quality. Look for the direction. Join the other explorers in their quest for the perfect light.

If you enjoyed this article on perspective and scale, you’ll enjoy my ebook titled The No-Nonsense Guide to Digital Photography. You can purchase it from this link and instantly download it for your digital photography reading pleasure.

Posted in Digital Photography 101, Digital Photography Videos Tagged , , , , , |

The Art of Photographing People

file000135076266When writing the profile article, much is added to it if you can include a photo or two of the subject. So, this issue’s column addresses how to shoot portraits. What is a portrait photo? Well, there are three kinds of portrait photos – posed, environmental and candid.

Posed

In the posed portrait, you, the photographer, control the pose, background and direction of light. When shooting these portraits, you will most likely use either a full face, three-quarter face or profile view.

A full face pose is usually not the best pose to use unless the subject has a perfect face, which few do. This pose can work well if you happen to be shooting young women having smooth milky complexions.

The three-quarter face pose will be one you will use the most. In this pose, the subject’s face is 45 degrees to the camera and both eyes are visible. This pose minimizes blemishes on the far side of the face.

The other pose you will use is the profile. With this pose, the subject’s face is 90 degrees to the camera and turned away from the camera until only one eye is visible. This is a very good pose if one side of the face is less desirable than the other. If the side of the face toward the camera is less than perfect, reduce the imperfection by using a diffuser filter. This filter gives a photo a slightly out-of-focus look.

The profile pose is also good to use if the subject has “chiseled” features. Natural sidelighting from a window will bring out the texture of the subject’s face and accent those features. Lighting can be either natural light filtering in through a window or off-camera electronic flash. To tone down natural light filter it through a sheer curtain if one is available.

Environmental

Another type of posed portrait is the environmental portrait. With this portrait, you are still controlling the pose, background and direction of lighting, however, you include more of the subject’s surroundings in the photo. The surroundings may be in the subject’s workplace or at home while the subject is engaged in their hobby. This type of portrait eliminates the problem of what to do with the hands. The content of the article will decide which type of portrait to shoot.

Backgrounds can add to or distract from a photo. In shooting portraits, the background should be very subtle and unobtrusive. Some simple backgrounds to use are plain wallpaper, a plain painted wall, or in a pinch, a blanket. Position your subject about four feet in front of the background and use about a f8 or f5.6 aperture. Focus on the eyes of the subject. These apertures will throw the background slightly out-of-focus so it won’t overpower the photo. For light colored skin, use a darker background. Conversely, for a dark colored skin, use a lighter background. Maroon is a great all-around background color. Use brightly colored clothes or props with subtle backgrounds.

When deciding the placement of the subject’s face in the photo, place it about in the center of the photo. Not exactly in the center, but close. Shoot both close in and farther out. Get headshots, three-quarter face, profiles and full figure shots.

When metering for the shot, use a gray card or meter off the subject’s face. If you do meter off the face, come in close, push your camera’s shutter button halfway down, note the reading in your camera’s TTL (Through-The-Lens) meter, drop back, adjust your camera to the readings you have just taken, recompose and shoot. For light skinned subjects open up one stop. For dark skinned subjects, close down one stop. Be sure and shoot both vertical and horizontal shots. Use a tripod and a cable release. This will allow you to concentrate on the composition and not have to worry about camera movement.

Always get a signed model, location or property release if anything is unique and recognizable in the photo. It will make your photos more marketable.

Candid

The last type of portrait is the candid. You can take some of the best people-photos when they don’t know you are photographing them. Shoot candids by photographing people doing something and not paying any attention to you. With natural lighting, you can shoot many photos without being discovered. If you are using a flash, you are limited to probably just one. Once the flash fires, the subjects know you are photographing them and they are more weary and not as spontaneous.

The next time you write a profile article, experiment with some of these portrait tips while interviewing the subject of your article. You’ll be surprised how much a portrait photo adds to a profile article.

Posted in Digital Photography Tips, Digital Photography Videos Tagged , , |

Digital Photography: How to Achieve Color Accuracy in Your Digital Images

DSCN0293

Gray card used to set Custom White Balance.

Accurate color rendition in images is an important aspect of digital photography. After all, if the color isn’t right, the whole image is off and your results will be unacceptable. While you can change the white balance in some image-editing software programs, such as Lightroom, the whole point of digital photography is to get as much correct at the time the image is created and then tweak it post-production. White balance places a big part in getting that color correct.

White Balance

White balance is important in all types of photography but probably more so if you shoot portraiture. Skin tones have to be spot on, especially if you are shooting for a client such as a wedding. Regardless if the skin tone is dark or light, if the white balance is off, the image won’t look right.

White Balance Presets

One of the tools most DSLRs have is white balance. Once you get into the White Balance feature, you’ll see there are some common settings called presets to match the ambient light to the light in your images. The theory is if the color white is right, the rest of the colors will be too.  And in most cases the theory holds true. Most likely, you’ll have at least these presets:

  • Automatic White Balance (AWB)
  • Daylight
  • Cloudy
  • Shady
  • Incandescent or Tungsten
  • Fluorescent
  • Flash
  • Custom

Many photographers starting out like to leave their white balance setting on AWB and in many situations, they will work just fine. But if you find under certain shooting situations, AWB doesn’t give you the color you want, then try one of the other presets that more closely match the color of the ambient light. Let’s take the Daylight setting for example.

The Daylight is designed to reproduce the color temperature when the sun is directly overhead. The color of light at this time of day midday looks very different that the light after sunrise and before sunset.

If you would like a color temperature in your images to be consistent with the daylight hue, then simply set your preset to the daylight setting. Here is a tip many photographers don’t know – If you want a warmer color in your images, then use the Cloudy or Shade setting instead of the Daylight. It is the same effect if you had used an 81B warming filter.

Color Temperature

Color temperature does not relate to Celsius or Fahrenheit. but is measured in degrees Kelvin. Daylight light is around 5,000 degrees Kelvin. Sunrise and sunset light can be around 3,500 degrees Kelvin as is light from household lamps using incandescent bulbs. If the lamp uses one of the newer CFLs, then use one of the Fluorescent settings.

As we said, most of the time one of the presets gets the color correct in a photo. But the color white can throw off your white balance setting due to the wide range of the color white. It can vary from intense bright to eggshell and everything in between. What do you do if you can’t get the right color of white? The answer is to do a custom white balance.

Custom White Balance

Custom white balance is designed to set your camera to accurately reproduce the unique light you are experiencing.  By adjusting your custom white balance, you will get very accurate color.  To set you Custom white balance setting, use a color reference card, such as a gray card. A gray card is simply a small card that is middle tone or 18% gray. Once the gray is right, the rest of the colors fall into place.

Once you shoot an image of a gray card,  you can then adjust your white balance setting to Custom. Your camera will ask you which image you would like to use to establish the color reference. Select the gray card image and that is the color reference your camera will use until you either change to one of the presets or set a new Custom color.

Changing the custom white balance setting varies from camera to camera, so it’s crucial to check your camera instruction manual to see how to set it on your camera. The process will be similar between most DSLR cameras.

Color management is one of the under utilized parts of photography at the time the image is created. Many choose to shoot on the AWB setting and then adjust it in post-processing. I prefer to get it right at the time of capture and minimize my time on the computer.

Posted in Digital Photography 101, Digital Photography Videos Tagged , , , , , , , |

Digital Photography – Framing a Scene

IMG_6054

Using a doorway as a frame.

Framing is a technique where you use something as a frame around your subject to draw the viewer’s eyes through the frame and to your subject; it is a way of focusing attention on your subject while hiding distracting elements around your subject. Framing can be something, natural or man-made, to partially or fully surround your subject or at least come in from one side and the top, thus framing on two sides. When first using framing, photographers make the mistake of not getting close enough to the subject. The subject has to almost fill the window created by the frame.

Natural framing could be overhanging tree branches, a gap between two boulders, a natural arch, etc. Man-made framing might be a doorway, arch, open window, bridge or a gap between buildings. By using framing in an image, you are restricting the field of view more than if you were not using a frame; framing restricts the number of elements in a scene, thereby drawing the viewer’s eye right to the subject.

For a flower shooting, try a different style of framing; capture flower images from their height. To do this, focus on the subject flower and select a small f-stop number for a very narrow depth-of-field. Position your camera so that there are flowers directly in front of and to the sides of the camera, but still a clear line of sight to your subject. Focus on your subject flower and shoot. The foreground flowers will be blurs of color while the subject will be in focus.

These out-of-focus flowers serve as a framing device thereby drawing the eyes to the focused subject. Remember, the human eye always goes to what is in focus. This technique works well if you have a young child sitting in a field of flowers.

Framing can also hide unwanted details in a scene such as power-lines, waste receptacles or anything attracting attention away from your main subject. By observing and trying different viewpoints, sometimes you can locate a frame that gets rid of these unwanted elements.

With framing, the direction of light is very important. If you are shooting with the sun to your back, in other words front lighting, the light will illuminate both the frame and subject. If the sun is from either side or coming from the back of the subject – back lighting, then your subject will be illuminated, but the frame will be a silhouette. Generally, it is better to spot meter your subject so it will be properly exposed and let the exposure of the frame fall where it may.

Framing adds a sense of scale to a subject. By using something for a frame that most people can associate with as far as how big that object is, the size of the subject or how far away the subject is from the camera becomes apparent. Without an object of a known size to relate to, the size or distance of the subject is harder to determine.

Framing is just another tool in your photographic toolbox. Learning how to use it will make the art of creating vibrant, exciting photographs enjoyable.

Posted in Digital Photography 101, Digital Photography Videos

Digital Photography: Polarizers Are Not Just for Blue Skies

REFLECT1Fact: As an outdoor photographer, you absolutely need to have one of these filters on your lens at all times. While you can Photoshop some things, it can’t do what a polarizer can do.

One of the biggest misconceptions new photographer have about polarizers is that they are only good for bluing up a sky. And that is one way to use them, however, there are three more uses:

  • remove reflections
  • saturate colors
  • act as a neutral density filter.

Remove Reflections

Because a polarizer can blank out light reflected off of surfaces, it allows the true color to come through. And while this works great when shooting through glass or other reflective surfaces, it  works great for nature photographers shooting moving water such as streams, creeks and rivers.

A polarizer is the key to great fall color photography. Leaves (especially when they are wet) reflect light. With a polarizer, you cancel all of that out. Without the reflected light, you capture the true colors.

Saturate Colors

Blue in a blue sky is the only color that a polarizer actually changes in hue. Other colors except white are not changed, but intensified. They go from dull to vivid. So even your muted earth tones of fall color “pop” out. Polarizers work great with rainbows by saturating the colors.

Act as a Neutral Density Filter

If you are shooting slow moving water in bright light, you may not be able to get the slow shutter speed you want to get the “cottony effect”. Using a polarizer acts as a two-stop neutral density filter.

The Best Ways to Use a Polarizing Filter

Here are a few more tips on the best ways to polarizers:

  • There are two types of polarizers available. For a DSLR, use a circular instead of a linear.
  • Rotate the front element to dial in the amount of polarization you need. Simply turn it till you think you have the best results.You’ll see the change in the viewfinder as you rotate it.
  • Polarizers don’t work well in cloudy situations, but work great in sunny and hazy skies.
  • Ideally, the sun should be at an angle of 90 degrees to where you are standing.
  • Polarizing filters work best when they are used with lenses longer than 35mm.

 

Posted in Digital Photography 101, Digital Photography Videos Tagged , , , , |

What’s In Your Camera Bag?

Tamrac Sling BagBeing this is a question I often get asked, I thought I would address it in a blog post. Basically I always ensure I have the following 8 items with me and then add in other items I might need specifically for the assignment I’m shooting.

1. Battery

Always carry a spare fully-charged battery, or a set of batteries if your camera takes more than one. If you use your LCD back screen or on-board flash a lot, it can eat up battery life quite fast in addition to the shooting you’ll do. So I always keep a spare battery in my bag and a spare set of batteries for my external flash.  I also refrain from turning my camera on and off a lot. My Canon 60D has an auto off feature that I have set for 5 minutes, so after that amount of time of not using it it goes into a sleep mode. Pressing the shutter button halfway down wakes it up and uses less power than re-powering it on from the totally off position..  With today’s digital camera, without battery power, you might as well pack up and go home, so always have backup power with you.

2. Spare memory card

It is not unusual for an image to take up to 20mb of room on your storage media card. And because I shoot both a JPEG and RAW with every press of the shutter I tend to use up media card room twice as fast. When you run into that once-in-a-lifetime shot, that is not the time to not have room for that one image of a subject or scene that you may never see again. And I never trust all my photos from one trip to just one memory card. I split the images up between at least two cards. That way if one card is defective, ruined, stolen dropped in the ocean, lost, etc, all my photos are not gone with it. I still have at least half of them on the other card.

3. Microfiber cloth

Without fail, every camera bag should have at least one of these. Not only can you clean off dust and dirt from a lens (very carefully I might add) or camera body, but they make a great wrap for your lens and/or flash to keep it from being scratched or damaged.

4. Lens

If you’re using a DSLR camera, keep a spare lens for it in your camera bag. Not only will it expand your image possibilities, but it will keep you shooting if your other lens gets damaged or quits working. I keep a 70-200mm on my camera and carry an 18-85mm as my spare. That way I have focal lengths covered from 18mm to 200m. Oh … and I also keep a polarizer on each lens. Not only does it protect the front element of my lenses, but it improves most of my images by using it.

5. Flash

While almost all DSLRs have on-board flashed I always carry an external one too. The only way to get rid of red-eye in photos is to have your flash at least 12 inches from your lens. The only way to accomplish that is with an external flash and a synch cord.

6. Plastic bag

If it has not happened to you yet, it will. You’ll be out shooting and get caught in a rain storm. While a plastic bag with a hole in the bottom for your lens to stick through will protect your camera and keep you shooting, there are also “rain coats” you can get for your camera. These are the ones I use.

7. Mini tripod

When carrying a full size tripod isn’t practical, I like to keep with me a travel or mini-tripod strapped to the outside of my camera bag. While not as sturdy as full size ones, they do provide a certain level of camera support that you wouldn’t otherwise have. They are perfect in low light situations or really anytime where you can’t handhold your camera to prevent camera shake.

8. Manual

This should be a no-brainer, but I see photographer’s out in the field all the time without their manual. You might be shooting and get an error code or you might want to use a function that you don’t often use and forgot how to do it. Things happen and if you have your camera manual with you, you can always look it up.

Posted in Digital Photography 101, Digital Photography Videos Tagged , , , , |