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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Time to Click: Last thoughts

As I close this series, I truly hope I have inspired, and taught each of you something that you didn't know before.
I have said it many time and I will tell you again in case you have missed it... I am an "explainer." That's my job. That's a passion. I LOVE to share my knowlage and give you the "why" not just tell you this is how you should do something... or tell you what a button does... but to paint you a picture of WHY you might want to use it!

This month was FULL of technical explanations, and loads of information... mostly so we have a place to build on together. I am focused and committed to expanding your photography world. I hope you will continue to be a part of the discussion and let me know what helped you, where you are still struggling... or even submit your images for review, and help! I LOVE doing that!

Now... I used to play a game with my class at the end of our basic photography series - So I thought I would do the same for you. Below are 5 images. Comment below, or send me an email (vertephoto at gmail dot com) 

Include: The name of the composition used (or compositions if more then one), and what type of mode (aperture, shutter speed, or scene mode) was most likely used. From the entries I will draw names and I will send you a surprise! Who doesn't like a surprise?

Here are the images: note: Not all of these are my images... some are simply awesome!







Good Luck!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Time to Click: Outdoor Family Photography

It's the last week in our special "Time to Click" series and we will be talking about putting together all that great information I have shared!

Today, lets talk Family Photos! Everyone does them, right? So let's take some of tips and put it all together: what do you need, and how do you get the best Family Photos? Here are my top 5 tips for great outdoor family photos!

1. Use your flash. We talked a lot about controlling your light. Using your flash outside helps fill in shadows and create an evenly exposed image.

2. Clean up the Background: Use a Portrait Scene Mode, or control your Aperture to blur your background.  You would never know there are people, and a sidewalk, with fence behind this little darlings head... 

3. Think about your focus area. Every camera can control the area of focus, either by the AF selection key, or by centering your lens on the subject, pushing the shutter halfway down to focus, then without letting your finger up, reposition your frame to control the composition (framing) of your image.

4. Composition / Posing. Going right along with checking your focus area, and repositioning your frame... utilize the rule of thirds (shown above) fill 2/3s of your frame with your subject to create interest. Or, use leading lines to draw interest to your subject... or lines in your posing with larger groups (shown below)! For more composition be sure to read yesterdays post!
Use Rule of Thirds to off center images

Create "leading lines" or use available lines to lead the eye to the subject
5. Understand Light and how to manipulate it. You might think I am cheating a little because I already told you to use your flash... but think about it. If you are taking images in the "cool" light of early morning, bringing along a warm reflector for your subjects will dramatically change your images. At the same time, shooting in the evening "warm" time of day where skin tones tend to pick up the orange and yellows of sunset... using a silver, or white reflector to cool balance that light... or even a reflector to BLOCK light so the sun hits the hair but not the face (see the rule of thirds image again)... dramatic differences!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Time to Click: Composition

Did you know there are basic rules that photographers follow... it's not all technical and functional!

Composition from Wikipedia is described as:  the placement or arrangement of visual elements or ingredients in a work of art or a photograph, as distinct from the subject of a work. It can also be thought of as the organization of the elements of art according to the principles of art.
The term composition means 'putting together,' and can apply to any work of art, from music to writing to photography, that is arranged or put together using conscious thought.

So to kick off our "putting it all together" week... I thought what better place to start then the real down and dirty... core element of photography... Composition. 

There are several "rules of composition" that photographers commonly follow. Here are some of my fav's! 

(I have posted some of this prior, if it seems familiar... this is a much more in depth and inclusive list)

1. Fill the Frame with your subject. (imagine if Dad was shown... it would really limit what you could see of baby! Plus it would make him look HUGE because she is SO small!)

 #2 If your subject is TALLER then they are WIDE, shoot VERTICAL

#3 If your subject is WIDER then they are TALL shoot horizontally

Note: If you cant get what you need with your camera's zoom or lens, use your physical zoom... YOUR LEGS! Move yourself closer or farther to be able to fit your subject!
Leading Lines: When we look at an image our eye is naturally drawn along lines. These lines can be made from a background such as a road, bricks, steps, as well as using people and your pose to create it!  Look for lines within your image to create interest and tell the viewer where to look! Check out your favorite scenic shot... I bet you find a leading line in it!

Lines from the elbows up to the topmost head
Perspective or Viewpoint: Before photographing your subject, take time to think about where you will shoot it from. Rather than shooting from eye level, consider photographing from high above, down at ground level, from the side, from the back, change it up!
Angled Down

Rule of 3rd's: Imagine you have a tic-tac-toe board over your frame. It is separated into 9 equal parts with 2 vertical and 2 horizontal lines. This rule says that you should position the most important elements in your scene along these lines, or at the points where they intersect. Filling either 1/3rd or 2/3s of your frame to do so.

NOTE! Some cameras even offer an option to superimpose a rule of thirds grid over the LCD screen! This is EXTRA handy when shooting anything with a horizon line so you can keep your perspective and horizon straight!

Balancing Elements: Sometimes having a subject on one side of the frame, may leave a lot of empty space on the other, and it may feel unbalanced especially in scenic photography. You can balance the "weight" of your subject my including another object of lesser importance to fill that space.

Symmetry and Patterns: Capturing a pattern, or symmetry in your image can make for breath taking views and amazing scenic photography. This image is framed amazingly, with a full square shown around the border, patterns in the windows and symmetry on both sides. Sometimes adding an item of interest or (in portrait photography) your subject into this will break the symmetry but create more interest.  I am hard pressed to find a better example of Symmetry and Pattern for you, however I wish the bucket was larger (or more preferred it was a little girl playing on the side of the steps) to better showcase the broken effect.

The symmetry of this chapel is broken by the bucket in the bottom right corner. Image by Fabio Montalto.
Framing Your Subject: While the above image does create it's own frame along the edge... Framing your subject typically applies to using things to highlight your subject. Utilizing natural elements or props to "frame" out your subject. Trees, holes, archways, shadows, grass, door frames... even real "frames"!

Background: The human eye is great at distinguishing between subjects and backgrounds. Your camera however does tend to flatten the image, and subjects tend to "get lost" into busy backgrounds. Creating images that are not as dramatic or engaging as the could be. You can control your background with aperture, backdrops, or even light placement to create the perfect image.

Example of a "lost" background opportunity.

Clean backgrounds make products pop!

Amazing baby... distracting background.


Well there you go... a more in-depth look at composition and how it will effect, change and improve your photography! Keep in mind, several of these images have more then one technique being used... besides the baby who's image I used twice, can you find some? Be sure to comment below and let me know!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Time to Click: The Strobe Flash

It's been a big week all about light and your flash! Today, were talking Strobes... what are they, why and how you want to use them!

So what makes a flash a strobe? What's the difference between a built in flash and a strobe flash?

To the first question, well I guess it depends on who you ask... many people seem to think that the term Strobe, is what you would find in studio photography exclusively.  The big lights that have stands or hang from the ceiling. While that is true, those are typically "strobe" lights, and they do flash, the term itself has evolved to more of a street or slang term for simply a light that fires on command (electronically) and syncs with the shutter of your camera.
Portable Flash: Attached and Detached

So, your flash on your camera that is built in, is also a strobe style. Flashing when commanded, rather then the continuous style lighting that stays on all the time like we talked about yesterday. The terms strobe, and flash are pretty interchangeable these days. And so you can have an on-camera flash, a small portable camera flash, a small portable off-camera flash, a low-powered monolight flash, or even an extremely powerful studio flash system, and they are all called electronic flash, and you can call any of them strobes as well!

Just for clarification, "strobe" flash, very different then a "strobe" light... which you would find in any cool 80's disco or hot techno club!
Flashes can be put on brackets to create more distance from the camera

The biggest difference between your built in flash and an additional flash, weather a studio strobe or a portable camera flash is distance and coverage. Which we have talked about before. However, there are several other practical and useful differences as well.  For our purposes today, since we already covered situations and settings for your built in flash, were going to talk about the portable off camera, or attached to your camera flash. While I wont be covering studio "style" strobes, know that these do fall under this category and work for the most part in the same way as a portable camera  flash. I will be sure to do more of a studio lighting class if any of you would like that.

Most of the time in today's world, a flash that can be connected to your camera on a hot shoe such as shown above is called a speedlight. The hot shoe, allows communication to your flash from the camera with electronic sensors.  The biggest thing you MUST know when you go to purchase one,is that if you are not getting one made by the same manufacturer as your camera you MUST get one that is made for your camera. A flash made for "Canon" will mount but will not work on a "Nikon".. or any other brand.

These all have on light modifiers, that bounce, or soften the flash
Next, I find it almost silly to purchase an additional flash with out a bounce, tip, and swivel, option.  If your spending the money anyways, these are very good controls and come in handy more often then you would imagine, once you know what they do.  Basically, bounce, tip and swivel allow you to be in control of where your light source is coming from. It doesn't always have to be directly at your subject! In fact there are occasions when you wouldn't want it directly on them!

Direct flash - creating red eye and darkening rest of image, also washing out cats true coloring due to over exposure.

By bouncing flash from ceiling, you remove red-eye, lighten the image, and show true coloring.

Bounce: So what does bounce/tip mean, and how do you do it? Simple, you tip the top section of your light towards the ceiling or a white surface - TIP: it is very important that it be WHITE, otherwise what ever color you are bouncing off of will overwhelm your image... because it will reflect that color of light back down.  You need to think about where you are standing and where you want your light to hit, think about your angles....

This also not only keeps your subject from being overexposed with too much light hitting them, but it can be very effective in eliminating harsh shadows as well!

Vertical shot, with flash attached and pointed straight on subject. Harsh shadow to the side due to light coming from left side

Vertical shot, with flash pointed at a white reflector up and to the left. This bounced light down, behind the subject as well as covering the front and side. Notice the shadow is much less harsh, and the exposure overall is much better.

Shot horizontally with flash tipped up to bounce off reflector and over entire front and back of subject. No shadow from prop.
Swivel: Now, having a flash that swivels is just as handy... this means you can bounce your light from the side... like what I talked about with using a single light and a reflector for a home studio solution... but it is great for taking shots of people as well.. since again, you control where and how much of the light will hit them, fall behind them, or fall in front of them. Since light is the best way to change the feel of an image and add dramatic effect... this gives you amazing abilities to effect your image!

Flash swiveled to the side towards wall... reflection to hit subject.

Bounced light from the left side for highlight

Location: Being in control of where you flash is located, as in being able to use it off camera, is a fantastic perk! Since light is the biggest effect you can have over creating a "feeling" and "story" with your images.

Slave Flash: As an added bonus, I can also use my flash to trigger my studio lights without effecting my image at all. By swiveling the flash head all the way behind so it's pointing over my head, it can trigger other lights set to a "slave" mode, meaning they fire when they see another flash burst. It works in a pinch for me, since I normally use a wireless remote trigger hooked directly to my studio lights. But for someone who doesn't have that device, or when I forget to pick up a spare battery... this is a great alternate option! Plus this works for other Speedlight style (don't forget thats just a common term for flash that attaches to your digital camera) flashes as well as studio strobes. I know plenty of photographers that have 2-3 Speedlights and use them as studio lighting, rather then bulky studio lights since they can also be set as slaves, and or triggered remotely making on-location studio's much easier to carry around.

Adaptability: These lights not only have good range, power, and provide you with the ability to manipulate that as well as angles and direction of your light, but they also offer you the ability to work with additional light manipulators. I have talked about this a little prior, in our Light 101 post.
These light reflectors, and diffusers are priceless when you are working with people and products. With these products in addition to your flash unit, there is an unending amount of possibilities for your images!

Reflector: Showing translucent, gold and Silver options...

Light Modifier's (umbrellas) for speedlight off camera

I certainly could not do what I do without having full control over my lights. Not only in how I can manipulate where the light is coming from, and how many I can use. But also, in how much output of light, or how powerful they are!

How your flash works:  For the common user, you will set your camera to some sort of  TTL (through the lens) metering option, and your camera will "talk" to your flash to evaluate the light in the scene and they will work together to expose your image correctly.

Additional modes you may find on your additional flash may be, (not all Speedlights let you set all these modes):
    • TTL (Through The Lens): The light from a pre-flash reflected by the centre subject is metered by a sensor in the camera and flash power is adjusted accordingly to expose the centre subject is correctly.
    • TTL BL: Like TTL, but the algorithm used by the in-camera computer to figure out the flash power setting is more complex and takes additional data into consideration.
  • Auto
    • A (Auto): The light reflected by the scene is metered by a sensor inside the flash itself and this measure used to determine flash power level.
    • AA (Auto Aperture): The same as A, but automatically adjusts the aperture setting on the flash to match the aperture on the camera.
  • Manual
    • M (Manual): The flash power level is set explicitly by the user.
    • GN (Distance Priority Manual): The power level is derived from the distance to main subject, as set by he user.
    • RPT (Repeating): Like M, but the flash fires repeatedly during a single exposure.

The more you learn about your flash, and your camera the more you will be able to manipulate the look and feel of your image when shooting it. Which in my book, is the essence of a photographer! That happens when the shutter clicks, not in "post production", at least in my world.

Luckily flashes also come with manuals - I would suggest you hang on to yours since we will continue to grow on this core post and talk more about how to use the manual modes, as well as the other accessories you may have gotten with your flash, and ones you may want to add! For now, I hope you can see where it could be a huge benefit to your photography to add this to your collection of "must have" items in your camera bag and hopefully I have inspired you to grow a bit in your photography world! Next week we will be ending our Time to Click series by putting together some of the lessons we have had in the past few weeks, into practical situations.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Time to Click: Additional Flash for the Point and Shoot

We are debunking a popular myth about point and shoot camera's today!

Every camera comes with a flash these days. We have already talked about how they can vary from camera to camera and you know that you can add a flash to many bridge and DSLR camera's. But did you know one of the most popular myths in photography is that you can't use flash, or additional lights with a point and shoot camera?

Since some cameras allow separate flash units to be mounted via a standardized "accessory mount" bracket or "hot shoe" which is located on the top side of camera, many people assume you need a mount in order to use additional flash.

You can see the metal hot shoe on the very top of the camera

In fact this is just one style of flash called a Strobe Flash.  These strobes style flashes are only on when triggered. You can use them attached to your camera or off camera as shown below... or together!

Camera with attached flash, and an additional light that can be used off camera for additional lighting
However, any camera can benefit from using additional light sources, and there are tools available to make it super easy! The biggest part is understanding your camera, and what you are trying to shoot, so you can make the best choice for your situation.

For the point and shoot, or bridge camera's that do not have an option for an attached flash you can still pick up something called a "slave" flash. Basically it fires when it senses your on camera flash firing, adding additional light to your scene. Many times you can pick up a slave flash and a mount that will connect it to your tripod mount for under $100. Find one for your camera brand if it isn't made for your camera brand it may not function at all for you. Like for example it will say on the packaging:  Zeikos (the flash brand) for Nikon.

This bracket one can be found on newegg.com
 Keep in mind, these are based on old school manual flashes, so you may have to learn how to set it for distance and power. It's not a perfect system, and you will have to use it and experiment to really get the hang of it all. But it can really come in handy if you find yourself standing too far away from your subjects and needing those few extra feet, or needing to overcome things like red eye or harsh shadows. Since the flash would be farther way from your lens and larger covering more distance and spread, it solves those issues perfectly. Oh, and its a portable option so good for travel, and more people based photography. 

If you are doing more product style photography, you have a MUCH better option tho. Flashes tend to be really harsh, and may even cause your image to look blurry due to reflection of the light. Plus having to use your flash on your camera to trigger the other doesn't help your situation for Marco photography, or controlling your light sources.  For you, a Continuous light, or "hot light" would be my suggestion.

Continuous light, or video lights are often referred to as "hot lights' because they are always on, and put off a lot of heat. Bad for babies, kids, and chocolate, and  I don't suggest the hot lights for adults, in case your wondering... because you tend to get really grumpy results after sitting under them for any length of time.  However, these are very practical for almost any kind of product photography that doesn't involve something that would melt. Part of that practicality is that you can see shadows and glare on your items prior to shooting, and make adjustments! 

Small tabletop with multiple backgrounds and small lights
Continuous light kits for product photography are made in about every price range, style and size... since the light is on all the time you can use your white balance to adjust for the temperature of light, since they all vary. (see our past post on Light 101, and white balance) You will need to command your flash off, so it doesn't get in the way, but after that and setting the WB you should have good success!

 Now, you can get larger or smaller kits depending on your product. I like the ones with some sort of diffusion on the lights to prevent glare like the ones shown in the first image, and spread the light more evenly.  However, even the small table top kit shoots though the box, which diffuses the light. If your looking for a kit like this send me a message I have some strong feelings about some online companies that I have had good luck with, and some that I will NEVER use again.

But back to topic, continuous lighting isn't really portable so you wont be carrying this set up around with you to Aunt Cindy's wedding or anything. But you can get large "studio" looking versions if you want to use them for family portraits indoor and such.
LED style lights
Plus, with LED lights and new technology you even have some cooler options available so it becomes practical as well making the "hot lights" a thing of the past. Depending on what you purchase, you can set up your own home studio easily enough! But that again, is a post for another day!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Time to click: Red eyes

While we are talking about flash this week... I thought I would take a few moments to explain why you get Red eye, (or pet eye sometimes called eye-shine - with the green or white reflections in animals), and a few ways you can prevent it!

First, lets look at what the science is behind Red Eye's.

Red-eye's in photos are effectively the reflection off of the back of an eye.  Typically you will notice them in lower light situations, or when an intense flash is used. The Flash enters the pupil from a direct angle, and reflects off the blood vessels in the back of the eye. That light then exits the eye headed back to the camera.  The closer the flash is to the lens (like shown above) the more direct the reflection path is back to the lens....

So how do you reduce, eliminate, or fix Red-eyes?

1. Change the position of your flash.

When the flash is moved away from the lens it hits the reye at an angle, and reflects back at an angle as well... just like the ball in a game of pool hitting the edge of the table. So the further away your light sorce is from your lens, the less you will have red eye from your camera to start with.  By using a flash with a bounce option you will see a drastic change in your end result.
Not only do you see the rest of the room.. but there is no more red eyes!

This is great with cameras that have an attached flash, or the ability to use an additional flash, but if you don't you will need to be more creative in your solutions!

2. Turn on Additional Lights in the room! The less intense your flash is the less chance of red eye as well. If you have the abilty to ADD light to your situation this will lessen your need for flash (or the intensity of it) and it will allow your subjects pupils to contract. Smaller pupils mean less light coming into the pupil and less light being reflected back out!

3. Use Red-eye reduction flash function.

Yep! It's what we just reviewed yesterday, and it is a functional option. The theory is that it will give eyes a chance to adjust to the brighter light allowing pupils to contract, before the flash fires. Just be sure to warn your subjects.

4. Change YOUR shooting angle.
Just because you can't change where your flash is, doesn't mean you can't change the angle of where your flash is hitting an eye! Grab a chair and shoot down at your subject, (more flattering then kneeling shooting up at them! Trust me, no one likes images shot up their nose). Or move to the left or right and have everyone look slightly over your shoulder not directly at the camera!

5. Kick up your  ISO setting.
Bet you didn't know you could change your film speed on a digital camera did you? ha! In truth its still called ISO, but its really the sensitivity of your chip and how they see light that your changing. Just like in film, the higher the number the better it is in lower light situations... but also the more "grain" or in digital terms "noise" your image will have. Typically your camera on "auto ISO" will shoot the lowest number available for the lighting situation. If your overriding.. no need to go crazy a 400 or 800 is usually just fine for most indoor situations where your still using flash. Yes, your flash will automatically know of this change and compensate by not being so intense... there for reducing your red eye!

6. Shoot, and Edit later.
Any photo editing or viewing software worth ANYTHING, has some sort of basic red eye removal tool. I personally don't like suggesting you do anything that REQUIRES you to have to spend time editing. However, it is a real option and you can choose to do it. Just promise me, like cropping you will do this on your computer for better results, no need to make your camera do it! (Yes, some have the option to do small edits like this in the camera.)

Eye Shine: While effectively the same as red eye in humans, eye-shine or pet eye is typically greenish or clear. Because some animals have the addition of a reflective layer behind the retina.  This layer is called the tapetum lucidum (Latin for “bright tapestry”).  The obvious advantage of this design is the increased availability of light for the retina. The draw back, making for poor pet photos.

This effect causes an equally haunting iridescent glow in the eyes (typically green).  Take a normally cute and cuddly creature and photograph them with a harsh flash and they will look absolutely demonic. It is also the effect behind the “deer in the headlights” look. So why, do you ask did the cat at the beginning have red eyes? Because blue eyed cat's tend to reflect red. In fact, my red tipped Siamese will shine red in regular house lights... no flash needed. Creepy right?

Unfortunately they don't like all the above solutions so well.. especially telling them where to look.  Fortunately, all the same things will work! You just have to find one your pet wont mind sitting still for!