How to shoot a portrait on a black background
For years I've been playing with the idea of teaching photography. In lieu of doing that, I've decided to write a series of articles about some of my favorite images.
The first image that I am going to talk about is an image that I took of my son, Kyler last week. He wanted a headshot of himself for online soccer profile at CaptainU, which is a college recruiting tool for high school kids.
I felt like doing something that would little more entertaining for me, so I came up with a simple concept, that requires a little work to do. My idea was to put him on a black background and bring in some hard lights on either side from behind and then fill in the front after the back lights were set.
Here is the final image. You can see the light coming in from both sides onto his face highlighting his head, shoulders and arms from behind. There is also the light filling in from the front to give a more even illumination to his face and uniform on the front.
Every photographer likes to talk about gear and settings. Here is the gear I used to create the image. A Canon 5D Mark 3. A Sigma 50mm 1.4 HSM, which is the previous version and not the new Art version. There are three Canon 600EX RT flash units, a Canon ST-E3 RT, various light stands and a black background.
Here is the setup when I started working. I used Honl reflectors as Gobos so the light from the flash units in the back wouldn’t hit the front of the lens and cause flare. Those units in the back were set at about 1/8 power and zoomed to about 50mm and the on in the softbox in the front was about the same, but was putting out less power because of the softbox and the zoom being set at 24mm, both of which cut power. The softbox is by SMDV.
Here is what the image looked like with a Straight Out of Camera JPG. You can obviously see where the edges of the background were in the photograph. I was very careful to keep my subject entirely on the background, but let the edges of the background show because it was all going to end up black anyway.
In Lightroom, I adjusted all the level how I wanted. Then I got to work in photoshop. I removed the area outside of the black background, and made it all a clean black, retouched his skin, removed the bags under his eyes because school and soccer don’t allow for enough time to sleep, and soften his skin a bit. I also slightly enlarged his eyes, which is a great tip. Everyone likes their eyes to be a bit bigger. I rarely tell people when I do this, but everyone I’ve done this for likes their photograph much better even if they don’t know why.
And there you have it. One headshot with about two hours of work from the start of setup to final retouching.
Let me know if there is a specific image you want me to talk about. Thanks for reading!
There is nothing like it in the world for a photographer. The day the new gear arrives! I recently bought three Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT. I also bought ST-E3-RT controllers by a brand called Yongnuo.
Nothing like the sweet smell of new plastic as you open your new gear!
When I buy new gear, I try to be able to justify it in terms of my business. I have to do this because I have an affliction called GAS - Gear Acquisition Syndrome - that tries to force me to buy all the latest gear all the time without thought for how much it costs! To combat my GAS, I have come up with four questions that I must be able to answer to the little accountant in my head. The questions are as follows.
- Will it help directly help make more money?
- Will it help me make more dynamic images for my portfolio that will lead to making more money?
- Does it make my job easier/quicker/lighter to carry?
- Do the advantages justify the cost?
[/list] As you can see, the little accountant in my head is no pushover. He is a right mean little man with no idea of the amount of fun it is to play with new toys.
Before I talk about the new gear, I want to tell you a little about photographic history and the flash equipment that I have used in the past. I started out with a mix of Canon and cheap off-brand flashguns. I would use the Canon Speedlite on the camera with a big Pocketwizard radio trigger to fire a manual flash on the dance floor or to set up backlighting that was fired by the pocketwizard. It worked. it was kind of bulky and clunky, but it worked.
Then I moved on to using a combination of Canon Speedlites with a Canon ST-E2, Radiopoppers and manual flashguns. The Radiopoppers allowed me to have eTTL for my main light off camera. I loved my Radiopoppers. I could have a smaller, lighter trigger on my camera (the Canon ST-E2) and the advantages of radio reliability. For those of you that don't know, Canon has had a very cool line-of-sight optical slave system. It allows you to use multiple flashguns with different power settings and eTTL automatic flash. However, if someone stepped in front of one of the Speedlites or if you were outside where the light was bright, things wouldn't fire right. So it was far too unreliable. Radioppers are amazing pieces of engineering. They take the settings on the flash and convert them to radio waves, then convert the radio waves to pulses of light to tell the slave flashguns what to do. I was thrilled with them. However, because of the complexity of the system, sometimes things went wrong and it was hard to tell what was going on. This doesn't mean they didn't work right 95% of the time, but rather that the 5% when things were being inconsistent, it was really frustrating. With there being an extra device on the transmitter and on each receiver, there was also additional battery management and troubleshooting issues on rare occasions. The most common was that I got everything ready to go and it didn't fire right because I forgot to turn on one of the 4-6 devices.
Then Canon came out with their Speedlite 600EX-RT and I was incredibly excited. It took all the features of my Canon and Radiopopper combined system and put them all into single units rather than requiring two pieces at each location. It also added the ability to adjust the power in either eTTL or manual remotely, and the ability to control up to 5 different groups of flashguns rather than three. All very cool. However, my excitement dimmed dramatically when I read that the controller unit, the ST-E3-RT did not have an autofocus assist lamp. I use that at every wedding I shoot to make sure my camera can focus in the dark. "ARGH!!!" I yelled in my best pirate voice. "Me mates at Canon are idiots!" So close, but so far.
I had basically resigned myself to continuing indefinitely with my previous system of Canon/Radiopopper combination. I was not willing to change the way I work for added convenience and ease of use. But boy did I want the new system. I even made some compelling arguments to the strict little accountant in my head. But I couldn't justify it without that one little feature.
Finally, the solution to my problem came about. However, it was not by Canon, but rather by a Chinese manufacturer of knock-off photo products called Yongnuo. Yongnuo has a reputation of creating good products, but with cheaper materials. However, they have been improving their quality. But they did offer a product that did everything I wanted the Canon version to do and a bit more. In addition to having the AF assist beam, it also works with older cameras and other brands besides Canon, though in manual mode only.
So, I bit the bullet, told the little accountant to take a chill pill and bought my new toys that I am going to claim as tools.
Now I have them, how do they work?
With this image, I put up a pop-up black background (Impact by B&H) and put up three lights. Then I started to play with my lights. This is with two speedlites high and behind at about 45 degrees. They were zoomed to 50mm and power was adjusted remotely! Awesome. Worked perfectly. Even when I switched to another camera and ST-E3-RT with completely different setting. That is a big deal. With some other flash systems, whoever fired the flash last gets the settings. With these, the settings are sent out each time before they fire.
A big shout-out to West Coast Goalkeeping. They make awesome keeper gloves for about half the price of comparable gloves from other manufacturers. That is a big deal for me. I have two keepers in the house (this is the smaller of the two). Keeper gloves don't generally last that long, but I am finding that the West Coast gloves last longer in addition to being cheaper. Plus, they are a local Seattle company.
Back to the photography, these are all taken with mixing eTTL and manual, or all manual, or all eTTL just changing things up to try out the gear.
Changed the lighting a bit for this one. Turned down the speedlites in the back and moved the softbox in the front to the side a bit more.
And finally a product shot. For this, the speedlites in the back were on the ground rather than high. I also took the flash in front out of the the softbox and have the harsh, direct light skimming across the front to show the texture int he shoe.
And here is the behind the scenes of the "product" shot.
So I finally have the flash gear that I always wanted. There is a bit of a learning curve. They do so much that it can be a little confusing about which button to press to do what you want. I should have that sorted quickly as I use them. Other than that I have nothing but high praise for my new gear so far!
I recently returned from a trip to Walt Disney World with my family. Below is a photograph of the castle during the fireworks show. With everything I know about photography, this image should be too blurry to use. However, that didn't stop me from trying to get it!
First I'll tell you the reasons that this should not have turned out. It was taken with a cheap camera - Sony NEX C3 with a kit 18-55mm lens that sells used on eBay for about $250. Fireworks also require a tripod because you need a shutter speed of at least 1/2 second to get any trails on the fireworks. Together, those things should have made this image impossible to get with me standing in the crowd.
One thing I did have going for me was the image stabilization built into the lens. Beyond that, I just took a ton of images totally expecting to only get a few keepers. Of the 75 images I shot, I would say there are about 7 keepers. Higher than I would have expected in trying this!
There are some techniques that help in capturing images with slow shutter speeds without resorting to a tripod. If you are using an SLR or other camera with a viewfinder of some kind, press the camera to your face with your elbows tucked into the middle of your chest. If you are using a camera without a viewfinder, shorten the neck strap and press gently away from you at the limit of the strap, but not at the limit of your arms' reach. You can also put a shoulder on a stationary object like a light pole or wall, or rest your camera hand on a railing. I have found that, rather than holding my breath, I get the most sharp images by gently exhaling while pressing the button. Also, use the motor drive and take lots of photographs. If you can shoot several consecutive photographs, I have found that the second or third in the series is usually sharpest, but rarely the first or last.
For the techinical details: Sony NEX c3 with 18-55mm lens set to 18mm (27mm equivalent) at f5, 8/10 of a second, ISO 400.
This is not to brag about me, but rather encourage amateur photographers to try out stuff that isn't supposed to work. You never know, you might get something worth keeping!
The Canon 5D Mark III
I love cameras. All shapes and all sizes. New, old, glossy, matte, fit-in-pocket or requiring a truck. They all have their things to love, things to hate, quirks and mysteries. I never pass up the opportunity to play with something new to make comparisons, judgments and just for the fun of it.
Last year I bought a Canon 5D Mark III. This time the camera was purchased to fill a need, or actually a bunch of needs. You see, I’m a wedding photographer in Seattle. Now most people consider wedding photography to be a singular specialty, but I disagree. I think to be an excellent wedding photographer, you have to be good at photographing anything.
On a single day, a wedding photographer produces landscape, architecture, still life, portrait and documentary images. They all have to be done well, in a shortened time period and done right the first time. To this end, I need a camera that does everything well in a package small enough to carry around for 8 hours at a time.
Canon 5D Mark III used for a wedding portrait in the Seattle area.
Having had the 5D Mark III for almost a year, I am ready to share my thoughts, but you should know what cameras I have used in the past that I am using for comparison. The following list is only cameras that served as my primary or main backup camera and roughly in order.
- Pentax ME Super
- Nikon FM2
- Contax 139
- Konica ST-1
- Nikon 8008
- Nikon FE-2
- Nikon F3
- Canon 10s
- Hasselblad 501cm
- Pentax 645
- Bronica 645 ETRSi
- Canon 10D
- Canon 20D
- Canon 30D
- Canon 40D
- Canon 5D
- Canon 6D
Looking at the list above, you may notice one major missing piece - the Canon 5D Mark II, or the second generation Canon 5D2. The reason for that is that I felt the classic was missing one component from being the perfect stills camera. That is the Autofocus system. With the introduction of the 5D2, Canon left photographers with the same AF system that they had been complaining about for three years with the Canon 5D.
There is a lot to like about the 5D3. Coming from the original 5D (or 5D classic as it is sometimes called), the first thing to talk about is the Autofocus system. It is excellent. It is also the primary reason for my purchase of the 5D3.
Canon 5D Mark III with a 24 1.4L for getting ready image in a dark room at ISO 1600.
Honestly, I did not feel the Classic was lacking in image quality in any way. I’ve done billboards, double page spreads in a 14x18 book, and 3 foot by 4 foot wall portraits from the 5D Classic. In my opinion, the original 5D is one of the greatest cameras of our time and you can see how it changed photography when it arrived as the first sub-$5,000 full frame camera. The achilles heel of the classic was the Autofocus system. It worked great as long as you used it a certain way. That is to only use the center AF point in single shot mode. To use the outside focus points or to use servo AF system for tracking a moving object was to invite inconsistent results.
So back to the 5D3 Autofocus system. It is the best I’ve used. Easily. All of the AF points work well, they are widely spaced across the frame, and it is easy to move the AF point. And did I mention they work? In your choice of single or servo mode? My biggest gripe with the 5D classic was fixed. A really good autofocus system in a fairly small body, my dream had been realized!
Canon 5D Mark III using the full 6 frames per second for the bridesmaids' plunge. Looks like daylight. ISO 2500.
The image quality also exceeds the original 5D. It has very similar color rendition, which was one of the great things about the 5D. It is also far more capable in low light with it’s low noise output at high ISO. And very sharp images, if a little larger than necessary.
With just these points, it is my holy grail of a camera. I didn’t care about the rest at all. Until I tried it...
During a worship session at a Ethiopian wedding reception. This is the father of the bride at ISO 3200.
There are a few other features about the 5D3 that I love, but did not know how important it would be for me. The first of these is the silent shutter mode. When you use this, instead of making a loud snap and aggressive whir like it does in the full-speed 6 frames per second mode, in the silent mode it makes a little snick followed by a very quiet urr sound. Snick-urr mode. I love it.
It is so quiet, that I sometimes have people ask if I took the photograph they were waiting for me to take - they can’t hear it. This is a big deal for me. I can take photographs without people noticing more easily and that is a great thing for me especially in a church during a wedding ceremony.
The next is a new button on the camera. Actually it is an old button that has been moved, enlarged and made more useful. The button is the depth-of-field button. It used to be this little tiny button on the left side of the lens mount. What it did was that it made the aperture adjust to the f-stop that your camera was set to so you could see what was going to be in focus and what was going to be out of focus. In the days of film this was a very useful little button. Otherwise you couldn't see what your depth of field was going to be until you processed your film a week or so later. With digital, you could just click the shutter and check it on the back of the camera, so it was rather obsolete. Also, if you accidentally hit it, all your flashes would freak out for a second, which was the most common use of the button for me. But it never occurred to me that they might change it, because I assumed some people like it.
Bride praying during a Catholic mass. Canon 5D3 at ISO 2000.
With the 5D3, Canon made a couple of changes. The enlarged the button, moved it to the opposite side of the camera, and they made it mappable. That means that I could choose the function that the button controlled. Actually, a lot of the functions of the camera can be assigned to other buttons, which makes the camera very customizable.
This new depth of field button has one possible function that I would recommend to anyone that owns the camera. That is it allows you to toggle between single shot and servo AF. To understand what that is, imagine that someone is standing still. You are shooting in single shot AF because it is the best mode for still subjects. Then he starts walking or running towards you. To get sharp images, you need to be in servo AF where it will track his movement. Instead of taking the camera down off your eye and pressing a button while rotating a dial to the appropriate setting, now you can just reach down with your ring finger of your right hand and hold down a button. As long as you hold it, you are in servo AF. Awesome. I use this all the time. Very cool feature that would never have occurred to me to ask for.
Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 12,800. This is a torture test for camera gear. One spot of bright light, with everything else underexposed darkness and incredibly low color temperature.
The next feature comes with an admission. I have trouble getting perfectly straight horizon lines. The most common reason I crop my images is that the horizon is just slightly off of being straight across. It has been annoying me for years. Canon has a very cool solution for that. They have made it possible to have grid lines when you look through the camera. They are lined up along the rule of thirds if you have heard of that. It makes it so much easier to get the horizon straight. I have found it helps even when I am not thinking about it.
Micro-adjustments is also an incredible feature. This is something that was introduced a few years ago on some of Canon’s bodies. They tweak the AF system to work best with each lens you own. Every lens seems to be just off of being perfectly adjusted which can result in either expenses to have it perfectly adjusted, or slightly off-focus images. the 5D3 is my first camera with this feature. While the results tend to be subtle, it is noticeably better focus accuracy.
Canon 5D Mark III during the dancing at a Seattle wedding. ISO 8000.
Finally, my final feature that I am going to talk about is weatherproofing. I live in Seattle. If you haven’t heard, it rains here sometimes. Well, a lot of times. It usually doesn’t rain that hard or that long (light showers for 15 minutes out of every hour for several days at a time is quite common). I have used my cameras in a light drizzle many times. I also have raincoats for my gear. However, it is still stressful to take it out in the rain. Now, not as much. I know that it can handle it.
Everyone always wants to know about image quality. Quite simply, it rocks. Always. In any lighting conditions. Even if you have to shoot at ISO 12,800. At high ISO the 5D3 has very low noise characteristics. The noise is also grainy like sandpaper (which is what you want) rather than patterned, blotchy or tadpole shaped. I shoot RAW and use Lightroom and that will make a difference in what you see. In the daylight, it still rocks. Looks great.
So what don’t I like about the 5D3. Hmmm...much harder to make a list.
I wish the camera was a bit lighter. I love the way it is built like a tank, but every ounce counts when you are going to hold it (or have it hanging off of you) for 8-12 hours at a time.
I wish the files were more compact. I love the amount of detail and the quality of the file, but I dislike the way it eats my hard drives for lunch. The big file size compelled me to buy a faster computer. That was expensive. And more hard drives. And a blu-ray burner for backups. So, basically, it cost me a couple grand in accessories.
It is slightly slow to focus when using an AF assist beam from an attached flash or in my case a ST-E2. Strange.
Comparisons to other cameras.
I have used and examined files from the Nikon D600, D700, and D800. They are all great cameras. The D700 is obviously a camera generation earlier, but it still a great camera. I personally prefer the user interface of Canon, but that is completely personal preference and my comfort with the Canon system.
They all have good AF systems, but the 5D3 equals them in that area.
They all have excellent image quality. However, I find that for me, the 5D3 meets or exceeds the quality that they provide. Which is interesting that DxOMark, an online tester of gear, rates Canon sensors well below their Sony and Nikon counterparts. I find the opposite to be true. I find that I am able to get better, more consistent results with my Canon. It may be that I am doing something that is sub-optimal in the processing of the Nikon images. My advice, though, is don’t judge a camera by DxOMark alone.
Specifically, the D800 has huge files that I am glad I don’t have to deal with. While it provides excellent in-studio or outdoor image files, I have found the files at higher ISO to be superior from the 5D3, but maybe not as much as I expected given the resolution. So depending upon your needs and uses, the D800 is a valid competitor, but not as much for me.
The D600 is an interesting camera. It has great image quality and a very small form-factor for a full-frame camera. Like the D800, it performs quite admirably in good light. Even in dim light it performs well. However, I found the image files to be less sharp in general. Also at high ISO it was at least one stop behind the performance of the 5D3 while also having a slightly squiggly grain structure that looked less like sandpaper (my preference) and more like tadpoles. This could be me not being as familiar with the processing settings that I needed to use. I know that I do have up the contrast quite a bit on the D600 files to get them to my taste.
Compared to the Canon 6D...I just bought one of those. You’ll have to wait until I review it sometime in the future.... :)
My conclusion with the 5D3. It is the best camera for me that I have ever used. It does everything well. It has no real flaws in it’s game except AF assist light focusing. There is no situation that I feel like another camera is needed. I can do sports photography, in-studio, portraits, low light journalism, discrete image making, or anything else that I can think of. Sometimes a specialized camera might be better for some things, but no other camera that I would choose for shooting a wide-ranging and every-moving event like a wedding. The ultimate jack-of-all-trades while being excellent at all of them. Kind of like what I try to do with my photography. I can’t think of anything else that I would want in a camera at anytime in the future. However, I’m sure the camera companies will do something to make me want something new soon!
This article also has a permanent spot on my Photography Articles page. Check it out! Before I get into this article, I wanted to tell my thought process in writing it.
I decided I was going to be a photographer when I was 15. That was almost 27 years ago. In that time I’ve gathered a lot of knowledge about photography since it is both my passion and my life’s work. But it is not organized in any neat format in my head, it is just kind of there when I need it. This is great for me, but it poses a problem when I try to explain my thoughts or teach other people about photography, which I’ve wanted to do for a number of years.
This year, I am training my daughter to be a photographer. Whether that is a long-term, forever sort of career or a college job, I don’t know yet. What I do know is that there is so much that I want to convey, that I have a hard time with making it coherent to her. So, when I was thinking about how to give her a solid base to work from, I thought about the things in this article. Hopefully, I can convery the thoughts well enough to help out beginners and even the thought-processes for more advanced amateurs. Feedback is welcome, and I will be happy to update this article if it needs to be clarified!
In the days of yore and film, a camera was a dumb box with a fancy mechanism that controlled the shutter timing. All it did was expose film to light. It didn’t try to do any of your thinking for you.
The bad part of this is that it didn’t help you with making your photographs better. The good part was that you never had to guess what it was thinking.
I’m personally very thankful that modern camera do so much more now, and there is no false nostalgia for the film days from me. The difference between old fashioned film cameras and modern cameras is similar to how a computer is better than a typewriter. The computer allows you to do so much more, but it is certainly easier to figure out how to use a typewriter than it is a computer.
To really start to take control of your photography, it is sometimes a little easier to make your camera back into the dumb box. You don’t have to do this permanently, but it can help with understanding what is going on without all the complications that all the cool new features have added. To make your camera into a dumb box, switch the mode dial to “M” for manual. You may have to look up your camera’s user guide to figure out how to do that.
To get to the point, there are three main controls on every camera ever made that control what a photograph will look like. They are the Shutter Speed, the Aperture and ISO setting. Each does something separate, but changes the way the others move like choreographed dancers on stage.
The Shutter Speed is very easy to understand. It is how long the sensor (or film) is exposed to light. Shutter Speeds are commonly talked about in fractions. Common Shutter Speeds would be 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000, etc. What they are talking about is fractions of a second. So 1/1000 really is 1/1000 of a second that the sensor is exposed to light. You will also notice that moving one position will cause the the number to double or half. So, 1/60 of a second is allowing in half the amount of light to hit the sensor that 1/30 of a second allows. This doubling or halving of the light hitting the sensor is one “stop”.
An example of a slow shutter speed. You can see how the glowsticks are blurred from movement. I also cheated and used a flash to make Tony sharp.
Shutter Speed also controls the amount of motion blur in a photograph. So you have to decide is you want a longer shutter speed and more motion blur, or a faster shutter speed and less motion blur. To give you some ground rules, slower than 1/60 of a second there will be motion blur in normal human activities like walking and dancing. When photographing athletic events, 1/500 might be necessary and race cars would need things more in the 1/2000 range. You can get some very cool effects by using a slower shutter speed. Depending on what you are photographing, you may need a tripod to use slow shutter speeds.
Here is a frame from a UW soccer match. This image was taken a 1/640 of a second. It is sharp except for foot and the soccer ball that still have motion blur at that shutter speed!
The second point on the exposure triangle is the Aperture. Sometimes call the f-stop, the Aperture is the size of the hole in the back of the lens. A bigger hole lets in more light. A very similar idea is that bigger windows let in more light into your living room than small windows.
Common Aperture or f-stop settings would be f1.4, f2.0, f2.8, f4.0, f5.6, f8.0, f11, and f16. Each number is 1.4x the number before it (2x1.4=2.8, 2.8x1.4=4.0, etc.). This is also how the area of a circle works, which is what the f-stop numbers are based on. Each time you increase the diameter of a circle by 1.4, the surface area of the circle is doubled. When you double the surface size of a circle, you let in twice as much light.
Here is a candid portrait of Patrick Dempsey on the day he bought Tully's coffee. I used shallow depth of field so that he would stand out from the background. This was shot at f1.8.
The creative effect of changing your aperture is that you change how much of your image is in focus. This is called depth of field. The lower the number, the more shallow the depth of field and less of the image is in focus. This is also affected by the size of the sensor. A larger sensor will have less depth of field than a small sensor would have at a given aperture. That is why (if you can get a sharp image) cell phone cameras have almost everything in focus from the front edge of the image to the back.
Here is an example where I wanted a little more depth of field. This was taken at f5.0.
Because they work together, the shutter speed and aperture quite often move together like dancers doing the Tango. As one goes forward, the other goes back. As you increase your shutter speed (letting in less light), you have to open up the aperture to let in more light.
The third piece of our triangle is the ISO. In olden times, this was called the film speed. You would buy a roll of film and it has an ISO rating on it of 100, 200, 400, 800, or 1600. Now with modern sensors, this is just a setting on the camera to tell it how much you want to ramp up the sensitivity. It also comes in much bigger numbers as in 3200, 6400, 12,800, 25,600, and 51,200. And that constantly blows my mind. It is so cool and awesome to be able to make images at those high ISO’s.
The way it works is that each time you double the ISO, you are doubling the sensitivity to light. So ISO 400 requires ¼ the light that ISO 100 does for the same settings. So instead of having to get a tripod out for a shot, you can just change the ISO and hold the camera in your hand. It’s like magic. But it is magic with a cost.
When you increase the ISO, what you are basically doing is adding more power to the sensor (or amplifying) so that it is able to see the image in less light. The side effect of this amplification is more noise in the signal-to-noise ratio. In the images, this comes through as a grain-like texture to the image that looks kind of like you printed the image onto sandpaper. Depending on your camera, this grain can be multi-colored or lined or patterned, which is really ugly. You will have to test out your camera to see what you think your acceptable limits are for each camera.
In our dancing metaphor, the ISO setting would be the choreographer that is telling the other settings of shutter speed and aperture where they should be dancing.
Here are three exposure settings that are all equal in the amount of light that is hitting the sensor.
1/30 at f4 at ISO 100 1/500 at f2.0 at ISO 400 1/2000 at f4 at ISO 6400
For this image, I set the exposure to be correct for the subject's face, which makes the background completely white and without detail, but her expression and tears are the important part of this image.
Finally, you put all three of these together and you get the “exposure”. The Exposure is exactly what it says. You are exposing the sensor to light for a certain amount of time (shutter speed), with a certain size of window (aperture or f-stop), and with a certain amount of amplification (ISO). How you very the individual pieces of the exposure will affect the final image. Let in more light, the image becomes lighter, let in less and it becomes darker. This is one of the creative elements in photography.
For this image, I set the exposure to highlight the sunset leaving no detail on the couple.
Very cool! Thoughts are welcome!
For many people, myself included, having your photograph taken is rather uncomfortable. Most people suddenly become aware of the way they look, their body language, the tilt of their head, and all these little things they normally take for granted and never think about. That leads us to look stiff, uncomfortable and unnatural.
The reasons for this fear are numerous - just count all the bad snapshots of yourself and you can come up with a number. We know from past performance that future snapshots of us are going to make us look unattractive. Plus a large camera can just look scary.
Why do we all have so many bad photographs of ourselves? There are a couple of reasons. The first is the quality of photographer. Cruddy photographer = cruddy pictures of ourselves. Please everyone, learn to make the most of your gear - your friends will thank you! The second is quality of light. Most bad photographs have bad light. If you see the photographs with your face super bright and the background black, where you looking at the sun and had to squint, when your face was sickly green from being next to a neon sign, that is bad light. Another thing that kills the spirit of a good image is point and shoot cameras (and their even worse cousin the camera phone). All you have to do is point and shoot and you too can have another horrible image of your friend.
So now that we know why we have a fear of cameras (experience), let’s look at reasons and ways to get comfortable with the camera. Let’s face it, people that are relaxed and having fun look better in photographs. However, even if you are relaxed and having fun, there is still a reason to be scared of your friend’s cameras anytime the clock is past midnight!
Here are some good ideas to make your time in front of the camera more enjoyable
- Choose a good photographer. If you can find a photographer (namely me, but I suppose it can apply to someone else), that you love their work and the way people look in the photographs, it can reduce your stress and help you relax. We don’t want to show you a bad photograph of you. It is in our self interest to make you happy and look good. That way you will tell your friends how great I am, how good I made you look, and how wonderful I was to work with. :)
- Choose hair, makeup and clothing that you think you look good in, and you feel comfortable wearing. If you feel like you look your best, that confidence comes through. At some point, it doesn’t matter how great the shoes look if your face is a mask of pain.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Little annoyances, unexpected events, and the unplanned will and do happen. Don’t expect perfection. These things happen and they can be cause for tears or laughter. Choose the laughter.
- Expect misbehavior. Little kids and groomsmen always choose the worst time (namely photograph time) to act like children. Don’t worry, we can make it work for us. Some of the photographs I’ve taken when kids were running around acting like complete goofballs (or groomsmen) have turned out to be some of my favorites. When you kind of expect that sort of “show-off” behavior, it makes it funny rather than annoying.
- Be yourself. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Genuine feelings show through and authentic emotions rock.
- Have fun. Make jokes, laugh, and enjoy your friends and family, and it will show in the images.
- And finally, be open to ideas. If you have chosen a great photographer, let him come up with ideas for you to try. Let yourself be guided. Even some of the things that you don’t think will work, can turn in some amazing images.
Let me know if you think of something that should be added to the list!
A lot of photographs are just plain boring, but they don’t have to be!
The easiest thing to do is to take a snapshot rather than trying to make an image interesting. When I’m on vacation, I am sometimes guilty of this as well. Taking more interesting photographs takes more effort than taking boring photographs. However, it doesn’t have to be a LOT more effort!
When you walk around and talk with your friends, you are most often standing and so are they. So you see them from eye level. You are used to seeing people from eye level as is everyone else, so it makes for a photograph that is less interesting by shooting from a normal standing position. When you are shooting architecture, landscapes and any other image you might want, most of the time you see if from a standing position.
You can easily add interest by a simple change your point of view. Simply by kneeling down and looking up, or by standing on a nearby chair (or just holding your camera over your head) you are creating an image from at different view than what is “normal” for us to see everyday. Also look for things like balconies and stairs to shoot from.
Below are some images that are from different angles than the normal standing position, which make the images more interesting.
In this image, the bride, Bethany, is shot from above.
The bride and groom from just above table level (the Meal’s eye view, haha).
Here I am laying on the ground and shooting up at the bride and groom.
In this final example, the bride and groom were on a landing on the stairs. I was standing normally from the ground floor level.
The Olympus E-P1 created quite a stir when it was introduced three years ago. It provided what many considered the holy grail of cameras. Small in size but with a large sensor. Almost small enough to put in a pocket, but making images similar to a much larger camera.
I wanted one very badly when it first came out, but I couldn’t come up with a business reason to buy the camera, and being around $800, I couldn’t justify it as a part time vacation camera. However, three years after it’s release, I was able to pick one up used on eBay for around $270 including shipping. For that, I could justify buying a vacation camera!
I took my “new” Olympus E-P1 to Disney World with me. There were many things that I liked and a few that I didn’t. Let’s start out with the good.
I love the size and feel of the camera. It is a small camera with a good amount of external controls that allow me to quickly and easily change the settings. It is a metal bodied camera with a nice heft to it. It does not feel like a cheap point and shoot, but rather a serious tool. Plus, it looks really cool and retro with the brushed metal and styling similar to a 60’s rangefinder!
The image quality is somewhere between my professional equipment and a nice point and shoot camera. Which is exactly where I would expect it to be. Perfect for vacations, going places with the family, or when I don’t know if I even want to bring a camera. It also does an excellent video (720) that is far better than any point and shoot cameras that I have used or seen video from.
The kit lens that came with the camera is very cool. With one spin you can collapse it down into a space that is half the size it takes when extended. It has the typical flaws associated with kit lenses. Slow performance, too small of aperture, and cheap construction. As part of the cheap construction combined with the cool collapsing mechanism, the end of the lens is rather wobbly. Literally, you can see it waggle back and forth if you touch the end of the lens barrel. A rather low quality signature “feature”! It was pretty sharp, however.
The internal Image Stabilization system in this little machine absolutely rocks. I quite often took images of still objects at ⅕ or ⅙ of a second. Well below what I can normally handhold my larger cameras.
The E-P1 lacks a flash. Not a big deal to me most of the time, but occasionally, I wanted a little flash indoors for just some snapshots in really poor light. Not a deal-breaker for me, but could be for some people.
Another thing that is both good and bad – depth of field. Many of you that have followed my work know that I am a big fan of shallow depth of field to make the subject stand out from the background. It is a bit harder with the Micro 4/3 format of sensor, and was especially hard with the kit lens. Between using the smaller apertures offered by the lens and the greater depth that is inherent in using a smaller sensor, there was much greater depth of field than I would normally have with some of the photographs. However, it is much better than a small point and shoot or cell phone.
The autofocus system is probably the worst thing about the E-P1. It doesn’t well at all if you use the default settings. You don’t really know where it is focusing, you can’t check focus very easily, and it is rather slow. Once I learned how to set the camera focus point, it worked much better for me. I was able to choose the focus point I wanted it to use (rather than the random point the camera would choose), then recompose how I like. This works great on still subjects. As far as moving subjects of trying to use the continuous AF system...well...buy a different camera.
Overall, for my purchase price, I am quite pleased. I had a great time using it, was pretty happy with the quality of images, and I loved the small size. If I had paid full price three years ago, I may not have such a positive review.
Here is one image of Jane and Chris that I took on the streets of Bellevue on their wedding night. This was just outside the Westin in Bellevue where they were staying. We also did some images inside the hotel and with their entire bridal party in the streets that night.
For more information about what I did to take this image, see my photography educational blog Cory's Photo School
I have to start by coming clean. I’m a geek. I love stuff, electronics, gear, and feel out of sorts if I’m not in possession of the remote control (preferably matched up to a nice HD TV). When I complete my taxes and it asks for my position at the company, I write in “Photogeek in Chief”. So…I love photo gear. With a rather unhealthy passion.
That being said, I also used to be a Finance Director for a small non-profit. That means, there has to be a reason for every purchase, and the reason has to be more than “I REALLY want it!” (say it in again your head with a nasally whine, it will sound more realistic – “I REALLY want it!”).
So here is some of my gear buying criteria…
- -How does it help me create better photographs, and does it let me do something that my current gear doesn’t allow me to do?
- -Will the difference that this piece of gear will bring to my photography allow me to increase my sales and profits? This usually takes the form of allowing my to create more dynamic work and increase the demand for my services.
- -Will the new piece of gear inspire me to create new and better work? A common thing that happens with gear for me is that it will make me find new ways to use that particular piece. That, in turn, gets me to use the gear in different ways than I normally do.
- -And finally, is it cool? Of course it’s cool, otherwise I wouldn’t have wanted it in the first place!
Once I have all that information, I make a presentation to my Chief Financial Officer. More commonly referred to by myself and others as “Leslie”, or (mostly by me) “hey, beautiful wife".
This normally comes in the form of, “Hey, I was looking at this (lens, flash, etc.) today…”
“Oh. No…” says the Chief Financial Officer.
“…and I’m thinking…” says the Photogeek.
Conversation continues with the big, mean CFO grilling the poor Photogeek (Leslie, I’m kidding!). Then it ends with…
“You know your going to buy. Just do it now instead than worrying about it for a month!” says the beautiful, loving CFO. About a month later, Photogeek buys said piece of gear.
Anyway, that was quite the revealing tangent, wasn’t it? Here is my first in a new series of articles that I’ll call, “My Favorite Toys!”
My first toy that I’m going to talk about is the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L. This may be my most loved lens, and that is really saying something. I use this lens constantly. It makes up about 40% of all the images in my portfolio. I should mention that I use a full-frame camera, so this quite a wide lens.
Here is a photo of the lens itself. (Lovely studio product image taken with a couple of small Canon strobes and a piece of white posterboard).
It is a medium sized, but very dense, rather heavy lens. It is a polycarbonate body that can take some abuse. You can see some signs of past little incidents on the lens hood. I think the lens hood is actually designed to show every time it’s touched by anything. I have the version one of the lens, but there is a version two out. If you look at my criteria for buying above, I can’t come up with a reason to sell my version I and get a version II.
This lens has the rather unique characteristic of being both a wide angle lens and having the ability to have very shallow depth of field. If you don’t know what depth of field is, you can look below and see how the subject is sharp and the background is blurred and out of focus. That is called shallow depth of field while if everything was in focus, that would be a deep depth of field or greater depth of field.
Another great benefit is the amazing low light capabilities. To give you an idea, with each full stop, the lens cuts the amount of light in half. This lens has an aperture of 1.4 which allows you to take images in one-fourth of the amount of light of a lens with the aperture of 2.8.
Now for what everyone wants to see…the samples!
This is an excellent example of what this lens can do. This couple was married during mass at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Seattle. Because the couple was married during mass, they did not know most of the people around them. I wanted them to stand out from the crowd, so I made this photograph with a shallow depth of field with the couple sharp and the surrounding background soft.
This smart groom is watching his waistline on his wedding day. This is another example of the sharp subject and shallow depth of field that I love from this lens.
Groom waiting for his bride to see her for the first time that day. I love the sharpness on his face and the out of focus detail of the bride coming up behind him tells the story.
Wedding couple kissing in an alley at in the U District. I love the
With this image, I used the 24 and a smaller aperture to make the clouds and background sharp. I also used a flash to light up the couple.
This image was taken from a viewpoint at the Olympic Sculpture Park. I used the shallow depth of field the 24 1.4L creates to make the background beautifully out of focus.
Another image using the shallow depth of field to make the groom stand out.
This image uses the great light-gathering of the 24 1.4L.
I just got some new
toys tools for wireless, off-camera flash called Radiopopper PX. What they basically do is take Canon wireless flash technology and make it useful somewhere besides in a dark room with the flashes pointed at each other. You then use the flash system on your flash to set up lighting ratios, manually change the flash settings, use automatic flash without having the light source coming from on top of your camera. Today I took my son and Sounders FC superfan, Kyler, to the park to play with the system.
I wanted to test a few things: the High Speed Sync, speed of operation, and a comparison of the eTTL system versus the manual flash adjustments that I usually do. I used a flash 580EX flash on my camera acting as the master unit with a Radiopopper PX transmitter attached to the top of it and two 550EX acting as slaves with the Radiopopper PX receivers attached.
My conclusions are that the Radiopopper PX system works really well for doing portraits. The system fired the flashes every time the flashes were ready and charged. It works well at distance. It provides a reliable system to use the HSS (high speed sync) allowing for flash and shallow depth of field at the same time. And it allows me to change my manual flash settings without going over to the flash and pushing buttons (I can push buttons from wherever I am with the camera).
Where it falls down in my mind is the difficult installation (you actually have to semi-permanently attach it to the flashes you are going to use rather than take it on and off at will) and the fact that it is limited to speed of operation of the Canon wireless flash system. I tested it on motor drive and was able to get only four out of 12 to fire at 1/128 power at three frames per second (frames 1, 2, 3, and 9 of the 12). This was because the Canon master flash was not ready, not because the Radiopoppers or the receiving flashes were not ready.
Edited: I tried the speed test again. The first time I did this, I had the on-camera master flash set to 1/128th power plus it was firing the flash signal to the slave flash. I tried this the same way with very similar results (actually only 1, 2 & 8 out of 12). However, when I changed it so that the on-camera flash was not firing at the time of exposure and was only shooting out the flash signal to the slave, it was able to trigger the flash much more quickly. I was able to get 9 out of the 12 exposures (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10 & 11) to fire from the slave.
Finally, I found that I got the results that I wanted most consistently when I used manual flash exposure. The eTTL was right about 75% of the time, but for me being wrong 25% of the time doesn't cut it.
It is a very cool time to be a photographer with all the awesome equipment available!
One of the most common questions I get from budding photographers is what equipment they should buy. Most of these people are owners of a relatively low-cost DSLR such as a Nikon D40 or Canon Digital Rebel that they bought with a kit lens. The cameras that come with these kits are great. Any digital SLR that is currently in production is capable of professional quality results, which is a big difference from even just a couple years ago. There are three problems that people have with these great little cameras. The first is that they don't really know how to use it, which is a much longer subject than I'm going to cover in this short blog post! :) The second is that the kit lenses basically aren't very good. And the third is that the little flash that is so handy on the top of the camera produces horrible light especially when used in the fully automatic mode.
Canon 35 f2.0, which is what I put on my daughters Rebel XTi.
Since problems two and three can be solved by throwing a little money at the problem and that is what this post is about. The first thing I recommend for any DSLR owner is to get something to supplement the kit lens. I recommend a 35mm or 50mm lens. These are excellent, cheap, small lenses. The big difference is that they let in so much more light into the camera. To give you an idea, the lower the number for the f-stop or aperture, the more light is coming through. A typical kit lens is Canon's 18-55 3.5-5.6. That means that at 55mm you are at f5.6. A 50mm f1.8 would let in around 10 times as much light. You could be creating photographs in 1/10 the light. That is a pretty incredible difference. It would also allow you more control over your depth of field, which means you can control what is in focus and what is out of focus. But that falls under "how to use" rather than "what to use".
Next is the flash. I hate on-camera flash for the most part and the built-in flashes on the little DSLR's are one of the worst offenders in the "unpleasant light" category. Photography is all about light, so having unpleasant light (unless you are doing it on purpose), is not desirable. The solution - a bigger flash that you can bounce with. That means, you can point it behind you or to the side to bounce off of a wall or ceiling rather than pointing it right at your victim. I'd say subject, but direct flash makes them more of a victim. :)
Here are the specific items that I can recommend. Lenses Canon 28 1.8, 35 f2, 50 f1.8, 50 f1.4 Nikon 35 f1.8 (just announced and not yet available), 50 f1.8, 50 f1.4 Sigma 30 f1.4, 50 f1.4 (I just bought it and I love it)
Canon flashes: 430EX, 580EX Nikon flashes: SB-600, SB-900
Almost all of this stuff is available through my new Amazon store on my website. Convenient, huh?
I took a walk with my family at the Mill Creek Town Center. We each had a camera and took some images. Here are a couple I took and one by my nine year-old, Kyler. I will add some images from the rest of the family in the next couple of days. I'm helping each of the kids to process their images, so it is taking a little more time for them to get ready.
For the photo-oriented, I shot with a 5D and my new 50 1.4 Sigma. I am very impressed with the Sigma 50 1.4. It is much sharper than the Canon 50 1.4 at f-stops more wide open than 2.0. The Canon is pretty good at 2.0 on and it is a toss-up there with a tie or slight edge to the Sigma at every f-stop I have tried. Ky's were taken with an old point and shoot. He's nine. :)
I bought a new softbox for use with portable flashes. Here is one that I took of my amazing son while we were playing.
Here is one of me taken by my nine year-old (previously pictured :).
The young one:
The "old" one:
Leslie said she didn't want to appear on the blog!
I was having a conversation with my daughter, Alyssa, the other day about photography and I thought others might benefit from it, too. We were talking about the most basic controls on the camera. A camera records the light that hits the film or sensor. There are three controls on the camera that you can adjust to control the amount of light that the film or sensor is exposed to. There is the shutter, the aperture and the ISO.
The shutter controls how long the light hits the sensor or film. This affects the final image in several ways. A fast shutter speed with freeze action while a slow shutter speed allows fast-moving subjects to become blurred. Also, a slow shutter speed may become a problem if it gets so low that the shaking of your hands blurs the entire image.
Here I used a faster shutter speed to freeze the falling rose petals.
I used a slower shutter speed to capture the motion of the car in this image.
The aperture controls the size of the hole that the light will be coming through when it is exposed to light. Obviously, the larger the hole, the more light will come through it. When you are using a larger aperture, besides letting in more light, it also controls how much of the image is in focus. This is called Depth of Field. A shallow depth of field helps in making the subject pop from the background and is commonly used in fashion and sports photography. A deeper depth of field keeps more of the image in focus and is commonly used in landscape photography.
I use shallow depth of field all the time to create separation of the subject from the background. In this image the groom is in focus and his groomsmen are not.
This image has a lot of depth of field so that everything in the frame is sharp.
The third component is the ISO, which used to be called film speed. With film, you set the ISO to whatever the film was rated at. With digital cameras, the ISO can be changed at any time. It basically adjusts the sensitivity of the sensor to light. This can be very helpful in low light situations, but it can come at the price of some extra noise or digital grain. It is as the light level gets lower that it makes this important to change. For outdoors in good light, you probably want to leave it at the lowest ISO, usually 100.
Here is an example of using high ISO to capture an image of a little girl with a sparkler
All three are related in that changing one will require you to make changes to at least one of the others.
I have a brand new 24-105L f4 IS that came in a kit. It comes with the warranty card, hood and soft case. Since it came in a kit, it has a plain white box. Anyone that wants it can have it for $935 + $15 shipping. This lens goes for $1060 or more.
Today at the PMA show (photogeek techno-show), Sony unveiled plans to create a 24 megapixel full-frame camera. And it will have Carl Zeiss (famed lens design company) lenses. They already have a 85 and 135, if they add a 24, it's something that I will be watching. I love Zeiss lenses. Here is an image from dpreview. Exciting times to be a photog! By the way, I think my geek meter below just isn't keeping pace with the things I'm geeky about.