Saturday, July 17, 2010

Here are some general tips. Our class is done for now, but don't tune out!

We have completed our class; I'd like to thank Harold and Jan for helping out and all of you for hanging in there with us while we try to teach something that we love. 

Remember to take your camera off of the green setting and try new things, different apertures, different shutter speeds.  Take pictures laying on the floor, bending over, on top of your car or roof (be safe!).  It's the little things that make a picture go from average to spectacular. 

Harold mentioned something that I think is also important.  Practice with your camera.  Set up a subject, set your camera on aperture priority and take pictures at every aperture  you can.  Study the differences in the pictures so you know what differences are from aperture to aperture.  Take pictures at different focal lengths.  Remember shorter (wide angle) focal lengths give a sense of depth to a picture, while longer (telephoto) focal lengths flatten out or "compress" the subject and background.  Each effect has it's place, you just have to get accustomed to using them. 

Practice some more with your camera. . .be able to change the shutter speed, ISO, autofocus point and aperture without needing to search for the buttons.  Do you think about hitting the brake or using the turn signal in your car?  Changing these settings on your camera should be just as automatic.  (I'm not there yet, either)

Have a routine for setting up your camera before you start shooting.  For example:
1.  make sure you have plenty of room on your memory card
2.  check your ISO, make sure it's appropriate to what and where you are shooting.  (Recently, I shot several kids at an event, using flash.  I forgot to check my ISO.  I did the whole shoot at ISO 1000, which made the images unfortunately noisy, and took a lot of post processing to fix.)
3.  check your camera mode (program, aperture priority, shutter priority)
4.  check your lens, make sure your kids or your dog didn't leave a big paw print on the front of it.

If you have any comments, post them here.  If you need to contact me, email me at


Sunday, July 11, 2010

A few new links to good stuff

If you are interested in the downloads for tethering your camera to a computer, you'll need to download EOS Utility here.

I found some interesting information about improving your creativity in photography (without buying more "stuff").  Look at David DuChemin's blog and eBooks.  The eBooks are books you can purchase for $5 and download to your computer to read.  He has several, many of them have exercises and homework. For his eBooks, look here.  For his blog, look here.

Our last class will be one of a few new tips, review and question and answers.  If you have a chance upload your pictures to flickr so we can take a look this week.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Some Flash Photography Basics, in preparation for next week. . .

We'll have the opportunity to take flash pictures in the studio this coming week.  Flash photography is a bit different than "available light" photography.  Before we start though, the one thing to remember about flash photography is that about 80% of the time (or more) you are photographing people.  The key to interesting images of people is lighting.  It is preferable to use lighting from the side of a person when shooting portraits.  Light from the side will add more contrast to the face, it will define the facial features better.  Highlights from the flash combined with shadows created on the face by side lighting will make faces more interesting, less flat and more life like.  "Light illuminates, shadows define."

Light from the side means that the little pop up flash on your camera is not a good option.  For best results, an accessory flash is a great option.  Most of these have a flash head that tilts, allowing you to point the light in different direction to "bounce" it off a wall or whatever is available to reflect back on the subject.

If you have an accessory flash, you can get it off the camera and change the direction of the flash using an accessory cord. 

Flash units that are specifically made for a certain camera brand are called "dedicated."  The camera has the ability to see how much output the flash has and can send a message to the flash to put out more or less light.  This technology is known as ETTL or A-TTL.  These allow us to take the guesswork out of flash settings, automatically adjusting for the exposure you have set for your camera. 

Flash exposures are usually done with the shutter speed set between 1/60 and 1/250.  The highest shutter speed that your camera will sync the flash with is called "flash sync speed."  If you exceed your sync speed you'll get a shadow or vignette:

The key to good flash photography is to make the photo look like you didn't use flash.  To do this, you get the flash off of the camera.  Occasionally, you may need to change the flash setting of the camera to make the output a little less intense than what the camera automatically suggests.  This is done by adjusting the "flash exposure compensation" setting in your camera.  It's usually pretty obvious to find, just look for the lightening bolt with the +/- beside it.

You don't always have to have flash to create a good portrait.  If you have a nice large window that is providing light for a room, having a subject facing perpendicular to the window, so light is falling on the side of their face.

A great posing information website is here, you'll need to sign in to see the examples.   To be continued. . .

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Landscape Photography & Light

On Tuesday the 29th of June in the photography class I covered my thoughts on landscape photography and how natural light effects your images and what to watch for. I put together a hand out sheet with what I felt to be some key points in reference to these issues which you will find the highlights of below. We also went through a slide show of some of my images and talked about the good and bad points of the slides. We discussed HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photography and how to shoot to give yourself files to convert to HDR image.

What makes a good photo?

1) Is the image in focus? - We all know that the image needs to be in focus, and if it is not, then forget that image no matter how much you like it. There are occasions when part of the image is not to be in focus to create a special effect and that is an exception to the focus rule.

2) Was the exposure correct? - Check the histogram and if the subject pushed the capabilities of the camera too far you might be able to make some adjustments while post-processing to improve the file.

3) Is it clear what the subject is? In a landscape photo the entire image could be the subject.

4) Should the image be cropped? - I would encourage you to leave some image outside of the main subject area to allow for several cropping options. As you become more confident in your abilities to see exactly what you want to capture thru the viewfinder, you can tighten up around the subject.

5) Were the leading lines, shapes or textures that existed taken advantage of? I think if the entire image is the subject try to be even more conscious of taking advantage of the leading lines, shapes and textures.

Light - Four things to consider about light....

Quality, Color, Direction & Quantity.

1) With all the details we have to consider when making a photograph we may forget the light. Light is the primary component of a good photo. Learn to recognize whether the available light is magical or ordinary, and as a landscape photographer you want magical light!

2)The color of the light is constantly changing. The sun's changing angle, air impurities, cloud cover. All of these things change the color of the light. As the color of light changes the mood of the photo will change.

3) Light direction.

a) Front lighting on the subject (sun at your back) is safe and easy to use. This probably won't make you go WOW.... too often when you look at the final photo.

b)Side lighting and back lighting creates texture and increases the WOW ... factor.

4) Very low quantities of light creates a mood in a photo. If you get up early to go shoot and there is a heavy fog, consider a cemetery, pond/lake or the riverwalk in Council Grove for a location to shoot. This might be a good time to maybe shoot a water reflective photo.

I don't believe that you as a photographer need to follow all the rules that you have maybe read about what it takes to makes a good photo. Be an artist and use the camera as your brush.... be creative and do what you like, make the photo reflect you and your thoughts and visions. If you like a new twist to photography or you have strong beliefs about how a photo should look go for it. I know there will be others who will appreciate what you have done!

Harold Gaston

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cardinal rules of action photography (and a few correlates)

If you talk to an editor who is reviewing photography for his/her publication, invariably you will come down to these few rules for acceptable images.  These rules should always be in the back of your mind when your eye is in the viewfinder:
1.  "Fill the frame".  This refers to having the subject take up the majority of the space in the image. You leave no doubt what the subject is. 
2.  "Clean up the background"  Your subject should be easily separated from the background behind it.  The background should not be distracting when looking at the subject.  Cleaning up the background can be done in several ways:  decreasing the depth of field to blur whatever is behind the subject, changing your point of view on the subject to get a uniform background, such as sky, field, floor, an empty wall.
3.  Tell a story, convey emotion, make a point. . .the most effective pictures create interest by creating some type of emotion in the viewer, whether it be sadness, joy, wonder, anger or frustration.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

White balance and file management.

This week we reviewed some great photos of the Riverwalk in Council Grove.  Unfortunately, it's tough to get a real good look with a projected image, I'll see if I can improve on that next week.

Color temperature is how photographers describe the color of the light affecting the scene they are trying to capture.  The eye and brain automatically adjust to changes in light, whether it be sunlight, florescent lights or those weird yellowish lights you find in gymnasiums.  Cameras can adjust and make a "guess" using a setting known as automatic white balance.  The AWB can be usually pretty accurate, but often is a bit off in sunlight and when shooting landscapes.  Color temperature can be frustrating to deal with. The more accurate you set your color temperature, the less you will have to fiddle with your pictures later on.  Your camera will have the following settings:  sunlight, tungsten, florescent, cloudy, flash, K (for Kelvin, you pick the number), AWB (auto white balance, not the band from the 70's), and two triangles with a box in between, which is custom white balance.

Custom white balance is very valuable. . .it is usually very accurate and really helps in making sure your colors are very close to correct without needing to make a lot of adjustments later.  Canon and Nikon cameras have a custom setting where you take a photograph of a white or neutral gray object, then the camera sets the color balance from that. Products such as Colorright, ExpoDisc, Balna discs are useful for this.  An article I read recently recommended using a Melletta coffee filter.

File Types and Work Flow

Digital SLR cameras can produce different types of files for use in transferring your photos for publishing, editing, or printing.  JPEG file formats are smaller in size.  They can have different levels of quality.  Lower quality files are smaller, but contain enough information to create good photographs for use in websites.  Higher quality files are better for editing and use in printing. 

When a JPEG file is created in the camera, the camera makes a set of decisions based on the settings in the camera, including color temperature, amount of sharpening, noise reduction, contrast and color balance.  You can search your menu settings in the camera to find these and adjust as necessary.

The RAW file is a file that contains the entire gamut of information collected by the sensor, given the amount of light provided to it.  A RAW file has to be read by a specific program designed to interpret and adjust RAW files.  Canon uses "Digital Photo Professional".  Nikon uses "Capture NX".  Other commonly used programs are Adobe Lightroom (my favorite), Adobe Photoshop, and Capture One.

When you move a file to the computer to evaluate it, adjust it and move it to it's final destination, this is commonly known as work flow.  RAW files are perfect for work flow, as so many adjustments can be made without degrading the quality or the details of the photo.  Steps involved in work flow are generally the following:

1.  Download to the computer
2.  Sort and rate
3.  Adjust the image
      a.  exposure
      b.  white balance
      c.  color balance
      d.  contrast
      e.  sharpening
      f.  noise reduction
4.  Save

Software such as Lightroom and Capture One are specifically designed to improve your work flow.  They are fairly expensive ($199 plus) but if you do a lot of photography, they are definitely worth it.  You can download the Adobe Lightroom program here.  Download the CaptureOne program here.  Each program has a 30 day free trial.

Also the class had a couple questions about color management.  It's pretty obvious to see that an LCD projector doesn't have the same color as a color monitor.  Also, monitors have different color profiles. . .pictures can look different on different monitors.  All this variability really messes with your brain after awhile.  If you look at a portrait on one monitor it may look wonderful, but on another, the skin tones may be too red or too blue.  Again, you can spend some money to solve this problem.  You can calibrate your monitor with a colorimeter, such as Spyder or ColorMunki .  

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Focus and Exposure

Tonight our emphasis was getting to know the camera and getting it off the "green zone", the automatic settings.  Shooting manually allows you to control shutter speed, aperture and ISO.  These are the three components of exposure of a photograph.

Aperture is an opening created by metal leaves in the lens.  The size of the aperture opening is expressed by numbers ranging from 1 (wide open) to 32.  The aperture number itself is actually the lower half of a fraction that expresses what fraction of the lens opening is allowing light in.  1/2.0 (F2.0) allows one half of the light in, where 1/16 (F16) allows 1/16th of the light into the sensor.

Aperture not only controls how much light hits the sensor, it also controls how much of the subject is in focus. In photography, there are always trade offs.  If you want a wide open aperture for maximum light (F2.8, for example), the tradeoff is a narrow depth of field.  In other words, only just a few inches front and behind your focus point will actually be in focus.  Using a large aperture (the word "large" referring to the size of the opening, not the number), results in blurry backgrounds.  This can be handy if you are trying to isolate your subject from blurry surroundings.
      2.8             Large opening                     Shallow depth of field
      5.6             Smaller opening                  Deeper depth of field
     11               Much smaller opening         Much deeper depth of field. . . . on so forth

For a more "in depth"discussion of depth of field, go here

Shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter curtains allow light through to the sensor.  These are expressed
in fractions of a second. . .1/2, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, and so forth.  Slower shutter speeds allow movement to be recorded as a blur on the sensor, while faster shutter speeds, say 1/250 and above, freeze the action.  People tend to shoot sports at 1/250 or faster to freeze the action.  Some things are actually more interesting with a bit of blur, such as waterfalls and rivers  Practice taking pictures of the low water dam at the riverwalk at different shutter speeds to gauge the different effects.

Camera shake is movement of the camera by the photographer.  Very experienced photographers can hold the camera very still, but for most of us, we move and jiggle a bit.  To avoid camera shake, shoot at as fast a shutter speed as you can to achieve the desired effect.  What shutter speed can you shoot at and avoid camera shake?  This is determined by the length of the lens you are using.  Most of the lenses used today are zoom lenses, that can zoom from 30-300mm.

                       Speed to avoid camera shake =  1/focal length (or faster)

for a photographer shooting zoomed at 100mm, shoot at 1/100 second or faster.

ISO is the sensitivity of the camera sensor to light.  If you don't have enough light to properly expose a scene, sometimes you need to increase the ISO setting of the camera.  Again, there are trade offs.  As you increase ISO, you increase the likelihood of digital noise, especially in darker regions of the photo.  When there is more digital noise, then often detail is lost from the photo.

It may be tempting to shoot at a lower ISO and just under expose the picture.  Don't do it.  Your best bet for a quality picture lies in getting the best exposure (i.e. best looking histogram) at the necessary ISO.

Histograms are your best bet for quickly determining if you have the proper exposure.  A histogram is a graph of all the shades in your picture, from dark (left side) to light (right side).  The camera sensor can collect detail from about 5 levels ("stops") of light.  Below that, areas will appear black, above that, areas will appear "blown out" or white.  Your camera has a highlight warning that will blink if overexposed.  This is affectionately referred to by digital photographers as "the blinkies".  Avoid the blinkies in your photographs.

Remember the assignment:  post your pictures to,

log in under flinthillsimages
password kansas

Upload your three best pictures of the riverwalk.  Include in your description your camera settings and name or initials.

Harold is still in the process of moving, so instead of him talking about light and composition, we will talk about a few more elements of digital photography:  white balance and file handling.

Several people on there comment sheets mentioned that they would like to do a better job with sports photography.  I attended a workshop last year with the team photographer of the University of Kansas. We will go over his keys to successful sports photography.  We may try to run over and catch some softball or baseball for practice.

See you next week!!