Tag Archives: cameras

Why Shoot RAW Files

RAW Files vs JPEGs

RAW files are your digital negative. Like film negatives, RAW files contain the greatest range of visual information and offer the greatest latitude in post-production. RAW files are uncompressed, unlike the highly compressed jpeg file, which discards information to reduce file size. Once that information is lost, it cannot be retrieved. RAW files offer a much greater dynamic range (the ratio of brightest tones to darkest tones) and allows for greater detail in both highlights and shadows. An 8-bit RAW file contains 16.8 million possible colors, whereas a jpeg contains a mere 256 colors. That is fine for web images, but unacceptable when printing or publishing images.

Fontana Theater JPEG

Unprocessed JPEG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fontana Theater RAW File

Optimized RAW File

RAW files require a RAW converter such as Adobe Camera Raw or Capture One Pro. I have used both, and while there is an argument for each, I choose to use Adobe CC because it is what I am most familiar with, and also I use other programs in the Adobe Suite like InDesign and Premiere Pro.

8-Bit or 16-Bit Depth

As previously mentioned, an 8-bit image contains 16.8 million possible colors, which would seem more than adequate when printing an image, but there are situations in which tonal differences are so subtle that even this many colors doesn’t produce a smooth transition. This step from one tone to the next can create a noticeable effect known as banding. Saving the processed file as a 16-bit image produces a staggering 281 trillion colors and greatly reduces the incidence of banding. This is beneficial in rendering smoother and more subtle tonal transitions in large continuous areas such as a blue sky. Be aware that a 16-bit file is twice as large as its 8-bit counterpart. Save your optimized image as an uncompressed TIFF file.

Unprocessed JPEG

Unprocessed JPEG

Optimized RAW File

Optimized RAW File

Why Convert to DNG Files

RAW files are proprietary to the particular make of camera in which they are shot. Canon RAW files (CR2) are different than Nikon’s (NEF), which are different from Olympus files (ORF). As software continues to evolve, these various formats eventually become obsolete and unusable. The DNG format is Adobe’s attempt to standardize the RAW file so that it can always be opened regardless of a camera’s make or when the file was created. Whenever I work with a RAW file, I convert it to a DNG file and save it in its own folder. That way, I have a workable file ten or twenty years down the road.

I prefer to shoot RAW files + large jpegs (See your camera manual). This gives me a ready-to-use image right out of the camera that I can immediately send to a client if necessary without having to post-process the photograph. It also aids me in making early editing decisions, such as eliminating out-of-focus shots or comparing image composition. Always strive to properly expose the image in-camera. Meter using an 18% gray card, then bracket. This will greatly reduce the amount of time you spend optimizing an image—and that equates to more time in the field actually creating photographs. Backup all your files regularly. Redundancy is king. Store your files on multiple hard drives (at least two), and store one of those devices off-site to protect you, heaven forbid, from fire or natural disaster. A safe deposit box is optimal.

I hope you find this article informative—and if you aren’t already shooting in RAW format that it has convinced you to start doing so.

Please contact me with any questions, comments, or suggestions. Until next time, happy image-making!

Bruce

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Memory Cards—A Basic Overview

Memory cards are the photographer’s digital equivalent to film. The most common types of memory cards include SD (Secure Digital, up to 2 GB of capacity), SDHC (High Capacity, up to 32 GB), SDXC (Extra Capacity, up to 2 TB), and UHS (Ultra-High Speed) cards. Two factors determine how memory cards are rated. Speed rating measures the maximum reading and writing transfer speeds to and from the card in megabytes per second (MB/s). Class rating measures the minimum sustained speed needed to maintain an even rate of data transfer onto the card (particularly important when shooting hi-def video). Class 2 cards have a minimum transfer rate of 2 MB/s, while Class 10 cards transfer data at a minimum of 10 MB/s. UHS Speed Class (Ultra-High Speed) appeared in 2009 and utilizes a new data bus, so UHS memory cards are not compatible with non-UHS devices.  SanDisk’s recently released UHS-2 cards offer write speeds of up to 250 MB/s or faster. Note that performance may vary depending on your particular host device. Check manufacturer’s specs for your specific camera. A card’s capacity is designated in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB) and refers to the amount of data a particular card can hold.

memory-cards_final-1

When selecting a memory card, purchase only quality, reputable brands such as SanDisk or Samsung. Because this is your ‘film’ equivalent, you don’t want to scrimp just to save a couple of dollars. At the same time, they can get very pricey, and there is no need to buy the most expensive card. Buy memory cards from reputable dealers only, and beware of counterfeit cards. Most manufacturers offer some kind of warranty. SanDisk offers a limited two-year warranty on its products, while the Samsung 64 Pro Plus offers a ten-year limited warranty. Keep in mind that warranties are no guarantee that a card won’t fail—and should it fail, only the replacement of the product is covered. Loss of images can still occur. SanDisk claims its cards have a Mean Time Before Failure (MTFB) of 1,000,000 hours.

Like film, precautions must be taken when using and storing memory cards to avoid the corruption of data or loss of images. When using a memory card for the first time, it should be formatted for your particular camera (See owner’s manual). Be sure your camera is turned off before installing or removing the card to prevent accidental data loss. A small lock switch on the side of the card allows you to prevent the accidental deletion or overwriting of data. Do not touch the gold contacts on the back of the card, as this may cause corrosion and interfere with the transfer of information. Do not fill the card to its maximum capacity, as this may corrupt data and cause the loss of data (a mistake I have personally experienced). Avoid exposing memory cards to extreme heat or cold. Store them in their supplied case, or a quality memory card wallet, like the Pelican 0915 Memory Card Case (purchased separately). If you do happen to lose data on a card, there are several fee-based online recovery options available, including DriveSaver Data Recovery.

When downloading photographs to the computer, I prefer to remove the memory card from the camera and insert it into the computer’s SD slot. Properly eject the memory card before removing it. If your device doesn’t have an SD slot, you can tether your camera directly via the camera’s supplied USB cable. Be sure the camera battery has enough charge to complete the process. Your third option is to purchase a memory card reader. I’m a minimalist in everything I do, so the last thing I want to do is carry around another piece of gear, especially when traveling. Unless it is your only option, spare yourself the expense and additional hassle of a card reader.

Redundancy is king! Backup your images to at least two devices before erasing them from the memory card. Please note that erasing a card does not remove protected images, whereas formatting deletes all images, including protected images. It is recommended to format the card periodically to optimize performance.

Please contact me with any comments, questions, or suggestions. I’m wishing you an enjoyable Summer. Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Photographing the Urban Landscape

Urban Landscape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Urban Design, in its finest examples, ranks among humanity’s highest achievements. An organic fusion of form, function, and aesthetics, major urban centers offer unique and varied photographic opportunities. Cities have it all–big skylines, people, traffic, and an endless source of image-making. I love photographing the urban landscape. It’s challenging and exciting. I marvel at the mix of architectural styles and each city has its own unique flavor. For me, the urban landscape is another world!

The majority of the Earth’s inhabitants live in large urban centers. Cities represent all that is great and all that is failing in human society. The larger the metropolis, the greater the disparity. It is largely people that make cities so interesting. People add a highly dynamic component to the urban landscape and are a constant fascination. All the same things that excite a nature photographer–beautiful light, color and texture, and strong composition–can be found in any city.

Photographing the Urban Landscape

I relate to the streets. Wherever I am–be it L.A. or San Francisco or Portland–I love being on the streets, feeling the city’s pulse, its energy…mingling with the people. For me, that means traveling light and shooting on the fly. A Canon 35-105 zoom mounted on a film body is my workhorse. A small camera bag with a Canon 24mm f/2.8 superwide-angle, a Canon 200mm f/4 telephoto, a flash, and, depending on the situation and location, maybe a small, lightweight tripod. The 24mm is a must-carry lens. It’s small and compact and adds a lot of versatility. The 24mm is sharp, fast, and has tremendous depth-of-field. This lens really shines in tight shooting situations and I love its characteristic distortion. The 200mm telephoto works well for photographing people and can be hand-held. This lens allows for a very shallow depth-of-field–excellent for isolating a subject and creating a soft, diffuse background that is so pleasing. It also allows for some working distance between you and a potential subject. This is helpful when you want to capture people in the act of being themselves.

Because cities are places of great activity, extra awareness, caution, and preparedness are required on the part of the urban photographer. Your personal safety and the safety of others requires it. Be aware of your surroundings, at all times. You may be walking around with thousands of dollars strapped around your neck. Pay attention. Strive to remain inconspicuous. Wear casual, comfortable clothing and shoes, and be prepared for changes in weather. A small, heavy-duty trash bag works well to keep things dry in a pinch. They are lightweight and ultra-compact. That being said, bring an extra.

Photographing the Urban Landscape

As you explore your cityscape, look for unusual perspectives and vantage points. Cities are marvels of verticality and many unusual vantage points await. Night scenes can be especially beautiful when offered in a new and fresh way. Experiment. Try long, hand-held exposures. Look for visually compelling textures and repeating patterns, as well as strong converging lines. Keep compositions simple. Less usually equates to more. Apply all the same principles to photographing the urban landscape that you would to creating a good nature photograph. Light is everything! Pay attention. It can make or break your image.

It is sometimes a fine line between creating art and becoming an invasion into somebody’s life. Please be considerate of the people you photograph. Cities are home to great suffering. Allow every woman and man their dignity. Before you take any photograph, put yourself in the other person’s place. Ask people if it is alright to photograph them. Most people will likely welcome your request.

Please contact me with your comments, questions, and suggestions. Also, let me know if there is a particular topic you would like to see covered.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Photo Tip #9: Using Filters

Using Filters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filters are an important and often overlooked piece of photographic equipment, yet they are essential to the image-making process. In this article, I will discuss a basic set of filters that every nature photographer should have in her or his camera bag. I won’t go into the use of ‘creative’ or special effects filters, as they serve an entirely different function and are not relevant here.

The camera and the human eye see differently, and filters, when judiciously applied, help to render a scene more as the eye sees it. They can help to balance exposure in difficult light, reduce glare and reflection, and improve color saturation and contrast.

The first filter any camera shop will try to sell you is either a UV or Skylight 1A filter. These filters offer mild haze reduction and slightly warm the cool bluish cast normally associated with daylight. Their biggest pitch is lens protection. One photo guide by a prominent publication suggests that “many pros keep them on the lens for protection.” I disagree–and I know many seasoned pros who will tell you ‘No’ to the UV filter. It’s another glass surface to reflect and bounce light. If a filter doesn’t serve to enhance the image, don’t use it. As for lens protection, don’t strike your lens on things. A filter is no insurance. Use your lens cap. I once inherited a zoom lens with its bent UV filter permanently affixed. Forget attempting to use any other filter with that lens. If you should crack a filter’s glass element and can’t remove the filter, how good is your lens anyway? Starting at $25 each (and up to $300), the camera salesman would love to sell you all three sizes to fit your array of lenses. If anyone needs UV or Skylight filters, I have a dozen of them I never use!

Two suggestions regarding filters. One–buy only high-quality filters. They are an optical component and all filters are not created equal. B+W, Cokin, Hoya, and Tiffen all offer professional-quality filters. The second suggestion is to avoid stacking filters. More glass means less optical clarity and the reflection issue is multiplied.

The single most important filter in your kit is the circular polarizing lens. When I use a filter, 99% of the time, it’s a polarizer. A rotating ring allows for increasing and decreasing the amount of polarization. A polarizer deepens blue skies and helps to bring out detail in clouds. It also helps to increase color saturation and contrast. A polarizing lens reduces reflection on glass, water, and snow. Try rotating the ring to get the most accurate and pleasing results. With reflective surfaces, the polarizer works best at a 45-degree angle. When shooting the sky and clouds, a 90-degree angle from the Sun is optimal. This filter can be used for both color and black and white photography.

Using Filters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Probably the second most important filter in your bag is a Graduated Neutral Density filter. This filter allows less light to enter one half of the glass, without altering color. They come in 1-, 2-, and 3-stop differences. (ND 0.3, ND 0.6, and ND 0.9, respectively) This is extremely helpful when you encounter a scene with a shaded foreground and brightly lighted sky. A 2-stop (ND 0.6) Graduated filter will generally bring most situations into balance. If you have a question as to which filter is best for you, take a few meter readings next time you’re in the field. Determine the exposure differences throughout the scene–specifically, between shaded and brightly lighted areas, such as the sky.

My third recommendation is a Solid Neutral Density filter. The solid filter reduces the amount of light entering the lens equally throughout the image. This is especially helpful if you’re wanting a wider aperture for decreased depth-of-field, or to increase exposure time to create the soft, veil-like effect of flowing water. These filters are available in a wide range of densities, from 1-stop up to 6-stop reductions, and work very well with moving clouds and surging oceans. Cokin offers a filter system, as do a number of manufacturers, consisting of a filter holder, adapter ring (to fit specific lens diameters), and the filter itself–usually a square (4″ x 4″) or rectangular (4″ x 6″) pane of optical resin. These filters are lightweight, scratch-resistant, and optically coated. The big plus: no glass to shatter in the backcountry. This system allows you to position the filter up or down in the holder, which is nice when using the Graduated filter. And no having to buy (and carry) four filters to fit each of your lenses. Purchase the relatively inexpensive adapter ring and you’re golden.

My next recommendation is either an 81A or 81B warming filter. This slightly pinkish filter works well for portraits, as it warms skin tones and is especially beneficial on overcast days. This is one of those filters I don’t use a lot, but there are those occasions when it is indispensable. I prefer the 81B for its additional warming effect, though this is purely a personal choice.

Using Filters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are three additional filters which I will recommend. These are all black and white contrast filters–and while they are somewhat specialized, I want to give them mention. I suggest when you shoot black and white that any filtration occurs in the shooting process. Don’t rely on image-editing programs, such as Photoshop, to add filter effects after the fact. The #8 Yellow and #25A Red filters are both used to increase contrast in landscapes, particularly the contrast between clouds and sky. The Yellow filter darkens the sky, yielding a more accurate tonal rendition in black and white. The 25A produces a more dramatic, exaggerated contrast in water, sky, and clouds. The #11 Green filter is used to render accurate skin tones in black and white portraiture. It also improves the tonal rendition of foliage. As always, I recommend bracketing to guarantee the optimal exposure in your image.

B and H Photo/Video has an overwhelming selection of filters. Have fun and experiment. Filters add an entirely new creative dimension to your image-making. I’m wishing you well!

Please contact me with any comments, questions, or suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Photo Tip #8: Winter Photography–Shooting in Inclement Weather

Winter Photography

Winter is an especially photogenic time of year. The quality of light, long shadows, and starkness of the season lend themselves to dramatic image-making. What better time to be out and embracing nature? For me, Winter is the season to be shooting, but conditions can be cold, windy, and wet. With the proper gear, some preparation, and a willingness to embrace the elements, you will come away with extraordinary shots–it is inevitable. Be adventurous! I love backcountry skiing and that affords me unlimited photographic opportunity.

PRECEPT #1: Keep yourself warm and dry.

The single most important aspect of winter photography is your comfort. If you’re miserable, you won’t be hanging out waiting for the clouds to part and reveal that sunlit peak. Layer up. Dress in multiple layers, starting with a capilene or polypropylene base layer top and bottom. I prefer two pairs of socks–a light liner sock and a mid- to heavyweight wool sock. Two socks reduce the occurrence of blisters and keep the feet toasty when worn in conjunction with an insulated Gore-Tex boot. In my case, I am wearing a (Scarpa T2) plastic telemark ski boot. Next, I recommend an insulated wind or snow pant, depending on the situation. If conditions are particularly cold or windy, I might add a wool pant between my base layer and my ski pants. I am usually able to stay adequately warm with a fleece pullover and breathable, waterproof ski jacket. I may add a sweater if things get extreme or I anticipate periods of inactivity. Headware is a must. 80% of a person’s heat loss is through the top of the head. Include a pair of Goretex gloves, as well as a light fleece liner glove. Keep a balaclava in your pack to keep face and neck warm.

Please note: absolutely no cotton! This is a recipe for disaster. Cotton soaks up moisture, including sweat, and offers no insulating value.

Remember your sunglasses and sunscreen.

 

Winter Photography

Because the environment is cold, and often windy and wet, I minimize my photographic gear to the very basics. A camera body and extra batteries, a 24mm superwide-angle lens, a 35-105 zoom, and a polarizing filter for both lenses. Occasionally I include a small, lightweight tripod if I know the shooting situation warrants it– i.e., I’m camping and want to shoot a sunset or sunrise. Be prepared. Be sure all batteries are freshly charged. Keep spares in an inside jacket pocket so they stay warm. Two spare batteries provide additional insurance. Bring a couple of extra 8 or 16 GB memory cards (empty and formatted). Starting out with an empty card in the camera assures a minimum of fiddling around in the wind, rain, and snow.

PRECEPT #2: Keep your camera dry.

Next to staying warm and dry yourself, protecting your camera is paramount. DSLRs are a maze of electronic circuits and connections which are especially vulnerable to moisture. Some high-end pro cameras, like the Canon 1Ds Mark III, claim to be ‘weather-resistant.’ Regardless, you don’t want to test anyone’s claims. Water’s just a bad idea! A small, heavy-duty plastic bag can provide waterproof protection both in transport and while not shooting. Because they are small and lightweight, pack a couple of extras.

While the new digital cameras are much more reliant on electronics, this reduces the number of moving parts. The result is a camera that is more dependable in extremely cold conditions. What usually fails in cold weather is the camera’s battery, so keep all spare batteries warm. Carry a soft lens cloth for drying the lens element and viewfinder. Keep your camera clean. Check to see that lens mounts are clean and free of dust, as well as any contact points. Be sure that all optics are clean prior to leaving home. This includes filters, lens elements (front and back), viewfinder, and LCD screen. A clean lens element and viewfinder are less likely to fog up.

 

Winter Photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PRECEPT #3: Get out and shoot.

The more time one spends with camera in hand, the more likely one is going to capture that all-too-rare jaw-dropping shot. If you live in snow country, as I do, Winter can last up to six months of the year. I can’t afford to sit around waiting for the Spring thaw. As always, the time is now–so get out and shoot!

Best wishes for a healthy and enjoyable Winter season. Please contact me with any questions, comments, or suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Photo Tip #7: An Introduction to Flash Photography

 

Flash PhotographyFlash photography is probably the medium’s least understood aspect. Flash photography is considerably more complex than working with natural light alone, as you are simultaneously controlling two exposures–the flash exposure and the ambient-light exposure. With a modest investment in equipment and an understanding of basic principles, you can achieve professional, natural-looking results easily and consistently. Using flash adds highlights to a subject’s eyes and can even out harsh, contrasting shadows.

Basic equipment includes an external flash unit, a flash bracket for mounting the flash off the camera, and a flash diffuser for softening the light. A second (and even a third) flash unit allows for more sophisticated lighting techniques. An external flash is many times more powerful than a built-in flash and the flash head can be tilted for bounce flash. If you are serious about portraiture, you will want to invest in a quality flash.

Most cameras have a flash sync speed of 1/200 or 1/250 second. This is the fastest shutter speed you can use with a flash. Any faster will result in a partially exposed image, though many of the new digital SLRs have an automatic override which resets the shutter to its proper sync speed. Slower shutter speeds are fine and do not affect flash exposure, but will increase the amount of ambient exposure. Be sure to check your camera manual for the proper sync speed setting.

 

Flash PhotographyFlash illumination is strongly affected by distance. When you double the distance from flash to subject, four times the light is required to provide the same illumination. Double that distance again and sixteen times the amount of light is needed to provide the same amount of illumination. This is known as the Inverse Square Law. To further illustrate this point, if your subject is properly exposed at 2.8 feet, you will be 1 stop underexposed at 4.0 feet, 2 stops underexposed at 5.6 feet, three stops underexposed at 8.0 feet, etc.. You can see that if you have two subjects which are placed at varying distances, you will need a second light source if both subjects are to be properly exposed.

We are all familiar with the harsh shadows commonly associated with flash photography. Bounce flash provides a softer, more uniform light to a scene. Simply point the flash at a 90 degree angle to a white wall or ceiling. Avoid colored walls, as they alter color balance. Bounce flash usually requires about a 2-stop increase in exposure to compensate for light dispersal. Bracket (change your aperture setting, not your shutter speed) to insure an optimum image. You can use a piece of white foam board as a reflector in outdoor portraiture, or to fill shadow areas. A flash diffuser fits over the flash head to soften the light and provide a more even illumination. Red-eye is another common occurrence with flash photography. To remedy this problem, move the flash unit further away from the lens. You can hold the flash to the side and at arm’s length, or mount it on a flash bracket or tripod. You can also have the subject look slightly away from the camera. Avoid backgrounds such as glass, mirrors, and other highly reflective surfaces which throw light back into the camera.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please contact me.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Photo Tip #5: Photographing Landscapes

Photographing Landscapes

Landscapes account for more photographs, historically, than any other genre, with the likely exception of portraiture. We are all immersed in some kind of landscape. Even the city dweller resides in an urban landscape. While this particular article focuses on the natural world, everything I present here can be applied to cityscapes, as well.

Photography is all about light. Take note of those landscape photographs that really catch your eye. Almost certainly, the scene is awash in beautiful light. Light is the foundation upon which all photographs are created, and the more beautiful the light, the more visually impactful the photograph. Photographers are constantly referring to the golden hour— that one hour beginning just before sunrise and the one hour ending just after sunset. Colors grow rich and shadows long. Textures become accented. It is a rare occasion that great photos just happen. They are usually the product of hard work and committed effort–of knowing the subject, its characteristics, the best vantage point, and also the best time of day and optimal season. If you have the luxury, make repeated visits to a site. Learn it. When you get to know a particular location intimately, that begins to reflect in your photographs. Galen Rowell is an outstanding landscape photographer and high on my list of favorites. Galen’s photos of the Eastern Sierra Nevada are stunning. He has climbed, skied, and photographed on all seven continents and chose to live in the Eastern Sierra because of its unique quality of light, which he felt to be the most beautiful he had experienced anywhere on the planet. When metering for landscapes, take readings from middle tones in the landscape itself. Or, take a gray card reading, providing you are positioned in the same light as your subject (See Determining Exposure).

 

Photographin Landscapes

Composition is critical in good landscape photography. Apply the rule of thirds. I prefer to call it a principle rather than a rule. Use it as a guideline (See Composition For A Stronger Photograph). Many factors combine to influence a photograph’s composition. Determine your center of interest, whether it’s a human figure, a towering mountain peak, incredible light, or a splash of bright color. Look for interesting color contrasts, but also be aware of competing colors that draw the eye away from your intended point of interest. Be conscious in the placement of your horizon line. One-third up from the bottom emphasizes an expansive sky. One-third from the top directs attention to the landscape itself. Pay attention that oceans and lakes don’t flow down hill. Don’t restrict yourself to a horizontal camera orientation. Maybe the soaring conifers require a vertical orientation. Get in the habit of viewing the scene in both directions. If you are a professional photographer providing stock images to clients, they may request a vertical orientation, specifically. If the image is intended for a calendar, the client may require a horizontal format. If a scene works both vertically and horizontally, photograph it in both directions. It ups your chance of selling the image.

When photographing sunsets, meter the middle tones in the sky at about a 45-degree angle from the Sun. Silhouetted objects in the foreground can add visual interest and drama to a scene.You can use a flash to light up foreground detail. When properly applied, this can provide striking results. Determine the proper f-stop for your flash-to-subject distance and set the shutter speed to your flash’s sync speed (usually 1/125 sec) or slower. I will cover the use of flash in an upcoming Photo Tips.

When shooting backlighted landscapes, use your hand, or a hat, or your gray card to shade the front of the lens to eliminate lens flare. On occasion, I find lens flare adds an interesting visual component. And there are going to be those times when it is unavoidable. Note: Never look directly at the Sun through your viewfinder. You can severely and permanently damage your eyes!

Filters can help to render more pleasing results, but I recommend using them sparingly. A polarizing filter is great for reducing reflections on bright surfaces, such as water, snow, and glass. It also increases color contrast and deepens the blue sky. A rotating ring and lens adjusts the amount of polarization. It works best when the camera is pointed at a 90-degree angle from the Sun. I suggest not getting too heavy-handed with the polarizer. Skies can become unrealistically saturated. Try different degrees of polarization and see which offers you the most optimal results, but less is usually better. A note on polarizers. They have a tendency to muddy up green foliage, particularly conifers–especially when they are bathed in warm light. A second filter I recommend is a graduated neutral density filter. This filter is indispensable in balancing a bright sky and a less reflective landscape. The glass element is divided in half, one half being denser than the other. This reduces the amount of light entering through that half of the filter without affecting overall color balance. Graduated neutral density filters are available in 1-, 2-, and 3-stop differences, on up to 8- and 10-stop filters. Keep all filters and lenses clean and free of dust–particularly when shooting in the direction of the Sun. Removing filters entirely reduces the amount of reflection and helps to eliminate that washed out quality in backlighted scenes.

I suggest using a tripod and cable release whenever possible. The more stable your camera, the sharper the image. A tripod is a must if you want to create the effect of soft, flowing water that can be so appealing. Try using long shutter speeds–a second or more. When hand-holding your camera, use fast shutter speeds. The rule of thumb is: if you are shooting with a 50 mm lens, use a shutter speed of 1/60 second or faster. If you’re shooting with a 200 mm telephoto, set the shutter speed at 1/250 second or faster.

I hope this article has been helpful. Please contact me with any comments, questions, or suggestions. If you have a particular topic you would like to see covered, let me know. I will try to oblige you.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Photo Tip #4: Composition For A Stronger Photograph

Composition

Composition is arguably the single most important aspect of good photography. If every other technical skill is expertly applied, but the photograph is carelessly composed, what might have been a memorable image becomes fodder for the delete button. Several elements combine to create a strong image, yet none of them makes or breaks a photograph like composition. I define composition as “the deliberate arrangement of all the elements within the photograph.” The key word is deliberate. When you put into practice these few basic precepts, you will take the necessary steps toward creating stronger, more compelling imagery.

The first and most fundamental principle is the rule of thirds. I briefly discussed the rule of thirds in my Photo Tips post, Photographing People–The Informal Portrait. To review, divide the picture area into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Place your subject along one of these imaginary grid lines, rather than automatically plopping them dead-center in the viewfinder. Avoid running the horizon line through the middle of the frame. Place it one-third of the way up from the bottom or one-third down from the top. If you’re photographing your child riding their bike, have them riding into the photograph. This implies forward motion and is much more visually interesting.

Many elements contribute to a balanced composition. The rule of thirds is only a guide and should not become an automatic exercise. Ultimately, composition is intuitive–a feeling based on all the ingredients visible in the view finder. Light and dark objects carry visual weight and affect compositional balance. Strong converging lines are very effective in drawing the eye in a particular direction and creating interest. When photographing people, survey their surroundings. Is a tightly cropped portrait most impactful, or does placing the subject in the immensity of the landscape make a stronger statement? Don’t cut your friends off at the feet. Most often, it looks accidental and is aesthetically disconcerting.

 

Composition

Pay attention when looking through the view finder. Scan the edges of your potential photograph for unwanted and distracting elements–branches, telephone wires, etc.. Try different shooting angles. Lay on the ground and shoot upward. When taking your girlfriend’s portrait, try looking down from her second story apartment. Sometimes moving your camera position a few feet one way or the other will yield a more pleasing background or eliminate any lens flare. If you’re using a zoom lens, zoom in and out. How does the scene look? Is it most dramatic when shot tightly, or does the scene require a wider view? Maybe each is particularly compelling, but for different reasons. Does a horizontal or vertical camera orientation make for a stronger composition? Look for interesting textures and repeating patterns. They can add visual impact and are often striking subjects in of themselves. Placing objects in the foreground gives a sense of scale and immensity to landscapes. Strong contrasting light and shadow is effective in creating tension, particularly with portraiture. Shooting on overcast days can impart a feeling of melancholy. I always strive for simplicity in my compositions. The fewer objects competing with one another, the better. Ask yourself, do all the elements work together to enhance the photograph? What distracts from it? Critique your work. Get together with friends and critique each others’ work. The feedback is incredibly valuable. See what other photographers are doing. If your interest is portraiture, see what new and exciting things are being done there. When you encounter a photograph that grabs you, what is it that catches your attention? Innovative work often challenges current notions about photography. Experiment. Have fun. And most importantly, get out and shoot!

I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Photo Tip #3: Photographing People–The Informal Portrait

Photographing People

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The art and aesthetic of portraiture is highly varied and subjective. I love the photojournalistic approach to photographing people–catching them in that unguarded moment. I strive to capture a subject in the act of being him- or herself. As you move through your day-to-day, take note of the portraits that really move you. It is likely that they exude the passion, emotion, and wonder that is intrinsic to being human. The most powerful portraits are those that speak to our own sense of humanness.

The informal portrait is an exercise in patient observation, having the camera ready at all times. Think ahead. Anticipate where any action may occur. Note the light and take meter readings. Think about depth-of-field (see Photo Tip #2: Depth-of-Field). Is the action fast-moving? Does the scene warrant a slow shutter speed and blurred motion to emphasize the action?

I am a minimalist by nature. When in the field, I like to keep gear to a minimum–for a couple of reasons. One–space and weight. I’m often packing the gear while skiing or hiking and want to keep weight down. And two–the more gear you bring, the more likely you are to spend precious time switching from one lens to the next, potentially missing that one-time shot. With my film camera, I carry a maximum of three lenses and usually two. My main lens is a Canon 35-105 mm f/3.5-5.6 macro zoom. Ninety percent of all my photos are taken with this lens. With its high optical quality, the focal range offers many compositional possibilities and works very well for portraits. Generally, 85 to 100 mm focal lengths are considered ideal for portraiture. Anything shorter tends to distort facial features at closer distances. But maybe the portrait is less about the person, per se, and more about their relationship to the landscape. Having the flexibility and convenience of a zoom is indispensable to me. I place a lot of emphasis on composition and a zoom lens makes composing the photograph easy. My second must-carry lens is a Canon 24 mm f/2.8 superwide angle with an 89 degree field of view. I love its sharpness front to back, as well as its distortion of perspective. This lens is compact and fairly lightweight, so I can’t afford to leave it at home. Even though I only use it occasionally, there are times when it’s the only lens for the job. Don’t hesitate to try wide and superwide angle lenses for portraiture. They can be used very creatively. The third lens in my quiver is a Canon 200 mm f/4 telephoto. Another favorite lens. It’s short enough to be hand-held (no image-stabilization) and works well for portraiture. The lens is especially nice in its ability to isolate a subject and produce a soft, diffuse background. Because of its size and weight, this lens may or may not make it into the pack, depending on the situation.

 

Photographing PeopleA word on composition. It is natural to plop the subject dead-center in the middle of the photograph. Sometimes this works, but most of the time it doesn’t. There is a principle called the rule of thirds, in which you divide the picture area into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. Place your subject 1/3 of the way into the picture area and have them walking, running, or skiing into the photograph. This implies forward motion and is simply more visually interesting. Maybe having the subject walking out of the photograph more accurately conveys what you want to say. I will talk more about the rule of thirds in the next Photo Tips. If your friends are standing on the summit of Mount Whitney, don’t cut them off at the ankles–it’s a grave injustice–and they’ll need their feet to get back down. When composing a photograph, try varying the camera angle to exaggerate perspective or create tension. Nobody says the camera must be held perfectly level.

I prefer to shoot portraits hand-held and in natural light. I like being able to shoot on the fly. Fill flash, when handled properly, yields pleasing, natural-looking results. I will cover the use of flash in a future Photo Tips. If you are shooting in low light, try opening up the lens and hand-holding for a second or more. I’ve been rewarded with some very pleasant surprises–images that remain among my favorites–through my willingness to experiment.

Photographing people doesn’t require a predetermined subject. Interesting portraits surround us wherever we are. The Swing (top) was taken at a park playground in my hometown many years ago. Children love to be photographed and are usually willing and able subjects. This particular photograph was taken on Kodak Plus-X (125 ASA black and white) print film. The negative was scanned in the color mode, yielding the magenta cast you see here. I have taken to scanning my black and white negatives in the color mode and then converting them to grayscale images. Sometimes, as with The Swing, I prefer the the color version over its black and white counterpart.

A friend and college instructor used to profess, “The first rule in art is there are no rules.” So have fun. Experiment. And most of all, get out and shoot. The possibilities are limitless.

Please contact me with any questions, comments, or suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Photo Tip #2: Depth-of-Field

 

Depth-of-Field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Depth-of-field is defined as that area within a photograph which is in sharp focus. By understanding and implementing a few basic concepts, you can take complete control of your image-making. When you determine depth-of-field manually, you are able to render any scene in a myriad of ways–from isolating a subject against a soft, blurred background to maintaining sharp focus front to back. This lesson on depth-of-field is the second half of understanding exposure (see Photo Tip #1: Determining Exposure).

Let’s review some basics. There is an inverse relationship between aperture (lens opening) and shutter speed (how long light strikes the sensor or film). Once proper exposure has been determined, and you change one setting, you have to adjust the other to compensate for the increase or decrease in light reaching the camera’s sensor. Aperture controls depth-of-field. Large lens openings (f/1.8 or f/2) produce very shallow depth-of-field, that is, only a very limited area is in sharp focus and the rest of the photograph is a soft blur. A small lens opening (f/16 of f/22) will produce sharp focus throughout most or all of the photograph. At different times, one or the other may yield stronger or more pleasing results. You should familiarize yourself with your camera’s depth-of-field preview, which allows you to see what is in focus at a particular aperture before you take the photograph. If your subject is static or posing, you can always take the photograph, view it, and adjust accordingly. But if you’re photographing a fast-paced event, say, a sprinter dashing across the finish line for a gold medal, you may only have a split second and one chance to get your shot. Your depth-of-field preview allows you to pre-determine exactly which areas in the photograph are sharp and which are not–so when the subject moves into position, you are ready to depress the shutter.

Also, you will find a depth-of-field scale on your camera’s lens barrel. It tells you, in feet and meters, what area is in sharp focus at all the various f-stops. Using my 50 mm f/1.8 lens, if I focus on a subject 10 feet away with an aperture setting of f/4, the area in sharp focus, according to my scale, is between about 9 and 12 feet. If I stop down to f/16, that area in sharp focus increases to between approximately 6.5 and 28 feet, for a much greater depth-of-field. Keep in mind that by stopping down to f/16, you have decreased your exposure by 4 stops, and so you need to reduce (slow) your shutter speed, and/or increase your ISO setting a total of 4 stops. That is, if you are shooting with an ISO of 100 at 1/1000 second at f/4, you need to set your shutter to 1/60 second–or increase the ISO setting (from ISO 100 to 1600, etc.) to compensate for a much smaller lens opening

A lens’ focal length also affects depth-of-field. The shorter the focal length, the greater the depth-of-field. The longer the focal length, the shallower the depth-of-field. I have a 24 mm f/2.8 super-wide angle lens (89 degree field of view) that I use with my film camera. I love the lens for its sharpness throughout the image area, even wide open. I also love it for its distortion, which becomes more exaggerated as you move closer to the subject.

 

Depth-of-Field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the above photo, Fly on a Leaf, I used a 200 mm f/4 Canon lens with a small (12 mm) extension tube to increase magnification. Telephoto lenses have an inherently shallow depth-of-field and are wonderful for isolating a subject. Using the extension tube allowed me to magnify the subject (in this case, the fly) and still maintain enough distance to preserve a soft, pleasing background.

The final factor that determines depth-of-field is the distance between camera and subject. Using the same example as above, if I am shooting a subject 10 feet away at f/4, the area in sharp focus lies between approximately 9 and 12 feet. If my subject is 30 feet away at f/4, that area in sharp focus is between approximately 23 and 45 feet. The basic premise is: when you focus on a subject, 1/3 of the area that is sharp falls in front of the subject and 2/3 falls behind it. So needless to say, when you start getting very close to a subject–using extension tubes or macro lenses–depth-of-field is sometimes a fraction of an inch. This can provide for all kinds of interesting challenges. At such high magnification, or with long telephoto lenses, you want to use a tripod and cable release. Exposures are often long, and it’s easier to focus and compose the photograph, and it assures that critical areas will be sharp.

The top photo, Pebble Creek, Yellowstone, was taken using a 35-105 mm f/3.5 zoom on my (tripod-mounted) Canon film camera. I zoomed wide, stopped way down for increased depth-of-field, and used a slow shutter speed to soften the flowing water. Fly… was shot hand-held. The fly wasn’t going to stick around long enough for me to set up a tripod, so I seized the moment. Notice the telephoto’s ability to isolate the subject using shallow depth-of-field. This works well with both portraiture and photographing wildflowers.

A note on tripods and image-stabilization: Turn off the image-stabilizer when mounting the camera on a tripod. When shooting long exposures (1/15 second or slower), I recommend turning off your camera’s autofocus and focusing manually, and then locking up your mirror. Remember to bracket.

I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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