How to Use a 16-Stop ND Filter for Extreme Long Exposure Photography

The post How to Use a 16-Stop ND Filter for Extreme Long Exposure Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

extreme-long-exposure-photography

Long exposure techniques are a fantastic way to inject interest into your photography. By nature, these techniques present your images in a way that is different to how the world is perceived by the human eye. Blurring moving elements within your frame (whether that be water, people or clouds) can also be a tool to help you isolate and focus on the elements of a scene that you want your viewers to focus on. This makes long exposures a valuable asset for composition and design. While most long exposures last for a matter of a few seconds, there are tools available that will allow you to do extreme long exposure photography – even in the middle of the day.

How to Use a 16-Stop ND Filter for Extreme Long Exposure Photography

This tutorial will show you how to use a 16-stop neutral density filter to do extreme long exposure photography. It will take you step-by-step through the equipment you need, the steps you need to take to get started, and the considerations you need to make to overcome some technical issues. There is also a list of tips at the end to help you get the most out of your 16-stop ND filter.

Why 16 stops?

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Using the long exposures provided by a 16-stop ND filter, you are able to blur moving elements (such as clouds and water) to simplify your frame and reduce visual clutter.

Long exposures, even with strong 10-stop neutral density filters, are usually limited to low light situations. For the most part, this is fine as that means you will be out at golden hour or blue hour when the light is at its very best for most types of photography.

What a 16-stop ND filter allows you to do is to extreme long exposure photography in the middle of the day when the light levels are at their highest. For example, a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second (sunny 16 rule) turns into an 8-minute and 44-second exposure when you put 16-stops of neutral density filter on the lens. This kind of exposure time turns the water and clouds into an almost ethereal, milky texture that works well visually. By blurring these elements, you are also potentially reducing visual clutter and contrast in your scenes, making them more visually appealing.

What you need

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Apart from the filter, this technique is going to require a few other pieces of equipment as well.

  • A camera with a Bulb setting.
  • A sturdy tripod that will hold still for several minutes or more.
  • A release that will allow you to trigger the camera without touching it.
  • An exposure calculator.
  • A 16-stop ND filter. (This tutorial will work the same with any strength of ND filter.)

How to do it

Once you’re out on location, setting up for a long exposure is pretty easy. In fact, these steps remain the same whether you are using a three-stop filter or a 16-stop filter.

Step 1: Set up your camera and line up your composition.

Make sure to attach all of your releases or filter holders at this point as well. Anything you can use to reduce the chance of camera movement between now and the time your exposure finishes will help to ensure there is no camera movement affecting your images. Take your time with this step and if you need to, take as many test shots as possible. Once you put the filter on, you will be stuck in place for several minutes.

Be sure of your composition before you get to that point.

Step 2: Meter and calculate exposure

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Here, a metered shutter speed (without the filter) of 1/160th of a second becomes 6 minutes and 49 seconds once the 16-stop ND filter is applied.

If you’ve taken test shots, you already know what your exposure is (without the filter). If not, read the camera’s meter. Take the exposure it has given you and input it into the exposure calculator of your choice to calculate the exposure required for 16-stops of ND filter. This will give you your required exposure for your final image.

There are a lot of exposure calculators available on iOS and Android. They all provide the same end result, so pick whichever one you would like.

Step 3: Set focus

Set the focus where you want in the frame and then place the camera in Manual Focus mode. Autofocus will not work at all with a 16-stop filter. It is way too dense. Putting your camera into manual focus will make sure that the camera does not attempt to focus when it can’t, thereby rendering your photos out of focus.

Step 4: Switch to Bulb

Put your camera into Bulb mode to allow it to keep the shutter open for as long as your exposure requires.

Step 5: Attach the filter

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With everything in place, you can now attach your filter. If you’re using a rectangular slot-in variety, attach the holder to the ring you’ve already placed on your lens. If you’re using a screw-in variety (shown), be very careful not to jostle your set-up because, if you do, you will have to start the process again.

Step 6 – Input shutter speed

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My trigger is controlled by my phone, so the shutter speed is inputted into the app as shown.

With the filter set up, you just need to input your shutter speed into whatever trigger you are using. In these examples, I am using a Pulse trigger which allows me to control it from my phone. There are a lot of available options at a variety of price points. Be sure to choose one that doesn’t require you to hold down a button for ten minutes though.

Step 7 – Release the shutter

With that done, the only thing left for you to do is to start your exposure and wait.

Easy as that

How to Use a 16-Stop ND Filter for Extreme Long Exposure Photography

This process may seem like a lot of steps, but it is quite easy. As long as you take care not to move the camera throughout the process, you will be fine. You will be able to set it up in a minute or so once you have practiced a bit. The key here is to know your equipment and to practice the movements so you can perform them as second nature.

Considerations

Now that you know how to create long exposures with your 16-stop ND filter, there are a few technical considerations you should bear in mind.

Noise

Image: Noise is a problem when taking long exposures and is especially prone to showing up in the sh...

Noise is a problem when taking long exposures and is especially prone to showing up in the shadow areas of your images. Be prepared to take care of it.

Unfortunately, long exposures with digital cameras mean noise. The longer the exposure, the more noise appears in your images. If you use a higher ISO to achieve shorter exposures, that will also increase the noise levels in your images.

To alleviate this as much as possible, try to avoid really, really long exposures if they are not necessary. If your camera has a Long Exposure Noise Reduction (or similar) feature, turn it on (remember that this will double your exposure time). It will also help if you to familiarize yourself with noise reduction software, either inside Photoshop or Lightroom, or other third-party program.

Hot pixels

Image: The two circled white dots are hot pixels. They’re easy enough to clone out just as lon...

The two circled white dots are hot pixels. They’re easy enough to clone out just as long as you are aware of them in the first place.

Hot Pixels are an unfortunate side effect of long exposures using digital cameras. While there is no way to truly avoid them, you need to be aware of their existence as they have the potential to ruin your efforts. These defects happen when your sensor gets hot during a long exposure (a simplified explanation, but it will serve).

To deal with them, you can heal, patch, or clone them out in Photoshop. Alternatively, you could use the Long Exposure Noise Reduction (or similar feature as appears in your camera system), but be aware this doubles your exposure time. If your exposure is close to nine minutes, that now means that all of your exposures will take about 18 minutes.

Light leaks

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While light leaks of this nature can be easy to take care of, there are a few steps you can take to make sure that they don’t appear in the first place.

With such long exposures, light leaks can be a common problem. These happen where excess light falls onto your sensor. This can happen where the filter attaches to the lens, or it can happen where the lens attaches to the camera. It can also happen through the viewfinder.

If you’re worried about light leaks, you can buy dedicated accessories that help to prevent them. If the leak is coming from the lens mount, you can also wrap material around it for a cheaper option. Some camera brands have a little rubber rectangle attached to the camera strap. This handy little feature is used to cover your viewfinder during long exposures. Simply slide off the exterior case over your viewfinder, and slide the rubber rectangle from your camera strap in its place. This will stop the light leaking in through the viewfinder.

Another option is to shoot a wider composition than you need and crop the light leaks out. This wouldn’t be my preferred method, but it will work in a pinch when you have no other choice.

Changing light

Image: This image is underexposed by several stops. Although it was taken at the exposure the meter...

This image is underexposed by several stops. Although it was taken at the exposure the meter dictated, the light dimmed significantly during the exposure, meaning the original exposure time was inadequate.

In the middle of the day, your exposure will be close to a near-constant. Later in the day, however, light levels can start to change rapidly.

If you meter for a long exposure of a hypothetical half hour in the late afternoon, it is entirely possible the light will lower in intensity during that time. Therefore, the actual time required for correct exposure will be much much longer. This will result in underexposed images.

You can compensate by preparing for that possibility beforehand. Choose a longer shutter speed than your meter dictates if you suspect that the light will change on you. This will be mostly guesswork based on plenty of experience though, so be sure to be out practicing as much as possible.

Filter size

Image: For the most versatility, consider opting for a filter system that will fit the complete rang...

For the most versatility, consider opting for a filter system that will fit the complete range of your lenses so you have the choice to use it at all of your available focal lengths.

Image: Alternatively, feel free to shoot wide and crop in. Not ideal, but this works just fine. Crop...

Alternatively, feel free to shoot wide and crop in. Not ideal, but this works just fine. Cropping is also a useful way to get rid of light leaks that appear at the edges of your images like in the example shown.

If you opt for the screw-in variety of filters, you may find yourself limited with the lenses you can use. In my case, I bought a filter that would fit my 16-35mm wide-angle zoom, and almost immediately found that I wanted to put it on my 70-200mm to crop in close on a particular building.

I was convinced that I wouldn’t want to use it on anything but the wide-angle lens. You can always buy stop-down rings, but if you think that you’ll use your filter on a  variety of lenses, a filter that fits a slot-in system may be the better choice for you.

Releases, triggers, and remotes

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As mentioned, there are a lot of options to fire your shutter without touching your camera. It doesn’t matter which you pick. However, it would be best to altogether avoid any releases that require you to hold down a button for the entire duration of the exposure. For thirty seconds, this may not be a problem, but in terms of ten-minute exposures, you are just increasing the chance that you might slip and ruin your frame.

Tips

Here are a handful of tips to help you get the most out of the technique.

ISO

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If you want shorter exposure times without using a different filter, you can increase your ISO. Here, changing the ISO from 100 to 400 (2 stops) has cut the exposure time by over 75%.

If you don’t want to wait around for, say, ten minutes for an exposure, you can halve it by upping your ISO one stop. This may introduce some more noise to your images, but as long as you don’t try to go past ISO 800, and your exposures are under or around 10 minutes, you should be fine as long as you are aware of the possibility.

Lighting

Image: In overcast conditions, the effect of the 16-stop filter can emphasize the flatness of the li...

In overcast conditions, the effect of the 16-stop filter can emphasize the flatness of the lighting. This may or not work with what you are trying to achieve.

Image: Conversely, the technique also helps to emphasize hard lighting and the contrast in such scen...

Conversely, the technique also helps to emphasize hard lighting and the contrast in such scenes. Use this to your advantage.

This is no rule, but I’ve found that this technique works well with subjects in direct light as the heavy contrast suits the technique. In overcast conditions, the flatness of the light is emphasized, and the results can feel a little less than inspiring. Again, this is not a rule and if you have no choice but to shoot in overcast conditions, do so anyway.

Moving things

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On a rare and anomalous sunny day in Manchester, this river was full of numerous boats that constantly went through my frames. The near ten-minute exposures have caused all evidence of them to disappear.

The longer your final exposure, the less any moving thing will show up in your frame. Is there a lot of river traffic in your scene? A bunch of tourists? Chances are those things will have left your frame by the time your exposure is finished. If you’re at a particularly crowded spot, see if you can make your exposure as long as possible to increase the chances that every unwanted element is removed from your frame.

Be sure of your composition

This technique is a very slow and deliberate form of photography. If you get something slightly wrong, it will cost you a fair amount of time to try again. To prevent having to do that, take your time with every single step in the set-up process and make sure that it is right. Composition, in particular, is vital for you to get right before you press the shutter release.

Embrace the time

Whilst your camera is recording your exposure, you will have a lot of time standing around. Take advantage of it. Take the opportunity to appreciate the scene around you without the viewfinder to your eye. Mindfully think about any other compositions in the area. It’s easy to start worrying about the remaining time on the exposure clock, but I encourage you not to. Instead, take a quiet few minutes for granted when you have nothing to do but stand next to your camera.

Be aware of your surroundings

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I was aware of the tide coming in here (I was counting on it) but did not expect it come this far in less than ten minutes.

Because you are going to be standing around for at least a good few minutes, it’s important that you pay extra care to your surroundings during your exposure. During normal-length exposures, you won’t usually have a problem with things like the tide coming in and submerging your tripod during the exposure. With exposures that last into the minutes or hours, that’s more than a possibility.

Simply put, pay attention to your environment and keep yourself and your equipment safe.

End results

Finally, here are a few examples of some of the results you can expect to achieve with a 16-stop ND filter.

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How to Use a 16-Stop ND Filter for Extreme Long Exposure Photography

How to Use a 16-Stop ND Filter for Extreme Long Exposure Photography

How to Use a 16-Stop ND Filter for Extreme Long Exposure Photography

How to Use a 16-Stop ND Filter for Extreme Long Exposure Photography

That’s it

If you already have experience with long exposures, the only thing new to you with this technique is the amount of time the shutter will be open. The skills may be basic, but the extra few stops of ND filter can lead to wonderful results.

I encourage anyone interested in long exposures to give the technique a try. If nothing else, experiencing the mindful, deliberate, and slow approach to photography that this technique commands are well worth the effort. Also, it is a nice departure from the faster-paced styles of photography.

Share your extreme long exposure photography with us in the comments below!

The post How to Use a 16-Stop ND Filter for Extreme Long Exposure Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Simple Tips to Improve Your Portrait Photography Immediately

The post Simple Tips to Improve Your Portrait Photography Immediately appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

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Getting started with portrait photography can seem like a daunting task. Once you start researching all the techniques, equipment and (so-called) rules, and everything else you have to memorize and acquire, it can all feel a bit overwhelming. Even so, the journey is worth it, and portraiture is a rewarding pursuit. Throughout your time taking portraits, you will meet, talk to and get to know a lot of people, and hopefully take some great photos of them as well. Instead of focusing on what you need to take great portraits (that’s a camera by the way, nothing more), this article outlines eight tips that you can take and start using immediately to help you improve your portrait photography immediately, without spending another penny.

1. Use softer light

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Soft light is an incredible tool to get the very most out of your portraits. Using it is not the only way to do things, but it’s a great place to start.

If you’ve read anything about portrait lighting before, this is a tip you’ve already heard, but it needs to be repeated over and over again. Hard light, such as that from the midday sun, is usually the quickest way to attain contrasty and harsh portraits with unflattering shadows and highlights. Taking the time to seek out pockets of softer light (or creating it in the studio) is by far the quickest and most effective way to improve your portrait photography without doing anything else.

Outdoors, look for areas of open shade or take advantage of overcast days where the light is diffused by the cloud cover. Of course, golden hour will provide you with amazing light most of the time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go out and search for pockets of diffused, flattering light at any other time of the day.

Image: For soft light in the studio, big modifiers in close will do the job just great.

For soft light in the studio, big modifiers in close will do the job just great.

In the studio, make sure that you are using as big of a modifier as you have. If the light is still too hard, you can diffuse your light with a diffuser (yes, I know that might require another purchase, and I apologize for that), or you can move the light closer to your subject.

Just remember that the bigger the apparent light source is to your subject, the softer the light is.

Is all this to say that you shouldn’t use hard light for portraits? Absolutely not. Hard light can make for wonderful portraits, but in a lot of cases, and especially as you are starting out, you will find it beneficial to learn how to use and understand soft light first.

2. Light for the eyes

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Making your subject’s eyes a priority when you are lighting your images will ensure that the eyes are bright and remain the focal point of your images.

Eyes may be the most important part of a portrait. When your viewers look at photos of people, most of the time they engaging with the person’s eyes first. This is because that is how we humans engage with people in face-to-face scenarios. To make sure you get the very best from your subject’s eyes, start making sure that you light for the eyes at the beginning of every portrait session before you even take your first frame.

To do this, watch your subject’s eyes carefully as you arrange the light, whether that be outdoors or in the studio. Direct your subject (or move your light source if you can) so that the catchlight in their eye is near the top of their eye. It also helps if the light is going directly into their eyes. This will help you to get the most detail in your subject’s eyes.

You will also find that making the eyes a priority at the capture stage means that you will rarely have to do anything to them in post-processing.

In short, light from above whenever possible and direct your subject’s pose so that the light is going into their eyes.

Image: If you use a really big light source (i.e. to get softer light), the less bright the eyes wil...

If you use a really big light source (i.e. to get softer light), the less bright the eyes will be. This is a good thing to keep in mind as you start looking towards big octaboxes and parabolic umbrellas.

As an aside, the softer the light source, the less detail will record in your subject’s eyes and the darker they will appear in your images. The harder the light source, the more detail.

This will only become an issue if you are using really, really big modifiers in the studio, or if there’s particularly heavy cloud cover. You should be fine if you’re using medium (normal) sized modifiers.

If your goal is simply to get the most detail possible out of your subject’s eyes, you might need to go for a harder light source. You could also mix light sources so that your subject’s eyes are lit by a hard light source, but there is still a softer light source evening-out the contrast in your images.

3. Rapport

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Having a good rapport and good communication with your subjects is the best way to get the best expressions out of them.

It should probably go without saying that if you are serious about undertaking portrait photography, then your people skills are going to be paramount to your success. In order to get the best reactions and poses, and to keep your subjects comfortable and engaged, you should build a rapport with each and every subject. Every person is different and no two techniques or methods will work the same with everyone, so you will need to build a catalog of techniques to help you encourage the best from people.

You can start by always, always being polite. Stay positive and complimentary even if things are going completely wrong. Instead of saying: “this isn’t right,” try something along the lines of “This is cool, let’s move on to something else.”

Also remember that as the focus of your portrait is the person you are photographing, so should your attention be. Talk about your subject, and let them talk about themselves.

Try to avoid talking about your photography and definitely avoid technical jargon. Unless you are photographing a photographer, nobody cares. I know that’s tough to hear as you as a photographer care deeply about that stuff, but nobody else does. The confusion and disinterest that those topics inspire in other people will clearly show in the final photos.

If you remember that it’s not about you or your photography, but the person in the photo, you mostly can’t go wrong.

4. Background

Image: On location, making sure your backgrounds are clean and distraction-free is a vital skill to...

On location, making sure your backgrounds are clean and distraction-free is a vital skill to develop.

This is one of those skills that once you learn, you will start to do it automatically and never have to think about it again. In the beginning, however, it is vital to pay close attention to the backgrounds in your images. Ensure there are no extraneous elements creeping into the frame. Make sure there’s nothing like poles, trees, or cars intersecting your subject. If your background is blurred with a shallow depth of field, make sure there are no blobs of contrasting color or value that take away attention from your subject.

In short, pay as much attention to your backgrounds as you do your subjects and ensure that they are clean and distraction-free.

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Background clutter is just as much of a pain in the studio. Lights, cables, reflectors, edges of the background all seem to find a way to creep into the frame.

This is easier to do in the studio environment, but there are still things that you can look out for. Avoid using wrinkled backdrops (they never, ever look good). With plain walls, look out for marks and cracks from subsidence or similar. Just taking a moment to pay attention to these small details can help to improve your photos immensely. It’s also a lot easier to spot these things and deal with them in the moment than it is to retouch them out of your photos later.

5. Get close

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Filling the frame with your subject will help to emphasize the focal point of your image.

It was Robert Capa who said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”

Out of all the photography quotes ever quoted, this is the one I find the most useful by far. It applies to all genres of photography in general, but in portraiture, it’s a particularly important concept. Whatever the focus of your photos (people in this case), ensuring that that your subject is the focal point, and the only focal point in the image, is important. Get close and fill the frame. In most cases, you don’t need much background, and in a lot of cases, you don’t need any background at all.

Doing this helps you to make sure there are no distracting elements in your images. It also helps to emphasize that your portrait is a portrait of a person and nothing else. Sure, there are plenty of instances when you want more background in your images.

Environmental portraiture is a fantastic genre that I love to look at, but if you look at some of the best examples of these, you will probably find that the subject still dominates the frame. The background is just ancillary information that is used to complement the focus on the subject rather than detract from it.

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All that said, the use of dead space is a valuable and wonderful compositional element.

Another instance you might opt not to get too close is when you want to use dead space as a design element or perhaps for editorial photography. That’s also fine. The key in these situations is to know when to be close and get a tight-framed portrait, and when to step back and let more into the frame. Most of the time with portraits, however, you will be well-served by getting in close and filling the frame.

The beginning

There you have it, that’s a few tips that will help you to improve your portrait photography without spending another penny. Perhaps not all of these tips will suit you and your photography, but I encourage you to try to implement them for the sake of seeing what you can learn from them anyway.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and if you have any tips you feel should be shared with beginners to help improve their portrait photography, please do leave them in the comments.

The post Simple Tips to Improve Your Portrait Photography Immediately appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Getting to Grips with Fill Light in Portrait Photography

The post Getting to Grips with Fill Light in Portrait Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Image: Using fill light is an essential skill that will allow you complete control over the contrast...

Using fill light is an essential skill that will allow you complete control over the contrast and tonality in your images in any type of lighting situation.

It should be no secret to any photographer that one light is all you need to achieve great results. While one light setups (in this context, specifically those that don’t involve the use of a reflector) are both well discussed and incredibly useful, sometimes it’s good (or even essential) to go beyond the basics. The next step in your progression is probably going to be to add fill lighting.

Fill light is one of those essential skills that every photographer should have a good grasp of no matter what type of light they are using.

Image: One light setups are powerful, and the results can be great. However, sometimes it’s us...

One light setups are powerful, and the results can be great. However, sometimes it’s useful to be able to take even more control over the contrast in your images.

This article will help to get you started with two types of fill lighting. The first of these is the use of the humble reflector. The other is to use a second dedicated light source. Both of these methods are very different in how they are implemented and what they can achieve. Mastering both will give you a more complete skill set with which to use in your photography.

What is fill lighting and what does it achieve?

Image: In the image on the left, the lack of fill lighting has left most of the details in the back...

In the image on the left, the lack of fill lighting has left most of the details in the back of the subject’s dress as pure black. Adding fill light (right) has brought those details back.

The concept of fill lighting is quite simple.

The idea is that you use it to light the shadows in your frame. What this does is:

  • Brings up the exposure of the shadow areas in your image.
  • Reduces overall contrast in your frame (much like landscape photographers use graduated ND filters to reduce contrast in their images).
  • Brings your final images more in line with how the eye sees the world, rather than the limited range of your camera’s sensor.

While really dark and contrasty images definitely have their place (I love them myself), images (especially portraits for clients) will benefit from a more even contrast ratio. I once heard it described (I’m sorry, I don’t remember where) that in lighting for TV and cinema, the shadows are always lit. This was a lightbulb moment for me as I had always wondered how cinematographers seemed to show a lot detail while still retaining a good amount of contrast. The answer was controlled fill lighting.

Two types

Reflectors

Image: Reflectors are a powerful and versatile tool that allows you to be as subtle or as bold as yo...

Reflectors are a powerful and versatile tool that allows you to be as subtle or as bold as you like with your fill lighting.

The most basic type of fill lighting is that provided by the ever so basic, yet powerful, reflector. You probably have at least one of these already (or you’ve made a few). Reflectors provide fill light by reflecting light (go figure) from your key back into the shadows of your frame. In a lot of cases, reflectors will be your first foray into fill lighting. However, they will also be one of your most-used pieces of kit altogether.

Secondary lights

Image: Using a secondary light source as fill is going to be your most versatile option.

Using a secondary light source as fill is going to be your most versatile option.

You can also use a second light (or third and beyond) as your fill light. A dedicated fill light will do the same basic job as a reflector, but it is infinitely more controllable. You can fine-tune the exposure and shape of your fill light with a precision that reflectors just don’t allow.

Contrast ratios – The very basics

Image: Left: The shadows are filled heavily and the fill light is metered one-stop below key. This r...

Left: The shadows are filled heavily and the fill light is metered one-stop below key. This results in a low contrast image with shadows retained. Right: the fill here is four stops below key. The contrast is high and the shadows are deep, but all of the detail is present.

The very concept of a contrast ratio can seem technical and daunting, I know. However, it is not at all that difficult of a concept and it’s just not that technical. At the most basic level, a contrast ratio simply tells you how bright one light is in relation to one another in terms of the aperture of your camera.

If your key light is metering at f/8, that means that if you set your camera to f/8 and an appropriate shutter speed (lower than your camera’s max sync speed) you will achieve a correct (subjective) exposure in-camera.

Fill lighting will always be underexposed in relation to your key light. If it’s even to your key light, you will get flat, no-contrast images as a result. For a contrast ratio that provides low contrast, you will want your fill light to be at least one stop darker than your key light. Since our hypothetical key light is f/8, that means the key light in this instance needs to meter f/5.6. This is a ratio of 2:1 (which is more advanced and you definitely don’t need to know to get started).

In short, if you want less contrast, your fill light should be one to two stops under your key light. If you want more contrast, try three to four stops.

Metering

If you want to be as precise as possible with these ratios, you will want to consider a light meter. That way you can measure any light falling on the scene with the press of a couple of buttons. This is the easiest way to go about it and works in the studio and natural light. You can also meter the light bouncing off a reflector.

Image: A light meter is the easiest and most accurate way to read what your light is doing. However,...

A light meter is the easiest and most accurate way to read what your light is doing. However, they don’t tend to be cheap.

That does not at all mean that you have to use a light meter, though. While more difficult (especially if you’re new to lighting like this), you can do it with your histogram on the back of your camera. Take a test shot with just your key light on. Now take one with only your fill light on. (Note: you won’t be able to do this if you are using a reflector.) Because fill lighting should be raising the exposures on your shadows, the shadow area of the histogram of your fill light test shot should be further to the right than that of your key light test shot.  If the shadow areas on both histograms line up, you need to increase the exposure of your fill light. If the shadow areas of your fill light’s histogram line up with the mid-tones or highlights of your key light’s histogram, you need to decrease the exposure of your fill light. (I did say it was trickier.)

Image: Left: Without fill light, you can see the shadows are underexposed. Right: With subtle fill l...

Left: Without fill light, you can see the shadows are underexposed. Right: With subtle fill light, you can see the shadows are brought up quite a lot.

Of course, you don’t have to do either of these things. You can always eyeball the whole setup and try to adjust things on the go. I would say this is perfectly fine with experience, but as you start out, I encourage you to at least have a go with the previous methods. It will drastically reduce the amount of time it takes you to get to grips with the technique and fully understand what is going on with your light. The more you understand, the easier you will find it to adjust things on the fly. You will also be able to learn new techniques faster.

Fill light with reflectors

Image: Reflectors can be subtle or bold when used as fill and are pretty versatile for what they are...

Reflectors can be subtle or bold when used as fill and are pretty versatile for what they are.

Reflectors are:

  • Cheap
  • Easy to setup
  • Easy to use
  • Very effective

Getting started with reflectors as fill lighting

Image: Reflectors are powerful, yet accessible, tools for fill lighting.

Reflectors are powerful, yet accessible, tools for fill lighting.

Before you start to think about fill, you will want to decide what your key light (main light source) is going to do. Set up your key light so that it is shaping and lighting your subject the way that you want. Meter so that you have the exposure settings that you desire.

Image: A small(ish) softbox placed in front of and above the subject creates soft light with shadows...

A small(ish) softbox placed in front of and above the subject creates soft light with shadows underneath the subject’s features.

Now, evaluate the shadow areas that your key light is creating. If you’re using natural light, or strobes fitted with modeling lights, you can do this by eye. Alternatively, you can take a test shot and review it on the back of the camera.

Image: Here you can see that while the light is soft, the shadows are a prominent part of the image.

Here you can see that while the light is soft, the shadows are a prominent part of the image.

Place your reflector so that it is roughly opposite your key light. Evaluate what the reflector is doing (either by eye or test shot again).

Image: Adding a reflector beneath the key light serves to raise the exposure in the shadow areas of...

Adding a reflector beneath the key light serves to raise the exposure in the shadow areas of the image.

What you are aiming for is for you shadows to be brought up in exposure, but not eliminated altogether. If you want low contrast, bring your reflector in as close as possible. If you want more contrast, move it away.

Image: With the reflector used as fill, the shadows are still present, but the overall contrast in t...

With the reflector used as fill, the shadows are still present, but the overall contrast in the image has been reduced.

It can take quite a lot of practice before you learn to see the subtle changes a white reflector provides. The key is to get as much practice in as possible.

Set up an object and light it. Put your reflector wherever you want and start taking shots, being sure to move the reflector into different positions each time. Review each shot and try to notice the behavior of the light in each instance. This exercise will give you a pretty good idea of how a reflector is going to behave in any given situation. Do this exercise often and you will find you can see even the most subtle shifts in light where it was difficult before.

Another quick tip to help you see the difference in contrast in a scene is to squint. It sounds ridiculous, but squinting reduces your vision to blocks of value and you will be able to see the contrast in the scene more easily.

A second light

Image: A second strobe serving as fill gives you the most control over how you manipulate your shado...

A second strobe serving as fill gives you the most control over how you manipulate your shadows.

Like reflectors, using extra lights as fill is a fundamental skill, albeit one with a slightly steeper learning curve. That said, unlike reflectors, using a dedicated light source allows you full control over the power output, making it much easier than a reflector to control how the light is going to behave.

Image: Varying degrees of contrast between your shadow and highlight tones are possible just by adju...

Varying degrees of contrast between your shadow and highlight tones are possible just by adjusting the power of your fill light.

To get started using a dedicated fill light, place your key light in your desired position and set the power for your desired aperture. Let’s return to that hypothetical of f/8.

Image: Here, a softbox is placed at 45 degrees to the subject.

Here, a softbox is placed at 45 degrees to the subject.

Knowing your aperture, place your fill light where it will affect the shadows in the manner you would like and set the power output so that it will be underexposed in relation to your aperture. How much you underexpose for is entirely up to you. If you want, say, two stops of fill in this scenario, then you will want your fill light to meter at f/4.

Image: A 7′ parabolic umbrella with diffusion was added about 10-feet away to serve as fill. I...

A 7′ parabolic umbrella with diffusion was added about 10-feet away to serve as fill. It was set to meter 2-stops under the key light.

Take a test shot and see if you have your desired effect. Adjust as required and there you go.

Image: In this before (left) and after (right) you can see how the shadows on the right side of the...

In this before (left) and after (right) you can see how the shadows on the right side of the image are lifted and filled in with the fill light.

Taking it further

Image: You can design fill lighting however you like. Feel free to use multiple sources of different...

You can design fill lighting however you like. Feel free to use multiple sources of different sizes and shapes if it works.

Of course, you are not limited to a single fill light. You can have multiple fill lights lighting your subjects from both sides. You can also mix lights and reflectors for different strengths of fill lighting from various angles. You can pretty much do whatever you want in terms of designing a light set-up. You are only limited by the equipment you have at hand and what you can dream up.

Image: Using multiple fill lights allows you to control every aspect of contrast in your images.

Using multiple fill lights allows you to control every aspect of contrast in your images.

An idea is only crazy if it might work and you don’t try it.

Tips for fill lighting

1) It’s often better to retain the shadows rather than fill them in completely. This is not a rule, but images that retain some amount of contrast are often more natural and pleasing to the eye.

2) Pay attention to the catchlights in portraits – Extra light sources mean extra catchlights. When you are setting up your lights (reflectors included), be sure to watch the catchlights in your subjects’ eyes. Catchlights can make or break a portrait, so make sure you are controlling them as much as you are the lighting itself.

3) Big light sources at a distance work very well as fill light.

Image: This is by no means a rule, but big light sources (like the 7′ umbrella to camera right...

This is by no means a rule, but big light sources (like the 7′ umbrella to camera right) from a distance work really well as fill lighting.

4) Don’t be a slave to the ratios – While using the ratios as a starting point can, and will, be a useful springboard, that doesn’t mean you should adhere to them rigidly. If something isn’t right, adjust as you see fit. Nobody cares in the end if your ratios are exactly 4:1, but they do care if your photos look right. Use your best judgment and change things up if you need to. Sometimes only the tiniest of power adjustments will completely change the end result.

5) Think outside the box – Any light source can be your key and your fill. You’re probably aware that you can use flash to fill-in shadows in natural light, but you can also use natural light as fill where your main lighting is provided by flash.

Image: Here, the key light is a large window to the camera right. The fill light is provided by a st...

Here, the key light is a large window to the camera right. The fill light is provided by a strobe. You can mix light sources however you want to achieve your fill lighting.

That’s it

Hopefully, that’s served as a primer to get you started and demystify fill lighting. Being able to control the contrast in your images with lighting is a fundamental skill that you will be able to use across multiple disciplines. It will allow you to bring a new level of depth to your images straight out of the camera.

Get out and practice, start simple and go slow, and you will master the basics in no time at all.

Try out some of these tips, and share your photos with us in the comments!

 

fill-light-in-portrait-photography

The post Getting to Grips with Fill Light in Portrait Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Tips for Creating Awesome Double Exposures In-Camera

The post Tips for Creating Awesome Double Exposures In-Camera appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Tips for Creating Awesome Double Exposures In-Camera

Techniques for creating double exposures have been around since the beginning of film photography. While the days of being able to expose the same frame of film multiple times are mostly gone, a great many digital cameras do offer that functionality. While the technique can be unpredictable and hard to get right, that’s part of the charm of it (in my opinion) and what makes it so fun. This article provides you with a few tips to help you create double exposures in-camera.

What about Photoshop?

double-exposures-in---camera

Photoshop (and alternatives) offer an infinite number of ways to blend exposures, but doing it in-camera can lead to spontaneous and unpredictable results.

Of course, you don’t need to do it in-camera. The almighty powers of Photoshop absolutely give you a great deal of control over blending images. You didn’t need to do it in-camera in the film days either as you could sandwich negatives together in the darkroom before putting them in the enlarger. So yes, by all means, use Photoshop to your heart’s content, but if you want to inject a bit of unpredictability and spontaneity to the process, do think about trying to create a few in the camera.

Understand the functionality in your camera

This first step may seem obvious, but every camera that I’ve run across handles the settings for double exposures in different ways. Taking the time to learn and understand how to set up your camera for multiple exposures ensures that when you get out to start creating the images, you know exactly what’s going on. For example, unless I turn on the right setting, my camera will take a single sequence of images and then revert back to normal settings. This can be (and has been) frustrating when I’m lining up a second exposure of a moving subject and find that I’m back to taking a single image.

This is probably just a matter of reading your manual and then putting it into practice a few times in your backyard or somewhere where the results don’t matter.

Start simple

double-exposures-in---camera

While getting to grips with the technique, you can start simple with just a few moving elements to help you understand the process better.

When getting started with a technique like multiple exposures, it is easy to start snapping away without putting too much thought into it. The results can be less than inspiring and may even make you second guess the technique.

Try to keep it simple in the beginning. Instead of many exposures layered together, try to keep it to a simple double exposure until you figure out how the exposures work with one another. Of course, the results are almost always going to be unpredictable, but once you start to take a lot, you will quickly learn how to judge what two frames might look like on top of one another.

Look for bold shapes and textures

Image: Mixing silhouettes and textures is an effective way of creating bold double exposure images.

Mixing silhouettes and textures is an effective way of creating bold double exposure images.

One of the easiest ways to get results with double exposures is to overlay a texture onto a recognizable shape. Silhouettes of people work great for this. If you start your sequence with a  silhouette, you can then take a photo of something with a lot of texture and the shadows of the silhouette will reveal that texture in the final image.

Another simple one for you to try is to layer your main image on a background of clouds. The whole concept is simple and done a lot, but it is still effective. If you start with these simple processes, you will quickly start to see how you can use the technique for more complicated images.

Think in terms of design

Image: Finding things that match up together to make a cohesive image can be tricky, but when it hap...

Finding things that match up together to make a cohesive image can be tricky, but when it happens, the results speak for themselves.

Because you are layering your images, it can help if they work together with a theme or if the final image helps to convey a message. Keeping the various elements in your images (whether that be the subjects, colors, lighting, etc) in line with your intended end result can help for better images. It also helps to start with your final composition in mind. How will the various elements line up? How will they react and line up with one another? Is there a particular sort of framing that would help tie the whole thing together? Asking yourself these questions before your camera is even out of the bag can help your final images be the best they possibly can.

Go abstract

Image: The double-exposure effect can be weird and sometimes it’s best to embrace that weirdne...

The double-exposure effect can be weird and sometimes it’s best to embrace that weirdness.

Now, your images don’t have to be of anything at all. Don’t be afraid to go for the abstract (or non-objective if you prefer). You can layer a bunch of modern buildings (or the same building) together for some interesting effects where there is no real focal point.

You can do the same with multiple textures. Just roll with it and see what happens. You might find you have a bunch of images that don’t work, but you might also find that one that really, really does. Try looking for things with lines or shapes, without too much texture, that can overlap one another.

Block your lens

double-exposures-in---camera

To manage your backgrounds while creating a double exposure in the studio, cover a portion of your lens with a black card to avoid the background being exposed twice. In the top middle of the frame, you can see where that has happened.

Block your lens if you want to photograph the same subject, human or inanimate, multiple times in one frame. You can use this trick for photographing fireworks to help control your exposure. When you’re lining up your first exposure, cover your lens with a piece of black card so that you are blocking the part of the frame that will contain the subject of your second exposure. In a double exposure, this will stop the background being exposed twice. Your backgrounds will be darker, but your subject will also be clearer where it appears in the frame.

Use grids

double-exposures-in---camera

Turning on guides and grids in your camera can help you line up subjects between the multiple frames.

If your camera has the option for a grid overlay (rule of thirds) in the viewfinder, turning it on can help you to line up various elements throughout the multiple exposures.

It’s okay to post-process

Image: Not everything is going to go right all the time. If something doesn’t line up, like To...

Not everything is going to go right all the time. If something doesn’t line up, like Tower Bridge in this image, don’t be afraid to use Photoshop to help you get the results you were after.

Although this article is about creating double exposures in-camera, there is nothing wrong with taking your results and fine-tuning them afterward.

Did you overlay a silhouette with a texture but you don’t want the texture elsewhere in the frame? Photoshop can help. If it helps you to create what you had in your head, by all means, go for it.

That’s it

Creating double exposures in-camera is a finicky technique, but sometimes the results can be incredible. More important, it’s a technique that’s a lot of fun. I encourage you to go out and give it a try for yourself, and hopefully, some of these tips will make your results a bit more predictable.

Please share your results with us in the comments section – we’d love to see them!

 

double-exposures-in---camera

The post Tips for Creating Awesome Double Exposures In-Camera appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Firecrest 77mm 16-Stop Stackable Neutral Density Filter Review

The post Firecrest 77mm 16-Stop Stackable Neutral Density Filter Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

There is something about long exposure photography that is just, for lack of a better word, appealing. Blurring moving elements (like water, clouds, tourists and moving cars) in your images can create an ethereal or even surreal aesthetic that many photographers, myself included, are drawn to. Formatt-Hitech’s Firecrest 16-stop neutral density filters take long exposure photography to the extreme. By allowing ten-minute exposures in the middle of the day, these filters open up long exposure techniques to normally impossible times. And it does it with fantastic results. In this article, I’ll review the Firecrest 77mm 16-stop Stackable Neutral Density Filter.

What is it?

Firecrest-77mm-16-Stop-Stackable-Neutral-Density-Filter

A neutral density filter is a piece of material (glass or resin in most cases) that you affix to the front of your lens. What they do is cut down the amount of light hitting your sensor, increasing the amount of time you need to expose for. Doing this allows you to get longer exposures than you would normally be able to, making it easy to blur water and clouds in a satisfying way.

Most ND filters come in a range of one to three stops. However, five and ten-stop filters are also very popular amongst landscape photographers. During golden hour and blue hour, when light levels are generally quite low, these strengths of filter make it easy to achieve exposures that last for several seconds.

Image: An exposure time of 408 seconds in the middle of the day is impossible without a specialist f...

An exposure time of 408 seconds in the middle of the day is impossible without a specialist filter such as this one.

What a 16-stop filter allows is extremely long exposures even in the brightest of lighting conditions; including midday sun. For example, with a 16-stop filter, an exposure of 1/2000th of a second becomes 30 seconds. In comparison, with a 10-stop filter, that 1/2000th of second exposure becomes 1/2 of a second. You can probably already see the advantage that the denser 16-stop filter provides.

To drive it home, look at the sunny 16 rule, which says that on a bright sunny day, an exposure of f/16 at 1/125th of a second should give you close to a correct exposure (it usually does). With a 10-stop filter, that becomes 8 seconds.

That might be good enough in many cases, but it also won’t completely blur anything other than the fastest moving elements. With 16 stops, that 1/125th of a second becomes 8 minutes and 44 seconds, ensuring anything moving in your frame is either blurred or disappeared.

What is this good for?

Firecrest-77mm-16-Stop-Stackable-Neutral-Density-Filter

A 16-stop ND filter allows you to blur moving objects in your frame, which can lead to more pleasing images.

Being able to blur details out of clouds and water allows you to remove details that might detract from your subject. This lends itself well to minimalist styles of photography. If that fits your taste, the results can be stunning.

Exposures of this length not only blur moving elements within your frame but can also completely remove other moving things. Boats in rivers, tourists in front of landmarks, and anything else that might move through your frame during the exposure time disappears.

A filter of this strength is also good for things like star trails at night.

Before you consider

Image: You may need some extra specialist equipment before you get started, such as the trigger that...

You may need some extra specialist equipment before you get started, such as the trigger that allows the control of your camera with a phone.

The one thing that you need to know before you consider purchasing a filter like this is that you will need some extra equipment you may not already have. A high-quality tripod is an absolute must as you will need to keep your camera absolutely still during the long exposures.

The other thing you need to take into account is some way of controlling your camera. Because many cameras are limited to exposures of 30 seconds, you will need a way to keep the shutter open in bulb mode for the duration of the exposure without touching the camera. There are many options out there, including remotes and cable releases. I used the Pulse time-lapse trigger from Alpine Labs, which lets you control your camera with your phone. There are others available too, like the MIOPS trigger.

An exposure calculator is also an absolute must as you will need to be able to calculate how long your exposures need to be. There are plenty of free options available for both Android and iOS.

The Filter

Firecrest-77mm-16-Stop-Stackable-Neutral-Density-Filter

After shopping around for a bit, I decided on Formatt-Hitech’s circular screw-in Firecrest 77mm 16-Stop stackable neutral density filter. This filter has a few features that make it stand out.

Since I knew that I would not be using any other filters in conjunction with this one, I wanted a circular screw-in variety. That’s because I thought that the length of the exposures might create the opportunity for light leaks with my normal filter system. I might be wrong on this, but it’s not a chance I wanted to take.

Formatt-Hitech claims their filter is truly neutral (including in the UV and infrared spectrums) and that there are no color casts. This is important to me as my Lee Big Stopper (10-stops) always adds a strong blue cast that is painful to deal with. I won’t go into details about the coatings as you can find them on the product listings.

Does it do the job?

Image: The Formatt-Hitech Firecrest 77mm 16-Stop stackable neutral density filter is certainly a cap...

The Formatt-Hitech Firecrest 77mm 16-Stop stackable neutral density filter is certainly a capable piece of kit.

That’s an emphatic “yes” from me. While there are some downsides to the filter, it provides all of the quality you could expect. The few places it does fall short are all easy to overcome and well worth the little effort to do so.

Pros

Exposure times

Image: The exposure difference between a 10-stop and 16-stop filter can be a bit staggering at first...

The exposure difference between a 10-stop and 16-stop filter can be a bit staggering at first.

Just as the exposure calculator said, the 16-stops of ND filter provides really long exposures even in daylight. 1/125th of a second becomes nearly nine minutes, while 1/15th of a second becomes nearly one hour and thirteen minutes.

Attaches well

Image: It still takes care, but the filter attaches easily enough.

It still takes care, but the filter attaches easily enough.

It’s easy enough to attach the filter to the filter thread of your lens. It does require care as it is easy to slip (I’m sure that’s more me than the filter), but with this technique, there’s no reason to go fast anyway.

Color casts

Image: The color represented without the 16-stop filter.

The color represented without the 16-stop filter.

Firecrest-77mm-16-Stop-Stackable-Neutral-Density-Filter

Color represented with the 16-stop filter.

I won’t say there is no color cast, but they are very minimal if they appear. Comparing shots with and without the filter side by side, it does seem that there is a slight, slight shift towards blue and green. However, I am not sure if that’s an optical illusion. Either way, it’s easy to deal with.

Cons

There are some downsides of both the filter and the technique. However, their effects are minimal and easy to overcome.

Extra equipment

Firecrest-77mm-16-Stop-Stackable-Neutral-Density-Filter

As mentioned, to get started with this technique, it’s not just the cost of the filter you need to take into account. If you don’t have a good enough tripod or some variety of release to trigger your camera, you will have to shell out for those.

Light leaks

Firecrest-77mm-16-Stop-Stackable-Neutral-Density-Filter

Circled is a pair of light leaks that appear at either edge of the frame.

Despite opting for the circular filter to avoid light leaks, they did appear in my images at the left and right of the bottom third of the frame. They were minimal and easy to deal with in post-production, but they are there.

I have done some research, and it seems there’s a chance these leaks are coming from where the lens attaches to the camera body. If that’s the case, you can fix it by covering the join with black material. Formatt-Hitech also sells an accessory that fits around the front of the lens and filter to help prevent light leaks.

Exposure times in low light

When it comes to shooting later in the day when the exposure times get longer, and the light changes rapidly, it’s likely your required exposure time will change partway through your exposure. For example, if your metered exposure when you start is 1/125th (8 minutes and 44 seconds), and the light levels drop to 1/30th (if the sun moves behind a cloud for example) during that exposure, the new time is 36 minutes and 24 seconds. This means that your image will be quite underexposed.

Because of this, I’ve found this technique works better in the middle of the day when light levels are consistent.

Noise and hot pixels

Image: Here, you can see a combination of noise and hot pixels after an 8-minute and 44-second expos...

Here, you can see a combination of noise and hot pixels after an 8-minute and 44-second exposure.

Noise and hot pixels have little to do with the filter itself. Extremely long exposures with digital cameras open you up to problems with noise. The longer your shutter is open, the more noise appears in your frame.

Software is very good at dealing with this, but you do need to be aware of it.

This is especially true if you opt to up your ISO in lower light levels to keep the exposure time in the minutes rather than in the hours.

Direct light

Image: Taken in overcast conditions, the technique has emphasized the flatness of the light.

Taken in overcast conditions, the technique has emphasized the flatness of the light.

Image: In direct sunshine, contrasty conditions get emphasized.

In direct sunshine, contrasty conditions get emphasized.

What I’ve found with this technique is that it works best with direct light on your subject. If the conditions are overcast, or the light is otherwise dull, the long exposure tends to emphasize the flatness of the scene.

Of course, that won’t always be the case and please don’t take that as a rule of any sort, it’s just an observation. If you live somewhere that is sunny and bright most of the time, this won’t pose you much of a problem. However, I live in Yorkshire and overcast days are the rule rather than the exception.

Price

I do not include the price of the Firecrest 77mm 16-Stop Stackable Neutral Density Filter as either a pro or a con. At $125, it’s probably not going to be an impulse buy for most photographers. However, for what it is, what it does, and how well-made it is, it is well worth that price. It’s also roughly the same price as filter offerings from companies like Lee Filters.

Overall experience

Firecrest-77mm-16-Stop-Stackable-Neutral-Density-Filter

Overall, the Formatt-Hitech Firecrest 77mm 16-Stop Stackable Neutral Density Filter does exactly the job I bought it for.

In the end, the Firecrest 77mm 16-stop Stackable Neutral Density Filter does exactly what I wanted it to when I bought it, and it does it well. The complications aren’t hard to overcome, and it is well worth the extra effort. At $125, it is well within reach of anyone who wants to have a serious attempt with the techniques it offers.

I also found that I really appreciate the side effects of the technique. Because the exposure times are incredibly long, you can spend a couple of hours on location and come away with only a handful of images. This slow-treacle approach to photography is enjoyable and turns the whole experience into a mindful one.

If you like the effect of streaky clouds and flat water, or you are into minimalist photography, this type of filter may be indispensable for you.

Do you do long exposure photography? Do you use a 16-stop filter? What are your experiences? Share with us in the comments!

Firecrest-77mm-16-Stop-Stackable-Neutral-Density-Filter

The post Firecrest 77mm 16-Stop Stackable Neutral Density Filter Review appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

10 Tips to Create Emotive Portraits

The post 10 Tips to Create Emotive Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

10 Tips to Create Emotive Portraits

Portraiture is as vast a genre of photography as it is rewarding. There are a lot of ways to go about creating portraits with a lot of visual interest, but one of the most satisfying ways to do this (to me anyway) is to create emotive portraits. Being able to capture your subjects showing emotion (whether that be positive or negative) not only allows you to show your viewer a more human aspect of your subject, but it can also help create compelling and arresting imagery. This article provides you ten tips to help you with your create emotive portraits. Some of these tips are technical, but most of them, perhaps unsurprisingly, focus on how you interact with your subjects.

1. Concentrate on the gesture

When you’re photographing emotion, it will be helpful to consider what information you need in your frame. If your subject is smiling, crop in close on the head and leave all other information out. The space in your frame is valuable, and you want to ensure that you get your message across clearly. Unneeded information (such as things in the background or body parts that are not involved in the gesture) serve only to detract from the focus of the image.

create-emotive-portraits

By cropping in closer, the emphasis of the composition is placed on the gesture of the expression, leaving nothing to distract from it.

That said, pay attention to your subject’s body language. If they are gesticulating with their arms as part of the expression, be sure to include that in your frame as it will help to complete the expression.

2. Keep the lighting simple

Image: Basic lighting techniques work well when trying to capture emotion. A lot of the time, you do...

Basic lighting techniques work well when trying to capture emotion. A lot of the time, you don’t need more than one light and a reflector.

Just like in a lot of other walks of life, less can definitely be more in emotive portraiture. By keeping your lighting simple, you are controlling how much information is in the frame. Just like the first tip, this is about ensuring that your viewer’s attention is placed squarely where you want it to be.

The lighting pattern that you choose will likely depend on what emotion you are trying to convey. For bright, happy emotions, you may opt for something like butterfly lighting. You also might choose to use a lot of fill light. For darker emotions, like sadness, more dramatic light such as that provided by short lighting is a fantastic tool that provides many shadows and can add tons of mood to your images.

3. Communicate clearly

Image: Before you even start a shoot, explain to your subject as clearly as possible what you want f...

Before you even start a shoot, explain to your subject as clearly as possible what you want from them. If you need to, show them examples.

Assuming you are staging your portrait session rather than taking candids, you will want to very clearly communicate with your subject exactly what it is that you are trying to achieve. Be specific and avoid vagueness. If you tell someone to be happy, you might get that generic smile that everybody gives a camera. Instead of happy, try saying something along the lines of: “I’m looking for genuine expressions of joy. I want you to imagine that you’ve just got a new puppy.” You’ll find this kind of thing works well very often as you almost always evoke genuine emotion from someone.

If the puppy doesn’t work, feel free to substitute it with anything that might. Kitten, baby, chinchilla, motorcycle; it doesn’t matter as long as it works.

4. Genuine rapport

create-emotive-portraits

Having a good rapport with your subject will often give you more subtle and genuine expressions.

To get the very best and most authentic expressions out of your subjects, you will want to build a genuine rapport with them. Be nice, be polite, let them talk about themselves, show them the back of the camera, joke around (appropriately) and develop a light-hearted banter (if warranted, not everyone appreciates it).

Also, try to keep the session relaxed and stress-free. You, as the photographer, might be worried about the lighting and all of the technical things, but I think it’s vital for you to worry about your role in your head and keep your subject’s focus on their role.

5. Make your subject an actor

Image: Instructing your subjects to act out various scenarios can give you a range of images from wh...

Instructing your subjects to act out various scenarios can give you a range of images from which to choose the most natural and evocative images.

An approach that can help to elicit good expressions is to tell your subject to act rather than to pose. Still images and video are very different things, and people change their behavior accordingly. If you suggest that they should treat the session and the scenarios you give them as if you were filming, or as if they were acting on stage, you can get much more natural expressions. Better yet; book an actor if you want the very best results, and it suits your project.

6. Look away from the camera

create-emotive-portraits

One of the easiest ways to get emotion into your photos is to have your subject look away from the camera.

One of the simplest ways to help convey real expression is to make sure your subject isn’t looking directly at the camera. Instead, pick a point for them to look at and direct them to do so. Where you pick isn’t important as long as you can capture and clearly convey the emotion that you are after.

This is very useful for the more somber emotions. Sadness, longing, and thoughtfulness can all be more easily portrayed with your subject looking off into the distance. This isn’t a rule, so please don’t shoot every single shot this way unless the situation calls for it.

7. Give permission to be ridiculous

Image: Tell your subjects they can be as ridiculous as they want. It can help to loosen them up and...

Tell your subjects they can be as ridiculous as they want. It can help to loosen them up and act more natural later. Sure, there will be unusable frames, but you might just hit gold.

Many people (including those with much experience) tend to go rigid in front of a camera. Let them know that they can act ridiculous. Moreover, encourage them to act as ridiculous and exaggerated as possible. This will help them to loosen up, and it will also help to lighten the mood of the session. Having your subject’s pull funny faces is a good way of cutting through the seriousness of a photoshoot.

Another trick that I sometimes use (it doesn’t work on everyone) is to get someone to fill their cheeks with air and then blow out as hard as possible.

If they’re open to it, it almost always results in fits of laughter.

8. Have a set of techniques that provoke reactions

Image: Blurting out random words and photographing the reactions can lead to fantastic results.

Blurting out random words and photographing the reactions can lead to fantastic results.

There are a lot of tips on how to provoke reactions from people. My favorite is to blurt out random words and photograph the reactions. To do this, just say a different word in-between frames. It could go something like alpaca, cheeseburger, dunce cap, or giant mushroom. Feel free to adjust your words based on the person you are working with.

Again, it doesn’t work on everyone, and you may have to switch to another technique.

If you know your subject well enough, you could always show them some funny pictures or memes on your phone. Just be sure that whatever you show them matches their sense of humor or you might ruin the rest of your shoot.

9. Give food for thought

create-emotive-portraits

Try giving your subject a specific scenario to think about for a few frames. This works well across the board, no matter how happy or sad you want them to act.

Instead of strings of random words, you can give your subject a specific thing to think about. This works well for all manner of emotions, whether that be happy or sad. I recently worked with an actor, and she introduced me to the sentence, “Imagine a badger eating spaghetti.” For laughter, I don’t think I’ve come across anything that works better.

For sadder emotions, I suggest (from experience) avoiding being too specific. If you say something along the lines “Imagine the loss of a pet” and they recently lost a pet, it’s really not going to go down well.

Instead, ask them to imagine feeling a loss and let them think about whatever it is that comes to mind. Remember, when trying to capture negative emotions, you will generally have no idea what’s going on in your subject’s life. While you want to capture an emotion, it’s not usually a good idea to put your subject through unnecessary emotional turmoil. Please try to be respectful of that and the people you work with.

I know of a lot of wonderful photo projects that exist to document the rawest emotions in people (Sam Taylor Wood’s “Crying Men” is easily the best photography exhibit I have ever seen). I am not saying “don’t do that” if that’s your goal. However, do be explicit with your intentions to your subjects, and do ask them if there’s anything they would rather you not touch on.

10. Outtakes

Image: Don’t forget to take a look at your outtakes from any given shoot. They are usually the...

Don’t forget to take a look at your outtakes from any given shoot. They are usually the most spontaneous and natural shots of all.

During a normal portrait session, outtakes can often be seen as a fun extra. However, when you’re creating emotive portraits, it’s the outtakes where you might find the most genuine expressions. Don’t forget to give them a look through once you have the photos on the computer. You may find that a spontaneous outtake has given you exactly what you were after.

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Seriously, the world needs more outtakes.

That’s it

Sometimes getting your subjects to react the way you want and then to convey those emotions well in your photographs can be a challenge. With these ten tips, you hopefully have a few more tools in your belt to make that process easier. These are just a handful of things that can help; however, and there are plenty of other techniques out there.

If you have tried and tested methods, or things that you say to subjects to provoke expression, please add it to the comments below.

 

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The post 10 Tips to Create Emotive Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Steps For Better Product Photography in Natural Light

The post Steps For Better Product Photography in Natural Light appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Taking photos of products can seem like a daunting task. If you look at a lot of advertising, you will find yourself inundated with a lot of high-end product photography that can seem (and probably is) out of reach for a novice. The thing is, not all product photography is equal. In many cases, a much simpler approach will do the job just fine.

This article will guide you through a process that can get you started taking product photos with minimal equipment. In these examples, you don’t even need a studio, just a backyard, and decent weather. You will also see that you can replace some dedicated kit (reflectors and diffusers in this case) with some basic and cheap substitutes.

What you need

With one optional exception, you will only need some basic kit to go through the process outlined here.

Camera – There’s not much to say about this one. You will need a camera.

Lenses – To get the best results you will want to choose a lens with a close focusing distance (if your products are relatively small) and a focal length that will give you the option to fill the frame.

If the products that you are photographing are quite small, you may want to opt for a macro lens. Fast lenses aren’t much of a concern here as you will want to choose an aperture that ensures complete focus on all parts of your subject.

Tripod – Because this is still-life photography, you absolutely should use a tripod. The reason should become clear as this tutorial progresses, but it will make your life so much easier.

An outdoor space – As for the where, all you need to get started with this tutorial is an open outdoor space. Even a small backyard will do. Anywhere that will lend you a decent, clean background will do.

Tissue paper – In lieu of a dedicated diffuser, you can use tissue paper. For ease of use, you can mount this in a frame of some description with clips or a bit of tape. This allows you to control and manipulate the natural light in your photos. I did use a dedicated diffuser in this tutorial, but tissue paper will work just as well.

White and black card (foamcore works well) – Use these as reflectors and flags respectively to give you further control over the manipulation of the light.

Backgrounds (optional) – Using the environment as a background will be fine a lot of the time, but sometimes you may need something different.

Don’t want to rely on what’s there? Bring your own backgrounds, such as these purpose-made boards or use plain colored paper. The choices are endless.

Color Management – Depending on what you are photographing and whom you are creating product photography for, color management may be optional, or it may be a legal requirement.

Tools like the ColorChecker Passport are indispensable for getting accurate colors in your images.

Even if it’s not necessary for your situation, it’s still a good idea.  The word ‘product’ implies that you are selling something. Even if you’re only creating an eBay or Facebook Marketplace listing, ensure an accurate representation of what you are selling. It is a means of treating the people you are selling to with respect. If you’re providing commercial services to a paying client, then that accurate representation of the product may be a legal requirement. Do your research and find that out before you get started.

Note: While you can use tissue paper and foamcore to great effect, I still believe you should buy a 5-in-1 reflector or two. These give you access to white and silver reflectors, diffusers and flags. Godox sells one for $15, so there’s no excuse. You can also use 5-in-1 reflectors as a background in a pinch.

Getting started

With your gear collected, this process is relatively straightforward.

Step 1: Find a space

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Finding a space that gives you plenty of room to work and gives you a decent background may be the most important step in all of this.

As long as you are photographing small(ish) objects, where you choose to set up isn’t very important. Since the focus of your image is solely the product, other elements like the background won’t be taking up very much space in your frame in most cases. As long as you can find a space that gives you a clean background (or somewhere to place your own) and gives you plenty of room to work, you will be fine.

If you are working with small objects at a close distance to the camera, work with small apertures like f/16. If you want an out of focus background, you will want to ensure there is a good distance between your subject and the background.

Without going into the math, the closer your camera is to the subject, the shallower the depth of field becomes. When you are really close (especially with macro lenses), the focal plane reduces to a tiny sliver. To combat this, use small apertures.

In terms of lighting, as long as there is light, you will be fine. If you have all of the equipment listed at the top of this article, you will be able to manipulate the light in most situations.

Broad daylight? No problem. Shade? No problem. Any time of day will work except for the night where you would probably need to add an external light source of some description.

Step 2: Set up

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As this spot was lit by direct sunlight, I put the diffuser up before doing anything else.

Now that you are in your space, pick where you want to set up and decide where you are going to photograph your product. Place your camera on a tripod and ensure that you have a good idea of how you are going to frame your product.

You can now evaluate your lighting. If you’re in open daylight, setup the tissue paper as a diffuser over where your product is going to be. You can fine-tune this later, but any diffusion you may be using should be in place before you start anything else. Diffusion material is going to affect the color of your images. Having it in place allows you to see the light as it’s going to appear in your photos while you are working on your composition.

Step 3 – Color Management

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With the light diffused, take your steps towards color management. You want to do this before placing your subject to avoid moving it.

If you are opting to replicate accurate colors, do it now. Place your grey card (or whatever tool you’ve chosen) where your product will be under the exact lighting conditions that your final images will be created with. Take a photo of the card. If you’re setting the white balance in-camera, do it now. If you’re using a tool like the ColorChecker Passport shown in the example images, you can save it for the software later.

Step 4: Place your subject

Place your subject where you want it for your desired composition. Once that’s done, you can begin modifying the lighting. (This image is with the diffusion panel removed)

The next step is to place your product in situ for the composition that you want. Adjust the subject and the positioning of the camera until you have your desired effect. I find it is important to get this right at this stage. With this done, you are free to adjust everything else (such as the lighting) while being able to compare any test shots. It also allows you to blend multiple exposures later (providing it would be permissible to do so).

Step 5: Choose your aperture

better-product-photography-2

Details are essential when you are selling something. The image on the left is shot at f/4 and you will see many of the details are concealed by depth of field. In the right-hand image, all details are present, but the background is less obscured.

With products, most of the time, you will want to choose an aperture that provides maximum focus on the whole of the subject. Since the depth of field is most affected by the distance of the camera from the subject, small objects close to the camera (particularly with a macro lens) will lead you to use much smaller apertures than you might typically use in other situations. If you need to, take a few test shots at various aperture settings. Review the results until you have the desired effect. Depending on your camera, you may find the depth of field preview button useful here as well.

Shooting tethered is also a great way to be able to see if there is enough depth of field in your images.

Step 6: Evaluate the lighting

Here, the subject is lit with unmodified light. You can see that the contrast is high and there is missing detail in both the shadows and highlights.

With everything in place, you’re just about ready to go. Here is where you can fine-tune your lighting to your heart’s content.

Adding the diffuser above the subject helped to even out the exposure between the background and the subject. All details are now present.

Reflective

Use your white card(s) to fill in any shadows that may be providing too much contrast in your images. The beauty of using a card is you can cut it into any size and shape to match any need you have so that you are only reflecting where the extra light needs to be. For the most part, you are going to want to avoid heavy contrast in product photos, so feel free to use reflectors generously.

A bit of white mount board at camera left has filled in that side of the subject just a tiny amount. It makes the exposure evener.

Subtractive

In the event that there’s light falling on your subject where you don’t want it, use your black card as flags. For example, if the main source of light is coming from behind your subject, you can use a flag to shape that light so that it is only falling on your product where you want it. You can also use flags to darken areas around your subjects, such as the surface it is resting on, to put more emphasis on the product itself.

Introducing a flag to camera right has darkened that side of the subject. It has increased contrast just a bit and reduced the impact of the specular highlight on the droid’s head.

This step may seem optional, and to be fair, it pretty much is, but if you want your images to stand out, this is by far the most important step. The more attention to detail and effort you place into getting the lighting right, the better your photos are going to be.

It pains me to suggest that you could to move your camera at this point. However, as a last resort, if you’re having problems controlling the contrast in your images, you can set your camera to spot metering mode and evaluate where your reflectors need to be from there.

That said, if your light is suitably diffused, you shouldn’t have to resort to that. Alternatively, you could use a second body or a light meter if your subject is big enough.

Step 7: Final shot

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The final image with minimal post-processing.

With all of the prep work done, you can now take your final shot. If all has gone well, you should have a well-lit, well-exposed image in the composition of your choice. Going through all of these steps should also mean there is very little to do in terms of post-processing.

That’s it

Is this the only way to take photos of products? Absolutely not. It’s not even close to the only way to do things outdoors. This is just one easy method to help you get results with minimal gear.

Hopefully, you’ve come to the conclusion that you don’t need a fully decked out studio and a myriad of specialist and obscure equipment to achieve better product photography results. Basic equipment, basic camera craft and attention to detail can take you a long way and get you results that will help you to sell whatever it is you are trying to sell.

 

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The post Steps For Better Product Photography in Natural Light appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

What Size Beauty Dish is Right For Your Portrait Photography?

The post What Size Beauty Dish is Right For Your Portrait Photography? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

What Size Beauty Dish is Right For Your Portrait Photography?

Beauty dishes are common and well-loved lighting modifiers. They are particularly useful for portraits (beauty is in the name after all). They also tend to be a lot cheaper than decent sized softboxes. Years ago, your choice of beauty dish was quite limited. Nowadays, if you try searching for beauty dishes, you will be presented with a multitude of options that greatly vary in size and even how they set up.

2- What Size Beauty Dish is Right For Your Portrait Photography?

Although the numbers don’t seem to be that different, the actual sizes of these beauty dishes vary greatly, and they all have a distinct effect on the light in your images.

What do you do when faced with this kind of choice and how do you know what size beauty dish you should buy? This article discusses three common sizes of beauty dishes and shows you what effect they have on your images. All of the beauty dishes discussed here are silver, and none of them are collapsible. As long as they are of decent quality, the fact that a beauty dish is collapsible should have no impact on your images.

What is a beauty dish?

Three different size beauty dishes. Left: 16″ Middle: 20″ Right: 27″

Beauty dishes are bowl-shaped modifiers that are known for the contrasty light they provide. The quality of light is usually somewhere between hard and soft (when brought in close to your subject). This sets them apart from other modifiers, like umbrellas and softboxes, where the goal is to achieve the softest light possible. This allows you to achieve well-defined edges and shadows, but still retain a flattering light on your subject.

This image shows an unmodified beauty dish on the left. A gridded beauty dish in the middle, and a beauty dish fitted with a diffusion sock on the right.

Often, you will find that beauty dishes come with grids and diffusion socks to help modify them further. Grids alter and increase the directionality of the light, while diffusion socks diffuse the light further, softening it a bit and altering the shape.

What sizes are there?

Any search for a beauty dish should reveal a huge amount of results these days. You can find tiny beauty dishes that are only a few inches across that are designed for flashguns and you can find massive beauty dishes that would be ideal for lighting groups of people. This article compares three sizes that fall more into the normal sized category. These are a 27″, 20″ and 16″.

All three beauty dishes were positioned the same distance from the subject to clearly demonstrate the differences in the effect they provide.

1. 27″

At 27-inch in diameter, this beauty dish is at the upper reaches of what you can expect to find in terms of size. When it’s in close, the light it provides is really soft and is comparable to a medium-sized softbox, but with a bit more contrast to it. It also provides large catchlights in your subject’s eyes.

Because of its size, it’s easy to bring the light further away from your subject to achieve a similar effect to that of smaller beauty dishes, while giving you more room to work. This beauty dish would also be great for lighting multiple people, whereas smaller dishes might struggle.

The 27″ beauty dish provides really soft light when placed in close. Pay attention to the shadow and highlight transitions as well as to how the light wraps around the subject.

There are a couple of disadvantages to a beauty dish this big. The bigger the light source is in relation to your subject, the less bright your subject’s eyes are going to be. If you want bright, clear eyes, a smaller beauty dish may be the way to go. It is also harder to control the light fall off (without a grid) as the bigger source will cast more light behind your subject.

2. 20″

The second beauty dish we’re going to discuss comes in at 20 inches. This is pretty close to what may be considered a standard size for a beauty dish (if there is such a thing). Placed a few feet (1-4) away from your subject, the qualities of light it produces are great for all sorts of portraiture and for a wide variety of subjects.

It is great for male and female subjects, though for flattering portraits of older people you may want to consider not using a beauty dish. Instead, opt for large softboxes and umbrellas. As the beauty dish isn’t a great deal bigger than your average subject’s head (from an appropriate distance), you also have good control over the light fall off, and you have even more control when you introduce a grid.

The 20″ beauty dish also provides good, soft light but the edges of the transitions from shadow to highlight are more defined. You’ll also note the light wraps around the subject less and results in darker shadows toward the back of the subject’s head.

3. 16″

This last beauty dish is 16-inches in diameter. This is the size that I have used the most ever since I bought it well over a decade ago. You can see in the images just how battered and well-used it is.

Because it is quite small, it is easy to control and great to bring in really close to your subject. This beauty dish clearly lights and defines your subject’s eyes. The harder light source also provides clearly defined edges between shadows and highlights but in a flattering manner.

If you want to reduce light fall off as much as possible, this size is definitely the way to go. However, if you want to increase it, you are better off with a larger modifier. This is because moving this beauty dish any distance from your subject will result in really hard light that you might find unflattering to most subjects.

The 16″ beauty dish also provides excellent light. Here you can see the transitions from shadow to highlight are clearly defined. Also, the rapid light fall off means the areas towards the back of the subject’s head are more in shadow.

In terms of portability, this size beauty dish is great. It doesn’t weigh very much at all and just carrying it in your hand takes minimum effort.

When used as something other than a key light, this size beauty dish is really effective. Its small size makes it unobtrusive and easy to position anywhere you need, whether that’s for use as a hair light or fill.

What size should you get?

Left: 16″ Middle: 20″ Right: 27″

Some of the differences between these three modifiers can be subtle and hard to spot if you’re new to lighting. If you’re still wondering which you should opt for, my best advice (which is by no means gospel) would be to evaluate what you need it for.

Do you need portability? Get a small one or consider a collapsible one.

Will you be shooting groups of people often? Go for the largest one you can.

Are you shooting in a small space? Go for the small one again.

Are you shooting in a large space where you can’t get the lights very close to your subject? Again, go for the biggest one possible.

Whichever you choose, make sure that it comes with both a grid and a diffusion sock for the most control possible.

No matter which way you choose to go, you are going to find yourself with a versatile and useful modifier that will last you for years.

Have you used these modifiers? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

 

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The post What Size Beauty Dish is Right For Your Portrait Photography? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

5 Reasons to Consider Aperture Priority Over Manual Mode

The post 5 Reasons to Consider Aperture Priority Over Manual Mode appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Choosing aperture priority mode in difficult lighting situations can free your mind up to deal with the things that matter most to the photo, like timing, rather than messing around with the dials to get the same result.

There’s a lot to be said for the manual exposure mode on your camera. When you’re starting out, learning how to shoot in manual will help you to learn the relationship between shutter speed and aperture. This ensures that you learn what the camera is doing every time you make an exposure. It also builds the basis for you to take what you learn about exposure and correct for the camera’s inability to cope with extreme exposure situations as well as to make creative choices for your images.

After you’ve learned the ins and outs of manual mode, however, there are a few reasons why you might want to forego your hard-learned manual skills for Aperture Priority mode. This article outlines five of these reasons and details what Aperture Priority mode might offer you and your photography in some situations.

1. Aperture priority does the same job as manual mode

In manual mode, the meter in your camera is taking a reading based on your set ISO (provided you’re not using auto ISO). The chances are likely that you’ve picked a deliberate aperture setting before you even lifted the camera up. To get your exposure, you now have to alter the shutter speed so that the indicator on your camera lines up with what the meter dictates is a correct exposure.

Aperture priority does the exact same thing, except that the camera sets up the shutter speed for you.

In instances where you are trusting your camera’s light meter (let’s be honest, that’s most of the time), this will result in the same exposure every single time whether you are shooting in manual mode or aperture priority mode.

What aperture priority mode does is remove the need for you to set the shutter speed yourself. It frees you to concentrate on things like composition without having to constantly keep an eye on the meter.

Exposing for the meter in manual mode resulted in an exposure of f/11 at 1/50th of a second.

Exposing the scene in aperture priority mode just a second later resulted in the exact same exposure. f/11 at 1/50th of a second.

In situations where you need to compensate for dark or light subjects, aperture priority mode still gives you full manual control of the exposure through exposure compensation. Are you taking photos of a dark subject like a black dog? Dial in -1 stop of exposure compensation just one time and keep shooting without having to constantly adjust your settings to get to the same result. Are you taking photos of a fluffy white dog? Same again. This time, add +1 stop of exposure compensation and away you go.

Dark subjects will require you to underexpose them. In Aperture priority mode, this is easily done with exposure compensation. Once you dial in exposure compensation, you are set to go until it has to be changed again. With light-toned subjects, you will have to overexpose them to maintain the correct exposure.

High contrast subjects, like this sheep’s white face lit directly by the setting sun, will also have to be underexposed by at least a few stops.

The only difference between aperture priority mode and manual mode in these circumstances is that you will be spending more time focusing on the creation of the photos than you will be on the dials on your camera.

To be clear, I am not advocating for not learning how to use manual mode. For the best results, it is important for you to understand how your camera works in relation to exposure. Using manual mode is the best and fastest way to do that. So, please, don’t skip over manual altogether. However, once you have it down, using other modes alongside your knowledge of exposure and how it works will help you and your photos in the long run.

2. Speed

The backlighting in this image created an extremely high contrast situation. By dialing in -3 stops of exposure compensation, I was able to ensure that the issues were dealt with in a series of images with one turn of the dial.

As mentioned, using aperture priority reduces the amount of time you have to spend watching the camera’s meter. Because the camera is now setting the shutter speed for you, the only thing you have to worry about in most situations is exposure compensation. Once you set your camera to aperture priority mode, it takes only one finger (on all modern cameras that I’ve used) to adjust the exposure compensation settings.

Need to underexpose by a stop? Just turn the one (relevant) dial three clicks. Done.

The only other thing you might have to worry about is if you have the need, or want, to change your ISO. But that is going to be more uncommon.

3. Aperture priority still gives full manual control

At the risk of repeating myself, but I feel this point really needs to be driven home. Aperture priority mode gives you full manual control over your exposure. It is not automatic, or an auto mode, in any way more than it allows the camera to set the shutter speed based on the meter you are already using.  At any time while in aperture priority mode, you will still have full manual input on what exposure the camera is recording. You just have less physical steps to go through before you get there.

4. Helps to create a constant exposure in changing lighting conditions

One scenario in which aperture priority mode really shines is in changing lighting conditions. For example, if you’re out on a windy and cloudy day, the light levels can constantly shift. In aperture priority mode, your camera changes the shutter speed for correct exposure (already taking into account any exposure compensation that you might have set). Thus, helping you to achieve a consistent look for all of the images in a sequence. This is most useful in terms of shooting a sequence of images to later stitch into a panorama.

When creating a sequence of images for a panorama, aperture priority can help to ensure a consistent exposure throughout the frames.

If you were shooting this sequence in manual mode, it would require you to be constantly looking at the meter and changing your shutter speed settings as required. This isn’t a big deal, but using aperture priority mode allows you to get the same results without constant fetter over the settings.

At sunset, the light rapidly changes. Add a moving subject to that high contrast scene and you have an exposure nightmare. Aperture priority can help to maintain a fairly consistent exposure between frames.

This isn’t perfect, and extreme shifts in lighting can have drastic effects on your images and your exposure. You will still have to pay attention to the details to ensure nothing is going wrong. On normal days, however, it will work just fine.

5. TTL and HSS enabled flashes

Using aperture priority with TTL and HSS enabled flashes might just be the perfect match.

When you are using a flash with TTL (through the lens metering) and HSS (High-Speed Sync) enabled, the chances are that you are going to be working with a fixed aperture anyway.

Remember, shutter speed does not affect flash exposure, only ambient exposure. Aperture priority mode will give you the freedom to set your desired aperture and then let the camera do what it needs to match the meter.

Not only will you still have full control over the exposure compensation for the ambient, but you will also have full control over exposure compensation with the flash unit.

Again, this allows you to get the exposure where you want it one time, and then you are free to concentrate on the actual photos.

That’s it

Aperture priority can be a fantastic tool for any photographer. At the end of the day, it does the exact same thing that manual mode does. It just takes away some physical steps that you have to go through in manual mode to set the exposure.

That said, like just about everything else in photography, it is not perfect, and it won’t always be a solution.

If you take only one thing away from this article, let it be this: shooting only in manual mode does not make you a better photographer. Aperture priority and shutter priority modes do the exact same thing, just in a different way. Use whichever works for the situation you’re in.

Do you use Aperture or Shutter Priority? Share with us your thoughts in the comments below.

 

5 Reasons to Consider Aperture Priority Over Manual Mode

The post 5 Reasons to Consider Aperture Priority Over Manual Mode appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Your Guide to Studio Lighting Equipment

The post Your Guide to Studio Lighting Equipment appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

There’s a lot of studio equipment to get familiar with and with it, a lot of terms to learn.

If you’re new to studio lighting, it is easy to get intimidated by the amount of stuff you have to learn. The jargon alone is enough to make your head spin. Fortunately, none of the things you need to be successful in the studio are particularly complicated, there is just a lot of it. The purpose of this article is to serve as a primer to introduce you to some of the most basic studio lighting equipment, and terms you will need to navigate a photography studio.

This is not a comprehensive list, and with new tools and techniques being invented all the time, it could never be.

A little warning: Some of these terms are used differently by different photographers. Others get interchanged with one another. While it can be confusing at times, it’s not necessarily wrong. However, it is useful to know about when you hear someone refer to a flag as a gobo or refer to ambient light as continuous light.

Types of light

Strobe – A studio strobe is a dedicated flash unit. They can sometimes be referred to as a monobloc or monolight. Usually mains powered, more battery-powered offerings are being brought onto the market all the time. Power output between models can vary greatly, with cheaper strobes offering as much power as a cheap third-party flashgun.

Strobes are powerful flash units that pretty much dominate studio photography.

Continuous light/HotlightContinuous lights serve the same lighting functions as strobes, but they don’t flash. Instead, they are high-powered lamps that can usually be fitted with modifiers in the same way as strobes. While mostly associated with video, continuous lights still have their place in stills photography. There are a lot of LED lights coming onto the market at the moment, and many of them are viable options.

The hotlight moniker comes from the fact that they tend to get very hot. Be careful with modifiers that sit close to the bulb as they present a fire hazard. This does not apply to LED lights.

Flashgun/speedlightFlashguns are any small light with a hot shoe mount for placing on top of your camera. They are highly portable, and some come with reasonably high power outputs. Although their versatility is ultimately limited to their size and power output, they are still an extremely useful tool for any photographer interested in off-camera lighting.

Flashguns are small but competent light sources that are invaluable for portable studios.

Light functions

Key light – Your key light is the main light with which you are shaping your subject. This will usually be the brightest and most prominent light in your scene.

Fill Light – A fill light reduces the intensity of shadows created by your key light, thereby decreasing the overall contrast in your scene.

Rim light/backlightRim lights light your subject from behind to help separate them from the background. Often, rim lights are positioned so that only a sliver of light is visible on the sides of your subject.

Background light – As it says on the tin: background lights light the background.

Hair light – Hair lights are used to add emphasis to your subject’s hair. They can also be used to help bring up the exposure of your subject’s head if it is blending into the background.

Ambient light – This is any light that is present before the addition of any other lighting sources. This could be from lights in the room or daylight from a window or outside.

Modifiers

UmbrellasUmbrellas usually come in silver or white and can be attached to your strobe via a mount. By firing the strobe into the umbrella (which reflects the light back to your subject), you are creating a much larger light source which creates a softer light. Although mostly directional, umbrellas can have a lot of spill, and they aren’t the easiest modifier to control.

Umbrellas are your most basic modifier. They are good for soft, diffused light, but they are hard to control.

Translucent Umbrellas/Shoot-thru UmbrellasTranslucent umbrellas don’t reflect light, but are instead made of diffusion material which you aim the light through. This softens the light, much in the way of other modifiers, but without the benefit of directionality.

Translucent umbrellas also provide soft light, but they aren’t as directional as softboxes.

SoftboxesSoftboxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Once attached to your light, a softbox acts to shape and soften the light so that it is more flattering. Softboxes also tend to be quite directional, and they are easy to control and further modify.

Softboxes are the workhorse of the photographic studio, and they come in all shapes and sizes.

Strip boxesStrip boxes are softboxes, but they are long narrow rectangles that produce a much narrower beam of light. These are great for lighting a subject from behind for a rim lighting effect.

Striplights are a useful type of softbox that offer very directional light.

Octaboxes – Also a type of softbox, an octabox is octagonal in shape. The rounder light source is useful for shaping the light for portraits. Octaboxes also tend to be quite large, making them an ideal modifier for portraits.

Reflectors (the modifier kind) – The reflector is a modifier that goes directly on your strobe. They channel the light in a specific angle for very directional light. They are also a very hard light source. Most are designed to take a variety of grids.

Reflectors, like this 110-degree reflector, provide a very directional and very hard light source.

Snoots – Snoots are modifiers that are designed to focus your light in a very narrow beam. They are great for both hair lights and background lights.

Snoots direct your light into a very tight and controlled beam.

Barn doors – Barn doors are fitted with two to four flaps for you to manually adjust the aperture the light is let through. These flaps can help you narrow the focus of your light on a specific aspect of your subject (such as their hair), or they can be used to flag the light from hitting a spot that you don’t want it to.

Beauty dishBeauty dishes are directional modifiers that are somewhere in between soft and hard light. They are great for beauty photography (hence the name) as well as fashion and portraiture altogether. They often come with grids and diffusion socks to give you even more options in how to use them.

Beauty dishes offer a contrasty light somewhere between hard and soft.

Grids/HoneycombsGrids are modifiers for your modifiers. Placed on a reflector, or softbox, or beauty dish, they narrow the beam of light further and help to ensure that the light is only falling on your subject (or where you want it to).

Grids help you to further modify the directionality of your light.

Gobo – A gobo is placed in front of a light source to change the shape of the light. This can be as simple as narrowing the beam and be as complicated as creating complex patterns. The easiest way to explain this is to imagine a Venetian blind with light streaming through. Now imagine the pattern on the wall. The blind is acting as an effective gobo and shaping the light.

CTO Gels – Color correction gels are used when you need to correct the color temperature of a given light. For example, if you have a gridded beauty dish that is particularly warm (like mine), and you want to use another light as a hair light, that second light might be very cool compared to your key light. By placing an orange CTO gel on your hair light, you can match and balance the color output of both lights.

Color Gels – You can also use gels towards a creative end. You can gel your lights to produce just about any color that you want to.

Reflectors (the reflective kind) – Reflectors are an important part of any studio kit. These allow you to reflect light from your key light back onto your subject. They are a means of creating a fill light without using a second dedicated light source. Reflectors come in many shapes and sizes, from the ubiquitous 5-in-1 reflectors to fancy tri-flectors sometimes used in beauty portraits.

Reflectors and diffusers are two vital tools when it comes to shaping and controlling your light in the studio. Also shown here is a reflector stand.

Diffuser/Scrim – A diffuser is a piece of translucent material that you place in front of a light source to alter the shape of the light or to reduce the intensity of the light. Some diffusers do both.

FlagsFlags are used to block (or flag) light from falling in your scene where you don’t want it to. You can use them to stop excess light falling on your background, or you can use them to reduce the exposure on the parts of your subject that aren’t the focal point. For example, sometimes, I like to use flags to help underexpose everything from the neck down in close portraits. This helps to ensure that the face is the main focus of the image.

Studio accessories

Light stands – Simply a stand to hold your light source. Ensure you have one that can hold the weight of your light. A high-powered, dedicated strobe requires a lot more support than a speedlight.

This image shows a boom arm attached to a lighting stand on a dolly. It’s a fantastic and versatile bit of kit.

Dolly – A light stand with wheels. Most useful.

Boom arm – A boom arm is a light stand that you can position at any angle between completely vertical and completely horizontal. These are useful to get your lights high up and also to place your light at angles a traditional light stand wouldn’t be able to manage. You can mount different varieties of boom arms to other light stands as well as permanent fixtures like walls.

Reflector Stand – A dedicated stand designed to hold a reflector in place.

Background/backdrop – A backdrop is any surface that you place your subject in front of. These range from paper and vinyl rolls to bare or decorated walls to pieces of painted canvas.

This image shows a painted canvas background. At the top of the frame, you can just see grey and white vinyl rolls on a motorized support system.

Background stand/support – Any support system designed to hold a backdrop in place. These can be free standing or wall mounted.

Clamps – Clamps and other fastening devices come in all shapes. You can (and should) use these to hold all manner of things in place. Backgrounds, flags, reflectors, gels, and many, many other things need to be held in place. For example, bulldog clips are indispensable for holding canvas backdrops up, whilst double-headed clamps can affix to a table and hold a flag or reflector.

This image shows a selection of clamps and clips that will you always find a use for in the studio. The double-headed clamp is holding up a piece of black foam core for use as a flag.

Rails – In bigger studios, you might see lights fixed to fittings on the walls and ceiling. These rails allow you to move your light relatively freely around a space without the hassle of a light stand.

They also help to keep cords out of the way of you and your subjects.

Other

Quality of Light – Quality in this instance refers to the physical characteristics of light. These include shape, intensity, and color.

Lighting pattern – A lighting pattern is a specific technique in which a light is placed in a prescribed manner for predictable and established results. Examples of these include butterfly lighting, Rembrandt lighting, and split lighting.

PC Sync Socket/Cable – The PC sync is a means to connect your camera to a flash with a cable. You can use this option in lieu of triggers.

Triggers – Triggers are devices that allow a camera to communicate with your lights and ensure that your flashes fire while the shutter is open. These range from very basic models with just one function, to complex devices that allow for full control over the settings of multiple lights.

Triggers allow your camera to communicate with your flash so that they work in sync with one another.

Slave mode – In slave mode, a flash will detect the light from another flash via a sensor and fire. This is great in situations where you have multiple lights, but only one basic trigger.

Mount – A mount is the means in which a modifier is attached to a strobe. A lot of lighting manufacturers have their own proprietary mounts associated with their systems (Bowens, Profoto, Elinchrom, etc.) So you will need to ensure that any modifier that you buy will fit the system that you own.

This is the shape of the commonplace Bowens S-mount.

Modeling light – Many strobes come fitted with two bulbs. One is a flashbulb, where your strobe light comes from, and the other is a modeling bulb that is on whenever the strobe is not flashing. This makes it easy for you to see what the light is doing to your subject. As a bonus, if you’ve cut out all ambient light (like you should in a studio environment), modeling lights give you the ability to see.

That’s a start

While this list is not, and can never be, a complete list of studio lighting equipment, it should serve as a decent primer to get you started in the world of studio photography. If you feel that I’ve missed something important, please add it in the comments below.

 

The post Your Guide to Studio Lighting Equipment appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

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