Review: Laowa 17mm f1.8 Lens with Micro-Four-Thirds Mount

The post Review: Laowa 17mm f1.8 Lens with Micro-Four-Thirds Mount appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

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The new Laowa 17mm f1.8 lens for MFT

There are a lot of gear reviews for new photography gear. Many focus on technical specifications and others focus on sharpness and precision of the optics. I had a chance to spend a few weeks with the Laowa 17mm f1.8 lens for Micro-Four-Thirds (MFT) mount. This is a bit of a different lens that requires a slightly different approach to a review. I am hoping this approach will help you decide if this is a lens for you.

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The New Laowa 17mm f1.8 lens is a fully manual compact design with metal construction, a small metal hood and clear markings on the barrel

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This lens fits 46mm threaded filters (common for MFT)

Technical Specifications

I will run through the technical specifications of the Laowa 17mm f1.8 lens as they have some interesting but limited impact on this review (aside from the price). As a 17mm lens on an MFT mount, this has a corresponding field of view that corresponds to a 34mm lens on a full-frame (FF) sensor (65 degrees). The lens has nine elements in seven groups with a seven-bladed iris. The filter diameter is 46 mm, and the weight is 172g. It is not weather-sealed, and the MSRP is $149USD.

Image: Works great even in low light conditions

Works great even in low light conditions

Practical details

Aside from the mathematics of technical specifications, I think a lens review should provide more practical details. Details that describe the intangibles about the lens. Things you only realize when you have the lens in your hand or on your camera.

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Perfectly balanced with smaller MFT camera bodies like the Pen F

For starters, this is a completely manual lens with manual focus and manual aperture control.

It is a small but solid – really solid – lens with metal construction and even a small metal lens hood (not much shading from this guy). This lens does not feel plastic-y in any way shape or form. The movement of the aperture ring and focus control feels great, and the aperture ring has quiet click settings (it is not clickless but moves easy) and the markings on the focus ring are clear.

This lens feels like something from the best film era vintage lenses and is well-sized to match the size of smaller MFT camera bodies.

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Works well with the Olympus EM5 MK II

Focal range

At 34mm FF equivalent, the Laowa 17mm f1.8 is a prime lens size that, along with a 50mm FF equivalent, should be in any photographer’s bag. Some famous photographers have operated with only lenses in this range. At a 34mm FF equivalent, it provides a relatively wide field of view and a more forgiving range for focus. Wider lenses tend to be more forgiving when trying to focus them. With the manual focus on this lens, not getting focus perfect can still result in usable images.

Image: Because it has a wide field of view, you can get pretty close.

Because it has a wide field of view, you can get pretty close.

Image: Once the focus is set, the lens performs well.

Once the focus is set, the lens performs well.

Sharpness

As for image quality, the lens does reasonably well. It is not the sharpest (even when you nail focus) and it is clear that when fully wide open, the lens is sharper in the center of the image but softer at the edges. Saying this doesn’t really describe the image results from this lens. The image is sharp where it needs to be and softer where is it okay to be softer. The look from the lens is great. In addition, the seven-bladed iris produces very nice starbursts when closed down for night shots of light sources.

Image: Even with close-ups, there are little problems resolving the images and little vignetting.

Even with close-ups, there are little problems resolving the images and little vignetting.

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The seven-bladed iris allows for very nice starbursts at night

Size

As for size and usability, this Laowa 17mm f1.8 lens fits smaller MFT bodies really well (like a Pen F) and looks a little dwarfed on a bigger body (like an EM1X). Not only does this lens fit well on smaller bodies, but it looks entirely old school like the cameras that are going for that stylistic approach.

I had many people asking me if I was shooting with a film camera when I had this lens on my Pen F. I seemed to reinforce this feeling when I tried to focus and take a photograph and took forever. This is not a run-and-gun lens.

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The lens is small and can seem overly-small on larger MFT bodies

Old-school feel and slow approach to photography

I am old enough to have shot film with manual film cameras. I thought I had left that all behind to use all the technical horsepower in modern cameras to really nail technically-challenging circumstances trying to get the best images. As a consequence, I had forgotten about the slower process of taking photographs when all you had was a split prism and a needle for a light meter.

When you connect a manual lens on an MFT camera, you operate primarily with the histogram/light meter to get a good exposure. You have to think about ISO, shutter speed, aperture, and focus. It takes time.

Image: Fun to experiment with when you have the time

Fun to experiment with when you have the time

Slow photography is like slow food

I remember years ago traveling in Italy and going to a slow food restaurant.

The whole concept with slow food is to make it more of an experience and to take time to savor the flavors and textures. I think shooting with a manual lens is similar. It means that you are shooting slower and have to think way more about your images – no run and gun.

Slow photography is forced on you when you shoot with this type of lens. With cell phones, you pull them out and shoot. You barely focus. There is no thought to the process, and maybe that means that people can focus on the subject matter of their images. However, at other times, it means that you really aren’t thinking much about the images you are taking.

Image: Despite being quite a wide lens, there is little obvious distortion with the Laowa 17mm f1.8...

Despite being quite a wide lens, there is little obvious distortion with the Laowa 17mm f1.8 lens.

Nailing focus

Trying to nail focus with a manual focus lens also means you have to slow down. Back in the old manual focus film camera days, you had split prisms and micro prisms in your viewfinder to help you get your focus right. These tools are not available on modern digital cameras.

However, with mirrorless bodies on MFT cameras, you have other tools at your disposal including magnification and focus peaking. I was able to custom set my camera’s buttons to allow me to set one button for magnification and another for focus peaking. It’s still not fast, but it worked fairly well.

Image: Even for moving subjects, such as from a balloon, once you have your exposure and focus set,...

Even for moving subjects, such as from a balloon, once you have your exposure and focus set, it performs like any other lens.

This magic of this type of lens is that you need to slow down and think about the image you are composing. You need to think about everything from ISO to aperture to shutter speed and finally focus. If any are off, you can instantly see that you have screwed up. If you think back to the film days, it wouldn’t be until you got your images developed that you would know you messed up. When I was using this lens, I knew immediately when I screwed up, even when I thought I had all the settings right.

Image: Limited distortion even for buildings

Limited distortion even for buildings

That process of slowing down and understanding what you are doing was a great deal of fun. The lens was wide enough and fast enough (aperture wise, not in any other way) that I would feel comfortable taking only this lens out to take some shots.

Not for the faint of heart

Slow means you can’t shoot fast. This seems obvious, but when someone says to you, “take our picture, “…they pose and wait for you. This lens will not do that quickly, regardless of how good you are.

You can take portraits, but you need to plan the shots and be ready when the opportunity comes up. An old street photography trick used to be to set your exposure with an intermediate aperture, put your focus at 3 feet, and point and shoot. In practice, this is not quite so simple. Nailing the exposure is a little trickier because you need to be looking through the lens to get the exposure balanced.

Image: This lens is great to travel with because of its width and small size

This lens is great to travel with because of its width and small size

The Results

I really enjoyed the Laowa 17mm f1.8 prime lens. I have other similar prime lenses, but all are equipped with autofocus and electronic apertures. They also feel pretty plastic. They are more expensive, but sharper. This lens feels great, is super-solid, shoots well and needs lots of attention to your images. It forces you to shoot like a photographer. You feel like a photographer. It also makes you look like a photographer.

At $149 USD, the Laowa 17mm f1.8 lens is quite the value. My images turned out great and I fell in love with taking slower pictures again. I had a chance to slow down and smell the roses, or in this case, take more deliberate thoughtful images.

Would you use a lens like this? Share with us in the comments below.

The post Review: Laowa 17mm f1.8 Lens with Micro-Four-Thirds Mount appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Useful Ways You Can Use the Olympus Live Composite Feature for Long Exposures

The post Useful Ways You Can Use the Olympus Live Composite Feature for Long Exposures appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Olympus has a number of unusual features for longer exposure photography. Aside from the classic bulb style photography, there are two other specific long exposure features available with Olympus cameras: Live Time and Live Composite. These two functions, although related, treat longer exposures quite differently and can produce quite interesting results. Both are really fascinating tools for photographers looking to experiment. Both use computational features of your camera to allow you to get an image in a different way. Although we will briefly discuss Live Time, this article primarily focuses on the Olympus Live Composite feature.

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The Live Composite feature on Olympus Cameras lets you mix light sources for long exposure

Live Time

Live Time is like the bulb function on old film cameras that held the shutter open as long as the bulb was depressed but with a twist. With modern cameras, you open the shutter by pressing once and then close it by pressing it a second time. As with any bulb function, you end up holding the shutter open for as long as you want but without a set time on the camera.

In the film days, you would just guess how long you wanted (or use a light meter and a stopwatch). With most digital cameras, there is a function to allow you to hold the shutter open for an extended time. However, for many makes of cameras, you won’t see the image until the camera has closed the shutter, taken a noise reduction image, and then processed the image.

Live Time in Olympus cameras is a little different. It allows you to see the image on your display developing during the process while the shutter remains open. As the exposure lengthens, you see the image form as more and more light gets added to the entire image. The image gets brighter on the back panel, and it is really cool to see the image created live.

This process allows you to decide when you have held the shutter open long enough. Like the old bulb settings, you decide how long the image progresses. You press to start the exposure and press to stop.

Image: Long Exposure images simply mean that light sources get brighter

Long Exposure images simply mean that light sources get brighter

Fundamentally, Live Time is just a manually extended exposure time that allows you to watch the image develop as you take it. It is still a pretty cool feature.

Problems with long exposure photography

The trouble with Live Time (and any long exposure image with any camera for that matter), is that bright things get brighter faster than the dark areas.

This means that dim, infrequent events in lower light environments with some point sources of light will be overwhelmed by the point sources. When you have enough light to expose the dark areas properly, this usually means that the lit areas have far too much accumulated light. Everything in the frame gets treated the same.

Image: A still Image of a fire provides lots of detail and freezes the action of the flames.

A still Image of a fire provides lots of detail and freezes the action of the flames.

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Long Exposures tend to smear the light as the light sources persist.

Enter Live Composite

Live Composite is a particularly unique feature present in Olympus cameras that is not currently offered by other camera makers at this time.

Live Composite is similar to Live Time, in that you are taking a longer exposure image, but Live Composite is just light additive for new sources of light, not existing sources. What this means is that Live Composite takes a base image and then only adds new light to the image that was not present in the original base image. This means that light sources seen in the original reference image do not get brighter. Only new lighting or new light sources that move in the frame will appear in the final image.

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Live Composite of a campfire shows that the entire image is not getting brighter

The mechanics of Live Composite

Using Live Composite is a two-step process; first, it requires you to take a base or reference image exposure. This image forms the base layer of the composite image. Then you take subsequent additional images at intervals with only new light in the field of view added.

This allows you to take a static image of a colorful background under low light conditions and add only new light sources.

Just like Live Time, you get to watch the image develop right before your eyes.

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After the base image is taken, only new light sources (such as a lightning bolt) show up

How to use It

Turning on Live Composite on your Olympus camera is not the most prominent process. It is a bit hidden. Live Composite is a type of manual mode setting, so that is where you find it on the camera.

However, before you use Live Composite, you need to decide a few key parameters for your base composite image – specifically initial shutter duration, ISO and aperture.

You set the shutter time duration in the menu (out of the function itself) before setting the camera to shoot. However, you set the ISO and aperture as you go.

Useful Ways You Can Use the Olympus Live Composite Feature for Long Exposures

Turning on Live Composite varies a little between cameras (the EM1X does it slightly differently), but for most Olympus cameras, you simply set the mode selector dial to Manual (M) and adjust the time to beyond the 60-second shutter duration. At that point, you get a Bulb, LiveTime, and then LiveComp setting. LiveComp is the one you want for Live Composite. On the EM1X, you set the mode selector dial to B (bulb) and then turn to LiveComp. Everything else is the same.

At this point in time, you set your ISO and Aperture. This, combined with the shutter time duration you set in the menu system for cycling the images, will be used to set your base composite image. For instance, if you set the shutter timing to 4 seconds, plan on using an aperture of f/4 and ISO of 800. You will use those values for the base reference composite image.

To activate Live Composite, set up your composition, focus your lens, and then press the shutter for the reference image. The composite is now ready to start.

Next, when you press your shutter button again, the image creating process begins! The camera will open the shutter and add to the image as each time period compares to the base image. Any new light gets added to the composite at the end of each cycle. The image changes and grows on your display as Live Composite progresses.

It is very cool to watch as your image develops.

Does Live Composite mean you can take images that you couldn’t before?

Image: Lightning storms work incredibly well with Live Composite, especially if there is a lot of ne...

Lightning storms work incredibly well with Live Composite, especially if there is a lot of nearby light sources (such as streetlights)

Yes and no. You could take the images separately and combine them as a composite, but as a single image, you would not have been able to do it. Also, there are certain types of images that are way easier to take with the Live Composite function than would be possible to achieve in a single image.

Live Composite also forces you to change your approach to certain images. As part of that change, it may actually take longer to take some images (because you need to create a base/reference every time), but you get the benefit of seeing if it is doing what you want.

What kind of image works well with Live Composite?

Several specific types of images can get the full benefit of Live Composite. These include star trails, lightning flashes, fireworks, night photography with bright lights present, and light painting.

You can take all of these in other ways, but using live composite allows you to see if the image is turning out how you want.

Most of these images all require manual focus and manual settings for your exposures. All require some trial and error and pretty much all benefit from the use of a tripod. In theory, you might be able to take these images without one, but in reality, the requirement to be steady really limits those cases.

Star Trails

In astrophotography, taking an image of stars can be particularly daunting. This is because the earth is rotating and the stars are relatively dim. What this means is that you need a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the motion of the star but also need to leave the shutter open long enough for the start to appear on your image. If you leave the shutter open too long, you will see a streak or smear instead of a star. If you leave the shutter open even longer, the stars leave even longer trails that are circular. In the northern hemisphere, these star trails appear to rotate around the North Star.

Image: Star trails occur when you take astrophotography shots and leave the shutter open for an exte...

Star trails occur when you take astrophotography shots and leave the shutter open for an extended period of time. The stars create a trail. This image was taken with the shutter open for 27 minutes

With conventional digital cameras (or film cameras for that matter), working at night can be a challenge. The shutter duration required to create star trails are long, and you can’t see what your image is like until you’ve completed the entire exposure duration. In addition, if you have made an error in focus or composition, you won’t see it until the entire process is complete. There are ways to combine star trails together in post-processing, but the Live Composite allows you to do it in a single exposure.

With Live Composite, you can see the image develop. Particularly with star trails, this allows you to quickly figure out if you want to have your image in a different setup or use a different point of interest so that the star trails work with your composition.

You also have the ability to have star trails show up when there is an illuminated object in the foreground.

Lightning

Another significant challenge for photography is capturing images of lightning, particularly in areas where there are light sources. As anyone who has attempted to take lightning images knows all too well, this is a difficult type of photography.

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Lightning strike captured using the Olympus Live Composite Feature.

The main difficulties of capturing lightning images are fourfold. Lightning is difficult to schedule, so you have to wait to find a storm to photograph. Depending upon your position relative to the storm, you need to find a vantage point to capture images that are reasonably clear (you need to be able to see the lightning from a distance) and have a perspective that forms a reasonable composition. More common vantage points are across a field, across a valley or from highrise building.

Next, you need to hope the lightning is not blocked or shrouded by rain (a common companion to lightning). This will interfere with your sightlines. Lighting is often at leading and trailing edges of storms, but if you are at the wrong end, the lightning will simply light up the sky.

Finally, taking images at night always presents a problem for trying to achieve focus. Focusing in the dark means that you can’t see what you are focusing on and the light from the lightning hasn’t lit up your subject yet.

If you have the right conditions, you can take the base image and wait for the lightning strike and the image to develop. You just wait until lightning strikes in the field of view.

For a detailed guide on photographing lightning, see this Ultimate Guide to Photographing Lightning.

Fireworks

Fireworks is an interesting subject for live composite. It actually isn’t faster to take images, but I think it takes better images. Fireworks requires you to manually focus where you think the images are, set the time, aperture, and ISO for a darker setting than your camera will want, then wait.

Image: Fireworks also work well, although it is a two-step process for every image.

Fireworks also work well, although it is a two-step process for every image.

Without Live Composite, you simply open the shutter and wait. The image gets brighter, and the duration is based upon a little trial and error.

With Live Composite, you take the reference image and then wait. When the fireworks start, you hold the shutter and watch the screen. You press the shutter when you have the image you want.

Unfortunately, you need to take a new reference image each time, so you end up with additional steps. However, the results are at least as good (and often better) as simply guessing an exposure time.

Night photography with bright lights and light painting

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Capturing car tail lights and headlights will appear but the street lights don’t get overly bright

Night photography featuring bright lights, such as carnivals or street performers using fire at night, can turn out really well with Live Composite. So can images where lights are moving, but you don’t want the background to get brighter.

You can also use Live Composite for light painting. This is particularly useful if you have someone helping you when you are taking a light painting image.

Light painting is a technique for taking an image under low light conditions with a long exposure and lighting up the object with controlled use of flashes or light sources. The neat thing about using Live Composite for light painting is that you can have light in the image when you are taking the image with the light painting because only new light gets added. It also means that dark objects won’t show up, and the bright surfaces behind them will remain illuminated.

Image: Live composite allows you to do light painting with light sources present in the image (not t...

Live composite allows you to do light painting with light sources present in the image (not the greatest light painting image!)

Conclusion

Live Composite is a unique feature in Olympus cameras that allow you to make composite images in-camera that previously would only be able to be created with two separate images and a bunch of post-processing. It is another useful tool for your photography kit.

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The Olympus Live Composite feature is a unique tool to allow you to be creative with low light images.

Have you used Olympus Live Composite Feature before? What are your thoughts? Share with us in the comments!

 

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The post Useful Ways You Can Use the Olympus Live Composite Feature for Long Exposures appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Real-World Review of the Olympus OMD-EM1X

The post Real-World Review of the Olympus OMD-EM1X appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

I recently picked up the Olympus OMD-EM1X (it was a few months ago). I’ve had a chance to use it a lot during this time. It’s an interesting beast of a camera, and have a bunch of observations that I thought would help provide some perspective on this new camera. I put the Olympus OMD-EM1X camera through its paces for this unscientific, but real-world, review.

The EM1X the new professional-grade camera from Olympus

Full disclosure, I am not sponsored by Olympus, but I have been shooting with Olympus gear for several years now and have had several Olympus bodies (OMD EM1 Mark 1, EM1 Mark II and an EM5 Mark II). I also have a bunch of other gear (I shot some older Panasonic cameras I used before switching to Olympus), and prior to that, I was in the Canon system.

While I still have all my lenses, the camera bodies are now getting long in the tooth. I really liked my Canon gear but found that it was just too heavy for me because I tend to like to travel. However, I have lens options, and full-frame cameras use significantly larger lenses for similar focal length when compared to Micro 4/3rds.

Also, I tend to be a bit of a run-and-gun photographer, preferring to get to a position, compose my images, and move on. I don’t usually spend a great deal of time in one position, opting for more positions to work an image. Moreover, I don’t like having to pull out filters, switch lenses (if I can avoid it) or carry tripods (although I often have one with me somewhere).

Great and quick focus for macro photography

Lots of critics

When the EM1X first came out,  some critics were pretty negative about this camera before even seeing it. That’s because it’s an expensive camera based around a slightly older micro 4/3s sensor (same as the EM1 Mark II). While the features are all professional-grade (i.e., insane weather sealing, exceptional in-body image stabilization, speed, and unique computational photographic features, all based upon a 20 MP sensor), some critics felt it is too small.

Micro 4/3s size

Just as a reminder for those unfamiliar with micro 4/3rd sensors, a micro 4/3rd sensor is a sensor with a crop factor of 2. This means the sensor only covers about a quarter of the area of a full-frame (same size as a 35mm negative) sensor. Years ago, full-frame sensors were incredibly difficult to produce, and most sensors were crop sensors of one form or another. Now with advancing technology, full-frame sensors are more readily available, although they generally found in camera bodies with substantial price tags.

You can get blurred backgrounds with Micro 4/3rd lenses when you use faster primes

Costs vs. features

As an Olympus user, buying my own gear, I was a bit unsure of the cost (it is about $3,000 USD), which is about double the cost of the OMD EM1 Mark II ($1500 USD).  Now I have both.

I really liked my OMD EM1 Mark II, and it has been a workhorse for all my work. With very few complaints about it, the biggest thing I would like would be a bump in the continuous autofocus hit rate (it is already pretty good, but…).

I think all photographers chase better focus, especially now with the incredible autofocus systems on most cameras. The continuous autofocus on the EM1 Mark II was a huge improvement over the EM1 Mark I. It made it much easier to shoot moving subjects, but still wasn’t great for tracking.

In the new Olympus OMD-EM1X, on the surface, the other upgrades to the new body seemed more evolutionary than revolutionary (although I have since discovered that impression was not entirely correct).

In addition, the sensor seemed to be the same in the EM1 Mark II, so what was worth so much more?

Compared to the EM1 Mark II, the EM1X is only slightly bigger (the lens on the right is also a little bigger)

After I purchased the Olympus OMD-EM1X, I immediately realized that some of the cost differences between the models (EM1 Mark II and EM1X) were a little misleading. That’s because the EM1X comes with an integrated battery grip (you can purchase a non-integrated battery grip separately for the EM1 Mark II for US$250), an extra battery charger at US$59 and an extra battery which goes for US$54.  I have used the external battery grip (HLD-9) for my EM1 Mark II, and I’ve barely removed it since. This makes the overall cost difference a little less, but still, at about US$1,100 more, the 2 years newer EM1X is still the most expensive camera that Olympus sells.

Beyond the cost, I was initially a little reluctant to jump on the EM1X because of the slightly unusual marketing messaging on this product.

I am a professional photographer and need a solid, reliable camera that is quick to autofocus. Although this was clearly a premium model for the Olympus line and the most expensive camera they sell, Olympus seemed unwilling to state that it was their top model. They instead stated it had shared top billing with the Olympus EM1 Mark II. The EM1X seemed to be marketed only for wildlife and sports photography but is it more capable than just in those two areas?

Another big feature of the camera is the weather sealing. According to the advertising, you can expose this camera to a rainstorm and it will continue to work.

Portability of the system means you can get to more remote areas without carrying too much gear

The real-world results

In addition to some travel photography to Nevada and Madeira, I also took the Olympus OMD-EM1X backcountry camping for a few days.  While backcountry camping, it rained a great deal and I carried my EM1X for the entire time using a Peak Design capture clip on the outside of my backpack. I have also used the camera to photograph animals and some wildlife. The considerable differences are the weatherproofing, autofocus, in-body stabilization, field sensors, and some of the computational features.

The weather sealing of the camera and lens allowed me to clip it on the capture clip and didn’t require a separate bag

Weather resistance

It is a bit of an understatement to say that it is a weatherproof camera.  Lots of cameras claim to be weatherproofed, but in reality, you don’t want to get them wet.

With the Olympus OMD-EM1X, I was genuinely unconcerned when shooting even in a torrential downpour (except for how it would affect my composition).  I start focusing only on what I need to do to get the shot, not whether or not my camera will survive.

When you try to access the memory cards or the battery, there is no doubt that this camera is built to withstand the weather. I live in Northern Canada, and I have used the EM1 Mark II and the EM1X in bitterly cold conditions with lots of snow, and I can attest that neither is a problem for this camera.

Combined with the EM1X, the 12-100mm F4 has 7.5 stops of image stabilization and weather sealed goodness

While backcountry camping at Mount Robson in British Columbia, Canada, it rained most of the entire trip. At no time was I concerned about the EM1X, nor did I ever put it away to get it out of the rain.

This was not a concern shared by others. There were lots of other photographers with other camera brands around, and all had some type of weather shielding for their cameras (camera bags and plastic bags) even while shooting.

The biggest problem I encountered was trying to keep water off the front of the lens so I could take my images without big water drops in the image.

The EM1X got very wet but never showed any adverse consequences of the water. I never quite felt that confident with my EM1 Mark II, because of the battery grip attachment.

Feel

The EM1X is very solid, kind of like a tank. It feels great in hand, and it has key buttons in great locations. Unlike the EM1 Mark II that felt like the battery grip was always a little loose, the integrated battery grip significantly improves the overall ergonomics. In addition, by having both batteries in the same compartment, changing them out is trivial. With the EM1 Mark II, if one or both batteries depleted, getting the battery out of the main body required removal of the battery grip to get at the second battery compartment.

The use of locks for the battery grip and memory card slots give the EM1X a solid feel too.

New button layout

The new button layout has a real sense of purpose. With some cameras, it almost seems the designers couldn’t figure out where to put particular buttons, so they just put them anywhere. In this case, button placement is deliberate. The majority of buttons sit in the same position, regardless of whether the camera is in portrait or landscape orientation. This means there are two buttons for most functions.

I used back-button focus for many years on different cameras, and its placement has much improved for Olympus. The addition of the two-track pointers (both landscape and portrait) allow you to fine-tune your autofocus position while shooting.

Autofocus improvements

Continuous tracking is significantly better than the EM1 Mark II (firmware 2.3) with an ability to lock into a subject and stay on them even in a crowd. I was shooting my son’s lacrosse game and was amazed at how well the tracking held.

I know there are other makes of cameras with good tracking, but this one definitely ranks up there with the elite. It uses both phase and contrast detection and is super fast.

Autofocus allows for tracking of individuals during sports events

In-body image stabilization

It is claimed that the in-body image stabilization (IBIS) is up to 7.5 stops when used in combination with a stabilized lens. Most Olympus lenses don’t have stabilization; instead, they rely on in-camera stabilization. This means you can shoot handheld at times up to about 4-6 seconds and still get sharp photos.

Coming from Canon DSLRs that use only optical stabilization (same as Nikon), you need to pay attention to your shutter speed because of camera shake. This becomes a significant issue with higher megapixel images as the greater detail in the images means that camera shake is highly visible. The Olympus OMD-EM1X mostly eliminates this, and you can really use it to your advantage.

It is difficult to convey to someone how big a deal this is in practical shooting, particularly if you don’t have a tripod. It means you can leave your tripod behind (more often than you probably already do).

You can obtain high-resolution 50MP images handheld without the use of a tripod.

Field sensors

The field sensors provide a built-in GPS with all kinds of information about where you took the image. This includes altitude, temperature, and elevation. The information is baked into the metadata for the images so that it is there.

Prior Olympus cameras, in general, required communication with an app on your mobile phone to get this kind of data. This allows you to track the location of your images in applications such as Adobe Lightroom.

One word of caution, there are two options with how the field sensors activate. You can drain your battery quite fast (even if you are not using the camera) if you don’t use the battery conservation option.

In practical terms, it means that if you use the battery saver mode, you need to turn on the camera for a little while for the GPS to get the location. If you are too quick, it will be missing the GPS location data.

In real-world terms, when I was backcountry camping, the field sensors also showed elevation change and temperature.

High-Resolution Mode

For some time, Olympus has had a sensor-shift/high-resolution mode, where the camera takes a series of images to create a high-resolution image. It does so by moving the sensor 1/2 a pixel in each direction a total of eight times. This feature is not new and has been available on Olympus cameras for a few years.

It is also not the only camera manufacturer (there are only a few) that do this (implemented differently), but all require the use of a tripod.

On the Olympus EM1 Mark II, the resulting image is an 80 MP raw image. The EM1X has this same ability to do high-resolution images with a tripod and introduces the ability to do a high-resolution mode while handheld. To do this, the EM1X takes 16 images and combines them for a slightly smaller, but still high-resolution image (50 MP versus 80 MP).

The handheld, high-resolution mode works remarkably well.  The biggest problem for all of these implementations are moving subjects in the field of view. However, the high-resolution images still turn out quite well, with a noticeable bump in resolution.

Combining remote destinations and high-resolution captures can lead to great images

Simulated ND Filter

The EM1X has an ND mode, where you can simulate long exposure photography without the use of an ND filter.  This allows you to take daytime images of waterfalls, handheld, and without an ND filter.

The results are pretty good.  However, there are limits as to how it works, but the results are worth the effort.

In the end, you can achieve this using an actual ND filter – the results are similar. The ND Filter works well if you are a run-and-gun photographer.

Capturing a flowing stream during the day with normal settings

Using the ND filter allows for the blending of images and the simulation of using an ND filter but without a physical filter

Compact and customizable

If you look at the history of Olympus, you will realize that this is a company that has built its reputation on photographic cameras based on concepts of compact but capable cameras, with a significant emphasis on “compact” (this is not new).

This has always been the case and has been part of the brand for the past 100 years. More recently, Olympus has focused on digital cameras that are very well built, with great optics, incredibly customizable and with a compact form factor.

I also think that Olympus regularly tries to push the leading edge of features that surround the sensor. Things like in-body image stabilization, pixel shift high-resolution mode, and other computational features.

Beyond the new tricks, how about the old tricks?

The Olympus OMD-EM1X is heavier, but not by a huge amount. The ergonomics are great, and the Micro 4/3rd lens selection is fantastic (Olympus and Panasonic). The image quality has never really been an issue for me and my work. Olympus and Panasonic both make very fast lenses, and if you are looking for shallow depth of field, they have lenses that provide great bokeh.

On the downside, the EM1X is not a discrete street photographer type of camera. It is big, pronounced, and screams serious image-taking. There are many smaller bodies for Micro 4/3rds, but this camera delivers big overall.

I am a fan and am convinced.

Without diving into the rabbit hole of full-frame versus crop-sensor debate (there are lots out there), when you consider image size and resolution, you can use most modern cameras micro 4/3rd’s and up for most genres of photography.

In reality, unless you are printing very large (10 feet wide), cropping like mad or need crazy shallow depth of field, sensor size is for pixel peepers to worry about, not the average photographer. You can even use micro 4/3rds for astrophotography, but you really have to work at it.

For those who want to argue the benefits of full-frame sensors over micro 4/3rds, you could argue that the current gold standard is no longer any full-frame camera. Instead, it’s something more like the Fujifilm GFX 100 – a mirrorless medium-format 100 MP camera. These have many of the features of full-frame cameras, including weather sealing, in-body image stabilization, and dual memory card slots.

The camera is quite versatile.

The verdict?

This camera does certain things particularly well. If you are serious about your images, want to travel light, go into locations with harsh weather conditions and want to limit the use of additional gear (tripods and filters), this is the camera for you.

Most modern cameras can take great images in the right hands. The differences become features and suitability to the task.

Based on my real-world experiences, for most photographic imaging, the Olympus OMD-EM1X is up for it. It can do things other cameras can’t including durable weather sealing, handheld, high-resolution mode, ND filter simulation, very fast shooting (60fps without autofocus and 18fps with continuous autofocus) and crazy in-body image stabilization.

review-olympus-omd-em1x-camera

The post Real-World Review of the Olympus OMD-EM1X appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part 2 – Application

The post Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part 2 – Application appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

makeup application for photographers 9

A little makeup will help your images pop

In part 1, we explored the tools you need to be able to help your subjects. Once you have all those essentials for applying makeup, the next step is the hard one – application. Again, this overview is intended for photographers and not makeup artists. The approach should be about helping your portrait subjects look a little better in your images of them. However, it should not replace using an actual makeup artist if you have one available.

Makeup artists can do amazing work that takes a lot of time, effort and skill to become good at. You can’t become a makeup artist by simply reading one article. We are going to help you tweak what is already there rather than give tips on how to be a junior makeup artist.

Many models come to sessions with their own makeup

Virtual Makeup

Beyond makeup, there are lots of techniques for improving someone’s appearance in post-processing including adding virtual makeup. Virtual makeup programs and plug-ins have come a long way, but, as always, it is much easier to get the images correct in-camera and not rely on post-processing to fix everything.

Also, while it can be done, post-processing images can take a fair bit of time, so getting it right in-camera means very little post-processing. Little post-processing can end up saving you a tremendous amount of time, particularly if you are handling lots of images and tight timelines.

Virtual makeup can be virtually indistinguishable from regular makeup and is way better than excessive smoothing or reverse clarity.

Before applying makeup

In general, when you are applying makeup to an individual, there are a few factors to consider before applying makeup to them. First, you need to be aware if they are comfortable with makeup and with you applying it to their faces. Most women and few men are comfortable with makeup, however, there are both men and women who are not. Before you do anything to anyone, you need to ask for their consent. Also, ask how comfortable they are with letting you do anything regarding the application of makeup.

When you apply makeup to someone, you end up getting up close and personal (much like a haircut) and there are lots of people and cultures that frown on you entering their personal space. Your subjects need to feel beautiful or handsome but more importantly, they must feel comfortable.

 

Rule of thumb

The rule of thumb for photographers who are applying makeup to subjects is that you are looking for a very light touch of makeup (i.e. very little).

With women, just improve a little of what is already there (they may already have most of it down and may be way more skilled at it than you are).

For men, you are looking to remove the sheen and give them a light tan to look healthier. For all your subjects, think smoothing and getting rid of shine.

makeup application for photographers 8

Making subjects relaxed is important

Approach for women

Lots of women wear makeup everyday. Many will show up for a portrait session with the makeup that they normally use and are comfortable with. That’s really great. For these women, you will need to carefully consider or assess what you want to achieve before applying or correcting your subject’s makeup. Ideally, your subject’s makeup is just fine with no need for any changes or only some minor touch-ups. Only add or repair what’s needed for these subjects. Do not make their makeup worse.

Alternatively, some women don’t wear any makeup. So for them, you will need to let them know you will only be doing a little to help them look better in front of the camera. You are really trying to make them look their best – you will not be trying to fix them or to try to make them look like a supermodel. Everyone has great features, and everybody wants to feel attractive. Great photography will bring out their inner beauty. You are just trying to enhance what they have, not to make them look like something they are not. Some women will joke and ask you to take 10 years off. The best thing to do is to reassure them that you will make them look good.

Makeup for men is just a really light touch.

Approach for men

Most men don’t wear makeup. This means that you need to make them relax having makeup on.  Depending upon how and who the person is, will affect your approach. The best approach you can take is to tell them you are just cleaning some stuff up and making them look great. It will be really important for most men to tell them that you will be putting very little makeup on them.

As with most subjects, you tend to be dealing with normal people. Here is a before makeup shot of a typical subject. Ensure your subject’s face is clean and moisturized before adding makeup.

Preparation

If your subject arrives with no makeup, you may need to apply some very basic makeup. Ideally, their faces are at least clean before you start. If your subject’s face is not clean, recommend a splash of soap and water as well as cleaning with a clean applicator using an alcohol-free toner.

Beyond making people feel comfortable, you also need to be wary of any allergies. Before you start applying any makeup to anyone, make sure you know if they are allergic to any products. This ensures you don’t start applying some makeup only to have them feeling really bad and break out in hives.

Fair complexion individuals will benefit from a little bit of makeup by providing some definition.

Your first step is to use blotting paper to blot up any obvious oil spots. Simply press the blotting paper to the oily area, lift, and repeat as necessary, using a clean section of blotting paper each time. Never rub, just blot.

Concealing

This is a critical stage of applying makeup. Done well, concealing transforms small skin irregularities and get things right straight out of the camera. This saves retouching later in post-processing.  Using your smallest brush (the lip or concealer brush), dab concealer onto blemishes, dark circles under the eyes, and in any other areas that need a bit of correction. Dab on a bit of concealer with your brush, wait a minute or so, then use a clean finger to lightly dab the concealer to begin blending.

makeup application for photographers 7

Concealing involves targeting small imperfections to help people look more like themselves

As a photographer, you will be familiar with color theory. Now you need to think about it for makeup. Applying concealer normally requires you to think about color theory and shading. For example, apply green to red blotches; yellow to purple-blue under-eye circles on olive or tan skin, and light purple or pink to under-eye circles on fair skin.

Try to always use a flesh-toned concealer that is the same as, or slightly lighter than, your subject’s skin to allow the ability to even out the corrections.

Correcting or balancing foundation on women

With excess oil removed and any blemishes concealed, now you will need to look closely at your female subject’s foundation. Some women use too much foundation or don’t blend foundation enough along the jawline. If either applies to your subject, moisten a wedge sponge and use it to even out the foundation using light and gentle strokes. Pay particular attention to jawlines and hairlines. Ensure any makeup lines are smoothly blended out to make them invisible.

Alternatively, some women don’t apply enough foundation. If you find this to be the case with your subject, use your largest brush (the face brush) and brush on lightly-tinted setting powder. Powder will not provide deep coverage, but it will supplement a thin application of foundation.

Blush and contour for women

If you’ve never applied makeup to another person, this is the stage where you will initially feel particularly awkward using a brush and makeup. Even people with lots of practice on themselves can feel awkward doing it on someone else.  You may want to practice in advance by brushing makeup onto white sheets of paper, particularly textured paper like those used for watercolors.

A good application of foundation, blush and contour will make the subject’s face even

When you are ready to apply blush and contour to your subject, ask her to smile. Use a medium-sized brush to apply blush from the apex of her cheeks in a very slight curve down and then back up again, almost to her ears. Apply the blush in light strokes, brushing additional makeup in thin layers until you’ve achieved a look that is only slightly more dramatic than natural.

If you are feeling adventurous and confident, use your blush or powder brush with your bronzer to lightly contour the sunken area of her cheeks from about mid-cheek back to the hair line. A little contouring can go a long way. When you begin feeling more confident applying contour, consider applying it down the middle of a woman’s nose, at her temples, and on the tip of her chin. This application will make your subject’s face look a bit thinner.

Blending for women

For good makeup application, continued blending is key. Begin with a large face brush and lightly sweep in circles to begin to blend in the edges of the blush and contour you’ve applied. Finish blending by using the face brush to lightly brush on some flesh-colored translucent powder.

Highlight and manage shine

Setting powder can be used now to add some highlights to your subject’s face and to tone down any shiny areas. To add highlights, use a clean blush or face brush (be sure you’ve cleaned it of blush and contour). Dip the tip of the brush in some rice powder and gently touch the rice powder onto the areas you wish to highlight. Then use your face brush to blend.

Adding highlights to either side of the bridge of your subject’s nose, near the inside corners of her eyes, will brighten her eyes.

If your subject has some shiny areas (this may be all you need to correct for some clients), apply some rice powder on the shine using your face brush. Go easy on the application as you can overcorrect and end up with pale looking skin.

makeup application for photographers - 6

Smooth lips are never noticed, but rough ones always are. This is an easy thing to fix before taking a photo.

Lips

The last main step is to ensure your subject’s lips are smooth and moist looking. If your subject brought lipstick, use that. If not, or if her lips need a bit of moisture or shine, use a bit of lip gloss or balm. Apply the gloss or balm with a clean concealer or lip brush. Don’t use fingers or let your subject use her fingers as more lip gloss will end up on fingers than on lips.

A little bit of makeup can really bring out the individuals inner beauty

makeup application for photographers - 5

Final results coupled with good lighting can make for images people are proud to show others

Final assessment

Once complete, and at each intermediate stage, step back and assess what you have applied or corrected. Make sure it works. You can always layer on a bit more makeup where needed, but it’s much more difficult to remove too much makeup.

Applying makeup to men

Many men won’t refuse a bit of corrective makeup even if they feel awkward about it. Remember to limit makeup application for men to concealing and managing shine. You want them to look healthy, not made up.

makeup application for photographers - 4

For men just smoothing and a light touch are all that is necessary

Blot and conceal

As before with women, use blotting paper before applying any concealer. Men often produce more and heavier oil on their faces than women. If this oil is not blotted, the concealer will come off as you attempt to apply it. The same principles for applying concealer to women applies to men. You may only need to be a bit more diligent in blending concealer over shaved facial hair.  It may be trickier too with men who want that scruffy 5 o’clock shadow look or have a day’s growth of beard.

Managing shine

Rice powder works wonderfully to matte shine on a man’s face, especially on high foreheads and bald spots. Even if you are not able to completely matte shine in those areas, rice powder will bring the shine down enough that you will have texture to work with in those areas of the photograph when retouching.

As with women, apply rice powder to men lightly with a large face brush, blend well, and check to be sure you have not created pasty-white areas. If your client’s skin tone is dark and you are trying to matte significant shine, blend a little tinted translucent powder with the rice powder before applying.

Lips

Some men have dry or flaky lips, often from spending a lot of time outside. Ask if you can apply a small amount of clear lip balm. Rub the balm in well because you don’t want shiny traces on a man’s lips.

Before finishing up, take a close look at your client. Remove smudges, makeup flakes, or lint with a cotton swab. Use your face brush or a damp disposable sponge to blend any makeup that needs just a tiny bit more blending. And use a damp disposable sponge to remove stains or lint from clothing.

makeup application for photographers - 3

The judicial use of makeup can help people feel more confident for other types of posing.

Cleaning up

Finally, always clean your brushes and cosmetics after every use. You want to have sanitary makeup and brushes. Use a conditioning brush spray or isopropyl alcohol on your brushes. Use cosmetic sanitizer or isopropyl alcohol on your cosmetics so that you can use them for others. Throw away any disposable items you used. And always wash your hands with soap and running water or with sanitizer as soon as you are finished.

In the end, the desired result is for images people are proud of. To do that a little bit of makeup knowledge helps a photographer simplify his or her processes to get the best results

Practice, Practice, Practice

Applying makeup to another person does not come naturally. There is a reason why makeup artists are paid handsomely for their work. But with a few tools, a small bag of cosmetics, and practice, you will be able to address the worst of makeup or skin flaws before you capture your client’s portrait.

makeup application for photographers - part 2

The post Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part 2 – Application appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part 2 – Application

The post Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part 2 – Application appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

makeup application for photographers 9

A little makeup will help your images pop

In part 1, we explored the tools you need to be able to help your subjects. Once you have all those essentials for applying makeup, the next step is the hard one – application. Again, this overview is intended for photographers and not makeup artists. The approach should be about helping your portrait subjects look a little better in your images of them. However, it should not replace using an actual makeup artist if you have one available.

Makeup artists can do amazing work that takes a lot of time, effort and skill to become good at. You can’t become a makeup artist by simply reading one article. We are going to help you tweak what is already there rather than give tips on how to be a junior makeup artist.

Many models come to sessions with their own makeup

Virtual Makeup

Beyond makeup, there are lots of techniques for improving someone’s appearance in post-processing including adding virtual makeup. Virtual makeup programs and plug-ins have come a long way, but, as always, it is much easier to get the images correct in-camera and not rely on post-processing to fix everything.

Also, while it can be done, post-processing images can take a fair bit of time, so getting it right in-camera means very little post-processing. Little post-processing can end up saving you a tremendous amount of time, particularly if you are handling lots of images and tight timelines.

Virtual makeup can be virtually indistinguishable from regular makeup and is way better than excessive smoothing or reverse clarity.

Before applying makeup

In general, when you are applying makeup to an individual, there are a few factors to consider before applying makeup to them. First, you need to be aware if they are comfortable with makeup and with you applying it to their faces. Most women and few men are comfortable with makeup, however, there are both men and women who are not. Before you do anything to anyone, you need to ask for their consent. Also, ask how comfortable they are with letting you do anything regarding the application of makeup.

When you apply makeup to someone, you end up getting up close and personal (much like a haircut) and there are lots of people and cultures that frown on you entering their personal space. Your subjects need to feel beautiful or handsome but more importantly, they must feel comfortable.

 

Rule of thumb

The rule of thumb for photographers who are applying makeup to subjects is that you are looking for a very light touch of makeup (i.e. very little).

With women, just improve a little of what is already there (they may already have most of it down and may be way more skilled at it than you are).

For men, you are looking to remove the sheen and give them a light tan to look healthier. For all your subjects, think smoothing and getting rid of shine.

makeup application for photographers 8

Making subjects relaxed is important

Approach for women

Lots of women wear makeup everyday. Many will show up for a portrait session with the makeup that they normally use and are comfortable with. That’s really great. For these women, you will need to carefully consider or assess what you want to achieve before applying or correcting your subject’s makeup. Ideally, your subject’s makeup is just fine with no need for any changes or only some minor touch-ups. Only add or repair what’s needed for these subjects. Do not make their makeup worse.

Alternatively, some women don’t wear any makeup. So for them, you will need to let them know you will only be doing a little to help them look better in front of the camera. You are really trying to make them look their best – you will not be trying to fix them or to try to make them look like a supermodel. Everyone has great features, and everybody wants to feel attractive. Great photography will bring out their inner beauty. You are just trying to enhance what they have, not to make them look like something they are not. Some women will joke and ask you to take 10 years off. The best thing to do is to reassure them that you will make them look good.

Makeup for men is just a really light touch.

Approach for men

Most men don’t wear makeup. This means that you need to make them relax having makeup on.  Depending upon how and who the person is, will affect your approach. The best approach you can take is to tell them you are just cleaning some stuff up and making them look great. It will be really important for most men to tell them that you will be putting very little makeup on them.

As with most subjects, you tend to be dealing with normal people. Here is a before makeup shot of a typical subject. Ensure your subject’s face is clean and moisturized before adding makeup.

Preparation

If your subject arrives with no makeup, you may need to apply some very basic makeup. Ideally, their faces are at least clean before you start. If your subject’s face is not clean, recommend a splash of soap and water as well as cleaning with a clean applicator using an alcohol-free toner.

Beyond making people feel comfortable, you also need to be wary of any allergies. Before you start applying any makeup to anyone, make sure you know if they are allergic to any products. This ensures you don’t start applying some makeup only to have them feeling really bad and break out in hives.

Fair complexion individuals will benefit from a little bit of makeup by providing some definition.

Your first step is to use blotting paper to blot up any obvious oil spots. Simply press the blotting paper to the oily area, lift, and repeat as necessary, using a clean section of blotting paper each time. Never rub, just blot.

Concealing

This is a critical stage of applying makeup. Done well, concealing transforms small skin irregularities and get things right straight out of the camera. This saves retouching later in post-processing.  Using your smallest brush (the lip or concealer brush), dab concealer onto blemishes, dark circles under the eyes, and in any other areas that need a bit of correction. Dab on a bit of concealer with your brush, wait a minute or so, then use a clean finger to lightly dab the concealer to begin blending.

makeup application for photographers 7

Concealing involves targeting small imperfections to help people look more like themselves

As a photographer, you will be familiar with color theory. Now you need to think about it for makeup. Applying concealer normally requires you to think about color theory and shading. For example, apply green to red blotches; yellow to purple-blue under-eye circles on olive or tan skin, and light purple or pink to under-eye circles on fair skin.

Try to always use a flesh-toned concealer that is the same as, or slightly lighter than, your subject’s skin to allow the ability to even out the corrections.

Correcting or balancing foundation on women

With excess oil removed and any blemishes concealed, now you will need to look closely at your female subject’s foundation. Some women use too much foundation or don’t blend foundation enough along the jawline. If either applies to your subject, moisten a wedge sponge and use it to even out the foundation using light and gentle strokes. Pay particular attention to jawlines and hairlines. Ensure any makeup lines are smoothly blended out to make them invisible.

Alternatively, some women don’t apply enough foundation. If you find this to be the case with your subject, use your largest brush (the face brush) and brush on lightly-tinted setting powder. Powder will not provide deep coverage, but it will supplement a thin application of foundation.

Blush and contour for women

If you’ve never applied makeup to another person, this is the stage where you will initially feel particularly awkward using a brush and makeup. Even people with lots of practice on themselves can feel awkward doing it on someone else.  You may want to practice in advance by brushing makeup onto white sheets of paper, particularly textured paper like those used for watercolors.

A good application of foundation, blush and contour will make the subject’s face even

When you are ready to apply blush and contour to your subject, ask her to smile. Use a medium-sized brush to apply blush from the apex of her cheeks in a very slight curve down and then back up again, almost to her ears. Apply the blush in light strokes, brushing additional makeup in thin layers until you’ve achieved a look that is only slightly more dramatic than natural.

If you are feeling adventurous and confident, use your blush or powder brush with your bronzer to lightly contour the sunken area of her cheeks from about mid-cheek back to the hair line. A little contouring can go a long way. When you begin feeling more confident applying contour, consider applying it down the middle of a woman’s nose, at her temples, and on the tip of her chin. This application will make your subject’s face look a bit thinner.

Blending for women

For good makeup application, continued blending is key. Begin with a large face brush and lightly sweep in circles to begin to blend in the edges of the blush and contour you’ve applied. Finish blending by using the face brush to lightly brush on some flesh-colored translucent powder.

Highlight and manage shine

Setting powder can be used now to add some highlights to your subject’s face and to tone down any shiny areas. To add highlights, use a clean blush or face brush (be sure you’ve cleaned it of blush and contour). Dip the tip of the brush in some rice powder and gently touch the rice powder onto the areas you wish to highlight. Then use your face brush to blend.

Adding highlights to either side of the bridge of your subject’s nose, near the inside corners of her eyes, will brighten her eyes.

If your subject has some shiny areas (this may be all you need to correct for some clients), apply some rice powder on the shine using your face brush. Go easy on the application as you can overcorrect and end up with pale looking skin.

makeup application for photographers - 6

Smooth lips are never noticed, but rough ones always are. This is an easy thing to fix before taking a photo.

Lips

The last main step is to ensure your subject’s lips are smooth and moist looking. If your subject brought lipstick, use that. If not, or if her lips need a bit of moisture or shine, use a bit of lip gloss or balm. Apply the gloss or balm with a clean concealer or lip brush. Don’t use fingers or let your subject use her fingers as more lip gloss will end up on fingers than on lips.

A little bit of makeup can really bring out the individuals inner beauty

makeup application for photographers - 5

Final results coupled with good lighting can make for images people are proud to show others

Final assessment

Once complete, and at each intermediate stage, step back and assess what you have applied or corrected. Make sure it works. You can always layer on a bit more makeup where needed, but it’s much more difficult to remove too much makeup.

Applying makeup to men

Many men won’t refuse a bit of corrective makeup even if they feel awkward about it. Remember to limit makeup application for men to concealing and managing shine. You want them to look healthy, not made up.

makeup application for photographers - 4

For men just smoothing and a light touch are all that is necessary

Blot and conceal

As before with women, use blotting paper before applying any concealer. Men often produce more and heavier oil on their faces than women. If this oil is not blotted, the concealer will come off as you attempt to apply it. The same principles for applying concealer to women applies to men. You may only need to be a bit more diligent in blending concealer over shaved facial hair.  It may be trickier too with men who want that scruffy 5 o’clock shadow look or have a day’s growth of beard.

Managing shine

Rice powder works wonderfully to matte shine on a man’s face, especially on high foreheads and bald spots. Even if you are not able to completely matte shine in those areas, rice powder will bring the shine down enough that you will have texture to work with in those areas of the photograph when retouching.

As with women, apply rice powder to men lightly with a large face brush, blend well, and check to be sure you have not created pasty-white areas. If your client’s skin tone is dark and you are trying to matte significant shine, blend a little tinted translucent powder with the rice powder before applying.

Lips

Some men have dry or flaky lips, often from spending a lot of time outside. Ask if you can apply a small amount of clear lip balm. Rub the balm in well because you don’t want shiny traces on a man’s lips.

Before finishing up, take a close look at your client. Remove smudges, makeup flakes, or lint with a cotton swab. Use your face brush or a damp disposable sponge to blend any makeup that needs just a tiny bit more blending. And use a damp disposable sponge to remove stains or lint from clothing.

makeup application for photographers - 3

The judicial use of makeup can help people feel more confident for other types of posing.

Cleaning up

Finally, always clean your brushes and cosmetics after every use. You want to have sanitary makeup and brushes. Use a conditioning brush spray or isopropyl alcohol on your brushes. Use cosmetic sanitizer or isopropyl alcohol on your cosmetics so that you can use them for others. Throw away any disposable items you used. And always wash your hands with soap and running water or with sanitizer as soon as you are finished.

In the end, the desired result is for images people are proud of. To do that a little bit of makeup knowledge helps a photographer simplify his or her processes to get the best results

Practice, Practice, Practice

Applying makeup to another person does not come naturally. There is a reason why makeup artists are paid handsomely for their work. But with a few tools, a small bag of cosmetics, and practice, you will be able to address the worst of makeup or skin flaws before you capture your client’s portrait.

makeup application for photographers - part 2

The post Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part 2 – Application appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

How to Achieve Cool Urban Cityscapes

The post How to Achieve Cool Urban Cityscapes appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Cool Urban Landscapes through post-processing

Creating an emotional response

How you present your images can really affect one’s emotional response to them. Certain styles of image lend themselves to stylistic changes because they can create a specific emotional response when the viewer sees them. For example, film-based black and white images, when done well, present a sense of timelessness and can make things seem more serious. Similarly, high dynamic range images (HDR), when done well, can add “pop” to landscape photography. One particular style of image that lends itself to stylized treatments through post-processing is urban landscapes. Particularly if you are trying to make an already interesting image look more appealing based upon the lighting already present.

Crushed black and blown highlights on a street scene

Gritting and moody

Similar to black and white images, a high-contrast, selectively saturated look works well to create urban landscapes with a gritty and moody feel.

Using filters for effect

Nowadays, smartphone and some consumer cameras, have a great deal of pre-packaged stylistic treatments available that you can apply to photographs to try to evoke an emotional response. Someone, somewhere, has spent a great deal of time creating those filters to make your images feel as though they are from a different time or place.

For example, the classic 1970s snapshot look is full of color shifts and light leaks. They were common at that time because of the use of unstable film stocks and cheap cameras. Digital cameras don’t suffer the same issues that were present at that time. So, to simulate these conditions, adding light leaks and color shifts can make images feel vintage. There are many filters out there – each with their own effects.

Lit up Las Vegas

Make your own filters

To put the idea of emotional response to images in context, think about a familiar treatment that you are probably already aware of: black and white images. These photographs are rarely just images with the color drained. Good black and white images are contrast-rich with deep blacks and bright whites. The grey middle ground of many images can lose their impact when drained of color. Many black and white films had specific response curves that created the contrast-rich images. So now, with digitally-captured images that are black and white, they can appear a little sterile and plain. Adding high-contrast effects and grain to simulate film black and white tends to create an emotional response and mood.

To improve as a photographer, most people start, at some point, to try to take a more artistic approach to their images. Many newer photographers may start with simple prepackaged filters and presets, and apply them to their images. Currently, there is no end to the filters available in pretty much any photo sharing application and many cameras. From terms like “cool,” “50s,” “vintage,” and “grunge,” all these filters are stylizing the image for an emotional effect. Instagram was built on filters. People are very used to stylized images.

Old Montreal

Creating your own style

Becoming a better photographer involves the deliberate use of styles to create your desired effect. You may find there are particular filters you gravitate towards; styles that evoke an emotional response you like.

This is the beginning of finding your own style of image making. As you advance, you might explore manipulating images with Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, Skylum Luminar or some similar program.

When you get to the point where you are working with and creating your own filters, you create your style. You can start by playing with filters or dissect other photographer’s images that you really like to see if you can recreate that style.

Surprisingly, creating set styles in many photo imaging software packages is quite easy. It allows you to recreate your style and apply it repeatedly to multiple images.

Notre Dame in Montreal

Create your filter

Let’s consider the urban, gritty look for urban landscapes.

Here are two treatments of the same image, split for comparison. On the right is the Straight Out Of the Camera (SOOC) jpeg and on the right is the treatment with the blacks crushed, highlights blown, oranges highlighted and an almost selective color approach.

It is easy to create for yourself with whatever tweaks you like to create a style for yourself.

Comparison of straight out of the camera to the final product

A word of warning is necessary at this point. When you start stylizing your images with intentionally weird effects, you may generate some negative comments from people who don’t like the look you create. This does not mean you have failed to create something interesting. However, it means you have generated an emotional response to your image by someone who doesn’t care for that look.

Remember that some people find that they can only validate their work by diminishing others. Whereas, most find growth in encouraging others to take risks with their art. A true artist picks their vision and follows it. Sometimes it can be a bumpy road if you are only expecting validation from others.

It is important at some time for you to consider yourself an artist and not just a recorder of images.

All art is about creating an emotional response. Beyond capturing a moment, it is how that moment makes you feel. Emotional responses can be positive or negative.

Atwater Market in Montreal

It turns out this crushed-blacks, blown highlights, contrasty, desaturated, and the almost selective color look isn’t that tough to create for yourself. However, for this particular effect, you may do some damage to your photos by intentionally making some parts too black and other parts too bright.

So let’s look at the images I think work for this type of treatment. Shots typically taken at dusk/night, with artificial illumination present, add interesting artistic character for the urban landscapes shot.

Use a Raw Image Processor or Lightroom

I use Adobe Camera Raw to do most of the edits to these images, but you can use Lightroom or any image processing software to create a similar style. My suggestion is you modify and tweak it to your liking to get the desired effect.  The tools are similar, but just in different places. Also, even though I process these images with a raw converter, you don’t have to use a RAW image (although that is always the best starting point) and can use a JPEG or DNG file.  The treatment will look very similar.

To start, open your image with the raw converter.

Opening up the Raw Processor

 

With your raw converter, you have access to many parameters that act globally on your image.

Change the sliders as shown on the panel below.

Specifically, you want to make sure you have the desired white balance (it may be fine from what your camera selected, or you may want to resample).  You want to up the Contrast hard, more than you probably have done previously to make those hard edges at the light and dark parts of your image. You then do two things that seem contrary – you are going to pull the details out of the shadows (increase the Shadow slider) and make the Blacks blacker (crushing the blacks).

Finally, boosting the Clarity increases the midtone contrasts, boosting the Vibrance boosts the midtone colors and toning down the Saturation prevents them from looking too candy-colored.

Here’s my panel for example:

 

Adjustments for the effect

Once you have made a look that you like the effect of, you can make this a repeatable look by creating a user preset.

Switch to the presets tab and then make a new preset.

You will be prompted to add a preset name. Pick something relevant to your style and save it. Next time you pull up an image (or multiple images) in your raw processor, you can simply highlight them all and apply the presets at once.

How to save the effect

A lot of these settings may cause parts of your image to clip. The crushed blacks mean that much of the detail in the blacks disappear. The boosted colors lead to clipped highlights. However, in the end, that’s okay because that is the desired effect.

Here’s a Pro-Tip: All those presets you can buy for Lightroom and Photoshop essentially do a version of this. You can create those presets if you have the time and the inclination to do it yourself. By doing it yourself, you create an image style that appeals to you.

Edmonton Skyline

Conclusion

Art is about evoking an emotion. Sometimes photographers try too hard to make an image that looks too lifelike and loses emotional impact. You can create urban landscape images that are moody and gritty by making them dark with blasted colors and blown highlights. It also opens doors to other types of manipulations used for images warranting other types of emotional reactions.

Old building in the Westmount area of Montreal

 

The post How to Achieve Cool Urban Cityscapes appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part I – The Tools

The post Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part I – The Tools appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Makeup! Before I took photographs (and as a guy), I rarely used or had to use makeup, so I had very limited personal experience with it. That being said, I have taken portrait photographs of beautiful women that have been professionally made up, and I can honestly say it really makes a difference through the lens of a camera.

The best makeup is always barely noticeable – you only focus on the subject. It is truly a skill to do makeup well. Getting a good makeup artist to help with your portraits will always make the images better. However, in many cases, a makeup artist is not available, so the next best thing is to do it yourself to help deal with specific issues and get better results.

Made up Model

Best results

For the best portrait shooting results, you want subjects that are well rested and healthy. You also want interesting locations, great lighting, and skill behind the camera.

Although the last three are things you have control over, you generally have limited control over your subjects.

Other than suggesting your subjects be well hydrated and rested, there is little you can do to change your given subjects. Makeup can help improve the overall appearance of your subject by balancing skin tones, correcting most skin imperfections and even change the perceived shape of a subject’s face.

Well-applied makeup will also boost the effects of good lighting and minimize retouching.

Same model different makeup

Nothing new

Fashion and glamour photographers have long known the benefits of makeup and often employ a makeup artist on their sets. Most portrait photographers don’t have the budget or benefit of a makeup artist on location particularly if you are only doing one or two portraits.

Usually, the portrait photographer is working with the makeup that the subject shows up with (or lack thereof).

Any corrections are often done in post-production to deal with shine, blotchy skin, and uneven skin tones.

However, with a few makeup items supplied and a bit of practice, any photographer can develop enough skill to apply basic makeup and improve a portrait straight out of the camera (SOOC).

All subjects benefit from a little makeup (female, male and other), as long as they are human.

Even males benefit from a little makeup

Basic requirements

Let’s consider the basics of a useful makeup kit, simple application techniques, and hygiene requirements.  Makeup artists will spend lots of money on equipping their kits, but you only need a few items to apply simple makeup before a portrait session.

There are, however, two important things you need to consider before putting together your own makeup kit.

Makeup will make many women feel special

First, poor quality products generate poor results. You don’t need to purchase the very best products but getting cosmetics from a reputable makeup store, a cosmetics counter at a department store or a pharmacy with a larger cosmetics section will produce better results. You can purchase online, but it is best if you know what you are getting.

As a male photographer purchasing cosmetics, be prepared for comments from some stores about getting stuff for your wife or girlfriend mostly because men buying makeup is less common.

Men will often be unaccustomed with makeup

Secondly, people are becoming more considerate of products that have fewer animal byproducts and are free of animal testing. Most people do not want weird stuff on their faces, and you will want to be respectful of people’s wishes.

Brushes and applicators

Ideally, you should have three brushes – a face brush, blush or powder brush, and a concealer brush. Brushes need to be soft durable and able to be easily cleaned. Generally, it is a good practice to purchase good quality synthetic brushes. Always ensure that the larger brushes are very soft and pliable.

Brushes and Applicators

The face brush is the largest and fluffiest of all the makeup brushes. They are often about 2 inches wide with bristles curves into a rounded shape.  The blush or powder brush is a medium-sized soft brush that is about 1 inch wide with curved edges. The third brush is a concealer or lip brush which is small, about 0.25 to 0.5 inches wide with tapered ends.

In addition to brushes, wedge-shaped disposable sponges are handy for all sorts of things. Cotton swabs are indispensable but buy a brand name because inexpensive bands tend to cause more of a mess than they clean up. Disposable hand towels (thicker than paper towels) are useful for cleaning up. Finally, blotting film or facial blotting paper is the last disposable item you need for a brush/applicator.

The cosmetics

Although there is a lot of makeup out there, this kit is not intended to replace a makeup artist, it is just to help you, so you can get away with a surprisingly small collection of cosmetics to pull it together. There may be additional things but start with the basics.

Cosmetics

Translucent loose-setting powder will have a very light skin tone color in the jar but applies neutrally on almost all skin tones. These powders are often mineral based.

Concealer is an inexpensive staple for any makeup kit. You can get smaller collections, but often you can get a wheel or concealer palette that has multiple colors to adjust for skin tones.

Blush or bronzer is used to give the cheeks a little color and make you look a little suntanned as well.

Rice powder is a very fine, light, loose white or very pale powder use for absorbing excess oils and highlighting features. It should almost be invisible and is not expensive.

Lip gloss can be super simple and does not need to be a bold color. Just a simple stick of clear lip gloss or slightly tinted balms will do the job.

Great results straight out of the camera

Cleaning and sanitizing products

For non-makeup people, the importance of cleaning up hands, brushes, and cosmetics cannot be understated. You really need to keep everything clean, particularly if you intend to use the makeup for more than one person (but even then you need to clean up your brushes).

Key staples are hand sanitizer, a brush cleaner (baby shampoo will do), and a cosmetic sanitizer. Use unscented hand sanitizer to keep your hands clean before and after every makeup application.

The brush cleaner is essential to keep the brushes functional. Finally, the cosmetic sanitizer gets applied to the cosmetics after use. Isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle works but tends to discolor the makeup with repeated use. It is best to get a proper sanitizing mister made especially for cosmetic products.

Makeup as an art

Applying makeup takes skill. To become skilled, you need to practice. Before you start applying makeup to a paying subject, you need to practice on someone who doesn’t mind you practicing on them. There is a reason why makeup artists are paid well for their work. It is hard, and they make it look easy.

Couples will enjoy it too

Conclusion of Part I

With all this equipment you are ready to help your clients look better for their portraits. In part 2, we cover the techniques and basic skills to apply makeup to your clients. The intent is not to make you a makeup artist, but to help smooth features and improve the look of your portraits straight out of the camera. That way, you don’t have to spend a lot of time post-processing your images.

It doesn’t replace a true makeup artist’s work

 

The post Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part I – The Tools appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

How to Photograph Frozen Bubbles in the Cold

The post How to Photograph Frozen Bubbles in the Cold appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Bubbles in the Air

I live somewhere that gets pretty cold in the winter, and occasionally it gets super-cold. Alright, discussing cold is always a relative measure depending upon where you live, but I may be understating a bit to say it gets pretty cold, when actually, it gets freezing by pretty much anyone’s measure. Fortunately for my family and me, it only gets challenging for about a week or two in the depths of winter.

In the hardest times, temperatures reach around -30C (-22F). At these temperatures, there is very little moisture in the air, and it is just plain cold. Extra layers only help a little bit. Frostbite is a very significant risk for any exposed skin, particularly if there is any wind (times to freeze exposed skin are less than a couple of minutes).  Many people here wear the temperatures they endure almost as a badge of honor.

So cold we can freeze bubbles before they pop

It gets really cold here

At these temperatures, everything freezes here – even things you probably didn’t think could freeze. The large river that goes through my city freezes for the entire winter. Starting sometime in November until breakup in April, eyelashes and beards freeze, camera lenses freeze (aperture blades and shutters won’t move) and cars require block heaters to keep the oil in the crankcase warm enough so that you can start the engines.

There are colder places on earth, but not that many.  During our recent cold snap from the polar vortex (very cool name but I’m not sure its a real thing), people compared it to temperatures in Antarctica (it was slightly colder here than there).

It gets pretty cold here

So what, who cares?

Realistically, apart from complaining about the weather (a common national pastime for Canadians… look it up) you don’t want to spend much time outside at these freezing temperatures. So why tell you about crazy frigid temperatures? Because there is something that you can do at these temperatures that you can’t really do if it isn’t cold enough. You can blow bubbles and take pictures of them freezing before your eyes. The effect is remarkable, and it happens very fast. Frozen bubbles! If you can blow bubbles, you can watch them freeze before your eyes.

The process is pretty quick. The ideal temperature to do this is when temperatures dip below about -20C or -4F. At temperatures higher than that, the bubbles don’t freeze the same way. Blowing bubbles at these subzero temperatures can be challenging, but if you take the time, you can get some amazing results.

Bubbles on a bubble wand

The science of bubbles

Bubbles are common phenomena that kids love playing with. They seem very simple, but the science behind them is quite complicated. Bubbles are made up of two soap films – inside layer and outside layer – holding and trapping a layer of water between them to form the bubble. When you blow the bubbles through a wand or a straw, the air you introduce expands the inner film layer to create the bubble. As the water evaporates, the bubble eventually bursts. The bubbles stay together based upon the surface tension (the tendency to stick together) of the soap film, but the film is, in general, very thin.

In warm weather, soap and water are all you require for making lots of bubbles, but at colder temperatures, the soap film needs to be stronger. By adding glycerine or corn syrup, you make the bubbles stronger. By adding a small number of sugar crystals, the bubbles will show crystal patterns in the bubble walls as they freeze. The main ingredients you need access to are water, dish soap, glycerine, and some sugar.

Ingredients to make frozen bubble images

The 3 W’s and 1 H

In preparation for shooting bubbles, the key questions before you start are WHERE, WHAT, HOW and WHEN. Because the temperatures are so cold, you need to plan everything in advance because you can’t spend that much time in these temperatures trying to guess what you are going to do next. You need to pick a spot to set your bubble down (this is not a floating bubble exercise). This is the WHERE. Preferably it is someplace convenient, at a reasonable height and near a source of warmth (like somewhere near a door or running car to get you inside).

You then need to decide on the WHAT, is there a particular look you are going for? Is there an effect you are trying to achieve? (Night shot? Candles?)

Next, you need to think about HOW. How are you going to compose the shot? How are you going to blow the bubbles? What is the background like (this is a key aspect)? How are you going to manage both focusing, bubble making and shot taking? Are you going to need a tripod?

Finally, the WHEN is the last part to consider. You need to pick a time of day on a day that is cold enough to create the effect, that has great light and when there is little to no wind (this disrupts the bubbles). Wind will quickly destroy any efforts to blow bubbles in the cold.

Bubble frozen solid with corn syrup

The WHERE

So let’s consider the WHERE.

It will be cold, so you will need to scout a location that is easy to get to, at a reasonable height to photograph preferably from a tripod (to free up your hands) and is relatively near warmth.

These are normally close-up images, so it presents some similar challenges as macro photography. You really can be just about anywhere as long as you don’t have distracting shapes, colors or patterns in the background. Ideally, if you choose a reasonable aperture, the bokeh will have the background blurred but significant shapes, colors or patterns will be apparent.

I used the snowy railing on my back deck as a place I would set up for my shots because it was close to my house, at waist height and I can control the background.

Frozen bubble with a dark background

The WHAT

Regular bubbles don’t really work in super cold temperatures. The bubble mixtures that work in the summer struggle in super-cold temperatures and tend to just burst before freezing. In cold temperatures, bubbles can be more difficult to generate. Even if you do, they often just fall to the ground.

If you search the internet, you will get lots of clear advice but little in the way of explanation. I found and tried multiple recipes for bubbles and discovered that some of the recipes don’t work all that great. All generate bubbles, but some work better than others.

The general objective is to get bubbles with thicker films that tend to stay together. Also, by adding some sugar, you can get cool crystalline patterns as the bubbles freeze.

The recipe I settled on (as it worked fairly reliably) was 1 cup of water, 4 tablespoons of dish soap (not dishwasher soap), 3 tablespoons of glycerine and 2 tablespoons of sugar. I saw many recipes that used corn syrup, but they didn’t seem to work as well as the glycerine and made for sticky bubbles. However, corn syrup does work – just not as well. The glycerine strengthens the bubble, and the sugar helps with the crystalline patterns in the freezing bubbles.

To blow the bubbles, you will need a straw and some patience. Preferably you use a reusable straw (which I have a bunch of).

Regular Bubble solutions don’t really work for freezing bubbles

The HOW

Once you have figured out your location, you need to compose your shot. Plan on a bubble being about 3 inches in diameter (could be bigger but probably won’t be smaller). Set your camera on a tripod, pick the spot where you are placing the bubble and set your focus manually.

You can set the bubble on snow, or if you use the bottom of a cup or glass, a small amount of solution on the base helps place the bubble easier and without it popping. It is also useful to have your camera set up to take multiple shots (slow burst) without recomposing or refocusing.

Bubble with focus on the back wall rather than front wall

Once set, use a straw in the solution and slowly blow the bubbles. You will need to keep the bubble on the straw, place the bubble and slowly extract the straw from the top of the bubble. This technique worked best for me. Remember it is cold, and blowing bubbles is not that easy when it very cold.

The WHEN

Okay, you are all set…but is it cold enough? You need -20C (-4F) or the bubbles don’t freeze properly. Ideally, you want it sunny as the light hitting the bubbles really makes them pop. The good news is that generally when it is really cold, there is so little moisture in the air that it is often sunny.

Finally, you want there to be as little wind as possible. The wind will cause the bubbles to move unpredictably and cause them to burst. Try to find a location sheltered from the wind.

Using a candle to illuminate a bubble at night

The Shoot

Once all the preparation is complete, and you are ready to go, you may realize that it is difficult to blow bubbles, wear gloves, stay warm and shoot at the same time. Once the bubbles start to freeze, they freeze fast. You will want to place the bubble and then watch for it to begin to freeze and then take multiple images in a short burst.

If you can have someone blow bubbles for you, this helps because getting the bubbles to form, place them and then hope they stay together long enough for the images to turn out can be a bit of a challenge. It is a little finicky to get the bubbles to stay where you want them but if all the stars align the results are great and fun.

Mostly frozen bubble

The Results

If you get everything working, you can get pretty amazing results.  Whether for still images or video, bubbles freezing are really interesting to see and photograph. If you plan out the images, you can get great results.

Not quite frozen bubble

 

The post How to Photograph Frozen Bubbles in the Cold appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Have Digital Filters Replaced the Need for Physical Lens Filters?

The post Have Digital Filters Replaced the Need for Physical Lens Filters? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Do you need filters for beautiful pictures?

If you are old enough to have used a film camera, you know why people needed lens filters in order to accomplish visual effects in their images.  Back in the film days, you had limited control over white balance or ISO. Once you selected your film from the available film stock, and put it in your camera, you were stuck with a roll (24 or 36 exposures) of single ISO negative or slide film that was probably daylight balanced. In order to not waste money, you did everything you could to carefully mete out your images and make the most of them.

Most film was daylight balanced so getting it right in-camera was critical

Back in the day

To help you make great images in the film days, you needed certain filters to help fix your white balance, and neutral density (ND) filters to allow you to slow your shutter speeds down. That was then, this is now. With the advent of digital cameras and the high-powered abilities of most image editing software, you can accomplish digitally much of the work that filters used to do.  Is there still a place in modern digital photography for optical lens filters?

The answer is yes, but only for a few specific types of filters. In fact, you may find it difficult to get many filters in your local camera store that would have been readily available in the film camera days.  Most bricks and mortar camera stores carry few filters. The more unusual filters might be found in the bargain bin section, next to the books on how to use your new Canon 5D mark 1 (hint: that is an old digital camera).

Some filters have to be really large to accommodate wide angle lenses

Types of Optical Lens Filters

I find that optical lens filters break down into six general types: UV/skylight filters, color modifiers, special effects, specialty filters, ND filters (including graduated), and circular polarizers. Most optical filters can be replaced by digital processes, either in the camera itself or in post-production. Some optical filters are really big and all take up space in your bag.

Ultraviolet (UV) or Skylight filters

Let’s consider UV or skylight filters. Film stock was often sensitive to UV light so it was important to protect your film by using a filter so that UV light wouldn’t make the images hazy.  Modern digital cameras are not susceptible to UV light interfering with their sensors as there are already UV and IR filters built into the cameras (we will discuss the importance of this later). Today, UV or skylight filters serve a completely different purpose: many photographers use them to protect the front element of their lenses.

A UV or Skylight Filter will protect your lens front element

UV/Skylight filters as lens protection

As an aside, there are two schools of thought regarding UV or skylight filters. Some argue that putting a cheap filter in front of a really expensive lens significantly degrades the optical properties of your lens and that most good quality lenses have great coatings and are quite robust.  Alternatively, others would prefer to replace a $100 filter than replace a $2000 lens. While I agree you should never use cheap filters, I do tend to think that if you use good filters they do protect your investment in much more expensive lenses. I have replaced lots of filters that were shattered from an impact. In all of those cases, the front lens elements were protected from contact by the filter. I am not sure that would have occurred without the sacrificial filters.

Regardless, since these UV/skylight filters don’t cause any significant changes to your image, they really are only useful for physical lens protection.

A warming filter to adjust white balance

Color filters

Color filters were another common filter used with film cameras for simple color correction. Back in the film days, the film stock was mostly daylight balanced so if your images were taken in non-daylight conditions, you would need to use a color filter to correct your white balance. Although film processors had some ability to adjust the white balance in the lab, back then – today too, for that matter – it was always easier when you got things right in camera. Color filters are still available but are more of a novelty item, used for a specific effect, often in concert with gelled flashes and strobes. They are also still used for film cameras, instant cameras, and for specific applications like underwater photography.

Special effects filters

Once upon a time, there were lots of special effects filters that would produce in-camera special effects like grids, streaks, and starbursts. These all still work on digital cameras, however, most of these effects can be digitally produced, reducing the need for the optical filter. Many film shooters will take their images and then scan them to edit them, so the extra effort and cost of using special effects filters seem unnecessary. They are also difficult to find.

Rectangular Graduated Neutral Density Filter

Neutral Density Filters – Graduated

The next filter type to consider is the neutral density filters, commonly used by landscape photographers (both film and digital). These divide into two groups: graduated neutral density filters and overall neutral density filters. Acting like sunglasses for your camera, graduated neutral density filters are all neutral colored – they should impart little color change – and darken only part of the image. Graduated filters help deal with the dynamic range of your sensors, particularly when shooting into scenes that are very bright and very dark in the same view. Most modern digital cameras have a dynamic range of about 10 – 14 stops whereas your eyes are more like 20 stops. Keep in mind that this is not really a fair comparison because our eyes work quite differently from camera sensors. Graduated neutral density filters can usually be applied in post-processing. Although, if the dynamic range is really huge, it often means you can take one image rather than multiple images that need to be composited (this is what HDR images really are).

The left shows the image normally processed with the right having a digital neutral density filter

Neutral Density Filters – Non-Graduated

A neutral density filter (non-graduated) is the first optical filter type that does things that cannot be easily duplicated, either in camera or in post-production. At least not all of its functions. While it is certainly possible to darken your images digitally in post, a non-graduated neutral density filter allows you to take images that your camera would not allow you to take in full sunlight. In full sun, it may be so bright that you may not be able to stop your lens down and slow your shutter down sufficiently to get motion to blur. Non-graduated neutral density filters allow you to slow your shutter speed down in the field when conditions are bright. You will be able to take images of moving subjects in bright locales and blur the motion to create interesting effects.  For example, waterfalls are often shot using a non-graduated neutral density filter. Neutral density filters are often measured in stops to indicate the number of stops you can slow things down. At the extreme end of the non-graduated neutral density filters are the specialty filters used for photographing solar eclipses. Without these strong filters, the sun can permanently damage camera sensors.

Neutral Density Filters on the front element of the lens

Smooth water motion with a non-graduated neutral density filter for longer exposures

Specialty filters

The second optical filter type that cannot be duplicated in post-processing or in-camera are specialty filters related to UV and IR light.  By default, cameras have filters on their sensors that cut UV and IR light out so that only visible light is recorded. However, it is possible to get these filters removed (you have to send your camera body away) to allow you to shoot UV-only, full spectrum (which includes UV, visible and IR), or IR-only images. Once this is done, your modified camera is generally limited to that particular use, but the images it produces can be quite interesting. By using specialty filters on a modified camera body that allows for full spectrum, you can control what portion of the spectrum is visible in your images. There are cut filters that allow full spectrum sensors to only see UV, visible light or IR spectrum. These filters cannot be duplicated in post-processing.

Slight neutral density cast for a circular polarizer

Circular Polarizers

The final optical filter type that cannot be duplicated in post-processing is a circular polarizerThere are actually two types of polarizers, linear and circular. They both cut the same light out but circular polarizers can rotate an allow you to find the optimal orientation whereas linear polarizers are fixed (you should only use circular polarizers unless you know what you are doing). Circular polarizers do two things: cut down reflections and increase contrast. Some also act as a weak neutral density filter. When light hits a metallic or watery surface, the reflected light tends to be polarized (all the light is vibrating in the same direction). The circular polarizer lets you filter out this polarized light. You do this by turning the filter.  The change can be quite dramatic, and it cannot be achieved in any practical sense through post-processing. In addition, because there is always some polarized light in the atmosphere, the filter will make the colors in your images punchier. This is a secondary feature of polarizers but adds to their use. Colors just pop more.  Different brands and types alter how much this occurs. In general, you can’t go wrong using a circular polarizer, particularly for landscape photography.

Circular Polarizers help control reflections

Conclusion

Many filters that were used with film cameras are not really required anymore because of the ability to control white balance and ISO. Other filters created effects that can easily be duplicated using image editing software like Photoshop. Despite this there are a few filter types that cannot be replaced by processes applied in post, thus they remain vital tools in your photographer’s toolbox.

Do you use filters? Share with us in the comments below.

 

 

The post Have Digital Filters Replaced the Need for Physical Lens Filters? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Photographing Small Things – A Personal Voyage

The post Photographing Small Things – A Personal Voyage appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

1 - Photographing Small Things - A Personal Voyage

Souvenir Mask

When you photograph an item for a marketing campaign, or to record its physical condition, it’s called product photography. This is a very specialized type of photography. While you may never be commissioned to photograph a commercial product, some of the techniques used in product photography may have relevance to your personal life.

Perhaps these techniques offer a solution to a problem many people don’t recognize – hanging on to reminders of people, places or events from the past.

2 - Photographing Small Things - A Personal Voyage

Ostrich Egg on a pedestal

A collection of small things

My wife’s uncle Larry recently passed away. Larry was an incredible guy and was a man of good taste. For a period of about 10 years during his late 60’s and 70’s, he traveled to many far-flung parts of this blue orb we call home. During his travels, he acquired an extensive collection of items that I reluctantly call souvenirs.

To Larry, these items represented mementos, memories and valued objects from his travels. Now that he has passed, any monetary value of these objects is unknown. The stories of their origin, that ultimately made them of personal value to Larry, have been lost. It is left to us to figure out what to do with his extensive collection. There are boxes and boxes of these things, most of which are unlabeled.

Going beyond Larry’s collection, when I look around my house, I see pieces of furniture that remind me of my long passed parents. Most of these are not functional, nor do they match my personal taste. I keep them around because they evoke memories. My wife came up with a novel idea that seemed to resonate with everyone: create a photographic series to preserve the memories that the collection of material objects represents. Perhaps more correctly, for me to create this collection. This digital photographic record would certainly occupy less space than the physical objects.

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Small figure on a black background

Combining approaches to product photography and archival photography

For this project, I am combining the approaches to product photography and archival photography. I am photographing the objects as though I am going to sell them, and recording the images from many perspectives so that the record of their existence is complete. We may also be able to use the resulting images to figure out if the objects have any value outside of our family. From there, we can decide what to sell, what to give away, and what to keep for ourselves and other family members.

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African Mask, a larger piece on a black background

To give you an idea of the project scale, I have 15 boxes containing between 10 and 20 objects each. So we are talking about 200 – 300 objects. Although I have made a dent in the collection, at the time of writing, I still have a long way to go. However, my workflow and objective are solidifying.

In doing product or archival photography, you need good, controlled light with limited shadows. Shadows are great for portraits and drama, but they detract from an image captured for archival purposes where you want to capture the object’s details. You also need to control reflections and ensure that the light appears to come from everywhere.

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This glass bowl with gold leaf gilding was highly reflective

Equipment

I considered using a studio strobe setup. It’s a great way to light things, but it can get complicated when dealing with smaller objects. It also takes up a great deal of space. It’s generally intended for bigger objects in larger spaces. I needed a more compact footprint that would allow me to do the photographs in my home when it was convenient for me.

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A small 24-inch lightbox for product photography

The collection I’m photographing contains objects ranging from 1 cubic inch to large, skinny objects that are almost 18-inches long. I decided it was worth investing in a small portable lighting cube designed for product photography. The 24-inch portable cube has reflective walls, LED lights, and a selection of backgrounds. It packs up into a skinny portfolio sized carrying case and provides flexibility to accommodate all of the objects in a relatively confined space.

I use the cube in conjunction with a small card table and my tripod. There are many brands of this type of set up, but for my purposes, I used the Promaster Still Life Studio 2.0.

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Lightbox interior with a black background and small box to elevate objects

Right from the start, a few challenges presented themselves. Some objects don’t stand well on their own, and some objects really benefit from sitting off the background to make them stand out more. Finding interesting supports or display blocks all of a sudden seemed important.

White balance

In addition, I discovered that I needed to get a baseline for white balance. When you use Auto white balance in this kind of environment, even if you are using a white background, color management becomes problematic. By establishing a baseline white balance, you can color correct all the images in post-production (provided you shoot RAW files) or in camera if you use and set a custom white balance.

Be careful when you use custom white balance settings on a camera that you use for other purposes. If you’re like me, you may forget that the white balance has changed which only creates problems with the other work.

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Some objects have their own stands

The portable studio has a set of LED lights at the top of the cube, a diffusion panel underneath the lights to make a bigger light, highly reflective side panels, and a set of backgrounds in white, black, grey, and light blue/grey. When you take a photograph there is a small hole (either in the front or the top) where you insert your lens, so the lighting is fairly even all around. It works pretty well. Most items are lit well right out of the gate.

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Choice of colors for backgrounds

Depth of field and exposure

Once you’ve set your white balance (either by using a grey card or a custom white balance), you need to consider the depth of field and exposure. The cubes are very well lit, so there’s plenty of light. This light dominates, and you don’t have to worry much about ambient light interfering with your white balance or exposure.

Because many of the objects I’m shooting in my project are small, I need to be close but not quite at a macro scale. Due to this factor, the depth of field becomes a big issue. If I shoot wide open, part of the object is out of focus. Shallow depth of field is necessary when you need to create separation from the background. In this project, the background is akin to seamless paper, which means I don’t need to create that separation. Instead, I can choose a wider depth of field to ensure that the entirety of the smaller object is in focus.

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To get a complete record of an object you need to see it from all sides

I come from a background in forensic engineering investigations. Here, I photographically documented objects to ensure the preservation of as much visual information as possible.

To capture your items, reasonable depth of field (maybe around f/8) should give the right amount of depth of field without diffraction effects. Of course, this depends on the size of the camera sensor.

Because I set the portable studio on a small card table, I can elevate all items I am photographing. When shooting stationary objects, use a tripod to set up the shots, and move the object relative to your camera. Due to the items being three dimensional and digital images are flat (2D), you need more than one image to capture each object adequately.

To be thorough, it is a good idea to capture around ten images. One from the front, back, two sides, four corners, top, and bottom. Depending upon the nature of the item or how complex it is, sometimes it’s fine to take fewer images. In this case, it works best to keep the camera in a great position, set for white balance, depth of field and exposure, and then to turn the item around.

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The depth of field helps show the incredible details of the objects

Labeling the items

In the next step, I labeled my items. You don’t want to photograph an item, only to never be able to find it again! My items were bubble wrapped, so I labeled the boxes with a letter and gave each bubble wrapped item a number. To keep track of all the items and their associated numbers, photograph the letter/number then photograph the item, labeling it with the number when finished with it. By putting an identifier at the beginning of the series of images for that item, you can easily see the name of the images plus the images together.  I have used this technique frequently for event photography as well.

Once I had all my images, I corrected the white balance and then ran the images through a batch process droplet to get the images the way I like them.

In the end, I have a great collection of images, and you can too. You can use either a website or a proofing gallery to look and share all the images. It makes it easier to manage all the images for all of the items.

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Lots of detail in this mask

Conclusion

Taking this approach to photographing meaningful objects from life seems like a way to preserve the memories of meaningful objects without retaining the physical objects. Sometimes I hang onto things because they mean something to me or remind me of people or happier times. However, I don’t have space or need the items, and I don’t want them in my life other than to remind me of others.

For instance, I have a small french provincial style buffet that I have had for as long as I can remember. It was important to my parents and reminds me of them. They passed away many years ago. Through objects like this, I connect to my past when they were here. As a consequence, while it is a meaningful object that connects me to my parents, it’s of a style that doesn’t fit into my house, and it’s large and impractical.

In the end, maybe just a photographic record of the furniture, without keeping it, is all I need. I just need to make sure that the images of all the items both large and small are reasonably accessible for those moments I want to remember my parents or uncle Larry.

Feel free to share your comments below.

The post Photographing Small Things – A Personal Voyage appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

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