How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

The post How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Silky water effects, streaked clouds, motion-smoothed with an ethereal look; long exposure photography seems to be in vogue as photographers discover the looks that can be created. There are multiple ways to achieve this. The most basic is to buy a standard neutral-density photography filter which cuts the light, allowing you to use long shutter speeds without overexposing your shot. You can achieve exposures minutes long, especially when using 10-stop ND filters like the Lee Big Stopper or even the 15-stop Super Stopper.

I recently did an article on an alternative way to make long exposure photos, “Try this DIY Neutral Density Filter for Long Exposure Photos.” I encourage you to read the piece and learn how a piece of welding glass can be a budget substitute for more expensive photographic ND filters.

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This is the same location I used for some of the other shots in this article but taken when the river was much higher and faster. The biggest difference is that I used DIY welding glass ND filter to achieve this shot. See my other article for this technique.

This article teaches you a third method of making long-exposure images with no filter at all. Unlike the welding glass trick which pretty much requires your final image to be monochrome so as not to have to fight the heavy color cast, this works great in full color, with no filter at all, and no color cast present. It’s a great method to simulate long exposure.

The technique uses a stack of multiple images of the same scene then processed with a Photoshop process called Image Averaging. It’s really quite simple and has some advantages over traditional methods with ND filters.

Advantages over the traditional ND filter method

When doing traditional long exposure photography with an ND filter you will be making long exposures.  (Duh!)  There are a few challenges with this:

  • If during the long exposure you bump the camera or things move in the shot you don’t want to be blurred, you will need to re-do the shot.
  • Long exposures can often be several minutes in length. Double the time if you also enable in-camera noise reduction. If it takes 2-minutes to expose and another 2-minutes for the noise reduction to work, you will only be making a shot every 4-minutes. This can really slow down your work, and if the light changes during that time, you could miss it.
  • With very dark ND filters, you won’t be able to see anything through the lens once the filter is in place. You will have to compose your shot, pre-focus, then mount the ND filter and make the image.
  • Determining exposure will take some calculation. You’ll check exposure without the filter then use a calculation tool to determine the new shutter speed the ND filter requires. Often this will need some tweaking after you see your shot and…yup, another re-do will be needed.
  • If back in editing you see the shots and wish you’d gone for longer or shorter shutter speeds to change the look, too bad. You’d have to go back and reshoot – if that is even possible.
Image: In fairly bright sunlight, even with the ISO at 50 and aperture at f/22, 1/5th of a second wa...

In fairly bright sunlight, even with the ISO at 50 and aperture at f/22, 1/5th of a second was as slow a shutter speed attainable while maintaining proper exposure. This was with no filter.

 The advantages of the Image Averaging method

The advantages of using the image stacking method are essentially the opposite of those things just stated above:

  • You’ll be making multiple images rather than one long one. If one of the images in the group has a problem, you may be able to eliminate it and use the rest to still successfully create the effect.
  • You can see what you’re doing! Not shooting with a dark filter means you’ll still be able to see, compose, use auto-focus, auto-exposure, and even image stabilization if you shoot handheld.
  • No calculation! Without the addition of a dark filter, you eliminate this step.
  • Adjust the length of your “simulated slow shutter” later in post-production. Want more or less blur? You can change your mind later.
  • Are conditions too bright for a standard long exposure shot? Maybe you only own a 6-stop ND filter, and daytime conditions are too bright to let you get the length of exposure you’d like. You can combine both methods to simulate a longer exposure than possible with the ND filter alone.
  • Are people in the shot you’d like to remove? Because they are likely to move during the multiple shots, when the averaging process takes place, they will vanish!
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Make people disappear! Notice on the inset the people walking in the river, but on the completed shot, 15 images, each 1/5th of a second = 4 seconds simulated. They are gone.

Making the shots

Setting up and shooting the images you need for your image-averaged creation is much the same as any photography. Here are the factors and steps to keep in mind:

Composition still counts!

Because you introduce a long exposure blurred effect does not mean that you will have automatically created a good photo. Still consider how to carefully compose your image. Take into consideration that moving objects in the shot will blur and look simplified with less detail. Good long exposure shots often emphasize the contrast between static, non-moving objects (buildings, rocks, trees, etc.), and moving objects like clouds and water. Include both in your shot.

Shoot on a tripod

I mentioned you could do this handheld and, well…maybe you could. However, even with this technique, you will still want to shoot at the slowest shutter speed possible. That way, you won’t have to make too many shots for combining. Once you get much slower than 1/30th of a second (and faster than that if if you’ve just had coffee), handholding your camera is probably going to ruin your shots.

simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

All Images ISO 50, f/22 . Top left – No filter – 20 images each 1/5 second = simulated total = 4 seconds. Top right – No filter – 35 images each 1/5 second = simulated total = 7 seconds. Bottom – 6-Stop ND filter – 15 images each 20 seconds = simulated total = 5 minutes.

How many shots?

This technique simulates long exposure by combining multiple shots.  The simple formula is:

(# Shots) x (Shutter Speed of each shot) = Total simulated shutter speed effect (in seconds)

Let’s plug some numbers into that and see the result.  Set your camera for the lowest ISO possible.  I can get my Canon 6D down to ISO 50.  Some cameras will have ISO 100 as the lowest.  Use whatever you can.  Set your aperture to the smallest aperture possible.  Meter with those settings and see how long you can make each individual shot and have it properly exposed.  Say we were able to do this in the shade: 1/4 second, f/22, ISO 50.  To get a simulated shutter speed of one minute (60 seconds), we’d need to make 240 shots.

240 shots x 1/4 second (.25) = 60 seconds

That’s a little unwieldy, and stacking 240 shots in Photoshop may cause your computer to choke. So what to do? Perhaps you don’t have an ND filter in your bag, but you do have a circular polarizer. It will help reduce the light. You mount it and now find you’ve lost 2-stops. So your exposure can be 1 second, f/22, ISO 50. Plug that into the formula, and you get:

60 shots  x 1 second = 60 seconds

If you’re shooting in lower light conditions, you may be able to get a slower shutter speed to start with. That will mean you can take fewer shots.

To make your job easier (and the computers as well), always try to get the slowest shutter speed you can for your shots. That will mean you can create the simulated long exposure with fewer shots.

Say you did have a 6-stop ND filter in your kit. You mount that, and now your settings are 16 seconds, f/22, ISO 50. Now, to get that simulated 1-minute exposure, you’d just need about four shots. Why not make 10 while you’re at it and you can simulate a 2.6 minute (160 seconds) exposure?

Had you done this traditionally, and had a 10-stop ND filter, you could take the unfiltered exposure down from 1/4 second, f/22, ISO 50 to 256 seconds (4.2 minutes), f/22, ISO 50. So, to get the same effect with a 6-stop ND filter as you could with a 10-stop by using image averaging, take 16 shots.

16 shots x 16 seconds each = 256 seconds (4.2 minutes)

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35 images each 1/6 second combine to simulate a 6-second exposure. Shooting into the sun, it would probably be impossible to make a 6-second exposure without a filter.

Forget the math, make the shots!

If all that math made your head hurt (it did mine), here’s the simple way to get what you need so Photoshop can do its magic:

  • Use a tripod.  You don’t want to do all this and get shaky shots.  That will waste all your work.
  • Do what’s necessary to shoot with the slowest shutter speed you can get with the equipment you have.  In the camera, that will usually mean setting the lowest ISO and smallest aperture.
  • If you have a polarizer or ND filter, use those to get the shutter speed even slower if you can.
  • Make lots of shots for each stacked image you will create.  Depending on how slow you were able to get your shutter speed, a few dozen isn’t too many.  You don’t have to use them all when you get into editing, but having more will allow a longer simulated effect.

Putting it all together

This recipe assumes you will be using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop in combination. You don’t have to use Lightroom. You can get your individual images into a stack in Photoshop another way if you need to (though using LR is much easier). Using Photoshop, however, is mandatory. Also, to use the Smart Objects function described, you will need a version of Photoshop that is Version 14.2 or higher. Older versions of Photoshop won’t have this.

There are ways to do this with older versions in a more manual process. If you have an older version, you will need to do a little online research to learn that technique. I used the latest version of Photoshop at this writing (Photoshop CC 20.0.4).

Let’s look at this step-by-step process visually…

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1. From Lightroom, select the sequence of images you will use.  Edit the first one in the sequence to your liking.  Then select all of them and use the Sync function so all have the same settings as the first.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

2. With all selected, send the images from Lightroom to Photoshop by going to Photo->Edit In->Open as Layers in Photoshop. (Photoshop will open, and the images will appear as layers in a stack). If you have a lot of images to be opened and stacked, this can take a while. Let it work.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

3. With all the layers selected, in the menu select Layer->Smart Object->Convert to Smart Object. This can take a while to do its work. Be patient.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

4. With the Smart Object layer selected, from the menu select Layer->Smart Objects->Stack Mode->Mean. This can also take a bit to work.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

Wait for it…wait for it…and…

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Presto!  You will have a simulated long-exposure image made from your stack of shorter exposures.  20 images each at 3.2 seconds, f/22, ISO 50.  No filter used.  Simulated long exposure of 64 seconds.

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The water in this section of the river was pretty calm anyway, but look at the before and after areas pointed out by the arrow where the original shots were 3.2 seconds vs the combined 20 shots x 3.2 seconds = a simulated 64 seconds.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

5. To finish up, go to Layer->Flatten Image.  Then File->Save As and save the finished image where you like.  If you want to give the completed image some additional tweaking, you can do that with Photoshop or Lightroom as you would with any other image.

Remember…

That’s the magic!  Here are a few things to remember for best results:

  • Consider your composition.  Look for a scene where you will have a combination of static objects that won’t move during the sequence and those that will.  An image with both will be more compelling.
  • Use a tripod.  You can do this handheld if you must, but know that any camera movement will be translated as a blur in the final result.
  • Do what you can to get as long a shutter speed with each image in the sequence as possible.  Drop your ISO to the lowest setting, use a small aperture, and use polarizing filters or whatever ND filters you have.  Longer exposures for each shot mean fewer images are needed to create a simulated long exposure.
  • Overshoot.  You don’t need to use all the images in a sequence if you decide you don’t want as much blur. However, if you don’t shoot enough, you might later wish you had them.
  • As you work through the steps, some things can take a long time.  Be patient and let your computer work.  If the process crashes, it could be you don’t have enough computer resources and will have to settle for a smaller stack.
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5 images, each 6 seconds = a simulated exposure of 30 seconds. No filter used.

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10 images, each 1/4 second combine to give a 2.5-second simulated exposure. This can be a great technique to use for getting silky water effects when you don’t have an ND filter and only need a longer exposure of a few seconds.

Final thoughts

Is this a better method than using an actual ND filter? Like so many photographic things, the answer is probably…it depends. Maybe you don’t have a filter or have one with you. Perhaps you don’t need a really long exposure, but just one a little longer than you can get with a low ISO/small aperture combination such as when seeking blur on a waterfall. Maybe you need to vanish people and don’t want to make a single multi-minute shot for various reasons. Alternatively, perhaps you have an ND filter but need an even longer exposure than it can give you.

There are lots of reasons to add this How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging Technique to your bag of tricks. Give it a try, and I’m sure you’ll have fun. Share your images with us in the comments!

 

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The post How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

How to Use Multi-flash to Capture Compelling Action Photos

The post How to Use Multi-flash to Capture Compelling Action Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Have you ever been to a disco, performance, or another place where they used a strobe light? If so, you saw the interesting effect the rapid flashing creates. Smooth movement gets broken into a series of frozen-stepped motion, not unlike the frames of an old-time movie. Now, what if you could do that with your still camera? Create a series of images all within one frame? If you have a portable flash or studio strobe capable of generating the stroboscopic effect, there’s a good chance you can do this. You can create images that are a great way of analyzing and showing motion. This article will show you how.

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How many times did the flash fire during this sequence? Count the number of steps.

Different flash manufacturers may use different names for this capability.

Canon, GoDox, and Yongnuo call it the Multi-Mode, while Nikon calls it the Repeating Flash Function. Whatever you call it, it’s the capability to have multiple, rapid-fire flashes during one camera exposure.

The best way to see if your flash is capable of this effect is to read your flash manual. If it has the capability, a photo illustration will often accompany it, showing the kind of images possible.

If your flash unit supports it, there will be three constants you can control regardless of the make or model of your flash unit. They are:

1. Power output

This controls the intensity of the light output.  Typically, output runs from 1/1 – (Full power), down in fractions of that, often like 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32, 1/64, 1/128.  The smaller the fraction, the less intense the flash output.

There are two other things to remember about the flash output:

  1. The higher the output, the more battery power used and the longer it will take to recycle the flash before its ready for another burst.
  2. The duration of the flash is shorter as the output power gets lower.  As a result, lower power/shorter durations have more “stopping power” when it comes to freezing motion.

The chart below shows approximate flash durations for various power settings on a Canon 580EX Speedlight.

Flash Output Setting Flash Duration
1/1 1/250 of a second
1/2 1/919 of a second
1/4 1/2,066 of a second
1/8 1/3,759 of a second
1/16 1/6,024 of a second
1/32 1/9,470 of a second
1/64 1/14,000 of a second
1/128 1/20,000 of a second

2. Number of flashes

This one is easy and is exactly what it says – the number of times the flash will fire during the exposure.

Set it for however many times you want the flash to fire in your image. That’s how many “steps” of the moving object you will see.

3. Frequency

This one can sometimes throw the new user as it uses a term not always familiar to everyone – Hertz. In very simple terms, hertz refers to the number of cycles in one second. So, 1Hz = 1 flash per second, 10 Hz = 10 flashes per second, etc.

Image: The three settings you can control are – Power Output, Number of Flashes, Frequency (Fl...

The three settings you can control are – Power Output, Number of Flashes, Frequency (Flashes per second or Hertz). This is a Canon 550EX Flash.

The Formula

Here’s how you put it all together.

Figure out how much power output you need and set that. Your distance from the flash to the subject will help you determine that. So will how fast and how many flashes you expect to fire and how much “freezing action” you need.

Then think about the speed of the action you intend to capture and its duration. Finally, determine how many steps you want to see freezing the action.

The formula looks like this:

# Flashes/Hz = Shutter Speed

Let’s use an example. You want to take a strobed shot of a hammer swinging down and striking a nail. You can put the flash close to the action and so 1/32 power might be enough. If you use a slow swing, you can complete the action in one second. You’d like 6 steps of action in the shot.

Plug those numbers into the formula:

6 Flashes/6 Hz (6 flashes-per-second) = 1 Second

Now say you want to capture something faster like a club hitting a golf ball off a tee. You can still get the flash close enough to use 1/32 power. You want 15 steps in your sequence and guess the action will take just 1/30th of a second to complete.

Here’s how the formula looks for that:

15 Flashes/199Hz = ~1/15th Second

The formula is right, but perhaps the Speedlight you’re using, (in my case a Canon 550EX), is only capable of 199Hz maximum. Even at that, the shutter speed would have to be about 1/15th of a second, not the 1/30th you wanted. Could you live with just 8 steps in your shot?

8 Flashes/150Hz = ~1/20th Second.

Closer. If you slow down your swing, it just might work.

You will find that at the higher hertz rates the flash strobes so fast that it seems like just one burst. However, when you check your shot, a fast-moving subject done with a high flash-per-second (hertz) rate should show the individual steps.

Image: A bright object on a dark background will help a lot when using this technique.

A bright object on a dark background will help a lot when using this technique.

Adjusting Exposure

You’ve used the formula to determine what numbers you want to enter into the flash, and that’s determined your minimum shutter speed. Here, however, the flash is firing within the scope of the shutter duration, and shutter speed isn’t really a factor in setting exposure.

Here’s what is:

Ambient light

You want the flash doing the work here. Also, you will typically be shooting at longer shutter speeds to capture the duration of the action.

Ambient light is not your friend here as it will begin to force settings you may not want. You will also want to eliminate distractions in the shot as the steps of the object in motion will create a busy enough image already. Your best bet is to work in a darkened room and use a black or very dark background.

Do your setup with a work light on and then before making the shot, switch it off, so the flash is the only source of illumination.

That leaves a few things you can do to adjust exposure:

ISO

ISO adjustment can be helpful here as it allows you to have the aperture and shutter speed where you want them and adjust this third leg of the exposure triangle to get the exposure where you need it.  As always, to limit noise try to keep ISO as low as possible, but also remember modern cameras have become far less noisy in recent times.  Know what your camera can do and at what point you will get too much noise.

Aperture

You will want to adjust your aperture as much as anything by the depth of field you need for your particular shot. Also, keep in mind that most lens “sweet spots” where they perform best are between f/8 and f/16 so try to be in that range if you can. After that, adjust your aperture for exposure if you need to. However, use ISO first and this next setting next:

Flash Power

Remember, this is one of the settings you enter into the flash. The flash output will very much control your exposure. The best rule of thumb here is to only use as much as you need.

We spoke earlier about these, but to recap, these are the advantages of lower flash power settings:

  • Uses fewer battery resources  – (If you have an external power source for your flash, use it.  Stroboscopic flash work drains batteries fast.)
  • Flash will recycle faster
  • Lower power = shorter flash duration = more “motion-stopping capability”

Increase the flash output if you need to, but also consider an ISO increase.

You may also find the flash will limit what you can input, especially with higher power settings. To allow sufficient time to recycle between flashes, and also to prevent the flash from overheating, it may not allow many flashes or a higher hertz setting at higher power settings.

For example, my Canon 550EX can shoot 70 continuous flashes at 10Hz if the power is turned down to 1/128 power. However, it can only shoot 2 consecutive flashes at that same 10Hz rate if the flash power is turned up to 1/4 power.

The Multi-Mode on this Canon flash will not work at all if the flash power is set at anything higher than 1/4 power. Full or 1/2 power in Multi-Mode on the 500EX? No can do.

The flash manual has a chart showing how many sequential flashes are possible at various power and hertz settings. Also, the flash programming will not allow settings to be input that exceeds the flashes capabilities.

Canon also warns:

To prevent overheating and deterioration of the flash head, do not use stroboscopic flash for more than 10 frames in rapid succession. After 10 frames, allow the 550EX to cool for at least 10 minutes.

So, whether using a Canon Speedlight or another make/model, know that stroboscopic flash works your unit hard and be aware of its limitations.

One more thing

Here’s one more thing to think about when inputting the three parameters into the flash and calculating the shutter speed. When you click the shutter, the flash will immediately begin it’s strobed sequence.

If you input, say, 1/32 power, 6 flashes at 6hz, per the formula, it will take 1 second for the flash to complete the programmed cycle.  However, there’s no reason that the shutter speed couldn’t be longer, especially since in low ambient light conditions little if any additional light will add to the exposure once the flash cycle completes.

So to amend the formula just slightly:

# Flashes/Hz = Minimum Shutter Speed

With no additional flashes after the sequence completes, further action is not likely to be seen in the shot. So, overestimating the shutter speed is usually not a problem. Underestimating the shutter speed, however, won’t allow the flash sequence to complete before the shutter closes.

Image: These are the settings for the golf club shots below. Count the steps in the photo and you...

These are the settings for the golf club shots below. Count the steps in the photo and you’ll see it corresponds to the setting here – 12 flashes. At 80hz, the flash was firing 80-times-per second or another way to put it, every 1/80th of a second.

Determining the exposure

We’ve covered how to determine shutter speed, but how about aperture, ISO and flash output power?  There’s a couple of ways to approach this:

  • Use an external light meter.  Fire the flash and take a reading as you normally would with an external meter. Use that to determine your camera setting at the predetermined shutter speed.  Adjust ISO, aperture, and/or flash output power to get proper exposure.  If you are familiar with using an external flash meter, you will know how to do this.  But maybe you don’t have an external light meter.  If not you could try…
  • Looking up the Guide Number of your flash, determine the distance to your subject and, using the formulas in your flash manual, calculate your settings.  Uh, yeah, that can work. But if math is not your forte, you could always try Option Three…
  • The “Trial and Error Chimping Method.” Okay, that’s my name for it. But it simply involves starting at say an ISO of 100, an f/stop of about f/8, and flash output power of 1/32nd power. Set the number of flashes and Frequency (Hertz) where you think best. Shoot, “chimp” the shot, (that means take a look at the LCD playback), and if the image is too dark, increase the flash power or open the aperture. Test, chimp, and repeat as needed until you get it dialed in. Digital film is cheap, and once you figure out your settings, unless you change the flash-to-subject distance, you should be set for the session.

Other considerations

Colors/brightness of objects

You will very quickly find that because each step of the sequence in a shot only gets a portion of the total light during the entire exposure, darker objects in motion may not show up well during the exposure. Also, because static objects in the shot will get the full sum of the light, they will be brighter.

You can learn from your mistakes, but why not learn from mine instead?

Image: A patterned background too close to the subject and a golf club with a black shaft and head m...

A patterned background too close to the subject and a golf club with a black shaft and head made this less than it could have been.

In the shot above, I used a dark, patterned photographers popup background. I should have used a solid black background. Also, the background was too close to the subject. Finally, the golf club used had a dark head and shaft, and so while the white ball, golf tee, and reflective chrome parts of the club showed up reasonably well, other parts of the club disappeared. Finally, the patterned background got too much light such that the pattern interfered with the shot.

Here’s the lesson you can learn:

  • Use a black, plain background and place it as far from the subject as you can such that little if any light illuminates it.
  • Pick bright objects to use so that even while in motion, they reflect the light as much as possible so the steps in your sequence show up well.

Above, the bright orange color of the bell pepper and a dark black background worked much better.

A re-do of the golf shot incorporating those principals resulted in a much better shot.

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Adding some reflective tape to the shaft of the golf club helped it show up better.

Remote trigger

Unless you have an assistant (or maybe three hands), trying to control the camera, perform whatever action you’re trying to capture, and then get the timing right is perhaps not impossible, but adds an additional degree of difficulty. A remote trigger allowing you to fire the camera as you start the action sequence can be a huge help. If you are mounting your flash off-camera, a means of triggering the flash will also be necessary. Use either a wired connection, wireless radio trigger, or infrared camera/flash system.

Another level of sophistication, if you want to add it, would be a flash trigger, perhaps activated by sound, breaking a laser beam or other activation method.

I have used the MIOPS Smart Trigger on other photo projects with success. A real advantage it adds is precision and repeatability of a shot – something that you will otherwise leave up to luck and timing.

In a dark environment, use bulb mode. Open the shutter, and when the action activates the flash trigger, (i.e., breaking the laser beam or creating a sound) the flash fires its strobe sequence.

Good flash triggers aren’t cheap. However, if you do a lot of this kind of work, they significantly speed up the work and the permit repeatability of a shot saving a lot of time and effort.

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Practice makes perfect

Like any photography, practice will improve your results with stroboscopic flash work. You will better learn how the three flash settings; Flash Power, Number of Flashes, and Flashes-per-Second (Hertz) work together to craft a shot.

You will also learn what kinds of action sequences make good shots and how to tune your composition, camera settings, and finally edit your photo for the best results. You will also find that making lots of shots, checking your work, fine-tuning and repeating is key to getting that one really great keeper.

I hope you will take the time to try and learn this new flash trick and then share your results in the comments. If you have questions or other comments, please share those too.

I’m excited to hear how it went and see some of your images. Best wishes!

 

You may also find the following helpful:

 

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The post How to Use Multi-flash to Capture Compelling Action Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

How to Understand Light and Color to Improve your Photography

The post How to Understand Light and Color to Improve your Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

The morning sun shone through my kitchen window, catching the vase with a rose in it on the window sill.  A low cross-light highlighted the texture on the rose, while the purple glass vase cast a pattern of colored light across the counter.  The photographer in me studied the light, saw the potential for a photo, and went to get the camera.

Image: From observing the sun shining through a vase on the window sill to the finished image, this...

From observing the sun shining through a vase on the window sill to the finished image, this idea started with simply seeing the light.

A simple observation of light.  That’s how a photo can start – learning to really see the light. Understanding its properties, knowing how to control and shape it – those are the things that will take you from a casual snapshooter to a creative photographer. It’s a matter of crafting photographs rather than simply taking snapshots.

George Eastman helped bring photography to the masses with his development of roll film, simple cameras, and readily available processing.  You’ve certainly heard of the company he founded – The Eastman Kodak Company.  Eastman understood the importance of seeing the light.

He put it like this:

“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” – George Eastman

Image: The vase set-up led to experiments with glasses, colored water, and more exploration of light...

The vase set-up led to experiments with glasses, colored water, and more exploration of light.

Harnessing the light

The rest of the photo session explored the interplay of light, color, shadow, texture, shape, and pattern.  From shots of the glass vase and rose, I switched to glasses and vases filled with water dyed with food coloring.  I experimented with different camera angles, positioning of the subjects, and different background objects. I shaped the light with cardboard “flags” and the Venetian blinds through which the sun was streaming to allow different looks.
The low angle of light also provided ways to cast shadows and projections of color.
How to Understand Light and Color to Improve your Photography

In this case, the light source was simply the early morning sun.  I could have created other effects had I used artificial lights, say a snooted Speedlight to cast a beam of light right where I wanted it.

Studio photographers become masters of light manipulation by using their knowledge and a variety of lights and light modifiers.  Their skills draw upon understanding the properties of light and how to harness it.

Landscape photographers may not be able to create their own light, but they also understand its properties. They know when, where, and how to make the most of the light presented to create the look they seek.

Light Physics – the properties of light

You need not become a physicist to be a photographer, but a little understanding of the properties of light can be beneficial to your work.  So, a little science knowledge can help your art.  Left-brain, right-brain – good photographers use both sides.

What is light?

Light is photons of energy.  It has both wave and particle properties.

Electromagnetic spectrum

Human eyes can only see a very tiny portion of what is called the Electromagnetic Spectrum.  Some photographers use Infrared photography to go a little further past the red end of the visible spectrum, and ultraviolet light sources can take us a bit further past the violet end.  Specialized cameras can also capture X-rays.

How to Understand Light and Color to Improve your Photography

Human eyes see only a tiny portion of the Electromagnetic Spectrum, that portion we call Visible Light.

(transferred by Penubag (talk · contribs) on 05:04, 15 May 2008 [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)]

Properties of light

When speaking of light, we often refer to its properties.  These are:

Quantity – (Also called Intensity or “Brightness”)

Quality – Photographers will use the terms “Hard” or “Soft” light.

Technically, these refer to the shadows cast, not the light itself.  The hard or softness of a shadow (a place where the light is blocked), depends on the size of the light source relative to the subject.  Thus the sun, which is, in reality, huge, can cast harsh shadows (hard light). This is because as a pinpoint of light in the sky, its relative size to the subject is small.

On an overcast day, the whole sky may be the light source – nature’s giant softbox – and the shadows are soft or non-existent.

Direction – Light waves travel in straight lines.  They can be redirected however through Reflection or Refraction.
Reflection – Light hitting an object can bounce off that object.  In fact, anything we see is a result of light bouncing off that object.  The apparent Color of an object is due to what colors (wavelengths) are absorbed versus those reflecting.  A red apple is that color because it absorbs all other colors in the spectrum and reflects only the red wavelengths.
With highly reflective objects, the angle the light hits an object will be the same angle it is reflected. The angle of incidence = the angle of reflection.

RefractionLight can pass through some objects and be refracted or redirected.  Put a pencil in a half-full glass of water, and you will see how the light is refracted differently as it passes through the air versus the water and the glass. Camera lenses shape light through refraction. The image projected on the camera sensor is actually inverted. It is the same as it was when view-camera photographers threw a cape over their heads to see the image on a ground glass before making their photo.

Image: Dewdrops act as tiny lenses refracting the light passing through them.

Dewdrops act as tiny lenses refracting the light passing through them.

Light waves can:

Pass through transparent or translucent objects.

Transparent objects – little if any light is scattered as the light waves pass through – i.e window glass.

Translucent objects – Some light passes through the object but waves are scattered and objects on the far side are not clearly visible.

Reflect or bounce off an object  – We call highly reflective objects “shiny.”  They will often produce Specular highlights.  Objects which break up and bounce light in many directions have a matte quality and Diffuse the light.

Be scattered – Light waves are bounced in different directions

Be absorbed – As discussed, objects have color because they absorb some (colors) wavelengths and reflect others.  Because light has energy, the more light energy an object absorbs the warmer it will be.  This is the reason black, (which absorbs most of the light energy), warms faster than does white, which reflects most of the light.

Be refracted (bent) as light passes through.  Denser objects refract light more (pencil in a glass of water shows example air vs water vs glass).  Diamonds have a very high “index of refraction” and thus are sparkly.

Shadows – Shadows are formed where light is blocked.  Photographers seeking to understand light can learn much by studying shadows as they will give clues to the other qualities of the light.

Image: This abstract image is all about the light and shadows

This abstract image is all about the light and shadows

Dispersion – Visible light can be separated into its component colors due to different degrees of refraction through an object. (This is how prisms work and how rainbows are formed)

Image: A rainbow is an example of white visible light being split into its component colors when the...

A rainbow is an example of white visible light being split into its component colors when the raindrops refract the light and disperse it.

The Speed of Light – Light travels faster than sound at approximately 186,000 miles per second (300,000 km/s).  Sunlight takes 8 minutes, 20 seconds to reach us.  From the next nearest star, Alpha Centauri, light takes 4 years to reach us.  At night we see the light from stars that took hundreds of thousands of years to reach us.  Currently, the most distant star observed by astronomers is over 9 billion light-years away.

Photography and light

We know that without light there is no photography.  Building on the basics of light physics, we photographers have further ways to define light and how we use it.

Photography and color

General photography works within the visible light spectrum.  We use the Kelvin temperature scale to describe the color of light.  For example, a candle’s flame is 1,200K, which is towards the red-orange end of the scale, and a cloudless day is 10,000K, which is at the blue end.

White balance

The human brain is good at correcting colors under different light so that we usually see “correct” colors. Cameras need some help.  Using White Balance, we can index the color we want to be white or neutral in color, and all other colors in the scene will use that as a reference and adjust accordingly.  Thus images shot in daylight, with flash, or under tungsten or fluorescent lights can all be adjusted for “correct” color.

A huge advantage of saving images in the Raw format is you can correct this later when editing. Unfortunately, .jpg images lock the white balance in during the capture.

Image: The color of old tungsten light is quite warm, about 3200K on the Kelvin scale. This could ha...

The color of old tungsten light is quite warm, about 3200K on the Kelvin scale. This could have been white-balanced to be more neutral, but for this image, the warm light added to the antique look desired.

Image: With light, all colors combined equal white. With ink, all colors combined equal black.

With light, all colors combined equal white. With ink, all colors combined equal black.

Color models

RGB

Your camera can interpret the world of color and reproduce it on a color monitor, but in reality, it really only “sees” three colors, Red, Green, and Blue (RGB).  All other colors are created from these three.  Use a magnifying glass to see the pixels on your monitor, and those are the only colors you will see.

Your camera sensor can also only capture those three colors.

If all three of those colors or light combine at full intensity, the result would be pure white.  Because colors record by adding one to another, the term “Additive” is used.

Any of over 16 million colors can be defined using the RGB model, which has 255 steps of each color.  So, white would be 255, 255, 255.  Black is no light and therefore has an RGB value of 0, 0, 0.  Pure red would be 255, 0, 0.  A mixed color like pure yellow is 255, 255, 0, and something like a deep purple shade might be 113, 58, 210.

Image: Pure Red is a primary color in the RGB (Light) model with an RGB value of 255,0,0 but in the...

Pure Red is a primary color in the RGB (Light) model with an RGB value of 255,0,0 but in the CMYK (Ink) model it’s a mixture of Yellow and Magenta.

CMYK

The RGB model works fine in cameras and monitors where we add light to the blackness to create color.  When printing, however, we are starting with a white piece of paper and subtracting from that white to create color.

Instead of red, green, and blue being the primary colors, printers use Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black  (CMYK)  to create all other colors.  (“K” is used for Black because it is the last letter of the word and not used by any other color, i.e. (B)lue).  To save costs on ink, and to produce deeper black tones, unsaturated and dark colors are produced by adding black ink instead of just the combination of cyan, magenta, and yellow. So, while in the RGB model, pure red is defined as 255, 0, 0 the same exact color in the ink printing world of CMYK is something like 0, 100, 100, 0.

So as not to make your head hurt any further, I will not get into the complexities of color spaces, printer profiles, gamut and how we can be sure what we saw is what the camera captures and finally appears on a print.  That’s a whole other and a quite complex subject.  For now, know it is a lot of science and a perhaps a touch of magic.

Instead, you can read more about those topics here:

 

How photographers control light

As photographers, especially in studio photo work, we have the tools and the means to control the light.

Here are the basic things we can do:

Transmit – Using lights of various kinds we can transmit light onto our subjects.  We control the quantity, direction, and color of the light source.  By changing the relative size of the light source to the subject, we can also control the hardness/softness of shadows.

Reflect – All objects reflect light to varying degrees (which is why we and the camera can see them).  How that reflected light plays off of objects, or how we might use other objects, (reflectors) to bounce light into a scene is one way we shape and control the light.

Image: Many of the principles of light discussed in this article are present in this shot. Can you i...

Many of the principles of light discussed in this article are present in this shot. Can you identify them?

Diffuse –We can cause the light emitting from the source to scatter to varying degrees, (diffused), by shining it through translucent materials.  This how softboxes and other light modifiers work.

Block – As light travels in a straight line, anything between the source and the subject blocks the light and creates a shadow.  How and where we create shadows is as important as where we allow light to cast.  Photographers use things like Flags, Gobos, and Cookies to cast and control shadows.  An example, a “barn door” on a lighting instrument is a type of flag.
Image: This image is all about the light. The backlit leaves are translucent and pass a portion of t...

This image is all about the light. The backlit leaves are translucent and pass a portion of the light striking them, filtering out some colors and passing the golden parts of the spectrum through them.

When nature lights the scene – Landscapes Landscape photographers and those using only natural light sources don’t have the same controls over the light, but they still need to understand it to become master photographers.

Learning how light works, how direct sun, diffuse light, time of day, season, angle, diffusing factors like fog, smoke, rain, and other “atmospherics” affect the image are all a huge part of becoming a student of light.  A skilled studio photographer can create light.  A skilled landscape photographer knows when and where to be and then very often, simply “waits for the light.”

Image: A smoky sky filters out many of the colors of the light and passes the warm yellow and red to...

A smoky sky filters out many of the colors of the light and passes the warm yellow and red tones. The side of the wheat facing the camera receives no light and so is silhouetted against the sun. Learning to see the light is key to becoming a good photographer.

Becoming a student of light

Sure, you can just get out some glassware, fill it with colored water, place it in the sun and make some pretty pictures.  I encourage you to do that. It’s fun and you will likely make some nice images.  You need not know the physics and terminology to make nice photos.  But I encourage you to take it a step further.  Use it as an exercise to further your understanding and become a trained observer of light because I really believe George Eastman had it right –

Know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.

 

understand-light-and-color-in-photography

The post How to Understand Light and Color to Improve your Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

This Back-to-Basics Photography Exercise can Improve Your Photography

The post This Back-to-Basics Photography Exercise can Improve Your Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

The digital age has made photography easier, cheaper, and more accessible than ever before.  Even people who wouldn’t call themselves “photographers” now carry a camera in their pocket in the form of their cellphone.

However, has the ability to snap a picture without skill or knowledge made photography too easy? Even for you reading this article who’ve come to this site to learn more about making better photos – has the ease of making digital photos with modern cameras robbed you of learning the basics?

Perhaps. Presuming you really do want to learn more, give the following exercise a try with the intent of improving your skills.

This Back-to-Basics Photography Exercise can Improve Your Photography

I’ll bet back when this grocery store was operating you could buy black and white film here. Now, both are relics. I shot all of the mono photos in this article with a 50mm prime lens during a photo walk, while conducting the exercise outlined.

Back to the film days

Some of you remember the film days, but with digital photography catching hold in the early 2000s, we already have a generation of new photographers who may never have loaded a roll of film.  Others may never have had to manually focus a camera, calculate exposure without a meter, or made monochrome photos in the camera.

My first “real” camera – a 35mm Hanimex Praktica Nova 1B

As the risk of dating myself, here’s a little background:

Back in the “pre-digital days” (back in 1970 when dinosaurs roamed the earth), I was 16 and in high school. I bought my first real camera – a 35mm Hanimex Practica Nova 1B. It was an East German camera built in Dresden and imported to the U.S. The Oreston f/1.8 50mm Meyer Optik Görlitz lens was fast and sharp (though I didn’t know much about such things at the time).  It was typically loaded with Kodak Plus-X film (ISO 125, previously called ASA) or sometimes Kodak Tri-X (ISO 400).

I learned how to process the film and later make black and white prints in a little darkroom in the corner of the garage.  Working under the dim glow of a safelight, and watching the image magically appear as the photographic paper bathed in a tray of Dektol, is something young photographers today have likely not experienced.

This Back-to-Basics Photography Exercise can Improve Your Photography 3

The orange glow of a safelight and the smell of photo chemicals. Before Lightroom, there was the darkroom.

I can’t say I miss it.

Today’s cameras are far superior. Also, the ease of working at a computer using Lightroom, where you can dodge and burn with the click of a mouse instead of with physical tools, gives so much more creative freedom.  I also don’t have a wastebasket full of failed paper prints, and money spent trying to master the art.

These were things I learned the hard way with no electronic assistance from my camera. Let’s see what you can learn. Set up your camera and take a photo-walk emulating the way it used to be.

Learning to focus manually takes some skill. Note in this shot the very closest weed at the bottom of the frame is focused, but the other portions are soft. You’ll also better learn the relationship between depth-of-field and aperture when you work in manual mode.

Camera setup

We’re going to want to go fully manual for this, putting you in charge of setting the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. So put the dial in the “M” mode.  Turn autofocus off.  You will be focusing yourself.

If you have a 50mm prime lens, that will better emulate what most of us had on those old 35mm film cameras before we could afford to buy a zoom.  Composing with the “sneaker-zoom,” (that is, using your feet to move closer or further from your subject), is good practice, especially if you always rely on a zoom lens to compose.

Working with a prime lens will help teach you to compose without relying on a zoom.

Going Monochrome

Most beginning photographers, (and all of them in the pre-color era), shot black-and-white film. So to stick to the basics, we’ll be shooting monochrome as well.

Well, sort of.

The best option in a digital camera is to shoot in RAW mode, which will create a color image.  Later in editing, you’ll make a monochrome image from that color file.  Photographing for monochrome will also allow you to better concentrate on composition – another point of this exercise.

Photography Exercise can Improve Your Photography 4

It is thought the term “chimping” originated from the “ooh, ooh” sounds photographers made when reviewing their photos on their LCD screens, (not necessarily as in this case, whether the photographer had a simian-like appearance  :-D.   For this exercise, you will NOT be chimping.  – Photo of/by Rick Ohnsman.

To chimp or not to chimp?

You’ve heard the term “chimping” which refers to the practice of some digital photographers to look at the playback on their LCD screen after each shot?  Some scoff at the practice.  Others, (count me in that camp), think the ability to immediately review a shot, check the histogram, make adjustments and reshoot is the best thing to ever happen to photography.  Instant feedback, (rather than waiting days, weeks, months, whatever it was to get back the photos and only then discover your mistake?) – what a concept!

I still bow to the wedding photographers who shot film.  Those photographers knew their cameras relying on skills and experience so they could trust they had the photo before ever seeing the results.

Many cameras will do this. This is a Canon 6D. Set your Picture style to Monochrome, but shoot Raw images. The Raw file will be in color but the LCD display, (both in playback and Live View) will be Monochrome.

So… a choice for you as you do this exercise –  You have two options:

Option 1:

Shoot Raw, but set your camera so the image played back on the LCD (which is a .jpg thumbnail) is shown in monochrome

On a Canon camera, you will be using Picture Styles.  On a Nikon, Picture Controls is the term.  Look for Monochrome in the menu.  What you’ll be doing is taking a Raw color image but forcing the camera to playback a monochrome image on the LCD.

Check your camera manual for how to set this up.

The advantage is being able to see a monochrome image in playback rather than having to previsualize what it will look like.   Because your raw file will still be color, you will have more control in editing.  Should you decide you do prefer the color image, you can stick with it and not convert to black and white.

If you shoot .jpg only, your image will be monochrome with no going back.

Flexibility – it’s just one more of dozens of reasons to shoot raw images.

Or …

If you set your Image Review to “Off”, the photo will not be displayed in the LCD after you take it. Film photographers didn’t have the luxury of image review in the field and for this exercise, you won’t either.

Option 2

Turn off or tape over the LCD screen

If you really want to emulate shooting film, (and get the most from this exercise), you will not chimp at all.  There was no option to review your shots with film. The photographer had to trust their knowledge and instincts.

For those who’ve only made digital photos, (and even for those who may have used film but haven’t done so for a long time), this is harder than it might seem.  The reward, however, will be learning to analyze the scene better, make necessary camera adjustments, and trust your instincts.  You will make mistakes and not know about them until later, but lessons learned with a little “pain” attached will be those you’ll best remember.

I’m not suggesting you always work like this, instant LCD feedback is a beautiful thing. However, when practicing this exercise, see what it can teach you.  (Don’t forget to turn your LCD Review back on completion of the exercise!)

Photography exercise

With the Picture Mode in Monochrome, both Live View and Image Playback on the LCD screen will be Monochrome even though the Raw file will still record in color.

When more isn’t better

Another great thing about digital photography is how many images you can fit on a storage card.  Depending on the camera and the card size that can easily be hundreds, even thousands in some cases.  You also don’t have to worry about each shot costing you more.  If you don’t like what you see, that’s what the delete button is for.

Cards are reusable. Once you buy one, you can use it over and over.

As the saying goes, “digital film is cheap.”

Monochrome will help you better compose and concentrate on line, shape, tone, and texture. Also, note how simulating a red filter when editing allowed the blue sky to render very dark.

Shooting film wasn’t cheap.  There was the cost of the film, the cost of film processing, and the cost of printing.  Nothing was reusable, and so all the shots, both the keepers and the junk, cost money.  With digital, we also need not print if we don’t like a shot.

It was hard to view a film negative and judge what you had.  Unless you were printing your own images, you’d almost always print everything and prints cost money.  Some of us shot transparencies (slides). These were a little cheaper since you’d typically not print them. However, you had to get it right in camera as there was no editing a slide.

Beginning film photographers could spend lots of money learning with little to show for it.

There was also the limitation of how many photos could be made on a roll of film. The capacity typically measured in dozens, not hundreds or thousands of images like digital media.  If you used 35mm film, you could typically get 12, 24, or 36-exposure rolls.  With limited exposures and to save money, photographers wanted to make each shot count.

The downsides were making fewer images, (and thus reducing the odds of getting a keeper), less experimentation with new techniques, and a longer learning curve for a new photographer who’d be making fewer photos.  The upside, however, (and this is a big factor), was photographers took more time to do it right – more time to think before pressing the shutter button.

Putting it all together

Are you ready to give this exercise a try?

I’d suggest not doing this in a session that’s important to you. If you are doing it right, you’re apt to make some mistakes.  That’s okay, those will be mistakes from which you can learn.

Here are your settings and steps:

Camera in “M” – Manual Mode – You will control ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed

Autofocus Off – Focus with the focus ring.  Learn to see and concentrate on what you’re focusing on.  A mistake I often see new photographers make when learning to use an autofocus digital camera is letting the camera select the default center focus point when that may not be the spot they wanted in focus. Manually focusing puts you in charge of what’s in focus.   Also, consider when you might need to use your aperture to increase or decrease your depth-of-field.

Determine your lighting conditions and chose a “film type” ISO – Choose ISO 125 for bright daylight (emulating Kodak Plus-X or Ilford FP4), ISO 400 (to emulate Kodak Tri-X or Ilford FP5). If you’ll be photographing in low light, try ISO 800 and emulate “pushed” film.  The point here is set it once and leave it there for the entire session.  It wasn’t possible to change ISO with film, you were stuck with your choice for the entire roll.

Use a prime lens if you have one – Learn to compose without a zoom.

Decide how many exposures you have – Pick 12, 24, or 36.  Sure, film photographers often carried multiple rolls, but this exercise is designed to help you make each shot count.  Once you hit your pre-determined number, you’re done.

Here’s what came in a box of Kodak Plus-X or Tri-X film. Can you use this to calculate exposure and not rely on your camera meter? Give it a try!

Calculate Exposure – By the 1960s, most 35mm film cameras had light meters, but they were primitive by today’s standard.  A “match-needle” system where a needle could be centered when dialing in exposure and shutter speed was what many displayed.  If you wanted to purposely over or under-expose a bit, you’d adjust until the needle was over or under as desired.

On cameras without meters, many relied on the chart typically found in a box of film.  Often, these calculations were based on what was called the “Sunny 16 Rule.”  It said that on a bright sunny day if you put the aperture at f/16, then the shutter speed should equal the ASA, (now ISO), film speed.

For example, with Kodak Plus-X ASA 125 film a setting of ASA 125, f/125 at f/16 would give you a well-exposed image.  If you wanted to shoot at a different shutter speed or aperture, you could calculate from there. For example, f/250 @ f/11 (assuming you had the same ASA 125 film in the camera) would be an equal exposure.

If it wasn’t a bright sunny day, you were in the shade, or light conditions were different, sometimes the little printed chart could help.  Mostly, it was the practice that taught a photographer what was “about right” for a given film and a given lighting condition.

That’s another purpose of this exercise; to help teach you what’s about right for a given lighting condition.  See how you do without relying on the meter. At least pay close attention to what the aperture and shutter speed is for a given set of conditions.

Slow down

If this exercise teaches you nothing else, learning to slow down will make it worthwhile.  With limited exposures available on a roll of film, the “spray-and-pray” style of photography was rare.  Typically it was only sports and fashion photographers who had motor-drives (the mechanical version of what we now do with continuous mode).

Photographers took the time to carefully think about their composition, and what they wanted to convey with the image. What shutter speed choice might be best to freeze or blur the action?  How much depth-of-field might you desire and what aperture choice would be best?  Should you roll in a little exposure compensation?

All of these factors were given thoughtful consideration.  Bracketing shots to be sure everything was right could be done but at the expense of more quickly eating up that roll of film.  The difficulty of fixing anything in the darkroom was much greater too, and photographers didn’t have the attitude that they’d “just fix it in Photoshop.”  Consequently, the concept of “getting it right in-camera” was the norm.

Getting it right in-camera is among the goals intended with this exercise.  If you know you only have a minimal number of exposures available to you, each one has to count.  You won’t have the luxury of shooting, chimping, adjusting, and re-shooting if you’re doing this exercise as intended.

So, slow down, take your time, think about each part of the process. And then make your best shot.

Later, you will have a real advantage film photographers didn’t have – the ability to review your images with attached exposure data.

In the film days, conscientious beginning photographers carried a notebook and wrote down their settings to recall later.  Now, your digital camera keeps the notes.  Chalk up one more plus for digital photography.

Why monochrome?

We briefly touched on why monochrome was the choice for this exercise.  One, of course, is that it replicates what early beginning film photographers used and we are simulating the limitations of that time.

The more significant reason is without color, monochrome images rely much more on shape, form, line, tone, and texture.  It is also much easier to concentrate on composition without the added distraction of color.

Working in monochrome can help a photographer better key in on those elements that make a strong image and practice those techniques.

If you’ve done much monochrome photography, you’ll likely already know this.  If you’ve pretty much only made color images in the past, this part of the exercise will also be part of the process of improving your skills.

Back in edit

Film photographers typically dropped their film off at the lab, mailed it in, or sometimes did their own processing.  (I love the smell of D-76 in the morning!  It smells like… Victory.  – Not!  Sorry for the flashback, let’s resume).

You will come back with a few, (you limited your exposures as instructed, right?), Raw images on your storage card.  They will be in color, but you’ll be converting them to monochrome.  I will not spend the time in this article outlining the best ways to convert color to monochrome.  You will find a nice collection of those tutorials here on DPS.  You will find there are great ways to manipulate the tones in your monochrome conversion to create distinctive looks.

To complete the goals of the exercise, what you’ll want to give the most attention to is, were you able to make well-focused, properly-exposed, and nicely composed images with the self-imposed restrictions of the exercise?  Without the electronic assistance of a modern digital camera (auto-focus, auto-exposure), what worked?  What didn’t?

If this really had been film, what would you do differently next time?

The takeaways

This is a great time to be a photographer.  The sophistication of our cameras and the ease with which we can do amazing things in editing is fantastic.  The point of this exercise, however, is to teach you to use your brain as a photographer, to take full control over your camera, and not rely on a microchip to do it for you.  I personally would never go back to film, have no desire to get back in a darkroom, and love every electronic aid my camera supplies.

The point is, I want those things to build on a solid foundation of photo ability and knowledge.  That is the reason for this exercise.

The path to becoming a better photographer lies in using your brain, not a camera microchip, to do the thinking. Slow down, pre-visualize the image, and then use the camera as a tool to capture that vision.

I sincerely hope you give this a try.  If you make great images, wonderful!  If you struggle and make mistakes, fine – you will have learned something.

Either way, you will grow as a photographer.

Drop me a line in the comments and let me know how you made out.  Best wishes.

 

This Back-to-Basics Photography Exercise can Improve Your Photography

 

The post This Back-to-Basics Photography Exercise can Improve Your Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

How to Edit Fireworks Photos Creatively

The post How to Edit Fireworks Photos Creatively appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

I hope you had a chance to read my previous article, “Eight Tips for Better Fireworks Photos” before going out to make your fireworks images and found that helpful.  If so, you should have some good shots to work with here.  If not, these techniques will still work for you if you have some other good fireworks photos.  Either way, let’s see if I can teach you how to do the basic editing on your fireworks images. Then, how to creatively composite your shots and take the “wow factor” up another notch.

How to Edit Fireworks Photos

You shot in Raw, yes?

I realize that beginning photographers may be making their images with their camera set to save only the .jpg file, perhaps not having the editing tools or having learned to edit a Raw file.  While that’s not a deal-breaker, you will find doing so causes the camera to do much of the editing itself, using the camera’s built-in .jpg algorithm to “cook” the final image for you.  Perhaps while you are still a novice image editor, (cook), editing raw files can seem intimidating, and you may feel the camera is a better cook than you are.

The trouble is, with something like your fireworks photos, you will want as much latitude for creative editing as possible as well as much file information as the camera originally captured.  Letting the camera create a .jpg image lets it make the creative decisions and also throws away information you might have needed.

You will still be able to use the steps outlined here to edit a .jpg file.  Just understand things might not work as well.  One final plug for shooting Raw files before moving on – Almost all pros do, and that’s the level of work you want to create, right?  ‘Nuff said.

2 - How to Edit Fireworks Photos

This effect is what I call the “boom-zoom-bloom.” You’ll have to read Part One of this series if you missed how to create it.

Editing tools

The workflow described here assumes you will be using the editing programs I use for working with my images; Adobe Lightroom Classic and Photoshop.  Other editing programs may work equally well such as Photoshop Elements or another favorite of mine, Corel Paintshop Pro.  Use what you have and know; just understand the steps here are using the Adobe programs.  I will also sometimes use plug-in filters such as those in the Nik suite, Topaz Labs or Aurora.

Basic editing of a fireworks photo with Lightroom

This is my workflow with an image in Lightroom.  Much of the work simply involves moving each adjustment slider up and down to see what you like.  Playing is encouraged.

  • White Balance – You shot in Raw, right? Good, because if so, you can take the white balance wherever you like. Play with the Temperature and Tint sliders and get the colors you like.  Because fireworks have no “correct” color your viewer expects, you can pretty much adjust white balance however you like.  Although, if you’ve included foreground objects, you may want to use those as a reference in determining what is realistic.
  • Basic Controls – Play with the Exposure, Contrast, and other sliders to bring the image to your liking. If your highlights are a little bright, (but still not blown out), you can bring them back with the Highlights slider. You might also want to bring down the Blacks if the sky needs darkening
  • Adjust colors with the HSL/Color sliders. You can play with the Hue, Saturation, and Luminance sliders to tweak colors to your liking. Don’t forget to try the Targeted Adjustment Tool to pick and adjust specific colors in your image.
  • 3 - How to Edit Fireworks Photos
  • Dehaze – The Dehaze tool could be your friend and help reduce smoke in the shot if it became a problem.
  • Clarity and Texture  – These controls can give your fireworks images extra sharpness and pop.  Also, try sliding these controls toward the left for different looks.
  • Vibrance and Saturation – With standard photography, these two are typically used conservatively, particularly Saturation which is a bit of a sledgehammer. With firework images, however, often you are going for “pow,” so go ahead and play… it’s your shot.  Oversaturation will blow out details.  Watch each histogram RGB channel.  A histogram off the right edge means you’ve oversaturated that color.
  • Detail – Some sharpening can be good. The two best tools in this group for fireworks images are the Masking Tool and Noise Reduction/Luminance. Sharpen your image as desired.  Then, hold down the Alt key, (Option on Mac), and drag the Masking slider to the right.  What appears white will be sharpened, what is black will not.  The idea to allow the fireworks to be sharpened, but not the dark sky. As for Noise Reduction, if you shot at a low ISO you probably won’t need much. Use as little as needed here.
  • Consider saving settings as a Preset.  If you’ve used the sliders to get your image just right, you might want to apply the same settings to some of your other fireworks photos.  Saving the settings as a preset will allow you to apply the same look with a single click.

Other tools

I mentioned using plugins as options in your editing.  The sky really is the limit here.  Here are a few I have and sometimes find useful with fireworks photos:

Nik – Color Efex Pro, Viveza

Topaz Labs – Adjust, Denoise, (probably others too, I just I don’t have them).

Aurora HDR – You can work with a single image here not needing multiple shots as with traditional HDR work and can get some interesting looks.

Compositing for drama

Sometimes the best fireworks photo is a composite of several photos.  You can layer multiple images and create your own grand finale.  You can also put fireworks over places where they weren’t, but to your thinking should have been.

Confession time.

The image of the Boise (Idaho) Depot I used in the previous article, (and repeated above), is a composite.

They do have fireworks shows over this iconic landmark in our city; I’ve just never been there for a show.  I did, however, have nice nighttime images of the depot and also fireworks photos from another time and place.  With compositing, I created the image I wished I could have captured live but wasn’t there for.  What can I say, creative license, right?

So, you have a great fireworks photo.  You have a great night shot of a landmark or scene where you’d have liked to have captured a fireworks show.  Here’s how you make those come together.

Time for layers

If you only edit with Lightroom, this will be the end of the road for you.  Lightroom doesn’t do layers and they are a must for this technique.  Photoshop does layers, as does Photoshop Elements, Corel Paintshop Pro, and probably a few other editing programs.  Layers capabilities are a must for compositing. So, your editing tool of choice must have them.

Compositing images is a pretty advanced technique in some cases. However, because the background of your fireworks photo is likely to be black or very dark, things become much easier.  Learning compositing using fireworks images can be a great way to begin learning about layers, masks, and compositing in general.

Step-by-step compositing

  1. Open your fireworks image in Photoshop (or your editing program of choice).  You can open Photoshop first and then open the image or send it from Lightroom – (Photo/Edit In/Edit in Adobe Photoshop)

    How to send an image from Lightroom to Photoshop for editing. You can also send multiple images as layers in Photoshop, useful when doing the “Grand Finale” composites described later in this article.

  2. Open your other location photo, also in Photoshop.  You will have the fireworks photo and the scene photo each on separate tabs at this point. Just a note when selecting the scene photo: Select one that has a logical view, angle, and lighting that it will seem consistent with having fireworks in the shot.  Obviously, a daytime image or an image without much sky is just going to look weird.
  3. Go to the image of the fireworks.  Crop it to include just the fireworks section you want if you didn’t do this in Lightroom first.  Then Select All (Ctrl-A, Cmd-A on a Mac), Copy (Ctrl/Cmd-C)
  4. Go to the other tab with the Scene and hit Ctrl/Cmd-V for Paste.  The firework image will be placed as a layer on top of the scene image.
  5. With the fireworks layer selected, select the Screen blending mode.  The dark parts of the sky will become transparent and the fireworks will be superimposed over the underlying Scene image.

    Use the Screen blending mode and the black in the fireworks photo will become transparent showing the underlying image.

  6. You will need to place and size the fireworks where you want them over the Scene shot.  Use Free Transform for that.  With the fireworks layer still the one selected, Ctrl/Cmd-T.  Then hold down Shift and drag from a corner handle to resize while maintaining the aspect ratio of the fireworks image.  Click, hold and drag in the middle of the shot to move the overlying fireworks where you like.  Don’t worry about some of the fireworks perhaps appearing in front of things.  You’ll handle that in the next step.

    The fireworks moved and sized to put them where desired. Note: leaving a little overlap will add depth and make the composite look more realistic. You’ll clean-up in the next step.

  7. To touch up areas where the fireworks might overlap an area they should be behind, (note the fireworks overlapping the tower in my shot and the roof at the bottom), you will create a Layer Mask. Click the icon that looks like a rectangle with the dark circle in the center  A mask will be added to your fireworks layer.
  8.  With Black selected as your foreground color and the mask selected, use the brush tool to paint out areas where the fireworks overlap the foreground.  You want the fireworks to look like they are behind any foreground objects.
  9.  You may find areas in the fireworks layer weren’t black enough that the Screen blending mode eliminated them.  This might work for you –  With the fireworks layer selected, (not the mask, the layer itself), open the Camera Raw Filter (Ctrl-Shift-A).  Just the fireworks layer will appear in Camera Raw.  Take the Blacks slider down (left) to see if you can darken the problem areas.  Also, try the Shadows and Exposure sliders, but pay attention to how the fireworks are affected.  When you click OK, you will be returned to the Photoshop main window.  See if the problem is gone.  If not, use the brush on the mask as you did in step 8 to clean up any remaining areas.
How to Edit Fireworks Photos

This grand finale was captured in one 6-second shot and is not a composite.

The Grand Finale

The most exciting part of a fireworks show is when they shoot off a flurry of fireworks in rapid-fire fashion.  It can also be one of the harder parts of the show to photograph.  Sometimes the intensity of so many fireworks bursting in the air can result in a blown-out, overexposed mess with the settings used for most of the show not right now.

What to do?  How about creating your own finale with the compositing technique we just explored but this time, layering several fireworks images to build-up your finale shot.

How to Edit Fireworks Photos

When things really got crazy during the grand finale, the same 6-seconds was too much and the image was blown out. Look at the histogram. There’s no recovering highlights when they are pushed off the right side of the histogram. Way too overexposed!

Use the same steps as with the composite image we just covered. Stack up several layers of fireworks shots each on its own Photoshop layer.  Then turn on the Screen blending mode on all layers but the bottom one.  Use the technique as before, blending and masking as necessary.

Here’s what that might look like.

Position and clean each layer with a mask as before where necessary.  Voila!  Your own grand finale.

How to Edit Fireworks Photos

Fun even when the smoke clears

For most spectators, the fun of a fireworks show is over when the last boom is heard, and the smoke clears. As a photographer with editing skills, however, you can continue to create all kinds of exciting images with the fireworks shots you captured.  Using the editing and compositing techniques here will not only help you produce some great fireworks images but grow your editing skills in general.

Now, go have a “blast.”

Feel free to share your fireworks images with us in the comments below.

 

How to Edit your Fireworks Photos Creatively

 

The post How to Edit Fireworks Photos Creatively appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos

The post 8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

If you’ve been to a great aerial fireworks display, I’m sure you’ve heard the “oohs” and “ahhs” of the crowd, captivated by the colorful spectacle. Here in the United States, the Independence Day holiday is when many of us try our hand at fireworks photography.  I’m sure if you live in other places in the world, you also have holidays celebrated with fireworks.  So how can you capture those moments in a photo and elicit those same “oohs” and “ahhs” from your viewers and achieve better fireworks photos?

Include a landmark, city skyline, or something in your fireworks photo to add interest, place, and story. This is a show over the Boise, Idaho Depot.

Great fireworks photos aren’t difficult, but you will not get them in Auto mode.  You will need to put a little thought into this and learn to take charge of your camera controls.  Try these simple tips, however, and I’ll bet you’ll come back with images that elicit “oohs,” “ahhs,” some likes, and maybe even “wows” from your viewers.

Here are the things we’ll cover for better fireworks photos:

  1. Location
  2. Equipment
  3. Camera settings
  4. Shutter speed choices
  5. Using Bulb mode
  6. Shooting technique
  7. Boom Zoom Bloom FX
  8. The “Black Hat trick”

After you’ve read this article, and made your fireworks photos, be sure to read Part Two – Creatively Editing your Fireworks Photos.

1. Location

You can make good fireworks photos with just an image of the colorful bursts in the sky. But great fireworks photos need something more – an interesting setting or foreground.

Think of displays you have seen taken with fireworks over the Statue of Liberty, the Sydney Harbour, the Chicago city skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, or Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong.  What makes those shots over the top?  A couple of things;  iconic city skylines and landmarks, and most often, water.

Not only are there interesting things in the shot besides the fireworks themselves, but often with water in the shot, there’s the benefit of colorful reflections.

If you are lucky, the spot where you plan to photograph your fireworks display will also have interesting foreground features and perhaps a body of water.  If so, scout the area ahead of time so you can find a location to best capture those things.

You can pretty much count on a crowd at a fireworks show. Get there early to stake out your spot. Then consider including the location in some of your shots.

You can count on a crowd when you go to a fireworks show.  Plan on getting to your spot early so you can “stake your turf.” Perhaps put out a blanket to ensure an unobstructed view of the show.  Then, if you have no other foreground elements, consider the possibility of making the crowd your foreground, their heads silhouetted against the sky and fireworks.

Another possibility might be to find a less obvious location, not right where the fireworks will be launched.  Perhaps there is a landmark, a tree-line, a high vantage point, or some other spot that will create an interesting foreground that while still including the fireworks, will give context, place, and “story” to your photos.  Doing some scouting long before the night of the show is a good idea.

The first few fireworks of the show will be in clearer sky conditions. As the show continues, smoke may be more of an issue and the sky won’t be as dark with the fireworks lighting the smoke.

2. Equipment

What will you need to make good fireworks photos? Let’s break down the basic equipment needs:

Camera

You can make fireworks photos with a cellphone camera if that’s all you have. However, the techniques will be different and the results likely not as impressive.

We won’t get into that here, so let’s assume you have a better DSLR or mirrorless camera with the option for manual control. Be sure to have a good-sized storage card, as well as a spare battery or two, as you’ll usually take lots of shots at a fireworks show.

Tripod

Fireworks photography will require a steady camera as you’ll be shooting in low light and taking longer exposures. Consider a tripod pretty much mandatory for this kind of work.  An L-bracket on your camera or at least a tripod that will easily allow going from landscape to portrait mode easily is a good thing too. Often you will shoot in both aspects.

Lens Selection

Lens choice largely depends on how close you will be to the fireworks launch location.  If you are really close, you may need a wide-angle to keep the larger bursts in the frame. If, however, you are a long distance from the show or want to compress the apparent distance between your foreground object and the sky bursts, a telephoto might be in order.

I typically use my go-to lens; a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS as it covers a good range. You don’t need a particularly fast lens as you will be working with mid to small apertures and longer shutter speeds. Still, a sharp lens is always a good thing.

Cable Release/Remote trigger

The technique for photographing fireworks will be discussed in a minute, but trust that having a way to remotely trigger your camera will be a real help. One reason is you are presumably going to a fireworks show to enjoy the show.  Having your eye to the viewfinder and your finger on the shutter button the entire time will lessen  the enjoyment of “being there.” It will also introduce camera shake, something you don’t want.

A very basic remote release can be had for under $10.00 US. This is a great item to always have in your bag for many purposes.

The tree line at the bottom of the frame adds some additional interest.

3. Camera settings

If you’ve always worked in Program or one of the Auto modes with your camera, or even if you use Aperture (Av/A) or Shutter (Tv/S) mode, this will be the time to be brave and go to full Manual mode.

Here’s how you want to set up your camera for fireworks photography:

Raw Mode

Real photographers shoot in Raw mode. There are many articles why. If you never have done so before, here’s your chance to try it. You can work in Raw + Jpg if that makes you feel more secure. However, I’m betting you won’t use the .jpg versions.

Full Manual

As described. Be brave. You can do this.

White Balance

As you’re using Raw mode, (you are, yes?), white balance can be tweaked later so it doesn’t matter much what you set for shooting. I tend to leave my white balance in Faithful mode almost all the time.

Sometimes it’s fun to zoom in tighter and get the flurry of action.

Low ISO

Working in low light with dark or black backgrounds and long exposures will tend to introduce noise in your shots. Fortunately, the fireworks are bright, so higher ISO settings won’t be needed.  Instead, use the minimum (ISO 100 on many cameras), and you’ll be fine.

Noise Reduction Off

Many modern cameras have a noise reduction feature, which after the first exposure, takes a second “black frame” exposure, detecting the noise and then subtracting that from the initial exposure. It can work well, but…

The second exposure takes as long as the first, and if you’re making multi-second exposures (for example, that 6-second exposure now takes 12 seconds to finish), your camera will be busy working, and you’ll be missing subsequent fireworks.

Turn it off.  You’ll be using a low ISO with minimal noise anyway, and the delay in being able to make more shots isn’t worth it.

Aperture

There are two things to consider here:

  1. How much depth-of-field do you need?
  2. What is the “sweet-spot” of your lens?

First, because the fireworks will be a good distance from your camera, you will be focusing on something further away and likely have a pretty good depth of field. Working at wider focal lengths helps too. Plan on being at your location well before the show starts and have an idea where you’ll need to focus and how much depth of field you need.

Secondly, most lenses are at their sharpest between f/8 and f/16.  Learn where your lens performs best, the so-called “sweet spot,” and use that aperture if you can.

Most of the photos in this article were taken at the same show. Also, most were very close in their exposure settings such as this one at ISO 100, 10-seconds at f/8.

4. Making shutter speed choices

Your choice of shutter speed will be important in capturing good fireworks photos. You know when you hear the boom of the launched fireworks from its mortar that it trails up into the sky, explodes, and a beautiful shower of colorful sparks radiates out and trails down.

Often multiple fireworks are launched close together, each doing the same thing. What you’re after is to capture the entire event which can sometimes take several seconds.

You could pick a fixed shutter speed of, say, four seconds, but would that be too short? Too long? Of course, it depends on the individual firework duration or sequence you want to capture, and that will vary during the show.

So how do you choose?

The answer is, you don’t have to because there’s a better way.

better fireworks photos

Using bulb mode you will be able to hold the shutter open and capture multiple fireworks bursts, closing it when you like.  Note this shot is in portrait orientation.

5. Use Bulb mode

If you’ve seen pictures of early photographers with their view cameras, you might have noticed them holding a rubber “bulb” which when they squeezed, forced air through a rubber tube and tripped the shutter. As long as the photographer kept the bulb squeezed, the shutter stayed open, ending when they released it.

These were the first shutter remotes, and it was that rubber bulb that gave the mode its name.

Today we have wired, and sometimes wireless triggers that can do the same thing. Putting the camera in Bulb mode allows a variable shutter speed. As long as we press and hold the button, the shutter stays open.  Let it go, and the shutter closes, ending the exposure.

This is just the ticket for fireworks photography, a variable shutter speed.

So, let’s review our basic camera settings:

  • Camera on tripod
  • Raw Capture
  • Manual Mode
  • Noise Reduction Off
  • Auto Focus Off – Focus on the anticipated fireworks spot and lock focus there
  • Lens Vibration Reduction (VR/IS) Off
  • ISO 100
  • Approx. f/8 – f/16  (Use aperture and ISO to adjust if images are too bright or dark).
  • Bulb mode
  • No flash – I forgot to mention this one.  Rarely, (unless perhaps to light a foreground object), will you ever need to use flash when making fireworks photos.  Also, consider whether others are nearby watching the show.  Using flash is guaranteed to make you less-than-popular with other fireworks spectators.  Unless you are alone and have a good reason to use flash, (in which case I will assume you know what you’re doing), just don’t use it.

Set up like this, you’re good to go. Remember, once the show starts, you will be busy. If you are fooling with camera settings, you’ll be missing shots. You will want to try some variations, but you don’t want to have to struggle and miss the show.

Be ready, think it through beforehand, and when the show starts, start clicking.

6. Shooting Technique

You’ve set your camera up on a tripod, figured out where to point it, made sure to pre-focus on a distant spot and locked the focus by putting it in Manual Focus (MF) mode.

If you leave your camera’s Autofocus on it’s almost guaranteed to give you images that are a bust rather than a boom. Against the dark sky and the moving fireworks the focus will hunt, fail, and… it’ll just be bad. Don’t do it.

Often the best images can be made right when the show starts as later, smoke from the previous fireworks becomes thicker, and the fireworks more obscured. So, when you hear that boom of the first firework going up, click and hold the button on the remote. You’ll be in bulb mode so hold it open while the firework goes up, explodes, and radiates out.  Then release the trigger.

Now, quickly check your shot. Is it in focus and framed properly? Is it exposed correctly? If it’s too dark, increase the ISO a click or perhaps open the aperture a stop. Too light? Do the opposite.

Try not to spend too much time doing this as, of course, the show will continue without you.

If you’re in the ballpark, the ability to edit in raw gives you the tweaking room you need. The two unrecoverable mistakes you might make would be to have things out of focus or have the highlights so blown out as to be unrecoverable. Editing won’t save you if you do those things, so be sure the focus is good and if you’re not sure with exposure, underexpose a bit. Some fireworks will be much brighter than others – especially a multi-burst or the finale. So quickly check your histogram and be sure you’ve not clipped the right (highlights) side.

Make any tweaks you need and then keep clicking. Vary the zoom if you need to, but if anything, frame a little “loose.” You can always crop in tighter later. However, if that really big and spectacular burst is so big it goes out of the frame, you’ll have missed it. Try both some portrait and landscape orientation shots. Perhaps reframe to get different things in the shot, especially if you are including foreground elements.

If things are going well, it’s going to be a fairly long show.

And if you’re feeling frisky, you might be ready for some more advanced techniques.

Note how the bright pink burst appears here, thicker streaks at the base of each trail growing thinner at the tip. This uses what I describe as the “Boom Zoom Bloom” technique described.

7. “Boom Zoom Bloom” FX

You may have seen those photos where the bursting fireworks look more like a flower, fat blurry trails with sharp points.  How is that done?

Here’s the technique, which you can vary for different results.

Know this takes practice, and luck plays a big part. So decide if you have already got enough necessary shots before you try it and whether the show will last long enough for some experimentation.

If you’re game, here’s how you do it:

  • You will need your hands free for this, and you’ll want to look through the viewfinder or perhaps use Live View, so using the remote release probably isn’t going to work. Instead, set your shutter speed for about 8-10 seconds, leaving all the other camera settings where they were.
  • With your hand on the focus ring, remember your hand position there. Then turn the ring so things are out of focus.
  • Just as the firework explodes, click the shutter and smoothly turn the focus right back to the focus point you memorized.  You have the time of the preset shutter speed to accomplish this.  If you finish early, that’s okay.
better fireworks photos

Two other images using the defocus-to-focus technique. Also note how some of the bursts, captured after the focus was performed but before the shutter closed, don’t show the same look combining two looks in one photo.

Now, try different things with subsequent shots. Go from focused to unfocused, zoom in or out during the exposure, or maybe take the camera off the tripod and move it during the exposure to make light trails. Play and see what you like.

Just remember, the duration of the show is limited, so try some experiments but also be sure you have some solid “keepers.”

8. The Black Hat Trick

I have to confess, I’ve not personally tried this but the concept is sound and could be fun. (I’ve always wanted to do a “hat trick.”)

Here’s how it’s supposed to work:

  • Have a hat, a black one or preferably of something dark enough to be opaque. You will also need to be working in an area that is quite dark.
  • Put the hat over the front of the lens.
  • Have the camera in Bulb Mode and just before the firework launches, click open the shutter locking it open with the remote.
  • Quickly, but gently so as not to bump the camera, remove the hat while the firework explodes.
  • Leave the shutter open and carefully replace the hat. Repeat, removing and replacing the hat for multiple fireworks bursts. (You may need to have a smaller aperture or lower ISO to do this as you will be building up exposure brightness with each additional firework added).
  • Unlock the remote and close the shutter when you’ve done all you want.

What you’re doing is making a multiple-exposure image in-camera. This should work. Of course, there’s also a way to do it in post-processing.  For that, and some other tips on how best to process you fireworks photo, come back for Part Two – Creatively Editing your Fireworks Photos.

There may be a frenzy of fireworks at the show finale. Keep the shutter open and capture it all if you can without overexposing.

Light the fuse

I hope you’ve decided that good fireworks photography is easy and go and have fun with it.  It’s one more way to enhance your camera skills and make some exciting images.

If there’s anything that’s a problem it’s that good aerial fireworks displays are seasonal in most places and if you really catch the bug, you may find there are not enough opportunities to practice.

So, find out when and where the shows will be near you, mark your calendar, do some scouting for the best locations, “light the fuse” and have fun!

Post your best shots as images in the comments – we’d love to see them.

 

8 tips for better fireworks photos

The post 8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos

The post 8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

If you’ve been to a great aerial fireworks display, I’m sure you’ve heard the “oohs” and “ahhs” of the crowd, captivated by the colorful spectacle. Here in the United States, the Independence Day holiday is when many of us try our hand at fireworks photography.  I’m sure if you live in other places in the world, you also have holidays celebrated with fireworks.  So how can you capture those moments in a photo and elicit those same “oohs” and “ahhs” from your viewers and achieve better fireworks photos?

Include a landmark, city skyline, or something in your fireworks photo to add interest, place, and story. This is a show over the Boise, Idaho Depot.

Great fireworks photos aren’t difficult, but you will not get them in Auto mode.  You will need to put a little thought into this and learn to take charge of your camera controls.  Try these simple tips, however, and I’ll bet you’ll come back with images that elicit “oohs,” “ahhs,” some likes, and maybe even “wows” from your viewers.

Here are the things we’ll cover for better fireworks photos:

  1. Location
  2. Equipment
  3. Camera settings
  4. Shutter speed choices
  5. Using Bulb mode
  6. Shooting technique
  7. Boom Zoom Bloom FX
  8. The “Black Hat trick”

After you’ve read this article, and made your fireworks photos, be sure to read Part Two – Creatively Editing your Fireworks Photos.

1. Location

You can make good fireworks photos with just an image of the colorful bursts in the sky. But great fireworks photos need something more – an interesting setting or foreground.

Think of displays you have seen taken with fireworks over the Statue of Liberty, the Sydney Harbour, the Chicago city skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, or Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong.  What makes those shots over the top?  A couple of things;  iconic city skylines and landmarks, and most often, water.

Not only are there interesting things in the shot besides the fireworks themselves, but often with water in the shot, there’s the benefit of colorful reflections.

If you are lucky, the spot where you plan to photograph your fireworks display will also have interesting foreground features and perhaps a body of water.  If so, scout the area ahead of time so you can find a location to best capture those things.

You can pretty much count on a crowd at a fireworks show. Get there early to stake out your spot. Then consider including the location in some of your shots.

You can count on a crowd when you go to a fireworks show.  Plan on getting to your spot early so you can “stake your turf.” Perhaps put out a blanket to ensure an unobstructed view of the show.  Then, if you have no other foreground elements, consider the possibility of making the crowd your foreground, their heads silhouetted against the sky and fireworks.

Another possibility might be to find a less obvious location, not right where the fireworks will be launched.  Perhaps there is a landmark, a tree-line, a high vantage point, or some other spot that will create an interesting foreground that while still including the fireworks, will give context, place, and “story” to your photos.  Doing some scouting long before the night of the show is a good idea.

The first few fireworks of the show will be in clearer sky conditions. As the show continues, smoke may be more of an issue and the sky won’t be as dark with the fireworks lighting the smoke.

2. Equipment

What will you need to make good fireworks photos? Let’s break down the basic equipment needs:

Camera

You can make fireworks photos with a cellphone camera if that’s all you have. However, the techniques will be different and the results likely not as impressive.

We won’t get into that here, so let’s assume you have a better DSLR or mirrorless camera with the option for manual control. Be sure to have a good-sized storage card, as well as a spare battery or two, as you’ll usually take lots of shots at a fireworks show.

Tripod

Fireworks photography will require a steady camera as you’ll be shooting in low light and taking longer exposures. Consider a tripod pretty much mandatory for this kind of work.  An L-bracket on your camera or at least a tripod that will easily allow going from landscape to portrait mode easily is a good thing too. Often you will shoot in both aspects.

Lens Selection

Lens choice largely depends on how close you will be to the fireworks launch location.  If you are really close, you may need a wide-angle to keep the larger bursts in the frame. If, however, you are a long distance from the show or want to compress the apparent distance between your foreground object and the sky bursts, a telephoto might be in order.

I typically use my go-to lens; a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS as it covers a good range. You don’t need a particularly fast lens as you will be working with mid to small apertures and longer shutter speeds. Still, a sharp lens is always a good thing.

Cable Release/Remote trigger

The technique for photographing fireworks will be discussed in a minute, but trust that having a way to remotely trigger your camera will be a real help. One reason is you are presumably going to a fireworks show to enjoy the show.  Having your eye to the viewfinder and your finger on the shutter button the entire time will lessen  the enjoyment of “being there.” It will also introduce camera shake, something you don’t want.

A very basic remote release can be had for under $10.00 US. This is a great item to always have in your bag for many purposes.

The tree line at the bottom of the frame adds some additional interest.

3. Camera settings

If you’ve always worked in Program or one of the Auto modes with your camera, or even if you use Aperture (Av/A) or Shutter (Tv/S) mode, this will be the time to be brave and go to full Manual mode.

Here’s how you want to set up your camera for fireworks photography:

Raw Mode

Real photographers shoot in Raw mode. There are many articles why. If you never have done so before, here’s your chance to try it. You can work in Raw + Jpg if that makes you feel more secure. However, I’m betting you won’t use the .jpg versions.

Full Manual

As described. Be brave. You can do this.

White Balance

As you’re using Raw mode, (you are, yes?), white balance can be tweaked later so it doesn’t matter much what you set for shooting. I tend to leave my white balance in Faithful mode almost all the time.

Sometimes it’s fun to zoom in tighter and get the flurry of action.

Low ISO

Working in low light with dark or black backgrounds and long exposures will tend to introduce noise in your shots. Fortunately, the fireworks are bright, so higher ISO settings won’t be needed.  Instead, use the minimum (ISO 100 on many cameras), and you’ll be fine.

Noise Reduction Off

Many modern cameras have a noise reduction feature, which after the first exposure, takes a second “black frame” exposure, detecting the noise and then subtracting that from the initial exposure. It can work well, but…

The second exposure takes as long as the first, and if you’re making multi-second exposures (for example, that 6-second exposure now takes 12 seconds to finish), your camera will be busy working, and you’ll be missing subsequent fireworks.

Turn it off.  You’ll be using a low ISO with minimal noise anyway, and the delay in being able to make more shots isn’t worth it.

Aperture

There are two things to consider here:

  1. How much depth-of-field do you need?
  2. What is the “sweet-spot” of your lens?

First, because the fireworks will be a good distance from your camera, you will be focusing on something further away and likely have a pretty good depth of field. Working at wider focal lengths helps too. Plan on being at your location well before the show starts and have an idea where you’ll need to focus and how much depth of field you need.

Secondly, most lenses are at their sharpest between f/8 and f/16.  Learn where your lens performs best, the so-called “sweet spot,” and use that aperture if you can.

Most of the photos in this article were taken at the same show. Also, most were very close in their exposure settings such as this one at ISO 100, 10-seconds at f/8.

4. Making shutter speed choices

Your choice of shutter speed will be important in capturing good fireworks photos. You know when you hear the boom of the launched fireworks from its mortar that it trails up into the sky, explodes, and a beautiful shower of colorful sparks radiates out and trails down.

Often multiple fireworks are launched close together, each doing the same thing. What you’re after is to capture the entire event which can sometimes take several seconds.

You could pick a fixed shutter speed of, say, four seconds, but would that be too short? Too long? Of course, it depends on the individual firework duration or sequence you want to capture, and that will vary during the show.

So how do you choose?

The answer is, you don’t have to because there’s a better way.

better fireworks photos

Using bulb mode you will be able to hold the shutter open and capture multiple fireworks bursts, closing it when you like.  Note this shot is in portrait orientation.

5. Use Bulb mode

If you’ve seen pictures of early photographers with their view cameras, you might have noticed them holding a rubber “bulb” which when they squeezed, forced air through a rubber tube and tripped the shutter. As long as the photographer kept the bulb squeezed, the shutter stayed open, ending when they released it.

These were the first shutter remotes, and it was that rubber bulb that gave the mode its name.

Today we have wired, and sometimes wireless triggers that can do the same thing. Putting the camera in Bulb mode allows a variable shutter speed. As long as we press and hold the button, the shutter stays open.  Let it go, and the shutter closes, ending the exposure.

This is just the ticket for fireworks photography, a variable shutter speed.

So, let’s review our basic camera settings:

  • Camera on tripod
  • Raw Capture
  • Manual Mode
  • Noise Reduction Off
  • Auto Focus Off – Focus on the anticipated fireworks spot and lock focus there
  • Lens Vibration Reduction (VR/IS) Off
  • ISO 100
  • Approx. f/8 – f/16  (Use aperture and ISO to adjust if images are too bright or dark).
  • Bulb mode
  • No flash – I forgot to mention this one.  Rarely, (unless perhaps to light a foreground object), will you ever need to use flash when making fireworks photos.  Also, consider whether others are nearby watching the show.  Using flash is guaranteed to make you less-than-popular with other fireworks spectators.  Unless you are alone and have a good reason to use flash, (in which case I will assume you know what you’re doing), just don’t use it.

Set up like this, you’re good to go. Remember, once the show starts, you will be busy. If you are fooling with camera settings, you’ll be missing shots. You will want to try some variations, but you don’t want to have to struggle and miss the show.

Be ready, think it through beforehand, and when the show starts, start clicking.

6. Shooting Technique

You’ve set your camera up on a tripod, figured out where to point it, made sure to pre-focus on a distant spot and locked the focus by putting it in Manual Focus (MF) mode.

If you leave your camera’s Autofocus on it’s almost guaranteed to give you images that are a bust rather than a boom. Against the dark sky and the moving fireworks the focus will hunt, fail, and… it’ll just be bad. Don’t do it.

Often the best images can be made right when the show starts as later, smoke from the previous fireworks becomes thicker, and the fireworks more obscured. So, when you hear that boom of the first firework going up, click and hold the button on the remote. You’ll be in bulb mode so hold it open while the firework goes up, explodes, and radiates out.  Then release the trigger.

Now, quickly check your shot. Is it in focus and framed properly? Is it exposed correctly? If it’s too dark, increase the ISO a click or perhaps open the aperture a stop. Too light? Do the opposite.

Try not to spend too much time doing this as, of course, the show will continue without you.

If you’re in the ballpark, the ability to edit in raw gives you the tweaking room you need. The two unrecoverable mistakes you might make would be to have things out of focus or have the highlights so blown out as to be unrecoverable. Editing won’t save you if you do those things, so be sure the focus is good and if you’re not sure with exposure, underexpose a bit. Some fireworks will be much brighter than others – especially a multi-burst or the finale. So quickly check your histogram and be sure you’ve not clipped the right (highlights) side.

Make any tweaks you need and then keep clicking. Vary the zoom if you need to, but if anything, frame a little “loose.” You can always crop in tighter later. However, if that really big and spectacular burst is so big it goes out of the frame, you’ll have missed it. Try both some portrait and landscape orientation shots. Perhaps reframe to get different things in the shot, especially if you are including foreground elements.

If things are going well, it’s going to be a fairly long show.

And if you’re feeling frisky, you might be ready for some more advanced techniques.

Note how the bright pink burst appears here, thicker streaks at the base of each trail growing thinner at the tip. This uses what I describe as the “Boom Zoom Bloom” technique described.

7. “Boom Zoom Bloom” FX

You may have seen those photos where the bursting fireworks look more like a flower, fat blurry trails with sharp points.  How is that done?

Here’s the technique, which you can vary for different results.

Know this takes practice, and luck plays a big part. So decide if you have already got enough necessary shots before you try it and whether the show will last long enough for some experimentation.

If you’re game, here’s how you do it:

  • You will need your hands free for this, and you’ll want to look through the viewfinder or perhaps use Live View, so using the remote release probably isn’t going to work. Instead, set your shutter speed for about 8-10 seconds, leaving all the other camera settings where they were.
  • With your hand on the focus ring, remember your hand position there. Then turn the ring so things are out of focus.
  • Just as the firework explodes, click the shutter and smoothly turn the focus right back to the focus point you memorized.  You have the time of the preset shutter speed to accomplish this.  If you finish early, that’s okay.
better fireworks photos

Two other images using the defocus-to-focus technique. Also note how some of the bursts, captured after the focus was performed but before the shutter closed, don’t show the same look combining two looks in one photo.

Now, try different things with subsequent shots. Go from focused to unfocused, zoom in or out during the exposure, or maybe take the camera off the tripod and move it during the exposure to make light trails. Play and see what you like.

Just remember, the duration of the show is limited, so try some experiments but also be sure you have some solid “keepers.”

8. The Black Hat Trick

I have to confess, I’ve not personally tried this but the concept is sound and could be fun. (I’ve always wanted to do a “hat trick.”)

Here’s how it’s supposed to work:

  • Have a hat, a black one or preferably of something dark enough to be opaque. You will also need to be working in an area that is quite dark.
  • Put the hat over the front of the lens.
  • Have the camera in Bulb Mode and just before the firework launches, click open the shutter locking it open with the remote.
  • Quickly, but gently so as not to bump the camera, remove the hat while the firework explodes.
  • Leave the shutter open and carefully replace the hat. Repeat, removing and replacing the hat for multiple fireworks bursts. (You may need to have a smaller aperture or lower ISO to do this as you will be building up exposure brightness with each additional firework added).
  • Unlock the remote and close the shutter when you’ve done all you want.

What you’re doing is making a multiple-exposure image in-camera. This should work. Of course, there’s also a way to do it in post-processing.  For that, and some other tips on how best to process you fireworks photo, come back for Part Two – Creatively Editing your Fireworks Photos.

There may be a frenzy of fireworks at the show finale. Keep the shutter open and capture it all if you can without overexposing.

Light the fuse

I hope you’ve decided that good fireworks photography is easy and go and have fun with it.  It’s one more way to enhance your camera skills and make some exciting images.

If there’s anything that’s a problem it’s that good aerial fireworks displays are seasonal in most places and if you really catch the bug, you may find there are not enough opportunities to practice.

So, find out when and where the shows will be near you, mark your calendar, do some scouting for the best locations, “light the fuse” and have fun!

Post your best shots as images in the comments – we’d love to see them.

 

8 tips for better fireworks photos

The post 8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Make Easy Panoramic Images with Microsoft ICE

The post Make Easy Panoramic Images with Microsoft ICE appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Vista at Dead Horse State Park, Utah. Fourteen images stitched in Microsoft ICE.

You’ve no doubt seen panoramic images and perhaps even know how to make them. Whether using the tools built into programs like Lightroom and Photoshop, or perhaps another dedicated panoramic creation program, or even the sweep-panoramic capability of many cellphone cameras, you’ve used this technique to make images larger than you could make them in a single shot.

In the past, the choice was not as great, and the main stitching programs not as diversified in their capabilities. The programs that did exist to create panoramas were complex, sometimes expensive, and didn’t always work well.

When the first version of Microsoft ICE (Image Composite Editor), a program from the Microsoft Research Division of the software giant came out, it had all the things I sought in software utilities. It was simple, it worked well, and it was free – bingo! Although other options have come along for photo stitching, I still find ICE, (now at version 2.0.3.0), a favorite.

Panorama images are not new nor a product of the digital age. This image was made from Rincon Point in San Francisco in 1851 using multiple photo plates seamed together.

Image stitching – What is it?

When working with panoramic programs you will read the term “image stitching.” It is an apt phrase for the process by which a series of photos are composited together to make a larger image, much like scraps of fabric stitched together to make a quilt. The mark of a good photo-stitching program is how well it can piece the separate images together without showing the “seams.” Check another box for Microsoft ICE – it does that job extremely well.

The Mars Rover uses robotic cameras and panoramic stitching techniques to make high-resolution images.  NASA Photo

Considerations when photographing a panorama

The quality of a finished product is usually dependent on the raw materials that go into it. The same is true of creating a panorama photo. The better your technique in making the individual images, the better your finished panorama will be.  I will not be doing a deep-dive into panorama photography techniques, as that is a whole subject itself, but instead, I’ll list some of those things you’ll want to consider when making your shots.

One real benefit of ICE is that even with less than perfectly created images, it will still do a respectable job in creating a panorama. Of course, with better images, the result will be better too.

Here are some techniques to help you when shooting your images for a panorama:

Camera settings

As you sweep across your scene, making multiple shots, there will be variations in the light. If you leave your camera in an automatic mode, each frame will be slightly different too. ICE has what is called Exposure Blending and uses an advanced algorithm to compensate for this. Thus, it smooths the seams between individual images. However, if you give it better images to work with the result will be better too.

The best practice is to put your camera in full manual mode, find and set an exposure that is a good average for the scene, and lock that in.  Try to pick an aperture for maximum depth of field as well.

The same goes for focus. Find a point where as much of the image will be in focus, (the “hyperfocal distance,” typically a third of the way into the scene), focus there and turn off autofocus.

Lens selection

There is no “just right” lens focal length to use when making panoramic images. The field of view that represented in your stitched image will be dictated by how many photos you make and the sweep of your pan, not the lens focal length.

One might think a wide-angle lens would be a good choice, as fewer shots would be required. But that’s not necessarily true. The best choice is a lens with the least distortion as any lens distortion will be magnified as you stitch images together. Thus, a good, basic 50mm prime lens could be a great choice.

Sometimes, depending on the scene you want to capture, a longer telephoto might work well. Lens quality and minimal distortion trump wide focal lengths here.

A panoramic tripod head allows you to mount the camera so that the lens nodal point is centered over the pivot point of the pan. Thus, minimizing parallax errors.

Nodal point and parallax issues

Wazzat!!?? Yes, you can get complex very quickly and encounter cryptic terms if you want to when making panoramic photos.  Attention to detail results in higher quality panoramas. And, if you decide to pursue this technique, you will want to learn about these things in time.

Very briefly, the nodal point is the spot within a lens where the light rays converge.  Setting up your camera such that the pivot point of your pan is at that spot will produce an image with the least distortion.  This is most important in images where objects in the shot are both close and far in your scene.

Parallax is the difference in the apparent position of an object when viewed along two different lines of sight.

To see a quick example, hold your hand out at arm’s length with your thumb up.  Close one eye and put your thumb over a distant object.  Now close that eye and open the other. You will see your thumb “jump” off the object to a different position.  This is parallax.

When setting up your camera, pivoting around the nodal point will reduce or even eliminate this. And serious panorama photographers will purchase special panorama tripod heads to get this exact spot for any given lens they might use.

Highly serious gigapixel panorama photographers making images with hundreds of composite images might even use motorized computer-controlled heads like the Gigapan to make their shots.

Check out some of the Gigapan images like this made from some 12,000 individual shots. Alternatively, look at this taken from a similar setup on the Mars Rover.

Bringing it back down to Earth, you need not get nearly that sophisticated if you don’t want to.  There are less expensive heads for panoramic photography if you choose to try that and many Youtube videos and instructional articles on setting nodal points.

For starters, you needn’t even worry about all of that to give panoramic photography a try. The beauty of ICE is that even with something as simple as handheld images shot with a cellphone camera, it does a very nice job of assembling a panorama image.

Step-by-Step

Here are some things to do when making your images for use in a panorama:

  • Consider your composition – Good composition is just as important in making a panorama image as any other photo.  If your cellphone supports the sweep panorama feature, you can sometimes make a shot with it to help pre-visualize what you want to do with your DSLR.
  • Level the tripod – You will know your tripod wasn’t level if you get an “arched” looking composite panorama.
  • Mount your camera in a vertical (portrait) orientation – You will get a taller aspect ratio in your final shot and an image less “ribbon-like” when you assemble your panorama.
  • Hand-marker – Shoot a photo of your hand in front of the camera as the first and last in your panorama sequence. This will make it much easier to determine which images belong to a panorama “group.”
  • Camera Settings – Use full manual exposure and focus for the reasons outlined above.
  • Overlap – As you pan making each shot, overlap each image about a third so ICE will more easily find the match points when making the composite.

This is the screen you will see when first opening Microsoft ICE.

Bringing it into ICE

Bringing your images into ICE and letting it assemble your panorama is the easiest part and a big reason to like this program. ICE accepts most Raw photos, .jpg of course, and even layered Photoshop files.  You will need to know this is a Windows-only program and won’t work on your Mac. However, there are plenty of iOS alternatives. One which is also free and well-regarded is Hugin.  I can’t say I have any personal experience with it, however, being a PC guy.

Here’s where you will find the download for ICE. Be sure you get the proper version, 32 or 64-bit for your particular PC. The program will work in Windows 10, 8, 7 or even Vista SP2. There is a lot of good information as well as an interesting overview video on the page.  The installation usually goes quite smoothly.

After you have the program installed, there are various ways to bring your images in for compositing into a panorama:

  • Running ICE as a stand-alone – ICE can be run just fine as a stand-alone program and you can bring your images in from wherever you have them stored. You can do this either by opening ICE and clicking New Panorama from Images or by opening another window in File Explorer and dragging and dropping the images into ICE.
  • Launching ICE from a Folder – Typically, once you install ICE, if you select all the images you want in your pano from a folder and then right-click, you will see an option to Stitch using Image Composite Editor.  Select that, then ICE will launch with your selected images brought in.
  • Using ICE as an External Editor from Lightroom – You can set-up Adobe Lightroom to use ICE as an External Editor.  This is my preferred way as I often do some basic pre-editing to my shots in LR before bringing them into ICE.  Once you have set-up ICE as an External Editor, select all the images in the pano group you will be using. Then, in the Lightroom menu, click Photo -> Edit In -> Microsoft ICE.  You will have the option to Edit a Copy with Lightroom Adjustments.  Pick that, click Edit, and ICE launches with the images ready for compositing.

There are four basic steps in ICE; Import, (the images have been imported here), Stitch, Crop, and Export.

Four basic steps in ICE

1. Import

If you’ve used one of the three methods above, you’re likely already seeing your images in ICE ready for Stitching. If you are running ICE in stand-alone mode and have not already imported your images, you will see three Options across the top of the screen:  New Panorama from Images, New Panorama from Video, and Open Existing Panorama. Choose the first option, navigate in Windows Explorer to where your images are located, select those that make up the panorama group, and click Open.  Remember, ICE opens Raw files, Tif, Jpg, PSD, and perhaps some other image file types.

You will find that in most cases, the default setting for ICE works well. If you are confused about some of the terms and menu options, you can click Next (at the top right of the screen), and ICE proceeds to the next step using the defaults.

If you choose to try some other things, here are a few options:

Rather than use Auto-detect in Camera Motion, you may wish to use Rotating Motion. It will give you more options for adjustment later. I have not found the Planar Motion options to be useful, (and to be honest, don’t really understand them. Such will be the case with ICE for most people – there are options and terms that will take more knowledge of the process. And, while they might have applications, most times will not be necessary.  Keep things simple, and you’ll most often be pleased with the result.)

This is the Stitch step. Ice has composited individual images.  Don’t be overwhelmed by the Projection options. ICE will almost always choose the correct one by default. If you wish to try the others, go ahead and see what you like best.

2. Stitch

Click Next or select option 2 – Stitch from the menu. The screen will show Aligning and then Compositing Images with progress bars as the work is done.  Depending on the size, number, and complexity of your images, this could go quick or could take several minutes.  Once done, your stitched image will appear.

Depending on the camera motion type chosen, you may have another set of options under Projection with terms like Cylindrical, Mercator, and a collection of other types you may not understand. I suggest trying the different options and seeing which makes your panorama look best and the least distorted. You can also zoom into your image with the slider or by using your mouse scroll wheel. Clicking and dragging above or below the panorama will allow you to adjust the shape further. Try various things – whatever helps to make your panorama look best.

3. Crop

Click Next, or Crop to move on. Here you can crop the image to choose what to include in the finished panorama. Usually, you will have some rough edges, depending on how you shot the images and composited them. If you click Auto-Crop, the program will crop to the largest points where it can make a rectangular image. You can also manually drag the sides of the crop.

Auto-Complete works like the content-aware fill in Photoshop and will try to fill in missing pieces in the image. Sometimes, especially with things like the sky, it works amazingly well. Other times with more complex patterns, not so much.

Give it a try and see if you like the result. You can always turn it off if you don’t like it.

The Crop Step. You can crop manually, Auto crop, and use the Auto Complete feature if you like.

Note how the Auto Complete feature has filled in missing parts of the image at top and bottom.

4. Export

Once complete, you will want to save your resulting panorama.

Because you have stitched together what are often high-resolution images to start with, your panorama file can be huge. That’s great if you need to print a wall-sized poster. If you don’t need something that big, consider turning down the Scale by inputting a smaller number. If you know what size (in pixels) you want the finished image to be, you can also enter that number in the Width or Height boxes, and the other will adjust to maintain the aspect ratio.

For example, to print a 12 x 48-inch poster at 300 dpi, you would need an image 3600 x 14,400 pixels.

If your panorama at 100% is over 20,000 pixels wide, that’s overkill and may result in a much larger file than you need.

Or, if you’ll be displaying your panorama on the web where you may only need a file 2400 pixels wide, why make a monster file?

You can also input numbers into the width or height, and the image will adjust the other setting to maintain the aspect ratio. Your use for the panorama will dictate how large you need to output it.

The Export Step. If you were to export this image at 100% scale as a .tif image it would be 19772 x 5833 pixels and be 149MB. For use on the web, you could drop to something like 2400 x 708 (scale just 12.14%) as a .jpg at 75% quality and it would be just 372k. Export your images according to how you will use them.

You also have the option to choose the file format. ICE can output as .jpg, .psd, .tif, .png, or .bmp. Again consider how you plan to use the image. A .tif file will be much larger than a jpg. If you choose jpg, you can also choose the compression level with the Quality settings.

When you’ve made your selections, click Export to Disk and ICE will give you the option of where to save the file. If you came from Lightroom, you will still need to specify the output location. ICE does not automatically put the resulting panorama back into the Lightroom folder where you started.

One option not immediately evident is the ability to save a panorama project. Before exiting the program, look in the top left corner of the screen for the icons there. The last two, which look like disks if hovered, will say Save Panorama and Save Panorama As. These allow you to save your project as an .spj file. This is an ICE file type which can be loaded back in using Open Existing Panorama from the main menu. This could be useful if you intend to make various output sizes or file types from your original images.

32 images shot in two rows to get more of the sky.

ICE does a great job stitching even more complex images.

The final result of the previous multi-row stitch.

Set your camera in continuous mode and shoot, panning with your subject. Bring the images into ICE and stitch as usual. You can get a sequence like this very easily.

Same technique with continuous mode.

The final result.

Nifty tricks – Video, Tiny Planets, VR, and more

There are a few other things ICE will do beyond simply making panoramas.  It is beyond the scope of this article to outline the specific steps to do these things, but I simply wanted to make you aware of them so you can explore further if you like.

This is a 360-degree pano shot as video and imported into ICE. The video will not be as high resolution. 360-degree panos, however, open VR possibilities.

Video Input

First, your input file can, instead of being a group of still photos, be a video file. Video is lower resolution than images taken with most still cameras, but there may be other reasons you want to use it as an input format.  One of those is multi-image action. (See the sample photos). You can do this with multiple images shot as stills or using a video. Capture the action, input the video into ICE, choose the portion of the video you like and then select the action points you want in the finished pano.

Give this a try, and doing it will make the steps clearer.

ICE can also be used to create “tiny planets.”

Virtual Reality

Use ICE to make a 360-degree pano from still images or a video.  Then create an image that can be viewed as an interactive pano and be rotated by the viewer.  Post it to Facebook or view it on a VR device.  There are numerous online tutorials teaching how to do this.  Drone footage can make for an especially interesting VR image.

Conclusion

Microsoft ICE is powerful, can produce high-quality panorama images, and is very easy to use. It also does a good job when accepting the default choices. ICE can use simple images made handheld from a cellphone or hundreds of images on a Gigapan robotic system with a DSLR. There are also fun things like multi-image motion images, tiny planet creation, and virtual reality possibilities.

Oh yeah…and it’s free!  What’s not to like?

Go download it, give it a try, have fun, and share your images with us in the comments below.

 

panoramic images with Microsoft ICE

The post Make Easy Panoramic Images with Microsoft ICE appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

How to do Abstract Watercolor Photography

The post How to do Abstract Watercolor Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Less about what it is, more about how it makes you feel is this “watercolors” shot, “Visual Jazz.” © Rick Ohnsman

When you’re ready to make the transition from “snapshooter” to a serious photographer, make photographs rather than simply take pictures, then you’re also ready to begin thinking like an artist.  No longer should you snap a photo to simply record a representation of what you saw.  You will want to begin to think about how to craft your image so that it tells a story, captures the emotion, and involves the viewer in a way that communicates to them.  While the subject and the location still matter, it is also important to consider “how does my image make the viewer feel?”

A Wikipedia article on the famous photographer, Minor White, (July 9, 1908 – June 24, 1976) describes him this way – “An American photographer, theoretician, critic, and educator. He combined an intense interest in how people viewed and understood photographs with a personal vision that was guided by a variety of spiritual and intellectual philosophies.”

I especially like this quote from White –

“One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are.” – Minor White

Water ripple reflections are sometimes distorted, making interesting abstracts. © Rick Ohnsman

Photographing “Watercolors”

The use of the term watercolors in this article is not to describe how you might photograph a watercolor painting nor is it about how to use digital tools and techniques to emulate a watercolor look with your photograph.  Instead, we explore how you can learn to see, and then photograph the interplay of light and water to make interesting, and often abstract, images.  Such images will require you to look harder, quietly observe, study and then decide how you will use your camera to capture the image.  You will want to think about how the scene makes you feel and how you will communicate that to your viewer.

A real benefit of making these kinds of photos is – unlike joining the dozens of photographers who might line up at sunrise at that iconic location and all snap away, essentially all making the same shot – these kinds of images will be uniquely yours.

Every image will be different.  In most cases, you couldn’t replicate the shot even if you tried.

There’s much satisfaction in crafting something that is uniquely your vision and creation.

The qualities of light and water

Yes, it’s a wave, but this photo is all about the patterns, colors, and reflections in the sea and surf. © Rick Ohnsman

You may have heard the origin of the word “photography,” based on the Greek words “phos” for light and “graphé” meaning drawing.  Thus, photography is ‘”drawing with light.”

The light that enters our camera lens is either direct (emitted from a source like the sun, or an artificial light source), or reflected (light bouncing off an object and into our lens).  We study the effect of light, and it’s absence, and use it to define the objects we photograph.

Now add water into the scene.  Water can also reflect the light (and the various colors comprising it).  It can also refract the light – bending, altering, and even splitting it into its component colors.

Light waves are changed as they pass from a less-dense material like air to a more-dense medium like water.  Understanding the physics behind how this works isn’t important.  What you as a photographer, a trained observer, and an artist, want to do is learn how to watch for and then capture the interplay of light and water.

Water exists in all three forms in this shot; liquid, solid, and gas. © Rick Ohnsman

The three properties of water

Okay, hang on, just a little more physics here.

Water exists in three states:

  1. liquid,
  2. solid (ice and snow), and
  3. gas (steam, fog, clouds, mist).

How light behaves when it is reflected off the water in these states or refracted through them will become part of your observation training as photographer and artist.

A long exposure blurs the liquid water, but the ice on the rocks is still, a way to display the static and dynamic qualities of water. © Rick Ohnsman

 

A long exposure blurs the water of Avalanche Falls in the Flume Gorge of New Hampshire. © Rick Ohnsman

There are always photos to be taken as this cellphone shot of water cascading down the windshield during a trip through the carwash demonstrates. © Rick Ohnsman

Capturing motion

Include the duck for a touch of reality, use the reflection only, or catch a rippled reflection for an abstract, there are many creative possibilities. © Rick Ohnsman

Water dripping down the wall of a building makes for a “realistic-abstract.” © Rick Ohnsman

Something else water can do is move.  From massive ocean waves, flowing rivers, erupting geysers, human-made fountains, tiny dripping drops, swirling fog and mist, snow and rain, in many forms water moves.

Our cameras can freeze that motion with high shutter speeds or flash or blur it with long exposures.  Water and how it behaves gives us tremendous opportunities for creativity with our cameras.

Combining still objects in the photo which don’t move, (think a rocky coastline), with water that does (like the waves) in a long exposure, and you create an exciting image that displays both static and dynamic elements.

There’s the realism of the water lily, but over in the corner of the shot… © Rick Ohnsman

Realistic or abstract?

There are no rules when it comes to how you choose to depict water in your photo.  It might be quite literal like an image of a waterfall.  It could play a “supporting role,” adding story and color to an image.  Or it could be about how the light interacts with the water; liquid, solid, or gas.  Alternatively, maybe it’s totally abstract – all about the shape, form, line, and color with no concern whatsoever to what the subject might be.

The objective here is to become a “student of light,” observing how light and water interact to create interesting scenes to photograph.

… a complete abstract. © Rick Ohnsman

Learning by observing

The rest of this article will be about the photos.  Study how I made each one and the way water, in its various forms, is used in combination with the light to make the image.  I have captioned the photos with additional information about them.  See what you can learn and then go make your own unique images.

Water vapor, or what we call fog, create effects with the light. © Rick Ohnsman

Ice is water in solid form. It reflects, refracts, and alters the light while taking on fantastic forms. © Rick Ohnsman

Reflections on the wet sand make great watercolors. © Rick Ohnsman

It might come in a bottle, but sparkling water is a great way to add bubbles to your watercolors. © Rick Ohnsman

Even where watercolors may not be the main subject, they can play a strong supporting role. © Rick Ohnsman

 

The post How to do Abstract Watercolor Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Try this DIY Neutral Density Filter for Long Exposure Photos

The post Try this DIY Neutral Density Filter for Long Exposure Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

You could buy an expensive ND filter to make a long exposure image like this. Or, you could do it “on the cheap” with the trick you’ll learn in this article. 162 seconds f/8, ISO 100

You’ve seen those landscape photos where the water has been rendered silky smooth, ocean waves look more like fog, or the clouds have streaked motion effects?  How are they done?  They are long exposure photos. The shutter speed often measured in full seconds rather than fractions of a second.  Some even measured in minutes of exposure.  In low light, you can sometimes slow your shutter speed by decreasing the aperture size and setting the ISO as low as it can go.

Of course, if you’re working in bright light, you may find that even with the smallest aperture and lowest ISO you still can’t get the shutter speed slow enough to produce the effect you want while still maintaining proper exposure.  What can you do then?  It’s time for a Neutral Density Filter.

So what are they, how do they work, and how can you achieve a similar effect without immediately laying down about $100 U.S dollars for one?  Read on my friend.

This one was done with a variable ND filter. With a 30-second exposure, whatever moves will blur. Note the water and clouds.

What is ND and why use it?

On a bright sunny day, you may reach for a pair of sunglasses to reduce the amount of light coming into our eyes.  A Neutral Density (ND) Filter is much the same for your camera.  The “density” part of that term refers to how dense or dark the filter might be.  The “neutral” portion of the term refers to the coloration the filter might add to the image.

If we’re making color images, we’d like a filter that would help reduce the amount of light while remaining neutral in color and not putting a color cast on our images.  So we want a neutral filter that can cut the light in situations where the ambient light is too bright to get a slow shutter speed beyond that obtainable with a combination of the lowest ISO and smallest aperture.

A 6-stop ND filter was used here. 30 seconds, f/20 ISO 100

Types of ND filters

The DIY approach to long exposure photography to be discussed here uses a method never initially designed for photography but will allow you to give this technique a try “on the cheap.”  Rather than spend around $100, it’ll cost you a tenth of that.  Before I reveal the “secret,”  let’s first talk about the commercial photographic ND filters you might buy.

Camera filters typically fall into two types:

Screw mount – Those that screw into the filter threads on the front of your lens

Square filters – Those that are mounted to the lens with a filter holder.

Both are available in varying degrees of density.  How dark the filter is, is typically described in how many “stops” of light it reduces compared to an exposure without the filter.

For example, if you made a proper exposure at ISO 100, f/5.6, 125 seconds, and then after the filter was mounted, you needed to slow the shutter speed to 1/2 second to get the same exposure, (assuming you left the ISO at 100 and f-stop at 5.6), that filter would be a 6-stop ND filter.  (1/125 – > 1/60 -> 1/30 – 1/15 -> 1/8 -> 1/4 -> 1/2 second ).  The density of the filter would have reduced the amount of light by 6-stops.

You can purchase both screw mount and square filters in various “strengths” or number of stops they reduce the light.

For example, this 77mm screw-mount 6-stop ND filter made by B&W runs about US$71, while this popular 10-stop square mount ND filter, the Lee “Big Stopper” is at this writing US$129.00.

A variable ND might work, but take it too far…

…and you’ll get weird artifacts.

Variable ND Filters – Another type of ND filter uses two polarized filters mounted together so they can be rotated in a way that produces variable density.  One might think this is a better solution than a fixed ND filter, allowing the photographer the means of adjusting the desired stops of reduction.

That would be ideal, and it works – to a point.

The problem with variable ND filters is sometimes they can produce nasty “artifacts” that spoil the image, especially on wide-angle lenses at higher density settings with less expensive variable ND filters.

More expensive variable ND filters will be better, but of course, cost even more.

The “One Weird Trick” ND filter

You’ve seen that “one weird trick” phrase used on the web before, right?  Usually, it’s for a gimmick that is less than a quality product.  I confess, what I’m going to suggest here is a bit of a gimmick and no, won’t deliver the results of the pricier dedicated photography ND filters.  You have to perform a few workarounds to get it to produce decent results and mounting it to your camera will be a little… “funky,” shall we say?  The upside is, it will probably cost about 1/10th of what a true photographic ND filter.

So, it could be a nice introduction to long exposure photography, while allowing you to explore this technique on a budget to see if it’s for you.

So here’s the big reveal…

What you are going to use is a piece of welder’s helmet glass.

You’ve seen welders wearing helmets while they work and perhaps noted a glass “window” they look through to observe their work?  The intensity of arc welding is so great that without a way to darken the welding spark the welder would be blinded.  So, a piece of very dark glass, a “density filter,” is what they have in their helmets.  The common denominator is the welder wants to darken the welding arc and you, as a photographer, want to darken the light coming into your lens.

These aren’t spacemen. They are welders and that piece of glass you see in their helmets is what you need for this “weird trick.”

What and where to get it

What you are looking for is a piece of welding glass used in a helmet.  Pieces can be purchased alone, (as replacements for the helmets) and in various sizes and “grades.”  You might have a local welding supply shop where you can get these or purchase them online.  Here is a link to an example. The glass measures 4.5″ x 5.25′ (114.3 mm x 133.35 mm) which is large enough to cover most camera lenses.  It comes in grades 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, and 14 with the higher numbers being darker/denser.

This chart may help you in determining the conversion from “grade” to the amount of f-stop reduction:

To keep it simple, most often you will use a 6-stop or a 10-stop ND filter.  One popular brand of ND filters is Lee. Their “Little Stopper” is a 6-stop filter, and their “Big Stopper” is a 10-stop filter.  So consulting the chart, if you wanted a 6-stop welding glass filter, get a Grade 6, and for a 10-stop reduction, get a Grade 8.

The left half of this shot shows how the uncorrected image looks due to the heavy green color of the welder’s glass. The right has been white-balanced using the custom white balance method discussed.

Density Yes, Neutral… not even close

This is probably the biggest drawback to using a piece of welding glass as an ND filter.  You can get very dark pieces of welding glass, so density isn’t a problem.  The problem is that most welding filters have a very pronounced green, or in some cases, gold color cast.

Dedicated photography ND filters may have a little coloration, but try to come as close to neutral as possible.  You will pay more for more neutral filters as you’d prefer to get darkening without coloration.  So what to do when using a welding glass filter?

Three options to dealing with the color cast

There are three things you can do to help reduce the distinct coloration a welding glass filter causes:

  • Shoot in Raw, (which you do anyway, right?) and adjust your white balance when editing to compensate.
  • Set an in-camera Custom White Balance
  • Plan to make your images monochrome where color casts won’t be a problem.

Let’s discuss these options.

The first is simple enough.  Yes, when you review your images after shooting on the camera LCD they will look very green.  (I’ve only used the green welder’s glass, not the gold).  Just know you will be adding lots of magenta, (the opposite of green), to your white balance when you edit.  Even then, good color may be a struggle.

Rather than fight the color cast, maybe monochrome is the ticket when using the welder’s glass ND trick.

The second option, setting a custom white balance, is a good idea.  To do so, mount your welding glass filter, (more on that in a minute) and make an exposure of the sun or bright sky.  Then, using the custom white balance function of your camera, (consult your manual on how to do this), store that image and white balance on it, creating a custom white balance you can use to shoot with when using your welding glass filter.

The advantage of this is image playback on your LCD will be closer to a normal color.

Additional tweaking will likely be needed in post-processing, but this may help you a bit when shooting.

The third option, (and to me maybe the best) is not to fight the color cast and plan to make your welding glass filter shots monochrome.  Long exposure images have an “ethereal” look often enhanced in a monochrome image.  So, rather than fight trying to restore good color from that alien green image, embrace monochrome.

If you decide you love long exposure photography, you will then likely buy a photographic ND filter which will make much better color shots.

Calculating your exposure

Before mounting your welding glass on your lens, you will want to compose your shot as usual.  You will also want to obtain good focus.  Do this first, because you won’t be able to see much of anything with the welding glass mounted.

Once focus has been obtained, switch the focus to manual.  Consider putting a piece of tape on the focus ring so it won’t move later.

Now make a shot with good exposure without the filter.  You will be changing your shutter speed once the filter is mounted, so choose an aperture and ISO.  What setting you choose will depend on the depth of field you require and also how long you’d like your exposure to be.  The slower the shutter speed you set here (while still getting a proper exposure), the longer your exposure can be with the filter.

Your subject will largely dictate your desired exposure length and the look you are trying to achieve. A silky waterfall might only require a 2-second exposure while smoothing ocean waves could take 30 seconds and streaking clouds in the sky a couple of minutes.  There is no formula here – trial and error will help you learn what works right.

The monochrome version of this shot above was done with the welders’ glass and an exposure time of 1.6 sec. This shot was taken later when the last rays of sun lit the turbines and also used 1.6 seconds. Too short a shutter speed and the blades were frozen. Too long and they disappeared. 1.6 seconds was the “sweet spot.”

Using an app to calculate shutter speed with the filter

Your meter will likely be useless once you mount the welding glass ND filter so you will need to calculate shutter speed yourself using the previous exposure information as a starting point.  There are numerous smartphone apps available to help you.  I like the one made by Lee Filters (Android / iOS ). Made for use with their Little (6-stop)/Big (10-stop)/Super (15-Stop) filters, you will need to tweak a bit when using it with your welding glass. However, it will get you in the ballpark, and you can adjust from there.

Let’s use an example:  You’ve made a shot without the filter and with the ISO set at 100 and the aperture at f/22 you can get the shutter speed down to 1/15th of a second and make a proper exposure.  You bought both a Grade 6 (6.67-stops) and Grade 8 (10-stops) pieces of welding glass.  What will your new shutter speed need to be with each filter installed?  Using the Lee app, we can see the 6-stop reduction would put us at between 4 and 8 seconds and the 10-stop reduction at 1 minute.

Again, plan on using these adjusted settings as starting points.  Try them and adjust your shutter speed (or possibly other settings) as needed.  Definitely plan on taking multiple shots as you get things dialed in.  Long exposure photography is not something you do in a hurry.

It’s funky, but it works. Reverse the lens hood and use rubber bands to attach the welder’s glass filter.

Attaching the welding glass filter

You’ve set up the camera, composed, focused, locked everything in, calculated your new shutter speed and are ready to mount the welding glass ND filter.  I think I used the word “funky” earlier in the article to describe how you will attach your DIY ND filter to your lens.  The photo here, showing how reversing the lens hood on your lens and then using rubber bands pretty much depicts the technique.

Something to improve it a bit – put some black gaffer tape on the edges of your piece of welders glass.  This will give the rubber bands a surface with more friction to grab onto.  (It also helps you in hanging onto the glass).  I’m not sure if the edges of the glass would transmit light onto the image, but the tape will also prevent that should it occur.  If your lens doesn’t have a hood to reverse, try larger bands which will allow you to stretch them back around the camera body.

Try not to disturb the focus ring as you mount the filter.  You will not be able to check focus again once the filter is in place.

Set your focus BEFORE mounting the filter and turn the switch to Manual focus (MF)

Making the shot

With the welder’s glass filter mounted, you will pretty much be “flying blind.”  You will not be able to see anything through the viewfinder, and maybe, if your filter isn’t too dark, you might be able to see just a little bit using live view if your camera supports that.  You better have composed and focused before mounting the filter as you can’t see to do it now.  Your meter will also not work with such low light.

While you could use the 2-second timer to trip the shot, I’d suggest a remote release.  You will also definitely need one if you’ll be making exposures over 30-seconds (on most cameras) in which case you will be putting your camera in Bulb-Mode.

A release that allows you to lock the shutter open during the exposure will help a lot here.  The Lee exposure calculator app also has a countdown timer.  Activate it when you open the shutter and it will countdown and beep at the end of the calculated exposure time telling you when to close the shutter.

If your shutter speed will exceed 30-seconds, you will probably need to use bulb mode. A remote release is a good idea in such cases.

You may also want to consider using the noise reduction feature of your camera.  Noise can be a problem with long exposures.  The noise reduction feature will make a second black frame image the same length as your first shot and then subtract any random noise or hot pixels from your image using the black frame as a reference.

Keep in mind, however, that the black frame exposure will be as long as the original shot so if you are, for example, making a 2-minute exposure, your camera will be busy for four minutes.  I told you, you don’t do long-exposure photography in a hurry.

No filter. A straight shot – 1/25 sec. f/8 ISO 100

Back in post-production

You edit your long exposure images much as you do with any regular shot with the big exception of that crazy color cast.  There are lots of web resources that tell you how to help correct for that cast so I won’t spend time on that here.  Just know that with this welding glass technique you will never get the color as good as you would without the filter.  I still believe that monochrome is the way to go here.

Using the welder’s glass ND. Custom white balanced in the camera, color corrected again in Lightroom and Photoshop. 162 seconds, f/8 ISO 100. The monochrome version is at the top of this article.

Frustrations and limitations

I’ve since bought a real ND filter, the 6-stop B+W I mentioned, so my welding glass hasn’t seen much use until I got it out to make this article.  In making the wind turbine shots, I found what I think, (after some comparison testing), is a Grade 10 glass, very dark but still not dark enough to make even a short 1.6 second shot, (the shutter speed I determined was best to get the hint of motion I wanted on the turbine blades.)  Longer exposures simply caused the blades to disappear entirely.

A side note here: long exposures can be a great way to make a crowd disappear when photographing a busy cityscape.  The people move and so disappear during a long exposure while the static buildings and such stay put and show up in the photo.

Trying to darken the shot further, I put a polarizer on the lens, (dropping the exposure 2-stops), and then stacked the welder’s glass ND over that.  It wasn’t a good combination.  Too much, as the British say, “faffing about,” and I likely knocked my focus off slightly.  Also, shooting through both the polarizer and the welding glass put too much “cheap glass” between the camera and the image, so the sharpness suffered.

A straight shot with no filter. 125/sec. f/22 ISO 100

A second trip to the Boise River provided an opportunity to see how a long exposure would depict the fast-moving spring runoff.  I was able to use much longer exposures here, a few just over two minutes.  I also made a 30-second exposure with the sun in the shot, something that wouldn’t have been possible with no filter even with the minimum ISO of 50 and the smallest aperture of f/22.  Shooting long exposures in bright light is a big reason for using an ND filter.

A shot directly into the sun, and a shutter speed of 20 seconds, probably isn’t possible without a strong ND filter. I calculate the Grade 10 welder’s glass used here to give about 13-stops of light reduction. 20 seconds f/14 ISO 100

When to buy a real ND filter

You may find the welder’s glass technique a fun way to dip your photographic toe in the waters of long exposure photography.  If you find you enjoy it and like the kinds of images you can make, save up and buy a good ND filter.  However, if the technique is interesting, but not really your bag, then you will have discovered that having only spent a few dollars on your welder’s glass DIY version.

Either way, you will learn much more about creatively using your camera controls to make exciting photos and that’s what it’s all about.  Learn and enjoy!

 

The post Try this DIY Neutral Density Filter for Long Exposure Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

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