Fake it to Make it – Creating Convincing Photo Composites

The post Fake it to Make it – Creating Convincing Photo Composites appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

Photo composites – it used to be said that “the camera never lies.”  We used terms like “photographic evidence,” and “photographic memory.” We believed whatever cameras captured were literal representations of fact depicting exactly what you would have observed had you been a witness to the scene.

Then, as editing techniques improved, photographers learned ways to enhance and even alter images.

Well before the days of digital photography, dodging, burning, airbrushing, layering of negatives, hand-painting, and a host of other “analog methods” were used by skilled photographers seeking to enhance and manipulate their images.  Sometimes this was in the name of art, other times to fool the viewer.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

“Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave.” Assignment – depict a Beatles song title or lyric. I used a photo of a Vermont graveyard, made a shot of myself in the backyard, and with some creative compositing depicted the lyric from “Eleanor Rigby.”

Enter the world of digital photography and desktop editing programs.

It wasn’t long before we used the term “Photoshop” not only as a noun as the tradename of an editing program but as a verb describing the manipulation of an image using that tool.  When we now say an image has been “Photoshopped,” we are saying it has been digitally altered.  The camera might not lie, but the photographer can if they choose.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

It took a while to clone out all the footprints from this shot of Bandon Beach, Oregon.

The ethics of photo alteration

So, is altering your image a bad thing? Unethical?

I’d say that depends on your intent and the context in which you’re using the image. We’ve all heard the term “fake news.” If you are a photojournalist whose job it is to depict a scene truthfully, then the rest of this article is not for you. Move along… “creative photo editing” is totally taboo for you. Enough said.

For the rest of us, is photo manipulation acceptable? How much? What kind? Under what circumstances?

Let’s come back to those questions a little later after we’ve looked at some kinds of photo “enhancements.”

Fake it to Make it - Creating Convincing Photo Composites

creating-convincing-photo-composites

A balloon over Boise, Idaho landmarks. One is composited the other a straight shot. Can you spot the fake?

Bad magic

Have you ever had the misfortunate of watching a really bad magic show, the kind where the unskilled magician clearly doesn’t know his craft and the illusions are obvious? You know, without question, there really was something up his sleeve? Bad photo manipulation is like bad magic; neither should be performed for an audience.

If your techniques aren’t convincing, if the substituted sky doesn’t look right for the scene or the person composited into the group shot looks like you cut him out and pasted him onto the photo, you might not be ready to perform your photo magic. Learn how to do the “trick.” Practice, practice some more and show the result to a single critic. When you finally pass muster, only then show your creation to the masses.

SOOC?

Most of us do at least some standard photo editing. I always smile at those photographers who say with pride their images are “Straight-Out-Of-Camera” (SOOC), unedited. That they always “get it right in the camera.” Really?

Unless you’re making only .jpg images (where the camera itself is doing some editing using the built-in .jpg algorithm), you have a Raw image that needs at least basic editing even to be presentable.

Sure, make the best exposure you can in the camera, frame your shot so no cropping will be needed. Pick a white balance appropriate for the scene – those are all good habits. But having to edit your shot to bring out its best? – That’s only logical, IMHO.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

I had nice shots of a storm over a wheatfield and a good windmill silhouette. Creative photo composite at work.

Creative photo composites

Now we get to what is clearly photo manipulation, the creation of an image from multiple pieces. This is the assembling of a final photo composite from separate shots carefully crafted to make something better than you could make with a single exposure.

Do it well, and you can make scenes that depict your creative vision. Create things of beauty that never were but should have been; landscapes with great clouds, gorgeous sunsets, or maybe portraits done in fields of flowers. Do it well, and people will marvel over your creation, unaware of your magic. Do it poorly, however, and you’ll wind up with a Frankenstein monster, a badly-stitched horror assembled from unmatched pieces and parts.

So let’s look at some things to consider when creating convincing photo composites.

Image: I think the scale looks correct here, but a pilot might say a jet wouldn’t come in like...

I think the scale looks correct here, but a pilot might say a jet wouldn’t come in like this on final approach. Both planes are composited into the sunset shot.

Light and shadow

Let’s use an example where we might add a person to a scene they were not originally in.

You have the image of the scene, and you have a separate image of the person. The first question to ask yourself is, does the light direction match? Look at where the light and shadows fall in both images. If the light in the person image is coming from the left, the light in the background scene must come from the left too. Fail to check this, and even the untrained observer will look at your photo composite image and know something isn’t right, even if they can’t put their finger on it.

Sometimes you can flip the person or the background image so the light direction matches; it depends on the scenes you’re working with. Other times you’ll have to look for a different background with a better match.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

The scale may not be correct, but creative compositing is a new fun way to play with your grandson.Pay close attention to the direction and quality of shadows. Compositing images where the light in one piece is harsh with hard shadows and the other where the light is brighter, darker, softer, or in some other way different will be a giveaway of something fishy.

Sometimes you might have to add a shadow manually. Say you’re adding an image of a car to another image of a road. Consider where the shadow of the car would fall relative to the light in the scene. Then blend in some shadows if necessary to make a more convincing photo composite.

Angle

The camera angle and focal length of the lenses used to make the separate shots should match as closely as possible if you want to make convincing photo composites.

A high or low angle background with a differing angle composite overlay isn’t going to look right. This even applies to sky substitutions.

If you want to make photo composites of a landscape and change out the sky for perhaps one that has a nice sunset or better clouds, take a look at the angle of both shots and the focal length of the lenses used.

You’ll be able to tell if something just doesn’t look right.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

A gray rainy day at the Portland Head Lighthouse in Maine. The lighthouse needed a light beam, no? Easy to add one. Convincing? You tell me.

Color

Sometimes this can be the toughest one in getting good convincing photo composites. Images at different times in different locations are almost guaranteed to have slightly different white balances. Mix a cooler piece into a warmer scene, one where the tint is slightly different, or other subtle differences exist, and once again, your viewer will detect that card up your sleeve.

See if you can set a white balance in Lightroom for your base image and then, using the Sync feature, apply that same white balance to your inserted image. Then take both into Photoshop for your compositing work.

Sometimes the best option for avoiding a fight with color differences is to avoid color altogether and go monochrome with your image. A monochrome composite is far easier to pull off than a color one. It’s a good place for beginning “photo magicians” to start.

Image: The moon was in the original shot, but tiny. I enlarged it a bit, but not so much as to be un...

The moon was in the original shot, but tiny. I enlarged it a bit, but not so much as to be unbelievable.

Scale

Pay attention to match the relative size of images in your photo composites. Unless you’re trying to make the model in your shot look like a fairy on that forest log, matching size counts.

The student who missed the group shot of his class, but you later composite him in, probably won’t appreciate it if you make him look like he has a giant head relative to the others in the shot.

Whatever multiple pieces you use to make your image, consider how their relative sizes match.

Image: Fake moon composited in? Not this time. This was a telephoto shot which made the already larg...

Fake moon composited in? Not this time. This was a telephoto shot which made the already large full moon look even bigger.

Anything funny here?

After working to create a convincing photo composite, it can be hard to be objective. You’ve worked hard to get it just right but sometimes may have misgivings about whether everything looks natural.

Or it could be the other way; you’re convinced you’ve created the perfect composite, but have overlooked what to someone else is obvious fakery. This is the time to bring in someone else, someone who has no idea what you’ve been working on, to look at your creation.

Simply ask, “How’s this look?”

Don’t immediately tip them that you did something to the image – see if they detect anything. If they don’t, drill a little deeper.

“See anything unusual?” Pay attention to their answers.

If this is someone who knows your skills, they may suspect you switched out the sky, put that cute bunny in the forest scene, or digitally shaved some pounds from the model. However, even then, they should be able to tell you if your creation is convincing.

Because you can…

The second part of that saying, “…doesn’t always mean you should.”  Or as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, (aka Spiderman), “With great power comes great responsibility.”

With practice, you may become highly skilled at photo composites. Alter a photo, replace the sky, make it jaw-droppingly beautiful, and no one thinks twice. Even fellow photographers marvel over the sunsets you always seem to catch, the great light, the pristine beaches with no footprints, litter, or people. They chalk up your beautiful images to stellar photo skills, hard work, sacrifice, and a healthy dose of good luck. They don’t realize you made your own luck, as well as that incredible ocean sunrise, with creative photo compositing.

Until one day, the truth comes out…

You’re just an average photographer but a great Photoshop artist.

One guy who understands where to draw the line is noted landscape photographer, Nick Page. I once had a chance to interview Nick on the subject of swapping skies in landscape photography. In addition to being an exceptional landscape photographer, Nick is also a gifted editor. If anyone could fool you with a creative composite, Nick could do so easily.

He could, but he doesn’t.

Image: He could, but he doesn’t. His amazing photos are the real deal. Photo by/courtesy of Ni...

He could, but he doesn’t. His amazing photos are the real deal. Photo by/courtesy of Nick Page.

“With my Landscape photography, I have drawn the line in the sand, (in my head anyway), that I will not composite or swap skies.  For me this comes down to two things,” Nick said.

“My favorite part of landscape photography is trying to chase the light, and have that great light line up with a great location.  This takes tons of planning and effort, and I love that aspect of photography.  If I were to start dropping skies into my landscape photos, I would be robbing myself of the joy of “the Chase.”

And the second thing?  “I want people to know and believe the photos I take are real,” said Nick. “So many of the photographers I follow, I can’t always trust that amazing light they always have in their photos.  Yes, it is an art, but I really enjoy the extra effort of trying to get it for real, and I want people to know and trust that I put in that extra effort.”

Image: Creative photo compositing is a fun way to help tell the story.

Creative photo compositing is a fun way to help tell the story.

As easy as a click – the rise of the robots

We’re headed for a major change in photo editing as we enter the dawn of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) age. For some time now, computers have been able to “recognize” images. Tell Google Photos to search the entire internet for photos of even something improbable, green dogs, and it almost instantly finds many. This is not a keyword search; it “recognizes” the image of a dog and the color green and finds the photos.

Facial recognition? Lightroom can do that.

We already see better and better implementations of AI photo editing tools too. How long will it be before an AI editing program can do a better job than you? Maybe that day is almost here.

Fake it to Make it - Creating Convincing Photo Composites

Image: Sky substitution. Soon you’ll do this with one click with the Luminar 4 Sky Replacement...

Sky substitution. Soon you’ll do this with one click with the Luminar 4 Sky Replacement AI tool.

Skylum Software recently announced its new Luminar 4 editing software with “AI Sky Replacement.”  Not only can it replace the sky in a photo, but it also does it with no selections, layers, or masking.  It claims to handle even detailed images such as fine tree branches extending into the sky. And, it goes even a step further, using the colors of the replacement sky to better match the scene.

Mixed emotions

I must confess, I have mixed emotions about software editing tools that better the skills I’ve learned after hundreds of hours slaving over a hot computer [Me too – Editor]. Or that don’t require I earn that great shot by setting the alarm for 4:30, shivering in the pre-dawn cold, and hoping the clouds and color are just right only to be disappointed. One-click to a beautiful shot?

Could I, in good conscience, enter a contest with such a shot and accept an award for “my” image? The one made with artificial intelligence instead of just my intelligence and skills?

Image: The Yellowstone Bison endure harsh winter conditions. Think this one was originally a part of...

The Yellowstone Bison endure harsh winter conditions. Think this one was originally a part of this shot? You’ve been “buffaloed.” Added with compositing.

Photography and “real” art

I have to think that when photography first entered the scene, traditional artists, painters, sketch artists and those who created their art from scratch by hand had to scoff. Photographers had no artistic skills, and they weren’t “real artists.”

Later, we transitioned from purely mechanical cameras to automatic ones and from film to digital. Autofocus? Auto exposure settings? Auto white balance? Pshaw!

How about processing negatives and film in chemical baths, working with negatives and enlargers, dodging and burning with real tools and real photographic paper? Do you say you do that all now in a computer with a few clicks of a mouse? That if you make a mistake, you can simply undo it and not have to throw away your work and start all over?

You call yourself a “real photographer?”

Image: Experiencing the 8/21/17 total eclipse was amazing. I used creative photo compositing to sequ...

Experiencing the 8/21/17 total eclipse was amazing. I used creative photo compositing to sequence my shots for this image.

Image: I made a shot of the forest near Crouch, Idaho the day before the eclipse. The next day I cap...

I made a shot of the forest near Crouch, Idaho the day before the eclipse. The next day I capture the “diamond ring” image of the eclipse. It did look like this, but I’m not sure I could have captured this in one shot. Creative photo compositing.

Conclusion

You get the point.  As technology marches on our tools change, we find easier ways of doing things and more people are able to become involved, not having to spend years learning complex skills.  More people can, with some technological assistance, produce better images.

One last thing to remember however, the human touch, the “soul” of your photography, your personal vision will never be replaced by “artificial” intelligence.  Wise photographers still appreciate the special skills of artists who create beautiful images by hand.  Wise digital photographers still appreciate the skills of analog film photographers who created great photos with very basic equipment.  And, perhaps one day, you and I will appreciate the skills of a robot photographer and an AI editor.  Or maybe not.

 

 

 

The post Fake it to Make it – Creating Convincing Photo Composites appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Fake it to Make it – Creating Convincing Photo Composites

The post Fake it to Make it – Creating Convincing Photo Composites appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

Photo composites – it used to be said that “the camera never lies.”  We used terms like “photographic evidence,” and “photographic memory.” We believed whatever cameras captured were literal representations of fact depicting exactly what you would have observed had you been a witness to the scene.

Then, as editing techniques improved, photographers learned ways to enhance and even alter images.

Well before the days of digital photography, dodging, burning, airbrushing, layering of negatives, hand-painting, and a host of other “analog methods” were used by skilled photographers seeking to enhance and manipulate their images.  Sometimes this was in the name of art, other times to fool the viewer.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

“Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave.” Assignment – depict a Beatles song title or lyric. I used a photo of a Vermont graveyard, made a shot of myself in the backyard, and with some creative compositing depicted the lyric from “Eleanor Rigby.”

Enter the world of digital photography and desktop editing programs.

It wasn’t long before we used the term “Photoshop” not only as a noun as the tradename of an editing program but as a verb describing the manipulation of an image using that tool.  When we now say an image has been “Photoshopped,” we are saying it has been digitally altered.  The camera might not lie, but the photographer can if they choose.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

It took a while to clone out all the footprints from this shot of Bandon Beach, Oregon.

The ethics of photo alteration

So, is altering your image a bad thing? Unethical?

I’d say that depends on your intent and the context in which you’re using the image. We’ve all heard the term “fake news.” If you are a photojournalist whose job it is to depict a scene truthfully, then the rest of this article is not for you. Move along… “creative photo editing” is totally taboo for you. Enough said.

For the rest of us, is photo manipulation acceptable? How much? What kind? Under what circumstances?

Let’s come back to those questions a little later after we’ve looked at some kinds of photo “enhancements.”

Fake it to Make it - Creating Convincing Photo Composites

creating-convincing-photo-composites

A balloon over Boise, Idaho landmarks. One is composited the other a straight shot. Can you spot the fake?

Bad magic

Have you ever had the misfortunate of watching a really bad magic show, the kind where the unskilled magician clearly doesn’t know his craft and the illusions are obvious? You know, without question, there really was something up his sleeve? Bad photo manipulation is like bad magic; neither should be performed for an audience.

If your techniques aren’t convincing, if the substituted sky doesn’t look right for the scene or the person composited into the group shot looks like you cut him out and pasted him onto the photo, you might not be ready to perform your photo magic. Learn how to do the “trick.” Practice, practice some more and show the result to a single critic. When you finally pass muster, only then show your creation to the masses.

SOOC?

Most of us do at least some standard photo editing. I always smile at those photographers who say with pride their images are “Straight-Out-Of-Camera” (SOOC), unedited. That they always “get it right in the camera.” Really?

Unless you’re making only .jpg images (where the camera itself is doing some editing using the built-in .jpg algorithm), you have a Raw image that needs at least basic editing even to be presentable.

Sure, make the best exposure you can in the camera, frame your shot so no cropping will be needed. Pick a white balance appropriate for the scene – those are all good habits. But having to edit your shot to bring out its best? – That’s only logical, IMHO.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

I had nice shots of a storm over a wheatfield and a good windmill silhouette. Creative photo composite at work.

Creative photo composites

Now we get to what is clearly photo manipulation, the creation of an image from multiple pieces. This is the assembling of a final photo composite from separate shots carefully crafted to make something better than you could make with a single exposure.

Do it well, and you can make scenes that depict your creative vision. Create things of beauty that never were but should have been; landscapes with great clouds, gorgeous sunsets, or maybe portraits done in fields of flowers. Do it well, and people will marvel over your creation, unaware of your magic. Do it poorly, however, and you’ll wind up with a Frankenstein monster, a badly-stitched horror assembled from unmatched pieces and parts.

So let’s look at some things to consider when creating convincing photo composites.

Image: I think the scale looks correct here, but a pilot might say a jet wouldn’t come in like...

I think the scale looks correct here, but a pilot might say a jet wouldn’t come in like this on final approach. Both planes are composited into the sunset shot.

Light and shadow

Let’s use an example where we might add a person to a scene they were not originally in.

You have the image of the scene, and you have a separate image of the person. The first question to ask yourself is, does the light direction match? Look at where the light and shadows fall in both images. If the light in the person image is coming from the left, the light in the background scene must come from the left too. Fail to check this, and even the untrained observer will look at your photo composite image and know something isn’t right, even if they can’t put their finger on it.

Sometimes you can flip the person or the background image so the light direction matches; it depends on the scenes you’re working with. Other times you’ll have to look for a different background with a better match.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

The scale may not be correct, but creative compositing is a new fun way to play with your grandson.Pay close attention to the direction and quality of shadows. Compositing images where the light in one piece is harsh with hard shadows and the other where the light is brighter, darker, softer, or in some other way different will be a giveaway of something fishy.

Sometimes you might have to add a shadow manually. Say you’re adding an image of a car to another image of a road. Consider where the shadow of the car would fall relative to the light in the scene. Then blend in some shadows if necessary to make a more convincing photo composite.

Angle

The camera angle and focal length of the lenses used to make the separate shots should match as closely as possible if you want to make convincing photo composites.

A high or low angle background with a differing angle composite overlay isn’t going to look right. This even applies to sky substitutions.

If you want to make photo composites of a landscape and change out the sky for perhaps one that has a nice sunset or better clouds, take a look at the angle of both shots and the focal length of the lenses used.

You’ll be able to tell if something just doesn’t look right.

creating-convincing-photo-composites

A gray rainy day at the Portland Head Lighthouse in Maine. The lighthouse needed a light beam, no? Easy to add one. Convincing? You tell me.

Color

Sometimes this can be the toughest one in getting good convincing photo composites. Images at different times in different locations are almost guaranteed to have slightly different white balances. Mix a cooler piece into a warmer scene, one where the tint is slightly different, or other subtle differences exist, and once again, your viewer will detect that card up your sleeve.

See if you can set a white balance in Lightroom for your base image and then, using the Sync feature, apply that same white balance to your inserted image. Then take both into Photoshop for your compositing work.

Sometimes the best option for avoiding a fight with color differences is to avoid color altogether and go monochrome with your image. A monochrome composite is far easier to pull off than a color one. It’s a good place for beginning “photo magicians” to start.

Image: The moon was in the original shot, but tiny. I enlarged it a bit, but not so much as to be un...

The moon was in the original shot, but tiny. I enlarged it a bit, but not so much as to be unbelievable.

Scale

Pay attention to match the relative size of images in your photo composites. Unless you’re trying to make the model in your shot look like a fairy on that forest log, matching size counts.

The student who missed the group shot of his class, but you later composite him in, probably won’t appreciate it if you make him look like he has a giant head relative to the others in the shot.

Whatever multiple pieces you use to make your image, consider how their relative sizes match.

Image: Fake moon composited in? Not this time. This was a telephoto shot which made the already larg...

Fake moon composited in? Not this time. This was a telephoto shot which made the already large full moon look even bigger.

Anything funny here?

After working to create a convincing photo composite, it can be hard to be objective. You’ve worked hard to get it just right but sometimes may have misgivings about whether everything looks natural.

Or it could be the other way; you’re convinced you’ve created the perfect composite, but have overlooked what to someone else is obvious fakery. This is the time to bring in someone else, someone who has no idea what you’ve been working on, to look at your creation.

Simply ask, “How’s this look?”

Don’t immediately tip them that you did something to the image – see if they detect anything. If they don’t, drill a little deeper.

“See anything unusual?” Pay attention to their answers.

If this is someone who knows your skills, they may suspect you switched out the sky, put that cute bunny in the forest scene, or digitally shaved some pounds from the model. However, even then, they should be able to tell you if your creation is convincing.

Because you can…

The second part of that saying, “…doesn’t always mean you should.”  Or as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, (aka Spiderman), “With great power comes great responsibility.”

With practice, you may become highly skilled at photo composites. Alter a photo, replace the sky, make it jaw-droppingly beautiful, and no one thinks twice. Even fellow photographers marvel over the sunsets you always seem to catch, the great light, the pristine beaches with no footprints, litter, or people. They chalk up your beautiful images to stellar photo skills, hard work, sacrifice, and a healthy dose of good luck. They don’t realize you made your own luck, as well as that incredible ocean sunrise, with creative photo compositing.

Until one day, the truth comes out…

You’re just an average photographer but a great Photoshop artist.

One guy who understands where to draw the line is noted landscape photographer, Nick Page. I once had a chance to interview Nick on the subject of swapping skies in landscape photography. In addition to being an exceptional landscape photographer, Nick is also a gifted editor. If anyone could fool you with a creative composite, Nick could do so easily.

He could, but he doesn’t.

Image: He could, but he doesn’t. His amazing photos are the real deal. Photo by/courtesy of Ni...

He could, but he doesn’t. His amazing photos are the real deal. Photo by/courtesy of Nick Page.

“With my Landscape photography, I have drawn the line in the sand, (in my head anyway), that I will not composite or swap skies.  For me this comes down to two things,” Nick said.

“My favorite part of landscape photography is trying to chase the light, and have that great light line up with a great location.  This takes tons of planning and effort, and I love that aspect of photography.  If I were to start dropping skies into my landscape photos, I would be robbing myself of the joy of “the Chase.”

And the second thing?  “I want people to know and believe the photos I take are real,” said Nick. “So many of the photographers I follow, I can’t always trust that amazing light they always have in their photos.  Yes, it is an art, but I really enjoy the extra effort of trying to get it for real, and I want people to know and trust that I put in that extra effort.”

Image: Creative photo compositing is a fun way to help tell the story.

Creative photo compositing is a fun way to help tell the story.

As easy as a click – the rise of the robots

We’re headed for a major change in photo editing as we enter the dawn of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) age. For some time now, computers have been able to “recognize” images. Tell Google Photos to search the entire internet for photos of even something improbable, green dogs, and it almost instantly finds many. This is not a keyword search; it “recognizes” the image of a dog and the color green and finds the photos.

Facial recognition? Lightroom can do that.

We already see better and better implementations of AI photo editing tools too. How long will it be before an AI editing program can do a better job than you? Maybe that day is almost here.

Fake it to Make it - Creating Convincing Photo Composites

Image: Sky substitution. Soon you’ll do this with one click with the Luminar 4 Sky Replacement...

Sky substitution. Soon you’ll do this with one click with the Luminar 4 Sky Replacement AI tool.

Skylum Software recently announced its new Luminar 4 editing software with “AI Sky Replacement.”  Not only can it replace the sky in a photo, but it also does it with no selections, layers, or masking.  It claims to handle even detailed images such as fine tree branches extending into the sky. And, it goes even a step further, using the colors of the replacement sky to better match the scene.

Mixed emotions

I must confess, I have mixed emotions about software editing tools that better the skills I’ve learned after hundreds of hours slaving over a hot computer [Me too – Editor]. Or that don’t require I earn that great shot by setting the alarm for 4:30, shivering in the pre-dawn cold, and hoping the clouds and color are just right only to be disappointed. One-click to a beautiful shot?

Could I, in good conscience, enter a contest with such a shot and accept an award for “my” image? The one made with artificial intelligence instead of just my intelligence and skills?

Image: The Yellowstone Bison endure harsh winter conditions. Think this one was originally a part of...

The Yellowstone Bison endure harsh winter conditions. Think this one was originally a part of this shot? You’ve been “buffaloed.” Added with compositing.

Photography and “real” art

I have to think that when photography first entered the scene, traditional artists, painters, sketch artists and those who created their art from scratch by hand had to scoff. Photographers had no artistic skills, and they weren’t “real artists.”

Later, we transitioned from purely mechanical cameras to automatic ones and from film to digital. Autofocus? Auto exposure settings? Auto white balance? Pshaw!

How about processing negatives and film in chemical baths, working with negatives and enlargers, dodging and burning with real tools and real photographic paper? Do you say you do that all now in a computer with a few clicks of a mouse? That if you make a mistake, you can simply undo it and not have to throw away your work and start all over?

You call yourself a “real photographer?”

Image: Experiencing the 8/21/17 total eclipse was amazing. I used creative photo compositing to sequ...

Experiencing the 8/21/17 total eclipse was amazing. I used creative photo compositing to sequence my shots for this image.

Image: I made a shot of the forest near Crouch, Idaho the day before the eclipse. The next day I cap...

I made a shot of the forest near Crouch, Idaho the day before the eclipse. The next day I capture the “diamond ring” image of the eclipse. It did look like this, but I’m not sure I could have captured this in one shot. Creative photo compositing.

Conclusion

You get the point.  As technology marches on our tools change, we find easier ways of doing things and more people are able to become involved, not having to spend years learning complex skills.  More people can, with some technological assistance, produce better images.

One last thing to remember however, the human touch, the “soul” of your photography, your personal vision will never be replaced by “artificial” intelligence.  Wise photographers still appreciate the special skills of artists who create beautiful images by hand.  Wise digital photographers still appreciate the skills of analog film photographers who created great photos with very basic equipment.  And, perhaps one day, you and I will appreciate the skills of a robot photographer and an AI editor.  Or maybe not.

 

 

 

The post Fake it to Make it – Creating Convincing Photo Composites appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Using Creative Zoo Photography for Awesome Animal Photos

The post Using Creative Zoo Photography for Awesome Animal Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

creative-zoo-photography

Wildlife photographers are a dedicated bunch.  They spend money to travel to exotic places, brave miserable conditions, deal with whatever light conditions are present at the time and then sometimes don’t even see the animals they came to photograph.  Pandas in China, tigers in India, lions on the Serengeti, polar bears in the frozen Yukon or maybe gorillas in the Congo.  You could spend a lifetime photographing wild animals in their native lands.

creative-zoo-photography

Bengal Bath – Photographed in the wilds of India or in a zoo? You tell me.

Or, you could take a cue from Simon and Garfunkel –

“Someone told me it’s all happening at the Zoo”

                     – “At the Zoo” – Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel

I’ll grant you, photographing a lion in the zoo doesn’t have the same thrill as being on safari. If you have the time and the money to do such things, by all means, go for it.  For many of us though, the zoo offers a chance to photograph animals we’d never see otherwise and, using the tips we’re about to cover, you can still make some very nice images.  You don’t have to tell your friends where you took them, right?

creative-zoo-photography

It’s hard to make a zoo photo look like it was taken in the wild with a chainlink fence in the background. Go with a wide aperture to throw the background out of focus if you can.

Challenges

In the bush, the challenges of photographing wildlife are likely finding the animal you’re seeking and, depending on the species, perhaps trying not to get eaten.  At the zoo, there are cages, glass or at least barriers designed to separate you and the creatures.  Safer, yes, but also a little frustrating when you’re trying to make a nice photo.

Let’s look at some workarounds for zoo photography.

Image: Sometimes this is what you encounter when trying to do zoo photography. When the animal is ri...

Sometimes this is what you encounter when trying to do zoo photography. When the animal is right up against the wire, there’s not much you can do.

Image: Get a little separation between the animal and the cage, get close to the wire, use a large a...

Get a little separation between the animal and the cage, get close to the wire, use a large aperture, and you can do this. This could probably be cleaned up further with the cloning tool in post-production.

Cages

Zoos are getting better at designing structures so that the animals aren’t always behind bars or chainlink fences, but sometimes you will still have to deal with this.  If the animal is up close to the fence, you might have no choice but to include it in the shot.

But, if you can wait until the beast moves further away from the barrier, this trick can work.  Get close to the fence if you can, then use a wide aperture.  Zoom into and focus on the animal.  You may find that the limited depth of field pretty much renders the fence as a blur, barely showing up at all.  Often you can clean up what remains of the fence or bars when editing.

Image: Having to work through the glass, the top image is straight out of the camera. But, with some...

Having to work through the glass, the top image is straight out of the camera. But, with some editing, a pretty nice Panda Portrait results.

creative-zoo-photography

An aquarium is a zoo of sorts where all the animals will be behind glass. Note how I rescued the turtle image with editing and monochrome conversion.

Glass

Sometimes the barrier between you and the animal will be glass.  You’ll have to deal with grime, scratches, and reflections.  Carry a cloth in your bag when you go to the zoo and clean a spot on the glass where you’ll be shooting.  Get as close to the glass as you can, again with a wide aperture to help blur any scratches.  If reflections are a problem, consider throwing a jacket or cloth over your head or perhaps just the camera to help eliminate them.  Later in editing, the dehaze tool can be your friend with photos made through glass.

Using Creative Zoo Photography for Awesome Animal Photos

Distance

Many times I’m glad there’s some distance between the animal I’m photographing and I. (The Komodo dragon was a scary guy for sure!). The difficulty becomes making the animal in your photo more than just a speck in the shot.

You’ll have even more difficulty with this if you’re visiting a wild animal park where instead of the animals being in smaller cages or enclosures, they roam a wide area, and you drive through the park on a tour bus. There’s only one solution here – longer telephoto lenses.

More about lenses in a bit, just know that to get those nice portrait shots, you’re often going to need some bigger glass.

Image: Frame tightly as you would with a human portrait, be sure the eyes are in focus and you...

Frame tightly as you would with a human portrait, be sure the eyes are in focus and you’ll capture a more engaging image.

Backgrounds

Though you’ll be photographing animals at the zoo, you’d prefer to have your images look like they were taken in the wild.  Your story about photographing zebra on the Serengeti plains will fall apart if there’s an obvious chainlink fence in the background.  So, a couple of possible options here:

  • Fill the frame with the animal, including as little of the background as possible in the shot.
  • Zoom in and use a wide aperture so the background blurs.
  • Consider your vantage point when composing your shot.  Could you move a little to put natural vegetation, rocks, or something not manmade in the background to better simulate the animals’ natural habitat?
creative-zoo-photography

Watch, wait and be ready, and you can capture animals behaving as they do in the wild.

Capturing behavior

A photo of a lion just standing there might be okay, but a shot of a lion roaring…that’s the one you’d like.  Images that capture animal behavior are the prize winners.  The difference is waiting for the moment. Waiting, waiting, and perhaps waiting some more.

Perhaps you’re not up to being another Dian Fossey living with the mountain gorillas so you can get that unique photo.

Or there’s Guido Sterkendries, who spends weeks in the stifling heat of the Brazilian rainforest on a perch in the treetops to photograph poison dart frogs.

But, rather than just taking the minute or so the average zoo visitor views each exhibit, you might have to wait, watch, and be ready when the animal does something interesting.  Also, watch for animal interactions and make photos that tell a story.

creative-zoo-photography

Mamas and babies can make good photos. Look for animal interactions that tell a story.

Set up, be ready, and perhaps have continuous mode and servo-focus activated. Then, when it happens and the subject does that intriguing behavior, fire off a burst of shots to guarantee you’ve got that one really great shot.

After all, would you rather go home with a boring photo of every animal in the zoo or just one superb shot of one animal engaging in some really interesting behavior?

When to go

Sometimes you get to a particular animal exhibit at the zoo and the animal is nowhere to be seen. Or maybe he’s over in the corner, zonked out and sleeping – hardly a great photo subject.

Often the trick is to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon when it’s cooler, and the animals are apt to be more active.

Photographers are also quite familiar with the “golden hour.” Not only will the light be better during these times, but the animal’s up, about, and ready for their closeup. Feeding time can also provide some action.

If you can, talk with the zookeepers to find out the best time to come, especially if you have your sights set on shots of particular animals. They will be a great source of information.

Including people

Sometimes the action at the zoo can be on the other side of the cages, the antics of people reacting to or aping for the animals.  Keep an eye out for these kinds of behaviors too.  Sometimes people are the funniest animals.

Equipment

If you’re going to spend a day at the zoo, you may not want to bring your whole photo kit. Firstly, it’s not much fun schlepping it around. Secondly, while you’re intent on making a shot, an unscrupulous bandit could help themselves to some of your gear.  Thirdly, you really don’t need that much for zoo photography.

Here are some things you might want:

Camera

Something with the ability to go manual if necessary and, of course, shooting Raw is almost always better.

creative-zoo-photography

A Canon 100-400 zoom was a great lens to have to allow these bird portraits. Wildlife photographers use long lenses and at the zoo, they can help too.

Lenses

You might very well be able to get by with a good wide-range telephoto for zoo photography. Something like a 70-200mm, or if you have something longer like a 70-300 or 100-400, better still.

You’re not apt to need a wide-angle lens at all.

The only other possibility is for zoos that have a butterfly exhibit where a macro could be useful.  One or two lenses should have you covered.

Image: Sometimes zoos will have a butterfly exhibit. If where you’re going has one, take a mac...

Sometimes zoos will have a butterfly exhibit. If where you’re going has one, take a macro lens.

Tripod

You may find that some zoos prohibit tripods, so it would be a good idea to check before you go.  A monopod can be a good substitute.

Flash

Probably not.  Again, some zoos will prohibit them, they spook the animals, and you’re not apt to want a “flash look” anyway.

Polarizing filter

This can be a good idea.  The fur of many animals is shiny and a polarizer can help tame that, also giving you richer colors.

Cloth

Cloth is great for cleaning the glass on animal enclosures that use that.

Settings

You will encounter a variety of lighting situations at the zoo, from dark animals lying in the shade to light animals in the sun, to the dreaded speckled light situation.

Some animals may barely move while others may leap wildly about.

There’s no substitute for knowing your camera and how to deal with varied conditions.  Often going fully manual, both for exposure and focus will be your best option.

Fences or glass in the foreground can too easily fool the autofocus, so be careful there.

Image: Some zoos will have a walk-in aviary. If so, it’s a great opportunity for bird photogra...

Some zoos will have a walk-in aviary. If so, it’s a great opportunity for bird photography. Again, have a long lens and if you’ll be handholding the camera, keep the shutter speed high.

In general, a wide aperture to blur the background, coupled with a fast shutter speed to freeze any animal movement, is good.  You may also be dealing with a long focal length, and having to handhold is a recipe for camera shake/blur.

Try to keep the shutter speed as fast as possible.  Also, keep the ISO low to minimize noise.  In varied lighting conditions, you may also want to consider Auto ISO if you understand how it works with your particular camera.

Continuous mode can be a good option so that when an animal does something interesting, you can fire a burst of shots, helping guarantee you capture the moment.

Composition

If there’s any mistake I see beginners making, it’s not filling the frame with their subject. Of course, not every shot needs to be a tightly cropped “portrait,” but the problem comes in when the subject in the image is so small it’s barely identifiable. Alternatively, the shot is so cluttered with other things that one questions what the real subject is. This is where a long lens can help with zoo photography.

Real wildlife photographers must sneak up on their subjects in places where enclosures don’t restrict the animals. So, often they will use – really – long, (and really expensive), glass. You need not go to that extreme, but you do want to make the animal in your shot the star, so frame accordingly.

Image: The eyes have it. You can have parts of the animal out of focus if you must, but the eyes nee...

The eyes have it. You can have parts of the animal out of focus if you must, but the eyes need to be sharp.

As when making portraits of people, when photographing animals, keep the eyes in sharp focus. Having other parts of the animal out of focus or a very limited depth-of-field is forgivable, but if the eyes are not in focus, the shot is probably a candidate for the delete button.

Use manual focus or learn you use your focus points to force focus on the animal’s eyes. Simply using the default center-focus point will likely fail you almost every time. Be the master of your camera’s focus.

This is a tricky one because enclosures, cages, and places where the animal will be won’t always allow this, but where possible, try to get on the same level as the animal.  Looking down on the subject just won’t be as impressive.  Perhaps you’ll have to put your camera on the ground or use something like a Gorillapod, (appropriate for the zoo, yes?) but do what’s needed to improve your shot.

Image: This could have been even better if I could have got down at the same level as the beast. The...

This could have been even better if I could have got down at the same level as the beast. Then again…

Editing

As with any photo editing, you want to use the tools and tricks in your editing program to improve your shot. Always consider whether a crop may help eliminate distractions or better highlight the animal. Use the exposure, highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks sliders (if editing with Lightroom), to bring out the color and detail of the animal.

The Dehaze option may help, especially where you made a photo through a glass enclosure.

The new Texture slider can also work wonders, bringing out details in an animal’s fur.

Image: Monochrome can give a classy look and in the case of this cheetah, emphasize his spotted camo...

Monochrome can give a classy look and in the case of this cheetah, emphasize his spotted camouflage in his environment.

Don’t forget to take a look at going monochrome with some of your images.  Sometimes a black and white version of an animal image can be especially striking.

Go zoo it!

So grab your gear and get down to your nearest zoo.  You’ll have a great time, get some nice images, and if the song is right, “the animals will love it if you do.”

Do you have any other zoo photography tips? Share with us in the comments! Also, share with us your zoo photography photos.

The post Using Creative Zoo Photography for Awesome Animal Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Just Dew It – Fun with Macro Dewdrop Photography

The post Just Dew It – Fun with Macro Dewdrop Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Some things are practically guaranteed to make great photo subjects – dewdrops in the grass sparkling like diamonds in the morning sun, flowers and foliage wet with the rain, a closeup of dewdrops suspended in spiderweb-like pearls on a string or the crystal-ball look of a drop with a refracted image inside.  You can seek out such scenes in nature, or you can create your own miniature macro world.  However you do it, dewdrop photography will test your skills plus give you the reward of pleasing images, not everyone can make.  So let’s take a look at what, where, and how to “dew it.”

Image: When the morning light hits the dew-covered lawn it can be like searching for diamonds in the...

When the morning light hits the dew-covered lawn it can be like searching for diamonds in the grass.

Going natural

I’ve spent more than a few mornings lying in the grass with a macro lens mounted on my camera searching for the perfect dewdrop. I’ve also been out after the rain, looking for images where the drops have added a clean, fresh look with increased saturation to a subject. While often the subjects are found in nature, drops beaded on the surface of a freshly waxed car and other human-made objects can make for some great shots too.

Image: Many leaves will naturally bead water like the raindrops on this daylily. Raindrop photograph...

Many leaves will naturally bead water like the raindrops on this daylily. Raindrop photography is the “larger cousin” of dewdrop photography with no macro lens needed .

Image: A little spritz with a sprayer makes this rose look fresh and adds interest.

A little spritz with a sprayer makes this rose look fresh and adds interest.

Image: The fine hairs on a lupine leaf naturally beaded the water sprayed with a garden hose. 1/160...

The fine hairs on a lupine leaf naturally beaded the water sprayed with a garden hose. 1/160 sec. f/3.5 ISO100 with Tamron 90mm macro.

Image: Just add water to take a nice photo to the next level. Raindrops on the hood of this freshly-...

Just add water to take a nice photo to the next level. Raindrops on the hood of this freshly-waxed Jaguar add some extra pizzaz.

Hunting for such subjects is fun.  Like much of photography, it’s a matter of getting out with your camera when the conditions are right, often early in the morning in the case of dew or right after a rain shower.  Sometimes you’ll find some great subjects where the drops, the light, and the subject all come together.  I’ve not yet made the classic dew-drop-festooned-spider-web shot, but I’m still looking.  Luck plays a certain part in getting such shots. The fun is in the search. But sometimes when you want to leave it less to chance, that could be the time to…

Fake it to make it

You realize in those great movie rain scenes it wasn’t really raining when filming took place, right? So is it cheating when we as artistic photographers “enhance” our shots with the addition of raindrops or dewdrops? I think not. I guarantee the photographer created the vast majority of great dewdrop photos you’ve seen. Take two otherwise identical flower photos; the only difference being one is covered with dewdrops. The wet one will win the prize almost every time.

Drops sparkle, shimmer, refract light in interesting ways, and can take an image from “meh” to “wow!”  So if you haven’t already done so, consider adding a little spray bottle to your camera kit with some “magic juice” inside.

“Magic Juice?”

You can often use plain water to enhance your shot. If you’re simulating raindrops that might work okay. Spraying the foliage with the garden hose often works too. But when you want smaller, more rounded beads that hang where you place them and stay for a longer time without moving or evaporating, get some glycerine.

Image: Here’s the special ingredient for making photographer’s “Magic Juice....

Here’s the special ingredient for making photographer’s “Magic Juice.”

Often found in the baking section of the grocery store, glycerin is very transparent, much thicker than water, and just plain works better for photography. Use it straight from the bottle and apply where you like with an eyedropper, or mix one-part glycerine to two parts water for use in a spray bottle.

You can enhance the look of flowers and foliage, simulate condensation on glassware or other objects, give subjects a wet-look, enhance your food photography or even simulate sweat on human subjects if you need that look. Great stuff!

Image: Using the Live View mode of your camera can really help in getting critical focus.

Using the Live View mode of your camera can really help in getting critical focus.

Equipment needs

For more distant shots of things like raindrops, you might get by with standard, close-focusing lenses and also be able to work hand-held.  But dewdrops are tiny. When it’s time to get close, closer, and ultra-close, you’ll be entering the world of macro photography.  You will definitely need a tripod and one of several ways to get up close to your tiny subject:

Image: Here all three Kenko extension tubes (Canon, Nikon, Sony), plus a Canon 25mm tube, are all co...

Here all three Kenko extension tubes (Canon, Nikon, Sony), plus a Canon 25mm tube, are all combined with a Canon “nifty fifty” 50mm f/1.8 lens.  This gives 93mm of extension.  You can combine tubes in any sequence or combination depending on how close you need to get to your subject and how much magnification you’re seeking.

Standard Macro Lenses

Many lenses may state they have macro capability, but to truly be a macro lens, they should be able to create a 1:1 image. That means the image rendered on the camera sensor is the same size as the physical object or bigger. Full-frame cameras are called that because their sensor size is roughly equivalent to a full-frame of 35mm film, (24mm X 36mm), so if the lens you’re using can fill the frame with an object that’s about 35mm wide, it’s a true macro.

Here’s a quick test you can try: a U.S. quarter is 24.26mm in diameter. So, if you can focus on and fill the frame top to bottom with an uncropped shot of a quarter, you have a macro lens. On a crop sensor camera where the sensor is 14.9×22.2mm (Canon), a 1:1 shot of a quarter would more than fill the frame.

Image: Catching the light source in the drops with a small aperture produced a star effect. 3 tubes...

Catching the light source in the drops with a small aperture produced a star effect. 3 tubes plus Tamron 90mm macro. 1.6 sec. f/16, ISO 800

Extension Tubes/Bellows

Increasing the distance between your lens and camera sensor will have the effect of allowing you to focus closer than with the lens alone and thus appear to magnify the image.  Stacking multiple tubes or making the bellows longer will get you in even closer.  You can also get into macro territory with something simple like a 50mm prime lens plus an extension tube set.  Much less money than a dedicated macro lens!

Image: You can just see the end of the reversed Vivitar 28-105 zoom in this shot. Note how close I...

You can just see the end of the reversed Vivitar 28-105 zoom in this shot. Note how close I’m able to get the lens to my subject.

Image: Here’s what the reversed lens zoomed out to 28mm produced. Thinking backward helps here...

Here’s what the reversed lens zoomed out to 28mm produced. Thinking backward helps here – Wider zoom settings allow closer focusing than more zoomed settings.

Reversed lenses

Mount a lens backward on your camera and you will be able to get in much, much closer than you would otherwise.  I did a whole article on this technique which allows you to use even inexpensive old film camera lenses for great macro effects.

Image: A focusing rail like this simple Neewer unit can be especially helpful when working to get go...

A focusing rail like this simple Neewer unit can be especially helpful when working to get good focus with sliver-thin depth of field. It’s also excellent for making focus-stacked images where you take a shot, adjust focus slightly, make another shot, and repeat getting multiple focus points on the subject which are later combined to get more depth of field than is possible with a single shot.

Focusing rail

Working with tiny subjects and macro lens techniques, you will quickly find your depth of field is sliver-thin, sometimes only a few millimeters. Often rather than trying to focus as usual, (and forget about using auto-focus when making shots like this), physically moving the camera forward or back is the way to focus.

A focusing rail is a finely-geared device which, with the use of knobs, allows you to move the camera in and out in tiny increments. Like most camera gear, you can spend a lot on the sophisticated rails, and there are even computer-controlled versions for doing macros that focus-stack.

If you’re just entering the world of macro however, very serviceable versions can be had for under $50.00 US.

Image: With a depth of field only a few millimeters, sometimes focus stacking will be required to ge...

With a depth of field only a few millimeters, sometimes focus stacking will be required to get what you want in focus. This shot is a 5-image stack.

Lighting

With your lens so close to your subject, you will often be in your own light, and shading your subject. There are many ways to light macro subjects and no single “right” way. It’s simply a matter of what works.

Do you know that things like extension tubes and bellows reduce the light reaching the sensor? Most often, you will be stopping down your lens, seeking more depth of field. Adding more light or increasing the exposure time will often be required. One advantage of the latter is that a several second exposure can sometimes allow you to “light-paint” your subject.

I did many of the really close-up images in this article that way. I light-painted during the exposure with a simple LED flashlight.

macro-dewdrop-photography

Note the difference aperture makes. The shot at left is at f/22 while the one on the right is at f/5.6. The background is affected more that the refracted image in the drops.

In practice – a look at some samples

The following images show a tabletop session with glycerin “dewdrops” hanging from a strand of sewing thread. I used a combination of a macro lens (a Tamron AF 90mm f/2.8 Di mounted on a Canon 6D camera), as well as a combination of extension tubes and a reversed old Vivitar 28-105mm zoom from my old Pentax ME Super film camera.

Some of the images used a combination of those devices stacked together in a quest to see just how close I could get. 

macro-dewdrop-photography

This is about as close as the Tamron 90mm macro alone could focus. The drops are tiny, so this probably is the 1:1 ratio the lens is capable of.

Image: Using this combination allowed the three-drop shot below.

Using this combination allowed the three-drop shot below.

Image: 3 extension tubes plus the Tamron Macro. 1.6 sec. f/16 ISO 800

3 extension tubes plus the Tamron Macro. 1.6 sec. f/16 ISO 800

Image: Combining the Tamron 90mm macro with all three extension tubes (for a total of 68mm of extens...

Combining the Tamron 90mm macro with all three extension tubes (for a total of 68mm of extension).

macro-dewdrop-photography

The reversed Vivitar film lens plus a 36mm extension tube focused close enough to fill the frame with two drops. The long exposure also allowed time to light-paint the sunflower. 15 seconds, f/22, ISO 100.

Bear in mind that the drops in the shot are really tiny, around 2-3mm, so filling the frame with a single drop was way more than a 1:1 magnification ratio.  If calculating the magnification factor is your bag, there are places with calculation tools to do that.  For example, for one image I used all my extension tubes, (a Kenko set with 12, 20, and 36mm tubes plus a Canon 25mm tube = total 93mm extension) and a Canon 50mm f/1.8 “nifty 50” prime.  Per the calculator, that produced about a 2:1 magnification ratio, filling the frame with about 3 of the drops.  I achieved the closest shot (below), with the reversed Vivitar at 28mm with the three Kenko tubes attached.  I figure it’s over 3:1, uncropped and almost filling the frame with a single drop.

macro-dewdrop-photography

To get this close with no cropping took all three (12mm, 20mm, and 36mm) extension tubes combined with the reversed Vivitar film lens at 28mm. The drop is only about 2mm wide.  This is also a 2-image focus stack, one for the drop and the other for the flower inside.

Take note of how in the images the drop acts like a tiny lens, refracting and inverting the image inside it.  If you want the image inside to be right-side-up, be sure to invert the real physical object before you snap the shot.  Also, with such limited depth of field, even a small aperture may not give you the range of focus you need.  Making shots like this will also give you a reason to learn focus-stacking techniques.

The captions on the shots reveal what I used to achieve each dewdrop photography image.  So, see what you can learn here, get your camera, maybe buy some entry-level macro gear and then… just go “dew” it!

Share the images you make with us in the comments section!

 

macro-dewdrop-photography

The post Just Dew It – Fun with Macro Dewdrop Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Great Reasons to put a Carabiner in your Photo Kit

The post Great Reasons to put a Carabiner in your Photo Kit appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

The carabiner is a device most closely associated with mountain climbing, but now it finds application in so many other things.  In this article, we’ll explore a few ways you can make good use of a carabiner as a photographer.

Interestingly, the carabiner was not initially invented for climbers.  The history of the device is interesting with an inventor nicknamed “Rambo.” It’s not a story I’ll detail here, but worth a read.  The carabiner is essentially a loop with an easily opened “gate.” It allows quick clipping onto objects and then which closes by means of a spring.  Some carabiners also have a locking mechanism which prevents the gate from inadvertently opening.

Great-Reasons-to-put-a-Carabiner-in-your-Photo-Kit

Inexpensive carabiners are great for many of the applications we’ll discuss here. However, note, they are clearly marked “NOT FOR CLIMBING.”

Not for climbing

Carabiners come in a multitude of sizes and designs.  Those specifically made for climbers are carefully designed, tested, rated for strength, and marked with their load-bearing capabilities.  At the other end of the spectrum are the lightweight versions often sold for just a few dollars in hardware stores and the like.  These are often marked “Not for Climbing” as they are not built with the same care or performance capabilities of the climbing-specific types.

Image: The huge almost 8-inch carabiner on the left might have some good photo applications like car...

The huge almost 8-inch carabiner on the left might have some good photo applications like carrying multiple items or hanging an extension cord, but it’s not for climbing. The other three are climbing-rated carabiners. The one at the far right is a locking type.

For the purposes described in this article, we will cover possible uses by photographers. For those applications, the lighter weight, non-climbing versions may work fine.

As a disclaimer, I know very little about climbing. I am not a climber and certainly would not begin to suggest you take anything in this article as instruction on how to use carabiners for climbing. If that’s is your intention, go find an expert – someone you trust with your life.

In the climbing world, that really is the purpose a carabiner may serve.

Security and convenience

Carabiners serve two main purposes for climbers:

Safety – Carabiners are used as quick attachment devices to clip into climbing ropes. Those ropes act as safety devices so should the climber fall, the rope and the carabiner restrain the climber and save them from disaster.

Convenience – On the side of a mountain, it’s just you. Fumble and drop something, and it’s gone. Unable to carry a heavy load, you need a strong, lightweight device that provides security as well as easy access to your equipment (sometimes with just one hand). That’s just the job for which the carabiner is well-suited.

Safety and convenient use of carabiners by photographers is what we’ll address.

Security

When fragile things fall onto hard surfaces, bad things happen.  That is why climbers use ropes and carabiners – as safety devices.  If you’ve ever dropped a camera, lens, or other valuable photo gear, you learned this lesson the hard way.  So, what if we could come up with a few tricks using carabiners to provide some safety for your photo equipment so you aren’t punished by the law of gravity?

Image: A simple DIY camera-to-tripod safety tether as outlined here. The top knot is a clove hitch,...

A simple DIY camera-to-tripod safety tether as outlined here. The top knot is a clove hitch, the bottom one a cats-paw knot.

Camera-to-tripod tether

I do a lot of landscape photography and like to mount my camera to my tripod with a Swiss-Arca compatible L-bracket. The bracket clips into the lever lock mount at the top of my tripod. I prefer the lever clamp to twist knobs. It’s quicker to work, easier to see if it’s locked, and unlike a twist knob, doesn’t require periodic checking. After taking a few shots, when moving to a new location, I put the tripod over my shoulder and walk to the new spot with the camera and lens still mounted to the end of the tripod.

Now, I know I’m not the only one to do this – I remember watching Art Wolfe’s “Travels to the Edge,” where he’d routinely carry his camera like this. I like to be cool like Art – silhouetted against the sun with my tripod and camera over my shoulder. Never did I see his camera fall off the tripod and I’ve never had mine fall off…yet.

I’m afraid that one day I’ll be walking, carrying the camera this way, and suddenly feel the tripod get lighter and hear a crash behind me. I know my blood would run cold. A clamp failure or unplanned release could spell disaster and certainly, make a grown man cry. Rather than have that happen, I came up with this idea.

Get two carabiners and tie each to opposite ends of a short length of rope. Paracord works well for this as it’s light and strong. Don’t over-engineer this. You want to pick carabiners and cord with a load strength of maybe 50-lbs or greater to be on the safe side, but not so large as to be cumbersome. What is important is to tie the cord to the carabiners with the proper knot. If the rope comes loose from the carabiner when the need arises…yup…that would be bad.

Go online and find a good video showing how to tie a rope to a carabiner. I like the catspaw knot for this purpose. The clove hitch is good too.

Great-Reasons-to-put-a-Carabiner-in-your-Photo-Kit

Walking with your camera on the tripod over your shoulder like in the inset image, if the clamp released your camera would be saved like in the large shot IF tethered. Otherwise…     = :-O

The length of the cord shouldn’t be much longer than the distance to reach from your tripod head to the camera. Usually, 6-8″ (15-20cm) will be about right. Get a split ring, the kind often used for keyrings, and mount that to the lug on the side of the camera made for a regular camera strap.

Now, clip one carabiner through the ring and the other one just under the mount on your ball head. (See the photo). Most ball heads will accommodate this. However, if yours doesn’t, you’ll need to find an alternate place on the tripod to clip the lower carabiner. Now head down the trail confident that if the clamp releases your camera, the tether will save it.

Yes, it might occasionally get in the way or prevent your ball head from completely free motion while photographing, but if so, unclip the carabiners while you work. The peace of mind I get as I walk the trail with my camera on my tripod over my shoulder is well worth a slight inconvenience.

Other uses for a safety tether

A similar DIY device, two carabiners connected by a length of cord, may find other applications in your photo work as a safety tether. The size and weight of the device you need to protect will dictate the strength of your carabiners and connecting cord, rope, or cable. People in lighting or theatrical work are likely familiar with such safety tethers. Having a heavy light fall onto the talent below would be bad, very bad.

Even if your photography doesn’t involve talent under lighting or other equipment, having expensive photo gear fall off a mount and crash to the ground is also bad. Consider devising ways you can create safety tethers for some of your other equipment with a little creative DIY engineering.

Image: A sling-style camera strap attached to the bottom tripod hole of a camera with a locking cara...

A sling-style camera strap attached to the bottom tripod hole of a camera with a locking carabiner-style clip.

Camera Straps

I get it, no one likes a strap around their neck, and most camera straps are a bothersome hassle. But like wearing your seat belt in the car, perhaps you need to consider the risk versus the inconvenience. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen photographers – even pros – holding their camera and taking a shot with the strap dangling down in front of them rather than around their neck. I see them shooting out the tour bus window, over the side of the boat, over a cliff edge or at the zoo with crocodiles below.

Also, I wish I had all the money wasted when cameras and lenses which could have saved with a strap instead were fumbled, dropped, and destroyed. I use an Op/Tech sling strap (Black Rapid is a similar well-known sling-strap designer). It is more comfortable, keeps the camera on my hip rather than my chest, an is still ready for quick action.

My work camera uses a different connection method. It uses a mount into the tripod screw hole and a snap-clip which is much like a carabiner. Before that, I modified my OEM strap and used a similar hardware store snap-clip.

I guess there are people who “free-climb” mountains with no safety devices, people who drive without their seat belts and, yes, people who don’t like camera straps. I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

Me? Camera straps, carabiners, and safety tethers are my friends.

Photographing near the edge

On a trip to Canyonlands National Park in Utah, we had a photo buddy in our group with less acrophobia than I. (We nicknamed him “Spiderman”). While photographing the canyon at Deadhorse State Park, he was uncomfortably close to the edge. I tried not to look and concentrated on my photography. Then I did look around…and he had disappeared! His tripod and camera were still there, but not him.

Panic!

I feared the worst and cautiously peered over the edge…

Looking…looking…

A few minutes later, with a big grin, he stepped out from behind some bushes.

For our next trip, I’m considering rigging him with a safety tether.

Image: That next step is a doozy! My photo buddy “Spiderman” on a trip to Deadhorse Stat...

That next step is a doozy! My photo buddy “Spiderman” on a trip to Deadhorse State Park in Utah.

I tell that story to suggest this, using a carabiner and length of rope to allow you to make those “edgy shots” safely. The shots where you extend your camera and tripod over the edge, out the window, over the side of the boat, cliff, above the crocodile pit (Crikey!). All of those places where if you fumble or your clamp releases you won’t be getting your gear back. At least not in one piece. There’s also the potential danger to those below to consider.

I’m suggesting attaching your camera/tripod to a tether.  A good device if you do a lot of hand-holding of your camera with a wrist strap.  There are various commercial designs, or you can fashion a strap with a velcro fastening to go around your wrist and a carabiner to clip to a ring on your camera.  Fumble the camera and the safety tether to your wrist saves it.

While working near precipitous edges, it may also be a good idea to have a tether on yourself. However, if you decide to do so, you enter the realm of “climbing.” As I said, don’t look to me or this article for guidance on that subject.

If you do tether your equipment, secure the other end of the rope to something secure, perhaps not yourself. You don’t want a falling camera and tripod dragging you over the edge too. Got all that Spiderman?

Image: Often the hook at the bottom of a tripod column just isn’t large enough to accommodate...

Often the hook at the bottom of a tripod column just isn’t large enough to accommodate a camera bag handle. A carabiner makes it work. Use this arrangement when you want extra weight and stability for your tripod or to keep your camera bag off the dirty or wet ground.

Convenience – What, where, and when you need it

Having what you need, where you need it, when you need it, and available for quick access and return to its storage location is essential to a mountain climber hanging on the side of a cliff. It’s also handy for a photographer who has hands busy operating the camera. Or doesn’t have the time to root through a backpack looking for something while the light is fleeting. Carabiner to the rescue! Putting easy access to equipment within reach is a hallmark of this little wonder.

Great-Reasons-to-put-a-Carabiner-in-your-Photo-Kit

Zip-tie and gaff tape a carabiner to a tripod leg and you have a “third-hand” hook. Keep a filter or other accessory bag right at hand while you work.

Creative photographers will come up with many uses for a carabiner, whether in the field or the studio. Others marketing all manner of other goodies and gizmos have also incorporated carabiners into their equipment designs to make them more useful.

Let’s look at some photos that show both some DIY uses as well as product designs that leverage the wonders of a carabiner.

Great-Reasons-to-put-a-Carabiner-in-your-Photo-Kit

Many products incorporate carabiners int their design. Here are just a few of possible interest to photographers. Urban Gear knife, TempaBright light/thermometer, Coghlan’s waterproof capsule container, Coghlan’s large carabiner carry handle, small carabiner keychains, Nite Ize S-biner, Nite Ize DoohicKey, LuxPro focusable flashlight, LifeLine weather-resistant First Aid Kit, and don’t forget the zip-ties.

Team these with a carabiner

You’ve seen some great uses for carabiners for a photographer, and hopefully, I’ve introduced you to something you can use. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest some other devices to throw into your pack to increase the versatility of carabiners even more.

Great-Reasons-to-put-a-Carabiner-in-your-Photo-Kit

My LowePro ProTactic 450AW backpack has MOLLE webbing on the outside giving many places to clip in carabiners and goodies.

Paracord

Originally developed as the suspension lines used on parachutes, this strong and lightweight nylon cord is a great accessory to have in your pack.  It’s available in many thicknesses and strengths, a rainbow of colors, is easily cut when you need a shorter length and you can seal the ends with a match.  It’s great stuff and a perfect partner to a carabiner.

Image: Need to tighten a loose line? Clip on a carabiner, twist the carabiner until the line is tigh...

Need to tighten a loose line? Clip on a carabiner, twist the carabiner until the line is tight, then clip the carabiner back onto the now tightened line.

Binder clips

Yes, the kind used in the office.  They come in a variety of sizes so you can suit the size to the need.  A perfect photographic application is hanging a backdrop.  Put a few binder clips along the top edge of the backdrop, clip carabiners through the loops of each clip and you can hang the backdrop from a paracord line or rod.

Great-Reasons-to-put-a-Carabiner-in-your-Photo-Kit

Hang a backdrop with some carabiners used like curtain hooks on a line or rod. Binder clips work well for this, but these ProGrip TarpSharks were too cute not to buy a couple.

Zip ties –  (aka cable ties)

Zip ties are very lightweight, strong, and able to be pulled very tight and locked there. These are wonder devices.  When you can’t attach your carabiner directly to an object, try attaching a zip tie to it and before tightening, a carabiner as well.  The example above of attaching a water bottle to a carabiner is a good one.  You’ll think of dozens of other uses.  Zip ties can also save the day when straps or other things in your photo kit break and you need an emergency fix.

Gaffer tape

People in the film and theatrical professions know and love this stuff and no photographer ought to be without a small roll in their pack.  Don’t confuse this with duct tape, it will only make a sticky, hard-to-remove mess of your equipment.  Get real gaff tape and then go nuts with the many ways you’ll be able to use it.

Image: In the studio, an easy way to keep two joined extension cords from becoming unplugged.

In the studio, an easy way to keep two joined extension cords from becoming unplugged.

Great-Reasons-to-put-a-Carabiner-in-your-Photo-Kit

Not a lock, but at least a way to use a carabiner on your backpack zippers to discourage a potential thief from a quick grab of your gear.

The DIY photographer

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a real DIY nut! If I can figure out a cheaper, better, innovative way to do something, including my photography work, I’m all over it.

Carabiners certainly fall into the list of useful parts in the “goodies” bag I keep in my photo backpack.  I hope you picked up a useful tip here. If there’s something I missed that you’d like to share with the worldwide photographic community here on DPS, please include it and maybe a photo too in the comments section below.

Now go forth and photograph!

 

Great-Reasons-to-put-a-Carabiner-in-your-Photo-Kit

The post Great Reasons to put a Carabiner in your Photo Kit appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

An Introduction to Amazing Abstract Automotive Photography

The post An Introduction to Amazing Abstract Automotive Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Some photographs document an event or show a person, place or thing. These are photos of record accurately capturing an image that represents what we see. Other times we want to take a more artistic approach, making a photograph more about a feeling than solely about the subject itself. Sometimes the two mix, for instance in advertising photography, where we might want to accurately show a product but do it in an artistic way that invites the viewer to also feel a certain way about the product.

porsche abstract automotive photography

The beautiful lines of a Porsche and the curves of a twisting road. Put the two together to create a story.

When leaning toward the artistic and sometimes abstract interpretations of photo subjects, I like to remember the words of famous photographer Minor White:

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

abstract automotive photography

You don’t need to show the whole car to tell the story. The colors and lines contribute to the image of this American legend.

Applying this to the subject of abstract automotive photography, my intent here is not to teach you everything there is to know about making abstract automotive photos, but to simply get your creative juices flowing. You’ll note that none of the photos here show a complete automobile, but instead depict details, pieces, and parts.

The focus here is the artistic concepts of form, shape, line, tone, color, pattern, light, and shadow.

blurry mustang shot

The shot is blurry by design. I wanted to create a feeling of motion here.

dashboard of mustang

You can also get creative with interior images. The zoom-blur effect was added later in editing.

car steering wheel composite

Ever get the feeling you’re being watched? The patterns and holes in wheels can look like faces – a phenomenon known as Pareidolia.

Automobiles may be a mode of transportation, but they are also art objects – the work of designers who pay much attention to form as well as function. Know that an automotive artist purposely and artistically designed every detail of every car. We, as photographers, can explore that art, find the beauty, note how light plays across the curves and surfaces of an automobile, and use it to craft beautiful photos.

cars all in a row

You can make a shot like this on a car lot. It’s all about repeating shapes, lines, and patterns.

What and where

Finding cars to photograph and places to photograph them will depend on what’s available to you. I work part-time at a Ford dealership, photographing new cars for posting on the internet. These are not art photos. They serve the purpose I spoke of earlier: accurately representing the vehicles to interested buyers. The purpose, time, and volume don’t permit spending much time on each photo. However, when time does permit, the light is especially nice, or a particularly interesting car is available, I will get a little more creative.

mustang front angle

Find an angle that works and you can use it over and over. Can you tell I like this composition when photographing Mustangs?

abstract transmission composite

Why restrict yourself to the exterior components of a car? When I saw this transmission torn apart on the workbench, I asked the mechanic if I could take some shots.

You might not work at a car dealership, but you could probably talk a local dealer into letting you take photos of their cars particularly if you’d share some of your images with them.

Alternatively, perhaps you or a friend have a nice car you could start with. Begin making and showing some good work and, before long, you’ll have people asking if you can photograph their cars.

old cars

Car shows can be a great place for auto art photography. They often have a diversity of makes and models from different eras.

Car shows

Most areas have occasional car shows, where owners polish their vehicles to a mirror-like finish and proudly show them. Often there will be a nice variety of vehicles, sometimes exotics, hotrods, older classics, and antiques. Because the public is typically invited to these events, and they are held in public spaces, photography is generally not a problem.

In fact, the owners practically expect people to ogle and photograph their cars. One thing they will not appreciate (and will likely get you run off in a big hurry) is touching their beauties. Always be respectful and ask if there’s any doubt about whether you can photograph the vehicles.

And, above all, never touch the cars.

red Jaguar with raindrops - abstract automotive photography

Raindrops on red Jags…These are a few of my favorite things. The color, the diagonal lines, the iconic symbols, and the interest added by the raindrops on a freshly-waxed hood all combine to make this image work.

One problem is that there will typically be lots of people around. Because cars are covered with highly reflective surfaces, getting shots without people’s reflections can sometimes be a problem.

I have no real solution for this, other than to make two suggestions:

  1. When making tight shots of particular pieces of a car, the chances of getting a reflection in your shot is much less than if you were photographing the entire car.
  2. Learn to be patient. Frame up your shot, be ready, wait for the person in the shot to move on, and then quickly make your photo.
reflections in old cars

It can be hard to keep bystanders, or even yourself, out of the reflections in glass, chrome, and shiny paint.

red and white car

Fins up! How cool is this beauty, found at a local car show?

black and white old car

Sometimes monochrome is the best way to show the old classics, much like they might have appeared in an old film of the era. Sunstars are courtesy of the noon sun, a highly polished surface, and an f/22 aperture.

Lighting

High-end automotive photography can involve as much care in lighting as any product or model session. There are studios specially designed to drive a car inside to photograph. I know a local guy who has such a studio. It has full hard cyclorama walls, a glossy white floor, and a lighting system that includes the largest softbox I’ve ever seen. The softbox has to be at least 30 feet long, maybe more!

abstract hood ornament compositions

Hood ornaments are art objects unto themselves. Then add a sunstar with a specular highlight and a small aperture. Both images were made in full noon sun.

front of car - abstract automotive photography

The hood emblem of an old Ford F-100 pickup reminded me of the symbol used by the superhero the Flash.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the shots in this article. They are all made outside with just daylight, no flash, sometimes on a tripod, but many times handheld. Often they were made in the bright noonday sun. Sometimes the bright sun is nice, such as when the specular highlights on chrome, combined with a small aperture, create sunstars.

The point is that you don’t need anything fancy to try this kind of photography. A creative eye, some imagination, and the ability to properly control focus, depth of field, and exposure are all you need.

rusing car - abstract automotive photography

The door handle is the only touch of reality in this otherwise purely abstract image.

Gettin’ funky in the junkyard

Even the nicest cars will wind up here one day – the junkyard.

One might think it a strange place to make photos. However, for some reason (perhaps nostalgia?), many of us are fascinated by old things. In the auto junkyard, you’ll often find old classics quietly rusting in peace. The once-shiny paint fades to all kinds of interesting colors and patinas. And the layers of peeling paint and rust make an incredible canvas for abstract art.

car in junkyard

On the right, an old tour bus used by country star Gene Autry is now parked in Palouse, Washington. On the left, a tight shot of the abstract art to be found if you explore the rust patterns on the old band bus.

junkyard abstract automotive photography

Corruption of Power

A word of caution about junkyard photography: Always ask the owner if you can take pictures on their property.

Yes, oftentimes auto junkyard owners will puzzle over why anyone would want to make photos of a bunch of old beat-up and rusting cars. Ask nicely. Convince the owner you’re only there to make photos and you won’t be taking any spare parts home with you. You’ll often get the go-ahead.

Now, you’ll be working in an environment of sharp rusty metal, broken glass, spilled oil, gas, and other automotive fluids, so caution is important. (It might be a good idea to have your tetanus shot up-to-date and carry a first aid kit just in case.)

Whatever you do, just don’t head onto the property without permission, even if the area seems abandoned. You don’t want to meet the infamous junkyard dog or his angry owner.

junkyard abstract hood

You can likely still tell this is the hood of an old car. Even so, it’s really about the patterns, textures, lines, and colors.

Getting really abstract

It could be argued that the previous photos in this article really aren’t “abstract” images.

So let’s take a deep dive into really abstract automotive photography – the kind not everyone will appreciate. You’re almost guaranteed to have viewers ask, “What’s that??!!”

No matter. Abstract art is an acquired taste. But once the bug bites you, you’ll find an auto junkyard is practically a gallery of images all begging for your attention.

I took a photo workshop by noted photographer Art Wolfe earlier this year called “Photography as Art,” and he really opened my eyes to this kind of imagery. After the workshop, the auto junkyard became a whole new experience. It was suddenly a place where abstract imagery abounded and peeling paint, broken glass, rust, and decay were the stuff of great photos.

junkyard automotive abstract

It’s still an old car, but now we’ve entered the world of pure abstract art. Unlike photographing iconic landmarks, where your photo is pretty much what everyone gets, making these kinds of images guarantees your photo will be one of a kind.

junkyard abstract automotive photography

I have to wonder if this vehicle was painted numerous times over in its life, or if this is just how the paint ages.

abstract car paint peeling

I’ve seen abstract art like this selling for big money and displayed on the walls of corporate offices. I hope to someday figure out just how to tap into that market.

Go do it

I invite you to look at the shots here, look at other abstract automotive photography online, and get inspired. Then just go do it.

Make it a point to not photograph the entire car. Instead look at the shapes, lines, tone, color, and all the other artistic elements of the vehicle. Isolate these to make your shot.

If getting truly abstract images interests you, find some old cars in a junkyard and get in tight. Use the textures, colors, and patterns to make your shot. Be less concerned about what the subject is and more concerned about how the image feels.

Have fun and, if you get some good abstract automotive photography, share them in the comment section below. Best wishes!

 

abstract-automotive-photography

The post An Introduction to Amazing Abstract Automotive Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

The Highline Ballhead Review: The Best Bargain Ballhead in 2019?

The post The Highline Ballhead Review: The Best Bargain Ballhead in 2019? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

The Highline ballhead is billed by its creators, Colorado Tripod Company, as “ultralight,” with an “increased range of motion.”

But does the ballhead live up to the hype?

That’s what this Highline ballhead review is all about. I recently received a ballhead of my own, and I’ve been putting it through its paces.

In the next few sections, I’m going to take you through my experiences with the Highline ballhead. And I’ll let you know if it’s something you should consider purchasing.

(Spoiler alert: It’s a bargain worth checking out.)

Highline ballhead review

Two views of the Highline ballhead.

The Highline ballhead overview

First things first:

Where does this new ballhead come from?

The Highline ballhead is produced by the Colorado Tripod Company (CTC). The CTC caught the attention of photographers when they announced on Kickstarter they would be producing the “world’s first titanium tripod system.”

For the purposes of this article, I will focus on the aluminum version of the Highline Ballhead, as that is the product I received for review. However, a titanium version is available from CTC.

As for the specs:

The Highline ballhead is has a 70 lb (32 kg) load capacity, though the ballhead itself weighs just 16 oz (0.45 kg). The head is cut out of aluminum. The ball itself is 1.89 in (4.8 cm) in diameter.

My first impressions of the Highline ballhead

The Highline ballhead makes a great impression from the get-go.

Opening the box, I found a quality neoprene drawstring bag with the Colorado Tripod Company logo printed on it. Inside the bag was the ballhead, as well as a plastic zip bag containing two Allen wrenches for working with the hex-head screws on the head. The bag also contained an adapter so the head can be mounted on tripods with 1/4-20 screws (without the adapter, the head mounts on the larger 3/8-16 screw used by most tripods).

highline ballhead out of box

I was impressed with the quality right out of the box.

I was immediately struck by the appearance of the ballhead, both in the quality of the parts and the beautiful gunmetal-gray finish. The design is clean and uncluttered, the knobs well-placed and sized for easy operation. All the components are metal; you won’t find a plastic piece on the entire ballhead.

My first thought?

This is a well-designed and well-built piece of photo equipment.

The CTC describes the Highline as a traditional ballhead but with some special features. Striking is the large 48mm hollow ball and the ability of the locking mechanism to provide a 54-pound load capacity, much greater than most tripod heads of this size.

The CTC indicates the Highline head is made for photographers with large camera equipment. I mounted my Canon 6D and my Canon 70-200 lens, but the head had no problem at all holding it right where I wanted.

highline ballhead with camera and lens

With a DSLR (the Canon 6D here) and a large lens (the Canon 70-200), the Highline was more than up for the job.

Photographers want a tripod head that can lock in place with little droop or movement. The Highline satisfies this requirement, even with a full-sized DSLR and large lens.

This is how things look when the camera is mounted from the photographers POV:

highline ballhead review

Note the clamp-lock knob at the top left, main ball adjustment knob on the left side, and the pan-lock knob at the rear. The drag adjustment knob is at the front and is not seen in this shot.

Camera mounting, knob placement, and performance

CTC engineers designed the Highline so the camera can be held and controlled with your right hand and the tripod head knobs worked with your left hand.

The largest knob is used to release and tighten the ball. Its large size and knurled grip makes it easy to use, even with gloves.

On the rear of the head is the smaller pan-lock knob. This knob releases the head to be rotated around its vertical axis, such as when doing panorama shots. The base of the head is also marked out in degrees, which is helpful for pano shots.

On the opposite side of the head is the drag control. Adjusting this knob changes how freely the ball can be moved. This is a great aid in setting up the feel and control of motion while compensating for the size of the camera and lens used.

Once the camera is mounted and the drag knob is adjusted, you’re free to use the large knob for moving/locking the ball position.

At the top of the head is the clamp and camera mount plate. I was very pleased to see an Arca-Swiss type mount being used. This has become a standard mount in the photo world, so you don’t need to worry about mounting incompatibilities.

The mounting screw has a D-ring on it for tightening without tools. Open the clamp knob fully and tip the plate into the clamp, then tighten the knob most of the way. The camera can be moved forward and back, but will not fall out of the clamp. Balance the camera and then fully tighten the clamp knob.

d-ring for tightening

The monogramming was a nice touch. And note the D-ring for tightening the mounting screw when you don’t have tools.

What to like about the Highline ballhead

The Highline ballhead is a great piece of photo equipment, so there’s a lot to like.

As I’ve mentioned above, the Highline ballhead features excellent build quality, fit, and finish.

The control knobs perform smoothly, are easy to grasp and operate, and the mechanism allows the ball to move smoothly and lock exactly where you want it without any droop.

drop slot on head

Using the large drop slot, shooting straight up or straight down is very easy.

For a head its size, the Highline is also quite light. Even the aluminum version comes in at 18 oz (510 g). And the titanium version of the ballhead shaves 40% off that weight, coming in at just under 12 oz (340 g).

portrait orientation

The Highline had no problem locking and holding the camera just where I wanted in portrait orientation.

The head also performs beautifully even with a good-sized DSLR and big lens. My current tripod is an aluminum MeFoto Globetrotter Classic, but while the MeFoto stock head isn’t bad for the money, it feels a little wimpy. Switching out the MeFoto head for the Highline made a world of difference: The Highline head worked great with the same camera/lens combo and fit very well on the Globetrotter tripod.

In fact, I will be using this combination as my new everyday camera support system. (Or at least until I consider the CTC Centennial tripod!)

Finally, the price is the best part of the Highline ballhead.

Though I can’t say I’ve tried every comparable ballhead out there, I’ve never found a better ballhead at this price point. The aluminum version of the Highline sells for just $129.00 USD. I consider that a screaming deal for a product of this quality.

Note that the titanium version of the Highline ballhead is $499.00 USD. If shaving six ounces off the weight is important to you and the cost is no object, go for it.

As for me?

I’m gonna be quite happy with my aluminum Highline!

What’s not to like about the Highline ballhead?

The Highline ballhead is nearly perfect, but falls short in a couple of areas.

What don’t I like about it?

First, I prefer a lever lock to the Highline’s twist-knob lock. However, the twist-knob lock should be fairly easy to switch out. And I spoke with Eric Ellwanger of CTC; Eric said CTC is already working on their own lever-lock clamps and should offer them as an option for new ballhead buyers before long. If CTC makes one with the same quality shown in the Highline head and at a decent price, sign me up!

(For those who have already purchased a head, CTC will allow those users to send in their clamps for a rebate if they’d like to switch to the lever-lock style.)

Another small nit: CTC touts the large elongated slot on the right side of the Highline head as a great feature, because it allows the camera to be flipped over into portrait configuration and gives extended motion. But I, like many other photographers, have mounted an L-bracket to my camera to allow easy switching from landscape to portrait orientation. I like that the L-bracket allows me to keep the center mass of the camera over the center of the tripod regardless of orientation. It also better supports panorama work, keeping the nodal point of the camera more centered over the rotation axis.

ballhead in portrait orientation

I still prefer using an L-bracket, which keeps my camera centered over the center axis of the tripod. Because the Highline clamp is an Arca-Swiss type, my L-bracket mounts with no problem.

In other words, for photographers like myself, the elongated slot is a bit redundant. It’s not a big issue, but I thought I’d bring it up.

What is the availability of the Highline tripod head?

The Highline was originally a Kickstarter product. This means that the first orders go to Kickstarter backers, which potentially limits availability for consumers. However, CTC says they are about caught up with Kickstarter orders and are now taking orders on their website as well as Adorama Camera.

If you check the CTC website, you may see that the Highline heads are available to purchase. Alternatively, the heads may be on backorder. Regardless, CTC says their machines are running 24/7 now. So if you want a Highline ballhead, place your order on Adorama or on the company website, and you will be billed when it ships.

Highline ballhead review: conclusion

There’s nothing I like better than a quality product at a great price, and the Highline tripod ballhead absolutely delivers.

Also, note that CTC is working on two other versions of the Highline: a smaller version and a larger version. I can see a smaller version being more practical for smaller mirrorless or bridge cameras. As for a larger version, I have trouble imagining a camera that needs more stability than what the current Highline ballhead can provide!

So if you’re in the market for an excellent ballhead at a bargain price, go have a look at the Highline tripod head.

It may be the right product for your needs.

The post The Highline Ballhead Review: The Best Bargain Ballhead in 2019? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

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.

simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

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!
simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

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)

simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

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…

simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

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…

simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

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.

simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

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.
simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

5 images, each 6 seconds = a simulated exposure of 30 seconds. No filter used.

simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

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.

How-to-Use-Multi-flash-to-Capture-Compelling-Action-Photos

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.

How-to-Use-Multi-flash-to-Capture-Compelling-Action-Photos

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.

How-to-Use-Multi-flash-to-Capture-Compelling-Action-Photos

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:

 

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.

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.

 

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

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