A look into travel photography from many angles: from location to light, from time to the challenges of balancing harsh contrasts in both light and context and we’ll talk about how important people can be when you’re out and about in a foreign county to bring home some of the best photography you’ve ever done. … Continue reading tfttf697 – Sun Behind The Clowns
It’s pretty much an accepted fact that the earlier and later parts of the day are best for photography, but if you want the absolute richest, warmest, most beautiful light, the hours directly following sunrise and leading up to sunset – known as the golden hours – are prime time for natural light.
This is when the subtle golden light from the low-hanging sun bathes the world in a warm glow, and shadows become long and dramatic, but not harsh.
Those hours can be short-lived, though as once the sun starts to rise or set, it isn’t long before it climbs too high, or disappears altogether. To help you get every second out of each golden hour, consider these tips when you go out shooting.
1. Be There
The first step to making the most of the golden hours is knowing exactly what time that magic light is going to happen. Because the golden light is caused by our view of the sun, the timing will change with the seasons. Exactly what time the sun passes over the horizon depends the time of year and your location.
The time of sunrise and set is easy to find in your newspaper or online and that is a good place to start to calculate when the golden light will happen. But golden hour may not be anywhere near as long as an hour depending, on the season and your location. For example, near the equator, the sun rises quickly and you may only get golden minutes. On the other hand, in far northern locations the sun may not rise very high in the sky at all and you might get golden light all day.
You also need to watch how the clouds are forming throughout the day, since clouds on the horizon will cut your golden hour short.
2. Prepare Early
The golden hour (or minutes) can pass very quickly, so if you’re not already out shooting when the golden light starts, it’s likely to be over by the time you find your subject, choose a composition, set up your camera, and take the shot. If you know in advance what time you need to be there, you can plan ahead. Go out a couple of hours beforehand so you’ll have time to get to your location, get set up, and be ready to take the photo by the time the horizon starts to glow.
By doing this, of course, you have to think into the future a bit. Rather than compose your image based on where the sun is, you must arrange your frame according to where the sun will be. To do this, think about the path the sun takes through the sky. It rises in the east, so you know where you can expect to see it first, and because it sets in the west you know which direction it’s moving. You can even find out the exact position where the sun will set on the horizon using various website and apps. Plan your shots with this information in mind. A compass will come in handy. Compose your photograph where the sun is going to be, then just relax and wait for the moment to present itself.
3. Balance the Exposure
The contrast between light and shadow isn’t as extreme during the golden hours as it is in the middle of the day, but there can still be a huge tonal range between highlights and lowlights (shadows). Especially if you’re trying to capture the sky itself in the picture, its brightness will almost certainly overpower the scene below it.
There are many ways to balance a difference in brightness between two parts of your composition. Bracketing your shots is a good start – use your camera’s exposure compensation feature (+/- button) to take several pictures of a scene with different levels of brightness. There might be a perfect exposure setting that captures both light and shadow areas.
If you shoot in your camera’s uncompressed RAW format you’ll be able to individually adjust your photo’s highlights and lowlights in post-processing, reducing the contrast while preserving as much detail as possible. This way, if one area of your photo is too dark and another is too bright, you can tone down the whiter shades while bringing up the darker shades to create a well-balanced image. This level of control isn’t possible with compressed JPG files, which don’t save the subtle information in those areas.
If the sky is consistently too bright in your photos, consider using a graduated filter that is tinted at one end, but fades out and is transparent on the other. This will reduce the exposure on only half of the image. By putting the tinted half at the top it will darken the appearance of the sky.
4. Use Fill-Flash
Rather than take light away from the brighter areas, your other option is to add light to the darker parts instead. You can do this with a continuous light source like a lamp. Moving the light closer to the subject will make it brighter, and pulling the light away will dim it.
Of course, if you’re outside you probably don’t have a lamp on hand. What you probably do have, though, is your on-camera (or off-camera) flash. Flash doesn’t always have to act as the main light source in a picture – it can enhance an existing light source (such as the sun) by simply adding light into the shadow areas of a photograph.
Flashes also don’t have to be used at full power. Nearly every camera will have a Flash Compensation option. This gives you the ability to turn the brightness of your flash up or down. A dimmer flash will still add light to your scene, but it won’t be strong enough to overtake the primary light source and create new shadows of its own. Using it in this way is known as fill-flash. When your subject is backlit, such as by a fiery sunset, use this method to prevent silhouetting. Bracket your shots using different flash settings to achieve the right balance of brightness between the foreground and background.
5. Set the Colour Temperature
Combining two light sources can cause other complications though – particularly with the white balance. Every light source has a different hue, or colour temperature. Incandescent bulbs have a yellow/orange (warm) cast, while fluorescents are sort of blue/green (cool). Our eyes adjust to those slight shifts on their own, but a camera has to measure the balance of the light so it can alter its colours, and ensure that a white object looks white and not yellow/orange or blue/green. Modern cameras can do this automatically, or you can manually select what kind of light to balance the camera to (daylight, indoor light, candlelight, etc.).
The golden hours have a lot of warm coloured light, so if left on auto white balance, the camera will adjust its colours to be a little more blue to compensate. However, if you add in the light of a flash, which is cool in tone, one of two things will happen: the camera will keep the same white balance setting as before, and the flash’s light will appear even more blue, or the camera will re-adjust itself to the white balance of the flash, causing it to look normal but the rest of the picture to appear more orange.
When using two different light sources, it’s important to notice the colour temperature of each. Then, decide which of them you want to appear neutral, and which one should retain its natural colour. Rather than keeping your camera on auto white balance, set it to the type of light you want neutralized. If you shoot in RAW format, this can also be changed in post-processing.
Remember, golden hour is not sunset or sunrise, but shortly before and after those times when your subject still has direct light falling on it. The magical golden light will transform your photos from ordinary to extraordinary. It’s all about the light!
One of the advantages of being a street photographer is that you certainly don’t need to get up before dawn to catch the good light. Harsh sunlight, nighttime and rainy days are only a few of the most desired situations on the streets. Getting up too early, before people are out and about, may actually be counter-productive in your search for the decisive moment.
The key is to use light, any light, to your advantage
Any time of day or night, be aware of the quality and quantity of light, and look for interesting light sources and subjects.
The night adds a new dimension to your street photography. There are so many interesting light sources to work with such as street lights, traffic lights, car lights, neon signs, etc. Even bright Smartphone screens illuminating people’s faces can make for a fun shot. Learn to focus manually for night photography. Even if the auto focus works in most conditions, practice switching to manual focus rapidly, it may save the shot!
It’s true that a simple slider action in post-processing can bring out details from the shadows, but that doesn’t mean that you should always use it. This is a common mistake that I see too often when the night scene starts to look like it was shot in the daytime. Let the shadows fall where they do and embrace the atmosphere and mystery of the night.
Don’t worry about noise, especially if you shoot black and white. First, you can now push the ISO of most cameras to very high numbers with very little noise. Second, the little bit of grain in your pictures will enhance the mood and atmosphere. Likewise, embrace the motion blur and the slightly out of focus shots. Who says that a good image has to be tack sharp? What’s the point of technical perfection if your subject is boring, or the story non-existent?
The key to successful silhouette photography is to find a well-defined subject. Remember that not everyone makes an interesting street photography subject and the same principle applies to silhouettes. The shape of the body should be well defined, capturing the right gesture is even more important to achieving a strong image. Many elements can add interest as well, such as umbrellas, bicycles, hats, etc. Watch for obstructions in front of and behind your subject, and if they are moving, make sure you don’t catch them in between steps. Setting your camera in burst mode will increase your chances of getting the right gesture. Remember that your subject is not the background, which can act as a distraction, so do not be afraid to blow out the highlights behind your silhouettes unless it is an integral part of the story.
In order to shoot successful silhouettes, you need to take control of your camera first. Instead to going through all the steps here, check out: How to Photograph Silhouettes in 8 Easy Steps.
Shooting into the bright sun
Shooting into the sun when it’s low in the sky can create some dramatic shots. Add a sunburst effect when possible. The starburst effect is best achieved by setting your camera at a small aperture and hiding the sun partially behind a structure or person. Experiment with exposure compensation to get a nice dark silhouette and once you’re happy with the result, wait for the right subject to enter your frame, or the right action to happen.
Street photographers love shadows. Similarly to silhouettes, not every shadow works. It should be really dark and well defined. The surface on which it shows will also play a part in the result. It’s important to strategize and position yourself to get the best possible shot, the shadow may hit a wall next to the subject for instance. Long shadows are also really interesting when shot from a higher vantage point. Sometimes it’s all about the shadow, and the subject casting it does not even need to be fully included. This method, if well executed, will add an element of mystery.
Sunlight can create some really cool reflections in windows, puddles, or other surfaces and add interest to your street photography. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
High contrast situations
Harsh sunlight and deep shadows can create ideal situations for the discerning street photographer. The sun comes out after the rain? Even better! The wet pavement will add yet another dimension and interest.
One of my favorite daylight situations in street photography is when I find a nice source of dappled light. Remember that even if the situation is ideal, not every person walking down the street will make an interesting subject. It’s often a game of patience…
As long as you protect your gear (and yourself), rainy days can provide some of the best street photography opportunities. People on the streets will behave very differently when it’s raining, creating some interesting situations. Umbrellas also make for good props. There are also ways to embrace the rain by focussing selectively through windows, car windshields, etc.
Open shade for street portraits
If you enjoy doing street portraits, then the same simple rules that you apply for any other portrait will help you achieve the best result. Once you’ve asked your subject for a portrait, you might as well go the extra step and ask them to move slightly, or even cross the street for the most flattering light. Look for open shade to avoid harsh shadows on their face.
Golden and blue hour
Of course, there are also beautiful photographs of people to be made in the early morning and late evening hours, but always remember that there is no bad light!
Never use the quality of light as an excuse not to hit the streets. Making any light work in your favor is part of the fun and also the best way to improve your skills and get some cool shots. Have fun!
You are a photographer. You love getting out there and doing your best to create great images. Photographers also love something else. Camera equipment. Sometimes you may find that you spend more time searching for a new lens, filter or accessory than actually photographing with it. When you meet other photographers you will hear them talking about the latest piece of equipment that has just launched.
Why is this? Why are some photographers obsessed with equipment. My personal opinion is that we fall into the marketing trap. Sometimes we really do think that a new lens, or new camera body, will improve our images simply because it is a better piece of equipment. That might be true, but it’s only half true. A new lens might make your images a little sharper or have better bokeh, but the best way to get better images is to improve your ability as a photographer. Here are some thoughts that may help you create better images.
1. Become a light snob
Light is the key to every image you make. If you want a good image, shoot in good light, if you want a dramatic image, shoot in dramatic light. There really is no such thing as bad light, there is simply better light for creating images.
Light is the all important component of great photography. You may feel that shooting in the middle of the day is best because it is bright, and all the light you need is in that shot. Yes, there may be lots of light, but there is also a lot of contrast (bright highlights and dark shadows). The resulting shot may be unappealing because the light is flat or uninteresting.
How do you overcome this tendency to photograph at any time? Become a light snob. What does that mean? I mean in a good way, try this next time you go out with your camera. Make a point of shooting in the golden hours. Think about the light you are shooting in, go out in the early morning or early evening. Choose your subject carefully, compose your scene purposefully and shoot it with intention. Don’t shoot the same scene twice, work with the light, make sure you think about the exposure, try your best to get the shot and walk away from the scene. Make sure you expose for the light the results will speak for themselves.
2. Become more flexible – in more ways than one
How often do you photograph from your standing height and mostly in landscape orientation? I know I do, it is natural to do that, we shoot they way we feel comfortable. Change this up a little. Look for unusual angles and vantage points. We have all seen the photographs of children looking up at the camera. Change that, kneel down or even lie down in front of a child you are photographing. Turn your camera to portrait orientation, that changes the scene immediately. If you are photographing a street scene, maybe get to a higher vantage point on a balcony. If you are in a city, shoot straight up! The key thing here is, change your viewing angle and you will change the view of your image. You will give your viewers a unique perspective on a familiar topic and that can make for some very dramatic images.
3. Time it right
You have probably heard this about many things, particularly sports: “its all about the timing”. This is true in certain genres of photography too. In street photography, timing can be crucial to making or breaking the image. The famed street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson spoke about “The Decisive Moment”. What he was saying was this, if you take the shot a moment too soon, the scene has not yet unfolded, if you are a moment too late, the scene has passed, you have to release the shutter at the precise moment.
This is not easy to get right. It requires lots of practice and the ability to sense or anticipate what will happen next. With practice you will get better and better, and in time, you will find that you will “time” the shot better. When is the right moment? It is different for every photographer and every photograph. It might be the moment before a smile, or the moment the first tear appears, the moment of surprise or elation. Each moment is different and each photographer will shoot it differently. You will know when you get that moment captured because the image will be memorable. The moment will come, but you have to be ready and you may have to be patient.
4. Get your exposure right
We all know this one, it’s an old one, but exposure is all important. How do you affect exposure? You take control of your aperture and your shutter speed. This alone is a topic for another article, but what is important is that you, as the photographer, need to take control of your image exposure and not let the camera do that. If you still shoot on Auto and hope for the best, now might be a good time to start venturing into the world of shooting on manual or even aperture priority. Learning how the aperture and shutter speed affect your images will help you make stronger images in just about any light. This is what makes the difference between a good image and a spectacular image, the exposure.
5. Use what you have
You have a great camera, seriously, you do! If your camera is less than five years old, it is perfect for taking astounding images. A new camera body will take pictures with more megapixels or better noise reduction, but I am pretty sure, in fact I am CERTAIN, that you can get some amazing images on your current camera. One key element in getting great images is choosing the right lens for the scene. The lens is the eye to the camera. If you are going to invest in any equipment, save up and buy good lenses. Buy some prime lenses and see the results.
First though, use the current lenses you have, make sure you know how each lens affects a scene. A wide angle lens has the effect of making everything in the scene seem far away and spread out, a telephoto lens (say a 200mm) has the effect of compressing everything in the scene (bringing the elements closer together). If you were to photograph a mountain scene with a wide angle lens and switch to a long (or telephoto) lens and shoot the same scene, the elements in that scene would look really different. The perspective and viewing angle changes on each lens, so make sure that you use your lenses and understand the effect that they have on your scene.
Putting it all together
By using these techniques with light, composition, timing, exposure and current equipment, your images will improve. You need to practice, constantly. Keep pushing the boundaries, do the weekly challenges that dPS puts out, try different techniques. Only buy new equipment if your current setup is limiting your photography. The best way to create better images is by practicing and spending hours and hours behind the camera.
I heard a story that a professional golfer who was one of the top three golfers in the world used a very unique way of practicing. Before playing a golf course in an upcoming tournament, he would book the whole course for a week. He would then take 300 golf balls and set up on the first tee. He would tee off from there, hitting each ball from that tee. He would then play each ball from where it landed. He did this on every hole of the golf course. By the end of the week he knew every inch of that course and he knew exactly which clubs he could use from where on the course. Try this in photography. Shoot 100 shots on aperture priority or shoot 100 shots with your 50mm only. Don’t change lenses until you have 100 shots with that lens. Then move to your next lens and do the same. Try each lens with different subject, use a 500mm and shoot some sports, landscapes and macro photos. Mix it up, but learn how that lens works and learn how your camera works and pretty soon, you will be making great images with all your equipment and that shiny new camera will not seem so tempting!
I will end off with a quote from the actor Will Smith, which sums it up in a good way: “The separation of talent and skill is one of the greatest misunderstood concepts for people who are trying to excel, who have dreams, who want to do things. Talent you have naturally. Skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.” – True enough!
Have you put in the hours? Do you have any other additional tips? Please share in the comments section below.
The post 5 Ways to Create Better Images Without Buying More Gear by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.
Sometimes the lessons are so basic, they are overlooked. This is one I feel needs to be repeated for new photographers as well as a gentle reminder for those of us with decades of shooting experience.
Photography is the process of recording light. It is the same with your eyes, every waking moment of every day you use them. You see subjects around you and mentally are so busy classifying and figuring them out (“What a beautiful red Ferrari! Is it slowing down for a right hand turn?”) that when it comes time to lift a camera to your eye, you forget to stop and think about what is really going on.
You make pictures of light first
Of what are you really taking photos? You are taking photos first and foremost of light. Most of the time it is light reflected off of a subject but sometimes it is of the light source itself (e.g. sunsets, light painting, fireworks, etc.). In the case of the former, you need to remember the subject itself might be interesting, but if the light is ‘bad’ then the subject doesn’t stand a chance.
Let me illustrate by example. These images are of the Olympic Mountain Range in Washington State, where I live part of the time. They are beautiful this time of year, when it’s not raining so much we can’t see them, and when they still have a full coating of snow for contrast. I took the pictures at different times of day of the exact same subject, but the results are different each time.
Light changes throughout the day
The images were all processed exactly the same and while the color balance naturally changed, what is most dramatic is the change in light and effect it has on the impact of the image.
A great photographer always thinks about light, even when she or he doesn’t have a camera up to their eye. It is light that makes the photo. The great thing about it is there is no ‘perfect’ that need be obtained in this regard. There is simply different light which will impart a different feel to the subject and whether or not you like that light.
What if the light is bad?
Sometimes it is the tone of the light, or the angle, or the intensity, or the temperature. The best practice for taking the best picture possible of a given subject, in my mind, goes something like this, “Wow, that’s a beautiful subject! Does the light work right now?”
This process has stopped me from taking more bad pictures than I can count. This is because I have reviewed thousands of my own crappy images with bad light, but great subjects, that this process has been cemented into my mind.
The next time you are enamored by a fabulous subject, ask yourself, “Is this the best light for this subject?” If not, your photos will be lackluster. If the light is not right, find a time or place where it will be better. If the situation won’t allow for great light, set your camera down and just admire the subject that caught your attention in the first place.
Life is too short to be taking photos of great subjects in bad light.
The post Life is too Short to be Taking Photos of Great Subjects in Bad Light by Peter West Carey appeared first on Digital Photography School.
In the last article Balancing Flash and Ambient Light Using an Incident Light Meter I did not mention color temperature or any correction for the colorcast in the background. There were however requests for it in the comments section, so in this article we will cover three ways of balancing color for flash and ambient light (tungsten yellow/orange which is approximately 3200°K, flash which has a color temperature close to daylight or 5500°K).
Color Temperature Explained
Before you go into the process of correcting color imbalance you will need to understand color temperature. A basic description of color temperature is based on the color characteristics of visible light from warm (yellows) to cool (blues) and the ability to measure this in degrees Kelvin (°K). Degrees Kelvin is a numerical value assigned to the color emitted by a light source. Visualize a lamp filament that is heated using an electric current. It starts off as black and starts getting hot. At a particular point it will become hot enough to start glowing, typically a dark red. As it gets hotter, it will change from dark red to orange to yellow to practically white. It is important to understand that technically, red light has a lower color temperature but is described as warm, while blue light is a higher color temperature but is described as cool. So remember that the terms warm and cool describe color, not temperature. This is a fairly extensive topic but for a quick explanation this should help.
Read more on White Balance and color temperature:
Since warm and cool are colors, we can change their characteristics by modifying color. In lighting we achieve this modification by using various colored gels of varying densities. Lets examine the first and simplest method.
Method One – Using Color Gels on the Flash
Here are two images of the same scene, one using Auto White Balance (AWB) and the next using Daylight White Balance (WB). The daylight WB is 5200°K while the AWB applied 3200°K. Clearly the Daylight WB is too yellow.
The background room is lit by tungsten bulbs (typically around 3200°K). We will use a flash to light the main subject (approximately 5500°K). This is a considerable difference that you will need to resolve. So if you can make both the light sources match in color temperature, you can then set the WB on your camera to that, and get a perfectly balanced image.
To achieve this balance, you will use a color correction gel on your flash, to match the orange color of the tungsten bulbs. Theoretically both sources will now produce the same color. So if you set your camera’s WB to “tungsten” you will capture the background without any colorcast and it will look neutral. What about your primary subject? Since the flash output has been color modified to “tungsten”, the entire scene will look natural and devoid of any colorcast as long as the lights are close to the color temperature of tungsten.
Color correction is achieved using gels. These gels are manufactured by companies like Roscoe, Lee and ExpoImaging. Gels come in all sizes from large rolls to precut sheets. My preferences are the Rogue Gels made by ExpoImaging as they are the perfect size for flash heads and are attached using an elastic band. Each gel is marked for its strength and light loss. As a starter, for under $10 you can buy sample packs from most lighting supply stores.
Gels that create yellow/orange light are known as CTO gels (Color Temperature Orange). These gels are available in various strengths as follows:
I recommend you start with a full CTO and adjust by adding or reducing the color temperature correction by either combining gels or using gels of lesser strength. Since these gels add color they also reduce the amount of light transmitted. Based upon the gel that you are using, you will need to compensate for the loss of light. The typical light loss is mentioned in “f” stops with each gel strength. This information is typically imprinted on the gel or provided on a backing sheet of paper. You should use this information as an initial guideline for compensating your exposure.
This method will work reasonably well. However, it is not the most accurate, as it relies purely on a visual color correction. See the result in the following image:
Notice that the color of the subject is fairly accurate but the background is still a bit yellow/orange. The color temperature of the lights in the background may not be true 3200°K.
Method Two – Gels on the Ambient Light Source
In the second method, you will use gels over the offending lights if at all feasible. In this example consider it not feasible. However, you can use additional flash heads to overcome the problem of the tungsten colorcast. You do this by applying an opposing color gel to one or more flash light sources to fill the background. Keep in mind that based upon the size or the area and the intensity of the ambient light in the background, this too may not always be feasible. Take the additional flashheads (make sure they can be fired as slaves) and put a CTB (Color Temperature Blue) gel on each. What you are attempting to do is to negate the effect of the Tungsten by adding blue light to the ambient environment. Test your exposure and set the camera to “flash” white balance. Once again, you may need to add or subtract the gel intensity.
The CTB gels like CTO gels are available in multiple strengths as follows:
Once you are satisfied with the background color, go ahead and photograph the primary subject. Do not gel the main flash and leave the white balance on “flash”.
In each of the cases above there is still some color cast in the final image. This is because the lights in the background are not true 3200°K and we have been relying on tungsten color temperature for our corrections.
Method Three – Custom White Balance for Background and Matching Gels on Flash
If possible, bring that image into Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw and determine the actual color temperature. In this case, it is 2400°K, which, as you can see, is vastly different from the 3200°K tungsten. No wonder there was still a yellow colorcast in the first method. Use this measurement to establish the gel strength needed for the primary flash. If you cannot use Lightroom or any other software to obtain an accurate color temperature reading, you will need to do a bit of trial and error to determine how much CTO to use. In this case we need to get to 2400°K. A full CTO will drop 5500°K to 3200°K and a 1/8 CTO will drop an additional 600°K bringing the correction to 2600°K which is fairly close to what we need. Leave the camera set to the custom WB and gel the flash with one Full CTO gel and one 1/8 CTO gel to get a well balanced image.
Always keep a set of color correction gels in your bag if you use flash on location. Not only will you need them for indoor flash photography but the CTO gels are a ideal when using flash for portraiture at sunrise or sunset.
The post Balancing Color for Flash and Ambient Light using Gels by Shiv Verma appeared first on Digital Photography School.
Good photographers learn to work within the limitations of their equipment and learn to cope with scenes where the brightness range is too great for the camera’s sensor to handle. Here are some ideas for you to explore – and none of them involve HDR techniques.
1. Look at the light
I suspect the reason that most photographers are attracted to HDR photography is because they like the look of the high contrast, super saturated images you often see created with this technique. It’s not really about capturing every detail of a high contrast subject.
Look at the light instead. If you are shooting a landscape or architectural study, and the brightness range of the scene is too much for your camera to handle, you are most likely shooting in the wrong light for the subject. Wait until the sun is lower in the sky and the light is softer. The quality of the light will be better, the brightness range will be less, and the photo will be better.
2. Let shadows go dark
You don’t have to see into the shadows. Let them go dark. If the brightness is too bright, expose for the highlights (i.e make sure the camera captures all highlight detail) and let the shadows go where they will. It won’t work all the time – sometimes you just need better light (see tip one). But exposing for the highlights and letting the shadows go dark is a good exercise in observation and creating images. Work with the light to create graphic images, not against it.
You can take this even further in post-processing. Photographers Eduardo Izquierdo and Tom Hoops both deliberately make dark backgrounds in their portraits darker or even black so that the viewer’s attention goes straight to the model, without distractions. Maybe it’s time for a low dynamic range setting on our cameras?
3. Exposure blending
Sometimes you will come across a scene like the one above where the brightness range is too much for your camera but the quality of the light is good. The issue here is the difference in brightness between the light coming through the window and the light illuminating the interior of the building. If you expose for the interior, the window will burn out. If you expose for the window, you won’t get much detail in the interior.
So what do you do if you want good detail in both? The answer is to take two separate exposures, as in the examples above, and blend them in Photoshop. Ideally the camera should be on a tripod so that the images match exactly, but I was able to do that with the above photos even though they were hand-held and slightly out of register:
4. Exposure blending in the landscape
Landscapes are another area where you may have good quality of light, but the brightness range is still too great for your camera. That’s because the sky is often much brighter than the landscape itself. You may also want to make the sky darker for dramatic effect (as well as to capture more detail).
One solution is to use a neutral density graduated filter; a square or rectangular filter that is clear at the bottom and dark at the top that clips into a holder screwed onto the front of your lens. You move it up or down so that the dark half blocks some of the light from the sky and effectively reduces the brightness range of the scene.
Grads are great, but they’re not perfect. They work well when the horizon is a straight line across the photo, but badly if it has an irregular shape. Good quality grads are expensive, and cheap ones may give your sky a magenta colour cast.
Exposure blending resolves those issues. Just like the previous example, you need to take two photos – one exposed for the sky, and the other for the landscape itself:
Then you can blend the two together in Photoshop. The idea is to create a blend that looks natural to the eye, so that means making sure the sky isn’t too dark, or that the landscape isn’t too light, otherwise it won’t look right. You end up with something like this:
The Photoshop techniques used for this can get quite involved. Christopher O’Donnell has written a good article about it here.
My latest ebook, Mastering Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Using Digital Cameras introduces you to digital photography and helps you make the most out of your digital cameras. It covers concepts such as lighting and composition as well as the camera settings you need to master to take photos like the ones in this article.
Photographers often deal with a variety of light sources, each of which has it’s own color cast. When compared to daylight in the middle of the day, tungsten lighting, like that which comes from traditional incandescent bulbs, looks yellow. Standard fluorescent lighting looks green. Light in shade, or on a cloudy day will have a bluish cast compared to midday sun. These color casts are referred to as the color temperature of the light. Color temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin. To beginners, color temperature will appear to be a bit backwards. From 2000°K to about 3000°K are warm tones, and above 5000°K are cooler tones, getting progressively more bluish as the color temperature goes higher. Midday sun tends to be at around 5500°K – 6000°K, while the sun at the horizon is warmer, at about 5000°K. Overcast daylight will be around 6500°K, and shaded daylight will be around 7000°K.
Thankfully, today’s digital cameras have a tool to correct for the different color casts created by the various light sources we encounter. For beginners, using the Auto White Balance setting is an excellent start. The camera will try to neutralize the color cast caused by different light sources and give the image a pleasing balance. However, while a neutral color balance is often desirable, there are times when as artists, we may want to use the white balance tool to creative effect.
You can choose what kind of mood you want to set before shooting if you like, by choosing a preset white balance. Most cameras offer Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Fluorescent, Tungsten, Flash, Custom, and Kelvin temperature white balance settings. These settings will neutralize the color cast from the light source they are designed for. For instance, Fluorescent neutralizes the greenish cast given off by fluorescent light. Custom white balance is a user defined setting where you tell the camera what in the scene should be white, and the camera corrects to make it so. Finally, the Kelvin white balance setting allows you to choose the color temperature of the light source you are shooting in. If you choose to use the presets in lighting other than what they are designed for, your image will be warmer or cooler, depending on your setting and the available light.
For all of those settings, the camera is simply looking to make white look white. While that may be what you want, by intentionally setting a different white balance, you can add to the mood. Choosing Shady or Cloudy white balance will warm up your image, and choosing tungsten will cool your image. This type of thing is done constantly in movies and television shows to help set the mood. Photographers as well choose their white balance to set the mood. A cooler color cast gives the image a colder, harsher feel, while a warm color cast is generally seen as inviting.
If you shoot only JPEG, you’ll be stuck with whatever white balance you had selected at the time of shooting, so if you want to change the mood by adjusting your white balance, you’ll have to choose to do this beforehand. However, if you shoot RAW, the white balance can be adjusted after the fact, using whichever RAW converter you choose. You’ll be able to choose from the presets that are loaded in the camera, click in the image to determine what color should actually be white, or you can simply select Kelvin white balance, and using a slider, adjust the white balance in degrees Kelvin and see what the different color temperatures look like.
By taking control of the white balance, you give yourself another tool that can alter the mood of your images and allow you to better communicate what you want to say with your image. Not every image will benefit by shifting the white balance setting, and there will be some photographers who will be adamant that you should always shoot to the “correct” white balance. As the artist, this is your time to exercise your creative license and do what feels right to you.
One of the easiest ways to start shooting portraits is to use natural light. There’s no added expense of buying speedlites or strobes, or even continuous lighting. You don’t have to decide where to put the lights, because let’s face it, nature has decided for you. There are still challenges however, and those challenges must be overcome to successfully pull off a natural light portrait. One of the biggest challenges is what to do when the natural light just is not pleasing. Maybe it’s midday sun and the light is too harsh, or maybe it’s later in the day and direct sun is shining right in your subject’s eyes. In my post “Sun Too Harsh? Modify it!”, I discussed ways to use reflectors and scrims to modify natural light to get a more pleasing look.
But what happens if you don’t have a reflector or a scrim? Well then you have it made in the shade! Find some shade, and you’ll find some soft, indirect lighting that can help you create beautiful portraits. Look for a large tree with overhanging branches. Or a doorway. Or an overpass of some kind. Anything that gets you out of direct sun, and into indirect light. It does you no good if there’s no light getting to your subject, but once you find a place with indirect lighting, you’re all set.
The light will be soft and even- and very pleasing. The background will likely go a little darker depending on where you found your shade, be it under a tree, where it might be brighter, or in a doorway or behind a building. Look around, see what you can make happen. And just because your subject is facing out towards the light, doesn’t mean you need to be. Walk around your subject- get that soft light hitting from the side, as well as the front. Just keep your subject positioned so the light is hitting the mask of the face, including the eyes. Just because the light is not pleasing doesn’t mean all is lost. Sometimes, all you need to do is find some shade.
A good friend of mine is passionate about photography, and she recently acquired a reminder of the way she approaches photography. A tattoo that wraps around her bicep that states simply “Shoot With Intent”. This is one of the biggest lessons a beginning photographer can learn. It’s very easy to go out with a camera, set it on AUTO, and come back with some nice, perhaps even great images. Today’s cameras make that fairly easy, even without shooting on full auto. If you’re using aperture priority or shutter priority, just allowing the camera to come up with an correct exposure, you can still great images without considering all aspects of the exposure. However, without considering all aspects of the exposure and allowing the camera to make decisions for you, you’re not really shooting with intent.
Shooting with intent means you take into consideration all aspects of the image you’re creating. It starts with the lens you choose to put on your DSLR and carries all the way from subject and composition, to shutter speed, ISO, and aperture, you think through every aspect of the shot, and how those variables will affect the image. Let’s assume you’ve chosen a lens, a subject, and decided how you want to compose the image, since those are the two most basic aspects of creating an image. You look through the viewfinder, or on the LCD screen, and you decide where things should go in the frame. That’s about half of the decisions you need to make right there.
Next, you need to consider the three aspects of exposure- aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. This is a balancing act where you need to prioritize what’s most important to you. Take your aperture. Let’s say you’ve decided you want everything in focus. You’ll want to select a smaller aperture, say, f/11 or even f/16 to provide the greatest depth of field. But then what about your shutter speed? If you’re in Aperture Priority mode, the camera will figure that out for you. But if there’s something moving in the shot- trees blowing in the wind, a waterfall, or waves on the ocean, or even people- is that something you want to just leave to the camera?
You can still be in Aperture Priority and pay attention to your shutter speed. Let’s assume you’re shooting a water feature. If you want smooth, misty water, you’ll know you need a slower shutter speed. But how slow? That depends on what the water is doing, and on how you want the water to look. That’s where your INTENT comes in. If you still want some definition in the water, you’ll want a slightly faster shutter speed that allows for that. How fast depends on how fast the water is moving. If you want that milky look to the water, you’ll want a slower shutter speed. Again, how slow depends on the water’s movement.
The point is, before just allowing the camera to set the shutter speed, or the aperture, or anything else, regardless of what mode you’re in, figure out what it is you really want out of this capture. Decide what your intent is, and double check what the camera is doing to be sure that your intent is carried through. And if it isn’t? Change it.
Make sure your images say what you meant to say. Be sure your intent is clear.