Category Archives: Tutorials

Rob’s Famous 30-Second Modeling Lesson

I work with quite a few inexperienced models or people who are trying modeling for the first time and I frequently have to give them some basic instructions.  There are even times when I’m working with experienced models and find they need to be reminded of a few things from time to time.

Over time this has grown more than 30 seconds, but there are the major points I like to cover to help people with posing.  Even photographers who are wanting to photograph people in posed settings can benefit from these pointers, so I thought I would put them down in e-print for everyone to have available.

Arms and legs bent.

This is primarily a rule for posing women, but it’s useful for circumstances with men.  The idea is that straight lines tend to form hard edges which produces a more masculine look.  Women generally are better represented as soft, smooth and curvaceous.   Every joint should be bent if even just slightly.   Straight legs, arms and in particular fingers need to be avoided.

Our bodies are designed to generally form a straight line with our shoulders balanced above  our hips.  Rule #1 above though says bend it if we should and putting a gentile to strong S curve in the subject’s body makes for a more interesting pose.  Generally the hips and shoulders should be offset from each other and if they can be kept parallel even the better.  It’s are to tell someone how to do this, but generally starts with shifting the hips from having one leg bent a bit more than the other.  Studying other photos and practicing before your shoot will help you master this skill before you show up for the shoot.

Notice the curve drawn from her head to her feet with her shoulders and hips offset

While Tyra Banks does come up with some really whacky things from time to time, she has the experience of a super-model and frequently her ideas are important ones.  Smize is one of her whacky terms that is critical for the success of fashion and glamor photography.   Smize means “Smile with your Eyes”.  As you’ve probably no doubt heard in your life:  “The Eyes are the Keys to the Soul”.  In people photography, eyes are everything.  And even if you’re giving a fierce expression you must still “Smile with your Eyes”.  That is your single biggest connection to the camera and one that you need to nail down.

If you are tired, hung-over, bored or for any other reason not into the shoot, your eyes are going to sell you out.  Your photographer should notice this and do what they can to re-engage you in the shoot.  But it’s not the photographer’s job to make your eyes smile, it’s yours, the model.   This also can be practiced.

Related to Smizing, is finding your light.  Lighting isn’t just the business of the photographer.  The model doesn’t have to know lighting ratios or the difference between a barn-door or a snoot, but a model does need to know where the main light source is.  In photography terms we call this the “Key Light” or simply the main light.  It’s the model’s responsibility to know where the main light is coming from and try and orient the poses toward that light.  In many settings, there will be a brighter light on one side than the other.

If you pose away from the brighter light, you get shadows and more importantly you don’t get enough light in your eye sockets to bring out the beauty of your eyes.  You get bags, dark areas and other un-pleasantries.  Now of course the photographer may ask you to pose away from the main light if they are going to effect, but a majority of your photos you should pose toward the key light.

If you don’t know, ask.  Photographer’s are happy to let you know that.  Even if you’re shooting outdoors and even if the photographer has put the sun behind you, you can tell which side of your body is better illuminated and pose in that direction.

This is another Tyra-ism.  Even if the photographer is photographing you from the shoulders up, how you hold the rest of your body is important.  If your arms are just dangling, or your back is slouching it’s going to carry through your facial expressions.  Every shot regardless of what’s going on, you need ot assume the photographer is shooting full length unless they tell you otherwise.  Even if they do, its a good idea to pose head-to-toe.

Notice how her arms are offset to avoid being too symmetrical.

If you’re holding your hand’s above your head for instance try to have the hands and elbows at different heights and angles.  If your hands are lower, have them at different heights.

Dangling arms and hands are bad bad bad.  You’re photographer, may not always know how to tell you to deal with it.  You should always do something with your hands.  Studying other photos and practicing in front of a mirror will help you make this second nature.  It gets a little frustrating to always be reminding the model to do this.

Do this every shot unless the photographer asks you not to.  Along with this, if you’re leaning back on your arms, don’t put too much weight on the arm facing the camera because your tricep (the muscle in the back of your arm) will produce an unsightly bulge and the photographer will be fixing that along with your tummy roll because you didn’t suck in your tummy.

This is hard to do when you’re putting your arms over your head which can be good poses.  But you need to angle your body so that your armpit isn’t aimed straight at the camera.  Oh yea, make sure to clean them.  Stubble, bits of fuzz from cloth caught on the stubble and deodorant flakes put more post-processing work on the photographer.

Barbie Toe: Standing on your tippy-toes, elongates and tones your legs and makes them look longer. Along with this point your toes if you’re in a laying down pose. Curled toes don’t work. Avoid the duck face. It IS NOT pretty.

F5.6 is the WORST f-stop.

I’ve not done a tech post in a while, so it’s about time.

There is an old Photojournalist’s saying: “F8 and be there”.

Basically in our print film days, if you left your camera on F8 you could snap a pic of something happening without worrying about focus, shutter speed etc. and have a reasonable chance of salvaging the important moment in the darkroom, and of course you “have to be there” to capture the moment. We would leave the camera at 1/60 F8 and the lens focused at just under infinity and have a pretty good chance of taking the photo.

This works because of some photographic magic called Depth-of-Field. On most lenses (though modern ones are starting to leave this off), there is a gauge that shows you the distance to where the focal plane of the lens is focused. It can range from a few inches/mm to Infinity (that 8 on its side!). There used to be markers that also gave you a rough idea of how much would be in focus at various F-Stops. Those marks are disappearing like mad these days.

Depth-of-Field or DOF is a measure of how much of a scene will appear to be in focus, in front of and behind the point where the lens is focused. DOF is not an easy concept to master. There are three factors that go into determining how much DOF you have. It’s not an absolute. Focus fades in and out over a distance, it’s not a sudden “I’m in focus. Now I’m not” situation.

There are four important ideas in thinking about DOF. Even seasoned photographers need reminded of these:

  • Subject Distance: The closer the subject, the less will be in focus; the further away, the more will be in focus.
  • Lens Focal Length: The longer (i.e. more telephoto) the lens, the less will be in focus; the wider angle the lens the more will be in focus.
  • Aperture or F-Stop: The larger the lens opening (smaller F-Stop number) the less that will be in focus; the smaller the opening (larger F-Stop number) the more that will be in focus.
  • The distance in front of the subject that’s in focus is less than the distance behind the focus point.

So if your subject is 100 feet away and you’re using a wide angle lens, and an F-stop of F16 you pretty much won’t have to focus the camera, yet your hot 70-200 F2.8 lens at 200mm wide open shooting a subject 3 feet away will have almost none of the photo in focus.

Lets look at some examples. There are several online DOF calculators that can help you understand this complex subject. Lets look at a couple of examples using our favorite normal 50mm lens.

River Girl

Photo at F8 and 145mm makes the background part of the photo!

If our subject is 10 feet away and you’re F-stop is F11, almost 6 feet will be in focus. But your subject isn’t centered in that 5.86 zone, but a little over 2 feet in front of the focus point will appear to be in focus, and around 4 feet behind the focus point will appear sharp.

But keeping the same camera settings, we move our subject/focus point to 5 feet away. Only a mere 1.36 feet will be in focus; about 7 inches in front and 9 inches behind the subject. Now move your subject to 30 feet away. Now over 150 feet will be in focus, 13 feet in front and 140 feet behind. It’s amazing how much distance affects this.

Now let’s look at another example. We will use the same distances, but this time open up to F2.8. With our subject at 10 feet, the depth of field is almost identical to F11 at 5 feet (1.36 feet, though the front and rear distances are slightly different, but close enough).  Bring your subject back to 5 feet at F2.8 only 4 total inches will be in focus.

Shoot your subject at 5 feet away at F2.8 with a 200mm lens only 1/4th of an inch will be in focus.

Country Girl

At F4.0 the background is defocused. The 200mm focal length aids in the defocusing.

With our gear, our common F-stops run from F2.8 to F11. F5.6 is the middle of this range. Some of our lenses will let us open up to F2.0 or more and of course, we can stop down to F16 or more, but F5.6 is pretty much the middle. So one might think that F5.6 might be a good F-stop to use. But here is the problem…..

At most common distances with “normal” lenses, at F5.6 too much will be in focus to achieve that “defocused” look and blur out background elements; but it doesn’t bring enough depth of field to bring the background into focus, so you’re kind of left in no-mans land, so to speak. It’s a safe F-stop for several reasons. One is shutter speed. If you were to shoot at F8 for F11, it’s going to cost you a couple of shutter speeds. And while you might be getting a nice hand-holdable 1/60th of a second at F5.6, suddenly becomes 1/15th at F11 and your photo is going to be blurry, but now because of camera shake, not focus. Going the other way, open that lens up to F2.8 gets you some nice shutter speed, but your focus now has to be very precise or your photo will appear to be blurry because the focus depth is too little.

So that makes F5.6 sound good to me, you might be saying. Well if your goal is happy snaps of your family and friends, then it is, but when you look at someone’s photos who gets off of F5.6 and works with the extremes of aperture, you ooh and aww going “Why can’t my photos look that good?”. Well, its because they are taking advantage little or a lot of depth of field.

So if you want to work on more creative photography, ban yourself from F5.6.

You may also hear the term Bokeh used when talking about low depth of field photos. This term is frequently misused to mean a photo with very low depth of field where the background is seriouslly blurred out. Bokeh actually means the “Quality of the out of focus highlights”.

Consider this photo:

Enigma - A Red Shouldered Hawk

Here, we have the bokeh effect showing. The background consists of white Christmas lights, but they are so defocused that these point lights have formed large circles. Different lenses will render these out of focus highlights differently. For instance, a mirror lens produces donut shaped highlights. A lens with 6 aperture blades will produce a hex shaped highlight. Lenses with more blades produce rounder highlights. This quality is what Bokeh is all about, not how much of the photo is in or out of focus.

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I Heart Faces Fix-it-Friday

The wonderful folks at I Heart Faces has a weekly feature called Fix-it-Friday. Its a great opportunity to work on your post-processing skills and show off what you can do making a photo better.

The Original Photo

The Original Photo

This week’s photo is pretty good as is. The “Rule of Thirds” was followed. It’s making use of an interesting frame. Its well exposed given that its shot in shadows with a bright sunny background. Its sharp and most importantly, the subject has an interesting expression.

But it can be made better.

The first thing at issue in this case is the “Rule of Thirds”. There are some cases where it does not fit and this is one of those. No one rule fits every photo. In this case, I’ve got two reasons why I’m going to break that rule for this photo. First, the subject’s expression gets lost in the wider shot. This isn’t a photo of the landscape, its a photo of the child.

Secondly, we have a great “frame” to use. When you have a frame you generally want to balance your subject in the frame. In this case, all the extra rock becomes negative space, so:

Step 1: Crop

Now there are a lot of differing philosophies on cropping. Some photographers will crop to the optimum shape regardless of the shape of the photo. Maybe it should be square or a tall-skinny panoramic crop. Regardless the balance of things in the photo is the deciding factor.

Cropped to 5x7 shape

Cropped to 5×7 shape

The other way of cropping is to consider your output. Now for uploading a photo to a web site or a sharing site like Flickr you don’t need to think about this and the “Crop for optimal” works. But what if your going to print this photo? Well you have to think about the final display. Is this going into a 4×6 metal frame on your desk? Is it going to be matted and hung on a wall? Both require different crops and both can cause you to leave space that is less than optimal.

If your cropping for print, what size to you crop to? 4×6 is longer, skinnier photo than an 8×10 is. The 4×6 is 1.5 times longer than it is wide, the 8×10 is only 1.25 times longer. Then you have 5×7 which is in between.

For safety, cropping to 4×6 will always allow you to crop shorter, but to do so, means you have to have some negative space to crop out. So in some aspects, thinking about an 8×10 crop, but leaving enough space for a 4×6 will let you crop to any size, but you have to be willing to leave extra space at the top and bottom.

There is no right answer here, but its something to think about. I went for a 5×7 for this photo since it also was fairly optimal.

Its shaping up, but the contrast is a little flat and could use a little pop.

Step 2. Color Balance, Equalize, Add Contrast.

Color Corrected and Contrast added

Color Corrected and Contrast added

I also wanted to check the white balance and do a little touch up there. Using a simple white balance color adjustment and equalization, our image now has a little bit of pop.

This technique allowed me to remove just a touch of red cast in the original photo. Secondly, the histogram for the photo showed that there wasn’t any blacks in the photo. Its slightly over exposed (probably less than 1/3 stop). As part of the color correction step, the last step adjusts the black point which gives us richer shadows. Now the zipper is closer to black than grey and the other dark areas are richer.

That one step improved the photo considerably. But it still needs a little more contrast, so using the “Curves” Tool (CTRL-M or Apple-M) I applied a slight “S” curve to the combined RGB channel.

You could quit here and be very happy with the photo, but the frame is still pretty bright and following the advice of my first photography instructor, I chose to:

An S curve makes the shadows a bit darker and the lighter tones a bit lighter.

An S curve makes the shadows a bit darker and the lighter tones a bit lighter.

Step 3. Burn in the edges giving the photo a slight vignette.

Using a large brush soft brush (about the size of a quarter when the photo is at a “Fit to Screen” magnification) and the Burn tool set to “Mid-tones” and 12-14%, I gently went over the four corners, the edges working in towards the subject. Its easy to over do it, so I like a low percentage value so I can gradually add darker tones. If you mess up, use your undo to back up as needed.

Step 4. Selective Desaturation (optional)

This photo is about the kids expression. I could do various effects like Black and White, Urban Acid, Glow effects and so on. But I think anything would take away from the expression. About the only thing I would do is maybe continue to separate him from the background.

So far, I’ve applied my Curves and Layers using “Adjustment Layers”. Instead of changing the base image, we can apply these tools to their own layers. They do not increase the size of the file by much and you can come back later and change them if your taste changes. Adjustment Layers can also make use of masks.

A little vignetting with the Burn Tool

A little vignetting with the Burn Tool

If we think of layers as pieces of paper stacked on top of each other, the top sheet will hide the lower sheets. The only way to see the lower layers is to cut holes in the top layer. Thats what layer masks do, they allow you to make holes to let the lower levels show through.

I applied a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer on top of the background layer and set the saturation to -100 (Black and White). Then clicking on the white block in the middle of the layer palette for the Hue/Saturation layer, I used a large soft “Paint” brush with black as the color and painted the subject in. Of course I made mistakes, coloring outside the lines, so to speak. But by switching to a smaller brush and painting in white, I went back and painted over the mistakes. I continued using smaller and smaller brushes, switching between black and white until the child was in color, the rest of the photo was in black and white.

I did not want to leave the photo B&W with bright colors, I only wanted to fade the background colors a bit. I needed to get back to the Hue/Saturation/Lightness tool for that layer and bring some color back. By double clicking on the block on the left side of the layer palette for that layer, you are brought back to that adjustment tool at its current settings. I played with a few varying saturations and decided that -50% was the best.

Happy with the results, I saved the document at a Photoshop PSD file to preserve my layers. Then I saved a copy as a JPEG for posting on line.live streaming movie Our Brand Is Crisis 2015 online

Step 5. Blurring the background.

Now time to play a bit further. The background is a bit too much in focus, so I want to blur it a little. Of course, I don’t want the rocks, the ground or the subject defocused. I also have the ground texture that needs to fade a bit instead of just a hard blurred line.

For this, I selected the background layer and then I used the “Quick Mask” tool. This tool lets you apply masks to a regular layer and when your done creating the mask, you are left with a “Selection” that you can then work with just that area.

With Black as the background color and white as the foreground, click on the Quick Mask button and hit the Backspace key. This causes whole mask to fill with black, the background color. Which in effect selects the entire photo. Your photo will turn red and it will look like you’re looking through a red filter. What is in red is selected.

Now with a medium-to-large soft brush and white as the color paint out the parts you do not want selected. In this case, the subject the foreground “ground” and the framing rocks I wanted to keep, so I used the white brush. The regular photo colors come back in these keep areas (we are actually deselecting this from what we will eventually blur!!!).

Like working with any mask, you start with large brushes and then work with progressively smaller brushes, flipping back and forth between black and white to get just the right area selected.

Now with masks, in particular with large soft brushes, you will have some areas that are only partially painted so with a really big soft brush painting in white I clicked over the ground area to the subject’s right giving a gradient from black to white (red to clear in the mask).

To get out of quick mask mode and get your selection, you click the Quick Mask button again and you will see your marching ants marquee roughly selecting the area. Its “roughly” showing you the area because the marching ants can’t show the gradients between black and white.

Here comes the fun. You could at this point apply a blur filter, but that would actually affect the background layer and if you want to refine things more, you need yet another layer. So using the selection, I used CTRL-C (Apple-C) to copy what is in the selection, then CTRL-V (Apple-V) to paste it back in, creating a new layer. This new layer will just have the background area to be blurred.

You can blur this however you want. I used a Lens Blur, Octagon Shape, 5 Radius. It wasn’t enough so I re-applied the filter (Ctrl-F or Apple-F) several times until I had the right amount of blur. In doing so I found there was some area where my subject was still being blurred, so I used the eraser tool on the blur layer to apply a little touch up.

Step 6. Save and Publish.

The final result

The final result

Rob’s Rapid Photoshop Color Correction Technique

Of course I can’t take credit for this. I learned it from another photographer and I know others who use it as well.ir-leasing.ru

The best way to color correct is of course to use a calibrated monitor, color management, but for many, color management is overly complex. Since we don’t all have calibrated monitors and all our viewers won’t have managed systems anyway, we need to know how to color correct “By the Numbers”.

Color correction “By the Numbers” is a common practice used by image technicians who prepare images for four-color print systems that you see for newspapers and magazines. The inks and papers may vary from run-to-run or from day-to-day. They use a technique of using levels and curves to make sure the image calls for the right amount of inks by sampling areas of the image and working the color channels until they get certain numbers, for example they adjust until skin tones are a certain mix of Cyan, Yellow and Magenta.

Well we can do a similar process for our images. Since most of you are probably outputting photos for web use, or printing at mini-labs, if we are to avoid color management, we need to work in the sRGB color space. Most camera’s will default to sRGB and for those that can use other color spaces, like Adobe RGB, set it to sRGB then set Photoshop (or your image editing tool) to use sRGB and you will have the best bet of having your colors consistent through your whole workflow.

Now most pro’s will not use sRGB since it has a limited color range, but these same pro’s are working with color management. If you want maximum performance, sRGB won’t be for you. Think of hese different color management workflows as the difference between music on a CD and music on vinyl. Most people think CD sound is clearer, though there is a loss of information. For some, vinyl provides a more rich sound, despite the static and noise. sRGB is like the CD, Adobe RGB and Color Management is the vinyl.

This technique works well under most circumstances. Where it becomes problematic is when either you’ve overexposed the photo where there are blowouts or where there isn’t anything “white” in the photo. The technique can be used for these, but you have to be careful. But for this tutorial we are going to keep it simple and assume we have whites to work with.

In our example photo above, we have a photo with a yellow cast to it. There are several candidates for white. The boards should be white. The ice of course should be white and there are several white targets in the two different uniforms. The camera was set to Auto White Balance and under arena lights, things can get off from frame to frame.

To do a quick color correct, use the “Levels” tool. You can bring this up by pressing CTRL-L on a PC or Apple-L on a Mac. Its also under the menu as “Image->Adjustments->Levels”. If you want to do an adjustment level you can as well.

This tool has several things we need to pay attention to. First, at the top of the dialog is a drop-down selector that defaults to RGB. This means that any changes you make will affect all three color channels, Red, Green and Blue the same. This is good if you just want to correct exposure but it won’t remove any color cast.download full film iBoy

This tool can also work on each channel individually. You can select the Red channel, make adjustments, select the Green channel, make adjustments, then work on the Blue channel. This is what we are going to do.

The next important part of this dialog is the Histogram. It represents the range of tones in the image. The far left edge of the block represents 0, or the darkest possible values, the right side represents 255 or the brightest values.

An well exposed photo of an average scene will have a nice “bell” shaped curve, with the top of the curve at the center and the curves tapering off to the bottom at the left and right edges. If you see the bulk of the curve on the left side of center, its probably underexposed (which may be what you intended or a natural dark background). Generally if its to the right its over exposed.

Below the histogram curve are three small triangle / drop shaped icons. One is black on the left, one is gray in the middle and one is white on the right. These droppers can be grabbed by your mouse and moved to adjust the tones.

The quick color correct method involves going to the Red channel and sliding the white point dropper left until it meets the point where the histogram bottoms out on the left side. If the histogram touches the left side or spikes back up, leave this channel alone and visit the green channel using the select at the top. You can also use the short cuts of CTRL-1 (red), CTRL-2 (green), CTRL-3 (blue) and CTRL-~ (RGB combined) to quickly move between the channels.

Repeat the process on the green channel, moving the white point left. Then take care of the blue channel. If the photo has a color shift, then you should notice the shape of the histograms will be different for each channel. When its done, the three channel histograms should be similar.

If your photo has specular highlights (like reflections on chrome) there will be a spike at the left/white edge. Since these points are blown out (and are supposed to be), its okay to move the white point past them to the real point where the tones bottom out since they will still be blown out.

After you visit each color channel adjusting the white points, then go back to the combined RGB channel (CTRL-~ or Apple-~) and bring the black point in until it touches the bottom out point on the left side. This will add contrast to the photo (if that’s desired).

Since you’re not looking at the actual colors on the screen, but the values of the histogram, you get reasonably accurate colors even on an un-calibrated monitor. If there are no whites, this won’t work.

If you have Photoshop CS3 or later, an additional tool you can use with levels is to hold down the ALT key while sliding the droppers. The photo will turn black and as soon as you seen any spots of color (it will be red color while on the red channel, green on the green channel etc.) then adjust it to the point where you’re on the border of color spots and no color spots. This will be a little more accurate than just using the histogram.

Click “Okay” when done and voila!

Using a Speedlight as an Off-Camera Flash

We all know on-camera flash stinks. Between the Red-Eye and the unflattering flat contrasty shadows, it can take a great photo and lower it to a “snap-shot”.

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There are three main reasons why we want to get our speedlight’s off of our camera:

  1. Eliminate Red-Eye.
  2. Control the Angle of the Light
  3. Control the Size of the Light

Red-Eye

Red-Eye happens when the flash bounces off of the subject’s retina back to the lens. The closer the flash is to the lens the greater the likelyhood this will happen. Since we tend to use our speedlights in dark conditions, the subject’s pupils are wider which amplifies the problem. Since this is about angles, the subject-camera distance factors in as well. The further away the subject is the further away from the lens the light has to be to avoid red-eye.

Generally using an external speedlight mounted to your hotshoe will be much better than a camera’s built-in flash. Most photographers though will invest in a flash bracket, which

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attaches to your tripod socket on the bottom of the camera. You mount your speedlight at the top of the bracket and use a cable to run from the speedlight to the camera.

If you’re shooting modern camera’s using TTL flash metering, you will need a special (and expensive) manufacturer’s specific cable to make this connection. For Nikon users, its an SC-29 and is rather expensive ($70 at online stores). You attach this cable to your hotshoe, mount the other end at the top of the bracket and then put your speedlight into the hotshoe at the end of the cable.

This should solve most red-eye problems, except for subjects at a distance. You will also get some better shadows with this setup, but they will still be strong, hard shadows.

Angle of the Light

You can’t be very creative if your light only comes from one direction. Being able to move the light around expands your creative options. Hotshoe mounted speed lights, and even bracket mounted lights basically still give you frontal only light.

Most studio lights have long cables that allow the camera to trigger the light. They also have built-in sensors called “optical slaves” which lets them trigger when they detect that another flash has fired. But we hate cables and we are not going to be using studio strobes.

Luckily for us, the camera makers have given us a cool, wireless way to trigger our speedlight’s off camera. Different makers will call it something different. Nikon calls this their CLS or Creative Lighting System.

If you have an SB-800, SB-600 or SB-900 strobe, you can set it into a remove slave mode and then using your camera’s popup flash or a second speedlight (or a dedicated trigger), you can, from your camera, set the remote strobe’s power settings. Canon and Sony offer similar systems.

Unfortunately, not all camera’s will work with their popup lights. The D100 and D50 do not. The D70 has limits. Cameras that don’t have popup’s, like the D3 or D2X, or the camera’s that don’t support CLS with the popups can use an SB-600, 800 or 900 in the hotshoe or the specialized SU-800 to manage the remote lights.

For Canon users, you will need a 550EX or 580EX to act as master flash. In addition the 420EX and 430EX can be used as slave flashes. I don’t believe Canon pop-up flashes can drive and control remote lights. So Canon users will either need a 2nd speed light or the Canon wireless Infra-red trigger.

The Nikon SB-800 and possibly others ships with a small plate that you can slide the flash into and sit it on a table or other flat surface so that you can sit the flash off camera. This plate can also screw into a standard tripod so you have the ability to place the flash any where you want in respect to the subject. Then you use your on-camera light to trip the off camera light.

You can move the flash close to the subject, place it above them, behind them, to the left, to the right and create different looks.

A popular setup that photographer’s use is to buy a light-weight “light stand” and a hot-shoe compatible “swivel”. The swivel attaches to the light stand and lets you plug your speedlight in to its “hot shoe”. Of course there are no electronics so its really not “hot”. The swivel has a vertical adjustment that lets you aim the light up and down. Most speedlights give you the ability to aim it up, but not down, so the swivel helps in this situation.

One of the major benefits of this off-camera lighting is you can use multiple lights, so if you have two speed lights, then you can use one as a main light and the other as a fill light or a background light. Though there is a lot you can do with one light.

Of course, we are still using our speed lights, which in the grand scale of things are small light sources. Small lights tend to contribute to harsher shadows.

Size of the Light

Shadow hardness is determined by two factors:

  • The Size of the Light
  • The Distance of the Light

The size and distance both factor together to become a relative light size. A simple way to think about this is that the biggest light source we have, the sun, is 93 million miles away. In this case a really big light is so far away it becomes a small light source. Our speedlight’s small, business card sized light sources are very small lights, but we can get them close to the subject.

At the end of the day, the speed light even when close to the subject is going to be small.

The reason we have harsh shadows from small lights is the direction the light rays hit the subject. The sun being very far away, means almost all light hits the subject from the same direction. When you get a light close to a subject, the light rays start coming in at different angles which softens shadows. So for a given sized light, the closer the softer the shadows. This is backwards thinking since you would think the further away the less intense the light, but closer lights are softer shadows. Try it!

We need to be able to make our speed light larger. There are multiple ways to do it, but I highly recommend an inexpensive shoot-thru umbrella. They are generally around 3-4 feet in size and are made from a translucent white fabric. Using the light stand and swivel above you can now attach the umbrella to the setup (the main purpose of the swivel!). Now you can get really large lights close to the subject for very soft shadows.

The combination is light weight, very portable and very flexible which is why so many photographers use this setup.

Yea, but I don’t have these fancy speedlights and cameras?

Don’t panic. You’re not out of luck. There are plenty of other options from radio remotes and triggers to long cables which let you get your flash off camera. Several people, including myself have the Cactus V2s Radio Remotes to trigger off camera lights.

Understanding “The Rule of Thirds”

One of the first things almost every photographer is taught early on is the “Rule of Thirds”. This is a very simple rule that will transform your snapshots into works of art.berryjam.ru

Basically put, a piece of art, in this case a photo is more interesting when the subject is not centered, but instead off centered 1/3 of the way into the photo.

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Rule of Thirds Grid

This is a typical 4×6 photo divided into a “Tic-Tac-Toe” grid. In this case the vertical and horizontal lines divide the photo into “Thirds”. One set, is a left, middle and right thirds, another set is top, middle and bottom. We will refer to these as the Rule of Third’s Lines. The for points where the lines cross each other, we will refer to the Rule of Third’s Points.

So as a rule, your photo will be more interesting if your subject appears at one of the 4 points or uses the lines to divide the photo.

Now, lets examine this photo. This is clearly a snap-shot. I took it and I admit, composing this wasn’t high on my list. I put my center AF point on the subjects eye’s and fired.

Moving the subject left to the cross point of the top and left lines would have minimized background distractions and waisted space above the subject.

Our subject’s head is dead centered in the frame. There is waisted space on either side of him and over top of his head. A simple move to bring his eyes to the top rule of third line would have done wonders for this photo. It would have been even better had I moved his head to the top-left point with him telling his story into the frame. This wasted space, be it empty space, or a busy background is called “Negative Space”. Negative Space simply put is space that doesn’t contribute to the photo.

Now lets look at another example, this time a Landscape.

A landscape using the Rule of Thirds

This time, I chose to use the Rule of Thirds to divide the frame into three horizontal bands. The snowy foreground, the lake and trees and the sky are balanced across the frame. None of the three main areas dominate the photo keeping negative space to a minimum. The position of the tree’s prevented me from putting them on the Rule of Thirds vertical lines but the photo is still kind of broken into thirds horizontally.

As with any rule, they are more like guidelines than “thou must” hard fast rules. There are times where the Rule of Thirds simply doesn’t work. Some notable exceptions include shooting a sunrise over an ocean. If you put the horizon on the bottom 3rd, the sky better be very interesting or it will begin to degrade the photo. Put the horizon at the top third and the ocean will dominate and pull down the interestingess of the photo. In this case centering the horizon may be a better choice.

In this example:

rule-of-thirds-example-5

The subject is centered vertically, but I’ve used the grate to split the frame into 3rds. I did not do a good job balancing the model vertically and as a result there is a little too much space at the top and her feet are a bit cramped along the bottom.

Had I spent a little more time with the composition, I could have placed the Rule of Thirds line at her knees and the top of her dress and made this killer.

Now this can be salvaged by cropping the photo. In this case, instead of it being a 4×6, a 5×7 would let me trim probably enough off the top to fix the photo.

rule-of-thirds-example-4

In this case, I’m a touch off, but by putting the eyes on the top rule of thirds line. Even so, her eyes are close to the points. You don’t have to be precise with being exactly on the lines or points, but use it as a guideline to avoid centering your subject.

Most head shot portraits will fit well within the Rule of Thirds. You are probably using it and not knowing it.

Use the “Rule of Thirds” as a starting point to your creative compositions. Other compositions can be even more dramatic and of course there will be times where centering makes the best since.

Using Your Camera’s Meter to Set Exposure

In the last post we talked about shooting in Manual mode and the key to being successful in Manual mode is a full understanding of exposure. That means understanding the relationship between changing aperture and shutter speed. We discussed how cameras meter to a middle gray and how that can be thrown off. In this post, we are going to continue to understand how the meter works so you can better detect situations where the camera will get it wrong and how when shooting in manual to determine if the exposure is right.

First up we have to understand how metering works. Look at this diagram:

lightexposure

The light source, in this case the sun, is falling on the subject. The light then bounces off the subject toward the photographer where the camera measures the amount of light. In this scene, the light also bounces off of the tree, the sky and the ground and it reflects towards the camera as well.

In days of old when our camera’s did not have meters, we used hand held meters and read the light at the subject. Its called “Incident Metering”. This meter is the most accurate since it measures the exact amount of light at the subject and does not take the background into consideration.

When our cameras got internal meters, they were able to now measure the light reflected off the subject. These are called “reflectance meters”. They do a great job in most cases where the scene’s different tones all average out to a middle value and can be fooled.

Most cameras have multiple ways of measuring the light. Modern cameras will typically have three different options:

  • Matrix or Evaluative
  • Center Weighted
  • Spot or Partial Spot

Matrix or Evaluative metering is probably the meter mode you use the most. It is the default meter mode on most modern cameras. In this mode, the camera reads data from multiple locations across the frame. Some might be as few as 5 locations to over 1000. These values are then compared to a list of scenes stored in the camera’s database. The engineers evaluated over 30,000 different shooting combinations and they compare the information coming from the different cells in the matrix of sensors looking for a match in the database and it determines the best exposure. In theory, this is smart enough to detect snowy or beach scenes or troublesome backlit scenes and adjust the camera accordingly. This should cause more photos to be exposed properly.

Center Weighted reads the center of the frame (typically the inside area bounded by all the autofocus points) and measures the light there. It also measures the light outside this area. Then it averages the two giving a bias to the center area, letting it factor into say 2/3 of the exposure and the outer area 1/3 of the exposure. This is based on the fact that most people who shoot photos are people taking snap-shots and those people tend to center their subjects. This is the method that most old film cameras use.

The Spot meter measures a very small spot of the view finder. This is a very precise measurement. For many camera’s that spot is about the size of the center autofocus point and is located in the center. More advanced cameras can read its “spot” from any of the autofocus points.

If your shooting in automatic modes, Matrix meters will generally give you the best measurement. Many cameras recommend that if you shoot manual mode to not use Matrix metering but it still gives the best measurement for an in camera meter.

Manually adjusting Exposure

meter

The "250" in the display is the shutter speed, in this case 1/250th of a second. The 9.5 is the aperture, which is 1/3 stop above F8

Your camera has a gauge in its viewfinder. Older cameras might have a needle that slides up and down and when its level the exposure is “correct”, meaning the camera now thinks the camera thinks the camera’s settings will produce a middle gray exposure. More modern cameras will have a digital gauge in viewfinder that looks like +|–0–|- with a pointer underneath the gauge. Each pip represents 1/3 of a stop of exposure either over (towards the +) or under (towards the -) exposure. (some cameras will be in half stops and may show up to two stops over/under exposure). The exposure is “correct” when its at 0 .

While pointing your camera at your subject, you adjust either the shutter speed dial up or down or you adjust the aperture up or down (and with digital you can even adjust the ISO up or down) until the pointer reaches the 0 point. Of course there will be times where you don’t want a zero setting, such as shooting sunsets, or the white background high key portraits and you can adjust the camera to over or under expose for the effect your going for.

When you recognize that the matrix meter is not going to get you the right exposure, its time to switch over to the spot meter and take advantage of it.

In situations where you are in control of the setting, say family portraits, you can have your subject hold a “Gray Card” which can be picked up at most camera stores. These gray cards are middle gray. You then aim your spot meter at the gray card and adjust the meter is centered. This should give you a very accurate measurment for the exposure.

Sometimes you can’t use a gray card in that case you try to find something thats lit with the same light as your subject. Outdoors you can use grass as long as its not washed out from the sun reflecting at you or you can use a light asphalt or darker concrete to get close. I’ve even used the referee’s stripes to meter off of geting a black and white stripe in the area of the spot.

So put it all together. You have light. You read it using the meter in the camera. You adjust the shutter speed or aperture up or down until the meter reads the right amount of light. Take a perfectly exposed photo. Sit back and enjoy the marvel and wonder.

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