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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Morning Sky

shot at 65mm, ISO 400, 1/160th of a sec, f/5
Summarizing today's post: Sunrise photography, adjusting your camera settings manually, & appreciating the small things.

Before introducing the next topic of discussion I must pause for another moment to show you this photograph.

(You will find me doing this all the time because things simply catch my attention and get me off track...and I must share.)

One morning a couple of weeks ago I had gotten up from a good night's sleep and was fixing a pot of coffee (an absolute necessity for me) when something caught my eye out the patio window. I usually get up well before sunrise, but that morning I slept in because the workweek had taken its toll on me. 

What caught my attention, even before a drop of caffeine entered my body, was the sunrise over the trees. More specifically, it was the sun bouncing off of the clouds before it actually had shown itself. And I swear the clouds were pink. It was such a pretty sight I just had to grab my camera (of course) and start shooting.

I wanted to see if I could capture all that beauty before the color bouncing off the clouds had dissipated. Whenever you see a sight like this--and you DO notice things like this, right?--you have to take it in right that moment because it doesn't last long. The rich pink color had already started to fade during the length of time it took me to walk to the bedroom and pull my camera out of it's bag. I had to act quick. 

Using only available light here. I adjusted my camera to a sensitivity of ISO 400. Aperture wide open (as far as my lens would allow) at f/5. Then all I had left was shutter speed. I chose to underexpose by just a little at 1/160th of a second (see how dark the treetops are?) to show a richer color in the clouds. A properly exposed image would have washed out the deep pink and purple colors I was trying to show.


Take a look at your surroundings today and when you find something of beauty (and there are things all around you)...pause oh-so-briefly and take it in. Life and all its clutter and hustle will be right there 10 seconds later.

Thanks for reading!


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Thursday, March 20, 2014

My Lovely Wife

Summarizing today's post: Hard vs. soft light in photography, size of your light source, altering your flash/strobe to achieve dramatic results, off-camera lighting, portraits.

I love the snow, hence the reason for my last post. Just had to take a break and insert a couple photos (I have many more, but I will spare you). Let's continue with our off-camera topic now...

shot at 90mm, ISO 200, 1/250th sec, f/5.3, single strobe 1/32 pwr
After several posts of our son Gavin, and of our pussy cats, I am now going to introduce my wife, Pinky, into this section. I am picking up on a vibe here... "Why haven't you included me in your blog?", she is thinking. No...I am kidding. She is very good-natured and supportive, I just like to mess with her. We have to have fun and laugh, right?

After diving into the world of off-camera lighting, we have looked at the first two areas of interest: Position/Angle of your light source, and Distance of your light source. And what fun we have had. I could do example after example of these two characteristics of lighting alone and keep my blog flowing for a year and never run out of material. But alas, we have to move on so I can cover other things. But don't think you've seen the last of position and distance, I will refer to them all the time!

The third area of interest--when it comes to off-camera lighting--is Size of your light source. And more specifically, how the object or person in the photo perceives the size of that light source. What we are really talking about here is the harshness or softness of light. Generally speaking, the smaller the light source the more harsh (or hard) it is. The larger it is, the softer the light becomes. One is not better than the other, but they have their places.

There are many ways to alter your little off-camera flash to make it appear larger to your subject, and this is an area I love to play with a bit. Let's talk about that a minute...

Hmmm...inexpensive ways to make your little flash (strobe) appear larger:
  • Bouncing the light off of a nearby wall or ceiling. This can take your little 1" by 2" flash head and turn it into a HUGE light source. (I did just this in my last photograph shown here.)
  • Shoot your strobe thru a piece 8 1/2" x 11" white paper. Want larger? Tape 4 pieces together. 
  • Shoot thru a shower curtain, bed sheet, white trash name it. You are limited only by your imagination.
Have a little more cash?
  • Get a softbox to hook to the end of your strobe. You will get a very nice look with controlled results. You can buy softboxes in compact 15" x 15" sizes, right on up to 60" x 60" and even larger. They can be a little pricey however.
  • Use umbrellas. These are the best option for the amateur (in my opinion) who wants to spend a few dollars on professional equipment without breaking the bank. You can shoot thru them (best) or bounce light off of them when flipped around. A nice white umbrella can be purchased for about $20 and will do whatever you need it to.
That's a few equipment basics for you. I will touch more on how you can modify your little off-camera flash in later posts that will blow your mind!

Okay, let's move on...

When an object (let's say an apple) is in the presence of a light source (let's say the morning sun shining thru the kitchen window) there are places on the surface that "see" the light, and places that don't. In our example, the front side of the apple (facing the window) receives all the light, head-on. The back side of apple doesn't "see" the sun. This is the shadow side of course. But what about the sides of the apple? Ah, this is what I'm talking about. There is fancy term for this area, but I won't bore you with that. It's basically the area that fades from light to dark. I refer to it as the light-to-shadow-transfer-area. And by looking at this part of the object, you can determine what size the light source is.

Can you look at a photograph and determine the size of the light source used? Sure you can. Look at the first photo of Pinky the top of this post. In this first shot I have the strobe off to camera left 6 feet away, just about at 90 degrees, and placed it a little ways up (maybe 15 deg) so the light is coming down on her. I have done this deliberately so you can see the the "fall-off" area of the light better. [In a "normal" portrait the strobe is placed about at about 45 degrees over and situated up another 45 degrees or so. Define normal...hmmm. Another topic.]

Notice the obvious lit parts of her face. Now look at the shadow area on the left side of her head not being hit by the light at all. Pretty drastic right? You can see defined shadow lines. That's its because this is hard light coming from a small light source. I deliberately did not allow any other light in the picture to come into play here so that you could see what one single (small) light source would do. I like using hard light a lot of the time and in this photograph it highlights my wife's beautiful facial features in a dramatic way. Introducing drama in photography is so fun. It really sets your images apart.

shot at 75mm, ISO 200, 1/250th sec, f/5, strobe facing wall, 1/4 pwr
Now look at the second photo of Pinky. I have totally changed the look and feel of the frame by doing one simple thing. I have taken the very same strobe (an SB-800) and turned it completely around 180 degrees so that it is facing the wall, turning a small light source into a huge light source. Now we have gone from one end of the spectrum to the other and created a very soft light. 

Notice the the left side of her face? Hardly any shadows at all. They're still there, but very subtle. And there is a very broad light-to-shadow-transfer-area between the lit area and the shadow areas. (Take note that the two areas will always be there in some form or fashion.) This is the very definition of soft light in my book.

What I want to emphasize to you is this: To really control your light-to-shadow-transfer-area, it's not about the actual size of the light source in inches (or whatever units of measurement). It's about how close you place that light source to your subject. You can have a huge light source, but if it's placed far away, it will still appear harsh. If light softness is desired (and I define softness as having a broad light-to-shadow-transfer-area), then your light needs to be placed really close up to the subject/object. doesn't have to be close (like in the second photograph of Pinky above) if the light source is so big. It is all relational. If softness is desired and a relatively small light source is used (like shooting thru a piece of copy paper), then will have to be pretty close to your subject. If your light source is huge (such in my example), you can have it much farther away and still achieve softness.

Pretty neat, right?

I could go on and on...but I will quit for today. Which photograph of Pinky do you like better? (Hint...there's no right answer.)

Thanks for reading!


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Friday, March 7, 2014

Snow At Night

I want to pause a bit here and post a couple photos of the snow we just had here in North Carolina a few weeks ago. I will show you how I took them using only the manual controls on my camera as well.

I love the snow, I feel like a kid again when I see it start to fall, don't you? That first couple of hours of a nice little snowstorm makes you feel all warm inside (provided that you are actually inside). Now...I know all the trouble that comes with snow--traffic accidents, power outages, kids are out of school, work is uncertain, etc. But all that stuff aside, for those brief moments in the beginning, I just feel wonderful. Can't describe it. 

Whenever I think of that good feeling, I revert back to one of my favorite childhood movies "A Christmas Story". I think of that part at the end of the movie when Ralphie's mom and dad are sipping on a glass of wine late at night with only the lights of the Christmas tree dimly lighting the room...then it starts to snow outside. It seems to take their breath away. All is right with the world at that moment in time. 

shot at 170mm, ISO 1600, 1/30 sec, f/5.6
Okay, lets get down to some photos here. It was about 7pm at night and it started...

After the first couple of minutes of snow had to grab my camera, of course! Click...first couple of shots--too dark, couldn't see anything but a little glow of the parking lot light. 

Next, I paid a little attention to my settings. I was so quick to get a photo I didn't bother to even look at my ISO, aperture, shutter, and so on. I had my ISO way too low and my shutter way to fast. I had cut out all the light. So, I adjusted the ISO sensitivity all the way up to 1600. Normally I do not like to shoot above 800 because of how "grainy" the picture looks (when you blow it up), but sometimes you don't have a choice if you want to capture the image. I set my aperture almost as wide as I could (f/5.6 at that zoomed-in position) to let in as much light as possible. Then I set my shutter at a 30th of a second. Click...a little better. See above.

But how could I make this image better? I mean, it's OKAY. The snow is highlighted by the  parking lot lamp (which IS neat) and I almost managed to 'stop' the snow with my relatively high shutter speed...but blah, I'm not satisfied. Something's not right.

I wanted a little more dramatic effect. So here's what I did... [And remember what I have said about trial and error in the past? That is the way to get to your final image. Ole T&E is your best friend...and I relied on him that night as well.]

shot at 170mm, ISO 800, 1/3 sec, f/5
First things first...I had an idea of what I wanted this image to look like stuck in my head. Now I just had to make it happen. (Try if you can to start with an idea, then work to achieve it.) 

I wanted a good quality picture, so I set my ISO back to 'my limit' of 800 to see just how good I could do at that level. So that's where I started...if I had to change it back to 1600, no big thing. 

Next, I knew that "stopping the snow" is not what I wanted. I wanted to blur the snow, making each wind-driven snowflake draw out in my photo. So, I knew a slow shutter speed was the key to all this. This would work in my favor, because I was working with extremely low light anyway. So after a few shots--each one coming down on my shutter speed a little more and a little more--a was satisfied with a 3rd of a second. That's about as slow as I can hand-hold my camera without bracing it in some way and still keep everything in focus. After opening up my lens all the way to f/5 to let in just a little more ambient, I was satisfied. The parking lot light is overexposed, but I like it. See above. Now compare the two images...they are like night and day.

Now what do you feel when you look at that last photo? I feel cold! When I look at the snow being driven almost sideways behind the barren branches of that tree, all I want to do is wrap up with the wife and and get a big ole cup of hot chocolate.

I love the snow, especially when I'm all warm inside my home, peering out the window at its beauty.

There is still a little winter left this year, so be ready to grab that camera of yours and have a little fun the next time a few flakes fall.

Thanks for reading!


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