St James Cathedral, Toronto

I did a “Composition In The Field” tutorial walk in Toronto today for Digital Photo Academy. We mainly stayed in, or in the direct vicinity, of St James’ Cathedral.

Because it was cold. But also because there’s plenty to see in a given environment, once you open your eyes. And once you see it, you can apply compositional rules that are just about standard (and that I teach at gathering like this) . And then you can break them when you have good reason to. In the end, you end up with some good pictures.

Like this:

20161210-1dx_2602-1024

20161210-1dx_2606-1024

20161210-1dx_2608-1024

20161210-1dx_2611-1024

20161210-1dx_2612-1024

20161210-1dx_2575-1024

20161210-1dx_2581-1024

20161210-1dx_2589-1024

A church, by the way, also has interesting insights into a world that is no more.

20161210-mw5d2292-1024

Try to put yourself in M. Keating’s position: one moment he has a pregnant wife; then suddenly he has only a son; then a week later he has nothing. From happy and “everything is going our way” to two funerals in two weeks, and then Christmas. What a world that was, in 1832.

Back to here and now. Composition rules and camera use: If you want to learn the same, please contact me.

Meanwhile: why are you reading this, instead of going out to take some pictures of whatever is outside or inside?

 

Fill, but not too much.

When doing a portrait, you use a main (“key”) light, a fill light, and optionally, a background light and a hair/edge light.

The purpose of that fill light, oddly, is to be darker than the main light. This introduces depth into your picture, and it narrows the subject’s face.

OK, so fill is darker than key, But perhaps not completely dark, like here:

20161023-1dx_1386-900

Nice and atmospheric, but perhaps a little too much drama.

So we add that fill light, but set it, say, two stops below the main light (so if your meter reads an aperture of f/8 for the main light, it should read f/4 for the fill light). Now we get what we wanted:

20161023-1dx_1387-900-2

If you make it too bright, i.e. you do not set it two stops below the key light but you set it at the same brightness, you might get something like this:

20161023-1dx_1387-900-4

As you see, the face looks wider now, and it loses that “real”, three-dimensional look.

So you should probably start at –2 stops for the fill light, and then adjust to taste: you are the artist, after all!

–––

Learn to do it yourself! Michael teaches portrait lighting and many, many other photography subjects at Sheridan College in Oakville, and to small groups or individual students all over the world, in person or via Google Hangouts. See http://learning.photography for details. 

 

Macro/Product Tip

When you shoot product, like this, there is something to watch for.

20161206-mw5d1984-1024-2

The original is not quite so clean. Especially when using a flash, macro photos always show dust. Look at the original (click to see large):

20161206-mw5d1984-1024

All that dust has to be removed. A clean product photo never starts out as a clean photo.

Here’s a few more shots:

20161206-mw5d2133-1200

20161206-mw5d2115-1024

The thing to note is that those are not clean yet—yet they have each already had the benefit of half an hour of removing little dust spots.  If you ever shoot product, budget that time!

___

And you can do it: product photography is one of the many things I can teach you: see http://learning.photography for an overview.

 

Quick! Flash!

Speedlighter.ca. Speedlighter. Speedlighter!

So yeah, let me talk about speed for a moment. Speed as in “fast exposure speed, in order to freeze movement”. Fast exposure speed = short exposure time. 1/2 second is a long exposure time, i.e. a slow exposure. 1/1000 second, on the other hand, is a short exposure time, i.e. a fast exposure.

So how so you get a fast exposure time? One of two ways, it turns out. Either one of:

  • A short shutter time, or
  • A short light flash.

You see, what matters is the duration during which the light reaches the sensor. Whether that is short because the shutter only opens for a short time or because the light itself only flashes for a short time makes no difference at all. It is the same thing. A short exposure.

So let’s say I’m taking a fresh picture of a rapidly spinning spinning top. And let’s say further that I want to freeze the motion, to see the spinning top detail. Since I’m using a flash, I cannot use a fast flash shutter speed; The fastest I can go with my 5D camera is 1/200 of a second. So I’m going to have to achieve a fast exposure by using a short flash of light.

Fortunately, that is exactly what a flash fires. At full power it fires a flash of about 1000th of a second, or 1/4000 second at 1/4 power. Nice. Assuming that ambient light plays no role, your effective shutter speed is now nice and fast: 1/4000 second.

But not fast enough:

20161205-mw5d1909-1200
(1/200 sec, 400 ISO, f/32, 1/4 power flash)

OK, it’s still blurry, because it is spinning rather fast, so even 1/4000 second cannot freeze that motion. Now what?

The solution is in the sentence above: “At full power it fires a flash of about 1000th of a second, or 1/4000 second at 1/4 power”.

Because how does a flash set its power? Simply by shortening the time that it is on. Full power means 1/1000 second on a typical flash (small or large). Any longer and it overheats and burns out. So:

  • Half power means 1/2000 second, half the time.
  • Quarter power means a quarter of the original time, so 1/4000 second.

Oh wait. So “lower power flash” means “shorter duration flash”?

Yes! So if I set the flash to 1/128 power, I get an effective exposure time of 1/128,000 second. That’s like a really, really fast shutter:

20161205-mw5d1908-1200
(1/200 sec, 400 ISO, f/5.6, 1/128 power flash)

Now, as you see, with an effective exposure time of about 1/128,000 second, the top’s motion is completely frozen. So while my shutter speed is unchanged, it does not matter. The light is only on for 1/128,000 second. So that is my effective shutter speed.

The lesson? To freeze motion, use low power flash. The lower the better.

 

The Clouds

The Clouds is, in fact, a play by Aristophanes. He who also wrote “Lysistrata”. And who said, famously, that “under every stone there lurks a politician”. If you want to understand ancient Athens and its parallels to today, read Aristophanes’ plays (and their explanations to a modern audience).

But if you want to store your images away from home, there’s the cloud. Singular.

Alas: while The Clouds is ancient history, the cloud is not quite ready. It offers great advantages, of course. Backups that actually get done. Off-site storage. Storage that is accessible from everywhere. One place for your files. Unlimited storage.

But the drawback in today’s world is simple: speed. An image can easily be 15-20 MB, and a shoot can contains hundreds of such images. Until we all have fast fibre right into the house, and all the routers are fast, it is just not practical. The infrastructure does not quite support it. Yet. Try moving a year’s shoots to another provider (you cannot be locked in)—you will see it will take days or weeks or even longer. So the cloud is not there yet for us.

It will be, of course—this is one area where Moore’s Law still holds. As long as human law does not protect the Telco’s and we have a reasonably open, competitive market, speeds to the home will increase

Until that time: store all your images on a hard disk. And back them up onto another disk. And then back them up onto another disk, which you keep off-site, in someone else’s home or studio. Only then can you relax. Each image must be in at least two places, preferably in at least three, one of which should be offsite. Don’t lose your images – every hard disk fails. Not IF, but WHEN.

And if you fail to heed my advice, like the Athenians failed to listen to Aristophanes’ anti-war message, then so be it—just don’t say I did not warn you.