Heavenly Light

First Baptist Church, Cary, North Carolina

Made this while walking on Academy Street to photograph dancers performing in Cary.

Classic “Sunny 16” within 1/2 stop of light due to partial overcast.

Set ISO to 100 for best quality image  & Aperture at f8 for single subject and lens sweet spot.

Shutter at 1/400th of a second keeps it sharp without a tripod and tree leaves still.  Increased exposure about 1/3 stop in edit

Manual Exposure Epiphany & A Sunday Walk

I’ve had a “Daily” folder of photographs since 2009.  The first were portraits of a contractor’s kids that came with Dad to see the finished addition he’d built us. Next  were thunder clouds & a plane on approach to RDU, made from a parking lot in Morrisville. I was starting to look around and see.  My Epiphany was taking control by using manual exposure to make the images I saw, instead of hoping the camera’s programmers knew what I was thinking.

My gateway to Manual Exposure was reading Bryan Peterson’s “Understanding Exposure” and reading The Ultimate Exposure Computer until I knew it.  Bought the first at Barnes & Noble, the other is a free download.  I’m not affiliated with Amazon, just wanted to show the book.

Understanding exposure is very straight forward but it takes some effort to learn a few ideas and then, practice to get used to them.  If you learned it with film, you still got it.  Like riding a bicycle.  That doesn’t mean you’ll qualify for the Tour de  Paris but you can probably get where you want to go.

So yesterday, like a lot of days since, I took along a camera and it wasn’t a paid shoot.  It’s the practice thing.  It’s the “how” part and the muscle memory and seeing which all need to be used or they atrophy.  It partly explains why I’ve been using the same brand and series of cameras since 2007.  I can and do use them in the dark, by feel.  The benefit from frequent camera use is getting rid of the self consciousness and preoccupation while out with the “really nice camera”.  It’s simply a tool, use it. That enables the good part, which brings us back to yesterdays walk.

What could be better on a beautiful Sunday afternoon before dinner than a walk?

Image 1 is “Buddy” who is a rescue dog and skittish about strangers and a regular on our walks.  While his owner does yard chores, he surveys his realm. Each time we’ve met, he has allowed us closer.  On this visit with his owner, he didn’t run away. He briefly ignored me when I knelt down to his nose level because my wife spoke to him.  I set exposure before I knelt, knowing he wasn’t staying put.  It was “Sunny 16” except for the patch of shade on him.  I got one frame before he moved away.  The good news is, his owner asked for my card and wants to have a family portrait made. Which is another reason to go walkabout with a camera.  I don’t take the trash out without a business card. Trust me, you’ll need it when you don’t have it.

  1. Buddy: Top Lit, hard sun & patches of shade, medium key, f8, 1/320, ISO 400.

01 Loop Walk

The next two images are two different mailboxes and two different exposures.

2.  Blue Clematis: Top lit, low key, shaft of sun light coming through trees like a spotlight, surrounded by shade.  Lit like a studio setup by Mother Nature, saw this walking down the street.  F8, 1/400 and ISO 100 so Sunny 16 except I swapped two stops of aperture for two stops of shutter speed in my exposure budget.

02 Loop Walk3.  Blue Clematis: Top lit with the soft diffuse light of heavy shade and some bits of hazy sun. Medium key, f2.8, 1/800, ISO 400 so Sunny 16 minus 4 stops.   A week ago, there was only one blossom.  Had to back up as my lens had a MFD ( Minimum Focus Distance) of 3 ft.  I used  the maximum aperture of f2.8 to emphasize the flat single plane of the blossoms in sharper focus from the rest of the background.  Shutter speed of 1/800 for wind picking up.

03 Loop Walk4. Hybrid Encore Azalea: These are still blooming and just like them. Back Light, hard direct sun, high contrast, low key.   F8 to keep the whole blossom sharp and I maxed my shutter to 1/8000 to make the background go dark, bumped ISO to 800 which is still pretty noise free.

04 Loop Walk

Image 5 is actually is two frames side by side to show the difference when you  move a little with the same exposure but different backgrounds. This is a flower box on our deck rail.  On the left image, I crouched down so the background was the dark tree canopy.  On the right, I stood up an swiveled a bit so the bright Tulip Poplar trunk was the background.  

5. Two Exposures of a violet flower: Top front light, hard sun, low and medium key respectively.  F2.8, 1/2500, ISO 200 or just about Sunny 16 except 2.8 to isolate the blossom from the background, almost 4 1/2 stops of shutter speed to offset the wide aperture and the wind and ISO 200 for a little bump in sensitivity.

05 Loop WalkI could have made all these images with Program, or Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority Modes but they wouldn’t have looked like I wanted.  Also and importantly, I could make one exposure decision and then frame with the zoom without having to recalculate for variable aperture.  All my lenses are constant aperture.

None of these will win awards but I have to make them to have a chance.

Gear used in this post: Pentax K5IIs camera, Pentax 50-135/2.8 lens.

Editing Tools used in this post: Adobe CC2015, Nik Collection, Pixel Genius Photokit, Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet, Pantone Huey Pro

 

Made In The U.S.A.

Commercial product photography is rare for me but I’m always pleased when  clients call me back.  In the spring of 2014, I did a shoot for the website of Curtis Blake Leather.  This spring, their assignment was to photograph a new line of wine and beer totes with the idea of having some images for boutique magazine use.

01 CB 2016The first step, just like a portrait session, was to meet with the client, learn about the products, what they wanted and propose some ideas.  My client wanted to use a setting we’d used before.  It suited the products and it would help maintain a consistent look and feel with the existing web content.  I proposed some studio setups that would allow me to control the lighting more completely than an outdoor location.  We agreed on some approaches and I planned the shoots(s).

While the lighting was very different for the outdoor and indoor setups, some basics were the same.

To get the sharpest possible image, the camera was mounted on a tripod and the shutter triggered remotely.  I also used a shutter release with a 2 second delay and MLU ( Mirror Lock Up).  The tripod holds the camera still and the remote trigger eliminates vibration by not touching the camera shutter button.  When the shutter is tripped, the mirror in a SLR or DSLR flips up, introducing vibration. Locking the mirror up and using a 2 second delay before the shutter fires allows the mirror vibrations to dampen, maximizing sharpness. Mirrorless cameras eliminate this variable.

Outdoors, I used an aperture of f8. Generally 2 or 3 stops from the widest aperture is the sharpest or “sweet spot” of a lens.  I didn’t need a wide aperture to isolate the subject from background, everything was in the same plane of focus.

Lighting the outdoor images was a matter of balancing the ambient light with a pair of manual speed lights or hot shoe flashes.  Without the flashes, everything would look flatter and the texture of the leather barely seen.   With flash, I could establish the modelling and contrast I wanted, to show the product at its best. It was a simple setup with two remotely triggered flashes on light stands, camera left and right.  Ambient or daylight was part of the “fill” and the speed lights were “main” or “key”.  As always, I moved them and adjusted power to get the direction and ratios I wanted.  Instant review on a digital camera is the modern Polaroid test shot and it’s a wonderful tool.  While I didn’t make detailed notes of the lighting setup, I did use “snoots” to concentrate the flash output.  Using bare flash as a point source gave me the hard light I wanted to match the character of the leather.

Indoors was more complex to setup but simpler to light.  Ambient light was a non issue.  I set my aperture for f11, ISO 100 and Shutter for 1/160 so if there was no flash, the image was completely dark.  The only light that would be recorded would come from the flash.  When I had the set built, I put a single gridded light on a boom directly above the setup. Again, I moved it adjusted power to get the directions and ratio I wanted. The grid let me keep the light where I wanted on the product and off the background for the dramatic lighting ratio.

  03 CB 2016 04 CB 2016 05 CB 2016 06 CB 2016 07 CB 2016

08 CB 2016 09 CB 2016

Gear used in this post: Pentax K5IIs camera, Pentax 17-70/4 lens, Manfrotto 055XProB Tripod, YN-560III Speedlights, YN-560 TX Remote Trigger, Vello Wired Remote, Expoimaging Rogue Flash Grid & Flashbender, Impact Multiboom Light Stand and Reflector Holder, Savage 53″ Seamless Paper, Gaffers Tape

Editing Tools used in this post: Adobe CC2015, Nik Collection, Pixel Genius Photokit, Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet, Pantone Huey Pro

 

Spring Walk

Our neighborhood is coming alive with Spring.  Oaks and Maples are almost fully open, Daffodils are long gone and the Azaleas are in full bloom.  Just before dinner, we took a much welcome walk, been spending too much time in my office chair.  Took along a camera and made a few stops along the way.

1. Blue Clematis: Top lit with the soft diffuse light of open shade, medium key.01 Loop WalkSpotted this single Blue Clematis at the base of a mailbox.  The street was heavily shaded and protected from a windy afternoon.  This is an easy exposure that the camera meter will usually get right.  I could get close since my lens has a MFD ( Minimum Focus Distance) of 12″. I used  the maximum aperture of f4 to emphasize the center or the “star” in sharper focus from the rest of the “supporting cast”.  Shutter speed of 1/200 was plenty fast for still air.  That left me with an essentially noise free ISO 800.  Had I used my Incident Meter, which I leave set at ISO 100, it would have read an EV (Exposure Value) of 9 or -6 Stops from EV 15 aka Sunny 16 Rule.

Near our front door, Azaleas are blooming.  Common in the American South, I never tire of them.  Originally from Asia and I felt connected when I saw some walking down a residential street in Japan.  My photographs of them still haven’t captured their iridescence and textures so I keep trying.

2. Hybrid Encore Azalea: Back Light, hard direct sun, high contrast, low key.02 Loop Walk3. Hybrid Encore Azalea: Front light, hard direct sun, high contrast, low key.03 Loop WalkThese were lit with the hard, directional sun of late afternoon which will provide some modelling vs the flat overhead light of mid-day. Open to the wind, I needed a fast shutter speed to prevent blur, even as I waited between gusts.  I had no flash to stop movement.  I stopped down to f8 for more DoF ( Depth of Field) as I wanted the blossom to be sharp from front to back.  It would be the “Star”.  Leaving my ISO at 800, I bumped my Shutter Speed up until the Histogram looked good and it was fast enough to freeze the wind motion.

Number 2 is back lit so the sun shines through the translucent blossom, letting us see how it grows. It helps show the iridescence.

Number 3 is front lit (I simply moved around) and is how most will photograph the blossom.

During editing, I got rid of background distractions, especially bright spots that take attention away from the “Star” and branches that lead the eye out of the frame.  The goal is to keep impact by not diluting the dominant element and maintaining interest in the entire composition.  It can’t be too busy or too sterile.  It needs to be like the temperature of Goldilocks porridge, “just right”.

Gear used in this post: Pentax K5IIs camera, Pentax 17-70/4 lens.

Editing Tools used in this post: Adobe CC2015, Nik Collection, Pixel Genius Photokit, Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet, Pantone Huey Pro

 

December Azalea

_IGP8430Stuck inside since Thanksgiving with a bug, I needed some outside time today. Of course it was damp, grey and chilly.  The good news was, a few steps from our front door are some Encore Azaleas that survived my planting. They bloom in spring and fall and the color is welcome on a dull December 1st.

Soft diffuse light from an overcast sky doesn’t lend itself to vibrant color or contrast.  It’s simple to change that with a hand held flash.

I put my camera on a tripod and composed and focused the image.  The lens was an old manual focus 50mm stopped down to f8. It has a MFD (minimum focus distance) of about 18 inches. Adding a 1.5x Teleconvertor made the focal length 75mm without changing the MFD.  It let me fill most of the frame with a single blossom.

Shutter speed was 1/160 for flash sync and ISO to 100.  The exposure would be black except for flash contribution.  A wireless trigger in the camera hot shoe let me hand hold the flash, move around and change the light direction.

The camera was set for 2 second delay which in my case also activates Mirror Lock Up.  When I push the shutter on my wired remote, the mirror is locked in the up position and the shutter opens two seconds later to allow vibration form the mirror action to settle out.  Tripod, not touching the camera, mirror lockup – all contribute to making the camera as stable as possible for the sharpest possible image.

I wrapped a snoot around the flash to control light spill and set it to half power.  A few exposures showed me I need to drop the power to about 1/16th.

Gear used in this post: Pentax K5IIs camera, Pentax M 50 1.7 lens,  Kenko 1.5x TC, Manfrotto 055XPROB Tripod with Manfrotto 488RC2 Ball Head and Vello Wired Remote, Yongnou RF-603NII Wireless Trigger and 560III Flash

Editing Tools used in this post: Adobe CC2015, Nik Collection, Pixel Genius Photokit, Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet, Pantone Huey Pro

Frost Moon

Frost MoonAlso known as Snow Moon.  This is Waxing Gibbous, about 20 hours before it was completely full.  It rose bright and big the next day but there were light clouds so this was a clear sky.

Since it was a clear night, I knew the base exposure would be minus 1 stop from Sunny 16.  F11 and 1/100 with ISO 100 would do.

My lens is sharpest around f8 so by opening up aperture 1 stop, I could increase my shutter speed 1 stop to 1/200.  From experience, I wanted at least that shutter speed. The relative motion from Earths rotation can blur the exposure with a very long lens.

One last exposure variable came into play.  I added a 1.5x teleconvertor to make my 300mm lens a 450mm lens.  But that comes at the cost of 1 stop so I increased my ISO to 200 to compensate.

In sum, I set my exposure before I went outside to photograph and never used a meter.  Its not magic, its just a well understood exposure.  And of course, after making a an exposure or two, just look at your histogram and adjust.  That’s how I compensate as the exposure changes through an eclipse.  It’s really how I shoot everything.  Simply use Sunny16 as a base ( EV15 at ISO 100) and adjust from there.

Lastly is mounting to a tripod, a careful focus ( auto or manual or try both) and if possible, use a delayed shutter with a Mirror Lockup and a remote shutter release.  Make enough exposures so you’re confident you have very good focus on a few.

The final step is editing and preparation for presentation.  Its my habit to record RAW images so I can make all decisions vs the camera manufacturer’s built-in JPEG algorithms.  This image was mostly edited in Adobe Camera Raw aka the Develop Module in Lightroom.  I did open it up in Photoshop to add text, then used the Image Processor in Bridge to make the JPEG the size I wanted ( 720). Finally I sharpened it with the Pixel Genius plugin and an PS Action I wrote long ago.

Gear used in this post: Pentax K5IIs camera, Sigma 100-300/4 lens,  Kenko 1.5x TC, Manfrotto 055XPROB Tripod with Manfrotto 488RC2 Ball Head and Vello Wired Remote

Editing Tools used in this post: Adobe CC2015, Nik Collection, Pixel Genius Photokit, Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet, Pantone Huey Pro

High, Low and Long

Our Butterfly Bush is getting sparse and so are the Butterflies it attracts.  And I’ve been scaring off the visitors with my presence.  A perfect Red Spotted Purple was gone in a moment this morning, just as I approached.  I wanted to try standing off with my longest lens at 300mm + 1.5x Teleconvertor for a total of 450mm.  Trade offs are 6′ minimum focus distance and f22.  Depth of Field would only be about a 1/2″ at 6 Feet, 3/4″at 8 ft..

Other than a few Skippers and Carpenter Bees, the only visitor for the better part of an hour was a Blue Dasher Dragonfly.  The good news is, you have a chance to establish focus because they land and stay still.  The bad news is,  trying to hold focus by hand at 450mm with all that weight and mass and not much DoF is wildly optimistic.  In hindsight, I’d have been on a tripod with a loose ball head but didn’t because I expected to be moving around and though it would be too slow to frame & focus.  Of course, had I been on tripod, butterflies would have shown up and I’d have flailed around like part of a 3 Stooges routine.

1. Dragonfly: Top lit, mid-day sun, hard light, high contrast, high key

001 100-300 + TC 6097

2. Dragonfly: Top lit, mid-day sun, hard light, high contrast, low key

002 100-300 + TC 6094_1

My model did cooperate in that he gave me two lighting setups, one high key and one low key.  In this case, the model moved (flew) so the background changed.  The last time I did this was a portrait session.  We finished the high key on white with soft light (umbrellas) and switched out the background to black and went to hard light (bare flash)  with snoots.

Exposure was easy.  Lens at f22 but actually f32 due to a 1 stop loss from the TC.  Lots of light, so Sunny 16 as a baseline.  Plenty of shutter speed to help with the really long lens, varying a stop or two, depending on open shade or pointed at sky.  Moved ISO between 400 & 800, shutter speed between 1/800 and 1/1000 sec..  Of the two images I kept, one was a stop over and the other a stop under but both in the ballpark.  At relatively low ISO’s, plenty of Dynamic Range with RAW files, easy to recover and keep image quality.

One other camera feature I rarely use was shutter burst mode.  Today, I’d establish focus and fire 3 or 4 frames, trying to compensate for my movement.  I have in body stabilization, so that helped.  Out of 112, I kept these two. Pushing thing as I was, it’s tough to handhold and you won’t do it for long.  And I just remembered my monopod!

Gear used in this post: Pentax K5IIs camera, Sigma 100-300/4 lens,  Kenko 1.5x TC.

Editing Tools used in this post: Adobe CC2015, Nik Collection, Pixel Genius Photokit, Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet, Pantone Huey Pro

Mea Culpa, Soggy Bee and Circular Polarizer

In my last post, I innocently but wrongly identified a Carpenter Bee as a Bumble Bee.  Seeing him today, after a soaking rain, raised a doubt. A Google search confirmed it.  And I found it was a male.  They can’t sting.

1. Dry Carpenter Bee: Side lit with flash, hard light, high contrast 002 28-75 + TC + flash 4638

2. Wet Carpenter Bee: Ambient, reflector fill camera left, soft light,medium contrast002 28-75 + TC + cpl 4654

Outside today was damp and overcast.  I used the same camera setup as last time except instead of flash, I took a small collapsible reflector. I’d never tried to light Butterflies et al with a reflector. Also, I added a Circular Polarizer Filter to my lens to cut down glare.  I rarely use one but it’s a great help with glare from wet vegetation.

Exposure was a little tricky.  The heavy overcast was 3 stops from a Sunny 16 Day or EV 12.  I was also losing two more stops from the teleconverter and the Circular Polarizer.  Usually not a problem with an f2.8 lens but I also needed a small aperture, like f16, for a usable Depth of Field.  If I set my lens for f16, I was effectively getting f32. My ISO would be too high and shutter speed too slow for a good image.

The practical solution was an exposure triangle compromise, taking a little from each variable to get a workable exposure.  I set aperture for f5.6 (f11 with TC & filter), pushed ISO to 1600 and set shutter to 1/180.  To get more DoF, I stood farther away. That trade off was getting less of the subject to fill the frame. It’s a balancing act.  ISO 1600 is okay for a good print, I can generally get a sharp image at shutter 1/180.

The Bee was where I left him the day before.  Which surprised me. He was barely moving so I could use the reflector to add some fill, a little sparkle.  I was careful not to blow out the white part between the eyes.  That’s how you know its a male.

Photo gear used in this post: Pentax K5IIs camera, Tamron 28-75/2.8 lens,  Kenko 1.5x TC, 67mm Circular Polarizer Filter, small Impact Collapsible Reflector

Editing Tools used in this post: Adobe CC2015, Nik Collection, Pixel Genius Photokit, Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet, Pantone Huey Pro

1 Dragonfly, 2 Lenses, 4 Camera Positions

I’ve been wanting to write about photography but had no outlet until I reworked this old blog last week. Selfishly, I’ve found that when I teach, I learn and discover far more than my students.

Taking out the kitchen trash, I saw a Dragonfly on the dried stalk of an Iris blossom.  It flew when I got close but quickly returned.  With such a willing model, I couldn’t pass up an impromptu portrait session.

001 Dragon Fly 4498

These first two images were made with my workhorse 17-70mm lens that will focus at 12″.  It’s relatively wide angle of view means these are cropped down to about 30% of the recorded image.  Okay for a 5×7 or 8×10 but if I wanted to make a large print, it would be a limiting factor

002 Dragon Fly 4519

The last two images were made with an old consumer grade 70-210mm lens that has a minimum focus distance of about 3 feet.  It fills the frame at 180mm focal length.The slight crop makes a large print much easier to make.  The lens was stopped down to f8 so at 3ft and 180MM, my Depth of Field was only 1/4″.  No problem isolating the subject from background.

003 Dragon Fly 4546

004 Dragon Fly 4525

You could do this with just about any consumer grade 50-200 zoom. Put the camera in Aperture or Manual Mode and stop down the lens to f8 while shooting near the maximum zoom of the lens.  Its easy to calculate ahead of time with this Depth of Field Calculator  or a DoF Calculator app on a SmartPhone.

Folks new to photography tend to not allow themselves to see or explore the possibilities of a composition. These images are different primarily because I moved the camera, especially aware of the background.  That let me change the “key” (low, medium, high) and therefore the mood of each image,  like a human portrait session.

The ambient light stayed the same, the model stayed the same but the photographer moved, exploring all the possibilities of the scene.

Some backgrounds didn’t work, like half sun and half shade or a light tree trunk dividing the frame. I moved until I had something that worked.  Being aware of backgrounds is essential for good composition.

All exposures were manual, the only way I know how to shoot.  I forgot to check settings when I changed lenses  so my first exposure afterwards was 1 stop underexposed and my shutter speed was too slow.  The underexposure was easily recoverable at ISO100 when shooting RAW, in my case DNGs.

In camera stabilization saved me from my shutter speed ( 1/125th sec ) being too slow for my focal length.  Figure at least 1/200sec or the reciprocal of the focal length ( 180mm) as these were handheld.  I believe that’s a good rule of thumb even with in-lens or in-body stabilization.  If you’re on a tripod, its a different story and future post.

I could’ve simply started with the longer lens but I wanted to see what I could do with the other.  One of the key benefits of digital is being able to quickly try things and get immediate feedback.  Its important to know what doesn’t work and why. And sometimes you get surprised. When in doubt, try it.

And don’t forget to take out the trash.