Thursday, December 20, 2012

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Angel Statue - In Memory of Our Neighbor

This time of year can be a mixed bag for some.  For most, it is a time of great celebration and joy.  Exchanging gifts, family get together's, music, singing, laughing.

For some it can be a time of great sorrow, especially if they are mourning the passing of a beloved family member.

Not too long ago, we found out that our neighbor had suffered from a stroke in her home and later went home to God.  My wife had known her longer than I - almost 12 years.
We have 3 dogs and they can be very vocal at times, but she never complained.  She was the sort that knew your schedule and looked after our house and let you know if someone was snooping about, and we would reciprocate.

She was always willing to talk with you anytime about anything.

She took special pride in her yard.  She had hired a lawn service to care for it professionally and she would be out almost every morning tending to her flowers or creating some yard art.

I remember one day a few years ago, I had approached her and asked if she minded if took some pictures of her creation.  You see, she absolutely loved angels and her yard contained more than a couple statues throughout.

I took this picture.

I had the picture printed and I gave it to her.  She started crying.  I asked her what was wrong and she just replied, "I'm just so glad that someone else sees the beauty that I do when I look at my yard.  Not everyone appreciates it."  I just told her that my wife and I do and to keep up the good work.

  A few days after her stroke, my wife spoke with our neighbors daughter.  The subject came up about the angel picture.  It turns out that the image was one of her favorite pictures.  She had written on the back of it - "I will treasure this picture for the rest of my life".
Her daughter took it to the hospital and put it at her mom's bedside.  She plans on keeping it in memory of her mother.

I can't explain the feelings that I had when I heard that.  There are so many things that we do for people that, at the time, seem so small or relatively trivial...but can affect them more than we realize.

I can honestly say that all the hard work in photography was worth it for just that one moment, when you realize that what you've captured and shared touches someone.  I don't care if I NEVER create another image.   I know that I have made a positive influence through my work to someone. I did something that made someone feel better about themselves, their lives and through my appreciation of what she had done with her yard....she paid me the ultimate compliment.

I just ask that every time you walk past a stone angel statue, reflect on ways that you can use your skills to positively influence others and make the world a better place.  Even the smallest gesture can mean more than you think.   Pay it forward.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Travel Photography - What To Take.

Traveling can be a great opportunity to get some fantastic images.  It's always an exciting proposition to see something you have never seen before and be able to get an image to remind you of that trip.

Like most of you, I do not get to travel a lot for just photography's sake.  Most of my travels, I am blessed with going on holiday with my family.

One of the most important things that I want to say before we get into a gear/technique discussion is this.  If you are going on your vacation with family - make sure to make the trip about family and relaxation first.  I learned the hard way that a trip can go off kilter if you get obsessed or overly concerned about getting an image over having fun with your family.

To that end - I try and travel as light as possible.  In recent trips, I've gotten my gear down to the following:

Nikon D50
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8
Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6
Nikon SB-26 Speedlight
Lumiquest SBIII/Quick Straps
Extra En-El3 battery
two sets of rechargeable AA batteries for the flash
nikon/AA battery charger


Since my Nikon D50 is getting close to the end of it's life, I've picked up the Fuji X-E1 to replace it.  With that kit, I've got the 35mm f/1.4 and I'll most likely get the Fuji 55-200mm when it is released and sell off the Nikon 55-200mm.  That will be my new travel kit.

Given that you don't have a whole battery of lights, lenses, filters and sometimes time to get the shots that you want, I'd like to share with you the techniques I think are essential to have in your arsenal.

1.  Understand how/why to use push/pull processing in digital.
Dynamic range can be an issue and without a grad neutral density filter, getting some shots can be very difficult.  If you only have time to get one shots, use this technique to best suit your situation.

2.  Bracketing
Again, dynamic range being an issue.  At a minimum get three shots that are +-2stops.  You can then either use an HDR technique or a layer merge technique in Photoshop to keep your image within tolerance.

3.  Panorama
Practice shooting for manually stitching images together, especially if your camera does not have a built in Panorama mode.  Even if it does, you might want learn it anyway.  Panorama shots are great for showing a large area.  Stitching a few images together might also be helpful if you are working with a prime lens and it happens to be too tight to get the whole image into view in one shot.  Taking two or three images, overlapping the frames by roughly 20% should get you where you need to be.

4.  Know the Hand Holding Rule
This helps to eliminate camera shake due to hand holding the camera at slow shutter speeds.
You want to keep the shutter speed at a reciprocal of the focal length.  In basic terms, this means that if you are shooting a zoom lens at 50mm, make sure that your shutter speed is no slower than 1/50th of a second.  You can increase your ISO sensitivity or open up your aperture to achieve this(sometimes both).

Below, lets look at some of the images I was able to get while on vacation with just those pieces of kit and some photography techniques.  Enjoy!

3 bracketed images merged into one.  This prevented the window from blowing out completely.

Exposed for the sky/sun and brought the cemetery back into view using the push/pull technique.

7 images were stitched together to get this panorama of San Diego.

Monday, December 3, 2012

My Review Of The Fuji X-E1

I was fortunate enough to have gotten to my local retailer a few weekends ago and they had the Fuji X-E1 body in stock.  They did not have the 18-55mm kit lens, but I really wanted the 35mm f/1.4 anyway. 
I'm sure the kit lens will be great but I've recently gotten a great appreciation for fast prime lenses.
Fuji X-E1, Fujinon 35mm f/1.4R
1/3800, f/2.8, ISO 800, 1:1 In-Camera B&W+G
For those who love specs and want to see images of the camera and lenses - check all you can digest at Fuji's Official Site.

First impressions.  

I was really surprised how light the camera and lens are compared to my DSLRs, but the whole kit feels solid.  It is also pretty quiet as compared to a professional single lens reflex camera, but no where near as quiet as the X100 or the X10, which have leaf shutters.

The auto focus was not as fast as a DSLR, but it was very responsive and quick enough for its intended purpose(I'm using it as an "always with me" camera for shooting family and street stuff....although I did use it as a supplemental camera on a few jobs and used in the right way produced great files)
Fuji X-E1, Fujinon 35mm f/1.4R
1/50 f/4, ISO 320, 1:1 In-Camera B&W+G
I really liked being able to use the aperture ring on the lens.  I do wish that the click stops on the aperture ring were a little more stiff, as I did find myself bumping the aperture around at times just holding the camera. I just have to get used to it.

Coming from the X10, I like having 7 custom settings banks.  Right now I only have three setup.  I wish that Fuji would have made the custom banks like they did on the X10, where it keeps the crop ratio as part of the settings.
Fuji X-E1, Fujinon 35mm f/1.4R
1/50, f/2, ISO 1600, 1:1 In-Camera B&W+G
Another odd thing is that you have to go into the regular menu to setup the custom banks.  You cannot do it through the Q menu.  I was hoping that it would be like the X10, and you can set it from wherever you are.  Not bad, just something different to get used to.

It will also take some getting used to having to press the AF button in order top move a focus point. I'd rather press a function button to access the macro mode and have the four cross buttons be for changing the focus point.  I am going to write to Fuji and see if this is something that can be changed via firmware (like they are going to listen to a nobody like me!  Lol).

Like you've heard from just about everyone else, this is a great camera to shoot with.  It reminds me of the old film camera ergonomics, but with all the benefits of digital.  Just using it is fun. 
I've not shot a lot with it, but it will definitely be my new take everywhere camera.  I took it top the park and it never once got in my way.  It just took great pictures, with great clarity and nicely saturated colors.  What you would expect from Fuji.  There is just something about it that makes capturing images fun, I cannot put my finger on it yet.  I've not had this kind of feeling since I purchased my first DSLR, the Nikon D50.
When I think about what I like, the following come to mind.
  • The feel of the shutter button and the solidness of the power switch.
  • The sound of the shutter mechanism when you take an image.
  • The solid feel/construction of the body and lens.
  • The look of the JPEG images straight out of camera is amazing.  I've found that I need very little post processing on them.
  • The B&W mode allows me to tweak it the way I want - and I can get 95% of what I need in camera.

The lens hood was a bit of a disappointment. It seems like it does not attach to the lens solid and the rubber cap wants to come off just getting the camera out of the bag. Not a deal breaker, just something to keep in mind.
Fuji X-E1, Fujinon 35mm f/1.4R
1/350, f/8, ISO 200, 1:1 VELVIA Large 3:2
The EVF works great.  It is interesting to have an exposure responsive display.  It definitely makes composing and adjusting settings easier.  I did notice it get a little grainy in the shadows at times, but this is me just being critical for this reviews sake.  It is nothing that would effect your decision making as far as exposure goes.    Just keep in mind thought that it does appear that the EVF is not always accurate.  By this I mean it seems like the X-E1 will sacrifice accuracy of exposure to make sure that you have a visible view of the subject in the finder.
In those situations, I like having the live histogram in the viewfinder.

For those interested(and there seems to be a lot of interest in this next subject on the forums), here are the settings I have setup for my X-E1 right now:
  • C1
    -- Film Simulation: VELVIA
    -- Size and Crop:  Large & 3:2
    -- Sharpness:  +1
    -- ISO: 200
    -- Everything else is default
  • C2
    -- Film Simulation: B&W +G(in camera green filter)
    -- Size and Crop:  Large & 1:1
    -- Sharpness: +1
    -- Shadow:  +2
    -- Highlight: +2
    -- ISO: 200

Overall I'm just very happy with what Fuji had churned out with the X-E1.  It makes shooting a fun experience.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Strobist DVD sets on sale for cyber Monday

For those who would love to have one of the David Hobby Strobist DVD sets, now is the time.  Lighting In Layers, Flash Bus Tour our the original Strobist 101 sets can be had for $50 each. 

Check out the link here.

Supporting Gear - Clamps

If you are into using flash photography, then you almost certainly have some types if not various different kinds of clamps in your arsenal or gear.

Today, we are going to look at the various different kinds of clamps, their uses and some interesting stories to boot.

Let us look at the different kinds of clamps.

Spring Clamps(various sizes)
These are the ones that look like the oversized springy clothes pins.  They are really inexpensive and can be found at just about any home improvement area or home improvement store.
I use these a lot for holding backdrops that do not have a rod pocket onto backgrounds.
I've also used them to make clothes fit on models.
Standard Spring Clamp
Quick story.   All the spring clamps I have are the type that are made out of plastic.  I am considering replacing my larger ones with metal clamps that have the rubber end on them.  Why?  I was hired to do a photo booth at a location that I had never been to before.  The booth that I had would not fit inside the building.  Hind site being 20/20, I should have brought the background stand as well.  I did not.  So, having to make due with what I had, I grabbed 2 of he biggest spring clamps I had and wedged the black background fabric onto the molding of an overhead archway.  Had the booth setup for almost three hours - working great.  Right at the very end my wife and I were taking down the booth and one of the plastic arms of the spring clamp broke.  They were under so much pressure that the broken piece launched across the room and almost hit my wife in the face.  This was a good 5-6 feet!!    I've learned my lesson and am glad that no one got hurt.

Irwin Clamp(various sizes)
These are the kind of clamps that you might use in wood working to hold pieces of wood together.
Found these the other day at the Home Depot - same time I found the Husky 22 in Organizer.   They come in a 2 pack and I believe that these will replace my large spring clamps due to the incident above.  The Irwin clamp has a small, metal, black lever that release the arms.  There is a ratcheting trigger that is used to tighten the arms down.  It comes with rubber feet to prevent damage.   Note - the clamps that I got are medium size and are rated at 100lbs of pressure.   If you choose to use these, please be very careful!!

Another cool thing about the Irwin clamp that I discovered is that the flat metal bar that runs through the middle of the clamp is a perfect size to fit inside an umbrella adapter!  This allows you to use these clamps as a portable flash holder as well!

Justin clamps(build your own) / Flashpoint knockoff
These are great.  Pretty close to a standard clamp for the photo industry.  They are very similar to a spring clamp as mentioned above, but they are made of an all metal construction and have some photography specific features.  There are studs on the frame like you would find in an umbrella adapter as well as a mini ball head.    I use these a lot for holding reflectors and flash units.
Manfrotto makes the Justin clamp, and in comparison to the other clamps they are the most expensive.

To save on cost, you can look for alternatives.  I do have a Flashpoint clamp.  It is smaller and only has the ball head on it.  It cannot support the same weight as the ball head on the Justin clamp.
The other cost saving alternative is to stick with Manfrotto parts, but do a sort of DIY.  I am fortunate enough to live a few miles away from Midwest Photo Exchange.  I searched their website and found that they have the regular Manfrotto spring clamp(which is the base for the Justin clamp) and some Manfrotto mini ball heads.  The standard spring clamp was $17 and the mini ball head was $15.  So for $32, I have the equivalent to the pre built Justin clamp that runs $60.  Based on those saving I built 2.

I'd be interested to hear what all of you are using out there.  Using the same, or are you using something I don't have listed here?  I'd love for you to share it with us!!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gear Organization Series #1: Flash Gear

Once the photography bug hits you, you start acquiring a lot of stuff.  The more stuff you get, the more difficult it is to keep everything organized.  It gets even more difficult when you become a professional. You have a TON of stuff.

The amount of stuff is not the issue - the issue is how do you get to the stuff you need quickly.  Organization is the key.

Today we are going to look at a relatively new piece of organizational gear I am using for my speed lights and accessories.  I got this thing for $30 at The Home Depot.  It is the Husky 22 inch Organizer.
Image © The Home Depot
More After The Break....

Monday, November 5, 2012

PhotoBooth At A Birthday Party

I've been looking for additional ways of making income for my business and right now, there seems to be an upswing in the popularity of photobooths.

I recently had a birthday party and was asked if I could do a photobooth.  I had everything except for the software.  I do have lightroom, but wanted something more "end user" friendly.  Something that guests could do on their own.   I do have a 4x6 printer as well, but the client wanted digital sharing only.

The location did not have a Wi-Fi connection available, so instead, I tethered my 4G cellular phone to the laptop.  Worked great!
I picked up the dslrBooth software and it has the essentials that I will need to make the booth work the way I want.

All of my current Nikon cameras work with the software, which was great.  Just needed a good USB cable for tethering.

All the items I used:
Nikon D300
Nikon 24mm f/2.8
Light stand
Alien Bee B400 w/ shoot through umbrella
Vagabond mini lithium pack
Radio Popper triggers
Backdrop stand
black backdrop

I was just amazed at how much fun people had.  I even got in on some of the fun!
Here are some samples from the guests that night.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

How I Got The Shot #34 - Wedding in Olde Gahanna Sanctuary

I had the pleasure of shooting another wedding at the Olde Gahanna Sanctuary recently.  It is a such a great location!  We did a VisualOhio story about the Sanctuary, which you can read HERE.

In this installment of "how I got the shot, we are going to look at some pretty basic techniques and why we used them.

Read more after the break...

Monday, October 15, 2012

How I Got The Shot #33 - Zombie Composite

This post is a combo tutorial of getting the shot and a little photoshop!

I wanted to create a composite image for a calendar image.  It was for October, so - you guessed it, my favorite zombies are going to be featured!!

Here is what I built for the calendar:

We will build something similar today!!

See the full workflow after the break.....

Monday, October 8, 2012

"This camera makes me slow down and think about the shot...." -- An opinion piece.

I cannot tell you how many times I've heard other picture takers say this:
"With x-camera/film it forces me to slow down and think about the shot.  Unlike my DSLR, where I can spray and pray and not care about what I'm getting."

Obviously this is paraphrased, but you get the idea.

While it may be physically impossible for one camera to shoot faster than another(burst mode and all that), the determining factor on the speed of which you choose to take an image is made by the lump of grey matter behind the view finder.

I get it -- getting film, developing can be expensive and you don't want to just burn through your physical media.  However, to "blame" digital for allowing someone to shoot more frames faster is like blaming the frying pan for burning your grilled cheese sandwich.  The pan did not decide the amount of heat and how long you left the sandwich on it's particular side.  So, stop blaming the technology for YOU shooting thousands of frames when a hundred or less might do.

It's called self control/restraint and it needs to be exercised by the shooter.

Don't place blame, instead -- develop good shooting habits, such as:

1)  Learn how to properly hold/support your gear.
2)  Know when you'll need assistance and secure it(2nd shooter, assistant to hold the flashes/reflector, VAL)
3)  Understand and have a practical working knowledge of your subject;learn to anticipate when and where to press the shutter release for best effect.
4)  If you are in total control of the shoot, setup a shooting plan/diagram prior to the shoot.  This will give everyone a roadmap in which to work within.
5)  Know your gear and how best to leverage its capabilities to get the shots you want with ease.

There are many more things, but this is a good starting point and a good set of ideas to get your own thoughts flowing.

Remember - there is a big difference between a casual snap shooter and a pro photographer.  A pro does their best to secure all the elements of the image in the initial capture of the image.  That means taking the time to craft a shot that encompasses all the elements necessary to elevate your shot from a mindless snap into a potential work of art.  Don't let yourself get carried away in the moment to the point that your sacrificing a quality shot for a quantity of average shots.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Always Have a Camera With You - Any Camera

Most people have a camera with them almost all the time.  Their cell phone has one 99% of the time.

It is a difficult lesson to learn, but this is a truth that I have learned through my journey in photography, the content of the image is more important than the gear used to capture it.

Yes, gear is important - but the vision, the passion, the meaning and soul of what people are seeing is the important factor - or at least it should be.

You don't(or shouldn't) judge a cook by their pots and pans, a carpenter by their brand of hammer or saw or a mechanic by the brand of wrench they use to repair your car with.   Don't judge a photographer or an image by the camera or lens that it was captured with.

Here are some examples that I have taken:

99% of the time i have my cell phone or my Fuji X10 with me.

Without them with me - I would not have these images to share with you.

So, next time you think that you can only take great images because of the gear you have or think you are limited by the gear you don't have - think again.  Find a way to make what you do have work for you.

If you feel the need to buy new gear - ask yourself this - what problem is this new gear going to solve or how is it going to make your job easier?   If the answer comes back - it would just be cool to have or you just "want" it...then I recommend taking a step back and do some more retrospection before dropping lots of money on the newest thing.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Website version 2.0 is now LIVE!!!!

The new website is now 99%(just need to get the contact form page complete). All galleries populated and thumbnails are lined up as they should be. If you need to contact us, the phone and email are at the top of each page!!

Feel free to check it out!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Lets speak some truth - "manual" is better, right?

Reading articles in my spare time and there always seems a pre-dominance of people who are willing to give advice.  I've got no problem with that, do it myself on occasion and some people seem grateful others would like to rip my head off.   All par for the course, you've gotta take them as they come.   Sometimes you are right, sometimes you are wrong - take the good with the bad.

A peave of mine here lately has been(and this is not new, these types of articles have been running the gammut for as long as I can remember) bloggers spouting off the requirement of shooting in manual mode and/or stating that professional photographers shoot better than you because they shoot manual.  Manual everything - manual focus, manual exposure, manual flash.

Let us get one thing straight from the get go.  A professional does not get better anything because they shoot in manual.  A professional "should" get better results because they have educated themselves in their craft to the point that the technical aspects of their job are second nature and they can concentrate more on the art and staging of the shot.  A professional "should" know every aspect of their camera that is required to do their job successfully and fulfill clients needs.

A professional photographer should know when is best to use aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual mode.  What is the furthest they can push the ISO without losing the quality in the images they are capturing.  They know when to use ambient light, when to use speed lights or studio strobes, and when to mix the two.
"I am occasionally in manual exposure mode,say, when in a dark room where aperture priority will dictate to me an unreasonably long shutter speed. But, I tell you, if you only use these cameras inmanual mode because, as I have heard on occasion,you “don’t trust the camera,” or you “don’t trust the meter,” then you are taking a souped-up Ferrari and driving it like the little old lady going to church on Sunday. Why do that? Use the technology!  Take this puppy out for a spin and see what it can do."

       --  Joe McNally, The Hotshoe Diaries
What makes for a better image?  A newbie photographer with a Nikon D4/D800/Canon 1Ds Mark IV - or - a seasoned photographer with a experience and education on their side using a Nikon D5100 and a kit lens?   I'd take the experienced, educated photographer every time. 

Experience gains you the knowledge of creating successful images, and knowing how to get from A to B to C and not hoping to stumble across a great image by spray and pray.

At the end of the day, there are really too many factors to let any one person tell you that one way is the best way.  There are various ways to solving problems - so solve them how best it suites your situation.  If that means shooting in manual mode, then do it, if you are shooting through a fence or some leaves and your focus keeps getting locked on the wrong subject - throw that thing into manual and correct it - or leave it on autofocus and move your position!  You decide - I can shoot in matrix metering in aperture priority and use a little exposure compensation - you can shoot in manual - get the same shot - exactly the same shot.   Who is better?  Does the client care?  Did you deliver as promised?  If the answer is yes, then you made the right decision.

I'd think twice about taking too much advice from anyone that tells you they have "fool proof" methods of getting great images every time(unless fool proof equals experience and knowledge), systems, that one set of gear is going to get you better images over another.  Hell, question me too, for that matter!!  If we all agreed with each other all the time, how boring would the world be?  How could we learn other viewpoints and techniques?
"What is the best light to photograph with?"  He(W. Eugene Smith) responded, "The best light is available light".  He then added, "by that I mean any damn light that is available!"

       -- W. Eugene Smith
Besides, what is "better" anyway?  Talk about a subjective can of worms!  The only people that really matter at the end of the day that need chime in on "good or bad" are you and the client.   On the flip side of that - when you do ask for a peer review, take it from an open mind and realize that if you are asking a photographer their opinion - 99% of the time, you'll get a photographers opinion.  Then ask yourself - is that what you really want?  Do you want an opinion from a non art inspired, non-photographer type, your average joe/josephine as it were?   Target your inquiry to the group you really want the answer from, you'll get a better result that way.

Well, enough of my rant for the day.  Just remember that "knowledge is power"(Sir Francis Bacon) and "experience is an arch to build upon"(Henry B. Adams).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

How I Got The Shot #32 - The Smoking Dragon

If you read VisualOhio articles, you've probably seen the Asian Festival  article about the dragon boat races.  If not, jump on over to the site HERE and check it out!

I bring up the dragon boat races because my wife happened to be in one of  the competing teams.  As a way to honor her being selected for the team, I picked up an incense burner that is a replica of a dragon boat.
I was stumbling about the house and I saw the boat there and thought to myself that it would be a fun little project to setup a still life.
For this shoot, I wanted to highlight the subtle yet complex wisps of smoke from the incense and have some dramatic lighting for the boat as well.

Gear :
Fuji X10
Radio Popper JrX Transmitter and Receiver
1/8" grid
LumoPro C-Stand with a 40 inch boom arm
Lumopro light stand with a boom arm
umbrella adapter/frio cold shoe
sync cable

Misc Items:
Freezer Paper
Dragon Boat
Incense sticks

EXIF Info:
Manual, ISO 100, f/7.1, 1/250th shutter
Speed light set at 1/8th power

The Shoot anad Light Setup:
I setup the small Lumopro light stand with boom arm(Not the C-stand) to hold the freezer paper.  This is used like a white seamless background.  I taped it across the boom arm. I then placed the SB-28 with grid on it onto the umbrella adapter and frio cold shoe - then attached the adapter to the c-stand boom arm.  I did this because I wanted the light above and slightly behind the boat and incense.

I then placed the boat and the burning incense on the white paper. Using different points of view from the camera and moving the boat about, I got quite a few different looks. Why is the light above and slightly behind?   Just like shooting moving water, the light going through the smoke creates definition around the smoke particles.  Light hitting from behind the smoke creates a diffused look and really makes the smoke bright white as it disperses the light.

Shooting with the light source from the front reflects very little light back to the camera and the smoke does not look as impressive.  You can also see from the shots that the grid is giving us a nice, white for the base of the boat, and as the grid light falls off  to the back we get a nice gradient that also helps allow for the smoke to stand out .

Post Processing:
Using only Lightroom 4.1, I wanted to have a pretty dramatic look.  This means looking at the CLARITY and CONTRAST sliders.   Cranking the clarity to 100 and bunmping the contrast 25 gave me what I was looking for.  I also used the CROP tool to fine tune the framing of the image.  Last steps were to bump up the VIBRANCE and SATURATION as well.   Each slider was moved up to 30.

Always remember - get as much correct in camera as you can.  It makes image edits much quicker and simpler.  It also gives you the best possible image to start with.  I used a good 5 or 6 minutes up front getting the camera exposure and the speed light power setup so that I had a proper exposure.  I spot checked the image on the LCD, but more importantly - I looked at the histogram.
Another note - by keeping the exposure and light power consistent, post processing is simplified.  When you get the first look of the image you want, you can just use the sync feature in Lightroom to apply those edits to a batch of images.

Monday, July 16, 2012

When to use RAW or JPG? My Opinion On The Subject

There seems to be a lot of opinion out there on what to use when saving your images to memory card on camera.  Thought I might as well throw my own opinions out there and offer up when and why I would choose JPG or RAW.

In the end, can you tell which one was shot using RAW or JPG??

Some people advocate shooting RAW 100% of the time, others see no need in RAW at all and are content with shooting JPG - even going so far as saying that everything should be done 100% correctly in camera.

First - let us look at a quick pro/com list of RAW and JPG:



RAW sensor data - as RAW software gets updated, so too can your image processing.  RAW also give you a lot more information to work with, generally 12 or 14 bits of data.

More latitude for corrections - If you want to push/pull the exposure tweak more detail out of the shadows or highlights - this is your best option.

White balance - is not embedded in the RAW file, so if you or the camera get it wrong - it doesn't matter.  This can be corrected in post processing(most of the time).

Space - more data = need for more space to store the images.  RAW files can be 10MB-30MB or more depending on the mega pixels rating of the camera you are using.

Processing - not so much processing power of the machine you are working on, but the commitment to learn how to process RAW files to their fullest potential.

Slower capture rate on camera - even with fast memory cards, your burst rate on the camera will be lower than if shooting JPG.  Not so much a concern for portrait photographers, but might be for sports shooters.  Generally his can be from 1-5fps.



Space - lower file sizes mean less space per image taken on the storage device.

Processing - if you set up a picture control/JPG processing settings in camera you love - then the majority of the processing for that image is already done.  This also helps in the back end work flow speed as well.

Burst rate capture - most cameras are optimized to shoot their fastest burst rates in this mode.  Anywhere from 4-11fps.  Great for sports shooters or any other application that needs the high frame rate capture.


Processing - the majority of the processing has already been applied and it will take some work getting things changed in post processing - at least more so than in RAW.

White balance - this is applied to the image at the time of capture in a JPG and can be a pain to correct later(there is more to this that we will get into later).

Less latitude for corrections - with only an 8 bit file structure to work with, you start off with less data for processing, which can limit the extent of which you can manipulate the file compared to RAW.

OK - so after all this - what you really want to know is - when do I use RAW versus JPG, right?

I use RAW whenever:

  • I know I will be doing a lot of post processing manipulation on images.
  • I know that the the dynamic range of the scene is more than the JPG engine can handle and I might want to pull the shadows detail out and/or bring back the highlight details.  This is especially true when I do not have a filter, speed lights or potential for bracketing(for HDR) to manipulate the situation.
  • The images are just too important to leave the processing of the files to the in camera JPG engine.
I use JPG whenever:
  • I am shooting sports and need a high burst rate to capture the fast moving action.
  • I have a very controlled environment and can have all the variables nailed down or at least controllable.
  • I do not plan to do any or very little post processing.
  • I am on vacation and memory card space is an issue and I have no way of off loading the files from the camera.
  • I need a quick turn around of the images to the client.
  • I need to print on site.
Now, these are just some of the things that I think about when I start shooting.  I do not shoot a whole event, job in one format.  These are not hard and fast rules - more like guidelines.  I've started out shooting in JPG for some things and if the variables of the shoot change on me, so do the settings.  You've got to be as dynamic as the situation.

Here is an example of a time I needed to shoot RAW.  San Diego on vacation with the family.   Had to fly out and having a tripod was not feasible.  Was shooting with the Nikon D50 and did not want to shoot multiple exposures hand help for HDR.
So I tried shooting over and under exposed shots - did not like the results.
Exposing for the sky left the foreground elements too dark

Exposing for the foreground left the sky burned out and unrecoverable.
Then, I shot RAW and processed in Lightroom.
I was able to pull back the highlights and bring out the shadows, did some prudent noise reduction work and was able to salvage this image:
Shot RAW and did an average exposure with a touch more to the underexposed.
I hope that this post has helped you think about your shooting settings and you will think more about your situation as it unfolds and use the right file format for the shots.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How I Got The Show #31: Light Painting Using a Doctor Who Sonic Screwdriver Torch!!!

Light painting is the technique of using a flashlight or torch as it is known in other places in the world to supplement the ambient exposure of a scene.

Those that also follow the VisualOhio blog may have seen the article I wrote up about the firefly light display in Blacklick Woods Metro Park in Reynoldsburg, OH.  This image was created using the light painting technique.

What I wanted to do was show the fireflies on the path that connects the multi purpose trail with Livingston Avenue entrance to the park.  I tried just setting a long exposure to burn in the small specs of light, but was not satisfied with the results.

Using the Nikon D50 and the Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 lens, this is the result that I came up with.

Kind of dull and not really distinguishable as anything, really.  Along with my camera gear, I always take with me a bag with some other goodies.  Pocket knife, tape, first aid kit and flashlights.  I started off light painting with a small AA cell mag light.  While it did the job of illuminating the parts of the scene that I wanted, the "feel" was all wrong.

Then I remembered a gift my wife had gotten me for my birthday.  I'm a big fan of Doctor Who, the old ones(Tom Baker is my favorite from the "original" series) as well as the rebooted series that started back in 2005(David Tennent ROCKS!!  :).  Digressing, my wife found a flashlight/torch replica of the Doctor's sonic screwdriver.  It is a bluish LED.

When I used that to paint light, it made the scene look more like I wanted it to - a colder, moonlit night.  It also made the dots of light from the fireflies stand out.  Here is the final image that went with the Visual Ohio firefly article.
Exposure Info
30 sec @ f/4 ISO 1600 in Manual Exposure Mode
So - light painting - what is it, really?   As a minimalist definition, is is using a constant light source in your exposure to supplement the already existing ambient.  In this case, I turned the flashlight on and then started running the beam of light emitting from it along the path and the sides of the trees on the edge of the path.

This is an interesting technique to explore.  You can use just about any constant light source, such as flash lights, lamps, laser pointers, halogen work lights.  So next time you want to try something different, light painting might be a technique you want to give a go.

Monday, April 16, 2012

How I Got The Shot #30 - Artist and Paint

Another Project52 assignment to share with everyone.   This time, we are looking at using one light to create a portrait of an artist, holding an implement of their craft.

Here is one of the final shots from this shoot:
Our #1 Pick
I decided to use the wonderful Dani as the "artist" and we dabbled into the world of painting.

Check out the details after the break...

Monday, April 9, 2012

How I Got The Shot #29 - Interpretation of Power

I was working on another Project52 assignment and the theme was to have a shot that expresses POWER.

Creative Process:
I thought about ways that power might be expressed.  They can be physical, mental, spiritual, and a whole lot of other things.

I decided to concentrate on the more cerebral aspects and shy away from the physical.  The image I came up with is a conceptual one.

And here it is:

Reynoldsburg, Ohio  -  My home studio.

Fuji X10
Nikon SB-28(main light)
1/8" grid
white board as a reflector
black board as background
Radio Popper JrX trigger/receivers
light stands

EXIF Info:
Shot in manual mode, 1/1500th @ f/4, ISO 100, ~28mm.

Yes - 1/1500th of a second!!   How is this possible?  One of the things that attracted me to the Fuji X10 was the fact that it has a leaf shutter.  Most other cameras have a focal plane shutter.  Focal plane shutters are generally constrained to native flash sync speeds of 1/160th to 1/500th of a second.  The average being about 1/250th.  In order to get faster sync speeds with focal plane shutters, you have to use HSS/FP sync functions in the built in flash or an external speed light.  This generally requires using an OEM flash from your manufacturer.
Leaf shutters do not have this constraint and can sync with a normal flash all the way up to the cameras maximum sync speed.  In this case, the Fuji X10 can go up to 1/4000th of a second.

Why did I pick 1/1500th?  Well, I was shooting this in the middle of the day and was lazy and did not want to black out the house windows.   So 1/1500th at f/4 was a fast enough shutter speed to kill any ambient light.  It was also because I wanted to try it and because I could!!  :)    lol

Lighting Setup:
SB-28 @ 1/64th power, 1/8 inch grid attached.
Added a bit of fill to the back side of the chess board with a white board I had sitting around.

Other Info:
Obviously, this is a composite image.  Lets look at the other images and the composite work.

I took passages from the Art of War and from The Tao Te Ching that applied to our power theme.
The lighting setup was essentially the same as for the chess board.

Here is what the Layers palette in Photoshop looks like for the completed project:

Disclaimer:  There is more than one way to do things in Photoshop.  This is the way that I did my composite, but there are plenty of other ways - some possibly even easier.  So don't take what I have done here as the only way.

What you will notice, is that next to the eye symbol is the representation of the image.  You can see that each of the composite images has a layer and there is an extra white color fill layer(that will be explained here in a minute).  Next to the image thumbnails, you'll see a chain link and another box to the right of that.  Those are edit masks.

Edit masks allow you to do some non-destructive editing to an image.  What they do is hide or reveal what is underneath.  The rule that you need to remember is this - black conceals, white reveals.  Or in other words, the black part of the mask prevents the effect, the white allows the effect completely.  Here is the magic - levels of gray in between white and black reveal the effect in different levels depending on the level of gray.  If it is more gray - closer to black - it hides more.  If it is a lighter gray - closer to white - it reveals more.

So this is what we did - in order to have a canvas big enough to hold the composite, we created a new canvas that was twice the size of the chess board image.  To do that we used the IMAGE --> Canvas Size... menu option.
The top part of the image above shows the original canvas size, the bottom the expanded.  What you do is pick the anchor point where you want the image to stay.  I picked the top middle.  Then, in the height field, I doubled the size.  Photoshop then created the canvas double the size by adding the extra canvas to the bottom.

Now that we have the canvas to the correct size, we can add in out 3 elements.  The chess board and the two images of the book passages.

To add a layer mask to an image, click the layer in the pallet, then select the icon at the bottom of the layer pallet, third from the left.  It looks like a rectangle with a circle in it.
This will not attach a mask to the layer.

I then click on the layer mask to make it active.   I use the gradient tool to start the blending process.  Make sure that you have selected the default black/white color picker colors and  that the gradient option is black to white.
Select the layer you want to blend, and drag the gradient tool how you want the mask to be applied.  Don't worry if it is not perfect - we can tweak the that later with the feathered brush tool!!  Just get at close as you can - let the gradient tool do 99% of the heavy lifting.

One problem I ran into was that the top of the image was a black background, and we can deal with that.....but the bottom of the image ended at the chess board.   This left us with a transparent section at the bottom part of the image.   Easy fix...just add a color fill layer of white to the bottom of the layers.  You don't really need it as it will go white when you save as a JPG - but it helps for you to see visually when building the image.

This is what the image looks like without the white fill:
You can see the checker board at the bottom, but the white - as seen in the final composite at the top, give you a better sense of the finished product.

Now, all that is left is to select the brush tool, make the brush color white and select an appropriate size and a feathering to go along with it and reveal additional parts of the images below the chess board.  If you want to hide parts - change the foreground color to black and paint the layer mask back in.  Remember - by using the layer mask, you can correct any mistakes or change your mind without destroying the pixels of the images.  You are just hiding or showing more through the mask.

Also, remember to make sure and select the layer mask box in the layer pallet for each layer - otherwise you'll paint white or black onto your image.

In this composite - I used a lighter feathering for the bottom text and a "heavier" blending for the top.   I wanted the bottom to have a more airy feel and the top to have a harder, "burnt" feel to it.  I did that all from changing the paint brush feathering and size.

I shot all these images in color and converted then to black and white in CS4.  I also added some grain to the image to make it look more like it was taken with an old B&W high ISO film.

Experiment and find the type of style that fits your project.