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.