Expose, experiment

As photographers, we sometimes get stuck in ruts. Like the rut that all exposures have to be “natural”, and show the world like it is.

And this is a misconception. When we use fl;ash, we are showing it in an unnatural way, aren’t we?

And even when not using flash, you can create interesting effects by exposing more, or less, than you normally would. Less, like in this shot:

Royal Show, Crowd

Royal Show, Crowd

Or more, like in in this high-key portrait of model Lyndsay:

Lyndsay Biernat, High Key portrait

Lyndsay Biernat, High Key portrait

To do this you simply either:

  • Use exposure compensation (+ is brighter, – is darker)
  • Spot meter off something bright (makes the picture dark) or dark (makes the picture bright)
  • Use Manual exposure mode and watch the meter: – is dark, + is bright

As an assignment, today, take a few pictures darker or lighter than your meter would normally make them.

Card Speed

A question I get often is “what memory card speed do I need”. The ratings are confusing and the offering even more so. So this is a good question. A reason to explain card speeds.

I have explained before why and when you need fast cards (in short, when you shoot high-def video, when you shoot sports, and when for simple convenience you want to be able to review the pictures on the back of your camera as quickly as the camera will allow).

But what do the ratings mean?

  1. CF Card ratings. The original CD-ROM had a transfer rate (“how fast can data be moved off the device?”) of 150 kByte/second. That is what we call “1X”. So 10x = 1.5 MByte/second, and “40x” means “6 MByte/second”. This is how CF cards are rated.
  2. CD card ratings. These are usually rated as a “Class”. This expresses the minimum transfer speed in MByte/sec, so class 6 means 6 MByte/second.
  3. Manufacturer ratings. Oh, well, these are mainly (but not all) marketing. “Extreme this or that”. You need to Google these and translate them back to real numbers.

Be aware of a few things.

  • Just like Megapixels, a simple number does not tell the whole story. Is the data rate continuous or “burst”? Does the card do more error-checking and correcting while it is doing the transfer?
  • And be weary of large sizes: if you lose a 16 GB memory card due top failure or theft, you lose hundreds or even thousands of pictures all at once.

Michael’s tips: Buy a few good brand-name memory cards (Sandisk and Lexar are the class leaders). Own at least one fast card. For hi-def video, you need a class of at least 6 (6 Mbyte/sec).

Autumn tip

A quick tip for those of you who, like me, are in the part of the world where autumn is coming.

If you want beautiful fall colours, you need to keep two things in mind:

  1. Brightness. Expose properly, and when vegetation is concerned that means expose less than your meter wants. Foliage is dark and you need to tell your camera that. So use exposure compensation as needed – minus 1 stop is not uncommon.
  2. Colour. Be sure to set your camera to the correct white balance. This usually means “daylight” or “cloudy”: the default “auto” (AWB) setting may get rid of the beautiful radiant colours.

And the colours are starting. Here, a couple of shots I shot while on my way to Drumbo this past weekend, to shoot the Drumbo Country Fair. Those colours are on their way:

Fall is coming: Drumbo, Ontario, Sep 2010

Fall is coming: Drumbo, Ontario, Sep 2010

Of course I could not possibly have been shooting this handheld while driving: that would not be allowed in Ontario. Right?

Fall is coming: Drumbo, Ontario, Sep 2010

Fall is coming: Drumbo, Ontario, Sep 2010

And here’s a snap from what I was shooting:

Drumbo, Queen of the Furrow

Drumbo, Queen of the Furrow

One more tip: for best fall colours, either shoot late in the day (the “golden hour”), or early in the morning (if you can get up, early morning light is just as beautiful, plus there is little wind). And know where the sun is!

Why do lenses cost so much?

I often hear this question: why do lenses cost so much? And why are fast lenses even more expensive?

There are several very good reasons for this.

  • Lenses contain very expensive, high-quality optical glass. The more glass, the more cost. The faster a lens, the more glass (that is what “fast” means: a larger opening): ergo, the higher that cost.
  • Today’s lenses contain sophisticated electronics. See my 16-35 f/2.8 lens below, a while ago after I, um, dropped it. Twice.
  • Economies of scale: of course a more popular lens has lower cost, because it sells more (look at the popular 50mm f/1.8 lenses).

Here’s that lens of mine:

Lens "wide open" - for real

Lens "wide open" - for real

The good news: as I have said here many times, lenses are an investment. They are more important to your picture than the camera, and they retain their value, often for decades.

TIP: go to the online Canon Museum and go to the Virtual Lens Plant to see a very interesting series of videos about lens manufacture.

But.. but… it’s complicated!

Well, sometimes things need work.

I often have students who ask “do I really need two lenses?”, “do I really need a reflector”, “do I really need a tripod”? “Must I really use manual”, … and so on.

The other day I attended a very entertaining shoot with Ivan Otis, and this shoot was a typical example of “how it’s done”.

Even a simple fashion shoot like this involves cameras, light stands, reflectors, computers, umbrellas, light meters, batteries, cables, softboxes, pocketwizards, props, two assistants, a make-up artist (“MUA”), a hairdresser, lunch, and of course a model and a photographer.

A Fashion Shoot

A Fashion Shoot

A more involved fashion shoot would also have fashion advisors, a creative director, and more.

So the answer to “do I really need all this” is “it depends, but you cannot always do everything with one handheld camera, a 50mm lens, and a pop-up flash”.

The complexity in a shoot like the one above is not done just to make things complicated! As I always say, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit-issue model cavorting happily on the beach looks good only because there is a guy with a big reflector cavorting along right behind her.

That said: you do not need to over-complicate things. Simple means can often achieve great results. Like this, taken at a recent Mono workshop Joseph Marranca and I taught:

Evanna Mills in the rain

Evanna Mills in the rain

That used just three bare speedlights and a handheld camera.

(On that note: our next “advanced lighting” all-day workshops in Mono, Ontario, will be held on 3 October and 20 November, and as of the time of writing, there is still space).