Experiment with aspect ratios

Your camera produces an image in the aspect ratio 3:2 (or 4:3, if you use a four-thirds camera). But why not let go of that, and use your own ratios?

Like square.

Or like wide.

Or odd-shaped.

I am a firm believer in “make the picture whatever shape you think fits the picture best”. Not “whatever the frame-makers in China or the paper-makers in Switzerland have decided for you”. Make the picture the way you like, and then cut white edges off paper, and have custom frames made.

On that note: no, you cannot print a 4:3, say, on 3:2 paper without either cropping the picture or cutting off white edges. It’s the reality of life.

I have found that often, people do not understand this: “yes but I want my 4:3 picture to fit on this 8:10 paper and no, I won;t accept cropping or white edges”. Well, here’s news: you have to. To understand why, imagine you have a square picture. Try fitting that on an 8×10 piece of paper, and now you will see why it cannot be done. So you either crop to the paper aspect ratio prior to printing (Lightroom is very good at that), or you print with white edges, which you then cut off. It’s one of those “it is what it is” things.

 

Myth-busters!

(To the tune of “Ghostbusters”).

Often, my posts point out common myths and misconceptions. Of which there are many… many. On the Internet, no-one knows that you’re a dog, and no-one knows that you are wrong.

So, two oft-heard “truths”:

  1. You cannot shoot with TTL if you are a pro.
  2. You cannot use just one light for a serious portrait.

So. TTL was used in this portrait of students and friend Diana; remote TTL in fact (light flashes from on camera flash drives off camera flash); and the light was one flash through an umbrella. The on camera flash was disabled, except for those light flashes.

1/125 sec, f/8, ISO100.

The curtain was chosen as a classy background, but the umbrella was close to the subject so the curtain would get little light. TTL handles this fine; if the subject had been too light or too dark, a touch of flash compensation would have sorted that out.

The one light-with-umbrella gives us enough light for a portrait with Rembrandt lighting. Fairly dramatic chiaroscuro-type lighting, but not so dramatic that it becomes unflattering. On the contrary, this is nice light.

The blonde hair stands out nicely against the dark background; dark hair would have needed more light.

So there, a real portrait with “studio settings”, i.e. just one light, and using TTL. I could do that all night.

 

What’s with the long lens?

So when I shoot portraits, my favourite lens, if I can use it, is the 70-200.

Why “if I can use it”?

Because it is long. That means I need a large studio to stand back a lot. And not every studio is large. In all probability, your kitchen isn’t large, and I bet you do portraits there sometimes.

OK… but why would I want that long lens in the first place?

Because then I get very little distortion. Here’s a student, a few years ago on an Oakville Photo Walk, from far away, with the 70-200mm lens:

That’s what he looked like.

But now let’s get closer. And closer. So we zoom out. Closer still. Wide angle. Closer still. Now we have a very wide angle lens (16-35), and we are very close:

Can you see that’s a very different (and distorted) person?

Sometimes, in an environmental portrait, you may want to get close to the second picture—though never that close, distortion is out. But generally speaking, if it’s a headshot, you want accuracy, and the farther back you stand, the more accurate the representation of the person is.

There is a second advantage to being far away: you are not “in their face”. That means you are not perceived as threatening and something to fear. Which in turn means your subject will relax more. Basic psychology.

Practice: 50mm (on a full frame) is the minimum for half body shots; 85mm (ditto) is the minimum for headshots; longer is better for neutral, accurate portraits.

Lesson learned: If you go wide, stand back. Because of course it’s not the lens that does this magic: it’s how far away you stand. The lens just facilitates that.

 

KISS

Photos are good when they contain what’s needed, and no more. Often, that means they are simple.

This was outside my front door an hour ago:

Nice and simple. But I can make it simpler.

I could even remove some of those distracting things on the roof:

Since I do not think the stuff I removed was essential to the photo, the simpler ones are better for me. I say “for me”, because after all, it IS art, and you cannot argue over art. (Doesn’t stop people though.)

Now Google the most expensive photo ever sold. $4m. Look and tell me what you think.

 

How you think: an example

Often. it’s not the “what”, but “how”. How do you decide what settings to you in your cameras? What to shoot?

I shall use myself, and today’s shoot, as an example. I shot a house, for a real estate agent:

When shooting something like this, my camera is in manual model. So I need to make many decisions. And I need to be quick: cannot afford to hang around, for the home-owner’s sake, the realtor’s sake, and my own sake.

So before the shoot I decide :”outside, tilt-shift”. Arriving, I had my tilt-shift lens on the camera already. Using the sunny sixteen rule, before even starting I set my camera to 1/100 sec, ISO100, and started at f/11. I looked; that was a little dark, the meter told me, so I went to f/8. Perfect. Then came the fine tuning: I wanted a faster shutter for hand held, so I used 1/200 sec, which necessitated f/5.6. (shutter gave me one stop less light, which I fixed by aperture giving me one stop more light).

Then I focused manually, held the camera straight, and shifted the lens up. Click. Done. Time taken: Seconds.

Now inside. I already knew I would want the wide angle lens, so I put it on, the 16-35mm f/2.8 lens. Inside, I saw mainly simple white ceilings, so I decided simple flash bouncing with one flash, and combining that with ambient, would be fine. Then the sequence was:

  1. I set my camera to 400 ISO: that is my starting standard for bright indoors.
  2. I selected f/5.6: with a wide lens, that will give me sharpness from “near me” to “infinity”.
  3. Then I selected 1/50 second, which, I was sure, would give me visibility of inside light fixtures.
  4. I selected flash exposure compensation of +1 stop, and turned the flash upward behind me at roughly 45 degrees.

I got:

And that confirmed what I wanted: outside not too crazy bright; light fixture visible, room well lit. Done. Now for the rest of the shoot all I changed was the shutter speed:

  • I first tried 1/50 second.
  • Where “outside” was important, I went up to as much as 1/250 second. This gave a colder inside but better outside.
  • Where “inside” was important and outside could be a little blown out, I went down to as little as 1/20 second.

Once the basics were taken care of, now I started to think about what to shoot:

  • Diagonal into each room; straight-on in the kitchen.
  • I shot from slightly below eye-level (but not below cupboard level if that meant seeing the bottom of cupboards).
  • Of course I went wide, very wide… but I resisted going TOO wide: over-promising and under-delivering is not a very good strategy.
  • I ensured that all the lights were turned on in the rooms I shot.

And of course I avoided this error:

Can you see the error?

Yes, you need to be extremely cautious in a house with many mirrors.

I estimated an hour for this shoot. Time taken: Exactly 56 minutes. A good job, if I am allowed to say so myself, and it feels good to do a good job. This is a beautiful home, and I trust my photos (103 of them) will help secure a very quick sale for list price; perhaps even list price “plus”.