The secret of fluorescent

Consider this: two images taken at the same time.

Same projector. Same time. Huh?

A hint of what happened is in the projector light. It is the same hue in both images. So the camera’s white balance setting did not change. So the colour changed.

And the light, what was it?

Fluorescent, and that is the reason for what you are seeing.

Fluorescent lights are not continuous. Instead, they go off and on many times every second. Some flash on and off 1,000 times per second, but the cheaper ones go on and off 60 times a second. And that means that if you use a long shutter speed, like 1/60th of a second or slower, you will not notice any strange effects. But if you use a fast shutter speed, like 1/1000th second, then you can easily accidentally hit the part where the light is only just beginning to glow or where it is just going off.

So, when using fluorescent light, use slower shutter speeds than the light’s frequency. Which can be 1/60th second for the traditional older fluorescents.


Effective Black and White

Black and white (“Monochrome”) is very effective when you want to draw attention to the subject, not the surrounding “stuff”. We should all do more black and white.

I find that in particular, high-key photos like this benefit greatly from being in B/W:

Any colour in the walls etc take away from the effectiveness. And B/W makes it much easier to make a face really stand out in this kind of light.

How do you do a picture like that? Very simple:

  • Camera on manual.
  • 800 ISO, 1/125th sec, f/5.6.
  • Flash Exposure Compensation set to +2 stops.
  • Flash aimed up, behind me. .

Why 800 ISO? To give the flash enough power. Why Flash Exposure Compensation? It’s a white scene and I want the camera to shoot it as such.

A little post work can be good in “documentary” shots like this:

Wide angle lens creates pleasing shapes.

And that post work I mentioned consists of B/W conversion, cropping/rotating, and adding a little contrast and a little film grain. Yes, ADDING film grain. Film grain (a standard option in Lightroom’s DEVELOP module, in the EFFECTS pane) is nice (unlike digital noise). Makes this look like an old B/W film picture.

Photography is such a rewarding activity.


Video too! I now have a new course, “Video with your DSLR”: see or ask me for private training. Worth it, learning to do pro video!


High ISOs again

As for what I said the other day about high ISO values, here’s a reminder. It is better to get a grainy picture than to get no picture.

Case in point. Here’s Jamaica’s Luminous Lagoon last year, with swimmers :

That was taken from a moving boat at:

  • 12800 ISO
  • f/2.8
  • 16mm lens (on a full frame camera)
  • 1/4 second

Yes, yes, 12,800 ISO. And yes, one quarter second on a moving boat. So it took a few attempts. Note that I used the 16mm lens to get as wide as possible: the longer your lens, the faster the shutter speed needs to be for a motion-free picture. So the wider, the better for slow shutter speeds.

But the moral of the story: even when it is pitch dark, you can often get better pictures than you thought. Always try, and do not be afraid of high ISO values if that is the only way to get the picture.


Black and Why?

Black and white (or monochrome) is underused nowadays. Yes, colour is great–I love colour, as you see in much of my work–but “mono”, as in the picture below of a cyclist on Gouda, the Netherlands, has something going for it in several ways.

The colours do not distract from the subject. Unless the colours are the subject, avoiding this kind of distraction is a good thing.

Mood can be enhanced: mono can be a storytelling device. Mono can also evoke the past. Mono is thus used in much photojournalism.

But there are also great technical benefits to using mono, and that is what I want to briefly talk about today.

You should shoot RAW and set the camera’s “image type” to monochrome, so you see a preview that at least looks somewhat like what you will get in monochrome, but the RAW file contains all the colours.

First, white balance is unimportant. Whatever you set it to will be fine.

Second, quality of a converted file will be better; or rather, deficiencies will be less noticeable. And third, you can make changes afterward by emphasizing or de-emphasizing individual colours. This is like using coloured filters in film photography (e.g. a yellow filter to make the blue sky darker); with the difference that you can do it afterward, so you can try different “filters”.

Take model Khoral:

If I do a standard B/W conversion in Lightroom’s DEVELOP module, using its “HSL/Color/B&W” pane, I get this weighting of colours:

..which gives me:

Which of course looks fine.

But if I turn down Magenta and turn up orange (= skin colour) a little, I get:

Alternately, I could turn up both magenta and orange:

…which gives me:

Can you see how powerful a tool this is? You can try any combination of colour weighting to get the results you want. A distracting colour can be made as bright as the surrounding area so it no longer distracts. Skin can be improved (making orange a little brighter makes skin brighter, which looks clearer).

I hasten to add, of course, that if you are actually doing photojournalism, you should not mess with the original other than a standard conversion, unless your photo editor allows you to use standard colour filters, say – but this would have to be a very explicit agreement, and any edits should not alter the appearance of the scene materially. Why? Because we need to trust that what our media show us is in fact “what there was”. That’s one reason I am not a great fan of “citizen journalism” taking over the news.

But if you shoot art or commercial or family portraits, go wild. OK–maybe no going wild, but you get the idea.

One more thing. Lightroom also allows you to add “film grain”, and that can be very nice in B&W too, to give that old look – and it smooths out skin imperfections. Film grain, unlike digital “noise”, can look good.

OK – lesson over: go shoot some B/W!



Three Feet

When exactly do I use a tripod, as I am doing here at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, California?

As little as possible, because I have to carry the darn thing. Except, every time I do, it’s better.

  • I do not have to raise ISO values in order to get a fast enough shutter speed.
  • There is no motion blur (important, since even at faster shutter speeds, it CAN occur).
  • I can do panoramas.
  • I can do HDR images.
  • I can leave focus alone once it is set.
  • I can leave zoom and other compositional elements alone once set.

Here’s a panorama I made in Las Vegas the other day (view it at the original 3000-pixel wide size by clicking through):

You make a pano like that by:

  1. Using a tripod.
  2. Mounting the camera on the tripod so that it swings around its focal plane (i.e. mount the plate below the camera, not below the lens, as you otherwise might do with a long lens);
  3. Set manual exposure, white balance and focus (avoid days when the sun comes in and out);
  4. Avoid close by objects, except in they first and last pictures;
  5. Take pictures from left to right. Ensure that they overlap by, say, 30% (more is OK too). In this example, I took six pictures.
  6. Use software to put them together at the required size.
  7. Adjust and, where necessary, crop the final result.

What software? You could use Adobe Photoshop. Canon Photostitch, or a host of paid and free applications. I am not the best to advise on which one is best (anyone? Feel free to jump in with well-founded advice).