Do it now

A note to those of you who want to learn things—some time soon.

My advice is to do it now. Often, that’s the only way to get things done: do them right now. Not “some other time”, since that never arrives. Tomorrow is always just out of reach.

Learning photography is easy. There are many ways to do it. They involve books and training (see http://learning.photography), but they all also involve doing it.

Like the relationship between depth of field (“how blurry is the background) and distance to your object. The essence is to try it without varying anything else. For example, look at the background. Is the whiteboard fuzzy or sharp?

35mm lens, f/2.8:

35mm lens, f/2.8:

35mm lens, f/2.8:

All I did was vary the distance. The board gets blurrier as I move forward. (The smile gets bigger, as well, did you notice? Nothing like poking a camera into someone’s face to get a smile—or to get beaten up).

So f/2.8 can give you a very blurry background, or a blurry background, or a sharp background, as long as you change the distance. You could also try leaving the distance the same but varying the lens focal length (by zooming in) or the aperture (remembering to adjust ISO to keep exposure the same).

The key is: do it. Don’t just think about it. Grab your camera (now!) and learn the relationship between aperture, ISO, shutter, focal length, and distance.

The same is true of the learning thing. If you had been thinking of booking some private learning time, or of buying my books, do it now, so your next shoot (even if it is for March Break) will be better. You know my number.

And to finish: one more tip. If you always have your camera at hand, you lose nothing. Like the cat yawning, this morning:

 

Challenges in a

I shot portraits yesterday. Some were headshots. These are sometimes challenging because you want to get great expressions out of people who are not professional models. Saying “smile” doesn’t do it.

But then, even more fun, the environmental portraits. And these should be storytelling pictures. With good group composition.  Three colleagues:

In these, as you see I like drama, so I expose for the outside. 100 ISO, 1/100 sec, f/8. Why not the usual 1/250 sec? Because that would have meant f/5, and in this case I wanted f/8 for DOF.

The story is to do with the airport, of course. And individual shots are easier: see my friend and assistant Maged yesterday as I was setting up for the shot.

Nice wrap-around light from an off-camera umbrella.

Here, another one:

The biggest challenge? The flash has a big umbrella. This is visible in almost every picture as a window reflection. And it lights up the ceiling: ditto. And I needed an angle that shows the radar tower. So in the event, I moved left and right, up and down, back and forth, and I made the light and the subject do the same, until I finally had one angle that had sufficient light in the subject and that had no umbrella showing, and only acceptable ceiling reflection. It’s always possible: I learned that long ago. But I also learned that it’s always a challenge. So: persevere.

Why not do without an umbrella?

That’s why!

 

x100: Can you see a theme?

Regular readers will see that the last few days, I have been shooting with, and talking about, the Fujicolor x100 camera that I carry:

Fuji X100 (Photo: Michael Willems)

The theme has been: given the right light (e.g. flash!) and the right techniques, you can take professional pictures with it that are as good as those taken with an SLR. This is almost straight out of camera (a crop and a few dust spots removed):

Now while I am not recommending product shoots with the x100, this goes to show it can be as good as an SLR.

But now let’s take it a step farther. It can be better.

Yes, better. And here’s how:

I just took that picture at 200 ISO, f/8, 1/1000 sec. That makes for that nice, dark sky.

Wait. Did he just say 1/1000 sec, one thousandth of a second? That is impossible since the flash sync speed of 1/250 second limits the shutter speed you can set the camera to when using a flash. Right??

Wrong. The x100 has a leaf shutter. And it allows flash up to 1/1000 second. And as said, that is why that sky is so wonderfully dark. It is in fact noon and it looks bright to my eyes. But 1/1000 sec makes it dark. Two stops darker than my other cameras could have done!

But he could have done that with aperture, with a higher f-number. Or with an ND filter.

Nope. If I had, I would have run out of flash power. The flash needs to get through that filter, or through  that small aperture, and it is not bright enough at higher apertures, especially when a modifier is being used.

So the x100 may be small, but it can do things my $8,000 1Dx cannot do. Just saying!

 

Ad lucem

…or “to the light”.

But contrary to that Latin phrase, a little tip today for when you don’t want light. Like when you want to hide something.

Hide something? Example, please?

OK. Say you have a roll of paper in your studio. and you want to shoot a full length portrait. Normally you would pull the roll all the way forward so the subject stands on it. No transition can be seen at their feet because there is no transition.

But if the roll is too short? Then you will see a clear (and ugly) transition from “floor” to “roll”:

But this is solvable. It is in fact simple: keep the transition in the dark. Then you will not see it. Like this:

To keep it in the dark, you must do two things:

  1. Set the camera so that ambient light plays no role (i.e. without flash, the picture is all dark), Standard settings like 1/125 sec, 100 ISO, f/8 will take care of that. This means all light in the photo will be from your flashes.
  2. Ensure your flash light does not reach the transition. By definition, that will result in the area being dark. So you need to point away from the area and have enoughdistance from the background.

That is it. So if I use two softboxes as above, and feather them away from the background, I will not throw any light on the background. That means it will be dark. And since the floor is light when you are, it will be a gradual darkening.

Simple. Two softboxes and a too-short-really paper roll, and that’s the result. Things do not always need to be complicated.

 

Jane and hats

This is Jane Dayus-Hinch at today’s Bridal Show in Toronto:

As you see, Jane wears hats. Large hats. And these are extremely challenging, photographically. You will get very dark eyes.

What you can do:

  • If using flash, lower your lights a little, and perhaps move them a little farther away.
  • Tip the hat up a little.
  • Add a reflector underneath.
  • Use a white floor with a lot of ambient light mixed in (as I did here).
  • Do some post work.

Even with these, the conditions will still not be perfect, so you may have to live with slightly darker eyes. But at least the photos will be acceptable, as this one is. And as Jane’s photographer, I have to be able to handle hats!