Abstract, or meaning extracted?

This tree, from yesterday’s walk with students:

I made that by zooming my 16-35 lens while shooting at about 1/15 second. That gives you either something that is still recognizable as a tree, or something that is less so:

Which one is better? They are both good. The first one says something about the tree, I feel. The second one is more about the line, motion, shapness.

And the point? The point is that you can do with your photography what you want, from literalism t abstract art. And that there are many tricks. And that you should use those tricks!

 

 

 

Exceed Your Limits!

That sounds like something on an inspirational poster in your company’s HR office, doesn’t it? But I mean it. You can exceed your limits. Your shutter’s limits, that is.

One of my cameras has a flash sync speed of 1/200 sec. That means, see the post from two days ago, that I cannot go faster than that without this happening:

See that black bar? That’s what happens. Flash does not reach that part of the photo; the shutter curtain is too slow and gets in the way.

But sometimes, especially in bright sunlight, I want to shoot at 1/250 second, or even at 1/300 second.

And you know what? Sometimes I do.

In that picture, taken at 1/250th second on a camera that only goes up to 1/200, is the black area at the bottom really annoying? No. It is not obvious (there is also ambient light) and in any case, I want to vignette a little anyway.

Remember, it is only the bottom (or if I turn the camera to portrait orientation, the right) that will lack flash. So I can use a faster-than-allowed shutter speed while using a flash, IF any of the following four apply:

  • the subject of my photo is just in the centre; or
  • there is a lot of ambient light; or
  • I can crop off the black area; or
  • I want a strong vignette anyway.

There. Another trick on your flash bag of tricks!

 

Make it better.

Here’s a typical outside flash shot. (Taken by the über-talented photographer Lisa Mininni while I was teaching her flash tricks yesterday):

What did we do to make this?

[A] Take the shot:

This was a flash shot, of course. So outside in bright sunlight the settings are very, very simple.

  1. Pocketwizard on camera.
  2. Second Pocketwizard connected to the flash by means of a “Pocketwizard to hotshoe”–cable from www.flashzebra.com. Modify with a softbox or umbrella (the latter is smaller but will blow over more easily in the slightest breeze).
  3. Flash set to manual, half power. (Be ready to increase to full if you need to—but the flash may overheat, and recharge time between shots will be long).
  4. White balance to “Flash”.
  5. Camera manual, 100 ISO, 1/250 sec.
  6. Then, determine the aperture you need for a good background. Start at f/8—and then vary from there. On a day like yesterday, I needed f/11 to f/16.
  7. Once your background is right, look at the flash part. If the flash is too bright, reduce its power level or move it farther away from what it is lighting. If the flash is too dark, increase its power level or move it closer to what it is lighting. Or add a second flash, Worst case, use direct, unmodified flash.

[B] Finish the shot:

That finishing (not “editing”!) is just as important as taking the photo, and it consists of:

  1. Verify exposure and tweak if necessary. (If you have taken the shot properly, this should not be needed.) Pay attention also to “highlights” and “blacks”.
  2. Set white balance to “Flash”, if it wasn’t already. (Ditto).
  3. Correct lens and “architecture”–distortion.
  4. Crop and rotate if/as needed.
  5. Sharpen if/as needed.
  6. Perhaps add a very slight post-crop vignette.

Those steps are pretty much standard, and a typical picture takes me less than 30 seconds to finish.

[C] Options

I could of course add another flash, for the background. Set that to quarter power.

OK. How was this shot lit, then? Here’s how:

That’s right—always make a pullback shot, where you can see the lighting setup. You’ll forget. I used a third pocketwizard connected to the second flash via a second hotshoe cable.

Is this rocket science? No. But it is fun and it does open up untold creative possibilities.

___

Come to me for a private lesson and I will teach you how to do this, how to use modifiers, how to balance light sources, how to use gels, and much, much more,. You don’t need much, other than an SLR, a flash, and knowledge of the basics (“what is aperture and shutter speed and how do they work”)—but I can even teach you those if you like. See http://learning.photography or give me a call on +1 416-875-8770 and never look back. I can teach you remotely, too, using Google hangouts, too, even if you are in, say, Australia.


Sync

An October 2009 post that is still valid…:


A reminder to all flash photographers: you need your shutter speed to be below the camera’s flash synch speed.

What does this mean? Let me explain.

The flash fires for the briefest period, of course. Like 1/2000th of a second. That is why we call it a flash.

So when it fires, if the light is to reach the entire film or sensor, the shutter needs to be totally open at that point.

That much is obvious. But what is not obvious is that there is an engineering limitation in your shutter. Beyond a certain shutter speed, the camera’s synch speed, the shutter never totally opens. Instead, a small (increasingly narrow) slit travels across the shutter to give each pixel a brief exposure time.That’s cool – the shutter does not have to be super-fast and expensive and you get a fast shutter speed.

But this gets in the way when you are using flash. When you fire during those short exposure times (on most modern cameras, faster than about 1/200th second), the light does not reach the entire sensor. Look at this example I shot to illustrate this, at speeds from 1/200th to 1/1000th sec:

SHUTTER

You can see that as I exceed the sync speed, the light only reaches part of the shutter.

You should also note that especially when using external flashes with Pocketwizards or similar, flash takes time to set up. My 1Ds MKIII has a synch speed f 1/25oth second but as you see, at that speed it is already beginning to cut off. Best stay a bit below your synch speed (I typically set my shutter, when I am using studio flash, to 1/125th second).

(There is a way to overcome that: fast flash, which some high end flash units offer. This continuously, all the time that the shutter travels, pulses the flash at a very rapid rate, so that the slit, as it travels across the sensor, has light coming in throughout its travel time. It works great – do use it when taking flash images outside – but it uses a lot of energy, and hence decreases the range of your flash.)

(Advanced tip: I know of at least one photographer who uses this effect to introduce an electronic version of a neutral density filter or a barn door: he sets his camera to 1/320th second while using flash, and turns the camera upside down. That makes the top part of the image dark, at least as far as the flash part of the light is concerned!)

SLR TIP from four years ago

Exactly four years ago, 15 July 2011, I wrote this – and it is still relevant. Plus ça change…


When you are using an SLR to look at images you have taken on the back of your camera, set your camera to not autorotate the images. That way you can see the image fill the entire LCD instead of part of the LCD with big black bars on both sides. And that looks so much better!

On some cameras (all Canon SLR cameras, for instance) you even have two options: “turn or not turn” on the camera display, and “turn or not turn” in the image itself.

In this case I set autorotate ON in the file, but OFF when reviewing on camera (i.e. I use the middle option: the file is unchanged, just the displaying on the camera changes).

You will find thise fuction either in the playback menu of your camera, or in the settings menu.