I just spoke as one of the keynote speakers at an Ajax Photography Club event called “Discovering Karsh”. All about Armenian Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh, whom The Economist, after his death, described as “the best portrait photographer in the world for the past fifty years”.
Karsh can teach photographers today a thing or two, and that was the subject of my presentation. He was a master at light, mainly in moody low key portraits (think of the grumpy Churchill portrait, where Karsh had respectfully pulled the cigar from Churchill’s mouth), for one. Google it—for copyright reasons I cannot reproduce it here.
He was also a real people person, and that was his super power. He studied his subjects before a shoot. He talked to them. At length, often, if given the opportunity. Instead of taking 100 pictures and choosing one, he took one or two when the moment was right. He was a master at choosing the moment. And his subjects trusted him and his ability to make them look good.
Google “Karsh” and see the iconic portraits that defined the 20th century. Sure, Karsh is not everyone’s taste—his portraits are low-key and often moody—but they are certainly masterful. And they defined the people that he photographed as well as reflected them. As a portrait photographer, if you can do that, you have made it.
You have heard me talk about the “Sunny Sixteen” rule before. This is a very useful rule of thumb that allows you to shoot without using your camera’s light meter. The rule is:
If your shutter speed is set to 1/ISO (e.g. 125 ISO at 1/125th sec, 200 ISO at 1/200 sec, or 400 ISO at 1/400 sec, etc), then on a fully sunny day at noon, f/16 will give you the right exposure.
Like this, at f/16:
And if it is not sunny?
||Soft around edges
This rule is a rule of thumb, so feel free to vary – I often expose two thirds of a stop higher – but since the sun is always the same brightness, it holds well. And it is nice to be able to expose without light meters, if only in order to be able to check your camera.
Bonus question: how do you expose the moon?
Answer: f/16. The moon at noon (there, so any time here, including night) is as bright as the earth at noon- they are the same distance from the sun!
So. You want to shoot a wristwatch:
Watch at full size: it’s gorgeous.
But not all shots—especially iPhone shots like this one—start out that way. This one is no exception. It started differently:
As you see, I did a few things, and all watch (and most product) photos are like that.
- I changed the geometry. To avoid reflections I had to shoot at an angle. I had to use the “Transform” pane with manual adjustments to fix that.
- I changed exposure settings (blacks especially).
- I removed noise.
- I used the brush adjustment tool to increase contrast on the face.
And lastly, I removed any imperfections:
And that’s how it is done. So when you see a perfect watch photo and wonder why you can’t do it this way, rest assured that the pros don’t, either.
It is minus 28 degrees Celsius. Yesterday, I taught a Creative Flash Photography workshop in Timmins, Ontario. Here’s a sample!
Some creative gel use:
A snapshot showing the setup for the next shot:
And here’s the shot!
…which also works in B/W:
A simple one flash grid portrait:
And two together:
Fun was had. Flying me out to anywhere for a workshop like this is worth your time: hands-on learning so beats only reading a book or watching a video!
Especially when shooting with flash, your camera (though not necessarily your flash) needs to be in manual mode. I’ll show you why.
This is Aurele Monfils in Timmins today, in auto mode:
And here is Aurele in manual mode:
In manual mode, I made a few adjustments. Namely:
- Shorter shutter speed
- Higher ISO
- Flash TTL minus one stop (FEC, Flash Exposure Compensation).
After these, as you can see the dashboard is no longer unnatural looking, and you can actually see what little late afternoon sky blue there was.