Jan 30, 2009

Fun Photo Stuff from the Web

Wedding photography styles vary, but this is what I aspire too... simply wonderful and creative images.

I say it isn't about the camera, but if you are shooting for Sports Illustrated, you get to go all out. Seriously, 12-14 cameras? I am way behind. This article might just be the thing to convince my wife I need a few more.

Also at SportsShooter... putting a camera in a unique position for a new angle on the inauguration. Looks like all of the work and hassle paid off nicely. Finding new angles is a future blog post for sure.

Bert Stephani shows us how to use available light creatively for great looking portraits...

And one from me...
Canon 5D, 400mm, f2.8, 1/125, iso1600

Have a great weekend,

don j

Jan 27, 2009

Basic Composition #2 - The Suggestion of Thirds

OK, so it is really called the "Rule of Thirds." Like any other so-called rule in the creative world, it is often broken just to make a creative statement.

With that in mind, remember that it is really a suggestion, and a very good way to think about composing your photos so that they move beyond snapshots.

Watch this for a professional explanation...

OK, that was a lot of quick information..

Basically, you want to put your subject somewhere other than dead center of the picture. That is the quick and easy snapshot, but not usually a photo that holds interest. Second to that, you want the other elements of the photo to create lines that lead your eye to the subject and create interest.

As cute as our dog Nina is, I really wish this photo was framed with more room in front of her nose, and with her somewhere off to the left instead of dead center. Definitely should have been horizontal.
Nina Peeking
Canon 40D, 17-85mm, f5.6, 1/60, iso100

Again, the photo is all about accentuating the subject.

If the subject is a face, then it is usually the eyes that are the focal point and should be part of the rule of thirds. Putting the eyes out of the center (and in focus) brings life to the face, and visual interest to the photo.
Canon 40D, 50mm, f1.8, 1/60, iso200

When composing for people, animals or anything with a face, it is important to consider where the subject is looking. In the video the guy calls it "look-off room." Basically, you need space in front of the subjects face, preferably across the frame of the picture. Otherwise, the subject is peering off the edge of the picture.

Just getting an expression is difficult enough with kids and pets... I wish I had more room to the left on this one. Even with fun lighting, my brain wants some "look-off room" over there.
Canon 40D, 17-85mm, f11, 1/250, iso200

It generally also good to leave space in front of a moving subject in the photo. Again, your brain wants a place for the movement to go, and if it goes out of the frame, it is harder to make sense of.
Where is that tongue going anyway?
Canon 40D, 17-85mm, f5.6, 1/60, iso200, Flash

OK, enough of that. Rules are meant to be broken, right? Well, sort of.

Just consider that these compositional elements are what can make a photo better than the snapshot that you were about to take. Move the subject over and give it room. With this move toward intentional photos, you are are taking control and making images that will have a better chance of looking good.
Nina Waits
Canon 40D, 17-85mm, f5.6, 1/200, iso320

Final thought, especially with dog pictures....

Don't throw the doggie treat too close to the camera!
Give me the stinkin' treat!
don j

Jan 25, 2009

HS Basketball: Kaufman vs. Kennedale

Friday was another fun night of shooting some basketball as Kaufman was at home to take on Kennedale. We are now in district play, and a good crowd came out for the Lions. The Lady Lions were well into the second quarter when I arrived and started shooting.

I got a Canon 85mm f1.8 lens to try on basketball earlier this month, so I was eager to see what I could get with it. There is very little room on the baseline, so on the 40D, this lens was a little bit too close much of the time. I chopped off a lot of hands and feet...
Canon 40D, 85mm, f2, 1/640, iso1600

Looking across the court wasn't so bad, but there was not much chance of getting the rim in the picture with the player.

Canon 40D, 85mm, f2, 1/640, iso 1600

After halftime, it was time to play with the wide angle a little bit. I like the effect, but if the action isn't right in front of you, it can get lost in the photo. This one is even croped down a bit.

Canon 5D, 14mm, f5, 1/100, iso1600

After reading this post over at A Little News, I was trying to keep an eye out for coach reactions... not much there while I was looking though. This is a unique spot to see the coach watching the game, but it really needs something from the coach or action on the court.
Canon 40D, 14mm, f2.8, 1/400, iso3200

The girls held out for a tough win, and I thought they played much better than during the December tournament. Nicely done ladies.

The boys team had a tough task ahead as well, facing last years 3A champions.
I decided to stay in one spot and use one camera for the entire first quarter. The 5D with the 70-200 seemed most useful for both ends of the court, and I thought that worked pretty well.

On offense, some nice passing... (and unfortunate backgrounds)

Canon 5D, 70-200mm, f2.8, 1/400, iso3200
and scoring...

Canon 5D, 70-200mm, f2.8, 1/400, iso3200

On defense, 200mm was close enough to the action.

Canon 5D, 70-200mm, f2.8, 1/400, iso3200

From my perspective, the cheerleaders made neat reflections on the floor... I like the artistic version better than the in focus ones.

Canon 5D, 70-200mm, f2.8, 1/400, iso3200

The Lions were down by 1 point at halftime... or, as Coach York mentioned to the baskeball coaches going into the locker room, "you only have to outscore them by two in the next half."

I decided to roam around a bit. I like to shoot from the top of the bleachers, but with a size of the crowd, there were often people blocking the action...

Canon 5D, 70-200mm, f2.8, 1/400, iso3200
From the visitor bleachers, I had a good view of some of the very competitive defensive play in midcourt. With both teams pressing hard, it was difficult to get down the court...

Canon 5D, 70-200mm, f2.8, 1/400, iso3200

There was also action in the stands as fans scrambled for souvenir baskeballs thrown by the cheerleaders during timeouts.

Canon 5D, 70-200mm, f2.8, 1/400, iso3200

The Lions came out strong and led by six after the third quarter.

Unlike this photographer, they also performed well in the fourth... I thought shooting from behind the Lions bench might be interesting...
Not so much

Canon 5D, 70-200mm, f2.8, 1/320, iso 3200

Final Score to a very exciting game, Lions Win 67-62...
And of course, a full set of images from the game is over at http://www.doncjohnson.zenfolio.com/
don j

Jan 18, 2009

Fun Stuff from the Web

I am travelling at the moment, but here are some tips from around the web..

Point and Shooters, lots of good info here...

For everybody... easy and cheap lighting ideas from Jim at ProPhotoLife.com here.

If you have ever wondered what it is like to be a paparazzi, check out this and part 2.

And one from me...

don j.

Jan 13, 2009

Exposure Basics - Just a drop in the bucket

Ever wonder why the subjects of your photos are too dark or too light? It all comes down to exposure. There are entire books dedicated to getting proper exposure in your photos... I will try to keep this short, but it really is a complex subject.

To sum it up quickly, your camera cannot take in and process nearly as much range of brightness to darkness as your eyeball can. If your picture has both really bright and really dark areas, one part or the other will be lost. Until camera technology gets better, you have to work within the limits of the camera to get the subject properly exposed.

Proper exposure is getting the camera to allow in just enough light to see the bright and dark areas correctly. Too much light, and you lose detail in the white or bright areas. Not enough light and you lose detail in the dark or shadow areas. When it is right, your picture will look like the scene you remember.

The exposure controls....

Aperture - How large of an opening in the lens for light to go through. If filling a bucket of water represented getting to a proper exposure, aperture would be the diameter of the water hose. Inside the lens is a mechanism to let in more or less light, sort of like a door. The various opening sizes are measured in "F-Stops" i.e. 2.8, 4, 8, 11, 16... with smaller numbers being a larger opening. (Smaller Number = Brighter)

Shutter Speed - Is how long the shutter stays open. For the bucket of water it would be how long you let the water flow. Or, if a door, it would be how long the door is open. Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second, 1/60, 1/100, etc. (Smaller Fraction = Darker)

ISO - This is the sensitivity setting of the camera. Lower ISO numbers mean less sensitivity. ISO also affects image quality, but we will get into that another time. In the water bucket example, changing the ISO essentially changes the size of the bucket. With a higher ISO (more sensitive) you would have a smaller bucket, because less is needed to get to a proper exposure.

It takes a bit to wrap your head around those three things, and how changing any of them also affects other aspects of your image, like stopping action (shutter speed), how much of the photo is in focus (Aperture), and overall image quality (noise). For now though, just know that they all work together, and changing one can be offset by changing another. For our bucket of water... you would get the same "exposure" with either: A. Large hole, short pour time or B. Small hole, long pour time.
What Your Camera Thinks...
The camera's auto exposure modes are programmed to find an exposure that averages the light and dark areas of the photo find a happy medium. Essentially, it wants the exposure to be this.

This is great most of the time, because in most pictures, there is a nice variety of light and dark areas.

Unfortunately, the camera does not know if a scene is SUPPOSED to have more lights or darks in it, and it can overcompensate. This is why shooting into a bright sky results in silhouetted subjects, or taking a picture of the moon results in a simple white dot with no detail. If you were shooting a white wall, it would try to cut the light down (faster shutter, higher f-stop) to make it gray. A black wall? It would adjust to let enough light in (slower shutter, lower f-stop) to make it gray.

The camera doesn't care what the subject should look like. Instead, it wants a nice average. In this case, it goes with the sky, which looks nice... if I wanted a silhouette. But I don't.

Now.... what does this really do for you?

As you consider the whole picture, think about the relative brightness of the subject and everything else. If there is a good mix, then the camera should figure it out pretty well. If not, it is tell the camera who is boss.

All SLRs and many point-and-shoots have some form of exposure correction. You may have to dig up your manual to find it, but it is worth it! To make your subject look correct in the photo, you have to force the camera to let in more or less light. There is usually a scale of -3_-2_-1_0_+1_+2_+3 with negatives being less light, positive numbers, more light.

Here is a P&S camera showing +2 on the exposure compensation circled in red.

Remember, identify the subject and then you can adjust the exposure for that.... everything else is less important.
Fill Flash...
If your subject is coming up too dark because of a really bright background, simply adding exposure compensation will help, but it will also over-expose the background. (remember, the camera cannot fill even close to the same range as your eyes).
To compensate, sometimes you can add light to the subject by forcing the flash to fire. This is usually the lightening bolt button on P&S cameras. Sometimes you get too much light, so it is a bit of trial and error, but you can adjust brightness by moving closer or further from the subject. On DSLRs you can adjust how much light you get from the flash manually (called flash exposure compensation, check the manual).
This one turned out about right. (with a P&S)

On-Camera flash never looks as good as nice natural light, but it can certainly help you even out the scene to something that the camera can handle.

The reverse is also true... the camera may try to use the flash because a lot of the scene is dark, killing the subject with glaring bright light.
Turning off the flash (same lightning button on P&S cameras) and using some positive exposure compensation will help correct this. Of course, you also lose some detail in the bright areas, but that is the tradeoff you make to prioritize the subject.
OK, that is a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo, and we did not even start playing with ISO.
The good news? Knowing what the camera is trying to do will allow you to take control of the process. Now go get the camera and play with exposure compensation! This is the beginning of making the pictures that are better than the "average" that your camera wants to give you.
If you would like this broken down further, just let me know. I will be addressing the other effects of shutter speed, aperture and ISO in future posts as well. This post has gone on too long already!
don j.

Jan 11, 2009

Lady Lions vs. Lady Dawgs

Occasionally I will use the blog to post the results of a shoot of some sort. This is certainly a learning process, so I will share what I am discovering as we go along...

After a long and fairly productive HS football season, I was pretty eager to get indoors out of the cold and try my hand at basketball. The last basketball games I shot were in 1995, when I was still a student, so my timing is still pretty bad. The Kaufman holiday tournament was a good warm-up and I was back to see the Lady Lions face the Lady Dawgs of Venus last Friday.

Canon 40D, ef85mm, f2.0, 1/800, iso1600, no flash

When I arrived, the JV game was in full swing, with the Lions enjoying a comfortable lead. Kaufman dominated throughout with a final score of 50-22.

Canon 5D, 24-70mm, f2.8, 1/400, iso 1600, no flash

It was the more of the same for the varsity squad with a final of 41-18. I did not take notes, so you will have to pick up a paper for the details...

With any sport photography, one of the main concerns is having enough light to get a fast enough shutter speed to stop action. The KHS gym is pretty good in this regard, but you do have to have a camera that can take advantage of it by pushing the ISO up to at least 1600.

My Challenge then? Bring a 3 year old Point and Shoot camera to see what I could get. The answer... not much, but I do want to play with settings and try again.

Kodak v530, f4.5, 1/8, iso 160, no flash

As you can see, the shutter (which cannot be manually set) was too slow to stop any action. Panning to get a cool effect is difficult as well because of the lag time of the lcd screen on the camera.

My best results came from forcing the camera to underexpose, then bumping it up a lot in Adobe Lightroom after the fact. Color looked horrible, so I move it to black and white. It looks a lot like shooting B&W Film back in high school!

Kodak v530, f4.8, 1/100, iso160, no flash

Fun as that experiment was, it got old really quickly. Back to the DSLRs.

Shooting basketball can be fun because of the constant action. Unfortunately, it requires players to spend a great deal of time with their arms in the air, defending, shooting or passing.
Canon 5D, 85mm, f2.0, 1/640, iso1600, no flash

Players are crossing between the camera and the ball often, which can really mess with the autofocus. If I manage to keep the right player in focus, it can make unique looking shots.

Canon 40D, 85mm, f2.0, 1/800, iso1600, no flash

In the end, it all comes down to timing, and staying ready to shoot. Taking a second to see how the last shot looked on the LCD is almost a guarantee that something dramatic is going to happen and I get no picture of it. This seems to happen most on defense, so I decided to stay on it and caught this nice steal by #10 Sammatha Offord.

Canon 40D, 70-200mm, f2.8, 1/400, iso1600, no flash

She is very quick, and the Lady Dawgs did not handle that very well. Which resulted in a lot of variations of this picture.

Canon 40D, 70-200mm, f2.8, 1/400, iso1600, no flash

Shooting from the top of the home bleachers gives an interesting perspective and often the court floor makes a clean background for the action. Bleachers are ugly.

I like to try to time the free throw and catch the ball in the basket... nothing spectacular yet, but a fun exercise nonetheless.

Canon 5D, 70-200mm, f2.8, 1/320, iso1600, no flash

Since I am trying to sell prints of these photos to parents (available here), I try to get some fairly close shots. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but you are guaranteed to capture some fun expressions and hair flying around...

Canon 40D, 85mm, f2.0, 1/800, iso1600, no flash

A thought on showing context in a photo....

The cheerleaders were doing their thing, and during a timeout did some sort of pyramid. Zooming in on the top cheerleader was a nice shot with a clean background... but no context of the fact that she was standing 7' in the air on the hands of her squadmates...

Canon 5D, 70-200mm, f2.8, 1/320, iso1600, no flash

Giving the whole picture meant cluttering the background, but without seeing the whole picture, the drama of the moment is lost.
Canon 5D, 70-200mm, f2.8, 1/320, iso1600, no flash
Here are a few more shots from Friday. The full set of keepers is here.

Canon 5D, 85mm, f2.0, 1/640, iso1600, no flash

Canon 40D, 85mm, f2.0, 1/800, iso1600, no flash

Canon 40D, 85mm, f2.0, 1/800, iso1600, no flash
Canon 5D, 85mm, f2.0, 1/640, iso1600, no flash
Have a great Monday,
don j.

Jan 8, 2009

Don't Kill The Subjects

Ok, so identifying the subject is a bit obvious. Seriously, if there wasn't a subject, you would not have grabbed the camera, right? But now that you have identified the subject in your mind, you can start to do the fun creative part of photography and making intentionally good pictures.

Photos that create visual interest start with a good subject, but the rest of the image is what takes the picture out of the "snapshot" category. In this case, very selective focus draws the eye to the bell of this well-used horn. If everything else in the picture were in focus, the uniqueness of the subject (which in this case is the horn) would get lost in all of the other details.

Canon 5D, 50mm, f1.4, 1/250, Av mode, iso1000, no flash

Subject Killers...

When you start looking for things that detract from your subject, you can eliminate them.

Clutter in the background, especially if it is in focus, draws the eye away from the subject. Many times, you can eliminate background issues behind the subject by moving the camera. When you are really feeling sneaky, you can hide background distractions behind the subject's head, with the bonus of having a unique lighting effect at the same time!
Canon 5D, 24-70, f2.8, 1/60, iso3200, no flash

If you would like insight about the importance of a good background, check out blog posts by the three top-notch photographers Newsweek sent to cover the Olympics last year. Many comments are made about locating a good background, and then using it to frame the action for beautiful shots. They give a lot of insight into the amount of thought that they put into making photos, which is inspiring or depressing depending on how you want to look at it!

Focus is another huge subject killer. I hate coming home from an event and finding an image that could have been really good, and seeing the focus was off. For those who have made the jump to an SLR, you have the greatest amount of control over where to focus. A little time with the instruction manual and some practice time will take care of that. Point and Shooters... this is a tough one, but you do have some options. Many P&S cameras have modes like center-weighted focusing that can help you select what you really want to focus on. You may have to dig in some menus to find it.

I wanted to like this shot, but it really ended up being a nice picture of the subject's hand (which was not intended) while her face is a bit out of focus. If I had been really looking at this, an extra second and I could have put the focus on her face, and waited for the background to clear.

Nikon D3, 300mm, f2.8, 1/200, iso6400, no flash

Other subject killers include distracting colors, chopped off limbs, bad hair days and overly harsh light. Just stop to think... identify the subject, then look at everything else. The "everything else" should be in some way enhancing the subject, leading the eye toward the subject or giving context to the subject. If it isn't doing that, just fill the frame with the subject and eliminate the subject killer altogether.

I will cover some lighting info in future posts, for the bad hair, I would be no help. Seriously.

don j.

Jan 6, 2009

Basic Composition #1- Know Your Subject

Have you ever had the experience of looking back through photos from a trip and finding some that you aren't really sure where you took them or what they are of?

I hope that isn't just me.

Sometimes it is the simplest thing that escapes your brain when taking a photo... the subject. Of course, when you are standing there with a camera, your mind has already taken in the context of what is going on. What gets captured in the image however, may not really bring back the feelings or experience of where you were that inspired you to get the camera out. This is also what makes vacation slide shows so boring for people who weren't there. If the photos aren't bringing back your feelings, they are really dead to people who have no internal reference to where they were taken.

What is this a snapshot of? Bus? Cars? Fountain? Building? Did something happen here?

Kodak v530, Auto, f3.8, 1/160, no flash, iso80

Actually, I was trying to get the parking lot full of Mercedes, Porsches etc. but failed miserably.

The first thing to consider when taking intentional photos is "What is the subject?" The rest of the why, when, where and how revolve around being able to figure out what the picture is about. If the picture doesn't have a defined subject (or subjects), it becomes more difficult to comprehend. It makes less sense as a photo and more sense as abstract art. Nothing wrong with that, just know what you are going for.

After deciding what the subject really is, the fun creative part can begin... putting that subject in a context that gives it meaning and feeling.

This is a bit better... still a snapshot, but at least we have something to look at. This was in 2005, before the Smart cars were being sold in the U.S.A. It made her Mini look quite spacious.
Kodak v530, Auto, f2.8, 1/100, iso125, flash on

I will write about separating foreground, middle and background later, but in thinking about the subject, you can also be intentional about where it is in the photo, and how it relates to whatever else you put in the frame. Too many unrelated details and you just get clutter, to few details and you leave unanswered questions when someone looks at the photo.

A little thought went into the composition here, with the car in the foreground, artist renderings on the wall and engines in the background... hopefully it gives a sense of place to the subject, which is the Ferrari Enzo.

Kodak v530, Auto, f2.8, 1/60, iso125, flash on

Yes I enjoy shooting pictures of cars, especially Ferraris.

When you have the camera in your hand, it is easy to assume that what you are seeing is what the picture will be. In reality, the resulting image is a small, two-dimensional, visual-only reminder of what you were looking at. Making sure that you know what you are trying to capture is the first step to creating an image that can take you back to that place, and even let other people experience it as well.

Please note also that I am not saying to stop shooting snapshots. Sometimes they turn out great, or that is all the time you have to capture a moment. When you do have a moment to consider the shot, all the better. The practice of intentionally selecting a subject will gradually become habit and the snapshots will get better too.

don j.

Jan 4, 2009

Making Pictures vs. Taking Pictures

What matters most when you are trying to get a good picture? The camera? The light? The subject? Color?
How about the mind of the photographer?

If you want to make better pictures, the first thing I can recommend is to consider your active participation in the process.
I tend to break my photos into two categories...

Let's say it is birthday party time, you want some photos to document the festivities and maybe something for the scrapbook. No problem, pull out the camera and blast anything that moves! If you take enough pictures, some of them will probably be fine, you will get everyone, and at the end of the day you will have a lot to look at. Nothing wrong with that, and it is easy! Unfortunately, this is what we do most and end up with positively average pictures most of the time.

This is definitely a snapshot. No thought about the distractions on the table or decapitating people in the background (sorry Julie), and overall just not a nice photo.

Canon 40D, EF-S 17-85, f4.5, 1/60, iso400, built in flash

Intentional Pictures
When taking snapshots, there are sometimes those wonderful little surprises, pictures that I really like. Taking the next step to intentional photography makes that happen a lot more often! As with most situations, it is usually wise to avoid the tendency to "shoot first, ask questions later." It may be just as simple as waiting an extra second before taking the picture, changing angles, or zooming in a bit... but you will only know if you think first about what you are trying to get.

This is a little better than a snapshot... a little consideration about the light, and zoomed in enough to minimize background distractions somewhat.
Canon 40D, EF-S 17-85, f5, 1/60, iso 200, 580ex Flash bounced off ceiling

This sounds simple enough, but when you really start thinking about the picture before you take it tends to cause more questions than answers. Having that vision in your head prior to pushing the button also allows for failure when the picture turns out nothing like you thought. It is easy to go back to just snapping away mindlessly.

Like any exercise, it does get easier with practice and knowledge, which is what this is all about. We'll cover the details as we go along.

My favorite birthday cake shot last year...
Canon 5D, 70-200, f4.5, 1/45, iso 800, off camera flash to the left of the camera for just a little fill.

Don J