Useful Photography Tip #154: Teaching Your Eyes to See Shadows and Light

Image-1

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The above photo is not an emboss or done with any sort of special filter in Photoshop. Instead, it was all done manually by hand and with Adobe Photoshop Sketch on the iPad Air 2. It’s an image from my Sony a7s Mk II review and was rendered into a black and white simply because I liked the look of it.

What a lot of people don’t realize about photography is that the best still you’ll ever have is your ability to see light and judge it to help you create a better exposure. Black and white photography can help with that but so can literally taking a stylus and sketching over a photo of yours. By doing this, you’re matching specific colors to certain areas and learning more about the way that shadows and lighting works. With this photo, I was able to better understand how the image came to work–because of the lighting coming from the windows hitting Evelyn from one side being blown out and the shadows working to help create a pleasing scene.

By doing this, I was able to clearly differentiate how lines worked in the scene, how shadows worked, and the simplicity behind the entire photo. It’s what many black and white photographers talk about often: colors can be complicated to work with unless done really well.

Though it isn’t specifically involving you shooting an image, it’s still an exercise that will help you to carefully judge lines, lighting, shadows, etc if you pay attention to the parts of the scene that you’re painting over.

Give it a shot.

Useful Photography Tip #153: Creating Pure Black and White Images in Adobe Lightroom

Screen Shot 2015-12-23 at 8.37.48 PM

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If you’ve ever tried creating a black and white image in Adobe Lightroom, most of the advanced photographers know that you should start by converting the image using the Black and White Treatment option. But the problem here is that sometimes you don’t really get just pure black and white photos. Instead, what you’ll get is a mix of some sepias or other tones that oddly look something like Kodak Tri-X or Kodak BW400 CN.

To create images in pure black and white that instead look something like Ilford Delta 400 or Delta 100, the process is fairly simple.

  • In the basic adjustment panel, move the black levels to the left a specific number. Then adjust the exposure of the image to be basically what you want.
  • Move the white levels to the right the inverse number. So if your blacks are -38, move the white to +38.
  • Scroll down to the color channels and you’ll see options called Black and White mix with specific color regions and channels.
  • Click the color selection tool and move the mouse pointer over areas of the image that aren’t quite either black or white. Then click and raise or lower their exposure levels.
  • After this, come back to the basic adjustment panel, lower your contrast and adjust your exposure.

That’s it! That’s how you create more pure black and white photos using Adobe Lightroom and all in less than a couple of minutes.

Useful Photography Tip #152: Print the Photos That Tug at Your Heart

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica M9 at Bryant Park (10 of 27)

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For many readers of the Phoblographer, you’re probably celebrating the Christmas holiday today. And today should be not only a day that you spend with those you love and care about the most, but also one that makes you remember to not only take photographs, but make them. Beyond just making the photographs, make them special.

In today’s mostly digital-centric photography world, we take photos, post them online and forget about them. But truth be told, that wasn’t photography was designed for. Photography was designed to capture a moment that will last forever. To that end, the way that we have to remember the images that we take these days is to physically surround ourselves with them. Shoot a photo and then print it. But don’t just print any and every photo, print the ones that mean something to you and that tug at your heart.

Though it may not physically last forever, it’s bound to always make you remember that very precious moment in your life.

Happy holidays to everyone.

Useful Photography Tip #151: Direct Flash and Macro Photography

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Direct flash Macro tutorial (3 of 3)ISO 4001-30 sec at f - 2.8

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One of the best ways to get even illumination in a macro photo is to use a flash. But you don’t need to use a giant ring flash. At the same time, ring flash attachments for hot shoe flashes tend to cut down on the amount of light that comes out–which forces the flash to work harder than it really has to.

Instead, just simply set the zoom head of the flash to the longest focal length, set the lens to the macro focusing range, and shoot. In the case that you’ve got a TTL flash, this is very straight forward if you also have radio triggers. Otherwise, you’ll need to set the flash manually–which really isn’t such a big deal and allows you to have even more control in an even more straightforward way.

This method can make the output from an older lens like the Tokina 100mm f2.8 Macro lens look really great. And as far as flashes go, there are loads of affordable flashes and triggers from Yongnuo, but in the image above I’m using the Phottix Laso with a Canon 580 EX II. Sample photo is after the jump.

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Useful Photography Tip #150: Black and White Images Fool The Eye Into Thinking They’re Sharper

Black and white vs Color comparison the phoblographer

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A while back, I posted a short tutorial on the secret behind sharper photos; to this date it’s one of the site’s most popular posts. But as I’ve been experimenting more and more with black and white photography, I’ve noticed something different. In that secret to sharpness post, I talk about the black levels and how deeper blacks help the eye to perceive that you’ve got a sharper image. It’s part of the idea behind the manipulation of contrast and mid tones in Adobe Lightroom.

While I’m not suggesting that everyone always shoots in black and white, if you want an image to appear sharper, you should convert it to black and white. But at the same time, don’t use this as a crutch to not getting good lighting and a sharp image to begin with. Just use it as a way to enhance the experience if you absolutely care about a critically sharp image that will make people on DPReview’s forums order Vaseline and Kleenex.

In general, high contrast and overly sharpened black and whites generally look much better than images in color.

You can view the images individually after the jump.

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Useful Photography Tip #149: Remove the Lens Hood When Shooting at Macro Focus Ranges

macro

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Lens hoods are generally a great idea. In fact, I’d say that you should always have one on the front of your lens to protect the front from damage of most sorts. But if you’re shooting with a macro lens in the macro ranges (super duper close up focusing), then having the lens hood on isn’t such a great idea.

Sounds like photography 101, right? Unfortunately, for many folks it isn’t.

When you’re focusing on a subject within the macro ranges, you’ll need all the light you can possibly get. At a certain focusing distance from the subject, a lens hood will just get in the way of allowing more light into the scene or even to allow light in the scene at all. You’d be surprised at how that can happen even if you’re using a flash or strobe lighting.

To get the absolute sharpest macro images, it makes sense to do this with a traditional and proper studio setup involving a tripod, strobes, reflectors, etc. That way you can control the light to function exactly how you want it to with your camera set to a low ISO reading. Oh right, and be sure to remove the lens hood.

If you’re really concerned about the front element of your lens, then a UV filter is an affordable solution.

Looking for your own macro lens? Here are some you’ll really enjoy.

Useful Photography Tip #148: A Trick to Taking a Better Photo of Someone in Costume

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Halloween is coming up, and you know what that means? You’re going to spend the entire time alone at home eating all the candy by yourself and watching reruns on TV spend time taking photos of people in their awesome costumes. But don’t just ask them for a portrait–make your photo stand out from the crowd. We’re not just talking about adding lighting to bring out beautiful details in the image, but instead this is all about posing and scenery.

First off, try to get a neutral background, that way someone will be able to focus on just the person and the costume when they look at your image.

Then, try to go for even lighting on the subject. If you don’t have a flash, then go for ambient light sources like a street lamp or a ceiling light.

Lastly and the most important, talk to the person about who they’re dressed as and try to get them to mimic a specific pose from that person or thing. It’ll just make sense. For example, if someone is dressed as Stewie from Family Guy, you know to make sure that they look miserable or like they’re plotting something.

The last bit is the most critical part and like anything in photography, it requires communication between people.

Useful Photography Tip #147: How to Properly Illuminate a Person’s Eyes in a Photo

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Portraits from Early Winter 2015 extras (13 of 21)ISO 4001-180 sec at f - 5.0

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Illuminating someone’s face when using a flash is pretty simple to do and really all about positioning more than anything else. Best of all, you can do it all with one light source.

If you’re using natural light:

– Don’t have your subject look into the sun.

– Find diffused light; like that under a tree, awning, or in a building.

– Preferably, find a reflective surface that bounces light back into the person’s face.

– Place the reflected light source in front of or slightly to the side of the person.

If you’re using a flash in the hot shoe:

– Bounce the flash output off of a surface to the side and slightly behind you.

– Have the subject face you directly.

– Do not bounce the flash directly off of the ceiling. You’ll create shadows under the eyes.

If you’re using a flash/strobe out of the hot shoe:

– Put the flash in a large modifier–one that is larger than the person’s face

– Place the light modifier with the flash in front of the subject/slightly to the side

In all of these situations, try to turn the subject’s face slightly towards the light source. This will create more direct illumination onto the eyes.

Useful Photography Tip #146: Creating Vintage Filter Effects With Lightroom’s Split Toning

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 5.59.02 PM

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Adobe Lightroom has a little section that is most likely ignored by so many of you. It’s called the Split Toning panel. If you’re a concert photographer dealing with some crazy mixed lighting situations and you want to neutralize the problem, you can use this section and specific application of color theory knowledge to fix it. But by setting the highlights to one color at one end of the spectrum and the shadows to another color, dialing the saturation for each to an equal amount, then playing with the balance you can create similar vintage filter effects to what Instagram, VSCO, EyeEm and others will offer you.

For example, setting the highlights to a degree of blue and the shadows to a degree or orange, cranking the saturation of each to 32, and then messing with the balance between highlights and shadows you can create looks similar to that rendered from Instant film like that from Fujifilm’s Instant 100-C peel apart film.

Alternatively, you can invert the hues for the highlights and shadows then change the balance to be more skewed to the shadows. This will give you a much different look and effect closer to a very soft contrast film if you raise the exposure levels just a tad.

Again though, this is something that you’ll have to experiment with and try for to get the “best results” for you. While some love the extreme filter look, others prefer to dial theirs back to a very conservative amount. But consider this the next time you want to render these looks in an organic way and without destroying the sharpness of the image.

Useful Photography Tip #145: Creating Wrap Around Light With One Light Source

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer New York Comic Con 2012 Photos (6 of 33)ISO 200

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Wrap around light: what this means is light that literally wraps around a subject and gives the illusion of two lights. Traditionally, photographers needed two or more lights to do it, but the effect can be created in camera with one light.

There are two components to this: One massive light modifier in relation to the subject and and one light.

First off, face your subject and place the light (inside the light modifier) in front of your subject and slightly above the camera. Angle the light modifier to be flat against the subject though you can also place it a bit higher and angled downward a bit.

How big of a modifier are we talking? Generally it should be larger than your subject. If you’re photographing a mango as a still life, then a 24 inch softbox or some sort should be more than enough. If you’re photographing a person, then you’ll need something like a six or seven foot umbrella or softbox.

Then what you’ll need to do is meter the subject for the flash/strobe output and then meter accordingly on your camera to the ambient light. When you’ve metered for the ambient, underexpose by around 2/3rds of a stop.

If the shutter speed is too slow for you to handhold, use a tripod or crank up the ISO and re-meter for the flash output.

If you don’t want to raise the ISO any higher, then what you’re going to need to do is use a tripod to avoid any camera shake.

When a flash and strobe are involved in the creation of an exposure, the flash output exposure is dictated by the aperture while the ambient light is dictated by the shutter speed. ISO controls the overall sensitivity of the scene.

As long as your positioning of the light covers and wraps around the subject and the ambient light is accordingly exposed for you’ll be able to create a beautiful wrap around light effect.

The other alternative: Place the light on one side of a subject and then place the subject by a wall and have the light bounce off the wall and fill in the other side of the person. The wall will act like a natural reflector.

Useful Photography Tip #144: Spot Metering vs Evaluative Metering

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Fujifilm XT10 first impressions (2 of 15)ISO 2001-750 sec at f - 1.4

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Cameras by default are set to metering a scene through the evaluative setting, but they have three different settings. Evaluative will analyze an entire scene and figure out a way to create the scene that the camera thinks you want. Center-weighted metering meters a scene based on what’s in the center of whatever the camera is pointing at and sees. Spot metering meters the scene off of a specific spot that you choose. This is best used in combination with manual autofocus point selection.

Most people shoot and never think about their metering mode. Then when they chimp their LCD screen and don’t like the image, they simply just overexpose or underexpose. But to avoid that altogether, the best route to take is to first consider what you want in the end vision of your photo.

In the image above, Erica was being strongly backlit by the sunlight coming down the avenue. In the evaluative mode, the camera would have compensated for this and made her very dark in order to cater to the highlights. But in spot metering mode, the camera metered for her face due to my metering off of it and autofocusing off of it.

If I didn’t switch to spot metering, the camera would have needed to be set to overexpose the scene by around a stop at most. This can save you a bunch of time in post-production but it can also just make your life easier as far as actually getting the image you want the first time around goes.

In general, the best reason to use spot metering would have to be if only a specific thing in the scene is more important to you and the image more than anything else–such as with a portrait. With a landscape, you’re probably best off with evaluative metering unless you spot meter the highlights, then spot meter the shadows, then find a happy medium point. If you figure this out, you can then go ahead and get the exact photo that you want with less attempts.

Useful Photography Tip #143: More Lifelike Color in Adobe Lightroom

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Creating more lifelike colors in Adobe Lightroom is really, really simple once you identify and pay attention to specific areas in your images. Best of all–it’s a process that works with every image 100% of the time.

The process goes like this:

– Look at the image and figure out if you want it to be brighter or darker. You absolutely must go one way or the other even if it’s 1/3rd of a stop.

– Slightly raise the contrast and clarify a few points, no more than 10 each.

– Move down immediately to the color channels and identify the most important colors in your scene. For the image above it was red, blue, purple, green, and orange.

– Start by working with the saturation levels of each of your paramount colors. Move the slider back and forth until you get the colors to be exactly how you want them to be. Saturation makes colors more or less punchy.

– Once you’ve done this, tweak each of the colors that you manipulated with the luminance bars. This makes them brighter or darker individually.

– Finally, tweak your white balance providing that the balance isn’t terribly out of the norm. If it’s out of the norm, then do this way before you even really begin editing the image. What you’ll find is that generally you’ll only need to change the white balance just a tad.

And that’s it, you’re done. For the image above we raised the exposure, did the contrast/clarity tweaks, saturated pretty much all of the colors except for purple, and we also individually raised each color a bit more to add even more punch and impact to the scene. The great this is that this works for every photo; but in general it’s worth it to figure out what colors Lightroom believes each section to be. Once you’ve got this you’ll be able to create better color every time.

Useful Photography Tip #142: A Simple Trick to Getting Better Photos of Fireworks

fireworks for the 4th

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If you’re in the US (where most of our readers are from) or Canada (where lots of readers come from), you’re going to be celebrating the celebration of your nation’s birth very soon. If you’re a reader of this site, then you’re probably going to have your camera in hand as you’re celebrating.

Don’t do that.

No, seriously–don’t handhold the camera. Instead, to get those trademark beautiful fireworks images you should get your hands on a tripod, point the camera and lens up to the sky, stop the aperture down, and use a slow/long shutter speed to capture those picturesque light trails.

As for lens choices, it really depends on where you’re standing. If you’re on flat even ground near sea level, then opt for a telephoto lens and pray for the best. If you’re on a rooftop of some sort or really high up on a building, then go for a wider lens.

Then when you’re all done, turn your lens to your friends and family and try to capture beautiful candid moments as you and your loved ones are celebrating.

And as always, have a happy celebration on Independence Day.

Useful Photography Tip # 141: Creating Light That Flatters a Portrait Subject

Model: Asta Paredes

Model: Asta Paredes

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Let’s think about the way that we naturally see light in the world: the sun, street lamps, ceiling lights and many more are all above us. So with that in mind, it just makes sense to say that the light that we ordinarily see on a consistent basis is above us, correct?

That’s the basis behind today’s Useful Photography Tip: to get more flattering light on a subject we recommend that you place your light source above your subject but not directly above lest you create shadows under the chin and eyes. Instead, bring it above and to the front to evenly illuminate the person’s features. That means that what you’ll be doing is shooting a photo subject with the light source (like a flash or strobe) behind you, above you, and facing down towards your subject.

If you’re using natural lighting like the sun, then don’t put the sun behind you. Instead, put it behind your subject and spot meter for their eyes. This is called backlighting. In fact, we recommend that any constant light be backlit unless it isn’t very intense on the eyes.

Remember, it’s all based on how we naturally see light when shooting a portrait.

Useful Photography Tip #140: A Simple Exercise to Get You Seeing The World in Shapes

Kodak Tri-X 400

Kodak Tri-X 400

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Many street and landscape photographers try to see and photograph the world in terms of shapes. If you think that seeing the world in black and white is tough enough, then seeing shapes in the way that they do can be even tougher–but here’s a great exercise to try out. It’s designed to help you figure out the shapes in the world.

Take four of your images and physically print them out. Get away from a screen of any sort and make black and white prints of these images. Then take one of your images and on a separate sheet of paper draw out the geometric lines that you see in the same way. Want to make it easier? Use transparent sketch paper and with the sketch paper over the image begin to sketch the lines out that you see underneath. Think of it as a grid overlay but instead you’re adding more lines in.

Continue to do this with each photo.

When you’re all done with the sketches, take them and study the lines. Then walk around and look for places and scenes with similar line establishments. You’ll begin to see that you’ll start to think and physically see more in terms of geometry.

Give this a shot before you seriously take your next set of images and you’ll see how you’ll start to see and think differently.

Useful Photography Tip #139: How to Get More Details in Your Landscape Images

SAMSUNG CSC

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The idea of zones and how they should be exposed when shooting landscape images isn’t at all new. But for years in digital photography, what photographers needed to do was do some sort of merging process that included the highlights, shadows, midtones and much more. In more recent years though, imaging sensors have become much better and can capture amazing amounts of detail in the shadows of an image. At lower ISO settings, these are very easy to push and get more out of.

In contrast, not as much detail can be captured in the highlights. So the best way to take a photo of a landscape without using a graduated ND filter is to simply underexpose the image. This will capture lots of details in the highlights and then in post-production it will allow you to push the shadows for even more details overall.

The key to doing this is getting less contrast throughout the image. If you choose to use a graduated ND filter of some sort, then you can create an image with even more details overall.

Alternatively, Adobe Lightroom 6 lets you combine the highlights and shadows of two images together into a single HDR that won’t look over processed.

Literally, that’s all. It’s really that simple.

Useful Photography Tip #138: How to Meter a Scene Just by Looking at It

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Years before light meters were invented and used by photographers, they used a specific set of rules to figure out what their camera’s exposure settings should be adjusted to. Today, this method is still used by some film photographers and very much so by street photographers.

What are we talking about? It’s called the Sunny 16 rule–and it’s the basis for how the Phoblographer tests a camera’s metering system.

So how do you do it? The Sunny 16 rule states that on a bright sunny day with little shadows your scene will be exposed at f16 and your shutter speed will be the reciprocal of your ISO. So that means that if my film is ISO 100, then I’ll be shooting at 1/100th and f16 on a bright sunny day with little shadows. From there, you figure out the other parameters based on how much sunlight is affecting the scene. Is it getting a bit cloudy? Then open up to f11. Even more shade? Then go down to f8. In the NYC subway system? Well, you’re going to have to get really low down in the settings.

So why would you do this? By simply looking to a scene and knowing what the exposure will be, you won’t need to fully rely on a light meter or your camera’s metering and instead you’ll be able to figure out what the exposure will be. In turn, this will get you the image that you want in a much faster process.

Useful Photography Tip #137: How to Use Flash to Mimic the Look of Sunlight

Chris Gampat Raiyan Saed's portraits (7 of 11)ISO 2001-160 sec at f - 3.2

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When shooting portrait subjects, there are typically three lights that you talk about: a main light, a fill and a hair light. But when shooting outdoors with lots of natural light, those rules to go out the window. Your main light often becomes the sun, whether diffused or not.

This tip is a bit more advanced and requires you to build on things cumulatively. First off, when shooting outdoors, we think that you should always try to shoot in the shade where you’ve got more control over the light. After you’ve got full control of the light, you can use a flash to add in a bit of fake sun.

Look at the edge of Raiyan’s face camera right, see the light? It was a flash in a beauty dish, but gives a natural look of sunlight.

So how do you do this? Let’s recap:

– Shoot outdoors

– Use the shadows and get total control over your lighting situation

– Place a flash either with the wide angle diffuser, in a beauty dish, or in a rectangular shaped softbox to add a bit of rim lighting

To make this even more emphasized with the look of sunlight, try adding a gradient–which builds even more on other tips that we’ve done. It’s all about adding the extra rim light that looks very natural but subdued.

Give it a shot. This is something you have to do more than us telling you about it.

Useful Photography Tip #136: Fixed Mixed Lighting Situations Using Gradients

f2.8

f2.8

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The image above didn’t originally look like that. Originally, the warm sunlight was only on the left side of the image (the pole) while the right side wasn’t touched by the light at all. Instead, it looked very blue and presented a mixed lighting situation. It didn’t look so great.

The way to fix mixed lighting situations when dealing with natural light has to do not only with proper white balancing, but also with gradients in Adobe Lightroom in order to correctly color balance other parts of a scene.

Gradients allow you to do a whole slew of things: add in extra lights, make those lights look like they are gelled, change white balances, add sharpening, etc.

This is a but of a longer Useful Photography Tip, so hit the jump to see what we’re talking about.

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Useful Photography Tip #136: How to Make Your RAW Photos Look Like the JPEGs

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 3.02.41 PM

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You know that you’ve all had this problem–you shoot in RAW, but the image looks nowhere as good as the JPEG preview on the back of your camera’s LCD screen. So you go through the basic adjustments panel in Adobe Lightroom and with lots of disappointment, realize that you can’t make the image look like the JPEG.

We’re not going to tell you to shoot in JPEG (though there is no real problem with that) so what you should do is scroll down the the Camera Calibration section of Adobe Lightroom’s Develop panel and click on Profile. When you do this, you’ll get the camera profiles and even some of your own if you’ve bought them.

Own a Fujifilm camera? Velvia and Astia are finally yours…digitally that is!

But that’s not the end. You need to go in and sharpen the image, maybe kill some image noise, add a bit more contrast, boost the clarity and maybe mess with the exposure a bit. Then you’ve got an image that’s ready to go.

Go give it a shot.

Useful Photography Tip #135: Put Groups of People on the Same Focusing Plane

Mary and Tommy Sutor's Wedding Batch 2 (42 of 149)ISO 2001-60 sec at f - 10

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If there is one very big sin in shooting group photos: besides not posing everyone in the most flattering way that you can, it’s about not getting everyone in focus. It’s very easy for someone to photograph a couple and only end up with one person in focus with the other one blurred into oblivion…or the bokeh.

Don’t let this happen.

For starters, physically walk up to the couple and tell them all that you want them all on the same plane–use your forearm as a reference point. Tell them you want everyone up to your arm. Then when you go to shoot, consider how many people there are. How many rows deep are these folks?

With your current focal length, what aperture can you stop down to and still get everyone in focus?

When you’ve figured this all out, shoot the image and ensure that everyone is in focus and in sight. This means that you’ll need to also position folks so that they’re clearly visible in the image.

Just make sure that they’re all on the same focusing plane.