My photo book project: The Story

Rio Paria in Huaraz
Rio Paria in Huaraz

This blog brings all the pieces that were discussed in previous blogs on this topic together. First, I discussed the photo book platform Blurb, followed by a discussion about the role of (Graphical) Design and Storytelling with pictures. Now, I show you how I implemented these ideas in Blurb using Lightroom.
Based on what I learned about telling a story with pictures I decided to have another look at the pictures I took. Just looking at the ones that were accepted by Dreamstime would lead to a boring story. I decided to focus on a stroll my family made along Rio Paria in Huaraz in Peru. The pictures I took during this walk were of the type Street Photography. They show the river and the people around it doing their regular activities, telling the story of daily rural life in Peru.
The story with pictures takes you along various activities nearby the river. They are representative for many rural areas. These activities consist of:

  • Transport Peru is an enormous country with few airports and railway station because  of the Andes, so most transportation is done by bus or truck.
  • Construction Most buildings are continuously under construction. So, everywhere you find places where they make clay bricks.
  • Playing Children play everywhere, both in playgrounds and on dirt roads.
  • Gardening Peruvians are very fond of flowers and green grass, even though in the desert climate along the coast this requires a lot of effort.
  • Washing clothes Clothes need to be washed even if you don’t have running water at home.

In the two PDFs at the bottom you see the resulting Blurb photo book: the first one is the cover (front and rear) and the second one is the content of the photo book. As you can see, I chose a simple graphical design: white background, all pictures white framed, few pictures per page. Hope you enjoy it. Please let me know whether you enjoyed My photo book project. 
For me this is just a first step to create a photo book of my last trip to Peru. The walk along Rio Paria will be just a  section in the chapter Huaraz, which will also include my Dreamstime pictures.
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After finishing this blog, I will continue working on my photo book of Peru. Here you may find the latest version.

My photo book project: Blurb

Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu
Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu

As a computer scientist I have published quite a bit in journals and conference proceedings, however, I never published a book that was completely written by myself, except for my PhD thesis, of course.  Probably unconsciously I am still looking for a way to publish a book.
Looking back at the trip to Peru, I realize that there is a lot of material waiting for an audience. Out of the more than 600 pictures I took, I selected 50 to submit to Dreamstime, all of which were accepted. By now, quite a few were sold.
Also, I wrote 10+ photoblogs about the places we visited in Peru and about the photographical aspects. On the whole, there is a lot of material available. So, the question is what are the steps to create a photo book.
The first step is to find out what I want to achieve. I would like:

  • to share the things that make me enthusiastic about Peru
  • to share my creativity and the techniques I use for making pictures
  • to reach both an audience that likes traditional photo books as well as an audience that prefers digital versions
  • to gain experience in making both a real photo book and an ebook for an iPad

Because I already have the raw material, pictures and photoblogs, my first step is to find the right platform to produce the photo book. After looking for some time on the internet I found this interesting website; it describes eight of these platforms: Artifact Uprising, Shutterfly, Blurb, Lulu, Mpix, Photobucket, Picaboo, and Snapfish.
Although not based on serious research I choose Blurb because it allows me to make both a hardcopy and a digital version of the book, it has a bookstore based on on-demand printing, and Blurb software is integrated in Adobe Lightroom (see this YouTube tutorial). Furthermore, a friend of mine has positive experiences with Blurb.
In the upcoming blogs I keep you informed about the progession of my photo book projects and the experiences I have with Blurb.
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Craft&Vision: ideal for amateur photographers with ambition

Pond with statue and Palace Versailles
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Many beginning photographers have the ambition to improve their photography skills. At the same time there are too many opportunities: photography books, photography blogs, courses by photographers in their neighborhood, courses by or even trips with famous photographers, tutorials on youtube, websites etc.
Personally, I started with books recommended by Ken Rockwell on his website. I had to start somewhere. It actually turned out to be a good choice. I started with a book of Brenda Tharpe (Creative Nature & Outdoor Photography). By now I have read almost all books on his website. I have learned quite a lot, and also spent quite a few euros. To be honest, for me it was worth the money, however, not everybody has the means to do so.
Craft&Vision is a good alternative. It is a photographic education company initiated by David duChemin and his team of more than 20 famous photographers. Their manifesto is: “for the joy of creation and the love of the photograph”. They started with high quality, concise $5 eBooks. Easy to read on an iPad. By now, I collected quite a few of them. Just like I said, all of them are written by famous photographers, they cover a wide variety of topics, they are to-the-point, and they are cheap.
Nowadays, they have more products than just eBooks. They also have magazines and videos. I enjoyed listening to The Created Image Video, describing a journey of craftsmanship by David duChemin. Every time he mentions things that makes you aware there is still room of improvement in the way you take pictures.
I hope you will enjoy Craft&Vision as much as I do. On top you see a recently sold picture of Versailles. By reading a lot, I got more creative in composition and at the same time improved the technical quality of my pictures. Here you can see my pictures accepted by Dreamstime.
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Henri Cartier-Bresson: The decisive moment

© Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation
© Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation

Henri Cartier-Bresson is a famous French street photographer and photojournalist. After recovering from black water fever he gave up painting and took up photography.
He used a small Leica camera with a 50mm lens which he covered with black tape to make it nearly invisible. He enjoyed submerging in a crowd and at the same time being ready to take a shot without being noticed by the people being photographed. He mainly took black and white pictures, and, surprise, surprise, he took no interest at all in printing his own pictures.
About his style he once said: “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” (The Decisive Moment). He was continuously looking for the combination of a visual and dramatic highlight (see picture on top).
The Decisive Moment
The Decisive Moment

He traveled all over the world and participated in many historically important events where he took memorable pictures. For example, he took pictures of Mahatma Gandhi on his deathbed, after being shot during a protest against violence between Hindus and Muslims.
Death of Mahatma Gandhi
Death of Mahatma Gandhi

Although The Decisive Moment suggests that he always immediately  took the right picture. This is not true. Henri Cartier-Bresson took a lot of pictures before capturing the highlights he had in mind.
Besides reading The Decisive Moment, I also enjoyed the two blogs of Eric Kim about Henri Cartier-Brenson:

Lighting: moods

In the series Understanding lighting: from physics to moods, I will now discuss the relationship between lighting and moods. In the previous blogs I discussed several techniques to get a specific kind of lighting. In this blog I am going in the direction of art.

Beautiful brunette putting gloss on her lips
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

We all know that when we tell our subject that we are going to take a picture, we get automatically a pose with a nice smile. Most of the time all emotions are gone. Therefore, I prefer to take pictures when people are not aware of the camera to tell a story. Then, they express their genuine emotions (reportage photography).
In a studio setting this is quite a challenge. So, I first talk to my models to make them relax. I am in a lucky position that I knew my models before I started with portrait photography. So, there is enough to talk about. I quite often use props, like an iPhone or an iPad. It helps them to focus on what they would normally do with e.g. an iPad and not to pose.
Two types of lightening are high key and low key. A high-key picture is bright, has hardly any contrast, and lacks shadows; it expresses happiness and joy. A low-key picture, on the other hand, is dark, has many black areas, and has a lot of contrast; it expresses drama, tension, or mysteriousness.
A high-key picture is made by overexposing the background and having main and fill lights with a high exposure. Make sure not to overexpose. A low-key picture is made with a dark background and main light that acts like a kicker light (only lighting a specific area of the subject). Furthermore, the settings of the camera should be close to underexposure.
Beautiful latin girl with curly hair
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

My experience with lighting is mainly in the area between high and low key, actually a bit closer to high. In the near future I am going to experiment with the two extremes.
There are many type of moods, which require a different lighting. By experimenting you will find out what the right combination of posture, light, color (look at this overview for the relationship between color and emotions), and angle for the different moods is.
This ends the series on Understanding Lighting: from physics to moods. It was inspired by Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua and Sculpting with Light by Earnest. Please, enjoy!
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Lighting: studio lighting setup – several lights

4-light setup
4-light setup

In the previous blog in the series on Understanding Lighting: from physics to moods, we discussed studio lighting using only one light (the main light). The essence of lighting is to play with light and shadow. The same is of course true if we use more than one light.
Using one bare light produces harsh shadows. This can be overcome by making the light bigger by using an umbrella or a softbox. However, this does not change the darkness of the shadows, it only softens the edges.
To get rid of the darkness of the shadows we need an additional light source. This might be another light, or it might also be a reflector. Note, in a sense a reflector is another source of light, however, a reflector does not produce more light than the light source of the incoming light. So, we cannot fully control it.
Besides the main light there are the following additional lights:

  • Fill light These are used to lighten up the shadows. Do not make them too strong otherwise the shadows completely disappear, making the picture flat.
  • Background light To create more depth we need to separate the subject from the background. This is done by placing a light behind the subject directed towards the background. If the backdrop is white it is better to use a color, if it is black a white light can be used.
  • Rim light To highlight the subject we use a rim light. It is placed behind the subject directed towards the subject. It gives a halo effect around the head and shoulders.
  • Hair light Sometimes it is nice to highlight a specific spot of the hair. This is done by placing a small, focussed light at a high position directed towards the hair.
  • Kickers They are very similar as hair light, however, they are directed towards a specific part of the subject.

The picture at the top shows a 4-light step bringing most of the above together. One main light on the left, a fill light on the right, a rim light in the rear, and a hair light on the far right. I again used the Virtual Lighting Studio by Oliver Prat of Zvork.

Main light, reflector, and background light (blue)
Main light (left), reflector (right), and background light (rear, blue)

My own experience with a studio lighting setup until now is limited to a main light and several fills, lights and reflectors. In the near future I hope to experiment with the full setup.
This series of blogs on understanding lighting is inspired by Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua and Sculpting with Light by Earnest.
In the next blog we will discuss the right lighting setup for specific moods.
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Lighting: studio lighting setup – one light

Self-Portrait, 1658
Self-Portrait, 1658

In the previous blog in the series on  Understanding Lighting: from physics to moods the physics of light was discussed, now the focus is on the various lighting setups for portrait photography. Again, inspired by Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua and Sculpting with Light by Earnest and many blogs and tutorials I try to focus on the essence. Here is one link to an explanation I really liked, it is simple and clear: several basic lighting patterns by Darlene Hildebrandt.
The essence in my opinion is to get the right balance between light and shadows for what we have in mind. See these drawings of Palle Schmidt to understand the interplay between light and shadows.
Let me start with one light and vary the position relative to the person. Note below I used a bare light (so no soft box), this explains the harsh shadows. This gives the following lighting patterns (I used the Virtual Lighting Studio by Oliver Prat of Zvork so simulate the various patterns) :

  • frontal lighting This is the situation where the flash is in or on the camera and the person is facing the camera. The result is a picture with no shadows in the face. It looks flat. Most snapshots are like this.frontal
  • butterfly lighting If we lift the light up a small shadow appears under the nose and sometimes also under the cheeks. butterfly
  • split lighting If I now move the light to the side of the person (90 degrees), the result is a split face: one side lighted and the other one dark.split
  • Rembrandt lighting If I move the light back to 45 degrees off the camera and up a bit, we get something called Rembrandt lighting (see the self-portrait of Rembrandt). Typical is the light triangle on the cheek on the other side of the light. The sides of the triangle are: the eyebrow, the shadow of the nose and the shadow of the cheek. It can be smaller or larger depending on the position of the light.Rembrandt
  • loop lighting If I place the light a little closer to the the camera (30 degrees), the triangle opens up, this means that the shadow of the nose does not touch the shadow of the cheek anymore.loop

For all of these lighting patterns (except the frontal one) I can use broad and short lighting. Broad lighting means that the visible ear is lighted and short lighting is that the visible ear is in the shade.
Here is a nice YouTube video by Ed Verosky that explains the various lighting patterns with one light.
In the next blog I will continue the studio lighting setup with several lights and reflectors.

Lighting: physics of light


Inspired by Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua I would like to discuss the fundamentals of lighting in the series Understanding Lighting: from physics to moods. Lighting deals with light, subject, and viewer. We discuss all three of them.
Essential characteristics of light (sources) are:

  • Brightness It makes quite a difference if we have to take a picture with only the moon shining instead of the sun. In general, the more light the better the quality of the pictures is. It is much easier to deal with too much light (almost closed Aperture and a very fast Shutter Speed), than too little light (the quality decreases substantially in the high ISO range). Also, light loses its brightness if it travels a long distant (look at the sky when it is dark, all of these starts are more powerful than our sun, however, we only see a tiny twinkle of each of them).
  • Color Normal light consists of light with different wave lengths. We see that when the sun shines during the rain: the rainbow. With the right mix of these colors it looks white. If this white light reflex on a red wall it reflects only red light. The way we see light is an interpretation of our brains of what we see. For example, we know that snow is white; although in a picture it may look gray we “see” it as white. A camera is not always able to do this intelligent interpretation of light. So, sometimes we have to help it by setting the White Balance to the right color temperature.
  • Size of the source On sunny days with a blue sky the shadows are harsh. On cloudy days there are hardly any shadows. In the first case we have a very small light source and in the latter a very large one, resulting in, respectively, direct and diffuse light.

Reflections on a subject play an important role in photography, because in a sense they create new light sources with their own characteristics. For example, a reflection on a non-glossy subject like a matte wall causes a diffuse reflection (reduction in brightness). As mentioned above, if light reflects on a red subject, it reflects only red light and absorbs all other colors (change of color). Also, if the light reflects on a (small) mirror-like subject, it creates a (tiny) light source producing harsh shadows; this is called direct reflection (change of size of light source).
The viewer is of course our camera. When we shoot outdoors and when we are not happy with the position of the light source, the sun, the only remedy is to change the position of the camera. In a studio, however, we have the additional possibility to change the position of the light source(s). Also, we can use soft boxes instead of waiting for the clouds. Furthermore, we can use reflectors, “producing” warm of cold light, to light the subject from different angles.
So, now that we know more about light, the next step is lighting setups. This is the topic of the next blog.

Lighting: a prelude

Brunette with long hair making phone call
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

As we all know, understanding lighting is at the core of photography. You might object, although we all drive a car, this does not necessarily mean that we fully understand how a car operates and that we know what perfect driving is.
The same is of course true for photography, cameras, even in smartphones, get better every day, however, this does not mean that our pictures improve as well. Look for yourself on the internet to see how many mediocre pictures there are.
I am not saying that my own pictures are a lot better, however, I have the drive to better understand what makes pictures stand out. There are many books, websites, and tutorials on YouTube on specific aspects of photography. To be honest, too many, which makes it difficult to distinguish between the good and the mediocre.
In the upcoming blogs I will take you along my search for understanding lighting: from physics to moods. Just to give you a little prelude.
The books by Joe McNally (Hot Shoe Diaries and Sketching Light) inspired me to take the speedlight off the camera and to shoot in Manual Mode. This was quite a step for me, however, his enthusiasm made this step easy for me.
Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua was advised to me by a professional photographer who did a photoshoot of me (in my role as research manager). It is not as easy to read as most of the books on photography, however, everytime I have a question about lighting, the answer turns out to be there.
After having seen a lot of books, websites etc on a studio lighting setups, I was wondering what the impact of the various lighting setups is on the mood of the pictures and whether certain setups work better with one person than with the other. Currently I am reading Sculpting with Light by Earnest; I am very enthusiastic about this book because it tells me for which type of face to use which lighting setup.
In the upcoming blogs I will share with you my learning steps. Last weeks a couple of my studio pictures have been sold on Dreamstime. At the top of this blog you see one of them. It is a full body, high key picture taken with a couple of speedlights, a softbox and a white backdrop. I am proud of it, however, I want to futher improve it. Here are some more of my portrait pictures of which most are on Dreamstime. Enjoy.
Upcoming blogs:

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Reading and practicing

Medieval_bakerMedieval baker. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Although I am a teacher at the university and a fan of apprenticeship I never enrolled for a course on photography. Maybe, when I am retired, I should do so. Until now I learned all I know about photography by reading books and practicing.
In the beginning it is not easy to find the right books. There are too many mediocre books. So, after appreciating the website of Ken Rockwell for selecting my camera and lenses, I had a look at the books he recommended. Until now I read quite a few of them. Almost all of them had a major impact on my way of taking pictures.
A few years ago I discovered Craft&Vision of David duChemin and his colleague photographers. They started with making  very cheap e-books on specific topics. Nowadays, they sell e-magazines and videos of courses as well. Everything is in digital form. The quality is good, it gives a good insight in the way professional photographers think, and the advice is very practical. By now I have quite a lot of their material.
In the digital world the concept apprenticeship gets a different meaning. All the information you need is available on the internet, quite often for free (for example on YouTube), and there are many websites where you can get feedback on the pictures you took. Important to realize is that it is up to you to do something with it. In photography there is no way to learn something without practicing.