Flash: how to make it easy

flashesIn the beginning I used the built-in flash of my camera. Although I realized that the pictures I took had little to do with what I saw, I did not know what to do. Then I bought a separate flash for the hot shoe on the camera. The reason was that this one was more powerful and I could use the ceiling or a wall to get indirect light. Although this was an improvement, it was still not what I had in mind.
The Hot Shoe Diaries and Sketching Light of Joe McNally made me aware of the wide variety of possibilities of using one or more flashes and getting better pictures. He is a very enthusiastic author and makes using several flashes to get better lighting easy. This book has been very influential for me.
The first step is to take the flash off the camera and put it either on the right or left of you. This will create some shadows and gives a better feeling of three dimensions. This is quite an improvement compared to the built-in flash that hits the subject right in front leaving only cast shadows. Cast shadows, by the way,  can be avoided in several ways: use several flashes, place the subject far away from the background, make the flash bigger by using a softbox.

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Small flash – hard light Big light – soft light

The second step is to understand how the camera via the built-in flash (master) communicates with the off-shoe flash (slave) without flashing itself. You probably have to read your manuals. The idea is that the built-in flash communicates with the other flash just before the curtain opens.  If you know how to do this it is quite easy to start using several flashes (left, right, rear, or top) with different flash power. This is real fun!
The third step is choosing the right Aperture and Shutter Speed. Actually, the Shutter Speed has no influence on the light coming from the flash. The duration of the flash is much shorter than the opening of the curtain. With some cameras you can go all the way down to 1/250 sec. On the other hand, if you leave the curtain open a bit longer, like 1/30 sec, then you will also catch some ambient light. It is important to remember that independent of the shutter speed the flash light freezes motion. The Aperture determines how much light we let through to the sensor. In TTL-mode (automatic mode), however, widening the Aperture does not give a brighter picture, only the flash requires less power; in M-mode (manual mode) it would make the picture brighter. In both cases the power balance between the various flashes is important, because it determines how much light each side of the subject gets.
The final step is to experiment:

  • where to position the flashes;
  • the power balance between the flashes;
  • use TTL- or M-mode of the flash;
  • what type of softbox gives the right light;
  • what type of background gives the right atmosphere

Enjoy, you will learn a lot from it!

Shutter speed: slow or fast?

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The Shutter Speed simply determines how long the sensor is exposed to light. Common is to use shutter speeds faster than or equal to 1/60 sec to make sure that slight movements of subjects and maybe also of the camera are more or less frozen. In general this works fine. However,

  • if the lens becomes too long it is best to take a shutter speed 1/x sec, where x is the length of the lens;
  • if due to low lightening the shutter speed becomes too long (less than 1/30 sec) it is best to increase the ISO;
  • if the subject moves fast and is close by don’t underestimate the required shutter speed to freeze the subject;
  • when using flash it is possible to use a slower shutter speed (for example 1/30 sec) to catch some of the ambient light without blurring the subject.

However, freezing the subject might not be the goal. There are many examples where slower shutter speeds better grasp what we experience: lights of moving cars in the dark, waves of the ocean, waterfalls etc. There is an almost unlimited number of possibilities to use slow shutter speed. Crafts and Vision has a nice eBook about this, called Slow by Andrew Gibson. In this case it is a good idea to use a tripod to avoid movements of the camera. Have fun with experimenting with slow shutter speeds.

Hike near Oosterbeek and White Balance

Oosterbeek januari 2015
Last Sunday I hiked near Oosterbeek (see map below). It is a really beautiful area, a mix of woods and open areas, just north of the river Nederrijn. This particular morning you could see the frost and the sun was still pretty low with warm colors. Here you can see some of the pictures I took.

This track comes from www.wandeleninoosterbeek.nl
I always shoot RAW, this allows me to change some of the settings, for example, the White Balance. I set White Balance always to Auto White Balance, AWB. When I am back home I set it to an appropriate value.
Changing the White Balance can have a substantial impact on the way the picture looks: if a picture is taken during normal daylight and we set the White Balance to Shade it will start adding red colors (to compensate the bluish colors in the shade), making the picture warmer. The same happens, however, to a lesser extent when setting the White Balance to Cloudy.
Looking at my RAW pictures I noticed that the pictures looked cooler than I remembered and intended, so during processing I set the White Balance to Cloudy, giving the pictures a warmer expression and also making the effect of the backlight of the sun more visible. Setting it to Shade was a bit overdone. It is just a matter of experimenting.
Keep in mind that we do not have to make an identical copy of reality, we want to make a picture that expresses what we felt when we took the picture.

Aperture: getting to know your DoF

Beautiful view in the Alps, Switzerland
(Aperture f/20, Shutter Speed 1/125 sec, ISO 200) with 16mm lens; DOF is infinite
The Aperture determines the amount of light that goes to the sensor. At the same time it also determines which area of the picture is sharp. A wide open Aperture has a much smaller Depth of Field (DoF) then an almost closed Aperture. For example, for a 50mm lens the DoF at 2 meter is:

  • 26.6cm for an Aperture of f/2.8, and
  • 100.1cm for f/11.0.

This is quite a difference. Also, the DoF decreases for longer lenses. For example, for a 200mm lens the DoF at 2 meter is:

    • 1,5cm for an Aperture of f/2.8, and
    • 6.1cm for f/11.0

(all these values were computed with an iPhone app called Simple DoF of Dennis van den Berg for a full frame camera).
So, the question we should ask ourselves is what type of picture do we want to take. If, on the one hand, we want to highlight our subject it is nice to have a small DoF, because it leaves the background blurry. Our eyes tend to go to sharp areas in the picture and to avoid the blurry areas. Exactly what we want. This is often used for portrait photography. There are a couple of pitfalls to be aware of:

  • a DoF that is too small may unintentionally leave part of the person unsharp;
  • when shooting several people they may not be at the same distance from the camera, so make your DoF a bit bigger to make sure everybody is sharp (unless you don’t want to).

On the other hand, for landscapes and storytelling portrait pictures everything has to be sharp, requiring a large DoF. A common rule of thumb is: if you need a large DoF use a wide angle lens and a small Aperture and for a small DoF use a telelens with a large Aperture. For portrait photography and pictures of details I use my Nikkor 135mm and Nikkor 70-200mm lenses, and for land- and cityscapes I use my Nikkor 16-35mm lens.
Female student working on maquette in design lab
(Aperture f/3.5, Shutter Speed 1/80, ISO 100) with 135mm lens; DOF is 4.3cm

Photographic Triangle: entering a new world

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(Aperture f/5.6, Shutter Speed 1/125 sec, ISO 200)
By now I have read quite a few books on photography. One of the first was Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. It explains in very simple words the Photographic Triangle: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO.
Before understanding this triangle I would leave my camera on Automatic. I stayed far away from Manual. My idea was that it was too complicated for me and the camera was smart enough to take good pictures. I never realized that the camera does not know what kind of picture I want to take. In Automatic mode the camera selects one correct exposure out of a whole set of correct exposures with completely different emotions.
The Aperture determines the size of opening of the lens, the Shutter Speed determines the duration of the opening, and ISO the sensitivity of the sensor.  All three control the amount of light that is sensed by the sensor.
For Aperture each step in the sequence f/22 – f/11 – f/8 – f/5.6 – f/4 means doubling the amount of light. For Shutter Speed 1/500 sec – 1/250 sec – 1/125 sec – 1/60 sec – 1/30 sec also means doubling the amount of light per step. And, for ISO 200 – 400 – 800 – 1600 – 3200 each step means doubling the sensitivity of the sensor.
So, a triple (Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO) represents the lighting of an exposure. If, for example, (f/5.6, 1/250, 100) is a correct exposure then (f/8, 1/125, 100) is a correct exposure as well: the Aperture is halved and the Shutter Speed is doubled, giving the same exposure; the same is true for (f/8, 1/250, 200): the Aperture is halved and the ISO is doubled.
For every triple there are an arbitrary large number of triples with the same exposure. Of course, there are limitation, for example, the widest Aperture of a lens or the lowest ISO of a camera.
So, take control of your camera and start using the Manual mode, and decide yourself what type of picture you want to take: highlight the subject by a wide Aperture or visible movements by a slow shutter speed. The same exposure, different emotions. In upcoming posts I will elaborate on these choices.

Update: I am a great fan of Sean Tucker. Here a YouTube video of him explaining the exposure triangle.

My photoblog, a passion for photography

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This mo20130224_6294nth I started with my photoblog. Taking pictures and processing them has become a passion. Every now and then I want to share albums with you; just telling the story behind taking and processing the pictures. Hope you will enjoy them.
This is my last blog this year. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. These pictures, taken in my garden a couple of years ago, are just to remind you that sometimes we have a White Christmas in the Netherlands. Now it is 12 degrees Celsius during the day and pretty stormy 🙁
Taking pictures of snow is not easy. The camera wants to turn the white snow into gray, and your eyes (or should I say brains) translate snow into white (because we know it should be white) although it is (dark) gray. So, overexpose!
Wishing you all health and happiness in 2015! And an excellent photography year.

The Alps, beautiful views

Beautiful view in the Alps, Switzerland
The Alps are a mountain range in the middle of Europe. The peaks range from 3000 to 4000 meters. The Mont Blanc, which goes all the way up to 4811 meters, is really an exception.  We often hike on the southern side of the Alps, on the Italian side (Ticino).
There are two regions where we hike: Blenio District (several places) and on the border between Wallis and Ticino (Nufenenpass).  Most often we take the car to around 2000 meter and hike further on up to 2600 meter. These hikes last a whole day (6-7 hours). Below the map of the Nufenenpass.

The area is really beautiful: rocks, some green, sometimes snow (in the middle of summer). Most of the time perfect sunny weather, although sometimes it is a bit foggy and then it can be pretty cold.
In the beginning I took all my lenses with me. At the end of the day they became a bit too heavy. Now I only take my camera (D800) plus a Nikkor 16-35 mm with me. Perfect for taking landscape pictures. On sunny days there is enough light to close the aperture opening a little more (f/20) to obtain a sufficiently large Depth of Field (DoF) without using a tripod.
Here are beautiful views of the Alps accepted by Dreamstime  for on canvas; both horizontal and vertical pictures.

Beautiful view of mountains and clouds
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Street photography, quite a challenge

Street
If people know you take a picture of them they pose. Their faces and body language are different than when pictures are taken by surprise. The ultimate goal of portrait photography is to make people look natural, as if they are not aware of the photographer. From my own experience I know this is not always easy.
The idea of street photography is to take pictures of people in there normal habitat, just being themselves. Most of the time these pictures tell a better story than regular portrait photography where everything is arranged.
However, there is one issue about street photography that I like to address: privacy. Is taking pictures of people in a public space without asking for permission an intrusion in their privacy. In a sense it is. At the same time it is regarded as art. Look at the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson or Vivian Maier of very nice black and white pictures taken out on the streets. In my opinion it is essential not to embarrass people with pictures in awkward positions.
Street photography is not always easy with a full frame camera with a long lens. Everybody will see you pointing with your camera. Taking away the unexpected moment. Vivian Maier always used a small compact camera hanging around her neck. Therefore her pictures capture all the emotions in a very natural way. They are really storytelling pictures. And Henri Cartier-Bresson is of course famous for his “The Decisive Moment” with the famous picture of a man just about to step in a puddle of water.
Here are some of my street pictures taken in China.
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Barcelona, a nice place to be


Last summer we spent a couple of weeks in Barcelona. It is a truly internationally oriented, mediterranean city,  where sun, sea, and food play a central role. Everywhere there are nice restaurants.
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We had rented an apartment close to the Diagonal in a very luxurious area of Barcelona. Shops of all major brands were present, all of them having a doorman. Given our budget we just had a look from the outside 🙂
Barcelona is of course also the city of Gaudi: La Sagrada Família, Park Güell, Casa Milà, Parc de la Ciutadella, and many more places worth a visit.
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Here you will find my Barcelona pictures approved by Dreamstime, including many nice pictures of the interior of La Sagrada Família,
and here some pictures of the many nice districts of Barcelona, each having their own character. Enjoy!
Normally, I take my Nikkor 28-300 mm while visiting a city. It is a very convenient lens. However, this time I took my 16-35 mm and 70-200 mm. For example, the pictures of details in La Sagrada Família required a small depth-of-filed (f/2.8), so I used the 70-200 mm lens.

La Sagrada Familia: Jesus Christ
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Yellow Mountain (China) is like a fairy tale

Yellow Mountain, ChinaFirst, four hours by bus from Hefei to Zhaixicun, then by cable car through a thick layer of fog. Fifty meter before arriving at the terminal station of the cable car the fog disappeared and suddenly it was a sunny day.  Yellow Mountain, Huangshan in Chinese, is, if it is sunny, a beautiful fairy tale landscape. In the evening, however, the fog actually enters the hotel and it becomes pretty cold.
Together with tens of Chinese tourists we got up very early to see the sun rise (6:22 am). The only thing we saw was just fog.
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The second day was pretty windy. The landscape continuously changed, one moment there was a clear view all the way down to the valley and the next moment the peaks of the mountains almost completely disappeared in the fog. An amazing landscape definitely worth visiting.
Below the track we followed.

In Zhaixicon we heard that we could not take our luggage up the mountain. So I just took my camera backpack and my pyjamas with me. Somebody else carried my wash bag 🙂 
All pictures were taken with my Nikon D800 with a Nikkor 16-35 mm, a perfect lens. Here you will find my pictures of Yellow Mountain accepted by Dreamstime. Update: more than 35 pictures of Yellow Mountain have been already sold.

Yellow Mountain - Huangshan, China
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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