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!

Forbidden City, Beijing: feeling like an emperor

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The Forbidden City is a special place to visit. It used to be a place where only a limited number of people were allowed to be and now you are surrounded by hundreds of tourists.
Hearing the stories how the women of the emperor were transported in a carpet to the emperor himself for their nightly encounter gives a feeling of a cultural gap. The place is really beautiful to visit and it gives a good impression of how it used to be in those days.
It is difficult to imagine where all the marble comes from. You find it everywhere. The incense burners representing the 18 provinces of China in the Qing Dynasty are enormous. The symbolic value is obvious. Furthermore, looking at pictures of the Forbidden City it looks like it is equivalent to roofs. One can see these yellow roofs everywhere each with your own sequence of animals on it to show the importance of the building.
Here you will find my pictures of the Forbidden City accepted by Dreamstime. Some of them are Editorial because recognizable persons are on the pictures, others required a lot of processing (removing logos, announcements, and other stuff) to fulfill the requirements for a Royalty Free license.
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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

Summer Palace, Beijing: warm sunset colors

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Last year was my first visit to China. My program was packed with business and touristic activities. The day we arrived we hurried to see the Summer Palace of the emperor in Beijing. It was just before closing time and we had a long discussion whether they would take us by boat to the palace.  As it turned out this delay turned into a golden opportunity: perfect sunset colors shining on the various buildings of the Summer Palace and on another boat accompanying us in a city where there is fog almost every day.
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Another advantage was that the touristic market at the Summer Palace was completely desolate giving the opportunity to see the buildings and the boats. This was the first day of a sequence of days I will never forget.
During this trip I used my D700 and general-purpose lens: Nikkor 28-300mm. Here are my pictures of the Summer Palace accepted by Dreamstime. The one with the boat has been sold four times.
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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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Dreamstime, a perfect micro-stock website

Maastricht at night
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Dreamstime is a micro-stock website where photographers like me can sell their pictures. Since March 2009 I am a member and since a couple of years I am an exclusive photographer with Dreamstime. The amount of money I make out of it is, however, nothing compared to the investment in equipment. What is rewarding for me is getting pictures accepted by Dreamstime and that somebody actually buys a picture. The acceptance procedure is quite tough (my acceptance ratio is now 65%). This means that on the average two-third is accepted.
Above you see my first accepted picture. It is the river the Maas flowing through Maastricht at night. My currently last accepted picture is of my last visit to Beijing. It is one of the buildings of the Prince Gong Mansion.
Prince Gong Mansion
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

In total I now have 350+ pictures accepted, ranging from landscapes, cityscapes, seascape, and portrait. In total I sold almost 250 licenses. The best selling picture is of Budapest covered by snow (12 times).
Donau through Budapest
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Although the pictures in this blog look like they are of low quality (this is needed for a fast download) the original pictures are of high quality. Please contact me if you are interested in one of them. Here are all my Dreamstime images in chronological order.
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