Settings: before shooting

IMG_0801Especially the more advanced digital cameras have many buttons. In this blog I discuss the settings before shooting.
Before you start shooting pictures check your settings! Sometimes your camera still has the settings of your previous photoshoot. Also check your batteries, both of your camera and your external flash, if you are going to use one.
RAW – JPG
RAW has the advantage that you can adjust exposure, white balance etc  afterwards before making a jpg file. Using the JPG setting this is not possible. The advantage of jpg is that the conversion of RAW to jpg is done fully automatic in the camera resulting in smaller files: faster transfer, easier to share with others and on the web. The disadvantage is that the automatic conversion may not result in the picture you had in mind. Using RAW gives you full control. Because of that I always use RAW.
Color space
Adobe RGB is a bigger color space than sRGB. The advantage of Adobe RGB is that the colors can be more saturated (which is nice for printing). The disadvantage is that not all browsers support Adobe RGB resulting most of the time in dull colors. I normally shoot using Adobe RGB and convert it to sRGB for pictures on the web (although I am a bit sloppy). For Dreamstime I do not know where the pictures will be used (print or web), so I leave it to Adobe RGB.
ISO
In principle I leave the ISO on 100. During daytime, it gives the best quality picture you can imagine. However, if there is not enough light, I use the following setting: if, for a particular combination of Aperture – Shutter Speed, there is not enough light the ISO is increased automatically. Most advanced cameras still do very well for very high ISO values. Capturing the moment is most of the time more important than the quality of the final picture. And using a flash would ruin the ambiance completely. Leave the ISO, however, on low values during a night shoot if you want the night to be black.
White Balance
Most of the time I leave the White Balance on automatic. In combination with shooting RAW this is no problem. It can be adjusted during post processing. Some say you should set the White Balance right during the shoot to get a better view of the colors. Wearing reading glasses I prefer to see the pictures on my iMAC afterwards  instead of the screen of a camera.
Next time I will discuss the settings during the photoshoot.

First snow in winter 2014/2015 in my hometown

Sneeuw in Hengelo januari 2015In January we got our first snow of the winter 2014/2105 in my hometown. Always a pleasure to take pictures, especially if you are the first to walk through the snow.
Taking snow pictures is not easy. The camera tries to turn all the white in the picture into gray. Although our brains try to see it as white (because we know that snow is supposed to be white) it still does not look nice. So, OVEREXPOSE. How much, depends on the scene. So, experiment! If you overexpose too much, you will loose detail.
Below you see two pictures, on the left no exposure compensation and on the right one-stop  over compensation. As you can see, the right picture the snow looks whiter.
Sneeuw in Hengelo januari 2015 Sneeuw in Hengelo januari 2015
Here are some pictures I took this morning in my garden.

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.

single_flash softbox
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.

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.