Posts Tagged ‘photography’

This post will be a relatively brief discussion of a recent studio lighting situation. The set-up was deceptively simple…models were sitting on the floor and covered with a fine black netting which we were trying to use to create a dramatic conceptual image. Trouble was, most standard lighting arrangements gave a very flat and lifeless look to the image.

After a few tests and considering the available lights, I came up with a set that brought out the texture in the fabric and highlighted some edge detail, while allowing the shadows to create a deep and moody feel to the overall image. The lighting diagram here shows the overall layout of this image.

Lighting diagram

Lighting diagram

The main light was a 3 x 4 softbox set to fire across the front of the models, feathered so that the models were in the light coming from the side of the softbox, rather than straight on. This arrangement put the subjects in very soft lighting that faded from left to right, highlighting the texture in the fabric and creating a dramatic split-light effect on the models faces, while providing just enough light on the right to give some detail to the shadowed features. Finally, a rim light was set in the back to provide edge detail to some of their features. This light had a black panel used to block any light from spilling on the backdrop, keeping the background of the image dark.

The final image is one of my favorites from what was a fantastic studio collaboration.

Final edited image from the shoot

Final edited image from the shoot

Thoughts or questions? – leave a comment!! What would you have done to light this type of image?

Shot with Canon 5D mkII and 100mm f2.8 Macro lens at ISO 12800

I’ve been approached by a few different photographers asking about recommendations for upgrading their cameras. Most of these inquiries have been from talented amateur photographers looking to “go pro” and get better shots. Usually, my first reaction is that it isn’t the gear that gets you the great shots…although it does help. Your skill in understanding how to use what you have is most important. That said, there are many reasons why upgrading from an entry-level DSLR camera makes sense.

More often than not photographers at this level have done some research and know about the technical details of the cameras, but are looking for a bit of first-hand user feedback. With that in mind I’m going to take a look at two of Canon’s “pro-sumer” cameras that have been on the market now for a couple of years, the 5D mkII and the 7D. In a follow-up article I will have a photographer friend of mine relate his experiences in shooting with various Nikon brand cameras in this same level.

Living with the 7D

I’ve owned my 7D now for about 2 years. This camera has been my sidekick on numerous fashion shoots, a good number of roller derby sports events, weddings, family gatherings, pestering my cat and countless random forays into other photographic realms. I can honestly say that I have never ceased to be impressed with how well this camera functions. I can get good sharp images while tracking a fast moving skater in fairly low light. The crop-sensor format gives you a nice close-up range when shooting with a 70-200mm lens. The 7D is also quite at home in a studio cranking out fantastically detailed portraits or macro work. Once you’re familiar with the control layout the camera is a breeze to set up for any shooting scenario you get involved with.

The image below shows a relative comparison of the zoom factor with the 7D’s crop sensor vs. the 5D mkII’s full frame. I shot the opposing camera body from the same location with the same lens at 6400 ISO.

Shot with 24-105 f4L at 105mm

Experiences with the 5D mkII

For the purposes of comparison, I borrowed a 5d mkII from a photographer buddy of mine, Marc Lebryk. He gave me a quick synopsis of his likes and dislikes of the camera and after spending a few weeks putting the camera through its paces I’m pretty much in agreement with him. It’s a great camera…but. Some things about it weren’t really updated when it came out. The auto focus system is an older design, unchanged from the original 5D. It just feels a little sluggish in comparison to the 7D. It doesn’t track moving subjects as well and shoots fewer frames per second…although still more than a Rebel. On the plus side, it’s a full frame camera that delivers absolutely stunning 21 megapixel images vs. the 7D’s 18. When I loaded the first few test frames onto my computer I just kept repeating…”Wow.”

High-ISO shooting

When the 5D mkII came out its high-ISO capabilities were big news. Now that the buzz has died down a little bit and even better high-ISO cameras have been developed, I think it’s worth mentioning that you might not be completely thrilled with the pictures you get in low-light conditions. They are certainly much improved over earlier camera models like a 40D (which is my back-up body). But if you’re expecting to get a studio quality shots at high ISO settings, you’ll be disappointed. For reference – the cat’s eye image at the beginning of this post was shot with ISO set to 12800. It’s certainly a nice image, but still too grainy to maintain fine detail when printing large format prints. (Still, I think it’s fantastic that I’m reflected in Shaggy’s eye…Meow?)

7D @ 6400 ISO

The 5D mkII’s low-light capabilities are marginally better than the 7D, but the exposures are more consistent with the 7D. What do I mean by that? Well, I set each camera at ISO setting of 6400 in manual mode using my 24-105 f4L lens with an aperture of f4.0 and 1/400th shutter speed. I set the cameras to burst and fired off as many consecutive images as each would handle in a RAW file format. The 7D stopped shooting at 18. The 5D mkII  stopped at 14. Comparing each exposure, there was slight variation in the images from the 5D mkII, but virtually none from the 7D. The noise level was fairly equal, but the 7D had a higher occurrence of hot pixels. Not much, but a noticeable difference. Does that exposure variation with the 5D mkII matter? Probably not for 99.9% of photographers. It was not much variation at all and was only noticeable doing a test like this. If you were to shoot a series of high-speed images to combine into a single stop-motion style composite image, you might notice a difference, but it would be a very simple fix to adjust that back in to match.

5D mkII @ 6400 ISO

Shooting video

I’ll be honest – I’m not the best person to ask about shooting video with these cameras. I’ve done it, and they both do capture full High-definition video quite well, but I use a dedicated video camera for my video work. Why?? Because these DSLR’s weren’t designed to shoot for an hour continuously. The sensors start to overheat after about 7-8 minutes and the camera stops recording until it cools off. Additionally, the audio capabilities are lacking in comparison to a full-fledged video camera. That said, they can produce some phenomenal video (The season Finale of House was shot using only 5D mkII’s). So if it’s something you’re going to consider, either one of these cameras can get good results.

Conclusion

So, between the two, as a generally great all-around entry into the big-leagues camera body the 7D is a very solid performer. It produces great images with excellent saturation and contrast, sufficient resolution for all but the most insane enlargements and has a great autofocus system. If you are going to be primarily concerned with the best image quality you can get for the money, the 5D mkII will serve you well. Its bigger sensor with more pixels gives you photos that are just breathtaking…when they’re in focus. Which, they will be if you primarily do one-shot focusing and aren’t trying to chase around a gaggle of children at a wedding reception. For a studio or landscape photographer who wants the bigger images and isn’t interested in rapid fire shooting, the 5D is a winner. If you like to shoot sports, the 7D’s crop-sensor (which effectively gives you a longer telephoto), high-speed shooting and autofocus systems will delight you. When I first unleashed the burst mode on mine in a sports-photography class the look on everyone’s face was priceless. You’d think I had just opened up on the scene with a machine gun! Certainly, there are faster cameras out there. The newly announced 1DX can belt out about 14 frames a second…and you could get four 7D’s for the same price.

Hey everyone!

I wanted to let you all know about Rabari – Encounters with the Nomadic Tribe, a fascinating new photography guide written by renowned travel photographer Mitchell Kanashkevich and recently published by our friends at Light Stalking.

I have to say that my first impression on a quick scan-through of this eBook was simply, “Wow!!” Not only has Mitchell given us a wonderful documentary of his project photographing a rural nomadic tribe in India, he has shared the experience in an instructional format providing a wealth of background information on his approach to “getting the shot”. For each of the ten excellent images in the book the reader is given insight into dealing with shooting in a foreign country and working with an interpreter,  reasoning and vision for the image, lighting diagrams and posing considerations, challenges in getting the shot and details on workflow and post-processing  in Lightroom and Photoshop.

When I finally got the chance to sit down and fully digest everything in the book I found it inspiring and easy to read. You really get a feel for what it was like to be on this project and how the author learned and interacted within the lives of these tribal people. Mitchell Describes everything in an easy, conversational text that feels like he’s teaching you one-on-one, detailing each shot and what the situation and his thoughts were before and after clicking the shutter. He gives you a breakdown of the gear he took (which was very minimal), how he dealt with transportation and finding a local guide and then goes through each image providing wonderful detail for photographers hungry to learn.

In short Rabari is a resource unlike any I’ve come across before and it should happily find a home in any photographer’s reference list. This is much more than just a “do this and do that” manual…it’s nearly 60 pages of Awesome. It gives you sense of what it is like to be a photographer on location in a desert shooting portraits of a people that don’t understand most of what you say. Add to that all the how-to details and you have a uniquely rich and satisfying edition. I have to give a heartfelt Thank You to Mitchell and Light Stalking for putting this together and I am certainly looking forward to more!

Click Here

…to head over to Light Stalking and get your own copy of Rabari. You’ll get a $5 discount through Christmas day!

Ok, so this tutorial is going to get a little more technical and theoretical, but I promise I’ll try to make it as easy as possible. To start with I’m going to describe what the Histogram is and why you should care about it (No really, it is your friend!!). Then we are going to dive into using Levels and Curves to adjust the tonal range in an image in order to enhance it. These are the very basics of image color and tonal adjustments.

The Histogram in Photoshop is essentially the same thing that is built into the interface of most DSLR cameras. You’ve probably seen it, but may have wondered what in the world this mountain range really meant. In its most simple form, any histogram represents the frequency of occurrence of some set of information. In photography…it shows us how many pixels in our image are black, white or any tone in between. Pure black is on the left and white is on the right. For a very basic example – say you have an image that is just four pixels – a simple square with one black, one white and two gray pixels. A simplified Histogram for this image would look like this: Image

In Photoshop the Histogram represents the tonal value of every pixel in the image, so what you’re actually looking at is millions of little bars stacked on top of each other – each mountain peak is indicating where a relatively larger number of pixels fall in the scale from black to white. If you have a massive mountain jammed all the way to right in your histogram, it is saying that your image is predominantly composed of white or near-white pixels…which may mean it’s over-exposed.

So is that bad? Well…it all depends really. Ultimately the idea of evening out the values across the histogram is just a suggestion and it’s up to you to decide what the image should look like, but understanding what the histogram is telling you can be a huge advantage in getting your images just right. High-key photos will be mostly leaning to the right while low-key images will have a greater proportion of dark pixels. The key is that you should still have a slight amount of information in the full range and the histogram will tell you if you are losing detail in any of the extremes.

So let’s make a simple image and start to learn how Levels and Curves affect the image and its Histogram. Start by creating a new image, and make it just 3 pixels by 3 pixels. You’ll get a teensy tiny square. Zoom in on this as far as possible (hit Ctrl/Cmd + 0). Now get your pencil tool and put one black pixel in the lower left corner of your square. Next, pick a dark gray and pencil that into one pixel above and to the right of the black one. Select a medium gray and put that in the upper left pixel, center pixel and lower right pixel. Finally, using a light gray fill in the top-center and right-center pixels, leaving the upper-right pixel white. You should have a rough gradient from black to white and a histogram that has a few bars in the middle and one all the way to the left and one to the right, like this:Image

The bars are telling you where in the range from black to white the pixels in your image fall.

Ok, now open up the Levels dialog and let’s start to do some adjusting. Make sure your histogram window is active (Window > Histogram) and then go to Image > Adjustments > Levels. You’ll get a window that pops up with the Histogram in it and a few sliders along the bottom called Input Levels. You’ll also see a gradient bar with two more sliders that is called Output Levels. There’s also a Channels drop box at the top that we aren’t going to worry about for now (this basically lets you work on one color “channel” at a time). Grab the black slider underneath the histogram and slowly move it to the right while watching your image. You’ll see the gray boxes gradually grow darker. As you cross the first bar in your histogram, the two pixels next to your original black pixel have now become black. Cross the center bar and the diagonal row of gray pixels turns completely black. Keep going and eventually you will be left with just one white upper right pixel and everything else is black. Slide that back all the way to the left and then move it back to white again while watching your histogram update in the other window. You should see the gray bars slowly marching their way toward black. Return that slider to the left side and now grab the white slider. As you move this to the left the opposite happens – your gray boxes start to turn white!! Return that to the right side and pick the gray slider in the middle. As you move this left or right the grays shift darker or lighter and your histogram bars will cluster to the right or left, but you still keep the pure white and black pixels the same.

So what’s that really doing? Well, those sliders tell Photoshop where to “map” black, white and middle gray in your image. If you open an image and it looks just mostly gray, you probably don’t have many black or white values, and pulling the sliders in essentially stretches the tonal range of the image to include more black and white (you’ll see this in the example image soon). Moving the gray slider will brighten or darken the image without destroying your shadows or highlights.

The output sliders at the bottom have a slightly different effect. If you experiment with them you will note that they actually reduce contrast and fade the black or white values. If you slide the black slider left, your image will be all very light grays and white. I honestly very rarely use the output sliders except for a few very particular cases. Finally, you will notice there are three little “eye-dropper” tools in the Levels window. These are useful for quickly picking in your image where the black, middle-gray and white points should be. Pick the white eye-dropper and click on the center middle-gray pixel. You will see that all the middle gray and lighter gray pixels are set to white. If you click back on your original white pixel in the upper-right everything returns to normal. Go ahead and experiment with the eye dropper tools noting the changes that occur when you pick different points.

Ok, cancel out of Levels and let’s try Curves. Go to Image > Adjustments > Curves. You’ll get another window with a diagonal line across it. This line is really just a graphical representation of the Levels you were just playing with. The output levels are your vertical axis and Input is the horizontal axis. White is the upper right point and black is in the lower left. You’ll also notice the same three eye-dropper tools. Make sure the Preview box is checked and then pick your white point and slide it to the left. You’ll see the same effect as when we moved the white slider in the Input section of Levels. Moving it down has the same effect as the Output Levels. Now pick a point in the middle and it creates a little box that you move around. Raise it up just slightly. This is the same as sliding the middle gray slider in Levels to the right – increasing the brightness of the image while retaining your white and black points.

When you’re through experimenting, try creating a simple “S” curve by slightly raising the highlights and decreasing the darker tones like this:

Image

You’ll see that the contrast in the mid-tones has increased while your black and white points remain the same. If you flip the curve by raising your dark tones and lowering the highlights the contrast will be decreased. Cool stuff…

So enough messing around with little gray pixels…let’s try it on a real image! Load up the pole-vaulter picture at the bottom of this tutorial and convert it to grayscale (Hint: use an adjustment layer! Pick the split circle icon at the bottom of your layers window, select Hue/Saturation and then slide the Hue slider all the way to the left). You’ll notice that the histogram has a large amount of darker tones, but there is no black or white…everything is some value of gray (it was a hazy, overcast day when I took this shot).

Let’s start with a Levels adjustment to expand the tonal range of the image (giving it full black and white values). Create another adjustment layer and select Levels. In the window pull your black slider to the right. As you go further to the right you’ll notice more and more of your image turning black until there’s nothing but the number card left. We really just want a hint of some black so leave it at a point where there are just a few pixels that have turned black (if you look at the number boxes I set mine at a value of 22). Now pick the white slider and bring it down until you just start to get some white pixels (I stopped at 233). Finally, you can use the middle gray slider to brighten or darken the image over-all. I tend to like darker images so I left it as-is. Click OK to accept the changes – Nice!! If you want to compare this to the original black-and-white image just click the little eyeball icon in the left column of your Levels adjustment layer. If you toggle this on and off you can see how the image has a fuller range of tone and the histogram also expands to fill the whole range.

Ok, now say you want to make this a little more contrasty…really simple. Create a third adjustment layer and pick Curves. Now just boost the highlights and pull down the dark tones creating the same “S” curve that we did in the earlier exercise. Presto! Feel free to experiment with the curves settings. You can add up to 15 points on the curve to adjust (I really can’t remember ever creating more than three or four…). When you’re used to how this works you can really do all the adjustments just within the Curves settings, but I wanted to show you how each tool could be used.

When you’re happy with the way it looks, just for grins turn off the Hue/Saturation layer to see what this did to the color image. Whoa!!! You will probably see some pretty extreme color changes like bright red-orange legs. Curves adjustments do have one little tricky point – they will cause some color shifting and the more extreme your changes the more noticeable this is. The nice thing about adjustment layers is that if you want to change your settings, just double click on the layer thumbnail (the “graph box” part, not the title) and you can make new adjustments. What may have looked good in black-and-white will probably be too extreme for a full-color photo.

Now that you have all these corrections done in adjustment layers, what if you wanted to do something like add a filter? You can’t really do this effectively to all these layers, so you need to “apply” this image to a new layer. Create a blank layer and then go up to Image > Apply Image (the keyboard shortcut for this is a little involved – Ctrl + Alt + Shift + E, or Cmd + Opt + Shift + E). This creates a new top layer with all your adjustments applied to it. You can then edit this the same way you would any regular image layer.

Alright! Hopefully you’ve got a good grasp of what the histogram is telling you about your images. One easy way to keep learning how this works is to load up some of your favorite pictures and see what their histograms look like. It doesn’t need to be a super high-quality image either…find some online that just have a good high or low-key look and see what their histograms reveal.

Original Pole-vault Image:

Image