After many months of near-continuous travel, I�m back at my office for a few weeks. It is nice to be able to spend some time thinking about the future rather than reacting to the present. I�ve been able to make some business plans, work through new image files, teach myself new software techniques and buy a few new toys like the Apple iPad).
One of the neat things I�ve been doing over these last couple of weeks is participating in online photography webinars. I spent a few days with Art Wolfe) as he presented his photographs from around the planet. I also watched portions of a three-day online workshop with Vincent Laforet as he taught skills around HD video production with DSLR cameras. This week, I�ve been watching a live presentation from Jane Conner Ziser) on professional portrait retouching in Photoshop CS5.
I always tell people in my workshops to never stop learning and I follow that advice myself. Any chance I get, I�m learning from other photographers, other industry leaders, and other peers. These online events are an incredibly convenient way to stay in touch with new technology without spending a lot of money.
One of the neat things I get to do in my job is work with other photographers in a private workshop setting. This last week I ran two private workshops with individuals who were looking to expand their skills in very specific areas. One private workshop was teaching a photographer how to better use autofocus for indoor sports photography. Another private workshop was working with a portrait photographer on how to improve her outdoor location photos at a local beach.
I�m always inspired by folks who have the dedication to devote a full day of learning to one specific topic. The individuals in these learning situations realize that their path to mastering the subject is just beginning. They know that what they learn in that one-day workshop is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lifetime of practice that comes afterwards.
When I met with the second photographer to work with on-location portraits, we set up a 42� reflector on the beach and used it to fill in shadows on the subject�s face. As we looked at the resulting photographs, they looked great. However, I suggested that we try placing the reflector at different heights. After that, we moved the reflector to different sides of the subject. Then, we changed the reflector from a gold reflector to a matte-white reflector. Then, we held the reflector above the subject�s head so their face was in full shadow. In all these cases, the resulting photographs looked surprisingly different. All these different looks came from using a single tool in a bunch of different ways.
That�s what is inspiring for me about photography. Something as simple as using a reflector can be implemented in a thousand different ways, and each of those ways will produce a completely different effect. All of them can be good or even great! Working with these photographers last week has inspired me to keep looking for new ways to use my existing equipment.
April GOAL Assignment: Wide Angle Lenses
Your GOAL (Get Out And Learn) Assignment for April was to use your wide-angle lens as much as possible. I encouraged you to use it in lieu of a normal lens to see what kinds of challenges and surprises it might present. I had a great time shooting with my wide angle lens last month, and I�d like to share some of my experiences as well as some good tips and tricks for using wide angle lenses.
First, let me define what I mean by wide angle. Typically, we define a normal lens as approximately 50mm on a full-frame camera. This focal length approximates what we see as a human and doesn�t tend to distort the image; in other words, it is a �normal� perspective. A wide angle lens is defined as something wider than normal lens. For example, a 35mm lens is technically wide angle, but really, when I�m talking about wide angle lenses, I�m generally referring to anything wider than 24mm. For the sake of this article, I�ll be talking about lenses from 10mm � 24mm in focal length on a full frame camera.
One of the first things to keep in mind when using wide angle lenses is that objects more than a few feet away will appear to be very small in the picture. Therefore, in order for your photograph to look interesting, you�ll need something in the photo to be pretty close to the lens. When I say close, I mean really close. In fact, many times you are so close to your subject that you�ll often feel uncomfortable.
You�ve all seen photographs of a famous national park where everything was miles away. Perhaps it was a photo of Yosemite where the waterfalls and the granite rocks were so small that they didn�t have any visual impact. I bet you said to yourself, �boring.� Take for example the photograph of Yosemite Falls to the left. I took this shot from the Yosemite Valley floor with a 14mm lens on my Nikon D700 camera. The shot is boring because it doesn�t have a three dimensional feel to it. Rather, it is a flat photo because all the elements are so far away from the camera.
The remedy for a boring wide-angle shot is to put something interesting close to the camera. In the next shot below, I searched for something in the foreground to make the photo interesting. In this case, I found a boardwalk through the meadow and then got down low to fill the foreground of the image. Rather than take the picture from my normal height, I bent down close to the ground to further magnify the size of the boardwalk. The close object adds visual impact and also serves to lead your eye into the scene.
The second thing to keep in mind when using wide-angle lenses is that they tend to greatly distort the subject. If you are shooting landscapes or abstract images, then this distortion doesn�t matter very much. Look at the photo of the silver modern art to the left. This was taken with with a 14mm lens, but you can see how the distortion doesn�t really matter. It is a curvy, abstract shape, so the distortion isn�t really even noticeable.
However, this all changes if you are shooting architecture or photos of people. In these cases, the distortion can really be somewhat distracting. For example, look at the two photos of the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, USA. In the first shot, all the lines are vertical, but in the second shot, you can see how the windows are wildly distorted outwards.
The reason why the second photo�s lines are diverging wildly is because I shot the image from a high stairwell and pointed my camera down into the room. This distortion is called keystoning and is very common with wide angle lenses when you point them upwards or downwards. It can be used as a creative effect if you like the look, however, many photographers would rather have all the lines properly angled (i.e. vertical).
To keep the lines vertical in-camera, you�ll have to make sure that your camera is absolutely level. In other words, you can�t tilt the camera up or down. Keeping the camera level is exactly what I did in the first image to maintain the correct perspective in the walls and windows.
Because of the potential for crazy distortion, wide angle lenses generally should not be used for portraiture. But, if you are going to use these lenses for people photography, then be sure to try and keep your subject�s face in the center of the frame. This way, their head won�t appear to be too oblong or warped. Look at the two examples of children I have to the left.
In the first photo of the boy with his mother, you can see that the boy�s head and hands are artificially large compared to his mother�s head. This is due to the distortion of the wide angle lens. Honestly, I like the look in this photograph because it is already a slightly humorous photo. However, it is by no means a normal perspective for the two subjects. The shot looks good because I got very close, and because they were both laughing about the muddy hands. In this case, I was probably just two feet away from the little boy�s face. Because I was so (uncomfortably) close, I really had to watch out so the boy�s muddy hands wouldn�t get all over my lens!
In the second shot of a different young boy, I was shooting with a 14mm lens. In order to fill the frame with his face, I had to be about one foot away. Since I knew that his face would be terribly distorted if I photographed him off-center, I kept him in the middle of the frame to maintain a slightly normal perspective.
A third issue to worry about when using wide angle lenses is lens flare. Lens flare generally occurs when you are photographing directly into a point source of light such as the sun or a street light. Since modern wide-angle zoom lenses have numerous glass elements, they tend to internally reflect the light which causes the lens flare. The more elements, the more the opportunity for flare.
The solution to lens flare is to make sure that the main light source doesn�t directly hit the front of your lens. One obvious way to do this is to point your camera away from the source of light. If you are outdoors, then simply moving your subject to a different location might be all that you need to do. However, there are lots of times when we want to include the sun in the image for a creative look. In these cases, the lens flare will be there and you�ll have to just live with it!
Another solution is to always use your lens hood. The main purpose of the lens hood is to shade the front element of your lens from direct light, thereby reducing flare. The lens hood also does a great job of protecting the front glass from sticks, stones and oily (or muddy) fingers.
Yet, one more way to reduce lens flare is to remove your front UV or Skylight filter. Any filter you place on your lens increases the chance of internally reflected light, so I�m always very diligent to take off the filter if I think the sun will cause lens flare.
A final note about lens flare is that some lenses flare worse than others. For example, my 12-24mm f4 lens has a significant amount of flare while my 14-24mm f2.8 has hardly any flare. If you do a lot of wide angle photography, then it might make sense for you to go to a local camera store and try out a number of different types of lenses to see how they perform with lens flare.
So, there you have it. A wide angle lens is an excellent tool for photographers. However, using one isn�t always as easy as mounting it on your camera and taking the photo. If you pay attention to these three important things, you�ll get better results with your wide-angle lens:
1. Get close! Compose your shot with something interesting very close to the camera.
2. Watch for distortion. For portraits, keep the subject in the middle of the frame. For architecture, keep the camera level.
3. Watch for lens flare. Turn camera away from the light source and use your lens hood.
May GOAL Assignment: Every Day Art
Your GOAL (Get Out And Learn) Assignment for the month of May is to search for art in everyday items. I think you�ll be surprised by how many interesting photographic subjects exist in your own house, yard and neighborhood. All you have to do is look hard enough to find them. For the month of May, I�d like you to photograph washing machines, spoons, car bumpers, tile floors, road stripes and anything else that strikes your fancy. This will be a great process that will get your creative juices flowing! I�ll share my results on the blog as well as in next month�s newsletter.
Photo Techniques � Creating Catchlights
I was running a workshop on Nikon Capture NX2 (http://www.capturenx.com/) a few weeks ago and one of the participants opened a portrait I took and immediately started to remove the �white spots� in the person�s eyes with the Auto Retouch Brush. I asked him why he was removing the catchlights, and he said �Is that what those things are? I thought they were defects in the picture!�
We spent a few more minutes talking about catch lights and why they are so important to the image. At many of my workshops, people ask about catchlights, so I figured I�d take a few paragraphs here to talk about them.
As you know, a person�s eyes offer us a glimpse into their personality. An old English proverb even states that the eyes are the window of the soul. As humans, we judge a lot about a person by looking at their eyes. If a person�s eyes are dark, then we often make an assumption that their personality is dark as well. It their eyes are bright, then we assume that they are generally happy. The types of people we want to hang around are often described as people with a �sparkle in their eyes�.
Photographically, we can create a sparkle in our subject�s eyes by introducing what is called a catchlight. Simply stated, a catchlight is a bright reflection in the subject�s eye from some type of light source. As a photographer, it is our role to design how the catchlight looks. Our responsibility is to control the shape, size and position of the catchlight in the subject�s eyes.
We can accomplish this by a variety of methods that might include:
– Moving the light source
– Moving the subject�s head
– Using a large diffused light source like an umbrella
– Adding or removing light sources
Look at the girl portrait to the left, you can see that one of the images has nice catchlights while the other doesn�t. What is the difference? Well, mainly it is that in the first photo her head was tilted slightly upwards towards the light, while in the second image, her head was down away from the light.
It is the positioning of the face with respect to the light source that is most important for creating the catchlight. It is this positioning that causes the most problems with photographers. What we need to do is make sure that the eyes will reflect the light from the source, back into the camera. Another way to say it is that we need to play pool (billiards) with the light. Bounce the light off the subject�s eyes and back into the camera.
The simplest way to do this is by keeping your lights at just above the height of your subject�s eyes and in front of their face. This allows the light to go into the recess below the eyebrow, and reflect back into the lens of the camera. The lighting diagram to the left shows how this works.
The general preference for catch lights is have them placed in the upper right or upper left of the eyes in the 10 o�clock and 2 o�clock positions. You don�t have to live and die by this rule, but it is generally considered acceptable among photographers. That said, I�ve seen photos with catchlights in every position around the eye and they can all look good.
The size of the catchlight can be very important as well. Generally, the bigger the catchlight, the nicer the photo looks. The only way to get a big catchlight is to have the lighting source very close to the subject�s face. By close, I mean within a few feet. For example, if you are using an umbrella, then place it about 36 inches from the head. If you are using a larger soft box, then you can be about 45 inches from the head. For the photograph of the young girl, the 36� soft box was about four feet from her face.
When I�m photographing outdoors, I�m always thinking about catchlights as well. In fact, many times, the lighting conditions outside are very contrasty, so having a catchlight can bring a little life to a person�s face who is in shadow. Look at the young cowboy photo to the left. You can see in the blown-up image that he has catchlights in his eyes, even though they are shadowed by the brim of his cowboy hat. If these catchlights weren�t there, then the shot wouldn�t appear as vibrant.
For this cowboy photo, I specifically positioned myself so that the sun was behind me and to my right. That means that the open sky will reflect off his eyes and back into the lens of the camera.
For the bobcat photograph, I also positioned my camera in order to maximize the opportunity for catchlights. In this case, you can see a catchlight from the direct sun in the bobcat�s right eye. This was at a controlled wildlife photography session, so I was able to pick and choose my position. The sun was still relatively low in the sky, so I picked a location that would allow full front lighting on the bobcat. I knew that contrast would be very high, so I didn�t want to do very much side lighting. It is the front lighting that allows the catch light to reflect back into the lens of the camera.
In summary, the next time you go out to photograph a person or an animal, pay close attention to the catchlights in their eyes. If they don�t have catchlights, then change the position of their face or your camera so that you get the reflections in their eye from the light source. Finally, use larger light sources to create nicer catchlights.
I take off in a couple weeks for Nikonians Academy workshops in Houston and Dallas. After that, I�ll be running a series in Portland, OR. Then, later this Fall, I�m off to Africa. We have just one seat remaining in our Tanzanian Photo Safari, so please contact me quickly if you are interested in attending.
Houston 5/20 � 5/23
Dallas 5/27 � 5/40
Portland 6/10 � 6/13
New York 10/14 � 10/17
Washington DC 10/21 � 10/24
Tanzania Wildlife Safari 11/4 � 11/16
Our Nikonians Academy workshops include Nikon D300s/D300, Nikon D700, Nikon D3/D3s/D3x, Nikon D80/D90, D3000/D5000, Nikon Wireless Flash, Capture NX 2, HDR Photography, travel, adventure, wildlife and more! You can find more information here: www.nikoniansacademy.com.
This September, I am running our annual North Cascades Art of Travel photo workshop, scheduled for 9/23/10 to 9/26/10. We�ll be photographing in the North Cascades of Washington State for four days while based out of Mazama, Washington. Each day brings a different set of exciting subjects such as mountain landscapes, alpine lakes and old-western charm. I�ll be running this workshop through our company Out There Images, Inc. Here�s the link: www.outthereimages.com/travel_workshop.html
I continue to run quite a few private workshops for people who want to learn in a one-on-one environment. These are great for folks who want to focus on specific topics related directly to their interests. Topics have included product photography, learning your camera, Lightroom, Capture NX2, wedding photography, Photoshop, color management, nature photography, digital workflow, macro photography, location portraiture and many others. I also regularly consult with businesses, schools, organizations and museums to assist with their photographic and digital workflow needs.
Call (253) 851-9054 or email ([email protected]) if you have questions about private tutoring or consulting.
Thanks for taking the time to read our Out There Images newsletter for May, 2010. If you need more encouragement during the month, be sure to check out www.outthereimages.com/blog for regular updates, tips and commentary.
Out There Images, Inc. – “Get Out And Learn!”
PO Box 1966
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
email [email protected]