Greetings folks! I have just returned from a two week trip down to Texas, leading workshops with the Nikonians Academy. I had a great time and was genuinely impressed with Texas folks� true southern hospitality. I�ll be back, that�s for sure.
This month at Out There Images, Inc. we have a few workshops in the Northwest. Our Seattle area D80/D70 workshop on 4/19 is sold out, but our 4/20 iTTL Flash workshop still has a couple seats available.
Later this month, we are leading a 4-day workshop in the Columbia Gorge called �The Art of Travel.� It has been sold out for months and I am really looking forward to spending some time taking photographs of wildflowers, waterfalls and the surrounding spring spectacle. In early May, we are leading workshops in the Portland Oregon area and still have some seats available there as well. See the workshop schedules at the end of this newsletter for more details.
We have updated the camera setup guides on our website and you can download them for free at www.outthereimages.com/publishing.html. These are recommended setups for your D70, D80, D200 and D2X for most shooting situations.
March GOAL Assignment: Photograph a stranger
Taking pics of strangers is a fun deal. It can be thrilling, scary, simple and difficult all at the same time. It is also one of the hardest things in the world for new photographers to do, especially in this day and age with all the restrictions, laws, and implied �protections� for domestic security. Sometimes all these laws and rules make you want to just give up and forget taking photographs of strangers on the street.
I�m here to tell you otherwise. Taking photos of people you don�t know is a great way to open new doors, meet new people and get some fantastic photos in the process.
I encouraged you in last month�s GOAL (Get Out And Learn) assignment to stretch your comfort level and take some photos of people you don�t know on the street. Last week, I spent some time down in Texas where I photographed in Austin and in the Texas Hill Country. I had a great time meeting new people and taking their photographs. In almost every case where I asked someone in the general public if I could take their photograph, they said yes. I only had one person say no and he was a State of Texas employee mowing the grass at a state park. The photos I did take of strangers opened the door to even better photographs later on because those strangers pointed me to new opportunities that I never would have found on my own.
Here are some great tips for taking photos of strangers (note, look at the photographs to the left for examples and more commentary).
1. Use a short lens. Yes, you heard me right. Use a lens in the 35mm ~ 100mm range. Most people will tell you to use a long lens like 200mm or 300mm to take street photos, but those long lenses just keep you far away from the very same people you are trying to meet. A shorter lens forces you to use the best zoom on the planet – your feet! By getting closer to the people you are photographing, you will actually have to interact with them and talk with them. GASP! This is often uncomfortable for photographers since strangers can be a scary lot. However, I think you may just be surprised when the people you ask to photograph say yes!
2. Use a long lens. I know. I just said to use a shorter lens, but sometimes it is impractical to actually walk up to someone with a short lens. For example, if a street performer is juggling flaming torches, you might want to stand back a little bit so your nice black digital camera doesn�t melt away. Longer lenses in the 200mm~300mm range give you the ability to photograph people without them knowing you are there. It is easier to catch their natural expressions and the resulting photographs don�t look posed.
3. What to say. Here are some lines I use when I want to photograph strangers:
– �I�d like to take your photograph. Do you mind?�
– �I think your dress is fantastic! Do you mind if I take a picture?�
– �I�m shooting photos for my stock files, would you mind if I took your photograph?�
– �I�m taking photos for an article I�m writing on this city. Do you mind if I take your photo?�
– �Your children are dressed up very nice today. Can I photograph them?�
Lots of times people will ask �why� and will be a little wary at first. When that happens, the door is open for me to introduce myself, talk about my photography and strike up a conversation. Once people find out I�m just a regular guy, then most of the time they�ll simple say �no problem.� I am continually amazed at how few people say no.
4. Portrait techniques still apply when taking street photos. You still need to look at the lighting on the person�s face and position them to where the light looks good. Once someone has agreed to let you take their photo, they expect you to take control and start posing them. Don�t be afraid to bring them under the shade of a tree or turn them into (or out of) the direct sun. Tell them when to smile and where to put their hands. Focus your lens on their eyes. Use light modifiers such as flashes, reflectors, and the side of a building. Watch the background so you don�t have telephone poles or fire trucks sticking out of their heads.
The best street photographers take time to understand how light is affecting the photo and then do everything they can to use or modify the existing light to the fullest extent.
5. Say thank you. This is the most important part. Make sure that you genuinely thank the person for their time and let them know that you appreciate their willingness to help out.
6. Ask for a model release. In general, photographs used for �editorial� use don�t always require a model release, but it is still a good idea to get it signed. Editorial use is generally described as photos being used for newspapers, magazines, web blogs, and general interest media of an informational nature. If you are thinking of selling the photograph for advertising or commercial use, then you�ll definitely need a signed model release.
I carry along model releases wherever I go and generally ask my subjects if they wouldn�t mind signing one. One of the best write-ups I�ve ever seen on the issues of model releases is at Dan Heller’s website. I�ve posted a sample of my model release here, feel free to download it and use if for your own purposes (change my name to your name of course). I�ve kept the model release very simple so that the person who signs it doesn�t feel like they�ve signed their life away.
7. Should you pay for the photo? I hardly ever offer to pay for someone�s photo. However, if someone does ask for compensation, then I�m prepared with a dollar bill to trade them for their time. The most people usually ask for is a copy of the photograph. When they ask, then I give them my business card and tell them to send me an email with the request. If they follow through and contact me, then I send them an email with a JPG attached.
8. Don�t �shoot and run�. Since so many of us are afraid of what people might think, we often steal a photograph and then quickly hide our camera in the hopes that the other person won�t find out. Imagine what you look like from the other side of the lens. The other person sees you hiding behind a bush with your camera aimed at them. Then, the minute they make eye contact with you, you quickly hide your camera under your shirt, turn around and walk briskly away. Next thing you know, they are running after you with an umbrella and whacking you on the head. Be upfront with your photos and don�t be a paparazzi photo sniper. Whenever someone catches me in the act of taking their photo, I look them in the eye, give them a big smile and walk up to them to start a conversation. Once they know I�m a decent bloke, then they drop their guard and continue with what they were doing.
April GOAL Assignment: A Day in the Life
Your GOAL (Get Out And Learn) photo assignment this month is to photograph a day in someone�s (or something�s) life. I want you to go further than the grab shot or �one off� photograph of a subject. I want you to start exploring it in depth. Photograph your subject in the morning, afternoon and evening as well as every time in-between. Photograph indoors, outdoors, in the shade, in the sun. Photograph anger, happiness, hunger, frustration, joy, fatigue and passion. Photograph hands, feet, roots, cars, home, business, smiles, frowns, work and rest.
Here are some ideas for your �A Day in the Life� subjects:
7. construction project
Photo Techniques: Using Nikon�s Matrix Meter and Exposure Compensation.
Over the last few weeks I�ve been down in Texas leading workshops with the Nikonians (www.nikonians.org). In between my teaching dates in Houston and Dallas, I took some time to photograph in the Texas Hill country. I have wanted to go here for a long time to photograph the small towns and the annual spring flower bloom. I knew that central Texas had a lot of wildflowers, but I had no idea how prolific they were until I saw it with my own eyes. There are more Texas bluebonnets than I possibly could have imagined. Honestly, I was a little overwhelmed with the quantities of flowers and it took me a couple days of photographing them to finally come up with some images I could use. Sometimes when there are billions of photo possibilities, it is hard to narrow it down to just one.
Anyways, I digress. The purpose of this article is to discuss how to use Nikon�s 3D Matrix Metering system to get good exposures. I�ll use example photographs from last week�s trip to central Texas to illustrate its usage. At a high level, Nikon�s brochures all basically say that the Matrix Meter is a wiz-bang wonder meter that solves all problems. To get beautiful results, it is as simple as setting your camera to matrix meter and then tripping the shutter.
I admit that the meter is one of the most advanced and accurate I have ever used, however it doesn�t give me perfect results every time I take a photograph. There are multiple iterations of Nikon�s Matrix light meters and the first ones were introduced way back in the Nikon F4 and N8008 days. Remember those days when we all used to shoot film? Since then, the meters have increased from 9-zone patterns to the current 1005 zone patterns found on the D2x, D70, D200 and similar cameras. Nikon also has some Matrix meters on their D80, D50 and D40 models that are 420 pixel (zone) versions.
Each of the Matrix meters work by measuring the light reflected from the scene and then comparing what the 1005 pixel pattern sees to a database of 30,000 photographs. The database is supposed to represent most of the photographs we come across in typical shooting scenarios. For example, if you aim your camera at a mountain scene, the Matrix Meter is supposed to compare the real mountain scene to something in the database that looks similar, and then determine shutter speed and aperture. All this wiz-bang stuff happens incredibly fast, in fact, it happens in about 37 milliseconds on a D2X. Amazing.
Ok, so with all that horsepower under the hood, we should expect that the camera just gets it right for every photograph we shoot. Right? Wrong.
I use the Matrix Meter for about 90% of all my photography and have learned to trust it for most situations. However, there are a number of idiosyncrasies you need to understand in order to get excellent results.
First of all, we need to understand that the matrix meter is different than the center weighted or spot meter. This is an obvious statement, but as always, the devil is in the details. The center weighted and spot meters are strictly �reflectance� light meters. What that means is they measure the amount of light that is being reflected back to the camera and then give you an exposure value for medium brightness. Back in the good ol� days of black and white photography, if you exposed a medium brightness thing correctly, this meant that it was exposed at 18% gray. In the current color age, this is called medium tonality.
In other words, if you take a photograph of white snow with the center weighted or spot meter, then the resulting image will be medium brightness snow (also known as gray) – this is bad. If you take a photograph of granite rocks, then center weighted and spot meters will give you medium brightness (gray) rocks – this is good. If you take a photograph of a black backpack with these two meters, then it will register as a medium brightness (gray) backpack – this is bad. To compensate for these meters, you have to over expose the white snow by 1.7 or 2.0 stops in order to make it render white and under expose the black backpack by 1.3 to 2.0 stops to make it render black.
Ok, now lets throw the matrix meter into the discussion. Since the matrix meter compares the scene to a database and then makes an exposure decision, it isn�t giving a pure light meter reading. The intent of the matrix meter is to let you simply aim the camera at the scene and let the camera figure it out for you. The hope is that it automatically adds the appropriate exposure compensation every time. The hope is that if you are taking photographs of a dark scene, then the camera would take away exposure to render it dark on the sensor. If you were taking a photograph of a white sandy beach (or snow), then it would automatically add in the appropriate amount of exposure to render it white on the sensor.
Now, the big question. Does it work as advertised? My answer is �most of the time�. That�s why I use it so much. I don�t have to fiddle with my exposures as much as I used to with spot meters and center weighted meters, but I still have to make regular adjustments to exposure compensation. For example, it still doesn�t seem to get pictures right in high contrast scenarios that include bright backlighting such as a person in the shade of a tree with bright daylight behind them. However, it does really well in situations of nice, even front lighting such as a flower on an overcast day.
Here are some places where the Matrix Meter works really well and some places where it needs a little bit of help. Remember, you are supposed to be in control of your camera, not the other way around. You need to understand how it performs in different situations so that you can create beautiful art, not blown out highlights or blocked up shadows.
Places it performs very well:
– Front lighting. A flower on an overcast day. A person in the shade of a building. A portrait lit up by a flash.
– Even lighting. Light is even all around the photograph. For example a building after sunset where the building is being lit up by external lights. A portrait of the family where everyone and everything is under the same lights.
– Low contrast. Where the subject is all about the same tonality and in the same light. A photo of a green grass field, a person�s face with front lighting, a red flower in front of green leaves.
Places it needs help:
– Scenes with bright highlights. Light bulbs in background and snow capped mountains tend to cause the meter to underexpose the rest of the photo in order to preserve the highlights. In these situations, it may be best to switch to a spot meter and meter specifically on your subject or your highlight. Alternatively, you could use Matrix meter and dial in a bunch of exposure compensation.
– Backlighting situations. Very common when photographing someone inside a house with a window behind their head. The remedy is to use a lot of exposure compensation, or switch over to spot meter to meter on their face.
– Long exposures at low apertures. For example a 30 second exposure at f22. In these situations, I typically will bracket my exposures by a stop or more just because I know that the metering system is at the limit of it�s capability.
Ok, now that you know a few places where the matrix meter works and a few places where it falls apart, here are some tips for using it as your primary meter.
1. Remember that the matrix meter looks at everything in the scene. Everything. This includes Uncle Fred as well as the blue sky behind him. If the photograph has lots of different elements in it, then generally speaking, the matrix meter will do just fine. For example, if the entire photograph is in the same light, then the meter will figure it out wonderfully. If some of the scene is in shadow and some is in bright sun, or if there is strong backlighting, then the matrix meter will need your help to expose properly.
2. If you are taking a photograph of something that is medium tonality, then you won�t need to make any exposure adjustments. In general, things that are red, blue, gray, green are medium tonality, so you can almost just point and shoot. Remember, the assumption here is that the entire scene you are photographing is medium tonality.
3. If you are taking a photograph of something that is darker than medium tonality, then you�ll have to dial in negative exposure compensation. Brown, purple, dark blue, dark green generally require somewhere around a -0.7 exposure compensation to render properly. Again, the assumption is the entire scene is dark.
4. If you are photographing something that is brighter than medium tonality, then you�ll need to dial in positive exposure compensation. Yellow generally requires somewhere around +1, white requires somewhere around +1.7. Again, the assumption is the entire scene is light.
5. If you are photographing a brightly back lit situation, then you�ll need to dial in significant exposure compensation, but it won�t be as precise as using the spot meter on the subject (rather than the background).
Nikon iTTL Flash Workshops
Our next iTTL workshop is scheduled for April 20th in Seattle, WA and still has some seats available. After that, we have one scheduled on May 12th in Portland, OR. These are some of our most popular workshops and we�ve only set up a few of them for 2007. If you’ve ever been frustrated trying to get your flash photography to look natural, then you need to attend this workshop. We spend all day learning the ins and outs of the Nikon’s SB600 and SB800 flashes. You’ll never again have to struggle with these flashes. More info at: www.outthereimages.com/ittl_workshop.html
We are offering topics such as D80/D70, D2X, D200, Nikon Capture NX and Nikon iTTL wireless flash through the www.nikonians.org. We�ll be running them in cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Las Vegas, Houston, Dallas, Boston, New York, Washington DC and Chicago. Throughout the year we�ll also be adding more topics and cities as we add qualified instructors. Our dates are posted here: www.greaterphoto.com.. If you are thinking of signing up, you had better hurry since we have already sold 50% of the seats for the entire 2007 schedule! There are a few workshops that are already completely sold out in various cities.
D80 and D70 Workshops
We have now combined our D70 and D80 workshops for 2007. We�ve scheduled them in the Northwest for Seattle, WA and Portland, OR areas through Out There Images, Inc. Additionally, we�ll be offering these through the Nikonians (www.nikonians.org) in cities all across the USA. Go here for more details: www.outthereimages.com/D80_workshop.html or www.outthereimages.com/D70_workshop.html.
Nikon D200 Workshops
The D200 is an extremely popular camera and for good reason! It is one of the nicest cameras I�ve ever used. We are going to offer D200 workshops in Seattle, WA and Portland, OR and are also offering an extensive workshop schedule with the Nikonians around the USA. Go here for more details: www.outthereimages.com/D200_workshop.html
The Art of Travel Workshops
Join us for a photographic adventure in 2007! Learn how to turn your next vacation into an artistic event with our Art of Travel Photography Workshops. The locations we have right now are Columbia River Gorge waterfalls and spring bloom 4/26/07 ~ 4/29/07 and North Cascades NP/Mazama 9/20/07 ~ 9/23/07. The Columbia River Gorge workshop in April is completely sold out and has a waiting list. The North Cascades workshop in September still has seats available. Beyond these travel workshops, we are considering adding more throughout the USA in other pretty locations. Go here for more details: www.outthereimages.com/travel_workshop.html
Each month, more and more of you are signing up for private workshops. These have become very popular and are an affordable way for you to learn specifically what you want to learn in a one-on-one environment. During these sessions, we are able to work specifically on your own photographic needs and at your own pace. Available topics are Studio Lighting, Nature Photography, Wedding photography, Photoshop, color management, digital workflow, flash photography, portraiture, etc. Many of our customers have requested specific topics and we have tailored our private tutoring to their needs. Call (360) 750-1103 or email ([email protected]) if you have questions about this option.
I hope you�ve been able to learn a few things this month and will be able to apply it to your photographic adventures. Keep shooting and remember that life is short. Take pictures now!
Out There Images, Inc. – “Get Out And Learn!”
PO Box 1966
Gig Harbor, WA 98335