Happy New Year! I wish each of you much photographic success in 2011 and I hope that you make great strides in your photographic goals this year. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been taking photographs like crazy over the Holiday season and have really been enjoying all the photographic challenges sent my way. I’ve shot portraits, landscapes, kids, adults, snow, sun and just about everything in between.
The month of December was punctuated by lots of snow! My family and I spent quite a bit of time enjoying the great outdoors in Lake Tahoe, CA and Mt. Rainier, WA. One of my favorite images of the month was taken in meadow in Truckee, California around mid-day. Here’s the image to the left. I used a Nikon D700 with a Nikon 24-70mm f2.8. The beautiful sun star was created by using a small aperture of f/22. What you can’t see is that right below this shot are five kids having a snowball fight and making snow angels! That’s one of the great things about photography; you get to choose what you include or what you exclude.
One of the neat things I was able to do in December was to photograph hundreds of people for a local church directory. It was a big job that required shooting images over the course of seven days. I’ve written about the experience below in the Photo Techniques section of the newsletter.
Last month, I started a Flickr group for the GOAL Assignments and we already have quite a few members signed up. People are posting the results of their monthly adventures in photography for all of us to see. Its great fun and I encourage you to join us at this link:
Nikon D7000 Book through Wiley Publishing
J. Dennis Thomas has completed the Nikon D7000 Digital Field Guide book and it is now for sale on Amazon. I was the technical editor of the book and had a great time getting to know him through his writing and photography. Here’s a link to the book on Amazon: http://amzn.to/dGUI6Z.
December GOAL Assignment: Pan Blurs
Your GOAL (Get Out And Learn!) Assignment last month was to deliberately introduce motion into your images by panning with your subject as it moves. Lots of people wrote about their experiences and a few people posted their images at our Flickr pool. www.flickr.com/groups/out_there_images/
A pan-blur is defined as a photo where you pan your camera at exactly the same speed as the subject while using a long-ish shutter speed. The goal is to create an image where the subject is sharp and the background is blurred from the camera motion.
Creating a ‘good’ pan-blur photo can be incredibly difficult because of high quantities of failures. In fact, I’ve found that I get one usable image from about 10 to 20 bad images. Many times, the process of creating a pan-blur seems more like a black art than repeatable science. However, there are some good techniques you can use to better your chances of getting a great image.
The most important thing to know about creating effective pan-blurs is that something on the subject of the photo needs to be in sharp focus. For example, if you are photographing a taxi driving through a city, then something on the taxi should be sharp; perhaps a wheel or the logo on the door. If the subject is a person or an animal, then you should generally try to get the face in clear focus.
Getting the subject’s face in focus isn’t a hard and fast rule, but viewers of your images are always drawn to the face since that is where the emotion of the photo begins. For example, look at the photographs of the kids riding sleds to the left. You can see that their faces are in focus while the backgrounds are blurry from the panning motion. This effect works well for these images. In the image of the wildebeest, the face isn’t in focus, but the shoulder is. In this case, I think that not being able to clearly see the face of the wildebeest is ok.
As long as something in the image is sharp, then the rest of the scene can be blurry and the viewer will assume that the effect was done on purpose. If everything in the photo is blurry, then it often looks like the photo is just a complete mess. For example, look at the two images of the young girl sledding that were taken in sequence. The first one has a sharp face while the second one is completely blurry. The blurry photo doesn’t give the viewer enough information to feel comfortable with the image. Honestly, it is disconcerting to look at the picture.
Of course, all rules are meant to be broken and it is possible to create great pan-blur images with everything blurry. For example, look at this image taken by Flickr user jpleau00. I think he did a great job of creating an aesthetic pan blur of a wooded scene. Nothing in the image is sharp, yet the image works very well.
Shutter speed plays a very important role in your pan-blur photographs. If the shutter speed is too fast, then you won’t see any motion blur. Too slow, and everything turns into a blurry mess. Your shutter speed needs to change based on the speed of your subject.
Here are some starting points for pan-blur shutter speeds:
- – 1/15 second for someone walking
- – 1/30 to 1/60 second for something running or jogging or a kid on a snow sled
- – 1/125 second for something like a bicycle rider
- – 1/500 second for a Formula 1 race car driving past at 150 mph
Holding your camera properly is another skill that you’ll need to master for effective pan-blurs. I’ve found that I get the best results when I plant my feet about shoulder width apart and then start my pan with my waist twisted to one side. Then, I rotate my torso while tracking the motion of the subject and end the shot with my waist twisted to the other side. I start my panning motion long before I press the shutter release and then make sure to follow through the pan motion after I’m finished shooting. This ensures a nice, smooth panning sequence and sets me up for success. If I’m jerky with my pan movement, then I’m almost assured to get 100% blurry photos.
Well, there you have it. Remember that creating captivating pan-blurs is a lot of fun, but can also be extremely frustrating. Strive for getting something sharp, choose the appropriate shutter speed and pan very smoothly. Finally, plan to shoot lots and lots of photos and keep practicing. Don’t give up until you come home with an amazing pan-blur image.
January GOAL Assignment: Shoot in Black and White to See Shape and Form
Your GOAL (Get Out And Learn!) Assignment for January, 2011 is to set your camera so it shoots in Black and White, and take your images this month in monochrome rather than in color. To do this, go to your camera’s menu system and adjust the Picture Controls (Nikon) or Picture Styles (Canon) for Monochrome –> Black & White.
My purpose for you is to learn to see shape and form in your compositions. Seeing the world through your camera in B&W will greatly enhance your ability to create strong images. Eliminating color from the scene will help you understand the graphical shapes that exist in our world and how they relate to your photography.
One tip I have for you this month is to shoot your GOAL Assignment images in RAW (i.e. NEF or CR2). This will give you the option to convert back to color if you need to. If you shoot B&W images as JPG files, then all the color information will be lost.
Oh, and don’t forget to post your photos on our Flickr Pool for the Monthly GOAL Assignment here: www.flickr.com/groups/out_there_images/
Photo Techniques: Shooting a Photo Directory
During December, 2010 I had the great opportunity to shoot a photo directory for my local church, Harbor Covenant in Gig Harbor, WA. It was a big job and took over a solid week of shooting to accomplish. The process was quite involved and took a lot of pre-planning, so I thought that the readers of this newsletter might benefit from seeing how the job was completed.
Not all photographers will be asked to shoot a photo directory, but lots of people with cameras are asked to help photograph for organizations simply because they own a big black Nikon or Canon. Invariably, what happens is that someone in the planning department of the local PTA or soccer club says ‘Hey, Mike has a camera. I bet he’ll take photos of our group!’ Then, before you know it, you are on the hook to produce hundreds of portraits for an organization. After you say yes, the panic sets in and you start wondering how to proceed.
For the photo directory I shot for Harbor Covenant, my first order of business was to determine how the images were going to be used. I needed to know what file size the church needed and what method they were going to use for printing the directories. The church staff said that they were going to be printing the directories on their in-house color laser printer and then binding them with a spiral-binding system. The images of each family or person wouldn’t be any bigger than 2′ x 2.5′. Knowing this information meant that I wouldn’t need massive files to create the final product. It also meant that I could use my existing cameras and I wouldn’t need any special software to process, soft proof or RIP the files for output.
The next step was for the church office and I put together a schedule for photographing each family. We settled on ten-minute sessions, which would give me enough time to pose everyone, while also checking lighting, clothes and hair. Also, during this ten minute session, each family would need to choose their favorite image. If they didn’t like any of the images, then I’d need time for a re-shoot during the same time slot. After adding up all the people and the amount of time it would take to photograph them all, we determined that we’d need at least one week to complete the job.
A few days before the shoot, I drove out to the church to preview the room where I’d eventually be shooting. I needed to check to see if I had enough space to set up my background and lighting equipment. I also wanted to see if I had power and internet access. Everything checked out, so I was ready to go.
On the day of the first shoot, I arrived about three hours early to set up the room. One of my rules of location photography is ‘Be prepared for anything to happen.’ I wasn’t sure what condition the room would be in, so I wanted to have enough time in case of unplanned events. Sure enough, the room was still full of chairs, audio equipment, tables and other items from the Sunday service, so I went to work clearing out the room! We moved the rows of chairs, vacuumed the floors, moved the audio equipment and rearranged everything so I could set up my photography equipment.
For the photo background stands, I decided to use the full 12-foot width cross bars. I knew I’d need the full background width because I’d be photographing some families with six or more people. For the backdrop, the church requested a simple gray background, so I hung a 10′ x 24′ light-gray muslin backdrop from Backdrop Alley.
For lighting equipment, I used two Photoflex light stands, each mounted with 40′ Photoflex umbrellas. In each light stand, I placed two Nikon SB strobes on a Photoflex Dual Flash Adapter kit. The Dual Flash Adapter is a very tough product and works great any time you need to mount two strobes in a single umbrella or light box. I really like it and use it quite often.
I set each Nikon remote flash manually at 1/4 power. Since there were two flashes in each umbrella, this power setting allowed them to recycle quicker than using a single flash set to 1/2 power. It also gave me longer battery life. I triggered each of the Nikon flashes in a mode called SU-4 mode. This is a simple slave mode that remotely trips the flash once it sees a single pulse of light from the camera. The SB-800 and SB-900 flashes have this mode built right into the strobe and you access SU-4 mode from the flash’s custom menus.
Since I was going to photograph people over the course of a week, I wanted everything to be able to be repeatable on each day of the shoot. Therefore, I didn’t use TTL for my shots. TTL would vary flash output for every photo depending on the clothing people wore. If a family came in with dark clothing, then TTL would tend to slightly over expose the image. If a family came in with light clothing, then TTL would tend to slightly under expose the photo. When all the photos were put together for the final directory, shots on the same page would vary in brightness from the TTL exposures, creating an odd printing situation. Therefore, setting everything on Manual made the most sense.
To get the appropriate exposure settings, I used my Sekonic L-358 digital flash meter. My approach was to have a person hold the flash meter at their chin, then trigger the flashes. One of the neat things about the Sekonic light meter is that it displays the amount of ambient light that contributes to the exposure. For a photo shoot like this, I wanted the ambient light contribution to be zero because of the fluorescent lighting in the room. I kept these lights in the room turned on because I knew that I’d have lots of people walking through the studio. People ranged in ages from toddlers to 95 years old and I didn’t want to risk anyone falling down. So, in order to keep the ambient light from impacting the photograph, I set my shutter speed at 1/250 second. Any slower than that, and I’d risk getting a fluorescent color cast on my subject’s faces. My final exposure settings ended up being 1/250s, f6.3 at ISO 400.
After my exposure settings were complete, I marked a zone on the floor with masking tape so I could visually tell where to pose my subjects for acceptable exposures. This helped my subjects as well, since they could see where they were supposed to sit or stand for the shot.
One of the in-camera settings I adjusted to speed up my workflow was to set my camera for the sRGB color space. I knew that the directory was going to be printed on a color laser jet and I knew that its gamut was fairly limited. Additionally, I knew that quite a few people would order custom prints from me and that I would be sending these to be printed at the lab. Both of these output systems require sRGB color space, so rather than convert the color space in post processing, it made sense to set the camera to sRGB from the beginning.
For capturing the images, I tethered my Nikon D700 to my laptop via USB cable and worked in Lightroom 3. This allowed the photographs to download immediately to the computer in the Lightroom working environment so clients could immediately see their pictures. I kept track of all the people’s names by typing their last and first names into the file name of each image. For example, for the Anderson family, their image name would have been Anderson_Zeke_2010_Directory_687.NEF. This naming convention allows me to find images in my catalog by last name, first name or pose number (i.e. 687).
Immediately after taking a few shots of the family, I had everyone come over to my laptop to look at their images. If they liked a specific photo, I marked it with a green label in Lightroom. In my workflow, green means that the image is ‘approved’ for final use. This photo would then be processed for output in the final church directory.
The number of people in each photo session ranged from a single person all the way up to families of six or more. To pose everyone properly, I brought in seven posing stools of different heights. My goal was to be able to place everyone so their heads formed simple triangle and diamond shapes. Having a bunch of different sized stools easily allowed me to swap out tall/short stools to match people’s heights.
As the photographer, one of the most important skills to have when doing extensive shoots like this is to always have a big smile on your face. It is amazing how many people absolutely detest having their picture taken. In fact, I’d bet that over half of the people who came into the studio stated ‘I hate having my picture taken.’ Therefore, I worked hard at appearing relaxed while telling jokes and having a good time. This easy-going demeanor immediately telegraphed to the others in the room and allowed everyone to relax.
The other element that helped people relax during the photo session was being able to immediately see their image on the computer screen. People are generally nervous about their smile (or lack of smile) and being able to see right away if they look good made all the difference in the world. If they wanted to take some more pics, then it was no problem to do it right there on the spot.
After the shooting was over and the photos were selected, I offered everyone the opportunity to purchase custom prints. The easiest way to manage the orders was to create a form with prices for 4×6, 5×7, 8×10 and 11×14 images. I also put together some picture package options that included wallets, enlargements and black and whites. My guess is that about 50% of the people decided to order some type of print. Those who did buy prints were very grateful for the opportunity to purchase them and have them delivered before the Christmas holiday.
The next task was to go through the process of preparing the images for printing. Because I spent so much time before the shoot setting exposure, lighting, focus and white balance, preparing the photos for print was as simple as cropping them for size. I did zero color correction, zero exposure fixing and zero white balance corrections. Everything was spot on and ready to go. That’s one of the big lessons to take from this photo shoot. If you set up everything properly in the field, then the time you spend on the computer after the shoot will be greatly minimized.vv Obviously, for some of the photos I had to do a bit of retouching for zits, wrinkles, hair, etc., but those were few and far between. I output all the images as jpg files, uploaded them to the printing company via the internet and then picked them up the next day, ready for the customers.
For the directory publication, we will crop and size each photo to approximately 2′ x 2.5′, then place them into a software template designed specifically for church directories. On the left side of each column will be the name, phone, email and address of the family. On the right side will be the photograph.
In total, we photographed a few hundred families and individuals for the directory over a time span of a week. Even though the shoot was a big logistical event and took quite a bit of technical knowledge, I found it to be very rewarding. The whole job required the perfect mix of people skills, computer skills and camera skills to pull off and I can’t wait for the next big job like this to come along.
Workshop and Business Updates
Exciting news on the workshop front: We are headed to Galapagos in September 2011 and to Africa in November 2011. The Africa trip is more than half sold out already, so don’t delay if you are thinking of coming. Here’s the link for more information: Tanzania, Africa Photo Safari
The Galapagos trip will be posted very soon. Feel free to write me directly ([email protected]) if you have questions or want to sign up.
For those of you who are in Florida, I’ll be in Orlando the week of January 20-23 running workshops on the Nikon D300/D300s, Nikon D90/D80, Nikon iTTL Wireless Flash and Nikon Capture NX2. You can find these workshops posted at the Nikonians Academy website (www.nikoniansacademy.com). We’ll be posting more workshops for 2011 soon. Look for news to be posted at the blog and on Facebook, and on Twitter.
Every single month I run 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.
As always, I encourage you all to keep shooting and take photographs every day. Hopefully these newsletters encourage you to take some new risks and improve on your photography. Thanks for reading and I hope to see you again next month! If you need more photo encouragement during the month, be sure to check out www.outthereimages.com/blog for regular updates, news, tips and commentary.
Out There Images, Inc. – “Get Out And Learn!”
PO Box 1966
Gig Harbor, WA 98335