Captivating Color

29 03 2011

A Guest post by: Mitchell Kanashkevich

Color is one facet of photography which we often tend to overlook and take for granted. It is frequently only considered after the photograph has already been taken.

Approaching color this way however is a big mistake and a lot of us make this mistake because we simply don’t know why color is important, we don’t understand what role it can play in our photography.

The fact is, color is as much a part of visual communication as composition and light. If you are not fully aware of this fact while framing/composing color images and later when post processing them, you’re quite simply not in full control of what your photographs communicate. A knowledgeable, intentional approach however, turns color into a powerful ally that helps us convey stories, emotions, sensations and moods from within the photographic frame.

In this post I have included some of my photographs along with brief explanations of just what role color plays in every one of them. The aim here is to raise awareness of color’s potential power, particularly among those of you for whom it (color) has been more of an afterthought than a creative ally.

image_01.jpg

The above photograph is in large part about that attention-grabbing red. It helps me to immediately bring attention to what I considered to be the most important element to the story in this image, the turban. This turban is representative of the cultural background of the shepherd, it says that he is a man of tradition and this is something that I wanted to really highlight.

The red also leads the way in communicating how this scene felt while I was shooting it -dynamic, exciting. This is also in large part due to the overall palette, which in addition to the red is made up of other bright, vivid colors that are usually considered dynamic, lively, exciting.

The dominant color palette in this image is fairly subdued and neutral. The mood that it creates leans towards being melancholic, but the rather subtle “splashes” of brighter colors inject a little life and excitement into the scene (without completely shifting the feel of it). I think that this is fitting, as the mood in that room was a little melancholic and somewhat lively at once.

Against the mostly subdued, neutral palette that dominates the frame those “splashes” of color inevitably demand our attention. It is as if the photograph is saying quietly, but clearly “Look here and now look there, these details are also important to the story”. Color (along with composition) helps our eye progress from the brightest, most vivid element, the central character – the woman, to all the other, less noticeable elements that add a certain level depth to the story.

image_03.jpg

Here we’ve got bright, fairly vivid colors. Again there’s a sense of excitement, energy, perhaps an association with happy times, due to the blue sky and the brightness of everything, especially when you connect the color to the subject matter – parent and child.

The dark flesh tones really stand out against that bright blue sky, hence the presence of the father and the son is strongly felt. It’s clear that they are the central characters of the story. At the same time, the surroundings, which are also important components of the story are not completely overshadowed either, because they are so bright and vivid, their presence is strongly felt too.

image_04.jpg

Here the colors are equally important to the mood and to the story. The subdued, earthy palette dominated by shades of grey creates a mood which is fairly sombre and that’s exactly how the scene felt. The palette is also reflective of this man’s story, his tough job of ploughing the land during a grey, foggy autumn (fall) day.

It should be noted that the absence of certain colors can be just as important to creating a mood and telling a story as their presence, and here, the absence of bright, vivid colors ensures that the somberness is communicated strongly and that the story of hard-living is clear as can be.

image_06.jpg

This image is essentially duo-tone. The simple minimal palette allowed me to emphasize the “gestures”, which are where the story is, the hand with the spear-gun pointing towards the palm leaves underwater (that’s what those things are), the legs in swimming motion. Less colors has equalled in no distractions from what’s important.

One could argue that this image would work just as well in black and white, but I feel that the blue of the water plays a strong role in speaking to the senses, it helps communicate what it’s like to be in the sea, the coolness, the powerful presence of it. Towards the bottom part of the frame, as the water becomes dark blue, things get a little mysterious, darkness (dark colors) is often associated with the unknown. This sense of mystery is what you feel in the deeper part of the sea and it’s something that I really wanted to convey through the photograph too.

image_05.jpg

Vibrant shades of green and the warm, yellow-orange tinge created by the morning sun dominate this image. This palette is inevitably evocative of vitality and generally positive emotions.

The story in this photograph is quite simple, it’s about the beauty of the landscape, the energy and excitement of the morning and it is only through the palette dominated by those vibrant, warm colors that it can be communicated effectively.

image_07.jpg

Sometimes the color of a particular scene we see captures our imagination, gets us excited and compels us to make the photograph. Even if we aren’t aware of it, it speaks to our senses. The above image is one such example. Color lends it a somewhat surreal and mystical quality, it creates a very distinct feel. In such photographs, color and the sensory response it evokes are so important that any kind of story can in a sense become secondary. Color is what makes (or breaks) these kinds of images and without it they (the images) simply do not work.

Well, that’s all for this post. I hope that by taking a closer look at these examples of what role color can play in photography you are now a little more aware of its importance and potential. I urge those of you who make color photographs to begin taking advantage of color during your next shoot. Start thinking how you can use color to tell your own stories and to communicate the emotions, sensations or moods that you want the viewers of your photographs to feel.

About the Author: Mitchell Kanashkevich is a travel/documentary photographer who’s passionate about color. His photographs have appeared on TV, billboards, on book covers, travel and inflight publications as well as in most of the world’s top photography magazines. Prints of his work hang in private photo collections around the world.

Read more: http://www.digital-photography-school.com/color-a-powerful-creative-ally-or-an-afterthought#ixzz1Hzm8cBdy

Read more: http://www.digital-photography-school.com/color-a-powerful-creative-ally-or-an-afterthought#ixzz1HzlhJloa





Divine Composition With Fibonacci’s Ratio (The Rule of Thirds on Steroids)

5 12 2010

Its been a while i don’t post anything to the blog, really busy. After reading a post from DPS regarding the rules of third, very interesting and i should share it…

Are you a stickler for little details? Well, if you’re a photographer, you had better be. Discovering the rule of thirds is a big milestone for any photographer. Suddenly, you realize that all you ever did before was center your subject right smack dab in the middle of the frame, because that’s where the camera’s focus grid is located. Makes sense right? The rule of thirds took you to new heights in your photographic journey, moving your subject off to one side or another in your frame, or to the top or bottom. But don’t some of these photos look a bit crowded being so close to either side of the frame? Sure it works in some cases, but what if there was still another rule you could incorporate into your photographic repertoire?

Enter Fibonacci’s Ratio…

Also known as the Golden Mean, Phi, or Divine Proportion, this law was made famous by Leonardo Fibonacci around 1200 A.D. He noticed that there was an absolute ratio that appears often throughout nature, a sort of design that is universally efficient in living things and pleasing to the human eye. Hence, the “divine proportion” nickname.

Since the Renaissance, artists and architects have designed their work to approximate this ratio of 1:1.618. It’s found all over the Parthenon, in famous works of art like the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, and it’s still used today. The divine proportion has been used by companies like Apple to design products, it’s said to have been used by Twitter to create their new profile page, and has been used by major companies all over the world to design logos. It’s not talked about in most photography circles because it’s a somewhat advanced method of composition and can be confusing to a lot of people. It’s so much easier to just talk about the “rule of thirds” because it’s exact, precise and easy to follow.

This ratio can be used in many ways to compose a photograph. Lightroom 3 even has a golden ratio overlay option when you go to crop on image. This way, you can line up a grid of the golden ratio to coincide with lines or points of interest in your photograph. At this point, you may be quite confused. If you are, please take a few moments to watch any one (or all) of these videos that seek to explain this ratio.

Video 1: Natures Number: 1.618
Video 2: Nature by Numbers
Video 3: Golden Ratio

Ok, hopefully that made things a bit more clear? By now you should know that this is NOT a conspiracy theory or fuzzy math. This is a real aspect of composition that has been used by historical famous artists and architects, and Fortune 500 companies. When applied to photography, this ratio can produce aesthetically pleasing compositions that can be magnets for the human sub-conscious. When you take the sweet spot of the Fibonnaci Ratio and recreate it four times into a grid, you get what looks to be a rule of thirds grid. However, upon closer inspection you will see that this grid is not an exact splitting of the frame into three pieces. Instead of a 3 piece grid that goes 1+1+1=frame, you get a grid that goes 1+.618+1=frame. Here are a few examples a Phi grid placed over some images that I’ve used it on in the past…

In the above example, I placed the slightly more dominant eye of the horse on one of the Phi intersections. Consider that if I had placed a rule of thirds grid over this photo and lined the eye up with that, the head would be crowding the left side of the frame. In this photo, the head isn’t center, it’s not crowding either side. It’s just right, would you agree? Let’s take a look at another…

This one is slightly different. If you’re a REAL stickler for details, you may have noticed that there is a slight difference between the intersecting lines of the Phi graph, and the sweet spot of Phi itself. In this image, I made sure to align the head of my subject within the spiral and placed the left eye approximately over the sweet spot. Ok, moving on…

In this photograph, from Key West, I lined up the horizon with the top line of the Phi grid. In my opinion, when you line up the horizon with a rule of thirds grid, the separation is too…obvious. I think it would leave a bit too much of what isn’t the subject in the image. In this photo, the sky and clouds are the perfect compliment to what I’m trying to convey in the photo: The church on the bottom right, and the famous Duval street on the left. But with any more sky than is already present in the photo, the viewer might think the sky is actually the subject. Here’s one more…

In this example, I used multiple lines on the Phi grid for my final composition. I lined up the doors with both vertical lines, as well as the bottom horizontal line. This provided for a perfect amount of ceiling to lead the viewers eye to the door. Here’s a few more examples without the grid. See if you can imagine the grid over the images and determine why the image was composed the way it was.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this article has shed some light on a somewhat mysterious subject in the world of photography. Fibonacci’s Ratio is a powerful tool for composing your photographs, and it shouldn’t be dismissed as a minor difference from the rule of thirds. While the grids look similar, using Phi can sometimes mean the difference between a photo that just clicks, and one that doesn’t quite feel right. I’m certainly not saying that the rule of thirds doesn’t have a place in photography, but Phi is a far superior and much more intelligent and historically proven method for composing a scene.

If you’d like to start incorporating this powerful composition tool into your photography, you’re in luck! I’ve included a PNG overlay of both the Fibonacci Spiral and the Fibonacci Grid. Just click this download link to start using them. These overlays are for use in Photoshop. Just place them into the file you are working on, then scale them to the correct size of the image.

 

original post: http://www.digital-photography-school.com/divine-composition-with-fibonaccis-ratio-the-rule-of-thirds-on-steroids#ixzz17FJHgNlS

 





How to Drive Your Camera

16 09 2010

You adjust your camera the same way you drive a car. It sounds lame, but it’s very true.

You see where you are relative to the road and traffic, and adjust accordingly. It’s easy. Today I run all my cameras in Automatic, and adjust as needed to get the shots I want.

Every camera, regardless of how advanced and automatic, still requires occasional tweaking to get the best technical results just as your car requires constant steering to stay in lane. Take your hands off the wheel and you crash; ignore your camera’s tweaks and you get crappy pictures.

Better cameras require less frequent attention, but no camera can figure out what you’re trying to do all by itself all of the time, regardless of how automated it is.

Let me explain what does what, and you’ll be on your way to better photos.

Brakes and Throttle: Exposure

Exposure, how much light hits the picture, is like the brakes and throttle.

When we drive, we know how fast we’re going and we use the brakes and throttle to get us to the speed we need. It’s easy.

Setting the exposure is as easy. Today it’s usually called Exposure Compensation in camera instruction books and labeled “+/-” on the camera or in its menus.

All you do is look at your LCD (or film at the lab), and make your next shot lighter or darker as needed. That’s all there is to this; it’s simple!

This process needs to become as natural as riding the throttle to keep your desired speed up and down hills. It should become second nature so you shouldn’t have to think about it.

It is tougher with film, because you have to wait longer to see the results before you can apply them. It is exactly the same process, just with a longer delay in the loop. See also Modern Exposure.

Steering: White Balance

Steering is like setting white balance. It’s how much left or right (red or blue) you need to keep you where you need to be. Turning a corner, a big change, is like changing from Daylight to Tungsten. Small changes, like keeping yourself in the same lane, are the same as WB trims. WB trims are what gets you perfect color, and the big steps are what gets you close.

We use the same reiterative process of looking at the results and making changes for the next shot. It’s the same as adjusting the wheel as you drift out of lane.

If your shot is too red or blue, reset the WB and try again. See my white balance page for examples and explanations of which way to turn the dials.

Finer Tuning

Most cameras have many more controls for setting color saturation, contrast and more. It’s critical to play with these, too. They are usually hidden in menus with weird names.

I love wild color, so I typically crank my Nikons up to the max and my Canons up to +3 saturation. I detail what I use for each camera in their respective reviews.

Even if I usually set my cameras one way for what I usually shoot, when I shoot something different, I may change these settings, too.

Successive Approximation and Reiteration

It is critical to see what you have, and make changes as you go.

No camera is always dead-on. When I rate cameras, important to me is how often they get it right, but none does it perfectly all the time.

Many cameras constantly overexpose. No big deal; for these cameras I know to leave the exposure compensation set to -2/3 as a starting point.

It’s the same for color balance (white balance). Some cameras and films are warmer (oranger) or cooler (bluer) than I prefer, so I always set them a certain way when I start shooting.

The more you shoot, the more your experience will tell you where to leave the settings to start.

Intimacy

It is critical to be intimate with your camera, film or digital. Time and experience will enlighten you with how to set the camera for different situations even before you shoot them, since you’ve shot them before and remembered.

If you use only one camera it’s much easier to know how to set it intuitively in every condition. This is more critical with film, where you can’t instantly see how the camera’s meter responds.

Only idiots and hobbyists try to shoot with a zillion kinds of camera. This means they’re starting from scratch every time they pick a different one from their collection. It drives me crazy reviewing all the cameras I do, since it makes it difficult to know any of them in depth. Luckily with digital it’s easy to get back up to speed, but with film cameras this can be death.

Don’t be silly. The best photographers have one old camera they’ve used for years, and know it in their sleep. More important then what kind of camera you have is how well you know it.

Virtuoso musicians can get their sound on any instrument because they hear what they’re doing as they play. In photography it’s the same thing, but since we don’t have instant feedback it takes us a little longer to accustom ourselves to a new camera.

Setting the Destination: Good Photos

There is no absolute “good.” Photography is art, so whatever looks good to you is good. Know what you want, and go for it. If you don’t know what you like, have fun, and do more of what looks good to you. That’s how my style developed. Just like a mescaline-crazed fruit fly, I’m attracted to crazy colors, so I do more of them. Don’t follow anyone else, do what turns you on.

As I tried different films, digital camera settings and techniques, I liked some better or worse than others. I kept doing more of what looked good to me. It’s easy, but you need to know how and when to make changes. You also need to stick with one thing at a time to learn it. If you’re changing more than one thing at a time it makes it hard to discover anything.

When I started, I was afraid to take any setting off its default. Today, even on automatic, it’s normal under some odd conditions for me to have to dial in up to two full stops of exposure compensation, and under normal conditions to use +/- 2/3 of a stop. Don’t be gentle if your camera needs a good smack to get what you want out of it. I was too chicken as a kid to use any exposure compensation and often got crappy pictures.

Getting a technically great photo is trivial if you follow the instructions above.

Making a genuinely great photo is difficult, since you have to be in the right place at the right time and apply a whole lot more.

For instance, even with GPS navigation and Mercedes Radar-controlled cruise control that sees cars in front of you and can stop and start your car and go up to 125 MPH automatically, you still need to tell your car where you want to go.

Even these systems still can’t even keep your car in lane. Cameras are just like cars, but much more advanced, and even they can’t find a good picture all by themselves.

You still need to set the destination for your car just as you need to see the picture first for your camera. Setting the destination for a trip is like seeing a good photo as you’re walking around. It can’t be automated as the technical issues are today.





Your Camera Doesn’t Matter

16 08 2010

Morning View - Sungai Pinang Jetty

I took 12 hours starring at this photo which belong to friend of mine, realvista. I’m the ones who drag him into the real photography scene, but he a step further than me! I don’t know why, but something in there! His courage, philosophy and his expression of art. Thats make me remember to the Ken Rockwell post back to 2009 and my post on blog ‘Whats Make A Photographer a Professional’. And i really like what Ken Rockwell have told that ‘Don’t presume the most expensive gear is the best. Having too much camera equipment is the best way to get the worst photos‘. Hope this post will help you think more on Photography Itself not about gears!!

By: © 2009 Ken Rockwell

See renowned pro Chase Jarvis‘ art book, The Best Camera, shot entirely on his iPhone.See the online eork shot exclusively on his iPhone.

If you can shoot well, all you need is a disposable, toy camera or a camera phone to create great work. If you’re not talented, it doesn’t matter if you buy a Nikon D3X or Leica; your work will still be uninspired.

It’s always better to spend your time and money on learning art and photography, not by spending it on more cameras.

Why is it that with over 60 years of improvements in cameras, lens sharpness and film grain, resolution and dynamic range that no one has been able to equal what Ansel Adams did back in the 1940s?

Ansel didn’t even have Photoshop! How did he do it? Most attempts fall short, some are as good but different like Jack Dykinga, but no one is the same.

Try to tell an American he can’t, and he will: Man Uses Barbie Fishing Rod for Record Catch!

Why is it that photographers loaded with the most extraordinary gear who use the internet to get the exact GPS coordinates of Jack’s or Ansel’s photo locations and hike out there with the image in hand to ensure an exact copy (illegal by US copyright laws and common decency), that they get something that might look similar, but lacks all the impact and emotion of the original they thought they copied?

I’m not kidding. A bunch of these turkeys used university astronomers to predict the one time in almost two decades that the conditions would match and had 300 of the clueless converge at just the right spot. They still didn’t get the clouds, snow or shadows right. This makes Ansel or any other creative artist cringe. Of course they didn’t get anything like what they wanted. Art is a lot more.

Compelling photographs come from inspiration, not duplication.

Someone asked “If I got a camera with only 6 or 7 MP, can I make good pictures with it?”

That reminds me about the guy who breaks a wrist and asks his doctor: “Doctor, will I be able to play the piano after this heals?” The doctor replies “Absolutely, no problem!” The man laughs, and points out that that’s great, because he never could play the piano before!

Buying a Bösendorfer doesn’t mean you can play the piano. Buying a great camera doesn’t mean you can create compelling photographs. Good pianists can play on anything and a good photographer can make great images with a disposable camera.

As we all saw in The Blues Brothers, give Brother Ray a keyboard with a sticky action and he’ll play so movingly that the whole town will be up and dancing.

Cameras don’t take pictures, photographers do. Cameras are just another artist’s tool.

Why is it that even though everyone knows that Photoshop can be used to take any bad image and turn it into a masterpiece, that even after hours of massaging these images look worse than when one started?

Maybe because it’s entirely an artist’s eye, patience and skill that makes an image and not his tools. Even Ansel said “The single most important component
of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”

A camera catches your imagination. No imagination, no photo – just crap. The word “image” comes from the word “imagination.” It doesn’t come come from “lens sharpness” or “noise levels.” David LaChapelle’s work is all about his imagination, not his camera. Setting up these crazy shots is the hard part. Once set up, any camera could catch them. Give me David LaChapelle’s camera and I won’t get anything like he does, even if you give me the same star performers.

The only reason I have a huge lens in my photo on my home page is so I don’t have to say “photographer” or “photography.” The lens makes it obvious much quicker than words. That’s what visual communication is all about: thinking long and hard to make your point clearly and quickly. I haven’t used that huge lens in years.

Just about any camera, regardless of how good or bad it is, can be used to create outstanding photographs for magazine covers, winning photo contests and hanging in art galleries. The quality of a lens or camera has almost nothing do with the quality of images it can be used to produce.

Joe Holmes’ limited-edition 13 x 19″ prints of his American Museum of Natural History series sell at Manhattan’s Jen Bekman Gallery for $650 each. They’re made on a D70.

Another San Diego pro, Kirsten Gallon earns her living using Nikon’s two very cheapest lenses, the 18-55 and 70-300 G.

There are plenty of shows selling shots from Holgas for a lot more money, just that those folks don’t tell me about it. Holgas sell for $14.95, brand new, here. You can see an award-winning shot made with a Holga hanging in Washington, D.C.’s Hemicycle Gallery of the Corcoran Museum of Art in their 2006 Eyes of History competition of the White House News Photographers Association here.

Walker Evans once said “People always ask me what camera I use. It’s not the camera, it’s – – – ” and he tapped his temple with his index finger.

Jesus Christ’s dad Joseph built a masterpiece of a wooden staircase in a church in New Mexico in 1873, and does anyone care what tools he used? Search all you want, you’ll find plenty of scholarly discussion but never of the tools.

Your equipment DOES NOT affect the quality of your image. The less time and effort you spend worrying about your equipment the more time and effort you can spend creating great images. The right equipment just makes it easier, faster or more convenient for you to get the results you need.

“Any good modern lens is corrected for maximum definition at the larger stops. Using a small stop only increases depth…” Ansel Adams, June 3, 1937, in a reply to Edward Weston asking for lens suggestions, page 244 of Ansel’s autobiography. Ansel made fantastically sharp images seventy years ago without wasting time worrying about how sharp his lenses were. With seventy years of improvement we’re far better off concentrating on making stunning photos than photographing test charts. Of course these large format lenses of the 1930s and today are slow, about f/5.6 typically. Small format and digital lenses work best at about 2 stops down.

Buying new gear will NOT improve your photography. For decades I thought “if I only had that new lens” that all my photo wants would be satisfied. Nope. I still want that “one more lens,” and I’ve been shooting for over 30 years. There is always one more lens. Get over it. See “The Station” by Robert J. Hastings, as published in “Dear Abby” in 1999, for a better explanation.

The camera’s only job is to get out of the way of making photographs.

Ernst Haas commented on this in a workshop in 1985:

Two laddies from Nova Scotia had made a huge effort to be there and were great Leica fans, worked in a camera store, saved to have them and held Ernst on high for being a Leica user (although he used Nikons on his Marlboro shoots, when the chips were down).

About four days into the workshop, he finally maxxed out on the Leica adoration these kids displayed, and in the midst of a discussion, when one of them asked one more question aimed at establishing the superiority of Wetzlar, Ernst said, “Leica, schmeica.  The camera doesn’t make a bit of difference.  All of them can record what you are seeing.  But, you have to SEE.”

Nobody talked about Leica, Nikon, Canon or any other brand of camera equipment for the rest of the workshop.

He also said, “Best wide-angle lens?  ‘Two steps backward’ and ‘look for the ah-ha’.”

(This Haas anecdote comes from Murad Saÿen, the famous photographer from Oxford, Maine over whom people are all abuzz. Many say he emerged from the back woods as a cross between Eliot Porter and Henri Cartier Bresson. I found at least three websites claiming to be Haas’ official one here and here.)

You can see some of the world’s best photography here by a fellow who says the same thing here. Here’s another load of data which also confirms why owning more lenses just makes worse photos. I made these B/W photos here with a 50 year old $3 box camera more primitive than today’s disposables.

Andreas Feininger (French, b. 1905 – d. 1999), said “Photographers — idiots, of which there are so many — say, “Oh, if only I had a Nikon or a Leica, I could make great photographs.” That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard in my life. It’s nothing but a matter of seeing, thinking, and interest. That’s what makes a good photograph. And then rejecting anything that would be bad for the picture. The wrong light, the wrong background, time and so on. Just don’t do it, not matter how beautiful the subject is.”

People know cars don’t drive themselves, typewriters don’t write novels by themselves and that Rembrandt’s brushes didn’t paint by themselves. So why do some otherwise intelligent people think cameras drive around and make pictures all by themselves? The most advanced, exotic and expensive car can’t even stay in the same lane on the freeway by itself, much less drive you home. No matter how advanced your camera you still need to be responsible for getting it to the right place at the right time and pointing it in the right direction to get the photo you want. Every camera requires you to make manual adjustments now and then as well, regardless of how advanced it is. Never blame a camera for not knowing everything or making a wrong exposure or fuzzy image.

Even a good driver in a crummy car like a Geo Metro can escape from multi-car police chases in broad daylight. It’s the driver, not the car. Read that one here.

Here’s how I came to discover this:

When it comes to the arts, be it music, photography, surfing or anything, there is a mountain to be overcome. What happens is that for the first 20 years or so that you study any art you just know that if you had a better instrument, camera or surfboard that you would be just as good as the pros. You waste a lot of time worrying about your equipment and trying to afford better. After that first 20 years you finally get as good as all the other world-renowned artists, and one day when someone comes up to you asking for advice you have an epiphany where you realize that it’s never been the equipment at all.

You finally realize that the right gear you’ve spent so much time accumulating just makes it easier to get your sound or your look or your moves, but that you could get them, albeit with a little more effort, on the same garbage with which you started. You realize the most important thing for the gear to do is just get out of your way. You then also realize that if you had spent all the time you wasted worrying about acquiring better gear woodshedding, making photos or catching more rides that you would have gotten where you wanted to be much sooner.

I met Phil Collins at a screening in December 2003. It came out that people always recognize his sound when they hear it. Some folks decided to play his drums when he walked away during a session, and guess what? It didn’t sound like him. Likewise, on a hired kit (or “rented drum set” as we say in the USA) Phil still sounds like Phil. So do you still think it’s his drums that give him his sound?

A fan from Michigan teaches auto racing at a large circuit. The daughter of one of his students wanted to come learn. She flew out and showed up at the track in an rented Chevy Cavalier. She outran the other students, middle aged balding guys with Corvettes and 911s. Why? Simple: she paid attention to the instructor and was smooth and steady and took the right lines, not posing while ham-fisting a lot of horsepower to try to make up for patience and skill. The dudes were really ticked, especially that they were outrun by a GIRL, and a 16 year old one at that.

Sure, if you’re a pro driver you’re good enough to elicit every ounce of performance from a car and will be limited by its performance, but if you’re like most people the car, camera, running shoes or whatever have little to nothing to do with your performance since you are always the defining factor, not the tools.

Catch any virtuoso who’s a complete master of their tools away from his or her sponsors and they’ll share this with you.

So why do the artists whose works you admire tend to use fancy, expensive tools if the quality of the work is the same? Simple:

1.) Good tools just get out of the way and make it easier to get the results you want. Lesser tools may take more work.
2.) They add durability for people who use these tools hard all day, every day.
3.) Advanced users may find some of the minor extra features convenient. These conveniences make the photographer’s life easier, but they don’t make the photos any better.
4.) Hey, there’s nothing wrong with the best tools, and if you have the money to blow why not? Just don’t ever start thinking that the fancy tools are what created the work.

So why do I show snaps of myself with a huge lens on my pages? Simple: it saves me from having to say “Ken Rockwell Photography,” which sounds lame and takes up more space. The big camera gets the message across much better and faster so I can just say “Ken Rockwell.”

Here are photos made by a guy in the Philipines – with a cell phone camera!

One last example: I bought a used camera that wouldn’t focus properly. It went back to the dealer a couple of times for repair, each time coming back the same way. As an artist I knew how to compensate for this error, which was a pain because I always had to apply a manual offset to the focus setting. In any case, I made one of my very favorite images of all time while testing it. This image here has won me all sorts of awards and even hung in a Los Angeles gallery where an original Ansel Adams came down and this image was hung. When my image came down Ansel went right up again. Remember, this was made with a camera that was returned to the dealer which they agreed was unrepairable.

The important part of that image is that I stayed around after my friends all blew off for dinner, while I suspected we were going to have an extraordinary sky event (the magenta sky, just like the photo shows.) I made a 4 minute exposure with a normal lens. I could have made it on the same $3 box camera that made the B/W images here and it would have looked the same.

Likewise, I occasionally get hate mail and phone calls from guys (never women) who disagree with my personal choice of tools. They take it personally just because I prefer something different than they do. Like anyone cares? These folks mean well, they probably just haven’t made it past that mountain and still think that every tool has some absolute level of goodness, regardless of the application. They consider tools as physical extensions of their body so of course they take it personally if I poke fun of a certain tool as not being good for what I’m doing. For instance, the Leica collectors here have a real problem with this page. All gear has different values depending on what you want to do with it. What’s great for you may not be for me, and vice-versa.

Just about any camera, regardless of how good or bad it is, can be used to create outstanding photographs for magazine covers, winning photo contests and hanging in art galleries. The quality of a lens or camera has almost nothing do with the quality of images it can be used to produce.

You probably already have all the equipment you need, if you’d just learn to make the best of it. Better gear will not make you any better photos, since the gear can’t make you a better photographer.

Photographers make photos, not cameras.

It’s sad how few people realize any of this, and spend all their time blaming poor results on their equipment, instead of spending that time learning how to see and learning how to manipulate and interpret light.

Buying newer cameras will ensure you get the same results you always have. Education is the way to better images, not more cameras.

Don’t blame anything lacking in your photos on your equipment. If you doubt this, go to a good photo museum or photo history book and see the splendid technical quality people got 50 or 100 years ago. The advantage of modern equipment is convenience, NOT image quality. Go look at the B/W images in my Death Valley Gallery. Look sharp to you? They were made on a 50 year old fixed-focus, fixed exposure box camera for which I paid $3. This camera is more primitive than today’s disposables.

I have made technically and artistically wonderful images on a $10 camera I bought at Goodwill, and have turned out a lot of crap with a $10,000 lens on my motor driven Nikon.

The great Edward Steichen photographed Isadora Duncan at the Acropolis, Athens in 1921. He used a Kodak borrowed from the head waiter at his hotel. The images are, of course, brilliant. Steichen had not taken his own camera because the original plan had been to work only with movie equipment. This image was on display at The Whitney in 2000 – 2001.

You need to learn to see and compose. The more time you waste worrying about your equipment the less time you’ll have to put into creating great images. Worry about your images, not your equipment.

Everyone knows that the brand of typewriter (or the ability to fix that typewriter) has nothing to do with the ability to compose a compelling novel, although a better typewriter may make typing a little more pleasant. So why do so many otherwise reasonable people think that what sort of camera one has, or the intimate knowledge of shutter speeds, lens design or camera technology has anything do with the ability to create an interesting photo other than catering to the convenience of the photographer?

“…anytime I go anywhere with a camera, whether it be my top-of-the-line pro body with fifteen lenses and smart flash or a simple point-and-shoot, I might take the best photograph of my life. If, however, I trapped myself into believing that success of my style would only come through in the grainless technical perfection of a cumbersome larger format or the heady fine art of a preconceptualized composition, then I would lose much of the magic that drew me to photography in the first place.” Galen Rowell.

Just as one needs to know how to use a typewriter to compose a script, one does need to know how to operate a camera to make photos, but that’s only a tiny part of the process. Do you have any idea what brand of computer or software I used to create what you’re reading right now? Of course not, unless you read my about page. It matters to me, but not to you, the viewer. Likewise, no one who looks at your pictures can tell or cares about what camera you used. It just doesn’t matter.

Knowing how to do something is entirely different from being able to do it at all, much less do it well.

We all know how to play the piano: you just press the keys and step on the pedals now and then. The ability to play it, much less the ability to stir emotion in those who hear your playing, is an entirely different matter.

Don’t presume the most expensive gear is the best. Having too much camera equipment is the best way to get the worst photos.

The more expensive cameras and lenses don’t do much of anything significant for the huge increases in price.





Shot and processing recipe-Hummingbird at Rosario Beach V

4 08 2010

Hummingbird at Rosario Beach V

By: Sparth on flickr

fabrice: my process for this shot, in a few words.

– did a first pass on the Raw photo by applying a specific preset in DPP. they call it a “recipe”. basically what the recipe is doing is: exposure +0.17 – color tone +1 – white balance set to “daylight”, picture style set to “landscape” (i know it’s not entirely appropriate, but since i created this specific bird preset with this initial setting i kept it as is), and tweaking up the curves in order to push contrasts and emphasize reds and greens, reducing the blues in lighter tones.
– once applied, i extracted 3 different jpegs in DPP from a single Raw with three different exposures. +0.17 for the first one (keeping the initial exposure given by the “recipe” preset), -1.50 for the second one, and something around -2.0 for the last one.
combined the first two jpegs in order to keep the brightness but also gain back valuable details and visual informations from the branches and bird body that were way too overexposed.
– once it’s done, i transfered the first two jpegs in CS4 in a single canvas on two layers and erasing where needed in order to get the most informations from both exposures.
i then added the third underexposed jpeg as a third layer in order to find even more informations from the bird. it’s a bit like doing a bracketed method on a single Raw.

– once done i merged everything down, tweaked the saturation a tiny bit, played a bit with CS4 autolevels/autocontrast/autocolor, and it made me realize i was too much into the yellow tint territory, which is normal as my initial preset is doing so on purpose. but i sometimes have to put back some blues in some specific cases like this one. very lightly though.

– desaturated background -20 except for the bird, in order to emphasize its color tones.

– copied all layers, pasted the result in a new layer, and did a “replace color” pass in order to gain back some cyans in the background instead of some greens that were too strong. the reason for that is that it is generally a good thing to find back complementary tones in an image, as the eye reacts to it in a faster way. in this case, the complementary tones for the orange bird is going to be blue (cyan but anyway).

– cropped to adjust compo and visual direction.

that’s about it. but there’s just a final pass for the web version though:
– resized the image to 1200 pixels wide, duplicated image on new layer, and applied a smart sharpen on top layer: amount 150% Radius 0.7 pixels, Remove: Lens Blur.
– erased smart sharpen effect on background. sharpening a blurred background is useless and will create more unecessary noise.

i probably did a few more tweaks here and there but must have forgotten it.

hope it helps.

and thanks to all!!





What Is Photographic Reality? By:Peter Eastway

3 08 2010

PeterEastwayPortraitsm

I’ve just returned from an expedition to Antarctica where the landscapes and wildlife simply blew my mind. Towering snow-covered peaks dropping vertically into tormented, white-capped seas; tens of thousands of penguins crowded onto small islets surrounded by icebergs; and the deepest, richest ultramarine blue you can imagine locked under tons of glacial snow. It was a reality far stronger than anything I have seen before.

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The passengers on board had a wide variety of backgrounds, from photographers to artists, naturalists to scientists, doctors to lawyers. On the voyage south, I showed them my photography. The images were taken with a camera, but created in Photoshop. Some passengers loved them. Others did not, concerned that my photographs were not true reflections of reality. Indeed, they asked if they were really ‘photographs’.

Here’s an example of what I showed them. (klik on link to watch the macromedia flash video)

Most readers of this blog will be pretty comfortable with what can be achieved in Photoshop. We think nothing of adding in a new sky or taking out an unwanted lamp post, yet this is probably the exception rather than the rule. Most of my images only had subtle adjustments using curves or hue/saturation, but they were applied in a way that transformed the original capture. The base subject matter was the same, but light and colour were applied to create added drama, atmosphere and impact.

Is this wrong?

It seems that many people who are not photographers are concerned about how easily we can change a camera’s definition of reality. Why this is a concern intrigues me. I mean, photographers have been dropping in better skies and removing unwanted lamp posts for over one hundred years. Frank Hurley is famous for his black and white Antarctica photographs taken in the early 1900s on glass plates, but few know that he was also the master of double exposures and image manipulation far more extensive than the examples of my work shown on board ship.

Frank Hurley created his images in a darkroom, away from prying eyes, and people didn’t know that changes had been made. Few understood the process and most just accepted the images as they were. Today, those same processes when done with Photoshop are being questioned by the masses who now understand how easy it is to manipulate a photograph. To manipulate reality.

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In some contexts, it’s important to know this is a straight shot; in an art context whether it is or isn’t doesn’t really come into it.

For a news, documentary or nature photographer, this is an important issue. If we tell people our photographs are true records, then it isn’t right to move things around or change the reality that was recorded because people have an expectation that what they are seeing is real. I could understand the naturalists on board ship worrying that I might exercise digital skulduggery.

But I wasn’t making penguins fly or giving an orca three eyes. All I was doing was recreating what I experienced.

So what is photographic reality? Is the exposure we make in our camera more ‘accurate’ than an image we have worked upon in Photoshop?

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The ice is amazing, but the straight capture in flat light struggles to show the texture which can be clearly seen with the naked eye. A little invisible Photoshop helps.

I can remember clearly the aquamarine blues of the icebergs as we cruised around them in our zodiacs, looking for the best angles, yet these same colours were not seen in my raw files using the default settings. My memory of what I saw is different to the electronically captured image recorded by my camera, but by increasing the contrast in my files using Photoshop I was able to better reproduce what I saw. Is this okay? Is it still reality?

Some passengers were doubtful, yet if I changed their cameras to capture a higher contrast JPEG, they felt this would be acceptable because the image came directly from the camera. Does this mean the camera manufacturers are the arbiters of ‘correct reality’?

As photographers, we know the limitations of our cameras. Issues like dynamic range and colour spaces have a huge impact on the camera’s ability to accurately record a scene. We also know that different cameras record tones and colour differently – just compare the high quality captures of the current generation of digital cameras with older cameras and you’ll know what I mean.

And non-photographers are forgetting or don’t know that in the days of film a photo lab carefully adjusted the density and colour balance of their negatives before producing a print.

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The deep blues below the surface of the water were wonderful to behold – no colour adjustment needed for this photo, just an increase in contrast to bring out the blues.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and because everyone knows how powerful Photoshop and other editing programs can be, there is a fear that any use of Photoshop in some way affects the reality of the image. The problem is that they don’t really know how much Photoshop manipulation is okay. When do you cross the line between reality and interpretation? Most people can’t answer this question, so they say if the image comes directly out of the camera, then it must be okay.

The mountains in Antarctica are high. Very high, but if you use a wide-angle lens they lose height in the resulting photograph. I find that a little upward stretching in Photoshop can better show exactly how high the mountains appear when you’re standing there, but this would be unacceptable. So what happens if I attach Canon’s 17mm TSE perspective control lens, shift the lens down and point it upwards. Now my mountains are towering over my head and the effect is optical. Is this okay?

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South Georgia Island is amazing, but I needed to use the Canon 17mm TSE shift lens to accentuate the height of the peaks.

Of course not! One form of distortion is just as bad as another, yet the very act of taking a photograph distorts reality. Your choice of lens focal length, which direction you point your camera and when you choose to press the shutter button all distort reality because we limit the record to 1/125 of a second.

Photography is not a perfect representation of reality, rather a means of communication or a form of expression.

Today, Photoshop is such an integral part of photography that I can no longer separate the processes. Capture and post-production are two parts of a single process that turns an idea into a photograph. And personally I think post-production is essential because no matter how good cameras become, they can’t create. Someone needs to point the camera and press the shutter, and after capture, that same someone can choose to enhance or modify the result in any way he or she pleases. It is a choice.

I like to think of my post-production technique as being ‘invisible Photoshop’. The trained eye will know the image has been enhanced, but it should not be obvious exactly how or where. It should bear a strong resemblance to reality, strong enough to fool people into believing it is reality.

How much post-production you apply to your images depends on the context in which you wish to show them. For news and nature photography, less Photoshop is allowed, but for art or pictorial photography, why should there be any limits?

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Wildlife photographs of these orca are true in all senses, except the colour has been enhanced a little closer to what I remember.

There are always debates in photography and I find it interesting that now it is the non-photographers who are the most conservative. Yet it is far too late to be concerned because photography has never been a true representation of reality anyway!

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Peter Eastway is an Australian professional photographer, an AIPP Grand Master of Photography, and the co-publisher of several Australian photography magazines including Better Photography, Better Photoshop Techniques and Better Digital Camera. You can see his portfolio at petereastway.com.au and more about his Photoshop technique at betterphotography.com.





What Lens Should I Obtain For My DSLR Camera? ..By {Siamak Samardy} My Guest Blogger this week..

20 03 2010

Nikkor lens…, originally uploaded by dinbrasco.

One of the most important advantages of DSLR cameras (i.e. semi-professional and professional) is the ability to use different lenses. However deciding on what lens to buy and what lens is suitable for a specific type of photography is a bit difficult. In this article we learn about advantages and main purpose of using specific types of lenses, hoping that we make it easier for you to decide.

Let’s have a look at different types of lenses and learn when they are used.

Prime Lenses and Zoom Lenses: A lens with a fixed focal length is being called a prime lens. This is opposite to zoom lenses which have varying focal length. As the focal length is fixed, in order to compose a photo you will need to adjust your distance to the scene to have specific objects or people in the photo. In zoom lenses, you will use the zoom level to compose the photo instead of changing the distance of camera to the scene.

Prime lenses have a more simple build than zoom lenses and they can be designed to have very much better performance, sharpness and quality than zoom lenses. Zoom lenses normally show different types of errors in different focal lengths while prime lenses have the least amount of such errors. Prime lenses are very compact and much smaller than zoom lenses. Their price is also cheaper than zoom lenses in an equal aperture size. You can buy a 50mm f/1.8 lens for a Canon or Nikon camera for around $100 while a zoom lens with the same aperture size might cost above $1000.

Aperture Size: Bigger aperture sizes (i.e. smaller f number) like f/1.4, f/1.8 and f/2 provide more light to the camera sensor and therefore are faster lenses (photo can be taken in a faster shutter time). However zoom lenses with bigger aperture size might be unbelievably expensive. F number is calculated by dividing the focal length to the aperture diameter. As an example if the aperture size (i.e. diaphragm window) of 50mm lens is set to 6.25mm the f number will be 50mm/6.25mm=8 meaning that with this aperture size, lens has been set to f/8.

Normal Prime Lens: A prime lens (i.e. with a fixed focal point) with a focal length of 50mm is called a normal lens. Photos taken with a 50mm lens seem similar to what our eyes see at the scene (perspective, angles etc). Canon, Nikon and some other DSLR brands, as mentioned in previous section, sell normal lenses with f/1.8 aperture size or better (like f/1.4) with a cheap price. An f/1.8 normal lens is suitable for relatively low light conditions and produces sharp and bright photos.

Short Zoom lenses: Zoom lenses which cover the range of up to 50-60mm can be considered in this category. Examples of these lenses are 35-70mm f/3.4-4.5 and 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 lenses. Nowadays some Canon and Nikon models are offered with a cheap 18-55mm f/3.5-4.5 lens. These lenses can be considered short zoom lenses while they also cover wide and super wide range.

Super zoom lenses: These are the types which cover a super big range. Super zoom lenses like a 18-200mm lens cover wide-angle as well as tele focal lengths.

However the most important feature of these lenses is their convenience of avoiding lens change. These lenses can offer almost every focal length you need and therefore they are sometimes being called as “walk around lenses”. If convenience is not a matter for you, we recommend you to use more than one lens which have a better performance in a smaller focal length range.

Wide-angle and Ultra Wide-angle lenses: Lenses with a focal length of 21mm to 35mm are normally called wide-angle lenses. Lenses with a focal length of less than 21mm are called ultra wide-angle lenses. These lenses can be either prime lenses or varying focal length ones (zoom lenses). Wide-angle prime lenses have better aperture sizes (in the range of f/1.4 to f2.8) than wide-angle zoom lenses (aperture sizes of f/3.5-f/4.5 most of the time). Again the zoom types provide flexibility while prime lenses provide sharper photos, cheaper price and bigger aperture size (i.e. better photos in low light conditions). There are also zoom lenses which just cover wide and super wide ranges. These include 21-35mm, 18-28mm lenses.

The large coverage angle is also one of the benefits of wide and super wide lenses. An ultra wide lens can sometimes capture up to a 90 degrees angle or even more.

Wide and ultra wide lenses normally have perspective distortion. This kind of distortion causes the nearby images to be photographed very much bigger than far away objects. These lenses are suitable for taking photos inside buildings, street photography and so on.

If you mostly shoot inside buildings, a lens covering focal lengths of 28mm or below will be suitable. This kind of lens allows you to capture a considerable angle of a scene without the need to have a big distance with the subject(s). However, if you shoot portraits and nature a longer range lens will be more useful. In these cases a 35-135mm lens is very good.

Long telephoto lenses: Lenses with a focal length of 135mm or above are normally considered as long telephoto lenses. Tele lenses which have varying focal length are called telephoto zoom lenses while those with a fixed focal length are simply called telephoto lenses. You can easily find 55-200mm, 55-250mm, 70-300mm, and similar telephoto zoom lenses for most of the DSLR brands. However because of the big range of the lens and complicated design, different focal lengths of the lenses might show different errors and quality. These lenses normally have a lower performance than short zoom lenses and fixed focal length telephoto lenses. A 200mm telephoto prime lens is an example of non-zoom telephoto lenses.

Medium telephoto lenses: Lenses with focal length of the range 85-135mm are sometimes referred as portrait lenses. This is because their perspective distortion is low and a suitable distance between the subject person and camera can be maintained. Many telephoto zoom lenses can be used in this range, but they are heavier, bigger and their maximum aperture size is smaller than prime lenses. However if you shoot a lot of portraits, you would rather use medium prime telephoto lenses like with a focal length of between 85mm and 105mm maximum aperture size of f/2. Prime medium telephoto lenses have less perspective error and as mentioned earlier their image quality is sharper and brighter and bigger aperture size prime lenses are cheaper than zoom lenses with the same maximum aperture size.

Macro Lenses: Macro lenses are designed to provide very high level of magnification and also very short focusing distances. In normal zoom lenses minimum focus distance (i.e. the distance between lens and the object) is normally larger than 30 cm. This distance is a few centimeters for macro lenses so you can take photos from a shorter distance and have a sharp and very detailed photo of a very small object (like a small flower or a bee).

by: Siamak Samardy
http://usmphotography.blogspot.com/