Thursday, May 12, 2016

Understanding Your Camera (1): The Exposure Dial

This is video 1 of a series aimed at new photographers or those who want to take more control over their cameras.

The video looks at the various options for choosing exposure settings, with example images and diagrams.

For more information on my work and to inquire about photography lessons please click this link.

You will also find some very special offers on that page, including a free copy of  F2/CameraCraft magazine and a free 15 minute Skype photography lesson, when you take out a subscription to the magazine.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Photography Lessons by Skype

I hope you enjoy this video on how I can help you take your photography to the next level, with personal tuition and/or Skye Lessons.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Easy Black & White Conversion - Using Lightroom

This is a quick and simple guide to making a black and white image conversion, from a  correctly exposed colour image using any version of Adobe Lightroom.

It could be useful for anyone starting to use Lightroom and also for those students undertaking part A of assignment 5 of The Photography Institute Diploma course.

  • To get started, find your image to be converted to black and white in the library module of Lightroom, and then select it from the thumbnails at the bottom of the user interface or from the thumbnail view. 
  • Select the "Develop" module tab from the top of the Lightroom window.

  • Click the B&W tab in Lightroom (along to the right from the Hue & Saturation tabs) to make a basic conversion.
  •  Then, use colour saturation sliders to change the various tones in the image. You will see them change as you move the various sliders.
If you click the before and after view (the YY symbol) this puts up the colour version next to the B&W version.

You can see this view in the screen shot below, with the colour image on the left, the converted image on the right, and the B&W tab and the colour sliders on the far right. The TAT is just to the left of the colour sliders.

Left click and move up and down to change the saturation in various parts of the image. The black and white version will change (not the colour one) as you do this. It works very well when you get used to it and allows for very selective toning of the converted black and white image.

You can see my finished image below. I hope you enjoy using this quick and simple black and white conversion tool inside Lightroom.

Click either image to expand them for a clearer view.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Easy First Studio Lighting Set Up - with no flash meter

OK, so you've got your first studio lighting kit, and you're not sure how to get it set up.

 This blog is intended to get you started quickly, with a simple 2 or 3 light studio, with either soft boxes or brollies (white or silver) on the main subject lights. I'll also assume that you have yet invested in a flash meter. This information will also be handy if you're setting up lights away from the studio without a meter.

We will start with getting the exposures right on the subject.Start by positioning the lights to the front of the subject on either side, at about 45 degrees (on a diagonal to the eye). They should be raised slightly above the subject's eyes, pointing down. Position them at least 1 meter away from the subject, and further away depending on how powerful they are. A lower power flash unit will be about 200 W/s, a higher power from 500 to 1000 W/s (500 or 600 W/s is typical for a medium sized studio).

You need to get the correct exposure with one of the lights (turn the other one off). A flash meter is by far the most efficient way of doing this and I'll cover it in another blog post.

For now we'll work without a flash meter and try to achieve the lighting shown in the image above.

1. Start, by putting the camera into manual exposure mode (M), and setting the shutter to one stop SLOWER than the camera's flash synch speed - you need to check what this is in the camera manual. Typically it will be 1/200th of a second. If so set the camera shutter speed to 1/100tb of a second, one stop slower.

The reason for doing this is that more powerful flash units may not fully discharge all of their light at the faster sync speed, which is designed for smaller speedlites.

2. Set the aperture to f8 to start with and take photos, changing the aperture (in 1/3rd stops, up and down) until the exposure looks right. Slightly under exposed is safer than over exposed.  

3. Note the aperture that gives the best exposure. You have now set the exposure for the main ("key") light.

4. Turn that light off and the other one on. This time, you need to set the light ONE STOP LOWER than the first one. So, now set the apeture ONE stop WIDER than the correct one for the other light. So, if the correct exposure for the first light is f8, set the aperture to f5.6. This will be the exposure for the "fill" light.

To do this, CHANGE THE POWER SETTING ON THE LIGHT (not the camera aperture) until you get a good exposure in the camera. Keep adjusting the power up or down, and taking shots, until it looks the same as the first light. You may need to move the flash backwards or forward too, depending on how powerful it is.

5. Turn both lights on and set the aperture on the camera to the one that gave the correct exposure for the first light. 

What you have effectively done is set the 2nd light one stop lower than the first one. So, when both lights are turned on, you will get slightly more shadow on the side of the face with wider aperture.

This doesn't seem logical, but the fact is that you are shooting at a stop smaller than the 2nd light is set up for - and so it will only take in half the light.

This gives more "modelling" to the face, than there would be if both lights are at the same aperture.
You can adjust the lights - change the position to the left and right or back and forth, to get the modelling just right, once you have got the basic exposures set up.

In the image above, you can see the lightly brighter skin tones on the right hand side, due to the unbalanced exposure of the two front lights. I haven't used a light on the mid grey background.

In the second image, below, I have used a third light behind the subject and low down, pointed upwards. This has given a graduated look to the background. The light is set to the same level (on the flash unit) as the key light).

I hope this helps and have fun practicing.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Photography and the Art of Saxophone Playing

 Dear Stephen

I think I'll stop studying photography. It's far too technical, and all I really want to do is make nice photographs that I can show to my family and friends. 

I don't see the point of all that stuff about white balance, ISO settings, aperture and shutter speeds etc, etc. 

They are not what I wanted to hear about and it all seems pointless and something I'll never get my head around.

Dear (whoever feels the same)

I'm learning to play the saxophone at the moment, and I started last year when I was 58 - and I am concentrating on a jazz style. I had played other musical instruments previously, so I thought how hard could it be? it certainly looks easy enough when you hear a good player do it.

Well, it's very hard. I first of all had learn how use the mouthpiece - getting the "embouchure" right (and there are whole books just on that topic). Then, I had find the right mouthpiece (another endless task that some people apparently never get right), choose the right reeds to suit me (I have spent a  LOT just on bits of thin cane so far), and eventually get a sound out of it. It took several months before I could practice without worrying who was hearing me.

Oh, practice, that's another point. I have (without a word of a lie) practiced every single day since 1st August 2013 for not less than one hour. Actually it probably averages 3 hours a day. I've often done it very late at night - sometimes in the early hours of the morning - after my day's work (luckily, we have no near neighbours).

As for playing great jazz tunes all the time, my main practice has been based around learning scales, arpeggios, chords (major, minor, harmonic minors, chromatic scales, blues scales) and really boring technical exercises to get them into my head.

I have the exercises in books, on printed sheet music, in Kindle books and even in apps on my iPad. It's been like learning another language. It's the most mind-numbing, technically challenging thing I've ever done. My partner says that some of jargon I quote now sounds like I'm speaking another language.

She also says (now) that I really seem to understand it. Also, when I first played her a tune, she couldn't work out the name of it. When I played her the same tune recently, she said - "wow, will you play that at the Christmas party, it sounds great!".

She told me I sounded like one of my hero sax players - Courtney Pine - who plays at lightening speed. She was probably being nice to me, but actually I know that I now play quite fast and with a good tone.

And my point is...

Photography, like anything else worth doing - but which looks easy when you see it done well - is extremely technical.

But unless you do the homework, understand the jargon and practice (a lot) you'll never get to the point where it all just makes sense, and the technical side allows you to do what you wanted to do in the first place - take good photographs.

The technical side is the "engine room" that sits there in the background, but is really driving the thing along and without it, you'll get nowhere.

It's boring and not glamorous, but when you put it all together, with a good idea for a photograph - and a creative eye for composition (that's also a very technical aspect that needs to be learned) you get great photographs.

But you can't just have a good eye. If you don't understand exposure and white balance, and ISO and focus, the photos just don't work.

But when you do, and then "play" the camera your way, it will suddenly produce great photographs.