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. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

PI Module 3 - Greyscale Test Setup

Assignment 3 of the Diploma in Professional Photography course, from The Photography Institute, seems to get a lot of students feeling frustrated and it's got a reputation for being difficult.  

I teach on that course, and while I agree it's technical - photography itself is a lot more technical that some new photographers care to admit. 

But, I don't agree that it's an impossible assignment, and not even one that is as difficult as it may first appear. All of the answers in are in the module, they may just take a bit of reading. 

I have offered many of my own students some additional guidelines in terms of photographing the grey cards - and I thought I would share them below. 

I guarantee that if you follow them to the letter you will be through that part of the assignment in no time. 

It's not really anything you won't find in the module and it's not a "cheat sheet". But it may help some students clarify this aspect of the assignment. 

Oh, about the zone V position and whether it favours highlights or shadows....

This is much easier than it seems.  You just need to know if your zone V numbers are lower or higher than the exact middle of the zone ruler range (the module tells you what that number is). 

If your zone is lower than the middle the sensor favours the shadows, meaning that it may under exposure average tones. If they are higher than the middle values, than it favours highlights, and the sensor may over exposure average tones - very practical information to have at your disposal.


1. Before taking a shot, pin or tape the grey card to a wall and try to make sure that the light is soft, but not too dull (maybe a thin cloud cover if outside but inside in a room with daylight is probably best). It's best not to use a wall with bright colours that may reflect onto the card. A white or grey wall is best (also the same for the ceiling if you are inside).

2. Make sure that you set the camera to "spot" (or "partial") metering and ensure that you fill the frame of the camera with the grey card - look through the viewfinder and not the screen to do this as it gives more accuracy, and meter from the centre of the card. Keep the camera on a tripod if possible.

Turn off "auto ISO" and set it quite low to 100 or 200 ISO. If your numbers are too high at the darker end of the zone, this could actually be causing a lot of the over exposure problems.

Set a custom white balance - your camera manual will explain how to do it if you're not sure.

3. To set up the first exposure, set the camera to manual and then set the aperture to f8. Then, while looking through the viewfinder, move the shutter speed dial - probably DOWN - until the exposure meter (a scale in the viewfinder) is at zero (usually in the middle of the scale.)

4. This is your first "correct" exposure reading. Take a note of these settings (f8 for the aperture - and whatever shutter speed is showing when you half depress the shutter button). Take the first shot of the grey card at these settings.

5. Then turn the shutter speed dial (not the aperture dial) UP - slower speeds - by 3 clicks (one full stop) and take another shot of the grey card. Do this for 6 shots and then go to step 15.

6. Then reset the aperture and shutter speed to the numbers you wrote down.

7. Then click the shutter speed DOWN - faster speeds - for 3 clicks (one full stop) and take another shot of the grey card. Do this for 6 shots in total. 

You should now be at step 18.

If zone 0 is still too high (above 0) go back to step 3 and set the aperture to f11 - or f16 and try again.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Random Acts of Kindness Re-Visited

 On this blog, in 2008, I wrote about my first year of blogging and tied it in with something that happened in my first professional year of photography 30 years ago. So, to start off 2013 and celebrate a full 30 years of carrying around a serious camera, I'm recalling that post and adding some additional paragraphs to update it - it at the end.

.....Way back in 1982, I was sent, by a picture agency, to cover the launch of a British TV 'soap' called "Brookside", at the modern, Liverpool housing estate in which it was set and filmed. I was, in every sense of the phrase, a "fledgling" freelance photographer and felt totally out of my depth, surrounded, as I was, by photographers from almost all of the British national daily papers and large circulation magazines.

At one point, during the day, I turned up a bit late, to photograph actors Ricky Tomlinson and Sue Johnston (who, incidentally was brought up in the small town - Prescot - in which I was born and raised) who were posing as "man and wife" outside the house their characters "owned" on Brookside Close. I was fumbling with my camera so much that all of the other photographers in the press pack had finished shooting Ricky and Sue, before I had even taken my first photograph. I stood there, forlornly watching the stars walk away from the set, when (I'm not sure how) Ricky Tomlinson noticed me, and called across to his co-star "hey Sue, this lad hasn't got his pictures, come back and pose again for him, please" which she did, most graciously.

I've never forgotten that small, random act of kindness from Ricky Tomlinson. I didn't really thank him properly at the time, but I do make sure I mention it to friends, whenever I see him on TV - usually in the hit show The Royle Family (which also features Sue Johnston)......

(additional notes).....I was recently visiting my father at Christmas time, when we decided to go to a local pub for lunch - with my son and my partner. We arrived in the middle of a jam-packed pub, to discover that a Christmas party was being held for a local old-age pensioners group, and the place was in full-swing.

At first, we thought that there would be no tables available for us, and left the pub, heading for the car. We were called back by a waitress, who was outside on her break, and who suggested that we should go back inside as a table would be found for us (another small random act of kindness). We went back into the pub and a table was quickly found for us. My partner and I went to the bar to order food, and I was studying the menu when she almost shouted...LOOK WHO'S HERE!

I turned around, to see non other than Ricky Tomlinson standing right next to our table. He was the invited guest of honour at the party.

I went over and introduced myself and told the subject of my long-told story, the long-told story of his own random act of kindness to me. We had a chat, he thanked me for remembering his own kind actions, and he aksed me if I was still a photographer. unfortunately, I had moved too far away from Liverpool to be of any real assistance to this now very famous actor. He said hello to my family and  called me "kid" as we talked (which is a real term of endearment in Liverpool) and wished me well with my future work, before he left.

That chance meeting has brought my own encounter with him full circle and I'm delighted and amazed that it happened.

I hope 2013 will bring you lots of good things, both in your professional and personal lives and if you do encounter a random act of kindness - remember it. You never know when you'll get a chance to repay it - or just thank someone for it - and it could take 30 years!