Lighting

Kauai Silhouette

Image

I was experimenting with silhouettes early one morning in Kauai, HI.  The camera was triggered with a wireless shutter release (was thankful I didn’t have to scramble back and forth through the sand and rocks using the self-timer).  I’m sure that someone thinks that there’s only one right way to shoot silhouettes but my preference is to error on the side of slightly overexposing relative to a completely black silhouette.  This varies based on the background but I want to make sure to get enough detail in the non-silhouetted portions of the photo.  Of course I could composite multiple exposures but I find it simpler to use Lightroom and/or Photoshop to reduce the exposure in the appropriate areas to get a complete silhouette if that’s what I’m after.  Often there’s no need for this extra work though — I usually can get I what I want in-camera (I did with this one).  Shooting brackets isn’t a bad idea either if you’re unsure.  The textures were added via OnOne Perfect Photo Suite.


Longhorn Open 2013

Paola Longoria

Paola Longoria   24mm, f/3.5, 1/800s, ISO 3200

The 2013 Longhorn Open (annual racquetball tournament at the University of Texas) featured the #1 ranked women’s racquetball player in the world, Paola Longoria.  Learn how to consistently hit shots like the one above and you’re one step closer to a #1 ranking.  I decided to take a few pictures on the final day of the tournament — just to see how they’d turn out.  I shot in manual mode and played around with the balance between aperture (depth of field), shutter speed (freezing the players and the ball), and high ISO (noise considerations).  The lighting was actually pretty good in most of the courts, allowing “reasonable” settings.  Most of the courts didn’t have any viewing area except from above.  That isn’t so great for pictures but I was just experimenting anyway.  Focusing was another challenge and I frankly never figured out a good strategy.


Family Tradition

Our Traditional Family Christmas Portrait   35mm, f/8, 1/40

Our Traditional Family Christmas Portrait 35mm, f/8, 1/40

It’s only the second year we’ve taken this photo, but we’re calling it a tradition anyway.  We once again piled wrapping paper on ourselves and snapped a family photo.  No one is posed — “sit down, grab some wrapping paper, and smile at the camera”.  I used f/8 to get sufficient(ish) depth of field and the lighting is simply an on-camera flash bounced up and behind the camera.  I have a wireless remote but used the self-timer for this shot (I had forgotten to get the remote out and everyone was just ready to get the pic done and go make breakfast).  I ended up having to photoshop a new version of myself and one of my daughters into the shot — that’s standard operating procedure in our family shots it seems.


One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas

Christmas Portrait

Christmas Portrait

Our traditional Christmas Eve consists of consuming a meal of assorted sausages, cheeses, and crackers while watching Muppet Christmas Carol.  We always have a fire going in the fireplace no matter the weather — it’s usually cool enough.  The final hidden presents are wrapped and placed around the Christmas tree and all go to bed with great anticipation.

This year my wife had Christmas pajamas for all the “littles” (some of which are growing to be “middles”).  She asked me to take a photo of the kids just before bedtime and the result is shown above.  I shot from (roughly) the kids’ eye level and used either manual or shutter-priority mode (can’t remember) with a 1/4 CTO gel’ed flash bounced off the wall/ceiling behind me.  In the upper left hand corner you can see the well-lit wall reflected in our glass doors.  Had this been a more “official” shot I would have switched angles, bounced the flash over my other shoulder, etc. in order to minimize the bright reflections.  The littlest one only has so much patience though so we to fire off some shots and call it a day.


Always A Bridesmaid…

Bridal Party     140mm, f/5.6, 1/200s

Bridal Party 140mm, f/5.6, 1/200s

Last weekend in Orlando I shot my first wedding as the primary shooter and thought I’d share this picture of one of the bridesmaids (my daughter).  I was fortunate enough to catch this candid moment as she walked down the aisle with this groomsman.  It’s perfect IMO that she was looking at him when he did his little pointing gesture.

Some of the shooting situations were challenging as the ceremony was held in the afternoon as the sun set — the light constantly changed, the sun streaming through the trees caused a lot of mottled sun and shade (as seen in the photo above), the bridal party was a mix of very dark and light skin (see photo above again), the clothing was a mix of brilliant white and jet black which doesn’t leave a lot of latitude for exposure errors on either end (glad I wasn’t shooting film!), and there wasn’t a great choice for locations to shoot the bridal party.

Most of the pictures turned out quite nice.  I’ve dealt with the skin color issue before — my own children are a mix of four ethnicities — so I was (somewhat) prepared to deal with it.  With the changing light I couldn’t just get my settings dialed in once and fire away, but I knew to be careful about exposing the dark skin enough while avoided blowing out the exposure of the light skin.  I also attempted to avoid blowing out the highlights on the white tuxes but was willing to give that up if necessary.  The recovery slider in Lightroom was able to compensate for most of those highlights in the end.  I used some amount of fill flash for most of the pictures — on-camera for the ceremony, off-camera for the bridal party pictures, and a mix of each for the reception.

Logistically there were many issues.  I’ll spare you the boring details but we ran out of time to get all the bridal party pictures that we had listed (got the most important ones though).  I didn’t have an official second shooter (but did have another photographer who agreed to capture the groom as the bride walked in, while I concentrated on the bride).

A sampling of things I learned while shooting this wedding:  Shoot more (in some situations).  In particular, when shooting groups of people during the ceremony, shoot enough to ensure that there are at least one or two frames where everyone looks good (in a pinch you can replace a head or two in Photoshop but that eats a lot of time).  I ended up with some sets of group photos where I’m not certain I have an acceptable image due to someone looking “bad”.  If shooting multiple cameras make sure the time stamps are in sync.  This isn’t absolutely critical but makes things easier.  I forgot to do this and things have been slightly painful when sorting in Lightroom. Positioning…too much to explain here (maybe will go thru them someday) but I learned that some of the positions I thought would be ideal for certain shots weren’t so ideal after all and I was forced to make do.


Birthday Candid

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/8185029570/in/photostream

Birthday Candid 140mm, f/6.3, 1/160s, ISO 200

Our youngest turned one year old recently and on her birthday I wanted to capture a “good” portrait.  It would be her “official” one-year picture.  Of course I decided to try something I hadn’t done before — a high-key portrait with a white background — which ensured it would take three times as long as something I’m already comfortable doing.  I don’t have white seamless paper and I don’t have a proper background stand.  So…I have a huge (12′ x 20′ I think) white polyester background that I picked up on clearance for $20-ish.   I draped this over the back of a couple of chairs (with my subject being only a couple feet tall I didn’t have to worry about the height).  My main light was a speedlight into a reflective umbrella at high camera left, triggered by an  Elinchrom Skyport.  I placed a large white reflector on camera right and used a speedlight behind the subject to light the background.

My first issue was to decide how I wanted the background to actually look.  Blown out?  Super smooth (problematic with the deep creases in the freshly unpackaged cloth and being draped over uneven chair backs)? Don’t worry about it and fix in post?  From a quick internet search I learned that I couldn’t simply iron that polyester cloth and get rid of the creases in a few minutes.  In the end I went with an aperture that blurred the background somewhat but provided a safe depth-of-field for the shots.  My daughter was far enough from the background so it would be reasonably out-of-focus and I could reasonably edit it in post for a few shots if desired.  The background light was adjusted “to taste”.  I had planned to shoot with a much brighter background but the light was too uneven (no surprise when trying to light with a single speedlight in the center).

The shot above was taken as a test during setup.  The hair and clothes are a mess (hadn’t prepped her yet) — but it’s cute and I decided that this is actually one of my favorites.  The only edits were crop, slight WB adjustment, sharpening around the eyes, vignette, and the removal of a small scratch on the skin.  I really like the way it turned out overall even if the background isn’t ideal.


Quit Using Auto White Balance

White Balance Fixed 50mm, f/1.4, 1/160s

Ever since taking Raul Touzon’s workshop I almost never shoot using auto white balance (AWB).  The camera rarely gets the white balance correct when it guesses, and the photos from a single shoot are often inconsistent in color when they are shot with AWB.  If they are going to be “wrong” when AWB is used, you might as well guess wrong yourself by choosing one of the manual white balance modes — at least the images will be consistent with each other.

Ideally one would shoot an image of a gray card (or a similar type of product) which has a known color and use it either to set a custom white balance in the camera or to sample it in software to do an automatic adjustment.  If I don’t use a gray card, I pick a WB mode (my default is “daylight”) and shoot everything with that.  In Lightroom I either sample a white point to fix up the WB or I adjust it to taste (I might even want to make it wacky here and there).

The shot above was snapped in the kitchen while I was testing my newly-repaired camper.  Canon had changed all my default settings of course and I don’t even remember what WB was set in the camera.  No matter, I simply used the WB eye dropper to sample one of the white polka dots on my daughter’s dress.  The image above is the result — straight out of the camera except for the white balance.

White Balance Settings In Lightroom

Original image:

Original Image


Jesus Loves The Little Children

The Line 70mm, f/6.3, 1/200s, ISO 200, flash

I’m sticking with the pool theme for this post.  We recently were invited to swim at a friend’s pool (cheers all around from the kids) and I decided to lug the camera along to get some pictures.  It was 5pm and the sun was high in the sky.  Fortunately when the kids were on the diving board the sun was slightly behind — meaning that if I could manage to get *enough* light reflected off the kids’ faces it would at least be *even-ish* light.  Coming up with that light — while saving the background somewhat — was the first challenge then.

Belly Flop!!! 70mm, f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 200, flash (high speed sync)

The next challenge was the huge dynamic range in the skin tones.  In the song “Jesus Loves The Little Children” the line goes “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight”.  We didn’t have “yellow” but we had red, black, and white figuratively speaking.  If you light for the lightest skin the darkest skin might be way too underexposed.  Expose for the darkest skin and the lightest gets completely blown out in the bright sunlight.  The challenge was to maintain the best balance in the situation — via my camera and flash settings.

(Most of) the Gang 70mm, f/4.5, 1/200s, ISO 200, flash

My gear: Canon 5D mkii, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L, and Canon 580exii flash gel’ed with a 1/4 CTO.  I started out using shutter speeds of 1/200 to 1/250s to stay within the sync speed of the flash.  This was reasonable for much of the action and gave me quite a bit of flash power, which I needed when shooting from these distances (50’+).  Remember that the light follows the inverse square law — double the distance and you are only left with 1/4 the light.  Later I switched to using high-speed sync which allowed shutter speeds up to 1/500s to freeze the action but reduces the power that the flash can put out.  Both methods were effective in their own way.  With the 5D mkii I also had ISO as a lever.  I didn’t want to go too high with it (but I did use up to 3200 some of the time).  A higher ISO also reduces the need for so much flash power but you pay in noise.  Note that sometimes when using flash in bright light you *can’t* go very high with the ISO because the flash sync speed is a “long” shutter speed (relative to the overall brightness in the scene) and is allowing a lot of light to hit the sensor. In summary, I can’t tell you what the “best” settings are for a situation you might be shooting, but hopefully I’ve given you enough info to jump start your thoughts and get you experimenting with it.  Keep in mind that in the evening the light changes rapidly so you’ll have to adjust for that as well.

Jump! 70mm, f/6.3, 1/320s, ISO 200, flash (high speed sync)

In Lightroom I still had to use an adjustment brush to even out the exposure of the faces a bit (in most pictures).  All in all, I was very happy with the way they turned out.  The important parts of the backgrounds were preserved and the kids are exposed well enough.  There’s always plenty of room for improvement though.


Pool Monster

Pool Monster 70mm, f/13, 1/125s, fill flash

My son leaping out of the water pretending to be a monster.  I love how the motion makes his hands look like claws.  And the mask?  Well, nothing needs to be said.

It was in the middle of a bright sunny afternoon — terrible time for photographs.  I used a flash so that I could dial down the ambient a bit.  We took several shots like this, using a fast-ish shutter speed but not so fast that it froze all motion.  In post I processed things pretty heavily in Lightroom — lots of contrast and clarity.


Family Portraits…Another Lesson Learned

(Mostly Salvaged) Family Portrait

As much as I don’t want to post my mistakes — especially the really stupid ones — they can be helpful to look back on and point out to others.  It depends on the natural light situation of course, but in a portrait like the one above I often use a single strobe through, or reflected from, an umbrella placed above-camera.  This may be to provide a catchlight in the eyes, a bit of fill in the eye sockets, some overall light, or all of the above.  I occasionally use a bare strobe (well, sometimes with a gel but no other modifiers) to give a hint of a rim light on the shoulders to help separate the subjects from the background. My daughter typically holds this in position behind the subjects when I use it.  During a recent family portrait shoot on the grounds of the Texas Capitol I pulled a real boneheaded move with this light.

Just before we shot the pose above (which fortunately wasn’t the “preferred” pose) I got my rim light strobe out of the bag and quickly tested that everything was working (flash on, remote trigger operational, my guesstimated manual power set).  All was well so I dropped it in the grass and we set to arranging people and reminding the kids not to watch the squirrels running around.  We shot a bunch of frames to make sure we caught everyone looking their best-ish and moved on to our next pose.  I had decided not to use the rim light because the separation from the background seemed fine.

To my horror, when I loaded the pics up on the computer at home, I noticed that all the shots of this pose had a bright light in the grass and two of the subjects were lit like they were being blasted by the sun.  Well, they *were* being blasted — by my portable sun as you see in the picture below.  I had left it turned on and the trigger active…probably at 1/4 power.  Oops.  I couldn’t believe I had not noticed this while chimping my test shots.  My (young) daughters didn’t point it out — one didn’t even notice and the other assumed that I intended to use the flash that way.

Needless to say it was a big mistake.  While this was not the ideal pose we wanted to keep one from this set.  I was fortunate enough to have a reasonable fixable frame in the bunch so I went to work.  Switched a head, toned down some of the effects from the misplaced strobe, and made the other usual edits.  I believe the photo *is* completely salvageable given enough effort and time and I may work on it for practice in the future.

Lesson learned.  Chimp and look around the *whole* frame — Check everything…check again.

Unedited Frame


I’m Eight, Darling!

Eight 24mm, f/5.6, 1/100s

Many of my local photo friends will understand the reference in the title.  If you don’t…then never mind 🙂  We celebrated another birthday today and my son asked me when we were going to take the “eight picture”.  I didn’t know what he was talking about until he reminded me that we had taken a picture of him holding up fingers representing his age each of his last three birthdays.  I’m glad he remembered.  We spent the day with immediate and extended family playing games, opening presents, eating cake and ice cream, and jumping on the trampoline with the sprinkler.

Photo stuff:

Top photo: Manual mode, on-camera flash bounced off the porch behind me for fill, basic edits in Lightroom.  It was taken early in the morning when the light was really soft.  I took two versions of this photo — one with the face in focus, one with the hands in focus (this one is our traditional picture).  Of course we want photos with his face in focus but we take lots of other pictures on the kids’ birthdays.

Bottom photos: Manual mode, on-camera flash in high-speed sync mode, with 1/4 CTO gel, pointed directly at the kids, basic edits in Lightroom.  Taken in the middle of the afternoon when the light was at its worst.  I used the flash in order to even it out a little bit.  I don’t (totally) care for the look — maybe could go to 1/2  or 3/4 CTO gel and/or dial down the flash a bit — but it’s better than not using the flash at all IMO (I did some non-flash shots too).  I could play with the white balance, etc. too and try to come up with something better but I’ve captured what I want…

Jumping 40mm, f/7.1, 1/500s

Acrobatics   28mm, f/9, 1/500s


The Making Of A Family Portrait

Family Portrait, Texas Capitol Grounds   80mm, f/4, 1/60s, ISO 100

This post could also be titled “What Are You Paying A Portrait Photographer For?”.  Important caveat: the comments below have nothing to do with the family in the portrait.  Their portrait just provides a convenient moment to bring up the subject.

There’s great debate in the world of photography regarding business and pricing models.  Some well-known photographers go so far as to denigrate other photographers because they price things cheaply, sell CDs with all the images, charge only $1000 to shoot a wedding and reception, etc.  I’m in the camp of “I’ll do things my way but I couldn’t care less how someone else does it”.  If someone wants to charge $50 for a photo shoot and a CD of images, so what?  If someone wants to let a publication use an image in exchange for “exposure”, so what?  I’m amazed when photographers actually get personally offended at other photographers for this — it’s a free world and everyone is free to give away whatever they want.  I’m not going to shoot weddings for $1000 or hand out digital images on the cheap (except for photo donations to certain organizations like this — shameless plug — I donated the Austin skyline image at the top of the American Red Cross of Central Texas page and images for a couple other sites) but I don’t care if anyone else does.  If I cannot add enough value to make it worth purchasing my services — taking photos, providing prints, etc. — then I don’t deserve the business.  If Joe Blow undersells me by some huge margin and the client is happy with the result, that’s my fault for not clearly differentiating myself (and I’m apparently not as good as I might think!).  If the client isn’t happy with Joe Blow…it’s either my fault for not convincing them my services are worth it or theirs for being duped by the “too good to be true” offer.  Also, not every client is willing to pay for the same level of service and/or quality — that’s true for any type of product.  That’s why there are both Toyota Corollas and BMW 750s available on the auto market for example.

Along those lines, a common remark is “I can’t believe I have to pay so much for a print!”.  Often the comment includes “…when I can just go to Walgreens and pay $XX”.  Ignoring the issue of the poor print/color quality you may get at a Walgreens, I’ll tell you what went into producing the family portrait above in hopes of giving some understanding of why you might pay so much for a “print”.  If you’re not convinced, that’s fine — not everyone cares about the same level of quality or detail and it’s completely within the rights of every consumer (of any product) to choose the product that suits them.  It’s also the right of a photographer to specify “You aren’t printing anything with my name on it at a Walgreens”.

The short answer: You’re not just paying for a print (ie just a piece of paper).  You’re paying for equipment, art/creativity, editing, making you look your best, years of skill building and practice, etc.  After all, you’re hiring a photographer because you know you can’t just hand your point-and-shoot to someone on the street and get the family portrait you are after.  You are also (hopefully) hiring a photographer because he *knows* how to go make that picture you want and doesn’t just press the shutter over and over in the hope of accidentally getting a good shot.  I think that people accept this more when it comes to most other forms of art or craft.  If you commissioned an artist to create an oil painting to hang over your mantle and he charged $500, would the first thing out of your mouth be “But you only had to pay $50 for the canvas and paint!”?

So, what went into this photo?  Here’s a partial list:

(1) Picking a decent time and location.  Upon arrival, quickly picking a specific spot to provide good light, a good background without distracting elements (subjective of course).  Or…scout a location ahead of time.  The location for the above portrait is the Texas Capitol grounds.  The time was chosen in an attempt to balance getting a family out the door early enough for good light and cooler temperatures, yet late enough to not be miserable.  There was a partial gamble here — we went a little later than I’d like gambling that the partially cloudy skies would block the sun often enough.  That gamble paid off.

(2) Pick the right lens.  Long/wide/normal…this has a big effect on the final image.

(3) Determine aperture.  I wanted to go as wide open as possible for maximum blur in the background.  However, in a family portrait in particular, depth of field really comes into play.  Even if you calculate the “right” DOF you have to be careful where you focus.  For example, if the people in the portrait are 2 feet deep and you use an aperture which gives you a total DOF of about 2 feet, you had probably better not focus on a face in the front of your group.  If you do, some of your in-focus plane will be in front of the group while the rear of the group will start to go out of focus.  I’m not explaining that well but suffice it to say that it matters.  There’s always the option to stop way down and get a bunch of the background in focus to be safe but that’s not (generally) what you want.  For this photo I varied position and focal length a little bit but was generally working with about a 3′ depth of field at f/4.

(4) Determine optimal exposure around the chosen aperture — shutter, ISO.  If using a strobe, be sure the shutter is within the maximum sync speed (Don’t know what that is? That’s why you pay a photographer.).  Set up a strobe — triggered remotely — and umbrella with enough light to provide good fill yet not so much light that the image screams “FLASH WAS USED!”.  Yes, flash was used in this image.  Direct assistant (daughter) to position the light certain ways.  Shoot whenever the sun is behind the clouds.  I set my exposure for this case and timed the shooting accordingly.

(5) Arrange the family reasonably — lots of options and opinions here but time is precious (see next item).  I could name 5 immediate things I’d change about the posing in this photo but we were trying to get something quick.  Pay particular attention to dad being in a masculine pose of some sort.  You don’t know the difference between masculine and feminine poses?  That’s another reason you pay a photographer.  Have you ever seen a family photo where the dad has his knees turned together and his hands folded gently on his lap?  It doesn’t usually look masculine.  Note that it has nothing to do with “macho”, but most dads don’t want to look like a total sissy.  Shoot the family arrangement with enough margin in the photo for various cropping options (uncropped photo above).

(6) Do all the above before the kids have the meltdown that the mom warns you about (picture-taking is pure boredom for kids and they may not last long).  That’s why the background may not be perfect, light may not be perfect, and posing may not be perfect — you need to get *something* before you hit the point where you can’t get *anything*.

That’s the picture “taking” part.  Then you have the “picking” part:

(7) Import your photos to your favorite software.  Go through them one-by-one with a semi-critical eye to weed out the absolute rejects and pick the possible candidates for editing.

(8) Go through the pictures with a MORE critical eye.  Smiles, eyes, hair, positions…which are the keepers?

Then come the edits.  The saying is “Get it right in the camera” but some realities come into play.  Pick the best photographer you know and ask them if they use many images straight out of the camera.  Not a chance.  In our case, remember all that hustling to get *something* before the kids melt down?  We got our exposure right in the camera but I didn’t try to perfect the posing, didn’t take time to pick up every distracting leaf/branch.  I left some background elements in that I knew I could reasonable fix later.  And so on…

(9) General edits…tweaks to white balance, contrast, etc.  Includes making use of your experience regarding how a photo will print in addition to what it looks like on your screen.

(10) Switch mom’s head to get her nice smile in the same image as her kids’ nice smiles (resize it, rotate it, mask it in and make it look like it belongs).  Fix gaps in mom’s hair so it’s as nice as the head we replaced (thanks to Scott Kelby for excellent tips on how to replace/add whole sections of hair — worked like a charm).

(11) Replace one child’s face.  Same smile as the one we started with but in the original they were moving and therefore blurry.  Fortunately we had an exact match (size, position, and smile) in another frame which was sharp.

(12) Remove a scab, some drool, and stray hairs.  Tone down a few specular highlights on the lips.  Remove dead leaves in the grass.  Replace some background elements with trees and vegetation.  I even added a technical flaw (on purpose) to make the photo more aesthetically pleasing.  I won’t point it out but some clever person will probably notice it.

(13) Touch up bags under eyes…hey, the kids got up really early for this.  I don’t like to go to an extreme but I at least tone them down.  Some photos might require significant skin touch up (this photo didn’t need any other than the bit under the eyes).

(14) More general stuff…vignette, selective sharpening, local exposure and contrast tweaks to taste.

All told — hours worth of work.  Although I have MANY more skills to learn, what skills I do possess so far came not only from work on this photo, but hours worth of practice in weeks, months, and years past to learn the skills needed to set up, take, and edit the photo.  Maybe a few things are overkill and just part of my perfectionist bent (I see plenty more that I would tweak even).  However, I don’t want mom to walk by the mantle for years and think “I wish that tuft of hair wasn’t hanging down over my forehead” or dad to think “I wish so and so would have held still so they would be in focus” and so on.


The Heavens Are Telling The Glory Of God

200mm, f/32, 1/80s, ISO 100

We went out to watch the eclipse with another family tonight.  I lugged the camera and lenses out just in case I wanted to get pictures of the kids with their funny eclipse glasses, etc.  At first I didn’t bother to get it out and just snapped iPhone shots of the kids but on a whim I decided to play around with pictures of the eclipse.  While the sun was high I started with f/32, 1/8000s with a polarizing filter (just to close down two more stops) and even then the sun was completely blown out.  As the sun neared the horizon I was able to remove the polarizer, open up the shutter a bit, and get a silhouette of the horizon and some color in the sky.  Not bad for just fiddling around on a whim.  An improvement might have been to open up the aperture to a point where the lens tends to be sharper but once the sun nears the horizon around here it drops like a rock so I didn’t bother with that…I just kept clicking the remote here and there to capture different stages of the sunset/eclipse.  Processing was spot removal and noise reduction in Lightroom.


2011 NCAA Volleyball Championship

My daughters and I can’t wait for NCAA volleyball to start…

At most sporting events I’m in attendance because I want to *watch* the event.  I’m always tempted to carry my camera with me but I generally leave it at home so I’m not distracted.  When I attended the semi-finals of the NCAA volleyball championship this past December I left my camera behind.  However, when I saw that fans were allowed to carry in any camera/lens combo they wanted, I decided to take my camera and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS to the championship match and at least take a few pictures.

While warm ups were going on I experimented a bit with settings.  When shooting any fast-action sport one is generally trying to freeze the action (there are exceptions to this of course).  If you don’t use a relatively fast shutter speed you have no chance of getting a decent photo of a hard kill for instance — unless your goal is to turn the ball into a blur that you can hardly see in the frame.  Manual mode is pretty much a given in a venue like the Alamodome as the light never changes and being very well-lit a fast shutter speed is possible (the gym where my daughters play is not so well-lit and a really fast shutter speed isn’t possible) .  For shots of the action on the court I settled on using manual mode with 1/750s to 1/1000s shutter, f/2.8 aperture, and ISO 2000.  Generally the only time you vary your exposure is if you are taking shots of the crowd as opposed to the court (the crowd near the court was lit a stop or so less than the court).

I was able to convince the elevator operator to allow me and my son upstairs to the skybox area so we could take some pictures from a different perspective.  While there, a pro photog plopped down two seats away from us and we got to chatting a bit.  I asked him what settings he typically used in the stadium and they were 1/1250s, f/2.8, ISO 2500 — not far off what I was shooting.  He said my settings were fine for the lens I was using (70-200mm) but he wanted that slightly faster shutter because he was using a 400mm lens and needed some help compensating for lens movement.  We talked about depth of field (DOF) a bit too.  Up in the balcony we were maybe 200 feet from the net which gave him a DOF of approximately 10-12 feet (depends on the camera body…he had one of the Canon 1D bodies I’m sure).  That really required accurate focus — if he accidentally focused on a back row the action *at* the net would be out of focus.  When I shot at 200mm, I had a great DOF of about 52 feet to work with.

My 5D mkii has great high ISO performance which is nice for these sporting events but one huge deficiency is its (relatively) low frame rate — not so great for sports.  I was kind of jealous of the pro as he machine-gunned frames when a kill was imminent.  Of course, the slow frame rate cuts down on the number of images I need to go through in post 🙂

The Kiddos…


So…Are You Going To Take My Picture Or What?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/7130385205/in/photostream

Impromptu Portrait 125mm, f/2.8, 1/160s, ISO 400

When I sat down at the dinner table this evening I found this grin staring at me.  How could I not get the camera out?  I used my Canon 5D mkii with the 70-200mm f/2.8 — shooting wide open to blur the window frames and scenery outside as much as possible.  I bounced a flash off the wall behind me.  There was no posing, very little attention to what was in the frame, and only minimal attention to composition.  I spent most of my efforts on catching my daughter’s eyes in focus.  With the shallow DOF and my daughter’s constant motion it was tough and I missed it a lot.  How could I not love the pictures anyway?  I took 60-70 shots and ended up with quite a few keepers.

Editing was all done in Lightroom — white balance, slight crops, exposure, contrast, vignette, and a tad bit of noise reduction.  I did none of the typical overdone baby skin stuff.  In fact, I did no “retouching” at all (it would have been a lot of work to fix all those healing chicken pox marks anyway).  No skin edits, no eye enhancements.  They are cute enough the way they are 🙂


Boston Skyline…Blue Hour

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Boston Skyline At Blue Hour 23mm, f/8, 6 exp, ISO 100

Last weekend, after spending the day touring Boston, I walked across the pedestrian bridge (near the left side of the above image) next to Seaport Blvd which connects downtown to the old seaport district.  The bridge is part of the South Bay Harbor Trail.  I stopped for dinner and waited for the sun to set behind the city.  As I neared this photo spot I found that four photographers were already sitting there — tripods and cameras already set up.  I walked toward them and without a word stopped 10′ in front of them and pretended to set up my tripod.  Silence.  After a few seconds I turned and said I was just kidding and relieved laughter set in.  I asked if it was OK to set up just behind them and they were nice enough to extend an offer to make room in the middle of them if I wanted (I just set up behind and above them).

My intent was to bracket a bunch of exposures as it got darker using f/22 to get a starburst effect.  I switched to f/8 because (1) I really wasn’t getting much of that effect, (2) f/8 is good and sharp, and (3) my exposures were getting longer than 30 seconds and I was too lazy to start timing the exposures manually even though I was using a remote 🙂  White balance was set to daylight.  That’s somewhat arbitrary since I always shoot in RAW but it helps keep things consistent when viewed in the LCD.  I included a couple of straight-out-of-the-camera exposures below so you can see a sample of what I was working with.

On my flight home I plugged six exposures into Nik HDR Efex Pro.  My personal default is to use the realistic-subtle preset as a starting point 99% of the time and I tweak a bit in Nik.  Tweaking and saving complete, I took the Nik output into Photoshop along with a couple of the darker exposures and masked in a few spots which were still over-exposed after the HDR junk.  I toned down the colors in the water and burned the sidewalk darker a bit (more on the dodging and burning below).  Relative to colors, I did want an “HDR look” to this image but I sometimes find the reflections and colors on the water to be a bit overdone for my taste in these skyline shots.  I also dropped the overall saturation by 20 points to bring it back to realistic colors as tools like Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photomatix tend to saturate everything a lot.

Finally, since the perspective wasn’t too bad I decided to fix it by stretching out the top corners a bit and aligning the buildings with rulers to make them more upright on the edges (the SOOC images above do not have that correction).  If you do too big of an edit like this it can degrade the image but it’s fine for this one.  The final image turned out crisp and sharp at high resolution.

This screenshot shows my dodging and burning layer.  A trick I learned watching a Joe Brady video (something about Photoshop for landscapes sponsored by Xrite) is to create a new layer, fill it with 50% gray, then dodge and burn on that with black/white.  There’s no real need for that but the layer gives you a visual to show where you’re doing your adjustments.


Party Portrait

My Beautiful Wife 70mm, f/2.8, 1/125s, ISO 3200

Candids are often my favorites and this is no exception for more reasons than one.  This shot was not posed at all unless you count “Please look over here for a second” as posing.  My wife of 25+ years loathes being in front of the camera so I appreciate that she indulged me this time.  There was nothing to bounce flash off of (outdoors, no roof or ceiling overhead, no wall nearby) so I used direct flash with a diffuser.  I started the evening using a 3′ sync cord and holding the flash off-camera at arm’s length but tired of that fairly quickly.  Lightroom was used for most of the processing and for noise reduction (ISO 3200 was used) but I also cloned out a few unattractive elements around the scene.  I didn’t do any skin retouching or the like.


Playing In The Snow

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Snow Portrait 70mm, f/8, 1/125s, ISO 400, flash

We played in the snow today — quite a change from the warm, Texas weather.  While I have no interest in living in a snowy climate again I do enjoy getting in the snow every once in a while.  I took five of my children up to Stevens Pass in Washington for the express purpose of playing in the snow.  There has been all sorts of snow up there in the past few days so we knew it would be fun.  Things looked even better when it began snowing in the Seattle area before we even left the house.

After getting all wet and cold we headed back down the mountain and explored some side roads to enjoy the scenery.  At one spot my daughter (the one in the picture above) pointed out a spot she thought would be nice for a group photo (below).  At another nearby spot she asked me to take a few pictures of her in front of a bridge and the snow-covered trees (no one else wanted to get out of the car again).

Photo stuff…In the group photo below you can see the snow falling in front of our faces — we wanted to show the extent of the falling snow.  However, in the individual shots we wanted to avoid the snow in the face and found a space under some trees which allowed that.  However, it was so dark that we had to add some flash into the mix (no gels used).  With the others waiting in the car I didn’t spend much time perfecting things but we like what we got.

The odd composition above came from just moving around trying different things out.  I don’t like it…but my daughter does so I’m posting that one.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/6834915050/in/photostream

Snowy Group Portrait 70mm, f/6.3, 1/125s, ISO 640, no flash


Candid-ish Christmas Group Portrait

Family Christmas 24mm, f/8, 1/160s, ISO ?, flash bounced on wall behind the camera

I was revisiting some of my favorite photos recently  — most of which don’t get shared because they aren’t worth much photographically speaking.  I decided to share this one since it’s a good illustration of a semi-candid shot that one might not consider taking but ends up being a (personally) memorable shot.  After opening all our presents on Christmas Eve morning we gathered all of us (minus the two out-of-town siblings and the baby who was sleeping), threw wrapping paper around, and snapped some photos.  The setup was simple: camera on a tripod with on-camera flash bounced on the wall behind the camera.  I have a remote but I just used the self-timer here.  If I were trying to get the “ideal” shot I would have rearranged the room to allow a longer lens to be used and avoid the distortion from the wide-angle.  I would have also lit up the background (simply by turning on lights in the other rooms) so it wasn’t so dark.  I probably would’ve gotten out an umbrella or two and the remote triggers.  However, I would have also annoyed everyone and made them impatient 🙂  In the end we got a fun picture that we all like.


Trampoline “Candids” And Clipping Masks

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Backlit Jumping

Last Friday I walked past our kitchen window and was blinded by the light of the setting sun reflecting off the trampoline as my daughter was jumping.  The backlighting also made for great highlights on my daughter’s nearly black hair (it’s that beautiful American Indian super-duper dark brown — and the brown really comes out when it’s backlit).  I grabbed the camera and told her to keep jumping.  I picked an exposure in manual mode and fired off 50 shots or so with the intention of posting something for #weareparents on google+.  My son ended up in the g+ post (see here) last week so I decided to post the trampoline pics this week.

I wanted to include several “poses” in my image and set about to do that via clipping masks.  I’ve played with clipping masks in the past — they’re easy — but I use them so infrequently that I always have to refresh my memory on how they work.  I’ve posted some pictures below to illustrate a simple clipping mask.  I started with a white background layer and a layer with a random image from my desktop (which happens to be a variation of HDR Tennis #18 which I modified via inverted curves to look rather nuclear:

Between those layers I inserted some text that said “Clipping Mask”:

My layers then look like this:

To use the text as a clipping mask, simply hold press option (alt on windows) and click on the line between the text and image layers.  The result is this:

And the layers now appear like this:


St. Regis Hotel, Kauai

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St. Regis Hotel, Kauai, Hawaii 17mm, f/16, ISO 200, 8 exposures

I’m posting another HDR that I processed in my Photomatix vs Nik HDR Efex Pro evaluation war.  The subject here is the lobby of the St. Regis Hotel on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.  There was a multi-level water feature (a bit of which you see in this image) which provided all sorts of reflections and begged to be turned into some HDRs.  I didn’t have a tripod with me so I simply plopped the camera down on a ledge and fired of 9 bracket exposures in several locations.  This limited my composition choices but I was able to get the main thing I was after — the reflections in the water.  The hotel is situated in a beautiful spot on the island and commands a gorgeous view the mountains across a small bay.  If I’d had a tripod I would have taken shots from other positions to include a nice view of the ocean and mountains through the windows.

In this case Photomatix was dramatically better for quickly coming up with a result I liked.  The photo above is almost straight out of Photomatix — I only added some clarity/sharpening/noise reduction after that.  Nik gave some interesting results but did a lousy job keeping the clouds outside from being blown out.  Whenever I used the more realistic presets (realistic HDRs are generally my preference) the view out the windows was completely blown out.  No doubt I could have figured out how to get an acceptable result but it was taking a lot of time to begin to match what I got out of the Photomatix effort.

You’ll note the large shift in color cast across the image.  This was due to the prominence of daylight through the windows on the left side versus the interior tungsten lighting on the right.  It bothered me at first but it’s more realistic this way so I decided to leave the color as-is.


Fire Dancer…Capturing Motion

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Fire Dancer 50mm, f/7.1, 1/15s, ISO 1600

My wife and I (and several in her family) attended a luau while in Hawaii last week.  I have no idea what an old traditional luau was like or how authentic the festivities were but in any case it was immensely enjoyable.  Knowing that the main show would be after dark, I fitted my camera with my 50mm f/1.4 lens.  Night photography has never been something I’ve been good at (maybe that can be said about all my photography 🙂 ).  I’m always going back and forth with myself on the best combination for getting good exposures — shutter/aperture/ISO.  Noise is always a consideration (not so much now that one of my bodies is a 5D Mkii).

For much of this show I wanted to mostly freeze the motion (like in the second shot above) so I shot in manual mode with an aperture between 1.4 and 2.8, shutter speed in the 1/500s – 1/640s range, and ISO 1600-3200 (the stage lighting varied from act to act and I tweaked settings accordingly).  Depth of field wasn’t much of an issue because my focus point was quite far.  However, I also spent time trying to capture some of the motion in the dances.  I was shooting handheld so I did have to consider that when deciding how long to open the shutter.  I played around with various shutter speeds and came out with some fun shots.  For the fire shots I had hoped to be able to reduce the exposure enough to avoid blowing out the highlights of the flames completely but in doing so I ended up underexposing everything else much more than I liked.  In the shot above I like the balance between capturing motion in the flame yet keeping some clarity in the dancer.  Some shots blurred things more (see image below) and that’s interesting in its own right but I prefer the balance in the shot at the top of the post.

Processing was quite simple for all these shots.  I shot with daylight white balance so that I effectively captured the colors consistently.  The color turned out rather well.  I used a bit of clarity and sometimes bumped the exposure up a hair in Lightroom.  Finally, I exported from Lightroom with a preset that ran the images through a noise reduction action (using Noiseware) in Photoshop.


Christmas Lights, Circle C Ranch

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Christmas Light Portrait 65mm, f/2.8, 1/60s, ISO 1000, flash with blue gel

Circle C Ranch is a development near our house and the neighborhood is known for its great Christmas light displays.  I took three of the kids out last night and drove the streets (along with lots of other cars).  We stopped at two locations to grab a quick portrait.  I brought red, blue, and green gels in hopes of matching the flash to the lights somewhat — I had mixed success but since our purpose was to view the lights I didn’t spend any extra time attempting to perfect the shots.  I dialed down the flash way down in hopes of making the images look more like they were lit by the surrounding Christmas lights.  There’s a tell-tale shadow of course but I’m not trying *hide* the fact that flash was used, just match the lighting (and its brightness) to the environment.

The kid’s favorite house is one they call “the jungle”.  The displays (front and back yards) are walk-through and have all manner of decorations from a nativity scene to Elvis to the Grinch to Winnie the Pooh to…everything you can think of.  For as long as I can remember, the neighbor to the jungle has put up a “Ditto” sign.  Funny.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/6557988085/in/photostream

The Jungle 27mm, f/5, 1/40s, ISO 1000

The next shots were taken in the backyard of “the jungle”.  The nativity scene used bare flash handheld on a sync cord and the other shot used a red gel on the flash to match the lights.  I could have used a different color — the main idea was to prevent the flash from lighting the kids with daylight (bare flash) while they were standing in the middle of the colored lights.  I wish I’d had a red gel which was slightly weaker…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/6557986527/in/photostream

Nativity Portrait 30mm, f/5.6, 1/160s, ISO 1600, bare flash

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/6557984839/in/photostream

In The Jungle 30mm, f/2.8, 1/200s, ISO 1600, flash with red gel

Finally, an out of focus shot in the back yard of “the jungle”.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/6557983417/in/photostream

Obligatory Bokeh Shot


Longhorn Volleyball…NCAA Tournament

NCAA Volleyball Tournament Second Round Action - Texas vs. Michigan State

I was saving this so I could post it in honor of the Longhorns making the final four in the NCAA tournament but…they lost in the regional final over the weekend.  Illinois managed to win and will face USC on Thursday.

Here it is:

Just for fun, here are some pics from the University of Texas Longhorns vs. Michigan State match in the second round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.  I hadn’t ever brought my camera to Gregory Gym but decided to for this last home match of the year.  I used only my 17-40 f/4L (“long” lenses are not allowed) and took most pictures from my seat.  Right away I discovered that the color temperature is not consistent throughout the place — something I hadn’t noticed until I took pictures — but  I didn’t attempt to fix the color at all.  It’s amazing how our eyes just adjust to the situation but the camera cannot.  Most (all?) of the images were shot in manual mode at f/4, 1/500s, and at ISO 3200 since I didn’t have the benefit of using any strobes like the official photographer (he has four strobes mounted in the rafters).  I chose the fast shutter speed in hopes of freezing the action reasonably well.  For shots in between the fast action (preparing for service for example) I could have switched to a smaller aperture and slower shutter but I was mostly there to enjoy watching the match and didn’t want to fiddle with settings.  “Photography” wasn’t number one on the agenda for the night.  The pictures are by no means awesome but in any case recorded a fun evening watching volleyball with my girls.

Of course we cheer for the Longhorns…for now.  However, my alma mater (Illinois — the #3 seed) is still in the tournament and should they meet Texas in the finals we’ll be behind the Fighting Illini (we already have our tickets!).  My kids know they will be grounded if they choose to favor the Longhorns 🙂

Warmups

Team Introductions

Michigan State Serves To Begin The Match

Longhorns Serve For Set Point

Check Out That High Toss On The Jump Serve

Missed Block (But Still Looks Cool)

Longhorns Celebrate Winning The Second Set

And finally, what happens when your shutter is open and the stadium photographer triggers the strobes in the rafters.

Overexposed...