Technique

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.

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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.


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.


Lady Cougars 2012

For the second year in a row I’ve taken pictures for my daughters’ volleyball team.  The individual shots were pretty much a piece of cake and they turned out great.  The set up for those involved spreading a neutral-colored paint tarp on the floor to eliminate the red glow on the girls’ skin, standing the girls on a stool, setting up one speedlight (triggered with Elinchrom Skyports) shooting through a white umbrella for the key light, a strobe flashing the gym behind the girls to add light to the background, posing them with a volleyball, and firing away.  These went very quickly as there was no change in setup between each girl.  The gym is horrible for pictures but was workable for these individual shots.

We also goofed with some dramatic shots with the girls looking serious and got the shot above.  The main light is the same speedlight-thru-umbrella held nearly on axis with the camera (slightly toward high camera left).  The back light is simply a speedlight plopped on the floor.  These took longer to get the girls set and posed, and as you see above, we never got the posing or the spacing quite right.  We didn’t have all day so I had to take what I could get as they say.  There are lots of photographic flaws but the girls and parents are plenty happy with the pic, which is what really counts.

I did some basic processing in Lightroom then headed to Photoshop to grunge out and darken the background (mostly with curves), do some very minor edits and retouching, noise reduction, and add the text.


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


Chair Abstract

Chair Abstract 50mm, f/1.4, 1/50s, ISO 200

Just like the kite photo I recently posted, this image is out of the ordinary for me — I don’t shoot many abstract or fine art types of photos.  During the week I picked up my Canon 5D mkii from being repaired [related sad story below] and yesterday got a chance to fully check it out.  I popped my 50mm f/1.4 lens on the body and started plinking.  As I sat at our little breakfast table I opened the lens up completely and started shooting through the rails of one of the chair backs.  There were a lot of colorful things in the background which were nicely blurred by the wide aperture and close focus distance.  I then started shooting while moving the camera up and down, resulting in the image above.  I rather like it.  The image is straight out of the camera except for cropping.

So the sad story is this:  This year I decided to try shooting some pictures at a fireworks show.  I’d never done it — I’d rather concentrate on *watching* the fireworks and it just seemed like a headache overall.  Before the fireworks we attended a BBQ dinner catered by the Salt Lick and as dusk fell I hauled out the camera and tripod and began getting set up.  I put my wireless remote into the cameras hot shoe, put the camera on the tripod, then proceeded to adjust the length of the tripod legs.  I heard a loud crash — my 5D mkii hitting the pavement from a height of about 5 feet.  Looking on the bright side, the camera had turned over on the way down and landed flat on the wireless remote which was in many pieces all around us.  That definitely spared me from the damage I could have had.  The camera “worked” here and there but mostly gave an error.  It would even randomly try to focus the lens — when the power switch was off!  Anyway…a couple hundred dollars later I have my camera back refurbished and sporting a new shutter box and mirror assembly.  I managed to put all the remote pieces together but it was dead as a doornail.


Winter Dresses…In July

Winter Dresses 90mm, f/2.8, 1/250s, ISO 200

I’ve been very delinquent in taking the picture above — my youngest girls in their matching winter dresses.  Between the baby’s sleeping schedule, weather, and that general “don’t feel like doing it now” feeling that we all get (wasn’t just me) we haven’t gotten these done.  I took the day off today and I made it a definite to-do item for this morning when our infant (“Dolly” as we often call her) is usually happiest.  We ended up pushing it a little — Dolly was ready for bed by the time we were done.

The usual caveats apply: I don’t like this or that, I’m not happy with the light (we waited too late in the morning), I don’t like the setting/background, and I’d change/fix/tweak many things.  There wasn’t so much posing as there was “Hold her and look at the camera quick before she gets fussy”.  However, my wife says: “I don’t care about the professional photo — I just want a picture of them together with their dresses so get it done”.  It’s hard for me not to try to make everything as professional looking as I can, however meager my attempts may be.

Exposure was a bit tricky.  The dark skin, light skin combination was challenging to balance (always takes some effort in our family pictures since we have four races and a wide range of skin tones).  I chose to use no additional lighting — we just wanted to get this done and not fiddle with triggers, umbrella, and adjusting flash power.  The sun was in and out of the clouds which affected the exposure dramatically.  Ultimately I determined my exposure by metering Dolly’s light skin to avoid blowing it out (I shot in manual mode).  For my taste we couldn’t go any brighter than you see above and we got sufficient exposure in the dark skin so we could make do.  There were of course the usual difficulties in getting two children to look good at the same time.  The littlest didn’t cooperate very well — she wasn’t a complete crank but wasn’t her usually smily self.  In the end I ended up swapping a head to get them both looking good.  I lightened the dark skin a bit more and tweaked the image with several curves, exposure, and saturation adjustment layers.


Happy Independence Day!

Love 24mm, f/13, 20s

I wish I had a photograph with some deep meaning behind it (maybe I’ll come up with one tomorrow), but all I have is this shot taken two years ago.  My wife was out of town over the July 4th holiday so I sent this to her.  This was my 2nd or 3rd try — kind of challenging to write backwards neatly in the air.

Hope all my U.S. friends have a great holiday!


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.