Posts tagged “light

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

Shooting In Fluorescent Lighting

Kind of a boring post today but maybe it will save someone some trouble.  While snapping pictures in the hospital recently I learned a lesson about shooting in fluorescent lighting situations.  I already “knew” about this but had never experienced it firsthand and didn’t think about it ahead of time. The problem boils down to the fact that certain types of fluorescent light fixtures do not produce steady light. It may generally appear to be a constant light but is actually flickering at some multiple of the electrical supply frequency (the dominant frequency depends on the ballast, type and age of the bulbs, etc.).  I forgot about this and snapped a bunch of pictures without chimping and ended up with a bunch of wigged-out shots.

How does that affect your pictures? In the image above notice that my wife’s hand is not color matched to the rest of the image (I attempted to make corrections in this image — it was worse to begin with).  Also check out the images below (sorry for the boring subject matter). The images were shot in sequence with the same settings  (f/2.8, 1/350s) but you can see extreme variations in the frames.  What happens is that if you use a shutter speed that is faster than the length of one “flicker” (one power cycle of the light) you get variations in the image depending when your shutter opens up relative to the light variation. One time the shutter opens when the light is at its brightest and all looks normal-ish (as much as it can under fluorescents). Another time the shutter opens as the light is dimming and so forth. In actuality the color temperature also varies at different points of the power cycle which causes the weird color banding you see in these shots.

Once I bumped my shutter speed down to 1/30s (and went to f/11) I consistently reproduced the image below.

After a little research I found that most newer fluorescents are designed to operate in a way which avoids most of these problems.  However, if you run into issues with old lights you can work around them. Ideally, just turn off the fluorescents and use natural light and/or flash. If your camera works reasonably well at high ISO use it to your advantage and crank it up in order to turn off those lights. If turning them off is not practical you can add light with a flash to reduce the effects or use a shutter speed which is longer than the period of the light. In other words, if the light is flickering at 120 Hz (120 times a second), use a shutter speed somewhat slower than 1/120s. This makes sure the shutter is open during at least one full cycle of the light. I found that 1/60s eliminated the problem at the hospital although with some lights you might have to slow it up even further.

Hopefully that made some sense to somebody.  I tried to explain what can be pretty technical, in non-technical-ish terms.  Shooting flash and balancing its color with fluorescent lighting is a whole other topic too…go to to or your favorite internet photo resource for info on that.  There’s also some interesting info on this on Nikon’s site (includes a nice visual using a gray card).

Water Fountain

Fountain and Traffic Bokeh 50mm, f/1.4, 1/30s, ISO 100

I made another dark o’clock airport run last week and brought the camera along to catch the sunrise blue hour on my way into the office.  There were no clouds in the sky (boring) so I decided to swing by the Texas Capitol to take some shots of it against the colors of the sky.  It turned out to be a gray hour rather than blue — no color at all so I was about to bag it completely.  However, I did notice the reflections in this fountain at the corner of Congress and Cesar Chavez and stopped for some pictures.  The above image was taken on the NE corner of the intersection looking east down Cesar Chavez.  As the traffic lights (and the traffic) changed it provided many variations in the colors and this was my favorite.  Processing was a handful of curves adjustments mainly.

The image below was a 3-second exposure at the same fountain but on the other side of the wall where the water cascades down into the courtyard.  Processing was done in Lightroom — so minor that I really don’t even remember what I did 🙂

In truth, this fountain has endless photographic possibilities both as a subject and as a background.  I’m sure I’ll be back some day.

Cascading Water 51mm, f/2.8, 3s, ISO 400

Take the Shot Anyway

All Hallows by the Tower

Sometimes you find yourself in a photographic situation where you don’t have a good shot.  You may not be able to find a good angle, there may not be enough light (and you don’t have a tripod), or you may not have your preferred lens on hand.  Many purists would tell you not to take a shot if it isn’t a perfect situation but in this digital age I don’t buy into that.

If the angle or framing isn’t just what you want, try it anyway.  You may very well find something (a certain crop for example) in post-processing which actually works.  “Do everything in-camera” is a great idea but some take it nearly to the point of “if you can’t do it in-camera, don’t do it at all”.  For pros it surely makes business sense as they are very sensitive to efficiency in their work.  However, I disagree that it should be a black-and-white mantra for everyone.  I say take the shot and throw it away if it’s clear you can’t do anything with it later.  It *is* a bit of a pain to cull the day’s shoot when there are a lot of pics, but I’ve found it worth it to take extra shots most of the time.  That said, I don’t want to give the impression that I fire away blindly — there are lots of shots that I pass up because I don’t think the situation measures up.

The shot above was one that I almost didn’t take but it’s one that I personally enjoy seeing come up on my screensaver and background regularly.  First, it reminds me of a great trip to Europe with my wife.  Secondly, I “just like it” — quiet, somber scene of a couple worshippers, impressive stone walls, beautiful wooden pews.  The light was tricky — very bright from the windows, very dark in the shadows.  I had no tripod and wasn’t going attempt to get 6-ish (minimum) handheld exposures for an HDR or composite.  So, I just took the shot.  The exposure was 1/4s but with the wide angle (10mm) it turned out relatively good.  Sure, the windows and floor are blown out but I wasn’t after a nice architectural shot after all.

The location is All Hallows by the Tower Church in London.  It claims to be the oldest church in London (a claim which I have no reason to dispute) having been established in 675 AD (!).  My wife and I popped in there after touring the Tower of London.  Much of the church has been reconstructed over time for reasons of expansion and damage but it still retains a doorway from the 600s.  Cool place.  My wife and I were two of the five people in the church (us, two in the pews, and a caretaker/receptionist of sorts).  That was a refreshing difference from the crowds at places like Notre Dame and St. Sulpice.



Wow.  I never thought that a pic taken while messing around in my driveway would end up on Flickr’s Explore.  The fireworks shot above is already my 3rd or 4th most viewed image (behind a few that Trey Ratcliff retweeted on twitter).

I was a bit under the weather on the 4th and certainly did not want to brave what was supposed to be a crowd of over 100,000 people at the Austin fireworks.  So, we settled for sparklers in the driveway which seemed to satisfy the little ones at least.  I brought out the camera and tripod just for fun — I’d set the shutter for 30 seconds and we’d all run around (carefully of course) and draw in the air.

On a whim I started messing with writing a note to my wife.  Surprisingly, I didn’t have much trouble writing backward but I had to learn the timing.  Go fast enough to finish, slow enough to make it readable.  Of course I could have gotten out the remote and used ‘bulb’ for the shutter but I was just messing around and was too lazy for that.

My daughter would press the shutter release after I lit two sparklers.  I wrote ‘LOVE’ with both sparklers in one hand, then used one in each hand to draw the heart.  Got this one on the 4th or 5th try but I might have worked on making the handwriting neater if I knew more people would look at it 🙂  Pretty fun…Glad everyone likes it.