Taking pictures with digital cameras is fun. We get instant feedback from that little screen on the back of the camera (for purposes of this article, I’m referring to digital “point-and-shoot” cameras, compacts and dSLRs). We can delete whatever we don’t like, on the spot, right? Sure. But… how many pictures have you deleted then and there just because they didn’t look “good enough to keep” according to that little LCD preview? Hundreds? Thousands? Two words: Bad Idea. Why? Because you might inadvertently – and forever – trash that “money shot,” the “keeper of the year,” the one you’ve been trying to get for years, your best picture ever! I know: You’re thinking, “Well, how could that happen when I can see exactly what it looks like on my [itty bitty] LCD screen, and it looks awful, so what’s the big deal if I delete it now and make room on my memory card?” Look at the words I italicized: “exactly” and “itty bitty.” Go brew some coffee, and come back. I’ll wait. Then I’ll tell you why it’s a bad idea….
You’re back? Great. Where’s my cup??? (Sorry; I’m writing this in the morning before my first cup kicked in… ;)
Fun fact: What you see on your camera’s LCD is nothing more than an internally-processed, approximate representation of what your camera captured on its sensor. It’s a highly-compressed and processed JPEG image, but it’s not necessarily exactly how it will look when you open it in your photo editing program. (Even if you shoot in the “raw” mode, which is off-topic for this article, your camera still processes a JPEG preview on the LCD), and it processes that JPEG according to settings you’ve made in your camera, together with the manufacturer’s proprietary algorithms “Ok, so what,” you ask? It’s easier to show you: The images below are before-and-after results of a shot I took while I was on a trip with my eldest son in Arizona, visiting the Desert Botanical Gardens that day. The Chihuly Glass exhibit was there at the time (check the talented Dale Chihuly’s website to see if his must-see exhibition is coming to your area), so besides the botanicals, we were also treated to beautiful Chihuly glass displayed throughout (I’ll show an example after the next images). Because there was so much to see, we stayed until well after dark. I was teaching my son, a then-budding photographer, to always look around him, and not just photograph what he sees in front of him. He saw me do that throughout the day. At one point, soon before closing time, something made me turn around and look behind me, and I thought I saw something in the distant hills. I couldn’t quite make it out, so I exposed manually, crossed my fingers (it was getting quite dark and I didn’t have my tripod set up at the moment, but I didn’t want to risk missing what I thought I might have seen), and made a grab-shot using my old-but-trusty 18-200mm on the camera I used at the time, a Nikon D300 – which is now one of my backup cameras. Naturally (said facetiously, since I was rushing), the frame was waaaay underexposed, but I didn’t have time to re-try. I almost deleted it, thinking I didn’t get anything. Wrong-O! I later converted and opened it in my photo editing program, adjusted the exposure and tones, cropped a bit, and – coolness! – it was a silhouetted man sitting atop a distant hill, apparently gazing into the distance, looking peaceful in his solitude from where I stood.
Remember, what you see on the camera’s LCD screen isn’t exactly what you’ll see on your larger computer screen, or tablet, or TV. Its main purpose – besides passing the camera around to your friends to see – is to give you a quick idea of the exposure (which is best determined by checking the histogram if your camera offers that feature; I’ll discuss what a histogram is, and why it should become your best exposure-checking friend, in another article), focus and composition – did you accidentally cut off the top of Uncle Billy’s head (which may not be a bad thing!). Side note: what you see on the LCD – and what you see in your viewfinder – isn’t always 100% of what the camera “sees” and captures. That depends on the camera. The manual will tell you what percentage of the actual image can be seen in the viewfinder and on the screen. This means that you might actually photograph more of the scene than you thought. This is a good thing; sometimes we fill the frame too tightly, not allowing “breathing space” and also not giving us enough flexibility if we later have to crop it, whether to fit certain dimensions, cut out an edge of the frame, or whatever reason. This is, by the way, one of the main reasons I recommend setting your camera to “JPEG fine” or whatever your particular camera refers to as the highest-quality, least-compressed JPEG file, unless you’re shooting raw.
What you see on the LCD screen is an approximation of what your camera actually captured.
MILD TECH TALK ALERT: There are many, many factors that come into play when image and/or raw files (I’ll write about raw files vs. image files another time, as well as expand on other things I mention in this paragraph) are transferred from one device to another. One is color space. Images look different from device to device, depending on the color space they’re captured in, the color space assigned or converted to the image in your editing program, bit depth, resolution at capture, your monitor’s calibration (or lack thereof), the brightness settings on your monitor and on your camera’s LCD, how they’re converted if shot in the raw mode, and so much more. Our eyes can see about a gazillion more hues and shades (“color”) than our devices can reproduce. That reproducible range is called the “color gamut”. Your camera processes the JPEG on your LCD screen in a small color gamut, usually the sRGB color space. Adding to the confusion is that your photo editing program may default or be set to a larger-gamut RGB space, for instance, Adobe 1998 RGB, or ProPhoto space, among others. Even more…. the output device (e.g., printer) uses its own color space (printers are horses of another color – pardon the pun). Printers are CMYK devices; home/consumer printers and editing software communicate with each other about, among other things, how the printer should convert and interpret the RGB color values being sent to it. Each RGB (red, green, blue) and CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, key/black) hue is, in simple terms, assigned a hexadecimal number, and that number is communicated from the computer to printer so that RGB devices (e.g., computer) can tell CMYK devices (e.g., printer) how to interpret and print the image file being sent to it. There’s so much more to this, but it’s beyond the scope of this article.
Don’t delete anything but the most obvious duds!
Below is another example of why you shouldn’t delete straight from your camera. That “awful” image you see on the LCD might really be fantastic; you just don’t know it yet. You have to see it on a larger screen to truly be able to evaluate it, and also do some post-processing such as adjusting the exposure and white balance to the extent you can, making global and selective total adjustments, maybe crop to a better composition, and so on. That underexposed image on your LCD screen might be salvageable later; just be patient and give it a chance. You can always still delete it. If I didn’t follow my own advice, I’d have inadvertently tossed the only decent image (see below) that I captured during the Orionid meteor shower in October 2012 (the Orionids are remnants and debris from Halley’s Comet), but I didn’t see anything keepable from the LCD screen – I didn’t see until later what I’d actually photographed, after I adjusted the exposure – and I whooped in surprise! (Boy am I glad I shoot raw for almost everything except fast action!). Here’s how it happened:
I was shooting the meteor shower with some friends. It wasn’t much of a show from where we were; we each saw one or two while watching the sky between midnight and 3 am, but no one was able to capture anything on camera, including me. Or so I thought. Below are before-and-after images. The first is what I saw on my LCD screen, and while my friends and I took a break and scrolled through the images on our cameras, I almost deleted it. Then I remembered my rule – don’t delete anything but the most obvious duds (e.g., out of focus, compositionally impossible to fix later, etc.). Since I shoot raw, I can later adjust the exposure if necessary (as well as white balance and some other things). So… The image on my LCD was dark – very underexposed – but later when I edited it, I increased the exposure and made a few other tweaks, and voilà! A nice Orionid streak in the sky. The second image is what my camera had really captured, but since it was so underexposed, the preview on my LCD showed a blah picture and I almost trashed it. What a mistake that would have been.
So… buy a few extra memory cards and stay away from the delete button! Wait until you can see what you really shot on a larger screen, because the image you delete too soon may be one you’ll never have another chance to photograph!
Meanwhile, keep on shooting!
Well, early Saturday morning I was strolling in the wood.
I came upon a lady who by the wayside stood.
“And what, pray tell, would such a lass as you be doing here?”
“I’ve come to take some photographs,” she said, as I drew near.
Said I to her, “I do declare, this is a fateful day.
For I have come to photograph, the same as you did say.”
Then I took out my Nikon F and placed it in her hand.
She said, “That’s quite a camera, Sir, you have at your command.”
My camera so delighted her, she could no more delay.
She let me see her camera case, wherein her accessories lay.
“I’m sure,” she said, “you have most everything that can be bought…
Just let me stretch my tripod out before I take some shots.”
We photographed from haylofts, and up against the wall.
If you’ve not shot on Saturday night, you’ve not photographed at all.
She had her shutter open wide, for daylight all was gone.
Likewise my naked camera lens, it had its filter on.
This lady had experience with cameras, yes indeed.
And I thought her exposures the best I’d ever seen.
Although she seemed to tire not, as on and on we went,
I said, “I’ll have to stop now; my film supply is spent.”
She said, “I’ve had Mirandas, Yashicas and Rolleis.
Hasselblad and Pentax, likewise a Polaroid.
Fujica, Canon, Nikkormat, a Kodak and the rest.
But now I’ve seen your Nikon F, and surely it’s the best!”
In honor of George Washington’s birthday, I made this slideshow from photos I took at the 2009 and 2011 annual reenactments of George Washington and his troops crossing the Delaware River on the Christmas Day 1776 sneak attack against the Hessians, called the Battle of Trenton. Happy Birthday, George, and thanks for all you’ve done for your country!
Say what, now?
(Stay with me here, because there’s a treat waiting for you near the end, an incredible time-lapse video, but no cheating! You can’t jump ahead!)
I’ve often been afraid to try new things with my photography, sticking instead with what I already knew how to do, staying within my comfort zone. Why? I’m not sure, but maybe my experiences will help you improve your own skills with a camera, or in other parts of your life that you may be hesitant to try. My decision to face my fears took place after several unrelated incidents, and this is one of them:
- A few months ago I was offered the opportunity to assist on a photo shoot with a world-renowned National Geographic Traveler photographer who happened to have a scheduled shoot not far from me. His local assistant was unable to make it that day and the shoot couldn’t be rescheduled. He knew other photographers in the area, but some were unavailable and others didn’t have experience with the new Nikon-compatible PocketWizard® radio remote system. Now, I didn’t own this system at the time (I do now) but I knew in general how to use it because I’d already planned to get it in the near future, so I’d already researched, watched videos, and borrowed a friend’s Nikon system and learned how to use it, although certainly not as well as if I’d already owned them. Anyway, this photographer remembered me from a few of his seminars and presentations I’d attended up and down the East Coast, from New England to North Carolina. He knew I was a Nikon shooter. He knew I was experienced and personable. He knew enough of my work to know I’d be a good assistant. But then… I lost the job. Why? He asked if I was experienced with this PocketWizard® system because he needed someone who knew it “like the back of your hand” because, as he put it, it wasn’t a glamorous job and the client was on a tight schedule and he needed someone who could move and react quickly, without hesitation, and with no learning curve whatsoever. When he learned that I wasn’t as experienced as he needed an assistant to be, he said he was sorry and would have loved to work with me, but not knowing the system thoroughly was a deal-breaker. I got it. I did. And I was devastated. This was a grand opportunity for me – for anyone! I mean, this guy travels all over the world, all the time, and is published practically everywhere. Not just his phenomenal images, but he’s written many books, has published articles in top photography magazines, is an editor or contributing editor for many of them, and he even had his own television show for a long time! And little ol’ me came thisclose to being his on-the-shoot assistant! Until then, my fear (in this case, of lighting and its complexities) prevented me from already having and using the system. I’d kept telling myself I didn’t need to know that much about light manipulation. After losing this job, I decided to face my fear and never miss an opportunity like this again.
Stepping out of my comfort zone helped me to improve my overall skills.
The reason for this back-story? I’d put off buying the PocketWizard® system because, as primarily a nature photographer, I’d done little studio work involving creative lighting and remote triggering and adjusting, and I had little need for it (I didn’t need it for my portrait shoots, or so I thought, but now that I have the system, I don’t know how I did without it!). Ok, to be totally truthful, the subject of lighting really intimidated me, and that scared me enough to convince myself that I didn’t need to know that much about it. Wrong-o! There’s a lot to know about light and lighting if you want to make the best images, of any subject, that you can. After all, photography is all about light. There’s so much to know, that if you Google the subject you won’t believe how many hits you’ll get. But I’m actually happy (kinda sorta) about losing the job, in retrospect, because it forced me to step out of my comfort zone and learn new techniques – not just about studio and other lighting, but other things as well, which had the effect of starting to improve my overall skills as a photographer and as a person. This lesson – facing our fears and stepping out of our comfort zone – applies to almost anything in life. Self-improvement doesn’t come without a price, but it’s a price well worth paying.
You see, I was also intimidated by the great photographers who have flash and lighting nailed. I mean, they know it “like the back of their hand,” a phrase I’ll now attribute to losing that great opportunity to work with a renowned photographer (and a nice, funny guy, to boot!), and it forced me to teach this old dog new tricks. Flash had intimidated me for the longest time. It still does to a degree but the more I use it, work with it, learn about it, experiment with it, the more comfortable I get with it. This goes for anything new we try, right? And guess what? Being able to manipulate light hasn’t just improved my lighting skills, but it’s actually opened a new world for me: product photography! Will I be hired by The Coca-Cola Company or Nike, Inc. anytime soon? Not a chance. But I don’t care. It’s all about building my self-confidence, my skill set, and finding new ways to explore the world and share it. So I started experimenting with lighting in different ways, one time placing a strobe underneath a glass table, putting a translucent reflector onto the table, placing a glass of liquid on the reflector, adding a black backdrop, and moving my light stands around, trying all kinds of different ways to light the subject. I’d change the location of the strobes, change their power output, bounce light off a wall or ceiling, fire the strobes through an umbrella, bounce their light through another umbrella, and so on. You can see a couple examples above and below. I made mistakes, learned from them, made more mistakes, learned from those as well, and will continue to happily make mistakes along the way, and learn from every one of them. Will these practice images ever be published? No way. They’re technically flawed on many levels. But the more I experiment, the more knowledgeable and skilled I’ll become, and – here’s the best part! – the better images I’ll make, all because I forced myself to overcome my fears and intimidation and make myself learn how to do something I’d never really done before and was afraid to try.
Self-improvement doesn’t come without a price,
but it’s a price well worth paying.
Here’s something else I’d been afraid to try until recently: Have you seen time-lapse videos? I have. Lots of them. Some good ones. Some great ones, like “Finding Oregon,” by Uncage The Soul Productions, below (the special treat I promised you). I’ve seen cool images of circular star trails and wondered “how do they do that”? Well after much research, trying different ways to make circular star trails, making some into my first time-lapse videos, I’m soon ready to start making videos of beautiful land- and seascapes. Will my star trails image above win any awards? Nope. It was my first-ever attempt, shot from my patio, facing woods that my house backs up to. Many mistakes were made along the way, as there’s lots to know, lots to remember, and lots of it to forget. But I had fun doing it! It will take a long time, and lots of trial-and-error, to accomplish things I want to do, but since I’ve started taking baby steps to improve my knowledge and skill set, it’s become easier to try new things, and I’m loving the journey!
It’s easy to hold a camera to your eye and press the shutter release. What’s not easy is learning new ways of making great images – the keepers, the ones you’re proud of, the ones you want to frame, give as gifts, and share with your family and friends. Food for thought.
In whatever you truly want to do in your life,
perseverance and facing your fears can pay off!
I’ll end this by giving a shout-out to a wonderful photographer I’ve recently started corresponding with, to whom I was introduced by a mutual friend – who herself is an amazing and well-known photographer, leading wildlife safaris in Africa and other beautiful places. The safari photographer’s name is Piper Mackay. A link to her site can also be found on my website’s tab called Great Sites. The other photographer I’m referring to also has a link on my Great Sites page. Her name is Anne McKinnell. She was among the first to inspire me to start taking baby steps out of my comfort zone toward making life changes that I’ve wanted to make but was afraid to. It’s still a work-in-progress, but the point is, I’m making progress! Anne’s story is for anyone who is at a crossroads, in any aspect of their life; it doesn’t have to be about photography, nor do you have to be a photographer to appreciate her story. Anne made a decision to change her life and follow her passion (hers as a photographer; yours can be something else that you’re passionate about and wish you could do full time if possible). Her life didn’t change by chance or luck, but by courage, determination and sacrifice.
The take-away I hope I leave you with is: don’t let fear stop you from trying new things!
Don’t forget about the upcoming workshop at the beautiful Antelope Canyons in Arizona at the end of May! There’s still space available, and this is a Troy Kevin Shinn workshop you don’t want to miss (and Troy will be assisted by… yours truly!
Meanwhile, keep on shooting!
The holiday season’s here, New Year’s plans are being made, and you know you’re going to be in pictures. Lots of them. You’ve heard that cameras “add ten pounds,” right? Well, kinda, sorta, not really. In fact, no, they don’t. The camera is just a tool. It’s not trying to take an unflattering picture of you. It just records what is picked up by the lens via the light that enters through it. The ONLY time a camera adds ten pounds to your weight is when you’re holding a ten-pound camera! Smile.
Are you a little shy in front of a camera? Are you afraid of “camera bloat”? These tips may help:
- If you’re caught in an unflattering pose, that’s what’s recorded. Here are some posing tips:
- To help reduce the “double chin” effect: When posing, push your head forward as far as you can, comfortably. Practice this in front of a mirror. Do it several times until you stop feeling like you’re doing the chicken dance. It feels strange at first, but when you see its effect of “slimming” your neck/chin area, you’ll love it! You too, guys! You can also wear a scarf or turtleneck, or place your hands in a flattering position, framing your neck.
- If you have a wider face or body, you can angle your body away from the camera, including your face, and if you want, turn your face slightly back toward the camera so that it’s st
- Suck in that gut – but not too much! You know the drill: stomach in, shoulders back, chest out. Again, don’t overdo the “chest out” or “stomach in” parts. It will look, uh, like this:
- Don’t face the sun; it will make you squint and will show every line and wrinkle. Let the photographer figure out how to light you if you’re backlit. He or she will likely use a low-powered flash to bring you out of the shadows you, while maintaining a good balance with the ambient (natural or available) light.
- Don’t let your arms hang so that they touch any part of your body, which includes crossing your arms in front of you. That will help control upper-arm flab. Find something to do with your hands (your photographer can guide you here), or place your arms slightly away from your body to reduce any flab.
- Side lighting, hair lighting, and using reflectors or deflectors to add subtle shadows to problem areas or redirect light to pleasing areas, can be helpful. Use of lighting to cast subtle shadows on your neck can appear slimming. Photography is all about light, in so many ways.
- If you feel that your nose is larger than you’d like, I can recommend a good plastic surgeon. Kidding! For these situations, I never take 90-degree profile shots. The face (or camera) should be angled so that your nose doesn’t protrude past your cheek line. This will give the illusion of “decreasing” its size.
- If it’s a full-body shot, stand with one leg slightly ahead of the other, with the forward leg’s foot pointed toward the camera and your weight on your back foot.
- Wear darker solids and avoid large prints that will draw attention to your shape. If you like stripes, do I need to say it? Vertical!
- When you look at yourself in the mirror, you’re not seeing yourself as everyone else sees you. You’re seeing – wait for it! – a mirror image! It’s true! Look at a photo of yourself, then look at yourself in the mirror. See? The photo is how others see you, not what you see in the mirror. You’re just not used to that look in the photo because you see yourself “flipped horizontally” on a daily basis. So, cut yourself some slack – you’re beautiful! (Yes, men, “beautiful” applies to you, too!)
- If the wrong lens is used, particularly wide-angle lenses used close to you, that’s bad for your figure (unless it’s a spoof – then it can be funny!). It’s better if a medium telephoto lens is used farther away from you. Telephotos have the effect of “compressing” what’s in the frame, depending on how far the subject is, which also helps with the “slimifying effect.” I do most of my formal portrait work with a 105 mm lens. It gives me enough working space so that I’m not “in your face,” it doesn’t distort you, and it gives a nice, soft background if I adjust the camera’s settings properly.
- Don’t let anyone “shoot up” at you from below. That will make you look down at the camera, pushing down your neck and chin area. Don’t let yourself be photographed from too high either, because it can make you look like you have disproportionately short legs. The most flattering angle for portraits is when the camera is at eye level. Your eyes.
- Lighting – a very important subject. Harsh lighting is unflattering, especially for women and children. I try not to use flash at all when I’m shooting portraits, unless I want catch lights in the eyes. If I do use flash, I’ll do it in a way to minimize any unflattering areas and/or to maximize your best features. A harsh strobe firing in your face is also bad for skin tones, and is the main culprit of red-eye, blotchy skin and deep-looking wrinkles. A flash is often needed, though, for example, if you are back-lit (you’re outdoors and the sun is behind you, putting you in shadow). In those situations, a low-powered “fill flash” is called for, to softly illuminate you while keeping the background exposed well and in balance with how you’re lit. A note about soft light vs. harsh light – harsher light can be flattering on men – it can give them a more “chiseled, tough-guy” look. Combine that with a bleach bypass (a possible topic for another time), and you may have a magazine-worthy shot! (Side note for photographers taking your picture: If your camera has the red-eye reduction feature, don’t use it! That’s the main reason for closed eyes, premature subject movement and blurry shots; many people don’t realize that the red-eye reduction feature means that there are two sets of flashes being fired: a pre-flash meant to reduce the size of your pupil, followed by the main flash. Too often, people start moving after the pre-flash is fired, believing that the photo was taken. So either caution them to remain still until all flashes are fired, or turn off the feature. Unless you’re using an off-camera flash that is held, placed or mounted above and away from the lens, or if you bounce the light (another topic for a later time), you’re probably going to get red-eye anyway, which is easily fixable in many post-processing applications (e.g., Photoshop, Lightroom, Elements, and many others). One more trick to avoid or reduce red-eye: if you’re being photographed indoors, turn on every light. That alone will help to reduce the size of your pupil, and then maybe a flash won’t even be needed, or if it is, its power can be reduced.
- My Number One tip to bring out your Best You: Be confident! A twinkle in your eye, a genuine smile on your face, a confident expression – these are things that make people notice you – this is what makes you beautiful. They’ll notice you, not your body shape. To go along with this tip, give some thought to what you believe is your best feature. Emphasis on “what you believe” – Some people may say you have great legs, but if you don’t think so, or if you really love your eyes, upper arms or hair, then those are the features to be showcased, no matter how many people like your legs. Why? It’s the confidence thing.
Now go get ready for your best-ever holiday photos!
***Happy Holidays to all my wonderful readers,
Happy New Year, and keep on shooting!***
[Next time: I’ll start answering questions sent in by email through my website and blog – great questions, and I’ll give you great answers!]
I recently visited Jackson Hole, Wyoming and the Grand Tetons area with a small group of wonderful photographers, to photograph the peak fall colors of the Grand Tetons. It was one of the best photographic trips I’ve taken, even though there are soooooo many more places I plan to go, both in the USA and in other countries. But I digress. The “something different” in this article’s title is that we (the other photographers and I) decided to have fun painting with light using strong flashlights at 4:30 A.M. – yes, I said A.M., as in waaay before dawn! – to “paint light” where we wanted it, being careful not to overdo it, keeping a balance between what was lit with our flashlights and what was caught in the light drop-off, all done in pitch dark! Here’s an example (no this wasn’t “Photoshop’d!”):
How it was done: Using tripods, we composed our frames the way we wanted. We used flashlights to light the trees first so that we could focus. We manually set our exposure settings (listed below). There is no formula for painting with light; there are many variables, so practice, practice, practice when you try it – and I hope you do try it; it’s fun! Once you’re composed and focused, as far as how much to “paint” with your flashlight, that’s where trial-and-error comes in. This particular image was a 30-second exposure, and during the exposure, a flashlight was used to paint up and down the trees, using less light on the background trees to be sure to not over-paint them, in order to maintain a good balance of light. Normally you would want to keep the ISO (if your camera allows you to control it) as low as possible when you’re shooting on a tripod, but in this case, we had to experiment with combinations of ISO and shutter speed (our focus was for the most part set at infinity). The settings used in this photo were: f/8 at 30″, ISO 8000 (my camera can handle high ISO without problem; your mileage may vary. There are many good noise-reduction programs and plugins if your image needs it). The point is to try different settings, paint with more or less light, try different ISOs, and so on. You need a long enough exposure to allow you time to paint with the flashlight, but not so long that you’ll introduce too much noise (grain) or unwanted ambient light into your image, especially in the dark areas. And use a cable shutter release or your camera’s self-timer! This photo was taken at around 4:30 am, long before natural light started showing itself. As the sky grew lighter, I reduced my ISO, taking care to still be able to maintain the shutter speed I wanted (30 seconds, to give me time to paint), and the desired aperture.
This is only one example of what painting with light can do. Go out and experiment, whether it’s before dawn or after sunset. It’s fun!
Below is a happy accident: During one of my long (30-seconds) exposures, a stranger walked into my frame with his flashlight (it was still dark outside, so he used his flashlight to light his way, but he didn’t see us since it was still dark, and his light didn’t pick us up at the time, so naturally he didn’t realize he was walking into our photos!). This was the funky result: