Friday, 25 November 2011

Colour Level 1: Week 6

Week 6 saw the review of Assignment 2, Shadows and Shapes. The main brief was to capture interesting shadows and the key point here was to 'control the highlights'. I didn't feel particularly inspired about this exercise, it seemed lacking in reason, though perhaps it was a good exercise. I thought it was going to be about how we could use objects to manipulate light possibly for transfer of skills into the studio setting, but it was more about exposure. Nonetheless, it's always good to practice skills of looking and then taking the photos.

A couple of the photos were taken in very familiar environments (home/commute), and though I had admired the patterns before I hadn't captured them, so it was nice to do so. It was good to see other students efforts, one girl had done a lot of 'posed' situations, some of which were quite dramatic.

Photo 1: View into our neighbours yard.

Photo 2: Front door patterns.

Photo 3: State Library lit by late afternoon sunlight.

Photo 4: Tree on a sidewalk making a nice pattern on the ground.

Photo 5: Walk through Mt Coot-tha Gardens.

Photo 6: Bike shadow, taken on my ride to work.

The rest of class this week was spent discussing flash a bit more (answering questions, and having some more practice, with Manual settings, in the studio downstairs), and some advice on metering, and use of filters such as polariser and graduated neutral density filters.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Exercise 22: Adjusting the balance between person and space

This exercise called for varying the balance between one person and the space they are in, keeping the general viewpoint and composition the same. This seemed to me to be a challenge, because surely, if we keep the viewpoint and composition the same, then the image will be the same! So I had to have a think. I have chosen to photograph my husband as we relaxed by the river on a rare child-free evening last week. The time of day was great for photography - early evening just before sunset, so the light was warm and soft and low angle. I set my WB on manual too, using a slightly warmed Kelvin to keep the nice warm light present in my image.

I chose a moderately low angle first, kneeling on the ground, and using a large aperture to have blurry grass in the foreground:

Next I got down even lower and got some building in the background, dark and providing a nice upper frame to the image, balancing the bright green grass in the foreground:

Then I changed my angle slightly to include more of the wall and less of the grass:

Finally I stood up and shot down on him, giving a totally different perspective:

The result is four quite different images! I think the second image is my favourite out of the set. The view is complimentary, the DOF suitably shallow and the background and foreground are nicely balanced. Another excellent exercise in forcing me to look for many images in one setting.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Colour Level 1: Week 5

This week we started by reviewing the first assignment (the views over the city with ambient and artificial light). Everyone's projects were similar, the changes in colour of the sky through the series was interesting to see repeated in everyone's images. One enthusiastic student had photographed 4 separate views (on 4 nights) which was an impressive effort. I thought Steve did a good job of praising everyone's photographs, and giving suggestions to how we could all improve.

We next started with the hands on use of our speedlight flashes. We again discussed the formula used to select the correct distance your flash needs to be from your subject assuming it is either off the camera or in Manual mode.

D = GN/F

The importance of knowing your _real_ guide number of your flash is important here. I have a 580EX so have attemped a guide number test but came out with something around 44 or so, but did find the whole exercise pretty subjective, so am looking online. Supposedly Canon say the guide no. is 58 but this is unlikely to be true. From this site, it seems like the guide no. at ISO 100, 50mm is 43, which is very close to the 44 that my guide no. test came out with. We are discussing this more next week at class.

We then discussed what white balance to use when using flash. When sources of light are mixed, we need to use the 'dominant' light source. In a room of fluro lights, it seemed that we should use fluro as our setting, but this gives a very strong blue cast to the photos, so we need to use flash (or manual K=6000) as our white balance to give a more accurate colour. We could even use K=6200 to slightly warm the image.

We tried taking some photos, and found that with ETTL in the small room the flash was too strong. We needed to go down to -2 or -3 stops Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC) in order to produce a photo which didn't look obviously 'flashed'.

Then we briefly went downstairs to the studio to take some more photos, some of which I include below as test shots. The first is using the flash pointing straight at the subject, with FEC = 0. A reasonable image, but flash is obviously used.

The second is with the flash still pointing at the subject, with FEC = -1. Here the flash is less obvious, and it is a better photograph.

The third image I'm showing here is a pseudo window lit portrait, created by flashing the subject via the wall - with the flash head pointing at an angle to the wall to throw the light on the subject on the side. This adds some nice shadows on his face, and though is a little obvious in this image, is an improved and more interesting photo than the previous ones.

It was great to get into the flash and immediately I feel more confident about using flash more in my photography.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Colour Level 1: Weeks 3 and 4

Week 3 mostly covered 'What is light?'

We discussed colour temperature for the whole evening, and it was good to chat more about something which I had a basic understanding of before, but had always struggled a little with. I used to shoot using daylight WB (White Balance) and hope that the photo worked out OK! Lately I have been using RAW conversion (I have taken RAW files for years but not used them much) and have found a better workflow which involves me doing some simple post processing in the RAW converter to get a better image and also to fix up the WB which can make a surprisingly big difference to an image!

The discussions in class focussed on the idea of 'get it right in camera' and thus suggest using the K setting (for Kelvin) on the WB selection to tweak the WB in the jpg out of the camera and thus decrease the need for fiddling with raw files. It also improves your knowledge and understanding of how to better use Kelvin (ie to warm up an image or cool it down).

Likewise, the tutor Steve suggests we use total Manual on our SLRs. I generally shoot in either Av or Tv so it is a change to shoot in M. You have to think a bit more but the idea is that we will become better photographers in the process. I do like this thinking and it does require more time & effort which would probably also be good for me...

The diagram below shows the Colour temperature scale, with low numbers representing warm colours (candle etc) and high numbers representing cool colours (eg the deep shade of a building).

The Kelvin scale shows the full range of the color spectrum.
Taken from this site.

This week (4) we discussed Flash. 

Next week will be practical use of flash, so there was a lot of talking tonight, but I found it very useful. We discussed which mode to use (camera and flash) when using an external flash:

Av + TTL: Not a good idea as the shutter speed might go above the sync speed.
Tv + TTL: Better, however this method will mean no choice of DOF and thus less creative control
M + TTL: This is the gold standard. Total control - you set the shutter speed (usually around the sync speed of the camera, mine is 1/250), and then choose the aperture for the DOF you wish to have for your subject. The TTL will fill in the rest.

We discussed using Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC) which usually requires the flash to be turned down 1 to 2 stops if it is being used as fill flash. Another way is to use a diffuser, either the built in one on the flash head, or a Stofen, or a Gary Fong like I have (though have found to be a big bulky some of the time). We also discussed using other methods such as pointing the flash at a ceiling or wall (if it is white and close by) and this will also both diffuse the light and decrease the power.

Then we got into the formulas and discussed guide numbers and how to calculate it for your flash (which I will get onto soon). And then just using the simple formula:

GN = F/D
ie. Guide No. = Fstop/Distance

So decide what your choice is - either you have a specific fstop in mind or you are limited by distance, and then just use the formula to work out what the other variable should be. Don't forget if you shoot off a ceiling or wall these also are included in the distance (ie it's total distance from your Flash to your Subject). That also means that you can set your flash up and then know you can move around your subject as necessary (assuming flash in one place). This was super useful for me so I'm hoping to get some time on the weekend to play with my flash a bit more.

We finished up the evening talking about studio lights and what sort of different things you can stick on the end (soft boxes, spill dishes, snoots etc). A very informative evening all up!

A quick example below of my first experiments using second curtain flash and slow sync.
f/5.6, 1/4s, on camera flash, ISO 100

Learning to fly

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Colour Level 1, Assignment 1

Assignment 1 for Colour Level 1 looks at the relationship between ambient light and artificial light, ideally in the situation of sunset with the sun behind the camera. I had to make two attempts at this because the first attempt turned out to be an unsuitable sunset (totally cloudy) so I left half way through sunset. We were advised to start shooting 20 minutes before sunset, and photograph roughly every 2 minutes, and finish shooting 20 minutes after sunset. We were to keep aperture constant (f/11) and use ISO 100 setting, obviously using a tripod and preferably a cable release. I enjoyed this exercise. I don't get a whole lot of time for photography, most of it is slipped in between toddler naps and outings etc. So this was an hour to myself to go and take a set of photographs which I am fairly happy with.

I thought carefully about the scene, and chose to photograph a pedestrian bridge over the Brisbane river with the city in the background and the nice curving bridge leading the eye through the image. To get this I positioned myself on the William Jolly Bridge which is a lovely viewpoint over the city of Brisbane. The progression of light changes over a 40 minute period is fascinating. I managed to just capture the last light on the buildings, then just prior to sunset there is a certain grey feeling (fortunately a few boats went past at this time to maintain interest). Then as sunset arrives there is little change apart from shutter speeds getting longer and lights starting to come on first on the bridge, and then illuminated signs on the buildings start turning on. As the time after sunset increases the sky turns a beautiful deep blue and the ambient light becomes more obvious and fills parts of the frame with a lovely warmth.

Below are a dozen photographs of my chosen scene.









6:31pm (note f/19)


6:37 (note f/22)


I like the effect enforced by the smallest aperture images - due to the longer shutter speeds the water has a smoother quality than the other photographs. However the building signs are somewhat burnt and blurred in these longer shutter speed images. The progression of light is lovely and I think well captured in this set of photos. Sunset was at 6:04pm and I note that only two of the twelve best photos were taken before this time - so waiting for the golden hour after sunset definitely appears true in this situation.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Colour level 1

I have enrolled in a short photography course based at the Brisbane College of Photography, entitled Colour Level 1. I wanted to get to grips with my flash mostly, having had some challenges using it in anything other than automatic, and thought that this course, conveniently located a 10min cycle from home, would assist me. If I enjoy it I may go back for more advanced modules.

The second class (the first I could attend) was interesting. I obviously have picked up quite a bit of photographic knowledge in the last few years as I was one of the more knowledgeable (or at least more vocal!) in the class, able to answer many questions. It consolidated a few points for me though, and I thought I would use this blog to continue my photographic learning documentation, and I'll post my assignment work here too.

We covered many points without going into too much detail:

  • Slow sync + rear curtain flash - suggested for use with children (I will try this out with my little one)
  • BULB - when to use and how to calculate exposures (its all mathematics, you just need a known quantity and you can determine your shutter open time from there)
  • Partial metering might be a better option than centre weighted or spot
  • Talked about the dynamic range that a camera can cope with (5 to 6 stops), and what we can do to limit the dynamic range in a photograph (use fill flash, use a graduated neutral density filter or use a reflector to light dark areas).
  • Controlling the highlights is the most important thing (not possible to get back later)

We chatted about lots of other things too. I'm looking forward to next weeks class, and have an assignment to complete in the mean time. As much as I enjoy studying with the OCA I like the idea of attending a class and talking photography with other students face to face (particularly since I'm on the other side of the world to most OCA students!)

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Exercise 23: Selective processing and prominence

The aim of this exercise is to use simple post-production techniques to either emphasise a figure or make it less prominent in a setting. I have chosen two photos taken recently at North Stradbroke Island. I was hoping to use this location for Assignment 4 but I don't have a sufficient number of high quality images so won't be using it for my subject unless I can get back in the next month or two.  It is a beautiful location - these two photos were taken at the Gorge Walk, in Point Lookout. North Stradbroke Island is very easy to get to from Brisbane and is a popular location for all sorts of beach related activities and also for wildlife spotting.

Photo 1. First the image as it came out of the raw process. I have increased saturation and the photo shows a nice view through trees to water in the distance with a photographer friend posing for me on a wooden walkway structure. I have only adjusted exposure etc for the whole image in this photograph.

Photo 2. This shows the image as before but this time I have gently dodged over my friends face and upper body using the soft light technique in photoshop. She now stands out better from the trees and is thus more prominent in the photograph.

Photo 3. This image has a very prominent woman in the foreground, in her brightly coloured dress, again taken directly from the raw process, only with exposure/saturation edits to the whole image.

Photo 4. I have used the same technique as before, gently burning in the woman and her bright dress to slightly darken her. She is now less prominent than Photo 3, and in fact I think the photograph as a whole is more successful. She actually looks more tanned in this image too which often would be appreciated in a portrait. The effect is quite subtle on the small images actually...

I have not done this sort of processing before (in fact I just learnt today how to do it for this exercise!) I think it will be very useful to know how to do this kind of minor dodge/burn which is subtle and yet quite effective. I actually think the two edited photographs are improved from the selective processing that I have applied.

Other options for selective processing would be to blur either the fore or background to emphasise the person, but that was not suitable in these cases and in fact I don't yet know how to do it. I'll investigate further and perhaps add another image to this exercise later on.

Assignment 5: People and Place, on Assignment

Brisbane Organic Growers Inc Annual Fair, Sunday 2nd October, 2011

I have chosen to photograph a local fair run by the Brisbane Organic Growers Inc (BOGI). I chose the organising committee as my notional client and my brief was to photograph the fair in all it's parts. This would include setup before the actual fair, the stalls, cafe, vegetable growing competition and auction at the end of the day. This was to be prepared in a short photo essay which would be included in the November newsletter and thus had a deadline of two weeks after the fair.

Having not attended a BOGI fair before, I did some research as to what might happen on the day. I made a list of possible targets for photographing.
  1. Preparation (both the day before and also the morning of the fair)
  2. Cafe ( serving freshly prepared food and home made cakes)
  3. Vegetable growing competition and judging (display?)
  4. Stalls (selling produce, giving advice, demonstrations etc)
  5. Auction of competition items
  6. Tidying up at the end of a long day.

Photo 1. Preparation. Setup area for stalls
17-35mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/6.7, 17mm, 1/90sec, ISO 640, natural light.

Photo 2. Preparation. Menu
50mm f/1.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/4.5, 50mm, 1/90sec, ISO 640, bounce flash.

Photo 3. Preparation. Red check tablecloth
17-35mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/4.5, 17mm, 1/45sec, ISO 640, bounce flash.

Photo 4. Cafe. Preparing cupcakes in the kitchen
17-35mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/2.8, 19mm, 1/60sec, ISO 1000, diffuser on flash.

Photo 5. Cafe. The first punters arrive
17-35mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/4.5, 17mm, 1/45sec, ISO 1000, diffuser on flash.

Photo 6. Cafe. Choosing and Paying
17-35mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/6.7, 17mm, 1/45sec, ISO 1000, diffuser on flash.

Photo 7. Stalls. Forbidden Fruits Nursery
17-35mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/11, 17mm, 1/180sec, ISO 640, natural light.

Photo 8. Stalls. Tropical Fruits trio
17-35mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/5.6, 17mm, 1/90sec, ISO 640, diffuser on flash.

Photo 9. Stalls. Tea for sale
50mm f/1.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/5.6, 50mm, 1/250sec, ISO 500, natural light.

Photo 10. Competition. Viewing the entries
50mm f/1.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/2.8, 50mm, 1/90sec, ISO 500, natural light.

Photo 11. Competition. A young prizewinner
50mm f/1.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/5.6, 50mm, 1/60sec, ISO 640, diffuser on flash.

Photo 12. Auction. Graeme and Charlie call the auction
50mm f/1.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/3.5, 50mm, 1/60sec, ISO 640, diffuser on flash.

Photo 13. Auction. Bidding
50mm f/1.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/5.6, 70mm, 1/60sec, ISO 640, diffuser on flash.

Photo 14. Auction. A young bidder
70-200mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/6.7, 120mm, 1/60sec, ISO 640, diffuser on flash.

Photo 15. End of the day
70-200mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/6.7, 125mm, 1/60sec, ISO 640, natural light.

From Penny, BOGI vice president: 'Your photo story depicts from setup to cleanup and so much of the colour in-between, really wonderful.' It's a pleasure being able to provide a great set of photos to a client.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Assignment 5: People and Place, on Assignment

I have taken photos for Assignment 5. A good opportunity came up in the form of the annual BOGI Fair (Brisbane Organic Growers Association). Being interested in organic gardening, I joined the club recently and heard about the fair. I decided to set myself the task of photographing it and making a short photo essay, perhaps for the clubs monthly magazine. The fair was held last weekend, and I went along on Saturday afternoon to meet the organising committee and take some photos of them setting up for the fair. I then went back on Sunday to photograph the stalls being set up, the punters arriving, the busy cafe, the vegetable growing competition and resulting auction, and the tidy up at the end of the day. It was a busy and tiring day for me and quite challenging photographically. I was the official 'BOGI' photographer for the day which helped when people were asking what I was doing and I found it often broke the ice when chatting to people, then stepping back to take their photo and then thank them afterwards. The light conditions were very challenging and definately made me realise the limitations of my (now getting a bit old!) Canon 30D in terms of low light / high ISO and resultant noise.

My brief that I set myself was to prepare a short photo essay (perhaps 12 to 15 photos) for the December BOGI magazine.  In addition I was asked to take one photo that says BOGI Fair... not sure it that is actually achievable but I will take a look through the photos! And they would also like a slideshow of photos for the December meeting. This means a large number of photos that I am happy to show which is not what I initially had in mind. So my first aim will be the photo essay and then I will try to process enough images to have a short (probably 100 photo) slideshow. It's been a great experience taking the photos and now I just need to spend the time working on them and trying to get rid of some noise in the worst images.

Here is one example of the fair, taken on Sunday morning.

f/4, 1/90, ISO 640, 35mm, flash with diffuser

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Online Art

I discovered  last year that the Tate Britain has its entire collection online! That's amazing. (link here).
There is just so much art online now, it means that even people in remote parts of the world (I don't actually think Australia is remote, even though it does feel that way occasionally) can view excellent art. Virtual tours such as the fantastic google art project make art really accessible - and as 3D imagery (ie 3D screens etc) improves this will mean we can almost 'walk' around art galleries from anywhere in the world (and the quality of the reproductions are really excellent).

This, combined with the growing number of blogs means that we can access a world of inspiring photography and art from anywhere. Now the problem is finding the time for this and balancing it with spending time working on my own art. I attempt to do this by alternating reading of blogs/books one evening and working on my own photography the next (although sometimes the balance changes if I have a particular project I'm working on). If my own work is getting a bit staid, then I do more reading of blogs or books.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Exercise 16: Exploring function... revisted

When I first did this exercise (see post here), I commented that I would like to revisit it using another space. Since I took myself off to the hairdresser last week to take photos specifically exploring function, I thought it would be good to post here under a revision of Exercise 16. I've already posted about the hair salon so I won't go into too much more detail about the process, but will make some comments as to how it relates to Exercise 16.

Firstly, the intention of use is clear - it is a place for getting your hair cut... also, vitally important is that the client must feel good about themselves, preferably beautiful and pampered. It also has to be practical, well lit, easy to move around and spacious. In this case all boxes are ticked.

Who uses it? The hairdresser and clients. I only considered the front area, but it is very pleasant to be in, with large windows and lots of lighting and mirrors which emphasizes the space. Most of the walls are white except for the back 'feature wall' which is black.

What is it used for? Discussed already - cutting hair/ pamper.

Now for my ...carefully considered photograph... well I have already posted the best 5 taken on the day, but in terms of function, I think an overview photograph is the best for showing how the space is used as I have discussed above.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Hair Salon

I decided to challenge myself by asking to take some photos at the local hair salon. I had planned initially to use this for one of the projects but decided to just go and take the best set of photos I could to capture the feeling of the salon.  I like it because the area is bright and fresh feeling, and the chairs and decor is clean and modern. I had some ideas about what I would shoot (I was not going to include customers as the owner didn't want that), mostly thinking about what the features of the salon were, and perhaps what would be required if I was asked to capture the feeling of the space for a client for example.

I went before work one morning, and had about half an hour to photograph, which was ample time as I was only using one camera and lens, my normal 24-70mm f2.8 which covers most situations, and was not going to use any artificial lighting. I started by taking some photos of product with the salon out of focus in the background, but felt these didn't work that well - perhaps I should have decreased my aperture? I forgot how much less light there is in artificially lit buildings than outside! Most of my work lately has been outside with only the odd shoot inside. Anyway, I set my ISO to 400 and used relatively large apertures which worked well with some images more so than others. I like using a smallish depth of field to focus on areas of interest and I quite like the blurring effect that this gives.

I tried getting down low and found this to be quite effective in changing how things looked. I also shot along the chairs which worked well, and tried shooting almost straight down on the scene, though I'm not very tall this also changed how things looked. I liked the idea of shooting into the mirrors reflecting other mirrors creating the 'endless' kind of view. An interesting idea photographically which I have used before (for example in Assignment 1: Photo 4).

I also photographed the owner as he spoke on the phone at the front desk - he is quite blurred in the background, and the bright lights behind him are blown out but the focus is still on the chairs in front. I also needed a couple of overview shots - I thought it was important to get the name of the salon included in a photo, and also have a more zoomed out view of the whole area.

The shoot itself went well - I didn't take too long and didn't get in the way of the owner and workers setting up, which was important to me as it was a favour of sorts (which might have been hard to refuse given I am a client!). I managed to get a good variety of photographs which I am pleased with. I remembered to shoot key photos both horizontally and vertically to give me good choice in the post-processing to see what works best.

Post-processing was somewhat of a challenge. I shot all the photos with sunlight white balance, thinking that I could easily correct in post. However my skills are not great with correcting white balance - a couple of shots were great but others were harder to correct. This is an area I need to improve on, and I suspect my next course will be the Digital photography 1 course so I can force myself to learn some more skills.

Anyway, here are the photos, I am pleased to have a set of 5 photos to show for my efforts and will be providing these to the owner for use under Creative Commons licensing.