Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Basic Photography: What about composition?

I was a painting and drawing instructor for many years. During that time I found that some people just have a natural sense of good composition. Good composition is simply arranging things so that they are pleasing to the eye and interesting to behold. However, there are some basic rules that help improve ones composition, but they also occasionally can be broken under the right circumstances. The image on the left incorporates many of the rules. First I would like to use it to define some terms. Within a photo, painting, or drawing one has to deal with space within the frame of a two dimensional surface. I would like to label these areas of space as positive or negative space. In the image left, the positive space is all the detail of the light and light pole. The negative space is the clear blue sky. You can also think of positive space being the subject. In this photo the subject is the light pole. The light pole creates a stark contrast from the sky. This is not always the case. Many times a plain mono-toned sky is boring and clouds create a dramatic effect, but in this particular image the mono-toned sky helps make the image. This image also provides balance as contrasted with symmetry. Don't get me wrong... there are times when symmetry can be effective, but usually balance is a better device to use. What do I mean exactly? In the image there is a balance of positive and negative space that makes the full frame of the image pleasing to look at. The last thing that I would like to mention about this image is the way in which the pole runs out of the image on the lower left. It is important to have things either run off the page of the image or to be clearly within the confines of the frame. Objects placed too close to the edge are usually distracting.

The image on the right has several aspects of good composition according to the rules of composition. First it is a great example of the rule of thirds.... top third sky, middle third, buildings, bottom third freeway. Just to be clear, thirds can also work horizontally as well as vertically. There is also the rule of diagonals at work in this one. The streets and railroad tracks go back vertically drawing the viewer into the scene. Another compositional piece is selecting the time of day. It is at the end of the golden hour and the beginning of the blue hour. There is enough subject in this one so that many spaces run off the page and some are contained. There is not a concept of negative and positive space so much in this one. However, the focus of the building in the lower left and the buildings running diagonally across the image also helps draw the eye into the entire scene.

The photo on the left is a good example of making the subject the focus of the frame and allowing the background to be muted becoming negative space that enhances the subject. The detail of the brick works to ground the people and the lack of symmetry adds interest. Both of the figures are allowed to run off the page at different places adding interest as well. It is important to have crisp sharp detail with the subject. This image was also taken at a time when the sun was overhead and the lighting is harsh. It adds to the overall brightness of the scene making it work as a candid moment captured in time and space. Another element that adds to the design is the curve of the arms of both grandma and grandson. This is a device that can be used often simply known as repetition. In critiquing the shot, I would say that it would be even more impacting if it were cropped square. While the negative space above the heads works ok, it would be a stronger composition if it were cropped to be a square frame.

Finally the image on the right shows additional aspects of good composition. The truck is placed on the left side of the frame to allow it room to run out of the scene. This helps carry your eye across the entire frame. There is a lot of contrast between the negative and positive spaces within the image. This is also and example of vertical thirds. Finally, I think that this shows a way in which breaking the rules works to add to the composition. The post and pier placed in the center of the frame add interest and make the image just a little off to the point of being interesting. The stark contrast between blue of the sky and the almost black tones under the bridge structure really add over-all interest to the image. I would suggest that you click on all of the images to see them in a larger format to be able to see the detail in each. Keep in mind that rules are made to be broken and you can break them all you want, however, you will only be happy with rule breaking when it works! Please comment and add your experience and perspective. We will cover this again I am quite sure.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Basic Photography: The confusing world of focal length simplified

There are many confusing concepts in photography but one of the most confusing is focal length. The definition of focal length is as follows: "The distance from the surface of a lens to the point of focus." That is easy enough but it depends on the size of the sensor or the film that is the focal point. It is in the size of the sensor or film that a source of confusion enters the conversation. The photo at the left shows a Pentax 35mm camera. I show this because 35mm film and sensors have become the standard for explaining crop factors. I always like to understand it in relationship to what the human eye sees. I can remember, back in the day with the Kodak Instamatic Cameras. I was a young adult in the late 1960's and early 1970's and the Instamatic film camera was a staple to be taken on vacations. When traveling in the mountains out west, and in Appalachia as well, I was always disappointed with any scenery photos that I took. The reason was that they never showed the depth and height of the mountains that I was looking at. I have since found out that the reason was that the focal length for those cameras was very wide angle compared with human vision.

Human vision is close to a 50mm focal length on a 35mm camera. That is likely the reason that most SLR's and other view finder 35mm cameras had a 50mm lens. These cameras most closely mimicked what human vision saw naturally. Therefore, the only camera that focal length is not a source of some confusion is the 35mm film camera and the full frame DSLR. Why am I mentioning this? Well, you need to be aware of crop factors.

As I have stated before in this blog. I own a couple Sony A3000 which are mirroless APS-C cameras which have a crop factor of 1.5. This means that I have to take the focal length of the lens and multiply it by 1.5 to get the equivalent of what a full frame camera would be like. Therefore, if I want to get close to a full frame 50mm lens view, which will mimic human vision, on my APS-C camera, I have to use a 30mm to a 35mm lens. I have a 30mm Sigma f/2.8 lens that actually mimics a 45mm lens on a full frame and it gets me pretty close to human vision. If I use a 35mm lens, i mimic 52.5mm on a full frame camera so both the 30mm and the 35mm will get me close to a 50mm image on a full frame camera. So if you want a view close to what you see with your eyes, and own a APS-C camera, then you will want to choose a 30mm - 35mm lens, or you will want to set a 18-55mm lens on approximately 32.5mm to get that view.

The one thing that you can count on is that point and shoot cameras show their focal lengths in 35mm equivalent terms. So, when they tell you that they have a zoom range from 24mm to 640mm, they are explaining that it 35mm equivalent terms. I hope that I have explained that the main thing to consider is how any focal length will compare with what you see with the naked eye.

Below are some images from my 30mm lens which comes close to human vision.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Basic Photography: Aperture Mode

Aperture mode is exactly what the doctor calls for in portrait photography. The reason is that one can get excellent bokeh with a wide aperture setting on a prime lens. This brings all the focus to the subject. If you are doing manual focus, you can make sure that the eyes are in sharp focus with other parts of the portrait being softer focus moving back to a smooth, delicious bokeh. Set your camera on A priority and make sure that the lens is set to its fastest setting. For example, if it is a f/2.8 set it there, if a f/2 set it there, and if it is a f/1.8 or f/1.4 set it there. You will end up with a professional looking photo that will make you proud.

Above is a photo that was taken with my Sigma 60mm f/2.8 lens. It was on aperture priority setting the camera used a 1/3200 sec exposure with an ISO of 200. If you click on the image it will be enlarged so you can see the way it focuses sharply on the subject, grandma and grandson and blurs the background so that you are not distracted.

Using aperture priority mode when there is a lot of ambient light available works very well. That is the circumstance of the above portrait. With aperture priority mode, the closer you are to the subject and the farther back the background, the more blurred the background and the more bokeh that is present. Below is an example of being close to the subject with a completely blurred background.

This image again was shot with my Sigma 60mm f/2.8 lens wide open.

Now then, if you move away from the closest subjects/objects with a fast lens wide open, you can get all of the background in fairly sharp focus. I use prime lenses wide open in night street photography and have a great amount of success with the results. My Sony A3000 has a native ISO up to 6400 and I find that the results are pretty acceptable all the way to ISO 3200. It is very good at ISO 1600. I have done a lot of hand-held street photography at night and my results are quite acceptable with very little noise.

Both of the above images were shot at night, hand-held with the aperture wide open. This type of photography will become easier to do with much better results as camera sensors continue to improve. Sony has a full frame mirrorless, an A7RII, that has a native ISO that goes over 100,000. It will make unbelievable hand-held low light photos without any noise.

As you can see, aperture priority has a variety of uses that enhance you ability to make photos that you are proud to showcase. I will leave you with additional examples of images shot in aperture priority. Click on all photos to see them enlarged in a slide show format that will allow you to click through them. Also, feel free to comment in the comment section.

Photography Basics: Moving from Auto Mode

All digital cameras, whether point and shoot, mirrorless, or DSLR have an auto function where the camera makes all the decisions for you. It meters the conditions and decides what aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to use. This does not insure however that you get the best image or even the one you want. Equally true is that most all digital cameras, including very inexpensive point and shoot cameras have mode dials that allow you to take more control. Most all cameras, at the very least have the following mode settings: (M) manual, (A) aperture, (S) shutter speed, and (P) programmable. You will find that these more manual modes will give you creative control that you do not otherwise have. Additionally, most digital cameras, especially entry level, whether point and shoot, mirrorless, or DSLR have various scene modes that are set for specific types of photography, such as landscape, portrait, low light, etc.
 Some of these work quite well and some not so much. Quite frankly, when you are out shooting you should try several of these things with a particular point of view so that you can understand what is best for you. To the right is a typical camera mode dial. This one is Nikon I believe, but all are similar, however Canon cameras have Av & Tv in place of A & S.

I shoot a lot of landscapes/cityscapes so I like to use the (A) aperture priority for many of my shots. It allows me to set the aperture opening and ISO and the camera selects the appropriate shutter speed. I also like to under-expose my images so I usually set it for either -.30 or -.70EV. However, I have a friend who shoots mostly street photography and he likes to use (S) shutter speed so that he can make sure he controls whether there is blurring with motion or not. If you are photographing anything moving such as bicycles or motor vehicles you will want to control the shutter speed value.

I also shoot a large number of night or low light images and that can often require (M) manual mode. In this case, you choose the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to get the exact results you want. A lot of night/low light photography requires the use of a tripod. The reason is that many times you want to slow the shutter speed down to having it open for several seconds and if you use a hand-held method you will blur your image beyond recognition. In this way, you can set the aperture to a higher f value that restricts the amount of light coming into the camera. Slow the shutter down to several seconds (4-30) depending on available light, and keep the ISO low (100-200). This gives very crisp images with the lights starred.

Here is an example:

You can see the starring on the lights in this one. If I remember, this is at f/14 with an ISO of 200 and a shutter speed of 8 seconds.

However, with the newer mirrorless, and DSLR cameras, that are capable of higher ISO you can take nice night shots hand held. You must use a prime lens that has a wider aperture and crank the ISO up to 1600 or 3200. This will make hand held shots that are acceptable with little noticeable noise. Your camera should be capable of at least 6400 native ISO and it is better if it is even higher like ISO 12800 and above. The key is having a lens with a fast aperture, at least f/2.8 - f/2 or f/1.8.

Below is an example of a hand-held night shot with a f/2.8 prime lens.

And here is another at even lower light conditions.

I will blog about the other dial settings in more detail in further posts.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Photography Basics: What about sensors?

I think sensor size is a conversation that I would have loved to have heard sooner than later. In the long run, it would have saved me some money. I would not have spent so much on a variety of point and shoot cameras, especially the super zoom bridge cameras that look like DSLR's. Why is sensor size so important? Well, the answer is quite simple and there are several reasons. First, the larger the sensor, the better the detail available. That should just simply make sense, right? Secondly, The larger the sensor the shallower depth of field available. This means that the larger sensor is capable of smoother bokeh in the background. Portraits that have a shallow depth of field (DOF) have those soft, smooth, out of focus backgrounds. Sensor size is not the only factor, aperture also plays a part but in order to get the kind of portraits you want, the bigger the sensor the better.

Here is a diagram showing the relative size of sensors. There are more sizes than this but let me say that this shows the glaring difference between the three most commonly owned cameras, namely, the full frame DSLR or Mirrorless, the APS-C DSLR or Mirrorless, and the point and shoot/bridge camera.

What I want to illustrate here for you is the big difference between the P&S camera's and the full frame or APS-C cameras. However, another thing that you must understand is that the bigger the sensor the more expensive it is to make, and the more expensive it is to make, naturally, the more expensive it is to buy. Therefore, you have to understand the trade-offs you get with the various size sensors. The full frame gives the best photo quality and the greatest dynamic range, however to purchase a full frame camera you will find yourself paying from $1,200.00 US to $4,000.00 US just for the camera without the lenses. The least expensive full frame with lens runs around $1.800.00 US. Yes, full frame cameras are expensive and require deep pockets.

This is why as a developing amateur, I recommend the ASP-C size sensor. Now professional photographers don't get up in arms! I will readily admit that if one is planning on earning a living shooting photos he or she should have a full frame camera. I know that a lot of pro's have an APS-C camera as an emergency back up, but the pro will do better with a full frame. However, there are some really great images made with APS-C sensor cameras and that is exclusively what I shoot. What you get with an APS-C sensor is detail in the foreground, middle, and background. Also, when it comes to shooting portraits, you get super great detail up front. There is greater detail in the eyes, skin, lips, hair etc.

It infuriates me to see someone who has deep enough pockets purchase a full frame camera, but not enough skill to make their photos look any better than a P&S camera. I am on a lot of Facebook groups and believe me, I see photos every day that are shot with expensive full frame cameras that are barely in focus, dull and look like they were shot with the smallest of sensors. Maybe I am just jealous but it still makes me angry :).

Now then, small sensors do have their place. They make it possible to zoom to great distances with a fairly small camera and relatively short lens. An example of this camera is the one bridge camera that I have kept around. It is the Canon SX40 HS. If you look at the photo of my Sony A3000 at the top of this post you will see that it has a very long lens. Further, it's maximum zoom is  215mm (larger with the crop factor but that is another blog article). The Canon pictured to the left has a zoom capability of 840mm. Yes, you read me right, 820mm zoom. It allows some spectacular moon shots with a very small sensor. It has a fixed zoom lens but it allows a range of 24mm to 840mm (in 35mm equivalent terms). Here is a moon shot I took with it.

This was on a tripod, 100 ISO, f/8

This is just scratching the surface of the importance of sensor size but will be sufficient for today. Hopefully I have given you food for thought and you will not waste as much money on P&S cameras as I did. One thing is certain. You can get a lot of really nice images with an APS-C sensor on either a DSLR or a Mirrorless camera.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Photography Basics: Equipping Yourself Part III

We have established the fact that it is probably best for you to invest in an APS-C sensor camera in the beginning. If you are very well off, and you are quite certain you want to do photography regularly, then it may make sense for you to buy a full frame camera. Just be prepared to spend two to three times the amount with both the bodies and lenses.

Next, think carefully about what kind of photography you want to do. By that I mean, do you want to do mostly landscape or portraits? The reason I ask this question for you to consider is that it will make a difference in lens choice. I like variety so I do both, and at times, I combine them. When I think of landscape I also include architectural structures and can mean cityscapes as well. Another common combination of landscape and portrait is street photography. Street photography often incorporates both.

You will find, that in the beginning, the kit lens will be sufficient for all your shooting. Kit lenses usually range in focal length from 18mm to 50 or 55mm. An 18mm focal length is a wide angle and 55mm zooms out to cut down the angle width quite a bit. For most shooting the 18-55mm lens will be sufficient. If you want to shoot at the zoo however, you will likely need a lens with a reach of 55-200mm or 70-300mm. This will allow you to zoom up close when or where you can not walk closer.

The above photo shows my Sony A3000 with a 55-210mm zoom lens on it. This is the lens I use to shoot at the zoo and it is also good for portraits.

Above is a photo I took at the Memphis Zoo.

One of the reasons that I show this image is that many of the starting camera kits have two lenses. In the case of Sony A3000 it was an 18-55mm and the 55-210mm. I have both of those lenses but use them rarely now. The reason is that I have three prime lenses that I use most of the time. A 19mm Sigma for wide angle shots, a 30mm Sigma for most of my landscapes and street shots, and as 60mm for portraits.

The truth is that most all of the shots one wants to take can be accomplished with the most popular two kit lenses. This will work well for you in the beginning but no doubt if you stick to photography for a while you will want to get some prime lenses. I would suggest that you read the first two blog posts in conjunction with this if you have not.

Below I am going to post some of the variety of shots that I do.

Here is a portrait of Vallonda, shot with the Sigma 60mm 2.8 lens

This is a street shot of a down town park in atlanta

This is a covered bridge in Stone Mountain Georgia

In the first three posts I have given you some food for thought in getting your photography equipment. What ever you choose, whether new, used, or expensive full frame gear keep looking for this blog to develop. I will share the techniques and skills that I have gained along the way. This is merely a five year journey so far. I have learned a lot, and quite frankly, I am learning more every day.