Technique

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One of the key elements for obtaining the proper exposure of your images when working in Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority modes is making use of Exposure Compensation.  Although all the exposure related settings of a dSLR are intimately intertwined (such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO setting plus the exposure metering mode you are using, etc.) and it is challenging to speak of one without addressing the others, I will focus here on exposure compensation and when and how to use it.

The following text is excerpted from my e-book guide Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography, where you can learn more about exposure compensation plus apertures, shutter speeds, exposure metering modes, composition and more.  Click on the cover at the end of the post to learn more about the guide, preview it, or purchase it.

Why Exposure Compensation is Needed

If you take an image that turns out to be darker or lighter than you desire, based on reviewing the image and/ or its histogram on your rear LCD screen, you can use exposure compensation in the non-Auto shooting modes to “override” the exposure that the camera is selecting, in order to brighten or darken the next image’s exposure.  You may want to do this if you have seen that your highlights have run off the right side of the histogram and been blown-out, resulting in complete loss of detail in those areas of the image.  Consult your manual to determine how to adjust exposure compensation on your specific camera.  With some Canon models, you press the Exposure Compensation [+/-] button and turn the Main Dial.  With other Canon models you use the Quick Control Dial to adjust this setting.  With Nikon, Sony, Pentax, and Olympus models you typically press the Exposure Compensation [+/-] button and turn a dial.  You will then see the exposure compensation amount change in your viewfinder and/ or on the top or rear LCD screen.  If the exposure level indicator in one of these places is not changing, press the shutter button half-way to first wake up the camera, or move/ press the Lock switch/ button near the rear dial on a Canon.

Putting Exposure Compensation to Use

If you have taken a photo that is too dark and you wish to retake the image and make the next exposure of the scene lighter, adjust exposure compensation in the positive (+) direction.  To make the next exposure darker, adjust exposure compensation in the negative (-) direction.  Try changing the Exposure Compensation by perhaps 1/3, 1/2, or 2/3 in the direction you desire, retake the shot, and see if your exposure problem is solved.  Increase or decrease the exposure compensation as needed.  Remember to set the exposure compensation back to zero when you are done with that situation and move on to take different images!  This is one reason why you should check your camera’s settings often – to make sure you haven’t left the camera on the settings from a previous situation.  This can often happen with the ISO setting and exposure compensation setting.  Check your current settings on the top or rear LCD display or in the viewfinder.

To remember how to compensate – which direction to turn the dial – think of the histogram peaks on the graph.  If you wish to shift the peaks to the left, to the darker side, to make the image darker, turn the dial so that the exposure compensation level moves to the negative side (-1, -2, etc.).  If you wish to shift the peaks to the right, to the lighter side, to make the image lighter, turn the dial so that the exposure compensation level moves to the positive side (+1, +2, etc).  Curiously, some cameras put the negative side of the exposure level indicator on the left, and others put it on the right, so look in the manual or viewfinder to see how yours operates.

Bracketing

Exposure compensation can also be used to “bracket” an exposure.  Bracketing is when you take at least three photos of the same scene, one at the “proper” exposure, one under-exposed, and one over-exposed (see the image below).  For example you may take the second and third shot with the exposure compensation set at +1 and then -1.  This is done to ensure that you capture exactly the right exposure you desire.  In the days of film this was a helpful technique, especially for critical situations, since one didn’t have the immediate feedback of the image on an LCD screen and a histogram.  It can still be used today for critical situations or for test shots when determining the right exposure settings.  Digital SLR cameras typically have an auto exposure compensation feature so that this process is more automated.  You set the amount of under- and over-exposure desired (such as +1, -1 or +1 2/3, -1 2/3) and then take three images in a row.  The camera automatically adjusts the exposures for each shot in order to bracket the second and third shots.  If your camera is set on continuous drive mode, you can just hold down the shutter button and the camera will take the three shots in a row.


Weaver Constructing the Keshwa Chaca, Huinchiri, Peru – Three bracketed exposures of the same scene:  the “proper” exposure as determined by the camera (Evaluative metering mode) in the center, under-exposed -2/3 stop on the left, over-exposed +2/3 stop on the right.  The desired exposure, for my eye, lies somewhere between the “proper” exposure and the over-exposure.  With auto exposure bracketing you can often customize the order that the bracketed images are taken, for example proper/under/over or under/proper/over.  In this example they were taken proper/under/over, so they are displayed here in a different order than actually captured.  Center exposure:  Shutter speed 1/1000, aperture f/5.0, ISO 100, focal length 105mm.

Exposure compensation and bracketing are also used in HDR (high dynamic range) photography to take three or five or more photos of the same scene at various exposures.  All the images are then combined by the photographer, using HDR software, into a single image which will contain a much broader dynamic range of light and dark than is possible with a single image.

Beyond Exposure Compensation

As I mentioned at the start, exposure is determined by a number of controls and settings on your dSLR.  If you are consistently taking images that are under- or over-exposed, you may wish to explore the other metering modes, to ensure that the camera is metering your exposures exactly where and how you want.  Have a look at my previous post on Exploring Metering Modes to learn more about this, or have a look at my e-book guide Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography to learn about all the aspects of exposure and how they relate.

 

Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography is an e-book guide to help digital SLR photographers take control of their camera and the images they create.

tips tricks photography dslr learn use manual instruction tutorial for dummies guide

Capturing great images with your dSLR should not be the occasional result of chance and luck.  By taking control of your camera, its functions, and its settings you can begin to work with consistency and intention and take the photos you desire.

Readers of my popular dSLR camera guides such as Nikon D5100 Experience and Your World 60D have benefited from the clear and concise explanations of digital SLR photography functions and concepts. With Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography all photographers can learn these essential elements necessary for taking full advantage of a dSLR including how, when and why to use the camera’s various functions and settings.

With this guide you will learn:

  • Controlling Your Autofocus System – focus where you want for sharp photos of still and moving subjects.
  • Understanding Apertures and using Aperture Priority Mode to capture dramatic depth of field.
  • Understanding Shutter Speed and using Shutter Priority Mode to freeze or express action.
  • Choosing the Metering Mode, Adjusting Exposure Compensation, and Using the Histogram for proper exposure in all lighting situations.
  • Determining proper ISO Settings and White Balance Settings.
  • Selecting JPEG or RAW image file format to save your images.
  • Improving Image Composition.
  • The Image Taking Process – a tutorial making use of all the steps learned.
  • …and more!

These are not simply photography “tips and tricks” but rather clear, concise, and useful explanations and examples of the fundamental functions, settings, and concepts of digital SLR photography. This 54 page illustrated PDF guide can help the novice or intermediate photographer better understand their camera and how to use it to its full capabilities to consistently capture better images, whether you shoot with a Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony, or Olympus dSLR camera.

Author:  Douglas Klostermann
Format:  PDF – Instant Download
Page Count:  54 pages, illustrated
ISBN:  978-1-4524-4764-3
Price: $8.99 new release sale!  $6.99
secure payment with PayPal or Credit card (via PayPal)
(plus 6.25% sales tax for residents of Massachusetts)

Buy Now with PayPal  or  Buy Now with your Visa/MC

 

Other versions of Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography are available:

The Kindle edition is available on Amazon
The Nook version is available at BarnesandNoble.com
The iPad and iBooks version is available through iTunes or through the iBooks App on your iPhone/iPad

Take control of your dSLR camera and the images you create!

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I recently received some interesting questions from two different readers on my posts about the Nikon D5100, Nikon D5100 vs D7000 vs D90 etc. and Nikon D5100 vs. Canon T3i.  Both questions point out interesting issues with the Nikon D5100 that may be important considerations if your shooting needs required these functions, or that might not affect you and your shooting at all if, like me, you never use manual exposure control in video and/ or you don’t use Live View (and M mode) when shooting stills.

Here is the first question and my reply:

Question 1:

I wanted to ask about a major differentiator, if its true and useful for someone trying to learn a bit of manual photography. Below link and video talks about D90 and D5100 not having the ability to do manual control in video. Is it true? Does it really matter. Please advise.

(video is no longer available on YouTube)

I would also like some instructions on how to use manual control – when, why, how.

Nikon D5100 mode dial video manual exposure a s m aperture shutter
Mode dial of the Nikon D5100

My Answer:
Yes, the lack of full manual control in video mode is a very real deficiency of the of the Nikon D5100, especially for people who wish to seriously use it for video.  To answer your question “does it really matter?”, yes, it really matters if you wish to have straightforward, full manual control while shooting video.  I know that sounds like a smart-ass response to the question, but it is kind of like “if it isn’t an iPhone, it isn’t an iPhone,” blatantly stolen from “if you had invented Facebook, you would have invented Facebook.”

Wait a minute, I just realized that I was ahead of the curve and I wrote this similar smart-ass phrase before that movie even came out:
“If the 5D Mk II fits your expanding and demanding needs as a photographer, you would already pretty much know that you needed a 5D.”
See, look here, I said that earlier than August 26, 2010, and the movie came out Oct 1, 2010, and I didn’t even see it until a couple months ago!

Anyway, if you need full manual control in video, you know that you need full manual control in video based on your experience and needs, and then you need your camera to have full manual control in video.  Simple, right?  But…do you not know yet but wonder are you going to need it in the future if you grow and develop as a photographer/videographer?  That is the big unknown that no one can answer but one needs to figure out on an individual basis!

However, there is a “work-around” for this shortcoming of no full manual exposure control with the Nikon D5100.  To manually set your shutter speed, you must set the camera on Shutter-Priority Auto Mode (S) and set your desired shutter speed before going into Live View mode, use exposure compensation to obtain the aperture setting you want, and use the AE-L/AF-L Button to lock that exposure (set Custom Setting f2 for AE-Lock Hold).  If you wish to first set the aperture setting, you must set the camera on Aperture-Priority Auto Mode (A) and set your desired aperture before going into Live View mode, use exposure compensation to obtain the shutter speed setting you want, and use the AE-L/AF-L Button to lock that exposure (set Custom Setting f2 for AE-Lock Hold).

See this video I came across on YouTube for a demonstration:

As far as instruction in manual control (for still photography), see my Full Stop dSLR camera guide e-books, of course!  I don’t go into a lot of detail of full manual (M) because I don’t feel it is necessary for most beginner or intermediate photographers in most situations.  I don’t believe in M for the sake of old-school, full control, “look, I’m a skilled photographer/ martyr ‘cuz I use full manual.” It just adds an extra step (setting BOTH aperture and shutter speed rather than just one) to each photo that isn’t necessary.  Let the camera do it for you.  Pick your priority:  Aperture or Shutter Speed.  Are you concerned with depth of field (aperture) or with freezing or blurring action (shutter speed)?  Set your aperture in A (Av) mode or else set your shutter speed in S (Tv) mode, and let the camera take care of the other setting.

I know that many photographers like working in M mode, but if you are wondering if you need to use it: if you haven’t encountered a need for it, you don’t have a need for it. The aperture setting is typically my priority, hence I use Aperture Priority Mode.  Here is a detailed explanation of how I use Aperture Priority in the real world:  Deconstructing the Shot.

As my e-books say about possible situations for using M:

“There are times you may wish to use Manual Exposure Mode.  For example, if you are taking several photos to stitch together into a panorama, you want them all to be taken with the same exposure so that the lighting is consistent across the entire scene. Or if you are working in a studio setting and the lighting will remain consistent, you can set the exposure once and then not worry about it. Or in any other situation where the lighting or your desired exposure will remain consistent such as an indoor performance or sunny day portrait session where the lighting does not change.”

And I know that other situations also demand or benefit from M mode, including macro situations, but many of those situations fall under the “any other situation where the lighting or your desired exposure will remain consistent” category.  Readers, please defend M to me and tell me why you use it!

Question 2:

When I used the Nikon D5100 at a nearby camera store in Live View and Manual (M) mode, it never quite seemed to register ANY of the changes I made to shutter:  the image is supposed to go dark as the shutter speed increases right? (I was in a moderately lit room).  The weird part is that the actual image captured was dark (like it should be) but not the preview!  Is there some setting on the Nikon that is wrong on the piece I tested?  If the camera can’t display the changes it is making during Live View – leaving me to approximate the changes I’m making, then that is a deal breaker for me. I am wondering if this is a bug that was only on the piece that I saw at the showroom, or if you saw it too.

My Answer:

That is a really great question! These are the kinds of features one really has to dig into the camera, menus, or manual of a new dSLR model to determine if it is actually going to meet your needs.

It turns out that no, it is not possible to see actual exposure simulation with the Nikon D5100 in Live View while in Manual M shooting mode. However, in the P, A, or S shooting modes, the live view image will lighten or darken to simulate the exposure settings or the exp. compensation that you set. And to add insult to injury, there is no exposure meter displayed on the Live View screen, so to check your exposure you will need to temporarily leave Live View and switch to the control panel view by pressing the [i] Button.

The Canon 60D and Canon Rebel T3i both have Exposure Simulation in all modes during Live View. On the 60D you can turn this feature off and on. On the T3i it is on automatically while in Live View.

Conclusion:

Now, if you are thinking of buying a Nikon D5100 and after reading this you are suddenly concerned that it is lacking important features that you might need…be sure to first determine if you, indeed, really even need these features.  They shouldn’t be anything to worry about if you are never going to use them and never going to encounter these issues.  For example, I would never encounter the first issue, the lack of full manual control in video, because I don’t shoot video.  If you plan to use the camera to shoot production quality, professional video, this is pretty important.  If you plan to switch over to video and shoot a kid’s sporting event, it is unlikely you are going to shoot this in Manual and so it doesn’t matter.

Regarding the second issue, do you plan to use live mode AND manual shooting mode (M) AND need to preview your image exposure at the same time?  I rarely use M mode and I rarely use Live View and I rarely preview my exposure in Live View if I do use it, so for me and my photography, it will be “rare x rare raised to the rare power” (or (rare x rare) rare or is it merely rare x (rare) rare ?) that I need to use Live View AND M mode AND preview what my exposure will be.  If I needed to, I think I could get by with A mode instead, where the Exposure Simulation in Live View functions on the D5100.  But, if you are like the reader who had this question and you have a real need for this, say shooting cool macro shots of flowers and insects, then you will need to consider the Nikon D7000, Canon T3i, or Canon 60D instead.

When I got my first dSLR camera, I went through the manual and tried to absorb how and why to use all the buttons, controls, and menu items.  I was about to head off to Peru for three months and I wanted to make sure I was going to be able to use it properly and get the most out of it right from the start.

For some reason it seemed odd to me that when you pressed the shutter button half-way both the focus AND the exposure were locked in.  I had never used an auto-focus SLR before (I went from a Canon AE-1 to a digital point and shoot and missed the whole EOS film SLR era) and always thought of focusing and setting the exposure as two separate acts.  Based on my experience with a digital point and shoot, I knew I often focused on the subject with the static middle square (this was several years ago, before face detection and moving auto-focus areas) and then recomposed to take the final shot.  With a dSLR, I thought to myself, wouldn’t the exposure change between the framing where I locked in the focus and exposure, and the final framing?  Even if using the other focus points of the dSLR and not just the center focus point, I found that my subjects rarely sat right under a focus point and I was often recomposing in order to get the composition I wanted.

I asked a few dSLR users about this, and they looked at me as if I had a Rocket Blower growing out of my head.  They didn’t seen to encounter or consider this problem.  So I dug into the manual and the very helpful David Busch digital SLR guide and discovered I could overcome this issue with exposure lock.  Indeed, this was a real issue that was addressed by dSLR controls, and I wasn’t out of my mind!

Canon 7D 60D T3i exposure lock focus lock back button focus Nikon D5100 D7000 AE-L AF-L
The Exposure Lock (*) Button and AF-ON Button of the Canon 7D

There are typically a few different ways to separate exposure lock and focus lock with current dSLR camera.  As described above, you can use the exposure lock button to first lock exposure, and then deal with focusing.  With a Canon this is done by pressing the button marked “*”.  With a Nikon, you can set the AE-L/AF-L button for auto exposure lock (hence AE-L).  But since Nikons by default don’t typically lock exposure with a half-press of the shutter button, you really don’t have to worry about it for the same reasons that you do with a Canon (such as when you are recomposing a shot, since the Nikon only locks focus and not exposure with a shutter button half-press, and then determines exposure when the shot is taken, exposure should be correct).

For a Canon you can also set it so that the half-press of the shutter button will lock exposure but not focus, and then use the AF-ON button to lock focus (the T3i does not have this button, thus it is done differently).  This is one method of what is called back-button focusing.  This can also be done with a Nikon using the AE-L/AF-L button for auto focus lock (hence AF-L).  You typically have to dig into the custom function settings on any of the cameras to change these settings and button functions.  The terminology can be confusing, so you may want to have a look at any of my e-book user’s guides which all discuss how to accomplish exposure lock and focus lock with the specific cameras.  So far I have guides for the Canon 60D and Rebel T3i, and Nikon D5100 and D7000.  You can learn more about them all here on my Full Stop e-book website.

For example with the Canon 60D, I explain how you can go into the menus and set the Shutter Button to Metering+AF Start and the AF-ON Button to AF Stop.  This setup will allow you to use the camera as you always have, in the default manner of the Shutter Button locking focus and exposure when pressed halfway.  The “*” button functions as before, locking exposure at any time when pressed.  But this also gives you the option of locking focus independent of exposure metering.  It is the best of both worlds.

Learning to use back-button focus and even exposure lock can be awkward at first, and you may not fully understand why it is necessary.  But I highly recommend starting to experiment with it, then hopefully getting in the habit of using it all the time – especially if you shoot a lot of action scenes or situations where you are rapidly taking lots of photos (perhaps a wedding and reception).  You may soon find it indispensable and wonder how you once managed without it!

Canon has an article about back-button focusing which explains all the various options here:

http://www.usa.canon.com/dlc/controller?act=GetArticleAct&articleID=2286

It is not specific to any camera, so you may have to determine how to implement it on your camera.

Learn How to Use the Nikon D5100 Autofocus System

The autofocus system of the Nikon D5100 may not be quite as complicated as the 39 point AF system of the Nikon D7000, but it does offer many of the same capabilities and options, and can be a little confusing to figure out.  The autofocus system includes not only the three Focus Modes used in various combinations with four Autofocus Area Modes, but also includes a few Custom Settings as well as the optional AF-L or Autofocus Lock Button.

Nikon D5100 autofocus system AF focus mode autofocus area mode
Image by author – copyright 2011 – please do not use without permission!

You will first want to set up the autofocus Custom Settings so that the AF system functions how you desire.

a1: AF-C priority selection – This setting determines if attaining focus is top priority when you are in Continuous-servo AF mode (AF-C autofocus mode), or if you just want the shots to be taken even if exact focus is not attained for each shot.  If exact focus is your priority, set on Focus.  If getting the shots at all costs is the priority, set for Release.

a2: Built-in AF-assist illuminator – This is used to enable or disable the autofocus assist light, to assist you in autofocusing in low light.  Note that the AF-assist lamp only works in AF-S mode or when the camera is in AF-A and choosing single-servo (not always under your control), and when in Auto-area AF area mode or only with the center AF point in other AF area modes.

a3: Rangefinder – This setting is used to help obtain focus when you have turned off autofocus and are using Manual Focus mode (MF) and manually focusing.  (Be sure to also set the autofocus switch on your lens to M)  The exposure indicator in the viewfinder is used to indicate if the subject is correctly in focus.

f2: Assign AE-L/AF-L button – This is to assign the function of the AE-L/AF-L Button., which gives you the option to use this button to lock focus or to initiate focus, and this separate those functions from the Shutter Button.

This should get you started, and I go into more detail about each of these Custom Settings, as well as all the other D5100 Custom Settings in my e-book guide Nikon D5100 Experience.

Using Autofocus
The information below is also excerpted from my e-book user’s guide Nikon D5100 Experience, so I hope you have a look at the guide in order to learn more about the AF system as well as all the other functions and controls of the D5100.

One of the essential steps in taking a successful photo is controlling where the camera focuses.  If you allow the camera to autofocus by choosing its own Focus Point(s), it typically focuses on the closest object or human subject.  This may or may not be what you want to focus on.  So you should choose where the camera focuses using the autofocus Focus Points and selecting a specific AF point.  This does not mean you have to manually focus the camera, it means you tell the camera exactly where to autofocus.  But you also need to select the desired Focus Mode and Autofocus Area Mode, based on your subject and its type of movement (or lack of movement).

Focus Modes

The D5100 has three different Focus Modes to choose from, typically depending if your subject is still or moving.  It also has four different Autofocus Area Modes (see below) to specify how many of the AF points are active and how they track a moving object.  You can set these two functions in various combinations.  First the Focus Modes.

Single-Servo AF (AF-S)
Use this mode when your subject is stationary, or still and not going to move, or if your subject is not going to move very much, or if the distance between you and the subject is not going to change between the time you lock focus, recompose, and take the shot.  Lock focus on the subject and recompose if necessary.  When using AF-S, you can select from two Autofocus Area Modes, either Single-Point AF where you select the AF point, or Auto-Area AF, where the camera selects the AF point(s) for you.  I suggest you nearly always select your own desired AF point so that the camera focuses exactly where you want it to.

Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C)
Use this mode when your subject is moving.  If the subject is moving towards you or away from you, the camera will keep evaluating the focus distance, as long as the Shutter-Release Button is kept half-pressed.  You will need to use this in conjunction with the Autofocus Area Modes to determine if and how the camera tracks the subject laterally to the surrounding AF points, or if it will only track the subject if it remains at the initially selected AF point.  Single-Point AF will only track the subject’s distance as it moves near or far if it remains under the selected point.  It will not track lateral movement if the subject leaves the selected AF point.  If the subject is going to be moving somewhat unpredictably and may leave your selected AF point before you can react, use the Dynamic-Area AF mode so that the surrounding AF points are used to maintain focus while you realign your selected AF point with the subject.  If the subject is going to be moving across your field of view, set the AF-Area Mode to the 3D-Tracking mode so that the camera tracks it in any direction as it moves to the other AF points.

Focus on the moving subject with the selected AF point when using Dynamic Area Mode or 3D-Tracking Mode, or let the camera select the AF point in Auto-Area AF Mode, and then as long as the Shutter-Release Button remains half-pressed the camera will track the subject to the other focus points if it moves to them and as it moves closer or farther in distance.

Auto-Servo AF (AF-A)
This mode is a hybrid of the two other focus modes.  It starts in Single-Servo AF (AF-S) mode then changes to Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) mode if your subject starts moving.  Why shouldn’t you use this all the time, then?  Well, if you are focusing and then recomposing, as you may often be doing, your movement of the camera may fool it into thinking that the subject is moving and your resulting focus may not be where you want it to be, or may not be as accurate as it might be if you are using Single-Servo AF.

Manual Focus
Sometimes you may be taking several photos of the same subject from the same distance, or for some other reason want to keep the same focus distance and not have to keep re-focusing and re-composing.  Or you may be taking multiple photos for a panorama.  In these situations, turn off the auto-focus with the autofocus switch on the lens itself (set to M) and change your camera’s Focus Mode to MF (Manual Focus).  Just remember to switch them back when you are finished.  You may also wish to do this if you want to precisely manually focus with the focus ring on your lens.  (Note that for lenses with “full time manual focus” you don’t need to switch to M in order to manually override when slightly tweaking the autofocus with the lens focus ring.  These lenses will have M/A and M on the lens focus mode switch instead of A and M.)  Use the Rangefinder feature of the D5100 to assist with manual focus – Custom Setting a3.

Autofocus Area Modes

The Autofocus Area Modes are used to set if just a single AF point is active or else how many AF points surrounding your selected AF point will be used to track a moving subject if you are using AF-C or AF-A Focus Modes.

Nikon d5100 autofocus af auto focus system lock point area mode
Selecting an AF Point using Single-Point AF and locking focus

Single-Point AF
Only one AF point will be active, and surrounding AF points will not become active to track a subject that moves away from the one selected point.  This is typically used along with Single-Servo AF (AF-S) to focus on a stationary or still subject, or in a situation where you will be reframing the shot after you lock focus at a specific distance.  It can also be used with accuracy with AF-S mode for moving subjects if you take the photo quickly or if you recompose and take the shot quickly after locking in focus, especially if the camera-to-subject distance does not change at all or very much in that period between locking focus and taking the photo.  Use the Multi Selector to choose your active AF point as you look through the viewfinder and use the OK Button to quickly select the center AF point.  If you choose Single-Point AF with Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) or Auto-Servo AF (AF-A) for tracking moving subjects, it will only track the subject as long as it is positioned at the selected AF point, and it will not be tracked laterally to the other, surrounding points.  As noted above, the single AF point you select will track a subject if it moves closer or farther away, but the AF system will not track the subject if it moves left, right, up, or down and away from your selected AF point.  To do this, you use Dynamic-Area AF mode or 3D-Tracking mode.

Dynamic-Area AF
With the Dynamic-Area AF Mode, you select an AF point to tell the camera where to autofocus, and if your subject briefly moves away from that point to a neighboring point or if you lose the subject from your AF point while panning, the camera will use the surrounding AF points to help maintain focus on it.  Select Dynamic-Area AF when you are photographing moving or potentially moving subjects using Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) or Auto-Servo AF (AF-A).  These modes are ideal for a subject moving closer or further from the camera but which may also move laterally away from the selected AF point faster than you can react in order to keep it located at that point, or for when you are panning and following the subject and attempting to keep it located at the selected AF point, but may have a little or a lot of difficulty doing so.  Remember that you need to keep the Shutter Button half-pressed in order for the continuous focusing at the initial point or the surrounding points to occur.  Note that the camera may pick up and start tracking a new subject that falls under the selected AF point if you lose your initial subject.

The Dynamic-Area AF Mode is not used to track and maintain focus on a subject that is moving across the various AF points in the frame, but rather is used to stay focused on a moving subject that you attempt to keep located at your selected AF Point.  To track a subject that is moving across the frame, intentionally passing from one AF point to the next, use 3D-Tracking.

3D-Tracking
This mode is used for subjects moving across the frame in any direction, or subjects moving erratically from side-to-side in the frame, and they are tracked by areas of color.  This is used when you don’t wish to necessarily pan or follow the subject to keep it located in the same part of the frame, but rather when you wish to keep the camera relatively still as the subject moves across the frame.  You may select this option when you are tracking and photographing moving subjects using Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) or Auto-Servo AF (AF-A).  Again, you choose the initial AF point to locate the subject and begin the tracking.  If the area of color you wish to track is too small or if it blends into the background, this mode might not be very effective.

Auto-Area AF
The camera uses all 11 AF points to detect what it thinks is the subject and automatically choose the appropriate AF point(s).  Typically, the camera will select the nearest subject or a human in the frame, so it may not focus on exactly what you wish to focus on.  That is why it is best to use one of the other modes and select the AF point yourself.  However in certain situations such as quick sports or action scenes you may have to make use of this.

Locking Focus

The next step is to learn to lock focus independent of locking exposure, typically through the use of the AE-L/AF-L Button as noted in the f2 Custom Setting above.  But for that, and numerous other important functions of the D5100, you are going to have to have a look at my e-book, Nikon D5100 Experience!
Nikon D5100 book user guide manual download ebook

I’ve put together a video introduction to the D5100 autofocus system to compliment this article:

To learn about another important reason why you need to take control of your autofocus system, see the related post:

Don’t Let the Locations of the AF Points Dictate Your Composition

What do you do when, with your desired framing, your subject is not located exactly under or near an AF point? Even with all the AF points of an advanced Nikon D5100 or D7000, this will often be an issue.  Have a look at the above post to learn why this is an issue and how to resolve it.

Was this post helpful?  Please let others know about it by clicking the Facebook or Twitter sharing buttons below, linking to it from your blog or website, or mentioning it on a forum.  Thanks! 

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This was originally written for the Nikon D7000, but as the Nikon D7100, the Nikon D7000, the Nikon D610 / D600, the Nikon D810 / D800, and the Nikon D5200 / D5300 all share a similar Autofocus system, most of this information will apply to all of them.  And even though some of the models have 51 AF Points instead of the 39 AF Points of the other cameras, all the same settings and actions apply.

The Nikon D7100, the Nikon D7000, the Nikon D610 / D600, the Nikon D810 / D800, and the Nikon D5200 / D5200 dSLRs all share very similar, and quite sophisticated autofocus systems – especially if you are coming from a D90, D5100, or earlier camera.  With their 39 AF points or 51 AF points that can be used independently or together in a variety of ways, its Autofocus Custom Settings that affect many of the functions of the AF system, and the three different Autofocus Modes that are used in various combinations with the four different Autofocus AF-Area Modes, it is no wonder that users are having difficulty figuring it all out. (Plus the D810 offers an additional Group Area AF Area Mode!)

Nikon D600 D7000 autofocus af system 39 point auto focus control learn use how to dummie book guide manual
Some of the Autofocus controls of the Nikon D600, located near the base of the lens (to the left of the FX badge and below the Lens Release Button).

First, the Autofocus Controls on the D810/ D800, D610/ D600, D7100, and D7000 are a bit different than previous cameras.  You can change the Autofocus Mode and AF Area Mode by pressing the AF Mode Button (located inside the Focus Mode Selector switch) and then use the Command Dials to adjust the settings as you view them on the top LCD Control Panel or in the Viewfinder.

Focus Mode Selector – This switch is used to turn on or off autofocus. Set to AF for autofocus and M for manual focus. Be sure to set the similar switch on the lens as well. If your camera does not seem to be autofocusing, be sure to check this switch and the one on your lens.

AF Mode Button – This button, located inside the Focus Mode Selector switch, may be confusing at first to those who have not previously seen or used it on the Nikon D7000 or D600, though you should quickly find that it is a convenient design. It is used to select the Focus Mode as well as the autofocus AF-Area Mode. Press this button and turn the rear Main Command Dial to select the Focus Mode, such as AF-A or AF-C, while viewing the setting on the top Control Panel or in the Viewfinder. Press this button and turn the front Sub-Command Dial to set the AF-Area Mode, such as Single-Point AF or 39-Point Dynamic-Area AF. Again, you can view the selected setting on the top Control Panel or in the Viewfinder. The autofocus system including the Focus Modes and AF-Area Modes will be explained below.

Next you will need to set up some of the autofocus Custom Settings to begin to customize how the AF system functions for your needs (Some of these options may not be available with the D5200):

AF-C priority selection – This setting determines if attaining focus is top priority when you are in Continuous-servo AF (Auto-Focus) Mode (AF-C), or if you just want the shots to be taken even if exact focus is not attained for each shot.  If exact focus is your priority, set on Focus.  If getting the shots at all costs is the priority, set for Release.

AF-S priority selection – This is similar to above, except that this setting is for when you are working in Single-servo AF Mode (AF-S), typically used when your subject is not moving.  Since AF-S is typically used with subjects that are not moving, it makes more sense to make sure focus is attained, thus you should typically select Focus for this setting.

Focus tracking with lock-on – This setting determines how the autofocus system reacts to sudden, dramatic changes in the distance of the subject when you are working in AF-C or AF-A modes.  Decide if you wish to have the camera quickly refocus on a new or closer subject (1-Short), wait awhile until it ideally picks up the intended subject again (5-Long), somewhere in between, or immediately refocus on a new subject at a large distance from the initial subject (Off).  Keep this option in mind with the various AF-C and AF Area Mode configurations, as it may change depending on your subject and situation.  Sometimes you don’t want the camera to quickly refocus on a closer or more distant subject, while other times you do.

AF point illumination – This is used to set whether or not the selected autofocus point (AF Point) is illuminated in the viewfinder.  Since you pretty much always want to know where your camera is focusing, this should be set for On.

Focus point wrap-around – This determines if the AF Point selection will “wrap around” to the other side of the screen when you reach an edge.  In other words, if you are selecting your AF Point (as you should be doing at almost all times) and you reach an AF Point on the far right, when you click right again, do you want to “wrap around” to a focus point on the far left, or do you wish to stop at the edge and not continue to the other side?

Number of focus points – This setting determines the number of autofocus points that are available for selection in your viewfinder.  If you are always selecting your AF Point (as you typically should) you may find that it is quicker and easier, at least at first, to limit the number of AF Points to 11 – AF11.  If you prefer to have all the AF Points available for your selection, set this at AF39 (or AF51 with the D7100).  If you set to 11 AF points your selection will be limited to those 11 AF points, but the additional surrounding AF points will still be active to be used by the camera in the AF-Area Modes and in subject tracking, so the camera is still taking advantage of all the AF points of the autofocus system.

Built-in AF-assist illuminator – This is used to enable or disable the autofocus assist light.  Turn this On to assist you in autofocusing in low light, but be sure to turn it Off if you are working in situations where it will be distracting, unwanted, or unnecessary.

and

Assign AE-L/AF-L button (f4 on the D600 and D7100) – This is to assign the function of the AE-L/AF-L Button.  You may want to use this in conjunction with the Function or Fn Button and use one to lock exposure and the other to lock focus.  In that case, you would typically set this to AF lock only to use this button to lock focus.

I go into much more detail about each these Custom Settings, how you may wish to set them up, and recommended settings in my e-book guides for all the current and previous cameras including Nikon D600 Experience, Nikon D7100 Experience, and Nikon D5200 Experience – but this should get you started.

Nikon D600 book ebook camera guide download manual how to dummies field instruction tutorial     Nikon D7100 book ebook manual tutorial field guide how to learn use dummies

 

Using Autofocus
Now on to using the AF system.  (All of the information below is also adapted from my e-book user’s guides, so I hope you will have a look at them to learn more.)

One of the essential steps in taking a successful photo is controlling where the camera focuses.  If you allow the camera to autofocus by choosing its own Focus Point(s), it typically focuses on the closest object or a person in the scene.  This may or may not be what you want to focus on.  So you should choose where the camera focuses using the autofocus Focus Points.  But first you will need to select an appropriate Autofocus Mode and an Autofocus Area Mode, based on your subject and situation.

Autofocus Modes
The D7100, D7000, D600, and D5200 each have three different Autofocus Modes to choose from, typically depending if your subject is still or moving.  They also have four different Autofocus Area Modes (see below) to specify how many of the AF points are active and how they track a moving object.  You can set these two functions in various combinations.  First the Autofocus Modes:

Single-Servo AF (AF-S)
Use this mode when your subject is stationary, or still and not going to move, or if your subject is not going to move very much, or if the distance between you and the subject is not going to change between the time you lock focus, recompose, and take the shot.  Lock focus on the subject and recompose if necessary.  When using AF-S, you can select from two Autofocus Area Modes, either Single-Point AF where you select the AF point, or Auto-Area AF, where the camera selects the AF point(s) for you.  I suggest you nearly always select your own desired AF point.

Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C)
Use this mode when your subject is moving.  If the subject is moving towards you or away from you, the camera will keep evaluating the focus distance, as long as the Shutter Button is kept half-pressed.  You will need to use this in conjunction with the Autofocus Area Modes to determine if and how the camera tracks the subject laterally to the surrounding AF points, or if it will only track the subject if it remains at the initially selected AF point.  If the subject is going to be difficult to follow or is moving across your field of view, set the AF-Area Mode to one of the Dynamic-Area AF modes or to the 3D-Tracking mode.  Focus on the moving subject with the selected point if using Single-Point, one of the Dynamic Area Modes, or 3D-Tracking, or let the camera select the AF point in Auto-Area AF, and then as long as the Shutter Button remains half-pressed the camera will track the subject as it moves closer or farther in distance.  Depending which AF Area Mode you are using, the camera may also maintain focus or track the subject to some or all of the surrounding focus points if it moves away from the initially selected point.  More about this in the Autofocus Area Modes section just below.

Auto-Servo AF (AF-A)
This mode is a hybrid of the two other focus modes.  It starts in Single-Servo AF (AF-S) mode then changes to Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) mode if your subject starts moving.  Why shouldn’t you use this all the time, then?  Well, if you are focusing and then recomposing, as you may often be doing, your movement of the camera may fool it into thinking that the subject is moving and your resulting focus may not be where you want it to be, or may not be as accurate as it might be if you are using Single-Servo AF.

Nikon D600 autofocus 39 point af system use learn tutorial how to auto focus mode area
The arrangement and position of the 39 AF points of the Nikon D600, shown with the optional viewfinder grid display.

Manual Focus
Sometimes you may be taking several photos of the same subject from the same distance, or for some other reason want to keep the same focus distance and not have to keep re-focusing and re-composing.  Or you may be taking multiple photos for a panorama.  In these situations, turn off the auto-focus on your lens by switching from AF to M with the camera’s Focus Mode Selector switch and with the A/M switch on the lens itself.  Just remember to switch them back when you are finished.  You may also wish to do this if you want to precisely manually focus with the focus ring on your lens.  For lenses with “full time manual focus” however, you don’t need to switch to M in order to manually override the autofocus with the lens focus ring.  These lenses will have M/A and M on the lens focus mode switch instead of A and M.

Autofocus Area Modes
The Autofocus Area Modes are used to set if just a single AF point is active or else how many AF points surrounding your selected AF point will be used to maintain focus or to track a moving subject if you are using AF-C or AF-A Autofocus Modes.

Single-Point AF
Only one AF point will be active, and surrounding AF points will not become active to maintain focus or to track a subject that moves away from the one selected point.  This is typically used along with Single-Servo AF (AF-S) to focus on a stationary or still subject, or in a situation where you will be reframing the shot after you lock focus at a specific distance.  It can also be used with accuracy with AF-S mode for moving subjects if you take the photo quickly or if you recompose and take the shot quickly after locking in focus, especially if the camera-to-subject distance does not change at all or very much in that period between locking focus and taking the photo.  Use the Multi Selector to choose your active AF point as you look through the viewfinder and use the OK Button to quickly select the center AF point.  Also, remember that Custom Setting a6 allowed you to choose between having all 39 AF points available or to limit the camera to 11 AF points.  If you are just starting out with manually selecting a single Focus Point, you may wish to limit them to 11 now, and when you get the hang of it or when you are using one of the other AF Area Modes described below, increase it to 39 to take full advantage of all the AF points of the D7000 autofocus system.  If you choose Single-Point AF with Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) or Auto-Servo AF (AF-A) for tracking moving subjects, it will only track the subject as long as it is positioned at the selected AF point, and it will not be tracked laterally to the other, surrounding points.  In other words, the single AF point you select will track a subject if it moves closer or farther away, but the AF system will not follow or track the subject if it moves left, right, up, or down and away from your selected AF point.  To do this, you use Dynamic-Area AF Mode or 3D-Tracking.

Dynamic-Area AF
With the Dynamic-Area AF Modes, you select an AF point to tell the camera where to autofocus, and if your subject briefly moves away from that point to a neighboring point or if you lose the subject from your AF point while panning, the camera will use the surrounding AF points to help maintain focus on it.  Select one of the Dynamic-Area AF options (below) when you are photographing moving or potentially moving subjects using Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) or Auto-Servo AF (AF-A).  These modes are ideal for a subject moving closer or further from the camera but which may also move laterally away from the selected AF point faster than you can react in order to keep it located at that point, or for when you are panning and following the subject and attempting to keep it located at the selected AF point, but may have a little or a lot of difficulty doing so.  Remember that you need to keep the Shutter Button half-pressed in order for the continuous focusing at the initial point or the surrounding points to occur.  Note that the camera may pick up and start tracking a new subject that falls under the selected AF point if you lose your initial subject, in part determined by your setting for Custom Setting a3.

9-Point Dynamic-Area AF will use the immediate surrounding AF points to help maintain focus on a subject that briefly leaves the selected AF point.  This can be used with predictably moving subjects, like a runner or vehicle moving towards you or one that you can easily follow laterally by panning.

21-Point Dynamic-Area AF will use even more of the surrounding AF Points, more than half the total AF Points, to help maintain focus on a subject that briefly leaves the selected AF point.  This should be used for more unpredictably moving objects, like sports players on a field, which may quickly move further away from your selected AF point before you have a chance to realign that point over the subject.

39-Point Dynamic-Area AF (or 51-Point Dynamic-Area AF with the D7100) will use all of the 39 AF points (or 51 points) to help maintain focus on a subject that briefly leaves the selected AF point.  It can be used for very quick and unpredictably moving subjects, like pets, birds or other wildlife, and all 39 AF points will be used to maintain focus on the subject as you attempt to realign the selected AF point with the subject.

The Dynamic-Area AF Modes are not used to track and maintain focus on a subject that is moving across the various AF points in the frame, but rather are used to stay focused on a moving subject that you attempt to keep located at your selected AF Point.  To track a subject that is moving across the frame, intentionally passing from one AF point to the next, use 3D-Tracking.

Nikon D5200 autofocus af system viewfinder 39 point how to use learn manual guide book instruction dummies tutorial area mode dynamic
A simulated image of the Nikon D5200 viewfinder, showing the autofocus focus points active with 9-Point Dynamic Area AF area mode, when the center AF point is selected. (Image shown at 50% opacity to better view AF points.)

3D-Tracking
This mode is used for subjects moving across the frame in any direction, or subjects moving erratically from side-to-side in the frame, and they are tracked by areas of color.  This is used when you don’t wish to necessarily pan or follow the subject to keep it located in the same part of the frame, but rather when you wish to keep the camera relatively still as the subject moves across the frame.  You may select this option when you are tracking and photographing moving subjects using Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) or Auto-Servo AF (AF-A).  Again, you choose the initial AF point to locate the subject and begin the tracking.  If the area of color you wish to track is too small or if it blends into the background, this mode might not be very effective.

Auto-Area AF
The camera uses all 39 AF points to detect what it thinks is the subject and automatically choose the appropriate AF point(s).  Typically, the camera will select the nearest subject or a human in the frame, so it may not focus on exactly what you wish to focus on.  That is why it is best to use one of the other modes and select the AF point yourself.

Group Area AF
The Nikon D810 and D4s include the Group Area AF autofocus area mode, which makes use of a group of 5 AF Points arranged in a cross-shaped pattern. And instead of selecting a primary point with the surrounding points being “helper points,” you will actually be selecting the group of five points, which will all be used to attempt to focus on the subject. Unlike the other AF Area Modes with multiple points, the Viewfinder will actually display the four outer points of the group, but for some reason not the central point – perhaps so that you can better view the subject.

Keep in mind that with the other somewhat similar Dynamic Area AF modes, you choose a primary point and attempt to keep the subject located at that point, and the surrounding points act as “helper” points if the subject happens to move away from the primary point. But with Group Area AF you select the entire group of AF Points, and they all work equally to focus on the subject. This mode can be used similar to Single Point AF but when it might be challenging to locate the subject under an individual point. When working in AF-S Focus Mode and using Group Area AF, the selected AF points will give priority to faces if they are present, otherwise they will focus on the closest subject.

 

The next step is to learn to lock focus independent of locking exposure, and customize the camera’s controls to perform these functions how you wish.  But you are going to have to have a look at my e-book guides Nikon D7100 Experience, Nikon D7000 Experience, Nikon D600 Experience and Nikon D5200 Experience to learn about this and many other important functions of your sophisticated Nikon D600, D5200, or D7000!

Nikon D600 book ebook camera guide download manual how to dummies field instruction tutorial      Nikon D7100 book ebook manual tutorial field guide how to learn use dummies

 

To learn about another important reason why you need to take control of your autofocus system, see the related post:

Don’t Let the Locations of the AF Points Dictate Your Composition

What do you do when, with your desired framing, your subject is not located exactly under or near an AF point? Even with all the AF points of an advanced Nikon D7000 and D600, this will often be an issue. Have a look at the above post to learn why this is an issue and how to resolve it.

Still need to purchase your D7100, D7000, D5200 or D600.  Please use my links to have a look at them on Amazon:

Nikon D7100 24.1 megapixel DX format dSLR camera

Nikon D7000 16.2 megapixel DX format dSLR camera

Nikon D600 24.3 megapixel full-frame FX format dSLR camera

Nikon D5200 24.2 megapixel DX format dSLR camera

Was this post helpful?  Please let others know about it by clicking the Facebook or Twitter sharing buttons below, linking to it from your blog or website, or mentioning it on a forum.  Thanks!  Want to help support this blog with no cost or effort?  Simply click on the Amazon, B&H Photo, or Adorama logos on the left side of this page to go to those sites and make your purchases.  They will then give me a little referral bonus!

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will know that I’ve written several times about humanitarian and travel photographer David Duchemin.  His blog, books, podcasts, and images were all extremely helpful and inspiring when I was starting my own journey as a humanitarian and culture photographer, and he continued to inspire me as I expanded into writing and ebooks.

David’s focus is on photographic vision rather than “gear” or equipment.   While he is an admitted gear junkie and agrees that “gear is good,” he constantly stresses that “vision is better” for working towards and achieving your photographic goals and for enjoying the photographic process.

In addition to the three books he has written Within the Frame – The Journey of Photographic Vision, Visionmongers – Making a Life and Living in Photography, and Vision and Voice – Refining your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, (and the upcoming Photographically Speaking – A Deeper Look at Creating Better Images) David has written a number of ebooks in his Craft and Vision series.  Each one is full of beautiful images plus instructional and inspirational text that can help you in your photographic journey when you seemed to have reached that point where the images that are coming out of your camera aren’t matching up with the vision you have of them in your mind.  Whether your challenges are due to composition, subject matter, post-processing technique, or lack of inspiration, there is a Craft and Vision ebook there to help!

Craft and Vision also offers ebooks by other photographers and authors who share a similar perspective or are experts on other techniques such as video or black and white photography.  The latest offering is called The Power of Black and White in Adobe Lightroom and Beyond, by Piet Van den Eynde.  I just received my copy and plan to write a bit more about it after I have a chance to delve into it, but in the meantime you can learn more about it on the Craft and Vision website.  Oh, and did I mention, all of the Craft and Vision ebooks are only $5 each!  But don’t think this is some brief e-pamphlet – The Power of Black and White is 100 spreads!  That would be 200 pages in a “real” book!

Craft and Vision David Duchemin The Power of Black and White

 

 

When one is getting more and more into photography, learning about different techniques and equipment, they may start to think – or get the impression from reading various books and blogs – that there is the “right way” or the right piece of equipment to use to achieve the best images.   For example there are dozens of flash modifiers and diffusers available, and you might start to think that one of them works the best, one of them is the one that the pros use, if you could only find the right information and figure out which one it is.  But the truth is, when it comes to photography, there is sometimes no one right way to do something.  You just have to look at all the options, experiment, analyze how you work and your resulting images, and then figure out what is going to work best for you.

Delilah and the spring

I recently got sucked into a discussion on a forum about whether or not to use a UV protective filter on your lenses.  I contend that it is always a good idea to use one.  But that is because I feel it is a wise thing to do for the way I work and photograph.  It may not be necessary for others who work differently.  I work out in the field traveling, or out-and-about in a city.  I take off my lens cap when I start working for the day and put it aside until the end of the day.  My camera is slung over my shoulder and is exposed to being banged around, touched by kid’s fingers, and to dust and mystery spots that need to be quickly cleaned off.  I don’t mind quickly wiping some dust off the front of my filter with my shirt, a blast of air with the Rocket Blower, or a quick brush and clean with the LensPen, but I would not want to do that so quickly and often with the actual lens and risk scratching it.  I feel that replacing a $100 filter is a better idea than risking a several hundred dollar repair with 4 weeks down time on a lens.

Other people walk around, carefully carrying their camera in a case between shots, or replacing the lens cap after each shot or between situations.  Or perhaps they take out their camera, put it on a tripod, and take landscape shots.  They may not need a protective filter in those uses, and may not wish to risk any minor degradation in image quality.  (If you get a coated or multi-coated UV filter like a B+W brand one, your loss of image quality will be less-than-negligible.  If you use a cheaper Tiffen filter, you risk having some issues.)  If the risk of damage to their lens is small, then it works for them not to use a filter.  However, I was in a camera store yesterday, and a woman was replacing her UV filter because her camera dropped and the filter was shattered.  The filter’s ring was dented, but there was no damage to the lens at all.  She did not intend to drop her camera – that was not part of the way she worked – but it happened.  A few dollars for a new filter saved her hundreds of dollars in repairs and the loss of her lens over the holidays.

Before you invest in various accessories that sound like they might improve your images or assist you in how you work, put some thought into it first.  If they are a hassle to use or don’t fit into your process, you may end up putting them aside and never really using them.  Analyze your needs first and then find a product that matches them.  You may read about someone touting a white balance device that seems like it almost magically improves all their photos.  You want better photos, so why not give it a try?  But have you really come across the need for it?  Are you prepared to custom set your white balance every time you enter a new lighting situation?  Or do you typically work outside in daylight or inside in standard incandescent light and really don’t need to set a custom white balance at all?

So, all that being said, there are several accessories I find helpful, or even essential – at least for the way I work!  I talk about them in this previous post, Equipment for Travel (and Everyday) Photography.

This post is the third in an occasional series in which I describe the making of a photograph, from both a technical and artistic standpoint. I’ll go through the camera settings and why they were chosen, as well as the thought processes going through my head regarding composition and the creation of the image. These types of posts will be concrete examples of a previous post of mine called How Pros Photograph, which describes the various decisions that may be going through a photographer’s head as they work a scene and make photos. The first post in this series can be read here, and the second post is here.

This one can be called the Aperture Edition or Depth of Field Edition, as you will learn below.

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography
Men on Avenida el Sol – Cusco, Peru – 2008

The Photo: The photo I’ve selected for this example (seen just above) is one I took in Cusco, Peru in June 2008, called Men on Avenida el Sol. It was taken during the Cusco Week festivities, which is a series of events, dances, parades, and performances leading up to Inti Raymi, the Inca Festival of the Sun that occurs each year at the solstice. The wonderful thing about this week of activities is that it offers so many opportunities for a photographer to capture cultural, dance, and people photos. And because they are all public events where people expect, and even enjoy being photographed, it eliminates the difficulties and hesitations many photographers have about approaching individuals for photographs – although that is something any serious photographer needs to overcome, and it is actually quite easy. You approach the subject, make direct eye contact, and ask, “Do you mind if I take a photograph of you?” If they speak another language, hold up and nod towards your camera with a cheerful, inquisitive look on your face. They will either agree or not – problem solved!

Although I took hundreds of photos of the events over the week, I selected this one for this exercise because I learned something very definitively in the process of capturing it. More on that later. Although great subjects and action are directly in front of you during a parade or performance, there is a bit more to capturing good photos than just clicking away. I write a bit about that, with some tips and suggestions, in this post Cambridge Carnival.

This particular event was a parade down a main street of Cusco leading into the central plaza. I’ve created some strips of photos to show a selection of images as I worked this scene:

process01

The Process: I was heading back home after taking dance photos in the plaza, and made my way down Avenida el Sol looking for additional quick shots. Most of the people and groups were standing about, waiting to move forward to perform or parade through the plaza, where the spectators were, so there were not many interesting opportunities. However, this group of older men captured my attention due to their wonderful expressive faces and their colorful traditional outfits. My intention was merely to capture these faces and subjects. However, they were a bit bored, just standing around waiting, so you can see most of the images do not really stand out.

I was using a Canon Rebel XT with a 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II lens. I stood on the sidewalk near the group, and set my camera on Aperture Priority mode (Av on Canon, A on Nikon). This was so I could control the depth of field and call attention to single or multiple subjects and make the background a bit blurry and less distracting. I experimented with various aperture settings, ranging from f/4.5 to f/13 depending on if I wanted one of the men to be in focus or a row of two or three of them to be in focus. A wide open aperture such as f/4.5 will have a narrow depth of field so that just one of the men is in focus, where a narrower aperture such as f/8 or f/11 will have a deeper depth of field so that the entire row of men might be in focus. With the wide apertures, I focused on the eyes of the man I wanted in-focus, and with narrower apertures, I focused about 1/3 or 1/2 way into the area I wanted to be in focus, meaning if there was a row of three faces, I focused on the middle one. The ISO was set at 200 which allowed the camera to choose fast shutter speeds of around 1/1000 s. This is because I had been capturing dance and action scenes, and wanted to be ready for the same. The metering mode was set on the general Evaluative Metering, which did a decent job of capturing the proper exposures. A couple images were mysteriously overexposed, possibly due to where I locked exposure while I was locking focus – which is why I now use a back-button focusing technique and/or lock exposures separately from focus. White Balance was set on Auto, but would have worked on Sunny as well.

As you hopefully know by now, depth of field is controlled by the aperture setting. I write more about it in these posts Depth of Field Simplified and Mastering Depth of Field. Since your specific depth of field in any situation will vary based not only on the aperture setting but also on the lens focal length and your distance from the subject, it is often difficult to predetermine what exactly is going to be in focus in the resulting image. You can try using the depth of field preview button on your camera, but it is difficult to see in the tiny, dim viewfinder what the preview is showing. You can also use your rear LCD and trial and error to view a series of experiments. But again, this is only a small screen with relatively low resolution, so it is difficult to see the precise results. And in many situations you simply don’t have the time for these methods. You just have to get a feel for your lenses and their different apertures through experience and studying your results. But one thing is certain: to get minimum, shallow depth of field and thus maximum background blurriness with any lens, zoom in as close as you can, (for example, zoom to 200mm on a 70-200mm lens) situate yourself as close as you can to your subject while still obtaining the framing you want, and use the widest aperture possible (for example f/2.8 or f/4). Work back from that if you wish to increase the depth of field – for example to have a slightly deeper depth of field in focus, use an aperture of f/5 or f/5.6, or increase your distance away from the subject, or remain close but use a shorter focal length like 28mm or 50mm.

As you can see, most of the images are very “busy,” with a lot of extraneous and distracting background people and activity. I wasn’t very pleased with the images, but I continued to take basically the same image over and over. I knew the faces, outfits, and colors were interesting, and I hoped the resulting images would be as well. I zoomed in as close as I could with most of the images, working in the 75mm to 105mm range of my lens. However, without a lens that had the 100mm to 200mm range, I could not zoom closer and could not obtain the “compression” I was looking for, where the more distant faces would appear to be closer behind the closest subject.

process02

What I didn’t do that I should have been doing, instead of trying to take the same photo over and over, was to change my position and point of view. Doing so would change the backgrounds, perhaps make them less busy or distracting (such as the spectators and the white sign), and would allow for the camera to be on the same level or looking up towards the subjects rather than looking slightly down at them.

I took a series of 60 images over a period of 7.5 minutes. Besides the selected image, only a couple other ones are mildly interesting. I knew I wasn’t capturing what I wanted, my companion was becoming impatient, and eventually I decided to move on. But then I took a few final images. My point of view had slightly changed. I was directly to the side of the men and slightly closer. The last image finally got what I had wanted. It stands out dramatically among all the other ones. It is more simple and straightforward, less cluttered, and the subjects fill the frame.

process03

The Post Process: To create the final image, I adjusted the color and contrast in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and in Photoshop (PS). As you can see by the unprocessed images, the color and contrast is a little dull and lifeless straight out of the camera. The original file was a JPEG file, and the Picture Style was Standard (I hadn’t started using RAW yet). In ACR, the Blacks were increased to about 7 or 10 to give it the nice deep blacks, which helps to make the bright colors pop even more. Some Recovery was used to bring back the overexposed highlights on the man’s face. Clarity and Vibrance were used to give it some, well, clarity and vibrance. In Photoshop, the contrast was increased with Curves using the preset setting of Linear Contrast. In Levels, the midtones were darkened to .93 to give a deeper more realistic color to the faces. I did some additional burning on the faces to try to reduce the hot-spots. The image was sharpened using Unsharpen Mask, probably at Amount: 85 or 100, Radius: 1, and Threshold: 4. I may have used the Hue/Saturation to reduce the saturation and lightness of the red color, though I should have done that a little more, as you can see by the man’s face which appears too red and the rear hat where the red is blown out. The Rebel XT sensor, and other digital SLR sensors often overexpose the color red. It is similar to blowing out the highlights, where the color red is blown out and there is just red and not other detail in those areas. You can use the RGB histogram rather than the brightness histogram to monitor for this on the camera’s rear LCD screen while reviewing images. I didn’t crop the image at all, as you can see. It is best to try to get the framing you want when you capture the photo, especially when using an 8 megapixel camera that doesn’t allow for much cropping! (A cropped image would have much lower image quality because the resulting resolution would be much less – it would not allow for much manipulation, and would appear pixellated when enlarged.)

The Final Image:
Douglas J. Klostermann Photography
Canon Rebel XT, 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II at 93mm, ISO 200, f/5, 1/1000s

The Lesson: We should always learn from our photos, so that next time we are in a similar situation, we can create an even better image. The valuable lesson I learned in this situation, in addition to perhaps always grabbing one final frame, is to make a change when the composition is not working. Change your perspective, angle, or point of view. Zoom in or out to change the framing. Don’t continue to take the same image that isn’t working, over and over again. If the subject is interesting, there is an interesting composition that can be found to best express that subject. Mentally envision the scene from a variety of positions and angles, and move around the scene as much as possible to see the options. Some other improvements I could have made to this image include using a polarizing filter. Because I was working in the bright, harsh mid-day sun at a high altitude, this could have improved the exposure, color rendition, and contrast of the original image. Since it was overexposed a bit, causing hot-spots on the subject’s face, I should have paid more attention to my histogram and adjusted the exposure compensation accordingly, or used a different metering mode such as Partial or Spot to meter directly off the man’s face.

So hopefully you can see from this explanation and from my previous posts that photographs don’t necessarily just happen. They are created through a combination of thought processes, a series of decisions, and the application of camera settings based on these decisions and on the situation at hand.

See the Related Posts section just below for links to parts 1 and 2 in this series.  And learn more about how to take control of your camera and the images you create with my Full Stop e-book camera and photography guides.

Full Stop photography e book camera user guide Nikon Canon dSLR

I am giving away a free copy of an excellent book about photographing in natural light, Available Light: Photographic Techniques for Using Existing Light Sources by Don Marr!!  Read on to see how to take part in the give-away.

CONTEST CLOSED!  The contest ended Nov. 8, 2010.  I will go to Random.org and have it select and announce the winner tonight (Nov. 9).

I recently came across this book and found it incredibly helpful.  Unlike most photo books that merely tell you about front lighting or side lighting or diffused overcast lighting and then don’t go into much practical detail, this book actually explains how to seek out, modify, and use natural light – in all its forms – to take better photos.  It demonstrates that off-camera flash is not necessary for better photos, even in less-than-ideal lighting situations.  I wrote much more about this book in my Essential Digital Photography Books post.

available light book
This book can be yours!The free copy of Available Light by Don Marr, donated by Amherst Media, photographed on my floor in the available window light.

I liked the book so much that I contacted the publisher, Amherst Media, and asked them for a copy that I could give away on my blog here.  They enthusiastically agreed, and I have just received the book from them.

How to Enter:
Just leave a comment for this post.  If you don’t see the comment form immediately below the post, look under the title of this post and click on where it says “… comments.”  Or just click HERE.  Put in whatever comment you want.  If you wish, let me know how you came across my blog (Yahoo/ Google search, Twitter, regular reader, etc.), and if you are a regular reader or plan to become one, let me know what you enjoy reading about here and what photography topics and/or equipment you would like to read more about.

I will leave this post open for comments for three weeks, until Monday November 8 at 11:59pm.  At that time all the comments will be numbered in the order they were received and posted.  They may not be published immediately as I have to approve them – in the order received – to prevent spam.  I will then use the True Random Number Generator on Random.org to choose a random number and select the winner.  Decision is final!  Contest is open to those with United States mailing addresses only! Good luck!

If you don’t win or just wish to check out the book Available Light on Amazon, you can click here or on the cover:

Also, while I have your attention, be sure to check out my new eBooks:

Your World 60D – The Still Photographer’s Guide to Operation and Image Creation with the Canon EOS 60D.  You can read more about it and purchase it in PDF format (also iPad compatible) here on my blog, or it is also available in the Kindle version on Amazon.

T2i Experience – The Still Photographer’s Guide to the Canon Rebel T2i / EOS 550D.  Learn more about it a purchase it in PDF format here, or in the Kindle version on Amazon.

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography Douglas J. Klostermann Photography

Sorry, the give-away is now over!

If you read yesterday’s post about Essential Books for Digital Photography, you will see I am pretty enthusiastic about a couple photo books in particular.  One of them that I think is really wonderful, and which really opened my eyes recently, is Available Light by Don Marr.  I discussed it in depth in yesterday’s post, so I won’t repeat that here.  But anyway, I liked it so much, I contacted the publisher (Amherst Media) and asked them to send me a copy to use as a free give-away on my blog.  And they enthusiastically agreed to this!

So stay tuned for the free photo book give-away, which I will initiate as soon as I have the book in hand, hopefully sometime around Oct. 15.

Here is a photo I took immediately after reading the book, putting what I learned to use.  Notice the amazing glow of the 100% natural, available light.  This was taken on an afternoon with bright sunlight, by placing the subject under an overpass to control the direction and intensity of the light.

LSS natural light

There are countless books available about digital photography, ranging from general over-encompassing guides to specific texts on lighting or composition. Many of them discuss basically the same topics, and after reading and absorbing a few, you begin to pick up only a few new tips or pieces of knowledge here and there.

But I’ve put together a list of what I think are the best books for digital photography out there. These are the ones I believe you should read first, the ones that will give you the maximum bang for the buck, and which are consistently full of solid, useful information. They are divided into categories of Camera Guides for specific cameras, Digital Photography Guides for general information and composition, Lighting and Flash, and Post-Production for Photoshop and Lightroom.

You can click on each title to take you directly to Amazon.com. If you purchase through these links Amazon will reward me with a small referral fee, so I appreciate you helping to support my photography work and my effort of creating all these links!

Sections:

Digital Photography Guides
Camera Guides
Lighting and Flash
Post Production

 

Digital Photography Guides

Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson
I recommend this book throughout my blog for anyone who is new to digital SLR photography or ready to take their camera off Auto or Program and needs to learn and understand the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. It is the go-to book to help you learn these essential settings, take control of your dSLR and image making process, and start to use aperture priority and shutter priority modes.

Learning to See Creatively by Bryan Peterson
By the same author as above. Once you have control of your camera after reading Understanding Exposure, you will quickly discover you need to learn how to make better compositions in order to take better photos. This book can help start you on this process. His best piece of advice is to think about and use different, more dynamic points of view in your photos. Taking a photo of a flower? What would the image look like from the flower’s point of view? Simple but brilliant.

The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos by Michael Freeman
As I just said above, once you get control of your camera and its settings after reading some of the other camera and photo guides, you may wonder why your photos aren’t improving as quickly as you had hoped. That is when you need to turn to this book. It is a unique book for teaching photographic composition – which is an often difficult concept to teach beyond the basics. Most books explain concepts such as the rule of thirds or depth of field, but this book takes it to a whole new level. And he walks the reader through the example images describing the process and decisions he makes as he works a scene (which must be what inspired my Deconstructing the Shot series of posts!) It is a challenging book, and it takes some experience with working at photography and applying the basic composition techniques and experiencing specific problems and frustrations before one can get the most out of this book. So if it is too heavy for you at first reading, come back to it after you have worked at it some more. This is perhaps my favorite photography book, and I wish there were more out there that were as helpful as this one. I re-read it every few months to set these concepts into my brain.

The Photographer’s Mind: How to See and Shoot Better Digital Photos by Michael Freeman
Every time I read Freeman’s The Photographer’s Eye, I lament, usually aloud, “why doesn’t he have more books like this?” Then I did some more research and discovered an older book of his, Achieving Photographic Style, from 1984. It blew me away – it is just as good as Photographer’s Eye, but a bit dated in many ways, as it discusses the photographic trends of that period and it is pre-digital. Again, I lamented, “why can’t he update this book for today?” Well, my pleas appear to have been answered. His next book The Photographer’s Mind has just come out. I haven’t seen it yet, but I immediately ordered my copy from Amazon.

Pro Photographer’s D-SLR Handbook by Michael Freeman
This is a comprehensive handbook for everything about digital photography from equipment, lighting and accessories, to technical explanations of settings and concepts, to post-production including Photoshop and printing. It covers a lot of topics, but gives good, solid information. Like its title says, it is a handbook that is extremely handy to have as a reference guide for everything related to digital SLR photography. Essential for any serious intermediate dSLR photographer, whether you desire to be a pro or just have the knowledge of one.

The Digital Photography Book (Volume 1) by Scott Kelby
Scott Kelby’s series of books are good for the beginning or intermediate dSLR photographer. Some claim that everything they know about digital photography they learned from Scott Kelby. Other reviewers on Amazon don’t think he’s so great. Never-the-less, he doesn’t get caught up in technical explanations, but rather just tells you what settings and equipment to use and how to do something. The page-by-page brief topics each give starting points for anyone confused about the variety of subjects they may be trying to absorb from all the other books. For example, every Photoshop book explains Unsharpen Mask, but then leaves you totally clueless as to where to even start with the three sliders. Kelby simply tells you what numbers to use. (Actually that may have been from one of his Photoshop books, but that is the type of info he provides.) Keep in mind, all of his advice is intended as starting points. His word is not gospel, it is to help you begin and then you can experiment and learn from your own experience after that. These are not books to teach you the basics of digital photography, but are rather a collection of various, almost random tips about a wide variety of photo topics. Keep in mind, his instructions are not the only way to do something, and sometimes they are actually very round-about ways of doing things that can be done much more simply. His humor is annoying to some and the equipment he uses may be totally unnecessary for how you work, so take what you read with a grain of salt. As a studio photographer, Kelby is especially knowledgeable about flash and lighting. There are three books in this series, which can also be bought as a set, as seen below.

The Digital Photography Book, Volume 2 by Scott Kelby
See above description of The Digital Photography Book.

The Digital Photography Book, Volume 3 by Scott Kelby
See above description of The Digital Photography Book.

Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography Boxed Set, Volumes 1, 2, and 3 by Scott Kelby
See above description of The Digital Photography Book.

National Geographic Photography Field Guide: Secrets to Making Great Pictures, Second Edition by Peter Burian and Bob Caputo
This is a great general guide to photography, with insightful and useful nuggets of information from some of the best Nat Geo pros, like Sam Abell and Michael Nichols. However, it is a bit dated, from the films days at the verge of digital. But I feel it is still worth reading because the essentials of image making remain unchanged. The updated version is below, but I have not yet seen it, and it may be all new with different content. Maybe see if your library has this one.

National Geographic Ultimate Field Guide to Photography: Revised and Expanded by National Geographic
I haven’t yet seen this updated version, but based on the previous edition as well as the Travel Photography version, it is bound to be good.

National Geographic Ultimate Field Guide to Travel Photography by Scott Stuckey
This is an excellent introduction to most everything you need to know to work as a travel photographer with helpful information for both beginner and more advanced photographers that isn’t found in most other travel photography books. And it contains valuable contributions from several professional travel photographers like Bob Krist and Catherine Karnow. However, its title is annoying because it is not in any way a field guide. It is not designed as a quick and easy reference to any of the topics it covers, as the term field guide would imply, but rather it is a book to read before your travels, and a book to read to learn the realities of working as a travel photographer. It is also a book about how to take travel photos in the visual and editorial style of Nat Geo Traveler magazine. I highly recommend this book for someone who is truly interested in becoming a commercial travel photographer, as it competently and thoroughly covers numerous aspects of this vocation – technical, logistical, and perhaps most importantly, learning how to tell a story through photographs. Or if you don’t wish to become a pro travel photographer but want to learn to capture better travel images, it will be most helpful for someone whose travel style truly accommodates the time and effort if takes to make great travel images.

Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision by David DuChemin

VisionMongers: Making a Life and Living in Photography by David DuChemin

Rick Sammon’s Complete Guide to Digital Photography 2.0: Taking, Making, Editing, Storing, Printing, and Sharing Better Digital Images by Rick Sammon

Rick Sammon’s Travel and Nature Photography by Rick Sammon

 

Camera Guides

First, of course, I have to mention my e-book user’s guides! So far I have written one for each of these cameras:

Nikon D7000 Experience
Nikon D5100 Experience
Canon T3i Experience
Your World 60D
Canon 7D Experience
Canon T2i Experience

full stop dslr photo photography camera manual guide for dummies canon nikon

Plus a book for all other dSLR owners, Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography

dslr learn improve autofocus exposure aperture shutter priority for dummies

You can learn more about them at my Full Stop ebook bookstore, (www.dojoklo.com/Full_Stop/). These guides go beyond the manuals to help you learn to use your powerful camera to its full potential so that you can improve your photography and consistently take better photos. The guides cover the settings, functions and controls of these advanced dSLR cameras, plus explain when and why to use them to improve your photography and your images. Aimed towards intermediate photographers, they also clearly explain basic dSLR camera functions and exposure concepts for those new to digital SLR photography. Take control of your camera and the images you create!

These guides are available in PDF versions as well as Kindle, Nook, and iBooks/ iTunes versions.

 

Canon 7D: From Snapshots to Great Shots by Nicole S. Young
This series of camera user’s guides explains everything in a way that is clear and easy to understand and put to use. They don’t get bogged down in confusing technical explanations, but instead present everything in a straightforward, user-friendly manner. The books explain not only how to use the camera, but how to use it to take better photos. Recommended for someone relatively new to digital SLR photography who wants to quickly learn to use their camera and improve their photography.

Nikon D5100: From Snapshots to Great Shots by Rob Sylvan
see above description for Canon 7D: From Snapshots to Great Shots.

There are also From Snapshots to Great Shots guides for every other camera out there including the Canon 60D, Canon G12, Nikon D7000, etc.

David Busch’s Canon EOS 7D Guide to Digital SLR Photography by David Busch
David Busch’s camera guides are all excellent books, and will help you really get to know and understand all the features and functions of you camera. They are clear and straightforward enough for the beginner, yet are also in-depth and technical for the intermediate and advanced dSLR user. Recommended as a more comprehensive and easy to understand manual than the one that comes with your camera.

David Busch’s Nikon D7000 Guide to Digital SLR Photography by David Busch
This is an all-encompassing bible for the D7000. If you wish to learn every single feature, setting, menu item, option, etc., this is the place to look. If you wish to learn all the essential features, how to use them in the real world, and be up and running with your D7000 quickly, start first with Nikon D7000 Experience before delving into this tome.

David Busch of course has guides for every other dSLR camera out there including the Canon 60D, Canon T3i / 600D, Canon 5D Mk II, and the Nikon D5100.

See all the David Busch Digital SLR Camera Guides.

 

Lighting and Flash

Available Light: Photographic Techniques for Using Existing Light Sources by Don Marr
This is a simple, straightforward book that immediately changed the way I see light and the way I photograph using natural light.  You often hear the idea of “taking your photography to the next level.”  This book doesn’t itself make that claim, yet it is one of the few photography books that can actually deliver that result.  It is short, easy to read and to understand, and immediately applicable to your work.  Many books discuss light – it’s direction, intensity, quality, softness, color – and you think, “Yeah! I’m keenly aware of different light and how it falls on my subject.”  But did that knowledge suddenly help you to take better photos?  Many books never fully take it the next step and really explain how to seek out, modify, and use this light.  You may or may not be able to then figure it all out on your own.  I thought I had until I read this book.

It actually guides you in exactly the right direction and truly helps to open your eyes to the intensity, direction, and quality of natural light, and then teaches you to work with it and modify it to create the softness/ hardness, direction, color, and intensity you want, whether you are working on an overcast day, at high noon, inside, outdoors, or any other type of situation.  It makes one suddenly aware of the existence and potential use of natural reflectors everywhere which will help give you the lighting you want:  a wall, the ground, a pole.  And it explains the important concept and effective practice of subtractive lighting, used to even-out or create the desired lighting instead of turning to flash to artificially add to existing lighting.  The concepts in this book are so obvious and intuitive I didn’t even write down a single note while reading it the first time.  Then the next week I used what I learned and took one of the nicest, best lit spontaneous portraits I have ever taken.

While many are happily joining the Strobist camp, this book offers a refreshing and viable alternative to that never-ending accumulation of lighting equipment and techniques, and should be read by off-camera-flash fans as well so they can learn to look for beautiful natural lighting alternatives that will give them as-good or even better images, before setting up their lighting equipment and knocking down the natural light in order to rebuild it artificially.  However the author is not against the (limited) use of flash, and certainly not against reflectors, and discusses their use in different situations.  I highly recommend this book to photographers of every level.  It is a wonderful book for beginners or intermediate photographers so that they can be aware of, understand, and use these concepts from the start, and it is just as helpful for advanced photographers who may intuitively practice some of the techniques, but will certainly become aware of even greater potential and opportunities in the use of available light.

As you can see, I’m pretty enthusiastic about this book. I even contacted the publisher and asked them for a copy that I could use as a free give-away here on my blog, and indeed they are sending me one! (The free give-away is now completed.)

On-Camera Flash Techniques for Digital Wedding and Portrait Photography by Neil van Niekerk

The Complete Guide to Light & Lighting in Digital Photography by Michael Freeman

 

Post-Production

The Adobe Photoshop CS5 Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby
Scott Kelby is the founder and head of NAPP, the Photoshop users’ organization, so I don’t have any qualifications with the Photoshop and Lightroom recommendations as I did with his photo books above.

The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby

Adobe Photoshop CS4 How-Tos: 100 Essential Techniques by Chris Orwig

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 How-Tos: 100 Essential Techniques by Chris Orwig

And of course in able to make use of the Photoshop and Lightroom books, you are going to need the software!
Adobe Photoshop CS4 and/ or Adobe Lightroom 3 are the latest versions. Photoshop CS4 has the amazing and revolutionary content aware fill, which takes cloning and spot healing to a whole new dimension. And Lightroom has quickly become the tool of choice for photographers to work on their images.

(Descriptions of some of the above books still to come!)

This weekend I followed my own advice, and rented a lens to try out before deciding whether or not to buy it. As I suggest in my post Why You Shouldn’t Buy the Kit Lens, if you are considering purchasing an expensive lens or want to compare a couple similar lenses to decide which one to go with, rent one or both of them for a day or a weekend, and see how you like using them. Check with camera stores near you, or look into online lens rental sites that mail the lens to you, like LensRentals.com. I went to Calumet to rent, since there is a store near me and it’s pretty cheap for the weekend rate.

(click on any product links in the text to view the lenses on Amazon.com)

I rented the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L since I’m curious how it compares to the Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS. While they have a similar focal-length range and can each serve as a great walk-around lens for everyday use, they have some differences that make it difficult to choose between the two. The 24-70mm is larger, significantly heavier (2.1 lbs. vs. 1.48 lbs.) and extends externally as you zoom. The 24-105mm has an internal zoom mechanism, and also has image stabilization (IS). But a major difference is the maximum aperture: f/2.8 vs. f/4.

side by side bokeh
click here to view these images larger on Flickr – from the garden at the Longfellow House, Cambridge, MA

The wider maximum aperture of the 24-70mm makes it a “faster” lens, allowing it to be used in lower light, although the IS of the 24-105mm can make up for that shortcoming. Visually, the wider maximum aperture allows for shallower depth of field (dof) which provides more dramatically blurred backgrounds, or bokeh. While I have resisted using the term bokeh in my writing, I can’t really avoid it in this discussion because the difference between f/4 vs. f/2.8 is all in the bokeh. The above image demonstrates what that means. It refers to the “circles of confusion” of the out-of-focus areas of an image – their size, shape, edges, and quality. Both of the images are taken with the 24-70mm lens – at f/4 on the left, and f/2.8 on the right. You can see that while they both demonstrate dramatically shallow depth of field and background blurring, the image taken with the aperture set at f/2.8 shows a smoother blend of the background colors and contrasts. The images are from the garden of the Longfellow House in Cambridge, MA.

When I got my Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens, I chose the f/4 version rather than the f/2.8 IS version because it was smaller and significantly lighter, and I knew I would not dread using it on a long day of shooting as I feared I would with the 3.24 pound f/2.8 IS version. Three and a quarter pounds! (According to the Canon website. I’m not sure if that is right – Amazon says it is 2.9 lbs.) Anyway, that kind of weight might be an important consideration for someone traveling with a lens or using it for consecutive full days of shooting. I know it is a consideration for me. So, even though I got the f/4, I’ve wondered what I have been missing image-wise by not being able to open up to f/2.8. So I took these two images with the 24-70mm to see the difference, and it is more considerable than I had thought it would be.

I was very pleased with the 24-70mm. I had been concerned that I would want more range on the telephoto end, and I did end up with a lot of images taken at the 70mm focal length, but I didn’t usually feel like I needed or wanted to zoom in any closer. It really is a great range for everyday use. It is a big lens, but other than the weight, it feels great and is comfortable to use. You can’t deny its image quality, the bokeh is wonderful, but the weight is still a consideration and may dissuade me in the end.

Here is a great site at The-Digital-Picture.com to compare lenses, side by side. You can compare test images taken at various focal lengths and apertures. I will leave all the pixel peeping and debating of the merits of the 24-70mm vs. the 24-105mm to the forums, and just share a few photos I took with the 24-70mm at the Harvard Museum of Natural History and the adjoining Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. All the images are hand-held, without flash, in very low lighting. The leaves and flowers in the images below are from the world renowned glass flower collection. Yes, they are made entirely of glass! Even those fall leaves. It is mind boggling, especially when viewing them in person.

If you are considering buying any of these lenses from Amazon.com, please use the links above, and I will get a little something for referring you. Or use this link to go directly to Amazon.com. I appreciate your support!

HMNH cat

HMNH bird-hawk

HMNH bird-dove

HMNH autumn leaves
glass leaves above, glass flowers below. yes 100% made of glass!
HMNH purple flowers

HMNH snake

HMNH fish fossil

HMNH Peru map

HMNH Mayan stones

HMNH Indian diorama

HMNH Indian diorama 2

This post is the second in an occasional series in which I describe the making of a photograph, from both a technical and artistic standpoint.  I’ll go through the camera settings and why they were chosen, as well as the thought processes going through my head regarding composition and the creation of the image.  These types of posts will be concrete examples of a previous post of mine called How Pros Photograph, which describes the various decisions that may be going through a photographer’s head as they work a scene and make photos.  The first post in this series can be read here.

This one can be called the Shutter Speed Edition, as you will learn below.  For those looking to learn about Depth of Field, please also view Deconstructing the Shot post 3, the Aperture Edition.

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography
Canon Rebel XT, 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II at 50mm, ISO 100, f/14, 1/20s

The Photo: The photo I’ve selected for this example (seen above) is one I took in Pucallpa, Peru in July 2008.  Pucallpa is a town located along the Ucayali River, a tributary of the Amazon.  Though it is a relatively small town, it has a bustling (though undeveloped) port which receives food and goods from deeper in the Amazon region.  The streets of Pucallpa buzz with the constant traffic of moto-taxis, the motorcycle rickshaws found in much of Peru and the developing world.  I had a few days before hopping on a slow boat to Iquitos, so I roamed the town looking for photo opportunities.  I’ve created some strips of photos to show a selection of images as I worked this particular scene:

Pucallpa Series 1

The Process: I wanted to capture the ubiquitous motion and activity of the traffic in the streets of Pucallpa, which is dominated by the moto-taxis.  The best way to do this, I decided, was to capture the blur of motion as the traffic sped by.  I was using a Canon Rebel XT with a 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II lens.  I selected a busy and interesting intersection and set the camera to Shutter Priority mode (Tv on Canon, S on Nikon).  This is so I could control the shutter speed and set it to a slow shutter speed so that fast motion would become a blur.  I initially chose a shutter speed of 1/50, but that wasn’t resulting in enough blur, so through quick experimentation, I settled on 1/20.  This shutter speed, 1/20 of a second, is very slow for hand-holding.  While the motion will blur, it is difficult at this shutter speed to hold it still enough (without a tripod) so that the background will remain sharp and not cause unwanted blur due to camera shake in the in-focus areas.  I now actually recommend using 1/30 as a starting point for creating motion blur.  But even with 1/30, you have to pay attention to holding the camera very still.  I selected ISO 100 since it was a very bright, sunny afternoon, and because I atypically needed to work in a slow shutter speed range.

I initially took some images of the traffic crossing the intersection, trying to capture many vehicles at once to accentuate my idea of the busy traffic.  However, I soon decided to face directly across the street and capture the moto-taxis as they crossed my field of view.  I set the Drive Mode to continuous so that I could fire off a series of photos each time the light turned green and the traffic crossed my view.  The Rebel XT has a slow maximum rate of 3 frames per second (fps) but many current cameras will allow a more useful and faster frame rate of 5 or 6, or even 8 fps.  White Balance was set on Auto, though Sunny setting would have worked well too.  Metering was set on Evaluative.  However, since the lighting and the scene remained relatively consistent, it would not have been a mistake to determine the best exposure then switch the camera to Manual mode, M, and set that exposure for all the photos.

In Shutter Priority mode, you choose the shutter speed and the camera will choose the aperture, based on the ISO setting.  The aperture setting for this photo wasn’t too important to me.  Since the foreground was going to be a blur of motion, it was best that the background was relatively in focus.  So a narrow aperture providing relatively deep depth of field, such as f/11 or f/16 would be fine.  Based on the ISO and the amount of light, the camera was selecting apertures ranging from f/8 to f/22 for various images, with most of them somewhere in the middle of that range.  Also, since the subject was going to be a blur of motion, there was no point in trying to focus on it.  The motion would most likely confuse the auto-focus system anyway, so I switched the lens to MF, Manual Focus, and focused on the sign post directly across the street from me.  Though I may have zoomed slightly in or out with the lens at first, I settled on a focal length of 50mm and left it there.

Pucallpa series 2

While the subject of this composition is the blur of the vehicles, the background also comes into play, and as with every image, can not be ignored.  The street and trees beyond created a nice background, both showing the urban context of the scene and blocking out what could have been a large area of dull, light sky.  The yellow sign post, where I focused, added a nice element of color.  You can see that the yellow post and the curb of the far side of the street lie near the “rule of thirds” lines.  This isn’t an accident, and they were consciously placed there to help create an interesting composition.  This was done through squatting or kneeling in order to place myself at the desired point of view and still capture most of the vehicles from top to bottom.

I took a series of 59 images over a period of nearly 8 minutes, with 48 of the images being the straight-on images in a period of just 2 minutes.  I used a horizontal composition since that worked best with the blur of motion of the traffic.  I typically just held down the shutter button as the traffic started to go by, just after the stoplight changed.  By doing that I captured a variety of interesting images, with the moto-taxis blurring by in all types of configurations.  In a situation like this, luck and chance play a big part.  The photographer must control all the elements they can through composition, framing, and camera settings, and then allow the scene to play out in front of them.  So I would actually call this controlled chance.  There were a few very nice results, and I settled on an frame from the middle of the series, IMG_3306, as my chosen image.  In addition to showing the blur of the moto-taxi, it also captured some pedestrians across the street and fully showed the one-way sign, which I thought were nice additions to the image.  With these added elements, it becomes more of an overall “portrait” of the city streets of Pucallpa rather than just an image about motion.

The Post Process: To create the final image, I adjusted the color and contrast in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and in Photoshop (PS).  As you can see by the unprocessed images, the color and contrast is quite dull and lifeless straight out of the camera.  The original file was a JPEG file, and the Picture Style was Standard (I hadn’t started using RAW yet).  In ACR, the Blacks were increased to 10 to give it the nice deep blacks, which helps to make the bright colors pop even more.  A Fill setting of 10 was used to lighten up the foreground moto-taxi a bit, and Clarity +15 and Vibrance +10 were used to give it some, well, clarity and vibrance.  In Photoshop, the contrast was increased with Curves using a setting probably close to Medium Contrast.  I typically don’t make the blacks so black and purposefully lose detail in the shadows, but I was experimenting with this look and it seemed to work well here.  The image was sharpened using Unsharpen Mask, probably at Amount: 85 or 100, Radius: 1, and Threshold: 4.  Now I would try being more aggressive with the Amount and Radius, but I am not sure the 8MP JPEG file from the Rebel XT would withstand much more without starting to degrade.  Somewhere along the way, either in ACR or PS, the color temperature was also changed to warm it up a little, which is more in keeping with the afternoon sun of the Amazon region.  I didn’t crop the image at all, as you can see.  It is best to try to get the framing you want when you capture the photo, but I am somewhat surprised myself that I did it so well.  I once had a photo teacher in college who complimented me on my ability to capture the frame and not need to crop.  I just thought that was the way one was supposed to take a photo!  Thankfully I still sometimes demonstrate that ability.

The Final Image:

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography
Canon Rebel XT, 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II at 50mm, ISO 100, f/14, 1/20s

The Lesson: We should always learn from our photos, so that next time we are in a similar situation, we can create an even better image.  Some improvements I could have made to this image include using a neutral density (ND) filter or a polarizing filter.  This would have given me more control over the range of aperture settings that the camera selected and allowed for a wider-open aperture so that the far distance became more of a blur.  A polarizing filter would have also helped to darken the bits of sky that appear.  And as I mentioned above, a shutter speed of 1/30 would have still created the blur, but would have been slightly easier to hand-hold without creating unwanted blur in the background due to camera shake.

This image was chosen to be used on the cover of the programs for the Brooklyn Philharmonic’s Nuevo Latino Festival in 2009.  Incredibly, the near square crop of the image works really well too:

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography

So hopefully you can see from this explanation and from my previous posts that photographs don’t necessarily just happen.  They are created through a combination of thought processes, a series of decisions, and the application of camera settings based on these decisions and on the situation at hand – plus some controlled chance!

See the Related Posts section just below for links to parts 1 and 3 in this series.  And learn more about how to take control of your camera and the images you create with my Full Stop e-book camera and photography guides.

Full Stop photography e book camera user guide Nikon Canon dSLR

Cambridge Carnival 2010 in Cambridge, MA:  the music, dancing, and vibrant colors of the Caribbean, conveniently found down the street from me today.

All of these images were shot using a Canon 50D (60D is current version) with the 70-200mm f/4L IS lens.

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography

There is a very recent and timely post on PhotoFocus about photographing parades.  It has some useful advice.  I would add to that a few more:

-Arrive early and work your way into the assembly area, where there is often a sense of tension and pent-up excitement.  Capture photos of participants getting ready and chatting, musicians practicing, and posed portraits of individuals or groups who are eager to have their photo taken in their outfits or costumes.

-During the parade, always be aware of your image backgrounds.  Position yourself so that you have light or dark backgrounds as appropriate, or crowds of faces.  Be sure you have clean, or at least not distracting backgrounds.  Use wide open apertures to make the backgrounds blurry and less distracting.  Some distracting backgrounds I had to avoid at this event included a bright yellow rental truck with the name across it and porta-potties.  Keep your eyes open for these types of things.  Changing your position and point of view can make the street, some trees, or the sky become your background.

-Be very aware of the light and where it is coming from.  Position yourself on the best side of the street so that you can capture the light on the participants’ faces.  Or backlight them if you want photos with sun-flare.  Position yourself near intersecting side streets where the sunlight is unobstructed by buildings and trees to avoid shadows across the parade route.  Look for mirrored, glass, or light colored buildings to act as natural reflectors which throw back and diffuse the light nicely onto all the participants.  Of find areas with light and dark shadow areas and try to highlight a participant as they step into the light.

-Bring ear plugs so you can concentrate of taking images even when the giant sound truck is stationed right in front of you.

-Experiment with slow shutter speeds to create blurs of motion and color.  Put your camera on shutter priority mode (Canon=Tv or Nikon=S).  Try starting with a shutter speed of 1/30 and adjust from there as necessary.

-If you are using a flash outdoors, do not use your flash diffuser (like a Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce) except for very close portraits.  All you are doing is reducing the light coming from your flash and causing your flash to work harder and take longer to recycle.  It does not change the “softness” or the “warmness” of the light from your flash.  A flash diffuser works by bouncing light and diffusing shadows because the light is then coming from various directions.  It does not magically “soften” light.  You can not bounce light off the sky.  It just doesn’t work.  Use your flash straight on, dial it down minus 1 or 2 so that it doesn’t blow out highlights, and use an orange or straw gel if you want more warmth.  It is much more efficient to reduce the light from your flash by dialing it to -1 and having it use less of its power than it is to put something in front of it and cause it to use more of its power, all for the same look.  If you wish to spread its light, use the built-in, flip-down wide angle screen.  I don’t care if you see the “pros” or the guys with the big cameras using one – they haven’t bothered to read the instructions.  They aren’t able to bounce light off clouds just because they have big cameras.

Some recent portrait sessions (see them here) have led me to the realization that it is finally time to get my flash off-camera and to expand my knowledge of lighting for portraits.  Since I’m currently working with a camera that doesn’t have built in remote flash triggering, this means I either need a cable or remote triggers.  But which one?  Expensive TTL or radio triggers?  Cheap eBay triggers?  A basic sync cord or a more costly TTL cord?  How long?  A 3′ cord for hand holding, or a longer cord for putting the flash on a stand?  Or both?  What situations am I going to be using them in at home and while traveling?

3268 LSS on beach
Jan. 2010 – Plum Island, Newburyport, MA – Canon Rebel XT, 105mm (28-105mm lens), 1/500s, f/4.5, ISO 200 – natural light at 4pm on beach

The more thought and research I put into it, the more the possibly necessary equipment began to add up:  a stand for the flash, plus maybe a Justin Clamp.  A stand and special arm for the reflector.  Perhaps then a softbox or an umbrella.  Then what else…?

I’m not a strobist.  While I admire the cool things one can do with lighting and I sometimes desire to overpower the sun, it’s just not the kind of thing that gets me excited about photography.  I have more of a photojournalist instinct.  I’d prefer to simply work without a flash most of the time, to make the most of natural light, and to capture the reality of situations in front of me.  But my experience has shown me this isn’t always possible so I decided to seek out a viable alternative for situations I assumed required flash, and to learn how to maximize my use of natural light without sacrificing lighting quality.  Thankfully I quickly discovered a book that demonstrated this was possible – Available Light: Photographic Techniques for Using Existing Light Sources by Don Marr.

Unlike countless photography books that stress the importance of looking at, understanding, and making use of natural light but then leave it to the photographer to figure out, this one leads you directly there.  It is short, simple, and intuitive – so much so that I didn’t write down a single note during my first reading.  It shares knowledge and techniques that can easily and immediately be put to use, such as with this photo I took soon after reading it – look at that glow!  100% natural light:

8772 LSS portrait
Sept. 2010 – Cambridge, MA – Canon 50D, 75mm (28-105mm lens), 1/125s, f/4.0, ISO 200 – natural light at 3pm just inside the shadow-line under a concrete overpass

While we all know to photograph in the shade on a sunny day or how an overcast day is supposed to create nice, soft lighting, with this book it suddenly all clicked and I really understood why these things are so.  When walking around outside, I’m typically always aware of the intensity, direction, color and quality of natural light.  I now realize that in itself was not nearly enough.  Now I have gained the knowledge to work with the natural light and modify it to create the softness/ hardness, direction, color, and intensity I want, whether I am working on an overcast day, at high noon, inside, outdoors, or any other type of situation.  The book also makes one very aware of the existence and potential use of natural reflectors everywhere which will help give you the lighting you want: a wall, the ground, a pole. And it explains the important concept and effective practice of subtractive lighting, used to even-out or create the desired lighting instead of turning to flash to artificially add to existing lighting. The author does not just guide you to finding and creating good light in any situation, but to light that fits your subject and the way in which you wish to portray them, whether that includes soft light or hard light, even light or deep shadows, hair light or flare – or whatever.  I would love to summarize the whole book in this post, but I think it’s better that you just go to your library or Amazon.com and get it!

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography
Nov. 2009 – San Miguel Dueñas, Guatemala – Canon 7D, 135mm (70-200mm lens), 1/200s, f/4.0, ISO 1600 – natural light at 3pm diffused by the fiberglass panel ceiling/ roof of her home

I feel that this book has set me on the right path, away from what I thought was inevitable membership in the Strobist club.  While the author is not against the use of flash, and certainly not against reflectors, this book offers a refreshing and viable alternative to that never-ending accumulation of equipment and techniques, and I encourage off-camera-flash fans to read it as well so they can learn to look for beautiful natural lighting alternatives that will give them as-good or even better images, before instinctively setting up their lighting equipment and knocking down the natural light in order to rebuild it artificially.

In the process of my strobist research, I came back around to the photos of Joey Lawrence (Joey L), and in particular his images of the Mentawai.  They are wonderful images and beautiful portraits, but something about this project has always rubbed me the wrong way.  My recent research into artificial vs. natural light has helped me to think this through and start to figure it out.  I’m always disturbed when people or crews invade, er, I mean visit a culture or community like the Mentawai with a bunch of equipment and ask them or pay them to pose for photographs or footage.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with it and his subjects obviously enjoyed cooperating in his project, but I simply have a different philosophical and stylistic approach – more documentary and photojournalistic.  Plus I feel that there should be more of a unity of subject and technique.  In other words when celebrating (or is it romanticizing?) people’s close relationship with their natural environment, one should perhaps not light them with giant, unnatural, high power artificial lights!  The disharmony certainly creates stunning photos, and that kind of lighting is part of Joey L’s established style.  Possibly the contrast between the natural surroundings and the artificial light helps to emphasize the dichotomy of indigenous people living in a modern world.  But I just feel it would have been more interesting and authentic to make use of the unique natural light of that place when romanticizing, er, I mean portraying the people and their relationship with their environment.  That being said, I am very much looking forward to Joey L’s Faces of a Vanishing World TV series (starting on September 27th on Ovation TV) in order to get a glimpse into how he works in the field and see how he creates his dramatic and undeniably stunning images.

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography
June 2008 – Sillustani, Peru – Canon Rebel XT, 90mm (28-105mm lens), 1/800s, f/5.0, ISO 100 – natural light at 4pm on the altiplano near Lake Titicaca (that is a different lake in the background)

One of the unique aspects of different places in the world is their unique light:  the light at high altitude, in a desert, equatorial light, sunset in the Cinque Terre or Santorini, and of course the diffused light of a rainforest.  Why not try to capture that light as part of your images of a place?  At least, for the strobists out there, I encourage you to first look at and possibly incorporate the natural light before instinctively and blindly setting up the strobes.  In reality, I think it is probably a much greater challenge to find and shape the natural light, but it is a challenge I intend to take on for the long term.

0212 LSS Roosevelt Island portrait
March 2010 – Roosevelt Island, NYC – Canon 50D, 70mm (70-200mm lens), 1/125s, f/4.0, ISO 200 – natural light at 5pm in open area

It seems that a lot of photography blogs that aren’t caught up in discussing the latest equipment and technology (as I find myself doing lately) are often addressing the struggles of photography, art, and creativity. Most every photographer seems to relate to the frustrations of not being able to create the images that they wish they could – images like the ones of the photographers they admire or images like the ones they envision in their own mind.

This isn’t a bad thing, and in fact this dissatisfaction with one’s current work is one of the most important components in inspiring and pushing oneself to improve. But there is a huge problem if this struggle becomes angst and doesn’t serve a positive purpose. It is an easy path to fall into with photography, especially when just starting out or soon after technical and equipment mastery is attained. There is so much to learn and everyone else seems to have picked up important and secret knowledge which you don’t know where to find. And there are so many great photographers out there who you like and no matter how hard you try your images don’t look anything like theirs.

Rome Casa Blanca and Statue piazza del quirinale black and white italy
Rome – Statue in front of Palazzo del Quirinale

I fell into this trap when I first became serious about photography. I saw images in galleries, museums, and magazines (there was no internet yet…) that I wished I could create, but had no idea how. What kind of camera were they using? What kind of chemicals and darkroom techniques did they use? Where did they come up with their ideas and inspiration? I had no idea, but tried to learn what I could from books and experimentation. But the learning curve was so steep, my interests and ambitions were too broad and scattered, and the dedication was not yet there. The angst and frustration built and slowly I stopped even taking photos. I had wanted to create great images at will but knew I couldn’t. My results rarely matched my vision, so I stopped making any images at all.

Rome Bernini Fountain piazza navona italy
Rome – Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Bernini facing Sant’Agnese in Agone by Borromini and Rainaldi

I thought the angst was part of being an artist, a photographer, and that holding onto it would lead somewhere. But the angst didn’t get me anywhere. In fact all it led me to was abandoning photography. Years later, when I became frustrated with the limitations of my digital compact and dSLRs became affordable, I decided to give it another try. I went out on my first self-assignment, not really knowing what I was doing, relearning how to use a camera and compose photos. But this time I had a different attitude, a new mindset. The photos on my LCD screen still didn’t look like the ones in my head, but I didn’t care, and I continued to happily work away. I knew I was learning with each photo, I didn’t expect instant masterpieces. I knew I would improve over time when I studied the results and identified the differences between where I was and where I wanted to be.

Rome Piazza Navona woman walking italy
Rome – Piazza Navona

Most importantly I had finally given up on trying to take Ansel Adams’ photos and started to take my photos. If they weren’t any good, I would keep taking my photos, and figure out how to make them better versions of my photos. For the first time I was truly happy with my images because I stopped comparing them with some real or imagined perfect images that I would never take. It doesn’t mean I still don’t have the angst. Every time I look at Ami Vitale’s photos I want to take Ami Vitale’s photos. But I let it go, I don’t let it become a negative, limiting frustration. I study them and learn from them, but I continue to take my photos. Because those are really the only ones I can take, and those I the ones I am happiest with anyway.

So it is true – as everyone concludes their “photographer’s struggle” blog posts: just get out and shoot. That is virtually all there is to it. But there is another important component. Let go of the angst. Art and creativity does not equal angst. Change your mindset. Stop dwelling on creativity, thinking about creativity, reading about creativity…and just go create. Shoot your photos, improve on your photos, and be happy knowing that with each frame you are learning and progressing. Besides, you shouldn’t want to be imitating anyone else because you don’t want to be called “The next Henri Cartier Bresson.” You want some future budding photographer to be called “The next (your name here).”

Rome Sant'Ivo Sant Ivo alla Sapienza Borromini Italy
Rome – Street with view of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza by Borromini

(These photos were taken the first time I ever used a “real” camera, an SLR – a Canon AE-1 I borrowed for an afternoon. Taken in Rome, Italy in 1990 or 1991 while studying with the University of Notre Dame Architecture Rome Studies Program. Not a bad start, huh?!)

This post is the first in an occasional series in which I will describe the making of a photograph, from both a technical and artistic standpoint. I’ll go through the camera settings and why they were chosen, as well as the thought processes going through my head regarding composition and the creation of the image. These types of posts will be concrete examples of a previous post of mine called How Pros Photograph, which describes the various decisions that may be going through a photographer’s head as they work a scene and make photos.

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography
Ventanas Abiertas – San Miguel Dueñas, Guatemala – Canon 7D, 16-35mm f.2.8L II at 35mm, ISO 200, f/5, 1/100s

The Photo: As the first example photo, I’ve chosen the full, original version of the current header image of this blog (also seen just above), a line of kids reading in the courtyard of Ventanas Abiertas, an after-school learning center in San Miguel Dueñas, Guatemala. I traveled to this NGO near Antigua in November of 2009 to photograph the center, its founder, teachers and students, and its work in the community. I created this strip of images showing select photos from the series as I worked towards finding and making this image:

The Process: As I roamed the center taking photos, I spotted the kids all lined up on a curb in the courtyard, reading. The linear composition and the striking yellow wall made for a pretty obvious opportunity. I had a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens on a Canon 7D, with a protective UV filter on the lens. I first took a shot from a standing position, composing the image with the kids across the center of the frame. The focal length of the lens was at 23mm, a wide shot to capture the whole scene. That shot has a bit of a snapshot look, and didn’t take full advantage of the yellow wall, had far too much of the grey concrete patio, and created too static of a composition which did not make use of the opportunity to apply the rule of thirds for a more dynamic composition. I re-framed to move the line of kids to the bottom third of the frame, and still had the lens wide and was standing. To better fill the frame with just the kids and to create a better point of view, more on the level of the kids, I crouched down and zoomed in to 35mm. Although the 35mm focal length is a wide angle and thus prone to distortion, due to my camera to subject distance there is only a slight amount of distortion in the image. If I had moved closer to the subjects, more distortion would have been obvious. At this point I checked my settings and saw I was at ISO 400 from the previous shots in the shade, so I lowered it to ISO 200 since the late afternoon light was still pretty bright. The lowest ISO possible for the given situation will typically create a higher quality image file. For all the shots I was using Aperture Priority mode. I almost always use Av mode unless i am dealing with motion or blur that needs to be controlled (then I use Tv mode), or am using the flash in a controlled situation (and then I often use Manual, M mode). The aperture was set at f/5.0 to give me a relatively shallow depth of field, but enough so that the kids and the wall behind them were all in focus, but anything inside the doorway and window would be a bit blurry and thus less distracting. Unlike most of my images, the aperture setting wasn’t critical here, as the depth of the entire image is mostly all within a couple feet, from the kids’ toes to the wall behind them. So f/4.0 or f/8 would have given me virtually the same image. At ISO 200, the shutter speed was at 1/80 or 1/100, which was fast enough for handholding. A little faster would have been better to ensure there was no blurring if a child moved their head or hands during a shot, so leaving the camera set on ISO 400 would not have been a mistake.

As you can see in the first several photos, many of the kids were aware of me taking their photo, and were posing, goofing, or self conscious. I continued to take a few shots and waited for them to begin to ignore me. I liked the composition, and the window and the doorway to anchor the sides of the frame, so I continued to take the same shot, attempting to get the best moment of poses and facial expressions. I attempted to keep the image straight, aided by the lines visible in the viewfinder of the 7D. For all of the shots, I manually selected an auto-focus point, using a point below the central focus point which would line up on or near the face of one of the central kids. This would take advantage of the nice contrast between the dark hair and the lighter face to ensure proper auto-focus. By selecting an AF point exactly where I wanted to focus, I didn’t have to worry about focusing or have to re-frame each subsequent shot. The exposure metering was set on evaluative. The bright yellow wall could have easily messed with the metering, and I’m sure another camera like my 50D would have miscalculated the exposure based on the wall, but the 7D performed nicely on this mode. I checked my histogram a couple times to make sure I wasn’t blowing out any highlights and thus needing to use exposure compensation to adjust for that.

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography
The Final Image: Canon 7D, 16-35mm f.2.8L II at 35mm, ISO 200, f/5, 1/100s

I took a series of 19 images of this same scene, over 1 minute and 12 seconds. As you can see, it didn’t take long for the kids to begin to ignore my presence. My chosen shot was from the middle of this series, IMG_3068. It stood out among all the others in the poses, positions, groupings, and facial expressions of all the kids. Throughout the time of the series, a head appeared in the window, and people moved around inside the doorway. Luckily with my chosen shot, the head was in the window, as I like this subtle, almost hidden detail. I liked the bit of green from the plant on the left, but my chosen shot unfortunately doesn’t show much of it.

The Post-Process: To create the final image, I adjusted the color and contrast in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR). I had shot the image in RAW for maximum quality and processing latitude. Due to the available light of the scene and the proper exposure, it required little processing. I set the Temperature at 4600 and the Tint to 8. I adjusted Recovery to 5 to bring back some of the detail of the yellow wall which was very slightly blown out, Fill to 15 to lighten up the children’s clothes, Brightness stayed at the standard 50, I set Contrast to 20 with plans to increase it a bit more in Photoshop. Clarity 20, Vibrance 15, and Saturation 0. I like a bit of color saturation, vibrance, and contrast in my images, but I prefer not to overprocess or to make the adjustments obvious. While the yellow of these images is definitely vibrant, especially compared to the dull, neutral RAW images, it is a realistic representation of the actual color. Typically I straighten and maybe crop a bit in ACR, but miraculously this shot was very level, and also left no room for cropping. In Photoshop I used Curves to adjust the contrast somewhere between the Linear and Medium presets, and used Unsharpen Mask to sharpen. I don’t know what my exact settings were, but I had to use aggressive sharpening because the Canon 7D I used had a severe front-focusing problem. The settings were probably Amount: 175 or 200, Radius: 1.8, and Threshold: 4.

The Lesson: We should always learn from our photos, so that next time we are in a similar situation, we can create an even better image. Some improvements I could have made to this image include possibly crouching or sitting even lower to be more on level with the kids faces (although this would have caused keystoning of the vertical lines), eliminating the doorway at right by either re-framing or moving slightly to the left (which would cut out a child or two on the right) or moving to my right and shooting back towards them at a slight angle, but this would have affected the straight-on view which I feel is important to this composition. I would not have minded a little more of the green plant on the left in the frame. The image demonstrates the importance of keeping the camera level and the sensor parallel to the subject to avoid unwanted distortion. The best way to keep the horizontal and verticals straight while taking the photo is to make sure the camera is not tilted up or down and that the sensor is parallel to the wall. This involves moving yourself and the camera up or down to get the framing you desire. Also, in post-processing, I could have used the lens correction menus in ACR or Photoshop to perfectly straighten all the verticals and horizontals. Finally, although the color looks good, now I would have paid more attention to adjusting the Temperture and Tint, or adjusting the white balance using Curves in Photoshop because I have experimented and learned a bit more about these settings since then. Also, now that I see IMG_3074 again, (the last one in the strip above) I like it a lot, and should probably process that one and add it to my collection of final images.

So hopefully you can see from this explanation and from my previous post that photographs don’t necessarily just happen. They are created through a combination of thought processes, a series of decisions, and the application of camera settings based on these decisions and on the situation at hand.

See the Related Posts section just below for links to parts 2 and 3 in this series.

And learn more about how to take control of your camera and the images you create with my Full Stop e-book camera and photography guides.

Full Stop photography e book camera user guide Nikon Canon dSLR

Images from a visit to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts:

MFA Egyptian

MFA relief

MFA Babylonian

MFA Lion

MFA Roman

Digital SLR Camera Lessons

I am offering one-on-one, individual instruction (or small group workshops) in all aspects of digital photography in the Boston and Cambridge, MA area. I will create a unique lesson with you that can include topics such as choosing a new digital SLR or advanced compact camera and related equipment, learning how to use the various settings and features of your digital camera, photographic composition and taking stronger images, processing and editing your images in Photoshop, and preparing for photographing while traveling.  The lesson plan is up to you and is customized to your interests, needs, level of experience, and specific equipment.  Subjects will be explained, demonstrated, and practiced in ways you will understand, remember, and use.

Please view the Lessons page here, or under Lessons in the blog menu above, to learn more details.

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography Cambridge, MA
Central Square – Cambridge, MA – “Crosswinds” mural by Daniel Galvez

Learn to use your camera with confidence, get the most out of your digital SLR photography equipment, and learn to take better images. Get in touch with me at doug (at) dojoklo (dot) com or at 347-272-Seven Thousand.

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