Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Photograph: Setting Your White Balance

Manual or Not Manual, That is the Question to Be (Lit)
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
: 2008
Camera: Canon 40D, 17-85mm L f/4-5.6 lens
Settings: ISO 100, f/8.0, 1/320 second, 61 mm
Support: hand held

Details: This post is much less about the photographs (which I still think are nice) or techniques, but more about technology. Specifically, the White Balance setting. Most people are probably don't understand what White Balance is, so they just keep it on auto. Or, even worse, may use one specific setting for all occasions (very bad). Let me give you a bit of information on White Balance, some internet resources, and have encouragement to take it off the auto setting.

White Balance is the adjustment process your DSLR uses to process the colour of the scene the way it really looks. The reason it needs to do this is that different light sources (flash, sunny day, cloudy day, night, etc.) have different effects on objects that refract/absorb light. Unlike the human eye which is a master at intepreting the results, digital sensors and film do not adjust well under different conditions. Film would normally need special filters to compensate, while digital cameras have programs that adjust for you.

Auto White Balance is the setting which lets the camera program decide how to adjust the image based on it's light readings. While the programs are getting better, they still don't do a perfect job. Leaving your camera on AWB will usually result in less than optimal pictures.

Multiple White Balance settings are available on DSLRs and most point-and-shoot cameras. You should read your manaul to get an idea of what they do and become brave and try them.

Inital Adjustment of the White Balance is your best bet when getting ready for a photo shoot. Take a few shots with various WB settings and review them on your LCD. When you find one that looks best to you, start using that for that lighting condition. When the lighting conditions, location, etc changes, then start again. It only takes a few minutes and is worth it.

A word on Camera RAW. I have mentioned that I use this format (vs. JPG) in previous posts, and now you will know when. When you take photo with JPG, you are stuck with your white balance setting (unless you want to do a lot of Photoshop work). But with RAW format, it's the click on one button and voila!, it's changed. The reason is JPG is a photograph that was processed by your camera. RAW is an unprocessed image, and the RAW program let's you adjust the settings your camera would have used.

Internet Resources:
  • http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/white-balance.htm
  • http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/whitebalance.htm

The following photography was take with the camera's Auto White Balance setting.

This is the same photo, but with the Cloud White Balance setting. In my opinion, this looks much warmer than the auto setting. An excellent of how a minor setting can make such a large difference.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Photo: New York HDR

Dusk Upon the Empire

Location: NYC, New York, USA
: 2008
Camera: Canon 40D, 17-85mm L f/4-5.6 lens
Settings: ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/8 seconds, 61 mm
Support: resting on a ledge at the Top of the Rock

Details: My summer trip to NYC with my girlfriend proved to have lots of amazing photo opportunities. This photo is an HDR compilation taken from the Top of the Rock as dusk was setting in. Several people have liken it to a Gotham City sort of feel, which was not my original intent but worked great.

Here are some key tips about taking this short of shot:
  1. 3 Exposures or More - I knew I wanted to try to create an HDR photograph with the beautiful scenes from the Top of the Rock, so I purposely took three shots with a few scenes. If you have read my post about HDR, you know that you want to do at least 3 with a base, a +ve, and a -ve exposure adjustment. Most good DSLRs have this feature to do all three with the push of the button once. In this case I was at 0, +2/3, and -2/3 exposure value.
  2. Manual Focus - once you have the scene composed, always set the focus to manual so that the focus won't change if you need to press the button three times.
  3. Stability - I would have used a tripod for this, but they are not allowed at the Top of the Rock. Since you are taking three pictures in succession, you will need absolute stability. In this case I stabilized the shot by resting the camera on a ledge there.

Processing: I used Photomatix for processing the three photographs into one HDR photograph.

Below is the final HDR photograph.

The next three shots are the input files for the HDR photo.

Base photograph

+2/3 EV photograph

-2/3 EV photograph

Photo: Lightning Shots

Flash! Crackle! Boom!

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
: 2008
Camera: Canon 40D, 17-85mm L f/4-5.6 lens
Settings: ISO 100, f/7.1, 1 second, 47mm
Support: Manfrotto tripod
Other: wireless shutter release

Details: As a kid I was always amazed at lightning, whether at home in Halifax or on vacation in some exciting locale. The sound that you could feel was amazing. The bright flash that illuminates the night sky was eerie. The raw, untamed power that surges from mother nature's arsenal leaves one speechless. It was always fantastic!

Before I got into photography I would see the occasional photograph of lightning and would wonder what special camera must have done that. I thought it would cost a fortune to for that photograph. Then I got into photography and learned some tricks...

If you want to (try to) catch some amazing lighting photographs, here are some basic points to consider when you start:
  1. DSLR: You will need a DSLR that will allow you to use an external shutter release, have a manual mode, and allow you to set the speed to "bulb".
  2. Tripod: A must for sure, as you will have slow (1 or more second) exposures.
  3. External Shutter Release: I recommend that a shutter release is used so you can start the exposure without touching the camera. Set the camera to "bulb" mode, which means the first time you press the button you will open the aperture and the second time will close it.
  4. Aperture: You will want your aperture set to a level when it will take in a lot of light (since it is dark, but give a good enough crispness of foreground and background. Somewhere in the f/5.6 to f/9 will work well.
  5. Composure: You will want to set up your camera and compose the scene that you want. Try to make the area large enough to increase the chance of lightning in your photograph.
  6. Focus: You should manually focus your scene and leave it on manual, and automatic focus is slow/ineffective in the dark.
  7. Patience: You will need lots of it. This is my best shot (below) of my 50 photographs I've taken (the others had nothing!)
  8. Finger on the Button: You have two approaches. You can wait for a bolt and press the shutter release immediately, then close the shutter right after. This will produce a short exposure (1-2 seconds). Or, you can take random, longer exposures (3-7 seconds or even higher) in anticipation of lightning striking during a storm. You will need to adjust your aperture accordingly for longer exposures and based on the ambient light level.
  9. Keep Back: Perhaps obvious, but I will remind you that lightning is VERY DANGEROUS! Please observe the usual rules of watching lighting with respect to distance, what you are near, etc.
  10. Lucky Penny: A good lightning photography is hard to get, so if you know how to get some extra luck, please proceed.

Processing: added my signature in Photoshop CS3. Otherwise, no other processing.

Some Lightning Safety Tips:

Monday, December 1, 2008

Photography Technique: Fill Flash

Shadow Busters!

People often believe that when outside on a nice, bright sunny day that the flash on their camera will be useless. They spend the day taking shots, get home, and are sure to be disappointed by some photographs where the shadows are exceptionally hard on their subjects' faces.

The instant cure to this is to use your flash outside! That's right. Use your flash outside and love it! Do this when you detect that your subjects are in the sun and you notice some darkness around their facial features. If you are not sure, take two pictures - one with flash and one without (gotta love digital!).

Below are two pictures I took at Whistler in January 2008. The first has no flash firing, and the second has flash firing. At first they look very similar. But if you examine the faces closely, you will notice that the photograph with the flash has no pronounced shadows while the other one does.

I recommend you try this next time you are out and get a feel for what a flash can do to your photographs when in the sun!

No Flash

Fill Flash