Mostly photography and some other musings.

Posts tagged technique

This last summer I went to my birthplace. It is a small village in the middle of nowhere, almost. Someone told me to visit a tree. A tree that is 4 or 5 kilometres from my family home. Apparently it is an interesting tree, a really old one. So one afternoon I went on walking to the place. I was on holidays, with nothing else to do, so it was a good plan, as good as any other. It was a really nice walk, the light and the weather was great. It takes almost an hour, depending on how fast you walk, or how distracted by the surroundings you are.

The warm colours of this pictures are mostly because I had a wrong white balance setting on my camera. Later I tried to fix it post process, something that is easy if you shoot in RAW. But at the end, I ended with some very similar result to the wrong one. Tweaking the white balance is an easy way to get interesting (or completely wrong) colours in your pictures. And in this case, I like the results.

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Instead of a sports car for my 40th birthday, I got a new lens. I already have a 50mm lens, but it is a manual one, from ancient times. I missed having a bit more modern one. Now I can autofocus. I spent last weekend doing one-day trips to Norfolk coast and London. And so far, I’m quite happy with my new acquisition. I like this kind of lens. It’s field of view  is not very open, and less in a non full frame body as mine, where it is like a 75mm equivalent. It is more appropriate for portraits. But also when you want to get close to any kind of subject. The other way around is just keep distance from your subject.

I saw the mill in the first picture while driving back home. I just stopped my car in a side road, and without turning off the lights I took a few pictures of it. This one is my favourite. In the lower part of the picture, you can see a hint of the lights of my car. The second picture is London’s Millennium bridge, a highly popular tourist sightseeing. I think that when I took this one, I blocked the view of a far more professional looking photographer, with his tripod mounted and all. I’m sure you will see other (thousands) pictures like this, anytime soon…

I will post more pictures from this last weekend soon. I need to test more thoughtfully this lens. Maybe I’ll try a few portraits, something that I haven’t done yet. Maybe a selfie… 😉

I really like vertical pictures. I have no idea why, but I find that orientation really comfortable. Which orientation do you prefer?

Lets try something. Grab your camera and switch to manual mode. That mode where you can, using the buttons and wheels on the body, change between different apertures, ISO settings and shutter speeds. I know, that may sound like alien, at least it sounded like that to me the first time I tried something a bit more complex than a point and shoot camera. Basically, what those parameters control is how much, and during how long, the light enters in the camera and prints a picture on its sensor (film, for the old-school ones). What that creates is a darker or lighter picture. Also, it will affect to the blurriness of the image, in some specific ways. One thing we have to understand is that there is no perfect exposure¹. Your camera will have some way to show you, in advance, how dark or light your picture will be, but it is only an estimation, based on its metering system. Some people will tell you that your camera has a tendency to under exposure or over exposure but that only happens in the automatic or semi-automatic modes, and that is easy to fix with exposure compensation. We are experimenting with fully manual. And in fully manual you are the one who decides. And the nice thing is that in all the cameras, this mode works exactly the same. Lets start with the aperture. Smaller values let enter more light to the camera than bigger ones. So, if you dial a 3.5 as aperture, your image will be lighter than say, if you dial a 11. But something will change also in the blurriness of the image. For small numbers, the image will have a more blurred look around the point of focus. And for bigger numbers, everything will look sharp across the entire frame. From now, we will call those numbers f-numbers. The next thing is shutter speed. This value is usually measured in seconds, and fractions of a second. It tells the camera to let enter the light for a specific amount of time. Some cameras can get as fast as 1/8000 of a second. That is really fast, and very little light will enter in your camera, so things will look dark. But very sharp. Everything will look perfectly stopped in time, without motion blur. And the last parameter is the ISO value. This measures how sensitive to light the camera is. It is recommend to stick with the lowest values possible. Basically, lower values are darker than higher ones, but the higher ones will make the image to look grainy. And now you may be thinking: How do I guess which numbers I have to use in manual mode for this specific picture I have in mind? Well, there is not a right way of doing this². What now is needed is a better understanding of the relationship between those three parameters and what can you get tweaking them, because each of those parameters affects the others somehow. This works much like a tap with three different valves, and only practice will help. I can give some start: try a shutter speed of 1/100, aperture of f8 and ISO 200. This may work well for a sunny day walking in the town. Try and see what happens. If your pictures are dark, your first fix can be to lower the shutter speed, say 1/50. What may happen then is that people in the pictures are blurred because they move quick. Try then to dial less shutter speed, say 1/200, that will fix the motion blur a bit. Now it may look dark. Lets try now to open a bit the aperture, from f8 to f4. That will let enter a lot more light but maybe now things are a bit more difficult to focus (good for portraits, lees so for landscapes) . Then change the ISO, go back to f 8 and raise the ISO to 400 or 800… In this process, you’ll end with lots of pictures that look too dark, too bright, blurred or not, with more or less grain . Keep the ones you like most, and that is!. Soon, after a few thousands wrong pictures, you’ll gain confidence with this manual exposure mode. As I said earlier, this is a perfect mode for experimenting. For doing decisions about what look do you want to achieve in your pictures. This mode is not always useful, and it is only recommended  when you have time to try things. An example where this is useful is when you need to take pictures for a panorama. If you need to quickly grab a snapshot of some place or someone, better use the semi automatic modes, for example aperture priority is very popular and easy to use. With time and experimentation you’ll see what works best for you. I was going to add the usual picture of an exposure triangle, but Google served me this one first:

Have fun!

1.That perfect exposure concept is just that, a very subjective thing that depends on what exactly do you want to show in your picture.

2.This is just for the sake of this scientific experiment, right? 😉

Seen on twitter, I should have read a bit about this photographer. What do composition rules mean to you? Do you know about them? Do you need them? Are they useful to you? Do you break them? Or you just don’t care…

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I have a bit of obsession with one point perspectives.

It’s a kind of vertigo like effect. This one was taken also in Norwich cathedral. The lights in this part of the cloister were turned on already, and I had a lot of trouble with that, because a bit on natural light was still visible from the outside. Just playing with white balance gave me a very weird purple colour in the ground. So more colour tweaks were needed. As I said, I like one point perspectives. That’s why I also like Stanley Kubrick! 🙂

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This one is taken in the British Museum in London.

I tried to emphasize the shadow and light patterns with local contrast and tonal adjustments. I applied some perspective and rotation correction to straighten the vertical and horizontal lines. I thought that black and white was better for this image. The shooting involved a bit of patience waiting for those museum stairs to be empty except for one person. I didn’t care at that moment if he/she was going up or down. Now, I think that strong person’s silhouette works well, and adds scale and interest to the image. Thanks that day was sunny!.

I recently watched “Anton Corbijn Inside Out” documentary. I found it particularly fascinating. For sure you have seen some of his famous photographs. If you ever have had an album from Joy division, U2, Rem, Nirvana, or Depeche mode, to name only a few, you have seen one. They are usually high contrast black and white, and in some cases with cross processed film colours. Portraits of famous bands, with dramatic backgrounds.

In this documentary he talks about why he photographs music bands, and how that helped him to overcome his difficulties to relate to people. How his relationship with his family made him like he is now. Some aspects of his photography are discussed also, like the use of old film cameras to this date and his innate ability to see compositional aspects in an image, a thing that normal people learning about photography like me will struggle forever… 🙂 The documentary goes quite intimate, and at some point it looks almost like a filmed therapy session. There are some nice parts where people who has been photographed by him praise his job in some or another way. And the guy seems incredibly humble.

After watching this, I decided to have a look at his latest film, “The American”. He was the director. Critics have called this one an “anti Bond” film. People was expecting  a more action packed kind of film, and it is not. It’s rather introspective.

Here, the Metacritic reviews score for “The American”, and here is interview with him.

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Taken from Greenwich Royal Observatory, all photos processed with Darktable and stitched together with Hugin, great open source projects for image processing.
I think It is important to use manual mode when taking pictures for a panorama. This way you can ensure a coherent exposure between all of them. Some stitching programs have auto exposure correction, but I don’t usually like the results. I’d rather concentrate in processing one of the photos, and apply the same processing to the remaining ones. And after that, pass all of them to the photo stitching program.