Lighting options, from basic budget and food photography after break, special thanks to the ever inventive Ian Coombs for the artistic food plates, and to Myk Garton and Richard Clayton among others for their light tutorials.
The most important thing in photography is light and the best camera for the job is the one you have got on you. Two propositions that in themselves are their own truths. That said the cameras that we have offer us varying degrees of flexibility. Beyond developing us by making us think of the things that we do automatically more deliberately, an effect that quickly wears off, new/new to us equipment is just another way of getting the job done, maybe a little easier.
These days we are as likely, in fact, more than likely, to move from a camera phone to a more traditional form factor – something we think of more as a traditional camera – as a means of getting “better” photographs. Form factor is the physical size and shape of a piece of equipment. These days we think of cameras as being, mostly, hand holdable items. Certainly, when coming from a hand-holdable device like a camera phone, we look to how the camera handles, where the buttons are, weight and heft, balance.
Different formats have different aspect ratios, basically the ratio of the width of the sensor to the height. The 16:9 of our camera phones fits the the aspect ratio of our TV’s. Mirrorless and DSLT APS-C crop sensors are usually 3:2. DSLR’s (and SLR’s) 4:3. That effects how we frame – one isn’t necessarily better than another – because those are the dimensions we are given to work with. Those frames are given and we tend to adapt accordingly. It becomes more evident when we move between formats, such as cropping a 3:2 to a 4:3 competition format, especially for prints.
The sensor size is usually the single biggest factor in overall quality. Not necessarily the number of (fantasies of camera company marketing departments, by and large) but the size and number and layout of the pixels. A phone sensor is approximately 5mm x 3.5mm, a full frame camera 34mm x 24mm. Compacts, Bridge Camera’s, Micro Four Thirds, APS-C come in between. Bigger is generally better.
More complex is the arrangement of knobs, switches and dials, which at best will be software options, more likely not options at all, on a phone. Full manual is a lot easier concept to mount on a larger form factor.
On the flip side pure convenience, connectedness with programmes and channels that enable sharing of pictures, and, not least, portability are on the camera phones side. These days people rarely travel beyond the front door without their phone and therefore a camera. The biggest downside remains those lower quality images, which look fine on a phone screen, probably the most frequently employed method of display.
Although what we see as a “proper” camera these days is subject to change, the fact remains tha the best camera you have is the one you have got, but there is no escaping the fact that cameras still take pictures but photographers make photographs. Make a poor photograph and it will not be improved one iota by how much money was spent and how sophisticated the means of capturing it were. It will remain poor.
Last week we put forward the proposition that light is everything in photography. It is. This, sooner rather than later, leads the photographer to the question of “Settings”. Indeed the more time we spend on the internet the more it would appear that settings are the most important thing in photography. They are not. Light is. This obsession as Mike Browne points out, is nonsense on stilts. Settings do not lead to the picture. The scene, what we are taking the picture of, leads to the settings. The light is what nature or the photographer, makes it (natural/artificial light). Light is everything in photography.
The principles set out using a portrait setup are applicable to everything else. A good way to think about using light is that we are manipulating the direction of light and from that the direction of shadow. The same effects can be replicated using a torch or reading light, LED or other strip light, a flash or a specifically designed lighting rig. A piece of grease proof paper makes a great diffuser. Black card or material makes a good flag. Aluminium foil makes a good reflector. The important thing is to practice. As with last weeks video a simple set up is best. To remove the effect of colour use black and white. Try replicating this short video on your own table top.
Our speaker this week was Richard Price talking on the very small and the infinite (at least the bit of it we can see) – Macro to Astro. As ever a hugely informative and accessible evening given to a packed hall.
When talking Macro (on a ratio of reproduction to actual size of the subject of 1:1 or greater) we will be including what is close up photography too as there is a technical difference but not, as far as next meetings practical is concerned, no difference worth the time.
These are both areas of photography that appear complicated but, whilst demanding, they can be easily accessed. And they are both absorbing aspects of photography and being both accessible and demanding they teach us a lot about our equipment and how light works with it. It also tells us a lot about our kit and can involve finding work arounds. For instance my manufacturers own 50mm lens will not work on anything but manual and with the depth of field preview button held down with my extension rings. My third party lenses work just fine. Took a while to work out how to get the nifty to work, but it was worth the effort. With a mirrorless camera like mine the DOF preview button is usually redundant -what you see in the view finder is exactly what you get as an image. Only it isn’t redundant at all and I am rather glad it’s there.
Of course, how near/far you want to go is a matter of budget but only really at the extremes. You can get some perfectly acceptable macro shots with a kit lens and a reversing ring (about £7 for a 52mm filter – size it’s written on the front of your lens, in the case of our 52mm example as Ø52). You can also use a coupling ring to reverse one and add another lens to it to make a longer focal length and a greater degree of magnification. In both case it might be advisable to take any UV filters you have off the end of the lens.
The next option Rich gave us was using screw in filters (lenses) of varying dioptres. These are available for around £15 (and upwards depending on filter size), but as with everything else you get what you pay for. Essentially these are like reading glasses for your lens, they are lenses that fit on the end of lenses. If you buy them for the largest filter size you have in your range of lenses you can buy a set of step down rings to fit them to your smaller filter sizes (usually for around £5).
Extension tubes, moving the lens away from the focal plane foreshortening its focusing capacity, use no intermediary glass at all, so there is no risk of flare or softening enhanced by putting more barriers between subject and sensor. By shortening that distance a degree of magnification results by getting closer to the subject. This is generally a more expensive route than the two previously discussed. this is because a certain amount of electronic communication has to be allowed for in the design of the tubes and this complicates the manufacturing process making it more expensive. It isn’t always effective either (see example given above) and work rounds result. However, the more you pay, generally, the more you get in terms of functionality and performance, though this is not an absolute guide.
Finally there is the most expensive option, the dedicated macro lens. Without a doubt this is the higher performer when it comes to producing quality of images in terms of sharpness and contrast, and without a doubt. But all that comes at a cost and even the cheapest all manual lenses cost several hundred pounds. Whichever route we go, macro/close up photography can be done anywhere and relatively easily and cheaply. One extra technique that might help is Focus Stacking. It can be done in Photoshop, as per the link, but failing that you might want to try CombineZP which is free and simple to use.
Now focus stacking as a technique makes a good link to the second half of our evening, Astro-photography. The reason being that photo stacking is an often used technique when taking photographs of the stars. It’s not an absolute requirement, though, and the basics are relatively straightforward. Rich recommended using StarStax, which is freeware, as you were wondering and developed with astro-photography in mind. But we get a little ahead of ourselves.
Dark areas in the UK are few and far between. Light pollution is a serious problem, not just for photographers but for wild life too, in our rather crowded island. Even in designated Dark Areas there are problems at the extremities where towns and villages emit a glow low on the horizon. So it takes some work.
The pollution part is best thought of as the light you would eliminate if you could. The night sky isn’t black, the horizon is always discernible. The sky itself is also quite bright. If we are trying to record as much detail as possible (known as Deep Sky astrophotography) we are going to be fighting the noise generated by the sensor of the camera, especially at higher ISO’s but even at the lowest setting because where there is a signal there will be noise. If we treat the sky as black either by exposing or reducing it to black in post production then the fainter details are going to get lost. The point is the sky isn’t really black, it’s closer to a dirty orange colour. Because of the light pollution and the reflective nature of Earth’s atmosphere.
We can get round this in post by adjusting levels, picking the darkest part of our image as a start point with the eye dropper and adjusting the levels. It’s a matter of trial and error really. As is white balance. Regardless, this will all be a matter of trial and mostly error at the beginning and that is actually part of the fun. Learning new techniques like this means we learn more about the competencies and capabilities of our equipment and allows us to do more things with it.
Our thanks again to Richard and good luck as he takes this and his other presentations on the road.
N E X T M E E T I NG
Macro and close up practical evening. Bring cameras tripods and that reversing ring you just ordered off Amazon.
We’ve done landscaping (an excellent evening by Stephen Spraggon, highly recommended if the comments of members after the session are anything to go by: and they are) and portrait lighting (members Gerry Spencer and Steve Dyer putting up an excellent show against recalitrant technology – again set members abuzz) since the last post (plus the Sun has made an appearance, at last, but rain still predominates) and that gives just a taste of the variety that there is to be had in the club programme. If members have a contribution they can make or a suggestion for the programme then please get in contact with Myk Garton, either at the meeting or via the club closed group Facebook page.
Interesting article on Petapixel this week, about the merits of relative sensor sizes (and other bourgeois concepts – see last post) where it matters to a professional. Pictures sold. Photographer Chris Corradino finally sold more of his micro 4/3 taken pictures than his full frame, rather underscoring the point made here countless times that when looking at a photograph no one can tell you what it was taken on. Even if they could, and maybe there are some people that can, or think they can, in the end it does not matter. The viewer isn’t the slightest bit interested in brand, sensor size or manufacturer (often not who you think), lens, weather sealing, menu options, filters or the colour of the photographers woolly hat (mine is black by the way). They are interested in, engaged by, the image. OK sometimes a few of the 2.6 billion estimated photographers (probably the hobbyists, pro’s and semi pro’s) on the planet might occasionally think “How did she do that?” but the answer is usually on YouTube, the web or in a book (old fashioned and distinctly analogue concept I know, but irreplaceable in my far from humble opinion).
Novelty aside, if megapixels, maximum apertures, brand name, cost of glass were more important than composition, the exposure triangle and actually pointing the camera at something remotely interesting in the first place, then you could simply buy your way to success. This is one area in life, though, where you can’t replace the (hopefully metaphorical) blood sweat and tears of learning a craft. For sure you can spend 20 hours or so getting a firm grasp of the rudimentaries and turn out some decent pictures if only more through accident than design, but, as the ever quotable Henri Cartier-Bresson pointed out: “Your first ten thousand photographs are your worst”. And he was talking in the days of film where the cost of your next frame was a consideration in pressing the shutter. Maybe it is now our first hundred thousand pictures that are our worst.
So what is the point of top end equipment? Essentially it is about flexibility and durability. Specialist requirements aside, such as tilt shift lenses and medium format cameras, it is about being able to go one stop further because you have to, it is about the ability of the equipment to take constant rough handling and still work; it’s about eliminating design and manufacturing flaws in optics which most of us either live with or don’t even know exist; it’s about built in redundancy whilst still being able to function. It is as much about confidence in the equipment working as anything else. What a professional pays for is not to worry about the kit working so that they get paid, not sued – and have a spare to hand anyway. And that is worth the premium as a professional photographer who gets a reputation for not delivering does not remain a professional photographer for long.
Then there is that old saw, “The best camera is the one you have with you”, which may be what the philosopher Daniel Dennett called a “Deepity”. A Deepity, according to Dennett, is something that sounds important and true but is really false and trivial. In this case the point is that which you have will freeze the moment in front of you before it disappears, that which you desire cannot. True but not very helpful. What it implies is more important though, and that is learn to use what you have to hand. The question is how does this handle the exposure triangle not what does this do?
Take the example of the camera most people have with them all the time these days. The one on the mobile phone. Yes they are subject to the same financial restrictions as making any other camera and once they were just an add on. Today they form part of the buying decision, certainly they are a big consideration in the makers marketing processes and therefore manufacturing decisions. Some professional and semi-professional photographers shoot on nothing else. There is even a hip term for it iphoneography, named after the Apple range, long held to mount the best cameras in a phone, but that is constantly under challenge from other manufacturers, such as Samsung. Huawei have gone so far as to link with Leica, who were part of the design team for their P9 and P10 cameras.
The basics stay the same as hinted at above, just altered a little. Get to know how your camera app (there are lots to choose from on both Android and iPhone) handles the exposure, ISO and aperture. The tools of composition don’t change. You are going to have to choose between digital zoom (reduces quality) and getting closer/further away by walking (reduces shoe leather). You can buy accessories to snap on your phone cover to act as wider angle or more telephoto (at a price) then you have to carry them and unless you are deliberately choosing the mobile phone as your camera of choice they are as likely to be elsewhere when you need them as to hand.
OK so in order to make the phone camera useable by a wider audience you might get some scene modes, like fireworks, portraits, indoors, HDR, slow shutter and so on. This is a, maybe I should say was a, big feature on compact cameras (still prefer mine to my phone, not least for the optical zoom). There is a trick to using these outside of the do-what-the-icon-says-to-take-pictures-of. Basically you need to experiment on controlled light conditions. You can then apply these camera settings as short cuts in the wild, so to speak. That’s before you get to the editing stage.
Editing on smartphones too often appears to be of the smear on variety (possibly because of the nature of the touch screen, more likely a love of the ready made), and is as subject to fashion as anything else. That is not to say that it cannot be used to add to the image overall, but it too often ends up looking like an amateur production pantomime dame made up in a hurry because he picked the kids up late from school. And there is the whole JPEG thing to yawn about. Yes you can shoot RAW on (some) smartphones and yes the same reasons exist to choose whichever you want according to your need. Same applies to this as to the pro-equipment remarks above, not least RAW cannot save a badly composed or otherwise uninteresting image.
Just because you have the latest and greatest smartest phone EVER, doesn’t mean that you are going to get an acceptable result simply by waving it at something vaguely interesting before going click. You are still going to have to work the scene, use different angles and shooting positions, get closer, get further away and so on. Consistently good images demand work as well as an eye for a picture and taking multiple images is no more expensive than on a stand-alone camera. Keep shooting until the moment is done, then and only then, move on.
N E X T M E E T I N G
ROC Round 3 Judging.