We are all photographers together but that doesn’t mean that we all have it sorted and that we cannot learn from each other. Last meeting we ran our inaugural “Ask Reflex” evening whereby members submitted questions over the previous few weeks and we took it in turns to try and answer those queries with the support of the audience. All in all it went pretty well.
Gerry Painter did a fine job of coordinating questions and answers for the last evening’s event, and a big club thank you to him for his sterling efforts and to Dan Ellis for putting the questions up on Facebook. Gerry also took on the bulk of the answers himself with his usual diligence and was aided by Steve Hallam and Ian Gearing. We may not have had time to get through all of the questions but the bulk of those submitted were answered as well as some supplementary questions and observations from members who were making up the audience.
I have set out below a rough outline of the evenings questions and answers, where this has been practical, with links where appropriate and sources where quoted. Again my thanks to Gerry for help getting this into the blog. I hope you find it useful and as stimulating as I did. There are a couple of extras in there as well that were victims of time pressure.
These were submitted over a couple of weeks by members and covered a wide range of topics. The value of this, and anyone who has run a development day or attended one will probably attest, is that the questions are actual, involved and real as opposed to what someone thinks members/readers need to know. The questions were, thereby, entirely authentic. It also reflects the strength of the club that such a forum can be run without becoming bogged down in people’s opinions. That is not to say that people don’t have them or that they are not strongly cleaved to, but the ideas exchange was positive and that plays to the clubs strengths.
Gerry split the questions into three categories: Camera, Software and The Photographer and we shall snapshot these categories in the rest of this week’s blog.
First up were questions to do with Depth of Field and that almost Sci-Fi sounding of objects the Hyperfocal distance. Both these terms are essentially about the distance from the lens that renders an object with suitable sharpness, best thought of as a “zone” and will vary according to the focal length of the lens, the aperture that is selected and the size of the sensor that it is being recorded on. This zone of in focus detail is deeper on small sensors, it is deeper on wide angle lenses and increases as the aperture gets smaller.
In layman’s terms the hyperfocal distance is the distance set on the lens to give a zone back from the horizon that is in focus to a minimum distance from the lens. The hyperfocal distance is a midpoint in this zone. Its especially useful for landscapers. Again it is relative to sensor crop, focal length and aperture. For instance, A 50mm “Standard” lens on a full frame (35mm) sensor at f11 focused at 9.3 metres would have a zone in focus, a depth of field, from 4.61 metres to a theoretical infinity. Same settings on 1.5 factor crop (APSC) sensor found in say a Nikon D3300, would give you a depth of focus from 5.58 metres you 37.86 metres(5.71 to 24.98 metres on a Canon 1.6 crop). Now this comes with a big health warning. Don’t get all hung up on the infinity thing. The actual hyperfocal length on a full frame 50mm lens set at f11 is 9.09 metres and the furthest in focus 1.75 kilometres. Now given the perspective that a 50mm renders the background is going to look relatively sharp a good deal less than one and three quarter kilometres away, depending on how big it is. Gerry’s example of the mountain at the end of the road was done with an 18mm lens on a 1.5 crop sensor (think of crop in the same term as when you crop a picture, what it is is a 1.5 time smaller sensor in surface area than a full frame 35mm sensor, which is really 36mm!) set at f11 and roughly a metre and a half away (5 feet). The hyperfocal distance of an 18mm lens is 1.8meters. If you have a smart phone get something like Photo Tools which is a free app and calculates this and a whole lot else for you. For a visual explanation of this check this out.
What is a Mirror-less camera?
OK, yes it is one without a mirror. The mirror is what lets you see in your viewfinder what your lens is focussing on. A mirror-less camera does away with this making it mechanically simpler. You see what the sensor is seeing so you have the WYSISYG advantage (what you see is what you get). This makes the application of effects in camera easier because you see the exact outcome in your viewfinder as well as on your rear screen. They tend to be smaller. There are some drawbacks. Mirror-less camera like the Sony Alpha series, the Fujifilm X’s and so on (but there are exceptions), tend to show noise a stop or so lower than equivalent DSLR’s and battery life is shorter because you are powering two sensors/screens, there may be a little motion blur in the view finder (I profess I use one and frankly all the objections that I have been told people have with them don’t really add up to whole hill of beans for me). The difference in 7 seconds is explained here, though you might want to watch it a few times.
What changes do you make to your camera to make the background dark when the camera gives a lighter one?
There are a number of possible answers to this, but looking at this as a question of exposure compensation it is pretty well explained here (this is not a plug for his book, I haven’t read it). Running this with the next question,
How would you take a picture of a bird such as a swan without losing detail but not under expose the rest of the image,
you should also take the old adage that you should expose for the highlights and print for the shadows and in a difficult situation like this one shooting in RAW is definitely prudent because of the greater latitude in the format over JPEG. Essentially at the very extremes of the exposure graph (histogram) details are lost to absolute black and absolute white, more visually in the case of the whites and, I am led to believe, over a wider spectrum. Digital cameras simply assign more resources to exposing lighter elements in images than the darker ones, as explained here. It also helps if you know how to read a histogram. Shooting to the right is basically about this. Shoot for the highlights in RAW and adjust in post production.
How does White Balance affect images and how do I decide which to use?
Bright and sunny weather has a different colour temperature than say the light on a cloudy day. Fluorescent lights have different colour temperatures to say candle light or tungsten. These colour temperatures are measured in degrees Kelvin. Your camera’s idea of what white is, is actually 18% grey. These two factors affect the overall colour of your image. Explained here. Not sure what the colour of the light on your subject? There’s an app for that (Colour Temp Meter, free on Android) or practice with the adjustments in your camera menus.
Moving on to the software section of the evening:
What ways can I “Dodge” and “Burn” an image in editing software?
The terms come from the dark room where these techniques, dodging a shadow over a too dark area, being sure to keep the tool, or your hands whatever you are using to dodge (or burn) moving so you feather the edge of the effect and lighten the area in the final result. Burning is the opposite where more light is allowed onto one area than the rest of the image to make it relatively darker. This is one thing that digital has made simpler. Using the dodge and burn brushes are the most straight forward ways of doing things, but you still have to be careful not to overdo the effect. Most digital editing software that offers you these tools will allow you to exercise the effect over the shadows, highlights and mid-tones. Essentially the same methods apply, that is the tools work in the same way. Adobe say you can do it this way as shown here. In Gimp, which we will come to presently, the Q&D version here and a more detailed explanation here is backed up by a text version in the online help.
Please explain layers – Photoshop Elements – (not Lightroom).
Layers are, essentially, the building blocks of those photo editing software packages that provide for them. They are a good thing because they do not alter the original image (you will see the word “destroy” often used, which is nonsense as you might end up with a horrible mess you can’t undo – avoided by working on a copy – but you will still have an image to consign to the recycle bin. It may be beyond taste but it won’t be beyond use, unless you try very , very hard, usually with the blending tool and the save button). They give you a wide degree of control and you can blend, change opacity, and generally faff, dither and prevaricate to your heart’s content. They are most effectively used when you know the look or effect you are after. A general guide to photoshop can be found here (there are lots to be found on You Tube). As with dodging and burning they essentially work the same way where ever they are found, just the switches and toggles tend to be slightly different (to avoid “Look and Feel” law suits from Adobe). As the question specifically mentioned Elements here are two guides I found:
How do you take a step back in Camera Raw e.g. if you’ve made a mistake?
Ctrl Z is the simple answer on Windows operating systems. There will also be undo on the Edit menu of most programmes. The defining factor is how many steps are stored for you to undo. Photo editing and graphics software tend to make a feature of having more. Ctrl Y lets you reinstate what you have just rolled back. Same on the Mac but Ctrl key is the Command key only far more expensive.
Which are the best FREE image editing programs?
The Daddy of free editing suites is GIMP, currently at 2.10 (the even numbers represent stable editions and the odd numbers like 2.09 beta versions). It has been around since 1996, is open source and for the money, excellent. It is a programme, i.e. it is downloaded to your computer rather than run on line through a browser. It’s not particularly resource intensive but it is pretty extensive. It does not have the slickness of the Adobe suite in operation, and it is always playing catch up and always will be. However, it is supported by an extensive community and once you get to grips with it, easy to use. Will accept JPEG RAW PNG GIF TIFF and so on
Pixlr comes as a free or a paid for edition, but at $14.99 per annum it is unlikely to break the bank.. There are desktop and browser editions. It is easy to use and comes with a range of useful tools. For quick fixes it is pretty sound and has a fairly extensive set of effects and layers that can be utilised. Works with JPEGS.
Picasa from Google has a couple of useful features, actually more than a few. It has colour correction and lighting options and a selection of filters, some of which are very useful. It will load and edit other formats but it saves in JPEG only.
There are lot of others (see here and here) and there is nothing to say that you have to pick just one. What does become important is that you sort out your workflow. I use Gimp, Picasa and Neet on a regular basis. The workflow is important, the more technical stuff is done in Gimp and any finishing desired in Picasa and Neat (noise reduction). Also working on copies is no bad idea. Doubly so if the original is in RAW, which I convert to TIFF if switching between that and certain other programmes. Gerry has made a more extensive and useful guide which can be accessed from this link >>> RCC_free_editing_software
Time was against us so we moved to the photographer section and the last three questions were rolled together as they presented a logical conclusion:
How do you motivate yourself to go out and take pictures, or, what motivates you to take pictures?
A slight liberty taken with the question but I think it makes it more accessible to more people. See this PDF for the PowerPoint slides >>> Motivation & The Photographer
What types/range of lenses would you recommend that a general photographer should have?
From basics, you don’t need a lens at all, you need a beer can with a small hole in it and a piece of 7 x 5 photographic paper for the light to focus on. This could be added to the motivation list under get yourself a new piece of kit to work with.
Having thus caused a crash in the share prices of Cosina, Nikon and Canon through such heresy, I am going to talk a little about lenses (and thereby at least partially answer the question).
THE most important item in the relationship between the sensor and the subject is the lens. It will dictate how close or far away you are from your subjects personal space (where animate) and from the object being photographed (where inanimate). Their weight can effect your ability (in the case of the $2m 132Lb f5.6 Leica 1600mm zoom, hyperfocal distance a tad under 28km, probably several you’s) to move around. Then this is the lens that has its’ own 4 x 4 carry case.
The big difference for most of us is the zoom lens v the prime lens. Zoom lens are variable focal lengths, generally they are heavier than any equivalent fixed prime, and slower, that is to say the maximum aperture is generally smaller than for a prime. The big advantage of a zoom lens is that you have a whole kit bag full of prime lenses in one. Theoretically infinite, You have a variable field of view to go with the zoom. For example with an 18-55mm “kit lens” on a 1.5 crop APSC sensor has a 63 degree field of view at 18mm and 24 degrees at 55mm and everything in between. The simplest difference in use can be boiled down to the fact that with a zoom lens it’s the focal length that moves to get you closer or wider to the subject, with a fixed lens it’s you that has to move.
With wide angle lenses, those of 35mm focal length or less (it’s all relative to sensor size but stick with this definition and you will save yourself a headache), there is likely to be more going on in the field of view, so it pays to be aware of what is going on at the edges of the frame. Perspective is lengthened, there is more in view but it will also be relatively “smaller”. The obvious reason to mount a wider angle lens is to “get more in”. The better reason for mounting wide angle lens is to get in closer.
The “standard” lens, around 50mm, is the closest to the perspective of the human eye (apparently calculated at 42mm on a full frame, 35mm sensor). A telephoto lens start at around 85mm, often referred to as a portrait (as is a 105mm). This is to do with perspective. The snoopers lens of choice, it can be sometimes necessary to overcome physical barriers, to bring the subject optically if not physically closer. The down side is that it can give you the air of a stalker. A compression of perspective is the signature of the telephoto lens, the impression of foreshortening the foreground and background. There is one other common sort of lens to be found, the macro (close up). There are two sorts of macro lenses, those the product of the engineering department and capable of 1:1 reproduction and those the product of the marketing department which get to a fraction of this.
Regardless of which focal length we are talking about, composition is everything. The lens functions as the agent of composition. The photographer selects using the lens. In a general sense a moderate wide to a moderate telephoto zoom is ideal place to start. The kit lens is as good a place to start as any. If you have a particular need such as space restrictions (mine has to fit on a motorcycle) then maybe a super zoom, but you need to be aware of the pros and cons and weigh them carefully.
What should I be thinking about to make my holiday snaps into more interesting images?
In four words – all of the above. If you are still looking for ideas then see this pdf Gerry put together >>> RCC Becoming a better photographer
N E X T M E E T I N G
In honour of St Patrick >>> RCC_notice_Ian…
For most of us, it appears, Adobe Lightroom is all we are ever likely to need in a photo editor, and in this insightful evening, Kevin Spiers, Mark OGrady and Dan Thomas gave us a whirlwind tour of some of the possibilities. It certainly isn’t the only editor available, Gimp, Pixlr, Picasa, Paint.Net are all free alternatives with their supporters but none, as they appear to me, have an interface quite as slick and certainly none have the full capability of the cloud based full suite (Photoshop CC and Lightroom) which can now be rented at just under £9 a month. Mind you, photo-shopping is not always approved of!
Kevin was first up and showed us the cataloguing feature. An image isn’t much use to anyone if it can’t be found, and with the ease and cheapness of taking another frame comes the problem of sheer volume. The number of images quickly adds up. Looking for that photograph can soon become evidence of that old proverb involving needles and haystacks, though why anyone would think to even begin to look for a steel needle in a stack of dried grass, much less think that was a suitable storage medium in the first place, has always defeated me. Sounds like bad filing practice, which is exactly what the cataloguing system is designed to overcome. Like trying to find a needle in a sewing box. Simples!
Frequency separation is a technique that gives the user the ability to process the surface and the depth of an image in different detail layers. The image is divided into two layers, containing the high frequencies and the low frequencies and allows the use these layers to work on colours, on broad and fine details independently, using non-destructive changes to the original image.
Definitely an advanced users technique, but one that seems to be getting wider use over the last couple of years . It is, in essence, about utilising the different strata (think of a photograph as a sandwich and each component of the sandwich is both part of the overall sandwich and a thing in itself) that make up a photograph. Or think of your favourite song played by different artists , there are individual notes and there are chords arranged together in subtly different ways that form the overall, still recognisable but differently rendered, tune. If you change the chords and notes sympathetically you change the harmonies but can still retain the tune. Frequency separation is about using these strata to enhance or alter parts of a photograph in the process of retouching and moving the image to a more striking, enhanced representation. Again not a process without controversy, but something that started when the first human artist drew the first image and the first human critic ,that is the first person the artist showed it to, thought “That ain’t right”.
The technique involves creating two layers, a high frequency layer and a low frequency layer. The low frequency layer contains large areas of colours and tones and the high frequency area fine details like skin pores and blemishes, hair and so on. Julia Kuzmenko McKim gives a blow by blow account of this and also includes a Photoshop action that automates the process (which you might use, but entirely at your own discretion). These actions can be replicated in some other programmes too, Gimp, for instance has its own frequency separation plug in.
To the low frequency layer, Mark applied desaturation (taking it to black and white) and Gaussian Blur, also known as Gaussian Smoothing. Carl Friedrich Gauss was an C18th mathematician, perhaps the greatest since antiquity, whose work has had a huge effect on the modern world. It is the application of an algorithm derived from his work and that of Fourier which we need to know not even that much about, leaving such technicalities to people who have use for them. All we need to know is that it is a blur effect that reduces image noise and detail. Mark suggested using a brush around 3.5 to 5 pixels and though the size used would depend on the job to be done and the preferences of the user he suggested that would be a happy medium. The larger the brush the bigger the effect. On the high frequency layer he changed the blending ode to linear light and talked about the relative merits of the healing brush and cloning.
Starting with the low frequency layer Mark evened out the skin tones and then switched to high frequency layer to work on the blemishes, making sure that the healing brush was set to sample from the current layer. There are a number of techniques, he assured us, that can be applied, and people derive their own favourites and short cuts. The results were quite stunning and well worth trying out, more finely controlable than just stamping around with a clone brush. Mark recommended Scott Kelby‘s book on photoshop.
After break Dan took us through the Lightroom layout, which is set out in a way as to aid workflow in that the tools that it shows you at the top of the menus the things you are more likely to productively work on first. This all helps with the work flow. Dan emphasised the lossless nature of using Photoshop, leaving the original untouched. To emphasise these points he took us through some images that he had provided earlier and applied some of the options that the abundant menus allow the user to easily apply. Dan’s top tips? Take in RAW and Slide the Sliders! RAW gives you more data to work with and the sliders let you apply effects incrementally and as long as preview is switched on you can see the effects on your image in real time, saving considerable effort in going back and forth to check your image. There is a downside of course and that is, in the words of Yogi Berra (American baseball player and yes, that was his real name), “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else”. It helps to know what you want to do before you start fiddling around.
A great evening and thanks to Kevin, Mark and Dan for making it possible.
You can find an expanded version of what Dan took us through here and includes ground covered by Kevin as well and a whole lot more too.