Anne Cook made a welcome return to Reflex with another illuminating talk that was, let’s face it, fun. We can’t always locate the terms guest speaker and fun in the same sentence and whether we learn anything apart from the hardness of chairs that children are subjected to in modern day education (chairs, damn it, the cold hard floor was what we got, etc etc) is not necessarily a topic we need to travel to club to speculate on. The feedback from members was particularly effusive which is always a good sign.
Ann showed, amongst many other fine examples some images taken at carnival, which is particularly apposite to this time of year as we are coming to the end of the Somerset season. The last one on the Somerset circuit is at Wells this coming Friday (18th November 19:00 get there early). Having attended the Burnham-On-Sea round this year I can definitely affirm that it is something well worth making the time and effort, if you can get there.
So we are going to look at taking photo’s of street processions at night. The most obvious thing is that we are talking of photographing very high contrast scenes, that are moving, admittedly slowly, that can look distinctly two dimensional as brilliant point of light swim through a sea of black, which generally require high ISO’s to get reasonable shutter speeds and some interesting metering challenges.
There will be the large floats, some a part of a two three or four articulated trailers, but there will also be smaller floats, hand carts and individuals decked out in lights, there will be groups and there will be all sorts of other wheeled and ambulatory traffic. Variety is not short at these affairs and the lights are the main attraction.
The basic answers to these conundrums is to crop tight, centre weight or spot meter and expose to the right.
Cropping tight means we are likely to even out the overall exposure in a reasonable amount of the frames we capture. We will still get areas of high contrast and some of them will still have totally blown out areas of white and areas of inky blackness, but there are a significant number where we can limit the dynamic range some. This can put more emphasis on the mid-tones but whether that is a good or a bad thing is a matter of taste and of colour.
Metering these days is a lot smarter than it was five years ago. Leaving our camera on matrix / evaluative (basically our cameras approximation of the whole frame) isn’t necessarily a disaster, modern algorithms are pretty good at drawing conclusions that prove to be reasonably “accurate” (they are accurate but that has to be measured against our expectations) but we are talking an average balanced somewhere between the highest and the lowest value. Most cameras have the opportunity to switch between two other modes that increasingly ignore larger parts of the scene.
This gives us more information about a smaller part of the scene that we have judged to be more important. How do we know that? Well we’ve pointed our camera at it and taken notice of what effect this has had on our suggested exposure triangle settings. This is either because the scales in our view finder for shutter/aperture or under or over exposure are indicating a problem or the scene in our EVF is too dark or too light. What the camera has done is taken all the zones programmed into it and set these against where we are focused to give the reading a final weighting. There are other considerations but these change form manufacturer to manufacturer and can incur consideration such as colour, highlights and so on – Nikon use a comparison data base of shots of similar light/shade characteristics. This is common to Evaluative and centre weighted modes.
More so than fancy names for “Taking-the-whole-frame-into-consideration”, centre weighted does what it says on the tin. It takes the information in the centre of the frame into account either severely downgrading or completely ignoring the information on the outside of the frame. It doesn’t, by and large take notice of the focal point, instead just giving it a general, centre balanced reading. By restricting the area taken into consideration, prominence is given to the area more likely to include the crux of the image. Good when the boarders contain light that is in strong contrast to the main subject and might otherwise have undue influence on the final decision.
Spot takes the central are only, around 2% of the frame, around the focus point. Everything else is ignored. Photographing wildlife or Super-moons (or just the plain old ordinary moon which in the carnival context is a lot more apposite) benefit from this. Taking the moon in particular, the difference is a blown out image using the evaluative or centre weighted options because the light reflected from the moon is many, many times stronger than that which might be bouncing around the rest of the atmosphere. The argument in the wildlife example stems from a similar situation, say in the question of a bird in flight where it will be darker than the sky it is set in, or for the variations between fur and the cover it is in or breaking from. A characters face in comparative dark to the lights of a float with, potentially, tens of light bulbs throwing a shadow, yields a similar situation. Our meter might read the scene but in ways only remotely related to the way we see it.
Exposing to the right in itself gives no clear clue as to what exactly it is we are talking about. It relates to the histogram (posh name for graph) that we find somewhere in our camera’s menus and which we can turn on so that it appears in our camera’s live view and or view finder (depending on make and model). Pretty much every camera has the facility including some, but certainly not all, compacts and is also referred to as ETTR, even in polite company. The way the histogram is set out the shadows are on the left and the highlights are to the right. We don’t want spikes at the extremes of the scale because that tells us we are producing images that are heavily under or over exposed. Fine, but only to a degree, if we are shooting high key or low key portraits or similar.
What we want, in an ideal world is for there to be a fairly even shaped curve in between the two extremes of the histogram. That gives us an image that is evenly exposed. Of course this depends on the lighting of the scene and in extremes we know that shadows are more recoverable than burnt out highlights (if it is truly burnt out there is no useable information there to recover). Therefore we expose deliberately for the highlights in the picture and recover the shadows in post using whatever editing programme we have access to.
Of course it is a matter of personal preference, some people are dead set against the idea of ETTR, personally I find it useful, especially when someone else is controlling the lighting. In the studio we have more options and it entirely depends upon the sort of image we want to craft. The argument evolves around the number of tones on show in the image. If we are shooting a 12 bit RAW image we have 4096 tones available across the range. Each f-stop in our range (remember our meters render an average for the scene) accounts for twice as many tones as the previous one as our f-number increases. The brightest part of the range in the image accounts for half of the available tones, the next stop about half of that again and so on. The whole calculation takes place within the dynamic range of the camera sensor and that again is dependent upon make and model.
What happens is that by exposing to the right stretches out the details to the left and the more that happens the less smooth the transition between the dark tones, and we risk compromising the quality of the picture. That is why we need to look at taking pictures of the carnival floats in the context of the other two considerations we talked about above because the more we operate towards the centre of the cameras dynamic abilities the more leeway we have to accommodate the extremes of light and dark.
Go and enjoy.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Kev Spiers and Rich Price on their return to Iceland.
Last meeting was convened at the Grand Pier Weston Super Mare for a evening’s photography along the front covering both Weston Bike Night, the beach and the sunset across the Bristol Channel. Have to say that the clouds and the sun didn’t disappoint and the turn out wasn’t at all bad given the weather forecast and people’s work commitments. Certainly the black of the rain bearing clouds in banks and the gold of the setting sun made for interesting vistas out over the Channel to Flat Holm and Steep Holm. Of course there was also the Grand Pier itself, which is not exactly a hidden feature, Brean Down and Knightstone Island.
So this week a little on photographing motorcycles. It goes for cars too but your Blog editor is a motorcyclist, so that’s what we are mainly going with. There are not quite a half dozen of us in the club I know as motorcyclists (there are a few more former motorcyclists) and a couple of us have trekked with our cameras over the years to the National Exhibition Centre for Motorcycle Live and other venues and events. As machinery goes motorcycles are actually quite photogenic, but they are not, necessarily that easy to photograph well. In the street they are either moving among traffic – not the easiest of things to get a clear shot of – or parked on a side stand – occasionally a centre stand. Usually among other motorcycles, which doesn’t always work out favourably for photographers. In more rural settings they are generally a blur of noise and speed, or parked up as per the above.
Certainly shows and sporting events are the best way of getting chances to shoot more memorable images. Also going to and from events like the Weston Bike Nights (Thursday’s over the summer), Poole (Tuesday’s and, possibly, the biggest in the UK) and Paignton (Wednesdays) at a suitable and safe place can be good too. Static displays can be captured at wide angles but the pictures with movement in generally speak to short telephotos. This speaks to both practicality and safety for you and the riders, who, by and large, tend to be quite friendly.
The most important element, as ever, is the photographer, not the equipment, but as we are talking equipment then the statement about lenses made in the paragraph above needs to be qualified. The “best” focal length is probably short telephoto, certainly 50mm and above. The reason for this is that the shorter, wider lenses, add an element of distortion which can exaggerate the length of frames or make wheels look, well, not very round. This is fine if that is the look you are after, but accurate record (side on) shots, regardless of how creative, really need a perspective that 50mm and above create.
Apertures, more often than not, tend to favour the wide. This is because the background easily distracts and it is not unheard of for there to be gaps in the bike frames, especially on classic bikes, where in focus backgrounds can be a little diversionary. In fact one of the best pieces of advice I have been given about taking a photograph I have heard – though it can be a counsel of perfection as with any other – is start with the background first. Keep confusing strong lines and confusing strong colours that clash with the paint scheme of what you are trying to photograph out of the frame as much as possible. Of course, if you are photographing a row of motorcycles then the depth of field might well need to be deeper, but generally a moderate depth of field will allow for some background blur and sufficient depth to allow for the bits that stick out of the frame to be kept reasonably sharp. Remember here we are still talking about taking images of static bikes.
As with most forms of photography a low angle to the sun helps with illuminating the subject, so getting up early in the morning might not be avoidable, though Bike Nights cure this affliction. However, shooting from a low angle is pretty much standard. One other piece of equipment that can prove invaluable is a reflector. You can get a 5 in 1 cheaply enough from eBay (I have seen 60cms reflectors for £5 and 110cms for a shade under £10), and it is a good investment because more often than not there will be areas around the engine that are in shadow and rather than faff around in post light reflected back onto the engine and frame can eliminate the problem at source. Also very useful for other sorts of photography too.
On the move there are a different set of circumstances to be taken into account. Primarily safety. It’s very easy to get lost in that narrow field of view that is the world through a viewfinder but we have to be, legally and morally, aware outside of it. If you want movement shots at the Bike Night or other event get to know the approach roads on a map before you go. Roundabouts tend to be a favourite, the larger ones at times without too much traffic flow are generally good for getting pictures of bikes at an angle of lean. Actually any bend is good that requires more than minimal input from the rider. Lenses will depend on the situation that you are taking the pictures in, but again telephoto makes more sense, especially from the point of view of safety. Of course you won’t be the only one who has thought of that, and some people make money out of doing so – some organised events have cameras at the entrance so you can see yourself arriving – for a price. Whatever the case you are going to have to sort that out according to the location and some common sense.
If you are at a motorsport event then there are a couple of givens. The pro’s have all the best spots. You will be a longish way back from the actual action. That said there are a couple of obvious things you can do about that. Position yourself on a or as close to a bend as you can. Easier photographing a bike doing one mile a minute rather than three miles a minute. Your autofocus will thank you. Actually it will thank you for turning it off and zone focusing (pre-focusing), but more critical is slowing the action down relative to the camera position (usually head on or as close to it as is possible safe and desirable). Motordrive is an option that shouldn’t be over looked but it has to used deliberately. Spray and pray won’t get you a huge amount of useable material. Chimping is a great way to miss the action totally. Panning is an art that requires a lot of practice but if the shutter speed is low enough and the focus on the moving object good it gives a great feeling of speed (which actually can be very low, as per most supercar on road magazine shots). Go out and give it a go its actually rather fun.
N E X T W E E K
Tintern: – which means bridge tolls so lifts etc might be a good idea.
Meet in the Abbey Car Park at 7:30 pm.
We’re off on a Road Trip to Burnham on Sea
A few weeks back you may remember that Burnham on Sea Camera Club paid us a visit to show their amazing photography. We’ll this Tuesday, 13th November, we are off to their neck of the wood to show them the images our members have created! I can’t put too much in this post and if you want to see the work we’re taking down to show them, you’ll have to come along and see.