I went to the zoo for an afternoon last week with a friend and managed to snap off a few “keepers” despite the oppressive heat. It was actually hotter outside than it was in the usually super-humid indoor exhibits…
…Is the simplest way to better pictures. Plain and simple.
Most images are taken from eye level (booooring). It is what we see on a daily basis. So I ask you this: When was the last time you saw someone crawling around on the ground and, when you inquired (quite concernedly, I would assume) as to what they were doing, they simply replied “I just wanted to see what it looked like from down here.” NEVER! So be that person. Look at the world in ways most people can’t or don’t. Just make sure you have a camera in your hand so you don’t look too crazy.
I was on my way home from a meeting downtown earlier this week and traffic was horrible, so I decided to head to the Evergreen Brickworks to kill some time, take some pics and to see what all the hype was about. It’s a pretty neat place with lots of little details to shoot. Here are a few pics from a quiet weekday afternoon…
For those of you who have attended one (or more) of my classes through Henry’s School of Imaging (www.schoolofimaging.ca), there was likely at least one point where I deviated from the curriculum and went on a tangent about how much I love Macro photography and Macro lenses. In addition to being able to focus at very close range (sometimes within an inch of your subject, whereas a standard lens often requires you to be about a foot away), Macro lenses are also widely heralded for their unparalleled sharpness and fantastic Bokeh (the out of focus area in the picture below).
The primary reason I gravitate towards close-up macro photography is simply because it can produce something that we can’t see with the human eye. For example, if you bring an object to within an inch of your eye, you won’t be able to focus on it. However, with a Macro lens you can, and depending on the lens, it is often magnified even further.
When I’m feeling photographically uninspired, I will oftentimes throw on my Macro lens and explore what would normally be mundane, everyday subjects, discovering abstract shapes, lines, textures and patterns (see above and below).
One thing you have to be aware of when shooting with a macro lens is that you often need a tripod for the best results. Because you are in such close proximity to your subject, camera movement becomes more of an issue when hand holding. Think of this in the same terms as shooting a small subject at a distance with a telephoto lens. Even the slightest movement of your hands will result in a blurry image.
When it comes to getting great exposures, the more you leave up to your camera to decide, the more your camera will likely get it wrong. The more you take control, the more you’ll learn and the better the results will be. This is why most Pros shoot in Manual mode, so they have full control over their exposures. If you aren’t quite there yet, here is a tip to start compensating for your camera’s shortcomings when shooting in P, A/Av, or S/Tv modes.
Exposure Compensation allows you to adjust for your camera’s metering system when it gets the reading wrong (although technically, right). This happens most often with an overly bright or overly dark scene, and sometimes it does this as if on a whim. If the camera sees too much dark, it will automatically compensate for it and make it brighter. And if it sees too much brightness, the opposite will occur, you’ll get a darker exposure. Oftentimes the easiest way to correct for this is to use exposure compensation to trick the camera into getting it right.
Example: Have you ever taken a picture only to have the resulting image come out with what seems to be a grey wash over the entire thing (like the image below)? Well, this is your camera’s metering system getting it wrong (although technically, right). It “sees” so much brightness that it figures it should darken it in order to achieve a “middle grey” exposure… Camera Fail! To compensate for this, you’ll want to use some + exposure compensation to brighten it up. How much should I use, you ask? Well, that depends on the overall scene, but a good starting point would be +1. Not enough? Add some more. Too much? Take a bit off. That is the beauty of learning on a digital camera… You don’t have to pay for each exposure like we had to when we shot film.
Another example: Have you ever tried to take a picture of the moon? How did that work out for you? Big, bright, blown out white blotch where that nicely detailed moon was supposed to be? Black sky now kind of grey-ish? Yup. Thought so. Usually this is an exercise in frustration for new photographers, but if you can learn to think like your camera, you’ll be able to balance out its shortcomings. In this case, the camera is seeing an abundance of black (the night sky) and a smaller bright spot (the moon), so it thinks the scene is too dark and wants to brighten up the exposure. The fix? Simply use some negative exposure compensation to right the ship.
A really easy and inexpensive way to get nice, natural looking Portrait or Macro shots is to use a reflector to bounce or diffuse light. Whether the light is natural (sun, or even sun diffused by clouds) or artificial (flashes, strobes, etc.) a reflector can add diffusion or dimension to your photo. The most common type of reflector is the 5-in-1 reflector that has White/Gold/Black/Silver/Translucent sides. They come in many sizes, but the most common are usually in the 40″-42″ inch range. These fold up nice and small for portability, usually about 1/4 the size of the fully expanded reflector. Now, why would you need a reflector with 5 different colours, you ask? (you did ask, right? Please tell me I’m not hearing the voices again!) Well, here is a quick breakdown for you:
- White: To reflect your light source on to your subject with the most natural results. The white surface will take on some the colour of your source, which helps it to blend in. This is most commonly used when you want to fill in the opposite side of your subject. Use the white to bounce light and fill in unwanted shadows.
- Gold: The gold side of the reflector helps add a punch of warmth to your subject. This can come in handy when used on a bright, sunny midday portrait, because the colour temperature tends to have a blue tint to it, so the gold works to add warmth.
- Black: Really? Black? Yup. Black helps to draw light away from your subject to help enhance shadows. It can also be used to block or direct light from a flash or strobe that you don’t want to spill everywhere. This is often referred to as a Gobo.
- Silver: The Silver side is like the Gold side, only it’s, ummmm… Silver. What I’m trying to say is that the Silver side produces a punch of brightness, like the Gold side, but instead of giving you warmth, it provides a cooler, albeit, harsher reflection on to your subject.
- Translucent: The translucent center of a 5-in-1 reflector comes in really handy if you need to diffuse light. A good example of this would be when taking Macro pictures in the middle of the day. Simply position the reflector between your light source (in this case, the sun) and your subject, and Voila! Diffused sunlight. Now, doing this would require one or more of the following: Extreme dexterity; an assistant to hold the reflector while you take the picture; a reflector stand to hold the reflector in place (what I used in the example below); or a tripod and a remote release for your camera so you can set everything up and hold the reflector yourself. Actually, a tripod should be used in all of these scenarios. An absolute necessity with macro photos.
Here is an example of what the translucent center of a 5-in-1 reflector can do:
Quite a difference, no? Being able to shape and diffuse light is paramount in photography. Reflectors were created for just that reason. So the next time mother nature hands you weather lemons (what?), say thank you (it’s the polite thing to do), then grab your reflector and shape the light.