Photography lessons on my other blog

Photography lessons on my other blog

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Photo selection tips

I want to share some of my experiences in photo editing. Technically, editing photos has to do with choosing the best ones, not as in processing and adding effects. (A newspaper editor sifts through and selects content, rather than only fixing typos)

The first and the last photos of a sequence are usually the best

When I am taking a photo of unsual shapes such as a forest or broken buildings, my first shot is usually the best, since I usually capture the shapes I saw from that point of view which was the reason I lifted my camera to my eye. There may be some distracting or imperfect elements, but if these are not too obvious (or easy to crop out) then the photo is still a keeper. If the initial photo was good, it can be hard to walk away and come back and get the exact same striking composition and angle.

Unfortunately, my first photo of a sequence is often plagued with several issues.

  1. It may not have been in focus (autof focus was confused or you were just unlucky)
  2. blurred from handshake (urgency to take the photos), or have innappropriate aperture, or incorrectly exposed (due to sky or shadows).
  3. there may be a better angle (crouching) or spot (on a hill) which could produce a better image of the subject or scene.

Sometimes I want to refine the photo if I am not happy with it, or I want to take a few in case the focus or metering is a bit off. It helps to make gradual changes from one photo to the next to deal with issues, which means the final photos will be immensely better than the first few at the start (particularly if those first few had no clear subject or purpose).

There may be some distracting items (bit of sky at the top, white car in the background) which can be removed, I like refine the composition by stepping to the side, looking up slightly, removing distracting items or clutter.

I have a good memory and eye for detail, so I like to make a lot lot changes in one go, if the initial photo was disappointing in several respects. Such as choose a warmer white balance, change focusing to spot instead of auto, compensate EV down by 1 stop, turn VR on (it might have been off for tripod work) and maybe zoom in or stand closer.

Don’t delete photos on the back of your camera.

  • If you have the space on your memory card, you don’t have to delete photos. If you do delete something, it’s only saving you like 2 seconds when you choose to delete it on your computer rather (when you can retrieve from the recycle bin easily).
  • The standard preview is not sharp, unless you press the zoom in button (magnifying glass with a plus sign), which zooms in slightly. Also pictures look different in sharpness and maybe even composition or business, when comparing the small LCD to a computer monitor.
  • Colours are not reliable – my D90 has a magenta tint to the LCD and the D7000 has a green tint. This is noticeable when the D7000 photos seem a lot greener on the LCD than on a computer. And even when looking at the menus with the screen side by side of the two cameras, the D7000 is very green.

Over- or underexposure can be good

Don’t always disregard or delete a photo if it too dark or too brighter. Often a lot of detail can be recovered in processing a RAW file. They tend to capture more detail in the shadows than highlights, so if I want the sky and ground to be darker I will choose a photo that is underexposed by -0.3EV to or maybe -1EV, then brighten the ground will fill light or a gradient while keeping the sky a deep blue.

I like to use Lightroom3 for RAW processing by Adobe Camera RAW for Photoshop should be fine. I find that if photos of people are overexposed by 0.3EV or 0.6EV, you can decrease the Exposure value in the software and the colour will come back and the white shiny highlights on their face will disappear. Trying to correct for a whole stop (1EV) difference usually means the skin tones turn grey.

If a photo of people or a landscape is underexposed, increasing Exposiging in processing usually increases saturation (grass in the shadows becomes greener) and increased contrast. The contrast can be solved by decreasing Blacks value from 5 to say 3, or altering Contrast or Tone Curve.

Deliberately overexposing on your camera can work well for high key portraits on location or the studio. I find evening light or cloudy weather suitable for this, since the soft even lighting on the face suits balances with the naturally high contrast look of high key. The eyes and mouth have more emphasis, imperfections on the skin tend to disappear and the background goes light and dreamy.

LR3 Lesson – set the FB caption for photos, when you import them from your camera

Edit: In 2013, it seems this method no longer works for automatically captioning in Facebook.

When you upload photos to Facebook, is there an easy to set the captions of all them so your name, your link or the date is included? Yes there is and this lesson teaches you how to do just that, for existing photos in the Lightroom3 library photos. Then I show you how to set it up for future photos you import from your camera.

Below: the caption “Photo: http://www.michael.currin.co.za” is automatically replicated for all the photos when uploading to FB

screenshot from Facebook

Screenshot showing the link as caption in FB

To set caption that for all the photos in the folder (or your whole library if you want)

  • select the photos in grid view (Ctrl-A for all in folder)
  • the caption field will say <mixed> if some of the selected photos have different or missing captions
  • type a caption / choose a caption preset
  • you get this dialog.

(You could use Sync Metadata function instead.)

Now, when you export those photos as a JPGs from Lightroom3, the caption can be viewed in the EXIF data in a photoviewer or Windows Explorer. An especially useful part of setting the caption is that when you upload those exported photos to Facebook, the caption will be filled in already.

You could of course set the caption for a bunch of photos in Windows Explorer. But the advantage of Lightroom is you can apply your Caption Preset to photos automatically on import. When importing photos from your camera or hard drive, set the caption to your preset, as below.

Import dialog, bottom right

This will be applied to all the photos imported in this batch. It should hopefully become your default caption on each future import as well. It’s a good idea to save it as part of an Import Preset (below), which defaults to your last chosen Import Preset. This one below is for importing photos for my External hard drive (letter J). The develop setting includes a split toning I like to add to a lot of my photos.

Import dialog

Thanks for reading, let me know if the instructions are clear enough. Be sure to check out my other lessons on Lightroom and photography.

Photography interview with Deepika Hatton

An online interview with Deepika Hatton currently her final year at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland, Australia. It was part of an investigation into Creative Industries for a case study. The case study is intended to provide aclearer understanding into the photography industry and what it takes to break into this field of work.
1) What education did you take before getting into this industry?

None.

2) What did you do to find work in the industry?

I printed business cards, I watermark my photos often. I do good work and then people recommend me to others.

3) pre requisites for the career : Passion, dedication, equipment, time management?

passion I think. If you don’t love photography, you won’t be putting your effort into being the best you can be and being creative. Patience is needed to cope with the times when nothing seems to be working out for a while. Of course for sports, concerts, etc. certain equipment will get you highly printable photos and a higher success rate of sharper photos (given movement of the subject). But you still need to understand your equipment and have an instinct for moments and timing. If you are doing something in easier conditions, such as a daylight model shoot, or a party or a landscape, you can get professional results with entry level equipment if you know how to use it really well.

Planning is important to avoid double booking events and to make sure there is enough time to edit and send photos on a deadline.

4) day to day activities and monthly activities that occur?

I like to go out and take photos for fun of things around me. I get asked to a lot of events/parties, at least one a month I would say. Every couple of weeks I do a model shoot and I used to go to concerts a lot.

5) After graduating University/ Colledge did you find it esasy to get a job yes or no? and why?

I am still studying Marketing at my university so I am not into photography fully. It is easy to get work as a photographer, but typically in parties and not in specialised areas.

6) What advice would you give to someone starting up a portfolio : online, facebook, hardcopy? and what makes a good portoflio and why?

It should be short – www.michael.currin.co.za my DeviantArt portfolio limits to 4 galleries with about 18 pictures each. I only put my best photos on there and I update every few months. If you want to post hundreds of photos from events etc., put them on your personal Facebook page, photography FB page, or on a blog.

7) Whats the biggest learning experience you have faced / dealt with in this industry example: travelling, money, changing jobs?

Working with people is very difficult. It’s easier to do jobs or photos for fun which don’t require a team of make-up, stylists etc. but sometimes you need them and have to work around when they are late or they are busy that day.

8) Do you take on interns / trainees? if so, what jobs are they given?

I have occasional requests for someone to be my apprentice, though I can’t take on everyone and it would be unfair to choose only one. So I have a few friends who ask for advice online or in person, also sometimes I go on a daytrip with to teach them about their camera on an interesting location.

9) How long have you been a phographer for / where did you first start out?

I got my first camera at the end of 2007 but I have only been taking it seriously since I upgrade to a semi-professional quality camera at the start of 2010.

10) Do you think the photography industry is dying out because of amature photographers? yes or no and why?

I like how information and equipment is a lot more freely available because their are so many people demanding it as customers and businesses are providing it. I have at least 10 photography books and I know of several camera stores in my area.

However I have heard that professionals find it more difficult to get work then there are so many amateurs who are increasing their skills and sometimes getting great results with budget equipment. I think this will mean professionals have to work harder to be seen as the best and very creative. No one says it is easy to make money in photography (except if you are brilliant at weddings or something, but that takes years), so if professionals can’t make it then they might have to have a second job to keep someselves going.

Interview for Rands & Sense magazine

For the Rands & Sense magazine of 2011, I was interviewed by Stephanie Craig of the Commerce Students Council (University of Cape Town) about my photography experience.

Knysna harbour

Knynsa harbour large version

1) How did you get started with photography?

I worked with Sony compact cameras since 2008. I decided around the start of 2010 to upgrade to a bigger DSLR to take photos of dark situations like live bands. After a few months, I began taking photos for Big Concerts of bands backstage and I got to do my first fashion shoot. I started to get a lot of requests to cover events and parties and did a few band shoots with local bands like Captain Stu. My involvement in journalism came towards the end of 2010, when I joined the Varsity newspaper, UCT Thursdays and the Ikey Rugby magazine.

2) Who taught you to take photos professionally?

I am self-taught, as are many professionals. When I am stuck, I read online lessons or the manuals. When I need inspiration, I look at other artists on website DeviantArt. I like to tell people that I think I get bit better with each photo and I take a lotof photos, so that adds up to plenty of experience in all kinds of situations.

3) What are your future plans? Is this just a hobby or are you going to turn it into a career?

I am studying Marketing at UCT and finish in 2012, so I still have time to decide. Photography is very competitive since there are many people trying to get known and be successful. Photography is my way of having fun and meeting people. I’d rather not turn it into a career, since I would end up choosing the assingments that pay the most (like weddings) rather than what I want to do.

4) Who would you say is the guy behind the lens?

I develop myself as I discover how the industry works. I strive to be an excellent photographer by visualising scenes before they happen while at the same time always being open to spontaneous moments, spectular shapes, unusual angles and beautiful lighting. I spend time learning how to market myself and how to co-operate and network with people. When doing band or model shoots, I find it is very important to direct the subjects politely and make them feel confident and comfortable. Forced expressions and poses tend to look unnatural – the best pose is often during the transition between poses, when I will say “Stop, hold that pose! Please.”

5). Why do you like photography? What attracts you to it?

I spend a lot of time working on pictures that may never get viewed much, but I do it to improve myself and to relax. When I have my camera with me at an event or party, I enjoy seeing the reactions of friends and strangers… when they see a photo that carries a lot of feeling or beauty, or when they laugh at photos I took of them and their friends.
Photography is also my escape. In Knysna over the mid-year vac, I went off by myself the one day to spend a couple of hours in the afternoon and again at sunset taking photos of boats in the harbour.

6) What is your favourite thing to photograph?

I get the most satisfaction from taking photos within in a challenging genre. Bands were my favourite for a long time, now my favourite thing to do is organise model portfolio shoots at beautiful locations such as a forest, field or train station.

Studio shoot

Studio shoot

7) What inspires you?

I don’t learn the names of famous photographers, but I feel inspired by certain unique or emotional styles of photography. I disect their technique and I apply to my own work such that I aborb as part of my style, then I take it further with my creative.
I try to assess the techniques and ideas used in music videos and films, so that I can incorporate into my own style to create something suitably epic.

8) What’s the worst part about being a photographer?

It’s very easy to get stressed by deadlines and when my photos are in demand, and sometimes feeling lost when I don’t know why or for who I am taking photos for. To cope, I try to focus on the things that make me happy and that keep me inspired.

9) What’s your biggest achievement to date with photography?

Getting to be the regular photographer for Big Concerts for over year is definitely the best thing that has happened. I get to take live and backstage photos of most of the bands that come from overseas to play at GrandWest to huge crowds.

10). What has been the best/worst/funniest thing you have shot?

Earlier this year, I took an action photo of a guy stage-diving into the crowd at the Mercury – with his pants around his legs.

11) What events did you photograph on campus that stood out for you?

Memorable events include seeing the RainbowUCT march, the DA talk in a lecture theatre before elections and RAG beach day which meant inflatable pools on Jammie Plaza.

12) Can people hire you or are you merely doing this for fun?

Most of the paid gigs I get are doing events like formals and birthdays, with the occasional band shoot on location around Cape Town. I enjoy doing portfolio shoots, but I prefer to work with experienced models rather than someone who is doing their first shoot.

13) What are your contact details? Where can people view your work?

My online gallery can be seen at www.michael.currin.co.za and my e-mail address is there.

14) Any advice to people just starting up with photography?

Learn your camera inside and out as well as the basics of photography. Once you know how to get things like the correct exposure, technically good and a sharp picture, look for appropriate times to be creative and go against those rules. Choose a striking composition or choose something unexpected to focus on and your pictures can stand out from everyone else to photographed the same thing.

Lightroom 3 lesson – The Golden Spiral

The golden spiral is a mathematical concept and is a composition tool. A lot of the time, if you compose a photo into thirds (intentionally or instintively or by accident), I think there is a good chance of finding a golden spiral in there somewhere, since the two concepts are closely related. This is explained here and here.

In crop view in Lightroom 3, press O to cycle through overlays other than the grid. Shift + O will rotate the spiral. It use it to make minor or major adjustments to cropping a photo. For me, the spiral often fits more neatly in the photo at 4:3 ratio rather than 3:2.

Beow are examples from my photos.

Uriah Heep 2010

Roger Goode 2011

Black Market Riots

college students - UCT Radio

college students

Lightroom 3 lesson – lesser known tips

Black and white filter

Below is a photo taken at a club with flash and a long exposure, close to a second. When you choose Black and White in the top right near Basic develop settings, a filter is applied based on the strength of certain colours in the photo. In this situation, a straight colour conversion to -100 saturation seems to darken or hide the blue ambient light, while the auto B&W filter brightens the blue/purple channel.

Colour, saturation zero.

Colour, saturation -100 (or Black & White with filter zeroed).

Black & White with filter on auto.

Another way to change the brightness of certain areas is to leave saturation at -100 and then change the white balance. Skin tones become dark and unnatural at cold white balance settings. For photos of a band on stage, changing the white balance in black and white can even seem to change the direction of the lighting, such as having red lights from the left brightened and blue lights from the right darkened at a warm white balance, then the opposite at a cool white balance.

Shortcuts

  • Press F twice for full screen view.
  • Control + Tab to hide or show side bars.
  • Press J to show clipping.
  • Right click on the background past the edges of a photo and change the colour from white through black. I leave it on black with pinstripes.
  • Control + Shift + Alt + E: exports the selected photo(s) with the same settings (size, folder, output sharpening etc.) as the previous export.
  • Confirm cropping by pressing Enter on the keyboard. instead of clicking Done.
  • Press X to rotate the cropping outline by 90 degrees.
  • Press O to cycle through overlay modes. The default is the a big grid. The rule of thirds is very useful and there is a variation on the rule of thirds which can centre and strengthen compositions. The Golden Spiral is also great and I find it often more suitable when cropping 4:3 rather than 3:2 ratios.
  • Press Shift O to rotate the overlay (there are many ways to display the Golden Spiral.

If you have tagged a photo, cropped it and edited it, then the picture and the bottom will look something like this, which each icon indicating the step was performed.

The bar at the bottom of the screen

If you are in Develop mode and click on the tag icon, you will be taken to Libary view and the tag section. Similarly, clicking the +/- button will take you back to Develop mode and the middle one goes to crop view.

A full list of keyboard shortcuts is viewable on the Lightroom 3 help website here.

Check out the lesson I wrote for automating lens corrections on import: here.