Category Archives: The Camera

Methods of developing your photographic eye through knowing your camera.

Low Light Challenge

No one is an artist unless he carries his picture in his head before painting it, and is sure of his method and composition, Claude Monet

It is an illusion that photos are made with a camera… they are made with the eye, heart and head.Henri Cartier Bresson

One of the best ways to get some interesting images and, at the same time, get a better idea of how your camera works is to take some images with a slow shutter. This usually involves operating your camera in manual mode, where you, rather than the camera, set the ISO, aperture and speed. The challenge here would be to try one of the types of image-making illustrated below.

Tripod, Night Photography and Long Exposure

Examples of Different Exposures

The following are examples of different night photography types from my archive. I have included the camera settings to see how I adjusted the exposure to get each image. 

f 1.4, 1/80, ISO 3200 24mm equivalent, handheld
Super Moon Over English Bay, f2, 2 seconds, ISO 200 and 16mm (24mm eq.) on a tripod
f5.6, 15 seconds, ISO 200, and 24mm equivalent on a tripod
f2.8, 15sec, ISO 3200 lens 24mm equivalent on tripod
f-14, 60 seconds, ISO 100, 40mm equivalent, on a tripod

Night Photography and Tripods

Tripods are often essential to shooting deep into the night and especially in astrophotography. Still, there are other reasons you may want to include a tripod as one of your basic photographic tools:

  • Provided not much is moving, in the scene, you are shooting, it can be used to prevent camera shake at low speeds, thus avoiding the need to increase your ISO setting which would introduce more noise into the image.
  • When using a telephoto lens with a long barrel that might be quite heavy it will help prevent camera shake and take the weight off of your body.
  • It may depend on your skill level, allowing you to be much more accurate in how you frame your capture.
  • It will allow you to facilitate this process when you paint with light at night.
  • Self or group portraits when you use your timer.
  • It helps a great deal with shooting macro shots.
  • It can be used to hold off-camera flashes.
  • It will increase the accuracy of your exposure or focus bracketing shots

There are four components you need to consider on every tripod:

  1. The Legs of the tripod, how long they are and therefore, how high the tripod goes, how quickly they can be extended and collapsed and how compact they can become.
  2. The Head that is attached to the tripod suits your style of photography the two main types are a ball head and a pan-tilt head. My preference is for the pan-tilt head, I found the ball head more difficult to maneuver accurately.
  3. The Centre Post is the shaft that can be extended up through the middle to raise the camera higher. I only use this feature as a last resort as it can introduce a less stable platform.
  4. The Feet may have rubber bottoms for indoor use or spikes for outdoor use and various options.
  5. Height is also an issue. As a landscape photographer, you may want to invest in a tripod that brings the camera to eye level without deploying the centre post. The centre post can introduce motion into your images in some situations. 
  6. You may want to have a lightweight tripod for travel, but I have found these are not great for day-to-day photography. I prefer a tripod that does not have to have a weight added to it to become stable. 

Problems with Tripods:

  • Keep in mind they are heavy and bulky, so they can be quite cumbersome. 
  • If you do not set the tripod up correctly, it can tip over and damage your camera and lens.
  • They take time to set up properly, even the more expensive ones.
  • They are often banned in high-volume tourist areas such as historic churches for safety reasons.
  • They are difficult to set up in crowded areas and can cause injury to distracted pedestrians or your equipment when the pedestrian collides with the tripod legs.
  • It is difficult to get into suitcases when you are travelling.
  • If the tripod is cheap, it is likely to be unstable, which is bad for your photography and a danger to your equipment.

Stops of Light

To understand how exposures vary in different light, the following table may help. Keep in mind that a camera can only see 12 to 15 stops depending on the camera. To understand the stops of light on the camera, the second diagram should help.

Courtesy of Ander Photography.com
Each full stop of light is either a doubling or halving of the light

Self Timers

When you are on a tripod, you do not what to be pushing the shutter button; in the film days, we used to use a cable release which also could, if not used properly, create motion blur in your image. Digital cameras have solved this problem by adding timers for the exposure in the camera. This allows you to press the shutter, and the camera counts down, usually with a blinking light, before the shutter is triggered. This allows the tripod and camera to stabilize from whatever movement you introduce into it by pressing the shutter. Keep in mind that if you are on a wooden platform or any surface that may have some flex in it, you will also need to remain still.

Slow Shutter on Tripod

Using a slow shutter setting in your camera while on a tripod during the day can create some interesting effects on water, clouds and even busy streets. You will need a method of keeping your camera still; a tripod would be best to do this. However, you could use a ledge or table to keep it still when you depress the shutter. The process is similar to what has been described above, except during the day, there is a lot more light, which means you may need to use a Neutral Density filter to slow the speed of your camera. The two images illustrate the difference slowing the shutter speed can make.

1/15 sec, f3.6, ISO 100, 63mm
4 sec, f32, ISO 100, 63mm

Night Photography

When shooting at night, you will need to do the following, set your camera on a tripod, use a remote trigger or your timer, and the ISO should be set at its lowest ISO with the Auto ISO turned off. Then choose your desired Aperture setting and turn the speed down until the camera metering system tells you the exposure is correct. If you have a camera with IBIS (five-axis stabilization) and a very fast lens, you may be able to handhold some evening shots before needing a tripod. The alternative might be to increase your ISO, provided your camera is not too noisy.

At some point, as it gets darker, the camera’s metering system may not be able to register a correct exposure. Depending on the camera, the live view may help you see if the exposure is correct. If it does not, you may have to experiment by taking a shot and checking the photograph you just took on the back of your camera. You may have to repeat this until the exposure is correct.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=1GynWrNxts0%3Ffeature%3Doembed

Astrophotography

Astrophotography can be a lot of fun and should get you out in the country where light pollution is minimal. If you take this up, you will find yourself in the fresh air surrounded by nature. Here is the equipment you will need: a tripod; a fast wide-angle prime lens, preferably 24mm equivalent with an aperture of f2.8 or less; and “apps.”

Milky Way at Porteau Cove, 20,” f1.4, ISO 800 and 16mm

Where the Dark sky can be found in British Columbia is an important thing to consider, as the visibility of stars is influenced by the light from the moon and cloudy sky and how close you are to city lights.

Where the Dark Sky’s are in BC

Smartphone “apps” are needed for planning purposes, but these are also available for the computer. The first step is to find a location where the stars are fully visible at night, Dark Sky Finder is one of many tools that helps with this task. Second, you will need an accurate weather program to find a cloudless night; some recommend consulting at least three sources before setting out. Third, you will need a milky way finder which should also be able to tell you when there is a new moon. It is important to know where the milky way will rise in the sky and at what time, and you do not want the light from the moon obscuring the stars. Finally, you will need to calculate when nighttime is in your location, this is especially important the further north you live during summertime when pure darkness may only be a few hours.

Edward Peck

Common Mistakes with Night Photography

Ole Skjelstad has written an article about some of the mistakes he made as he experimented with night photography; his article highlights a few mistakes that helped him develop better results:

  • Severe under-exposure due to not watching your histogram can spoil a good capture.
  • Autofocus often does not work in the dark, and if you don’t know where your lens has its hyperfocal distance, you can have out-of-focus problems. You may need a flashlight to highlight a feature beyond your lens’s infinity point to check your focus in the dark. 
  • Using a telephoto lens instead of a wide-angle lens teaches you the 500 rule. If you take 500 and divide it by your focal length ( 500/50 mm=10 seconds) gives you your shutter speed. However, if you have a high-resolution camera of 36mp or greater, you may need to use either 200 or 300 for better results.
  • If you are going to merge images, make sure you shoot your foreground before it gets dark. If you are doing astrophotography, arrive before dark for safety reasons.
  • Always shoot RAW in low-light situations.
  • Make sure you are using a sturdy tripod.

The Ups and Downs of Shutter Speed

Adjustments to aperture, ISO and speed all have different advantages and disadvantages, so understanding what happens with each element of the triad is important in understanding which one you want to adjust when setting your exposure. In this post, I am focusing on shutter speed.

Shutter speed is another way of controlling the light coming into your camera. The faster the shutter speed the less light passes through the lens and onto the sensor. The slower the shutter speed the more light passes through the lens, but if there is movement in the scene motion blur may occur depending on the speed of the movement, your field of view and the speed of the shutter. So Shutter speed is controlling two things the amount of light and whether or not things in motion, including your hand, create a blurred image.

How do you know the Shutter Speed?

On most cameras, you will see the shutter speed on the barrel of the lens, in the Electronic View Finder, on the back of the rear screen and occasionally on a small screen on top of the camera. The numbers in most cases are fractions such as 1/2 which represents half a second or 1/60 which represents one-sixtieth of a second. In the diagram below you can see the typical range of shutter speeds on the left. The chart only lists full stops, so every stop means either a halving or doubling of light.

Avoiding a Blurred Image on 50mm lenses or less

There are two things you need to consider if you wish to avoid blurring in your image. The first is no matter how still you think you are holding your camera there will be a slight shaking coming from your hands. This shaking will either soften the resolution of your image or blur the image. Typically most people can hold a camera steady somewhere between 1/60 to 1/125 with a lens whose field of view is 50mm or less. I have found with higher-resolution cameras I have a better result at 1/125. If your camera is new you may need to run a test to see what speed works for you. Keep in mind if you are using an APSC camera and not a full-frame then 35mm is equivalent to 50mm.

Avoiding a Blurred Image on 50mm lenses or Greater

When dealing with a telephoto lens the rule usually followed is to use the focal length to set your shutter speed, in other words, if you are using a 200mm lens then the speed should be no slower than 1/200. Keep in mind this is not a perfect rule and higher-resolution sensors may need a higher speed or the shakiness of your hands may require a higher speed. So it is important when you get a new lens to do your own tests and decide for yourself where you need to set the minimum speed.

Avoiding Blurred Subjects that are Moving in the Image

In most images, things can move, whether it is leaves in the wind or cars moving in the street so it is important to understand what speeds might freeze these movements. The chart below gives you a rough idea of what speed is appropriate for subjects that are moving.

Courtesy of 360Photography

Image Stabilization and In Body Image Stabilization IBIS

Many telephoto lenses have image stabilization to help reduce the camera shake from your hands, this may help you reduce the speed you use depending again on how steady you hold the camera. This usually helps reduce up and down and left and right movement or two axis of movement. Newer cameras, especially mirrorless cameras now have In Body Stabilization (IBIS) which controls for 5-axis: adding pitch, yaw and roll. The Sony A7R V for example advertises an eight-stop advantage using the IBIS system in the camera. This means if you can hold the camera steady at 1/125 with a 50mm lens you should be able to reduce your speed to 2 seconds, however, I have not been able to get this sort of advantage from my IBIS system. In addition to this as the telephoto lenses can, depending on their field of view, magnify camera shake to such a degree that the IBIS system does not work effectively. All that to say you need to test your camera to see what speeds work for you with your IBIS system on.

Keep in mind that IBIS does not freeze things moving in your image, so a moving bike at a low speed will still be blurred even though the rest of the image may be tack sharp.

Is Blurring Necessarily a Bad Thing?

As you can see in the chart above there are some times when a low speed works to your advantage such as fireworks, where slowing the shutter speed down to 2-8 seconds will capture more of the fireworks than a quick shutter. Often slowing the shutter down can give a softer look to clouds and water. There are also stylistic reasons why you might want to introduce some blur into an image, as you can see from the examples below.


2010, Gelatine-silver print, 16 x 20 inches, Phyllis Schwartz
2012, Digital print, 13 x 19 inches, Phyllis Schwartz
Kiln House, Edward Peck

Slow Shutter

Slowing the shutter down does allow you to do some interesting things with your camera on a tripod, as the images below illustrate.


Port Angeles Light, Edward Peck
Milky Way, Edward Peck

References:

The Ups and Downs of Aperture

Wide or Narrow Apertures -Depth of Field versus Diffraction

Adjustments to aperture, ISO and speed all have different advantages and disadvantages, so understanding what happens with each element of the triad is important in understanding which one you want to adjust when setting your exposure. In this post I am focusing on aperture.

Narrowing aperture settings to a high f-stop like f-22 runs the risk of introducing diffraction into your image and widening your aperture by setting a low f-stop like f-2.8 decrease your depth of field. So at either end you of your aperture setting you have to consider the advantages and disadvantages of these extremes.

Lower Apertures

When your aperture is at its widest at f-2.8 or f-1.8 your Depth of field narrows, the larger the sensor in your camera the narrow the depth of field. So at the widest aperture or lowest f-stop the advantage or disadvantage is a shallow depth of field.

https://expertphotography.com/understanding-depth-of-field-photography/

This can be an advantage as narrowing the depth of field can highlight the subject by blurring the back ground as the following examples illustrate.

The following example illustrated aethsteic desicions you have to make while working with a low f-stop. In this image the the low f-stop means the photographer has to either set the focal point on the house in the background or the hedge in the foreground. Both can not be in focus unless the f-stop is increase and given the low light situation this woudl likely require a tripod to steady the camera well enough to use a higher f-stop.

Infinity Focus

The depth of field of course is not an issue if the things you are photographing are beyond the infinity point of your lens. Here technically what is happening is everything is far enough away that the incoming light rays are functionally parallel and reach the camera’s sensor as points. So everything is in focus throughout the image.

To discover where your lens is at infinity you need to look at the barrel of the lens for this symbol “∞;” Otherwise, you may need to check your manual for the lens online.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm minimum focus distance of 0.38m throughout the zoom range
( 0.38m)


 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm 

Higher Apertures

When you are using higher apertures typically above f/11 diffraction begins to make your images less accurate, this inaccuracy is seen primarily as a loss of detail or softening of the image. This does not mean you have a bad lens all lenses have diffraction, it is created by narrowing the opening of the aperture. If you click the following link you will see how as the opening narrows the light becomes more and more diffused making the light reading of the sensor less accurate. (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/DiffractionSingleSlit_Anim.gif)

Although apertures never get as narrow as the illustration suggests it does, however, get wider than the individual pixels on the sensor and at high f-stops begin spilling out of the pixel into nearby pixels. The three illustrations below show a grid representing the pixels on the sensor and the white circle light falling on the sensor. In the first diagram, the light is clean and sharp at f-1.4, at the lenses, sweet spot f-8.0 the light is still within the pixel, but at f-22 it is not spilling out into adjacent pixels. These higher f-stops make it difficult for the pixels to read the light accurately and the consequence of this is called diffraction.

https://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/diffraction-photography.htm
https://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/diffraction-photography.htm
https://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/diffraction-photography.htm

The advantage of being able to use a high f-stop is if there is no other way to get the photograph you do get an image you can use but it may not be quite as good as the camera can get, but it is as good as you can get given the equipment you have on hand. There are ways of avoiding the need to have a high f-stop such as neutral density filters, which one can look into. These reduce the light coming into the lens which allows for a lower f-stop.

Excellent examples of diffraction issues on APSC and Full Frame Cameras at the Beginning

References

The Ups and Downs of ISO


Adjustments to aperture, ISO and speed all have different advantages and disadvantages, so understanding what happens with each element of the triad is important in understanding which one you want to adjust when setting your exposure. In this post, I am focusing on ISO.

The native ISO on most cameras is 100 and this setting means you will get the most noiseless image possible. It is possible to set the ISO slightly lower which will have a minor impact on the noise in the image. If the ISO is set higher then the noise will increase as the ISO increases, and this is the downside. Noise, of course, can be reduced in post-processing but this will reduce the resolution or soften the image. The upside of ISO is you can create increase the sensitivity of the sensor to light, allowing you to get great exposure in darker lighting conditions.

What is High ISO Noise

Eventually, as you raise your ISO you will get noise showing up in your image, and when this happens will vary depending on your camera. Increasing your ISO or the gain on the sensor making it more sensitive to light, is much milk turning a speaker volume up at some point you get a distorted noise. In the case of a camera, the distortion to the image comes called chrominance noise or colour noise and luminance noise, the latter usually being referred to as just noise. If you see small red and green blotches on your image that is Chromance noise. If you see a kind of black-and-white fine grain in your image this is called luminance noise.

The first part of the video below starts by describing how noise levels as you raise ISO vary depending on your camera, then what the noise looks like, and how to reduce noise in your images.

Other Ways to Deal with Low Light beside ISO

In the video below Tony Northop uses a provocative title “ISO does not cause noise” to get across the idea that noise is caused by a reduction in light going to the sensor, and increasing light in other ways should be considered first. He suggests you should make sure you have considered lowering your speed or lowering your ISO first before resorting to the ISO setting. The video below suggests an exercise to understand this relationship to light but letting your ISO float while keeping your Aperature and Speed manual. Then adjusting these two settings until you get the lowest possible ISO and still make the image you intended.

ISO as Speedometer

As I always shoot manually so I can control my camera more accurately, as a camera is an average instrument, I don’t let my ISO float. Letting it float in order to understand the relationship is a good exercise to understand how to set your f-stop and speed to an optimal setting, but my suggestion, especially if you are learning, is to have all three exposure settings in manual mode, otherwise, you may never get out of the automatic setting.

ISO Invariance

In the video below Tony Northop illustrates how some cameras are somewhat ISO invariant. ISO invariant means if take an image at a high ISO and then another one with the same aperture and speed with the ISO set to the base ISO, you will get a perfectly exposed image and a black image. If you take the dark image and correct the exposure in “post” and you find only minor differences in the noise level then you know the camera is somewhat ISO invariant. Why might this be important, in a situation where you have a camera like this and you have a situation where the light might vary a lot during the exposure such as photographing the Arora Borealis or fireworks, you may wish to dramatically underexpose to protect your highlights. One limitation you should be aware of is Lightroom does not, according to Tony, allow you to brighten the exposure more than 5 stops. In the video, he used a preset to do this and there is other software that you could use to overcome this limitation.

So are all cameras ISO invariant? The answer, of course, is all cameras are different so vary throughout the ISO range. Photos for Photos is one possible resource for researching your camera, but you could as Tony has done simply test your camera through your ISO range. This is likely not a bad idea as it will also tell you at what point your personal do not like the noise level. Through this process, you may discover your camera has dual gain architecture. In the next section, I will outline the advantage of these kinds of cameras and the potential drawbacks.

Two Optimal ISO settings

If you have a camera that was designed a year after 2015 it is likely you may have a camera that has two optimal ISO settings rather than one, this is found in cameras that have dual gain architecture. Sony in addition to making cameras also make camera sensors, and so often new innovations in sensors appear in their cameras usually a year before they appear in other cameras. If you look at the chart below you can see the evolution of the A7R series. In 2015 they came out with the A7R Mark II represented in black, which has two optimal ISO points, whereas the earlier model the A7R represent in black does not. The rising lines indicate the increase in noise levels on these cameras.

https://photonstophotos.net/Charts/RN_ADU.htm

In the chart below we are looking at a popular camera on the market the A7R III which came out in 2017, in the diagram below which graphs the noise level of the camera you can see at an ISO level of 640 an image will have a roughly similar noise level as the ISO 200 setting. This also means between above 200 ISO all the way to 500 ISO, photographs taken at these ISO will be noisier than ISO 640. This is the result of dual gain architecture. The link below the image will take you to a site where you can check your own camera.

https://photonstophotos.net/Charts/RN_ADU.htm

In the chart below we can see an APSC camera that was designed in 2020 by Fujifilm the X-T4 has a similar dip.

https://photonstophotos.net/Charts/RN_ADU.htm

Out of curiosity let’s go back to a camera that was designed in 2014 the Nikon D3300, you can see from the chart below that it does not have this dip in the ISO performance. The noise level increases steadily as the ISO goes up.

https://photonstophotos.net/Charts/RN_ADU.htm

You can see the age of the design has a relationship to whether or not there are two optimal ISO settings or just one. However, not all new cameras have new sensors if you look at the Fujifilm GFX50s II which was designed in 2021 but used a sensor that was much older you can see it does not have two optimal ISO settings.

https://photonstophotos.net/Charts/RN_ADU.htm

The newer GFX 100s has a dual gain sensor, so you can see in the chart once you reach ISO 200 you are better off moving directly to ISO 500, as it will have less noise than those settings between 200 and 500.

ISO Invariant Cameras are Not Perfect

We should not assume cameras that are somewhat ISO invariant produce images that are Identical whether you raise the ISO in the camera or in your post-processing software. In the following video Fstoppers Video, the following RAW processing software was tested: Capture NX, Luminar, Capture One, Darktable, Alienskin, Photoshop and Lightroom. Using his Nikon he underexposes an image four stops and took the same image at the correct exposure. He then compares these images in all the different software. He finds that his camera is not perfectly ISO invariant, as the underexposed files no matter which software he uses have more noise than the correct exposure. He suggests that this is the case with all cameras, in other words, there is no camera that is perfectly ISO invariant, just some closer than others. But he does say that with some skillful processing the overexposed images can come close to replicating the correct exposure. So if it is necessary you could use an underexposing strategy, if the situation calls for it, and do a good job of correcting it in your post-processing software but in most cases, the correct exposure is best.

References:

Experimental Photography

I have been working on ideas for merging experimental digital images into more experimental photographic processes. To that end, I have looked at Chemigrams, image transfers, and cyanotypes. What follows is the experimental exploration process. All images were exposed outside on the grass or on a table.

Cyanotype, Hanemüble Platinum Rag Paper

In this process, I used dried cyanotype on Hahnemüle Platinum, where I placed botanicals, spices, and other items and then placed the paper on wet grass. Additional moisture was introduced into the composition by running water from a hose under the paper and into the grass. The paper was left out on a bright sunny day for six hours before being taken in a processed

Due to the amount of water introduced in the image, an unexpected print occurred on the opposite side of the paper.

Wet Cyanotype on Rag Paper

The following experiment was to understand what might occur with similar materials on rag paper using a cyanotype medium painted on just before a composition was placed on it. Then this is placed onto wet grass as well. However, in this process, no water, other than the moisture present in the grass, was introduced into the paper.

Once the image was dried and pressed, flat watercolours were introduced into the paper.

Chemigram on RC Photo Paper

I started with RC paper and worked between fix, developer and water to create a chemigram. Then I put some of these images through a wet cyanotype process. The resulting image was then toned with washing soda.

Chemigram, Photopaper, Wet Cyanotype, and Double Exposure

The following is the experimentation with Chemigrams on warm-tone fibre photography paper, using an internegative to create an image. Then the same paper is processed using a wet cyanotype process. The wet cyanotype on the glossy surface of the photo paper had difficulty spreading on the paper and created an exciting result. I found this spreading issue could be partially controlled but tended to obscure the underlying image. I then digitized the image and used another image to create a double expose.

In addition, I tried some more chemigrams on the fibre paper to experiment with controlling the process on this surface. I then placed it through a dry cyanotype process with an internegative. Then toned and washed the paper after it had been dried.

Image Transfer

Thinking I might want to consider placing an image transfer on either of these experiments, I began experimenting with image transfers. Initially, I started with a high-quality pigment ink print on rag paper, but this process proved difficult, and the transfer did not occur. I then ran several experiments on different paper types, from a high-quality and cheap pigment ink print for a household multi printer. In the end, very cheap paper and the household printer did allow for an exciting image transfer. The image transfer was done by loading the paper with water and then using a rubber brayer to press the image onto the new surface.

Tripod, Night Photography and Long Exposure

No one is an artist unless he carries his picture in his head before painting it, and is sure of his method and composition, Claude Monet

It is an illusion that photos are made with a camera… they are made with the eye, heart and head. Henri Cartier Bresson

Examples of Different Exposures

The following are some examples of different types of night photography from my archive. I have included the camera settings so see how I adjusted the exposure to get each image.

f 1.4, 1/80, ISO 3200 24mm equivalent, handheld
Super Moon Over English Bay, f2, 2 seconds, ISO 200 and 16mm (24mm eq.) on a tripod
f5.6, 15 seconds, ISO 200, and 24mm equivalent on a tripod
f2.8, 15sec, ISO 3200 lens 24mm equivalent on tripod
f-14, 60 seconds, ISO 100, 40mm equivalent, on a tripod

Night Photography and Tripods

Tripods are often essential to shooting deep into the night and especially in astrophotography, but there are other reasons you may want to include a tripod as one of your basic photographic tools:

  • Provided not much is moving, in the scene, you are shooting, it can be used to prevent camera shake at low speeds, thus avoiding the need to increase your ISO setting which would introduce more noise into the image.
  • When using a telephoto lens with a long barrel that might be quite heavy it will help prevent camera shake and take the weight off of your body.
  • It may depend on your skill level, allowing you to be much more accurate in how you frame your capture.
  • It will allow you when you are painting with light at night time to facilitate this process.
  • Self or group portraits when you use your timer.
  • It helps a great deal with shooting macro shots.
  • It can be used to hold off-camera flashes.
  • It will increase the accuracy of your exposure or focus bracketing shots

There are four components you need to consider on every tripod:

  1. The Legs of the tripod, how long they are and therefore how high the tripod goes, how quickly they can be extended and collapsed and how compact they can become.
  2. The Head that is attached to the tripod suits your style of photography the two main types are a ball head and a pan-tilt head. My preference is for the pan-tilt head, I found the ball head more difficult to maneuver accurately.
  3. The Centre Post is the shaft that can be extended up through the middle to raise the camera higher. I only use this feature as a last resort as it can introduce a less stable platform.
  4. The Feet may have rubber bottoms for indoor use or ones that have spikes for outdoor use, and various options for these two.
  5. Height is also an issue. If you are a landscape photographer you may want to invest in a tripod that brings the camera to eye level without deploying the centre post. The centre post can introduce motion into your images in some situations.
  6. You may want to have a lightweight tripod for travel, but I have found these are not great for day-to-day photography. I prefer a tripod that does not have to have a weight added to it to become stable.

Problems with Tripods:

  • Keep in mind they are heavy and bulky so they can be quite cumbersome. 
  • If you do not set the tripod up correctly it can tip over and damage both your camera and your lens.
  • They do take time to set up properly even the more expensive ones.
  • They are often banned in high-volume tourist areas such as historic churches for safety reasons.
  • They are difficult to set up in crowded areas and can cause injury to distracted pedestrians or to your equipment when the pedestrian collides with the tripod legs.
  • It is difficult to get into suitcases when you are travelling.
  • If the tripod is cheap it is likely to be unstable which is bad for both your photography and presents a danger to your equipment.

Stops of Light

In order to understand how exposures vary in a different light the following table may help. Keep in mind a camera is only capable of seeing 12 to 15 stops depending on the camera. To understand the stops of light on the camera the second diagram should help.

Each full stop of light is either a doubling or halving of the light

Self Timers

When you are on a tripod you do not what to be pushing the shutter button, in the film days we used to use a cable release which also could, if not used properly create motion blur in your image. Digital cameras have solved this problem by adding timers for the exposure in the camera. This allows you to press the shutter and then the camera counts down, usually with a blinking light, before the shutter is triggered. This allows the tripod and camera to stabilize from whatever movement you introduced into it by pressing the shutter. Keep in mind if you are on a wooden platform or any surface that may have some flex in it you will need to remain still as well.

Slow Shutter on Tripod

Using a slow shutter setting in your camera while it is on a tripod during the day can create some interesting effects, on water, clouds and even busy streets. You will need a method of keeping your camera still, a tripod would be best to do this, however you could use a ledge or table. In order to keep it still when you depress the shutter. The process is similar to what has been described above except during the day there is a lot more light, which means you may need to use a Neutral Density filter, in order to slow the speed of your camera down. The two images illustrate the difference slowing the shutter speed can make.

1/15 sec, f3.6, ISO 100, 63mm
4 sec, f32, ISO 100, 63mm

Night Photography

When shooting at night you will need to do the following, set your camera on a tripod, use a remote trigger or your timer and the ISO should be set at its lowest ISO with the Auto ISO turned off. Then choose your desired Aperture setting and turn the speed down until the camera metering system tells you the exposure is correct. If you have a camera with IBIS (five-axis stabilization) and a very fast lens you may be able to handhold some evening shots before needing a tripod. The alternative might be to increase your ISO provided your camera is not too noisy.

At some point, as it gets darker, the camera’s metering system may not be able to register a correct exposure. Depending on the camera, the live view may be able to help you with seeing if the exposure is correct. If it does not, you may have to experiment by taking a shot and checking the photograph you just took on the back of your camera. You may have to repeat this until the exposure is correct.

Astrophotography

Astrophotography can be a lot of fun and should get you out in the country where light pollution is at a minimum. You will find yourself, if you take this up, in the fresh air surrounded by nature. Here are the basics in terms of equipment you will need: a tripod; a fast wide-angle prime lens preferably 24mm equivalent with an aperture of f2.8 or less; and “apps.”

Milky Way at Porteau Cove, 20,” f1.4, ISO 800 and 16mm

Where the Dark sky can be found in British Columbia is an important thing to consider, as the visibility of stars is not just influenced by the light from the moon and cloudy sky but also by how close you are to city lights.

Where the Dark Sky’s are in BC

Smartphone “apps” are needed for planning purposes but these are also available for the computer. The first step is to find a location where the stars are fully visible at night, Dark Sky Finder is one of many tools that helps with this task. Second, you will need an accurate weather program so you can find a cloudless night, some people recommend consulting at least three sources before setting out. Third, you will need a milky way finder which should also be able to tell you when there is a new moon. It is important to know where in the sky the milky way will be rising and at what time, and you do not want the light from the moon obscuring the stars. Finally, you will need to calculate when nighttime is in your location, this is especially important the further north you live during summertime when pure darkness may only be a few hours.

Edward Peck

Common Mistakes with Night Photography

Ole Skjelstad has written an article about some of the mistakes he made as he experimented with night photography, his article highlights a few mistakes that help him develop better results:

  • Severe under-exposure as a result of not watching your histogram can spoil a good capture.
  • Autofocus often does not work in the dark and if you don’t know where your lens has its hyperfocal distance you can have out-of-focus problems. You may need a flashlight to highlight a feature beyond your lens’s infinity point in order to check your focus in the dark.
  • Using a telephoto lens instead of a wide-angle lens teaches you the 500 rule. If you take 500 and divide it by your focal length ( 500/50 mm=10 seconds) gives you your shutter speed. However, if you have a high-resolution camera of 36mp or greater you may need to use either 200 or 300 for better results.
  • If you are going to merge images make sure you shoot your foreground first before it gets dark. It goes without saying, if you are doing astrophotography, arrive before dark for safety reasons.
  • Always shoot RAW in low-light situations.
  • Make sure you are using a sturdy tripod.

Dynamic Range

The reason dynamic Range can be a problem is that a camera can see less dynamic range than the eye. So when the dynamic range exceeds the camera’s range, which happens on a bright day, the resulting image will never look like what you are seeing. Often it means either your highlights or shadows do not come across in the image.

For more detail see the article What is Dynamic Range and Why Does it Matter for Photographers?

This is one reason photographers prefer to be photographing during the early morning or evening light. Provided you are not pointing your camera within 90 degrees of a risen or setting sun the dynamic range is usually within the capacity of the camera. The other added bonus is at these times of day colours are richer and tones are more subtle.

When photographing in a high dynamic range situation the range between the shadows and highlights of a scene will be extreme. So in these situations, the photographer risks losing the highlights or shadows in the image. So understanding this challenge and having some strategies in this situation would be useful, hopefully, the following strategies may be of some help.

Exposure Compensation Dial

One of the first strategies evolves out of the camera’s ability to capture shadows better than highlights. In the digital world, unlike film, when your highlights are overexposed or “blow out” they are not recoverable. In the case of the sky, attempts to bring back detail result in strange unworldly representations of the sky and clouds. That is not to say some details can not be recovered but this often depends on the sensor and age of the camera. In my experience as your sensor gets larger more detail can be recovered. The shadows even when they are black contain far more detail. Recovering detail from the shadows depending on the camera may result in the introduction of some noise into these areas of the image.

Understanding this difference, many photographers intentionally adjust their compensation dial a quarter stop darker and deliberately slightly underexpose every image. It is kind of a insurance policy that they apply to all their photographs, however not all photographers find this method the best approach. One issue with this method is with the shadows in an image. Underexposing shadows will introduce additional noise, which will be more apparent if you have to open up the shadows. Another problem with this strategy is you are darkening the tonal values in the image creating a slightly high contrast in the RAW file. This means when you are trying to bring back the tonal values there is less information for your processor to work with. Finally, the colours in the image can lose some saturation and chroma impacting your ability to recover the colour range of the scene.

This strategy is not necessarily a bad one and many photographers do use it, but understanding how it works is helpful in deciding whether to use it. Depending on your aesthetic direction or the atmospheric conditions you may want to use another strategy.

Manually Selecting the Exposure

In this method, your camera should be set to manual ISO, Aperture and Speed. Let’s assume it is a landscape with some bright sky and some forested areas that are quite dark. Point the camera into the sky and then set the exposure so the metering needle comes to rest at zero, then point the camera down and into the dark area of the forest. Then make note of how many full stops difference there are between the two areas. This will give you a lot of information about what might happen with different exposures. If the difference is three or more stops you may want to consider, using your exposure bracketing mode. If it is less, depending on your camera, of course, you may consider exposing for the sky or exposing for somewhere in between. These are personal preference decisions and are dependent on your post-processing skill level and camera type and age. If you do this often enough you will know right away in which direction you want to go.

If you are in a forest and the light is stippled through the trees then you may need to adjust your exposure until you see the blue of the sky coming through the trees to estimate the correct exposure for the sky.

HDR Merge Strategy

The use of HDR or High Dynamic Range usually refers to the use of bracketing three or more of the same image at different exposures, then merging them into a single file. However, you can, depending on your camera, process an image to bring back a certain amount of the dynamic range. Often can result in an image that looks like an HDR image. If you overdo the process, critics may exclaim “It’s HDRed” and the term in this context becomes a pejorative. When creating an HDR photograph care should be taken not to overdo it unless that is your intention. The two images below from the 500px blog illustrate an image verging on being overdone and one where the HDR process is more subtle.

HDR verging on being overdone, from 500px.
A more subtle use of HDR to deal with dynamic range, from 500px.

The process is relatively simple and can be done handheld with most modern cameras which have a high frame-per-second (fps) bracketing rate, provided you are relatively steady when taking the image. Using a tripod of course may render a better result, but the difference is not always apparent. Six or so years ago I found taking at least five brackets using partial stop differences was necessary. However, with the new cameras on the market with broader dynamic range capacity I am finding three brackets work well. This of course depends on how extreme the dynamic range in the image is at the time. In general, I will set the camera to bracketing mode, set the fps at its highest setting and set the exposures one to the correct exposure, one a full stop darker and one a full stop lighter. These are then imported into RAW processing software (Lightroom, Photoshop, Capture One, et al) and then automatically merged. If something was moving in the image you may need to adjust the ghosting feature.

If you do find yourself doing a lot of HDR become critical of the results there are a lot of other stand-alone HDR processors on the market. I no longer use these stand-alone programs but I have experimented with them in the past and I found Photomatix to be quite good.

In-Camera HDR

Fujifilm allows for automatic in-camera HDR which can produce a RAW and JPG HDR file, without having to bracket. The video below explains this process. Other cameras in the process should work in a similar way.

Post Notes

Just a post note about dynamic range, Rob Will has suggested the following.

Historically dynamic range was never really an issue. Photographers and cinematographers embraced contrast and many of the most notable works of photography and cinema are extremely high contrast. Would Citizen Kane or The Third Man have such an impact without their limited (by today’s standards) dynamic range? What about German Expressionism? 

These days, there is a school of thought that says everything in a photo needs to be equally visible. Our eyes don’t see like that in the real world. They can quickly adapt to dark and light, but we don’t see everything equally exposed all at once. That is why the HDR look is so unnatural. Even the second photo in your article shows significant light halos around the truck. You would never see that effect in the real world.

What Rob is pointing out is our eyes have a very narrow focus but as we scan a scene and they rapidly adapt to the dynamic range. Our brain thinks it is seeing everything, but as the eye moves from one focal point to the next our memory fills in the areas where we have been focusing, and our peripheral vision looks for any sudden changes in what we think we see. So most of what we think we see could be characterized as virtual reality. This accounts for the phenomena of finding some glaringly obvious item in a photograph we did not remember being there. All of this makes me wonder at why there is a trend toward greater dynamic range. Is it about making the image look like what we imagine we see? Is it about making the image different from the massive amount of images we are bombarded with every day? Is it about exploring and experimenting with the breadth of possibilities now available in the digital world, and at the moment this is just popular?

References

Zen Exercise

“The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

The Flash of Perception, then the Framing Dance

Photography is a performance art. You are dancing with your viewfinder within a scene to find a composition.  Unlike painters, writers and poets, a photographer seeks to find the compositional elements within the viewfinder,  you are an editor of the world that surrounds you. As you practice your walking practice you will find Zen-like and abstract images presenting themselves in your camera’s frame. This exercise is about focusing on those images.

Abstraction is about focusing on ideas rather than events, and in the world of art, it is about being free from the representational qualities of art. There is a subtle difference between representational images and things that are purely abstract. I would suggest that these sorts of images could be considered abstractions but I am inclined to call them zen-like images. The Sanskrit root meaning of zen is “thought,” “absorption,” or “meditation” images verging on being abstract have a Zen-like quality. These sorts of images, which have a minimal or simple representational quality, increase the intensity of the form they capture and have a meditative quality. So this exercise is about focusing on Zen-like images or abstract images, or both.

So it is about the relationship between form and space using space to increase the intensity of the form. Do not use the sky as the space by isolating telephone poles, planes or chimneys against the sky; instead, use things like walls or other colour fields to increase the intensity of the form. Think of how a Japanese garden often places objects against simple backgrounds. Use the techniques from the colour and pattern exercise and walking practice to get in touch with your intuition and flashes of perception.

Examples of Zen-like Images

Floor Lights
Just a Minute I have to Throw the Stick
Input
Sheltered Pause
Triad

Examples of More Abstract Images

Historically Aaron-Siskind images might be of use to use as examples. https://www.wikiart.org/en/aaron-siskind Also the invaluable.com site provides some more modern examples. https://www.invaluable.com/blog/abstract-photography/#tab-170986.

Aerial Cities
In Deep Thought
Portal
Deep Confusion II
Looking Ashore

References

What is a Good Photograph?

Like all artists, photographers develop an eye that searches out the uniqueness of our world that many of us pass by on our way to and fro. What is it about their images that hold our view? What is a great photograph, and how do photographers find and create these images? One way to answer these questions is to listen to photographers whose work has become iconic and how they approach the art of photography.

Edward Burtynsky

The two things artist struggle with, said Edward Burtynsky, is form and content, and there has to be a balance between the two. If you move too much toward content, it becomes reportage. If you move too much in the other direction, the image becomes too formal and reductive; both need to be powerful elements in the picture. His process around a place where he feels something is interesting is to go back frequently at different times, in a different light, and with other equipment, exploring how to best make an image of the place.

Fred Herzog

What you bring to your images is everything about yourself, what you have learned and what you have intellectualized. Fred Herzog is suggesting your ideas of what the world is like are likely what your images are about, and this becomes your style. In other words, style is you. He focused on people in the street, how they dressed, how they interacted, and their immediate environment; this became his style. Ultimately his motivation to create something for himself about what interested him allowed him to see with fresh eyes and make images that were unique and have stood, up till now, the test of time.

Joel Meyerowitz

Joel Meyerowitz talks about how you make your photographs unique within the frame of your camera. He warns against making copies of things but instead works towards creating images where ephemeral connections between unrelated things vibrate.

Yousuf Karsh

Yousuf Karsh felt photography was an exploration process, where each photograph led to the next, a process of experimentation. He always felt the best photograph would be his next one. As a portrait photographer, he focused on trying to capture the essence of an individual. When I met him, his first instinct was to interview me rather than the other way around, to understand who I was. I came away with the sense that his deep interest in the individual was one of the components of his genius and his ability to make great images.

Gordon Park

Gordon Park “…saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera.” He goes on to say “What the camera had to do was expose the evils of racism by showing the people who suffered most under it.” He was told by Stryker “Go out to a picture show, the department stores, eat in the restaurants, and drugstores. Get to know this place” as a way to engage his photographic eye. This simple advice leads him to become not only a prominent photographer but a writer and film director. So for him, a good photograph was an image that could change a person.

Jay Maisel

Jay Maisel works hard at trying to see things anew by being open to what is in front of him. Does it turn me on, does it interest me, is the question he asks himself. The best advice he got early on in his career was to slow down when you walk until things begin to happen. He also feels in order to understand what makes a good photograph you have to understand what makes good art by immersing yourself in it.

Elliott Erwitt

Elliott Erwitt suggests that the photograph is not about the subject but how you treat the subject. He takes pictures of what he finds unusual and hopes by finding the unusual that, the photograph will communicate something to the viewer. Trying to find moments in time that transcend the subject and place, and to him, that is the magic that comes out of photography.

Garry Winogrand

Garry Winogrand talks about how photography transforms the real world into something completely different. He looks for unfamiliar things and then considers what he wants to include within a frame. Photography for him is more about a way of being, perhaps a way of exploring the uniqueness of our world. The process of creating photographs is a process of taking himself out of himself, or as puts it “a way of not existing” a process that is freeing for him.

Harry Callahan

Harry Callahan suggests photography is about trying different things, an exploration of the world around him. However, the state of mind he is in when taking photographs does have an impact on his images; when he is not in a good state of mind he finds nothing happens. I think this speaks to the need to slow down and drink in your surroundings while photographing, to not worry so much about time and where you are going but to enjoy the experience.

Leandro Frutos Cable Series

Photographer Leandro Frutos while working as a cable installer, carried his camera with him while he work. This allowed him to create a series with a narrative about how cable services, even in the poorest communities, had become a fundamental need. This is a good example of what can happen when the camera is always with you, where you least expect it something unique appears.