31 Dec 2013

4 Steps to Improve your Christmas Light Photography

At this time of the year many towns have beautiful Christmas light displays and as photographers we naturally want to capture these as best we can. However, because the light is low it is not always possible to just go and shoot away on auto because the camera never gets the scene to look quite the way we really remember it at the time because human eyes are light years ahead of camera sensors and so what we see and what the camera captures is often less than satisfactory.

A lot of people will shoot bracketed shots and blend them in software to increase the range, but very often HDR images look really unnatural to me and not pleasing to the eye. There is also the problem of people walking around in the shot and causing multiple "ghosting". So what to do?

Well, the picture above was a single shot photograph and by following a few simple steps I managed to get the scene exactly the way I wanted.

1.) Be patient and wait for the light. Photography should never be rushed anyway, but it becomes even more important when we want to capture the light perfectly. I generally do not like to go out on a shoot together with anyone else because I always feel obligated and pressured to keep to a schedule when I am in a group. Photography is not a team sport! Wait until the light from the sky is balanced as closely as possible to the electric lights on the street in front of you for the best results. I normally find that I get the light I'm after about 20-30 minutes or so after sunset.

2.) Always use a tripod. As steady as you think you can handhold your camera, and as wonderful as your systems image stabilisation may be, you still cannot beat a tripod. Most folks just pump up the ISO and hand hold anyway, but even the best modern cameras will show noise of some sort or the other at even moderate settings. The best performance will always be at base ISO so why not go for the best? While you are at it you may as well get a decent sturdy tripod that will not shake in the wind.

3.) Shoot in RAW. The cameras RAW files always contain a LOT more information than shooting in jpeg and hoping for the best. Don't listen to the "internet experts" who claim that real photographers "get the settings right in camera" and therefore don't need to shoot RAW. I have news for them, real photographers do shoot RAW and for good reason. The dynamic range of light captured when using RAW is much greater than any jpeg can capture. Shoot RAW, you'll never be sorry that you did!

4.) Hone your post processing skills. In the days of film we would shoot away and then hand over our film to an expert at the processing lab who would do all the important stuff behind the scenes for us. In the digital age we have to become expert at every aspect of the photographic process unless we have the budget to hire someone to do the post processing for us. I generally recommend purchasing a decent program like DxO Optics Pro or Adobe Lightroom as they offer great options to extract the best from your RAW file and produce the kind of results that professionals the world over would be satisfied with. Then practice, practice, practice... and then practice some more. Maybe take a course, even an on-line course. Then practice some more. Decent post processing skills will take your photographs a large step further.

I hope that this short bit of advice will help you when you step out to capture all the pretty lights down town during this holiday season.

Here's wishing you great light, and a wonderful 2014!


30 Dec 2013

In the Aftermath of Storm Sven

Storm Sven swept through Southern Sweden at the beginning of December and the damage can still be seen along the coastline.

27 Dec 2013

Discarded Blue Rope

...because old, worn and decaying can be beautiful!

Landskrona Citadel Panorama - Stitched with MS ICE

I decided to use Microsoft's Image Composite Editor (ICE) program to create a panorama of the Landskrona Citadel and if the first attempt is anything to go by then it is a very competent panorama stitching program. It is simple and just works, but fortunately has all the needed adjustment tools to get the final image just the way you want it.

It's also free. Nothing beats free. You can download it HERE.

And it's free...

13 Dec 2013

NEWS: Photographer Wins $1.2 Million Lawsuit Over Images Taken From Twitter

From Mashable.com:

Photographer Wins $1.2 Million Lawsuit Over Images Taken From Twitter

With an endless amount of photos floating around on Twitter, it's easy to find images of almost anything. But this large social-media bank of seemingly free-to-share photos can also lead to issues regarding ownership and copyright infringement.

A New York jury delivered a landmark decision on Friday when it sided with freelance photographer Daniel Morel after he sued Getty Images and Agence France-Presse for using photos that he posted on Twitter without his permission. Morel won $1.2 million for the unauthorized use of his images.

Click here to read more.

6 Dec 2013

Hamba Kahle Tata Madiba

For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
- Nelson Mandela

2 Nov 2013

Continuing with the wine theme...

Photograph of a 1978 Castillo San Simon wine from Spain. Not opening this one. Maybe someday...

Two Nikon speedlights, one gridded and one snooted, on light stands and fired by a Phottix Strato wireless trigger system. Bunch of stuff from the kitchen for decor. Edited in Adobe Lightroom 4.

26 Oct 2013

Photographing a Vintage Wine in it's Natural Environment!

So this evening I photographed a 1990 Chateau Grangeneuve, which is a smooth red wine from Bordeaux and it was paired with tasty spiced and grilled pork chops with a dollop of delicious potato salad! The best part about photographing wine and food is consuming it afterward. It was delicious!

I used two speedlights to create the atmosphere I was after, a gridded sb600 from camera left at 1/64 power and a snooted sb700 from camera right set to 1/32 output. This combined to provide a nice intimate scene full of warm nourishing flavours and mouth watering grilled aromas. The camera was at 1/200s, f3.2, ISO 200, slightly warm flash white balance and RAW, always RAW. Speedlights were triggered via a cheap but reliable Phottix Strato wireless trigger system.

Mmm, another glass of wine anyone?

Photographing Artwork with the NIKKOR AF-S DX Micro 40mm f/2.8G

While the NIKKOR AF-S DX Micro 40mm f/2.8G may not be the ideal macro lens because of it's too short focal length it never-the-less certainly is a wonderful lens with tack sharp distortion free optics that are unrivaled at the price. Therefore it makes for a fantastic lens to photograph artworks like the painting below by talented local artist Birgitte Clark (who also happens to be my wife):

Here is a 100% crop from the painting:

22 Oct 2013

What on earth does a "grid" actually do?

I was asked recently what the purpose of a grid is on a flash, and while I can explain it easily enough a picture speaks a thousand words so here are about four thousand words worth in pictures! (...and a little text)

First up a flash firing directly at a wall (with a framed drawing hanging on the wall) without any attachments whatsoever:

As expected there is a large spread of light across the entire wall in front of the flash. The flash is set to 35mm.

Next up the exact same shot but with a grid attached to the front of the flash:

20 Oct 2013

Outdoor Portraits on a Grey Autumn Day in Sweden

Autumn in Sweden is a dull overcast cold and damp affair as the season changes from glorious Swedish summer to beautiful Swedish winter and aside from a few lovely sunny days when the colours come alive it generally isn't great weather for photography... or is it? I went out to take some portraits yesterday and I figured that the dim light combined with autumn enhanced trees would make for a nice environmental setting to utilise as a backdrop.

In order to make the subjects stand out from the dreary autumn background I took along one of my trusty speedlights, a long pole and a shoot through umbrella. This makes for a very simple outdoor lighting setup but please note that you will need an assistant to help you with that long pole or you could drive yourself insane trying to keep control of the light and camera at the same time. The pull back shot looks like this:

14 Oct 2013

I think in FOV therefore I'm a photographer!

It's a funny thing being a photographer because I find that everywhere I go I see photographs I want to take. The worst part of it is that I tend to see everything in a "normal" FOV (field of view) which is not so unusual because my eyes just naturally see a, um, normal FOV. I say the worst thing, but of course that is actually a good thing because I can pick up my camera and get a bunch of pics really quickly without having to think a whole lot about it as it just comes naturally. The bad part is that when I don't have a camera with me I still find myself seeing the shots, and not being able to take them which leads to regret about not carrying my camera with me more and then I get home p-eed off with myself because I missed that shot of the double rainbow over the sundrenched city with dark stormclouds in the background that I will never ever see again!

12 Oct 2013

Direct Flash vs Bounced Flash

I am often asked by people how they can improve their photography or which camera they should buy to take better photographs. My advice is always the same, if you already have a dslr then you don't need a "better" camera or lens. There are many skills you can learn to improve your photography, some complicated, but most as simple as riding a bicycle.

One of the simplest ways to improve a photograph is to learn how to use light properly and there are several simple techniques with an on camera flash that will step up your game and produce much better quality photos. For instance, I am always amazed by how something as simple as bouncing a flash off a wall can improve a photograph by 100%.

11 Oct 2013

Samsung S3 mini pics - no wonder traditional style camera sales are down

Every now and then I see something and I want to photograph it but I don't have my camera with me. At these times I naturally pull out the camera I have in my pocket all the time, my Samsung S3 mini, and take a few snaps. When I have done this and I finally get to view the pics on my computer screen at home I am normally amazed by how far cell phone cameras have come and it sinks in again just why the camera companies are reporting a slump in sales and smartphone manufacturers are booming! Take a look at these snaps of some autumn foliage I took today on my way home. I edited them in the very handy Snapseed program on the phone before sending them to my computer where I simply resized and branded them before posting.