Friday, February 25, 2011

Getting artsy with photos

If you read any photography discussion forums you will eventually run into arguments over using Photoshop (I use Photoshop in the more general term that could also include the GIMP, PaintShop Pro, and other photo editors) on photos or if you are suppose to just use the photos as they came out of the camera. People will argue violently on both sides of using Photoshop. The point of this posting of mine is not to contribute to that argument. It is more to show what can be done with photos and how I have found photo editors beneficial for me. My point is that I approach photography as an art form. I use Photoshop no different than using something like different paint brushs on a canvas. The ultimate goal is to create art that I find pleasing. If I was a photojournalist then I would be very hesitant to utilize anything that would alter what I shot in trying to capture a moment as a way to report what is happening.

In my recent shoot with Sarah and Charlie I got some photos that were pretty close to what I wanted. It was more difficult for me because I was trying to teach a class at the same time. I had set up the shoot primarily for the benefit of the students. So I felt I should not really bug in on the creative work they were doing. I did get some pretty good photos that night though.

This one was originally Sarah's idea. This is something that makes her fun to shoot. She comes up with ideas that I had not even thought about. In the shot she was flipping her hair up. I inverted the photo to make it look like she was hanging upside down. I thought it looked a little better that way.

Here is one of my favs of both Charlie and Sarah. This is the color version. I love the photo for so many reasons. I was really torn about the coloring in it though. The lighting was not quite right and when I brightened it in GIMP it seemed to get patchy. So I thought about how it would look as a black and white photo. It already has a fairly artsy look to it, and I was thinking that the black and white would just make it more exotic.

I am still really torn which one I like better. But I will say I think that black and white has the more artsy look typically.

Here is another of Sarah and Charlie. I loved this video. I think that the gradient on the back drop really works for this photo. Again, I wondered if B&W would increase the artsy look of the photo.

I also decided to enhance the sort of vignette lighting around them, making the edges of the photo darker. I love that look, and I think that once I get this one printed as a larger print it will be a nice addition to the wall somewhere.

I know that not everyone will want to take the time or have the philosophical desire to photoshop the pictures, but if you do you can really enhance the look and get something more artistic than you last photos. Good luck with your photos and let us know if you edit them or use just what comes out of the camera untouched.

Monday, February 21, 2011

You don't need a monster camera...

Many times when you get on photography blogs or discussion forums you get people that go on and on and on about how you need that $2,000 or $4,000 super triple monkey professional camera with a $1,500 "fast" expensive lens to be able to do real photography. Don't get me wrong, those cameras have their place. I am sure that professional photographers like Joe McNally really do have a need for a Nikon D3 camera. I also know that I don't need that. Not only that, but I know most people don't. I will even venture to say that a lot of people that purchase the entry level DSLR cameras would actually be much better suited to get a nice bridge or superzoom camera. If you are looking for an awesome walk around camera that can do just about anything fairly decently then the bridge cameras are your ticket. And since they look a lot like a DSLR a lot of people think you are shooting with a serious expensive camera.

I got started in doing more serious camera work with a Fujifilm S5200 camera. Now remember this is still a hobby for me, so serious camera work for me is much different than Joe McNally or Gavin Hoey. But I still got some seriously cool photos with that camera. One of the places I took cool photos was at a minor league hockey game here in Michigan. I was sitting in the nosebleed seats at the very top of the arena. I had to use natural light. I was very pleased with what I got.

Here is a shot that was about as far away as they could be. You can really see them. And I was able to stop action with a fast enough shutter.

I love this because you can see the fountain of ice coming off the skate. It really shows the intensity. Oh I suppose the elbow that the one guy is getting in the side of the head helps a little with intensity too. Well it is hockey after all.

Then sometimes you just get photos that are funny. This guy was just about ready to dump right onto the ice. And the moment is captured for all eternity in cyberspace now. All these photos from a camera that was like $250 brand new. It had a 10x optical lens on it. It actually did some pretty awesome macro photography too.

I love the colors and shading of this shot. A wonderful autumn shot. It is funny that I came back like three minutes later to try to get one more shot of the same thing, but by then the sun had moved enough that the shot was gone.

I also got an awesome shot of my son in Boy Scout summer camp at the campfire. I told him to hold perfectly still and took the photo on manual (yes the camera could do full manual) and a shutter speed of 30 seconds in duration. This allowed for a natural light photo. It also meant that I got some awesome wispy sparks in the photo too.

Again, this was all with a bridge camera. I did not need an expensive DSLR or a bunch of different expensive lenses to get these shots. And the camera ran on just AA batteries. So if I suddenly found I was running out of power I could just grab a couple more batteries. Here is a final shot. One I got of some of the family while we were walking in the woods. I need to take and get this one blown up, framed, and hung on a wall in the house.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Why shoot in RAW... and is white balance all that important...

Well last night was a final night of another photography class. It was a great night with a wonderful photo shoot with a couple model hopefuls building their portfolio. I like to bring in someone for the students to shoot so that they can get some experience shooting portraits of people using the lights and backdrops that I have gotten so far. Of course I always need to get in there to get a few shots myself. It is a little frustrating though since the time is mainly for them. So I am jumping in for a brief moment and then back out again. Sometimes that means I get less than perfect shots. One way to protect from lost photos is to shoot in RAW. RAW is a file format that is basically all the raw data (thus the name) that the camera captures with very little adjustment. The other way to save is in JPG. I will write about that in a future blog. The nice thing about RAW is that you have a lot of control to adjust some very critical things after the fact, mainly exposure (brightening or darkening) and white balance. Here are a couple examples (btw I was shooting last night to get both RAW and jpg files).

Here is one shot that I got that I really loved. This one actually is not all that bad either. The exposure is pretty good. Knowing the shoot though I know that it is just a tad yellow, in other words, the white balance is off. Well this is the jpg file. I could adjust colors, but it is difficult, and I never seem to get it right working with the jpg file for this. But when I open the RAW file I get a tool that comes up and allows me to make some adjustments. Tonight I am working with the GIMP, which is a free tool. I normally use Photoshop Elements, but am trying to learn the GIMP more because I get a lot of questions about it. So, I open it up, and make a slight white balance adjustment. The adjustment tool looks like this:

The bar listed Temperature is where you can adjust color temperature. If you want to adjust exposure you would use the one next to the black and white + and - square. So I touch the white balance down just a tad and get:
Now here is the interesting thing with this. The second photo is more "correct" for what it was suppose to look like. The colors are more correct. But sometimes you might want the warmer look. Well who is to say you have to be true to the original colors? This is art after all. I could also hyper saturate the color, add some posturizing, and come up with an incredibly artsy photo.

So you want to make the photo your own, but keep in mind that if you shoot in RAW you have a lot more control to begin with. That way if you have a shot that is too dark or the color temperature is wrong then you can give it a shot and see if you can easily get what you wanted to begin with.

One shot I had was really off for color, and I did not like it at all.

In my eye they just look jaundiced and in serious need of a visit to the doctor or something. It is not flattering at all. It is not as bad as some I have had in the past, but it still just did not work. I should have done a custom white balance on my camera before shooting (a different blog entry). Well after some real basic tweaks what I got was:

Much nicer. I am still thinking I might crop it a little tighter, but not sure. I always fuss over my photos so much trying to decide what looks the best. I don't know if I will ever be totally happy, but maybe that is why I will continue to get better at my art and craft. Here is one more photo that I liked right off from the shoot.

I did not do much with this one other than adjust the white balance and bring up the exposure (a fair amount this time - gotta watch that exposure meter in manual). I am really torn about it. I think I need to get rid of the white space on the right side of the photo, but not sure. Maybe I need to print a sample image on a full sheet of paper to see it bigger to just get a better feel for it.

Well I am hoping these two will let me do another shoot with them, this time without the class. That way I can concentrate on my shooting. They were both wonderfully fun to shoot, and I was just dying last night wanting to kick the students out of the way and go full out. I have had such precious little camera time lately I am just dying.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Capturing a look...

My favorite subject for my photography is people. Something about people really helps the photos pop. I have some great kids who either love to have their photos taken, or at least put up with dear old Dad.  Maybe they want to keep that allowance coming. One of the things I learned (or relearned) early on is to fill the frame with the subject. This is one of the big differences between a snapshot and a photo.

This is a photo of my two youngest girls. I love this shot. These two are always doing stuff together, and you can tell that in the picture. This was taken in a log cabin at the Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids. The only light is what is streaming in through the door. So it is nice soft diffused light. It gives a little bit of shadow, and the background is nicely dim.

This is another great kid photo. If you look really close you can tell she is playing in sand, but that is not the point of the shot. Look at the intensity of the look on her face. She is really getting into her activity. The other thing is that the photo is taken from her level. Many times adults shoot children from above. If you are going to do a photo of a kid get on their level. It will make a huge difference in the look of the photo.

One other thing is that she is not dead center in the frame. She is off on the right third. It is pretty much framed up according to the rule of thirds (google it and you will get some great links explaining rule of thirds). If she had been centered it would look off, out of balance. Just one of those odd things about our eyes and brains.

One final kid picture for today. This could be considered one of those simple guy with camera photos. The thing is that for our family it is a great shot of a particular guy with camera. This is one of my (currently) teen sons. It is a very personal shot. Notice how tight it is framed. That is one of the reasons it is so personal. There is a solid connection with him right away.

So now you have heard a photography tip, and seen some of the photos I have taken in the past so far. Next time I am going to dig up some photos from when I was shooting a FujiFilm S5200 bridge camera. The point for those is to show how you don't need an expensive camera to get awesome photos. Well the white balance might be a little off, but they are pretty cool none the less.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Time to document my journey in photography and video...

I am embarking on a new adventure. Well not so much new as renewed. I used to do photography years ago when I was in high school in the 70's. I was not real bad at it, but I was not awesome either. I took a lot of photos, and spent a lot of time in the dark room (not always alone - but I was a teenager OK..). Most of what I learned I had to teach myself.

Fast forward some 30 years, a wife, and 11 children later, and I am finally in a position again to actually spend some time doing photography. This time I am more mature, and ready to learn in detail. Some call it maturity. I would call it a desire to leave some sort of artistic legacy. It is also about showing my children and grandchildren (I have 5 so far) how to pursue excellence, and that learning never ends. I have actually gotten to the point in my photography that I am teaching classes in beginning photography for the local community ed program. I am devouring books, magazine articles, and web blogs at an amazing rate, all while also getting my MBA. It suddenly hit me that I need to start blogging my experience. I have been posting on a number of photography groups, and have become a sort of go to guy for photography and camera advice. So maybe it is time to share as I learn.

The challenge with blogging a journey like this rather than writing an advice column from past experience is that I will be exposing not only my successes, but also my flaws and mistakes. But in the process maybe I can help others be willing to make mistakes. I have learned over these years that you really never accomplish anything great without making mistakes.

So what do I have right now for photography? Hmmmm, I am shooting with a used Nikon D80 that I got off eBay. I had a Nikon D40 that I bought brand new. Loved the camera, but some lenses won't autofocus on that body, and I did not like the single wheel that was dual purpose for aperture and shutter. I learned that a lot of photography is about personal preference with that. Some people just love the D40 and it's successors. Great cameras, but just don't fit me. I have a Tamron 24-80mm zoom lens that I got because it was REALLY cheap. It is a good lens and takes good photos. It is a little slow to focus and sometimes just does not grab the focus. But for $70 it is a great lens. Another lesson, you get what you pay for, but sometimes you can only pay for that, so make it work as well as possible.

For lighting I am currently using continuous lighting with cheap lights I got from the hardware store. You have seen them, the silver bowls with spring clips most people use in their garages when working on a car. They work great, but I am surprised how dim a 300 watt bulb is when you are trying to do photography at ISO 100. I did find some really nice AC adapters that are built to fit on the cheap lightstands I got from B&H Photo. The AC adapters came from Adorama. I love both those stores. I got two adapters, need to get several more. The nice thing is that I got a couple pieces of pipe that I am going to drill and mount on my light stands so I can put two lights side by side on each stand... 600 watts of power now. And I am going to switch to daylight balanced CFL lights, choking on the $30 a piece price for them.

I also have a background stand that I got from B&H. I am using fabric I got from JoAnn Fabric. I finally signed up on their website so that I can get coupons for more fabric for backgrounds. I need to also get some greenscreen fabric for a background for replacing the background of a photo. I also experiment with video, another blog I guess, and need it for that too.

I am on so I can find some people needing photos for their portfolio to model for me. You only get good at your photography by doing photography, so I am always looking for subjects. My goal for summer is to start to mimic famous paintings in photos. My first photo attempt will be the Vermeer painting Girl with a Pearl Earring and have found the perfect model on ModelMayhem for the photo attempt. Going to talk with her this next week when she poses for my current photography class.

So this is the start, and I hope you will learn as much as I do in this journey. Next time I will link some photos and make some notes on them.