Friday 31 May 2013

Sunset silhouette

Sunsets and sunrises can be beautiful, and they are popular subjects for photographs. Unfortunately, with something as popular as a sunset, many pictures look pretty much the same: Some water, some sky, all of it in a deep red color.

Beautiful, but it gets boring after awhile. If you can add some other element, like a boat, a bird, human, or sheep, the picture gets more interesting. I like silhouettes.

To get a silhouette, you can deliberately underexpose by a stop, sometimes even two, while taking the picture. If you did not do that, you may still be able to create a silhouette quite easily in post processing by increasing the black point value. This will turn everything but the brightest parts of the picture black.

for the picture above, I used the second method. I also increased saturation and vibrancy quite a lot, and turned the blue color luminance down to zero. This gave me a nice black silhouette on a yellow background.

Monday 27 May 2013

Curiosity, Fear, and the Alien Machine

How do you make a photo interesting? One key technique, is to make the photo reveal as little as possible. Make the viewer ask the question "what am I looking at?"

The human brain is very good at recognizing patterns, so if you show a part of something, like a motorcycle chain, people will start wondering, "is it a motorcycle?".

There are things in the picture above that do not quite fit the image of a motorcycle, but it sure looks like a machine.

Looks like a dangerous machine. If you can raise emotion, you will also raise interest. Fear of hard, pointy objects is natural. I would not like to get too close to that thing when it is moving.

More pointy things. Whatever this thing is, it doesn't follow safety regulations.

It's obviously a machine, but it's an alien machine. It could be old, of course.

Dangerous! A machine with teeth? By revealing only pieces, you can bring the emotion up a notch with each picture.

At this point, if you could see the whole thing, it would become a relief.

By this time, I think you may have figured it out. I won't kill the suspense by revealing everything in this post, but you can go here, to get the full picture.

Saturday 25 May 2013

Drink-and-Click in Gothenburg

Akram Ahmet posed in front of the camera, while I held the flash and clicked.
I was at my first Drink-and-Click yesterday. Drink-and-Click is a kind of super relaxed photo walk, where you walk from one watering hole to another, taking pictures in-between watering holes. Or, sometimes, in the watering hole.

I should point out that the "drink" part of the name does not refer to alcohol. I stuck to Coca-cola and Ginger Ale. Drink-and-Click is about meeting socially, taking pictures together, and talking about photography. And that we did.

The Gothenburg Drink-and-Click group maintains pages on Facebook and Google+. The event I went to has a G+ event page with some beautiful pictures.

My leading line contribution.
The evening had two themes:

Leading lines was the official Drink-and-Click theme. The second theme was long exposure photography.

One of the greatest features of the evening, was a pit stop at a restaurant. We had a nice dinner, and talked long exposure photography.
As it turned out, while several of us shot pictures with leading lines, the topic we talked most about was long exposure photography.

I went for light painting as an added extra. If you follow this blog, you already know I use the Cheng/Ch'i principle in my photography. Cheng/Ch'i (orthodox/unorthodox) is a military principle, from Sun Tzu's The Art of War, that says victory comes from a mixture of orthodox and unorthodox maneuvers.

Translated into photography, Cheng/Ch'i means a good picture should surprise you a bit. Or, if you have a collection of "orthodox" pictures, add one or two with a bit of extra oomph.

One interesting topic that came up, is how to select the pictures you want to show. For example, during the evening, I shot about 100-200 pictures. Out of those, I selected twenty-six that I transferred from my camera to my computer. Of those twenty-six, I selected eight that I like. From those, I chose three for this article.

That is pretty heavy culling. There are two more pictures that are good enough for publishing, but the style is different from the pictures you have seen here, so I am saving them for another blog post. And, there is one picture I like a lot, except there is way too much noise in it.

As a photographer, culling like this is difficult to do, but it does improve the end result, a lot. It is also technically easy: You do not have to know anything about image editing in order to not show an image. technically is even easier and more effective than cropping. Emotionally, it is darn difficult.

Why not have a look at your own pictures. What if, out of a hundred pictures, you showed only the five best ones? Think about it. How much better would your pictures look?

Friday 24 May 2013

Crossing the Bridge - A Lesson in Patience

About a year ago I found the bridge you see in the picture, and immediately wanted to photograph it. I did, but the picture in the camera was nowhere near the picture in my mind. Over the past year, I have lost count of how many times I have tried to photograph that bridge. Each time, something was not quite right.

Yesterday, I went past the bridge again, and saw someone walking across. I was a bit too slow to get a good shot, but I knew what I had to do:

I was standing on another bridge. I bent down to get a low angle, positioned my camera between two bars in the railing, and waited...
...quite a long wait...
Finally, it paid off. Someone crossed the bridge, and I got the shot.

Patience is a virtue in photography. (So is impatience, but we'll save that for another day.) Most of the time, you don't have to wait a year.

Most of the time, if you can be patient for a few seconds extra, or a few minutes, it can be enough to get the shot. But, if a year is what it takes, then, give it a year. Just don't let it hold up the other things you want to do.

By the way, now that I know I can get a good shot of that bridge, I will of course have to figure out how to shoot a better one. Even if it takes another year...

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Funny Pictures!

I took this shot on the French national day, 14th of July, 2012. The area where I stood was so packed with people I could not move. Lucky for me, because the picture turned out better this way...
What makes a picture fun? I googled it, and it seems to be a difficult question to answer. The first five search results I looked at weren't funny at all. (Try it, you might be luckier.)

Looking at the funniest pictures I have taken the past two years, they all contain an element of surprise.

My favorite from a recent sports event.
Sometimes it is a matter of getting the shot at exactly the right moment. You can't plan a shot like that, but if you shoot a lot, chances are you will end up with a collection of shots ranging from mildly funny to hilarious.

Some funny shots require a bit more planning, and more post production. Actually, Lennart Guldbrandsson, who was my model in the shot above, and I, did not set out to be funny. The idea was to practice levitation photo.

Turned put pretty well, I think.

A funny photo does not have to be technically perfect. I shot the one above with a pocket camera after a visit to Liseberg, an amusement park in Gothenburg. It's slightly out of focus.

Recognition is an important factor. People who know Tim, my son, will definitely find the picture funnier than people who do not.

Still, I think the picture is zany enough to qualify as funny. :-)

When children have ideas for photos, go with it!

Cyclops! My favorite trick shot.
There is no way I can come up with a better trick shot than the one above. It's the idea that matters, and my son consistently outperforms me in that department.

Tim kept telling me: "Take a step back Dad, one more step!"
If you want really funny pictures, give cameras to your children. Tim will do anything for an interesting picture, including having his father eaten by a T-Rex.

Children have very few inhibitions. They just go for an interesting shot, no matter what. You really do not want to know what was happening on the other side of the hedge...

Statues are often targets of student pranks, at least her in Gothenburg. Paying attention to small things a little bit out of the ordinary can pay off.

Repeating a theme can make funny pictures more fun. There are two years between the two pictures of the statue, but it was worth the wait.

Every time I pass by, I check it out so I won't miss something...

No image manipulation here. Just capturing Tim at the right moment.
Did I mention children often have great ideas? I wanted to take pictures of Tim in his Halloween outfit. Of course he couldn't resist adding an extra touch...

All for now. I'd really like to know what you think about these pictures. Comments on this blog, Facebook, and Google+ are very welcome.

Sunday 19 May 2013

The Gothenburg Half Marathon (Göteborgsvarvet)

Capturing a cup of water in mid air took quite a bit of patience, and many tries. I got the idea when I saw how many empty cups were lying on the ground.

I like to shoot at events: There are lots of things happening, and lots of colors. The catch is that many other people have the same idea. I want my shots to look a little bit different, and this requires thinking a bit about what you shoot.

The Gothenburg Half Marathon is a good example. I didn't have much time to cover it, less than an hour, but it was enough to get a couple of good shots.

At an event like this, most photographers will stand on the sidelines and just shoot. If they have DSLRs and long lenses, they can get close-ups of the faces of runners, which always makes for a good picture. 

To get even better shots, some get down low, with one knee to the ground. Shooting from a low angle will almost guarantee better than average pictures.

If you want to do better than that, you have to get a bit creative. For example, I noticed many thousands of crumpled paper cups laying on the ground. I decided to capture one in mid air. as you can imagine, it took a lot of tries, but it paid off. One of the flying cups I shot had water in it. You can see the result above.

Another useful trick is to shoot something else, with the main action in the background. In the picture above, I shot the musicians from behind, so you can see what they look at. If I had taken a step to the right, and got a little bit closer, the shot would have been even better.

This shot uses the same technique: I focused on the musician, and used the runners as background. I desaturated the background in Aperture to make it easy for viewers to focus on the musician in the foreground.

It often pays off to look around and see what else is going on. A big main event attracts sideshows. The side shows may well be as interesting as, or even more interesting than, the main event.

Gothenburg is waking up after its winter hibernation, if you follow this blog, you'll get more tips, tricks, and pictures.

Next week will be a bit of a challenge, because there is both a big carnival, and a Geek Pride Parade, at the same time. And, as always, there is interesting work to be done.

Monday 13 May 2013

Gone Fishing! (Again!)

I shot this on my way home from the Retro Game Convention a couple of days ago. I had been on photo walks with friends twice in the same area within a week. Each time, I found something new and interesting to shoot.

Have a look:

I won't shoot the bride and groom on someone else's wedding shoot, but I consider these two wedding photographers fair game. The simple rule is: If you walk around with a camera, it is fair if someone else photographs you.

This picture was taken at The Gardening Association, a park quite far from the harbor area, but it was a long walk.

The harbor area is a great place for shooting textures, and that is what we did. I got some other pictures, very good pictures, in the harbor area too, but I am saving those for a special occasion. :-)

A couple of days later, another friend of mine called and asked if I would like to go on a walk in the harbor. Of course I would, so we did.

We must have looked a bit crazy, because we did things like this: order to get experimental pictures like this:

On my way back from the walk, I got lucky and saw two balloons. I climbed a hill to get a bit of elevation from the ground, and got a series of pictures like this one:

The third time around was after the Retro Games Convention. At the convention, I got pictures like this:

Quite different from the other photos, wouldn't you say? Of course, this was an event, and I had a press pass, and the organizer's blessing to do a Hadouken photo shoot.

After the game convention, I walked home, camera in hand, and got more shots:

After all the excitement at the game convention, I was looking for simple, quiet things.

I had to run a bit to get into position to shoot the rubber boat.

I did meet some people, but they were pretty quiet too:

The point is that returning to the same spot pays off. The three walks I described here paid off in terms of very different photographs, and very different experiences, each time.

At other times, I return to the same spot in order to fix details I am not happy with. More about that in another post.

Sunday 12 May 2013

Hadouken photo at the Retro Games Convention

The Hadouken photo craze has reached Gothenburg. I had talked to the organizers of The Retro Game Convention in Gothenburg about having a Hadouken photo event, and they were game.

Hadoken is fun, and just about the easiest trick photo shot you can do. The idea is to simulate fights from Japanese manga comics, like Streetfighter, where characters fight using, among other things, ki based energy attacks.

What you need is:
  • People in front of the camera with a great sense of humor, the courage to be in front of the camera, and the ability to jump.
  • A camera. Any camera will do. You can do Hadouken with a camera phone.
  • A photographer.

Want to make it extra fun? Ask some cosplayers to be in front of the camera. The costumes add a lot, but most important, cosplayers will have as much fun in front of the camera as the photographer has behind it. Cosplayers are creative, and will come up with ideas on the spot.

  • Shoot at low speed. The pictures here were taken at 1/80 s. The people who jump will be a bit blurred, which adds a sense of motion to the photos.
  • Shoot from a low angle. Jumps will look higher.
  • If you have a DSLR, set it too shooting high speed burst. That way, you can press the button a little bit before everyone jumps, and shoot a burst covering the whole jump. This increases your chances of getting a good picture.
  • To get everyone to jump at the same time, it is best if the photographer calls out when to do it. I counted backwards from 3 to 1 and NOW!
  • If there are many of you, see to it that everyone is participating as much of the time as possible. Most of the shots you see here are group shots, and that is because everyone can have fun at the same time.
  • The goal is to have fun, not to get great shots. If you are working with models, or a group of photography crazed friends, by all means, go for great shots. However, if you are shooting a group of people you have just met and talked into doing crazy things in front of a camera, the most important thing is that they have fun.

Enough with the tutorial. Let's just look at some fun photos:

I have an album with more Hadouken pictures at Picasa.

Robert Johannesson joined in with a camera. His pictures are at this Picasa web album

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Depth of Field tutorial

Depth-of-field: The birds are outside, in, and inside the depth of field. This picture was shot at 1/2500s. f/5.6, 135mm, ISO 600.
This tutorial will show how to work with the depth of field: The zone where an object looks sharp to the human eye.

By controlling the depth of field you can separate the object you want viewers to focus on by deliberately blurring other objects. You do this by putting them inside or outside your depth of field.

The depth of field depends on several factors:

  • The aperture (f-number) you are shooting at. Small f-numbers mean you get a shallow depth of field. Large f-numbers mean a wider depth of field.
  • The focal length of your lens. The longer your lens, the more narrow the depth of field will get at short distances. Thus, a 35mm lens will give you a wider depth of field than a 200 mm lens, if everything else is equal.
  • The size of the image sensor in your camera. The larger the sensor, the narrower the depth of field for a given aperture. I shoot with a Canon 60D. The 60D has an APS-C sensor. If I used a Canon 5D Mk III, which has a larger sensor, I would get a narrower depth of field at the same aperture.
We'll ignore the image sensor size. Most of the time, we shoot with a single camera, so the sensor size is fixed.

I shot this portrait standing quite close. Camera settings were 1/400s,  f8, 75 mm, ISO 200. Shooting close up at f8 allowed me to blur the background while keeping my subject in focus.
The portrait above is taken outdoors. To get the blurred background, I went in close, and shot at f8, which means the hole in the lens through which light travels, is fairly large. A large hole means a lot of light gets through, which means you can have short exposure times, and it also means a shallow depth of field.

Depth of field can bite you. Most dogs have snouts that make give their faces a lot of depth. The following dog portrait was shot at f7.1.

As you can see, the eyes are sharp, but the nose is blurred. There are five simple ways I could have gotten the whole face into focus:

  • I could have changed the aperture. If I had shot at f11, I probably would have gotten the entire face in focus.
  • I could have changed the focal length of the lens. I was using a zoom lens at 135 mm. If I had shot at 85 mm, I would have gotten a better shot.
  • I could have backed off a bit, increasing the distance between me and the dog.
  • I could have shot the head in profile instead of straight on.
  • I could shoot a dog with a shorter snout. (But less wonderful eyes.)

Here is an example of a dog shot with the same aperture, 7.1, but at a slightly greater distance, and with the head turned a bit:

Dog sharp, dog owner out of focus, just as intended.

Photographers sometimes talk a bit scornfully about "people who shoot everything at f11". The reason why people do shoot at f11, is that it, in many cases, is a good compromise: Good depth of field, and also enough light to allow decent shutter times.

The racing track above is shot at f11. Because there is some distance to the foreground fence, and because of the aperture, the entire racing track is in focus.

To shoot individual cars, you need fast shutter times, and you can get that by sacrificing a bit of depth of field.

The car was shot at 1/1000s. To do that, I had to go to f6.3. Good enough for the car, but you can see that the sign in the background is slightly blurred.

If you are doing macro photography, you will have extremely shallow depths of field. This can be a problem. For example, if you are shooting insects, part of the insect may be unintentionally blurry.

I usually want the largest depth of field I can get when doing macro shots. That means I want to shoot around f22. However, that give me very long exposure times. This is a pain, because even very small air movements can turn small details into blurry messes.

Fortunately, you can get sharp macro shots if you use a flash.

Potted plant shot at f22. For macro photography, I want a wide depth of field. The shutter time is 1/160, but that does not matter much, because I used a flash to freeze movement. Even very small vibrations will cause problems when you are photographing small things. Using a flash will fix the problem, and give you nice, dramatic shadows.
A flash provides enough light to use a reasonable shutter time. Even better: A flash flashes very quickly. This means a flash can act as a super fast shutter, which eliminates the movement-from-air-current problem.

One thing though: You can't use a flash on the camera. You need to get it off the camera, and put it very close to the object you are photographing.

For this kind of photography, you need to work in manual mode, and experiment with aperture and shutter time, until you find combinations that work.

Finally: the only thing that will make you better at using depth of field in creative ways, is practice. Use a guide like this one to get a general idea of how to do what you want, then practice until you manage to do it. I study the metadata of the photos I take, to correlate what I see in the picture with the camera settings I used. You can see the metadata if you have programs like Aperture, Lightroom, The Gimp, or similar.

Monday 6 May 2013

Squirelks and Treecocks at the Children's Zoo

If you have children, it's the time of year, here in Gothenburg at least, when you start bringing them to the children's zoo. This is one of the few times you may be actually asked to bring your camera, as opposed to the more usual "do you really need to lug around that?"

The answer is obviously yes. I need to bring my camera for the same reason my seven year old son needs to bring his latest LEGO Chima toy. On top of that, I also shoot pictures. I don't really understand the reason for the question...

There is another question that matters though: How do you take interesting pictures at a children's zoo?

Let's list the problems you have to deal with:

  • Competition: Everyone shoots at the zoo. Your pictures will have to compete with those of your friends, aunt Ellen, uncle Harold, your significant other, every other relative you have, perhaps including your own children, if they are old enough to hold a camera.
  • Distance: A zoo is designed to keep humans and animals at some distance from each other, for the protection of both.
  • Angle: Many zoos are designed so that the walking paths are higher than the animals. This makes the animals easier to view. Unfortunately, getting a good shot while pointing your camera downwards at a 45 degree angle is all but impossible.
  • Unflattering light: I don't know who came up with the idea of going to the zoo, or outside, in bright sunlight, but they should apologize. A lot.
  • Uncooperative animals: Most of them will just flat out refuse to do anything interesting while you are standing there. Before you arrive, and after you leave, thats another matter...
  • The people you are with: When you finally find something interesting to shoot, they will start hollering at you to come and view something boring. Or, they will ask you to take an uninteresting picture where they pose for you in harsh sunlight.

Let's deal with these challenges one at a time.

Treecocks are more interesting than peacocks. However, this is not a good photo. Both the foreground and the background have too many distracting elements. The only appealing factor is that the peacock is up a tree.
Competition: You can deal with the competition by taking more interesting pictures than they do. To do this, walk slowly, camera ready to shoot, and look for animals, and people, who do interesting things.

For example, a peacock in a tree is more interesting than a peacock on the ground. That is because you rarely see peacocks climbing trees. At least I don't. For all I know, peacocks in the wild may be the monkeys of the bird kingdom, but I doubt it.

The treecock picture is not a good picture in many other respects: bad lighting, to busy foreground, to busy background...

The fix for that is easy: Get in closer.

According to the famous photographer Robert Capa: "if your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough." Capa was a war photographer, but the advice holds at the zoo too. Compare this picture to the previous peacock picture. Which one do you think is the more interesting?
Distance: This peacock picture is a lot more interesting than the treecock. I shot it with an 18-135 mm lens, at a distance of less than 50 cm.

To get a shot like this, you can get a 300 mm lens, or you can pay close attention to what happens on the other side of the fence separating you from the animals. It is very likely that you can find at least a few spots that allow you to come very close to the animals.

Note that I bent down low, and took the shot at the peacock's eye level. It's amazing how many photographers that do not have knee joints. Mine are creaky, but they still work most of the time. When I use them, I get better shots.

Shoot from a low angle. Get as close as you can. Don't be afraid to crop the picture afterwards, to get even closer.
Angle: To get this squirrel shot, I lay down flat on the ground. This gave me dirty clothes and a good angle to shoot from.

From the squirrel's point of view, it made me the most interesting human in view. At one point, I started fiddling with camera settings, and that is when the squirrel decided to have a really close look at me. Unfortunately, my lens wasn't fast enough to follow the little critter when he ran directly towards me, so I missed that shot.

Still, I am pretty happy with the shot I got. I am sure I'll get more opportunities to get a really good squirrel portrait this summer.

An added benefit to getting in close is hiding that you are shooting at a zoo.

Unflattering light: Wedding photographers often use flash in broad daylight to soften shadows. Very bad idea when you are shooting animals. However, there are things you can do mitigate the effects of too strong sunlight:
  • Crop the overexposed parts away. Very often, you have got an overexposed sky, or an overly bright background, that you can crop during post processing.
  • Reduce exposure. You can either underexpose a bit while taking the picture, or do it later in post. It is amazing how much this can improve a picture. For example, the squirrel picture in this article had some blown out areas that I could bring back simply by reducing the exposure setting in Aperture.
  • Increase saturation and vibrancy. This can bring back washed out colors. Go easy on it, unless you want to oversaturate on purpose.
It is amazing how much life you can bring back into a photo by doing these simple things. What is even more amazing, is that few people do.

Don't get me wrong: There are perfectly valid reasons for not fiddling with a photo after you have taken it. But, if you look at it, and see that it has potential, but isn't quite what you would like it to be, you should give it a go.

Even if your post processing goes horribly wrong, and it will at first, you will learn something, and probably have a good laugh in the process.

Uncooperative animals: If the animals absolutely refuse to cooperate, shoot something else. 

If you are alone, you may be able to just wait them out, until they finally do something interesting. If you are in the company of children, friends or family, you probably can't do that. Not for long enough.

Don't get hung up just because you planned to shoot animals, or your children petting animals. If you don't get what you came for, get something else. Focus is a good thing, but do not focus to the point of excluding good opportunities.

Brace yourself, because I am about to show you how not to photograph the people you are with:

This is the kind of shot you will almost certainly be asked to take. It is probably not the shot you want to get, and it is not the shot they will enjoy looking at later. My advice is to take it, and give it your very best. You will have happier company, and more opportunities to get shots they will enjoy viewing later on.

The people you are with: First of all, remember that you went there with other people because you like them. For some reason, often unclear, they like you too, despite your camera.

You do have the option of putting your camera away and just enjoying your time with them. 

You can always come back another time to enjoy the solitary pleasure of zoo photography. Or, if you crave company that is twisted in the same way you are, ask another photographer to come along.

In my case, my son and ex-wife are fairly tolerant, so shooting at the zoo went very well. On the other hand, we played miniature golf afterwards, and then I put my camera away. (I admit it, I tried to play with my camera in hand at first, but it just did not work.)

Be ready to shoot when the moment comes. This takes practice. Because I need to compete with some really good professionals, I practice three times a day, in addition to professional work. The trick to practicing is making it fun. Play around. Then, when the moment comes, you'll be ready. Well, sometimes...
Sooner or later, the people you are with will ask you to take a picture of them. It is unlikely that you will be able to take a good picture. Do it anyway, do it cheerfully, and give it your very best.

If you do that, everyone will relax and be happy. This increases the chances of you getting a better shot, a shot they will enjoy looking at later.