Tag Archives: technique

7 Tips for Shooting with Normal Primes

[tweetmeme]Some time ago, I wrote some tips for shooting with extremely wide angle lenses. Then I did it again just recently. So rather than cover the topic for a third time, we’ll talk about a different set of equipment: the normal primes.

Prime lenses are easy to fall in love with, partly because of their simple nature due to the fixed focal length. There are certainly more reasons to love them, but this article is more about how to use them effectively and efficiently. I’m also focusing on the range of “normal” lenses (something in the range of 35-55mm, give or take a few mm) because they’re most widely used and easily purchased.

1. MEMORIZE YOUR FIELD OF VIEW

March 25th 2008 - Everything about this is square
Creative Commons License photo credit: Stephen Poff

If you shoot long enough with a particular lens or focal length, you’ll “just know” where your framing is without looking through the viewfinder. This is a handy skill to acquire for situations when you can’t be constantly looking through the camera. If you memorize your field of view, you’ll be quicker to take the shot and you can plan things out a little better.

2. PLAN YOUR PERSPECTIVES

Over the Can
Creative Commons License photo credit: Brian Auer

Building on point 1, primes don’t allow you to compose your framing with the quick turn of a ring. If you want certain subjects in the image, you’ll have to plan out your distance and angle of attack to get what you want. On the other hand, if you want to bring more attention to a subject and exclude surrounding objects, you’ll need to plan on getting close enough.

3. BE PREPARED TO USE YOUR FEET

The barefoot selfportrait
Creative Commons License photo credit: dhammza

Shooting with a prime isn’t completely restrictive, it just means you’ll have to use your feet to zoom. After using primes for a while, you won’t really notice the “foot zoom” factor. Sometimes using your feet will require you to move or through hazardous locations, so don’t walk around with the camera up to your face because you’ll probably trip, fall, or get hit by a car.

4. WORK WITH WHAT YOU HAVE

I Stand Alone
Creative Commons License photo credit: Brian Auer

Sometimes you just can’t get the shot you want with the lens you have. Maybe you need to be further back than possible, or maybe you just can’t get close enough to frame it right. That’s ok. Worth with what you have and make the best of the situation. Keep your eyes open for other opportunities that surround you.

5. BEWARE OF YOUR SHALLOW DOF

031/365: 60 second walk
Creative Commons License photo credit: dotbenjamin

Now on to a few technical notes… normal primes typically have a very large maximum aperture (f/1.4 and f/1.8 are quite common and inexpensive). It’s great to have f-numbers in this range, but be careful with how you apply them. A shallow DOF can do great things for a photo, but it can also ruin it. It’s easy to get too shallow and blur out some important part of the image (of course, the focus in the image above is quite intentional, but you get the idea). In addition, the viewfinder and your on-camera LCD screen are too small to effectively judge DOF — things look more in-focus than they really are. So if you’re not certain that you want razor thin DOF, maybe stop it down a few notches… I tend to like the look of f/2 or f/2.8 better than f/1.4 anyway.

6. WATCH OUT FOR SUNSHINE

Happy flare friday!
Creative Commons License photo credit: zzaj ♫ {Thomas}

Another note on those large maximum apertures, this time having to do with the limitations of your camera. If you like to shoot wide open at f/1.4 or larger, you probably have to throttle back your obsession in broad daylight. With my digital camera, even at ISO 100, I can’t shoot in harsh sunlight at f/1.4 because my shutter speed maxes out at 1/8000s and the meter tells the camera to go higher than that. Of course, I can take the shot, but it will be overexposed because of the physical limitations. Now, if I knock it down to about f/2, I can take a shot within the range of my usable shutter speeds.

7. PHOTOGRAPH PEOPLE

Pool Girl
Creative Commons License photo credit: Brian Auer

Normal lenses excel when it comes to people shots. Their field of view and perspective matches the human eye more closely than the extreme focal lengths. This makes subjects in the photos appear more natural and realistic. The wider end of normal lenses (30mm) will give a slightly wide angle look, but it’s useful for capturing people in groups or in their surroundings. Get too close, and a full frame headshot might look a bit funny. On the other end (60mm), you might have a hard time getting groups or full body shots unless you’re back a ways, but the close-up portraits will look more natural.

What other tips to you have for shooting with normal primes? And what is your favorite normal prime lens?

Photoshop Technique: Digital Airbrush

[tweetmeme]Airbrushing is (or was) a process typically used to remove minor imperfections in portrait, model, and fashion photography (among other uses in photography). I’ll be presenting a digital airbrush technique in Photoshop intended to slightly smooth out skin textures in close up portraits. Sharp lenses and good lighting can produce very detailed captures, including all the small wrinkles and pores. Sometimes you just want to smooth out all those little things.

I’ve also created a Photoshop action to speed up the process described below. All you have to do is open up the original image and run it. The action stops at the filter dialogs and allows you to adjust them before proceeding. At the end of the action, you’re all set up and ready to start airbrushing.

DOWNLOAD THE DIGITAL AIRBRUSH PHOTOSHOP ACTION

I should also mention that I learned this technique from at least one or two other sites out there (can’t find the source for the life of me right now). I’m definitely not the originator — I’m just passing along my own interpretation of the process.

So here’s the image I’ll be working with… a very close-up and well-lit portrait. What you see immediately below is the final image after applying this airbrush technique. I’d show you the before image, but you wouldn’t be able to see much of a difference at this size.

Amazing Portrait of Merunisha Peel

A couple of things to remember before I get into it: don’t go overboard with the processing, experiment with the numbers to suit your image, and what I’m showing here is not the only way to do it. So let’s get started.

1. ORIGINAL IMAGE

This is a crop of the original image after being processed in ACR for exposure, contrast, white balance, etc. The crop is a 50% zoom so we can see more of the image while retaining some of the important details. Take note of the small skin wrinkles and pores — these are the things we’re going to smooth out a bit.

2. DUPLICATE BACKGROUND

When you open it up into Photoshop, duplicate the background layer. We need to do this because we’re going to apply some destructive modifications to the top layer, and we’ll be applying a layer mask later on. Essentially, we’re going to make a “new skin” that can be airbrushed over the existing image.

3. SMOOTH IT OUT

Now it’s time to make that skin into plastic. Apply the “Dust & Scratches” filter (Filter >> Noise >> Dust & Scratches…). Start with a 5px radius and adjust until you get something almost cartoon-looking. You want to get rid of the small details while maintaining the bigger details.

4. ADD BLUR

After smoothing out the little things, we want to add some blur to soften up the bigger things. Apply a “Gaussian Blur” filter (Filter >> Blur >> Gaussian Blur…). Again, start with a 5px radius and adjust until you lose that cartoon look. You want to soften the hard edges while maintaining some amount of contrast in the larger details.

5. ADD NOISE

This one is nearly impossible to see even at a 50% zoom — it’s very subtle. Apply a small amount of the “Noise” filter (Filter >> Noise >> Add Noise…). Start around 0.7px with a uniform monochromatic noise and adjust until you can barely see it at 100% zoom. You want to break up the plastic look just a tiny bit with some texture.

6. MASK IT

Now that you’ve completely destroyed the working layer, mask it all out. Add a layer mask and fill it in black (Layer >> Layer Mask >> Hide All). Now your image should look like the original because we’ve masked out the modified layer.

7. AIRBRUSH TIME!

Grab your brush tool, soften up the edges, set the color to white, put the opacity to around 10 or 20%, and select the layer mask we just created. Adjust your brush size to suit your needs and start painting in some of the fake skin. The key here is to do a little bit at a time while varying your brush size and edge hardness. Paint over the areas where you want to remove small details. You want to brush in a little more fake skin than you need — we’ll fix it in just a second.

The image above shows the mask applied to the image. You can see that we’ve removed most of the skin texture while keeping the details in the eye.

The image above shows the mask for the entire image. You can see that I focused mostly on the areas… in focus. I also made it a point to avoid the eyes, mouth, and hair. We don’t want to soften up these areas.

8. BACK TO REALITY

At this point, you probably have something slightly resembling a plastic doll. No biggie — we can fix it. Simply adjust the opacity of the modified layer until you bring back some of the original skin texture. I ended up with an opacity of 70%, but you’ll need to judge and adjust your own image based on how heavy you modified the skin during the airbrushing.

9. BEFORE & AFTER

As you can see from this split image, the final adjustment is not very harsh. The intent was to smooth out the very small wrinkles and skin pores visible in on the face.

And for those of you viewing this on the site, you can mouse over the image below to see an after and before effect. RSS and email readers will need to visit the site to see it (there’s a JavaScript mouseover making it all happen).

I don’t use this technique very often, but it’s a good one to know. Useful for close up portraits, but that’s about it. And don’t abuse it — soft and subtle is the key here. A bit of skin texture is actually a good thing!

20 Resources That Will Get You Lit

0233 - Domo Lightbulb
Creative Commons License photo credit: Aaronth

Lighting… It’s a complicated mixture of knowledge, equipment, and magic. You shouldn’t attempt it unless you’re a trained professional with lots of money and a big studio of your own. In addition, you’ll need to memorize thousands of rules and lighting setups in order for your photos to look decent.

Oh wait… forget what I just said. That’s just how it appears before you take the time to learn it.

[tweetmeme]I have to admit that I’m just starting that learning process, and I wanted to share some great resources recently suggested by the readers of Epic Edits. I’ve split up the links into lighting diagrams, lighting tutorials, lighting websites, and lighting courses/workshops. Start clicking!

LIGHTING DIAGRAMS

LIGHTING DIAGRAMS FROM JAKE GARN PHOTOGRAPHY
4 lighting diagrams and sample shots from a fashion photographer.

EXPLAINED LIGHTING SCHEMES FROM FOTOPUNTO.COM
16 simple lighting setups with simple explanations.

SELF PORTRAITS AND LIGHTING DIAGRAMS FROM KRIS MITCHELL
Documentation of a Project 52, including 11 lighting diagrams (and counting).

LIGHTING TUTORIALS

PORTRAIT LIGHTING SET-UPS FROM PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY 101
Five of the most basic portrait lighting techniques.

PORTRAIT LIGHTING CHEAT SHEET CARD FROM DIYPHOTOGRAPHY.NET
A great concept that shows a full spectrum of effects by moving a single light.

VISUALIZING STUDIO LIGHTING FROM PHOTOCRITIC
An exploration of simple lighting to achieve different effects on the same subject.

PROPHOTOLIFE YOUTUBE CHANNEL
A collection of 33 video tutorials, mostly having to do with lighting techniques.

SNAPFACTORY YOUTUBE CHANNEL
This playlist titled “Digital Photography 1 on 1″ has great lighting Q&A with examples.

MOMENTOUS BREAKDOWN! FROM YOUR PHOTO TIPS
A good example of the “less is more” motto — check out the photo and diagram!

HOW TO LIGHT ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING – THE DISCERNING PHOTOGRAPHER
An intuitive approach to photographic lighting — start with one!

LIGHTING WEBSITES

STROBIST
Learning how to use off-camera flash with your dSLR.

LIGHTING ESSENTIALS FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS
Lighting, Photography, Fashion and Editorial Portraiture on Location and In Studio.

ZARIAS.COM
The blog of editorial photographer Zack Arias

PIXSYLATED
Honestly Biased Insights on Photography by Syl Arena.

PROPHOTORESOURCE.COM
Articles by Chris Grey dealing with lighting techniques and equipment.

STEFAN TELL
Many example photos and lighting diagrams for portraits.

RICHARD AVEDON
Ok… so this one isn’t really a lighting resource, but the photos are awesome to study!

WORKSHOPS AND TRAINING COURSES

THE ONELIGHT WORKSHOP BY ZACK ARIAS
A nuts and bolts type of workshop — Off Camera. Manual Mode. Old School.

LIGHTING ESSENTIALS WORKSHOPS
Learn to light without spending a fortune.

KELBY TRAINING
Online training for photographers — check out the stuff by McNally and Ziser.

[tweetmeme]Special thanks to Nathan Nontell, William Beem, Kris Mitchell, Steve, Shawn, Tomas Webb, Janne, Kunal Daswani, udi, Don Winkler, Mike Blanchard, Stefan Tell, Damien Franco, Jay, and Andrew Boyd for commenting on my previous post asking for lighting resources. You guys are awesome.

Tone Curves: Final Tips, Tricks, and Things to Avoid

[tweetmeme]We’ve had quite a journey with this whole histogram and curves ordeal:

And now I’d like to wrap things up with a few tips, tricks, and things to avoid when using curves. It’s a fairly simple tool once you begin to work with it and understand it, but there are a few non-obvious items worth pointing out.

what lies within?
Creative Commons License photo credit: Fifi LePew

TIPS

We’ll start off with a few generic tips for working with curves, then we’ll move on to the some of the more detailed stuff.

TRICKS

Here are a few tricks for the ACR/Lightroom interface under the “Point” curve.

  • Hold Ctrl and mouse over the image to see where the tones lay on the curve/histogram.
  • Ctrl+click over the image to set an adjustment point on the curve.
  • Ctrl+select adjustment points on the curve to delete them.
  • Ctrl+Tab to move between adjustment points without using the mouse.
  • Shift+select multiple existing adjustment points if you want to grab more than one at a time.
  • Shift+click over the image to set your neutral point for white balance (this works outside of the curves dialog too).
  • Shift+arrow keys to move selected adjustment points by 10 rather than 1.

And then we have a few general tricks:

Danger of Death By Failing
Creative Commons License photo credit: AlmazUK

THINGS TO AVOID

  • Watch for vertical sections in your curve — that produces an extremely high contrast and you lose all midtone data in that area.
  • Watch for horizontal sections in your curve — that produces zero contrast and you lose all midtone data in that area.
  • Too many adjustment points will be difficult to manage, just use what you need.
  • Avoid inverted slopes, they invert the tones. Can you roll a ball from the upper right point of the curve to the lower left (without relying on momentum)? If not, you’ve inverted a section of your curve.
  • Don’t clip your shadows and highlights (unless that’s what you really want to do). Keep an eye on your histogram for this one.

I’m sure there are a few hundred other tips and tricks out there for using curves, but I don’t know them all and I couldn’t cover them in one article even if I did. These tips, combined with the previous articles linked at the top, should keep most of you busy for a while. And if you’re looking for more, here’s my final tip on the subject:

Experiment. Try things out, push buttons, make mistakes, and keep learning.

Nonlinear Curve Adjustments and Histograms

The last article on curves looked at linear adjustments and how those adjustments affect the image and the histogram. So now we’ll take a look at some nonlinear adjustments within the curves adjustment tool found in many photo editing software packages.

We’re basically building on our basic understanding of the histogram and our knowledge of linear curve adjustments to take the next step into nonlinear adjustments (the curvy curves).

NONLINEAR MANIPULATIONS

What I’m going to show here are some very basic curves at each extreme. The single bend and double bend curves are most commonly used during post-processing, but these are not the only options. Curves can have a large number of set points, bends, and inflections — it’s just not feasible to cover every possibility in an article like this.

SINGLE BEND CURVES

The simplest form of a nonlinear curve is accomplished by moving a mid-tone location toward the upper left or lower right corner, forming a basic arc with a single bend. Essentially, your black and white points remain fixed while your mid-tones become lighter or darker (aka: brightness). Also note that one end of your tones will take on more contrast while the other end will lose contrast due to the change in slope of the curve (remember: vertical = high contrast, horizontal = low contrast).

This can be used to brighten or darken the overall image if you want to maintain your highlights and shadows at their current values.

DOUBLE BEND CURVES

Also known as the “S-Curve”, this curve manipulation pushes one section of tones brighter and another section of tones darker (aka: contrast). Again, you can maintain your black and white points, but you also maintain some middle tone where the curve crosses the diagonal. On the note of contrast again, be aware that you will sacrifice contrast in one area to gain it in another.

This can be used to raise or lower the contrast of the overall image with a focus on the mid-tone areas. The bright/dark tone changes of the highlights/shadows are amplified by the mid-tone slope change — so it doesn’t take much to really change the contrast.

APPLYING NONLINEAR CURVES

The beauty of the curve adjustment is that you have such a wide range of possibilities — much more dynamic than a single slider adjustment. To apply curve adjustments, you simply click a location on the curve and drag it to the desired location. The curve will bend on its own based only on your set points. You can continue to add set points until you have the desired result.

Using the example image above (middle of series), here’s one possible curve that combines linear, single bend, and double bend curves. Keep in mind that I haven’t applied any basic adjustments and what you’re seeing is pure curves from an unprocessed raw file (except for the b/w conversion).

Notice that I used a double bend curve to increase contrast. Combine that with a single bend curve to increase brightness. And combine that with a linear adjustment to set my black and white points. I’ve also placed several extra points on the curve in order to bend it into the shape I wanted while maintaining a smooth transition.

As you work with curves, you’ll noticed that they sometimes have a mind of their own. Extra points will help shape the curve and provide you with the ability to make the adjustments you want. On that same note, too many set points can lead to choppy and lumpy curves. Non-smooth transitions generally begin to produce strange contrast artifacts that are easily seen in the image.

For you curves experts out there, what other tips and advice would you add to this discussion? How are you guys using curves to enhance your images?

60 Second Post-Processing Technique

Dictionary : Time
Creative Commons License photo credit: Kat…

The technique outlined here really just applies to a first round of processing — this might be acceptable for posting to Flickr, but a fine art print would require much more time and effort on your part. Also, I’m not talking about doing black and white conversions, crazy artistic interpretations, creative cropping, etc. We just want to make the photo look more natural at this point.

60 seconds may sound fast to some people, but it may sound like an eternity to others. Sure, it’s way too short for print preparation and it’s way too long for working through hundreds of stock submissions that might have basically the same white balance, exposure, and/or subject matter. But this method is intended to use your time effectively while giving each photo individual attention.

The steps below are for Lightroom or ACR users working with raw digital files.

SHARPEN AND REDUCE NOISE (0 SECONDS)

Article: Save Time with Sharpen and Noise Presets

In most situations, the sharpening and noise reduction settings can be applied in batches for any given camera and ISO range. Just build a sharpening and noise reduction preset and apply it to all the images you’ll be processing further. This can be done before or after any other editing, but I like to get it done up front so I don’t forget.

The exception to this rule of batch processing is when you have photos outside the “normal” camera setting ranges. This means that photos with high ISO or long handheld shutter speeds will typically require some individual attention, but everything else can be processed with presets for typical use.

STRAIGHTEN AND CROP (+10 SECONDS)

Straightening

Not every photo is going to require this step, but let’s just include it as a worst case scenario. The main intent should be straightening anything that’s slightly misaligned from what you want. I’d say keep the creative cropping to a minimum at this point — you can go back during in-depth processing and toy around with it.

To straighten, just use the Straighten tool and drag your horizontal or vertical line. The rotated crop will automatically be applied and you can move on to the next step.

WHITE BALANCE (+15 SECONDS)

White Balance

Cameras aren’t very good at picking white balance, so some adjustment is usually beneficial. By default, your image white balance may be set to As Shot. What I like to do is highlight the pull-down menu and scroll through the auto and predefined settings to see which one gets me the closest. In some cases this will be enough, in other cases you’ll have to make a slight adjustment manually. If you have a good neutral gray source in the photo, you can also use the White Balance Tool to save some time.

I would suggest doing this step before making any basic adjustments because I’ve noticed that different white balances will give different automatic exposure settings in the next step.

BASIC ADJUSTMENTS (+25 SECONDS)

Basic Adjustments

This is an area that you could spend a lot of time messing with, but you can also get a really good result with minimal effort. The first thing I do is hit the Auto and Default adjustment a few times back and forth so I can evaluate which one gives a better starting point.

Once I have my basic starting point, I take a quick look at the histogram to evaluate where things are at (I’ll actually do a separate article for working with histograms). Then I just run down the group of sliders from top to bottom until I get things pretty close.

  1. Modify your Exposure if the image is inherently too dark or bright.
  2. Add Recovery to pull back heavy or clipped highlights.
  3. Add Fill Light to push up heavy or clipped shadows.
  4. Add Blacks if your shadows look dull.
  5. Modify your Brightness to shift the overall brightness or darkness.
  6. Modify your Contrast if the image looks too flat or too punchy.

You could end your processing right there if you punch up the contrast enough, but I like to leave it a little flat for the next step. I also don’t usually apply any Clarity, Vibrance, or Saturation adjustments in this round of editing. You’ll find that a good contrast and tone adjustment will really boost the colors.

TONE ADJUSTMENT (+10 SECONDS)

Tone Curves

I actually find that the Tone Adjustment does a better job at dealing with contrast because it offers more control by splitting the highlights and shadows. Most of the time, I’ll only adjust the Lights and Darks sliders until I see a pleasing contrast level. Many images will only require a slight “S curve” to get you where you need to be.

Now, if you don’t leave the Basic Adjustments slightly flat, you’ll get really exaggerated contrast results after applying Tone Adjustments. Then you’ll have to go back to the other panel and turn things down — which of course takes more time.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Am I way off base here? Am I spending too much time on basic first-round adjustments? Am I not spending enough time per image? What do you do with your images you intend to post or share through informal mediums? Here’s the before with the example photo used above:

Before and After 60 Seconds

Not a huge difference, but quite noticeable at full screen. At any rate, it’s in a more “natural” state and it should be much easier to evaluate and detail process from here.

I would say that the 60 seconds could be reduced to 30 if several things fall into place: straight horizons out of the camera, correct white balance out of the camera, and good exposure out of the camera. A well captured image requires very little post work, but it should require some if it’s a raw image. On the other hand, you could easily require 2 or 3 minutes per photo if you’re doing a lot of corrections due to a poor capture.

Double Exposure Tips and Photos

In the world of artistic photography, double exposures can result in some very interesting stuff. Some can be well thought out compositions with shapes and exposures meant to compliment the other frame. Others can be happy accidents that exhibit a magic mixture of luck and randomness. In either case (and any case in between), a good double exposure catches the viewer’s attention and presents a distorted reality that would not be possible to see without a camera.

Here are a few tips to get you started with double exposures.

  • Pay attention to shadows and highlights in each exposure. You’ll notice that large areas of shadow on one exposure will allow the highlights to show through from the other exposure. If you line up shadows on both exposures, you’ll get little detail due to underexposure. If you line up highlights from both exposures, you’ll get a faded looking image with low contrast.
  • Try to keep at least one of the exposures rather simple. Two busy exposures will typically result in chaos and make everything harder to see (unless chaos is what you’re going for).
  • To create a “ghost”, put the camera on a tripod and take the first exposure. Then remove or add objects or people and take the second exposure without moving the camera.
  • If you wan to go the film route, don’t forget to underexpose by one stop for a double exposure (2 stops for 4 exposures, etc). And make sure you know how to double expose with your specific camera.
  • If you want to go the digital route, one method is to underexpose as you would with film (or do so with post processing) and apply a screen layer blend (which essentially mimics the process of projecting two slides onto one screen). More details on the digital process in this article: Digital Multiple Exposure.
  • And most of all, experiment and have fun with it. Over time, you’ll get a sense for how the two exposures work with each other and you can really start to form the final image to your intent.

And here are some pretty awesome multiple exposures from Flickr. Most (if not all) of these were done with film. If you have some double exposures of your own (and/or tips for double exposing), drop them in the comment section below the article.

I am what I have found
Creative Commons License photo credit: FilmNut

raina
Creative Commons License photo credit: cx33000

Alien Sunset
Creative Commons License photo credit: Brian Auer

Some Time on Earth
Creative Commons License photo credit: *it’s not a cabaret

Britain in Bloom
Creative Commons License photo credit: slimmer_jimmer


Creative Commons License photo credit: moominsean

Office building
Creative Commons License photo credit: Andrea [bah! la realtà!]

double exposure
Creative Commons License photo credit: depinniped

Church of St. Thomas the Martyr
Creative Commons License photo credit: teotwawki

Towers over Tribeca
Creative Commons License photo credit: gaspi *your guide

ghosts
Creative Commons License photo credit: twinleaves

Bursting WindMill
Creative Commons License photo credit: FilmNut

11 Tips for Candid Street Photography

Candid street photography, or candid portraits, can be some of the most interesting photos captured in everyday places. Heading out into the crowd with a camera is exhilarating and intimidating at the same time. Great photographic scenes play out on the streets right before your very eyes, but people are quick to recognize the camera and ruin the opportunity. Being covert without being creepy — it’s all part of the game we call street photography (and quite different from traditional portrait photography).

DISCLAIMER: I’m not suggesting that anything and everything is either legal or moral in street photography situations. Know the laws and use your best judgment. For further reading on the subject, see this Wikipedia article on Street Photography.

I know this is a debated topic among photographers, but the point of this article isn’t to start an argument about the rights and wrongs of candid portraits. The point of this article is to introduce some tips and techniques with example photos for those interested in this style of photography — this is by no means a complete guide to street photography. So here we go…

1. USE A LONG LENS

If you want a good candid, keep a bit of distance from the subject. Once people are aware of your camera, they’re likely to pay more attention and your chances of getting a true candid go down. I’m not saying you should roll around with a 400mm lens, but anything under 85mm or 100mm is going to be fairly close-range. This one was taken with a 105mm on a 1.5x crop sensor — so about 160mm equiv.

Black and White

2. SNEAK UP FROM BEHIND

Obviously it’s harder to get a candid shot from the front than from behind, but sometimes you have to take what you can get. If you like the scene and your subject is staring off into the distance, take a shot. Sometimes getting a shot without the face can add a bit of mystery to the photo too.

Surfer and Board

3. WATCH THE BENCHES

The hard part of catching a candid portrait is that people are moving, things are passing in front of your view, and your window of opportunity passes quickly. People generally sit on benches, which means they’re not moving around too much and they might be there for more than 5 seconds. Look for the subjects that are focused on some task, such as feeding birds or reading a paper.

Mexican Bus Stop

4. KEEP YOUR EARS OPEN

Your eyes are your primary sensor for photography, but keep your ears open too — especially when your face is pressed up against the back of the camera. You can often hear opportunities coming your way, sometimes before you can even see them.

Battling Fuel Prices

5. SHOOT THE PERFORMERS

Street performers are great fun to photograph. They expect that people will take their photo during the performance, so you need not worry about ticking them off. Plus, they’re usually good characters and make for great portraits. Just don’t forget to throw a few bucks their way — they aren’t usually out there for the pure fun of it.

Cigar Humor

6. FIND GROUP GATHERINGS

If you see a group of people congregating for whatever reason, this is a good chance to mix with the crowd and get up close for some candids. Gatherings can take many forms: drum circles (shown below), protests, rallies, parades, etc.

Moving with the Music

7. DON’T FORGET THE BACKGROUND

A lot of times it’s hard enough to get a good candid shot of the subject, so worrying about the background seems secondary. But if you find a good strong background, get the composition all set up and wait for the subjects to enter the scene.

These Walls Are Busy

8. GET OFF THE STREETS

Street photography doesn’t necessarily have to be done on the streets. Any place where there are people, there will be an opportunity for some candid portraits. So things like public buildings, beaches, parks, etc.

Another Day At The Beach

9. FIND A SPOT AND WAIT

I’ve used this technique from time to time with good results. Find a spot that you like — something with an interesting composition, pattern, or background. Now envision somebody in that scene as you’d like to take the photo. Get all set up… and wait for it. Somebody will eventually walk into the scene and you’ll get your shot.

Big White Boxes

10. USE A WIDE LENS

Not all portraits need to be up-close and personal. Use a wide lens from time to time and capture more of the surroundings than the person — but use the person as an anchor for the composition.

The Watchman

11. SOMETIMES YOU JUST GET CAUGHT…

If you’re going to take candid photos of people on the streets, be prepared to get caught. Also be prepared for anything from a friendly conversation to unfriendly confrontation to physical assault. All I’m saying is be mindful.

Daniel Devenport

I’m interested to hear from all of you on this topic. Leave a comment and/or tip in the comments below… maybe we can pull together another follow-up article full of tips and photos from the readers.

Concert Photography Tips from a Newbie

Concert Photography

It’s always good to hear tips and techniques from seasoned photographers. But sometimes they forget about the “simple” things that beginners need to know, opting for more advanced topics. I had the opportunity to photograph a concert type of event for the first time in my photography career. Sure, I had read through the concert photography tips available on the web, but I still had to learn many things as I went.

On February 28, 2009 I ventured up to Hollywood for a little performance at the Whisky a Go Go. The main reason I went was because my pal Bryan was playing that night with his band, The Scarlet Paradigm. Playing right before them was Chico and the Sapphires, and they both totally rocked! Seriously, check out their pages and listen to their tunes. These guys are good. You can also see my Flickr sets for both The Scarlet Paradigm and Chico and the Sapphires.

Rather than offer up advice on the topic as if I actually knew it well, I offer up a few concert photography tips from a beginner’s perspective. Here’s what I learned in just a few minutes of shooting that night.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Chico and the Sapphires

Before you go photograph your first concert, read up on the tips and tricks articles out there on the web (I’ve got a list at the end of this article). Also be sure to scope the venue beforehand or at least talk to somebody that’s been there before. Find out if they’re photographer-friendly, if you need a special pass, if they allow flash, what kind of space you’ll have to work with, and what the lighting might be like. Showing up completely unprepared will only cause a lot of stress and ruin the evening.

BRING FAST GLASS

The Scarlet Paradigm

I’ve seen this tip in just about every concert photography article out there — but for good reason! Concerts are generally dimly-lit and you need all the speed you can get your hands on. I brought my 50mm f/1.4 and my 105mm f/2.8 lenses. The f/2.8 wasn’t too bad, but the f/1.4 was noticeably faster. If you don’t have really fast glass, you can either borrow some from a friend or even rent one for the weekend. And if all else fails, just bring what you have and make do.

CRANK THE ISO

Chico and the Sapphires

Even if you use fast lenses, you’ll still have to crank the ISO to anywhere from ISO800 to ISO6400 (or higher). Using large apertures and high ISO values will allow you to shoot at faster shutter speeds. Depending on the performers, you might need something as fast as 1/250 seconds or faster to avoid motion blur. I ended up shooting 99% of my photos at ISO6400 and I got speeds anywhere from 1/6 seconds to 1/1500 seconds with a majority being in the neighborhood of 1/90 seconds to 1/500 seconds. And yet, probably half of my photos showed signs of motion blur (the bands were very lively).

PACK SMART

Chico and the Sapphires

Lots of people go to see bands perform and local venues usually have limited floorspace. Everybody else is there to enjoy the performance, so don’t be that person with the giant backpack shoving your way through the crowd. You’ll have a hard time moving around and finding spots to shoot, plus you’ll be bumping up against everyone with your bag. Bring one or two camera bodies and one or two lenses total. You’re going to find good shots with whatever lens you bring and you don’t want to be changing gear every couple of minutes. So pack smart.

PUSH YOUR FILM

The Scarlet Paradigm

If you decide to shoot some film, just remember that you can push ASA400 film as far as ASA3200 without losing a ton of quality. Just do your research on which film/developer combos will allow you to do this. I shot a roll of Ilford HP5+ (ASA400) at ASA3200 and a roll of Ilford Delta3200 at ASA6400 by push developing with Rodinal.

DON’T BE SHY

The Scarlet Paradigm

It can feel a bit awkward to push your way in front of people then stand there with a camera in front of your face. But nobody is going to invite you right up to the stage so you can get a shot. Get in there, take a few shots, and move somewhere else. If you keep moving, you won’t tick many people off plus you’ll get a lot of different angles.

DON’T OVER-PROCESS

Chico and the Sapphires

When it comes time to process your photos, just don’t over-do it. The lighting will probably provide enough color and contrast to be interesting. Just do a couple things to recover highlights and shadows, reduce noise, and try to show what you actually saw. Converting to black and white is also a good option (due to the noise) and you’ll probably have more freedom with your tweaks. Plus you can sometimes get the noise to look like grain if you convert your colors correctly. And if you want to get into Photoshop for a little more creative control, check out these Concert Photography Photoshop Actions.

AND HAVE A GOOD TIME!

The Scarlet Paradigm

No matter what, be sure to enjoy yourself. The band you’re photographing is made up of artists like yourself. Artists like to have people enjoy their work — it makes them feel good inside. So pull the camera away from your face every once in a while and just enjoy it.

FURTHER READING…

I know I didn’t cover every single tip and technique for concert photography, so here are a few other articles that dive into other aspects of it.

And if you have concert photography tips and/or example photos, drop a comment below! You’re a smart crowd and I always enjoy learning new things from the community.

Cross Processing Tips and Suggestions

XPRO

It’s no secret… I love film photography. But if there’s one thing I love more than film, it’s cross processed film. There’s something so intriguing about it — adding a touch of unpredictable to the imperfect nature of film. Many photographers tend to either hate it or love it. Some love it so much that they attempt to recreate the look with Photoshop.

I’ve had this article on the half-finished backburner for a while. I figure we’ll take a slight detour from the photo backup series and get this one out there. One reader recently commented on another cross processing article, asking some questions about it. So I’m guessing that at least one person will find some of this useful.

Here are some tips for choosing films to cross process, exposing the film, getting it developed, and color correcting it. So grab a cheap film camera start cross processing!

WHAT THE HECK IS CROSS PROCESSING?

It’s a beautiful thing… simply put, you shoot a roll of film (most commonly slide film, or E-6) and develop it as if it were something different (most commonly color negative film, or C-41). Intentionally processing a film in the wrong chemicals. Doing this with slide film works out well for several reasons: the results are very cool and C-41 processing is much more available than E-6.

DIFFERENT FILMS = DIFFERENT RESULTS

Darkness Creeps InWe Have LiftoffThe Wind CatcheruntitledjesusLanterns

The largest differences in the outcome of your cross processed photos have to do with the film you’re using. Each film has it’s own unique look, and they can vary drastically. The most obvious difference is the color cast produced during development. Here are some results from those that I’m most familiar with:

Kodak EktaChrome (or EliteChrome) = very green
Fujifilm Velvia 50 = green + some blue
Fujifilm Velvia 100 = very red + some magenta or yellow

And here are some others that I have yet to try:

Fujifilm Sensia 400 = blue + green
Fujifilm Sensia 100 = red
Fujifilm Provia 400 = green + yellow
Konica Centuria 100 = little color cast

It’s also worth noting that different developer solutions will have slightly different effects on the outcome of the film. For any given slide film that can be cross processed, I’ve seen a vast array of colors show up from different photographers.

UNDER-EXPOSE BY ONE STOP

Color slide film has a lower dynamic range than color negative film. On top of that, cross processing tends to boost the contrast between highlights and shadows, thus requiring that you properly expose your shots. But cross processing (in my experience so far), tends to over-expose the film by about one stop. The first few rolls I got back were overexposed — some being unusable. So I figured out that if I underexpose the shots by one stop, I got better results with the exposure of the developed film.

To underexpose by one stop, you just have to set your ASA/ISO value to double what it should be (assuming that you have a light meter on your camera). So if you’re shooting with ASA100 film, set the camera to ASA200. This makes the camera “think” that you have a faster film loaded, so it lets in less light.

FIND A GOOD PHOTO LAB

Cross processing requires the C-41 process, and most of us aren’t equipped to do this ourselves. However, just about any lab that develops film will have this capability (since it’s the most common process for consumer film). The tricky part is finding somebody who will cross process your E-6 film as C-41 film.

When film is developed, a lot of chemical reactions are taking place. The end result is a stable piece of film with an image on it and a bunch of extra “stuff” that gets left in the developer solution. Developer solutions have to be changed out on a regular basis to continue to work properly.

From what I understand, developing slide film in C-41 chemicals can leave behind stuff that normally isn’t left behind. I don’t think this does a great harm to the solution or to the other film being processed in the developer, but shops with less-experienced technicians will shy away from cross processing because of this. You’re better off finding somebody who knows their stuff.

It’s also recommended that you find a shop with a higher volume. Developers that are used more often have their solutions changed out more often. For example, I’ve got a place downtown that changes the solution every day, and they have no problem cross processing as much as I want. But my local place has a lower volume and they only change out the solution once per week. They’ll cross process for me, but they ask that I don’t bring in more than a couple rolls at a time.

CORRECT THE COLORS WITH WHITE BALANCE

As I mentioned above, cross processing can produce some very strong color shifts in addition to other things. Sometimes these color shifts work really well with the subject and you’ll want to keep them. But other times, it’ll be too much an you’ll want to back it off a bit. This section is aimed at those of you scanning your film and processing the digital files (but this can also be done in the darkroom).

The best tool that I’ve found for this is the white balance adjustment found in software such as Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom. A color curves adjustment in Photoshop might be slightly better, but the white balance is so quick and easy in comparison.

For photos with a strong green color shift, increase your “tint” into the magenta region (or away from green). Depending on the film and the specific color shift, you may also need to adjust the “temperature” toward yellow or blue to take care of secondary color shifts left behind.

For photos with a strong red shift, move your “tint” into the green region (away from the magenta). Again, you may have to adjust the “temperature” to clean up the rest of the colors.

The same rules apply with yellow and blue color shifts — just move adjust the white balance in the opposite direction. So basically, you’re just evaluating the color shift of the photo, finding that color or combination of colors in your white balance adjustment, and compensating for it by negating the colors.

Another thing that works well with Adobe’s raw processor is the White Balance Tool even with cross processed film scans. Just find something in the photo that “should” be a neutral gray and sample it with the tool. This will adjust the white balance for you, then you can fine-tune it from there. I usually like to leave a bit of color shift in my photos (and sometimes all of it) — if you go too far with the white balance adjustments, you’ll start to see weird colors showing up in those neutral gray or white areas.

JOIN AN XPRO FLICKR GROUP

If you’re on Flickr, one of the best ways to get excited about a topic is to join a group dedicated to that topic. Seeing the photos and reading the discussions is a great way to get inspired and educated. Here are a few cross processing groups:

XPRO CROSS PROCESSING
Cross Processing – XP – XPRO
Kodak Xpro
Cross Process Masterpieces
Cross Processing Anonymous

Other than that, all I can do is suggest that you get out there and try things out for yourself. Try different films, different cameras, different developers, etc. Cross processing can be quite interesting, as it adds to the “unknown” factor already inherent in film photography.

For you seasoned cross processing film photographers out there, what other advice would you give to photographers just getting into this stuff?