Tag Archives: tip

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.

Center Your Subject for Action Shots

Porsche Battle

We hear a lot about things such as the rule of thirds and not centering your subject for better composition. But there are times when you should actually center your subject to ensure that you get the shot. Action shots are typically a one chance situation. This can include sports, racing, performances, etc.

The problem with these action scenarios is that the main subject is usually moving quite fast and you only have one opportunity to capture a given moment. Spend too much time thinking about composition rules will ultimately result in missed shots. Here are a few reasons why you should think about centering your subject (and some tips for action shots):

  • It’s easier for your AF camera to focus on the subject when centered — nothing worse than a sharp background and blurry subject. The caveat to this is if you have your camera set to spot focus somewhere other than the center.
  • Most manual focus screens have additional feedback at the center of the frame — use it!
  • Center your subject and you won’t miss a shot due to over-thinking the composition.
  • Leave a bit of extra room around the main subject so that you can crop for better composition later.
  • Use continuous AF to track the action — especially when the subject is moving toward or away from you.
  • Get the dang shot!

What do you guys think? Good advice? Bad advice? What would you add to this?

Pace Yourself

Sully stands tall
Creative Commons License photo credit: tedreese

Here’s a quick piece of advice taken from an old fable: “Slow and steady wins the race

This moral, or saying, can be applied to many facets of photography (and everyday life). With advances in technology, things can get moving pretty quickly. New cameras and gear, faster rapid-fire, streamlined software, extended networks via the web, etc. It’s great to be able to get so much done in such a short amount of time, but this quickened pace can lead to burn-out with your photography.

Take some time to evaluate your photographic pace and identify any areas that need to be trimmed back a bit. Also look at the activities that you don’t seem to have time for, and figure out a way to adjust your schedule to make time.

  • PHOTO SHOOTS
    Whether it’s for business or pleasure, keep a mindful eye on your schedule and don’t bury yourself with shooting while leaving no time for post processing and photo sharing. Of if you’re not so busy, don’t let your outings be few and far between — get out and shoot, even if you’re all alone.
  • OUT SHOOTING
    When you’re out with your camera, don’t take so many photos that 95% of them are trash or repeats (and be mindful of your memory card or film limitations). On the flip side, don’t be so conservative that you miss a great shot.
  • BUYING NEW GEAR
    Once you start buying new toys it’s hard to stop. Just be aware of your own budget and needs, and don’t go overboard. Likewise, get yourself something every once in a while so you don’t fall into a huge rut.
  • POST PROCESSING
    Post production can be tedious or fun — just depends on how you look at it. Try to spread out your post processing so you don’t burn out. Once it becomes a chore, you’ll start taking shortcuts, putting in minimal effort, and forgetting things.
  • POSTING ONLINE
    If you post photos to photo-sharing sites or a personal blog, find a good pace for posting. If you put up an entire shoot all at once, you’ll overload your onlookers and leave them hanging for the next few weeks. Try to post photos at a rate that matches your rate of shooting and post processing.
  • LEARNING
    There are so many great resources out there for learning photography, especially the web. But don’t overload your brain with so much new information that none of it sticks. Take your time and soak it up, most of the stuff out there will be around for a while… make use of bookmarking.

How else can this advice be applied to photography?

Shoot Like You’re Using Film

Digital cameras are great: you can take a bunch of shots, view them as you go, and even delete the bad ones (though it’s not advised). But does this make us less attentive to what we’re really doing? With film, you have a set number of exposures you can take — no previews, no do-overs. Obviously, you can carry more than one roll of film, but then it becomes a matter of expense and your ability to carry the film with you.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to shoot film for my first time. We had a little family get-together and my cousin brought her film camera so I could try it out. The camera itself wasn’t much different from a typical dSLR, it’s just missing the big LCD on the back. It was actually a Minolta Maxxum SLR, so the camera was very comfortable to me. I had a good time shooting with it, but I have no idea how I did until we get the film processed.

From the moment I had the camera in my hand, my mindset was completely different than usual. All of the sudden I was limited on my shots and I really began to evaluate what I was doing with the camera. I took extra time to find the right composition, and from the right angle. I gave special attention to making sure the camera settings were just right to give the correct exposure and DOF. I also wasn’t taking multiple shots of the same thing with slightly different settings — no room on the film to do that.

So here’s my suggestion: whether you’ve shot film before or not, set some time aside to “pretend” you’re shooting with film (not all the time, just as an exercise). Limit your number of shots to 36, no previews, no erasing images. Go out somewhere with your digital camera and take your 36 shots before heading back to see what you get. You might just be amazed at what you can teach yourself while you’re out shooting — plus you’ll probably be very pleased with how many good shots you can get when you force that limitation.

Use ISO AUTO… Why Not?

ISO AUTO

I think I’ve gone through full-cycle with my preference for ISO settings on my camera. As a newbie, I primarily had the camera set to ISO AUTO because… well, it was just easier. As my skill level increased, so did my utilization of the camera controls. For some time now, I’ve been setting the ISO value manually while shooting in aperture priority mode. Manually keeping your ISO as low as possible is a great way to ensure high quality images, and I’m not disputing that it’s totally necessary with certain types of shooting.

But very recently, I went back to shooting ISO AUTO to evaluate the trade-offs between convenience and quality. What I found was that my camera limits the ISO value to 400 or lower when in AUTO mode. A comparison of an image shot with my camera at ISO 400 versus ISO 100 tells me that there are very subtle differences in quality, sometimes unrecognizable (especially with black and white conversions). But convenience alone isn’t the real reason I’ve gone back to ISO AUTO.

The camera sets itself to the lowest possible ISO value based on the lighting conditions — so with bright scenes, I’m still shooting at ISO 100. I also found that the camera won’t let the shutter speed fall below 1/60 seconds as long as it has enough room to bump the ISO value up to the next level. This is nice because it keeps me out of that 1/15 to 1/45 area, which most of us would still shoot at but is very prone to producing soft images. Another neat thing about ISO AUTO is that the camera will set the ISO value to things other than 100, 200, or 400. I noticed some of my low-light shots coming out at ISO 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, and 400 — so it’s actually giving me a finer control over the exposure.

What do you guys think? Is ISO AUTO just for newbies, or is it actually useful for the skilled photographer too? I’m curious to hear how other cameras deal with ISO AUTO, so if you’ve messed around with it drop some insights into the comments.