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Author Topic: Improving composition - photography skills  (Read 6317 times)

neuroanatomist

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Re: Improving composition - photography skills
« Reply #15 on: September 26, 2011, 10:01:00 AM »
1) Exposure - with digital - even a slight brightness often "kills" the colors by "blowing them out". When I shoot outdoors (I live in a very sunny country) I find it very hard to set exposure - as "normal" exposure often is much to bright and colorless, if I start to underexpose - I get dark spots in the frame? Any tips on outdoor shots in bright light ?

First off, if you aren't doing so already, I recommend shooting in RAW.  Unlike JPG, where adjusting exposure in post processing can impact image quality, with a RAW image you have a lot more latitude to adjust exposure, white balance, etc. 

What body are you using?  Some bodies have a tendency to over- or under-expose by 1/3 or 1/2 stop. 

Are you using evaluative metering?  You could try experimenting with other metering modes.

When you review images on your LCD, do you use the histogram?  I find that that combined with exposure compensation can handle most situations.

2) Portraits. Everyone talks about using a small f/stop >=2.8 to produce background blur (bokeh) and give the shot a nice affect. However I find - that f stops 2.8 and smaller - can easily produce blurry shots as the smallest movement of the subject (not to mention a group shot where people are not all the same distance from you) causes blur. I found that nothing ruins a nice portrait more then a blurry kind of picture (unless this was intended for some artistic purpose)
What is the best F/stop for portraits ? What about if you use a flash ?

Not sure what you mean by f/2.8 causing blurry shots due to subject motion - those two aren't directly related (although indirectly, a wider aperture usually means a faster shutter speed, which should reduce the effect of subject motion). 

In terms of shutter speed, generally 1/60 s is sufficient to stop subject motion for a person 'holding still' for a photo.  If you need to shoot slower (1/30 s, etc.) to get enough light, take several shots to increase the chances of getting one without motion blur. 

If you're using a flash, the same rules apply unless most of your light is coming from the flash.  If there's a fair bit of ambient light, a slow shutter speed means enough light on the subject for motion to become evident.  If you increase the shutter speed (max is 1/200 s to 1/300 s, depending on your camera, and assuming you don't use high-speed sync), you will freeze motion, but then almost all the light will be from the flash - that can be good if you're bouncing it off a white ceiling for more flattering light, but not for direct light (but then, I avoid direct flash except as fill light for outdoor portraits).

The issue with a wider aperture is the trade off with depth of field.  If the aperture is too wide, the DoF can be so thin that you cannot get the entire subject in focus, and that's especially true for group shots.  But that's not movement, that's DoF.

There really isn't a 'best f/stop for portraits' - the goal is to use the aperture you need to get the subject in focus and separated from the background.  If your DoF is thinner than the subject, at least get the eye(s) in focus.  Three factors affect DoF - aperture, subject distance, and focal length.  So, with a given focal length - say, 50mm - if you're close enough to nearly fill the frame with one subject's head and torso, f/1.8 might be too wide an aperture, but with the same lens far enough away for a small group shot, f/1.8 may be ok.  The other factor is distance from subject to background - if there is already some spatial separation between subject and background, it's easier to blur that background out. 

There are online DoF calculators (e.g. DoF Master), and there are smartphone apps that do the same thing.  After a while, you will develop the experience to know which aperture to select depending on your subject(s), lens, and distance.

Here are three examples to illustrate the point.  The first is at 85mm f/1.8, shot very close to the subject, with only one eye in focus (which is what I wanted - eye, nose, and rose in focus).  The second is at 70mm f/2.8 but from further away, and both subjects are in focus.  Third is 105mm f/4, very close to the subject, showing that even with f/4 you can get a thin DoF (eye is in focus, ear is not).  In all three cases, the background is out of focus, even though in the first image, that background is the couch that her head is resting on - just a few inches behind the subject's eye and rose which are the focal points.


EOS 5D Mark II, EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM @ 1/60 s, f/1.8, ISO 400


EOS 5D Mark II, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM @ 70mm, 1/250 s, f/2.8, ISO 100


EOS 5D Mark II, EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 105mm, 1/160 s, f/4, ISO 100
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Re: Improving composition - photography skills
« Reply #15 on: September 26, 2011, 10:01:00 AM »

K-amps

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Re: Improving composition - photography skills
« Reply #16 on: September 26, 2011, 10:52:48 AM »
Lovely shots neuro... did you manually focus the last one (with straw hat?)
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neuroanatomist

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Re: Improving composition - photography skills
« Reply #17 on: September 26, 2011, 11:08:12 AM »
Lovely shots neuro... did you manually focus the last one (with straw hat?)

Thanks!  No, that was AF. 
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elflord

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Re: Improving composition - photography skills
« Reply #18 on: September 26, 2011, 08:24:32 PM »
Firstly thank you all for the references and tips.  will need time to digest the materials mentioned here.

Let me share 2 specific challenges I face with my photos:

1) Exposure - with digital - even a slight brightness often "kills" the colors by "blowing them out". When I shoot outdoors (I live in a very sunny country) I find it very hard to set exposure - as "normal" exposure often is much to bright and colorless, if I start to underexpose - I get dark spots in the frame? Any tips on outdoor shots in bright light ?

"Understanding Exposure" by Bryan Peterson discusses metering in some depth. The first step if you are taking pictures of a scene with really bright highlights is to make sure that you are metering the primary subject and how to meter when photographing challenging scenes.

A quick summary: the way Peterson likes to do it is put the camera on manual and fill most of the frame with whatever he wants to use as his point of reference and manually set the exposure, then recompose. Alternatively one can use AE lock combined with shutter/aperture priority.

Quote
2) Portraits. Everyone talks about using a small f/stop >=2.8 to produce background blur (bokeh) and give the shot a nice affect. However I find - that f stops 2.8 and smaller - can easily produce blurry shots as the smallest movement of the subject (not to mention a group shot where people are not all the same distance from you) causes blur. I found that nothing ruins a nice portrait more then a blurry kind of picture (unless this was intended for some artistic purpose)
What is the best F/stop for portraits ? What about if you use a flash ?

The best F stop depends -- depth of field varies with subject distance. If you're close to minimum focus distance, you could need a much narrower aperture than f/2.8 to avoid "foreground blur".  If you're taking a full body portrait with a 50mm lens on a crop, subject movement will not throw them out of focus (assuming you focused correctly). See online depth of field calculators.

For portraits, there is no one best F stop, but if you go with a narrow aperture, you will need a more cooperative background.

Flash can be used as necessary to provide enough light. Ideally, you choose the F stop based on depth of field preference. As you've probably observed already, for group shots you often need more depth of field, especially if the subjects aren't conveniently lined up in the plane of focus. A flash really helps for these because then you don't need to stretch the aperture to get enough light, instead you can close it to get enough depth of field.

Hillsilly

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Re: Improving composition - photography skills
« Reply #19 on: September 26, 2011, 08:30:23 PM »
Bright light in itself shouldn't be a problem.  The problem usually relates to having both dark and bright things in the photo. To fix this, just be wary of situations where there is a lot of shade and a lot of brightness in the one photo.  Try to get everything in a similar level of brightness.  Taking photos on cloudy days, or placing your subject under a tree or under a shadow often helps.

Usually it is the sky around the middle of the day that causes the most problems.  If this is your situation, just minimise the amount of sky in the photo.  Most photographers like taking photos in the early morning and late afternoon when the sky isn't so bright.  Shooting with your back to the sun (or your shadow pointing towards the subject) can also help.

You could also use a flash to raise the level of brightness of your subject to match the brightness of the sky.

If the problem is that the colours appear unsaturated, try using a lens hood and / or a polarizer filter.  This helps reduce flare and glare and keeps colours vivid.
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K-amps

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Re: Improving composition - photography skills
« Reply #20 on: September 27, 2011, 12:38:39 PM »
Firstly thank you all for the references and tips.  will need time to digest the materials mentioned here.

Let me share 2 specific challenges I face with my photos:

1) Exposure - with digital - even a slight brightness often "kills" the colors by "blowing them out". When I shoot outdoors (I live in a very sunny country) I find it very hard to set exposure - as "normal" exposure often is much to bright and colorless, if I start to underexpose - I get dark spots in the frame? Any tips on outdoor shots in bright light ?

I am looking again... and love em more...  :) Did you do something for lighting? I don't see facial shadows caused by a single point source of light (sun)... did you compensate with flash?

"Understanding Exposure" by Bryan Peterson discusses metering in some depth. The first step if you are taking pictures of a scene with really bright highlights is to make sure that you are metering the primary subject and how to meter when photographing challenging scenes.

A quick summary: the way Peterson likes to do it is put the camera on manual and fill most of the frame with whatever he wants to use as his point of reference and manually set the exposure, then recompose. Alternatively one can use AE lock combined with shutter/aperture priority.

Quote
2) Portraits. Everyone talks about using a small f/stop >=2.8 to produce background blur (bokeh) and give the shot a nice affect. However I find - that f stops 2.8 and smaller - can easily produce blurry shots as the smallest movement of the subject (not to mention a group shot where people are not all the same distance from you) causes blur. I found that nothing ruins a nice portrait more then a blurry kind of picture (unless this was intended for some artistic purpose)
What is the best F/stop for portraits ? What about if you use a flash ?

The best F stop depends -- depth of field varies with subject distance. If you're close to minimum focus distance, you could need a much narrower aperture than f/2.8 to avoid "foreground blur".  If you're taking a full body portrait with a 50mm lens on a crop, subject movement will not throw them out of focus (assuming you focused correctly). See online depth of field calculators.

For portraits, there is no one best F stop, but if you go with a narrow aperture, you will need a more cooperative background.

Flash can be used as necessary to provide enough light. Ideally, you choose the F stop based on depth of field preference. As you've probably observed already, for group shots you often need more depth of field, especially if the subjects aren't conveniently lined up in the plane of focus. A flash really helps for these because then you don't need to stretch the aperture to get enough light, instead you can close it to get enough depth of field.
EOS-5D Mk.iii 
Sigma 24-105mm F4 ART; EF 70-200 F/2.8L Mk.II; EF 85mm L F/1.2 Mk. II; EF 100mm L F/2.8 IS Macro, 50mm F/1.8ii;  TC's 2x Mk.iii; 1.4x Mk.iii

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Re: Improving composition - photography skills
« Reply #20 on: September 27, 2011, 12:38:39 PM »