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Friday, 27 September 2013

Learning to Shoot in Manual: Photography tutorials (Part Two) Exposure triangle

Here it is. The secret to shooting in full manual mode. Three little words, ISO, Aperture,Shutter. When you understand these 3 elements you will achieve optimal exposure.

So let's break it down. Shutter, most of you probably know, is how fast or slow the opening inside the camera opens and closes.When you press the button, known as the shutter button it causes the sensor inside your camera to be exposed to light. If you use very high shutter speeds then it will freeze action whereas if you use slower shutter speeds it creates more blur or softer images. Now why in the world do you want blurry images you ask, or you might say "that's why I'm looking at your blog because most of my pictures are blurry", there is a difference between out of focus and blur. If you look at a photo and everything is blurred then chances are it is either out of focus or you were shaking the camera. When things are creatively blurred then  most of the photo will be sharp, but a section will have blur to suggest movement or speed or softness.

Looking at this photo on the left you see how crisp all the details are except the bus. This is a great example of creative blur. It gives the feeling of motion and speed and the subject is clearly defined with composition (rule of thirds, more on that later) and the crispness of everything else in the frame.

Other examples of longer shutter speeds would be water that looks like mist, or light trails as shown on the right.

Now you cannot just alter the shutter speed alone. If you increase the length of shutter speed like I did, to capture these effects, your photo will come out like a white piece of paper, perhaps with some grey shadows here and there. The reason for this is because there was light coming into the camera for too long and your sensor was filled with light particles. A very good analogy is to imagine the sensor on your camera is a platform covered in buckets, you want your buckets to be filled just to the top. Overfill, and your buckets will leak water everywhere and wash out your photo. Don't fill the buckets enough and your photo won't have enough light and things will be dark to black. So how do you get the buckets filled when changing your shutter speeds so the buckets are filled to jut the right level. That's the other parts of the triangle.

Adjusting aperture gives you the ability to lengthen or shorten shutter speed based on need. Your aperture controls the size of the opening through your lens and therefore the amount of light that is allowed in. Now what is somewhat confusing is that the lower the aperture value, f1.2, f1.8, f2.0 the larger the opening in the glass. Lenses with a lower number f stop such as these are referred to as fast glass, because you can shoot at much faster shutter speeds in lower lighting conditions. If you increase the aperture number to f12, f18, or in the case of the photo above left f22 and on the right f9, you can then slow the shutter speed down considerably because the opening is so small the shutter needs to be opened longer to fill the buckets on our sensor.

Is that the only purpose of aperture, to control the speed of your shutter, of course not. If it was then photography would be much easier and everybody would take breathtaking photos every time. The other purpose to decreasing or increasing your aperture is to create back and foreground softness. If you look at the photo below you can see that just the main subject is in focus and everything behind begins to become softer and out of focus. 

This is one of those creative styles used in photography and especially portrait photos. If you  shoot landscapes or broader subjects where you want everything in focus then using a higher f stop will provide greater focus. These shallow and great focuses are what are referred to as depth of field. A shallow DOF is simply very little area in focus along one distance from the camera. Take for example the the photo above, the focus point on the subject is x feet away and everything in the photo that is that x distance away is in focus and everything else is not. Now look at the photo below, everything in this photo appears to be in focus and will so even if enlarged and that my friends is the simple truth of shallow vs. broad depth of field.


Now to be fair there are other ways to change depth of field using different lenses, prime vs. telephoto, but lets leave that subject for another day. For now I want you to go out and play with your depth of field and shutter speeds. You will discover that one is reflective of the other and both need to be in harmony to achieve a good exposure.

Oh wait what about the third part of the triangle, ISO. Well I think I will leave that to the next post as you have more than enough to chew on for now. ISO while important is not quite as difficult to understand as these other two and once you grasp shutter and aperture ISO will fall quietly into place. So till next time keep playing keep creating and have fun

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Learning to Shoot in Manual: Photography tutorials (Part One)

When I began shooting, as a small child, I was fortunate enough to have a great teacher to show me the ropes on a SLR camera. My Grandmother was a shutterbug in her day and had a very nice Olympus which she carried around to all the family reunions and trips she took. When she got on in years and was no longer able to get out with the frequency she wanted she allowed me to continue using that camera which I did right up to just over a year ago. When I made the switch to digital I transferred the camera strap from her camera to my new DSLR and now every shot I take I feel like a part of her is instilled in the picture.

Anyway I reminisce, The point I was going to make was although even then point and shoot cameras existed, Polaroid, Kodak, and a variety of others, I always shot on a SLR. The difference though is that those SLRs did not have an auto function at all, also the price for failure was somewhat expensive. After my Grandmother passed on and before I purchased my DSLR I equipped and used my own darkroom which helped cut some of the costs, but still it was quite pricey to make a mistake. That my friends is the beauty of the digital age. You can make mistakes and it costs you no more than time.

So I guess my question to you is why are you still using your camera in auto mode. You don't have to, going full manual is fun, exciting, and will feed a side of you just begging to be born. Now I'm not saying to turn off auto and never go back, if you are shooting something very important and you don't fully understand manual, stay in auto then when you have time to explore and practise go back to manual.

In this blog series I will endeavour to take you on a journey of exploration and excitement. We will together have moments of joy, at getting that perfect shot. Moments of frustration, trying to get that perfect shot. Finally moments of anguish when we entirely miss that perfect shot, but in the end we will grow and learn from each other.

So grab you camera lets go and make some mistakes. I promise the experience will be rewarding and you will feel that same sense of accomplishment all photographers get when they get that perfect shot.

The first step is of course getting your camera into manual. Now you don't necessarily have to have an SLR it's just that I do, many cameras today have manual or semi manual modes, it's just a question of finding it on yours. You can check your cameras manual, if you still have it, or look at the top of your camera. All DSLR have a button on them with different "modes" M being manual.

You can see all the different modes in the picture to the side. We will look at these modes in depth as we go but for now I just want you to locate manual mode. Remember that this is the first step to opening yourself up to a whole new side of creative photography so make the switch and without doing any thing else take some pictures.Leave your camera lens in auto focus and just shoot. What do you see? The odds are nothing, very few of you might see some sort of picture but most will either see nothing but black or white but certainly not what they shot. You see there are a few settings you must adjust to get the picture you want.

You see what your camera used to do on it's own in auto was adjust 3 variables that you as a photographer needs to become intimate with. They are ISO, Aperture, and Shutter speed. This is known as the photographic triangle. each of these plays off the other and none can be ignored or the photo just won't turn out.

For now just keep in mind that each of these three elements go hand in hand, I will explain them each in depth, but for now put your camera back in auto and look at the settings when you take a picture. From there, looking at your cameras manual, figure out how to adjust each of these settings. Don't hesitate to play around in manual mode change your aperture, change your shutter speed just watch the exposure indicator to ensure that a proper exposure is being met. If you don't know where the exposure indicator is then please open up the owners manual and read through it, things will be clearer as we progress through this series.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Destination Photography: Westin Bayshore, Vancouver

What a spectacular weekend!

Continuing from Friday's blog about shooting video, my wife and I attended a wedding this last weekend in Vancouver and stayed at the Westin Bayshore Inn. What an experience. The service, the comfort, the views ... incredible. You can see one of the shots I took of the area above. Is that not breathtaking?

Arriving somewhat early to video the guests arriving and the venue before the shindig got started, I felt the first stop should be to introduce myself to the photographer who was hired for the wedding. As he watched me approach (with two camera bags, lighting bag, tripods) you could see apprehension in his eyes about this "presumptuous guest" being his worst nightmare. Photographers are largely lone wolves; they might not mind working with another photographer at times, but to have a guest show up with a pile of equipment usually translates into another obstacle that needs to be navigated.

I quickly explained to him I was very close friends with the bride, and that I was here to video her wedding for her elderly grandmother. This did not change the look on his face, but my next question did.

"Where can I be so I won't impede any of your photographs?"

That, my friends, was the key. This man and his assistants have a very difficult job to do and every guest on that boat has their own special way of becoming irritating to the wedding photographer. It was an obvious relief to him that I was willing to work around him, rather than getting in his way.

I took special effort to ensure my equipment was always out of the way and not impeding on any of the shots he was taking. Towards the end of the ceremony, he and I had some time for a bit of a chat. He went through some of the stills that I took and gave some great feedback on them. One he liked in particular was this, taken at full dusk.

Keep this in mind when you are a guest or at a venue you have not been hired at. Introduce yourself, be courteous to the staff photographer, stay out of the way, and maybe you will get some gems the way I did. If you stay out of their way, they're more likely to let you get your shots after they're finished, and everyone is more likely to have a good time. It's a matter of respect, and who knows -- maybe one day the tables will be turned and you will be the staff photographer wishing that everyone would stay out of your way.

Now I can't let this blog end without explaining the full experience of staying at this grand hotel so please read on.

I booked our room about six weeks ago and speaking to the staff on the phone left me feeling that I would be enjoying a very luxurious weekend at their hotel. There were a variety of packages available and they patiently walked me through each one that interested me explaining the perks and pitfalls of each one. They were not hesitant about explaining where one package fell short or another shined based on the needs of my wife and I. Even after I had booked the room, which was a non-refundable discount, they had no problems exploring my options when I thought I had to cancel (which, luckily, I didn't). One issue that did arise was the request for corporate discount, which the staff suggested was very difficult to qualify for, seems reserved for large corporations not small business people. Some places are more welcoming of small business owners and require only a business card or other proof that you do, in fact, run a business. Unfortunately Westin Bayshore wasn't one of them, but it's not anything I was going to sweat about.

We arrived about two-and-a-half hours before check-in time, and they allowed us entry to our room which was ready without an early check-in pricing. A bellhop was assigned right away to take us and our luggage, including a formidable amount of video gear, to our room and our vehicle was taken by valet parking. En route to our room, our bellhop explained many of the features of the hotel, some of which I immediately pegged as opportunities to get some shots of Vancouver. There was a beautiful dining area overlooking the harbour of Vancouver, an exercise/fitness centre open 24 hours, indoor and outdoor pools, spa, coffee shop, and the list goes on.

In our room we were delighted with the spaciousness of it all. A stylistic tile bathroom with more than enough space for you and your travelling partner to spread out all your hair face and beauty needs. A tile and glass rainshower to  relax your fatigued muscles from the trip in and freshen up. Sitting and office area are combined with large flat screen TV and high speed wired and wireless internet. Finally, (and I leave the best for last) the most comfortable, relaxing, enveloping bed I have ever slept on in my entire life.

This bed is so comfortable that it requires its own paragraph. When I check in to a hotel I usually will flop down on the bed just to see how it feels. I am so thankful I was already dressed for the wedding my wife and I were attending because if I had of flopped onto this gem I may not have made the wedding. It is hard to describe just how this bed seems to wrap around you, as you lay under the comforter. It's not that it was an overly soft bed, which tend to be hard on your back if you sleep in them, but it just seemed to provide support all around you in just the right amount of resistance. In a nut shell this was the best bed I have ever slept on and I thought it didn't get any better than home.

I would strongly suggest if you are looking for an exceptional getaway, where you are pampered, truly looked after and made to feel like the most important client ever, stay at the Westin Bayshore Vancouver. It was a relief to check into a hotel that took care of the little details and had everything I needed nearby, so that I could focus on the wedding and on getting some leisure shots in my spare time.

Normally a photographer would end this piece with the bride and groom, but that's normal instead I would like to leave you with this photo of the bride and her new niece, and the reminder that special moments can happen any time, so just pick up the camera and see what you capture.