Tag Archives: Depth of Field

Making an abstract image – opening your eyes

A personal path to making an abstract by Alison Bailey
Interplay By Alison Bailey.

Abstract image :: Interplay.
By Alison Bailey.
Seen on: 365project.org Interplay By Alison Bailey | External link - opens new tab/page
Dated: 15/01/2017
Click picture to see full size image.

I became serious about photography through doing a 365 project My 365Project | External link - opens new tab/page in 2011. I got my first DSLR camera for Christmas that year and have been happily obsessed ever since.

At the end of 2014 I had a eureka moment: abstract photography was for me. It’s ideal for depicting what moves me most in my world – the aesthetics of the characteristics of things. Abstract photography’s exciting, exasperating, exhausting and exhilarating. I love it. I hope you will too.

Making an abstract image

Abstraction is intensely personal and one of the most imprecise art forms. There are no recommended settings or specific lenses that will produce an ‘ideal result’. The accepted ‘rules’ of composition are often deliberately broken or disregarded. There’s no magic formula that will guarantee success. This article aims to provide you with thoughts, ideas and suggestions, along with information about how I work. These may help you to make an abstract image or gain experience to make many of them.

Groundwork

I began my journey by researching exactly what is meant by ‘abstract’. I didn’t find a universally accepted definition. The definition of abstract photography in the Photokonnexion glossary hits the spot for me. It is easy to understand and includes a list of the different aspects of abstraction. It makes a great reference guide for use in the field. I re-read it occasionally for revision.

When I think about an abstraction, what I see in front of me is not manifested in my mind’s eye. Well, not as a picture. I don’t ‘see’ – I experience. Things come to me as impressions with verbal descriptions. I have recently learned that when people say they ‘see’, it’s not shorthand for a thought process that’s like mine. They really do make pictures in their heads. I first thought we all imagine in the same way. It seems that is not true. ‘Seeing’ an abstract is an intensely personal thing. You have to do it your own way.

Studying, analysing and commenting other people’s work teaches you a lot. So, I researched the idea of the ‘abstract image’ on the internet. I viewed many abstracts, examining their composition. I had fun, gained insight into what abstracts can look like and developed ideas and personal preferences too.

The next step toward making an abstract image

I began habitually looking everywhere for shapes, structures, patterns, lines and textures. I looked for them whether I was taking photos or going about daily life.

Then it was time to put what I’d learned into practice.

If you’re unsure where to begin, here are some ideas to get you started. Three dimensional artworks can be inspirational. They are a good choice for the abstract image novice. Less representational work is particularly suitable. Find a piece you like and can legitimately photograph. The artist’s concept and execution of it will give you some useful pointers. However, your appreciation of the work is key to how you interpret it. Beyond works of art, here are some other sources…

  • Look at items in your house. The kitchen is a great source of inspiration.
  • Is there a type of photography you are especially enthusiastic about?
  • Architecture: plenty of lines, shapes and patterns, often textures too.
  • Street scenes (people and/or transport) have many abstract sides.
  • Wildlife and fast-action sports photography lend themselves to expressing movement through abstraction.
  • Macro photography shares an emphasis on detail so it too lends itself to abstract image work.

Keeping an open mind and expecting to find a promising subject is a good recipe for success. The more you look for subjects, the more you will see, sometimes in unlikely places. Whatever you choose, it is important it moves you in some way. A way that makes you care about it.

Rhythmic - I spotted this chair stack in an out-of-the-way corner of an historic cathedral.

Abstract Image :: “Rhythmic”
I spotted this chair stack in an out-of-the-way corner of an historic cathedral. Their lines caught my eye. I felt they had a rhythmic quality.
Breaking the pattern, a compositional device often used to focus the eye, wasn’t appropriate here. The rhythm – the whole point of the image – would have been lost.
By Alison Bailey.
Seen on: 365Project.org Abstract Image :: Rhythmic | External link - opens new tab/page
Dated: 10/07/2015.
Click picture to see full size image.

Studying the details

Once you find something meaningful to you, examine it closely from all angles. You are looking for a way to portray it.

This is a process that cannot be rushed or forced. It is important to be relaxed and receptive. Take a long, leisurely look, soaking up the details. Ask yourself:

  • What do I feel about this?
  • What visual aspects – lines, shape, texture, etc – make me feel that way?
  • How can I present, compose, those aspects to engage viewers and tell them what I saw?

Look carefully. Allow the answers to those questions, and any other ideas that might occur, time to form in your mind. For the best results, keep these answers and ideas in mind at all stages of making an image.

I study a subject via the camera’s viewfinder to remove distractions from the periphery of my vision. I often take photos at this stage too; the act of pressing the shutter button helps me think.

Layers upon layers :: Detail of a sculpture comprising seven pillars of piles of slates.

Abstract Image :: “Layers upon layers”
Detail of a sculpture comprising seven pillars of piles of slates. The profusion of layers and the arrangement of the slates are wonderful. I spent nearly an hour looking and studying them. The light – bright, midday sunshine – cast hard shadows that define and separate the slates and augment the idea of profusion. I composed to create opposing diagonals that prevent a jumbled confusion of lines by drawing the elements together.
By Alison Bailey.
Seen on: 365Project Abstract Image :: Layers upon layers | External link - opens new tab/page
Date: 20/11/2016.
Click picture to see full size image.

Making the abstract image

Choice of lenses, use of light, camera settings and how close you can get to your subject are all factors to take into account when composing your abstract image.

It’s usually not possible for me to use a tripod or flash. I prefer natural or constant, artificial light, anyway. So I have to work round resulting restrictions. You should consider how best to make use of light, depth of field, angle, and point of focus. A good angle and an appropriate focal point can make or break the flow of a composition. That is especially true with a shallow depth of field.

I have discarded many shots owing to poor choice of focal point. I still struggle with it. However, an effective composition is important. So it is worth the effort to get the focal point right.

Once you are satisfied with your composition, take a photo, maybe several. It is good to experiment with other settings and angles, you might discover another approach to your subject that is more meaningful to you than your original idea.

Abstract image :: “Thorny subject”.

I had intended to compose for the spiral created by the arrangement of the leaves of this plant but realised I was more taken with its thorns. I angled to emphasise them whilst, again, looking for a cohesive composition. To emphasise the spikiness of the thorns stronger tonal contrasts were created in processing.
By Alison Bailey.
Seen on: 365Project Abstract Image :: Thorny Subject | External link - opens new tab/page
Date: 30/09/2016.
Click picture to see full size image.

Assessing your work

After you download your photographs, consider and critique them. Take time to do this.

Don’t delete a shot straight away; experience might alter your opinion of it. If I am uncertain, I reassess a photo periodically, sometimes processing it, until I feel sure about it. I’m still mulling over a few taken a year or more ago.

Got a keeper? Then it’s time to add the finishing touches.

From photograph to abstract image

Thoughtful processing will take your photograph to another level. How this is achieved is very much a matter of personal taste.

I almost always process in black and white. Colour isn’t usually what my images are about. For me it will distract the viewer’s eye from the aesthetic aspects that I want to express, weakening the image’s impact. Other authors may take a different avenue. Final processing is very much a personal style.

I often choose to use high tonal contrasts to accentuate, even exaggerate, detail (see Thorny Subject above). My preferred method is to enhance clarity in the image processor’s ‘raw’ filter when developing the image for *.jpg. Then I adjust contrast, brightness and light levels in the main editor.

Whatever you do, the aim is to enhance your composition for maximum impact. You should work to help engage viewers with the aesthetics of your subject and give them the best chance of understanding the artistic intent of your image.

More after this…

The Edge of Vision: The Rise of Abstraction in Photography The Edge of Vision. A book about abstract photography. External link - opens new tab/page
There are few good books on abstract photography. So this historical view is welcome. It brings together the concepts and the art in abstract photography. Spanning the earliest images to modern processes with quality colour pictures too, the book includes up-to-date work from well known abstract photographers. The book gives readers an all-round view.
What readers said:
» Great buy! :: 5*
» A lovely book :: 5*
» Be educated and stimulated :: 5*
» …filled with deep and insightful articles and ideas to inspire. :: 5*
The Edge of Vision: The Rise of Abstraction in Photography The Edge of Vision. A book about abstract photography. External link - opens new tab/page

 

Completing the abstract image

Abstract image :: “Internal structure”
A macro image and a personal favourite. High contrast wasn’t appropriate here. I love the the way this whelk shell is constructed. The fragility of its exterior (suggested by the light tones) belies the strength of the internal structure, brought out by contrast created with natural, diffused light.
On reassessing, I felt the right-hand curve was drawing my eye down out of the frame, so I cropped the bottom of the image to draw the eye back to the pillar.
By Alison Bailey.
Seen on: 365Project Abstract Image :: Internal structure | External link - opens new tab/page
Date: 02/11/2016.
Click picture to see full size image.

After a day or two, I reassess my image. I take time to let the initial pride of authorship fade. Then, if needed, I do whatever is necessary to improve it. Any processing you want is allowable. It could even mean scrapping the image and starting again. It’s frustrating but not daunting; mistakes are excellent teachers and I want to learn and improve.

If that sounds serious, it is. But, it’s seriously tremendous fun. Happy abstraction!

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Post contributed by :: Alison Bailey

Alison is a veteran participant in 365Project.org 365project.org | External link - opens new tab/page. She worked as an assistant librarian and a Civil Servant before becoming a traditional housewife and mother. She enjoys life with her retired husband – and her camera. Alison has at last realised that photography is the medium best suited to her artistic abilities. She is having serious fun striving to express, through her images, her love of, and fascination with, the world around her.

Settings for overcoming hand-shake blur

Balance your settings to avoid hand-shake blur in low light.

First dance
Low light photography needs a careful balance of settings to ensure a sharp shot and avoid hand-shake blur.

Hand-shake blur and sharp results.

Hand held shots often return blurred results. While using auto-settings the problem does not seem to arise. What is going on and how do you overcome hand-shake blur?

Manual settings and auto

Your digital camera is a sophisticated computer. It has access to a range of powerful programs that make decisions about each shot. When you use auto settings you are handing the camera over to the control of its programming. The auto setting is selected with the green square on the program dial. It makes all the decisions and you just point and shoot. This ‘auto’ strategy is limited. It leaves you unable to make creative decisions about your shot. Depth of field, movement blur and the light or dark emphasis in a scene is beyond your control.

With any of the manual settings on the program dial things are different. Shutter speed (S or Tv), Aperture (A or Av) and ISO settings allow you to get control of the exposure. Once you control these settings you are able to make creative decisions about your shot. But if you get it wrong you might allow hand-shake blur to creep in. Equally, with the right strategy, you can also set up to prevent the effects of hand-shake blur.

What causes hand-shake blur

Low light, long shutter opening or low ISO can all contribute. Hand shake-blur is caused by hand movement while the shutter is open. To prevent it you shorten the time the shutter is open. With a shorter shutter opening any hand movement is not given time to impact on the shot. Very fast shutter opening, say 1000th of a second, freezes the shot. The hand has almost no time to move in that short period. So, no hand-shake blur.

However, short shutter opening time means less light reaches the sensor. A good exposure requires sufficient light. A shutter speed of 1000th of a second would leave the picture under exposed in low light conditions. On the other hand, if you select a 15th of a second, the shutter is open for a long time. Hey presto! Enough light. But, (boo!) hand-shake blur. The shutter is open too long. Your hands have plenty of time to move.

Over coming hand-shake blur is about balance

If you raise the ISO setting, the sensor becomes more sensitive to light. So, raise the ISO until you can set the shutter to around 200th of a second. At that speed it is easier to hold the camera steady.

Of course, if you have to raise the ISO a lot to allow 200ths sec. you will get a grainy picture. Raising the ISO reduces the quality of the shot. Ideally an ISO setting of 100 will give you the best quality photographic result. On an average day you may have to set your ISO at around 200 or 400 to get a 200ths of a second shutter speed. Up to about ISO 800 the quality from most good DSLRs will be fine. After that, the quality of the image will be affected more and more by grain or “Digital Noise”.

Pictures taken in a dark church, or at an evening dance will have very low light. So, as an example, an ISO of 1600 would possibly give you enough sensitivity to work with a shutter speed of, say, 160th of a second. That would allow you to get a hand-held shot without hand-shake blur, if you have a steady hand. But you might also get a little digital noise in the final image.

Getting the right settings between the ISO and shutter speed is a fine balance. You need to raise the ISO the right amount to give you the shutter speed you need. Too much ISO and you get bad quality in the picture. Too little ISO and you will be forced to use a shutter speed that’s too low. Hand holding under these low light conditions may cause hand-shake blur.

Hand-shake blur and aperture

With ‘auto’ shots the camera program takes account of the light conditions. The program sets the ISO, aperture and shutter speed to values that allow shorter shutter opening. So far we have only discussed shutter speed and ISO. But aperture has a part to play too.

If you open the aperture wider it lets in more light. So, you don’t need to raise your ISO so high if you also open your aperture. In our church example above, an ISO of 800 (not 1600), shutter speed of 200th sec. and an aperture of f4 (wide) could create a good exposure.

If your aperture is set at say f11 (small) less light will get through. So, again you are going to need to have higher ISO or long shutter opening (or both), depending on your light conditions. A small aperture, like f11, will give you a sharp picture to infinity. But, you may have to sacrifice picture quality (high ISO) or suffer hand-shake blur (from longer shutter opening).

The wide aperture does have a penalty too. As the aperture gets wider the depth of field gets shallower. So once again we are back to a balance. To hand-hold a camera we must make decisions about all three basic settings – Shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

Other strategies for avoiding hand-shake blur

Camera movement or hand-shake blur can be avoided in a lot of different ways. Sometimes you must work in situations where hand-shake blur is inevitable without more radical solutions. Then there are other things you can do to reduce hand-shake blur. Here are some of them…

  • Lens anti-vibration: Many quality lenses have anti-vibration systems. These sophisticated systems detect hand-shake blur as it happens and counteract it. This might extend your safe shutter speed down to quite slow shutter speeds (say a 60th of a second). While this many not solve all your problems it can help in less extreme light conditions.
  • Tripod: A steady platform will prevent camera movement. If you need a long shutter opening then work from a tripod to eliminate hand-shake blur.
  • Flash: If you are working in a low light situation you may need to raise light levels. A flash unit, on or off the camera, is one answer. An intense flash of light can raise the light high enough for you to work with settings that prevent hand-shake blur.
  • Studio lights: More controllable, but more expensive, these lights can accurately raise light levels to enable you to reliably avoid hand-shake blur and get a good exposure.
  • Reflectors: You can use these to bring more light to where you are working by, say, reflecting from another artificial light or natural light source. Reflectors are particularly useful in reducing the darker areas of a shot. You can reflect the light to just raise light levels in some areas bringing the over all light level up. As the light level across the shot is raised the hand-shake blur can be reduced since shutter speed can be faster.
  • Improve your stance: A better stance is a great way to improve your steadiness.
  • Go to the gym: “What? This is about photography not fitness”, I hear you say. Well, here is a revelation. If your arms are stronger you can hold the camera steadier. A DSLR is a heavy object. Especially after a long session your arms will not hold the camera steady. If your camera is too heavy for you – well, strengthen up. Actually, more strength gives you much better motor control of your hands in any case. You will be able to hold even a point and shoot camera or phone with a steadier hand after regular exercise. Photography, like all other pursuits benefits from a fit body. Improved fitness will reduce hand-shake blur.
The answer to avoiding hand-shake blur

The auto program in your camera may give good results and reduce hand-shake blur. However, it will only do so in average conditions. In more extreme conditions, or where you want to exert some creative control over your shot you need to go manual.

The use of manual settings gives you control. You can control depth of field, subject movement-blur and light vs. dark emphasis in your shots. But, to get the best out of your camera you will need to set it up to avoid hand-shake blur. In this article I have tried to help you understand that the settings you pick can help you control hand-shake blur. Overall, the answer lies in creating a balance between the basic settings of aperture, shutter speed and ISO so that your hand held shutter speed is around 200ths of a second or higher. Lower than 200ths of a second and hand-shake blur is liable to creep into your shots.

Of course there are other things you can do to help raise your shutter speed. I have mentioned some of them. But they all have the same effect. They either stabilise the camera (tripod) or allow you to get the shutter speed high enough so you can steady the camera. So, now you know. Get out there and try to get your settings so you have around a 200th of a second when you take the shot.

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Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

Panorama photography – an introduction

Panorama photography | Photokonnexion.com

• Panorama photography •
There are a few important essentials to think about.
(Image taken from the video)

Getting started is easy…

Panorama photography is a great way to extend your photography skills. To make a panorama you take a whole string of shots. Then later you match them up in software and “stitch” them together to make one long image. The photographic variables are all fixed. You take lots of photos. But, only have to set the camera up once. This means you can concentrate on the scene.

Examples of panorama photography on Google images xxxx | External link - opens new tab/page

The essentials of panorama photography

Like any aspect of photography you need to have some essentials. Your camera and a lens get you started. But a tripod will give you more consistent results. It provides you with a firm platform. One that you can use to line up all the shots. A tripod is recommended because hand holding the shots can leave you with a whole bunch of badly aligned frames. Panorama photography is all about getting the full range of a scene. If you miss bits or fail to get neat alignment the image will loose its continuity. The eye is drawn a way from the image to the imperfections of the stitching.

To use a tripod properly you should also use a good tripod head. Set the camera up to get the scene you want. In this composition phase you will need to sweep through the shot. Look through the viewfinder and pan around the full scene. Get the tilt of the camera right. Have a clear idea of your sweep. Then, fix your tripod head so the camera will sweep through an arc without moving up or down. It will only pan “left <---> right” as needed. In the video you will see him using a “pan and tilt” tripod head. Once the scene is selected the tilt aspect is fixed.

Using the tripod and head means you will get an aligned sweep through your scene. This makes it easy to line up (stitch) the pictures together later. The fixed camera angles helps make alignment easy. But fixing the other settings also helps get consistent results.

Settings for the shots

There are some things that make panoramic photography easy. To get the best effect make each shot simple. Each should have settings the same as its neighbour. Wide variations of settings between shots make colours, brightness, tone and even focus create bad matches. The joins between images will show where the settings change. This disturbs the flow of the eye through the image. Here is a list of steps you go through to set up the camera – and why.

Focal length: As with the other critical settings set focal length to a fixed position. You should switch your auto-focus to manual so the focus does not change in each shot. Then, manually focus into the scene at a place that will give you good sharpness and depth. Then this should be left unchanged throughout the panorama photography sequence.

The exposure dial: Auto exposure settings change as you pan across different light levels. To avoid each frame being a different exposure use the “M”, or manual setting. Set up the exposure for the first shot. Then, keep that exposure setting through the the entire string of images. This means you will need to fix the settings for the full range of shots.

Aperture: Panorama photography is mainly about wide sweeping scenes. Landscapes are ideal. To make the scene realistic it is best to have sharpness right through the scene. Picking F11 is a good option for that. Practice your panorama photography with that F-stop to start. Once you have the techniques you can get more creative later.

Shutter speed: Hold the shutter speed fixed too. Your shutter speed depends on how you set your ISO, and the aperture too. However, don’t just think about the first frame. Study the entire scene. Is there going to be any variations in light intensity across all the shots? You want all the shots to have a similar exposure level. So do some test readings or shots with your camera light meter. Work out how much the scene varies. Avoid big light variation. It will make consistent exposure levels difficult. Look for even light across the scene. Then, find a shutter speed that will work well for all the shots.

ISO: As with the other settings, you want to hold the ISO. Choose a setting which suits the scene and ambient light overall. Fix it for all the shots.

White balance: RAW or *.jpg this is one time you MUST set the white balance to a fixed setting. If you use auto-white balance you will NOT be able to match the frames later. While white balance is generally quite stable, a colour cast from one bright reflection can significantly change the colour. That would not matter too much on one image. But it will if you have to try to match ten images each with a different white balance. That will end up giving your panorama photography a patchwork effect. Choose a white balance setting and stick with it for all the shots.

Getting the shots

Panorama photography calls on more than just scene composition and settings. Also critical is “overlap”. You want to join the images so they match. That means overlapping them in a way that allows a good join.

The skill is in picking features in your landscape you can use in the matching process. I like to use patterns or textures where possible. In the software you are going to line up each image with its neighbour. Those patterns or textures allow you to make a join look seamless. So, as you go through the scene make a mental note of where you want the join to be. Rotate the camera on the tripod for each shot. Make enough overlap each side of the frame for those points to line up. This is clarified more in the video at the end.

Landscape or portrait shots can be used for panorama photography. All the pictures need to be taken in one or the other. If you use landscape format the panorama will be very long and thin. If you use portrait format the stitched image will not be so thin. But you will need to take more shots to get the whole scene. You might choose differently for each scene. It is your choice. These choices are a key skill in panorama photography. Think carefully about your composition.

Panorama photography video tutorial

Most of the above are explained in the context of the shot sequence in this video. Panorama photography is great fun, but it does require a little thinking ahead and planning your sequence. The video should help you to fix the method and settings in your head.
What Digital Camera

Stitching the image together

There are two basic methods of stitching the final image. Again this is one of the main skills in panorama photography. You can do the work manually in an image editor. This work can be a lengthy and detailed process. Each image needs to be lined up by the patterns or textures you chose on the image as the overlaps. Then you might need to clone the images together. Bit by bit and image by image you can build up your final sequence. If you enjoy detailed image editing it is very rewarding.

The second method of joining the images is to use stitching software. There are lots of different applications available. Which one you use is a matter of personal choice. Some image editors have panorama photography stitching built in. For more advanced users there is also specialist software. These applications are available with a range of functions and prices. You should do some experiments and research to pick your preferred software.

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Using the command dial to pick the right Mode

The Command or Modes dial

• The Command or Modes dial •
(Image taken from the video)

Setting up your shot.

The settings you use when taking a photograph affects the shot outcome. Before choosing camera control settings, first choose the camera mode. Here is an explanation on the ‘Command’ or ‘Modes dial’ where you make that choice.

Getting into manual mode

In “The Exposure Triangle” I looked at how you should balance…

These settings, when balanced, create an optimal exposure. You need to understand these settings to go manual with your camera.

What the dial offers

The Command or Mode dial sets the camera to use particular controls. You see a typical example of the command dial above.

‘Auto-mode’ or ‘Auto’ – the camera does everything for you. This setting is sometimes called the “green square” or Green mode. It’s normally green on the command dial. Using Auto you hand over full control to the camera. It provides a set of fairly average exposures. It’s used to snap basic shots in everyday situations.

To make your photography really effective you want full creative control. Learn to use the semi-manual modes and ‘Manual’ Mode. These give control to the three exposure factors. The picture shows these settings as ‘M’, ‘A’, ‘S’ and ‘P’ in a silver band.

  • M – the full Manual setting. You have full creative control over exposure.
  • A – Aperture – you set the aperture (f number) and the camera finds the right shutter speed for you.
  • S (or Tv) – the shutter speed setting or Time value. It sets the shutter opening time. The camera finds an aperture setting to match.
  • P – ‘Program’ allows some menu settings that ‘Auto’ will not allow. This auto setting gives only limited artistic control.
  • Also… B (not shown) means ‘Bulb’. It’s a setting for long exposures of more than 30 seconds. Bulb may not be available on all cameras.
Other modes

There are often other modes available. But these are really pre-sets. They do the same thing as manual and semi-manual modes. However, they give you less than full control over your shot. So I am not going into them here.

Camera Controls (intro) – command dial

Mike Browne goes through these settings (except ‘Bulb’). He explains the ideas and points out each mode. Remember, the command dial only sets the exposure controls for Auto-modes. The manual and semi-manual modes allow you to change the exposure factors from other controls.
Mike Browne  External link - opens new tab/page

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Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is managing editor of Photokonnexion.com with professional experience in photography, writing, image libraries, and computing. He is also an experienced, webmaster and a trained teacher. Damon runs regular training for digital photographers who are just starting out.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’
By Damon Guy :: Profile on Google+

The Exposure Triangle – An aid to thinking about exposure

The Exposure Triangle

• The Exposure Triangle •
Click the image to download an A4 *.pdf version to print.

Going manual with your DSLR.

For many people exploring manual settings is a challenge. There is a lot to learn. Without guidance it is difficult to work it out for yourself. Here is my approach to the subject.

Why the exposure triangle

The “Exposure Triangle” is a memory aid to help us balance light for a good exposure.

One thing you should remember. The exposure triangle is NOT a calculator. The aim is to help you get used to using the settings. The ‘Triangle’ loses its importance once you understand the settings. Instead you will see your visualisation of the shot as more important.

Beyond auto-settings

“Auto settings” in modern cameras are average types of shot. They are pre-set in the camera programming. Sports mode freezes the action; landscape mode gives deep focus in the shot; portrait mode promotes close focus and so on. The pre-sets make credible pictures but take creative decisions away from you. Controlling exposure gives you artistic control over our photos.

It’s all about control

Photographs capture light reflected from objects in the scene. Too much light – the object is over-bright, or worse, blown out (completely white). Too little light and the light does not excite the sensor enough. Thnthe object is dark, sombre, or worse – black. At the extremes we have blown out or black. In between are a whole range of capture intensities.

The trick is to balance the incoming light so the sensor can make the picture as we wish it to come out. the idea is to control the light in-camera to create optimal light conditions for the sensor.

Three essential elements

There are three critical elements that control the incoming light…

  • ISO: controls the sensitivity of the sensor and how we capture the light brightness. A sensitive sensor allows a shot in lower light conditions (example: ISO100). High sensitivity to light is referred to as High ISO (example: very high ISO = 3000). The penalty is the picture becomes noisy (Definition: Digital Noise) as the ISO gets higher. Noise affects the quality of the picture. The lower you keep the ISO, the better quality the final image will be.
  • Aperture: controls the amount of light allowed through the lens. It also controls the depth of field. As the aperture increase the amount of light entering the lens also increases. However, as the aperture gets bigger the lens loses the ability to focus at infinity. As the focus shortens part of the picture is not so clearly defined. Taking a photo at F4 means you might be able to focus on a face beautifully and with sufficient light. But you may not be able to discern any detail behind the head. The depth of field has been shortened by the wide aperture.
  • Shutter value or Time value: How long the sensor is exposed to light affects the amount of light you collect. Leave the shutter open too long and the shot is too bright, blowing out parts of the picture. Close the shutter too quickly – the result is underexposed. Long exposures tend to exaggerate movement introducing blur. Fast shutter speeds tend to freeze an object in place.
What is exposure?

There is no right or wrong for achieving the outcome we desire. But there is only ONE point at which the exposure (all three elements combined) is right for your picture. That is the one to make your photo come out the way you want. You must find the correct exposure balance for your visualisation of the picture using all three elements.

Exposure is the right balance of ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed which provides for your intended depth of field, movement blur, brightness and representation of the scene. It is a unique response to the sensor settings you think will make your shot come out right.

The Exposure Triangle is a concept to help you adjust the balance to get the exposure right. The key to using the exposure triangle is that the three elements of exposure: ISO, aperture and shutter speed, must always balance.

It teaches us to understand how the three exposure elements play off one-another. Shorten one arrow the others will need to accommodate by adjusting their length. You can increase one or both of the other elements to accommodate the change.

If you increase one element you will need to decrease one or both of the other elements to accommodate the change.

Full Manual Control

Our exposure settings aim to balance the three elements in the camera. This needs to be done on the ‘Manual’ setting or ‘M’ setting to get the desired result. To gain full creative control we must do two things…

  • First we must have a clear idea of what we are going to achieve for each shot. Do we want the water blurred in our stream or not? Do we want the final picture to look bright and breezy or dark and sombre? Do we want movement blur or sharp, frozen action… and so on. So look at the scene and determine what you want.
  • Secondly, on the basis of what we want we must adjust the camera settings to achieve the desired result.

How do we adjust the settings to get the optimal exposure? Simple. The camera light-meter indicates when exposure is optimal.

The DSLR light sensor is the key

Inside every DSLR is a digital sensor. It detects light intensity. If the light is correctly optimised it will be indicated on the exposure meter.

With the camera set to “M” look through the eye-viewer. At the bottom of the screen you will see a scale. There should be a needle above the scale. This is the indicator of the current exposure. The centre of the scale is the correct exposure level for most shots.

If the needle is off to the right the sensor is getting too much light. If it is off to the left there is insufficient light. The trick is to balance ISO, aperture and shutter speed so the needle is centred.

Your camera manual will show you how to change each of the three settings. There are normally three controls somewhere on the DSLR body to change each of them. Again, your camera manual should have a diagram of the readings in your viewer screen when you look through it. Check out that diagram. You will see the location of the settings on the screen that will change when you alter the controls.

A trick to get you started…

Put the camera on full automatic (the ‘green square’ setting). Take a shot like the one you want. Now look at the settings for that picture on your camera screen. Your camera manual will show you which setting you can look at on the screen. This gives you a guide to what your manual settings should be for this shot.

Now switch to ‘M’ or manual to vary the results. If you want movement blur then slow down the shutter speed (longer exposure, more light let in) and/or decrease the aperture (reduce incoming light) to keep the needle in place. One click of longer shutter speed needs one ‘f-stop’ less of aperture to keep the exposure optimal. But now you get the movement blur!

The aim here is to balance a change in one element by changing one or both of the other elements. In the process you try to keep the needle over the centre of the scale in your viewer. The centred needle tells you you have an optimal exposure that your sensor can use.

Experience…

If you practice regularly with your camera on ‘M’ you will get control of your shots. Try to relate the settings to the type of results you get. Relate shutter speed to the resulting blur/sharpness. Similarly, relate depth of field to aperture size. Relate ISO to balancing light sensitivity to achieve the correct sensitivity for your intended exposure. Gaining experience with these attributes will help you remember settings to use in particular situations.

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Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is managing editor of Photokonnexion.com with professional experience in photography, writing, image libraries, and computing. He is also an experienced, webmaster and a trained teacher. Damon runs regular training for digital photographers who are just starting out.
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Shutter speeds – An easy guide

Shutter Speeds Cheat Sheet

• Shutter Speeds Cheat Sheet •
Click on image to download full .pdf cheat-sheet.

Shutter speed is easier with a start point.

One of the difficulties with shutter speeds is knowing what sort of setting to use with various speeds of an event in the real world.

Here is a short guide to get you started :: A guide to shutter speeds.

There are no rules about shutter speed

The actual speeds of real world events vary a great deal. In a race one car may move at 90 miles per hour (mph) and another at only 70mph. You should vary the shutter speeds depending on the objects speed, light intensity and the aperture you are using. Remember, the download cheat sheet is a guide not a set of rules. It’ll get you started, then it’s down to good old experimentation.

There is no substitute for experience

I do a lot of panning with race vehicles. I have learned to assess the speed and light then make quick guesses to set my camera up for a few test shots.

Once I took an experienced bird watcher to a drag race event. He was used to panning fast moving birds in flight. It took him time to adjust his eye for working with cars at up to 250mph. The best way to get good at doing shutter speed settings is to practice with a wide variety of moving objects so that you can get a general feel for the shutter speeds at each speed of your object.

Experience is the best master. So practice different settings a lot to get the settings and speeds for your interest properly fixed in your mind. This gives you a head start when setting up for a new subject.

Test shots

If you are going on a shoot where shutter speed is important, practice at the likely shutter speed for a few days before going. Try out different light conditions too. This will get your eye into the subject and help you know what variations you can use to get the best shots on the day. This post might help too… How to overcome frozen movement in panning.

The difference between freeze and blur

If you freeze the action you show some amazing stuff the eye does not normally see. Facial expressions and body movements as well as other details can be stunning. It can also look a little artificial. It is strange to see, for example, water droplets fixed in mid-air or a fast car with its wheels not blurry.

You can lower the shutter speed off the peak-action speed for freezing until you get some very slight blur in critical areas. Wheels on moving vehicles or propellers on aircraft are typical examples. They look artificial as frozen features, but give life and movement to an otherwise sharp rendering of high speed action.

Work your blur in naturally and show it as you would see it. Be especially careful where you have a lot of blur. Ensure there are still sharp elements in the picture. If everything is blurred it looks like a bad case of hand-shake.

The key

The key to controlling blur or freezing and other shutter speed effects is… practice! Lots of it. So, just get out there and have a go. Gradually you’ll forget the cheat sheet, you will have it in your head from practice.

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Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

How many types of blur are there in photography?

Blur by Netkonnexion - types of blur

Blur by Netkonnexion
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Blur By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page
There are many types of blur in photography.

Not all blur is equal.

There are various types of blur. It sounds odd. In fact there is a lot more to blur than most people realise. It is quite a varied subject. It is used in nearly all aspects of photography. From abstracts to zooming we will find some aspect of blur. Lets take a look…

Okay bokeh…

First up, and one of the best known types of blur, is Bokeh. This Japanese word means haze or blur. It originally referred to the quality of blur. Today we use it to describe the actual blur. A sharp static subject and a blurred background is a blur of little circles, That is bokeh. It is created by the lens and aperture.

When you use a wide aperture, say f4.0 you get a shallow depth of field. The depth of field is the sharp part of the picture. The rest, the out-of-focus part, is blurred. That blur is the bokeh.

Bokeh can add a whole range of composition effects. It is also has its own aesthetic quality. The quality of the little circles varies as does the trueness of the circles themselves. Photographic lenses with apertures that are more circular produce the best bokeh. Some apertures are more like regular polygons (say a hexagonal). Polygon bokeh is not as pleasing as circular bokeh. Less sides on the polygon forms a less circular bokeh circle. It may even form an obvious bokeh polygon. Manufacturers go to some lengths to make the bokeh pleasing. That can raise the cost of the lens.

Subject-movement types of blur

When a subject moves in front of your stationary camera the resulting image has a blurred subject. This is movement blur. The types of blur which include movement can be varied. In the picture above the motor bikes are moving at around 90 miles per hour. When taking this shot I was panning with the far bike resulting in that bike being sharp. The pan meant that my camera was not paced at the same speed as the nearest bike. As a result its movement was relatively out of synchronisation with my camera. The nearest bike was in relative movement and thus blurred.

In “The Barber”, below, I have set my camera to capture the blur of his working hands. As with any movement shot, you want some of the shot blurred and some sharp. If it is all blurred it just looks badly taken.

The Barber

• The Barber By Netkonnexion in 365Project •
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The movement of the hands is blurred to simulate his hair cutting work. Types of blur created in-camera are most effective.


Movement of the subject is controlled by shutter speed. To get it right you have to practice with the speed of that subject. Try the subject at slow speed first. Once you have an idea of the settings, speed the subject up. As you develop a feel for the speed-of-movement versus the shutter-speed you will be able to get a sharp background but a blurred subject.

More types of blur… Camera movement

When a subject is moving pan your camera with it. I did that in the bike picture at the top of the page and got a sharp bike placed against a blurred background. That is not bokeh in the background. As the camera panned with the bike it captured a stationary background. However, as the camera was moving it created a movement blur on the background.

Movement blur of the background normally occurs when panning. If you hold a stationary camera out of a car window and take a long exposure and the same type of blur will result. However, nothing will be sharp in that case (unless something next to you is travelling at your exact speed).

Done right background blur from camera movement has great impact. In the motorbikes above it gives a race feel. It looks really fast.

Some blur is not so good

Hand movement during a shot causes all sorts of blur. You get blurred shadows, blurred faces, possibly jerky tracks… not good at all. However, you can have some fun with this sort of movement. Some famous pictures have been created by deliberate hand movements. There are lots of shots, like tree shots  External link - opens new tab/page, where the movement of the camera creates a surreal or abstract view of the subject. Some people have tried throwing their camera and triggering it in mid-air – some bizarre results can be obtained (including a smashed camera).

Out of focus types of blur

Of course it is possible to completely blur a shot quite deliberately. Some pleasant aesthetic effects can be achieved. Wedding and romantic photographers love the “soft focus” shot. This is a deliberate very slight lack of sharpness. It emphasizes the romantic, soft nature of something… kittens, brides, the first kiss, baby and so on. Google images of soft focus shots provides quite a good range of possibilities for this type of blur.

The soft focus shot can be created different ways. Each give slightly different types of blur. You can literally set the lens to manual focus. Then when properly focussed pull the focus slightly back. so as to create a small amount of blur. Another way to do it is to use a soft focus filter. These are simply screwed to the end of the lens and give the same effect. When I was first starting out in photography many wedding photographers carried a flesh coloured or white nylon stocking. Pulled tight over the lens while the photograph is taken it creates a soft focus effect. Others like a skylight (ultraviolet) filter with a tiny amount of grease smeared on it. All these work, but give you a slightly different soft focus effect. Experiment… have fun!

Zoom blur

One of the less well known types of blur – zoom blur. You need a steady hand or better, a tripod. It makes the picture look like the world is rushing toward you very rapidly.

Adjusting the zoom during exposure creates zoom blur. Set your camera to have a long exposure – around one second is good. Balance the shutter speed with the ISO and aperture to get a proper exposure. You will need to use manual focus to adjust the zoom in the shot. Press the shutter button and rotate the zoom focus ring. A short turn or through its full arc – the amount of turn gives different effects. With a bit of practice you can reduce hand-shake blur. A smooth zoom throughout the exposure creates some great effects. Look through this page of zoom blur images on Google for some ideas…  External link - opens new tab/page.

Artificial blur

Most image editors have software filters to create types of blur. In fact there are a variety of different software filtersavailable. Gaussian blur is one common type. It softens or smooths the image, but also causes loss of detail. There is also rotational blur (self explanatory); linear blur or movement blur – you choose the direction of the blur. Other editng packages will have other blur types too.

Artificial types of blur do not have the same effect as blurs created in-camera. Artificial blur tends to lack depth. Whereas, blur using depth of field gives depth to a picture. The bokeh and movement blurs both have the impact of realism and depth as they vary throughout the depth of the image. Applying a uniform artificial blur can affect the realism. Applied with care and artful work you can make artificial blur look real. It is all about care and attention.

Are there more blurs?

There are probably other types of blur. They may fit into one or more of the categories above. Why not let us know about others. I would like to hear of new ideas and types of blur.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.