Tag Archives: Focus

Portrait context is about the artist as well as the subject

Portrait context is important in photography

• Portrait context is important in photography •
[Image taken from the video].

Art in a portrait…

…includes much more than meets the eye. Photographers taking their first steps with portraits often see only the person in front of them. But the portrait context also includes the scene, the artist and their culture.

Portrait context – a historical boundary

Portrait art historically reflected the fashions and ideas of the time. For example early civilisations tended to depict people in profile. These flat two dimensional portraits were a mark of early Egyptian art. Much later, in the 14th century, the Renaissance masters did portraits as a three dimensional rendering on the canvas. They used artistic tools the Egyptians did not have.

Today the portrait context is still related to the knowledge and experience of the artist. And, they are partly bound by the conventions of their time, culture and so on. You can never fully be divorced from your context. But, we are free to take a wider, more context-free view of portraits. Artists and photographers are trained to take a broad, imaginative outlook. Art and photography schools give the imaginative freedom of students a wide scope. Breaking the bounds of traditional portraiture is a part of that freedom.

Breaking the bounds of portrait context takes careful thought

Portraiture starters often only see their subject through “everyday” eyes. Most of us are not trained in the ways of imaginative scene setting. So we tend to take portraits that represent our every day view of people. There is nothing wrong with that. Family, friends and others make a fun photograph. The images can be pleasing and satisfying.

Great portraiture goes deeper than that day-to-day view. To push the boundaries of your portraits, think in a different way. The portrait photog should consider their own vision and experience. They also need to think of the environment, cultural context, story and location of the shot. The photographer should understand who they are as well as knowing something of the portrait subject.

Of course knowing these things does not produce a great image. What makes a great portrait is pre-vision. It is how you bring out something in the subject, the scene or the portrait context that is remarkable. This takes a unique perspective.

The art of portrait photography

A strong portrait steps out of the everyday view. In the video we get the perspective of a number of portrait photogs. Each has looked into the portrait context in which they are working. With forethought and insight they have constructed artful portraits. They have also made driven and powerful images of their subjects. Each has a clear understanding of the portrait context. Each has a clear view of what they want to say.

The lesson is, look for a point to make. Understand both what you are working with and what you are working to express.
PBSoffbook  External link - opens new tab/page

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Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has also 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+.

On-camera flash… advice for taming the beast

Taming on-camera flash

• Taming on-camera flash •
Left: harsh light and highlights are so unflattering!
Right: properly controlled you get proper skin tones and no highlights.
•••••||•••••
On camera flash can be a pretty tough nut to crack – learn how.
(Images taken from the video)

On-camera flash is pretty harsh…

In fact it’s often the source of ruined pictures from otherwise great dinner parties and family events. Dealing with with these little beasts takes a little work. You can make them do you bidding, you just need to know how.

A small powerful light source

The power of the little flash on your camera is misleading. For such a small light it puts out a lot of power. The learner is often caught off-guard. A great scene can be ruined by very unpleasant light, colour leached from faces, shiny reflections on faces and really hard-edged shadows. The whole thing is pretty ugly.

Here is some news. There are ways to control these little beasts and make them do your bidding.

Two of the most useful techniques for dealing with the problems are explained more fully in: Find out more about diffusing your on-camera flash. The other way is to help your flash work better in the room. Use the room itself as a way to bounce light around. Point your flash at a wall or ceiling so the light is reflected everywhere. It will make harsh flash into soft light – make it a more wrap-around light. This is always more flattering and shows the gentle curves of the face much better. It also means the light works its way around the back of the subject reducing harsh shadows cast onto the wall.

Practical use of the on-camera flash

For those quiet evenings where you are chatting with your friends and family here are some easy techniques. You can use your on-camera flash to good effect without the harsh shadows. You can escape the electric shock faces and startled expressions too. Have a look at the video and follow the sage advice of Mike Browne at a dinner party…

Using on-camera Flash Indoors – With Mike Browne


Mike Browne  External link - opens new tab/page

Using the proper tools is best

Let’s face it. On-camera flash is always going to be a bit difficult. As good as it looks in the video controlled results are always going to be difficult from such a little light source. Here is what Mike himself has to say about on-camera flash…

I’d suggest a speedlight is better because you can fit a diffuser and better still, turn the flash head in any direction and bounce the flash off a wall or ceiling.
Mike Browne  External link - opens new tab/page.

Have a look at some off-camera ideas. These are probably the most flexible options for moving your photography forward, especially for small intimate surroundings. Check out these options…

Off camera flash units

Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash Unit – a great branded flash for general use  External link - opens new tab/page

Nikon SB-600 Speedlight – a great quality mid-range Nikon flash unit  External link - opens new tab/page

Special pick…

This high quality own-brand flash unit performs like branded units but is much more affordable. The unit provides a range of functions as well as being compact, light and robust. Great value for your money. YN560 III 2.4Ghz Wireless Flash Speedlite Support RF-602/603 YN560-III For Canon Nikon Pentax Olympus  External link - opens new tab/page

 
All these units will fire as normal when mounted on the camera. They will require an off-camera flash cord or wireless radio triggers for off-camera flash units  External link - opens new tab/page to connect to the camera when shooting off-camera.

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Netkonnexion

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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Netkonnexion

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+

Visual toolbox for photographers

Sharpen up your creative photography…

It’s easy when starting photography to over emphasis the importance of gear. In fact it’s ‘photographers eye’ that really makes the difference. Your vision and insight into a scene are critical to producing a wonderful image.

Sage advice from a world master

The Visual Tool Box by David duChemin is all about the skills of composition. He goes into depth around the background ideas which help you look at a scene. The ultimate success in photography is to make your image a pleasure to view. Aesthetics rule – it’s as simple as that. This book is dedicated to teaching you the tools you need to develop the ‘eye’.

David duChemin says,

These are the lessons I wish I’d learned when I was starting out.
The Visual Tool Box by David duChemin

This is my kind of book. He writes superbly, in simple, readable form. His examples are excellent and the pictures are just amazing. But most of all the book is organised for learners to extend their knowledge in easy, well structured steps. This book is all about putting new tools in your photographic tool box and it achieves that with an ease that any beginner will find a joy.

Composition

The book is packed with examples of the sort of compositional ideas that really work – for anyone. Just look at some of the topics covered…

  • Manual
  • Optimize Your Exposures
  • Master the Triangle
  • Slower Shutter Speed
  • Learn to Pan
  • Use Intentional Camera Movement
  • Use Wide Lenses to Create a Sense of Inclusion
  • Learn to Isolate
  • Use Tighter Apertures to Deepen Focus
  • Use Bokeh to Abstract
  • Consider Your Colour Palette
  • Lines: Use Diagonals to Create Energy
  • Lines: Patterns, Lead my Eye, Horizons
  • See the Direction of Light
  • Light: Front Light, Side Light, and Back Light
  • Quality of Light: Further Consideration
  • White Balance for Mood
  • Light: Reflections, Shadow, Silhouettes, Lens Flare
  • People
  • Experiment with Balance and Tension
  • Use Your Negative Space
  • Juxtapositions: Find Conceptual Contrasts
  • Orientation of Frame
  • Choose Your Aspect Ratio
  • Use Scale
  • Simplify
  • Shoot from the Heart
  • Listen to Other Voices (Very Carefully)

And there is plenty more content to complement and extends these ideas. What’s not shown in a list is the excellent and sage advice throughout the book. I will let David duChemin have the last word…

Pace your-self. Anyone can master a camera; that just comes with time. It’s the other stuff — learning to think like a photographer — that takes so much work and allows this craft to become the means by which you create art.
The Visual Tool Box by David duChemin

And it is thinking like a photographer that you will quickly learn from reading this book.

How to buy this great book

This book was originally published as an ebook. However, it is no longer available in that form. The book has moved into the real world. It will be available on Amazon as a Paperback From 31 Mar 2015.
The Visual Toolbox: 60 Lessons for Stronger Photographs (Voices That Matter)You can per-order the book from Amazon.

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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+.

Understanding depth of field

Pebbles

• Pebbles •
Depth of field helps the background lose distinguishing features which makes the subject stand out.

It is an important artistic tool.

Depth of field (DoF) provides a way to isolate the subject from the background. Sharpness inside the DoF is of critical importance to our image. The blur outside the DOF helps divert the eye to the sharp subject. So how does DoF work?

Depth of field defined…

The depth of field (DoF) is an easy concept to remember. The DoF is the sharp part of a picture. It is defined by the out of focus parts of the picture on either side of it. A lens can only focus at one point. It is at that point that the image is sharpest. However, on either side of the sharp point is a zone where, to the naked eye, the sharpness is still good enough to be convincing.

The eye can distinguish sharp detail inside the DoF and we want to ensure our subject is in that zone. However, we also want to compose our picture so the unimportant parts of the picture are out of focus. To achieve these things we need to know how to control the DoF. In fact there are three ways to control it…

  • Change the size of the Aperture.
  • Change the focal length
  • the distance of the subject from the lens

As the aperture changes size so does the zone of sharpness we call the DoF. As we open up the aperture wide the DoF gets shallow. As we make our aperture smaller the DoF gets wider and eventually we get sharpness all through to the horizon. Similarly changes to the distance from the subject affects DoF. If I walk away from a subject (and do not change the aperture) the depth of field gets wider (and visa versa). Focal length changes affect the DoF in a similar way.

A Simple Guide to Depth of Field

In this video Dylan Bennett provides the best explanation I have seen on why the DoF changes with the three factors I mentioned above. He uses a simple explanation and some great diagrams to show what is involved.

Dylan Bennett  External link - opens new tab/page

Just to clear up a point…

The analogy that Dylan Bennett uses, “toothpaste squeezed in a tube”, works well for most people learning the idea of DoF. What really causes the DoF to elongate is related to something called the Circle of Confusion (CoC). For more detail you can see information in: “Definition: Circle of Confusion”.

The CoC projected onto the sensor is (notionally) a tiny point of light representing one point of light from the subject. When that part of the subject is in focus the CoC is very small and individually indistinguishable from those around it. Like this it’s a sharp representation of the subject point of light. However, at a point outside the DoF an individual point of light can no longer be represented by a sharp point on the sensor and begins to blend with points around it. It has lost its sharpness. This is because the lens focuses points outside the DoF slightly before the sensor or slightly after it.

Diagram showing various sizes of Circles of Confusion (CoC).

Diagram showing various sizes of Circles of Confusion (CoC) on the sensor sized according to the focus (not to scale). Only CoCs projected from within the Depth of Field are sharp. Our eyes cannot perceive them well as they form sharp points. Ones projected from outside the depth of field are unsharp to our eyes.

Here is the reason why the DoF widens as the aperture gets smaller. When the aperture is small the angle of light that can pass through it from the subject is also small. As a result the CoC for each point of light is relatively small. This is because it can only originate from a small angle of light.

A very small aperture means that the circles of confusion are never big enough for our eye to see. This allows the lens to focus at infinity (say f11 and smaller). When the aperture is wide open the reverse is true. The circles of confusion can be much bigger. Only those rays that the lens will naturally focus will be sharp (a shallow depth of field).

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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+.

Broaden your lens and focal length knowledge

Mixed lens types

Mixed lens types – What do they all do?

There is a range of lens types…

If you know about the lens types you have, that’s good. But talking and thinking about buying others takes a wider knowledge. Here are two videos to give some insights on lens types. There are some interesting facts too.

Think about your lens types

Before you buy lenses, think about what you want. If you are just learning photography this is important. It keeps you in touch with what’s possible with each of the lens types. Also, it helps you to know what you can do with the skills you have. With each video, try to relate your experience with the lens types they are talking about. Then you will be able to extend your skills with kit you own now.

Another point worth thinking about is what you want to photograph. Long lens types, for example, get you closer to objects in the distance. They make things large in the frame, even when it’s far away. But some subjects are more environmental. So you might benefit more from showing a distant subject in its wider environment. Landscapes are a classic example, but there are others. So, think about what other creative views you can achieve with each of the lens types too.

Introduction to Camera Lenses PT1


Mike Browne  External link - opens new tab/page

Introduction to Camera Lenses Part 2


Mike Browne  External link - opens new tab/page

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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+.

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Facts about focus… how much do you know?

Orb Out Of Focus

• Orb – Out Of Focus •

Focus is more complex than at first sight.

Focus, and the associated functions on a camera, take a little time to sort out in your mind. Here are some fundamentals and some obscure facts for you to think about.

Focus facts…
  1. When you point your camera at a single colour, blank space, solid blue sky or night sky the auto-focus will ‘hunt’ for some contrast. The lens will be unable to focus but keep trying. If it detects a difference of contrast in the frame it’ll be able to balance it out and use it to create a focus. If your lens is ‘hunting’, find something with a bit of colour or light contrast. Then it will stop hunting and focus. More…
  2. The light from your lens focuses on the “image plane”, the flat surface that is also the surface of the Digital Image Sensor. The circle of light it creates is bigger than the sensor. The light that falls outside the sensor area is normally inferior to the light which falls on the sensor surface. This is because the edges of the lens creates an inferior quality of light compared to the middle part of the lens. More…
  3. There is such a thing as a “fixed focus lenses”… they have no focus capability. They are put in the camera at time of manufacture and set to give a deep focus from a few meters through to infinity. Can you imagine why such a lens would be used in a camera? More…
  4. Bokeh appears in out-of-focus areas. Some people think that the prominent little circular highlights are the bokeh. This is incorrect. In fact bokeh is a statement relating to the quality of the out-of-focus blur. The blur itself is called… blur! More…
  5. Macro lenses are highly effective at focusing at short distances from the lens and to enlarging the image. Actually they will also focus at other distances too. Macro lenses produce a great portrait. More about macro lenses…
  6. When a lens lets light through the light follows something called the optical path. The focus is achieved on the optical path. However, in a DSLR when the mirror is down, the optical path ends up at the eye. The optical path is not the same all the time. More…
  7. Where you focus affects your exposure. Most people assume focus and exposure are two separate things. And, in fact, they are. But, your camera senses the light conditions where you are focusing and sets that focus at the same time as taking readings for the light meter. Change your point of focus and you may change the light reading. Even a tiny movement may change your exposure readings if your focus changes from a lighter to darker surface. Useful to know if you are in a darker environment with bright light sources around. Especially useful if you are trying to learn manual control.
  8. The ‘sensor plane’ is the surface on which the image is projected by the lens. It is the surface of the sensor itself. In former times it was the same surface that the film was laid upon. Any idea what other names might be applied to the same surface in a camera? More…
  9. Sometimes it is important to measure your focus distance precisely. For example if you want to repeat shots or vary the distance form camera to focus-point by a measured amount in a series of shots. Such measurements are often used in forensic photography, macro work and for working out scene sizes and distances. There is only one place where you can take a true measurement from on a DSLR. It is clearly marked. Know what it’s called and where it is? More…
  10. Consider turning off your auto-focus when using a tripod. The motor that works the auto-focus creates vibration that may affect your shot. It is less likely to have an effect on long exposures, but if you get into the habit of doing it you may help to sharpen your shots. Reducing any vibration is good when you are trying to sharpen your shots.
  11. The Plane of focus is a very important concept – it is about where you are focussing. It gives you an idea of what your focus is doing at any angle of the camera. You should really have a good idea about it if you want to make sure you are getting a proper focus on the subject of your shot. More…
Lots more to learn…

Focus is big subject and can become extremely technical. There is a lot more you can learn. These points are just some fun ideas to help you learn about different aspects of focus in general. If you have any comments, other ideas or want me to write about another aspect of focus – leave a comment at the bottom of the page.

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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+.

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