Tag Archives: Pop-up flash

Ten simple ideas to improve your photography (and a fun quiz)

Ten Tips

Ten Tips and 12 fun quiz questions.

Simple things help you…

We should all take a step back and think about the basics sometimes. It helps us remember essential techniques and keeps us on our toes. Here are the basics with some fun quiz questions too.

The simplest techniques in photography are often the most important ones. In this post we make sure we don’t forget them…

10 essential things to know; 12 fun quiz questions
  1. Not knowing your camera: This is really bad news. If you are hoping to improve your photography make sure you learn what every lump, bump, dial, screen, lens and twiddly bit does. Read your manual regularly. Practice with each function until you have got it right. Then practice it in the dark so you can do a night shoot.
    Quiz Question 1: How many lenses are there on a camera? Answers at the end!
  2. Poor stance: Most people when starting photography don’t realise that the way they stand and hold the camera creates all sorts of problems and poor performance. If you are a keen photographer a good stance can contribute to improved sharpness (hand-held shots), better focus, more steady hand and better shot timing. Learn to stand properly right at the start and you will save yourself lots of re-training time later.
    Quiz Question 2: At what point in the breath cycle is it best to take your shot?
  3. Not using a tripod: classic mistake. Tripods save you lots of time and give you pin sharp photographs. They give you an opportunity to set your camera up properly and ensures that your are ready for your shot.
    Quiz Question 3: A monopod has one leg, a tripod has three legs. What is, and how might you use, a bipod?
  4. Not giving the camera time to focus: When you press the shutter button halfway down it causes the auto-focus to cut in which focuses the camera. But if you punch straight through that to the shot the focus has not had time to do the full focus. This normally happens on the first focus attempt when the focus is right off. After that the lens in nearly focused and will adjust more quickly. So don’t make your first focus attempt too close to the shot or it will be blurred.
    Quiz Question 4: Why do you have two rings on a modern auto-focus/zooming photographic lens? What do you call each of them?
  5. Taking pictures against a bright light? Cameras don’t like very bright lights. Especially if there are also very dark spots nearby. Shooting indoors while looking at a window out to a bright sky will cause a strong white spot. This is very distracting and draws the eye away from the subject. Not good. There are Light and Lighting resource pages on Photokonnexion for you to learn more.
    Quiz Question 5: How many stops of light can healthy human eyes see (20:20 vision)? How many can the camera (rough generalisation) cope with?
  6. Relying on flash (especially pop-up flash): Pop up light has a very small concentrated source. It discolours faces, washes out colours, creates harsh, sharp-lined shadows and is badly placed (too close to the optical axis) creating nasty highlights on faces. Try to use natural light more. It is much more forgiving and does not produce such harsh shadows most of the time.
    Quiz Question 6: What is often the result of using pop-up flash with respect to two parts of the face?
  7. Dead centre subject: If you put the subject of your picture in the centre it will usually be boring. If you off-set your subject the eye will be looking to see why the symmetry is broken. That keeps the eye hunting around the screen. Learn about the “Rule of thirds” and other Composition principles. That will help you make the shot more compelling to the eye.
    Quiz Question 7: What type of compositional perspective would you be working with if you want to promote a three dimensional feel to your picture composition?
  8. Horizon control: Make sure your horizon is level, especially if it is a seascape. If you leave it on an angle the picture will be ruined because it will look like the sea is sliding off the page! Horizons also induce mid-picture viewer-stupor. Make a decision. Either shoot for the sky in which case place the horizon in the bottom third of the picture. Or, shoot for the ground in which case the horizon goes in the top third of the picture. An off-set horizon is more dynamic and keeps the viewers eye moving.
    Quiz Question 8: If your main choice is to shoot for the sky, where would you take your exposure from? (Where would you point your viewfinder focus point?) a. The sky? b. The ground?
    Quiz Question 9: Describe autofocus hunting and why it happens?
  9. Simplify, simplify, simplify: The most effective way to show a subject to your viewer is to de-clutter the picture. Take out of your composition everything that is nothing to do with the subject. The more you make the viewers eye go to the subject the more effective your shot will be.
    Did I mention that you should simplify your shot?
    Quiz Question 10: What is it called when you paint out something from your picture in post processing to simplify a shot?
    By the way, did I mention that you should work really hard to simplify your shots?
  10. Go manual: Auto-modes on your camera are really best guesses about what the manufacturer thinks will be suitable for the average shots most snappers will take. Buy you are a keen photographer. To get the camera to do exactly what you want, and to make discerning choices about your images you should work on improving your manual control. Your understanding of photographic principles will improve, your skill at exposure will improve and you will find yourself making informed choices about how you want your picture to come out. You will turn from a snapper into a photographer.
    Quiz Question 11: What does the ISO control do? a. Adjust the sensitivity of the digital image sensor or b. Change the aperture size?
    Quiz Question 12: Does ‘shutter speed’ or ‘aperture’ control movement blur?
Answers to quiz questions
  • Quiz Question Answer 1: I am talking about any camera that has a lens, not just DSLRs. the number of lenses is a matter of variation. If you are discussing photographic lenses then only that one will count (but read on). Some people think of each glass element in the photographic lens as an independent lens. Technically that is not true. They are optical lenses or glass elements, not photographic lenses. However, if the photographic lens (and elements if you included those) were all you counted you would be wrong. Here is a short list of Possible lenses on a camera of any sort…

    There may be others.

  • Quiz Question Answer 2: You should take a shot at the full inhale point or full exhale point before inhaling or exhaling in the next part of the cycle. You can choose which is best for you. All you do is delay the next part of the cycle while you take a shot. This is the point in the breath cycle when there is least movement of the shoulders/chest. Read more about it in Simple tips for a good stance
  • Quiz Question Answer 3: A bipod is photographically uncommon. Understandably, it has two legs. Find out more here… Definition: Bipod
  • Quiz Question Answer 4: The two rings on an auto-focussing photographic lens allow one ring to focus the image – the focus ring. The other ring is for zooming the lens. The latter changes the focal length and is called the focal length ring.
  • Quiz Question Answer 5: Human eyes can see about 18 to 20 stops of light when healthy. However, by contrast the best commercially available cameras have to operate with a dynamic range of 8 to 12 stops of light. Research is pushing the boundaries but there is still a big gap to meet the dynamic range of the human eye (in 2013).
  • Quiz Question Answer 6: Pop-up flash is very likely to cause red-eye.
  • Quiz Question Answer 7: To make things look three dimensional in your image you should be working with three point perspective. Look for lines in your image that promote cube-like structures. For example buildings, walls and other objects with lines and shapes that have a solid feel in real life. This will trick the eye into believing that there is a solid object in the picture. Read: Simple ideas about perspective in photography and: Definition: Perspective
  • Quiz Question Answer 8: If you shoot for the sky you will need to be taking your exposure from the sky as that is the brightest point. This will leave the ground darker in your exposure than you would see it with your eye. You can use one of a number of techniques to correct that later.
  • Quiz Question 9: Auto-focus hunting is when the auto-focus in the lens cannot focus and will keep going up and down the focus range trying to get a focus. This is a common problem at night, in darker conditions, low contrast conditions and clear or totally grey skies. You can read more about it in: Auto-focus ‘Hunting’ Definition: Hunting, Auto-focus

  • Quiz Question 10: when you paint out something from your picture in post processing to simplify a shot? You normally use a cloning tool. You can find out more in: Definition: Cloning; To Clone; Cloned; Clone Tool.
  • Quiz Question 11: What does the ISO control do? It adjusts the sensitivity of the digital image sensor allowing you to work in bright light (low ISO setting) or low light (high ISO setting). There is an article on ISO here: ISO.

  • Quiz Question 12: Shutter speed controls movement blur. Aperture controls blur (bokeh) created by the loss of sharpness outside the zone of acceptable sharpness. This is traditionally known as the depth of field. More reading on: Definition: Exposure and related to aperture: Definition: f number.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

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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+.

A simple lighting technique with lovely light

The mobile phone light... soft and effective.

The mobile phone light… soft and effective.

Table-top photography works with soft light.

When you are doing still life shots you want soft, gentle light. Exposures can be longer so you can create lovely gentle shadow graduations. Your mobile phone provides an excellent light source for this. Here is how it is done.

White source image

The basic technique is to put a bright white image onto your mobile screen. When you display it on the mobile screen the illumination produces a white light. This is a wonderful, quite localised soft light for your shot. The steps in detail are…

  • Open your favourite image editor
  • Create a new image (approx size 800 pixels by 600 pixels)
  • Paint it brilliant (pure) white
  • If you are on your computer save the image then upload it to your phone
  • If you are on your mobile phone save the image to a known folder
  • When you want to use the light, display the image on screen

The white image on screen produces enough illumination to create the light you want for your table top image.

Other ways to use your mobile as a light source

Of course many mobiles are also capable cameras in their own right. So here are two other ways to use them:

Photographic light: Lots of mobiles have a “flashlight” app. This will allow you to use the camera flash as a photographic light onto your still life scene. Many on-camera (pop-up flash) flash units are very strong and have a harsh light. The flash on a mobile is often much softer and sometimes is coloured to be a similar colour to daylight (approx 5500 Kelvin). This ‘daylight balance’ is a great light and worth using if you have it. Prop your phone up with the flashlight app activated and start shooting.

Coloured light source: Traditionally coloured light is produced using colour gels. However, some apps on mobile phones can create both a white light or a range of other coloured lights. One such app for example is: Tiny flashlight + LED. This is an app. for Android phones, but there are other apps. for different operating systems. If you cannot find a suitable app. you can produce a colour image like the white one above. Store that on your phone and open the image when you want that colour light.

Versatile

While the light from the screen of your phone might not be very strong, for a long exposure that is not too important. The light is wonderful and soft. As it comes from a wide source it creates lovely wrap-around shadows. These are just great for still life. Other features of phones can help with the lighting for your photography too. So, have a look at your mobile in a new light – see what you think.

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+.

Simple portrait lighting for anyone to try (pt.1)

The basic portrait lighting set up

The basic portrait lighting set up
The umbrella represents the key light, the round reflector represents a fill light.

To do a basic light set up is easy.

Portraiture is a pursuit for photographers at all levels. Sometimes beginners shy away from anything but pop-up flash shots. They feel that they have an inadequate grasp of lighting techniques. Actually, the basic lighting for a portrait is very simple.

The essentials

In the diagram above there are four main components of the set-up plus the subject. There are…

  • The backdrop, represented by the roll of paper mounted on the wall, down to the ground and under the subjects feet.
  • The light, represented by the flash unit behind a photographic umbrella which diffuses the light.
  • The reflector, the upright round object to the right of the camera.
  • The camera itself, representing the position at which the photographer stands.
The light

In any photographic scene we refer to the main light as the “key light”. This is the main light source that brightens the scene and the subject. In most cases the basic set up will be using an off-camera flash. However, this type of flash is a very small light source. As such it tends to generate a very hard light. That is very unflattering light on the face. Hard, harsh shadows tend to create angular shadows. This is unflattering except in a dramatic mood or a shot emphasising maleness. To ensure that the light is more diffused the photographic umbrella is placed in front of the flash. This creates a soft light which is more flattering.

As you can see from the scene in the diagram the key light is angled on one side of the subject. Your portrait sitter will then be more strongly illuminated from one side. This leaves the other side of their face in shadow. You can fill out this shadow by using the reflector. It back-reflects the light from the flash. The reflected light will be more diffused and of a lower intensity than the flash-side of the face.

Alex Broad Light 01 by Photo Geek, on Flickr

• Alex Broad Light 01 •
The light on the camera-side of the face is from a key light. The other side of the face is a lower intensity light.
• Alex Broad Light 01 • by Photo Geek, on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

The diffused flash on one side of the face and the slight shadow (filled by the reflector) on the other, creates a nice contrast. The difference in light across the face helps to create depth and structure. This is what photographers are looking for. We want to see nicely rounded features defined by the light-shadow relationship created by the gradient across the face.

In the diagram the angle of the key light and the reflector is a relatively shallow angle to the face. However, the angle can be varied. That variation will bring out the basic portrait lighting angles. You can read more about those in “Simple positions for classic portrait work”.

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Lighting variations on a theme

This basic set up can be done even if you do not have off-camera flash or any kind of photographic light. The idea of a “key light” is that it is the main “light source”. In a studio that light could be a studio strobe light. In a house you might use the light coming in through the lounge window. An off-camera flash like above is another option or you could use some other form of lighting. In the outdoors the sun could be the key light.

In the case of the reflector you can use secondary sources of light instead. If you have a bright key light like flash or other light source you could use the lounge window as your secondary lower intensity light. I have seen fill done with a candle – lovely soft glow. Light from a reflector is only one way to create fill light.

The effect is all in the angles of the light relative to the face, and the gradient of light-to-shadow across the face. What you use to create the light is more about the way you take the photograph and the amount of light the camera needs to get a proper exposure. The motto is be creative with the way you create the light, and with the way you vary the angle of the key light and secondary light relative to the face.

Simplicity

The aim of this article has been to show how simple it is to set up a single light and a secondary source of light to create pleasing portraits. It is not difficult and it can be great fun if you have a good relationship with your portrait subject.

To get the most out of this tutorial you should also see: Simple portrait lighting for anyone to try (pt.2)

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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Easy ideas for controlling your flash unit

Specular highlights

Bath toy
Specular highlights are distracting and draw the eye which spoils the shot.

Flash is a great benefit and a problem all at once!

Most people don’t realise two things about flash. First, the standard setting is nearly always too powerful. Second, the highlights resulting from flash are very distracting.

Working with flash power

Like all things in photography you need to think carefully about using flash. It is not simply click and move on. Most improving photographers are just beginning to make shots rather than snaps when they begin to see the quality and colour of light. So it is easy to miss some of the impacts that flash has on a subject. Here are a few consequences of a flash shot…

  • An over-bright subject.
  • Strong highlights with a tendency to wash out colours.
  • Specular highlights that create sharp, bright spots that distract the eye.
  • Bright foreground, dark background.
  • Flesh tones strongly whitened giving a sick look to the face.

Each of these is almost always down to using too much power in the flash. So, the way to over come these issues is to do two things. Turn down the power of the flash and diffuse the flash so it scatters the light.

Turning down the flash is simple. You must find the setting that adjusts the flash power level. This is easy if you are using an off camera flash because the unit usually has a display and a dial or buttons to change the settings. On-camera (pop-up) flash is usually adjusted by finding a menu setting that turns the power up or down. You may need to consult your camera manual to find where that setting is found.

The key to getting the right setting for your flash is to understand how to change it. Most off-camera flash units are marked up so there is two stops of light on the flash. Normally if the flash is marked 1:1 then that is full power, and more often than not this is the default setting. You can usually turn this down by one third of a stop of light at a time. Each time you stop down the setting one stop you are halving the light it emits.

Pop-up flash units may not be marked so clearly. Some are marked [low – medium – high], others, particularly point and shoot cameras, may just have “full | half”. More sophisticated pop-up units may also be marked in the same way that off-camera flash units are marked. Which ever your flash is, you should practice with it so you have an idea of how powerful it is and how much the settings can change the impact of the flash.

Flash diffusion

The best way to get used to using flash and controlling the power is experimenting. However, the issue of nasty highlights is the other problem the inexperienced user often does not spot at first. Strong highlights raise the light levels so you can see the tonal changes in the colour of the surface the light hits. This helps to define the shape of an object. So, for example, a brighter top on a ball and dark shadows under it help to define the spherical shape.

If the light intensity is too high, particularly on reflective surfaces, the reflected light level will exceed the level the camera can cope with. The highlight then becomes blown out. The light is so bright in that area that it becomes a bright spot where all the detail is lost to pure white. Unfortunately such strong, blown out areas, are severe distractions. In the picture above, the small reflective points, called specular highlights, are also strongly distracting. So what can you do to avoid these nasty effects?

If your power adjustments are not working and you still have blown out spots or highlights then you should consider diffusing the flash. This makes a difference in two ways. The diffused light will scatter the light from the flash over a wider area. This effectively lowers the light intensity even further in the area of the highlight since the light is not hitting it from a direct focussed hard light from the flash.

Secondly, diffused light spreads the effect of the light. This makes it more likely to bounce off other surfaces nearby. These surfaces then become multiple mini-light sources. All these sources hitting your subject create a soft light which is much less likely to create specular highlights or very strong colour-destroying highlights.

So how do you do this diffusing?

For off camera flash I really recommend this superb diffuser…

I just love this great flash diffuser. If you have an off-camera flash this is the best. It is the most adaptable diffuser I have ever used. You attach it to the flash with a wrap around grip. The big diffuser stands up above the lens of the flash. It is tough, flexible and creates a lovely daylight-white light. It is superb for portraits and still life work. Coupled with adjustments to the power settings on your flash it gives you excellent control and helps reduces highlights and the effects of hard light direct onto the subject. Check it out…. Rogue large Flashbender

 
For pop-up flash the options are not as easy. However, I recommend one of two options. I have successfully used ordinary white tissue paper sticky taped over the pop-up flash to both reduce and diffuse flash. However, while this works well, reducing the light by about a full stop, it is a temporary solution. Also, if you use the flash a lot the extra insulation may cause the flash to over heat. So, not for regular use.

My favoured options for pop-up flash diffusion are one of these three methods…

Professor Kobre’s Lightscoop, Standard Version Bounce Flash Device, Universal Model, fits over the Pop-up Flash of most SLR Cameras This diffuser produces a very effective ceiling bounce for the diffusion. However, make sure that in rooms where you use it there is no strong colours on the ceiling or it will cause colour casts.

 

Gary Fong Puffer – Pop-Up Flash Diffuser for Canon / Nikon / Pentax / Olympus / Panasonic- Lumix pop-up flashes A well reviewed unit, and has the advantage of an easy fit. The other advantage is that it diffuses the light moving forwards. The other two units here bounce the light which puts you slightly at a disadvantage in controlling the flash light direction.

 

Cateye LETS Flash Reflector/Diffuser Hybrid, for use with DSLR pop-up flashes Although I have not used this one personally, I know some people who have. I have had some very good feedback on this unit and it seems to work effectively in a wide range of situations.

 

Great shots with flash…

Yes, like everything else in photography, to get good with it, you have to practice use of flash. However, first you need to make sure you can spot the highlights, specular highlights and over-powered flash. Once you know what you are looking for you can adjust your flash power.

The best way to gain control of your flash is reducing the power, or at least adjusting it. Also, the more you soften the harsh, hard flash light the less distracting and natural the highlights will be.

Whatever you decide to do to make your flash manageable do plenty of experimenting to gain control of the light. Don’t forget to Examine Shots Before Shooting Again – “Chimping” to check for highlights. The practice will pay you back in great, well lit shots many times over.

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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+.

Simple, basic rules of lighting anyone can use

Every time you take a photograph you use light.

It’s no surprise that a few simple rules apply to getting a good understanding of light. Knowing more about how certain light conditions work is a great insight. It’s simple too…

In this great video Ed Verosky looks at the basic ways that light can be understood and used. Using some really simple graphics the video takes us through the basics. Great work Ed… more after the video.

Published on Aug 13, 2012 by Ed Verosky

Of course you can find many other light resources here at Photokonnexion to supplement this video. Here are some ‘must reads’ to go with what you have just seen in the video.

A simple challenge to use your new knowledge…

Take a portrait of someone lying down. Use only the light from one window (daylight). You poser should have feet pointing toward the window, head pointing away. The idea of this is to see how you can vary the light intensity with distance from the window. We want to see how the softness of shadows on curves change along the length of the body.

Now repeat the exercise with your pop-up flash or off-camera flash. See how much harder the light is and how sharp the boundaries between light and dark.

I hope that has proved fun and easy to do. I would love to see the results. So if you can post your shots online and leave a link in the comments below I will comment back on your shots. Have fun!