Tag Archives: Sunset

Avoid funny colour casts in your holiday pictures

White balance - grey card

White balance – grey card

Unnatural indoor colours?

Holiday time – out comes the camera and most daytime shots are great. However, indoor shots often get a funny colour cast. Odd yellowish, greenish or blue tones have appeared. The reason? Auto-white balance problems. The condition is curable.

Auto-white balance problems

Outdoors the auto white-balance function works reasonably well. But not in all cases. Auto-white balance aims to iron out colour casts in your photography. The problem is that the camera frequently gets it wrong. There are two main places that can happen…

  • Out of doors when there is a lot of one particular colour around (eg. lots of sky blue; orange/red sunsets or snow)
  • Indoors when there are artificial lights illuminating the scene (ordinary domestic lights, fluorescents and bulbs).

When a lot of one colour appears in your shot. The camera assumes that too much of one colour is a problem. So, it shifts something called the colour temperature toward a neutral grey colour. This takes out the colour cast.

Intentions ruined

If you intended to capture that colour cast (from a sunset for example), the auto-white balance mechanism will ruin your shot. Typically blue skies and white snow tend toward grey. And, the real classic, lovely orange and red sunsets look pink, cartoon-like and flat instead of saturated. Orange and reds are particularly badly affected. So if your sunsets look cartoon pink/grey instead of saturated fire-orange you need to adjust your auto-white balance.

Auto white-balance fail!

• Auto white-balance fail! •

Cartoony pink-grey skies. The auto-white-balance function has colour shifted the orange/red tones toward greys.
Click image to view large
• Auto-white-balance fail! • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Artificial light also creates a colour cast. Often the auto-white balance cannot properly adjust for this. The result is odd yellowish, blue or greenish tones in the picture where you did not see them yourself at the time. These also require an adjustment to your white-balance.

Why is there a problem?

Mainly the problem arises because we have made an adjustment in our heads without noticing. Most of the time we compensate for these colour casts and don’t see them. In fact, once we realise there is such a thing as a colour cast we can train ourselves to see it. We certainly see the heavy red colour casts of evening and early morning light. If we look carefully we can also see the yellows and blues from domestic lights – although less strongly.

Remedies

There are two possible ways to tackle the situation…

  • Compensate for colour casts by using a camera pre-set.
  • Correctly set the white-balance so it records the natural colours.

DSLRs have reasonably good pre-sets to tackle well known colour cast issues. On most cameras you will find white balance settings something like these below. The notes explain details…

  • Auto – The cameras best-guess colour match for what it senses. OK most of the time. Poor when there is a predominance of a strong colour.
  • Tungsten – (bulb icon) indoor, tungsten incandescent lighting using bulbs. Cools the colours – often bluish. This setting helps remove blues to warmer tones.
  • Fluorescent – for use under fluorescent lights – will tend to warm up the colours.
  • Daylight/Sunny – (sun icon) indicates the ‘normal’ white balance (may not be present if this is the default setting).
  • Cloudy – (cloud icon) Adds a warmer, yellowish colouration.
  • Shade – This light is cooler (bluer) than sunlight. Shade mode warms the colours a small amount.
  • Flash – (lightening icon) Stark and cool, flash desaturates towards blue. Flash setting compensates with a slightly warmer yellowish tone.
  • Custom – You do a little procedure to get an accurate setting to suit the situation.
Accurate colours

Colour accuracy is important. You really do want a bright blue sky or white snow or saturated red sunsets. The problem is that the pre-sets are averaged out for the “types” of situations encountered. The pre-sets will change the colours from dull flat colours to more representative ones. For example more saturated sunsets will be captured if you use the cloudy setting. However, to get it right you need to adjust the custom white balance.

Setting the custom white balance is simple. The camera does most of it. You need a “neutral grey card”. This is simply a card or piece of material set at an average grey colour, normally at 12% grey, which matches the cameras accurate shade for neutral. You can buy these quite cheaply at most camera stores. (See: Range of photographic grey cards).

• The Lastolite Ezybalance •

  • collapsible; durable
  • wipe clean; very light
  • 12% grey; 30cm diameter

An easy to use grey-card system. White on one side, grey on the other. The card doesn’t crease, the sprung border stretches the material tight. The card collapses into the supplied case, slipping easily into your camera bag. A great accessory to ensure colour accuracy in your pictures. You should not be without one.

To set custom white-balance

It’s easy to set the white balance. However, there are lots of variations for how different cameras do it. Therefore it’s essential to use the right procedure from your manual. To get ready…

  • Place the card about 30cm/12 inches in front of your camera.
  • Zoom in or out to make the grey card fill the frame.
  • Now follow the camera manual “custom white balance” instructions.

To ensure complete accuracy you must do this procedure in the ambient light in which you will be shooting. This is the light the camera will sense and compare to the grey on the card.

More after this…

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Shooting with RAW vs. *.jpg

I am sure lots of you are saying, “But I shoot with RAW and this is unnecessary”. OK, that is partly true. You can, with RAW format files change the white balance in the post-processing. Here are two reasons you should NOT do that…

  1. It is time saving to get as much right in the camera as possible. I like to spend my time shooting not computing!
  2. I have rarely met anyone who can remember colours so accurately that they get the post-processing colour and temperature balance right. I like to get them right in-camera as accurately as possible. Then I can safely change them later if necessary.

RAW format is excellent – you have complete control over colour temperature and hues. However, if the picture is wrong from the start, RAW is only as good as your own memory or colour awareness. Artists of many years may be able to remember colours accurately. Very few others can. Beginners especially have very poor colour memory/accuracy. So, use RAW, get it right in-camera – then do your artistic processing from a solid colour-base you know is accurate.

Compensation and accuracy

While both compensation for colour casts, and accurate representation of colour casts both rely on white balance there are differences in how they are treated. Strong colours or a strong colour bias through the picture needs some special treatment. Think about the two different methods above and practice them.

Comments, additions, amendments or ideas on this article? Contact Us
or why not leave a comment at the bottom of the page…

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+.

How to take photos – each important step in making a photograph

Infographic download - How to take photos

• Infographic showing the various steps in how to take photos •
A guide to what you should doing to make great images.
• Click to download printable full page version

Getting down to the detail…

Yesterdays article was How to take photos – each important step in making a photograph. Today I want to share the detail behind each step. Be warned! You might need to think again about your existing knowledge. Unlearning old ideas will help you to move forward and improve.

How to take photos – The location

Lots of people think you can just turn up and take pictures. Well you can, but often they are not good ones. Getting the best out of your location involves understanding what you’ll find there. Find out about the weather on the day. An idea of light levels and times of sunset and sunrise etc. is useful too. There have probably been lots of visits by others at popular destinations. Check “Google Images” for that site. Google will help with other details too.

When you arrive don’t just fire off loads of shots. Settle down and get into the location. Don’t make photography mistakes that mean you miss great shots. The first time you do this consider a variety of shots. Think about more than one shot, think about the whole shoot.

How to take photos – Examine the scene

Considering the scene is an important part of the work-flow on site. Unless you have been there before you need to get to know it. Use all your knowledge about camera angles, composition, lighting, camera settings and so on. Take the time to examine your location while thinking of these things. Consider your feelings about the scene too. How you feel will help your shot be an impassioned response to the location. What you feel about the scene is the best guide on how to take photos at that location.

How to take photos – Review the light

Most photographers forget this step. They are too wrapped up in the scene and the camera settings or the passion of it all. This step will make or break your shot. Look at the light. If you don’t know what I mean read these:

Ask yourself some simple questions about the light…

  • Is it hard or soft?
  • Is it coloured or more neutral?
  • Is it at the right angle to best capture the location/scene?
  • What is the best time for the right light?
  • Is it very bright and intense or dull and diffused?
  • Do I need any artificial illumination (flash, diffusers etc)?
  • Is the shadow hardly defined (sun up high) or strongly defined (sun to the side)?

Lean about the properties and vocabulary of light. It helps give you a greater understanding of photography. These questions, and others, help you make decisions about lighting for your scene. For more on “How to take photos – Light and Lighting” see the resource page in the SUBJECTS/ARTICLES menu at the top of every page.

How to take photos – Create a mental version of the the shot

If you want to make a great image – have a great picture in your head of your intended outcome. Visualisation has helped athletes, artists, thinkers, inventors and others to achieve amazing things. Train your mind to visualise in detail. If you see what you want to achieve it will guide you when setting up your camera. Take the time to create that mental picture – in detail. Consider how you are going to make the best of the light when you consider how to take photos. More about visualisation… 80 year old secret of world class photographers revealed.

How to take photos – Compose the shot

By now you have an intimate photographic knowledge of your scene. Composing the shot is about realising that potential. Long-time followers of this blog already know something about composition. For first-timers you can get lots of information from our Composition resources page in the SUBJECTS/ARTICLES menu at the top of every page. Composition is a skill that evolves as you develop as a photographer. Knowing more about composition helps your awareness and skill develop. Read about it to gain insight. Think about it every shot.

How to take photos – Review and adjust the camera settings

Now you have a picture in mind, composed, and are ready to set up your exposure. The exposure is defined by your camera settings. Camera makers will have you believe that the auto-setting on your camera is the perfect exposure. The fact is they made informed guesses to arrive at that exposure. It is different for every model of image sensor. Modern cameras do make a good representation of the scene. It is not always what you want however. You can change the exposure by under-exposing, over-exposing and by using different apertures, ISO levels and shutter times. That is your interpretation of the shot. When you think about how to take photos, plan how you want the image to come out.

Having a visualisation in your head helps you set the camera up to make that mental image. You do it using ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed. Even using one of the ‘mode’ settings is still a way of regulating your exposure. They all adjust those three basic facets of the exposure.

Here are some other links to pull together ideas about exposure:

How to take photos – Stabilise the camera

You want the photo to be sharp, crisp and clear. The faster the shutter speed the easier it is to get a sharp shot. But often, especially for a good quality shot, longer exposures are better. You need a good stance to hand-hold the camera. You will need a tripod (or other method) to steady it for longer exposures.

Stance is down to basic technique and comfort. The stance you use will be a personal thing for you. I have found many photogs have to relearn their stance after many years of a poor stance. It is best to learn a good one early. Here is my recommendation: Simple tips for a good stance

The use of tripods or other supports is a wide subject. It is also one that many learners tend to ignore- at least at first. When learning how to take photos sharpness is vital. Become acquainted with a tripod (preferably a good one) as early as you can. Your images will improve a huge amount. Here is some advice about tripods:

And, here is some basic advice about improving sharpness overall – The Zen of sharpness – 12 easy ways to improve

How to take photos – 15 second check

OK, that may seem like a long time. However, it is actually the time you need. You can get faster at it, but if you are taking a serious attitude to your shot then give it the time. You can find out all about the the 15 second check by reading these in order:

  1. An old sailors trick to improve your photography
  2. The fifteen second landscape appraisal
How to take photos – “Click”

This is where you press the shutter button. How you press that button can make a difference to your sharpness. Earlier, I mentioned this link, Simple tips for a good stance. It also gives advice on pushing the button without affecting sharpness.

An essential element of your shot is about confidence in what you have done. Today we are lucky. We just look at the back of our camera. Your first “click” may be a test shot. If your settings need adjustment then a simple technique called “Chimping” will help. Chimp and adjust. You will only need to do it a few times to get the shot right. You will not need to machine-gun the site with hundreds of “just in case” shots.

How to take photos – Work the scene

Chimping helps you set up for the shot and compose it. To get other possible shots you visualised earlier, you should work the scene. Repeat all the steps you have just done for each of the shots you foresaw. Working the scene is a skill and takes practice.

How to take photos – Time line

What is not obvious from the diagram is that the diagonal arrow is also a time-line of the shot. Of course it is a different length for every shot. You will have different problems to solve and ideas to consider for every shot. That’s fine. You have just learned a more careful, precise method for how to take photos. As you practice will quickly get faster at taking shots. But you will also make better images.

A promise

I can guarantee that if you follow the steps on this page you will…

  • Take less shots;
  • Get a better hit-rate (more usable shots per shoot);
  • Spend less time in post-processing;
  • Have better composition;
  • Improve your photography overall.

What is less obvious is that you will also save a lot of time.

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+.

Do you suffer from the sunset fail?

Disappointed... The sunset photography auto white-balance fail!

• Disappointed…
• Auto white-balance fail! •
sunset photography can present colour and detail problems.
Click image to view large
• Disappointed – Auto-white-balance fail! • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Flat sunset and poor colour – a beginners special.

My first digital sunset failed and it affected my confidence. It was flat, desaturated and the detail was lost. In this quick tip we look at how to fix it in one easy step…

The Sunset sunset photography fail!

In the picture above the flat, desaturated appearance caught me out. I sat there, after a 60 mile drive, for over an hour, and this flat failure was all I produced from hundreds of shots. For months I had this hanging over me. I had never had this problem with film. What was going wrong?

The problem was the auto white balance (AWB). In digital sunset photography the AWB tries to create a picture where the colours and the spread of light variations are balanced around a neutral grey. This reduces the shift in colour temperatures away from neutral. It has a very high impact on oranges and golden colours typical of sunsets (and sun rises). The upshot is you get a flat, cartoon-like, washed out colour range. This also reduces the detail in the sky.

The solution to the sunset photography fail?

Switch your colour balance to non-AWB settings. ‘Daylight’ AWB setting works well, giving realistic results.

However, if you select the ‘Cloudy’ setting this can have a spectacular pay-off. The ‘cloudy’ setting is used to off-set the coolness that clouds often give light. It warms the scene. So, if your sunset is already warmed by reds, oranges and golds the setting intensifies them.

You can intensify the colours in your sunset photography by using the White Balance ‘Shade’ setting. This adds an even greater warmth than the ‘cloudy’ setting. Be careful though, it can look unrealistically saturated. Run some test shots to be sure you have the right setting.

That’s it! Get your confidence back and increase the impact of your sunset photography in one easy setting.

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+.

An easy trick to capture the shot others missed

Cornish Bay Dusk

• Cornish Bay Dusk • (Best viewed large – click image)
Before sun-up and after sun down the wonderful light begs to be photographed.
• Cornish Bay Dusk • By Netkonnexion on Flickr

When is the best time to photograph?

There are as many answers to that as there are reasons to take a picture. But we all know how wonderful the golden hour is for photography. Here is another idea for a time many people forget.

A few moments longer

Most days, when the sky is clear, there is some wonderful golden light as the sun wants to dip below the horizon. The so called golden hour is a great time to take photographs. The shadows are long, giving clear definition to the landscape. The colour of the light is enhanced by the golden glow of the sun. The graduation of light across the sky provides a softness that is rare at other times.

If you are on location for that great light that every photographer loves, consider this. Be prepared to wait a little after the other photographers have gone home. A lot of photographers don’t realise, but about five to ten minutes after sun down there is some wonderful light.

After the sun has set below the horizon there is a period of blueness. There is still sufficient light in the sky for a photograph. There is usually the vestiges of the pink or gold glow too. But the blueness is deep and beautifully toned across the sky. It is a perfect time to capture photographs that make silhouettes look great and the last vestiges of the light look magnificent.

Of course you will find it difficult to work with auto-settings. Your camera is programmed to prevent this sort of light – it sees it as underexposed. Work in one of the manual settings. You will find that you need to use longer exposures. Then you are able to capture detail. Don’t put the ISO up high or you will just create digital noise. Make sure you have a tripod on hand too, or you will get movement blur. Other than that concentrate on the wonderful light and the great tones that are created right across the landscape.

As with all location shoots, scout in advance. Think through what you want to capture. The deep tones and dark silhouettes are not necessarily going to be ideal for all shots, especially if looking at darker backgrounds. However, you cannot go too wrong working with the West facing shot that sees the last of the sun as it goes down.

After all the other photographers go home you will be getting the shots that they will envy. And, all you did was wait another ten minutes.

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+.

Six tips for photographing silhouettes

"Figures on the dunes"

“Figures on the dunes” – the art in silhouettes is about shape
Click the image to view large

Shooting silhouettes is about photographing contrasts

The only difficulty with silhouettes is seeing them. Our eyes often see detail in scenes that the camera cannot. We take a shot at something and a silhouette comes out – what’s happening? The difference between the brighter and darker areas of the shot creates a silhouette.

1. How a silhouette is created

Humans, and cameras, see a silhouette when there is a foreground-object placed in front of a strongly lighted background. The foreground-object looks black if it is not lit from the front. The strong back-light just looks bright behind the black and this creates the silhouette. In other words, the contrast between the bright background and the dark foreground object is so large the camera image sensor, cannot resolve details in it, leaving it black. In photographic terms, if there is more than two stops difference in the light between the foreground object and the background lighting there will be a silhouette.

"Cows Grazing" - Creating silhouettes is fun and easy.

“Cows Grazing” – Creating silhouettes is fun and easy.

In the picture above the tiny cows on the brow of the hill are black (dark) objects because they are not lit from the front. The sky behind them is relatively bright compared to them. So, a silhouette is created.

Clarity of the image is everything. So, in addition to ensuring the edges of your silhouette are well defined and not confused with clouds and other objects, make sure they are sharp. The shape is important, so is the focus. The simplicity and purity of the silhouette is lost if the sharpness is not there to support it.

2. You can ensure something becomes a silhouette

A silhouette will be created every time a dark foreground object is placed against a brighter background. However, sometimes you can still see some detail in the foreground object, which is not a true silhouette. There are some things you can do about this.

  1. Lower the foreground lighting to darken the foreground object
  2. Brighten the background increasing contrast between front and back.
  3. Underexpose the foreground making it go black so the background stands out.
  4. Overexpose the background so it darkens the foreground object.
  5. Post-process the image to blacken the silhouette and brighten the background

In effect the techniques increase the contrast between the front and back. That blows out or brightens the background. This relatively underexposes the foreground object so detail is lost making it black. If you do any of these, or more than one of them, you are controlling the light to create a silhouette. You can do these to a lesser or greater extent with a scene you create, or one you see when you are out and about.

3. The art in is in the shape

The silhouette art form has been used to strongly characterise shape since the time of the Greeks. The stark and well defined edges in a silhouette are simple and attractive. Dating from around 1750 onwards, the method of making silhouettes was to cut them from thin black cardboard and mount them on a white background. This established a strong tradition of high contrast silhouette art. In the last 150 years the cut-out form of the art has mostly been replaced by photography silhouettes.

A powerful silhouette is about shape. The more graphic you can make it the more the image stands out. The best silhouettes are two dimensional although modern photographic techniques allow for the scene to have depth and apparent texture. The trick in producing a successful image as a silhouette today is therefore to provide a clear image, a traditional shape-format for the silhouette shape itself, and a great photograph in which the silhouette has context.

4. Sunset and sunrise

These are ideal times for creating silhouettes. The darkening sky still has sufficient intensity of light for making a photograph. The sky often has great colours too. Highlighting objects of interest against the sky at these times gives not only the drama of high contrast in the image, but also dramatic or attractive colours. Any great sunset or sunrise can be used for a silhouette. The best ones are against a clear sky because the colours are more intense and there is no cloud to confuse the edges of the silhouette.

When working at these times you will need to be working with longer exposures to compensate for the darker tones and colours. Make sure you set out with a tripod. Also read up on night photography because the same settings and techniques apply in these low-light conditions.

5. Bright sunny days

The hottest mid-day light is often a disaster for the photographer. The sun beats down from above and drives out the colours as well as flattening the shadows. Everything looks flat. However, guess what? This is a great time for silhouettes.

Photographing objects against strong, blue, mid-day sky creates great silhouettes. You can lie on the ground shooting straight up at things, or just pick out objects in the environment. Just make sure the contrast between the silhouette object and the background is high. This usually means exposing your shot for the sky itself.

To expose for the sky get the camera to focus on the brightness of the sky. Point it so your focus point in the viewfinder is in the bright area but your silhouette shape is still in the frame. If the sky is very bright, or featureless, the auto-focus may ‘hunt’ and fail to focus. Auto-focus works by matching contrasts of tones. If it does not see a contrast it has nothing to focus upon. So try to find something that can be used. You can try to put your focus point near the silhouette subject, but not on it. That sometimes works. Or, you can focus on a cloud, bird or other object that is still mainly very bright. Once you have managed to get your camera to focus on the sky the silhouette subject will be relatively darker and you have your silhouette. The darker your subject the better it will be in silhouette.

The picture with the cows on the brow of the hill above was taken at about 1.30pm on a bright sunny day. When a few dark clouds passed over the hill nearby I exposed for the clouds. They came out with lovely detail. The cows were little black silhouettes as they were underexposed.

6. Wind and movement

Wind is the enemy of the silhouette – outside anyway. There is nothing worse than your tree waving its branches when you are doing a longish exposure. Even a slight wind can ruin things. The image will look blurry and there will be ill defined edges for the actual shape. So look carefully at everything around you and make sure that you have no movement. If you do have wind blowing, find something solid and immovable with which to do your silhouette. For the same reason, it is not easy to do silhouettes of anything moving, like cars or people.

Do you have any great tips to add to this? Please enter a comment below and we will write them up!