Monday, August 31, 2015

Basics: it's all about good preparation

Last week we wrote about Focus. I guess you can sort of see this is a logical part two. 

Before you even start shooting you should think about what you want to shoot, what you'd like to achieve with your image. 

Summer days are really long here in Sweden, so it's kinda out of office hours you have the best light for shooting both a sunrise and a sunset. As we are slowly easing into autumn, the times are getting better for getting that magical morning (and evening) light. 

So last night I set my mind to shooting a sunrise. Preparation started with: 
- checking the weather. I don't want too much clouds in my images (nor too little for that matter). 
- checking the times for the sunrise and where does the sun actually rise? Yeah, I know, in the east. But where exactly will be the best spot in my immediate surrounding to see that sunrise? Hurrah for Google, we found this great site to answer just these questions. 

With both the weather and the sunrise details checked, we planned the location: a jetty close to Tibrandshögen here on Rödön. It's alway nice to shoot close to the water to get beautiful reflections. Composition wise it's best to have a decent foreground when shooting your sunset. Use for example the stones in the water, a jetty or a human being.
And then ofcourse, I needed all my equipment (plus some more): 
  1. Camera (batteries fully charged ofcourse) 
  2. Filters (ND/ polarized)
  3. Tripod
  4. Remote control (or use the timer of your camera) to avoid camera shake
  5. Food/drinks
  6. Warm clothes
  7. Phone (to check the time)
Luckily, the weather prediction was spot on this morning at 5! 

I made sure to be at the location an hour before the actual sunrise. This way I caught the beautiful soft light of the blue hour. This blue hour is between an hour before sunrise and the actual sunrise

Blue hour is the period of twilight each morning and evening when the sun is a significant distance below the horizon and the residual, indirect sunlight takes on a predominantly blue hue. This effect is caused by the relative diffusibility of short blue wavelengths of light versus the longer red wavelengths. During the blue "hour" (typically the period is about 40 minutes in length), red light passes straight into space while blue light is scattered in the atmosphere and therefore reaches the earth's surface. 

When the sun is above the horizon it's called the Golden hour.

In photography, the golden hour (sometimes known as magic hour, especially in cinematography) is a period shortly after sunrise or before sunset during which daylight is redder and softer compared to when the Sun is higher in the sky.

With this picture you can easily understand the blue and golden hour:

And as you can probably imagine by now: it's the opposite way during the sunset.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Tutorial / Lightroom: the basic panel

So I guess most photograpers use Lightroom to edit their pictures. I do a lot of editing in Lightroom too. There are an enormous amount of possibilities in Lightroom so it can easily be a little bit confusing or even daunting what to use and how. 

I've dedicated this post to describing the basic panel in Lightroom in short. This basic panel is found in the develop module. 

It'll come as no surprise that when you shoot in RAW format, you've got more options to change settings with Lightroom, then when shooting in JPG. The RAW format basically gives you complete control over the image. When looking at the basic panel, all the sliders effect the whole picture. 
1. White Balance (WB).
The official definition of white balance is as follows: 
WB is the process of removing unrealistic colour casts, so that objects which appear white in real life are rendered white in your image. Proper camera white balance has to take into account the 'colour temperature' of a light source. This refers to the relative warmth or coolness of white light. 

So when your white balance is off, or when you'd like to create another atmosphere in your image, you can change the WB by clicking on the arrows besides Custom. If you've shot your images in RAW, several options will appear here. 
Although this might sound contradictory, Shade works really well for sunsets for example. 

Try a few different options to get an idea of what a different WB can do for your picture. 

When you're unsure what WB to use for your particular image, you can use the WB selector. 
You can click anywere on your picture to set the right color. If you know for example that something is white you click on that item in the picture. This way Lightroom knows that this is white.
In most cases this works pretty well. But make sure you're always really careful with chosing the correct WB. 

After you set the WB, you can actually tweek it with Temp. The temperature sets the warmths of colour in your picture. Moving the slider to the left makes the colours look colder and moving them to the right does the opposite. 

1.2 Tint
Tint is the second temperature slider and arranges the green to magenta scale.

2. Tone

2.1 Exposure
Pretty basic stuff this. The exposure regulates the overal brightness of your picture. When the exposure of your image was not to your liking, you can change it with the exposure slider. Sliding the slider to the right will brighten the whole picture. Be aware that brightening the picture a lot can actually also increase the noise in the picture, especially in the shadows.

2.2 Contrast
With this slider you can give your image more or less contrast. Moving this slider to the right makes shadows and highlights more noticeable. If you ask me, a good photo needs some contrast. Contrast is very important to give depth to your picture.So see what this slider does in your picture. 

This slider is good for making minor changes, but overall doesn’t offer much control over which tones should be considered as bright or dark. An alternative is using the Tone Curve Panel, but this is a bit more more complicated. I'll get back to that some time in the future in a new blogpost. 

2.3. Highlights and shadows
This slider offers you another option to arrange the light in your picture. This how Adobe describes it:
The Shadow/Highlight command is one method for correcting photos with silhouetted images due to strong backlighting or correcting subjects that have been slightly washed out because they were too close to the camera flash. The adjustment can also be used for brightening areas of shadow in an otherwise well‑lit image. The Shadow/Highlight command does not simply lighten or darken an image; it lightens or darkens based on the surrounding pixels (local neighborhood) in the shadows or highlights. For this reason, there are separate controls of the shadows and the highlights. The defaults are set to fix images with backlighting problems.
The Shadow/Highlight command also has a Midtone Contrast slider, Black Clip option, and White Clip option for adjusting the overall contrast of the image, and a Color Correction slider for adjusting saturation.

An example: 

The second picture shows more detail in the sky and way more details in the shadows. 

2.4 Darks and Whites
Those 2 sliders help you to set a correct dark and white point in you picture.
By clicking on alt key and moving the white slider to the right you can chose the correct white point. Drag it so far till you see a white point:
The same way for the black point. Drag it to the left in combination with the alt key to select a good Dark point. Whites and black give (with the contrast slider) depth to your picture. 

3. Presence
3.1 Clarity
Moving the slider to the right gives your image more details. But, beware and don't overdo it! Ofcourse it's all a matter of taste, but overdoing it here gives your picture a fake look if you ask me. For example when editing a sunset picture, it will even be better to give it less clarity to make the sky more puffy. When you give your sky a lot clarity it will get you a bit of a HDR look. 

3.2 Vibrance
Vibrance is a way to give your picture more colour. It actually boost dull colours in your picture. Moving the slider to the right will make the colors more intense.

3.3 Saturation
Gives the picture more or less colors, depending on how you use the slider. Problem with this slider is that it works on all the colors in your image. That often gives a very non-natural result, so be real subtle this slider. I'd rather use vibrance if you want to tweek the colours. Or even go for the local adjustment and use a brush or a radial filter. 

In this post I haven't covered the Color and Black&White button. These buttons can be found on the top of the basic panel. They are or rather, can be used to convert your images to b&w and back to colour. 
In the not to distant future, we will feature them in a new blog post. So stay tuned! 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Basics: how to make cleaning fun

I guess it's safe to say that cleaning is not very high on list of favourite things to do, but sometimes it just has to be done. 

In photography sometimes you just have to do some cleaning too. Sometimes there are things going on the background you don't like. And so long you're not working as a photo journalist, you can manipulate (clean) your images. 

Let's start with this picture: I like the way the athlete is portrayed, but the guy in the yellow jacket draws too much attention in this picture. 
One option is to de-saturate the yellows and the orange. But if you ask me, that doesn't do much to improve the picture. 
So here is what I did: I used the brushtool to paint over the guy. To make the yellow-clad guy dissappear into the road. To get the right colour, I used the eyedropper tool: sample the colour and use that colour as your brush colour. With the clone stamp tool and the spot healing brush tool I added more bushes and part of the typical Amsterdam houses. 

Voila! Gone is the yellow and orange distraction in the picture! 
OK, so I also added some more colour into the figure with a hue and saturation layer. With a mask I desaturated the background. The result is a clean picture if you ask me. The focus is on the athlete, as it should be. 

Right. Let's take another example. I took this picture during a MTB race in the south of Holland. Again, it's the people in the background that are a distraction. So I decided to clean them out of my picture. 
First step was using the patch tool to get rid of the woman in the white jacket. The guys in the middle and to the left side of the image were removed with the spot healing brush tool in combination with the stamp tool. 

And here you have the result:
Again it's a cleaner image, with focus on the athlete. Then again: spectators are part of a sporting event, so it's definately not the case that they should always be removed from an image to have a clean image. You just have to decide for yourself where and when to clean up. 

This final image is an example of shooting with an aperture of 2.8 or 4.0 so the background becomes blurred and the athlete is very much in focus. 
Have fun cleaning!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Basics: focus

When making pictures, it's important to have a plan. Before you go out and shoot, think about: what is your subject and how do you want to portray that subject in your picture. Focus, both you camera and yourself need to focus in order to shoot great images. 

When planning your shoot:
- is your subject moving or still? In other words: do you need Fixed or Follow focus. We shoot Canon so we have the option to have

  • Fixed focus  - one shot, or 
  • Follow focus - al servo
Fixed focus is used for a non-moving subject or a subject that moves very very slowly (in a limited space). One could say that fixed focus is used for portraits and landscapes.

When your subject is moving, you should opt for Follow focus. It's an absolute must when shooting sports, wildlife and other non-stationary subjects.

The Al Focus setting is a setting that we actually never used. AI focus works like single shot but if the subject starts to move while you're shooting, the focus system will track the subject. It's a good option when shooting still subjects that may move unexpectedly.

Next step is to set your focal point. Most of the times you shoot with you focal point right in the middle of your frame. But in other cases it's better to move your focal point.
In the picture above you see that the focus point is right in the middle. For example this works fine for most of your landscape pictures. But if you are shooting a portrait in portrait mode, the eyes of your model are in the top part of the picture. So you have to set your focal point also in top in order to be able to focus exactly on the eyes of the model. 

So, if you go out for a shoot know beforehand what it is you'd like to achieve. This weekend, we were up in the fjäll to shoot the Fjällmaraton in Bydalen, Sverige. I was shooting wiht a 24-70mm and most of the time I shot at around 24 mm. I wanted to get in close, low and in portrait mode. So I set my camera on Al servo and chose a high focal point to focus on the eyes... or uuuh, sunglasses in this case. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Tutorial / sports photography: Fjällmarathon Bydalsfjällen

There's so many incredibly cool sports events in this part of Scandinavia, that sometimes it's really difficult to choose. After an awesome, be it slightly overcast and chilly, day at the AXA Fjällmarathon in Trillevallen, we chose to go to its sister event in Bydalsfjällen today. The 50K runners started at 8AM and the 22K runners soon after that. 

Summer started here in Jämtland about a week ago, so the runners in today's fjällmarathon had a really hot day. With a clear blue sky, rather harsh light and about 24 degrees Celsius up on the fjäll, we also had an interesting set of conditions to work with. 

When shooting sports, I prefer to stay as low as possible. Shooting from a low position gives more impact to your shots. This picture I shot with my 24-70 mm 2.8 USM Canon lens.  

And sometimes you just have to be lucky. I mean, when a guy is half way running his 50K race and he can jump this high, you count yourself lucky you're there and ready with your camera! Settings where F4 and a shutterspeed of around 1000/ 1250 with an ISO of 100.

Good to have a change of venue, point of view, every once in a while when you're shooting to get different images. 

But let's face it: it's the athletes that really make the picture. Only a couple of quick adjustments in Lightroom where made to these pictures, no more than a couple of minutes per picture. 

Curious to see more? Check out our Photoshelter gallery for the rest of the pictures. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Tutorial / Photoshop: lightening the eyes

A quickie today: a few tips for lightening eyes in Photoshop. 
  1. It all starts with opening the photo in Photoshop.   
  2.  Next is to add a level adjustment layer: 
  3. You'll get this drop down menu: 
  4. Lighten the image (mind you, you're lightening the entire image here) 
  5. Then add a layer mask and lighten the eyes.
    So make sure you add a black layer mask (or invert the white one). And then paint over the eyes to ligthen them with a small soft brush (flow around 20).
Voila! In just a couple easy steps, you've lightened the eyes of the model in this picture. 
Mind you, this is ofcourse not the only way to lighten eyes. There's plenty of more possibilities (for example with the local adjustment brush in Lightroom). This is just the way that I use most. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Scandic Östersund

It was a gorgeous day today and I had to kill some in Östersund. Strolling around town, I came past the Scandic Hotel. Not a terribly interesting building, but still worth a picture I thought. 

So yeah, I broke the rule and shot this picture round noon. The light was pretty harsh and horrible. With some editing in Lightroom and adding some clouds in Photoshop it still came out sort of OK. 
Next time I'll either go really early or wait until the right time of day, I promise. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tutorial / Photoshop: layers and layer masks

Remember the last post, where we talked about changing colours in photoshop? Well, in that post we promissed we'd get back to you on layers and layer masks in Photoshop. It might sound difficult, it might look tricky but it actually isn't. Stick with us through this post and I bet you'll agree with us afterwards. 

So according to Adobe you should see a layer like a pancake. Only the top pancake is visible. Or actually, as Adobe puts it: Photoshop layers are like sheets of stacked acetate. You can see through transparent areas of a layer (a hole in the pancake) to the layers below.

When you open an image in Photoshop, it opens as a (background) layer. This is where the editing starts. Most of the time, you'll duplicate the first layer (CTRL J) and start editing on that particular layer. If in the unlikely case it goes terribly wrong, you just throw away the diplicate of the first layer. You'll still have the unedited picture you started out with. 

Keep in mind that we're talking a stack of pancakes here: all layers are put on top of the other in Photoshop. The first thing you see - how logical - is called the top layer. 

Let me show you an example: 
In this image, you see the picture with layers. The top layer is black and white and the layer underneath is in color. 
You can turn off the top layer by clicking on the little eye in front of the Layer 1 (right hand side of the screen). Voila! Now you get the coloured version of the picture.

With a basic understanding of layers, the next move is to talk about layer masks. With a mask you have the control over the transparency of that particular layer. 

When working with layer masks, keep in mind this utterly important rule: White Reveals, Black Conceals. So if you have two layers and you add a white mask to the top layer, it shows everything on that layer. 

Here's some visuals: starting out with a picture with 2 layers, a blue top layer and a red second layer. 
Adding a white mask to the (blue) top layer: use the Add Vector Mask icon. You can use the same icon in the layers panel by using the Alt (windows) or OPT (MAC) key. 
And now adding a black mask (white reveals, black conceals!) to the top layer: 
the blue is gone! Hidden by the black mask. 

So when you have this stack of pancakes. And you'd like to show not only the top pancake but also a bit of the underlying pancake, you should use the brush and paint in the opposite colour. When using a white mask, you can make the underlying layers visible by painting with a black brush and vice versa. 
And vice versa. 
Do take a look at the right hand side with all the layer and layer mask info: in both cases the mask changed. The black mask changed to white where you have painted (remember: white reveals, black conceals) 

So there you have it. A basic tutorial on layers and layer masks. In the beginning you might find working with layers confusing. You might mix up white and black layers. Another nifty trick to remember is CTRL I (i as invert) you can easily switch between white and black layers.

I find layer masks extremely helpful. For example to blend pictures together. Think of a sunset where you want a darker sky and nice silky water. In that case you take 3 pictures: 
- one for the sky (underexposed), 
- one for the silky water (over exposured) and 
- one right exposed image

Now you can blend them together in Photoshop using layers and layer masks. That gives you a great control over your creativity and result. I have always found the videos from Serge Ramelli really helpful, easy to understand and very instructive. He starts with some editing in Lightroom and then blends his pictures together in Photoshop.