Monday, February 28, 2011

It's about people not pixels.

Cameras like the Fuji HS10 take the worry out of available light photography.
Fuji Canada has a photo contest and I entered the picture of Fiona shown above. The contest is focused on portrait photography. I had thought of doing something traditional. Find a blond (man or woman, boy or girl, light hair is what I'm looking for here) or an older person with greying hair, place a bare-bulb table lamp behind them and one bare-bulb table lamp off to the side and in front and, if necessary, place a white sheet of bristol board off to the side bouncing light into the shadows.

Then I watched as Fiona fell asleep in a dark bedroom. The curtains were almost completely closed.. The light looked great but there wasn't much of it. I thought, "not to worry." With a pose like that I'll work with the light I've got.

This is where today's sophisticated point-and-shoots show their strengths. Fiona tends to move a lot while she sleeps. Working fast was important. This picture opportunity was not going to last. I grabbed my Fuji HS10 and set it to automatic.

This picture was shot hand-held at 1/6 second at f/4.0. Today's cameras with their sophisticated stabilization systems make hand-holding possible even at such extremely slow shutter speeds. I accepted a pushed ISO setting of 800, but then I am not a stickler about noise.

I figure pictures like this are not about pixels but people.

There is one glitch with this image: Colour cast. If you look carefully at the white sweater at the bottom of the picture you will notice a cyan colour cast. If I had noticed this before, I would have removed the cyan stain.

Remember, the room light was almost non-existent. This image is much brighter than the actual scene. When digging deep into dark shadows to make an image, one can expect some problems: colour shifts, colour casts, confetti-colourful noise and blurred detail resulting from over-enthusiastic noise control by the camera software.

Print the picture small and most problems disappear. Print the image large and most folk will view it from some distance and again most problems will again disappear. I have 16X20s that were printed from 4MB files taken with a Canon SD10 and folks have raved about these framed pictures. No one has ever pointed out the technical shortcomings because these are strong images.

Of course, if you are shooting for publication then all bets are off. Unless your technical shortcomings add a patina of style, your images will just come up short in the eyes of an art director.

(If ultimate quality is important to you, and think carefully as for many people it is very important, then take a look at the blog Nothing Special. This blogger knows his stuff and will point out the stuff that I was once also concerned with. My resolution/contrast charts and Macbeth Colour Checker now sit gathering dust in my basement.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Rules are for breaking

The Rule of Thirds in action.
I have talked at times about shooting children and how one must get down to their level to get the best pictures. Well this is usually true. But like most rules it is made to be broken.

Just don't throw out all the rules at once.

Study today's picture of my granddaughter. The little tyke is asleep in her car seat. I quietly folded the carrying handle back behind the seat and turned the bright yellow duck so that some of its face was visible.

I positioned myself directly above the sleeping child. Note the composition. Think Rule of Thirds. To apply this rule cross the picture with two lines horizontally and with two lines vertically, dividing the image into thirds in both directions. The image is broken into 9 sections.

The four lines are useful for placing strong, directional elements in a photo. Think horizons and trees, etc. Placing strong points of interest at, or near, the intersections of these lines makes for a naturally balanced image.

All three heads, the child's, the teddy's and the duckie's, are approximately at an intersection of two lines. Following this rule while shooting comes naturally to some photographers but many more have to apply it consciously at first.

By activating three of the intersections in my picture of my granddaughter note that the heads trace a triangle in the same way that stars form the Big Dipper in the night sky. In art school we were told this implied triangle gave the image a solid base and added quiet strength. Remember, a lot of this compositional stuff is found after the fact — much like the Big Dipper appeared after the stars were formed.

It is important to shoot lots and, if you can't recall the Rule of Thirds while your taking your pictures, think serendipity and keep an alert eye while editing.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Shooting Kids

Fiona likes her puzzles.
Get down on the level of the child for good shots of kids.

When I saw Fiona, my granddaughter, down on the floor putting one of her puzzles together, I saw a picture. I grabbed my camera, in this case my Fuji HS10, and dropped to the floor. By getting down low, one sees a lot of the little girl's face and can easily see her look of concentration.

This shot was taken with the zoom lens set to 24mm. The shot was illuminated with window light pouring into the bedroom through a very large window.

Personally, I think the best pictures of kids show them engaged in one of their usual day-to-day activities rather than simply posed looking at the camera. I like the small amount of subject motion blurring the little girl's reaching hand. The movement adds to the documentary feel, the unposed moment captured feel, of the image. 

I kept the puzzle pieces in the picture as I thought they added to the story. I'm still debating whether or not the picture could be improved by cropping off the puzzle piece at the bottom right. Cropping the picture so that the puzzle piece disappeared would make for a very deep picture with very little width. It might be very dramatic. What do you think?

One warning. Note the distortion in this picture. That is the result of using such a wide angle lens. If you want less distortion, do not use such an extremely wide lens. Get back a bit from your subject and use a longer lens. Doing this will minimize distortion but it will also give a flatter, less dramatic, perspective.