All posts tagged tutorial

… before we go to the nice and warm Philippines…

I’ll make this an exposure 101. If you’re a pro-photographer you already know this (or at least, you should! πŸ˜‰ ), but I’ve been asked about this a couple of times and I decided to do a simple, little write up about it, without getting into too technical language.

Why is it important to take (manual) control of your camera?
A lot of people, especially those who have just bought a camera or have just gotten into photography, use the automatic settings in the camera. In most of the average cases that would be just fine, but since a camera is just a thing, with no obvious intelligence, when things get out of average, the picture goes south as well.

My camera is set (in 95% of the cases) to full manual with spot metering. I prefer spot metering above all other settings, because I get to pinpoint a location in my frame for which I decide what exposure is the best one, based on the initial suggestion of the light meter in the camera.
The other metering methods are also working fine, but don’t just blindly trust the values the light meter in your camera shows you.
What you need to know about the camera’s light meter, is that it’s “calibrated” to assume that everything in your frame has an average hue. The light meter doesn’t see or read colors, it just sees light or dark. 18% grey may sound familiar to some of you, maybe not to others. But 18% grey is what the light meter thinks the average hue in your image is (or rather, should become). Green grass, for example, is about 18% grey, on a normal sunny day. So if you were to take an image of a sports field with mostly grass and you’d have your camera do everything automatically, you’d have a great picture with a perfect exposure. Of course there are plenty of other things that are -about- 18% grey. But what if you’re shooting somewhere where everything, or the bigger part of your frame, is NOT 18% grey?
If that were the case, and you have your camera set to automatic (or to manual, and you’d dial the exposure, ISO and/or aperture so that the bar sits nicely on the 0 in the middle), your camera will make everything 18% grey.

The perfect examples are in the two extreme ends of the light spectrum.
Imagine a winter landscape, with mainly… yep: snow. Snow is one of the purest, whitest substances on this planet (provided it’s not territorially marked by some inhabitant of this planet πŸ˜‰ ).
So what would happen in the camera when I’d point it at my winter landscape? The meter sees the landscape and ‘thinks’: “Wow! That’s easy! A big frame full of 18% grey.” And so, thinking the purest white snow is 18% grey, the camera underexposes your image with about 2 stops.

D800, ISO100, 1/250 sec @ f/8, Nikkor 70-200mm

D800, ISO100, 1/250 sec @ f/8, Nikkor 70-200mm

D800, ISO100, 1/500 sec @ f/8, Nikkor 70-200mm

D800, ISO100, 1/60 sec @ f/8, Nikkor 70-200mm

D800, ISO100, 1/125 sec @ f/2.8, Nikkor 50mm

D800, ISO100, 1/500 sec @ f/2.8, Nikkor 50mm

D800, ISO100, 1/500 sec @ f/2.8, Nikkor 50mm

D800, ISO100, 1/125 sec @ f/2.8, Nikkor 50mm

In order to correct this, and to get the right exposure for the snow, you’d have to manually adjust the exposure time either by dialing up it with up to two stops, or use the exposure compensation.

The same thing goes for the other extreme of the scale. When what you see in your viewfinder (or your Liveview screen) is primarily black/dark, the light meter will assume that this is 18% grey and will adjust –overexpose in this case- the exposure to make the blacks look like 18% grey. You will have to underexpose the image to correct for the camera’s false assumptions.

D800, ISO100, 1/250 sec @ f/5.6, Nikkor 14-24mm

D800, ISO100, 1/250 sec @ f/5.6, Nikkor 14-24mm

D800, ISO100, 1/250 sec  @ f/4, Nikkor 14-24mm

D800, ISO100, 1/250 sec @ f/4, Nikkor 14-24mm

D800, ISO100, 1/250 sec @ f/4, Nikkor 50mm

D800, ISO100, 1/250 sec @ f/4, Nikkor 50mm

D800, ISO100, 1/250 sec @ f/5.6, Nikkor 50mm

D800, ISO100, 1/250 sec @ f/5.6, Nikkor 50mm




Not too long ago we had a discussion about focusing. I was asked to explain the reasons for why I do what I do, and I figured I could write it up in another blog post.
Note that my ways are not written in stone. It’s not the holy grail. It may not the be the “best” way for everyone, even if I feel for me it works best.
I’m a Nikon shooter, so the images and descriptions you see here are based on Nikon DSLR bodies (the example(s) I used are from D700 and D800). I’m positive Canon has similar functions, but they may be named differently and be located in different places in menu and on camera body.

So focusing…

Manual or automatic?
It depends, I guess. Some swear by manual focusing, some swear by auto-focusing.
If the circumstances allow it, and the focus points reach where I want to focus, I will use auto-focus. If not, I’ll use manual focus. If your camera body and lenses are properly calibrated (it’s like with your computer screen, you also calibrate that every month, right? RIGHT?? πŸ˜‰ ) the camera will do a better job than you do (remember I said “if the circumstances allow it”).

In the menu of the camera you can set the amount of active focus points. I’ve set it to 21. 9 is too little and believe me, you do NOT want to be scrolling through 51 focus points all the time. 21 is a good average and it keeps -as I call it- custom focusing quick and easy.

Set the amount of active focus points in the menu of your camera

Set the amount of active focus points in the menu of your camera

With the disk on the back of the camera you can select which focus point you want to use for focusing. Look through you view finder of the camera to see which focus point is currently active.

With the big round disk you can select the focus point (check in the viewfinder or on the top display).

With the big round disk you can select the focus point (check in the viewfinder or -with some cameras- on the top display).

If you have a vertical grip, there will be a second disk or knob with which you can select the focus point while you’re shooting vertically.
And yes, I’m a cheap-ass Dutch guy. I use a third party vertical grip, because I refuse to pay the ridiculously overpriced amounts that Nikon is asking for their original battery packs. It doesn’t do anything more than give you one or two frames extra when you’re burst-shooting in jpg. And the batteries are already a wringer as it is, let alone the batteries for Nikon’s battery pack.
If you want to have an excellent substitute: On the D700 I have a ZEIKOS, and for my D800 I just recently bought a Phottix. Both work great, look and feel solid and do exactly what I need them to do. And that for about 1/5th of the price. Nikon can stick their battery packs …. well… never mind.

Shutter button focus or back focus?
I don’t think that’s a matter of “I guess”. This is -to me, at least- a no-brainer. If you’re an enthousiast (or worse, a pro) photographer, you’re shooting daily, you’re focusing by pressing the shutter button half way all the time and you’re NOT annoyed at least every time you press the shutter, you are either the most patient, agreeable and forgiving person in the world, or there’s something wrong with you. When I started photographing, looong time ago, in a previous Life, I started with my dad’s old Mamiya. It was a full manual. When I bought my first SLR camera with auto-focus, it came with that shutter-button-half-way-press-focus-thingy. And it annoyed the crap out of me already from the start. And that was the time that you couldn’t switch it off yet. You just had to live with it, or -like I did most of the time- switch back to full manual.
I get it that the manufacturers put it on the consumer cameras. If you don’t know anything and you just make snaps of your kids or your holiday it works just fine. But why they put the function on pro-sumer and pro bodies is completely beyond me.
Do yourself a favor, scroll through the menu, switch off the focusing on the shutter button and start focusing with your thumb on the back of your camera body with the AF-ON button.

Menu A5 on a Nikon D700 (A4 on a Nikon D800, A6 on a Nikon D200) will give you the choice to set focusing on the shutter button AND the AF-ON button or on the AF-ON button only

Menu A5 on a Nikon D700 (A4 on a Nikon D800, A6 on a Nikon D200) will give you the choice to set focusing on the shutter button AND the AF-ON button or on the AF-ON button only

The AF-ON focus button on the back of a D700/D800

The AF-ON focus button on the back of a D700/D800

The most annoying thing about the shutter button focus is that you have to focus every single frigging frame (unless you want to keep the AF-L button pressed with your thumb, in which case you can just as well use the AF-ON button), even if you don’t change position or composition. It just is that way. You press the shutter half way, you focus, you press the shutter all the way, you take the picture. You let the shutter go and you have to go through the whole process again. In “normal” circumstances you can’t take a picture without having to (re-)focus, because you will always press the shutter half way on your way to taking a picture by pressing the shutter all the way – if you get my drift. When you use the AF-ON button to focus, you need to focus only once and you can take as many pictures you want of the same subject without having to re-focus. It saves time, battery power, frustration, head-ache and finger-power (do you know how many muscles you use in your fingers when you have to keep that damn button pressed half way until you lock focus? – I don’t either).

Some cameras won’t let you take a picture unless you lock-on focus. Truth be told, one could wonder why you want to take an out-of-focus image, but hey… if you need to take a quick picture (imagine Kate topless or something) and focus isn’t the first priority, you can’t be stuck with having to search focus, because your half-way pressed shutter and not-yet-locked-focus is preventing you from taking that money-shot.

Should you use the method of focusing on a scene and then recomposing it to get your subject in a different position in the frame (a little bit about that further down this post!), it’s also easier to use the AF-ON button. Sure, you can use the AF-L button, but then first you have press that wretched shutter button half way down to focus, then fiddle your thumb to the AF-L button -which, at least on the Nikon body, sits just about half a centimeter too far to the left to comfortably do that (and I have long fingers!)- without letting go of the shutter and losing your focus or having to refocus, recompose your frame and then press the shutter all the way… As opposed to press the AF-ON button to focus your scene, let go of the button, recompose the scene, press the shutter. Doesn’t that sound just so much more relaxed?

And then there’s of course the people who shoot moving subjects. Have you tried shooting a burst of shots, following the moving subjects and keeping focus on while your subject moves a bit out of the focus area you set while pressing the shutter button half way? You’re screwed, I tell you. It’s impossible.
The beauty of the AF-ON button is, that you can keep it pressed while you follow your subject and you keep the focus locked on your subject while it moves towards you or away from you. That may not work exactly 100% if your subject moves with a speed your camera can’t keep up with, but typically it works very well.
For this you do need to check another little setting on your camera:

Focus settings button on the D700/D800: C = continuous, S = single, M = manual

Focus settings button on the D700/D800: C = continuous, S = single, M = manual

Set your camera on C for continuous servo, meaning it will keep on focusing on the selected focus point as long as you press the AF-ON button (or the shutter button). It’s said to use this setting only for sports and actions, but I have it set like this all the time. You never know when you land in a situation where things go quick, and it doesn’t otherwise make any difference.

Recomposing a shot
I shortly mentioned this earlier.
Many people use this method to make their pictures. They don’t use the moving focus points, but they have the focus set in the center of the view finder. They focus on a subject, keep the shutter button half way pressed to “keep the focus locked” and recompose the shot to, for example, abide by the rules of thirds. Or another method, they focus on a subject, use the AF-L (focus lock) to “lock on the subject” and recompose the shot.
But here’s the thing:
There’s a general misconception about focus locking. Most people think that when you lock focus, focus is locked on the subject. That’s not true. When you lock focus, you lock focus on the location where your subject is/was when you locked on. If you recompose by rotating your camera or body slightly away from the subject to put it in a third of the frame you change the distance from your camera to the subject and thus you change the focusing distance. This means that, however slightly, your subject is no longer in focus.
Below is a (very crude) drawing of what exactly happens when you recompose an image. The green and the red line are equally long, showing that the distance from the lens to the subject has increased slightly after recomposing the image.

When you recompose an image after focusing and rotate the camera (or your full body) slightly to get the right framing, the distance between lens and subject increases, and thus -however slightly- throwing the subject out of focus.

When you recompose an image after focusing and rotate the camera (or your full body) slightly to get the right framing, the distance between lens and subject increases, and thus -however slightly- throwing the subject out of focus.

Most people probably won’t even notice it and of course this theory is subject to a lot of variables, but if you’re critical about your focus, it’s best to move around the focus point in your viewfinder and compose with the focus points on the subject in the composition you want, and not recompose.

Always interested in hearing other people’s opinions.
Share what you think!

I remember when I started being serious about photography (quite some time ago already) there were a couple of things that I had to re-read in order to understand the technique behind it. DoF, Depth of Field that is, was one of them. I thought I could do a little write up about it including an example of DoF with different aperture settings.

So what is Depth of Field, really?
If you google the term a recurring definition you’ll find is “the amount of distance between the nearest and farthest objects that appear in acceptably sharp focus in a photograph”. That doesn’t tell you much, does it? It didn’t tell me much back in the day when I had to look it up in a book (you know, those rectangular shaped things with this funny stuff called paper inside on which text and pictures are printed πŸ˜‰ ).
What this definition told me was that it had something to do with the distance between the objects in your picture. It does, kind of, but that’s not really the point.
For me DoF bluntly means: part of your image is in focus and the rest is not in focus. And it’s done on purpose πŸ˜‰ The more blurred or out of focus the picture is, and the less of your designated object is in focus, the narrower (or shallower, or smaller, these are all terms used to indicate) the DoF.

Many things can affect the DoF, but the the DoF is mainly controlled by the aperture setting on your camera.
That was another thing that I just couldn’t remember: the larger the aperture, as in the smaller the number indicated for the F-stop, the larger the hole in your lens through which light is let through to the sensor. So larger aperture – smaller F number – larger opening in the lens to let light through. Without this getting completely technical, I’m trying to keep it simple, let’s suffice with saying that things with a small aperture are more in focus because the rays of light that are coming into your lens are less diffused, scattered if you will, by the small hole in the lens before they reach the sensor. The bigger hole with the later aperture allows for the rays to basically go all over the place and thus can’t create the sharp image on the sensor.

Do note that if you change the aperture, you will have to equally adjust the exposure time. A picture taken with f/8 and 1/500 sec exposure time will render the same result in terms of exposure as a picture taken with f/11 and 1/250 sec exposure time. If you stop down the aperture with one stop, you’ll have to open up the exposure time with one stop and vice versa.

Below is a series of images in which you can see what happens when you start with a large aperture and end with a small aperture.

Example of how DoF works

From top left to top right the camera settings were:

1/15 sec @ f/3.5; 1/15 sec @ f/4.8 (I didn’t adjust the exposure time, which shows in the image: it’s slightly darker than the first one); 1/8 sec @ f/6.7; 1/4 sec @ f/9.5;

From bottom left to bottom right the camera settings were:

1/2 sec @ f/13; 1 sec @ f/19; 2 sec @ f/27; 4 sec @ f/38.

I can never get enough from cross-processing images (or HDR images, for that matter). I’ve done a focus-stacking mini-tutorial before, and I know there’s only so many times you can do a tutorial, so I won’t explain everything in detail again, but I still wanted to show this example with another subject/object than a flower.

A week or so ago I posted some pictures of a water tap with a droplet falling. I took a good number of shots, and I thought it’d be a nice one to do a focus stacking with. The nice thing about that image -I think- was the narrow DoF, and that was at the same time the pain in the ass, because it made focusing really critical. Since with a subject like this it’s impossible to get everything in focus in one shot, I took a series of shots and put them together in Photoshop (CS6, I upgraded! And loving it! πŸ™‚ ).

Here are the originals:

Focus stacking originals

D800, ISO1600-ISO3200, 1/350 sec @ f/3.8-4.5, Tamron 90mm macro, 2x off-camera SB-800

I messed around with it a bit. Typically you *should* keep the settings the same and just refocus (and basically the whole thing is underexposed with 1,5-2 stops, but well… New camera, great low-light performance, etc. etc. Need to do some testing every now and again.

Brought them all into Photoshop and after it (the focus stacking) and I (the necessary exposure, contrast and color adjustments) did the work, the layer palette looked like this:

Layer palette for focus stacking

The layer palette in Photoshop CS6

And the final result; quite a bit different, I can say, isn’t it?

Focus stacking mini tutorial

The end result after all the hard work

Or your jpgs, of course, although if you have a sky as in my original image, there will be no detail left in your jpg.
The discussion raw vs jpg has been beaten to death. Many times over.
“Jpgs look a lot better when they come out of camera!” Of course they do. They are processes IN-camera with either the default settings from when you bought the camera, or the customized settings that you entered. Raw images always look flat and boring when they come out of the camera, because you’re looking at unprocessed data. YOU need to do the post processing, and here’s the good thing: you get to control what’s happening πŸ˜‰
In any case, fact is: raw files contain more data to recover than jpgs, so if you have the time to fuss around in post-processing,Β then do shoot in raw. If your end-goal doesn’t require high resolution and/or high detailed material, and you don’t have too much time on your hands to spend post-processing, you’re better off shooting jpg. Or if you have money to burn on memory cards, shoot both, so you can have the goodies of both worlds.

Street in Tallinn, Estonia

D700, ISO200, 1/125 sec @ f/8, Nikkor 50mm

The above is the originals. Yes, IS the originals, it’s only one file. It’s a fake HDR, basically. The left image is the original exposure @ 1/125 sec. The right one is the one where I pulled down the exposure slider in Lightroom almost all the way to zero. That gave me just enough detail in the sky to work with (try that with a jpg! πŸ˜‰ ).

I opened both instances in Photoshop and copied the right one onto a new layer.

Photoshop layer palette screenshot

Photoshop layer palette screenshot

First two adjustment layers are to make the sky blue. The rest is for bringing out the colors in the walls and roof of the buildings. The last -curves- adjustment layer is for the street. The top layer was added to straighten the buildings.

Street in Tallinn, Estonia

The end result after the Photoshop work is done.

Following the previous post about Norway I have a few more examples of the boat. Approach was the same as in the previous post.

Boat wreck originals

This image was combined out of three exposures.
Left, exposed for the foreground: D700, ISO200, 1/125 sec @ f/11, Nikkor 14-24mm.
Middle, exposed for the boat: D700, ISO200, 1/350 sec @ f/11, Nikkor 14-24mm.
Right, exposed for the sky: D700, ISO200, 1/750 sec @ f/11, Nikkor 14-24mm.

I’m sure I would’ve been fine with just two exposures for this one. There’s enough detail in the RAW file to bring out the foreground sufficiently from the middle exposure, but owwell… This worked out just fine, too.
And the end result:

Boat wreck end result

The end result after all the work is done.

And the same for a detail of the boat.

Boat wreck detail originals

Two exposures here.
Left exposed for the sky: D700, ISO200, 1/750 sec @ f/8, Nikkor 50mm.
Right exposed for the wood: D700, ISO200, 1/250 sec @ f/8, Nikkor 50mm.

And the end result:

Boat wreck detail

The end result

It’s been quiet for awhile. I’ve been on the road a lot, and busy with a whole bunch of things.
The past days mainly processing images from a trip with a good friend of mine to Norway to shoot the Northern Lights. This post is not about that, I haven’t finished processing the images, yet. In the next few days I will, and then I’ll make some posts about that.

I’ve been going on about HDR and cross-processing in the past, and the picture below is a bit of a cross between the two.
It was shot in Norway, near Hella in the Troms area, just south-west of TromΓΈ. Beautiful area and very nice people. It required us to cross private land. When we drove past the property we ran into (not literally πŸ˜‰ ) a guy taking a walk and we inquired about it. He said “Oh, no problem. Just go. People here don’t mind so much. I haven’t spoken to the owner in awhile, I guess I can stop by and have a talk with him, tell him that you guys are good guys.”

And so we parked our car on the property and strolled around there for almost two hours.

It really IS nice to get out of a town where people are so private that they (really, this happened to me for real, in the elevator in Helsinki’s Stockmann) turn their back to you not to have to face you, look at you or -god, beware- nod a friendly good-day to you.

Anyway… A whole bunch of pictures, it’s not really a tutorial, but it kind of shows in a few steps what I did.

Boat wreck originals

The two images from which the end result is built up.
Left exposed for the boat and foreground: D700, ISO200, 1/60 sec @ f/11, Nikkor 14-24mm.
Right the image exposed for the sky: D700, ISO200, 1/500 sec @ f/11, Nikkor 14-24mm.

The screenshot of the canvas in Photoshop looks like this:

Screenshot of the Photoshop canvas

Screenshot of the Photoshop canvas with the layer palette showing all the adjustment layers with masks.

I’m very anal about my images, and I hate it when I see halos around my images when I produce HDRs. I’m sure there’s software that can do it quicker than I can do it by hand, but it took me just over an hour to mask out the boat perfectly. A small, hard brush to draw the perfect outline around the object and then filling it in with a big brush or the selection tool to make the perfect mask so you don’t see a halo in the sky or dark lines around the edges. The foreground with the sand and sea weed wasn’t as critical as the sky, luckily, otherwise it would’ve taken probably twice as long.
The basic mask, which I used for the rest of the masks, looks like this:

Photoshop mask for the wreck

It may look like a simple shape, and it is, but with HDRs and different exposures the mask has to be very precise to prevent halos or dark edges to show up in the areas where the two exposures merge.

And the end result, after all the work is done:

Old ship wreck lying tilted on a shore at low tide

The end result, after all the tweaking, masking and color correcting


I found another good “victim” for the cross-processing.

Cross-processing a door

D700, ISO200, 1/180 sec @ f/4, Nikkor 50mm

Then into Photoshop:

Screenshot of Photoshop

Four different Hue/Saturation layers with different blending modes...

… gives us this end result:

Cross-processing in Photoshop

The end result after cross-processing

There WERE also flowers, of course…

I had a go with the focus stacking in CS5. Works actually surprisingly well, I must say.
The procedure:
1) shoot a number of pictures with different focus points (keep aperture and exposure the same in all images)

Focus stacking images

All 6 images D700, ISO200, 1/250 sec @ f/8, Tamron 90mm macro

2) open images in Photoshop
3) Go to File -> Automate -> Photomerge
4) The window below will appear without the red circles (they are points of attention) and without the filenames in the middle column, but WITH the box “Blend images together” checked by default. That last one is the one you want to uncheck, because you don’t want Photoshop to flatten your image, yet, in case you want to do some adjustments yourself. Click “Add open files” to add the files you opened into the middle column. If you have more files open than the focus stacking requires, you can select and remove them from the list with the remove button.

Photomerge window in PS CS5

Photomerge window in Photoshop CS5

5) Click OK and Photoshop goes to work to put all your separate files together in one layered file.
6) Select all the layers from the layer palette and go to Edit -> Auto Blend Layers. The window below will pop up. Stack images is the default selected, and all you need to do here is…

Focus stacking screenshot

Stack images

7) click OK and Photoshop will go to work for you once again to figure out all the sharp parts in all the layers. It’s quite effective, and at least with the images I tried pretty accurate. After the work you will see something like this in your palette layer, except for the Layer 1 and Layer 2. Those I added afterward for some minor adjustments from my part still (which is why you don’t want Photoshop to blend layers together all the way in the beginning!)

Focus stacking layer palette

The layer structure after Photoshop has processed the images

The end result in my case was this:

Focus stacking

The end result after all the hard labor is done