Category Archives: Instruction

Gallery Show

After moving from Houston to Abilene I started looking for a way to connect with other photographers in the area and ended up joining the West Texas Photographic Society. This group has been around for decades and has monthly meetings that alternate between instruction and photography contests.

They also have an annual show at the Abilene Center for Contemporary Arts. This year that show started on October 11 and will hang until the end of November. I was lucky enough to join just in time to be part of this show. Any member’s work can be part of the show. Many of the photographer members didn’t think they had work worthy of it. Of those who did, it was their best work. Each member can display up to 6 images in the show.

It was an amazing experience to see my work hanging on the walls of a museum*.

I’m going to write a couple of posts on different ways to look at your work, but picking the 6 images you want to hang in an art show is an experience that really helps you think about your work.

For one thing, I didn’t put my six best images. Instead I tried to pick a theme for my images and selected my best work in that theme. Which meant some of the images I consider my best I didn’t use because they didn’t fit the theme.

I actually couldn’t pick six images in one theme and of sufficient quality. Instead I picked two sets of 3 in two different themes: “Girls with Guns” and “Fantasy”.

You give the gallery the images and they hang them. So you aren’t guaranteed to have them grouped like you expect. In my case they seem to have done it more by shape – grouping the verticals and the horizontals – than by content. Something to think about if you are in this situation.

I also learned how to stack my framed images so the hangers don’t scratch the frames, but not before I’d already done it. Good thing I picked black frames so I could fill in the scratches with a sharpie.

This just goes to show, when you get into photography you never know where you will end up.

* Is the ACCA a museum or art gallery? I’m not sure. I’ve always thought of it as a museum, but google maps says it is an art gallery, and if good says it is must be true right?

How To Make Ray Gun Beams

I recently did a Space Girl photoshoot with model Annabell Bella and thought I’d share a Photoshop technique that I used.

It was based on this YouTube video, but modified for my application.

Here’s the final product:

Here’s where I started:

I did all of my normal retouching on the model part off it, but then I wanted the ray guns to actually be shooting something.I wasn’t going for realistic, but rather a retro Sci Fi look like Flash Gordon or Barbarella, with a little Steampunk influence.

Create a New Layer. I tried to keep this as non-destructive as possible.
Select and configure the gradient tool – Open gradient config by clicking on the gradient in the top tool bar.
— Switch type to Noise
— Hit Randomize until you get a gradient with different tones.
— Click OK
Holding the shift key down and drag from top to bottom of the canvas. This will create a gradient with lots of horizontal lines of color.
Desaturate the whole layer. Cmd-Opt-U. Now all those lines are shades of gray.
Hit Cmd-T (Free Transform)
— Grab the top middle handle, hold the shift and options keys down and drag down.
— The gradient will compress into the center. Make it the widest size of the beam.
Using Free Transform, make it the length you need.
You can save after this as it is still horizontal. Just duplicate the layer and hide one of them. Now you can used this layer to do similar beams later.
Move the beam into place

Select Perspective, by control/right clicking while in Free Transform
— Move the corners at the barrel so they line up with 2 points on the gun.
— Narrow the other end of the beam
Select Warp, again by control/right clicking while in Free Transform
— Shape the barrel end to cover the circular opening of the barrel.
— Put a little curve/narrowing in the beam to look cool.
— Done with transform, click the check box

Duplicate your beam layer.
Double the side of your beam layer copy. Select Free Transform again and enter 200% in the H & W Fields

Blur the heck out of the big beam. Blur->Gaussian Blur at 100 px. The bigger beam with almost disappear.
This is your glow. It may not be exactly where you want it. Feel free to move it around to make it right.

Make a new layer.
Select the brush tool and pick a brush size about 2x your beam size.
Now pick three or four colors and just draw over sections of the big beam in your new layer. Move from the barrel to the end of the beam making little patches of color all the way down.

Now – with the color layer selected – do Gaussian Blur. 100 will probably work, but you can mess with it.

The beam glow may look a little weak. Try duplicating the layer so you have two color layers on top of each other. Try setting the new layer to Overlay or one of the other transfer modes to get some different color and intensities. You may need more than one layer to get the effect you want.

If you now have multiple color layers, you may want to collapse them into one.
Once you have the beam covered in colors, duplicate your color layer. Move your new color layer over the small beam layer.
You now have
color 1
big beam
color 2
small beam

Put your cursor on the line between the top two layers and hold down the option key. Click on the line and the color will be mask to the layer below it.
Repeat for the small beam.

Once your color layers are masked/attached to the beam layers, set their layer mode to Color. Now your lines are back in your beam.

You should now have a glowy beam.

This is just one way to do it and it may not be the look you are going for. Here’s some things you can mess with and tweek try to get a cool beam.
If the lines in the beam from the small beam are too distinct try doing a radial blur down the beam to get a better look.
Change the opacity of the blurred beam so it isn’t 100 percent. You can also change its size.

Editing Starts in Preproduction with Digital Video

I’ve been shooting a lot of digital video with my D7000. Maybe more than I’ve been shooting stills, but very little of it has ended up actually finished.

Right now I have footage from a wedding I attended months ago, footage of shoes I made for a trailer concept shot before the wedding, and interviews I recorded two weeks ago at a photography worksop.

I like the footage. The shoes stuff has some interesting angles and camera movements. The wedding stuff shows of what you can do with a DSLR. The interviews are very pretty.

All of it is important to me. Shoes stuff was a new website I wanted to do. Wedding are good friends of the family. Interviews are related to someone I’d like to work with.

So why is the only thing I’ve published this 2 minute video about how to make Ramen Noodles?

Because when I load all the other project’s footage into Final Cut and start looking at it, I’m lost about where to start.

All the footage is there, and it looks nice, but I don’t know what order to put things in. There may or may not be everything I need. So I get a feeling of overwhelm and move on to something I can do right now.

What made this Ramen Noodle video different so I get it done in a week?

Because I preplanned it and actually shot what I needed knowing how I would use it.

Preproduction make editing so much easier. I could lay down the footage quickly. I knew what to cut and what to use. Then it was on to other things, like audio and titles.

Doing titles took the most time, but even that wasn’t that much time. I had figure out how to do some stuff which meant moving to Motion and figuring it out, which slowed me down. (BTW: I still prefer After Effects to Motion, but the Motion integration is so easy)

Then it was done and I could figure out how to do the uploading right. All the video formats and uploading methods are just complicated. It is the most confusing part of the process and no one has made it easy, not even Apple.

In the beginning of any new endeavor you have a lot to learn. Those learning moments are going to take some time. Preplanning – wether of a video or a photoshoot – is something you can do to make things go smoother.

In the future I’ll make behind the scenes how to stuff to give y’all some learn’n.

3 Reasons Your Images Are Soft

A friend and new model photographer called me the other day after shooting an event and wondered why his images looked soft. He’d shot with a number of different cameras and lenses, but his images still looked soft to him. While I diagnosed his problem I went through a few reasons this might be.

#1 Your Focus is Off

Jack Sparrow And Compass
Jack Doesn't Like Soft Images

Of course the image couple be out of focus. Could be the auto-focus missed your model and focused on something else. This is kind of obvious and probably isn’t a problem you’d be asking about.

The subtler issue is how depth of field and aperture affect softness. If you are using a wide open aperture – a low number – you get a very narrow area that is in focus. In this case your image might look soft because not all of it is in focus.

#2 It Is Really Motion Blur

In these days of Photoshop, we often think motion blur is just an effect, but it is also what happens when your model, or your camera moves while the shutter is open. We also often miss this when looking at the back of the camera because that image is so small and low rez motion doesn’t show up. But if you zoom in you’ll see it.

Look at the eyes. Do you see more than one? Or a ghost image next to the other one? That’s motion blur.

Fix this by using a faster shutter speed. To avoid camera movement causing motion blur, the rule of thumb is your shutter speed should be higher than the length of your lens. And don’t forget the crop factor of non-full frame sensor.

For example, when I shoot with my 70-200 lens zoomed all the way in, my shutter should be at least 300. That lens happens to be a Nikon VR lens, so I don’t really have to be 300, but that’s the basic calculation.

#3 You Should Have Shot RAW

Friends don’t let friends shoot JPEG.

Given a lot of our images are going on the web, at some point we need to make a compressed image – normally this is JPEG. Compressing these images takes some processing power. You could do this compression on the little CPU in your camera, or you could do it on the multi-core desktop computer you use for post processing your images. Guess which one is better?

With RAW on most cameras you also get at least 14bits of data, and that gets cut down to 8bits of data in the JPEG. That’s data that is just gone.

In the end this was my friend’s problem: when he opened some images in Lightroom that had been shot RAW, they were as sharp as can be.

Digital images are naturally a little soft. As a matter of fact if you look at a RAW image Lightroom before you make any changes, it will already have some sharpening done to it because Adobe knows the image is softer than it should be. But in reality you shouldn’t notice this softness.

When you notice softness and you didn’t plan for it (for instance using a big light source) there is generally something wrong. Hopefully you can figure out what it is using these three criteria.

Composition – Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a classic rule for composition. In the shortest form, it says you should place things in your frame where they intersect the lines dividing the frame into thirds. Using this kind of goes back to getting your subject out of the center of the frame. The rule of thirds gives us a guide to where to put them.

You should put your vertical subjects along the line between the center third and the side third. Doesn’t matter if it is on the left or the right side. It should be on the “third” line.

If your model fills the frame, then put her eyes on this third line. If you can put them on both the vertical and horizontal third line.

For example in this image of Amanda her face is right on that line. Yes, there is a lot of empty space in the image, but your eye goes right to her. The image is dramatic and it has an artistic feel to it.

Once again we can use the nine square grid on our camera to find this point. You don’t have to be super strict about getting it right on the cross point, but pay attention and use it well.

Composition – Get Close

Yesterday I mentioned putting the subject in the center of the image was bad and one of the most common mistakes I see in new shooters. Another common mistake I see is not getting close enough to the subject. There are two ways this is wrong, one I think of as a mistake and the other a matter of style.

Click for full size.

When Being To Far Away is a Mistake

The mistake is to leave a ton of empty space all around your subject. You see this all of the time with amateurs on their point and shoots. You look at the image and there is a tiny little person in the center bottom of the picture and all kinds of sky or background stuff in the rest of the frame.

Why do they do this? I think it is because our brains see too well. They are focused mentally on the subject and think they are bigger than they really are. In their mind all they see is the subject and not what’s around them. They maybe worried about other things, like making sure they get all of the subject in the frame, or showing some background for context. But their brains blow up how much of the subject is there.

That’s a mistake, one you can correct by thinking about the edge of the frame. The easiest way to do this is to consciously run your eye around the edge of the frame in your viewfinder. See what is actually there. If while doing this you aren’t seeing much of your model, you may be too far from them.

This also helps with chopping parts off. If you see part of your model – an arm or leg – leaving the frame you get a chance to consciously think if that is a good thing or not.

After you do this for a few images in a couple of shoots it will become unconscious. Once you realize it is a problem, it often stops being one, because as Shawn likes to say, “Knowing is half the battle.”

The Matter of Style

One of the criticism I get of some of my head shots is they cut off part of the subject’s head. Like this one of Janet.

OMG! I cut off her head on the right side of the frame! That’s against the rules.

Screw the rules I’m an artist.

Kidding aside, it is a stylistic choice and I think that part of her head isn’t as important as the shoulder and smile in this image. If you look back through the images on the blog you’ll find I do this alot.

Getting close adds intensity to the image. Think about physically being closer to another person. Isn’t it more intense to have your eyes inches from the face of a beautiful woman? Well that’s how our brains interpret photographs as well. The closer the more intense.

One of my favorite images from this year is the one at the top of the post. It is close, really close. And I cut off part of her head, but it makes you feel like you are coming over her shoulder and she’s just turning to meet you.

Composition – Stay Out Of The Middle

You know what the most common problem I see in new shooters? They put the subject dead center in the frame.

Don’t do this. There is a no drama. The image is boring. There is no visual flow.

Let’s consider two different crops of the same image. First is Virginia’s rear end centered in the frame.
It’s an interesting shot. Virginia has a fine derrière. The lighting is dramatic from one side and creates a great curve. If that is all you saw, you’d think the image was OK.

Now lets try it how I shot it, with her in the left third of the image. Then I cropped into a film like aspect ratio to exaggerate the composition.

Virginia's Derrière Off Center

Suddenly the lines have a longer path and increase the movement of the eye. This in turn ups the overall drama of the shot and emphasizes the model, even though they aren’t in the center of the frame.

Here’s an exercise to try next time you are shooting. Most cameras have a grid in the view finder with 9 squares. Try and keep all or most of your model out of the center square. Just push them to one side or the other.

If you are close, you might just try and keep their head or eyes out of the center. See if that makes a difference in how the image feels.

Better yet, shoot it both ways and post the two images to the forum for others to see.

Lenses and Angle of View

Everyone is probably familiar with the idea of a wide angle lens showing more in the frame of your image, but do you think about the flip side?

What is a Wide Lens?

Ramona show at 28mm (42mm with CF)

The 50mm lens is generally considered to be the angle the human eye sees. At the very least it is considered to be the standard of what a photograph should take.

Anything less than 50mm in length is considered wide angle. Wide angle means you can see more in your frame, both left to right and top to bottom.

Anything over 50mm is a “narrow” lens. This is the flip side of the wide angle. As you lens gets longer – and there is much more room in the top end – the amount it sees becomes less and less. We often forget you are seeing less of the seen the longer your lens gets.

All of this assumes you are using a full frame sensor. In reality most DSLRs these days have a smaller sensor and hence a “crop factor”. Notice the term is crop factor? They are pointing out that making the lens longer is like cropping in the final image.

In general Nikon’s crop factor is 1.5 and Canon’s is 1.6. This means you take your lenses mm length and multiply it by that amount. So when you are shoot with a Nikon 50mm you are actually shooting with a 75mm lens. It also means 28mm, a fairly wide angle, is actually only 46mm.

How Does this Affect Model Photography?

Since the final image size is the same, but you are seeing more with a wide angle lens you get a stretch factor. For people photography this can make your subject look wider. This is more pronounced the nearer you come to the edge of the image.

Using a longer lens doesn’t exactly have the opposite effect – it doesn’t make your model narrower – but it does shorten things coming toward the camera. So it is generally more flattering. Compression influences this as well.

How do you use lens length to effect the final shot? Show us an example in the forums.

Long Lens Compression

When we thinking about long lenses verses short lenses, the first thing that comes to mind is how close we can get to the subject. Or really how far we can be from the subject while shooting.

Look at these two images, shot from the same location, one at 70mm and one at 200mm. See how different the same background looks?


But there are a couple of other important factors that come into play, which we often forget and don’t use to our advantage.

One of those things is compression. By compression I mean that a when you take an image with a longer lens, items look closer together front to back than they do with a shorter lens. This can be use to make things seem right next to each other when it might be dangerous to have them right next to each. For instance, they use this in film in car chases. By filming one car chasing another with a long lens the trailing car can be a safe distance from the front car, but look like it is right on top of them.

You can see how this could be used in model photography. Say you wanted a model and a dangerous animal in the same image. Well if you used a long lens she could be a safe distance from the animal, but still looks like it was right behind her.

This is also related to how a long lens has a wider/long area that is in focus. With say a macro lens at 35mm, the area in focus is less than an inch at a 2.8f stop. On a 200mm lens that same 2.8f will put a foot in focus. This lets you have your whole subject in focus, but everything else blurry.

Long lenses just look different, and understanding why helps you use them well. Next we’ll talk about angle of view and long lenses.

Creating 3D

How do humans perceive three dimensions? The first thing that comes to mind is we have two eyes. We see slightly different images in each and then our brains munge them together and we get 3D in our minds. And the only way a photographer can create that same thing is with special cameras and weird glasses.

But there are lots of other ways our minds perceive three dimensions, most of which can be seen in a 2D photograph.

Close Things Block Far Things

This one may seem obvious, but it is worth mentioning. If something is closer to the camera, it may block something further away. Something in the foreground can block the subject. The subject can block the background.

Things Closer To The Camera Are Bigger

And conversely things further away are smaller. So big things are thought to be closer to us, which makes for some cool perspective tricks, but something you can to your advantage. Using the Hollis rifle image above, the barrel of the gun is very big, way bigger than in reality. That is because it is closer to the camera. Since our brains know she’s not holding a howitzer, we know it is closer to the camera. Actually very close.

Keep the bigger closer, smaller further thing in your head when model parts are coming at you in a photograph. If you’ve got a subject/model that might be a little big in the middle, don’t put her stomach close to the camera. This is the big chicks love the MySpace angle, the big parts are far away and the face is up close.

Depth of Field Tells Us Something

If something is fuzzy and doesn’t block the subject, the eye thinks – rightly – it is further away than the subject. If it is fuzzy and blocks the subject, then it is in front of the subject. This is caused by Depth of Field. Only somethings are in focus. Where we focus our eyes. Our brain uses this information to map the location of things in our view.

Our brains are amazing things and really use all of these things and more in combination to create three dimensional maps in our head. You need to be conscious of them and use them to your advantage.

Do you have images that look particularly 3D you’d like to share? Post them in the forum.