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26/03/2015 - 3:12 PM

Pipe, risk, pestle.

Pipe, risk, pestle.The classic way to light a set up like this is to have a large softbox above, slightly behind the subject but angled slightly toward the camera, and a large white reflector in front to get rid of the shadows. That has the added benefit of cleaning up the reflections and highlights on shiny subjects.

The other question is, why? I'm guessing you're just playing around with lighting, but to be strong, a still life needs coherence. The subjects should have a commonality, or something to bind them together, but here there are just three disparate elements. You need to think how the various elements relate to one another, but the good thing is that they are repeatable. Making notes is good, so you can go back to a set up and tweak it, plus you save time when starting a similar set up in the future, leaving you more time to concentrate on composition etc.

Otherwise, tech details are covered above.

Keep tweaking!

18/03/2015 - 9:48 AM


CarboniteYou could use a graduated filter over the projection lens to reduce intensity over part of the image.

17/03/2015 - 5:29 PM

Starry night

Starry nightCould you see the Milky Way with the naked eye? If no, not clearly, then you'll struggle to capture it on one frame. Better to use stacking software and shoot multiple images, to increase your signal-noise ratio.
The best way to do night white balance is to turn the saturation right up. Adjust wb so it's as neutral as possible, then turn saturation back down to suit.
As it stands, it's a nice image, but the Milky Way would have made all the difference. Really though, you need it to be as dark as possible for the best results. You can see the glows from several light sources spoiling the darkness.

I'd also like to know where you shot this, where it's this dark at 10 in the morning. Is this the right exif for this shot?

17/03/2015 - 5:18 PM


HollieThe first thing that springs to mind is how dark it is. Almost like the flash didn't fire and ambient was the only light recorded. I see this as a much more high key image, but if you wanted shadows, you at least need some highlights to counterpoint them, otherwise why use a white background?. There just isn't enough light here and it isn't really directional enough IMHO. Remember, the white set will act as a huge reflector, which is ok with flash, but much lower ambient light levels require more careful placing of the light source.

The second is that you've only just got her feet in. A slightly wider angle will give you more options later on, and here you would have had space around her to crop how you wanted, had you just zoomed out a little.

Thirdly, it's great to have a model that is willing to pose and experiment with you. A bonus is that she has a good body and smooth skin, which you really need to make the most of. If you look at where she's bending, there are ugly creases forming (neck, armpit, waist). These are easily got rid of by gently stretching that part - not enough to change the pose, but it's a muscular thing that you can feel rather than see. Small changes make a lot of difference, though they can be hard to spot sometimes, and the end result is what separates everyday shots from something special. If Hollie's willing to pose again, just try tweaking small differences - the devil is in the detail.

Mostly though, I think it needs lightening considerably.

26/02/2015 - 4:33 PM

Flash forward

Flash forwardSeveral things are not so apparent when using flash off camera.

Using speedlights on ttl, or any kind of auto mode, they will try to expose as a mid grey, even if the camera itself is on manual. The lights don't know you want the background white, or that you want the image fairly high key, therefore you need to add a little extra power/exposure to ensure that it is.
Already pointed out, this is underexposed, which if corrected would help your immediate problem.
You can look at the histogram, but it won't tell you much in the studio. There, it's more about the quality, direction and management of the light. A good high key image will have a histogram bunched to the right, which ordinarily would indicate overexposure, but here it's more about having the light where you want it, not the overall amount.

The flashgun's guide number will give you an approximation of your settings. It's usually expressed as GN xx meters at ISO 100. Divide the guide number by the distance the flashgun is from the subject (not the camera if the flash isn't sitting on top of it), and this will give the aperture you need at the stated ISO. Eg a gun with a GN of 40m/ISO 100 will need f/8 for a subject 5m away, at full power, at ISO 100. The shutter speed will be at or just below the sync speed, usually 1/125 or 1/250. Using 1/60 or 1/125 should be fine unless you're wanting high speed sync flash, which is a whole new ball game. Otherwise, shutter speed has no effect on flash exposure, only on ambient light. Thus if the shutter speed is too slow, you will get ambient light affecting the exposure and maybe adding light where you don't want it.
Lowering the gun's power is simple maths for closer in work or when the light is too bright.

Speed lights are effectively point sources of light. They give harsh directional light unless you modify it. You've bounced the light and tried to soften it, but it's still fairly directional. You could try buying/making a softbox, or even fabricating a screen between the light and subject will soften it enough...you could try stapling some white tracing paper to a frame, or an off cut of thick net curtain or thin white fabric...you get the idea. Large clip frames are useful..you can stick white paper and foil on either side of the board, and tracing paper to the Perspex to make both a screen and a reflector. Which brings me on to....

Use reflectors to bounce light around when you need high key lighting. A decent reflector closer to the flowers would have helped bounce more light in to the front of the flowers, maybe even a moderately sized mirror (mirrored craft card is very useful, as is tinfoil).

When setting up lights, do it one at a time, ensuring correct exposure for each in turn before combining them. To get a good white background, you need to expose it 1-2 stops over, any less it will be grey, any more and you'll get "bleed round" on the subject and probably flare.
Better to use the lights fully manual if you can, then you'll know the camera/flash isn't thinking for you and changing the exposure. You can alter the light power by moving it further away as well as by adjusting the output.
Don't over complicate it. If you only need one light, use one light. Don't feel you need more because you have them, but consider reflectors and light modifiers. The bigger the softbox/screen, the softer the light, but it needs to be quite close to the subject for maximum effect.

There is a lot you can make for the studio that is free/cheap/fun to do. You don't need to spend big bucks for effective kit.

One more....if you can connect the lights wirelessly, and use commander mode ttl (nikon), you can control most of it from the camera, including exposure compensation/flash compensation. It's a brilliant system once you work out how to use it.

07/12/2014 - 12:28 AM

Star Trails

Star TrailsNot quicker, but better, look at photo stacking software online. The inclusion of dark frames and flats increases the signal to noise ratio and cuts pretty much all sensor generated noise. I use Deep Sky Stacker (free) and there are lots of tutorials out there about its use and processing. Other stacking programs are available.

For me, the trails just need to be longer here.

05/11/2014 - 10:18 PM

Forth Bridge

Forth BridgeIt does...the end of the bridge!

You obviously wanted to have as broad a view of the bridge as you could cram in, so losing the near end is a bit of a faux pas. You could have moved slightly closer to the bridge and/or used a slightly wider setting. The exposure isn't far off, though you would get a little more colour in the sky and a brighter red if you'd added a little exposure.

At least you've got the bridge without scaffolding!

05/11/2014 - 7:19 PM

B&W sunflower

B&W sunflowerI also shoot film, in various formats, and have done for over 40 years. I now sometimes scan to digital, including large format. There is no real mystique to effective workflow, just experimentation and experience to know what works for you. There is plenty of information out there to use as a starting point, and a semi-decent scanner will easily suffice. A proper film scanner will always produce a better result than a flatbed, but it is eminently possible to produce a good black and white image from either.

If shooting with scanning in mind, I'd suggest not using a high contrast film, and stopping the development slightly early. Eg, I sometimes shoot 100 film, overexpose by 1/2 stop to 1 stop, then reduce the dev time by 10-15%. That opens up the shadows a little, yet keeps highlight detail. Funnily, that's the opposite of what I do for film printing.
When scanning, don't increase the contrast to get it appearing right, but add the contrast with curves adjustment layers later in Photoshop (or whatever you use). If you save it as a 16 bit tiff, you won't lose information when saving, like you will with a JPEG.

The most important thing though, is to be consistent, then you'll know what effect a small change has. You still need to shoot in appropriate light for your subject though, whether film or digital.

13/10/2014 - 10:40 PM

Hud Hud.

Hud Hud.A commendable effort to portray a stormy sky, but for me, the buildings are too dark, to the point any definition is lost. It perhaps masks the untidy foreground, but with a slightly brighter exposure you could have darkened the sky later.

Overall, just a bit too moody, but there should be detail in there to bring out with some careful work.

09/10/2014 - 12:43 AM


TRY AS I MIGHT....I'm not sure your exif is realistic...it says 1/100 at f/5.6 and ISO 100, with a +5 compensation. At that the moon would be a blown out white blob.

Remember that the sun is lighting the face of the moon, so a realistic exposure would be similar to one on earth during a sunny day. I'd suggest using manual mode, and starting around 1/125 or 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100 and forget the exposure compensation (which is meaningless in manual). Use your tripod, and either use a remote release, or the self timer, so you're not touching the camera at the point your shutter opens. This will help prevent shake. You can also lock your mirror up too. Better still, if hand holding, use a higher speed, upping the ISO if necessary to reduce the effect of shake. Rule of thumb is a shutter speed not lower than the reciprocal of the focal length, so for a 300 mm, you should have the shutter speed at least that, preferably 1/500 minimum. For critical work, and this shot will require some cropping, higher is better, especially as your camera will comfortably deal with high ISOs.

Using the lens in the middling apertures will give best performance, say between f/8 and f/11.

Focussing on the moon is essentially at infinity, however, most AF lenses focus past infinity, so if you manually just turn it all the way in the dark, you will go past the sharpest point of focus. You need to use a light to see when the infinity mark aligns. If using AF, focus on something like a light a long way away, then change to manual focus and don't move the control. I have had no problem with my AF finding the moon though, especially a fairly bright one.

Also, make sure you aren't shooting through a window, or there is something else for the AF to lock on to, which will cause focus to be in the wrong place.

So in summary, steady the camera as much as possible. Use similar exposure values to a sunny terrestrial day, remember it is daytime on the lit part of the moon! Ensure your focus is actually on the moon - you should be able to see that through the viewfinder. Try not to be touching the camera when the shutter trips. If you must hold it, set the ISO up to 800, 1200, 1600 to give you a high enough shutter speed.

24/08/2014 - 4:21 PM

Critique please.

Critique please.You definitely need a backdrop, especially for full length shots. Half length and head shots can be worked around, but distractions like the floor and uneven backgrounds affect the picture quite a lot, and it's not an environmental portrait!

If you have softboxes, they would give you better wrap round and less harsh shadows, plus moving the model away from the wall will help too. You could double diffuse flash heads and shoot through brollies.

Comparing to K4RLs shots, his light is softer and more even, and slightly higher. You need to diffuse your lights more, and perhaps get them closer to the model, or perhaps move your model closer to them. One effect of the hardness of the light, is the prominent shadow under her rib cage, which unfortunately isn't very flattering. I'm not convinced about the sharpening either, as her look is quite stark anyway, but that's more subjective, and I find the pose a bit clichÚd. However, it's often the case you need to run through the basics before the session really gets going, and there's nothing inherently bad about it. She looks a little detached, like she's saying "cheese" rather than interacting with you, but again, it might be the moment of the shot rather than the general feel of the session.

Studio work is less about the camera and mostly about details really, and tweaking the lighting and things like untidy hair will make all the difference, as will making it a dynamic process rather than a set of static poses.

23/08/2014 - 1:31 AM

The calm

The calmWhy shouldn't you? The sea horizon is a constant absolute reference, and if it is out of true, it makes the rest of the picture out as well.

I'm sorry to say, I think there may have been a picture here, but you haven't got it.
The horizon cutting through the centre of the picture effectively divides it into two, but in a way that is quite uninteresting, compositionally. The two halves are not exposed well enough, everything being over dark, and whilst I appreciate you wanting the sky brooding and stormy, it doesn't have any real drama to counterpoint the flat sea.

It would be interesting to see the original, but the b&w version is a bit flat and muddy, tonally. I'm not convinced you've got the most out of it in your conversion, but the lack of any subject makes the viewer search for something, shape, form, even localised contrast. Here it finds nothing.

Your camera settings are ok, though you don't need such a small aperture....most of the picture is effectively at or near infinity, but the shutter speed is high enough not to cause any major problems. I think part of the problem lies with the processing...it doesn't look like you've done much apart from convert and try to bump the contrast. To make anything out of this, more localised work is required, but really it needs drama: towering clouds, full of interesting shapes, and something small as a subject to emphasise the grandeur of a stormy sky.

The time of day is also a factor. Early or late, so the clouds are lit from the side or even underneath, will help define them, but the middle of the day is the worst time to shoot, and here the clouds just aren't lit well enough.

If you have the chance, I'd revisit, try to find better conditions and some subject to attract your attention. And I'd level the horizon.

29/06/2014 - 2:13 PM

Historical Hall

Historical HallIt's a step up from a record shot. You've obviously thought about how you are going to process it, and how you want it to appear, and the HDR is competently done, but not overdone like so many others.

Just a personal thing really, I don't like it being "just out" of square. Either square it up in post processing, or make it obviously distorted. Another way, is to get further away if possible to get the camera back vertical, but you may not have had room in there.

Here, with a classic view of the window, I think it deserves to be righted. Someone will come along with a mod before I get to it, but otherwise a pretty good shot.

18/06/2014 - 12:41 PM

Silky way

Silky wayWhatever your intentions with the sky, I'm afraid it just looks overexposed, and as a result, somewhat dull and uninteresting. The peak would look more imposing if it was exposed better, and most of this is due to the flat lighting. There is no real drama, nor majesty in it, and looking at your exif, the overexposure isn't deliberate, more a byproduct of the high dynamic range between the sky and the shadows.

This isn't 'high key'...for that you would need to lighten everything, including the shadows, making the scene predominantly pale and reducing the dynamic range. By making the grass dark and the sky white, you are effectively increasing the dynamic range, ie the opposite.

The foreground also looks so much sharper, if you wanted the peak to be the main subject, you'd be better making it the sharpest thing in the frame, unless the filter effect has affected it. I'd be wary of using effects for the sake of it, as they rarely improve an image unless you want a specific look.

Sorry, but I can't think of many occasions when a featureless white sky would look good in a landscape, and the person's shadow looks more like a mistake than deliberate. As above, a more recognisable shape would be better , but this scene would look so much better in more dramatic light.

20/05/2014 - 11:46 PM

Ignore The Cameras

Ignore The CamerasI'm going to have to disagree about the black and white, and in fact, about the figure contrasting with anything.
I like the idea, but the problem is that there is so much going on, and the wall is so bold, the guy gets a bit lost in the clutter. If he had been wearing bright clothes, he would have stood out, but as it is, my eyes wander around the frame looking for a definitive subject. He competes with the door, the lower window, the writing, the white square, the cameras and cables.....you get my point.

I tried cropping various ways, but none were really satisfactory, and I couldn't make the figure more prominent without losing what you saw in the scene in the first place.

The b&w mod still has the conflict between all the "different bold shapes", unfortunately there are too many. I think black and white can work well with this kind of image, but the boldness should be in the simplicity....paring down to basics to enable you to concentrate on a single subject, juxtaposition or composition. There is just too much detail to take in.

That said, there is a lot of street photography like this out there, and it's a perfectly valid shot, but you have to ask yourself what you are trying to say? What is the subject, the background, or the figure? It can't really be both.

04/05/2014 - 3:34 PM


EmilyA fairly standard pose, fairly well executed.

The shutter speed is not particularly important if you're using studio lights, as the brevity of the flash should freeze most motion, but it's the lighting which let's it down a little. The light on her near arm is way too bright, causing an almost posterised effect, whereas her hair is blending with the background. Unfortunately, the background is lit slightly and you can see different areas of tone, perhaps the edge of the backdrop?

Even if you want a dark feel, you still need to bring the model out of the background, usually by adding a small hairlight, or a reflector to add a very small amount of hair detail.
From the shadows, it looks like a large harsh light to the right at chest level, with a weaker fill to the left, and also the same height. The ratio is a bit too much, hence the blown arm in front, but nice shadows behind, so with this set up I'd suggest dropping the aperture to f/8-f/11, perhaps more. It's easier to tease out shadows than blown whites. You might also consider dropping the power of the key light by a stop too.

The background can be sorted in ps, but lighting more carefully should obviate the need. Just by turning the light away from it can make a big difference, especially with softboxes, and you also get to use the 'feather light' near the edge of the light's coverage, which is softer.

Little details are the key once you have the basics. Eg the creases in her skin behind her shoulder...easy to clone out, but that's one of the things that good models learn, to make the shapes but still keep the skin taut. It might feel slightly uncomfortable, but it looks better, especially around arms, shoulders and neck. Just by rolling her shoulder forwards slightly, those lines are eliminated, skin and material are stretched and the shoulders have a strong line across, rather than the slightly hunched shape you so often see.

Small details, but a good effort.

11/04/2014 - 8:40 PM

60007 Sir Nigel Gresley

60007 Sir Nigel GresleyI see what you mean, and I see that the composition I mentioned is what you wanted.

The main reason for blur here, is that you held the camera (fairly) still and allowed the train to pass through, while shooting. You can see the background much sharper than the train. A better way would be to follow the train at the same speed, shooting smoothly as you go whilst trying to keep the train in exactly the same place in the frame. That's panning, and you can practice it anywhere. Just use a slower shutter speed than you would normally use and shoot a moving subject, trying to keep as smooth as you can. With practice, it's not a problem to go down to as slow as 1/15, 1/8 or even slower with the right subject.

11/04/2014 - 7:03 PM

Megan in Catsuit

Megan in CatsuitTo me, the pose doesn't suggest disengagement, but a confident and perhaps feisty young girl.

The problem is not to use a more adult pose and potentially sexualise the image, which I think is pretty good considering limited space and a 28mm. There is a little evidence of her nearer arm being lots larger than the other, but the pose minimises this, and the direct look and slightly confrontational feel typifies teenagers doing their own thing.

I would prefer a slight crop from the bottom, and a tiny bit of off-centre, and the background slightly brighter, but it's all fixable.
I would also suggest you get her to lift her chin slightly, it stretches the neck slightly and lightens the feel a little.
You could try props, because it gives her something to do with her hands without making it an adult-style pose.

I'm sure she'll be pleased with the result though.

06/04/2014 - 6:40 PM

Fort st Elmo

Fort st ElmoIt's pretty good, more than just a record shot, and has a nice graphic quality to it. The main problem for me, is that the Mediterranean sun can be very harsh, causing high contrast, and it really needs to be grazing across the brickwork to bring out all that lovely texture.
I'm not sure of the orientation of the fort, so I'm not sure if there is a better time to shoot, but it looks like later on in the day, the sun will move round towards the right, there may well be a time when it grazes across the face of the brickwork at a very acute angle, showing the textures off better. If the sun is lower in the sky too, it will have a better quality to it than the harsher light around midday.

The horizon is fractionally off too...I know it's going to impact on the angles of the brickwork, but the horizon is always level and is the best reference point to work from. If you need slight adjustment to the perspectives, it will only be a small amount, easily done in ps.

12/03/2014 - 8:03 PM


FORK UPSorry but, for me, neither works compositionally.

Not sure why you needed such a high ISO and f/22. The quality is pretty poor considering the light, though I'm not sure how much is due to your processing or shooting through dirty glass. It all needs to be....brighter. And less noisy, and sharper.
There are several compositional devices here, yet none really make the picture. I think cutting off arms, legs and heads weakens the picture immeasurably, and all the 'devices' seem to be the wrong way round. All the things that should tie the group together (clothing, purpose, cups, direction) actually make them look like four individuals walking together.

It would be better if the group was contained entirely within the frame...if only you had turned the camera vertically....

I've said it before, you shoot so many of these opportunities, yet so often there are many points that bring the quality down, and processing is usually one of them. You need to optimise the image at the taking stage, to leave yourself more options and less work later on. This includes composition. I know street shooting is less than ideal, and I know it's hard to get a clean image, and that this is a grab shot, but you need to pick your viewpoints carefully, and your framing. When in doubt, frame looser. If your quality is better, you can afford to crop later. If your quality is poor, all you do is magnify mistakes.

Don't stop what you do, but fine tune your methodology.