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06/09/2015 - 10:04 PM

Red Arrows

Red ArrowsAs you have no doubt discovered, it's not as easy as it looks!

It shouldn't be hard, mostly a clean background, single subjects, predictive paths, yet nailing exposure is tricky, getting a good composition is hard, and making the aircraft look attractive can be hard too.

This is a little cluttered, though exposure and settings look ok. Shooting like this, it's usually better to add a little positive exposure composition, to compensate for the bright sky fooling the meter, though here you've got away with it due to the overcast. A brighter sky would give darker aircraft, even semi silhouettes. Also, with jet aircraft, you can use as fast a shutter speed as you need to freeze them, props and helicopters require a speed slower than the rotational speed of the blades to avoid freezing them and making them look static.

There are several pictures here, mostly smaller groups and single aircraft, as usually, the Reds are better photographed where the formation looks symmetrical or 'cleaner'. The crossing lines and partially obscured aircraft are a bit untidy, yet are images in themselves. Practice makes perfect! That and watching their display several times so you know what's coming next.

27/08/2015 - 9:32 PM

Sleeping in the sun

Sleeping in the sun1. You aren't taking advantage of them, but of the situation. If you were making money from the sale of the image, there may be slight qualms, but your first instinct was correct, as far as I'm concerned. Get the shot first, worry about the niceties afterwards.
2. Are they really homeless? Or are they just without accommodation while visiting the festival? People frequently arrive without planning first, hoping to find something there, only to find everywhere booked up. Sleeping rough is not unusual.
3. It's a decent grab shot....the couple on the bench are a subject in themselves, as is the guy in the background, perhaps a slight change of position right to isolate the separate subjects would result in two better pictures.
4. I can't help but see the angles of the bench and windows. Having got this shot, I would have moved to try to square it up; what with them sitting at one end of the bench, they would make a nice off centred composition and be framed by the background.
5. The monochrome treatment is fairly high contrast, but not too bad for the subject. You possibly didn't need the 1-stop under compensation, but there are a good range of tones to work with.

20/08/2015 - 8:54 PM

Kayla Sr. Pic

Kayla Sr. PicAs a pose, it would have been better to lift her nearer leg and cross them, keeping her within the frame. You could also have shot looser to include her leg: you have a little space to play with above her head. As it is, it's a pleasant environmental portrait, and even with a crop you could keep some of the background as a neutral, natural setting.

Exposure and focus look fine, so it's nearly there.

ISO is a measure of how sensitive the cameras response is. Higher ISO boosts the signal in the sensor meaning you can shoot in lower light. The trade off is that you increase the noise the higher you go. In most cases, it's better to keep ISO as low as possible for best possible image quality.
Sometimes, the light is poor, you don't have a tripod and you need to get the shot, so you raise the iso and accept a small loss in image quality as a compromise for keeping the shutter speed up. It's all a compromise.

Here you didn't need quite such a high ISO, but this image is ok for it. You could have afforded to lower it to 400 or 200 and hand held at 1/250 or 1/125 sec easily. A guideline is keeping the shutter speed higher than the reciprocal of the focal length: so for a 50mm lens, try to keep the speed over 1/60 sec. You can use ISO along with shutter speed and aperture to control exposure level.

04/07/2015 - 5:48 PM

Howth Harbour Lighthouse

Howth Harbour LighthouseI agree about the poor HDR treatment. It lowers the natural contrast and seems to add texture where there is none.
Nobody has mentioned the fact that it looks slightly off-vertical. The horizon appears to slope slightly (I know there is land there to affect the visual impression) and whilst nothing appears properly true due to the angles of all the surfaces, I appreciate the door and window frames are fine. I think it's due to looking slightly upwards with such a wide lens, but a tiny rotation makes it looks better.

I also think it better if the lighthouse leans slightly towards the sea rather than away from it, without exaggerating the tilt too much.
One other thing that would have improved this massively, would be to shoot it later in the day. The shadows and exif show it was not long after midday. By waiting till after 4-5 pm, the sun will move round and be much lower, which would then show much more modelling on the round tower, and bring out the brickwork detail much more. You would not need any artificial texture adding, and it would all look much more 3-dimensional.

21/04/2015 - 12:21 AM

What happened to the view?

What happened to the view?Unfortunately, all you have is a picture of some tufts of grass. I'm sure you will agree, not the most captivating of subjects unless you are an agrostologist.
It probably means more to you as a memory of the place, than as a standalone image.

With weather like this, it lends itself to other forms of photography than landscapes. The soft even light is great for still life (plants, people, small details), or as Willie says, the others in your group. There is no subject here, and the lack of drama robs the image of anything you want to fix your attention on. Even close ups of the grass or flora would have more interesting details to see.

I can see what the pro meant, but there isn't much in the weather to work with, here.

17/04/2015 - 5:30 PM

Storm on the Vestmann

Storm on the VestmannWhile the image is very descriptive of the harsh conditions where the land meets the North Atlantic, there are a couple of technical things that strike me.

First, there seems to be a bit of lateral chromatic fringing, particularly on the rock edges to the left. If this is like this straight from the camera, you will need to use the lens profile, or reduce it in the RAW processing stage. If it is an artefact caused by your processing, you will again need to find a way to reduce it afterwards. If it is the Nikkor 12-24, there are profiles out there that will automatically remove known fringing issues.

Second, I'd remove the seabirds. They are too small in the frame to have any impact, and just look like imperfections at first glance. More of them, but larger, would round this shot off well.

I like the vertical elements, thrusting into the stormy sky, but I would like to see the foreground lightened a little. I find the shadows losing definition as they are quite blocky, and I think lightening it a little wouldn't detract from the dark brooding rock, but would allow more texture to show. At the same time, the darkening sky needn't lose any of its menace, so it would need to be localised dodging.

Otherwise, I think it's pretty good.


PS: how long before a black and white version appears? It would need some tonal adjustments and some more localised work, but it could be stunning.
02/04/2015 - 7:57 PM

An Cuilthionn light

An Cuilthionn lightGood scene, good light, good camera settings, good composition. Great shot.

There might be a case for a colour burn grad, or local adjustment from the bottom, to strengthen the colour of the foreground. The paler colours emphasise the stark, cold nature of the landscape.

There might be a case for cropping the sky slightly, to improve the ratio between the sky and land, but the higher sky here gives a sense of the grandeur and the openness of the scene.

The use of the grad has helped keep lots of dynamic texture in the clouds, and emphasises the windswept upland.

I'd be interested to see a version with slightly warmer light and more colour, but it like this version too. Very Colin Prior.

31/03/2015 - 5:26 PM

Stocks Reservoir, Lancashire

Stocks Reservoir, LancashireYou will almost always get a "must try harder"......this is the critique gallery, after all!

The real test is whether you actually do better (not whether you take our advice or not).

Which stacking software did you use? How many shots? Dark frames and blanks?
Information like this is useful for critique. I was pretty sure it wasn't a straight shot. A 20mm shouldn't need too much focus adjustment, as long as you know where infinity is (AF lenses often don't have a hard infinity stop).

The exposure in this is too much. I'd suggest dropping to ISO 1600 and f/4. It's easier to push a slight under exposure with night sky shots, than try to recover an overexposed one. Consider the stars as lots of small highlights, too much and you'll blow any colour information. An accurate exposure will show a large range of colours, and Milky Way nebulosity will be better defined.

31/03/2015 - 11:25 AM

Stocks Reservoir, Lancashire

Stocks Reservoir, LancashireThere are a couple of question marks for me.

The cloud isn't directly over its reflection, and looks different, like a couple of images were a short while apart.
The nebulosity should be better defined if it's supposed to be the Milky Way, especially with a wide lens. It looks more like local lightening has been applied with a soft brush to make it look like that.
The stars, particularly higher in the sky, are pretty uniform in colour and brightness, and there don't seem to be any other objects there. There will always be blobs of fuzziness and odd shaped stars that on closer examination are other galaxies and deep space objects. The uniformity of colour might be due to overexposure washing out the colour of the stars, but they range from very blue to very red and a correct exposure will show that.
There seem to be areas of different colour balance in the foreground, as if some local adjustment has taken place.

Other than that, a pleasant enough view. It isn't easy doing this kind of shot, so keep trying, and it will come.

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 clichéd. 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.