Camera and photographer making the once in a lifetime photo

Photo viewing on a computer monitor

Monday, June 20, 2011
Digital photography has changed almost everything about a photograph. Not only are photographers able to process a photo on a computer but they are able to instantly view the image on the camera monitor. Photography is everywhere if you have a some sort of digital device. Without making any judgments about whether this is a good thing or not, some understanding of viewing photographs on a digital device is essential to a modern day photography.

The most important problem for photographers is something called the viewing environment. When a photographer displays a print, they have determined what that print is going to look like and it is a hard copy which will not change. When you view a photo on a computer the interpretation of that image is device dependent. The photographer has no control over how the image is viewed.

There is an international calibration standard called an ICC profile. Unfortunately most devices do not follow this standard in any way. When you go to buy a computer monitor all of the settings on that monitor are meant to dazzle with brightness, contrast and over saturation. Most monitors out of the box are set too bright, not just computer monitors but hand held devices and even the camera monitor you proof the photo on.

A monitor is like putting on a different pair of glasses. Your eyes see the world normally but if you put on glasses with a blue tint then everything turns a little blue. It is a filter. The computer monitor is the same way. They have settings. If it is set too blue then all of the photographs you look at will have a blue color cast. Your eyes adjust to this color cast with something called chromatic adaptation. If you go and print that photo (which observes ICC standards to interpret the information) the colors and tones will all look different from the monitor interpretation. What is a photographer to do?

One person looks at your portfolio and their monitor is set too bright so all of your highlights have no detail. The contrast is off, the colors are flat and the black point looks like a quarter tone. The file tells the computer to do one thing but the monitor settings do another thing.

Here are a few tests to see how well your monitor interprets tone.

Your monitor should see all of the tones on the above chart evenly. This is not very hard for most monitors because there are huge tonal jumps between the squares. If you don't see a difference between all of the squares (especially the 0-13 and 242 to 255) then your monitor is way off ICC standards.

The chart below shows one, two and three tone differences starting at RGB 245. The first square on the top left is a one tone difference between RGB 245 and 246. The next square on the right is a two tone difference and the last is a three tone difference. My monitor shows the difference between RGB 245 and 246 but by the RGB 248 to 249 box there is no perceptible change in tone. My monitor barely shows a difference on the bottom right square of RGB 248 to 251. This is the highlight portion of your monitor.

To further test the sensitivity of your monitors tonal interpretation visit this excellent graphic at Dry Creek.

The same types of test need to be evident on the monitors black point. The link below is excellent at determining your monitor black point settings. My monitor starts to see a tonal change at RGB 6. Monitor Black point/Shadow test

The viewing environment for photography should be very important to a photographer. Someone who works in graphics must learn how to calibrate monitors or at least understand when a device is showing the wrong information. They cannot control how other people view the photographs and new hand held devices compound this problem, but the original file should be correct. That is all we can really control.

Professional photographers have to understand the points in this photography tutorial. It leads directly to proper post processing techniques. When post processing an image for media devices a good standard is:

  1. black point to at least RGB 8 
  2. white point to RGB 248.

If you have a printer then you need to test it for the points where it stops showing detail in the black and white areas. My current printer shows no detail before RGB 12 and after RGB 242. All printers are different depending on quality. They will have different white and black points. They follow ICC standards, so a print is more reliable to judge what a digital photograph actually represents, but the printer may also have improper mechanics or even settings. Less likely than having a bad monitor but you should be aware of the possibility. That is why we proof our images with the printers ICC profile in Photoshop.

All digital monitors and printers interpret the information of a digital photography file. If the mechanics or settings are wrong for that device then the glasses (interpretation) need to be changed so it can see at 20/20 vision again, or international ICC standards.

We want our photos to be all they can be. I really dislike looking at photographs on a digital monitor. I just like the direct connection to the art a printed photo gives me. It feels more like real photography. It is a tactile experience that interacts with your whole body.
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Art, what is it? Style!?!

This is a continued discussion from the Art in Photography tutorial

The digital photo bellow can be considered art. It has a style. It asks you to step into an unusual scene. Photographic art has many meanings but I think creating a style for yourself is how you create interesting art.

Since the day I took this photo I have loved the series. If you pixel peep you will see flaws. The shadows have enormous amounts of noise because it was shot at ISO 800 on a Nikon D200. The dynamic range was far to great for the camera so I decided to ETTL (expose to the left) in order to keep the highlights from blowing out but this also blocked up the shadows. Yet, there is still something about the photo. There is a photographic artistic style.

To me, Art is about the irony of life and the imperceptibility of understanding why we are here. I always have a feeling there is something more. That there is a veil blocking people from seeing everything about the universe. In turn, we hide the deepest parts of ourselves behind an identity mask. As a photographer, my job is to peek behind the veil, behind the mask of people and life. To find the honest nature of someones personality through from their body language and facial expressions. The photos of life and the world around us should be about nothing and everything. A photo where the viewer can place their most precious feelings into or discover something new they have never felt before. In a way, Art and photography is not about a thing, or about an object but is about a thought that leads to a feeling. At least that is MY artistic photographic style. There are plenty of them out there to choose from.

So is this Art?

art digital photography style

Photography style may be indefinable in a global sense. But if you find yourself stagnant in artistic development then try to cultivate a personal philosophy about Art. It can never be wrong. All the pixel peepers and technique gurus (or slaves as one might call them) are expressing an artistic style. One that calls for extreme levels of photography technique. That is their choice. I am fortunate to live in New York City where many of the greatest photography prints are on display at any one time. There is nothing like seeing a real print from a master photographer. Their style really comes out and it has something indefinable about it.

I will never forget the day that I was photographing the interior of a NYC apartment with huge wildlife photography prints from a famous photographer. They were fabulous and I enjoyed looking at the many different safari animals. I stepped into the kitchen and to my left, on the wall was a small print, about 11x8.5 inches. It was the most fabulous photo in the whole house. I looked closer and thought it was a Henry Cartier-Bresson street scene photo because of the style (after asking the owners this was confirmed). I had never seen this particular one and the composition was brilliant. You could tell it was not photographed with the same technically intricate level of photography equipment we have now. Probably a 50mm lens and a Leica camera as it looked from that era of street photojournalism.

What I am saying is: there is a point, when all the finest equipment in the world means nothing and your best art photographs will be made because of your photographic style. Studying art technique, composition, and the language of visual symbols may be the best thing any photographer can do after understanding the mechanics of a digital camera. Like I said before. There is no "CORRECT" digital photography style, just technique. There are plenty to choose from if you study Art History. As an artist, after finding your style, the next step is to add to the historical visual language that all the masters have explored.
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Art in Photography

Sometimes a photographer has fun... at least my clients do. These days I look at a photo and see the technique involved in creating that art image. I know what lens they used. Many times I will know the DSLR  camera model (especially if they are using a Nikon). I will see the mistakes and where they have post processed to cover over those mistakes. But the question remains; what is photographic art?

Making art, viewing art, liking a certain type of art. It seems to me all of that is a feeling. Advertising has stolen, or corrupted (or to say it nicely), co-opted the traditional symbols of art. They use the childhood experience, the connection of a loving couple, the pull of family and home. Themes such as these touch a deep part of my soul. The wildlife and nature themes, being free and untethered while watching a beautiful sunset is another strong symbolic image that invokes a feeling in me. I love a great sunset and want to snap photo after photo of one while it is happening. But is this ART? What is ART?

Is this photo artistic, inspirational, angelic? How does it make you feel? If the technical aspects of photography are met (and in some degree that may not matter), Art brings out some sort of emotional response in the viewer.

Growing up as a child I had art and antiques all around me (my family was in the business) on a rotating basis. I took drawing and painting classes from age eight through to my current age. I studied the master painters; their use of color, composition and technique. I studied drawing in all types of mediums; exploring shape, line and tone. Now I am a photographer and these concepts are as important as ever. But, I ask myself again... do I create ART? Technique and understanding how to use it is one side of the coin. Style, interpretation, creativity, expressing a feeling is the extension of all that photography technique.

I think there are many talented photographers that would benefit by getting away from the pixel peeping and step into a more organic exploration of Art. Develop some understanding of traditional art techniques. Many of the greatest photographers in history studied the traditional visual arts before taking up photography as their main form of expression.
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Photography exposure tutorial for beginners - shutter and aperture

Sunday, June 19, 2011
Photography is about painting with light onto a recording mechanism. Exposure is a simple camera technique which can be difficult for beginners to initially grasp.

At one time light was captured by a camera and exposed onto chemicals. Today we have electronic sensors which filter the light and let a powerful computer translate the information into binary code. We have changed what records the light but the system of controlling the exposure is the same as it was since the beginning. A photographer manages the amount of light by controlling the lens aperture, the camera shutter speed and the sensitivity of the recording material. A simple technique for beginner and professional photographers!!!

When I began photography, remembering the F-stop aperture intervals was the hardest and most frustrating thing. Mostly because the numbering is opposite to logical thinking unless you know what the number means. Logically thinking, a larger number would mean MORE of something. So if I wanted to increase the amount of light I made the aperture number larger (ex F/16 compared to the smaller number of F/5). Well that was wrong of course because the aperture designation is a fractional number.

An F-stop is a calculation between how wide the aperture blades will open (diameter) compared to the focal length of the lens. So if the focal length is 8 times the diameter of the diaphragm or blades opening, then the F-stop is F/8. A smaller number means the aperture blades are blocking less of the lens opening. The aperture blades on the chart below are represented by the inside circle while the lens diameter is represented by the outside circle. A larger aperture equals a larger circle.

F/2.8 has a wider opening and as such, allows in more light. Many times you will hear a photographer call a lens a "Fast Lens" which is a designation applied to lenses that have a maximum f-stop of F/2.8 or wider. See what I mean. Maximum would be considered in logical terms as a higher number (ie. maximum speed, maximum height, etc) but in photography terms it means the maximum the aperture can open. Photographers want wide, maximum openings in their lenses. You really don't have to know the math of calculating aperture. Just why that number is what it is and how it affects a photograph.

The first thing a photographer wants to remember are the aperture f-stop numbers. Start off with the full stops, which allow in twice the amount of light when opening and limit one half of the light when closing.
F-Stops in full stops -

1.4 -- 2 -- 2.8 -- 4 -- 5.6 -- 8 -- 11 -- 16 -- 22
<-------more light------------less light-------->

Going from f/4 to f/2.8 allows in twice the amount of light.

Going from f/5.6 to f/8 lets in half the amount of light.

Shutter speed is the same way. A larger number allows less light to hit the film plane. The shutter opens for 1/60th of a second or 1/500th of a second. The next thing (but not as important for reasons I will explain later) is to memorize the full stops of the shutter speed. This is also easier because all you are doing is doubling the number.

1/30 -- 1/60 -- 1/125 -- 1/250 -- 1/500 -- 1/1000 -- 1/2000 of a sec.
<---------more light---------------------------------less light---------->

Going from 1/250th of a sec. to 1/125th of a sec. lets in twice as much light.

Going from 1/60th of a sec. to 1/125th of a sec. lets in half the amount of light.

And finally there is ISO which is also easy to remember because just like shutter speed, you double the number for each full stop. But unlike f-stops and shutter speeds, this number is logical. Increase the number and you double the amount of light that the film/sensor will capture. Depending on your camera the number will start at a different figure. My Nikon D200 had a base ISO of 100 while my D700 has a base ISO of 200. I am going to use a base ISO of 200 for my numbering.

200 -- 400 -- 800 -- 1600 -- 3200 -- 6400 ISO -----> more light

ISO is how sensitive the sensor/film is to light. By increasing the ISO you are increasing the amount of light the camera can capture. Increasing by one stop lets the sensor read twice as much light and decreasing by one full stop lets the sensor read half the amount of light.

A photographer has to figure out what is the best exposure for a particular scene. In the old days you used and memorized an EV chart. These days it has become much easier to get a correct exposure (or in the ball park) due to technology. Cameras have built in meters that give a representation of the exposure via a histogram or plus/minus bar.

Below are three photos where I effected my exposure via one of the three main ways. Either increasing ISO, having a wide aperture or a mixture of aperture and shutter speed to get a correct exposure in a back lit situation.

digital photography exposure tutorial beginners

digital photography exposure tutorial beginners

digital photography exposure tutorial beginners

Over time and with experience, you will know the ballpark exposure setting for a particular lighting situation. After that you will fine tune the exposure via the histogram and for artistic taste. The first thing a beginner photographer needs to do is understand and hopefully memorize these camera settings. I stated them in full stop settings but most cameras will let you move between 1/3 stops for more control over the light. Recording light on a digital camera sensor is no different than the days of film. Digital photography has made it easier to get instant access to what the photograph will look like with a certain aperture, shutter speed and ISO setting combination. So as a beginner you should experiment as much as possible and over time you will master your camera exposure settings.

Digital photography photo example tutorial --->>>

Natural light wedding photography --- >>>
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Wedding photography in New York City

New York City provides some of the most interesting place to photograph. Where ever you go there will be a wedding photographer using the amazing natural background of New York City as part of their technique. The choices of a blurred background with a wide aperture, motion blur with a slow shutter speed are the decisions a photographer makes when thinking of camera technique. During this tutorial you should be asking yourself "what is my style?" and how do I achieve that with exposure settings:

What type of shutter speed do I need for the image? How much of the background needs to be sharp or not sharp? Does the light dictate my exposure settings?

My photographic style leans towards blurred movement in my photos if something is moving and backgrounds that are thrown out of focus. The camera technique I use the most are wide apertures and moderate shutter speeds which freeze some movement but let other movement blur. Below are photo examples with different exposure settings to give the beginning photographer food for thought in these respects. I tries to explain why i made the decisions in regards to aperture and shutter speed choices which best matched the lighting situations.
Here is the famous Times Square in New York City with two wonderful people on their wedding day at dusk.

It almost feels otherworldly because of the out of focus and moving background. A slow shutter speed, wide aperture and some good timing makes this a more special photo. The slow shutter speed - 1/50th of a sec gives the speeding taxi cabs their blurred movement. With a Nikon 35-70mm F/2.8 lens the far background is thrown out of focus with a moderate F/5 aperture setting. A SB-600 flash on manual at 1/2 pointed at a 45 degree angle toward the subjects gives a nice soft light with just enough punch to post process to taste.

Times Square Wedding

This next shot was rather treacherous to obtain. On a rocking boat the three of us went out to the bow and did some photography while the captain tried to keep us pointed at the Statue of Liberty. It was a fun image to get and I wish there was an assistant to hold a light which would have helped balance the background sunlight with the exposure like the previous image. The post processing is rather stylized because of the lighting issue. I used a Fuji S5 -  F/11 @ 1/250. The fast shutter speed insured that I was not going to get motion blur. While the F/11 aperture with a DX lens set at 17mm (which is equal to a 25.5mm angle of view on a FX camera) gave me a deep field of view capturing some detail in Lady Liberty.

Statue of Liberty Wedding

And finally. a photo from Central Park in January. It was cold and yes it was fun. The snow was so bright at midday that I had to set the shutter speed at 1/6400 of a sec. and my usual wide aperture of F/4.5 to keep the background out of focus. The shutter speed was set very fast not to freeze the movement, 1/125th sec. would have done that trick, but to get a proper exposure in such a bright scene. I didn't want the background to be super sharp with a deep depth of field so I had to use this exposure combination.

Central Park Wedding

Understanding your camera is the path to creating your own photographic style. The language of photography is shutter speed and aperture size. The technique of throwing the background out of focus or getting sharp depth of field is up to your creative desires.
Shutter speed is a matter of knowing what setting you need for what situations. It is all about movement and being able to judge how fast something is moving then knowing the proper shutter speed needed to photograph the subject is what separates good photographers from great ones.
This tutorial gave you three examples:
  • Slow shutter speed with blurred background
  • Fast shutter speed to eliminate movement along with a small aperture to get deep depth of field
  • Fast shutter speed and moderate aperture because the day was so bright so the conditions dictated my exposure settings.
A nice natural light wedding photography slide show from my portfolio.
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    Budget Wedding Photography

    I did around 150 weddings and I actually loved photographing them. A wedding was a special day and I believed that brides deserved the very best photography possible. But budget wedding photographers are making this very difficult. I would still be doing this type of photography as a career if stuff like what is on the videos links below didn't happen so often.

    The $1,500 wedding photography bride

    Budget wedding photography bride

    I am writing this blog article for the future wedding photographers out there and also brides who are looking to hire a wedding photographer.
    1. For the photographer, have a strong business model. Understand the long term instead of the short term "I am gonna make some quick money mentality".
    2. For the brides.... make sure you understand the economics of wedding photography in order for you to get a qualified photo artist.

    My experience is very much echoed in both those videos with very little exaggeration. I see too many people who want to pay $500, $1,000, or $1,500 for wedding photography. But the real problem is there are many learning wedding photographers that will accept that amount of money.

    This price point does not allow someone to run a business and survive in New York City. A $1,500 wedding photography job comes out to about $37.50/hr of work (40 hours of shooting and post processing). That just does not cut it when you realize a person has to pay rent, have redundant equipment ($10,000), maintain that equipment, pay for health insurance, have powerful computers, hire assistants, advertise, make portfolios, pay taxes, live during the off season and pay themselves so they can eat/survive. That $37.50/hr dwindles down to about $12/hr net.

     A friend of mine looking for a wedding photographer asked me what price point was best for someone decent? I said $2,300 minimum without a wedding album. He gasped and said that was a lot of money. Yes, it is a lot of money but it is well worth it to get photographic memories of your most important day.
    Understand that a wedding photographer works under the most hurried conditions, with terrible lighting, and with digital photography, is expected to take hundreds if not thousands of masterpiece photos. This is not the way great photography is created. At most, a master photographer will get 200 fabulous images. These are the images that will go into your wedding album. All the other photos are snapshots and in my opinion distract the photographer from catching those special moments.

    Brides, if you want those snapshot wedding day photos, get your photographer to hire a second photographer. Let the main photographer focus on taking those 200 wedding album photographs. The only problem is that this increases the cost.

    Paying a decent wedding photographer with a good assistant should cost a minimum of $2,300 minimum if your wedding business model is going to survive. Now the hourly rate for the photographer is $57/hr and after expenses $31.50/hr. That is a proper amount of money to pay an experienced professional. He will hire someone to post process the snapshots while he spends the proper amount of time with photoshop creating art for those 200 wedding album photos.

    I fully understand brides are on a wedding budget. Wedding photography should not be one of those things you skimp on. It has been said before... these wedding photos are what you will look at after 10, 20, 30 years. A quality wedding album will always be up to date.
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