If a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up. -Richard Avedon
I didn’t know about the work of Richard Avedon before his exhibit at the Corcoran at the end of 2008. As a volunteer docent at the gallery I got to hear a lecture from the curator of his traveling exhibit, and learn about his amazing works. I became a fan. This wasn’t the beginning of my love of photography, but it definitely gave me a jolt of energy to continue to practice and work to improve. My weakest area is the use of lighting; in fact, I just had 3 of my images rejected for ‘poor or uneven lighting’. I am not kidding, as I was typing that sentence I stopped to check a message from Shutterstock, and sure enough the images I used in the blogs ‘The English Plane’ and the image of the ‘stack’ were rejected. I don’t sweat those setbacks, because I submit my images to 6 different sites, and it is rare that the inspectors agree, so they will probably get reject by 2 of the 6.
The point is that the subject of proper lighting is somewhat subjective. There are however universal sins. Harsh lighting is always bad. The most common cause of this unfortunate faux pas is the use of an on camera flash. How does one tell if the lighting is harsh? The truth is in the shadows. If one wants to improve their photography, striving to eliminate the hard shadows is a great first step. I am not an expert, as I have said, but I can share the tips I have learned.
In learning how to create ‘saleable’ images for stock sites, I have read thousands of forum posts, several books, and a few tea leaves, trying to unravel the mysteries. One of the first tips I would give is to take your photos, with the camera on a tripod, and use the timer. The reason for this is that you are able to shoot in situations where the light isn’t spectacular. I don’t mean to digress again, but I should mention a little bit about light, and the way cameras work.
Assuming you not shooting in manual mode (and if you are good enough to shoot on manual, you don’t need to continue reading, so go eat a donut and come back in a paragraph or two), your camera is using the tiny computer inside of it. That computer is taking a reading of the available light and it is deciding how quickly it need to open its shutter to get a picture that you will be proud of. Your camera really wants to do a good job for you. When you and your camera are shooting outdoors, with natural light, the camera has a lot more flexibility with how it is able to take the shot. But when you are indoors, in a workshop for instance, under artificial light, the camera looks out into the room and sees almost total darkness. It decides that in order to get a shot that has enough light it must keeps its shutter open for 2, 3, 5 or more seconds.
Now that may not seem like a long time, when compared to the life of a star, or even the time it takes to learn woodworking, but in the world of photography it is an eternity. To hand hold your camera, it needs to open and close its shutter in 1/60th of 1 second. If it is open for twice as long or 1/30th of a second, the vibration from your pulse will cause there to be camera shake. This will lead to a slightly blurry image, and force your significant other to lie to you about how much he or she likes your picture. This is why we want to use a tripod, we don’t need to hold the camera, hence the camera can keep its shutter open until it feels there is enough light to get a clear image. Having the camera lounging on a tripod isn’t enough to eliminate camera shake though, you must also use the timer, lest the slight vibration from the pressing of the button, undo your efforts.
In the world of stock photography, the top photographers shoot medium format Hasselblad, with Carl Zeiss lens, and a digital back. This set up will set you back fifty to sixty thousand dollars. Do you need to run out and buy equipment of this quality? Well, yes you do. I would recommend, if your children are young enough, that you sell a couple them. Another, less recommended option, is to keep the children and introduce them to the joys of spending their afternoons working in a sweat shop. You should still be able to get some nice Nikon or Canon equipment. That being said, it will still take you a little while to get your new equipment, so you will need to get along with your current set up. This is fine, as long as you don’t let it go on for too long. If you have a digital camera, even if it isn’t a fancy pants Nikon or Cannon, it is likely that there will be different write setting which determines how the camera takes the image and writes it to the disk. Once you find the different settings, there will likely be something like, small, medium, large, fine, and raw, or something along those lines. Basically it is determining how high a quality image you are taking. The important one is Raw. Shooting in raw will drastically reduce your memory card capacity, but that is what you want to use. The reason is that in raw, your little camera is basically capturing all the information it needs to make lots of adjustments after the fact.
I can tell by my word count that I have rambled on a bit, and I am not close to finishing my photographing woodworking rant, so I will make this a multiple part series. So before I put this drivel to bed for the night, let me reiterate the main points. Use a tripod, because it gives you flexibility with regards to lighting, and shoot in raw, because after you shoot, you can make adjustments to the image, to get it to look the way you want.
Once you have shot the image and downloaded it to your computer, you will be given an option to open the image in an editing program, usually included with the camera. This is where you can play with the image. You are able to overexpose (make brighter) or underexpose (make darker) the image. You are able to adjust temperature of the light (a future post will go into greater detail about warm vs. cold light) I have included 4 images, the 1st one is cold, the second one is warm, the third one has the black increased, and the 4th one is desaturated and darkened to create a black and white image. They are all from the same single shot, taken in raw. I hope this illustrates the value of raw and will encourage you to give it a try. I also have included a shot showing my lights.
So class, I expect that you are all eager to try out the tips from today’s lecture. Your homework is to write a brief description of the camera equipment that you have in the comments section. Also I invite you to pose any specific questions you might have, though I must warn you that I am not good with world capitals or the periodic table of the elements.
-- Brian Meeks, http://extremelyaverage.com