Tutorial Tuesday – My Exposure Tutorial

OverUnderExposed

I have been asked a few times about exposure – how do you set it, what do the settings mean, why take the effort to select any particular settings rather than just letting the camera do its thing by itself. At its core, it’s pretty easy to grasp. We can pretty easily tell when a photo is too dark or too light. The controls which determine exposure help us achieve the level of brightness we want in a photo, but they also play an important role in creating a mood and conveying to the viewer the image we have in our mind.

I started to write a blog post about exposure, but I didn’t finish it. Sometime later, I again attempted to write such a post. And again, I left it unfinished. I like my posts to present something you can quickly peruse and spend just a few minutes reading and (hopefully) enjoying. And I like to sprinkle in some tidbits about the craft as I see it.

However, it turns out that just doesn’t work in this case. Exposure is a central component to the art of photography. It’s something every photographer should understand, at least to some level. And I just decided I couldn’t do it justice here in the blog. So I scrapped that idea and decided to write something more comprehensive.

I took some time, took a handful of photos specifically to help explain the concepts visually, and wrote what I referred to myself as an eBook. But, it’s not all that long – only 11 pages – so I guess it’s more of an eEssay!

I enjoyed putting this together, and perhaps if folks find it useful, I’ll tackle one of the other core concepts. With Christmas coming, and the possibility of a camera under the tree, I hope this will be timely information.

Go to the page here to download the PDF!

Fright at the Farm 2014

Welcome!

Once again, Rochester Horror is presenting their Fright at the Farm at the History Center of Olmsted County on West Circle Drive. It seems each year, they expand, now covering most of the barn main and lower levels and lots of the grounds around it.

Dollmaker

Each area includes live actors performing as you’re guided from one “set” to the next.

The Pirate

I’ve shot these in the past, and each year I try to find a way to light the scenes while keeping the feel of the scene intact. I tend to use gels to mix with the existing lighting. Unlike stage lighting, these scenes are dimly lit generally, so I’m trying to boost that, get some light on faces and enhance what’s there.

This year, I used two to three speedlites for most of my shots (all off-camera, of course). The skeletal pirate in the cave was one of my favorites. I matched the existing red light in the back with a gel’d speedlite and balanced a bit of CTO gel from the front.

Graveyard

As we were leaving, the misty graveyard with it’s spooky mausoleum was looking pretty cool, so we stopped and shot a few frames. Here, I left the ghost to its own lighting and adjusted the exposure as needed.

They’ll be there one more weekend. It’s a fun way to spend a cool evening!

Rent at the Civic

Angel

Rochester Civic Theatre opened their 2014-2015 season with a Broadway favorite, RENT. This show has a big following, so there was ample talent on stage. I shot this show once before in Austin at Riverland Community College.

The show seems to demand a high technical level, so the lighting was fairly dramatic for both productions, which certainly benefits me. Ben Hain, who did the lighting for last year’s Les Mis production again tackled the lighting and again gave us an excellent show.

Snow

Ben uses some LED lighting which is gaining popularity. It is somewhat more challenging for production photos. I’ve been trying to figure out why, and I think I have a reasonable hypothesis. Unlike tungsten lighting through gels, certain LED colors are very pure. Gels are good, but they’re not perfect, so I believe the spectrum from, say, a blue gel’d light is just not nearly as pure blue as a blue LED. The broader spectrum from tungsten gives our digital sensors a bit more to work with in assembling the image. That’s my guess, anyway.

Mimi

For me, it’s more a curiosity than a real problem. I know photographers who worry about blue or green or red skin tones in stage or concert images, but I like the effect in general and think it provides more of the flavor and environment of the production. I really don’t want to mess with the lighting design – I want to embrace it instead.

La Vie Boheme

Not all of a show will be lit with colored lighting anyway. With a show like this, we do often have the players in more neutral lighting and background colored to produce a mood.

Group Shot

With a very overtly colored scene, you just have to watch the saturation and maybe dial it down just a tad. I’m trying to produce a faithful representation without the screaming color the camera will sometimes generate.

Phone Calls

I used to shoot RCT’s shows with staged poses. We’d work backward through the show and shoot various scenes the director especially wanted to capture. It’s a method that has its advantages.

Mimi Falls

But as I’ve been shooting lots of shows live, I’ve started doing the same at RCT. In addition to giving us a bit more spontaneity, it’s also tons easier for the cast and crew. I’ll shoot during a rehearsal, so they can just do their thing, ignore me, and not have to show up early one performance night so we can get the photos.

Well, it turns out RENT was doing their dress rehearsals while Lynne and I were in Italy. We had to miss opening night, too, which is unusual for us.

Finale

So, it was back to the old ways for this show. But the cast did great in acting for the camera. I think we got a successful set of photographs to document the production.

Next up at the Civic is a musical version of Miracle on 34th Street. For that show, Lynne will be back on stage. It will be fun seeing her doing what she loves!

The Myth of “Straight Out of the Camera”

Back when I was first dipping my toe into the photography water, I had a friend who was something of a mentor to me. He recommended the camera I bought (Canon AE-1) as it was relatively affordable to a college student and had an inexpensive power winder that I needed. He shot a couple Olympus 35mm cameras at the time and had a great eye.

He would tell me it was both less expensive and more interesting to shoot transparencies – slide film like Ektachrome and Kodachrome – than shooting negative film. Developing was somewhat more expensive, but you didn’t have to pay for prints (and Ektachrome was pretty easy to develop at home). But more important, when you viewed a slide, you would see more plainly the skill of the photographer. In the process of printing, one could adjust for a less-than-perfect exposure, do dodging and burning, etc., cropping, and even alter the color balance. When you sent your film to be processed and printed, you would also lose some information about how you did. Is this print dark because I underexposed or because they printed it that way? (This assumes you aren’t color printing yourself.)

My Girls

Shooting transparency film in the early 1980s.

I took this to heart, and for many years I shot almost exclusively slides. I learned that slides really are less forgiving than, say, Kodacolor negative film. The latitude – the range from lightest to darkest – was compressed and contrast was pretty high. I eventually set up a color darkroom and printed onto Cibachrome, a color reversal paper designed for printing slides. I learned then the darkroom techniques that could let me alter an image more to my liking. Still, the original slides were pretty much a product of what I did with my camera.

Let’s now look at digital. A term widely bantered about on photography discussion sites is SOOC, an abbreviation for Straight Out Of the Camera.” The implication is, this is the unaltered image, just as I took it, with no – zero – manipulation. Sometimes this is used as a before image to compare to the after image produced using editing software. Sometimes it’s shown as the “see what I can do without using Photoshop or manipulating the photo” sort of bravado. It’s basically trying to be analogous to a slide.

But, let’s look at this more closely. When you press the shutter, your camera collects a set of data from the sensor. Each sensor site – pixel – stores a numerical value representing the amount of light it has received. That light has passed through a red, green, or blue filter. These are laid out in a pattern, and now something – a computer – must interpret this data and make sense of it. It is not yet a photo until all the data is assembled into a photo. And the choice of how the various red, green, and blue pixels are combined to make a particular color is yet to be decided.

Suppose you are shooting in JPEG mode – you direct the camera to store JPEG images on the memory card. If we look at one of those photos, is that photo SOOC? Well, strictly speaking it is literally SOOC. But, does it represent an unaltered, unmanipulated photograph? No. There is no such thing. In order for the camera’s computer to write that JPEG file, it has to interpret the sensor data and manipulate it according to the settings you provide. My camera has several modes like Camera Neutral or Landscape. The color rendition will be dramatically affected by this choice. It has noise reduction and sharpness settings which again have a noticeable effect. If they didn’t have a noticeable effect, they wouldn’t bother creating those settings. I can choose sRGB or AdobeRGB color space which will affect how the red, green, and blue data are combined.

To say this photo represents the scene as I saw it, with no manipulation, is disingenuous and wrong. Were those beautiful rich greens actually there or enhanced due to saturation settings and using Landscape mode?

If instead of shooting JPEG, I shoot RAW, then little has changed. Now, instead of the camera’s computer assembling the sensor data into a viewable image, we just move that operation to a computer running Lightroom or Camera Raw or one of the other RAW editing programs. There’s no avoiding it. Even if you set the program to its defaults, you have made a choice that affects the image. And if you use different RAW processors using different algorithms, you’ll see different results.

In fact, with a RAW file, you can’t even produce a photo that is literally SOOC (aside from the tiny imbedded JPEG the camera adds to the RAW file). The RAW data is just ones and zeros, there is no photograph until that data is processed.

What, then, does SOOC mean? Not a lot, I’m afraid. If you want to show before-after comparisons, that’s fine, and one can see what you did between the two. And, for the most part, the adjustments and manipulation done in-camera or during RAW file import tend to be globally applied, so we can know that.

But, if you want to brag about your photography chops and disparage those who want to use all the brushes in the paint set, don’t bother. Or, shoot transparency film. Oh, and we’ll view those on a light board with a loupe – any scanning or printing will, you know, manipulate the image.

Senior Photos

Look Out World

Michaela is a dancer, so I knew many of her photos would feature dance in some way. I’ve found dancers to be terrific models – they take direction and can do almost anything you can envision with their bodies.

Urban Ballet

We met up downtown to do some photos in an urban setting. There is something cool about a ballet pose on the streets or sidewalks.

Model Shot

The setting also provided some nice backdrops for a more traditional image. But she gave me looks which bring some emotion and help draw you in. All I have to do is light it and snap the shutter!

Hairborne

We also did a few photos in a park/garden setting. I was having her do some jumps for me, saw her hair flying, and said, “let’s take some shots with her just swinging her hair around.” She liked the idea, and I really like how this worked out.

The Ballerina

Michaela’s mom had a photo of a ballerina she wanted to more-or-less replicate. We shot this downtown in the daylight using what I guess you’d call a concrete planter as the seat. The sun was below the surrounding buildings, so I was able to easily light her to get the effect we wanted. It’s definitely a photo that wants to be black and white.

Jayke James Dean Look

Jayke is also a performer – singer, actor, and now, dancer. He wanted something different, something a bit edgy and definitely urban. I was actually surprised to find an alley with some graffiti in Rochester. Nothing like I saw in Ybor City in the Tampa area, but still usable with some good doorways and nice brick walls.

Chillin

This sort of setting is really fun for shooting portraits. It’s easy to see possibilities. With a willing subject, the ideas just roll.

Leap!

Jayke brought plenty of ideas to the session, too. That was especially true for the various dance positions he wanted. I wanted to shoot him doing some jumps, so he obliged me and did a variety of leaps for me.

Contemplative

I knew from the outset I’d want many of these to be black and white. I was happy that Jayke is fond of B&W and knew I could approach this shoot almost like a personal project.

Window Shot

We did have an occasional pedestrian or car to deal with. They might have wondered about what we were doing. Taking photographs, I guess, was pretty obvious, though!

The Italy Trip

Atop the Duomo of Milano

Lynne and I traveled to Italy for our first visit to this amazing and old country. We began our trip separately, as Lynne attended a retreat in the hills north of Rome, while I headed to Milan to attend the Italian Grand Prix Formula 1 race. It was my first Formula 1 race and one of those on my bucket list.

Milano Duomo

When arriving in Europe, it’s usually morning and your objective is to stay awake until around normal bedtime. After I landed in Milan, I made my way to the central train station and, from there, my hotel. The hotel was about a block and a half away – convenient for arriving and departing, but also for traveling the short distance to Monza, the site of the race. I was able to check in early, then I headed back to the station and took the subway downtown to the Duomo area.

The Milan Duomo is an old Gothic church. It’s an amazing site, and their museum across the piazza was great. The top photo was taken from atop the church – lots of opportunities there for great black and white photos.

Bank of Electric Cars

Small vehicles rule Europe. Milan apparently has some sort of electric car deal going on. It reminded me of the bikes-for-rent things here.

Milano's Stazione Centrale

The central train station, Stazione Centrale, was build during the 1930s by Mossolini – it’s grand and spectacular, a symbol of the nationalism that serves as the hallmark of fascism. It was hard to capture in a photo, and I never did grab a shot of the exterior.

Racetrack and Park

I arrived in Milan on Thursday before the race. The cars start running for practice sessions on Friday. Qualifying is Saturday, and the race is Sunday afternoon. There were a couple trains to Monza per hour – although I didn’t figure out the second one until Sunday – and they offered a special deal single ticket per day good for the train ride plus a bus from the Monza train station to the track, Autodromo Nazionale Monza. The track sits inside a huge park. It’s historic – built in the 1920s and served as the home of nearly all the Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix. It’s where Mario Andretti watch races as a teenager. (Mario is amazing – he’s won the F1 World Championship, won the Indy 500, won Daytona.)

From the bus drop off, you have a good mile walk to the track. Once inside the track boundaries, I had another mile or so to get to the stands with my seat. On Friday, I wandered around the track. It really is a park with park-like paths, some wide, some narrow, some paved. The back part of the track is surrounded by woods. There once was an oval track with severely banked turns. Those concrete banked sections still exist. The current track runs under them in a couple places, and the roads/paths also drop below them here and there or run alongside these old sections. They haven’t been used in decades, but they were featured in the James Garner film, Grand Prix.

Fernando Alonso

The home team in Italy is Ferrari. They also have quite a history and have raced in every Formula 1 world championship. So, you see lots of red Ferrari gear and flags all weekend. The Italian Ferrari fans are known as the tifosi, and they are everywhere. For this race, I joined them. They’ve had a few tough years and unfortunately had some troubles in the race with Alonso having to retire his car. I did manage to grab a decent shot of him in his Ferrari. Panning as these cars fly by at close to 200mph is definitely a trick – one I’ve not quite mastered!

Italian Grand Prix's Winner, Lewis Hamilton

Each day, Friday to Sunday, there were more people at the track. I figured it would be lighter for practice on Friday, but it’s surprising how many people come out only on race day. Besides the F1 race, there are support races with the GP2 and GP3 open-wheel cars – many up-coming young drivers may well drive F1 some day – and a Porsche class. So, there are things going on on-track throughout each day.

At the end of the Grand Prix, the fans jumped the fence and scrambled to get a glimpse of the podium ceremony. It stands out over the track near the start/finish line. By the time I got close, most of the ceremony and interviews were done. I was somewhat behind the podium and someone’s huge Ferrari flag on a 30 foot pole kept blowing and obscuring the view. But before winner Lewis Hamilton left the podium, he turned and held up his trophy and grinned to those of us in back. It was great, the flag dropped for a moment, and I had a shot. Thank you, Lewis!

Venezia, Italy

On Monday after the race, I headed to Venice where Lynne and I were to meet up. Since I was only a couple hundred yards from the train station, my trip was fine. Arriving in Venice, I just had to make my way to our hotel from the Venice train station. This involved riding one of the vaporettos, a water bus. Venice is a collection of islands. There are no cars, no scooters. The only bicycles I saw were being ridden in a piazza by children. So, you take the water bus or you walk. Often, you do both! After stepping off the water bus, I had a bit of a walk which wasn’t particularly far but involved crossing three bridges. With suitcases, this isn’t terribly fun.

Venezia, Italy

Lynne’s travels were not as smooth as mine. That’s an understatement, but she did make it to Venice on Monday. I had checked in and wandered about waiting to hear from her. As I walked through the narrow streets and across countless canals, I kept thinking, “I wonder if I’d ever be able to find this place again?” Maps are hugely important in Venice. It’s so easy to lose your way, although by the time we left, I at least had a pretty decent idea how to get around the area surrounding our hotel.

While there, we actually found out some friends we haven’t seen since we left upstate NY in 1992 were also in Venice, and we arranged to have dinner together. It was an incredible happening, and it was fun to catch up with them. Sometimes, it really is a small world.

Firenze Duomo

I really loved the uniqueness of Venice. But we soon left for Florence. Lynne had already had a bit of a tour of downtown Florence on her trip from the country to Venice. She in fact took a train from Florence to Venice as the final part of that trip.

Florence is a beautiful city with tons of great art including Michelangelo’s David. This is an imposing sculpture, 17 feet high, and it’s incredible. After viewing many sculptures from ancient Rome to others from his time, there is something just different about his work. David’s face, in particular, had a life and expression others do not.

Florence has its own Duomo with the largest dome of its time, quite an engineering feat. We bought Firenze Cards which get you into many of the sites in the city and also let you skip the long lines. We jumped to the front of the line entering the Duomo, but didn’t realize until we walked inside and saw stairs that we had found the entrance to walk to the top of the church. That was over 460 stairs. I’m sure the many miles I walked at the racetrack, around Milan, and in Venice helped me make it up there. Lynne managed to make the climb as well. The view of the city was great. We later traveled across the river and up the hill to the south of the city center for another remarkable view.

High View of Firenze, Italy

From on high, you can see that the city lies in a valley surrounded by hills. It’s rather spectacular.

From Florence, we headed to our final destination, Rome.

The Coliseo in Roma

In my head, I feel Milan and Florence had a similar feeling to them. Venice was different, of course. But Rome felt mostly just big. Walking the streets of Rome was akin to walking through Manhattan. Except in Rome, vehicular traffic runs on different rules. Maybe, you could say, one rule: Stay mostly on your side of the street. Lanes are something made up on the fly. There didn’t seem to be many if any lane markings. And, like much of Europe, motorcycles and scooters just go wherever there is room.

Crossing streets can be a trick. They do seem to stop for pedestrians in marked crosswalks, but you have to be clear you really are attempting to cross. And some streets are so big with so much traffic, I’m not sure I’m brave enough to attempt crossing even in a crosswalk. We managed our way across one roundabout more by finding the place with the least traffic and an island of parked buses.

Foro Romano

There is much ancient to see. I think the Coliseum was particularly noteworthy. The nearby forum was pretty amazing, too, and it appears that archeological digs are still active. To think back to the times these places were built and the amazing civilization that existed, amazing building that took place – it’s all rather hard to envision.

St. Peters in Vatican City

Nestled within Rome is the smallest country in the world, Vatican City. We took a guided tour of the Vatican museum which ends in the Sistine Chapel. I really didn’t realize how much artwork resides there nor the breadth of it from ancient Rome and Egypt to modern. Once again, I was blown away by Michelangelo’s work in the Chapel. You can then walk into St. Peters where his most famous Pieta resides. It’s so unfortunate the security that’s been needed to protect this sculpture after someone broke Mary’s hand off with a hammer. I saw it much closer and pre-damage at the New York Worlds Fare as a child with my parents. I still remember that experience.

St. Peters in Vatican City

St. Peters is quite the cathedral – huge, beautifully decorated. And, at least by American standards, old. The plaza in front of the church was filled with platforms and seats. We were there on a Tuesday. On Wednesday, Pope Francis would make his usual appearance.

My grandparents immigrated from Italy, and my mom and her relatives all considered themselves Italian. Not Italian-American, although that would be the term today. Just Italian. She never made the trip to Italy. I think she was never fond of the idea of a boat trip across the ocean or, later, a plane trip. I thought of her a lot during my time in the “old country.” Maybe more so in Vatican City. I think she’d have loved to see that (and to see the pope).

I certainly want to travel to Italy again. Next time, I’d like to go south to Foggia and to Roseto, birthplace of my grandparents. Hopefully, that will happen some day. Meanwhile, I have terrific memories and some decent photos!

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