Old 02-24-2012, 11:46 PM   #1
Ekserb
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Photography 101

Got a question about taking or sharing pictures? Ask here and get an answer!

This thread isn't about sharing your work or the work of others, unless doing so illustrates a technique of photography. It's not about critique of individual photos, unless the photographer has requested honest and relevant feedback on how to improve an image.

What this thread is is a place for anyone to learn a little more about photography to improve the quality of the photos they share here or with friends and family.

Camera types:

Mobile phone cameras. Some people don't even think of these when they think of a camera, but the fact is that almost everyone carries a camera with them all the time in the form of a cell phone. While the majority of cheaply-made phones have equally crappy cameras, there are some that rival a "real" camera in quality and features. There are even web sites dedicated to photographs taken with nothing but a cell phone camera. Speaking from experience I can say that my own iPhone 4 consistently amazes me with the quality of its pictures. And the (sometimes freely) available editing apps can transform a photo from snapshot to artwork with a few finger taps.

Point-and-shoot (P&S) cameras are the least expensive, lightest, smallest, easiest-to-use, and relatively poorest performing types of cameras you can buy. Modern P&S cameras will take very nice pictures with little to no user meddling, but they are usually limited in lens quality and selection, image quality, and advanced manual control.

Compact zooms typically have a better lens than a P&S, at the expense of being larger and heavier. Their lens dictates the larger size of the camera so they won't usually slide easily into a pocket, though a purse can easily accommodate one of these cameras.

Compact interchangeable lens cameras are the newest sensation in digital cameras. The camera bodies are very small, but they can accept interchangeable lenses in a very wide array of focal lengths and light gathering ability. In some ways, these are better than a DSLR (see next paragraph), but they also come with some of the drawbacks of a DSLR-type camera. Having a removable lens allows you to use the very best focal length for a given scene, but the act of replacing the lens can introduce dust into the sensor cavity which may or may not add ugly spots to your final images. While most all cameras now have some kind of dust-removal system built-in to shake off these dust particles, these systems can only do so much and care is always recommended when changing lenses. Also, since no single lens is perfectly appropriate for every scene, you'll need to carry with you several lenses to fit any possible occasion. (The lens you leave at home is the one lens you will really need that day!) Feature sets of these camera are quite good, with some bodies having nearly all the bells and whistles of a full-size DSLR.

Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras and their modern digital heirs, DSLR cameras, are the gold standard for typical professional field use. Their image quality (when paired with a top-of-the-line lens) are second only to extremely expensive digital scanning-back view cameras and large-format film cameras, and they are also the heaviest and most expensive cameras used by most people. These camera bodies are also sometimes equipped with so-called "full frame" image sensors that are the same physical dimensions and aspect ratio as a 35mm film frame (36mm x 24mm, 3:2 aspect). The cameras are large to accommodate a "mirror box" that reflects incoming light toward a viewfinder (typically an optical viewfinder, but more recently they are becoming electronic) mounted on top of the camera body. Due to their design, these cameras also tend to have the fastest, most precise autofocus. They can cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to several thousand, and the price of a complete system (camera body, lenses, vertical grip, flash, etc, though few enthusiasts would ever say their system was "complete") usually puts them out of reach for an average user, though many people are perfectly happy with a body and single "kit" lens for under six or seven hundred bucks.

View cameras are similar in appearance to what you might see in an old movie, where the photographer would compose the shot with his head under a black fabric and then insert a sheet of film into the back of the camera before exposing it with a shutter in the lens itself. While these cameras look complex, they are actually very simple in design. A lens board is mounted parallel to the film and focus is adjusted by moving the lens board closer to or further from the film plane (or vice versa). A fabric bellows keeps light from infiltrating the camera and allows the entire unit to be collapsed into a small form for travel or storage. Modern view cameras can be film or digital, with film sheet sizes all the way up to 8" x 10" or larger! Digital scanning backs work much like smaller digital cameras, although the scanning process is relatively slow and can result in strange distortions when shooting moving scenes like water or trees blowing in the wind. Film cameras can be found for a few hundred dollars, but digital scanning backs can cost over $50,000. Ouch!

A note on resolution: Camera manufacturers put a lot of emphasis on the pixel resolution of their cameras' sensors. 10-megapixels (MP), 14-MP, and higher have become the standard for even the lowliest point-and-shoots, with many high-end DSLRs now attaining 24-MP (and recently even 36-MP). All this does is give you some leeway when it comes to cropping the final image. The images will not be significantly sharper or better than photos taken with a 5- or 6-MP camera unless you intend to print them at sizes larger than 12" x 18". The biggest contributors to clean, sharp images are a good lens and careful attention to exposure. I have a print hanging on my wall that was made with a 6-MP Konica Minolta DSLR and it looks fine printed at 20" x 30" (and that was with an old, crappy lens).

So, what kind of camera takes the best pictures? None of them. The best pictures are made by the best photographers, regardless of the equipment used. I've seen images made with a cell phone that rival in emotion and impact those made with a $5000 Canon DSLR. That doesn't mean that a professional can get the same quality from a P&S that he can from a view camera, but the best images can only be wrung from an expensive tool by someone who knows how to tweak every setting to its optimal performance. (By the way, telling a photographer that his photos are beautiful and then commenting that he must have a really nice camera is like assuming Michelangelo used only really expensive brushesit's an insult.)

Picture-making is all about light control:

Instead of thinking of photography in terms of camera control, you really need to think of it as light control. The camera is just a tool that allows you to control the amount of light that falls on the focal plane. Whether you allow more or less light onto the sensor helps determine the brightness, contrast, and emotion of the final image (composition also determines the impact of the final imagemore on that later). While some of these things can be massaged in post-processing software, there are limits to what a computer can do with a too-dark, too-bright, or blurry original image.

Before setting your exposure, take a look at your scene through squinted eyes. Look around for the very brightest part of the scene and pick out highlights and bright areas like reflections, puffy white clouds, sea foam, bright sidewalks, etc.anything that immediately gets your attention. These bright spots will probably be over-exposed (also referred to as "blown out") in your shot unless you correct for their brightness. Your subject may appear to be correctly exposed, but white clouds will appear as big, pure-white blotches instead of finely detailed wisps. The quickest way to spot an amateur photo is to look for over-exposed clouds.

Once you've found the trouble spots, set your exposure based on the brightness of the brightest thing in the scene. This may be hard to do unless your camera has some way to spot meter a scene, but you can shoot several frames with varying settings until you get one that does not over-expose those areas. How do you know if they're over-exposed? Some of the more advanced cameras have a system that flashes the pixels in the over- and under-exposed areas of the photo on the preview LCD screen after the image is recorded. Some may have a histogram on the preview screen. A histogram is basically a bar graph that shows the number of pixels exposed at every level over the entire image and its easily the best way to look for exposure problems after the shot is made. A good histogram will look like a bell curve with tapered ends and a hump in the middle. This shows that most of the image is exposed around the middle of the camera's ability to record light and the highlights and shadows (to the right and left ends of the graph, respectively) are not clipped at their extremes. Once a bright or dark pixel is clipped, no more image information can be stored at the pixelit is either pure white or pure black, and neither of these is a desired result.

(I might add here that most DSLRs have different means of measuring the exposure coming through the lens. Average meters exactly what it says by taking an average of the entire scene to set the exposure. Center-weighted uses the middle-ish part of the scene. There is also a system called Matrix metering that uses a more intelligent means of figuring out what parts of the scene deserve to be over- or under-exposed and does a pretty darn good job of giving a well-balanced image in varied circumstances. Spot metering uses a very small area at the center of the image while ignoring the areas around that center spot. Most people who really know what they are doing will use the Spot pattern to meter several parts of the scene and then adjust the camera settings based on those different readings. When I'm shooting on a location I will typically meter the brightest thing in the area and adjust the manual exposure based on that reading. After that, I leave the settings alone unless the lighting changes or I move to another location. After a lot of experience I can tell you that 1/1250 second, 5.6, ISO 100 will expose perfectly a surfer at midday without blowing out the breaking waves.)

Preview of recorded image with and without clipping areas (red for over-exposure and blue for under-exposure):


Histogram showing over exposure:


Histogram correctly exposed:


The mid-exposure hump can be smooth or peaked, as long as the peaks don't reach all the way to the ends of the graph. A spike near, but not at either end of the histogram is okay and will actually make for high contrast in the image without loss of detail.

Why not look for the darkest areas of the scene and set the camera for those? People tend to look at shadows and expect to see darkness. You expect to see nothing when you look into a dark cave. When you look at a very bright object, however, you expect to see extreme detail, even if you have to squint your eyes to see clearly, you still expect to see something other than just a big, white blob. Exposing for the highlights allows us to control those bright spots and let the shadows work themselves out. If you have to force a dark exposure to maintain the detail in the highlights, so be ityour audience won't know the difference.

Specular highlights are a different story. These are reflectionsusually of the sun or a direct light sourcethat cannot be subdued with any amount of exposure control (at least, not without sacrificing the rest of the image to extreme under-exposure). If you're shooting in the direction of the sun across a pool of water, for example, there will be glints of light all over the surface of the water. These are going to be washed out in the final image and that's fine. Again, this is something that people expect to see when they look at a very bright source of light.

Over-exposed specular highlights:


The difference between JPEG and RAW. All cameras will capture images in the JPEG file format. This method of storing picture information is known as "lossy" compression because the algorithm used to make the file size as small as possible throws out redundant pieces of information. The problem is in how it decides what is redundant. It samples large chunks of visually similar pixels and stores those chunks as blocks of identical pixels. What may have looked like a gradual gradient, or ramp of colors and shades, becomes in the JPEG file a solid block of one particular color. Where two of these blocks meet, there can be an abrupt change known as a compression artifact.

Now, most people may not even see these artifacts, but they are there and they degrade the image quality just slightly. Every time the image is edited or re-compressed, these artifacts become slightly easier to see until they are ugly and irreversible.

Another drawback to JPEG's lossy code is that it immediately throws out any useable overhead captured by the camera's sensor. Digital sensors are able to "see" a lot more than the camera records and they don't recognize any white balance settings until after they are processed by the camera's onboard software. Recording in RAW format does exactly what its name implies: The recorded file is exactly what was seen by the sensor at the time of exposure, minus any camera processing. There is no sharpening applied, no white balance adjustment, and no noise reduction (though some cameras do have built-in noise reduction at the sensor-level). The RAW file has all kinds of detail that can be drawn out in post-processing software, but most of it is lost in the JPEG compression.

As an example, a key feature of RAW shooting is the ability to recover details in over-exposed areas of an image. In the last section, I mentioned blown out clouds as a measure of a photographer's skill level. A lot of shots with this defect can be salvaged by shooting in RAW format as the highlight details are still there, just hidden in the file's additional bits. Any software capable of editing RAW formats can extract some (but not necessarily all) of this detail, restoring those clouds to wispy or billowy goodness.

Let's say you're shooting indoors with lights near an open window during the day. The white balance of the scene is tricky and shooting with your camera set to Daylight white balance (WB) will result in the interior of the scene looking very yellow from the tungsten light sources. If you set for Indoor WB, the exterior light through the window will be very blue. JPEG photos will have this WB setting applied and there is only so much you can do to change this setting without loss of details and some strange color shifts. RAW files, on the other hand, are easily adjusted to Daylight or Indoor WB, or anything in between. You can adjust the color temperature to your own tastes until the scene more closely matches what you experienced on the set.

Aperture, or how to control your depth of field:

(The next few paragraphs pertain to all cameras, though the photographer may have limited control over these settings depending on the level of automation built into the camera.)

If you have a lens marked 5.6, that is the widest opening of the aperture (iris) for that lens. (Each full -stop of a lens doubles the amount of light that passes through to the sensor or film. Unfortunately, they're not numbered logically, so you kind of have to know these things from experience, but 4 is twice as much light as 5.6, 2.8 is twice as much light as 4, and 2 is twice as much light as 2.8, and so on. An 1.4 lens lets in sixteen times as much light as a 5.6 lens at their widest respective settings.) The aperture numbers are actually a ratio of the iris diameter to the focal length of the lens. They represent the amount of light that enters the lens and they are the same for all lenses, no matter the focal length. In other words, 4 on a 17mm wide angle lens lets in the same amount of light as 4 on a 200mm telephoto lens. If lens manufacturers expressed the opening as an absolute diameter, the aperture setting would be different for every focal length and would require complex math to figure the correct exposure. -numbers aren't the easiest to understand, but they are much better than the alternative.

Most photographers use aperture to control depth of field (DOF), which is the amount of your scene that appears in acceptable focus (from near to far) while using the shutter speed to control the overall exposure. (Obviously, there are times when you need to use shutter speed creatively and aperture and/or sensitivity settings can be used for exposure control.) For wide landscapes, you typically want a very deep focus to get everything from the foreground to the background in sharp focus. An aperture setting of 11 or smaller (down to 32 or 64 on some lenses!) is good for these times. For portraiture, you probably want to use a wider aperture and thus a narrower depth of field to exclude the background by blurring it out. 4 or wider results in only the subject being in focus while anything in front of or behind the subject is heavily blurred. (Apertures wider than 2.8 can yield a focus so narrow that only the tip of the nose is in focus while the eyes are slightly blurry.) The focal length of the lens is another factor that affects depth of field, but most "portrait" lenses are between 75mm and 150mm. Wider angles have wider depth of field and longer lenses have narrower depth of field for any given aperture setting.

Also note that the distance from the subject affects the actual DOF with objects further away having a greater DOF and objects close to the lens having a relatively narrow DOF. In other words, photographing a person standing next to a car results in a wider focus than shooting an insect on a flower.

Wide depth of field (narrow aperture of 14):


Narrow depth of field (wide aperture of 5.6):


Most lenses will perform best around the middle of their aperture range. Even the most expensive lenses will have some slight degradation of quality at either end of the aperture range, but the better the lens quality, the less noticeable this degradation is. The point is, when you use an inexpensive "kit" lens, you might want to shoot at 8 or 11 to get the sharpest possible image at the expense of a wide depth of field, whereas you can shoot a better lens at 4 and still retain sharpness while keeping a relatively shallow depth of field. If you buy a zoom lens with a variable aperture (the lens is marked 28-80mm 4.5-5.6, for example) the lens lets in less light when you zoom to the longer focal length, so the widest opening available at 80mm is actually 5.6 instead of 4.5. Since the lens is probably not at its sharpest at 5.6, you should stop it down to 8 or smaller to get the best sharpness at the full telephoto setting. This may or may not be acceptable for the given scene. A better lens will have a constant aperture throughout its zoom range and a prime lens (fixed focal length) is typically sharper and faster than a zoom lens. (As usual, there are exceptions. Some really nice zooms are sharper than a cheap prime lens.) Shooting with a lens with a maximum aperture of 1.4 gives you the freedom to use a wider aperture and still stay in the middle of the aperture range. 4 on a 1.4 lens is typically sharper than 4 on a 4 lens.

Photographers have a word for the blur effect created by a wide aperture: Bokeh (pronounced BO-kah). The smoother and silkier the blur, the better the bokeh. As it turns out, a perfect lens would produce blurred elements that were evenly out of focus from their center to their edges with a clean edge. While in theory this would seem optimal, in practice this would not look good. So, lens manufacturers go to great lengths to design slightly imperfect lens designs that yield blurring that tapers off to smoothly graduated edges. The best lenses are often prized for their creamy soft bokeh effects. Things like the number and curvature of the aperture blades also affect the blur quality. You can often count the number of blades in a lens by looking at the out-of-focus lights in the background of a night scenethe pinpoints of light will adopt the shape of the aperture (usually five to nine blades). Star-shaped flares will also indicate the number of blades, but the number of star points will be doubled on an odd-numbered aperture (five blades will create a ten-pointed star pattern). This is due to refractions inside the lens and the effect is greater when the aperture is smaller.

I was going to add a few technical paragraphs about acceptable focus and hyperfocal distance, but that stuff is just way too complicated and not really something everyone needs to know. If you must learn it, Google the aforementioned terms and be prepared for a lot of dry reading. And really, if that kind of thing is interesting to you, you're probably not reading this primer anyway.
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Last edited by Ekserb : 12-19-2012 at 04:02 PM. Reason: Added paragraph about bokeh.
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Old 02-25-2012, 10:31 AM   #2
Ekserb
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Scene composition:

Everyone has a different opinion on composition, but there are a few guidelines you can use to learn about why some photos have more emotion than others.

The rule of thirds is a tool used by most photographers to place the subject of the photo slightly off center and thus add a little dynamic impact to the scene. Imagine a tic-tac-toe grid in your viewfinder and place the subject generally around (outside) or on the lines that define the center box of that grid. Some people even suggest putting a piece of tape in the middle of an LCD viewfinder to prevent seeing anything in the middle of the screen, forcing the shooter to recompose with the subject off-center.

To effectively use this technique, you really need to know exactly what the subject of the photo is. In a portrait, the subject is typically your model's eyes. No matter how tight the framing or how far away you are, the eyes are what draws in your audience and this can't be over-emphasized.

If the subject is a piece of clothing or jewelry, then whatever you're trying to draw attention to should be clearly defined and probably not in the dead center of the image.





Just like everything else, there are times when a perfect centering of the subject is called for, but this technique should be used sparingly and only for specific effect. If your subject is perfectly symmetrical, this can work, but most people find this kind of thing awkward to look at unless done just right.



Here's an example of what not to do. I cropped this shot to put the model's eyes in the center of the image. It's horrible. HORRIBLE! Don't do this:


You may find that your camera's focusing system doesn't work right when you use the rule of thirds to offset the subject from the center of the frame. This is a chance to learn how to use the tools of picture-taking and make that camera do what you want it to do.

Most cameras will autofocus when you depress the shutter release button halfway, then they wait for you to fully depress the button. You can use this to set your focus on any part of the scene, then recompose the framing to whatever you desire. So, focus on the subject, then adjust the composition, then make your photo. (A lot of newer camera have a "face detection" system that actually focuses on one or more faces in the scene and focuses on those parts of the image. You only need to ensure it is indeed focused on the faces you're aiming at and not someone walking through the background or some thing that looks like a face.)

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Whatever your subject, be it person, flower, or fish, there is usually a detectable "face" that should point toward the middle of the photo. You want your subject to look into the photo and not out of it.

Here, the tree's general shape is pointing towards the left, so I composed with the bulk of the empty space to that side:


In a lot of cases, the face is defined by the light falling on it. If your light source is to the right of the camera, the light will fall on the right side of your subject, making that side the de facto face in the image:


Sometimes your subject may indeed be facing toward the edge of the frame, but there may be other parts of the scene that naturally frame the photo. In this case, the frog is clinging to bricks that tend to frame the left and bottom edges of this scene. Changing the composition to place the frog higher and closer to the right might seem awkward:


Like most rules of photography, you may want to break from this suggestion from time to time. Having a model look towards the nearest edge of the frame can help to disorient the viewer and that may be what you want. Just keep in mind that there will always be a question applied to the image such as, "What is she looking at?" Do this at your own risk.

A primer on lenses.

You can also use lens focal length to compose an image. (Duh.) From super-wide angle to super-telephoto, there is a lens available for every conceivable use.

Wide angle lenses are normally used to get most of the background included with the subject. This can convey a sense of the place the image was made. Super-wide lenses can radically distort the edges of the scene if they are able to capture more than 70 degrees of angle from one edge to the other. (My 17mm super-wide lens can get an entire room in a single shot if I compose from a corner of the room!)

So-called "normal" lenses are usually between 35mm and 50mm (35mm film equivalent, more on this in a bit), and these lenses usually give a fairly accurate representation of how the world looks to the naked eye. Not too wide and not too telephoto, just right.

Telephoto lenses are typically barrel-shaped and long (though there are compact models available). They are used to reach out and get tight shots of relatively distant subjects (such as wildlife or subjects that are just too dangerous to get close to, like auto racing). Slightly less exaggerated models of telephoto lenses are also very good portrait lenses, as they tend to exclude the background and isolate the subject with no distractions.

Speaking of portrait lenses, the reason most portraits are shot with a "normal-telephoto" (longer than normal, but not too long) is because they more accurately describe the features of a face when captured on a two-dimensional medium. When we look at a person with two eyes, our binocular vision can see more of the sides of that person's head than we can if we close one eye. Our brains put together these two images and what we see is considered normal. If we close one eye or take a picture with a monocular lens, we see a little less of the sides of the head. The ears are slightly hidden by the face. The nose is slightly more pronounced. To counter this distortion, a portrait photographer will back away from the model and use a slightly longer lens. From further away, the two-dimensional face looks more natural and flattering. (This is the reason there are so many people on the internet with no visible earsthey hold their cell phones at arm's length and snap a self portrait and this short distance maximizes the effect I described above.)

Zoom lenses can be adjusted through a range of focal lengths, though the sharpest, brightest lenses can only cover a range of about 3X the widest setting. Lenses that cover a very long range of focal lengths (24-300mm, for example), while exceedingly convenient and versatile, are almost always hampered by performance issues such as limited sharpness and variable aperture (something I mentioned in the first post). No manufacturer yet has figured out how to build a constant-aperture zoom lens with a very wide range of focal lengths. At least, not a lens that anyone can afford to buy.

Prime lenses are fixed at a single focal length. These are typically small and lightweight (though a 500mm super-telephoto could never be considered small or lightweight), but almost always exhibit the sharpest details and brightest lens designs. Because they don't need to change the relationship of any of the internal lens elements, these elements can be shaped for optimum performance. A lot of photographer value the performance of these lenses so much that they eschew all zoom lenses in favor of a bag full of primes. I can't say I blame themI own two prime lenses and each of them are capable of extraordinarily crisp, bright images with high contrast and great color.

When you buy a lens or a camera with a permanently attached lens, the manufacturer will almost always label the box with the lens' 35mm equivalent focal length. Back when most people were using 35mm film cameras, the lenses that attached to these cameras all would provide the same results, at least in terms of the angle of scene coverage. A 50mm lens was considered "normal" and that 50mm lens would produce images that looked the same on any camera.

With the advent of digital sensors, the size of the image capturing device was no longer limited to the size of the film and virtually all manufacturers offered digital camera with varying sizes of sensors, with some as small as a fingernail. (In truth, this was less a marketing decision and more a financial one; early digital sensors were far too expensive and complex to be built to the same size of a 35mm film frame.) While we now have so-called "full frame" DSLRs (explained in the first post of this thread), there are still many cameras that use smaller sensors and those sensors result in different scene coverage angles due to their size. A 50mm lens on a small sensor behaves like a much longer lens because the sensor is effectively cropping the edges of the scene. To get a better idea of how your camera will behave with a certain lens, you need to know the camera's crop factor. This is usually a number like 1.5 or 2.0 and you multiply the lens focal length by this crop factor to figure the 35mm-film or full-frame equivalent.

My older Konica Minolta DSLR has an APS-C sensor with a 1.5 crop factor and my newer Sony has a full frame sensor. Shooting with a 50mm lens on the Sony yields photos that look exactly how they would look if shot on 35mm film. That same lens, when attached to the KM camera, yields photos that look as though they were shot with a 75mm (50 x 1.5) lens on a film camera. Some newer camera use a 4/3 sensor with a 2.0 crop factor. Again, that 50mm lens behaves like a 100mm (50 x 2.0) lens would behave on a full-frame camera body.

Maybe you're thinking, "Great! I get a telephoto lens for the cost of a normal lens." This is true, to a certain extent. But what if you want to use a very wide lens for a certain subject? That crop factor still pertains and your 24mm wide angle suddenly becomes a 48mm normal lens on a 2.0 crop factor camera body. (I'm simplifying; you would need an adapter to mount a full-frame lens on a 4/3 camera body, and even then, it might not work correctly.) You'll need to buy what was once considered an ultra-wide angle lens just to reproduce the effect of a wide angle lens. Some lenses are now being made with focal lengths as short as 10mm. Keep in mind, these lenses are made only for the smaller sensor camera bodies and they will vignette horribly in the corners if you do manage to attach them to a full-frame body.

I'll add some examples of different lens effects in a bit. All this typing is making me tired.

Some thoughts on digital image editing.

A lot of people think they need Photoshop to process their images. Not true. There are many options for processing digital photos, some of them are more expensive than others and some have more features, but the best software gets out of your way and allows you to quickly and easily edit, process, catalog, and share all your files, and most of these software packages are cheaper and faster to use than Photoshop.

The two leading packages are Adobe's Lightroom and Apple's Aperture. Aperture was released shortly before Lightroom, but both have been upgraded many times since their original release. Lightroom is available for PC or Mac and costs about $300 (EDIT: Adobe just released v4 for $150, upgrade for $80). Aperture is Mac-only, but costs just $80 through the Mac App Store. I use Aperture, but paid $200 for it before Apple released it as a downloadable application. To me, the insanely low price for Aperture makes it a no-brainer for anyone using a Mac to edit photos. The power and speed of the workflow is so amazing that eighty bucks seems like they're giving it away. Seriously.

What these two pieces of software do is allow you work directly with RAW files as a native format. While they also will import and process JPEG and TIFF files, their true power comes from unlocking the additional bit depth and resolution of RAW. You can select white balance adjustments; crop; straighten; adjust color, exposure and contrast; tweak saturation selectively; as well as traditional enhancements such as burning and dodging to darken or lighten, respectively, parts of the image. The list of options goes on, but what they lack is the myriad filters and compositing tools that are found in typical image editing software like Photoshop. What Aperture and Lightroom have is all the tools you need for photographic darkroom techniques and none of the junk you don't.

I mentioned speed. Editing a group of several dozen or several hundred images from a day's photo shoot can take hours or days when working in something like Photoshop. With Aperture, I can cull the day's top picks in a few minutes and process them in a couple hours. I usually promise my models their photos will be done within a week and then surprise them with at least a few final images before dinner. (Compare that to the old days of film when just getting the developed film rolls back from the lab would take days if you were shooting B&W film or anything larger than 35mm.)

As far as filter plug-ins (lens flare, Gaussian blur, etc), these should be used sparingly. Like blown-out highlights, the overuse of effects filters draws attention to the photographer's lack of experience. A lot of people curse the name of John Knoll, the software engineer who created the lens flare plug-in for Photoshop. He single-handedly ruined millions of photos with his abomination. (I also think the flare effects used in movies like the Star Wars prequels are way overdone, but that's just me.) One of the things I like about Aperture is its lack of support for these types of plug-ins, though I'm sure there is a software developer somewhere working on a way to make a plug-in for it.

Black & white photography.

It used to be that all photographers learned their trade with black and white (B&W) film. It was easily developed in a home closet converted for use as a darkroom, and the chemicals to do so were readily and cheaply available.

Color film then became very inexpensive and people started using it for everything. There are still people who think that B&W photography is quaint or trite, but I'm not one of them. For most subjects, I prefer B&W photos.

South Florida photographer Clyde Butcher said, "Color distracts. If you like blue, you'll see the sky. If you like green, you'll see the trees. But, in B&W you see the whole image as one. That is how nature works. It takes the whole of nature to make it work." (It took me forever to find those words. I finally wrote to the artist and his wife Niki provided the exact quote.)

So, how do we remove this detraction from our photos? For one, don't just turn down the Saturation slider in your camera or editing software.

Every digital photo is made up of three color channels, one each for red, green, and blue (RGB). The best way to convert a color photo to B&W is to carefully adjust the way the camera or computer changes these channels to a single greyscale image. Eventually, the pure B&W photo will have a single histogram for the grey channel (or three identical overlapping histograms for each of the RGB channels), but before this happens, you have a lot to think about how you want those channels to interact for the final image.

With B&W film, the medium was only capable of capturing the image in one channel, so photographers used different color glass or gel filters over the front of the lens to block or enhance certain wavelengths of light hitting the film plane. A yellow filter is generally considered to render accurate skin tones and give an overall pleasing appearance, whereas a red filter darkens blue skies and green foliage while raising the levels of skin tones. Green and blue filters have radical darkening effects on skin tone while brightening foliage.

A major benefit of digital photography is the ability to change the color of a virtual filter at any point in the post-processing workflow. Any decent digital editing software gives the option of converting to black and white using a colored filter effect. The software changes the original colors to greyscale based on algorithms that simulate the old colored filters used for film. (Another benefit is not having to worry about those filters darkening your image at the time of exposurea red filter can cut the amount of light entering the lens by over two stops, meaning you'll have to adjust other parameters to maintain correct exposure. Not necessary with a virtual filter in a digital workflow.)

B&W is very flattering for portraiture. Almost everyone looks better in B&W as blotchy skin or acne are usually harder to discern.

Here you can see the difference between filters on a portrait. Most people would agree the yellow filter conversion is the closest to what you would expect this image to look like in black and white. It's interesting to see how the blue filter cuts the levels of her skin tone while brightening the reflected light from the clear sky on her hair.


It's also much more forgiving of issues like over-exposure. Blown highlights can be harder to see since they are very nearly the exact same brightness and grey shade as those pixels that are brightly exposed.

This image shows the effect of a red filter process on a blue sky:


So why not just shoot in B&W by turning down the camera's color saturation and then adjusting the greyscale in post? For one thing, having the original color image available allows you to edit based on the hues of the photo. For example, you can select the entire sky using a color selection tool instead of painstakingly masking around the uneven boundary between sky and ground.

(I would love to see a digital camera manufacturer offer a B&W-only camera body. Most digital cameras use what's called a Bayer filter pattern to capture color information. This pattern breaks down the pixels with an array of tiny red, green, and blue filters over the individual pixels. Since the human eye is more sensitive to green wavelengths, the pattern has twice as many green pixels as either red or blue. This pattern is used to approximate the colors of the final image using algorithms instead of sampling the actual colors in the scene. A purely B&W camera body would do away with this filter and allow every pixel to gather light from all wavelengths, like traditional film. It would also yield much sharper images without the processing required of the Bayer-pattern array. EDIT June 2012: Lo and behold, Leica has designed just such a camera! Announced last month, the Leica M-Monochrome is built to take only black and white images in exquisite detail. Unfortunately, it's priced around $8,000. Gulp.)
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Old 02-25-2012, 10:31 AM   #3
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Some more thoughts on composition

I thought I'd share a few "before and after" images that showcase what I have done to make a decent image from a terrible one.

This was taken from a stopped car in the middle of the road. I didn't have time to change the attached lens, so I just pointed the camera in the right direction and took a few snapshots.


While it's mildly interesting in the fact that I captured two wild deer near the road, the window frame of the car is a huge distraction and the animals are miniscule. I decided that it might look better if I just cropped out the smaller deer and focus on the larger one:


Sometimes I'll compose a photo with a deliberate crop in mind. In this case, I wanted to keep the camera level to minimize the perspective effects on the vertical lines of the building. (When you point a camera up at a tall building, the sides of the building converge towards the top of the photo. To avoid this, keep the lens barrel perfectly horizontal and back away from the building to get it all in the frame.) Of course, this resulted in a lot of empty street in the photo. While the street isn't exactly ugly, it isn't the subject of the photo. Cropping the bottom of the image gives a more squared image ratio, but also gives a clearer shot of the theater.




In this final example, I'll show the results of a hastily-taken snapshot that I turned into a useable portrait with a simple crop.

Dailyn, no crop


Dailyn, cropped


In every one of these examples, the only difference between the before shot and the after shot is a change in the cropping. All editing software can do this. Some of the most grievous examples of a poor crop choice (or no crop choice whatsoever) are found in people's vacation photos to a coastal city. The wife stands in the water while hubby snaps a shot of her with the ocean in the background. What he saw was his wife in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. What we see is a big blue picture with a little dot of a person standing in the middle of it. Maybe he didn't want to get the camera wet or maybe he was too lazy to get off the beach towel, but what they should have done before posting that photo to Facebook is crop out almost all of the ocean (since it really is particularly boring) and get close to the subject: his wife on vacation.
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Old 02-25-2012, 05:44 PM   #4
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Thank you

I am trying to learn how to do this properly, but there is so much to learn!!

I try to take pics I like and if I need to alter them later I do, I would love to just take he picture I wanted to take in the first place without having to alter it later.

Does that make sense??
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Old 02-25-2012, 07:14 PM   #5
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I am trying to learn how to do this properly, but there is so much to learn!!

I try to take pics I like and if I need to alter them later I do, I would love to just take he picture I wanted to take in the first place without having to alter it later.

Does that make sense??
It does, and there is nothing wrong with taking a lot of pictures. Every frame is practice and "practice makes perfect."

I suggest when you have an opportunity to take a few photos, try several different exposures and compositions. Frame a little left and a little right. Expose a little bright and a little dark. Eventually you'll start to use only the techniques that make a great image without having to think about it.

Also, sharing your own work with other photographers is a good way to get valuable feedback that you can learn from. Friends and family are only going to tell you that your photos are "really nice." While that might feel good, it won't help you learn.
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Old 02-29-2012, 06:47 AM   #6
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Loving this thread. There is sooooo much to learn about taking good photos, and I'm still trying to learn about apeture and shutter speeds, still playing around with it more..
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Old 02-29-2012, 12:36 PM   #7
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Its amazing how technical photography can get....
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Old 03-01-2012, 12:56 AM   #8
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Thanks!

Thanks for all the work you're putting into this! It's making me want to practice and play around with my camera more.
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Old 03-02-2012, 12:56 PM   #9
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I edited the first post to add cell phone cameras to the list and the second post to add some info about software and editing.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Runr4Life View Post
Loving this thread. There is sooooo much to learn about taking good photos, and I'm still trying to learn about apeture and shutter speeds, still playing around with it more..
Quote:
Originally Posted by 85bird View Post
Its amazing how technical photography can get....
Quote:
Originally Posted by bsbrian View Post
Thanks for all the work you're putting into this! It's making me want to practice and play around with my camera more.
I was hoping to inspire people to experiment more with their own cameras, so this is good to read. Thank you.
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Old 03-28-2012, 09:39 PM   #10
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I added some information about black and white photography to the second post. Enjoy!
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Old 03-28-2012, 09:45 PM   #11
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I'm not sure that a lot of people are reading this thread, but a lot of people *should* be reading this thread.

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Old 03-28-2012, 09:47 PM   #12
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Quote:
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I'm not sure that a lot of people are reading this thread, but a lot of people *should* be reading this thread.

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If only a small handful ever take a better photo because of what I've posted in this thread, then my work will not be in vain.
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Old 03-29-2012, 05:25 PM   #13
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Photo edit software

Thanks again for your knowledge, it is very helpful.

With ref to the available photo edit software, I use a freeware download version called Photoscape. Just let me say I am no way affilliated to this company or anything else to do with it. It was introduced to me by a friend and I really get on with it. It does not do layers, which I find really difficult at the best of times, but it is enough for what I need and that is all that counts, right?

Just google photoscape and use the edit program.

My two penneth worth!
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Old 03-29-2012, 10:38 PM   #14
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Thanks again for your knowledge, it is very helpful.

With ref to the available photo edit software, I use a freeware download version called Photoscape. Just let me say I am no way affilliated to this company or anything else to do with it. It was introduced to me by a friend and I really get on with it. It does not do layers, which I find really difficult at the best of times, but it is enough for what I need and that is all that counts, right?

Just google photoscape and use the edit program.

My two penneth worth!
This shows that you certainly don't need an expensive application to get the job done.
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Old 03-30-2012, 12:52 AM   #15
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I might not have read this thread had I not just used my mom's DSLR to shoot macro shots of my jewelry from 3 feet away because she only had her long lens with her at the time of borrowing.

Subscribing for future reference...
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Old 03-30-2012, 12:20 PM   #16
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Added a primer on lenses to the second post.
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Old 03-30-2012, 12:26 PM   #17
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Wow, reading all this has made me nostalgic for my photography classes. I think I'll break out my SLR today and start shooting.
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Old 04-02-2012, 04:59 PM   #18
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Quote:
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Wow, reading all this has made me nostalgic for my photography classes. I think I'll break out my SLR today and start shooting.
That's the response I was hoping for!
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Old 04-09-2012, 05:08 AM   #19
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Thanks for this thread, very helpful and I hope I will gain some skills even without aiming at being professionals. At least it should probably reduce some misunderstanding and frustration I have had the few times I attempt photography.
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Old 04-09-2012, 09:40 AM   #20
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Thanks for this thread, very helpful and I hope I will gain some skills even without aiming at being professionals. At least it should probably reduce some misunderstanding and frustration I have had the few times I attempt photography.
You're very welcome. I hope it helps!

If you'd like to ask a question about a specific topic, I'll try to answer it.
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Old 04-09-2012, 12:28 PM   #21
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Wow Ekserb! I've not seen such a wealth of information on photography in one place .... maybe ever! Looks like the basis for a quality "101" course! Thanks for taking the time and effort, I always enjoy good tips for sexy B&W conversions.
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Old 04-09-2012, 08:39 PM   #22
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Wow Ekserb! I've not seen such a wealth of information on photography in one place .... maybe ever! Looks like the basis for a quality "101" course! Thanks for taking the time and effort, I always enjoy good tips for sexy B&W conversions.
I've been adding bits of information that I've posted on this site as well as others that I visit. It's nice to see it all in one place, but it sure is a lot of typing.
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Old 04-09-2012, 09:34 PM   #23
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wet plate

This is great info! Would you happen to know anything about wet plate photography. I would live to learn how to do tintype photography. Alas I cannot find a camera to even begin to experiment. I've heard of converting view cameras but I'm not so sure.

Thanks for the wealth of information hoprfuly it'll make my photography better.

Remy
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Old 04-09-2012, 11:39 PM   #24
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This is great info! Would you happen to know anything about wet plate photography. I would live to learn how to do tintype photography. Alas I cannot find a camera to even begin to experiment. I've heard of converting view cameras but I'm not so sure.

Thanks for the wealth of information hoprfuly it'll make my photography better.

Remy
I'm sorry, I do not. I've tried to share the basics of photography as far as what anyone might be able to do with any camera.

If you find out any information and eventually learn how to do this, please post about it here. I think it's outside the purview of this thread, but I would still find it interesting.

EDIT: I noticed in your profile you mention civil war re-enacting. Are you planning to photograph some of the events as accurately as possible? That would be interesting.
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Old 04-10-2012, 10:18 AM   #25
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"I'm sorry, I do not. I've tried to share the basics of photography as far as what anyone might be able to do with any camera.

If you find out any information and eventually learn how to do this, please post about it here. I think it's outside the purview of this thread, but I would still find it interesting."

EDIT: I noticed in your profile you mention civil war re-enacting. Are you planning to photograph some of the events as accurately as possible? That would be interesting.


Ekserb

Yes I would like to take period pictures at some point. We only have one local event with a period photographer and he makes a mint. I was at the 150th shiloh event this year and they at 3 Photographers. The price range was 30-50 for a half plate(roughly 5x7). Our guy does them for about 35 and 10 for each print which isnt bad at all for the time he puts into them. I thought it would be fun to learn and a decent side job but the repop cameras are so expensive its almost not worth it. I need to find how to build one. I dont believe they're complex. I scan the image i had done and up load it in a bit when I can get to the Scanner. As for this process, Getting plates isn't the problem, the camera is.

Until i find a camera, maybe you can give me some advice on photo editing techniques to shop a modern photo to look similar to a tintype

Remy

Edit. Professional tintype and one of my edits to try and replacate it.
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File Type: jpg edit.jpg (17.7 KB, 97 views)
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