Last month I was invited along to the inaugural EyeEm Festival & Awards. Among other things, I was on a panel on “The Camera of Tomorrow”. I do quite a bit of panel-ing (is that a word?) but I’m unable to shake this particular one from my mind, because at some point, the discussion wandered into a topic that I haven’t given much thought so far: Who actually consumes photography?
Are photos for humans or machines?
One of the big and scary ideas that came up was that the average photograph – or frames in a video, as may be the case - are no longer primarily for human consumption. As computers and image recognition becomes better, we now live in a world where even though if your photo is seen by 50 of your friends on Facebook, that very same photo will be seen by hundreds, if not thousands, of robots. Image recognition bots, facial recognition bots, localisation calculation bots, Google Images, scientific and statistical analysis bots… Who knows.
If you think about it: say you are a scientist who is trying to map the increase or decrease of water in a particular lake. You could install expensive equipment – but where would you get historical data? Well, if that lake happens to be a popular holiday destination that people tend to share photos of, you could actually do image-driven research: Photos taken on smartphones are tagged in the metadata by time and GPS location; Scrape the internet for photos taken in that particular location, then use image recognition software to estimate the water level in the lake. Science fiction? Nope – perfectly possible, and projects like this are already in action at universities and in commercial settings all around the world.
That’s a relatively benign example: What about the data we put out there ourselves? That the trend of taking selfies is an incredibly powerful tool: By posting photos to Twitter, and describing (or even hashtagging) the photo as a ‘selfie’, it means that over the years, computers can start to map your ageing process, and potentially learn about the way that human faces tend to age. Add a layer of geo-location on top, and perhaps scientists will find that humans living near power stations have, on average, slower hair growth (just to pick an example). To a data scientist / statistician, the possibilities are absolutely mind-boggling.
Of course, there are less salient uses too: By posting selfies online, you’re feeding an incredibly powerful facial recognition opportunity: Facial recognition based on a single photograph can be incredibly difficult (think about it: You’re just a new pair of glasses, a baseball cap, or a beard away from looking very different from a single photograph). If, instead, one were to collect all the photos I’ve ever posted of myself online, you’ve got a huge amount of data: What I look like in different lighting situations, with a hat, with a beard, with glasses on, in the morning, in the evening, smiling, angry, moody… All of this is data that could be used to create a mathematical formula for what “I” look like. Feed that into a network of CCTV cameras (they say that you can travel from anywhere to anywhere else in London without ever stepping out of reach of a CCTV camera), and it’s possible to track my every movement through my home city. Scary? Perhaps – but against that lens, it becomes all the much clearer that the chief consumer of imagery is, indeed, computers – and by sharing photos of ourselves, we’re making it all a lot easier for whoever wants to track us around.
Is there anything machines can’t do better than humans?
Ok, so we’re being ruled by robotic overlords; what else is new… Is there anything humans can actually do better?
Of course, you can teach a computer to take photographs – it isn’t even a very big challenge. A computer could even take some highly proficient photographs, technically: Focus, white balance, depth of field, colour saturation – even triggering the camera at exactly the right point in the process of taking a photo is all describable mathematically, which means that computers are rather good at it. In fact, when you think about it: Most of us heavily rely on computers already: Exposure light meters, automatic focus – they’ve been the computer-powered helpers in the world of photography for years, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
The other side of photography, however is trickier: The artistic side. This is where a recent XKCD comic hit the nail on the head:
Put simply, whereas a photo can be objectively ‘bad’ technically (Out of focus, motion blurring, white balance issues, exposure issues, wonky horizons, etc etc etc), deciding what makes a good photograph creatively can be very difficult to ascertain even to humans (Go on, give it a shot: See if you like / admire / understand why each of the top 10 photographs picked by Time magazine to be the best of 2013 were chosen. There is a recurring theme; more about that below).
Of course, what makes a ‘good’ photo is partially down to taste and cultural convention, but also down to a very difficult to answer question in general: What makes a good photograph? There are a few technologies that already exist to help people determine which photo in a burst of shots is ‘best’ tends to be limited to technical elements (From a set of 10 photos, pick the photo with the least camera blur, the least motion blur, and where people aren’t blinking), rather than the aesthetic side of things.
But what about the story?
The other – and perhaps most important part – of photography is where machines truly fall short: Computers may one day be able to create photographs that are technically proficient and aesthetically pleasing, but the most powerful photographs are the ones that have a third layer: A story that’s worth telling; a story worth listening to, and thinking about.
Every photograph that ever tugged at your heart-strings will have done so because it tells (part of) a story. In fact, the photo doesn’t even have to be particularly creative or technically perfect – a slightly blurry photograph of your recently deceased grandmother could move you to tears – not because of the photograph, but because of the story it tells.
Ultimately, the story is all that matters; A technically perfect photo of a person is a photographic rarity, and may be interesting for that reason. If the lighting and setting is also great, you may be on to a good artistic photograph too. But the reason we identify with portraits is the stories they tell: Either because we (think we) know the person in the photo, or because we, as human beings, relate to something about the person in the photograph.
It may very well be the case that machines have overtaken humans as consumers of photography, but machines have a different purpose than humans: Computers see photographs as datapoints in an almost unfathomably large matrix of data. Humans see photographs as stories and memories. Maybe that’s a thought worth taking with you into your next photo shoot – I certainly will.
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Earlier this week an infographic design agency, NeoMam Studios, sent us an infographic about ‘smoasting’. Once I’d got over the shock of awful elision of ‘social media’ and ‘boast’ to form the ghastly portmanteau word ‘smoast’, there was one particular statistic that caught my eye. Take a look at the infographic and guess which it was.
Despite the prevalence of Instagram, the host of editing features that are built into apps such as EyeEm, Facebook, and Twitter, and the plethora of free-to-download editing programmes, only 28% of photos are cropped or styled in some way? Wow! I am surprised. And it’s something I think deserves remedying.
While Team Photocritic advocates getting as much right in-camera as possible—you’ll certainly not be able to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse—we’re not beyond a little post-processing, either. If it’s good enough for Cecil Beaton and Horst, it’s good enough for us, too. A snip here and a swipe there can elevate an ordinary image into something a bit more special.
This isn’t about air-brushing away half of someone’s thigh, but about making minor adjustments to three specific areas: the crop, the colour, and the contrast. Here at Photocritic we call them The Three Cs. They’re not complicated and they’ll make a world of difference.
However well composed you think your image is, it will almost certainly benefit from having a few pixels shaved off it. It might be a case of reinforcing the rule of thirds, removing a bit of unwanted background that crept into the frame, or getting a bit closer to your subject.
Being a purist, I tend to stick to traditional 4:3 or 3:2 ratios, but don’t feel limited by my prejudices. Select from any of the standard crops, from square to 16:9, or free-style it to adjust the crop any way you like.
At the same time as cropping, make sure to straighten your image, too. Unless you are deliberately tilting the frame for creative reasons, uprights should be upright and horizons should be level. When lines that are expected to be upright or level are wonky, it has an unpleasant impact on our sense of balance. By correcting wonky lines, you’ll produce a stronger image.
Light has a temperature, and depending on the source of the light, or the time of day if it’s the sun, that temperature will vary. When the temperature varies, so does the colour of the light. As a general rule, we don’t notice the variation because our eyes cleverly adjust to the changes. Our cameras on the other hand aren’t quite so clever.
Have you ever noticed how white objects in your photos can show up with blue or yellow casts? That’s because the white balance in your photo was off.
It’s a relatively easy correction to make using the ‘Warmth’ or ‘White Balance’ function in an editing programme. If you think the whites are looking a bit too blue (or if an image looks a little ‘cold’ over all), nudge the slider to the right. If the whites are too reddish in tone, or the photo looks a bit warm, slide it to the right. It’s a case of trial and error to make the right adjustment, but the more that you practise it, the better you’ll understand the shortcomings of your camera and how it reacts to different types of light.
Now if you want to intensify or tone down your colours, you can do so using the saturation slider. I don’t recommend bumping up the saturation too much; it can result in a cartoon effect rather than a photo!
Contrast is the difference between the dark and light tones in your photos. Images shot on bright sunny days tend to have a lot of contrast, with dark shadows and bright highlights, but those taken in fog won’t have a great deal of tonal variation and will be low contrast. From time to time, you’ll want a low-contrast image, but, generally speaking, your photos can be improved by increasing the contrast a touch. It brings definition and depth to them.
Don’t go overboard, though, as too much of a good thing can turn bad. You’ll find that if you over-cook the contrast you’ll lose too much detail and end up with an ugly image. Subtlety beats brickbats.
If you use Snapseed to make your edits, it’s worth getting to know the ambiance slider, too. I’ve often found that this is a preferable alternative to the contrast slider.
At this point, any other adjustments are gravy. I’m a fan of Snapseed’s ‘centre focus’ options and often apply one of those. You might want to play with a tilt-shift effect. Or there’s the waterfall of filters you can try in any programme, but you might find that you prefer your own edits to prefabricated filters, now.
Oh, and don’t forget that it all starts with a decent photo, so check out our eight tips for better smartphone photos, too.
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One of the questions that people ask me when a new book comes out is ‘Are you going to have a launch party?’ Once or twice I’ve even been asked if I’ll do a tour. The answer is, for both, sadly, ‘No.’ That’s not so much because I’m a miserable and dyspeptic misanthrope, but more because I’m not exactly Clare Balding or Tom Holland. However, (I do love a good however) in November I’m getting a one-date gig at the gorgeous Waterstone’s branch in Cambridge that sort-of maybe perhaps passes for either of these events.
Daniela does smartphone photography at Waterstone’s, Cambridge.
Yes, I’m rather excited about it.
On Saturday 8 November you’ll find me loitering on the second floor of Waterstone’s, Cambridge, not far from the coffee shop, possibly ensconced in a fortress constructed of copies of Social Photography, extolling the virtues of smartphone photography. At 11:00 and 14:30 I’ll be offering a free-for-all ‘How to get the best out of your smartphone’ session, while in-between-time I shall be on-hand to offer one-to-one advice for anyone with more specific questions or for those whose schedules conflict with the talks. And if you want a copy of Social, I can sign it for you, too.
Even if you’re not that fussed by smartphone photography, do drop by if you happen to be in the vicinity: I’d love to meet you.
Salient details: Saturday 8 November 2014, 11:00 to about 15:00; Waterstone’s, Sidney Street, Cambridge; me and quite a few copies of Social Photography.
This article was originally posted at In or around Cambridge on 8 November? Come meet Daniela in Waterstone’s! , on Photocritic.
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The sheer scope of Photoshop means that when you first open it up, and indeed for a good long while thereafter, it can be a little—or even a lot—overwhelming. It offers you so many possibilities that deciding where to start can be an agony of choice. Whatever bells and whistles Photoshop might offer you, one of its biggest boons is most certainly layers, making them one of the first things with which you should experiment.
A brief explanation
Layers are what allow you to edit non-destructively, so that any adjustment that you make can be easily amended or even removed altogether without having an impact on your other edits, or your original files. The most common description that you will hear about the layers function is that it resembles a pile of transparencies, each of which contains information comprising the final image and can be altered individually. How many layers can each image have? As many as your operating system can support.
Some layers might contain images, effects—for example shadowing—or text. Other layers, however, could appear devoid of content. These are adjustment layers, and they hold the information that governs the edits made to the image as a whole, or to given areas of it. This way, you can alter how something looks without destroying the original image.
You can name layers individually, so rather than trying to remember that Layer 23 adjusts the luminosity of the unicorn’s coat, you can call it ‘Unicorn coat luminosity.’
If you want to create composite images, layer masks will be essential to your work. A layer mask will allow you to place one image over another and mask selected areas of the upper layer from view. Effectively, this allows you to see through it to the image below, thereby creating a montage. Of course, you’re not restricted to just two layers when it comes to compositing; you can include as many as you need.
Going to the Industrial Opera
To give you some idea of what layer masks can achieve and how you can use them, I created an incongruous scene of an industrial sunset reflected in the lenses of a genteel pair of antique opera glasses.
Choosing your story
Having a clear idea of the story that I wanted to tell with the image was the first step. It meant that I didn’t have to engage in too many changes and I was able to line up the images and accoutrements I needed. Of course things will evolve as you create them, but I would advise starting out with at least a basic ‘recipe’.
Deciding on the light
As contradictory as it might sound, surreal images need to be grounded in reality to ensure that they’re believable. Unless you’re creating a Peter Pan-type figure, objects need shadows, for example. In this case, I needed to check that how my image reflected in the glasses was accurate, even if it were several degrees from reality. I did this using a pair of sunglasses and a torch to look for reflections.
How many layers?
My torch experimentations determined that I couldn’t use one copy of the sunset scene to cover both lenses; the angles were wrong. It needed to be positioned separately over each lens of the opera glass. That meant importing the sunset image twice, onto two different layers.
Background and Layer 1
I started by making the opera glasses my background layer and then imported the first sunset layer and then added a layer mask by clicking on the Create new layer mask button at the bottom of the Layers panel.
I decreased the sunset layer’s opacity to about 40% to help me to scale it down to the size that I wanted and shift it into place over the opera glasses’ lens.
Scale images at Edit>Transform>Scale; hold down the shift key to maintain proportions when adjusting the size.
Brushing away the excess
Happy that my sunset layer was in the right place, it was time to mask the parts of it that interfered with the image of the opera glasses. I did this by using the brush tool and the layer mask to ‘paint away’ the areas of the sunset scene that I didn’t want visible.
When you’re choosing what to show and what to hide in a layer mask, you paint with black to hide anything extraneous. If you paint away something and change your mind, switch the brush colour to white and it will reveal it.
I zoomed in close and used a relatively small brush with a mid-size feather to get the edge that I wanted.
When I was satisfied with my handiwork, I played around with the opacity and blending mode options to determine how the layers meshed together over each other to finalise the effect I wanted. Opacity and blending modes are the subject of a whole other article, but in this instance I set the opacity to 100% and opted for a screen blend.
Sunset over the second lens
With the second lens, it was a very similar process, except that I positioned the image of the sunset differently across the lens.
I selected the screen blend again, and adjusted the opacity until I was happy with the result.
Flattening and saving
Happy with my handiwork, I saved the image as a PSD file before flattening the layers and saving it as a JPEG file.
Having saved my ‘finished’ version as a PSD file meant that I was able to return to it for adjustments, or to try other looks having laid the ground work. One of the alternative views I created of it was to insert a black & white adjustment layer above the background layer to create black-and-white opera glasses with coloured lenses.
More where this came from!
This image, together with lots of advice on creating surreal images through in-camera and compositing techniques as well as examples from surreal masters such as Miss Aniela, can be found in my book Surreal Photography: Creating the Impossible. Right now it has been selected by the fickle finger of Amazon super-deals and is available for the bargain price of 1 penny or 2 cents; there’s no telling how long it might last, so why not give it a try? Even if you don’t own a Kindle, you can download a Kindle reading app for free to use on your smartphone or tablet.
This article was originally posted at You shall go to the ball: a little fun with layer masks , on Photocritic.
We didn’t pass comment on the theft of nude photos of famous women here at Photocritic because… oh because what the hell did you expect us to say? We can’t quite establish what makes us more incensed: the misogyny of threatening women with nude photos of themselves or the puritanism of suggesting that people shouldn’t be able to share slightly risqué photos of themselves with their lovers. Only then does the neo-luddism of Joe and Jospehine Bloggs, spouted forth on the question of selfies—nude or otherwise—social media, hacking, and cloud storage come into consideration. So rather than raise our blood-pressure beyond what is necessary, we said nothing.
However, now that Günther Oettinger has made a pronouncement on the situation, we can’t contain ourselves. According to him, you see, it’s all the victims’ fault: they were stupid for placing their images online and there’s no helping them.
If someone is stupid enough as a celebrity to take a nude photo of themselves and put it online, they surely can’t expect us to protect them. Stupidity is something you can only partly save people from.
There are plenty of people who take a similar stance to Oettinger: that personal responsibility is the crux of this matter. Much like one mitigates against car theft by parking in a secure place, locking your vehicle, and not leaving valuables on display, one doesn’t upload sensitive information to cloud storage facilities where you’re relying on other people to provide the security. Using the example of the Enigma, my grandfather taught me that if you can make something, you can break it, too. Nothing is thoroughly secure and thus to a degree I can understand this philosophy. It is, though, a question of calculated risk: much like I expect an airport parking service to keep my car safe when I’m overseas, I rather expect Dropbox to do its best by the back-up copies of my book manuscripts, too. If individuals aren’t convinced by the efficacy of cloud storage they are within their prerogative not to use it. But Günther Oettinger is not Joe Bloggs and he’s the sort of person who should know better.
Who is is Günther Oettinger and why should his comments create such outrage and consternation? Günther Oettinger is set to assume the post of EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society in November 2014. The expectations of the role were set out in a letter from Jean-Claude Junker (President of the European Commission) to Oettinger when offering him the post:
We must make much better use of the opportunities offered by digital technologies which know no borders…. You should set clear long-term strategic goals to offer legal certainty to the sector and create the right regulatory environment to foster investment and innovative businesses. You should also ensure that users are at the centre of your action…. You will also need to ensure that the right conditions are set, including through copyright law, to support cultural and creative industries and exploit their potential for the economy.
The person who is responsible for fostering innovation in and the expansion of digital technology, particularly with respect to business, across the European Union doesn’t appear to have a clear understanding of the principles of cloud storage: how it works, how it is used, and what its potential is. Furthermore, he finds it appropriate to victim-blame those who’ve suffered the indignity of having their personal information splashed across international media.
It’s an extraordinary comment from someone who is expected to advocate for digital solutions and development. Rather than claiming that someone is stupid for entrusting their sensitive data into the supposedly secure vaults of companies and expecting them to remain safe from prying eyes behind passwords and firewalls and whatever else they use—those same companies which have access to our credit card details whenever we spend money with them—it would have been better to recognise that a facility with so much potential also has its shortcomings and that perhaps working towards ensuring digital security was a priority for his office.
This isn’t even behaviour that can be regarded as ostriching; it’s an abrogation of his responsibilities and a remarkable display of ignorance pertaining to his office. We might need to be cautious and sceptical when it comes to sharing, storing, or spending our data, but he should be positive and creative about its possibilities. In the unlikely event that Oettinger reads this, I’d like to offer him some advice.
Whether you approve or not, the digital economy is a pandora’s box that has been opened. Along with the threat of every type of cyber-crime from data theft and misappropriation to DDOS attacks comes untold and exciting potential. From Amazon to Apple, Facebook to Flickr, and Tesco to Twitter, people are spending more time and money online and using it to share and store more information as a consequence. In addition to the engineers and visionaries who choose to push this as far as they can take it, you’re one of the people who’s been appointed to harness the potential from this chest of wonders, not blame the general public when things go wrong, and none of this—the perils, pitfalls, and positives—are going anywhere. This is your job now: you need to get to grips with it.
For the rest of us: If it’s any consolation, the man does have a teenaged son.
This article was originally posted at What Gunther Oettinger, the EU’s new digital commissioner, thinks of the nude selfie situation , on Photocritic.
Whenever I’m asked for quick tips for better smartphone photos, I usually proffer the same advice that I give to any other type of photographer: get closer and tuck your elbows into your body. But with smartphones (or indeed with some point-and-shoots) that first pointer in augmented with an admonishment to avoid digital zoom. So that’s do get closer, but don’t get closer using the capability that manufacturers have baked into their devices to accomplish it.
Get closer, but nix the digi-zoom.
The truth is, digital zoom sucks. One day it might not, but right now it does. It sucks because digital zoom is nothing more than a glorified cropping tool. Whereas optical zoom relies on the physics of lenses to ensure that what you see appears larger or closer, digital zoom simply crops away the extraneous pixels and enlarges those remaining in the picture. While this might get you closer to your subject—and that’s rule number one—it has an unfortunate effect on your images.
By enlarging the pixels that are on display, you’ve degraded your picture quality. You’re spreading your information more thinly over the same surface area. It’s the technological equivalent of spreading one teaspoon of jam over a slice of toast rather than two. Even if the processor is clever enough to use interpolation to enlarge the image, there’s probably still some degradation.
Don’t believe me? Have a look at these examples and tell me which is superior. I’ll bet you a friendly pound that you prefer the image where I’ve got closer to my subject using my hands and my feet rather than the slider on my iPhone.
The first step in the art of getting closer is to do so physically: walk in, reach in, lean in. Getting optically closer is your next step. And if you’re still not close enough, take the photo with what you’ve got and crop in after the fact. You’ll still be spreading those pixels more thinly, but at least you’ll have better control over the final image.
I’m not known for my physical exercising prowess – in fact, thinking of going to the gym sends me into cold sweats, which means that I felt I’ve exercised, so I don’t go. When I realised I was going to have to spend six days straight at Photokina, on my feet, demoing demoing my little heart out for my day job, it served as a great reminder for why I stopped carrying a full-size SLR camera: Less weight = less exercise. Perfect.
At Photo Plus back in October, I first saw the Sony A7, and I fell a little bit in love. I traded in my Canon 6D in favour of a Sony A7, and I haven’t looked back – to my particular photography needs (I travel a lot, I want high quality photos, I don’t really do sports, and I don’t need fast auto-focus), the A7 is a perfect camera.
However the A7 is still an expensive piece of kit, and carrying it around safely for six days straight was always going to be a challenge: I need it to be easily available for demoing Triggertrap to people, but I also need it to be safely stashed away. That’s where Cosyspeed Camslinger 160 comes in.
Cosyspeed is a relatively new company, and they’re focusing on making product especially for mirrorless cameras (hence the name – Cosy, I’m going to guess, is short for Compact System, which is one of the names that didn’t quite stick for mirrorless cameras, alongside ‘EVIL’ – short for Electronic Viewfinder, Interchangeable Lens). The camera bag comes in two sizes, the slightly smaller 105, and the larger 160. Both of them are designed to wear at the hip – and it does make you feel a little bit like a cowboy wearing them.
I’ve tried a great many carrying systems in my life; some of them – especially Peak Design’s offerings – are fantastic for large SLR cameras with honking great lenses attached. But the one problem all other carrying systems have, is that you have to keep your camera exposed to the world: Unprotected from rain or bumps. Of course, with a full-size camera, you don’t really have the option of protecting it – but surely, these kinds of innovations are precisely why we are looking at more compact cameras in the first place?
I was amazed by the Cosyspeed Camslinger bag – I wore it for 6 days, 12-16 hours per day, and I was constantly demoing, so I found myself accessing the bag hundreds of time per day. It’s a great quick-draw solution, meaning that your camera can stay protected whenever you don’t need it – and easily available when you do need it.
At this point, I briefly have to sing the praises of the closing mechanism…
I’ve never seen these kind of pushbuttons used on a camera bag before, but they’re brilliant. To close it, you simply push down, but at that point, the bag is securely closed (you can also use the bungee cord to add a second layer of security on top). It takes a little bit of time to get used to, but it’s a fantastic system, meaning I can have my hands free, then suddenly just magic my camera out of the bag to show someone something (or to take a photo, of course).
With the bag, it doesn’t really make sense to use a camera strap – good job, then, that the guys have also created a finger-strap. I think in the longer term perhaps a proper hand-strap might be a better way go to, but in the couple of weeks I’ve used the fingerstrap, I’ve grown to love it – it’s small and simple, and just means you have a second chance in case someone bumps into you and you drop the camera – another advantage of the mirrorless cameras, of course: Try trying to save a full-size camera with one finger!
All in all – if you shoot with a compact SLR or a mirrorless camera, I think it’s very much worth giving the Cosyspeed bags a closer look – They are by far the best camera bags for mirrorless cameras out there – They’re well designed, well made, and I’ll certainly be using mine for many years to come – it’s a perfect match with my Sony A7 and the way I like to shoot.
Did you go to see Wes Anderson’s glorious fondant fancy of film The Grand Budapest Hotel? Did you notice how the size of the picture varied depended on the era being portrayed in the story? As the story moved between 1985, 1968, and 1932, the aspect ratio, or size of the image, jumped from 1.85:1 to 2.35:1 to ‘Academy Ratio’. This was part of Anderson’s story-telling technique: the aspect ratio provided viewers with a visual cue for each period of the narrative. It’s also a reflection of the changes to aspect ratio that film and television have experienced over the years.
But what about photographers? Where does aspect ratio come into stills?
Maybe we need to back-track and establish precisely what we mean by ‘aspect ratio’ first. It’s the size of the image expressed as a ratio, width to height. You’ll often see film-making aspect ratios expressed as a value to 1 (like to 2.35:1 and 1.85:1 mentioned earlier), whereas the most common photography aspect ratios are 3:2, 4:3, and 1:1, although there are plenty more besides. If your image has an aspect ratio of 3:2, it will be three units wide and two high. When you come to print it, you might choose a 6×4″ or a 12×8″ print.
Originally, these aspect ratios were as a result of our film sizes. Lots of medium format cameras produced square, or 1:1, images; 35mm cameras used film that measured 36 by 24 millimetres, giving an aspect ratio of 3:2. What’s referred to in the film-making world as ‘Academy Ratio’ is very close to 4:3. It’s also the common aspect ratio you’ll find in smartphone cameras as well as Micro Four Thirds and some medium format cameras. 16:9 is usual for recording video.
While our digital sensors might preserve these aspect ratios in their physical dimensions, at the press of a button I can switch between 3:2, 4:3, 16:9, and 1:1 on my camera. And when I import an image into Lightroom or edit it in Snapseed, I can select from 1:1, 3:2, 4:3, 5:4, 7:5, 8.5:11, 16:9, or settle upon an entirely idiosyncratic free-styled aspect ratio. But why would I want to?
Composing the frame
It’s about composition, and dividing and filling your frame.
Photographers talk a lot about subject placement, about the different rules that can be used to divide the frame, and about negative space. All of these elements contribute to creating visually appealing, dynamic images that draw the eye. It follows, then, that the dimensions of the frame will have an impact on composition: on where you place your subject and how much space surrounds it and how you divide your frame.
We’ve already written about the square crop here on Photocritic, and how the eye has a tendency to move around a square frame, as opposed to across it, which it does with a rectangular crop. When changing between 3:2 and 4:3 crops, are there any considerations that need to be made?
At its simplest, you have more space to fill with a 3:2 frame. Depending on your style and your subject, this can mean your subject has more room to breathe compared to a 4:3 crop. But it can also mean your subject has that bit too much space and feels a touch lost. You certainly need to be aware of this when you’re shooting; and indeed if you intend to have prints made.
When I photographed my cousin on his graduation day, I adhered to my preferred 3:2 aspect ratio. It was how I approached filling the frame on the day and, consequently, how I processed the images afterwards. However, when my aunt had her prints made, she opted for a 24×18 canvas. I had to re-crop her favourite shot in a hurry. You can see both of them here. Can you see why I prefer the 3:2 aspect ratio in this instance? It doesn’t feel nearly as squashed as the 4:3 version does.
If you compare these sunset photos, you can see how much of the view the 4:3 version loses when compared with the 3:2 aspect ratio. It can prove difficult to fill the extra space in a landscape shot, but sometimes you need it, too.
Of course, you don’t have to adhere to 3:2 or 4:3 aspect ratios. I decided that 4:5 worked best for this bee enjoying the Sicilian springtime flowers. The more compact frame focused attention on the bee better than the larger 2:3 version.
Don’t forget, if you switch from landscape to portrait orientation, then the aspect ratio will alter format accordingly. Width always goes first, thus 3:2 will change to 2:3 and 4:3 becomes 3:4. Or in the case of the bee, it’s 4:5.
Opting for a different aspect ratio doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to use a different compositional rule; however, in some circumstances, you might find the Golden Ratio preferable to the rule of thirds. It depends on your vision for the image. But do think about how much space you need around your subject. If you’re struggling to fill it, think of trying 4:3; if it looks squashed, consider 3:2. Or try something else. Try not to feel too constrained by the constraints of aspect ratio.
But I will leave you with closing thoughts from xkcd. Who could put it better?
When I saw last night that image editing start-up Aviary had been acquired by image editing behemoth Adobe my initial reaction was ‘Hmm. Great for the Aviary team; but I’m not sure it’s so great for consumers.’ Fifteen or so hours on from that, and my opinion hasn’t changed considerably. I’d probably augment it with ‘Smart move by Adobe.’
Using the term ‘start-up’ to describe Aviary might not be entirely accurate, but it’s a question of interpretation, I suppose. It has been around since 2007 and its code has been used to edit over 10 billion photos. Even if you don’t use its smartphone app to adjust your images, you might well have come across its editing tools that have been built into platforms such as Flickr and Mailchimp using its software development kit.
Great for Aviary
If part of the definition of ‘start-up’ is the intention to see your company acquired by another one, then Aviary at least meets that criterion. Judging by Aviary CEO Tobias Peggs’ effusive blog post announcing the acquisition, this is all their Christmases, Chanukahs, and Eids rolled into one. And that’s even without the agreed fee being disclosed.
The Aviary offices are close to those of Behance, which was acquired by Adobe in 2013. Their proximity meant the Aviary people talked a lot with Scott Belsky, Behance’s co-founder who now serves as Adobe’s VP of Products and Community, and ‘it became obvious that we shared a strong vision for mobile creativity. It became even more obvious that we should join forces, accelerate combined efforts and better serve even more app developers and even more people wanting to be creative on mobile.’ Aviary is all about allowing people to be creative, through its own apps and through its SDK. It thinks it can better do this by partnering with Adobe.
Smart move by Adobe
Apart from Aviary’s app being a peach and Adobe being keen to expand its mobile prowess, Aviary’s SDK is well established. Adobe’s isn’t: it launched as a beta in June. According to Scott Belsky: ‘We have high hopes for the Creative SDK and are thrilled that Aviary will infuse wisdom, technology, and reach to new developers.’ Provided that the likes of Flickr, Mailchimp, and Shopify don’t run screaming, Adobe has made a calculated acquisition to expand itself into a market where it didn’t have a strong foothold. For anyone familiar with the English Premier League, it feels a little like accusations of Manchester City buying its way to football titles rather than building its own team. If you can’t beat the opposition, buy it.
Not so great for consumers?
We know that I’m cynical; it says so in my Twitter bio. Thus from my cynical consumer standpoint, I wonder how beneficial this is for Aviary’s users. The Aviary and Adobe teams are enthusiastic for what they can build together, but in trying to merge two company’s visions into one coherent strategy how much creativity will be sacrificed and how much will consumer choice suffer? To what degree might smaller company ‘Let’s do this!’ mentality be eclipsed by corporate hierarchy? Might Aviary become less accessible as it is absorbed into Adobe’s Creative Cloud?
My visceral reaction is that while there are potential benefits to be harnessed from the acquisition, there are plenty of pitfalls, too. I’d like to be proved wrong. I hate the see a good thing fail and I really like Aviary.
However, whether Aviary was ‘right’ to sell or not isn’t within my purview, not really. It’s a company, it’s not the NHS. It acts in its best interests, not mine. I wish them all the best.
Good things come to those who wait, or at least good things come to those with the requisite degree of patience required to capture a scintillating long exposure shot. Not only do you land yourself with a fabulous photo, but for this competition, rewards also come in the form of five gift cards valued at £40 to spend in the Triggertrap shop!
We’re on the look-out for the five best long exposure shots produced by you lovely lot. That’s not the royal or editorial ‘we’, by the way, but Haje, Tom, who’s Triggertrap’s Head of Photography, and me. We don’t mind what kind of long exposure shot you try: from urban scenes to light painting to smoothed waterfalls. What we want to see is a longer-than-expected shutter speed being used to creative effect to tell a story. We want to see images that leave us giddy with admiration.
Flickr is providing the image-hosting power for the competition; all you need to do is share your photos—up to five per entrant—in the Patience is a virtue Flickr pool before British Summer Time ends. So that’s 01:59 (BST) on 26 October 2014. Consider it preparation for longer nights if you’re in the northern hemisphere. We’ll do the rest, and hope to have the results by Guy Fawkes Night. (Or 5 November 2014.)
(Un)Usual rules apply: you need to own the copyright to the images you submit; you shouldn’t have done anything icky to achieve them (like sell your granny); you keep the copyright but we (that being Photocritic and Triggertrap) will want to be able to display it in conjunction with the competition; the prizes are non-transferable and can’t be redeemed for cash; you can’t be associated with Photocritic or Triggertrap to enter; the judges’ decision is final; entry is at your own risk (quite what might happen to you because you enter I’m not sure, it’s not like we’re cannibals threatening to eat you, but we can’t be held responsible all the same); photos have to be submitted to the Flickr pool before the closing date of 01:59 (BST) on 26 October 2014; and it’s our competition so if we need to change the way it operates or the rules or heaven forfend chuck you out, we can.
That’s about that. But if you need any advice on long exposures, you might want to check out our articles on shutter speed, bulb mode, zoom bursting, and light painting. Good luck: we can’t wait to see what you produce!
This article was originally posted at Patience is a virtue – a long exposure photo competition , on Photocritic.
Keeping track of everything new that’s announced at Photokina can feel like something of a labour of Sisyphus. So rather than cover every new product with an individual article and drive everyone to distraction, we’ve opted to summarise as many as we can in one place. This is Photokina 2014. Enjoy!
After what amounts to years of speculation, Canon has finally announced the EOS 7D mark II. The basic spec: APS-C, 20 megapixel sensor; ISO 100 to 16,000 but expandable to 51,200; dual DIGIC 6 processors; 65-point auto-focus; top shooting speed of 10 frames-per-second; and built-in GPS. All for $1,800, body-only.
There are also three new compact cameras. The premium G7X with its 1″, 20 megapixel sensor and DIGIC 6 processor; top sensitivity of ISO 12,800; and a 24 to 100mm lens with a maximum aperture of ƒ/1.8 at its widest and ƒ/2.8 at the telephoto end, for $700. The SX60 superzoom with its 65× optical zoom for $550. And the N2, which, like the Powershot N, leaves me baffled.
Fujifilm announced an update to its much-loved X100-series; the X100T. This one comes with an improved hybrid viewfinder, enhanced controls, and faster shuttre speeds. All for $1,300, in either black or silver.
The X20 has been upgraded to the X30. The improvements to Fuji’s point-and-shoot focus on a new viewfinder and a tilting 3″ high-res LCD. You can order one for £600.
There were also two new lenses: the X-F 56mm ƒ/1.2 R APD (85mm quivalent in 35mm format) for $1,500. (APD is apodisation. It is designed to give even smoother bokeh than the normal XF56. Great for portrait work.) And the weather resistant 50-140mm ƒ/2.8 R LM OIS WR at £1,600.
And don’t forget the graphite-look X-T1 for $1,500 body-only.
Roll-up, roll-up, get your suction cups from Joby! Adding to its range of twisty, bendy, go-anywhere camera support devices, Joby has unveiled two suction cups, designed to provide industrial-strength hold on all types of smooth, clean, and non-porous surfaces. One has a locking arm, that’s best for use in vibration-prone situations, such as in cars or on board boats (£33). The other has a Gorilla-pod arm, a quick-twist, flexible option that’s better for windows, walls, and inside cars (£25).
There’s also the Pro Sling Strap, designed for dSLRs, to keep your camera close to your body but easy to pull up to your eye (£57); the GorillaPod Focus + Ballhead X is the strongest and largest GorillaPod to date (£140); and the Flash Clamp and Locking Arm, which helps to transform everyday objects into lighting assistants with the two articulating ball joints that let you position your flash at any angle (£35).
Leica announced a laundry list of new cameras at Photokina:
- Leica M 60 Edition – an LCD-less camera, limited to 600 units, and costing $18,500 with a 35 Summilux stainless steel lens
- X – Type 113; and X-E
- S – Type 007; and S-E
- V-Lux – Type 114
- D-Lux – Type 109, basically a Panasonic LX100
And a goodly selection of lenses, too. Leica enthusiasts couldn’t have known which way to look first!
Nikon’s big announcement was the D750: an FX-format camera with 24 megapixel sensor and EXPEED 4 processor, 51-point autofocus system, sensitivity ranging from ISO 100 to 12,800, a tilting LCD, built-in wi-fi, all crammed into a smaller-than-expected body. For $2,300, body-only.
Panasonic came up with two new cameras and a new lens, together with the re-branded Leica cameras under the V-Lux and D-Lux badges.
The new LX100 camera is available for $900. It has a Micro Four Thirds sensor, a 4-75mm Leica DC lens (ƒ/1.7-2.8), and comes with an external flash. The GM5 mirror-less camera comes in black or red, with a 12-32mm lens, for $900.
And there’s also the Panasonic G Vario 35-100mm ƒ/4.0-5.6 ASPH lens for G-series cameras, costing about $400.
As well as the 50 mm T1.5 AS UMC cine lens, Samyang also announced its 12 mm ƒ/2.8 ED AS NCS fish-eye lens, which has been designed for full-frame cameras. We don’t have a price or release date yet for it, but I am looking forward to seeing it.
Sigma announced its dp1 Quattro camera, with a Foveon direct image sensor that is similar to traditional colour film in that its multiple layers capture all of the information that visible light transmits. It also announced two different versions of the same lens: the 150-600mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports and the 150-600mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary. The sports version is, probably quite obviously aimed at sports and wildlife photographers. The contemporary label is more compact and portable.
There was also the 18-300mm F/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM Contemporary lens.
Just before Photokina, Sony announced two new lens units, to attach to smartphones. These were the QX1 and QX30. During Photokina, a slew of camcorders, video cameras, and accessories were unveiled, too. The things that caught my eye was the flash unit, the HVL-F32M for $300.
One of the first compositional rules that we learn is the rule of thirds. It’s relatively simple but definitely effective: divide the frame into three, horizontally and vertically, and use the divisions to place your subject. But rules are made to be broken—once you understand them properly, that is—or at least adapted and challenged. If you’re looking to leave behind the rule of thirds but still want place your faith in geometrically validated subject-placement, try the golden triangle.
Determining the golden triangle
Draw an imaginary diagonal line across your frame. Now draw imaginary lines from the other two corners, which each meet the long line at right angles. It should look something like this:
Your points-of-interest are where the lines meet. Use them to place your focal point, for example the eyes in portraits, and use the lines to divide your frame and draw the eye to the focal point to help create dynamic images.
Why use the golden triangle?
On a mundane and practical level, it’s easier for some people to visualise the triangle than it is the rule of thirds. Moving towards a more creative purpose, by using triangles to compose your frame you’re introducing a strong compositional shape to it with a great sense of balance pitted against a precarious point. And triangles have a nifty way of retaining the attention of the eye within the frame: the eye moves from one point to another in a continuous loop.
Quite specifically with the golden triangle, you give yourself a means of dividing the frame in a way that is frequently more pleasing to the eye than a horizontal or vertical split. As well as using the lines to draw the eye to focal points, the use of triangles in the frame brings balance to the image. Think of one half as blue and the other as yellow. Or shadow versus light.
By counter-poising the two points-of-interest against each other, you can enhance the sense of balance in the frame. You get dynamism and balance in one go: brilliant.
Putting it into practice
It’s all very well knowing the theory – what about the practice? Try portraits with your subject leaning into the frame and the eyes on a point-of-interest. Use the rule to place bridges in your frame, and have the eye travel along them to a focal point. Just give it a try – you never know!
Photos that feature milky-smooth flowing water seem to have a Marmite effect on people: they’re either loved or hated. I’m often rather ambivalent towards them, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a useful technique to have up your sleeve if you’re faced with a weir or waterfall and you want to capture an image with smooth-looking water that has a sense of flow to it.
There’s no great secret to shooting a photo that has water flowing through it that looks smooth: it’s done using a long exposure. The slow shutter speed captures the the water as it moves, making it blurred. The blur, in this instance, gives the water a smooth appearance.
Shooting long exposures in daylight hours comes with an inherent problem, however. Over-exposure. Our cameras’ sensors are capable of detecting far more light than we think they are, and even using the lowest possible ISO and smallest available aperture, a long exposure can result in an over-exposed photo when taking during the day. To get around this irritation, you might want to try a neutral density (ND) filter over your lens.
ND filters are grey filters that cut down the amount of light that enters your lens without affecting the colour of your images. They come in different grades, or densities, blocking out between one stop and 12 stops of light. Screw one over your lens and you’ll give yourself a great deal more flexibility when it comes to shooting daytime long exposures.
Then of course you’ll need a tripod. You might want to capture the motion blur of the water, but you’ll want to avoid camera-shake and the rest of the scene getting the wobbles. Even though you’ll be using a very small aperture with an enormous depth-of-field, still think carefully about your framing of the shot and its point-of-focus. Make sure it’s telling a story.
Obviously you’ll need to have your camera in manual mode to ensure that you can adjust the shutter speed, ISO, and aperture to get the photo that you want. Almost certainly you will need to use the lowest ISO and smallest aperture avalable. When it comes to shutter speed, you might find that you need to venture into bulb mode to get the shutter speed you need. And we recommend that you use a remote shutter release to prevent jolting your camera on its tripod and shifting its focus, too.
Then it’s a case of hitting the cable release and leaving the camera to do its thing.
We spend quite a bit of time discussing sharing our images here, there, and yon on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as on custom-built platforms such as Photoswarm or Photoshelter, but we don’t tend to talk so much, if at all, about good old WordPress. I’ve no idea why we tend to overlook CMSs—perhaps because there’s an assumption that you should know what you’re doing if you have one—but at least for once, I thought we’d change that.
WordPress benefits from a huge number of plugins that you can use to augment your website-running experience, from free ones to premium ones, to plugins that block spam to those that manage your editorial calendar. But if you want to insert a simple gallery of images into a WordPress post, there’s no plugin required. You can manage it directly the Add Media function. It’s not the most glamorous of galleries—it doesn’t offer a carousel, for example—but it does allow you to sample a selection of images.
Create a new post
That’s an obvious place to start. Give it a title, add the text that you want, create some tags; all the usual.
Hit the Add Media button
Go to add images just as you usually would. Hit the Add Media button towards the top left of the page.
Select Create Gallery
You’ll automatically find yourself on the Insert Media panel. On its top left you’ll see three options: Insert Media, where you already are; Create Gallery; and Set Featured Image. (There’s Insert from URL just below those, too.) Choose Create Gallery.
Upload or select your images
If you’ve already uploaded the images to your Media Library, go ahead and select them now. Otherwise choose the Upload Files tab and go ahead and upload your chosen images from your computer as you usually would.
Create your gallery
When you’ve selected your images, press the ‘Create a new gallery’ button at the bottom right of the page.
Now you get to organise your gallery, deciding on the order in which you want the images to appear (drag-and-drop to re-arrange them), in how many columns you’d like them arranged, and whether you’d like the images to link through to an attachment page when a viewer clicks on them. Don’t forget to add captions if you need them, too. Do that beneath each image. Tap Insert Gallery and you’re done!
If you’d like to try a carousel of images, you might want to check out the Jetpack plugin, but otherwise, this should keep you in image galleries for the moment.
Right now you can pick up some cracking deals on Blackmagic cameras, Canon bundle deals, Fujifilm lenses, and Panasonic Lumix GX7 bundles. They’re worth a look if you’re thinking of buying some new kit and aren’t too worried about what might (or might not) be announced this autumn.
$500 off of Blackmagic 4K EF mount bundles! But you have to hurry, this one expires on 12 September 2014.
The 60D offer includes the camera body-only, a PIXMA PRO-100, and a packet of semi-gloss paper for a total of $600. It would cost you $950 normally.
If you prefer the 6D bundle, it includes the camera, an EF 24-105mm ƒ/4.0L IS USM lens, PIXMA PRO-100 printer, paper, memory card, and bag. It costs $2,000 when it should be $2550. You can see all the contents here.
It’s Fujifilm lenses that are on special until 4 October 2014.
The Fujifilm XF 14mm ƒ/2.8 R lens is going for $800.
Or there’s the Fujinon XF 23mm ƒ/1.4R lens, also priced at $800.
But perhaps you’d prefer the XF 35mm ƒ/1.4 lens for $500?
The Lumix GX7 in black together with a Lumix G Vario 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 lens is available for $798.
Or you could go for the GX7 with the 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 in silver. Also at a price of £798.
And don’t forget that the GX7 is available body-only with a $300 rebate. You’ve until 4 October 2014 to claim these offers.
If you’d like to try a more unusual approach to lighting a photo, whether that’s because you want to experiment or because you don’t have access to studio lights, you might want to consider light painting. This isn’t the type of light painting when you make patterns and shapes and designs with light sources to create your image, but using light sources to illuminate your scene during a long exposure. At its simplest, it involves outing the lights, setting your camera to bulb mode, and using a torch to ‘paint’ light onto your subject.
Want to give it a go? Read on!
You don’t need anything especially fancy for light painting: a camera on a tripod, a scene that you want to illuminate, and a torch are the minimum requirements. You might find it easier to control your camera’s shutter using a cable release for flexibility and when you’re more confident you might want to try some more advanced techniques, but let’s start here.
Imagining your scene
Before embarking on your light painting adventure, it’s best to think about the scene that you want to illuminate and the story that you want to tell. While you might herald some impressive results from waving your torch about in random formations, that’s unlkely to result in the image that you anticipated. Take a little time to consider your subject and how you want to light it.
Scene set and lighting scenarios imagined, you need to secure your camera on your tripod and select your exposure. For light painting, try bulb mode controlled by a cable release, a low ISO, and an aperture that gives you the look you want. You’ll need to manually focus on your subject, too!
Turn out the lights and start your long exposure.
Use your torch to begin to paint light over your subject. There’s going to be some trial and error involved in getting the effect that you want, but that’s half of the fun! Not keen on what you see? Try it again!
Stretching your creativity
When you’ve mastered the basics, you can push your experimentations further. Try introducing coloured light to your images by covering your torch with coloured gels, or even sweetie wrappers. You can make cut-out filters to shape your light. Or direct your light more accurately with a snoot manufactured from cardboard and gaffer tape. You’re not limited to inside, either. Try light painting buildings and monuments or flower pots – whatever takes your fancy and you’ve sufficient fire-power to illuminate!
This is something that doesn’t have to cost the earth but can render some fabulous results.
Much of this, including all the images, is based on the fantastic How to paint a still life with light tutorial found on Triggertrap’s How-To microsite, and it’s reproduced with permission. Triggertrap How-To is full of great content for making the most of your camera. You should take a look.
I’m meant to be driving to Edinburgh tomorrow—good health permitting—and if my car weren’t due to be crammed to the gunwales with my brother’s belongings, I might’ve considered turning it into a drive-lapse. Or a time-lapse of the journey.
It would be possible to do this using a common-or-garden time-lapse technique, but if I were to find myself stuck in a traffic jam (heaven forfend), we’d have shot after shot of my car stationary on the A1, which isn’t so thrilling. The clever people at Triggertrap have developed a way around this problem, however: distancelapse mode. Rather than triggering your camera to take a photo at timed intervals, it exploits your smartphone’s GPS to take a photo at specific distance intervals. How very nifty!
Shooting a drive-lapse will necessitate mounting your camera and triggering device securely in your car, with a decent view of where you’re going. While this might seem simple, whatever means you choose to mount your camera in your vehicle, you must do it safely. Laws will vary from country to country, but the primary consideration is that your kit mustn’t obscure the driver’s vision and neither must it be a distraction. Do be sure of the regulations before you go anywhere.
Selecting a mounting option
You have a few options to mount your camera in your car. A superclamp attached to the passenger seat’s headrest stalks is ideal: it won’t obscure the driver’s vision and the camera has a great view. Alternatively, you could opt for a suction cup on the windscreen or a tripod wedged in the backseat. Remember: it’s about being safe.
Aperture priority mode or Manual?
Choosing your preferred shooting mode for a drive-lapse can be a bit of a conundrum. If you’re likely to encounter changes in the weather conditions or light throughout the duration of your journey, manual mode will leave some shots over-exposed and other under-exposed. Aperture priority mode can solve the exposure issue, but leave you with a flicker problem. You’re going to have to weigh up which mode will suit your journey, and therefore your final video, best.
Time and space considerations
If you’re going on an especially long journey, you’ll need to make provision for this, in terms of your personal needs and your kit’s. Your memory card will require sufficient space and you might need an external charger for your phone, too.
With all of these considerations, ehm, considered, it’s time to do this!
Mount your camera
As we’ve already discussed, your camera needs to be mounted legally and securely. You don’t want it wobbling about if you encounter potholes or sleeping policemen.
Camera, meet Triggertrap
Hook up your camera to the Triggertrap dongle and the dongle to your smartphone. Secure your smartphone, too, as you don’t want that moving about.
Set your camera
Your camera needs to be in manual focus mode in order for Triggertrap to function, so if it isn’t already, switch it to manual focus and adjust to get the image sharp. You also need to choose between aperture priority and manual exposure modes, and set your exposure accordingly.
Let Distancelapse take the strain
Open up the Triggertrap app and select the Distancelapse mode. If you’re driving on the motorway, 300 metres is a good interval. Hit the big red button, allow the GPS to settle, and then off you go!
Putting together your video
When you’ve completed your journey and have all your images, it’s time to compile them into a video. We’ll save that for another article, but this one should get you started. Then you get to relive the journey, in shortened form.
Much of this, including all the images, is based on the fantastic How to shoot a road trip timelapse tutorial found on Triggertrap’s How-To microsite, and it’s reproduced with permission. Triggertrap How-To is full of great content for making the most of your camera. You should take a look.
This article was originally posted at We’re going on a roadtrip – grab your camera and drive-lapse , on Photocritic.
Adorama is running some special offers on cameras from Panasonic, Pentax, and Ricoh right now. They’re worth checking out if you’re thinking about new kit.
Until 13 September 2014 there’s a $300 rebate available on purchases of Lumix GH3 bodies.
If you’ve been thinking about a GX7, these too have $300 rebates available on their purchase, until 4 October 2014. You can choose from a body-only deal with extras, or a body-only with a $100 Adorama gift card.
The Pentax K-5 IIs is shipping for $696.95 right now. This includes free two-day shipping in the US and 4% Adorama rewards.
This article was originally posted at Deals on Panasonic, Pentax, and Ricoh kit from Adorama , on Photocritic.
Star trail photos can be incredibly compelling and while they take time to produce, they’re probably not as difficult as you might think they are. In fact, there are two methods that you can use to capture the night sky with the stars streaking across it: a single long exposure or what effectively amounts to a time-lapse composited into a single image. This is our guide to shooting star trails.
Light pollution can be a pain when you’re attempting to shoot a star trail photo. If you’re not able to see the stars, your camera won’t be able to, either. Should you live in a city, this means looking for a location that’s suitably isolated to give you a view of the sky, but isn’t so isolated that you make yourself vulnerable. And if you don’t live in a city, you still need to be somewhere accessible.
You also want to think about your scene. You might find that having something of interest in the foreground of your shot will improve it. Barns, dilapidated or otherwise, obelisks, and rock formations are all good starting points.
By finding Polaris and focusing on that, you’ll produce a circular star trail; point your camera somewhere else in the sky and your trails will be more linear.
The best time of year for shooting star trails is definitely dependent on personal preference. How long you can manage safely in the cold is probably your primary concern. But you do need to be shooting on a cloudless night with no or little moon.
Once you’ve decided on your location and set up camp with warm clothes, thick boots, and a thermos flask, it’s time to set up your camera.
Set your camera on its tripod; place it in manual mode and switch the lens, preferably a wide-angle one to get as much sky in the shot as possible, to manual focus, too. Frame your shot—ideally with something of interest in the foreground—with the lens focused to infinity.
When it comes to exposure, you need to be in bulb mode, the aperture should be as wide as possible, and try ISO 1,600.
Take a test shot with a exposure time of 30 seconds; if the stars are bright and clear, you’re ready to go. If it looks a little dark, adjust the exposure time until you’re happy.
If you’re using an intervalometer, you need to set it to record as you would for a time-lapse video, using the exposure time you tested for.
If you’re using Triggertrap Mobile with its star trail mode, set the exposure time that you established in testing with a two second interval between frames, and select the number of frames you want to take. You can choose a huge number of frames and stop after half an hour or 45 minutes of shooting if you’re not certain how long you need to be out there for.
That should be about it. Hit go and wait for your camera and the universe to work its magic. Do remember to keep warm and safe!
When you’ve accumulated all the images that you need, it’s time to compile them into a single image with the help of some software. If you have Photoshop, that’s perfect. If you don’t, there are other options including the star-trail-specific StarStax.
A stack of images
Transfer your images from the memory card to your harddrive, keeping them in a single folder with their original file numbers. Whichever programme you use, this is important to ensure that the images don’t get out-of-synch. The rest of this tutorial uses Photoshop to assemble your star trail shot, but you should be able to extrapolate the process to any other programme.
Import your images
Open Photoshop and import your star trail images using File –> Scripts –> Load Files into Stack. Select your folder of star trails photos, highlight all of the photos, and then select Open followed by OK.
When all of your photos have made their way into Photoshop, select all of them in the Layers panel, and then in Blending Mode select Lighten. Tah-da! You should have a star trail composite.
You can make adjustments to individual layers if you want, but otherwise, you’re done and it’s a case of saving. (You might want to save an unflattened PSD file and a flattened JPEG version.)
Much of this, including all the images, is based on the fantastic How to capture a star trail tutorial found on Triggertrap’s How-To microsite, and it’s reproduced with permission. Triggertrap How-To is full of great content for making the most of your camera. You should take a look.
Today is World Photo Day. If you’re wondering how a 2009-invented celebration of the visual medium came to be on 19 August, it’s because that’s the day in 1839 when the French government announced that it had purchased the patent to the daguerreotype method and made it a gift ‘free to the world’. Armed with that snippet of information, the pressing question is, what are you going to do to mark it?
For anyone in need of a little inspiration, here are some Photocritic suggestions to mark World Photo Day.
1. Try something new
Photography is a learning curve. There’s always something new to try or with which to experiment, so pick something you’ve not done before and give it a go.
May we recommend, in no particular order and certainly far from exhaustive:
- High-speed photography
- Street photography
- Macro photography
- Infrared photography
- Nude photography (that’s photographing nude models, rather than taking photos in the altogether; but if that floats your boat… why not?)
- Long exposure photography
- HDR photography
- Panoramic photography
- Flash photography
2. Go back to basics
The technological wonders that we can perform with our cameras today can sometimes obfuscate the simplicity of photography. It’s painting with light. So why not go back to basics: pick up a pinhole camera and rediscover the perfection of capturing light in a box.
3. Have a print made
How many of your photos are hanging on your walls and how many are stuffed away on hard drives as binary files that never see the light of day? Do justice to your skills: pick your favourite image and have it printed to hang on your wall.
4. Set yourself a challenge
We can’t all be good at everything. But we can try to improve. Which aspect of photography do you find challenging? What would you like to do better, but find a struggle? Maybe your landscapes come across as flat and dull? Perhaps your portraits fail to capture your subject’s spirit? Is your food photography not exactly good enough to eat?
Decide on a point of focus and challenge yourself to improve over the course of the coming year. Read. Practise. Try. Maybe fail. Definitely try again. Keep a record of your experimentations. Come World Photo Day 2015, you can measure your progress.
5. Teach a child to take a photo
There’s no better way to share your passion for something than to teach it to someone else. So why not help to develop the next generation of photographers by teaching them how to take photos. It doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult, just the basics. We’ve even got a tutorial to help you.
This article was originally posted at Today’s World Photo Day! What are you going to do to mark it? , on Photocritic.