Lesson 108 (All Cameras): Long Exposures

Note for iPhoneographers: the SlowShutter app will allow you apply this information to the iPhone, although stabilizing the iPhone (even in an iPhone tripod) can be challenging.  See Lesson 101.

When I teach beginning photography workshops, one of the things I spend a lot of time working with students on is the relationship between exposure and artistic expression.  Shutter speed is one of the big ways in which we control both exposure and motion showing in our images.

Slow shutter speeds leave the shutter open for longer periods of time, allowing more light to reach our sensors for exposure.  They also allow any motion in the subject to blur.  Most of us strive for tack sharp images, so why would we ever use long shutter speeds?

First, sometimes you have to use a slow (long) shutter speed if you’re shooting in low-light conditions.  Second, allowing motion to blur can create some cool artistic effects.  And third, if you need lots of depth of field, you’re going to need a small aperture.  The age-old analogy for the relationship between the shutter speed and the aperture size is to think of a water faucet.  How long you turn the water on is like your shutter speed.  How wide you open the valve is like your aperture.  If you turn a water faucet on wide open for a split second, you can get the same amount of water as if you turn the water on at a trickle but let it run for a much longer time.  That’s how aperture and shutter speed work together to control the total volume of light that will reach your sensor and why using a small aperture usually means a slower shutter.

Let’s start with an example that was both low-light and a small aperture, but with no motion:

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This example was shot at twilight with a 1 second exposure at f/18.  F/18 is a small aperture opening and 1 second is a slow shutter speed.  By using a tripod and a 2-second delay on the shooting mode, I was able to keep the camera still and avoid introducing motion blur.  I got the exposure I wanted and kept everything from the rail in the foreground to the building in the background sharp.

Now let’s take a look at what happens if you don’t keep your camera still:

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In this example, I literally picked up my camera/tripod and moved it in about the last second of a 25 second exposure.  Because the building in the background is so much dimmer than the lights going up the path, the building did not blur while the lights, being so bright, created trails across the image.

Now let’s talk about using long shutter speeds to show motion in the subject itself.  Waterfalls are a popular subject for this technique.  By putting the camera on a tripod again, everything in the image that is still remains sharp but the moving water blurs to a soft “flow” through the image, visually communicating the movement of the water.

Compare this image (shot at ⅙ of a second) to the one after it (shot at 1/320 of a second):

The fast (1/320) shutter speed freezes the splashes of water while the slower shutter speed (⅙) allows the water to blur into softness.  Which one you prefer is a matter of taste (in this case, I like the faster shutter speed better, but that’s partly because it’s slightly less exposed and has less flare from the sun).

Now let’s look at an example of low-light, moving water, and lots of depth of field:

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This was a 20 second exposure shot at f/16.  The small aperture not only provides more depth of field, but it also turns the lights on the bridge into stars.  The slow shutter allows the water coming out of the water cannons to blur into soft streams.  Also notice the surface of the river–the splashes and ripples have also smoothed out into soft lines.

There are many more fun things you can do with a long exposure, but I’ll save those for future posts.  🙂

Lesson 105: All Cameras: Planning for Wildlife

We often approach photography from the perspective of capturing the moment as the moment occurs. While on vacation, for example, unless we are specifically on vacation to shoot, we rarely plan our activities around the best opportunity to make images. Instead, we plan our activities as they best fit in our schedule and capture images whenever the opportunity occurs.

Sometimes, however, getting the photos we want requires a little planning. In lessons 16 and 17, we talked about timing outdoor photography around the golden hour (or magic hour) to get the most appealing light. Wildlife photography is another type of photography that requires planning.

While I do not recommend using an iPhone for wildlife smaller than buffalo, regardless of which camera you’re using, if you want to capture wildlife, there is significantly more planning involved than for most subjects. Predictably, sometimes the best laid plan goes awry and, conversely, sometimes the best wildlife shots happen by accident. But, most of the time, having a plan helps.

Time of day. Many wildlife are most active around dawn and dusk. This works well since it usually corresponds with the best light. Knowing if the wildlife you seek falls into this pattern and planning to arrive at the best time increases the odds of not only seeing wildlife, but also seeing them do interesting things. Checking to see when the sun will rise and set on the day you’ll be shooting will help get your there on time.

Location, location, location. This is the real trick. Knowing where to find the wildlife you seek can sometimes seem like magic. In the days of the internet, it’s gotten a lot easier to get tips on locating popular hangouts for your favorite critters and even what they’re up to (like hatching eaglets, birthing elk, migrating rare birds). Sometimes the best source of this information is from posts by other photographers on Facebook or Flickr. There are also organizations who provide updates: for birds, check out a local chapter of the Ornithological Society and/or Audubon Society–ebird.org also provides migration hotspot updates; park websites often mention wildlife viewing areas; and the National Wildlife Federation seems to be trying to use social networking for sharing sightings via their Wildlife Watch program.

The Weather. Birds are tricky. During migration, they will move when winds are favorable and hang out in appropriate habitat along their migration route when winds are not. Here’s an article that explains the basics of weather and bird migration. My best birding day ever was in high winds and misting rain. Many types of Warblers had moved into a migration hotspot and then hunkered down in the understory of the woods for protection from the weather. Large mammals will move from higher elevations to lower ones as the seasons change, but day-to-day weather tends to affect how active they are more than where they’re found. However, the weather, especially in mountain areas, can have a very big impact on whether you can access the location you’re trying to get to or not. If you’re counting on driving to a wildlife viewing area in the winter in the Smokies, for example, check the road status. In the more South-Eastern mountains of the US, there is little snow clearing equipment and remote roads remain closed for much of the season. Additionally, rain, snow, and overcast skies will change the light and may even affect your subjects’ behavior. The less intense sunlight behind clouds means even, gray light all day long (which is not as nice as golden light, but means you can shoot in the middle of the afternoon without the harsh effects of overhead sun). Additionally, cooler, cloudy weather may increase the level of activity of the animals at times of day they might otherwise seek shade.
Luck. No matter how you study your subject, figure out where to find them, time your visit, plan around the weather, there is still luck involved. I have given up on carrying telephoto lenses while hiking on more than one occasion only to get my best view of wildlife when my telephoto lenses were back in the car. In fact, I’ve come to believe that leaving your telephotos behind guarantees you will see great wildlife. This does not, however, result in great photos.

All-in-all, knowing a lot about your subjects, where and when to find them, and what the weather will be like all increases the odds that you’ll have some luck and get a great shot. Some photographers like to stack the deck and hire guides who bait wildlife. Baiting wildlife teaches them to come out into the open and tolerate people standing around pointing objects at them. While cameras may be harmless, hunters are not. I am not opposed to hunting when it is practiced skillfully and prey is fully consumed, but I believe it should be fair. Animals that have been baited for photographers are at greater risk of falling prey to hunters, so I choose not to participate in such practices.  This may explain why I so often go out to shoot wildlife but come home with landscape images. 🙂

Lesson 103: Sunrise and the iPhone

The greatest thing about an iPhone (or any smart phone, for that matter) as a camera is that most of us don’t go out the door without it.  It takes forethought and extra effort to pop a lens on my DSLR, check to make sure it has space on its memory card, check the battery charge level, and look at what settings are on it.  I don’t think about photography at all when I grab my iPhone before I head out the door.  In fact, I have to remind myself that I have a camera with me because I carry my iPhone for so many other reasons.

When the clouds look interesting, it’s hard to resist getting a shot, even if the colors aren’t unusual.  The iPhone, for better or worse, makes it possible to capture all of the sunrises I happen to see.

On this particular morning, the bank of clouds in front of the sun caught my eye.  As usual, I was out walking my dog.  This means I was at the mercy of his bladder, trying to get to a position where I had a view of the bridge and river before the sun got too high, but not wanting to rush him through his morning routine.  There is a reason you don’t see professional photographers toting around their gear while holding a leash with a dog at the other end.

I used two different apps for these images.  First, I used the Apple Camera App (the one that comes installed on your iPhone) for this image:

Then, when I finally made it down to the river, I used it again for this image:

But, I switch to Pro HDR for this image:

Here are the two different exposures Pro HDR used to combine them into the final image above:

The result is better exposure of both the water and the sky in the same image without looking over-processed.  This is one way to deal with the bright sun–I’ve covered the Pro HDR app in earlier lessons.  See Lessons 9, 18, 20, and 66.

A word about composition:  Compare these two images side-by-side:

Notice that in the one on the left, the sky takes up the majority of the frame.  The clouds in the foreground at the top enter the frame.  In the image on the right, the water occupies the majority of the frame.  The sunlight reflected in the water adds more depth to the image and the clouds seem secondary to the composition.  While one isn’t necessarily preferable to the other, in this particular example, in spite of my obsession with clouds, I prefer the one on the right.  The reflection in the water helps draw my eye into the bridges, sun, and clouds more than the extra clouds add to the image on the left.  Which framing do you like better?

Your Assignment:  The next time you’re out at sunrise or sunset, remember that you have a camera in your pocket.  Try taking a few shots with the default camera.  Try turning on the HDR feature in it as well (for a comparison of with and without HDR in the Apple camera app, see Lesson 72).  Then try Pro HDR and see if you like the results you get–remember you have to hold still until it takes both exposures (watch the screen prompts).

iPhoneography Lesson 101: Slow Shutter App and a Highway Bridge

I introduced the Slow Shutter app several posts ago, but this time, I dug out my iPhone tripod and found a view of a highway bridge over a river so I could demonstrate this app creating light trails.

3GSphoto of 5S

First and foremost, this requires a tripod.  Here is a shot taken with an iPhone 3GS of my iPhone 5S in its nice little tripod courtesy of Photojojo (they have crazy accessories for iPhoneography that will make you feel like you’re buying Barbie photography gear).  The one I have came with a telephoto attachment and works fine on flat surfaces, but if I had no interest in the telephoto attachment, I would go for the $15 Gorillapod.  Just something to keep in mind for the post-Christmas shopping frenzy.  🙂

If you decide to buy something, Photojojo is offering $5 off to both you (if it’s your first-time order) and me if you use this link to go to the website:  http://photojojo.com/r/afvu–a win-win deal!

To create the Slow Shutter images, I used an 8 sec exposure under the light trails settings.  Below, find the two steps required to set this up plus what to do after you shoot:

Once you get your camera set up and going, you can keep adding to the exposure.  In this example, I did a series of 4, 8-second exposures over top of each other before saving the final image.  The key is not to move the iPhone at all when you do this.  Any vibration from tapping the phone or in the tripod it’s sitting on shows up in the image.  The problem I experienced was that I couldn’t tap the screen firmly enough without moving it to get the camera to focus on the subject, leaving me with soft focus on the distant bridge.  Here are two images on the tripod, both with soft focus:

All-in-all, I’d have to say that Slow shutter is a great idea, but probably not a useful app if you just want to pull the camera out of your pocket and start shooting.  In case you’re curious what it would do if you just hand held the iPhone, here’s the best I could do hand-holding:

Your Assignment:  Do you have an interest in being able to capture light trails at night?  Is it worth it to you to have a tripod for your iPhone to capture such images?  If so, Slow Shutter is a great app to experiment with.  We’ll also take a look at using Slow Shutter with panning in future lessons.  In the meantime, give it a try with cars driving by and see if you can get the results you’re seeking.

 

 

 

iPhoneography Lesson 100: Hipstamatic on Ice with iPhoto on the Side

One of the great things about the iPhone as a camera is that it is virtually always with you.  Being able to pull out an iPhone versus missing a shot is a great option.  The only downside, for those of us who have invested heavily in prosumer DSLR equipment, sometimes we find ourselves opting for the more convenient iPhone, even when we could pull out the big guns with a little extra effort.

For example, today, I was wandering around a parking lot in a cold wind somewhere in Indiana or Kentucky, allowing my dog to stretch his legs after several hours of riding in the car.  A small drainage ditch ran around the parking lot, which bordered a farmer’s field.  It appeared the water had dropped several feet after freezing, leaving sheets of ice hanging from trees and fencing along the drainage ditch.

The bright afternoon sun glared off the ice, giving the whole scene less than ideal lighting, but interesting glare.  So, what did I do?  Did I return to my car, dig my camera bag out from its hiding place, unzip all the zippers required to get out my camera and a lens and then dig up my tripod and go back and shoot in the sub-freezing temperatures?  Well, I thought about it for a moment.  Then, I reached into my pocket, pulled out my iPhone, opened up the Hipstamatic app and grabbed as many shots as I found interesting.

Yes.  Sometimes I choose to be lazy.  Sometimes I choose to save time.  Sometimes I choose both.

To further complicate things, I didn’t have my glasses.  When I opened up Hipstamatic, I thought it was on the BlacKeys ultrachrome film.  It was actually Blanko film.  Blanko film is color film and I really wanted black and white.  So, it was iPhoto iOS to the rescue.  I did a quick auto-enhance + black and white effect to get the black and white look I’d envisioned.  These steps are covered in detail in Lesson 96 (I did not use the Sepia button in today’s examples, but otherwise the steps are the same).

Your Assignment:  Check out these earlier lessons on lighting:  Lessons 16, 17, and 67.  Sometimes, bright afternoon light can add interest to an image even though we normally think of it as being too harsh and creating strong shadows and contrasty images.  In the winter months in particular, the sun is lower to the South and the angle of the light gives it a very different look from a straight overhead sun in the summer.  Can you tell that the sun in these images is very bright?  Does the black and white version look more or less appealing to you?

iPhoneography Lesson 99: Christmas Eve and the iPhone

Just a quick tip that Christmas trees work well with Hipstamatic as well as more traditional camera apps.  Also try including reflections of the lights in the windows in the frame if you want something a little different from the traditional Christmas tree.

Have a wonderful day tomorrow whether you celebrate Christmas or not.  Peace on earth, goodwill to all, and good night!

iPhoneography Lesson 98: Comparison of Apps at Night

 

Having just passed the shortest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere, I thought it was a good time to look at how different apps perform at night on the iPhone 5S.  I’m sure you all heard that the 5S was a step up for low-light photography with it’s bigger aperture and larger, less noisy sensor.  If you don’t know what any of that means, that’s OK, it’s just supposed to be better than predecessors at night.

As someone who shoots a lot with a DSLR that does fantastic things at night, it’s a little hard for me to judge fairly about whether the improvement is significant between my 4S and 5S, but I was curious to see if using different apps on the iPhone while hand holding made any difference at all in the quality of the images in low light.

The answer is pretty much “no” for the apps I tried in this comparison:  the Apple Camera App, Hipstamatic, Camera Awesome, and Pro HDR.  Here are the things that differ, both good and bad, over the Apple Camera App:

Hipstamatic

The cool (or should I say hip?) thing about Hipstamatic at night is that the filters it applies to the image make the noise of low-light photos look intentional.  They seem like part of the artistic effect instead of an annoying accident.

The downside is that you only get square images, which I don’t particularly like for a scene that is wide and short like the Chattanooga riverfront.

Past Hipstamatic Lessons:  Lesson 13:  Getting Hip; Lesson 24:  Using Hipstamatic to Include and Exclude; Lesson 26:  The iPhone and Wildlife; Lesson 29:  Hipsta-Classic; Lesson 30:  Awesomely Hip Portraits; Lesson 43:  Patterns; Lesson 46:  Flower Power; Lesson 88:  Hip Heads; Lesson 93:  Old Places, New Dressing.

Camera Awesome

The level–it’s particularly useful at night when it’s too dark to judge visually if you’ve got a tilt going on or not.

Being able to separate the focus point from the exposure point gives you more control over whether you get a lighter or darker exposure (I did not use this feature in the examples, but you can see how to use it here).

Past Camera Awesome Lessons:  Lesson 7:  Keep It Level; Lesson 8:  Separating Focus from Exposure; Lesson 12:  Awesomization; Lesson 14:  Another Way to Be Hip; Lesson 31:  Blur and Flash; Lesson 34:  When You’ve Got the Shakes; Lesson 43:  Patterns.

HDR Pro

Combining two images helps get better exposure, but the inherent problem of hand-holding at night is that the shutter is pretty slow, meaning more shake shows in the image.  When you add a second image to that, the focus looks extra soft.  We’ll try it on a tripod in another lesson to see how much that helps.

Past HDR Pro Lessons:  Lesson 9:  Combining Two Exposures into One Photo; Lesson 18:  When the Light is Out of ControlLesson 20:  Using Filters in Pro HDR; Lesson 21:  Filters and Photos in Your Library; Lesson 36:  Creating Space.

Your Assignment:  Pick an app.  Any app.  Go out in the dark, find an area with night lights, and experiment for yourself.  Does Hipstamatic make the noise tolerable?  Does Pro HDR solve much of the problem or make it worse?  Are you able to hand-hold and still get a sharp image?  Does the level on Camera Awesome (several other camera apps include a level) help you as much as it helps me?  How much does separating the exposure from the focus point help?