Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Exposure Triangle - Part 2

Making sense of all that complicated photo jargon, Part 2!

Photography Skills 101
By Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer

Last month I went over the first part of the exposure triangle, the shutter speed.  I explained that it could reveal, at very short and very long exposures, many things our eyes could not see.  If the shutter speed at it’s best, reveals much, I often use the camera’s aperture (or f-stop) to hide or obscure what is around my subject. But first, lets talk about what your camera’s aperture is and how it works.  Well, it’s a total rip-off of your eyes’ iris!  You know, the little black holes in the center of the eyes that gets so huge when your hippie friends used to smoke…or, how about when your eye doctor puts the drops in your eyes to dilate them?  Remember how sensitive your eyes became to light? That’s because he took your eyes off Auto and put them into the Manual, wide-open, mode. Thank God for THAT Auto mode! When working properly the iris in our eyes are constantly and smoothly, closing or opening, adjusting to lighting levels around us without us so much as breaking a sweat.  OK, maybe some of us need to break-out the sunglasses sometimes—kinda like putting a neutral density filter (to cut down the light) on your camera’s lens.  See we have more in common with our cameras than you thought!

Your camera’s aperture, like the iris in your eyes, is another way to control the amount of light that reaches the film or the camera’s sensor. The smaller the aperture’s opening the less light will pass through your camera’s shutter and onto the sensor or film.  And, the larger the opening…..you probably guessed that one, right? Just to make something so simple complicated, some engineer decided to call these apertures: f-stops (don’t ask) and attached numbers to them! But, not content with the fractions being used for the shutter speeds they decided to use decimals for the f-stops!  That’s how we ended up with the most confusing and hardest part of the exposure triangle to teach.  So, here are the standard f-stops starting with the LARGEST opening and going down, smaller with each step (even thought the numbers are getting bigger), allowing half as much light in with each step. 

The lens widest aperture in this example is f 2.8, followed by f 4.0, f 5.6, f 8.0, f 11, f 16, and f 22.

If your lens is at f 2.8, the aperture is wide open allowing the most light possible through to the shutter.  As we adjust the lens to the higher numbers the aperture gets smaller allowing less light to the shutter. Got that? Well, you don’t have to like it, but if you can just understand how to control this part of the exposure triangle, you can create images that the human eye could never see. For example, one of the side effects, created by a large aperture, like the aforementioned f 2.8, is my favorite effect when doing portraits of people outside. It’s called shallow depth-of-field in my world.  Depth-of-field in an image is simply how much is apparently in focus in front of and behind the subject you focused on.  So, what’s so hot about that you say? With depth-of-field control I can direct you to where I want you to look first in a photograph by controlling what’s in focus and what’s out-of-focus.

Here’s how it works.  When the aperture is at f 2.8 you get the least amount in focus in an image (often only inches).  When the aperture is at the higher numbers, like f 22, you get the most that the lens can produce in focus—like hundreds of feet to infinity!  The bottom line is what do YOU, as a photographer, want to show the viewer? Often showing our audience everything in focus shows too much—that’s what our eyes do—you can reveal more often by showing less.  It really depends on what the subject is.  Is it the Grand Canyon or the lizard on a rock, on the rim, of the Grand Canyon?  You can decide this when you control the depth-of-field.  The f-stop is the only thing in the exposure triangle that controls depth-of-field.

For you visual types (you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t), here are three images I set-up to illustrate depth-of-field at different apertures.

Next month I will wrap-it-up with the third part of the exposure triangle: the ISO or film speed and how the three parts work together. If you missed Part 1 you can view it on the Informer’s website or on our blog.

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, Published in the Eagle Informer 2011

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Working in "M"

What’s the Difference between and Amateur and a Professional Photographer?

Do you need a reason to set your camera to “M”?  Try these:
-    As a professional you should be the author of your images.
-    As an artist you must be the master of your tools.
-    To be regarded as an expert you must be able to tell how and why you created a given image.
-    Most important to you is the ability to recreate any photographic effect or style or technique, on demand, at any time, in the future; or to apply a given technique to a different subject in the future.

The only way you can know how to do these things at a moments notice with consistent quality, is to know the effect of all the various combinations of shutter speeds and f-stops at various ISO settings.  When does cool looking “grain” turn into unacceptable “noise” in Your camera—and at what degree of enlargement does that happen?  You need to know this. Why? Because a client, when you least expect it, may say, “Great image, make me a 50” print of that!” Photoshop is a marvelous tool, but it can’t fix everything.  If you used too high an ISO for your camera, that 50” wall print could look like crap.

If you used the wrong f-stop and did not get the depth-of-field you needed on that group photo you’re out of luck. The problem with the auto modes is that the camera does not know what it’s being pointed at; it does not know what the subject is.  Therefore, it can’t know the best f-stop/shutter speed for that subject.  Nor can it pick the best ISO because it does not know how large you’re going to print the image…heck You may not know that at this point!  And that’s just what happens when you throw the dice using the camera’s auto modes including auto-white balance. 

As professionals we need to immediately decide when we walk into any given setting what shutter speed/f-stop combination we’re going to use and why. Nothing new here, it’s always been that way.  Do you know with out thinking what to change when you are following that bride and groom from inside the church to bright sunlight outside the church?  Or what you need to do when the sun keeps popping in and out of the clouds during an environmental session. You should. If you look back in our film days we did all this with no preview screen on our cameras—we had to know the results before we got to see them! These days you also need to know the effect a given f-stop will produce with various digital cameras—because the depth-of-field of a given f-stop is different on cameras with different size sensors!  I’ll put it another way…Using exactly the same lens and f-stop on a digital camera with an APS-C-size sensor will have a lot less depth-of-field than a camera with a “full size” 35mm type sensor.  Do you know what your camera is using?  You need to know these things!

Here are some examples for you:

In ANY auto mode your camera connote be trusted to make a proper exposure of snow.  That's because its reflective metering system will always try to make it 18% gray--so, you'll get grey snow.

My camera wanted to expose this @ f11.0, 1/400 sec, ISO 400.  So, I opened up a couple stops to expose this at: f7.1, 1/400 sec., ISO 400

To photography my outdoor snow set at twilight using the Christmas lights as my predominant light source: I picked ISO 400 as my baseline to minimize noise--you don't let your camera pick ISO because IT certainly does not know it's own noise limitations!  Then I picked f10.0 for really good depth-of-field.  That then gave me a shutter speed of 2-seconds as measured with my, hand held, incident light meter. And because the incident light  meter measures the light fallen onto your subject instead of the light reflected off your subject, as your camera's reflective meter does, it's not affected by the very dark (the wood) or the very light (snow) features in this scene.

So, this is why photographers should use the big brain (the one that has a neck!) instead of their camera's little rat-like brain that tries to make the whole world grey!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Book Review for: W. Eugene Smith: Shadow and Substance: The Life and Work of an American Photographer

Book Review for:
W. Eugene Smith: Shadow and Substance: The Life and Work of an American Photographer
Book Author: Jim Hughes

This book tells us how this great artist, shaped by tragic family history, wounded physically and mentally by war, brutally attacked--his cameras destroyed--trying to tell the story of voiceless victims, deformed by the mercury poisoning created by one corporation, had to continuously fight the corporate management, at LIFE magazine, for the creative freedom to show the world HIS unique photo-stories of the human condition.

Smith's stunning B&W images, masterfully illuminated with, directional, natural light, giving his images strong shadows on his subjects and often deep dark vignettes, were hand printed by Smith like Gothic paintings.
His dramatic prints evoke the tenebrism of the baroque master painter Caravaggio--see "The Calling of Saint Matthew".

Imbedded with the Marines, Smith's WWII images of the invasion of Iwo Jima are legendary.  One in particular, caught with perfect timing, shows a Marine demolition squad blowing-up a Japanese bunker.  The huge explosion in a landscape already resembling  something only Dante could imagine, with the small cluster of Marines doing their duck-and-cover in the foreground, is awesome and horrifying in it's terrible beauty.   This image made the cover of LIFE magazine as one of the few times where the photograph WAS the cover--no other text was on that cover except the LIFE masthead and the date and issue price.  I am proud to own that issue of LIFE.

It's no wonder that when asked what other photographer he admired Ansel Adams mentioned W. Eugene Smith's name before any others saying how impressed he was at Smith's ability to capture the decisive moment.

The influence of Smith's work, more than any other photographer, is why I shifted my professional photography from things to people. That influence is also why I only use natural light when outside or when inside, I prefer window light, much like the Dutch painter Vermeer did 300 years ago.

This style of photography is fast disappearing in this digital age. I urge serious photographers to study Smith's images and read this story of an artist whose passion would permit no compromises to his vision.

You can see many of his images with the simple GOOGLE of his name. Then go to TIME/LIFE or MAGNUM PHOTO and enjoy the best B&W storytelling images ever made!

Jerry W. Venz 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

My Favorite Sales Tools

Too many photographers think that a particular software is all they need to make great sales! That's like thinking the right camera will make them a great photographer!

We learned--these last 15+years with Jerry Deck and Sondra Ayers of BuzzworthySuccess.com--that sales begins with the seeds we plant WAY before the phone rings:

Your website--great images and NOT putting your price list on the web!!

Your business cards--with great images--custom high-end cards that don't say vista print on the back!
These are a few of our "Let Me Send You" pieces.  The off-set press materials (life cycle information and wedding brochure) are printed at H&H Color Labs, and 4x9 Rack and Business Cards are printed at AmericasPrinter.com and all of the pieces were designed in house by my wife, Kathi.

Here is a new business card tri-fold we have recently added, printed at Marathon Press and the layout designed in house by my wife, Kathi.

The WORDS you use places value on what you sell.  We CREATE IMAGES--they aren't SHOTS.  And we don't SHOOT kids, families, and certainly not horses! We sell WALL DECOR or at least WALL PRINTS not Photos and certainly not SHEETS!

IN PERSON SALES PRESENTATIONS--don't sabotage your sales by doing them ONLINE!

The tool you use for presentations ( we call this their PREMIERE ) depends on the size of your sales room. When we had a larger room we used projection and now that we have a smaller room we're using a 50" TV and the results have been better sales because:

Placed all around this room are our most important sales tools--OUR FINISHED PRODUCTS. Directly above the 50" TV is a 50" CANVAS WRAP ( of an adorable group of five sisters ), plus FOUR more prints in 30x40" or 24x36" all framed or in STAND-OUT MOUNTS placed around the room. There are 14 prints on display in different styles and finishes--with NOTHING SMALLER on the wall than 16x20''.

Then, we DO NOT hand them our price list until AFTER they have viewed their premiere slideshow and have picked their favorites( they already know our price range and  "what most of our clients spend" from previous conversations--to avoid sticker shock!) and are ready to start selecting final images. 

Then we hand them our price list and remind them that our special "discounted" COLLECTIONS are ONLY AVAILABLE TODAY.
In addition we offer them a special "discount" on A-LA-CARTE wall prints on this day as well. Narrowing down favorites to the final selection before you give them a price list of collections will help them narrow down images according to their budget or type of wall portraits or wall collections they are looking for. 

These are some of the TOOLS that not only MAKE US MONEY, but puts great images on our client's walls.

Jerry Venz M.Photog., CPP