Wind-blown grassesWind-blown grassesDry grass blowing in the wind near Canberra.

Welcome to Miscellaneous thoughts of a photographer.

As the name implies, it's a series of posts on various thoughts, ideas and discoveries I've made as a photographer. I hope you find it useful - and more importantly - interesting.

Please feel free to leave comments!

Shane Baker
Perth, WA.

 

 

The sun isn't always the photographer's friend

January 30, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Back in the dark ages when I was young, people with cameras would love bright, sunny days. It's not surprising; lenses were slow and so was the film emulsion. You had to take what you could get, especially in the higher latitudes. Family snaps from that period usually show people squinting into the sun, but with reasonably well-exposed faces.

I think many people have carried this behaviour into today's world - despite the faster sensors and better lenses. They shoot in bright conditions - but don't always get the results they're hoping for. The reason is the nature of the light on bright, sunny days.

Check out these two images from the Perth Zoo.

Elephants at Perth Zoo.Elephants at Perth Zoo.Elephants at Perth Zoo - photographed in harsh light.    Tricia the elephant at Perth Zoo in soft light.Tricia the elephant at Perth Zoo.Tricia the elephant at Perth Zoo in soft light. Ok, neither will win the Wildlife Photographer of the Year; they're just snaps, but they show the effects of shooting in bright light. The first image has completely blown-out highlights and deep shadows; and it was shot with my Nikon D800 using raw. (Had a been shooting JPEGs and/or a less capable camera, it would have been worse.) The second shot is quite nice. It has a good tonal range because everything is within the capacity of the Nikon to record the light.

What's the difference? The first was shot on a typically hot, clear, bright day in Perth. The second was made on an overcast day. In one, the sun is creating contrast ratios beyond the capacity of the camera's sensor (which has a very good capacity in that regard). In the second, the cloud is producing softer light and lower contrast ratios which are well-within the camera's ability. What do I mean by "contrast  ratio"? It's the range of light levels from the brightest to the dullest part of an image. Modern sensors are good, but they still can't match our eyes in this regard.

If this is an issue when photographing an elephant, it's much more so when photographing family and friends?

So, what do we do? We can't dial-up cloud on demand. 

We have a few options. Time of day can help. Early or late in the day provides a softer (and warmer) light which is kinder on the skin and won't throw deep shadows under eyes and noses. Getting technical, the lower light levels also make it easier to produce a show depth of field and a nice soft, creamy bokeh in the background.

Orangutan at Perth Zoo.Orangutan at Perth Zoo.Orangutan at Perth Zoo.

This image of one of the Orangutans at Perth Zoo was made under very heavy cloud. Note the nice even light on his face, and the bokeh produced by a combination of the wide aperture and long lens needed to get this close-up.

Even if you have no choice but to make a portrait or group shot around midday, you can still do a few things.

Stand people in shade. They will feel better (especially if it's hot), will be less likely to squint into the light, and you will get a softer (if somewhat "cooler") light with better skin and few if any deep shadows.

If you're really keen and are prepared, you can use a diffuser. These can be anything from a purpose made unit [link] to a white bed sheet or curtain and are held between the sun and your subject to give a softer, diffused light.

Take a lead from the animals at the Perth Zoo. They move around when the sun's soft. But when the sun's blazing and throwing hot and hard light, they get in the shade and take it easy. Do the same with your subjects, whether they be family, friends or animals or plants. They (and your images) will do better on overcast days, or in some gentle shade.

Keep shooting.

Shane
shanebakerphotos@iinet.net.au


A new year's resolution - of sorts

January 15, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

I haven't done all that much photography (or blogging) in the past year. It's not through conscious choice; I just don't seem to have "got around to it". 

This is not a good thing. Making photographs clears my head, allows me the rare experience of actually creating something, and gets some use out of my substantial investment in gear. So my failure to get out and do photography hasn't been positive.

Actually, it's not quite true that I did no photography. I have had some success over past 12 months. I was happy with a couple of shots made mid year at The Pinnacles north of Perth. 

Sand dune, Nambung National Park, Western AustraliaSand dunesSand dune, Nambung National Park, Western Australia Sand dune, Nambung National Park, Western Australia

Even more to the point, I fulfilled a commission from my wife made while we were still living in Canberra: to make family portraits of her kids. 

The deal I made with them was simple: they come around for lunch, and before we feed them, they give me 10 minutes to make the photographs I wanted. I would then do anything else they requested, and then we'd eat. After processing, I would print any image (of the images I approved) in any size they required. 

It worked well. In each case, they chose images they liked, and my wife chose an image she wanted. Each household now has images they like which are framed and on the wall. I'm pleased. I'm particularly pleased that in each case, my wife chose one of the images I had purposefully made. 

Let me explain.

In each case, I thought long and hard about the characters of these people (who I know quite well) and the dynamics within each family. As you would have expected, this resulted in three completely different images. (For privacy reasons, I'm not going to publish them here, but while each was a group shot, they were very different in tone and posing.) After I'd loaded them into Capture One, I was pleasantly surprised how well they'd worked: the personalities and the relationships had come across. My wife agreed and in each case, she chose one of the images I'd pre-visualised.

Her kids didn't select my "picks", I might add. We got the "why did you chose that?" (with varying degrees of vehemence) in each case, but they themselves are happy with their choices - and that's good.

So, what are the take-ways from this exercise? In no particular order, they are:

  • I tend towards low key images (as opposed to high key) and hence the the black backdrop worked best.
  • On the other hand, the black backdrop is a pain in terms of dirt showing where people have stood. There must be a solution for this, but I don't have it as yet. (All suggestions welcome.)
  • My long (3m x 6m) backdrop (bought on eBay) worked best as I didn't have to spend time in post covering up the concrete floor. Using a shorter backdrop left me with some work.
  • Taking charge worked. Not for the first time, I learnt that when having their portrait made, even strong-willed people seem happiest when being told what to do - probably because they're a bit nervous. After a while, each relaxed, got into the swing of it and made suggestions and requests - which I was happy to work with.
  • Don't be afraid to make a few photographs. Across the three shoots, I made 180 images, although half of these were made with one of the three families. Having multiple shots gave me choices and options for my subjects.
  • In each shoot, I used a couple of Elinchrom flash units. Each shoot was an experiment, and therefore different, but they were all a variation of "butterfly lighting" (where the light source is above and behind the photographer). Results were all quite good.
  • My Nikon D800 continues to perform and the large, detailed files give lots of latitude in processing - although it's merciless in picking up skin detail in portraits!

So I did do photography in 2016 and had some good results. But I didn't do enough. I must get my camera out more in 2017!

I hope you do too.

Shane

 


I'm a collector!

September 03, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Well, I'm officially a photo collector! Admittedly, I already hold the definitive collection of work by that undiscovered genius of Australian photography, Shane Baker, but I now own a photograph by an acknowledged master of photography: Werner Bischof.

Werner Bischof - Famine in India, 1951Werner Bischof - Famine in India, 1951INDIA. State of Bihar. Famine stricken area. Due to flooding and drought, in 1951 the province of Bihar was heavily stricken by famine. The US sent 136 million tons of wheat and a 190 million dollar loan, while the USSR sent 50,000 tons of wheat. April 1951.

Most people would recognise this famous photograph of famine in India, made by Bischof, but I wonder how many know the photographer?

Bischof was in the first tranche of photographers recruited to Magnum after its founding. He had an at times, difficult relationship with founder Robert Capa, so there was some irony in the fact that Magnum received the news of the deaths of the two men within hours of each other. Capa had been killed by a land mine covering the French war in Indo China, while Bischof's vehicle had gone over a cliff in Peru nine days earlier. Due to communications, the news arrived from South America the same day that Capa's death was reported.

Bischof did sensitive, passionate, insightful work and I've always hoped that one day, I could have one of his prints. I do now - albeit in postcard size!

Shane Baker with Werner Bischof printShane Baker with Werner Bischof print

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shane Baker

 


More people are shifting to Capture One!

August 01, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Back in February 2016, I wrote Capture One is a mixed bag ... but I'm sticking with it about my initial experience with the Capture One image processing software. 

I'm still using it and it continues to please with its ability to get the best out of my image files.

Looks like I'm not the only one. Derrick Story of The Digital Story fame has moved to Capture One and is even producing training videos. He's obviously happy with his move.

Now in his latest blog/podcast Jumping Ship From Lightroom To Capture One Pro 9, Martin Bailey has announced a move to Capture One. As usual, Martin has provided a detailed and reasoned explanation of why he's made the considerable investment of time to change processing software.

He's also promising tutorials and the like - and I for one am looking forward to reading them.

Happy shooting

Shane

PS: Martin's site has a link offering a 10% discount. If you've tried the 30 day free trial and want to make the move, you might as well take that offer!