Using Fill Flash for Outdoor Portraits

Here’s a simple lighting tip to vastly improve your outdoor portraits and candid photos.

Use your flash.

I know, I know… you’re probably thinking that it’s already nice and bright outside so why would you need to use a flash?    This is why…

IMG_3111 edited

I’ve posed Eric with his back directly to the sun to eliminate any harsh light being cast on his face and to also create a nice hair light accent. The ambient exposure (1/125 sec @ f/5.6  ISO 100) is accurate since I have nice detail in the background, however, this places Eric’s facial features in deep shadow and makes his eyes look lifeless. By adding some flash I can remedy that…

IMG_3112 edited

Now the exposure is balanced with the ambient background light unchanged and controlled by the camera’s settings, while the main lighting on Eric is provided by the flash.  Look closely and you’ll see that he also has some nice catchlights in his eyes.

It’s important to remember that when shooting with Speedlights you are controlling two separate light sources and two distinct exposures, ambient and flash. The ambient light is controlled with the camera’s exposure settings, but the flash is separate and controlled by adjusting it’s output.

Eric B&A
With and without fill flash. Both exposures are 1/125 sec @ f/5.6 ISO 100.

Let’s look at a more challenging example…

IMG_9875
1/125 sec @ f/5.6 ISO 100

My first priority was to achieve an accurate and appealing ambient exposure. While the ambient exposure is technically correct in this first image, the glare is washing out the rich color of the red barn rendering the background dull and lifeless.

IMG_9876
1/60 sec @f/5.6 ISO 100 – with polarizing filter

By adding a polarizing filter, I can eliminate the glare which then reveals the rich underlying colors vastly improving the background.  But Konrad is still very underexposed.
Time to add some flash…

IMG_9877 edited
1/60 sec @ f/5.6 ISO 100 – with polarizer filter and flash (-2/3 stops)

To balance the flash with the ambient light, I dialed the flash down a bit by -2/3 stops. Full power was too bright and the adjustment only affected the flash output, not the original camera exposure for the ambient background light.  Like I mentioned above, you are controlling two separate light sources and two distinct exposures, ambient and flash. Ambient is controlled by the camera’s exposure settings, flash is controlled by adjusting the power setting (Full to 1/128 power) or Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC)

Konrad 3up

Here’s the progression for Konrad’s portrait. These are the original captures, I applied additional adjustments and retouching later in post processing.

Using flash outdoors is quite simple and will significantly improve your photos.  Just follow these three simple steps for quick and simple outdoor portraits.
1) Pose subject with back to the sun.
2) Determine ambient exposure for background
3) Use fill flash for subject and adjust to balance with ambient light.

Jeff Greene Digital Imaging Workshops
If you would like to learn more about Speedlite flash photography techniques, I teach a series of classes and workshops offering beginner to advanced levels of Speedlite flash techniques.

Upcoming Classes
Canon Speedlite 101
August 15th, 2015
Kenmore Camera

Speedlight Intensive
August 29th, 2015
Kenmore Camera

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10 Tips For Awesome Firework Photos

Fireworks 4bannnerJuly Fourth is just a couple of  days away and I always get a few questions about the best way to photograph firework displays. Here are my Top 10 Tips for capturing the color, drama, and the spectacle celebrating our nation’s independence.

1. Do Some Recon
You’ll need to know in advance where the launch site is located and the best shooting location to include some interesting foreground elements that will provide scale and setting.  I like to include the western sky when possible since most shows start shortly after twilight. The long exposure required for the pyrotechnics allows some of the last remaining color in the sky to register on the sensor. Arrive early and claim to claim your spot…

Fireworks 5

2. Use a Tripod
You’ll need to secure your camera to eliminate any movement since photographing fireworks at night requires long exposures. I usually start around 2 seconds and vary the shutter speed throughout the evening for different visual effects.

3. Use a Remote Release
When using a tripod,  you should always use a remote release. This eliminates vibration and enables you to time your exposure for the peak moment of the mortar bursts. It will also be necessary if you decide to shoot in “Bulb” mode.

4. Compose the Image
Start shooting horizontal and with a wide-angle lens to capture landscape versions that include the foreground and the last remaining light in the west. Switch to vertical and capture the entire launch from ground to sky. In both cases remember to keep the horizon level. Finally, switch to telephoto and fill the frame with the aerial burst.

Fireworks 4

5. Pre-focus Your Lenses
After setting up, use the last remaining daylight to prefocus on the launch site. Prefocus each lens you’ll be using during the show and then turn the Auto-Focus off. Tape down the focusing collar with gaffers tape or blue painters tape to prevent it the lens from slipping out of focus. Once the show starts, it will be very difficult to focus the lens and you may waste precious time trying to get sharp images.

Fireworks 1

6. Nail Down the Exposure
10 seconds @ f/11 ISO 100   Manual mode
OK, that just a starting point, but you MUST shoot in Manual mode and set the exposure yourself. I like to use a longer shutter speed to record the light trails and then change the f/stop to adjust the brightness and maintain the color. Lock down the ISO and aperture and change the shutter speed to change the look of the fireworks bursts. Long exposures create trails, short exposures stop the movement and freeze the elements in mid air.

7. Shoot In “Bulb” Mode
Sometimes I shoot in “Bulb” mode to get very long light trails. Press the remote release button as soon as you hear or see the mortar shooting into the sky and leave it open until the burst dissipates. This will usually take several seconds and the resulting light trails are very dramatic. Since the aperture is actually controlling the exposure, you can still record vibrant colors of the burst.  To record multiple bursts during a single long exposure, cover the lens between launches. It takes a bit of practice and a little luck, but the results can be spectacular.

8. Shoot Early
Be prepared to start shooting at the very first boom.  Most pyrotechnicians set off a “salute” mortar to gauge the wind direction and to signal the crowd that the show is about to begin. This will be your cue to drop the beer and brats and grab the remote release. With some luck, the wind will be blowing away from you. If not, start shooting early because the smoke from the first few mortars will render subsequent images quite hazy.

9. Shoot Often
Shoot as many photos as you can.  Don’t spend a lot of time “chimping” (Bing it…) but periodically check your photos for exposure, composition, and sharpness. Just don’t overdo it and miss a great shot.

10. Experiment…Firworks 2
After you have photographed a few keepers, change it up a bit…

  • Change your shutter speed to shorten or lengthen the light trails.
  • Set your camera’s white balance to Tungsten and Fluorescent to change the color.
  • Zoom in during a long exposure on one of the burst patterns.
  • Change the focus during a “Bulb” exposure from blurry to sharp to get cone-like effects from every point of light.
  • Include water, trees, and other landmarks to create more compelling compositions.
  • Shoot with a wide angle lens and ask a friend to stand in the foreground to create a silhouette.

Fireworks 00Bonus tips:

  • Bring a flash light. Add a red filter to preserve your night vision.
  • Bring extra batteries and memory cards. It sucks to run out of power or memory just before the Grande Finale.
  • Turn off your flash. It won’t have any impact and only annoys your neighbors.
  • JPEGs are okay. RAW is better. Less noise and artifacts / More control in post-processing.
  • Turn off the Image Stabilization (IS) or Vibration Reduction (VR) on your lens.
  • Put some reflective tape on your tripod to improve it’s visibility to others walking near your site.
  • Pack a cooler with water and snacks…

~

FenwayFlag

Choosing the Right Lens

The most common question I hear upon arriving on scene at nearly every photo workshop photo opportunity is;

“Hey Jeff, what lens should I use?”

Palouse-Barn-01-sm
Palouse Barn | 105mm | 1/250sec @ f/8 ISO 400

In most cases, I’ll recommend the lens that will provide the best composition, but I always encourage the attendees to bring along a couple of different lenses to create different variations of the scene. Nearly every landscape will provide opportunities for wide-angle, normal, and close-ups interpretations.

Palouse Barn  300mm  1/160 sec @ f/8  ISO 400
Palouse Barn | 300mm | 1/160 sec @ f/8 ISO 400

During one of my recent Palouse Photography Workshops, our group was up before sunrise to capture the first light on the iconic Palouse Barn. Being respectful of the freshly sprouted Winter Wheat, we remained on the shoulder of the highway and used a variety of different lenses and perspectives to quickly compose and capture various images this amazing barn at dawn.

01 Barn
Palouse Barn | 11mm | 1/250sec @ f/16 ISO 200

Changing position, lenses, and framing creates a diverse collection of images, but it requires vision, dexterity, and the discipline not to “over-capture” 30-40 frames of the same exact scene. By coaching attendees to change their location and focal length, they all captured a comprehensive collection of the Palouse Barn and the surrounding wheat fields in pristine early morning light.

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For more information on the  2015 Palouse Photography Workshops, visit the Workshops page at www.jeffreymgreene.com .
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Spring Forward!

Changing the time on a Leica M-P Type 240


Tomorrow is the second Sunday of March and that means that tonight we set all of our clocks ahead one hour to Daylight Saving Time. (Spring Forward, Fall Back)

The Good News is that we all get an extra hour of daylight in the evening to follow our photographic pursuits.

The Bad News is that most of us will waste a rare sunny Sunday morning running around the house setting all of our clocks forward one hour.
As you make the rounds don’t forget to reset the time on all your cameras too…

Tempus Fugit…

New Years Photo Resolutions 2015

Traditional Lion Dancers / Bellevue Square, WA
Leica M-P [Type 240] w/ 50mm f/2 APO Summicron ASPH
1/180 sec @ f/4.8 ISO 1250
http://www.leicastorebellevue.com/

Gung hay fat choy!

I’m waaay behind with my writing this year so I thought I would post this article to coincide with the Chinese Lunar New Year. That being said, along with all of the New Year Resolutions that many of you are making (and likely breaking by now…), I thought I would add a list of resolutions that you might actually enjoy. Here are my Top 10 Photo Resolutions for 2015

1) Start a 365 Project

01 Blipfoto

This is a challenging project where most photographers start off strong capturing a daily photo, but then fade after about four or five weeks. It’s demanding and requires diligence, but it also prepares you to view the world with a heightened sense of awareness. You’ll become more attuned to your surroundings always on the lookout for a worthy photo to post.  One of the best places to post your project is on Blipfoto which is designed specifically to accept one photo per calendar date. It’s free and the community is very supportive and complimentary towards its members.

2) Print Some Enlargements

The digital age with all its benefits and advances has a major drawback when it comes to viewing images. Most photographers are storing their images on their computers (more on that in #4 below) rarely to be seen unless it’s posted online somewhere. One of the best ways to preserve your images and share them with your friends is to print some enlargements and frame them. When you run out of wall space you can then…

3) Make A Photo Book

03 Photobooks

There are a lot of options for producing a slick photo book, ranging from very basic to custom masterpieces, that’s only limited by your imagination.  All of the major self publishers (I like Blurb) offer a myriad of templates and designs that suit most occasions and themes. You can make a book for vacations, birthdays, and holidays then, at the end of the year, create a retrospective annual of your family’s activities.  To manage all that you’ll need to…

4) Get Organized and Back Up Your Images

Data-Recovery-1

This resolution may not be fun, but the time and effort invested in organizing your photos will pay off in the long run.  I organize my family images in an annual folder (Family Photos 2015) with numbered monthly sub-folders (01 January 2015, 02 February 2015…).  This narrows the search based on the date of the event and saves a lot of time otherwise spent clicking and opening folders and files.

This is also the perfect opportunity to purchase a couple of external hard drives and archive your images on a daily basis.  If there is one true adage in the digital age, it’s this,

“It’s not a question of “if” your computers’ hard drive will fail, but “when”.

Save yourself a lot of heartache, dirty looks from the family, and endless self-loathing by making the effort to back-up and archive your files. Check out my Back Up Your Memories article for more detailed information regarding storage and archiving solutions.

5) Share, Post, and Publish

The internet is a great way to share your images with family and friends and there are lots of online resources to facilitate the publishing of your photos. Facebook, Flickr, Twitter are the “Big 3″ and they all offer options for sharing, posting, and adding comments. It’s a great way to share news of family events and to get feedback on your latest images.

A cautionary note: Facebook and other online services implement strict Terms of Service (TOS) that explicitly give them all rights to use your photos as they deem fit. It’s mostly a protective legal measure but you need to be aware of it …

6) Take Your Camera Everywhere

Just do it… You can’t take great images without a decent camera, and a cell phone doesn’t quite cut it.  It’s certainly better than nothing, but a real camera will provide more creative options that will produce higher quality files and allow you more control over shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

7)  Embark on a Photo Safari

07 Safari

One day, one week, one month… it doesn’t matter. Plan a trip somewhere with the sole purpose of photographing the essence of that location. Treat the excursion as a photo assignment where you must deliver images to an editor that provides a variety of different angles, views, and subject matter from that locale. Be sure to include some people shots and to change lenses and locations often. This mindset will help you capture many different perspectives of the area and prevents you from getting into a rut and returning home with 317 photos of the same statue…

8) Enter A Photo Contest

Photo contests are a fun way to keep your creative juices flowing and maintain a competitive edge. The odds are stacked against you, and the judge’s choices often defy all logic, but it’s still a thrill to enter. Start out with contests that are free, but consider reputable fee-based contests that offer more prestige and recognition. Always be aware of what the rules require, and what rights the sponsoring organization claims when you submit your photo (usually Rule #6).   Most newspapers also sponsor a “your best shot” type of contest that is easy to enter. The Seattle Times offers the Reader’s Lens contest that can be entered online here.
TIP: Don’t even think of submitting a sunset shot to a photo contest. Trust me, I’ve judged a lot of contests and most sunset shots go straight into the trash…

9) Try a New Photo Technique

baywoodpano12x36

Panoramas, black & white, infrared, pinhole, 3D… There is a wide selection of different techniques and effects that you can experiment with to keep the creative juices flowing. If you prefer to do something unique and different with pictures you already have on file, then I recommend purchasing The Photojojo Book.  It contains treasure trove of creative DIY type photo projects that will keep you busy on those days when it’s just too bleak to go outside and shoot.

10) Take a Class or Workshop

07 Sunset Photogs

The best way to learn or improve any skill is in a hands-on environment at the feet of a Master. You can watch all the YouTube videos you want, but attending a workshop is the most efficient way to hone your skills.  I offer a series of classes each month on a wide variety of topics ranging from Basic Photography to Advanced Speedlite seminars.  I also lead several “destination” workshops each year in various locales around the US. Check out the Workshops section my website (www.jeffreymgreene.com) for the latest updates.

~

There’s your top 10 photography resolutions for 2015.  I look forward to doing many of these items myself and hope you do too.  Happy New Year!

-Jeff Greene

My 2008 Self Portrait Project

366-2008_Mosaic2

7 Tips For Photographing Tonight’s Lunar Eclipse

The second lunar eclipse of 2014 occurs this evening and can be viewed from most of North America. This eclipse occurs two days after the moon’s perigee and means that the it will appear 5.3% larger than the April 15 eclipse.  Weather permitting, this should be a great opportunity to photograph a “blood moon” eclipse.

(1) Determine the Time of the Eclipse

Penumbral Eclipse Begins:
Partial Eclipse Begins:
Total Eclipse Begins: 
Greatest Eclipse: 
Total Eclipse Ends: 
Partial Eclipse Ends:
Penumbral Eclipse Ends:
1:15 AM       Pacific Daylight Time (PDT)
2:14 AM
3:25 AM
3:54 AM
4:24 AM
5:34 AM
6:33 AM

2) Use a Tripod & Shutter Release.
Nothing is steadier than a good quality tripod and although your exposures will be surprisingly short, if you’re using a long lens, you’ll need to keep it as steady as possible.
TIP: If you forgot your remote release, use your DSLR’s 2-second timer.

_MG_9277 SQ

3) Choose the Right Lens
For close-ups a focal length of 200mm is quite good, but a 300mm or 400mm is better… If you have a 2x converter, use it. For most shots you’ll want to fill the frame as much as possible.
However, if you are including scenery, than a normal or wide angle lens will do nicely.

4) Shoot in Manual Mode
Most photographers overexpose their moon photos when they rely on the camera’s auto modes. The moon is actually quite bright. Think about it, it’s being illuminated by the Sun so the Sunny 16 Rule is a very close estimation. Once the eclipse starts and the moon gets darker you will have to make some adjustments.

Lunar Eclipse JMg
Total lunar eclipse / December 10, 2011
Exposure: 1.6 seconds @f/5.6 ISO 1600

5) Shoot Wide Open
Select the widest aperture on the lens so you can use the fastest shutter speed possible. Remember, the earth is rotating and a long focal length will amplify movement.

6) Compose and Re-compose
Because of the aforementioned rotation of the earth, the moon’s position in your viewfinder will constantly shift. Make the necessary adjustment to keep the moon centered.

7) Create a Multiple Exposure of the Entire Eclipse
Capture multiple exposures of the entire eclipse sequence to create a montage. Mount your camera with a wide angle lens, compose the scene with some interesting foreground, and capture an image every 15 minutes. Afterwards, you can blend the different phases of the eclipse into one single image using Photoshop.

Four stages 800px

It takes time, patience, and a willingness to forego sleep for most of the night, but photographing these total lunar eclipses is a rare event. That being said, tonight’s eclipse is the second in a tetrad of four lunar eclipses spanning two years. If you miss tonight’s event, you’ll have another shot in April and October 2015.

Fiat lux!

-Jeff Greene

10 Essential Items For Your Camera Bag

When hiking and camping in the wilderness every experienced outdoorsman packs their “10 Essentials“, the basic necessities required to survive in case of an emergency.  For photographers I would like to recommend the following 10 Camera Bag Essentials. In addition to my camera, lenses, and flash, these are items that I keep in my bag at all times so that I can “Be Prepared” for any situation.

1. Extra Batteries

IMG_0002 (800x602)I always carry an extra camera battery, AAs for the flash, and “button” batteries for my intervolumeter.

2. Extra Memory Cards

IMG_0004 (800x576)

Got a few smaller 2GB cards that you don’t use much anymore? Keep them in your bag for the rare occasion you might forget your memory card case.

3. Headlamp

IMG_0005 (800x525)I prefer a headlamp since it allows me to work with both hands in the dark. I also prefer the type that offers a “red lamp” option. It offers enough illumination to work in the dark while still preserving my night vision.

4. Multi-tool

IMG_0019 (658x800)I own a bunch of these, but my black anodized Leatherman is my favorite. Crucial for field repairs and adjustments.

5. Remote Release

IMG_0035 (800x426)It makes no sense to mount your camera on a tripod only to trigger the shutter by hand because you forgot your remote release. Keep it in your bag. (Hint: If you don’t have a release, use your 2-second timer to trigger the camera. This works great for landscapes, but not so much for action.)

6. Polarizing Filter

IMG_0040 (800x533)A circular polarizing filter is absolutely essential for every outdoor and landscape photographer. It enhances photos by reducing unwanted glare and reflections allowing the underlying colors to appear. It separates the amateurs from the pros and you can not replicate it’s effect in Photoshop.

7. Business Cards

IMG_0051If you’re a pro, semi-pro, or even just an avid enthusiast, carry some business cards with your contact info. You never know when a potential buyer might inquire about viewing your work. Be sure to include your phone number, email, and website.

8. Microfiber Cloth

IMG_0053 (800x502)I keep several microfiber cloths in my bag and one in my pocket at all times. They’re great for cleaning my eyeglasses, lenses, and smartphone screen.

9. Wide Rubber Bands 

IMG_0059 (800x510)I always carry several #84 rubber bands in my bag since they are 1/2″ wide and very handy for a myriad of uses. Here are few examples:
Mounting attachments to a flash | Bundling cords and cables | Removing stubborn filters from lenses| Securing a Smartphone to a tripod | …and snapping inconsiderate photographers who walk into my frame…

10. Office Supplies

IMG_0061 (762x800)I use a small notepad, pen, pencil, and a Sharpie to record contact info, location notes, and reminders. Yes, I know, smartphones can do all that; unless the battery runs out.
I carry a pencil in case the pen runs out…

Bonus Item:  Gaffers Tape

In the photo above you’ll notice that the pencil is wrapped with a length of Gaffer’s tape. I also have several short strips taped to the inside of my camera bag flap. Gaffer’s tape or “Gaff” is invaluable since it is very strong, can patch up just about anything, and most importantly, it leaves little, if any residue. DO NOT USE duct tape for photography. Trust me, spend the extra money for real gaff.

These are the items I consider essential for every photographer’s camera bag. Later, I will provide another list of 10 not-so-essential-but pretty-darn-useful items for your bag.

Stay tuned.