Saturday, April 30, 2011

Zack Arias at Creative Live

Not much to say here. Just posting some behind the scenes iPhone photos from today with Zack Arias at CreativeLIVE...


Celeste and Dan


Nikko, Jacob, and Zack


I'll Get That Myself

Another grand day at CreativeLIVE with Zack Arias. One big take away from this is how down to earth Zack is. No pretense. Willing to share everything... "We all walk on shoulders, everything I know I learned from somebody else."

Assisting on this workshop has been different. Almost every time I step up to move something, Zack says, "I'll get that myself." He isn't afraid to get his hands dirty or to lift some heavy equipment. As I said, very down to earth.

Today's lesson? Eyes to the light! As my friend Rolando Gomez says, "the lens is your friend and the light is your friend. Keep your subject's face somewhere between the lens and light" for a flattering light. Turn the other way and you may go into shadow. Some people can look in either direction, but most should turn their "eyes to the light!"

And now for some photos from today's workshop...

Nikko and Celeste
Kenna and Susan and Susan and Kenna
Zack and Samara





 Now to get some rest and prepare for the final day...

Friday, April 29, 2011

CreativeLIVE with Zack Arias

I was "behind the scenes" today at the Zack Arias workshop with CreativeLIVE. Should get some camera time on Saturday and Sunday. Very informative FREE workshop (if you watch it live). Found out that Zack and I come at the topic of lens focal lengths from complete opposite directions (see previous blog post). We end up in a similar place, though. It takes all kinds!

Got an early call tomorrow, so not much to write now. I'll just leave you with a few photos. Remember, "head in a clear spot!"

Our fearless Producer, Celeste
Ray Spaddy
Zack Arias
Jeremiah Corbin

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lenses don't have magical properties

This is my continuing "rant" on understanding lens focal lengths. I last wrote back in September and October 2009. Maybe most people don't find it important, but it is one of my big pet peeves when I hear people talk about telephoto "compression" or there being a specific focal length lens for portraits. Or for landscapes. Or for anything. They make it sound like different focal length lenses have magical properties to cause these effects. All focal length actually does is determine (along with the camera film/sensor size) magnification. I apologize in advance, but I'm going to repeat myself on a few concepts within this post because I think these concepts are important to understand. The big one being "camera-to-subject distance." And, yes, there are things like fisheye lenses that do have different properties, but we're not talking about fisheyes here.

Going back to my photography classes in college in the mid-1970s, it was driven into me that the camera-to-subject distance determines the look/perspective (the relationship between items in the scene). Whether that relationship be a farmhouse with rolling hills behind it or the nose and ears on the face of a portrait subject. What I learned was, that no matter what size camera you use (35mm, medium format, 4x5, 8x10, etc.) you set the camera to subject distance and then you select the lens that fills your chosen format/frame the way you want. As a side note, this is much easier to do these days with high quality zoom lenses than it was back then with just a few fixed focal length lenses. As back then, you can still use a shorter focal length lens (letting more into the frame) and then crop. But that still can cause a loss of quality due to the cropping/enlarging.

As I mostly photograph people, I'm going to talk about portraits. But you can apply the theory to other types of photography. So, let's start with the adage that 85mm to 135mm lenses are the "portrait" lenses. I agree. But not because of their focal length. But because of the distance you have to be from the subject to fill the frame for a portrait.

We are all familiar with the exaggerated size of someone's nose in a photo that was taken from too close. In 99% of these situations, the lens was a wide angle, so the wide angle lens gets blamed. But the wide angle lens doesn't have a magical property to it that causes this perspective distortion. It happens because the photographer came in too close to their subject. Something that a wide angle lens encourages us to do and something that you can't always do with a longer lens due to its limited field of view and its extra magnification. So, we associate this with and blame it on short (wide angle) lenses.

Here is a set of photos that should set this straight. I don't really like using a mannequin for examples, but it does help keep down the variables when comparing lenses and framing. It is much easier to keep the mannequin from moving between frames than it is for a live subject.

Each of the four images below was taken with a different fixed focal length lens (24mm, 50mm, 85mm, and 135mm) on a full frame sensor camera. The camera was mounted on a tripod and was NOT moved between images. The camera-to-subject distance remained at seven feet. What changed is that the photos taken with the shorter lenses were enlarged more so that the framing was the same between images...
 Take a look at the various relationships in the image. Nose to ear. Hair to gold background. Hair to patterned background. They all remain the same. If they weren't labeled, I think any of us would have trouble figuring out which one was taken with the 24mm wide angle versus the 135mm long lens.

When we see the original full-frame images there is no question as to which is which...

We can now see that at a particular camera-to-subject distance, two images taken with different focal length lenses will have the same look/perspective in the section of the image that is common to both images.

On the other side of the equation, what happens if we move the camera each time we change lenses so that the size of the subject's head remains about the same in each image? Here is the visual...
Now I think you will find it pretty easy to determine which image was taken with a short lens versus those taken with a long lens. Here we can see that coming in to being inches away from the subject with the short (24mm) lens causes the elements further from the camera to fall away in size quickly. This is the perspective we get from being in so close. The relative distance between the camera and nose (about 15") and the camera and ear (about 19") is pretty large at this close distance. The short lens allows us to get in close to get that perspective, but doesn't cause that perspective.

At the other end, at 300mm the relative distance between the camera and nose and between the camera and ear is pretty much the same (133" vs 137"). Notice that the apparent depth of the face changes dramatically as the camera is moved back away from the subject. Again, this is not because of the lens used, but because of the camera-to-subject distance. At around 4.5 to 6 feet (where you would use a 85 or 100mm lens with a full frame camera) you get a nice pleasing perspective. The nose is not rendered too large, the relationship between the nose and ears is pleasing. There is a nice roundness to the cheeks. As you move back, things flatten out.

As you move further back to 7 feet or more, the face flattens out and looks a bit heavier. Let's take a close look at the 24mm and 300mm images taken at different distances so that the subject's head remained about the same size in each...
The 24mm image taken in closer is more dramatic, but not necessarily more flattering or attractive. The 300 mm image from farther away if flatter, but again not necessarily more attractive. It depends on the subject and what you are trying to accomplish.

By thinking about camera-to-subject distance it becomes easier to move between different format cameras. At 5 feet from the subject you might use an 85mm lens on a full frame 35mm camera. At the same distance you would use a 50mm lens for about the same framing on a crop-sensor camera. If you move up to a medium format camera you would still be at 5 feet, but would then need somewhere around a 135mm or 150mm lens for similar framing. That all sounds reasonable. Where some folks get weirded out is with smaller cameras. Using a digital point and shoot, you may only need a 10mm or even shorter lens to get that same framing at 5 feet. The perspective remains the same, no matter which camera/lens you use because that all important camera-to-subject distance stayed the same.

Did I say "camera-to-subject distance" enough times???

It is beyond the scope of today's post, but you might want to also take notice of the depth of field between the various example images. In the set of 6 images taken with different focal length lenses, but framed similarly, the DOF appears to be about the same. Even in the 24mm and 200mm images show the same DOF. All except the 300mm image were taken at F/2.8. The 300mm image is at F/4. Things that make you go hmmm.....

But that's for another day!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Inverse Square Law and Photography

This morning I saw a great video on Inverse Square from Mark Wallace on Adorama TV on YouTube. He did a good job of showing how the relative distance between subject/background affects the exposure of both.

The law basically says that the amount of light falling on a subject is inversely proportional to the distance between a point source of light and the subject. So, if you double the distance between the light and subject the amount of light reaching the subject is not cut in half, it is quartered. The square of 2 is 4. If you tripled the distance, the light would be 1/9 in power. Four times the distance? 1/16 the amount. Notice that correlation: double (2x) and the power is 1/4 (4 is the square of 2, inverted it is 1/4). Triple (3x) and the power is 1/9 (9 is the square of 3, inverted it is 1/9). It keeps going. But at some point the light rays in relation to the subject are parallel (i.e., the sun to the earth) so the brightness is equalized as the beam is no longer expanding and appears constant even when our subject is a few feet from the camera and the background is a mountain a mile or more away.

While Mark defined the law and showed examples of how it works, I thought that a different diagram might help explain it. A few years ago (2005) I drew this little diagram to help describe inverse square:

While composing this I noticed that Wikipedia has a similar, but more detailed illustration.

As you move away from the light source, the light energy doesn't lessen, but it has to cover a greater area, so appears to be less powerful. You can easily demonstrate this for yourself with a flash light. Hold the flash light a few inches from a white wall in a dark room and see the narrow beam of light hitting the wall. Then walk away from the wall with the flashlight and note  how the beam of light gets wider as you move back.

Another way to possibly think about it is to take a couple of photographic prints, one 4x5 and the other 8x10. Is the 8x10 twice the size (area) of the 4x5? No, it is 4 times. You need four 4x5 prints to cover the 8x10 print.

The effect is not limited to studio lighting. It affects all lighting: household lamps, the headlights on a car, etc.

One thing to keep in mind here is that the law applies to a point source of light, such as a candle flame. We rarely deal with a point source of light in our general photography. A far away light such as the sun approaches becoming a point source, but as mentioned earlier, it is so far away that the effect of the law is negated. Mountains in the distance are receiving the same amount of light as the valley, relative to the distance from the sun to earth.

As the light becomes larger (light bulb, bare flash head, umbrella, softbox, etc.) the falloff is not as extreme, but still approximates the effect of the inverse square law. So, if you are using a large softbox and double the distance between the light and the subject and measure it with a light meter it will not be as drastic as 1/4. But it will still fall off quicker than you may expect.

In practice, you probably don't need to know the law intimately, but if you are lighting a scene, you should keep the concept in mind. You can use it when you need to either flatten out the light in a scene (make the background match the subject) or when you want to make a background go dark in relation to the subject. To make the background match the subject move the light back away from the subject. To make the background go dark, move the light in as close to the subject as you can.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the closer the light is to the subject, the softer the light will be while giving good contrast on the subject--but the background will go dark. Moving the light away will make the light harsher, but it flattens the overall lighting of the scene. The close light will give soft shadows and smooth transitions from highlight to shadow. The more distant light will give harder shadows with a more distinct transition between highlight and shadow.

So, go watch Mark's video again.

And for more on light to subject distance, refer to my blog post from October 2009.

Looking forward to seeing Mark at CreativeLIVE later this year!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Find the light!

One of the difficult concepts to me way back as a young photographer was to find the open shade for great portraits. I think part of the problem was another concept, to get in closer. I could find nice open shade, but there was usually some bright direct light in the background or crossing through the image. But I eventually caught on. Here are some "behind the scenes" photos from the Moisture Festival that I've been photographing the past few weeks. A few of these are outside in the sun, some are backstage, and two are taken in a very dark theater.

For this and the next photo, my subject was
in the theater, but next to a large
door that let in skylight.
Sort of makes a gigantic ring light
as the door is right behind me.

This and the next photo are of volunteers
working in the ticket booth outside the
venue lit by indirect skylight

This photo was taken backstage
using a lighted mirror behind me
as the light. Again, like a ring light

These last two photos were taken
in a different theater that was almost
totally dark except for some light sconces
way up near the ceiling. I had my subject
stand where the light was falling and
had her turn towards the light.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Moisture Festival Burlesque - 2 more shows

Tonight is your last chance to see the 2011 Moisture Festival Burlesque Shows at the ACT Theater in Seattle. Tonight's shows include: Shanghai Pearl, Sydni Deveraux, Indigo Blue, Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey, Fuchsia Foxxx, Waxie Moon, and more. Some photos from last night:

Porcelain Promenade

Shanghai Pearl

Sydni Deveraux

Sydni Deveraux

Trixie and the Evil Hate Monkey

Lady Rizo

Indigo Blue

Blanche deBris

Aviatrix Ground Crew