Wednesday, July 18, 2012

More on perspective

My last post here was about why we might not like what we look at in photographs. And one of my readers, Maximilano da Costa asked a great question. what about taking a photo from 18" with a 100mm lens and then from 60" with the same lens.

Well, the  lens I used here, a Canon 70-200 f/4L, with a Canon 500D closeup lens on it would only focus in as close as 22" so I tried Maximiliano's test at 22" and 60". I hope that is close enough.

Anway, Maximiliano asked if those two images would look the same. I didn't expect that they would. My whole premise is that perspective is determined by camera to subject distance, not by lens.

So, let's take a look at the results...

Camera 22" from the subject's eye
Camera 60" from the subject's eye
I think you can see that the look of the face is quite different between the two. As "promised," the image taken from 60" is much flatter in appearance. Hence looking a little wider/heavier. Here they are side-by-side...

Click to enlarge

Can you see the difference? The image taken at 22 inches has a nice gentle curvature of the cheek as it wraps around from the nose to the ear. The one at 60" is flatter.

This being the internet and all that, I know someone is going to suggest that maybe it is the optics of a zoom lens, even if both images were taken at 100mm. Or someone may suggest that adding the 500D close up filter to allow the 70-200 to focus so close are affecting things. I can assure you they are not.

But in the sense of full testing, I pulled out an old Tamron 90mm macro lens that could focus at 18 inches and repeated the tests. I think you will see the same results...

Camera at 18" from subject's eye
Camera at 60" from subject's eye
 And the side-by-side for closer comparison...

Click to enlarge
Please, don't just take my word for it. What I really want you to do is to go out and try these things yourself. Just because a book says it is so, or some photographer on the net says it is so doesn't mean they are always correct. 

So, go out and take some photos of the same person or mannequin (they tend to hold still longer for a better comparison) and see what happens as you move around them and move closer and further away. And then try a higher or lower camera angle than you usually use. Experiment. These don't have to be images that you show to anyone else. They are references for yourself.  Write your own photography book using the tests you run yourself.

Thank you Maximiliano for asking your question. I love questions. Please post yours in the comments if you have some.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Seeing Ourselves In Pictures

The folks at PetaPixel posted a short video from a Ted Talk by Duncan Davidson called "Why do we hate seeing photos of ourselves."

While I agree with Duncan's main premise that part of the issue is that we are used to seeing a mirror image of ourselves, I think it goes deeper. Some of the comments on the post touch on more issues, such as the image being static and missing "micro-expressions." I agree with those, too. But I think the static image and micro expressions are more related to the retouching that we do. In real-life interactions we don't notice little zits, scars, pores, etc. as the face is moving and our eyes are moving around the face of the person we are talking to. In the captured still all of these things stand out to us in a big print, but I don't think we see that much detail in the small image on the back of the camera that is referenced in the video.

I think there is another issue that wasn't brought up in the talk or the comments. That is the camera-to-subject distance. As photographers, we are constantly instructed to be at least 36" inches from our subject. Many instructors tell us to be 5 feet or 6 feet away. This is supposed to give a "better" or more pleasing perspective. And that may well be so. In many of our social interactions we are probably around 2 to 3 feet or more away from the people we are talking to. At least in the US culture. Yes, there are cultures where it is more common to be only inches away from the people you are talking to. But I don't have experience photographing in those places. I'd be interested in hearing from people who do usually stand "in each others' face" about how subjects react to seeing their photographs. In the case of most of the subjects I work with we are used to seeing other people from a bit of a distance.

But how do we see ourselves? I usually see myself in the bathroom mirror. How about you? Today I measured the distance from my eye to the mirror when I'm standing at the sink. That was 21". I checked with my wife, Kim, and she said she is usually looking in a makeup mirror. We went and measured and found she was 9" from the mirror.

If you have been following some of my earlier blog posts about perspective, you will remember that the closer you are to your subject, the more narrow their face will appear. When you are just inches away from your subject their nose is relatively much closer to you than their eyes and ears. The ears seem farther away, making them smaller, making the face seem narrower.

So, my additional premise on this is that we all seem to look heavier to ourselves in photographs that are taken from greater distances. Other people will think the photo looks good because they are used to seeing us from those greater distances. And in a mirror we are always looking at ourselves at eye level. The woman in Duncan's photo was also photographed from above. She probably has never seen herself in a mirror from that view.

A few weeks ago a question came up on Quora that I was compelled to reply to. That was about why the camera "adds 10 lbs." to people. You can read my response there.

Here are some photos to help illustrate. All of them were taken with the same lens (Canon 24-105mm) set to 24mm at different distances, from 18" to 60" (measured from the mannequin's right eye to the focal plane mark on the top of the camera). They were then cropped so that the face is approximately the same size in each frame...

Here are the 18" and 60" images side-by-side...

I think you will agree that in the closer photos taken at 18", 21", and 30" make our subject's face appear thinner. This is how you would see yourself in the mirror. As we then move back to 48" and 60" away the face starts to flatten out and look a little heavier. To someone really concerned about their appearance, it might see more than a little heavier. That extra 10 pounds that we get from being further away.

As noted, all the above images were taken with a 24mm lens. This is to show that it isn't the lens that does this, but is instead the camera-to-subject distance. Look back at my previous perspective articles for that rant. Don't blame the lens!

You may be asking yourself about the difference in the appearance of the backgrounds. The lighting is the same (a Westcott Apollo Orb on camera left with a home-made crinkled aluminum foil covered reflector on the right). What is different is that from the greater distance we are only seeing the middle of the backdrop right behind the mannequin's head. When in closer the field of view is wider and we are seeing the edges of the backdrop and see the falloff of the light. Here is a quick diagram to help explain the field of view...

To help illustrate that this is not lens focal length related, this next image was taken by zooming the lens to 105mm without moving the camera after the 60" image from above. You will see that the perspective is exactly the same as in the 24mm at 60" image above.

Here they are side-by-side and then overlayed on each other in Photoshop in Difference mode.

Click on the image for a larger version
Notice that only the very edges of objects are highlighted as different between the two images. That is most likely because the depth of field is different between the two and the quality of the 105mm image is better because it isn't cropped in so much (losing resolution). But the look of the face is the same in the photos with both the 24mm and 105mm lenses.

Here is a little experiment for you the next time you are standing in front of the bathroom mirror. Lean in real close to the mirror and study how your face looks. Then slowly pull back away from the mirror while carefully observing the look of your face. Notice that the perspective flattens out as you back away, which gives the impression of being slightly wider, which we translate into appearing those ten pounds heavier.

And one more question... Do you like photos you take of yourself with your phone camera? What is the distance you can hold your phone away from your face to take those photos?

I'm not suggesting that you change to photographing from closer in or with shorter lenses, But do experiment with it to help understand what is happening. Find your style and go with it.

Please share your findings in the comments below.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Painted Cyclists from the 2012 Solstice Parade

WARNING: You may will encounter nudity beyond this point. Click away if this is not to your taste. Thanks!

Many people watching the annual Seattle Solstice Parade in Fremont only get to see the infamous painted cyclists zoom by them and don't get a chance to really appreciate the work that goes into some of the painting.

I have been honored and lucky enough the past few years to meet up with the cyclists and painters early on Saturday morning as they get ready for the ride. I've been setting up a small photo studio and making portraits of the cyclists in their paint that haven't been shown publicly. That is, until now. A few of the cyclists have graciously given me permission to show their images here on my blog.

Unfortunately, I don't have the names of the painters to go along. Maybe next time I can get more photos of the painters along with their cyclists. But until then, I present some photos from before the parade. And a few from afterward at Gasworks Park at the end...

A couple of photos from previous years...

from 2009
from 2010

And from the end of the day in 2012...

Superman flies away
Look forward to some images of the parade in the next few days. In the meantime, I'd like to hear from some of the cyclists saying what the experience was like in the comments here. Thanks!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Zombies in Fremont

It happens about this time every year. The Fremont neighborhood of Seattle gets invaded by zombies attempting to set a new world record for the largest number of zombies gathered in one place. For me it is a chance to go out and see how I can do taking photographs in a non-studio environment.

UPDATE: For the first time in four years, Seattle did NOT set a new world record this year. Maybe it was the weather?  Will it happen again next year? Brains!

Fremont Zombie Walk 2012

Hope you enjoy them!
Fremont Zombie Walk 2012

Fremont Zombie Walk 2012

Fremont Zombie Walk 2012

Fremont Zombie Walk 2012

Fremont Zombie Walk 2012

Fremont Zombie Walk 2012

Fremont Zombie Walk 2012

Fremont Zombie Walk 2012

Fremont Zombie Walk 2012

Fremont Zombie Walk 2012

Thanks for visiting! You can see more photos from the walk in this Facebook gallery.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fireworks: July 4, 2012

I've had a lot of great coverage of my blogs and videos about photographing fireworks over the past week or so. I was featured on the B&H site, on Chase Jarvis's blog, on creativeLIVE and even in a local Alabama site. A big thanks to everyone who helped promote the blog and class.

Fireworks over Lake Union in Seattle

Today we had fantastic weather in Seattle (locals know that it typically rains throughout June and until July 5). Clear skies over Lake Union gave way to another fantastic pyrotechnics show. This year I was invited to join my wonderful friend Photo Sister LaRae Lobdell at her studio that overlooks Gasworks Park and Lake Union, the site of the annual fireworks show. I just got back from the show and wanted to share some of the images from this year.

Fireworks over Lake Union in Seattle

Fireworks over Lake Union in Seattle

Fireworks over Lake Union in Seattle

Fireworks over Lake Union in Seattle

Fireworks over Lake Union in Seattle
This and the next two show the effect of
racking the focus during the long exposure

Fireworks over Lake Union in Seattle

Fireworks over Lake Union in Seattle

Fireworks over Lake Union in Seattle

Fireworks over Lake Union in Seattle