Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why You Should Use the Camera's Monochrome Setting

Not all compositions are good for a B&W rendering - you have to "think" and "see" in black & white in order to turn out really nice B&W images with a great tonal range.  If the images are too dark or too light, with not enough midtones, it will make for a very drab image, with no detail in it.  

Since I still haven't been able to train my mind to see B&W in my viewfinder, I decided to turn on the Monochrome setting to help me preview, click and recompose what I'm clicking.

And the best part about this setting is - if you are primarily a RAW shooter, your monochrome setting will only display the image in B&W on your camera's LCD; and the preview of your image in your photo editing software, especially if you're using Lightroom, will also be in B&W.  But once you open up the image for editing, you will see the colour version, which you will then have to convert to B&W.  However, this is not the case if you're using iPhoto or Photoshop Elements, which will download and display a colour image, even though you shot it in B&W.  

If you're shooting in JPEG, your image is saved as a B&W image and will need no further conversion.  This definitely makes short work of the conversion process, but since your original file is in the lossy JPEG format, you won't be able to process it to your heart's content before the quality starts to degrade.

One word about post-processing - black and white images look their best when they are sharp, contrasty, with a wide range of tones, and my personal favourite is when they have some grain.  Sometimes a little bit of digital noise looks good, although technically, it's not really the "grain" that we think of when we think of B&W.  That grain derives from the film days.

And if you're using a photo editing software like Lightroom, iPhoto or any of the other Photoshop CS softwares, you can always play with the red, green, orange, yellow and blue filters that will change the hue of the B&W image.  Or, add a sepia, creamtone, cyanotype or selenium filter to transition your B&W image to a whole new level.

Have fun!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How I Created the Zoom Blur

Zoom blur or ICM can be created by zooming in or out on the subject on a long exposure.  This creates nice streaks and if your subject is lights, then you could create really attractive light trails.  

Another thing to remember is that if you want to first get a good exposure on the subject before you zoom, you need to trip the shutter and let it expose for 1 or 2 seconds (i.e. don't touch the lens yet), before you get into the zoom.  If you want to also mark the end of the zoom, you will need to again do the same thing of exposing the subject for another second or so at the end of the zoom (i.e. don't zoom in/out anymore).  A mid-point exposure could also create an interesting image, and the whole idea is to play around with different exposure settings and zoom speeds while doing this.  

It's a fun exercise, and you must try it sometime - no 2 images come out the same!

What you need:
  1. Tripod
  2. Camera with a zoom lens (the longer the zoom the better)
  3. Subject you want to zoom (lights are really interesting - I used tea light holders)
  4. Cable/remote release (optional)
What to do:
  1. Place your camera on the tripod and set up your subject in a way that there's ample room in the frame around the subject.  It's a good idea to place the subject in the centre.
  2. Set an adequately low ISO as you will be using a long exposure and choose an appropriate White Balance if you're going to shoot in JPEG (you can leave this on AWB as well).
  3. Set a slow shutter speed - anything slower than about 2 seconds; this will ensure that you have enough time to zoom your lens.  Of course, try other shutter speeds as well, just for fun!
  4. Choose a moderately large depth of field if you would like the zoom to be sharp.  Otherwise, choose a desired f/stop for the kind of shot you want.
  5. Now you are ready!  Trip the shutter and being careful not to shake the camera or the tripod, zoom your lens in or out. 
  6. Way to go - you've got a really cool shot!  
Here are a few samples from my experiment.  I was using my 55 - 250 mm lens for this. 

Zoomed out to 55 mm, f/13.0, 4s, ISO 100, AWB
I tripped the shutter, waited a second or so, and then zoomed in half-way fairly rapidly .

Zoomed out to 55 mm, f/13.0, 6s, ISO 100, AWB

I tripped the shutter, waited a second or so, and then zoomed in half-way quite slowly, causing the softer blur.

Zoomed out to 55 mm, f/13.0, 6s, ISO 100, AWB
I tripped the shutter, waited a second or so, zoomed in quite slowly, and let the subject expose for a second at the end as well.  This created the definition in the pattern of the tea light holders in the zoomed in position.

Let your imagination take over, but have fun in the process! 

How I Got the Colourful Marble

Have you ever tried to get a marble to float on water?  Well, if you haven't then you've definitely got to try this out!  I can't begin to explain how interesting the theory is, and how excited you will be once you've done the trick and got the marble to float.  It's all to do with the relative densities of water and marble and how you can use them to your advantage.  

If you're still reading on,  then I gotchya!  :oD  I've never been a good student of physics, so what do I know about relative density?  Ok.. so I never really got the marble to float on water!  I got it to sit on a sheet of aluminum foil (and I still feel strange saying aluminum which is American, as opposed to aluminium which is British and that's the way I had learned it growing up). 

Anyway, so back to the floating marble!  This was a very interesting project for me, because I had been visualizing something like this for a while and then on a hunch I went into iTunes and looked for apps for light effects  This led me to download this app call "Lights" by Gabriel Vicenti.  You'll find it under Utilities.  This app is pretty cool in that it has four options for coloured light - white, red, yellow and blue.  I'm hoping there will be an update with a few other colours.  So, if you have an iPod or iPhone, I suggest you to download this and use it for funky stuff.  

The image below will pretty much explain my set up.  I used my 90 mm macro lens for this happy exercise and I have to tell you that you will need to get a really shallow depth of field (a smaller f/number, if you want to create a more seamless kind of background.  With more in focus, the background will also be thrown into focus and you'll get the line where the foil meets the light source and that doesn't look half as cool.

The set up shot was handheld and was done in a hurry, almost as a second thought, so please excuse the quality of the image.  But the way I 've set it up is pretty well illustrated.  And you can only get the desired results if you did this shoot after dark, or in a dark room (the bathroom with lights turned off is an idea).

What to do:
  1. Prop up your iPod against something a little heavy so it holds it up and doesn't slip out of place.
  2. Place the marble on a sheet of cooking foil, shiny side up, of course, to catch the reflections.  Try to smooth down the foil at the edge so you get a smoother horizon line.  You could try to scrunch it up and see what the effect is as well (I plan to try this out myself).
  3. Turn off all overhead lights and only use the light from the iPod.  
  4. Set your camera on a tripod or some stable surface in front of the subject; I placed the camera on the table in front of the marble.
  5. Keep your ISO down to avoid digital noise; I kept mine at 100 as that's the lowest it would go.
  6. Set the WB to auto as the predominance of the different colours will throw off any WB you set anyway.
  7. Set your camera to aperture priority mode.  
  8. Set your aperture to wide open (the smaller the f/number the better; try a few different f/numbers till you like what you're getting).
  9. Set the iPod to the desired light option and shoot.
  10. While processing the images, you will need to crop out the side bands reflecting the nav bar of the iPod.
  11. Sharpen the image, add some saturation and definition  as desired.
  12. Show it off to the world!
You can add the saturation and definition if you choose, but again, this is absolutely the artist's vision.  You could keep it really soft as well and this could also add an interesting effect. 

If you play around with this idea, do post some images and let me know what you did with them.  I'd love to know!