Dragging Your Flash Can Be Enlighting !

The light from your camera’s flash travels a further than you might think. So why is the background pitch black in some of your photos and nicely lit in other photos that you photograph?

Now before we go any further, I am referring to photographing in an environment where the background is not brightly lit by the sun or room lights, but there is still some sort of lighting (sunset, buildings, table lights) . So think of when you photograph indoors at a church or party or when outside at dusk and you want to have some of the room or background behind your subject lit. 

First let’s look at two things:

  • What controls the light on your subject ?
  • What controls the light behind your subject ?

It is after all the same light from your flash – but it’s two different settings in your camera which controls it.

For those of you who use the automatic setting on your camera you are basically letting the camera make all the decisions for you regarding how the subject and background will be lit.

If you want to better control this there are three main setting that you can make

  • Aperture – this is how much the shutter opens
  • Shutter Speed – this is how long the shutter is open
  • ISO  – this is the speed of the film (although in a digital camera it controls how sensitive the camera’s digital sensor is to light.

A light meter is a device you see the  photographer hold in front of the subject and then test the flash. The meter tells the photographer approximately how to set their camera for a correct exposure.

OK, so let’s say that the meter  says that the light on the subject is perfect at ISO 100, 100/sec (shutter speed) and F8.  You set your camera to those settings and take the shot. The subject looks great, but the background is pitch black.

The technique to allow you to extend how much of the background is lit is called “dragging the shutter”.  It simply means setting the shutter speed to a slower speed (try 50/sec) , allowing the shutter to stay open longer and the camera’s sensor sees more of what is behind your subject.

Aperture controls the light on your subject and shutter speed controls the light seen behind the subject. So we didn’t change the aperture, we changed the shutter speed.

But you don’t have a flash meter !  OK, you’ll have to do a bit of trial and error. Give this  a try. Set the aperture to f8 and 100/sec and take a flash picture. If the subject looks great you now know the correct aperture setting.  If the subject is too bright just change the aperture to a larger number .. like F11 and take another picture.

The next step is to set the shutter speed so that the background is lit the way you want it.  If it’s too dark at 100/sec, go to a smaller number like 50/sec More of the background will be lit because the lens is open longer and it’s “seeing” a bit of the ambient light (filtered sunlight, table lights) . To make the background darker do the opposite and set the shutter speed to 200/sec and like magic the background will be darker.

So let’s start you with lighting the subject and a bit of what’s behind them by dragging the shutter .. OK?  You do that and your photography will be take a huge leap. OH YEA!

Here are some examples of dragging the shutter – in every picture the aperture is F5 – which correctly lit the subject (the sign).

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This shot was done at an aperture of F5 and a shutter speed of 200/second – the background is almost black ( and and when I shot this there was filtered sunlight on the background)

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This shot was done at an aperture of F5 and a shutter speed of 100/second – Half the shutter speed of the picture above – The background is a tiny bit brighter , but still too dark

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This shot was done at an aperture of F5 and a shutter speed of 50/second – This is half the shutter speed of the picture above – but remember, the aperture has remained F5. The background is even brighter

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This shot was done at an aperture of F5 and a shutter speed of 25/second – the background is very bright, but because of this slow shutter speed it is best to use a tripod.

 

Dan Busler is a professional portrait, performance and event photographer with studios located south of Boston in Walpole MA. He also offers camera instruction for the new DSLR user. You can see more of his work at http://www.danbuslerphotography.com

 

What story do your pictures tell?

Every vacation, school concert, awards ceremony , religious  event or family get together … we take pictures. Sometimes they’re funny or blurry or maybe they’re incredibly solemn. But everyone of them may one day be priceless.

The subject of these pictures are of course … the people in them. Actually it might be your cat or car or cow .. but they’re the subjects of the picture.

One way to improve these images is to include the environment. You’re at the fair, show the ferris wheel in the background, at the Grand Canyon or in Paris step back / zoom out  and show the place. It adds to the story that your pictures tell. You were there, you experienced it and you captured a picture of how cool it was.

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The engagement session – after the proposal

But then there are times when you can add some interest or value by including a sign or something that helps explain the picture.

Your spouse or child is speaking or performing  at an event – show the crowd, signage, the massive room. If we only get that close up shot we soon forget how epic the night was.

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And then there’s theater – the sets, the signage, the costumes and the performance.

Zooming out allows us to see complimentary staging and props that add to the picture of the actor(s).

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Of course we all zoom in for that portrait, but there is more to the picture that you may also want to capture.

Dan Busler is a professional portrait, performance and event photographer with studios located south of Boston in Walpole MA. You can see more of his work at http://www.danbuslerphotography.com

Bokeh – It’s all a Blur to me

Focusing on the subject is typically what we do to create a nice photograph. But by doing something very simple we can have only the subject in tack sharp focus and the background a “creamy .. dreamy” out of focus. This is called bokeh – which is the Japanese word for blur.

Bokeh is the amount of what’s in focus behind the subject. It’s directly related to depth of focus (DOF) which is what’s in focus both in front of and behind the subject. . With a shallow DOF you can have the subject’s eye in focus – but not their ear, with a deep DOF you can have 200 people in a group photo (basically) in focus.

But I’m focusing on how you can achieve a portrait which is more pleasing because you’ve focused on the subject(s) and blurred the background using a simple camera setting.

In almost every case the amount of bokeh you achieve is controlled by the aperture setting on your camera.  Aperture is how far the lens opens when you push the shutter.

The larger the aperture number you choose the less light enters through the lens. This results in a deep DOF and and less bokeh.  Which means that the smaller the aperture number you choose the more light will enter through the lens, the DOF is shallower and that creamy … dreamy blurred background is achieved.

The easiest way to get a nice bokeh is to set your camera’s aperture to the smallest number it will allow ( it will typically be something like F4 or F2.8). But you’re going to have to take the leap and photograph in either manual (the letter M on the camera’s dial) or aperture priority mode ( the letter A or AV on the camera’s dial). If your camera doesn’t have a dial, just look for these settings in the camera’s menu.

OK, so let’s say that the smallest aperture your camera will allow is F4, or maybe you have a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera with removable lenses and you have a lens with a F1.2 lowest aperture … pop quiz !  Which aperture will give you the best bokeh?

Here’s two scenarios – you’re photographing one person and you’re photographing nine people (three people in three rows) – but you want a pleasing bokeh in both pictures.  The aperture setting you choose is going to be based first on how deep the subject is (DOF) and then on achieving the best bokeh possible. (subject in focus is the first priority).

The one person portrait is easy. Set the camera to the smallest aperture setting and that will help you determine the required shutter speed and ISO you need to get a correctly exposed picture. ( See my post on “The Exposure Triangle” if you want a description of how to do this  https://danbusler.wordpress.com/2016/01/19/the-exposure-triangle/ )

The nine person group in three rows is a bit different. The group will be about 3 feet deep, so the DOF needs to be at least three feet.  F8 is a great starting point for this group photo. Just remember to always focus on the center point of what you want to be in focus – in this case it will be the center row of people. Take the shot and see if everyone in the group is focus, is the background blurry? If not try a smaller aperture number or  move back (increase the distance between you and the subject) and zoom in a bit.

Here are some examples of how using a large aperture ( like F32) increases DOF and how using a smaller aperture (like F2.8) produces a shallower DOF and better bokeh

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Canon 70-200mm zoom lens set to 70mm at F32 and focusing on the number 1. All the numbers are in focus, including the fence in the background. No bokeh here.

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Canon 70-200mm zoom lens zoomed in to 200mm at F32 and focusing on the number 1. Just zooming in has added a little bokeh to the other numbers.

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Canon 70-200mm zoom lens set to 70mm at F32 and focusing on the number 2. ( Focusing on the middle row) Everything looks basically in focus, including the fence in the background

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Canon 70-200mm zoom lens set to 200mm at F32 and focusing on the number 2. Everything is basically in focus, but the other numbers are a little blurry, so there a little bokeh

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Canon 70-200mm zoom lens set to 70mm at F2.8 and focusing on the number 2. You can see that the other two signs are a bit out of focus. But were not zoomed in, so more of the  scene appears to be in focus

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Canon 70-200mm zoom lens set to 200mm at F2.8 and focusing on the number 2. Only the subject is in focus and there is a good bokeh. This shows how DOF is how much of what’s in front of and what’s behind the subject is in focus.

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Canon 70-200mm zoom lens set to 70mm at F2.8 and focusing on the number 1. Only the subject is in focus, the fence is a bit blurred. But this is not great bokeh.

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Canon 70-200mm zoom lens set to 200mm at F2.8 and focusing on the number 1. Only the subject is in focus and there is a great bokeh. This would be a close up single person portrait setting

Note: If I had used a lens with a F1.2 aperture the bokeh would have been even better.

 

Dan Busler is a professional portrait, performance and event photographer with studios located south of Boston in Walpole MA. You can see more of his work at http://www.danbuslerphotography.com

Cherish the Corny – Cherish the Boring – Cherish Each Moment {Photographs}

Hey Dan … are you feeling a bit down today? 

Yea, a bit, I came across a few pictures of when my kids and I visited my Mom in Pennsylvania in August 2004, yes, 10 years ago.  (We only got to see her a couple of times a year … my fault) 

It was just a visit. We had simple conversations, sat around and watched TV, went to visit people in town, went out for ice cream when we got bored, made hot dogs with cheese on them, looked at my Mom’s tomato plants.  


Five years later my Mom had died.


I think the iPhone (insert your favorite mobile device name here) camera is the greatest invention. Better than the instant camera to be sure. 


I’m a professional photographer and I tell people that they should shoot a billion pictures a year with their phones, save them to hard drives and put them in a safe …”But Dan, I’ll never look at them, it’s a waste … they’ll just sit there”


Yep, they’ll just sit there until one day … ten years … twenty years from now you or your kids or grand kids will pull them out and get to see the exact moment when you were younger and they were too. 

The moments do rush by – they do blur and they do fade away. But a photograph waits patiently for you until you need it so that you might hold those precious memories in your heart once again.