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Pro Shooter Ken Ross Critiques Student Cindy Spicer’s Images

Pro Shooter Ken Ross Critiques Cindy Spicer's Images Hi Cindy, I wanted to take some time to go over your images and give you as much specific feedback as I could – drives me crazy when all I get from a critique is “nice” or “I like that” – doesn’t help me get better and I try not to do the same thing to my students  I’ll also include an example adjustment of your original image, just to illustrate my comments – it’s art so remember that my comments are just my own perspective and opinions; you have your own story to tell in your own way!             I love the angle of this shot for expressing the grandeur of the sanctuary – it really helps “set the table” for this set of images and gives the viewer a sense of perspective when their viewing the other images. There are two things that I’d want to do in order to improve this a little more; correct the perspective skew and the white balance. The skew is a natural side effect of lens distortion of course but when you’re shooting architectural subjects, it’s really important to make sure the walls at straight. Fortunately, Adobe Lightroom has a feature that makes this sort of thing super easy to fix! Also, knowing that you’ll have this sort of correction to do with architectural images, be sure to always shoot “wider” than you really want for your composition; straightening out the walls will result in cropping off some detail on the edges (the top left & right in particular for this image). For the color balance, you’ll find scenes like this are very difficult for the “auto” white balance to deal with; there are a lot of different light sources in the scene and lots of colored light too. The camera does the best it can but just doesn’t have a good reference. There are a number of ways to you can solve for this; the easiest is to make note of a white or “neutral gray” area in the scene that you can use for a point of reference; as long as you are shooting in RAW, you can use the White Balance Selector Tool in Lightroom to select that white/gray area and it will adjust all the colors in the image to correct them. If you’re in a place where you don’t see a good candidate (and it can be something like a white plastic bag, a gray sidewalk, etc.), just drop a blank white sheet of paper in the scene where it’s being hit with “representative light” and use that as your reference; you can take a second shot without the paper there and, again in Lightroom, you can copy the white balance adjustment from your paper reference to your other image (select both images while in the Develop tab, click the Sync button and select just the White Balance adjustment to copy). Since the samples you sent me were JPG files I couldn’t do a true White Balance correction (you need RAW for that) but Lightroom tries really hard to re-tint a JPG to get close so it’s representative of what you could do with your original image (but you can definitely do a better job!). Likewise, Lightroom does a better job of correcting lens distortion if it knows the make and model of the camera and lens used; it can usually read that from the original image meta data but that’s often stripped from JPGs (and for some cameras you may need to download additional profiles if it doesn’t know them automatically). Love the high angle of this shot – it’s more dynamic than the first image and less of a literal expression of what the sanctuary looks like, but is more exciting due to the perspective. Here again we have some alignment/skew correction to do as well as white balance (although the camera is doing a better job this time). Other small adjustments include increasing the exposure, contrast and a bit of Clarity (helps pop textures in these sorts of setting but be careful of using it with people in the scene as it can make their skin look haggard). I remember working with you on this composition and am really pleased with how well it turned out – I think the angles work well and framing the pipes between the stain glass windows gives it a strong sense of place. I made a few adjustments here to boost contrast and add a bit of Clarity, but didn’t want to brighten the image too much more and lose the mood (or blow out the windows). I did feel like the pipes needed to be enhanced though because they’re a key element in your story; I used the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom to just “pain on” more exposure for the areas of the pipes I wanted to emphasize and used the pipes themselves as a White Balance adjustment reference (they’re gray).                     Really love how this turned out – I told you you’d get it!! This is exactly what we talked about with this technique; get enough exposure at one spot to cement the details (especially her face) and then pull back on the zoom to create that dynamic effect in-camera. Great job!! My only contribution here is to boost contrast and add Clarity to help the image pop and create more apparent sharpness on the base image (see how her face looks “sharper”? That’s due to Clarity).                   This is another outstanding image. I really love how you saw this possibility while we were walking out and insisted on “working the scene” to make this happen. In particular, I liked how deliberate you were in your framing and, as a big fan of high-contrast B&W images myself, I love the mood of this image. Here again I’ve made just a few small changes to take an already great image up a notch; exposure has been increased slightly to get more detail on the foreground element, I’ve rotated the image slightly to straighten the window and added Clarity to bring out the texture in the floor. Lastly, I used the Lightroom Adjustment Brush to paint in some “drama” on the top three window panes, adding a bit of exposure and Clarity while making the dark areas just a wee bit darker. I’m going to be honest here; this isn’t a great composition. The exposure is good and the white balance is reasonably good, but in terms of presenting a subject or telling a story I feel this fails to hit the mark. I know that you were drawn to that amazing keyboard, a subject that excited you and was frankly challenging to capture (you knew what all the buttons did but it might as well have been the space shuttle cockpit for me!). Looking at this image as presented, it appears that the subject is the decorative carving at the end of the pew (rather than the keyboard) but the keyboard in the background is too distracting (and the top of the carving is just being clipped by the top of the frame). Lastly, the railing at the edge of the pew is acting like a “leading line” – pulling the viewer out of the image instead of into it. Now, there are a number of things we might do differently if we had it to do over again (hindsight is awesome) but what we can do to improve the image we have at hand? Well, let’s assume the subject is the carving. Let’s take advantage of that leading line like we talked about in class – use that to help direct the viewer to our subject. How? We’ll flip the image so that line is coming in on the left . Next, we need to create more emphasis on our subject than the background; we can do that by using the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom to paint the areas we want to de-emphasize, making it darker (less exposure) and less distinct (lower the Sharpness and Clarity). Then, create a new brush and paint a little added exposure and Clarity on the details on the face of the carving. Lastly, we crop the image in a bit tighter on the main carving and use the Post-Crop Vignetting to darken the edges of the image, further deemphasizing the windows and back wall. There’s a lot to like in this image – the atmosphere of the solitary “parishioner”, the dramatic lighting from the windows. However, when we have a person in the image then the story really is about them and I feel like the image is too dark with too many bright windows and our subject just gets lost. What I’d recommend in this case is to re-crop the image to make it more about the subject and then use the Adjustment Brush to paint on just a bit of extra exposure on our subject’s face and arms, just enough to lift them out of the shadows but not so much as to make them look “flashed” or unnaturally lit. I didn’t want to do anything to the overall exposure since that would change the mood too much.                   Another great angle to explore in this venue – really love how you’ve picked up the play of light across the floor and controlled the exposure so that the massive stained glass at the back of the sanctuary wasn’t blown out. With this image we have very little to correct that we haven’t looked at earlier – some White Balance and perspective skew adjustment is all we need, as well as a smidge of Contrast to make it pop.   I hope you found these comments and examples helpful and thanks again for coming to my class and for sharing your images with us!   Ken


BEAUTY IN THE EYE-Orlando Camera Club had a "Creative Macro" competition with results being presented this past Monday and David Montague walked away with the first place in this particular category. Says he, "I shoot with a Nikon D750 and used my 105mm macro lens.  I placed my son in a chair, underneath the lanai shade, and his wife more in the sun so she would show up better within his eye. Placed the camera on a tripod and positioned it within a few inches of his eye. Took quite a few shots to get the focus just right. As your aware, using a macro lens that tight is tough to get a sharp image unless everything is perfectly still."

Street Portraits in Viterbo

Patrick is the director for the Viterbo campus of SYA, attended by 47 American high school students who live with 47 host families, including the Vitti’s who took on our daughter as a boarder for the 10 months of her junior year. It is through them and the other families that we will have private access to many different settings for our classes for making still and moving images. Even if the host families did not create private access for photos in restaurants,  spa’s, parks, churches and other great spaces, the streets and its strollers offer great photographs as well. This gentleman was about to step into his vehicle, where his wife was waiting but cheerfuly stopped to allow us to take his photo. A casual hangout with great music and great espresso. Sergio was always happy to see us and let us take his photo. The other patrons were also friendly and posed as well. Marco was at Sergio’s place each time we dropped in for an espresso. In the 12 days we were in Viterbo, back in January of this year, we met at least 25 people, young and old, who are looking forward to model for the group. There are also professional models who we will work with. One of the many stylish locals of Viterbo, at Sergio’s cafe. Notice any similarity in their hair styles? And another of Sergio’s patrons. Everyone who lives in Viterbo has a garden and they buy their supplies from this gentleman. The gourmet food is inexpensive and delicious. Again, the owners and general staff could not have been more welcoming.   Gourmet shops are everywhere in Viterbo as the case in each of the neighboring towns, allowing for charming environmental portraits, with and without people. The local bankers. A couple of guys on the street.   The local pharmacist. Just a friendly resident with her own style. Another restaurant, sleek and beautifully designed, with amazing food and beautiful décor. We had stopped in before “happy hour” began, at around 5:30 PM and the place was empty. Lorenzo served us and gave us as much as we wanted of each dish, one more delicious than the next. The bill was about 10 euro per person.  A night time meal and shoot here will be produced. It seems a number of restaurants have their own signature wine. An hour or 2 later, we were still there, and the place was still empty, but in came the owners. We sat and chatted and they are happy to provide the space for a meal and a photo shoot, at night. That’s me with Gianluca. He was patient with my efforts to speak the language. He seems to know everyone and every place in Viterbo and the locales within the surrounding 30 miles. You will become friendly with him and he has even offered to get the local fire department to pose for us since he is on the volunteer force. Here, where the bread for most restaurants is prepared and delivered to the cities restaurants and retail establishments, we will have environmental portrait shoots. You might sample the bread, called pizza, as well. Gianluca, brought us here on the way one morning, when he was bringing us out to a country farm, that belongs to a friend. The “country farm” was more like a high end country home, with 40 acres of greenery and olive trees, overlooking a panorama of forrest, accessorized by Etruscan ruins. This is the back room of a gallery which is the center of fine art in the area and we will be invited to events in the evenings if we have the time and energy. There is Gianluca again. With him is a local vintner, bringing a bottle of a new sparkling white wine. We all had a taste. Gianluca’s restaurant will be a frequent stop, right in the city next to all the other sites where we will be shooting. He will be open whenever we want even though lots of restaurants have the typical afternoon respite from commerce.   Gennelle comes from Africa and is making her future in Viterbo. We were all waiting for a local parade to appear. I was into it.

Family Group Portraits

Family portraits are important keepsakes for many reasons. They provide a baseline from which to measure the growth of your kids, they provide memories as you get older, and the event of having them made provides bonding. © Russ Burden To create a professional look, be sure to pay strict attention to what you have the subjects wear. Be sure to create a theme regarding the color and style of the clothing. If everyone is wearing something totally different, the look is not cohesive. On the other hand, if there′s a theme, the look is harmonious. Have some fun with the poses you create. Instead of lining everyone up on the same plane, place your subjects in a way that′s not chaotic yet allows them to have some fun. The end result will be images with great smiles. © Russ Burden Be sure to light the subjects uniformly. This may mean finding open shade, using a reflector to fill in harsh shadows or using a flash to accomplish the same as the reflector. If any of the subjects have bright hotspots of light, move the group so that each person is evenly lit.

The Spirit of Family

Making a great family photo is all about the spirit of the family - if they are an exuberant bunch, it′s up to the photographer to capture that! One approach is to mirror the emotions you′ll want to elicit - while looking through the camera yell, laugh, say silly things, keep asking for more and more and more... while paying attention to the action, and looking for the peak moment to release the shutter. Try to position the group in the shade, facing towards the open sky - be sure to have no sunlight hitting them directly! Bring an old white bed sheet, and throw it on the ground in front of them - it will reflect light into the shadows, and keep some of the green light reflected off the grass, off them! Finally, it doesn′t hurt to pull out the Lensbaby! Everyone loves the soft, romantic look it creates - especially Mom! Take lots and lots of frames quickly, then edit them later in your computer for your best shot!

Observe, Don′t Intrude

© Adam Stoltman Observe, but don′t intrude.  A good photographer keeps his/her eyes open at all time constantly observing his surroundings and taking in the visual environment.  Observe, but don′t intrude, is a good rule of thumb, as in the case of these two lovers along  the Seine river in Paris.  By shooting from a comfortable distance with a short telephoto lens, the photograph has a timeless quality -- and captures a moment instantly recognizable to all romantics.  If the photographer had tried to get too close, and inserted himself in the situation, the subjects would likely become self conscious, and the moment would be lost.

Ready for the Moment

© Judith Farber This shot in Central Park was created by being ready at a great location. With street photography, being quick on the shutter means the difference between shooting at that decisive moment that gets your heart pumping, to just being the observer of yet another passing scene. When finding an inspiring location, plan ahead. Have your camera setting ready to go, so when that perfect situation finds its way into your frame, you are prepared and ready. After shooting in this location numerous times, I′ve rarely seen people stand in the center of that circle, most avoid it and walk around. Being an area of energy you would think it would draw people in. But the opposite happens. It′s those unexpected baffling perplexities of the human condition that keep me inspired to photograph on the streets.

Keep your Subject Occupied

© Doug Carver Nonprofessional subjects are much more relaxed if they are engaged in an activity. Choose your equipment and settings to contribute a visual style that enhances your subject and environment.

Shooting Close up

© John Bentham To get beautiful close up shots use the digital macro feature on your camera. Most point and shoot cameras have this feature (often you find this in scene mode). This photograph was shot on the Panasonic LX3, a high end pocket size camera. If youre using a DSLR you can often get in close by stepping back and zooming in the lens. You′ll need to experiment with your camera and lens to see what works best. Don’t use the flash when youre in this close, it will wash out all the details and color. That’s why its good to shoot this type of shot outdoors or near a window where there is plenty of light. Focus is crucial with this kind of shot. My son was moving around a lot and I had to wait for him to hold still, this can take a number of frames before you get it right. Be patient, keep shooting. The focus should be on the eye, with the rest of the face out of focus (which is called shallow depth of field), the photo will have more impact if the eye is sharp. On a DSLR, set your camera on Aperture Priority, then set your Aperture as wide as your lens will go (f2.8 or f4 works well). You can achieve this on a point and shoot by lowering your ISO to 100 or less. Move in and isolate the important part of the photo and crop any distracting elements out of the frame.

Family Portrait in the Studio

© Michael Thoennes When photographing a family it is very important to be quick and ready especially when young children are involved because of their limited attention span. Be prepared the moment they arrive. Also be sure to maintain a fun and casual atmosphere so that you have an opportunity to capture unique moments. In the examples provided (thanks to DPA students Mauricio, Stephen and Stuart) my family is posed in completely different manners. I cherish both because they portray separate facets of our family. In one, we are tightly grouped, holding each other and leaning into each other showing our close affection. Ask your subjects to relax and lean into each other with an arm or hand positioned on the person closest. It helps to encourage them, otherwise many people tend to stiffen. In the second we are hamming it up. The result is a fun pose that shows our tendency to be energetic and fun. © Michael Thoennes Remember to take multiple shots. Do not bracket the exposure because the expressions are most important. If you miss your exposure by a little this can be fixed. Closed eyes and distorted faces are not so easy. As you shoot more frames the people will loosen a bit and with more options a good outcome is more likely. Also of importance is simplicity of background. A busy background would diminish the subject. Place your group 10-12 feet from the background and fill the frame. The clothing is selected so that no one individual stands out with a red shirt for example. Some families like to dress in one style shirt. These ideas should be addressed before the shoot date. Of course if there′s a spontaneous moment to gather a family, do it. Finally, and absolutely important, a soft even light makes casually posing groups more successful. In this example we used a background light with an incident meter reading +1.5 greater than our exposure (f11), f 16.5. This insured that the background was white. Using a softbox in the foreground and a beauty dish the foreground was evenly lit for the group to pose within a block (an area marked where lighting is consistent). A good solution for those without a studio is to choose a shaded side of the house using a solid area of a wall as the background or a large hedge. Use an aperture of no less than f 8 to insure that all people are in focus and use your on camera flash as a fill light for a little sparkle and added contrast. Take lots of pictures and engage the group with encouragement. SMILE. YOU GUYS LOOK GREAT. ONE MORE. LOOK UP, ON THREE LOOK AT ME. ONE MORE. AND AGAIN. THANKS! Be fun and they′ll likely suggest a pose. Or some photographers are successful thoughtfully posing each person. Its your choice, your style.

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