Thursday, January 24, 2013

When enough is more than enough

There are times when we need to just step back and re-assess what we are trying to achieve.  We often get bogged down in a 'rut' of sorts, and fall back on using the same tools and methods to address every problem, where a change in approach may result in an equally acceptable (or even superior) outcome for less effort.

I had one of these moments the other evening.  It was my niece's birthday and so we were all at her house to sing Happy Birthday and eat cake, and of course, I was there with camera to take photos of her blowing out the candles and so on... Most times now, I can balance the flash with ambient light by using a longish exposure so that the candle flame still shows, but that wasn't my problem...

Our new grandson Will was there, as was an Auntie that hadn't met him yet, so of course, she wanted to have cuddles with him.  When she saw me with the camera out ready to take 'cake' pictures, she said "take one of me with Will...".  Now being only 3 weeks old, I wanted to avoid using the flash, but light in the room was dim, and provided by very directional downlights.

If I had time to consider and set up the picture, I would have moved her around the room to find the best ambient light, and probably used some extra lighting and reflectors to get rid of the harsh shadows from the downlights.  But this was supposed to be an impromptu 'quickie' - that turned into an embarrassing nightmare.

After just turning the flash off (but with shutter speed of 1/30 already locked in ready for the candles on the cake), shot 1 produced a very underexposed image at f/5.6 - the max aperture of the kit lens I was using.  For shot 2 I tried in P mode, and got an exposure that was 1/2 second and impossible to handhold.  For shot 3 I tried increasing the ISO to 800 which is about as far as I can push it in low light on my D3000 without getting annoying noise.  The shutter speed came down but not really enough, and I still had really harsh shadows from the downlights on Aunties face.

After three failed attempts (and time spent chimping and changing settings each time) the 'moment' was pretty much gone.  It was turning into a situation that I needed more time to assess and solve, but Auntie was getting bored, I was getting frustrated, and my niece wanted to eat her birthday cake...  Will was fast asleep and couldn't have cared less, but I had to do something quick to retrieve the situation.

After a moment's panicked thought, I reached in my pocket, and whipped out my iPhone.  A couple of finger swipes and 5 seconds later, I had a relatively good picture that looked fine on the phone's screen, and was really all she wanted in the first place.  She didn't want poster sized glossy prints made, or even to display the picture on her 5 foot wide HDTV screen - she just wanted something for the 3.5" mobile backlit photo album from Apple, that everyone seems to carry these days - me included (he admits reluctantly).  In these situations, a mobile phone camera with all it's built in point and shoot logic, may be all you need.

Today's lesson learned?  You don't always need perfection - sometimes 'OK' is good enough.  The Pareto Principle (more commonly known as the 80/20 rule) says something like this - you can achieve 80% of an outcome with 20% effort, but then it takes the other 80% effort to get that final 20% of the outcome.  Sometimes - the 80% is all you really need in the first place.  So don't knock yourself out striving for perfection in every photo - admirable though that goal is, your sanity will surely suffer!

Until next time
Happy iSnappin'


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Happy New Year, and welcome Will (also PP - Example 4 : Glamour Glow)

Happy New Year everyone!  I hope Santa was kind to you over Christmas - he was to me.  I got a whole bunch of lighting stuff, including a Yongnuo 565EX flash and another Cactus v5 unit to trigger it, a 60cm softbox, a snoot with grids that can fit on one of the flashes, a couple of light stands, a couple of flash brackets, a flash bracket on a huge bulldog clip, and a whole bunch of grips for holding up backdrops, reflectors, etc.  I am looking forward to doing some product and portrait photography using all my new gear, and my New Year's Resolution is to try and build the confidence to do some 'proper' portrait work - we'll see how that goes ;-)

The other thing I got - 3 days after Christmas - was a grandson to take photos of.  He came along a month early and caught us all on the hop, but now he is 2 weeks old and life is beginning to settle down again (though his parents probably think differently).  Here is a picture of William (Will) Smith aged 2 weeks.

I've given this shot a bit of PP, which I'll describe for you (this is a photography blog, after all).  The first thing I did was to do a little colour correction, lightened it a little, etc., and then desaturated it to monochrome (why bother with the colour corrections first?  Well, it does actually make a difference, believe it or not.  It isn't really something I can easily explain, but try it and you'll see what I mean.)  Once desaturated, I played with the lighting again a bit more, and then did a little 'glamour' trick I learned... duplicate the layer, and then apply a fairly substantial Gaussian Blur to the top layer - I used 25 pixels radius.  Then reduce the opacity on the top layer to let the sharp layer below begin to partially show through - I reduced mine down to about 30%.  This gives the image a nice soft 'glow' without it looking out of focus. Finally, I applied a layer mask to the top layer and painted black on the eye to let the catchlights shine through sharply, without any of the Gaussian Blur applied.

I have been charged to do a picture of Will every month for the first year, to go in one of those special photo frames that has a slot for each month.  At the moment, Will couldn't care less about me snapping away all the time, but I think it's already wearing thin with Mum & Dad, so it may be a challenge to get access to him every month for his official portrait - we'll see.

I've also started putting pictures into Project Flickr again this year (running for its third year now?)  The first theme of the year was Happiness - which seemed quite appropriate given that we had a new addition to the family, and it prompted me to start it up again.  Next week's theme is Body Parts, and I had been planning to try and get a few shots of Will's tiny feet and hands - so they could be appropriate entries (once again - if I get the opportunity...)  I know that I won't last the whole year at Project Flickr - I have a few busy periods this year where I know hobby time will have to take a back seat for a while, as well as a spell over in China where internet access is severely restricted, and many 'social' sites like flickr and facebook, are forbidden or censored.  Having said that, I am looking forward to going back to China again, as I will have 3 days to myself while I am there, to wander around with my camera, and see what I can photograph.

OK - well that's my news for now.  Over the coming months, I am sure that Will will probably be featuring from time to time, and I'll also post some of my experiments with all my new lighting gear - which I am really looking forward to playing with.  Post a reply below telling what pressies Santa brought for you, and if you made any New Year Resolutions  - especially photographic ones.  I'd love to hear from you.

Until the next time
Happy Snappin'