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First 2 Studio and Lighting Sessions

The first two sessions of my Studio and Lighting course have been a combination of theory and practice.  Since it is difficult to practice the concepts at home since I (and most of my fellow classmates) do not have a lighting setup (or enough space to set one up), each class includes a studio shoot.  I’m definitely learning a lot about what is a whole new world of photography to me.

IMG_0823The first class was mostly a review of basic photography concepts like aperture values.  We also talked about some of the differences between shooting with continuous light (i.e. street photography) versus studio setups with strobes.  Basically the flashes make your shutter speed negligible (since they fire for ~1/10,000 of a second) and you have control over everything so the shot can completely be your vision.  We replicated a few simple shots of an egg using a single light.  The object was to learn how to position the light source to create the shadows you want.

IMG_0834Our first homework assignment was to recreate three photos with different shadows using either multiple lights or a bounce card.  I took some shots of a pepper grinder, using a bounce card and then my on-camera flash to reduce the shadows.  I brought it into the second class for the instructor to review. She was excited I completed the assignment but suggested I redo it for the following week: since my subject was shiny there were highlights from both reflections and the light, so it was hard to tell how well I did with the actual lighting.

The second class covered lighting terminology and setup for portraits.  The key light, which for portraits is typically at a 45 degree angle from the subject, is the light that creates shadows.  The fill light, which is normally placed close to where the camera is, reduces the contrast between the highlights and shadows.  The separation light is back lighting, pointed towards the camera to separate the subject from the background.  We also covered the order of operations, recommended steps to follow in a studio situation to be most efficient and get the best shots.

  1. Determine the distance between the subject and the background.  Typically you want there to be as much separation as possible.  You must look through your lens at your selected focal length to ensure the positioning is correct.
  2. Determine the exact pose or positioning of your subject.  You will be setting up your lighting based on how the shadows fall on the exact pose.
  3. Pick your depth of field (and any other general camera settings).
  4. Set up your lights: put up the stands and turn everything on.
  5. Meter your key light on the subject (with separation light off).  Meter the area of the subject that the key light is shining on, from the perspective of the lens. Adjust the power on the light to reach the aperture you want to shoot at.
  6. Meter your fill light and adjust as needed.
  7. Meter the key light again and do final adjustments.
  8. Meter your separation light (with the key and fill lights off) and adjust as needed.

IMG_0840After going over all this material, we did a quick shoot with a 3-point lighting setup.  We exposed the key light at middle gray, with the fill light 2 stops darker, and the separation light 1 stop brighter.  After successfully taking this shot, we took another picture with the fill light turned off to see the difference.

New Course: Studio and Lighting

After almost a two year hiatus, I’ve enrolled in a new photography class, Studio and Lighting, at PhotoManhattan. This course was recommended by my instructor of Intro to Photography as a good way to practice achieving the proper exposure in my pictures. It also came recommended as I said I was interested in macro and product photography. The Studio and Lighting course lasts 7 weeks and is very technical in nature. The description from the school’s website is:

This course is a perfect mixture of basic and intermediate studio & lighting techniques. It is designed to teach students to accurately manipulate lighting in order to get exact results as well as to make creative studio imagery from portraiture to product.

I will admit I was a little turned off from the start: during introductions in the first class, I said I enjoyed shooting sports cars and the instructor snapped back she would not be teaching us how to light cars. However, having now been through two sessions, I realize this is an entirely different type of photography versus what I’ve done in the past. Having complete control of the lighting and exposure like you do in the studio is exactly how I’d want to shoot product photos, whether they were individual car parts or whole vehicles. While I’ve enjoying doing the race track panning shots in the past (and will likely continue that too), doing product photography is something I’d like to try. It is also probably my best chance to make money (if I started pursuing photography for that). Overall, I’ll learn a lot from this class regardless and the knowledge should be helpful in the future, whether directly or indirectly.

Intro to Photography Wrap-Up

Exhibition
 
 

This past week was my exhibition for Intro to Photography, marking the completion of the class. It was a little stressful since I waited until the last minute to order prints, but once my pictures were up on the wall it was really good. Several friends stopped by to check out my work and that of other students. My work was somewhat unique in the room – most people took landscapes or architecture shots. There were a few really cool macro sets that I liked as well. The six shots I choose are posted in an Exhibition album.

To wrap-up this class, I also reviewed all my album descriptions. I didn’t really write about our fifth homework (a technical assignment on depth of field), but my shots for that are posted with accompanying descriptions.

Overall, taking this course was a lot of fun and has given me a great overview to the world of serious photography. I’ll be building my skills individually for a while but will likely be taking another course in the future.

Gallery Integrated and Homework 1

Today I was able to install Gallery2 and integrate it with WordPress through the WPG2 Plug-in. It took me a while to align everything correctly, but I’m relatively happy with the results. Finally instead of posting archives I can have all my shots viewable without download.

Homework 1
 
 

Over the next few days, I’ll be going through old posts and uploading my photos to albums in Gallery. I’ve already done this for Intro to Photography Homework 2, and I’ve also posted an album with my shots from Homework 1.

Intro Homework 4 Feedback

The next class after our 36-shot assignment was a critique of everyone’s work. I thought my pictures stood up pretty well to the rest of the class although it was clear several of them could have been much better. Several students commented on different shots.

The instructor had some feedback on specific images:

  • 2829: the horizontal lines in this image were slightly off level, and it would have been stronger if they were completely leveled or much further off
  • 2851: compared to 2829, this was a much stronger image due to the composition and contrast. This was somewhat surprising to me as this shot was a complete one-off for me.
  • 2876: this dark shot of a creepy looking tree was strong. The contrast between the background and the leaves and trunk is distinct. The shadows on the tree make it look dark and a scary. The branches provide plenty of lines for the viewer’s eyes to follow.
  • 2882: this was a strong image due to the contrast of the dark leaves against the bright sky and details (like the tiny holes) you can see in the former. The castle is blurred but you can make out of the shape of the window in the background.

When asked which were my favorite images, I picked out the following (in addition to the ones already mentioned):

  • 2804: I liked this shot looking past the stone castle out over the park and the high-rise buildings far in the distance. The diagonal line of the stone blocks led down to all the people in the park, and the medieval column architecture is juxtaposed with the modern buildings in the background.
  • 2801: I thought this shot was a good look at all the geometric shapes in the architecture of the castle. The composition had decent negative space around the building and held the main tower at the left third.

Overall, this was another good learning experience. For the amount of time I spent on the assignment and the total number of shots I took (~110), I had six or so strong images.

Intro Homework 4

Our fourth homework assignment for Intro to Photography was to take 36 pictures (a full “roll”) of a single object. Our chosen object did not have to be the primary subject of every shot, but the idea was to think about perspective and composition and view the object many different ways.

I wanted to use my car for this assignment, but due to a failed inspection and a general bad mood last weekend visiting my parents at home, that didn’t work out. In the future, I may do this assignment over and use my car to see if I can develop a better set.

Homework 4
 
 

For my target, I settled on the Belvedere Castle in Central Park. This castle sits at the second highest elevation in the park and hosts a weather station. I was a little pressed for time and took just over 100 shots on Sunday afternoon. From those shots I’ve selected 38 to print for class. Out of what I’ve chosen, I think about five are relatively strong images. I’m disappointed in several but basically ran out of time and wasn’t as dedicated to this assignment as I could have been.

Update: These images are now available in Gallery.

Intro Homework 3

Our third homework assignment for the Intro to Photography class was to choose a picture from another photographer that we liked and bring it in to class. The class critiqued each picture, pointing out the composition elements we learned in action.

For this assignment, I choose a picture of the Nurburgring in Germany, taken by Ben LoveJoy. The photo I choose can be viewed directly here or you can view it with the rest on this page. The photo is of Wehrseifen on the Nurburgring Nordschleife.

I choose this image mainly because of its use of contrast and rule of thirds. The first thing the eye is drawn to is the line between the track and the grass in the foreground of the picture. The curves of the track encourage the eye to weave back and forth through the image. If you look closely, the track continues way into the distance, and above that mountain ranges flow into the further background planes of the photo. The first bend (looking foreground to background) is roughly one-third of the way from the lower right corner of the image, and the second corner is one-third from the top left. This composition really pulls you all the way back into the image and then lets you explore back out again.

My selection was validated during the class critique, when another student pointed out exactly the composition techniques I had identified when selecting the image. I received other position feedback from the class and the instructor on the choice. Going forward, the challenge will be thinking about all these composition techniques when I go to take my own shots.

Intro Homework 2 Feedback

At our third session, we critiqued everyone’s homework as a class. I was pleased that everyone liked my 30-second exposure with the playing cards. Somewhat ironically, that was the shot I spent the least time on and took the fewest exposures trying to create. Some of the other students also liked the shot of the subway leaving the station (from outside the train). The instructor commented that my picture freezing the peak of the fountain without showing the base was interesting.

Looking back on the 8 shots I picked, I was only really happy with about half of them. My focus is definitely off in my rolling shot. This was due to narrow depth of field (since I was almost wide open trying to take the picture in the dark) and my own error of auto focusing on the wrong spot. My focus was also off in the stove top picture, this time because I actually used manual focus and didn’t take enough time to get exactly what I wanted. I liked the golf ball shot, but I should have used an even faster shutter speed to really freeze things. From the direction the ball is going you can easily tell it wasn’t hit perfectly, which is sub-optimal for the shot as a whole.

I was impressed in how the moving subway photo came out because it was a 1″ hand-held exposure braced against a column. The Image Stabilization in my kit lens must have come through for that one.

The two shots I tried to get and didn’t were of the Metronome in Union Square (the giant clock slash piece of art on One Union Square South) and the Olafur Eliasson waterfalls in the East River. Getting a motion shot of the Metronome was like trying to date a girl that’s just not right for you – despite going back again and again you just can’t make it work. The digital numbers that make up the clock were too bright to shoot at night and didn’t stand out enough during the day. It was much harder than I thought to show any motion since exposures overlapping the changes of a number just ended up showing the multiple digits transposed over each other. The waterfalls were less challenging but I went to see them at the wrong time of the day. I couldn’t get a properly exposed shot that portrayed the water the way I wanted it.

Overall, taking all these slow motion and stop-action shots was a fun experience. Rolling shots are definitely my favorite – I found myself commenting that I liked everyone’s panning photo, even if they weren’t very good. I’m sure I’ll try a lot of these on my own.

Intro to Photography Homework 2

Tonight I finished the second homework assignment for my intro to photography class. The assignment was composed of four parts:

  1. Three Slow Shutter Pictures: show motion through blur
  2. Three Fast Shutter Pictures: convey motion by freezing action
  3. One Pan Shot: capture an object in motion by blurring the background
  4. One Long Exposure: have fun with a really long shutter

I took over 600 pictures over the last week for this assignment. Burst mode (6.5 fps on the 40D) makes it easy to fill a memory card with images, especially when you’re trying to capture stop-action shots. Here is what I came up with:

  1. Three Slow Shutter:
    • IMG_2310: Subway Car Looking Out (28mm, 1/8 sec @ f/4.0 @ ISO 200)
    • IMG_2323: Subway Train Leaving Station (28mm, 1 sec @ f/16.0 @ ISO 200)
    • IMG_2758: Spinning Refrigerator Magnet (50mm, 1/4 sec @ f/3.2 @ ISO 100)
  2. Three Fast Shutter:
    • IMG_2284: Boiling Water (50mm, 1/500 sec @ f/1.4 @ ISO 1600)
    • IMG_2227: Stuyvesant Square Fountain Peak (53mm, 1/1000 sec @ f/4.5 @ ISO 400)
    • IMG_2566 and IMG_2601: Golf Club and Ball at Driving Range (105mm, 1/2000 sec @ f/5.6 @ ISO 400)
  3. One Pan Shot: IMG_2706: Biker (50mm, 1/15 sec @ f/1.8 @ ISO 800)
  4. One Long Exposure: IMG_2731: Playing Cards (50mm, 30 sec @ f/1.4 @ ISO 100
Homework 2
 
 

Update: This assignment is now posted in Gallery.

Welcome

Photography is a pastime that I’ve always liked. Now that I’ve invested in real equipment (a Canon EOS 40D Digital SLR camera) and started taking classes I’m taking the hobby more seriously. This site was created as a place for me to record the progress of my photography education. Here I’ll describe the shoots I go on and any lessons I learn while working to improve my own skills.

Coming soon…

  • Gallery of shots
  • Equipment page