Why I never shoot in Manual mode

At one point in my photographic career I’ve noticed that many photographers proud themselves in shooting only in manual mode. I get it, they want to emphasize the fact that they mastered exposure technique and  know exactly what f-stop and shutter speed to set for each lighting scenario.

“I shoot manual only” people generally look down on all the regular folk who are not in their club.
Well, guess what, in my opinion it is not wise and plain unnecessary to shoot on manual in this day and age.

Let me defend the case of Aperture Priority mode as the only one you’ll ever need to use whether you are an amateur or even pro photographer. There’s only one caveat here – if you shoot high speed events such as sports or racing you might want to consider Shutter Priority mode, but I’ll get to this down the road.

Why Aperture Priority you ask? It’s simple – because it gives you full control of your camera without forcing you to always be cautious of accidentally under/over exposing your shot. I wrote ‘accidentally’ on purpose, since you still have full artistic freedom of intentionally blowing out your highlights or deepening the shadows.

Ethereal beautiful woman swirling in a dance move

 

But first thing first – what is Aperture Priority mode?
In Aperture Priority mode you set your desired aperture and camera sets the shutter speed according to its built-in light meter. From my description it seems that you get only to control the depth of field (since that’s what changing f/stop does to the image). However, in addition to setting the aperture in this mode, you can also set exposure compensation, which leads us to the next question.

What is exposure compensation? By setting exposure compensation you basically tell your camera to use its built-in light meter to set the exposure, but then intentionally over or under expose the scene by the amount that you specify. For example you are shooting a sunset pointing your camera directly at the setting sun. Built it light meter will set exposure according to the bright sun, leaving the rest of the scene under-exposed. So if you want to achieve correct exposure, you need to set exposure compensation at about +1 or +1.5 stops. This way the camera will ‘add’ more exposure time to its measurement.

Now that we are familiar with exposure compensation, add it to your arsenal when using Aperture Priority mode, and you are almost set for any shooting scenario. The remaining bit of knowledge to mastering Aperture Priority is the ISO control.

Celebration of color and movement

By setting ISO you control your sensor’s sensitivity to light. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive your camera will be to light. But why do we need different values of ISO? Example to the rescue again! Let’s say you are shooting people indoors where the light is dim, and people are moving. At ISO 100 and f/8, your shutter speed will have to be 1/15th of a second in order to correctly expose your scene. But at 1/15s anything that is even slightly moving will be blurred in the resulting image. One solution would be to open your aperture to f2.8 (for example), but what if that’s not something you want to do? Or in some places the light is so dim that even at f2.8 your exposure times are too long. The only option you have is to set ISO higher. In the example above you’ll need to go up to ISO 400 or even 800 to get acceptable shutter speeds.

The lowest ISO is usually 50, which you would normally only use when shooting in bright daylight. The highest ISO differ between cameras, the highest that I heard of was 409,600! It means that this camera can basically shoot in very dark conditions and still produce visible details.  Remember though, you always want to shoot at lowest ISO possible because the higher your ISO, the more noise you’ll have in the image.

That’s it! By setting your desired f/stop, exposure compensation, and ISO, you have full control of your camera as if you were shooting in manual but still let your camera do the tedious job of metering the light so you don’t have to worry about it.

Let’s reinforce this claim with a few examples.

1. Shooting sunset with sun visible in the frame.

a. Set the desired f-stop. I’ll go with f/11 to achieve optimal overall sharpness and depth of field for my taste.
b. Since the sun is in the frame, the camera’s built in light meter will under-expose the scene, so I’ll set exposure compensation to +1 stop.
c. If I use tripod, I don’t care that the exposure time might be too long, so I don’t mess with ISO and leave it at the lowest setting possible for my camera. If I don’t use tripod, I half press the shutter button and see what shutter speed my camera chooses. If it is too long, I’ll bump the ISO to the next level (ISO levels are 50-\>100-\>200-\>400-\>800-\>etc.) and check the exposure time again.

2. Shooting portraits indoors.

a. Set the desired f-stop. I’ll go with f/4 in this case to achieve low depth of field that will give me enough sharpness for all facial features but also a pleasantly blurred background.
b. Check that there’s no exposure compensation set, because I want my portraits to be correctly exposed using the available light.
c. Half press the shutter button and see what shutter speed my camera chose at the lowest ISO setting. Then bump up the ISO until the shutter speed is acceptable. Shooting handheld I normally don’t go slower than 1/30th of a second, or even 1/60th if my hands are a bit shaky.

3. Shooting rays of light protruding through trees in the forest.

This is not an obvious thing to achieve. I am talking about those beautiful rays of light seeping through the dense foliage, and hitting the low vegetation.
a. Set your f-stop at whatever value that you want. No suggestions here on my part.
b. Here’s the important part – set the exposure compensation to about -1.5 stops. Reason being – you want the rays of light to stand out, so you need to under expose your scene. Don’t worry about the rays – they are so bright that they will still be perfectly visible, but your background now will be dark enough for the rays to stand out!
c. As usual, if you are not using tripod, half-press the shutter button and check the exposure time. Adjust the ISO accordingly.

Ethereal beautiful woman swirling in a dance move

In conclusion – Aperture Priority mode can be used to deal with any photographic situation without the hassle of manually metering the light as you would need in manual mode. Therefore it is to me an absolute winner between those two modes. If you have another opinion, please, feel free to share it in the comments as I am always willing to learn.

 

Oh, I forgot to mention the Shutter Priority mode for sports and stuff. When you shoot fast moving objects such as race cars or football players, and you want to freeze their motion in your frame (in other words produce sharp images), you need to make sure that your shutter speed is short enough. Let’s say 1/500th of a second and shorter. Achieving that is easy with Shutter Priority mode, in which you set the desired shutter speed, and camera sets the f/stop. In Shutter priority mode you can still control all the rest of the settings by using exposure compensation and ISO controls exactly as you would in Aperture Priority mode.

Photographing Still Life Part II

About three months ago I wrote an article about my work with still life objects. I’ve been continuing photographing still life since then and experimenting with different ways of post processing the images. In this post I will show some of my more recent works. Click on the images to view larger version.

In this image I went with simplicity in shapes but added more interest using texture.
Still Life with bottle and wine glass

Here, on the contrary, I wanted to create a more complex image with additional elements. My main problem was to choose these elements so that they would fit harmoniously into my composition. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether I succeeded or not. 
Still Life with bottles, mandarins, and leafs

I especially like this image, mostly because it wasn’t easy to come up with the idea for it. I started it by trying various compositions of glasses and the bottle, and various liquid levels. After I achieved something that looked good to me, I still felt that something was missing from the image. So I looked around for an item to add, and decided to add the two marbles. But I needed an aesthetic way to place them, and after a while I solved this puzzle with a spoon. I made a couple of shots and still wasn’t completely satisfied with the results. Suddenly it hit me that these marbles on the spoon look like musical notes! To make this idea more visible I added musical sheet to the background and the photo frame, and finally I felt the image was complete.
Still Life with bottle and glasses

 

This is my best still life image to date. It has an interesting idea and a nice execution. In addition this image was accepted to 1x.com !!! It was my dream to have my image featured there, and I finally achieved it. You can see it on 1x.com here.
Still Life with bottles

 

Save

Save

Save

Photographing Still Life

For the last several months I’ve been focusing on photographing still life images. I don’t know exactly why but I am drawn to still life photography. I like to create various compositions putting emphasis on shapes, light, and color. In this article I’ll share some of my creations and talk you through my thought process. The images that you will see here where created by me during the course of the last five months.

I started experimenting with simple shapes and gradually added more components using bottles and other items I had at home. My first images consisted of two objects and were shot in black and white. This way I was able to concentrate purely on shape and light. Here is one such example, which I liked. There is a contrast between one dark, “solid” object on the foreground and one light, almost transparent object in the background. I tried intuitively to place them in a way that would look interesting and pleasing to me.

Still life with bottle and vase in black and white by greg brave
click on the photo to enlarge

Next I added one more object, some color, and changed the lighting. The reason I changed the lighting is for the color to bee seen, but I still wanted to have shadow in the image. This way I aimed to bring a certain mood into the image. Looking at it on my computer screen I felt that something was missing, tried to add texture, and liked the result. This image is still very simplistic, a building block in my studies of still life photography.

Still life with bottle and vase in color by greg brave
click on the photo to enlarge

I kept on trying various compositions, and here’s my attempt to add some humor. There’s not much sense to it, but I like this drunk zebra 🙂

Still life with bottles and toy horse in black and white by greg brave
click on the photo to enlarge

The image below was inspired by images of Victoria Ivanova . She has some very cool conceptual still life images with pears (and other items). I call this image “Examination”. Will let you figure this one out for yourself 🙂

Still life with bottles and pears in color by greg brave
click on the photo to enlarge

Concept imagery is pretty difficult to come up with, and I didn’t have much luck with it just yet. In the meantime I continued to focus on form, light and color. In my next composition I wanted to emphasize a single color, so it would become the whole theme of the image. It doesn’t mean that there is only one color but that it is the vividly dominant one, so there’s no mistake as to which one is it.

Still life with bottle vase apple and glass in color by greg brave
click on the photo to enlarge

I also tried to change backgrounds and match them to my subjects. One of the things I learned from the photo below is that I don’t like empty things. I didn’t notice this at first, but when I looked at the final image I kept thinking that something was missing, and finally I realized that all the items were empty!

Still life with bottles and glasses in color by greg brave
click on the photo to enlarge

I didn’t repeat that mistake in my next image. In this image I made an emphasis on color. Seeing the final image I saw that vivid colors add a lot of interest to it. Ideally, of course, it should also be the shape, the light, and the meaning of the image together to form a good one.

Still life with bottles glass and fruits in color by greg brave
click on the photo to enlarge

The image below is the most recent one I created. When working on its’ composition I felt that only glass objects with (or without) liquid created a lacking picture. I tried to add various objects but nothing worked. Then I went out to the garden and looked around, saw this sprout and tried to add it to my composition. Finally I got what I needed, and the image was complete. There is an interesting “cross-balance” (term I thought of just now 🙂 ) in this photograph: A diagonal line of three filled objects from top left to bottom right, and another diagonal line of two empty objects from top right to bottom left.

Still life with bottles glass and flora in color by greg brave
click on the photo to enlarge

A few technical notes regarding my lighting setup: I generally had two lights. One is located below the table on which I created my compositions. That light was lighting the background and adding the glow to the bottles from behind. Another one is located to the left of the camera and just a bit above the bottles. On it I placed polarizing gel and also used a polarizing filter on the lens. I turned the polarizer on the lens so that the reflections of the light source in the bottles would not be visible. In some cases I created two exposures of the same composition – one with reflections and another without. Later in Photoshop I loaded the two exposures as layers, completely masked out the exposure with reflections, and only revealed the reflections that I wanted to be seen.

Your comments, questions, and thoughts are highly appreciated!

How to determine suitable photographic paper

Photographers spend many hours perfecting their image capturing skills and a lot of money obtaining the most advance photography equipment. When images remain in the digital realm all is well, but when images are printed on an inferior photo paper all that hard work and money often goes down the drain. This can be avoided and rectified by using a suitable photographic paper and here is what to look for.

Brands

Manufactures of photo paper often brandish a budget line and a premium line so ‘brand name’ alone is less important than you think. In fact, users often limit their choice of paper to one made by their printer manufacture due to incorrect information. Printer manufacturers do not produce photo paper, which are made by external suppliers on their behalf.  Therefore, having a certain brand of printer does not limit you to its range of photo paper alone.  External suppliers often produce photo paper with universal compatibility that is made to a higher quality than your printer’s own range of photo paper.  As long as you ensure to adjust the printer settings to the correct finish, grade and size of photo paper results will match and often exceed your printer manufacture photo paper results.

Inkjet Vs. Laser Printers

Printer technology is divided into Inkjet and Laser technology. The choice of most photographers is Inkjet due to higher DPI (Dots Per Inch) of 2880 vs. 720DPI achieved by Laser printers. Higher DPI ensures accurate image details, true colour representation and high quality photo paper support over bigger areas (A3 and A3+ sizes for example). Inkjet uses dye or pigment based inks propelled on the media by means of an accurate jet (hence, Ink-Jet). It results in slower printing time compared to laser, but higher accuracy. On the other hand, laser uses powder based ink which melts on the media after going though heat fusion. It results in shorter printing time that is fantastic in a commercial office environment for example when large amounts of ready prints are needed quickly.  However printing quality of laser printers will not be accurate to the digital image as much as Inkjet will.

Photo Paper Structure

The difference between budget and premium photo papers by the same manufacturer or even between completely different makes is in the structure of the paper. Understand the various options and you would be able to choose the most suitable media for your printing job.

Base – Photographic papers are made from either normal uncoated base or one that has a pre-coating of polyethylene – PE, on which an inkjet receiving layer is then added.   PE photo paper base which are present in premium examples has superior of significant amounts of inks. The PE coating helps ensure that ink is not allowed to penetrate the paper.

Receiving Layer – Unlike the base which is visible to the eye, the receiving layer is invisible, however it makes ALL the difference between the average and the high end photo papers. The receiving layer is a chemical coating, which is applied onto the paper. It is tasked with welcoming the ink and ensures it is held in place. Smudging after printing, ink that has run to the other side of the paper, poor colour representation and other quality indicators are often linked to the type of receiving layer used.

Budget lines use a ‘cast coated’ receiving layer, which is suitable in most cases. It is a far cheaper coating to produce, which explains why you would often come across cast coated in budget lines. The chemical is placed on the paper so prints would often be prone to smearing if touched immediately after printing. Cast coated is made from uncoated base paper without the PE pre coating.

Superior models often use pore based receiving layer either nano or micro pore in which ink ‘sits’ within tiny pores in the chemical. Therefore, the print can be held immediately after printing and longevity of the print is far longer. Prints printed on the pore based receiving layer are instant dry, will cope better with UV light and water as well as having a better archival properties such as anti-fading and anti-yellowing.

Finish Options

Photo papers come in three common finishes which are designed to enhance the image. The three are measured to a glossy scale from the most to the least and naturally the options in between. It is often a question of personal taste, though it can also take a practical angle. The three are glossy, satin and matt, though variations such as semi-gloss, pearl and luster are also available.

Glossy – The finish with the highest level of glare is the glossy finish, though some brands use higher level of glare than others. Glossy will suit most circumstances as it has the potential to sharpen the image. On the other hand, behind glass and from certain angles the glare can make the image hard to see.

Satin – Satin includes certain gloss but to a lesser degree. Versions of satin that you are likely to come across include Pearl, Semi-Gloss and Luster. They are all extremely similar to satin, perhaps with a slight difference in texture.

Matt – Matt include zero levels of gloss. It is rarely used in the reproduction of high quality imagery, more for printing in bulk and on a tight budget.

Photo Paper Weight GSM

Weight is measured in GSM (grams per square meter – g/m²) and indicates perceived appearance than anything else. Unlike common belief, it isn’t an indication of ‘quality’ but does play an important role in the perceived value of the print. Higher GSM photo paper often feel heavier to feel, which when giving the print away makes for a good first impression. Heavyweight photo paper which carries the budget structure characters of normal base and coast coating will often prove inferior to a lighter weight photo paper which carries the premium structure qualities.

Enjoy your printing now that you are aware of the difference in photo paper qualities and options.  Please leave your comments below.

Written by Joseph Eitan of PhotoPaperDirect.com. Joseph is the MD of the brand and works with professional as well as amateur photographers in order to help them make the most of their printed media.

London Bridge Panorama, Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia

About a week ago I took my family for a short 5 day vacation. We decided to go for a drive along the famous Great Ocean Road here in Victoria. Of course I had my DSLR with me, however I didn’t use it during the noon hours of sunny days. I used my iPhone instead. Here is a panorama I took from the London Bridge viewing platform.

London Bridge, Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia

London Bridge, Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia

P.S. The photo from the previous post (Apollo Bay) was also taken on this trip.