Oxford School of Photography

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Category Archives: Light Stalking

Better Black and White Photography

from those nice people at Lightstalking

Black and White photography can provide some stunningly beautiful images that have a classic feel if done really well.
Standing stones at Avebury, Wiltshire UK by Keith Barnes

Standing stones at Avebury, Wiltshire UK by Keith Barnes

There was a time when all photographs were done only in black and white, and people were still able to see the different tones (i.e. the tonal range) in black and white. That is immense beauty in black and white photography and it’s important to show tonal variations in black and white too.
This week we’ve got some quick tips for you on how to create beautiful black and white photographs. This applies to both photography and the conversion process.
Quick tip:
Remember an important fact to be kept in mind while using the term monochrome (varying tones of one color); all black and white photographs are monochrome, but not all monochrome images are black and white!
Did you know about the Zone system of exposure that was developed by Ansel Adams and his friend Fred Archer?
Ansel Adams known for his famous black and white landscape photographs, was very particular about capturing as much dynamic range in his images (from the deepest black (shadows) to the brightest whites (highlights)).
So he developed this system for metering and exposure that made him stand out from other photographers of his time.
His images stood out so beautifully because of the range of tones that they had between the color black and white.
Tip Number 1: Learn to use your histogram
Keep a check on your histogram to see that you have a full range of tones before you start the process of black and white conversion, or if you are shooting black and white, make sure that your histogram has enough details for you to bring out the perfect tonal range in your photograph.
Black and white photography is not about capturing just the color black and the color white, but about capturing all the other shades of gray that lie in between black and white!
Look for yourself at the difference in Histograms when you change contrast and exposure in an image.
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Pay close attention to the histogram

And, look at the histogram for the picture with a correct exposure; you see that there are a good range of tonal variations!

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Tip number 2: Understanding Tonality

You need to choose a scene that has contrasting tonal values. Yes, tonality matters. What happens if you disregard this? You’ll simply end up with flat images that will look and feel lifeless with not much to look at.
Truth is, not all images will look good in black and white and you may have to tweak them a bit in the conversion process so that they don’t look flat.

This also tells, do not use automatic black and white settings in your camera, but instead shoot RAW in color and do the conversion manually so that you can tweak up the image later to bring in the tonal range.


What is tonality?
It’s the lightness of the image and is very important while shooting black and white. Colors that look very distinct may actually look the same when converted to black and white!
If you don’t quite understand, look for yourself at the conversions below! Amazing isn’t it? (Basic automatic conversion in Lightroom)

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But a slight variation of the above colors can create good tonal variations as seen below!

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Tip number 3: Choosing a good photograph for conversion to black and white

So from the above two tips, what do you gather? You need a photograph that has plenty of shadows and highlights, good tonal ranges and some textures wouldn’t hurt at all, but create a striking black and white photograph.

So, choosing an image that will create a decent black and white photograph is important and that doesn’t mean that you cannot make a good conversion from other pictures, but it simply means that it will be more difficult to achieve it.

Look at the images below along with a default black and white conversion to see how they turn up!


Check out these examples:

The image on the right has some tonal values and beautiful textures whereas the image on the left, although a beautiful landscape, lacks tonal range and textures!

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If you wish to learn for yourself about the histograms, how the Zone System works for photographs along with useful and step by step illustrations to convert photographs into beautiful black and white pieces of art, you really should check out Kent’s “Better Black and White” premium photography guide.

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14 Practical Reasons Your Photos Are Not Quite As Good As You Want Them To Be

When I teach I spend a lot of time trying to help people make better pictures. That might seem obvious, that is what I am paid to do, but that doesn’t just mean teaching what apertures or ISO or focal length mean or how to shoot a portrait or the best way to capture a landscape. It means I try to change the way my students think about photography, their photography. I use many techniques to do this but the bottom line with all of them is the student has to practice. I explain that without paying attention to what they are doing it is unlikely they will be satisfied with their results, or at least not often enough. Many of the ways I encourage students to get better are contained in this article on Lightstalking, a very good blog that I would recommend you follow.

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Composition in Photography

1. You Don’t Pay Attention to the Composition

2. You Don’t Know the Basics of Exposure

3. You Don’t Experiment With the Perspective

4. You Don’t Understand How Lighting Affects a Photograph

5. You Don’t Post-Process Your Photos

6. You Haven’t Taken Up a Photography Project

7. You Don’t Have a Well-Defined Subject in Your Photo

read what  has to say about these and the rest of the reasons here

If what you really need is help with these all our courses will get you going. If you just don’t understand your camera well enough try our

Understanding Your DSLR Camera Course

Composition In Photography – Seeing Pictures this will help you with so many of the visual aspects of your photography

Introduction To Photoshop will help you with post production and Understanding Lightroom will get you processing RAW files properly

Intermediate Photography is for those who have mastered their cameras and composition and want to go that extra step, it is a fascinating course

We have many other courses that will help you to become much better photographers, go here now for the full list

3 Ways Photography Alters The Mind

I keep saying in class that an understanding of photography, of image making, of communicating in a visual way changes the mind. As the saying goes ‘mind stretched never goes back to the same shape’ Therefore seeing better, understanding your world through a visual medium has to be a great advantage. You will not be surprised then when I champion this article by  on Lightstalking

Visual perception, or the ability that allows you to observe a certain situation, is shaped and molded by you and your experiences in your surroundings. The way you see things, observe, take note of details and so forth defines your visual perception and how detail oriented you are.

Let us take a neurosurgeon for example: his visual perception is highly tuned towards details. The surgeon should be able to notice things which regular people wouldn’t even be able to see.

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Psychologists, on the other hand, should be able to catch various micro expressions by the people they are working with in order to be able to help them; their visual perception is highly tuned towards noticing small differences in the facial expressions, which often occur for a split second. Along with this, they should also be observant of the bigger picture.

Us photographers are a different breed. Our visual perception is separately tuned towards different things that we are supposed to observe…….

Light

Though it’s very difficult to fine tune your perception for light, this is something you start doing right away. Due to the limitation of the camera (the amount of light it needs to generate a decent picture) you first start evaluating the amount of light you have and whether it is hard or soft.

Generally, you do this by trial and error. First off, all you start with sources you’re familiar with e.g. fluorescent lights – and you generally learn which settings work in that kind of a setup, this can then be used in other scenarios.

You can ascertain whether the light is harsh or soft by looking at the shadows and observing their shapes i.e. whether closer or further away from the light source.

I think you should read more of this article, it is not long but it is worthwhile

I cover much of the conceptual aspects of these ideas in my Intermediate Photography, we have the next course starting on the 12th May and we have places

The problem with landscape photography is metering

This is a thing I have to say on just about every camera course I teach. It seems everyone likes to take landscapes, not me so much I have to add, (why, oh because they involve so much walking and carrying gear to places that are difficult to get to). As dear old Ansel Adams taught us (he is probably the greatest landscape photographer of all time) metering is the essence of getting a landscape picture right, see this picture of his

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So it was with relief that I found this post by  on Lightstalking that address all the issues surrounding metering and landscapes. Just give it time to get past all the jokiness, it is worth the effort.

He proposes that the Zone System, originally developed by Ansel Adams and that involved metering, film development and printing can still be used in digital photography, I agree with this and taught it on our Black and White Digital Photography course. It takes a bit of understanding and careful metering as well as command of Photoshop but is worth the work. The basis of the Zone System was that light meters as you have in your camera provide aperture and shutter combinations that would create a mid grey or 18% tone, understanding this allows you to meter into the darkest shadows/brightest highlights and then adjust your exposure through managing aperture or shutter as you prefer (usually shutter). This may sound complicated but it is the foundation of all photography that relies upon a light meter and should be understood by anyone serious about their photography and especially landscape photography. Here is the summary from Kent but I would recommend that you read the whole article

To properly meter for a landscape photograph consider the following-

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Illustration by Kent DuFault

  1. Once, you have decided on a scene; evaluate the contrast range with your eyes. Take notes (I do). Note your brightest highlight area that you wish to maintain detail. Note your darkest shadow area that you wish to maintain detail. Note an area that you believe to be a mid-tone (127) area.
  2. Use your longest focal length lens (or a handheld spot meter). Set your metering pattern to “spot”. Take a meter reading of the three areas that you noted in step one. Write down the exposure settings. (For the sake of example- I’ll make some up: Shadow area 1/2 sec at F/1.4: Mid-tone area 1/2 sec at F/8: Highlight area 1/2 sec at f/45) This represents a 10 stop dynamic range. Most DSLR cameras can record a dynamic range of about 5 to 6 stops. The super high-end professional DSLR cameras may go as high as a 10 to 12 stop range. For most of us, we are looking at a 5 to 7 stop range.
  3. Make a determination of where you are willing to lose detail: highlights or shadows? Set your exposure with a bias to the end of the scale that you want to have detail. Using my example meter readings above- if I wanted to bias my exposure maintain detail in the highlights, I would set my camera to 1/2 sec at f/16. If I wanted to bias my exposure for detail in the shadows, I would set my exposure to 1/2 sec at f/4. If I wanted to record as much mid-tone levels as possible, and sacrifice a little detail at both ends of the scale, I would set my exposure to 1/2 sec at f/8. I’m not going to go deeply into this- BUT- you may have heard of “Shooting to the Right”. This refers to biasing exposure to the shadows thus over-exposing the highlights. The theory behind this is that digital cameras, shooting raw files, can recover more detail in the highlight end of the scale- than they can in the shadow end of the scale (in post-production). And while this is true, you should strive for the best exposure setting possible (based on your mind doing its work).
  4. Finally, shoot a picture and look at the histogram on the LCD screen in preview. Are you getting the correct bias that you wanted? For example, if you wanted to maintain detail in the shadows, but the shadows are being clipped off on the “0” end of the scale- you need to increase your exposure. The opposite would be true if you were looking at the highlight end. If they’re being clipped off, you need to reduce exposure.

Illustration by Kent DuFault

SUMMARY

  • Evaluate the tone range of the scene.
  • Make a determination which tone values are most important.
  • Set your equipment to take a meter reading of the smallest area possible (spot setting)- take a meter reading of the shadow, mid-tone, and highlight areas you identified in the previous steps.
  • Determine the dynamic range.
  • Set your exposure using ISO, Aperture, and Shutter speed to place the “window” of dynamic range in the right location on The Zone System Scale.
  • Shoot a test shot.
  • Evaluate the histogram.
  • Adjust exposure as necessary.
  • Enjoy your wonderful results!

Sadly I no longer run the Black and White Digital Photography course due to lack of interest but would be happy to do so again if there were enough interest. If you are interested send me an email

Here are some more Ansel Adams for you

Ansel Adams Wilderness, California. Afternoon Thunderstorm, Garnet Lake.

Ansel Adams Wilderness, California. Afternoon Thunderstorm, Garnet Lake.

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Getting Started In Wildlife Photography

This rather excellent article on Lightstalking seems to sum up all the difficulties that most people would prefer to ignore when approaching wild life photography. Don’t be put off by the explanation that you need to know your equipment, that you have to know your subjects and that you need endless patience because when you get a great shot of an animal it does all seem worthwhile. There is a most apposite line in the article : “The goal is to relax and enjoy the full experience, not to succeed immediately whenever you try. Once you have patience and are prepared for any subject that might cross your path, you’ll be ready to face whatever challenge comes your way…….If you’re under the impression you only need to go out for an hour or two and will come back with a slew of keepers, don’t bother going out at all. It won’t happen (unless your luck is supernatural).”

I am not much of a wildlife photographer, actually I am worse than that, I can’t much see the point, let someone else who has the gear, the learning and the patience do it, I will admire their pictures. I doubt I have ever taken a worthwhile animal picture in all the 50 years I have been photographing but I do understand that for many people it is their burning desire. This article is very good, if you are interested in wild life photography read it.

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Photo by Michele Burns

Getting Started in Wildlife Photography

Many new advances in camera equipment have made better gear more affordable for everyone, bringing a lot of photographers closer to realizing our goals in photographing wildlife.

For those of you who have never tried a style like this before, don’t worry. Though wildlife photography is a demanding art form and requires practice to balance the many variables and technicalities involved, the rewards far outweigh any difficulties. These seven steps will help you as you begin your adventure in the great outdoors.

Understand Your Gear

Whether you’ve just upgraded to a new camera or you’re using one you’ve had for a while, you need to know your equipment like the back of your hand. In the wild, getting or missing the perfect shot often comes down to the span of nanoseconds. Consequently, the only way to succeed in wildlife photography is to know instinctively how each part of your gear operates and at what speed each function responds.

When out on a shoot, you will need more than preparation beforehand (such as micro-adjusting your lenses for focus inconsistencies) to carry you through successfully. You must know, among other things, the exact time required for a specific lens to focus when on certain settings, how much time you have in a burst before the buffer maxes out, whether the meter will be right, and how much you can recover the shadows and highlights if need in post-production.

Memorizing every little quirk of your gear is a crucial accomplishment for all types of photography, but has the most immediate benefits for action photography (wildlife, sports, etc.), since instantaneous movement is part of what you want to catch.

This might be a bit over the top, most lenses do have variations in focusing and it is worth knowing about it but micro adjustments will not make a great difference in most situations unless you are working at the shallowest depth of field but certainly knowing how best to use the exposure functions on your camera is essential. If you don’t try one of our DSLR Courses

Read more here

here are some more tips to help you

77 photography techniques, tips and tricks for taking pictures of anything

Wildlife Photography Tutorial – How To Photograph Wildlife video

12 Great Online Tutorials on Wildlife Photography

 

51 Things Photography Has Taught Me

On Lightstalking  Jason D. Little has a list of 51 (I know why 51) things he has learned about photography, here are the first 10

  1. Don’t think about taking the photo, just take it.
  2. Learn the rules. Understand the rules. Break the rules.
  3. Spend more time taking photos than money acquiring new gear with which to take those photos.
  4. You will never know it all; be open to the wisdom and experiences of others.
  5. Print your photos — your favorites, at least. And print them big.
  6. Get it right in camera rather than trying to compensate for poor technique in post. But…
  7. Don’t be ashamed to use post-processing. All photos are “processed” in one way or another.
  8. Challenge yourself. Step out of your comfort zone.
  9. Be your own worst critic.
  10. Technical perfection is often overrated.
  11. see the other 41 here

On another note here are some pictures by Jay Maisel

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Man Painting Ship

rather good don’t you think

10 Critical Assumptions That Can Stifle Your Artistic Goals

This is an interesting article on Lightstalking by  William Petruzzo I think many of William’s points can be applied to various areas of our lives

Every single one of us holds assumptions. They are part of being human. We assume there won’t be too much traffic on the way home from work, or that there will be way too much. We assume it will be hard to find a partner, or that it will be exceedingly easy. We assume that we’ll be able to pull the details out of the sky, or we assume that the camera doesn’t have enough dynamic range.

Assumptions are cognitive shortcuts based on patterns.

Human beings are pattern-matchers. We find patterns everywhere we can, and then use them to take cognitive shortcuts. Broken windows don’t mean the neighborhood is rough. But see enough broken windows in rough neighborhoods and soon when you see one, your brain will be taking the cognitive shortcut and concluding that the neighborhood must be rough.

Assumptions aren’t necessarily a negative thing, however. For example, my dog, Mikey, always greets people who come to the door. If I am working, and Mikey eagerly jumps up and runs to the door, I’m not going to spend energy considering the many things his haste could mean. Instead, I’m going to follow the pattern and take the cognitive shortcut to conclude that someone must be at the door and I may need to go welcome them.

A critical assumption is different in that the shortcut it provides might sidestep a potentially important, or perhaps the only, path to some desired outcome.

For example, let’s say I’m loading all my camera gear in the car and I’m going out to photograph the local squirrel infestation. I’ve seen them running around for weeks, and I know all their favourite spots. When I get there, however, I find that the local pest control has ‘relocated’ the problem. Now I have all my gear in the car and nothing I have intended to photograph. The outcome I desired was artsy images of adorable squirrels. The critical assumption was that I have all the time in the world to create those squirly images, and that the infestation wasn’t a problem someone else was attempting to solve.

If I had identified that critical assumption, I would have taken different actions and I would have quite the conversation starter hanging, perfectly arranged, on the wall of my office.

Want to observe the critical assumptions in your own life? Wait for the next time you get caught in the bathroom with an empty roll of toilet paper. If you never assumed there’d be toilet paper available, you’d probably never be caught without it.

That example starts to go to an extreme though. Critical assumptions lend a hand to the everyday uncertainties of life. They’re not altogether avoidable. But, if you can identify them and dispel them, or at least prevent them from being equated to “Truth”, you’ll be opening up a lot of pathways to whatever it is you’re aiming for.

So although critical assumptions come in every size and just about every degree of consequence, and are usually invisible until it’s too late, I’d like to talk about some of the high-level critical assumptions that a lot of us might relate to. Not the ones being formed in your day to day, but the ones forming your day to day. The larger ones that take hold almost like they are personal values. Not the ones that keep you from getting to work on time, the ones that keep you from quitting your job.

Critical Assumption #1: I’ll be ready when I get there.

Critical Assumption#2: I’m not the kind of person who…

Critical Assumption #3: I can’t do anything until I get organized.

Critical Assumption #4: I’m not good enough.

Want to see more and read the commentary on the above go here

I am teaching a class on Composition tonight, starting with Henri Cartier-Bresson as a guide, here are some of his pictures

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Early Colour Photography from 1913

From Lightsalking we find this interesting article about one of the pioneers of colour photography and the autochrome process. Thanks to the folks at The National Media Museum these amazing photographs by Mervyn O’Gorman have been getting a lot of attention lately. Taken at Dorset in 1913, these photographs of his daughter show us some wonderful versions of the Autochrome Lumière process.

Autochrome Lumière was a process  ( it is worth reading this explanation of the autochrome process used here) for colour photography invented in France in 1903, marketed in 1907 and which dominated colour photography until the mid 1930s.

O’Gorman himself was an engineer with a very prevalent photography habit which has meant that many of his photographs are often included in exhibitions of early colour photography. For anyone curious about photography’s history, these certainly are a wonderful discovery.

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There are many other examples of this early colour process, the beautiful quality that the process produces is a bit of a revelation for me at least, I hope you enjoy these too. You can see many more here

 

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7 Things to Keep in Mind When Doing Travel Photography

Our Travel Photography course is stuffed full of advice, ideas and ways of improving your holiday snaps, so just 7 seems a bit mean. However all advice can be taken and used or discarded and the 7 points made here are all points we make too.

When traveling there are things that are not in your control, especially if photography is one of the main reasons you are traveling. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there is nothing to be done. Here are 7 things to keep in mind when doing travel photography. See the magnificent 7 here

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_MG_6502Here is the synopsis of our Travel Photography Course

We have re-written this course to concentrate on the practicalities and desires of photographic travellers. The course will help you to think about why you want to take pictures when you are on holiday and how you are going to get the very best out of each situation. Whether you are enjoying a weekend city-break, a cultural holiday, a couple of weeks at the beach or trekking in remote areas, travel offers some of the most exciting opportunities for taking great pictures.

This course aims to help you make the most of those opportunities. Subject areas covered include: how to photograph city scenes, landscapes, buildings, monuments, people and wildlife. We’ll look at great images by top photographers and consider practical advice to help you make pictures that stand out from the crowd and which capture the essence of your destination.

We will consider the practicalities of travelling with your camera: what sort of accessories you might want to take with you, tips on safety and keeping your equipment working properly together with the need to be sensitive to local cultures and laws.

 

 

10 Ways to Change Lives Through Photography

This article by Jason D. Little on Lightstalking  is aimed at an American audience, we have them too on our blog, lots of readers in the US, however the ideas put forward can be used in any country. Not everything we do has to generate income or even be considered a beautiful picture, we have the skills to make memorable images and putting that skill to good use is a valuable asset we have. Thinking about how you can volunteer for a worthy cause or even just something you are interested in that would benefit from your skills can give you a massive boost and help others. I think the most important thing we can do on this earth is help others, you don’t need religion to be a good person, and we can do that through our photography.

I had the most fun one time shooting a calendar pro bono for a delivery company that wanted to do a “Calendar Girls” calendar using their drivers doing deliveries around Oxford

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Every photographer has his or her own reason — or reasons — for why they engage in this particular art form. For some, it may be a hobby that provides a distraction from the stresses of life; for others, perhaps photography just represents a piece to the puzzle of a diverse visual arts skill set. And because there are so many motivating factors behind why people do photography, there are sure to be nearly as many different ways of how people use photography — whether it’s to maintain a visual record of your family tree or to document a nation’s civil war or to share images of the day’s most mundane occurrences with friends online.

No matter how potentially disparate each one of us may be from another in terms of our background in and particular use of photography, I think one thing we can all agree on is that photography constitutes an opportunity to do something good for someone else, to bring needed attention to a worthy cause, to possibly change a life.

Here are a few ideas to help spark your photo-related philanthropy. READ THE ARTICLE HERE

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