Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tough photography

Not a lot to do with boating, but I thought I would pass on one of my periodic lessons in how not to do things.

The bluebells are out now and you might be tempted to wander off your boat and  into the woods to take some photos. We took Grace out to a wood near our house today and I took a lot of pictures, but having seen them I want another go now to get them right.  Everything looks lovely when you are there but the dappled light in the woods can be a real challenge for your camera.  Add to that the plethora of things your autofocus might wish to fix on with branches and twigs near and far and you have a recipe for disappointment.

This shot of Grace for instance
IMG_1178 (1024x683)
What was I thinking of?  The dappled light is lovely, but try as I might with software to even out the blotches all over her, I can’t rescue the picture. I took about ten like that.  Doh!

Then to cap it all, when I got home I noticed all the pictures had a blue cast on them.  Reflected light for the bluebells?  No, I had set the white balance to suit tungsten light when I last used the camera and forgot to return it to normal.  Doh again.  I have had to try to readjust them on the computer.

Also the camera was set to a shutter speed of 1/500 which I often use to eliminate camera shake on the long lens.  Not a smart idea in a wood because of the low light levels.  The camera will choose a wide aperture and you will loose sharpness.

I did manage to get a couple of reasonable ones, mostly by use of shallow depth of field like this one.Although I'm not sure that having a tree sprouting out of her head was a terribly good idea.

IMG_1181 (1024x683)

In fact sometimes the bluebells looked more impressive out of focus.  Look at these two pictures taken from the same spot of the same view.

IMG_1187 (1024x683)IMG_1186 (1024x683)

I don’t know about you, but I prefer the first to the second even though the former has the bluebells out of focus.

So what have I learned today?

1. Shooting in woods needs thought about light settings.  Check your camera settings are set for the conditions you have today, not the ones you had last time.
2. Dappled light is lovely, but not all over your subjects face!

That’s enough about non boaty things.  We have a fair bit of boating coming up soon, not to mention the imminent release of the reservoir figures to update my graphs, so stay tuned.


Chris said...

Lots of good tips, bluebells are notoriously tricky due, as you rightly say, to the dappled light and the way modern cameras meter light. Hopefully I'm not teaching you to suck eggs but:

My top tips for this sort of shot: Never ever mess with the WB setting, choose a setting and always shoot in that mode, for me (Canon 5D and 50D) that is sunny, this will give you consistency across all your shots and helps when you come to make adjustments in photoshop where things like artificial lightning are easily resolved anyway.
Put the camera in spot metering mode rather than the default (on many cameras) which averages over the entire frame - average is only good for an average shot - what is an average shot?
Pretty much always shoot in AV mode to keep control of your depth of field (aperture priority), let the camera choose the right shutter speed (the only real alternative I find useful is manual, that gives me a little more control and I will generally take note of what the camera wants to do before I flick into manual and ignore it) If the shutter speed is too low use a tripod or adjust the ISO setting to prevent shake (the beauty of a digital SLR) but try to avoid going above about 400 or it will introduce some grainy noise - which can be nice if it's what you are looking for.
Always Shoot in RAW if it's an option on your camera, it gives you so much more control and all of the lighting problems you experienced with these shots could have been easily fixed using any RAW editing software.

The picture you like obeys some of the golden rules of landscape photography which is why you prefer it to the other, it draws you in and adds depth by having a focal point close to the viewer.

Here's one I took last year, I don't think the bluebells have put on such a good show this year due to the weather although you seem to have found a nice spot! One day I'll get it just right, until then I'll just keep practising.

Neil Corbett said...

Thanks Chris. Good tips which I will certainly bear in mind. I keep meaning to give RAW a go. Maybe now is the time.

I like your photo. What lens did you use?


Chris said...

That was taken with my Canon 50D, 70 - 200 L series USM lens at f2.8 (and I think around 120mm but I'd have to check the exif data to be sure, that's a focal length of around 200mm with the cropped sensor factor of 1.6x)

I'm travelling up the GU from from Packet Boat marina to Hilmorton in a couple of weeks and have just discovered your Canal Ometers, they are brilliant, many thanks for producing these Neil I'll put them to good use!