Tag Archives: lighting

Settings, bleh!

It’s kind of funny the way people are often interested in what camera settings you used. Do you find that?

It’s largely irrelevant, because you can’t go out to the same location at roughly (or even precisely) the same time of day, dial in the same settings and hope to get the same results. Why’s that then? Well, there are so many other variables: the weather conditions will affect the air quality and clarity, it may be overcast when originally it wasn’t, others will probably not be using the same camera and lens and even if they are, they might respond differently; and those are just some of the variables. On top of that there’s the post-processing to factor in.

What’s more important is knowing how to use your settings to get the results you want knowing how your particular kit behaves.

Let me talk you through the above three photos all of which were taken on the same night in Perth, Scotland. I had been to the location before with just my iPhone to take some scoping out shots and get a sense of what I wanted to come back and shoot properly. That pre-shoot visit was really helpful in allowing me to get a sense of how the lighting was working, the scale, and some preferred vantage points. Based on that, I began to think about what kind of shots I wanted to achieve and how I would go about getting them.

For the shots across the River Tay, I was certain that I wanted to soften the water and therefore blur the reflected light which would offer a contrast to the sharper definition on land. To achieve that, I knew I would need a long exposure. However, I also wanted to minimise grain (or noise, if you were raised in the digital age) which might be an issue with a long exposure at night. I opted to shoot at ISO 100, knowing that the relative lack of light sensitivity at this setting would push for a longer exposure. So, I’ve now considered ISO and exposure time (shutter speed) leaving the issue of aperture. Here, I was mainly concerned to shoot near the sweet spot of the lens, the aperture where the lens is sharpest and performs best. For the lens I was using that was going to be somewhere between f8 and f11. So, I opted for aperture priority, setting that to f10 on an ISO setting of 100. I then had a look to see what the camera was choosing for an exposure time. For both shots across the river, that was coming in at around 30 seconds which I was happy would be long enough for the effect I wanted, and so it turned out. Had it been longer, I might have had to consider changing the ISO. It’s a juggling act.

I used the same basic thought flow for the shot of the catering van but I wanted something more subtle here. The plan was to include some human interest but in a way that a slow exposure would blur the movement of the people. However, an exposure time of 30 seconds would be too long and could almost render the people invisible. I was looking for something nearer five to ten seconds, but also wanted to shoot within the sweet spot range and keep the ISO low. In the event, the lighting here allowed me to shoot at f8, stay at ISO 100 and get the kind of exposure time I needed. I’m certainly pleased with the result.

Post-processing was fairly light touch, really and done only in Lightroom. I’ll often use Photoshop for sharpening, but in this instance Lightroom did all I needed. One of the issues with night photography with the range of lights here, is that some areas had highlights that were just too bright so I needed to treat them specifically with the brush tool.

So, there you have it. Don’t be too bothered about what settings anyone used for their photos. I know it’s interesting and I’m as culpable as anyone for often providing that information, but it actually tells you relatively little that’s actually all that useful. Better to understand how to use the settings to achieve the shot you want, whether that’s in a very structured pre-planned way or in the moment when a composition lies before you.

Most of all, have fun and enjoy the good feeling of pulling off a photo just as you envisioned it.

Happy shooting.

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A location product shoot

I thought it might be interesting to write about a little product shoot I did earlier this week which was done on location in The Lemon Tree cafe in Leven.

There areĀ  pros and cons in doing a location shoot. Probably the biggest downside is not having use of a studio and therefore full control of the lighting. The upside, however, is that as this is food product, it was all prepared fresh and looked at it’s best.

So here’s a look at the basic set-up I used (which I shot on my phone)

camera and lighting set-up

set-up

I asked to use a table at the feature window as it would provide good diffused light to flood the various subjects. This was especially effective as the sun was at around 90 degrees to the window which meant no direct light and the harsh shadows that would come with it. I then used two artificial light sources. As can be seen in the set up above, I used a tripod mounted flash with a soft box. I balanced this with a small continuous LED which is hiding behind the camera. The LED was mounted on a Gorilla Pod for ease and flexibility of positioning.

As you an see, the flash was triggered via a cabled connection to the camera hot shoe. As there were three different light sources working together, I set the camera white balance to auto with the intention of adjusting this in post if necessary. In the end it only needed a very small adjustment.

I opted for aperture priority on the camera and set the flash to manual operation. Using a couple of test shots to get the lighting I wanted, I made adjustments to the flash output, shooting at a reduced power. The soft box was to make sure I had a diffused light which was not overpowering the background natural daylight. The LED has three output settings and, again, the test shots allowed me to find the optimum balance of light between the LED and the flash.

I shot at f8 which is pretty much around the sweet spot of the lens I was using. I wanted to have a nice sharp focus exactly where I chose and with just enough depth of field. To keep things nice and steady I used a cable release for the camera – it’s sensible when you go to the bother of using a tripod. If you don’t have a cable release, the next best option is to use a two second delay on the shutter release.

By now, you might be wondering how the shots turned out. Well, here’s one with the same subject as in the set up above:

cafe sandwich

Lemon chicken sandwich

What you might spot here is that the LED became a principal light – note the shadow from the salad – with natural daylight providing the background flood with reduced power flash filling shadows and picking out highlights.

Post production was mostly done in Lightroom. As I wanted to have a consistent feel across all the images, I created a pre-set out of the settings I used on the first one I processed and used that as a basis for all the others, requiring only minimal adjustments in each case, I know you can sharpen in Lightroom and I generally do so preferring to use heavy masking to make sure I only sharpen what I want to. On this occasion though, I sharpened the images in Photoshop using a High Pass set to 5 pixels.

If you are curious about the LED, as you can’t see it in the set-up shot above, here it is as mounted on my Gorilla Pod.

small fill light

LED light

And finally, I should say that the Lemon Chicken sandwich was delicious. If you ever find yourself in Leven, make a point of visiting The Lemon Tree. The cakes are also amazing!

You can see some of the other product shots and more here on my website.