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Shooting action shots, at night, with available light used to send photographers to the highest ledges – talking them down could be a tricky proposition. We all know that low-light and action photography don’t really go hand-in-hand.

Modern digital cameras have opened up the field for low-light shooting, but a lot of photographers are reticent to push their ISOs above 800, let alone 1600. The noise you have to deal with once you reach ISOs of 1600+ can make you feel like the picture won’t be worth it in the end. Labeling a noisy picture as worthless, I think, is a misnomer. Noisy pictures (we’re talking ISO noise here) are as good as any other picture you could possibly take given the circumstances of available light and the speed of the action in front of you. There’s never a reason not to resort to turnin’ the dial up into the thousands if that’s the only way you’re going to get the picture you need to take. Along with camera sensor improvements, there are wonderful new software tools that can reduce noise and turn a grainy picture silky smooth – ready for print.

Not to mention a little ‘grunge’ in your photo is a bit en vogue at the moment. Think of how many photos you’ve probably taken at 50 or 100 ISO that you later processed with a little film grain to boost its mood? A little noise is a good thing, and when it’s your only option, embrace it.

Below are a few photos I took at a stunt bike show. It was so dark out that the riders had to move some lights around so they could see their own ramp. Regardless of the low-light conditions I was still able to snag some moody and sharp images by balancing my shutter and ISO, (aperture was wide open, obviously). What about the noise? Well, you should be able to tell in the photos below that it wasn’t much of an issue.

One trick to remember is that ISO noise lives in the mid-tones and shadows. If you overexpose by a stop or 2 you’ll actually reduce overall noise, even if it means you’re actually dialing up the ISO a few more notches to achieve over exposure.

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Wedding, Portrait and Advertising Photographer in the North East Ohio area.

Can Lightroom Compete with HDR?

HDR (right) and Lightroom (Left)

HDR (right) and Lightroom (Left)

Note: This is a subjective article about photography, adobe lightroom and hdr . Take whatever I say as you wish.

I use Lightroom all of the time, as I suspect many of you do as well. It’s a great tool which has gotten better and better with each iteration. Lightroom 5, with it improved Shadows and Highlight sliders can really make the difference in a photo where, for whatever reason, the exposure got out of control. A master craftsman like Joe McNally would probably just tell you to take a better picture to begin with, but when I am running and gunning it’s not always an option for me to spend 30 minutes to an entire day making sure every zone of a photograph is properly exposed.

One of the bonuses of Lightroom’s Shadow, Highlight and Clarity slider is that you can start to get into the realm of HDR photography with just a single photo. Traditional HDR requires at least two bracketed photos. I’d say 3 would be the average, but I know some people who claim to use as many 11, to achieve better overall zone exposure in their photographs. I guess if they need 11, that’s fine. HDR programs like Photomatix makes merging multiple files into an HDR file fairly easy and straightforward. Even Photoshop has a Merge to HDR function, although I find it’s results to be less than optimal.

Only a few years ago, Photomatix was practically the only game in town; there were and are still other options, but Photomatix seems to be the most widely used. So, when I would take a series of photos for HDR purposes that’s the program I used. Then one day, while playing around with my merged file in Photomatix, I decided, eh, maybe this photo wasn’t a good candidate for HDR after all. So I went back into Lightroom, grabbed my 0.0 exposed photo out of the batch and started to play with it there. What I found was that I was readily able to create an HDR-ish image that kept in line with what I was originally looking for. Then I thought, what if went back into my library and found other images that I had originally merged into HDR? Could I use a single photo out of a series to create a photo that closely matched the file that Photomatix had output? The answer was, yes… sort of.

First off, I was impressed that I could use Lightroom 5’s sliders to change the global tonality as much as I could. And while it never recovered the shadows or highlights as drastically as a true HDR process could, it came close enough and the results were actually more to my liking.

HDR’s main function is to compress the over all exposure in such a way that the tonal quality of the image is pretty much the same across the entire image. The result is a dramatic, if not sometimes flat, image that reveals all types of details from highlights and shadows. The problem with that is the story and the mood of a location are often rooted in those highlights and shadows. It’s great to bring more depth into your photos, but too much is, well, too much and we’ve all seen what too much looks like. Do a Google image search for HDR and you’ll be blitzed with clown vomit colors and images so normalized that they almost hurt to look at it. A great HDR artist, (see my friend Neil Kremer’s stream here on Flickr), puts a lot more work into his HDR images rather than pressing a button in Photomatix and posting the result. He spends a lot of time in Photoshop dodging, burning and blending to make sure his images are both real and surreal. And, honestly, if you’re going to do HDR you should be doing it Neil’s way.

But I think there’s a great middle ground hiding within Lightroom that let’s you bring out these extra details without losing drama — all with a single, well exposed image. The image above is an example of a 3 bracketed photo. merged and output from Photomatix, and then a single photo (the 0.0 exposed photo from the batch) processed in Lightroom. There are differences, no doubt, and some people may still prefer the look of the Photomatix image over its Lightroom cousin, but you can see that there’s a great possibility there in Lightroom to create some dynamically ranged photos that still retain character.

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Portrait, Wedding and Advertising photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.

Why I love my f/4 lenses

I‘m a big believer in depth of field, also known as DoF. It’s a great way to give your photos a professional, artistic atheistic. It also had a practical function that it helps set your subjects off of the background by making them the main focus, (pun totally intended), of the picture.

Larger apertures, such as 1.4 and 2.8 are masters of soft fuzzy background, and a lot of photographers will only shoot portraits with their apertures wide open, even in well lit environment. I don’t have a problem with this, as I use my 2.8 lenses all of the time, but I think photographers will often forgo an equally good, (or even better in many situations), option of shooting with a f/4 lens.

Why Shoot With an f/4 Lens

There’s more than one reason why f/4 is just as good or better than f/2.8 or 1.4. First is the simplest reason: f/4 is cheaper. You can buy a canon 70-200mm f/4 lens for $1,300 or less, whereas the f/2.8 version of that lens is over $1,000 more expensive. Right off the bat you can save yourself a grand and spend that money on other things, such as a speedlight or maybe even a f/1.4 50mm for those times you feel like you an extremely shallow DoF.

The second reason is the lenses are just as good as their more expensive counter parts. I’ve been using my 70-200mm for over 8 years and the images it produces are spectacular. A larger DoF doesn’t mean better image quality, it just means softer backgrounds and better use of available light.

But wait! The third reason negates that whole, “larger aperture means more light,” argument all together. If you have a modern digital camera, say one that’s been released within the last 3 years, then you are reaping the benefits of decades of research and development spend on camera sensors.

My 5D Mark III can shoot at 6400 ISO with out any noticeable noise. I’ve shot at higher ISOs as well, and just a little post processing in Lightroom will remove what little noticeable noise there might be. Even my 5D Mark II, now 7 years old, can still handle an ISO of 6400 without an issue when using my f/4.0 lens with the help of a little noise reduction in post.

The last reason f/4 is great is because it has nearly the same DoF blur as a f/2.8 lens. And, in my opinion, I like the way DoF is handled at f/4 better. At 2.8 you’ll often notice that your background is turned to soup with shapes lost completely and colors bleeding together, muddying up what’s behind your subject. With f/4.0 you can keep a little of that color and shape separation in the background while still being soft and pleasing.  Yeah, the difference is noticeable, but barely.

One more bonus with f/4 — sharpness. The smaller the aperture, the more over all focus you gain and when you’re taking pictures of people, animals or anything else that has a tendency to move. This extra focal depth could make the difference between landing the shot, and just missing it.

Illustrated below is just how similar f/4 and 2.8 really are.

aperture-example

So, don’t knock 4/f, embrace it!

 

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Wedding, Portrait and Advertising Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio are.

 

The Importance of Scouting

Scouting is as important of a component of photography as hitting the shutter button itself. Scouting, for me, is a time to plan. It’s thinking about possible compositions, lighting set ups and just the overall mood of the photo I’m trying to capture. In planning, scouting helps you over come any number of unexpected problems that tend to crop up when you’re setting up your day’s shoot. Bad weather on the horizon? Look around and formulate a plan B. Mid-day Sun beating down your subject? Again, it’s the process of just looking around that will help you find a better location with a bit of shade to offer you some respite from harsh over head light.

I’ll even re-scout locations I’ve shot at before. It’s good to have a few go-to spots where you know you can get what you need out of your photo, but it’s also a good idea to keep things looking fresh especially if you’re shooting in a familiar locale. Tomorrow is just such a day for me. I’ll be shooting a portrait in two days time at a location I’ve used twice before. The good news is it’s a large area. I’ll re-scout the spot tomorrow to make sure that when I show up on set the day after I’ll have a good idea of where I want to shoot.

Don’t be idle! Keep moving and looking!

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Wedding, Engagement, Portrait and Advertising Photographer in the Canton, Ohio area.

Free Custom Photoshop Skin Retouch Brush

A Custom Brush for all Your Photoshop Skin Retouching Needs

It's easy to load in a new brush!

It’s easy to load in a new brush!

Retouching is an important part of any portrait, whether it’s a wedding, engagement, or high school senior’s photo. Most people are used to the airbrush technique, and since in the early days of photo retouching an artist would use an actual airbrush to do this, it’s no wonder why people still use the default airbrush tool in Photoshop today to pretty much the same effect.

Photoshop is great in the respect that you can use your own custom brush in addition to it’s default airbrush preset. I made my own custom brush, using a more organic pattern, to achieve much better results. This brush is great on any type of face, or body part as it replicates the random nature of skin, such as pores and other surface textures. The trick when retouching is being careful not to smooth your subject’s skin out to the point where they look flat and plastic. Using a textured brush like this allows you keep the skin looking real while gently painting away imperfections. Also keep in mind that some imperfections, especially in men, are defining features and should be only diminished in strength rather than removed completely.

You can download the file HERE and then load the brush within Photoshop under the brush menu.

Here's an example of a before and after. Even using the brush subtlety can make a big difference.

Here’s an example of a before and after. Even using the brush subtlety can make a big difference.

Controlling Light – Using a Flash Outdoors

Flash ComparisonPeople love to shoot at sunrise and sunset, and why not? It’s a beautiful time of the day where the sun is doing all of the hard work for you. That low horizon light is flattering in almost all cases and will often remove the need for external flashes completely.

There are times, however, when you can’t escape the mid-day sun, and that harsh, overhead light, can be anything but flattering to your subjects. This was the case when I was recently asked to take a series of portraits for the Akron/Canton Regional Food Bank. The job was to take photos of the clients and volunteers of the food bank, and because the area food banks often hand food out in the late mornings I was constantly faced with shooting with the noon-day sun in the sky. In cases such as this, it’s strongly recommended that you use some sort of a fill light, and if you do it right your photo will be beautifully exposed with your background and subjects left looking amazing.

The way I approach this problem is fairly simple. The sun will almost always be at some sort of angle to you, even in the middle of summer at high noon. The trick is to find that small difference in angle and then put your subject’s backs to it. In this way, you are using the sun as sort of a huge, nuclear rim light. You’re also keeping the sun out of their eyes, which helps reduce squinting.

The next trick is exposure. Since your using an external light source to expose your subject correctly, you need to set your camera to expose for the background. Here I like to use the magic -1 to -2 ev trick. Darkening the background in this way will both saturate the colors of the background and make your subjects pop.

All that’s left now is positioning and dialing in your light’s power. This part is where you can get creative, but generally I like to use a fairly large light source (I use an umbrella/octobox similar to this on location with my AlienBee’s 800) with it positioned directly in front of, or just to the side of my subjects. Light power is set to generally equal neutral exposure on the subjects, although more or less power can be used to add drama.

Shooting Outdoor Events

Some people love the control they get in their studio, others love the freedom they have by shooting outdoors. Personally, I think they both have just about the same amount of pros and cons in each of their respective columns. That’s why I like to bring a little bit one into the other. When I am shooting in my studio, I’ll use windows or reflectors to hardness natural light, and when I am shooting outdoors I’ll bring a flash (or two, or seven) along to shape the light into a perfect fit for the scene. This was the case recently when we were asked to shoot an outdoor golfing event.

We started the job by scouting out the location twice. Once soon after we took on the task, and once more a few days before the event just to make sure our expectations and gear checklist were all in line.

We settled on hole #14 which has several advantages. One, it had some shade throughout most of the day. Since I knew I was bringing a large strobe, I knew I could light the players in the foreground as I wished while still using the ambient light to take care of the background. Our chosen hole also had a Pro Teebox that was raised some 4 feet above the amateur Teebox. That let me get my camera about 4 feet extra above the player’s heads which let me capture players and the rolling course behind them.

The light I chose was an Alienbees 800 with a Phototek 5′ Phototek Softlighter II. I then exposed for the background (which changed a lot throughout the day) and then set the light levels accordingly. Because of the huge size of the umbrella, I was able to have the light on the hill with me and still light up the entire area around the players in a very soft manner.