5 Things To Help You Get Better Scores On Print Night

In this article, we are going to look at 5 things to help improve your print submissions. Specifically, they will be

  1. Review the last article. Here is a link
  2. Cropping
  3. Mounting
  4. Matting
  5. Print title

Review the article on improving your projection score.

In my last article, 5 Things To Help You Get Better Projection Night Scores, we looked at technical issues that could either help or hinder your results on projection night. Specifically, they were

  1. Image sharpness
  2. Spotting
  3. Fringing
  4. Over sharpening
  5. File sizing

The things are also critically important to your print. If you have not read that article, I urge you to do so. If you have read it, you may want to review it. Here is a link

Cropping

Cropping, when done correctly, can go a long ways to improve the presentation of a printed image. When done incorrectly, it can go a long way to take away from the impact of an otherwise great image.

Use cropping to support the compositional elements of your image. One of the more common elements would be the rule of thirds. The basic idea being that you place your subject on one of the third nodal points. If you are unfamiliar with the rule of thirds, here is a short blog I wrote on the subject. Click here.

So how does cropping images for print differ from cropping for projection. When your images are projected, or you are viewing them on your screen, you see the image from edge to edge. When you are displaying a print, you will generally have a matt around it. The matt overlaps the edge of the print, typically by a 1/4 of an inch or about 5mm. Although this does not sound like much, it can completely change the impact of an image.

The solution is to make sure you add that extra space on to the edges of your image so that when you place the matt on it, you get what you expected.

Mounting

Choices around how your print is mounted make a difference to how your print will present. Different mounting will produce different results.

When a print is mounted, it is attached to some sort of firm substrate. This can be foam core, matt board, plastic board, wood. You can mount a print to almost anything, but, for a typical presentation at a club, mounting a print to a very smooth, white, matt board is often the best.

Many club photographers do not mount their prints and this is fine, especially for a fine art presentation. However, having an image that remains flat, is not damaged from handling, and does not shift in the presentation matt will usually improve your presentation.

Matting

Why do we put matts around the prints? I n the context of this article, I will offer a couple of reasons.

The first one is to standardize size. This article assumes that prints are being made and readied for club displays, critiques, and competitions. As such, there needs to be some form of size standardization so that each print is viewed with the same parameters such as lighting, viewing distance, etc. At my club, the North Shore Photographic Society, we use 16 inches x 20 inches as the standard outside dimension of the matt. For displays we use 16×20 frames so the matted prints can easily be installed into the frames.

The second reason that I would offer is that it adds a finished look to a print. It surrounds the print with a clean, non-distracting “frame” so that the viewer will not be distracted at the edges of the print and consequently drawn out of the image.

The prints inside the matt can be as small as 8×10 (at the NSPS anyways, it may vary at other clubs) up to 11×14. What is also great about these sizes is that a pre-cut 16×20 white matt with an 11×14 hole are readily available from your favourite art supply store or camera store.

So here are some tips around matting

  • Make sure that the matt is fresh and clean. A matt with dirt, smudges and worn edges will take away from your print.
  • Make sure your print is properly centred in the matt hole. You do not want to have the edges of the print showing.
  • The print and backing must be firmly attache to the matt.
  • If your matts are being custom cut, try having the holes placed off centre,

Print Title

What you call your image can go a long way to make or break your print. The goal of the title is to help draw the viewer into the image. It can support the story that you are trying to convey, it can spark interest from the viewer before they have even looked at the image, and it can easily disappoint the viewer if it is mis-titled

I hope these tips and tidbits have been helpful. If you have any tips of your own, please email them to me and I will add them to the comments sections.

My First Day

I began photographing professionally shortly after I got married. My main focus was on weddings and then family portraits. Being newly married myself, I felt that I knew what engaged couples where looking for in a wedding photographer, I fit their age demographic, I enjoyed it, and I could make a decent living doing it. I had a small store front studio, and on and off, a staff of two. This was a great arrangement and for a long time this space worked out very well.

Eventually though, life in its usual way, stepped in and changed a few things. My wife and I had recently bought a new house – one that was large enough to accommodate our growing family. We had one son and with another one on the way, our old house would have been too small. But along with the new, larger house, came a new larger mortgage. And along with the new baby came new responsibilities of making sure that he (yes, we had a second boy) was well looked after.

So we tried the nanny thing. When that did not work out, we tried again, then again, and the again one more time. Clearly the nanny thing was not going to work out so another plan was needed. After some discussion with my wife (btw – we are still married some 37 years later), we decided that it was best if I could see if I could run my studio from home.

The thinking was that because I was a wedding and family photographer, most of my shooting time was on weekends and on location. The times that I actually needed a camera room was minimal, so when I did need one, I could rent the space for a day. This meant that my wife could continue to grow her career, I could continue to grow mine as a photographer, I would be available for the boys, and bonus, the rent that was formerly being spent on the store front studio could now be applied to the house mortgage.

So that was it. I closed the doors to the old studio and moved it home.

Monday morning after the move came around. I had taken my oldest son to school and I was sitting on the couch in the living room with my youngest son who was about 18 months old at the time. I was surrounded by all the gear from the old studio, a mountain of file boxes, some client work that still needed doing, and the knowledge that I would need to significantly change the way that I ran my life.

This was in the early 1990’s. What I did not realize at the time, but came to be of significant importance to me, was that I had just become one of the first stay at home dads.

Five Things To Help Your Projection Night Score

In this article I want to discuss some things that can impact how your image look when they are projected. If you are a member of a camera club that has a “judged” projection night, these items will impact how your image is is marked and scored. These are all technical things that should be taken care of on any image you produce.

So here is what we will be looking at.

  1. Image sharpness
  2. Spotting
  3. Fringing
  4. Over sharpening
  5. File sizing

Image Sharpness

This one is crucial. In fact, when I am editing my images after a shoot, it is the first things that I look at. I have seen many great images knocked way down in score because of sharpness. Often, the response from the image maker is to blame it on the clubs projector because “it was sharp on my computer”. And sometimes it is true – the clubs projector was not focused properly and the problem was not the image. However, more often than not, the problem actually does lye within the image.

You are always going to get those images that when you look at them, they are just out of focus – and no amount of work is going to save them. Do not use these images. If, on the other hand you intended for the image to be out of focus for artistic reasons, then you achieved your goal. For the purposes of this article, I am going to assume that the intent was for the image to be sharp and in focus. So, if an image is out of focus, move it or mark it so that you will not have to see them again. What should be left is the image that appear to be sharp.

So here is the thing, the smaller the image, the sharper it will appear to be. Most of us are seeing our images on smaller screens such as our laptop or maybe even a larger desktop monitor. However, compared to the size that the image will be projected to, these are very small screens. Therefor, the final test for sharpness is to zoom into the image and see if the areas that need to be sharp still appear sharp at this magnification. I primarily photograph portraits. My focus point is almost always on the eye closest to the camera so I zoom in on the eyebrows. If I can see the detail in the eyebrows then I know that the image is sharp enough to hold together on the large projection screen.

If the image is not sharp at magnification, then you may want to consider a different image or know that your image may loose points because of it. Interesting thing to note, because viewing size plays such an important role in an images apparent sharpness, an image that does not appear tack sharp when projected may look just fine when used as a print on print night.

Traditionally, Images that are not sharp can not easily be sharpen to the point where they are usable. The process of sharpening tended to create just as many problems as it solved. There has recently been released sharpen software that is getting great reviews. I have not used any of them myself so I cannot give any personal recommendations.

Spotting

Spotting is the process of going carefully over your image and removing any unwanted spots. There are many reasons for these spots. They include

  • Dust on the camera’s sensor
  • Dust on the camera’s lens
  • Artifacts
  • Dead pixels
  • Anything else that left an unwanted mark in the image

Spotting is easily done in Photoshop using the spot removal tool. Most of your spotting can be done when you first start working on an image. If you do any manipulation to the image, carefully check your work when you are done. Your work may inadvertently leave artifacts that should be cleaned up, Artifacts are marks in your image that were introduced electronically through the digital process. They will show up in different ways, quite often as white dots, but not always. You will know them because they look like they are not supposed to be there.

A dead pixel will show up on your image as a spot. Sometimes it is black, sometimes it is coloured. Regardless of how it manifests itself, you need to get rid of it.

The key here to spotting is to go very carefully over your image to remove any unwanted and/or unexpected marks in the image.

Fringing

Fringing happens mostly where a dark colour is adjacent to a light colour. It is a ghost image that is typically purple in colour but sometimes white. It can also be a little bit tricky to get rid of, but if you leave it in it will hurt your overall image score. There are a couple of tricks I use in Lightroom to minimize fringing. One is to go to the lens profile and check remove chromatic aberration. The other is to go to the HSL sliders and remove that colour. There is lots of information on how to do this on YouTube. Also, Wikipedia has a good definition for fringing. Here is a link to check it out.

Over Sharpening

Sharpening is an important tool for photographers, as digital cameras and lens’s get better and better, it is becoming less of a concern, however, most images still need a some. So what does sharpening do.  When applied, sharpening increases edge contrast (acutance). the result is an apparent image sharpness. the problem is the tendency to over-sharpened images. Rarely a good idea. Here are some of the outcomes of over-sharpening

  • increased contrast
  • Sandpaper effect when “grain” is sharpened
  • Can create unwanted saturation
  • Pixilation and artifacting, particularly on narrow lines like hair.

Below is an example of some of the things that can happen if you over sharpen an image.

sharpening is a complex image adjustment. There is no one right fix for all images. There are many good articles on the web that can help you through this.

File Size

Output file size is very important final step in preparing your image for viewing on projection night. Most clubs will have the required file sizes posted on their web site. The North Shore Photographic Society recommends the file size be 1400px horizontal and 1050px vertical. This will allow your image to fill the screen with the best clarity possible for the projector while still keeping the file size small enough to transfer easily over the internet. When you output your final image, I also recommend that you never goes less than 80% quality. If you do, there may not be enough information in the file and the result could be banding. If you are not familiar with banding, here is a link that may be of interest.

Soooo, outputting the file to 1400 x 1050 is not that big of a deal. Just fill out the boxes correctly when outputting the image and there you have it. The problem arises when your image does not fit that dimension, for example, let’s say your file is vertical. Making it fit into the required dimensions would call for some interesting cropping or a very distorted image.

If you use Lightroom, the easiest solution is to select the longest edge option in the image sizing section of the export function, then enter the 1400 if the image is horizontal or 1050 if the image is vertical. Problem solved. There is a more elegant method however that could increase the overall impact that your image has. What I like to do is create a black border around my images. Here is a sample of what that looks like.

This can be done in Photoshop or Lightroom. In Photoshop, create a new image that is 1400 x 1050 and fill it with black. With the image you want to enter, resize it to fit within the 1400 x 1050 dimension then drag it to the new image with the black background. You can then place the image anywhere you want on the black background and resize it by using the transform command. You can also do this in Lightroom using the Print module.

So that is all for this month. Next month I will look at some things that you can to up your game on print night.

Welcome to The Micro Studio

Welcome to the Micro Studio. The section of this site is about building a photography studio / creative space in a small area. Many photographers stress about not being able to have access to a large studio to create their images in. The goal here is to help you make a creative space with what you have available.

Originally, I started with a smallish studio. I then moved to a large commercial studio, then eventually moved my studio into my home. I have learned many lessons along the way and I want to share those lessons with you in this blog series.

The long term goal is to compile this series into an ebook . I do not know when that will happen because I have a lot of things that I want to share. I am thinking that it is going to be a while before the ebook is available, so I think for now, it would be best to read the posts as they come out.

I am also curious to get your feedback and questions. If you have something to add to any of the posts, please send me an email.

Len Grinke, MPA

Understanding Projection Night

The first Monday of the month is projection night at The North Shore Photographic Society. Most camera clubs do the same, or similar thing. In a nutshell, members submit their images as digital files to be shown at the club meeting through a projection system. The images are then critiqued by a club member or another person who is called in from outside the club. Sometimes both at the same time.

The intention of this process is to help the members of the club become better photographers, regardless of their skill level at this point. And for the most part, it does work.

The goal of this article is to help you understand the process of Projection Night.

I am going to be using the North Shore Photographic Society (NSPS) and their process as the example because it is the club that I am a member of. It will be up to you to adapt the information to your specific club, but, the overall concept will be similar if not the same.

The NSPS uses a star system to help the members have a sense of how they are developing as a photographer. For those of you that have studied martial arts, it is not unlike the belt system that is used to measure the athletes growth. There are 5 star levels that the photographer can move up through. When you first join the club, you are put into star level 1.

It is important to understand that this is not a competition. This is sometimes really hard to remember because on projection night your image is given a score by someone that is being called a “judge”.  So how is this not a competition? Well, the score is to give some indication as to how the print fits into criteria that the “judges” have learned through their own experience and training as well as the criteria of the star level you are in. The image is then given a short critique with the intent of offering suggestions that may improve the image. It is up to you as the maker of the image to see how this information stacks up against feedback you have received previously on other images and learn from that process. You may not agree with what was said or how the image is scored, which is ok. What is important is that you learn something from the process.

So here is the criteria that each star level is being looked at (not judged) with.

1 Star: Correct exposure, subject in focus, and basic composition.
2 Star: Above requirements, plus appropriate depth of field, no distracting elements, competent use of composition, and suitable light.
3 Star: Above requirements, plus critical depth of field, creative use of light.
4 Star: Above requirements, plus creative photographic technique, attention to detail.
5 Star: Above requirements, plus high artistic merit.

At all star levels, the images will be looked at for technical and compositional elements.

When your image is reviewed by the “judge’s” (I really do not like that word for this process but I don’t know of another one that will work), your image will be assigned a score based on the criteria discussed above. Here is a breakdown of the scoring at NSPS.

1 point:         No award – a poor projection
2 points:        Bronze – a fair projection
3 points:        Silver – a good projection
4 points:        Gold – an excellent projection
5 points:        Certificate of Merit – an outstanding projection

Your image score is then recorded and those points go towards moving up to the next star level. (When there is more than one judge, the average of the scores will be used.)

You will move from one star level to the next when you meet the following criteria.

Move from Star 1 to Star 2:  Gold Awards/Certificates of Merit Plus Total of 20 Points
Move from Star 2 to Star 3:  6 Gold Awards/Certificates of Merit Plus Total of 40 Points
Move from Star 3 to Star 4:  12 Gold Awards/Certificates of Merit Plus Total of 60 Points
Move from Star 4 to Star 5:  20 Gold Awards/Certificates of Merit Plus Total of 200 Points

Please remember that this information applies to the North Shore Photographic society but most clubs will have a similar system in place. The important thing to remember is that the purpose of projection night is to help you become a better photographer.

Happy shooting

Len

Internal Frames

The last two blog posts have talked about using nodal points to place a subject inside of a frame. Up to this point, we have considered the frame to be the outside edges of the photograph.  What I want to consider today is the idea of having another frame inside of the edges of the picture. This frame is often called an inside frame or a secondary frame.

Consider this image of the legs in the fireplace. (The final image was called Between Here And There). The external frame is easy to see, it is the outside edges of the image. However, this image has several internal frames which are used to tell the story of the image as well as drive the viewers attention to the subject.

Internal Frames Example 1
Between Here And There

The obvious internal frame is the firebox. The tonal contrast of this internal frame immediately draws the viewers attention to that area of the overall image where we ultimately see that there are legs in the firebox.

The second internal frame that is utilized in this image in the top 1/3 of the image. It is defined by the top and sides of the image as well as the mantle of the fireplace. the damaged wall above the mantle attracts the viewer to this frame where they soon discover a ghostly face in the wall above the mantle.

Compositionally, this concept opens up many new doors. For example, consider the image Secret Agent Man. Firs of all, this image has a mat around it. The mat now becomes the external frame and the outer edges of the image become an internal frame. The placement of an image in a mat can have a significant impact on the final feel of an image and is a real consideration when displaying prints.

Internal Frames 2
Secret Agent Man

Within  the image I created two internal frames. This was done by dividing the image in half with the wooden edge of the door. The “Secret Agent” in now in one internal frame and “Admiring Onlooking” is in a different internal frame. By Making the one frame larger, it gives it greater significance in the image causing the viewers eye to go to the Secret Agent first. The viewers eye will the jump to the smaller frame to see the onlooker. Selective depth of field helps to strengthen the Secret Agent have greater viewer attraction in the image as well.

I once saw a wedding image that took this concept and used it to make a truly amazing image. The viewer was looking down a hallway and at the end of the hallway where two open doors. Through one door the viewer could see the complete chaos of the brides getting ready room. Clothing and boxes everywhere. I forget what the bride was doing but I remember it be something that looked very confused. Through the other door you could see the the father of the bride sitting at the end of a made bed, the room pin neat, calmly adjusting his tie.

That image was a perfect example of using multiple frames in a single image to tell two different stories, however, the stories were very much connected.

Step Away From The Thirds

Last week we talked about the rule of thirds and how it can provide placement of the subject within the frame.  The Golden Rectangle is an even earlier compositional rule that came from the Ancient Greeks. It is  based on a geometrical progression called the Fibonacci series.

The Fibonacci series starts with 0 and 1.  The series progresses by adding the last two numbers to create the next number.  By extrapolating out, series becomes 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13, etc. What is interesting about the Fibonacci series is that if you take the ratio of any two sequential numbers in this series (ignoring the first ratio of 1/0 which can’t exist), they will always approach 1.618. This ratio is called Phi – not to be confused by the better know Pi which is something else all together.  The Greeks used the Fibonacci series in much of their architecture to build arches and rectangle. Eventually the Golden Rectangle evolved and from that came the Rule of Thirds.

Building a Golden Rectangle

To build a golden rectangle, you start with a square which is the first ratio in the Fibonacci series, 1/1.  Now put an identical square next to it and you have a 2/1 ratio (one side of the box is twice as long as the other). You now have a basic Golden rectangle.

To build the box bigger, take the long edge and add it to the short edge. This will give you a rectangle with a ratio of 2/3, which exactly follows the Fibonacci series. to make the new rectangle even bigger, once again take the long edge and add it to the short end. This will give you a ratio of 5/3, the next ratio in the Fibonacci series. Continuing to add more boxes in the same fashion, you will build a bigger rectangle, but it will always have the same relationship to Phi, regardless of how big you make it.
.

The Greeks found references to this pattern in nature and so adopted it to their architecture.  Soon, artists recognized the beauty of this Golden Rectangle and began making works of art composed using this concept.  By making the frame of the art piece in a 1.618 ratio, artists could define focal points by placing the subject in one of the boxes within the frame. The most impact created in the smallest box – the least impact being in the largest box.  Many great works of art exhibit this theory in their compositional elements and I would recommend spending some time investigating.

From the Golden Rectangle came the Golden Mean.  The Golden Mean is a way of finding the impact spot in a Phi based rectangle without having to draw out the boxes.  To determine the Golden Mean, and hence the highest impact point, draw a straight line from one corner to its opposite corner. The draw another line at right angles from the line you just drew up to an adjacent corner.  Where the two lines meet is the same place as the smallest box will be.  This is your Golden Mean. Like the rule of thirds, you can create 4 impact points or “nodal points” in your image.

There is also a spiral that can be found in this series. It starts at a nodal point and expands out from there. This shape is also found in nature (think shells). this line can be used to flow the composition through the frame of your image.
So here is the challenge. Try using the Golden Mean instead of the Rule of Thirds to form your compositions. The difference may seem minor, but, because of the added flexibility of multiple squares to compose in , as well as a flow line, and an overall nodal point, your compositions could take on a whole new feeling.

Divide Into Three

Composition is crucial to a good photograph. I am a big proponent to not following the rules, however, I do belIeve that in order to break the rules successfully, you need to understand them and know how to make them work for you. The following is an article I wrote in 2010 for my old blog that discusses the rule of thirds. I have reproduced it here to save having to search my old blog for it. It will also serve as a starting point for my next few posts on this site.
Every image needs to have a point of interest –  a main focal point that is supported by the rest of the image.   For example, in a head and shoulders portrait, the main focal point will usually be the eyes.  In a full length portrait, the main focal point will usually be the face.  It is very common for a new photographer to want to place the main focal point right in the centre of the image.  In most cases, this will not be the most effective placement of the subject.

First seen in paintings around 1797, the rule of thirds has become the most common compositional rule for subject placement within a frame.  The rule of thirds divides the frame into 9 sections by drawing lines across the frame at one third intervals both horizontally and vertically. By placing the main focal point where two of the lines intersect will almost always create a more powerful composition than having the subject placed in the centre of the frame.  So, when you create a head and shoulders portrait, the eyes should land on one of the cross points.  When you have a larger subject, such as a full length portrait, the point of interest can be placed on one of the lines.  The key is to have your main point of interest on one of the thirds, and where the lines cross will be the highest impact points.

The intersections of the lines are called Nodal Points. When someone looks at an image, their eye flows from left to right, bottom to top to bottom, passing through the nodal points in the order that they are numbered in the diagram.  The eye will stop briefly at each nodal point but will be attracted to stay longer only if there is a reason to.  Placement of your subject on specific nodes can create some very interesting dynamics.

If your subject is placed on nodal point 1, the eye will be drawn to stop there.  However, your brain will want to continue its journey through the image.  This will cause tension and stress, translating into a sensation of tension and stress in your image.  Nodal point 4 will do the opposite.  Because the mind has finished its journey through the image, it is comfortable to rest here before exploring the image again or moving out of the frame.  Hence a sense of calm is given to the image.

Nodal point three will give a similar sense of calm but the subject will have more power, control, or importance in the image. Nodal point 2 will have a similar sense of tension as nodal point 1 but the subject will have a better sense of power, control, or importance in the image.

Here are some tips when using the rule of thirds for portrait photography.

  • The eyes are the focal of a head and shoulders portrait.  Have them on the nodal point 2 or 3
  • In a full length portrait, the head and eyes should be on the upper 3rd line
  • In a 3/4 length portrait, the head is the point of interest and should be in the 2nd or 3rd nodal point
  • Image flow of the main subject should have the viewers eyes moving back into the image

The rule of thirds is the most well known compositional rule.  Use it but keep in mind that it is not the only compositional element.

Seeing Light

 

I am a member of a networking group and part of what we do is give short presentations about our business. We do this so that other members of the group can have a better understanding of what it is that we do. The other day I sat down at my computer and started putting together my next presentation. As is typical, I began by opening my slide presentation program and putting in information. I started talking about how much a session cost, how long it would take, how many files you could get, and all that other left brain stuff that business owners find important. But something was nagging at me.

I wanted to show what I actually do, and that is work with light, light modifiers, and a camera to create portraits of people. So that is what I decided I was going to do. I was going to show the members of the group how I take my portraits and the results of the sessions. A little hard to do in a 4 minute presentation. So, I decided to create a few presentations that worked in sequence to show what I actually do.  The first presentation was about seeing the light.

As a professional photographer, it is my job to be able to walk into a situation and create portraits of a consistent level or quality. This means being able to quickly evaluate the situation and with the tools I have, create a portrait.

The first thing I look for is the light. Light is my most important tool. Yes, a camera capable of taking quality captures is important, but it does not do you much good if the lighting in the image does not work. The next thing I look at is how can I manipulate the light to create the lighting I want for my subject. Sometimes it exists in the room, sometimes I need to use reflectors and flashes.

For most of the demonstrations I took along a Canon 6D camera with a 24-105 lens and two reflectors and a portable flash. Since all the meetings were during the day, I was able to use window light as my primary light source. The reflectors were used to put light back into the shadow areas when necessary.

See the light 04
Poorly light

The first shot I took at each session was an example of bad lighting. Either a backlight situation where the subject came out silhouetted or a very harsh, top down sort of light that was not very attractive at all. I then use the same person in the same spot but moved them so that I could create lighting that was more flattering to the subject. Here are the before and afters of three of those sessions. Remember that each of these shots (both before and after), were done in less than three minutes.

 

See the light 02See the light 03See the light 01

IMG_0549
Captured with iPhone 4s

One session was a great challenge. I was not expecting to do a presentation, but when asked, I agreed. There were no real windows in the place and all the lighting was overhead spots. My solution was to use the light coming from the presentation projector as it was reflected off the screen. There were a number of technical challenges here because of the colour  and the low intensity of the light, but it gave the type of side lighting that I was looking for. The ambient light was bright enough so I used that as fill. My only capture device was a a 3 generations old iPhone, so thats what I used. The limitations of the capture device leave something to be desired, especially when working in low light situations like this, but I also believe that it is better to leave with a less than perfect image than no image at all. I left that session with a usable image.

Being a professional photographer is about being able to get consistent results. To do that, you need to know your camera inside and out. You also need to know lighting. Without a solid foundation in lighting skills, you cannot get consistent results.

Learn to see the light.

Outdoor flash

One of my favourite techniques is to use outdoor flash. And now that sunnier weather and longer days are here, I will be using it more and more. Back in the day, we used to call the technique syncro-sun flash. It is not an easy technique, but once mastered, it gives you great control over your image.

When photographing with natural light alone, you can control the light by using reflectors and gobos and indeed create some very excellent lighting on your subject. The problem is your background. How the background is exposed is at the mercy of how you expose your subject. In the studio, you can control the exposure of your background independently of your subject, however, when photographing using only natural light, you loose this control. But, when you add flash into the equation you can regain that control.

Here’s how it works. ambient light exposure is controlled by three things, ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed. Flash exposure is also controlled by three things – ISO, Aperture, and the volume of light coming from the flash, also known as Flash Output. Notice that flash exposure is not affected by shutter speed (maximum flash sync speed is a limitation of your camera which I will talk about in the next post). This means that if I have my flash is lighting my subject, then I can control the exposure of my back ground relative to my subject by changing the shutter speed. For example, if I want my background lighter, I would use a slower shutter speed, if I want it darker, I would use a faster shutter speed.

Here is trick number 1 for using this technique – your subject should be placed in spot that is one or two stops darker than the background. This will give you more variety when you are adjusting the background exposure.

Subject is darker than the sky
Subject is darker than the sky

In this first image, I was photographing up into the sky. I wanted the clouds to have this dramatic effect so I set my exposure to darken the sky down and bring out the clouds. However this caused my subject to become very dark in the image.

By exposing my subject with a flash, I was able to get the following image

Subject balanced to background using a flash.
Subject balanced to background using a flash.

In my next post I will discuss how to set up this type of image.