Don’t Be Afraid Of High ISO on Modern DSLR Cameras

Don’t Be Afraid Of High ISO on Modern DSLR Cameras

This article is written by Andrew S Gibson, author of Understanding Exposure – a guide to controlling your camera to achieve perfect light exposures.

As the internet grows and grows, photography tutorials are becoming more and more abundant. All that information can be a good thing, but it can also create problems as it sometimes has the magical effect of turning one’s opinion to fact over time. Read around about digital photography and you will come across the ‘stock’ advice that some people give. Over time, this gets repeated until it becomes part of the conventional wisdom about photography.

One of these is in relation to ISO. The usual advice is to use the lowest ISO possible when you take a photo. There’s a good reason for this, as the image quality is always higher at lower ISOs than higher ones. But, what the authors don’t mention is that the quality at high ISOs on modern DSLR’s is now very good indeed.

dont-be-afraid-of-high-iso-2Given that high ISOs, especially if combined with prime lenses, enable you to take photos with a hand-held camera in low light conditions, when the quality of light can be amazing for subjects like portraiture, I think they are worth experimenting with. Embrace high ISO. Use it whenever the light is low. It depends on what camera you have, but you may be surprised how little noise there is at ISO settings like 1600, 3200 and 6400, especially if you follow the tips presented later on in this article.

ISO Improvements

There are several factors that make the high ISO settings more usable on recent digital cameras:

  • Sensor technology and noise reduction. For example, the latest EOS cameras use the DIGIC V processor. The DIGIC V is faster and more powerful than previous versions and one of the benefits of this is that it’s better at reducing noise when you use the JPEG format (if you use RAW, noise reduction is carried out by your RAW processing software instead).
  • Sensor size. If you have a full-frame camera it produces images with less noise at high ISO’s than cameras with APS-C sensors. (All of the photos in this article were taken with a full-frame EOS 5D Mark II).
  • Better software. The noise reduction algorithms in the latest versions of Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop work amazingly well. As RAW processing software gets better over the years, so does its noise reduction function. (The photos in this article are processed with Lightroom.)


High ISO Techniques

There are a couple of things that you can do to help avoid excess noise at high ISOs. These apply no matter which ISO setting you are using, but the improvement in quality is more noticeable at high ISOs than low ones.

Expose to the right. This requires that you set an exposure that gives a histogram that leans all the way to the right without crossing the right hand side of the graph. In other words, there are no clipped highlights. This technique works well in low contrast conditions when the brightness range of the scene is less than the brightness range the camera’s sensor is capable of recording.


Aim for your photographs to be exposed more the right side of the histogram, trying to avoid clipping.

In the above example, I was able to increase the exposure by two stops over that recommended by the camera without clipping any highlights. This was made possible by the low contrast of the scene.

Post Processing

Take care in post-processing. If you lighten an area of your photo that is dark, you increase noise levels. The higher the ISO used, the more noticeable this is. If you have dark areas in your image, it’s best to leave them that way. Incidentally, you can make light areas darker without increasing noise, and this is one of the reasons that the expose to the right technique works.


Using Texture To Reduce Noise

Be aware that you will get noise in blue or black skies. Noise shows up most in areas without much texture, such as sky. It is also more pronounced in the blue channel. If you take a photo at high ISO and include blue sky or the night sky in the image, you will see a lot of noise in the sky. I don’t want to put you off taking photos that include sky (such as the one above) as you can create some beautiful images that way, but you should be aware that they will contain more noise than photos without sky.


Alternatively, if you take photos of something that contains a lot of texture, such as the books in the photo above, the texture has the effect of obscuring noise. Using the noise masking capabilities that texture has on an image can effectively boost the quality of your high ISO photography when it is taken into consideration during the composition phase.


Grain and digital noise can be used as a creative tool

A little critical thinking and you may be able to visualize new ways to frame your photograph so the texture is at its most beneficial position inside the image.

Use Noise Creatively

With early digital cameras noise was so pronounced, even at low ISOs, that most photographers wanted to reduce or eliminate it. But, now that high ISO performance has improved so dramatically, maybe it is time to start exploiting the aesthetic qualities of high ISO?

For example, photos taken at ISO 3200 and 6400 on my EOS 5D Mark II and processed in Lightroom 4, such as some of the images used in this article, have qualities similar to that of grain on fast films. Photographers like Sarah Moon and Robert Farber used high speed film and grain to create beautiful, evocative images in the seventies. Their subjects predominantly included portraits and the female nude. Maybe the day will come when a photographer makes their mark by using high ISO creatively the same way?

Get creative and start experimenting with whatever DSLR you have, you may discover new ways that you can use digital noise to add drama to and even enhance your photographs.

Understanding EOS

Understanding EOS: Andrew Gibson’s New Book

About the Author:
Andrew S Gibson is also the author of Understanding EOS: A Beginner’s Guide to Canon EOS Cameras, which takes a simple approach to using your DSLR by exploring only the controls that you need to learn (such as Aperture priority) to create beautiful photos.

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A Photographic Tour of New York

A Photographic Tour of New York

by James Maher

Lego Girl, SoHo.New York is a diverse city with gorgeous old architecture and sleek new skyscrapers, iconic landmarks of all types, hidden surprises around every corner, and a diversity of residents and visitors that is unrivaled.  The energy, speed, and creativity that occurs on the streets every single day makes it a playground for all types of photographers.

While Manhattan is probably the most photographed place in the world, we’re not going to talk as much about photographing places like the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, or the Flatiron Building.  No trip to New York is complete without visiting these landmarks, but there is so much more than that.  This article is about delving a little deeper, seeing its most beautiful corners, and capturing the true essence of the city.

And before we go any further, remember that there are so many camera equipment rental shops, such as Foto Care, Calumet, Adorama, or CSI.  So while you’re here, rent that lens or camera that you’ve always wanted for a week, rent a tripod, or even rent a Leica!

Best Buildings, Unknown Landmarks, and Best Views.

The oldest subway tunnel in the world.

The oldest subway tunnel in the world.

Running under Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn is the oldest subway tunnel in the world, dating back to 1844.  The tunnel was sealed up in 1861 and forgotten about it until a 19-year-old engineering student named Bob Diamond found it in 1980 after a year of searching.  Diamond gave tours of the tunnel for 30 years through a manhole cover in the street, but they were unfortunately stopped recently by the Department of Transportation.  However, there is a legal fight to get them re-opened, so hopefully they will resume soon.  The tunnel has 17-foot ceilings and is a half-mile long and an old locomotive is even reported to be hidden behind the far, closed-off wall.  Check here for more information about the tunnel and tours.

The Unused City Hall Subway Station

The Unused City Hall Subway Station

Another underground tour, run by the New York Transit Museum, visits the old and gorgeous, unused City Hall subway station, once the crown jewel of the MTA.  Tours are infrequent and you must be a member of the Museum, however, there is an easy trick to see it on the 6-train.  At the end of the line, the 6-train still passes this station to change directions and you can see it through the windows of the subway cars.  Stay on the 6-train at its last stop (Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall) and look out the side of the train where the doors close.  Get in one of the middle cars and pay attention because it passes quickly.  You may want to do it twice since many people miss it the first time around.  And don’t worry about staying on the train past its last stop as it was recently made legal by the city to do this.

American Standard Building, Chrysler Building Lobby, NY Public Library, The Alwyn Court

American Standard Building, Chrysler Building Lobby, NY Public Library, Alwyn Court

Here are a few of my favorite buildings that you might not know about.  On 42nd Street, next to Bryant Park you can see both the New York Public Library and the American Standard (Radiator) Building, which is now a hotel but was originally built for the American Radiator and Standard Sanitary Company in 1924.  Nearby, you can do some street photography in Grand Central and a couple blocks away is the entrance to the Chrysler Building, which has the most magnificent art deco lobby in the city.  It is covered in murals and is a must see.  And the most ornate building in the city, a block south of Central Park on 7th avenue, is the Alwyn Court.

One of the views from the James Hotel rooftop bar.

One of the views from the James Hotel rooftop bar.

You also can’t travel to New York without seeing a few cityscapes and there are so many spots.  Of course there’s Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building but there are also a lot of rooftop bars with incredible views.  Two of my favorites are at The James Hotel and Ink48.  There’s nothing better than capturing a cityscape and having a drink at the same time.  In addition, if you visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, then make sure to visit the rooftop during the warmer months, which has one of the best views of the Central Park.

The Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge Park have incredible views of lower Manhattan, especially at night.  And the Water Taxis will give you an great view as well if it’s warm enough to stand outside.  Walk the Brooklyn Bridge, explore the park, and then take the water taxi back.

And finally, a place that I love to walk, but is a little out of the way, is the Manhattan Bridge, which has incredible views of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Walk it and then walk back as there’s not much on the other side.

Best Areas for Street Photography

You can’t visit New York without trying some street photography.  The people are the most important, creative, and interesting aspect of the city.  Capture the life and fashion on the streets and you will photograph the true essence of the city.  Here are a few of my favorite spots.

Lady in Red, 5th Avenue.

Lady in Red, 5th Avenue.

The corner of 57th and 5th is one of the most iconic corners in Manhattan.  At any given moment you will have a mix of very fashionable New Yorkers, both the wealthy and the everyday people and workers, and the interesting tourists from all over the world.  This wide avenue also has incredible light throughout the day so use it to your advantage.  Walk south on 5th Avenue, stopping at interesting corners and people watching until you get to the 42nd street, Bryant Park area.  This stretch of Manhattan is one that is constantly captured by the famous New York Times fashion street photographer Bill Cunningham, so who knows, you might run into him as well.

Corner of Prince and Broadway

Corner of Prince and Broadway.

SoHo is probably my favorite area for capturing people.  You can venture anywhere and find interesting people and hidden corners, but the best corner is Prince and Broadway, right by the N R subway stop.  The stretch of Broadway between this corner and Canal Street is my favorite.  Also, for planning sake, remember that the Prince street corner is only 4 short blocks from Lombardi’s pizza.

The corner of Broadway and Canal (home of the fake purses) brings us to Chinatown, which is always bustling with people no matter the day or time.  Travel southeast and make sure to see Doyers Street, nicknamed the “Bloody Angle” and seen in many movies and tv shows.  Also nearby is Columbus Park, which is always filled with tables of old Chinese men and women gambling and playing music.  It is such a fun place to be and capture.  And while you are there, don’t forget to stop for some soup dumplings and fried dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai.

Cutting through the middle of Chinatown is the Bowery, one of the most amazing streets in the city and filled with so much diversity.  The Bowery, quickly becoming a fashionable place to be, was once one of the most down and out streets in Manhattan.  It was also the birthplace of Punk Rock and you can see the old CBGBs (now a John Varvatos store).  Visit the photographer Jay Maisel’s stunning bank building and graffiti mecca on Bowery and Spring and walk until you end up on my other favorite street, St. Marks (8th Street), a main thoroughfare of the East Village.

Finally, we can’t forget the mecca of street photography, which is the New York Subway system.  Set your camera on 1/200th of a second and ISO 3200 and make sure to take the subway everywhere.  Stations such as Times Square and Grand Central are filled with people at almost any time of day.  For some inspiration, check out the work of Bruce Davidson – and keep in mind that the subways are a lot less scary looking than when he did his work.

N-R Train, Polka Dots and Pink Shoes

N-R Subway Train, Polka Dots and Pink Shoes

A Photo Tour of Central Park South 

(To best follow this advice, download the “Central Park” app for your smartphone, which will provide you with a map with points of interest, along with your location.)

Poets Walk at Dusk.

Poets Walk at Dusk.

Enter the Park by the Plaza Hotel at 59th Street and 5th and walk and explore the area of the Pond and Gapstow Bridge.  The view of Gapstow Bridge with the Plaza behind it is an iconic view of the city.  Walk north until you come upon Literary Walk (Poets’ Walk).  There is nothing like the view here at dusk, so consider coming back when the sun is setting.  Walk north until you arrive at Bethesda Terrace, which has a beautiful view of the Lake.  To your right will be the boat rental area, so rent a rowboat, which is my favorite thing to do in the city.  Travel under Bow Bridge, bring some sandwiches for a picnic on the boat, and spend an hour exploring the lake and it’s many hidden areas.  You will most likely see a few couples getting engaged.

Rowboats and Bow Bridge.

Rowboats and Bow Bridge.

After you return the boat, walk west to Bow Bridge, cross it and head back east around the Lake to the “Central Park Point.”  Then walk all the way to the eastern edge of the park and head south to Dene Shelter, which has a stunning view of Central Park south.  If you have kids, nearby is also the zoo, home to the Penguins of Madagascar.

Favorite Photography Museums and Galleries

The Modern Museum of Art (MOMA) on 53rd street has an unrivaled photography section with hundreds and hundreds of diverse and classic works.  It is my favorite place to view photography in the city and it is constantly being updated and changed. 

Three of my other favorites are the ICP Museum on 43rd and 6th (, the Leica Gallery on Broadway and Bond Street ( and the Howard Greenberg Gallery ( on East 57th Street.  While the HG gallery has much more than photography, it has an amazing photography collection.

If you’re a fan of the photography of Jacob Riis, visit the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side and transport yourself back in time to see what living in an old tenement was like.  After, visit the fantastic Tenement Museum Bookstore and then go for a walk and enjoy the gorgeous tenement exteriors and fire escapes in the neighborhood.  Stop at the nearby Katz’ Delicatessen or Russ & Daughters for lunch. 

And while this technically doesn’t count as a museum, it might as well be.  The Strand Bookstore on Broadway and 12th street is the best bookstore I’ve ever been to and it has by far the best photography book section that I’ve ever seen.  To say it has everything is an understatement.  I know time is often of the essence when visiting the city, but if you are a fan of photography, the Strand is a must see and has the same weight as any photo exhibit.


This article is focused mostly on Manhattan, yet Brooklyn is a borough that needs to be seen and explored.  It deserves its own article and there are incredible locations for photography.

Quickly, a few things to see are the waterfront (with amazing views of Manhattan), the area of DUMBO, Get lost in Prospect Park and see the nearby Brooklyn Museum and Botanic Gardens, and visit Coney Island.  And if you are a fan of Brownstones, then Brooklyn is the place to be.  Go brownstone touring through the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Fort Greene, Brooklyn Heights, Prospect Heights, and Cobble Hill.

Photographing at Night

Central Park South.

Central Park South.

A final thought.  If ever there was a fact about photographing New York, it’s this – while the city may look beautiful during the day, there is nothing that comes close to capturing it at night.  When I meet people or give tours for visitors I try to stress this, but I feel like many people don’t take advantage of it.  I suggest that when you plan your trip, schedule one night of the trip to explore at night.  Do something easier on the legs during the day, grab a quick dinner from a hole in the wall pizza place, and go for a very long walk.  Central Park is generally very safe at night as long as you stick to the well travelled areas and stay south of Bow Bridge.  Even if you don’t you’ll be fine, but better to be somewhat careful.  You will be surprised with how crowded the park is at night during the warmer months.  Other areas that are amazing at night are anywhere in Midtown, the Brooklyn Bridge, anywhere along 5th Avenue, SoHo, Chinatown, and the East Village.

Hope to see you soon!

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Lightroom 5 beta Now Available!

Lightroom 5 beta Now Available!

Posted by Sharad Mangalick on Apr 15, 2013

We’ve been working hard on the next version of Lightroom, and now we’re giving our customers a chance to try out some of the new technology available with the release of Lightroom 5 beta. Since the initial Lightroom public beta release in 2006, we’ve learned a tremendous amount through a collaborative dialogue with our customers, and I’m excited to continue that collaboration to receive feedback on the Lightroom 5 beta.

With this release, our goal was to add some highly-desired features that allow photographers to quickly process and enhance their images. We’ve added more robust healing options, the ability to create off-center vignettes, and a one-click auto perspective correction tool. We’ve also added the ability to edit photos when not connected to your original images. Each of these improvements is a result of feedback provided by the Lightroom community. Thank you.

There are a lot of new features in the Lightroom 5 beta. Here’s a brief description of some of our favorites:

    • Advanced Healing Brush: Enhancements to the Spot Removal tool allow you to heal or clone using brush strokes. A new “Visualize Spots” tool highlights sensor dust spots for easy removal.


    • Radial Filter: Apply any of Lightroom’s local adjustment attributes to a circular mask. The area of the mask can be resized, feathered or even inverted to give you maximum control over the focus of your images.
    • Upright: Automatically level horizons, straighten buildings, and correct other askew lines.
  • Smart Preview: Lightroom allows you to edit offline images by storing a smaller version of the original image, called a smart preview. Edits made to the smart preview will automatically apply to the original once reconnected to Lightroom.

Download the free Lightroom 5 beta here. To learn about more technical updates to this release, visit the Lightroom Journal blog. We’re always listening and we love to squash bugs, so please do not hesitate to submit your thoughts and ideas to our feedback page.

To be among the first to hear about Lightroom 5 news, follow us on FacebookTwitterGoogle Plus and YouTube.

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Crafting Vignettes: Part 2

Crafting Vignettes: Part 2

Refine in-camera vignettes and build them from scratch with these simple editing techniques

By William Sawalich


Digital Photo Tip Of The Week

Sometimes, no matter how deliberately you shape the light in a scene, you’ll still want to aid the viewer in getting immediately to the center of interest. For that, a little post-production wizardry is perfect for adding and enhancing vignettes. These vignette adjustments can also be applied on a scale that would make them impractical or impossible in the camera—say, when you’re composing a broad landscape or an architectural photograph, and you just can’t throw enough shaped light onto such a large-scale scene. No matter the scale, no matter the subject, digital vignetting is an important image-editing skill.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom has become my preferred tool for making digital vignettes, but almost every editing program has its own special tool designed for this very purpose. Lightroom’s most powerful vignette tool is called Post-Crop Vignetting. Sounds perfect, right? It’s a set of sliders found under the Effects heading in Lightroom 4’s Develop module. It’s pretty straightforward, too. Simply slide the Amount slider higher for a light vignette (not something I often recommend) or to a lower value for a dark vignette. The real brilliance of the tool, however, comes from all of the control it provides for fine-tuning the look of the vignette.

The midpoint slider, for instance, determines whether the vignette begins closer to the center of the frame or close to the edges. The Roundness slider adjusts the vignette’s shape—from round to oval and even almost rectangular in the extreme. Feather is perhaps the most important slider to use with Post-Crop Vignetting, as it softens the transition from the original photo to the darkened edge. Too much feather can make the vignette all but invisible, while too little makes for an unpleasing, hard-edged transition. This is perhaps the biggest key to creating a pro-caliber vignette: subtlety. (There’s no right way for every vignette, but I like a fairly strong feather to keep the edge smooth and help hide the transition.) Lastly, is the Highlights slider that adjusts how much of an effect the vignette will have on highlights in the image. It can be very useful to make the vignette appear to fall behind a light-toned subject—creating the same effect as a lighting-style vignette without appearing overly obvious as post-production

Digital Photo Tip Of The Week

There’s another great way to create a vignette in Lightroom, and that’s the use of graduated filters. While not a true “vignette” (because it’s not uniformly round) the effect it produces is similar because it’s used to darken the edges of the frame and push a viewer’s eyes to the center of interest. I like to use a graduated filter with the exposure set at 1/3-, 1/2-, or even a full stop underexposed, then I position it at the bottom of the frame to draw the eye away from this relatively low-interest part of the picture and up toward where the interest is. I frequently use a few graduated filters in conjunction, from different positions in the frame, to recreate the same basic symmetrical shape as a true vignette, but with more local control as to its precise placement within the frame.

For those who prefer using Photoshop to create digital vignettes, there are plenty of opportunities for customized shapes and patterns in your vignettes. The classic oval vignette, though, can be best accomplished by combining adjustment layers with a feathered oval mask. To start, choose an adjustment layer that affects the overall brightness of the scene. This could be Curves, Levels or Brightness/Contrast, but I like to start with Exposure. Apply a fairly strong underexposure to the scene—maybe 1.5 or even 2 stops underexposure. It should look dark, but not yet a vignette.

Digital Photo Tip Of The Week

With the image now appearing well underexposed, click on the mask thumbnail in the Layers menu to activate the layer mask. Then select the oval marquee tool, and click in the top left corner of the scene and hold the mouse click. Next, drag the marquee all the way to the bottom right before releasing it. You’ll now be faced with oval-shaped marching ants representing the selected area of the mask. Next, to feather that selection, choose Select>Modify>Feather and set it to the maximum 250-pixel option. Then choose the paint bucket Fill tool, make sure the foreground color is set to black, and click in the center of the selection to fill the mask and reveal the original image layer.

Experimenting with different feather amounts, layer opacities and selection areas can provide complete control over exactly where you paint your vignette, and how well it conforms to the particular shapes in the image. When in doubt, though, a subtle, soft oval vignette is a great place to start. If you’re unsure of the effect, try clicking the layer on and off for a before and after view. It should instantly provide proof that this simple tool is also very powerful.

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Sponsored Tip: Developing A Personal Style: Delay

Sponsored Tip: Developing A Personal Style: Delay

I’m going to talk about one of the most important elements to creating enduring images…

By Brian Dilg, Courtesy Of New York Film Academy Photography School

This tip article by Brian Dilg comes to us courtesy of New York Film Academy Photography School, where he serves as the Chair of the New York Film Academy Photography Conservatory. Dilg is an internationally published and collected photographer and award-winning filmmaker with over 20 years of professional teaching experience around the world.

Continuing my series of tips to help you see the world through fresh eyes with the goal of developing a personal style, I’m going to talk about one of the most important elements to creating enduring images: delayed perception. The gist of this technique is to render elements of an image so that a viewer doesn’t notice everything immediately, therefore delaying perception of the full meaning of the picture until it has been studied more closely. Another word for this principle is “emergence.” You may already notice that this is the antithesis of the tendency of many modern photographers in the digital age to maximize the visual impact of everything they possibly can: more contrast, more saturation, everything sharply focused (especially prevalent in HDR imagery). When everything in a picture screams for the viewer’s attention, nothing wins; looking at the image is visually exhausting.

In order to build this element of time into the experience of looking at a picture, we need to understand how human beings read a photo – literally what we notice first. The image of the woman in profile with her eyes closed demonstrates many of these elements: in order to take in an entire image, we tend to step back (depending on the size of the image) so our field of vision can take in the entire frame at once. Our fovea, the part of our eyes that sees sharp detail, only really works with what we’re looking directly at in a very narrow field of vision, so we tend to notice the center of the frame first – the part we’re looking straight at. The further away from center, the longer it usually takes us to scan and notice it. There are no hidden or delayed elements in this portrait; this is a very straightforward image.

What else attracts our attention? In a nutshell, lumosity, bright colors, sharp focus, larger object sizes, human forms, and patterns (repeated visual motifs – see my previous post on this topic). Once we know this about the human visual experience, we can delay perception of certain elements in a photo by employing the opposite of these qualities: darkness, desaturation, blur (through de-focusing or motion blur), smaller sizes, etc.

In terms of color, the most luminous colors (particularly the warm yellow-orange-red family) “pop” or stand out. Less luminous colors such as some blues or purples tend to recede. A great principle to remember is that the size of an object can be in inverse proportion to the luminosity of its color. I.e., small spots of bright colors like yellow or red work well in a sea of blue, but the inverse of that, not so much.

In the image of the man running in the industrial landscape, the building and street dominate the use of space in the frame, yet the saturated, complementary red of the man’s shorts keep us coming back to him. (Red is a motif in this image, splashed across the street as well.)

Luminosity: in the “Alpha Dog” image of the woman with the three dalmations, most viewers notice the dogs first. They are bright, their spotted pattern is distinctive and contrasty, and their faces are turned at least in profile to camera, whereas the woman’s face is hidden from us. But despite the fact that she is centered in the frame, most viewers don’t notice the paw prints in her sweater until later (most likely because they are dark and low in contrast), and then have that “aha” experience of “catching up” to everything the photographer is up to.

The image of the tree under the Manhattan Bridge illustrates the same principle in reverse: the tree and bridge keep demanding our attention over the buildings in the background, because they are sharply rendered with high contrast, whereas the buildings live in a constrained, high-key end of the tonal palette (rendered that way by a blinding blizzard).

Focus: optical focus literally directs the viewer where to look. The smart photographer can exploit this understanding to create useful tension in a photograph by deliberately including out of focus elements. We can “read” expressions even on very blurry faces, for instance, but since blur is almost exclusively limited to photography (our eyes autofocus wherever we shift our gaze), rendering elements blurred introduces great visual tension. Are we supposed to look, or overlook? There may be many reasons to do this: to suggest that something should not be looked at, or cannot be seen clearly, or were an accidental intrusion into the frame (riffing on the snapshot aesthetic). But as human beings are meaning-contructing mechanisms, the viewer cannot help but examine every clue in an image, and if we trust the photographer’s craft, then we must assume that everything in the frame is there for a reason. I am also of the opinion that good art, the kind that stands up to repeated, long-term scrutiny, raises interesting questions; it does not provide simple answers.

Most viewers notice the woman in the mask first; the fact that she is the largest figure in the frame, carefully framed, well-lit, her attention obviously engaged with someone off-camera, and wearing a mask that seems unusual in context all contribute to this. But the fact that she is rendered out of focus is a clue that she is not truly the subject of the image; it is in fact the smaller face of the woman lurking behind her dressed as a cat, and making a rather catty expression. Hopefully the viewer “discovers” this smaller figure after a moment’s delay, and enjoys inferring why their expressions might be as they are.

Size: in the image of the house sinking into the slope of green grass, the dog is typically discovered a split second after the initial look; she is simply very small in the composition, nearly silhouetted, and off-center, but she also seems to be regarding us, and is the only living figure in the image. The diagonal shadows help lead our eye to where she is standing.

Keep in mind that the size of your print can be a major factor in the way viewers perceive the image. Thus, looking at tiny, low-resolution JPEGs online is far from an ideal demonstration of these principles.

To summarize, don’t put all your cards on the table at once. Reward those viewers who pay close attention. We are not delaying complete perception as a gimmick; a well-constructed image will exploit the way human beings read an image to create that rewarding experience of discovery no matter how many times they look at the image. Those are the kinds of images collectors like to hang on their walls, and are excited to show their friends. They endure; they don’t exhaust.

Crafting Vignettes: Part 1

Crafting Vignettes: Part 1

Creating pro-quality vignettes with nothing but light

By William Sawalich

Digital Photo Tip Of The Week

Ask a room full of photographers what they think of vignettes and you’re likely to get a room full of different answers. For many, the thought of vignettes conjures images of cheesy, tacky, outdated oval borders around portrait photos. But in truth, the vignette is a powerful tool for driving the viewer’s eye directly to the center of interest—as long as it is applied appropriately. In this, the first of a two-part post about vignettes, you’ll learn what you need to know to put this simple, yet powerful photographic tool to work for you, by crafting vignettes with shaped light.

Many photographers have noticed that they sometimes create vignettes even when they don’t want to. Some inexpensive lenses produce images that are darker at the edges, which creates a natural vignette—often easily corrected in post-processing. A similar vignette can be achieved by using a lens shade inappropriately—either a too-large shade on a too-wide lens, or by twisting a tulip-shaped lens shade so that its edges creep into the frame. While these two approaches do technically create in-camera vignettes, they’re probably not what most photographers think of when they set out to create in-camera vignettes. For that, they have to turn to using light to create a controllable, deliberate in-camera vignette that drives the viewer’s eyes directly to the center of interest.

Digital Photo Tip Of The Week

A broad and soft light source casts broad, even light. That typically means that the scene you’re framing will be just as bright at the edges as it is in the center. For instance, a large landscape on a slightly overcast day is going to be very evenly lit. But with a more narrow light source, maybe even one that’s focused on a very specific point in the middle of the frame, you’ll get a natural vignette. With natural light in a landscape, this could be a parting of the clouds that sends unfiltered rays of sunlight directly onto the scene, allowing for one area of interest to be illuminated brighter than the rest of the shot. This is certainly an interesting natural phenomenon, but what about when you want to create that same sort of effect with your own strobe or studio light?

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To create a focused light source—say, for a portrait photograph—you can start with a focused light source. With a studio strobe, for instance, you might use a grid spot or snoot to focus the light into a condensed beam that illuminates only one specific area and falls off to darkness away from the center. (These same modifiers also work with many handheld strobes as well, and the principles translate to any type of light source.) This is certainly effective at creating a bright spot, but the light itself tends to be a little harsh for most portrait purposes (unless, of course, you want a bit of drama as in the example above). Instead, you can consider a slightly softer, yet still fairly focused source—perhaps a beauty dish or a small softbox with a grid.

The beauty dish really is an ideal light source not only for making beautiful portraits, but also for creating the natural falloff that causes a vignette at the edges of a frame. The larger source and protected lamp of a beauty dish makes it not nearly as harsh as a bare bulb or smaller reflector, but it is still designed to create a brighter, hotter spot at the center of the circle of light it creates. You can amplify this effect by adding a grid to the front of the beauty dish, to focus it even further. It really is a light built for natural vignettes, from strong to subtle.

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You don’t have to buy a special light modifier to create pleasing portrait light and natural vignettes, though. A bit of foil—especially black foil made for this very purpose—can be shaped into a snoot by wrapping it around a handheld strobe or even a studio hot light. This is a great way to focus light into a tight circle that will fall off into a dark vignette at the edges. And this circle of light can create the illusion of a proper vignette when it’s cast on a background, allowing you to light a subject, however you see fit. It’s a classic studio portraiture technique, and for good reason: it reinforces the importance of focusing a viewer’s eyes on the important areas of the frame.

A small softbox makes very pleasing portrait light, as it softens the source considerably, and it can be used for vignettes, too. It’s perfect if what you want is soft light on the subject and plenty of falloff at the edges of the frame. To increase the effect, place the small softbox close to the subject and expose accordingly, allowing the edges of the scene to go dark. Add a honeycomb-style grid to the front of the softbox to focus the light in one direction (at the subject) and keep it from spilling all over the scene, and you’ll enhance this “hot spot” vignette effect considerably.

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Even though a true vignette is naturally round, there’s no reason you can’t bend this rule. For generations photographers have employed “cookies” (short for cucoloris) to project patterned light onto backgrounds and subjects. The use of a cookie to shape light often creates hot spots and shadows, and by positioning the subject just right, those transitions from light to dark can work perfectly to mimic a vignette. Better still, the use of black flags and scrims to cut down the intensity of light, and in some cases to create strong shadows, is an ideal way to shape light—any light, from any source—into a more pleasing vignette-style main light. Simply flag the areas within the frame that you want to fall off to darkness, and voila—instant vignette.

However you do it, creating a natural vignette by modifying the light source—whether it’s natural or manmade—is a great way to refine your photographs, drive the viewer’s eyes to the center of attention, and ultimately make your work look more professional. To enhance the effect, most pros also fine-tune vignettes in the computer. Tune in next week for part two of this primer, to learn how to enhance these vignettes and even build them from scratch with simple digital techniques.

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New York Times e Instagram: el triunfo de la tonteria

New York Times e Instagram: el triunfo de la tonteria



La edición del 31 de Marzo del New York Times abría en su portada con una foto del fotógrafo de deportes Nick Laham, vendida por la todopoderosa Getty Images. Hasta ahí todo normal, si no fuera por la firma del pie de foto: Instagram photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images.

nytfrontpage1La noticia ya no es la noticia. Nadie habla del articulo, el nuevo titular que surge a raíz de esta imagen es que Instagram ha conquistado el periodismo, que un iphone ha dado portada en uno de los periódicos más prestigiosos del mundo, el debate se abre y detractores y seguidores de la manzanita y la aplicación se pelean por la red. Y a nosotros se nos revuelven las tripas. El nivel de tontería que rodea al mundo de las tecnologías se hace patente en discusiones yermas como esta que reducen el mundo de la fotografía a la manida pregunta de siempre: ¿con que cámara has hecho la foto? como si la respuesta a esta pregunta alguna vez hubiera servido para otra cosa que no fuera ocultar las inseguridades de fotógrafos que piensan que si no llegan al nivel es por falta de recursos o para vender cámaras. Os ponemos en situación.
Nick Laham es un más que reconocido fotógrafo de deportes que colabora con Getty Iolympiansmages y que es especialista en retratos. Según cuenta el mismo en su blog preparó una sesión improvisada donde pudo (en este caso en los cuartos de baño del estadio) y tras un reportaje de fotos al uso acabó cada toma realizando una instantánea con su iphone. No fue una sesión premeditada para iphone. Resulta que editó estas fotos con Instagram y eso cambió la historia de la sesión. Getty Images se interesó por las fotos de Instagram (menos por las realizadas con la cámara réflex) y el New York Times público una de ellas, el retrato del tercera base dominicano de los New York Yankees Alex Rodriguez, en su portada.nick-laham-yankees-bathroom-iphone-shoot
Para todos aquellos que piensen que desde el fotógrafo hasta el periódico pasando por los editores de Getty no sabían la que se iba a liar con esta maniobra de carácter polémico les invitamos a no ser naif. Abrir la tan trillada polémica del soporte sobre el que se realiza una fotografía es una maniobra un tanto repetitiva que podremos encontrar en la historia de la fotografía cada vez que alguien ha necesitado vender un producto nuevo. En este caso los beneficiados son Apple e Instagram que han conseguido que aparezca su nombre en cada titular que se refiere a este hecho, aunque no dejemos de lado a los que salen beneficiados de manera secundaria, New York Times, Getty y el propio autor. Porque todos ellos son protagonistas en el gran titular: New York Times pública una portada realizada con un iphone y editada con Instagram. Para mí el titular debería de haberse escrito así: Un peridodico publica en portada una foto realizada con una cámara. Por que a fin de cuentas es lo que ha pasado.compa

Evidentemente estas fotografías de Nick Laham son de una técnica impecable, pero si hablamos de calidad de imagen dejan un poco que desear si las comparamos con las imágenes tomadas con su réflex durante la sesión. Pero siendo sinceros, por muy buenas que sean las fotografías de Nick Laham ¿estaríamos hablando de él en todo el mundo si no fuera por el soporte que usó? evidentemente no. Pero cual es la moraleja que quieren vender de esta historia para los miles de usuarios de Iphone e instagram: que cualquiera puede hacer este tipo de imágenes, que con unos cuantos filtros todo queda bonito. Y es verdad. Cualquiera podía haber hecho esta foto; cualquiera que tuviera a Nick Laham iluminando esta escena, buscando el sitio concreto para montarla y la composición adecuada; lo cual nos lleva directamente a nuestra moraleja de la historia y es que Nick Laham podría haber hecho esta foto con cualquier cámara, teléfono, soporte digital…etc pero esta visión de la historia no vende periódicos, ni iphones, ni aplicaciones. Porque a fin de cuentas de eso se trata, de hacer creer que en el hardware está la clave, para desmitificar la figura del ojo del fotógrafo, algo que para desgracia de las grandes compañías no pueden vender. Esto a la larga conseguirá que la única manera de ganar dinero con la fotografía sea vender cámaras.

Que más da lo que haya usado este fotógrafo para hacer esta foto, lo que me interesa de esta imagen no es saber que filtros ha usado en instagram, lo que preguntaría a Nick si lo tuviera delante es como se plantea la imagen, por que esa iluminación, por que esa composición, preguntas que a pocos les importa porque en el fondo seguimos atados a las marcas, porque nos negamos a reconocer que aunque usemos el mismo teléfono, la misma cámara, el mismo objetivo o el mismo papel del vater, las diferencias entre este tipo de fotógrafos no se salvan con dinero o trucos de tecnología, se salvan con inteligencia, trabajo y humildad para preguntarnos ¿si yo hubiera estado en su lugar habría hecho esa foto igual de bien?.

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