Simple Steps To Better Pictures (Part 1)

6/8/2013 9:11:24 AM

Swap shadows in still-lifes

Try this creative in-camera technique to add interesting shadows that bring your still-lifes to life

Being creative with shadows can produce some really appealing images whatever your subject. But swapping a subject’s shadow is somewhat more complicated, usually involving more Photoshop than photography. Normally you need to take one picture of your subject, one of the shadow and then combine the two seamlessly in post-production. This may sound simple enough, but it’s rather tricky if your compositing skills aren’t up to scratch. There is a way, though, to create such an image completely in-camera and without any additional work in post-production – all it takes is some crafty lighting, a long exposure and still subjects.

Being creative with shadows can produce some really appealing images whatever your subject

Being creative with shadows can produce some really appealing images whatever your subject

By using a lengthy exposure of around ten seconds or more, in a totally dark room, and dividing the amount of time during the exposure that you illuminate the different elements with a torch, you can create the illusion in one image. It’s important that the most amount of time is spent casting the shadow on the wall so it’s the prominent part of the exposure – this way when you shine a torch on the actual subject, its shadow won’t render in the exposure.

When preparing for the shoot, you’ll need a pocket-sized torch, a remote release, a still-life subject and the object you want to use for its shadow. As sharp shadows work best, use a small LED torch with one diode and place the subjects as close as possible: the larger the light source and further away it is, the softer the shadow. Chess pieces work well for this technique as they have graphic shapes and allow you to be more creative – try to think about what the subject might get up to when the lights are turned off and no one’s watching, and use this for inspiration when picking your shadow subject. I’m using a knight for my subject and a toy horse for the shadow. Although it takes practice, and many attempts to get right, it’s a great in-camera technique for creating shadow-swapped images.

Set-up Place your chess piece on a chessboard or a table against a wall. Set your camera on a tripod in front of the desk and compose your image so that the chess piece is small in the foreground, with plenty of background for your shadow. Place your toy to the right of your chess figure: get them as close together as you can without encroaching on the camera’s frame. Set your camera to aperture-priority mode and dial in a mid-aperture (I used f/14). Lock focus on the chess piece and switch to manual focus to stop the lens from hunting once you turn the lights off.

Lighting Switch off all the room lights and stand to the right of your toy. Shine your torch across the toy at an angle that casts a shadow on the background. You need to shine the light for two-thirds of the total exposure time (for me that was seven seconds). Try not to shake your hand. For most of the remaining time, move the light to illuminate the chess figure. You need to position the shadow so that its end matches up with where the toy’s shadow began on the background. For the last second or two, shine the torch all over on the chessboard to brighten the image.

All the fun of the fair

Take control of your shutter speeds and master how to capture dynamic fairground photographs bursting with excitement and motion when your fair comes to town

Take control of your shutter speeds and master how to capture dynamic fairground photographs bursting

Take control of your shutter speeds and master how to capture dynamic fairground photographs bursting

Think back to when you were a child and the feverish excitement that the arrival of a travelling funfair to your town brought with it. Candyfloss, hook-a-duck stalls, bright lights and an assortment of spinning, tumbling and stomach-churning rides to enjoy – all on your doorstep! As well as source of endless entertainment for kids, funfairs also make fantastic photographic subjects; all those moving, twirling an spinning lights can only mean one thing slow shutter speeds and lights trails. Grab your camera and tripod, and join the fun of the fair during this celebratory period.

As we’ll be aiming to capture light trails, the best time to visit the fairground is early evening. This has the added advantage of usually being less busy so you don’t risk your tripod getting bumped during the exposure. Fairs usually run into the dark hours but visiting just after sunset can yield fantastic results as you’ll be shooting against the day’s fading light, rather than a black shy.

A wide-angle zoom is a good choice as fairs are usually packed into relatively small spaces. Using the wide end of your lens will make your shots more dynamic, too. The other piece of essential kit that you’ll need is a good tripod and also a remote release to eliminate camera shake, although you can use your camera’s self-timer mode instead. You’ll often be waiting around for the ride to start, too, so make sure you wrap up warm and be patient!

A wide-angle zoom is a good choice as fairs are usually packed into relatively small spaces

A wide-angle zoom is a good choice as fairs are usually packed into relatively small spaces

Set-up Attach your camera on a tripod and fit a remote release, then compose the shot. Remember to allow room for the ride that you’re photographing to move in the frame without being cropped out. Try to compose the shot facing west to record any fading light in the sky as this will add extra depth, color and interest to your shots. Use single-point autofocus or manually focus on a part of the ride that’s stationary.

Camera settings Choose a low ISO rating and select multi-zone metering. Switch to shutter-priority mode and choose a slow shutter speed – start at around one second. Take a test shot while the ride is stationary to check the exposure of the sky and surroundings and use exposure compensation if required. When the ride starts, try different exposure times; the speed of the ride will dictate which works best.

Move movement needed At 1/8sec the people on the ride are clearly visible, but there’s only a slight sense of speed and the light trails are shot. The camera has also selected a wide aperture (f/4).

Get the balance right There is plenty of motion captured in the lights using 1.6 seconds at f/9, but the riders have been blurred beyond recognition and don’t stand out enough against the sky.

The wrong shape A six-second exposure at f/18 has captured the rotation of the ride and the movement when the ride changed its axis of rotation, losing the shape of the carousel.

Too long of an exposure Although rotation across multiple axes has been recorded here, the light trails are smoother at 13 seconds than at six seconds. But the riders are almost invisible.

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