Church interiors are difficult to photograph because they usually have huge bright windows and dark nooks and crannies with the rest being a mix of tones illuminated by tungsten light or candles. Automatic exposure cameras will often deliver a photo with a well exposed interior, but no detail in the windows. Fortunately, with digital photography and modern software there is a solution, it’s called HDR (high dynamic range) photography. Using HDR can really make your architecture shots pop.
Most modern cameras will have a HDR mode built-in, however if this is not the case, then here are some basic instructions.
Creating a HDR image
To create a HDR shot you need to take several shots of the same scene at different exposures, each one from the same position. These are then merged into one photo using HDR software (see ePHOTOzine’s technique section for articles on how to do this). To ensure the photos are in an identical position it’s best to use a sturdy tripod which will keep everything aligned and steady. It’s worth using a cable-release too to trigger the shutter when the camera is on the tripod, but with a static subject such as a church you can get away using the camera’s self timer.
Use a wide lens
A wide-angle lens is best for church interiors and ideally you want one that’s really wide. With a lens like this you can usually shoot the interior from wall to wall if you stand back far enough. The camera you use can be a DSLR or compact so long as it has a manual exposure mode or at least exposure compensation to override the automatic settings.
As exposures are long in churches they can soon flatten your camera battery so always carry a spare just in case. Also, when shooting HDR, every picture you take requires several exposures so you may need extra memory cards.
HDR exposures should have a fixed aperture so that the depth of field is the same for each shot. Set the camera to f/8 and before setting up the shot take a meter reading for the lightest area. If the shot has a stained glass window in view this will usually be the brightest part. These are usually very decorative and beautiful works of art so you need to record those with an exposure that gives 100% detail. Use the camera’s spot meter and position the camera so the window is in the centre of the viewfinder where the meter takes the reading. Take a shot and preview the result on the LCD If it’s good make a note of the shutter speed. Now take a meter reading for the darkest area and make sure that the resulting photo has detail in it. Make a note of the shutter speed.
Your HDR exposure should have a range of shots that covers from the speed needed for the window to the speed for the dark areas. Let’s say the window was 1/15 sec and the dark area was 8 seconds. The full shutter speed options would be 1/15sec, 1/4sec, 1/2sec, 1 second, 2 seconds, 4 seconds and 8 seconds. So you could take seven photos or as most HDR software can get what it needs from two stop intervals you could take four shots at 1/15sec, 1/2sec, 2 seconds and 8 seconds.
With this new information, adjust the position of the camera on the tripod compose the photo, including the previously metered elements in the frame and take a sequence of pictures, making sure no one walks into frame and the light doesn’t change, sun comes out, floodlight goes on inside etc., at the shutter speeds calculated earlier.
Try this technique all around the church, in bigger churches/cathedrals there are lots of smaller rooms and chapels to discover.
Here are some of the tutorials you’ll find in ePHOTOzine’s technique section on HDR photography
The internet and social media can be a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it is easier than ever before to quickly digest the work of hundreds of creatives and to find inspiration, educate yourself, and network with other photographers and filmmakers. It is not all positive, though. One of the most dangerous things you can do is fall into the trap of making art for other artists, and this great video essay discusses why that is something to be avoided.
Coming to you from Chrystopher Rhodes of YCImaging, this interesting video essay discusses the topic of making art specifically for other artists. This is something that can sneak up on you: you browse Instagram or the like, see the latest trends, and not wanting to miss out on the popularity, you start tailoring your process and editing to chase that trend and impress other artists. It is not necessarily a bad thing, especially since clients can often request these trends, but on the other hand, failing to establish your own creative voice can be detrimental both from a business perspective and for your own satisfaction with your work. Check out the video above for Rhodes’ full thoughts.
An ethereal, dreamy landscape photo can be a nice change of pace from the common ultra-sharp, super-vibrant photos we are used to today, and it can invite the viewer to find their own meaning and message within the image. If you are looking to create such photos in your own work, this great video tutorial will give you five tips to make it happen.
Coming to you from Sapna Reddy with B&H Photo Video, this awesome video tutorial will give you five tips to help you make more ethereal and dreamy landscape images. As you will see, fog often plays a role in these images, so brushing up on basic meteorology and keeping an eye on your local forecast can make a big difference in your ability to find the right conditions for such photos. Learning where fog forms, what time of day it tends to appear, and having a strong grasp of local topography can help you find the magic spots with the right conditions and good scenery for an image. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Reddy.
Editor’s Note: Have you ever wondered how your favorite photographers capture the images they take? Digital Photo Pro’s monthly column “On Assignment” is where Canon Explorers of Light, past and present, share a backstage look at one of their favorite assignments and how they delivered the goods. This month we go On Assignment with portrait photographer Lindsay Adler.
As we near the end of the warmth of summer, it is time to take advantage of what summer light and weather is left! For this shot we will be using natural light, a pool, and one lens for eye-catching summer beauty shots.
The concept of this shoot was to capture the ripples of the water from the pool onto the subject. We’ve all seen the sun strike water and create beautiful glistening light that mirrors the rippling of the water. But how do you create that on-demand and capture it in a photograph?
Let’s take a look at the ingredients.
To create this effect, you need three key ingredients: (1) direct sunlight, (2) your subject in shade, (3) slight movement to the water.
• Direct sunlight
Be sure that the sun is hitting the water directly. In other words, you’ve got to have a bright and sunny day. I personally prefer the light a bit earlier or later than noon because this makes it easier to catch the bounce of the light. At high noon the top-down effect is sometimes restrictive for compositions and catching the ripples.
• Subject in shade
In order to see the ripples of the light, your subject will need to be in the shade. In some cases, this may happen naturally, perhaps under an umbrella near to the poolside. In this instance, we held a reflector directly over the subject’s head. We are not using it to bounce light, but instead to block the sunlight. A piece of cardboard, black flag or other ‘light blocker’ will also work. Just be sure that whatever is casting the shade isn’t casting any weird color bounce on the subject. For example, a bright red and brown pizza box is probably not the best choice!
• Slight movement of water
Our bodies moving in the water was more than enough to create the rippling texture needed for the reflections.
The Camera Gear
For this shoot I utilized the Canon R5 and Canon RF 24-105mm f/4 lens. This is my go-to camera and lens combination because of its versatility. First of all, the Canon R5’s electronic viewfinder (with exposure simulation) allows me to preview in real time any changes in the light or adjustments in my camera settings. This makes sure I’m nailing my exposure every time.
Furthermore, the Canon R5’s face and eye tracking feature absolutely saves my life! It finds the eye closest to the camera, locks focus, and keeps my shot sharp in every frame. It’s incredible and such a time (and frame) saver.
One of my biggest concerns for this shoot was that to really get the powerful angle I wanted, I needed to be at a lower angle. Of course, this is challenging when you are in the water. I hovered with my lens within a couple inches of the top of the water. Risky, yes. Worth it? Yes!
You can certainly get an underwater housing for your camera, and there are even inexpensive $40 bags that would provide some protection. I thought this was perhaps a bit of an overkill, so I was just very cautious of how low I was getting and made sure no one agitated the water beyond the ripples needed to create the effect.
• 1/400 sec
• f/4 and f/5
• ISO 400
Other Challenges and Considerations
In order to create a clean background and a more high-impact image, I hung a black piece of cloth behind my subject. The result is a cleaner composition that allows me to put emphasis on the light in the scene without having any distracting elements in the background.
For the lighting effect in this image, we put shade over the subject, making her appear darker. To compensate I had to allow more light into the exposure, and in doing so the background appeared too bright and distracting. My solution to simplifying and darkening the background was to utilize this black cloth.
To create another layer of interest in this shot, I added a 4-point cross star filter to the front of the lens. My subject was wearing glittery makeup, and you can see that the light glistened off her face and created subtle starburst effects near her eyes. This, in my opinion, makes the results appear even dreamier.
So many summer images are colorful, bright and sunny. I decided to go for a high contrast black and white image because it was a bit unexpected and really put emphasis onto the texture of light. I still enjoyed some color versions of the image, but the black and white was the most eye-catching result to me.
There is little more frustrating than one of your best shots in any given shoot being slightly blurry. While sometimes it’s all but unavoidable, there is often lots you could have done differently to capture the shot without any blurring. In this video, an expert bird photographer discusses how he keeps his images so sharp.
Jan Wegener is a staggeringly good bird photographer, with a mouth-watering portfolio. However, while the tropical birds make his images extra interesting, one of the most impressive features of his work is just how sharp they are. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that he is photographing creatures that are famously agile and quick to move.
Sharpness is the result of a lot of factors, so an image appearing a little soft could be anything from equipment through to technique. Most modern equipment is pretty damned sharp when used properly, and even if isn’t equal to the best lenses and cameras on the market, it will typically be enough to get a good shot. Whatever the case, poor technique can ruin shots even if you’re using a camera and lens combination worth the same as a house deposit.
In this video, Wegener goes through some of his tips for ensuring his results are the highest quality achievable. Although equipment upgrades may not be actionable for you, the tips on technique and post-production could prove invaluable.
Albert Watson’s iconic fashion, celebrity and fine art images have graced the covers of magazines such as Vogue, Rolling Stone and Time, among many others. Major companies have enlisted his photographic talents for their ad campaigns, he has directed commercials, creating images for movie posters—the list is never ending.
But one has to wonder how Watson, whose first jobs including testing chocolates at a chocolate factory in Edinburgh, Scotland evolved into an artist creating some of the world’s best known photographs. That’s just one of the many topics that the newly published book, “Albert Watson: Creating Photographs,” part of Laurence King Publishing’s Masters of Photography series, explores.
And while we think you’ll enjoy reading Watson’s account of his journey through art school and moving to the United States more than our synopsis, one of the stories that stood out revolves around his photograph of Alfred Hitchcock. When Harper’s Bazaar contacted Watson and asked whether he had photographed any famous people before, Watson responded in a fake-it-till-you-make-it, “Yeah, one or two” even though he hadn’t.
Still, he got the assignment and while he was, of course, willing to photograph Hitchcock holding a platter with a holiday cooked goose (to accompany his goose recipe for the holiday issue of the magazine), Watson had a different idea. Why not have Hitchcock holding a plucked goose around the neck, as if he were choking the bird—it seemed “a bit more Hitchcock,” Watson explained.
The Editor-in-Chief loved the idea, the goose’s neck was adorned with Christmas decorations and the final image “really changed” Watson’s career. These little vignettes, combined with practical and technical advice and lots of photos pack this slender volume (128 pages).
Here’s one of my favorite Watson quotes from “Albert Watson: Creating Photographs”:
“To photographers who don’t enjoy the technical side, I often say that they have an advantage, because all of your concentration goes into the imagery.” – Albert Watson
While some of his advice is common sense for pro photographers (always come prepared), Watson provides tips and insights about his approach to photographing people, fashion, studio shots and landscapes that you won’t find elsewhere. At $19.99, you can’t afford not to buy this book.
You can read about tips and techniques photographers can take from “Albert Watson: Creating Photographs,” in this story on our sister site, Digital Photo.
Developing your eye for how natural light can shape your composition comes with time. Contemporary landscape photographer Kyle McDougall has put together five excellent nuggets of knowledge to take with you the next time you’re out shooting.
McDougall’s first tip relates to the importance — or not — of golden hour. While you might assume that this is the best time to head out, it very much depends on what you are photographing, as I’ve found out through my own experiences of shooting landscape photographs deep in a forest. With such dense trees and lack of changes in elevation, sunlight tends not to reach parts of the forest floor until long after the sun has risen, and consequently, getting up early can sometimes feel like a waste of time. Similarly, under the canopy, the evening’s golden hour can arrive long before the sun nears the horizon and some of the best moments happen a lot earlier than you might otherwise expect. All of this changes if you can gain some height by finding some higher ground, which can sometimes allow you to extend golden hour and suck a few extra rays of sunshine out of the day.
Which other tips would you add to McDougall’s suggestions? Let us know in the comments below.
Photographer Garry Pycroft combines the past and present into a single hyperlong exposure image that spans 100 years. He shows you how in this guide
Your guide: Garry Pycroft
Garry Pycroft is a self-taught photographer, courtesy of YouTube. Fortunate enough to live in the French Alps, he is therefore spoilt for choice when it comes to photographic locations. He has been spent the past five years building up his photography portfolio. To see more of his work, see alpinephotographers.com and hyperlongexposure.com.
Living in the French Alps I have an abundance of stunning scenery on my doorstep; however, this isn’t what I’m passionate about. Photography for me is being able to tell a story. It wasn’t until I received a photograph from a friend showing the past and present of a street scene in San Francisco that something ignited inside me. This approach to capturing the essence of time totally resonated with me. I saw so many stories and the opportunity to include people and how they go about their daily lives, and how this has changed over time.
I chose to refer to this technique as ‘Hyperlong exposure’ photography. Traditionally long-exposure photography is where we maintain the shutter open for several seconds or minutes; here however, the end result is the culmination of the original photographers’ initial photos and my photo taken typically 100 years apart, so I would consider that ‘hyperlong’!
Rue Vaugelas, Annecy, France
For this technique you will need a sophisticated photo-editing software such as Photoshop as you will be using and manipulating layers. It goes without saying that a good understanding of how layers work is required. Everything of course starts with the original image, and this is maybe the most important step in the entire process. Without a good foundation to work from, the chances of achieving a great end result are going to be challenging.
I look for images that show the people and life as it was at the time. Avoid images that purely show the landscape; it’s highly unlikely this will lead to the story you want to create in your final image. To find your source image my first approach is the town’s archive department. You will often find these online, and if not, a visit to your local museum may be required. The benefit here, compared post card retailers, for example, is the quality of the image.
Place Darcy, Dijon, France
Another aspect that is very important is noting the photographer or editor of the original image. Recognising copyright obligations is something I strongly adhere to and all images I use I go through the process to determine the rights. I would suggest having several images available of your chosen location, as you will find matters have changed at the original location, such as trees being planted in the middle of the scene and of course new construction. These are common issues I face when sourcing images.
Place de l’hotel de Ville, Thonon, France
When it comes to visiting your chosen location to capture the present day, check for street names or any info supplied with the past photographs. I then suggest spending some time on Google Maps with Street View rather than spending hours walking around searching for the location on arrival.
It’s worth pointing out now that on many occasions I’ve found the streets have been renamed, which is why research before the shoot is imperative. Another thing to bear in mind when preparing for your shoot is what time of day and light conditions were the images shot in? It will look unusual to have a composite image that has a random combination of light conditions. I’ve often found that daylight is the norm.
When you’re on location and you’ve established that the buildings still exist, no trees are blocking the view and the sun is not blinding you, look carefully at your original image. If you have hills in the background, where do they intersect the buildings? Look at how buildings intersect with each other, where does one rooftop cross an adjacent building? I recommend capturing six images from the true location, moving a couple of yards each time in different directions to cover a range of angles. Sometimes the smallest shift can help bring everything together perfectly.
Unless you have a tilt-and-shift lens your images will have keystoning where the buildings appear to be falling inwards; you can compensate for this in post processing, but I try to include a 10% border as this will leave blank areas in the photograph.
Another aspect I love about these images is that I don’t need to be concerned if there are people or cars present when I’m shooting, because in all likelihood the base of your composite image is going to be replaced by the people from the original photograph. So, if it’s a busy location, no problem. Just dodge any double decker buses!
Rue Sainte Claire, Annecy, France
How to create a hyperlong exposure
1. Reduce saturation
Starting with the old image in Lightroom, I slightly desaturate it. It’s likely the detail is less than perfect, but it’s all part of the contrast in the two images. Increase the clarity to try to highlight some detail while reducing texture to remove noise and also any small blemishes that may be present.
2. Compare scenes
If any major flaws need removing, I open the image in Photoshop and use the Spot Healing Brush tool. I then return to the library panel in Lightroom and use the compare mode to study my images to determine which one best appears to align to the old image. Apply any lens corrections required now.
3. Brighten up
In Lightroom’s Basic panel I tweak a few of the parameters to brighten up my ‘current day’ scene. I like to add extra vibrance to highlight the contrast between the monochrome age and the vibrant colourful scenes we see today. Export to Photoshop for the finishing touches.
4. Enable Guides
Starting with the new image, I enable guides to help me to align the distinguishing features in the images, such as the walls, rooftop, base of the door, or a chimney etc. Copy and paste (or drag) the old image onto the new image – this will appear as a separate layer in your Layers panel.
5. Align images
Using the guides, position the old image. It may also require scaling and minor distortion editing to align buildings past and present. To fine-tune the process, it helps to reduce the old image layer opacity to 50%. Pay close attention to people within the image, so they don’t become overly distorted.
6. Use Layer Masks
With the old image at the top of the layer stack paint with a black brush to reveal the new image layer beneath. Reduce brush opacity to soften the edges for a gradual transition between the two. Now you can apply the finishing touches such as adjusting the colours or retouching for blemish removal.
Arabella in the studio with Alicia K thrown out of focus ten or fifteen feet behind. 85mm Samyang at f/1.4.
This article is entirely the result of a casual remark by IrishKate – thank you for your inspiration, Kate, and I hope this will be useful to you, and to others!
The question Kate posed was simple – how to get nice, out-of-focus backgrounds. She said: ‘I’d love a lens which helps with lovely Bokeh but they always seem to be expensive.’
And in 2019 I wrote an article about the Bokeh monsters – the lenses like the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 and the Sony 135mm f/1.8 that give wonderful softness in the background, and also command wonderful prices, well into four figures – entirely in line with Kate’s expectations. There are cheaper ways to do it, though, and this article will deal with the absolutely accessible – lenses that you already own, or which you can own for around £50, or less.
A Step Backwards
Just a snapshot. There are no special requirements for depth of field, and the aperture isn’t in any way critical (it was actually f/8).
Let’s rewind to your first few pictures when you were just glad to get everything reasonably sharp. It took one artistic development from there to the idea that if you can leave the background out of focus, the viewer will concentrate on the subject more. This is about the next development. You can make the out-of-focus area a feature of at least some of your images, and take control of how the out-of-focus area looks.
Do you want to lose the background as much as possible, or do you want to keep a suggestion of what is there? While it’s very difficult to get rid of every detail merely by defocusing the background, combining this with different levels of lighting can be thoroughly effective.
Depending on the level of blur you require, a really wide aperture may not be necessary – just wide enough to lose distracting detail that competes with the subject. The constant factor is that a wider aperture blurs more, and cheaper kit zooms usually have an aperture around f/5.6 at the long end. This is three stops slower than the f/2 that used to be the baseline for an SLR standard lens.
Anyone with a mirrorless camera, whatever the format, has a big advantage. The absence of a mirror box means that the lens mount is closer to the sensor than on any DSLR – so literally any lens made for a 35mm camera over nearly a century can be fitted with a cheap adaptor, and will achieve infinity focus.
55mm f/1.8 Takumar lens at full aperture, giving beautifully soft background detail
So, for instance, if your grandma’s Pentax Spotmatic is around the house with a 50mm or 55mm f/1.8 (or possibly even f/1.4) standard lens on it, an adaptor to allow you to use that on your MFT camera will cost something like £11. Part of the appeal of a lens like this is that you already own it, or can borrow it, and even if the Bokeh is nothing special, the differential focus it can deliver will blow you away if your previous efforts have involved a kit zoom. f/2 leaves f/5.6 standing for separation of subject and background.
Mirrorless cameras make manual focus at any aperture easy, as well as focussing in any part of the image. But if you have a conventional DSLR, don’t lose heart! It may require patience, a tripod, and live view, but it’s still possible to get delightful results, albeit with a strictly limited range of lenses, or at closer focusing distances only.
If you use an APS-C format camera, to my mind the obvious first extra lens to buy is a 50mm f/1.8 for portraits. (It’s not a bad lens to have with full-frame, either, and amazingly versatile, despite being very unfashionable.) If you’ve got this, it almost certainly represents the very best possible value in lenses, combining excellent quality with a low price. Canon and Nikon users have the extra advantage of Yongnuo lenses, which are less than half the price of the manufacturer’s own equivalents. They are less robust, and may well be less sharp, but they are of amazing value.
50mm f/1.8 Sony shows very similar Bokeh to the Takumar.
And if even this lens is outside your camera bag and budget, there’s always the kit zoom. Use this really well, and you won’t have any problem getting sharp subjects and dreamy backgrounds.
(For those who enjoy irony, it’s worth saying there’s an exception to the general rule with my own chosen camera, the Sony Alpha 7R. Sony’s cheapest standard lens, the 50mm f/1.8, both costs more and is, relatively, less good than other manufacturer’s offerings. My advice to fellow Alpha users is either to go off-brand, as I have, and buy a Samyang 45mm f/1.8 or 50mm f/1.4, or stump up for one of the more expensive Zeiss, Sigma or Sony offerings. But for the purpose of this article, I’ve dusted off my 50/1.8 and made the very best of it, because it’s still not at all bad…)
It’s the lens that everybody owns unless they have tried very hard to avoid it! And while it won’t allow quite as much differential focus as the wider aperture of a fixed focal length lens, but it’s far from impossible…
Olympus 14-42 lens at 42mm and f/5.6 blurs detail in the background, but can’t suppress the chimneys.
You just need to go for your longest zoom setting and your widest aperture. Here are a couple of examples, shot with an Olympus OM-D EM-10 Mark III – a micro four-thirds sensor makes differential focus really hard work, as it’s physically smaller than APS-C, and a quarter of the area of full-frame. My shots were taken with the 14-42mm kit power zoom, at 42mm and the widest aperture available, f/5.6.
To get the maximum differential focus, you need to do three things:
Shoot at the widest aperture the lens allows
Get as close as you can to close into your main subject
Use a background that is as far as possible behind the subject
Each of these requirements brings at least one problem with it, and you will need to put some effort into holding everything together.
Olympus 14-42 lens at 42mm and f/5.6 shows far sharper background details than the various standard lenses for full-frame.
Wide aperture: first, the depth of field will be tiny. Therefore, your focussing needs to be spot on, millimetre perfect. Many cameras have a limited number of focus points, and you will need to select single point focus, then position that single point over the part of the subject that you want critically sharp. And – easily missed – you then need to release the shutter before either you or your subject move: that takes a real effort: if you are taking a portrait and focussing on the nearer eye of your model, a second’s pause will allow one or both of you to sway slightly (human beings remain standing by constantly swaying) and the focus is lost.
Also, with most lenses, the poorest performance, lowest sharpness and worst vignetting will be at full aperture. Let’s be clear about this – this probably doesn’t matter compared with the impact that your composition and differential focus will have, but it does mean that putting your main subject right in the corner may mean that it’s rather softer and darker than you might expect. Try it, and see – only you can judge what works for you! If you are shooting with really expensive glass – the latest Canon L series, the Sony G-Master range, Sigma Art lenses, and similarly recent stuff from other companies – sharpness and lack of vignetting are more or less guaranteed. But this article isn’t about using those lenses…
Sony’s cheapest kit zoom for full-frame gives reasonably defocused backgrounds at f/5.6 near to 70mm – Lottie21 standing behind Elle J.
Get in close: again, the closer you get, the shallower the depth of field is. Everything is pushing you towards precision in focus, and the best way to achieve that. Of course, if you have a static subject, you can use a tripod, and take as much time as you need to, trying, checking and refining the focus manually, possibly with the aid of a focus rack.
You may find that getting close makes it hard to include all of the subjects: and maybe you shouldn’t worry about including the whole of the subject: instead, aim for an elegant and artistic crop. Be creative!
The third element is often not within your control, or at least depends on how you compose your picture – with a fixed subject, rather than one that you can move around, you need to think in terms of which angle gives you the best background in terms of closeness, colour, brightness and detail – sometimes this will be at odds with the other things that you want for your image.
Good And Bad Bokeh
If you look carefully at a lot of pictures with an out-of-focus background, you will notice that some look better than others. There are a number of factors, and one of them is that there are some lenses that, frankly, have bad Bokeh. There’s an awkwardness about objects that aren’t sharp…
Helios 58mm f/2 at full aperture – can you tell the difference between the Takumar and Sony images? Once plentiful on the front of Zenith cameras in charity shops, these seem to fetch £40 on eBay these days.
Contrariwise, there are some lenses that gave an exaggerated reputation for good Bokeh, including the Russian Helios-22 58mm that came fitted to Zenith cameras over the years. It’s OK, but I reckon its reputation rests, very largely, on the contrast between the differential focus it gives at f/2 and what a kit zoom does at 55mm and f/5.6… I’ve tried repeatedly to see something really special about the Bokeh, but I’ve failed. Compare the result above with those from a Seventies Pentax lens and a contemporary Sony earlier in the piece.
The ideal, I think, is a lens that gives a smooth transition between light and dark, and renders objects in a way that looks geometrically correct. Many lenses render circles as ellipses or distort highlights in other ways – though some of these are attractive. In fact, some specific designs from the Fifties have become so popular that they are back in production, notably the Meyer Trioplan and Primoplan designs. Ironically, for lenses that were intended as cheap and cheerful alternatives to the more expensive Zeiss optics for East German cameras, the prices are truly stratospheric.
Meritar lenses are not great, optically – but even the old, cheap and fairly nasty can give good results – don’t worry about the sharpness, just look at the differential focus
However, it’s probably going to be more important to you that a lens makes the background really blurred than that it does so in a way that makes connoisseurs weak at the knees. A cheap, wide-aperture lens does the job. The picture of leaves against the sky was shot with an f/2.8 Ludwig Meritar, the cheapest standard lens ever sold with Exakta cameras. It’s not as sharp as the other lenses I played with for this article, but it’s not too bad, even at maximum aperture.
You will, from time to time, get unfortunate interactions between the background and your camera and lens combination. Remember how tests used to obsess with Moiré patterns, where the detail of a check-pattern cloth interacted with individual pixels on the sensor? Something similar can happen if the background doesn’t jive with the way your lens delivers Bokeh at your chosen aperture.
In the previous article on lenses that produce interesting and extreme Bokeh, I referred to the look that mirror lenses give – every highlight is doughnut-shaped. The effect can be fascinating, but some Bokeh disciples view it as being terribly bad: the lesson is that it depends if you like the effect and whether people viewing your pictures do. Perhaps the lesson that you can draw from this is that you need to look carefully at how things work for you in any given situation. Sometimes, a ‘wiry’ look to an image is delightful, although purists would call it bad Bokeh. But where you have a tangle of twigs behind a subject, possibly with high contrast in sunshine, it can lead to strong patterns in the background which simply drags the eye away from the main subject. The same is true of the ‘bubble Bokeh’ that Meyer Trioplan and Primoplan lenses give.
Trioplan ‘Bubble Bokeh’ illustrated by Joceline Brooke-Hamilton and some LED fairy lights in the background.
You Don’t Have To Use It All Of The Time!
It’s easy to fall into the trap of always shooting at maximum aperture. After all, dammit, you paid for every millimetre of that aperture, so you should use it!
But no. There are some pictures that will look amazing at maximum aperture and become more mediocre with every third of a stop you close the lens down. But there are also occasions when you need more depth of field – for instance when you need the background to be recognisable in order to set the context for your picture. And there are just a few occasions when you want absolute front-to-back sharpness!
Imagine that you’ve bought a Ferrari. It’s a car that is built, above all, to be driven extremely fast: it’s designed around the idea of maximum acceleration and cornering power, with brakes that will bring it back from 200 m.p.h. to rest with safety and assurance. Will you drive it flat out all the time? Probably not: it will work better if you don’t push it to the extremes in most situations. And it’s the same with your wide-aperture lens. Pulling back very slightly from the absolute maximum can improve technical quality a lot, and give just a little more leeway with focus.
Amethyst in her natural environment – 85mm Sony lens at f/5.6. You don’t have to work at extreme apertures all the time!
Creative choice matters: and once you understand the ways in which you can maximise background blur, you can use it when you need it – and go for more overall sharpness when that’s the right creative option for your picture. In the meantime, there’s no substitute for practice, so go and try it now! Remember: wide aperture, get close to the main subject, and have the background a relatively long way away. As the meerkat said, simples.
Arabella and Alicia K again, with the same 85mm lens stopped down to f/5.6.
If you look at the work of a lot of successful landscape photographers, you will probably notice that the majority of them are very good at controlling the layers of an image to create a sense of depth that draws the viewer in and encourages them to linger and explore the photo. Being able to effectively separate those layers to avoid the image becoming cluttered is a crucial skill, and this excellent video tutorial discusses how to compose your photos to do just that.
Coming to you from Andrew Marr, this great video tutorial discusses how to separate the elements in a landscape photo for greater clarity and more compelling compositions. A lot of landscape frames are rather complex, with numerous visually interesting elements, leaving the challenge to the photographer to choose a composition that places them in harmony instead of forcing them to compete for the viewer’s attention, making the resulting image feel cluttered and without direction. It is a very worthwhile skill to master. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Marr.
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