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New Cameras and Lenses Are Ruining the Charm of Out-of-Focus Photographs

New Cameras and Lenses Are Ruining the Charm of Out-of-Focus Photographs

It seems like all photographers can talk about these days is how sharp this lens is versus that lens. I miss the days when blurry photographs were charming.  

Do you remember those days? If you are about my age, all anyone would let you use for photography was a disposable camera that you would take to the local drug store and in one hour, have processed and printed in duplicate for only $5 with the coupon you got off the seal from the prints envelope you got from your last roll. In those days, blurry, out-of-focus photographs were par for the course. Assuming they were not so blurry that you would ask yourself “what even was this supposed to be,” there could actually be an endearing quality to ever-so-slightly blurry images. Right? Perhaps it’s just me; however, I don’t think it is. 

New Cameras and Lenses Are Ruining the Charm of Out-of-Focus Photographs 1

People that shoot film today (like myself) should know what I’m talking about. There is a “magic” to film, right? What exactly do people think that “magic” is? I bet just about anyone who shoots film would choose one of a small number of attributes. “Every shot is so much more important when you are stuck with only 36 exposures per roll” and “there is a much more tactile feel to shooting film” are the two most common responses that I hear. For me, however, the charm of film comes from the photos that are perfectly imperfect. By that, I mean that there are photos that slightly miss the mark of being sharp or are framed the way you wanted, and it is from these shortcomings that you end up with something more reflective of the real world.  

New Cameras and Lenses Are Ruining the Charm of Out-of-Focus Photographs 2

New Cameras and Lenses Are Ruining the Charm of Out-of-Focus Photographs 3

All Joking Aside

I do love a nice and crisp photograph. Who doesn’t? Even for most photographers shooting film, we often gravitate to 120 or even 4×5 for the added resolution. I would even go so far as to argue that for an 8×10 print, 645 negatives with Portra 400 can achieve an indistinguishable level of sharpness compared with digital work. That said, even with medium or large format, not every shot is perfectly in focus, and given the inability to see the image immediately after you take it, there is a non-zero chance of your image being just ever so slightly out of focus. I would argue that those are often still some of my favorite images. 

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I am currently test driving the sample Sony a7 IV (review coming soon) as well as a sample Sony 70-200 f/2.8 Mark II, which achieve absolutely stunning levels of sharpness even shot wide open. In nearly every test I’ve performed, I’ve tried to push the limits of these two pieces of gear, and yet, the images are still superbly sharp. And it isn’t just the insane amounts of detail rendered by this combo. The focusing is insanely fast and nearly 100% accurate, which means that gone are the days of delightfully out-of-focus photographs. Such is life. I suppose there are always manual focus lenses for that!

What are your thoughts? Does near 100% accuracy in focusing start to make things feel a little boring? Are you too a fan of the occasional out-of-focus photograph?

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13 iconic photographs of Egypt ~ Photography News

13 iconic photographs of Egypt ~ Photography News

July 23, 2018 /Photography News/ Egypt commemorates today – July 23, 2016 – the 66th anniversary of the 1952 Revolution which inspired other neighboring Arab and African countries to undertake social and economic reforms.

These photographs tell stories of Egyptian people who lead a simple life (long) before the 1952 Revolution. How did Egypt change over time?

Egypt, Gizeh. Sphinx and Pyramid. Brooklyn Museum Archives
Egypt, Gizeh. Sphinx and Pyramid. Brooklyn Museum Archives

Sacca (service d'eau a domicile). Photographer: G. Lekegian & Cie. 1860s-1920s. The New York Public Library. Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.
Sacca (service d’eau a domicile). Photographer: G. Lekegian & Cie. 1860s-1920s. The New York Public Library. Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.
Egypt. 1860s-1920s. The New York Public Library. Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.
Egypt. 1860s-1920s. The New York Public Library. Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.
Egypt - Mosque of ali Mehemet, Cairo. Brooklyn Museum Archives.
Egypt – Mosque of ali Mehemet, Cairo. Brooklyn Museum Archives.
Egypt. 1860s-1920s. The New York Public Library. Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.
Egypt. 1860s-1920s. The New York Public Library. Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.
Arab porters, Alexandria, Egypt. Brooklyn Museum Archives.
Arab porters, Alexandria, Egypt. Brooklyn Museum Archives.
Cairo - The pyramids. 1860s-1920s. The New York Public Library. Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.
Cairo – The pyramids. 1860s-1920s. The New York Public Library. Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.
Fellah women, Egypt. 1860s-1920s. Notes: Typed on reverse and crossed out in pencil : The fellah women are geniuses in producing rising generations and foolish geese in rearing the brood.  The New York Public Library. Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.
Fellah women, Egypt. 1860s-1920s. Notes: Typed on reverse and crossed out in pencil : The fellah women are geniuses in producing rising generations and foolish geese in rearing the brood.  The New York Public Library. Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.
Egypt - Market at Kasr-en-Nil. Brooklyn Museum Archives.
Egypt – Market at Kasr-en-Nil. Brooklyn Museum Archives.
Egypt - Beggars, Alexandria. Brooklyn Museum Archives.
Egypt – Beggars, Alexandria. Brooklyn Museum Archives.
Egyptian Girls, Old Cairo. Slide colored by Joseph Hawkes. Brooklyn Museum Archives.
Egyptian Girls, Old Cairo. Slide colored by Joseph Hawkes. Brooklyn Museum Archives.
Inundation du Nil et palmiers. Photographer: Zangaki. 1860s-1920s. The New York Public Library. Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.
Inundation du Nil et palmiers. Photographer: Zangaki. 1860s-1920s. The New York Public Library. Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.
Charmeur des serpents. Photographer: Zangaki. 1860s-1920s. The New York Public Library. Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.
Charmeur des serpents. Photographer: Zangaki. 1860s-1920s. The New York Public Library. Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.

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National Geographic Showcases “50 Greatest Wildlife Photographs”

Photo of a crocodile tail by Nick Nichols

A new exhibition called “National Geographic: 50 Greatest Wildlife Photographs” is making its way around the country and by the looks of some of the photos from the show (which we’ve included in this story), it should live up to its billing. The exhibition is curated by National Geographic Deputy Photo Editor Kathy Moran and features the best of the best wildlife images from that legendary publication.

The show includes the work of some of National Geographic’s most iconic photographers such as Michael “Nick” Nichols, Steve Winter, Paul Nicklen, Beverly Joubert, David Doubilet and more. The image at the top of this story showing a crocodile tail at the Zakouma National Park in Chad was captured by Nichols.

Photo of a whale by Thomas Peschak
A tourist on a boat in Laguna San Ignacio reaches into the water in the hope of petting one of many gray whales that frequent the bay to mate and care for their young. Photo by Thomas P. Peschak, courtesy of “National Geographic: 50 Greatest Wildlife Photographs.”

Along with spotlighting these incredible wildlife images, “National Geographic: 50 Greatest Wildlife Photographs” is meant to showcase the evolution of nature photography itself including “how innovations such as camera traps, remote imaging, and underwater technology have granted photographers access to wildlife in their natural habitat,” according to ArtfixDaily.

The traveling exhibition is currently on view at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Wyoming until April 24, 2022.

Photo of a Polar Bear by Paul Nicklen
A Kermode bear eats a fish in a moss-draped rain forest. Photo by Paul Nicklen, courtesy of “National Geographic: 50 Greatest Wildlife Photographs.”

“A distinctive element of the exhibition is that each photograph on display was taken in a natural environment,” the museum said in a statement. “None of the images were taken in permanent captivity or through the use of baiting techniques. After viewing these spectacular photographs, visitors will be compelled to take action to protect these animals and join National Geographic in its endeavor to achieve a planet in balance.”

Photo of an orangutan by Tim Laman
Tempted by the fruit of a strangler fig, a Bornean orangutan climbs 100 feet into the canopy. Photo by Tim Laman, courtesy of “National Geographic: 50 Greatest Wildlife Photographs.”

“For 115 years, National Geographic has pioneered and championed the art of wildlife photography, and captivated generations of engaged audiences with a steady stream of extraordinary images of animals in nature,” National Geographic said.

“From the very first such image to appear – a reindeer in 1903 – National Geographic Society’s publications have broken new ground and push the bar higher again and again, establishing an unmatched legacy of artistic, scientific, and technical achievement.”

You can find out more about the show on National Geographic’s website.

Via Great Reads in Photography

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The Incredible Photographs of Jupiter From a Two-Megapixel Camera Flying Through Space

The Incredible Photographs of Jupiter From a Two-Megapixel Camera Flying Through Space

After five years, NASA’s space probe Juno arrived at Jupiter in 2016, carrying with it Junocam, a two-megapixel camera featuring a Kodak image sensor. This camera continues to reveal more mysteries about the red planet.

This short video gives an overview of the information that JunoCam has helped to uncover since the probe entered Jupiter’s orbit. Each of Juno’s perijoves — i.e., flybys — has unveiled more about the planet, and NASA and the Southwest Research Institute have made a lot of this data available through the mission’s dedicated website. You can download raw files and submit your own processed versions — interpreting colors, stitching various images — back to NASA for inclusion on the website.

NASA is due to hold a media briefing on October 28 to present the latest information gleaned from Juno, revealing the first three-dimensional look beyond the planet’s top layer of clouds at how Jupiter’s violent atmosphere functions. The probe continues to examine Jupiter’s interior structure, its internal magnetic field, and its unique atmosphere.

Personally, I had no idea that Jupiter’s moon Io cast such a huge shadow across the planet. What did you learn from this video? Let us know in the comments below.

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How Do Pro Photographers Light Their Photographs?

How Do Pro Photographers Light Their Photographs?

How Do Pro Photographers Light Their Photographs? 5

How does renowned portrait photographer Albert Watson light his photos? With a foolproof three-light setup that makes his photos look amazing, of course! Except… he doesn’t. In fact, setups are very far from what professional photographers do when they light their work. Here is what mindset photographers have when they light.

We all start in the same place: a YouTube video showing some amazing setups with just 1 light. When we watch a video showing a 4-light setup, we’re already feeling pro. And yes, for some photographers being able to do a four-light setup — a nice rim, fill, hair, and key light — is enough. These setups give a simple formula to use when lighting a scene.

Many photographers can create these light setups, but very few are professionals. So, how do pros light their photos? What setups do they use? How do they decide?

Setups Are a Myth

The first thing I want to emphasize is that setups don’t exist on a professional set. Never has anyone asked me to do a three-light setup, nor has anyone asked me to create great results with only one light.

Being able to do a classic portrait setup and have top clients is a thing of the past. Back in the 80s, you could impress someone with a clean white background, but now it’s not about that at all.

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Competition is fierce, and many photographers end up learning as many setups as possible so that they have a vast mental toolbox. This results in companies selling kits for “perfect portrait light” “perfect beauty light” “perfect fashion light”. What this creates is a set mentality that there is one right way to light fashion, a different one for beauty, and the third one for portraits.

The best analogy I can give is if you were told there is only one way to eat bread: plain with butter. You can’t make toast, add jam, or even make a sandwich.

I think it’s pretty clear that thinking in terms of setups is limiting. It’s not wrong, but it puts a label on something that is undefinable: perfect light.

So How Do Professionals Light Their Photos?

Before I go into how to learn the art of lighting, let me take you through a sort of step-by-step process that I’ve applied to light so far.

1. Black Frame

It all starts with a single frame. If I’m in the studio, I take a black frame to make sure there is no ambient light. On-location, I take a perfectly exposed frame. Although now I have an intuition about exposure, I still do it as a good habit. If anything, it lets me know I tethered in properly and that everything is working.

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2. Ambient Control

With the test frame complete, I introduce light. If studio ambient light is desirable, I may increase ISO or perhaps lower the shutter speed. Generally, I don’t touch aperture too much as I like to have a wide plane of focus around f/11. On-location, I will play with the settings to get a good amount of ambient light.

3. Introducing Artificial Light

Again, this all starts with a single light. If you want to be a purist, you can start with a light directly in front of the subject. Setting the power, and then seeing what that light makes is the next step. Some questions to ask yourself at this moment are:

  1. Is the light too hard?
  2. Is the falloff too dramatic?
  3. Is the light coming from the right direction?
  4. What do I want to show/say with this picture?
  5. What aesthetic do I want?
  6. Anything else?

Answers to these questions will form a base for what you want to do next. This may include adding a modifier, moving the light further, or perhaps even adding additional lights.

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A good way to think about this step is to take on the mindset of a painter. Each light is a brush that adds dimension to the image. You should be careful about what you add and don’t to each picture.

Remember that with every light comes a great deal of responsibility to control it — don’t forget about things like flags, scrims, or butterflies. Those will help you sculpt the end result and come up with a unique image that is yours. Truly yours.

The end of this process should yield a light that looks good to you. Determining what looks good and what doesn’t comes from being deeply caring and passionate about the subject. While I don’t want to sound like a loosey-goosey artistic type, good light just clicks with the subject like a puzzle that fits perfectly.

Deep care for the subject enables you to understand what light fits correctly. If you photograph 1950s cars, you may want to show the chrome on the bodywork. If photographing popsicles wets your whistle, you will inevitably find a way to show them in a light that is right.

What separates great from the good is that obsession with the subject in front of the lens, no matter what it is.

How To Learn Light?

Knowledge of light comes from experimenting and appreciating what each surface does to light, how it reflects or bounces, diffuses or travels directly, etc. This understanding then enables you to appreciate each modifier.

For example, a 5-foot octabox will have the same light spread as a 2-foot, but the softness will be different. A 1×6 softbox turned sideways will produce a hard vertical but soft horizontal shadow. Diffusion paper on a small source won’t make the light soft.

There are virtually thousands of examples like these that come from understanding what each little tool does to light.

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I’ve written a separate piece on learning light earlier this year. If you want a more detailed explanation, give that article a read!

Closing Thoughts

Professionals light their images in order to achieve an aesthetic rather than execute a bog-standard setup, just like how painters paint in order to convey a mood rather than do a technique exercise. Of course, good technique is important and helpful, but knowing four one-light setups is not a good technique — making your own light setups with 1, 2, 4, 10, and more lights to fit the aesthetic is a good technique.

I promise you, knowing how to light will not only bring progress to your photography but it also enables you to solve some of the most complex problems that arise on set.


About the author: Illya Ovchar is a commercial and editorial fashion photographer based in Budapest. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Ovchar’s work on his website and Instagram.

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Three Considerations That Change the Way We Shoot Photographs

Three Considerations That Change the Way We Shoot Photographs

Besides focus, exposure, and composition, there are three other interlinking elements that we need to consider when taking photos. Sometimes, we overlook one of these, concentrating, maybe too much, on the other two.

The Power of Three

Have you noticed how so many things in photography come in threes: aperture, shutter, and ISO for exposure; weight, stability, and price, the compromises for choosing tripods; aperture, subject proximity, and focal length when we look at depth of field? We often divide our compositions into thirds, three objects in a frame can make an image compelling, and we sometimes display our images as triptychs.

However, there is another trio that we often consider subconsciously but would do well to pay more attention to: the subject, the audience, and the photographer.

They can vary in importance, depending upon the purpose of the photograph. Can being aware of each of these priorities help improve our photography? I believe it can.

The Subject

In any art form, be it music, painting, dance, sculpture, or photography, we are creating representations of reality. We, therefore, have a responsibility to do that with consideration for the subject. If we ignore that, we do so at our peril.

For example, if you photograph a model, then they will expect that your photograph will cohere with their public image. They have a reputation that they may well have spent a lot of time and money building, and they want you to uphold that. A badly composed shot with unflattering lighting, uncomfortable poses, or unattractive facial expressions won’t leave that model, or others they talk with, wanting to collaborate with you again.

Those considerations go further than studio photography. If we are shooting street photography, we must be mindful of what the people in the photo are doing. A photograph is a fleeting moment that doesn’t tell a whole story, it can be misinterpreted. You might capture your subject accidentally dropping litter but miss them picking it up again. Perhaps they may be asking a police officer for directions, but your photo could be misunderstood as them being arrested. A friendly smile between strangers or a hug by friends might be misconstrued as something more intimate.

Newspapers, of course, take advantage and abuse this. Shortly before the last General Election here in the UK, one news media outlet was exposed for doctoring photos of a politician supposedly being disrespectful at an Armistice Remembrance service. The uncropped images told a very different story from what had happened. This mistreatment of the subject is nothing new, and it happens anywhere on the political spectrum. In 2005, a photo of Condoleezza Rice was doctored to make her eyes look evil.

That consideration of the subject doesn’t stop with people. Photographers know that their images can help raise awareness of the subject; delicate landscapes are usually shot to appear beautifully attractive, minuscule creatures are enlarged to show off their amazing features, and bird photography reveals remarkable behaviors. However, we don’t always shoot images to show the subject positively. Photographs of murderers and rapists are rarely flattering. Landscapes ruined by human destruction and the horrors of war are usually shot to emphasize their ugliness.

The Photographer

I always tell my workshop clients that if they like the photograph they have shot, that is all that matters. If someone else likes it, well, then that’s a bonus.

Photography is art. So, putting commercial photography aside, we are fulfilling our personal creative needs. It’s a joyous, frustrating, and never-ending process of improving. But, when we are concentrating on getting the shot, it’s a mindful process where we enter a state of “flow” and exclude all thoughts other than capturing the image. That’s one of the reasons why photography is so good for improving mental health: it distracts us from negative thoughts.

There are images I shoot that I know won’t have a wide appeal, and that doesn’t bother me. I take them purely for my own creative needs. Yet, I am constantly frustrated by my results, knowing I can do better. Perhaps then, I should say that if I like it, it is a bonus.

Good photographic artists develop their style. However, that style will evolve and change over time. Discovering that style is one of the biggest challenges photographers face. We should regularly consider what, who, or how we are photographing, and whether it coheres with the rest of our body of work. If we are going to move away from our usual approach, then we must contemplate how we do that. For example, if you shoot exclusively in color but want to try black and white, then doing that as a standalone project would probably work much better than throwing an occasional monochrome shot into your portfolio. Similarly, if your subjects are always beautifully wrinkled, craggy-faced old folk, then you would need to work out the best way for you to diversify into photographing babies.

The Audience

This is the factor we have the least control over. All creators know that those who look at our work are a mixed bag. It doesn’t matter whether it is composing music, writing articles like this, painting pictures, or shooting photographs, there will be those who like our work and those who don’t. Most problematic are those critics who don’t understand what the work is about because they don’t have the mental capacity. Of course, some cantankerous misanthropes will object to anything you create because it is their sad nature.

Additionally, the meaning that an intelligent viewer attributes to a photograph or any creative work may not be the same as the artist intended, and that’s a good thing.

Like others who earn a living from photography, I shoot images aimed at specific audiences, usually those who commission me. The needs of one client will be quite different from those of another, even when shooting similar subjects. Consequently, I need to adapt my style to fit that client.

Then, there are those images I produce solely to attract clients to my workshops and courses. I take photos to make them say, “I want to learn to shoot images like that.”

But the audience is much wider than my potential clients. I display my photos in different ways and on different platforms so others can enjoy and interact with them. That is what most non-professional photographers do. It’s not about earning money; it’s about sharing art with an audience, hoping they will get satisfaction or enjoyment from that.

I also photograph for myself. I am my audience. However, I know that those I shoot for my gratification are not going to have a wider appeal. If I publish them, then fewer people will appreciate the meaning behind those images. For the same reason that low-brow TV programs get the highest viewing figures, photos that don’t say much more than “this is pretty,” get more interactions than those that need greater thought and analysis.

Who do you shoot for? Are you fulfilling your own creative need, winning over an audience, or trying to help your subject in some way? Have you had critics who missed the point of your photos? It would be interesting to hear about those and the reasons why you pick up your camera.

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Hubble Photographs Odd ‘Dead’ Galaxies from the Early Universe

Hubble Photographs Odd 'Dead' Galaxies from the Early Universe

Hubble Photographs Odd 'Dead' Galaxies from the Early Universe 10

The Hubble Space Telescope in concert with the Atacama Large millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile found what NASA describes as odd: early, massive, “dead” galaxies that have run out of the fuel necessary to continue to make stars.

NASA says that without fuel for star formation, these galaxies ran on empty and have effectively died. What makes these galaxies curious is that at this point in the lifespan of the universe, all galaxies should be forming lots of stars.

“It’s the peak epoch of star formation,” explained the lead author of the study Kate Whitaker, assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Whitaker is also associate faculty at the Cosmic Dawn Center in Copenhagen, Denmark. “So what happened to all the cold gas in these galaxies so early on?”

Hubble and ALMA worked together to allow astronomers to see these six galaxies. Hubble was able to pinpoint where the galaxies exist by showing where they formed in the past. ALMA then showed astronomers where stars could form in the future if enough fuel were present by detecting the cold dust that serves as a proxy for the cold hydrogen gas.

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“These images are composites from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). The boxed and pullout images show two of the six, distant, massive galaxies where scientists found star formation has ceased due to the depletion of a fuel source – cold hydrogen gas. Hubble, together with ALMA, found these odd galaxies when they combined forces with the “natural lens” in space created by foreground massive galaxy clusters,” NASA explains.

In order to capture these images, scientists had to use gravitational lensing, a process that uses the intense gravity of galaxy clusters to warp space and magnify light from background subjects. NASA explains that when an early, massive, and very far away galaxy is positioned behind such a galaxy cluster, it appears greatly stretched and magnified and allows astronomers to study the details in a way that would otherwise be impossible to see.

“The yellow traces the glow of starlight. The artificial purple color traces cold dust from ALMA observations. This cold dust is used as a proxy for the cold hydrogen gas needed for star formation,” NASA continues.

“Even with ALMA’s sensitivity, scientists do not detect dust in most of the six galaxies sampled. One example is MRG-M1341, at upper right. It looks distorted by the ‘funhouse mirror’ optical effects of lensing. In contrast, the purple blob to the left of the galaxy is an example of a dust-and-gas-rich galaxy. One example of the detection of cold dust ALMA did make is galaxy MRG-M2129 at bottom right. The galaxy only has dust and gas in the very center. This suggests that star formation may have shut down from the outskirts inward. Annotated image on the left, unannotated image on the right.”

The astronomers have been able to determine that these sorts of “dead” galaxies don’t seem able to rejuvenate themselves even though they appear to grow larger over time by absorbing the objects around them. So 11 billion years after they formed, these galaxies may grow larger but are still dead in terms of new star formation.

“Did a supermassive black hole in the galaxy’s center turn on and heat up all the gas? If so, the gas could still be there, but now it’s hot. Or it could have been expelled and now it’s being prevented from accreting back onto the galaxy. Or did the galaxy just use it all up, and the supply is cut off? These are some of the open questions that we’ll continue to explore with new observations down the road,” Whitaker says, proposing several possible explanations.


Image credits: Image Processing by Joseph DePasquale (STScI)

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How to Take Better Photographs Outdoors

I recently covered how to take better photographs indoors when dealing with low light conditions. Today, I’ll focus on the opposite situation: outdoor photography, where the light may be over-abundant. This article explains the most common problems you’ll find in outdoor photography and how to fix them.

Before we begin, if you aren’t comfortable with the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, you will want to read through Elizabeth’s article on the exposure triangle before we get started.

outdoorStart
X-T3 + XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS @ 18mm, ISO 200, 8 seconds, f/10.0

Problem: My Outdoor Photos Are Too Bright

When photographing indoors, most of our problems stem from figuring out how to get enough light. We have the opposite problem outdoors, where we must figure out how to control the abundant light that is usually available. If too much light reaches your camera sensor, your images may turn out too bright.

Solution: Lower your ISO (and then adjust shutter speed and aperture)

Most of the time when your images are overexposed outdoors, it’s because you’re in manual mode and using settings meant for indoor photography – a high ISO, wide aperture, and slow shutter speed.

The first one of these settings to fix is ISO. It’s usually possible in daylight to lower your ISO quite a bit, maybe even to the base value of 100 if there’s enough light. There’s certainly no reason to be at high ISOs like 3200 or 6400 and overexposing your photo!

If you lower your ISO to the base value and are still getting overexposed images, take a look at your shutter speed and aperture settings. Indoors, it may be common to use values like f/1.8 for your aperture and 1/50 second for your shutter speed in order to capture enough light. But outdoors on a sunny day, those settings will easily lead to overexposure, even at base ISO. I recommend picking an aperture that gives you the right depth of field (such as f/8 for landscape photography) and then letting shutter speed fall wherever gives you a properly exposed shot.

outdoor2
Shot at f/8 to get enough depth of field, and 1/340 second to avoid overexposure.

Problem: Why do I have weird shadows on my subject?

Sunlight, even when abundant, has its challenges. If a lot of harsh light is pointed at your subject – or, worse, directly down from overhead – you are going to run into all sorts of issues in your photo. Your subjects may be squinting, and the light may be excessively high in contrast. Worst of all, if you aren’t careful about how you position your subject, you can easily end up with odd patterns of dark shadows and bright highlights going across them.

outdoor copy

Solution: Look for open shade

Short of turning into Superman and re-positioning the Earth back in time, it is safe to assume that you are stuck with the sun in whatever position it is at the time of day you are shooting. If you can’t wait around for better light (see below for more on this), you’re going to have to move your subject instead. The best place to start is by looking for areas of open shade.

Open shade is when trees, buildings, or other surfaces create areas of shade that are surrounded by areas of open sky. If you look at the shadows on the ground, these areas are easy to identify. You’re looking for the edge of the shadows – the lines where light and shade meet. Position your subject at the edge of the shade, so that they are standing in the shade but looking out into the open light. This way, the light falling on them will be both soft and bright.

Make sure that the shade over your subject really is full shade, rather than areas of dappled sunlight as it filters through tree branches or other structures. The easiest way to check for this is to look at the shadows on the ground. You want solid areas of shade; patches of shade speckled with random dots of sunlight indicate dappled light that you generally want to avoid (unless you are going for a very specific effect).

In the image below, by looking at the shadow patterns, it is easy to tell the difference between dappled light and the more optimal area of open shade. In this image, the subject is at an ideal spot along the edge of the open shade. The resulting light is both soft and bright. (If you wanted to photograph the subject’s face, don’t change your camera position; just get them to turn around and face toward the light.)

outdoor3

If you happen to be shooting on an overcast day instead, the clouds will soften the sunlight enough to turn the scene into a giant soft box. In those cases, you have a lot more freedom to photograph your subject without worrying about harsh shadows.

Problem: My Shadows Are Too Dark (Or the Sky Is White)

outdoor5
X100F @ 23mm, ISO 400, 1/640, f/16.0

No matter how well you expose your photograph, you will be limited by the amount of dynamic range your camera is able to capture. Dynamic range is the number of stops between the darkest and lightest areas of your image. If the dynamic range of the scene is too great, you’ll have to choose between capturing detail in your shadows and in your highlights. The bright, harsh light of mid-day tends to exacerbate the problem.

Solution: Pay attention to the position of the sun

Since you can’t move the sun, you have two options: wait for the sun to be where you want it, or move the camera. For many purposes, the sun is best for photography early and late in the day, when the angle is low and the light is warm. Mid-day, when the sun is directly overhead, you are often going to have harsh shadows and more dynamic range than your camera sensor can handle. By photographing when the sun is low in the sky, you often end up with softer shadows and more flattering light in general.

Your second option is to move the camera. When photographing mid-day or in suboptimal lighting conditions, moving the camera’s position even a small amount can make a big difference. Rather than getting the sun in your photo and blowing out the sky, you can change positions so the sun is partly obstructed – or point in a different direction so that it’s behind you.

The images below were taken less than 20 minutes apart. In one, the sun is behind the Capitol dome. In the second image, I walked around to the other side of the building where the sun, instead of being hidden behind the dome, was directly shining on it. Changing my position changed the direction of light on the subject and created two very different images.

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Capitol building with the dome blocking the sun
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Capitol dome from the opposite side, with the evening sun lighting the building.

Problem: I Can’t Get a Blurry Background

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X100F @ 23mm, ISO 2000, 1/640, f/4.0

We’ve all seen photos with the lovely blurred background created by a nice shallow depth of field. But if your camera settings aren’t correct, it can be difficult to achieve this effect.

Solution: Use a wider aperture and a longer lens, and move your subject away from the background

To take these sorts of “shallow focus” photos, you need enough depth of field for your subject to be sharp, but your background must fall outside of the focus area. There are a few ways to achieve this.

First, the most obvious answer is to use the widest aperture on your lens. If you’re shooting in an automatic or semi-automatic mode on your camera, you might accidentally be at narrower apertures like f/8 or f/11 without even realizing it. Instead, switch to aperture priority or manual mode and set the widest available aperture, such as f/1.8 if you’re using a 50mm f/1.8 lens.

If your lens doesn’t have a very wide aperture, zoom it all the way in to its longest telephoto setting and start there. If you’ve ever taken pictures with a long telephoto lens, you’ve probably noticed that your depth of field begins to fall off quickly, even at more moderate apertures.

Also, move your subject away from the background. Background blur relies on the background being outside of the focus area in your image, so moving your subject away from the background makes a big difference in achieving blur.

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Taken at f/2.8 and 54mm in order to achieve an out-of-focus background.

Because a wide aperture allows more light into the camera, we’re back to the problem I discussed a moment ago about having too much light. All you need to do is lower your ISO value, and if it’s already at base ISO, use a faster shutter speed.

Problem: I Want to Use Longer Shutter Speeds But Can’t

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GFX 50R + GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR @ 32mm, 8.5 seconds, f/8.0

There are many subjects like water and clouds that can look interesting with a long exposure. But when there’s such an abundance of light during the day, you simply can’t use shutter speeds of multiple seconds without overexposing the photo, no matter what ISO or aperture you use.

Solution: Use a neutral density filter

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GFX100S + GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR @ 64mm, ISO 200, 60 seconds, f/8.0

If a low ISO value and a narrow aperture aren’t enough to get the shutter speed you want, the solution is to use a neutral density filter.

A Neutral Density (ND) filter reduces the amount of light entering the camera – like sunglasses for your lens. ND filters come in different densities so that you can control their light blocking ability. A 3-stop ND filter, for example, would let you use a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second when your scene would otherwise require 1/250th.

My personal favorite (and most used) ND filter is a 10 stop, which can take your shutter speed from 1/1000 on a sunny day all the way down to 1 second, perfect for smoothing out water. And at sunset when the light is lower, it can easily give me exposures of a minute or more, perfect for a cloud-streaked sky. Make sure you are using a tripod on a nice solid surface when photographing long exposures, as even a small amount of camera movement will make for blurry images.

The other use of an ND filter for photography is when you want a wider aperture than the light would otherwise allow. It’s a bit of a special case, but in extremely bright situations like the beach on a sunny day, your camera may max out its shutter speed (usually 1/4000 or 1/8000 second) and make it impossible to use wide apertures without overexposing. The solution is a mild ND filter like a 3-stop to cut down the light a bit.

Problem: My Moving Subjects Are Blurry

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X-T3 + XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR + 2x @ 248.6mm, ISO 200, 1/1800, f/5.6

Photographing moving subjects outdoors seems like it should be simple. After all, you generally have enough light for fast shutter speeds. But anyone who has photographed fact moving action, pets, or children knows that getting sharp images is trickier than it first appears. In particular, focusing on the subject can be a big challenge.

Solution: Watch your meter and use continuous autofocus

Although there is usually a lot of light when you’re photographing outdoors, action photography tends to require very fast shutter speeds of 1/500 to 1/1000 second if you want to avoid motion blur. This may be fine if your subject is in bright sunlight, but even on a cloudy day, it may not be enough.

So, make sure to watch the camera’s meter to see if it’s suggesting too slow of a shutter speed. If so, don’t be afraid to bump up your ISO even in daylight. For the image below, I boosted my ISO to 2500 even though this is an outdoor photo during the daytime, so that I could keep my shutter speed to 1/640 second. Considering how fast my subject was moving, this was the only way to get a sharp image.

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X-T3 + XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR @ 119.2mm, ISO 2500, 1/640, f/2.8

Other times, the culprit behind blurry photos is your focus mode rather than your shutter speed. When photographing action, you should make sure that your camera is set to continuous autofocus. Continuous autofocus (also called Al Servo on Canon cameras, and Continuous Servo or AF-C on Nikon) tells the camera to keep focusing on the subject constantly rather than just once.

If you mistakenly set your camera to single-shot focus, it will focus on the subject once and stay there permanently, even if your subject starts to move. While there’s nothing wrong with single-shot focus for stationary subjects, it will lead to out-of-focus images when you’re trying to capture moving subjects.

Conclusion

Photographing outdoors is all about learning how to control the existing, and often abundant, natural light. While this does generally make things easier than low-light photography indoors, it still comes with its own list of challenges. I hope this article gave you a good idea of how to troubleshoot some of those common problems.

Feel free to share in the comments if you have any questions about outdoor photography, things that you find challenging, or your favorite outdoor subjects!

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How to Take Better Photographs Indoors

Many new photographers find that while shutter speed, aperture, and ISO make sense in theory, it is hard to know where to start in practice. Even if you understand basic camera settings, getting high quality photographs – especially indoors – is not always an easy task.

In other words, maybe you have a basic understanding of the exposure triangle… but now what? How do you actually take a good photograph in low light or bad lighting conditions, like those often found indoors?

That’s what I’m going to cover today. However, instead of a list of tips, I’m going to go through some common problems in indoor photography, followed by the best solutions to those problems.

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X100F @ 23mm, ISO 3200, 1/25, f/4.5

Problem: My Indoor Photos Are Blurry

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The Shutter Speed of 1/20th is much too slow to photograph this active puppy   (X-T3 + XF16mmF1.4 R WR @ 16mm, ISO 1600, 1/20, f/2.0)

Blurry images, especially when photographing moving subjects (think pets and children), are common when taking pictures indoors. The reason? You simply don’t have very much light to work with! Indoor lighting is usually not nearly as bright as outdoor sunlight. Although you can use a longer shutter speed to capture back some of this light, longer shutter speeds inevitably capture more motion blur. You can see that in the image above, where I used a shutter speed of 1/20 second to capture enough light – but ended up capturing a blurry subject along the way.

Solution: Use the widest possible aperture (lower f/stop number) and then increase your ISO.

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Increasing the ISO and using a wider aperture allowed for a faster shutter speed  (X-T3 + XF16mmF1.4 R WR @ 16mm, ISO 6400, 1/150, f/1.4)

To fix motion blur, you need to use a faster shutter speed. The risk is that your photos now will be too dark, so it’s important to adjust your other two camera settings – aperture and ISO – to compensate. That’s what I did for the photo above. Start by using the widest aperture on your lens, then boost your ISO until you can use a fast enough shutter speed to get a sharp image.

What counts as a fast enough shutter speed? It depends on how much your subject is moving. If you are photographing a moving subject – indoors or out – you usually need a shutter speed of at least 1/250th of a second. More if your subject is moving quickly, although you might get away with less if it is moving slowly.

Even if your subject is completely still, shooting handheld is enough to introduce camera shake and limit what shutter speeds you can use. (As you may have heard, the general rule is that you can shoot at “1/focal length of your lens” or faster – which we’ve discussed before.) Image stabilization can also help, and using a tripod can all but eliminate the problem of camera shake. Neither, of course, helps with subject movement. As a result, you’ll still usually need to raise your ISO and use a wider aperture when shooting indoors.

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These birds were  photographed indoors (at an aviary) necessitating the ISO of 1600. My shutter speed here was 1/75 second. Even with image stabilization, this image would have been blurry if the birds had been moving. (200mm, ISO 1600, 1/75, f/4.8)

Problem: My Indoor Photographs Are Too Noisy

Noise is another problem that often plagues indoor photographs, although it can just as easily affect any image taken in low light. Noise is the result of not capturing enough light in the first place. It becomes very visible if you need to boost your ISO or brighten the image in post-processing to get a bright enough image – things that happen all the time when taking pictures indoors.

Solution: Use the widest aperture possible and don’t underexpose your image.

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Lit by the glow of the computer screen and the overcast light coming from a distant window, the ISO of 3200 combined with the wide-open aperture at f/2  was necessary to get a sharp image (X100V @ 23mm, ISO 3200, 1/105, f/2.0)

The tricky part about the exposure triangle isn’t understanding how it works; it’s that each of the settings has different trade-offs. In difficult lighting situations, you can be forced into a situation where your only option is to choose the lesser of two evils.

It is critical to make sure your shutter speed is fast enough to prevent motion, so don’t sacrifice on that setting. Instead, using a wider aperture is generally a better option – although it only works if your lens has a wider maximum aperture in the first place. Many kit lenses aren’t going to have much low-light capability and aren’t ideal for dark indoor shots. Instead, most camera manufacturers offer an inexpensive 50mm prime lens with a nice wide f/1.8 aperture that is perfect for indoor and low light photography (Canon, Nikon, Sony).

What most photographers are left with is to increase the ISO. Depending on your camera, you may be able to increase the ISO higher without the image looking too bad. Entry-level mirrorless and DSLR cameras tend to start looking pretty noisy around ISO 1600 or so, especially on older cameras. Professional cameras with larger full-frame or medium format sensors can go higher than that before running into trouble.

One mistake I have often seen photographers make is to underexpose their images (make them too dark) out of a fear of increasing their ISO too high. But underexposing your image and then correcting the exposure with software will almost always lead to more noise than just increasing the ISO for a proper exposure.

Noise reduction in post processing can also help a lot. The built-in noise reduction in Adobe Lightroom is now quite good, and for the most difficult of cases I like Topaz DeNoise software.

Problem: My Indoor Photographs Are Too Dark

The biggest challenge of indoor photography is getting enough light. While some indoor spaces are blessed with abundant natural light, most of the time photographing indoors is a constant struggle to find enough light to make a good exposure.

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You don’t always have the option to control the light, as evidenced by this image of the fish throwers at Pike Place Market. But whenever possible, moving your subject closer to the light can make a big difference in the quality of your indoor images (X-T3 + XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS @ 18mm, ISO 1600, 1/1000, f/3.2)

Solution: Learn how to find the light and move closer to it.

Photography is all about light. I can’t overstate the importance of learning to see the pockets of good light in the spaces you photograph.

You can also modify your surroundings to make the light brighter or better in quality. Open window blinds, pull back curtains, and learn what times of day the light is most abundant throughout your indoor shooting spaces. Knowing what direction the windows face in your house – or in any space where you’re taking pictures – can clue you in to where you might find the best light at various times of day. The side of my house with east-facing windows gets the most beautiful morning light, while my north-facing living room gets nice, soft light for most of the day.

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On your quest to find the light in your spaces, you start noticing it everywhere – even when it’s only lighting toys or action figures. But experimenting with how and where the light falls is key in learning to take better indoor photographs.

Once you know where the light is, try to position your subject closer to that light source. The inverse square law of light tells us that when you halve the distance to a light source, you quadruple the intensity of the light. For example, if your subject is 12 feet from your window, move 6 feet closer and you will have four times as much light to work with. This can make a huge difference when photographing indoors.

Problem: My Subject Is Dark When I Capture Them Near a Window

You have a great big window with abundant natural light. You position your subject right in front of the window and take the perfect picture you had in mind… but your subject is dark, and the window around them is too bright! What just happened?

Solution: Position yourself so that your own back is to the light source.

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The catchlights in the baby’s eye reveal that the baby was facing the glass doors that are used to light this image. (X-E2 + XF56mmF1.2 R @ 56mm, ISO 1600, 1/280, f/2.8)

Whatever your light source, if you position your subject in front of it, you’re not actually lighting your subject. You are simply lighting their back – the part the camera doesn’t see.

Instead, you must make sure the light is falling properly on your subject in the first place, generally on their face. One easy way to do this is to stand so that your own back is to the window (or any other light source) and position your subject so that they are facing the light, preferably at a slight angle. If the light is to your back, that means it’s falling onto your subject, and you’ll end up with a much better photograph.

Once you have the light falling in your subject, you can experiment with the angle and direction of the light by moving yourself and your subject around to create different lighting effects. Start with the subject facing the light source, then turn them slowly to experiment with a variety of angles.

If one side of your subject is lit up more than the other, you may want to use a reflector to bounce light back at the unlit side of your subject. This doesn’t need to be a dedicated photographic reflector; any bright object works, like a poster board or white wall. Reflectors can also be very useful when you do need to position the subject with their back to the window, so that some light still reaches their face.

Naturally, there are some exceptions. The biggest exception is if you are deliberately trying to create silhouettes or some other backlighting effect. In the image below, for example, I used a completely blown-out window to create a flat, white background for the subject.

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Photographing a subject standing directly in front of a window is generally a bad idea – unless you are using it for a specific effect. (XF56mmF1.2 R @ 56mm, ISO 2500, 1/750, f/1.2)
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The final image, cropped and edited from the above photo.

However, unless this is the sort of effect you are going for, turning the subject around so that the window light falls on them will tend to greatly improve your indoor images.

Problem: My Indoor Photos Are Too Yellow (or Have Other Color Issues)

So far, most of what we’ve talked about involves troubleshooting the dark conditions that are common indoors. But another important factor is the light’s color. Many indoor lights have a very strong color cast that is too yellow or some other color. Other times, you may have multiple different color casts in the image if you are dealing with more than one source of light. Lamps, window lights, overhead lights, etc., tend to have very different color temperatures from one another. The result may be one part of the image that looks very yellow, while a different part looks very blue.

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This image of the Pantheon clearly shows the extreme differences in the color temperature of various light sources – blue colors in the skylight versus orange colors in the artificial light. (10mm, ISO 1600, 1/50, f/4.0)

Solution: Pick one type of light (preferably natural light) and stick to that.

It seems counterintuitive when you’re working in low light conditions, but turning off lamps and overhead lights can actually be the best solution to getting good colors in the image. Stick with one source of light, and you won’t need to worry about different color casts throughout the shot. Either turn off all the lights and just use natural light, or close the curtains and just use one source of artificial light instead.

Dealing with color casts that are too yellow or any other color isn’t that hard on its own. Just make sure you’re shooting in RAW, not JPEG, and you’ll have ample ability to adjust the white balance in post-processing so it looks right. It may even be a one-click edit.

The tricky thing about color casts is when they vary within the same image. When you adjust the white balance to deal with one source of light, the other will grow progressively worse. It can be very difficult and time-consuming to fix this after the fact. The problem can be even worse if you’re adding a flash to the mix, since flashes are generally balanced to a daylight color (though this can be adjusted with flash gels).

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The image on the left is balanced for the daylight, rendering the orchids and tablecloth excessively yellow. On the other hand, the image on the right is overly blue outside the window. Correctly balancing for both would take some time-consuming masking work in Photoshop and still may not look perfect in the end.

At the end of the day, the key is to do what you can to avoid lighting with mixed color temperatures, because that is the hardest to correct in post-processing. The basic fix is to turn off any lights that don’t match in color temperature. The more complex fix is to buy lightbulbs or flash gels to deliberately balance your sources of light in the first place – perhaps even to balance them with daylight from the window.

Problem: My Indoor Photos Look Bad When I Use Flash

By default, the on-camera flash is basically one very bright, very harsh light coming from about the worst position possible. On top of that, when you use it after dark, the color temperature likely won’t match the color of any ambient light within the room.

Solution: Turn the flash off, or control/modify it to work with the scene.

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Off-camera flash was used to light this orchid. The flash allowed for the narrow aperture (f/22) and the low ISO (ISO 200). Without a flash, photographing indoors with those settings would not have worked. (X-Pro2 + XF80mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro @ 80mm, ISO 200, 1/250, f/22.0)

Unless you are making a specific, intentional image with flash, your best bet is to turn off the flash whenever possible. Even if you have to bump up your ISO, that’s better than the harsh “deer in the headlights” look of an unmodified, on-camera flash.

But if you do decide that a flash is necessary for your image, go about using it deliberately. Rather than pointing it head-on toward your subject, see if you can bounce the flash off a large surface like the ceiling or the wall to get a softer appearance. (If you’re using the camera’s pop-up flash that cannot be pointed in any different direction, try a pop-up flash diffuser instead.)

Better yet, get that flash off-camera. Stick it on a lightstand and bounce if off the corner of the room, or stick it in a softbox if you’re going to point it directly at your subject. And if off-camera flash is outside your budget, you can even use a basic cable that allows you to handhold the flash off the hot shoe to get a slightly off-axis look.

Don’t forget that if you are mixing flash with ambient light, you need to make sure your flash matches the color of the ambient light. The easiest way to do this is to add a flash gel that matches the color of your light source. If you are photographing smaller subjects, you may consider using mini LED lights instead of a flash – many of which allow you to change color temperature directly rather than resorting to gels.

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This flower was lit using a small LED light panel. It doesn’t give off as much light as a flash, but it’s still enough to make this image possible indoors with reasonable camera settings. (X-T4 + XF80mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro @ 80mm, ISO 400, 1/40, f/8.0)

Conclusion

Photographing indoors presents a number of challenges for photographers. The biggest is that there is usually a lack of light, so you need to be very careful about your camera settings. Other common issues include strange color casts and harsh lighting from an on-camera flash. All of these are things you can fix and deal with, but it’s important to pay attention while you’re taking pictures because not everything can be solved in post-processing.

The tips in this article should start you down the right path and address some of the common issues you may be encountering. Try applying them in practice, and you’ll be well on your way to taking better indoor photographs!

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Book Review: Albert Watson on Creating Photographs

Photo of Albert Watson book

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.

Photo of Kate Moss by Albert Watson

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.

Photo of Alfred Hitchcock by Albert Watson

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.

Photo of Mick Jagger by Albert Watson

You can read about tips and techniques photographers can take from “Albert Watson: Creating Photographs,” in this story on our sister site, Digital Photo.

Check the price of “Albert Watson: Creating Photographs” on Amazon.

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