Plugged In: Managing lights, camera, action

Redoubt Reporter ‘Fall into winter on the Kenai’ photo contest

The Redoubt Reporter is holding another in its series of reader-submitted photo contests.

Photos will be judged and winners selected by a three-member panel. After each contest closes, we’ll publish and discuss some of our favorites in the Redoubt Reporter. Some of the selected photographers will be invited to frame and hang their photos at a Redoubt Reporter June 2013 group photo show scheduled at the Sterling Highway Kaladi Brothers coffee shop.

The deadline to enter is 11:59 p.m. Dec. 1, 2012. All submissions must be in high-quality digital format. Submit no more than five JPEG images by email to redoubtreporterphotos@gmail.com.

Entry rules:

1. Our theme is “Falling into winter on the Kenai” and submissions must fit this theme.

2. Entrants must be amateur photographers who are residents of the central Kenai Peninsula.

3. Photographs can be of any subject fitting the theme but must have been taken of the Kenai Peninsula on or after Aug. 1, 2012.

4. If you submit photographs in which people are recognizable, you must also provide us with their permission for us to publish any such photographs.

5. Please do not submit portrait photos. Do not submit photographs whose content would not be appropriate for publication in a family newspaper. Do not submit photos of illegal subject matter. All such photos will be deleted immediately without notice to you and at the sole discretion of the editor.

6. Photographers must include their name, telephone number, email address, town of residency and each photo’s date, location and description of subject matter.

7. Submitted JPEG images should be of the best possible technical quality. Good technique and technical quality are important, but originality, creativity, interesting subject matter, artistic merit and good composition are even more important.

8. By submitting photos, you agree to our publication of them in the Redoubt Reporter newspaper and on our website. The Redoubt Reporter will have the right of first publication of your photos. However, you will retain the copyright for all other purposes and your name will be listed if we publish any of your photos.

9. Our decisions about what’s published or selected for exhibition are final and are admittedly subjective. Space is limited, and the judging panel and editor reserve the right to choose photos at their discretion.

10. Retain your original digital files of all submitted images. We are not responsible for preserving copies of your digital images.

 By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photography’s essence is using light to capture images. The very name derives from the Greek words for “light writing.” How we use light is critical.

Not all light is created equal. Light’s angle and nature, relative to your subject, often makes the difference between a blah image and a very dramatic and successful one.

Amateurs were traditionally advised to take their photos with bright sun behind them, evenly lighting the front of the subject and avoiding shadows because consumer photo-finishing during the film era was not forgiving of heavily shadowed film negatives and slides. That advice still makes sense when taking basic snapshots, where it’s important that the subject’s face be well-lit without excessively dark shadows. It also remains true when taking documentary photographs, such as those at an accident scene or a construction site, where the object is to capture data in a clear, objective and unambiguous manner.

Direct frontal lighting usually doesn’t work well, though, when your intention is to create more dramatic images. That’s the reason serious photographers often prefer working during the first hour after dawn and during the last hour before dusk. The low sun angle during those times feels more revealing and interesting compared to the bright, flat light of high noon.

Of course, during our deepest winter months in Alaska, low-angle lighting is the norm throughout the day. That’s often a real benefit to photographers. During the short twilight of a clear, high-summer evening when the sun is just under the northern horizon, the sky’s soft, diffuse light is enveloping and beautiful. It’s often bright enough to capture good hand-held photos if your camera is capable of good image quality at ISO 3,200.

Let’s also consider some other forms of alternative lighting. Changing the entire nature of the light in your photo can be as simple as walking around your subject until you’re at a different angle to the light source. I particularly like sidelighting and backlighting, in which the light source is located somewhere between 90 degrees to the side and directly to the rear of the subject. This can be quite dramatic.

Correctly handling exposure and the high contrast inherent to these situations is the key to making good photographs under dramatic sidelighting and backlighting conditions. This week, we’ll explore a few techniques for doing just that.

Sidelighting tends to accentuate textures and works well when making informal but striking portraits. One good example of sidelit portraits are photos made with natural light coming through a window off to one side of the subject.

Under these circumstances, the side of a face opposite the light source is often deeply shadowed unless the light is properly proportioned from side to side. If you have the opportunity, an easy way to soften shadows and balance light is to position a white reflector so that it shines diffuse light onto the shadowed side of the face. A large piece of white cardboard or art mounting board reflecting bright light onto the dark side of the face works well. Sidelighting of this sort is favored for portraits intended to convey a sense of character or strength. Be sure that you don’t use a bright light aimed from below and casting strong shadows visibly angling upward on a face. That’s horror-movie lighting and is usually not at all flattering.

When making sidelit portraits, the object is not to evenly light each side of the face, but rather to retain detail in both the bright and shadowed sides of the face. The brightly lit side should be about one EV brighter than the overall average exposure, and the darker side about one EV darker than the average exposure. Achieving that balance is the job of your reflectors.

Unless you’re striving for a dramatic effect, you’ll not want more than a 2 EV exposure difference between dark and light sides. Experienced photographers may recall that film photographers usually called a full EV exposure change one “stop” change, referencing a film camera’s fully mechanical controls that doubled or halved total exposure with each marked numerical change, such as reducing the shutter time from 1/30 second to 1/60 second or opening the lens from f/4 to f/2.8.

If you’re not able to conveniently use a reflector to balance the lighting of a portrait, then compensate by increasing exposure by one-half to one full EV. Better yet, bracket your exposure so that you have a series of shots made with increasingly slower shutter speeds or wider lens apertures, increasing the amount of light reaching the sensor. A bracketing set of three to five photos spaced one-half EV apart should result in at least one usable photo, assuming that you’re saving your image files in an RAW format and later correct shadows and highlights by post-processing the images with a modern wide-range program like Adobe Lightroom 4.

True backlighting casts even deeper shadows on the front of a subject and renders photographs even more dramatically because of the very high contrast. Backlighting is generally not very suitable for pictures of faces but can result in striking “fine-art” images. These sorts of images are best made with a more advanced large-sensor camera that has a high dynamic range.Among affordable cameras, the Pentax K-5 and Nikon D7000 are superior in that regard. Cellphone and small-sensor cameras cannot handle such a large dynamic range and, hence, are not suitable for taking photographs in these inherently high-contrast lighting conditions.

Generally, it’s best not to position yourself so that the light source is pointed directly toward the camera. In large part, that’s for compositional reasons — the shadows are often too black and angled directly along the lens axis. You’ll usually get more interesting shadows and shapes if the light source, such as the sun, is at about a 45-or-so-degree angle behind the subject. On the other hand, there certainly are times when a silhouetted subject is more powerful. Again, making several bracketed exposures using an RAW file format provides the greatest chance of a successful image.

Placing the light source directly behind your subject, and, thus, pointing directly toward the camera lens, has its risks. Bright light sources shining into a lens, or even striking the front glass of a lens at an angle, often results in flare, low-contrast, internal reflections, and ghost images that can degrade an image.

Generally, it’s better to avoid lens flare. To do that, use a lens that’s multicoated and known to be resistant to flare. Use your lens hood to block bright light sources that strike the front glass of your lens at a glancing angle, which is often worse than pointing your camera directly into a bright light. Change your angle relative to the light source, or at least shade your lens.

Sometimes, though, lens flare accidentally results in very interesting images, but I emphasize the term “accidental.” When these accidents occur, be open to their creative possibilities rather than immediately discarding them because of technical flaws that have unexpected artistic merit.

Interesting photos seen: Recently, The New York Times published some spectacular underwater photos of salmon spawning in Bristol Bay. They’re on the web at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/10/07/magazine/salmon-spawning.html?hp.

Speaking of managing high-contrast lighting situations, Imaging-resource.com has a link to a stunning nighttime photo taken in Afghanistan. Here’s the link: http://www.imaging-resource.com/news/2012/10/05/amazing-star-spangled-night-military-shot-was-not-faked.

Local attorney Joe Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. He has published many articles about computer technology, law practice and digital photography in national media since 1990. Many of his technology and photography articles can be accessed through his website, http://www.kashilaw.com.

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