Welcome to (The Occasional) Photo Tip of the Day! Please also visit my main site jeffwignall.com. Text and photographs Copyright 2016 Jeff Wignall.

“The best way out is always through.”

Monday, July 30, 2012

My New Book: Digital Photography FAQs

My latest book Digital Photography FAQs: 365 of Your Digital Photography Questions Answered has been released and it's now shipping from Amazon and is available at your local bookstore. The book is aimed at a pretty broad audience and has a lot of information for those just starting out in photography but also goes into some pretty advanced questions like how to use remote triggers to photograph lightning and wildlife and how to use wireless flash. There are also a lot of creative concepts discussed, like what is the best time to shoot night city skylines (hint: it's not in the dark of night), how to photograph flying insects and how to enhance the colors of a rainbow. The answers are pretty short and you can pick up the book and just flip it open to a question that interests you. While the questions are grouped roughly by topic, they are offered in no particular order. It is, as I told the publisher when suggesting the book, a great bathroom read! A good book for your kids to take to college with them!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Abstracts Through Frosted Glass

The other day I was sitting on my porch with a camera in my lap and the cats nearby and I was waiting for them to do something interesting. They both fell asleep--cute, by hard to photograph them. While I was waiting, I noticed some interesting color patterns in the surface of the frosted glass table I was sitting next to. The table has a shelf about 10-inches or so below the glass top and I store bits of junk under there--glass dishes, candles, magazines, etc. The sun was illuminating the stuff under the glass, but not the surface of the glass and the rippled surface of the frosted glass was creating all sorts of pretty colored patterns.

I sat and played with the patterns for a half hour or so using an Olympus E-PM1 camera (it's what they call a "MILC" or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera).  The camera is tiny and the zoom lens that I was using has the equivalent focal lengths of 28-84mm in 35mm terms; I was using it at approximately 42mm in 35mm terms. I really wasn't paying much attention to camera settings or exposure because I was in a kind of awkward physical position and had to shoot handheld--so I just went with whatever was happening. I wish I had used a smaller aperture for more depth of field (though it's hard to tell, some areas of these images are a bit soft), but it is what it is--I was more after the color patterns than detail.

As I shot the "found" photos, I decided that I wanted more color and so I started shoving bits of paper and things that I had nearby just to add different color and patterns. Ideas starting going off in my head--pretty colored things I could shove under there to create even more intense patterns--but I had some writing to do, so I left those ideas for another day. This winter I think I'll bring the table in from the porch and set it up in my basement and spent some evenings experimenting with various objects and lighting under the glass.

The next time I shoot this table (and I will shoot it again) out on the porch, I'll probably use a Nikon dSLR and a wide-angle lens and a tripod and pay more attention to technique. Of course, the spontaneity will be gone and I'll probably ruin the fun of the discovery. Oh so typical. But that will teach me a lesson (again), I'm sure: sometime it's better to just go with the flow and take what you get at first blush.

By the way, if you'd like to try this yourself, all you need is a small sheet of tempered/textured glass (an old shower door form the dump would be great). You can probably find a scrap in the junk bin at your local glass dealer. Then just set it up like a table (use stacks of books to hold up the corners) and slide stuff under the glass and light it from below. You'll be amazed how addictive this can be.

My new book: My new book Digital Photography FAQS should be out in the next two weeks (you can pre-order it on Amazon right now). It features 365 questions and answers about all aspects of digital photography and the text for each answer is mercifully short--so it's an easy read. The book also feature a few hundred of my photos as well many by some of my very talented photographer friends: Jennica Reis, Derek Doeffinger, Robert Ganz and Lisa Aliperti. And if I'm forgetting anyone in that list, I'll correct it shortly!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Taking Concert Shots in Low Light

One of the very first subjects that attracted me to photography was live music. I've always been passionate about music (I've done my own FM show on WPKN FM in Bridgeport, CT for more than 20 years) and the ability to photograph some of my musical heroes up close has always been a ton of fun. Over the years I've photographed everyone from Van Morrison to the Rolling Stones to Jimi Hendrix. I started shooting concerts as a teenager with a point-and-shoot camera and eventually got to the point where, as a professional, I was allowed to join performers (including greats like Rod Stewart, Pete Seeger and Van Morrison) on stage. I shot this photo of the great singer/songwriter Jonathan Edwards at the FTC (Fairfield Theater Company) in Connecticut.

The toughest part of shooting concerts (particularly indoors--outdoor festivals are much easier) is getting close to the stage and not getting busted by security. But some venues are much more tolerant than others and if you're discrete and polite you can get a lot closer than you think. I used to walked in festooned with photo gear--and if I had permission, that was fine. But these days I am much more sleek (i.e. low key) in my approach and my gear. I tend to bring one dSLR body and a 70-300mm lens. If I think I might want a few wide shots, I'll slip a wide-angle zoom into the pocket of my denim jacket. (Speaking of which, my denim jacket has huge inside pockets that are great for sneaking camera gear into shows.)

Once you're in the venue though, getting the shots is pretty easy. In small halls with a 70-300mm lens (it's the equivalent of a 105-450mm on my Nikon bodies, so long enough by far) I can usually just shoot from my seat. I try not to annoy the people around me and only shoot during "loud" moments unless I can turn off all of the sounds the camera makes (look for a "silent" or "museum" mode). Here are some tips for actual shooting:

  • Crank up the ISO to 1600 or higher. I shot the photo above of singer Jonathan Edwards at ISO 2500 and the exposure was 1/50 sec at f/4. 
  • Turn off the focus-assist light. This is the white light that shoots out to help the camera focus. The performers can see this and it's extremely annoying: shut it off (it's a menu option on most cameras).
  • Focus manually. I tend to focus manually about 70-percent of the time simply because it lets me focus on a performer's eyes (or fretboard, etc.) without the camera getting fooled by a mic stand or another instrument. If I have a clean line of fire, though, I will use AF.
  • Bring a monopod if you're allowed. I shoot at a small theater in Connecticut a lot with whom I have a working relationship (and I give them free photos for their site, etc.). A monopod buys me a few extra stops of shutter speed and helps keep my arms from getting tired. Of course, image stabilization works very well, too.
  • Set the white balance manually. Forget auto white balance in a concert setting--the lights are just too unpredictable. I shoot in RAW (so I can modify the settings later) but I also set the WB to tungsten and then use the fine-tune adjustment to manually adjust the color balance to the existing lights. Most dSLR camera have a "color picker" feature that lets you visually adjust the WB. Then just take a few test shots and see how your settings are working. I love this WB feature because it lets me keep a nice neutral look to the photos but still lets the colors show up.
My new book is out in two weeks.  My new book Digital Photography FAQs (Wiley) will be out at the end of July. It contains 365 questions and answers about all aspects of digital photography--including some pages on concert photography and is illustrated with several hundred of my photos.