29 March 2017

The other kind of exposure

Attention seeking

As some of you might know, I have a few of my photos on ViewBug. I came across that site as I was looking for a place to put my photos online, after Google made their site badly working together with Lightroom, which I use for editing and as a catalog of my photos. Recently I was asked how I feel about ViewBug and that made me think about social media in general. Why are we actually uploading our photos to all kinds of media? The word popping up in my mind is exposure. And this time not the technical part of exposure using the exposure triangle. But the social exposure. And from there it becomes a blurred line. Do we show our photos to let others enjoy them? Or do we show them, so others can compliment us?
Fishing for other things than fish
The term attention whore seemed to become appropriate. This has a very negative and sexual connotation, but if take the definition from the Urban Dictionary, I think it could be suitable:
"Label given to any person who craves attention to such an extent that they will do anything to receive it. The type of attention (negative or positive) does not matter."

Because the more I think about it, the more I feel it's that we seek exposure, we seek attention. Preferably from like minded people or people that can give advice. But I think that getting "likes" or whatever they are called on that specific media would be good enough.
I mean, just look at some of the photos posted on social media. I am not going to say my photos are art (they most definitely are not), but compared to some of the things I have seen posted around, some of my photos look like masterpieces. Now, if these are just fun photos shared with friends or as a reminder/memory, that is of course to be expected. But some of these photos are actually posted on groups/communities about photography. And often enough many of these people do not respond to comments, or only to comments that say things like: "Great picture!" Comments which really make me look like a totally confused monkey wondering what's great about it. In case you are waiting for examples here, I have to disappoint you. It's not hard to find them, but it is rude to single one, or some, of them out and in a way mock them. So I will refrain from that and you'll have to go look for the examples yourself.

The fact remains though, that while I might see these photos as merely fishing for attention, I do basically the same. I post some of my photos on SmugMug and Flickr. A few on 500px. And I have some of them on ViewBug. Some of my photos on SmugMug are not visible to others, these are just my photos, kept there as a kind of back-up and a way for me to see them even if I am not at my computer. But many are publicly visible. As that is not needed to see them myself, I must conclude that I actually want others to look at them. And thus, I am fishing for attention, just like the lady on the photo above. Except that she looks much better while doing it. 😀

Good? Or bad?

Of course, there are some good things about this behavior. If nobody shared anything, we would not be able to see some of the very good shots that have been taken. And, if you never show your photos, nobody can point out to you how you might make better ones. And by showing photos, we can also share interests and get to talk about those interests. And that's awesome, right?
Guilty of being an attention whore
However, I feel there are also negative parts about it. The first and foremost is that you might actually forget what this was about. I'll explain. Given my age (50 in three weeks time) I consider myself at a point that I will not feel devastated if I do not get many likes. Just as I can survive writing a blog that has only a few readers. If you're curious, I would say that there are about 10 - 15 people reading the blog. Not that much, if you consider the blogs having thousands and thousands of followers. But at my age, you can see that in another perspective. There are a dozen people out there that take some of their precious time, to read my ramblings. Which I do consider not bad at all. In fact, it makes me happy. But anyway, even having the advantage of not needing those amounts of likes, I do recall that
I had a point where I was wondering: How do I get more people to watch my stuff and like it? Without realizing it at that moment, I had crossed a line. I was no longer concerned with my reason to make photos, I was concerned with what other people would think and how I could get m,ore attention. Yup, at that point I was most definitely an attention whore.
Luckily for me, that didn't take too long. I never got to the point where I was thinking hard about how to get more attention. As I almost immediately realized what that thought was, and that it would mean I would be losing my hobby. You see: I make photos for myself. It gives me a reason to take my time at places like a museum or a zoo. And then, I get to spend my time editing them. Showing a few of them online, without much care whether they are thought of as great by others. It's my hobby, I like spending my time that way and as such it gives me happiness.
Going hunting for likes would be the same as becoming a professional. In the latter case you work directly for people who tell you what they want, and they give you money. But if you hunt for likes, you're indirectly working for others, to give them the photos they like. You, are merely a tool at that point. That does not mean I say to avoid exposing your photos. In fact, to share them with like minded people is great. If you can exchange your thoughts about your photos with others, that is very great. But if you are there waiting for random people to press a button called 'like' or '+1' or 'fav', you are wasting your time. Not getting them will make you unhappy. And getting some, will only bring out the urge to get more.
So my conclusion would be: social media are neither good nor bad. They offer possibilities. Use them as you like, and if well used they can bring lots of pleasure. But beware of the trap there and just keep your mind on what you actually want. If making photos is your passion: be out there and make photos. Share your interesting ones to let others enjoy, but don't wait for their "approval". Discuss your photos. Discuss the photos of others, every honest comment is much appreciated by most photographers. But keep your focus on your photos, do not let the social media dictate what you should do.

Viewbug

Now, as this all started with ViewBug, I think it should also end with ViewBug. I answered the question with telling that in my humble opinion ViewBug is mostly about contests. And that I do not expect to ever get a real high ranking in one of them, let alone win one. That perhaps one day I might feel disappointed for never making that. And perhaps stop participating. But I would have to wait and see until that time.
Still, I have some photos there, and I have entered some contests. I so far have a photo that is in the top 50%. This might not seem much, but given that all members of ViewBug can vote, it actually means that my photo at that point is generally considered better than half of all photos in that contest. It states: we, the voters and frequenters of this site consider your photo to be in the top half. It is really not a bad position.
Even if you would be the last - which is quite an achievement by itself, as there can only be one - it does not make the photo bad. That is the problem with contests: for every winner, there is a loser. Except, in this case you don't really lose anything. All it tells you is that the people voting liked other photos more.
Now, to help you a bit on that site: people can 'like' photos. I regularly check the new ones and 'like' the photos that catch my eye. it gives me some time to enjoy watching pretty photos. And I hope someone else will be having a little smile when that 'like' pops up. There is also the 'Peer Award'. I give that when I think a photo has something special. Of course, what that special exactly is, I don't know. Those are the ones I think are standing above the crowd.

If you feel like entering contests, hop over to ViewBug and give it a try. it doesn't need to cost you money. With a free account you can participate in about 25 contests and have one submission in each of them. I am not going to say it will be easy to win, but you can only win when you participate.
If you look for people enthusiastic about photography, I would say: find an online community. Not a place to dump photos, but look around for a place where you might get a comment that goes beyond: "Nice", or "Cool". Or simply look for a local photography club. :)

Anyway, I did share a bit of my view on social media and photography. And I would really love to hear your views on this. As mine are the views of an old guy. More modern people might see this totally different and I would like to hear those views too.

22 March 2017

White on scales

White evenly distributed

Funny that we have this thing called white balance, as it in most cases is not necessarily about white. So, what is white balance exactly then? It is more the balance of colors and one would change it, to make a photo look more natural. Now, you might ask: if I see it a certain way, then the camera will take the photo also like that, right? By now, everybody who has read a few of my previous posts knows I will answer that with a no. And it is indeed no. Basically all lights are not pure white. They have a different temperature. And temperature is indeed the term here as it is expressed in Kelvin. An object would be called white, if it reflects all wavelengths. And black, if absorbs everything and reflects nothing at all. However, white light is not always reflecting all wavelengths with the same strength. And here is where that temperature comes in.
Couple on a bench
Couple on a bench
If you have a low temperature, say 1500 Kelvin, as from a candle, it will be more intense with the higher wavelengths, like red and orange. A high temperature 9000 Kelvin, as one would have from a heavy overcast sky, would be more intense with the magenta and blue wavelengths. Funnily enough, we call the high temperature cool and the low temperature are the warm colors.
The difference between us and a camera, is that we, or our brain to be more specific, partly compensates for this difference. And as such we will perceive people with a normal skin color during sunset, which has light with a temperature of around 3000 Kelvin, but also when standing in the office, where the fluorescent lamps will have a temperature of 5000 Kelvin. That's pretty cool from our brain, right? And for the people thinking I would once again say no: you're wrong. This is pretty cool.
The camera has no brain and does not compensate. Therefore a photo from one person in the sunset and one in the office will give different skin colors. And here comes the part about white balance. By setting the white balance on the camera, you tell your camera to compensate for the different light sources.

Changing this delicate balance

Now we know that different light conditions will show our photos with different tones. How important is that? If you look at the photo in the previous paragraph, you'll probably get a complete different feeling than from the photo below.
White balance as shot
It is the obviously the same photo. But the first one is much warmer. I admit this is not just the white balance, though. But it has a part in it. The photo in this paragraph is the one with a white balance as shot by the camera. You can argue which one has the more natural colors and I suppose most people will point at this second one. Even if it is a little too cool (or in other words has a small too blue tint), The one at the top has too much orange. As it should be, as I - besides changing the white balance - overlaid the photo with an orange tint.
You are by now probably frowning and wondering why I gave that example then? Well, two reasons. The first is a form of vanity. I edited this way, because I like it that way. And therefore I also like to show it that way. The second is that it, just by its exaggerated warmth, shows the effects white balance can have. The top one approaches the effect one could have from a nice orange sunset. It also shows that one might change the white balance to get a bit away from the original colors.

Setting white balance

White balance corrected
White balance corrected for daylight
If one would be shooting RAW, one would not care much about it. The camera will keep all color information and then you can adjust it in your post processing software. After all, when shooting RAW, post processing is not really an option, but a must. If you have a camera that cannot shoot RAW, or you do not want to shoot RAW, you need to set the correct value, if possible. If you have it on auto, or no option at all, the camera will examine your photo and using its programmed algorithms to set the white balance. If I recall correctly, for my Nikon it would like to see around 18% of neutral colors. A neutral color is a color which has the same amount of red, green and blue in it. Making it a perfect gray. That is surely not always what you want, but I have to say that quite often this turns out reasonably well.
What to do if you cannot set your white balance in your camera? Can't you edit it if you do not shoot RAW? Sure you can. The reason why it is said that you can easily change white balance in a RAW, but not a JPG is simply: on the JPG, the camera has already applied a white balance correction. Then it saves in JPG, loosing the original sensor data. The resulting file has less information and has less "bandwidth" of altering the white balance, before it starts to look wrong. As we also do not know what the camera applied as white balance correction, we cannot go back to the real state. With RAW, you get that real state and the original sensor data. But you can most certainly still change the white balance of a JPG photo.
The photo in this paragraph actually is the same photo again, but this has a modified white balance to resemble a photo taken during the day. You can clearly see it is warmer than the previous one. The green leaves have lost their blue-ish tint and seem to have a bit more yellow in them. I personally liked this one more than the previous one. But I felt this was still not warm enough and altered it to look like the top one.

Which one would you prefer?

08 March 2017

Decorating corners

Grab the adornments

Statue without vignette
Statue staring into nothingess
Of course, I should have continued with a new post about lenses, as we were not finished with that. But instead I decided to talk about decorations. In this case about "decorative design". So, grab the garlands and the balloons and start decorating your camera, to get the better photos!
If you're not in a festive mood, you can also read on and hear more about these "decorative designs". I actually checked the word I wanted to talk about, and found the origin of it on thesaurus.com:
vignette 1751, "decorative design,"originally a design in the form of vinetendrils around the borders of a book page, especially a picture page, from Fr.vignette, from O.Fr., dim. of vigne"vineyard" (see vine). Sense transferred from the border to the picture itself, then(1853) to a type of small photographic portrait with blurred edges very popular mid-19c. Meaning "literary sketch" is first recorded 1880, probably from the photographic sense.

In the sense of photography however, vignette has nothing to do with vines. In photography we talk about vignetting when the corners are darker. And there could also be a small distortion in the corners. There are multiple types of vignetting:
  1. Artificial vignetting
  2. Optical vignetting (also called natural vignetting)
  3. Pixel vignetting
  4. Mechanical vignetting
In general you do not want vignetting, and lens manufacturers do their best to keep this to a minimum. Just as camera manufacturers can build in software to reduce vignetting. This software works well for JPG, but has no influence on RAW. Well, I found that comment online. It said it would work with the manufacturers specific software, like Capture NX 2 for Nikon. But less specific tools like Aperture or Lightroom don't use that information.
Statue with vignette
Statue now staring at the void
How do you recognize a vignette? Easy, just look at the first photo with that statue staring into nothingness. Let's take that as the example without vignette.
Now compare that to the same photo which has one, where the statue is now staring into the void. Of course, I did cheat and did put this exaggerated vignette on it. However, it should serve its purpose to see a vignetted photo. If a modern camera or lens would create a vignette like this, it would be time to return it to the manufacturer.

Away with that black

So, do we always want to remove vignetting? Apparently not, as the first type of vignetting is aptly named "artificial vignetting". And that means that the photographer did put it there on purpose. Just like I did with the example. There will probably always be discussions whether this is "good" or "bad", but I think that is simply for the photographer to decide. That means you! From me you will not receive many nasty comments about an applied vignette. In fact, I am in the group of people that actually like vignetting. Not as much as done in this example, but the original also has a little vignetting applied. So why would you do that?
For me: I tend to like slightly darker photos. When post processing I am almost always turning down the highlights and whites. And a subtle vignette does darken the feeling of a photo. How do I know I like darker images? Well, obviously, because of the histogram.
Histogram
Histogram, exposed to the left
Many of my photos turn out to have a histogram like the one shown. On the left are the dark colors, on the right the bright colors. And as you can see, there is a lot of dark in the photo I used for this. (The histogram is not from the photo with the statue.)
When you have a lot of your photos with such histograms, you probably like darker photos. Just like me.
After this small detour about histograms, back to the vignetting. I said it darkens the feel of a photo. Naturally it does more than darken the feeling, it actually darkens the corners after all. There is also another aspect to that, though. Look again at the two photos. Do you notice how the vignette forces your view towards the center? This vignetting works fine with the subject in the center. If the more important parts of your photo are near the edges, well congratulations, a vignette like this has just ruined your shot.
Anyway, keep in mind that vignetting is often considered bad. And if your camera or lens produces heavy vignettes, it probably is bad. But vignetting is sometimes done on purpose.

Why do I get this black?

This part goes about optical vignetting. And this is also the one that the manufacturers are trying to reduce as much as possible. For you, as photographer, there is not much to do about it. The cause is how the light enters the lens. When the light comes from an extreme angle, it travels a longer distance through the lens towards the sensor. Longer travel means more "falloff", or said for a noob like me: less bright light reaches the sensor.
Also, the light entering at these extreme angles is partially blocked by the lens barrel. You can see at your camera that the lens is not totally at the front. Luckily as it otherwise might just drop off. There is usually a small part of the barrel sticking out and that partially blocks the light coming from the extreme sides.
 Lenses with a long focal length are less susceptible to this effect than the ultra-wide angle lenses. You could also see if stepping down the aperture (higher F-stop) helps.
The way the light travels through the lens, is also the cause for the distortion, turning f.e. round bokeh into the shape of a cat's eye pupil.

What is pixel vignetting?

Pixel vignetting is a bit like optical vignetting, but instead of having to do with your lens or how far the light travels, it is about how it hits the sensor. The sensor is the retina of the camera. In the human eye, the light comes through your pupil then goes through the lens, so we can focus on something. The light then falls on the retina, where the cones (colors) and rods (light intensity) translate the image to electrical signals to our brain. The sensor in the camera captures the light that falls on it and then translates that to a digital photo, with for each channel (red, green, blue) an intensity value.
If you find a volunteer to examine his or her eye, please do refrain from that. In most countries it is not allowed to poke people in the eyes and starting to examine it. Not even when you get permission. It also tends to lead to permanent damage, called blindness.
Anyway, the sensor in the camera is flat and all the pixels on the sensor are facing the same direction. probably perfect for light that falls straight on it/ Which would mostly be the case for pixels in the center of the sensor. When light comes from an angle, slightly less light falls on the pixel and that also introduces a little vignette.

Let's get to the mechanics

Last we have mechanical vignetting. And I kept this last, as it's also the easiest to understand. it means that something is blocking the light. Like a lens hood. Manufacturers do think about the shape of their lens hoods and using another one could lead to more mechanical vignetting, as it blocks more light.
But also the stacking of filters, teleconverters, extension tubes or other accessories that diminishes light in the corners are called mechanical vignetting.

I have white corners

Statue dreaming away
Statue dreaming away
This vignette has no black corners, but white. And that means all the explanations about light traveling, angles and whatever are not suitable. In fact, the only suitable answer left is the artificial vignette.
And indeed, instead of a black vignette, most post-processing software also allows you to make a white vignette. While a black vignette darkens a photo, a white vignette lightens it. It only actually lightens the corners, but as an effect the whole photo feels more lightened.
I personally find that, although it does turn the attention more towards the center, it lacks the strength that a black vignette has. Yet, this type of vignette has a usage where photos are supposed to be more "dreamy". To me it feels softer than a black vignette.
In general a white vignette works well with an already bright photo, or to camouflage a bright sun flare on one side of the photo, by brightening up all sides. A black vignette adds more drama or mood.

Now, when you want to add vignettes, do remember that the effect can be used subtly. Not every photo needs or becomes better by using the maximum vignette that your software allows. Of course, the strength of vignetting and the choice of using it at all, is totally yours. I personally like them and most of my photos have a black vignette. Also keep in mind that in post-processing a vignette does not always need to be centered.

So, what is your opinion about the usage of vignettes? Do you use them? Do you like them? If you had to use one, would you pick the black or white vignette on the statue? Or would you prefer that all vignettes photos should be burned?

01 March 2017

Wearing glasses

Nearsighted? Farsighted?

While a camera is neither nearsighted nor farsighted, it will most surely need to wear glasses. Or more correctly said: lenses. Not the small contact lens we humans place on our eyes, though. These are the more heavier lenses. And without a lens your camera is not nearsighted or farsighted, but blind. So let's talk about the glasses your camera might need.
lens on iPhone
Lens on  an iPhone
First of all, this is about a camera with interchangeable lenses. If you have one of those nifty cell phones, or a small compact camera, I fear you're (almost) out of luck. As you can see on the picture you could get lenses for your cell phone. In this case a cute, adorable, pink iPhone 6S. I can't really judge the quality, but given the price, the way it's attached - like some paper clip - I seriously doubt this will get you professional looking photos. Of course, if you happen to have one of these, and have great photos, please share them. One of my Google+ groups even has a special section for "Phone Photo Friday" and we can surely use more members there.
We're also not going to talk about the two million dollar lens I mentioned in the previous post. I am aware that you will need that one soon, but just keep saving money for the coming weeks, or you won't be able to buy it.

The bigger, the better

big sigma lens
Working out!
Many guys seem to believe this, many girls seem to say it's not true. They are usually talking about something else than a lens. I am a small guy, so I hope the girls are correct on that topic. On the topic of lenses, I can assure you: the girls are correct. Not saying the guys have it totally wrong, but before you think of size, you need to think of type of lens. And not just whether you want to be walking with a mobile heat seeking missile launcher, like the man on the picture, But more about what you want to shoot. Shoot photos, I mean, not shoot missiles. Obviously.
If your answer is: I want to shoot it all, then I suggest you buy a lot of lenses. Because we have different types of lenses. Often this has to do with how far they zoom in, but there are pretty special ones, like the fisheye lens. And then there is the thing with stabilization or not.
Let's start with that one, as it's at least reduced to just two options: your lens has it, or it does not. Doesn't come much easier than that, does it?

Stabilization

If you're coming close to become an old man like me (well, perhaps not that old yet, but still), than you might notice it becomes harder to keep things in your hands without moving. Now, to take these awesome sharp photos, you do not want your hands to shake. You can help that a lot by using a good stance when using your camera. One of the reasons I like an optical viewfinder, as it's more stable. And people will tell you to keep your arms close to your body and so. Still, keeping perfectly still is hard to do.
Luckily, we live in an age with lots of technology and here comes technology to the rescue. Just like your friendly local fire brigade. The lens makes a bit less noise than the fire brigade, and I admit is also much less important, but it still come to the rescue of the shaky hands. The lens with stabilization will correct for the small movements you make while holding your camera. So if you are like me: make sure to get that stabilization. Of course, different vendors will use different names for it, as vendors are not here to make life miserable for their competitors only. They also are here to make our lives miserable by making things harder. Oh, and they are also here to take our money.
If you take a Nikon lens, it is called VR (Vibration Reduction) and they now even have VR II. Should you buy a Canon lens, it will be called IS (Image Stabilization). And our friends from Sigma call it OS (Optical Stabilization), while Tamron names it VC (Vibration Compensation) and Sony goes for SS (Steady Shot). In case you wonder: yes, they all do the same, they all come to the rescue of the shaky hands.
Always buy that? Perhaps not. Lenses with stabilization are more expensive than lenses without. Also, if you mostly shoot with short lenses, during day time, you can have a quite high shutter speed, so might not need it anyway. In general, being more expensive seems to be the only drawback.

Perhaps not bigger, but the longer, the better!

Longer what? Oh, you mean the focal length of the lens. I see, yeah, well, still not always true. What is actually this thing focal length? From Wikipedia: "The focal length of an optical system is a measure of how strongly the system converges or diverges light. For an optical system in air, it is the distance over which initially collimated (parallel) rays are brought to a focus. A system with a shorter focal length has greater optical power than one with a long focal length; that is, it bends the rays more sharply, bringing them to a focus in a shorter distance."

Pirate holding spyglass
Captain Jack Sparrow with his spyglass
If you understood that: great. To me that is a bit of techno mumbo jumbo. I mean: collimated rays? Is this Star Trek? Talking about Star Trek, did I mention that I liked the first series more than the ones after that? Wait, what? You want me to skip on Star trek and go back to photography? Okay, okay.
Focal length for noobs means magnification. The focal length is measured in millimeters and the higher number magnifies more than the lower number.
So take your cell phone with a focal length of 2 mm and then take my Sigma lens with a focal length of 600 mm. So obviously, my lens magnifies 300 times more than yours. Clear? Nope, not clear. Magnification also has to do with the size of the sensor. The size of the sensor on a typical cell phone is smaller than the sensor on a DSLR. So, the same magnification on a cell phone needs less focal length than on a DSLR. Just as any lens on my D3200 with APS-C sensor magnifies 1.5 times as much as it would do on a 35mm full camera, as a 35mm sensor is 1.5 times larger than my APS-C sensor. Larger sensors get less magnification, but have more detail.
Does it get confusing already? It might. But at that point it might also be an idea to just keep the simple thought: a longer focal length on a lens for your camera, means more magnification. So, if you look at our friendly pirate captain in the picture: he has a long focal length, so he will get a nice magnification. Whether he looks straight can be questioned, but whatever he sees, he sees it BIG!
With the stuff above in mind, what focal length do you need to buy? That depends on what you want to have in your photos. If you stand next to your subject, you do not want the lens with the longest focal length. If you do landscapes, you do not need that either. If you want close-ups of wildlife, where it's hard to come close: you will probably like longer focal length. Just as with sports. There is no clear answer and you will simply have to try and decide.
What would I buy with my current knowledge? I started with two lenses, an 18-55 mm and a 55-300 mm. They both came with the camera. Al the start, I found myself almost always taking photos with the 55-300 mm lens. Lately I noticed that I don't always need the close-up. I can walk closer, or I like more context around and I am regularly out with the 18-55 mm. So, I find having them both very fine and would find it hard to pick one of them. In case I had no lens and need to buy one at the moment: both Canon and Nikon have an 18-200 mm, Sigma has an 18-300 mm and Tamron a 16-300 mm lens. If I had to buy just one lens, I would look at such a beast as it allows you to do a lot.

Prime or zoom?

In case you start thinking of math, when you read the word prime: sorry, this has nothing to do with prime numbers. If you thought I, being Dutch and having poor English skills, wrote it wrong and meant primary: no, this is not your favorite lens that you call your primary one. Prime in this case is the "opposite" of a zoom lens. The difference? A zoom lens zooms and a prime lens does not. That's why one is called a zoom lens. So, now Captain Obvious has stated the obvious, let's elaborate.
As said, a zoom lens zooms. So you get these ranges, like 18-55 mm. That's when you see those photographer turn a ring on their lens and it becomes longer. With guys you don't need to turn things, just turning them on makes their stuff go longer. They have zoom thingies. When they do that, they are zooming in (or out) and thus magnifying what they catch in the lens.
A prime lens does not have that ability. If you see a photographer turn the ring on a lens and it is not going longer or shorter, then he is using manual focus, so yes. You can still turn things if you want, even on a prime lens. This may seem like a huge disadvantage, so why would you want a prime lens?
The first answer might be: money. A prime lens is cheaper and weighs less. They also tend to give a better image quality. And, due to the more simple design often have a wider aperture than a zoom lens. Again, it's hard to say which one you need. Many guides say you learn better by using a prime lens and that might very well be true. However, I would say a beginner is better off with a zoom lens, as it offers more flexibility.

Finally done?

No, not really. There is still more to tell about lenses. I mean, we did not even talk about macro lenses, right? And only mentioned the fisheye. But before you tire too much from all this reading, I'll stop bugging you for now.
Happy shooting!