BrickHouse Photo School

Tips, Tricks and Reviews for Photo Hobbyists

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Software Test Drive: Tiffen’s Dfx Version 2

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Once, I hated editing digital photos. I trained in the “film” days and preferred working in the darkroom versus in the “digital darkroom” aka a Mac computer and Adobe’s Photoshop version 4.0. That was the version Adjustment Layers were unveiled. “Save for Web,” the History Palette, and the “Healing Brush” were not even thought of yet.

The original version of the photo prior to filters. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Schneider)

The original version of the photo prior to filters. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Schneider)

Now, things have changed. I use Apple’s Aperture 2.0, Adobe’s Photoshop CS4 Extended and a host of plug-in software that makes editing a little easier and a little less cumbersome and I don’t mind editing so much.

Addition of the "Glamour" filter softens the skins and brings out the highlights for an overexposed look.

Addition of the "Glamour" filter softens the skins and brings out the highlights for an overexposed look.

So, I’m always excited to try out a new piece of software. After seeing the ads for Tiffen’s Dfx software in numerous photo magazines, I decided to give it a look. Then, I wrote a media release about the software and posted to this Website. Now, I want to show you some quick edits you can make using the program.

I went to the Tiffen Website and downloaded a free 15-day trial of the program as a plugin for Photoshop. I have to say I am completely impressed.

There are 110 individual filters with thousands of customizable presets. The interface is extremely easy to navigate but I wished the gallery was a little more simplified. I really like the fact the program supports 16-bit image processing and RAW files (I’m shooting RAW images with a Canon 5D Mark II) and I really like the layering feature so multiple filter effects can be layered.

By and large, I’m relatively impressed with this software. The only thing that concerns me is the price. The Adobe Photoshop and Apple Aperture plugin is $299.95. The standalone version, which includes three additional filters but basically the same package as the plugin is $99.95.

As a whole, I will give the program a three-out-of-five stars.

Quick Look:
Product: Tiffen Dfx Version 2
Price: $299.95 for Photoshop and Aperture plugin; $99.95 standalone
Website: http://www.tiffen.com/dfx_v2_home.html
Rating: ✭✭✭✰✰

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Written by jeremyparce

April 11, 2009 at 8:00 am

Tips and Tricks: Getting Good Candid Photos

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Good candid photos (photos that aren’t posed) are easy to get if you have a little patience. Here are a few tips:

Watch and wait for your subject to do something that shows emotion or personality (Photo Credit: Andres U., Miami, Florida)

Watch and wait for your subject to do something that shows emotion or personality (Photo Credit: Andres U., Miami, Florida)

  • Watch and Wait: Keep your camera ready to shoot then wait for the right moment so when it comes, you’ll be ready.
  • Use Zoom: By using your zoom, you can stay further away from the subject, which allows the subject to be more relaxed and natural acting.
  • Take Plenty of Photos: You never know when something is going to happen so keep clicking away. You’re not using film so there’s no “waste.” Just delete the less-interesting photos and keep going.
  • Look for Moments: Wait for those moments that really express the subject’s character. Try to reveal something about your subject to your viewers by showing personality traits.

Written by jeremyparce

March 22, 2009 at 9:00 am

Tips & Tricks: Overexposure

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Digital cameras are technically-advanced and extremely user-friendly. So much so, it’s easy to get accustomed to letting the camera do all the thinking and only take photos in the automatic mode. But why limit yourself? A digital camera is a great tool for exploring your creative side.

For this little exercise in digital photography, we’re going to look at using your camera’s shutter priority function.

Most of the time, shutter priority mode is marked as “Tv” or “S” on the dial. This function allows you to input the shutter speed and the camera sets the appropriate aperture value. Let’s assume you don’t know anything about shutter speeds. That’s fine. You can learn as we go along.

Understanding Shutter Speed
Shutter speed is the time value measurement of the camera. It’s the amount of time light is allowed to strike the image sensor. If the scene you’re photographing is relatively dark, then a slower shutter speed is required because it takes more time for enough light to strike the image sensor to make an image. Alternately, a bright scene would require a faster shutter speed because too much light will make the image too bright – or what’s called overexposed.

Overexposure
For the purpose of this discussion, let’s discuss three levels of light were going to be concerned with: highlights, which are the brightest areas; mid-tones, which are the “middle” or “normal” light levels; and lowlights or shadows.
A “properly” exposed image has a balance between highlights, mid-tones and shadows. If an image is underexposed, it is too dark and details are lost in the shadows. If an image is overexposed, it is too bright and the image looses details in the highlight area.

Hard, directional light from the right side of the image was used for lighting. The shutter speed was set so the image would be overexposed giving it a unique look. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Hard, directional light from the right side of the image was used for lighting. The shutter speed was set so the image would be overexposed giving it a unique look. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

If Overexposure is ‘Wrong,’ Why Use It?
Sometimes it’s OK to break the rules.  Overexposure can add a sense of drama. It can also help give a new way to look at something that’s been photographed many, many times. Furthermore, slight overexposure can really help in portraits where your subject has slight facial blemishes such as acne.
Photography is one of those fields that once you know the rules, it’s perfectly OK to bend or break them. Experimenting with different looks and different techniques is a great way to unleash your own creative potential.

OK, You’ve Convinced Me. Now What?
Overexposure is easy, especially with a digital camera since you get instant feedback. Back in the “old days” when I studied photography, I kept a little notebook with me and recorded shutter speed, aperture and other values of all the pictures I took on film. That way, when I developed the images, I could see what process and what values I liked best. I also bracketed the image, which means I shot each image underexposed, properly exposed and overexposed. That way, I could pick and choose what I liked best for the particular image.
With a digital camera, you can leave the notebook at home. Not only can you instantly see the results, the shutter speed and aperture values are recorded for each image.

Step-by-Step
First, find a good subject. Since you’ll be experimenting with many different exposure values, it’s best to find something inanimate since people get cranky and pets get bored or vice versa. Flowers work really well, especially big, colorful flowers.
Next, take your subject outside on a bright day. Place your subject in a location where the background isn’t too distracting.
Now, put your camera on the “Tv” or “S” setting. Then you need to look at the shutter speed value, which will probably be displayed on your LCD view screen. Consult your owner’s manual to find out how to increase or decrease the shutter speed value. There will be a bar, usually at the bottom of your camera, that tells you if you’re underexposed, correctly exposed or overexposed.
Look at the light meter display on your LCD view screen and take a picture at the “normal” or “proper” exposure level. Then, decrease your shutter speed value and take another picture. Keep this up until you can no longer see the subject on the LCD screen. After you’re finished, look at your images on the computer. If you have image editing software, open the images in the software and start applying minor adjustments to your best images until you get the results you want.

While using overexposure gives you a new tool to use in your photography, it won’t work for every subject every time but don’t be afraid to experiment. Try new techniques whenever you get a chance because you might find a new spin on an old subject.

Good luck and keep shooting!

Written by jeremyparce

March 16, 2009 at 2:44 pm

Reasonable Expectations Will Save You Grief

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My friend’s little brother plays varsity soccer and I was asked to take some pictures of a game. Although I’m not a sports photographer, I do have some equipment geared for sports photography and some experience shooting sports so I loaded up my gear and headed out to the field. What I saw amazed me. No, I wasn’t amazed by the action on the field but at the action on the sidelines.

A few moms and dads were lined up and armed with point-and-shoot cameras. They would take a shot, look at the LCD, scratch their heads then try again and repeat the same look of confusion and frustration.
A little into the game one mom/photographer came up and asked point-blank: What’s wrong with my camera?

“Nothing’s wrong with your camera,” I told her. Then before she thought I meant something was wrong with her I explained – the digital compact camera she was using wasn’t the right tool for the job.
If camera manufacturers do one thing that really irks me it’s this: They set the general public up for disappointment.

Too often, camera companies set expectations too high among consumers as to what digital cameras can do. These ads are fairly similar regardless of the manufacturer. Most of the time, it’s mom or dad standing on the playing field sidelines with point-and-shoot camera at the ready to catch a photo of little Jane or Johnny making the winning touchdown or goal.

So soccer moms and dads go to the nearest big-box electronics retailer, buy a moderately-priced compact camera and head off to take photos of the kids with visions of Sports Illustrated-quality photos dancing in their heads.

Then the disappointment comes. Most of the photos are motion blurred or out of focus. Heads are chopped off. Instead of a picture of the game-winning goal, there’s a picture of someone’s blurry foot and a disembodied hand sticking out of the corner of the frame.

Sound familiar?

That’s because camera manufacturers typically use images in advertising campaigns taken by professional photographers with pro-level equipment. If you look real hard at some ads, there will even be a disclaimer that says the “sample” images included on the product pages are “representative” or “enhanced.” This is what you should be thinking: These images were taken by a professional with professional gear and don’t expect the same outcomes.

Don’t get me wrong. For the average consumer, a $175 compact will cover most photographic needs. But be realistic. It won’t do what professional gear, lighting and experience will do.
Camera companies owe it to consumers to display images that are truly representative of what the camera can do. Consumers won’t feel disappointed or jilted if camera companies set realistic expectations.
Unfortunately, consumers who become discouraged by their camera’s performance stop trying. The camera collects dust and becomes an expensive paperweight. Don’t fall into that trap. Keep shooting and keep making images. Just realize the limits of the equipment.

Good luck and keep shooting!

Written by jeremyparce

March 11, 2009 at 11:00 am

Identifying Your Wants and Needs

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There are many reasons to purchase a digital camera and a plethora of cameras to choose from. Finding the right camera for your needs is easy – if you do your homework.

A digital camera is a tool just like a hammer or screwdriver. Just as you would select the correct hand-tool for the job, you really need to select the right camera for your needs. Before making a purchase, spend a few minutes evaluating what you want from your camera.

Here are a few key questions to ask yourself prior to making a buying decision:

What Do You Want to Accomplish?
What is your main purpose for buying a camera? If you’re primarily going to use the camera for special events, i.e. birthdays, holiday parties, and family gatherings, then you can probably limit your search to compact digital cameras. These cameras offer all the bells-and-whistles you need at a very affordable price. There’s no need to make the plunge into the DSLR realm if you just need an “event” camera. First, DSLRs are heavier than most point-and-shoots and usually more expensive. So, save your money and find a well-equipped point-and-shoot.

If you’re going to use your camera primarily for Web postings such as MySpace and Facebook, then a compact digital camera with a lower megapixel count – which also generally means less money – will be perfect.
DSLRs are the perfect camera if you’re an advanced amateur, serious photo hobbyist, photography student, budding pro, or are a seasoned photographer. Although more expensive than point-and-shoots, these cameras offer the most creative freedom and choices available. Even the lowest-priced DSLR are powerhouses when it comes to creative freedom.

Who Will Use the Camera?
Who will be the primary user of the camera? This is a very important question. As a rule, the more technology available, the more time it takes to learn how to use the equipment.

If the camera you’re going to purchase is for the family, meaning everyone in the house is going to be using it, then a simple, compact digital camera is probably your best bet. A basic, compact digital camera minimizes the number of user-defined choices and is relatively simple to operate.

But just because these cameras are relatively inexpensive, they still offer the ability to take great pictures. These cameras have complex computer functions that really take the guesswork out of taking images.

Purchasing a digital camera should not be a snap decision. You should weigh your options and consider what features you need and want. Once you have narrowed down your list of possible cameras, then research them and take them out for a test drive in a store. The happier you are with your camera, the more likely you’ll be to use it.

Written by jeremyparce

March 11, 2009 at 9:00 am

Look For Different Views

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Too often, beginning photographers lock their bodies into one position and don’t move. They stand, they shoot their subjects standing and they never look for anything out of the ordinary.

That’s too bad. Some nice images can be made by shooting from different angles. Get above your subject and photograph down; get below you subject and photograph up. Move around and try different distances and various points-of-view. You’ll never know what you’ll get until you try.

Don't be afraid to 'break the rules.' Interesting images can be made by trying different angles and different points-of-view. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Don't be afraid to 'break the rules.' Interesting images can be made by trying different angles and different points-of-view. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Some Tips:

  • When photographing children at play, look for the small actions. Zoom in and focus on what they do with their hands or focus solely on their expressions.
  • Shoot tight: Don’t be afraid to zoom in and get tight on the subject.
  • Look at the eyes: Some people are just really expressive with their eyes. Zoom in and get close.
  • Legs and feet: Good action shots can be made from zooming in on the feet and legs, especially in sporting events. Play around with different shutter speeds to show more action through motion blur.
  • Break the rules: Don’t be afraid to break any rule you’ve heard about photography. Breaking the rules can lead to great images.
  • Play with ISO settings: Different ISO settings will give you different looks. The higher the ISO – 800 and above – the more grain. Try it and see if your images look different.

Remember, you can’t learn unless you make tons of mistakes. Trust me, I should have learned a lot by the number of mistakes I’ve made. It’s been said that Thomas Edison was once asked how he felt about failing so many times inventing the light bulb. Allegedly, his reply was, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Whether he said it or not, it’s a good quote to work by. You can’t fail at photography, but you sure can find many ways some techniques don’t work. That’s OK. The good thing about digital photography is you don’t “waste” film. If you don’t like it, delete it and keep trying.

Good luck and keep shooting!

Written by jeremyparce

March 10, 2009 at 10:00 am

Sports Photography: Catching the Action

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Sports photography is tough. In fact, I think it’s one of the more difficult forms of photography because it is a balancing act. A good sports image should balance emotion with action and it’s a tough wire to walk.

If you have an interest in sports photography or are thinking of a career as a photojournalist, then you should spend some time looking at great sports images and studying the photographers who make them.

Try to anticipate the action so you're not always shooting "behind the game." (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Try to anticipate the action so you're not always shooting "behind the game." (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Here’s a few samples you should check out:

  • Bob Martin: Bob Martin is a top sports photographer located in the UK. Martin has photographed the last ten Summer and Winter Olympics and has been published in numerous publications including Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, Life Magazine and Stern.
  • Brad Mangin:  California-based photographer Brad Mangin is a regular contributor to Sports Illustrated and Major League Baseball Photos. Mangin is also a founding owner of SportsShooter.com.
  • Dave Black:  Dave Black’s images have appeared in Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, and ESPN. He also conducts workshops in sports photography.

Some Simple Tips
For the most part, readers of this Website are amateur photographers and students. With that said, if you’re reading this and are interested in sports photography, it’s probably because you have a kid in sports or are a student wanting to hone you sports shooting techniques. While I’m not an expert in sports photography, I want to share a few basic tips that should help you make better images.

  • Get tight: Don’t be afraid to zoom in tight on the action. Zoom in and catch the up-close action.
  • Use Different Shutter Speeds: Try different shutter speeds to capture images with a different look. The slower the shutter speed, the more motion blur. Sometimes you can make an interesting image with just the right amount of motion blur to give the subject a sense of movement.
  • Look at the Faces: Sports photography isn’t just about the action on the field, it’s about the emotion of the athletes. Try shooting tight on the athlete’s faces and look for images that express emotion.
  • Predict Movement: Try to predict the games actions. Look for key players and watch as they move about the field. Try to guess where the action is going to be so you’re not  “behind the game.”
  • Keep Both Eyes Open: Good action photographers have the ability to keep both eyes open: one eye in the viewfinder and one eye tracking action.
  • Move Around: If possible, move around the field or court for different views. Also, try sitting and kneeling in addition to standing. You can get some interesting photos just by changing your body position.

Don’t Be ‘That Guy’
If you’re on a crowded sideline or court, remember to respect the other photographers who are also there. I want to mention this because of an experience that happened to me a few years back.

I was assigned to photograph an Ohio State football game and the sideline was packed with photographers. I got there early, found a spot that I wanted and set up shop. On my left was a photographer from the local Columbus, Ohio, newspaper and to my right was a photographer on assignment for a national sports magazine.

Everything was working quite well as me and my neighbors shot for the first quarter. During the second quarter, another photographer from a regional newspaper decided he wanted where we were and started pushing, squirming and squeezing his way in between me and the guy on the right. A field marshal noticed what was going on and this photographer was promptly removed from the area.

Don’t be “that guy.” If you happen to find yourself on a crowded sideline, remember to use a little courtesy.

Extra Tip
If you’re a student and happen to get a field pass to photograph your school’s team, let me add a few more tips. First, don’t cheer. You’re there to do a job and not to be a cheerleader. If you want to cheer for your team, stay in the stands or tryout for the cheerleading team. Second, don’t wear school colors. Again, you’re there to do a job. Dress as neutral as possible. Finally, don’t “chimp.” “Chimping” is the act of reviewing every shot you take on the LCD screen the moment you get a chance. Some people will tell you not to chimp because it looks unprofessional. I will give you a practical reason: It will drain your batteries faster than you can imagine. A sporting event is going to be pretty taxing on your batteries, so help conserve batteries and don’t drain the batteries faster by reviewing every single image. A periodic check is OK but don’t become a chimp.

Good luck and keep shooting!

Written by jeremyparce

March 8, 2009 at 8:06 pm