Complications Of Digital Photography

Complications Of Digital Photography

by William Lulow

I have often said that digital photography is easier than using film in several ways:

  1. There are many auto-focus lenses
  2. The camera can be programmed to calculate correct exposure
  3. You don’t have to load film
  4. You can preview your work directly on the LCD screen. No need to wait for development.

With this being said, there are quite a few more items to consider than simply pressing the shutter and recording the image. In the days of film photography, you had your choice of indoor or outdoor film and several options of film speed. You had several different sizes from which to choose, from 35mm to 2 1/4 medium format, all the way up to 4×5 or 8×10 sheet film. The characteristics of each were somewhat different, but that was about it as far as choices went.

Today, the digital experience offers quite an array of different settings that force us to think carefully about how we want our images to look. Yes, you can set your camera to AUTO and it will yield fairly good images, mostly correctly exposed, but you can also use a myriad of different settings depending on your personal preferences and, of course, those of your clients (if you sell the images or shoot for a commercial concern).

So, here are just a few. My Canon cameras have nine different “PICTURE STYLES” from which to choose:

  6. MONOCHROME and three more “USER DEFINED” settings.

Within each of these you can choose four more settings:

  1. Sharpness
  2. Contrast
  3. Saturation
  4. Color Tone

This gives you at least thirty-six different settings you need to think about. Some of the differences may be subtle, but that can sometimes make the difference between a good shot and a “great” one.

Here are some examples, all shot with the same exposure (ISO100, 1/125th of a second at f/8):

This image was made on the STANDARD setting with SHARPNESS set at 7 (Max) CONTRAST at 2, SATURATION 0, and COLOR TONE 0.

This image was made on the PORTRAIT setting with SHARPNESS set at 6, CONTRAST at +2, SATURATION at 0 and COLOR TONE at -2.

This one was shot on LANDSCAPE mode with SHARPNESS set at 6,CONTRAST at 2, SATURATION at 2 and COLOR TONE at -2. Here you can begin to discern a slight blue tint to the snow (probably cyan rather than blue).

This was made in the NEUTRAL mode with SHARPNESS at 6, CONTRAST at 0, SATURATION at 2, and COLOR TONE at -2. To my eye, this looks a bit more reddish than the STANDARD setting, but still looks good.

In FAITHFUL mode, this image actually looks the most neutral of all of them, representing the scene most closely as my eye saw it.

Now, with all these settings to add to your confusion, you need to be mindful of how you want the scene to be represented. If you prefer more color saturation, then you can use one of the USER DEFINED settings for that. I once had to photograph a client’s paintings and I had to be sure that the colors in the paintings were correctly represented in the images. Also, if you are shooting a product, you need to make sure that the images accurately represent the colors, otherwise, the client will not like them.

In the days of film, we were able to control the way the images looked with a combination of color balancing the lights, processing the film in certain ways or by filtering the film to produce a “normal-looking” image. We would often compare color charts with the colors we were shooting to get a fairly exact match. Color film was manufactured by Kodak, Fuji or other company in batches. So, we had to test each batch and come up with a filter pack that balanced the film for our lights. We had to do this for every batch we bought. So, maybe in that sense, film was just as difficult. But it highlights the need for testing even for digital cameras.

This should give you some idea of how complicated your “easy” digital photography can be.


More Elements Of Good Composition

More Elements Of Good Composition

 by William Lulow

Photography classes always speak about composition. But what, exactly is it and how do you know when a composition is effective? Basically, a composition is the placement of objects or subjects within the frame of the picture. Painters can achieve this by choosing their points-of-view and simply drawing in their subjects. Photographers need to use the camera to do the same thing. Different compositions can be obtained by:

  1. Moving the camera up, down or side to side
  2. Tilting the lens up or down
  3. Moving closer or further away from the subject(s)
  4. Using lenses of different focal lengths
  5. Finding different vantage points for the camera

An effective composition is one that keeps the viewer’s eye attending to the part or parts of the image that the photographer deems most important. If you intend to communicate your feeling about a particular subject, you want to capture your viewers’ attention and hold it.

There are several tried and true methods to achieve this:

  1. Create lines that lead the viewer’s eye into the image.
  2. Create interesting enough subject material to hold a viewer’s interest.
  3. Include a subject that will serve to bounce the eye back to the initial interest lines.
  4. Divide your image into thirds, like a grid.
  5. In most Western societies, when we read, we scan left to right. We do the same for images. Therefore, if you place an important object on the right side of the image, our eyes will tend to bounce back to the left side after seeing it.
  6. Any type of “circular” placement of important parts of an image, will tend to hold the viewer’s attention more.

Here are some examples:

Here, the train tracks lead the viewer’s eye into the image and the largest object is placed near the middle of the composition. The veering out of the tracks on the right serve to keep the viewer’s interest focused on the tracks in the middle, which reinforces the interest in the tall building.

Here, the lines created by the blue sky, the puffiness of the clouds, the contrast of the palm trees against the grey of the clouds and the low horizon create interest in this image. The lifeguard’s small house on the left of the scene serves to keep the viewer’s eye concentrated on the image as a whole.

Generally, anything white in a composition will attract the viewer’s eye before the black areas. By placing the white areas on the right side of the image, the eye is attracted there first. Then it is free to wander to the shadow areas and back to the highlight, thus keeping the viewer’s attention.

In this image (shot from a very high angle), the roadway itself, makes an “s” shape that naturally leads the eye from the bottom left to the top right of the frame.

Here is yet another image with a slanted line that runs right to left within the frame. Because it is lighter in tone than the rocks, it tends to catch the eye and takes it to the center of the image. Then, because the rocks are the largest object in the frame, our attention is drawn to them afterwards, leading to the “circular” compositional element spoken of earlier. One additional point here: try a low angle for your scenic shots. Low angles tend to emphasize the foreground and you can then utilize other lines in the frame to draw your viewers’ eyes in to the scene.

These are just a few elements of good composition. Remember, as photographers, we are dealing mostly with rectangular limits to our compositions. Much of the notion of composition is intuitive. Many artists have an “eye” for it. They seem to know what makes a good composition. But, you can still think about where you place your important objects within that frame and how you might direct a viewer’s eye to see what you want them to see.

With all this being said, there are, of course, photographs whose content is compelling in and of itself. These are the ones that you can’t stop looking at because of the subject matter or how it is treated. Unusual lighting also helps to draw attention to an image. So, keep these things in mind when you are out creating images and they will become better and better.




Portrait Studio Lighting Setup

Portrait Studio Lighting Setup

by William Lulow

I thought I’d go over, once again, my portrait studio setup with the basic lighting. I’ve been using this setup for most of my studio portrait work and it is a very adjustable setup for most every portrait I would do in the studio. The lighting can be varied to give many different looks and really deliver some creative images with very little change in the positions of the lights.

First of all, the basic setup looks like this:

Here you can see my umbrella mainlight to the left, a small fill-in softbox on the right, a background light in the center and the black shades are hiding the two accent lights that I use. So, this is a five-light setup. I can use any or all of them to create the type of portrait I want. In the photograph below, I used only one accent light, the background light and the mainlight:

The background light made the gray no-seam look a bit lighter, the accent light added the highlight on the man’s hair (on his left side – camera-right) and the umbrella provided the main light. It was set up in the “Hollywood Light” position, so you can still see a slight shadow under the man’s nose. But the shadow is transparent due to the overall softness of the large umbrella main light. I find that men can take this kind of lighting better than women can. The slight shadow produced from the main light only, gives a man a bit more character. When you are photographing women, you would usually want to try to hide most shadows on the face. This isn’t true ALL the time, but it is a rule to which I usually adhere. Here’s a similar portrait of a woman, but with the addition of the small fill-in softbox on the right:

Actually, this fill-in position is more in the center, but below the subject. The background was a white no-seam, that was lit from behind the subject.  Note that there are absolutely no shadows on the subject’s face. Here’s another portrait of a woman utilizing both accent lights and just my large umbrella. The background light was turned off. The effect is soft because the main light is placed almost directly above the camera:

This image was done on location, but the setup was the same. There is one accent light, a main light (large umbrella) and my fill-in softbox. The background reproduced lighter than the previous image because the subject was closer to it.

This portrait of a man was made with both accent lights, a carefully placed background light just lighting up the lower half of the background, and my large, main light umbrella.

So, with this basic setup, you can achieve a number of different effects by simply turning one or more lights on or off. You can vary background tones by the color of the no-seam paper you use and how you light it. Even in my small studio I can manage to change lightings quickly and easily by understanding their positions and what each light does. Then, depending on the kind of portrait wanted, I can make small adjustments to produce that effect.



Three Easy Lighting Setups With Just One Light

Three Easy Lighting Setups With Just One Light

by William Lulow

If you are just starting to play around with artificial light, either with hotlight, speedlights or regular studio strobes, these simple setups, with diagrams, might just help. They are a good place to begin!

One light can be used to make some very dramatic portraits and even some fairly well-lit ones as well. You can begin by placing a light high above the camera and a little to one side. This position is known as a HOLLYWOOD LIGHT because it basically lights the face totally, the way Hollywood studio photographers used to before electronic flash was invented.  It also creates a little triangular shadow under the nose:


This is what the lighting diagram would look like:

Keep in mind that the position of the light is high and a bit to one side of the camera, but basically aimed directly at the subject.

Here’s another setup you can do with one light:

Note that the light has been moved more to the left of the camera, but is still the same height as the HOLLYWOOD LIGHT. This lighting is called a REMBRANDT LIGHT:


It produces a telltale triangle or window of light under the subject’s opposite eye. It’s quite a bit more dramatic because of the deep shadow it creates on the subject’s opposite side.

And, here’s a third setup you can achieve with one light:


If you move the light to a 90-degree angle from the camera axis, you will achieve a SIDE LIGHT. One side of the face is lit while the other remains in shadow.

These lighting setups can be used with any light source. I usually like to begin with a photoflood bulb in a small reflector because it’s a whole lot easier to see the effects of the lighting. You don’t even have to take a picture! You should practice setting these lightings up with just a hotlight and then transfer them to a speedlight if you like or to studio strobes, if you have them. Whatever light source you use, the principles of applying the light remain the same.

More lighting setups can be made with just one light, but if you begin here, you will readily see how the application of studio lighting, especially for portraits can progress. Try these on for size and see which one you tend to prefer. Then, by varying the light-to-subject distance you can achieve darker or lighter effects. If you want to lighten the shadows, try using a 16×20-inch white board as a reflector on the opposite side of the light.

(Lighting diagrams: Don Gianatti)

Why We Need To Print Pictures To Preserve Our Memories

Why We Need To Print Pictures To Preserve Our Memories

by William Lulow

I was reading an article by Andrew Sullivan’s in an issue of New York Magazine last year, which dealt with our growing addiction to devices with screens of one sort or another. We all have smartphones these days, in addition to our regular computers and/or laptops/tablets. There is no questioning the fact that we are on these devices every single day for many hours. Some may question whether or not we are “addicted” to these things, but we all use them. Just walk down any street in this country if you need proof! Mr. Sullivan points out that we just might need a good rehab program to help us get back to “reality” rather than “virtual reality!”

How does this relate to photography, you might ask. Well, I’ve been writing in this space for quite a while now that we now see photographs mostly on screens of one type or another. The shots I take of my new granddaughter on my smartphone are terrific, but when I do a real photo shoot with her and then print the pictures for the family, it’s quite a different experience. They become treasured items rather than simply another image on a screen.

(Shot with a Canon 60D, in the studio and printed on Inkpress Pro Silky paper, 300GSM. This paper is super sturdy and has a nice sheen to it. Naturally, I made copies for the family!)

So many images we take on our devices are really ephemeral! In order to make them part of our history, they should be printed not just stored on the cloud. There is a quotation on the portal of the Philadelphia Art Museum, I believe, that says “All Else Passes, Art Alone Endures.” Well, if it’s only on your phone, it may very well “pass” as well! If you want to leave photographs as part of your legacy or heritage, they should be printed and framed.

When you go to someone’s home and see photographs of their family members in frames prominently displayed on the wall or on a piece of furniture, you understand how important printed photographs are to people. I know people who have come back from a vacation and shown me unedited images, still on their smartphones! Think how much more impressive it would be if only a select few of them were edited, cropped, printed and framed.

Photographs were meant to be exhibited. By this I mean that they should be carefully edited and printed on paper for people to view. When you view images on a screen, they are often fleeting and the size of the screen itself usually doesn’t allow for introspective perusal, as images in a gallery or museum might. So, I encourage all my students to print their edited images. In addition to being much more impressive as prints, images are often much clearer and sharper on paper than they are on almost any screen.

Photographs, by definition, are “light pictures.” Try to break the addiction to screens by printing your images!

Teaching Photography

Teaching Photography

by William Lulow

There is an old adage of sorts that says something like, “Those who can, do and those who can’t do, teach!” Well, as a long time teacher of photography, I’d like to quarrel with this! I have met many “doers” in my career who thought they could teach, but who turned out to be lousy teachers! There’s a world of difference between the “doers” and the “teachers.” It doesn’t mean that doers can’t teach, but those who are trained teachers usually know what’s involved in teaching. Doers don’t always know how to teach!

Many practitioners in whatever field it might be, often have learned their strategies for success by a combination of good education, proper on-the-job training and a certain sense of intuition about what “works” in their fields. And, of course a good helping of plain old luck!  Photography is certainly no different than others when it comes to figuring out how to become a success. Sometimes it’s who you know. Often it’s what you know. And most always, it’s how you use the combination.

Because someone has a recognized name doesn’t always mean that they’d be a great teacher. I took a class with an extremely well-known, and respected photographer who hadn’t even a vague notion of how to teach what he knew. His assignments were haphazard and not directed at teaching to the point. Although he was a great photographer, he really couldn’t teach. I see now that the famous photographer Annie Liebovitz has offered her expertise to those willing to pay for it. I certainly don’t pretend to know whether or not she’s a good teacher. But my instincts tell me that without a knowledge of how to teach effectively, you won’t be effective! But, her name will certainly generate a buzz.

There are several fine points to the art of teaching something:

  • Students generally learn better and faster by experience. The more “hands on” experience, the better.
  • Students learn better when lessons are developed and actually progress from a “beginning” to an “end”. This usually means that some kind of curriculum or plan for lessons is developed and shared. This also can’t be done “on the fly.” It has to be set up, and it takes time and careful planning to do it.
  • Photography students learn better when assignments are objective, that is, they have a specific goal that can be assessed objectively. “Critiquing” photographs is not teaching. Offering “portfolio reviews” is also just one person’s take on your work.  One person’s point of view is just that! It really doesn’t teach you much, usually.
  • Photography students learn better when they are taught on equipment with which they have become familiar. This means that they need to purchase their own “tools.” This kind of thing is not for the casual learner or someone wishing to get “additional information.”
  • Students learn at different paces. So, giving out a ton of information all at once is not teaching. You have to ensure that students have time to digest any and all information you give them. This is best done with practice and trying a new technique until it is mastered. This also requires time, which means a semester or several classes strung together with additional time in between classes to practice. You can get a lot of information in a six-hour workshop, but then you need to go out and digest what you learned by doing it over many times.

So, because you’re well-known in your field. in and of itself,  doesn’t make you a great teacher. Like anything else, learning how to teach, practicing the art and observing the results, makes for excellent teaching.

If you want to learn about photography, find someone who has been teaching it for a long time at various institutions. Great practitioners don’t always make the greatest teachers!

(Above, student learning some of the principles of umbrella lighting in her own home studio).

(Me, making a presentation to a camera club audience about learning to “see” photographically).

(Lighting diagram showing camera and position of lights.)

Informative books I always give out during workshops so that students can study them on their own time.

Adding Lights To Your Photographic Assignments

Adding Lights To Your Photographic Assignments

by William Lulow

Most really good images are enhanced by good lighting. I’ve often written on the topic of how learning about artificial lighting can make you a better photographer, even if you do all your shooting outdoors with available light. You can make decent images with just a simple flash-on-camera setup, or in broad daylight with no artificial light at all. But when you are in a situation that needs the addition of some light, providing it from more than one light really improves the quality of your images.

Here’s what I mean. I was asked to document an art class and some of the students who attend it. I decided to bring an extra light, in addition to a soft, bounce card rig I use with my on-camera flash. This is one of the examples:

Here the kids are involved with painting, but the directional light coming from behind them added a little extra “kick” to the overall lighting scheme. You can notice that the shadows produced are very transparent so that any details are rendered totally visible. Here’s another example:

You can see the highlight created on the girl’s hair from that same accent light. It just gives the image an extra dimensionality that wouldn’t have been there with just the on-camera light. In addition, the on-camera bounce light rig that I use keeps the light sufficiently soft and reduces the exposure so that it is basically one f/stop less than the accent light. That’s what makes the accent light reproduce as white on the subject.

Sometimes the additional light can be used to give some added brightness to the scene:

Sometimes it creates highlights that make the image really shine:

This is the bounce-light rig I have been using to keep the mainlight soft and about one f/stop less than the direct accent light:

You can see that this contraption acts like a white card off of which I bounce the on-camera light. It doesn’t take the place of a photographic umbrella, but it is better than bouncing the light off of a ceiling, say, because it directs the bounce more toward the subject, while still keeping it soft. And it is really handy when you need some portability to your lighting scheme. The accent light I use can remain stationary, but I like to move it around during the shoot to try to get some different effects.

Using at least one extra light in addition to your mainlight will give your images some extra “pop” and make them a lot more interesting.


Shooting In Low-Light Situations

Shooting In Low-Light Situations

by William Lulow

When you need to make images where there is very little light, you need to think about “under-exposures.” Even though modern digital sensors are much more sensitive to light than film ever was, there is still some “give and take” to the process. By this I mean that the more you underexpose your images, the more you have to give up on the clarity of them. They will contain more “noise” and “grain” than normally exposed images. So, you need to think about your ISO settings and how far you can “push” them in order to get acceptable exposures. You need to remember that there are basically three elements to making digital images (your ISO setting, the lens aperture and the shutter speed). Once you figure out what settings work with your given light levels, you are on your way to making great images. And you have to do this with experimentation.

I do a lot of concert photography, mostly in intimate clubs and other musical venues and have found that a good place to begin is with an ISO setting of around 2000. This is roughly equivalent to a 10 f/stop underexposure! I have been able to make very good 8×10 prints from images shot with this setting. Sometimes I may need to slow the shutter speed down to 1/30th of 1/60th of a second, which creates some blur if the performer’s hands are moving, but most everything else is sharp. I also shoot with the aid of a monopod to help give some extra stability.

Here are a couple of examples:

This is an image of guitarist Eric Gales, shot at ISO 2500, f/4.5 at 1/60th of a second. There is some movement with the hands, but the image is fairly sharp overall and made a decent 8×10 print.

Here is another image of singer/songwriter Karla Bonoff. At this venue, the piano is never in the middle of the stage. So, the light on it is minimal. I think this exposure was ISO2500, f/4 at 1/30th of a second. It also made a decent print.

My last assignment was photographing singer/songwriter Patty Larkin. Here are a couple of images from that shoot:

These were shot at ISO 2500, f/5.0 @ 1/80th of a second. I did a little retouching on the first one, but they are both fairly sharp, even when enlarged quite a bit. They were also adjusted a little for contrast and further exposure

Once you realize that you will be underexposing these images, you can then take the steps to ensure that you get printable quality pictures.

A Location Portrait

A Location Portrait

by William Lulow

On a recent trip to the Atlanta area, I had occasion to do some portraits of a high school friend, Paul Golden, who, among other things, has become quite an art collector. His main business is running a very successful commercial printing venture, which he has been doing for probably over 40 years now. (Wheeler-Benitas, Snellville, GA). When I went to his house, I was amazed at his library so I decided to make a portrait of him there. He showed me an old portrait that a friend did of him when he was much younger, so I decided to try to emulate the lighting. It was a dark, moody portrait of him smoking a cigarette with a wisp of smoke rising from his mouth. I didn’t want to make it quite as dark, but I did want to keep the same feel for the lighting, so I set up my portable speedlight in roughly a similar position.

Here is one of the lights I positioned to his right:

If you look back near the book shelves, you will see the light near the window. I also used a diffuser mounted on my camera. When I don’t have my umbrellas and larger power packs to work with, I use this contraption instead. It bounces the light from a white reflector, thus softening it and keeping it about one f/stop less than the other flash which is aimed directly at the subject.

Here we are looking at the results:

These days, I like to share a few of the images I’m getting with the client so that they can see what kinds of pictures we’re making.

And here is another shot of me working with Paul:

(Many thanks to Paul’s wife Ellen for taking these snaps).

And here is the result:

The bounced flash provided just enough light to make the features of Paul’s face visible. Without the second flash, the image would have looked like this:

There wasn’t quite enough light on Paul with just the accent light. Hence, the addition of the on-camera flash.

When I am on assignment, I usually bring my regular lights with power packs and umbrellas, but this was a shot I did while I was on vacation and didn’t have my regular lighting kit with me. But you’d be surprised to see the results you can obtain when you know how to use whatever lighting equipment you happen to have with you.

Photographers’ Use Of The Social Media

Photographers’ Use Of The Social Media

by William Lulow

I think everyone would agree that if you’re in business these days, you need to be on the social media. It’s really the way that people communicate most often and the most quickly. It’s sometimes difficult to figure out how the various algorithms work in terms of posting and re-posting articles, but I believe it’s necessary to post valuable and interesting content in whatever field you happen to be. Not only does it let people know who and where you are, but it adds information to the ever-growing fund of knowledge on the internet.

Also, photography is one of those services that people will only buy when they need it. It’s not like a product that’s bought on “impulse” or something someone decides they have to have! Commercial photographs are purchased to serve a particular purpose, mostly in selling something or someone. But, when someone needs a commercial photograph, they will be searching for a photographer who can best fill the need, whatever it may be. That’s what the internet and the social media help photographers to do. They keep your name “out there” so that people can find you when they need you. And these days, they probably use one of the major search engines, Google being the most well-known of them.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr and Instagram all work somewhat differently but they provide the ability to link the same post to each other’s feeds, so it’s really easy to make sure that your post gets seen by the largest possible audience. This has been a plus for me as it has for other photographers as well.

It has really become a “do-it-yourself” world out there and that’s one of the main reasons I like to post my brand of instructional articles on a regular basis. I have been doing so for over four years now, every week, twice per week and the lessons are free for the reading. One reason I work so hard at it is because I feel it’s necessary for me to pay back a bit for the success I’ve had. In addition, photography has been made easier, somewhat, by the invention of digital cameras and the digital process generally. Today, anyone with a decent digital camera can claim to be a photographer!

However, taking good pictures and doing it as a profession are two very different things. So, I feel it’s my duty, as a photography teacher, to give as much information as I can to future photographers so that they can raise their skills to the level they desire for whatever their interests in picture making may be.

I think there is a good deal of information that many people who want to be photographers (or to express themselves through the medium), simply don’t have. For instance, many younger practitioners today, haven’t really bothered to study anything about photography’s history. Many of these people have never heard of Irving Penn, Richard Avedon or Philippe Halsman. They’ve never seen the original prints of W.Eugene Smith or Ansel Adams. They don’t know what the FSA was or that people like Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans actually had jobs as photographers during the Great Depression! And, they might have heard of Matthew Brady, but probably don’t know when he lived or how influential he was! Nor are they aware of the kinds of equipment used in photography’s infancy and how it all led up to today’s “digital revolution.” Understanding the history of any medium is important to learning about its future as well.

The social media is simply the best way of publishing articles and photographs that have relevancy today. But because you are, in essence, your own editor, you don’t need to have your article approved by anyone but yourself, so it is therefore, incumbent on you as a writer, to make your content as interesting and well-written as possible.

Everyone today devours content immediately and quickly moves on to the next bit of information out there. As photographers, we need to strive to make our images the best they can be, not publish them just because we made them. We all take pictures with our camera phones these days, but why not learn some elements of composition so that they can all be better? Since there are so many more images, taking the time to think about yours will go a long way to making them stand out.

Content is still king! So making sure you have something of value to say on social media is more important than ever these days because sites like Facebook are really no better than the National Enquirer when it comes to news. Having no editors means that anyone can publish anything! That’s why I always encourage everyone who reads my posts to check my information for themselves or to ask me any questions they like about anything I write.

Here is one of my own images:

I post photographs with explanations of how they were made! Most of my blog articles contain detailed information about cameras, lenses, lighting and teaching techniques that help today’s digital shooters improve their photographic efforts. I sometimes offer “behind the scenes” images of particular photo shoots so that others can see what went into making the pictures.

(This is the lighting setup for a cover shoot at the Gotham Comedy Club in New York City back in February of 2016).

So, the social media can help spread your name and images but you need to try hard to make your posts informational and not trivial!