Thoughts On Making Professional Photographs

Thoughts On Making Professional Photographs

by William Lulow

I have been doing photography practically all my life. I’ve studied about exposure, film developing and printing. I’ve worked with all sorts of photographic equipment from 8×10 view cameras to 35mm point-and-shoot automatic ones. I’ve learned about the intricacies of lighting and how to apply those principles successfully to make the images I wanted. I’ve worked for other studios and photographers to get first-hand knowledge of how the business of photography works and what it takes to own and operate a successful photographic studio. In short, I have spent a lifetime in this business and gained much invaluable information about how it works.

Lately, I’ve been asking myself why I have done all this studying, practicing, experimenting and working. The answer is that there is something about photography that I simply fell in love with back when I was a child in school.

I guess there is something about making images that always attracted me. I loved the equipment – cameras, lenses, tripods, lights, studio backdrops and just the feeling I got when I was behind the camera, making images and then delivering the finished job. It was kind of euphoric! I also discovered that I had kind of knack for figuring out how and why everything worked the way it did to produce images of which I was proud.

There is also something to be said for having a thought in one’s mind and the ability to translate it into a visible image. I think many people have the same creative urge, but not everyone is able to convert it to an image. Many people take pictures, thousands of images, in hopes that one of them will say something about how the person was actually feeling. Many have no idea how to do this at all. Some may, like me, be interested in equipment and have the money to buy all sorts of cameras, lights and accessories. But without a real knowledge of how to use it, equipment just becomes so many playthings. (It’s interesting in this digital age, that all my equipment has been paired down to two camera bodies and a selection of prime lenses! I used to have all the formats covered from 8×10 view cameras, medium format cameras and 35mm film cameras, with an arsenal of lenses for each. Of course, I still have a lot of lighting equipment including studio strobes, speedlights and hot lights).

These days there is still the thrill of creating images that I see in my mind, but the electronic age has done away with the need for darkrooms, developing trays and most film. Now, I see my images take shape on the computer screen and even though the feeling of “magic” is still there, it is a somewhat different experience.

But, there is an additional component to photography these days and, if you will, permit me to draw an analogy to the world of golf. There are literally tens of thousands of people who love the game of golf and a few hundred who play it well enough to call themselves “professional” and make a living from playing the game. Since the amateur doesn’t know all the intricacies of the game and whose swing is not, shall we say, in the groove, equipment is manufactured with a lot more “forgiveness” which lets these week-end golfers hit the ball fairly well. They may not be able to hit the ball in the same spot each time because they just don’t play the game enough. Playing it once a week on a Saturday or Sunday morning doesn’t qualify as enough to give you a perfect swing. Professionals, on the other hand, have worked on their swings for most of their lives. Their swings are really perfected and thus manufacturers of clubs for them, make them in such a way that a golf ball, when struck by these clubs, really travels much further and with more accuracy than any amateur could hope for. Equipment designed and built for professionals is just not the same as it is for amateurs.

It is a similar situation for the professional photographer. Although equipment is manufactured with AUTOMATIC settings that take a lot of the guesswork out of creating images, really good ones are usually made with the camera on MANUAL and rely much more on the photographer’s skills and knowledge of the process as a whole to produce really great pictures. The difference between an inexperienced photographer and a seasoned professional is that the latter is much more likely to make stunning and more usable pictures than the former, with a lot less guesswork and on a much more regular basis. So, clients are paying for all that experience rather than just someone who can take an acceptable picture. If you are truly a professional, you will be able to convince clients of your superior ability with the results you can achieve consistently!


Another Take On Inspiration

Another Take On Inspiration

by William Lulow

Just happened to be scrolling through my Facebook feed and came across a suggested post, which is sort of an advertisement for the “iPhone School Of Photography.” What was interesting was the fellow in the video was not trying to sell the school, but was actually giving real, usable information for free. I checked this all out and it all worked perfectly. (I always check out EVERYTHING I read on any social media because it is wholly unedited and therefore needs to be vetted carefully for factual information because there is a great deal of dis-information out there).

At any rate, this person was talking about making better images with your iPhone, but the advice is well-taken for just about any type of photography. It consists of many things I have been trying to outline in the more than a thousand articles I have already published during the last several years.

  • Try photographing things from different angles. If you are simply raising your camera to your eye level, you are just getting the same shot everyone else gets. Try a higher or lower angle.

  • Try, as much as possible to determine your own exposure. Don’t let the camera do it for you. This requires you to set your camera on MANUAL or override any other camera’s automatic settings. On an iPhone, it requires you to FIX certain settings in order to make the camera do what you want it to. You can often do this by tapping the screen and holding it for a second or two.

If the camera was on automatic for this shot, it would have tried to lighten up the entire scene.

  • Think about what kind of photographs you wish to make. Do you want the foreground in focus or out of focus? Do you want the sky lighter or darker? Do you want to highlight any particular part of the scene? These are the types of questions you need to ask yourself while you are making pictures if you want them to be really satisfying.
  • Look for interesting photographic elements like reflections, sunrises and sunsets, silhouettes – anything that creates an unusual lighting.

Taj Mahal

Try thinking about these things and your knowledge of photography as well as your images will improve dramatically!

Exposure Determination And Bounce Flash

Exposure Determination And Bounce Flash

by William Lulow

I wrote a blog post recently about how I use my bounce flash. One of my latest assignments was to document a large space that housed the Westchester Table Tennis Center, owned and operated by the well-known New York Times crossword puzzle editor, Will Shortz. The space was fairly cavernous, so I needed to make sure it was well lit, but I only had time to use my on-camera bounce flash rig. This is what it looks like:

I also had to capture a lot of action. So, I set my ISO at 1000 and wound up shooting most exposures at 1/125th of a second at something like f/5.6. This gave me enough light and speed to catch the action of a table tennis match:

(That’s Mr. Shortz on the far side of the table). The thing is that you don’t really need a super fast shutter speed to capture most motion. You might need 1/1000th of a second if you are really interested in freezing everything, but here the slight blur of the paddle and the ball, add a sense of drama to an otherwise static shot. You also might need a more powerful flash.

It’s interesting to note, and it bears repeating, that exposure is a combination of factors that include: ISO settings, lens aperture and shutter speed as well as, what we call “lamp-to-subject” distance. Also, if your light meter reads f/5.6 at 1/100th of a second with ISO 100, there are any number of combinations of the three settings that will yield the same exposure. For example, if you increased the ISO setting to ISO 200, kept the shutter speed at 1/100th of a second, you would now only need an aperture of f/8 to yield the same exposure. This is another way of saying that, measured in f/stops, every doubling of ISO setting results in a halving of your f/stop setting, keeping the shutter speed the same. It’s an “inverse” ratio. Same goes for each of the three main components of exposure. The rule in the physics of light is that the intensity of the light varies inversely as the square of the distance between the light and the subject. Got that? If you have a flash unit on your camera, get a reading, then move back twice as far from your subject, the light on your subject will decrease by one f/stop. The converse would be true if you moved half the distance closer to the subject. So, the closer your flash is to your subject, the less exposure is necessary.

Most speedlights (the kind you can mount on your camera or on a light stand) do not have as high firing speeds as regular, studio strobe units, mostly because the batteries that power them are not very powerful. There is a way to synch your speedlight to higher shutter speeds in order to freeze most action by using the High Synch Speed mode on your speedlight. Flash manufacturers have built this feature into modern speedlights so that photographers can synch digital cameras with shutters built in to them with their on-camera flash units. In the past, shutters were built into lenses. These days, electronic shutters are built into cameras and are capable of higher synch speeds.

Also, studio strobe units, being more powerful than speedlights are often used to stop action because they fire at speeds of 1/4000 of second not just 1/400th or even 1/100th.

Since I use bounce flash for most of these assignments, I also expect that the flash output will be reduced as well. Adding a bounce card to your on-camera flash will usually reduce its output by at least half. This means that if your exposure was f/8 using the flash directly, bouncing it will require an exposure of at least f/5.6 or more. 

So, if you keep in mind the rule of halves and twos, it should help you get a handle on your flash exposures. Namely,  f/5.6 is twice the exposure of f/8. 1/50th of a second is twice the exposure of 1/100th of a second, etc. Also, increasing your ISO setting from 100 to 200 is also doubling the exposure. Once you get used to these effects on your images, setting your camera on manual will be much easier and your results will improve dramatically.

Your Camera’s Shutter

Your Camera’s Shutter

by William Lulow

My previous article was entitled “Shooting Speed.” So, I thought I’d explain a bit more about shutter speed in general.

We all know the term “shutter speed.” But what does it really do and what is the best way to control it to produce more interesting images?

Before we begin to discuss how to control shutter speed, however, it’s best to understand what it is used for. And before we do this, we need to know how it  works.

At the risk of being a bit too simplistic, here is some condensed history. A camera is basically a box with a lens in front of it in order to make a “light picture” on some light-sensitive object or material. In the early days of cameras, the box was actually called a “camera obscura.” Its purpose was to capture an image of something and project it, using a lens, on the part of the box opposite the lens, so that the image could be viewed. You did this by looking into the box, usually with a dark cloth over your head. One of the problems with this was that the image was upside down and backwards! (A characteristic of all lenses, even pinholes, when trying to view the images they create).

People began to learn very quickly that if you wanted to see the image in a camera obscura, you needed to be able to control the amount of light entering the box. In the early days of cameras, looking at an image was one thing, but preserving the image somehow was something else entirely. It took people a couple hundred years to figure out how to “fix” an image with chemicals so that it could be viewed outside of the camera obscura. So, it was the attempt to fix images that brought about the need for apertures and shutter speeds as methods of controlling the amount of light that entered the camera, fell on a light-sensitive material and hence could be preserved for all to see. This was because if too much light hit the light-sensitive material, the picture would be too bright. And, conversely, if not enough light hit it, then it would be too dark. The result, in either case would be that viewers would not be able to see the picture.

So, the aperture and the shutter were invented to control the amount of light that entered the camera. The aperture, usually mounted behind the lens, consisted of an adjustable opening that could be set to limit the amount of light reaching the back of the camera. The shutter was needed because the aperture was sometimes not sufficient to limit the amount of light entering the camera. But, if a mechanism could be placed behind the lens along with the aperture control, that would open, let in some light, and then close again, that would serve to limit the amount of light entering the camera sufficiently to make a well-exposed image on a light-sensitive material.

Here’s what a camera’s aperture looks like:

So, light began to be controlled within the camera by both the aperture and the shutter speed, working together. The shutter actually stays closed (not admitting any light) until the moment the exposure is made. Shutters were originally built with a spring mechanism that opened and closed when a lever outside the lens was tripped. Now, the shutter introduced the amazing ability that cameras had to actually stop action and freeze it to be recorded on the light-sensitive material. This light-sensitive material was a glass plate or piece of paper coated with a chemical that was sensitive to light. Then came film which had a light-sensitive emulsion painted on it. Today, we have digital sensors which use electronic impulses to create images. But, the principles of admitting light in a controlled manner still apply as they did in photography’s infancy. Today’s shutters are made from a series of  thin, metal slats that open and close at pre-determined speeds.

When, the shutter opened and closed very quickly, the camera could actually stop the motion of objects that were moving in front of it. If the shutter opened and closed very slowly, the motion of moving objects would not be stopped and they would become a blur. This was not especially useful if the intent was to examine moving objects in detail.

This is what a camera’s leaf type shutter looks like:

There are various leaves inside the shutter that open and close when the shutter is tripped. There are also “focal plane” shutters which are actual, small curtains that open and close from side to side within a camera. Leaf shutters can be mounted on the lens itself whereas focal plane shutters are usually mounted on the camera.

So, the speed with which the shutter opens and closes determines how much the action will be stopped, and how much light is let into the camera. The aperture controls how much of the lens will be used to make the exposure. A small aperture uses only a small part of the lens and a large aperture, the opposite.

Both shutter speed and aperture work together to make a good exposure in which the subject is clear and the movement has been captured (stopped).

Here’s an image I made recently using a slow shutter speed:

The subject is standing very still, so he is sharp, but the people around him are moving so they registered as blurs. This image was made with an exposure of f/5.0 and a shutter speed of 1/10th of a second. The camera was placed on a tripod with a weight attached to it to make sure there was no camera movement. Only the passersby were moving.

This image was made with an exposure of f/5.6 at 1/125th of a second. All action has been stopped.

This image was made at f/5.6 at 1/125th of a second. Note how all the action is stopped and everything is sharp. The faster the shutter opens and closes, the more action will be frozen in the image. The slower the shutter speed, the more blur is introduced in the image by moving objects and people.

So, the shutter is a powerful tool that can be used to alter the images we see in the camera for various, creative purposes.



Shooting Speed

Shooting Speed

by William Lulow

One of the things I’ve always liked about my job is that I am constantly being challenged and continually meeting new people. Over the years, I have been asked to photograph everything from studio portraits to aerials. From stationary products to professional golfers, to speeding race cars. This week’s assignments were no different. I was asked to photograph an indoor Go Kart racing facility.

Now, if you just want to capture the cars and the ambiance of the place, that’s one thing, and it’s fairly easy to do. But, if you’re intent on capturing some of the speed involved, there are a couple of tricks of the trade that come in handy. If you’ve been in a moving vehicle and noticed that another vehicle moving at the same speed appears to be stationary, then you can see what you need to do to create sharp images of any moving object. Your camera needs to be traveling at the same speed as the other moving object. The following image was made by panning the camera at close to the same speed as the moving go-kart and using a fast shutter speed:

This image was shot at 1/125th of a second at f/4.5. ISO setting was 2000. I used a small speedlight mounted on the camera and bounced into a reflector. Many people think that you need a super-fast shutter speed to capture movement like this, but it simply isn’t true if you pan the camera at the same time you trip the shutter. The trick is to continue the panning movement even after you take the picture.

Now, if you want to create the feeling of speed, simply slow down the shutter speed, but continue to pan the camera with the action:

Here you can see that the car is almost a blur, yet you can see most of the details and you get a feeling of speed. The tone of the image has changed because the slow shutter speed is allowing more of the ambient light to register in the exposure. The exposure here was 1/15th of a second at f/5.6. ISO 2000

This image was shot at 1/25th of a second at f/5.6. ISO 2000. You can see that the faster the shutter speed, the more you will stop the action. You can also tell that the camera was panned because the background is blurry. So, you need to experiment with shutter speed and camera panning until you arrive at a combination that gives you the effect you seek. Remember, unless you pan with the action, you will capture more of an indistinguishable blur.

This is only one example of the photographic challenges that I’ve met with as part of my daily job. I will try to keep posting more of them.

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 iPhone images:


(An image made with my camera phone)

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!


The Silhouette Lighting

The Silhouette

by William Lulow

A silhouette is defined as an image made by lighting the background only, so that no detail can be seen in the subject. This is kind of an interesting proposition when you are photographing people! When can you ever use it? Well, it turns out that there are times when it can come in very handy. I believe it was the famous photographer Bill Eppridge (the photographer who made that famous shot of Bobby Kennedy lying on a kitchen floor in Los Angeles after being shot), who made an equally famous portrait of Bill Cosby (in his heyday). It was a silhouette profile with his signature rimless glasses and a cigar. You knew instantly who it was without seeing any detail except those two items.

Here is one of my silhouette samples:


Here, I just lit the background so that no light fell on the subject. The simplest way to do this is to place a single light behind the subject and aim it toward the background.

A number or years ago, I was asked to shoot a concept for a movie poster for “Endless Love.” it was supposed to be a silhouette of a kiss. We got two models to pose for the picture and they were told simply to get their lips as close together as they could without actually touching. The concept was that the positive and negative space in the image would sort of merge together creating a kind of spell-binding, visual excitement. Here is the shot:


If you stare at this image long enough, the white space becomes almost liquid, flowing from one side of the picture to the other. When doing silhouettes, it’s always a good idea to have the background at least one f/stop brighter than its reading so that it will register pure white in the image. For this shot, since two people had to be in the shot, I lit the background with two lights, one on either side of the set, so that I would have a complete white background to work with. Actually, white backgrounds are better for silhouettes, but I had another instance when it came in handy.

Here is another example of a silhouette in action. My shot of blues singer, Taj Mahal had to be photographed with the light behind him. But, again, his tell-tale cap and pointed chin, really defined him.

There are uses for silhouettes after all!

Making Sharp Images With Digital Lenses

Making Sharp Images With Digital Lenses

by William Lulow

Note: If you are struggling to achieve really sharp images, this article might just help. I’ve been doing more reading on digital lenses recently and felt the need to re-publish this article of about a month ago. 

Lenses are curved pieces of high-quality glass that serve to focus light rays as they enter the camera on a spot behind the lens called the focal plane. The better lenses can focus the light, the sharper the image will be. One of the characteristics of all lenses is that they are made up of a number of elements of glass all spaced in such a way as to make the focusing of light accurate. The further apart these elements are, the more the lens is able to focus on a small part of the scene and magnify it or make it appear larger. The closer together these elements are, the more the lens is able to take in a wider angle of view. If the elements are able to move within the lens (as in a variable focus or zoom lens), the more they will be able to focus on near objects and distant objects both. Movable elements introduce a factor that often makes it difficult for the lens to achieve really sharp results and that factor is that the elements are always moving. Sometimes they can drift out of perfect alignment, causing the image to lose quality.  That is not to say that acceptable results can’t be achieved with zoom lenses, but as a rule, they are not as sharp as fixed focus lenses with no movable elements. (And, keep in mind that if you use a normal, “point-and-shoot” digital camera, it will almost always have a built-in zoom lens.) The other factor that determines a lens’ sharpness is the quality of the glass used. Obviously, cheaper lenses use cheaper glass. So, again, as a rule, a cheap lens will usually yield images of lesser quality. You can sometimes get an inexpensive lens that happens to be very sharp, but that is the exception, not the rule.

As a lens is used at its largest aperture, more of the edges of the glass are used to focus the light rays. Because of this, the larger the widest aperture, the less the lens will need to be used at that opening to make a truly sharp image. If the lens can be stopped down one or two f/stops, it will be using more of the center of the lens and less of the edges. This will yield sharper images. In other words, a lens with an aperture of f/1.8 has a larger piece of glass in order to be able to admit a correspondingly larger amount of light. Therefore, this lens, if used at an f/stop of f/2.8 will yield a sharper image than a lens whose largest aperture is f/2.8, because it will be stopped down one or two f/stops, thus using more of the center of the glass. As a lens uses more of its center to focus light rays, it’s ability to render sharp focus increases up to a certain point. (Within the lens, the shutter blades themselves can cause some refraction of light. So, if a lens is stopped down to its minimum aperture (say f/16, f/22 or even f/32) some refraction will usually take place that alters the sharpness of the image even though you will get more depth-of-field at these smaller apertures. So, you have to make tests to see if there is any fall off of sharpness at those small apertures. In addition, the number of blades that make up the shutter affect the overall sharpness as well. Better lenses have more shutter blades and consequently yield a rounder aperture. This would help a lens’ overall sharpness. Also, in reading about the Canon 24mm F1.4 L II lens, for example, I learned that the shutter blades are rounded instead of straight. That sounds like it would help the refraction problem within the lens itself.

In almost all of the tests I reviewed, the sharpness of the lens increases dramatically when used at the middle f/stops (f/4 – f/11). As a matter of fact, this result is noticeable even on the less expensive lenses as well. It seems as if no digital lens really performs well when used wide open! It may be that digital sensors are not as kind to wide open lenses as film was. I remember using my Nikon 200mm f/4 lens wide open at concerts and being able to make very clear 16×20 inch prints from my 35mm negatives! This is simply not the case today. You really need to stop a digital lens down a couple of stops to get sharp images these days. 

A view camera with bellows and separate front (which has the lens) and the back (which has the focal plane), can be adjusted to provide infinite focus at just about any f/stop. Digital cameras, however, do not have this feature. So, the only way to achieve really sharp focus is by using the lens and ISO settings correctly.

The point of all of this is that if a good lens is used a couple of stops from wide open and/or a couple of stops from its minimum aperture, it will probably achieve its maximum sharpness. For photographers intent on producing really sharp images, this means using lenses that are fast enough (have a wide enough maximum aperture) for their purpose and having enough light in the scene so that they can be used somewhere in the middle of their aperture range. If you are shooting in mostly low light situations where you have to shoot wide open, you probably won’t be able to achieve really sharp images. One way around this is to increase the camera’s ISO settings to allow for shooting one or two stops down from wide open. If you can control the amount of ISO increase to one or two stops, you will probably achieve acceptable sharpness. Using really large ISO numbers usually introduces an element of “noise” or “grain” to the image. So, you want to stay away from ISO numbers that are much higher than around 2500.

Canon 24mm f_1.4 Canon 85mm f/1.8

I use this principle when I shoot concert photographs where there is little or no stage light.


This image of singer/songwriter Lucy Kaplansky was made with an 85mm f/1.8 lens at 1/125th of a second at f/5.6 using an ISO setting of 2000. This f/stop setting was more in the middle of the lens’ aperture range and because of the high ISO setting, I didn’t have to use the lens wide open. I had enough speed to stop the action and the image has enough sharpness to make a large print.

And, here is an image made with a studio strobe unit which put out enough light to allow an ISO setting of 100 and an aperture of f/22:


Note that focus is carried almost from the very front of the guitar to the very rear. (The front screws are a bit soft though). This was shot with a Canon 60mm Macro lens. The camera was mounted on a tripod for extra stability.

Now, with all this being said, there are other factors that could cause soft images. They are:

-Unsteady camera  – Use a tripod or a monopod.

-Slow shutter speed – Make sure your shutter speed is fast enough for you to hand-hold the camera. You can increase your ISO a bit to yield a higher shutter speed.

-Improper autofocus settings. – AI Servo is probably the best.

-Check your autofocus points as well. Probably best to use one point in the center so that your AF doesn’t get fooled that often.

-Use your camera on Manual rather than P or A.

As I have said, it’s important to know that if you use a point-and-shoot camera, they almost always come equipped with a zoom lens. The better ones will have a fast zoom lens that carries its largest aperture through all of the focal lengths. So, that’s something to look for if you like these kinds of cameras. Otherwise, you may end up with unsatisfying results as to sharpness. The old adage of “you get what you pay for” definitely works here.

All of the above techniques should ensure fairly sharp images overall. In order to really check for sharpness I recommend making 8×10 inch prints. We are so used to seeing images on one kind of screen or another that we are sometimes fooled into thinking that an image is sharp when it is only marginally so. If you make a print, you will know immediately whether it is sharp or not.


Bounce Flash

Bounce Flash

by William Lulow

I have spoken about using bounced flash before when covering events. It’s a great way to provide general, overall light to a room. The problem is that sometimes you don’t have a white ceiling to use, or that ceiling is too high to make the flash useful. So, lately, I’ve taken to using a bounce card which I can attach to my on-camera, portable speedlight:

This is what my rig looks like. This is certainly not a new idea. These things have been around a long time. I used to fashion my own bounce cards from cardboard and a few rubber bands, but this one is better in a couple of ways. (1) It is fashioned from a neutral white material, (2) it attaches easily via a velcro strip to my speedlight, (3) it can be bent and folded in many different ways to provide light right where it is needed and (4) it is large enough to provide a decent amount of coverage without being too cumbersome. The thing I like about this one is its simplicity. It’s just a white reflector. Nothing more. It’s not round. It doesn’t try to simulate an umbrella. It’s just a plain, white square that directs bounce light at your subject.

I have been shooting many more events lately, under all sorts of conditions – large rooms, small rooms, outdoors, action-packed events as well as just plain interior coverage. I find a rig like this is not only easy to use, but the results are very consistent. Most of these assignments are for websites, so I have some latitude regarding the size of the finished images. I also want to be able to stop any action that takes place as well as shoot at small enough apertures to render everything crystal clear. My exposures are mostly done at ISO 1000. Apertures are between f/5.6 and f/11 and shutter speed is usually 1/125th of a second. Lens is a Canon 20mm f/2.8. Here are a couple of the results:

This shot is a panorama comprised of two images. Here the ceiling was much too high to use it as a bounce-flash source:

Here, shooting through the mesh of a children’s bounce house. Got the flash where it was needed!

When light is bounced off some reflective material, it tends to scatter, providing an all-encompassing kind of light. Of course, the larger the surface, the softer the lighting effect will be, so ceilings are usually great for this. But when you can’t use the ceiling for one reason or another, as I said, this kind of reflector accomplishes nearly the same effect and is much easier to control in order to get the light right where you want it, even in rather small spaces.

Three Easy Lighting Setups With Just One Light

Three Easy Lighting Setups With Just One Light

by William Lulow

Just a note: This is not an advertisement to get you to buy a course in lighting! This is real, helpful information given free from my years as a pro. All you have to do is read and practice!

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. 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.