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Photo Friday – Quality of Light & Low Light

March 1, 2013

sf civic

Yesterday we took a trip into the city.  We had to leave almost immediately after school got out, and we didn’t get home until about 9:00.  But it was worth it, because we got to see these guys:


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Yep, the real ones in real life.  I was super excited because I’ve done a lot of research on them for my first novel (which hasn’t been published, so don’t go rushing off to Amazon to buy it.  Not yet anyway.  But maybe someday).  Eight warriors and two horses came to visit the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.


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But first a quick photo shoot with the trees by the civic center.  I’ve always wanted to do photos at these trees, I think they’re cool.  The light is always very pretty here.  I don’t know why.  Some places are just like that.  For whatever reason, they have magical light.  Pay attention to this.  These are good places to do photos.


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We played on the playground while we waited for Daddy to take Muni from his office and meet us.  The boys thought they were too big for this playground, but they were wrong.


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Josh found a little bird that was missing a foot.  The poor little thing hopped around on one foot looking for crumbs.  Josh used this stalking technique he taught himself so that he could get a closer look.  See how the shadows are long?  That’s the time of day you want to be taking portraits.  Short shadows = ugly pictures.  There’s just no way around it.  Early in the morning or just before the sun goes down when the light is warm and rich.  That is when you want to take portraits.


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Finally Josh got too close and the bird was out of there.  I missed the moment he took of by just a second – it would have gone from a good photo to a spectacular photo because the bird wouldn’t be so lost in the fence.  One second can make all the difference.


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Then we went in to see the warriors.  When Kate first heard we were going to see the Warriors, she thought we were going to see a basketball game.  She got a souvenir at the shop, so if she was disappointed at all I’m sure her feelings have changed.


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You can tell what their rank is by their armor, size, and hairdo.  This guy is a general.  He’s quite a bit larger than the others.  His armor points down in the front, and he has a double top-knot.  I think they’ve only found nine generals.  And we got to see one.


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This is a kneeling archer.  It’s hard to see, but he still has a little bit of the paint on him.  (Look for the red straps on his armor.)  They all used to be brightly painted, but it has almost all oxidized over the 2,000 years they’ve been buried.  Sometimes they uncover things that are still painted, but within seconds of touching the air it starts oxidizing and within a minute or two the paint is gone.  Can you imagine seeing that vanish right before your eyes?  Amazing and heartbreaking!  This guy has green face paint.  They don’t know why.  He’s the only one ever found with a green face.


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Now, let’s talk about the photos a bit.  This was a tricky setting because there was not a lot of light (we like to say low light in the photography world) and no tripods or flashes are allowed in the exhibit.  This means you have to open up your aperture as wide as you can (I was shooting at f2).  It means you won’t get a lot of depth of field.  Maybe his armor will be in focus, but his face won’t, or vice versa.

Also, you have to decrease your shutter speed as much as you can.  Without a tripod, you shouldn’t really go below 1/80 or 1/100 of a second with your shutter speed because your hand can’t hold the camera still enough when you push the button to take the picture – it’s called camera shake.  These were taken at 1/13 to 1/30 of a second.  That’s why they look kind of blurry (because they are).  It would have been a lot worse if the subjects were people, because the blur of the movement of the people in addition to the camera shake would have made these photos pretty much unable to be salvaged.  Lucky for me, the subjects were extremely still.

The best way to deal with a low shutter speed is a tripod and a cable release (that’s a cord that hooks into your camera with a button that you push to take the picture).  If you don’t have access to these, the next best thing is to put your camera down (a bench or a ledge or the floor is good) and set the timer so you don’t actually have to touch the camera when it takes the picture, thus removing the camera shake caused by your hand.  Can’t do that?  At least pay attention to your stance.  Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart or kneel on the floor.  Cradle the camera underneath the lens – don’t hold it on the side like most people usually do.  Hold your elbows close to your body (or if you can, place them on a table in front of you).  Take a breath and exhale as you press the button.

Finally, in a low light situation you have to bump up your ISO.  This makes your camera more sensitive to light.  That means you can use a higher shutter speed and a higher aperture because the sensor is more sensitive to the light coming in.  The problem with using a higher ISO is that you get noise.



This zoomed in view shows you the noise.  See all those little flecks of color?  That’s noise.  Noise isn’t always bad.  Especially in b&w photos it shows a kind of grittiness that lends the photo a real-life quality.  Sometimes people even add noise to their photos in photoshop to give them this look.  But generally speaking you don’t want noise.  When I looked at the website for the museum I thought we wouldn’t be able to take pictures in this exhibit at all, so I didn’t bring my good camera.  Had I brought my good camera with a better sensor, I would have been able to bump up my ISO without so much noise.  The other thing you can do is use a computer program (like photoshop) to reduce the noise in your photos.  But it’s best to just use the lowest ISO you can in whatever situation you’re in.

I guess that does it for our little discussion on light.  As for our field trip yesterday, it was a success.  We finished off the night by eating at one of my favorite Indian restuarants (it happens to be a block away from Chipotle, so we can get a burrito for any kids who don’t want Chicken Tikka Masala – but our kids are doing better with Indian food lately as long as we don’t go too spicy).  Lucas saw a Ferrari 458 Italia, which is his favorite car (he’s way into cars right now), so he said it was one of his best days ever.  Terra cotta warriors, Indian food, and a Ferrari 458 Italia – it just doesn’t get much better than that!

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 2, 2013 1:18 pm

    Really, really cool field trip and love the photo tips even though I still don’t really “get it.” 🙂

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