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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How a Light Meter Works

A light meter sees the entire world as gray. Reflected light meters, which are in all cameras, can easily be fooled to create an exposure that is too dark or too light. Incident light meters accurately record the light in the scene.

Creative Commons License
Better Pixs in 90 Clicks by Timothy Mielke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at milkywayphotos.blogspot.com.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Going on the Digital Diet

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     If you could study every magazine cover and advertisement you would be amazed at the editing done to make the models look attractive. Almost every major magazine cover and advertisement uses post-production effects to minimize unattractive features. There is a good chance that the photo editing digitally helped many of the attractive models lose a few extra pounds. The Adobe Photoshop program can quickly and easily give anyone a digital diet in minutes using the Liquify tool.
Digital Diet with Photoshop Liquify Tool
     First you should use the Freeze Mask Tool to paint a temporary red mask around the inside and background area of the diet candidate. Once the red mask is in place you will not be able to change those portions. Next use a large Pucker Tool brush that fills most of the area you wish to shrink. Begin removing the pounds using short mouse clicks with the center of the brush inside the body region. At times you may have to change your Freeze Mask to edit different portions of the body.

Before Weight Loss Liquify Diet
     While the Liquify tool is a perfect for losing weight in a photo, it can also be useful for fixing squinted eyes or protruding ears and even creating comical caricatures that are sure to evoke a smile. With some practice you can change most body types into an attractive model for any magazine cover.

Dramatic Editing Techniques

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     Have you ever stared at a fine art photograph and wondered just how they could create such a dramatic and compelling photograph? Even the best photographs can benefit from subtle and sometimes bold post-production work. While the importance of capturing a good composition with proper exposure cannot be minimized, photo editing is essential to creating a dramatic, cinematic look.
Edited with Levels, Saturation, and Gradient Adjustment Layers
     Adobe Photoshop is the industry leader in photo editing software. The use of layers and masks are the foundation of Photoshop’s editing powers. Learning to use them may at first seem a little daunting but using layers and masks will make your work easier and better quality. The first step to a dramatic photo is deciding what to emphasize in the scene. In the early days of photography, burning and dodging techniques were used to deemphasize or emphasize portions of an exposure. Burning is selectively darkening the exposure while dodging is selectively lightening the exposure. While Photoshop has burn and dodge brush tools, using adjustment layers employs more control while emphasizing or deemphasizing portions of a scene.

From the Camera with no Editing
     Usually the first step is to burn a vignette or at least several corners of the picture by creating a darkened levels adjustment layer. The human eye is naturally drawn to the brightest objects. By darkening the edges, the viewer’s eye is guided naturally into the scene which creates a more dynamic composition. All of the 18 adjustment layer effects automatically create a mask. A mask allows you to add or subtract portions of the adjustment layer effect. If nothing is selected previously, the mask will be completely white. A white mask allows the effect chosen to be visible. If you want to hide a portion of the effect, you paint it a black color with a paint brush. An easy way to remember which color hides the effect is to remember you can hide in the blackness of night.

Actual Adjustment Layers Used
     Many photos can use the same adjustment layer method to enhance other features like saturation, color tones, patterns, or a host of other options. The beauty of using an adjustment layer with a mask is that you can quickly modify the visibility of the effect by painting black or white brush strokes on the mask. As long as you save the file as a Photoshop document (.psd), you will even be able to modify the selections days or even years later. Try for yourself and see the power of adjustment layers in creating dramatic photographs. It will also make your Photoshop work more efficient and professional.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Panning and Zooming Techniques

Listen to a 90 Second Companion Podcast

     The three camera settings that control the exposure are the aperture, ISO, and the shutter speed. If one of these setting changes, one of the other two settings must change to have an equivalent exposure. For example, if we have an exposure of f/5.6, 1/60, and ISO 100 and change the f-stop to 4.0, we must change the shutter speed or the ISO speed by one stop darker. Our new equivalent exposure could be f/5.6, 1/60, and ISO 50 or f/5.6, 1/125, and ISO 100. As any experienced photographer knows, all of photography is a compromise in one way or another. Learning what camera setting to change for the best quality picture can be a challenging task. Once you begin to master the concepts of exposure vs quality, you should try to be creative with your photography technique. These techniques will help you to keep your photographic juices flowing.

Panning Technique
Shutter 1/30, Panning at Full Sprint
     The panning technique uses a slow shutter speed combined with continually panning from left to right or right to left. The correct shutter speed to use varies by the subject matter. To blur a NASCAR stock car can take shutter speeds up to 1/250, a pedal biker can take shutter speeds around 1/60, and a person running can take a shutter speed of around 1/30. For the best results you should follow the subject with the camera before pressing the shutter button. The goal is to maintain the subject in the same portion of the frame throughout the entire pan. After pressing the shutter, you should continue to follow your subject in the frame of the camera. The results create a relatively sharp subject with a motion blurred background and foreground.

Zooming Technique
Shutter 1/30, Zooming from 28mm - 180mm
     This technique is limited to cameras with zoom lenses that have manual zoom rings. The zooming technique is similar to the panning technique because it requires a slower shutter speed. Instead of panning while pressing the shutter, you quickly zoom in or out during the exposure. The shutter speeds can vary anywhere between ½ - 1/30 of a second. Because the center of the lens always remains the same, the center portion of the picture will look relatively sharp while the rest of the picture will have streaking lines that appear to be coming forward in the scene.

     While both techniques can be closely mimicked in editing programs like Adobe Photoshop, I believe you will find it more rewarding to experiment without the need for post-production editing. A great panning or zooming technique may take lots of practice but the results are always a thrilling success.
Shutter 1/30, Panning Technique

Saturday, July 17, 2010

How ISO Affects Image Quality

The sensitive to light of a film or sensor is measured by an ISO (International Organization for Standardization). The ISO standard replaced the older rating system called ASA (American Standards Association). With each high ISO number the setting is considered a fast-speed film or sensor. The higher the ISO number allows for less light to take the picture.
Click for Full Size

Why would you not use the highest ISO number possible all the time? Because as the ISO number increases, image degradation occurs. Faster speed films or digital settings produce lower resolution and less detail than their slower speed counterparts. With film the higher speed uses a larger crystal which creates larger grain in the image. This grain shape is sometimes used as for an artistic purpose. In digital photography the degradation is called noise which is random color and light pixels especially in the dark regions of the exposure.

Unlike film, digital noise is never considered desirable or artistic. As digital cameras become better, the noise amount is becoming less noticeable even at high ISO speeds. All grain and noise is usually not very noticeable at a small viewing size. The grain or noise becomes more noticeable as the print enlargement size increases. There are filters in Adobe Photoshop to simulate the grain look for digital images and to help reduce the amount noise from higher ISO settings.

The decision of what ISO to use depends on the amount of light in the scene and the required shutter speed of the camera. If you are trying to freeze action in an indoor setting, the ISO speed will usually range around 800-3200. The increased light sensitivity makes for a faster shutter speed setting to enable the freezing of the action. When shooting still life, the shutter speed can be slower if using a tripod. This allows for the lowest ISO setting to be used to ensure the lowest amount of grain or noise in the image.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Controlling Depth of Field

The majority of people who take photographs do not understand the importance of depth of field. By definition, depth of field is the focal area that is acceptably sharp in each photograph. This distance of what is sharp could range from a fraction of an inch to hundreds of feet. There are four important factors that control the area of sharpness. They are the focusing setting, aperture size, focal length, and distance of the subject to the camera. Many imagine that they would want everything in the picture to be equally sharp throughout the entire picture. While this is true for many landscape pictures, many other types of photography are actually more visually pleasing with a narrow area of focal sharpness. By making only a select portion of a picture sharp our eye naturally knows what is being emphasized.

Narrow Depth of Field
Wide Depth of Field
Focusing Setting

The optics involved with focusing is a fascinating study all by itself, but when dealing with depth of field, the setting of the lens’ focal point is critical. The focal point is the exact distance set on the lens. Whatever the focal point is set at will always be the sharpest portion in the scene. The average focusing distance usually ranges between several feet to infinity. Most SLR lenses show the distance in feet or meters on the side of the lens. From the initial focal point, one third of the range in front and two thirds of the range in the back of the scene will be the depth of field. For example, if we set our lens to focus at 10 feet the acceptably sharp range could be 5 feet to 20 feet. The total distance range of what is sharp is determined by several other factors that are listed below.

Aperture Size

The aperture works the same way as the human iris regulating the amount of light that reaches the image recording sensor or film. The term f-stop represents the size of the aperture opening. As the f-stop number becomes larger, the size of the aperture becomes smaller. As the aperture becomes smaller, the amount of depth of field increases in the photograph. For example, a photograph at f/4 will have a narrow depth of field (sharper focusing) than a photograph at f/16.

Focal Length

The focal length is the physical length of the lens to the focal plane (sensor or film back of the camera). A larger focal length will make the subject larger in the frame. If you stand at the same location and zoom in (use a bigger millimeter number), the picture will have less depth of field than if you zoomed out (use a smaller millimeter number).

Distance of the Subject

If you use the same focal length and aperture size and only change the distance of the subject and focusing, the amount of depth of field will also be different. As the distance to the subject becomes closer, the depth of field becomes narrower. This factor becomes extremely critical when doing macro photography. Most close-up and macro photography can have less than an inch of focus range that is completely sharp. The reverse is also true. When photographing landscape photographs, the vast distance allows for much more depth of field.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

What Makes a Good Photograph?

     The era of digital photography has created a plethora of photographers. Many of these photographers have even purchased professional grade cameras. While having a good camera is important, how is it that there are still extreme differences in the quality of photography between photographers? To answer this question, lets look at the fundamentals of photography.

     By definition photography means, “Drawing with light.” If the quality of your lighting is poor, your picture quality will suffer even if you use a several thousand dollar camera setup. When I first started I made the mistake of adding lots of lighting and thinking that would improve my photography. While the quantity of light is important, especially when photographing action, the quality of the lighting is even more important. The quality of the light deals with the position and the softness of the light. The larger the light source, the less harsh the shadows become. Carefully placed shadows can evoke a mood or set the tone of a photograph. If using outdoor lighting, try taking pictures in the early morning or late evening light because it produces softer, more attractive lighting than photographing during midday.
     Lens quality and selection are important factors that can make the difference between a good and a great portrait. Many of the starter kit lenses sold with dSLR cameras are considered all-purpose lenses. They work well in lots of light and usually only cost a few hundred dollars. Excellent quality zoom lenses can easily cost in the thousand dollar price range. The professional range lenses help capture better contrast, sharpness, and color purity than their cheaper alternatives. The lens length (wide or close) can create a difference in portrait quality. The wider angle lenses tend to create some distortion which can make a person appear disproportioned with the rest of the scene. Longer lenses help to create blurry backgrounds that place the attention on the subject and avoid distractions from elsewhere in the frame.

     Finally, whether you are using a cell-phone camera or a $20,000 medium format camera, all great photographs start with pleasing composition. Using the rule of thirds as a guideline can help to create pleasing arrangements. Think of the rule of thirds as the tic-tac-toe rule. Where the two lines connect is usually the most emphasized part of a picture. A general rule of thumb is to keep the eye line or horizon on the upper third. Before snapping the shutter, look around the frame for anything out of place. Do not take the picture until you have checked the foreground and background for anything distracting. Learning which angles are pleasing and how to frame a scene comes by lots of practice. An excellent way to develop a photographic eye is to study photographs. Ask yourself, what makes this a good picture? Why could the photographer not see the light post behind her head?

     No matter where you live, there are enough nearby pictures opportunities to keep you busy for a lifetime. So why not grab your camera and show the world through the eye of your camera lens. Photography is a skill that is not developed overnight so remember, “The more you look to learn, the more you will learn to look.”

Creating Denture Hoist


After creating my first two stop-motion animation shorts “Bean and Todd” and “Big Baby,” I wanted to embrace a larger project that would run around 20 minutes on screen. The idea for Denture Hoist came about when I was shoveling an elderly lady’s flat roof after a large snow storm. The germ of the film was based on my experience on the rooftop and can be seen by the winter setting and Santa Claus character. The basic plot was about a brilliant, scientist boy who sneaks down a chimney and tries to steal a set of gold dentures to pay off his debts he gathered after blowing up his parent’s garage during a science experiment.

     In my past films I had not done a lot of scripting and storyboarding. Learning from my mistakes, I storyboarded and scripted the entire film before filming even the first frame. I also had the two voices for the characters Albert and Granny recorded before filming any of the dialog scenes. The sets were designed with a 12:1 scale. One inch in set size represented approximately 1 foot of life space. All three characters, Albert, Doofus, and Granny, were constructed using aluminum armatures to mold the clay around. The armatures allow for more complex animation because the body parts can be flexed into positions that the clay alone could not hold because of the forces of gravity. I will never forget purchasing all the doll furniture used in the film from a dollar store. You should have seen all the employees when I, a high school boy, approached the clerk with a cart full of doll furniture. Their expressions were priceless as I explained my purchase.

     All of the filming was done on a Sony Digital 8 camcorder and captured into my iMac with FrameThief 2.0. FrameThief, the capture software, allowed me to see each animation progression as I recorded each frame. It helped me to make the proper movements to create a more fluid motion. Other first included constructing Granny and Doofus with an upper body of hardening clay. This allowed me to grasp their bodies firmly for more control during animation. I also started using white craft beads that I painted pupils for the eyes of the characters. The beads give a reflection which is more life-like than clay and will not squish or blend colors with the clay of the head.

     Sadly the large project was never completed due to becoming busy with working and going to college. Overall I am very pleased with short version of what was completed. The only completed scene is in the middle of the story when he is looking to make some money to pay off his debts. Doofus, Albert’s trusty brother, is dedicated to working hard while Albert is mesmerized and plans on stealing the gold teeth.
     View excepts from the original storyboards
     View the entire Director’s Copy of the script

     Although only 2 minutes of Denture Hoist is complete on screen, the entire process took several years of planning, filming, animating and editing. I hope you can enjoy the art of stop-motion animation. If you want to learn more about stop-motion animation, be sure to purchase Marc Spess’ book "Secrets of Clay Animation Revealed 3" or visit his website at www.animateclay.com for some helpful tips in beginning your own clay animation short.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Big Work, Big Baby

After creating my first short “Bean and Todd,” I started to come up with ideas for my next short film. Big Baby was written and storyboarded before any filming was shot. That made the job much easier to produce. It was during the early stages of filming that I purchased a copy of “Secrets of Clay Animation Revealed” by Marc Spess. Using the knowledge I learned from the book helped to create more fluid animation and experiment with different techniques.

Early on in the filming I purchased a Sony Digital 8 camcorder which made the process much easier and the quality better. There was no more fighting with the broken down VHS camcorder. Using the Digital 8 camcorder taught me to use manual white balance and manual focus for optimum results. If you do not use proper white balancing, the colors of the film will not look correct. Using the manual focus helped to avoid occasionally auto focusing shifting errors.

The book by Marc Spess said that recording the audio before the filming would greatly help. I found that it was much easier to know proper timing of clips when the audio track is already laid down. Unfortunately I had created the characters before learning about using armatures from Marc Spess. Armatures are basically aluminum skeletons on which the clay characters are molded over. Having the metal support allows for ease of animated motion without gravity pushing the arm or leg to the ground. Also notice that there were no speaking parts for any of the characters in the film. This was intentional to avoid the need for lip syncing each dialog piece. This technique alone saved my countless hours and headaches.

Although Big Baby runs only five minutes and three seconds on screen, the entire process was close to six months of planning, filming, and editing. I hope you can enjoy the humor and art of stop-motion animation. If you want to learn more about stop-motion animation be sure to purchase Marc Spess’ latest book, "Secrets of Clay Animation Revealed 3" or visit his website at www.animateclay.com for some helpful tips in beginning clay animation on your own.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lots of Work, Little On Screen

Stop-motion animation has been used to entertain people for generations. In the 1950s and 1960s the popular Gumby Show aired which included a little animated clay humanoid figure. In the 1980s and 1990s many other videos used the stop-motion animation art form.

I was introduced in 1997 to the Wallace and Gromit stop-motion television short "The Wrong Trousers," which changed the course of my life. The half and hour short not only made me laugh uncontrollably, it also sparked my interest to figure how the entire production was created. In the next few months, I analyzed large portions of the "Wrong Trousers" frame by frame and researched the art of stop-motion animation by carefully studying the behind the scenes content on the Wallace and Gromit episodes.

Starting my freshman year of high school I started to record my own stop-motion animations using my parents working, but worn, VHS camcorder. The large camcorder needed to have the view finder held in place with athletic tape because of its age and condition. Having little experience or money to spend on my new found passion, I used my younger brother’s Duplex Lego sets to prop the camera into a halfway stable position. My first clips used a Godzilla action figure, complete with movable legs, arms, tail, and head, to destroy the local toy town. For the video capture I would quickly hit the record button on and off which rendered a playback rate of about 3-5 frames per second depending on my mind and finger’s reflexes. These first videos were extremely rudimentary but I was fulfilled to see the few short seconds of my work on screen in exchange for the long hours of work.

After creating a handful of other short stop-motion clips, I wanted to do a short story. One night I had a dream about a talking bean who meets a toad in the everglades and immediately strikes a friendship. Tragically I awoke when the bean and toad where eaten in a restaurant. Excited and inspired by the dream I could not get back to sleep but began to create a story in my head based on my strange dream. Something in my head was telling me that this was the germ for my short story. Getting up was no hard task that morning while I wasted no time telling my family my dream while eating breakfast.

Within a few days I had put together a beginning and ending to the script and started creating the simple characters, Bean and Todd. I purchased a cheap, $150 dollar ATI analog video capture card to put into my parent’s Pentium computer to enhance my production setup. Using the video editing software included with the capture card, I shot a couple of tests. Then I began filming the opening scene of "Bean and Todd" with the Bean in Mexico. Almost everything in the story was made up as I filmed each scene and all of the sets were designed with no real scale while being modified between scenes. Looking back I would never recommend starting any video project without a complete story, especially an animation project.

During the next six months with the help of my family, I would spend around 1,000 hours in the basement painstakingly animating my short film between a rate of 12-18 pictures per second of video. I learned much more than the art of animation. My patience toleration and technical knowledge also dramatically increased. A few months into production, an uncle would unexpectedly purchased me a tripod so I could ditch the Duplex Lego support system. See if you can notice where the video becomes more stable.

The completion of my first short stop-motion film sparked my interest and love for the video production world. Afterwards I went on to complete "Big Baby" while still in high school and started the lengthy project and incomplete project, "Denture Hoist." For my college education I choose Pillsbury Baptist Bible College and studied Photography, Business, and Bible. Currently I am teaching photography and video and working on my Masters degree in Multimedia Communications from the Academy of Art University. My desire is to teach young people how to effectively communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ through video and other media and it all started with a stop-motion project in the basement of my parent’s house.

Recently DreamWorks movies Chicken Run and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit have revived the art of stop-motion animation and opened the imaginations of more young people today. Check out www.animateclay.com or purchase "Secrets of Clay Animation Revealed" for some helpful tips in beginning clay animation on your own.



Friday, June 25, 2010

Photographing Lighting Effectively

Summer is officially here in the northern hemisphere and with the beautiful weather also comes the dangerous thunderstorms. In the last few days there have been multiple severe storms that have produced flooding in many Wisconsin counties. Yet for some courageous storm chasers the thrill of a lifetime is grabbing the camera and driving directly into the storm. Human beings have always appreciated the beauty of lighting bolt but capturing the essence of a storm in a picture can be extremely challenging for even the best photographer.

In order to get the best quality pictures, here are a few helpful tips to ensuring quality photographs.

Rule # 1 Always use the manual settings on your camera. While some point and shoot cameras are sufficient with manual controls, all dSLR cameras will have manual controls and give great quality results. Setting the manual focus is probably the most critical because of the low amount of lighting during a storm is difficult for auto focusing.

Rule # 2 Shoot in the RAW file format. Using the RAW format gives more information to use in editing the pictures later. On the flip side, RAW files are several times larger than JPG files so make sure you bring enough memory cards.

Rule # 3 Always use a sturdy tripod. Ideally it will have a quick release head so you can remove the camera on and off quickly if needed. There are several companies that make rigs to hold an umbrella over the tripod. You can, with a few clamps,a create an umbrella mount of your own to protect from the rain. Entry-level dSLRs are very sensitive to moisture and can be in need of repairs or even ruined with minimal rain exposure.

Rule # 4 Use the lowest ISO setting which is usually ISO 100 or ISO 200. This gives the best detail due to the low noise of the sensor.

Rule # 5 Experiment with shutter speeds between 5 and 30 seconds. Lighting travels the speed of light at 186,000 miles per second. Leaving the shutter open for several seconds allows time for the lighting bolt to be captured by the sensor. Because the night sky is dark, a long shutter speed is effective in capturing the lighting’s path.

Rule # 6 Try setting the aperture around f/8 and f/16. This helps allow for a greater depth of field which increases the focusing sharpness of photograph.

Rule # 7 Use a timed release shutter or a remote shutter release to avoid touching the camera during the exposure. This allows the camera to remain steady during the entire exposure which avoids the possibility of motion blur.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Who We Are

I am teaching in the New Media Communications and Photography Departments at Maranatha Baptist Bible College in Watertown, WI. I have assisted in video broadcast ministries in several churches and have produced many informative visual presentations of missionaries’ works. Currently my wife and I assist as the Graphic Representative at Calvary Baptist Church where we are members. My wife helps to assist me during wedding and portrait photo shoots. My portfolio consists of event, sports, stop action, and time-lapse photography in both film and digital media. I have worked with professional videographers at Sonlight Studio and Cine-Cermin Productions.

Check out our latest video

Check out our wedding portfolio

Check out our portrait portfolio