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Monday, July 26, 2010

Panning and Zooming Techniques

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     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.
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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.