New to DSLRs

mrdaviduk

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Hi

This is my first post so sorry if its in the wrong section.

I've been a bit of a hobbyist photographer for a few years really only using a digital compact camera, however from that i've learnt the basic manual control settings, Shutter speed, F-stop ISO etc...
Few months ago I got myself my first DSLR and been very much enjoying using it and learning as much as I can.
Now I feel I've done all I can to teach myself and decided to sign up for a course, i've skipped the first couple of levels as they are based around the very basics of camera settings and everything. Something I feel I'm ok at.

But I've never really had my photos looked at by other photographers so never had all 'real' feedback. Just wondered if you guys could take a look at some example shots i've done and give and advice you have, where i'm going wrong, ways to improve etc... Just so I'm going into this course knowing where my skill level is :)


Look forward to your comments :)

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Thanks all
 

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The_Traveler

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You will get much more and better response if you post one or two shots in a thread here for critique rather than expecting folks to go off the site and review your entire body of work.
 

TCampbell

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There are two main issues that I think of when I see these images -- but the primary issue I notice is the dynamic range.

For any given photo, we can measure the difference between the darkest point in the image and the brightest point in the image. Is the brightest point twice as bright as the darkest point? Is it four times as bright? Eight times as bright? Etc. Those differences are sometimes described as "stops" (a name given for historical reasons at the start of the industrial revolution when adjustment levers on machines could lock into a slot, a tooth in a gear, an indentation, etc. to "stop" the lever from moving -- so the positions were known as "stops". On a camera, you could move the lever or dial to the next indentation or "stop" to increase or decrease the exposure settings. Today it's all digital and we don't need levers with teeth, but we still use the term "stop".)

One "full" stop is the amount of adjustment necessary to either the double or halve of the amount of light collected by the camera.

A camera has a useful "dynamic range" -- which means that if you set the exposure to perfectly expose a specific amount of light, not only will that amount of light be accurately recorded... but so will areas of the scene which are both brighter and darker. A camera with poor dynamic range means that areas which are much brighter or much darker will no longer be recognizable... the stuff that's too bright will just be a white blotch and "blown out" and the stuff that's too dark will be a black patch and "clipped" in darkness.

Most cameras can handle at least 3 full stops in each direction... meaning three stops brighter and three stops darker than whatever the camera was set to expose. The challenge with outdoor landscapes is that often that's just not enough.

This is what I'm seeing in your photograph... the area under the bridge is black in shadow (which is ok). But the area leading up to the bridge is so white that we've lost detail in the image.

There are several techniques to deal with this problem.


1) Adjust: You can often adjust the image on your computer to correct the image, BUT... this only works if the detail wasn't completely lost. It can be lost for two reasons... anything beyond the limits of the camera's dynamic range will just be lost. If you shoot in JPEG, the compression algorithm tries to save space and reduce the file-size by taking pixels which have "nearly" the same color or light value and just making them the same since your eyes wouldn't have detected the difference anyway. That's fine if the image didn't need to be adjusted. But if it DID need to be adjusted to recover detail, it means that detail was destroyed -- lost forever. This is why many photographers prefer to shoot RAW. Incidentally, the adjustment tools you should look for in your editing software are often labeled "shadows and highlights", or "curves" or "levels" and there are more ways to do this as well.

2) Fill lighting: You can reduce the exposure on the highlights... this will correct them so that they are not blown out. But as a result, the mid-tones will now appear under-exposed and the dark tones will now be so under-exposed that they'll just be black. BUT... it's EASY to fix that because you can always use a "fill flash" to bring up the amount of light in the shadow areas provided the shadow areas are reasonably close to your light source (In landscapes they are often too far away.) I generally always use a flash when I'm shooting outdoors in sunlight -- that may seem counter-intuitive but the idea is not that there's not enough light... but rather that the light areas are soooo bright that the shadow areas are just too dark. The flash is fixing the "dark" areas. Due to the way light and "stops" work, adding light will have a much larger impact on the shadows then it will on the light areas. You can also use reflectors to bounce some light into dark areas.

And now for the strategy I suggest for you:

3) Change WHEN you take the photo. Mid-day sun is intensely bright. If you're going to shoot in the middle of the day, don't expect to be overly impressed with the results. But two things can help:

a) Shoot _very_ early in the morning or _very_ late in the evening. Generally within 1 hour of sunrise or sunset. And btw, the light can be fantastic in the minutes preceeding sunrise or just after sunset when you have dusky light.

b) Shoot when it's cloudy. A light amount of overcast can do wonders to fix the overpowering light of the sun. In "light" overcast, the amount of light is generally cut by about half, but you can actually still see your own shadow. This gives the illusion of full-sun, but without the overpowering amount of light that makes things extremely challenging for your camera.

When I'm shooting subjects outside, I try to find some medium shadow to protect my subjects from the harsh sunlight... but also be careful of the background. If you shoot a person sitting under a tree, but beyond the tree is a sunlit area, then the exposure that makes the person look nicely exposed will leave that background looking intensely bright and blown out. So you do have to think about your backgrounds (you always have to think about what will appear in your backgrounds in all images that you take.)

If you shoot in medium or greater levels of overcast, the images will start to look a bit "cold"... but not to worry, you can either adjust the white balance on your camera to compensate for clouds (or learn to use a gray card -- and btw, if you do shoot in RAW keep in mind that the white balance setting will be ignored... RAW images provide you with the original data and adjustments are never applied in camera). I adjust the white balance on the computer by very gently (and I can't emphasize the word GENTLY enough) increasing the warmth. Don't think of it so much as adding in some orange/red tone to your images... think of it more as just trying to subtract the amount of blue that comes with a cloudy day.) I see a lot of photos where it's clear to me that the person who processed the image learned about adjustments and just went crazy with them.... if a "little" of an adjustment is good, then a "lot" of an adjustment is not necessarily better. Try to think of it like salting your food... a little can improve the flavor... but a lot will quickly ruin it.

There are more ways to help dynamic range problems (it seems like there are always more ways) but it can get overwhelming. Just know that you may eventually run across the term "High Dynamic Range" (or HDR) photography and you may hear about something called a "Gradient Neutral Density" filter ... the filter only helps in certain situations and isn't a universal fix.

We could also discuss compositional elements but I'm going to ignore that. It's my personal opinion that if we were to notice 27 things you should be trying to correct and tell you all of them (no, I didn't actually try to count) then it'd pretty much be hopeless to expect that anyone could focus on 27 different points the next time they go out to shoot. So I prefer to think of the one thing that stands out the most and suggest that you only work on improving that. That will quickly become 2nd nature and then you can working on improving something else, and so on. It's not entirely unlike a sport... you develop a kind of muscle memory for the sport where you don't really "think" about what you're doing... you just do it, but you sure would have made a lot of mistakes while learning to play the sport well. Photography isn't so different in that regard.
 

Shipman

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I dont think the pictures are bad but like previously stated just way too bright, do you edit at all? I would dim them down a bit and sharpen them up, add a little more color and I think they could be much better. If its ok with you Id like to edit one when I get home to show you what I mean.
 
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mrdaviduk

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Tim, thanks for your amazing reply. Reading it has helped me understand a lot, very helpful :)

Michael, I did edit them a bit. I brought up the clarity and lowered the shadows (which I think has added to the brightness) and it was a pretty sunny day :)
Please go ahead and edit one (or all) I look forward to the results, if you could let me know what you did to improve them that would be great.

Thanks to both of you!
 

Shipman

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I dont get done work until midnight eastern us time so as soon as I get home Ill do one and post it up. If I can do what I have in my head I think theyll look pretty good. I sure will let you know exactly what I do.
 

rlemert

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Now that you appear to have made strides in the dynamic range area, please allow me to comment on the composition.

The only one that works for me is the bridge. In the other two, the apparent subject (the thing in focus) is off to the side where you don't really notice it. The frame is filled with things that would be great subjects on their own (the man on the bench in the one, the statues in the background on the other), and when I looked at them these were the things that immediately drew my eye. It was only after I'd gotten frustrated trying to see them that I noticed the in-focus items on the far right.

What I think I would do with the one of the wall is crop out the man on the bench. That way you don't have an 'obvious' potential conflicting subject - the rest of the background would be pretty plain.

I'm not sure you can do anything with the rose picture - that statue is going to be competing for attention no matter what you do.

(Keep in mind that there are people here who take more pictures in a day than I take in a year.)
 

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