Understanding Exposure is More than Just Point and Shoot

I thought I would do a little photography 101 slash book review for this Saturday’s post. Only one more week before Auburn opens the 2011 football season so today is sort of the last “free” day before the fall goes into full swing, so to speak. The changes in photography over the last 10-15 years has been amazing to watch, and I’m glad I started shooting when film was the only option. Just about anyone can pick up a digital SLR today that is capable of taking photos that weren’t even possible a few years ago. Thankfully, it still takes more than just a finger pushing a button to take shots that look like more than just vacation photos. It’s quite possible to take great shots with a point-n-shoot and lousy shots with a professional camera (my nephew who is 12 takes amazing shots with his $150 Canon PowerShot SD1300).

One of the aspects of photography that attracted me to the art years and years ago was how easy it was to take a photo, and how hard it was to master the art. Just like anything worth doing, it takes a lot of time, study, experience, and a determination to get beyond the basics. One of the very basics of photography, and also one of the most difficult to master, is exposure. There are three basic elements to exposure in photography that make an image possible. These have never changed since the very first piece of film was exposed to light. For a “proper” exposure you need a combination of aperture (lens opening), shutter speed, and ISO value (film or sensitivity speed). Today’s cameras all have what is called a “P” or “program” mode that automatically calculates all three of these in an instant and creates what it thinks is the proper exposure. The only problem with that is the meter always exposes for a “middle grey”, or average, which attempts to take every lighting situation in the frame, average it out for medium, and that’s the “proper” exposure. That not necessarily bad, or wrong, and it’s probably how about 90% of all images shot are taken, but it also doesn’t always make the most exciting photograph either.

The two examples above I shot in the fading sun over the Atlantic, and both are considered to be improperly exposed according to the camera meter at the time. One is significantly “over exposed” (too light or bright) and one “under exposed” (too dark). I took several shots back to back and the “properly exposed” shot was quite boring. I love how both of these shots show a different mood and many different details. What often determines a “proper” exposure is what you are trying to create when you take the shot. What story are you trying to tell often determines what exposure best portrays your vision when you pull the trigger.

If you are interested in learning more about exposure and how light is used in creating an image I recommend the updated edition of Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera by Bryan Peterson. I have no affiliation with Peterson but I did read his first edition that came out many years ago and recently finished the updated version published last year. Peterson goes through an easy to understand explanation of how to best use exposure in your photography beyond just pulling the trigger. Anyone who is interested in improving their photography should start off with Peterson’s book and move out from there, it’s a great place to start.

Creation Proclaims the Milky Way Galaxy on the Summer Solstice

As I mentioned in my blog post last night we were going to try to get some shots of the Milky Way Galaxy, and these above are what I ended up with last night. There are so many different aspects of creation but this one always blows my mind. I love how Paul puts it in Romans 8:20-25

…ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

The lights at night out where we live are always interesting. Some nights it’s so dark you really can’t see your hand in front of your face, but most of the time we have a good bit of “glow” from Auburn-Opelika on one side and several other cities on the other side, but they are farther away. The shots of the Milky Way above (the first three) were taken when it was very low in the night sky facing south east. Turn around and you see the difference between the glow facing south and the glow facing Auburn. That last image still shows a good bit of stars, but nothing like the shots from the other side of the sky, and that shot was an entire f-stop longer (in other words the shot in the direction of Auburn let in twice as much light as the shots facing the Milky Way and showed less stars). Still, either way, the number of stars visible is always just amazing to me. Thanks goes to my nephew Jake who stood in and modeled for the first shot and explained to me what I was looking at in the night sky.

Happy Birthday Deborah and Another Year to Celebrate

Saturday was Deborah’s birthday, and yes, she was born on Saturday the 14th (she has enjoyed pointing out to me this year it is the same exact day as it was 45 years ago). This was a special birthday for her, since she loves markers in years, 45 years was a small milestone for her, not to mention everything that happened health wise last year and early this year, we all felt blessed to be able to celebrate this birthday with her. We went out to eat and watched The King’s Speech but in general had a nice quiet day at the house. My mom made Deborah a quilt of her very own. I am pretty sure this is the only quilt anyone has ever made for her. Since she makes quilts, and all things knitted, I guess everyone just thought she could just make her own. I know Deborah can’t wait until it’s done so she can use it.

I love the shot of Deb walking home from my parents house to our house around sunset. It was abnormally cold and windy outside and even though the sun looks warm, it’s freezing for May. The lamp is just because I love taking photos of lamps (or light… it’s a my lamp is the light of the world thing).

HDR Photos on the iPhone iOS 4.1 Camera :: Review

One of the best updates to iOS 4.1, to me, was the ability to automatically take and merge HDR photos right on the iPhone. For those unfamiliar with HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography, this is a relatively new area in photography that takes multiple images, which are beyond the tonal stop range of most digital camera sensors (or film for that matter). This actually isn’t new at all, film photographers have used this technique of bracketing ever since the invention of photography, but it is the digital media that has made it far more easy to achieve pleasing results, and hence, it is a revived sort of new.

High Dynamic Range (HDR) Explained

In brief, when you take images bracketed in exposure range, and then combined them either in camera or in something like Photoshop CS5 (which made huge changes to their HDR process over CS2, CS3, or CS4), or Photomatrix, you get a much richer, deeper tonal range, which just isn’t possible with one image. Digital SLR cameras can “see” about 6-8 stops of light, which is translated to be 4 stops underexposed and 4 stops overexposed from the middle exposure value, whatever that middle value is deemed to be. The human eye on the other hand can see far more “stops” of light, some say 3-4 times that of a digital camera, so HDR is a little closer to what we see with our own eyes. It still doesn’t match the light sensitivity of the eye, but it’s closer than non-HDR.

With HDR, you generally take one middle (or properly exposed) image, one frame that is 2 stops underexposed (-2/EV) and another frame 2 stops overexposed (+2/EV). When combined, the dark shadows are seen along with the detail in blown out areas (white overexposed spots). The iPhone now does this automatically. I took a few test shots to see how a camera-phone would handle these types of exposures. These images below are right out of the camera, they had zero processing, but all images below were taken with my iPhone. All the shots below show the non-HDR image first and the HDR image second.

iPhone HDR Image Examples

These first two shots were actually the ones where I liked the non-HDR image better, mainly because it had deeper colors on the first one with a little more contrast, simply because of how the shot was framed and where the backlight fell on the image.

These two shots were taken in the impossible condition for a camera, a bright light in a dark room. This just gives you an idea how in the second shot the HDR opens up the range of exposed light. Even with opening up the room light, you still get a visible image on the screen, which most of the time will be blown out to white.

These two shots show the great potential of HDR. This shot of my friend Lee, though he wasn’t expecting to be the HDR subject, shows how well it works. The HDR shows much more natural facial features, his white shirt shows a much more realistic looking texture and color, and the overall image has a much better well-balanced look to it.

Overall it seems to be a fantastic edition to the iOS 4.1 package. There are some well known photographers, like Jarvis, now getting incredible shots with the iPhone, the HDR setting should only make the images better and better.

People are not Called to Misssions


That was the statement our friend Biscuet (he also talked about this great story here) made in his message this morning, no one is actually “called to missions”.   Although this truth rarely seems to be stated in the American church, it is stated in scripture throughout the Bible but most recognizably in the last verse in Matthew.  Jesus was not giving us a suggestion here, it was a definitive statement for His message to reach all nations and to have a heart for those who are living a Spiritually dead life.

Sometimes our Americanized version of missions is to see who is “called to missions” then send them on a sort of mission vacation to a vaguely understood culture, and see what kind of impact can be made.  This might be an exaggerated cynical statement, but those of us who profess Jesus as their Savior are called to a worldwide missionary life.  We are certainly not all called to China like Biscuet but we are called to be missional.

I happen to be reading a passage in a book last night that put this in context.  I am about half way through God’s Passion for His Glory by John Piper which is written in two parts; the first part is a biography on Jonathan Edwards, the second part is The End for Which God Created the World by Edwards himself (see also my essay on Edwards famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God entitled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Historical Look at It’s Preachability in the 21st Century).  Many don’t associate Edwards with missions but he spent many years working directly with Native American Indians in the 18th century.  In speaking about Edwards, Piper talks about privatism in religion and says:

The worst form [of privatism] is with evangelicals who think they are publicly- and socially- minded when the have no passion for missions of perishing people without the gospel that alone can give eternal life, and without a saving knowledge of the Light of the world who can transform their culture.  So the first message of Jonathan Edwards to modern evangelicals about our public lives is: Don’t limit your passion for justice and peace to such a limited concern as the church-saturated landscape of American culture.

Lift up your eyes to the real crisis of our day: namely, several thousand cultures still unpenetrated by the gospel, who can’t even dream of the blessings we want to restore.

No graphic that I have seen more emphasizes this as the one below from the IMB called You are the Light of the World.  I first saw this in poster form in bslash’s office one day and it has stuck with me since that day.  The dark places in the world, even 2,000 years after Matthew 28:19 was spoken, are large, and on every continent.  Biscuet pointed out today that we, as American’s, can no longer take the Message effectively to a Moslem nation, but we can invest in people who can, like the people in China, but before we can make a huge step (like living in China or Hong Kong), we must be willing to take many many smaller steps and be open to following our Leader, Jesus.

How To Make a Milk Carton Flash Diffuser Video

This past weekend Deb and I went to Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain Georgia to go for a bike ride and do a little photo and video shooting at the Butterfly Day Center (see my Callaway Gardens Butterflies // Friday Feet).  Generally when you are shooting butterflies in an enclosed area you will need some type of flash, and to get a nice even smooth light across your subject, you need to diffuse the light source.  It is all in how you want the end result to turn out, you can shoot with a more harsh light (no diffuser) and get a nice solid black background with a brightly lit subject, or use a diffuser for a little softer look.

You can buy several very expensive diffusers and there are some very good ones on the market, but if you are looking for a cheap and quick fix when you don’t have any diffuser, or any money to buy one, try a milk carton.  They are cheap, and quite effective, and can you make one in about 5 minutes.  I started cutting up this milk carton on Friday and realized some video would be a good idea.

How to Make a Milk Carton Flash Diffuser from Scott Fillmer on Vimeo.

The tools you will need are a semi-transparent milk carton (not a white one), a razor blade, some tape, and that’s about it.  The equipment I used in this photo shoot was a Nikon D90 and a Nikon SB-800 flash (borrowed from Jak Blount) a flash braket and flash extender cable.  The video is about 4 minutes long and includes some images from the shoot as well.  Hope you enjoy.

Light Painting in the Image of the Calvary Cross

Front Pic of Scott Fillmer Business Card

I should have my next edition business cards in the mail any day now.  I usually print them in very small packs of 100 at a time, probably because I can never make up my mind what I want to show on my card.  This time I went with something a little different.  This is a photo I took with the help of a friend a few months ago and turned out to be one of my favorites of the day.

Light painting is something really fun and easy to try if you have a few simple things like a camera, tripod, and a light source.  We did this round of light painting with a sparkler.

What do you think?  A little over the top for a photography business card?  Well, I ask, but they are already printed and on their way to me.  I was looking for something unique, related to my faith (think I got that one), and photographically challenging.  Not going to show the back side right now but when I get them in I will take a pic of the cards themselves.

The verse I chose goes along with the theme for 2009 for our church (illuminate), but I really like the overwhelming number of scriptures that talks about “light” and this photo is taken in darkness with only the crosses showing “light”.

John 8:12 – When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The image itself was one of several I really liked (see Light Painting Photography is Thinking Outside the Box, I Think? for others from that day), none of which we ever used for the intended purpose, but it was still fun, and different.  You can still just see my shoes at the bottom of the image as I walked across the scene, but I think the image of the three crosses is a powerful one to me.