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Panning: how and when to use it in photography

What is panning?

Panning is a photography skill that involves moving the camera left to right or up and down to follow your subject while they are moving. You can also slow the shutter speed down in order to blur the background as you take the picture.

This blog post will show you two of the ways it can be used. There will be a follow up post showing another two uses and some exercises on how to improve your panning skills.

Usually this skill is used in sports photography with very fast moving subjects but it has many more uses.

I feel that panning is a great skill to learn, as not everything you will photograph will stay still. Sometimes you are moving and the subject is stationary, so you need to pan with it. An example would be taking a picture from a fast moving train.

How do I use it on my camera?

There is not one setting that makes panning what it is. It is a mixture of movements and shutter speed that will get the result you want. Image stabilisation can be helpful but was not used in any of the examples below. This post walks through a few different examples of panning, showing the settings and how to get similar results.

What does it do to my pictures?
Blurring the background, while keeping the subject sharp

This is typically the look that people want from panning. Blurring the background and keeping the subject sharp draws attention to the subject and takes the focus away from the background. This could be useful where the background is distracting or muddled with colours.

01 Panning 1Canon 40D, ISO100 1/80th 135mm F7.1: By panning with the car I have been able to keep the car sharp while it was driving past me at about 120km/h. By using a large number F there is enough depth for the driver to be sharp as well.

02 Panning 2Canon 7D, ISO1600 1/60th 105mm F4: By panning at such a slow shutter speed I have removed the distracting crowd in the background of this shot, and the focus remains on the driver and his bike.

10 PanningCanon 5D II, ISO50 1/60th 70mm F14: The timing tower and the white building at Lakeside are quite an eyesore. By panning and blurring the background, the car (the subject of this photo) is more prominent.

Keeping the subject sharp while you are moving

An example of this is taking a picture from a moving train. Say you wanted to get a picture of a landscape while you were passing it from a moving train. You want a reasonable depth of field, using a large number aperture, this will of course slow the shutter speed down. By panning with your subject you will be able to get a sharper shot than trying to keep the camera still.

03 Panning  3Canon 5D II, ISO400 1/180th 50mm F6.7: This shot was taken from a moving train in Intelaken, Switzerland. I wanted a slow shutter speed so the waterfall wouldn’t look frozen, by panning I have allowed the shot not to blur.

Blurring the foreground to remove it from the picture

This is not usually seen in the everyday world of a photographer, but motorsport photographers have to deal with photographing through fences, crowds of people or many other objects to get the shot. Sometimes you can use a small number aperture to get the fence out of focus, but you can also do it by panning. By slowing the shutter speed down you can actually blur out the fence.

05 PanningCanon 7D, ISO100 1/80th 16mm F9: The blurry brown in the foreground is tall grass. As the sun was behind me, this was “the best angle” from which to capture this car. However the grass in the foreground was in the way. I couldn’t move the grass, so I had to use a slow shutter speed to blur it out of the photo.

06 PanningTop Left, Canon 5D II, ISO400 1/125th 70mm F8, Bottom Right, Canon 5D II, ISO100 1/125th 150mm F3.5: The fence in the top left picture is starting to disappear with some panning at 1/125th. By getting closer to the fence, using a longer length lens and a smaller aperture, the fence in the bottom right almost looks to have disappeared.

To Be Continued

Counting the true cost of a photo

The cost of a photo is not just the memory card it was taken on, nor is it just the cost of the model of camera and lens you are using. The true cost of a photo is more about the story behind the photo, the setup, the taking of it and the inevitable processing.

01 Cost Of Photo experienceBoat on Brienzsee, Ringgenberg; using a wide angle lens gives the mountain’s behind the boat some perspective.

If you were on a holiday, the cost of a picture could include the cost of the trip, added to the cost of the camera and so on. But what about your experience? By experience I am not meaning your holiday experience I am meaning the experience you have behind the camera – your abilities as a photographer.

02 Cost Of Photo experienceFlying Scotsman, Paris; the RAW processing of this image was made to look like it was taken in the same period that the car would have been new.

My experience is in motor sport photography, and my experience in that genre has made me aware of where incidents may happen or places that would make a great new angle. This allowed me to capture images that were different to the normal and would tell a different story, or show a facet of the sport that people had not seen before.

03 Cost Of Photo experiencePimlico Tube Station, London; by taking this photo at 1/8th of a second, the train moving out of the station has been accentuated. By using the right balance of ISO and shutter speed I was able to hand hold the camera for this shot.

Over the years I have tried other genres of photography and I have come to the conclusion that a photographer that is good at their genre usually is an expert in that genre too. A surf photographer will be able to pick waves that a board rider will take, and know which surfer to follow as they have the best wave.

A landscape photographer will know what time of the year the best cloud formations appear over their subject and the placing of the sun to maximise the lighting, as you can’t move the mountains but the sun does shift over summer / winter.

Likewise a macro photographer will know that a dragonfly will come back to a perch it has sat on if it flies away, as long as you’re patient enough.

04 Cost Of Photo experienceBoats for hire, Lake Como; by using a tripod and a long shutter speed I have made the headlights of the cars drag.

So this knowledge is part of what makes up the cost of a photo. The other part of the cost, is knowing which lens to choose, which aperture to use, what the shutter speed will do to the mood of the image and so on, as you have seen from the examples above there is more to the picture than just pushing the shutter button.

05 Cost Of Photo experienceFlower bokeh, Rothenburg; by using a very small number aperture I have made the different flowers behind this poppy blend into the photo.

06 Cost Of Photo experienceSpiral staircase, Arc de Triomphe; by using a fisheye lens, the spiral of the staircase has been exaggerated.

07 Cost Of Photo experienceDole Reflections, Dole, France; by using a HDR technique I have been able to capture all the detail in this scene.

This is what we are here to teach you! Our next Learning to crawl beginners class is on the 30th of August book now.

 

Understanding Panoramic Photos

What is it?

A common definition of panoramic photos is based on its field of view and the physical dimensions of the print. Generally its more than the eye can see – so greater than 170°, and usually the rectangular photo is 2 times its height or greater.

What do I need to think about when taking one?

First, you need a wide scene to photograph, for example a landscape, cityscape or aerial view. Then you need to be mindful that you will be photographing usually more than 200°, which could mean that you are going to be shooting into different light situations. Also as you are photographing, moving objects (such as clouds, people or boats etc) may confuse the software – just be aware of what’s in the entire scene you intend to shoot.

You really want the software to do as little as possible for you, so its best to make the exposure the same, even the white balance. As a rule, when I’m shooting panoramas, I set the camera to manual and get a light reading across my image. I expose for the shadows, ie the darkest parts of the WHOLE panorama, and set my white balance to one setting.

Most of the software on the market works LEFT to RIGHT and TOP to BOTTOM, just like we read a book – so when shooting, follow this same sequence. Yes, you can shoot more than one row of pictures!

When taking your pictures swing the camera 90° so it’s taking a portrait, this will make your finished product taller, and give it a larger resolution.

Lastly OVERLAP your shots. I generally overlap my panoramic shots by 1/3, which means when I take my second shot, there is 2/3 of the old shot in my shot and 1/3 of the new shot. This will generally increase the number of images, but gives me the depth to be able to drop a shot out of the sequence if there is a moving object in it.

You can buy hardware like a Pano Head, which is motorised, and will move the camera and take the pictures for you. When you load the images into this products’ corresponding software it makes it even easier to stitch together.

I have taken all of my panoramic photos hand held, and used AutoPanoPro to do the stitching. It is very straight forward to use and has adjustments so you can straighten horizons and much more. But if you want to have a go and don’t want to spend any money, I have found some free software called Hugin. It is slower than AutoPanoPro and a little harder to get around, but has the same functionality to correct horizons and more. It’s still quite powerful and it’s FREE.  There are many other programs you can use – these are my experiences with the above two.

What does it do to my pictures?

Panoramic photos allow you to show a wider perspective than standard, and will allow you to get a picture of something that is wider than you can currently take in one shot. It allows you to make images of cityscapes and landscapes with lots more detail.

Examples

panoramic photosShibuya Crossing, Japan; 9 shots. Taken on a Canon EOS 7D at 10mm. If you look carefully, the taxi and white car appear twice as they were moving through the scene as I was taking the images.

panoramic photosThe Milky Way, 11 shots. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, and at 18mm the left and right of the photo are opposite horizons.

panoramic photosMoffat Beach, Australia; 41 shots.  The exposure was set for the middle and right of the image and the sun has slightly blown out (created the very bright white areas) on the left.

panoramic photosBrighton Jetty Classic 2010, Australia; 9 shots taken from a helicopter as it flew left to right.

panoramic photosTokyo, Japan; 83 shots 3 rows high and 27 shots wide. Taken from the Tokyo Tower, the section in the large red rectangle is a crop of the small section in red on the main picture. This image could be printed 3m tall and would be about 27m long.

panoramic photosCrazy Coaster, Brisbane Ekka 2012; These images were never shot to be a panorama, but I saw the opportunity to see if they would work, and it did. If you look carefully, the riders are the same in each car. So dont be scared to give something a go!

Try This

Take a 4 or 5 shot Panorama and have some fun editing it with Hugin. See if you like the outcome, and don’t forget the tips:

  • Set Exposure manually for the darkest spots
  • Set the white balance
  • Shoot portrait and overlap




File Organisation

Subject

Tips for file organisation and backing up your photos

What is it?

Basically it’s a system that you develop that works for you. As I started organising and filing images before programs like Adobe Lightroom (which extracts images off your memory card and catalogues the files for you), I had to develop my own system that would let me catalogue my images so I could easily order and find them.

When I photograph an event I usually use two cameras. This introduces the risk that the two cameras may be shooting and recording the same number file. When I download those photos to the computer, I have to be sure that one set does not overwrite the other. You can now set up your camera to change the file number so that this won’t happen, but 10 years ago when it first happened to me, this function was not available on my cameras.

My step-by-step file organisation process

My first step is to upload the files to my computer and put them into a folder that has the following structure.

YYMMDD <<Descriptive Words>>, where “Descriptive Words” is two words about the shoot. If I was shooting a wedding it would be the Bride and the Groom’s names. I do this using the Windows import. So for example, if I photographed Greg and Mary’s wedding today the folder name would be:

140511 Greg Mary

Each photo would have its own unique number – I do not keep the original camera file names. So each photo would have a unique file name like: 140511 Greg Mary 001.jpg

Once I have retouched and edited the images, I do a backup of those images – one backup to an internal drive on my computer and another backup to an external drive.

The day I do the backup, I create a folder with the following structure:

2014 05 11 Photos

This is the folder I copy to the two drives for storage. This folder is stored in a top level folder named 2014.

This is MY procedure and it’s what works for me. I am not suggesting abandoning your procedure; just make sure that you have one, and that it makes sense to you, as the folder structure really needs to suit you.

Examples

File Organisation 01This is my external drive structure. Each folder contains backups. My backups are manual and I usually backup after a major event or shoot.

File Organisation 02This is what the 2011 folder looks like. Each folder is named as per the day I did the backup.

File Organisation 03As you can see this folder has five shoots in it.

File Organisation 04If I open the 110528 Ripley Lake folder I will find the following jpgs each with the same file naming convention. And the RAW files are in the CR2 folder.

Try This

Have a good look at your folders and files and if you don’t have a system of your own, I recommend you start one. If you overwrite a file or lose it, there is no way of getting the files back.





What is White Balance?

What is it?

It’s a technical term that measures the colour of the light we are seeing. As always, our eyes and brain change to our surroundings and make adjustments to what we see without our knowledge. As a result of this, we don’t see the difference between light from a candle and light from the sun. The light from a candle is very yellow (warm) and the light from the direct sun is quite blue (cool). These are two very opposite ends of the scale in colour balance. This is the reason why, when you take a photo indoors without the flash, the pictures can look very yellow.

How do I use it on my camera?

There is a button or menu for the white balance. Generally the camera defaults to AWB (Auto White Balance), which in truth, gets it right most of the time. If you are shooting jpg only, and the white balance is incorrect, there is little you can do to correct it. So it needs to be right 100% of the time. To achieve this, you need to set it yourself.

Below are the icons. Its best to pick the light that you are taking pictures in, with the exception of “Custom” as this is used when taking pictures with studio flash lighting. There is also “K” that is where you select a number, that and “Custom” will be another blog post.

White Balance 01

What does it do to my pictures?

If you pick the wrong white balance your pictures with either look too yellow or too blue. Generally, skin tones will not look right, making people look like they have a fake tan. It can make sunsets look more vibrant or yellow, which could be what you’re looking for too.  So picking the right white balance is best done before you take the picture.

The screen on the back of the camera is a great guide to see what you have taken looks like what you are seeing. The RBG histogram is another way, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

Examples

The images below were taken in a RAW format and were processed to show how the white balance changes will affect the result. The icon in the bottom corner of each photo shows what white balance it was processed with.

White Balance 02Sunset clouds; taken at about 5.30pm, the light is coming from the sun and there are clouds so “Cloudy” was used.

White Balance 03Joey in the diner; this image was an ambient light shot with a very little amount of flash. The accurate white balance is closer to “Fluorescent” than it is to “Flash”. You can see though that “Sunny” white balance gives the skin a just tanned look.

White Balance 04Olympic lifting outdoors; This shot was lit by the street lights. As you can see with using “Sunny”, the skin tone is wrong. The correct white balance is “Incandescent”

White Balance 05Christmas lights; As there are so many light sources in this photo, which includes the moon, the white balance was hard to get right. It is somewhere between “Fluorescent” and “Incandescent”. The grass in the “Sunny” setting looks too yellow and the sky has a brown yellow cast.

Try This

Take the same picture with each of the white balance settings, and see which one you think is the closest to the light you are taking pictures in. If you have any interesting findings, feel free to post your comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

RAW

What is it?

RAW is the digital equivalent of slide or negative film. It’s a format that allows you to process the image after you have taken it to suit your liking, or to process it a very different way altogether. In short, it’s like the roll of film you used to take to be developed, and then go back to get your prints. With RAW, you do the developing.

How do I use it on my camera?

Usually your camera is set to take photos in .jpg format. This format gives you a processed picture that is ready to share or print. Depending on the make and model of your camera, you may have a dedicated button for selecting the RAW option or you may have to change it through the menu system. Your camera may be able to take both a .jpg and RAW image at the same time, or just one format. This function may allow you to choose different .jpg and RAW sizes as well. Please note: shooting RAW will produce large file sizes and will slow down your camera’s burst mode (ie, how many pictures you can take quickly in a row.)

What does it do to my pictures?

Shooting RAW gives you much flexibility when processing your images. It allows you to adjust every facet of your image, from brightness, colour, contrast, sharpness and lots more. Newer versions of Photoshop Camera Raw Editor even allow you to apply a graduated filter effect, remove dust spots and other unwanted elements in the image. Basically, you can manipulate your picture to your hearts content.

You may be thinking, “we can already do that with editing software for our .jpg files”. Yes you can! BUT, like slide film, any change made to a RAW file is just a tweak to the file. It is not destructive, which means that any change can be reversed, or improved with more changes. You can always revert to the original RAW file. Even cropping the image does not destroy the remainder of the picture, not to mention that in the future, there may be better software or you may have a better understanding of processing that could give you a better result.

Once you have made your adjustments to the RAW file, simply save as a .jpg for printing / sharing.

While you may not be able to process a RAW file now, it is worth shooting in RAW, because at some point you may be able to, or you may want to change the feel of a shot. Processing software will improve over time and will allow you to produce a better result!

The following examples show images that I took years ago, and have been able to re-process because I kept the RAW files.

Example 1

RAW Pics 1.jpgI took the picture above in 2004 on a then new Canon 300D (using a 18-55 kit lens). The picture settings were F16 (aperture), 60 seconds (shutter speed), and ISO 100. I processed the image with the Canon Raw editing software supplied with the camera.

RAW Pics 2.jpgI can now process that file with the latest Adobe Camera Raw Editor. You can see the many sliders and variables that can be used to adjust the look of the image. Please note that when you open the file, all the sliders are set to 0.

RAW Pics 3.jpgIn this image, I have moved the sliders, and the image has changed:

  • Moved white balance – toned down the yellow cast

  • Increased exposure – increased the overall brightness

  • Increased contrast – blacks are blacker and whites are whiter

  • Decreased the highlights – which remove some of the extreme white light around the street lights

  • Increased clarity – which sharpens the image

 

RAW Pics 4.jpgHere is newly reprocessed image. If I had not taken this picture in RAW in 2004, these edits would not have been possible.

Example 2

The photo on the left was taken on a Canon 1000D. The settings were F2.8, 1/750th shutter speed and ISO 100. The photo on the left was as shot, you can see that it is quite overexposed, as this image was taken in RAW i am able to repair the image and bring it back.

  • Decreased the exposure –  to darken the overall image

  • Increased contrast – blacks are blacker and whites are whiter

  • Increased the highlights – as they needed a little

  • Increased the shadows  – to highlight the flower

  • Reduced the whites – to remove the harshness on the lake

  • Increased the clarity – to sharpen the image

If this was a jpg image out of the camera, these adjustments would not have been possible.

Try This

Take a picture in RAW and have a go at processing it yourself with the sliders, moving each one at a time and seeing the results. Watch how the histogram moves left to right and how the peaks rise and fall.

Aperture

What is it?

Aperture is a way of controlling how much light comes into your camera. It’s based on the size of the hole in your lens. By changing lenses you can improve the maximum aperture.Aperture Priority

How do I use it on my camera?

Depending on the camera make and model you have, by using the A or Av (Aperture Priority) mode on your camera dial or menu, you can select the F number that you want the photo to be taken at, the camera will set the shutter speed to maintain the correct exposure. You would use the main scroll or menu to change the F number.

Aperture Priority

What does it do to my pictures?

Simply, the smaller the F number you use the less will be in focus in  your pictures. This will make the object in focus stand out more.  However, there are times that you want lots of the picture in focus, like a landscape or a group of people. To get all of the picture in focus use a larger number.

Aperture PrioritySmall F number: the flower is only thing in focus

Aperture PriorityLarge F number: the flower in the foreground and the flowers in the background are not separated. The flowers in the background are distracting.

Examples

Aperture PriorityF number 11: gives a lot of depth in this picture

Aperture PrioritySmall F number: the water closest is in focus.

Aperture PrioritySmall F number: the back ground is separated from the subject

Aperture PriorityLarger F number: more in focus, the foreground and background are both parts of the picture

Aperture PriorityUsing a larger F number: the subject and his surroundings are both part of the picture

Aperture PriorityF number 22: all of the above image is in focus

Try This

Get your camera, set it to Aperture Priority mode, start at the smallest number you can and then take a series of pictures of the same thing changing the  F number. Note how your pictures are changing. What else is changing when taking these pictures?

Have a read about Shutter Speed and ISO.

Shutter Speed

What is it?

Your camera has a door that opens to let in light; by controlling how long the door is open it can control how much light comes into your camera, and therefore how light or dark or your photo is.

Shutter Speed is how long the door is open.
How do I use it on my camera?

Shutter Speed Pics 1

Depending on the make and model of camera you have, by using the S or Tv mode on your camera dial or menu, you can select the Shutter Speed that you want the photo to be taken at. The camera will then set the Aperture to maintain the correct exposure. You can use the main scroll or menu to change the Shutter Speed. Your camera is likely to have a range of 30” to 4000 or (1/4000th), this is 30 seconds to 1/4000th of a second. It may also have “Bulb” or faster than 1/4000th. I will leave “Bulb” and Long Exposures to another Blog post.

What does it do to my pictures?

The longer the shutter is open, the more that the objects that are moving  in your pictures will blur. So to freeze your subject in time you will need to use a quick shutter speed. To blur your subject you will need to use a longer shutter speed. Tip: if you are trying to capture your kids on a swing, you will need to use a faster shutter speed than 1/250th.

Shutter Speed Pics 2Fast Shutter: has frozen the seagull in flight.

Shutter Speed Pics 3Slow Shutter: the waves in this picture have a ghostly appearance.

Examples

Shutter Speed Pics 4Fast Shutter: has frozen the subjects mid jump.

Shutter Speed Pics 5Fast Shutter: the movement of the water is frozen.

Shutter Speed Pics 6Slow Shutter: the water on the waterfall has blurred.

Shutter Speed Pics 7Slow Shutter: the cars are so blurred they are not visible. All you can see is their headlights / tail lights.

Try This

Set your camera to Shutter Priority mode. Using a garden hose or sprinkler, take a picture at 1/1000th and see what happens to the water.

Next, take a series of pictures of the same object, changing the shutter speed after each photo. Note how your pictures are changing. What else is changing when taking these pictures? Feel free to leave your comments on this post.

Have a read about ISO and Aperture.

ISO

What is it?

It is an international standard for measuring the sensitivity of light of film. But we now mostly don’t use film. So how does it relate to your digital camera? Why do you need to know about it?

Digital cameras may not use film, but the sensor recording the image uses the same sensitivity scale outlined by the ISO standard.

In film days, ISO 100 film was used outdoors where there was lot of light. 400 film was used in the shade and 800 was used indoors with flash.

Most modern digital cameras, have a range of ISO from 100 to 1600 as a minimum, with some cameras boasting much higher.

How do I use it on my camera?

Depending on the make and model of your camera, you may have a dedicated button for changing it, or you may have to change it through the menu system. Most of the latest cameras will have an intelligent Auto ISO that allows you to set a minimum and maximum value.

What does it do to my pictures?

The short answer to this question is, not a lot! By increasing the it when taking your picture it will allow you to take a picture in a darker environment. So as a general rule always use ISO 100. If you cannot take the picture at 100, then change it. As the light around you gets darker, you will need to increase your ISO to match.

 Technology has made ISO nowadays just a number, gone are the days that 1600 was “noisy” and you lost detail in your pictures when using it. The new Canon 700D allows you to use ISO 6400! That film speed even 5 years ago was considered unusable.

Examples

ISO Pics 1.jpgThe picture above was taken in 2007 on a then new Canon 30D, the picture settings were Aperture F5.6 Shutter Speed 1.6 seconds and ISO 1250, the image to the left has been processed to look like it was taken on a 1000D at the same ISO, with newer technology that has better ISO, there is less noise.

ISO Pics 2.jpgThis picture was taken at 3200 at about 9.30 at night, the high number allowed me to take this picture where the only light available was moonlight. The Aperture was F2.8 and the shutter speed was 1/60th.

ISO Pics 3.jpgThis shot is a crop of the original shot to show the noise that was around with older cameras, this was taken on a Canon 300D, the settings were Aperture F3.5 Shutter speed 1/160th and ISO 1600, you can see the grain mostly in the darker areas of the image.

ISO Pics 4.jpgI have reprocessed this image and reduced the noise but there is still a little evident. Newer cameras will do this for you in camera without the need for reprocessing.

ISO Pics 5.jpgThis image was taken in such a dark setting that the camera needed a torch to focus! The settings were Shutter speed 1/10th Aperture F4 and ISO 1600, the settings were used to bring out the background that was extremely dark, the couple were lit by two flashes.

Try This

Set your camera to Manual mode. Set your camera to Aperture F16 and Shutter speed 1/100 and ISO 100, take a picture, then change the ISO to 200 and take the same picture, then repeat for 400, 800 and 1600, what is happening to your pictures? What else is changing?

Have a read about Shutter Speed and Aperture.