Tag Archives: lighting

Image Quality for Photo & Video

Most of us have heard the term, “Garbage in, Garbage out.”.  The saying holds true for photography and video.  Editing can fix a lot, but it cannot fix everything.  The key is to capture the best quality images to begin with, which will leave you with more options in editing later.

I produced a video on the subject which serves as a short synopsis of what to consider when capturing images, whether it be moving or still.  Read on for more detailed explanations of what is covered in the video, which can be found at the end of this post.

Image Size

Many cameras, both video and still cameras, offer several options for image size.  Using a smaller image size can certainly save space.  A smaller image garners a smaller file size which will effectively allow you to take more photos or longer videos before having to off-load to your computer.

The problem with smaller image sizes is that they cannot be enlarged and maintain a crisp image.  You may start off thinking your images will just be used on social media or small prints, but should you decide an image is destined for other applications where a larger format is needed you are going to wish you had taken everything at full quality and just brought extra media cards instead of trying to save space.

Larger images can always be scaled down in size to meet the requirements of the project you are working on.  Smaller images cannot be scaled up without loosing detail and clarity.  At some point smaller images become unrecognizable if they are scaled up too much.

Below are some images I took for a video project. I needed the images to fit a video frame size of 1920 X 1080.  Each of the images is annotated to show it’s original size and how much it needed to be scaled up by in order to fit the frame size I needed.

Image Quality.00_01_11_10.Still004Image Quality.00_01_21_10.Still006Image Quality.00_00_55_07.Still002Image Quality.00_01_06_09.Still003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see, it is possible to scale images up to a certain degree and maintain decent image quality.  The extent to which you can do this depends on the size of the original image and how much you need to scale the image to make it fit into your project.

Lighting

To capture the richness of a scene’s color palette and to maintain overall crispness of an image, special attention should be paid to lighting.  In general, if lighting perfection cannot be reached it is better that an image come out a little too dark rather than being too bright.

Images that are too dark can generally be saved in editing.  The detail is still there and with a little help from photo editing software (I like Photoshop and Lightroom) the images colors, shadows, midtones and highlights can be enhanced to create the image you were hoping for when you originally took the photo or video.

Image Quality.00_02_10_01.Still007Image Quality.00_02_14_26.Still008

 

 

 

 

Images that are too bright rarely can be saved in editing.  When too much light is present in a shot it creates overwhelming highlights that drown out the detail of the photo. Darkening the image simply darkens the distortion created by the presence of excess light.  The detail is lost and cannot be regained in editing.

Image Quality.00_02_32_01.Still011Image Quality.00_02_37_19.Still012

 

 

 

 

To assure that you are closer to perfection with your lighting keep the following in mind:

  • The subject of your video should be evenly lit with the light source coming from the front and or sides of the subject.  The background should be darker than the foreground and for this reason the subject should never be placed in front of a window.
  • When possible make sure the subject is lit by a single type of light.  Outdoor light, indoor light and different light bulbs give off different temperatures of light.  This can cause an image to have a color cast (looks too blue or too yellow) if the camera is not white balanced correctly.  This can be fixed in editing, but better to avoid the problem to begin with.
  • Know your camera settings.  Most point and shoot cameras simplify exposure settings or make them automatic all together.  If you have a higher end camera that lets you adjust the three points of exposure manually (Shutter, Aperature & ISO) then some research on the type of photos you are planning to take should provide you with some best practices for using those settings to produce the best results.

Camera Stabilization

A moving subject and a moving camera can spell disaster for the outcome of your images.  While not all handheld images are destined for the digital trash can it is better to stabilize your camera whenever possible.

An expensive tripod is not always a better tripod but you do want to keep in mind the weight of the gear your tripod needs to hold.  When searching for higher end tripods you may see weight referenced in two ways.  One is the weight of the tripod it’s self.  The other is in reference to how much weight the tripod can carry in gear. If you have a large camera and will be attaching other accessories to that camera such as lighting and microphones you will need to take into account the collective weight of that setup and get a tripod that can accommodate that weight.

Lighter tripods may tip more easily if they are knocked into or caught in a good wind.  Weights can be attached to some tripods to help better stabilize them in these conditions.

If you are filming with a mobile phone or iPad there are adapters on the market for under $20 that will allow you to attach your mobile device to your tripod.

Monopods are a great alternative if you are traveling or will be shooting in a tight space that cannot accommodate a full tripod.  Some tripods come with a detachable monopod but they can also be purchased relatively inexpensively.

Media Storage

As discussed above, reducing image quality to make the most of your media storage space is not a good long term option.  Always buy the highest capacity media card your camera can take and then buy multiples of those.  No one every complained about having too much storage space.

If you are traveling and will have access to WiFi consider signing up for a cloud storage account.  You can transfer your photos to the cloud and then delete them from your camera or mobile device to make room for new photos. Check with some of the different cloud storage providers on rates and storage capacity.  I like Dropbox because it can be installed on and work with all types of computer operating systems and mobile devices.  Once in the cloud, your photos will sync to all the devices the account is attached to.  Do a few test runs using this workflow before using it for a project or going on vacation.

Check out the video below for quick visual review of topics covered above.

 

 

 

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Sunsets and Silhouettes

The most vibrant images can often times be images that play off light and dark and only display a handful of colors on the spectrum.

Capturing sunsets is a great way to experiment with natural light and the way it plays in various landscapes.

Sunsets on a backdrop of well formed clouds can be very dramatic.

If you photograph at the right time of day and look at ordinary things with a creative eye you can create some interesting scenes.

Generally speaking I have found that an hour before the sun goes down is the best time to photograph skies like the ones shown above.  The light is not as intense so glare is limited.  It also allows for more options in manually setting your camera for exposure.

I primarily use manual focus, except on images where the sun is directly in the shot.  Then I put the camera on auto focus, take a best guess at where I should start for settings and then aim the camera at the sun without looking through the lens.  After I take the shot I quickly review and adjust my settings and take another round of photos…slightly adjusting the position of my camera in the hopes one or two of the shots end up with decent framing.

If you think the fun ends when the sun goes down you are mistaken.  Keep an extra battery charged for the late show with our other favorite light source…the moon.

 

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Photographing Jewelry

There is a bit of a trick to photographing jewelry.  It requires a little more staging and attention to lighting in order to capture sparkle without creating glare or casting distracting shadows.  The video below gives some tips for building a basic setup for photographing jewelry.  The two key ingredients to a decent photo is bright, even lighting of the subject and a neutral background.  This video will show you how to achieve that on a budget.

 

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Photography First Aid

‘Tis the season for photography! Decorations, pets and people! Film everything and be choosy in editing. Here is a little Photography First Aid advice for those pics that walk that line of being OK or a candidate for the delete button.

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Jewel Tones

I know.  It’s been awhile since my last post.  I have been feverishly photographing my garden while it is still in it’s prime.  300 photographs later I am still processing them.  But I’ve been working on some other stuff too.

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I make jewelry.  Like gardening, it is what gets me away from the computer for a little while.  Also like gardening, it seems to circle back to something tech based.  I have been experimenting with different ways to photograph jewelry.  At the suggestion of some of my research I purchased 3 sided display poster board in white to create a reflector.  You can see the result above.   It also worked pretty well on the African Violets (see below).

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I photographed a variety of jewelry with beads that ranged from opaque to more translucent in nature.

Fire&IceNecklace purple_necklace Green-Necklace

I had greater success finding the balance with lighting and bringing out the color in the opaque beads.  The translucent beads were more challenging.

That challenge was more evident when I began photographing earrings.  I wanted to photograph them in suspension….in their natural habitat so to speak…but not on a model.  I wanted the benefit of a clean background.  I kept the three sided white board up and ran fishing wire across the room and hung the earrings off of that.

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Some of my more translucent beads and even some of the deeper blue beads were challenging to photograph.  After several tries against the white background a clear, balanced image still eluded me.

I have purchased a 3 sided black board and a flat black board for the base of the “box” and will try another round of photography.

Practicing what I teach….getting out there and filming everything….starting with the things that inspire me outside of my trained field.

More to come!

Copyright 2013 Digital Design Digest.

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Take Great Holiday Photos

Happy Holidays from Digital Design Digest!  Thanksgiving is just around the corner and there is much to do so I will keep this short!  I just wanted to share a few quick tips for taking great holiday photos.

  1. Avoid shooting into a light source, if you can.  Shooting into a window or having a very bright light behind the subject can cause them to appear more as a silhouette in a photo.  Keep light sources more to the side or in front of the subject to illuminate faces.
  2. Use the highest quality image setting your camera allows.  Don’t drop it down to a lesser quality.  Your initial goal may be to post these on a social media site, but you could end up with a few gems that are print worthy for framing.  Enlarging smaller images does not garner good results.  It is better to reduce and image’s size to maintain crispness.
  3. Take your time and go for candid shots. These are what really capture the moments of the holidays.
  4. Photograph everything.  The table, the turkey, the array of sides.  It could make a nice opening montage to a holiday video or slideshow.
  5. Be respectful of your subjects.  Not everyone wants their photo broadcast on social media or to be the image on a personal greeting card.  This can be personal or work related but it should be respected.  You know your group.  Just keep an open dialogue about your intentions with the photos, especially with any new members to your group.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Copyright © 2012 Digital Design Digest

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How to Buy a Video Camera

This is a question I get frequently from new and seasoned camera owners.  Technology changes so quickly it is easy to assume the rules for buying a camera change too.  When buying any technology it is always a good idea to do a little research on the latest trends to see what is out there and their price ranges.  But before you invest too much time pouring over technical specifications of a potential purchase, spend a little time listing your specifications.  In other words, what do you want this new camera to do for you?

Your list should include everything and the kitchen sink.  It does not cost you anything to simply put it all on paper.  As you list your needs and price range you will begin to prioritize your specifications.  A good camera will last you at least 5 years or more so invest wisely and look at the features you may want tomorrow, not just what you know you need today.

Media Storage

The days of capturing video to tape is obsolete.  You will be hard pressed to find a tape based camera on the market and the only reason to buy one on the cheap is for the ability to backup archived footage to a hard drive. SD cards are the current future of video cameras.  So as you surf the offerings out there look at each camera’s storage type and capacity.

How much footage do you plan to capture before transferring it to an external drive?  The Sony Bloggie is a nice pocket size camera that takes good quality video and photos.  But with only 8GB of space you will need to offload it to a hard drive frequently in order to make room for your next production. If you are going on an extended trip or do not plan to transfer footage to external drives frequently, consider upgrading to a camera with a larger storage capacity.  For less than $300 you can get a small palm sized camera that can support a whopping 60GB or more of storage. With that kind of storage you can shoot everything in sight and edit the best later!

Battery Life

This actually goes hand in hand with video storage.  Some of the smaller blogging cameras have small batteries that need frequent recharging. If you are the occasional videographer or shoot more close to home where you can recharge regularly this may not be a major concern.  If you travel a lot or your occasional shoots last several hours then you want to look at a camera that is supplied with batteries that last more than 2 hours or invest in a few spare batteries.

SD, HD or Both?

Standard definition (4:3 aspect ratio) is still alive and kicking and a more efficient standard in terms of hard drive space and processing power when editing.  HiDef video(16:9 aspect ratio) produces stunning video and has the file size to match.  It also requires an extremely powerful computer to edit this footage efficiently. As technology evolves HD video will become as efficient to work with as SD and, eventually, replace SD video.

All that being said it would be worth your while to look at cameras that allow you switch between SD and HD recording if you are purchasing for your business or for a serious hobby. A camera that can straddle both standards will give you the most options to start.

Video and Audio Quality

Video has come a long way in a short period of time.  For very little money you can acquire a camera that takes phenomenal video footage for work or personal use.  There are some great cameras out there for under $300 that will take crisp, vibrant video images which, if you follow some of the basic principles for shooting video, you can edit later into a quality production.  While the inexpensive cameras offer some stunning video quality under most circumstances, you may find yourself wanting more control over different lighting situations, shot composition and sound.

Let There be Light, or Less of It

Exposure is how much light is allowed to enter the lens of the camera and it affects the brightness and darkness of a shot.  Too much light washes out a shot and makes the subjects too “hot”.  While you can darken a shot in editing you can never get back the detail lost from an over exposed shot.  On the flip side, too little light can darken a shot and make the video quality appear grainy.  You may be able to lighten such a video in editing, but with mixed results depending on how dark it started out.

All cameras come with automatic features that adjust for different lighting situations to some degree.  As you work your way up the price chain you will find cameras that offer more manual controls for adjusting exposure.  In additional to manual controls present on the camera there are lens filters at reasonable prices as well as external lamps that can attach directly to your camera.  These are great in situations when you are in close proximity to your subject and require just a bit more lighting than your surroundings provide.

I Can’t Hear You!

Most of the low end cameras on the market take phenomenal video footage in their own right but severely lack in their ability to capture adequate audio.  Almost all cameras come with their own built-in microphone.  These mics are fine for capturing ambient noise or for spontaneous narration by the camera operator but they will not produce the kind of rich, robust sound quality you will want for a professional video piece.  If you are going to be filming a lot of interviews and narration then you will want a camera that can accept external microphone attachments.  There are several varieties of external microphones built to handle different types of audio situations. (Another story for another blog). Owning a camera with a mic input gives you the option of attaching any one of these microphones to your camera.

Look for a camera that offers at least an eighth inch mic input.(Price range $900 +)  Even an inexpensive, external handheld mic will yield better audio results in an interview than the built in microphone.  For about $200 you can get and XLR audio adapter that will plug into the eighth inch mic input and give you 2 grounded XLR audio inputs.  This gives you the option of attaching 2 professional level microphones to your camera or a mixing board for even more microphone inputs. There are other camera models out there that allow external mic hookups without the need for adapters, but their price range typically starts at $2500.   Depending on your needs you may decide to allocate that $2500 to putting together a full compliment of field gear rather than just the camera piece of it.

Zoom. Zoom.  Zoom.

There are 2 different types of zoom advertised for cameras; optical and digital.  In the age of digital technology consumers mistakenly focus in on the digital zoom feature, which can often boast a 100 -200x zoom in of the subject.  Digital zoom simply magnifies the pixels that create the image of a subject.  The further in you zoom the more distorted the subject becomes.  Like in graphic design and video editing, digital magnification has its place when use sparingly (and as a last resort) but it should not carry any weight in the decision process of buying a camera.

Optical zoom is the number you want to pay attention to.  The technology of optical zoom allows you to zoom in closer to the subject while maintaining the crispness and overall fidelity of the image.  Some brand cameras have always offered impressive optical zoom technology.  A higher optical zoom helps you get high fidelity close up shots from further away without needing to purchase additional telephoto lenses.  It’s a nice feature to have. However, if you know you will mostly be filming subjects within close proximity it is not a necessity.  Other considerations to be weighed, maybe more heavily, are the chip size (bigger chips and more of them lead to richer images), the camera’s performance in low light situations and its manual options for controlling exposure and shutter speed.

If you are the casual videographer and have a few hundred dollars to support the hobby you really can’t go wrong with some of the great sub-$300 out there.  If you are a serious hobbyist or needing a camera for business purposes and plan to invest equally serious money in the equipment do your homework first, starting with understanding what you expect from your investment today and in the future. Your camera will be the main hub of your production gear so plan with expansion in mind.

 

Copyright © 2012 Digital Design Digest

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