Sizing images for upload to Facebook

Wedding rings-9677

The struggle is real…you spend hours editing and perfecting your images only to see them mangled into a blurry pixelated mess when you share them on Facebook. As frustrating as that is, I get it…Facebook has nearly 2 billion users, all uploading photos of their latest lunch, their puppies and kitties and that thing they just saw at Wal-Mart…the amount of space that takes up is astronomical. I don’t even want to think about it! So they HAVE to compress all the joy out of your carefully crafted photos.

There are ways to minimize the damage though, by preparing them yourself to stay within guidelines that keep the evil FB compression bots from squashing your files.

https://www.facebook.com/help/266520536764594/

That link is to Facebook’s help page for uploading images. If you read it carefully there are a few key points to remember: Pixel size, File size and colorspace. For the best possible results I use the larger pixel dimensions. Here’s the export dialog in Lightroom as I set it up for Facebook images:

The key to Facebook joy
File settings in the Lightroom Export for uploading to Facebook.

You can see I’ve set the file type to JPEG (I know a lot of sites recommend using PNG, and I do that as well, but I’ve honestly never noticed much difference between the two…other settings are more important, in my opinion.)

Color Space – I always keep this set at sRGB. If you’ve ever noticed color shifts between your computer and your phone and someone else’s computer, this is due to both the calibration of those screens and the color space shifts that occur. the sRGB setting here helps to minimize those shifts.

File Size – Since Facebook recommends keeping the file size below 100K, this is the easiest way to make sure you stay within that boundary. Check the box next to “Limit file size to:” and enter 100 K. This is probably the single most important step to making sure those evil squash-bots leave your photo alone.

Image size – Here is where you have the option to set the pixel dimensions of your image. Typically, as mentioned above I like to have as much detail as possible, so use the highest recommended number from their list: 2048. Set the “resize to fit” options to Long Edge (so the longest side of your photo will be sized to 2048 pixels, and the short size will be adjusted proportionally).  Enter 2048 pixels and set the resolution to 72 pixels per inch.

Image Sharpening – this final step is just a little extra punch. I typically have already sharpened my images, sop for this I keep it set to a low setting for screen.

Aside from this, the rest of the settings on your export are up to you. Save the image somewhere appropriate, apply a watermark if desired and then feed that image up to the Mighty Facebook!!!

For reference – there are options within Lightroom for publishing directly to sites like Facebook. Setting up a publish service is a post for another day…

Enjoy, and let me know in comments if there are any questions, or if you notice the bots may have changed and are attacking your photos again…

 

 

 

 

Shooting Fireworks

Fireworks Photography
Fireworks display off the shore of Lake Monroe, Indiana

Ok, so it’s that time of year – the annual celebration of our Independence. Which means nearly everyone with an interest in photography will be setting up to take some shots of the local fireworks displays, or maybe even just their own little family show with the kiddos. If you’ve never done it, or never really gotten the results you want, Here a few helpful tips to get you there…

Gear:

  1. Tripod – Typically, if you’re wanting to get the trails and full ‘explosion’ of a firework, you will be shooting with shutter speeds of a few seconds or more. A sturdy tripod is a must to keep the entire image from being blurry.
  2. Shutter Release – This really goes hand-in-hand with the tripod. IT’s not entirely necessary, as you can set a shutter timer release, but it does help ensure a steady shot.
  3. Camera with Manual settings – yup, you will need to be able to balance the shutter speed and aperture manually for best results. While some cell phones even have fireworks settings that can yield decent results, to make sure you get what you want, having the ability to control everything separately is a huge benefit.
  4. Wide angle lens – Depending on your preferences, a good wide-angle zoom lens really helps make sure you get the entire display and some of the scene in your photo.
  5. Charged batteries – you may or may not need to bring a spare, but at least make sure your main camera battery is charged before heading to the display. Nothing kills the fun quicker than setting everything up only to find out your camera is dad after a few shots.
  6. Memory card(s) – similarly, just make sure to pack a memory card or two 🙂
  7. Flashlight – it will be dark. Bring a flashlight to help you in setting up, adjusting and tearing down your equipment.

One of the most helpful tips I know of is this – Scout the location. Whether you do this earlier the same day or even a few days before, it is super helpful to know where the fireworks will be launched form, and what view you can get from any certain location. Check things out, and try to get there early on the day of the show to claim your spot. Keep in mind the possibility of another photographer or viewer deciding your spot is awesome too…

For settings – it really can vary a lot by location and environment. In a city the ambient city lights can have a big impact.

  1. ISO – many people initially think that since it will be dark out, a high ISO setting is necessary. The fireworks are BRIGHT though, so really you can get good results even at 200. I usually start there and then decide with the first few test shots if I need to bump it up.
  2. Aperture – I usually set this at f8 to f9 and go from there. unless you really want to get some creative Depth of Field, the lower apertures really just make it more difficult to get perfect focus
  3. Shutter Speed – again, as mentioned earlier a few seconds is best for capturing the whole trailing stream of a firework launching and then exploding.

For reference, the photo at the top of this article was shot with an ISO of 800, F11, at 4 seconds. I used a Canon 5d mkIII and the 24-105 f4L lens.

 

 

Start-up flash lighting guide

*** 2017 Update: Everything below is still fairly true, however I did want to make a note about the newer line of flashes, strobes and triggers from Godox. These are also available rebranded as Flashpoint from Adorama, but the Godox system is really a uniquely flexible system. Their Wireless X trigger system can control their studio strobes and speedlights in any combination, up to 4 groups and 32 channels. This is a big deal – and the new strobes like the AD600BM have a battery pack and the wireless receiver built into them…which means there’s a lot fewer pieces of gear you have to lug around on your shoot. They also have the AD200 speedlight with multiple heads, and it also has a battery pack and receiver built in. Check out Flashgear.net for ordering and more information.

I have not yet tested any of these items myself, but have heard many great things from other active professional photographers. As soon as I get my hands on them I will update this with more information, reviews and images. And with that…here’s the original post:

————————————————

There are just so many options when it comes to photography lighting that if you’re new to the world of photography or just venturing into the realm of flash photography it can be totally overwhelming to decide what to get. As with so many things, when it comes to lighting and lighting equipment, until you are experienced enough to know exactly what you need, it’s best to keep it simple…and understand that you do get what you pay for.

There are a myriad of cheap light kits available on auction and resale sites. While these may be fine to start learning the basics, you will likely quickly outgrow them, or end up destroying the modifiers or lights themselves because they are simply not built to withstand much abuse. Professional lighting equipment, although more expensive, will end up saving you money in the long run because you won’t need to replace it nearly as often. You’ll also have fewer frustrations because of lack of power output or off-color light.

That said there are some excellent options available that bridge the gap between beginner and professional gear, and don’t cost a year’s salary. Here’s my list of items I’d look for just starting out with lighting, as well as a few options for upgrading:

  1. Yongnuo YN560 IV Flash – This is a surprisingly solid little flash for the money. It has a built in transceiver that lets you control other remote flash units with a compatible receiver (see below). A flash of this type is also commonly called a speedlight.
  2. Yongnuo YN560 III – This is the receiver only compatible flash unit to pair with the one listed above, or the transmitter below.
  3. Yongnuo YN560-TX – As another option, this is the transmitter controller that mounts to the top of your camera in lieu of a flash unit like the YN560 IV. This is generally my preferred method because I honestly don’t care much for flash that is mounted on-camera. A number of reasons for this, but really I prefer the look that you get from an off-camera flash aimed strategically to highlight the contours of a subject’s face.
  4. Godox S-type flash bracket – You’ll need something to mount your flash onto a light stand and attach modifiers. This is a good choice because the S-type mount (also called Bowens) is one of a few widely available standards for attaching softboxes, beauty dishes and other light modifiers.
  5. Fotodiox EZ-Pro 32×48 Softbox – Softboxes are a great standard light modifier. They create a big, soft light source and control light spill relatively well (light spill in basically extra light bouncing around that doesn’t directly light up your subject.) The included grid with this one helps control spill even further. The main drawback to softboxes is assembly – it can be a real challenge to get the support rods inserted into the speedring mount and you’ll probably be afraid you’re breaking them the first time you try it.
  6. Neewer 37″ Octagon Softbox with Grid – This is an octagonal version of a softbox (also called an Octobox). Largely, the differences between an Octobox and rectangular softbox come down to personal preference. The Octo will wrap the light around your subject a little more evenly and produce more natural looking highlights in their eyes.
  7. PCB 13′ heavy duty light stand – I have destroyed more light stands than I care to mention. There are so many out there that are cheaply made and just can’t take the repeated set-up and tear down of a mobile photographer. These stands from Paul C. Buff are really well made and sturdy, and the extra height they offer can really be useful. That said, any stand will break if you over tighten the clamps one them. Also consider the air cushioned version. That prevents the extended tubes from slamming down accidentally which can not only damage your lights but possible injure your hands (yes, I’ve had that happen…) If you don’t want to spend quite as much they do have a few lighter duty options that would work well with speedlights.
  8. PCB Einstein – If you’re really wanting to go beyond the power of a speedlight, the Einstein units from Paul C. Buff are outstanding. Keep in mind – they use a different speedring mount for attaching modifiers so you’ll either need to look for versions with Alien Bees speedrings or get an adapter. These will also require a different trigger if you want to use them wireless. They can operate as slaves – which means that they will fire when they sense another flash firing. Keep in mind that studio strobes like this are usually daylight balanced, so they will have a warmer light than the speedlights above. If you mix them look for gels for the speedlights such as the Rosco Strobist collection. You use a 1/4 CTO gel to match a speedlight to daylight white balance (Also useful for using flash to fill in shadows when shooting outdoors).
  9. Phottix Odin II, Indra & Mitros – If you’re just wanting to go all in and get some top-notch gear that will be expandable and serve you in almost any photographic lighting need, consider going with something like the Phottix system. Their range of triggers, flashes and strobes is all integrated, and their strobes are capable of high-speed sync, which is an advanced flash system that allows shutter speeds up to 1/8000th of a second and still get good flash results (typically, most flash systems won’t work well beyond 1/200th second or so depending on your camera). They have also adapted the S-mount style speedring so the options for modifiers I listed above work with them without need for an adapter.

Those are just the basics. Again, if you’re just starting out, keep it simple and learn how to use what you can afford to get before going all out on more expensive gear. I’ll be posting more about how to set up and use different light modifiers and light arrangements in the coming weeks.

Note – I know many professionals will strongly recommend getting the name brand flashes  that match your camera gear. In general I do agree, but for about a third of the cost, these Yongnuo units are hard to beat. You can look for additional features such as TTL functionality but I prefer to stress learning to control the light output manually rather than relying on the electronics to adjust settings for you.  I personally have 3 Canon 430 EX II speedlights that have served me well for many years, but I also have two of the Yongnuo units and use them quite frequently. The Canon flashes are definitely well made, but the Yongnuo’s are definitely worth every penny.

 

 

 

Studio Lighting Challenge

This post will be a relatively brief discussion of a recent studio lighting situation. The set-up was deceptively simple…models were sitting on the floor and covered with a fine black netting which we were trying to use to create a dramatic conceptual image. Trouble was, most standard lighting arrangements gave a very flat and lifeless look to the image.

After a few tests and considering the available lights, I came up with a set that brought out the texture in the fabric and highlighted some edge detail, while allowing the shadows to create a deep and moody feel to the overall image. The lighting diagram here shows the overall layout of this image.

Lighting diagram
Lighting diagram

The main light was a 3 x 4 softbox set to fire across the front of the models, feathered so that the models were in the light coming from the side of the softbox, rather than straight on. This arrangement put the subjects in very soft lighting that faded from left to right, highlighting the texture in the fabric and creating a dramatic split-light effect on the models faces, while providing just enough light on the right to give some detail to the shadowed features. Finally, a rim light was set in the back to provide edge detail to some of their features. This light had a black panel used to block any light from spilling on the backdrop, keeping the background of the image dark.

The final image is one of my favorites from what was a fantastic studio collaboration.

Final edited image from the shoot
Final edited image from the shoot

Thoughts or questions? – leave a comment!! What would you have done to light this type of image?

One or Two Light Fashion Set

Hey everyone – this blog post is in response to an emergency request from a fellow photographer in the Firstlighters group. Shameless plug for them – hosted by Lightstalking, Firstlighters is a wonderful gathering of photographic intellect. If you’re not in…check ’em out!

Anyway, there was a request for some info on fashion lighting set-ups. Specifically how to get a nearly blown-out white background with the edgy, contrasty light you often see in fashion layouts. Honestly – that lighting is deceptively simple to get close, but refining it can take a long time to perfect…I don’t really think I’m there and I’ve been studying it for a few years now. The basics of this look can be had with just two lights and a few black panels.

Fashion Lighting Diagram

The lighting diagram here shows the overhead view of the set. Note that the main light source is a strobe with a beauty dish & diffuser. I used a basic 22-inch dish, but the pros swear by the 28″ Mola dish. The main thing to note with whatever you use – the center point of the light beam is NOT aimed directly at the subject. If you look carefully at the diagram you’ll notice that the model is in the “feathered edge” of the light. This prevents you from having an extremely harsh highlight right on their forehead and nose. The light was raised above head height – probably about 8-10ft. This is the part that takes a long time to really perfect…you’d be amazed at how much difference you get by shifting the placement and angle of a light just a few inches.

The background light is really pretty straightforward. Light up the background if you want it white (technically, you should try for about 1-2 stops exposure above your subject…). I’ve found it faster personally to just use the screen on the back of my camera to judge whether the light is too bright. Make sure to zoom in a check the edge detail of your subject – if you’re too strong on the background light you’ll start to lose edge detail. Of course, if that’s the look you’re going for, by all means break this rule. You’ll also notice in the sample images below that I have a grey background and one that is black. These were all set up in nearly the same fashion, but I just used the key light for the darker backgrounds. To make it go black you just have to make sure none of the light is falling on the background…distance and angle are the keys.

I use simple black foam core panels set at different heights on either side of the subject to deepen the shadows on the sides. This is one of those little ‘secrets’ that makes small but noticeable differences in the image…and again, you have to play with the placement until you find what you like. I usually have them about 3-4 feet away from the model.

So…that’s a brief introduction to the lighting set up. If you’re really limited in what you have available to shoot with as far as lights and modifiers – you can try a few tricks to get close to this arrangement assuming you have at least a nice clean white wall. Try to get your hands on a slave-triggered flash in addition to one that will mount on your camera. Cheap is sometimes just fine…I’ve used these as slave flashes with great results. The main requirement is that it has a slave mode that will fire when it senses the light from another flash. Use a white panel above you and off to one side or another to bounce your on-camera flash toward the model and act as the key light. Your slave flash should trigger and light up the background wall. You will really have to tinker with your settings to pull this off and get the lighting balanced out, but it should get close to the right look.

Another little tidbit – I always shoot fashion shoot in the monochrome (black & white) setting on my camera using RAW files. This let me balance out the highlights and shadows a lot easier and if I’m getting the contrast that I want in black and white, I know it will convert well into a color photo once I load it into Lightroom.

Lighting-4959 Lighting-4959-2 Lighting-5039 Lighting-5176

 

 

Seeing the light…

Watch out for crazy photographers with remote flashes
Watch out for crazy photographers with remote flashes
Full Disclosure: This was actually a little off-the-wall post I wrote up on Facebook a few years ago before this blog was active. I just came across it again and had to share. Enjoy!!

Well, I’ve spent a long day editing photos for the April edition of Fashion Wrap Up…It was certainly crunch time!!! The studio shots took a little more time than I was anticipating to get them all cleaned up, but I think everything turned out pretty darn fabulous after all. Anyway, this little post really came about because I was asked to dig back into my archives of images for one of the featured designers – the fabulous R. Lynda from the December issue. While sorting through the images I came across this pic. It’s really one of my favorites just because of the fact that it is totally NOT a fashion shot. One of our favorite male models, Casey, was helping me out as a photo assistant for the day (he also helped us scout out the location for this shoot). In between sets, I caught him goofing around with my flash and umbrella…and me being the jerk that I am…I took the shot. Obviously, this lit up the inside of poor Casey’s skull for an instant…the evil imp in me laughs. Believe me, I’ve fired these things into my own face more times than I care to admit…so I do know what it’s like.

So what’s my point? I dunno really. I just really enjoy seeing this picture because it reminds me of one very fun (and for Casey…painful) moment during one of the many fashion shoots I’ve done in the past year. I thought everyone might enjoy sharing a little.

And for those of you considering assisting a photographer with a shoot – just be sure to know where that photographer is before you go playing with any remotely-triggered flashes 😉

When cameras go rogue – check the clock battery

Hey everyone,

Just figured I’d share a little tip that had me just about ready to throw my 7D across the set a few months ago. I’m sure many of you already know about this hidden dark side of DSLR’s…they get kind of crazy sometimes, for no apparent reason. In my case – I can think of no better way to describe this than to say that my 7D was going rogue. The jog dial on the back of the camera would randomly not work, sometimes I would be inexplicably unable to change the ISO or shutter speeds, and then suddenly I started getting a crazy error message after about 20 minutes of shooting:

7D - Going Rogue

Needless to say after about the 20th time I opened up the main battery compartment and re-installed the battery as directed only to get the exact same error on the next shot, I was a bit peeved. I was about ready to drop the camera off at the shop when I decided to do a little research…and I found out about the “clock battery”.

It turns out that In addition to the main rechargeable battery that provides most of the power for your Camera, a second battery is hidden in the same compartment to provide enough power to retain your current settings and preferences, as well as the local date and time. It’s a coin-sized button type battery, in the case of a 7D a c1616 sized lithium 3 volt cell, that is nestled in a little slide-out carrier just inside the main battery door.  You most likely would never notice this little thing…I sure didn’t!!! It may very well last several years without needing replacement but if you start getting random battery error messages or have to reset the camera date frequently, you might look up where your camera’s clock battery resides and swap it out for a fresh cell. After changing this battery I’ve used the camera for a number of shoots with no more issues.

 Clock Battery

In this post I’ve been describing the Canon 7D, but it applies to most, if not all DSLR cameras – you’ll just have to do a bit of examining to find it.

Happy Shooting!

Super-cheap lighting for off-camera practice

Hey everyone!

I’ve been asked a lot about cheap lighting for practicing off camera lighting set-ups (studio strobes, speedlights, etc..). Well this is a little trick I learned back in college, when uber-cheapness was the only concern. $125 for a flash??? No. Way. Ever. 

If you’re just starting out trying to understand the effects and positioning of off-camera lighting it really is helpful to be able to see what you’re doing to the light as you move things around. A constant light source is actually a much more effective training tool than a flash just because of the fact that you can actually see the results you’re getting before you even take the picture. Now – I must insert a disclaimer here – if you ever actually use this kind of set for a paid photo shoot be prepared to be fired, or at the least seriously laughed at. This does not portray confidence or professionalism in any way. But it does get you comfortable setting up lights without a huge investment.

You might wonder, if you’ve never used a softbox, what the point of this funky contraption really is? Simply put, its primary purpose is to “soften the light”, hence the name. It also provides some directional control of the light as well, but in order to make lighting softer, with smooth blended shadows, you need a large light source in close proximity to your subject. This is why the sun, even though it is enormous, creates harsh sharp-edged shadows – it’s so far away that it acts relatively like a small point light source. When it goes behind a cloud, the cloud is diffusing the light, scattering it and softening out those shadows. A softbox does the same thing to a flash. So if you’ve been thinking about trying out setting up a light but don’t want to spend the money on commercial gear just yet, this will get you going.

Here’s what you will need:

1. Get an old cheap styrofoam cooler – the plain white kind that always seems to break and spill all your drinks at your feet while you’re walking to the car. I’ve found these for less than a buck at garage sales.

2. Most home centers or big-box stores carry simple clamp-on light fixtures that have a 7 or 10-inch reflector and usually are around $7-12. Pick up at least one, or more if you want to play with multiple light sets.

3. Get a few of the highest wattage flourescent lights you can find. Stick with the spiral fluorescents to avoid the heat generated by standard incandescent. Take note – most come in a wide array of white balance hues (Usually called soft white, cool white, daylight, etc.) Just be aware of this and know that you will have to adjust your white balance accordingly. I’ll tell you a simple trick for that later…

4. Finally you will need a funky old white t-shirt or other piece of cloth to use as a diffuser. Make sure you can see light through it fairly well if you hold it up to a light. You’ll also need some duct tape or gaffer’s tape.

Ok, now to build a light! It’s really pretty simple. Just take the reflector off the lighting fixture (they usually unscrew) and cut a hole in the center of the back-side of the cooler that is a snug fit for the base of the light fixture. Then all you do is put the fixture into the cooler, screw in a lightbulb and tape your funky t-shirt over the open face of the cooler. Presto – instant cheap softbox light!!

Light fixture mounted into the cooler base    

Light arrangement is a subject that you can spend your whole life time developing and understanding but there are a few basic things that will get you great results. Since you’re reading this you probably already know that on-camera flash washes people out and just looks like every point-and-shoot facebook photo out there. Getting a nice dimensional look to the lighting means you have to get the light coming in from one side or the other from the camera. Here’s one really basic 2-light set-up that produces some pretty decent results.

 Key light is angled 45-60 degrees to left of the camera. Back light is out of the frame above and behind the subject.

The image of my cat below used that exact set up – the key light had the cooler box softbox and the other back light just kept the as-purchased reflector dish. Notice the wash of light on his back that separates him out from the black backdrop.

I mentioned a trick for setting your white balance – simply point the camera at the light (you’ve got a white shirt on there, right?) take a frame and use that to set the camera’s custom white balance and you’re all set.

You may be surprised just how good the lighting quality out of something this simple can be. I will be putting together more examples of lighting set-ups using more advanced beauty dishes and comparing them to this cheap-o light in the near future. In the meantime, coerce a family member into posing for you, get creative and have fun!

Speed Lighting

2008 Yamaha Warrior. ISO 400, f13, 1/2500 sec.

Ok, it’s been a while since I’ve had a new post here, but life has been keeping me moving! It’s all very good things though.

When I came home from work this afternoon, my roommate was working on his car in the garage and had moved our motorcycles out into the driveway. I really like my bike, and It was just too tempting a subject to not do a little shooting!!! So after I had managed to settle in, eat dinner and get through a few hundred emails, the sun was setting and leaving me with boring light. I decided to kill it – the ambient light that is. Using Pocket Wizards High-speed synch capabilities to trigger my 430EXII flashes, I was able to shoot with a high enough shutter speed to nearly remove the ambient light. Just kind of awesome really. (Just a note – the main overhead light was actually clipped onto the raised trunk lid of my roommate’s car. Motto –  use what you can for a light stand!)

I really love shooting with the Wizards. They really do allow a ton of flexibility in off-camera flash. But they are pricey!!!  There are a number of cheaper alternatives that will let you get started in off-camera flash without destrying your budget. I’ve used models from Cactus as well as these fantastic triggers from Cowboy Studios with great results. Now…these are cheap triggers, but they’re fairly well made. I haven’t had any trouble with them at all. The only drawback is that they are just rock simple. There’s no TTL computing going on or anything like that. It just triggers your speedlight. Bam! That’s it. You have to set your flash settings manually.

I really think that’s the best way to learn off-camera flash anyway. I know some people refuse to buy anything but the name brand stuff and consider everything else junk – I do see some validity to that because the quality control of cheap-o stuff can be a little lacking. But to learn the techniques and start understanding how off-camera flash works, you can’t really beat a two light set-up for about $100. I got two of these Neewer flashes from Amazon along with the Cowboy Studio triggers and have been completely thrilled with their performance! I even used them to get this action shot at a recent Indianapolis Junior Roller Derby event – which won a First Place vote in a Roller Derby Photo Contest for April.

Indianapolis Junior Roller Derby All Star ‘Punky Bruiser’ in lead jammer position

Happy Shooting!!!-Indyshooter

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