I need some advice

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Juanbond, Apr 13, 2011.

  1. Juanbond macrumors member

    Juanbond

    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2009
    #1
    I've been taking pictures as a hobby for a couple of years now. My first camera was a Nikon D80 and I currently use a Nikon D90. I feel that my pictures always come out flat and dull. I've tried leaving the white balance on automatic or changing it to the specific situation that I am shooting in (sunny, cloudy, shady, etc). I have also tried different lenses (I usually shoot with the Nikkor 50mm 1.8 lens). I seem to have lackluster results in all lighting situations (sun, different flashes).

    Here is an example:

    [​IMG]

    I have Adobe CS4 but I don't want to rely on Photoshop for all my pictures.

    In order to have rich, deep colors in my pictures should I change my camera settings? Find a new lens? Different locations?

    Any tips or advice is welcome.

    Thank you in advance!
     
  2. emorydunn, Apr 13, 2011
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2011

    emorydunn macrumors 6502

    emorydunn

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2006
    Location:
    Austin Texas
    #2
    Most cameras have some settings that will help with some of this. I'm not sure what it's called on Nikons but on my Canon 40D it's called Picture Style (and it even has its own button!). The settings it lets me change are sharpness, contrast, saturation, and colour tone.

    Now, from an editing side of things I've found that almost any photo can be made a bit better by doing a curves adjustment and a white balance adjustment. In fact, 90% of my photos only get these these two changes.
    Basically what you want to do with the curves is make the darks a little darker and the lights a little lighter, this boosts the contrast and takes away the flatness.

    Here's a quick example with one of my photos. As you can see, the one on the left is flat and has a kind of grey tone to it, but after a very simple change the colours pop.

    What do you use to manage your photos? Aperture, iPhoto and Lightroom all have basic editing that will do what you want without having to go into Photoshop.

    EDIT: Here's an example with your photo.
     

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  3. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2006
    Location:
    Northern/Central VA
    #3
    Change the settings and use fill flash on shots like this where the light is coming from behind the subject. Google "D90 custom tone curves."

    See also: http://imaging.nikon.com/lineup/microsite/picturecontrol/catalog/PicCon.pdf

    Paul
     
  4. TheDrift-, Apr 14, 2011
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2011

    TheDrift- macrumors 6502a

    TheDrift-

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2010
    #4
    Heres my very rough attempt, only spent 5 mins on it so a bit rough. It would be better to work on the original raw file rather then a reduced jpeg.

    [​IMG]

    First of all created a new layer & brightened the exposure, masked the whole brightened layer and used a very large soft brush to make holes in the mask to brighten the subject up.

    A touch of Fill flash at the time would have saved this and looked much better.

    You could have probably left it here, but since we really wanted to make the colours pop and go really over the top...

    I converted the colour space to lab colour...image > Mode > lab colour. Then image apply image.

    Blending soft light, lowered opacity to around 70%. I chose channel A but you can choose which one you prefer.

    Finally some curves (in lab) just pulled left slider a bit to the right then right slider to the left. Gave channel B a bit more than channel A.

    Converted back to sRGB and finished.

    If you spend a few more mins you'll get much better results, but this only took me 5 mins. The colours on this version are not very refined and a bit over the top, but just to show you how you can push up the colours.

    As others have said a bit of fill flash when taking the photo, would be the quickest and easiest way
     
  5. jackerin macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2008
    Location:
    Finland
    #5
    Why would you want that? In my opinion your edit looks toasted, way too photoshopped.

    OP, the truth is that almost every image could use a certain amount of pp, but in your case what would really help is a bit more exposure of the subject. Fill flash could have done it, but you can do it in pp too.

    Here's how I did it, first levels with those settings to make full use of the colour range, then adding a bit midtone brightness with curves.
     

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  6. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

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    Location:
    Sendai, Japan
    #6
    Forget about Photoshop or other apps. This is not a problem you can cure with Photoshop. Or any other app. (I would not recommend you to use Photoshop anyway, but something like Aperture, Lightroom or iPhoto.)

    If you want to systematically improve your photos, the first thing you should do is to try and nail down the look you want to achieve. Look for other examples of photos and try and figure out what you want to do. Remember that photography is subjective and personal, so your opinions may differ from other people's opinion.

    In the photo that you've posted, I mainly see two areas of improvement:
    (1) Framing: The boy's feet are cut and from the perspective it looks as if the walkway is growing out of his ears so to speak. Since the gray tiles are relatively bright, I find it distracting. Also, I would have gone down to eye level with the kid, this tends to add closeness in portraits with children.
    (2) Light: I would have definitely used a flash here to brighten up the child and put less emphasis on the background.
     
  7. TheDrift- macrumors 6502a

    TheDrift-

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    #7
    lol i did say i'd gone over the top in my post...twice ;):)
     
  8. cupcakes2000 macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2010
    #8
    Change your metering to spot and meter the subjects face........
     
  9. snberk103 macrumors 603

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    Oct 22, 2007
    Location:
    An Island in the Salish Sea
    #9
    I'm with OreoCookie on this. From the child's pose, it appears this wasn't a candid, grab-shot ... i.e. you had time to set the shot. So reframing the shot, adding a touch (but just a touch!) of fill flash and this shot should have approached what you had in mind, I believe. Before taking a photograph, ask yourself "why am taking this picture?" And then answer that question.

    Most images can use a little post-production help. Aim for 90% of your PP work in Aperture, Lightroom, iPhoto, or similar. Also, aim for spending less than a minute on each image, on average (This is a target to aim for, as your skills at taking the photo get better the amount of time you spend tweaking each one goes down.) Most of my PP is Lightroom: Curves, Exposure ... maybe a little sharpening and noise reduction. That's it for most images.

    If you find you are spending 10 or 20 minutes on each photo in PP then I would suggest spending more time on picture taking skills.

    Photoshop should really only be used to "save" a photo that has great potential, but has a serious flaw. The Adobe site has lots of good tutorials for using Photoshop, and I think many people overlook this very good Help resource.

    Also keep in mind that in the good 'ole days of film, most people (pro, amateur, didn't matter) got one Excellent frame per roll on average (for me, typically, that often meant one roll with 10 killer shots and 10 rolls with merely pretty good or average shots). I don't think digital has increased those odds any, and may have made them worse. So don't sweat the fact that not every single image is National Geographic quality. You shoot for those killer shots, and the rest are "practice". .... imho, only, of course...
     
  10. Mousse, Apr 14, 2011
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2011

    Mousse macrumors 68000

    Mousse

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2008
    Location:
    Flea Bottom, King's Landing
    #10
    That background is a bit distracting, especially the sign growing out of the kids head. Reduce the DOF, a bit more to focus (no pun intended) the interest on the subject more. Have you tried different shooting angles? Ground-level to make the kid look like giant?:)

    Photoshop is a necessary evil. Here's the best technique I've seen so far. It's quick, good and easy.

    I shoot everything RAW, so PP is a part of the workflow. A little curve adjustment, some saturation and local contrast...
     

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  11. Dragonomicon macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 19, 2007
    #11
    You're really underexposing ...

    Take a look at the levels dialog box that someone above posted. You see all that latitude to the right of the histogram? In a flat scene (such as the one you've chosen), the camera is going to want to expose everything at 18% grey which is pretty drab, as you can see.

    There are three ways to combat this:

    1) Choose a different scene.

    2) Provide some fill-light via flash or reflector

    3) Compensate your exposure so the histogram is just up against the right hand side (adding more light to the exposure). This will allow you to add some blacks later and pull down the background to ensure your subject 'pops' against its background.
     
  12. MattSepeta macrumors 65816

    MattSepeta

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    375th St. Y
    #12
    Looks underexposed to me.

    Notch your exposure compensation up a stop
     
  13. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Northern/Central VA
    #13
    Nitpick- 12% gray. /Nitpick

    http://www.bythom.com/graycards.htm

    Paul
     
  14. snberk103 macrumors 603

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2007
    Location:
    An Island in the Salish Sea
    #14
    Looks like I have some recalibrations to check out, eh? :)

    ps: to nitpick back, though.... it *may* still be 18% ... the article said there was some variability between manufacturers, and nobody seems to talk about what their product actually measures.... sigh.... that means recalibrating both the camera and the handheld meter.....
     
  15. Dragonomicon macrumors newbie

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    Oct 19, 2007
    #15
    Interesting read ...

    ... the reality is that exposure is a subjective thing so the difference between 18% and 12% is so small as to be meaningless.

    Good info though.
     
  16. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #16
    Half a stop is hardly meaningless.

    Paul
     
  17. MattSepeta macrumors 65816

    MattSepeta

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    #17
    Second that...

    Half a stop can make the difference between OP's example photo and a properly exposed photo :)
     
  18. HBOC macrumors 68020

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2008
    Location:
    SLC
    #18
    Are you shooting in automatic or what mode? This image in particular has distractions. The background is not really helping you here, and the foreground isn't ideal. The cropping is also a big part of the puzzle, if you will. With portraits, using a shallower depth of field helps a ton!

    If you shoot in RAW, you can adjust the colours, white balance, etc. You CANNOT fix OOF (out of focus) or soft shots, angles, etc. Envision what you want to convey and then shoot. Have a game plan so to speak. Have a look at magazines and such for ideas and inspiration. You don't necessarily need external flashes and such, but lighting is key!
     
  19. Dragonomicon macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 19, 2007
    #19
    He's nowhere near within half a stop of proper exposure. Regardless, what I meant was that it doesn't really matter what your meter says if you know what you are looking to achieve. 12%, 18%? Doesn't matter a whit if I know what a portrait should look like (subjectively of course).

    And the above example illustrates exactly why one shouldn't rely on his meter. It shouldn't matter what the camera tells you is properly exposed-you should be telling it what is properly exposed.
     
  20. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    Northern/Central VA
    #20
    Sure it is, it's within half a stop of half a stop. I make the exposure to be a stop under optimal, so half a stop is half-way there, and more importantly half a stop would mean half the adjustment necessary to process the shot to a good final version. Just like in golf, the closer the shot is to the goal, the better the chance of reaching that goal.

    Of course it matters- if your camera's meter is calibrated to the ANSI standard at 12% and you meter off an 18% card you're going to be half a stop off. Knowing "what a portrait should look like" has not much at all to do with having your camera's exposure set correctly for the current lighting conditions. Unless you're shooting in full manual with zero metering at all, then what the meter says matters. That may not be the end exposure you end up using, but it's certainly the best baseline available for what you ultimately end up with. If meters weren't important, cameras wouldn't have them and photographers wouldn't use them.

    Funnily enough, photographers have been using light meters for over 120 years now. It is far easier to look at a metered scene and decide that I want my exposure to be 2/3rds of a stop lighter or darker than the meter reading than to arbitrarily try to decide what exposure value I should use without a baseline. Absolutely, one should be able to rely on one's meter to give an accurate baseline exposure (which is why gray cards exist at all- the camera's meter isn't telling you what's properly exposed, it's telling you what the scene meters to[1]. Confusing the two is often the difference between a snapshot shooter and a photographer.

    More importantly, for the times when we have the chance to shoot more than one shot, we can combine that baseline exposure with the histogram to fine-tune for maximum dynamic range in an image. That's one advantage in the digital era that we didn't have in the film days, where the light meter was our only main data point.

    Paul
    [1] The metering mode tells you how much information the camera is taking into account when providing that baseline exposure. Spot metering baselines off a small point, center-weighted off the subject with some background, and matrix off a wider base of information with a database of prior metering decisions usually factored in.
     
  21. ErvS macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2011
    #21
    Hi all,
    I am also new to the digital world. I think you have given him some great options. But I think the best thing for him to do is get a book on the D90. There are a lot of them out there to get him started in the right direction. I have a D300s, and it is way over my head. I am coming from 40 some odd years of film. I am finally getting a handle on settings, how to compose a shot and how to hold the camera again.
    The one thing I can add to this is, with digital, every shot is pretty much free. Easy to see your mistakes right away and try again. Back in the day of shooting film you had to wait at lest a week to look at your pictures. So take a lot of pictures and go through them and change your camera settings till you get what you are looking for.

    Erv
     
  22. Dragonomicon macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 19, 2007
    #22
    Oy. This is a silly argument. You most certainly do not NEED to be using a grey card to make correct exposures. It mattered much more when people shot film and didn't have the instant feedback of digital. Incidentally, this is why a lot of photographers who still use medium format film will use polaroid backs to check their exposure before hand -- it allows them to chimp and adjust.

    The idea that 12% or 18% is important is pretty silly and only really applies if one blindly trusts his or her meter. The meter gives you a baseline -- that is it. I make decisions on what my photo should look like thereafter. It doesn't matter at all whether or not the initial baseline was 12% or 18% -- I adjust my exposure based on what I want it to look like.

    Cheers
     
  23. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Northern/Central VA
    #23
    At no point have I ever said you NEED a gray card to make correct exposures, what I said was a gray card would give you the most accurate baseline from the in-camera meter- which is a different thing entirely than saying you have to have it. However, if you're setting up for a shot in ambient light, and it's going to be a one-time action shot with a fleeting subject, then the second best way to get the shot exposed correctly is to set your exposure for the lighting conditions using a gray card and the camera's built-in meter[1]. If you don't mind doing more post-processing then the best way to get a raw file with the maximum dynamic range to adjust to the best exposure is the "white towel method" and chimping a UniWB histogram.

    I do however completely disagree with your statements "it doesn't matter what your meter says" and "it shouldn't matter what the camera tells you is properly exposed." Both of those statements simply aren't good uses of the tools given. If it doesn't matter what your meter says, then why have a meter at all? If your meter isn't accurate enough to tell you what's properly exposed, then why do the manufacturers go through the effort of calibrating it to a standard? The issue with the camera telling you what's properly exposed is that you have to point it at a calibrated target to get it to do so- hence the necessity of knowing what a properly calibrated target is.

    It still matters if you want accuracy- in case you're not aware what you get to see on the screen is a JPEG representation of the image, which may not represent the exposure as shot (that is, the JPEG is processed by the JPEG engine in the camera, not untouched.) Unless you go through loading up UniWB, your histogram is also biased on some channels. Of course, once you go to UniWB, you tend to lose the usefulness of chimping the image (though you gain more use from chimping the histogram.)

    Actually, not many MF shooters shot 'Roids (I certainly didn't, and I'd say the number of people who regularly shot them was well under 20%)- roll film gives you enough frames to bracket the shot unless you're shooting panoramic formats- PLUS you have to be shooting a camera with a removable back- and I've owned five or six medium format cameras in the last 20 or so years- NONE of which were even CAPABLE of shooting a Polaroid.

    Large Format is where Polaroid use was more important. I've owned 2 4x5s and 1 5x7 and shot hundreds of Polaroids. Bracketing a shot six ways on a view camera could take you 15 minutes, and by then the light could have changed and somewhere in there, you may have moved the camera, and with a Sheimpflug "wedge" of focus, that could be much more disastrous than with a simple SLR. Plus the 'Roid gave you a look at the overall plane of focus, which was more likely to be a big issue than exposure (you can always expose the first sheet and then adjust development and you can certainly adjust when you print.) Even shooting positives you could adjust time or temperature in the first developer after the fact, and you could dodge and burn if you were printing Ciba/Ilfochromes (been there, done that.)

    Um, no- you're wrong. It is important, because it lets you know what exposure value your camera's metering is based upon. It's got nothing to do with blind trust- it's got to do with how the camera gives you an exposure value in any setting other than manual. If you only ever shoot on manual or you just take snapshots, then it's not important, otherwise it's important. Knowing the way the camera meters allows the photographer to know how much to adjust exposure based upon the metering target, lighting conditions, etc.

    Why would one blindly trust the meter when it's simple to check its calibration? Of course, to check it- you'll have to know what it's calibrated to- and have the appropriate test target- oops!

    In any case, knowing what it's calibrated to also allows you to also reference objects with similar values when shooting in the field. Half a stop is a 50% change in light- that's enough of a difference to not be "silly" to know where your baseline is. More importantly, choosing an exposure reference target in the field, you'll not want to choose something half again as dark as your meter's calibration.

    In fact, the only time it's not useful to know where the meter is calibrated is if you're metering everything in a scene to choose a relative exposure based upon multiple spot readings of the light and dark areas, but in that case it's very important "what the meter says," since you're looking at relative values based solely upon those readings. However, that's a much, much less useful technique for digital and positives as it was for B&W negative film, since you're automatically discarding most of your dynamic range that way.

    If you don't know what the baseline IS, then how do you know how much to adjust? More importantly, if you're going to do the work to use a card, using the correct card gets you to the right starting value- using the wrong one gets you to the wrong place pretty quickly. If you're shooting snapshots, it may not make enough difference- but shoot product for publication and you have to get the exposure and colors spot on or you can get to the "this product isn't that color" lawsuit land.

    Besides, if it "doesn't matter what your meter says-" why are you using it as a baseline? :p

    If you shoot with multiple bodies, knowing if there's an exposure bias between the two allows you (along with color profiling the sensor and manual white balance) to produce multiple images that match one another for look. That's why checking if your camera IS properly calibrated may be important.

    Paul
    [1] The most accurate reading is likely to be an incident reading from a hand-held meter if you're in a position to get one from the subject's location.
     
  24. Dragonomicon macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 19, 2007
    #24
    As soon as you mention UniWB that says to me that you are probably an ETTR aficionado (and yes I know that the in camera histogram is based off of jpeg renderings). If, as I suspect, you do practice ETTR, then I can most emphatically say that it truly does not matter what your meter says because most proponents of that method simply try not to clip highlights and subsequently bring the exposure down in post. If this is indeed your (or anyone's for that matter) chosen method then clearly the meter reading doesn't matter (what only matters is whether or not your histogram is accurate as you say).

    And I never said or meant to imply that the meter in the camera is not useful -- obviously it is. It provides a baseline (regardless of your assertion that I need to know the specific value at which the meter functions) that is meaningful to ME. I don't need to know 18%, 12%, 52% as long as I know how my meter behaves and what I want my final output to look like. To argue with me about this is crazy. I get the results that I am looking for and I would get the results that I am looking for if my cameras metered at 72.6% grey.

    The bottom line here (and I think on the whole we agree) is that the critical piece of information to have is how your meter behaves. In your case, it seems like you are more comfortable using grey cards. In my case, I use the information provided by my histogram, the resulting playback image, and my experience. I don't need -- nor do I desire -- to use a grey card to tell me what proper exposure is -- I know what it is. To suggest that I am doing it wrong because I don't follow your methods is crazy (even though you haven't said this explicitly, your diatribe suggests as much). I am quite pleased with my results and I am certain that I will continue to be in the future -- as I am sure you are with your results as well.

    People work differently. Your way isn't right, it's just different.
     

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