Using exposure compensation – Walking into the light

Walking towards the light, Millenium Bridge, London

Man walking into a streak of light early in the morning.

Here’s a simple but effective way of making a small subject stand out from the background. Early in the morning, or actually any time that the sun is low in the sky, we get great shafts of light that streak between buildings to carve streets in two. Usually, if we allow the camera to do its own thing, these powerful beams of light will appear white and burnt out in the frame, but if you measure and expose for the beam instead of the scene in general, you can use them to great effect.

In this instance I was looking for a way to pick out a single person in this very busy part of London. Often I will do this by using a very shallow depth of field, or by getting close with a wideangle lens. On this morning though the sun was acting as a spotlight on a stage, so all I had to do was use it.

The camera was set to evaluative metering, which obviously was reading for the whole scene. With no interference from me the exposure chosen worked well for the scene but left the area where the sun was falling as a burnt-out white line. Obviously this wasn’t making an interesting picture, or illustrating what I could see with my eyes. The excitement of the scene was that the sun could pick anyone out who walked through its rays – and that is what I wanted to catch.

I was using a manual focus lens at the time, so set the focus point for the paving right where the sun was shining. I guessed that I would need exposure compensation of about three stops (-2EV) so I set this and took a trial shot. It looked about right. I could have set spot metering and measured that way, but I would have had to have walked over to the spot to fill the spot zone, and a guess, with the chance to make corrections, seemed a better and quicker option.

Once I was happy that the exposure and focus were good, I framed the shot and waited for the right person to come along. This is a popular route for runners, school children and to workers travelling to the office. I didn’t really know what sort of person was going to make the best shot, but I knew that when that person came along it would hit me. I didn’t have to wait long for this chap to pass by and make the scene complete. The face, the pose of the arms and legs and the outfit all work to tell us the story of the moment.

Samsung NX100, with Samyang 85mm f/1.4 lens in Nikon fit via a Samsung to Nikkor adapter. 1/500sec @ f/5.6, ISO 100.

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Walking towards the light, Millenium Bridge, London
Man walking into a streak of light early in the morning.
People walking near The Millenium Bridge, London
Without user intervention your camera will record the scene this way.

Be prepared – lover’s hideout

Lover's hideout, by Damien Demolder

Lover’s hideout, by Damien Demolder

Try something out. Put your camera in its bag, and put the bag over your shoulder. Now, pretending you are Clint Eastwood in a cowboy movie, see how quickly you can ‘draw’ your camera, including switching it on and squeezing a shot off. Providing the settings are about right for the light levels and light types you are practicing in, it probably takes about four to five seconds. If you need to adjust the ISO to achieve a shutter speed at which you can hand-hold the camera and lens, that ‘draw’ time might extend to ten seconds – depending on how user-friendly your camera’s menu system is. It’s a good job you are pretending to be Clint rather than fighting against him, as you’d never get that shot off.

Whether you are a fan of Mr Eastwood’s movies or not you will have noticed that when the man himself is sliding round the side of the General Store in search of the bad guys he keeps his gun in his hand, safety catch off, so it’s ready to fire. And if you are into street photography and catching ‘the moment’ you need to take a leaf out of his book.

Keep reviewing your settings
The day I shot this picture it was heavily overcast and dark. It was also very cold, so I was wearing those fingerless burglar gloves, so that I would be able to hold the camera in my hands all day and still be able to work the controls. As the day got darker and darker I had been adjusting my ISO settings so that I would be able to maintain a shutter speed of at least 1/30sec – the camera had anti-shake built-in. I had a 28mm lens fitted, which gave me a 42mm equivalent focal length on my APS-C sensor, and I’d got it stuck wide open at f/2.8 to let in as much light as I could get.

Rounding the corner of a building I came across these two lovers hiding away from the world to share an few intimate moments together. Before I knew it I had the camera at my eye and was focusing the manual lens. As the shutter fired she just had time to look a little bit sheepish, and he just had time to hide his head behind hers.

Ready to shoot
I took one shot, smiled at them as they laughed at being caught, and then I walked on. It all took about two seconds, and I got the shot because the camera was there in my hand whirring and straining at the leash to take a picture. Had it been curled up snoozing in my camera bag this incident would have just been another one of those occasions when the shot got away. I wouldn’t even have drawn, as I’d have known immediately that as soon as I’d started getting the camera out the dynamics of the picture would have changed and the moment would be passed.

Composition in an instant
With practice I’ve learnt not only to get the subject in the frame in a split second but also to ensure I have a composition. I never know what the next composition is going to be, but I do know that even the sort of picture that is grabbed in a fraction of second needs to respect the viewer and respect the laws of image construction. I managed to keep the camera straight so those blocks wouldn’t create a distraction by sloping off to one side, and I positioned the couple at the bottom of a tall frame to prevent a centre-weighted or top heavy composition. I had to keep her feet in too, and his, and frame the pair of them in their alcove by showing some wall either side so the viewer can understand they were hiding away.

Wide aperture
The wide aperture has combined with the overcast sky to create an almost dreamlike softness that works well in the sooty black and white, blue/green channel conversion. There is romance in the softness that adds a fairy tale quality.

Pentax K10D with Ricoh XR Rikenon 28mm f/2.8 at f/2.8. ISO 400.

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Lover's hideout, by Damien Demolder

Lover’s hideout, by Damien Demolder

Black and white portraits – blue channel man

Using filtration in male portraiture • channel mixture conversions • shooting in colour for a black and white result

Black and white blue Channel conversion male portraitWe automatically think about using channel filtration to create black and white images when we are shooting landscapes, because we are all used to the idea of fitting filters for this type of subject. The reference pictures that stick in the mind that demonstrate what filters do to monochrome images – the deep black skies and fluffy clouds of the red filter – are generally landscapes in which we can see how blues darken and green grass lightens. In fact, you probably wouldn’t shoot a black and white landscape without thinking about filtration.

We don’t associate lens filters with portraiture in the same way, unless warming or adjusting a colour picture, but sometimes red filters are used to reduce the effects of skin blemishes. With this in mind when converting a colour portrait image to black and white I often use a red channel bias in Channel Mixer (Image>adjustments>channel mixer) to lighten the redness of spots, skin patches and veins close to the skin surface. This looks great for women, as it can leave a flattering facial glow as well. But it really doesn’t look macho enough for portraits of men.

A portrait converted to black and white via the red, green and blue channelsI have found the channel that delivers the more manly effect is the blue channel. It adds depth to the skin and presents a more tanned, or weathered, look (I know, but you can still see it in black and white!). The blue channel makes men look stronger and more heroic, which I think is what most men prefer. And the deeper and more complex shades of this kind of conversion provide the ideal base for adding a colour tone too. There is so much more grey in black and white images converted using the blue channel that toning and staining colours have much more impact.
A male portrait converted to black and white using the green and the blue channels. By Damien Demolder If you find a blue channel conversion produces too strong a result remember that you don’t have to use it on its own. My favourite channel of all is the green channel, as it has lower contrast and better sharpness than red or blue, and I like to mix it in with the others to rein in any over-blown effects. Try mixing 50% green and 50% blue for a more restrained image.

Obviously to make use of these effects and options you need to be shooting your portraits in colour. I find that shooting everything in colour gives me the most flexibility, so I shoot in colour even when I know I will only want a black and white final result.

Nikon D40 with 55-200mm f/4-5.6G IF-ED AF-S DX at f/16 and ISO 200, with Bowens flash heads.

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Black and white blue Channel conversion male portrait

The final version of the portrait convertedto black and white via the blue channel. Sepia toned portrait

The deeper tones of the blue channel conversion make a better base for accepting sepia and other colourised effects.

Making a frame – matting and adding text

Improve your on-line presentation – add titles to your images


Creating a virtual photoframePictures should be able to stand on their own two feet without embellishment, but there are few that don’t look at least 30% better when they are mounted and framed. Obviously, this sort of treatment is reserved for prints, but even those who show their work on-line or in an electronic form can benefit from this form of presentation. We don’t frame every picture we take, only the best, so when we add a frame to an image, even electronically, it sends the message that we think the picture in question is special. Framed images have that prestigious air about them.

When ‘framing’ this picture I decided to go for a multi-layered effect to add depth to the mount. This just echoes the effect you get when you use a double window mount, with two shades of card and the white edge that shows in the cut. When working this way it’s best to create the outer-most mount first. There are a number of ways of to create these mounts, but I’ll show you a simple one.

Make a bigger canvas

First you need to make the background mount, which you do by enlarging the canvas the image sits on. Go to the top bar of Photoshop and selectCreate new canvasEdit>Canvas Size. Ensuring the central square is selected as the Anchor, type in the size you want the final picture to be leaving a bit to spare so that you can crop later on to the final dimensions. If your picture file is 7x5in @ 300ppi, for example, create a background canvas that measures about 10x10in @ 300 pixels per inch.

With the image sitting on a bigger plain background use the magic wand tool to select the out line of the image so you can add the faint shadow effect.

Add a stroke – or two

Select image for strokeTo create this first grey layer, that will look almost like a shadow in the final image, we’ll use the ‘stroke’ feature of Photoshop. With the whole image selected head to Edit>Stroke. The box offers several options, one of which is width/colour. The width of the stroke you will need at any point depends on the size of the picture you are working on. Obviously a 20 pixel stroke is proportionally bigger on a 600×800 pixel image than it is on a 2000×4000 pixel image, so you may have to try a few different settings before you find the right width for the picture in question. Picking a colour is comes down to your own personal choice, but I find shades of grey most effective and the least offensive to the majority of people. Also in this position, between the picture and the white ‘card’ the effect is supposed to be shadow rather than anything that has a colour.

Stroke colour pickerThe box below the width/colour options asks you to determine where the stroke goes. ‘Center’ places the stroke on the selection line, so half of the stroke’s width covers part of the image, and half falls outside of the image, while ‘Inside’ places the stroke entirely on the picture area, and ‘outside’ places the strokes thickness on the ‘card’. If you want to avoid losing any picture area select the ‘outside’ option.

Once that’s done deselect the image and reselect it to include the new much wider stroke, and then add the extra stroke to create the white area shown in my example. I didn’t actually use white, but a very light yellow/grey instead.

Colour the ‘card’

Then you need to add a colour or tone to the rest of the ‘card’. To do this use the rectangular selection tool to draw a box around your picture leaving the amount of white showing that you want. Go to the top bar and click on Selection>Invert to select everything other than your picture and the amount of white you want showing. You now need to add the colour or tone to the card. You can pick any colour you want to compliment your image, but I tend to stick with neutral shades to grey. Dull perhaps, and to everyone’s taste, but grey has the benefit of working with every picture. Select your colour using the colour picker, and then use the paint bucket tool to flood the colour onto the card

Add text to record the details

I like to write on these frames, especially for portraits, so the picture can have a name or so we can all remember when the picture was taken and who is in it. I’ve been doing a series of birthday pictures of my family, so I use this space to record the date, name and age of the subject so the piece becomes more of a historical record.

I create a text box and write whatever I want to in white. I then align the text with the picture, usually in that bottom right hand corner,Fade text layer and then fade the text layer so reduce the text to a grey rather than a bright white. White tends to stand out too much and can take away from the picture. Obviously you want people to be able to read the text, but it shouldn’t be the first thing they see.

Although really designed for web use, these frames, if done neatly, work well in print too. I saves actually cutting window mounts (or matts) and is a quick and effective way of presenting your images in an album or portfolio.

If you don’t have Photoshop you can create these effects in a wide range of other programs. I have used the simple application Paint to do the same thing just by creating backgrounds that the image is pasted onto, as well as Gimp – which offers for free much of what you pay for in Photoshop.

Sony Alpha 700 DSLR

Sony Alpha 700 with DT 16-80mm f/3.5-4.5 ZA set to 50mm (75mm on 35mm) 1/5sec @ f/4.5 ISO 1600, tungsten white balance.

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The original image, in colour and unframed

Creating a virtual photoframeHut on the Blackwater navigation
Another example of how this technique can be used. In this case
I printed the image with the frame and text together. The text adds a formality to the shot, making it more of a record or postcard.

Create new canvas
Create a new canvas size that’s bigger than the image. Here the image
is just under 7in square, so I made the canvas 10in to allow a 3in border.

Select image for stroke

Select the image area with the magic wand tool ready
to apply a ‘stroke’

Stroke colour picker

The stroke size you need depends on the image size, so experiment
to find what is right for your picture. Choose the ‘outside’ option and
then pick the colour you want to use. I tend to stick with neutrals

Select the outside of the first stroke to create the second. Make this a
big one, as you can crop it away when you create the
background ‘card’ colour later.

Fade text layer

Write your text, and then fade the layer to create a
more subtle effect

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Real-life perspective – Squeeze box man

realistic perspective street portraitsThe idea of street documentary is to show the viewer what it is like to be in the place you are shooting – and to experience the things you are experiencing. To do this I try to shoot with a perspective that delivers to the viewer a feeling of being in the place rather than simply observing it from afar.

The simplest way to begin this process is to use a lens that captures an angle similar to that which the human eyes can see. Although a 50mm lens is seen as ‘standard’ for the 135 film format and full frame sensors this is still slightly long for a realistic view. On these formats I try to use a focal length of between 30-40mm, which is the same as between 20-30mm for cameras with an APS-C type sensor, and between 15-20mm for FourThirds users.

When you use a lens like this for the type of portrait shown here you have to forget your inhibitions and move in close. This chap was more than happy for me to take his picture, but I still asked by showing the camera and expressing my intentions. This is done in a split second through facial expressions, but makes the difference between guarrenteed co-operation and comfort, and not quite knowing how the subject will react once you start shooting. Having permission also improves your chance of getting good eye contact.
The accordion player was sitting down so I crouched to get on the same level as his chest, and so I could make a major feature of the instrument. It looked almost as old as him, with just as many lines, contours and interesting features.

The day was very overcast, so I didn’t have any trouble with contrasty light and shadows blocking up his eyes or shading his face beneath his hat. It also meant that exposure was easy, and I could leave the camera’s evaluative/matrix system to do the work for me.

I shot in colour as usual, but knew this one would end up in black and white. The conversion was made using the green channel – a favourite with me for getting an aged classic look.

I cropped square as well to keep the composition tight, and because the format seems to suit the shot well.

The final image has good depth and possesses a three dimensional effect that I would not have achieved had I stood back and shot with a long lens. While long lenses allow you to keep a distance, they always show that you were a long way from the subject – which makes it difficult for the viewer to connect with the subject. Actually getting close yourself makes a massive difference, and can be the difference between getting an ordinary shot and one that has some impact.

Shot with Pentax K20D, with Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6.

To see more of my pictures visit my galleries at

To see more of my pictures
visit my photo galleries site

realistic perspective street portraits

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