Saturday, December 26, 2009

Part 2: Photography with Imre Z. Balint: Episode 7 - White Balance

Overall, I think that my video covered white balance (WB) quite well, and I don't have a whole lot more to add other than a couple of comments.

First up are the flamingo photos toward the end of the video (starting around 6:12). Now if you look at the values below the photos and then examine the color casts, you might be thinking that something is wrong. The photo of the first flamingo at 3,500 K has a blue cast, but earlier in the video I showed that lower temperatures have a red to yellowish hue. Sames goes for the third pic at 9,000 K, where the image has a stronger red to yellowish hue, yet higher temperatures usually have a blue color cast. What's going on?

The answer is that when I load my RAW file into Photoshop and adjust the WB setting, I'm TELLING the program that the scene has a particular color temperature, thus Photoshop accordingly tires to balance the colors. In other words, if I set the WB on a photo to 9,000 K then the program will assume that the image has a blue cast to it, so the software will try to warm up the photo by auto-magically adding more reds and yellows. Yet another way of putting this is that the color temperature value you set is not what you want the photo (output) to look like, but instead represents what the color temperature of the photo is (input).

The second thing I wanted to comment on is more of a tip that has served me well throughout the years I've been shooting. In general, I always try to get my photographs "right" at the time I take them, versus taking a poorer shot (e.g. over-exposed, wrong WB, etc.) and then trying to fix it later. Doing the latter not only could take more time, but is also risky as there's a chance I may not be able to correct for the flaw, such as an over-exposed shot with blown highlights. So even though I shoot in RAW, I still do my best to expose the image properly and set the WB to where it should be by using either the in-camera presets or my ExpoDisc. And by the way, many digital cameras will still save settings like WB, sharpening, saturation, etc. in the RAW file. So even though I can set my WB (et al.) after I take the shot when I shoot RAW, it still saves me some time and the WB setting will also better represent the color temperature at time of shooting, versus having to make guesses afterwards.

And here is a link to the makers of the ExpoDisc:
Again, I'm not sponsored by them, but I do like their product and I think it does a very good job at getting the white balance correct in regard to the scene I'm shooting.

In next week's episode, I'll be discussing polarizing filters. If you haven't already, please subscribe so you can stay up-to-date with my videos. Happy Holidays!

Web Resources

Friday, December 25, 2009

Photography with Imre Z. Balint: Episode 7 - White Balance

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to All!

Well now that I'm done having a little fun gaming, I thought I'd quickly create this post to let y'all know that Episode 7 on White Balance has been uploaded to YouTube. Thanks to a few extra days off work, I've been able to create this a bit sooner. But alas, it's a tad late as usual, so the supplemental post will come tomorrow.

And if you haven't already, please subscribe to my YouTube Channel so you can stay up-to-date with this series, as well as other videos I come up with.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Part 2: Photography with Imre Z. Balint: Episode 6 - Metering and Exposure

Well I have to admit that I didn't think Episode 6 was going to be this long! And I tried to keep to the basics as much as possible too. Perhaps this is perfectly normal though, as indeed getting your exposure just right (or the way you want it) is really not that simple.

In the video I covered five different methods of controlling exposure: 1) Metering modes, 2) Locking the exposure, 3) Using filters, 4) Using a light meter, and 5) Using the exposure compensation button (that one with the +/- sign on it). By the way, EV = exposure value.

Before moving on to further details, I would like to add that I could have mentioned exposure bracketing, which most dSLRs support. What exposure bracketing does in general is that your camera will take 3 to 5 photos (depending on the setting) in rapid succession using various exposure compensation values; those values can be set to your liking on most cameras. So for example, if your camera is set to take 3 photos from -1 EV to +1 EV, then you'll get one photo with a -1 EV, another with 0 EV (or no compensation), and the third shot at +1 EV.

So why use this method? Well there are situations where if the shot is important enough to you, then utilizing bracketing may yield that "right" image. Perhaps there are some nice clouds in the scene, but you're not sure which compensation value would be proper to ensure they aren't blown (in other words, you generally don't want your clouds to be completely white, because that's usually not pleasing and cannot always be corrected via software such as Photoshop, even if you shoot RAW). Now because you have several images to choose from, it's more likely that one of those will have a properly exposed sky. Another reason to use bracketing is that it's quicker than taking a shot, making a change to the setting, then taking another shot, then... you get the idea. And there some photographers out there who like to create high dynamic range images (usually just referred to as HDRI). In general you can almost never properly expose the entire image (some things will always be too dark or too light), so by using HDR techniques, you can create a photograph that more closely resembles what our wonderfully adaptive human eyes can see. Personally I like HDRI, as long as the photographs don't look over-processed with that odd halo around contrasting areas; done right though, they do look quite amazing. Here's a link to a website with some HDR shots:

Some Guidelines
Even though it is somewhat difficult to provide some concrete numbers for exposure compensation and rules for using certain techniques, there are some general ones I would like to share from my experiences and from what I've seen some other photographers use. Keep in mind this is by no means a complete list, but at least is a start for some of you readers out there.

Landscapes: If you're the type of photographer who likes dramatic lighting, then you'll likely be faced with bright skies and dark lands. This poses a problem as most cameras will expose for the brighter sky, leaving the ground almost black and detail-less. In cases like this, I would suggest using a graduated neutral density (ND) filter, and adjusting your EV compensation as needed; perhaps -0.3 EV to ensure the sky doesn't blow. The filter will help even the brightness levels in your photo, to get a more pleasing shot. But depending on what I've shot, multi-metering has been half-decent at getting good results, and center weighted has been quite useful too.

High-Key and Low-Key Photography: High-key shooting in essence means slightly over-exposing your photos, and low-key is basically the opposite, slightly under-exposing your shots. This deliberate act can produce very moody images if you choose your subjects wisely. Often times, portrait photographers use these methods, but keep in mind that you don't have to limit yourself to just people. A dirty downtown back alley may look more ominous if shot low-key, for example. Although values vary from photographer to photographer, for high-key EV compensation is usually pushed to about +0.7 or +1.0, and low-key the same but in negative values (-0.7 or -1.0). Here's an interesting link:

Birding: In cases like this, I have usually found the most success by using spot metering, and compensating my EV as necessary. At least when I've shot some birds, they tend to be against a very bright sky. If I use multi-metering or center weighted, then I usually get a perfectly exposed sky, with a bird in silhouette. Although that might be nice in some cases, I usually prefer to get the details on the fowl; its feathers, colors, etc. Now of course I have to change my tactic if the bird is smaller and off-center in the photo, as the spot metering will miss the creature entirely, but here's where I can use that auto-exposure lock (AEL) button. I move the spot over to the bird, lock the exposure, then move back to frame my image, and click! Or in this case, I could also use the shutter button by pressing down half-way, which would also lock the focus perfectly on the beaked individual.

Macro: Again, depending on exactly how big your subject is, its placement in the frame, and tone (how dark or bright), I've noticed that center weighted metering, along with EV compensation in either + or -, has yielded good results for me. Usually macro friendly subjects, like flowers and insects, take up the majority of the image, but again, I'd rather expose them properly versus the thing(s) behind them. Spot metering usually doesn't work in these cases as the area the camera's meter samples is far too small, and mutli-metering can be hit and miss, either getting it just right or, or taking too much of the subject's background into the exposure calculations. But again, if you haven't done a lot of photography yet, you'll soon find yourself messing with the settings quite often; that's half the fun of it.

I'd also like to suggest trying out various settings on your camera that are in regard to when you take a photo. In my case, I have my camera (usually) setup so that when I hold the shutter button down half-way, only the focus is locked. When I press the shutter button down all the way to take the shot, then my camera will expose the image (in other words, determine the EV). My logic is that since more aesthetically pleasing images have the subject off center, and more often than not the subject is also in focus, I can shift over to lock the focus where I want it, and then take the shot so that the focus stays, but the exposure is overall correct for the scene. Again, I often break the rules here to, as I'll still likely use EV compensation or lock the exposure on the subject.

I could probably keep writing until the sun comes up tomorrow, but hopefully this will give you a decent start. Bottom line, as mentioned in my video, is to practice and experiment with various settings, to learn how your camera behaves and to get accustomed to different exposure techniques to enhance your photography skills.

Web Resources:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Photography with Imre Z. Balint: Episode 6 - Metering and Exposure

Well it's been a long day of video shooting, editing, and uploading, but Episode 6 is live. As it's a tad late now, I'll finish my usual supplemental blog post tomorrow evening after work. And yes, I plugged my new album, Just Listen, at the end of the video. Currently, I know it's live on iTunes, but in a matter of a week or two, it should be popping up in other digital locations.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Album is Live! Artist: I Z B Album: Just Listen

A few years ago I created 14 songs and for a number of years I did nothing with them; they were merely stored on a backup drive, almost long forgotten and very silent.

So a few weeks ago I decided I might as well at least get them out there somehow, so after a little research I came upon a wonderful label called CD Baby. So I signed up, sent them my CD, and that was about it! Simple... I like simple! And just today I checked iTunes to see if by change my songs were available, and indeed they were! It's kind of freaky to see my music up there... and I actually sing on a couple... scary, I know. :P

But iTunes is not just the only place my album will be available. CD Baby is partnered with about a dozen other places like Napster and Amazon, so I expect my album will pop up in those places a week or two from now.

Anyway, check it out. Currently if you do a search in iTunes for the artist "I Z B" or the album "Just Listen", then you shall find it. As it crops up in other places, I'll post here as usual.

I will be famous... and hopefully with some rich thrown in! :)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Photography with Imre Z. Balint: Episode 5 – Lenses

Woot! I've made it all the way to five whole episodes in my photography series, and still more to come. Either scroll down below to watch episode five, or check it out in HD by clicking here.

Next week I'll be discussing exposure value (EV) and how your camera determines the right (or sometimes wrong) exposure.

Now in regard to episode five, I don't have a whole lot more to add unless I start getting into specific lenses and camera manufacturers. Simply said, too many factors are dependent on the makers, and this doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what a photographer might need/want in terms of lenses. Bottom line is, by now you probably have a particular camera that came with a couple of average lenses, and you may be at the point where you want to explore other possibilities (e.g. super-telephoto or macro photography). The goal of the first section of my video was to get novice photographers acquainted with some lens terminology, so that when they're discussing things with a salesperson, they'll hopefully understand better what they're looking at.

Now for the crop factor segment of episode five, the one thing I would like to add is that depth-of-field (DOF) is also affected by the sensor's size. I believe one of the links I've added below discusses this quite well, but the gist of it is that a smaller sensor will produce a larger DOF. So you may be asking yourself, is a good or bad thing? Well it can be seen both ways. If you do a lot of close-up or macro photography, then it's actually nice to get more of your subject in focus. But if you do, let's say, portrait photography where backgrounds are often heavily blurred, then you may have to more carefully consider which camera with what sensor to choose.

Using my own camera as an example, an Olympus E-3, its fairly small four-thirds sensor actually makes it somewhat difficult to achieve blurry backgrounds unless I use a very fast lens, like the Zuiko 50mm f2 (remember from my first episode, fast lens means small f-number and a large aperture). Another technique I've also employed is to use one of my telephoto lenses and remain as close as possible to the subject when shooting. But anyway, the point here is that fast lenses are generally more expensive and if you're going to need small DOF for your style, consider your options carefully. The only other tip that comes to mind at the moment, is that you might also be able to adapt an old but fast film lens to your digiSLR. For example, I've been able to find a four-thirds adapter (through Fotodiox) for an old Carl Ziess 50mm f1.4 lens my father has. Even though it's a completely manual lens, it does wonders for getting those pleasantly blurry backgrounds.

So that now leaves the macro photography segment of episode five. For now, I'm really leaving this one for later, because I'd like to discuss macro photography techniques in a future video. The goal here was understanding the terminology; those ratios and how they translate into the photograph you take. Although the ruler photos certainly aren't that remarkable, they beautifully and simply demonstrate that if you have a macro lens capable of producing life size or 1:1 ratio images, then the thing you're taking a photo of will be more or less exactly the same size on the sensor of your camera. Oh, I should at least add that in order to get 1:1 photos with a macro lens, you generally need to set the focus at the lens' most extreme position. In my example shots, I set my lens to manual focus and turned the focus ring as far as it would go, until the lens barrel could no longer extend. Then I lowered my camera (on a tripod) closer to the ruler until it was in focus.

So there ya have it. I think that starting with my next episode I'll be asking you wonderful viewers out there to submit particular photography related questions you would like to have answered. Then I'll select a few and hopefully provide some useful answers on future videos. So stay tuned and remember to subscribe!

Resource Links:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Photography with Imre Z. Balint: Episode 4 – Composition

Well I'm a day late with episode four's release, but better late than never! I'm quite pleased with how it turned out too. There are two additional things I would like to add though. The first is really simple; to become "good" at composing your photographs, it takes practice and usually a lot of it. For some people it may come naturally, for others, it might take some getting used to. Once you get the hang of it and you become more critical of your own work (being able to pick it apart, what makes it good/bad) it'll become a cakewalk. But until then, I would recommend joining various photography forums where you can post your work for critique. Here are a few I visit:

Keep in mind too the old saying, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", as some people may love your photo, other's not so much. You'll also likely get many good critiques, along with many bad ones, so consider each thoughtfully. Generally, my experiences have been quite good, having received some very useful suggestions.

And I wanted to link to this book, as I found it very useful and straightforward to understand in regard to composing portrait photographs: The Portrait Photographer's Guide to Posing by Bill Hurter

The second thing I wanted to do was discuss where the Golden Mean or Ratio comes from. Instead of reinventing the wheel however, there are numerous resources on the Web that have done this job very well. Take a peek at these links for more info on some of the topics covered in episode four: - Great portrait shots on this page

On next week's episode, I'll be discussing some of the types of lenses available and what each one is capable of doing. Until then, happy shooting, and please subscribe so you can stay up-to-date with any videos I post to my YouTube Channel.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Part 2: Photography with Imre Z. Balint: Episode 3 – Sensitivity

The topic of sensitivity in itself is quite simple to understand and demonstrate, but gets much more involved when tying it together with aperture and shutter speed to achieve the image you want. With a little practice though, it’s not that hard to master... or at the least, become proficient at getting the right settings.

When I was editing my video, I wish I would have left a section in that discussed some ISO settings for varying lighting conditions and how I generally evaluate a scene when I take photos. So at the least here is the written version (although I may just make a video addendum to episode 3 later).

General ISO Setting Guidelines
In regard to setting the sensitivity of my camera, I usually base it on the amount of available light and use the smallest ISO value I can for that situation:

ISO 100 – For lots of light, usually outdoor shooting on sunny days
ISO 200 – For outdoor shooting on cloudy days
ISO 400 – Bright indoor conditions
ISO 800 and up – Dark indoor conditions or night shooting / astro-photography

Now I want to really emphasize that the above should only be considered a general guideline, and because photography can be both an art form and require bending of the rules to get what you want, you may likely disagree with the above... frankly so do I. For example, when I shoot longer exposure images (e.g. star trails or aurora), I prefer to use ISO 100 to reduce the amount of noise in the image. But some photographers may like to get crisper details in their aurora photos and use 1600 or 3200 ISO instead to increase the shutter speed.

This also does not take in account if you’re using a flash. When I work in my studio, although usually a dark place, there is an ample amount of light when the strobes go off. So in that case, I’m back to ISO 100.

Aperture can also affect what ISO setting you may need. I enjoy macro photography, but when you get close to tiny subjects (like insects), the depth-of-field (DOF) also decreases. So I up my f-number to something around F8 or F10 (to increase DOF)... but that of course restricts the amount of light passing through the lens. Therefore, even if it’s a sunny day, my shutter speed may become too low for me to hand-hold my camera without getting a blurry image. To compensate, I raise the ISO value higher to get a shorter exposure.

Steps to Consider Before Taking a Photo
This brings me to how I evaluate a scene before I take a photo. Again, this is just a general guideline, but a good starting place if you’re new to photography. And I want to highlight that I most commonly use the Aperture Priority (that “A”) setting when taking pictures; the steps below assume that.
  1. First I begin by evaluating how much light is available... in other words, I look around.
  2. Based on my observation, I set my ISO to a level where I believe I’ll get a decent shutter speed and the least amount of digital noise in the image.
  3. I set my aperture to my liking. At this point, I check what my shutter speed is, because as mentioned earlier, the aperture setting could force me to either open wider or turn up the ISO. In addition, I often set my aperture before setting my ISO, so again, this is where you’ll likely end up forming your own style when taking photos.
  4. Yup, I take my shot.
Although these few steps are at a basic level and don’t include such things as special needs (e.g. tripod, flash, etc.) or composition, it’s an easy place you can start.

Links to Sites on this Topic:
And now for some useful website links that detail camera sensitivity and digital noise: - The standards organization - Wiki on the standards body - About the ISO setting - About ISO on - About film speed - Wiki on image noise - About sensor noise

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Photography with Imre Z. Balint: Episode 3 – Sensitivity

You guessed it! The next installment of my photography series - Episode 3: Sensitivity - has been uploaded to YouTube. Look below to view it now or visit my channel to watch it in HD.

This was a shorter episode as it quickly discusses what the sensitivity of a camera is (those ISO settings), and what affect it has on image quality when you turn the setting higher. As I'm pooped for the day, I shall write my supplemental blog post to accompany this video tomorrow, so keep your eyes peeled! Till then, please rate my video (5 stars!) and remember to subscribe to keep up-to-date with my uploads.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Merlin (aka Pigeon Hawk) Photos

Around 5:15pm yesterday I stepped outside to capture this female Merlin perched high atop a neighbor's tree. To get "close" enough, I grabbed one of my scopes and set it to about 1000mm (its focal length range is 650mm to 1300mm), which translates into about 2000mm as I'm using a four-thirds camera (Olympus E-3). As the sun had just set, there wasn't much available light, but I'm still pretty happy with the pics. Some of my camera settings were: ISO 800, shutter speed around 1/30-1/60, spot-metering, mirror lock-up set to 2 seconds; scope is manual focus.

If you're new to photography or just enjoy it in general, then I recommend you check out my YouTube Channel, as I have created a photography series where I explain and demonstrate many of these topics.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Part 2: Photography with Imre Z. Balint: Episode 2 – The Shutter

As promised, here is the supplemental post to accompany my video on YouTube. One of the major topics I'd like to address here is the interplay between the aperture and shutter, as the two go very much hand in hand.

But first, something that I didn't mention in my video is that shutter speed is measured in seconds or fractions of a second (for "usual" everyday type photography and not specialized work). For example, the majority of cameras (although this may depend on your specific model) will show a number like 60 to represent a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second. For long shutter speeds getting into whole seconds, this is usually shown as 2", which in this example means two seconds.

If you watched episode 1, then you learned that the aperture of a camera controls the amount of light that may pass through a lens by restricting it using an iris diaphragm. As for the shutter, it controls the duration of time that light may strike the sensor (or film). The combination of aperture and shutter speed is what provides you with the exposure you want (along with depth of field - DOF, which the aperture controls). Below are some general things to keep in mind about shutter speed and aperture:
  • When the aperture is wide open (small f-numbers, small DOF), the shutter speed is faster as more light can pass through the lens.
  • When the aperture is stopped down (big f-numbers, big DOF), the shutter speed is slower as less light can pass through the lens.
  • The "A" setting or aperture priority mode allows the photographer to set the aperture to what they want specifically, and the camera's computer will figure out the appropriate shutter speed. I personally use this setting the most as I can control the DOF.
  • The "S" setting or shutter priority mode (sometimes listed as Tv on some models for "time value") allows the photographer to set the shutter to a specific speed, and the camera's computer will figure out the appropriate aperture to use. The downside of this mode is that depending on the amount of available light, a proper exposure may not be possible (e.g. too little light in a dark room, shutter speed set too high, but the camera can't open the aperture any wider to let more light in, so the picture becomes under-exposed). On the other hand, a popular use of this is in sports photography where the shutter speed is set low enough to blur the background to give a sense of motion (e.g. a photographer follows a runner, so the runner is focused and sharp, but the background is a blur). Another example is at airshows where the photographer wants to get blurry propellers to show them in motion (more pleasing than to see blades standing still on an aircraft in flight!).
  • In general, when shooting things like the night sky (e.g. for star trails and auroras), the camera is generally in full manual mode, and the aperture is set wide open (small f-number) and the shutter is set to many seconds... in some cases many minutes. This helps capture as much light as possible; DOF is irrelevant as stars are far enough away that lenses are set to focus to infinity. By the way, this is basic astro-photography, it only gets more complicated from here and more on that in the future.

And now for some links:
Next week's episode will be about the sensitivity (ISO, digital noise, etc) of a camera. So remember to subscribe to my YouTube Channel to stay up-to-date with new videos, and bookmark this blog as well.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Photography with Imre Z. Balint: Episode 2 – The Shutter

Well in record time I managed to finish episode two of my photography series and it has been uploaded to my YouTube Channel. I've embedded the video here, but if you'd like to see the more impressive HD version, then check out my channel directly.

Since it's a bit late now, I'll be adding my supplemental post tomorrow morning. I have a bunch of interesting links and thoughts to share, including connecting the use of aperture together with the shutter. Enjoy, please rate (5 stars!), and subscribe!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Photography with Imre Z. Balint: Episode 1 – Aperture

Yeay! I finally finished my first webisode of a series I’ve always wanted to do about various topics in photography. The first subject I discuss is aperture, a very important aspect of taking great pictures. In my video I show what an iris diaphragm looks like, which is the mechanical part in a lens that controls the aperture that either restricts or permits additional light to penetrate the lens (thus light that hits the film or sensor).

In a (tiny) nutshell, here’s a summary of aperture:
  • The aperture of a lens controls the amount of light that can pass through it to the film or sensor
  • Larger aperture = more light passing through, smaller aperture = less light passing through
  • This sounds odd, but: larger aperture = smaller f-number, smaller aperture = larger f-numbers (inverse relationship)
  • Depth-of-field (DOF) is how much of an image is in focus
  • Large apertures (smaller f-numbers) means smaller DOF; small apertures (larger f-numbers) means larger DOF
  • Different lenses behave in different ways; wide angle lenses generally have large DOF even when small f-stops (aperture wider open) are used.
What can different aperture (or f-stop settings) be used for?
  • When shooting portraits, it’s often more pleasant to blur the background with only the subject in focus, thus smaller f-numbers (wide open apertures) are used.
  • When shooting subjects a short distance away (e.g. within 5 meters) with a telephoto (aka zoom) lens, DOF is usually quite small, however, at the same aperture setting when shooting a subject at a large distance (e.g. 20 meters or more), the DOF becomes larger. So DOF also depends on distance, not just the aperture setting.
  • Most lenses have f-stop “sweet spots” where a particular or certain range of aperture results in a sharper photograph.
Some resources on aperture:
To see my video in HD along with other clips, please visit my YouTube Channel; don’t forget to subscribe and rate 5 stars!