Avoiding closed eyes in flash photography

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There are people whose eyes are closed or half-closed on every single picture when they are photographed using a flash. Getting a decent portrait of such a person is difficult. Today I want to explain the background to that circumstance and show two ways of avoiding closed eyes.

Blinking is a natural reflex. The average human blinks every 4-6 seconds with a duration of around 300-400 ms per blink (source: wikipedia). You automatically do it so that your eyes won’t dry out. It is also a protection reflex against foreign object or intense light. It is that protection reflex, in combination with TTL mode, that ruins your photos.

What happens in TTL mode
In TTL mode the flash fires a short test burst (pre-flash). The reflected light enters the lens and is measured (thus the name TTL: “Through the lens”). Now the camera knows the flash power A of the pre-flash and the amount of reflected light B which is captured by the camera. By using that ratio the camera can determine how strong the main burst must be in order to get a decent exposure. Now the main burst fires and the image is taken. The whole process is so quick that you don’t see the two flashes, you perceive it as being one flash. But actually there is a short timespan between the test burst and the main burst.

Why the subject has its eyes closed
The pre-flash has been fired. The subject’s brain detects the flash and triggers the protection reflex. The subject blinks, but at the same time the camera has finished calculating the required flash power and takes the exposure. The shutter opens, the main flash fires while the subject has its eyes closed and the result is a dorky image.

Now you might say “But blinking is a very quick process, so why is it a problem ?”. Take a look at the numbers. Let’s say your exposure with flash is 1/250 s, which equals to 4 ms. Blinking takes roughly a hundred times longer, 300 or 400 ms.

How to avoid closed eyes
First of all, don’t tell such a person to “keep the eyes open”. They can’t control it, that is why it is called a reflex. The person will blink, no matter what you tell them.
What you have to do is to find a way to bypass the pre-flash. Here are two ways to do that:

20140712-M-MODE-0011.) Go manual. Set your flash to M mode and start shooting. This way the pre-flash is eliminated because you manually adjust the flash power. The person will still blink, but the blinking will occur after the image has been taken. It takes the human brain some time to detect the light and send the blink-command back to your eyes. In most cases the delay is long enough to take an image and not have the subject blink on it. But going to manual is more of a workaround than a real solution. Also manual might not be very convenient when you are in a situation which requires constant adjustments of the flash output levels. So here is another method.

2.) Separate pre-flash and main flash. To achieve this  you have to customize the function of the “AE-L AF-L” (Auto Exposure Lock, Auto Focus Lock) button to lock the flash value. The button is usually located at the back of your camera, next to the viewfinder. And usually it does exactly that – lock the autofocus, the exposure or both of them. But it can also be configured to lock the flash value. The setting (at Nikon cameras) is called “FV lock” (“flash value”). In the gallery below I illustrated how to configure the button (again, example Nikon).

Once the AE-L AF-L button is pressed the pre-flash is fired (subject will blink) and the camera measures and saves the values. Keep the button pressed until after you have hit the shutter button. When you press the shutter button the main flash fires and the image is taken. Your subject will blink again, but since there is no pre-flash this time the subject will not have enough time to blink during the exposure.

 

The Tamron 150-600 mm telezoom lens

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The Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD telezoom lens is quite new on the market and seems to sell like hot cakes. The lens is a telezoom ranging from 150 mm to 600 mm, which is absolutely amazing. I ordered mine on June 9th and the package was delivered on July 03rd. Currently Amazon lists the Nikon version to be out of stock. The most important specs in short:

  • type: 150-600m f/5-6.3 full frame telezoom lens
  • autofocus: ultrasonic motors
  • image stabilizer
  • internal focussing system
  • filter size: 95 mm
  • weight: 1.951 g
  • length retracted without hood: 257 mm
  • length fully extended and with hood: 438 mm
  • price: 1.199 € (July 2014)

Let me show you how that monster looks like:

The lens barrel is made out of a sturdy plastic material which makes a high-quality impression. When I first read “plastic barrel” I was sceptic but trust me – the lens does not feel cheap. The mounting bracket on the other hand is made of metal, which is necessary to support the weight of the lens. Even with “only” using plastic the lens weighs 1.951 g, I don’t want to think about the weight if they had used metal for the lens barrel instead. The switches also seem to be robust, the sliding action during zooming is accompanied by a quiet hissing as the materials slide against each other. With the lens hood attached and the barrel fully extended the lens nearly sports a whooping 44 cm, which is, well, look at the images.

To give you an impression of the zoom let me show you my favorite subject – the moon. There was a nice half moon and I shot a sequence of images at different focal lengths. Note I did not use a tripod but rested both elbows on the window ledge. The image stabilizer (VC – vibration control in Tamron-speak) was turned on.

It is incredible how much detail one can see at 600 mm. Here is another test shot. The camera is pointed towards the clear sky, handheld, image stabilizer on.

The plane looks hazy but keep in mind that it is approx. 11 km away from the camera. But those were only test shots. The next day I went to the zoo to give the Tamron a good test run. To make life easier I used a carbon monopod to support camera and lens during shooting. A monopod is a very good investment once you have such a heavy load to carry. Shooting with the Tamron was big fun. The ability to zoom in very closely gave me the opportunity to get some interesting animal portraits. The huge focal range leaves much freedom when you are composing your shot. The autofocus is very fast, which also lots of fun.

The lens is very sharp. I was amazed how much detail even at high focal lengths is captured. Some reviews I read about the lens prior to buying claimed that at the long end the sharpness would suffer. But take a look at the 100 % crops I made. The sharpness even at 600 mm is totally what I would call very good. If you are a pixel peeper you might cry out loud now, but keep in mind that most images one takes will be published at a lower resolution than they have been taken with. So any minute unsharpness which might be present will be “diluted” in the process of downscaling the RAW file to a JPG (That argument alone helped me to suppress my sharpness fetish and not listen to the pixel peeper demon inside me).

I’ll stop blabbering about the lens for now, look at the images and see for yourself (Note: All images were mage using a monopod for extra stability)

20140705-Tamron-carrying-001A tip about carrying lens, camera and monopod around. I used the method shown in the image on the right, which I found very convenient. I grabbed the lens at the mounting bracket, which has grooves for your fingers. The monopod points upwards. This way you have a firm grip on the camera and the monopod is out of the way. The only disadvantage is that you need space to flip the whole setup around. If that is not given you should rest the camera on your shoulder, so that the monopod is pointing downwards at any given time.

Bottom line: The Tamron 150-600 mm is a formidable telezoom. It is well built, very sharp and has a fast and very silent focussing system. Shooting with that lens is big fun. The price/performance ratio is unbeatable, other lenses in that focal range are much more expensive. I think the Tamron will find its way into the lens collection of many nature and animal photographers.

Apple ceases development of Aperture and iPhoto

Apple has announced that with the development of OS X Yosemite they will focus on the new Photos app and cease development of Aperture and iPhoto. That is not good news. With Aperture and iPhoto Apple had two very powerful tools for managing and processing images. iPhoto is targeted towards “normal” users while Aperture is a professional workflow software for photographers and also the only real rival (in terms of market share) of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

In OS X Yosemite the Photos app will be the substitute for both. Without knowing the exact feature list of Photos one can tell that it is likely that the software will be a mix between its two predecessors. More functions than in iPhoto, less than in Aperture (that’s my guess). But however this may come out at the end, the main competitor for Lightroom will phase out of the market. Adobe has already announced that they will offer a migration tool for people who want to switch to Lightroom.

That means less competition for Adobe. Less pressure on the development of Lightroom. And finally, less pressure on the price. Now Adobe is more or less free to set a price for Lightroom. At the moment you have to rent the software together with Photoshop CC for 9,99 USD a month (or 12,99 EUR because Europeans love to get ripped off :-( ). With Aperture gone there might be less development on the software, but more development on the price tag.

Let’s hope Apple’s new Photos app will be a real killer.

How to give feedback

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In 2010 I wrote about a shoot I made using a Range 2000 film camera. The Range 2000 is the embodiment of point-and-shoot: Fixed aperture, fixed focal length, fixed focus, fixed shutter speed. I shared some of the images from that film roll on the blog.

Now I received an email from a reader. He bought a Range 2000 on eBay and, while waiting for the camera to arrive, searched for the topic on the net and found my website. Long story short – He really liked the images and wrote a very kind email in which he explained exactly that to me. No other inquiry, just the feedback.

Why am I blogging about that email ?

Besides from totally making my day that email is a textbook example on how positive feedback can (and should) be given. There are several aspects which make that feedback stand out from other comments I received.
(Note: The rules below are valid in nearly any context, not only photography. Also they do not only apply for positive, but also negative feedback. Also keep in mind that I am reflecting on my personal opinion here).

  1. The medium. He chose to contact me via email although there is a comment box below the post. I appreciate that a lot. Why ? Every medium requires a different amount of effort. Think about wishing somebody a Happy Birthday for example. Writing on the Facebook wall is done very quickly, just a few keystrokes (“Happy Bday”). Writing an email takes more time. A phone call takes even more time. And think about sending a (physical) birthday card…
    Don’t get me wrong. Every single one of these ways to wish a Happy Birthday is wonderful and valuable. But some ways are just a little more because they require more effort.
  2. Giving a reason for the praise. Besides from telling me he liked the images he also gave reasons for that. He mentioned the framing, the choice of subjects and how that relates to the medium of b/w film photography.
    Telling people WHY you like something will make your feedback stand out from 99% of the internet. Scroll through Flickr for example and look at the comments. Most comments go like “beautiful”, “wonderful pic” or “awesome”. That’s cool. But you can be different. Say what you like (or don’t like). This is more valuable because it shows that you took some time to think about the images and have some dedicated thoughts you would like to share. Again, more effort.
  3. A personal reference. In that email he made a personal remark which underlines the uniqueness of his feedback. He told me that looking at the Range 2000 images in the gallery re-sparked his enthusiasm for photography which he believed had vanished. That one makes me very proud, nothing to add here.

These three simple things can make your feedback even better and increase the impact your words will have on the addressee. The points above apply to positive feedback, in which case the writer just wanted to underline that he is fond of the images. But in most cases feedback also contains elements which are supposed to help the addressee improve his/her work. In photography terms this is a photo critique. The rules are simple and are often called a “feedback sandwich”:

  • Say what you like about the images
  • Then say what could have been made better
  • Close with a positive remark.

I won’t give any examples here but link to a photo critique from US-based photographer Jared Polin, who runs the site froknowsphoto.com. Jared is a hyperactive YouTuber and produces several videos per week. He often does what he dubbed a “rapid fire critique”, where he goes through a certain set of images and feedbacks the photographers. His videos are a good example on how a photo critique (feedback) can look like (even if he does not like an image he feedbacks in a way which is constructive and honest).

Wallpapers

I decided to share some of my images as wallpapers. The plan is to start with a small number of images and add one or the other image over time. I will kick this off by publishing two shots of model sports cars I made in the past (click here to see the Ferrari shooting, here for the Audi R8 shooting and here for many other sportscars).

The format of both images is 16:9 (2560×1440 pixels). Clicking on the image will take you to the full size version. Now right-click and select “Save as…” or similar (depending on the operating system you use).

Ferrari-Wallpaper-2560x1440 Lamborghini-Wallpaper-2560x1440

Disclaimer: While I am fond of sharing stuff I would like to announce the rules under which you may use these images. You are allowed to share them with anybody, but don’t alter them (one exception: downsizing the resolution to match your screen). The images are also not for commercial use, please contact me if you intend to do so to find an agreement. In all cases the copyright stays with me.

Saalburg stronghold

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Roman Mask

This post is a little offtopic since I cover a visit to a historical site and not something specifically photography-related, but you might forgive me :-) Just enjoy the images ! If you are interested in history and / or archeology you might also like my post about my visit at Xanten, a roman city at the river Rhine.

Recently I visited the Saalburg near Bad Nauheim (Taunus region, Germany). It is where the Romans had built a stronghold to defend the limes, a 550 km border between the Roman empire and the germanic tribes. The stronghold has been restored to its original state at the beginning of the 20th century (actually Kaiser Wilhelm II himself positioned the foundation stone for the restoration work). Since 2005 the stronghold is a UNESCO world heritage site.

The stronghold incorporates a museum which displays several roman artifacts such as the impressive mask displayed above. It was worn by riders of the legion. The day we visited they also made bread in a clay oven, Roman style.

About me (you may skip this post ;-)

I keep a list of  topics about which I want to write. Some of them are reviews of gear, some are small photo projects which are yet to be realized. But today I feel more like introducing myself briefly. I do not write this post out of vanity but more out of something… let’s call it “reverse curiosity”. When reading blogs I often would like to know who is behind the words. Knowing a little about the person sometimes helps sorting and understanding the content.

20130624Selfportrait-001Selfie (and how it was made)

So… hi ! I am Julian Eichhoff, 34, married, father of two daughters. I am the person behind lumenatic.com. The blog is a one-man-show, there’s just me (although I would welcome co- or guest authors, drop me a line !). In my day job I am a mechanical engineer, working for a company which builds automatic fire extinguishing systems.

Needless to say I love photography. Taking images, creating, being creative is what drives me. I have a hard time leaving home without a camera, a feeling to which some of you might relate. I consider myself a “serious amateur” or “prosumer”: I do not earn my money with photography but I apply a very high standard towards my images (hands up – who just thought “blabla, who doesn’t” ? ;-).

A few years ago I tried to go a little commercial with my photography, charging for the shootings I made. It was never intended to be my full time job (and it never went there). Quickly I learned that there is much more to being a professional (as in “paid”) photographer than just taking images and editing them. It involves marketing, acquisition, selling, negotiating… Those are all activities which are not very much down my alley, so I did not actively pursue commercial photography any further. Another big factor in that decision were my two children. After my day job they occupy most of my free time, and what is left is dedicated to photography.

Naturally I take an insane amount of images of my daughters, which I share on a private blog with friends and family. The rest of my “photo time” is dedicated to this blog and the projects I conduct. I am trying to post once a week, usually on a Sunday.

When starting the blog some years ago I asked myself “There are so many photography blogs and websites out there, why adding another one ?” The answer is simple. I learned a lot from those other sites. Sharing information and knowledge is one of the pillars of the internet community. By writing about what I do and how I did it and what my thoughts are on this and that I am giving back to the community. That is one of the factors which motivates me. Also I enjoy writing and, even more important, creating and being creative (there it is again).

Final words. Hard to find on such a loose post. Perhaps I might condense the message a little. Hi, that’s me, that’s why I take images and write about it, thanks for reading !

 

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