Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Camera Review - First Thoughts

As previously mentioned, my new digital compact is a Canon IXUS 850 IS, and having had it for about 10 days, I can now put down some initial thoughts on its features and ease of use.My main reason for the purchase was so that I could take it to the likes of PubStandards and BarCamp, or other conferences, as a lightweight and small alternative to my EOS 350D SLR. Lovely though that is, when I'm out using it on a "proper" photographic day out, I was finding I often left it at home (or took it reluctantly) to such events.

The other side of the coin was the perennial problem - I wanted a camera which had a high enough technical spec that when I did see an impromptu picture of the more "arty" variety, it would be up to the job of recording the scene in enough detail so I would not be cursing not having the "proper" SLR with me. So I've been on the fence for ages, waiting for something to tip me off. Cue the IXUS 850.

It allows me to take manual control of things like the flash, (on, off, auto and even slow-sync mode); white balance, and most importantly, ISO speed. It has a decent zoom range, about 28-105mm equivalent in 35mm terms - which is fine for indoor subjects where I'm most likely to use it.

Most of the pictures I got at last week's PubStandards XV were a bit grainy and dark - I turned the ISO up to 1600 as I didn't want to use flash very much (you just get the rabbit-in-headlights look), but the ambient lighting was not very bright. As such, some were a tad disappointing, but to be honest, I think any camera would have struggled.

[grainy stuff with the flash off and ISO1600 selected]

I also did a few with flash, and these were generally better:

[ISO turned down to 400 and a bit of flash - fine for most party/pub situations]

So much for small venues - how would it cope with the prospect of a larger auditorium? Well, I'm happy to report that it's performance at BarCamp was very impressive. Again, most of the time I left the flash off and was running at ISO 800/1600, but the ambient lighting was much better and so I got some nice coloured lighting and natural looking shots without the flash burnout and colour washout that can occur.

[ISO at about 800, taken from the back of the auditorium]

Admittedly, the auditorium wasn't as big as some conference rooms, and there was a great rake to the seating so everyone was pretty near and got a great view.

Later on (much later, I think this one was taken around 2:30am), we were playing Werewolf and I experimented using the Slow-sync flash option. This sets the camera shutter speed to something like 1/15th or 1/20th, and fires a less powerful burst of flash, which balances the ambient lighting with a bit of highlight pickup.

[ISO at about 800, and a burst of slow-sync flash]

I haven't really taken many photos with the camera out of doors (I don't get out much!), but I did spot this scene whilst waiting for a train the other morning:

[ISO at about 200, looking towards the light (overcast clouds)]

The tree surgeon was hacking bits off a tree 30 feet in the air. The swinging chainsaw was still running... I did a bit of Photoshop tweakery afterwards to get a better B&W silhouette.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Composition #1 - The Rule Of Thirds

Try to put the main point of interest in your picture at one of the intersections of the thirds:

Or devide the sky/land line on a 1/3rd 2/3rd ratio. Try to avoid putting the horizon half way down the picture.


[Over The Rainbow - horizon on the lower third, protruding flower is on the horizontal and vertical third intersection]

[Sunrise, Calanais - horizon on the lower third, sun is on the intersection of the horizontal and vertical third]

[Pienza Hillside - high horizon on the upper third]

[Pencils IV - point of focus on the left hand third, but half way up this time]

Composition #2 - Lead-In Lines

Try to encourage the viewer's eye to go deeper into a picture. Lead the eye around the frame by using:
[straight lines, gentle curves]

[imaginary lines formed by picture elements]

Always make sure there is an object at the "stop" point where the line finishes, which reinforces the lead into something tangible.


[The Time Tunnel - lines converge towards the figure in the bottom left hand third]

[Sunlit Cloisters - imaginary lines formed by arches and shadows converge towards the two windows at the end of the corridor]

[The Long Trek For Water - curved line formed by the footprints lead to the figures at the water hole]

[Lights On London Hill - the snaking s-curve leads off into the distance, but the presence of the car heading towards us stops the eye wandering off too]

Composition #3 - Using Symmetry

The rule of thirds is useful for many subjects, but not all.

If you see a symmetrical subject, it's often better to compoase so that the line of symmetry is right in the middle of the picture.

Take care to make sure the symmetrical subject really is in the middle - slightly off-centre and it will look odd.


[Transporter Bridge - I stood right in the middle of the roadway (waiting for the bridge to com back to our side) and got everything balanced]

[Southwark Roof - taken from the middle of the aisle, also showing lead-in lines pointing to the stained glass window at the end]

[Victorian Hangar - carefully composed, with all lines leading towards the window at the end of the room]

[Picture Window - sometimes you get lucky with two planes of symmetry - here the horizontal and vertical framing was very carefully controlled to be equal on opposite sides, even though the main content (the reflections) are not perfectly symmetrical]

Composition #4 - Framing Elements

There are two aspects to framing your pictures:
  • Make sure unwanted things don't cut into the side of your photos - always look around the viewfinder (or LCD screen) to check
  • Pictures can be enhanced by carefully framing the view - eg. with tree brances

[Le Chat Qui PĂȘche - the foreground path and overhanging trees frame the scene top and bottom, and the leaves cover up some boring sky]

[Ingatestone Hall - the horizon is placed high up, while the tree and its shadow appear to wrap around the building]

[The Castle Keep - I moved into a position where the archway framed the buildings beyond and the sunlight reflected from a window appeared behind the lamp fitting]

[Scrum Between The Posts - a scrum at the other end of the field, framed through the posts, provided a shot which showed more context to the situation]

Composition #5 - Creating Depth

Depth can be emphasised with good lead-in lines.

Also, make sure there is something of interest in the three areas of your picture:
  • Foreground [rocks]
  • Middle distance [sheep]
  • Background [hills]
It's those thirds again…


[Beached Lobster Pot - getting up close to the lobster pot (with a wide-angle lens) made it appear bigger in the frame; the rocks lead through the middle ground to the background hills]

[Heavy Traffic - the huskies in the foreground lead to skiers (middle ground) and hills beyond]

[Twilight Expedition - foreground interest is provided by the figures and dinghy, mid-ground is the tethered boat and more hills in the background]

[My Imaginary Friend - foreground girl is reflected to give some middle-distance interest; the background is not so significant in this shot]

Composition #6 - Using Repetition

Repetition can be appealing, but too much of the same thing can be boring.

Instead, take subjects which show repetition but with a slight difference:
  • Similar objects, of different sizes or focus
  • Similar objects, of different colours
  • Similar objects, in different positions

[Pencils I - the variation here is colour, size and position - the ends of the pencils were all lined up, and the difference in their lengths was entirely down to how much they had been used in the past]

[Windows Within Windows - foreground windows repeat uniformly, their reflected counterparts all suffer from different distortions in the glass]

[The Table Setting - a simple found still-life shot - the wine glasses, condiment set and red gerbera, each of different sizes and gradually getting less sharp as they get further back]

[Floral Details II - the blooms repeat in different positions and gradually less focussed further back in the picture]

Composition #7 - Fill The Frame, Or Not?

Nobody wants to play "hunt the interesting bit" with your photos! So get in close, and fill the frame. Remember:
"If it's not good enough, you're not close enough"
[Good advice for all except war photographers and wild animal specialists]

Or, make a point of not filling the frame, but giving the picture some "positive space" - a tricky thing to define, but examples should make things clearer. The skill is knowing which to go for under what circumstances!


[It Takes Allsorts - get in close, fill the frame]

[Lovely Bubbly Aero - get in close, then fill your tum after the photo shoot!]

[The Racing Line - most of the frame is empty track, but having the car so far off to the right does give an impression it's struggling to stay on the tarmac]

[The Red Roof - most of the picture is sky, but the gull and hut balance each other well]

Composition #8 - Using Triangles

The humble triangle can be a useful compositional device to improve your pictures.

Upright or inverted, they act as extra lead-in lines or can encapsulate the subject being photographed.

The triangle can be formed by tangible straight lines, or objects at each virtual corner.

Placing three objects in triangular formation is much stronger than the eye "bouncing" between two subjects - odd number repetition is best if possible.


[Bringing In The Catch - three boats in the harbour form the corners of a flattish triangle, also main interest in the picture is restricted to the middle third strip]

[Fungi and Treestump - here, the main content of the picture forms a natural inverted triangle, albeit made from circular objects (repetition with different sizes). I was careful to line up the top "side" with the edge of the frame]

[Overthrow - the players make up most of this upright triangle with their lineout jump - but it is capped off by the all-important ball. Neither of them caught it!]

[Louvre Geometry - this one is a special case, with two triangles (outlined). The lower, inverted one is very obvious, but the upper part is just as important]

Monday, February 19, 2007

Texture & Tone in Monochrome

The right lighting is vital for conveying the texture and defining the tone in monochrome pictures.

Strong side lighting on the subject will create the best emphasis of light and shadow.

Soft lighting will lead to a more subdued image with smaller tonal range:
  • Images with lots of dark tones are said to be "low-key"
  • Images with lots of light tones are said to be "high-key"

[Cycle Lane - with a predominance of dark tones in the picture, this is definitely a low-key image]

[Mist Over The Farm - even though this has a very bright sky, the images is more low-key than high-key, with the dark silhouettes in the foreground dominating the image]

[Grey Horizons - this is probably more high-key than low-key - there is a predominance of paler tones, with only a few darker shapes]

[And Let Thy Feet… with only one small area of black in the frame, this is a high-key image]