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Anatomy of a photo: Balvenie Scotch

Several unconnected events converged to make this photo (below). First, I received a review copy of The Nikon Creative Lighting System by Mike Hagen (from rockynook and NikoniansPress publishing). A review is on the way. Second, and more importantly, I received as a gift a bottle of Balvenie Doublewood 12 year old single malt scotch.

Read on to get details of the lighting setup and what I think works and could be improved in this photo.

Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year Old

The setup

This scene was lit with two off-camera flashes. The first reflected from an umbrella directly to camera left set at -1.3 EV. The second directly behind the bottle, aimed at about a 45 degree up angle and towards the camera at 0 EV (TTL mode, normal sync). This flash was zoomed to 50mm. Both flashes were triggered wirelessly from the D90 built-in commander which did not contribute to the exposure. 98mm, 1/60s, f/5.6.

Flash setup

The good

Let’s talk about what I like in this photo and what I don’t like. First, the good. Overall, I got the effect I was going for. The scotch seems to radiate with a warm, inner light (which is just how it makes you feel). The tone is somewhat dark and moody as one would expect from a drink that’s so, you know, manly.

I intentionally used settings to blur the background container while still keeping all of the important text legible. I very much like the reflections of the whisky on the container. The background is dark and all of the attention is on the bottle. This photo (shot as a JPG fine) was cropped, resized, and sharpened slightly. No other image adjustments were made. It was the best of about 15 different takes.

The bad

FlawsFlaws are more interesting thought, aren’t they? For starters, the bottle isn’t full (a). I was willing to sacrifice a perfect photo for a dram or two. I guess that makes me a bad photographer. But I have no regrets.

I zoomed the flash behind the bottle to 50mm to help minimize light spill (b). You can still see some light reflecting off the bottle, lower right. This would be virtually impossible to completely eliminate without using a snoot for the flash but is easily removed in post-processing.

There’s even more light spill lighting up the side of the container behind the bottle. Whether this is a flaw or not is a matter of taste. Again, it could be eliminated with a snoot on the rear flash. This area would be more difficult to deal with in post.

I have a feeling that the photo would be better off without the window reflections on the bottle (d). Or perhaps, with cleaner reflections. Closing the curtains or moving to a different room without windows would have helped. It would be very difficult and time-consuming to cleanly remove the reflections on the neck in post so this is definitely a decision you want to make while shooting.

A little extra light on the tube container in the background (c) would have helped balance the photo a little better and added interest without taking away from the bottle. Maybe just a little rim lighting on the left side. Or maybe a dim spotlight thrown across “The Balvenie”…

What do you think? Any tips to share? What would you change about this photo?

Enter drawing for a free 2-week lens rental

A winner has been chosen! Borrowlenses selected Bryan who wants to get his hands on the Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8 AF DX. Congratulations! Thanks for playing, everybody.

BorrowLensesWhat better way to get acquainted with online lens rentals than with a free rental? The folks at BorrowLenses.com contacted me over the weekend and generously offered Photodoto readers another chance to receive a free 2-week lens rental. This is the second promotion we’ve done with them. Bryan Villarin was the winner of our last drawing and spent some free quality time with the Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM.

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Leave a comment describing which lens you would like to rent and why you want to rent it. Leave a valid email address so that we can contact you if you win (your email address will remain private and is used for no other purpose).
  • Open to U.S. residents only.
  • The winner will need to place an order online with a valid credit card number to receive the rental. The card will not be charged but is required to ensure that the lens is returned. BorrowLenses.com is a reputable business but if you don’t feel comfortable with this condition please don’t enter.
  • The offer excludes super telephoto lenses and camera bodies.

That’s it! The comments will remain open until midnight on Tuesday March 17th, 2009. After that, BorrowLenses.com will choose a winner and we’ll announce it here. Good luck! And a big thank you to BorrowLenses.com for sponsoring this giveaway.

Review: David Pogue’s Digitial Photography: The Missing Manual

Digital Photography: The Missing ManualDigital Photography: The Missing Manual from O’Reilly sets out to answer all of the questions beginning photographers face before and after they open their new cameras and file away the unopened and often unfriendly manual that came with it.

I’m giving away my review copy. Read on to find out how to enter the drawing.

For the digital novice, this book opens with two chapters on choosing a new camera in the first place. These chapters are great if you don’t know what to look for in a digital camera or you find yourself exasperated from teaching a friend or relative about megapixels and digital sensors. The advice can help you determine what you need, what’s important, and what can be ignored.

The following five chapters deal with actually using the camera itself. Chapter 4 covers decisions that are often made on a shot-by-shot basis, chapter 5 is devoted to avoiding blur. Chapter 6 contains nothing but “recipes” for certain types of shots: panoramas, frozen action, classic sunsets, outdoor portraits, etc.

Chapter 7 has a little advice specifically for SLR owners. But other than that and few notes here and there, this book is really for any beginner regardless of camera type.

The book concludes with Part 3 which is sort of a short course in using iPhoto and Picasa. And Part 4 deals with printing and sharing photos online.

All in all, it’s a pretty good book for: anyone new to digital photography who needs help choosing a camera; beginners who feel that the owners manual that came with their camera was, to put it nicely, somewhat lacking in helpful information; folks who need help learning how to use iPhoto or Picasa; or for photographers who need instructions for taking certain kinds of photos (the recipes in Chapter 6).

Pogue does a great job of explaining, in easy to understand language, what can sometimes be a complicated topic. It’s nonintimidating, easy to read, and provides a good introduction to the breadth of digital photography topics from choosing a camera to keeping digital backups.

Buy this book at Amazon.com →

To get my review copy, leave a comment with a valid email address. I’ll choose a recipient at random this weekend.

This book was provided to Photodoto free of charge for review.

Gross, Creepy, or Cool?

yama_skull_camera_1Wayne Martin Belger apparantly decided a human skull would make a great camera. He decorated it, put a stereoscopic camera inside it, named it “Yama”, and hey presto he had a working skull camera! Both the eyes are pinholes so it creates 3D photos. Belger has also made a HIV-positive camera which pumps HIV-positive blood through the casing, the red passing in front of the pinholes produces red-tinged photos. Berger uses this camera only to photograph HIV-positive people.

So what do you think, gross, creepy, or cool? Or something else? You can read more about Berger’s cameras and The Rivet Gallery in Columbus, OH that featured his work this month, here.

Digital Black and White Photos

Sometimes a photo just looks better in black and white. You know, from time to time you’ll be digitally rifling through a folder of photographs and there’ll be one or two that just don’t suit being in glorious technicolour. So what to do? Well here are a few tips:

1. Don’t write the photo off just because it doesn’t work in colour. It may look fantastic in black and white.

2. Don’t just convert to greyscale or desaturate. This will most likely look boring and low contrast. Most programs (including free ones like Picasa) have some kind of  “filtered black and white” option (in Photoshop this is the channel mixers). This allows you to select a colour filter (some programs will have more choices than others) which will let you keep much more of the detail in your photo. Play around with the different filters and see which ones work best for your photo.

3. Play with the photo in colour first. Before you convert to black and white do any corrections e.g. red eye removal, exposure, contrast etc. while the photos still in colour.

4. Play more once it’s black and white! Don’t be afraid to make more corrections once you’ve converted it.You can always undo anything you regret!

5. Don’t be afraid to try Auto Levels or Auto Contrast. If you don’t like what they do you can always undo it and you may find it gives you the perfect photo without you having to mess around with levels or contrast yourself – that’s not cheating so don’t  make work for yourself!

If you want to go and shoot with black and white images in mind try these tips:

1. Shoot in colour! If you’re shooting JPEGs shoot in colour, you’ll have much more control over your image later than if you shoot in black and white mode. If you’re shooting in RAW you can shoot in black and white mode because your camera will record all the information anyway.

2. Use a low ISO, as low as possible. Noise is more obvious in black and white photos and using the lowest ISO will help avoid very grainy photos.

3.  Pay attention to light. Light is very important in black and white photos because, obviously, you’ve got no colour. Try and look for light that will add texture and contrast to your image. Light coming from one direction is good for this because it will give shadows.

4. Practice! Like anything photography takes practice to improve. Set a challenge for yourself to produce a certain number of black and white photos over the next month, or decide to convert at least one photo from each shoot you do into black and white (you can always keep the colour shot too). Practice, practice, practice, and you’ll get better even if you don’t get perfect!

If you’ve got tips of your own for digital black and white photography let us know in the comments.

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