Saturday, September 4, 2010

Photo of the Day: "Untitled 90-3857"

Someone asked me to post a people photo today, so here it is. Kids are devilishly difficult to photograph; always moving, never listening — but usually having a great time doing it.

Nikon D90, Nikkor 18-105VR, 32mm, 1/100 sec., f7.1, no flash. Auto white balance, +1/3EV exposure compensation, ISO 200. VR on, program exposure mode shifted to f7.1 and 1/100 sec.

I've admonished on several occasions to use flash unless you have a reason not to.Even though I was shooting with the SB-800 external flash, it couldn't recharge fast enough to keep up with the action, so I forewent it. The +1/3EV exposure compensation is to lighten things up a bit because of all the snow.

Post processing is significant but straightforward. There is some white balance tweaking, just a shade (+.15EV) exposure and 53+ recovery. Blacks are increased 28 — the most, I think, of any photo I've yet processed. Contrast is reduced about 10%, while clarity and vibrance are increased. Red-channel saturation is increased for the benefit of the girl's jacket, while the yellow channel is reduced a bit to make the snow look right. Mild sharpening and post-crop vignetting are also applied.

Pan shots are tricky. They challenge your ability to track one spot, your camera's ability to track focus and your technical ability to set camera settings correctly. The first you will only develop with experience, the second is up to your camera, so I will address the third here.

VR, or vibration reduction, is called Image Stabilizer on Canon lenses, while other manufacturers call their technology anti-shake. In Canon and Nikkor lenses, it is employed in the lens, while others (notably Pentax) deploy their anti-shake on the image sensor. There are pros and cons to both. VR in-lens can be tunes to the specific characteristics of each lens and probably works better. Anti-shake at the sensor works with any lens. In Nikkor-land, I'd guess about 2/3s of new lens announced are VR, but there are noticeable exceptions. The new 85mm f1.4 lacks VR, as does the now classic (and one of my favorites) 17-35mm f2.8. Other new primes, the 35DX, 50 f1.4, and some zooms, such as the 14-24mm, also lack VR. In fact, the only prime I know of with VR is the "SuperChub" 200mm f2.  I'd like very much to get my paws on that glass.

At any rate, VR is one of those features Nikon markets the hell out of, but then fail to explain (well). When should you shoot with VR, and when should you use Normal or Active (a switch on many VR lenses)? Rockwell says to always shoot with VR on, while Thom says on turn it on if you're sure you need it. I lean towards Rocky, who while often tongue-in-cheek, seems to have the stronger technical background.

Finally, VR NORMAL or VR ACTIVE? Only use ACTIVE if on horseback, jet-ski, aircraft, dunebuggy or other platform that is vibrating along both the X and Y axis. (Up-down and left-right.) In NORMAL mode, VR will ignore side-to-side movement as reframing or panning (as in this photo). In ACTIVE mode, the VR system will try and reduce the panning blur — not at all what I wanted in this photo.

Alright, so you've set VR (or IS) to on and NORMAL mode. Next you need to pick an aperture and shutter speed. 1/100 sec. is a good speed because it's fast enough to stop some motion — the snow flying up from the girl's hand — but slow enough to blur the background. Experiment. (It took at least 113 shots for me to find this one.) You will want to be as close to the action, and as close to perpendicular to the motion, as possible to maximize the blur effect. The key to a panning photo is not the blur — blur is easy! — but the contrast of in-focus and blur to communicate movement and energy.

Camera original.

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