Contemplation – How to get this shot

Contemplation by Tukay Canuck
Contemplation, a photo by Tukay Canuck on Flickr.
Here’s how I got this shot.
I took an Elinchrom D-Lite 4 with a big beauty dish and gold reflector, put it on a boom arm on a C-stand, and had it camera right. It was quite a distance from the model, so I cranked it to full power (400w/s).
I put a Nikon SB900, put it on a light stand with Honl grid, and zoomed it to 200mm. It was quite close, so I powered it on manual to low power (1/64 or 1/128). The SB900 was set to SU-4 mode, so it would fire when it saw the Elinchrom fire.
The camera was set to ISO 100, 1/200sec, f11. I think the Elinchrom metered at f8, but if I had listened to my light meter I would have overexposed the background and the punchiness of the light I think is just right.
There was minimal editing of the photo, just a horizontal crop and a slight change to the white balance.

Lightroom 3 versus Lightroom 4

I just installed Lightrrom 4, and figured I’d give it a quick test. I found a photo that I took last year that was quite underexposed, to see what I can do with it. Right off the bat, when I made the process update to the LR4 “2012 process”, the photo was instantly much better. The ability to use the adjustment brush to selectively add noise reduction (to her skin tones only), and highlight and shadow adjustments (to the brick), in my opinion, make the photo much more pleasing. There aren’t many functional differences between LR3 and LR4, but my first impressions is that the technical aspects (the “algorithms”) used by LR4 is going to make my photos better and improve my workflow.

Depth of field

You’ve probably heard the term “depth of field” before, but like many photographers, it may be a concept hard to visualize. I find the best way to understand things is by example, so here it goes.

Before we get to the example, let’s talk theory. Some of this I’ve already discussed, so please forgive the repetition. When the aperture (that’s the opening) of your lens is very wide, it lets in a lot of light. A wide aperture confusingly is given a small “f-stop” number, such as f1.4 or f2.8. When the aperture is very narrow, it lets in less light. This is given a larger f-stop number, such as f22 or f30. And there’s a whole slew of f-stop ranges in between ranging from wide open to almost completely closed.

A wider open aperture lets in more light, and therefore the shutter doesn’t need to be open as long as when you have a narrow aperture. This means to take the same exposure of the same photo, you will need to have a very slow shutter speed for a narrower aperture. Faster is better because you can hand hold the camera to take photos, and capture high speed action, right? Well that’s technically true, but there’s another factor in play here : depth of field.

A wider open aperture (e.g. f1.4) has a narrower depth of field. A narrow depth of field means things that you aren’t focusing on are blurry.

A narrower aperture (e.g. f22) has a much wider depth of field, meaning more of your composition will be in focus.

These facts are neither good nor bad – they just are.

Sometimes you want a wide depth of field, such as when you are doing landscape photography and you want the foreground and the background all in focus. Since you want a very narrow aperture, exposure time will be longer, so you’ll probably be using a tripod.

Why wouldn’t you always want as much as you can in focus, and use this wide depth of field? Many point and shoots try to give you as much depth of field as possible. In my opinion, this is not usually desirable.

When taking portraiture, a narrow depth of field helps isolate the subject, the person, from the background. If the background is tack sharp, that could distract from the subject that you are trying to focus on. Many beginner photographers try to get as much information in the scene, but this in the end makes for a boring scene. Simplicity and focus on the subject usually wins out. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the best photojournalism photos (e.g.

More expensive lenses are expensive because they are faster, which is another way of saying they have a wider aperture (or smaller f-stop number – this is confusing at first, I know).

One more thing – depth of field is not only controlled by the size of your aperture, but by your distance from the subject. The closer you are, the narrow the depth of field.
You can even use your eyes to prove this one out. Focus on something very close to you, and everything else (including things relatively close) is blurry. Focus on something farther away, and more objects are in focus.

Okay – as promised, here are some examples to illustrate how the aperture controls the depth of field. I’m focusing on something fairly close to the lens, and note how the narrower the aperture, the more in focus the background building becomes. You can hopefully see how this can be used for creative control – neither the in focus nor the out of focus photos are better or worse than each other, they just produce a different outcome.

f22 - narrow aperture, wide depth of field
f2.8 - wide aperture, narrow depth of field

Depth of Field Link

I am eventually going to post some pictures to depict what depth of field means and how to use it creatively, but I stumbled upon this great link that illustrates the point as well as I can explain it. Enjoy!


Commercial/Real-Estate Photography

For real estate, commercial, and architectural photography, you want to start with a high quality wide angle lens. You may also need a camera that is capable of doing high ISO, and you may need to supplement the environment with additional lighting.

Although you can certainly take and present decent straight-out-of-the-camera photographs for a client, but you will most likely get a better product by using professional post-processing techniques via Photoshop and various plug-in filters.

Here’s a recent photograph taken for a client. Here’s the “before” picture. Click on the image to see it close-up.

Before Processing


Although it’s a perfectly fine image, you’ll see after we touch up the lens flare, add some sharpness and detail to the image, and colour correct the photo, I think you’ll agree that the photograph stands out more. Click on the image to see it close-up.

After Processing



Here’s a summary of what was done in this example:

  • Cleaned up lens flare in Photoshop
  • Reduced noise in Lightroom
  • Added detail and sharpness in Photoshop
  • Corrected white balance in Lightroom
  • Removed television images (95% removal) in Photoshop

HDR Efex vs. Photomatix Revisited

In my previous comparison of HDR Efex versus Photomatix, I indicated that I preferred the HDR Efex as it has a simpler and more effective workflow.

One area where Photomatix is clearly better is when there is movement in the image, which could cause “ghosting” in the HDR image.

These sample images were taking using the same 5 bracketed exposures. The HDR Efex had the adaptive ghosting setting enabled, whereas the Photomatix had the semi-manual ghosting setting used.

As you can see, aside from different appearances based on settings used (which has no effect on the appearance of ghosting), the HDR efex version has some serious ghosting at the bottom of the verandah. (Not sure if that’s the technical term).

Although normally I prefer using HDR Efex for its simple workflow, there are situations such as when there is motion where Photomatix Pro excels.

GPS Tagging DSLR Photos With iPhone


Originally uploaded by Tukay Canuck

Call me a cheap b%st%rd, but I don’t want to invest $200+ to get the Nikon GPS unit, which to me is just a luxury.

I did some research (read: Google), and found a way to inject GPS data from my iPhone.

The work flow to accomplish this is the following:
– Start up an application on the iPhone called RunKeeper
– Take pictures
– Stop application
– Upload photos to Lightroom on PC
– Download GPS information from
– Use jFriedl’s GPS application to tie in the GPS coordinates with the photos

RunKeeper is a free iPhone app.
jFriedl’s GPS app has a free trial, and continues to work for free with some limitations. (It’s donationware, so it is inexpensive if you decide to use the full functionality.)

The great thing is that as long as your phone and camera’s clocks are in sync, you can keep the application running on your phone and it will keep track of where you were and at what time you took your photos.

This is my first attempt, so I am not sure how much of an impact running the GPS on the iPhone is on the iPhone battery.

The instructions that I followed is located here

First you need to log into the website (free to use), and download your GPS history – a .GPX file

The jFriedl plugin is activated by selecting all photos taken while you ran the Runkeeper application.

Browse for the GPX file that you downloaded to your computer.
I had to use GMT time as the time zone, as it seems that Runkeeper stored the history in GMT timezone (configurable?)

Click on the commit button, and the GPS coordinates get synced into the photo’s metadata, and gets updated with Flickr.

I tested the accuracy of the GPS coordinates, and it was bang on.

Obviously this workflow is pretty handy for photowalks, but I’ll have to see how long my iPhone lasts for. It’s a pretty involved workflow if you are intending to only GPS tag one photo – it would probably be easier to use Google Maps or the Flickr location tool

About Light (and Shadow)

49/365 Unbearable

Originally uploaded by Tukay Canuck

It’s been a while since I blogged, and this entry will be short, but important.

The quality and direction of light has a huge impact on the final product.

These photographs of the same polar bear look quite different.

The first photograph was taken with diffused lighting (cloudy conditions) late morning.

Note the image looks quite two-dimensional, almost like a cardboard cutout.

The second photograph was taken in less cloudy conditions, at the end of the day with very directional light.

The light in the second photograph has a warmer colour to it, and the directional harsh nature of the light creates shadows that gives the second photograph a sense of dimension and shape.

We are three dimensional creatures – we experience the world around us in three dimensions, however photographs are two dimensional. Adding shadows to our subject allows the viewer to identify the dimension and texture of the subject.

Light and shadow isn’t always a good thing; harsh shadows aren’t always flattering for human subjects, and usually a cloudy day, such as in the first photograph, would be more aesthetically pleasing on a person.

We can’t control natural light, but we can be aware of weather conditions and the type of light we can expect at different periods of the day.

ISO Illustrated (or How I Learned To Not Fear The Noise)

Back in film days there were two things you could change on the fly to adjust your exposure, you could change the shutter speed, which determines how long you let light expose on the film, and the aperture size, which determines how much light is let in at one time and then hits the film.

Films had different sensitivities to light, also called “ISO” (or “ASA”). For argument sake, I’ll state that changing the ISO on film cameras was not something you could do “on the fly”.

Then along came digital cameras, and they also had the concept of ISO, which was a simulation of film sensitivity via how sensitive the sensor of the camera was to light.

As a photographer you may be used to changing the aperture and shutter speed to get the proper exposure. But what if you are shooting in a low light situation, you have your aperture wide open (say f2.8), and to get a proper exposure, you are shooting at 1/15 of a second. You’ll find that as things move, including the natural shake of your hand, the pictures come out blurry.

So instead of shooting at 1/15 of a second, you can bump your ISO from the default of 100 or 200, to a higher number, like 400, 800, or 1600, etc., and speed up your exposure to something more manageable, such as 1/60 of a second.

Every “doubling” of the ISO value doubles the brightness of the image, which is one “stop” brighter.

So for example if you are shooting at a fixed aperture of 2.8, and shooting at 1/60sec (a decent speed for hand holding your camera and not getting blur, most of the time), then increasing your ISO from 200 to 400 doubles the brightness of your image; and ISO 800 is twice as bright as ISO 400, etc., etc.

To summarize using an example, you are shooting indoors at a concert, and you can’t go any wider on your aperture (let’s say your lens goes to 2.8, and you are set to 2.8), and your shutter speed can’t go any slower without your hand shaking blurring the exposure, and your photos are coming out too dark, then your only option is to bump up the ISO.

The downside of bumping up the ISO is that you introduce noise. Noise is seen similar to grain in film cameras, but I would say it’s not as pleasant.

Fortunately today’s modern DSLRs are pretty good at keeping down the noise. The better the DSLR (usually meaning more $$), the better it is at handling noise.

I shoot with a Nikon D90 and a Nikon D40x. The Nikon D90 is fabulous at higher ISOs. I can shoot at ISO 800 reliably with little noise, and can shoot up to ISO 6400. ISO 1600 – 3200 has a fair bit of noise, but the pictures are still usable, particularly if you use a noise reduction software (such as Adobe Lightroom or Nik DeNoise), or convert to black and white. If you convert to black and white, the noise looks more like film grain.

Pro cameras such as the Nikon D700 and D3 handle noise even better. That’s why you pay the big bucks.

My D40x is an entry level DSLR, and the noise is pretty bad at ISOs higher than 400.

Here are some sample images of the D90 shooting in minimal lighting conditions. I shot by an LED light, shooting in manual mode at aperture f1.8 and shutter speed 1/250s. Each photograph represents one stop of ISO sensitivity. You’ll see that the photos start pretty dark, and as the ISO increases, the brightness of the photo increases, along with noise levels (look in the dark areas and within the solid colour areas for weird patterns of incorrect colour), and loss of detail. I think up to ISO 800 is very good, and ISO 1600 to maybe even 3200 is usable. Note I haven’t run any noise reduction software on these photos – when I say “usable” at 1600, I mean after cleaning up with noise reduction.

You’ll see that if I wanted a fast shutter speed to freeze action (1/250s), and I have my aperture at it’s widest (f1.8), that ISO 200 is just too dark. If I don’t have the option of slowing down my shutter, I can increase my ISO to a brighter image. ISO 200 is too dark, and I’d say ISO 6400 is getting too bright. ISO 800 and 1600 is about right, with acceptable levels of noise to work with.

Please let me know if you have any comments or questions. If you want to share links with the ISO experiments from your DSLR (read: Canon users), I would love to see the results. Just take a picture of the same object in manual mode in reasonably low light, with a fixed shutter speed and aperture, while increasing the ISO by doubling it each time.

Click on the image to zoom in to see the detail and noise. (Click on the image again to zoom in).

ISO 200
ISO 400
ISO 800
ISO 1600
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

Lightroom 3 and my workflow

I do most of my “darkroom” workflow with Adobe Lightroom (version 3). Adobe Lightroom is a very powerful and cost effective application that manages your photo library (think database), and also has very effective photo editing capabilities.

Let me break down the application into it’s five modules, and I will also quickly describe my workflow with Lightroom. The five modules are: Library, Develop, Slideshow, Web, Print.

My workflow always starts with Import to Library, Library workflow, Develop workflow, and optionally Web or Print functions.


If you don’t use any software to manage your pictures, and you take as many pictures as I do, relying on your Operating System to find pictures is not an option. For example, let’s say I want to find all the pictures of my son, or all the pictures of people that I like enough to put into my portfolio. With thousands of pictures on your computer, browsing folder by folder would be daunting.

Lightroom manages your files both at the Operating System level (file system), and at a logical level via Collections.  Let me illustrate. After taking pictures, I put my SD memory card into my computer (via card reader). I then go to Lightroom’s Import Dialog. The dialog allows me to tell it where to put the files, auto naming it by date if I desire (I do), and allow me to quickly choose development presets and keywords.

Keywords are key to finding pictures again, as you can search by keyword (eg. “River”, “Model”, “Daughter”, “Sunset”), and you can even create smart collections based on keywords.

In the Library module, you can see a tree view of your computer’s folders and images; you also see the Collections, which are the logical folders you create. A photo can be a part of one or more collections, and collections can be “smart” – i.e. find photos based on criteria you provide it.

In my workflow, I have a Collection set called “Complete”, and a Collection set called “Work in progress”. These “sets” contain my collections. (Collections can be hierarchical, like folders in your computer file system).

When I add a large quantity of photos, I will create a collection under the “Work In Progress” set. Within that collection, I will make a sub collection called “picks”, which will contain all of the pictures I have flagged to indicate that I like them.

I then go through the pictures I like, and choose my favourites amongst the ones that are similar (or near identical). These go into my “selects” sub collection.

I then start developing the “selects”.

The keys to the Library module are the different representation of your photo storage: physical (file system) versus logical (collecti0ns, collection sets and smart collections).

The Library module manages your metadata (keywords and camera settings). It also allows you to tag images by colour flag, by rating (1 to 5), or by “pick” or “reject”. I mostly use “pick” or “reject” to sort through my images, and I use the colour flags to indicate “processed” and “exported” (e.g. to web).


The develop module allows you to do common photo development and correction, such as converting to black and white, fixing colours and exposure, minor blemish touch up, etc. This description definitely understates how powerful the develop module is; however for advanced editing, such as the need of a “clone brush” for certain photos, or if layers are required, another photo editor, such as Photoshop, is required. Lightroom integrates with Photoshop naturally.

In my workflow, for serious editing, I export photos to Photoshop Elements. Once I am finished editing in Elements, I will re-import the adjusted image back into Lightroom.

Other external editors that I export to from Lightroom include Photomatix, for HDR images (merging 3 images of different exposures), and Topaz plug-ins. I’ve discussed Photomatix in a previous post. Topaz plug-ins are very powerful plugins that provide “filter” effects, such as detail enhancement, colour modifications, and noise reduction. Oh did I mention that Lightroom 3 has superb noise reduction capability too?

Lightroom allows you to specify external editors, and being able to open a photo for editing in other editors right from the Lightroom interface is invaluable to my workflow.


The slideshow module allows you to create slideshows of your pictures. I don’t use this much, but it’s a cool feature should I ever want a slideshow. 😀


This module allows you to publish photos to your website for your portfolio or for customers. This is so easy and powerful, you have to see it to believe it. There are a few templates you can choose from, and Lightroom will automatically create the webpage and upload it to your website (provided you give it the right login information).

There are other great web templates you can download for free and for purchase. I personally like the templates from the Turning Gate (


The print module is a powerful print engine that allows you to layout and print (with many options) your photos. Since I mostly outsource my printing, this module is rarely used in my workflow.


While this isn’t a module per se, exporting is a huge part of my workflow. With many available plugins available for Lightroom, I can easily export photos to Flickr (a photo sharing site) or Facebook, with my favourite settings remembered. You can see many of the images I have exported from Lightroom in my Flickr stream: