Learn Photo Techniques from Others by Viewing the Photo EXIF Information

When taking a digital photograph, many cameras capture a lot of good information that can help you learn what kinds of modes were used on the camera, allowing you to get a sense of what lens was used and what settings were used in the photograph. This information is called the EXIF (Exchangeable Image File) information.

In some cameras, you can even embed a copyright right into the EXIF, so that when someone views the information available to them, you can have them see who the original creator of the photo was as well.

There are a number of cool plugins that can give you the information without having to download the file to study it further. One of my favorites is Opanda IExif for Firefox, a plugin that is embedded into your right-click menu on Firefox. When you right click on any image on a web page, you will get the option to view EXIF information, if available, like this:

Opanda IExif in Firefox Right Click Menu

When I click on the “View Exif/GPS/IPTC with Exif” option, the following information is available to me:

Opanda IExif Information

As you can tell, this is just a subset of the information that the IExif information provides. If you took a look at all of it, you would know that I used a Nikon D70 camera and did some touchups in Adobe Photoshop CS2 on September 12th, 2005.

But the most important information a photographer can take from the image is shown in the screenshot above, which I will explain here:

  • Date Time Original: While this is not necessarily important for most shots that you’ll take, in this case, it showed that the photo was taken at night and the light available to me was minimal. Consequently, I had to use the following information:
  • ExposureProgram: Shutter Priority. I chose to have the camera automatically adjust its settings based on the amount of time the shutter was open for the shot, especially given that the photo was taken at night. In other words, I manually adjusted the amount of time I wanted the camera to photograph for (shutter), and it automatically adjusted the aperture setting. (Other pertinent “exposure” modes are Aperture Priority or Manual Mode.)
  • ExposureTime: 8″means that I took an 8 second exposure. Since it was dark, I needed to keep my shutter open as long as possible for enough light to hit the lens. Naturally, I had a tripod with me.
  • F Number: This is also known as Aperture. Even though I shot in Shutter Priority (and the the aperture was randomly assigned), the camera understood that I needed a wide enough aperture (while not too wide to give too much depth-of-field) to achieve the shot I was aiming for. In the specific photo (the WTC Memorial on September 11, 2005), I used what Bryan Peterson, renowned author of the world-famous book (and a must-read for new photographers), Understanding Exposure (aff), calls a “who cares” aperture, because I was primarily interested in the lights in the distance (or “infinity”). The particular aperture opening for the amount of light that was available at the time is important, because if I shot at F22 (a very small aperture), I would have ended up having to hold the shutter open a lot longer, which was actually tough for the shot I took since so many people were walking by!
  • ISOSpeedRatings: This is simply the ISO I shot with at the time. I used ISO 200 (the lowest on a D70) which was perfectly fine because I was using a tripod.

You can also see in the EXIF information that I also embedded the copyright message into the photo.If you cannot, for whatever reason, use Opanda IExif, I recommend Irfanview, which I have written about earlier. Irfanview also displays EXIF information. Simply open a photo and then press I (for Information) and then E (for EXIF), or go to the Image menu, select Information, and click on EXIF. You will see a similar amount of information:

Irfanview EXIF Information

I touched upon earlier that this information is not always available. Some photographers, unfortunately, don’t want to share how they achieved a certain shot. EXIF information is generally stripped when a photographer uses a program like Photoshop and chooses to “Save for Web.” While that does make the photo a lot smaller, the EXIF information gets taken away as well by default. Also, the EXIF information is helpful, but it won’t take into account other equipment that was used, such as strobes and the like. It is definitely useful information but should not be used by itself to “reproduce” another’s image technique.

Since I’m primarily a Windows user, I don’t know what EXIF applications are available to Mac users, but I’d love to know if there are any. Can someone provide me with some tools in the comments?

Photo of the Day: 5 0′Clock World

5 0′Clock World taken by thepres6 on Flickr

Photo of the Day: Pasta Jar

Pasta Jar by nickphotos on Flickr

Photo of the Day: Metropolis Crosses

Metropolis Crosses (All rights reserved)

Photo of the day: Metropolis Crosses by Garron Nicholls on Flickr

The Canon EOS 40D Rumors are Circulating

Rumor has it that the Canon EOS 40D is on its way; there is an empty page on Canon’s Hong Kong website for the 40D. Keep watching this space for news as it develops.

The rumor first came out in September of 2006 (for a purported September 26th unveiling), and the 40D is assumed to have a 10.1 megapixel sensor, an anti-dust feature, 2.5″ LCD, 9 focus points, 5 frames per second, and CompactFlash memory slots.

Do you think it will look like the camera below?

Canon EOS 40D

[Details and image via fosfor gadgets.]

Black and White Conversion in Photoshop CS2

A lot of folks have often asked me how to achieve a dynamic black and white result from a color photo. The problem is that when you just strip a color photograph of its RGB (red/green/blue) elements, the resulting photo is often boring — but there’s so much more potential for it. One of the greatest black and white conversion techniques takes a lot of practice but gives you a lot of control over your black and white photo (as if you’d think this wasn’t possible) and was created by a friend of mine, Daniel Diaz. Please see Daniel’s gallery for some of his amazing photos that utilize this technique.

With permission, I have provided the “Daniel Diaz BW Technique,” a tutorial on how to complete this conversion (below). I would love to see how you use it.

The Daniel Diaz Black and White Conversion Technique (Requires Photoshop CS2 or similar)

Here we start with a color photo in PSCS2. It’s my wife’s eye, just for fun.

Photo of Eye in Photoshop

The next step we do is choose Image>Adjustments>Channel Mixer

Channel Mixer in Photoshop

When the Channel mixer table opens, click the monochrome box. The default setting is below.

You can adjust these three sliders to your liking, but try to make the total amount equal to 100%.

Click OK when you’re finished.

Select Monochrome on Photoshop

Now we go to selective color mode by choosing Image>Adjustments>Selective Color

Choose Selective Color in Photoshop

Now change the color to black and adjust the black level to your liking. Repeat the process with the white and neutral colors.

Adjust Black Level in Photoshop

If you don’t want the “coarse” version, you can finish this off with some contrast, otherwise proceed. [STOP here if you are happy!]

Here we duplicate the layer by right clicking the background layer and choosing Duplicate Layer.

Duplicate Layer in Photoshop

Now go to Filter>Other>High Pass

High Pass in Photoshop

Slide the radius slider to a level that suits your liking.

Photoshop High Pass Settings

Now change the background layer mode to either Hard Light or Overlay (I personally like Hard Light better).

Hard Light or Overlay

Now reduce the Opacity of this layer to an acceptable level, I chose 35% here.

Reduce Opacity of Level in Photoshop

Go to Layer>Merge Visible.

Merge Visible Layers in Photoshop

Here’s a little unknown secret, go to Filter>Other>Custom.

Custom Filter on Photoshop

Don’t touch anything but OK.

Custom Filter Settings

Now go to Edit>Fade Custom, I chose 15%, see below picture.

Fade Custom Photoshop

Now we finish off with a Contrast adjustment Image>Adjustments>Brightness/Contrast.

Slide the Contrast to your liking.

Adjust Brightness and Contrast in Photoshop

All done!

Thanks Daniel for this awesome technique!

To see some of Daniel’s photos that utilize this technique, please visit his photo gallery.

Photo of the Day: OHhhhhhhhhh

OHhhhhhhhhh by Milena Trevisani on Flickr

Getting the Best of Your Camera: Recommended Books for During and After the Shot

Pile of BookEvery photographer needs to start somewhere. Often it is by experimentation. Other times, learning comes from reading, reading, and more reading. Certainly, blogs are helpful, but ultimately, a photographer with much desire often finds himself/herself in bed at night, reading a good book on photography technique or aperture and shutter speed.

What you end up learning can be quite valuable, and I’ve provided a list of books of recommended photography books to improve upon your skills in a variety of areas.

Beginner Photography

  • Understanding Exposure (aff) by Bryan Peterson: This book is key and the ultimate beginner’s book to SLR photography. Peterson uses this extremely well illustrated book to explore how to achieve proper exposures, particularly in the areas of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.
  • Nature Photography Field Guide by John Shaw: A good beginner’s guide to photographic principles especially how it relates to nature photography.
  • The Negative by Ansel Adams: While this book does not touch upon much digital photography, it does explain a lot of important aspects of good exposure.
  • Photography by Barbara London and John Upton: Many photography classes use this textbook as it provides a solid photographic technical background.
  • The Basic Book of Photography by Tom and Michelle Grimm: This book is an excellent beginner’s guide, though it also does not have much coverage on digital photography.
  • Complete Digital Photography by Ben Long: This is another more recent textbook used in photography classes. It covers just about everything, from capturing to storing to printing photographs.
  • John Hedgecoe’s Complete Guide to Photography by John Hedgecoe: This book consists of easy-to-digest techniques in short chapters.

Beyond the Basics

  • Learning to See Creatively by Bryan Peterson: Gives some wonderful exercises on how to develop a photographic vision.
  • The A-Z of Creative Digital Photography by Lee Frost: From every letter of the alphabet, there’s a unique creative way to manipulate your pictures. I personally own the earlier The A-Z of Creative Photography book and have found it particularly helpful. I’m excited to see what additions are integrated into the digital edition.
  • The Photographer’s Guide to Filters also by Lee Frost, discusses the variety of filters you may want to use with your SLR lenses and why they would be particularly beneficial.
  • Beyond Portraiture: Creative People Photography by Bryan Peterson: Capturing people’s everyday emotions and actions is an exciting element of photography and can produce some pretty amazing results.
  • Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape by Galen A. Rowell: For those photographers interested in landscape, particularly mountain, photography, Rowell takes the reader on an excursion to a variety of different places at higher altitudes and tells you how he created the photo.
  • Spirit of Place: The Art of the Travelling Photographer by Bob Krist: A book for photographers on photography while traveling who are recommended to often engage with the surroundings rather than just sightsee.
  • The Art of Outdoor Photography by Boyd Norton: This book for outdoor photography is tailored to the amateur to the professional, though it falls somewhere in between. The book discusses more technical aspects as well.
  • Closeups in Nature by John Shaw: If you prefer macro (closeup) photography, this book by John Shaw is a great read. Note that the last print copy was from 1987 so the technique is not necessarily up-to-date.

Post-Processing Images (Adobe Photoshop CS2, Photoshop Elements 5, and Nikon Capture NX)

Printing

  • Mastering Digital Printing by Harald Johnson: This is the highly regarded printing book for those opting to print their digital photographs at home.

Buy a book or two or three after considering the reviews by other readers. Take some time every day to read a little more and experiment on your technique or seek out an improved photo editing process. By dedicating this time with the goal in mind to learn from some of the acknowledged photography experts, you will pick up greater insights and hopefully produce even better photographs.

Photo of the Day: acorn

Acorn on Flickr

Photo of acorn taken by marko_k on Flickr

Aquarium Shooting Anyone?

Today’s blog post is another great contribution from Chris Manacop about the challenges of shooting through glass in an aquarium.

longbeachaquarium 161

Let’s face it. Shooting inside an aquarium in not the most ideal place to be shooting. There are many factors that we as photographers are challenged with. Overcoming these challenges can prove to be a tad difficult. Some are even out of our control.

Challenges

  1. Glare from The Glass
  2. Dark Surrounding, poor lighting
  3. Murky waters
  4. Creatures will not sit still

Certainly, these are not all the challenges which lie before the photographer who dares to shoot in an aquarium. You also have to deal with children running around, pushy parents, and limited working space.

When dealing with glare from the glass, you can use a circular polarizer (CP). I don’t advise this because by nature it is already a low-light situation. A CP drops exposure a tad and you need as much light as you can get. A simple fix to this would be shooting at an angle in which you don’t see the glare. Move up and down and look through the viewfinder until you see a view in which the glare is eliminated. At this point, stop and take the picture (this is considering you cocked glocked and ready to rock … I mean, you’re all metered up and exposure is good).

Bringing your flash can be impractical in this setting. If there was space between the tanks I suppose you can light it from the side, but most aquariums don’t have gaps where you can set up your gear. Also, it would be difficult because of the busy atmosphere to actually have a full flash setup going, not to mention you will probably freak the animals out. Dealing with the poor lighting has a multiple-step solution. First, a fast lens really helps. The faster the better. You want to be able to shoot at shutter speed that is fast as possible because these animals generally move and it could be a blurry mess. In my case, I chose the beloved thrifty fifty (Nikon 50mm f1.8d). It’s very light and very fast, and I was shooting at f1.8-2.8. Generally the 2.8 shots yielded better clarity.

longbeachaquarium 101

Here, I dropped the f-stop and turned the other critters into bokeh.

Next, you will need a steadying device. A tripod would preferably work extremely well, but in this atmosphere, it might not work out so well. Generally space is limited and you don’t really want to be hogging up all kinds of space. I chose to use a monopod because it gave me some stability while keeping it compact and within my personal space.

For metering mode, I tried the different metering modes that were on my Nikon D50 and I ended up settling on spot metering. Sometimes, when there was one animal in the tank, I just spot metered for it. In Matrix metering the images tend to be dark due to the darkness of the tank.

longbeachaquarium 168

I couldn’t do much about the water here but I spot metered this jellyfish.

Even with a fast lens, you will likely be metering at around 1-second exposures. This may not seem long but in actuality its pretty long because the animals are always moving. The movement will cause an unpleasing motion blur. On my D50 I cranked the ISO up to 800. On a D50, ISO 800 is still fairly clean so I was not too concerned about the noise. This gave me a shutter speed of around 1/10-1/40 which is a little slow but fast enough to catch these little critters.

As far as the murky waters and animal movement, I unfortunately can’t help too much there. You should just hope the animals did not have an “irregular day” so the tank is not so dirty.

This was my favorite photo of the day

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