Feature Photograph

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This weeks feature photograph is significant because it’s all about light.  I’m going to share with you how I captured this image and under what circumstances, and then in the learning topic below take you step by step through it’s processing.  You might already have images on your computer which could benefit from these steps and be turned into really nice images, but until now you’ve not considered them because you didn’t know what was beneath the surface.

Two years ago I found myself with my Canon 5d and 24-105/4 IS lens atop a hill in Pattaya snapping pictures of the bay with a friend.  The 5d at the time was my small camera and I’d carry it in my knapsack ready for whatever interesting presented itself.  This was the very late afternoon and the sky had already turned black.  If you took an “accurate” picture of the bay at this time you’d get a black sky, boats with lights, buildings with lights, etc. .and I took some just like this.  Looking over at my friend enjoying the view I noticed the subtle light coming from the sodium filled street lights filtering on her face.  You really had to look because these lights are anything but directional and bright.

A future learning topic will cover how even after the sky is black to the naked eye, to the camera sensor its often full of amazing colors just waiting to be captured.  Knowing this and watching her enjoy the view I decided to try something unique.  I wanted to “overexpose” the black sky for color, while also capturing more of the street light falling on her face through the same longer shutter speed needed through the sky.  I also wanted a fairly detailed image, sharp, and something that could be enlarged to at least 11x14”.  The 5d was the perfect camera for this particular setting because it performs very well in low light with high ISOs and very high ISOs was exactly what I needed to achieve the settings necessary for my visions.

I stopped the lens down to F5.6, set the ISO to 1600, and the shutter speed to 1/10th which is possible with image stabilization if you’re very careful and brace properly.  Without the capabilities of ISO 1600 I would never have been able to use the F5.6 and 1/10th necessary for the image detail/sharpness and perfect exposure.  The street light imitated a studio strobe with an attached softbox, and provided an almost perfect directional light that highlighted her face, eyes, and at the same time back lighted the contour of her face.  A technique I often use in the studio for high-end portraits.  But this time I was outdoors, performing ad-hoc, and only had a simple camera and lens.

I’m sure you’re asking yourself “well, at ISO 1600 the image must be very noisy (heavy grain) and show little detail when zoomed in” and most often you would be right.  But by nailing the correct exposure (in this case by less than 1/3rd of a stop) you drastically reduce the noise and proper technique ensures you get all the sharpness possible from your equipment.  Look at a crop of the face below.

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The finished image shows very little noise and a fair amount of detail.  You can even see the pores in her skin, individual eyelashes, and stray hairs.  Not quite the quality you’d get in the studio under perfect conditions and shooting at ISO 100, but still very good.

Next time you’re out there taking pictures, even in the dark, don’t be afraid to run the variables through your head and think outside the box.  You just might “see” an image most wouldn’t.  This type of image will often be the ones that please you the most.  Read the learning topic below to see how this image was processed.