A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Blurry Backgrounds in Portraits
Just starting out in photography and want to learn how to blur your backgrounds when shooting portraits? Here’s a 4-minute video from Sheldon Evans that looks at how you can create a beautiful bokeh in your photos.
A soft background, or bokeh, is achieved by using a shallow depth of field. This comes from using a lens with a large maximum aperture (indicated by a low f-number like f/2.8).
The smaller the f-number, the shallower the depth of field you can achieve. This shot was taken at a very wide f/1.4 aperture:
The same scene shot at f/14 shows a lot more of the scene in focus as the depth of field is now larger:
But it’s not all about the size of your aperture: a lens’ focal length matters too. A longer focal length will create a shallower depth of field when compared at a constant f-number.
If the background is further from your subject, then you’ll see a nicer bokeh effect too.
This is Cassini’s Last Photo of Saturn After 13 Years in Orbit
On September 15, 2017, NASA’s Cassini space probe plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere and burned up, concluding its mission after 13 years in orbit. Two days earlier, Cassini used its wide-angle cameras and captured this beautiful final photo of the planet it had studied for over a decade.
NASA writes that Cassini spent two hours shooting a total of 80 wide-angle photos of Saturn during this planetary photo shoot. 42 of those 80 photos, shot using red/green/blue spectral filters, were combined and stitched as a mosaic to create the final natural-color photo.
“This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 15 degrees above the ring plane,” NASA says. “Cassini was approximately 698,000 miles (1.1 million kilometers) from Saturn, on its final approach to the planet, when the images in this mosaic were taken.”
Moment Counterweights Let You Use Lenses with the DJI Osmo Mobile
Moment, the company behind premium smartphone add-on lenses, has just unveiled new counterweights for the DJI Osmo Mobile stabilizer. They make the Osmo Mobile the first gimbal that supports attachable lenses.
Until this release by Moment, you weren’t able to use the attachable lenses with the DJI Osmo Mobile (or any other similar stabilizer) as the gimbal would not be able to balance the weight properly. These new counterweights solve this problem.
The weights are available in two different sizes, 50 grams and 100 grams (1.8 oz and 3.5 oz), to accommodate different setups. The 100-gram version is for “Plus sized” phones, and the 50-gram version will accommodate all other smartphones.
They are clipped securely onto the arm of the DJI Osmo Mobile and are easily attached and detached.
Once they’re installed, you’ll be able to use Moment’s lenses on your smartphone to shoot photos and videos at different focal lengths.
Here’s an introductory 7-minute video into the counterweights from Moment:
The Moment counterweights are available for pre-order at $40 each through the company’s website, and shipping will begin on December 11th, 2017.
How One Photographer’s Camera Saved Him from Loneliness
Photographer Ryan Pfluger says he uses photography “as a means for therapy and connection.” In this 12-minute talk he recently gave at TEDxPasadena, Pfluger shares an inspirational insight into how photography has played a major part in bettering his life.
Pfluger has photographed many celebrities, including Obama, Angelina Jolie, and other notable figures, but that’s not what he wanted to talk about on the TEDx stage. Instead, he shares how a camera has been his only trusty companion and savior from loneliness.
Having had a difficult childhood, Pfluger says that photography was “a way for me to meet people that were outside of the safe mental bubble I had created for myself.”
When he was younger, Pfluger did not have a good relationship with his father, and it was only through his camera that he was able to strengthen that relationship. Eventually, the two even went on a road trip together.
“I was using my camera as a therapist,” says Pfluger.
A decade later, Pfluger travels alone with his camera in the passenger seat and captures images of strangers he meets on the road. He calls this project The Day of the Lone Wolf and says he “wants everyone [he] meets to feel like their stories could be heard” — a privilege he did not have when he was younger.
Photography has a different meaning for everyone, and for some it is a trusted constant on a rocky road through life.
An Intro to Panning Your Camera for a Blurry Feeling of Speed
Looking to add some drama or action to your photos but not quite sure how? Look no further… In simple terms, camera panning (or motion tracking as some people call it) is a technique where you follow a moving subject, shooting with a slower shutter speed to create a feeling of speed or action.
If done correctly and with a little patience, you’ll be able to create some amazing images that really pull your attention to the subject and add a new dimension to your photos.
I’ve been spending quite a lot of time in London recently and occasionally take my camera with me. It’s such a busy city with people, cars, and cyclists rushing around all the time. It’s this constant feeling of motion and action that made me want to capture it as best I could.
I’ve broken down this post into a number of categories that focus on what I feel are the key elements to a successful attempt at tracking a moving subject and creating the feeling of motion.
From a technical point of view, if you’re looking to isolate your subject against a blurred background, you need a shutter speed that will allow for this. Shutter speed is the most important part of getting the desired results. If you set it too fast then chances are you will either freeze the subject altogether or the image will just look blurry and like a ‘bad photo’. The slower the shutter speed, the more chance there is that the image won’t be sharp. It’s very hard to track a subject handheld for 1/4th of a second and not lose any sharpness.
I found the best shutter speed was 1/8th or 1/10th at the slowest and about 1/20th at the fastest. If you’re tracking a subject that’s moving really fast then you’ll be able to use a faster shutter speed and still create the same effect.
It’s important that you balance the exposure properly. When shooting with a slow shutter speed, you always run the risk of allowing too much light into the camera and overexposing the image. Here’s where the ISO and aperture come into play: they’re not overly important in the look and feel of the image but they will play a part in ensuring your image is exposed properly.
It will usually take a couple of test shots to get your settings right, but a general rule is the lighter it is, the lower your ISO and the smaller your aperture (represent by a higher f/ number). The opposite applies when it’s starting to get a bit dark: you’ll want to increase your ISO and widen your aperture (smaller f/ number).
As an example, if it was quite bright, you might be shooting at ISO 100 and f/16. If it’s darker, you might use ISO 400 and f/2.8.
So your camera’s set up and you’re ready to start taking photos. All you need now is a location. You can create these images pretty much anywhere so long as there’s a moving subject, and naturally there will be places that are better suited. When you’re first starting out you’ll probably want to practice the technique a few times so you want to make sure there’s a steady flow of subjects moving by.
This is why London worked so well for me, as there’s literally traffic everywhere and because it’s so busy and there are so many tourists taking photos you’ll feel pretty relaxed and inconspicuous, allowing you to get the best results and not worry about people questioning you!
I took most of mine in central London, around Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. These locations are great because there’s often a lot of artificial light in the background which can add streaks of colorful light to the image, further creating a feeling of motion and action.
I’ve also found that finding a spot where the subject will remain parallel to you is important and allows for much better results. Think of a roundabout or corner — the subject is moving but the distance to yourself should remain fairly constant, therefore you’re more likely to get a sharper image. If you’re tracking a car or bike that’s moving towards you, you’ll find that during the exposure it moves out of focus.
Found a good location? Got your camera set up? Perfect, let’s start taking some photos. Firstly, it goes without saying that to get the best results you want to pan the camera and track your subject as smoothly as possible. Some people will prefer to use a monopod and others find that handheld works best. I’ve got a pretty steady hand so I’m happy shooting handheld.
The technique I use is pretty simple: I’ll keep an eye out for a subject that looks appropriate and isn’t obstructed by other cars or foreground details, then I’ll watch it approach through the viewfinder on my camera. This is where I’ll get a good indication of the subjects speed. I’ll try and track it for a few seconds as accurately as possible before releasing the shutter, and then continue after the exposure to ensure a smooth movement throughout.
When tracking the subject, I’ll always try to keep my arms and wrists as steady as possible and rotate with my hips — I find that manages to keep everything pretty still.
I shot all of these photos using either my 50mm or 85mm prime lenses. They’re nice and light which helps me keep the camera steady. You can achieve these results using most focal lengths, but obviously it depends on how far away your subject is and what composition you’re after.
Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the results I got, and I look forward to using the technique more and seeing what other scenarios it can be used in. You should be able to get similar results using the above pointers.
About the author: Neil Wheeler is a photography enthusiast based in Hampshire in the UK. You can find more of his work and writing on his Instagram and blog. This article was also published here.
Shooting a Day-to-Night Timelapse the Cheap and Easy Way
Shooting a day-to-night time-lapse doesn’t have to be hard. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to create one of these “holy grail” timelapses the easy way.
What You’ll Need to Shoot
A camera (any camera — even a phone — will do)
A tripod or mount
A trigger/intervalometer (can be a hardware remote or controlled in camera via software)
What You’ll Need to Edit
Shooting the Photos
First, set up your camera in a secure spot and make sure it won’t move. Turn off Image Stabilization (both in camera or in lens) if you have it.
Create your composition and set up your exposure with all settings turned to Manual. You will be in control of the exposure, not the camera. White balance, ISO, shutter speed, aperture — you’re in control!
Start by overexposing slightly and let the sequence run until it is underexposed. Stop the shoot, create a new folder and repeat the process until fully dark.
Your interval will depend on where you are — 5 seconds will usually be a safe bet and is what I used.
We’ll be using Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop to organize and compile/render video files from a series of JPEG images.
Dump all your footage on a hard drive, import the contents of the hard drive into Adobe Lightroom using the ‘Add’ method and rename your folders to reflect the content accurately and in a clear manner.
I like this naming structure: date-location-shot
Open Photoshop, hit File > Open and select the first photo of a JPEG sequence, make sure to import it as a sequence (hit option, select ‘image sequence’).
Adjust the scale of your layer if needed by transforming it to fill the canvas. You can add any grading you want on top of the layer.
Hit File > Export > Render video to create your video files. Once you have your video clips (five for me in this case) hit File > Script > ‘Load files into stack’ and select the video files.
Layer them sequentially with a bit of an overlap, in the overlap you are going to add Opacity keyframes and gradually fade into the layer below. You’re effectively making the top layer invisible over a second or two revealing what is underneath.
This can be a bit fiddly and annoying to do in Photoshop so if you have Premiere or After Effects, I recommend doing it in there.
Once the layers are lined up properly hit File > Export > Render video to create your final clip.
About the author: Matthew Vandeputte is a Belgian photographer living in Sydney, Australia. He’s a professional “time warper” who shoots timelapse and hyperlapse projects for brands and tourism boards. You can find more of his work on his Instagram and YouTube.
The a7R III is the only camera that made it onto TIME’s list, coming in at #10.
“With notable improvements over its predecessor and a cheaper price than Sony’s A9 Alpha, the recently unveiled Sony Alpha A7R III stands to be one of the best mirrorless cameras ever made,” TIME writes. “It can shoot at twice the resolution of the A9 and has an autofocus that’s twice as fast as the A7R II, although it’s worth remembering that the A9 offers faster burst shooting.
“But the lower price and heightened performance are likely more than enough to impress pro and novice photographers alike.”
“[The a7R III] has received orders exceeding our expectations greatly […], ” the notice reads. “For reservations up to the release date it will be delivered in order by early December. We will do our utmost to respond to customer’s request as much as possible, so please wait for a while.”
The Sony a7R III features a 42MP full-frame backside-illuminated sensor, a 399-point AF system, 10fps shooting, 4K video, 5-axis in-body stabilization, a max ISO of 102400, dual SD card slots, and built-in Wi-Fi/Bluetooth.
Thank you for listening to the PetaPixel Photography Podcast! Connect with me, Sharky James on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (all @LensShark) as we build this community.
We’d love to answer your question on the show. Leave us an audio question through our voicemail widget, comment below or via social media. But audio questions are awesome!
You can also cut a show opener for us to play on the show! As an example: “Hi, this is Matt Smith with Double Heart Photography in Chicago, Illinois, and you’re listening to the PetaPixel Photography Podcast with Sharky James!”
How This Portrait Was Shot and Edited, From Planning to Final Photo
Photographer Francisco Hernandez has launched a new video series titled “Behind the Shot” that will document the entire process of how a photo of created, from concept to finished image. In this 12-minute video, Hernandez shares how he shot a portrait of a model named Barbie.
Hernandez originally met Barbie back in 2014 when he was just starting out. After sending out around 40 messages to photographers in search of an assistant position, Hernandez heard back from one based about an hour away. It was at the first shoot with the photographer that Hernandez met Barbie, and this is one of the portraits that resulted then:
Earlier this year, Barbie contacted Hernandez and asked if he would be able to do a portrait shoot. She suggested a location, and Hernandez agreed after taking a look at it through Google Street View. Barbie also selected her own outfit and did her own makeup.
Since he was planning to expose for the sky, Hernandez had an assistant hold a reflector to illuminate the darker shadows in the shot.
Here’s what a first straight-out-of-camera test shot looked like without any lighting on the model:
After adding in the light and reflector, Hernandez found that placing the octobox 3.5 feet away was too far and didn’t illuminate his subject well despite being at full power.
When Hernandez moved the octobox to about a foot away and the reflector closer as well, here’s what resulted (the straight out of camera shot without the octobox cloned out from the upper left hand corner):
Hernandez boosted exposure and brought down highlights (to prevent the sky from stealing attention from the model).
After more adjustments in Lightroom, this is what resulted:
Finally, Hernandez did more detailed edits and cleaned up the image in Photoshop. Here’s the final portrait that was created from the shoot:
Watch the videos above to watch Hernandez discuss the changes that were made to the image at each step of post-processing. You can also follow along with Hernandez’s new series in this YouTube playlist.
On ‘Making It’ as a Photographer, or: What if Your House Burned Down?
What if your house burned down? Have you still “made it” as a photographer?
3 weeks ago I was sitting, much as I do now, winding down on a Saturday evening, finding some time to write a newsletter and blog post. I had just released an image shot for Kohler, a company whose advertising I had wanted to be a part of for a long time, and wanted to write something around this image and the process to create it.
Earlier in the day, I had listened to comedian Bill Burr being interviewed on Tim Ferriss’ podcast. A good laugh, as always with Bill Burr, balanced by Tim’s prodding for life lessons.
At one point, they talked about accomplishments and the idea of “making it.” Bill Burr had bought a house and said to his wife “I know you are not supposed to say this, but… I made it!”
He continues, “There’s a sickness in this business of: if you think you made it, you’re going to relax and then it’s all going to go away!
“No! I tell jokes for a living and I bought a house. I MADE IT!”
The stigma is that one can’t, as a photographer or creative, say or admit that you have made it. The second you do, you relax and lose your drive and creativity… I can so relate, and Bill Burr’s thoughts lingered with me as I started writing.
Shooting for Kohler was a long time goal of mine creatively and by Bill Burr’s standard of buying a house, I have “made it” several times over.
So have I really “made it?”
I settled in that evening reflecting on what I had accomplished as a photographer and the blog post shifted to words about goals and the acknowledgment of reaching them. Of pausing and being content for a moment rather than going straight into the chase of creating another image or landing the next assignment.
That was my Saturday 4 weeks ago.
That Sunday night, we were woken up by flashlights shining into our bedroom window and our neighbor shouting that the hillsides were on fire. We packed our essentials and got out.
That was October 8th.
The weeks since have been indescribable. The fires around Sonoma and Napa in California, where we live, burned more than 100,000 acres. Lives were lost and neighborhoods left in ashes. One of my best friends and 5 of our neighbors lost their homes. It is devastating.
There are many emotions around the 17 days we were in mandatory evacuation. My perspective on having “made it” as an artist has shifted during the past weeks, and I wanted to finish the blog I started and get back to Bill Burr and his benchmark of having made it.
I have learned that a home is absolutely no measure of having “made it” as a creative. The truth is, we never “make it”. We just keep making.
I now know this to be the truth.
After we left our house that morning I got a chance to go back to grab a few items. I had a shortlist from Andrea; Journals, some jewelry, and some additional clothes for our 3-month-old daughter. The main item for me was my server rack containing all my work as a photographer. I ripped it out of the office and by sheer adrenaline got it into the car.
I hosed down the house with water and walked through it one last time. I grabbed a few small items as I passed them and unhinged a few framed prints by Nadav Kander, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Mario Testino, Alexi Lubomirski, and a few others.
In these moments, I was strangely okay with the house being gone. I knew then that this house was no measure and had nothing to do with who I am, my self-worth, or how much or little I have accomplished as a photographer.
I’m sharing this, as I believe it can help a lot of young photographers starting out. And Bill Burr for that matter.
I know there are a lot of talented photographers who have given up on photography. Making a living taking pictures is as competitive as it gets, and a long endeavor if you choose to take it on.
What makes this process even harder is the social demands for immediate success.
But what if there was no monetary measure attached to successfully creating?
What if there was no pressure of even being good at it?
What if we would proudly call ourselves photographers without making money doing it?
I believe this paradigm would keep photographers in the game long enough to break through to the side of success!
As I was starting out I was embarrassed to call myself a photographer. In my heart, I was one, but my job was to be another photographer’s assistant, carrying his gear. It took a long time for me to proclaim that I was a photographer.
Why is it so darn hard for us artists/comedians/photographers to confidently identify with what we do early on?
Why can’t we just claim our photographer (or comedian) title right out of the gate and then just slowly go about creating? Why do we have to “make it” before we can proudly claim our title?
I believe any young photographer would increase his success rate 10X if there were a detachment between creating and success. If the bar of “making it” was set so that one would never fail there would be nothing to “give up on”. It would only be the process of continually creating and as that continual creating would go on, success would only be a question of time.
Experiencing the certainty of losing my home and how that realization affected me created a shift in my perspective on success and what having “made it” is.
In no particular order, and without being right for everyone, here’s a work in progress short list of what now resonates with me and the idea of “making it”:
If you keep your focus on creating, you have made it.
If doing what you do expands you and fills you up, you have made it.
If you crave creating every day, you have made it.
If you are excited about what you just created and even more excited to improve upon it, you have made it.
If you are proud to show your work, you have made it.
If you found an expression that consistently expresses who you are, you have made it.
If you have done the above so consistently your expression starts to recognize itself, you have made it.
If you question why and how and who and explore this through your work, you have made it.
So my shift and lesson is this:
You can celebrate your successes like Bill Burr, but don’t attach them to an event, a monetary item or any other social measure of success. This will yield nothing but downward pressure and distractions to the significance of creating something which deeply resonates with your being.
It will leave you feeling like you are coming up short every time. Which, in turn, will make you want to give up…
3.5 of our 5 acres of land burned and the firefighters stopped the fire just a few feet away from our home. I’m glad our house is standing. I’m also glad I had this experience and deeply realize the house is without significance when it comes to who I am as a creative. My “I have made it” has nothing to do with a fancy car or a home, but to every day do what expands me and fills me up.
I will remind myself of this going forward. I will worry less and create more because of it.
And if there are any up and coming photographers or other creatives reading this; please worry less about achieving success and focus on the items on my “having made it” list above. You will then achieve your success…
Like Steve Jobs said: “Stay foolish, stay hungry!”
A few side notes…
It is an archetypal event to build or buy a home. I’m by no means diminishing this fact. In short, I’m saying to not attach anything to your self-worth as a creator. Instead, focus on creating and consistency, and measure yourself against your own progress.
The word hero gets thrown around a lot. I have not fully understood, or felt, what a true hero was till now. The fire firefighters and individuals who fought the fires in Napa and Sonoma are my heroes. These men and women will all be my heroes forever.
The Kohler assignment was an extraordinary one. We started with the design of the dress. The fabric, color, pattern, and form was designed for the shoot and sown to fit the model. This design informed all the other elements and creative choices of the image.
I absorbed the fact that the house would burn with a strange detachment. The news that it had survived however brought big tears of relief and gratitude. My heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to those less fortunate.
About the author: Erik Almas is a California-based advertising photographer who travels around the world shooting for clients like Kohler, Toyota, Puma, Nike, Hyatt, USPS, Citibank, and Amtrak. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. To see more of his work, visit his website, Facebook, and Instagram. This post was also published here.