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Photography Tips: Bug’s View

Skill Level: Intermediate

I think flowers are probably one of the most photographed subjects on this planet. They're beautiful, they're interesting, they're colorful and, most importantly, they are cooperative - they never get bored of posing and they never complain that you made them look fat.

But because these beautiful plants are so often photographed, it can be really difficult to get an original shot. Most flower photos end up looking about the same when you really break them down. That's why when I go to shoot flowers, I try to do everything but my first approach. Whatever my first inclination is in framing, composition or angle, I try to do something else. That's what led me to today's tip.

Next time you're out shooting some flowers, leave your macro lens in the bag and strap on your wide angle. With a wide angle lens and a really low point of view, you can get this really great effect of looking up towards the sky from beneath the flowers that makes you feel as if you are viewing the world through a bug's eye. Here's an example demonstrating this technique:

Not your average flower shot, eh?

It's quite simple to get this effect, but there are a few things you need to pay attention to in order to get the best shots possible. First off, as I mentioned, put on your wide angle lens. This gives that distorted, wide view that really makes the final viewer feel like they are in the picture.

Next, you have to make sure your exposure is going to come out right. You'll be shooting up into backlit flowers with the bright sky behind it. This lighting scenario is going to trick your camera into making the picture too dark if you don't do something about it. If you know how to manually meter, just lock in your exposure before you start snapping away and you'll be good to go. If you're going to shoot in Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or Program, push the exposure compensation up to something like +1.3 to +2.0 in order to make the picture brighter. Take a couple test shots to nail down the right compensation value.

Your camera's autofocus system is going to drive you nuts in this scenario. The AF can't focus on clear blue sky and it doesn't do well with backlighting, so chances are it's just going to be searching for focus nonstop and really slowing you down. So, just switch it to manual focus and pre-focus to the closest possible distance.

You'll want a pretty decent depth of field, but your wide angle lens has a big DOF as it is, so I'd recommend shooting somewhere around f/8-f/16.

Lastly is composition and how to actually take the shot. You're going to need such a low point of view that your camera will literally need to be on the ground. This won't allow you any room to look through the viewfinder, so you'll have to use the "shoot and pray" technique. Basically you will hold your camera down into the flowers, pointing upwards toward some flowers you think will make a good composition, and then just fire away. You won't see what your camera is seeing, so you'll just have to sort of guess what it's looking at and "pray" you got a good angle on it. Change your camera angle slightly between shots to cover a wider range and snap 5-10 pictures, then review on your screen to see how you're doing. After that, try an entirely new angle and composition and repeat. Shoot until you're sick of it or until the light's gone - whatever comes first.

Depending on how wide angle your lens is, you may find yourself getting some accidental self-portraits. Try to stretch away from your camera as best you can to avoid getting in the shot while you have it pushed down into the flowers.

This technique can be a little trickier than it sounds, but if you keep all the above tips in mind (especially on the exposure and auto focus), you'll do fine. It can be addictive, so go nuts! Now go out and get some new points of view on those flowers!

What is ISO and What Does ISO Mean?

What is ISO and What Does ISO Mean?The Misconception:
What does "ISO" mean? Ask anyone seemingly "in-the-know" and they'll tell you "ISO" is an initialism for "International Standards Organization" and thus it is pronounced "eye-ess-oh." Sounds pretty convincing, but this is false.

Why This is Wrong:
There is no such thing as the "International Standards Organization." Go ahead, Google it. It doesn't exist. So then what does "ISO" stand for? Nothing. It's not an initialism or an acronym.

Allow me to explain...

Here's where the confusion comes from: although there isn't an "International Standards Organization," there is an "International Organization for Standardization." The International Organization for Standardization is a corporation based in Geneva, Switzerland that sets all sorts of international standards for manufacturing and engineering, one of which is film sensitivity in photography. Their whole deal is getting the world on the same page with standard regulations, measurements, and certifications.

Then what is "ISO?" It's this company's name, that's all. No different than "Pepsi" or "Honda." But "ISO" obviously is not an initialism or acronym because the correct acronym (in English anyway) would be IOS. So then what does ISO mean? Well, it's derived from the Greek root "isos," which means "equal" - like in "isotope" and "isosceles." And if you look at the website for the International Organization for Standardization, you'll find an explanation on why they chose this Greek root instead of an acronym to represent their company (source: http://www.iso.org/iso/home/about.htm):

Because 'International Organization for Standardization' would have different acronyms in different languages (IOS in English, OIN in French for Organisation internationale de normalisation), our founders decided to give it the short form ISO. ISO is derived from the Greek isos, meaning equal. Whatever the country, whatever the language, the short form of our name is always ISO.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

The Truth:
So "ISO" is not an acronym. No doubt about that. It's just a company's logo written in all capital letters derived from the Greek root isos. And just like you wouldn't spell out "PEPSI" every time you ordered one, you shouldn't spell out "ISO" every time you talk about it. That's why "ISO" is correctly pronounced "EYE-so." No matter how many times you hear it pronounced "eye-ess-oh," and even though everybody and their mother says it "eye-ess-oh," it just simply isn't correct. Doesn't matter if a guy has been taking pictures for decades or working with ISO standards for 50 years, if he says it "eye-ess-oh," he's wrong.

And just for good measure, here's a video summarizing it all:

My Thoughts and Rants:
Alright, I'll be honest. For awhile I was guilty of thinking ISO stood for International Standards Organization and for years I pronounced it "eye-ess-oh." That was based partly on misinformation from an online resource (What?! You mean Yahoo Answers isn't always correct?) and mostly from my own assumptions. After all, it made perfect sense. But that's what happens when I assume. I make an ass out of u and me.

So I can't really fault people for saying it "eye-ess-oh." It's in all capital letters so it certainly looks like an acronym. And the majority of shooters say it that way even though it's incorrect. But hey, just goes to show you how quickly false information can become "fact."

My only rant on this is that a couple years back I saw on Yahoo Answers that someone posted a question asking what is ISO and what does ISO stand for. Some know-nothing do-gooder happily answered with "It stands for 'International Standards Organization.'" Seeing this error, I politely corrected the answer with the information I stated in this blog post. All was finally right in the world. But sure enough, a few days later I get a notification that someone has "improved" my answer. I go to check it out and some idiot changed it back to the wrong answer! 

Don't get your information from some dumb yahoo on Yahoo Answers. And don't let anyone try to correct you into saying it the wrong way. It's "EYE-so."

Everyone say it with me now: EYE-so!

 

The excellent video and audio production was done by my brother Blake Carver. Check him out at www.BlakeCarverCreative.com.

Common Misconceptions: Reading the Histogram

The Misconception:
The histogram for a correctly exposed image should not be touching the edges of the graph and should be more towards the center.

Why This is Wrong:
A histogram is simply a graphic representation of the range of tones in an image. By looking at each individual pixel, analyzing its brightness, then placing that pixel on a graph in the corresponding spot for its brightness, a histogram develops peaks and valleys that indicate when you have a large amount of a given tonality (the peaks) and a small amount of a given tonality (the valleys). Dark tones are always on the left side of the graph, light tones on the right.

For instance, this histogram indicates that the image it represents has a large amount of dark tones in the photo:

How to Read a Histogram

Here's the photo it represents:

Laguna Beach, CA

So when someone says "the histogram shouldn't be too close to the edges - you want it towards the center of the graph," they're basically saying "your image should have minimal highlights and minimal darks - the image should be largely middle-toned."

I doubt I need to point out why that logic is absurd.

Of course we want highlights and darks in our images! Sometimes we want a lot of darks or a lot of highlights! That's called contrast and it's a good thing. Without darks and lights in the image, we'd have no texture, no shadow, no light.

Most of my favorite images are very dark and would have a histogram heaviest on the left. Here's just a few:

How to Read a Histogram

How to Read a Histogram

 

How to Read a Histogram

 

Many great photos have bright, blown-out areas in the photo, which sways the histogram to the right. Like these:

How to Read a Histogram

 

How to Read a Histogram

 

So the only time you should have the histogram away from the edges and more towards the center is when you want the image to be largely middle-toned.

The Truth:
When reading a histogram, there are no hard, fast rules to follow when analyzing it. You have to look at the image it corresponds to and analyze whether or not the histogram makes sense for what you want to the image to look like. When you want the image to be dark and moody, the histogram should be towards the left. When you want that bright, airy feel, it should be heavy on the right.

If you want to create a silhouette, your histogram better damn well be smashed up along the left edge of the graph. When you have pixels butted up against the left side, that means you have complete blacks in the image. Since silhouettes should be completely black, the histogram should be touching the left side.

How to Read a Histogram

 

When you want bright, blown out backgrounds, the histogram should be touching the right side of the graph.

How to Read a Histogram

 

So look to see if the histogram makes sense, not whether it's touching the edges or not.

My Thoughts and Rants:
Listen, folks, if you want to speed up your progress and learning in photography, don't look for good information in forums, Flickr comments, beginner's blogs, camera clubs, and that friend of yours who "knows a lot about photography". I know it sounds like a good idea to immerse yourself completely in photography through clubs, websites, forums, etc. but you'll be much better off if you stay away from them. These sources spread far more incorrect information than correct information. I'm not exaggerating either. I literally think that a solid 60%-80% of the free information you get from these resources is incorrect.

And I'm speaking from experience. I have students of all types, and some of the toughest ones to teach are those who have done the most "independent study" by browsing online forums and who have the most confidence in those sources. There is just so much wrong information to clean up and they are often utterly convinced of their knowledge (because it did come from user "CanonLuvr50" at fredmiranda.com after all).

Now I'm not talking about books and articles from reputable sources. Independent study from the likes of Ansel Adams, John Shaw, Jim Zuckerman, and Ken Rockwell - by all means, please read on. These guys know their stuff. They have a track record. They aren't beginners.

But everyone has an equal voice on the internet now. There's no entrance exam before posting advice to a forum. This histogram business is just one tiny example of what happens when people with too little knowledge have too much of a voice. So before you listen to another photographer for advice, technique, or information, analyze their work and their philosophy. If you like their work and their approach to taking pictures, listen up. If you don't like their work or the philosophy behind their techniques, move along (and this includes me). If you've never even seen their work, then it's elementary.

Immerse yourself in what those you look up to have to say. For me, it was Galen Rowell, John Shaw, and Ansel Adams. And immerse yourself in your own photography - take tons of pictures! You'll learn more from your idols and your own mistakes than from any forum user.