They say practice makes perfect, though my experience with the piano contradicts that. Still, there’s no question that practice makes you better. Getting out of your comfort zone and pushing yourself in new directions is a great way to learn and discover more creative options.
With this in mind, we introduce a weekly series aimed at helping you grow as a photographer. Hosted by Ben Long, the series is called The Practicing Photographer. Each week, Ben will examine a different aspect of photography. Some weeks will focus on tools, such as a piece of camera gear or a noteworthy new mobile app. Other weeks will focus on technique, like creative ways to work with light and reflections, or the benefits of shooting with a prime lens instead of a zoom.
The topics vary but the goal is the same: to help you broaden your photographic horizons by trying new tools and taking pictures that you might not otherwise take.
In the first installment, Ben shows you how to choose a camera. This isn’t a look at features and specifications, but at the importance of a test drive: handling a camera before you buy to make sure you’re comfortable with it. How bright is the viewfinder? Are the controls comfortable? How does the camera feel in your hands? Are its menus easy to navigate? These and other important shopping considerations often get ignored in the era of online shopping.
Ben is the author of 19 courses in the lynda.com library, with more on the way. The Practicing Photographer brings his insight and wit to you every Thursday. We hope you like it, and we welcome your feedback in the comments field below.
Very often you know what the subject you want to shoot is, but light levels in the scene are low enough that getting the shot can be difficult. For example, maybe you’re at a holiday dinner with your family, you know you want to shoot your relatives and the food, but the room is lit only by candles. Although light like this is going to make it hard to freeze motion and get a sharp image, the low room-lighting doesn’t mean you have to put down your camera. If you know how to work with it, low light can open up a world of new photographic possibilities. In this blog I’ll discuss some factors to keep in mind when shooting in low-light, including decreased visibility, textures created by lighting, and other plays on light like reflections, shadows, and splashes. I’ll also discuss ways of rethinking these hurtles that will help you think of your low light as a creative tool so you never again miss a photo opportunity due to less-than-optimal lighting conditions.
Now it’s a fairly obvious statement to say that the world looks very different at night or in very low light, but let’s think for a minute about why it looks different. First, with less light, some things are simply less visible. That lack of visibility in itself can really change the point your eye is drawn to in an image. In other words, in low light, the subject of a scene may shift dramatically simply because of what’s visible. During the day we mostly live by sunlight. When the sun goes down other light sources take over, and those light sources are not always as high overhead as the daytime sunlight. This change in the direction of lighting can lead to very different textures in a scene, which also can have a heavy influence on what the subject of the scene is. Rather than thinking of the low light as a hindrance, keep an open mind and consider that very often this different type of lighting can be an interesting subject in itself.
The type of lighting you get in low-light situations is another factor to consider. Sometimes the type of lighting you get at nighttime or with dim light can create plays of light such as reflections, highlights, interesting shadows, and splashes of light that simply do not exist in the daytime. There can be all sorts of light features that don’t appear in the same scene under brighter light. As you learn to shoot in low light, you’ll naturally hone your ability to capture images that can be difficult, and you may also find yourself discovering shooting opportunities that you simply had not seen before, possibly in locations that you are already familiar with. Learning to shoot in low light is as much about learning to see differently and recognize a different type of subject matter as it is learning any particular technical process. That unto itself makes the study of low-light shooting a worthwhile pursuit, no matter how frequently, or infrequently, you ultimately end up doing it. In the end, the more you can learn about seeing, the better all of your photography will be.
This blog is an unlocked excerpt from chapter one of Ben Long‘s Foundations of Photography: Night and Low Light course. If you’re interested in learning more about the tools, creative options, and special considerations involved in shooting with a DSLR camera at night or in low-light conditions, check out the introduction to the course below, then head over to lynda.com to view the entire course.
Foundations of Photography: Exposurewith Ben Long was released on December 23, and was the newest launch in the lynda.com Online Training Library® for several days into the new year. The holiday season could have been a very hectic and distracting time for members to find this new series, and yet, they turned out in droves—sending in comment after positive comment in record numbers, both through the course feedback link on the course page, and here on the blog. The comments suggest many things, of which two are recurrent themes. One, that members are hungry for photography skills courses such as the Foundations of Photography series. And, two, that members thoroughly enjoy Ben Long’s training style, wit, enthusiasm, and comprehensive knowledge.
As lynda.com training producer for this course, it’s hard to maintain complete neutrality on the subject, but I’ll try to look at this from the point-of-view of a member. If I did not have experience working directly with Ben Long, and being very intimate with his scripts and outlines during the production of this course, what would my reaction be after watching this course for the first time, sight unseen? To be honest, I’d be completely blown away, and for the same reasons stated by members. Yet, even while I say this, I know something that keeps me from being completely impartial. It’s this small, largely unknown, factoid that makes me watch each and every frame of Foundations of Photography: Exposure with utter disbelief and an immense feeling of achievement for Ben Long and the production team at lynda.com—myself included.
So, what is this piece of insider information? Well, simply that, at the time of its publication, Foundations of Photography: Exposure contained more live action video footage than any other lynda.com training course ever to be published in the Online Training Library. Out of 64 total movies in the course, 61 of those are live action video, shot both in the studio and out on location. Could the live action component be another reason why this course has been so popular in its relatively short time in the library? Many viewer comments have espoused the virtues of the live action video in this course, and the production value has been highly praised, and is what users are coming to expect from online training, in general. So, there’s no doubt that this figures into the equation somewhere, but just how prominently, remains to be seen.
This does not mean that live action is superior to screen capture content. In the case of photography hard skills instruction, it is arguably a more effective approach to teaching this type of content, but for software training, screen capture is still the gold standard. What it does mean, however, is that the number of production hours and effort that went into making this training is five to eight times that of a standard screen capture course. And quite honestly, when I watch the videos, I find myself going over and over in my head the things we had to do to get things to look or work a certain way, and I’m constantly reminded of the incredible dedication of each and every member of the production team. I also think of all the unique moments and funny occurrences that happened behind-the-scenes, and how so much of that never gets shared with our members.
With that in mind, I’ve included a video of my production photos to invite subscribers in for a closer look at lynda.com live action shooting. Please note that while you will meet many of the key production team members in this video, you will not be meeting the post-production staff responsible for creating the beautiful graphics and additional photographs, and artfully splicing all the hours of footage together into the many individual instructional videos that make up this course. Special thanks goes out to those individuals, including Andy Ta, Bryce Poole, Fatima Anes, Angelica Chong, Paul Roper, and Lucas Deming. And, thanks also to Jim Heid, for his uncanny ability to find incredible authors.
Take a look at the accompanying behind-the-scenes video, and if you’ve already watched Foundations of Photography: Exposure, or if you’re planning on watching it soon, you might just see it in a whole new light.
This week, we published Foundations of Photography: Exposure, an in-depth look at the concepts and techniques behind photographic exposure—from shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to depth of field, histograms, and reciprocity.
Author and photographer Ben Long, whose first lynda.com course was Photoshop CS5: Landscape Photography, shows how going beyond your camera’s auto-everything mode is an essential step to improving your photography. Indeed, one of Ben’s key messages is that once you really understand your exposure options, you can take advantage of them to get the kind of creative results you want.
Ben’s course is the first in our new Foundations of Photography series, which examines aspects of photography that go beyond specific cameras or specific versions of Photoshop or Lightroom. We think it’s as important to master these foundations as it is to master the latest versions of Photoshop, Lightroom, and other software tools.
One of our resolutions for the new year is to complement our tool-oriented courses with new courses that teach photographic foundations, that let you tag along with professional photographers and understand their technical and creative processes, and that combine instruction and inspiration.
Foundations of Photography: Exposure is the first of this new breed. Please let us know how you like it, and let us know what other types of foundational topics you’re interested in—not only in photography, but in other areas, too.
True to its name, Ben’s course focuses on using Photoshop CS5 to make landscape photos look their best—to optimize their appearance and composition in ways that do justice to the original scene.
And because photography isn’t just about Photoshop, Ben and our live-action crew ventured into the great outdoors to shoot some downright gorgeous on-location movies that deal with everything from choosing equipment to shooting images for panoramas and high-dynamic range (HDR) processing.
If the phrase “landscape photography” makes you think of Ansel Adams taking a week to shoot a single photo using a camera the size of a phone booth, think again. All of us shoot landscapes when we’re on vacation or driving along a scenic road.
“One of the most important techniques a landscape photographer needs to master is the U-turn,” Ben once told me.
So whether you specialize in fine-art landscapes or simply like to capture the beauty of the world around you, you’ll benefit from Ben’s creative insights and exceptional teaching ability. Watch a few minutes of Photoshop CS5: Landscape Photography and let us know what you think.