Managing Washouts in your Photos…

I may be getting too technical about this but I just want to share to you, good folks, something that will make your photos more pleasing by reducing or totally avoiding that nasty “washouts” when you take a picture.

In photography and the way I define it, “washouts” is related to that annoying “bright” background (back lit) as if there’s a giant white curtain hanging behind your subject. This is often unavoidable specially when you’re having your photoshoots under a midday sun.

There are several techniques in avoiding washouts. One is the “flash fill” technique where you use a flash to lit your subject making it a part of the brightly lit background… The camera automatically adjust the exposure capturing the subject in ambient mode. But then there are times when you cannot use a flash since your subject is quite far from the most effective range of your flash.

The other technique is the use of Neutral Density filters (just click on the link to get more information about Neutral Density filters). Attach this filter on your lens and it will reduce the brightness of the background but your subject may appear darker. Aside from this potential “darkening” problem, the use of this filter may need you to set a longer shutter speed than normal which might blur your image if you have unsteady hands.

And lastly, a technique which I often use when taking a picture of distant subjects beyond “flash fill” range with a brightly lit background: spot metering (a light metering mode that focus on a small area) and exposure compensation.

All DSLRs have a light metering mode with “evaluative mode” in Canon cameras as the default setting. This setting meters the overall light of a scene to be photographed and accordingly adjusts the exposure to balance the highlights in the scene. This is useful and applicable most of the times but in cases that there are extreme difference between the lighting in the foreground from that of the background, spot metering works well combined with adjusting the exposure compensation to balance the light in the foreground with the light in the background.

In the picture below, I took an image of a tree that is about 2 storeys high with the sun brightly lit in the sky in “evaluative mode” (the default) with no exposure compensation. As you can see, the background was completely washed out.

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Using the spot metering mode, I focused on the middle branch and adjusted accordingly the exposure compensation to -2 to lower down the brightness (there is no strict rule on how to adjust the exposure compensation, by the way). The camera adjusted the lighting exposure showing the crane in the background which was made invisible by the bright sky in the previous photo.

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To sum it up, if you find your background becoming too bright making everything in it “invisible”, try to set the metering mode to “spot metering” and adjust the exposure compensation to a point that both foreground and background are properly exposed to your liking.

About the Picture Styles…!

Most of the DSLRs we have today have preset picture styles. For example, Canon has 6 preset styles that you can use in your photo shooting and 3 user defined styles using the preset picture styles as the base where you can modify the preset’s Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation, and Color Tone.

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Canon's preset Picture Styles

But wait… There’s more! Did you know that Canon has several extended functions that you can use as your picture style which provide you more style options?

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Canon's extended Picture Styles

I’m an Urban Cowboy photographer… I usually compose my photographs in the city while driving. Of course, you have the city smog all around resulting to some haze and that “frightful” dead spots where the buildings’ shadows fall darkening your composition.

Using Canon’s utility desktop software, I uploaded the extended picture styles into my gear. I’ve tested each of the Picture Styles and found two extended Picture Styles to my liking.

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My favorite Picture Styles!

For street photography where I do most of my photoshoots inside my car while in a traffic jam, I normally choose the “CLEAR” setting. “The “CLEAR” Picture Style file emphasizes the contrast, and expresses the subject clearly and a three-dimensional effect. It is also effective when shooting a subject behind a glass.”

For portrait shots, I use the “P-STUDIO” setting which “Expresses the delicate features of the subject and translucent skin in smooth tones. Suitable for portraits in locations affording strong contrast, and wedding/fashion shoots where the feel of the fabric and jewelry should be expressed, as well as advertising shots. The final finish is slightly toned down in terms of sharpness and contrast.”

Text and Photo Sources: Canon Special Picture Style Site

My Bestfriend, the Lens Pen…!

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We can say that a “lens pen” is the photographer’s bestfriend… As it cleans your lenses whenever you want it to!

I got my lens pen for free when I bought my gear. It consist of a soft retractable brush at one end and a small disc covered with a layer of carbon at the other end. The cap that encloses it has a “carbon filler” inside which you can use in refreshing the carbon-layered disc by turning it while the cap is on the pen.

How does it work? Remember those times when you used a damp newspaper to clean your window glass clean and smudge free? The carbon ink in the newspaper absorbs oil and smudges and cleans the glass better than the glass cleaners which usually leave some streaks behind. The carbon disc in the lens pen works the same way. If there are fingerprints or oily smudges on your lens, you just wipe the carbon disc end of the lens pen in circular motion on your lens until the smudge vanishes.

The brush is used to gently sweep away dusts and other tiny objects that has landed on your lens.

The size of the lens pen is… Yes, like a pen that you can put in your pocket. I assure you, the lens pen is the handiest cleaning device that you will want to carry with you at all times during a photoshoot. Yup, it is the photographers bestfriend, no question about it!

My Personal Review of the Eye-Fi SD Card by Mobi

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I just got my 16GB Eye-Fi card for my SLR which is advertised to have an embedded WiFi chip inside the card enabling you to connect your WiFi enabled mobile devices to your SLR to retrieve the photos “wirelessly”.

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The package itself boasts of the abilities of the Eye-Fi card labeling it as a “smarter card” making it easy for a photographer to retrieve his photos without taking out the SD card from his camera. Convenience and immediate sharing of photos are the key benefits which a user of this Eye-Fi card will get… Cables and wires or taking out the SD card from your gear will be a thing of the past, so to speak!

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As soon as I inserted the Eye-Fi card in my camera, a new item in the SD card menu appeared… The “Eye-Fi settings”.

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Setting up the Eye-Fi for use is very simple… You just “Enable” the Eye-Fi transfer. That’s it and the SD card is now ready to wirelessly transfer photos to your mobile devices or laptops.

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One further step before you can start downloading the photos from your camera wirelessly is to install the Eye-Fi Mobi app in your mobile device. This app has both the Android and iOS version depending on the platform of your device. On laptops, it is downward compatible with Windows XP. To connect your mobile device to the Eye-Fi, the app will ask for a 10-digit passcode… The passcode is found at the back of the case of the Eye-Fi SD card. And of course, you have to turn on your WiFi in your mobile device… Duh!

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If you’ve done everything right, your mobile device WiFi list will now include the Eye-Fi WiFi network. That’s how easy it is to setup the Eye-Fi…!

Now what about my experience with it? Running the app in the background, I started taking photos and as expected, when I looked into my my mobile device, my photos “magically” appeared in my Android Gallery under directory titled “Mobi”. The photos are saved in the Eye-Fi SD card and at the same time, these photos are wirelessly transferred to my mobile device every time I take a shot. I tried disabling the WiFi in my mobile device and took several shots. When I reactivated my WiFi, all the shots I took were automatically transferred by the Eye-Fi to my mobile device. It’s like magic…!!!

So, what’s my verdict?

PROs:
1. It’s easy to set up and in just a few minutes, I can already use the Eye-Fi SD card.
2. I don’t need to take out my SD card anymore or connect a cable to my camera to transfer the photos to my laptop or to my mobile device. It’s like having a camera with a wireless feature.
3. I can immediately edit and share my photos on the fly just using my mobile device.

CONs:
1. If you took a lot of shots and you will transfer the photos in batch mode (you’re taking shots with your mobile device disconnected from Eye-Fi), make sure your camera’s battery is more than half full, otherwise, it will die without transferring all your photos. But don’t worry, it will start from where you left off.
2. The Eye-Fi version I have does not allow “selective transfer” of photos. But the Eye-Fi Pro version allows it.

Just a warning, the use of the Eye-Fi SD card is addictive and habit-forming as you will start to hate the cables and taking out the SD card from your camera in your perspective will be seen as a “barbaric and uncivilized” way to transfer your photos…! Why “butcher” your SLR if you can transfer photos without even touching your gear?