Another challenging week with Mr. DuChemin’s assignment for Lesson 6:  Master the Triangle. I remember a teacher once saying that getting a great exposure is all about learning to dance around the exposure triangle – three different ways to control the light, depending on your subject and your vision for your image. Triangle you ask?  Yes – it’s the ISO – how sensitive your camera sensor is to the light; the Aperture – or how much light you let in through the lens; and Shutter Speed – how long you allow the shutter to remain open. All three of these play into the quality of your image.

As we all tend to shoot in less than ideal circumstances, especially those who choose to shoot in “natural light” – you have to decide sometimes what to sacrifice. We shoot “wide open” to get that glorious bokeh (from the Japanese word boke, meaning “blur” or “haze”). In photography, bokeh is that beautiful out of focus pattern that certain camera lenses produce. With lenses capable of apertures of f/1.4 where the depth of field is razor thin – it’s a challenge to nail the focus. If you don’t keep the shutter speed fast enough, you can forget about sharp focus. And if you increase the sensitivity of your camera sensor by raising your ISO – you get “digital noise” – much like speckles in your image (what us oldtimers called “grain”).

This week, our frigid temps kept me indoors where it’s nice and warm and my subjects (and wranglers) would be more comfortable and thus more willing to help me produce images for this week’s assignment and blog post. I love shooting in my studio, because I can control the lighting, the background, and sometimes, even keep my subjects in the right place. Two-legged subjects are far easier to manage, but where’s the fun in that?! Bring on a handsome, muscle-bound girl dog named NuNu – who happens to adore her foster mom, and her tasty treats even moreso. Starting with the best image first – as a comparison for what comes up next – here’s a lovely portrait of NuNu – where I used my Nikon 24-120 f/4 lens – Settings:  ISO 100, f/9, 1/160. Perfect for getting both her eyes and her nose in sharp crisp focus.NuNu-1096-Edit

Now let’s contrast this image with two images I captured using natural light – and the use of a silver/gold reflector. In this image, I had my assistant bounce some light onto her face while her foster mom kept her attention with treats. Notice the histogram and settings on this image SOOC (straight out of camera). At an aperture of f/2.8 – I could barely get one eye in focus. Mainly because I was crouched about 4 feet from NuNu – giving me a sliver of focal plane. End result – one eye in focus…. the nose? blurred… same with the ears. My goal was a clean bust shot without any distracting background lighting – like that bright spot of light from the front windows of the house.

Side-note/tangent/whine time: Finding clear, uncluttered backgrounds when you can’t drag your 8 foot backdrop with you can be a nightmare. I envy those people who have developed a finely tuned eye for what makes a great background! When you think about everything that you must consider to craft an excellent image (subject, posing, background, lighting) along with the technical know-how for camera settings…it’s truly mind-boggling. Or as one of my teachers asked when we were doing image critique sessions – “so how did you miss that …insert whatever distracting element in your image that you totally missed yet is now clearly visible since you’ve already uploaded it for the night’s review session…?” And then he says – “your only job was to look through that viewfinder in your camera and see what was there before you click the shutter”…. “how hard could that be?”…. sigh, groan…. yah… how hard COULD it be…??

Okay – so here’s the SOOC image:

SOOC-1113-NuNu-1113So what would happen after I edit and retouch the image? Is there any hope?  (eh…. not much…)NuNu-FCAS-1113-2-EDITOkay – so NuNu was up for sun-bathing… except you can’t take a good clear shot of a dog with part of her body in sun and the other not… but you can get that handy assistant person to block the sun a bit… and here we have NuNu backlit! I went from f/2.8 to f/3.5 cause I still had to work at getting enough light on her lovely face. Except… wait… what’s all that blurry distracting stuff behind her? Yah… like I said – watching for good clear backgrounds is a skillset I’m working on. So when all else fails…


That good old Patch tool in Photoshop sure comes in handy… I wasn’t quite as happy with the blown out bits of carpet in front of her… and how about that ’80s style white vignette?  When it’s after midnight and your blogpost is due at 4am…. well…. you get kinda desperate!


And now – let’s venture up even farther north and see what Blue Amrich, Boston Pet Photographer is doing with mastering her exposure triangle. Remember to keep clicking through the webring until you land back here with Sydney and me. Maybe I can convince her to model for me next week – when we will be working with slowing that shutter speed down to show ACTION. Now if that doesn’t seem confusing…. you’ll just have to wait until next week to see what I mean. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere – and anywhere in the Mideast Atlantic – we’ll be having some frosty temps to enjoy. Stay warm and see you back next week!



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  • Susannah - February 12, 2016 - 9:42 am

    Love the explanation and the image comparison!ReplyCancel

  • Becky - February 12, 2016 - 10:51 am

    Love, Love the first photo of NuNu. And I am with you. Love Studio work, but during Spring, I just want to be outside 😉ReplyCancel

  • Kelly - February 12, 2016 - 11:46 am

    Love your “commentary.” You had a beautiful subject, too. :O)ReplyCancel

Our assignment from David DuChemin’s most excellent textbook ” The Visual Toolbox” is all about exposure – as in Shoot RAW. Hold it! It’s the middle of winter, just after the largest snowfall we’ve had in the Washington DC area in decades – and the assignment this week was to shoot RAW? Seriously? Yup…. Shoot RAW – not IN the raw… silly girl… and learn how to optimize your images with all of the information that the RAW format can give you to work with in those easy-to-learn post-processing programs like Photoshop. (cough, cough…inside joke for anyone who’s ever attempted to master Photoshop – which I call the least intuitive program I’ve ever used). For the next several weeks, follow along as my fellow pet ‘togs and I walk through this learning adventure together. The goal on LEARNING and working to master… and then adding these tools to our “visual toolbox” – cool, huh?!

If you’ve ever read the blog posts or online tutorials about photography – you’ll hear the debate about shooting in RAW versus shooting in JPG. My quick take on the issue:  if you absolutely have to capture the image quickly, and turn it around on a dime, meaning very little if any time to post-process, and you are able to nail your settings right from the get-go – shoot in JPG.  But if you have the luxury (and space on your hard drive) to take the time to cull through your batch of image files and pick out the best ones to enhance using any of the bazillion post-processing programs (like Photoshop)… you absolutely must have the advantage of shooting in RAW – which captures and gives you all the data that your camera can give – instead of compressing it into a much smaller file with far less detail.

Have you noticed the graph on the back of your camera after you take a photo – it looks like a series of mountains, or maybe one giant mountain?  that’s called a histogram. It shows how much data was captured in the darkest shadows all the way through the brightest highlights. If the mountains are smashed up against the right side – that means you’ve “blown your highlights” – like the sun, or bright white clouds. You’ll see nothing but gorgeous grey blobs as there is no data recorded – it was beyond the reach of your camera’s ability to capture on the sensor. Same thing with the left side – if you have a blob smashed up against that side – it means you’ve “blocked your shadows”. Again – no data. Just a big black blob. So the idea is to stay happily between those two end points – depending on whether you care or not about the blown-out or blocked-up portions of your image. You may not… and that’s fine! You’ll hear people tell you to stay mostly to the right side of the middle line. And THAT’s the part that surprised me to learn – the vast majority of a RAW file’s available data sits on the right side of the histogram! Like over 20 times as much in the highlights sector as in the shadows sector. Meaning there’s a ton of detail in the lighter value levels in an image than in the darker value levels. DuChemin tells us: “My own choice is almost always to expose as far right as I can without letting important highlight details get lost, and let the shadows fall where they may.” So my goal this week was to “shoot to the right” – but not SO far to the right that I have those dreaded red blinkies showing up everywhere.

Blinkies? Another technical term? Indeed it is! Those little red blinkies show up on the back of the camera LCD screen letting you know where you blew out your highlights. And I’m religious about watching out for those annoying red blinkie guys. Except…. did you know that the image on the back of your LCD screen is your camera’s processed JPG version? and if you’re shooting in RAW format, that depending on how many blinkies you see or how many are clusters of blinkies – that the data from those areas may not be lost when you examine your RAW image file? Especially if you’re shooting with a relatively new camera with a more advanced sensor? Saints be praised… that was another learning giblet I latched onto this past month!

So let’s translate this into images  – since that’s why you’re probably here anyway…. enough of this boring technical yabber-jabber.

No surprise that this week’s images had more snow – which is a great place to check out those dastardly blinkies. Here’s my exemplary SOOC (straight out of camera) image and it’s corresponding histogram – notice that I increased the sensitivity of my sensor by raising my ISO to 400, and closed down my aperture to get a deeper depth of field. Still wish Syd had been farther away from that lovely fence and BBQ in the background, (from the voice of her mentor echoing inside her head: “choose your backgrounds more carefully, darling”) –  but wait until I have a chance to retouch the image:

Project 52 - RAW - Standard Poodle - Histogram =0799


and here with a bit of cropping, straightening, detail extraction, contrast adjustment, color enhancement, cloning, dodging, burning, Gaussian blurring to melt that background down… wait.. I’m not finished yet… oh yes – a bit of vibrance and saturation – and  or course….sharpening for web… ta… DAH!!!!! … Now… in hindsight…the one thing that would have made this image SING was to have had a reflector or small flash just off to my right to bounce a tiny bit more light into those lovely dark brown eyes… OR…. to have had her facing the light from the setting sun, but then I would have missed that glorious rim light coming from the sun. There’s always sum-thin’!


Tune in next week for Triangle Time – or why you need to learn to “dance around the exposure triangle”! Fun stuff, folks!  But now… for your weekly viewing pleasure, please take a trip to sunny New Zealand and see how Tara Sutherland, New Zealand Pet Photographer, Hamilton “optimised” her RAW images (sorry, Tara, I had to poke a wee bit of fun at the “proper” spelling of our word optimize). Then keep on clicking around the webring until you land back here with Sydney & MAC!  See you next week! Cheerios!

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  • […] to check out the next photographer’s take on this week’s assignment and next up is “Sydney & MAC Creative Designs – Photography for Pets and Their People – Was… I’m excited to read everyone else’s posts and see the cute pictures they post (remember […]ReplyCancel

  • KellyM - February 5, 2016 - 9:00 am

    Your “ta-DAH” image is fantastic! What a great explanation of the technical side of the challenge, too. ;O)ReplyCancel

  • Kim H - February 5, 2016 - 10:45 am

    Your photo and the way you edited it are lovely.ReplyCancel

  • Jodie - February 5, 2016 - 3:34 pm

    Great explanation, and gorgeous imageReplyCancel

  • Rachel - February 6, 2016 - 11:21 am

    You made me laugh with your cheerful explanations. Nice post!ReplyCancel

  • Tara - February 6, 2016 - 2:36 pm

    Haha cheeky!!!! Great post this week, you have put me to shame! But seriously, wonderful explanation too and I love your final image.
    P.s. All words are better with S’s 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Shelley Castle - February 12, 2016 - 3:30 am

    What a great image…Sydney is so beautiful.ReplyCancel