Tips for night photography

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  And of course, let’s not forget that Hanukkah is also called the Festival of Lights.  Even if you don’t celebrate any holidays in December, I’m sure you’ll agree that the holiday lights are dazzling and you might be thinking about documenting some of that holiday cheer with your camera.  That makes it a perfect time to share a few tips about night photography.

As I’ve mentioned before, you really have just three settings to adjust so that you can make a good exposure – aperture size (larger hole lets more light reach the sensor), shutter speed (the longer the shutter is open the more light reaches the sensor), and ISO (the higher the setting, the more sensitive the sensor).  Before we get too far, if that doesn’t sound familiar, you might want to review my post about exposure.

Also, it probably goes without saying that these tips are great for any night photo session.  Like anything else in life, a bit of practice goes a long way so if you are disappointed by your first results, don’t give up hope – just keep trying.  And of course it is a whole lot nicer (for most of us anyway) to try our hand at these skills when the weather is pleasant because the cold definitely complicates things a bit.

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The holidays are not the only reason to bring your camera out at night.

The first and best tip I can offer for better night photography is to use a tripod.  Or lacking a tripod, find a way to create a stable base for your camera.  It is difficult to hold a camera perfectly steady for long exposures (especially if you are shivering!) so finding a stable platform for your camera will allow you to get a sharp image regardless of the shutter speed.  The trick to making a good tripod mounted exposure is to make sure that you are careful when you press the shutter because even that little amount of force can nudge your camera causing camera shake.  If you are cold or you don’t think you have a delicate enough touch, then give your camera’s shutter delay feature a try.   That ten second wait or so can make a big difference in ensuring your camera is perfectly still for the entire exposure.

The Parkway in Richland, WA photographed on Christmas Eve 2008

The Parkway in Richland, WA photographed on Christmas Eve 2008. Notice everything is relatively sharp? That’s because I didn’t use the widest aperture setting for this shot.

 

The next step is to consider your aperture setting.  Again, opening up your lens so that the aperture is as wide as possible will allow you to have a faster shutter speed which might allow you to hand hold your camera.  Just remember that a wide open shutter speed will give you a shallower depth of field (area of sharp focus) so just be sure that you set your focus so that the most important part of the scene is sharp.

Richland in December after it snowed on Christmas Eve, 2008

Next, crank up the ISO if needed.  Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of having a tripod handy and your lens aperture can only be opened so far.  If that’s the case, then increase your ISO setting because sometimes even a photo with a lot of noise is better than no photo at all.

Finally, consider that including an entire scene might not be the only way to convey the mood of your scene.  If you get in close, then those Christmas lights are a whole lot brighter to your sensor which will allow you to have a faster shutter speed.   (Warning – physics here.)  The inverse square law states that every time you double the distance between yourself (or camera) and your light source, it will only be one quarter the strength because the light will be covering four times the area.   Don’t believe me?  Well next time you have your flashlight out in a dark room, shine it against the wall.  The closer you are to the wall, the smaller the area that will be illuminated but that area will be much brighter than when you shine your light at it from farther back.

This is a macro photograph (extreme closeup) of Christmas lights.

This is a macro photograph (extreme closeup) of Christmas lights. If I had moved two feet back, my 1/15 second exposure would have had to have been about four times longer (roughly 1.2 seconds).

So there it is – four tips for night photography to help you capture that Christmas cheer.

Happy holidays!

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On Inspiration

Think about some of the famous artists in history.  Chances are that you think of their masterpieces but, amazing as they might be, they only tell a fraction of the story.

Detail from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  The fresco was created by Michelangelo.

Detail from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The fresco was created by Michelangelo.

Isaac Newton famously wrote “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”  (Newton even chose those words with meaning – the metaphor predated him by 400 years or more and using the metaphor only further gave emphasis to his point.)

Anyhoo, like every other discipline, art doesn’t happen in a bubble and it always builds on the work that has come before it.  Those master artists that we hold in such high esteem were often credited for their new and innovative ideas but it is probably more accurate to say that those artists recombined old ideas and presented them in a different way.  My point is, that in order to grow as an artist (and as a person really), you need to get out and experience new things.  Lucky for me, I live in Tucson.  (Is it okay to mention that we are expecting a high of 71 today?)  And Tucson is FULL of inspiration.

Last week Robin and I went to visit the Tucson Museum of Art.  We regularly visit (it is free on the first Sunday of every month) and I think it is fair to say that every exhibition we’ve attended has been very good.  The current exhibit is really something special.  Running from Oct 18, through Feb 22, The Figure Examined:  Masterworks from the Kasser Mochary Art Foundation is a collection of work by some of the most important artists of the 19th and 20th century.  The museum writes:

Comprising approximately 120 works of art, this survey examines the portrayal of the human figure through paintings, sculpture, and works on paper by noted 19th- and 20th-century European and American artists.  Included in the exhibition are works by Pablo Picasso, Mary Cassatt, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Diego Rivera, Henri Matisse, Alberto Giacometti, Edgar Degas, Andy Warhol, Auguste Rodin, and many others.

So, I think it probably goes without saying that I found inspiration there.  And I’m sure that I’ll go back to really take it all in because exhibitions like this one rarely travel to small cities so it only seems right to take advantage of it while it is here.  One of the things that I found very interesting about the exhibit is that it isn’t an exhibition full only of these artists’ most famous works but rather much of it is from earlier or later in their careers.  And it is fascinating to see hints at what these artists will later create in their work in these earlier pieces.

Take Jackson Pollock for example.  Even if you don’t recognize his name, you’ll undoubtedly recognize some of the work he is most famous for creating.  He was an Abstract Expressionist and created a series of drip paintings.  Take a quick look at this video of his work courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art in New York to learn about how he created those paintings.

Pollock did his first drip painting in 1947.  He created this untitled piece in 1943.

Jackson Pollock,  Untitled, 1943 ink, gouache, watercolor on cut paper, mounted on blue paper

Jackson Pollock,
Untitled, 1943
ink, gouache, watercolor on cut paper, mounted on blue paper

It really isn’t hard to see Pollock had been setting the foundation for the work that he would become best known for creating.

Here’s another one you probably know.  Pablo Picasso made his mark as THE force behind Cubism. (The audio recording discussing the painting below it is also courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art)

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, (1907), Oil on Canvas http://www.moma.org/collection_images/resized/271/w500h420/CRI_151271.jpg, accessed 9/12/13

This painting is credited as being the first Cubist painting.  Picasso (and Georges Braque) made additional Cubist works over the next seven or so years (and some looked much more cubic) but this painting is important because it very clearly shows where Picasso found inspiration for this new style of painting.  Can you see it?

It turns out that Picasso saw some African tribal masks when he visited the Palais du Trocadéro musuem in Paris in May or June 1907.  He reportedly didn’t care about the cultural significance of these masks but found these masks aesthetically fascinating and that inspiration led to the creation of an entire art movement.  Pretty cool, right?

Picasso might be best known for his Cubist work but he continued to find inspiration throughout his career.  Check out this Bacchanale that he painted decades later.

Pablo Picasso Bacchanale (1955) Lithograph with gouache on paper

Pablo Picasso
Bacchanale (1955)
Lithograph with gouache on paper

I’ll leave it here for the week but before I go, I’ll share a bit more from the exhibition (I still can’t believe they allow photography in the exhibit).  I hope you enjoy!

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Andy Warhol Heads of Men (a.k.a. Group of Men) (1954) ink on paper

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Paphael Soyer Woman by the Window (1980) etching on paper

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Auguste Rodin Young Mother in a Grotto (1885) Marble

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Edouard Manet Premiere Dancer of the Royal Theater of Madrid (a.k.a. The Ballet Dancer) (1862) etching on laid paper

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Auguste Rodin Adam (modeled 1880-81, cast 1970) Bronze

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Wolfgang Hutter Rebus Game (1961) oil on Masonite

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir Draped Woman (1908) oil on canvas

 

 

 

 

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Who owns that image

I said I was done with the copyright thing but, well, I couldn’t help myself.  There were a few more things I wanted to address that didn’t fit neatly in part two of the copyright series.  So here we are again.  Today’s topic is authorship.

Before we go any further, let me ask you a question or two.  Have you ever asked somebody to take your picture with your camera?  If so, do you think that person (even if it is a complete stranger) has any ownership claim to that image?  If you read my earlier posts on copyright then you might just have some doubts.

Back in the first copyright post, I made a couple of points that are relevant to day’s discussion.  First, copyright is established at the time of creation (the execution of the idea into something tangible) and the person doing the creating typically is the copyright holder.  With that background, I want to write about two examples that you may have noticed in the news this year – first, the Ellen DeGeneres led group selfie at the Academy Awards, and second, the monkey selfie.  I think you’ll find this interesting if maybe a bit surprising.

I’ll start with the Ellen group selfie.

 

The above photo (and tweet) was made at the last Academy Awards ceremony.  Ellen DeGeneres brought a bunch of really famous people together, gave Bradley Cooper her phone, and then he pressed the shutter.  There are two potential points of view here.  First, the group portrait was clearly Ellen’s idea – she got the crowd together for this portrait, gave her camera to Bradley Cooper because he had the best vantage point in the group, and then told him to take the photo.  Her role as the creative force behind the image gives her a credible claim to authorship.  On the other hand, Bradley Cooper took the photo and unless there was a clearly worded written contract in place prior to the creation of the photo, he might also make a legitimate claim of authorship.

So who do you think is the rightful owner of the copyright for the photo that ended up being one of the most retweeted photos in history?  The easy answer is that Cooper owns the image because he composed and took the photo but DeGeneres also likely has a valid claim to at least co-ownership because the image was made under her direction.

This scenario is really very common in today’s age however these questions are largely academic because unless someone asserts a claim to ownership, we will never really know which way a court might decide.

The second example I want to share today is the monkey selfie.

Monkey-Selfie

Have you heard about this one yet?

In 2011, British wildlife photographer David Slater went to Indonesia to photograph the endangered species Celebes Crested Macaques with the hope that if he raised awareness of these animals, that he’d be able to build support to protect the monkeys.  At one point during his trip, this monkey picked up one of the cameras and made a self portrait with no direct involvement by Slater.  Which is to say that Slater put in a LOT of time and effort to create the conditions that led to this photo having been taken BUT he did not press the shutter on the camera when this exposure was made.  It was an incredible experience and it resulted in a dynamic photograph.  Slater, rightly so, wrote all about his experience and how this image came to be made because, let’s face it, having a member of the endangered species create such an expressive self portrait was exactly the kind of image that he wanted to create for his trip to raise awareness.

Soon after, a Wikipedia editor made an entry about the image and uploaded a copy of the photograph to the Wikimedia Commons site which is a repository for ‘freely usable media files’.  This was done without Slater’s permission and when he asked them to remove the image, they refused saying:

“copyright cannot vest in non-human authors” and “when a work’s copyright cannot vest in a human, it falls into the public domain.”  (1)

Slater then filed a copyright infringement suit.  So which side do you think won?

As it happens, Slater lost because the court agreed with the Wikipedia argument.  That is, because Slater represented the image as a selfie (i.e. the monkey composed and created the image without human involvement), he essentially gave up authorship of the image.   I can’t say for sure, but I highly suspect that had he claimed all along that he set up the image but said that the monkey’s role in the image was just to hold the camera, then the case would have turned out differently.

So do you think that the ruling was fair?  Personally, I think it sounds like a case where the letter of the law trumped common sense, but then again, there is no law mandating common sense.  Okay, now I promise to leave the subject alone for a while.

 

(1) http://www.newsweek.com/lawyers-dispute-wikimedias-claims-about-monkey-selfie-copyright-265961

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Tips for improving your photography skills

As promised, I’m keeping this week’s topic short and sweet.  Everyone knows what it takes to become skilled at (insert any topic of your choice here).  It takes practice – and sometimes a lot of it.  So pick up your camera and get cracking if you want to become a better photographer.

M_Kloth_Moon_3270

Do I hear crickets?

Okay, that’s not what people generally like to hear but ultimately it is the one truth that pertains to every skill that people learn.   Except that I promised a short and SWEET post this week and telling people to work harder is often considered more of a bitter pill to swallow.  The good news is that when it comes to photography, practice can be a lot of fun.

Today I want to encourage you to play and experiment with your camera.   The jumping dog series is a perfect example.  I didn’t set out to create any particular image when I first started taking pictures of Spring and Maebe jumping but it was fun.  The grrrls were young and had a lot of energy so it was play time for them too.   It was only after I saw those first few photos that I started to work to make it into a series.

Spring having a grand old time - and she wasn't alone.

Spring having a grand old time – and she wasn’t alone.

Here’s another example.  When the dogs were young and could go for much longer walks, I used to amuse myself (and hopefully Robin) by doing a “Where’s Lyle” photo.  We’d walk all around the neighborhood and made a game of it.  These photos were not even a little bit about photography technique or composition, but guess what – it was still a learning experience.

M_Kloth_TBT-dogs_3736

Where are Lyle, Spring, and Maebe?

As you play, there is one thing that you have to keep in mind – there is absolutely no requirement for perfection.  As you play and experiment you will make some lousy images.  Not only is that okay, but that is part of the learning process.

I've been doing this a while and you'd be surprised at what I turn out from time to time.

I’ve been doing this a while and you might be surprised at the garbage I still turn out from time to time.  This one was taken just last week.

So that’s my advice this week.  Bring your camera with you as you go through your daily routine and have fun playing with it (your smart phone camera will do just fine).  The key is to take a bit of time each week to review those images and think about which of those photos catch your eye.  Before long, you’ll notice that as you play, your photos will improve.

 

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On copyright, part 2

Last week I wrote about some of the important aspects of copyright law but I saved what is perhaps the biggest area of confusion for today – fair use.  Fair use allows people to use copyrighted material without licensing it from the owner.  It is a pretty big exception but there is often misunderstanding about what is and what is not fair use.

Fair use of a copyrighted image requires that the use falls into one of these seven categories:

  • Criticism
  • Comment
  • News reporting
  • Teaching
  • Scholarship
  • Research
  • Parody

These seem pretty obvious because we’ve been living with these exceptions for a long time but even fair use has its limits.  Sometimes there is a fine line between fair use and infringement and sometimes that line gets crossed.  Unfortunately, there is no way to know if a use is infringement or not with absolute certainty without it being challenged in a Federal court however, previous decisions can provide useful guidelines. The rest of this post will be about some of the cases that I think you will find interesting.

The first case involves work that you’ll recognize.

Hope

When President Obama was running for his first term of office, graphic artist Shepard Fairey created this poster that became the iconic symbol of his candidacy.  Some of the places that you might have seen this image were in Time Magazine, Esquire Magazine, and even in the United States National Portrait Gallery.

Then Senator Obama wrote to Mr. Fairey:

I would like to thank you for using your talent in support of my campaign. The political messages involved in your work have encouraged Americans to believe they can change the status-quo. Your images have a profound effect on people, whether seen in a gallery or on a stop sign. I am privileged to be a part of your artwork and proud to have your support. — Barack Obama, February 22, 2008

Pretty cool, right?  I mean, regardless of your political affiliation, it must be something to be called out and acknowledged by the man that was to become the leader of the free world.  Except that I wouldn’t be writing about it if there wasn’t a problem.

presidentSee it turns out that Mr. Fairey used this photo taken by Mannie Garcia for the Associated Press to create the image.  And the Associated Press (the copyright holder) wasn’t happy about it.  At all.

 

 

 

I think this is a good example because one might reasonably think that the poster image is sufficiently different from the original photograph to make it a new piece of work.  The Associated Press challenged this case.  I’ll spare you some of the details here but ultimately, Mr. Fairey settled the infringement suit in a closed settlement.

Here is another example of Mr. Fairey’s work (on the left) entitled Obey Giant.  You may remember a few years back there was a big concern about SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrom)  that badly effected the people of Japan.  It was common to see photos in the media of people wearing masks as they went about their work.  In response to that, Baxter Orr created Protect (image on the right) based on Mr. Fairey’s original work.  Can you guess what happened?

Fairey-Obey_Giant

It seems that Mr. Fairey wasn’t happy about it so he directed his attorney to send a cease and desist notice to Mr. Orr requiring him to remove the photo from his website.  You can read more about his response here but to give you an idea of his response, Mr. Fairey is attributed as saying that Mr. Orr is ‘not an artist but a mimic and “parasite” ‘.

The next example I want to share with you is about the work of Walker Evans and Sherrie Levine.

AfterWalkerEvans

Walker Evans is perhaps best known for his body of work with the Farm Security Administration.  The FSA was (in an oversimplified description) a New Deal program that moved poor sharecroppers across the country to areas where they could better earn a living.  Part of that program involved having photographers create imagery that could be used essentially for public relations to help sell the country on the New Deal program.  Evan’s photo of Allie Mae Burroughs (above) was created for the FSA program.

Sherrie Levine is an appropriation artist.   Appropriation artists use imagery created by other people and turn them into a new work of art.  In this example, Ms. Levine attended an exhibition of Mr. Evans’ photographs and took photographs of his prints.  She entitled the series After Walker Evans.   Can you tell which is the original photograph and which is the appropriated artwork? Neither can I.  The work was challenged by the estate of Walker Evans which resulted in the Evans estate owning the rights to Ms. Levine’s series.

Morel

I am including this next example to illustrate the point that even images published as news can be problematic.

Daniel Morel was in Haiti when the big earthquake hit in 2010.  Because he was already there, he had was in a unique position to share his imagery with the world but, no surprise, the Haitian infrastructure was so badly damaged that he wasn’t able to easily communicate with people outside of the country to license his work.  He did think it was important to share his work and somehow managed to post some images to Twitter’s TwitPic service.  His imagery was re-tweeted.  The French news agency AFP learned of the work, tried unsuccessfully to reach Mr. Morel, then ran the photos anyway giving the re-tweeter photo credit.  The photo above was then picked up and was VERY WIDELY used.

Once Mr. Morel learned of the infringement, he sued AFP, Getty Images, CBS, ABC, and Turner media for copyright infringement.  Most of those cases were eventually dropped or settled until only AFP and Getty remained.  So can you guess what happened next?

AFP sued Daniel Morel for “Aggressive Assertion of Rights.”  In the end, that counter-suit was dismissed and Mr. Morel was awarded $1.2 million dollars in damages.

Okay, one last example then.

Hipple_Mackie

Back in 1979, Jack Mackie and Chuck Greening created the public sculpture Dancer Series Steps that currently resides outside of Benaroya Hall (the home of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra).   In 1997, Michael Hipple created the photo shown with a person standing on two of the brass footsteps.  The image was licensed as a stock photograph and came to the attention of Mr. Mackie.

Before I continue, a little bit of background.  When the sculpture was originally created, it was not registered with the US Copyright Office.  Mr. Mackie learned about an infringement when the Seattle Symphony used a photograph of the sculpture in an advertisement. At that time, the sculpture was not registered so his best course of action was to take them to small claims court where he won a $1000 settlement.  The sculpture was registered with the US Copyright Office at that time.  Now back to this photograph.

Because the sculpture was now registered with the US Copyright Office, when Mr. Hipple’s photograph came to the attention of Mr. Mackie, he had additional protection.  See, while a copyright is issued at the time a work is created, if unregistered and an infringement occurs, then the copyright holder can only sue for the fair market value of the infringement – so essentially, Mr. Mackie’s $1000 settlement with the Seattle Symphony is what he would have earned had he licensed the work to them for the advertisement.  Once a copyright is registered however, things change in a potentially big way.  For new infringements, Mr. Mackie was able to sue not only for the fair market value of the infringement, but also for legal fees, and for statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringement.  Worse for Mr. Hipple, while the Seattle Symphony’s use was relatively small, Mr. Hipple licensed his image an undisclosed number of times so the fair market value of the infringement was potentially very high.  In the end, Mr, Hipple settled for an undisclosed amount of money and for a public admission of wrongdoing.

So I’ll leave it there for the week.  What did you think of he cases I shared?  Do you agree with the outcomes?  Let me know what you think.

 

 

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