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Slow It Down – by Jack Kurtz

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People pray in front of Wat That Thong in Ekkamai on Visakha. I used a slow shutter speed so the people in the procession would be blurred and hoped that the people praying would be still (and sharp).
People pray in front of Wat That Thong in Ekkamai on Visakha. I used a slow shutter speed so the people in the procession would be blurred and hoped that the people praying would be still (and sharp). It pretty much worked out the way I had hoped. Exposure ½ second at f9, ISO800. If I had a chance to redo it, I would drop the ISO to 400 and f-stop to f6.7 (one stop wider than f9).

I like to work at the extreme end of exposure settings. That means working with the lens wide open, which for me means f1.2, f1.4, maybe f2 or with a slow shutter speed, 1/60th of a second or slower. I work with shallow f-stops all the time – it’s very seldom that I work at an aperture smaller than f4.

A quick check of the EXIF data in my archive showed that my most used f-stop is f2.8 (19095 exposures) and that of the 150,000 photos in my Bangkok archive 61,880 were made at between f2.8 and f1.2, which seems like a pretty big percentage of photos made at wide open, or close to wide open, f-stops.

That’s with all of my lenses, which includes teleconverters. Eliminate the 5642 photos made with lenses slower than my 200mm f2.8 and the percentage of shallow f-stop photos gets bigger. (Note that I am not that much of an obsessive compulsive. Lightroom makes it very easy to  keep track of your pictures by all sorts of esoteric metrics including aperture and shutter speed.)

I also like to work at slower shutter speeds, to introduce motion blur. The usual way to do this is to “pan” with you subject so the subject is sharp but the rest of the photo is blurred.

Giddy up. A photo from a rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada. A slow shutter speed combined with some flash and a little panning made this picture work. I made this on film so I don't have the exact exposure recorded.
Giddy up. A photo from a rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada. A slow shutter speed combined with some flash and a little panning made this picture work. I made this on film so I don’t have the exact exposure recorded.

I don’t use slow shutter speeds exclusively for panning though. I also use slow shutter speeds to isolate the subjects in my photos, in the same way I use shallow f stops. In the photo at the top, for example, I wanted the people praying to stand out as the others walked in the procession around them.

A monk walks with his fellow monks in a procession around Wat That Thong on Visakha.
A monk walks with his fellow monks in a procession around Wat That Thong on Visakha. Exposure ¼ of a second at f7.1 and ISO800.

The hardest part about working at slow shutter speeds is controlling camera blur. The rule of thumb is that you should use a shutter speed that is the reciprocal of your focal length to prevent camera blur (i.e. a 200mm lens would require 1/200th of a second, a 50mm lens 1/60th of second and so on). When you start working at really slow shutter speeds, below 1/15th of a second, camera blur becomes an issue, even with a wide angle lens. One way to fix this is to use a tripod. When I know I’m going to be working at slow shutter speeds I carry a little Manfrotto pocket tripod but I very seldom carry a full size tripod when I’m photographing a public event. Using a tripod at Wat That Thong on Visakha would have been practically impossible. It was simply too crowded.

There are other ways you can control camera blur. Rest the camera against something solid, like a wall or a beer bottle or hold your breath while squeezing the shutter button.

A picture made in a bar in Havana, Cuba. I rested my camera, in this case a Contax G2 film camera, on top of a bottle of beer and used the beer as an impromptu tripod. Ektachrome 100VS slide film (ISO100), exposure unrecorded.
A picture made in a bar in Havana, Cuba. I rested my camera, in this case a Contax G2 film camera, on top of a bottle of beer and used the bottle as an impromptu tripod. Ektachrome 100VS slide film (ISO100), exposure unrecorded.

Lately, I’ve been using the Image Stabilization built into my camera body to help with slow shutter speed photos. It’s not perfect, but it helps me get acceptably sharp photos at slow shutter speeds.

Some camera manufacturers build the IS into the body, some build it into the lenses. Which is better? In lens IS is theoretically better because the image stabilization can be fine tuned to the lens. It also makes lenses a lot more expensive. The Canon 70-200mm f2.8 L series zoom without Image Stabilization is about $1,500 US, the same lens with Image Stabilization is a breathtaking $2,500. Image Stabilization built into the body means you have IS with all of your lenses, not just the really expensive ones, so I fall into the IS in the body camp.

The best thing to do is experiment with your camera and how you use it. One of the joys of working digitally is that you can review your work as you go, so you can experiment all day long. Experiments that don’t work out aren’t failures, they’re learning experiences.

Where in the World Are We by Jack Kurtz

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The main map window in Lightroom. Dragging a photo from the filmstrip at the bottom onto the map will embed the location data.
The main map window in Lightroom. Dragging a photo from the filmstrip at the bottom onto the map will embed the location data. In this case it’s reporting that I have 72 photos in my catalog made at the traffic circle in Poipet, Cambodia.

Lightroom has a mapping component built into it that can make it easy to figure out where you were when you made that once in a lifetime photo.

There are a couple of way to embed the data. The easiest and most reliable way to do it is to use a camera that has built in GPS, like the Canon 6D. If you turn on the GPS function (consult the camera manual for specifics) the camera will log your location as you photograph and embed your GPS data in the metadata.

When you import the photos into your Lightroom catalog, they will automatically show up on the map.

(Cameras that record GPS data are not available in all markets, depending on local laws. If you’re buying a camera in a place that prohibits the GPS function, that function will be disabled and you won’t be able to access it. This is why there are two models of the Canon 6D, one with GPS and wifi enabled and one without.)

If you don’t have a 6D, or one of the other cameras that embeds GPS data, you have to work a little harder to get the location data into your file.

In my case, I use an iPhone and the camera in my iPhone to tell me where I am. I usually have location services turned on. When I’m photographing in a new place, or a place where I’m not sure of where I am, I take a couple of pictures with my iPhone. I import the “real” pictures (those made with my 5D Mark III) into my LR catalog then I import the photos from my iPhone into the same folder in my LR catalog. I keep the clocks in my cameras and iPhone in synch, so if I have a picture made at 6:20AM with my iPhone, and pictures made at 6:19AM and 6:21AM made with my Canons, it’s a safe bet that the pictures were made at the same location. I then copy the location data from my iPhone over to the pictures made with my Canons.

Finally, if you don’t have an iPhone or GPS enabled camera but you do know where you were when you made a picture, you can embed the location manually.

Click on the Map module in Lightroom. This will take you into the map mode. Turn on the “Filmstrip” view at the bottom of the LR screen. Back in the map, zoom into the specific location where your photo was made. How far into the map you have to zoom depends on how specific you want to be. If all you care about is the city and province, you can work at low magnifications. If the actual GPS coordinates or specific street address are important you should zoom in until you can see your specific location. Select the photos in the filmstrip view and drop them onto your location on the map. Lightroom will fill in the location data in your IPTC, including the GPS coordinates.

That’s how I got the location data into the pictures at the top of this post. I didn’t actually make 72 pictures at the traffic circle. I made them in the vicinity of the traffic circle, all within a hundred meters of the circle, but dropping them on the traffic circle was close enough for my needs (which was just the town and province in Cambodia where I made the photos).

It’s easy to tell at a glance if your photos have location data embedded in them.

The icons in the bottom of the LR thumbnail tell you a lot about the photo.
The icons in the bottom of the LR thumbnail tell you a lot about the photo.

When you’re in the grid view in Lightroom you’ll see a series of icons in the bottom right corner of the photo (circled in red in the photo above). The icons mean (left to right): keyworded (the tag), location data embedded (the pushpin), cropped (the rectangle) and developed (the +/- on the far right).

Lightroom makes it easy to remember where you were when you made your photos. Don’t be afraid to go into the Map module and do some exploring.