Angle

by Joseph T. Sinclair

The classic photographic angle for shooting is 4.7 feet off the ground to 6 feet off the ground; that is, it depends on the height of the standing photographer. Clearly, this angle is not one-size-fits-all. Consequently, you should strive to take photographs from an angle that best suits the subject. The question is, how do you do that?

First, always be aware of what the possibilities are. For example, you can easily change the angle just by sitting down and shooting or even lying on your stomach. Such an angle is not appropriate for all photos, but it can add a lot of drama to some photos.

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Taken at lower than eyelevel on a trail along the Carquinez Strait

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Taken flat on the ground

Second, if you have an articulating LCD screen on your camera,  you can set it so that you can lower your camera at arm’s length or raise your camera at arm’s length to get an extra couple feet for a different angle in your shot. You need to set the articulation, of course, so that you can see the screen while you shoot.

Third. Can you climb on something nearby to get a higher angle shot without being arrested? I don’t advocate jumping on top of someone else’s car, but there may be something nearby that you can climb on safely and get that extra high shot. If you’re doing a well-prepared photo shoot, you can even bring along a stepladder to get a higher shot.

Fourth. Can you find a place where you can get a low shot? I don’t advocate removing manhole covers and climbing down into the sewer to get a street-level shot. But there are plenty of places where you might be able to get significantly downhill from the subject to take a good shot.

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Gerald R. Ford memorial nondominational chapel at Beaver Creek, Colorado

Fifth, along a horizontal plane, you can change your angle by moving right or left. It’s usually standing in front of the subject that might be the least interesting. But with a little energy, you might visit each side of the subject to see whether you can get a good side-angle shot that’s better than a front shot.

Sixth, what about a shot from behind? Maybe shooting the subject head on is not your best photo. Maybe getting behind the subject and shooting will give you a better photo or at least an additional worthwhile photo.

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A horse of a different angle

Seventh, think of your subject as having a transparent geodesic dome over it and that you can take a photo from any place on the dome that you can reach safely (e.g., by walking, climbing, or drone).

Eighth, consider all the angles that might bring you some additional interest. For instance, if you consider all the angles, you might come with an angle it has a surprising foreground or background that you had not previously perceived. You might see additional subjects that you can include in your photograph that are otherwise not visible from your original shooting angle.

Ninth, when you find yourself at an unusual angle, take full advantage of it while you can. For instance, if you happen to be driving along the top of a hill, stop and take a look to see if there’s a good photograph to be taken of something below.

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Taken from a cruise ship in Alaska 70 feet above the water

Tenth, dive into the subject (the scene) to look for a photo. I once got to sit in the middle of the Denver Symphony Orchestra while in rehearsal, a great photo-op. For a more pedestrian example, most people go to the Grand Canyon, stand on the rim, and take photos. Sure, you can get some great shots. Never mind the haze in the air from West Coast pollution that’s been there for last 60 years. And when you’re done, you have the same photos that have been on 900 million postcards going back more than a century. But if you take the nearest trail down into the canyon, with each step down you’ll begin to see fantastic photo-ops that you’ve never seen before. It doesn’t matter which trail; you don’t have to go very far; and most of the tourist trails are not difficult. It’s the same world from a different angle. The different angle yields original new images.

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On a trail in the Grand Canyon below the rim

Finally, think ahead and go prepared. For instance, if you’re going to shoot flowers for several hours and be on your knees much of the time doing so, take along some knee pads. If you going to shoot insects laying on your stomach for a considerable time, take along a blanket to lay on. If you’re going to climb a hill to get a good angle, wear some sturdy shoes or hiking boots.

Cam – Mic – Zoom

For those who haven’t participated in a Zoom meeting yet, it is very compelling. Give it a try. The Club’s Zoom meetings have been great fun. The essence is that video really makes the meetings compelling, but there seem to be many participants without video. I encourage everyone to get a video camera (cam).

Most laptops, tablets, and smartphones have built-in microphones (mics) and cams. If you have a desktop computer (or laptop) without a mic and cam, however, you can purchase USB mics and cams that work well.

Logitech seems to have a monopoly on the high-quality cams, but Logitech is out of stock most of the time (same for Amazon and other vendors). Logitech cams sell on eBay now for 100% to 300% of MSRP, including the used ones. Very old models sell for high prices too. This won’t last forever, but the demand is very high now.

Unbranded cams sell as low as $20 on Amazon. I recommend buying a more expensive one with more features (e.g., $40 to $80). Check the reviews and make sure the delivery date is soon. Many cams come with a built-in mic, particularly the most recent and higher-priced models. Of course, attending a Club Zoom meeting is worth much more than $80.

If you need a mic, there are some good quality USB podcast mics available for $40 to $70 that you can find by googling “best inexpensive microphones for podcasting.” But many less expensive USB mics work well too.

If you want a really sharp video image with a great sound, you will need to spend $100 or more on a Logitech cam, if you can find one that isn’t marked up above MSRP and is available now. But some of the more expensive unbranded cams on Amazon might be high quality too. Of course, Amazon isn’t the only place to buy cams. Most of the places that sell computers and cameras also sell cams.

FYI: Zoom had 10 million daily participants in December 2019. Today it has 300 million daily participants. A Zoom account is free; but more useful Zoom accounts (bigger meetings) cost a monthly fee. You do not have to have a Zoom account to participate in a Zoom meeting. Zoom has been the leader in virtual meetings because it is very easy for participants to use, and it works well.

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Gift Photograph

It seems like a good idea that a fine art photograph makes a good present (Christmas, birthday, wedding, anniversary, or special occasion). But it may not be a good idea without qualifications. Why not?

  1. Most people (except young people just starting their adult lives) don’t have vacant wall space. If you give them a medium-size or large photograph as a present, they may have no wall space to hang it.
  2. Unless you put a frame around it, the recipient may never use it. Framing is expensive.
  3. Art is enjoyed according to taste, which is very personal. The recipient may not appreciate your photographic art.

A photograph that answers the above concerns, however, may be an appropriate gift. And a small metal print answers such concerns.

  1. It’s small. People can always find a place to hang a small print.
  2. It doesn’t need a frame. Thus, it can be less expensive than a framed paper print.
  3. If the recipient doesn’t like it, it’s not a lot of wasted money.

A photograph that you purposely take to be a small photograph (rather than just any photography you shrink down) can be a great photograph. Small is not necessarily lower quality.

Accordingly, giving a fine art photograph as a present isn’t inherently a bad idea. It’s just an idea that requires a little common sense.

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The Half-Million Dollar Darkroom

Photography has two hemispheres: the shooting of a photo with a camera and the manipulating of the image into its final form. If the photographer is a commercial photographer, the purpose of postprocessing is to fine-tune the photo to a commercial standard. If the photographer is a fine art photographer, the purpose of postprocessing is, well, almost anything that suits the aesthetic whims of the artist. The point is that postprocessing is an integral part of photography.

It used to be that photographers were crippled. That is, they couldn’t or didn’t do thoroughgoing postprocessing. Some photographers had an impoverished darkroom in their closet, a half measure. Others had a studio darkroom that provided a broader range of image manipulation but not the robust facility of a commercial photo lab. Many photographers left postprocessing to photo labs, and the best labs were ones that did the best job of catering to the whims of good photographers. But catering and doing it oneself are decidedly different activities. And the chemical process itself is severely limited not only in scope but by the huge amount of time and expense involved. Consequently, postprocessing in the film days was despair for most and at best an arduous opportunity for just a few.

Although that was true for black and white, it was also typical of color postprocessing but more so. More variables, more chemicals, more equipment, more technology, more of everything. It was, indeed, overwhelming. It was a hemisphere seldom emancipated from its severe chemical limitations.

Adobe Photoshop is the half-million-dollar darkroom we never had. But it’s more. It’s a darkroom unchained from the limitations of the film era. The good news is that it’s dirt cheap, much faster, much more convenient, and with a robust capability unimagined before the digital age. The dark side is that it has a steep and inconvenient learning curve. It’s not for the lazy. It’s for the complete photographer.

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By “Photoshop,” I mean any one of the categories of full-bodied photo processing software now available to everyone, such as Lightroom, Corel, DxO, Phase One, etc. And, of course, Photoshop itself. No messy, expensive, lung-mauling, eye-maiming chemicals. Instead, instant results all in the space of a computer, anywhere. It’s hard to imagine going from such an archaically inconvenient system to such an insanely convenient one. But it has happened. Isn’t it bizarre that photographers bitch and moan about paying $9/month for Photoshop when their film/processing/chemical expenses per month during the film era might have been ten or fifty or a hundred times as much.

Ah, but it’s the learning curve. Photoshop is too difficult to learn. One doesn’t need all that capability. One can get by with Microsoft Paint, which is free. Swinewash! In one Photoshop community college course, you can learn to do more postprocessing than Ansel Adams ever dreamed. And why wouldn’t you?

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with getting the best possible photo you can in the first place. We spent hundreds or even thousands on equipment to do so. And postprocessing can’t turn a lousy photo into an acceptable one. But there are so many ways to take a photo inadvertently imperfect, even if slightly so, that postprocessing is valuable for almost every shot you’ll ever take. And for many shots, it’s the difference between life and death (of the photograph, not the photographer). Thus, in the digital age, Photoshop has become essential to be a proficient postprocessor. No excuses. No half-baked software. No shirking widely available training. It’s what you do as a photographer.

The difference between the very good and excellence in almost every human activity is marginal. That is, it’s the result of the little extra bit of talent and hard work that goes into the completion of a project or activity. For photographers, this means that knowing and using first-rate software for postprocessing is the edge that generates excellence. That assumes, of course, that one has done an excellent job of shooting the photos in the first place. But it’s hard to imagine an excellent photographer today who’s not an expert in using Photoshop. It’s inexpensive, and the training is no more demanding than a trade school or college course (for a solid postprocessing foundation).

For commercial photographers, it’s a path to excellence. For fine art photographers, it’s a creativity bonanza. For those photographers who abstain, it means being forever stuck in the yesterday of the photographic craft unable to handle fresh possibilities.

But what about amateurs (enthusiasts), some of whom are more competent than career photographers? If amateurs do anything besides take snapshots, they invariably follow a commercial model or a fine art model in their photographic activities. Consequently, they are in the same boat as commercial and fine art photographers. They need to do their own postprocessing and use full-bodied photo editing software (e.g., Photoshop).

To reach your full potential as a photographer, you need to do your own postprocessing and do it in the most competent manner possible. The half-million-dollar darkroom is with us for the foreseeable future, and the savvy photographer will embrace it.

Inspire Yourself

It seems to me that modern art museums are more historical collections than aesthetic collections. If so, where do you go today to see really good art (including good photographs)? Galleries whether online or offline are uneven quality. Some good artists but mostly average artists.

Back in the good old days when I was a writer attending digital industry trade shows on a press pass, I was always thrilled to see the annual Adobe collection. Adobe featured about 50 works of digital art (including photographs) at its trade shows, albeit in physical form. The art was stunning. Much more great art in one place than anywhere else I’ve ever seen.

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My attempt at art, not from Adobe

Alas, today Adobe charges over $1,000 for entry to its trade shows, and I don’t have a press pass. I don’t know whether they still feature their annual art collection. If they do, it’s almost worth $1,000 to see it.

Fortunately, Adobe recently started Create, an online magazine. It’s wonderful. It’s free. And it’s an inspiration. I’m amazed at the high quality of the art. It’s one of those publications you don’t want to miss viewing.

https://create.adobe.com/

Think about it. Today the US population is triple what it was 100 years ago. Back then you could know most of the leading artists if you were an art aficionado. Today people have more leisure time. And artists find it easier to stay alive on a small income (although not to live a middle-class life) than ever before.

Today there are simply too many great artists. Even if you’re an aesthete, you just don’t know or have never heard of most of the great artists among us. Our descendants will still be discovering them many decades from now. But what’s a good way to gain some access to some of our great photographers today? I believe Create is one way. Not all the featured artists are great. But enough are in order for the magazine to stretch your imagination.

Print Sharpness

It’s difficult to discuss sharpness without making some assumptions. The photograph itself has to be sharp. That means a good camera and lens, correct focus, steady platform, etc. This discussion assumes that you start with a sharp photograph. And then you print.

As an example, let’s use the Sony A7 II, a 24MP (megapixel) camera, which has a frame of 6000 x 4000 pixels.

Commercial printing (e.g. magazines) is done at 240 dpi. Fine art printing is done at 300 dpi. (Most people can’t see much more than 300 dpi.) At 240 dpi the Sony 24MP camera generates a physical print 25 x 16.7 inches. At 300 dpi the print is 20 x 13.3 inches. (length in pixels ÷ dpi). When you consider viewing distance, however, the further you get away from a photograph, the less dpi you need to create the same illusion of sharpness.

The distance/sharpness is difficult to calculate due to so many variables. But the chart at this website gives you something to go by:

http://resources.printhandbook.com/pages/viewing-distance-dpi.php.

It indicates that at a 24-inch viewing distance, you need 300 dpi to get the maximum sharpness. Yet at a 40-inch distance, you need only 180 dpi to get the maximum sharpness. Think of 24 inches as being about the distance you view a photography book or look at a computer monitor. Think of 40 inches as being about the typical distance you look at a photograph hanging on the wall in a museum, gallery, office, or home.

Using the 40-inch viewing distance, you can generate a 33.3 x 22.2 inch print of a 6000 x 4000 pixel photograph at 180 dpi, and it will look as sharp as can be. But if someone sticks their nose into it (gets closer than 40 inches), it will not look its maximum sharpness.

Another means of determining distance/sharpness is to calculate the maximum viewing distance according to the diagonal measurement of the printed photograph. Some experts say the viewing distance should be 2x, some 1.5x, and some 1x (of the diagonal).

Calculate the diagonal with the formula: c = √(a2 + b2) where a and b are the frame dimensions and c is the frame diagonal. Thus, for a 20 x 13.3 inch print, the diagonal is 24 inches. At the conservative 1x, the viewing distance is 24 inches for maximum sharpness (300 dpi). At 1.5x, the viewing distance is 36 inches. And at 2x the viewing distance is 48 inches. Thus, for these last two distances, you would need only a dpi well under 300 to provide maximum sharpness for viewers.

It’s all very subjective. But one thing is certain. The first consideration of sharpness is how the viewer will see the print. And distance matters.

The next consideration is whether you can improve the sharping because it’s a digital photograph and not a film photograph? For many digital photographs the answer is a modest yes. For some photographs the answer is an absolute yes. Sharping digital photographs is beyond the scope of this article and is also subjective. But you may be able to enlarge a photograph 10%, 20%, or 30% and still retain its inherent sharpness by applying sharping in postprocessing. (However, you can’t take an unsharp photograph and make it sharp with postprocessing.) In other words, just by sharping in postprocessing, you may be able to enlarge a photograph a little without the loss of sharpness.

Another consideration is general enlarging. How much can you enlarge a photograph without noticeably losing sharpness? One of the original guidelines was that you could enlarge about 30% by doing 10% at a time, without noticeably losing sharpness. Today the algorithms are better, but the experts’ opinions are subjective. Some say 50% enlargement. Some as high as 400%. But this is something that depends on the characteristics of the photograph, your enlarging experimentation, and the software you use. You might want to do your experimenting with a small portion of your photograph first before committing to printing the whole enlargement.

You will want to remember that enlarging 2x does not double the frame dimensions. It doubles the area of the photograph. If you double the frame dimensions, you enlarge the area 4x.

Finally, consider the medium. Metal prints can be printed at 300 dpi, although 240 dpi is a typical default for metal printing services. The dpi of inkjet printers is virtually impossible to calculate without a lot of specifications you probably can’t easily get. The dpi for inkjet and laser printers is based on advertising, not on the traditional printing dpi. In other words, a 1200-dpi inkjet printer may print only at 280 dpi according to traditional printing specifications. If you buy a printer, you may want to ascertain the actual traditional print specification first, if available. Likewise, if a photographic service provider uses an ink et printer, you will want to likewise ascertain the actual traditional print specifications.

A word of warning. You can order a 12000 x 8000 print of your 6000 x 4000 pixel photograph, and no one at a photographic service will give it a second thought. They will simply automatically enlarge it 4x as part of their processing. Although they usually have good enlarging software, it raises the question of whether you would rather enlarge it yourself knowing that your photograph will otherwise be automatically enlarged. In other words, just because you can order something, doesn’t mean that it will retain its sharpness to the degree you require for your viewers. You may want to have more control.

What’s my practice? I don’t enlarge anything and don’t worry about sharpness. With my 25 MP camera, this is a practical point of view. Nonetheless, there are always those situations where I need a large print, and enlargement is required. In such cases (rare for me because I print few photographs), I decide how to enlarge based on the factors outlined in this article; that is, I handle each photograph on a custom basis. But if you find yourself enlarging your photographs all the time, you may want to get a camera with more MPs thus enabling you to forgo enlarging so much of the time. The new Sony A7R IV has 61 MPs (35mm type camera) with a 9504 x 6336 pixel frame, and its brand competitors are comparable.

Finally, if you typically crop much of a digital photograph away, you may have a need to enlarge what you have left. In that case, a camera with plenty of MPs is doubly useful to your photography efforts.

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