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Dash of Inspiration: Image Quality – Lighting/Flash Eye

August 12, 2013

A Dash of Inspiration, A Cup of Creativity by Doreen

Image Quality: Lighting/Flash Eye

Let’s keep this series going by completing the IMAGE QUALITY grouping of the Submission Guidelines, and last up  is:

IMAGE QUALITY: Lighting / Flash-eye        

The Submission Guidelines state this:

Photographs must have exceptionally good lighting. Avoid submitting images with deep shadows and blown-out highlights which lose detail in those areas, or red-eye (flash-eye) in photographs of living beings. Declines may include, but are not limited to: blown out highlights, complete loss of detail in important shadows, harsh lighting, very low lighting, flash-eye regardless of the whether the result is red or not, etc.  

In addition to the above, GCU asked me to include in this section sunsets and fireworks, both often have issues with lighting.

Deep Shadows/Blown-out Highlights: Photographs must have a full tonal range. Though there are some exceptions to this rule, they are rare and you must fully understand the techniques required to master those exceptions, or you will just end up with a photograph that simply has poor lighting. Shadows and highlights must have detail. Dark black areas which are not silhouettes are generally considered poor exposure. Hot spots, are the highlights (whites) of an image which are commonly referred to as ‘blown-out’. Look at the examples, you’ll see this is when there is nothing left but white, as if the light burned a hole in the image. Tips for avoiding deep shadows and blown-out highlights:

  • Every photographer should go through a ‘bonding process’ with their camera to explore and record how much over-exposing and under-exposing their specific camera can handle under different lighting situations, yet still capture detail in both the shadows and highlights. Once you know this, you can …
  • Use exposure compensation techniques. In normal daylight, I usually shoot at minus 1-1/3 f/stops, because my Canon7D does a great job under normal daylight conditions (shooting RAW) of capturing detail in both the shadows and highlights if I compensate. Then when I bring the image into my processing tools, I can adjust the lighting to perfection.
  • Bracket your exposures and you are nearly guaranteed a perfect result, call it an ‘insurance policy’ for a good shot. Most SLR cameras have this feature built in (and have since the film-based days).  All you have to do is turn it on, then based on your findings in the first tip (know your camera), set your SLR to a ‘continuous’ shutter mode so that it takes three pictures each time you hit the shutter AND set your exposure increments. Now each time you shoot, one is exposed as you have set the camera, the 2nd shot is under-exposed by however much you set it for and the 3rd is over-exposed by that same amount.  If you are shooting where you will never be able to re-shoot the moment … then BRACKET your exposures … ALWAYS!

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Harsh Lighting:  Flash, wrong time of day, and poor placement of both the subject and the camera are all causes of harsh lighting. Basically it’s just about bad choices. These can all make the overall image too bright or areas of the image too bright while other areas fall into deep contrasting shadows. Tips for controlling and avoiding harsh lighting:

  • Whenever possible, wait and watch how the lighting changes in the area you are shooting and try to choose a time when lighting is softer, warmer and less harsh.
  • Diffuse the light. Learn about filters you can add to your lens which will reduce the lighting.
  • Control the light by moving your subject and/or your camera to create a silhouette or strong directional lighting.
  • Reflect the light for a ‘bounced light’ effect which is softer. You can bounce a flash, but you can also bounce natural light by positioning yourself and your subject so that the ‘harsh’ light hits a wall and reflects back onto your subject creating a much softer balance between your highlights and shadows.

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Very Low Lighting: Just as harsh lighting is not acceptable, neither is an image that’s simply too dark. Not only is this usually not attractive, it’s a problem for printing when low lighting causes a lack of contrast and tonal values. Low lighting also causes problems from camera shake when hand-held. Such as a moving subject like fireworks, if you wish to photograph fireworks for your greeting card images, then use a tripod and ensure your exposure captures the detail in the highlights without washing out the sky, AND stops the motion of the fireworks. You may consider poorly lit light swirls from an exposure which is too slow as an artistic move, but at GCU it’s most likely a decline.

Tips for photographing fireworks:

  • Keep the camera steady! A tripod is an absolute must, as long exposures are required and camera shake is a common mistake.
  • Shoot in manual mode so you can control the shutter speed and aperture separately for great DOF while allowing for long exposures using a low film speed to reduce color noise.
  • Stay upwind of the fireworks to avoid the ugly smoke that will cloud your image.

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Flash Eye (Red-Eye): Whether the eyes of your living being are yellow, green, red or simply just showing no pupil from the flash, all will be declined.  Eyes which do not show pupils and a ‘catch-light’ are considered to look ‘lifeless’ rather than the eyes of a living being with personality. This applies to people as well as animals. Photographers learn early in their training how to avoid ‘flash-eye’ and how to create those all important catch-lights.

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Sunsets: Sunsets are like flowers, every person with a camera shoots them, but not all of them are worthy of anything more than being in your family album.  Sunsets need to have a wow factor to stand out in the crowd of today’s competition. If the sun looks as though it has burned a hole in the image, it’s likely to be declined. Tips for creating a sunset photo with that ‘wow’ factor:

  • Plan ahead … watch where the sun is setting and scope out (in advance) a place to shoot which includes a beautiful scene to show off the setting sun.
  • Put your camera on a tripod and prepare to take exposures frequently throughout the setting of the sun so you can choose the one which best captures the dynamics of the colors offered and the surroundings.
  • Keep in mind that some of the most impressive sunset photos do not actually show the sun, just the lighting this time of day creates and spectacular color make impressive statements.
  • Remember your Exposure Bracketing! This is a perfect technique to ensure a dynamic result.
  • Turn off Auto White Balance if your camera has it. Sunsets should have a warmer tone that auto white balance allows.
  • Composition is everything!  It’s not the sun in a photograph that creates a great sunset, in most cases it’s the colors, lighting and way you have composed the subject that captures a perfect sunset moment.

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Next week we’ll begin the last category in the Submission Guidelines: MARKETABILITY.  Till next week, I hope I’ve inspired you to not only go through your store and see if you can weed out any images that the reviewers will find during their weeding which might have lighting issues, but also to keep these things in mind on your next photo shoot.

For great resources & tips visit the SalonOfArt

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 12, 2013 2:31 pm

    An excellent article. Thank you, Doreen. I remember once a photographer (hmm, I wonder what her name was!) gave me a critique on a white flower shot I had taken with blown highlights that I hadn’t even noticed until that point. I’ve never forgotten and my photography has improved tremendously since then (thank you, Doreen!) And one trick I’ve learned to help find blown highlights if you’re not sure about where they are, if you stand up and look down on your monitor, blown highlights will appear as a splotch of a whitish aqua blue on your screen.

    • August 12, 2013 2:40 pm

      Great to hear Tracie … and you are so welcome for the critique so long ago! It’s been a delightful journey watching you grow as a photographer and seeing so many WOW factor images come from all you’ve learned 🙂

      Good tip. Here’s another, if you can’t tone down the highlights in the image … in other words they remain a hot white spot even when you’ve pulled the range down to where the image is otherwise dark, and you still have a white spot … your highlights are blown.

      Blown highlights = no recovery


  2. August 12, 2013 8:06 pm

    These are perfect examples where the details make a big difference – and is the difference between an approved and a declined submission.

    Thank you Doreen!

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