Extremely Average #25: Photographing my Blog pt. 1

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Blog entry by Ecocandle posted 01-27-2010 04:20 AM 2108 reads 1 time favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 24: A Viking Tale Part 25 of Extremely Average series Part 26: Photographing my Blog pt. 2 »

If a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up. -Richard Avedon

I didn’t know about the work of Richard Avedon before his exhibit at the Corcoran at the end of 2008. As a volunteer docent at the gallery I got to hear a lecture from the curator of his traveling exhibit, and learn about his amazing works. I became a fan. This wasn’t the beginning of my love of photography, but it definitely gave me a jolt of energy to continue to practice and work to improve. My weakest area is the use of lighting; in fact, I just had 3 of my images rejected for ‘poor or uneven lighting’. I am not kidding, as I was typing that sentence I stopped to check a message from Shutterstock, and sure enough the images I used in the blogs ‘The English Plane’ and the image of the ‘stack’ were rejected. I don’t sweat those setbacks, because I submit my images to 6 different sites, and it is rare that the inspectors agree, so they will probably get reject by 2 of the 6.

The point is that the subject of proper lighting is somewhat subjective. There are however universal sins. Harsh lighting is always bad. The most common cause of this unfortunate faux pas is the use of an on camera flash. How does one tell if the lighting is harsh? The truth is in the shadows. If one wants to improve their photography, striving to eliminate the hard shadows is a great first step. I am not an expert, as I have said, but I can share the tips I have learned.

In learning how to create ‘saleable’ images for stock sites, I have read thousands of forum posts, several books, and a few tea leaves, trying to unravel the mysteries. One of the first tips I would give is to take your photos, with the camera on a tripod, and use the timer. The reason for this is that you are able to shoot in situations where the light isn’t spectacular. I don’t mean to digress again, but I should mention a little bit about light, and the way cameras work.

Assuming you not shooting in manual mode (and if you are good enough to shoot on manual, you don’t need to continue reading, so go eat a donut and come back in a paragraph or two), your camera is using the tiny computer inside of it. That computer is taking a reading of the available light and it is deciding how quickly it need to open its shutter to get a picture that you will be proud of. Your camera really wants to do a good job for you. When you and your camera are shooting outdoors, with natural light, the camera has a lot more flexibility with how it is able to take the shot. But when you are indoors, in a workshop for instance, under artificial light, the camera looks out into the room and sees almost total darkness. It decides that in order to get a shot that has enough light it must keeps its shutter open for 2, 3, 5 or more seconds.
Now that may not seem like a long time, when compared to the life of a star, or even the time it takes to learn woodworking, but in the world of photography it is an eternity. To hand hold your camera, it needs to open and close its shutter in 1/60th of 1 second. If it is open for twice as long or 1/30th of a second, the vibration from your pulse will cause there to be camera shake. This will lead to a slightly blurry image, and force your significant other to lie to you about how much he or she likes your picture. This is why we want to use a tripod, we don’t need to hold the camera, hence the camera can keep its shutter open until it feels there is enough light to get a clear image. Having the camera lounging on a tripod isn’t enough to eliminate camera shake though, you must also use the timer, lest the slight vibration from the pressing of the button, undo your efforts.

In the world of stock photography, the top photographers shoot medium format Hasselblad, with Carl Zeiss lens, and a digital back. This set up will set you back fifty to sixty thousand dollars. Do you need to run out and buy equipment of this quality? Well, yes you do. I would recommend, if your children are young enough, that you sell a couple them. Another, less recommended option, is to keep the children and introduce them to the joys of spending their afternoons working in a sweat shop. You should still be able to get some nice Nikon or Canon equipment. That being said, it will still take you a little while to get your new equipment, so you will need to get along with your current set up. This is fine, as long as you don’t let it go on for too long. If you have a digital camera, even if it isn’t a fancy pants Nikon or Cannon, it is likely that there will be different write setting which determines how the camera takes the image and writes it to the disk. Once you find the different settings, there will likely be something like, small, medium, large, fine, and raw, or something along those lines. Basically it is determining how high a quality image you are taking. The important one is Raw. Shooting in raw will drastically reduce your memory card capacity, but that is what you want to use. The reason is that in raw, your little camera is basically capturing all the information it needs to make lots of adjustments after the fact.
I can tell by my word count that I have rambled on a bit, and I am not close to finishing my photographing woodworking rant, so I will make this a multiple part series. So before I put this drivel to bed for the night, let me reiterate the main points. Use a tripod, because it gives you flexibility with regards to lighting, and shoot in raw, because after you shoot, you can make adjustments to the image, to get it to look the way you want.
Once you have shot the image and downloaded it to your computer, you will be given an option to open the image in an editing program, usually included with the camera. This is where you can play with the image. You are able to overexpose (make brighter) or underexpose (make darker) the image. You are able to adjust temperature of the light (a future post will go into greater detail about warm vs. cold light) I have included 4 images, the 1st one is cold, the second one is warm, the third one has the black increased, and the 4th one is desaturated and darkened to create a black and white image. They are all from the same single shot, taken in raw. I hope this illustrates the value of raw and will encourage you to give it a try. I also have included a shot showing my lights.

So class, I expect that you are all eager to try out the tips from today’s lecture. Your homework is to write a brief description of the camera equipment that you have in the comments section. Also I invite you to pose any specific questions you might have, though I must warn you that I am not good with world capitals or the periodic table of the elements.

-- Brian Meeks,

19 comments so far

View GMman's profile


3902 posts in 4024 days

#1 posted 01-27-2010 04:22 AM

Sorry my friend but long post like that I don’t read as many more like me.
I like it short and sweet.

View Trikzter's profile


42 posts in 3583 days

#2 posted 01-27-2010 05:18 AM

A worthwhile read none the less. Good idea for those that would like to take better pictures of their projects.

-- Rick... A tree knows more about wood then I do.

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3436 days

#3 posted 01-27-2010 06:42 AM

I enjoyed the blog Brian and someday I might make use of the lessons you provided.

Now, since I was an attentive student, I will complete the task the professor assigned….

My camera is a I880 Motorola Nextel phone camera. I didn’t see a raw setting, but did see a “crap” one and it seems to be the default :)

While selling stock photos would seem a non-viable option, there is always that potential to catch a senator picking his nose, or Tiger Woods standing outside a clinic, in which cases it would appear that quality is not a deciding factor. Besides, people are less suspicious over a phone than they are when someone is setting up the tripod :)

Thank you for sharing your knowledge of photography. I have played around with various software packages and your insight is definitely appreciated.


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View Alonso's profile


949 posts in 3565 days

#4 posted 01-27-2010 07:55 AM

Very nice blog Brian,

Totally worth reading if you want to learn something new.

I really enjoy your blogs, like I said before, there are just a few in here that will do so much work to make such a nice blog. I also share your passion for photography, but still far from you, nice quality pics, may I ask what kind of gear do you use?

Mine is a Nikon D5000 with a AF-S 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6G VR, AF-S Nikkor 55-200mm 1:4-5.6G,Speedlight SB-600, a few polarized filters and a couple of reflectors and diffusers. I’m really looking for lighting set up like this, hopefully I’ll get it soon.

-- The things I make may be for others, but how I make them is for me.

View sras's profile


5034 posts in 3456 days

#5 posted 01-27-2010 08:19 AM

One question – where do I sell my kids? Never mind – they are too old anyway …

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View Broda's profile


313 posts in 3846 days

#6 posted 01-27-2010 09:10 AM

Olympus E-620 with a 14-42 1:3.5-5.6 and 70-300 1:4-5.6 (slow, I know) but Its good enough for where I’m at with photography for the moment. Polarising,Warm and UV filters, tripod and my Lowepro bag. thats about it.Oh, and my LIGHT TENT

-- BRODY. NSW AUSTRALIA -arguments with turnings are rarely productive-

View Alonso's profile


949 posts in 3565 days

#7 posted 01-27-2010 09:21 AM

Clever idea Brody, I got to try it, thanks for sharing


-- The things I make may be for others, but how I make them is for me.

View pommy's profile


1697 posts in 4018 days

#8 posted 01-27-2010 09:28 AM

i liked the read as i have with all your blogs as for the camara i love photography but i have a simple point and shot OLYMPUSm700 it has 23 shot options and if one of thoughs dont work then i’m never going to get a good picture

-- cut it saw it scrap it SKPE: ANDREW.CARTER69

View Broda's profile


313 posts in 3846 days

#9 posted 01-27-2010 09:39 AM

Thanks Alonso but I cant take credit for the idea, as much as I would like to. I believe it was THIS GUY

-- BRODY. NSW AUSTRALIA -arguments with turnings are rarely productive-

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 4488 days

#10 posted 01-27-2010 12:08 PM

Konica-Minolta 7d; 90mm Tamron Macro lens (my most-used lens). Tripod? What’s a tripod. oh yah… that thing! haha (just kidding I use it for my macro photography).

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View stefang's profile


16662 posts in 3661 days

#11 posted 01-27-2010 12:38 PM

Thanks for this blog Brian, I appreciate the time and effort you’ve made to improve our photos. I’m not going for the ultimate, but I sure did learn a few valuable things here. I really needed this info to improve my pictures. A tripod, timed shot, light diffusion? Now I know why I keep getting those fuzzy close-ups too. My camera is a Leica digilux zoom. It has a great lens if only I can learn to use it better. I don’t usually use the flash. I really have to reread the instruction book since I have been using the camera in a very primitive way.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View SPalm's profile


5332 posts in 4209 days

#12 posted 01-27-2010 03:15 PM

I have half a dozen digital point and shoots. I guess I keep buying them to improve my pics. I shot a lot in my youth with a couple of Pentax bodies and a range of lenses. So I understand F-stops and ISO and depth of field etc. All of my early shooting was outside. This inside stuff with digital has me stumped. I should know better and get out my old tripod. And maybe invest in some lights.


-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View Bill729's profile


241 posts in 3409 days

#13 posted 01-27-2010 08:40 PM

With all of the things to spend money on in woodworking, next we might try to bring photography into the mix (arguably it fits well in the context of this forum…)? I’ll probably be the one posting scanned drawings I drew or that I made with Google SketchUp! : ) Sincerely Brian, your photography skills are evidently excellent (I especially liked the one with the shadow of the sun on the water between the mountains).


View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 4212 days

#14 posted 01-27-2010 11:07 PM

Thanks for the post I will be watching for the rest of the series.

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View Raspar's profile


246 posts in 3475 days

#15 posted 01-27-2010 11:53 PM

Just a FYI not may of the point and shoots will do RAW format. If you are in the market for one the Canon s90 does shoot raw and is a great PandP camera.

-- Have thy tools ready. God will find thee work.

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