November 25, 2013

November 18, 2013

The small pleasures of life

One of the small pleasures of life is getting home after a long day (or night) and taking off your shoes... Which one is yours?

November 14, 2013

Camera lenses. What they are and how to choose them in photography. Part I

A camera lens is an optical device which captures the light in a scene and focus it onto the film or digital sensor. It is made of several lens elements: extra refractive glass (which alters the angle of refractive light), aspherical elements (correcting into focus peripheral rays), low dispersion elements (which reduce chromatic aberration), anomalous dispersion elements (to control the amount of diffraction of light for a specific color range). The quality of these elements will determine the whole quality of  lens and image captured.

Lens is probably the most important part of a camera so you should carefully choose it when buying a new camera or upgrading a lens. But, with so many options out there,  which one should you choose?

To answer this question you need to answer several other questions, like which focal length you need, which the maximum aperture, or the fastest focusing, or the sharpest image, or the softest bokeh...  You also need to know the size of the sensor or your camera because the focal length may change: to make a focal length of 50mmm on 35film (or full sensor) equivalent on APS-C sensor (which is smaller) you need a 35mm while you need a 25mm for the micro 4/3 (even smaller) or a 80mm for a medium format (bigger than 35mm). The best advise is to choose your camera lens according to what you photograph and to your photographic style. But you have to know about lenses to be able to make the right choice. So let's have a look at them!

Standard lenses. When a lens has a focal depth in the range between 35mm and 70mm it is called standard lens because it resembles the way the human eye sees things (about 50mm on a 35mm film): subjects will have the same size and the same proportions as seen trough the eyes. They are general purpose lenses, ideal for the kind of shots people normally take. This is the range that the kit zoom lenses supplied with the camera cover: these are very cheap lenses that do their job but the quality is quite poor; so, if you want to get any serious about photography, change them!

Wide-angle lenses. When a lens has a focal length minor than 35mm it is considered a wide-angle. Most people say that they use these lenses to fit the scene in the shot when they can't move further away: don't listen to them! This use is very reductive for a wide angle lens; photographers use it for the opposite reason: to get closer to the subject (street photographers make great use of these lenses). The wider vision and the really close minimum focus distance are characteristics that play in favour of creativity. Wide-angle lenses exaggerates the relative proportion of objects at different distance, making the closer one appear bigger; this emphasizes objects in the foreground but can turn a portrait in a caricature.  Line and curves are exaggerated too due to the barrel distortion; photographing converging lines can be tricky (you should always aim to the horizon to avoid them or correcting them with an edition software if you don't have a tilt-shift lens). One more thing to take care of while shooting with wide-angle lenses is the light changes throughout the image due to wide portion of the scene in the frame, both horizontally (this variation can be corrected with GDN filter or bracketing for HDR) and vertically attention to the position of the light source is needed: the closer the light source is to the frame, the whiter will be the image (think of a clear sky, with the sun out of frame, which turns from deep blue to white).

If the focal length is greater than 70mm the lens is called telephoto.  Do you want to know more about it? Stay tuned for part 2!

November 11, 2013

The naked window

A window, a model and some natural light. A perfect combination for nude photography on Tmaxx 400.

November 08, 2013


I was walking around the Vieux-Port in Montreal when I saw this building: I went back the following day when the sun was at the right position to cast the shadows I desired and get the picture I wanted.

November 06, 2013

Film review. An analysis of the cinematography of Only God Forgives, by Nicolas Winding Refn

Only God Forgives is the last film by the Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Bronson, Valahalla Rising) which was selected in last year Cannes Film Festival official Competition.

The plot. A drug smuggler owns a Thai box gym in Bangkok as a front for his drug operations. When his brother is killed, his mother, and chief of the organization, arrives urging him to find his brother's killer and revenge him.

Cinematography: Larry Smith
Camera: Arri Alexa Plus, Red Epic
Lenses:  Cooke S4
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Format: ARRIRAW, Redcode RAW
Film Stock: -

Only God Forgives is the second collaboration between director  Nicolas Winding Refn and cinematographer Larry Smith (The Guard, Bronson) who worked as gaffer and lighting cameraman in Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, Barry Lyndon and The Shining. His election for digital and cameras such as the Arri Alexa and the Red Epic is justified not only for budget reasons but also because they were working with a 7 weeks schedule with numerous locations, so they had to be quick and fast at shooting.

The image is softened with  the lenses used, the Cooke S4, as we can notice by its signature: the octagonal iris. Borders are soft, contrast isn't high and the transition to out-of-focus areas is soft too, while skin tones are slightly warmer. Definitely one of the best solutions to give the digital format a cine-like look.

Most of the times Smith chooses a one-light-set-up to light the scene. It is often a strong light which falls onto the characters after passing trough some kind of grid, painting patterns of strong shadows on character's face and body, which is visually interesting. This kind of lighting is obviously theatrical and it is reinforced with the beautiful use of on set lights, like Chinese lanterns in the karaoke club  or the lights on the wall at the restaurant, creating a more natural and diffused light.

But the characteristic of Smith's cinematography which is predominant throughout the film is the use of colored filters on light. In order to recreate the ambient of Bangkok and of the places where most of the scenes where shots, lights are filtered with red gels. Sometimes different colours filters, mainly blue, are used so colour contrast is strongly increased. There are scenes, like the fight one,  lit with a red tone ambient light  while the key light lighting the characters is white: bright neons and strong reds coexist to transmit the feeling of a city and a story filled up with blood, eroticism, violence and darkness.

Anyway, Only God Forgives' cinematography is meant to visually impress only. There are some beautiful images in the film but they are just that: they don't enhance character's feelings or the story which itself is also meant to impress and is missing something that has to be basic for a film: content.

November 05, 2013

Light tips. How to light a subject with pronounced chin

Every subject is different and has different characteristics, that's why we have to light every subject with different light: lighting is a powerful tool to hide or enhance features in a portrait. Here are some tips about how to light a subject with pronounced chin.

Do not use a strong Key Light: it will produce strong shadows enhancing the size of the chin.

Do not use side Rim Light: it will highlight the chin.

Do not use wide angle lenses: it will distort the relative proportion making the chin look even bigger.

Do use a low Key Light: the lower the Key light the less the chin will produce shadows. Shadows are subconsciously linked to object's size, that's why we have to minimize them if we don't want something to look big. For the same reason placing the Key Light frontal will help.

Do shadow the area: if it is possible, let the chin to fall into shadows to hide it. Another solution may be softening the light on the chin.

Hope you find it useful! Stay tuned for more lighting tips!

November 04, 2013

Portrait of a girl with a white shirt

I reinforced and softened the sun light coming through the window on the left and created more contrast with development. It was taken on Tmaxx 400.

November 02, 2013

Still from Films. A possible light diagram of a scene from Piazza Fontana: The Italian Conspiracy

Cinematography: Roberto Forza
Camera:Arricam LT, Arricam ST
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Format: 35mm
Film Stock: Kodak Vision

Piazza Fontana: The Italian Conspiracy (Romanzo di una strage) is a film that deals with a bombing at a major bank back in 1969 and whose authors were never found: it was surrounded by the popular belief that the Italian Government was somehow involved. That's why its cinematography is full of contrasts and chiaroscuro, like the screen shot above. This is a one light setting: a lightly diffused HMI light  placed outside the door, not to high, just above the characters' head, producing a strong silhouette and deep large shadows, meaning that the truth, what is untold, is far bigger than people are really told. It is a theatrical light which definitely adds drama to the image while the slanted angle stresses out the tension of the scene.