Want to critique my photos? Well, buddy… SIT and SPIN.

So I was working on a presentation for a local photo club on how to give proper and useful critiques and I wanted to come up with a mnemonic to give people for remembering the parts that go into a good critique. I wrote them down and stared at them for a bit trying to see what kind of acronym would come out, and then there it sat… A mnemonic that people would remember even if they didn’t remember what the letters stood for… SIT/SPIN.

So, let’s break it down…

  • S – See: Take a moment to really look at the photo and absorb it. Look at the big picture, look at small sections for hidden detail, notice where your eye enters, where it goes, where it rests, where it exits. Try to see everything there is to see about the image.
  • I – Interpret: What does the photo make you think of? Emotions? Mood? What do you think the photographer was trying to accomplish with their shot? This step can seem silly to some people, but it’s actually one of the most useful parts. As someone with no emotional attachment to the shot, you can provide untainted feedback that lets the photographer know if they accomplished what they set out to do with the photograph. Also, this is the only step that the photographer can’t learn on their own.
  • T – Technicals: Go through the aspects of the photo that deal with skill using the equipment. Is it in sharp focus, is it exposed properly, how is the noise, etc.
  • S – Subjectives: Go through the artistic parts of the photo. How is the composition? The depth of field? Framing?
  • P – Praise: Talk about the things you like about the photo and why you like them. Again, this part of the critique some people find silly or unnecessary, but it’s a very important part of the learning process. You’re not giving praise to brace them for the impact of what they can improve upon. You’re maintaining their positive attitude to promote learning.
  • I – Improvements: Talk about the parts of the photo that could be improved and be sure to include how to improve it and why you think it would be an improvement. If there are many things that can be improved, focus on one or two that will have the most impact rather than overwhelming them. Remember that your critique is intended to improve the photographer’s future work, not the photo you’re critiquing.
  • N – Nutshell: Wrap up by going back through the highlights to condense any previous rambling you may have done into the concise couple of sentences you’d like the photographer to take away from your critique.

So there you have it. The next time you’re asked to give a critique… SIT & SPIN.

Slides from the presentation to the RCC:

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Calculating Stops

"She'll make point five past light speed."

Understanding stops (and how to calculate them) is a very important skill that is becoming all but lost in the age of built in exposure meters. Not that there’s anything wrong with letting the camera do the mundane work, but what happens when you’re going for a shot that’s outside the ability of the camera to calculate? For instance, with night photography or when using a neutral density filter to get that nice cotton candy water effect your camera may not have enough light to figure out what’s best and suddenly the weight is on your shoulders. The good news is that it’s pretty simple if you know how to multiply and divide by 2.

A Brief Aside on Correct Exposure
Correct exposure is subjective, but when speaking in normal terms, a well exposed image has the shadows just above black and the highlights just short of being blown out. (This post is about figuring out equivalent exposures so I’m going to assume you already know how to identify a good exposure.) When taking a picture we have three things we can adjust: the amount of light we let onto the sensor (Aperture), the length of time that light is allowed in (Shutter Speed), and how sensitive our sensor is to the light hitting it (ISO.) When you combine those three things you get the Exposure.

The Stop
When talking to other photographers you’ll hear things like “expose it a stop higher” or “when shooting HDR, shoot a normal exposure and shots a few stops higher and lower.” What does that mean? It means make the exposure lighter or darker, but beyond that, it means by a specific amount. A stop is a relative measurement of half or double an amount of light and it’s useful for quantifying how much of an adjustment we’re talking about. (BTW, you’ll sometimes see stops referred to as an Exposure Value or EV.)

The Equation
Here’s what you need to know. Doubling any one of the three exposure controls increases the exposure by one stop while halving them decreases the exposure by one stop.

  • Shutter speed is easy. If you’re shooting 1/100, then 1/200 is a stop darker and 1/50 is a stop lighter.
  • ISO is easy too. If you’re shooting at ISO400 you can stop down to ISO200 for a darker image or up to ISO800 for a brighter image.
  • That leaves us with aperture.  Aperture is referring to the size of hole in the lens that the light passes through. If you double the size of that hole, you let in double the light. Halve the size and you halve the light. Easy! Aperture is a simple concept, but can be confusing because of how it’s measured. Let’s stick with simplicity for the purpose of this post and not dive into why those numbers are measured the way they are (I’ll cover that in-depth elsewhere, but the short version is that it’s a fraction.) Just know that the bigger number means a smaller opening and a smaller number means a bigger opening (so f/2.8 lets in a lot more light than f/11.) Some of the common numbers you’ll see are: f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16. (Each jump in that list represents a stop, so f/2.8 to f/4 is one stop. f/5.6 to f/11 is 2 stops. And if you have trouble with memorizing that list, just remember 2 and 2.8 and you can figure out the rest from there by doubling – 2, 4, 8, 16 and 2.8, 5.6, 11)

So, you’re shooting at night and you take a shot at 30 seconds, F/11, and 200ISO. Your image looks okay, but your friend shooting nearby says it’d look great if it were 2 stops brighter. So what can you do?

– Change the shutterspeed by 2 stops. Doubling it once gets you 1 minute. Again gets you 2 minutes.

– You could increase the ISO by 2 stops. From 200 to 400 to 800.

– You could open your aperture by 2 stops. From f/11 to f/8 to f/5.6.

All of those examples will work to brighten the exposure, but you could also make smaller adjustments to multiple settings to get two stops. For example, increase the shutter speed to 1 minute and increase the ISO to 400.

Go Practice!
The math is easy, it just takes a little bit of practice and you’ll be calculating stops in your head in no time. One of the best resources I’ve found for online practice is the DSL Simulator at CameraSim.com. Give it a try!

Churning Backbone Rock

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Exposure Roanoke Model Shoot – March 2011

Robert Bryant, one of our photo club members, is into video and he put this together during our most recent outing. Check it out for a good idea of what the Exposure Roanoke photo club is all about.

Exposure Roanoke Model Shoot – March 2011 from HappyCatFilms on Vimeo.

And be sure to check out Rob’s website too: http://www.happycatfilms.com

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Shutter Curtains and Flash Sync Speed

A terrific explanation of how your shutter curtains work and how your flash works with them.

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The Myth of the Unmanipulated Image

A good writeup by Don Peters on what photo manipulation means these days.

The Myth of the Unmanipulated Image

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