PERC Receives “Best of” Fine Art School Photography Award

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Jan 182012
Best of Raleigh Award

PERC receives Best of Raleigh award.

NEW YORK, NY, December 6, 2011 —

Photographer’s Education and Resource Center (PERC) has been selected for the 2011 Best of Raleigh Award in the Fine Art Schools category by the U.S. Commerce Association (USCA).

The USCA “Best of Local Business” Award Program recognizes outstanding local businesses throughout the country. Each year, the USCA identifies companies that they believe have achieved exceptional marketing success in their local community and business category. These are local companies that enhance the positive image of small business through service to their customers and community.

Various sources of information were gathered and analyzed to choose the winners in each category. The 2011 USCA Award Program focuses on quality, not quantity. Winners are determined based on the information gathered both internally by the USCA and data provided by third parties.


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Apr 172013

FOCUS STACKING: Focus stacking is a technique where you create a deep depth of field by combining multiple images with different focal points. This technique is useful for landscapes, macro, or product photography, among other things. Place your subjects (e.g. bottles or candles) equidistant from one another, in a row moving away from your camera. Use a 24-70mm or similar lens set to 32mm or 33mm (to simulate a 50mm lens on crop camera) or 50mm on a full frame body. Set aperture to f/4.0. ISO depends upon your ambient lighting conditions. Make sure the camera is securely mounted to a tripod and your ambient light is consistent.

At f/4.0 you will see that there is a large area out of focus. We need to shoot four separate shots, each at the same exposure, but each one focused on the center point of the subject. Here is one of the few times LiveView comes in handy. Use it to make a real close, sharp focus on each subject. Autofocus first, then manually fine tune with LiveView.

FOCUS STACKING II: Bring all four images into Photoshop. Create a new file matching the dimensions and resolution of the images just taken. Drag each image to the new file in reverse order. (the last shot is first, the first shot is last in the stack.

Select all the layers in layers palette and go to Image, Auto-Align Layers. From the window, select Auto and click OK. Once finished, go to Image, Auto-Blend Layers and from the window select Stack Images. Click OK. You may need to crop the final image to remove any softness or irregularities created by the focal differential.

Apr 122013
  • COLOR SPACE: If you check your camera you will probably see two options for color space: Adobe RGB and sRGB.  You might wonder what this is, so here is a simple explanation. All devices that display or output graphics (photos and illustrations), such as cameras, printers, monitors, etc. have a color space associated with them. Essentially each color space is a box of crayons, and like the larger boxes of crayons, larger color spaces encompass and can create more colors. Adobe RGB is to sRGB what a box of 128 crayons is to a box of 64 crayons, so it would make sense, on the surface, to set your camera to Adobe RGB as it contains and can display more colors. However, most labs, for professional photographers or amateurs, meaning 99% of them, print in sRGB. To prevent the lab from converting colors in the large space to “fit” in the small space, it is better to set your camera to sRGB – unless your lab prints in Adobe RGB.
  • INTERNATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY: When dealing with foreign cultures it is best to understand their customs before photographing anything and anyone like you are still at home. This is especially true when dealing with religious buildings and ceremonies. For example, in Orthodox churches, women must cover their heads before entering. When entering a mosque you must take your shoes off first. If you happen to be invited to a Coptic wedding ceremony, there are certain times when photography is not allowed.
  • The BLUE HOUR: Everyone has pretty much heard of the Golden Hour for getting great photos, but there is another time that is ideal for capturing dramatic skies in landscapes and cityscapes without the use of graduated neutral density filters or HDR software. The 30 minutes after sunset, or the 30 minutes before sunrise, when the sky is clear of clouds, are the best times to capture rich, naturally saturated images of the sky and properly exposed man-made lighting.
  • UNDO HISTORY: In Photoshop you can use the History panel to step back and temporarily or permanently remove most changes. However, to make maximum use of this tool, you need to open the flyout menu in the upper right corner of the History panel and set non-linear history to on. Also set it to affect visibility changes and create new snapshots when saving.These settings will give you maximum power, especially the non-linear setting which allows you to delete a step in the middle of the stack without automatically losing all the steps that follow. This is great when you realize that one step is just not working like you expected.
  • MINI FLASHLIGHT: One of the invaluable tools that I have stashed in all my camera bags is a small LED flashlight. It allows me to see the camera controls in dark settings, without being distracting or overpowering. It has saved me at wedding receptions, in nightclubs, at aquariums, and when shooting nighttime cityscapes. Just don’t shine it in the viewfinder when taking a shot, or you will overexpose at least or wash out the image.


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Apr 022013
  • RESET PHOTOSHOP PREFERENCES: If your Photoshop preferences get corrupted (PS starts acting weird) or you make too many changes, simply reset them. Restart Photoshop and hold down Alt+Ctrl+Shift (PC) or Option+Cmd+Shift (Mac) while the program loads. When asked if you want to delete the Photoshop Settings file, click Yes.
  • CAMERA LUDDITE: So you have that fancy new DSLR with 5 or 6 different ways to focus, e.g. spot, regular, area, spot with tracking, continuous, single, and multiple focus points (up to 61 focal points in some cases), etc. and you are very excited about using all that wizardry to take better photos. But did you know that different combinations of these settings, along with drive mode selected (continuous, high speed continuous) can actually set you back? Yes, using these various combinations can actually REDUCE the quality of your images and make you miss important once-only shots that happen in sports and art performances. A simple solution is available; just set your camera to single point, center focus. Follow the action with your camera instead of using the thumbwheel to rotate the focal point in your viewfinder.
  • FISHEYE PHOTOS WITHOUT A FISHEYE LENS: If you own Photoshop you can use the Spherize filter set to 100% to turn everyday photos into fisheye images. The Spherize filter is found under Filters, Distort. It works on 8 bit jpgs, not 16 bit.
  • DRAMATIC SKIES: In Photoshop you can quickly improve your skies by using the Burn tool set to Midtones at 50% opacity. Then brush over the area to be darkened or made more intense. If you overdo it, use CTRL or CMD-Z to step back. Or you can switch to the Dodge Tool, select Highlights at 10% opacity and paint over areas that are too dark. You should do this on a copy of the layer you need to adjust so that you can remove the entire effect later should the need arise.
  • INVERT SELECTIONS: In Photoshop you may select an area and realize it is the opposite of what you wanted, or perhaps you are done working on that selection and want to easily access everything else. The easy way to do this is to press CTRL or CMD-I. This will invert the selection in one easy step.


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Apr 022013
  • ADVANCED PANNING TECHNIQUE: Sometimes there is too much light for you to try shutter speeds around 1/30 to 1/60 for freezing a moving subject and blurring the background by panning. In that case, add a neutral density filter, or two, to remove 1 or more stops of light. Presto, less light and a properly exposed photo at slow shutter speeds in bright daylight.
  • GREAT PANORAMAS WITHOUT SPECIAL GEAR: You do not need special panorama tripod heads to take great panoramas or expensive ultra-wide angle lenses. Just keep your tripod level and turn the head so that each subsequent image overlaps the  prior one by about 30%. You can get by with less overlap, but you may run into issues when using stitching software to piece the images together. If you already own Photoshop CS, there is a nice set of panorama tools included. Try the different panorama settings and remember what results work best for you.
  • FASHION CROP: You have probably heard that it is important to leave room around your images when you crop them – for aesthetic purpose or to leave room for the frame. There is a fun exception to these guidelines, the Three Point Crop where face close-ups are cropped so tightly that there is an edge merge (image touches edge of photo and is partially cut off by the edge.) Take the plunge and give it a try.
  • USE AN EV TABLE: If you are unsure what settings to use when you are learning to shoot in Manual mode, get an EV Table and a chart that converts EV numbers into Aperture and Shutter settings. My Night & Low Light Workshop students get a thorough introduction to this method of shooting – and since it applies to all levels of lighting – indoors and out, they learn how to shoot everything well with less trial and error – which means less frustration and more enjoyment.
  • SCAN PHOTOS WITHOUT A SCANNER: You can easily convert your digital camera to a high resolution scanner – especially if you can shoot in Raw format. Take a tripod, mount the camera, and use the notch on the side of the tripod head base or flipout panel to point your camera straight down. Place your photos underneath, zoom so they fill the viewfinder and take your photo – preferably using the timer function or a remote shutter release so you do not shake the camera unduly.


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Feb 192013
  • CRITERIA FOR WINNING COMPETITIONS (Part 4 – Final):  Professional association judges look at 12 different criteria when judging a print. In my humble opinion that is twice too many, but if you want to do well, pay attention to these items.
  1. Color Balance supplies harmony to an image. An image in which the tones work together, effectively supporting the image, can enhance its emotional appeal. Color balance is not always harmonious and can be used to evoke diverse feelings for effect.
  2. Technique is the approach used to create the image. Printing, lighting, posing, capture, presentation media, and more are part of the technique applied to an image.
  3. Story Telling refers to the image’s ability to evoke imagination. One beautiful thing about art is that each viewer might collect his own message or read her own story in an image.
  • DEPTH OF FIELD (DoF):  DoF is the range of perceived sharpness (area in focus) before and after your subject. It is perceived by the eyes and the brain working together, as there is actually only a narrow plane that is actually sharp. One-third of your DoF will be before your subject and 2/3 behind. Use that ratio to properly select your focal point when photographing many rows of people. Here is an easy tip to remember how DoF relates to aperture settings: Small aperture number (f/2.0 for example) means small DoF; large aperture number ( f/11.0 for example) means large DoF.
  • NIKON LENSES ON CANON CAMERAS: If you are converting from Nikon to Canon, or just have access to Nikon lenses, you can use them with your Canon digital cameras. Just buy an adapter, snap it onto your lens and lock the combination onto your Canon body. This works because Canon lenses have a wider circumference than Nikon lenses. The adapters typically cost less than $20. You will have to manually, and the camera will not receive any info from the lens.
  • FOCAL LENGTH: Focal length is the distance in millimeters (mm) between the optical center of the lens and the image sensor in a camera. The location of your sensor is identified on most cameras by a symbol that looks like a flattened zero with a line through it.
  • USE THE FOREGROUND: One way to take a photo with IMPACT is to use a strong foreground as your subject, or to use it as a frame to focus the view on your subject. If you use a large DoF, the foreground and subject will both be in focus, great for related items. If you shoot with a shallow DoF, one or the other (depending on where you focus), will be sharp and the other blurry. This is great for separating the two elements.


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Feb 122013

 CRITERIA FOR WINNING COMPETITIONS (Part 3):  Professional association judges look at 12 different criteria when judging a print. In my humble opinion that is twice too many, but if you want to do well, pay attention to these items.

  1. Lighting (the use and control of light) refers to how dimension, shape and roundness are defined in an image. Whether the light applied to an image is man-made or natural, proper use of lighting should enhance an image.
  2. Subject Matter should always be appropriate to the story being told in an image.
  3. Color Balance supplies harmony to an image.  An image in which the tones work together effectively supporting the image, can enhance its emotional appeal. Color balance is not always harmonious and can be used to evoke diverse feelings for effect.
    More next week.
  • USING YOUR HISTOGRAM:  Many digital cameras can display a special graph called a histogram. It shows the brightness (tonality) levels of an image ranging from pure black (zero value) on the left to pure white (255 value) on the right. Use it to increase the dynamic range of your images and adjust your exposure. There is no perfect shape to a histogram as it reflects the actual luminosity levels of your scene. For digital photography, it is best if you “expose for the highlights”, meaning you push the luminosity to the right side of the chart without slamming up against the edge (clipping or overexposed).
  • WHEN OVEREXPOSURE IS OK: If you have naturally overexposed items in your scene, such as the sun in daytime or a street light at night, your histogram will show clipping or overexposure by abruptly hitting the right side of the chart. This specular light is OK as exposing for it would make the actual subject of the image too underexposed. Just make sure that your brights or whites are properly exposed – far to the right without hitting the edge.
  • PAN FOR COOL ACTION SHOTS: A cool technique for showing action in a still image is to follow a moving subject along its path with your camera set to a a slow shutter speed. Depending on your shutter speed and speed of panning, you will get different results. Most people want to freeze the action of the subject completely and blur the background. Try shutter speeds between 1/30 and 1/60 with a moving car or cyclist. Practice makes perfect, so don’t be discouraged at first.
  • WORK YOUR SUBJECT & YOUR SETTINGS: Each time you take a photo, you are using a single ingredient (light) with many potential qualities (harsh, soft, diffused, reflected, colored, etc.). You use just three tools to influence your outcome: aperture, shutter and ISO. Combining these “science” elements with the “art” elements of photography (composition, depth of field, angle of view, etc.) you can create hundreds of variations of a single subject.


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Jan 302013
  • CRITERIA FOR WINNING COMPETITIONS (Part 2):  Professional association judges look at 12 different criteria when judging a print. In my humble opinion that is twice too many, but if you want to do well, pay attention to these items.
  1. Composition is important to the design of an image, bringing all of the visual elements together in concert to express the purpose of the image. Proper composition holds the viewer in the image and prompts the viewer to look where the creator intends. Effective composition can be pleasing or disturbing, depending on the intent of the image maker.
  2. Print Presentation affects an image by giving it a finished look. The mats and borders used should support and enhance the image, not distract from it.
  3. Center of Interest is the point or points on the image where the imagemaker wants the viewer to stop as they view the image.  There can be primary and secondary centers of interest. Occasionally there will be no specific center of interest and the entire scene collectively serves as the center of interest. More next week.
  • USE POLARIZING FILTERS:  A polarizer is a filter that attaches to your lens. They have three main uses: to remove light from your lens (like a neutral density filter would, but adding a color cast);  to remove glare from water, glass, metals or other reflective surfaces; and to enhance or deepen color saturation in outdoor scenes. When used to intensify skies, the strongest effect occurs when you shoot at right angles to the sun. By using a circular polarizer (one that can be rotated when mounted on a lens) you can control the strength of the effect. To properly diminish reflections (glare) look through the polarizer and rotate it until the reflections diminish. Use with care because too much can result in high contrast unseemly photos.
  • COMPOSITION – SHAPES & PATTERNS: Patterns and shapes appeal to many people. They can be used to create strong, dynamic images – if you know how to “see” and capture them. Patterns are simply repetition of objects, shapes, lines, or colors, e.g. a row of street lights, a series of rectangular windows in the side of a wall, converging lines such as railroad tracks, or a meadow full of black eyed Susans, respectively. When you find patterns or shapes, photograph them from different angles to see which ones are the most interesting. Try turning subjects into silhouettes if they are backlit – that way you can make a shape from an object.
  • SATURATE NATURALLY IN CAMERA!: Instead of cranking up saturation in post-production, or even using the VIVID / VIBRANT setting in your camera, try natural saturation by increasing the duration of your exposure. See last week’s tips for info on Neutral Density filters, which can help you do this in good lighting.
  • LEARN FROM YOUR PHOTOS: Use the EXIF metadata written into your photos to learn what settings to mimic when you achieve good images, and which to avoid when you mess up. This data includes ISO, aperture, shutter, lens focal length, shooting mode, flash state, exposure compensation, flash exposure compensation, white balance and more. In most cameras you can view this info when you preview your image on the LCD screen. You may need to turn on view settings, particularly on Nikons. Most software editors let you see this info as well.


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Jan 212013
  • CRITERIA FOR WINNING COMPETITIONS (Part 1):  Professional association judges look at 12 different criteria when judging a print. In my humble opinion that is twice too many, but if you want to do well, pay attention to these items.

Impact is the sense one gets upon viewing an image for the first time. Compelling images evoke laughter, sadness, anger, pride, wonder or another intense emotion.

Creativity is the external expression of the imagination of the maker by using the medium to convey an idea, message or thought.

Style is defined in a number of ways. It might be defined by a specific genre or simply be recognizable as the characteristics of how a specific artist applies light to a subject.  It can impact an image in a positive manner when the subject matter and the style are appropriate for each other, or it can have a negative effect when they are at odds.  More next week.

  • USE NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTERS:  A neutral density filter is a dark, neutral-toned glass lens filter that reduces the amount of light entering your camera. It has no effect on color. Neutral density filters come in a range of strengths and are labeled two ways, 2X or 0.3, 4X or 0.6, and 8X or 0.9. Regardless of the system, they decrease light by 1, 2, and 3 stops respectively. Use ND filters (screw-in or Cokin style) to slow shutter speeds (1 to 10 seconds or more) on bright days. By doing so you can create the silky water effect in streams or waterfalls. Use tripod or clamp to hold the camera steady.
  • MAKE THE ORDINARY EXTRAORDINARY: The next time you are out with your camera shooting everyday scenes, change the angle you are shooting from to make it exciting. Climb stairs, lean out of a window, lay on the ground – change your perspective and do something different. I call this 360 degree Sphere Shooting because you imagine your subject in a sphere that you can access from all angles. Try it!
  • TURN SETTINGS OFF!: Your digital camera is a computer with a lens attached. Like your computer, it can do many things that you may not understand or have features you may not use. Some features may even make it harder for you to control your camera in Aperture, Shutter or Manual modes. Consider turning off D Lighting (Nikon), Safety Shift (Canon), all face and smile recognition and area focus modes. They can all interfere with your control of the camera and the quality of your final image.
    TURN SETTINGS ON!:There are many functions in your camera that should be turned on, but are not. Go figure!  Anyway, if you have them, turn on ISO expansion, Long Exposure Noise Reduction and High ISO Noise Reduction. If you wait until you need the function, you will probably miss the shot by the time you turn them on.


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Jan 102013
  • FOCAL LENGTH VERSUS ANGLE OF VIEW:  Focal length is the distance between the optical center of the lens and the image sensor when the lens is focused to infinity. By itself focal length does not indicate how much of a subject is visible in the viewfinder. How much you see is affected by the angle of view, which depends on the focal length and the size of the image sensor. Long focal length lenses (telephotos), such as a 300mm “35mm equivalent focal length,” have a narrow angle of view and magnify the subject within the viewing area. To capture a wider angle of view, you need a wide-angle lens (or shorter focal length).
  • TWO MAXIMUM APERTURES PER LENS?:  Zoom lenses have two maximum apertures. While that may not make sense at first, here is why it does. Let’s consider a 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens for example. When you have the lens at maximum wide angle (18mm), it has a maximum aperture of f/3.5. When you zoom all the way to 55mm, the maximum amount of light that the lens allows drops to f/5.6, or less than half of the first setting. Each maximum is conditional, based on the level of zoom.
  • SHUTTER SPEED:  You can begin to freeze most sports and performing arts action at shutter speeds as low as 1/320, however 1/500 to 1/800 may be needed. Depending on your relative position and distance to the action being photographed, you will need a faster or slower shutter speed. Freezing motion is hardest when the subject travels perpendicular to you and is close. A slower shutter speed can accomplish the same “freeze frame” if the action is moving to or away from you and  is at a distance.
  • CONTROLLING DEPTH OF FIELD:  There are three contributors to Depth of Field (DoF). The first is aperture setting. Wider apertures (lower f stop numbers) have less DoF than smaller apertures (larger f stop numbers.) Moving farther from your subject increases DoF, while moving closer decreases DoF, all other settings remaining equal. Wide angle lenses have greater DoF than telephoto lenses.
  • PERSPECTIVE: When you stand in the middle of a road that
    pinches together at the horizon, you are experiencing
    perspective. Perspective is also used to relate nearness of objects to one another. Usually closer objects are larger than farther objects, for example. You can control this with your camera through focal length Wide-angle lenses increase perspective and telephoto lenses flatten perspective. Telephoto lenses are used in Hollywood films to make it appear as if the star is closer to:  the vehicle running him down / exploding fuel drums / mob chasing him etc.


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Jan 042013
  • RAW VS. JPG: Raw files give you the maximum size and quality possible with your camera, allowing you to print larger images or crop tighter to focus on smaller sections of your image without degrading the image quality (no pixelation.) Raw files are proprietary to each camera manufacturer. Unlike jpg files, they do not have white balance, sharpness, contrast, saturation and other settings applied in camera. You must do this in a raw editor, before converting images to jpg. psd or tiff files.
  • EDIT JPGS ONCE: Each time you save a jpg file after editing it, your image degrades due to the repeated compression applied to it. Therefore, you should not use a jpg as a work in progress file for adjustments. For a work file use an uncompressed format such as tif / tiff or psd. Jpgs can be used to share or print, being converted from the uncompressed formats as needed.
  • “FIX IT IN PHOTOSHOP” FALLACY:  Learn to shoot the best images possible in camera as there are images that cannot be properly fixed afterward. Underexposure can create extra (not fixable) noise in dark areas and overexposure can create blobs of light without detail – which cannot be recovered. Too slow a shutter speed can cause motion blur issues from camera shake or subject movement – again irrecoverable. While shooting jpg files, an incorrect white balance setting can create color cast problems that require extra work to eliminate.
  • SEE IN BLACK & WHITE: In one step you can improve greatly your ability to take awesome photos – stop looking at the color in your subjects. Color confuses and detracts from your ability to see details. Instead, practice seeing in black and white so you see more clearly the fall of light light across your subject and detail or texture created by the light. If you need help, try looking through a Roscolux #77 Green Blue gel.
  • USE THE LOWEST ISO POSSIBLE: To eliminate noise as much as possible, shoot in the lowest ISO (usually 100.) Even when taking night time or low light shots, use 100 and lengthen the exposure time – unless there is motion in the scene you are shooting. Shooting in manual mode, use the desired aperture setting and raise the ISO high enough to give you the shutter speed needed to freeze the action. Remember to use a tripod or other stabilizer with long exposure shots – and turn on long exposure noise reduction if your camera has that feature.