Diagonal Method for composition in photography

photography color street photography by Markus Hartel, NYC
click on image for larger view
click on image for larger view

A popular topic during my one-on-one workshops is composition and many photographers have heard about the rule of thirds – I personally think the rule of thirds works better with the older aspect ratios 4×5, 8×10 as the frames weren’t as wide as the modern 35mm frame with its 2×3 aspect ratio. Yet, the Rule of Thirds is nowhere as flexible and true to nature as the Golden Ratio, which in turn is based on the Fibonacci sequence. Now, no one wants to do math when they’re out shooting, so there are other methods…

Fibonacci Sequence with Diagonals overlay for composition
Fibonacci Sequence with Diagonals overlay for composition

…like the Golden Ratio (Golden Mean), or the Golden Spiral, or even the triangular method, all of which one can use in Lightroom as a crop guide overlay. I personally swear by teaching the “Diagonal Method”, as it allows for very dynamic compositions and the system is easy to understand. follow the link for more info and examples. What’s really cool about the Diagonal Method is that it is so insanely easy to use, once you got the hang of it.

Like any other rule, it is not hard and fast… feel free to experiment and put it through its paces by breaking it – that’s what great artists did for centuries to come up with inspiring pieces.

Fibonacci Sequence for composition
Fibonacci Sequence for composition

Lightroom has the guides built in, if you turn on the crop tool (R), you can change the crop guide overlay to diagonal tools > crop guide overlay > diagonals

Photoshop CS6 has a bunch of crop guides built in as well, and you can download a smart vector objectby simply clicking on this link

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post processing experiment

how to make your photo shine… post processing experiment – email your RAW or jpg file to [email protected] and upon selection I will post a video tutorial on my blog. I’ll process your image in Lightroom or Photoshop (your choice, make a note in your email) and I’ll explain in a video response what I’m doing to improve your photos looks, and why I’m doing it. let the games begin – this shall be fun!


just a few things for clarification in general:
editing: to “edit” photos in the the old days would just be to make a selection of frames from the negatives or contact sheets to get physically “printed” and improved in the darkroom
printing: in the darkroom days, one would take the negative into the darkroom for “printing” and improve its looks by selection of paper and by “dodging and burning”

neither term is accurate anymore and especially editing has taken on a double meaning, as in “selection process”, or as in “post processing”. in my video I refer to it as “post processing” the task that one achieves by using tools like Photoshop or Lightroom to improve the look of one’s photo.

wedding photographers refer to the editing/selection process as “culling” and everything else after as “post processing”… I think that’s an accurate choice and it may take some time for me to get used to…

“printing” now simply refers to sending the bits and bytes to a printer, on-site, or off-site.

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Top tips for black and white shooters

top tips for black and white photographers
click on image for larger view

Avoid flat lighting like the plague and avoid shooting mid-day in the sun, find spots with interesting light and shadow details. Look for interesting textures and patterns.

top tips for black and white photographers
click on image for larger view

Try shooting at night – the light, or lack thereof, is much more dynamic at night and looks fantastic in black and white

top tips for black and white photographers
work print on final stock

A calibrated computer monitor is a must and the print is the ultimate goal, make work prints/proofs for better control.

top tips for black and white photographers
Lightroom Histogram with slightly blocked shadows

Check your levels/histogram for punchy blacks, it’s ok to block the shadows a little. when using levels in Photoshop, turn on the warning tool by pressing the alt/option key when moving the sliders. In Lightroom turn on the warnings in the histogram palette.

top tips for black and white photographers
Digital grain overlay

Digital files look more natural with film grain imposed. In photoshop add grain layer and adjust opacity. In Lightroom use the grain palette.

Shoot RAW for flexibility and adjust -1/3EV to protect highlights. Some cameras allow for a b/w preview on the LCD screen (Leica Akademie tip)

purchase & download directly from amazon:
Adobe Photoshop CS6 | Adobe Photoshop Elements 11

Redefine your digital black-and-white with TopazLabs plug-ins
Purchase TopazLabs B&W White Effects today!

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Lightroom Printing on Epson K3 printers (OS X Lion)

color street photography by Markus Hartel, New York City
click on image for larger view

download the latest driver for your Epson printer and install them on your machine
– download the manufacturer’s ICC profiles for the paper you’re using. I highly recommend Epson Exhibition Fiber for color and black and white work. find Epson profiles here
– select the correct paper size under “page setup”
– hit command-p, or go into the print module

let’s do color first…
for color select the appropriate profile from the list and set intent to “perceptual”
resolution 300ppi is optimal for a normal viewing distance, 150ppi is still ok for larger prints and larger viewing distances
sharpening depends on taste and paper, matte papers may need a little more sharpening
16-bit printing may give you an advantage with certain images, I have not seen a need for it yet, as 99% of my prints are b/w

if you shoot jpgs with the intent of printing, it’s a good idea to set your camera to Adobe RGB, as the color space is larger than sRGB (s stands for small, as in smallest common denominator). For sharing on the web, resize and convert the images to sRGB before posting. I’d advise to shoot RAW for more flexibility, but that’s a topic for another day.

now it’s finally time to hit the “print” button
which then gives us another set of options… again, make sure your selected paper “media type” is correct and set the print quality to SuperFine – 1440dpi, I’m sure 2880 is much better, but I fail to see the difference and it takes much longer to print. turn off “High Speed” as this option makes the ink heads spray bidirectional, i.e. in both directions and that may cause mayhem, depending on alignment, vibration etc.

there’s nothing to select in “Advanced Color Settings” because we’re pros and print with a profile. Some printer models may require special settings for heavier/thicker stock, but EEF works just fine without further adjustments on the 3800. Your print should pretty much resemble what you see on your computer monitor, which should be calibrated to begin with.

b/w works a little differently… back to the print box… for b/w select “Managed by Printer”
and under “Basic” select your media type/paper, and set color to “Advanced B&W Photo”and the toning to “Neutral”

if your monitor is calibrated, and the goal is a neutral print, you won’t need to mess with other settings, except setting the Tone to “Darker”, which by now I think is the standard setting. the same theory applies for sharpening and thicker paper stock, it all depends.

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resizing film grain vs digital noise

street photography in black and white by Markus Hartel, New York

Oh I’ll bet this has been asked and answered a billion times, but has anyone ever seen a good explanation between the difference between film grain and digital pixels.

What I mean by that is that you can take a nice “clean” digital image from a good sized noiseless sensor and with some interpolation you can go very large with it even though you are beginning with a file that is actually much smaller than a full 35mm scan which is about 78 MB (or somewhere in that area if it’s RGB and 16 bit).

But as I say – I can take a much smaller digital file and easily go to that size with an interpolation program without seeing any noise or artifacts.

I’m not really saying it clearly but I remember when I began the switch from film to digital I had an idea that those grains corresponded to pixels and they just don’t. Anyone ever go through the same conceptual enigma?

film grain is somewhat organic and random, where pixels are ordered in a rigid grid and normal linear (or cubic, bicubic) algorithms just work better with that sort of “order”.

if you take a film scan with organic grain, it pretty much interferes with the pixel pattern and your imaging software doesn’t know exactly what to do with that seemingly random mess.

also, film grain looks differently in the highlights, midtones and shadows and that makes it even harder to compensate.
digital noise on the other hand is somewhat ordered and repetitive, hence makes sensor specific/heat map noise reduction in camera possible… it also explains why noise reduction algorithms (there, math again) work so well with digital, but fail miserably with the randomness of film.

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flash on the street

coney island with fill flash

sometimes the use of fill flash can help you out tremendously in harsh lighting conditions, or just provide the extra kick for the look of your pics… I started out using an off-camera cord, but hated every second the logistics of it, so…

option #1 off-camera flash cord, which is a pain in the ass to use, I always I feel like I’m trapped and can’t move around freely ($74.95 for the canon model one I use). there are cheaper alternatives, but I happen to shoot Canon when I’m not using the M9…

pocket wizards

option #2 Pocket Wizards, fairly expensive at $169 for the Plus II and $295 for the Multimax, but granted, they can do wonders for commercial and studio work, but just don’t fly in the street (matter of fact, they will go flying out of your hands, as the receiver needs a hotshoe adapter/cord and some creative rigging with rubber bands, velcro or whatnot). besides, they are ridiculously big on a… you will also poke your eye out with the antenna. the newer, smaller versions are supposedly just as good though.

cowboy studio radio trigger

option #3 is pretty kick-ass: Cowboy Studio radio trigger, basically a radio trigger without the frills, or the size of Pocket Wizards, small, cheap and it works like a charm, opposed to the wireless triggers one can find on ebay. ack.

I’m using a Canon 430EX in manual mode, mostly @1/32 or so, but I also have a bunch of old school Vivitar 283’s ($30, tops) with the additional Varipower module, which allows to dial the power down to 1/32 for fill. the newer Vivitar 285 has variable power built in.

another really cool thing about the Vivitars – there is an accessory to plug them into the wall, which is awesome for on-location shoots. and a battery pack, which I never bothered to get… at low power the 4AA batteries will last a long time.

and yes, I pointed the flash towards the ceiling for effective fill and to avoid flare shooting into the mirror. in the streets that thing is in your face and works like a charm…

purchase the gear on amazon:
Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash for Canon Digital SLR Cameras
PocketWizard 801-130 Plus III Transceiver
CowboyStudio NPT-04 4 Channel Wireless Trigger
PocketWizard MiniTT1 Transmitter and FlexTT5 Transceiver for Canon DSLR Bundle
Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash for Canon EOS Digital SLR Cameras
PocketWizard PW-MMAX 802-450 MultiMAX Transceiver

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