Archive for July 2012

Setting the Canon 5D MkII for Bracketed exposures : What C1, C2, C3 are really about

Say you come across a scene you wish to photograph that has a large dynamic range, it may be useful to set the Custom settings on the 5D MkII to take bracketed exposures:

1. To be sure you have everything in dynamic range spot meter your Brightest and darkest Points. That will give you an idea of dynamic range in question and will help decide if the 3 exposure range is enough. (Often it's not the case)

2. You will have to decide the EV range stop between bracketed exposures 1/3rd of a stop,2/3rds,1 stop etc

3. With C1,C2,C3 configured for bracketing, you can have 9 shots across the exposure range at your fingertips.

4. Setting the drive mode to Multi frame has you pressing the shutter button only once so that the camera takes 3 shots at a go. Setting the mirror up to avoid mirror slap and using the timer and a tripod shoud get you the sharpest pictures.

I shoot just RAW instead of RAW+L. That has me dealing with less files clogging up the memory card.

There are more scenarios and elaborate descriptions at the Canon link below.
Canon Professional Network - The EOS 5D Mark II’s Custom Functions explained »
Canon Professional Network examines the Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR’s 25 Custom Functions and explains their capabilities and what shooting situations you should use them for.

The Photo Workflow Channel: Part 1 Tutorial on composition & Grids
The Canons of Composition (No disrespect to Nikon, Pentax, Sony, Panasonic, or any other)

• Golden Ratio and Phi (With Software examples)
• The Diagonal Method
• Rabatment of the rectangle
• The Van Den Graf Canon
• Tele's, Wide angles and their effect on backgrounds.
• The rule of thirds
• Last but not the least: Break the rules (Follow your intuition)

This post is aimed at beginners and aims to walk them through the building blocks of good photographic principles with examples. However I encourage experienced photographers and artists to read on. I invite folks with more experience to interact and engage in this 
conversation on composition and chime in so that I may incorporate their viewpoints for the benefit of everyone. This post will always be a work in progress and I shall edit it accordingly as new and relevant information comes my way. This is not supposed to be the way 
to do it. It is a method I follow often. I’m hoping you would find it useful too. I am no expert, nor do I profess to be, but some of the rules I've mentioned have been around for the longest time and they work. This is not a technical tutorial. Think of it as an essay with some technical information.

The Importance of Composition
This cannot be stressed enough; this is what will give your photos the best chance to survive transience. It is the embodiment of your vision. A good composition will probably survive poor processing or technique but I doubt it will work the other way around. Many of us have an idea of what we are shooting or about to shoot. In order to emphasize those ideas we have a set of canons or rules of thumb if you will. These are compositional aids that can complement and enhance your idea or whatever you are trying to project. These tools are just that, tools . Never make the tool the focus of your attention, use them to assistand not direct your vision as photographer. In my book, the best special effects are invisible in themselves but highlight your vision as a photographer. A single venue may have a lot to offer to a photographer by means of visual information. Your job is to focus on the details of that information that tells your story and eliminate all the distracting elements. Avoid the 
rookie errors of 'trying to get it all in.' An expert carver was once asked “How do you carve such beautiful wooden ducks?” to which he replied, “I take a piece of wood and get rid of everything that does not look like a duck” It's all in the edit folks!

Golden Ratio and Phi

Phi is the Greek symbol for the number 1.61803399 (Φ) The golden section, Golden Mean, Golden Ratio and Divine Proportion is a ratio based on Phi. The ubiquitous Phi makes its presence felt throughout nature, design, art and music. The golden section grid is extremely useful as a framing and compositional aid. With it you can draw the viewer's attention to parts of the image that’s visually harmonic, aesthetic and balanced. You can do this with the help of screen 
overlays in camera or at the time of post processing, or both.

In Camera Grid displays

Nearly all cameras have a Rule of thirds screen grid. If you are looking for other grids in camera, read on. For those of you who use point and shoot Canon cameras (like powershot series) and enjoy a rewarding challenge there is the free CHDK firmware which unlocks the true potential of your Camera. I used it when I had the powershot G9 and I couldn't have been happier. Among a Plethora of other features there is the Screen Grids feature that you can use while looking at 
the display. Get it here and here is a link to the Golden ratio grids in specific, An introduction to 
CHDK can be found here 

For the Canon DSLR users there is the Magic lantern firmware
I think it also supports customisable grids but I have not tried it out on my EOS for lack of time.

For other brands like Nikon, Sony, Pentax etc. I regret, I am not aware of any third party firmware that unlocks the potential of your camera. Let me know if you do come across it and I’ll add it here.

Screen Grid overlays during Post Processing on your computer:

This is a more powerful option as you get to play with framing/cropping on your large screen computer. You can compose with the grid lines available on camera and later fine tune and crop 
with Computer based Grid overlay displays.

Available tools known to me:
In the early days I made my custom grids designed on CAD programs and printed them on transparent OHP film, I then cut them to size and placed them on viewfinders. Thankfully none of that is necessary now. Today there are probably many software online but I'll cover just a few:

• Atrise Golden Section
• The Golden crop
• Phimatrix

Atrise golden section

AGS is standalone software you can use to compose and crop your photographs. It works with most design software, including Adobe Photoshop®. AGS allows you 'frame' using the golden section 
proportion for maximum visual impact visually over your preferred design software. You open your image editor and press ALT+TAB (command+TAB in Mac)between the applications to lay the AGS grids over your photograph and resize to taste. You will be surprised at how many 'stories' or interpretations a single photograph contains, depending on your selection of crop. Subdivisions within the 
golden sections are limitless. Once you have settled in on your zone of interest, you can overlay the screen and cycle through the various orientations using the first button on the title bar. The second button cycles though the various grid modes taking you though rectangular, spiral, square grids, etc. On the lower right of the frame, there is the resizing grip that you can drag in order to manipulate the Golden section.

Atrise Golden Section is available for a free trial for 30 days at

The golden crop

If you are looking for free solutions and own Photoshop®, there is The Golden Crop available at It’s scripted in Javascript and works if you have Adobe® Photoshop® CS2, CS3, CS4 or CS5 installed. This script should work both on Windows and Mac 
version of the software. Adobe® Photoshop® versions earlier than CS2 will not be supported due to lack of scripting possibilities. It has some interesting features like crop and reveal canvas.

Although it is freeware, do consider donating to the developer should you like it. I’m sure he’d appreciate a few good glasses of Beer!


Phimatrix is similar to Atrise golden section with a selection of Golden ratio templates. Phimatrix saves your favorite grid settings as a program default or to settings files for quick access.In the expert mode it provides user-selectable grid ratios other than Phi. PhiMatrix also includes a Color Palette Generator that creates a rich color palette based on golden ratio relationships from two colors you choose. This bit will probably be more appreciated by Graphic designers. I've planned a detailed review soon.

Here are some pages from the PhiMatrix site that would be of most interest to photographers:

Photo cropping - Using PhiMatrix to crop photos for balance and harmony by applying golden ratio proportions -
Photo composition - PhiMatrix reveals how the Golden Ratio swept the awards at an international photo contest -
Photo competition video - YouTube video the Golden Ratio in the international photo contest - Create award-winning photos: The Golden Ratio sweeps the awards at international photo contest
Framing – Matting - Using PhiMatrix to automatically create a frame or matte with golden ratio proportions -
PhiMatrix Users - User gallery showing other photographer’s use of PhiMatrix -

And here are some general product information pages on Phimatrix:

PhiMatrix product overview -
YouTube video of PhiMatrix product features -
Overview of how the golden ratio is applied to achieve excellence in design -

The Diagonal Method

This is a fantastic method for composing your Portraits. The Diagonal Method is not a (contrived) theory, but a discovery by Dutch photographer and lecturer Edwin Westhoff. It is not derived from the Golden Section or the Rule of Thirds. The difference between the existing theories of composition (the Rule of Thirds and the Golden Section) is that the Diagonal Method is not fundamentally concerned with making “good” compositions, but rather with finding details 
which are important to the photographer from a psychological or emotional perspective. On this level the DM is completely subjective. It has nothing to do with placing lines or shapes in a certain location within a frame with the intention of getting a “better” composition. The 
positioning of these details is done in a subconscious manner. That’s why the DM is so exact as an analysis tool. If you have a large enough image it is possible to crop a photograph afterwards in such a way that details which are important to the photographer, are placed somewhere on these Diagonals.The complete details ( for those interested in DM) can be found here:

You can find these grids on the above mentioned software. Once you get the hang of it you can even overlay different grids on each other for effect.

Rabatment as a Compositional Tool

Rabatement is the perfect square found inside any rectangle (the rabatment’s sides are all equal to the short side of the rectangle). It is a method that has been traditionally used by artists and Painters for finding the best placement of their subjects within a painting’s edges. In the gallery below, you can the example of Claude Monet’s field of poppies in which he uses the rabatment centered on the edge of the square. This focuses the viewer’s interest inside the box .You can read more about it on this site

If you are so inclined, Judith Reeve has a detailed explanation to the effect on

Unlocking the secrets of Beauty: The Van De Graaf Canon/ Tschihold method

Tschichold’s Golden Canon : Some Photographers may find useful what bookmakers and layout artists have known for centuries, A system to design the perfect page. Why 2:3 is that perfect ratio that makes the text block, harmonious and proportional to the page. How does this help you? Well think of it as another way to compose your images, maybe further dividing the textblock rectangle by the Diagonal method (DM) or phi. More here :

A video version of the Van den Graf and how it’s constructed can be found here 
The Van de Graaf or Secret Canon It’s great to know how it’s done so you can develop your own custom overlays of these grids using traditional methods or the computer.

Tele's, Wide angles and their effect on backgrounds.

The short of it is that Wide angle lenses make your background and all the elements in them look smaller in relation to foreground (subject). Long lenses do just the opposite. It compresses the foreground and the background, and makes things appear closer together than in real life.

How is this helpful? Say, you want to put some distance between your subject in the foreground and separate it from a distracting background-use a wide lens. For the converse case I’ll just 
quote David who tells it better than I could and makes a compelling case for composition with a long lens. 

“When photographing sunsets, the Sun appears about the same size wherever you go. However, if you want a foreground element as a silhouette, e.g. a tree, then you can move closer and further away from the tree to make it bigger and smaller, while the Sun remains the same apparent size.For example, say you want to photograph the sun with a tree which is close to you. You want the tree to fill the frame so you zoom in, say, 2x. This is great but the sun is only 2x bigger 
than normal.You then back up several hundred metres and photograph the same tree with the sun behind it, but because the tree is so far away you have to zoom in much more to get it to fill the frame.
This time you have to zoom, say, 20x. The tree looks more or less the same but the sun is now 20x bigger than normal, compared to 2x in the previous shot, so the two pictures look completely different.”

So now you know how they did those giant sun set shots with the lion pride walking home on National Geographic!

Since I don’t have photos to illustrate this case I’ll point you to a fabulous post that does:

The rule of thirds
I’m sure most of you have already heard of this, for those you wish to read more; I’ll point you to the Wikipedia on this page:

Here is a method shared by +Robert Voight for Photoshop users (Other image editors can emulate the logic flow)
How to make Grid in Photoshop, according to_ Rule of Thirds_.

Open Photoshop Preferences (“Ctrl + K”) - Guides, Grid & Slices. Make Gridline repeat every 33.33 per cent (as shown in picture below)
I prefer yellow colour though you could choose any colour of choice. 
This gives you a simple grid according to "Rule of Thirds" for any image. ("View - Show - Grid", or use Hot Keys as shortcuts)

Last but not the least: Break the rules this one is self-explanatory. However it’s always 

good to know the rules before you bend/break them. Unfortunately there is no tutorial for thinking outside the box! Perhaps +Max Huijgen can advise you better on this!

Rules, Rules, Rules…we don’t need no stinkin’ rules.
Starting out, I was overwhelmed by all the amazing photographs around me; (I still am but for different reasons) the point of this essay is to get you up and running quicker and to attempt to demystify what is very intuitive to experienced artists. I shall leave you with a 
quote from my friend +Robert Voight 

“ I think good advice for beginners is – Make more photo-shots and then try to edit them in special programs according the Composition Rules. Try to find the best look for lots of various images. And over time you will automatically see the correct composition via the view-finder.” 

Robert should know…thirty years is a long time spent behind the lens.

Take care and remember-practice makes perfect.

This Post would not have been possible without the invaluable suggestions and help from +Robert Voight , +Pat Erickson and +Jerry Johnson and to the spirit of sharing in this awesome G+ 
community.If you have read this far, I request that you share this post with as many people as you think would benefit from this.It may egg more people to share their ideas and everyone would benefit.

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