Lens Diffraction

Determine the fall-off point for resolution/sharpness for my 10-18 mm lens.

Resolution/sharpness is affected by the size of the aperture. At larger apertures (2.8 or 5.6, for example), the light reaching the sensor is well resolved and the image retains sharpness. As the aperture size decreases, some of the light hits the edge of the aperture and does not land ‘straight’ on the sensor, reducing sharpness. The effect is worsened at even smaller apertures, because less light is reaching the sensor at the angle of incidence.

F Stoppers, What Is Lens Diffraction And How Does It Affect DSLR Photography?
Spencer Cox, What Is Lens Diffraction?

I want to determine the range of apertures at which I can retain a high degree of resolution. The camera will be tripod mounted and I’ll be shooting at a fixed focal length using the following f stops: f/5.6; f/8; f/11; and f/16. In PS, I’ll zoom to 100% and compare the sharpness and resolution. 

Expert Photography, How to Easily Understand the Exposure Triangle


At constant ISO = 100, the shutter speed was adjusted to +1 stop for every stop down in aperture.


f/5.6, uncropped
f5/6, cropped to 100%
f/8, cropped to 100%
f/11, cropped to 100%
f/16, cropped to 100%
Comparative cropped

Conclusion/Final Thoughts
I chose my composition because it had a lot of edges and straight line detail, which I thought would show the differences well. The drainpipe, chimney stacks, and the roof eaves in particular are subtly yet evidently sharper when shot at the bigger apertures.

Studio Portraiture – Cross Lights

Use a combination of ambient light and multi-flash cross lights to create a crisp, well-lit image which retains the integrity of the scene, and in which a model is lit with key, rim, and fill flash lights.

Lighting values
(a) Key light: above model, boom with beauty dish (dark hair). f stop 8.0
(b) Rim light: on tall stand with honeycomb grid. f stop (a) + 1.5 = 11.5
(c) Fill flash: just to right of camera, with softbox. f stop (a) – 2.0 = 4.0

Lighting kit
floor stand for fill flash
light meter & sync cable
hot shoe mount
honeycomb grid for rim light
beauty dish on key light
softbox for fill light

Camera kit
Canon 80D (cropped sensor)
10-18 mm lens

Step 1 Composition
Frame the shot, arrange the camera on tripod, and decide where the model will be positioned.

Step 2 Lighting
Position the three lights (key, rim, and boom)

Cross-lighting plan for studio shoot 11/09/2019

Step 3 Exposure
Expose for ambient light.

Step 4 Light Metering
Each light was metered independently, using the key light (a) as a baseline.

Step 5 Shooting
All three flashes were used, producing the image below.
Shutter speed 1/8
ISO 100
Aperture 8.0

Flashes fired, unedited
Model positioned under key light, flashes fired, unedited

Disappointingly, the flash became the dominant light source rather than its intended function as a fill/enhancement, which was apparent from the shadows cast by the equipment on scene. This was my own misunderstanding, thinking that shadows were a good thing (oops).

Post-shooting editing in ACR/PS enabled lifting of the shadows, although this could have been avoided by using the ambient light to inform the flash values, and adjusting shutter speed and aperture from there.

Edited. (+1.5 exposure, except for model who was masked in +1.0 to prevent her being washed out)

Final thoughts
I like the crispness and the composition of the final image, although I am not entirely happy with the lighting. It could have been better shot to preserve the integrity of the scene, without the need for exposure editing. I’ll repeat this shot next week, and practise letting the ambient light do the brunt of the work, with the cross-lighting adding detail only to my model.

Thank you to Isabel Martinez for being my model (and assistant)!

Inside Auschwitz – Ethical Photography at a Site of Atrocity

Content warning: This post contains themes that may upset some readers.

Shows such as Netflix’s Dark Tourist and Instagram hashtags like #urbanexploration have helped to popularise the discovery of the shocking, extreme, and grittiest parts of history. When I knew I would be in Kraków this month, I felt compelled to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the largest and most recognisable of the Nazi regime’s concentration and extermination camps. Now a museum and memorial, Auschwitz is one of the most vivid reminders of the brutality that humankind can – and occasionally will – inflict upon its own species. Of the estimated 1.3 million prisoners who arrived at Auschwitz during the second World War, 1.1 million were murdered. Around 90% of them were Jewish. Auschwitz is not a happy place.

Before leaving for Kraków, I was unsure about using or even taking my camera. I wanted any images I shot at the site to be respectful and tasteful. I didn’t want to turn up and just shoot every aspect of the camp for the sake of documentation: that has been done so much already, by better photographers than me. I wanted to avoid being a ‘dark tourist’ for the sake of it. What did I want to say? And how could I say it respectfully?

First port of call for a sense of direction was the site’s rules for visitors. The document is updated occasionally, so for up-to-date guidelines visit the official site here. I also browsed the museum’s official Instagram account @AuschwitzMemorial, because they repost a lot of images that meet their standards of respect and taste. Earlier this year they tweeted a reminder to visitors to behave with respect, so I made an effort to honour the memory of those who died here.

Dutch photographer Roger Cremers turned his focus to the people visiting Auschwitz as part of his World War Two Today project. The result of Cremers’ Auschwitz series is a thoughtful consideration of contrast and irony, illuminating the interactions between visitors and this site of such extreme brutality. Historic parallels are acknowledged in shots of tourists cramming onto buses to enter the camp en masse, examining the barbed wire fences, and following guides into dark underground chambers.

Poland Auschwitz 2008, © Roger Cremers

You can check out the rest of Cremers’ series Tourist Behaviour in Auschwitz here.

We booked our tour weeks in advance (directly through the official website), and I spent some time exploring the ‘right’ ways to photograph the site of such horror. Nevertheless, I woke up on the morning of our visit feeling uneasy. I had slept restlessly the previous night, having failed to emotionally steel myself.

Trusting that my instincts would keep me from making any major photography faux pas, it was easier to decide what sort of shots I wanted. Although photography is only explicitly forbidden in two areas at Auschwitz – due to the nature of the exhibits – there were a few other exhibits I couldn’t bring myself to shoot.

I was caught off guard when I passed visitors posing with delight at an imposing guard tower. Inspired by Cremers, I quickly captured the moment, blurry as it is. Auschwitz is the last place on Earth I would imagine people smiling and posing, toes pointed forward, hand on hip.

Guard tower, Auschwitz © Ash Lyons 2019

This wasn’t a one-off. The infamous railway tracks at Auschwitz II (Birkenau) were littered with people posing for their #selfies, cheesing into their front cameras.

Hundreds of thousands of people arrived via this track, and were murdered within hours
© Ash Lyons 2019

Earlier this year, the museum took to Twitter, urging visitors to treat the site with respect, and another Twitter user faced backlash when she tweeted a grinning photo at the camp.

I was also taken aback when I passed several visitors throughout the day who had made the decision to wear grey/blue striped shirts; an unfortunate reminder of the prisoner uniforms that are on display throughout the barracks and in photographs.

Grey and blue stripes © Ash Lyons 2019

My main objective was to contextualise the atrocities that defined Auschwitz-Birkenau in the 1940s, with respect to its current memorial status; to capture the contrast between then and now. Portraits of victims fill the walls of their former prisons. One gas chamber still stands intact. Barbed wire, long rusted, encloses vast fields of collapsed prisoner blocks.

Barbed wire fence at Birkenau. © Ash Lyons 2019

I hope I have done the victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau justice in telling glimpses of their stories through my modern perspective. I have tried to explain the thoughts and feelings that directed my shots, but I want to let the images speak for themselves.

View from inside the gas chamber at Auschwitz I. © Ash Lyons 2019

I stand inside the gas chamber at Auschwitz, the door wide open. There is nobody else in here with me; my tour group has moved on to the room housing the incinerators. I feel uneasy.

Faces reflected in a washroom window at Auschwitz © Ash Lyons 2019

My mind physically cannot absorb the sheer number of victim photographs that line the corridor walls on both sides, and I want to acknowledge every one of them. A window in the wall shows into a preserved washroom, decorated with cheerless wall paintings. Each of the twelve faces reflected in the window represents around 100,000 others. I try to imagine what 1.1 million faces would look like, but I can’t.

The ruins of gas chamber V at Birkenau. © Ash Lyons 2019

Much of the Birkenau extermination camp is in ruins, destroyed by the Nazis as they tried to cover their crimes against humanity. In many sections, the brick chimneys, worn paths, and long-rusted barbed wire are the only reminders of what happened here. Gas chambers II-V were destroyed. The camp’s prisoners were liberated on January 27th, 1945, by Soviet forces.

On a practical note for readers: If you are thinking of visiting Auschwitz Museum, please remind yourself of the up-to-date visitors rules here, and consider booking directly through the official website. Our tour was around 70 zloty (~£15) each, with an official museum guide. The museum is directly accessible from Kraków by bus for about 15 zloty (~£4), whereas tour companies in Kraków charge upwards of 120 zloty for the day trip. Note that flash photography and tripods are forbidden absolutely everywhere, as is any sort of photography in Room 5 of Block 4, and in Block 11, as well as in security queues and visitor luggage storage areas.

For more information about the Holocaust (also known as Shoah), head over to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Memorial Centre. For further reading, check out memoirs such as First One In, Last One Out by Marilyn Shimon, a telling of her uncle’s true experience as prisoner 31321, and Photographing the Holocaust by Janina Struk for contemporary images from a range of sources.

Selfie Obsessed – Space and Other Frontiers

Last month marked the 50th anniversary of the first human moon landing. Of the countless images that have landed since Earthlings began visiting space, this is one of my favourites:

You will never be this cool.
Image: Buzz Aldrin on Twitter @TheRealBuzz

Almost 40 years before the word “selfie” made its way into the Millennial lexicon (and in 2013 the Oxford Dictionary), Aldrin set a record that most people at the time had probably never even dreamed of. His might not have been the first footprints on the moon, but THREE WHOLE YEARS before colleague Neil Armstrong’s “small step for man”, Buzz Aldrin took the first selfie in space. Something he doesn’t want us to forget… and who can blame him? So on that theme, I want to have a look back at some other notable selfie-takers in history.

Perhaps the times and the technology have changed, but the sentiment of capturing one’s own image goes back over 150 years. That’s right, the folks over at Guinness World Records recognise this image, by Robert Cornelius of Pennsylvania, USA, as the first ever recorded ‘selfie’, back in 1839:

Brooding expression, check. Tousled hair, check. Slight head tilt, check! It’s an Instagrammer’s dream!
Image: Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons

Cornelius would have had to spend anywhere up to 15 minutes for the exposure to capture his image, depending on how sunny it was outside! The resulting image wouldn’t look out of place in the feed of any modern Instagrammer, right down to the scratches and discolouration. #nofilter

Between this pivotal moment in self-recording photography, and the turn of the 20th century, despite a 150-year wait for official designation as a “selfie”, photographers played around a little. Notably, Hippolyte Bayard (1940), and Hannah Maynard (1893), whose representations of themselves stand out against the era in which they were created.

Bayard was a pioneer of photographic methods, and his Le Noyé  (Self Portrait As A Drowned Man) has been described as a bit of a dig at the officials who, in his mind, overlooked his contributions to the art of photography. It is widely regarded as the first known staged selfie. The back of the print features a snarky caption, an excerpt of which is relayed here:

…As far as I know this indefatigable experimenter has been occupied for about three years with his discovery. The Government which has been only too generous to Monsieur Daguerre, has said it can do nothing for Monsieur Bayard, and the poor wretch has drowned himself. Oh the vagaries of human life….!

Hippolyte Bayard, on Self Portrait As A Drowned Man (1940)
When someone tries to wake you but you aren’t done dreaming.
Image: © SFP

Was this one of the first uses of photography in performance art? Perhaps Bayard lived a couple of hundred years too early, and would have found his tribe in the souls of Vivian Maier, Andy Warhol, and others of that ilk.

Fast forward fifty years or so to 1893, and Hannah Maynard’s Tea Time is proudly breaking every stereotypical notion that I had in my head of Victorian feminine values: strict; stern; subservient; accessory to home and husband. In this almost surreal multiple-exposure image, Maynard is hosting a tea party. And serving at it… And attending it. All at once!

Hannah Maynard: the ultimate hostess with the mostest. 10/10 would invite to dinner.
Image: Royal British Columbia Museum

The result is an amusing, slightly surreal composition, which at first glance may be taken for a snapshot of Victorian life; but look a little closer and this image required a fair amount of creativity and technical precision to accomplish. When we consider the historical adage “The camera never lies”, Maynard’s work is a prime example of how, even a century before Photoshop and other image editing suites, the medium of photography could be used to manipulate reality. Besides anything else, Maynard has definitely rocketed to the top of my fantasy dinner guest list!

I rarely hear selfies discussed without hearing mention of teens, as they are the demographic who are credited with/accused of (delete as preferred) taking the most selfies. So let’s pay homage to the most famous teenage girl of her time, who possibly took the first bedroom selfie of any teenage girl, anywhere: Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, 1914.

Victorian-era Snapchat game on point.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Using a Kodak Brownie box camera, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nikolai II, later immortalised in fantasy and animated wishful thinking, snapped herself in her bedroom mirror, noting her “shaking hands” as she stood still for the length of the exposure, balancing the camera on a chair. Anastasia’s ready access to, and fondness for, the camera may well have contributed to the mystery and drama that echoed throughout Europe up until 2007, almost 90 years after her death. She was so well documented, and her face was so familiar, that lookalikes popping up in the years following her disappearance as a teen had a fair amount of source material for inspiration.

Of course, the selfie as we know it should well be considered separately from the art of self portraiture: One often involves a deliberate composition of elements and a consideration of the desired outcome; the other a throwaway capture of a moment, an impulse, a non-important snapshot among a thousand other snapshots in your phone’s camera roll. But really, do we think Robert Cornelius was concerned about the exact composition of his experimental self portrait? Did the young Romanov princess Anastasia consider the longevity and lasting historical impact of her mirror snap?

Who knows, maybe if they had lived a couple of hundred years later we’d be viewing their prints in galleries, or scrolling through them on social media sites. As I mentioned earlier, maybe it’s just the technology that’s different nowadays. One sure thing, though: the camera as a tool for self-representation is almost as old as the art of photography itself.