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Lighting 101

October 15, 2010

So many of us only grab our cameras on bright sunny days, but seasoned photographers get excited as weather patterns roll in and out. By exploiting the changing characteristics of light, you can add emotion and character to your photographs!


“All good things come to those who wait.” Photo by J. Franklin



A little later ... the waiting pays off. Photo by J. Franklin


Sometimes we really are at the mercy of Mother Nature, so it’s important to choose the right kind of light for any given subject. Assess the light conditions first … then look for subjects that suit that type of lighting. Our Media Group photographer Janis Franklin shares some tips about understanding these different types of light.

Ambient Light

Ambient light is the overall light emanating from the sun or the artificial lights in a room. Often the direction of ambient light is vague, shadows are faint and coverage is pretty even. Use the ambient light on or around a subject to produce a certain mood or feeling.


Ambient light. Photo by J. Franklin


Hard Light

Hard light is generated from a small light source such as the sun or a spotlight and is characterized by hard-edged well defined shadows. It can be used to create drama and is great for producing strong graphic images. Hard light at extreme angles to a subject will emphasize texture and enhance definition.


Hard light. Photo by J. Franklin


Direct Light

Direct light can be from the sun or from an artificial light source that projects as a concentrated beam or spotlight. Direct light produces hard edged shadows and extreme contrast which can make dramatic images. Note that direct light can sometimes wash out colours. Turning on your flash in this situation can actually be helpful if you want to eliminate extremely dark shadows.


Direct light. Photo by J. Franklin


Omni Light

Omni Light radiates a circular, uniform, non-directional spread of light. It is hard to control but can be used to produce creative effects where the light is an important part of the image.


Omni light. Photo by J. Franklin


Soft Light

Soft Light is generated from a large light source such as an overcast sky or studio softboxes that produce soft, subtle shadows. Detail is minimized with the emphasis being on the overall form rather than detail.


Soft light. Photo by J. Franklin



Back Light, Rim Light and Silhouettes are all created from a light source that is behind the subject. The variation depends on the intensity and angle of the light falling on the subject as well as additional sources of light or reflected light falling on the front of the subject.


Silhouette or back light. Photo by J. Franklin


As the light changes it alters the shapes, colors, tones and textures, sometimes lasting only minutes or seconds and so you may have to work fast as the fleeting effects of light may never be repeated. By utilizing lighting along with colour, pattern, textures, shapes and perspective, your photographs will really come to life!  Happy Shooting!


How to Shoot a Great Video!

September 17, 2010

Our TV producer, Tom Scott, has been shooting and editing video for many years and is here to share a few tips!

Okay everyone, a show of hands: Who remembers when VHS beat out Betamax as the home standard for video systems? I’m guessing most of the hands in the air probably have age spots, present company included. But these days, do you find you’re using and shooting more video for teaching? Maybe you’re letting students use more media for course projects? Or maybe you’re shooting videos to post on YouTube? Regardless, with the increasing ease of technology that lets you tap your creativity, there are a few simple concepts to keep in mind.  I want to share tips about shooting video. Specifically, how to shoot a good interview. Using interviews can add a personal connection to the information you are recording.


After you read this sentence, close your eyes and listen to the room you’re in. If you’re in an office building you might hear the rumble of the heating and cooling ducts, the hum of your computer fan or noise from the hallway. Our ears tune out the background noise of life but microphones tend to emphasize it. Pay attention to this. The perfect looking room for the interview may not be so perfect sounding. When shooting in a home we will frequently unplug the fridge to avoid the hum of it’s motor. Sometimes we even remember to plug it back in before we leave!

SOUND (part 2)

Did I mention Sound? A good way to achieve better video is with better sound. Use a microphone that attaches to the person – not the one that is attached to the camera. If you’re interested in investing in a microphone our AV sales department can help you with this (sorry, shameless plug!).


If you’re using available light try to position the person, or ‘the subject’, so that the light gives some modeling to the face. For example, if you’re shooting the subject without portable TV lights, you might only have a window to use as the light source. If you shoot the person in front of the window, you will either end up with a silhouette of the subject or you will “burn out” the window (see EXPOSURE). If the window is directly in front of the subject then the person will be washed out with unflattering, flat light. A better way is to position the subject so the light is hitting them from the side. This provides some modeling to the face and saves them from squinting into the direct light.


Set the proper exposure for the subjects face and let the rest of the picture take care of itself. It’s OK to let a window in the background “burnout” until it’s just a white bloom with no detail as long as the subject’s face is properly exposed.


Don’t… just don’t. Maybe just once in a while. Watch TV and movies and try counting the zooming you see. Films from the late 1960’s are exempt!


The eyes are not only the windows of the soul but a great place to set your focus. Periodically check throughout the session to confirm sharp focus by going back into the eye.


Watch what we call ‘Headroom’. Err on the side of too little over too much. Cutting the top of a subject’s head off in a close-up shot is acceptable. Too much room above the head looks poorly framed and aesthetically awkward.


As a final tip, the interviewer should sit close to the side of the lens so the subject’s gaze is slightly off of the Len’s centre. If there is no interviewer and the subject is looking directly into the lens, advise them to talk as if they were having a conversation with a good friend. That should help them seem a little more relaxed and natural.

Being aware of your surrounding and using these simple tips will greatly help any media production. Good luck and happy shooting!

UBC Medical Illustrator Wins 5 Awards

August 25, 2010

We are happy to announce that our medical illustrator, Vicky Earle, has received 5 international awards from the 2010 UK Institute of Medical Illustrators Annual Competition. Two Silver and three Bronze Awards were presented for her submissions this year showing “an outstanding application of technique and an excellent understanding of the client’s needs”. The Institute of Medical Illustrators was founded in 1968 to bring together the several disciplines of medical illustration and has set and maintained standards of practice for the profession.

Superior Dental Plexus by V. Earle

Nerves of the Palate by V. Earle

Medical Illustrations have been recording anatomical and physiological systems for hundreds of years, the most recognized works being from Leonardo da Vinci, Andreas Vesalius, and Frank Netter. Today’s medical illustrators are artists who create material designed to record, teach and support medical and scientific knowledge through visual communication media. Many are also active consultants and advisors in education and administration.

Vicky began working in the Media Group at UBC (and affiliated teaching hospitals) in 1989 after receiving her degree in Medical Illustration from the University of Toronto. More recently, she acquired a Masters in Education Technology from UBC with a goal to better understand technology for teaching and online education. She has been involved with the design and production of numerous textbook and journal illustrations as well as artwork for video, animation and websites. Vicky is also a member of the Association of Medical Illustrators, the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators, HeSCA, and the American Society of Botanical Illustrators. Click here to view more work.

Female Anatomy in Situ by V. Earle

Ready, Steady, Shoot

July 13, 2010

Camera steadiness is one of the most basic, but sometimes the most difficult skill to master in photography, especially if you find yourself in a low light situation with no tripod! These few simple steps will help.

Havana Dance Academy Student in Low Light. Photo by Janis Franklin

Stand erect with your feet about 18 inches apart and your body weight evenly distributed

Once in this position, keep your elbows tucked in as close to your body as possible and bring the camera viewfinder to your eye. Now press the camera lightly against your face. When using a normal or wide angle lens, try holding the camera body on both sides with fingers on the front and thumbs on the back. If you have a longer, heavier lens, try using your left hand to support the lens rather than holding the camera body. This position is also convenient for adjusting focus and/or the zoom controls.

Gain steadiness by using your surroundings

Lean against a pillar, a wall, or rest the camera on the back of a chair, a car hood, railing or other surface. Just before releasing the shutter, take a deep breath and exhale until you feel comfortable. Now hold your breath and trip the shutter. Using a light touch is the best to avoid jarring the camera at the moment of exposure. For smoothness in the release, increase your pressure on the button gently and steadily until the shutter trips.

Dimly lit street in Beaune, France. Photo by Janis Franklin

Use a self-timer

This method works best when photographing stationary objects. A self-timer lets you concentrate on holding the camera steady while the timer makes the exposure. Important tip: set the timer for a shorter-than-normal interval so that you won’t have an excessive wait time for the shutter to trip.

Tripod alternates

Interestingly, many public buildings such as museums and churches allow cameras but not tripods. A small bean bag is a useful alternative for a camera support, plus its small size is convenient to pack for traveling. Alternatively, a piece of clothing rolled up tightly works almost as well. If possible, use the self-timer to trip the shutter. On a recent trip to Europe, I was often asked not to use my tripod. To work around this, I took the lens hood off and placed it on a table or other available surface. This worked as a useful support to prop up my lens while using the self-timer. Sometimes necessity brings out the best innovations!

Good luck and happy shooting!

Lights! Camera! Action! Is Not the Whole Picture

June 28, 2010

Have you ever wondered how a video or film comes to be?

Whether it’s a film the magnitude of ‘Avatar’ or a quick video prepared for a relative’s anniversary, all productions go through the same basic stages. And, certain roles need to be filled in order to bring the production from concept through to completion. Depending on the scope of the project, either an army of people fills the roles or one person can wear all the hats.  As an example, here’s how we in Media and TV Production at the UBC Media Group typically move through the process.

Video production can be broken down into three main phases: 1) Pre-production, 2) Production and 3) Post-production. Our role as the Producer is to co-ordinate and manage the production of the video from the conceptual stage through to post-production.


The Client and Producer first meet to discuss and determine the audience for the video, what the ‘story’ is and how it is to be told. The Client introduces the Team or Liaison Person with whom the Producer communicates throughout the making of the video. The Client provides the Producer with as much background content information as they can in the form of an outline or rough script along with any pertinent research material. If it applies, the Producer works with the Client to formulate the questions that will elicit the desired information from the participants appearing in the video. From this information and the rough script, the Producer has the Writer fashion the first script draft.

The Producer and Client Liaison review the first script draft and the Client suggests changes and corrections. The script revisions are incorporated and then go back to the Client for approval. If more corrections and modifications are necessary, script revisions are done until the Client approves a final script. In the meantime, the Producer, in preparation for the shoot, organizes the Talent, Crew, locations and various other shoot requirements. Once the final script draft is approved, the shoot can proceed.

Production: The Video Shoot

The Producer provides a Director, a Crew, which provides visuals and sound, and equipment for the shoot. The Client and Producer usually collaborate in choosing the Talent. There may be an initial shoot where video interviews are collected to provide material with which to shape the script. Subsequent shoots are directed according to the final script.  The Client Liaison is present at the shoots to ensure that the content is correctly presented and interpreted.

Post Production: Video Editing

The Producer, in collaboration with the Video Editor, provides a rough edit of the program using the final script as a guide. If needed, the Producer arranges for a voice-over Narrator, chooses music and co-ordinates a Graphic Designer and Animator to produce graphics and animation. The Editor expertly melds together all these elements. The Client views the rough edit to ensure that there is no content misinterpretation or to make suggestions regarding the presentation of the material.  The Editor makes any necessary changes and then the Producer delivers to the Client a final finished edit of the program.

“To be prepared is half the victory”  Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Secret Tips for Grant Submissions

June 24, 2010

“Fertile vistas may open out when
commonplace facts are
examined from a fresh point of view.”

L.L. Whyte

UBC is renowned for world-class research, innovative thinking, and its talented community of faculty, staff and students.  But research excellence relies on funding — and securing that funding is competitive and challenging! How can your grant application stand out from the competition?

Small Point = Big Difference

Researchers who face the challenge of breaking into the ‘fundable area’ realize that decimal point differences in final scores can literally translate to hundreds of thousands of dollars difference in final funding. For example, at the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) table, a score of 4.3 could mean $750,000 compared with a 4.2 that provides no cash. Not a small point after all! Obviously any ‘edge’ you can give your grant submission is worth the effort ten-fold.

Leveraging Media in your Favour

Studies by educational researchers have shown that approximately 83% of human learning occurs visually.  Also, studies have shown that by adding relevant visual media to text, retention rates increase up to 89% over using text alone. It’s no wonder that a large proportion of academics best access information `visually’!   Well-designed graphics, diagrams and photographs can quickly tell the story at first glance. A customized `theoretical framework` or a diagram to illustrate the biology that underpins key processes may help reviewers understand the fundamental concepts of your research more quickly and easily.

Find the Balance

When you stop and think about it, funding committees read hundreds of pages in grant proposals. On a purely visual level, these submissions equate to thousands of pages of black text on white paper. Adding relevant visuals to perfectly summarize your concepts not only adds interest to your submission, but makes you stand out. Key words to remember here are “make it meaningful”. Your choice of image(s) should add depth of understanding to your content. There is an art to striking a balance between meaningful information, good design and providing enough information — but not so much information that the graphics become cluttered or confusing.

Dynamic Communication

The process of grant reviewing is not an empirical science. Considering the difference a fraction of a point can make for the success or failure of significant funding, a preliminary investment to work with professional media experts can greatly impact long-term gains. For example, The Media Group helped grant applicants secure over $5 million dollars in new grant funding last year alone! Your initial investment for images is cost effective because those images generally have a high re-use value.  One single image used for a grant submission can often be re-purposed for lectures, conferences, progress reports, websites, podcasts and/or on-line learning at a later date.

Final Consideration

After success in receiving the funding for your research, keep in mind that you will likely be required to present and publish your findings at the end of your project timeline. By factoring the cost of production time into your grant proposal, your department will be covered for the provision of professional media design when the time arrives. Think creatively and utilize media to your best advantage!

Don’t Make Powerpoint Pointless

June 23, 2010

We’ll start with basics first: how to avoid pitfalls; old rules that still matter; and simple tricks you may not have thought to use…

Choices Choices Everywhere! Colour Choices: Backgrounds and Text

Colour choice is one of the most basic but often misused aspects of a quality presentation. Background and text colours should not only please the eye, but they must be easy for the audience to read. To avoid eye-strain, choose medium-dark colours for backgrounds with lighter coloured text. For example, mid or medium value blue with yellow, cream or white lettering works well. Alternatively, a lighter pastel-based colour can be used effectively for backgrounds (avoid pure white) with dark blue, dark gray or black text. Sound boring? Over-used? The addition of a simple gradient will add interest, but still be clean and professional. If using photographs and/or graphics, try putting these on a simple solid black background. The audience will focus on the images and make the slides easier to see.

The alternative to setting up your own slide design is to opt for one of many pre-designed background templates provided in the Powerpoint software. These templates do save time and can add a touch of class, but be sure to employ the tried and true graphic design adage of: ‘KISS’ (Kept It Simple Silly). Again, it is all about audience eye comfort, ease of concentration and ‘read-ability’.

The ‘Goods’ on Font Styles

Font choice (or style of lettering for text) is also important. There are two types of fonts: serif and sans serif. Serifs are the little tails on the beginning and ending letter strokes; Sans serif fonts are ‘tail-less’. Many professionals use a sans serif font for headings and sub-headings while choosing a serif font for body text. Personally, we tend to use the same font family for the entire presentation, changing the size and/or colour for headings and emphasis. Also, using upper and lower case provides ease of reading for the audience (please see next point). Optimal fonts that are easy to read on the screen include: Times, Arial, Trebuchet, Book Antigua and Verdana.

Room to Breathe

One of the most basic rules of slide design is to avoid overcrowding. We used to say, ”Hold the slide at arms length. If YOU can still read the information, the back row of your audience will be able to read it on the screen” . Obviously, with digital slides, this doesn’t work any more. A good rule of thumb is to limit the lines of text to six or seven. This includes the title! We usually give titles and headers a larger font (around 44 pt.) and body text between 24 and 32 pt. Building, or adding your points on consecutive slides is an effective way to keep your slides uncluttered and to also keep your audience listening.

Studies have shown that people cannot read large quantities of text and listen at the same time. Use your slides for the main points in your presentation and verbally fill in the rest. Animation is another great way to build your points as you go along. But don’t “over do it”. Too much of a good thing can detract from your presentation. It’s better to use these methods to hightlight points rather than moving the mouse to point to specifics on slides. The audience will be disrupted and tend to focus on the arrow, rather than what you are saying… especially if you forget to move the mouse as you continue!