Worked with an awesome client tonight who was rightfully terrified when she saw the insane size of her camera manual. Look at that thing! 😱 After 2 hours I had her up and running with consistent exposures and sharp focus. This book is now destined to be a paperweight. Meanwhile, she is ready for her next big photo trip.
The web is saturated with top ten lists of how to be a better photographer. Heck, I’ve even written a number of them myself. Yet, one has to wonder, how much better can someone really become after reading just one article? Wouldn’t a larger transformation involving several weeks or months be necessary?
Read the full article here.
The best view can often be found just beneath your feet. If you're not careful, you'll stomp right over it. In this tutorial, I'll reveal how to expand your potential choices by simply lying on the ground. Why limit your compositions to the traditional perspectives? Prepare to get your jeans dirty and capture some compelling images.
In New York City, it's tempting to crane your neck towards the massive skyscrapers. After a soaking rain however, the better opportunity is actually found in the street. The standing water provides a mirror like reflection of the surrounding buildings. Just as no two snowflakes are equal, the same is true with puddles. To find your shot, get down and explore it from all angles.
If you walk up to an animal in the wild it will likely flee in fear. By crawling, you become far less threatening. Working from this bug's eye perspective, the photo takes on a more revealing look at their habitat. To add more impact, use a wide aperture like f4. This will turn foreground elements such as grass and flowers into soft washes of color.
While on the ground, try holding the camera in both portrait and landscape orientation. Setting up the vertical frame may initially be somewhat awkward, but the results are worth it. When you get home you'll be glad to have more options to choose from. I've had instances where I like the horizontal composition better, but a client prefers the other. To cover all possibilities, shoot it both ways.
There are occasions when placing the camera on the floor will yield the best photo. This was the case at the very dimly lit cathedral in Siena, Italy. Tripods were not permitted, and a long shutter speed was necessary for a proper exposure. In order to photograph the Gothic interior, I rested the camera on the floor using my camera bag to angle it upwards. The two second timer was used to trip the shutter and record the photo. The security guards didn't hassle me for this, and I got a sharp photo of the impressive structure.
You'll be amazed at just how much beauty can be found on the ground. Sometimes it happens when you least expect it. My favorite find actually came in the parking lot of a shopping center. A light mist had just fallen, turning the pavement inky black. This rainwater mixed with the motor oil from a leaking car. The result was a brilliant pattern of vibrant colors. It was a reminder to always keep a camera nearby.
While it may seem counterintuitive at first, the most sophisticated compositions are often the simplest. For this reason, ultra wide angle lenses are not typically the ideal choice for outdoor images. By including too much information, you risk losing the subject to visual clutter. This creates a unique challenge for landscape photographers. While it's tempting to include the vast expanse of a splendid horizon, a stronger image may only contain a small portion of it. This is where a telephoto zoom becomes an invaluable part of your kit.
1) Eliminate Clutter
It's rare to come upon a landscape that doesn’t require decluttering. Common sights include power wires, fences, trailhead signs, unsightly dirt patches, and dumpsters. You can try to compose with your feet at first, but what about those situations when you can't go any further? Where a wide angle lens falls short, a telephoto in the 70-300mm range will be very useful.
With it, you can pick the precise area where all of the essential elements come together, and work to eliminate everything else.
2) Isolate Your Main Subject
A telephoto lens gives you the ability to pick a single part of a larger landscape and bring attention to it. Of course the increased reach isn’t the only part of the equation. You’ll still need to consider various methods of composition like the rule of thirds and a strong foreground element. Try shooting from a low vantage point through flowers or grasses for added depth. At wide apertures foreground elements will become a nice wash of color that lead the eye to the subject.
3) Expand Your Horizons
The potential for subject matter multiples with a longer focal range. For instance, wildlife that would appear very small at 55mm become much more prominent at 420mm. No longer are you just shooting landscapes, but possibly wildlife as well. Just remember that good technique is essential for sharp telephoto images. Even the slightest bit of camera shake will be magnified if your shutter speed is too slow. When handheld, try to set an exposure no slower than 1/500th of a second. Image stabilized lenses and camera bodies do absolutely offer some flexibility here, but it’s best to err on the side of caution if your goal is to make tack sharp enlargements.
4) A Different Perspective
If you look at the front cover of many photo magazines, they often encourage the use of ultra wide angle lenses for landscapes. While it’s true that certain scenes absolutely come to life at 16mm, it’s the exception rather than the rule. For those looking to create a unique representation of a scene, a greater focal range can help you find it. At a time when it seems just about everyone has a camera, going beyond the reach of a normal kit lens can lead to extraordinary results.
5) Finding Patterns
By searching for organized patterns and repetition with a long lens, you can bring order to the world around you. This method of seeing will help to further develop your eye and strengthen your compositions. Rather than looking at the bigger picture, you're choosing to focus on the smaller details. While this particular method of composition doesn't require any overly technical methods, it does require a different approach. The trick is to zoom in and carefully scan the landscape through your viewfinder. Patterns don’t always reveal themselves right away, so take your time and compose carefully. You may be surprised at where you'll find these unique photo opportunities as they can appear just about anywhere.
I recently put a request on social media for your photography questions. This was under the premise that no inquiry was too basic or advanced. Many of you had similar questions, and I picked the top 9 which I thought would be helpful for everyone to read.
Question 1: I have tried to achieve showing a sense of motion by "Panning" my camera and just have not been successful in doing so. The image was almost completely washed out. What am I doing wrong?
Answer: When you choose a slow shutter speed to pan and show motion, it will allow a great deal of light into the camera, potentially resulting in overexposure. To counter this, you can use a lower ISO like 100, and/or a smaller aperture such as f11, or f16 which would both allow less light in and correct the exposure. Also, to capture quality panning shots you often have to shoot many photos to create the desired effect. Much of it has to do with the speed of the shutter in comparison to the subject's speed. For example, a cyclist riding at 25mph could be panned at 1/60th while a car at 50mph would be a total blur with the same shutter. Of course those are just examples, and you'll need to keep experimenting. Remember to swivel your hips and follow the subject with the camera during the exposure.
Question 2: I set my camera to the AV mode and try to change the aperture using the mode dial but it wont let me get wider then f5.6. It's an 18-55mm lens and I cant figure out what I'm doing wrong. Any ideas?
Answer: Your lens has what's called a variable aperture. This is a common trait on many kit lenses, like the 18-55mm. At 18mm you can open the aperture all the way to f3.5, but when you zoom to 55mm, you will only be able to open up to a maximum aperture of f5.6. Despite these limitations on the maximum aperture, you can still shoot with the whole range of small apertures like f8, f11, f16, f22 regardless of the focal length.
Question 3: No matter what I do I can't seem to get close-ups of birds, from my patio to a hill in the backyard about 20 feet away. I have a Nikon DSLR with a 100-300m lens.
Answer: I do a great deal of bird photography and you are correct, it's not easy. Birds are skittish, and you often need to use a lens of 400mm or longer mounted to a tripod. Like most wildlife photography, it's helpful to remain patient and wait for the right moments while observing quietly through the viewfinder. You may also want to consider looking into a portable blind. This will allow you to get closer without scaring them away. Finally, be sure to wear muted colors, and refrain from making any sudden movements. Once the birds understand you are not a threat, you'll have a better chance of photographing their natural behavior.
Question 4: I have a silly question about photo umbrellas. When setting up the flash stand, should I ever shoot through the umbrella, or should I bounce the light off the umbrella back onto the subject?
Answer: I actually prefer shooting through a white umbrella as it's perfect for creating nice big catch lights in the eyes. Essentially, it's very similar to using a softbox as the quality of the flash will be quite diffused.
Question 5: I recently got an umbrella but don't know where to find the right brackets to attach it to a stand.
Answer: The piece you are looking for is called an "Umbrella Bracket Adapter". It will fit on almost any light stand, tilts and swivels to make aiming the light or flash easy. At just under $20, it's an inexpensive, but extremely helpful accessory.
Question 6: I have a quick question. Do you have any suggestions for factors to consider when selecting compact flash cards? Are some brands more reliable or better quality than others?
Answer: Memory cards are an important consideration as it's essentially your "film", and needs to be 100% reliable. I have always used Lexar, and haven’t had a single issue so I only purchase their cards. Several photographers I know also speak very highly of SanDisk. Any other brand is a gamble. Considering how the price of memory has come down dramatically in the last 12-24 months, you are much better off with the name brands I mentioned. Also, I prefer the 32GB and 64GB sized cards, but don't usually recommend anything larger. Remember the old saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. If a card should get damaged, lost or stolen, you won’t lose all of your work.
Question 7: Would you recommend an extended warranty on the camera?
Answer: I only purchased an extended warranty one time, for a super telephoto lens. For about $300, the store added 3 years to the standard 1 year warranty provided by the manufacturer. After 3 years and 2 months, the tripod collar broke. The estimate for the repair was several hundred dollars. I found a $6 replacement part on eBay and have been using the lens with no problem ever since. That was the last time I purchased an extended warranty.
Question 8: What kind of flash do you recommend?
Answer: Believe it or not, the pop-up flash on most DSLRs is quite useful if you learn how to work within its limitations. For certain genres of photography, like portraiture and events, you will want a more powerful "external" flash. I strongly encourage you to stay away from third party brands like Vivitar, and stick with a dedicated unit. By dedicated, I'm referring to the same brand that makes your camera. The current line of flash units are incredibly sophisticated without being overly complicated to use.
Question 9: What do you think is the definition of a Pro Photographer?
Answer: Avoid categorizing yourself with labels, or engaging in debates that seek to define terms such as “professional” and “amateur”. A good photographer is not concerned with these phrases, but rather focuses on their craft. The word amateur is often does not imply a lack of skill. The actual definition is "to do something for the love of". This is the spirit that all professionals should strive to retain throughout their career.
Photography is about so much more than the latest and greatest model. If you wish to take consistently better photos, it’s the mind not the machine that will make all the difference. Here are 8 ways to take better photographs without buying a new camera.
1) Experiment and try something new. Imagine a world where Picasso never attempted his cubism technique, or where Ben Franklin was too tired or busy to fly his kite in a lightning storm. Perhaps there is a photographic process that you can define through creative thinking. Francis Ford Coppola who famously directed such classic films as the Godfather 1 and 2 said, "If you don't take a risk, how are you going to make something really beautiful that hasn't been seen before?" This can be extreme like moving the camera mid-exposure while twisting the lens in an out, or more subtle approaches.
2) Find your passion - Perhaps it's pet photography, or exploring distant places through your lens. Maybe the magic light of sunset moves you, or the incredible details we find in nature. I believe an all-around zoom lens is ideal for this initial pursuit. With a versatile focal range of 28-200mm you can explore a wide variety of photographic opportunity. Why limit yourself? Over time, you'll begin to hone in on your specialties and build your lens kit accordingly.
3) Take a weekly photo walk - Find a local park that can act as your home base to work on your techniques. By frequenting the same place you will start to observe the subtle changes of nature, and also the weekly improvements in your overall photography skills. This area does not need to be an expansive National Park but simply a quiet area where you can walk for a few miles, think about your craft, and practice. To keep things interesting, you can even give yourself themed assignments like the color green, or even limit yourself to one lens at a constant aperture of 1.8 the whole day. By approaching familiar places with different parameters you are making room for creative growth. As Ferris Bueller’s character famously observed, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."
4) Learn the rules, so you can purposely break them - Take for example, the world's most expensive photo, "Rhein 2" by Andreas Gursky, recently auctioned for over 4.3 million dollars. The artist defiantly placed the horizon line straight across the middle of the frame. He didn't punch up the vibrancy or shoot in HDR to make the sky more dramatic. There were no filters or off camera flash, and nothing remarkable to anchor the foreground. Essentially Gursky took every rule splashed across most photography magazines in bold print, and created an image that makes you feel. The exact emotions evoked are up to the individual viewer. Emptiness, expansive reach, and the balance of nature are all terms that come to my mind.
5) Research - The Photo Ephemeris is a strange name, but it's a tremendously useful tool to plan your next shoot. Not only does it provide accurate sunrise and sunset times, but it actually illustrates the precise direction of the sun in relation to your location. It also works with the moon, allowing you to pinpoint when it will be full, and where it will rise. With this knowledge, I start to craft a shot list before departing for any travel adventures.
6) Share images for feedback - The autumn harvest is not limited to pumpkins and apples, but photographs too. Each October and November I start to cull my favorite images from the year to assemble into a calendar for family and friends. They make great holiday gifts and are a wonderful way to share past adventures. Ansel Adams believed that "Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop." Ironically enough, that's the exact amount you'll need to fill each month. I also view this exercise as a measuring stick for growth. What did I do better this year than last and how can I make improvements for the days and months ahead? If you want to expand your reach beyond family and friends, you can tap into a massive network online with the PicsArt community. Another great option is to create a slideshow of your favorites from a recent trip and share them on YouTube as a video.
7) Less is more - Many photographers mistakenly believe a large body of work is necessary to show that you've been active in the field. The opposite is actually true, as quality, not quantity will determine how your images are perceived. At all of the publications I've worked for, the photo editors were incredibly short on time, racing to meet print deadlines. Rather than sifting through hundreds of images, they task the photographer with this, typically limiting submission to the top ten selects. This is challenging for photographers, all of whom have a personal connection to their work. While this might sound harsh, these editors understand that all it takes are a few powerful images to effectively tell a story. Anything more is just going to water down the piece. The same is true with the photos you share on your website, blog, or portfolio.
I start by eliminating anything with technical problems such as focus or exposure. Next, I rule out the mundane frames where the drama is lacking. Ultimately I'm looking for one peak moment of action, or the frame where all of the elements come together to create a splendid scene. This is my lead photo and the one that goes into the portfolio. The rest are either designed to support the story, set the location, reveal a subtle detail that may have gone by unnoticed.
8) Get organized - It’s not uncommon for photographers to have tens of thousands of images weighing down their catalog. If you’re not careful, this can quickly unravel into an unmanageable disaster. I find the words of the French novelist Gustave Flaubert fitting for our craft. He said, "Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be…original in your work.” For photographers, Adobe Lightroom can be this organizational backbone, storing everything neatly in labeled folders with searchable keywords. In addition to its filing capability, the software is quite capable of nearly any post production techniques.
In order to backup all important business data, you’ll want a redundant system of external hard drives. Not only will these protect your files in case of catastrophic computer failure, but the offer an extension on your hard drive storage space. These drives are quite reasonably priced and typically plug directly into the extra USB ports on the computer. They would be compatible with a desktop and laptop to protect all of your important files. These drives are small, lightweight, and portable should you need extra storage when traveling. The specific model I recommend is the Western Digital “My Passport” with two terabytes of storage space at just $119.
For the ultimate protection, you will also want to add a selection of important documents to the cloud using Dropbox. This service allows you to access uploaded files from any computer with internet access, and also has a mobile app for the phone. You can share documents with clients this way, or just use it for extra protection in case all of your hard drives were damaged or stolen. It is quite secure with 256-bit AES encryption and two-step verification & mobile passcodes. This cloud service is reasonably priced at $99 per year for 100GB of online storage.
Fog and frost can transform a routine scene into a moody, or even mysterious photo opportunity. While exceedingly beautiful, these conditions don't occur all that often, making them even more exciting to capture through your lens. Despite this, there are some outdoor photographers who avoid shooting in weather such as this. They argue that landscapes are best captured on a clear day with great visibility. Yet, to truly succeed in outdoor photography, we must learn to take any situation and work with it to the best of our ability. As the artist Jewel sang, "Nature has a funny way of breaking what does not bend."
To better predict when fog and frost will appear, it helps to understand how they develop. Don't worry, it's just a refresher, and you won't be tested at the end. Frost forms as a result of water vapor that has condensed over a large surface area. A thin layer of liquid water now covers the object. When the temperature is cold enough to crystallize the liquid water, frost will form.
Essentially fog is a cloud that forms close to the surface of the Earth. In order for fog to form, relative humidity must be at or very close to 100%. When the air is nearly saturated with water vapor there is a large supply of moisture for fog to occur. The source of water vapor for fog is often a body of water like a lake or an ocean. Interestingly fog can also form over a field of grass as a result of a special type of evaporation called transpiration. Transpiration occurs when dew from the leaf of a plant evaporates off the surface of the leaf. As such, a large grassy field can supply ample water vapor for fog to form over the location.
Chances are, your autofocus system is no match for a dense layer of fog. Even a sophisticated DSLR will struggle to lock onto a subject successfully. The trick is to switch to manual focus and trust your eyesight to focus. If the thought of this makes you cringe, or you're an eyeglass wearer, there are new features to make this much easier than it used to be. Perhaps the best option is "focus peaking", now available on many consumer model cameras. To use it, slowly twist the manual focus ring while looking at the subject in your LCD screen. Once focus is achieved, the subject will appear to be outlined in a bright color.
Both of these conditions are notoriously tricky for the camera's internal meter to handle properly. If you simply photograph them in automatic mode, they will end up with more grey than desired. This results in a flat scene that sorely lacks in any real sense of depth. The solution is to add one or two stops of exposure by adjusting your camera settings or using exposure compensation. This will help to brighten up a dull landscape while adding much needed contrast.
With these simple workarounds, it's possible to take an otherwise ordinary moment, and turn it into a special work of art. Keep an eye on the weather report and head out with your camera when they are likely to occur. In my experience, the early morning is your best bet. Of course there are those occasions that surprise even the most prepared meteorologists. When this happens, use your camera phone or pocket sized point and shoot to make a photo. I keep a mirrorless camera with me at all times as it's small enough to travel well, and offers full manual control.
These elements can also have a dramatic effect on man-made structures. Even the mighty Empire State Building in New York City can't rise above a thick veil of fog. While the main subject of this image is clearly a cityscape, it also reveals the true power of nature. If you've never tried to capture these conditions with your camera, now is the time to start. As you become more accustomed to shooting in all kinds of weather, you'll likely come to prefer scenes that are aided by fog and frost.
10) Shoot Without Card
Perhaps no worse feeling than shooting dozens of stunning images only to find they don't actually exist. This embarrassing issue is not isolated to film users. In fact, it's even more problematic with digital cameras as there's no indication to clue you in after 36 frames. To avoid this, you'll want to dig into your camera functions and locate the shooting menu. Simply disable the option to shoot without the card and proceed without worry.
9) Highlight Alert
You may have heard photographers discussing "the blinkies" and wondered what it was. In order to find it in your menu, look for "highlight alert". When enabled, the LCD screen blinks in black and white to warn you of overexposure. With this immediate feedback, you can adjust your settings in real time. The ability to get the shot right in the camera can greatly reduce your post production time at home.
RAW files are like your digital negative. No matter how many copies and edits you make, it's always possible to go back to this original file and start over. The file is uncompressed, meaning it contains all of the beautiful resolution your camera is capable of. In-camera adjustments like sharpening and saturation are not added. As such, the files can appear somewhat flat straight out of the camera. To get the most out of this file type, you'll need to first edit the image with special RAW software. While the workflow is more time consuming, the image quality is unsurpassed by even the highest quality JPEG.
7) Color Space
If the colors of your print look very dull or just plain inaccurate, you may have used the wrong color space. Check your camera menu right now. Does it say Adobe RGB? If so, you have just found the cause of the problem. Simply change it to sRGB in your camera menu and don't look back. The reason is simple; it gives the most consistent results. Not only does it work well for printing, but also for images shared on the web. Now there will be some experts who proclaim Adobe RGB to be superior as it technically captures more colors. While this is true in theory, it does not translate well in practice as most printers are set to sRGB. If you're not sure, ask the lab what color space they recommend.
6) Flash Compensation
The pop-up flash gets a bad rap, and this is unfortunate as it's actually a very useful tool when set properly. Out of the box, it simply provides too much light, resulting in a bright washed out appearance. The trick is to adjust the flash exposure compensation to a reduced output. As a starting point, bring it down to negative two. This creates a soft quality of fill flash that's immediately more pleasing. Should you need even less light, you can further reduce the flash to negative three. While it's rarely necessary, you could even add intensity to the flash by raising it towards the positive. Just remember, effective use of flash is meant to soften, not eliminate shadows.
5) White Balance
Auto White Balance does an adequate job outdoors. Yet, an overcast day is not required to benefit from the "cloudy" white balance option. Similar to a painter adding more yellow to their brush, this setting introduces a golden quality of light to a scene. It also makes objects in the shade appear less blue. Greens become more vibrant, making the cloudy preset an ideal choice from sunrise through sunset. This is perhaps my favorite white balance setting as it retains an accurate representation of the color temperature while adding brilliance to the photo.
4) Autofocus Point
Allowing the camera to automatically choose your focus point is one of the biggest causes of blurry photos today. Don't get me wrong, you can still use autofocus, but it works best when you manually set the autofocus point. Otherwise, the camera will choose incorrectly on occasion, leaving the fence post sharp and your subject out of focus. While some cameras offer clusters of focus points, a simpler approach will often work to your advantage. By placing a single active AF point on what you want sharpest, you eliminate the guess work, and your percentage of keepers soars.
3) Autofocus Beep
If you've spent any time pursuing wildlife photography, you know how challenging it is to get close to a creature before it flees. Once your subject is located, the last thing you want to do is scare it away with the autofocus beep. You may not realize just how loud it is in your home with other ambient noise to drown it out. On a silent morning in the woods however, it seems to echo through the forest for all to hear. By turning it off, the animals won't mind your presence, nor will your fellow photographers.
2) Spot Meter
Perhaps the single most important part of your camera is the internal light meter. To get started, select the “Spot Metering” option. To take a meter reading, zoom in, or get close to your subject. Place the middle portion of the viewfinder area over the part you want to meter. The camera will then read the amount of light being reflected back into it, and place the meter accordingly. This is where you take control of the camera. By adjusting your aperture, shutter speed, and/or ISO, you will determine your subject’s exposure.
1) Manual Mode
Many photographers shy away from the manual "M" mode on their camera, thinking it's reserved for those with years of experience. The truth is, the automatic settings are typically at the root of most issues plaguing image-makers. From inconsistent exposures to blurry photographs, these supposed beginner modes are anything but user-friendly. If you're ready to take control of your camera, 2016 is the time to leave the A, S, P, AV, TV modes behind. Once you realize the unlimited creative control of the manual setting, you'll wonder why you didn't switch sooner.
Lighthouses pierce the horizon to mark the location where earth and sea collide. Some feature colorful paint schemes, while others boast spiraling patterns in black and white. The actual height varies as does the overall shape. Each structure is unique, making them fun to discover and photograph. In the United States alone, there are approximately 700 active lighthouses. Of course there are hundreds more throughout the world. All it takes is one or two to start your collection of Lighthouse images.
The light spinning inside the tower was designed to alert sailors of the nearing coast. Each revolution takes approximately one second. By setting a slow shutter speed of several seconds, you can capture multiple rotations of the beam. The low light of sunrise and sunset will enhance the appearance of the light cutting through the darkness. Keep in mind, these types of long exposures work best if the camera is supported by a tripod.
Lighthouses are a terrific subject to practice various methods of composition. A rocky shore for example, can be used as a leading line. Notice how the eye travels through the frame before finally reaching the tower. The placement of your lighthouse will make a big impact to the overall success of the photo. Rather than simply centering the subject, I found the rule of thirds to be more effective. While you're exploring different options, be sure to try shooting in horizontal and vertical orientation as well.
While an actual anchor isn't necessary, look for objects that can be used in the foreground. When you add visual interest at the bottom of the frame, it strengthens the entire composition. This can be a man made element like the example below, or a natural resource such as wildflowers. If something of interest isn't immediately evident, be sure to walk around the entire structure. Get down low to check for unique angles that might have gone by unnoticed. To keep everything sharp, you'll want to achieve great depth of field with an aperture around f11.
During your visit, it can be fun to try different perspectives and even lenses. A fisheye lens for example will grossly distort the reality of the scene. Another alternative is to position yourself directly beneath the tower and shoot straight up. There are no definitive rules for a successful lighthouse photo, so don't limit yourself. Try something new, and you just may discover a perspective no one's seen before.
A number of impressive lighthouses are only accessible by boat. The Robbins Reef light rests on a small island between New York and New Jersey. To photograph it, one can take the free ride on the Staten Island Ferry. In order to take advantage of the dramatic light, I planned my trip at sunset. Since the boat was moving, a fast shutter speed of 1/1000 was necessary. Anything slower would have led to blurry images.
Many of these lighthouses have incredible history dating back hundreds of years. When on location, I to capture the surrounding signage and historical facts. Facts like the year it was built, or how it was used in the past can be used in your captions or photo essays. These little details make for a more complete story, and are worth stopping for. You may even want to include yourself in a few frames.
Whether your pet has feathers, fur, or a mane, these tips were designed to help you capture its true personality. Every creature is unique, and through photography, we can work to highlight their best side. Of course, even the best trained animals won't sit and pose for long. Thankfully, obedience class is not necessary for successful imagery. In fact, a playful attitude can be used to a photographer's advantage.
Introduce your pet to the camera when it's still young. Over time, it will become familiar with a lens being pointed at it. Some horses are so intelligent, they seem to enjoy having their picture taken. A versatile zoom lens in the 55-200mm range will serve you very well. This will be ideal for close ups, and also at play-time when they're further away.
Puppies are notoriously mischievous as they explore the world for the first time. By getting down on the ground with them, you'll be rewarded with much more effective compositions. Don't be afraid to get the camera up close and angle it upwards. It may slightly alter the look of reality, but this extreme angle can be used to accentuate an animal's features. If you're camera has an adjustable LCD screen, it makes it easier to work from this low vantage point.
What is your pet's favorite thing to do? This will be the ideal situation for a photo shoot. Sometimes it helps to have a friend or family member come along to assist. While they throw the frisbee, you can focus on getting great shots. A fast shutter speed of 1/500 to 1/1000 will be the preferable setting to freeze the action. To achieve a proper exposure, you may also need to select a higher ISO.
Some of the best pet photography can be done with smart phones, or point & shoot cameras. Whatever gear you decide on, the key is to have it at the ready for those cute moments. One way to improve your success ratio is to simply play with your pet with the camera nearby. Observe its behavior to see potential patterns. For example, after several rounds of chasing a toy, it may pause to stretch or yawn. These characteristics may seem insignificant at first, but reveal a special part of your pet's spirit.
Finding an appropriate background is nearly as important as the subject itself. To make sure the attention is on your pet, simplify the entire composition by showing less clutter. Eliminate distracting man made objects by zooming the lens, or physically moving. For a beautiful effect, you can also use a wide aperture like f4 to render everything behind your subject out-of-focus.
There's a common misconception that blue skies and sunny days are ideal conditions for photography. What these people don't realize however, is how much better the light is on cloudy days. With a soft diffused quality, contrast is greatly reduced, making difficult exposures easier to handle. Sure, we all welcome warm summer afternoons and the pleasant evenings that follow. Yet, show me a forecast that's mostly cloudy, and I'm heading out with my camera.
A reader once emailed me to find out why his waterfall images weren't turning out as expected. In looking at the work, the issue was immediately clear. Each scene was dappled with the mixed light of sun and shade. This creates the type of harsh contrast that can ruin a landscape photo. The solution is not technical, but merely requires that this type of photography be done on a cloudy day.
Dark ominous clouds can be used to evoke emotion in our viewers. By manually controlling the exposure, you can deliberately underexpose them to add even more drama. Another option is to use a graduated neutral density filter to darken the sky by two, three, or four stops. Working this way gives you the ability to craft your own reality. The actual sky may not be this dark, but as the artist, you have final say over how it will appear.
At sunset, clouds are very effective at extending the window of shooting time. Almost like a sponge, they absorb the colors in the sky, allowing them to linger far longer than what's possible on a clear day. This extends well past the actual sunset time with vibrant hues often stretching into dusk and early evening. To best capture this with your camera, try the cloudy or shade white balance preset. These warmer color temperatures better match the golden hues of magic hour.
Properly exposing birds with white feathers is particularly challenging in bright sun. There is simply too much contrast between the highlights and shadow area to keep it all well exposed. Under cloudy skies however, this contrast is greatly reduced allowing you to capture feather detail as well as the darker tones. As a result, wildlife photographers can shoot all day rather than the hours around sunrise and sunset.
The same concept applies to outdoor sporting events, particularly when one team has white uniforms. To handle this effectively, meter off of the jersey and add a stop or two of exposure compensation. This will make the uniform truly white as opposed to light grey. As an added benefit, the player's face will also appear brighter. Expressions are a key component to successful sports photography so it's important they're not in shadow. If you shoot sports on a cloudy day, your percentage of keepers will absolutely be increased.
Put simply, clouds can add visual interest that's absent on a clear day. In this example, I photographed the same scene a few hours apart. In the first shot the sky is mostly blue. A few hours later, impressive patterns of clouds stretch above the park. As you can see, this second shot is ultimately more interesting. The next time the weather calls for overcast skies, use it to your advantage and head out with your camera.
What is the single most overlooked attribute of a successful image maker? In a word - curiosity. Without it, you are merely capturing the world at its most superficial level. Despite the importance of this concept, you won't find it in a glossary of photography words, or in any camera manual. Perhaps it's because the idea makes people uncomfortable. It does after all require a major shift in perspective. Rather than considering yourself a photographer, try embracing your new title, Visual Detective.
By allowing your inquisitive mind to guide the composition, you are reconnecting with your sense of wonder. I can remember summer days as a child in the woods of Pennsylvania, turning over countless stones to uncover salamanders. I studied each one, marveling at their unique spots and fantastic color variations. We all operated in a similar fashion at one point, only to adopt a hurried approach later on. After training thousands of photographers, I've learned that it's never too late to renew your vision. If you're looking to make a big impact in your work right now, this is your chance. While a photographer merely looks for pictures, the visual detective works to reveal truth through their lens.
"Everyone is trying to accomplish something big, not realizing that life is made up of little things." Frank A. Clark
Sunsets are one of the most commonly photographed scenes on the planet. This is evident in nearly every photo contest I judge and on various photo sharing sites on the web. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't shoot them however. Instead, consider it a personal challenge to make your sunset shots really stand out. I've prepared a series of tips to help you get started.
When we include clouds, the sky becomes much more interesting. The color from the setting sun is absorbed into their shapes, adding a new level of impact for the viewer. Part of the challenge here is the unpredictable nature of the weather. Some evenings will feature a cloudless sky, while others will be completely overcast. The weather forecast is helpful, but the real trick to increasing your chance for success is to get outdoors often. Conditions near bodies of water like the ocean can be completely different from areas more inland.
About a half hour before the sun sets, I start the search for the foreground element that will anchor my composition. This can be a field of flowers, a boulder, tree, or even a man made object. The idea is to add visual interest all the way through the frame. As you explore various options, be sure to try different perspectives including the view from the ground. By having this location worked out in advance, you'll be ready to capture the peak moment of brilliance as the sun quickly descends.
Let your imagination guide your composition. Those crashing waves for example, could they possibly converge with the sun? Once you pre-visualize a scene, give yourself a chance to capture it. This involves slowing down and waiting patiently for the magic to unfold before your lens. Taking photos this way is a more deliberate, but the results are well worth the extra effort.
One of the most common issues with sunset is the huge contrast difference between the foreground and the sky. The solution is not a new camera or expensive software. Actually, a simple tool known as the graduated neutral density filter is all you need.
A small aperture of f22 will provide enough depth of field to keep the entire vista in sharp focus. This setting will also work to emphasize the sun's beams as it converges with the horizon. Since it won't let much light into the lens, a longer shutter speed and/or higher ISO is typically necessary for a proper exposure. This formula often creates the need for some type of camera support but will result in consistently sharp sunset photos.
After photographing countless sunsets, I've come to realize that each one has its own unique characteristics. While different in appearance, the feeling behind them remains the same. For me, it symbolizes the patterns and rhythm of life. Every New Year's Eve, no matter where I am in the world, I try to photograph the last sunset of the year. It's a fitting way to close one chapter and begin the next.
Just about every photo magazine and blog will caution you not to center your subject. Putting it to the side they say, will make it more dramatic. In many instances, this is reasonable advice. Yet in photography, like many art forms, rules are often best when they’re not followed. There are a number of occasions when using the rule of thirds is actually a bad idea. Let’s examine when breaking the rules works in your favor.
What could be better than capturing a beautiful subject with your camera? Try doubling the visual interest with a mirror-like reflection. This kind of composition is not limited to vast bodies of water. A small pond would be just as effective as a puddle of melting snow. The technique can be used to photograph a wide variety of conditions. The reflection essentially connects the main subject to the rest of the environment. By utilizing the entire frame, it feels as if you could walk into the scene.
When you split the frame in half, the scene becomes more symmetrical. Not only is it visually appealing, but it also represents the harmony of life. The poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, "So divinely is the world organized that every one of us, in our place and time, is in balance with everything else."
Ideally, this type of photography should be done on a day with little wind. Calm water is desirable for the clearest reflections. You won't need a special lens or filter to create the effect. The trick is to walk right up to the edge of the water and explore the vantage point from a lower angle. If you're standing straight up, you may not even notice it.
On your photography walks, slow the pace to thoroughly examine your surroundings. Good images don't always reveal themselves right away. When you find an interesting subject, walk around it, check various angles, and look for potential opportunities for reflections.
Don't forget to try both horizontal and vertical compositions to best capture the scene. Eliminate any distracting elements by zooming with your lens or moving with your feet.
When photographing sports and wildlife, or even fast moving children, it can be difficult if not impossible to carefully compose a photo using the rule of thirds. A faster alternative is to merely center your subject with the middle autofocus point and shoot. This way you can capture the height of the excitement without worrying about composing. Leave a few inches of extra space so that you can later crop the image into any number of orientations.
There are even times when flower closeups look best centered. To put the center of the bud to the left or right would appear awkward. Bullseyed here, it becomes more balanced, bringing the eye directly to the focal point. When shooting flowers, it’s recommended that you try a variety of compositions to find what works best. Each subject will have different qualities, with some that are ideal for being centered.
Not many of us were surprised when the word selfie was officially added to the English dictionary in 2013. Its popularity is evident on nearly every street corner in Manhattan with tourists from all corners of the world sporting "selfie sticks." Despite what some purists believe, adding yourself to a photo can be a effective method of composition. Too often, scenic and landscape images are absent of any human elements. Yet, there's another creative way to include yourself in the photo and it doesn't involve the front facing camera.
The easiest way to find your shadow is when the sun is behind you. This is especially effective late in the day, casting long silhouettes that stretch into the horizon. Using manual exposure, you can choose to underexpose slightly, rendering the shadow as black, with no detail. This added contrast provides a welcome sense of drama that's too often lost in automatic mode. For even more visual interest, include your friends in the composition.
Shadows can be used to introduce an introspective theme into your work. During a trip to Yosemite National Park, I was interested in locating some of Ansel Adam's favorite shooting locations. One of his famous images was of a Jeffrey Pine tree, atop Sentinel Dome. Upon reaching the summit, I only found the twisted remains of the now fallen tree. The sun spilled over my shoulder, and I felt as if I was standing in Ansel's shadow.
Your camera and photo editing software can be used to skew reality by working with shadows creatively. For example, just rotating your image 180 degrees will dramatically alter the perspective. The Brothers Quay, known for their evocative films said, "What happens in the shadow, in the grey regions, also interests us – all that is elusive and fugitive, all that can be said in those beautiful half tones, or in whispers, in deep shade." By incorporating shadows into your images, they take on a moodiness not often found in bright, evenly-lit scenes.
While there's no doubt that selfies will continue in popularity, you now have a creative alternative for your photo adventures. Sure, the image won't be nearly as straightforward, but this leaves room for artistic interpretation. Best of all, this subject is always with you. Remember, wherever there's light, you'll find shadow.
There is an ongoing debate amongst many photographers. What’s the preferred file type, RAW, DNG, TIFF, or JPEG? The truth is, if you break the process down into four areas, each one of these files has a valid, useful purpose.
1) Capture Mode:
Shooting in RAW allows a photographer to capture more detail than if they were to shoot in JPEG. The RAW capture format also provides photographers with more control over the image in the digital darkroom. The ability to change the white balance on a RAW file can make an immediate impact on the overall look of the photo. For instance, by choosing a white balance setting of cloudy, or shady, your photo will take on a warmer tone.
If your indoor pictures have a yellow color cast, simply select the Tungsten White Balance preset. Since RAW files do capture so much detail, they will take up more space on your memory card, and hard drive. For example, a 10 megapixel camera with a 4GB Compact Flash card can hold about 135 RAW files in comparison to 420 JPEG/FINE images. If you decide to shoot RAW, you will want to pick up a few extra memory cards. If you would prefer to shoot in JPEG, be sure to have it set to the highest quality setting.
2) For Archival Purposes:
The DNG format was recently created by Adobe in an effort to unify the various RAW formats created by different camera manufacturers. For example, Canon’s RAW files are known as .CRW, and Nikon’s are .NEF. Many photographers feel this can potentially become problematic in the long term. They argued that their RAW files may not be future proof in newer software applications. Programs like Adobe Lightroom have an option to backup your RAW files as .DNG. If you want to protect your digital negatives (RAW files) for many years to come, DNG is well worth the effort.
3) For Making Prints:
For those special images that you want to print and display, the preferred file format is TIFF. By saving your completed image as a TIFF, you are using a lossless file which is capable of producing high quality enlargements. JPEG is a compressed file which can degrade image quality slightly. While this may not be noticeable on the computer screen, it will likely show on large prints. By starting with a RAW file, and converting to a TIFF, you are not compressing the file, or losing data. For prints, TIFFS should be saved at 300DPI.
4) For Email and Web Posting:
JPEG is the recommended format for sharing images on the web, or by email. The key is to optimize the file so that it looks best on a number of different monitors including desktop computers, laptops and tablets. If possible, choose a “Save for the Web” option, and resize the photo to about 1500 pixels on the long end.
Then, set the resolution to 72 dpi (dots per inch). This is standard for web viewing as opposed to 300 dpi for prints. Finally, make sure the actual file size is no larger than 300-400 kilobytes (kb). By doing this, you are ensuring that the images will load fast on your blog or website, and that they will be able to opened by recipients in email.
By showing the motion of a subject, it's possible to push your camera to the extreme, and capture a side of life that's not evident to the naked eye.
You've likely scrolled right past the BULB mode, perhaps even finding it accidentally while adjusting shutter speeds. It's tempting to just avoid it altogether, but the question still lingers, "what does it do?" This amazing feature makes it possible to use shutter speeds of several minutes in duration. With it you can achieve otherworldly results. I use a cable release and a tripod to avoid jostling the camera. In this example, passing cars become colorful streaks of light along a highway. The red trails are brake lights while the oncoming lanes show headlights.
At 1/6th of a second, you have just enough time to move the camera during the actual exposure. It takes a bit of practice, but your efforts can be rewarded with unique images of an otherwise static subject. I came across two sets of flowers about 3 feet apart.
The goal was to create a dreamy effect in the camera rather than trying to do it at home in the computer. I focused on the first purple tipped daisy and started the exposure. Then, I quickly moved the camera to the nearby yellow flowers while the shutter was still open.
Fireworks are another fun way to experiment with slow shutter speeds. As the explosions turn into brilliant displays I will try everything from zooming in and out, to physically moving the camera. Another trick is to use manual focus and start the exposure in focus before finally twisting out of focus. Don't worry about following rules here, it's all about creating something different.
You can try the same concepts in winter with holiday lights. By intentionally moving the camera at ⅙ of a second, the colorful Christmas decorations took on a whole new appearance.
While the images above may be extreme examples of what a slow shutter can do, there are other more practical uses as well. At 1/30th of a second, a waterfall becomes a gorgeous silky cascade tumbling over the mountain's edge. Gentle streams and babbling brooks can benefit from slightly slower times like 1/15 or 1/4. The general rule of thumb is to experiment between 1/4 and 1/60. Note that these slow exposure times are prone to camera shake. If a tripod isn't practical, try to stabilize the camera on the ground or a boulder.
To capture a more even exposure without heavy shadows, try to photograph waterfalls either very early in the morning, or on a cloudy, overcast day.
When scrolling through your shutter speeds, you'll eventually reach the numbers followed by a single quotation mark that denotes "seconds". For example 1" means the shutter will stay open for one second. 5" indicates a five seconds exposure. At dusk and in the early evening, an extremely long exposure time such as 30" (thirty seconds) is often necessary to let enough light into the camera. Without it, the entire image is simply too dark. Many of my favorite landscapes are captured about 20 minutes after the sun sets using these types of slow shutter speeds.
Leonardo Da Vinci didn't get much recognition until he was 46 years old. Ansel Adams started as a pianist before picking up the camera. Van Gogh only sold one painting while alive. Yet, despite these initial struggles, each artist left an undeniable mark on the world. Their secret? A passion to create art even when no one else was interested in looking. Persistence is necessary to succeed in any worthwhile endeavor, including photography.
Largely considered one of the most influential photographers of the last century, Henri Cartier Bresson said "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst". Unfortunately some photographers give up before this, frustrated by results that don't meet their expectations. The hard-working photographer however, can use these mistakes to learn from and improve. It's time to dust-off those forgotten tools and put them to use. Imagine the possibilities of your next 10,000 images.
The ingredients of any spectacular photo are only one part technical. Sure, the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO are important. Yet, as any great chef will tell you, recipes are meant to be tinkered with. Today, we have more control over images than ever before. From in-camera settings to the digital darkroom, our pantry overflows with possible options. Rather than settling for the same tried and true formula, keep pushing yourself to learn new methods. Be bold in your experiments, and you just may stumble on a new recipe for success.
Commercials for the New York Lotto once ran the slogan, "You have to be in it to win it". I find the same concept true of photography. It's difficult to predict when or where the next great photo opportunity will arise. Only those who head out with their camera often will find what they're looking for. Overnight success is a myth. Most anyone who has accomplished something worthwhile first paid their dues with splendid effort and persistence.
Rejection letters are valuable material to save, or even frame. These are brilliant motivators for proving the naysayers wrong. Don't consider them as failure, but rather a reminder of the work still left to be done. As the Hall of Fame hockey player Wayne Gretzky said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. Stay determined, work hard, and remain patient. The best photos come to those who wait.