Saturday, December 17, 2011

Festive Season Tips

It's amazing how many of us photographers are reduced to taking snapshots on Christmas morning. For some reason we're not in photographer mode, so when we review or get our pictures back from the lab we're less than thrilled. So here are some simple tips for Christmas and New Years that will help beginners and the more advanced enjoy the holidays a little more.
1. Get Down!
How many times have you seen Christmas photos where you get a great view of the top of the kid's heads or their faces are frozen into fake smiles? How do you get candid professional looking photos?
First set your camera to its widest aperture (smallest f-number) or choose portrait mode if you're shooting in one of your camera's auto modes. When the kids start tearing into the presents get down on the floor so you're on their level. Now you can capture the looks on their faces as they open their presents - and those looks are priceless!
Catch them now. They grow up way too fast.
2. Use a little fill flash
Very few homes are so brightly lit that you'll get great detail on your kid's faces as they're tearing into those presents. A little flash will go a long way toward filling in the shadows so you can see detail in their faces.
The pro tip here is that if you have flash exposure compensation as one of your camera (or flash) options you can get more natural skin tones by dialling down the flash by one stop ( -1 flash exposure).
3. Stay quiet!
As a parent it's easy to fall into the trap of yelling at your kids to "look here!"
After they look up and get a face full of flash a couple of times you'll start getting photos of scowls instead of smiles. If they're not looking directly into the camera the flash won't be blinding and the kids will learn to ignore their parents with their camera - and you'll get better shots as a result.
Remember Christmas is about the kids not the camera. Capture the moment quietly and let the kids take centre stage - after all it's their day.
4. Red eye reduction
It sounds simple but you'll need to remember to turn on red-eye reduction so your kids and pets don't look like aliens.
5. Choose a faster ISO setting
Many digital camera owners forget that they can change the ISO setting on their cameras. Choosing a faster (numerically higher) ISO setting means faster shutter speeds and fewer blurry images. That means that there will be a lot more images that will be suitable for your desk and for grandma's fridge!

6. Digital shooters, choose the right White Balance
White balance is a term that scares a lot of new digital camera owners. And most will want to leave their digital cameras on auto white balance. But in most digital cameras, especially the point and shoot cameras, auto white balance won't always correctly balance indoor lighting.
Pull out the manual and change the white balance setting to incandescent or indoor lighting. It's usually represented by a little light bulb symbol. Now the skin tones on those smiling little faces will look natural and you'll look like the great photographer that we know you are!
7. Get the kids involved
Get the kids to take some pictures of you and of each other. This works especially well with digital cameras. You might be surprised at what they come up with. Kids literally have a different perspective on the world and their images may surprise you.
This works especially well with digital cameras where they can see the results of their efforts immediately.
8. Hook your digital camera to the TV
Want to capture the moment for when Mum-Pop and Gran-Grandad arrive?
Get all those great shots of the kids and then hook the video connection on your digital camera to your TV (or VCR/DVD player). Now when the grandparents arrive you can put the camera in play mode and let it cycle through the images from the morning's festivities. This is a lot faster than getting prints made and waiting until New Year’s Eve to share them.
9. Batteries
Make sure you have fresh batteries for your camera. If you have a separate flash unit make sure you have fresh batteries for it as well. If you're using a digital camera with rechargeable batteries make sure you put it on charge the night before Christmas.
10. Do a Pre-event Check
When you're putting the toys together the night before pull out your camera and get it ready to go. Add fresh batteries, make sure red-eye reduction is turned on, and all the camera's settings are what they should be. Do it the night before when things are quiet and it's a lot less likely that you'll forget something or accidentally choose the wrong settings.
11. Watch for the Quiet Moments
The kids will have their motors running on high for most of the day. Later on when their bellies are full and they're winding down you'll find some great moments hiding in the quiet times.

Have a Safe & Happy Christmas.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Set yourelf an assignment

I have been  asked how I learned photography. I thought back to try to find the answer and struggled at first.
I used to subscribe to some photography magazines, read and bought some photography books and guess I learned some basics from them but it was just theory and knowledge – that didn’t directly translate into improvement.
The reality is that it was by using my camera where I learned the most. The times when my photography really improved  were those times that I put time aside to actually discover how to photograph something, setting myself up for  an assignment (of sorts).
One main example was:

The Friends Wedding

I remember the dreaded day that a friend of my wife asked me to shoot her wedding as the ‘main photographer’. She had no money for a Pro and despite my insisting that I wasn’t up to it she talked me into it. The next 2 weeks were an intense time of learning and practicing.
Knowing that I would be responsible for the friend’s wedding photos galvanised me to learn as much as I could (reading, talking to Pros etc)
The day itself actually went really well – so well that it encouraged we to learn even more.
While I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to book yourself as a main photographer for friends (or strangers) weddings – I do think that the principle of setting yourself an assignment and focusing upon a particular event to photograph is something that can lead to big improvements in your photography.

Other examples (most of them less pressurised) come to mind:

 Photograph a road trip –driving around a region a few hours from where I live purely doing photography. I’d not done much landscape work before and it forced me to explore a new style of photography.

    Attending a sporting venue taking action shots, I learned heaps that day!

 Photo walks – I semi-regularly set aside a few hours to take a photo walk in a different part of my area. This is a little different to just going for a walk and taking your camera – the idea is to capture a feeling of the street/suburb etc rather than just get some exercise, use your camera if you see something interesting.

 Festivals/Parades – a number of times I’ve set myself the ‘assignment’ to go and cover a festival or parade of some kind. I imagine that I’m covering the event for a news outlet and go with a photo journalistic goal of capturing the event the way a press photographer would.
  Booking a portrait session with a friend. 

  Concerts, ask if you can obtain  a pass to cover the event. The intent is to practice that type of photography.

  Zoo trips, once or twice I’ve set aside an afternoon to visit the local zoo.
 The aim, practising my wildlife photography (even if the wildlife was in captivity).

 The list could go on. The key is to set aside time to practice a particular type of photography. Again  it’s not about just having your camera with you in case something happens to use it – rather these are more intentional ‘assignments’ that you set yourself, with the intent of improving your photography.
I challenge you to set yourself a photographic assignment in the next week. Choose what you’ll do – lock it in right now! In the lead up to it do some research and preparation on the techniques that you might want to practice and then go for it.
When you’re finished, spend some time analysing your results and try to work out how you think you can improve.
As always practice and enjoy your photography.

Friday, November 18, 2011

5 Photography Myths

Myth #1: “You must have a great camera.”

Your equipment can’t tell you which aperture will work best for a particular scene. It can’t tell you to step back a little bit when you’re using your camera’s flash. It can’t tell you to use foreground elements when taking landscape pictures. The list of things your equipment can’t do is much bigger than the list of things it can do. Whenever someone takes a great photo, the equipment is only partly responsible for it.
Your equipment will only get you so far. The rest is you. I could write this article on an old Windows 95 laptop. It would take more time, but I’d still get the same result. Similarly, there are a lot of good photos you could take with an old point-and-shoot camera. If you do your homework and think the shot through, you can make it happen. It might not be as easy, but you can do it.
So get it out of your head that you need a better camera!

Myth #2: You need to be somewhere beautiful to take nice pictures

It doesn’t matter where you live, there is always something to photograph. It may not be Niagara Falls or the Eiffel Tower, but you don’t really need any of that. Some of the best photographers turn a small village or town upside down with their work, presenting it to the world in a way it’s never been seen before. We have all taken the same boring photos of famous places over and over again. We had every advantage, to look at it in a different way and didn’t take it.
Yes another “boring” photo from a “boring” part of the world.
A place is just that, a place. As a photographer, learn to see the same place from multiple perspectives. You need to know it intimately, from the early morning hours, through the middle of the day, and into the night. A place is not just a place. It’s a setting that lives through multiple times, each capable of being captured in an interesting way.

Myth #3: There is one “correct” way to expose an image

Some people seem to think there is only one way to expose the shutter to light from the outside world. They say everything has to strike a certain “perfect balance” between lights and darks. While that’s true to a certain extent, it’s still entirely subjective. Sometimes you want one part of the image to stand out while another fades into the background. Sometimes you have to overexpose or underexpose a part of the image in order to make this happen.
It’s simply the cruel fate of using camera equipment that isn’t as adept as the human eye. Digital SLRs and point-and-shoot cameras don’t capture all of the highlights from a scene in the way the human eye does. What we see in real life is not at all like the picture a camera creates, and because it isn’t, we have to make some difficult choices about what we want to emphasize and what we want to keep in the shadows.

At the end of the day, the exposure that looks the best is the “correct” exposure. There is no right or wrong. There is only what we find beautiful.

Myth #4: Megapixels matter

This one goes right along with all the other computer myths. At one point in time, people thought processor speed was the only important factor in selecting a computer. They figured the faster the processor, the faster the computer. Not so. As it turns out, other things are just as important as processor speed. Without extra memory, your computer has to do a bunch of extra work, and that extra processor speed doesn’t help it along all that much.

The same is true of megapixels. Just like processors, they do matter. But only up to a certain point. Once you hit 5 megapixels, other parts of the camera start to matter more. At that point, it’s more important have a real viewfinder that works through the lens so you can see what you’re about to get. You’ll also want the ability to control the exposure by changing the aperture or shutter speed. So far as digital photography is concerned, I would take those two over extra megapixels any day.

Cameras only need to be detailed enough. Once megapixels are accounted for, I want a camera that makes my job as photographer easier. I want something that takes photos faster and simplifies the entire process.

Myth #5: You don’t need to use flash in the middle of a sunny day

I can sympathize with this one. It chimes with our intuitions about light. Of course, it’s entirely false. Just because there’s a lot of light available doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use a flash to fill in the shadows, especially on a portrait photo.

As a matter of fact, it’s even more important to use a flash in the middle of the day. That’s when the light is as harsh as it will ever be. The shadows are particularly strong, and if you don’t get rid of them by using a flash, your portraits will look a bit off. I know your friends will question you on it, but that’s the life of the photographer. You have to go against the grain to get the good shots.

All myths are easy to believe. They spread because they seem to agree with other things we hold true. We know that a better guitar produces a better sound, so we assume a better camera produces a better picture. It’s also partially marketing – the camera makers want us to purchase their shiny new models every year.

Instead, we need to turn everything on its head. Perhaps the only reason we ever thought a better camera produces a better picture is because good photographers tend to purchase expensive camera equipment. The same could very well be true of guitarists.

I can only hope that this blog has turned your world upside-down. It’s a bit unsettling at first, but I know it will help you grow as a photographer.

Friday, November 4, 2011


Metering In Photography.
Metering is a process which involves the camera taking a light level reading from the scene and selecting the appropriate combination of aperture and shutter speed to set the required exposure value.
Different metering modes allow you the photographer to select the most suitable one for the specific lighting conditions.
They can be changed manually by use of the exposure compensation meter as required; here are some of the selections you will come across.
Centre Weighted:
Here a metering is taken from the whole scene first, then the central spot.
The result is the average reading, but with extra weight given to the central part.
Some cameras allow you to change the amount of weight given to the central area usually 60 – 80 per cent of the sensitivity is directed toward the central part of the image, making it a good choice for portrait photography.
Spot Metering:
Spot metering takes a reading from a very small part of the image (usually 1 – 5 per cent) it then ignores the exposure from the rest of the scene.
While this area is usually in the middle of the scene, with some cameras the user can select a different part of the image from which to take a reading.
Spot metering is a good choice for high contrast and backlit scenes but care should be taken aiming for an area that will form the mid-tone part of the final image.
Zone Metering:
Was first introduced by Nikon.
 Zone metering takes readings from several different (areas – or zones) within the scene, to produce a calculated average.
The number of zones used varies dramatically from one camera to another, but overall the end result is usually an average of them all, useful for general scenes with low contrast.
There are other types of metering but they tend to be variations of these above mentioned types.
Having different metering modes available becomes useful when you start progressing in your photography.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sharper Images.

Step 1: Use low ISO
If you want the highest possible degree of sharpness from your photographs, you’re going to have to start by removing anything that gets in the way of being able to extract as much detail out of your photos as possible.
This is to ensure that your pictures are recorded with the least possible amount of noise. To do this, set your camera to the lowest ISO setting – most cameras have 100; some have 80 as the lowest setting.
How does this help?
At higher ISO, you can get photos with faster shutter times, but the trade-off is extra digital noise. Which we don’t want.
Step 2: Stop down your lens
In more readable English, ‘stopping down your lens’ means to not take your photos at wide-open apertures. You don’t have to take photos at f/22, but the sweet spot for most lenses is at between f/8 and f/11.
How does this help?
At a wide aperture (say, f/2.8 or f/3.5), your lens lets as much light into the camera as possible. “That’s good”, I hear you say but that’s not always the case: you’d be surprised how much fuzzier lenses can be fully open compared to being stopped down slightly. This is doubly true for consumer-grade lenses, such as the lenses that are sold in body-and-lens kits.
Stop down your lens to f/8 to get as much sharpness from it as you can.
Step 3: Get rid of vibrations
Now that the camera itself doesn’t degrade the image quality by adding extra noise, and your lens is operating at its very best, suddenly you, the photographer, are the issue. Try to make your subjects stand as still as possible, and use a good, sturdy tripod. Use as fast a shutter time as you can too – this counteracts the effects of any camera shake
If you’re shooting in particularly low light, you may even consider using a remote control or the self-timer to ensure that you don’t inadvertently shake the camera when you trip the shutter.
How does this help?
Any vibrations that are transferred through you to the camera cause a very slight blur. Sometimes, you can’t tell it’s actually blurry, but trust me – it will affect the crispness of your photos this is why studio photographers use tripods a lot of the time. Trust me, use a tripod.
Step 4: Get enough light
All the tips so far are incredibly useful, but you’ll notice that they all ruin your light: The combination of low ISO, small aperture and high shutter speed mean that you need an ungodly amount of light. Shoot out-doors, use studio strobes, invest in a flashgun and a reflector, set off a nuclear bomb – do whatever you have to get as much light as you can.
Step 5: Always shoot in RAW
To maximise the amount of data you have to work with later on, when the time comes to edit your photos, shoot in RAW format.
How does this help?
We didn’t just spend all that effort just to let your camera screw up the photos by throwing away a lot of information and compressing it – which is what happens when you shoot in JPG.
RAW format gives you a load more flexibility, more data to work with, and is an overall better way to work with digital photos.
Step 6: Watch your exposure
It is positively amazing how much data an imaging chip actually captures – there is so much information in a photograph that you’re never likely to even look at. The secret lies in that all this information is in the shadow parties.
Obviously, it is always better to try and expose your photographs perfectly If you have to hedge your bets, it’s always better to underexpose slightly than to over-expose: You can work with underexposure in Photoshop or one of the many other programs, but an over-exposed image (with areas that appear ‘burned out’ or completely white) is a write-off, unfortunately.
Having said all that, you lose definition if you have to fiddle too much with a photograph – so do your best to get your exposure as good as possible.
Step 7: Think about your workflow

Ideally, you want to treat your photos in this order:
  1. Take the photo
  2. Copy it to your computer
  3. Make any adjustments to colour and exposure on the RAW file
  4. Make any other adjustments in Photoshop
  5. Resize the image for your target medium ( the web, an e-mail, a photographic print etc.)
  6. Sharpen your photo (but don’t over-do it)
  7. Save it down at the highest possible quality
Step 8: Sharpen your photos for the right medium
Now that you’ve done everything right, you can think about sharpening your photos...