Archives for Photography How To Tips category

I have lived in Arizona (almost) all my life and I am sorry to say I have only been to the Grand Canyon once (and that was over 20 years ago as a kid).  I know, I should be ashamed of myself being a photographer with this “hole in the ground” in my back yard and not taking full advantage of it.  It is on my 2011 Photography Resolution list to get to the Grand Canyon sometime this year to photograph.  So Outdoor Photographer magazine’s recent article by photographer George Stocking is a great inspiration to me.  10 Tips For The Grand Canyon offers the insider tips of a great landscape photographer and is well worth a  read even if you don’t have any immediate plans to visit the Grand Canyon.

Night time photography can be a bit tricky.  It requires a bit more thought and equipment than daytime shooting.  But with some practice you can easily get the hang of it and the benefits are well worth the extra effort and time.  So I have put together a short list of night photography tips that I have picked up along the way to help you out when shooting after dark.

  1. Always (always) use a tripod.  The settings necessary for good night time photography do not allow for hand holding the camera.
  2. Use a low ISO (400 or less).  This may sound counter-intuitive since a higher ISO is generally used for low light situations. But if you are following tip #1 above you can keep the ISO low and compensate for the low light with aperture and shutter speed thereby keeping noise to a minimum.
  3. Set your aperture to f/5.6 – f/8.0.  This is obviously going to depend on your exact lighting conditions but this is a good rule of thumb and starting point.
  4. Use l0nger shutter speeds.  With the low ISO and aperture int he f/8.0 neighborhood you can get the proper exposure through keeping the shutter open longer.  Experiment with different shutter speeds to get your ideal exposure.
  5. Keep the anti-shake off.  When you camera is on a tripod this feature is not necessary and the camera might actually try to compensate for shake that is not there.
  6. Use a cable release.  The less you touch the camera directly the better.  Event he act of pressing the shutter could be enough movement to blur the image.
  7. After framing your shot close the eye piece cover to prevent light from getting in.  Since you will not have your eye against the eye piece during these long exposures you want to use another method to keep the light out.  Most cameras have either a cover you can place over the eye piece or a little “door” that closes over it.

Photo of fourth of july fireworksA quick Google search will turn up everything you need to know about how to photograph fireworks.  So rather than reinvent the wheel I have a few quick tips here and then a directory of some of the better fireworks photography sites I have found.

Quick Tips for Photographing Fireworks

1) Tripod – It goes without saying (although I am saying it), you MUST use a tripod for decent fireworks photographs.  With the longer shutter speeds required for night photography the steadiness a tripod provides is essential.

2) Aperture – You might think that since it is dark out you want to open you aperture up to f/5.6 or bigger.  Makes sense, but actually I have found that keeping your aperture around f/8 is ideal.  You need to balance the night and the great amount of light that the fireworks give off.  Use your aperture priority setting as well so you can determine the f/stop and the camera can set the shutter speed accordingly.

3) ISO – My Sony Alpha 850 can go up to an ISO of 6400.  For extreme low light situations that might be perfect.  But remember that even in the best cameras the higher the ISO the more noise you are going to get.  Since you are already using a tripod you can set your ISO lower and take advantage of the steadiness of the tripod to use longer shutter speeds rather than higher ISO.  If possible keep your ISO at around 100-200.

4) Focus – It is not easy to focus on the distant horizon and leave it focused while you wait for the fireworks to explode while on auto focus.  One good trick is to let the camera focus while on auto and then while holding that focus switch it to manual so that you basically lock in the focus.

For more great fireworks photography tips here are some additional resources.

Tips for Photographing Fireworks

How to Photograph Fireworks Displays from Digital Photography School

Photograph Fireworks – Wired How-To Wiki

Example of an HDR photographHDR or High Dynamic Range is a photography method that allows you to capture the range of color and light from the lightest to darkest areas of your subject as the human eye sees it.  Even the highest end digital cameras lack the ability to capture the full range of intensity as we see it with the naked eye.  With HDR imaging you shoot a bracketed series of images with normal exposure, over exposure and under exposure and then use a post-processing software program to merge the images and manipulate them to a more true to life representation of the subjects light and color range.  Much of the HDR process is in the post processing of the image.  But these seven quick tips are all related to the first part of the process, capturing the images in your camera.  For post-processing tips there is a plethora of how-to videos on YouTube including the one I included at the end of this post which deals with one of the most popular HDR processing software packages, Photomatix Pro.

1) Keep your camera set to Aperture Priority (A, Av, AP depending on the make and model of your camera).  This will allow the camera to bracket the shutter speed while keeping the aperture consistent.

2) Different Cameras will have different options, but you can generally select either 3 or 5 bracketed images.  Start with 3 and see what kind of results it gets you.  Then see if 5 gets you even better results.  Or you can always manually bracket and go up to 7 if you want.

3) Again, the number of stops your camera’s automatic bracketing works with will vary by brand.  But I have found that 2 stops works pretty well.  Start with your higher number of stops and then try a few images with a .5 or .3 bracket to see how that works.

4) Always shoot in RAW.  This gives you more control in post-processing.

5) Let the camera auto focus and then lock in that focus by switching to manual focus without losing the auto focus setting.  Some cameras may also have a focus lock option to can select once auto focus has set the focus.  this will prevent the focus from changing during the bracketed shots.

6) Tripod, tripod, tripod.  It is almost impossible to do quality HDR photography without using a tripod.  You need keep the camera steady and focused on the exact same spot for each of the bracketed exposures so that when they are merged every aligns properly.

7) To further help keep things steady use a cable release or your camera’s self timer.  Even the slightest touch from your finger pressing the shutter button can shake the camera enough to misalign the images.

When photographing flowing water such as a stream, river, waterfall or the like you have two choices. 1) Stop the motion of the water or 2) show the water’s motion.  Both of these are accomplished through the exposure settings you select.  It is pretty basic actually.  When you want to stop the motion of the water you need to increase your shutter speed and open up your aperture (smaller f-stop).  The faster shutter speed will result in freezing the water’s flow while the wider aperture will help make sure you are still getting enough light to the sensor to properly expose the scene.  For showing the motion of the water you do the opposite.  Decrease your shutter speed to get a longer exposure and close down your aperture by selecting a larger f-stop (smaller opening).  The slower shutter speed allows for the blurred water effect indicating motion while the smaller aperture compensates for the increased shutter time by letting in less light to prevent overexposure.

These two photographs were taken at Aravaipa Canyon in Arizona.  Although they follow the basic premise outlined above I would have liked to have gotten more pronounced results by decreasing the shutter time on the one and increasing it on the other.  But the hike had to go on and I was a bit rushed.

Photo demonstrating showing the flow of water

f/14.0 – 1/8 sec – ISO 100 – Focal Length 55 mm
To increase the motion effect in this image I could have brought the shutter speed down a stop
or two and prevented over exposure by taking the aperture up a stop or two.

Photo demonstrating stopping the motion of flwoing water

f/8.0 – 1/40 sec – ISO 100 – Focal Length 55 mm
This image still shows a fair amount of motion.  To further freeze that I could have increased
my shutter speed even more and brought my f-stop down if necessary.

Photo of fireworksIt is the first of July, that means we are only a few days away from photographing fireworks.  I do not have a lot of experience in this area to offer solid first hand advice on how to capture the best fireworks photographs.  But I do have a few pieces of advice from my fireworks photography outing last 4th of July.  I have also complied what I feel are some great resources out on the Internet to help guide you through the process.

My Fireworks Photography Tips:

1. A tripod is ESSENTIAL.  I’d go so far as to say “don’t even try it without one.”

2. A remote shutter release cable can help significantly as well.  It allows you to release the shutter without touching the camera thereby reducing camera shake and blur.

3. Location is key.  It really helps to scout out the area where the show is going to be the day before to find a spot where you will get the best vantage point.

4. Read up on the best settings to use for photographing fireworks ahead of time so you can limit your experimentation during the show when time is limited.

5.  Above all else, have fun with it.

Here are some resources I have found that offer tips and tricks on getting the best Fourth of July fireworks shots:

Digital Photography School – This is a great resource for all things photography related.  Their How to Photography Fireworks guide is one of the best and well worth taking a few minutes to read. – The Fireworks Photography Guide from goes more into the technical aspects of getting the best shot.  Even if you are not familiar with all the technical aspects of photography this is a good read.  No time like the present to start learning anyway.

Canon – You don’t have to be using a Canon camera to take advantage of their advice.  The Canon Digital Learning Center’s Quick Tips: Photographing Fireworks article includes a helpful section on how to best compose your fireworks shots.

Portrait photography has never been my forte.  In fact I have pretty much avoided it at all costs.  It scares me a bit.  First, you have to please someone other than yourself; your subject.  In the nature, landscape and architecture photography I have focused on almost exclusively the subject has little to say about how the final image turns out.  Second, I very much enjoy the solitary aspect that photography can have.  I can go to the middle-of-nowhere and be alone with my camera and engross myself in something I love.  Portrait phot0graphy, by its very definition, does not allow for much solitude.

But I have decided, for the sake of improving and expanding my photography skills, I need to branch out.  I started photographing a friend and my niece.  Then last week I had a portrait photography first for me; a four year old child.  I think I may have jumped in with both feet on this one. But that is a good thing and a great way to learn something.  Sink or swim so to speak.

These photographs are from my first shoot of a young child and the tips here are a few things I discovered in the process.  Some are specific to photographing kids, some can apply to any age subject and some even work for any photography subject, human or not.

  1. Be prepared – Get everything set ahead of time.  Make sure your camera and flash settings are where you need them before your subject arrives.  Get tot he location early and scout out a few good locations.  Whether shooting a child or adult don’t keep them waiting while you get things set up.
  2. Lighting is key – If you aren’t using studio lighting, but natural light, be watchful of how that light is interacting with your subject.  Are there shadows across their face?  Is the  sun in their eyes?  Move around to find the best lighting and try using a reflector to bounce light back up at your subject.
  3. Talk – Keep the kids engaged and having fun by talking to them, asking questions and not making the experience so much like a chore.
  4. Kids move fast – Keep the camera ready and shoot.
  5. Let kids be kids – Don’t try to force smiles or poses.  Kids acting natural will result in great, fun poses.
  6. Work with the Kids – Let the kids make decisions of where and how they want to pose.  Let them play naturally and capture them being a child.  It will result in photos that don’t appear forced and will hopefully keep your subject relaxed and more photogenic.
  7. Be Unconventional – You don’t have to limit yourself to the traditional “head shot” portrait.  If you take points 4, 5 and 6 into account these “unconventional” shots will just happen.  As cliche as it may be, think outside of the box too.
  8. Take lots of photos – This is easier done with digital photography.  But, especially for those of us just starting out with portraits, shoot as much as you can and edit down later.

BBC Wildlife Magazine Cover with TigerBBC Wildlife Magazine is well known for its spectacular wildlife photography form around the world.  The pages are graced time and time again with wildlife and nature photography that will make you want to go on safari or deep into the jungle tomorrow.  But above and beyond beautiful photography the expert photographers at BBC Wildlife also offer advice and tips on photographing animals and nature through a series of Photo Masterclasses.  Now you can get all 21 Photo Masterclasses packed with advice, tips and expert know-how on a vast range of nature photography how-to topics.  The classes all of the basics for improving your photography skills.  Here are just a few of what is available all for FREE:

  • Plant Portraits
  • Animals in their Environment
  • Bird Portraits
  • Urban and Garden Wildlife
  • Zoo Photography
  • Extreme Close Up

Each topic is concise and full of great advice that will help you to improve you photography of animals and nature.  You can download all 21 Photo Masterclasses in PDF format.

When it comes to the rules of composition in photography there are two things you need to know: 1) all the basic rules of composing a good photograph and how to execute them and 2) when to disregard those rules.

To start, composition in photography refers to how the elements in the frame are constructed and arranged to result in the desired final image.  There are a lot of these rules and a lot of expert opinions on how and when they should be executed.  Knowing them will help you be a better photographer and help you know when they do not apply to the image you are trying to construct.  I have already talked about framing the subject, leading lines and vertical vs. horizontal composition so up next is filling the frame.

Photo of a red bird in Arizona Example of a subject filling the frame in a photograph

The image on the left has distraction that takes away from the main subject, the bird.  The photo on the right works better because it fills the frame and nothing else in the image takes away from the bird.

Filling the frame is about making your intended subject the center of attention by doing just that, filling the frame, from top to bottom and left to right with nothing but your subject.  By cropping out the background “noise” and distraction you bring the subject to the forefront and leave no doubt as to what your photograph is about.  But as with all of these photography composition rules this is not an absolute rule.  You can’t zoom in on the intended subject and cut out everything in the background and expect a good rule obeying photograph.  Sometimes the background is part of the story or it enhances rather than distracts from the main subject or maybe that “distraction” gives your particular image the creative touch you were looking for.  This is where part two comes into play, know the rule and then know when it does not apply.

Example of a fill the fraem photo
In this photo the branches of the tree go from top to bottom and left to right completely filling the space within the borders of the image frame.  This technique makes it clear that the tree is the central subject of the photograph.

Photographing your pet is something most every pet owner does.  But getting a good photograph of your pet eludes most of us.  Pets tend to not be as cooperative as human subjects (although sometimes the opposite is true).  This makes the pet snapshot much more common than the pet portrait.  However, there are a few things you can do to capture a good portrait of your pet.

Photo of an orange cat1) Avoid using the flash – The flash can cause some eerie effects in the eyes of your pets, from red eye to green glowing demon eyes.  In addition a particularly skittish pet can be easily frightened by a flash going off.  A tripod and proper exposure settings can compensate for the lack of flash when an abundance of natural light is not available.

2) Keep it natural – Natural light is ideal for most portraits when you can get it.  This is especially true for your pets given the negative effects of using a flash.  Natural light also allows you to capture your pet in their natural setting.  A cat in a sun filled window or a dog in a grassy back yard provides both natural light and puts them in their element.

Photo of a pug dog3) Fill the frame – Using this composition technique can make for a great pet portrait.  Get in close, preferably with your zoom lens so as not to startle them, and fill the entire frame of the image with your pet.  This keeps out the distractions of the background and keeps the focus on the subject of the photo, your pet.

4) Don’t try to pose – Trying to pose your pet and getting them to keep the pose long enough to take the photo is an exercise in futility.  Both you and your pet are going to end up frustrated.  Keep it natural and let your pet chose their own pose.  It will make for a much better portrait.

Photo of a pug tail5) Get down to their level – The angle from which you shoot can make all the difference.  Some of the best pet portraits take into consideration that anything but being at the cat or dog’s level (or lower) is going to be little more than a great shot of the top of their head.

6) Try the unconventional – Not every portrait has to be a head shot.  Paws, tails and ears can make for great detail shots.  Don’t limit yourself to just the conventional.

7) Have patience – You have heard the expression “it is like herding cats.”  Cats in particular can be a challenge and their natural disinterest in cooperation can make photographing them difficult.  The same can be true of all but the most well trained and obedient dogs.  Patience will go a long way and be prepared for a lot of takes for the one good shot.