How to Understand ISO on Your Digital Camera

In this article we’ll look at how to use and understand ISO on your digital camera better.

Do you use auto modes?

Are you the type of photographer who shoots in Manual mode? Or do you go to the other extreme and use one of your camera’s fully automatic exposure modes, such as Program? If you tend to go the fully automatic route then it’s quite possible you’ve never paid much attention to your camera’s exposure settings – ISO, aperture and shutter speed.

Aperture, you probably already know, controls the depth of field. Shutter speed affects the way moving subjects are recorded by the camera. But what about ISO? ISO is a remarkable setting in that it enables you to take photos in any scene from bright sunlight to candle light. It’s thanks to ISO that your digital camera is so versatile.

How to Understand ISO on Your Digital Camera

So let’s take a closer look at ISO and what the choice of ISO setting means for your photos.

What is ISO?

In simple terms, ISO is a measure of the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor to light. The lowest ISO setting of most digital cameras is 50, 100 or 200. At this setting, the camera’s sensor is least sensitive to light. At higher settings, like 3200 or 6400, the sensor is more sensitive to light.

Note: yes it’s more complex than that – this is the simple explanation for those who are new to this setting so they can understand it better.

Where does ISO come from?

The letters ISO stand for International Standards Organization (more correctly known as the International Organization for Standards). The International Organization for Standards lays out the criteria that camera manufacturers use to calibrate the ISO settings on their cameras.

The idea is that different camera and lens combinations all produce the same results at the same aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings.

In other words, a photo taken at ISO 400, f/5.6 and 1/500th of a second, such as the one below shot with my Fujifilm X-T1, should look the same as one taken at the same settings on your camera, whatever it is.

How to Understand ISO on Your Digital Camera

Having a universal standard is important when photographers use light meters. For example, if a studio photographer sets up the lights and uses a flash meter to work out that the required exposure is, say, f/11 at ISO 100, then it’s important to know that these settings work for any camera.

In practice, there are often variations in the accuracy of ISO settings between different camera models. But for the most part, these are minor and nothing to worry about.

How to use ISO

ISO is part of the exposure triangle. It works with shutter speed and aperture to (hopefully!) give you a good exposure for the ambient light level of your scene. One of the benefits of digital cameras is that ISO is a variable that you can change from shot to shot if necessary.

The advantage is that you can use your digital camera in just about any lighting situation. When light levels are low, you have the option of raising the ISO, in addition to using a larger aperture or a longer shutter speed, to help you obtain a good exposure.

But you need to be aware that raising the ISO has a side effect – it increases the amount of noise in your photos, especially in the darkest tones. This is not the problem that it was 10 years ago as modern sensors are very capable (amazingly so) at high ISO settings. But you do need to be aware of it.

I used a low ISO of 50 for this landscape photo to help obtain a slow shutter speed (to blur the water) and for optimum image quality.

How to Understand ISO on Your Digital Camera

I used a high ISO of 6400 for this photo (below) as it was taken indoors with a hand-held camera in low light conditions.

How to Understand ISO on Your Digital Camera

Avoiding Auto ISO

If you use Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or Manual exposure modes on your camera you can set the ISO yourself rather than let the camera decide what it should be. I encourage you to do this as it makes you think about the relationship between ISO and image quality.

This is more relevant in low light. For example, let’s say you find yourself in a situation where you are hand-holding the camera (therefore can’t use a slower shutter speed) and need to either raise the ISO or open the aperture to obtain the correct exposure.

If you open the aperture, you’ll have less depth of field. If you raise the ISO, you’ll have more noise. You have to make a choice. What’s more important, noise or depth of field? You have control, not the camera.

For example, I made this photo indoors with a hand-held camera. I needed a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second to avoid camera shake, so I couldn’t change that. I decided to shoot at ISO 3200 and f/8 to give good depth of field. Alternatively, I could have used settings of ISO 200 and f/2 to make a photo with much less depth of field. The choice is yours!

How to Understand ISO on Your Digital Camera

Full-frame versus crop sensor cameras

Generally speaking, digital cameras with full-frame sensors create images with less noise at any given ISO setting than crop sensor cameras (that is, the sensors in APS-C and Micro Four-thirds cameras).

But, as ISO performance has increased, the gap between full-frame and crop sensor has narrowed. Image quality (noise) is not the only reason why you might buy a full-frame camera instead of a crop sensor one, but it’s no longer the major consideration it once was.

For example, the photos taken at high ISO with my newer Fujifilm X-T1 camera (APS-C sensor) easily match the quality from my older EOS 5D Mark II full-frame camera. The high ISO performance of modern crop sensor cameras is more than good enough for most photographers.

ISO for landscapes, architectural and studio photography

The best quality images (i.e. those with the least noise) are always made at the lowest possible ISO setting. You can use ISO 100 quite comfortably on a hand-held camera in bright sunlight, but it’s more difficult in low light conditions, for example at dusk or indoors.

For those situations, you can use low ISO if you have a tripod to support your camera. The tripod allows you to use long shutter speeds without having to worry about camera shake. For that reason, low ISOs are ideal for landscape and architectural photography, where it’s normal for photographers to use tripods.

Low ISOs are also good for studio photography, as most studio lights are powerful enough to give good illumination at ISO 100.

I used ISO 50 for this photo and used a tripod to prevent camera shake.

How to Understand ISO on Your Digital Camera

Don’t be afraid of high ISO

Having said that, there is no reason to be afraid of the high ISO on your camera. The key is to test your camera at each major high ISO setting (1600, 3200, 6400, 12800, etc.) to see how much noise you get in your images and what your personal tolerance is for noise with your camera. You might, for example, find that you are happy with images taken at ISO 6400, but not at 12,800. Once you’ve established that then you can work within those limitations.

Subjects such as natural light portraits, or photos taken indoors, often require high ISO settings, especially if they are done when the ambient light levels are low, such as dusk. The high ISO settings of modern cameras are a great benefit in low light conditions because they let you experiment with taking photos hand-held that years ago you could only have attempted with a tripod (and slow shutter speeds) or by using a flash to light the scene.

How to Understand ISO on Your Digital Camera

I used ISO 6400 for this photo made in a temple in China. I had no tripod and the light was so low that I couldn’t use a lower ISO.

Another type of photography that high ISOs enable is astrophotography. High ISO settings are required to get a good exposure of the night sky that captures the stars without the trailing effect created by using shutter speeds longer than 20 seconds.

How to Understand ISO on Your Digital Camera

This photo was made at ISO 6400 and a shutter speed of 20 seconds.


Recent advances in camera technology mean that many photographers can get great results from their cameras at ISO settings up to 6400 and beyond. It’s a revolution that has changed the way some photographers work by opening up the possibility of working creatively in low light conditions. But it’s also important to understand that sometimes it’s best to use low ISO settings for the best image quality.

Questions? Let me know in the comments!

Want to learn how to get perfect exposure on your digital camera? Then check out my new e-book, Mastering Exposure and say goodbye to all your exposure problems!

The post How to Understand ISO on Your Digital Camera by Andrew S. Gibson appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Step by Step Plan for Backing Up Your Images While Traveling

Planning how to back up your images while you travel isn’t nearly as exciting as planning your itinerary or buying gear for your upcoming trip. But it’s an important step in the travel planning process. Especially if you’re going someplace rugged and amazing like Iceland in the dead of winter, having a plan for uploading and backing up your images while you travel will help you ensure that all of your images are securely stored in multiple locations. After all, if you finally get a chance to photograph ice caves and the aurora borealis, you don’t want to worry about getting those hard-won images safely home with you.

Backing up images traveling 01

Following is a step-by-step plan for backing up your images starting with preparing to travel, guidelines for backing up during your trip, and how to complete the process once you return home.

Part I. Before you leave on your trip

Step #1 – Examine, reformat and test all of your memory cards

Before you leave on your trip, make sure that you have plenty of memory cards. I budget approximately two 32gb cards per day. You may need more or fewer, depending on your style of shooting.

First, examine all of your memory cards for damage. If any are visibly bent, warped or deeply scratched, it might be time to retire them.

Next, reformat all your memory cards in your camera. Take and save several images on each memory card and then upload the images, one card at a time. This test verifies that each memory card is still in good working order. If a memory card does not pass the upload test, retire it.

Backing up images traveling 02

Step #2 – Buy smaller memory cards to reduce risk

If you need to buy additional memory cards, evaluate using smaller cards like 32gb and 64gb. You have to change memory cards more often while you’re shooting but if one memory card goes bad, you’ll have endangered far fewer images than if a huge 256gb or 512gb memory card corrupts.

Use stickers to indicate if memory cards are full or empty.

Create a system to keep full memory cards separate from empty memory cards. An easy method is to buy a memory card case or folder with clear pockets. Put blue sticker dots on one side of your memory cards. Put red sticker dots on the other side of your memory cards.

Blue sticker dots mean used or full cards. You can remember this mnemonically since blue, used and full all contain the letter U in them. Red sticker dots mean empty cards. You can this remember this mnemonically since red and empty all contain the letter E in them.

Memory cards case stickers Image C

Step #3 – Number your memory cards sequentially

Before placing the stickers on the cards, I also like to number the sticker dots one through however many cards I have. I file the memory cards numerically in the case. On day number one of my trip, I’m using cards numbered one and two. On day number two of my trip, I’m using cards three and four. By numbering the cards, I ensure I rotate them which further reduces the chance of corruption since no one card is used excessively. Then if I do lose a card, it’s also easier to keep track of which card from which day has gone missing if the memory cards are numbered sequentially.

Lastly, if a card does corrupt, it’s easy to keep track of which one because it’s numbered. I usually pull it out of my case and stow it separately in a secure pocket elsewhere in my bag. If memory card number four goes bad on a trip, I want to ensure I don’t accidentally reformat it or save more images to it before I’ve tried to recover the images.

After you test, number, and sticker all of your memory cards, place them in the case with the red sticker dot facing up. While you’re traveling, place full (used) memory cards back into the case sequentially with the blue dots facing up. If you’ve budgeted the amount of cards you need for your trip correctly, on the last day of your trip, all of the memory cards in your case should have blue dots facing up.

SD or CF cards or both?

If your camera has two memory card slots, evaluate carefully whether or not you want your main memory card to back up to the second card while you’re shooting. My Canon 5D Mark III has two memory card slots. One is a CF card slot and the other is for an SD card. I typically only use the CF card slot because they write faster than SD cards. Since I photograph horses and wildlife and set my camera to high-speed burst mode, I want my images to write to my memory card as fast as possible. Since my camera defaults to the write speed of the slowest card, I leave the SD card slot empty.

While this method works for me, your camera might function differently than mine. You may also have different priorities than I do when you shoot. Landscape photographers, for example, don’t use high-speed burst mode very often. Neither do macro photographers. If you specialize in landscape or macro photography, automatically creating a backup in camera by writing your RAW images to two memory cards simultaneously might be a good failsafe for you.

Step #4 – Buy two identical portable hard drives for travel

Travel Hard Drives Image D

I recommend uploading your travel images to two identical, high-quality, portable hard drives. I use 1TB drives. One terabyte is typically enough for my style of shooting since I rarely travel for more than 10 days at a time. Digital storage is inexpensive these days. So evaluate the best size portable hard drive for you by reviewing your image files from past trips. Buying more storage than you think you need is more effective in the long run. So if you think you need 500gb drives, buy 1TB. If you think you need 1TB, buy 2TB.

Step #5 – Protect your new hard drives

Now that you have two new hard drives to keep your images safe, you need to physically protect them. Use rubber bumpers or cases to protect the drives in case they fall out of your bag or are dropped. If you’re shopping online, you can usually find the correct size bumper or case listed on the same web page as your hard drive.

Step #6 – Label your portable hard drives

When you are setting up your new portable hard drives, label each one clearly. I literally use a thick permanent marker to do this. Keep the names consistent since you’ll be referencing these drives frequently. Mine are simply called Travel #1 and Travel #2.

Step #7 – Format and set up your portable hard drives

Format your new portable storage drives according to your operating system – usually OSX or Windows. When you’re formatting the hard drives, you’ll probably also be prompted to register them with the manufacturer. Registering your new drives might seem like a silly step but it often activates your warranty or image rescue software so don’t skip it.

Step #8 – Create a backup recipe

Once my new portable hard drives are set up and working, I create a folder on each drive called Travel Photos #1 (on drive Travel #1) and Travel Photos #2 (on drive #2). I use a software program called Chronosync (for Mac) to create a recipe that when it is run, backs up drive Travel #1 to drive Travel #2. There are many options for backup software and I would encourage you to do a little research to find the software that’s best for you.

Backing up images traveling 05

Step #9 – Back up and update your laptop

Right before you go, back up the entire contents of your laptop. I use a MacBook Pro so I run Time Machine. After the backup finishes, I have an up-to-date copy of everything on my laptop on a small hard drive that I leave at home. That copy will come in handy if my laptop is stolen or damaged while I’m traveling. Also, I also check for software updates – especially any related to security – and install those as well.

I skip beta versions or major operating system upgrades since sometimes those are glitchy. I want my laptop software as safe and secure as possible while I travel but I don’t want to have to deal with any new OSX headaches.

Now that you’ve done all that prep work, it’s time to pack, hit the road and make some memorable images.

Part II. While you’re traveling

I know that after a long day of travel, the last thing you want to do is unpack your laptop, upload, and duplicate your image files. But get in the habit of doing it anyway. After a while, it will become routine, like brushing your teeth or washing your face, and you won’t dream of skipping it.

When your friends tell you their horror stories about losing images while they travel, you’ll have to work hard to wipe the smug look off your face because you’ll know you’ve minimized your chances of that happening to you.

Step #1 – Upload images with Lightroom

My first step when I upload images is to plug in my hard drive called Travel #1, then I plug in my CF card reader, insert the memory card and open up Lightroom CC. I always use Lightroom to catalog all of my images. When uploading, I tell Lightroom to import the day’s images to the folder called Travel Photos #1 on the portable hard drive called Travel #1.

Backing up images traveling 06

Step #2 Option A – Duplicate images on import

In the Import Dialog, you can check a box to tell LR to “Make a 2nd copy to” and duplicate your images by importing them to two locations at once. If you check that box, you also want to click the tiny arrow to the right, click Choose Folder and select the location you want the duplicate images to be stored.

In my case, I would choose the folder called Travel #2 on the portable hard drive called Travel #2. I normally do not duplicate on import because I only have two USB ports on my MacBook Pro. During the import process, both are in use: one for the hard drive Travel #1 and one for my CF card reader. If you have space in your camera bag, you can carry a USB port hub that enables you to attach more drives to your laptop at the same time.

Backing up images traveling 07

Backing up images traveling 08

Step #2 Option B – Use software to create a backup

Since I don’t carry a USB port hub, instead of checking the “Make a 2nd copy to” box in the LR import dialog, I use Chronosync to sync one drive to another. This is the backup recipe we set up above. After the images are loaded to my first drive, I run my Chronosync recipe to duplicate them to the second drive. Once I’m done, I have three copies of each image; one on the original memory card and one on each portable of my portable hard drives, Travel #1, and Travel #2.

Don’t erase your memory cards

If possible, don’t erase the images on your memory cards while you’re on the trip. Instead, save them in the memory card holder you prepared in Part I.

Step #3 – Upload after every shoot

When you travel, I encourage you to upload and back up images after every shoot. If you have one shoot per day at sunset, upload and back up before you head out to dinner.

Tip: This is a good time to plug in and charge your batteries too.

Before you head to bed, verify that the image files are mirrored on each drive. Swap the batteries in your charger before bed too to make sure you’ll be all set to shoot again in the morning.

If you have two photo shoots per day, follow these same steps, except do them twice a day. In addition to uploading before dinner, I upload before lunchtime. I usually sneak in a quick nap then too.

Aurora borealis Image A

Step #4 – Sync images to the cloud

If you have an excellent Wi-Fi connection you might also consider syncing to your cloud service. I normally don’t have very strong Wi-Fi service when I travel so I don’t waste time with this step.

Step #5 – Store your hard drives in different locations

Now that you’ve done all this work setting up this system to back up your travel images, you have one more step to ensure their safety while you travel. You want to keep each of your two drives in different locations. For example, keep one drive in your camera bag and keep one in your luggage.

Always make sure to keep one drive in the bag on (or very near) your person. Keep your luggage with your second drive in your hotel room (or locked in the trunk of the car if you are traveling between locations). In the case of theft, accident, or fire, one copy of your images will be safely stored on the drive in the alternate location.

Part III. When you return home

Once you return home, you need to move your images from Travel Drive #1 to your main photography hard drive. The easiest way to do this is to do it inside Lightroom.

Step by step

Here’s a step-by-step guide for moving your images from your travel drive to your main photography storage drive:

  1. Attach Travel Drive #1 to your laptop.
  2. Attach your main photography hard drive to your laptop. In this example, my main drive is called PHOTOS 9/2016 TO NOW.
  3. Open Lightroom CC in the Library module.
  4. One by one, drag and drop each folder of your images from Travel Drive #1 to your main storage drive.

Backing up images traveling 09

  1. Note that at this stage, since I keep all my images organized chronologically I drop my travel images into the folder on the drive labeled 2016 SEPT to DEC. Next year I’ll drop images into the folder labeled 2017.
  2. Be patient while your computer works. It takes a few minutes for Lightroom to show you that this task is complete and your images have been successfully moved to your main storage drive. Tip: This is a good time to clean your gear.
  3. Now that your images are on your main drive, run another backup.

Backing up images traveling 10

  1. I use a Chronosync recipe to back up my drive called PHOTOS 9/2016 TO NOW to my drive called PHOTOS BACK UP.
  2. After completing this step, verify that the images have been moved. I do this by opening a Finder window on my MacBook Pro and checking that the image file names match on both my main storage drive and my backup drive.
  3. After you verify that you have two copies again, you can wipe your travel hard drives and memory cards to prepare them for your next trip.
  4. At this point, it’s good idea to back up to your cloud service so that you once again have three copies of your images.

Final notes

Since I travel often, I find it easiest to keep my entire Lightroom catalog on my MacBook Pro. If I need to work on a bigger screen, I connect to an external display.

If you keep your main Lightroom catalog on a different computer than the one you travel with, rather than dragging and dropping as I’ve instructed above, attach your travel hard drive and your main photography storage drive to your home computer, open Lightroom and go through the complete import process to your main storage drive. After you’ve imported your travel images to your main Lightroom catalog on your home computer, in addition to formatting your memory cards and wiping your travel hard drive, I’d recommend completely removing the images from the Lightroom catalog on your laptop.

Now you can go unpack and do laundry. Or, if you’re like me, you can start to cull, edit, and create collections with your travel images.

Backing up images traveling 12

The post Step by Step Plan for Backing Up Your Images While Traveling by Lara Joy Brynildssen appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Take Low Key Lighting Portraits

Low key lighting when taking portraits is an effective technique that can leave you with some beautiful images.

Low key lighting portrait

In this video Gavin Hoey explains how to set up a low key lighting portrait in a small home or portable studio. It really is achievable with a relatively simple setup.

If you give some low key lighting portraits a go we’d LOVE to see your results in comments below.

Further Low Key Lighting Portrait Reading

Interested in learning more? Here’s some tutorials in our archives on low key lighting.

The post How to Take Low Key Lighting Portraits by Darren Rowse appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Low Light Photography: How to Shoot Without a Tripod

A tripod is my most valuable photo accessory. In fact, I view it as an essential item, and not an accessory. But sometimes using one is just not practical. Sometimes you get caught without it unexpectedly, and sometimes they even break. It’s good to know what to do in these situations so you don’t miss any photo opportunities.

Sunset in The Valley of Fire, Nevada by Anne McKinnell

While shooting in the Valley of Fire, Nevada, I broke my tripod. Of course, there was a spectacular sunset that night. I was able to make this photo by increasing my ISO to 2000 and using a wide aperture of f/5.0 (the widest aperture for the lens I was using) when normally I would have used a much small aperture for this scene.

If you don’t have your tripod with you, or you’re trying to make do without one, you still have some options for low-light photography.

1. Use a wide aperture

If you want to handhold your camera in low light, you’ll have to work with a wide aperture, a high ISO, or both. Often landscape photographers want to use a small aperture such as f/18 to get maximum depth of field, but that isn’t practical for low light situations. Instead, use your camera’s widest aperture (the smallest f number) and focus on the most important feature in the frame.

Most standard kit lenses don’t perform very well in the dark, so if you do a lot of this type of photography, consider picking up a simple 50mm f/1.8 lens; nearly every brand has a cheap one and they’re well worth it for their sharpness and low-light capability. The maximum aperture of f/1.8 is a full 3.5 stops (lets in 12x more light!) wider than a standard 18-55mm kit lens at the same focal length.

2. Use Image Stabilization

The rule of thumb for shutter speed is that if you want a sharp image, the shutter speed should be no slower than the same fraction as your focal length – that is, if you’re using a 50mm lens, set your shutter speed to 1/50 second. However, if your lens has image stabilization, the shutter value can be two or three stops slower than this. This leeway makes a big difference in low light situations.

3. Use proper camera holding techniques

In low light photography, learning the proper stance and camera holding technique can give you even more leeway when it comes to preventing camera shake. It’s all about stability – plant your feet firmly, about shoulder width apart. With your right hand on the shutter button, hold the lens with your left hand, to steady it. Tuck your elbows tightly into your chest and control your breathing, shooting after you exhale whenever possible. All these things will contribute to your own stillness, minimizing handshake blur.

New York New York, Las Vegas by Anne McKinnell

In Las Vegas, I wanted to make an image with a fairly long shutter speed to blur the motion of the cars. However, I was standing on a bridge that had a chain link fence, and it was also a narrow pedestrian bridge with lots of pedestrians. Using a tripod was not practical. Instead using ISO 1250 and proper camera holding techniques allowed me to hold it steady for half a second.

3. Use a high ISO setting

ISO refers to the level of light sensitivity of your camera. The higher the ISO the more sensitive the sensor is to light, therefore the less light is needed to make a good exposure. The downside is that the higher the ISO, the more “noise” you will find in your image. Noise is a grainy look as opposed to a smooth look. Some noise is okay and it can often be removed in post processing.

When photographing in low light, turn your ISO up as high as you can before the image quality gets too noisy. This setting is different on every camera and an acceptable amount of noise is different for every photographer.

I recommend that you do an exercise so you know the maximum ISO for your camera, that results in a noise level you think is acceptable. Take the same shot at a number of different ISO settings and when you view the photos on your computer later (view at 100% size or 1:1), you will see at what point image quality begins to deteriorate. With today’s cameras this point is probably higher than you might think. Often with ISO 800 or 1600 you will see some noise, but not so much that you can’t fix it in post processing. It’s a good idea to try this exercise both in good light, and low light situations.

Canada Geese at Sunset by Anne McKinnell

Photographing Canada Geese flying overhead at twilight meant that I needed a relatively fast shutter speed to stop the motion. Therefore, I had to use a high ISO and a wide aperture to enable the faster shutter speed. This image was made at ISO 1600, f/4.5 1/200 second.

Noise is not necessarily a bad thing and can be used for creative purposes. If you are using a very high ISO, try shooting in black and white – it removes the colour from the noise and instead gives your photos an old-school grainy look.

Some of the most beautiful landscape photographs are made in low light, so learning these techniques will help you take advantage of low light opportunities and get that great shot even when you don’t have a tripod.

Further reading on low-light photography:

The post Low Light Photography: How to Shoot Without a Tripod by appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Tips for Indoor Sports Photography – Part 1

Shooting indoor sports isn't always easy, but you can get professional-quality results by following these tried and true tips/

Shooting indoor sports isn’t always easy, but you can get professional quality results by following a few tried and true tips.  1/180, f/4, 80mm, ISO 1250, flash.

A few weeks ago, we asked our dPS Facebook followers what topics they’d like to see covered here on the blog, and a few of you were in search of tips for indoor sports photography. For purposes of this article, I’m going to concentrate heavily on high school basketball, because it brings all of the challenges of shooting indoor sports together; bad lighting, fast action, ornery coaches, inconsistent referees, and–of course–the unpredictability of sports.

The Right Gear for the Job

I’m not going to spend a lot of time here discussing camera bodies. As long as you are photographing with a reliable DSLR, your bigger concern should be the glass. Fast glass. That doesn’t mean I advocate running out and spending all of your money on the most expensive lenses that you either can ,or can’t afford, but a long zoom with a large aperture is going to be a must.

Unfortunately, while many gyms may be well-lit for sports, most are poorly lit for photography.  Adding to the challenge, many high school sports have a prohibition against using flash. You have to do your homework. In my experience, I’ve never had a problem using flash for basketball. As long as you are shooting from an off-center angle, you should be fine. You have to be careful, though, because you don’t want to blast a player in the face with flash full, and possibly change the outcome of the game. That’s the best way to make sure they never let you in with your camera again. Flashing action on the floor? Shouldn’t be a problem. Flashing a player on the free throw line before the ball leaves his hands? Not so much.  As with any type of shoot, make sure you have all of the necessary backups: batteries, memory cards, etc., as well as a backup body if possible.

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to travel light while shooting sports.

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to travel light while shooting sports. Shown: Nikon D90, 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, SB800 speedlight, plus spare batteries, memory cards, etc., that all pack into modular components shown for the Think Tank Pro Speed Belt.

Get There Early

Trust me when I tell you that you are going to want to get there early.  Pre-game  warm-ups offer some of best opportunities for quality shots of individual players.  For starters, players tend to move a little more slowly in warm-ups than in the actual game.  You’ll have an easier time capturing motion, and more of an opportunity to isolate individual players in the frame.  You can get a little closer to the action during warm-ups, but PLEASE BE CAREFUL!  Each half of the court is going to be filled with players, coaches, managers, officials, and other personnel. The players are big, fast, and not paying attention to you.  Their job is to play basketball–not give you the best photo op.

Know the Sport

The most compelling shots will have offense, defense, and the ball. You can get good shots without the ball, but they will be better with it.

The most compelling shots will have offense, defense, and the ball. You can get good shots without the ball, but they will be better with it.  LEFT: 1/250, f/5, 80mm, ISO 2000, flash.  RIGHT: 1/320, f/2.8, 80mm, ISO 1250, flash.

The biggest key to getting quality photos of any sport is to have a solid understanding of the game and how it is played.  Every sport has a rhythm all its own. Are they playing a zone defense or man-to-man? Is it a run-and-gun, or are they burning the clock? Can #33 sink the three with impunity, or is he dishing it off to the open center for a lay-up? Do you need to be on the sidelines or under the bucket? Which side is best: the home side of the stands or the visitors’?

Remember that there is a big difference between shooting as a media photographer and shooting as a parent.  As a reporter or school photographer, you are there for “the big picture.”  As a parent, you are mostly concerned with getting photos of your son or daughter, and they’ll be easy to track with the number on their back.  In either case, the more you understand the subtleties of the game the better prepared you will be.


When I say “focus” I’m not just talking about your photography.  I tell this story a lot because I think it’s important. You have to be aware of your surroundings. I once saw a photographer stand his ground on the sidelines at a football game, despite the fact that a player was being pushed out of bounds right at him.  I watched as his camera, lens, and monopod all went flying in three different directions–as he flew in a fourth.  He was wheeled off the field with cuts to his face, and a leg that had been broken in two places. He was out of commission for six months. No photograph is worth that. Be safe. Focus on where you are and what is going on around you.

Now let’s talk about the other kind of focus.  Obviously, it’s an action sport and you want action photos.  Some of the best sports photos are those that capture the eyes. Things move fast, though, and your subjects are not always going to be standing still long enough for you to focus on their eyes. Your camera’s auto focus works by looking for contrast. Uniforms usually have a lot of contrast between the color of the jersey and the color of the numbers.  If you can get the eyes, great.  If not, your best bet is to try locking on either those numbers or the ball once players start moving.

Most professional sports photographers use back-button focus. Check your manual if you aren't sure where to find this feature in your camera's menus.

Most professional sports photographers use back-button focus.
Check your manual if you aren’t sure where to find this feature in your camera’s menus.

Try Back Button Focus

Another focus option you might wish to try is back button focus. Most DSLRs have an option that allows you to assign auto focus functions to a button on the back of the camera. When AF is linked to the shutter button, the camera continuously maintains focus as long as the shutter button is pressed halfway.

When a player passes between you and the player you’d been focusing on, your focus will be shifted to the new player in the frame. Pressing the shutter button halfway down to regain focus on your original target starts the process over again and probably means missing the intended shot. With back-button focus, however, all you have to do is remove your finger from the button when another player enters the frame. Pressing the back button again when the distracting player leaves the frame resumes your original focus.

Continuous Focus Mode

Part of the secret to shooting sports is using AI Servo (AF-C on Nikon) auto focus mode. With “one shot” AF (AF-S on Nikon) focus locks on a point and cannot move until you release and reengage the auto focus. In AI Servo (AF-C), however, the camera continuously focuses whenever you are pushing the AF button (or shutter button halfway if you haven’t reassigned it). It not only helps you lock focus, but also keep it when trying to photograph bodies in motion.

Camera Settings

As with any type of photography, there is not necessarily a “right” or “wrong” exposure.  But this is a sport, after all, and if you come home with 300 blurry photos you aren’t going to be happy–nor will your editor, or your daughter, the MVP.  Remember that since shutter speed controls ambient exposure, the faster your shutter speed is the better your chances will be of freezing the action.  I generally like to start with a shutter speed of 1/500 and adjust my settings accordingly until I get the look I want.  Since this is an indoor sport, your lighting will probably be consistent over the course of the game, unless the gym has windows. Don’t forget, though, that “consistent” can also be “consistently bad.”

If you are using flash, it’s going to be important for you to determine the maximum shutter speed your flash will allow (usually 1/250, check your manual for “flash sync speed”). Start with that and adjust your aperture and ISO accordingly. This is going to take some practice, so  be prepared for some trial and error. The good news is that cameras are getting better at capturing action in low light.

Look for interesting backgrounds, like the game clock or opposing fans.

Look for interesting or dramatic backgrounds, like the game clock or crowded bleachers.  LEFT: 1/180, f/3.5, 135mm, ISO 800, flash.  RIGHT: 1/200, f/8, 80mm, ISO 1600, flash.

Vantage Points and Camera Angles

Obviously, the closer you are to the action the better your photos .  Unlike some sports, you’re going to be a bit more confined to certain areas. You really only have access to one sideline in basketball because the player benches and scorer’s table take up one complete side of the court. The end zones are often the domain of the cheerleaders, so your time there might be sporadic at best. As noted earlier, a solid understanding of the game will definitely help you decide where to be and when.  This is one reason why veteran sports photographers are hardly ever in one place for very long.

Basketball is a very vertical sport, but don't forget to get some horizontal shots as well.

Basketball is a very vertical sport, but don’t forget to get some horizontal shots as well.  50mm, 1/250, f/8, ISO 1600, flash.

The entire length of the court opposite the player benches offers some great angles. It gives you great vantage points not only for the action on the court, but also for coach and player reaction shots on the bench. Be sure to also take advantage of higher angles from the bleachers (timeout huddles) and the track above the court (players jostling under the net), as well as getting down low for those dramatic larger-than-life shots.

Be Creative: the Action’s Not Just Between the Lines

It’s sports. They go one direction. Then they go the other direction. Four quarters of back and forth. That doesn’t mean, though, that you can’t be creative with your angles and composition. Look for interesting or dramatic backgrounds. In the set below, including the game clock over the coach’s shoulder as it ran down provided interesting contrast to his calm demeanor.

Keep your head on a swivel. Don't miss the fans, coaches, and player reactions.

Keep your head on a swivel. Don’t miss the fans, coaches, and player reactions.

Don’t fall into the trap, though, of assuming that everything worth photographing is right there on the court in front of you. Spend some time in the stands. Shoot the crowd reactions.  Photograph the band and the cheerleaders. Capture the traditions. There is so much more going on in that gym than just a basketball game. Turn your back on the action once in a while and take a look around. There are stories everywhere. Use your camera to tell them.

Get Your Motor Running?

Welcome to photography, where five photographers will give you five different answers for everything, and tell you why the other four are wrong. When I first started shooting high school sports I had a slow camera with an even slower buffer that couldn’t handle me just leaning on the motor drive and hoping for the best. I hated it at the time, but it was probably a good thing. I learned to compose my shots and choose my moments more carefully. I developed a pretty fast shutter finger, and, I think, a better eye for the action. Even now, with better equipment, I still tend to leave my camera set for single clicks. That may put me in the minority, but it’s what works for me.


If you are covering a particular school or team over the course of a season, introduce yourself to the coaches. Your job will be easier if they know who you are and why you are there game-after-game. These kids may be big and strong, but they are still kids and it’s a coach’s job to look out for them. If a coach or official tells you something, listen to them. If they ask you to move, you move. You’re in their house and you have to play by their rules.

If one of those rules is no flash, then it’s no flash. It may sound silly to you, but you have no idea what the consequences might be. There may be college scouts in the stands, and you momentarily blinding the point guard with your flash might have an impact on whether that kid gets a scholarship, or if he’s even recruited at all.

If play stops for an injury, show some respect and PUT YOUR CAMERA DOWN.  While it might make for compelling photography, it is entirely possible that you just witnessed the end of a kid’s dream or their only chance of going to college.  You don’t want them or their parents seeing you clicking away while everyone else in the gym is holding their breath. This is high school, not the NBA. Be sensitive and keep it in perspective.

Any seasoned photographer will tell you that photographing sports is not easy– particularly indoors. We can debate endlessly on which sport is the hardest to shoot, but with practice, preparation, and the right gear, you’ll see your images start to improve quickly and steadily.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we take a closer look at some of the other indoor sports you may find yourself shooting.

For additional reading, one of the best books ever written on the subject of sports photography is “Peter Read Miller On Sports Photography.”  Miller has been photographing the NFL, the Olympics, and portraits for “Sports Illustrated” for almost 40 years. He has over 100 S.I. covers to his credit, as well as 35 Super Bowls, 9 Olympic Games, and countless other sporting events around the world. You can check out my review of the book, as well as my conversation with Peter, by clicking here. The book is available on

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Reverse Lens Macro: How to use it as a Great Learning Tool


Reverse Lens Macro: How to Use It as a Great Learning Tool

Yesterday one of my friends called me late and told me that he was going to buy a DSLR and asked me which one he should choose. As a friend, I knew that this was his first camera and he was in fact a complete stranger to the field of photography. I told him to buy a good compact camera in order to get used to the basic concepts of photography and to buy a DSLR only when he feels his equipment is limiting his creativity.

On the other hand are the people how have already bought an SLR, but get confused and overwhelmed by the level of control these cameras offer, and the sheer amount of effort they have to put in to make their photographs look beautiful. I write this article for those people who bought a DSLR, and are in distress seeing none of their photos looking as good as someone else’s.

Considering that you have bought a DLSR and are delving into some advanced levels of photography, let’s see how an interesting and fun technique known as reverse lens macro can teach you a great deal about your camera, light and in effect make the art of photography.

Reverse lens macro photography 01

The basic trio of photography

Before understanding reverse lens macro let’s take a look the basic trio that every photographer needs to know to take a well exposed shot:

  1. Shutter speedreverse-lens-macro-photography-02.jpg
  2. Aperture
  3. ISO

Shutter speed is in essence the duration for which light falls on the camera’s sensor, shown in most cameras as 1/250th or 1/30, lower the denominator, the longer the duration.

Aperture is the opening in the lens which controls the amount of light entering your camera and the area in your image which is in sharp focus (aka depth-of-field) usually shown as f/5.6 or f/7.1. The lower the number, the more light getting to the sensor, and smaller the area in focus.

ISO determines just how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to the light falling on it. ISO usually ranges from 50 to above 100,000 in number. Large numbers represent high sensitivity.

Macro and reverse lens macro

Macro photography is a beautiful way to capture subjects as it gives you a very different and up-close perspective of photography. What macro photography does is to help us see the small world around us in a big picture. What your lens in its normal state does is to make the big world around you small, so just think what it will do when used reverse mounted? Yes, make the small world even BIGGER. But the fact is that dedicated macro lenses cost a fortune which puts it out of the reach of many of us. Reverse lens macro technique allows you to get really close without having to lighten your wallet on expensive lenses.
To take reverse lens macro shots, you have to reverse mount your kit lens (as depicted in the picture below).

Reverse lens macro photography 07


Everything is a double-headed sword. So is reverse macro, though it allows us to get really close to your subject it also means you have less light at your disposal, a very tight frame, and a very narrow area which is in sharp focus (depth-of-field). Less light means you will have to adjust shutter speed, aperture and ISO to get good exposure and nice depth of field.

But the best part lies ahead, when you reverse mount your lens, the camera loses all the electronic means to communicate with the lens, so you will have to move your camera back and forth to get your focus right and you have to use the small lever on the back (now front) of the lens for controlling the aperture. An interesting point to be noted is that the actual focal length (55mm gets you closest to the subject for 18-55mm lens) of a lens in normal operation is also reversed, meaning that you can get closest to your subject when the lens is at its widest (18mm for the same lens). Now when you look through the viewfinder you will see the magic unfolding right in front of your eyes!



Suddenly your viewfinder becomes a visual textbook through which you will see all the subtle changes that aperture, shutter speed and ISO makes on your image and how subtle changes to these can bring amazing clarity and depth to your images. At first this may seem a difficult task because of the extreme stillness needed to take them successfully and clearly, but “practice makes perfect”, doesn’t it?

The interesting part being that you can apply the information you learn, when you use your camera normally. Obviously this can also be learned with time and effort but rest assured many get bored or disheartened because their photos are not looking good before they understand how to use the camera. Reverse macro, as mentioned earlier, magnifies the world beyond what our eye can see. It is because of this magnification that the effect the changes you make to (shutter speed, aperture, ISO) have on our image becomes more apparent than in “normal” use. When doing reverse macro I recommend not using a tripod because that way you will also learn to keep your hands steady (a boon when shooting in dim light).


So because you get to see the magic of light unfold right in front of your eyes it registers quickly, and with practice becomes rather instinctive. This will startlingly improve the way you approach photography and ultimately your photos.

As Ansel Adams, a master of photography said “A Good photograph is knowing where to stand”. Understand where you stand now (as a photographer) and where you have to be standing to take photographs that exude beauty and share the emotion of the frame with the viewers.

Happy clicking!

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5 Tips for Better Long Exposure Landscape Photography

David’s Long Exposure and DoF eBook Long Exposure and Shooting Shallow DoF eBook Bundle (Long Exposure comes with Lightroom Presets) is currently 43% OFF at SnapnDeals – grab it now! (only until January 16th AUS time)

Even if you are an experienced landscape photographer you will know there is lots to consider when approaching the area of long exposure, landscape photography.

The following five tips are just some of the things I have learned, (often the hard way) on my own journey with landscape photography and I hope you are able to take advantage of them and apply them in your own work.

Long exposure landscape photography 05

5 Tips for Better Long Exposure Landscape Photography

1 – Consider the scene without the camera

When arriving at a location you may find yourself rushing to your camera bag in haste to set up your gear. With long exposure photography your mind can often be busy doing the math, calculating exposure times, juggling tripods and fiddling with filters.

Take your time and behold the scene, forget you are capturing a long exposure image and get the framing right. I use the Lee filter system on my Fuji X cameras, which is easy to attach and remove the Neutral Density (ND) filter to the camera between shots. I often remove the filter and capture shorter exposure images to review on the LCD screen. If these images don’t look good there is little chance of the long exposure version looking look.

Don’t be fixated on getting the water looking smooth; instead fixate on framing the water in the photograph to create contrast and make the scene visually interesting.

Long exposure landscape photography 04

2 – Maximize your images with morning or evening light

If you are using an ND10 filter you will know how brilliant they are at stopping light from reaching the camera sensor. Although, theoretically it is possible to capture long exposure images even during the sunniest part of the day, it generally isn’t the best time to shoot.

Prioritize the late evening or early morning for capturing long exposure images so you don’t rely on the ND filter doing all the work. You will find you have much more creative control and will capture more atmospheric images by shooting at the extremes of the day.

Long exposure landscape photography 02

If you are shooting the ocean, then the second part of this tip is to research tide times. I’ve ventured out on more than one occasion to shoot a jetty to find it would be hours before the tide was in. There are various services online that will tell you high and low tide times for your specific area.

3 – Use the rule of thirds

As with the first tip I really recommend that you spend time studying your location. Imagine your image as three separate layers. The top and bottom layers need to contain something of visual interest with the middle layer tending to be the smoothed out water. Sandwiching of the smooth water between foreground and background detail can add a real sense of drama to a long exposure scene.

Long exposure landscape photography 06

4 – Keep your gear clean

Having the camera shutter open for long durations means any dust or dirt on your lens or filter has a greater opportunity to impact on your image. Your post-production software (such as Adobe Lightroom) will go some way to automatically clean up dust but quite often larger spots are visible in long exposure images that wouldn’t be obvious in normal conditions. Having a lens cloth handy and cleaning the filter (both sides) in-between shots can result in less post-production work later on.

5 – Enhance in post-production

When it comes to postproduction processing for long exposure photography I recommend focusing on three areas. Initially you should correct any colour cast created by the ND filter. This is a relatively simple process; in Lightroom use the ‘temperature’ slider to warm the image to a more natural hue.

You should then zoom in and check for any dust spots, these are generally more obvious in the highlights, such as the skyline. Use the Spot Removal tool (Shortcut Q) to remove these blemishes easily.

Long exposure landscape photography 01

Finally my top tip is to use the graduated filter tool in Lightroom 5 (shortcut M) to soften the water. You can do this by clicking on the horizon and dragging to the base of the water. Once you have created the filter you can then soften the smooth water by reducing the level of ‘Clarity’. You can also do the opposite of this technique to increase the ‘clarity’ of your skyline.

Long exposure landscape photography 03


These five tips, I hope will go some way to improve how you approach long exposure photography, but the most important thing to remember is to relax. There is something ultimately therapeutic about the experience of capturing long exposure images of landscapes, moving water or the night sky, isn’t that what the creative process is all about?

long-exposure-bookcover-250David’s Long Exposure and DoF eBook Long Exposure and Shooting Shallow DoF eBook Bundle (Long Exposure comes with Lightroom Presets) is currently 43% OFF at SnapnDeals - grab it now! (only until January 16th AUS time) 

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Kelby Training: A Year of Photography Training for a Few Cents Per day

Todays Deal in our 12 Days of Christmas is EPIC!

It is a full year of training from some of the word’s best photographers for just a few cents per day.

Kelby Training is offering you a 20% discount on their full year training package. Normally $199 – today you get it for $40 off.

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Note: This deal is for today only and to secure it you need to choose the full year option and use the coupon code – DPS13 – when checking out.

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This subscription gets you to an amazing array of online learning. They have 1000?s of sessions and 100′s of hours of classes that you gain access to – plus they’re adding more every week.

The variation of topics is huge – there are classes on lighting, portraiture, wildlife, weddings, fashion, sports, landscape, macro, travel, concert, food, post production…. the list goes on (and there are many classes on each of these topics).

There are classes for beginners and more advanced photographers.

Just check out the courses page (linked to at the top of this page) to a look at what you get access to.

Best of all the caliber of those instructing in these sessions is second no none.

Not only do you get training from Scott Kelby – author of the best selling photography books in the world – you’ll also get access to some World class photographers, authors and trainers like Joe McNally, Jay Maisel, Anne Cahill, Dave Black, Janine Warner, Jeremy Cowart and many many more will instruct you.

Their teaching is relaxed and informal and many times will even take you out on location with them to see what they’re doing on an actual shoot.

Check out this video from Scott Kelby which tells you more about this training:

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This deal has a Money Back Guarantee. So even if you’re not sure if its for you, you can sign up and experience Kelby Training for yourself and if you’re not satisfied get your money back.

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This deal is the perfect way to set yourself up for an amazing year in 2014 – a great investment in your photographic learning.

To secure your 20% discount you must choose the full year training option and use the coupon code – DPS13 – when checking out.

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Deal 10: Grab Andrew Gibsons ‘Mastering Photography’ eBook for $7

Another day, another great $7 deal!

This one is by Andrew Gibson for his eBook Mastering Photography.


Yours today here for just $7

Some of you will know Andrew from his writing on dPS and his eBooks follow the same exceptional standard.

Mastering Photography will introduce you to elements such as:

  • The creative triangle, white balance and the luminance histogram
  • The only model dial sections you really need to know
  • How to prevent shake and use Picture Controls
  • Why Raw format is easier to use than JPEG
  • The creative roles of aperture, shutter speed and ISO in producing beautiful photos.

And much more…

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Bundle it Up with 2 More eBooks for just $15

Andrew has written a range of other eBooks and today is offering Mastering Photography in a bundle with two of his other best offerings.


For just $15 you can get Mastering Photography PLUS:

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Andrew teaches you all about the Library module in Lightroom so you can lay a solid foundation to your workflow – from importing, organizing and storing.

Square: The Digital Photographers Guide to the Square Format
An in-depth exploration of the square formatted image. Beautifully illustrated by Andrew’s own square-formatted photos, this eBook gives you a thorough look at square format elements such as framing, cropping and vertorama. Film photographers Matt Toynbee and Flavia Schaller share their perspectives on the square format in two in-depth case studies.

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How to Create a Winter Wonderland Holiday Photo

There is so much to photograph during the holidays from religious symbols, to beautiful outdoor lighting displays, a well decorated tree, and the gathering of family and friends. You might already photograph and print your own holiday cards or a personal calendar, and each year you might be thinking of new and unique ideas for next year’s images.

With the holidays soon over and all those displays being packed away until next year, many Christmas trees will soon be recycled. But before you recycle your tree, consider using it for a unique photography opportunity: an illuminated Christmas tree in an outdoor setting. It could be that new and unique photo for next year’s holiday card!

Winter wonderland holiday photo tree 14a

If you happen to reside in an area that enjoys wintery and snowy conditions, you have a setting ready to create an illuminated holiday tree similar to this one. But it is worth noting that even if you don’t live in a wintry or forested area you can still create a holiday light photo anywhere with a little imagination. A cactus in the desert, a shrub in your yard, a roadside mailbox, a rusty old car in a field, or anything you can attach lights to. You’re only limited by your imagination!

To create a winter wonderland holiday photo like the one above, here’s what’s needed:

Christmas lights for the tree

You can use regular tree lights that use AC power if you have a location to plug them into. I needed 3 long extension cords to reach my garage, for power to run these lights.

There are also battery power lights available that will work wonders if you prefer to photograph further out and away from power sources.

A tree

Ideally, it would be great to head into the forest and find the perfect tree sitting in the perfect spot. Just add the lights, and wait for snow. But finding the perfect tree, in the perfect place can be challenging. When you’re looking to create a well composed image, where the illuminated tree stands prominently in your composition, the search for that perfect tree can be elusive.

Instead, I have found it easier in most cases to bring my own tree and put it right where I want it, in front of a suitable background. Since we live on this property we often cut our own Christmas tree and once the holidays are over, I take the tree outside, still in its tree stand, and place it to fit my composition. I then adjust the lights and wait for snow, which is never long.


Exposure for the scene can be a bit challenging because you are working with two constant light sources. It’s similar to photographing a city skyline where you have constant light that does not change, such as street lights and building windows, and you have constant light that does change: the setting sun and darkening ambient light.

For this winter tree photo you have the same: the tree lights, which remain constant in their brightness level, and the diminishing natural light. After the sun has set there is a ‘window of opportunity’ where these two light sources are closely matched for the perfect exposure: the darker background and the perfectly exposed tree lights.

I set f/16 as my aperture so the tree lights will have that ‘starburst’ or sparkle and then bracket my shutter speed throughout that ‘window of opportunity’ shooting period. I also drop my white balance down to 4000k (if your camera doesn’t offer White Balance adjustments by degrees Kelvin, choose Tungsten or Incandescent from the WB presets) to increase the blue tone of the overall picture, which enhances the feel of ‘cold and winter’. To ensure that I take advantage of that window of opportunity, I start photographing about 15 minutes after sunset and continually evaluate the exposure.

Winter wonderland holiday photo tree 20

If the ambient light brightness level has not darkened enough the tree lights will not stand out as the image above shows. The lights are not bright enough in relation to the background and surroundings, so the solution is to wait a little longer. To achieve that cold winter feel the snow cannot be exposed as white or even slightly grey, but rather closer to middle grey. I often start using Aperture Priority mode with a -1 exposure compensation setting, and continue to use auto bracketing (AEB). Once the ambient light brightness level is perfect, the tree lights will glow brightly and not blow out against the background.


ISO 100, f/16, 12 second exposure

This was my final image choice because the lights glow nicely, even those under the snow, and are not blown out, while leaving some glow on the ground level snow at the base of the tree. The exposure of 12 seconds at f/16 maintained great detail in the background as well.

The time to stop shooting is when the background becomes too dark in relation to the tree lights exposure, which will start blowing out as the shutter speed gets longer.

Winter wonderland holiday photo tree 17

The image illustrates just that. The tree lights are still exposed properly but the surrounding ambient light is border line too dark, as details in the darker area of the trees are beginning to merge. Of course, it is a matter of taste but for me at this point it is time to pack up and head indoors and review the images.

Plan ahead by testing

As you prepare to venture out and create a Holiday lighting image, a few steps before you leave will guarantee better results:

  1. A day or two before you plan your photo venture, place your lights outside, even around your home, plug them in and wait for sunset
  2. Set your aperture to f/16, place your camera on the tripod, and attach your cable release
  3. 15 minutes after the sun has set take your first picture and bracket your shutter speeds: normal (0), -1, and +1
  4. Wait another 10 minutes and take another set of three pictures
  5. Continue testing until you find the ambient light is to low and you determine that by looking at your Normal test exposures in the series and an image showing the lights blowing out against a very dark background
  6. Download your images and select the image you feel has great background exposure and perfectly exposed lights
  7. Once you find that perfect exposure, review the metadata for the shutter speed used and the time of capture. Then if you plan to shoot in the next day or two you will have a guide for the best time of day, and the best shutter speed, so you can head outdoors with a great starting point for the best exposure.

There are so many subjects that would work well with Christmas lights outdoors and to create something unique it pays to develop an idea first. Then decide on a suitable location that supports the subject rather than detracts from it. If you plan to head out into cold winter conditions be sure and dress warm, protect your gear, and most importantly, have a great time!

Editor’s note: this article is just in time for the Weekly Photography Challenge this week which is WINTER!  If you need more inspiration check out these 30 images of winter photography.

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