This Back-to-Basics Photography Exercise can Improve Your Photography

The post This Back-to-Basics Photography Exercise can Improve Your Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

The digital age has made photography easier, cheaper, and more accessible than ever before.  Even people who wouldn’t call themselves “photographers” now carry a camera in their pocket in the form of their cellphone.

However, has the ability to snap a picture without skill or knowledge made photography too easy? Even for you reading this article who’ve come to this site to learn more about making better photos – has the ease of making digital photos with modern cameras robbed you of learning the basics?

Perhaps. Presuming you really do want to learn more, give the following exercise a try with the intent of improving your skills.

This Back-to-Basics Photography Exercise can Improve Your Photography

I’ll bet back when this grocery store was operating you could buy black and white film here. Now, both are relics. I shot all of the mono photos in this article with a 50mm prime lens during a photo walk, while conducting the exercise outlined.

Back to the film days

Some of you remember the film days, but with digital photography catching hold in the early 2000s, we already have a generation of new photographers who may never have loaded a roll of film.  Others may never have had to manually focus a camera, calculate exposure without a meter, or made monochrome photos in the camera.

My first “real” camera – a 35mm Hanimex Praktica Nova 1B

As the risk of dating myself, here’s a little background:

Back in the “pre-digital days” (back in 1970 when dinosaurs roamed the earth), I was 16 and in high school. I bought my first real camera – a 35mm Hanimex Practica Nova 1B. It was an East German camera built in Dresden and imported to the U.S. The Oreston f/1.8 50mm Meyer Optik Görlitz lens was fast and sharp (though I didn’t know much about such things at the time).  It was typically loaded with Kodak Plus-X film (ISO 125, previously called ASA) or sometimes Kodak Tri-X (ISO 400).

I learned how to process the film and later make black and white prints in a little darkroom in the corner of the garage.  Working under the dim glow of a safelight, and watching the image magically appear as the photographic paper bathed in a tray of Dektol, is something young photographers today have likely not experienced.

This Back-to-Basics Photography Exercise can Improve Your Photography 3

The orange glow of a safelight and the smell of photo chemicals. Before Lightroom, there was the darkroom.

I can’t say I miss it.

Today’s cameras are far superior. Also, the ease of working at a computer using Lightroom, where you can dodge and burn with the click of a mouse instead of with physical tools, gives so much more creative freedom.  I also don’t have a wastebasket full of failed paper prints, and money spent trying to master the art.

These were things I learned the hard way with no electronic assistance from my camera. Let’s see what you can learn. Set up your camera and take a photo-walk emulating the way it used to be.

Learning to focus manually takes some skill. Note in this shot the very closest weed at the bottom of the frame is focused, but the other portions are soft. You’ll also better learn the relationship between depth-of-field and aperture when you work in manual mode.

Camera setup

We’re going to want to go fully manual for this, putting you in charge of setting the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. So put the dial in the “M” mode.  Turn autofocus off.  You will be focusing yourself.

If you have a 50mm prime lens, that will better emulate what most of us had on those old 35mm film cameras before we could afford to buy a zoom.  Composing with the “sneaker-zoom,” (that is, using your feet to move closer or further from your subject), is good practice, especially if you always rely on a zoom lens to compose.

Working with a prime lens will help teach you to compose without relying on a zoom.

Going Monochrome

Most beginning photographers, (and all of them in the pre-color era), shot black-and-white film. So to stick to the basics, we’ll be shooting monochrome as well.

Well, sort of.

The best option in a digital camera is to shoot in RAW mode, which will create a color image.  Later in editing, you’ll make a monochrome image from that color file.  Photographing for monochrome will also allow you to better concentrate on composition – another point of this exercise.

Photography Exercise can Improve Your Photography 4

It is thought the term “chimping” originated from the “ooh, ooh” sounds photographers made when reviewing their photos on their LCD screens, (not necessarily as in this case, whether the photographer had a simian-like appearance  :-D.   For this exercise, you will NOT be chimping.  – Photo of/by Rick Ohnsman.

To chimp or not to chimp?

You’ve heard the term “chimping” which refers to the practice of some digital photographers to look at the playback on their LCD screen after each shot?  Some scoff at the practice.  Others, (count me in that camp), think the ability to immediately review a shot, check the histogram, make adjustments and reshoot is the best thing to ever happen to photography.  Instant feedback, (rather than waiting days, weeks, months, whatever it was to get back the photos and only then discover your mistake?) – what a concept!

I still bow to the wedding photographers who shot film.  Those photographers knew their cameras relying on skills and experience so they could trust they had the photo before ever seeing the results.

Many cameras will do this. This is a Canon 6D. Set your Picture style to Monochrome, but shoot Raw images. The Raw file will be in color but the LCD display, (both in playback and Live View) will be Monochrome.

So… a choice for you as you do this exercise –  You have two options:

Option 1:

Shoot Raw, but set your camera so the image played back on the LCD (which is a .jpg thumbnail) is shown in monochrome

On a Canon camera, you will be using Picture Styles.  On a Nikon, Picture Controls is the term.  Look for Monochrome in the menu.  What you’ll be doing is taking a Raw color image but forcing the camera to playback a monochrome image on the LCD.

Check your camera manual for how to set this up.

The advantage is being able to see a monochrome image in playback rather than having to previsualize what it will look like.   Because your raw file will still be color, you will have more control in editing.  Should you decide you do prefer the color image, you can stick with it and not convert to black and white.

If you shoot .jpg only, your image will be monochrome with no going back.

Flexibility – it’s just one more of dozens of reasons to shoot raw images.

Or …

If you set your Image Review to “Off”, the photo will not be displayed in the LCD after you take it. Film photographers didn’t have the luxury of image review in the field and for this exercise, you won’t either.

Option 2

Turn off or tape over the LCD screen

If you really want to emulate shooting film, (and get the most from this exercise), you will not chimp at all.  There was no option to review your shots with film. The photographer had to trust their knowledge and instincts.

For those who’ve only made digital photos, (and even for those who may have used film but haven’t done so for a long time), this is harder than it might seem.  The reward, however, will be learning to analyze the scene better, make necessary camera adjustments, and trust your instincts.  You will make mistakes and not know about them until later, but lessons learned with a little “pain” attached will be those you’ll best remember.

I’m not suggesting you always work like this, instant LCD feedback is a beautiful thing. However, when practicing this exercise, see what it can teach you.  (Don’t forget to turn your LCD Review back on completion of the exercise!)

Photography exercise

With the Picture Mode in Monochrome, both Live View and Image Playback on the LCD screen will be Monochrome even though the Raw file will still record in color.

When more isn’t better

Another great thing about digital photography is how many images you can fit on a storage card.  Depending on the camera and the card size that can easily be hundreds, even thousands in some cases.  You also don’t have to worry about each shot costing you more.  If you don’t like what you see, that’s what the delete button is for.

Cards are reusable. Once you buy one, you can use it over and over.

As the saying goes, “digital film is cheap.”

Monochrome will help you better compose and concentrate on line, shape, tone, and texture. Also, note how simulating a red filter when editing allowed the blue sky to render very dark.

Shooting film wasn’t cheap.  There was the cost of the film, the cost of film processing, and the cost of printing.  Nothing was reusable, and so all the shots, both the keepers and the junk, cost money.  With digital, we also need not print if we don’t like a shot.

It was hard to view a film negative and judge what you had.  Unless you were printing your own images, you’d almost always print everything and prints cost money.  Some of us shot transparencies (slides). These were a little cheaper since you’d typically not print them. However, you had to get it right in camera as there was no editing a slide.

Beginning film photographers could spend lots of money learning with little to show for it.

There was also the limitation of how many photos could be made on a roll of film. The capacity typically measured in dozens, not hundreds or thousands of images like digital media.  If you used 35mm film, you could typically get 12, 24, or 36-exposure rolls.  With limited exposures and to save money, photographers wanted to make each shot count.

The downsides were making fewer images, (and thus reducing the odds of getting a keeper), less experimentation with new techniques, and a longer learning curve for a new photographer who’d be making fewer photos.  The upside, however, (and this is a big factor), was photographers took more time to do it right – more time to think before pressing the shutter button.

Putting it all together

Are you ready to give this exercise a try?

I’d suggest not doing this in a session that’s important to you. If you are doing it right, you’re apt to make some mistakes.  That’s okay, those will be mistakes from which you can learn.

Here are your settings and steps:

Camera in “M” – Manual Mode – You will control ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed

Autofocus Off – Focus with the focus ring.  Learn to see and concentrate on what you’re focusing on.  A mistake I often see new photographers make when learning to use an autofocus digital camera is letting the camera select the default center focus point when that may not be the spot they wanted in focus. Manually focusing puts you in charge of what’s in focus.   Also, consider when you might need to use your aperture to increase or decrease your depth-of-field.

Determine your lighting conditions and chose a “film type” ISO – Choose ISO 125 for bright daylight (emulating Kodak Plus-X or Ilford FP4), ISO 400 (to emulate Kodak Tri-X or Ilford FP5). If you’ll be photographing in low light, try ISO 800 and emulate “pushed” film.  The point here is set it once and leave it there for the entire session.  It wasn’t possible to change ISO with film, you were stuck with your choice for the entire roll.

Use a prime lens if you have one – Learn to compose without a zoom.

Decide how many exposures you have – Pick 12, 24, or 36.  Sure, film photographers often carried multiple rolls, but this exercise is designed to help you make each shot count.  Once you hit your pre-determined number, you’re done.

Here’s what came in a box of Kodak Plus-X or Tri-X film. Can you use this to calculate exposure and not rely on your camera meter? Give it a try!

Calculate Exposure – By the 1960s, most 35mm film cameras had light meters, but they were primitive by today’s standard.  A “match-needle” system where a needle could be centered when dialing in exposure and shutter speed was what many displayed.  If you wanted to purposely over or under-expose a bit, you’d adjust until the needle was over or under as desired.

On cameras without meters, many relied on the chart typically found in a box of film.  Often, these calculations were based on what was called the “Sunny 16 Rule.”  It said that on a bright sunny day if you put the aperture at f/16, then the shutter speed should equal the ASA, (now ISO), film speed.

For example, with Kodak Plus-X ASA 125 film a setting of ASA 125, f/125 at f/16 would give you a well-exposed image.  If you wanted to shoot at a different shutter speed or aperture, you could calculate from there. For example, f/250 @ f/11 (assuming you had the same ASA 125 film in the camera) would be an equal exposure.

If it wasn’t a bright sunny day, you were in the shade, or light conditions were different, sometimes the little printed chart could help.  Mostly, it was the practice that taught a photographer what was “about right” for a given film and a given lighting condition.

That’s another purpose of this exercise; to help teach you what’s about right for a given lighting condition.  See how you do without relying on the meter. At least pay close attention to what the aperture and shutter speed is for a given set of conditions.

Slow down

If this exercise teaches you nothing else, learning to slow down will make it worthwhile.  With limited exposures available on a roll of film, the “spray-and-pray” style of photography was rare.  Typically it was only sports and fashion photographers who had motor-drives (the mechanical version of what we now do with continuous mode).

Photographers took the time to carefully think about their composition, and what they wanted to convey with the image. What shutter speed choice might be best to freeze or blur the action?  How much depth-of-field might you desire and what aperture choice would be best?  Should you roll in a little exposure compensation?

All of these factors were given thoughtful consideration.  Bracketing shots to be sure everything was right could be done but at the expense of more quickly eating up that roll of film.  The difficulty of fixing anything in the darkroom was much greater too, and photographers didn’t have the attitude that they’d “just fix it in Photoshop.”  Consequently, the concept of “getting it right in-camera” was the norm.

Getting it right in-camera is among the goals intended with this exercise.  If you know you only have a minimal number of exposures available to you, each one has to count.  You won’t have the luxury of shooting, chimping, adjusting, and re-shooting if you’re doing this exercise as intended.

So, slow down, take your time, think about each part of the process. And then make your best shot.

Later, you will have a real advantage film photographers didn’t have – the ability to review your images with attached exposure data.

In the film days, conscientious beginning photographers carried a notebook and wrote down their settings to recall later.  Now, your digital camera keeps the notes.  Chalk up one more plus for digital photography.

Why monochrome?

We briefly touched on why monochrome was the choice for this exercise.  One, of course, is that it replicates what early beginning film photographers used and we are simulating the limitations of that time.

The more significant reason is without color, monochrome images rely much more on shape, form, line, tone, and texture.  It is also much easier to concentrate on composition without the added distraction of color.

Working in monochrome can help a photographer better key in on those elements that make a strong image and practice those techniques.

If you’ve done much monochrome photography, you’ll likely already know this.  If you’ve pretty much only made color images in the past, this part of the exercise will also be part of the process of improving your skills.

Back in edit

Film photographers typically dropped their film off at the lab, mailed it in, or sometimes did their own processing.  (I love the smell of D-76 in the morning!  It smells like… Victory.  – Not!  Sorry for the flashback, let’s resume).

You will come back with a few, (you limited your exposures as instructed, right?), Raw images on your storage card.  They will be in color, but you’ll be converting them to monochrome.  I will not spend the time in this article outlining the best ways to convert color to monochrome.  You will find a nice collection of those tutorials here on DPS.  You will find there are great ways to manipulate the tones in your monochrome conversion to create distinctive looks.

To complete the goals of the exercise, what you’ll want to give the most attention to is, were you able to make well-focused, properly-exposed, and nicely composed images with the self-imposed restrictions of the exercise?  Without the electronic assistance of a modern digital camera (auto-focus, auto-exposure), what worked?  What didn’t?

If this really had been film, what would you do differently next time?

The takeaways

This is a great time to be a photographer.  The sophistication of our cameras and the ease with which we can do amazing things in editing is fantastic.  The point of this exercise, however, is to teach you to use your brain as a photographer, to take full control over your camera, and not rely on a microchip to do it for you.  I personally would never go back to film, have no desire to get back in a darkroom, and love every electronic aid my camera supplies.

The point is, I want those things to build on a solid foundation of photo ability and knowledge.  That is the reason for this exercise.

The path to becoming a better photographer lies in using your brain, not a camera microchip, to do the thinking. Slow down, pre-visualize the image, and then use the camera as a tool to capture that vision.

I sincerely hope you give this a try.  If you make great images, wonderful!  If you struggle and make mistakes, fine – you will have learned something.

Either way, you will grow as a photographer.

Drop me a line in the comments and let me know how you made out.  Best wishes.

 

This Back-to-Basics Photography Exercise can Improve Your Photography

 

The post This Back-to-Basics Photography Exercise can Improve Your Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos

The post 8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

If you’ve been to a great aerial fireworks display, I’m sure you’ve heard the “oohs” and “ahhs” of the crowd, captivated by the colorful spectacle. Here in the United States, the Independence Day holiday is when many of us try our hand at fireworks photography.  I’m sure if you live in other places in the world, you also have holidays celebrated with fireworks.  So how can you capture those moments in a photo and elicit those same “oohs” and “ahhs” from your viewers and achieve better fireworks photos?

Include a landmark, city skyline, or something in your fireworks photo to add interest, place, and story. This is a show over the Boise, Idaho Depot.

Great fireworks photos aren’t difficult, but you will not get them in Auto mode.  You will need to put a little thought into this and learn to take charge of your camera controls.  Try these simple tips, however, and I’ll bet you’ll come back with images that elicit “oohs,” “ahhs,” some likes, and maybe even “wows” from your viewers.

Here are the things we’ll cover for better fireworks photos:

  1. Location
  2. Equipment
  3. Camera settings
  4. Shutter speed choices
  5. Using Bulb mode
  6. Shooting technique
  7. Boom Zoom Bloom FX
  8. The “Black Hat trick”

After you’ve read this article, and made your fireworks photos, be sure to read Part Two – Creatively Editing your Fireworks Photos.

1. Location

You can make good fireworks photos with just an image of the colorful bursts in the sky. But great fireworks photos need something more – an interesting setting or foreground.

Think of displays you have seen taken with fireworks over the Statue of Liberty, the Sydney Harbour, the Chicago city skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, or Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong.  What makes those shots over the top?  A couple of things;  iconic city skylines and landmarks, and most often, water.

Not only are there interesting things in the shot besides the fireworks themselves, but often with water in the shot, there’s the benefit of colorful reflections.

If you are lucky, the spot where you plan to photograph your fireworks display will also have interesting foreground features and perhaps a body of water.  If so, scout the area ahead of time so you can find a location to best capture those things.

You can pretty much count on a crowd at a fireworks show. Get there early to stake out your spot. Then consider including the location in some of your shots.

You can count on a crowd when you go to a fireworks show.  Plan on getting to your spot early so you can “stake your turf.” Perhaps put out a blanket to ensure an unobstructed view of the show.  Then, if you have no other foreground elements, consider the possibility of making the crowd your foreground, their heads silhouetted against the sky and fireworks.

Another possibility might be to find a less obvious location, not right where the fireworks will be launched.  Perhaps there is a landmark, a tree-line, a high vantage point, or some other spot that will create an interesting foreground that while still including the fireworks, will give context, place, and “story” to your photos.  Doing some scouting long before the night of the show is a good idea.

The first few fireworks of the show will be in clearer sky conditions. As the show continues, smoke may be more of an issue and the sky won’t be as dark with the fireworks lighting the smoke.

2. Equipment

What will you need to make good fireworks photos? Let’s break down the basic equipment needs:

Camera

You can make fireworks photos with a cellphone camera if that’s all you have. However, the techniques will be different and the results likely not as impressive.

We won’t get into that here, so let’s assume you have a better DSLR or mirrorless camera with the option for manual control. Be sure to have a good-sized storage card, as well as a spare battery or two, as you’ll usually take lots of shots at a fireworks show.

Tripod

Fireworks photography will require a steady camera as you’ll be shooting in low light and taking longer exposures. Consider a tripod pretty much mandatory for this kind of work.  An L-bracket on your camera or at least a tripod that will easily allow going from landscape to portrait mode easily is a good thing too. Often you will shoot in both aspects.

Lens Selection

Lens choice largely depends on how close you will be to the fireworks launch location.  If you are really close, you may need a wide-angle to keep the larger bursts in the frame. If, however, you are a long distance from the show or want to compress the apparent distance between your foreground object and the sky bursts, a telephoto might be in order.

I typically use my go-to lens; a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS as it covers a good range. You don’t need a particularly fast lens as you will be working with mid to small apertures and longer shutter speeds. Still, a sharp lens is always a good thing.

Cable Release/Remote trigger

The technique for photographing fireworks will be discussed in a minute, but trust that having a way to remotely trigger your camera will be a real help. One reason is you are presumably going to a fireworks show to enjoy the show.  Having your eye to the viewfinder and your finger on the shutter button the entire time will lessen  the enjoyment of “being there.” It will also introduce camera shake, something you don’t want.

A very basic remote release can be had for under $10.00 US. This is a great item to always have in your bag for many purposes.

The tree line at the bottom of the frame adds some additional interest.

3. Camera settings

If you’ve always worked in Program or one of the Auto modes with your camera, or even if you use Aperture (Av/A) or Shutter (Tv/S) mode, this will be the time to be brave and go to full Manual mode.

Here’s how you want to set up your camera for fireworks photography:

Raw Mode

Real photographers shoot in Raw mode. There are many articles why. If you never have done so before, here’s your chance to try it. You can work in Raw + Jpg if that makes you feel more secure. However, I’m betting you won’t use the .jpg versions.

Full Manual

As described. Be brave. You can do this.

White Balance

As you’re using Raw mode, (you are, yes?), white balance can be tweaked later so it doesn’t matter much what you set for shooting. I tend to leave my white balance in Faithful mode almost all the time.

Sometimes it’s fun to zoom in tighter and get the flurry of action.

Low ISO

Working in low light with dark or black backgrounds and long exposures will tend to introduce noise in your shots. Fortunately, the fireworks are bright, so higher ISO settings won’t be needed.  Instead, use the minimum (ISO 100 on many cameras), and you’ll be fine.

Noise Reduction Off

Many modern cameras have a noise reduction feature, which after the first exposure, takes a second “black frame” exposure, detecting the noise and then subtracting that from the initial exposure. It can work well, but…

The second exposure takes as long as the first, and if you’re making multi-second exposures (for example, that 6-second exposure now takes 12 seconds to finish), your camera will be busy working, and you’ll be missing subsequent fireworks.

Turn it off.  You’ll be using a low ISO with minimal noise anyway, and the delay in being able to make more shots isn’t worth it.

Aperture

There are two things to consider here:

  1. How much depth-of-field do you need?
  2. What is the “sweet-spot” of your lens?

First, because the fireworks will be a good distance from your camera, you will be focusing on something further away and likely have a pretty good depth of field. Working at wider focal lengths helps too. Plan on being at your location well before the show starts and have an idea where you’ll need to focus and how much depth of field you need.

Secondly, most lenses are at their sharpest between f/8 and f/16.  Learn where your lens performs best, the so-called “sweet spot,” and use that aperture if you can.

Most of the photos in this article were taken at the same show. Also, most were very close in their exposure settings such as this one at ISO 100, 10-seconds at f/8.

4. Making shutter speed choices

Your choice of shutter speed will be important in capturing good fireworks photos. You know when you hear the boom of the launched fireworks from its mortar that it trails up into the sky, explodes, and a beautiful shower of colorful sparks radiates out and trails down.

Often multiple fireworks are launched close together, each doing the same thing. What you’re after is to capture the entire event which can sometimes take several seconds.

You could pick a fixed shutter speed of, say, four seconds, but would that be too short? Too long? Of course, it depends on the individual firework duration or sequence you want to capture, and that will vary during the show.

So how do you choose?

The answer is, you don’t have to because there’s a better way.

better fireworks photos

Using bulb mode you will be able to hold the shutter open and capture multiple fireworks bursts, closing it when you like.  Note this shot is in portrait orientation.

5. Use Bulb mode

If you’ve seen pictures of early photographers with their view cameras, you might have noticed them holding a rubber “bulb” which when they squeezed, forced air through a rubber tube and tripped the shutter. As long as the photographer kept the bulb squeezed, the shutter stayed open, ending when they released it.

These were the first shutter remotes, and it was that rubber bulb that gave the mode its name.

Today we have wired, and sometimes wireless triggers that can do the same thing. Putting the camera in Bulb mode allows a variable shutter speed. As long as we press and hold the button, the shutter stays open.  Let it go, and the shutter closes, ending the exposure.

This is just the ticket for fireworks photography, a variable shutter speed.

So, let’s review our basic camera settings:

  • Camera on tripod
  • Raw Capture
  • Manual Mode
  • Noise Reduction Off
  • Auto Focus Off – Focus on the anticipated fireworks spot and lock focus there
  • Lens Vibration Reduction (VR/IS) Off
  • ISO 100
  • Approx. f/8 – f/16  (Use aperture and ISO to adjust if images are too bright or dark).
  • Bulb mode
  • No flash – I forgot to mention this one.  Rarely, (unless perhaps to light a foreground object), will you ever need to use flash when making fireworks photos.  Also, consider whether others are nearby watching the show.  Using flash is guaranteed to make you less-than-popular with other fireworks spectators.  Unless you are alone and have a good reason to use flash, (in which case I will assume you know what you’re doing), just don’t use it.

Set up like this, you’re good to go. Remember, once the show starts, you will be busy. If you are fooling with camera settings, you’ll be missing shots. You will want to try some variations, but you don’t want to have to struggle and miss the show.

Be ready, think it through beforehand, and when the show starts, start clicking.

6. Shooting Technique

You’ve set your camera up on a tripod, figured out where to point it, made sure to pre-focus on a distant spot and locked the focus by putting it in Manual Focus (MF) mode.

If you leave your camera’s Autofocus on it’s almost guaranteed to give you images that are a bust rather than a boom. Against the dark sky and the moving fireworks the focus will hunt, fail, and… it’ll just be bad. Don’t do it.

Often the best images can be made right when the show starts as later, smoke from the previous fireworks becomes thicker, and the fireworks more obscured. So, when you hear that boom of the first firework going up, click and hold the button on the remote. You’ll be in bulb mode so hold it open while the firework goes up, explodes, and radiates out.  Then release the trigger.

Now, quickly check your shot. Is it in focus and framed properly? Is it exposed correctly? If it’s too dark, increase the ISO a click or perhaps open the aperture a stop. Too light? Do the opposite.

Try not to spend too much time doing this as, of course, the show will continue without you.

If you’re in the ballpark, the ability to edit in raw gives you the tweaking room you need. The two unrecoverable mistakes you might make would be to have things out of focus or have the highlights so blown out as to be unrecoverable. Editing won’t save you if you do those things, so be sure the focus is good and if you’re not sure with exposure, underexpose a bit. Some fireworks will be much brighter than others – especially a multi-burst or the finale. So quickly check your histogram and be sure you’ve not clipped the right (highlights) side.

Make any tweaks you need and then keep clicking. Vary the zoom if you need to, but if anything, frame a little “loose.” You can always crop in tighter later. However, if that really big and spectacular burst is so big it goes out of the frame, you’ll have missed it. Try both some portrait and landscape orientation shots. Perhaps reframe to get different things in the shot, especially if you are including foreground elements.

If things are going well, it’s going to be a fairly long show.

And if you’re feeling frisky, you might be ready for some more advanced techniques.

Note how the bright pink burst appears here, thicker streaks at the base of each trail growing thinner at the tip. This uses what I describe as the “Boom Zoom Bloom” technique described.

7. “Boom Zoom Bloom” FX

You may have seen those photos where the bursting fireworks look more like a flower, fat blurry trails with sharp points.  How is that done?

Here’s the technique, which you can vary for different results.

Know this takes practice, and luck plays a big part. So decide if you have already got enough necessary shots before you try it and whether the show will last long enough for some experimentation.

If you’re game, here’s how you do it:

  • You will need your hands free for this, and you’ll want to look through the viewfinder or perhaps use Live View, so using the remote release probably isn’t going to work. Instead, set your shutter speed for about 8-10 seconds, leaving all the other camera settings where they were.
  • With your hand on the focus ring, remember your hand position there. Then turn the ring so things are out of focus.
  • Just as the firework explodes, click the shutter and smoothly turn the focus right back to the focus point you memorized.  You have the time of the preset shutter speed to accomplish this.  If you finish early, that’s okay.
better fireworks photos

Two other images using the defocus-to-focus technique. Also note how some of the bursts, captured after the focus was performed but before the shutter closed, don’t show the same look combining two looks in one photo.

Now, try different things with subsequent shots. Go from focused to unfocused, zoom in or out during the exposure, or maybe take the camera off the tripod and move it during the exposure to make light trails. Play and see what you like.

Just remember, the duration of the show is limited, so try some experiments but also be sure you have some solid “keepers.”

8. The Black Hat Trick

I have to confess, I’ve not personally tried this but the concept is sound and could be fun. (I’ve always wanted to do a “hat trick.”)

Here’s how it’s supposed to work:

  • Have a hat, a black one or preferably of something dark enough to be opaque. You will also need to be working in an area that is quite dark.
  • Put the hat over the front of the lens.
  • Have the camera in Bulb Mode and just before the firework launches, click open the shutter locking it open with the remote.
  • Quickly, but gently so as not to bump the camera, remove the hat while the firework explodes.
  • Leave the shutter open and carefully replace the hat. Repeat, removing and replacing the hat for multiple fireworks bursts. (You may need to have a smaller aperture or lower ISO to do this as you will be building up exposure brightness with each additional firework added).
  • Unlock the remote and close the shutter when you’ve done all you want.

What you’re doing is making a multiple-exposure image in-camera. This should work. Of course, there’s also a way to do it in post-processing.  For that, and some other tips on how best to process you fireworks photo, come back for Part Two – Creatively Editing your Fireworks Photos.

There may be a frenzy of fireworks at the show finale. Keep the shutter open and capture it all if you can without overexposing.

Light the fuse

I hope you’ve decided that good fireworks photography is easy and go and have fun with it.  It’s one more way to enhance your camera skills and make some exciting images.

If there’s anything that’s a problem it’s that good aerial fireworks displays are seasonal in most places and if you really catch the bug, you may find there are not enough opportunities to practice.

So, find out when and where the shows will be near you, mark your calendar, do some scouting for the best locations, “light the fuse” and have fun!

Post your best shots as images in the comments – we’d love to see them.

 

8 tips for better fireworks photos

The post 8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos

The post 8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

If you’ve been to a great aerial fireworks display, I’m sure you’ve heard the “oohs” and “ahhs” of the crowd, captivated by the colorful spectacle. Here in the United States, the Independence Day holiday is when many of us try our hand at fireworks photography.  I’m sure if you live in other places in the world, you also have holidays celebrated with fireworks.  So how can you capture those moments in a photo and elicit those same “oohs” and “ahhs” from your viewers and achieve better fireworks photos?

Include a landmark, city skyline, or something in your fireworks photo to add interest, place, and story. This is a show over the Boise, Idaho Depot.

Great fireworks photos aren’t difficult, but you will not get them in Auto mode.  You will need to put a little thought into this and learn to take charge of your camera controls.  Try these simple tips, however, and I’ll bet you’ll come back with images that elicit “oohs,” “ahhs,” some likes, and maybe even “wows” from your viewers.

Here are the things we’ll cover for better fireworks photos:

  1. Location
  2. Equipment
  3. Camera settings
  4. Shutter speed choices
  5. Using Bulb mode
  6. Shooting technique
  7. Boom Zoom Bloom FX
  8. The “Black Hat trick”

After you’ve read this article, and made your fireworks photos, be sure to read Part Two – Creatively Editing your Fireworks Photos.

1. Location

You can make good fireworks photos with just an image of the colorful bursts in the sky. But great fireworks photos need something more – an interesting setting or foreground.

Think of displays you have seen taken with fireworks over the Statue of Liberty, the Sydney Harbour, the Chicago city skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, or Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong.  What makes those shots over the top?  A couple of things;  iconic city skylines and landmarks, and most often, water.

Not only are there interesting things in the shot besides the fireworks themselves, but often with water in the shot, there’s the benefit of colorful reflections.

If you are lucky, the spot where you plan to photograph your fireworks display will also have interesting foreground features and perhaps a body of water.  If so, scout the area ahead of time so you can find a location to best capture those things.

You can pretty much count on a crowd at a fireworks show. Get there early to stake out your spot. Then consider including the location in some of your shots.

You can count on a crowd when you go to a fireworks show.  Plan on getting to your spot early so you can “stake your turf.” Perhaps put out a blanket to ensure an unobstructed view of the show.  Then, if you have no other foreground elements, consider the possibility of making the crowd your foreground, their heads silhouetted against the sky and fireworks.

Another possibility might be to find a less obvious location, not right where the fireworks will be launched.  Perhaps there is a landmark, a tree-line, a high vantage point, or some other spot that will create an interesting foreground that while still including the fireworks, will give context, place, and “story” to your photos.  Doing some scouting long before the night of the show is a good idea.

The first few fireworks of the show will be in clearer sky conditions. As the show continues, smoke may be more of an issue and the sky won’t be as dark with the fireworks lighting the smoke.

2. Equipment

What will you need to make good fireworks photos? Let’s break down the basic equipment needs:

Camera

You can make fireworks photos with a cellphone camera if that’s all you have. However, the techniques will be different and the results likely not as impressive.

We won’t get into that here, so let’s assume you have a better DSLR or mirrorless camera with the option for manual control. Be sure to have a good-sized storage card, as well as a spare battery or two, as you’ll usually take lots of shots at a fireworks show.

Tripod

Fireworks photography will require a steady camera as you’ll be shooting in low light and taking longer exposures. Consider a tripod pretty much mandatory for this kind of work.  An L-bracket on your camera or at least a tripod that will easily allow going from landscape to portrait mode easily is a good thing too. Often you will shoot in both aspects.

Lens Selection

Lens choice largely depends on how close you will be to the fireworks launch location.  If you are really close, you may need a wide-angle to keep the larger bursts in the frame. If, however, you are a long distance from the show or want to compress the apparent distance between your foreground object and the sky bursts, a telephoto might be in order.

I typically use my go-to lens; a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS as it covers a good range. You don’t need a particularly fast lens as you will be working with mid to small apertures and longer shutter speeds. Still, a sharp lens is always a good thing.

Cable Release/Remote trigger

The technique for photographing fireworks will be discussed in a minute, but trust that having a way to remotely trigger your camera will be a real help. One reason is you are presumably going to a fireworks show to enjoy the show.  Having your eye to the viewfinder and your finger on the shutter button the entire time will lessen  the enjoyment of “being there.” It will also introduce camera shake, something you don’t want.

A very basic remote release can be had for under $10.00 US. This is a great item to always have in your bag for many purposes.

The tree line at the bottom of the frame adds some additional interest.

3. Camera settings

If you’ve always worked in Program or one of the Auto modes with your camera, or even if you use Aperture (Av/A) or Shutter (Tv/S) mode, this will be the time to be brave and go to full Manual mode.

Here’s how you want to set up your camera for fireworks photography:

Raw Mode

Real photographers shoot in Raw mode. There are many articles why. If you never have done so before, here’s your chance to try it. You can work in Raw + Jpg if that makes you feel more secure. However, I’m betting you won’t use the .jpg versions.

Full Manual

As described. Be brave. You can do this.

White Balance

As you’re using Raw mode, (you are, yes?), white balance can be tweaked later so it doesn’t matter much what you set for shooting. I tend to leave my white balance in Faithful mode almost all the time.

Sometimes it’s fun to zoom in tighter and get the flurry of action.

Low ISO

Working in low light with dark or black backgrounds and long exposures will tend to introduce noise in your shots. Fortunately, the fireworks are bright, so higher ISO settings won’t be needed.  Instead, use the minimum (ISO 100 on many cameras), and you’ll be fine.

Noise Reduction Off

Many modern cameras have a noise reduction feature, which after the first exposure, takes a second “black frame” exposure, detecting the noise and then subtracting that from the initial exposure. It can work well, but…

The second exposure takes as long as the first, and if you’re making multi-second exposures (for example, that 6-second exposure now takes 12 seconds to finish), your camera will be busy working, and you’ll be missing subsequent fireworks.

Turn it off.  You’ll be using a low ISO with minimal noise anyway, and the delay in being able to make more shots isn’t worth it.

Aperture

There are two things to consider here:

  1. How much depth-of-field do you need?
  2. What is the “sweet-spot” of your lens?

First, because the fireworks will be a good distance from your camera, you will be focusing on something further away and likely have a pretty good depth of field. Working at wider focal lengths helps too. Plan on being at your location well before the show starts and have an idea where you’ll need to focus and how much depth of field you need.

Secondly, most lenses are at their sharpest between f/8 and f/16.  Learn where your lens performs best, the so-called “sweet spot,” and use that aperture if you can.

Most of the photos in this article were taken at the same show. Also, most were very close in their exposure settings such as this one at ISO 100, 10-seconds at f/8.

4. Making shutter speed choices

Your choice of shutter speed will be important in capturing good fireworks photos. You know when you hear the boom of the launched fireworks from its mortar that it trails up into the sky, explodes, and a beautiful shower of colorful sparks radiates out and trails down.

Often multiple fireworks are launched close together, each doing the same thing. What you’re after is to capture the entire event which can sometimes take several seconds.

You could pick a fixed shutter speed of, say, four seconds, but would that be too short? Too long? Of course, it depends on the individual firework duration or sequence you want to capture, and that will vary during the show.

So how do you choose?

The answer is, you don’t have to because there’s a better way.

better fireworks photos

Using bulb mode you will be able to hold the shutter open and capture multiple fireworks bursts, closing it when you like.  Note this shot is in portrait orientation.

5. Use Bulb mode

If you’ve seen pictures of early photographers with their view cameras, you might have noticed them holding a rubber “bulb” which when they squeezed, forced air through a rubber tube and tripped the shutter. As long as the photographer kept the bulb squeezed, the shutter stayed open, ending when they released it.

These were the first shutter remotes, and it was that rubber bulb that gave the mode its name.

Today we have wired, and sometimes wireless triggers that can do the same thing. Putting the camera in Bulb mode allows a variable shutter speed. As long as we press and hold the button, the shutter stays open.  Let it go, and the shutter closes, ending the exposure.

This is just the ticket for fireworks photography, a variable shutter speed.

So, let’s review our basic camera settings:

  • Camera on tripod
  • Raw Capture
  • Manual Mode
  • Noise Reduction Off
  • Auto Focus Off – Focus on the anticipated fireworks spot and lock focus there
  • Lens Vibration Reduction (VR/IS) Off
  • ISO 100
  • Approx. f/8 – f/16  (Use aperture and ISO to adjust if images are too bright or dark).
  • Bulb mode
  • No flash – I forgot to mention this one.  Rarely, (unless perhaps to light a foreground object), will you ever need to use flash when making fireworks photos.  Also, consider whether others are nearby watching the show.  Using flash is guaranteed to make you less-than-popular with other fireworks spectators.  Unless you are alone and have a good reason to use flash, (in which case I will assume you know what you’re doing), just don’t use it.

Set up like this, you’re good to go. Remember, once the show starts, you will be busy. If you are fooling with camera settings, you’ll be missing shots. You will want to try some variations, but you don’t want to have to struggle and miss the show.

Be ready, think it through beforehand, and when the show starts, start clicking.

6. Shooting Technique

You’ve set your camera up on a tripod, figured out where to point it, made sure to pre-focus on a distant spot and locked the focus by putting it in Manual Focus (MF) mode.

If you leave your camera’s Autofocus on it’s almost guaranteed to give you images that are a bust rather than a boom. Against the dark sky and the moving fireworks the focus will hunt, fail, and… it’ll just be bad. Don’t do it.

Often the best images can be made right when the show starts as later, smoke from the previous fireworks becomes thicker, and the fireworks more obscured. So, when you hear that boom of the first firework going up, click and hold the button on the remote. You’ll be in bulb mode so hold it open while the firework goes up, explodes, and radiates out.  Then release the trigger.

Now, quickly check your shot. Is it in focus and framed properly? Is it exposed correctly? If it’s too dark, increase the ISO a click or perhaps open the aperture a stop. Too light? Do the opposite.

Try not to spend too much time doing this as, of course, the show will continue without you.

If you’re in the ballpark, the ability to edit in raw gives you the tweaking room you need. The two unrecoverable mistakes you might make would be to have things out of focus or have the highlights so blown out as to be unrecoverable. Editing won’t save you if you do those things, so be sure the focus is good and if you’re not sure with exposure, underexpose a bit. Some fireworks will be much brighter than others – especially a multi-burst or the finale. So quickly check your histogram and be sure you’ve not clipped the right (highlights) side.

Make any tweaks you need and then keep clicking. Vary the zoom if you need to, but if anything, frame a little “loose.” You can always crop in tighter later. However, if that really big and spectacular burst is so big it goes out of the frame, you’ll have missed it. Try both some portrait and landscape orientation shots. Perhaps reframe to get different things in the shot, especially if you are including foreground elements.

If things are going well, it’s going to be a fairly long show.

And if you’re feeling frisky, you might be ready for some more advanced techniques.

Note how the bright pink burst appears here, thicker streaks at the base of each trail growing thinner at the tip. This uses what I describe as the “Boom Zoom Bloom” technique described.

7. “Boom Zoom Bloom” FX

You may have seen those photos where the bursting fireworks look more like a flower, fat blurry trails with sharp points.  How is that done?

Here’s the technique, which you can vary for different results.

Know this takes practice, and luck plays a big part. So decide if you have already got enough necessary shots before you try it and whether the show will last long enough for some experimentation.

If you’re game, here’s how you do it:

  • You will need your hands free for this, and you’ll want to look through the viewfinder or perhaps use Live View, so using the remote release probably isn’t going to work. Instead, set your shutter speed for about 8-10 seconds, leaving all the other camera settings where they were.
  • With your hand on the focus ring, remember your hand position there. Then turn the ring so things are out of focus.
  • Just as the firework explodes, click the shutter and smoothly turn the focus right back to the focus point you memorized.  You have the time of the preset shutter speed to accomplish this.  If you finish early, that’s okay.
better fireworks photos

Two other images using the defocus-to-focus technique. Also note how some of the bursts, captured after the focus was performed but before the shutter closed, don’t show the same look combining two looks in one photo.

Now, try different things with subsequent shots. Go from focused to unfocused, zoom in or out during the exposure, or maybe take the camera off the tripod and move it during the exposure to make light trails. Play and see what you like.

Just remember, the duration of the show is limited, so try some experiments but also be sure you have some solid “keepers.”

8. The Black Hat Trick

I have to confess, I’ve not personally tried this but the concept is sound and could be fun. (I’ve always wanted to do a “hat trick.”)

Here’s how it’s supposed to work:

  • Have a hat, a black one or preferably of something dark enough to be opaque. You will also need to be working in an area that is quite dark.
  • Put the hat over the front of the lens.
  • Have the camera in Bulb Mode and just before the firework launches, click open the shutter locking it open with the remote.
  • Quickly, but gently so as not to bump the camera, remove the hat while the firework explodes.
  • Leave the shutter open and carefully replace the hat. Repeat, removing and replacing the hat for multiple fireworks bursts. (You may need to have a smaller aperture or lower ISO to do this as you will be building up exposure brightness with each additional firework added).
  • Unlock the remote and close the shutter when you’ve done all you want.

What you’re doing is making a multiple-exposure image in-camera. This should work. Of course, there’s also a way to do it in post-processing.  For that, and some other tips on how best to process you fireworks photo, come back for Part Two – Creatively Editing your Fireworks Photos.

There may be a frenzy of fireworks at the show finale. Keep the shutter open and capture it all if you can without overexposing.

Light the fuse

I hope you’ve decided that good fireworks photography is easy and go and have fun with it.  It’s one more way to enhance your camera skills and make some exciting images.

If there’s anything that’s a problem it’s that good aerial fireworks displays are seasonal in most places and if you really catch the bug, you may find there are not enough opportunities to practice.

So, find out when and where the shows will be near you, mark your calendar, do some scouting for the best locations, “light the fuse” and have fun!

Post your best shots as images in the comments – we’d love to see them.

 

8 tips for better fireworks photos

The post 8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

5 Tips for Golden Hour Photography

It’s pretty much an accepted fact that the earlier and later parts of the day are best for photography, but if you want the absolute richest, warmest, most beautiful light, the hours directly following sunrise and leading up to sunset – known as the golden hours – are prime time for natural light.

This is when the subtle golden light from the low-hanging sun bathes the world in a warm glow, and shadows become long and dramatic, but not harsh.

Mono Lake, California, by Anne McKinnell

Those hours can be short-lived, though as once the sun starts to rise or set, it isn’t long before it climbs too high, or disappears altogether. To help you get every second out of each golden hour, consider these tips when you go out shooting.

1. Be There

The first step to making the most of the golden hours is knowing exactly what time that magic light is going to happen. Because the golden light is caused by our view of the sun, the timing will change with the seasons. Exactly what time the sun passes over the horizon depends the time of year and your location.

Sedona, Arizona, by Anne McKinnell

The time of sunrise and set is easy to find in your newspaper or online and that is a good place to start to calculate when the golden light will happen. But golden hour may not be anywhere near as long as an hour depending, on the season and your location. For example, near the equator, the sun rises quickly and you may only get golden minutes. On the other hand, in far northern locations the sun may not rise very high in the sky at all and you might get golden light all day.

You also need to watch how the clouds are forming throughout the day, since clouds on the horizon will cut your golden hour short.

2. Prepare Early

The golden hour (or minutes) can pass very quickly, so if you’re not already out shooting when the golden light starts, it’s likely to be over by the time you find your subject, choose a composition, set up your camera, and take the shot. If you know in advance what time you need to be there, you can plan ahead. Go out a couple of hours beforehand so you’ll have time to get to your location, get set up, and be ready to take the photo by the time the horizon starts to glow.

Depoe Bay, Oregon, by Anne McKinnell

By doing this, of course, you have to think into the future a bit. Rather than compose your image based on where the sun is, you must arrange your frame according to where the sun will be. To do this, think about the path the sun takes through the sky. It rises in the east, so you know where you can expect to see it first, and because it sets in the west you know which direction it’s moving. You can even find out the exact position where the sun will set on the horizon using various website and apps. Plan your shots with this information in mind. A compass will come in handy. Compose your photograph where the sun is going to be, then just relax and wait for the moment to present itself.

3. Balance the Exposure

The contrast between light and shadow isn’t as extreme during the golden hours as it is in the middle of the day, but there can still be a huge tonal range between highlights and lowlights (shadows). Especially if you’re trying to capture the sky itself in the picture, its brightness will almost certainly overpower the scene below it.

There are many ways to balance a difference in brightness between two parts of your composition. Bracketing your shots is a good start – use your camera’s exposure compensation feature (+/- button) to take several pictures of a scene with different levels of brightness. There might be a perfect exposure setting that captures both light and shadow areas.

Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona, by Anne McKinnell

If you shoot in your camera’s uncompressed RAW format you’ll be able to individually adjust your photo’s highlights and lowlights in post-processing, reducing the contrast while preserving as much detail as possible. This way, if one area of your photo is too dark and another is too bright, you can tone down the whiter shades while bringing up the darker shades to create a well-balanced image. This level of control isn’t possible with compressed JPG files, which don’t save the subtle information in those areas.

If the sky is consistently too bright in your photos, consider using a graduated filter that is tinted at one end, but fades out and is transparent on the other. This will reduce the exposure on only half of the image. By putting the tinted half at the top it will darken the appearance of the sky.

Another option is to take your bracketed shots and combine them in post-processing to make a high dynamic range (HDR) image (Merge to HDR in LR or another method).

4. Use Fill-Flash

Rather than take light away from the brighter areas, your other option is to add light to the darker parts instead. You can do this with a continuous light source like a lamp. Moving the light closer to the subject will make it brighter, and pulling the light away will dim it.

Superstition Mountains by Anne McKinnell

Of course, if you’re outside you probably don’t have a lamp on hand. What you probably do have, though, is your on-camera (or off-camera) flash. Flash doesn’t always have to act as the main light source in a picture – it can enhance an existing light source (such as the sun) by simply adding light into the shadow areas of a photograph.

Flashes also don’t have to be used at full power. Nearly every camera will have a Flash Compensation option. This gives you the ability to turn the brightness of your flash up or down. A dimmer flash will still add light to your scene, but it won’t be strong enough to overtake the primary light source and create new shadows of its own. Using it in this way is known as fill-flash. When your subject is backlit, such as by a fiery sunset, use this method to prevent silhouetting. Bracket your shots using different flash settings to achieve the right balance of brightness between the foreground and background.

5. Set the Colour Temperature

Combining two light sources can cause other complications though – particularly with the white balance. Every light source has a different hue, or colour temperature. Incandescent bulbs have a yellow/orange (warm) cast, while fluorescents are sort of blue/green (cool). Our eyes adjust to those slight shifts on their own, but a camera has to measure the balance of the light so it can alter its colours, and ensure that a white object looks white and not yellow/orange or blue/green. Modern cameras can do this automatically, or you can manually select what kind of light to balance the camera to (daylight, indoor light, candlelight, etc.).

Devils Tower, Wyoming, by Anne McKinnell

The golden hours have a lot of warm coloured light, so if left on auto white balance, the camera will adjust its colours to be a little more blue to compensate. However, if you add in the light of a flash, which is cool in tone, one of two things will happen: the camera will keep the same white balance setting as before, and the flash’s light will appear even more blue, or the camera will re-adjust itself to the white balance of the flash, causing it to look normal but the rest of the picture to appear more orange.

When using two different light sources, it’s important to notice the colour temperature of each. Then, decide which of them you want to appear neutral, and which one should retain its natural colour. Rather than keeping your camera on auto white balance, set it to the type of light you want neutralized. If you shoot in RAW format, this can also be changed in post-processing.

Arch at Whitney Pocket, Nevada, by Anne McKinnell

Remember, golden hour is not sunset or sunrise, but shortly before and after those times when your subject still has direct light falling on it. The magical golden light will transform your photos from ordinary to extraordinary. It’s all about the light!

The post 5 Tips for Golden Hour Photography by Anne McKinnell appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Top 10 Mistakes that Cause Blurry Photos

Cedar Key

If your photos are not sharp, you are not alone! The most common question I get asked by beginning photographers is “how do you get your images so sharp?”

Blurry photos is very common issue with a whole plethora of possible culprits, making it very difficult to pinpoint exactly what the problem is. But if you go through this list of the top 10 mistakes that cause blurry photos, you will probably find the answer that works for you.

1. Your shutter speed is too slow

This is the #1 culprit of blurry photos. You might think you can hold perfectly still for half a second, but I assure you there are very few people in the world who can. When hand-holding your camera, remember this rule of thumb to avoid blur caused by camera shake – your shutter speed should be the reciprocal of your lens’ focal length – that is, if you’re using a 60mm lens, your exposure should be 1/60th of a second or faster. With a 200mm lens, use at least 1/200th of a second, and so on. Camera shake is magnified the longer your telephoto length, so wider angle lenses will suffer its effects much less.

Using a 400mm lens, I selected a shutter speed of 1/400th of a second to reduce the possibility of camera shake.

Using a 400mm lens, I selected a shutter speed of 1/400th of a second to reduce the possibility of camera shake.

Some lenses and cameras have image stabilization technology built into them – particularly with longer focal lengths. Image stabilization usually allows you to slow your minimum shutter speed by around three stops, meaning that a 60mm lens can now handle shutter speeds as low as 1/8th of a second without camera shake.

What is YOUR minimum shutter speed?

In addition to this rule of thumb, it’s important to know your own personal minimum shutter speed. We all shake a little, some more than others, so it’s good to know at what point camera shake becomes an issue for you. Try an exercise to find out: put your camera in shutter priority mode and make the same photo at 1/500th of a second and keep going slower and slower. Back at your computer, look at your images and see when you start to notice the blur. Personally, I don’t usually go below 1/125th of a second if I’m hand-holding my camera.

2. Not using a tripod

Sunset Arches

If you’re experiencing camera shake and you can’t use a faster shutter speed (due to low light conditions) or you don’t want to use a fast shutter speed (because you’re purposefully trying to blur something in the frame) then you need to steady your camera another way such as using a tripod or monopod.

When you use a tripod, image stabilization is not necessary and may even be counter productive, so it’s a good idea to get in the habit of turning it off when you put your camera on a tripod and turning it back on when you take it off.

3. Bad camera holding technique

For the best stability, practice the official photographer position: stand with your feet slightly apart, one staggered forward, and firmly planted to stabilize your body right-to-left and back-to-front. Support the camera with your left hand by holding the lens from underneath, and use your right hand to grab the grip and gently press the shutter button. Tuck your elbows tight to your chest and use the viewfinder rather than the live view screen, as holding the camera to your face will also help hold it steady. Some photographers even go so far as to listen to their breathing and heartbeat, taking care to fire the shot in between breaths and beats for maximum stability.

Proper technique when hand-holding your camera.

Proper technique when hand-holding your camera.

4. Your aperture is too wide

The size of the aperture also has a direct effect on the sharpness of your photo in that it determines depth of field, which is how much of the image is in focus from front to back.

When a lens finds focus, it locks in on a specific distance known as the plane of focus. If your focus is at, say, 15 feet, everything 15 feet away from the camera will have maximum sharpness, and anything in front of or behind it will start to fall into blur. The amount of this effect depends on the aperture.

If you use a wide aperture, like f/2.8, the depth of field is very shallow. This effect is emphasized with longer focal length lenses. So if you are using a telephoto lens and the aperture is f/2.8, there may be only a razor thin sliver of the image that is in sharp focus. If you use a small aperture, like f/11 or f/18, the depth of field is larger so more of the image will be sharp.

Choosing the right aperture depends on the type of image you want to create. But if you are trying to get everything in the frame as sharp as possible, try using a small aperture (a larger f-number such as f/11 or f/22). However, by using a small aperture you will need to use a slower shutter speed to compensate for the loss of light. See problem #1.

5. Not using autofocus

How good is your eyesight? Not great? Wearing glasses? You should probably be using autofocus. These days cameras are sophisticated – let them do what they are good at. Another thing to keep in mind is that your viewfinder should have a diopter on it. It’s a little wheel next to your viewfinder that allows you to adjust how clearly things appear when you look through it. It is particularly useful for people who should be wearing glasses but are not.

Black Vulture in Flight

6. Not focusing in the correct place

Even if you have a sharp, clear prime lens on a bright day, using a small aperture and a fast shutter speed with a low ISO, it doesn’t count for much unless you can get the camera to focus on the right spot. This is even more crucial when using a wide aperture, which can create a razor thin depth of field. A slight miscalculation in the focus can throw the subject completely out of the focal plane, or give you a portrait with a perfectly sharp earlobe and blurry eyes.

Often photographers leave their cameras set on auto-area AF mode, which tells the camera to use its best judgment to decide what part of the picture should be in focus. Most of the time modern cameras are pretty good at this, particularly if the subject is prominent in the frame. However, with more complex compositions the camera can get confused and try to focus on the wrong thing. To specify the focal point yourself, switch to single-point AF area mode.

f-spotWhen you look through your viewfinder, you should see an array of little dots or squares laid over the display. These are your focus points, and they show you where in the frame the camera is capable of finding focus. In single-point AF area mode, you can use the camera’s direction pad to select one of these dots, and the camera will always focus on that point and that point alone.

To tell the camera to focus, you would normally depress the shutter button halfway before pressing it the rest of the way to take the shot. This works pretty well, but can be sensitive – if you press too lightly, it may come unpressed and try to re-focus after you’ve already found your spot. If you press too hard, you might make the exposure before the focus is ready. If you take multiple pictures in succession, it will try to focus again before each shot. For these reasons, some photographers swear by the back focus button instead.

This is a button on the back of your camera, probably near your thumb. It might be labeled “AF-On” or simply “Fn”, and it might be set up by default or you might have to activate it in your camera’s menu settings, but it can be assigned to take over the autofocus function. When you press it, the camera focuses and won’t focus again until you press the button again. This way, you can re-compose and take shot after shot, and the camera won’t lose your focus every time you hit the shutter button.

7. Using the incorrect focus mode

There are three main autofocus modes that every camera should have. The first is single-shot focus, usually called AF-S or One-shot AF; it is meant to be used with still subjects. The second, continuous autofocus (AF-C or AI Servo) is specially designed to track movement through the frame, so is best to use when your subject is in motion. The third is an automatic mode, AF-A or AI Focus AF, and likely the default setting on your camera. It reads the scene and determines which of the first two modes it should use.

Cactus Flower

8. Not using manual focus

While I’m a big advocate of autofocus, there is one particular time when manual focus comes in very handy. When your camera is on a tripod and you are using a wide aperture to achieve a very shallow depth of field, and you want to make sure the most important thing in your frame is sharp, switch to manual focus and then use the LCD zoom function to magnify the display by 5x or 10x allowing you to make tiny adjustments to the focus to get it just right.

9. Junk on or in front of your lens

If you have a big smear on your lens, that is going to affect the clarity of your image. By the same token, if you put a cheap plastic filter in front of your lens, that is going to degrade image quality as well. If you always use a UV filter, you might want to try taking a few shots without it to see if the quality of your UV filter is negatively affecting your images.

Using an aperture of f/20, everything is sharp from foreground to background.

Using an aperture of f/20, everything is sharp from foreground to background.

10. Poor lens quality

This item is last on the list for good reason; it is the most common thing for beginners to blame their blurry images on, but it is rarely the real reason. Still, lens quality does make a difference.

Lens quality is determined by the materials and construction inside the lens itself, which is usually made up of several pieces of glass precisely aligned in order to focus, zoom, and correct for optical aberrations.

Some lenses are simply sharper than others or are better in different ways. Some lenses may be sharp in the center, but get blurry around the corners and edges of the image. Some are clear at certain apertures but slightly fuzzy at others. Some lenses cause colour fringing around points of contrast. Every lens has a unique character that may or may not be useful to the type of work you’re doing. It’s also worth noting that each lens has a “sweet spot” – a certain aperture at which it performs its best. This is usually in the middle of its aperture range, around f/8 or f/11.

For the sharpest image quality, fixed focal length lenses usually take the cake. It’s not always convenient to carry around two or three lenses rather than a single all-purpose zoom, but their simple construction makes even the cheapest prime lens crystal clear.

The post Top 10 Mistakes that Cause Blurry Photos by Anne McKinnell appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Bird Photography Tips for Beginners

The colour and texture of birds’ plumage makes them fascinating subjects for photography, made all the more exciting by their fleeting and elusive nature. With a lot of patience and practice, and the help of these tips, you’ll soon be on your way to making memorable photographs of our feathered friends.

Roseate Spoonbills in Flight by Anne McKinnell

Equipment

To capture the best bird photography, the most important thing you’ll need is a lens with a very long focal length. How long, exactly? Generally, the longer the better for maximum magnification. But keep in mind that lenses get remarkably heavy – if you’re hiking up a mountain, it might not be practical to carry an extreme telephoto lens, which can weigh in at over ten pounds.

A 70-300mm zoom lens is one of my favourites because it is very versatile and some of them are fairly lightweight. But you’ll get a sharper image with a fixed focal length lens. I recommend trying out a 300mm or 400mm prime lens.

The extra weight of a long lens will increase the likelihood of hand shake blur, which will then be magnified by the distance between you and your subject. If you’re working with a heavy lens, a tripod or monopod will be a great benefit for taking the weight of the lens.

Great Blue Heron by Anne McKinnell

If you want the increased flexibility you’ll get by not using a tripod or monopod, be sure to use a very fast shutter speed to compensate for the hand shake blur.

Camera Settings

Exposure

When photographing birds, using shutter priority mode and a fast shutter speed will ensure you are ready for any action that might happen, even if the bird is standing still at the moment. You never know when it will take flight and you want to be ready when that happens.

Using a wide aperture like f/2.8 or f/4 will give you a shallow depth of field, which helps to isolate the bird from its background and direct attention to its shape and colour.

When you want to have total control over the shutter speed and aperture, use manual mode and set the ISO to auto. That way, the camera will decide which ISO is the best to balance the exposure.

If you have a colourful sky, one option to try is to expose for the sky and allow the bird or birds to become silhouettes.

Seagull In Flight at Sunset by Anne McKinnell

Focus

How you focus on your subjects will depend on which approach you’re taking, as well as what equipment you have. Some lenses and some camera bodies auto focus faster, and much more accurately than others, so some experimentation is needed to get a sense of how quickly your auto focus motor moves.

Birds are moving subjects, so if you do use auto focus, change it to the “continuous focus” mode (usually called AF-C or AI Servo) which tracks motion. However, you might find that you get better results by learning to focus manually.

There should be an AF/MF switch on your camera and/or lens. If you switch it to MF (manual focus), you can turn the focus ring on your lens to adjust it by hand. This is fairly easy when your subject is still, but it takes a lot of practice to be able to do this quickly enough to lock in on a moving subject.

Juvenile Bald Eagle flying by Anne McKinnell

One method is to set up a perch (such as a bird feeder), with your camera on a tripod, and pre-frame and pre-focus your shot where the bird will be. When it lands, you just have to hit the shutter. There will be no focusing delay, so you can get the exact moment you have been waiting for.

Getting the Shot

Timing and Location

Birds are very active in the spring – the ground softens, plants and seeds starting coming out, and bugs are everywhere. They finally get the feast they’ve been struggling to find all winter. Similarly, in autumn they are avidly gathering food before the frost sets in. Both of these seasons are the best for finding birds near the ground – and whatever the time of year, early mornings and sunny days will draw the most action.

American White Pelicans at the Salton Sea, California, by Anne McKinnell

You might get lucky walking along a forest path, making photos of birds as you see them, but because birds see us as predators they will usually flee at the sound of our footsteps.

Instead, you may have better luck by finding a location birds enjoy, hiding yourself, and waiting. This is where the patience comes in to play! The better you hide yourself, the safer they will feel coming near you. Tuck yourself in next to a tree or bush, or hide behind a blind to camouflage yourself, and try to stay as still and quiet as possible.

One of the best places to start photographing birds might be your own backyard. Keep your camera handy with the right lens and camera settings for bird photography so that when one lands in your yard, you’re ready.

Female Sooty Grouse by Anne McKinnell

You can also seek them out in their natural habitats such as local forests, waterways, and beaches. You can find exotic and interesting species by visiting zoos, bird sanctuaries, and humane societies, or you can take a trip to a nearby national park or nature preserve. Birds that live in areas with more frequent human visitors will likely be less skittish and camera-shy.

Composition

Take care not to neglect your background. It should be clean and simple. Too much clutter will distract attention from the subject itself. Use your perspective and point of view to remove unwanted background objects from the frame, and choose a large aperture to blur them out.

Tips for the Field

  • The better your camouflage, the more likely the birds will come near you. Cover your camera with a green or brown sweater to mask its strange appearance.
  • Wear neutral clothing and avoid bright colours.
  • Make sure to remove or cover all reflective objects on and around you, including your equipment, camera bag, cell phone, and any jewelry you might be wearing.
  • If you do find yourself needing to get closer to a bird, keep a low profile. Don’t approach them directly, but rather move toward them in a zig-zag pattern. Keep very quiet and avoid making quick movements and startling them.
  • Birds often choose favourite perches. Even if it flutters off before you can get your shot, if you wait silently for a few minutes, it may come back.
  • Birds are easily startled, so a beeping camera can frighten them away. Turn off any beeps your camera might make.
    The same goes for flash – turn it off or your bird will be startled by your first shot and quickly leave.

Do you have any other bird photography tips you’d like to add to this list? Please share in the comments below.

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5 Most Common Mistakes in Wildlife Photography – and How to Avoid Them

Animals, especially wild ones, make such beautiful subjects that we cannot resist turning our cameras on them to capture images of these majestic creatures in their natural state.

Unlike a landscape, creatures are constantly in motion, and unlike most people, they can be pretty uncooperative when it comes to getting their picture taken. This can make for a lot of botched pictures. Here are a few tips on how to avoid some of the common pitfalls of wildlife photography.

1. A Tiny Subject

Three Brown Pelicans by Anne McKinnell

It’s tough to approach a wild animal – they are easily spooked. Because of this, many wildlife photos have more wilderness than wildlife, with the animal becoming a tiny speck in its environment. This can be effective in some situations, but for the most part you want the animal to be large enough in the frame to see the detail in its eyes. This is where a good telephoto lens can really help you out. Using a long focal length (over 200mm) will allow you to keep your distance while still filling the frame.

2. Blurry Image

Blur comes in many forms. Your entire image could be blurry due to camera shake; a problem which is magnified by the longer focal lengths needed for wildlife photography.

In landscape photography, using a tripod is a good technique to prevent camera shake, but a tripod is not as practical when photographing wildlife. Wildlife photography requires a more active shooting style – you’ll be moving around constantly – so unless you are using a lens that is too big to hold comfortably, forget the tripod. Also, because the animals are always in motion, you’ll need a fast shutter speed anyway. That leads me to the first method to combat camera shake blur: using a very fast shutter speed.

In landscape photography, you normally use a shutter speed that is at least 1/focal length of your lens. But usually that isn’t going to be fast enough when photographing wildlife because the animals are always in motion (even when they appear to be standing still). To avoid disappointment, you’ll need to use a much faster shutter speed to freeze both your own motion and the motion of the animal.

Here is my rule of thumb when photographing wildlife: if the animal appears to be still, use a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second. If the animal is moving, you’ll have to adjust the shutter speed based on how fast they are moving. I suggest a minimum of 1/1,000th of a second, or faster if the animal is moving faster.

Sleeping Steller Sea Lion by Anne McKinnell

Using a lens with image stabilization will also help prevent camera shake blur. A lens with a wide maximum aperture, say f/2.8 or even f/4, will let more light in, allowing you to use a faster shutter speed. Likewise, a camera with low noise at high ISOs will let you turn up the sensitivity. All of these options will enable you to make faster exposures with better results.

Another type of blur is focus blur. This results from your camera being unable to focus, probably because your subject is moving and the AF motor gets confused. Some cameras and lenses have superior auto focus systems to others, but regardless of what you have, you can get the most out of it by setting it to continuous focus mode, usually called AF-C (Nikon) or AI Servo (Canon). This setting will track the subject’s movement in the frame and focus on it more quickly and accurately.

3. The Missed Moment

We’ve all been there. You see the perfect shot, frame it, and hit the shutter. But by the time the camera focuses and the exposure is made, the animal has moved and all you end up with is the second after the perfect shot.

There are two ways to avoid this heartbreak:

Anticipation

This is a skill that can only come with practice and a keen eye. If you can learn to see when the perfect moment is about to happen, rather than when it is happenning, you can hit the shutter right before the peak moment and cause the camera to snap at just the right time.

Orca by Anne McKinnell

Continuous Shooting

When animals are in motion, you’ll get the best chance at a good result by using continuous shooting mode (also called “drive mode” or “burst mode”). With this, you can take several images per second and choose the most successful.

Higher-end DSLRs and mirrorless cameras will have a much faster maximum shooting speed, but no matter which camera you have, there are a few things that will help get the highest continuous shooting rate.

One is a fast memory card – both SD (standard digital) and CF (compact flash) cards have a certain speed that they operate at, and a faster card will make sure that your camera doesn’t get bogged down trying to save the images.

The other is a fully-charged battery – as the juice drains, the camera can become sluggish, so it’s a good idea to keep an extra battery or two in your camera bag. For ultimate performance, you can buy a battery grip that fits on your camera. This holds two batteries at the same time for maximum speed.

4. Where Is Everyone???

Sometimes wild animals can be hard to find, and they’re not always where you want them to be. Before you can photograph them, you have to learn a few things about how to find them.

Know your animals

What types of animals live around you? Before you go out shooting, find out who they are, what they eat, when they sleep, and where they like to relax in between. If you’re photographing birds, research which ones are to be found in your area at which times of year. It’s also important to know how animals might react if, and when, they feel threatened – will they fight, or flee?

American Green Tree Frog by Anne McKinnell

Know the season

Some animals will be much more active at different times of year – particularly during autumn, as they rummage up enough food for winter, and in the spring when some animals come out of hibernation.

Camp out

I don’t mean overnight (unless you’re into that), but it’s often a very effective practice to find a popular area – probably somewhere with a source of water, food, shade or shelter – where animals like to congregate. Set your camera up on a tripod nearby, and disguise yourself among some trees or brush (some photographers go so far as to buy ,or build, a blind to hide their presence).

Be patient

Animals work on their own schedule, so don’t try to fit a shooting session in between other appointments. Great photos take time, and you must allow nature to unfold at its own pace. Many animals are easily frightened, so being quiet, still, and inconspicuous will help put them at ease.

5. Animal Attack!

We don’t call it “wildlife” for nothing – the biggest mistake you can make is accidentally getting mauled. Animals are not adjusted to polite society, and can be pretty rough customers if you catch them at the wrong time, or in the wrong way. They spend most of their waking lives foraging for food, and a spat over a meal can turn ugly, fast. Never get in the way of lunch, unless you want to take its place.

Don’t approach a wild animal directly, and if they see you, avoid looking them in the eye. This is usually a sign of aggression. If you need to get closer, keep low and move in a broad zig-zag pattern to avoid frightening the animal.

Baby Aligator by Anne McKinnell

Be aware of when mating season (or “running season”) is for the type of animal you’ll be photographing. Male mammals are full of testosterone at this time of year, and can be aggressive, violent, and very dangerous. Avoid photographing at these times. Similarly, find out when animals are likely to be giving birth and raising their young. We all know how risky it can be to get in between a mama bear and her cubs.

Whenever you’re dealing with wildlife, always remember that any creature can be dangerous when provoked, and it’s very important to treat animals and their habitat with the utmost care and respect.

For more tips on wildlife photography try these articles:

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Beginner’s Guide to Waterfall Photography

There are few things more majestic than a flowing waterfall, whether it’s on the Niagara river or the little stream behind your house. There are many ways to photograph these natural wonders, and I’ve compiled a few tips, tricks, and techniques to help you get waterfall images that do justice to their elegant beauty.

waterfall-photo-2b

Equipment Choices

The equipment you need will depend on what type of photo you want to make. But you probably won’t make that decision until you are on location, so here is what I usually keep in my camera bag if I’m planning on shooting a waterfall.

  • Tripod – As with most forms of landscape photography, a tripod is your best friend. It will allow you to compose your scene very precisely and give you the flexibility you need if you decide to shoot long exposures.
  • Circular polarizing filter – This is an essential piece of equipment when photographing water to allow you to remove reflections and glare from the water’s surface. You might not need this if the frame is filled with the waterfall, but you will want it handy if you decide to include a pool of water in the foreground. It will remove the reflection and allow you to see through the water to any interesting rocks underneath.
  • Neutral density (ND) filter – If you decide to shoot a long exposure and it happens to be the middle of the day when there is a lot of light, you will need this gray-tinted piece of glass placed in front of your lens. It blocks some of the light from hitting your sensor, allowing you to use a slower shutter speed. These are sold in varying strengths, and can be stacked for different levels of light absorption.
  • Lens cloth – Useful for cleaning water spray off of your lens or filter. I like to use little pieces of ShamWow for absorbing water drops. They are helpful for cleaning water off the rest of your camera too, and even your tripod legs when you are done.

waterfall-photo-1b

Camera Settings

The camera settings you use will depend on what kind of photo you’re after:

Silky waterfalls

To create that silky smooth blur popular with waterfall photography, you’ll want to use a slow shutter speed for a long exposure. With your camera mounted firmly on a tripod, set it to shutter priority mode (usually “S” or “Tv” on your camera’s mode dial) and set your ISO as low as it will go (usually 100). Then, select a shutter speed between one half second to four seconds to achieve a nice amount of blur.

waterfall-photo-5b

Experiment with different shutter speeds to get the amount of blur you want. The best shutter speed will depend on how fast the water is moving, so getting the shutter speed just right takes a bit of experimentation. If you cannot get a slow enough shutter speed for the effect you want, use a smaller aperture so that less light enters the camera. That will allow you to select a longer shutter speed. If you still need a slower shutter speed, that’s when you can use a neutral density filter to block some of the light.

Keep in mind that when using a long shutter speed, if there are any plants or trees in your frame they may have an opportunity to move if there is any wind, and then everything in the image will be blurry. For this type of a scene, it is usually better to photograph earlier in the day when there is little wind.

Freezing the motion

Especially interesting when photographing violent falls, this requires just the opposite technique – you want a fast shutter speed to capture a brief moment and suspend the water’s movement in the air. Use shutter priority mode and select a faster speed such as 1/500th of a second or faster.

waterfall-photo-3b

For this technique you wont need a neutral density filter and you might even be able to get away without using a tripod. If you are in a low light situation, to get a fast shutter speed you may need to use a larger aperture such as f/5.6 to let more light in, and you can increase the ISO to 200, 400 or as high as you need to go to allow a fast shutter speed.

Detail shots

Instead of getting a broad landscape style shot, you might want to close in on an interesting rock, plant, or other detail of your scene. For this, compose your shot (use a tripod if possible) and turn your camera to aperture priority mode – “A” or “Av” on your mode dial. This will allow you to have control over the depth of field, or how much of the picture is in focus from front to back.

The aperture value is shown as an f-stop. F-stop numbers are a little confusing because the smaller numbers represent a larger opening and vice versa. I find it helpful to think of it as a fraction. F/8 is smaller than f/4 because 1/8 is smaller than 1/4.

waterfall-photo-6b

Small apertures let less light in, but they increase the sharpness in the foreground and background. Large (or “wide”) apertures, on the other hand, mean that only part of the picture is in focus, while the rest becomes soft and out of focus.

Look at your scene and decide what you want in focus and what should be blurry. If you want to isolate your main subject, choose a large aperture (small f/number) such as f/4 or f/2.8 to make the background out of focus. If the background is important to the picture, choose a small aperture (large f/number) like f/16 or f/22 to make the entire scene sharp and clear.

Composition

There are many compositional techniques to employ when creating waterfall images. First and foremost, remember the rule of thirds and how your eye is drawn through the image. Use the leading lines inherent in flowing water to create visual pathways for the viewer to follow, remembering that corners are very strong entry and exit points in the frame. Pay attention to both the foreground and background, and don’t forget to pay attention to what’s around the water, as well as the falls themselves.

waterfall-photo-4b

Field techniques and summary

  • When you arrive at any scene, the first thing to ask yourself is, “What makes this place unique?”. Pay special attention to that quality.
  • Bracket your shots to make sure you get the best possible exposure – this means taking several pictures using different apertures and shutter speeds, and also making several different images using the camera’s exposure compensation (+/-) to brighten or darken each shot to a different degree. See your camera’s manual for specific instructions on how to use these features.
  • Shoot in the uncompressed RAW format to allow for more flexible fine tuning in post processing. RAW images must be processed with a compatible photo editing program, or software that was included with your camera.
  • Experiment – most of all, don’t get stuck making the same type of photograph all the time. Try to make a long exposure, a fast exposure, some detail shots, and try different perspectives so you come home with a variety of images from your photo shoot.

Gear mentioned in this article

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A Day At The Beach: Photographing Seaside Landscapes

Photographing Seaside Landscapes

This shot was taken just after a January snow storm. The ice glistening on the dune grass made for an excellent foreground while the lighthouse towered in the background. A polarizer was used to help darken the sky. Taken with the EOS 5D Mark II and EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II. ISO 100, 1/250 at f/16.

Living on the east coast of the United States, I have easy access to any number of beaches to use as subjects for my photographic purposes. While many of these beaches may not be as dramatic as those on the west coast, they offer many photographic opportunities and shouldn’t be overlooked.  Most people think of the beach as being a summer destination, but I’ve found it to be an excellent location all year round for a variety of reasons.

Photographing Seaside Landscapes

Dramatic skies and rushing water can make even the simplest composition interesting. I used a low point of view and a slower shutter speed to capture the water rushing straight at the camera, ready to grab the tripod if the water knocked the tripod over. The clouds eliminated any bright sunlight and created an almost monochromatic image.  EOS 5D Mark III with EF 14mm f/2.8L II. Exposure was 8 seconds, f/20, ISO 100.

Photographing Seaside Landscapes poses a number of problems for the photographer. There’s wind, sand, and water to contend with, and keep out of your equipment.  There are some precautions you can take to minimize the chances of disaster striking. 

First, I usually spread a blanket out and put my camera bag down on that. It helps prevent sand from getting the seams of the bag, and it also lets the flap of my backpack rest somewhere other than sand.  I speak from experience when I say that resting that lid on the sand and then flipping it up to close it is a good way to get sand inside the bag.

The next issue is the water. Obviously, the most basic rule is to keep your bag as far away from the water as possible. Pay attention to the tides and watch that the waves aren’t coming closer to where you’ve stashed your gear. But that’s only half the issue. Generally when I’m at the beach, water is at the very least a major part of what I’m shooting.  I tend to take a few chances here.  I like low angles, and dramatic shots.  That tends to put my camera right in harm’s way.  If I’m not on a tripod, I ensure that the strap is always around my neck to keep it from falling.  If I’m on a tripod, I tend to keep my hand ready at all times to grab it and move if a big wave comes. If it helps you feel more secure, you can always use a rain cape to protect from splash, or if submersion may be possible, an underwater housing might be called for.  I don’t personally use any of these items and just use a lot of care when near the water, but I have heard many horror stories of cameras that went swimming.

Sunrise and sunset are my favorite times for the soft warm light they provide.  I use graduated neutral density  filters when they are called for, depending on the light, as well as standard neutral density filters to help control my shutter speed to determine how I render water.

I find myself going back to the same beaches over and over. By their nature, they change often, as weather erodes them, tides build them back up, and secrets beneath the sand are revealed.  Often after a storm is the best time, as the combination of wind and rain will create patterns in the sand and pools of water which create beautiful reflections.

Where do you find yourself visiting over and over to fulfill your photographic urges?

Photographing Seaside Landscapes

This shot is actually a west coast beach- Pelican Point in Laguna, California. A 4 stop ND grad was used to darken the sky. The foreground is a large rock with a beautiful pattern of cracks for interest. EOS 5D Mark III with EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II. 1 second at f/16, ISO 400.

Photographing Seaside Landscapes

This shot was taken at sunrise, as the tide was coming in. Water continually washed over the jetty, and the light playing on the water and rocks captured my interest. EOS-1D X with EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II. Exposure was .4 seconds at f/16, ISO 100. A 3 stop neutral density filter was also used.

Have you had any success with Photographing Seaside Landscapes? Share your images and tips in comments below.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

A Day At The Beach: Photographing Seaside Landscapes

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How to Photograph Dramatic Clouds at Sunset

The difference between a nice sunset and a dramatic sunset is all about the clouds.

Of course, the difference between a dramatic sunset and no sunset is all about the clouds too!

A clear sky at sunset might turn a shade of pale blue or pink, which is beautiful and calming, but with just the right amount of clouds the sky becomes alive with fire and drama as the day’s last rays reflect off the clouds making them red, orange, purple and pink.

Desolation Sound Marine Park, British Columbia, by Anne McKinnell

Not all clouds are created equal though. They come in many shapes, sizes, densities, and altitudes, and they all refract or absorb the light in different ways that can drastically change the quality of your photographs.

Types of Clouds

Clouds that hang low in the sky and form a band on the horizon or appear like a thick blanket covering the sky will block the sun’s high-flying rays and make the sunset pretty anti-climactic, if you can see it at all.

Sometimes large and lumpy clouds that are brighter on the top and dark on the bottom can create a lot of contrast, making for a very moody atmosphere. Rain, snow, and hail clouds fall under this category, as the weight of the excess moisture weighs them down.

Storm Cloud by Anne McKinnell

The most radiant displays of colour emerge when the clouds are very high in the sky. They are usually smaller, whiter, and thinner than the low-lying clouds, and they are able to catch the sunlight from beneath, allowing us to view those fiery colours from the ground.

These are more likely to occur when the weather is hot and dry, which is why desert landscapes are famous for their magnificent sunsets. When you want to create a dazzling sunset photo, these are the clouds you want to look out for.

Mesquite Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California, by Anne McKinnell

Predicting the Weather

Sunsets don’t last very long, so it takes a little planning and a lot of luck to have nature set up the perfect sky for you. You never know when the ideal conditions are going to present themselves, but if you tune your senses to the weather and its patterns, you will start to get an idea of when you can expect to see the right amount of clouds in a sunset sky.

Watch the sky over the course of the day to see what kinds of clouds are forming and how fast they’re drifting overhead. Check your local weather forecast to find out when the sun will go down, and try to judge if they’ll be sticking around based on the time of day and the speed of their movement. Keep informed about any storms coming in that will bring low-hanging clouds along with them.

If you have a great view from your back yard, all you have to do is keep your camera at hand so you can dart out when you see a great sky. On the other hand, if your aim is to travel to a more distant location to get your shot, you’ll have to be a little more precise in your calculations to avoid hauling all your gear up a mountain only to have the clouds dissipate. Your best bet is to choose a location that will be beautiful with or without clouds – that way, if nature doesn’t cooperate, you haven’t wasted the trip.

Rio Grande, Big Bend National Park, Texas, by Anne McKinnell

The Perfect Exposure

The most effective way of bringing out the natural saturation of coloured light is to underexpose very slightly – between a half-stop and a full stop. This darkens the rest of the image, making the colour pop in comparison. Use your exposure compensation to adjust this.

To make sure you get the best possible exposure, bracket your shots. This means taking several images at different exposures, so you can analyze them on your computer at home in order to determine which is the most successful. This can be done manually using your exposure compensation setting – take one image using the camera’s default settings, then take one that is underexposed by half a stop and one that is overexposed by half a stop. Some cameras will have an automatic bracketing option that you can utilize to change these settings for you.

Another option is to create a high-dynamic range (HDR) image by combining multiple exposures as I did in this photo of a Joshua Tree. I made one exposure for the sky, another for the mid-tones, and another for the shadows and combined them in post-processing.

Joshua Tree National Park, California, by Anne McKinnell

If you want to soften the appearance of moving clouds, use a long shutter speed to blur them slightly. If they are drifting slowly you’ll need a longer exposure to achieve this than if they’re gliding swiftly across the sky.

Foreground

When you’re going after sunset-specific shots, there’s a good chance that your foreground is going to be silhouetted against the sky. When this happens, it’s easy to forget about the foreground all together. This is a mistake. Remember that every part of your frame is important. The darkened foreground is simply negative space, and should be composed just like the rest of the image. Look for interesting shapes or objects to place in the frame to create a focal point that enhances the picture. If you want your foreground to be more visible, use fill flash (flash with the brightness turned down) to lighten the subject slightly without overexposing.

Fort Stockton, Texas, by Anne McKinnell

Post-Processing

When you bring your photos into an image editing program, you might have the urge to crank up the saturation and make the colours really bold. Resist the urge to go overboard on this feature; a 5% increase is all right, but much more than that can cause your image to take on a cartoonish look that could make it appear inauthentic. If your software allows you to, change the “vibrance” instead. This option is similar to saturation, but it focuses its effects on the pixels with lower colour intensity, preventing over saturation. Be ginger with your adjustments, and when in doubt dial them back a little bit to ensure the alterations are subtle and the final image looks natural.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

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How to Photograph Dramatic Clouds at Sunset

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