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!

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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.

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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


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


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


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.


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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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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.


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


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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Stitching Images For Larger Prints

For this image I decided I wanted to cover all of Lower Manhattan from the Statue of Liberty (far left) to the Empire State Building (far right, under the Brooklyn Bride, colored red, white and blue. I was using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III. My EF 24-70 f/2.8L II at 70mm covered the skyline and water with some sky vertically, so I positioned the camera vertically and proceeded to take 9 shots, moving the camera by turning the tripod head on it's rotating base. I overlapped portions of each frame so Photoshop would have a point of reference when stitching. Each of the nine exposures was taken at ISO 200, 90 seconds, at f/16.

For this image I decided I wanted to cover all of Lower Manhattan from the Statue of Liberty (far left) to the Empire State Building (far right, under the Brooklyn Bride, colored red, white and blue. I was using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III. My EF 24-70 f/2.8L II at 70mm covered the skyline and water with some sky vertically, so I positioned the camera vertically and proceeded to take 9 shots, moving the camera by turning the tripod head on it’s rotating base. I overlapped portions of each frame so Photoshop would have a point of reference when stitching. Each of the nine exposures was taken at ISO 200, 90 seconds, at f/16.  If printed at it’s native resolution at 300 dpi, it would measure 18.39 inches by 88.25 inches.  My photo lab maxes out at 108″, which it says it can print this image to.

Several months ago I was asked by a potential client if I had any images that were capable of being printed very large- up to 20 feet across! It pained me to explain that, no, based on my camera’s resolution, I did not have any images capable of being printed that large.  I had never gotten into doing many stitched panoramas or other prints, and couldn’t afford a Gigapan or other panorama photography tool.  For the most part, I’d had no call for it in my daily business. Generally, when shooting landscapes, I think in terms of one frame, and fill it with my composition. This has worked well for the most part, as long as I didn’t want to print much larger than around 48″ inches across.  Suddenly, however, I had a desire to go much larger.

This past week in the United States, we commemorated the 12th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Every year New York City remembers the victims with a tribute in light- two columns of light representing the fallen towers of the World Trade Center.  It seemed a perfect opportunity to start playing with panoramics, especially since one of the images the aforementioned client wanted was a skyline shot of New York City.

The general rule of thumb for printing on standard inkjet printers is to print at 300 dpi.  To find out how large you can print an image, simply take the pixel dimensions and divide by 300. From a camera such as the EOS 5D Mark III, that means an image of 5760 x 3840 pixels can be printed at about 12.8 inches by 19.2 inches.  It is true, using various resizing techniques you can print larger.  I have on many occasions. But to get to the extreme sizes beyond approximately 48″, you’ll need to start combining images by stitching them together.

There are currently a few automated panoramic photo options on the market, including Gigapan’s and Panogear’s. Both can be somewhat pricey.  But just because you don’t have these nice accessories does not mean you can’t make stunning panoramic images.  A tripod is helpful, but not completely necessary if you can handhold the shutter speed your camera is set to.  A tripod is helpful for locking your camera in place from shot to shot. The reason a tripod is helpful is that if your tripod head has markings for panoramics on the base, you can use these for reference when repositioning the camera for each shot. More on that in a bit.  Another helpful tool is an L bracket. This will help you position your camera vertically if desired to shoot verticals to stitch the final piece.  L brackets can be purchased from several manufacturers and are usually camera-specific.  Acratech makes a universal L bracket with a quick release that any camera can attach to using an Arca-Swiss style plate.

You’ll want to start by defining your image in your mind. Where does it start, where does it end? Then, how far up does the image go, and how far down?  can you cover the up and down with one vertical?  Or would you be better off shooting two rows of images. Or more? Keep in mind when planning that you’ll want to shoot with some extra area around the image to leave room for cropping if needed.  You’ll also want to make sure you leave some overlap in each shot so the stitching software can find a point of reference to see where the next shot goes. I used Photoshop for these, but there are other programs out there. Feel free to suggest your favorite in the comments below.

For the first image in this article, I wanted to shoot the Lower Manhattan skyline, from the Statue of Liberty to the Empire State Building.  I had a 24-70mm lens, and at 70mm I covered exactly what I wanted, from top to bottom, with a vertical shot.  I took 9 shots in that orientation, while rotating the tripod head incrementally until I got my last shot.

For the second shot in this article, there was a more prominent foreground element, the pilings from the old pier.  I decided to do this one in a horizontal orientation, using two rows of three shots.  This was again taken using the 24-70mm lens, at 70mm.  I shot this one starting at the far right, shooting in columns- upper right, lower right, lower center, upper center, upper left, lower left.  I used the playback feature on the camera to check my reference points. Again I stitched it using Photoshop’s Photomerge feature.

This shot was six horizontal shots stitched together. Because of the overlap, the 3 shots across and 2 up and down will not add up to the full resolution of the individual images simply put together. This image came together at  10,531 pixels by 5904 pixels. At 300 DPI the file can be printed at 19.68 inches by 35.1 inches. My lab, however, tells me they can print this image up to 8 feet wide.

This shot was six horizontal shots stitched together. Because of the overlap, the 3 shots across and 2 up and down will not add up to the full resolution of the individual images simply put together. This image came together at 10,531 pixels by 5904 pixels. At 300 DPI the file can be printed at 19.68 inches by 35.1 inches. My lab, however, tells me they can print this image up to 8 feet wide. They are not using inkjet printers and thus are not subject to the same parameters.  The same still holds true however.  The larger the file, the larger it can be printed.

I have not yet heard anyone say that any photo stitching program is perfect.  There will be errors in stitching.  A misplaced post, a skewed building. To correct these, I simply opened the source file and added it to the stitched file on a new layer.  Then I created a layer mask to show only the area I wanted shown, which would correct the issue.

For your exposure, you’ll need to be in manual mode. You need the exposure to be uniform across the image.  If you leave your camera in any auto mode where the camera helps set the exposure, you run the risk of your exposures varying.  For the first image in this article, my exposure was 90 seconds at f/16, ISO 200 for each image.  This is important, particularly when photographing the area around the statue of liberty which had huge dark areas.  In auto mode, the camera will try to brighten these areas, which will cause problems when the stitching if the skies or water don’t match from shot to shot. In the interest of full disclosure, I made this mistake myself with the second image, the six-shot stitch.  I shot in aperture priority and there was a variation of plus or minus 2/3 of a stop from shot to shot.  This caused all kinds of headaches in my first attempt at stitching.  I was able to correct this by reproccessing the RAW files with an exposure adjustment to match the exposures.  In addition, if your camera has a feature for vignette correction, such as Canon’s Peripheral Illumination Correction, turn it on.  This will even out the exposure so there are no dark areas in the corners, which can be difficult to correct later on.

I’ve toyed with stitching panoramics before, but never seriously.  This is one of my first attempts at a serious pano.  It’s well worth exploring more in the future.  I might even start saving for a new piece of equipment just for that purpose!


Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

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

Stitching Images For Larger Prints

Zooming In: Using Telephotos In Landscape Photography

This shot of the Blue Ridge Mountains was taken with an EOS 5D Mark III and EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II lens at 200mm. The telephoto nature of the lens compresses the distance between the ridges, creating a flat, graphic look with shades of blue created by the mountains and mist in the valleys. Exposure is 1/3", f/16, ISO 400.

This shot of the Blue Ridge Mountains was taken with an EOS 5D Mark III and EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II lens at 200mm. The telephoto nature of the lens compresses the distance between the ridges, creating a flat, graphic look with shades of blue created by the mountains and mist in the valleys. Exposure is 1/3″, f/16, ISO 400.

This shot of a lone pine on the side of a cliff was taken from Glacier Point at sunset. Using a 400mm lens allowed me isolate the tree being kissed by sunlight while the background behind went dark. I used an EOS 5D Mark II with EF 100-400mm L lens at 400mm. Exposure was 1/60 f/8, ISO 100.

This shot of a lone pine on the side of a cliff was taken from Glacier Point at sunset. Using a 400mm lens allowed me isolate the tree being kissed by sunlight while the background behind went dark. I used an EOS 5D Mark II with EF 100-400mm L lens at 400mm. Exposure was 1/60 f/8, ISO 100.

If you’re anything like me, when presented with a beautiful landscape, your first instinct is to reach for the wide angle lenses and take it all in. And there’s no doubt about it- wide angle lenses can excel in those situations. But don’t neglect the telephoto lenses in your bag when you find yourself faced with nature’s beauty. Telephoto lenses can create shots that are every bit as breathtaking as their wide angled brethren.

Telephoto lenses, first and foremost, can allow you to isolate an area of the view you are shooting, because a telephoto sees a narrower angle of view than do wide angle lenses. Because of this narrower angle of view, telephotos also help normalize the size of near objects in relation to faraway objects. With wide angle lenses,  when you fill the frame with a near object, it will appear much larger than a similar sized object placed further away.  With telephoto lenses, near objects and far objects will appear to be similar in size, because telephoto lenses normalize the size and distance when comparing the two objects.  The downside to this is that the scene can then appear to be static and flat.There are cases where the flatness can be used to advantage, for instance creating graphic images  using the lines and colors of the landscape.

Telephoto lenses appear to compress distance, so two objects relatively far apart will appear to be very near to each other.  This is helpful when trying to enhance the density of a subject, such as a field of flowers.  Flowers will appear to be stacked right next to each other, even though they may be several feet apart.  This can be used to great advantage for creative textures and patterns.

Often, when I’m trying to divide the space in my bag, a friend will ask why I need a telephoto lens when I’m planning to shoot landscapes.  This is why.  I may not use it every time, but when I do get an opportunity use a telephoto lens in a landscape situation, I like to be able to take advantage of it.



This shot, taken with an EOS 5D Mark III and EF 70-300 f/4-5.6L, shows how you can isolate one area of a landscape, here focusing on Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite National Park.

This shot, taken with an EOS 5D Mark III and EF 70-300 f/4-5.6L, shows how you can isolate one area of a landscape, here focusing on Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite National Park.

This shot of the Alaska Range was taken from Denali Highway using an EOS-1Ds Mark III and EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II. The telephoto lens compresses the distance between the foothills and the mountains, making them appear to be right next to each other.

This shot of the Alaska Range was taken from Denali Highway using an EOS-1Ds Mark III and EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II. The telephoto lens compresses the distance between the foothills and the mountains, making them appear to be right next to each other.


Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

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Zooming In: Using Telephotos In Landscape Photography

Setting The Mood By Adjusting Your White Balance

This set of images was taken from a RAW file, with the white balance adjusted using Kelvin white balance in Adobe Camera Raw. The first image was set to Auto in camera. The middle shot was warmed up by setting the white balance to 7500°K, and the third shot was cooled off by setting the white balance to 4000°K. EOS-1D Mark IV with EF 24-105 f/4L IS. 1/200, ISO 100, f/4.

This set of images was taken from a RAW file, with the white balance adjusted using Kelvin white balance in Adobe Camera Raw. The first image was set to Auto in camera. The middle shot was warmed up by setting the white balance to 7500°K, and the third shot was cooled off by setting the white balance to 4000°K. EOS-1D Mark IV with EF 24-105 f/4L IS. 1/200, ISO 100, f/4.

Photographers often deal with a variety of light sources, each of which has it’s own color cast.  When compared to daylight in the middle of the day, tungsten lighting, like that which comes from traditional incandescent bulbs, looks yellow.  Standard fluorescent lighting looks green.  Light in shade, or on a cloudy day will have a bluish cast compared to midday sun.  These color casts are referred to as the color temperature of the light.  Color temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin.  To beginners, color temperature will appear to be a bit backwards.  From 2000°K to about 3000°K are warm tones, and above 5000°K are cooler tones, getting progressively more bluish as the color temperature goes higher.  Midday sun tends to be at around 5500°K – 6000°K, while the sun at the horizon is warmer, at about 5000°K. Overcast daylight will be around 6500°K, and shaded daylight will be around 7000°K.

In this landscape shot, The first shot was processed using the Auto white balance setting, which chose 7500°K.  The second shot was processed to a much cooler tone at 4500°K, and the last shot was processed setting the Kelvin white balance at 11250°K.  EOS-1D X, EF 14mm f/2.8L II. Exposure: 0.5", f/16, ISO 200.

In this landscape shot, The first shot was processed using the Auto white balance setting, which chose 7500°K. The second shot was processed to a much cooler tone at 4500°K, and the last shot was processed setting the Kelvin white balance at 11250°K. EOS-1D X, EF 14mm f/2.8L II. Exposure: 0.5″, f/16, ISO 200.

Thankfully, today’s digital cameras have a tool to correct for the different color casts created by the various light sources we encounter.  For beginners, using the Auto White Balance setting is an excellent start. The camera will try to neutralize the color cast caused by different light sources and give the image a pleasing balance. However, while a neutral color balance is often desirable, there are times when as artists, we may want to use the white balance tool to creative effect.

You can choose what kind of mood you want to set before shooting if you like, by choosing a preset white balance. Most cameras offer Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Fluorescent, Tungsten, Flash, Custom, and Kelvin temperature white balance settings.  These settings will neutralize the color cast from the light source they are designed for. For instance, Fluorescent neutralizes the greenish cast given off by fluorescent light.  Custom white balance is a user defined setting where you tell the camera what in the scene should be white, and the camera corrects to make it so. Finally, the Kelvin white balance setting allows you to choose the color temperature of the light source you are shooting in.  If you choose to use the presets in lighting other than what they are designed for, your image will be warmer or cooler, depending on your setting and the available light.

For all of those settings, the camera is simply looking to make white look white.  While that may be what you want, by intentionally setting a different white balance, you can add to the mood.  Choosing  Shady or Cloudy white balance will warm up your image, and choosing tungsten will cool your image. This type of thing is done constantly in movies and television shows to help set the mood.  Photographers as well choose their white balance to set the mood.  A cooler color cast gives the image a colder, harsher feel, while a warm color cast is generally seen as inviting.

If you shoot only JPEG, you’ll be stuck with whatever white balance you had selected at the time of shooting, so if you want to change the mood by adjusting your white balance, you’ll have to choose to do this beforehand.  However, if you shoot RAW, the white balance can be adjusted after the fact, using whichever RAW converter you choose.  You’ll be able to choose from the presets that are loaded in the camera, click in the image to determine what color should actually be white, or you can simply select Kelvin white balance, and using a slider, adjust the white balance in degrees Kelvin and see what the different color temperatures look like.

By taking control of the white balance, you give yourself another tool that can alter the mood of your images and allow you to better communicate what you want to say with your image.  Not every image will benefit by shifting the white balance setting, and there will be some photographers who will be adamant that you should always shoot to the “correct” white balance.  As the artist, this is your time to exercise your creative license and do what feels right to you.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

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Setting The Mood By Adjusting Your White Balance

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