How to Shoot Panoramic Photos

Image stitching is not new, neither is panoramic photography. Since almost the beginning, photographers have been intrigued with providing a wider view of a given scene. The reason is that panoramic images provide context. In a normal frame of a large expansive scene, we only see a small part of the bigger picture. A panoramic image however, gives us a broader view, and a context for that image. The word panorama is derived from two greek words, “pan” which means everything and “horama” which means that which is seen or the view. So, panorama literally means – a view of everything.

Stitched Panorama

A six image pano of Howe Sound, Squamish BC

Early on, photographers would make panoramics manually, by simply panning across a scene and taking sucessive images. Once the images were printed, they would manually stitch them by overlaying one image on top of the other, or even cutting them into place. This was a new way of viewing and capturing scenes. I saw my first panoramic image as a young boy. It was a huge scene of photographs that had been stuck together and overlaid. It was in a museum in the city where I grew up. I was intrigued, it gave me a view of the city I was living in, that I had never seen before. It gave me a whole new perspective on the place that I called home. I wasted many rolls of film as a youngster trying to do the same shots, but never managed to get it right.

One solution to this challenge was the panoramic camera. These cameras revolutionized panoramic photography. They were able to capture a panoramic scene of 180 degrees in a single shot. No more cutting and sticking photographs together. These rotating cameras captured great images of scenes and did it with ease. There were also wide-angle panoramic cameras that took in much more of a scene in a single image and again, changed the way we viewed images and scenes. These cameras changed the views, and contexts of many famous places. In their day, they were the pinnacle of technology.

Stitched Panorama

Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas

Once again, the wheel of progress turned and all of this changed when digital panoramics became possible. The photographer only had to pan across the scene and take successive images, as in the past, but now the stitching process in the computer gave a seamless result. The photographer simply dropped these images into a photo stitching tool and voila, an amazing panoramic image magically appeared. Well, that was the idea anyway, in practical terms it was not so easy.

1. How to shoot panoramic photos

Autopano giga is a standalone software tool that stitches your images together. There are a few guidelines to follow when you do a photostitch. By following these guidelines, you will be almost guaranteed that your image will stitch properly the first time.

A. Shoot in Manual mode

Expose for your scene manually and don’t change the exposure between shots. You may have to do a light meter reading for the brightest and darkest parts of your scene. Adjust your settings to make sure that you have good exposure throughout the images and then start shooting.

B. Overlap your shots by at least 30%

Overlap each image by at least 30% if you are shooting in landscape orientation and up to 50% if shooting in portrait. By overlapping you will have duplicates of parts of your scene, this will allow the software to stitch the images together better and adjust for the perspective distortion too.

Stitched Panorama

Five images stitched, Jack Poole Plaza, Vancouver

C. Use a tripod

You can shoot handheld, but using a tripod will ensure that the images will be shot along the same horizontal plane. This can also help with the stitching process too.

D. Keep your aperture between f/8 and f/11

You will want to keep everything in focus, so be sure that your aperture is set to at least f/8. At f/2.8 your focal point may change and this could cause some parts of your image to be out of focus. It may also be a good idea to set your aperture to f/8, focus your camera, then switch to manual focus. That way your camera won’t be focusing on a different part of the scene in each image. At f/8 or f/11 the whole scene should be in focus.

Stitched Panorama

Six image Pano, Victoria Harbour on a snowy, windy day

Now the magic part, digitally stitching the images together. You can do this using Autopano Giga or Photoshop, my preference is Autopano Giga. To learn more about how to do this, take a look at these articles I wrote on image stitching: Walk Through and Review of Autopano Giga – Image Stitching Software and Step By Step How to Make Panoramic HDR Images.

Lets make this fun, upload some of your images that you have stitched, then tell us what software you used. Enjoy, happy shooting and stitching.

The post How to Shoot Panoramic Photos by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

The Importance of Personal Projects for Professional Photographers

In my last article, I talked about working on one or more personal projects as a great way to help photographers get motivated and get busy in a saturated market space. In this article I want to expand on the topic of personal photography projects: Why do you need one? How do you choose personal projects? What are some of the more popular personal projects around?

Film Photos of Christmas Ornaments in Chicago Downtown Memorable Jaunts Lifestyle Film Photographer

Why do you need personal photography projects?

#1 – Personal projects help you get out of a photography rut

Most photographers have a busy season and a slow season. Depending on where you are in your photography career, your slow season can be a few weeks or can be several months. Not picking up a camera for months on end can be disheartening and demotivating. Personal projects can help you keep going in those slow months and also help you fine tune your skills.
Film Wedding Portraits Memorable Jaunts Chicago Illinois Wedding Photographer

Experimenting with film ( 35mm and medium format) as one of my personal projects

#2 – Diversify your portfolio and get noticed

Depending on the type of personal project you pick, this can be a great way to diversify your portfolio and attract new clients based on your new body of work. Personal projects are just that – personal assignments. Once you take the pressures of a client out of the equation, you are free to explore, get creative and challenge yourself. This creative freedom is bound to reflect positively on your work. Your assignments can help you get noticed by your past and future clients and does have the potential of helping you get new clients who fall in love with your personal images.
Small Business Lifestyle Headshots Outdoors Memorable Jaunts Lifestyle Photographer Naperville Illinois

What started off as a favor for a friend has turned into a new offering in my business – lifestyle headshots

#3 – Help you engage with the photographic community

Let’s face it, we all spend way too much time on the Internet. We are constantly browsing, reading and engaging with people (either actively or inactivity). Why not mix the two in a more productive way? As you are researching personal projects and assignments, you are bound to stumble upon photographers who are doing similar work. Reach out and start a conversation. Share your projects. Join a local or online community, a Facebook or Flickr group, and get active. Share you work and ask for feedback, browse the work of other artists and engage in healthy dialogue. Because this is a personal project, you are more relaxed. It certainly makes internet surfing more purposeful and useful.

#4 – Experiment outside your comfort zone

When you are thinking of personal projects, really give yourself the permission to get creative. Choose projects and assignments that really push you as an artist and challenge your existing skills and techniques. There is no right or wrong here. But recognize when a project is too easy, versus when a project really makes you work. Also remember this is a personal assignment, don’t make it so hard or unrealistic that it has an almost 0% success rate. I mean, I would love to photograph the earth from outer space – what a fantastic personal achievement that would be – but it is highly unlikely to happen in my lifetime! I will stick to photographing the moon – on a clear night, on a stormy night, and during a lunar eclipse!
Moon Photography on a clear night sky Memorable Jaunts Lifestyle Photographer Naperville Illinois

My first (and last attempt) as photographing the moon on a clear night! – it was much harder than I expected!

Great Grey Heron in Flight Bird Photography Memorable Jaunts Lifestyle Photographer Naperville Illinois

I love dabbling in bird photography – a nice change in subject from my normal wedding and family portrait clients

Macro Photography of Purple Flowers Memorable Jaunts Lifestyle Photographer Naperville Illinois

Macro photography is another easy subject to find in nature or with everyday household items

Now that you know why you should have one or more personal projects, the next logical question is how does one go about choosing personal projects.

How to choose personal projects

There are several ways to choose personal projects. Here are some personal techniques I use several times during the year.

#1 List your goals and derive projects and assignments that help you achieve that goal

One of my goals for 2015 is to photograph more elopement and backyard weddings, as well as do some editorial work. To help achieve that, I have reached out to a few magazine editors, as well I plan on networking with other wedding photographers to possibly second shoot with them on smaller weddings as a way to get to my goal.

#2 Write down a list of things that motivate you and pick assignments related to those items

I love the outdoors with a passion. I love travel and everything associated with it. I carry my camera everywhere I go and try to document stories not just of my travels but also of the people I meet – something I plan to do a lot more of in 2015.

#3 Look at your portfolio and see what is lacking

Portfolio reviews are a great exercise to perform several times in the year. Match the images to your goals so you know where you are lacking – where do you stand now, and where do you want to go?

#4 Review industry trends and pick topics that interest you – either related to gear, techniques or even subjects

There are easy special assignments to give yourself like photographing with only one lens for a week, photographing one subject with a wide range of lens, or black and white architectural images. Another technique that is fascinating is low light photography – really pushing the limits of your camera to change the look and mood of an image.

Popular personal project ideas to consider

  1. 365 series (a photo a day)
  2. 52 week series (a photo a week)
  3. Alphabet series (a photo for each alphabet)
  4. Gear related (a single lens for a week, prime lens only, macro, or film photography)
  5. Technique related (black and white images, low light images, leading lines or shadow play images)

I hope this article has motivated you to delve into personal photography projects and assignments. They can be extremely rewarding and satisfying no matter what the outcome. After all, anything that motivates you to pick up your camera and photograph just for the love of the art, not necessarily for money, can only be a good thing, right?

The post The Importance of Personal Projects for Professional Photographers by Karthika Gupta 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.

Creatively Recolor Photos with Color Tables in Photoshop

Photoshop-color-tables-opener

If you’re looking to use some creative enhancements on your photos in Photoshop CS6 or CC then the new Color Lookup adjustment is one to consider. The Color Lookup adjustment is used to remap the colors in an image to a set of colors that comes pre-configured and stored inside a color table file. Color Tables are used primarily with film but they are also useful for applying creative coloring to photos.

You don’t need to know anything about color tables to use this feature, as is a default set of color tables in Photoshop that you can use. Better still, if you like the effects and you subscribe to the Creative Cloud you can grab more color tables from the Adobe Speed Grade application, store them in the Photoshop Preset\3DLUTs folder, and use them inside Photoshop.

To see the Color Lookup adjustment at work open a photo and choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Lookup. This opens the Color Lookup dialog where you will find three settings; 3DLUT File, Abstract and Device Link. Select one of the options from one of the dropdown lists to see it at work. When you do this, the colors in the photo will be remapped.

For example the Soft_Warming.Look in the 3DLUT collection warms up the image.

Photoshop-color-tables-img1

The Moonlight.3DL option gives the image the look of being shot on a moonlit night.

Photoshop-color-tables-img2

You can experiment to see which of the options you like.

Some of the options open up additional Data Order and Table Order settings which let you create different effects. The Device Link collection on a Mac includes some additional options which are not available on a PC.

Photoshop-color-tables-img3

Like any other Adjustment Layer the Color Lookup option has a mask you can use to mask out the effect on selected areas of the image. You do this by selecting the mask and then paint on the image with black or grey to remove the effect from that area of the image. Paint with white to bring it back.

Photoshop-color-tables-img4

You can also use a blend mode to blend the Color Lookup adjustment into the image layer below and reduce its opacity if desired.

Here is a video tutorial for the Color Table Adjustment Layer. It includes details of how to find and use the .Look files shipped with Speed Grade in Photoshop:

If you haven’t tried this technique before give it a go and show us what you come up with. For more Photoshop tutorials check these:

The post Creatively Recolor Photos with Color Tables in Photoshop by Helen Bradley appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Getting Real with HDR – a Step by Step Tutorial for Realistic Looking HDR

Try to make your HDR images look as realistic as possible

Try to make your HDR images look as realistic as possible

If you have been photographing for more than a year or two, you will have heard about HDR (which stands for High Dynamic Range). We have probably seen them, the “overcooked”, over processed HDR images that float around the photo websites. For some photographers, the process seems to force them to overdo their images and after a while that seems to be the only result they are trying to achieve. Do a Google search on “bad HDR” and you will see what I mean. The images have halos,  the colours are surreal and look metallic, the contrast is off and in short, the image is really messy.

When I first shot HDR, I fell into this trap too. These results caused many photographers to say that HDR is not a useful technique and is really gimmicky. That perception is partly true. HDR in the hands of someone who cannot use it effectively can result in some weird looking images, however, HDR done properly can produce some incredible results. To see some good examples of HDR done properly, visit the website HDR Spotting and take a look at the editors picks. There are some astounding images there. The colours are amazing, the contrast is perfect and the detail in the shadows and highlights, sublime. That is what HDR should be. It should be the best combination of the highlights and the shadows properly exposed, the image should look as real as it can. So, how do you get this right you might be asking, read on to find out.

What is HDR?

As I said earlier, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. Your cameras sensor has the ability to capture light and colour. The extent to which your camera can do this is called the dynamic range. More specifically, if your camera can render lots of details in the shadows and the highlights in the same shot, then it has a high dynamic range. Over the past few years, digital sensors have become so much better at capturing more detail. This is a huge benefit for photographers and of course for HDR photography. This means that we can get more details out of every image and as a result, the HDR images will be that much more detailed.

Lions Gate Bridge Vancouver - HDR image

Lions Gate Bridge Vancouver – HDR image

How do I shoot HDR?

Making an HDR image involves 3 distinct and separate processes. I will go into detail on each one, but at a high level, they are as follows:

  1. Image Capture
  2. HDR Processing
  3. Image editing in Photoshop

Lets start with image capture first. This is the photography part of this process. It’s pretty simple really. Set up for your shot as you normally would. Make sure you have your subject well composed and you are ready to go. The difference between HDR and normal photography, is that with HDR you will take either three to five bracketed images of the same scene. The reason for the number of images is that you will blend these images together in a dedicated HDR product.

My recommendation for HDR software is Photomatix Pro. It is a programme that has been around for many years now and has some really good editing functions. It’s probably the most widely used software when it comes to HDR. Photoshop also has an HDR function, but in my opinion, its not as refined as the Photomatix Pro yet. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge Photoshop fan, it is an incredible tool, I am sure that Photoshop will have something within their functions that will be competitive in time, but for now, I still use Photomatix.

Step #1 –  Image capture

These are the steps I follow when I intend to do an HDR shot. They are not rules, nor are they inflexible, they just work for me. You need to find what works for you and gives you the best results, this method has helped me get my best results, so try it out. Tweak it and change it as you need.

  1. Use a tripod – it is a good idea to put your camera on a tripod for HDR, especially if you are shooting in low light. I have done some handheld HDR but only in bright conditions. The tripod will also help you get your composition right.
  2. Put your camera into Manual mode “M”
  3. ISO Settings – it is a good idea to keep your ISO settings at 100 or as low as your camera will go. That way you will avoid introducing unnecessary noise into your images. The process of HDR allows you to capture the dynamic range of light and colour in the scene. Using high ISO settings is great when you are trying to shoot a low light scene and capture it in one shot, but for HDR you will want to keep it as low as possible.
  4. Set your aperture to anywhere between F/8 and F/ 11 and don’t adjust your aperture between shots.
  5. Adjust your shutter speed so that you are exposing the scene perfectly according to your cameras light meter.
  6. Capture one image at this reading
  7. Underexpose by one or two stops (depending on the scene) and capture another image by adjusting your shutter speed.
  8. Do this twice on either side of the perfectly exposed image.

This will result in five images being captured.

Below are the three images I used in making the HDR image you see above. Take a look at how the colours and exposure don’t look good at all.

3 Different exposures for the HDR image above

3 Different exposures for the HDR image above

Some photographers use five shots for their HDR shots, some use seven or up to nine. I have found that three to five shots seem to work best for most scenes. I have only used nice shots on a few occasions, but have not been happy with the results. The colours seem to be “muddy” and unclear once processed. If necessary, shoot seven images and see how that works.

Once you have completed the shoot, download the images to your computer. It is important NOT to edit the images before blending them into an HDR image. Some of the shots might look over exposed or under exposed, thats OK, in fact they must look like that. The software will deal with these issues, so don’t be concerned that the images look bad out of camera, they need to be processed and then the magic begins.

Click on - Load Bracketed Photos

Click “Load Bracketed Photos”

Step #2 – HDR processing

I will be explaining the Photomatix software in this article. I have tried HDR with each new version of Photoshop and I am still happier with the results I get from Photomatix Pro. You can download a trial version of Photomatix from their website. It is fully functional, the only thing is that the trial version puts a watermark on the image. This is OK for trying it out, you will see exactly what the software can do, if you think it is worth it, then you can buy it. Ok, so here is how you take your images into Photomatix Pro

  1. Open Photomatix Pro (or if you’ve set it up as a Lightroom plugin, select your bracketed images, right click and choose “edit in” and Phototix Pro)
  2. Click  ”Load Bracketed Photos” and then click on “Browse” and select the images you have taken (you can also drag and drop them into the box)
  3. Click OK once the images appear in the box
Select the options displayed on the screen above

Select the options displayed on the screen above

Preprocessing options are available.  Make selections on the box as shown in the screenshot above. Then click preprocess and Photomatix Pro will begin to tone map the images into a composite 32-bit image. This process is generally quite quick, between 30 seconds and a minute.  Once complete, click on the Tone Mapping button.

Use the “Remove ghosts” function if you have people or moving objects in your images. If you don’t have this, then you wont need to use this function.

The HDR editing screen

On this screen, you are able to select a variety adjustments that will create an overall change to the image. There are no absolutes here. Each adjustment makes minor or major differences to the image and the combination of the adjustments provides diverse options.

HDR-Screen-600

At the bottom of the screen you will see different “treatments” (or presets) which you can use as a starting point to your image editing process. I would avoid using these as they are generally overdone. Try and use the functions on the left hand side to edit your image.

Below are the details about each function on the left hand side of the screen and what each does. One of the best ways to see what a function does is to slide it all the way over to the left and then to the right and see how it affects your image, but here are the details:

General Settings

  • Strength - affects the degree to which contrast and detail are enhanced in the image. A value of 100 gives the maximum amount of enhancement. To get a more natural effect, move the slider to the left. The default value is 70.
  • Color Saturation – controls the saturation of the RGB color channels. The greater the saturation, the more intense the color. Move the slider right or left to change the setting. A value of zero produces a grayscale image. The value affects each color channel equally. The default value is 46.
  • Luminosity – controls the compression of the tonal range, which has the effect of adjusting the global luminosity level. Move the slider to the right to boost shadow details and brighten the image. Move it to the left to give a more “natural” look to the resulting image. The default value is zero.
  • Detail Contrast – controls the amount of contrast applied to detail in the image. Move the slider to the right to increase the contrast of the details and give a sharper look to the image. Note that increasing the contrast also has a darkening effect. Move the slider to the left to decrease the contrast of details and brighten the image.
  • Lighting Adjustments – affects the overall ‘look’, controlling the extent to which the image looks natural or surreal. When the Lighting Effects Mode box is unchecked, move the slider to the right to make the image look more natural and to the left to make it look more ‘painterly’ or ‘surreal’. Use this carefully as it can have an unpredictable effect on your image.
  • Lighting Effects Mode – the checkbox lets you switch between two modes for the Lighting Adjustments setting,where each mode produces slightly different results. Checking the box tends to produce results with a type of ‘Magic Light’ effect.

More Options

  • Smooth Highlights – reduces the contrast enhancements in the highlights. The value of the slider sets how much of the highlights range is affected. This control is useful for preventing white highlights from turning grey or uniform light blue skies becoming dark blue-grey. It is also useful for reducing halos around objects placed against bright backgrounds. The default value is zero.
  • White Point and Black Point - these sliders control how the minimum and maximum values of the tone mapped image are set. Moving the sliders to the right increases global contrast. Moving them to the left reduces clipping at the extremes. The White Point slider sets the value for the maximum of the tone mapped. The Black Point slider sets the value for the minimum of the tone mapped image.
  • Gamma – adjusts the mid-tone of the tone mapped image, brightening or darkening the image globally. The default value is 1.0.
  • Temperature – adjusts the color temperature of the tone mapped image relative to the temperature of the HDR source image. Move the slider to the right to give a warmer, more yellow-orange colored look. Move the slider to the left for a colder, more bluish look. A value of zero (default) preserves the original color temperature of the HDR source image.

Advanced Options

  • Micro-smoothing – smoothes local detail enhancements. This has the effect of reducing noise in the sky, for instance, and tends to give a “cleaner” look to the resulting image. The default value is 2. Important note: The Loupe may not properly show the effect of the Micro-smoothing setting when the area magnified is uniform. If you want to see the effect of the Micro-smoothing setting at 100% resolution on a uniform area such as the sky, you will have to select an area that contains an object in the scene in addition to the sky.
  • Saturation Highlights – adjusts the color saturation of the highlights relative to the color saturation set with the Color Saturation slider. Values higher than zero increase the color saturation in the highlights. Values lower than zero decrease it. The default value is zero.
  • Saturation Shadows – adjusts the color saturation of the shadows relative to the color saturation set with the Color Saturation slider. Values higher than zero increase the color saturation in the shadows. Values lower than zero decrease it. The default value is zero.
  • Shadows Smoothness – reduces the contrast enhancements in the shadows. The value of the slider sets how much of the shadows range is affected. The default value is zero.
  • Shadows Clipping – the value of the slider sets how much of the shadows range is clipped. This control may be useful to cut out noise in the dark area of a photo taken in a low-light situation. The default value is zero.

Once this part of the process is finished, then it is time to take the image into Photoshop. Save the tone mapped image and then re-open it in Photoshop.

Step #3 Image Editing in Photoshop

This is a very basic workflow. It will enhance the lighting and tonality in your images. These techniques are discussed here at high level.

Shadows and Highlights

Photoshop has a function called Shadows and Highlights. Use this tool to bring out detail in the shadows of your image. Use it carefully, if you overdo the treatment on the shadows, there may be some unsightly image degradation or “noise”. This function is not great for adjusting highlights, so use it for the shadows only. This tool is found in Photoshop as follows: IMAGE > ADJUSTMENTS > SHADOWS AND HIGHLIGHTS. The adjustments of AMOUNT, TONAL WIDTH and RADIUS should all be kept aligned close to one another to ensure that the adjustment looks realistic.

Shadow and Highlights function in Photoshop

Shadow and Highlights function in Photoshop

Levels Function

The levels function in Photoshop is for adjusting the lighting in an image. This means that if your image is a little dark you can push up the exposure slightly and see more details in the image. The levels function shows a representation of a histogram. Move the sliders in to touch the edge of the histogram as a general rule. This will ensure that your image has a good representation of highlights and shadows.

The Levels functioning Photoshop

The Levels functioning Photoshop

Hue and Saturation

Once the exposure and lighting has been adjusted and looks correct, then you may begin adjusting the colour in the image. The tool to use will be the Hue and Saturation tool. The important tip here is not to adjust the master channel but rather to adjust by each channel independently. To do this, click on the top toggle button that says “default”. A drop down menu will appear and each colour channel will be available from there. Slide the Saturation Slider to the left to desaturate (remove colour) or to the right to saturate. That way you have the best control of the colour in your image.

Hue and Saturation Function in Photoshop

Hue and Saturation Function in Photoshop

Dodging and Burning

These functions are localized adjustments. By using a brush tool, you are able to make certain areas of the image darker and other areas of the image lighter. This is useful for adding the finishing touches to your image. There is also the sponge function which is a saturation tool which can saturate colours at a local level.

Sharpening

Almost every image that comes out of a digital camera requires sharpening of some sort. The easiest and quickest tool to use is the Unsharp Mask tool and it works effectively.

Unsharp Mask Tool in Photoshop

Unsharp Mask Tool in Photoshop

The Unsharp Mask has three separate sliders: Amount, Radius and Threshold. As a general rule you can keep the Amount anywhere between 80 and 120%, Radius can be set between 1.0 and 3.0 pixels and Threshold is generally at zero. Adjust the sharpness of the image according to each image requirement and beware of degrading the image by over sharpening. You will easily notice if an image is over sharpened by the appearance of a “halo” around certain edges in the image. The idea is to sharpen the image but not make it overly sharp and lose image quality.

Lions Gate Bridge Vancouver - HDR image

Lions Gate Bridge Vancouver – HDR image

Once you are done, save your image and thats it! Have a go, try different settings in different light, let me know what you think and how your images turn out. If you have any questions, drop them into the comments box below.

Please leave your comments and questions below. If you want more HDR tips, try some of these articles:

The post Getting Real with HDR – a Step by Step Tutorial for Realistic Looking HDR by Barry J Brady appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Practical Tips To Build Your Street Photography Confidence

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The noble pursuit of street photography requires a good measure of cunning and bravado. Of course, there is the ever present hurdle of luck and opportunity. Beyond knowing your streets, their patterns and ad hoc events, getting that wonderful shot is a guessing game.

When you are in the right place and you see the converging paths that will result in a great decisive moment, you need to be able to capture the scene. This can be learned and practised. Here are some practical tips to help you build your street photography confidence.

I feel like I’m wearing a sign that says, “Look everyone, a street photographer!”

I know what you mean. When I first started out, doing street photography, I was so focused on seizing photo opportunities I could see people staring back at me. On numerous occasions people I spotted as a potential photo saw me and moved away. Market vendors are deeply suspicious and, even now, I still get glared at.

I quickly realized I was missing shots because I was looking conspicuous and acting a bit weird. That slow purposeful walking and excessive bobble headed looking, then stopping and staring for longer than normal people stop and stare. Very conspicuous.

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What changed?

Tourists. London is a tourism mecca and even on week days, the capital is buzzing with visitors from all corners of the globe. I take quite a lot of photos of tourists but, when I don’t want them in my shot, they can be quite annoying. In fact, tourists annoy everyone as they parade through other peoples’ photos with no remorse. Here’s the real value though. While people are irritated with tourists being in their way, they are also tolerated. Others, particularly locals, don’t shy away from their business. They jostle through the visitor throng, or continue their conversations. Tourists are, for the most part, ignored!

This was a great revelation for me and, as a street photographer, I decided to be just like a tourist.

Don’t look conspicuous

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Dress casually and for walking

Check the weather and wear layers for the best and worst of the predicted forecast. I would steer clear of photographer jackets and other ‘practical’ photographer clothing. Think tourist: jeans, sweaters, hoodies, etc. I’ve tried a street photo walk in a three piece suit after a morning meeting. Don’t wear a suit either!

Personally, I recommend a small camera

Before you all jump to berate me, this is my recommendation for being inconspicuous as a street photographer. I used to walk the streets with a 1D Mark IIn and a 50mm f/1.2L lens. An extraordinarily capable camera with a decent fast lens. More often than not, the people I paused to photograph would see this camera and curtly move aside because the professional wants to take a photo and we’re in the way. And the shutter! On a train, I would stealthily raise this camera and fire off a shot. The looks I would get from people being loudly ‘papped’!

Use the neck strap on your camera

Raising a camera from your side to your face could be enough to be seen. With your camera around your neck, raising it to your eye is much less apparent. Of course, you can point your body and shoot ‘from the hip’ without moving the camera.

Carry a small bag or backpack

I take a spare battery, SD card, lens cleaner pen, business cards and a waterproof bag. That’s all, for the entire day’s shooting.

You don’t need a tripod.

Now step forth and be bold

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So now you look pretty much like a stereotypical tourist with a camera, how do you act like one?!

Tourists look around a lot and walk slowly, but casually, taking in the scenery. As an exercise, try putting your camera in its bag and just walk around taking in the location. Can you still carry off that casual saunter with your camera in your hand or around your neck?

The second tip, and equally as important as the first, is to look through people rather than at them. Tourists look at the scenery and other people are simply obscuring their view. People will quickly realise they are not the focus of your attention if you are looking past them to what is behind them. It will take a while, but you’ll become practised with seeing a potential photo whilst still looking nonchalant.

Personally, I shoot with a rangefinder. Most of my shots are from around 15 feet away, so I leave my lens focused at that distance for quick response captures, like when someone walks toward you.

Otherwise I will focus for distance and then frame the shot. The trick here is to focus on another object which is the same distance as your subject. Then turn to your subject and shoot. You have minimized the time you are gazing at them by focusing elsewhere.

Street Portraits

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Occasionally I will see someone who would make a great street portrait. I carry business cards around and this supports my brand as a street photographer. It’s this that gives me that needed boost to actually approach someone.

Be bold and polite and, this is imperative, know how you want them to pose. You have one chance to get them in position, after all, they’re doing you a favour.

As I approach the person I might say, “Hi, I really like your outfit/tattoo/hair/etc and I wondered if I can take your portrait?”

Take one shot. Check composition on your LCD. Take one more if necessary.

This is where I thank them and hand over a business card. I explain I’m a street photographer and point out my web site so they can go find their picture. This post photo exchange makes me feel less of an intruder and, hopefully, they are not fazed by the two minute distraction either.

Final thoughts

Hopefully these small tips will help you take street pictures while getting over the nervousness of simply trying to take photos. Through practice and experience, you will learn how people react and what you can get away with.

I don’t like to invade the intimate privacy of people or chase them down or ask them to walk back along the route I liked, so I do have a line I won’t cross, but I don’t miss a shot through lack of confidence.

Good luck!

The post Practical Tips To Build Your Street Photography Confidence by Michael Walker-Toye appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Low Light Photography: How to Shoot Without a Tripod

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

Sunset in The Valley of Fire, Nevada by Anne McKinnell

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

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

1. Use a wide aperture

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

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

2. Use Image Stabilization

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

3. Use proper camera holding techniques

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

New York New York, Las Vegas by Anne McKinnell

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

3. Use a high ISO setting

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

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

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

Canada Geese at Sunset by Anne McKinnell

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

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

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

Further reading on low-light photography:

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Balancing Color for Flash and Ambient Light using Gels

Flash with 1 CTO plus 1/8 CTOIn the last article Balancing Flash and Ambient Light Using an Incident Light Meter I did not mention color temperature or any correction for the colorcast in the background. There were however requests for it in the comments section, so in this article we will cover three ways of balancing color for flash and ambient light (tungsten yellow/orange which is approximately 3200°K, flash which has a color temperature close to daylight or 5500°K).

Color Temperature Explained

Before you go into the process of correcting color imbalance you will need to understand color temperature. A basic description of color temperature is based on the color characteristics of visible light from warm (yellows) to cool (blues) and the ability to measure this in degrees Kelvin (°K). Degrees Kelvin is a numerical value assigned to the color emitted by a light source. Visualize a lamp filament that is heated using an electric current. It starts off as black and starts getting hot. At a particular point it will become hot enough to start glowing, typically a dark red. As it gets hotter, it will change from dark red to orange to yellow to practically white. It is important to understand that technically, red light has a lower color temperature but is described as warm, while blue light is a higher color temperature but is described as cool. So remember that the terms warm and cool describe color, not temperature. This is a fairly extensive topic but for a quick explanation this should help.

Read more on White Balance and color temperature:

Since warm and cool are colors, we can change their characteristics by modifying color. In lighting we achieve this modification by using various colored gels of varying densities. Lets examine the first and simplest method.

Method One – Using Color Gels on the Flash

Here are two images of the same scene, one using Auto White Balance (AWB) and the next using Daylight White Balance (WB). The daylight WB is 5200°K while the AWB applied 3200°K. Clearly the Daylight WB is too yellow.

Auto WB

Image captured with camera set to Auto White Balance (AWB)

Same scene as above captured with the camera set to Daylight White Balance

Same scene as above captured with the camera set to Daylight White Balance

The Problem

The background room is lit by tungsten bulbs (typically around 3200°K). We will use a flash to light the main subject (approximately 5500°K).  This is a considerable difference that you will need to resolve. So if you can make both the light sources match in color temperature, you can then set the WB on your camera to that, and get a perfectly balanced image.

The Solution

To achieve this balance, you will use a color correction gel on your flash, to match the orange color of the tungsten bulbs. Theoretically both sources will now produce the same color. So if you set your camera’s WB to “tungsten” you will capture the background without any colorcast and it will look neutral. What about your primary subject? Since the flash output has been color modified to “tungsten”, the entire scene will look natural and devoid of any colorcast as long as the lights are close to the color temperature of tungsten.

Color correction is achieved using gels. These gels are manufactured by companies like Roscoe, Lee and ExpoImaging. Gels come in all sizes from large rolls to precut sheets. My preferences are the Rogue Gels made by ExpoImaging as they are the perfect size for flash heads and are attached using an elastic band. Each gel is marked for its strength and light loss. As a starter, for under $10 you can buy sample packs from most lighting supply stores.

Gels that create yellow/orange light are known as CTO gels (Color Temperature Orange). These gels are available in various strengths as follows:

  • 1/8 CTO Converts 5500°K to 4900°K
  • 1/4 CTO Converts 5500°K to 4500°K
  • 1/2 CTO Converts 5500°K to 3800°K
  • 3/4 CTO Converts 5500°K to 3200°K
  • Full CTO Converts 5500°K to 2900°K

I recommend you start with a full CTO and adjust by adding or reducing the color temperature correction by either combining gels or using gels of lesser strength. Since these gels add color they also reduce the amount of light transmitted. Based upon the gel that you are using, you will need to compensate for the loss of light. The typical light loss is mentioned in “f” stops with each gel strength. This information is typically imprinted on the gel or provided on a backing sheet of paper. You should use this information as an initial guideline for compensating your exposure.

This method will work reasonably well. However, it is not the most accurate, as it relies purely on a visual color correction. See the result in the following image:

The camera White Balance is set to Tungsten and the flash is gelled using a Full CTO

The camera White Balance is set to Tungsten and the flash is gelled using a Full CTO

Notice that the color of the subject is fairly accurate but the background is still a bit yellow/orange. The color temperature of the lights in the background may not be true 3200°K.

Method Two – Gels on the Ambient Light Source

In the second method, you will use gels over the offending lights if at all feasible. In this example consider it not feasible. However, you can use additional flash heads to overcome the problem of the tungsten colorcast. You do this by applying an opposing color gel to one or more flash light sources to fill the background. Keep in mind that based upon the size or the area and the intensity of the ambient light in the background, this too may not always be feasible. Take the additional flashheads (make sure they can be fired as slaves) and put a CTB (Color Temperature Blue) gel on each. What you are attempting to do is to negate the effect of the Tungsten by adding blue light to the ambient environment. Test your exposure and set the camera to “flash” white balance. Once again, you may need to add or subtract the gel intensity.

The set up. Note how the flash heads are concealed from view

The set up: note how the flash heads are concealed from view and pointed into the room that is the background

The CTB gels like CTO gels are available in multiple strengths as follows:

  • 1/8 CTB Boosts 3200°K to 3300°K
  • 1/4 CTO Boosts 3200°K to 3500°K
  • 1/2 CTO Boosts 3200°K to 3800°K
  • 3/4 CTO Boosts 3200°K to 4100°K
  • Full CTO Boosts 3200°K to near daylight

Once you are satisfied with the background color, go ahead and photograph the primary subject. Do not gel the main flash and leave the white balance on “flash”.

Color Bal

Color Correction using blue gels in the background

In each of the cases above there is still some color cast in the final image. This is because the lights in the background are not true 3200°K and we have been relying on tungsten color temperature for our corrections.

Method Three – Custom White Balance for Background and Matching Gels on Flash

Here you use custom white balance to establish an exact white balance setting for the ambient light. It is best to use a “white balance card” or a device like the X-Rite Color Checker Passport.

Color Checker Passport in Ambient Light

Image captured of  a Color Checker Passport in ambient light

Zoomed in for creating a Custom White Balance

Color Checker Passport – Zoomed in for creating a Custom White Balance

Image of the Color Checker Passport after Custom White Balance was established

Image of the Color Checker Passport after Custom White Balance was established

If possible, bring that image into Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw and determine the actual color temperature. In this case, it is 2400°K, which, as you can see, is vastly different from the 3200°K tungsten. No wonder there was still a yellow colorcast in the first method. Use this measurement to establish the gel strength needed for the primary flash. If you cannot use Lightroom or any other software to obtain an accurate color temperature reading, you will need to do a bit of trial and error to determine how much CTO to use. In this case we need to get to 2400°K. A full CTO will drop 5500°K to 3200°K and a 1/8 CTO will drop an additional 600°K bringing the correction to 2600°K which is fairly close to what we need. Leave the camera set to the custom WB and gel the flash with one Full CTO gel and one 1/8 CTO gel to get a well balanced image.

The correct White Balance for the background

The correct White Balance for the background

Using a Full CTO on flash head

Using a Full CTO on flash head

Flas with 1 CTO plus 1/8 CTO

Flash with a Full CTO plus a 1/8 CTO – a well color balanced image

One full CTO and one 1/4 CTO – the subject is a bit warm

One full CTO and one 1/4 CTO – the subject is a bit warm

In Conclusion

Always keep a set of color correction gels in your bag if you use flash on location.  Not only will you need them for indoor flash photography but the CTO gels are a ideal when using flash for portraiture at sunrise or sunset.

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Moon Photography: 6 Tips for Better Moon Photos

The moon is something so familiar to us, and yet so strange that it’s mesmerizing. It’s at once commonplace and extraordinary. As photographers, we are drawn to it in an attempt to convey the intrigue we feel when we look at it.

But moon photography can be tricky.

Moon Photography: Just the Moon, by Anne McKinnell

A bright full moon creates one of the most high contrast situations there is, posing a difficult challenge for photographers. Often photos of the moon appear like a spotlight in the sky that looks more like the sun than the moon.

Moon Photography Tips

To get the best possible pictures of our one-and-only moon, it’s important to know a few things about it first.

1. Learn the Phases of the Moon

The moon itself emits no light, it’s simply a huge rock being lit up by the sun. As it orbits the earth, and as the earth orbits the sun, how much we see of that reflection changes from a bright, full moon to no apparent moon at all.

Moon Photography: By Tomruen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Tomruen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Because of our counter-clockwise trajectory around the sun, the shadow it casts on the moon is always moving to the left; after a new moon (no moon), the illuminated side starts to creep in from the right edge, expanding towards the left side each night. As the moon’s apparent size gets bigger, we call it “waxing”.

Once the moon is full, the shadow starts to reappear – again on the right side – and grow leftwards, shrinking the visible moon until it is dark again. This is called “waning”. Therefore, any time you want to know what the moon will look like tomorrow, look at it tonight; if it is lit on its right side, it is waxing towards fullness. But if it’s lit on the left, it is waning, and will soon be gone.

The twilight sky also holds clues to the lunar phases. If the moon is visible before sundown, it is waxing, but if you can see it before sunup, it’s waning. Alternatively, you can always look up a calendar online, or download a moon phase app that will do the calculations for you.

2. Use the Right Equipment

To maximize the success of your moon photography, there are a few bits of a gear that will come in handy.

Moon Photography: Moonrise over the Oak Bay Marina, in Victoria, British Columbia, by Anne McKinnell

  • A zoom lens.
    If you’ve ever taken a shot of the moon and been disappointed by the tiny white blob that results, you’re probably using too short of a focal length. A standard wide-angle lens makes everything appear smaller, particularly things that are far in the distance. To get a close-up shot, use a focal length of at least 200mm or more. Longer lenses will result in greater magnification and detail.
  • A tripod.
    To support the weight of this large lens, and to allow the slow shutter speeds that may be necessary to get a good exposure, mount your camera securely on a sturdy tripod.
  • A shutter release.
    These come in both wireless and wired options and will allow you to fire the shutter without having to depress the shutter button and risk camera shake. If you don’t have one, use your camera’s self-timer to achieve the same benefit.

3. Get a Good Exposure

The moon is very intricate and detailed, with craters, channels, and mountains dotting its surface. If the moon in your photo turns out bright white, it is overexposed. This happens frequently because the blackness of the surrounding sky throws the light meter off.

To fix this, turn down your exposure compensation (+/-), or use your camera’s spot metering mode to expose for the moon alone. Check your camera’s manual for information about how to do this on your specific model.

Moon Photography: Long Nights Moon by Anne McKinnell

For best moon photography results, bracket your shots. Some cameras will have an automatic bracketing feature, but if yours doesn’t, you can simply do it manually. First, take one shot at the automatically-determined settings. Then, using exposure compensation, take the same shot at -0.5EV, and one at +0.5EV. Do the same at -1EV and +1EV, and continue to +/-1.5EV and beyond if necessary. Later, you can choose the best exposure when you view them on your computer.

4. Find the Best Times and Places to Shoot

Unless the city is a part of your scene, you probably don’t want a lot of urban light pollution spilling into the sky when you’re trying to photograph a pristine moonlit night. You’ll get the cleanest shots outside of dense civilization. Explore backcountry roads, or take a hike into the nearby mountains to find truly dark night skies.

That said, a common problem photographers run into with moon photography is the harsh difference between a brilliantly lit moon and a pitch-dark sky. To avoid this, consider shooting during the “blue hours”, when the sky glows faintly after the sun goes down, or before it comes up. There is less contrast at this time, though the moon is still bright.

A moon phase app can help you determine when there will be a full moon during twilight.

5. Create an Interesting Composition

Supermoon at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, by Anne McKinnellAs compelling as a beautifully sharp, detailed image of a lonesome moon is, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Getting that perfect close-up is excellent practice, but try to get creative by placing the moon within a more complex composition.

For instance, you could try framing it behind trees and buildings, or reflecting it off the surface of a still lake. Placing other objects in the foreground gives the moon context and scale that it lacks on its own. Think of the moon as a single element which should be incorporated along with other compositional elements and techniques to make a great final photograph.

6. Combine Multiple Exposures

Incorporating other objects can complicate things though, and you may find that the perfect exposure for the moon doesn’t match that of the rest of the scene. Sometimes natural light doesn’t cooperate, and the camera doesn’t see things the way our eyes do. This is where digital photography comes in really handy, allowing you to play with your images to create the scene the way you saw it, even if the camera saw it a little differently.

To do this, take several shots at different exposures by bracketing, as mentioned above. When you open the files on your computer, choose two: the one with the best exposure on the moon (‘Image 1′), and the one with the best exposure on the rest of the scene (‘Image 2′). Using an image editing program, select the moon from Image 1 and copy it, then paste it into Image 2, covering the moon in that picture. Use the eraser tool with a heavily feathered edge to remove any imperfections and blend the edges together. This method may take some trial and error to get it just right, so try it several times with several different shots to get the hang of it.

Moonrise over the ocen in Sidney, British Columbia, by Anne McKinnell

When performing this technique, try not to stretch or enlarge the size of the moon. The goal of image editing is to faithfully recreate a scene that the camera simply can’t capture all at once, so beware of any visual exaggerations that make the composition look unnatural or inauthentic.

Share Your Moon Photography Tips and Moon Photos

Got any more moon photography tips to add? We’d love to see them in comments below. Also feel free to share any photos you’ve taken of the moon.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

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

Moon Photography: 6 Tips for Better Moon Photos

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Falling for Waterfalls

A small cascade at Kaaterskill falls in upstate New York. It's important to balance the long shutter to blur the water, with the need for keeping the foliage sharp.  While blending two exposures will accomplish this, I preferred to try and capture the scene in one exposure.  Exposure was 1/3 second, f/22, ISO 100. EF 14mm f/2.8L II with EOS 5D Mark III.

A small cascade at Kaaterskill falls in upstate New York. It’s important to balance the long shutter to blur the water, with the need for keeping the foliage sharp. While blending two exposures will accomplish this, I preferred to try and capture the scene in one exposure. Exposure was 1/3 second, f/22, ISO 100. EF 14mm f/2.8L II with EOS 5D Mark III.

While the northeastern Unites States isn’t a wealth of dramatic vistas ripe for the landscape photographer’s choosing, one thing  we do have plenty of here are waterfalls.  The list is endless- from Niagara Falls in northwestern New York, to the plethora of waterfalls that can be found in the Catskills and Adirondacks, to Great Falls in Paterson, New Jersey. These provide ample opportunity to photograph them, as many run year-round.

I always carry a few things when photographing waterfalls. I like to get that milky look to the water, and for that of course you need a long exposure and for that you need a tripod to hold the camera steady. Next, I carry a polarizing filter.  This allows me to control reflections, whether they be from shiny rocks glistening with water on them, or to control reflections on the water in the landing pool. I also keep a chamois in my bag to keep the lens dry. Depending on how hard the falls are flowing, and how big the cascade, mist can be a problem.  Finally, I keep a set of neutral density filters handy.  As I mentioned, I like a nice, milky look to the water, and if there’s too much light, I won’t be able to slow the shutter down enough to get that look unless I use the filters. I generally keep 3, 4 and 5 stop ND filters with me.

Great Falls in Paterson, NJ. Photographing these falls in late winter, I was able to capture frost forming on the rocks from the spray.  Exposure was 2 seconds, ISO 100, at f/22. EF 24-105 f/4L IS, with EOS-1D Mark III.

Great Falls in Paterson, NJ. Photographing these falls in late winter, I was able to capture frost forming on the rocks from the spray. Exposure was 2 seconds, ISO 100, at f/22. EF 24-105 f/4L IS, with EOS-1D Mark III.

When photographing waterfalls, the first thing to consider, as with all subjects, is the light. I find photographing waterfalls in flat, even light, such as on an overcast day, to be ideal.  Ultimately, you don’t want the waterfall in direct sunlight.  Direct sunlight on a waterfall has a tendency to create such a high contrast scene that either your highlights are blown out, or your shadows are blocked up. Flat, even lighting allows you capture the full range of detail in the scene without losing detail in the highlights or shadows.

Next, you need to consider the look of the water you want. While I prefer that milky, fantasy-like look, you may prefer more detail.  Try a variety of shutter speeds to see what works best for you. I find 1 second to 30 seconds works well, but much will also depend on how much water is flowing over the falls. More water rushing faster will not require as slow a shutter speed as less water flowing at a slower pace will.

I hiked up these falls in mid-winter- a treacherous, icy hike that almost resulted in injury! This was the base of the tallest cascade, frozen almost solid. It pays to visit these locations year round to get different perspectives. Exposure was 1/20, f/16, ISO 100. EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye with EOS-1Ds Mark III.

I hiked up these falls in mid-winter- a treacherous, icy hike that almost resulted in injury! This was the base of the tallest cascade, frozen almost solid. It pays to visit these locations year round to get different perspectives. Exposure was 1/20, f/16, ISO 100. EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye with EOS-1Ds Mark III.

Waterfalls change with the seasons.  In the spring, when snow is melting, waterfalls will be fuller and faster flowing. Some waterfalls only flow at this time. Others run year round, but the amount of flow changes.  And in the winter, depending on the climate, some falls can freeze into columns of ice that create an entirely different spectacle.  It pays to revisit these falls at different times of year, to take advantage of all of the opportunities a particular waterfall presents.

One last thought: While many of the waterfalls I’ve photographed are easily accessible, many others require some arduous hiking. Try to get as much information as possible on a new location before going there, and be prepared for anything.

This was another small cascade that I found on the way up to the upper falls.  These smaller cascades present great opportunities to really create dynamic compositions, layering the foreground, middle ground, and background, and using the leading lines of the water. Exposure was 1 second at f/16, ISO 100.  EF 16-35mm at 16mm with EOS 5D Mark III.

This was another small cascade that I found on the way up to the upper falls. These smaller cascades present great opportunities to really create dynamic compositions, layering the foreground, middle ground, and background, and using the leading lines of the water. Exposure was 1 second at f/16, ISO 100. EF 16-35mm at 16mm with EOS 5D Mark III.

 

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Falling for Waterfalls

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