Want to Shoot “High-Key” Flowers? Find a Window.

Where I live, the Northeastern part of the United States, we are now in late Fall so the temperature is dropping as has all the pretty Fall foliage and we are left with, in my opinion,  pretty “blah” scenery outdoors. At times like these, I begin to switch gears and do more indoor photography. I do not have an indoor studio, nor do I use artificial light much, as I prefer to almost always stick with natural light.

One very easy technique to try during this time of year is to shoot “high-key” flowers using a window. I go to either the grocery store, or local florist, and pick up a few nice looking blooms to use and then find an appropriate window. I choose a window that has indirect light and tape a stem right onto the window. For the “high-key” look, I do this on either a cloudy day or snowy day, so that the background is a fairly bright white. I position the flower so that there are no other distractions in the image, just the clean, white background. Easy as could be. Just be sure, especially if you are using white flowers, to expose so that you still see the edges of the flower against the white background.

Window1

Window3 Window2

Converting such images to Black and White can also be nice.

WindowB&W

If you are missing the warmer temperatures and pretty blooms of Spring and Summer, give this easy technique a try and let me know how it goes.

Happy Shooting.

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Want To Stop Shooting In Auto Mode? Answer One Simple Question

Today’s DSLR cameras are essentially small, powerful computers. They contain a vast array of settings, features, menus, buttons, and dials, which can be quite intimidating to new users. For this reason, many people simply never take the camera off the Auto setting, ever. This is unfortunate, as shooting in Auto mode will of-course produce nice images, but it seriously limits the creative input of the person taking the shot. Aside from composition, shooting in Auto mode forces the camera to make all creative decisions. So how do you begin to take control over your images without feeling completely overwhelmed? Start  by answering one simple question: is my subject moving or stationary? That’s all you need to get started: moving or stationary? If your subject is moving, you will shoot in Shutter Priority mode; if your subject is stationary, you will shoot in Aperture Priority mode. Let’s look at each mode.

In Shutter Priority mode, you are shooting subjects that are moving: people, cars, water, etc. so often the trick is to freeze the action in order to have a sharp image. The rule of thumb is the faster the subject is moving, the faster your shutter speed needs to be. For shooting sports, you should have a shutter speed of at least 1/500 sec., the faster the better. For moving water, however, you have creative decisions to make which effectively demonstrate why getting off of Auto mode is important. Do you want your shot of a waterfall to have that soft, cotton candy look or do you want to show off the power of the water by emphasizing it’s turbulence? Your shutter speed will determine which look you get, something Auto mode will determine for you. Let’s look at two different water images, one with a slow shutter speed and one with a fast speed:

ShutterSlow

A slow shutter speed, about 1 second, was used in this waterfall image to give the water that silky look.

ShutterFastA fast shutter speed, about 1/200 of a second, was used in this image to show off the power of the water.

If your subject is stationary, you should shoot in Aperture Priority mode, which determines the depth of field, or how much of the image is in focus front to back. This is where your creativity comes into play. For some images, such as portraits, you want the background to be out of focus so that it does not compete with your subject. For others, such as a sweeping landscape, perhaps you want as much in focus as possible. Depth of field can change an image dramatically so you want to make this decision creatively and not let the camera choose for you. Here are a few images which demonstrate what different apertures can do:

Aperture2.8Trees

This image has an Aperture of 2.8 so that the trees close to the camera are in focus but the ones further away are not.

Aperture22Trees-2

The Aperture in this image is 22 so that everything front to back is in focus.

Aperture2.8Soccer

The Aperture in this image is 2.8 so that the athletes in focus pop out from the soft background.

To give yourself creative control, you need to get out of shooting in Auto mode. Start this process simply, is my subject moving (Shutter Priority) or is it stationary (Aperture Priority)? The faster the subject is moving, the faster the shutter speed. If you want a lot of your image in focus front to back, use a larger Aperture number (16-22). If you want your subject to pop out from the background, have less in focus, use a smaller Aperture number (2.8-5.6). In this way, you are creating the image you want and not simply living with what the camera chooses for you. One simple question, two shooting modes to choose from, endless possibilities. Are you ready to try?

Happy shooting.

Going to Shoot in Demanding Conditions? Ask for Help and Prepare.

I recently started shooting soccer games at night which has presented me with the most challenging photographic conditions I have ever faced. The limited stadium light combined with fast action was actually too much for my equipment to handle. I shoot with a Nikon d7000 and a 70-300 4.5-5.6 zoom, which even at ISO 2500, could not produce usable images. As the High School team that I have been documenting all season was heading into the playoffs, the games were being played at night so I either had to give up shooting the games or look to getting a faster lens. I looked into the various rental companies but even renting a lens is not cheap and I was not sure for how long I may need the lens so I was hesitant to go that route. I decided to let my Camera Club know of my dilemma and see if perhaps someone local would be willing to let me rent/borrow a suitable lens. As luck would have it, one of the members very graciously lent me her lens. This is no small favor in my mind as her lens is a Nikon 70-200 2.8 VR with a sticker price of $2400. I am extremely grateful (and careful) for the use of the lens.

Of-course, having capable equipment solved part of my problem but now it was up to me to learn how to get the shots I wanted. The 70-200 2.8 lens is heavy so I needed to adjust to that and the shallow depth of field demands spot on focussing. It is a lens that certainly requires some practice and initially made me feel as though I was brand new to photography.

In addition to having someone lend me their lens, the fact that I mentioned my situation to members of my photo club also gave me the benefit of a few people giving me tips and advice for the shooting conditions. For example, it was suggested that I set the camera to Auto ISO. I had just not thought to do so but as soon as it was mentioned I realized what perfect sense it made. As the lighting conditions tend to change from twilight to dark throughout the games, I was manually changing my ISO throughout. Auto ISO not only took care of that problem for me but by using Auto ISO the camera is choosing the best ISO more exactly that manually jumping from stop to stop does. For example, manually I have to jump from ISO 1250 to 1600 but if Auto ISO is set, the camera can choose say ISO 1400; full stops are not necessary in this mode.

Additional suggestions were also given to me- try spot metering, use Active D-Lighting, etc. In some cases, these suggestions were things I had not considered, not because I hadn’t heard of them but because they are techniques that I do not often use and, therefore, sometimes forget about. This gets to the importance of preparing before a new or difficult shoot. Take time to consider- what techniques and settings can I employ to increase my chance of success? DSLRs are really mini computers, and extremely powerful, if you take the time to learn how to fully use them. Jotting down a checklist of settings can be helpful as well as re-reading the camera’s manual. Things that made no sense to you at one time may prove very useful now.

Below are a few recent shots I have taken, and although I know I have a lot of room for improvement, at least I am getting usable images. I have also learned that I can push my ISO even higher than I thought I could.

PrepareRodrigo PrepareGrimaldo Prepare23

Anytime you are going to be faced with a new set of conditions, take time to ask for help and prepare. If you don’t have the benefit of belonging to a Photo Club, search for related articles on the Web. You always want to give yourself the best chance to succeed.

What difficult conditions have you faced? How did you deal with them?

Happy shooting.

Want to Enhance Atmosphere and Mood? Shoot Fog and Mist.

In addition to the beautiful colors of Fall foliage in New England, I also love that Fall presents a great opportunity to shoot fog and mist. For me, fog and mist in images adds a wonderful atmospheric quality that instantly adds drama and mood. Keeping a few tips in mind makes shooting in fog fairly simple.

It’s a good idea to be familiar with your area and know where fog and mist tend to develop. In the Fall, often around bodies of water is a good bet as the temperature on the surface of the water is usually warmer than the air. Getting to your spot early is also important as fog and mist can change pretty quickly and having the interplay with early morning light goes a long way. Due to the changing nature, quality, and texture of the fog and mist, once you have a good location and composition, take a series of shots over time as your images can look quite different even if it is not so easy for you to notice. If you show up at your chosen location and the fog is very dense, have patience, it will lift and you will be ready to see the magical unveiling. For this shot, I needed to wait quite a while but I knew it would be worth it as I wanted to portray the foliage and reflection as it emerged from the fog:

FogNewMilford

As with shooting in snow, be aware that you will probably want to increase your exposure compensation due to all the white in the scene. You want the fog to be white, not grey, so be sure you are exposing for white. Also, watch your shutter speed as this will effect how the fog and mist are captured. I usually use a faster shutter speed, under a second, to maintain texture in the fog. A longer shutter speed tends to smooth the fog and mist out too much and it looks more like a solid sheet of white.

FogSouthKent2

As fog and mist can greatly reduce color and contrast in images, it is often a good idea to include some foreground that is not covered in fog to add dimensionality to your image.

FogSouthKent1 FogKaaterskill

And, of-course, converting fog and mist images to black and white can be very dramatic. Just be sure you have strong white and black points to enhance contrast.

FogNewMilfordB&W

One added tip, make sure you have a lens cloth with you just in case the fog and mist starts to settle on your lens. I usually wipe my lenses with an anti-fog cloth before going out and it does a good job of keeping the lenses clear.

Feel free to share your moody images of fog and mist.

Happy shooting.

Want To Feel Good? Contribute With Your Camera!

I am not a professional photographer. I occasionally make money through photography by selling a photo at an exhibit or by shooting real estate for a friend who is a realtor, but it is not how I make a living. That being said, photography has become a serious hobby for me, and as such, I do look for ways to incorporate it in my life and to share it with others. Photography can be a vehicle for connecting with others and can be used to give back to your community.

Today, I spent a good portion of the day photographing a Juvenile Diabetes Research Fundraiser that good friends of mine have been hosting for the past 10 years. One of their daughter’s has Juvenile Diabetes so they decided to take action and host a fund raiser at their Farm Market. It has become a phenomenal family event with pumpkin painting, face painting, hay rides, pony rides, bake sale, BBQ, music, the works. When I see friends working so hard for the betterment of others, it inspires me to contribute as well. Aside from buying raffle tickets and baked goods, I also put my camera to use. Documenting the event allows my friends to then use the photos for future advertising and also provides them with a photographic history of all their hard work. Additionally, many people at the Event love seeing their children photographed doing these fun activities and it may encourage them to keep coming back and to give more. Here are a few shots from today:

TractorGirls HalasPonyride HalasPainter2 HalasPainter1 HalasHayride HalasFacePaint2 HalasFacePaint1

I encourage you to look for ways to use your photography skills to contribute to your community at large. You don’t need to be a pro or have pro equipment; you just need a love of photography and the willingness to share. How have you put photography to good use lately?

Happy shooting.