Category Archives: Photography Techniques

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.

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.

Give Yourself Options: Don’t Be Afraid To Boost ISO

This is a tip that actually took me some time to get accustomed to- boosting ISO. I probably had the fear from the old films days that ISO of 800 and above resulted in grainy images causing me to hesitate before venturing above that threshold. Thankfully, I have learned that under certain conditions boosting my ISO is a very useful technique and allows me to get great images that I perhaps wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise.

For the most part, digital cameras seem to be able to handle ISOs of 1000-1600 quite well. Remember, this blog’s title is, Cindy’s Everyday Photography, so I am emphasizing consumer level equipment. Pro cameras and lenses can make use of even higher ISOs with very little noise. I have also found that when noise is produced at higher ISOs, programs such as Lightroom and/or Topaz Denoise, to name a couple, do a great job of eliminating or at least greatly reducing it. The take home message is feel free to push the ISO when you need.

The two situations where I most find myself using a high ISO is when I am shooting sports in the late afternoon/evening and when I am hand holding a macro lens. For sports shooting, I use a Nikon d7000 with a Nikon 70-300mm that has a 4.5-5.6 maximum aperture. The d7000 has been around for a while now and the zoom is just one of Nikon’s kit lens, but even with this combination, I can confidently shoot at ISO 1600. This is important as the sun sets earlier and earlier in the fall and you can lose light rather quickly, particularly on cloudy days. Let’s look at a couple of examples:

This shot was taken at ISO 1000.HighISO1000

 

This shot was taken at ISO 1600.

HighISO1600

 

Shooting hand held with a macro lens is a difficult task for me (if you shoot macro, you probably know what I am talking about). With practice I am getting better, but I still need all the help I can get and that’s where a higher ISO comes into play. If I keep my aperture the same, but boost up the ISO, what happens to my shutter speed? My shutter speed increases, thereby assisting me to get sharp images. If I can use a tripod with my macro lens, I will, but there are times and places when I simply can’t and I have to hand hold. Boosting my ISO gives me a fighting chance at getting the critical sharpness that a macro image must have. Here are a couple of examples:

This image was taken outside so I just needed to boost the ISO to 500 to give me a shutter speed of 2000.

HighISO5002000

This image was taken inside a Botanical Garden (no tripods allowed) so I boosted the ISO to 800 which gave me a manageable shutter speed of 250.

 

 

HighISO800250

 

I am pleased with the level of sharpness and lack of noise in all of these images and they were all possible because I was willing to boost up the ISO. If you are not accustomed to doing so, give your camera a test drive with high ISOs and see what results you get. What situations will a higher ISO help you to get a particular image? As each new model comes out, the ability to push ISO just keeps increasing. Remember to push the limits as sometimes it could be a matter of capturing an image or missing out.

Happy shooting.

Blurry Photos?! You Bet, IF Done With Intent

I am always on the look for new photographic techniques to try as it keeps me fresh and expands my skill set. My new favorite technique is creating pleasing blurs. The catch word here is “pleasing”. I am not simply snapping out of focus images for the sake of an “artsy” look, but am creating blurs with intent, so the end result can be very beautiful abstracts.

As I have come to find out, the technique is actually a lot more difficult that it seems and you need to shoot a lot of shots in order to get a really great image. It is a good deal of trial and error but in the digital age it is a viable technique as you can get instant feedback in the field and continue to make adjustments on the fly.

Depending on the subject matter, the blurs can either be vertical or horizontal. I start off with my image in focus and as I am pressing the shutter I am also moving the camera. The movements do not need to be big but you do need to have your camera set to a slow shutter speed so the movement causes blur. I set my ISO as low as it can go and close down my aperture to as small as it needs to be in order to get a slow shutter speed. At ISO 100, my F Stop is going to probably be at least 18, depending upon the light conditions. Remember the goal is to be able to get a blur. The speed with which you move the camera will determine the amount of blur you get. How much blur you want is going to vary based on your taste and the subject matter.

The great thing about creating blurs is you can do them when conditions aren’t exactly right for other kinds of shots. If it is high noon, for example, on a very sunny day, instead of trying to get detail shots which may be effected by harsh shadows and washed out color, shoot a blur. It makes conditions more forgiving. Here are some examples: TulipBlur copySunriseBlurPurpleFlowersBlur copyOceanBlur copy

 

Have you ever created pleasing blurs? If not, give it a go. Happy shooting.

Put Some POWER In Your Flower!

Let’s talk a bit more about flower photography. Flowers are beautiful so as long as you properly expose your image, you should have a beautiful image, right? Well, not so fast. A distracting background will always detract from an image so you must pay particular attention to your entire frame, corner to corner. One way to combat a distracting background is to not have one at all- fill your frame entirely with your subject. Filling your frame in flower photography translates to power and impact.

Compare the pairs of images:

PassionWide

 

 

PassionFill copy

 

 

 

OrangeDahliaWide

 

 

OrangeDahliaFull

 

 

 

BluePoppyWide-2

 

 

BluePoppyFull copy

 

 

What do you think? Happy shooting.

 

Don’t Let A Bright, Sunny Day Kill Your Flower (Photography)

Today, not from from where I live, a very large private estate, known as Maywood, opened it’s grounds for an annual tour to benefit the National Garden Conservancy. I have never been to Maywood and was very excited to view their grounds and gardens. Only one problem- it was a bright, sunny day. I guess for a lot of people a bright, sunny day to stroll around an amazing estate would seem ideal, but to someone interested in photographing flowers that sun was a real killjoy.

Bright, hard light does not compliment flower photography. It produces harsh shadows and really washes out color, leaving you with images that are less than pleasing. So what do you do? You can pray for some flowers to be in a shady spot, or for occasional clouds to roll by, but this really limits your shooting opportunities. In order to make due when that beautiful sunshine is trying to wreck havoc on my photography, I pull out my handy dandy collapsable diffuser. If you are into flower photography, there really is no excuse not to have one. They are extremely portable and affordable- two adjectives I love for  camera gear.

 Interfit DiffuserOpen

The above photo demonstrates just how compact the diffuser is when folded in it’s pouch. It also weighs less than an ounce. I simply clip it onto my bag or belt loop and go. Unfolded it is 12 inches in diameter, big enough for flower photography, but not so big that it becomes difficult to handle. I got this gem for under $10.

So let’s see what it does. All of these photos are straight out of the camera, no editing whatsoever. I simply want to demonstrate how the diffuser effects light. The images on the left were taken without the diffuser, on the right with the diffuser.

DahliaFullSun DahliaDiffuser

PinkFullSun PinkDiffuser

Dahlia2FullSun Dahlia2Diffuser

Pretty dramatic difference, right? For me it simply comes down to being able to produce usable images versus throwaways. How many on the right would you keep? Happy shooting.

Stop Sleeping Through Sunrise

BlueSunrise

 

One of the things I most look forward to when I go on vacation is getting up each morning to watch and, hopefully, photograph the sunrise. It has become quite a ritual for me and I try not to let anything get in the way (except for an outright downpour). It is such a glorious experience, with the show that Mother Nature puts on as a bonus. It is quiet and peaceful. It gives an opportunity to see many things you do not later in the day. It is an opportunity to live in the moment. For all it’s benefits, however, sunrise is generally missed by most people. It is definitely their loss.

I always prepare for sunrise the night before. I put all my necessary gear and clothing right next to my bed so I can get out the door within about 5 minutes. As I am always on vacation with my family, and sometimes friends, I do not want to have to fumble around looking for things in the dark. And it is dark. Getting up for sunrise actually means getting up minimally 30 minutes before sunrise as most of the good action takes place before the sun pokes over the horizon. It makes no sense to be late; know exactly when the sun will be rising and plan accordingly.

As you are looking out the window or walking out the door do not let clouds or overcast skies send you back in. Things can, and usually do change, very quickly at sunrise. You can not predict what kind of color you are going to get and must be in position waiting for it. This kind of waiting is enjoyable and peaceful. It is not like the waiting in a doctor’s office or the DMV. Besides, clouds are often your friend at sunrise- a cloudless sky can be rather boring. pier2

For this shot with the pier, there was a solid bank of clouds along the water so nothing was really happening right at sunrise, but I waited patiently and sure enough, as the sun got a bit higher it began to light up those clouds from behind. Vacationing right at the Atlantic Ocean can be great for sunrises as it offers easy access to expansive views and everyday will be completely different from the day before. pier

Same place, different day.

This shot was taken just about a mile and a half down the beach. SunriseBlog 

Notice how much drama the clouds add to this image. I had the good fortune to be at the Outer Banks, NC, during the last SuperMoon. As a was shooting this sunrise, I turned my tripod around 180 degrees and captured the moon setting behind me. Moon

Of-course, not every morning is going to produce a great sunrise but if you are out there patiently waiting, sometimes other opportunities present themselves. Crab

Trust me, once the morning was fully underway, this guy was nowhere to be found.

A few years ago, I vacationed up outside of Acadia National Park in Maine. Cadillac Mountain is the first point along the East Coast that the sun is visible. Getting to such a vantage point definitely took more time and effort than rolling out of bed on the beach. It was also QUITE cold up on top of that mountain. The trade off was seeing a sunrise like I have never seen before. It was breathtaking.

 

AcadiaExpansive             CrazyColorAcadia              AcadiaRock

 

If  the extra hour or two of sleep is still more important to you than scenes such as these, so be it. The upshot, I guess, is that my peaceful enjoyment won’t be overrun by sunrise newbies! Happy shooting.

Don’t Forget About Depth of Field

MountainL3.8MountainLWide

 

 

 

 

 

When creating an image manually there are a lot of factors that need to be taken into consideration in order to produce what you initially envisioned. Things like composition, lighting, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance, etc. make for a rather long laundry list of items and at times certain elements can get overlooked.

For me, one element that can definitely change the feel of an image is the depth of field. This is particularly true when I am shooting close-up or macro. There have been many times when I have carefully found a composition that I really like, set up my tripod, double checked my exposure, fired away, and left the situation feeling good about what I shot, only to be somewhat disappointed when I opened the images on my computer. And the source of the disappointment? Depth of field- either too much or not enough. Let’s look at some examples of how depth of field (aperture) can impact images. These examples are straight out of the camera with no editing whatsoever.

PinkRose5.0                                  PinkRose14

Aperture 5.0                                                                     Aperture 14

 

 

Rose5.6                Rose22

Aperture 5.6                                                                 Aperture 22

 

Orchid6.3                                Orchid13

Aperture 6.3                                                                  Aperture 13

 

Notice all the differences between the images, some subtle, some more dramatic. There is no right or wrong but merely creative differences. So what is this telling us? You should take into consideration what elements you want in your final image. Do you want tack sharp front to back? Do you want some softness? Do you want blurred backgrounds? All of these answers are found with depth of field.

Sometimes, however, I may not be exactly sure what will work in the final image. Maybe I want some softness, but how much? Are things really sharp all the way through? Do not rely on the LCD screen on the back of your camera to answer these questions! The screen can give you a hint but it does not tell you everything. The point is after you have a composition that you are pleased with, remember to take several shots, varying the aperture with each one. In this way you will have an opportunity to pick the one that perfectly suits your creative vision. Happy shooting.