Change Your Position to Eliminate Distractions in Your Photo

RT_SAE_3490Sometimes when you travel to busy tourist areas, like Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport, the idea you have for a photo may seem impossible because of the distractions like signage and people. One way to eliminate the distractions, especially when there is not enough time to wait it out or come back when it is not so busy, is to change your position. In this case, I crouched down very low and shot upward towards the lighthouse, which helped to hide some of the more distracting words on the door of the lighthouse. This position also allowed me to use the flowering bush to hide the people standing next to the lighthouse. Another advantage? The small lighthouse (a replica of the Brant Point Lighthouse on Nantucket) appears taller than it actually is and the sky becomes a beautiful background against which the lighthouse stands.

Quick Silhouette

Exp Comp(-2.0)_SAE_3640There are several ways to capture silhouettes. I find one of the easiest is to use your exposure compensation function, the same feature discussed in the previous post. The image above was shot at -2.0, under-exposing the image by two stops. The sky is a rich color, and the couple on the beach swing is completely black. Below, you will see variations of compensation (0, -1.0 -2.0 and -3.0) of the same scene. Next time you’re shooting around sunset, take several images of your subject that has strong identifiable lines at different exposure compensation settings until you find the one that best suits your vision.

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My Picture is Too Dark

There is a quick fix when you feel your photos are too dark. The +/- exp on the top of your camera lets you add or subtract light from the photo. This button is called the Exposure Compensation Button and is the fastest way to adjust the exposure of your image. Most cameras can do this in small stops of .33 at a time. Hold the button down while turning the wheel at your thumb (or forefinger depending on your camera model) and dial towards plus (+) to add light to the image if it is too dark and towards minus (-) to subtract light if the image is over-exposed.

Look at the first photo below. It was shot normal, no exposure compensation. Since the subject on the table was backlit by the window, the image is slightly dark. By adding a bit of light with the +/- button, I can brighten up the image.

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The photo below shows a real difference at +1.33. I added more than I really normally would have for demonstration purposes so that you can see the difference.

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Photograph Your Thanksgiving Spread

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When the family is gathered for the holidays, it’s the perfect time to catch up with relatives and document happy faces around the table (tip: try bouncing your flash off the ceiling to avoid harsh shadows on the walls behind your subjects). But Thanksgiving is so much about the food, why not make it one of your “must-photograph” subjects of the day? Most of us are not food photographers, and when the feast is being served, no one wants to wait around for us to stylize the scene and chance the food getting cold. So my trick is to zoom in close to eliminate as much of the cluttered background as possible when photographing your favorite dishes on the Thanksgiving table. The photos are not only fun to look at (and drool over), but they will also make nice additions to any recipes you pass around to other family members! See the recipe card using one of my food photos that I made to share my sis-in-law’s amazing Cranberry Chutney recipe with friends and family. This midwest chutney has become a staple now on our east coast Thanksgiving table. And don’t forget to capture funny moments (see the turkey carver’s helpful assistant below) and the cooks of the greatest meal of the year! Happy Thanksgiving.

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Changing the Look of Your Photo with Aperture Priority Mode

You can dramatically change the look of your photo by changing the aperture of the lens on your camera, which controls the depth of field. Depth of field is how much of your photo in front of and behind your subject is in focus. If foreground to background is all in focus, your depth of field is deep. If the foreground and background are out of focus, then you have shallow depth of field. Learning to control this function on your camera will help you to yield more professional-looking photos that let your subject pop off the image because it will be separated from the background. In the two example photos below, the one on the left shows shallow depth of field. The aperture was set to F/4.5 (a wide open aperture). The photo on the right shows deep depth of field and the aperture was set to F/16 (a small aperture).

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RT_Blog5_F16_SAE_1607The aperture is easy to set on your camera by setting your camera mode dial to A (on Nikon cameras) and Av (on Canon cameras). Then use the thumb wheel to move the aperture number to a smaller or a larger number. The smaller the number, the more blurry the background will be like the above left photo. The larger the number, the more in focus both subject and background will be, like the above right photo.

This technique is particularly useful when shooting portraits. You want your subject to stand out from the background, especially if there are distracting items behind the subject. You can choose how blurry or sharp the background will be by experimenting with different aperture settings. To practice, shoot the same subject twice at the two extremes like I did above. Do this several times with different subjects each time you have your camera out until you feel comfortable that you can easily pick the aperture to get the look you want. See more examples below and don’t forget to download the photo tips card for your gadget bag to help you in the field.

Pump Up Your ISO & Turn on Your Flash for Great Sparkler Photos

Sparkler Fun

We have one two more nights of the long Independence Day weekend. When the sun finally sets, break out your camera and sparklers for fun holiday shots. Since it will be very dark out, you will need to boost your ISO to avoid both camera shake and blur from subject movement. Try ISO 1600. For the photo here, I also added a flash on slow sync. This flash mode sends out a burst of light to freeze the subject but keeps the shutter open just a bit longer to capture the sparkler motion as well as some ambient light for an image with more depth. If you are unsure how to set your flash to slow sync mode, you can also try the automatic “nighttime” mode on your camera, denoted by a person + star or moon on the mode dial.

You Never Know When the Photo of the Day will Happen

Yardley, PA, 2012

We all know it– have your camera ready at all times because you just never know when the right moment will strike to capture your favorite photo of the day. On a recent day of apple-picking in Pennsylvania, such a moment happened. I watched as a man walked a horse back into the horse corral and followed behind him. I quickly zoomed in on the horses already in the corral, but as soon as the new horse entered, they galloped off leaving a cloud of dust that reflected in the low sun streaming through the trees. I snapped off three images, and then this horse just looked at me for a second, and then he galloped off right behind his friends, two more shots. This was the last one. I had no time to think about settings, so whatever my camera was set on from my previous shots was what I caught this image at. I usually keep my camera in aperture priority in the F/5.6-F/8 range and my ISO is almost always at 400. So for this shot, the shutter speed was just fast enough to freeze the action.So the lesson today? Look around you for activity beyond what you came to shoot and watch for those special moments. Try to anticipate a shot when you see some activity around you. And when out for the day, keep your camera handy. If my camera was in my gadget bag, I would have missed this altogether. My favorite shot of the day.

Photographing Pets

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The key to taking good photos of your pets is to approach them in much the same way you do people in regards to lighting and composition. Much like children, however, it may be hard to get them to actually pose for you. I took a few shots of Spanky and Darla while they were having a quieter day. The lighting in each of the shots is slightly different, but each photo is done without flash and using only window light. Try to not use flash when taking photos of pets to avoid washing out their fur. In the main photo, Spanky was positioned very close to the window and looking out of it. You can actually see the window reflected in his eyes. I was close to him, and at 70mm, the F/2.8 aperture really helped to drop out the background and keep the main focus on his eye closest to the camera.

In picture B, Spanky moved to another table in my work area to lounge. Here, that same window is behind him, creating a nice bright background, and he is lit by the light from that same window that is bouncing off the white wall he is now facing. When taking portraits of people or pets, reflected or bounced light provides a beautiful even lighting that can be very flattering. See a post about reflected light off of a house in the backyard here. You can see the door reflected in his eyes, where a skylight in the hallway has provided extra light and makes a great catch light in his eyes. As with people and birds, it is important to get a catch light in your cat or dog’s eyes to really bring their portrait to life.

In photo C, Spanky was bored of posing, and moved to a location further away from the window and while the light here was not as bright as close to the window, it was spread out over the room for some nice even lighting (see how even the background is lit up). So here, I boosted my ISO a little higher to be able to capture more light. The very shallow depth of field throws his paws out of focus, but helps to show off his comfy sleeping position.

Lastly, in photo D, Darla is photographed in a diffused side-lit manner. The window partially covered by drapes is still allowing a lot of light to come into the room, and the slight side lighting gives the shot a little more definition and drama as opposed to the flattering and softer front or reflected lighting in Spanky’s portraits. Darla was much more curious about the camera and moved in closer to me for a look. The wide open aperture gave me sharp focus on her eyes and everything else drops out of focus.

Carve Your Pumpkins And Get Some Fun Photos Too!

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The annual holiday tradition of carving pumpkins to make jack-o-lanterns running the gamut from sweet to ghoulish is one that is filled with picture-taking opportunities. Get up above the action to capture all of the fun, and zoom in close to get great detail shots of the tools and mess involved in pumpkin-carving. See the shots below for examples. But after the mess is all cleaned up and the sun has gone down, set out your pumpkins and light them up for a great shot. Make sure your camera is stable. Using a tripod is highly recommended. Next, turn your ISO down low to 100 or 200. Your exposure will be long and you do not want to create unnecessary noise in your shot. Set you camera to manual exposure and open the aperture to about F/4. Fill your frame as desired and shoot, using a cable release or remote control to avoid any camera shake when you trip the shutter. If you do not have a release, you could set the camera to self-timer. Adjust your shutter speed to 30 seconds and take a shot. The photo will be either too light or too dark. Adjust the shutter speed to faster, like I did here to 15 seconds, if the photo was too bright. If it was too dark, add more time to the exposure. I had two other pumpkins on either side of this one, so the ambient candle light was picked up during the long exposure to make a nice fun jack-o-either portrait.

A Little Tilt of the Camera Can Convey Energy and Motion

Tilting of the camera is something we see a lot of today. It can work particularly well for portraits, especially when the subject is expressing emotion, like a couple of laughing teens. But this technique can also work for street scenes to convey a sense of movement and energy. Recently, on a trip to London, I took hundreds of photos of Big Ben. Wanting to capture the feeling of really being there, I stood in the middle of Westminster Bridge looking towards Big Ben and Parliament and waited for the iconic red bus to come into the scene. By slightly tilting the camera, I feel the shot does not feel static, but instead energetic, bringing me back to the moment of standing almost in the road and the traffic rushing by. Tilting the camera is not right for every shot, and sometimes you just have to experiment with a straight on shot (see last shot in the post to compare) and one that has a tilt to it, to discover which shot you like best. Try tilting the camera both left and right to see which is the better angle for the shot. I used this technique quite a bit on the trip, and when looking at them scattered throughout my digital photo book I am creating on Blurb.com, I feel it helped to capture the whirlwind that was my three-day London vacation.
A straight on view. Compare to the main photo at the top of the post.

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