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

Spanky

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!

jackolantern1
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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One Location. Two Entirely Different Photos.

Change your position_compSometimes we take the shot we had in mind and call it a day. But when the light is so beautiful at sunset, it pays to take a few steps around just to check out how the sun is lighting your subject. The photo on the left was the one I was after: two girls watching the sunset, captured in near silhouette as the center-weighted meter gave an exposure for the bright setting sun and made most of the other parts of the shot go dark. Just what I wanted. But then I sat down next to the girls to watch the sunset with them, and wow, was the light across their faces gorgeous. So of course I snapped away while the sun set! Because the light was low, I boosted my ISO to 640 and got a shutter speed of 1/100th sec at F/5.0 aperture. If I had unlimited cooperation from my two subjects, I would have boosted the ISO to 1000 and shot more photos at F/8 so that the girl further back would be in sharper focus. When shooting more than one person, either try to get them on the same plane of focus, or deepen your depth of field by using a smaller aperture like F/8. Not always possible, as was the case here, but the sweet expressions and the light make the shot a perfect one for me.

Freeze the Action in Your Summer Water Shots

RT_DSC8372

During the summer, we find ourselves in or near water a good part of the time. It’s always fun to capture the moment and freeze every water droplet, too. When trying to freeze motion, you need a fast shutter speed. Usually 1/1000th sec or higher will guarantee crisp sharp water droplets as well as a sharp fast-moving subject like this wake-boarder. Here, I used a tele zoom positioned at 95mm off the back of a boat. I also used a higher ISO of 400, even though the sun was shining brightly, to ensure I could get a very fast shutter speed. The exposure setting for this shot was F/9 aperture at 1/1250th sec shutter speed. You can set your camera to the action icon and the camera will take over all settings to give you the fastest shutter speed possible for your lighting situation. Or you can set your camera to “A” for aperture-priority and adjust your aperture until you see a desirable shutter speed when you look through your viewfinder at the settings along the bottom or when you look on your LCD panel on your camera. Next time the kids are splashing around at the pool or under a sprinkler, or you’re capturing tubing or wake boarding from a boat, set your camera to the fastest shutter speed you can to freeze the action. (Note: This will be the same setting you will use to freeze any sports motion).RT_DSC8263

For Great Candid Photos, Keep Your Distance

Keep Your Distance

As all of the school year activities wind down, and some fun summer times begin, take a step back from it all and zoom in on the moments with your telephoto zoom lens. Not only will you get some more natural expressions, but your subjects will really stand out from the background with your tele lens setting. At the end of the last soccer game of the season, I remained at the side lines while the coaches gave encouragement and praise to their players and zoomed in. I caught a very natural expression on both coach and player. Additionally, while outdoors this summer, pay attention to where the sun is. Try to shoot later in the day when the sun is not so harsh. And look where the sun is hitting your subjects. Here, the sun is lower in the sky and behind the team, which adds a nice rim light to their hair and shoulders. In this lighting situation, set your camera to spot meter, as I did here, to be sure the camera gives the proper exposure for your subjects, and does not “put on sunglasses” because of the bright light behind and make your subjects darker than desired. Look for the metering button on your camera and turn it to spot. When you look through your viewfinder, you will see a the smallest of circles in the center of the frame (see below). Be sure this circle is on your subject, press and hold your shutter release button half way to lock in both focus and exposure, adjust your composition if necessary, and then take the shot by pressing the button the rest of the way.

A Little Elevation and Leaning Forward Results in a Better Portrait

May_1012

When shooting people, I like to get just a little bit above eye level. When shooting straight on, especially when photographing someone taller than you, results are sometimes less than flattering. Look at the man in the photo on the left, and then compare it to the photo on the right. The only adjustment I made was to stand on a chair and ask him to lean forward just a bit. That slight adjustment results in a much more flattering snapshot that slims him down and eliminates the double chin. A bonus: the background is much less distracting and looking up at me with the sky behind me adds a sparkle to both of their eyes that is not there in the first one! Quick tips to be prepared for that ultra impromptu snapshot of guests who don’t like having their photo taken, but begrudgingly grant you just a moment to do it.

Critique Your Photos In Order To Keep Improving Your Photography Skills

Before I rip this photo apart, I do have to say that I am so glad to have it and it will be framed and scrapbooked regardless of the faults I find in it. However, after loading this up

_DSC7692_RT

onto my computer, I sighed and wished I done some things differently. But this is one of the best ways to improve your picture-taking abilities–critique your images harshly to figure out how to make a better shot. If I could take this photo again, I’d do the following things to improve it:
  • I would get just a little bit higher instead of shooting at eye-level
  • I would have one more level of subjects instead of two predominately same-height rows, allowing me to make the group more narrow to accommodate my desire for a full-length vertical shot
  • I would move the boy in the white shirt to either kneel in front, or to a position behind grandma in blue
  • I would make more organized rows of turned shoulders, instead of all facing forward
  • I love the open shade, but I would changed our position slightly to eliminate the harsh lines of shadow in the foreground and background top right
  • While I purposefully picked F/8 as my aperture to be sure I had enough depth of field for both rows to be in sharp focus, I think stopping down to F/6.3 or 5.6 would have blurred my background more

I do love the lighting, though. Open shade is so flattering (see previous post for more) and in most instances, can be easily found when you take a look around your location. As you see, they are all standing just inside the shade, not in the harsh sun. If they were further back into the doorway, I might not have gotten the sparkle in each of their eyes from the open shade situation. The sun bounces around and lights my subjects evenly as if you held a big sift reflector in front of them, thereby eliminating harsh shadows under chins and brows and giving you highlights in the eyes.

So while I will look for a similar location next time I shoot a group like this, I will a) get higher, b) watch how the subjects are arranged more closely, and c) look more closely at what’s in the edges of the frame and zoom in, change position or change composition to eliminate anything distracting from the frame.