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

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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.

Natural Lighting for Mother’s Day Portraits

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Before mom or grandma comes over for Mother’s Day (May 13th), think about a great spot in your yard to take a beautiful mother’s day portrait. Look for a spot that has open shade. Open shade will give you even lighting and really make the eyes sparkle. Great choices are in a doorway, under a covered porch, or under the perimeter of a shady tree. Position your subject just inside the lens of shade. Rule of thumb for positioning is if she can take just a step or two forward, and she is in sun the sun, then the step or two back is perfect! Too far back and you will lose some of the brightness and highlights in the eyes that the open shade provides. Try to get just a little higher than your subject so she looks up slightly towards your camera. Use a wide open aperture like F/2.8 or F/3.5 to blur the background. If you can use a tele zoom position, then your background will be even more blurred. So scout out your location and do a few test shots before your special guest arrives on Mother’s Day. Read more about open shade here and here).

It’s Almost Spring, But Here’s Another Tip for Snowy Winter Photos

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We had just one snow storm this winter, so just one day to get out and play in the snow with my camera. Snow tends to fool your camera’s meter since the snow is so bright, making the camera under-exposure your snowy pics. My analogy is that your camera wants to put on a pair of sunglasses to cut the brightness. To get a better exposure, start by setting your camera’s exposure compensation dial to +.67 (2/3 of a stop). Most of the time this does the trick, but you can even go to +1.0. (Read about exposure compensation here and here). Your snow will be bright white instead of gray-looking. For this picture, I set the exposure to +.67. I was further away from my subject and got down low to eliminate the distracting fence and bare branches in the background. I also set my aperture to a wide opening of F/5.0 and zoomed in to 185mm telephoto to blur the background. I love the snow crystals on her hat. I feel chilly just looking at this photo! Please take note that if you are lucky enough to get away to a beach destination this winter, this same tip works for bright sand and water, too.

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Here, I zoomed out to 110mm to get more snow in the photo.

Slow Down Your Shutter Speed for Fun Snowy Photos

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Now that winter is here, you’ll find yourself outside with the kids on the next snowy day. A good time to practice slowing down your shutter speed to create fun effects! By putting your camera on aperture priority mode (A on the mode dial)and moving your aperture (or f-stop) to a larger number like F/8, you will get a slower shutter speed. Since it is usually overcast when it is snowing, this aperture setting should be about right, but feel free to make the aperture even larger, or open up a little bit (move to a smaller number like F/6.3 or F/5.6). In this photo, the exposure was 1/40th sec. at F/6.3— just enough to make the very light snow turn into short streaks, but still fast enough to keep my subject in focus if she moved slightly. I used the stabilization feature on my lens, so camera shake was not a worry, but you will want to be sure that the shutter speed does not drop to slower than 1/30th sec. or else you do risk camera shake without a stabilization feature. If your subjects are jumping around considerably, this technique may not work. I asked my subject to catch snowflakes with her tongue, which made her stand still and concentrate on the activity. Slower shutter speeds (typically those under 1/125th sec.) can help convey motion, and this same technique should be used to make water streaks under a sprinkler or from a hose or for waterfalls. Read more about freezing and blurring motion here and here.

A Must Have Bag for the Two-Lens Photographer

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I have an addiction. I’m a bag hound. I especially love totes and camera bags. I have camera bags for every occasion: just my camera and one lens; my camera/lens and flash; all my gear; and several variations of each. I even add padded camera inserts into my favorite tote bags to make fun camera bags (see this post here for details). I love my LowePro Backpack for my camera and laptop when I’m traveling through airports. I was recently given a new S&F Lens Exchange Case, also made by LowePro, and I have to say, this makes working with two lenses so easy. The case opens up quickly with one-hand and actually expands so that you can hold two lenses at once. No need to ask your friend, “can you hold this for a sec?” while you change lenses. The case is very comfortable to walk around with (you can use the padded shoulder strap or attach it to your belt). And while its two mesh side-pockets are meant for lens caps, I found my cell and some money fit perfectly in one pocket and I squeezed a bottle of water in the other! Using this Lens Exchange Case came in really handy as we walked thru the corn maze and around the pumpkin patch last month. If there are times when you don’t want to leave the house with one lens, and feel that your larger camera bag will hold you down, I highly recommend a lens bag and this one by LowePro is the best I’ve used in a long time! I wish it came in a color other than black, but I might just add some fabric patches from Michael’s to make it my own!  (sponsored post)

Shoot From below for Dynamic Images that Capture the Whole Scene

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I was literally laying on the ground with my head in the lap of another mom when I shot this photo of the girls under the Statue of Liberty on a recent field trip. While it will be a year or so before you can visit the inside of the Statue due to its closing for repairs, you can still visit Liberty Island and get this shot. And this low angle can and should be used for holiday picture-taking, winter vacations, and more. Here are just a few ideas:

-A tall public Christmas tree
-The Eiffel Tower
-A lighthouse
-The Disney castle
-A snowman
-Your house
-Skyscrapers
-An amusement park ride
-Mountains

Get down low, shoot up and use a wide angle setting on your zoom lens. Be sure to meter on the subject, not the sky or the background or else your subject’s face will be under-exposed. To do this, 1) set your camera to spot meter mode (see your instruction manual, but it’s easy); 2) put the small circle in your frame on your subject so that the camera can read the exposure of your subject and not the background; 3) press your shutter release button down halfway to lock-in that exposure; 4) re-compose your shot as you like; and 5) press the shutter button the rest of the way to take your shot.

Making Your Photos Into Works of Art

_DSC5858_canvas2I recently had the opportunity to make my first  gallery-wrapped canvas print of one of my images using EasyCanvasPrints.com. And easy it was! Canvas is a material studio portrait photographers have used for years. And many works of art are printed on canvas, which makes a beautiful print and a real statement when hanging on the wall of your home or office. The canvas texture and printing of the image I selected gave the shot a painterly quality that I just love.

canvas_4Ordering the canvas was quick and easy. I love the Easy Canvas Prints website. They have this neat simulation to help you decide what size canvas print you should order (see detail from screen shot). This was a big help. I ordered a smaller 11×14 canvas to go over my book shelf that holds my scrapbooks in our family room.

After selecting the height and width of the print, you can then choose how thick you want the print to be. I chose .75″, but they have a real nice 1.5″ thick for larger prints. Then you can preview and select your choice of how the canvas will wrap around the print. Having the ability to preview the end result is great because every picture is different. I chose the standard wrap since I felt it worked best for my shot of  the American flag blowing in the wind that I took during the Worldwide Photo Walk this year.

I received my print within a week and was very pleased. I would recommend, however, that you opt for the retouching by EasyCanvasPrints since printing on canvas is slightly different than printing on regular photo paper. I provided a slightly dark file and had I opted for them to retouch, they would have tweaked the image for printing on canvas. They also have an option for converting the shot to black & white and more.

Hanging the print was really easy too. Canvas gallery-wrapped prints are extremely lightweight and don’t require a frame. The print comes ready to hang. I hammered a tiny nail in the wall last nite at 10pm after everyone went to bed and it was up! And even better, on the back of the canvas was a little pack of $10 discount cards for you to share with your friends so that they can order a print. I think I will use one to order a print for my mom of the grandchildren for Christmas this year! (sponsored post)

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Use Structures In Your Surroundings As a Reflector for Better Outdoor Portraits

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On a beautiful fall day, I posed my subject next to a tree facing the back of the house, which acted as a reflector. The sun bounced off the house and lit the girl’s face and gave her a really nice highlight in each eye. Reflectors can be any white or near white surface, such as a painted brick wall, a sign on a door, or more. Position your subject in the path of the light as it bounces naturally off the “reflector.” If you are in a place where there is no structure that can act as a reflector, then break out a white piece of foam core or oat tag to bounce light back into your subject’s face and eyes. If you love this technique for posed portraits, then you might consider buying a reflector from your local camera store. So look around to see not only where the light is coming from, but what it is bouncing off.

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The lit leaves in the background add some drama.

My Favorite Fix When Your Photo Is Too Dark

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Sure, you can always lighten up your photo after you download it into your computer, but getting a better exposure right from the start is much better and faster in the long run. I return to the lesson of exposure compensation often simply because it a tip that bears repeating. When your photo is too dark, like the one below, a rather unflattering shot of me and my subject taken by holding the camera at arm’s length, simply add light by dialing +0.3 or +0.67 using your exposure compensation (+/-) button on the top of your camera to brighten up your image.The top image had +0.67 dialed in. It’s a quick and easy solution for dark photos. Read more about Exposure Compensation here, and here and here. As you can tell, I use it often. I think I need to do a Photo Tips Card on this (download previous cards at links on right).
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too dark without exposure compensation

 

Add a Little Light to Combat Harsh Sun for Better Beach Photos

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Taking pictures at the beach is always fun (as long as you take a few precautions to protect your camera — see 7/6/11 post). But often we get harsh shadows that make the photos less desirable. Get rid of the harshness and raccoon eyes just by popping up your flash! Put your camera on the program mode (P) and pop-up your flash. As you can see in the example comparisons below, you can soften all of the harsh shadows. Examine the two photos. Look under the chair’s head rest, under the left arm, under the chin and below the rim of the sunglasses. Additionally, look at the sliver of rocky sand in the background on the right side. On the left, it’s sort of greyish, but on the right, it is a more pleasing color. Then look at the example further below (please ignore that toothless grinny expression!). In this case, the brightness behind the subject made the camera’s meter stop down a little (like putting on sunglasses because it was too bright) resulting in her face being too dark. But by popping up the flash, you see how you can brighten up a dark face. Tip: If you find the flash to be too bright or too artificial looking for your taste, then  you can tone down the flash very simply. Look at the same button you use to pop up your flash. It should have a +/- symbol. Hold this button in and dial the wheel at your index finger to the right so that the numbers on your display go to the negative side. You are essentially subtracting power from the flash so that it puts out less light. Try several different settings (-0.7, -1.0, etc) until you achieve a desirable shot. You may need to consult your owner’s manual (yes, sorry) and look for “flash exposure compensation” in the index.

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