Photographing a Spooky Jack O’Lantern

jackolantern3Tonight is the perfect night to light up your carved pumpkin and snap a few spooky shots. I found that taking a shot a little bit after the sun sets, while there is still some light left in the sky, can make your pumpkin look more scary. The tree branches will be back-lit, which adds to the mood of the shot. Start by setting your camera to aperture priority and selecting the widest aperture your lens allows (F/2.3, F/3.5) and a low ISO (200 or 100). Next, put your camera on a tripod or other stable surface. Using a cable release or electronic remote control like I did will ensure that you do not get an blur when you press the shutter release button during your long exposure. If you have a lens with an anti-shake mechanism (like Tamron’s VC, Nikon’s VR or Canon’s IS systems), be sure to turn it off when using a tripod as it is counter-productive to use the stabilizer system in that situation. Then, shoot your pumpkin at a lower angle using a wide angle setting on your lens to get some of the trees in the background. You can add extra exposure if your background is too dark by using the exposure compensation dial and going to the plus side. This slows down your shutter speed even more. Your exposure will be somewhere around 15 seconds to get the soft glow of the jack o’lantern and the bluish sky in the background.

Happy Halloween!

"My Photo Are Too Dark" — Solutions for Common Problems: Part 2

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In my last post (so long ago, I apologize but summer seemed to have gotten in the way), I covered easy solutions for blurry photos. The next most common problem is dark photos (i.e., under-exposed). While the most logical answer is there just is not enough light, there are other reasons for dark photos.

Problem: You are using the flash but the subject is still dark. Reason: The subject is too far away. The built-in flash on your camera can safely cover a distance of about 10 feet or so. If your subject is well beyond that, chances are it cannot be lit by your flash. Solution: The answer in this case would be to move a little closer. (You can also try raising your ISO to give your flash some more distance coverage).

Problem: The background is really bright and the camera’s meter is fooled. This is called a “back-lit” situation. The meters in today’s cameras are excellent, and you have the choice of several metering patterns to help you achieve your desired result. However, there are still situations like back-lit where you camera’s meter is fooled and gives you the wrong exposure for your subject. When the background is overly bright, the camera “puts on a pair of sunglasses” by closing the aperture down a little to let in less light, resulting in a nicely exposed background and a darker subject.

Examples of back lit situations:

  • in front of a picture window
  • at the beach or pool
  • on snow
  • when shooting from below up against a bright sky, etc.
  • under an overhang (like a stadium with field in the background)
  • The sun is behind your subject

Solution: 1 My favorite option is to use the + exposure compensation (covered here and here). This +/- button usually positioned near your thumb is one of my often used adjustments since you can quickly darken or lighten a subject. By adding (+) .3 to 1 full stop of light by dialing towards the plus side (see your instruction manual to see just how your camera works), you can trick your camera into removing the sunglasses and get a perfect exposure on your subject. By bracketing (taking several shots at several different exposure compensation settings) you are sure to get the proper exposure.

Solution 2: A second solution is to pop up the flash and fill in the subject.

Solution 3: Another way to get a good exposure in a precise area is to switch the camera’s metering pattern to spot metering. Most of the time, you are most likely shooting in the camera’s matrix mode that reads several areas of the image and gives you an exposure based on a lot of data built into the camera. This pattern works well much of the time. But the camera also has a center metering pattern where a smaller area is read and the exposure is based on that area. And even smaller sliver of the image can be measured by suing the spot metering mode (the rectangle with a small dot in the middle is the symbol for this pattern). Make sure the dot lays over the area of your subject you want properly exposed and then take the shot. If you need to recompose your image after taking the reading (dot on subject), then hold in the AE lock button located near the +/- button until you have finished taking the photo. Breaking out your camera’s instruction manual will give you the exact steps to set spot metering and to use AE lock.

In my example above (a perfect shot to end the summer), the child’s face my have been under-exposed, or dark, due to the brightness of the sky, surf and sand. But by adding 2/3-stop of light using the +/- feature, I was able to get a great exposure on her cute face.

Shooting Against a Bright Background Fools Your Camera’s Meter: One Easy Answer Is A Quick Exposure Compensation Adjustment

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On my recent business trip to Switzerland this month, we had the opportunity to sightsee for two days. Our tour took us to an amazing view of the Swiss Alps. A short train trip on the Matterhorn Cog Railway from the mountain town of Zermatt brought us to the Gornergrat where we were met with a panoramic view at 3131 meters above sea level. This astounding view of 29 peaks, each over 4000 meters and including the Matterhorn at 4478 meters, offered up the chance for our small group of 25 to take thousands of photos. We each took turns taking photos of each other and quickly discovered we needed to adjust our camera settings to compensate for the extremely bright background. In this case, the meter saw that much of the frame was filled with white, so the camera “stopped down” the aperture to let in less light (sort of like squinting in bright light). However, this made the subject’s face quite dark. To compensate, I moved the exposure compensation setting to +1.0. I then pointed the camera at my colleague, held the shutter release button down halfway to lock in the focus, and shifted the camera so that I could capture Yuki in front of the Klein Matterhorn. This tip is useful when shooting against any bright background such as snow, sand, water and bright windows, all which lead to backlit situations. So keep this in mind as you travel this summer or spend a day at the beach or boating.

Silhouette Photos Are Easier Than You Think

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Silhouettes are some of the most dramatic images. Who doesn’t love the silo of father and child walking away from the camera holding hands; or dad lifting a toddler high above his head against a blue sky; or an iconic skyline with a beautiful sunset backdrop. I could go on and on with examples we can instantly picture in our minds…palm trees, mountain ranges, large mammals atop a hillside, swimmers getting ready to jump into the lake. You get it. And to get the shot, it is actually very easy. My first example is not the greatest composition due to the distracting fence that surrounds the basketball court, but it clearly shows the subject and all details as black silhouettes. To take a silhouette photo, it helps to remember how the camera makes a proper exposure. When the meter reads very bright light, it stops down the aperture to a very small aperture, thus letting in less light. So if you point the camera at the sky, and lock in the exposure for the bright blue sky or brilliant sunset, the camera will pick a very small aperture like F22, letting in less light and therefore under-exposing your subject, which in turn becomes black. You can vary the effect by using your exposure compensation button (+/-) and taking shots a stop or two under and a stop or two over and pick the effect you like best. In my examples below, I metered off of the bright water and achieved the same effect. So next time it is a sunny day, crouch low so that your subject is against the bright background, meter for the sky and shoot away.

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