Take a Photo that Demonstrates the Rule of Thirds

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The rule of thirds is one of the most powerful creative options you have when composing your photograph. A photo that has the important element of the photo at an intersecting point of a “tic tac toe” board, or in one of the right or left, top or bottom thirds of the photo, is one that is more compelling  than a shot with the subject centered.

_DSC4304_RT_150_wgridMost often, you don’t want to position your subject smack dab in the center of the frame. It’s boring. Although, this rule, like all rules, can be broken very effectively. That really depends on the shot. But if you start to think about not putting you subject in the center of the frame, you will train your eye to see better shots. For example, the eye closest to the camera should hit one of the intersecting points. Or the critical part of the landscape should be in the top third or bottom third, left third or right third. My shot here shows the subject off to the right slightly and in the lower portion of the frame. This gives the subject breathing room in the frame, the “white space” (which does not have to be white, but rather unimportant or non-distracting space in the frame) gives your eye a place to rest and then come back to the subject, and by positioning the subject as I did, you get a feeling of where she is and that where she is important to me and therefore should be to the viewer as well. Below is another example. This time a vertical landscape that also adheres to the rule of thirds. I added the tic tac toe board to both images also so that you can get a better idea of where the intersecting points or thirds of a frame are.
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Use Your Flash for Outdoor Photos

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We all have heard the rule that early morning and late afternoon are the magical times for talking photos. But let’s face it. At noon, we’re at the pool or the beach. Noon is when the action is happening and when we are more likely to be taking photos. So in order to avoid the raccoon eyes that come with overhead noon time light, just turn on your flash! The small burst of light will fill in shadows and make your subject’s eyes pop out just like it did for my subject. Look at the shot on the left with no flash. Harsh shadows fill in the eye sockets and the shadow is strong across her shoulder and neck. For the shot on the right, I just popped up my built-in flash and it makes a world of difference. To avoide over-exposing your subject, one trick is to dial in a small aperture like F/16 or F/22. For some people, images that use fill flash may appear to be too artificial. If you find the flash puts out too much light, there is a setting on most DSLR cameras whereby you can “compensate” the flash in a plus (+) or minus (-) direction. Dial in a -1 or -2 flash compensation and the flash will emit less light to fill in shadows more subtly. (For that tip, however, you will have to break out your camera manual to find the setting). So next time you’re at the pool or beach this summer, and you cannot get your subject under an umbrella, or tree or some other type of open shade during those harsh hours between 11am and 3pm, then try popping up your flash! (25mm; F/16; ISO200)

Don’t Leave Home Without Your Camera

NYC_STORE_1That’s of course one of the tricks to getting a good photo. Just keep taking pictures! But even when your doing some of the most mundane things, you might just find some perfect light and a child with a great attitude for the day! Here are two shots from our recent overnight in NYC. We went window shopping down in SOHO and while in a furniture store, she sat down while we browsed. When I checked on her, I noticed that the window light streaming in from the high broad windows was beautiful. Her eyes just sparkled when she looked up at me. Of course, I said, oh, you look so pretty, stay right there! The warm tones in the store made it even more beautiful and she cooperated for two or three shots. (32mm; F/5; ISO 400).

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At the next store, there were floor to ceiling windows all around the 2nd floor store. And she picked up a nice prop- a bouquet of artificial sunflowers – and promptly sat on the floor in front of the window. Because I was so close to her, not more than five feet, and used a focal length slightly more than normal (65mm), the flowers are out of focus. (65m; F/5; ISO 400). For both shots, I had my camera in aperture priority mode so that I could always pick the most wide open aperture I could get given the lighting. This way I ensured the background would be a little softer to make her pop out. And I always focus on the eyes (or the eye that is closest to the camera).

Photoshop 101 Color Correction

I am no Photoshop guru. Everything I know I learned from photographers Ken Hubbard and Andre Costantini, two pros who DO know their Photoshop. But I can fix a shot that’s too dark, or the wrong tint. Sometimes sharpen it up a bit. The thing to remember with digital is that almost all images need a little boost. If you send your images out to a lab to make prints (like Shutterfly or any other online processing) or drop them off at a drug store, the images automatically go through processing to increase contrast, correct a little color and sharpen them. But if you print at home like me, it’s worth the little bit of time to take a great shot and make it even better. Software like Photoshop Elements, Picassa and more are a great investment of both time and money. I noticed my shot of her in the pool from Sunday’s aperture post was looking a little blue. So I took a moment to fix it and thought this would be a good post. Here we go…

Step 1: Go to Edit > Adjustments > Levels (Ctr+L) and move your slider on the right until you meet the black hill. If need be, move the slider on the left to meet the black hill, too.1_levels
Step 2: Next, I zoomed in on the photo and went to Image > Adjustments > Curves (Ctr + M) and clicked the eyedropper on the right (white) and selected a white point in the photo (the rail of the pool in the background). The image now shifted color and became brighter.
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Step 3: However, I thought it was too bright. So I went to Edit > Fade > Fade Curves (fade will adjust the opacity of whatever your last action was) and selected 50%. I like the difference. I think the retouched version pops a little more and it not so blue.
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Unclutter Your Photo’s Background

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Understanding the function of F-stops, or the aperture of your lens, is undeniably the most confusing of your DSLR’s features. However, once you master it, you will make a huge leap forward in the quality of your photos.

As a photo student in high school and college, I stuck a slip of paper onto the back of my camera (yes, in film days SLRs had a bookplate slot on the back of the camera where you slipped in a flap from your film box so that you could remember what film you had loaded. Can you imagine?!). On this slip I wrote, “open aperture=blurry” and “small aperture=sharp.”

An open aperture lets in a lot of light. On your lens it is a setting like F/2.8, 3.5, 5.6, or 6.3. Think of the aperture as your eye’s pupil. If there is not much light, your pupil gets bigger, or “opens” to let in more light. But a big result of using an open aperture is the effect of a blurry background that really makes your subject pop off the page (or screen). You can easily control the aperture setting on your camera by putting the camera on “A” and dialing in one of the aforementioned numbers. Your camera will automatically pick a shutter speed to make a proper exposure.

If you have a distracting background, dialing in a wider (or open aperture) will make the background blurry and eliminate the distractions. However, maybe you want the background really clear. Like if you’re standing in front of a sign that you want to be able to read in the photo. Then you would dial in a small aperture.

In this first photo, her eye is in focus, but her earring is not, and neither is the tip of her nose. I was just a few feet away and had the camera set to “A” (Aperture Priority) and dialed in F/6.3. Now conversely, if you choose a small aperture, like F/22 or F/32, your background will appear more sharp. Again, imagine a bright sunny day and how your pupils react: they get smaller and let in less light. But also, think about when you squint and how things get clearer. This is sort of how a smaller aperture works. In the second photo, I dialed in F/32 and her earring is now in more focus.

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Too Much Tilt In This Photo? Yeah, You’re Right.

Yes, too much leaning to the right. Or is that the left? But I love the expression. It is so hard to get natural expressions from her these days. I am sure this is true of all kids her age.

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They become more self-conscious. More goofy. They think they’re Miley Cyrus posing for CD cover (check out the tween star earrings I let her wear on weekends now). So this was a shot in-between the aforementioned less than desirable looks/poses. I just love her face. And the color! Posed in the shade of the garage in front of the sunny and colorful azalea bushes, she pops off the background. To get this effect, I set the camera to aperture priority and opened up to F/5.6 (my widest opening on this lens, at this focal lenth, in this light, at this ISO). Setting your camera to the portrait scene mode would give you a similar result. The wide open aperture makes the background blurry and soft. But I’ve got to admit it, my attraction to tilting (seeMarch 13 post) did not work out in this photo so much. I’ll try tilting it back a little in photoshop. But love the smile and that’s what really counts. (F/5.6; 1/125 sec; 400 ISO; 60mm with VC on).

Eggs-tra Fun Weekend for Photos

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Like millions across the country, we dyed eggs this past weekend. And took pictures of the whole process. I have about 5 years worth of egg-dying photos now. (I see a big scrapbook collage with lots of 2×2 photos in my future). And each year I try to capture the one with the egg in focus and her face in the background smiling as she shows off her masterpieces one by one. Well, I got the egg in focus, and she’s nicely out of focus in the background. But no smile this year! I set my camera to “A” (aperture priority) and dialed in the widest aperture opening I could (f/5.7 at 97mm) so that the in front of and behind my subject (the egg) would be out of focus. I had my ISO turned all the way up to 3200 so that I would not have to use a flash. I like the result. And the egg went on to be further decorated and then promptly turned into a deviled egg!

To Tilt or Not To Tilt Your Photos

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I admit it. I am a tilter. I just love the little feeling you get that this is a moment captured rather than a posed shot (even when it is, like this one after she got her 6th sequential soccer award–well, every player gets one every season, but special to her nonetheless). To me, slightly or moderately tilting the camera gives the picture energy. The other benefit of tilting is that if you, like me, hardly ever hold the camera really straight (making my images sometimes look a bit “off”) no one notices that the image wasn’t straight to begin with. So I just go with my natural tendency to tilt and use it for effect. Now many people feel tilting is over-done. And it can be. And there is certainly a time when it is not appropriate and can ruin an image. But I like it. And I’m sticking with it. For now. (ISO 800; 55mm; F/4.8; no flash; program mode; auto white balance). PS-can you see the catch light in her eyes? It’s coming from an overhead skylight! So look around for a light source when you are figuring out where you want your subject to stand.

Black & White Beauty

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I was waiting to catch my limo to take me away from my daughter for 5 days. And I needed an updated photo of her to show off to my colleagues and to look at while the plane took off (since having her I fear take-off and landing terribly). So I took five minutes to sit her on the ledge of our bay window and snapped for as long as she would let me. I made a quick bw print to take with me. But while surfing ThePioneerWoman.com website, I found her photoshop actions and decided to try to make a new black and white today that would really bring out her eyes. I used Black and White Beauty and Boost. I really loved how the light from the window sculpted her face: since she was so close to the window, the side farther away from the window is a little in shadow, which gives the portrait dimension. If she was further away from the window, her face would have a more even tone from left to right. I used a medium telephoto setting combined with an F5.6 in aperture priority mode. That was enough to blur out the patio furniture that was visible outside the window.

Overcast Days Make Great Photos

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The lighting on an overcast day, even at midday, is ideal for natural and easy candid portraits. My daughter played in the snow, got her cheeks all rosy, and then stopped for a minute for me to grab a couple of shots. I stood back and zoomed in to 120mm to blur out the background and I had no worries about the “raccoon eyes” you might get midday on sunny days since the snow acted as a natural reflector and bounced light back into her beautiful face.