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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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.

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.

Shoot From a Different Angle for a Meaningful Perspective

_DSC2061_RTWhile visiting Boston over the Memorial Day weekend, we experienced a moving memorial to the fallen soldiers of Boston: 20,000 flags in the middle of The Boston Commons. Each flag represented a Massachusetts citizen who died in wars and military conflicts during the last 100 years. By shooting low (with the camera nearly on the ground as I knelt in front of the first line of flags) I was able to eliminate the distracting background of visitors and keep the focus on this sea of flags that really puts into perspective the staggering number of lives lost. The 50mm focal length setting combined with a wider open aperture of f/5.3 helped to compress the flags to give the image a painterly feeling as the seemingly never-ending rows of flags dissolves into the background.

Shoot Wide and Close to Eliminate Distracting Backgrounds in Your Photos

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During winter break, we spent a few days in sunny and warm California. Our trip to Hollywood was brief and pictures were difficult with so many people on the crowded boulevard that was in full set-up mode for the Academy Awards. And with two kids all too anxious to see the sights, I had just a moment to capture a “we are here” photo in front of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. By setting my lens to a 23mm wideangle setting, getting close to them and tilting down on the scene, I was able to quickly eliminate the people in the background while still capturing their expressions and John Travolta’s star. I used a slightly small F/6.3 aperture, that when combined with the wide focal length, kept both the star and the kids in focus. Be sure to focus on the subjects eyes and then tilt down for your best exposure and to keep the most important focus point sharp. (Note: I did Photoshop out one lingering foot of a Storm Trooper from the upper right side of the frame. Don’t be afraid to crop or retouch to make your photo even better before posting, framing, scrapbooking or adding to an album).

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!

What I Learned Taking Basketball Photos

_DSC6403_RTIt’s hard. It’s really hard to get a good shot. That’s what I learned. Today I took photos at the basketball game again. I brought along the “big gun” – a 70-200mm F/2.8 lens. And I really assumed this would take care of all of the issues I had previously trying to get a good shot. And it did help quite a bit. But there are several issues you’ll be faced with if you plan to take photos in a gym. The biggest issue is lighting. The lighting in gyms can vary greatly. A gym with windows is much easier to shoot in since the brighter light is not only more natural for color, but it allows you to shoot at higher shutter speeds to stop action. In my case, there were no windows and only dull mercury vapor lights to shoot under. So not only was the lighting so low that I could not stop action effectively with my slower F/6.3 lens, but the color cast I got while using auto WB was unacceptable. So taking the following steps really helped me to finally get a better shot (but I am no Walter Iooss):

  1. Use a fast lens if you can. I used an F/2.8 lens that lets in lots of light
  2. Set your camera to aperture-priority and open the lens to the widest opening your lens allows since this will make the camera default to the highest shutter speed it can to stop action.
  3. Boost your ISO to 1600 or higher. Make sure you are able to get a shutter speed of at least 1/250th of a second to stop the action. If the camera is shooting slower, you will need to boost your ISO some more.
  4. Search thru your menus and see if you can find a setting to turn on “High ISO Noise Reduction” and set it to high. This will help reduce some of the noise you get when using an ISO over 800.
  5. Use manual white balance to get the best color that you can. See this post for information on how to set a manual white balance. And see the download card here for information about white balance in general.
  6. Position yourself near your team’s basket if you can so that you can get facial expressions when they have opportunity to shoot. Shooting under the basket does require a wider angle lens. Shooting from across the court calls for a telephoto lens.
  7. Shoot vertically as most action is vertical rather than horizontal. This will allow you to get full length shots, get the ball while in the air, and get players and the net in the shot.
  8. Watch your framing. I found I cut off the feet of my players quite often as I was concentrating on the ball so hard. Footless platers are sort of disturbing.
  9. Look for side line action like coaches giving their players direction, player interaction after a score, and details like the ball, the scoreboard, etc.

I hope these tips will help your sports shooting. And of course, practice and knowing the game go without saying.

Isolate Details for a Different Look at Landscapes

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When you say “landscape” I’m sure the vision you have in your mind is a panorama of a sprawling field, distant mountains or grand canyons taken with a super wide angle setting on your zoom lens. However, telephoto zoom settings can also be used effectively for landscape photos. When you zoom in on the details of your landscape, you can bring out something special. Here, in Nikko, Japan, I captured the majesty of the not-quite peaked fall season by isolating a few brilliantly colored trees clustered together in the still mostly green landscape. The resulting picture says “fall” unlike the wide angle shot I could have taken. Next time you’re shooting landscapes, zoom in and see what interesting detail you can find: a single tree, a mountain peak, a reflection in the lake, and more. When you use the telephoto setting, you compress the distance between objects and achieve a flat, almost painterly 2-D effect.

Take a Photo from A Worm’s Eye

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Getting low on the ground and shooting up towards your subject can create a dramatic effect. This is called a “worm’s eye view” since you are essentially viewing the subject just as a worm would. As opposed to a bird’s eye view, well, you get the picture. Now, I literally laid down on the ground and shot up to make sure I could get the full length of the lighthouse in my shot. However, crouching down can achieve the effect. So can raising your subject. For example, your subject is up on a ladder, or porch, and you are on the ground. Use your imagination to get below your subject. You will see how you can crop out distracting backgrounds, include more sky, or incorporate something special in the photo. You can also give the illusion of height, power, strength and more when you shoot upwards.