Quick Silhouette

Exp Comp(-2.0)_SAE_3640There are several ways to capture silhouettes. I find one of the easiest is to use your exposure compensation function, the same feature discussed in the previous post. The image above was shot at -2.0, under-exposing the image by two stops. The sky is a rich color, and the couple on the beach swing is completely black. Below, you will see variations of compensation (0, -1.0 -2.0 and -3.0) of the same scene. Next time you’re shooting around sunset, take several images of your subject that has strong identifiable lines at different exposure compensation settings until you find the one that best suits your vision.

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Exposure Compensation 0

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Exposure Compensation -1.0

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Exposure Compensation -2.0

Exposure Compensation -3.0

Exposure Compensation -3.0

 

 

 

 

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.

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).
too dark without exposure compensation

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.

comparison_2_fill flash comparison_1_fill flash

Understanding the Histogram on Your Camera to Make Better Photos

What is a histogram?
The histogram on your camera lets you view the exposure of your photos so you will know whether your photo is too light or too dark. This is important since there are so many times that we cannot really see the image on the LCD screen because of bright sunlight. Or you may have your LCD set to a lower or higher brightness and therefore the image on the LCD will not look the same as the image downloaded to your computer. 
Histograms which represent an image that has all tones from the blackest black to the whitest white will look like an even hill as in the sample above. But if your image is over- or under-exposed, the hill will fall short of one or both ends as in the sample below. So how does this information help you? You can adjust your camera setting using exposure compensation (+/- EV) and take another shot that is properly exposed.
 
Is my photo under-exposed or dark?
To read your histogram to determine if the photo is under-exposed, press the info button on the back of your camera while playing back an image. You will see a graph like the one above. Look at the right side. Does the information (the black hills) go all the way to the right side? If it does not go all the way to the right, then your image may be too dark. Try “adding light” to brighten up your image by dialing in a plus (+) exposure compensation, such as +0.33, +0.67 or perhaps +1.0. Then take another shot and see if the right side moved further to the right.
Is my photo over-exposed or too light?
To check if you are “blowing out the highlights” look at the left side. If the information does not reach all the way left, you may not see any detail in the brightest parts of your image (think bride’s dress or facial features). Before making any correction, press the info button once again. You will see any that any areas that are over-exposed or blown out will be blinking. If a critical detail (like the face) is blinking, you will want to make a correction by dialing in a minus (-) exposure compensation, such as -.33, -0.67 or perhaps -1.0 to subtract some light from the image.
Consider what type of image you are shooting before making any correction
Keep in mind that the histogram is giving you a representation of the darks and lights in your image. If you take a photo out in bright snow and your subject is wearing light clothing, there may not be any black in the image and your histogram will naturally lean to the right making a an uneven hill. Making an adjustment in this case might lead to grey looking snow. 
Conversely, if your image is of a black cat in a low lit room in front of a brown wall, there may not be much white or brightness for the camera to record and the histogram hill will lean to the left naturally. Making a correction here might make the blacks look grey and you will lose the richness of your shot.
So the histogram need not be an even hill from left to right.
By checking your histogram from time to time during your shoot, you can be sure before getting you r photos onto your computer whether or not your exposure is on the money. To learn more about the histogram on your camera, consult the owner’s manual. Add information about the histogram to your camera bag by downloading the new Photo Tips Card: Histogram at right and adding it to the others on a D-ring.

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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Take a Candid Holiday Portrait by Window Light, and Add a Prop!

easter_portrait_1The window is your best photo accessory for portraits. It’s so easy to use, always there, you don’t need an assistant to hold anything, and you don’t have to pull out your auxiliary flash. I just love the light that streams through my windows in several rooms. Positioning your subject very close to the window, like in the shot at left from early Easter mornning, can give you a nice dramatic light since the light falls off the opposite side of the face quickly and the eyes have a nice sparkle from the window catchlights. To get more of an even light, move your subject just a further away from the window (as in the first photo below- the subject was across the room from the window), or, face your subject perpendicular to the window instead of parallel. In this case, you can actually stand right in front of the window with your subject in turn in front of you and you will not block the light! See this post here for an example of this type of positioning. You can also “fill in” the other side of the face with a pop of the flash as you can see in the second photo below. If you find there is still a slight “artificial” feeling, you can adjust how much light the flash puts out by adjusting the flash +/- button usually found near the flash. Hold the button in and dial it towards the minus side. Perhaps -.7 or -1.0. Review the flash section in your camera manual to see exactly how to set this on your camera. And don’t foget to add a prop that gives your portrait a sense of time. In my case, the tulips scream spring and the eggs of course will remind me this was Easter time when we look back at these photos years from now. (Watch for a forthcoming download card with lighting diagrams for window light positioning).
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