Thursday, July 16, 2009

4 Easy Photoshop Techniques to Make Your Pictures Pop! by Darren Rowse

In this tutorial I will be demonstrating some quick, easy methods for adding drama and/or interest to your shots. As always, talk to me in the Post Processing Section of the Forums with any questions or comments. As far as I know, these methods should work for both Photoshop and Photoshop Elements.

#1: blur/overlay

Duplicate your picture layer by dragging the layer to the ‘new’ icon in the layers palette (ctrl+j).


Apply a gaussian blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur…). Blur it enough that the detail disappears but the shapes mostly keep their form.


In the layers palette, change the blending mode from ‘Normal’ to ‘Overlay.’


If you look at the before and after, you can see that this method makes the light tones lighter and the dark tones darker while softening it a touch. Basically, it softly boosts the contrast. If you want a more dramatic effect, try changing the blending mode to ‘Vivid Light’ instead of ‘Overlay.’

Try it on all kinds of shots: portraits, nature shots, you name it. I use this method ALL the time. It works so well with everything!

#2: filter the background

This one can be fun… With a picture open, duplicate the layer (as always). Use your lasso tool to roughly select the subject of your image.


Feather the selection by going to Select > Feather (ctrl+alt+d). We want a pretty large feather, so what you input depends on your picture. Try 50 pixels. Go to Layer > New > Layer via copy. You should end up with just your subject on a new layer with a nice feather to it (fades at the edges).

Select the layer copy below your subject layer. Start trying out filters. I used Filter > Brush Strokes > Dark Strokes for this example. Most of the Brush Stroke filters work well with this effect. Using blurs tends to look a little funny. When you’ve got it all done, your layers palette should look a little like this:


That’s it. Try this out with lots of different filters. If you want to tone down the effect, change the opacity of the effect layer. If you want to get more advanced with your subject selection, you can duplicate the layer, mask it out, and use a large soft white brush to paint the subject back in.


#3: neon glow

Have you ever played with neon glow and wondered when the heck you were ever going to use it? Well, it’s time to give it another shot. This can add a touch of color and drama to your shot.


Duplicate your layer, then pull up Filter > Artistic > Neon Glow. Pick a color that you think will complement your shot. In mine, the cat is lit with sunlight, so I went with a yellow to exaggerate that. Start with a glow size of 4 and a glow brightness of 18, then tweak it to suit your shot. This is what I ended up with:


I’ll bet you can guess what’s next. You got it — change the blending mode to ‘Overlay.’ Also cycle through those modes: soft light, hard light, vivid light, and linear light. I prefer overlay and vivid light with this effect.


#4 easy blur

This one nearly passed me by… it’s a wonderfully easy effect to soften a picture. Try it on portraits.


Duplicate your layer and apply a Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) so that the details start to go, but not too much.


Set the opacity of the layer to 50%. This is a great, super-simple way to soften a picture. It can give it almost a dreamy look. Play with opacities until you find something that works really well with your shot.

Wedding Photography - 21 Tips for for Amateur Wedding Photographers by Darren Rowse

“Help me - I’m photographing my first Wedding!… Help me with some Wedding Photography Tips Please!”

It’s a question that’s been asked a few times in our forums over the last few months so while I’m not a Pro Wedding Photographer I thought it was time to share a few tips on the topic of Wedding Photography .

I’ll leave the technical tips of photographing a wedding to the pros - but as someone who has been asked to photograph numerous friends and family weddings - here are a few suggestions.
Wedding Photography Tips

1. Create a ‘Shot List’

Get the couple to think ahead about the shots that they’d like you to capture on the day and compile a list so that you can check them off. This is particularly helpful in the family shots. There’s nothing worse than getting the photos back and realizing you didn’t photograph the happy couple with grandma!

2. Family Photo Coordinator

I find the family photo part of the day can be quite stressful. People are going everywhere, you’re unaware of the different family dynamics at play and people are in a ‘festive spirit’ (and have often been drinking a few spirits) to the point where it can be quite chaotic. Get the couple to nominate a family member (or one for each side of the family) who can be the ‘director’ of the shoot. They can round everyone up, help get them in the shot and keep things moving so that the couple can get back to the party.

Wedding-Photography-4Photo by wiseacre photo
3. Scout the Location

Visit the locations of the different places that you’ll be shooting before the big day. While I’m sure most Pros don’t do this - I find it really helpful to know where we’re going, have an idea of a few positions for shots and to know how the light might come into play. On one or two weddings I even visited locations with the couples and took a few test shots (these made nice ‘engagement photos’).
4. Preparation is key

So much can go wrong on the day - so you need to be well prepared. Have a backup plan (in case of bad weather), have batteries charged, memory cards blank, think about routes and time to get to places and get an itinerary of the full day so you know what’s happening next. If you can, attend the rehearsal of the ceremony where you’ll gather a lot of great information about possible positions to shoot from, the lighting, the order of the ceremony etc
5. Set expectations with the Couple

Show them your work/style. Find out what they are wanting to achieve, how many shots they want, what key things they want to be recorded, how the shots will be used (print etc). If you’re charging them for the event, make sure you have the agreement of price in place up front.
6. Turn off the sound on your camera

Beeps during speeches, the kiss and vows don’t add to the event. Switch off sound before hand and keep it off.

Wedding-Photography-6Photo by Ella’s Dad
7. Shoot the small details

Photograph rings, backs of dresses, shoes, flowers, table settings, menus etc - these help give the end album an extra dimension. Flick through a wedding magazine in a news stand for a little inspiration.
8. Use Two Cameras

Beg, borrow, hire or steal an extra camera for the day - set it up with a different lens. I try to shoot with one wide angle lens (great for candid shots and in tight spaces (particularly before the ceremony in the preparation stage of the day) and one longer lens (it can be handy to have something as large as 200mm if you can get your hands on one - I use a 70-200mm).

9. Consider a Second Photographer

Having a second backup photographer can be a great strategy. It means less moving around during ceremony and speeches, allows for one to capture the formal shots and the other to get candid shots. It also takes a little pressure off you being ‘the one’ to have to get every shot!
10. Be Bold but Not Obtrusive
Wedding-Photography-2Photo by Brad Ross Photography LLC

Timidity won’t get you ‘the shot’ - sometimes you need to be bold to capture a moment. However timing is everything and thinking ahead to get in the right position for key moments are important so as not to disrupt the event. In a ceremony I try to move around at least 4-5 times but try to time this to coincide with songs, sermons or longer readings. During the formal shots be bold, know what you want and ask for it from the couple and their party. You’re driving the show at this point of the day and need to keep things moving.
11. Learn how to Use Diffused Light

The ability to bounce a flash or to diffuse it is key. You’ll find that in many churches that light is very low. If you’re allowed to use a flash (and some churches don’t allow it) think about whether bouncing the flash will work (remember if you bounce off a colored surface it will add a colored cast to the picture) or whether you might want to buy a flash diffuser to soften the light. If you can’t use a flash you’ll need to either use a fast lens at wide apertures and/or bump up the ISO. A lens with image stabilization might also help. Learn more about Using Flash Diffusers and Reflectors.

12. Shoot in RAW

I know that many readers feel that they don’t have the time for shooting in RAW (due to extra processing) but a wedding is one time that it can be particularly useful as it gives so much more flexibility to manipulate shots after taking them. Weddings can present photographers with tricky lighting which result in the need to manipulate exposure and white balance after the fact - RAW will help with this considerably.
Wedding-Photography-1Photo by Jen Clix
13. Display Your Shots at the Reception

One of the great things about digital photography is the immediacy of it as a medium. One of the fun things I’ve seen more and more photographers doing recently is taking a computer to the reception, uploading shots taken earlier in the day and letting them rotate as a slideshow during the evening. This adds a fun element to the night.
14. Consider Your Backgrounds

One of the challenges of weddings is that there are often people going everywhere - including the backgrounds of your shots. Particularly with the formal shots scope out the area where they’ll be taken ahead of time looking for good backgrounds. Ideally you’ll be wanting uncluttered areas and shaded spots out of direct sunlight where there’s unlikely to be a wandering great aunt wander into the back of the shot. Read more on getting backgrounds right.
15. Don’t Discard Your ‘Mistakes’

The temptation with digital is to check images as you go and to delete those that don’t work immediately. The problem with this is that you might just be getting rid of some of the more interesting and useable images. Keep in mind that images can be cropped or manipulated later to give you some more arty/abstract looking shots that can add real interest to the end album.

Wedding-PhotographyPhoto by shutupyourface
16. Change Your Perspective

Get a little creative with your shots. While the majority of the images in the end album will probably be fairly ‘normal’ or formal poses - make sure you mix things up a little by taking shots from down low, up high, at wide angles etc.
17. Group Shots

One thing that I’ve done at every wedding that I’ve photographed is attempt to photograph everyone who is in attendance in the one shot. The way I’ve done this is to arrange for a place that I can get up high above everyone straight after the ceremony. This might mean getting tall ladder, using a balcony or even climbing on a roof. The beauty of getting up high is that you get everyone’s face in it and can fit a lot of people in the one shot. The key is to be able to get everyone to the place you want them to stand quickly and to be ready to get the shot without having everyone stand around for too long. I found the best way to get everyone to the spot is to get the bride and groom there and to have a couple of helpers to herd everyone in that direction. Read more on how to take Group Photos.
18. Fill Flash

When shooting outside after a ceremony or during the posed shots you’ll probably want to keep your flash attached to give a little fill in flash. I tend to dial it back a little (a stop or two) so that shots are not blown out - but particularly in backlit or midday shooting conditions where there can be a lot of shadow, fill in flash is a must. Read more about using Fill Flash.

19. Continuous Shooting Mode

Having the ability to shoot a lot of images fast is very handy on a wedding day so switch your camera to continuous shooting mode and use it. Sometimes it’s the shot you take a second after the formal or posed shot when everyone is relaxing that really captures the moment!
Wedding-Photography-5Photo by missmellydean
20. Expect the Unexpected

One more piece of advice that someone gave me on my own wedding day. ‘Things will Go Wrong - But They Can be the Best Parts of the Day’. In every wedding that I’ve participated in something tends to go wrong with the day. The best man can’t find the ring, the rain pours down just as the ceremony ends, the groom forgets to do up his fly, the flower girl decides to sit down in the middle of the aisle or the bride can’t remember her vows….

These moments can feel a little panicky at the time - but it’s these moments that can actually make a day and give the bride and groom memories. Attempt to capture them and you could end up with some fun images that sum up the day really well.

I still remember the first wedding I photographed where the bride and grooms car crashed into a Tram on the way to the park where we were going to take photos. The bride was in tears, the groom stressed out - but after we’d all calmed down people began to see some of the funny side of the moment and we even took a couple of shots before driving on to the park. They were among everyone’s favorites.
21. Have Fun

Weddings are about celebrating - they should be fun. The more fun you have as the photographer the more relaxed those you are photographing will be. Perhaps the best way to loosen people up is to smile as the photographer (warning: I always come home from photographing weddings with sore jaws and cheeks because of of my smiling strategy).

Learning about Exposure - The Exposure Triangle by Darren Rowse

Bryan Peterson has written a book titled Understanding Exposure which is a highly recommended read if you’re wanting to venture out of the Auto mode on your digital camera and experiment with it’s manual settings.

In it Bryan illustrates the three main elements that need to be considered when playing around with exposure by calling them ‘the exposure triangle’.

Each of the three aspects of the triangle relate to light and how it enters and interacts with the camera.
The three elements are:

1. written a post on ISO - the measure of a digital camera sensor’s sensitivity to light
2. Aperture - the size of the opening in the lens when a picture is taken
3. Shutter Speed - the amount of time that the shutter is open

It is at the intersection of these three elements that an image’s exposure is worked out.

Most importantly - a change in one of the elements will impact the others. This means that you can never really isolate just one of the elements alone but always need to have the others in the back of your mind.
3 Metaphors for understanding the digital photography exposure triangle:

Many people describe the relationship between ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed using different metaphors to help us get our heads around it. Let me share three. A quick word of warning first though - like most metaphors - these are far from perfect and are just for illustrative purposes:

ShuttersPhoto by Liisa

The Window

Imagine your camera is like a window with shutters that open and close.

Aperture is the size of the window. If it’s bigger more light gets through and the room is brighter.

Shutter Speed is the amount of time that the shutters of the window are open. The longer you leave them open the more that comes in.

Now imagine that you’re inside the room and are wearing sunglasses (hopefully this isn’t too much of a stretch). Your eyes become desensitized to the light that comes in (it’s like a low ISO).

There are a number of ways of increasing the amount of light in the room (or at least how much it seems that there is. You could increase the time that the shutters are open (decrease shutter speed), you could increase the size of the window (increase aperture) or you could take off your sunglasses (make the ISO larger).

Ok - it’s not the perfect illustration - but you get the idea.
Sun-BakingPhoto by Sanchez


Another way that a friend recently shared with me is to think about digital camera exposure as being like getting a sun tan.

Now getting a suntan is something I always wanted growing up - but unfortunately being very fair skinned it was something that I never really achieved. All I did was get burnt when I went out into the sun. In a sense your skin type is like an ISO rating. Some people are more sensitive to the sun than others.

Shutter speed in this metaphor is like the length of time you spend out in the sun. The longer you spend in the sun the increased chances of you getting a tan (of course spending too long in the sun can mean being over exposed).

Aperture is like sunscreen which you apply to your skin. Sunscreen blocks the sun at different rates depending upon it’s strength. Apply a high strength sunscreen and you decrease the amount of sunlight that gets through - and as a result even a person with highly sensitive skin can spend more time in the sun (ie decrease the Aperture and you can slow down shutter speed and/or decrease ISO).

As I’ve said - neither metaphor is perfect but both illustrate the interconnectedness of shutter speed, aperture and ISO on your digital camera.

Update: A third metaphor that I’ve heard used is the Garden Hose (the width of the hose is aperture, the length that the hose is left on is shutter speed and the pressure of the water (the speed it gets through) is ISO.
Bringing It All Together

Mastering the art of exposure is something that takes a lot of practice. In many ways it’s a juggling act and even the most experienced photographers experiment and tweak their settings as they go. Keep in mind that changing each element not only impacts the exposure of the image but each one also has an impact upon other aspects of it (ie changing aperture changes depth of field, changing ISO changes the graininess of a shot and changing shutter speed impacts how motion is captured).

The great thing about digital cameras is that they are the ideal testing bed for learning about exposure. You can take as many shots as you like at no cost and they not only allow you to shoot in Auto mode and Manual mode - but also generally have semi-automatic modes like aperture priority and shutter priority modes which allow you to make decisions about one or two elements of the triangle and let the camera handle the other elements.

A lot more can be said about each of the three elements in the exposure triangle. Check out other relevant posts on the topic at:

1. ISO
2. Aperture
3. Shutter Speed

8 Family Portaits Tips by Christina Dickson

The sun is out and shining bright. The sky is blue and the grass is green. Summers here and it seems everyone is wanting a new family portrait on the beach, at the park, or in downtown.

Here are some things to keep in mind when creating family portraits:

1. Think in “mini-groups”. A family portrait is simply multiple “mini groups” within one large group. Use groups of two’s and three’s to compose your family shot.
2. Remember “levels”. One of the most important elements of a group shot is to vary the levels of your subjects. Placing some faces higher than others will allow you to make the shot more intimate in spacing.
3. Consider “color”. While color coordination is by no means necessary for group shots, it can help the overall flow. Have your subjects go by types of color, such as “vibrant”, “bold”, “pastels”, etc.
4. Watching even lighting, but don’t stress about it. So long as all the eyes are visible, and faces are lit relatively the same, your good to go.
5. Pick shade: As the sun doesn’t set until late in the evening, you’ll have to wait for good sidelight until about 5 pm. If your stuck shooting before this time, find awnings, the shaded back side of buildings, or tree cover to diffuse the harsh sunlight.
6. Move quickly: It’s very helpful to try story-boarding your group shots ahead of time according to the number of people you have. The more people you have in a shot, the less time you have to create it. Story-boarding is more about knowing what you want, than it is about formal posing.
7. Be fun and spontaneous! Plan to take shots of the families walking, striking a dance pose, linking arms, or jumping in the air. These shots capture genuine expressions among the entire group and help to keep your subjects happy and interested.
8. Background work: The larger the party, the less control you have with eliminating your background. Simplify as much as you can by changing the angle you take your shot. Taking the shot from the ground or directly down on your subjects may eliminate enough background to feature the group without distraction.

Most of all, spend some time asking questions of what the family wants. Make a general determination if they are looking for more casual shots, or formal arrangements. So long as you know the general direction of what the family is looking for, you can score big in the capture.

10 Questions to Ask When Taking a Digital Photo by Darren Rowse

What goes through your mind in the moments as you raise your digital camera up to take a shot and before you press the shutter? If you’re like many digital photographers you’re not thinking about too much - you just want to capture the moment and then move on.

However getting in the habit of asking some simple questions can help take your images to the next level. Here’s 10 questions to get in the habit of asking while framing your shots. I’ve included links in each one to further reading on the topics. I hope you find them helpful:

StoryPhoto by Tim Gruber
1. What story am I telling?

This is an important question and one that should help you to make any number of decisions in terms of composition, framing, exposure etc. In essence what you’re asking is ‘why am I taking this shot? What is it’s purpose and what am I trying to convey?’ Is it purely a way to keep a record of a moment, are you trying to capture the emotion of a moment, is it possibly a shot to give to someone, is it part of a larger series of shots or will it be the only shot to commemorate the moment etc. Read more on telling stories with photos

Focal-PointPhoto by H@Ru
2. What is the visual focal point of this shot?

What will viewers of this picture naturally have their eye drawn to in this scene? Once you’ve identified this focal point you can think about where to place it in the frame (consider the rule of thirds for example).

There are a variety of ways that you can enhance a focal point - some of which we explore here.

Remove-ClutterImage by MoonGirlNYC
3. What competing focal points are there?

Once you’ve identified what you do want your viewers eyes to be drawn towards and have placed it in the frame - scan your eyes over the shot and see if there are any competing focal points and ask yourself whether they add to or take away from the image? Secondary focal points can add depth to shots but they can also be very distracting and so you might need to reposition yourself or adjust your focal length and/or depth of field to accommodate or remove them from your shots (read more on removing clutter from photography). Also keep in mind that if your shot has more than one focal point that it might be worth taking two shots, one of each focal point, in order to keep things simple.

BackgroundPhoto by Keith Morris
4. What is in the background and foreground?

One of most common places for distractions in digital photography is the background of your shots. Run your eyes over the space behind your subject to see what else is in the image (do the same for the foreground). Consider whether you want the background in focus or nice and blurry.

Read more on getting backgrounds right.

Birthday-Party-3Photo by Johnny Blood
5. Am I close enough?

Another common mistake in digital photography is taking shots where your subject is too small in the frame. Shots that fill the frame with your subject tend to be much more dynamic and show a lot more detail of your subject. To get this effect you have the option of moving yourself closer, moving your subject closer or using a longer focal length to give the effect of closeness.

Read more on filling your frame.

Sunrise-2Photo by Peter Bowers
6. What is the main source of light?

Always give consideration to how your subject is lit. Without light you’ll lose detail and clarity in your image and your camera will have to compensate by doing things like increasing ISO and lengthening shutter speeds (which could lead to noisy and blurred images). What is the main source of light, where is it coming from, is there enough light, do you need artificial light sources (flash etc), do you need to stabilize your camera on a tripod to stop camera shake due to low light etc. Read more on using artificial light here and here as well as photographing moving subjects in low light conditions.

Crooked-2Image by Darren Rowse
7. Is my Framing Straight?

It’s amazing how many otherwise good photos are spoiled by framing that is slightly offline. Sloping horizons and slightly leaning people or buildings should always be in the back of your mind to check. Read more on getting horizons horizontal and getting other lines straight.

Also related to this question is that of ‘Am I holding my Camera correctly?‘ Many people don’t and as a result suffer from camera shake and framing mistakes.

Pet-DogPhoto by Andrew Morrell
8. What other perspectives could I capture this subject from?

Put 10 digital camera owners in front of a scene and most of them will take exactly the same shot from the same position. Make your images stand out from the crowd by challenging yourself to not only take the standard shots that everyone else will get but to find creative and fresh angles and perspectives to shoot from.

Read more on adding variety to your Digital Photography.

How-To-Hold-A-Digital-Camer-2Image by Darren Rowse
9. How would holding the camera in the other format change this shot?

Many photographers get into the habit of always holding their camera the same way (horizontally/landscape or vertically/portrait). While it’s OK to have a preference one way or the other it’s also worth remembering that changing the format can drastically change the impact of the shot. Don’t forget you can also hold your camera at an angle for an effective result too.

Diagonal-2Photo by A is for Angie
10. How will the eye travel through this image?

This is related to asking about focal points but gets in touch with the fact that while you’re photographing a still image your viewers eyes don’t remain still as they look at an image. People tend to follow lines and are attracted to shapes and colors so considering all of these different visual elements and cues can help improve your shots considerably. Read more on horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines and how they impact a shot.

Of course you probably won’t remember all the questions and you’re unlikely to go through each of them with every shot you take - however next time you head out with your digital camera concentrate on asking yourself at least one or two of them as you take your shots. As you do you’ll find that they become more automatic and in time you’ll naturally take digital photography shots that take into account all of these elements.

How to Photograph Fireworks Displays by Darren Rowse

Fireworks Displays are something that evoke a lot of emotion in people as they are not only beautiful and spectacular to watch but they also are often used to celebrate momentous occasions.

I’ve had many emails from readers asking how to photograph fireworks displays, quite a few of whom have expressed concern that they might just be too hard to really photograph. My response is always the same - ‘give it a go - you might be surprised at what you end up with’.

My reason for this advice is that back when I bought my first ever SLR (a film one) one of the first things I photographed was fireworks and I was amazed by how easy it was and how spectacular the results were. I think it’s even easier with a digital camera as you can get immediate feedback as to whether the shots you’ve taken are good or not and then make adjustments.

Of course it’s not just a matter of going out finding a fireworks display - there are, as usual, things you can do to improve your results. With 4 July just around the corner I thought I’d share a few fireworks digital photography tips:

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1. Use a Tripod
Fireworks-1Photo by Piero Sierra

Perhaps the most important tip is to secure your digital camera to something that will ensure it doesn’t move during the taking of your shots. This is especially important in photographing fireworks simply because you’ll be using longer shutter speeds which will not only capture the movement of the fireworks but any movement of the camera itself. The best way to keep your camera still is with a tripod (read our series on tripods and how to use and buy them). Alternatively - keep in mind that there are other non Tripod options for beating camera shake.
2. Remote Release

One way to ensure your camera is completely still during fireworks shots is to invest in a remote release device. These will vary from camera to camera but most have some sort of accessory made for them. The other way of taking shots without touching your camera is to use the self timer. This can work but you really need to be able to anticipate shots well and its very very hit and miss (read more on remote shutter releases).

3. Framing Your Shot

One of the most difficult parts of photographing fireworks is working out where to aim your camera. The challenge you’ll face in doing this is that you generally need to aim your camera before the fireworks that you’ll be photographing goes off - anticipation is key. Here are a few points on getting your framing right.
FireworksPhoto by Stuck in Customs

* Scope out the location early - Planning is important with fireworks and getting to the location early in order to get a good, unobstructed position is important. Think about what is in the foreground and background of your shots and make sure you won’t have people’s heads bobbing up into your shots (also consider what impact you’ll have on others around you also). Take note of where fireworks are being set up and what parts of the sky they are likely to be shot into - you might also want to try to ask some of those setting up the display for a little information on what they are planning. Also consider what focal lengths you might want to use and choose appropriate lenses at this time (rather than in the middle of the show).
* Watch your Horizons - One thing that you should always consider when lining up fireworks shots is whether your camera is even or straight in it’s framing. This is especially important if you’re going to shooting with a wide focal length and will get other background elements in your shots (ie a cityscape). Keeping horizons straight is something we covered previously on this site and is important in fireworks shots also. As you get your camera on your tripod make sure it’s level right from the time you set up.
* Vertical or Horizontal? - There are two main ways of framing shots in all types of photography, vertically (portrait) or horizontally (landscape). Both can work in fireworks photography but I personally find a vertical perspective is better - particularly as there is a lot of vertical motion in fireworks. Horizontal shots can work if you’re going for more of a landscape shot with a wider focal length of if you’re wanting to capture multiple bursts of fireworks in the one shot - but I don’t tend to go there that often.
* Remember your framing - I find that when I photograph fireworks that I spend less time looking in my viewfinder and more looking at the sky directly. As a result it’s important to remember what framing you have and to watch that segment of the sky. Doing this will also help you to anticipate the right time for a shot as you’ll see the light trails of unexploded rockets shooting into the sky.

4. Focal Length?
How-To-Photograph-FireworksPhoto by asmundur

One of the hardest parts of photographing fireworks is having your camera trained on the right part of the sky at the right time. This is especially difficult if you’re shooting with a longer focal length and are trying to take more tightly cropped shots. I generally shoot at a wider focal length than a tight one but during a show will try a few tighter shots (I usually use a zoom lens to give me this option) to see if I can get lucky with them. Of course zoomed in shots like the one to the left can be quite effective also. They enable you to really fill the frame with great color. Keep in mind however that cropping of your wider angle fireworks shots can always be done later to get a similar impact in your photography.
5. Aperture

A common question around photographing fireworks displays is what aperture to use. Many people think you need a fast lens to get them but in reality it’s quite the opposite as the light that the fireworks emit is quite bright. I find that apertures in the mid to small range tend to work reasonably well and would usually shoot somewhere between f/8 to f/16.
6. Shutter Speed
How-To-Photograph-Fireworks-3Photo by *vlad*

Probably more important to get right than aperture is shutter speed. Fireworks move and as a result the best photographs of them capture this movement meaning you need a nice long exposure. The technique that I developed when I first photographed fireworks was to shoot in ‘bulb’ mode. This is a mode that allows you to keep the shutter open for as long as you hold down the shutter (preferably using a remote shutter release of some type). Using this technique you hit the shutter as the firework is about to explode and hold it down until it’s finished exploding (generally a few seconds).

You can also experiment with set shutter speeds to see what impact it will have but I find that unless you’re holding the shutter open for very long exposures that the bulb technique works pretty well.

Don’t keep your shutter open too long. The temptation is to think that because it’s dark that you can leave it open as long as you like. The problem with this is that fireworks are bright and it doesn’t take too much to over expose them, especially if your shutter is open for multiple bursts in the one area of the sky. By all means experiment with multiple burst shots - but most people end up finding that the simpler one burst shots can be best.
7. ISO
Fireworks-2-1Photo by Mr Magoo ICU

Shooting at a low ISO is preferable to ensure the cleanest shots possible. Stick to ISO 100 and you should be fine.
8. Switch off your Flash

Shooting with a flash will have no impact upon your shots except to trick your camera into thinking it needs a short exposure time. Keep in mind that your camera’s flash will only have a reach of a few meters and in the case of fireworks even if they were this close a flash wouldn’t really have anything to light except for some smoke which would distract from the real action (the flashing lights).Switch your flash off.
9. Shoot in Manual Mode

I find I get the best results when shooting in manual exposure and manual focus modes. Auto focusing in low light can be very difficult for many cameras and you’ll end up missing a lot of shots. Once your focusing is set you’ll find you don’t really need to change it during the fireworks display - especially if you’re using a small aperture which increases depth of field. Keep in mind that changing focal lengths will mean you need to need to adjust your focusing on most lenses.
10. Experiment and Track Results
Watching-FireworksPhoto by y entonces

Throughout the fireworks display periodically check your results. I generally will take a few shots at the start and do a quick check to see that they are OK before shooting any more. Don’t check after every shot once you’ve got things set up OK (or you’ll miss the action) but do monitor yours shots occasionally to ensure you’re not taking a completely bad batch.

Also experiment with taking shots that include a wider perspective, silhouettes and people around you watching the display. Having your camera pointed at the sky can get you some wonderful shots but sometimes if you look for different perspectives you can get a few shots that are a little less cliche and just as spectacular. Most of the best shots that I’ve seen in the researching of this article have included some other element than the fireworks themselves - whether it be people, buildings, landmarks or wider cityscape perspectives.
More Tips from DPS Readers

* “Find Out the Direction of the Wind - You want to shoot up wind, so it goes Camera, Fireworks, Smoke. Otherwise they’ll come out REALLY hazy.”
* “Also, I find that if you shoot from a little further back and with a little more lens, you can set the lens to manual focus, focus it at infinity and not have to worry about it after that.”
* “Remember to take advantage of a zero processing costs and take as many pictures as possible (more than you’d normally think necessary). That way, you’ll up your chances of getting that “perfect” shot.”
* “Make sure you are ready to take pictures of the first fireworks. If there isn’t much wind, you are going to end up with a lot of smoke in your shot. The first explosions are usually the sharpest one.”
* “Get some black foam core and set your camera to bulb. Start the exposure when the fireworks start with the piece of foam core in front of the lens. Every time a burst happens move the foam core out of the way. You will get multiple firework bursts in one exposure”
* “Another tip I would add to this is pre-focus if possible (need to be able to manually focus or lock down focus for good) before the show starts so other elements in the frame are sharp They did mention that you only need to focus once but its a lot easier to take a few shots before the show starts and check them carefully rather than wait until the show has begun and you are fiddling with focus instead of watching fireworks!”

Photography 101.8 - The Light Meter by Neil Creek

The following post is from Australian photographer Neil Creek who will soon be teaching a class in portrait photography in Melbourne Australia, and is developing his blog as a resource for the passionate photographer.

Welcome to the seventh lesson in Photography 101 - A Basic Course on the Camera. In this series, we cover all the basics of camera design and use. We talk about the ‘exposure triangle’: shutter speed, aperture and ISO. We talk about focus, depth of field and sharpness, as well as how lenses work, what focal lengths mean and how they put light on the sensor. We also look at the camera itself, how it works, what all the options mean and how they affect your photos.

What is the Light Meter?
Sunset at Chelsea Beach

A challenging scene to meter

For as long as people have been taking photos, there has been a need to determine how bright a scene is. Any method of recording light can only work in a relatively narrow band without over or under exposing the image. To find the correct exposure that will record the image without over or under exposing it too much, photographers need to know how bright the scene is. An extremely talented photographer may be able to guess a near-enough exposure, but a light meter is a far more accurate and convenient way to do it.

Light meters in cameras react to how intense the light is as seen from the camera. SLRs measure the light (called metering) through the lens - TTL. They collect light that has actually passed through the camera’s lens and measure its intensity. There are problems when the scene has parts that are much brighter or darker than others, for example shadows on a sunny day. This can trick the light meter into measuring the intensity of the light incorrectly, depending on which part of the scene was illuminating the sensor.

Modern SLR cameras use multi-point light meters, meaning that several light meters are actually scattered around the projected scene, each measuring the light intensity at that point. Very sophistocated cameras may have dozens of metering points. How much the measured intensity of the light at each point influences the final meter reading depends on the metering mode selected by the photographer.

For a more detailed look at metering modes, you can read: Introduction to metering modes.
How to Use the Light Meter

Mode Dial

As we now know, the correct exposure is created by juggling the three points of the exposure triangle: aperture, shutter and ISO. The light meter is the tool that puts us in the right neighbourhood for how these should be set. If you are shooting on full auto, then when you meter the scene - usually done at the same time as focusing, by half pressing the shutter - the light meter gives its best guess for each of these variables.

If you want to take creative control of the photo, you can manually set each of the three variables yourself. Typically ISO is left at the default, or previous setting, and you take control by choosing aperture priority or shutter priority. On most DSLRs that’s done by turning the exposure mode dial. If you set the dial to Av - aperture priority, the photographer chooses what the aperture will be, and the light meter adjusts the shutter speed to mantain the correct exposure. The reverse is true for Tv - shutter priority.

When using these modes, it’s useful to refer to the exposure meter display on the camera. The exposure meter (display) shows the result of the measurement taken by the light meter (sensor). It will typically look something like this:
Exposure meter display on LCD

Exposure meter display on LCD

Exposure meter display in viewfinder

Exposure meter display in viewfinder

Each number represents a stop change in the light, as indicated, with the central mark being the “correct” exposure, as determined by the light meter. Each pip between the numbers represents one third of a stop. The arrow underneath indicates how close the current settings are to the correct exposure. Usually in priority modes, the arrow will stay in the middle as the light meter will be able to set the exposure correctly. However, if for example you set your aperture to 1/400sec in Tv (shutter priority mode) and the light meter indicated that you needed an aperture of f4, but your lens was only capable of f5.8, then the exposure meter will display one stop of underexposure. You will need to compensate for this by setting a longer shutter time, or increasing the ISO.

The juggling act becomes more complicated, and the light meter’s assistance more valuable, when you go to full manual control of the exposure. Here the exposure meter simply displays whether the current settings will under or over expose the image, according to the light meter. The photographer can freely change any of the values on the exposure triangle, and see the change to the predicted versus recommended exposure.
Exposure compensation

Even though the light meter in your camera is pretty sophistocated, sometimes it can get it wrong, especially with harsh contrasts, or highly reflective surfaces. Changing metering modes may help this, but a more controlled approach is to use exposure compensation. Imagine you are photographing a person against a large bright sky. The light meter thinks the sky is the most important part, and exposes correctly for that, leaving the person a dark silhouette. By using exposure compensation, you can tell the camera to take the metered exposure and make it brighter by a chosen amount. This will then allow the photographer to correctly expose the person. I’ll look at exposure compensation in more detail in a future post.

To show you how the different exposure modes might work in real world situations, here are some scenarios. The settings given below are what they happened to be for the examples shown. Settings for your own photo will be different.

Scanario 1 - Sports

* High speed is needed to freeze action
* Use Shutter Priority
* Set shutter speed to 1/800sec
* The light meter sets the aperture to f10
* If under exposed, change ISO to compensate - ISO400

Kite Surfer

Scanario 2 - Portrait

* An artistic narrow depth of field is desired
* Use Aperture Priority
* Set aperture to f5.6
* The light meter sets the shutter to 1/160sec
* If under exposed, change ISO to compensate - ISO100

Siera on a Swing

Scenario 3 - Night scenery

* Ambient light is too low to accurately meter
* Use full Manual
* Set aperture to suit scene, erring to wider - f11
* Set a long shutter speed to light meter’s best guess - 20sec
* Set ISO to lowest possible for correct exposure - ISO100
* Take a test shot and adjust settings if the light meter got it wrong

2009 New Years Fireworks

Scenario 4 - Off-camera manual flash

* On auto, meter the scene and note settings
* Set camera to one or two stops under exposed
* Set up flashes and tweak power to expose correctly
* Tweak the flashes exposure by adjusting aperture
* Tweak the ambient light by adjusting shutter speed
* Settings for example shot: 1/160sec f8 ISO125, click image for flash details.

Siera and Annie

* Put the camera in auto mode and half press the shutter. While looking through the viewfinder, pan around a scene and see how the automatically selected camera settings - f ratio and shutter speed - change. This preview will disappear after a few seconds, so half press the shutter again for another look.
* Set the camera in shutter priority mode and choose a shutter speed for effect, eg: short for sports, long for motion blur. Shoot different scenes and note how the camera adjusts the aperture to balance the exposure.
* Do the same as above for aperture - wide for shallow depth of field, narrow for focus detail at all distances.
* Get adventurous and put the camera on full manual. Adjust the camera settings yourself, and watch the arrow below the exposure meter. Tweak the settings to get the arrow in the middle of the meter - half press the shutter while looking at your scene to take a meter reading.
* Try to apply what you have learned to make creative photos that take advantage of the different exposure modes.

How to Create Portraits with Drama by Christina Dickson

You have promised yourself that your next portrait shoot would be “next level” for your abilities. You want a set of portraits that could be considered fine art, and perfect for gallery enlargements. You want to capture your subject well, but you also want to grow in your abilities as a creative photographer.

Fortunately, fate would grant you both opportunities.

You have a booking for portraits with an outgoing, dramatic, painter and beautician. It ends up being a rainy day, so the shoot will prove to test your creative expertise indoors without anything but your camera and an on camera flash. When you arrive at her studio apartment, you are relieved: there is light to go around. After a greeting and some small talk you quickly take stock of what you have:

Large bay windows that gently wraps the light around skin, and reflects in gorgeous catch-lights and a moveable chair. Perfect.

You know exactly what you are going to do.

You clear the space in front of the window and position the chair toward it. “Okay, let’s get some shots with you facing the window first.” Your subject sits straight up in the chair first and you take a few test shots. Your settings:

* Manual Mode: Enabling you to get advanced exposure with highlights and shadows
* Shallow depth of field [2.8]: Throwing the window frame out of focus and isolating the eyes and face
* Moderate shutter speed [200/s]: To capture just enough of plenty light
* Fill flash: To fill in on the face with shots away from the window

After a few moments of experimenting, and commenting on the beauty of your model, you are ready to start.

You have your model relax into the chair. She leans back easily. She is facing the window limiting the room you have before her. Once again, you remember how much you are aiming for creative shots. You analyze your angles in action, determined to try something new.

“I’m going to get right in front of you here,” you begin and move some hair from your model’s eyes. “Lets have you look up at me right here…” Once she looks up, the light reflects in her eyes with luminous catch-lights.

“Gorgeous!” You exclaim, unable to mask your excitement. You show your model the image. She breathes deep. “Oh, I love it!”

Shot one. Oh yeah.

After a few more shots, you change things up. “Let’s have the window behind you this time. And we’ll go for full body.” You use a smaller chair this time, but don’t want to do a “normal” sitting pose. “Are you game for a little different?” Your model grins and nods. “Let’s do it.” You have her sit with her legs over the arm’s edge, and for extra slimming, coach her to cross one leg over the other. You arrange her arms in triangles, creating an elegant casual feel.

For this shot, you need a bit of fill flash - but not too much. You want to create some drama with the highlights and shadows. You flash the light up to the ceiling to gently cascade on your model without filling too much. To emphasize the dramatic mood, you have your model look down to the ground.

“Okay, here we go!”

It takes a few more test shots than before, but once again, you come out with the image you dreamed about. The lighting is exquisite. The pose perfect. The mood dramatic. And the contrast to die for.

Best of all, your client is just as happy with the image as you are.

After the shoot, you get a check, and load your gear back in the car. The rain continues to fall gently outside and you smile.

Four Tips for Better Wildlife Photography

Wildlife photography is one of the most challenging yet rewarding forms of nature photography. The best wildlife images create a powerful emotional connection between the viewer and the animal, but success requires planning, timing, and technique. Here are a few tips for getting started:

1. Keep Shooting

Expect to burn through a lot of memory cards shooting wildlife. While you may occasionally be able to presage the decisive moment in a wildlife shot, more often than not it will

be difficult to know exactly when the body position, the facial expression, and the composition of the image in front of you will all come together as an animal is in motion. Continuous shooting, extra batteries and many, fast memory cards will improve your odds of getting an effective image. If I find that only one in a couple dozen of my landscape images are “good” by my own criteria, that ratio might be more like “one in a few hundred” shots for wildlife, the first time I photographed polar bears I shot two cards full of images in less than an hour, and netted three portfolio images.

2. The Eye Has It

Like human portraits, wildlife portraits gain life by making a connection between the viewer and the animal, and as with humans, the window to that connection is the eye. When the practical needs of nature photography (supertelephoto lenses, wide apertures) leave the photographer with a very narrow depth of field it is almost always essential that the eye, if nothing else, be in focus. Our brains are almost hardwired to notice faces and to look for the eyes, if the eyes aren’t sharp in the primary subject of your photograph, most times, just won’t work. Bonus tip: A tiny bit of fill light from a flash (maybe 1.5 or more stops down under the “correct” fill flash exposure) can help create effective catch light in the eye to enhance this effect.

3. Understand Your Subject

With wildlife, particularly big game, learn a bit about your subject beforehand for the safety of

the animals, for your own safety, and for better photographs. Getting too close to many animals, particularly birds, to abandon their eggs or nest entirely. Your own safety is important too, in photographing polar bears from a Zodiac in Svalbard I knew that polar bears would not usually jump out into the water to attack, and working with a telephoto they mostly seemed uninterested in my presence. However, when one animal came to the shore and started bobbing it’s head up and down, I knew it was time to be out of there in a moment, this friendly looking gesture is the polar bears way of figuring out how far we are away. Spending time learning about your subject isn’t just about safety, either. The colorful puffins I photographed in the Westfjords of Iceland, I learned through research, are a lot more docile. While there were excellent shooting opportunities even in midday, near midnight (at dusk during that trip), it was easily possible to work within arm’s length of the birds, and I wouldn’t have known that without a little study beforehand.

4. Movement, Facing and Space

Another lesson from human portraiture we can use in wildlife photography is the idea of composing based on facing and direction. In general photographs

of moving animals are best composed giving more room in front of the animal’s movement than in back. Similarly, when an animal is looking to one side or another in a photograph, providing room in the direction the animal is looking usually results in a more effective image. If you can show what the animal is looking at (particularly if that too is interesting), that can be even more effective.

9 Pet Photography Tips by Darren Rowse

Pets fill very quickly their place in our hearts and families and we enjoy having their pictures framed on our desk or wall! However taking pictures of your best friend is not always easy. Pets, unlike humans, do not understand what we are trying to do and won’t just pose for the camera! Here are 9 tips that will help you help you get the most of your photo session
1. Use Natural Light

If possible always use natural light when taking your pet in picture. Avoid flash, as flash burst can, not only cause red-eye, but also frighten the animal. Instead try to go outside or, if it is not possible, in a room well lit by a large window.
2. Keep the Eyes Sharp

Having sharp eyes is important in any kind of portraits photography. As they say, “Eyes are the Window to the Soul” and pets eye can be very expressive. So make sure to focus on your pet’s eyes and keep the tack sharp
Photography-Pets-1Image by Buntekuh

3. Go to Them

It is very important that you pet feels comfortable and at ease, so instead of forcing him to come to you go to him. Most important is to get down to his level; We all know how a dog looks when viewed from above, this is the way we always see them. Show us the way they see world! Sit on the floor or lie on your belly and remember to shoot from HIS eye level or below.
4. Give Value to their Character

You know your pet better than anyone else, and a successful picture is one that conveys the character of its subject. If you have a lazy cat show him yawning, if your animal is of a playful type show him in action performing his favorite trick.
Photography-Pets-2Gui, o gato
5. Go Macro

Put on that long lens and fill the frame with your pet’s face and fur, close up shots often make beautiful animal portrait.
6. Surprise Them

One of the most difficult things is to let your pet hold still. An easy trick is to let him play quietly and, once you have everything ready, let someone call for him or whistle. This will surprise him and caught his attention and you will have a few seconds to capture him in a nice and alert posture
Photography-Pets-3Image by renedepaula
7. Schedule your Session

If you are longing for a formal pet portrait shot, try to schedule the photo session when you’re animal is somewhat sleepy or has just woke up it will be much easier to keep him still then. If you want a more dynamic shot then pick up a time when your pet is energetic. If he is sick it is better to just postpone it for another day.
8. Be Patient

Pet photography requires a lot of patience. No matter how excited your furry friend is, if you are patient enough, he will end up by relaxing and you will have the opportunity to get a decent shot.
Photography-Pets-4Image by It’sGreg
9. Experiment

Take your time and enjoy the session, try different approaches, angles and compositions. Shoot a lot you will have time to worry about the results later.

How To Photograph Lightning by Peter Carey

Being one of the most unpredictable forces of nature, lightning storms present a unique challenge for most photographers. We’ve all seen powerful photos of lightning in action and you may be wondering how you can capture the majesty of a storm the next time you’re fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to witness one. While a lot matters on what Mother Nature decides to do with all that electricity, the tips below should help in capturing a great shot of lightning.

1. Use a steady surface - While a tripod typically works best, in reality any steady surface will work. Some people use a beanbag or other malleable item, like a pillow. This will be import as #2 is….
2. Long Shutter Times - While lightning is unpredictable, it’s extremely hard to make a decent capture by tripping the shutter when you see a flash. There are some fancy remote controls that have the ability to trip when the flash is sensed, but I’m guessing you don’t want to invest in these types of gadgets. Depending on your cameras ability to manage noise on slow shutter speeds, using a timing of 30 seconds can work well. The bulb setting can also be handy if you have a way to keep the shutter open.
3. Horizon Up - It’s safe to say most of the lightning action you will see will in the sky. I know it’s obvious, but it needs to be stated that your field of view will be skewed toward the sky then. Depending on how close the lightning is, you’ll be including more blank looking sky than normal. But fear not; that sky becomes far more exciting when the lightning starts
4. But Include Something Interesting - While the action will be in the sky, don’t forget to keep something in the frame to give relevance and perspective to the shot. Buildings are a favorite, but really, anything that can give an idea of the size of the storm works well.
5. Manual Focus - It’s best to use manual focus when shooting in lightning situations. Mainly because the view will probably be at night (but not always) with a fair amount of darkness. Rather than allow your camera to hunt around for something to focus on with each new shot, get a good manual focus on the sky and leave it there.
6. Manual Shutter/Aperture Too - As mentioned in #2, if your camera has the ability to set the shutter speed, pick a long shutter time and a fairly wide aperture. The action will be far from you so a wide aperture and shallow depth of field won’t be a problem (unless you have some very near objects you’d like to include).
7. Stack ‘em - If you can keep your camera in a steady spot, shot after shot, you can use stacking software to combine multiple strikes into one image. You’ll often have many unexciting shots with maybe just a single strike or faint action between clouds. These can all be combined to make a spectacular image.
8. Be Patient - This is a big one and a key to success. Get familiar with your gear and settings so when there is a lightning storm you can set up the camera and then let it do its thing while you enjoy the show. You’re going to have a number of times when you miss “the shot” for one reason or another. Don’t sweat it.

Shooting lightning storms can be a very enjoyable experience but it takes a little practice to get it just right. Follow the steps above and you’ll be well on your way to creating electrifying photos (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun!).