Posts Tagged ‘how to’

HOW TO: Light Painting

August 27, 2012 24 comments

Capturing light trails at night from different light sources is relatively simple and can produce really interesting effects. I have used sparklers, flashlights and even set up my camera and tripod near a busy road to record vehicle headlights and taillights.

It’s very easy to do, and only your imagination is the limit to what you can produce. Due to the long exposures needed for this technique, you will need to set your camera up on a tripod, or you could use a sturdy object that won’t move such as a rock, a chair or even a fence post.

Since we had monsoon like rains yesterday afternoon and last night, shooting outside in the dark was out of the question. So I moved inside and chose the darkest room in the house. Our bedroom closet.

For this exercise, I used a small flashlight to create the light trails. I keep it in my camera bag for viewing things like camera controls and settings in the dark. It has a blue light rather than red, and is actually easier on the eyes at night or in dark situations,

After setting the shutter speed and aperture, I placed the camera on a dresser that is inside our closet. I then turned off the closet light, pressed the shutter and got into position, or what I thought was a good position. I then began to wave the flashlight around in front of the camera. It took several tries to position myself in a good spot to capture the light from the flashlight.

I experimented with different arm and hand movements to create various patterns of light. After trying several combinations of camera settings, I realized waving a small flashlight three feet from the front of a lens was too close. Too many hot spots. So I tried moving the flashlight in a way without pointing it straight at the lens.

If I was outside, and it wasn’t pouring rain, I could have been much farther away from the camera and been more creative twirling and moving the flashlight. Even though I was in a closet, the concept still worked.

Using manual mode, aperture in the range of f8 – f16 produced the best results. Shutter speeds varied between five and ten seconds This image was taken with an exposure of six seconds and an aperture of f11. And I used the self timer set for a two second delay to trip the shutter.

Playing around with long exposure times, different apertures, and sources of light is a lot of fun and can yield really neat looking images.

HOW TO: Fun Abstracts

July 27, 2012 33 comments

Recently I was watching videos by photographer Bryan Peterson on various photographic hints and techniques. Primarily, I was interested in honing my skills using a flash. I learned a lot of useful and creative methods for using flashes in outdoor photography. Then I watched whatever was next in line.

One exercise he demonstrated caught my attention, and it had nothing to do with flashes at all. He used common household items as props to create fun and interesting abstracts.

Here is my take on it. You will need a few things to get started and there is no need to buy anything or even leave your house. First thing you will need is a tripod although if you do this outside and it is bright enough, you may be able to go with hand-held.

Next you will need a clear casserole dish, some water, cooking oil, and a brightly colored shirt or fabric of sorts. I used both patterned shirts and solid colored shirts to see the different effects.

Place the fabric of choice, which will be the background of the photo, on a table or even the patio or deck. Prop up the casserole dish slightly above the shirt with whatever you have around. Wooden blocks, books or even several drinking glasses. The idea is to elevate the dish so you can change out the fabric easily.

Set up your camera on the tripod so the lens is parallel with the bottom of the dish. Add some water. I filled my dish about 1/3rd of the way. Then add some cooking oil. Since oil and water don’t mix, the oil forms all these neat circles floating on the water. With the fabric underneath the dish, the patterns and colors take on a whole new look.

Play around with different exposures to obtain the look you want. Drawing a spoon or your finger slowly through the mix will make different size circles. Or even stir it a little to make millions of small circles. All three shirts I used were of different colors and each produced totally different effects.

Give it a try…it’s a lot of fun!

HOW TO: Depth Of Field-An Alternative

May 16, 2012 16 comments

In a post last week I discussed Depth of Field, and used a photo of a rhododendron flower head to illustrate shallow depth of field. I liked the shape of the flower head, and wanted to isolate it from it’s surroundings. By using a wide aperture setting and the appropriate shutter speed to give a proper exposure, I was able to put the background out of focus. And by doing so, the center of interest became the flower head.

I visited the site a few days later hoping the buds had opened so I could capture the flowers in mass with a more apparent depth of field. Using a smaller aperture and the appropriate shutter speed to give a proper exposure, produces in increase in depth of field, allowing the majority of the image in to be in focus. In this photo the emphasis is on the groups of flowers.

The sky was bright but overcast, and it had just begun to rain when I took this hand-held photo of this cluster of Rhododendron blossoms. I’m glad I took this shot of the flowers when I did because it’s been raining for two days straight. With that much rain, I will probably have to wait until next year to photograph these flowers again.

HOW TO: Depth Of Field

May 9, 2012 30 comments

Most photographs can and are taken handheld, due to the convenience this affords. Especially since stabilized lenses and camera bodies are commonplace nowadays.

I have found shooting in a wooded setting, with the inherent low light levels typically demands the use of some kind of camera support, especially if I want to achieve greater depth of field. Which requires a smaller (higher number) aperture setting and a slower shutter speed to increase the depth of field. For example, if I wanted to show the interior expansiveness of the woods, and have the majority of the image sharp and in focus, I would want a greater depth of field.

Woodland photography also lends itself well to shallow depth of field images. This is more the norm, due to the lack of light and having to use wider apertures (smaller number) which decreases the depth of field. Using a shallow depth of field is perfect for isolating subjects or capturing small vignettes of a scene.

Some of my favorite woodland plants are the understory varieties which include dogwoods, azaleas, rhododendrons (flower bud in above photo), redbuds, and mountain laurels. I love how these shrubs and trees, along with wildflowers, add a splash of color in the shade of the forest. The colors are more saturated and contrast well against the green of the leaves. Photographing the blossoms in the filtered light is something I look forward to every spring. And playing with the depth of field adds to the enjoyment and creativity.

Achieving a sharp photo and a good exposure is possible without a camera support. Although using one will make the task easier by providing a stable platform, allowing for more choices of shutter/aperture combinations, which in turn means more ranges of depth of field.

A nice reward indeed.

HOW TO: Back To Basics Snow

February 17, 2012 26 comments

Capturing the pure white of snow or ice can be tricky depending on the available light, your camera settings, and how much snow or ice is in your composition.

Cameras don’t necessarily know what your intentions are. They record the image as an average based on the meter reading.

Camera meters are generally set to take a reading of the scene and convert it to an average of about 18% gray, or what is known as a medium tone. Snow and ice is not typically 18% gray, so the camera meter sees all this light and instructs the camera, or suggests to the user, to close down the aperture. Whoa…it’s bright…way to much light coming in here. If the photo is taken at this metered setting, typically the shot is under-exposed and the snow or ice turns blueish, especially if you have a lot of snow or ice in your composition.

But, it can be easier to capture what you are seeing through the viewfinder, and avoid underexposing your photos of snow and ice, with a few simple solutions.

If you are shooting in manual mode, and have the aperture set for the depth of field you want, you can adjust the shutter speed to overexpose from what the meter recommends by a stop or two. It may take some experimentation to get the results you want without overexposing so much that the snow or ice become blown out and there is no texture left.

You may also want to adjust your white balance to sunny, cloudy or even a custom setting, depending on the type of light available that day.

Another method, is to use exposure compensation which can be used in auto or manual mode. You can dial in as much or as little overexposure as you want, just be sure to set it back to zero when you are finished, otherwise all your subsequent photos will be overexposed.

If you want to evoke a cold feeling to the scene by letting the camera show the snow or ice with a blueish cast, and not add extra exposure, that’s ok too…you are the photographer, after all….and you get to choose.


Tooting Our Own Horn

February 6, 2012 54 comments

aka Blatant Self-Promotion

I consider myself an ordinary guy who loves the outdoors and has a passion for photography, and am fortunate to have been able to combine the two for many years. And even though my images have been published throughout my photographic career, I still get a kick out of it every time.

A number of months ago, my wife and I decided to collaborate on a project. Actually, it started as an idea for a Christmas gift for our friends and family. My wife is an art director for an advertising design studio, and well on her way in her journey as a writer. And me…well, you know my story.

We thought we would put together a book featuring my floral photography and her prose and design. The thing is, we did not want an encyclopedic or field guide approach. We wanted a different viewpoint. So, my wife suggested the book be written from the floral’s point-of-view. She asked the question: what would a sunflower have to say if it could speak?

And that is how we came up with the concept for our first book titled “Voices In The Gardenscape.”

What an amazing experience it has been. From the first cull of images and final selections, to writing the prose and completing the book layout, down to the dilemma of traditional versus self-publishing. And somehow along the way, the project grew from a holiday gift to friends and family into something we wanted to share with folks outside of our inner circle.

And guess what…we did it! Not only that, I am in the process of doing the first cull of images for a second book in the series. Same “voices” premise…just a different topic.

So, if you would like to see what I have been up to for the last few months, take a peek at the “Look Inside” web gallery via the weblink below. And I will keep you in the loop about our adventures of the next installment in the series.

And while I am here writing such a personal post…I wanted to thank all of you who take the time to click a “like” button or post a comment. Your responses are very much appreciated and I never take them for granted.

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HOW TO: Photographers Comfort

January 16, 2012 24 comments

Handling a tripod with metal legs that are close to a cold outside air temperature has always been a challenge for me. In the winter, setting up the tripod and then composing shots is difficult because my hands get cold.

When it is warm outside, carrying a metal tripod on my shoulder is not the most comfortable thing to do either. One way to alleviate the discomfort of tripod tubing on a shoulder or cold feel of the metal legs, is to cover them with some kind of padding.

My wife gave me a set of tripod leg wraps from OP/TECH USA this year. The wraps, or covers as they are sometimes called by other manufacturers, insulate the cold legs from bare hands, and help cushion the tripod when carrying it on your shoulder.

Covers, pads or wraps also help protect the tripod from dents and scratches. They are easy to install, lightweight, very durable and can be washed with damp cloth if they get dirty.

With padding on the legs of my tripod, my hands no longer become numb from the cold metal. And in the summer, it will be way more comfortable carrying the tripod when trekking about the countryside.


HOW TO: Fall Color Abstracts

October 28, 2011 26 comments

By now, you have probably noticed that I love to photograph the splendor of the fall season. Often I will gravitate to the traditional scenics, trees and the bounty of the harvest season. Sometimes, a diversion from the obvious seasonal topics is necessary. Probably because I am in the mood for something a little different.

For me, a good diversion is to play around with various photographic techniques, camera settings and lenses. For example, I will adjust the white balance to fluorescent or cloudy when shooting in full sun or at dusk, just to see the effect it may have on color rendition.

Another technique is to zoom in or out on your subject with a zoom lens while tripping the shutter. This makes the object appear to be streaking towards you. This is relatively easy to do…it’s just a timing thing…and your subject can be anything you want.

I used this technique for the image in this post by using my zoom lens, cable release and the camera mounted on a tripod. You can try the same technique. It’s fun.

Set your camera to the lowest ISO that you have available. Using slow shutter speeds is the easiest way to master this technique. Adjust your camera for a proper exposure of 1/30th of a second or slower. By closing down the aperture to F11 or smaller you should end up with a slow enough shutter speed. Focus on your subject with the lens zoomed out. While zooming in on your subject, trip the shutter with the cable release. It may take several tries before you get a result you like, but just keep playing until you get there. Then try another subject and see what kind of effect you can produce.

It doesn’t matter what the subject is because you never know what the effect will be. That’s the beauty of digital photography…you can see the results right away. And if the results aren’t what you were looking for, just delete the ones that didn’t work and try again. Play around with color, shapes and textures. Betcha you won’t be able to stop yourself!


October 26, 2011 45 comments

“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”

Ansel Adams

There have been on-going discussions, debates, arguments and disputes regarding shooting in RAW vs. JPEG format since these options have been available. These disagreements will probably go on for some time because of the advantages and disadvantages to both formats.

RAW format can be compared to black and white negative film, as both require processing to produce the final image. RAW format requires processing outside the camera with software, while black and white negatives require chemical processing in a traditional lab setting.

A JPEG format is like positive color slide film. Your camera creates the JPEG format, just as the lab chemically processes the color slide film.

Some photographers like to shoot in RAW format because it affords more flexibility in controlling color, exposure, white balance and contrast, which can later be adjusted with software. And it is important to them to have as much data to work with when processing the file with software. RAW files do take up a lot of space on data cards, as compared to JPEGs. However, spending time in the digital darkroom works for those amateur and professional photographers who prefer to shoot RAW.

Other photographers like to shoot in JPEG format because of the convenience it affords. They set up their cameras to the white balance, exposure, color balance and contrast of their choice. After taking the photograph, the camera’s processor takes over the job and converts the file to JPEG format using its sophisticated algorithms, then compresses the file. More files can fit on data cards in this format and photos are ready for immediate use or additional tweaking with software as needed.

Some cameras allow you to shoot in both formats at the same time so you get the best of both worlds. You get a RAW file if you want to process the file yourself and a JPEG for immediate use. This method requires good file management skills and more data cards because of file sizes.

Many professional and amateur photographers are now shooting exclusively in JPEG because the format suits their needs. They feel they get the exposure right when they push the shutter button, eliminating the need to shoot in RAW. Which allows them to spend more time in the field, rather than spending time in a digital darkroom.

Shooting in RAW vs. JPEG is simply a matter of personal preference. You can process your files yourself or have the camera take care of that task. Your choice.

HOW TO: Balancing Compositions

October 24, 2011 18 comments

I know…I know…I know…another fall scenic. However, I felt it would be a good illustration on the topic of balancing composition.

In this scene, I wanted to emphasize the stunning maple tree in the foreground against the vibrant green grass, while maintaining balance within the composition. By positioning the two feature orange maple trees on either side of the frame, balance is created.

I used a zoom lens at various focal lengths to adjust the framing and to compress the foreground and background elements of the scene.

By composing the photograph in such a way, the viewer’s eyes are led through the scene to discover the horses under the tree in the background, making the image more engaging.