Boo-tography: Learn a Few Tricks to Create Great Photographic Treats

Photographing kids is scary, especially in bad light. Here are a few tips to help you be less afraid on the year’s scariest night.

Understand the basics

Most Halloween activities take place at dusk or later. When you’re shooting in low light, remember to crank up your ISO, open your aperture, and/or slow down the shutter speed. All three of those steps will help your camera see better, but they all have consequences. Higher ISO will add grain. Larger apertures decrease depth of field, which can come back to bite you in group shots. Slower shutter speeds require a steady hand and still subjects.A good starting place may be to choose auto ISO and stay in shutter-priority mode. To guard against blurry images, set your shutter speed to one over your focal length, e.g. 1/200 sec for a 200mm lens.

Change your perspective

Photo by R.D. Smith from Unsplash.com

When photographing kids, it’s always a good idea to get down on their level. But it makes even more sense for Halloween. Big monsters are much scarier than little ones, so shoot from a low vantage point to give their costumes the full effect. But remember to get some shots to showcase their actual size. You’ll want to remember just how little they were. So be sure to pose them next to the kitchen counter, a sofa, a car, a family pet, or an adult. And remember to get a shot with the mask off, so you can remember who was who twenty years from now.

Celebrate the shadows

Photo by Kevin Mueller from Unsplash.com

Normally, we all strive to have a nice balance between light and dark areas in our photos. But if there were ever a holiday to skew your images to the dark side, this would be it. Just imagine how much less impact the cat image on the right would have if the shadows were brought up to see more detail in the fur. This image is all about the eyes. So remember what the focus of your image is and the mood you’re going for, and expose accordingly.

Flex your flash

Photo by David Menidrey from Unsplash.com

The easiest way to overcome poor lighting environments is to use your on-camera flash. But there are some drawbacks: lost backgrounds, dimensionless faces, and red eyes (which could actually be cool with the right costume). Instead, you may want to try bouncing flash off a white ceiling or wall. You could also set up some off-camera flash for portraits or hand hold a flash unit for candids. You may even want to try dragging the shutter to freeze some action in the foreground, but allow enough time for lower-lit background items to show up on your sensor. Flash is tricky. See next point.

Experiment early

Photo by Kevin Mueller from Unsplash.com

Because of the challenging lighting issues, you might opt for a trial run a few days before Halloween. Practice on jack-o lanterns or kids who are eager to wear their costumes. This exercise will make you more confident and faster on the big day (when kids won’t want to sit still while you fiddle with buttons).

Create ghosts

Another way to get more light in the lens is to purposely stage long-exposure shots. A slower shutter speed can create some spooky effects, especially if you have a tripod. Set up for a two-second exposure and have your subject walk slowly through the frame. Or have them stay still for a beat, then move. Or take a faster shot with them in the frame and make a double exposure of a blurred “ghost” behind them. Some cameras make it easy to do this, or you can combine the images in Photoshop. And don’t forget about light painting. Use a light source to add extra light to certain parts of your shot or to “write” messages or shapes.

Capture the prep

Photo by Janko Ferlič from Unsplash.com

There’s magic in the preparation. Just ask a wedding photographer. This is not only an opportunity to capture a kid candidly but a normally camera-shy parent too. And in better light!

Happy Halloween!

This is the first year that even the adults wear masks. Stay safe, everyone.

The Golden Hour:

How to get the most value out of this precious time.

Photo of grass at golden hour by Anton Darius from Unsplash.com

Photo by Anton Darius from Unsplash.com

Just after sunrise and before sunset, light refracting through extra atmosphere creates the “golden hour.” It’s named for the color of light, but the warm, soft glow may also add some value to your images. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Be ready to work fast.

This is no time to wander around looking for something to shoot. Know when the sun sets ahead of time and have a plan. Check the chart for the sunrise and sunset times in our area for the rest of the month. Also, technically, the golden hour may not be an hour long. The quality of light is based on the sun’s location in the sky, so latitude and the time of year figure in to the equation. According to this website, the golden hour in the DFW area currently
lasts 33 minutes. But it’s 57 minutes if you want to shoot in Alaska.

2. Check the weather.

While some clouds at sunset can create exciting drama in the sky, too many can block out the light and greatly reduce the effect of golden hour.

Photo by Joshua Earle from Unsplash.com

Photo by Joshua Earle from Unsplash.com

3. Adjust your white balance.

If you have your camera set to auto white balance, it will probably shift the color temperature of your shot. So the golden hour’s beautiful hues will end up looking a little bluer. Try setting your camera’s white balance to “shady” or “cloudy.” And shoot in RAW to make it easier to do additional adjustments in post.

4. Explore your options.

You can’t position the sun, but you should photograph your subject with the sun’s location in mind.

  • Front lighting: At this time of day, the light is directional but very soft. People and animals can often look toward the sun without squinting, and the light is very kind to faces.
  • Back lighting: Keeping the light behind your subject will often create a warm hazy glow around your subject. Consider using a reflector to fill in the shadows.
  • Rim lighting: If the sun is directly behind your subject, you might get a bright outline that separates it from the background, especially if the background is dark.
  • Silhouette: To accentuate the shape or profile of your subject, you can expose for the light behind it, making the subject go dark.

2020-09-golden-hour-sunflower-portrait5. Play with the light.

Shooting toward the sun opens up some other possibilities for your image.

  • Flares: Position the sun just outside your camera frame and see where the sun creates spots of light in your lens. Putting the sun on the very edge of your subject can also create interesting streaks of light in your image.
  • Haze: If the sun hits your lens directly, you may get cloudy overexposed areas in parts of your image (like the sunflower picture above). This is usually something to be avoided, but it can also create a beautiful glow that works well for some images.
  • Bokeh: If you widen your aperture and shoot toward the sun, you will increase your chances of getting little geometric spots of light in your image. This can really increase that magical feeling and make an average shot really special. See the effect it had on grass on the previous page.

6. Accept the challenge.

The whole point of Procrastinator’s Delight is to force ourselves to try new techniques and just get shooting. Go have some fun!

Composition: What Do You Do When There Is No Subject?

Landscape photographers face a problem that other photographers usually don’t have: deciding on a subject.

By Jim Hamel

When a portrait photographer prepares to take a picture, there is no question what the subject will be: the person. Similarly, a wildlife photographer always knows what the subject of their photo will be: the animal. That’s not to say those types of photography are easy … but if you are a landscape photographer, you have, no doubt, spent countless hours driving or walking around looking for something — anything — to use as a subject. It is often the biggest challenge we face.

Now, sometimes picking a subject is not that difficult. If you have the Portland Head Light or the Golden Gate Bridge in your scene … well, it is pretty clear what your subject is going to be.

What about a standard scenic view though? Usually there are just some hills and trees in front of you with the sky as the background. It might be pretty. It might be a nice view. But what is the subject?

aerial photo of the Grand Canyon

Photograph by James Hamel

Even if you go to a remarkably scenic spot, you might still face the same challenge. You can go to the Grand Canyon or Monument Valley and still come home with nothing more than a bunch of snapshots.

So what do we do about this problem? Well, we cannot fix it entirely. We often just have to muddle through. The reality is that much of the world is just not that interesting or doesn’t translate well into pictures. That said, there are great pictures to be had even where there is no obvious subject. Further, there are some things you can do to mitigate this problem. Here is how I suggest you approach it.

STEP 1: Plan Ahead

Photography is in many ways similar to fishing. You can never guarantee success and some days will be better than others no matter what you do. Still, there are things you can do to improve your chances.

In fishing, if you simply drop your line into a random part of a lake, then yes, you do have some chance of catching a fish. The chances are not that great though. Real fishermen plan ahead with maps. They look for the structures where they know the fish hide. They race out to the best spots based on the intel they received. When they are on the water, they are using fish finders. They are constantly moving around to find the part of the lake where the fish are. In short, they make every effort to know where the fish are, and then get to those spots.

Similarly, in photography, if you simply walk around with a camera slung over your shoulder, then yes, you do have some chance of running into a beautiful scene that will translate well into a great picture. But the odds are not great. Rather, just as in fishing, you should plan ahead and find those structures and other things that might serve as a good subject or center of interest for your photo.

Here are a few excellent tools to find these subjects.

The 500px World Map:

This map will show you pictures taken by location so you can see what other photographers did in the area to plan to visit. (Editors note: I could not find this.)

Google Street View:

This feature of Google Maps will allow you to virtually walk around and explore an area ahead of time. The “pegman” feature will show you all sorts of angles and views. It is the next best thing to being there.

Simple keyword search:

If you are going to a distinct place, you can also run a simple search on that area through Google, Flickr, or 500px. Once you find a photographer or two that have specialized in that area, check out their websites.

There is a chapter devoted toward this subject in my book, so I don’t want to belabor the point too much here for those who have already read it. Just use the tools available to you to plan ahead and find features that might serve as interesting subjects. This will save you a lot of time.

STEP 2: Run Through the Features You Can Use

What features might actually serve as a useful subject for our pictures? Of course, such a list is nearly infinite. Anything from a blade of grass to a tree to a rock can end up being an interesting subject. But saying that doesn’t really help anybody.

In the context of coastal photography, here are some things to look for:

  • Old piers and docks
  • Lighthouses
  • Rock formations
  • Patterns in the water
  • Animals
  • Powerful waves
  • Clouds
  • People (for a sense of scale)
  • Reflections in the water

For landscapes, consider some of these subjects:

  • Old barns
  • Cows
  • Wind mills
  • Large rocks or boulders
  • Cliffs
  • Horses
  • Creeks
  • Bridges
  • Waterfalls
  • A hill or mountain peak
  • Abandoned cars or boats

STEP 3: There Just Isn’t Anything Here. Now What?

night photograph of tree by James Hamel

Photograph by James Hamel

When there just doesn’t appear to be a subject, just start looking for something you can use as a center of interest to tie the picture together. Sometimes it might be a cloud or one stand-out tree. Other times it can be the road.

If you cannot find one thing to be a subject, you’ll need to go in a different direction. Very often that means finding a pattern, shape, or line to serve as the centerpiece of your picture. A row of trees can sometimes work here. If you are dealing with a desert or barren scene, patterns in the sand can work well. Be careful though, as you often cannot see these patterns the way your camera does. You will need to look through the camera
a lot.

Black-and-white landscape photo with a road

Photograph by James Hamel.

Frankly, anything that you can turn into a line through your picture works as well. The line helps guide the viewer’s eye, which is ultimately what you are trying to do with a subject or center of interest in the picture. Roads and creeks are good examples. A winding pathway can work really well. You might also set up your shot so that a line or shoreline line runs through the picture. You can do the same with rows created by farmers or by hedges.

Remember that the subject of your photo isn’t necessarily a thing. It can be an idea. As long as the picture is held together visually by a pattern, shape, or line, the underlying subject can still come through.

STEP 4: The Wait

Sometimes the best pictures are created by setting up an interesting composition — even if there is no real subject — and then waiting for something to happen. Particularly in an urban context, it is often a great idea to set up your composition and then wait. A person may walk through the scene. Any number of things might happen to provide you with a great subject. Henri Cartier-Bresson was famous for this technique.

Does this technique work in a remote location or a landscape context? Sort of. You typically aren’t going to have a lot of people or traffic coming through your scene (and, frankly, that is probably the last thing you would want anyway). You might get lucky with an animal or some birds coming into your scene, but this is not likely.

The best bet is to return to your location later, if you can. Come back when there is something going on — a storm is approaching or there is dramatic lighting. Anything to create that extra “something” that anchors or completes your picture.

Sunset photograph on coast

Photograph by James Hamel

STEP 5: When All Else Fails … Using “The Scene”

I should mention that this article stemmed from an email discussion I had with a reader who posed the question, “What do you do when there’s no subject?” We talked about a lot of the concepts in this article, and he raised the point that sometimes the subject is just “the scene.”

I am resistant to accept this notion because it sounds a lot like taking a snapshot to me. I have countless pictures on my hard drive that were “a good view” or “the scene” but did not translate into anything more than that. That said, he has a point. Again, very often the subject is not a thing at all. It is a feeling or an idea. In fact, those are frequently the best subjects.

Final Takeaway for Finding a Subject

I am not pretending that I can solve this problem for you. Finding a great subject is something you will struggle with as long as you decide to keep taking pictures. However, I am writing this article for two reasons.

First, to acknowledge the problem, so you won’t think it is peculiar to you or that you are doing something wrong. For landscape photographers, finding a subject has been a challenge, is a challenge, and always will be a challenge. There is no technological development that I see changing this. If you find this part of photography difficult, you are far from alone.

Secondly, I want to provide at least a few tips for dealing with this constant struggle. Hopefully, planning ahead and running through a checklist of potential features will result in clear subjects for you. If not, then creating a pattern or leading line may help.

Finally, don’t overlook just waiting around or coming back later. Whatever you do, remember to work the scene from several different spot and angles so that you can be sure you’ve covered everything.

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel is not just a great photographer, writer, and teacher, he’s also one of our very own TAPC members. Check out his free photography guides and tutorials at Outdoor Photo Academy. You can also see this original unedited article.

10 Things I Learned About Photography

By Mangesh Sangapu

Fast-forward a few years and I’ve grown as a photographer. I won “Photographer of the Year” in a local club and had photos featured on nationally renowned websites.

Looking back at my journey, I compiled the top 10 things I learned. Hopefully, this will make your journey a bit easier.

1. It’s an investment

money by Mangesh "Manny" Sangapu © Mangesh

© Mangesh

Camera prices range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, but the expenses don’t stop there. I started with a $500 Panasonic Lumix G7 and figured that would be it. Then came lenses, tripods, accessories, etc. Understand that photography is a hobby that requires various products. It’s not just the camera and lens, but much more than that.

All these products cost money. There’s no need to dive head-on into purchasing all these products, but understand that your camera and lens is just the starting point, and if you
stick with this hobby, you’ll eventually need more gear.

Don’t worry, as there’s a huge market for pre-owned lenses. There are sites like KEH that sell pre-owned gear, as well your local Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.

2. Kit lenses limit you

Kit lenses refer to the beginner lenses bundled with cameras. They are given this name as it comes as a part of the camera kit. Typically they have higher f-numbers, like f/3.5, that can limit you to well-lit environments.

The higher these numbers, the more light you will need on your subject, unless you’re going for the dark look. The lower the numbers, the less light you will need around your subject.

In addition to your kit lens, I recommend starting with a 35mm or 50mm with a low
f/number, (e.g. 50mm f/1.8). To get comfortable with these lenses, try shooting exclusively with them for several weeks.

You don’t need to dive into buying all the low-aperture lenses, but having at least one in
your collection will give you a light advantage over the basic kit lenses.

3. Exposure is the main concept

The exposure triangle

I still remember the first time I modified my camera dials to change the shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. My mirrorless camera has an electronic viewfinder so I could see how these factors immediately affected the final image.

It was at this moment that a light went on in my brain — because I finally understood exposure and why it was a big deal. Each of the three factors in the exposure triangle affect the amount of light on the subject. Once you learn exposure and get confident using it, you will advance by leaps and bounds.

4. It takes time

When I first got my camera, I couldn’t put it down. I took it everywhere with me: family
events, vacations, and even walks in the neighborhood.

The reality is that buying a camera won’t make you a good photographer. The pictures
you take five years from now will, hopefully, look better than the pictures you take today.
Photography is an art, and it takes time to craft those skills.

I recommend you take your camera everywhere. Learn ALL the settings and build your confidence with practice. Remember your camera doesn’t make the photos … it’s you and
the skills you apply through your camera.

5. You’ll see things differently

After learning exposure, I started looking around and noticing how light affected the environment. Today, even before I look through the viewfinder, I have a general idea
if the light needs to be modified. This only happens through practice and experience.

I can see images and notice color temperature (white balance), where the light source was in an image, and much more. The more you work with your camera, the more you understand how lighting affects your image. Eventually this will improve your vision to a point where you’ll see things differently.

6. Technical skills help

Close up photograph of a woman's eye by Mangesh "Manny" Sangapu © Mangesh

© Mangesh

Have you ever organized the files on your computer? Well, get ready to put those skills into use. Photography doesn’t end at the shutter button. A lot of time and effort is spent  after the photo is taken. This is where technical skills come into play. Whether you’re using Photoshop, ACDSee, Lightroom, etc, technical skills will make it easier for you to organize and edit your photography.

7. First, learn all the rules …

When I started photography, I had no clue there were repeating themes that were used to make a pleasing image. There are many photography principles that help you do just
that! I’ve listed several here and by no means is this a comprehensive list:

  • Fill the frame
  • Rule of thirds
  • Composition
  • Depth (3Gs: fore-ground, middle-ground, back-ground)
  • Movement through shutter speed
  • Depth-of-field

This is a small list to get you started, but learning these will only improve your photography. First learn all the rules … and then break them!

8. Find your community

Learning photography doesn’t have to be something you do alone. I joined a local photography club, and it really took me further. It allowed me to enter monthly competitions, and having my images critiqued helped me improve.

I also joined many YouTube channels and bookmarked several popular photography
sites like OutdoorPhotoAcademy by Jim Hamel.

The takeaway here is to find your community, talk about photography, and learn from each other to go further.

9. Respect the craft

There are a lot of arguments on the internet about sensor sizes, lenses, camera brands, megapixels, etc. Winning an argument won’t make you a better photographer, and you
waste precious time that could be spent improving your skills.

Photographers put years into their work. Respect the craft and the time others have put
into it. If you’re asked to provide feedback, be respectful and constructive.

Every day, someone new picks up a camera with the intention of becoming a photographer. Keep your distance from those online arguments and cultivate an
environment that’s friendly to the new photographer.

10. Make it fun!

Are you frustrated with your camera? Photo editor? Your skills? Then take a break from it and come back another time. Photography is meant to be fun, not frustrating!

If you’re photographing other people, remember you’ll transfer your energy to your
subjects. Be happy and you will get better poses from them.

Remember to enjoy the ride, have fun, and click away!

Mangesh "Manny" Sanga

Mangesh “Manny” Sangapu is a member of TAPC and the creator of OpenFilmmaker.com, where he blogs about photography and film. Go there to see the rest of this article, including comments about his photography equipment.

Black & White

You might think that a black-and-white image is a step down from its full-color equivalent, but the absence of color draws attention to other facets of composition, including light, shadows, lines, shapes, patterns, texture, and symmetry.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when shooting for our March 2020 club contest.

Keep It Simple

Choose a subject that will showcase the compositional elements. Busy backgrounds or cluttered images are distractions to avoid.

Lighthouse in black-and-white by Tony Naccarato from Unsplash.com

Lighthouse in black-and-white by Tony Naccarato from Unsplash.com

2. Capture Contrast

Make sure there is separation between your subject and the background. A great black-and-white image often has varying shades of gray. But including clean black and clean white areas within the image will help keep it from looking muddy. However, a large area that is only black or white can look like dead space.

3. Filter the Light

A polarizing filter will help darken skies and remove harsh reflections. A neutral density filter will allow you to lengthen exposure time to create interesting effects in water or clouds.

4. Try Underexposing

It’s a bit of an optical illusion, but the darker your blacks, the whiter the whites will seem.

5. Shoot in HDR

Some cameras will allow you to shoot in HDR (high dynamic range). This format can often make color images feel a little surreal. But it’s a powerful option in B&W for how it
seemingly amplifies texture, contrast, and light and shadow.

6. Play in Post

black-and-white photo of chairs by Jonas Jacobsson from Unsplash.com

Black-and-white photo of chairs by Jonas Jacobsson from Unsplash.com

Capturing the image is just the first part. Use Photoshop or Lightroom to play with levels and curves. Do a little dodging and burning to parts of the image. It’s not cheating. (This is technically how Ansel Adams did it, just with paper in a darkroom.)

20 in ’20

 

You gotta have a goal. Why not make 2020 the year you try 20 new things in photography?

Read on for some suggestions. Many of these are the topics for this year’s
competitions. So push yourself this year and getcha some ribbons!

1. Go Old School

Shoot in black and white. But don’t just desaturate an existing image. Seek out something you think will look fabulous in B&W and shoot that (for the March contest).

Photo of person and their reflection at the beach by Jeremy Vessey from Unsplash.com

Photo by Jeremy Vessey from Unsplash.com

2. Get a Silhouette

Find something that is strongly backlit and expose for the background. Submit in the April competition.

3. Reflect on Reflections

This is another option for the April contest. Take a second look at still water, store windows, puddles, and well, mirrors.

Put some extra dimension in your shots by purposely finding subjects that have elements in the foreground and background.

5. Paint with Light

June’s contest is the source for many of the ideas in this article. Take a long exposure at night, and use a flashlight to “paint” certain areas for dramatic effect.

6. Move While Shooting

Add a sense of motion to your images by zooming or panning during an exposure. The longer the shutter speed, the bigger the effect.

7. Add a Filter

Try shooting through a neutral density filter to smooth out water or clouds. Might be a nice effect for the July contest.

8. Get on Your Belly

Our eyes see almost everything from a standing perspective, so shooting from a unique angle is an easy way to make your photographs instantly more interesting. Get really low for the August contest.

Photo by Thomas Park from Unsplash.com

Photo by Thomas Park from Unsplash.com

9. Find a Pattern

Our November competition will have you looking for geometric shapes in nature. Go even further by finding interruptions in patterns—almost always makes a great photo.

10. Get Closer

A common remark heard from judges is the subject is too far away in the photo. So move in. Push yourself to get closer than you usually do. Might work nicely in the February contest.

11. Go Somewhere New

Texas has amazing places to shoot. Here are just a few and a few more.

12. Go Somewhere Old

Push yourself to find new subject matter in familiar places. If you’ve photographed every animal at the zoo, go again and capture shots of people.

13. Alarm Yourself

While out shooting, set the timer on your phone to go off in an hour or so. When it does, immediately shoot the most interesting thing you see.

14. Do the Opposite

Go ahead and get the shot. Then force yourself to do something completely different with the same subject. The crazier, the better.

15. Flash Someone

Most photographers wait too long to explore the power of flash. Did you know you can probably change the intensity of the flash on your camera? Start with that. Use it to fill shadows. Try using reflectors to bounce light.

16. Go on a TAPC Field Trip

Have you seen the images we get when we go somewhere together? Our Facebook page is the best place to hear about upcoming trips.

17. Sit Still

Find a nice place. Sit. Then wait. Observe. Absorb. Look at the same things until they seem to be foreign. If you’re getting bored, you may be about to see something amazing. Good things come to those who wait.

18. Go Out in the Rain

To capture images you don’t normally get, shoot when you don’t normally go. Turn your excuses—too rainy, too cold, too windy—into invitations.

Photo by Noémi Macavei-Katócz from Unsplash.com

Photo by Noémi Macavei-Katócz from Unsplash.com

19. Volunteer

Many local businesses would love some free photography. This will push you to do interesting work and may just help you move from hobbyist to pro.

20. Shoot Yourself

For most photographers, the subject matter they have the least of is themselves. Use the timer on your camera and capture a headshot. You’ll need it after all these challenges make you rich and famous.

If you’ve already done a few of these, add your own challenges to the list. But push yourself to find (and do) 20 in ‘20.

 

 

How to Maximize Attraction to Your Photos

By Jim Hamel

We all have trouble evaluating our own work as others will see it. As we sit at our computers, we get to the point where we cannot see the forest for the trees. Not only that, but if we do manage to decide what will attract someone’s eye, we need to decide what to do about it.

In this article I want to give you some steps you can take to better evaluate how others will see your photos and some things you can do to attract their eyes to the right places.

Texture and patterns of clouds above tree in landscape. Photo by Jim Hamel

The simplicity of this photo attracts the initial attention; the texture and patterns of the clouds hold the attention a bit longer. Photo by Jim Hamel

1. You Have a Split Second to Impress

It is amazing how fast we make decisions about photographs. It literally happens in a split-second. As photographers, we need to understand that we only have that fraction of a second to impress the viewer. That is especially true when we face a screen full of thumbnails.

One of the reasons photographers are always preaching about “simplicity” in photos is the importance of catching someone’s eye immediately. A busy photo just will not look good in the initial glance. A simple photo will maximize attraction.

This tendency is not only true of thumbnails on a computer screen, but prints as well. There have been studies that measured the entry and exit times of people in photography exhibitions. The average time spent per photo was about 10 seconds. And that was for masterpieces in a museum that people drove to go see. If people don’t linger over masterpieces, imagine the time they are going to give your photo.

So you need to consider that split second decision in your own work. How? One way is to force yourself to look at your photograph for just a split second. Turn away from your screen. Now turn to look at it and allow yourself to register it very quickly. What is your first impression?

Another way is to leave the picture up on your monitor and walk away for a second. Turn around and view it from across the room. Or go into the kitchen to refill your coffee, and then register the first thing you think when you walk back in the room and see the photo.

These will help you take a “fresh look” at that photo you have been editing.

2. Consider the Route of the Eyes

Once you’ve got someone to give your photo more than the split-second initial look, you’ve got to consider what you want their eyes to do next. This is why leading lines and other compositional elements are so important.

Take a look at photos you love and consider how your eye moves around the frame. Do you gravitate toward certain movements? People differ, but I have personally found that many of my favorite photos start with the center of interest in the lower left quadrant and move in a counter-clockwise rotation from there.

dock rope lines to ship photo by Jim Hamel

The dock-lines provide physical leading-lines into the heart of the picture. Photo by Jim Hamel

Once you determine how you want the eye to move around your picture, how do you do that? The primary way is through brightness and darkness. Our eyes are attracted to brightness, so make the path a little lighter, or make other parts a little darker.

The eye is also attracted by sharpness and contrast. You can add selective contrast and/or sharpening to parts of your picture to guide the eyes of the viewer. You can also add a slight blur to unimportant parts.

3. Reward the Viewer

Once you have held the viewer’s attention for a second or two, you need to reward them for hanging around. That is in the details.

Frankly, this is what we spend most of our time on already. We make sure the textures are just right. We shade things a touch. We worry about color hues and saturation. Just keep doing what you are doing here.

4. View Per the Format

Next, you need to consider how your viewer will see your photo. For example, will your photo be one of many thumbnails that the viewer will be looking at on Flickr or 500px? Or will it be an enormous print? Or maybe something in between?

The size often matters to how your photo is registered. Some pictures are striking as thumbnails, but when you get them on your screen you are unimpressed. Other photos look great blown up, but cannot get a second look as a small thumbnail.

Also, consider that many displays will force a crop on you. The thumbnails on 500px, which is how most users of that site will see of your photo, will not allow for long or tall photos. Instagram actually forces your photo into a square format. So consider how the picture will ultimately be seen before it gets there.

5. Let It Hang Around

We live in an era of instant gratification. If we’ve got a good photo, we want it up right now for all to see.

Many times, if you immediately publish a photo to your website or social media, you will later wish you hadn’t. You will see things you wish you had done differently. We always seem to go too far with an edit or not far enough with something, on the first try.

If you leave a photo hanging around for a few days, you will often go back and make some changes. So give yourself some time with your photo. If possible, print it out and leave it laying around or hanging up for a few days. Note the things you’d like to see done  differently. Then go make the changes. Now you’ve got a final version ready for viewing.

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel is not just a great photographer, writer, and teacher, he’s also one of our very own TAPC members. Check out his free photography guides and tutorials at Outdoor Photo Academy. You can also see this original unedited article and even more images at Digital Photography School.

Fast Food Photo Tips

Food photo by Brooke Lark on unsplash.com

Food photo by Brooke Lark on unsplash.com

Here’s some sage advice for this month’s photo competition entrants, who in true Procrastinator’s Delight style may be waiting until the last minute to shoot the subject — food.

Composition is king in food photography. Give careful consideration to the angle of the shot, the direction of the light, and the placement of the props. Keep reading for a little more on each.

Pick a Side

Several factors determine the best angle to shoot from. If your subject has a lot of horizontal layers, like a cupcake, you’ll  want to showcase that by shooting from the side. A straight down perspective can emphasize the shapes of plates and cutlery, and also eliminate a distracting background. Shooting more diagonally can give you the best of both worlds.

Consider the Light

Usually, the most dramatic food shots appear to have one light source, often on the side of or slightly behind the subject. There may be other lights involved to reduce or soften unwanted shadows, but this can often be handled by deflecting, diffusing, or blocking the light. Some photographers love the feel of natural light, but others like the control of artificial sources.

Raspberry cake photo by Anna Tuthfatullina on unsplash.com

Raspberry cake photo by Anna Tuthfatullina on unsplash.com

Choose Props Wisely

A successful shot has several ingredients, including added props. These can help draw the eye to the main subject, but can also distract if not done well. Select items that complement the colors of the food, including the background or table. When shooting from the side, try putting props in the foreground and background to help tell a story, but use depth of field to soften the focus while keeping the main subject sharp.

Shake It Up

Much of these guidelines pertain to traditional food photos. Your best results may come from tweaking the recipe.

 

 

9 Lessons to Sharpen Your Photography Skills

Back to School!

Chalkboard with cursive text, "Back to School" and piece of chalk. Photo by Deleece Cook from unsplash.com

Photo by Deleece Cook from unsplash.com

’Tis the season to start learning a few new things or to remember something you’ve forgotten. Here are nine basic lessons that may help sharpen your skills.

1. Get It Right In-Camera

Sure, you can fix a lot of mistakes in Photoshop, but getting the best shot possible will save you a lot of time and ultimately make you a better shooter.

Learn how to use your histogram, so you’re not blowing out highlights. Move your camera (and your body) to eliminate distracting objects or bright spots.

2. Have a Point

What moved you to take the photo? The light? An interesting face? A majestic landscape?  Be sure that translates to the final image.

Try to remove all elements that take away from the story you’re telling. Be sure the main subject is the sharpest part of the image. Use basic rules of composition to draw the viewer’s eye to it.

3. Fight the Fuzzy

Photos that lack sharpness can be caused by a variety of issues, including:

  • slow shutter speed
  • camera shake
  • low light
  • camera focus setting

That’s too much to cover here, but a quick web search will point you to articles on how to fix this.

A good rule of thumb is to set your shutter speed to 1/ focal length. For example, if you’re shooting with a 200mm lens, your shutter speed should be 1/200 or faster. But some recommend doubling that to 1/400.

4. Go Easy on the Processing

Unless you’re going for a dramatic, over-processed look, ease up on the post production. Yes, adjusting the contrast, color, and sharpness can improve your images, but it’s easy to overdo this and make your shots seem a little off.

5. Don’t Be a Chimp

Back in the day, you had to wait for your film to develop before you knew if your settings were correct. Digital photography offers instant results. So, yes, check the back of your camera (including the histogram) to be sure you’re getting what you want. However, it’s really easy to use this as a crutch and check every shot. That’s a great way to miss some beautiful moments.

This so common, there’s even a name for it (chimping). Check periodically, especially if the light is changing, but keep your eyes up most of the time.

6. Have an Angle

Looking up at the Statue of Liberty from the bottom of the building pedestal. Photo by Juan Manuel Aguilar from unsplash.com

Photo by Juan Manuel Aguilar from unsplash.com

Smartphones have made it really easy to take a picture. Most are taken at eye level because that’s how most people see the world. When you find something to photograph, spend a little time looking for an intriguing perspective.

  • Get low.
  • Shoot up.
  • Shoot down on it.
  • Find a way to frame the subject.
  • Do something to make your image unique.

Climber sitting on high ledge. Photo by Steve Halama from unsplash.com

Photo by Steve Halama from unsplash.com

 

7. Think in 2D

In our three-dimensional world, that lamp post may be 35 yards behind your subject. In a 2D photo, the post will look like it’s growing out of his head.

Remember to search for distracting elements in the foreground and background while you’re setting up the shot and change something to eliminate them.

8. Start at Square One

It’s a good idea to check your camera before you start shooting to make sure your settings are appropriate.

Perhaps you’re going to the zoo and the last time you used the camera, you were shooting star trails. That first shot of the leaping lion gets completely blown out because you’re in Manual and the ISO is still set on a million.

For this same reason, it’s also a great habit to reset your camera at the end of every shoot.

9. Experiment

Most of these points were elementary, but this one applies to everyone. The comfort zone is overcrowded. Get out of it periodically. Learn a new technique. Shoot a new subject. Do something that makes you nervous. Your future self will thank you!

7 Non-Technical Tips for Improving Your Photography Right Now

By Jim Hamel

Seems like every time someone gives tips about improving photography, they start with something technical. That is understandable; there is a lot of technical stuff to learn in photography. At the same time, it seems like there should be some non-technical things that could be done today — right now — to improve.

Turns out, there are. Here are seven non-technical tips you can use right now to make your photographs better. Try them out next time you are photographing. I guarantee instant improvement in your outdoor photography.

1. Fill the frame

This cannot be overstated enough. We all tend to put some background elements in our picture so that our viewers will recognize the location or context of the picture. The trouble is, beginners always put way too much context in the picture and it dilutes the subject. In any event, we humans are amazingly perceptive and can place context of the photo with only the tiniest of clues.

Next time, try to include just the subject.

Dark, dramatic black-and-white photo of an old barn by James Hamel.

Keeping the exposure dark adds drama to this photo of an old barn. Photo by James Hamel

2. Make it darker

Different levels of exposure create different moods. This is especially true of underexposure. It creates a sense of drama and sometimes mystery. Another benefit of slightly underexposing your images is that it makes your colors appear more saturated. Don’t overdo it, but next time try to knock the exposure level down a touch.

3. Get close

A close cousin to the “fill the frame” tip (it bears repeating) is to get close to your subject. Now get closer. Now get closer still. You actually still might not be close enough. Keep at it.

Bird flying above Rock of Cashel. Photo by James Hamel

A nice photo of the Rock of Cashel made more interesting by a bird flying across the frame. Photo by James Hamel

4. Wait for action

So, you’ve got a great scene lined up. Maybe it is a landscape, maybe an urban scene. Go ahead and take the shot, but then recognize that you probably just got the same shot as
everyone else.

The scene isn’t going anywhere. Wait for an interesting development. That might be a person walking through the scene. It might be a flock of birds. It can be anything, so keep your eyes open. That extra something can be the thing that sets your picture apart from countless pictures of the same thing.

You don’t need to wait around all day, but another minute or two might make all the
difference.

Tree branches frame a windmill at sunset. Color photo by James Hamel.

Using tree branches to frame in two sides of a photo of a windmill at sunset. Photo by James Hamel

5. Frame the subject

Oftentimes you will find yourself before an interesting subject, but with no interesting
background. A great solution to this problem is to use a frame within your frame. It can be a complete frame, or a partial. The most obvious examples are doorways, windows, and tree branches, but almost anything can be used.

6. Fortify yourself

Right before you go out to take pictures, look at the best photography you can find. If you don’t already have your favorite place(s), start with the Popular page at 500px. Doing this right before you head out seems to always lead to better pictures being taken.

I know you don’t believe me, but it makes a BIG difference. Try it and your will be a believer.

7. Take multiple exposures

Don’t just take one picture and walk off, assuming you’ve nailed it. Take pictures from
different angles. Get low, then get higher. Get behind your subject and then in front of it.
Pros call this “working the scene” and it is not uncommon for them to take dozens of pictures of the same thing from slightly different perspectives.

Remember that with digital photography it costs nothing to take pictures — so take advantage of this and take a lot of them.

Do it today

These are all tips you can put into action today. You don’t need any special equipment.
The total cost of all extra gear needed to put these tips into action is $0. So give them a try and you should see immediate improvement.

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel is not just a great photographer, writer, and teacher, he’s also one of our very own TAPC members. Check out his free photography guides and tutorials at Outdoor Photo Academy. You can also see this original unedited article (with three more tips) and even more images.