Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Shooting Halloween!


Getting great shots at Halloween doesn’t have to be scary (see what we did there?). The season that was made for low light photography has lots of other photographic possibilities. Here are some ideas for making great photographs (along with some mischief!).

Gear
Low light usually means a tripod and that’s no exception here if you’re taking shots of lit up jack o lanterns, or another low light scene. You can also have loads of fun light painting with a flashlight or glow sticks (more on this later). We love the Benro tripod because it’s lightweight but still sturdy and we have this Benro Digital T800EX Aluminum Entry Level Tripod Kit for just $50! 

Neighborhood houses decorated their spookiest make great backgrounds and if you use a slow shutter speed you may even get some “ghosts” (in the form of costumed kids) passing through. 
We recommend carrying two lenses, a prime is amazing for details and lovely boo-keh portraits and you’ll also want a wide or zoom lens to get large scenes, if that’s what you’re after. Have you seen this beauty from Sigma? Their 19mm 2.8 Art lens shoots wide and gives sharp, high contrast images all at under $200!

Light
Avoid using on-camera flash like a vampire avoids garlic! No really, unless you are looking for fill light while there is still some natural light, don’t do flash. Instead, get creative with your light sources. A grouping of candles can yield a spooky effect for a portrait. Safety first here, people, please be super careful with open flames especially when shooting costumes with long hair or other flowy elements. Also if there is a breeze and it’s kids? Probably a good idea to scratch it entirely.  A better bet for little ones is a colored filter or even just a piece of party cellophane in orange, purple or green over the flashlight and then pointing the beam up to the face from the chest area, you can even tie it up with some ribbon or twine and hang it around the neck.

When
Whether you’re shooting your family and kids or your whole crew headed to multiple parties, start before the witching hour. If you can, have a dry run with everyone a few days before the big night, as you’ll have more time to pose and rearrange and see what works and what doesn’t before Halloween arrives. If that’s not possible, try to get everyone to begin preparations a few hours early, while there’s still good natural light. 
Family and friends all ready to go! 
This is your chance to get all the neighborhood kids in one shot so their costumes can clearly be seen (this is also the easiest shot for you, so take advantage!)


Taken BEFORE it was completely dark, this friendly ghost is lit both from within and a few ambient sources. 

Almost dark now and this large lit up lawn decoration shines while we still get details of the house behind it. 




What
  • Don’t forget the details! Fingernails (claws and paws!), eyelashes, and fangs are among the great little things you don’t want to miss.

  • Inviting all your friends to one person’s house to all get dressed together can yield some great BTS shots, as candid shots putting on makeup, trying different poses and generally mugging for the camera while the lights are still on are so fun to see later.
  • Experiment with angle, get down low so the subject is looming above you looking like a menacing giant, or get up high on a step ladder and shoot down at a group.
  • Once it gets dark and the fun begins doesn’t mean you have to stop shooting! Now’s the time to grab a handful of glowsticks or a flashlight and make a light painting! Have friends spell out the word “spooky” against a dark background. You’ll need a tripod for this as a long exposure is called for to create the light trails and you’ll probably want a remote shutter release as well to reduce camera movement. Alternatively, you can have the light source stand still and move the camera (more work for you but try it)!


We hope you find these tips and tricks helpful as you prepare to record your Halloween festivities or just your neighborhood decorations. As always, we would love to see what treats YOU come home with!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

What to Consider When Buying a Camera Part II - by Jerry Schneir


Jerry is an instructor at Emeritus College in Santa Monica, California where he teaches courses in digital photography dedicated to seniors. He also has taught introductory courses in Photoshop Elements.

Today we’re continuing our 2 part series on the 7 major factors to to consider when buying a camera.

CAMERA WEIGHT (AND SIZE) Think about a day of walking around in the sun with a camera hanging from your neck or shoulder should give you a far greater appreciation for considering that point in selecting a camera. Not all pocket cameras are created equal. Some will really fit into a shirt pocket while the others require something more like a jacket pocket. I don’t know if I would be happy carrying around a camera weighing 12 oz or more even in a shirt’s pocket. Smaller camera often mean having that camera with you when you are out and about rather than leaving it at home, in the car, or in the hotel room. Smaller cameras are also less intrusive, less threatening and thus more readily accepted in places where a larger camera may make photo subjects wary and uncomfortable. I have seen this and been the subject to that reaction. It is one of my reasons for having a small camera always with me whenever I travel.


LCD  Most LCDs are fixed, they do not tilt or rotate. Some cameras do have tilting LCDs. This feature can be very useful in shooting above a crowd or down low to the ground. Some LCDs can rotate as well as tilt, “fully articulated”. It is a big feature but something that also adds to size and weight. Some of the LCDs may have a touch screen. For some people this is a great benefit but for others it is a real pain. Some LCDs are far easier to use in bright light, others much less so. Almost all current model cameras have LCD with at least 460,000 pixels. By today’s standard, 460,000 pixels should be the minimum you should accept on any camera. LCDs with high pixel (or dot) counts generally means greater ability to use in bright light or at an angle.

MEGAPIXELS-(MP) The number of pixels on the sensor CAN affect how large a picture you can print or crop and print. The more pixels in the picture the more you can crop and still get a printable image as large as 12x18. More pixels also tend to yield a greater dynamic range and should, also in theory, mean sharper pictures. However, packing too many pixels onto a sensor can, and often does, degrade the final image. On some cameras changing the resolution, i.e., the number of pixels being used, can increase the zoom range. Also note: the internal image processors in the cameras also play a large part in image quality and lack of noise at higher ISO levels.

CONTROLS OR SHOOTING PROGRAMS The ability to easily change shooting parameters, such as Program, Shutter speed, or Aperture are critical to some, not so for others. The scene mode options on many of today’s cameras can, to a certain extent, offset that lack of specific aperture or shutter speed controls. As you become more proficient in using a camera you may find the lack of some camera controls frustrating. Most lower priced cameras lack any direct method for controlling shutter speed or aperture.

OTHER THOUGHTS 
  • Is the camera being considered a back-up or the primary camera? Two cameras from the same manufacturer often have SIMILAR menu systems and shooting modes which makes mastering the new camera faster and life easier especially when traveling .
  • Placement of buttons or dials can make using a camera easier or harder. Harder because a misplaced button can accidentally activate a feature and cause confusion.
  • Camera construction or weather sealing can be critical for people who may be traveling to moist, humid places.
  • Is the camera being considered an older or newer model? Camera prices can drop dramatically a few months before a new model appears.
  • If this is going to be your primary camera, and if so, what does it offer that your smart phone does not?
  • Do you want to get an interchangeable lens camera to grow with as your ability grows or get a very sophisticated fixed lens camera that will meet current and future needs?


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What To Consider When Buying a Camera Part I - by Jerry Schneir

Jerry is an instructor at Emeritus College in Santa Monica, California where he teaches courses in digital photography dedicated to seniors. He also has taught introductory courses in Photoshop Elements.

I buy 3 or 4 cameras a year as I am always looking for that one perfect camera and still have not found it. Come close, but no winner. Think about it for a second; if you're trying to take really great bird pictures you want a fast lens and a lot of zoom. That almost always means a bigger camera, and probably a bit heavy as well. At a party you might like something smaller and unobtrusive. Each set of circumstances and conditions tend to dictate a somewhat different type/style camera. It is hard to balance cost along with your perceived photographic needs as well as your photographic knowledge and/or ability.

Trying to evaluate things like: zoom range; viewfinder; fixed, tilting or fully articulating LCD; maximum lens aperture; movie functions and types; weather sealing or proofing; weight; size; these are just some of the factors that should play a role in making that choice. Sometimes the placement of buttons or dials becomes even more important as to how well you will like using a particular camera. Sometimes intangibles like ease of use of the menu or the degree of customization may become final determining factors. What is close to ideal for me may be a horrible choice for you.


ZOOM RANGE In today’s digital world, optical zoom in even pocket sized cameras have reached 50-60x. The lens can go from 24 or 28mm wide angle to 1200mm or more. That amount of optical zoom in a very compact camera generally has some very negative tradeoffs. The lenses on those cameras lose their fast aperture, if they have one, very quickly as you start to zoom out. That fast f2.8 lens at 24mm quickly slows to f5.6 by the time you zoom out to as little as 100mm on some cameras. Some of those lenses can be very much slower than a camera with less optical zoom. On some cameras you can increase the zoom range by reducing the resolution, sometimes a worthy trade.

LENS APERTURE-SPEED A faster lens (larger opening, smaller F number) means you can take pictures at higher shutter speeds and can contribute to getting sharper pictures, IF you used that higher shutter speed. A big lens opening yields a shallower depth of field (DOF). Note: MOST lenses are marked with 2 aperture values, the larger numbered one is at maximum zoom, the smaller numbered one is at maximum wide angle. The drop in lens speed is NOT linear but rapidly occurs as you start to zoom in on your subject. The bigger lens opening means you can use a lower ISO even with higher shutter speeds. Using a lower ISO level means less noise in the image and thus a sharper picture. A faster lens (larger lens opening) also means not having to use flash as often. And larger lens openings also means that you have an increased ability to blur the background so that your subject stands out better. That faster lens almost always means faster auto focusing even in poor light.


VIEWFINDER The more zoom a camera has the more important it is to have a viewfinder. The need becomes even more acute in bright sunlight. Trying to use a camera at or near maximum zoom but without a viewfinder in bright sun can be an impossible obstacle. The newer EVF (electronic viewfinder) closely mimic the best optical viewfinders and sometimes offer some advantages.

A few of the cameras with a built-in EVF (electronic view finder) have an eye sensor which automatically switches from the LCD to the EVF as you place your eye near the EVF. The EVF can display a live view, i.e., how the picture will look when the shutter is tripped by just half pressing the shutter button. That is not possible with some of the optical viewfinder. On the other hand, some type of an optical viewfinder may show you what is happening as you follow the action of a scene, there is no lag in what the camera is showing in the viewfinder and what will be captured. Again, depending of the type of optical viewfinder it may be best for taking fast action pictures.

Some cameras do not have a built-in viewfinder. On some of those cameras there is an accessory viewfinder, generally an electronic viewfinder that use the external flash bracket. That increases the bulkiness of the camera, may limit your use of an external flash, and gives you something else to carry around and perhaps lose or break.

In the next post, we’ll look at the size and weight of the camera, the LCD, the megapixels and the controls and shooting programs.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Pet Portraits

The dog days of summer are here and it's just too hot to shoot outside. Hey, no sweat, you can get amazing results shooting your pet indoors!

Gear and Equipment
Use your favorite portrait lens. If you don't have one (or aren't sure) just use any lens you have that is capable of a shallow DOF. You want to be able to focus on your pet's face and to blur the background, highlighting your subject.


Potential distracting clutter in the background is rendered as a blur, focusing the eye on the subject. 
If you just want to catch your dog in his/her environment indoors, natural light is the way to go. Choose a room with a large window that gets southern (or in a pinch, northern) light. If you can't avoid the sun streaming in, then try to diffuse the light a bit with a white sheer curtain. Use a stuffed animal or pillow in a similar color to your dog to stage the shot and check the light. Avoid using flash, or risk turning your dog’s eyes a glassy green (the canine version of red eye). If you need to balance out natural light a bit and are determined to use flash, you can get a great diffuser to soften the light out like these from LumiQuest. 

It’s very important to keep the camera still, because your pet may not be. This is especially important when you are not using flash. The camera needs to be able to use all the available light to produce the image, so shoot with a tripod. If you don’t have time to set up a tripod, you can stack the camera up on some books, or use a bag of rice or lentils on a hard surface and then plop the camera on top.


An exception to the lighting rule: The high-contrast works here to capture this little imp who loves to sunbathe. Notice we're right down on the pup's level (more about that later).


Sometimes breaking the rules RULES! Strong sunlight makes for a high contrast, dramatic shot.

These puppies were also shot from the floor with a large glass door behind the photographer. It was an overcast day so the light was naturally diffused, yet still hitting the puppies in their faces. A lens with a shallow DOF was used so there's not much of anything visible in the background, perfect for when your pet is looking photogenic and you don’t have time to clean up.
The shallow DOF really highlights the dog in the center. 
This image can be cropped even closer to eliminate the distracting light area on the left of the frame.

Tips
Get down to your dog's level! As you can see in the examples above, for a dog’s eye view, you can't beat getting down on the floor or the ground. The camera should be at eye-level to the dog or slightly (a foot or two) above.

Of course there are always exceptions, and here's one.


We can crop out the distracting yellow sneakers in post.
Is there a favorite toy, or a special characteristic that makes your dog special? Can s/he smell food or hear the treat bin opening from two rooms away? Zero in on that nose, ears, feet or whatever body part or trait makes your dog unique!
Someone, somewhere said, "food." 


Most dogs don't need any props, but if there's a favorite toy by all means use it to encourage your dog to sit and pay attention. Wave a treat or toy just above the camera lens to get your dog to face the camera for a full face shot, hold it out at arm's length for a 3/4 shot, or wait until s/he focuses on something across the room to snap a more candid canine.
Treat held just above the lens.
Toy in left hand, outstretched, shooting with right hand. 


Relaxed and looking at something else.


For a more formal portrait, it's a nice idea to remove your dog's collar, or at least take some of the tags off as it's less distracting. As with our corgi friend who's pretty in pink above, of course there are exceptions to this rule, but only attempt a doggie portrait with your dog dressed up if s/he is already used to wearing whatever accessories you choose, or there's a good chance your dog will not be able to sit still AND look relaxed at the same time!

Too doggone hot to shoot outside? We hear you! Crank up the air conditioning and capture some great pet portraits during the dog days of summer!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Campfire Photography

Summer’s in full swing and hopefully you’re getting outdoors to enjoy (and photograph!) lots of activities in the sunshine. But there are lots of opportunities to shoot outside at night in the summer, too, and there's nothing like the golden glow of a fire for memorable images. From beach bonfires to backyard fire pits, here’s how to get some striking images near a fire.

Wait until dark. Almost.

Like shooting holiday lights and theme park rides, start your fire photography session around dusk. Keep in mind that it will get progressively darker fairly quickly so be ready to adjust your settings to accommodate the increasing darkness. Remember to expose for the background! Photographing before it’s completely dark will give some extra interest and context to the image composition, like the deep blue of water or a sunset lit sky. 
Water, sky and even some twinkling lights in the distance make this shot's composition more visually interesting than just a shot of a fire.
Slow it down. Using a longer shutter speed, combined with a wider aperture and a higher ISO will most likely be the best set up for shooting around a fire. If you want to capture spark trails and get more detail in the flames, then a faster shutter (about 1/250) does the trick. Careful with your ISO if you're shooting the fire in surrounding darkness as you can end up with a lot of noise. Of course when shooting at a longer shutter speed, don't forget your tripod

Lighting your fire If you choose to continue to shoot after nightfall, it can help to have another small light at the side or in the background. If you’re camping, this is easily accomplished by placing a lit flashlight or headlamp inside your tent and turning it into a big, soft diffused lantern. Capture the eeriness of those spooky stories we all like to tell around a campfire by having the storyteller illuminate his/her face with a flashlight held just under their chin. If you’re around a backyard fire pit, maybe there’s a tiki torch or lantern off to the side that provides this extra light. If your car is nearby, you may be able to do something interesting by turning on the car headlights and facing them away from the fire. You can use flash to light up the faces of people around the fire, but beware, as you’ll wash out the fire as well.


What’s around the fire? Will you be roasting marshmallows, hotdogs, or making smores? Don’t forget to capture the making (and eating!) of any fireside treats. If you’re camping and using wood you’ve gathered yourself include some snaps of the growing pile of wood while you’re collecting it, or the day's catch ready to be pan fried. 

Note that this image was taken during semi-daylight hours with just a hint of the fire in the background.
Extra tip for campers: Since you’re out in the middle of nowhere with your tripod anyway, consider doing some star trail photography! Set up your tripod and make sure you’ve got it set for 30 second shutter speed and then take between 50-100 images and combine them in post.
Getting outdoors at night in the summer months can make for lots of photo ops when you're around a fire. Experiment with some of the ideas above and of course, practice safety first and always. Keep your equipment and your subjects at a safe distance from the fire, and always douse your fire completely before leaving your campsite. 



Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Day at the Museum


You’ve probably heard that some museums have banned the selfie stick, and while this means you'll have to forego a selfie with your favorite Rembrandt or Picasso, there are still a lot of photo ops to be had in a museum.

What to carry: Many museums will not allow large bags, backpacks or tripods. Make sure you check the museum's website or call ahead and find out what is ok to take in and what's better left at home. Some museums may also refuse to check valuable equipment in their cloak rooms so don't get stuck lugging around a lot of extra stuff that you won't even be able to use.  If you have your heart set on using a tripod, some museums will allow it with a permit, so allow enough time to apply for and have the permit issued. Also, most museums do not allow flash photography so disable your on-camera flash and don’t bother to pack the attachment.

Choose one lens and stick with it. We like a nice prime, as it allows for shallow DOF enabling you to highlight small details or artifacts. Or go with an all purpose lens like this one from Sigma (save $200 through the end of June 2015!). Remember that with a prime you will, in some instances, have to move physically away from your subject, something that can prove tricky in a small or crowded gallery.

Keep your camera out and around your neck to avoid having to reach into your bag when you see a shot. It also saves room in any bag you do decide to carry for your phone, a notebook, a map, guidebook or snacks. If you do decide to take a bag, we like the Billingham compact, small and, like the name says, compact (also really stylish too!).

What to shoot: As anywhere lots of different types of people are thrown together, you can find lots of interesting people in any museum. From full on portraits to surreptitious candid shots, images of people looking at art can be art.
Images of other people taking pictures can make for interesting shots.



Art students concentrating on their sketches. 


A little girl on her first museum trip!

The museum gift shop will carry tons of postcards or books with fantastic images of the artworks themselves, and if you’re at a very crowded museum or visiting on a crowded day, chances are you may not be able to replicate those pristine views, so instead why not focus on the details? If you’re shooting paintings, you can focus on the faces or other element, get up close (not too close, remember to always respect the artworks and the museum's policies!) and shoot the painting's texture or home in on another detail.
If you can't fit the entire piece in the frame, choose one
area to highlight.


Lovely detail on a light fixture with shallow DOF. 
There may be times when you’ll want to focus on something that’s behind glass, and this brings a special set of considerations. Look to see where the light is coming from and position yourself appropriately, either straight on or at an angle. There’s no one hard and fast answer, experiment and see which option gives you less or no glare. A polarizing filter as well as a lens hood can help! In some cases you may be able to position your lens directly up to or on the glass, but this will be the exception and not the rule.




 If the museum or gallery you are visiting has an atrium area or any other area where you can shoot with natural light, take advantage. Natural light is great for shooting people and sculpture.
The ladies in this shot add scale to the huge Egyptian temple.

We hope you're inspired to take a trip to a museum soon, and that you'll not only look at the art, but maybe make some of your own while you're there! 








Monday, May 11, 2015

Flower Power

Well the April showers did not disappoint, and whether it’s blooming trees or beautiful gardens, the May flowers are here. Stop and smell the roses, and then take a couple shots for good measure! Here are some ideas and tips to imbue your photography with flower power!

Get higher
The most common angle for shooting flowers seems to be straight on, and while this angle does provide the most classic flower profile, consider a different angle and see where it takes you. Get down really low and shoot UP, capturing sun and blue sky (or taller flowers and green trees) in the background. 
Shooting up yields a striking blue background, the sky!
Or get up high, stand on a chair, a ladder, climb a tree,  (carefully!), or just stand up and see what the different perspective yields.

Stand out in a crowd
Shallow depth of field is probably the most satisfying way to photograph a single flower or small group. By isolating your subject against delightful bokeh you highlight the beauty of that single bloom. To do this you’ll need a lens that can achieve this effect, like a Sigma 50mm 1.4 or the Sigma 18-250 f3.5/6.3. Or try isolating for color, for example look for the one renegade yellow blossom among all the red ones, or the single flower blooming in an unlikely place.

All together now
We've all seen the images of the Dutch tulip fields, where large blocks of color are made up by millions of individual blossoms. If you can’t travel to the Netherlands for a shot like that, try to imitate it where you are. Here’s where a higher angle can make it look like the expanse of flowers is larger than it really is, and maybe a little reminiscent of that color block appearance.

Flowers +
Despite the whole April showers bringing flowers thing, when it comes to photographs, sunshine and flowers just seem like the perfect couple. But as we mentioned in our post about Macro photography, sometimes after a rain is better time to shoot, as if you’re shooting close up you can have the added interest of tiny water droplets on the flower petals. But if the day is sunny, don’t fret, there are still ways to add some interest to your flower image. If you shoot at a low angle, you can capture some sun flare, and let’s face it is there anything that says summer better than a shot of a field of flowers and some sun flare?


Shallow DOF and sun flare can add dramatic flair to a simple image of a flower.


You can also ask a friend to pose at the edge of the frame, adding scale and interest to an otherwise static image. Or if you’re shooting from your full height, how about an image that includes your feet? The tips of your shoes are always a fun, personal way to add yourself to an image without crossing into “selfie” territory.

Up close
Last month we discussed some great tips for macro photography, including flowers, so if you missed it, *shameless plug* here’s the link. If your bag contains a macro lens, you're in business, if you don't have one and are looking to start out on a budget, check out the Sigma 18-250mm f3.5/6.3

Lighting
Sometimes Mother Nature doesn't cooperate when it comes to lighting, so reflectors are a good way to add a little bit of control to natural light. Use flash carefully, as it can wash out the colors, but if you need the extra boost, pair it with a diffuser like this LumiQuest UltraSoft to soften up the light.

With a dose of creativity, minimal gear and maybe some sunscreen, you can make evocative images that might inspire you to stop and smell (and shoot) the flowers more often!