Paul Timpa Photography Blog Photography Tutorials and Tips from Paul Timpa Photography

31Jan/14Off

Where to Photograph in NYC — New York City Photo Opportunities

Best Places to Photograph in NYC

NYC Skyline

NYC Skyline

NYC has amazing photo opportunities around every corner. From skylines and night photography, to portraits, architecture, street photography, and even wildlife, NYC has it all.

This guide to the best places to photograph in NYC will highlight many of the popular locations so you can capture that magic image.
 

Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn Bridge Park

Brooklyn Bridge, NYC

Brooklyn Bridge, NYC

Brooklyn Bridge Park is one of the very best places to photograph the Brooklyn Bridge with the NYC skyline in the background. It’s very easy to get there via subway. You can also walk right over the bridge from Manhattan.  Be sure to take your wide-angle lens and your tripod. Sunset and "blue hour" are fantastic times for photos.   Blue hour is the brief period right after sunset, but before it's fully dark.  The photo above was taken shortly after sunset.

As an added bonus for this location, the Manhattan Bridge can be photographed from here.
 

Wall Street, New York Stock Exchange

Wall Street and the area around the NYSE area can be a great place to capture the hustle and bustle of life in the city. The subway goes right to Wall St., so this is another area that is easy to get to.  The photo below was taken from a set of stairs across the street from the NYSE.

New York Stock Exchange -- Wall Street

New York Stock Exchange -- Wall Street

 

Rockefeller Center & Radio City Music Hall

The Rockefeller Center / Radio City area in midtown provides many great photo opportunities.

The photo below of the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink and Christmas Tree was taken during the holiday season in New York.

Rockefeller Center Ice Skating, NYC

Rockefeller Center Ice Skating, NYC

 

This photo of Radio City Music Hall was taken from a tripod at 6th ave and 50th street.

Radio City Music Hall, NYC

Radio City Music Hall, NYC

 

This is the statue of Atlas at Rockefeller Center, with St. Patrick's Cathedral, taken from 5th ave between 50th and 51st streets.

Statue of Atlas, Rockefeller Center, NYC

Statue of Atlas, Rockefeller Center, NYC

 

The following is a street scene in the Rock Center area:

Rockefeller Center and Radio City, NYC

Rockefeller Center and Radio City, NYC

 

From this area, you can also take an elevator to the "Top of the Rock" observation deck which provides incredible views of the city.

 

Skyline from Gantry Plaza State Park

If you’re looking to a get a super-wide skyline shot, Gantry Plaza State Park right across the East River is a great place to do it. You can take the subway (#7 train or G train) to the park. The following NYC skyline photo was taken from Gantry Plaza State Park just after sunset during "blue hour".

NYC Skyline

NYC Skyline

 

South Street Seaport 

The South Street Seaport is a fascinating place with endless photographic opportunities, from the pier to the ships to the river.

South Street Seaport, NYC

South Street Seaport, NYC

 

The photo below of the South Street Seaport was taken from the pedestrian walkway on the Brooklyn Bridge.

South Street Seaport, NYC

South Street Seaport, NYC

 

You can also take photos of the Brooklyn Bridge from the South Street Seaport.  The following photo was taken from the Seaport during the "Waterfalls" art installation.

Brooklyn Bridge, "Waterfalls" art installation

Brooklyn Bridge, "Waterfalls" art installation

 

Times Square

Times Square is of course one of the iconic locations in NYC.  There are countless photo opportunities here, so take your time and explore.

In this more “abstract” shot, my goal was to capture the energy of Times Square. This was a panning shot...

Times Square Taxi, NYC

Times Square Taxi, NYC

 

Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station is one of the major transportation hubs of New York City. 750,000 people pass through every single day! While tripods are not allowed to be set up in Grand Central, there is a short wall by one of the sets of stairs where you can rest your camera to take a long exposure such as the one below.

Grand Central Station, NYC

Grand Central Station, NYC

 

Empire State Building 

There are many places to photograph the Empire State Building, which is located at 34th st and 5th ave. This photo is taken from Brooklyn through the structure of the Manhattan Bridge. You can also get great photos from up close, or from up high such as from the observation deck at “Top of the Rock”, Rockefeller Center.

This photo was taken with a telephoto lens from Brooklyn, near Brooklyn Bridge Park which was discussed above.

Empire State Building through Manhattan Bridge

Empire State Building through Manhattan Bridge

 

Central Park

There are so many wonderful photo opportunities in Central Park.

One of my favorites is of “Literary Walk”.

Central Park, NYC

Central Park, NYC

 

Bow Bridge on "The Lake" provides a peaceful scene to photograph, and is a great place to relax.

Bow Bridge, Central Park, NYC

Bow Bridge, Central Park, NYC

 

The Ramble in Central Park is one of my most favorite places to go, both for photography and for relaxation.  You wouldn't think you could find scenes like this right in the middle of NYC!

The Ramble, Central Park, NYC

The Ramble, Central Park, NYC

 

The Ramble, Central Park, NYC

The Ramble, Central Park, NYC

 

Some other great places to photograph in Central Park are:

* Central Park Boathouse on “The Lake”, where Venetian-style gondoliers transport guests over the lake

* The Great Lawn is a fantastic place to photograph people enjoying the outdoors

* Bethesda Fountain
 

Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island is a place where you can get great skylines and bridge photos. You get to Roosevelt Island via the Roosevelt Island Tramway, which is a short “gondola” ride over the East River.  The following photo of the 59th Street Bridge and the Tramway was taken from Roosevelt Island facing Manhattan.

Roosevelt Island Tramway, NYC

Roosevelt Island Tramway, NYC

 

The photo below of the East River was taken from the Roosevelt Island Tramway as it crossed the river.

East River Sailboats, NYC

East River Sailboats, NYC

 

Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, East Village

Washington Square Park is in the heart of the "Village" area of NYC.  Walking west takes you right into Greenwich Village, while walking east takes you into the East Village.  Both present great photo opportunities.  The photo below is of the arch in Washington Square Park.

Washington Square Park, NYC

Washington Square Park, NYC


 

Columbus Circle

Columbus Circle is on the southwest corner of Central Park, and marks the beginning of the Upper West Side.  The photo below is of the fountains in Columbus Circle.

Columbus Circle, NYC

Columbus Circle, NYC

 

Central Park Zoo

If you want to capture some wildlife photos, the Central Park Zoo provides plenty of opportunities.  As you can see below, even the NYC monkeys are cool.

Central Park Zoo, NYC

Central Park Zoo, NYC

 

Other Photo Opportunities

The locations presented above highlight some of the more popular photo opps. There are of course so many other opportunities in NYC, including the Statue of Liberty and the rest of the boroughs. The photos below are some additional images from around the city.

If you can get up high, you can capture fantastic photos of the rivers and skylines.

East River Sunrise, NYC

East River Sunrise, NYC

 

This is a photo of the skyline reflected in a wine glass.

NYC Skyline in Wineglass

NYC Skyline in Wineglass

 

This photo of lightning over the East River was taken from a tripod.

Lightning over East River, NYC

Lightning over East River, NYC

 

The following two photos of the Brooklyn Bridge were taken from from Brooklyn Bridge Park and from standing on the bridge.

Brooklyn Bridge, NYC

Brooklyn Bridge, NYC

 

Brooklyn Bridge, NYC

Brooklyn Bridge, NYC

 

And lastly, the sun sets over NYC.

NYC Sunset

NYC Sunset

 

There are so many photo opportunities in New York City, you can explore for a lifetime. I've provided just a sampling of photo opps as inspiration for you own photos, and to highlight some of the more popular locations.


For those looking to improve your photography, I've also created an app for iPhone / iPad / Android which teaches photography and how to get photos like these while you're out taking pictures. It's perfect for when you're traveling. Click here:

Photography Trainer for iOS and Android

 
If you find this guide helpful, please share it:

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If you have any questions about the locations or photo techniques, please feel free to ask any time. You can also become a fan at my Photography Facebook page, add me to Google+ circles, or follow me on Twitter for more photography tutorials and tips:

Paul Timpa Photography's Facebook Page

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Thanks for reading, and best regards,
Paul

 
If you'd like to purchase prints or stock photography licenses for my photos (for advertising and editorial use), please visit:

http://www.timpaphotography.com/purchase

 
Copyright 2014, Paul Timpa

http://www.timpaphotography.com/

18Apr/11Off

Photography Myths

There are many "photography myths" out there. When you're just starting out in photography, it's fun to read and to learn and absorb as much information as you can. As you're learning, you may sometimes here things over and over again, that you take as fact. Some of this information may actually be long-standing myth. I've written this article to help provide some clarification on things you may have heard as you learn more about photography.

MYTH: Cloudy and rainy days are not great for photography

TRUTH: Cloudy days are some of the best days to get out with your camera. There are a variety of photographic subjects that are best taken on cloudy or overcast days, from portraits to macro and flowers, to landscapes.

For portraits, flowers, macro, insects, etc., cloudy and overcast days are often better than sunny days because of the significantly reduced contrast and shadows. When the sun is blazing, there are harsh shadows produced on the subject, whether it’s a person’s face or the delicate petals of a flower. These shadows can be a huge problem, requiring everything from flashes and external lights to diffusers and reflectors to overcome. When it’s cloudy, you get beautiful soft light on your subject. The clouds and overcast conditions act like a giant softbox, providing you with amazing soft light for portraits and flower photography. When it's cloudy out, I specifically head out to get the best flower shots!

For landscapes, thick cloud cover and even storms can create some of the most atmospheric and moody photography imaginable. This is especially true if you convert to black & white. Photos of landscapes with brooding skies, hinting at an impending storm, can have some incredible impact.

Tulip

Tulip

The photo above of a tulip was taken on an overcast day. Notice how there are no harsh shadows distracting from the natural beauty of the flower.

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona

The image above was taken in Sedona, Arizona on a day with thick cloud cover.

The next time it’s cloudy, get out there and try one of these types of photography and you may be surprised how happy you are with the results.

MYTH: Flash is best for indoor photos or photos at night

TRUTH: Many photographers think of the flash mostly as a tool to use in darker conditions, either indoors or at night. However, one of the best uses of flash is outside during the day in bright daylight. As mentioned in the previous myth, bright sunlight causes dark shadows on the subject, whether it’s a portrait or a flower or the foreground of a landscape. One of the easiest and best ways to improve the photo is to reduce this shadow by using your flash. (This is often called “fill flash” because its primary purpose is to fill in the shadows rather than illuminate the subject). I almost always use the flash when taking outdoor portraits. The best part is that all newer cameras handle this “fill flash” automatically, without overpowering the subject with light. Just turn on the flash and the camera will calculate the correct brightness so that the flash fills in the shadow. If you prefer the flash a bit brighter or darker than the camera chooses, you can always use the “Flash Exposure Compensation” feature available in most D-SLRs to tweak it to your liking.

MYTH: Wide Angle lenses exaggerate perspective and Telephoto lenses compress perspective

TRUTH: Perspective is the distance that objects “appear” from each other in a photo, from front-to-back. (This distance in the photo may or may not reflect "reality".) While it’s true that wide angle lenses often have the effect of exaggerating perspective and telephoto lenses may have the effect of compressing perspective, it’s important to understand that the lenses themselves actually have nothing to do with perspective. It is only your physical distance from the subject and background that determines perspective. Why is this important? Because in order to change perspective and change the way the photo looks, you need to physically move your body to a new location farther or closer to the subject. Simply changing lenses from wide-angle to telephoto will not alter the perspective in any way. The myth exists simply because when photographers use wide-angle lenses, they often move physically close to the subject, which exaggerates perspective in the final photo. When using telephoto lenses, you’re often photographing objects that are far from you – which compresses the perspective in the photo. Note that in both examples it’s the distance that has caused the effect, not the lens. If you took a photo of distant mountains with a telephoto lens, then stood in the same spot and took a photo with a wide angle lens, the mountains would like identical in both photos -- they would be compressed together because you are far away, regardless of lens. The only difference in the photos is that the wide-angle lens would include a wider “view”, meaning you’d see more to the left and right and in the foreground. The mountains however, would look the same. Keep this in mind when you’re out taking pictures. Always remember to alter your distance from the subject so that you can try out different perspectives to see how they affect the photo.

MYTH: HDR produces unnatural photos

TRUTH: Many people see HDR photos on the internet and are immediately turned off by the unnatural appearance and overly saturated, often “cartoony” look. While it’s true that these photos have likely been produced with HDR software, it’s important to realize that those photos were produced by photographers who’ve intentionally created images with that look. HDR can look incredibly natural, and very often you may not even know that a photo is HDR. It’s just easier to “notice” the over-processed, over-saturated, cartoony ones. Many of my own photos are HDR and it’s difficult to tell at first glance. Sometimes, after a while, I occasionally forget which ones of my own are HDR! HDR is incredibly useful for architecture, interiors, landscapes, and a wide variety of subjects. Once you learn the software, you’ll be able to create natural looking images that have the extra dynamic range (bright and dark tones) but still look very “real”.

South Street Seaport

South Street Seaport

The photo of NYC's South Street Seaport above is an HDR photo and would not have been possible without using HDR techniques.

MYTH: When shooting landscapes, you should stop down your lens to the smallest aperture to ensure everything is in focus

TRUTH: Using the smallest aperture on your lens degrades image quality and is rarely necessary. Due to the way lenses are built, when you use a tiny aperture like F22 or F32, the photo can actually get less sharp because of something called "diffraction". Technically, the depth-of-field will be maximized and everything will be "in focus" -- however the overall image quality will suffer and be more blurry than if you had used a slightly wider aperture. You'll often find that apertures like F14 or F16 are sufficient for many landscapes, and will result in sharper photos that are still in focus. I rarely shoot at an aperture smaller than F16.

MYTH: It’s always a good idea to use a UV filter on your lens

TRUTH: Opinions vary on the use of UV filters. For me personally, I don’t recommend using UV filters for most photography. Of course this is just my personal opinion, and I respect those who wish to use them for an added layer of protection. However, it’s important to understand a few things about UV filters and lenses in general. Firstly, lenses today are pretty tough. They’re built to take the standard knocks and bangs you might encounter. If you’re especially accident-prone, then perhaps it may make sense to use one for protecting the front lens element, but otherwise, I suggest leaving it off. This is because from a “UV” and “haze” perspective, I’ve found they do very little to improve the photo. On the down side however, using a UV filter can definitely introduce unwanted flare in your photos. Flare is usually seen as several large, colored or white blobs in your photo. This is caused when bright light sources shine directly on the front lens element. Using a UV filter adds an additional layer of glass which increases the chance of light bouncing around and causing reflections and flare. Any type of photography where there are bright lights on the lens, such as sunsets or sunrises, or night photography where there are streetlights, etc., can be negatively affected by UV filters. For these types of photography especially, I recommend removing the UV filter. The only times I could see needing them is if for example you’re on a beach and there is a lot sand blowing around, or if you’re walking through a hiking trail and branches are frequently whipping at the front of the camera. Or perhaps you’re on a boat and there is salt-water splashing up. In those extreme examples, I could see if someone wanted to use a UV filter. Otherwise, I recommend leaving them off for the best possible image quality.

MYTH: Full-frame cameras are better than APS-C or Micro-Four-Thirds cameras

TRUTH: First let me say that just about any D-SLR on the market today is capable of taking incredible, professional-quality photos. I’m a firm believer in “It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer.” Even so, many photographers see the full-frame camera as the ultimate format to own. While it’s true that full-frame cameras may often provide some of the best overall image quality of the various camera formats, it’s also true that full-frame cameras may not be the best cameras for all types of photography. For example, Canon’s two full-frame cameras the 1Ds Mark III and 5D Mark II, shoot at 5 frames-per-second and 3.9 frames-per-second. While this is just fine for landscape and studio photography, it may not be fast enough for fast-action sports or racing. By contrast, Canon’s 1D Mark IV (a non-full frame camera) shoots at 10fps, twice the speed of Canon’s fastest full-frame camera. The 7D shoots at 8fps. If you shoot a lot of wildlife or sports, you may also be interested in choosing a non-full-frame camera. Without getting into the technical details, just know that non-full-framers have the “effect” of adding extra telephoto reach to any lens. For example, if you buy a Canon 400mm lens, it basically acts as 640mm lens on a Canon 7D. By contrast, that same lens on a 5D is 400mm. The price of a 600mm lens (which is what you would need on a 5D to equal the reach of a 400mm lens on a 7D) is much higher than a 400mm lens by several thousand dollars. So you save a lot of money by using a 7D and getting 640mm out of a 400mm lens!

MYTH: It’s always best to photograph landscapes and architecture with a wide-angle lens, and to take sports and wildlife with a telephoto.

TRUTH: While it’s true that most often landscapes and architecture are photographed with wider angles and that sports and wildlife photographers lean toward telephotos, there are plenty of times when you’ll want to do the opposite. Using telephotos for landscapes can be perfect for picking out important details or isolating a subject. You can also photograph scenes that are far away, and because of the compressing of perspective that is caused by the distance, you can get fabulously layered photos that are really interesting. Similarly, you can use telephotos in architecture to highlight certain details that may otherwise be lost in a wide-angle shot. One of the most useful times to use a telephoto for architecture is when you’re trying to avoid “converging verticals”, that pyramid effect that happens when you’re close to a tall building and shoot with a wide-angle lens pointed upwards. To avoid the lines of the building slanting inwards, use a telephoto lens and stand further back from the building. This allows you to keep the camera pointed straight ahead, rather than pointed upwards. When the camera is pointed straight ahead, you don’t get the slanted lines.

Telephotos are often used for sports and wildlife to bring the athlete or animal closer, but sometimes it’s great to see the subject in its environment. Some of my most favorite wildlife photos are silhouettes of a deer on a mountaintop with a gorgeous sunset in the background, taken at a wide angle. It can really add to wildlife photos if you can show the beautiful surroundings where the animals live.

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica

The photo above of St. Peter's Basilica in Italy was taken with a 70-200mm telephoto zoom lens from very far away.

MYTH: Low ISOs produce the best picture quality

TRUTH: While technically this is true, it’s important to understand the larger context of how ISO works. From a pure “image quality” perspective, low ISOs produce images that are clean and noise-free. However, low ISOs require you to use longer shutter speeds, which is what causes blurry photos. In almost all cases, it is better to have a noisy photo that is pin-sharp, than a noiseless photo that is blurry! Because of this, it’s important to make sure that you use a shutter speed that is fast enough to prevent blur, even if that means raising the ISO to 800, 1600, or higher. High ISOs also allow you to use a narrower aperture when shooting handheld, which increases depth-of-field ensuring everything is in focus. Today’s cameras are getting better and better at handling noise at high ISOs, so don’t be afraid to use them as necessary. Of course, if you’re using a tripod and shutter speed is not relevant, go ahead and use the lowest ISO to ensure the cleanest photo.

MYTH: A D-SLR is always better than a compact

TRUTH: Sometimes it’s easy to think that a D-SLR is better than a compact camera in all situations. You’ll often find this is not the case. Here are a couple of scenarios where a compact camera may be a better choice.

* Compact cameras are great for macro photography. It is difficult and expensive to design true macro lenses for D-SLRs. In addition, the small depth-of-field of D-SLRs compared to compacts forces you to stop-down your lens to tiny apertures like F22 to get everything in focus. These small apertures require long shutter speeds, and that’s why you almost always need a tripod with D-SLRs for macro photography where focus is critical. Compact cameras on the other hand naturally have a lot of depth of field. You can take amazing macro photos, without a tripod, with most compacts, even the inexpensive ones. Compact cameras are a great way to experiment with macro photography.

* Compact cameras are great for street photography or any photography where you don’t want to draw a lot of attention to yourself and your gear. There are many occasions and places where you may want to blend into the crowd to get more “natural” shots of people and places, whether it’s a bustling city or simply a friend's party where you’re snapping some candids. Compact cameras are great for this purpose.

* Compact cameras are the best and often only choice when you need to travel light. We’ve all heard the phrase before: The best camera is the one you have with you. (They also say that about tripods.) It’s true -- If the option is no camera at all or bringing along a compact, the compact of course wins every time. Whether it’s going on a long hike somewhere, or diving into the ocean with a small waterproof compact, there are many places where a D-SLR can be just too large, heavy, and cumbersome to bring along. Compacts are great for filling in, and many of the new advanced models have full manual control and outstanding image quality. I went hiking across the summit of Mt. Kilauea, Hawaii, with just my Canon S90 compact, and I can’t tell you how happy I was to not have my D-SLR. The hike would have been incredibly difficult otherwise. With the manual controls and a lightweight tripod, I was still able to capture long-exposure shots of the glow from the lava pools.

MYTH: Lightning photography requires special gear or quick reflexes

TRUTH: As you may have seen in my more in-depth article on Lightning Photography, photographing a lightning storm has little to do with special gear and quick reflexes. It’s simply a matter of using long shutter speeds and a bit of patience to capture the lighting. Using manual mode, set the shutter speed to around 30 seconds, and an aperture and ISO that suits the scene. Then just click the shutter and wait for lightning to strike!

Lightning Strike over NYC

Lightning Strike over NYC

MYTH: Professional photography is a glamorous job of jet setting, models, and exotic locations

TRUTH: Many people dream of being a professional photographer and one day traveling the globe taking photos of exotic locales or photographing models on the beach. The job can certainly seem glamorous and extremely fun, and on rare occasions it can be just that, but more often than not, professional photography is just like any other job. You’ve probably heard this before, but pro photography is probably 20% photography and 80% running your own “business”. That business is just like any other business, and running it involves all the activities of accounting, billing and invoicing, marketing, advertising and sales, administrative work, managing client relationships, etc. You may be amazed to find out how little actual photography there is! Also, many pro photographers generate income not just from photoshoots, but a variety of other “photography-related” pursuits. For example, despite generating income by working for my architectural clients, I also hold photography workshops, I sell prints of existing work as art, I have my iPhone app, etc. You’ll need to be able to juggle a lot of different photography activities, all while running the business side of things and handling the sales, marketing, and accounting. It’s a tough career!

MYTH: You don’t need a tripod these days, because high ISOs allow low-light handheld shooting

TRUTH: High ISOs do allow you to handhold the camera in dim conditions that previously required a tripod. However, these high ISOs are purely used to obtain a fast shutter speed. For me, the beauty of the tripod is that it allows long-exposure photography, something that ISO cannot help with. Long exposure photography is one of my favorite techniques in photography, because it allows the camera to capture “motion”, which adds so much interest to the photo. That motion can be the rushing water of a waterfall or stream, the car light trails in a nighttime cityscape, or the hustle and bustle of people. None of these types of photos are possible without a tripod, so you’re missing out on a whole world of photography without one. Perhaps even more importantly, a tripod is required if you want to do any kind of exposure blending, whether manually or using HDR software. You may already know that cameras are not great at capturing a wide range of brights and darks in a single photo. Exposure blending is simply the process of taking two or more photos at varying brightness levels and combining them on the computer afterwards so that all the brightness levels of the scene are present in the photo. This cannot be done without a tripod because all the photos at different brightnesses must be taken with the camera in the exact same position, so that combining them on the computer is easy. Sure, you can attempt to hold the camera very steady to try this technique, but for serious photography, a tripod is necessary to do it right.

Colosseum, Rome, Italy

Colosseum, Rome, Italy

MYTH: Great wildlife shots require an expensive African safari

TRUTH: I’ve seen beautiful and incredibly natural wildlife photography that’s been captured in a zoo or local wildlife preserve. The key when capturing the picture is to take special care and attention to eliminate all of the “man-made” features surrounding the animal. For example, this can be done by using a telephoto lens so that just the animal is in the frame and you can’t see the man-made background elements. If the background is going to be visible in the frame, you can also use the widest possible aperture on your lens. This can blur the background to a wash of color where it’s impossible to tell what’s behind the wildlife. When photographing through glass enclosures, be sure to turn off the flash to eliminate reflections. Also get as close to the glass as possible, even pressing the front of the lens right onto the glass to ensure there are no reflections. When done properly, you may find you can take very natural wildlife photos very close to home.

MYTH: Setting your images to 72dpi is important for displaying them on a computer screen

TRUTH: To this day, I’m unable to determine the origin of this myth. The truth is that when it comes to displaying your images on a computer screen, the dpi (dots per inch) you see in your editing software is completely irrelevant. The size of your images displayed on a computer screen is only related to the dimensions of the image in pixels, for example 1200x800 pixels or 640x480 pixels. The larger the image in pixels, the larger it will appear on screen. Ignore any references to setting your images to 72dpi for on-screen viewing.

MYTH: Using image editing software is “cheating”

TRUTH: This is one of the most commonly discussed topics in all of photography. Everyone has their own opinion on it. The reality is this: No digital image produced today is completely unmanipulated. Even if you don’t personally Photoshop the image or fiddle with the adjustment controls on the camera, the digital photo itself is manipulated by the camera’s settings for saturation, contrast, etc. There’s no difference in choosing the black & white mode on your camera which desaturates the image, or the Landscape mode which intensifies blues and greens, than doing it afterwards on the computer. With film, images are adjusted in the darkroom in very much the same way, for brightness, saturation, contrast, etc, as well as dodging and burning to bring out specific details. Photographers throughout time have adjusted their images to make the best representation of what they saw. Many people like to do a little extra “adjusting” and that’s just fine – photography is art. Really the only area where minimal adjustment is required is in photojournalism. For my personal style, I prefer to keep it natural, especially with my travel and architecture photography where I know the images I capture need to represent reality. If you wish to enhance your images to make beautiful art for all to enjoy, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so! It’s all up to you.

If you have any questions about these or any other myths you may have heard, please let me know.

I've also created an app for iPhone, Android, and iPod Touch which teaches you photography -- more info can be found here:

Photography Trainer for iPhone and Android

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Best Regards,
Paul

To keep up-to-date with the latest photo additions and other topics, you can also become a fan at my Photography Facebook page at:

Paul Timpa Photography's Facebook Page

If you'd like to purchase prints or stock photography licenses for my photos (for advertising and editorial use), please visit:

http://www.timpaphotography.com/purchase

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Copyright 2009, Paul Timpa

http://www.timpaphotography.com/




14Apr/10Off

New York Architectural Photographer Paul Timpa Photographs Brooklyn Bridge, NYC

This post is the first in a new on-going series where I'll discuss photo ops and locations that present great opportunities for photography.

This is an image of the Brooklyn Bridge, taken from Brooklyn facing Manhattan, New York City. It's taken from Brooklyn Bridge Park, a wonderful place to visit. I've taken photos from this location at dusk, but I wanted to try a very long daytime exposure to get something different. The long exposure smoothed out the water and gave this photo a very peaceful feel.

This image is available for purchase as a stock license or as a print, by clicking on the photo.

For more information on Brooklyn Bridge Park, click here:

http://www.brooklynbridgeparknyc.org/

My iPhone app which teaches photography is here:

Photography Trainer for iPhone and iPod Touch

My Photography Tutorials list is here:

Photography Tutorials List

Best regards,
Paul

If you'd like to purchase prints or stock photography licenses for my photos (for advertising and editorial use), please visit:

http://www.timpaphotography.com/purchase

To keep up-to-date with the latest photo additions and other topics, you can become a fan at my Photography Facebook page at:

Paul Timpa Photography's Facebook Page

Copyright 2009, Paul Timpa

http://www.timpaphotography.com/

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7Jan/10Off

Manual Mode on Your D-SLR — When and Why to Use It


Italy Collection - Images by Paul Timpa

Manual Mode on your D-SLR can really help you take your photography to the next level, allowing for spectacular images and much more creative shots.  It is especially important for:

* Sunsets
* Night Photography
* Waterfalls / Rivers / Streams
* Sports / Action

Many of you who have read my previous articles have heard me mention "Manual Mode" on cameras, and how using it can really help your pictures.  I decided to write an in-depth article on the benefits of using manual mode, and why it is often actually easier to use than the automatic modes like "Aperture Priority (Av)" or "Shutter Priority (Tv)".  I hope after reading it, you too will give it a try and find that it's the easiest mode to use and also results in the best photos.

I've guest-posted this article on a colleague's blog, and you can read the full text of my article here:

http://www.digital-photography-tricks.com/manual-mode.html

As always, if you have any questions, please let me know.

Best,
Paul

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Positano, Italy, Amalfi Coast

Positano, Italy, Amalfi Coast

18Nov/09Off

Color Management Made Simple – How to Calibrate your Monitor

Bora Bora, French Polynesia, by Paul Timpa

Bora Bora, French Polynesia, by Paul Timpa

Color management is one of those topics that is important to understand so that you can get prints that match what you see on your computer screen, yet a lot of what is written on how to do it is overly complicated or deals with technicalities that aren’t necessary in most real-world scenarios.  The goal of this article is to help you understand what color management is and why it’s necessary, and most importantly to tell you how to do it so you can get great prints.

First, let’s understand some concepts.  As usual, I’m going to provide some analogies and stories.  Hopefully this makes it more fun and easy to understand. 

OK, so we’ll start with color temperature.  You may already be familiar with this to some degree because it relates to the White Balance settings you may have on your camera – settings like “Cloudy” or “Tungsten” or “Fluorescent”.  Those settings deal with color temperature, or the color of light.  The next paragraph will explain what it means, and after you’re done reading it, you’ll probably say, “Oh, that’s it!?  That’s easy!”

The reality is that there really is no “correct” color for anything in this world, because it’s impossible to see something’s “correct” color.   Why?  Because everything we see with our eyes is completely affected by the viewing conditions at that moment, meaning the lighting at the time we’re looking at something.  Let me give you an example that will help make this perfectly clear.  This example will also be used later to explain why people’s prints don’t look right.  Here’s the example: 

Let’s say it’s summertime, and I have a nice summer tan going.  One day, I drive to the local gas station, walk into the mini-mart to pick up some snacks, and I pass a mirror.  The lights are that bright, greenish, hideous fluorescent color that you see in gas stations.  I’m shocked when I look in the mirror.  I look horrible, pale, and sickly.  Is that my “correct” skin color?  So, later that same night it’s my birthday party in my house, time to have cake, they turn out the lights, and I lean in to blow out the candles.  My skin by the light of the candles is a glowing orangey, candlelit color and smooth.  Is that my “correct” skin color?  Finally, I wake up the next day to go for a sunrise walk on the beach.  As the sun slowly comes up over the horizon my skin is reddish/golden, and brightly lit.  I think you get the point.  Which of those is my “correct” skin color?  The answer is all of them – my skin didn’t change at all – just the viewing conditions.  In each one of those scenarios, the color of the light was different – not my skin.  The color of the light is measured in temperature, so that’s why you hear the phrase “color temperature”.    The gas station’s fluorescent light is a particular color temperature, and candlelight is a different temperature.  We don’t need to get into any more detail than that… that’s really all we need to know for now.  So back to our examples:  Let’s say you have a picture of your family in your wallet.  You bring it over to my house.  For whatever reason, I’ve decided to have only red light bulbs in my house.  You look at the picture in my house and with all my red light bulbs, the whole photo looks red.  Would you say the photo itself suddenly has a red color cast?  Of course not.  Or if I had only one small lamp in my house, and it’s so dark in there that we can barely make out the details in your photo, would you say your picture is dark and underexposed?  Again, of course not.  It’s all about the viewing conditions.  Understanding this very simple concept is 90% of understanding color management.

So let’s talk about why your pictures may come out dark or orangey when you print them, even though they look great on the screen.  We already said that in the “real world”, what you see with your eyes is dependent on the lighting, color temperature, and viewing conditions at the time.  Well what you see from output devices (meaning printers, computer screens, etc.) is also dependent on how they handle color temperature and light.  And you know what?  Just like my skin may look different under the green fluorescent light in the gas station vs. how I look under candlelight, printers and computer screens have those same color differences when you look at photos.  As a matter of fact, your computer screen displays photos as if they were under the light of of the gas station while printers are more like the candle light.  So how does this cause poor prints?  It’s simple.  I’ll explain: 

Let’s say you’re with your friend and you’re on your way to a birthday party.  You stop off at the gas station to pick up some soda.  Your friend sees herself in the mini-mart mirror under the awful gas station lights and she’s horrified at how pale and sickly she looks.  She can’t believe she’s going to a party like this so she runs over to where they have the make-up,  she buys some self-tanner and bronzer and slathers it all over her face.  She loves the look once she's finished because she's back to her normal sun-kissed complexion and looking great.  It’s really bright in that gas station and she notices some bright spots on her forehead and nose, so she buys some powder and blots down the bright spots with a load of powder.  Perfect.  You leave the gas station and head to the birthday party.  It’s a small party, completely lit by candles.  Your friend?  She looks terrible at the party.  She’s looks a deep shade of dark orange from applying too much self-tanner in the gas station, and she has pounds of powder covering the bright spots.  Under the candlelight of the party, she's way too orange now.  It’s a disaster.  THAT’s what happens to your prints.  You see, in your friend’s case, she was viewing and correcting her skin in the gas station under unusual lighting.  She overcompensated for the pale green light in the mini-mart by over-applying self-tanner and darkening her skin.  But as soon as she left the gas station, she looked ridiculous.  That’s exactly what’s happening to your prints.  Your computer screen is that gas station lighting, and your printer is the candlelit party.  So you must  edit your photos using the proper viewing conditions.  Otherwise what you wind up doing is editing, tweaking, and changing the color and brightness of your photos on your computer, that you plan on printing – but you’re overcompensating for the unusual light of your screen and in fact ruining your images.  These problems are what color management and color calibration aim to correct.  Hopefully these two simple paragraphs have made a light bulb go off in your own head and you’re saying, “Ah, now I get it.”

OK, so now that we know what the problem is, what’s the solution?  The solution is color calibration.  So what is that?

Well we already said earlier that your computer screen is colored more like the lights in a gas station, and that printers are more like candlelight.  So we need to get them in sync.  That’s ultimately the goal of color calibration – to sync up the “viewing conditions” so that everybody is editing and printing their pictures under the same exact lighting conditions.  Let’s get back to our example with your friend and the birthday party.  At the birthday party you were all hanging out in a room where there were exactly ten candles.   Well if you had a room in your own house and you put ten candles in there, the room in your house would have the same lighting as the party.  So you could have your friend apply her make-up in that room, and she’d know that she’ll look exactly the same when she gets to the party.  That’s color calibration.  It’s syncing up the lighting conditions.  In our example, we need to change the color of our computer screen to look less like a gas station and more like candlelight.

How do you do it?  It’s pretty simple – you buy a gadget that does it for you, called a color calibrator.  You strap it to your computer screen and it takes a look at the colors your screen displays.  It then “reaches into” the video card in your computer and changes the colors for you, to match the colors that standard printers use.  That’s the basic process.

OK, before I go any further, I want to tell you that when it comes to color calibration, there are many different opinions on the best way to do it.  This is a hotly debated topic among people, as everybody has their own way.  I’m giving you my method, and it’s a way that works for me.  So on with the show…

First, you need to buy a color calibrator.  I use a product called the Spyder 3 Pro, made by Datacolor.  You can find it at B&H or any photo store.  There are a few brands out there, feel free to shop around and compare features and prices.  I’ve been happy with the Spyder.

Before you calibrate the monitor, there are a couple of things you should do.  Firstly, I recommend you do it at night in the pitch black with all the lights in the room turned off.  You don’t want any lights or colors interfering with the calibrator as it takes its readings from your computer screen.  *You could get strange colors if you calibrate during the day.*

Secondly, and one of the most important things in this entire article – turn down the brightness of your monitor, and memorize where you set it.  One of the most frequent problems that people see in prints is that they’re too dark.  This is because their monitors are too bright.  A picture that looks great on a screen that is too bright will likely print out too dark.  The calibrator will fix the brightness of your monitor “to a degree” (explained later) but you must turn down the brightness on your monitor.  I set my monitor to exactly two-clicks down from maximum brightness.  I memorize this, because when my computer reboots it can reset the brightness to maximum, and I need to know where to put it back.  Once you’ve turned down the brightness on your monitor and memorized where you set it, turn off all the lights in the room and run the software that comes with the calibrator.  The software will probably ask you to set two options – these are the options where you can fine tune the brightness/contrast and the color temperature.   They are called “gamma” and “white point”.   It’s not necessary to understand the technicalities of what they mean.  Just know that the gamma is for the brightness & contrast in the photo, and the white point is for the color temperature (like we described before).  If it gives you the options, I suggest a gamma of 2.2 and a white point of 6500K.  I’ve found that a white point of 6500K gives the most accurate colors to help match what you see on screen to what you get in print.  Once those are selected, you’re all set.  At this point, you can start the calibration and let the product do its thing. Your computer screen will cycle through a bunch of colors and gray patterns, and the calibrator will read the information.  When it’s done, you’ll instantly see all the colors on your monitor change!  You’ll probably see that it got a bit darker, and that the colors are now more orangey.  This is exactly what you want because now your monitor matches what will come out in prints.  For many people, you’re done!  Congratulations.  Using the calibration settings that were just saved on your computer, you’ll be on your way to getting prints that match what’s on your screen.  I’ll get into a few more steps in a moment, but for many people, the hard part is over.

So what’s next?  Well, now it’s time to get some test prints to see how you did.  If you have your own printer, you can print some right away and compare them to the screen to see how well they match.  If not, send some out to your favorite lab and see how they come back.  How you go about checking your prints, and how you send them to the lab matters, so let’s talk a little bit about this.  Firstly, when you check your prints against the screen, you have to do it in the right light.  Remember earlier in this article when I used an example about having all red light bulbs in my house and looking at a friend’s family photos?  They all looked red because the light bulbs were red.  Well this is exactly what you want to avoid when checking your photos for accuracy.  You want to do it in a relatively “neutral” light – meaning not too orangey (like candles or soft light bulbs) and not too green (like fluorescents).  I prefer to check my prints during the day, with the lights off, with the photos only lit by the light coming in from the windows.  I find the light in a room coming in through windows to be pretty neutral for checking prints.  I may then turn on a light or two to check as well.  The print should look good in both types of light.

Regarding sending your photos to the lab, there is something to keep in mind.  In some cases (many cases!), the photo lab has a person who sits there and color corrects your photos to what THEY think you want them to be.  Clearly this is not what you want, because there can be inconsistencies if you get “John” one day tweaking your photos and “Jim” some other day, and he has a different opinion of what your photos should look like.  I suggest you find a lab that offers the option called “No Color Correction” which means that nobody is going to touch the color of your photos.  What you send them goes straight to the printer.  This is what you want if you want consistent photos.  *If your lab does not offer this option then you have no way of ever getting consistent color in your photos.*

So your test prints are back from the lab, you rip open the envelope and take a look.  Hopefully the prints look much closer to what you have on screen now.  If they're still a bit off, you can do a little tweaking.  Adjust the settings, re-calibrate, and then see if the screen matches better.  For example, if the prints came back and they’re still too dark, then your monitor is probably still too bright.  Lower the brightness even more until it matches the test prints you have in your hand.  It may seem ridiculous to have your monitor that dark, but what you’re trying to do is to sync up the monitor with the printer.  You see, what’s going to happen, is that now your screen will be so dark that you’ll wind up brightening your photos using your editing software.  THAT is what you want.  That’s the whole point of this exercise.  It’s so that when you edit the photos on your screen, you’re editing knowing that what’s on the screen is what you’re going to get when you print.  So if the picture looks too dark or too contrasty on the screen (which it will if you’ve lowered the brightness a lot), you will then brighten up the photo in editing software to make it look right.  Then when you print it, it will have the correct brightness.  Similarly, if the screen now has people with really orange faces (which is common), you will use your editing software to remove the orange and return your friends and family to their normal skin tones.  Then they will print perfectly.  (FYI, I usually do this color adjustment by adjusting either the White Balance or Color Balance setting, depending on what software I’m using at the time).  If you keep getting prints that are too dark, also make sure that you look at photos on the computer screen when there is a lot of ambient light in the room, either by looking during the day, or with all the lamps in the room turned on.  Many people are night owls like myself, working away at midnight in relative darkness.  On the screen, while editing in a dark room, the photos may look fine.  But if you look at them on the screen during the day or with the lamps on and suddenly you can’t make out the details in the dark areas anymore, then you know you have to brighten the photos some more.  It make take one or two rounds of making test prints, but after a few tries, you will find the settings that are just right.  The key here is achieving consistency.  You always want to make sure you have your monitor at the same brightness, and that you use the same printing lab every time.  Find one that you like, whether it’s Costco, Walgreens, Mpix, or whoever, and get to know how their printers print.  Once you’ve got your system all set up, you will get consistent prints every time.  Also, recalibrate your monitor every once in a while (once a month or so).  Monitors can “drift”, meaning that the color settings can gradually change a little over time, so re-calibrating will bring everything back in line.

OK, so there is actually a lot more to talk about, which I’ll get into now.  What we’ve accomplished so far is getting the screen to match the printer, which is exactly what we want, and is the overall goal.  There are a couple of other things to think about though, before we get into the section with some of the more advanced topics for those that are interested.

Let’s talk about the Internet for a bit, and pictures for the web.  Everything we’ve described here is intended for the purpose of making good PRINTS.  This has nothing to do with how pictures look or should be edited for viewing on the web.  This whole topic of web viewing is one of the areas where opinion varies on how to handle it, and I’ll give you my opinion on the subject, and you can make your own decision.  The “issue”, in a nutshell, is that most people in the world are NOT viewing the Internet on calibrated monitors.  Your average person looking at Flickr or Facebook or whatever photo sharing site is just looking with a normal monitor, just like yours before you calibrated it.  You may see where I’m going with this now…  just like the problem with prints, a similar problem can happen for the web.  If you were to edit your photos on a calibrated monitor ONLY, you will wind up making them very bright and removing the orange so they look great in print, but then when someone looks at that same picture on the web, it will be TOO bright and there will be too LITTLE orange.  So…what to do...  Well here’s what I do.  The reality is that I only print a small percentage of my photos.  I may get 50 keeper photos on a trip, but I probably print maybe 10 of those, and the rest go on my website.  So I do most of my editing on an UN-calibrated monitor, and then turn on the calibration when I edit the 10 photos for printing.  There is usually a simple switch in the calibration software that allows you to turn on the effect or turn it off.  For normal everyday web surfing, I have the calibration turned off.  This allows me to see everyone else’s web photos as they intended – because they edited theirs on a NON-calibrated monitor too.  I’ll also be surfing the web on a screen that is not too dark, which it can be if I were to turn the calibration on.  I’ve had some discussion with other photographers about this, who have suggested that I just leave the calibration on all the time, and they say that if I haven’t calibrated at all, I’m editing my web photos using the exact peculiarities of my particular monitor and no “standard” at all.  While “technically” that is true, I have done an incredible amount of research on this.  I have looked at countless monitors, LCDs, laptops, etc. to see how my pictures look on a variety of uncalibrated monitors.  And I’ve found that most uncalibrated monitors look pretty much identical.  I’ve looked at all of my friends’ monitors, I’ve looked at monitors, LCDs and laptop screens in every store from Best Buy to B&H to the Apple Store, I’ve looked in Internet cafes, in hotels, airport lounges, you name it.  The look is pretty standard.  So for web viewing, I do all my editing on an uncalibrated monitor.  For the few images I’m going to print, I make a second copy of the photos and then I turn on the calibration and edit those separately for print.  This is the system that works for me, and provides the best results for both the web and in print.

Alright, we’ve covered a lot, and for many of you, what I’ve written above may be all you want to or need to know.  What I’ve written above applies to your casual everyday user who uses straightforward editing software like Microsoft Picture Manager or Apple iPhoto or Picasa, etc.  If you’re using one of those, congrats again… you’re ready to get great prints if you follow the steps above.  There are a couple of more advance topics however, and these include printer profiles / ICC profiles, Color Spaces like sRGB, Adobe RGB, and ProPhotoRGB, etc.  If you’re interested in learning what these are all about, read on, but for the everyday casual user, it’s not “necessary” reading.  I just figured I’d cover it since it comes up all the time.  It’s up to you…  ***By the way, if you’re already calibrating your monitor but are still having significant color differences from your screen to your prints, then it’s probably worth reading the info below because it may be related to your problems.***


Before I begin the next section, I’d like to preface with a disclaimer.  This next section deals with personal preferences and opinions.  Not everyone out there will agree with what I’m writing.  In my other articles, we’re dealing primarily with facts.  For example, ISO 100 pictures are of better quality than ISO 1600 pictures.  That’s a fact.  So my suggestion to shoot at ISO 100 is based in fact.  On the other hand, the info below is largely opinion.  These topics are hotly debated among professionals.  I can only give you my opinion, take from it what you will and then make your own decisions based on what I’ve written here.

The next topic we’ll cover is “Color Spaces”.  These are spaces like sRGB, Adobe RGB, and ProPhoto RGB. 

What is a Color Space?  A color space is just a description of the number of colors and types of colors that can be produced.  For example, let’s use sRGB as a starting point.  Let’s say sRGB describes all the colors than can be produced if I gave you 10 crayons.  You can create a picture with the 10 colors of the crayons, plus every conceivable color possible from combining and blending those 10 crayons.  With all the different combinations, you could create millions of colors.  FYI, sRGB is the standard for just about everything, from viewing on your monitor, to printing, to photos on the web.  I suggest you use sRGB for everything you do.  Moving on… Adobe RGB is a different color space.  It’s as if I gave you 12 crayons instead of 10.  Yes, “technically” there are a few more colors than can be produced.  But these would be in addition to the MILLIONS of colors you’re already getting with sRGB.  Plus, most monitors cannot even display Adobe RGB – you’d have to spend literally thousands of dollars to buy a special monitor to see these extra colors.  And even if you did buy a monitor that displayed Adobe RGB in your house, those colors are not used anywhere else!  The Internet is only sRGB.  You must convert photos that are in Adobe RGB format to sRGB if you want to put them on the web, Flickr, Facebook, etc.  Oh, and most PRINTERS only print sRGB, so you have to convert your Adobe RGB files to sRGB to print them too.  So why would anyone use Adobe RGB?  Well, in my opinion, you wouldn’t.  With all the converting that is going on, and the potential for problems, it’s just not worth it.  Just to give you the other side of the coin, some say that they like to use Adobe RGB because they feel that during the editing process, they are using the full range of colors that the camera captured.  So they set their camera to record in Adobe RGB, they output their RAW files in Adobe RGB, and they edit in Photoshop using Adobe RGB.  During this workflow, they are theoretically editing a picture which has more colors, which they feel helps with how the final product looks.  But in the end, as mentioned, all those extra colors get discarded when the photo is converted to sRGB anyway, as is necessary for it to be printed, viewed on the web, etc.  For me personally, that just seems like a lot of extra work with not a lot of extra benefit.  ***NOTE:  Using incorrect or mismatched color spaces is one of the primary reasons people get prints that do not match the monitor.***  Check to ensure that you camera is set on sRGB, your RAW file converter (if you use one) is set to sRGB, and that your photo editing software is using the sRGB color space.  FYI, ProPhoto RGB is yet another color space, and has even more colors than Adobe RGB.  Of course, it too would need to be converted to sRGB to do anything useful with it.  Only very specialized applications would require ProPhoto RGB.  To summarize, I recommend you shoot, edit, print, and view files on the web in only sRGB 100% of the time.

Alright, we’re on the home stretch now.  Time to cover the final topic.  This one is probably the most complicated, and is also the topic that is most debated among photographers when it comes to color management.  It’s the concept of ICC profiles.  Warning: This section is extremely technical.  I don’t normally get this technical in my articles, but if even one person can sort out their color-matching problems by reading this, then it’s worth it.

What is an ICC profile?  It’s a file that describes the characteristics of a particular device, like a printer.  You use it so that your computer can “learn more detail” about a particular device, and can (optionally) use that information to help with color matching.  Before we go any further, I'll mention that I don’t recommend using ICC profiles for normal everyday photography work.  That’s not to say that I personally haven’t used profiles at all, because I have, but only in specific unique circumstances.

So what is it exactly, and how is it used?  Think of it this way: an ICC profile describes the characteristics of a device in detail… for example, an ICC profile for Epson printer XYZ might say “I’m printer XYZ and my blue ink is a little more blue than most printers.”  (I’m oversimplifying, but you get the picture).  An ICC profile for a Kodak printer might say “I’m Kodak printer model 123 and my red ink has a slightly pink tone to it.”  So, what you can “optionally” do in software, is something called “softproofing”.  If you’re using Photoshop or another color-managed application, you can do softproofing.  FYI, a color managed application is an application that supports reading and using these types of profiles, among other things.   Softproofing is a technique that can help with color matching.  First, you download the ICC profile for the printer you’re going to be printing to.  It’s just a small file.  Then, essentially what you do is tell Photoshop that you would like to softproof using the Epson ICC profile for printer model XYZ.  Photoshop reads the information in that file and adjust the colors on your screen to more closely match that particular printer.  So in the example above, if you had blue in your photo, Photoshop might display that photo with “extra” blue to match the Epson’s ink.  Many people use these ICC profiles and do softproofing.  I generally do not, except on occasion.  For me personally, it’s another one of those areas where the time spent is not worth the benefit.  I have a pro lab that I use, I know exactly how their printers print, I have no need to start softproofing and using these profiles which only add to the complexity of what I’m trying to do.  It’s up to you if you want to try to use them, but I suggest against it if you want to keep your system as straightforward as possible.

There is one exception to this.  There is a separate and special type of a printer, pretty much a “printing press”, that is used for high-volume printing for things like brochures and magazines.  These printers use a completely different type of technology to print, called CMYK (which stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (a.k.a. black)).  This printing method is so different than that of “normal” everyday printers, that the colors they produce can be drastically different from your average printer.  If you’re printing brochures, business cards, or preparing photos for magazines that use CMYK printing, then I can suggest you might want to look into softproofing with an ICC profile for that CMYK printer.  This way, you’ll have a better idea of what you’re photo will look like when printing using that method.  The process will also likely involve you actually converting the photo itself to CMYK, but that’s a whole separate process that we don’t need to get into here…

Now that you understand what an ICC profile is and how it might be used, we can cover the very last piece, and that is the concept of “embedding” profiles.  Yes, this is another area that is hotly debated.  And yes, once again, I feel this is an area that adds many layers to the complexity of what you’re trying to accomplish, and is not necessary for everyday use.  Embedding a profile in your photo means that you are including additional details alongside the photo that can be read by a color-managed application.  Remember, a color managed application is an application that is specifically designed to look for and read these profiles.  The goal of embedding a profile is so that if you’re working on your system under a specific profile, and you embed the profile with the photo when you save it, you can send the photo to someone else who also has a color-managed application, and their application will read the profile and adjust the colors so that they see on their screen what you see on your screen.  That’s essentially what it’s trying to accomplish.  (It can be used for printing as well.)  Here’s the problem.  Most people aren’t using color managed applications.  Most web browsers are not color managed.  Internet Explorer completely ignores the ICC profile.  So, the problem is that you may be viewing your photo in Photoshop using an ICC profile, you get it to look great, but when you post it on the web or send it to a friend, or PRINT it, it looks terrible.  Why?  Because you were viewing the photo using the profile and nobody else is.  It’s like our example at the very beginning with the friend who is applying her make-up in the gas station lighting.  She’s applying her make-up under the wrong light.  If you use ICC profiles and then post to the web, you’re essentially doing the same thing.  You’re editing your photo in one type of light, but giving it to people under a different type of light.  Below is a web page that is a fantastic example of this – I’m so glad this person put this together.  Click on the link below and look in the right-hand column a little ways down.  You’ll see a color chart.

http://www.gballard.net/psd/go_live_page_profile/embeddedJPEGprofiles.html

If you’re using Internet Explorer you’ll notice that the names of the colors in the color chart do not match the actual colors in the associated box.  For example, the upper left box shows the word “Red”, yet the box itself is blue.  Clearly this is wrong.  Well, this picture was produced using an ICC profile that is embedded in the image.  On the person’s screen that created this picture, the boxes were correct!  The upper left box was actually red on THEIR screen, because Photoshop was using the appropriate profile and correcting the colors.  However, Internet Explorer is not a color managed application.  Even though the ICC profile is embedded in the image, Internet Explorer doesn’t care.  It ignores the profile and just displays the image.  Not good.  Now, if you were to open this image in Photoshop, or open this web page in Apple’s Safari web browser (which IS color managed), then the photo would look correct.  But how does that help YOU?  It doesn’t, because most people are not using color managed applications.  Most everyday printing labs also ignore the profiles.  So unless there is a really specific reason you need to do this, I suggest avoiding embedding ICC profiles.  I also suggest turning off ICC profiles in Photoshop or your photo editing software altogether.  Why?  Because you may get inconsistencies across your system.  As an oversimplified example, you may see a photo while browsing the web with Internet Explorer and decide to download it.  Perhaps it has an ICC profile embedded.  Well when you open it in Photoshop, if you have ICC profiles activated, the photo will look completely different when you open it than it did in Internet Explorer.  You may no have any idea why it looks one way on the web and another way in Photoshop.  This is similar to the link above.  If you were to download that image to your hard drive and open it in Photoshop with ICC profiles activated, you’ll see something completely different than you would looking at it in Internet Explorer.  To me, this level of confusion and complication is just not necessary.  It can also lead to mismatched colors in your prints.  If you’re editing in Photoshop under a particular ICC profile, and you don’t even realize it, and then you send it to your printing lab and they ignore the ICC profile, your print will come back looking nothing like your screen.  Again, use the example in the link above.  In Photoshop, that upper left box in the color chart looks red.  Send that photo to Walgreens and that box will come back blue.  Now you see why it’s so easy to get mismatched prints!

We’ve covered a lot here and I hope this has shed some light on this very complicated topic.  With an understanding of these concepts, you may be well on your way to getting prints that match your screen.

My iPhone app which teaches photography is here:
Photography Trainer for iPhone and iPod Touch

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Best,
Paul

To keep up-to-date with the latest photo additions and other topics, you can also become a fan at my Photography Facebook page at:

Paul Timpa Photography's Facebook Page

If you'd like to purchase prints or stock photography licenses for my photos (for advertising and editorial use), please visit:

http://www.timpaphotography.com/purchase

Copyright 2009, Paul Timpa

http://www.timpaphotography.com/


New York City Stock Photos - Images by Paul Timpa

Photos used in this posting:

Bora Bora Bungalows, Tropical Stock Photos:
http://www.photoshelter.com/image/I0000c_gIvAaRHcg

12Nov/09Off

Using Live View on your D-SLR – Tips and Tricks

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona

Live View can be found on just about all new D-SLRs introduced lately, and has become an incredible tool to improve your photography. When Live View originally started appearing on D-SLRs, many photographers dismissed it as a gimmick to appease those upgrading from point-and-shoots. As the technology has gotten better and new features have been introduced, more and more people are realizing what an invaluable tool it can be. This article will discuss some of the uses, tips, and tricks of Live View on your D-SLR.

First, let’s cover two of the more “obvious” uses of Live View. The first is when you’re taking pictures and the camera is in a location where it’s difficult to look through the viewfinder, such as very low to the ground. For dramatic low-angle shots, you used to have to literally lie on the ground to look through the viewfinder to frame your subject. Similarly, shots taken with the camera held high over your head for a bird’s-eye perspective were taken without looking through the viewfinder at all, and hoping to catch the shot you needed. Today, this is a thing of the past and lying in the sand on a beach is no longer a necessity to get low-angle shots. Simply switch to Live View and frame the subject using the LCD – today’s Live View screens can be viewed from almost any angle. Use this technique to get shots that otherwise might not be possible.

Live View is also great when you’re waiting for that “decisive moment”, for those times when you’re exercising your inner Henri Cartier-Bresson. If you’re taking a street scene and waiting for a random person to walk right into that “perfect spot” to make the shot, you can mount the camera on a tripod, have a shutter-release remote control in hand, and wait comfortably. When someone walks by, you can casually glance at the LCD and take the shot with the remote. In the past, you’d have to rush your eye back-and-forth to the viewfinder each time someone walked by, or worse, you’d have to keep your eye glued to the viewfinder for long periods of time. The same technique is useful for wildlife – frame the scene, and shoot when the wildlife is in the perfect position.

Now let’s talk about some of the less “obvious” uses for Live View – the uses that really make it an amazing tool.

Live View is great for focusing, and is one of the best things that’s happened to focusing in years. Whether you use autofocus or manual focus, you absolutely should be using Live View in tough-to-focus scenes. Even with the best, brightest viewfinders, it can still be difficult to focus on certain subjects, especially subjects that are far away or small. With autofocus, the best you can do is hope that the camera has focused correctly, and try to confirm its accuracy after-the-fact using the LCD to review the picture. This is still a hit or miss method. The better way is to use Live View. Using Live View, you have a much larger image to study for focus, making it much more accurate. Even better is that many Live View systems allow you to magnify the live image by up to 10x magnification! This is absolutely amazing. You can use Live View with 10x magnification to tweak the focus and ensure that a distant street sign is completely crisp and clearly in focus. This would have been virtually impossible before Live View.

Macro shooters have rejoiced as well. When you’re working with razor-thin depth of field in macro work, where even a millimeter’s mistake in focus can mean ruining the shot, Live View can be incredibly helpful. Mount your camera on a tripod, frame the shot, and activate the magnification. You can use your camera’s joystick or directional buttons to maneuver the magnified portion of the image over the area you want to check focus. Ultra-precise focusing is now possible like never before.

Another advantage is that Live View provides a 100% view of the scene, whereas many viewfinders provide slightly less coverage. If you’ve ever taken a photo and gotten home to find a tree branch, garbage can, or some other random object at the edge of the frame that you didn’t see when you took the picture, this is a result of a less-than-100% viewfinder. Those objects were there all along – you just couldn’t see them through the viewfinder. Live View provides 100% coverage of the scene, so what you see is what you get.

A great feature of many Live View screens is “exposure simulation”. This can be invaluable for quickly determining the correct exposure, especially in low light. Exposure simulation takes into account the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO you’ve selected and adjusts the image on the LCD accordingly. For the most part, the image on the LCD will match the exposure that will be captured in the final image. I find this incredibly useful in low light situations. I can choose an aperture, say F5.6, and a shutter speed of 5 seconds, and immediately see how bright the final image will appear before I even take the shot. Amazing. I can then adjust the shutter speed to get the exact exposure I’m looking for. I use this all the time.

Live View systems often provide the option of overlaying a grid on top of the image. This can be a fantastic tool for ensuring you have level horizons and straight lines. I have my grid turned on all the time and never turn it off. Many cameras allow you to fine tune the grid to have just a couple of lines, or a very fine grid – choose which works best for you. In architectural photography, this is a great tool to ensure that your verticals are vertical and that you don’t have the camera tilted up or down creating the “pyramid” effect with tall buildings. For me, the grid is one of the tools I use most often, as it’s very important to keep horizons straight and verticals parallel.

You can also use the Live View grid to assist with placing your subject using the Rule of Thirds. Many Live View systems provide a grid that looks just like a Rule of Thirds grid. You can use this to line up subjects on or near one of the grid lines, or at the intersection of two grid lines, assisting with composition.

One of the less obvious, but most useful benefits of Live View is that is removes the need to use mirror lock-up. In most cameras with Live View, when you activate it, the mirror is raised (and stays raised) so that the image coming through the lens is projected directly onto the sensor for viewing. This is great and results in sharp shots because it is not necessary to use mirror lock-up, which was the only method to reduce mirror vibrations before. (For those not familiar with mirror-lock up, it is a setting you activate in the camera that raises the mirror a few seconds before the shot is taken. This results in sharper shots because otherwise the movement of the mirror causes vibrations that can result in blur. If you raise the mirror a few seconds before taking the shot, the camera has a chance to stabilize and stop vibrating before the actual shot is taken.) With Live View this procedure is not necessary because the mirror is already raised the entire time. I find this especially useful for HDR images. I can take three bracketed images in very rapid succession using Live View, and the mirror is raised on all the shots. This is not possible using mirror lock-up.

Finally, Live View can be useful when used with your camera’s depth of field preview button. When depth of field is critical, many photographers use the depth of field preview to determine the effect of their selected aperture on depth of field. This can be difficult to see in the viewfinder depending on the subject and the lighting. Because Live View is “through the lens” technology, the effect of the depth of field button is visible on the large LCD and can be more easily seen.

I hope this article has shed some light on many of the benefits of using Live View in your photography. From assisting with focusing, to determining the proper exposure, to straightening horizons and increasing the sharpness of your shots, it’s an incredibly useful tool.

I've also created an app for iPhone, Android, and iPod Touch which teaches you photography -- more info can be found here:

Photography Trainer for iPhone and Android

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Photography Trainer iPhone app

As always, if you have any questions, please let me know.

Best,
Paul

To keep up-to-date with the latest photo additions and other topics, you can also become a fan at my Photography Facebook page at:

Paul Timpa Photography's Facebook Page

If you'd like to purchase prints or stock photography licenses for my photos (for advertising and editorial use), please visit:

http://www.timpaphotography.com/purchase

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Copyright 2009, Paul Timpa

http://www.timpaphotography.com/

 

 

 

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5Nov/09Off

Top Ten Ways to Improve Your Photography

Tropical and Coastal Stock Photography - Images by Paul Timpa

I’ve written several detailed articles on specific photography topics, but I thought it might be helpful to compile a “Top 10” list of ways to help you take your photography to the next level. This will help tie many of the concepts together and serve as a sort of “quick reference guide”. Feel free to print this out, fold it up, and stuff it in your pocket or camera bag for next time you’re out shooting. If you incorporate even a few of these techniques, you’ll come back with some amazing travel or landscape photos. If you were able to take pin-sharp shots every time, that were perfectly exposed, full of drama, with vibrant colors, and engaging composition, that would be a good thing! These tips will help get you there.

Note: This article is mainly for those using D-SLRs, but some of the tips apply to compact cameras as well. D-SLRs are very powerful cameras. Because of the large physical size of their lenses and sensors (“digital film”), they’re capable of taking photographs that a compact camera cannot take. Add to that the full manual control over the exposure settings, and you can take extremely creative images.

So, let’s get right into it. Try to use some of the items below on your next shoot, and I think you’ll see a tremendous improvement in your pictures.

1) Learn to use “Manual” or “M” mode on your camera, instead of Program Mode (P), Aperture Priority (Av), or Shutter Priority (Tv). It may seem complicated, but it's really easy. In fact, I personally find manual mode to be EASIER to use than the automatic modes! This is because I'm not always wondering what the camera is up to and trying to override the decisions it makes in automatic. Here's an analogy I like to use: Which is easier? --> driving a car where you control both the steering and the speed, or driving a car where you control the steering but a friend controls the speed, and if your friend doesn't get the speed right, you have to start telling him how to correct it, hoping he gets it right. For me, it's much easier just to control both. Trust me, with just a tiny bit of practice, you'll be very comfortable using manual mode, and may even like it better than the automatic modes too.

There are two main reasons for using manual mode. Firstly, it forces you to choose a specific shutter speed and aperture. Both items will need to be manually chosen by you, which is a good thing, because you then have to think about what you’re trying to achieve creatively and stylistically with those choices. Using any of the other modes mentioned above causes the camera to choose at least one of those two items (shutter speed or aperture) if not both. Because background blur / depth of field and the representation of movement in a photo are directly controlled by the aperture and shutter speed chosen, it’s critical to select exactly what they are so you get the effect you’re looking for. The second reason to use manual mode is because on any other mode, the camera is choosing the exposure for you, meaning how dark or bright the photo is. The camera uses a technique where it tries to “guess” the correct exposure, but it’s just a guess. Sometimes it’s correct, and sometimes it’s not. The only way to ensure a correct exposure is to set it yourself. For more detail on how the camera makes its guess at the exposure and a great example of when / why to use manual mode, feel free to see this separate article I wrote on the topic:

http://www.timpaphotography.com/blog/2009/08/how-to-take-sunset-portraits-indoor-portraits-about-your-cameras-light-meter/

 
2) Incorporate “Long Exposures” into your photography. One of the greatest things about photography is its ability to convey motion in a still image, and one of the most creative ways to show this motion is through the use of long exposures (using a long shutter speed). From flowing water, to car trails and star trails, to just people walking, long exposures can create magic in your photography.


[The photo above of Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange was taken with a long shutter speed on a tripod to blur the people walking]

You’ll need a tripod or something steady to rest the camera on for this technique, because it’s not possible to physically hold the camera still for the duration of the long exposures. Moving the camera would result in blurry photos. Important: You should also use the 10-second self timer to take the shot, as touching the camera to press the shutter button will shake it enough to cause a blurry shot. Better yet, you can buy an inexpensive remote control to trigger the shutter, which allows you more control over when the shutter is clicked. To use this long exposure technique, set the camera up on a tripod or steady object, and choose a long exposure like 2 seconds, 5 seconds, or even 30 seconds. This shutter speed will result in a very bright shot, so set the aperture to something small (a big number) like F16 or F18, which will darken the picture and bring it back to normal brightness. If the photo is still too bright even with the smallest aperture, you can use a Neutral Density filter, which acts like “sunglasses” for your lens, and darkens the picture. Try this technique on water, cars at night, busy streets, etc. and you’ll see some amazing images. A great time to experiment with long exposures is at night, where you don’t have to concern yourself with the pictures coming out too bright. Some of the most stunningly beautiful photography is taken at night, and almost all requires the use of long exposures. At night, set your camera on a tripod or something steady, set your aperture to F5.6 and your shutter speed to around 5 seconds, and make sure to use the self-timer so that you don’t physically have to touch the shutter button. Experiment with the shutter speed to get the correct brightness. You’ll be amazed at the images you can produce with this simple technique.


[The photo above of the Brooklyn Bridge at Night, NYC, was taken with a long exposure] 

 
3) Use wide apertures. A wide aperture is what creates that beautiful background blur and makes your subject “pop”. There is just something special about a photo taken with a really wide aperture that makes it stand out. Whenever you see a portrait and the person is pin sharp, but the background is just a creamy wash of color, it just looks “professional”. This is also one of the things that a compact camera simply cannot do, because it’s a physical limitation of the size of compact cameras. On a D-SLR it’s possible to get beautiful background blur when you use a wide aperture. To further increase the amount of blur, use a longer focal length (zoom in) because longer focal lengths provide more background blur than wide-angle focal lengths. Standing close to your subject also increases the effect. The next time you’re out, set your camera to an aperture of F4 or wider (smaller number like F2.8 for F1.8), zoom all the way in, and try taking some creative portraits or landscapes.


[The photo above of a Pina Colada on a Caribbean beach was taken with a wide aperture to blur the background]
 

4) Keep horizons level and verticals straight. This one is easy, but it can make such a huge difference in the perception of your pictures. You could take the most amazing landscape photo, perfectly in focus with a great exposure, but if the horizon is crooked and slanted, the photo will look amateur. Always do your best to make sure the horizon is level when you take a shot. If it’s not, it’s a relatively easy correction in most editing software, and it takes less than 10 seconds to fix. It may sound silly, but it makes a huge difference. (Of course if you’re intentionally slanting the horizon for some kind of creative effect, that’s something different). As for “verticals”, that’s something that’s a little more difficult to control. When I say verticals, I’m just referring to any perfectly vertical lines in a photo like the sides of buildings, or walls, or lampposts, or anything that runs straight up and down. You get slanted verticals when you point the camera up or down, versus keeping it pointed straight ahead. This is why it’s so common in photos of buildings and architecture… you tilt the camera upward to include the top of the building in the photo and this causes the sides of the building to tilt inward. So how do you fix it? There are a couple of ways. Firstly, try not to tilt the camera. If you don’t think you’ll be printing the picture at a large size, then you can keep the camera level and zoom out wide with your lens to include the top of the building. Then you can just crop out the foreground later which will have the “effect of zooming back in”, except the final picture will have nice straight verticals. If the widest focal length still doesn’t capture the top of the building, you can try to see if you can take the photo from a higher spot like a nearby stairway. This way you might be able to get the top without tilting the camera upward. If none of those works, you can correct it in your editing software using the perspective control features. (For some situations, this may be the easiest way). Lastly, if you take a lot of architecture photos, you can invest in a Tilt / Shift lens (a.k.a. perspective control or PC lens), which allows you take photos of tall buildings without tilting the camera (I have one and I use it all the time). Level horizons and straight verticals really add a level of professionalism to your photos.

 
5) Rule of Thirds. The “Rule of Thirds” is a guideline to help with the composition of your photos – that is, where you place objects within the picture. The basic principle of this guideline is that you should avoid putting the subject of your photo directly in the center of the picture. For example, if you’re taking a picture of an ocean scene, rather than putting the horizon directly in the middle of the picture with the top half of the photo consisting of sky and the bottom half consisting of the land/ocean, think about putting the horizon in a different spot. The Rule of Thirds suggests that it’s more visibly pleasing to have main objects in your picture 1/3rd of the way from the top or bottom, or 1/3rd from the left and right, rather than splitting the picture in half. For instance, for the ocean shot, if the waves of the ocean are especially captivating, you can fill the bottom 2/3rds of the frame with the ocean and the top 1/3rd of the frame with the sky. This tells the viewer that the main point of interest is the ocean and its waves. On the other hand, if the sky is very dramatic, you could do the opposite and fill the top 2/3rds of the photo with the sky and clouds, and the bottom 1/3rd with the ocean. For people shots, consider putting the person 1/3rd in from the left or right, rather than right in the middle. For a sunset, rather than placing the sun directly in the middle of the photo, try placing it 1/3rd from the top and 1/3rd from the left. You’ll see that your pictures actually feel more “balanced” that way because the subject is not cutting your photo in half, leaving your eye bouncing around both halves not knowing which is more important.

Newport, Rhode Island with Rule of Thirds Grid

Newport, Rhode Island with Rule of Thirds Grid

Newport, Rhode Island

Newport, Rhode Island

 
6) Take sharp shots. It’s so common to capture what could have been a great image, but it’s ruined because it’s blurry. I’ve written an article dedicated to the topic of taking sharp shots, and I’ll include the link below. To summarize, the most important thing to remember is to use a shutter speed that is fast enough to combat the camera shake that causes blurry photos. My rule, which is conservative, is to double the focal length to determine my minimum shutter speed. This is especially true at longer focal lengths. So for instance, for a shot with the lens zoomed to 100mm, the shutter speed has to be at least 1/200th second. For a focal length at 200mm, the shutter has to be at least 1/400th second, and so on. If you do this, you’ll get a lot more “keepers”. If you have a lens with Image Stabilization or Anti-Shake, you have a little more freedom. Even so, I then shoot at a shutter speed equal to the focal length, so for an image-stabilized lens at 150mm, I’d shoot at 1/150th a second or faster. If you’re in a situation where you need a longer shutter speed than the guideline above allows, because the photo is too dark at faster shutter speeds, it’s simple: use a tripod or rest the camera on something steady. Alternatively, for “snapshots” you can try raising the ISO, but for important pictures, I wouldn’t recommend going above ISO 400 or 800 if using a tripod is an option. The other way to help ensure sharp pictures is to make sure the camera is focused properly. I recommend using only the center focus point, because if you use all the focus points, it’s much easier for the camera to accidentally focus on something you didn’t intend. I’d say more otherwise good photos are ruined because of lack of sharpness than any other technical problem. If you concentrate on getting this right, you’ll be well on your way to taking many more great images. More detail on getting sharp photos can be found in my article on this topic:

http://www.timpaphotography.com/blog/2009/03/taking-sharp-photos-avoiding-blurring-pictures/

 
7) Get creative with Flash. It’s all too easy to just use the flash only at night, by setting the camera to program mode and popping the flash to illuminate your subject. This will get you decent-to-mediocre results, but with a just a small bit of effort, you can take your flash pictures to a whole new level of creativity. Here are a few tips.

Firstly, learn to use Flash Exposure Compensation. This simply controls how powerful the light from the flash is, making it brighter or darker as necessary. This is probably the easiest technique to use, and can greatly improve flash results. In your camera’s settings, there will be a setting for Flash Exposure Compensation. You can change the flash exposure, usually in a range from about -2 to +2 stops. When you do this, the camera adjusts the power of the flash accordingly. It can be very useful in many situations. You may have seen or taken photographs where the flash power is just way too bright. This sometimes happens with portraits when you take pictures from close up. Because you’re close to the subject, the flash power is too bright, making faces appear white or washed out. In this case, simply set FEC (Flash Exposure Compensation) to a negative number like -1 or -2, and take the shot again. You’ll see the lower flash output produces a much more natural result. Similarly, if your subject is very far away, you may want to increase the flash output so that it reaches your subject. You can do this by changing the FEC to +1 or +2 or any number that works for you.

Another important time to use flash is during the day when there is bright sunlight. The bright sun can produce harsh shadows on your subject. The shadows are even darker and more pronounced if the sun is behind your subject. In these cases, it can really help to use flash. Pop the flash and set the Flash Exposure Compensation to -1 (so that it provides just a hint of fill-light) and you’ll see how much better your outdoor photos will look. I often use flash outside during the day.

Finally, you can start to use flash along with your camera’s Manual exposure mode, to capture amazing night images and portraits. For example, for a photo of a person in front of a nighttime city skyline, you can follow these steps: turn off the flash and set the exposure manually for the background, in this case the nighttime city skyline. Once you have the city skyline correctly exposed in Manual Mode, pop the flash to illuminate your subject. You will get a perfectly exposed subject as well as a perfectly exposed background. Use Flash Exposure Compensation to tweak the brightness of the flash if necessary.

 
8) Shoot in RAW mode, instead of JPEGs. Shooting your pictures using your camera’s RAW mode, vs. shooting JPEGs, will greatly affect the final look of your pictures for the better. You may have already seen my detailed article on this topic (I’ll put the link below), but to summarize: Shooting in RAW gives you the flexibility to adjust the contrast, saturation, sharpness, and white balance “after” the photo is taken. These elements are absolutely critical to the final look of your photo. When you take a photo using your camera’s JPEG mode, the settings for saturation, sharpness, contrast, and white balance are “burned into” the picture permanently and cannot be changed. The only way to adjust these after the fact is if you tried to manipulate the image in Photoshop or some other editing program, which could severely degrade the quality of your photo. Further, shooting in RAW provides a higher-quality picture because the photo is not “compressed” to make the file size smaller, like it is with JPEGs. If you want to take your photography to the next level, you really should be shooting in RAW. I often get asked about the vibrant colors in my photos – it’s from shooting in RAW. More detail on shooting in RAW can be found in my article on RAW vs. JPEG:

http://www.timpaphotography.com/blog/2009/02/shooting-in-raw-vs-jpeg/

 
9) Use filters. There is still a place for filters in your camera bag, even in the digital age where images can be edited in Photoshop. Photoshop will never be able to blur a waterfall (not realistically, anyway) or remove glare from the ocean. This is where filters come in, and they can make a wonderful impact on your photos. The #1 filter that every photographer should have is the polarizer. It’s easy to use and can have a great impact on your photos. A polarizer reduces reflections, which has a couple of beneficial effects on your photos. For daytime shots, blue skies get deep blue and beautifully saturated, and clouds really pop. For distant objects, a polarizer cuts through the haze. On water, a polarizer reduces reflections on the surface of the water, allowing you to see what’s beneath the surface.


[The photo above of a woman snorkeling in Tahiti was taken with a polarizer to remove reflections from the surface of the ocean]

It also reduces reflections of water droplets on leaves and foliage, increasing saturation. For glass and other reflective objects, reflections are removed allowing you to see through the object. I use it especially in tropical locations with gorgeous turquoise water, to cut the glare, allowing you to see the coral and ocean life below.

Another type of filter is the Neutral Density filter. “ND” filters reduce the amount of light that goes through the lens (much like a pair of sunglasses reduces light getting to your eye), effectively darkening the photo. This allows you to use long shutter speeds during the day or at night, without the picture getting too bright. The long shutter speeds will allow for fantastic motion blur effects, and are necessary to blur moving water and waterfall photos that are taken during the day.


[The photo above of a waterfall in Costa Rica was taken with a Neutral Density filter to allow for a long exposure during bright daylight conditions]

A twist on the ND filter is the Graduated ND filter, which reduces the amount of light going through the lens, but only for a portion of the picture (for example, just the top half). This is useful for sunrises / sunsets or any scene where half the picture is very bright and the other half is darker. You simply place the dark half of the filter over the bright part of the scene to even up the lighting for a perfect exposure. For more info on filters and how to use them, I wrote a more detailed article here:

http://www.timpaphotography.com/blog/2009/07/camera-filters-for-photography/

 
10) Shoot in the right light. This is one of the most important, though “abstract” tips. Truly understanding this principle is possibly the single most fundamental technique that will improve your photography. Shoot in the right light. Think about it – you’re not “really” photographing an object. You’re photographing light. Here’s a very oversimplified example that will illustrate what I’m talking about. Go on a beach and take a picture at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Return at midnight to the same spot and take the same picture at night. Do they look the same? Of course not. The beach itself is exactly the same, but the “light” is different. Yet you have two wildly, drastically different photographs, even though the location and the subject is identical. It is critical to think about that and understand that as a photographer. Whenever you’re shooting travel or landscape photography, think about the fact that you are shooting the light, and not “just” the object. Decide on the quality of light you want to shoot, that is, how bright, how dark, is it sunlit, moonlit, from what direction, etc. Then go take your photographs when the light is right. You may have heard the term “golden hour” used by photographers. This refers to the light you get outdoors just before/after sunrise and just before/after sunset. This is generally some of the best light to shoot in, because you get beautiful golden sunlight cast on your subject from an angle (which brings out texture), the scene is not too bright so you don’t have harsh shadows, and the sky is deep and saturated with a multitude of colors from golden yellows, reds, and oranges to deep blues and purples. Shooting in the right light can transform an ordinary photo into something special.

Sunset, Costa Rica

Sunset, Costa Rica

Taking properly exposed, pin-sharp photos that are full of drama, with vibrant colors and engaging composition can be possible if you just keep in mind these few simple tips the next time you’re out shooting. Have fun, and as always, please feel free to let me know if you have any questions.

I've also created an app for iPhone, Android, and iPod Touch which teaches you photography -- more info can be found here:

Photography Trainer for iPhone and Android

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Best,
Paul

Please feel free to share this tutorial with your Facebook friends:

Share

To keep up-to-date with the latest photo additions and other topics, you can also become a fan at my Photography Facebook page at:

Paul Timpa Photography's Facebook Page

If you'd like to purchase prints or stock photography licenses for my photos (for advertising and editorial use), please visit:

http://www.timpaphotography.com/purchase

Copyright 2009, Paul Timpa

http://www.timpaphotography.com/

 

New York City Stock Photos - Images by Paul Timpa

Photos used in this posting:

Wall Street and New York Stock Exchange, New York Stock Photos:
http://pa.photoshelter.com/image/I0000Kw_9_puecYo

Brooklyn Bridge at Night, New York Stock Photos:
http://pa.photoshelter.com/image/I0000LjU_W9RRIvQ

Pina Colada on Caribbean Beach, Tropical Stock Photos:
http://pa.photoshelter.com/image/I0000U3N.juBas0o

Tahiti, Snorkeling in Lagoon, Tropical Stock Photos:
http://pa.photoshelter.com/image/I0000kd9OAeUvqKc

Costa Rica Waterfall, Tropical Stock Photos:
http://pa.photoshelter.com/image/I0000iansaqXbPO8

18Aug/09Off

How to Take Sunset Portraits — Indoor Portraits — About Your Camera’s Light Meter

Sunrise over Tahiti

Sunrise over Tahiti

I’m writing this brief tutorial on how to take sunset portraits, since it was inspired by a “real life” situation that occurred on a fun trip this past weekend.  Hopefully it can help some other people too.  This article also goes into detail on how your light meter works, and a technique for using flash.

This past weekend we were on a small vacation, and decided to take a sunset cruise on a sailboat around the island we were on.  A nice young couple that was on the boat with us asked me if I could take a picture of them with the sun setting behind them.  They had a D-SLR, and I took the picture with the settings that were already set up on the camera, in this case “Auto Mode”, where the camera chooses the aperture and shutter speed based on the lighting.  I took the photo and the couple looked great, but the beautiful colors of the sunset were completely gone, and replaced with an almost white / gray background.  I asked the couple if they minded if I adjusted the settings on the camera a bit, and less than a few seconds later, I took another shot that looked completely different.  The colors of the sunset were back, beautifully saturated, and the photo looked great.  The couple was really pleased and of course I showed them how I did it, and they couldn’t believe how easy it was.

So what was the problem with the first shot that caused the sunset to disappear into a white patch?  It was the use of Auto Mode.  Many of you who have read my other articles already know how much I stress the importance of learning to use Manual mode, and using it as much as possible.  This is a perfect example.  Let’s discuss why Auto mode doesn’t work here…

When you take a picture on Auto mode, the computer chip inside a camera measures the light in order to determine how bright to make the photo, but it has no idea what it is looking at.  It takes a guess.  The computer is specifically set to take all pictures at a “medium brightness” level because “most” scenes we encounter are taken in medium lighting (not too dark, not too bright).  So it automatically selects a shutter speed and aperture that will result in a medium-brightness photo.  This works in many cases, but definitely not all.  If you always used Auto mode for every photo you took, there would be many photos incorrectly exposed, as was the case in the sunset picture.  The reason in this case is this: except for the sun itself (the bright ball that is actually the sun), a sunset is fairly dark.  Think about it… it’s almost night.  When you try to take a picture of a sunset on Auto Mode, the camera’s light meter measures the light and sees that it’s fairly “dark” outside.  As mentioned before, the computer chip in the camera is programmed to take all pictures at “medium” brightness… so what does it do?  It increases the brightness of the photo!  Your beautiful golden-red sunset has now been artificially brightened into a white/gray sky because the camera thinks that’s what you want.  But it isn’t what you want, and that’s why Auto Mode is not a good mode to rely on.

So how did I correct the photo?  It’s simple, I took the picture on manual mode with the sky correctly exposed.  There are two main steps: (1) Set the proper exposure for the sunset without the people in the picture and then (2) turn on the flash and add the people, then take the photo.  Here are the detailed steps:

* Switch the camera to “M” Mode (Manual)

* Turn off the flash – at this point, we are just setting the correct exposure for the sunset

* Set the ISO to 100 (you can raise this later if necessary)

* Set the Aperture to around F5.6 or F8

* Set the shutter speed to a starting test number, let’s say 1/250th second

* Without any people in the shot, take a test shot and look at the brightness of the sunset.  If it’s too bright, increase the shutter speed to 1/500th of a second and take another test shot.  Still too bright? Increase again until the sunset looks beautiful and fully saturated.  If the original test shot was too dark, then decrease the shutter speed to 1/125th second, and take a test shot.  Play with shutter speed until the sunset looks perfect.  Once you’ve got the sunset looking just right, proceed to the next step. Note: In many cameras the shutter speed may be limited to a certain speed when the flash is on. If you've raised the shutter speed to 1/250th or 1/500th and it cannot be raised further, you can close down the aperture to F11 or F16 to darken the photo if necessary.

* Turn on the flash and ask the people to step into the picture

* Take the shot… if it looks good, you’re done!  Depending on how close to the camera the people are standing, you may want to lower the flash power if their faces are very bright compared to the sunset.  This can easily be done by using the Flash Exposure Compensation feature of most cameras (see the manual for your specific camera on how to do it).

That’s all there is to it.  That simple adjustment completely changed the picture for the better, and it took me literally less than ten seconds: I switched the dial to manual mode, checked the ISO an aperture which were fine as-is, and I set a faster shutter speed that kept the sunset a beautiful golden red.

The reason why this works is because in Manual mode, the exposure of the background (the sky and sunset) and the exposure of the people (with the flash) are two completely separate things.  The exposure of the sunset itself is determined by you with the shutter speed.  The exposure of the people is determined by circuitry in the flash unit, which generally does a fairly good job of setting the flash at the proper brightness.  This “separation” allows you to control the relative brightness of the background vs. the people in the foreground independently. The reason I went into so much detail here is not so that you can take beautiful sunset pictures, but because it’s important to understand the underlying principles of how the camera works.  Understanding that the camera’s light meter is measuring with the intent to make all pictures “medium brightness” is fundamental to getting the correct exposure.  For this same reason, a picture of bright white snow will come out as a dull gray when a camera is on Auto mode.  The camera sees the bright white snow, says to itself “this is too bright” and then artificially darkens it to a medium brightness, which in this case would be a gray.  Also, the principle that in Manual mode, the background exposure is separate from the flash exposure is also important, not just for sunsets.  For example, in indoor shots, this is very useful.  We’ve all seen shots taken with the flash indoors, where the area behind the people is completely black – informally called the “cave effect” because it looks like the people are in a dark cave.  When you understand that the exposure for the room itself is controlled with shutter speed / aperture, you can follow the steps above and (1) turn off the flash, (2) adjust the shutter speed so the room is exposed properly and then (3) turn on the flash and have your friends enter the picture. This will allow you to take much more creative photos with incredible impact. For the photo below of the couple holding hands, I adjusted the exposure for the background, and then turned on the flash to ensure their hands were not in shadow.

Holding Hands in Bora Bora
Holding Hands in Bora Bora

[Click here to purchase this photo as a Print or Stock License]

Using these techniques, you can take much more powerful photos.

I've also created an app for iPhone, Android, and iPod Touch which teaches you photography -- more info can be found here:

Photography Trainer for iPhone and Android

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Photography Trainer iPhone app

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to let me know.

To keep up-to-date with the latest photo additions and other topics, you can become a fan at my Photography Facebook page and follow me on Twitter:


Best,
Paul

If you'd like to purchase prints or stock photography licenses for my photos (for advertising and editorial use), please visit:

http://www.timpaphotography.com/purchase

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Copyright 2009, Paul Timpa

16Jul/09Off

How to take photos of Sports, Children, Wildlife, and other fast-moving subjects

Sunrise Flight

Sunrise Flight

Taking photos of fast-moving subjects can make for some amazing photography, but it also presents a unique set of challenges.  In this tutorial, I’ll cover some of the basics of how to set your camera to capture fast moving subjects that you might see in sports, or wildlife, or when trying to capture children.

First, let’s discuss shutter speed.  It is shutter speed that allows you to freeze motion and capture sharp photos of moving subjects.  For most of this tutorial, we’ll assume you’re aiming to capture sharp frozen-in-time photos of your subjects.  I’ll discuss creative motion blur later.

For fast-moving subjects, you need a fast shutter speed to freeze the movement.  There’s no exact shutter speed to memorize because it varies by situation.  The shutter speed to use depends on how fast the subject is moving, how far away the subject is from you, and whether it’s moving across the frame or coming toward / away from you.

Derek Jeter sliding into 2nd base

Derek Jeter sliding into 2nd base

For most “general” types of moving subjects, I find that 1/500th second works in a lot of cases, and is a good starting point.  1/500th should be able to freeze most moving subjects.  Of course, some things can be frozen with a much slower shutter speed, and some require much faster.  The farther the subject is from you, the slower you can go with the shutter.  Similarly, if the subject is coming toward / away from you, you can use a slower shutter speed.  The opposite is true if something is close to you or moving across the frame.  Think of it this way, if there are horses a mile away running toward you, you won’t need that fast of a shutter speed.  They’ll look pretty much the same even after a second has gone by.  On the other hand, if you’re standing on the track at a NASCAR race and a racecar speeds past you when you’re twenty feet away, you’re going to need a mighty fast shutter speed to capture that car.

If you have the time to experiment and try a few settings, then go ahead and see what shutter speed works for the subject you’re shooting.

Bellagio, Las Vegas

Bellagio, Las Vegas

So how do we get those fast shutter speeds and how do we set the camera?  You have two options as far as setting the camera.  You can either set the camera to Shutter Priority or Manual Mode. Then select the shutter speed that works for you.  Each has its advantages and disadvantages.  If you use Shutter Priority, the camera will use the shutter speed you select and will set the aperture automatically for you, but with a potentially different aperture from shot-to-shot, depending on the lighting in each shot.  This can be useful if you’re pointing the camera in all different directions from shot to shot and the lighting is different in each shot.  The camera will help ensure the exposure is correct for each shot, by adjusting the aperture.  The disadvantage is that there will be no consistency from shot-to-shot, which is actually the advantage of using Manual Mode. 

In Manual Mode, you set both the shutter speed and the aperture to capture the subject with the correct exposure.  Regardless of whether the subject is in front of a light background or a dark background, the subject will always be captured correctly, but the brightness of the background will vary because the aperture will remain the same.  If you use Shutter Priority, it’s “possible” that the camera may choose an aperture you don’t want.  Here’s an example to make it clearer… let’s say you’re taking pictures at an NFL football game.  You have the camera set to Shutter Priority mode at 1/500th second.  You’re taking several photographs in a row using your camera’s rapid-fire continuous shooting mode as a player is running across the field.  In one shot, the player is in front of a background that consists of the crowd, and the crowd is fairly dark.  The camera chooses an aperture of F4.  Two seconds later the player has run down the field some more, you take another picture, but this time the background is a bright white billboard for a car company.  Because the scene is brighter, the camera chooses an aperture of F8.  Well now you have two pictures at two different settings, and the player is going to be darker in the second one.  Had you shot in manual mode, the player would have looked identical in both shots, but the background would have been bright in the shot with the billboard.  This is an example of some of the types of things you’ll want to think about.  Do you want the player to look identical from shot-to-shot, or are you more concerned about the overall exposure of any given one image?  It’s up to you.  I personally shoot in manual mode so I know what I’m going to get, but it’s a matter of personal preference. 

Skiing -- Taking Photos of Fast Moving Subjects

Skiing -- Taking Photos of Fast Moving Subjects

Let’s talk a little bit about how to ensure you’re getting the correct exposure.  We know that fast shutter speeds let in very little light.  All other things being equal, fast shutter speed = dark pictures.  So we have to compensate for that to make the photo brighter.  The best way to compensate for fast shutter speeds is to open up the aperture (set it to a low F-number like F4 or F2.8).  Apertures that wide let in a lot of light, allowing the fast shutter speeds while still keeping the image bright.  Of course opening up the aperture that wide also limits depth-of-field (the amount of the picture that is in focus front-to-back).  A wide aperture causes a nice blurred background, which in many cases is exactly what we want (for the football example above, it’s best to have the crowd render as a soft out-of-focus dark area so the player really pops out in the image). 

If you want more of the photo to be in focus, you’ll have to close down the aperture. You may also have to use a narrower aperture simply because your lenses don't have particularly wide apertures at all.  Lenses with wide apertures are expensive to make.  What you’re paying for is all that glass and technology that allows the lens to let in that much light.  If you’ve ever heard the term “fast lens”, that’s what this is referring to.  A fast lens is a wide-aperture lens that allows for fast shutter speeds.  Most people consider a fast lens to be at least F2.8.  Zoom lenses rarely go below F2.8.  Prime lenses (non-zooming) can go down to as low as F1.2!  They can take pictures in incredibly dim lighting and still allow a fast shutter speed. If you’re at the widest aperture your lens allows (or that you want to use), you’ve determined the appropriate shutter speed, and the photo is still too dark, then you have to resort to raising the ISO.  ISO essentially brightens the image, but it also decreases image quality.  I use ISO as a last resort in the chain.  I start at ISO 100 (which will ensure the best image quality), then I adjust my shutter speed and aperture to see how much light I can get.  If the image is still too dark, I increase the ISO to 200 and check the brightness again.  I keep increasing the ISO one step at a time until I reach the correct brightness level, all the while trying to keep the ISO as low as possible.

Besides exposure, the other challenge when shooting moving subjects is focus.  There are a couple of options that will help you get the results you want.

Moving subjects can be difficult to focus on.  Many people (including myself) generally rely on only the center focus point and opt to turn off all other focus points for everyday shooting.  This means that if the moving object moves anywhere in the frame that is off of the center focus point, the picture will be out of focus.  In these cases, I may sometimes turn on all of the focus points to have a better chance of catching the subject.  Even so, it can be tricky, and it may require you to move the camera quickly to ensure the subject is always on one of the focus points.

Cat jumping for her toy

Cat jumping for her toy

When shooting in continuous shooting mode, a.k.a. sports mode, rapid-fire mode, etc., meaning that the camera will continue to take pictures in rapid succession for as long as you hold down the shutter button, there are a couple of focusing options. 

(1) Single-shot AF (autofocus) means that the camera will focus on the object when you first press the shutter button, and will remain focused on that one spot for as long as you hold the shutter button down, even if the subject moves off of the focus point or changes distance from you.  This ensures that all the shots in a series maintain the exact same focus.  It’s useful when the subject is moving side-to-side.  

(2) Continuous AF, Servo Focus, etc. means the camera will continually re-focus on the subject automatically from shot-to-shot while all the shots are taken in rapid succession.  This is useful if the subject is coming toward you or moving away from you.  For example, if you’re standing at the finish line of a running race with the runners coming toward you, you’ll want to use Continuous AF so that each picture re-focuses on the runners as they get closer. 

(3) Manual Focus:  Manual focus is one of the most important focus modes.  In this day and age with everything being automatic, you may wonder why you would ever want to use Manual focus.  The answer is because it’s quick and you’ll definitely get the shot off.  When you use autofocus, one of three things is going to happen: (1) the camera will take a certain amount of time to focus (albeit sometimes briefly) and will achieve proper focus or (2) the camera will take some time to focus but will focus incorrectly resulting in a blurry throwaway shot or (3) worst case, the camera will not focus at all and it won’t take a picture (this happens a lot at night or in dim lighting).  Using manual focus, you get around the problem of waiting for the lens to focus.  You don’t have to worry about the camera being incorrect in its focus choice, or not taking the picture at all.  I often use manual focus when it’s appropriate.  For example, going back to our car racetrack example, if you were in the stands and trying to take a picture of cars coming across the finish line, this is a perfect time to use Manual Focus.  Focus manually by eye on the finish line, or use autofocus to focus on the finish line and then switch the lens to manual focus.  Now, no matter when you press the shutter, the photo will be in perfect focus, it will take the picture immediately upon pressing the shutter, and should a bird fly into the top of the frame as you’re taking the picture, there’s no chance the camera will decide to focus on the bird!  For night and low-light photography, manual focus is often the only option that provides results quick enough for moving subjects.

Colosseum, Rome, Italy

Colosseum, Rome, Italy

The previous tips will help you get tack-sharp photos of moving subjects.  But what if you want to show some motion in your images?  Then you’ll need to do the exact opposite with the shutter speed and set it for extra long.  You have two options regarding the style of the shot when doing this:  you can mount the camera on a tripod so that all stationary objects are pin sharp while the moving objects are motion-blurred, or you can handhold the camera while panning along with the subject.  I wouldn’t recommend just setting a long shutter speed and handholding without panning, because that will just look like an unintentionally blurred shot. 

For the tripod shot, that’s pretty straightforward.  Mount the camera on a tripod and set the exposure so that there is a long shutter speed (experiment to determine the appropriate speed for your subject).  This will result in a bright photo, so you’ll usually need a small aperture (high F-number) for this, to ensure a properly exposed photo.  Shots like this will show a pin-sharp background with moving subjects.

Rockefeller Center at Christmas, NYC

Rockefeller Center at Christmas, NYC

For panning, experiment with a few different shutter speeds (start at 1/10th a second), and as the subject begins to pass in front of you, click the shutter, and while holding the camera to your eye, pivot your waist at the same speed as the subject is passing by you.  Continue to follow through with your pivot even after the shutter is closed, to ensure a smooth pan.  To get an appropriately long shutter speed, you may have to close down the aperture (small F-number like F16 or F22) because the long shutter speed will let a lot of light in.  You'll be counteracting that brightness by closing the aperture.  You can also add a burst of flash during the exposure which will help make the subject pop.  When using flash, I recommend using 2nd-Curtain flash sync (it’s a setting in your camera that you’ll see in the menus).  This means that the camera will flash at the end of long exposure (vs. the beginning).  It’s important because in most cases the photo will not look correct if you’re panning and the flash goes off at the beginning of the exposure – you want it to flash at the end.

Taxi, Times Square, NYC

Taxi, Times Square, NYC

Here are a few more tips before we wrap up.  As a compositional tip, always allow space for the moving object to “move into” the frame.  For instance, if you’re taking a picture of a car moving from right-to-left, make sure there is room on the left side of the picture for the car to “drive into” (otherwise the photo will look cramped). 

Any time you’re trying to achieve a fast shutter speed to freeze action, be sure to remove any filters from your lenses.  For example, polarizers can reduce the light entering the camera by up to 2 or more stops.  That means without a polarizer, you might be able to get the shutter speed to 1/500th of a second, but if you don’t remove the polarizer, the best you can get is 1/125th of a second, or 1/60th.  That’s too slow to freeze action.

If you’re shooting sports from a long distance and are using a telephoto lens (for example, something in the 150mm+ range), you may want to consider using a monopod.  A monopod is basically a one-legged tripod with an attachment at the top to mount your camera.  You have to hold it up yourself, but if you’re using shutter speeds in the 1/250th range with a long lens, you may have some camera shake that will result in a blurry photo.  Monopods help stabilize the camera, are very inexpensive and can make a huge difference in the sharpness of your shots.  It’s easy to sit in the stands watching a game with the monopod adjusted to the correct height, and a side benefit is that you don’t have to hold up the weight of the camera the entire time.

Carousel and Eiffel Tower, Paris

Carousel and Eiffel Tower, Paris

Taking action-stopping photos or photos with creative motion blur can really help make your pictures stand out.  Experiment with the techniques above and you’ll see the difference right away.


For those looking to improve your photography, I've also created an app for iPhone / iPad / Android which teaches photography and how to get photos like these while you're out taking pictures. Click here:

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Thanks for reading, and best regards,
Paul

 
If you'd like to purchase prints or stock photography licenses for my photos (for advertising and editorial use), please visit:

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Copyright 2014, Paul Timpa

http://www.timpaphotography.com/

Copyright 2009, Paul Timpa


15Jul/09Off

Photography Tips for Compact Cameras and Point-and-Shoots

Positano, Italy -- taken with a 3 megapixel compact point-and-shoot camera

Positano, Italy -- taken with a 3 megapixel compact point-and-shoot camera

Just because you may not have an expensive D-SLR camera, doesn’t mean you can’t take incredible photos.  Compact point-and-shoot cameras are capable of capturing extraordinary images, and their quality gets better and better with each new camera.  I’m taking a different approach for this latest article, and writing a tutorial aimed at those who shoot primarily with a compact camera. Using some of the tips I present below, you’ll be able to take photos with much more impact.

Compact cameras have some distinct advantages over D-SLRs in a few respects.  Firstly and most obvious, is their size.  Because of their size, it’s easy to take one wherever you go, and you’ll always have the opportunity to take a great photo should something amazing unfold in front of you. Their zoom lenses generally cover a wide range so you can take wide-angle shots of landscapes and buildings, and telephoto shots of distant subjects, sports, etc.  Because the sensor and lenses are physically smaller than D-SLRs, you’ll often be able to get everything in sharp focus, from objects right in front of you to distant mountains (this is not always easy to do with a D-SLR).  Compact cameras almost always have a built-in flash for when you need it.  Most compacts are also great for close-up macro work of flowers and other small subjects.  All of these factors combine to make a compact a great camera to have, even for those who already own D-SLRs.

So what can you do to take your photos from simple “snapshots” to amazing photos worthy of framing on your wall?  Below are a series of tips and techniques to help you get the most from your compact camera.  Some are “technical” ways to operate the camera, while others are tips related to composition and how to “frame up” your subject.  If you combine them all, you’ll be on your way to capturing incredible images.

First, let’s talk a little about focal length.  Focal length just refers to how much or how little you’ve zoomed in or zoomed out.  If you’ve zoomed your camera all the way out, you’re taking wide-angle shots and capturing a wide area of space around you.  This is a short focal length.  You’re probably used to doing this if when you’ve taken a picture of a large group of people, or you’re taking a wide-angle photo of the Grand Canyon or a big expanse of beach.  On the other hand, if you’ve zoomed all the way in, you’re bringing far away objects closer to you, and you’re using a long focal length, a.k.a. telephoto.  You probably use this at a sports event or ballgame to bring players closer to you and make them bigger in the picture.  Many people think of zooming in and out in terms of those two types of situations:  “I need to take a picture of a wide area of space so I’ll zoom out” or “That person is really far away so I’ll zoom in to make them bigger.”  While that does work, there are far more powerful ways to use focal length to your advantage.

Rather than thinking of zooming in and zooming out in just the two types of scenarios described above, it’s useful to understand some additional, more creative concepts related to focal length.


Let’s start off with a straightforward one.  While you may be used to the idea that zooming out wide captures a wider expanse of the scene, you may not always be thinking in terms of the opposite:  when zooming in, you’re taking in a lot *smaller* portion of the scene.  Most of us are used to thinking in terms of zooming in to bring far away objects closer, but just as important, if not more important, is the fact that zooming in reduces the area of the scene that is being captured (in addition of course to making the object seem closer).  You may be asking, so what?  What does this have to do with my photography?  The answer is this: armed with this knowledge, you now have the choice of what background you want for a picture of any given subject.  It can be incredibly helpful for clearing up clutter, simplifying your pictures, and making them better.  Let’s use an example to illustrate.  Let’s say you’re taking a picture of your friend in front of a beautiful mountain, from a scenic overlook on the road.  You stand a few feet from your friend, zoom out nice and wide to make sure you get all of the mountain in the shot, and you take the picture.  You know what else you probably got in the shot besides your friend and the mountain?  …the trash can 15-feet to the left, the telephone pole behind your friend about 20-feet to the right, and who knows what else.  Because you’re using the wide-angle setting, you’re capturing a very wide expanse of the scene… this expanse may include objects that you don’t want in the picture.  Here’s where zooming in and its ability to *reduce* the scene can be helpful.  Instead of taking the shot from a few feet away and zooming out wide, step really far back from your friend and zoom all the way in.  You need to take the picture from farther away, because as you know, zooming in will make your friend bigger in the picture.  You want to counteract that and keep them the same size in the picture by taking a few steps back.  But in the process of zooming in, you are reducing the area to the left and right that is in the picture.  If you’ve zoomed in enough, you will completely eliminate the trash can and the telephone pole from the shot, leaving just your friend and the mountain.  This is one of the most fundamental techniques in photography and one you should master through practice.

In addition to its effect on how much or how little of the scene gets captured, focal length has another important effect, and that is its effect on “perspective”.  Perspective refers to how far away from each other any two objects look in a photograph.  You may be surprised to learn that zooming in and out has a HUGE impact on how far apart objects “appear” in a photograph.  Keep in mind that how they appear in the photo has nothing to do with how far they appear in “real life”!  Let’s use the example we used before with your friend and the mountain.  Let’s say that the mountain is about two miles behind your friend.  Just looking with your eyes (no camera), the mountain will appear, as it should, to be two miles away.  If you zoom your lens to somewhere in the middle of its range and take a picture, when you look at that picture, the mountain will appear to be two miles from your friend.  That’s a “normal” focal length.  However, if you zoom out wide and take the same picture, the optical qualities of the lens will in fact exaggerate that distance greatly.  If you take a picture and look at it, you may be shocked to see that the mountain now “appears” to be five, ten, or even twenty miles away!  Wide angle lenses exaggerate distance.  On the other hand, if you zoom all the way in and take the picture, you will see that the mountain may appear to be directly behind your friend, maybe a few hundred meters or less!  It may appear that your friend is literally standing at the base of the mountain.  You can use focal length to adjust the closeness of the background to exactly how you want it.  Just remember that if you want your friend to be the same size in the picture, you may have to step closer or farther away from them, depending on how far you’ve zoomed in or out.  This perspective effect is why you sometimes see pictures of people with a sunset, and sometimes the sun is a tiny yellow dot in one picture and in another it’s a huge orange ball.  In the picture with the huge sun, the photographer has stepped all the way back and zoomed in as much as they can, making the sun appear much closer.

Sunset, NYC

Sunset, NYC

One of the most important tips I can give for shooting people is also related to perspective... and that is: take photos of people's faces from far away and zoom in!  Pictures of people taken from farther away with the lens zoomed in are much more flattering than pictures taken up close.  Have you ever seen a picture of a person taken up close with a wide angle lens, or been out with friends and tried to hold the camera in your hand with an outstretched arm, pointed at yourselves?  You'll notice that your noses look bigger than they really are and your facial features are exaggerated.  This is because the camera is close to you and the wide-angle lens is exaggerating distance... in this case it's exaggerating the distance from the tip of your nose to the rest of your face!  It will look larger than it really is.  If you stand back and zoom in, you reduce this effect and the face will have normal proportions.  Did you ever wonder why Sport Illustrated photographers are standing half-way across the beach shooting the models with a huge telephoto lens?  Perspective is part of the reason...

The next tip is a brief one, but it can be invaluable for architecture photography and photos of buildings or other tall objects.  (You may want to use software to crop the picture after using this technique, but most people are familiar with basic cropping.)  The tip is this:  whenever possible, when taking photos of tall subjects like buildings, do not tilt the camera upward to make sure you get the “top” – instead, keep the camera level (not pointed upward) and zoom out as wide as you can (in order to get the top of the building) and take the picture.  The reason for this is because tilting the camera upwards causes the walls of buildings and vertical objects to point inward like a pyramid.  The building may appear to be leaning back or falling over. 

Walls are pointing inward because camera is tilted upwards

Walls are pointing inward because camera is tilted upwards

If you keep the camera level, this won’t happen. 

Straighter version of the photo above

Straighter version of the photo above (this was fixed in software to illustrate, but the effect is the same)

You may however, have a large expanse of ground in front of you, which you can then simply crop out later.  With high-mexapixel cameras these days, cropping should not affect picture quality unless you’re making massive prints.

Now let’s talk about flash.  Built-in flash can come in very handy when you need a little bit of extra light, but flash is often not used to its full potential, and sometimes it’s used when it shouldn’t be.

First I’ll make one important comment.  The light from the flash on your camera probably only “realistically” reaches about ten feet or so in front of you.  After that, the flash has no effect.  If you’re taking pictures of something that is more than ten feet in front of you, turn the flash off (you may need to refer to your camera’s instruction manual to determine how to turn it off, as many times it comes on automatically).  Sometimes I go to a baseball game and a famous pitcher will be put into the game and everyone in the stadium is taking pictures of the pitcher from hundreds of feet away, but all I see are flashes going off.  Every one of those flashes is illuminating the back of the head of the person in front of the photographer, and not much else.  I can assure you that flash is not reaching the pitcher’s mound.  Worse yet, with the flash on, the camera is making decisions as to how to expose the photo.  It “assumes” that the light from the flash is reaching the subject, and thus it darkens the photo in anticipation of it being lit by the flash – however the flash never reaches the subject, and now you’re left with a dark photo (or a perfectly exposed picture of the back of someone’s head).  In these situations, it’s best to turn the flash off.

On the other hand, one of the best places to use flash is actually in bright sunlight.  When the bright sun is overhead, it can cast shadows under the eyes and generally result in an unflattering picture.  Turn your flash on and the flash will brighten up the shadows resulting in a much better picture in broad daylight (refer to the manual to learn how to turn on what is often called “Fill Flash”).  Similarly, if you’re taking a picture of a person in front of a bright background, like a sunset, turn on the flash.  Without the flash, it is likely you’ll just get a silhouette.  That may be the effect you're going for, and if so, leave the flash off.  If you want to see the person’s face, turn the flash on. 

Flash is also useful for close-up shots of flowers.  Not only will it brighten them up and help with shadows, but the flash will help “freeze” any movement of the flower caused by wind.

Whenever possible, I’d recommend taking two shots – one with the flash on and one with the flash off – in any situation where the flash might be helpful.  You never know which one you’ll like best, so it’s best to have both.

Now let’s cover some technical tips about night photography.  In this case, I’m referring to nighttime shots of city skylines, buildings, landscapes, etc. (and not necessarily pictures of people).  Night photography can produce some truly spectacular images.  It is however one of the most “technically” challenging types of photography.  It’s all too easy to wind up with a blurry shot or poorly lit shot.  Here are some tips:

Most importantly, it’s virtually impossible to take a sharp night shot while holding the camera in your hand.  You’ll need to find a place to put the camera down.  If you don’t have a tripod, just look for a bench, a railing, a tree branch, a soda bottle, anything to prop the camera up on.  Even if the camera isn’t pointing “exactly” where you want it, you can always crop out parts of the picture later… resting it on something will always result in a better shot than you trying to hold the camera.  The second piece to this tip is that you *must* use the camera’s self-timer to take the picture.  All too I often I see people going out of their way to prop the camera up on something to hold it steady, only to use their finger to press the shutter button.  Using your finger to press the shutter button will completely blur the shot and negate and beneficial effect of propping the camera up.  So just prop the camera up pointed in the right direction, set the 10-second self-timer, and let the camera do its thing.  Also ensure that the flash is off.  Going back to our previous discussion about flash – we know it only reaches about 10 feet, and having it on negatively affects the brightness of the picture, so turn it off.  If your camera has any kind of “Night Scene” mode (and most do), then definitely feel free to use it.  Most “Night Scenes” modes instruct the camera to leave the shutter open for a longer period of time than it normally would – the longer the shutter is open, the more light gets in, so you get a better, brighter picture.  Just make sure the night mode doesn’t automatically turn on your flash – if it does, make sure you can turn it off.

Brooklyn Bridge, New York City

Brooklyn Bridge, New York City

For situations where you're handholding the camera in dim lighting, for example when taking a picture of someone blowing out candles at a birthday party, you may wish to take the picture without flash to preserve the "ambience" of the scene.  You may also be too far away for the flash to reach, for example taking a picture at a concert or school play.  Any time you're handholding the camera in dim lighting without flash, it's possible you may get a blurry shot due to camera shake.  The camera needs to keep the shutter open longer to let more light in so the picture is bright enough, but the longer the shutter is open, the more chance there is of the camera recording any slight movement (of either the camera OR the person you're taking a picture of).  You can help fix this by manually adjusting the ISO if your camera allows you to (many do).  ISO is used to magnify the amount of light entering the camera -- the more light the camera gets, the less time the shutter needs to be open, resulting in less blur and sharper pictures.  ISO is rated in numbers, usually around 100 at the lowest, and going up to around ISO 800 or so on compact cameras.  The higher the ISO number, the more light gets in the camera and the faster the shutter speed.  The tradeoff with ISO is that picture quality is best at low ISOs, and deteriorates at higher ISOs, so you only want to use the highest ISO that eliminates the blur, but no higher.  Personally I recommend not going above ISO 400 on compact cameras.  So how do you use it?  If you find yourself in a situation like the ones mentioned above, where you want to take a picture in dim lighting without flash, but the picture comes out blurry, then simply raise the ISO number in your camera.  You may need to consult your camera's manual on how to do it.  Many cameras just have a button or menu item that says ISO.  Start at ISO 100 to see how sharp the shot is, and if there is any blur.  If it's a little blurry, then raise to 200 and take a test shot.  If it's sharp now, then leave it at 200 and you're ready to go.  If the shot is still blurry, then raise to 400 and try again, and so on.  You'll see that raising the ISO can really help in getting sharp shots in dim lighting.  Keep in mind that the picture quality will not be as good as if you took the shot at ISO 100, but in many cases, a little less picture quality is worth it to get a sharp shot, because a blurry shot may be unusable entirely!

The final “technical” tip is about “Exposure Compensation”.  If your camera has exposure compensation, and many do, it’s worthwhile to learn how to use it.  Exposure compensation simply lets you adjust the brightness of the picture to your liking.  Under normal circumstances, when you press the shutter, your camera looks at the scene, performs some calculations, and determines how bright the shot should be.  In many cases, the brightness level it chooses is pretty good.  Sometimes however, the camera can be thrown off in certain situations.  For instance, if you’re taking a picture on a ski mountain, the camera can be “fooled” by all the bright snow.  The camera says “wow this is really bright out here” and so it darkens the picture thinking that’s what you want.  You may wind up with snow that is more of a “light gray” than white.  In this case, you may want to use exposure compensation.  You might see it as a +/- where you move the arrow toward the “+” to make the picture brighter and the “–“ to make it darker.  Take a look in your camera’s manual to learn how to set it for your particular camera.

OK, let’s move on from the technical details and cover some pointers related to composition.  Composing the picture just refers to deciding what to include or exclude in the photo and where to position the subjects in the frame, the angle of the shot, how much you’re zoomed in, etc.

The most useful compositional tip is probably “The Rule of Thirds”.  It’s not really a “rule”, but rather a guideline to keep in mind when you’re taking pictures.  The Rule of Thirds is designed to help you determine where to place your subjects in the frame.  It’s easy.  When framing your picture, mentally draw a tic-tac-toe board over the scene – so there will be two vertical lines and two horizontal lines dividing the picture into thirds.  When taking a picture, try to place your subject along one of those lines.   (Some cameras even have a feature where you can turn on a Rule of Thirds grid that appears right on the LCD -- you can check your manual to see if yours has it).   Notice how the horizon is on the lower horizontal line and the bird is on the left vertical line:

Newport, Rhode Island with Rule of Thirds Grid

Newport, Rhode Island with Rule of Thirds Grid

Newport, Rhode Island

Newport, Rhode Island

What you’ll see is this helps you avoid putting your subject dead center of the picture, which is often the worst place to put the subject.  The subject can be a person, or a sunset, or anything else.  If the subject is small in the frame, like the moon, you can place it where two of the lines intersect, which is even better than just putting it on one of the lines.  The next time you’re taking a picture of a sunset, instead of putting the horizon straight through the middle of the picture, cutting it in half, try putting the horizon one-third from the top or one-third from the bottom and you’ll see how much better it looks.

The next compositional tip is called “Leading Lines”.  Leading Lines refers to using objects in your photo to lead the viewer “into the picture.”  It can be a pathway, railroad tracks, a pattern in waves, etc.  You place the leading line so that it starts in the foreground (the bottom of the picture) and your eye follows it further into the picture.  It’s often best to put leading lines a little bit off to one side and to lead your eye diagonally into the frame, but experiment to see what you like best.

South Street Seaport, NYC

South Street Seaport, NYC

 

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona

Another simple tip is related to moving objects such as people running or cars moving.  Always allow space for the moving object to “move into”.  For instance, if you’re taking a picture of a car moving from right-to-left, make sure there is room on the left side of the picture for the car to “drive into” (otherwise the photo will look cramped).

Taxi, Times Square, NYC

Taxi, Times Square, NYC

Patterns are all around us and can be used to create amazing photos.  No matter where you are or what you're doing, have a look around and you'll see patterns, many of which can be great photo opportunities.  The pattern can be anything from a repeating line of sun umbrellas on a beach, to an interesting row of trees, a fascinating pattern that all the windows of a skyscraper make, or something as simple as some cherries in the market.  The key when looking around for patterns is to avoid getting caught up in the "wide expanse" of the scene where it may be harder to recognize patterns, but rather focus in on small areas of what's around you.  In the photo of the cherries below, it could have been easy to miss it in the hustle and bustle of the market, with the flowers right next to them to the left and the pile of onions to the right, but if you take the time to look, you'll see patterns everywhere.  When you do, you can either take the photo of the pattern in the larger context of the whole scene, or focus in and create a more "abstract" photo.  Each can produce interesting images.

Cherries, Union Square Farmers Market, NYC

Cherries, Union Square Farmers Market, NYC

The final compositional tip is to make use of “Natural Frames”.  A natural frame is something in the scene that you can use to literally “frame” your subject.  It helps draw attention to the subject and adds a lot of impact.  You can use archways, tree branches, anything at all really.  Step forward or back as you need, to place your subject in the natural frame, and take the shot.

Pool, Dominican Republic

Pool, Dominican Republic

With a little practice of the technical and compositional techniques you’ve read here, you’ll find that you can take amazing shots with a compact point and shoot.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to let me know.

Best,
Paul

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Paul offers one-on-one photography workshops in New York City, including an "Intro to Digital Photography" course.  For more information or to see my main photography website, please use the link below.

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Copyright 2009, Paul Timpa