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

19Aug/15Off

How to Photograph the Milky Way

Photographing the Milky Way

Milky Way

Milky Way

When you photograph the Milky Way, you can produce some of the most spectacular night sky images you can create. It’s also fun and relatively easy. The Milky Way is visible with the naked eye all through summer in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. The hardest part is not actually the photography, but finding a great location to shoot that is dark enough to see the stars!

Let’s start with the basics. For equipment, all you’ll need is a D-SLR that has good low-light performance, a wide-angle lens, and a tripod. If your D-SLR goes to at least ISO 3200 or higher, you should be able to try this technique. If you have a shutter release remote control you can use that as well.

Location

As mentioned above, the hardest part about photographing the Milky Way is simply finding a place that’s far enough from city lights to have a dark sky that shows off the stars, and to choose a night where the moon is not shining at the time of your photo shoot.

If you live in a more rural area, it may be easy to find a location near a farm or field or on a less-traveled road where you’re far from city lights. If you live closer to a city, you can always plan your photoshoot for when you’re away on vacation somewhere farther away from a big city. I like shooting out in the American West by the National Parks. Caribbean islands and beaches are also great places for photographing the stars.

It’s easy to pick a night when the moon won’t interfere with your shoot. Just Google the name of the place where you’ll be photographing with the words "moonrise time". For example, for Jackson, Wyoming just Google "jackson wy moonrise time" and you’ll see plenty of webpages which will show you the moonrise time for the days of that month. Pick a day when the moon will rise after you’re done with your shoot. You can also choose a day when there is a "new moon" -- no moon shining at all. Be sure to watch the weather forecast so you can photograph on a day predicted to have clear skies with no clouds.

The Photo Shoot

On the night you’re planning your photography, remember to bring your camera, tripod, a flashlight, and warm clothes depending on the weather.

Once at your location, let your eyes adjust to the darkness for a least a few minutes. You may want to set up your tripod and camera with your flashlight before you let your eyes adjust.

If you’re shooting on a clear night in the summer you should be able to see the Milky Way with the naked eye. If you’d like some assistance locating the Milky Way, a star viewing app for your smartphone such as Stellarium can be very helpful. With Stellarium, you actually hold your phone up to the sky and the app shows you what you’re looking at as you move your phone around. It’s fantastic.

When you’ve located the Milky Way and you’re ready to photograph, it’s time to set the camera.

Use RAW, set the camera to manual exposure mode and start with an ISO around 3200. Set the widest aperture (preferably F2.8 or wider) on your widest angle lens. Lenses in the 16-24mm range (full-frame equivalent) work best. The wider the angle on your lens, the less you’ll see movement and blurring of the stars from the rotation of the earth.

Set the shutter speed to between 20 and 30 seconds.

For focus, use Manual Focus. Autofocus won’t work in the dark. If your camera has a Live View LCD, use it and manually focus on the brightest star you see, in magnification mode if available. If your camera doesn’t have Live View, set the focus to infinity. While not ideal, setting to infinity will get you close. You can always review the test shots and tweak focus as needed.

When the exposure and focus are set, aim the camera toward the Milky Way and take a test photo. If there are foreground elements in the photo, make sure they are level and look how you envision. Adjust the ISO and shutter speed as necessary, ensuring that the shutter speed doesn’t get so long as to blur the stars into little streaks.

Enjoy!

That's all there is to it.  Experiment with a variety of exposures, foreground elements, and compositions.  In your photo editing software, you can adjust brightness and color temperature to finalize your amazing night sky. Most importantly, when you're done with the photography, don't forget to just relax and enjoy the beautiful stars.


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

 
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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/

29Jun/10Off

How to Photograph Fireworks

Tutorial: How to Photograph Fireworks

Tutorial: How to Photograph Fireworks

With 4th of July in the Unites States coming up as well as other celebrations all around the world, I’ve written this tutorial on how to photograph fireworks.

Taking pictures of fireworks is a relatively easy process, and you can get some amazing photos. While it does take a small bit of experimentation to get the settings just right, once the camera is all set, you can just sit back and enjoy the show.

For the best photos of fireworks, you’ll want to use a tripod or rest the camera on something steady. To really capture the impact of the streaks of light, exposures of a few seconds are required, and that’s too long to hold the camera steady in your hands. If you have a shutter release cable that triggers the shutter, you may want to use that too so you don’t have to touch the camera with your finger to take the picture. Touching the camera can result in blurry shots. That being said, I’ve also included tips on how to photograph fireworks without a tripod at the bottom of this post.

One of the most important tips I can give for fireworks photography is to use manual focus. Autofocus doesn’t really work on fireworks and will often give you totally out-of-focus pictures. To set the focus of your lens for fireworks, temporarily use autofocus to focus on the farthest object from you (for example a distant building). This will set the focus on your lens to infinity. Then simply use the switch on the lens barrel to switch the lens to manual focus, and you’re all set. All of the fireworks will now be in focus. Note: Once you’ve switched to manual focus, it’s important to avoid accidentally touching the focus ring on the lens as you move the camera around, or all your photos will be out of focus. Periodically double-check the sharpness of the fireworks on the camera’s LCD screen.

Tutorial: How to Photograph Fireworks

Tutorial: How to Photograph Fireworks

Make sure the flash is off for all photos. Flash will have no impact on the fireworks, and will only illuminate the backs of the heads of other spectators, making the fireworks appear darker.

Once focus is set and the flash if off, it’s time to aim the camera toward the fireworks and pick the best focal length. Point the camera in the general direction of where the fireworks will be exploding in the air. Turn the camera vertically if all the fireworks are coming from one launch spot, or keep it horizontal if the fireworks are being launched from more than one location. Check to make sure that there are no nearby streetlights or other light sources in the picture, or they will overpower the photo. For focal length, it’s easy to fall into the trap of just choosing the widest angle on your lens so you capture everything, but you may wind up with photos of a lot of black sky and very small fireworks. It’s better to zoom in a little on an area of the sky where the fireworks are going off, so that they’re larger in the frame and fill the photo with light streaks. Just be sure to double-check now and again that the fireworks going off are in the frame. One exception where a wider focal length works is if the fireworks are over water – the wider lens may allow you to capture the fireworks as well as their reflection in the water.

When you’ve successfully set the focus and the camera is pointing in the right direction, it’s time to set the exposure. You may need to experiment a little during the first few fireworks bursts to pick the right camera settings. Every situation is different, depending on your surroundings. Set the camera to Manual (M) mode since you want complete control of the exposure. Start by setting the ISO to its lowest setting, usually ISO 100 or 200. Then set the aperture to around F16. Set the shutter speed for about 2 seconds.

Now you’re ready for some test shots. When the fireworks begin, take a few test photos of the bursts. Remember to use your shutter release if you have one. Take a look at the framing of the shots and ensure the fireworks are in the photo where you want them. Look at the brightness of the fireworks and the overall photo. If the fireworks are too dark or the streaks are not long enough, increase the shutter speed to 3 or 4 seconds, or more. If the fireworks are too bright, try closing down the aperture even more. Narrow apertures (higher numbers) such as F16 and F22 will darken the fireworks to ensure they’re not overexposed. Wider apertures such as F11 and F8 will brighten the fireworks and the overall photo. Take a few test shots at various settings to see what looks best. Periodically check that the camera is still focused properly and the fireworks are sharp.

Tutorial: How to Photograph Fireworks

Tutorial: How to Photograph Fireworks

If you find yourself at a fireworks display and you don’t have a tripod or somewhere to rest the camera, it’s still possible to take photos to capture some of the action. Try these settings and experiment until you like the results: Set the camera to Manual (M) mode. Set the ISO to 800, the aperture to F5.6 or F4, and the shutter speed to 1/20th second. You should be able to get sharp shots with a shutter speed of around 1/20th or 1/30th of a second if you use an image stabilized lens at a fairly wide focal length and you hold the camera very still. If the photos are too dark or you want a faster shutter speed to ensure sharp shots, try raising the ISO even further (to ISO 1600), or if your aperture goes wider, set it to F2.8. Press the shutter at the peak of the action – that is shortly after the burst where the long streaks are still visible in the sky.

That’s all there is to it. After just a few test shots, you should have the settings exactly as you want them, and you can sit back and enjoy the show. Simply press the shutter release during particularly nice fireworks bursts, and you’ll come away with some amazing photos of the celebration. If you have any questions, 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,
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/

21May/10Off

The Louvre Pyramid by I.M. Pei, Paris Stock Photos, Paul Timpa Photography

Paris is such a beautiful place, and amazing for photography.

This is a photo of the Louvre Pyramid, which now serves as the main entrance to the Louvre Museum in the main courtyard, Cour Napoleon. It was designed by architect I. M. Pei and completed in 1989.

I wanted to photograph the pyramid at night so that it was internally lit. You can visit the courtyard fairly late in the evening, even after the museum closes. On this particular night, there were only a few pedestrians, so it was relatively easy to get a shot with no one in the photo.

The shot required a tripod and long exposure. On a calm night, you can get great reflections. This location is definitely worth a visit at night during a trip to Paris.

Enjoy.

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:

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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

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

Please feel free to share this article with 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/

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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:
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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:

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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 2009, Paul Timpa

http://www.timpaphotography.com/


New York City Stock Photos - Images by Paul Timpa

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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:

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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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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

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:

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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.

http://www.timpaphotography.com/

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


14Apr/09Off

Night Photography / Low-light Photography — Tips for Night Photos

Star Trails, Costa Rica

Star Trails, Costa Rica

The allure of the night shot. The sparkling lights of a city skyline, the moonlit seascape, neon signs, and star trails to traffic trails... For some (including myself) the night shot represents the epitome of fascinating, enthralling photography. Looking at these photos in awe, we cannot help but say “wow”.

Of course, one thing separates night photography from many other types. It requires a fairly significant amount of “technical” skill to get good results. It’s much easier to wind up with blurry, incorrectly exposed, or out-of-focus photos at night than it is during the day. So how do we fix that? This brief guide will show you how…

Night shots can be spectacular to look at. A properly executed night image can impress even the most jaded viewer. But one thing ruins probably 90% of night shots out there. Blur. Let’s talk about how to take sharp photos at night…

Because light levels are so low at night, longer shutter speeds are required to allow enough light into the camera to expose the image. You’ll often need shutter speeds that last several seconds. Of course any time you’re using longer shutter speeds, you’re introducing the possibility of blurry images due to camera movement. First and foremost, it’s just not possible to handhold a successful night shot. A tripod or other support must be used, even if it’s just a bench, railing, recycling bin, or tree branch. Yes, “technically” you can up the ISO to get a manageable handholding shutter speed, but I don’t recommend it. High ISOs lead to noisy images (multicolored or white speckles all over the image), loss of sharpness, and loss of detail. If you really want to take a powerful night shot, you should keep the ISO at 100, unless for some unusual reason you need ISO 200. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend going over 100.

OK, so you’ve found a great position to take your shot, and you’ve successfully balanced your camera on the back of a sleeping coyote (he’s very still). Now what? Provided the ISO is set to 100, it’s time to set the exposure…

Sunset, Costa Rica

Sunset, Costa Rica

Firstly, set your camera to full-manual mode where you manually set the aperture and shutter speed individually. Your camera’s meter doesn’t work well at night and will only cause problems and inconsistencies from shot to shot, so don’t concern yourself with it. Once in manual mode, it’s time to determine what to set for shutter speed and aperture. If we know that the longer the shutter is open, the more chance there will be of movement (resulting in blur), then we should do whatever we can to get the shortest shutter speed possible. Since we’ve already established that we’re sticking with ISO 100, that means we need to use the widest aperture that will work for the scene. Using a wide aperture (low number), more light enters the camera and you can use a faster shutter speed. Unless you have objects that are both very close to you and very far from you that all need to be in focus (which I find rarely to be the case in night photography), you can get away with fairly wide apertures such as F5.6. I’d recommend starting with an aperture of F5.6 and a shutter speed of 3 seconds. This usually provides me with a good starting point of evaluating how much light is in the scene and often results in a decent starting exposure. Look at the LCD and see if the image appears too dark or too bright. If it’s too bright, set the shutter speed to 1.5 seconds and try again. If it’s too dark, set to 6 seconds. Experiment with various settings until you arrive at a shutter speed that works for the scene. There are three main reasons why you might want to have a smaller aperture (keeping in mind that you will be lengthening the shutter speed and increasing the chance of blur). (#1) – small apertures create that “star” effect on small bright lights – if you want the stars, you’ll need an aperture of at least F8, and more likely F11 and smaller, (#2) if you have objects that are up close and also far away, and all need to be in focus, then you’ll need a small aperture to increase depth of field, and (#3) for creative purposes, for example if you want a longer shutter speed to increase the effect of traffic trails, to create a silky blur of the ocean, or to allow yourself time to do some “painting with light” (using a flashlight to manually illuminate certain areas of a scene), etc., then you may want to use a smaller aperture.

Let’s talk about focusing for a bit. The reality is, cameras really don’t autofocus all that well in the dark. You’re going to have to rely on some skill here. When you attempt to use autofocus in the dark, generally one of two things happens: either the camera focuses on the wrong object or the camera hunts around in the dark for a few seconds, it can’t find anything to focus on, and it prevents you from taking the shot. Neither one is what you want, especially if a spectacular scene is unfolding in front of you. There are really only two options. Firstly, you can set the lens to manual focus and just use your eye to focus as best you can. If you’re focusing on a far away city skyline or landscape, you can just look at the lens barrel and focus at infinity using the infinity marker on the focus ring. The second option, and the one I use most often, is a hybrid of auto and manual focus. Set the camera to use only the center focus point and turn off the other focus points. On most cameras, the center focus point is the most sensitive to light and works best in the dark. Look through the viewfinder and position the center focus point on where you want to focus. If there is a bright light near where you want to focus, use that. The brighter the object, the more easily the camera will find focus. Press the shutter button half-way to try to autofocus. You may need to give it quite a few tries for it to successfully lock on. If you successfully autofocus, immediately switch the lens to manual focus on the lens barrel. Be careful not to touch the focus ring and change focus as you’re doing this! Now compose the shot as you need to, again being careful not to touch the focus ring. Now you can take your shot without worry of the camera focusing on the wrong object, or worse, hunting in the dark unsuccessfully and never taking a shot at all.

Brooklyn Bridge, New York City

Brooklyn Bridge, New York City

If possible, I also recommend using your camera’s mirror lockup function, if it has it. This text on mirror lockup is taken from my Note on “Taking Sharp Photos”:

If your camera has a “mirror lockup” feature, you can also use this. You may know that when you click the shutter, the mirror flips out of the way so that the light can hit the sensor. The flipping of this mirror can cause the camera to shake, which is especially visible when using long lenses. By setting the mirror lockup, you are flipping up the mirror before the actual picture is taken, preventing camera shake and the resulting blur.

My final note on sharpness, and something that is perhaps one of the most common mistakes in night photography: always remember to use the self-timer or a remote control to fire the shutter. Using your finger to press the shutter will result in blurry shots. The sturdiest tripod, the most accurate focus, will not help at all if you touch the camera when trying to take the shot. I recommend getting a remote control for your camera, so you don’t have to wait 10 seconds every time you take a shot as you would if you use the self-timer, and you have more control over when it fires (for instance, if you’re trying to fire it exactly when there are no people walking in front of the camera). Remote controls are relatively inexpensive and small (easy to carry around). The one for Canon cameras is less than $25 and it’s smaller than your thumb.

A few tips on specific types of night shots:

Moon photography: The most common mistake when photographing the moon is overexposure. The moon is reflecting the sun. It is extremely bright. You must use very fast shutter speeds to avoid overexposing the moon. If you don’t see individual craters and shades of gray (meaning it just looks like a bright white circle), the image is overexposed. Set a faster shutter speed and try again.

Traffic Trails: By nature of having the shutter open for several seconds during night shots, you will almost always get traffic trails when there are roads in the photo. Set the shutter speed to longer or shorter as necessary to adjust the length of the trails (and don’t forget to adjust the aperture to match the shutter speed you’ve chosen).

Lightning Strike over East River, New York City

Lightning Strike over East River, New York City

Star Trails: If you keep the shutter open long enough, you can capture star trails. Star trails result from the rotation of the earth. Objects on the ground remain stationary, but since the earth is rotating relative to the stars, long exposures will show this rotation (see the shot at the top of this post). You’ll generally need exposures of at least a half hour to show trails (though you will see small trails in as little as a few minutes). You can either take a single shot for the entire duration (which may result in a noisy image, but is very easy to take), or you can take a few shorter shots and layer them on the computer. Set your camera to Bulb mode, and using a remote control, open the shutter, wait the appropriate amount of time (just use your watch), and close the shutter with the remote. Make sure to have something on the ground in the shot, to add interest and emphasize the motion.

Taking night shots can be incredibly exciting and result in some spectacular images. Good luck and happy shooting.

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

If you have any questions or comments, please let me know, and feel free to share this tutorial with your Facebook friends:

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Best,
Paul

South Street Seaport, NYC

South Street Seaport, NYC

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 also become a fan at my Photography Facebook page at:

Paul Timpa Photography's Facebook Page

I offer one-on-one photography workshops in New York City, including an "Intro to Digital Photography" course.  For more information, please use the link below.

http://www.timpaphotography.com/

Copyright 2009, Paul Timpa