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

17Feb/16Off

What To Do With That Great Photo That’s Not Quite Technically Perfect

"What a great photo! Oh wait... it's blurry."

It's happened to the best of us. Even professionals. Sometimes in photography we take pictures that we would've really liked but they've come out slightly blurry, or they have too much digital noise from a high ISO, or maybe they were taken with an older camera that had a low megapixel count or quality not up to today's standards. It might be an awesome wildlife image of a rare animal, the sunrise over the Caribbean, a spontaneous photo from a family outing, or an architectural photo from some far away place. Often these otherwise great photos get deleted or just sit unused in a folder on your computer. The good news is there are many ways these photos can still be useful, even for producing art to hang on the wall.

Of course you can always try to sharpen up a blurry photo or reduce digital noise, and there are some great products that can do this for you. The purpose of this post though is to provide some ideas as to what to do with those photos when even the best software can't quite fix your photos 100%.

Wall Art on Alternative Media

One of my favorite ways to save photos that might otherwise be too blurry or too noisy for "traditional" prints is to print them on alternative media, such as canvas or wood. Not only do these surfaces create amazing pieces of art, but they help mask minor imperfections in the original photo. I recently wanted to make a print of an American Bison for a Western-themed wall, and all of the photos I'd taken with a 21mp Canon 5D Mark II were sharp and clear, but the subject matter didn't fit the wall. I found a much older photo of a bison on my hard drive taken with a 10mp Canon Rebel XTi, that I liked better. I decided to print the Rebel XTi photo on wood and it looks absolutely spectacular (Photo printed on wood by woodsnap.com).

Bison Printed on Wood

Bison Printed on Wood

Similarly, I have several very large canvas prints (36" x 24") that look great, even with photos of relatively lower resolution.

Gifts and Other Items

In addition to wall art, there are plenty of other items that you can print on these days. Everything from custom pillows and blankets, cellphone cases, shower curtains, candles, kitchen aprons, puzzles, playing cards, there are so many possibilities. The quality of the photo doesn't have to be the same as if you were printing a poster-sized wall hanging. Photos that are of "decent" quality will do just fine for many of the items mentioned above.

Social Media

If you're not printing the photos to a physical product but still want to make use of them digitally for sharing on social media, there are still many of ways to make them usable. If your photo has noise from a high ISO, one of the easiest ways to mask this is to simply convert to black & white. The most problematic noise is generally "chroma noise" which you see as all the tiny multi-colored dots. When you convert to black & white, this noise looks more like grain in old b&w film and is much less noticeable.

Statue of Atlas, Rockefeller Center, NYC

Statue of Atlas, Rockefeller Center, NYC

Both noise and blurriness are less visible when the size of the photo is smaller on-screen. Rather than post the photo to social media on its own in full resolution, you can reduce its size and include it as part of a collage or other multi-photo image. This allows you to include the image in context with other images taken at a similar time, and it's also easier for friends and family to share a single post (that contains multiple pictures) than to share many individual posts. Below is a photo grid of three city scenes from Rome, Paris, and NYC:

Photo Grid -- Timpa Photography

Photo Grid -- Timpa Photography

Even if a photo is not blurry and looks fine, I often include it as part of a collage for these same reasons. Mobile apps like "Photo Grid" for Android are great at creating collages, and also include some editing tools (brightness, contrast, saturation, tint, crop, etc.) as well as filters.

Filters

There are countless ways to apply filters that will not only enhance your photos, but also help hide imperfections. If your photo is slightly blurry, perhaps you can go for a tilt-shift Lensbaby type look to give it a dreamy feel. If the colors are muted, or the noise is high, you can try an oversaturated, high-contrast "edgy" look. Explore all of the filters or features of your editing software to see what works for your particular image.

Roman Forum, Italy

Roman Forum, Italy

Conclusion

Just because a photo hasn't come out technically "perfect", doesn't mean you have to deal with no photo of the occasion. With a little creativity you can bring new life to those old photos and they can take their rightful place on your wall, either in the real world or on social media!


For those looking to improve your photography, I've also created an app for 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 Android

 
If you find this guide helpful, please share it:

Share/Bookmark

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

Paul Timpa Photography's Facebook Page

Paul Timpa on Google+


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/

5May/14Off

How to Use Layers in Photo Editing Software

Introduction to Using Layers

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Using layers in your photo editing software is one of the most important things you can do to create great images. Layers are so powerful, even the most basic understanding of them can improve your photography tremendously.

I've written a tutorial on how to use layers to create amazing images, and it's published on the fantastic Digital-Photography-School.com website.  Click here to read it:

http://digital-photography-school.com/beginners-introduction-using-layers/

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

Paul Timpa on Google+


Paul Timpa Photography's Facebook

 
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/

26Dec/11Off

Learn How to Use that New Camera you received this Holiday Season

Many people received the wonderful gift of photography this holiday season. If you're one of the lucky ones and are now the proud owner of a new D-SLR or lens, you're probably excited to start taking magical pictures!

Once you've played around with it for a bit and taken some photos on auto-mode, remember that it's the Manual mode on your new camera that really lets you take creative pictures. It's easy to learn, and if you have an iPhone or Android phone you can get download an app that will teach you how to use your camera.

The Photography Trainer app for iPhone and Android is a training tool that teaches you photography when you need it most -- when you're out with your D-SLR and taking pictures. Over 50,000 people have downloaded the app and learned how to use their D-SLRS!

The app doesn't require an internet connection, so it’s perfect for vacations and holidays too – learn photography no matter where you are in the world, whether it’s during a beautiful sunset on the beach or while you’re on a mountain top.

You’ll learn how to capture images with impact and creativity by understanding shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and how they all work together. Learn night and low-light photography, sports, wildlife, portraits, architecture, and landscape photography. You'll always have an expert with you in your pocket, there to help you take spectacular photos.

iPhone and iPod Touch users can download the app by searching on Photography Trainer in the App Store or clicking here to download from iTunes.

To download the app for Android, just search on "Photography Trainer" in the Android Market from your phone or click here: Download Photography Trainer for Android.

The app is also available on the Amazon.com Android App Store. To download with your Amazon account, click here: Download Photography Trainer from Amazon.com.

The app has three sections designed to help you:

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Photography Trainer iPhone app

The Interactive Photography Trainer asks you questions about the lighting you’re in, what types of subjects you’re photographing (waterfalls, sports, city skylines, etc.) and then it guides you on how to set the camera. Most importantly, not only does it instruct you on the best settings to use, it tells you *why* to use them so that you actually learn photography in the process of using the app.

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Photography Trainer iPhone app

The Photo Gallery with Camera Settings contains dozens of professional photographs, each with detailed camera settings for shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, so you can see how the settings work together in real-life examples.

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Photography Trainer iPhone app

The In-Depth Techniques section has photography tutorials that go into further detail on topics such as:

* Getting razor-sharp photos
* HDR Photography
* Night photography
* Sports, Action, and Wildlife
* Composition
…and more…

Take your photography to the next level with the Photography Trainer and learn when you’re out with your camera – it’s the best time.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/PhotographyTrainer

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


Best regards,
Paul

Copyright 2009, Paul Timpa

http://www.timpaphotography.com/

Share/Bookmark

Colosseum, Rome

Colosseum, Rome

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona

Tahiti

Tahiti

South Street Seaport, New York City

South Street Seaport, New York City




18Apr/11Off

Photography Myths

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

MYTH: Cloudy and rainy days are not great for photography

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

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

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

Tulip

Tulip

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

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona

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

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

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

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

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

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

MYTH: HDR produces unnatural photos

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

South Street Seaport

South Street Seaport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica

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

MYTH: Low ISOs produce the best picture quality

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

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

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

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

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

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

MYTH: Lightning photography requires special gear or quick reflexes

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

Lightning Strike over NYC

Lightning Strike over NYC

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

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

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

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

Colosseum, Rome, Italy

Colosseum, Rome, Italy

MYTH: Great wildlife shots require an expensive African safari

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

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

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

MYTH: Using image editing software is “cheating”

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

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

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

Photography Trainer for iPhone and Android

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Best Regards,
Paul

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

Paul Timpa Photography's Facebook Page

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

http://www.timpaphotography.com/purchase

Share this Tutorial with friends:
Share

Copyright 2009, Paul Timpa

http://www.timpaphotography.com/




23Sep/10Off

Taking Photos in Busy Tourist Destinations with no People in the Shot

Hi everyone! I've created a new tutorial on taking photos in busy tourist destinations with no people in the shot. It's a technique I use all the time, and I hope you find it useful too! While this tutorial is slightly more advanced than some of my other ones (it requires a little bit of work in your editing software), anyone can do it.

I've guest-posted on the always-awesome website Digital-Photography-School.com, and the article is here:

http://www.digital-photography-school.com/taking-photos-in-busy-tourist-destinations-with-no-people-in-the-shot

Enjoy, and as always, please feel free to ask me any questions.

Thanks!
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

Share this Tutorial with friends:
Share

I've 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

Copyright 2009, Paul Timpa

http://www.timpaphotography.com/

16Jul/10Off

Photography Trainer app Now Available for Android

Paul Timpa Photography is excited to announce that the Photography Trainer app is now available for Android phones. Photography Trainer is a training tool that teaches you photography when you need it most -- when you're out with your D-SLR and taking pictures. Already a top-selling app for iPhone, it has just been released in the Android Market.

Photographers with Android phones like the Droid and Droid X, Nexus One, HTC Incredible and Eris, T-Mobile myTouch 3G Slide, Samsung Vibrant / Galaxy S, HTC EVO, etc. will be able to enjoy all the functionality available in Photography Trainer.

The app doesn’t require an internet connection, so it’s perfect for vacations and holidays too – learn photography no matter where you are in the world, whether it’s during a beautiful sunset on the beach or while you’re on a mountain top.

You’ll learn how to capture images with impact and creativity by understanding shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and how they all work together. Learn night and low-light photography, sports, wildlife, portraits, architecture, and landscape photography. You'll always have an expert with you in your pocket, there to help you take spectacular photos.

To download the app for Android, just search on "Photography Trainer" in the Android Market from your phone or click here: Download Photography Trainer for Android.

The app is now also available on the Amazon.com Android App Store. To download with your Amazon account, click here: Download Photography Trainer from Amazon.com.

iPhone and iPod Touch users can download the app by searching on Photography Trainer in the App Store or clicking here to download from iTunes.

The app has three sections designed to help you:

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Photography Trainer iPhone app

The Interactive Photography Trainer asks you questions about the lighting you’re in, what types of subjects you’re photographing (waterfalls, sports, city skylines, etc.) and then it guides you on how to set the camera. Most importantly, not only does it instruct you on the best settings to use, it tells you *why* to use them so that you actually learn photography in the process of using the app.

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Photography Trainer iPhone app

The Photo Gallery with Camera Settings contains dozens of professional photographs, each with detailed camera settings for shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, so you can see how the settings work together in real-life examples.

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Photography Trainer iPhone app

The In-Depth Techniques section has photography tutorials that go into further detail on topics such as:

* Getting razor-sharp photos
* HDR Photography
* Night photography
* Sports, Action, and Wildlife
* Composition
…and more…

Take your photography to the next level with the Photography Trainer and learn when you’re out with your camera – it’s the best time.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/PhotographyTrainer

Best regards,
Paul

Copyright 2009, Paul Timpa

http://www.timpaphotography.com/

Share/Bookmark

Colosseum, Rome

Colosseum, Rome

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona

Tahiti

Tahiti

South Street Seaport, New York City

South Street Seaport, New York City

8Jul/10Off

Your First D-SLR: Best Ways to Use It

Sunrise over Tahiti

Sunrise over Tahiti

Congratulations! You've purchased your first D-SLR and now it's time to start taking pictures. Many of my friends have also purchased their first D-SLRs too. For those without any background in photography (or who haven't yet read lots of books and magazines), you may not know where to start with your new camera. With all the buttons and new terminology, it can be easy to fall into the trap of just setting your D-SLR to “Auto” mode and letting the camera do all the work.

D-SLRs are capable of taking stunning photos. Before we begin, please allow me to let you know where it’s best not to start. Try to avoid using your new D-SLR like it’s just a larger version of a compact camera. A D-SLR offers much more important features than just great picture quality. D-SLRs enable you to create images that are not possible with point-and-shoots. That's what this article is about.

The easiest and best way to improve your photography is to embrace these features and use them to create photos that can't be taken with a compact camera. That will immediately set your photography apart from the crowd.

What are those features? There are quite a few of them and we'll go through them one-by-one so you understand what each feature is and how to take advantage of it for your own pictures:

First, D-SLRs enable you to take photos where the subject is in sharp focus but the background is intentionally blurred. This makes the subject "pop" out of the picture, and can be one of the best ways to make your images look professional.

Pina Colada, Mexico

Pina Colada, Mexico

These types of photos are not possible on a compact point-and-shoot. The physically small size of a point-and-shoot camera's sensor and lens prevents you from blurring the background on most shots. Because D-SLR sensors and lenses are bigger, you're able to blur the background. Blurring the background is important because it eliminates all the clutter behind your subject and draws attention right to what’s important. In order to achieve the blur, simply use a very wide aperture on your lens such as F4 or F2.8. You can set this by using either Aperture Priority (Av) or Manual (M) mode. The closer you are to the subject and the more you have your lens zoomed in, the greater the effect. So set a wide aperture, zoom in, and get close and you'll achieve that beautiful blur. Try this technique on portraits and sports. Portraits look amazing when the subject is in sharp focus and the background blends to a silky blur of color. Be sure to focus on the eyes of your subject when shooting with wide apertures. Sports are another great time to blur the background. The background at sporting events can often be cluttered with other players, the crowd, advertisements and signs, etc. By blurring the background, your bring the attention right on the athlete. Shooting food this way also produces great results.

Second, D-SLRs are much better at taking pictures in low light than point-and-shoots. D-SLR sensors are larger and are better at gathering light, so the picture quality is improved. You can often shoot with no flash. Use this to your advantage to get shots that would otherwise be impossible with a compact camera.

Statue of Atlas and St. Patrick's Cathedral

Statue of Atlas and St. Patrick's Cathedral

Set the camera to your widest aperture and the ISO to 800 (or even higher if the picture quality looks good) and get out there at night, or indoors in dark scenes and start taking pictures. With a wide aperture, a shutter speed around 1/40th, an ISO of 800 or 1600, and a steady hand, you'll be amazed at what you can capture in very dim lighting. Use it for everything from night photography on the streets to indoor photography at concerts, children’s recitals, birthday parties, weddings, etc. Remember, since there’s no need for flash, this is also great for taking pictures of people that are far away where the flash wouldn't reach, such as on a stage.

Third, D-SLRs allow manual control of the shutter speed, enabling long-exposure photography. Most point-and-shoots except for a few of the advanced models do not allow control of the shutter speed. Using long shutter speeds on your D-SLR can be one of the best ways to produce stunning images with loads of impact and movement.

Colosseum, Rome

Colosseum, Rome

Mount your camera on a tripod or rest it on something steady, and set the shutter speed to anywhere from 1/4 second to 30+ seconds depending on what you're photographing. You can use either Shutter Priority (Tv) or Manual (M) mode. Try 1/4 second for moving people in a busy place to show the “hustle and bustle”, or 30 seconds for cars and traffic, to capture light trails at night.

Wall Street, NYC

Wall Street, NYC

A shutter speed of a few seconds is great for capturing the glistening lights of a city skyline.

South Street Seaport, NYC

South Street Seaport, NYC

Use your camera’s Bulb mode and a remote control and you can take photos that last several minutes and show the stars streaking across the sky! Using long exposures is also one of the ways that photographers can capture photos of lightning striking during a storm. For all shots, it's important to use the camera's 10-second self timer or a remote control to trigger the shutter, because touching the shutter button will blur the shot.

Fourth, capture high-speed action. D-SLRs are very fast in two ways: (1) There is very little lag between when you press the shutter and when the photo is taken and (2) The shutter speeds can be very fast, such as 1/4000th of a second, allowing you to freeze action and capture images that you can't even see with the human eye.

Sunrise, Mexico

Sunrise, Mexico

Use this for capturing an athlete mid-air diving for a ball, bicycle riders racing down a mountain, raindrops splashing in a puddle, or birds swooping down to land on a lake. Find anything that moves very fast and see if you can freeze its movement. Use either Shutter Priority (Tv) or Manual (M) mode to set the shutter speed.

Fifth, use wide-angle lenses. Most compact cameras have a widest angle of about 28mm, with the occasional compact going to 24mm. By contrast, D-SLRs can go as wide as 15 or 16mm with fairly common lenses, and even wider with specialty lenses. While this may not sound like a lot in terms of millimeters, it is actually much wider and produces photos that are very different and often extremely dramatic.

Eiffel Tower, Paris

Eiffel Tower, Paris

If your D-SLR has an APS-C size sensor, a lens that goes to around 10mm will be ultra-wide. If you're using a full-frame camera, a lens around 16mm will be ultra-wide. Capture wide sweeping views of a landscape, or get every person at the family reunion in the photo, even in a small room.

By using wide apertures to blur the background, high ISOs for low-light photography, very long or very fast shutter speeds for motion, and wide-angle lenses, you will immediately start taking photos that set you apart from the crowd.

One last comment -- I love compact point-and-shoot cameras and I use them all the time. I even have a few of them for different types of photography. They're perfect for carrying with you wherever you go, and they enable you to capture images that you otherwise might have missed. Today's compacts also have fantastic picture quality. There is a time and a place for everything, and using your existing compact camera along with your D-SLR for more dramatic images will give you the greatest amount of photographic possibilities.

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

Share this Tutorial with friends:
Share

Copyright 2009, 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

Share this Tutorial with friends:
Share

Copyright 2009, Paul Timpa

http://www.timpaphotography.com/

14May/10Off

Photography Trainer iPhone app Teaches You Photography

Paul Timpa Photography is proud to announce the launch of the Photography Trainer iPhone app, a training tool on your iPhone or iPod Touch that teaches you photography when you need it most -- when you're out with your D-SLR and taking pictures! [Now available for Android too!]

The app doesn’t require an internet connection, so it’s perfect for vacations and holidays too – learn photography no matter where you are in the world, whether it’s during a beautiful sunset on the beach or while you’re on a mountain top.

You’ll learn how to capture images with impact and creativity by understanding shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and how they all work together. Learn night and low-light photography, sports, wildlife, portraits, architecture, and landscape photography. You'll always have an expert with you in your pocket, there to help you take spectacular photos.

To get the app, search on "Photography Trainer" on your iPhone, iPod Touch, or Android phone or:

Click here to download Photography Trainer from iTunes

Click here to download Photography Trainer for Android

The app has three sections designed to help you:

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Photography Trainer iPhone app

The Interactive Photography Trainer asks you questions about the lighting you’re in, what types of subjects you’re photographing (waterfalls, sports, city skylines, etc.) and then it guides you on how to set the camera. Most importantly, not only does it instruct you on the best settings to use, it tells you *why* to use them so that you actually learn photography in the process of using the app.

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Photography Trainer iPhone app

The Photo Gallery with Camera Settings contains dozens of professional photographs, each with detailed camera settings for shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, so you can see how the settings work together in real-life examples.

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Photography Trainer iPhone app

The In-Depth Techniques section has photography tutorials that go into further detail on topics such as:

* Getting razor-sharp photos
* HDR Photography
* Night photography
* Sports, Action, and Wildlife
* Composition
…and more…

Take your photography to the next level with the Photography Trainer and learn when you’re out with your camera – it’s the best time.

To download:

Search for "Photography Trainer" in the app store on your iPhone / iPod Touch, or the Android Market on your Android phone. You can also download from the web:

Click here to download Photography Trainer from iTunes

Click here to download Photography Trainer for Android

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/PhotographyTrainer

Best regards,
Paul

Copyright 2009, Paul Timpa

http://www.timpaphotography.com/

Share/Bookmark

Colosseum, Rome

Colosseum, Rome

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona

Tahiti

Tahiti

South Street Seaport, New York City

South Street Seaport, New York City

6Jul/09Off

Camera Lens Filters for Photography

Waterfall, Costa Rica

Waterfall, Costa Rica

In this article we’re going to talk about the world of lens filters, and I’m not referring to the types of filters you see in Photoshop, but the “real deal” glass ones you screw on your lens.  In this day and age with all you can do in post-processing on the computer, many photographers wonder if there is still a need for filters.  I can assure you, there is…

The good news is that there are really only two kinds of filters you “need” to know about.  Once you understand them, how they work, and what they’re used for, those two kinds will cover 90% of your filter needs.  They are the Polarizer and the Neutral Density filter.  Toward the end of this article, I’ll briefly touch upon some of the other kinds of filters too.

Firstly, what is a filter?  It’s just a piece of glass that you attach to your lens that has various effects on the picture you’re taking.  They can help with making colors brighter, or cutting out haze on hazy days, fixing bright skies, etc.  One quick note – I say “glass” here, but they’re not always actual glass – sometimes they’re high-grade plastic or some other material, but for our purposes, we’ll just call it glass…

So before we talk about all the ways to physically attach a filter and how to actually “use” them, let’s jump right in and talk about the magic that is the polarizer.  A good polarizer may be the most important filter you buy, and is usually the first.  It’s important for two reasons -- #1, polarizers can have a dramatic effect on your photos that can make them look much better and #2, they are one of the only filters that cannot easily be replicated in Photoshop or with software. 

So what exactly does a polarizer do?  Rather than get into the all the scientific details about how light works, let’s just say that polarizers help eliminate reflected light, and that has various beneficial effects on your photos.  Some of the beneficial effects include:
- Making blue skies a deeper shade of blue; this makes clouds really pop
- Enhancing colors, especially of foliage / leaves
- Removing reflections on water, allowing you to see through the water
- Removing reflections on glass, allowing you to see through glass
- Cutting out haze

If you’ve ever seen one of those landscapes with an incredibly rich, deep blue sky and puffy white clouds, you can almost bet a polarizer was used.  Polarizers are also used (especially by me!) on turquoise Caribbean-style water.  Looking at the water without a polarizer, you’ll see a white sheen of reflected light on the surface, and probably not much else.  It is doubtful you’d be able to see anything underwater.  Look through a polarizer and prepare to be amazed.  The sheen on the surface completely disappears and suddenly you can see completely through the surface down into the ocean.  It’s literally like putting X-Ray glasses on.  Suddenly fish, coral, and even the ocean floor becomes visible, when before without the polarizer you could see nothing.  This is precisely the effect that could never be replicated in Photoshop.  If you took a photo without a polarizer and now have a picture of a white sheen on the ocean, there’s nothing you can do after-the-fact in Photoshop to suddenly “see down through the water”.  Your “x-ray vision” is only available while you’re on-the-scene. 

 

The same principle applies to reflections in glass.  If you’re in NYC at Christmastime taking pictures of the displays in the store windows, with no polarizer on, you’re going to wind up with shots of glass reflecting thirty other onlookers looking at the display, and your photo may not even show what’s behind the window.  Put a polarizer on, and the reflections of the people disappear, and you see straight through the glass.

In a less intuitive way, this is also why foliage and other items look better and more colorful with a polarizer.  Leaves can be very reflective.  Without a polarizer, you’re photographing lots of white reflected light (think of the sheen on the ocean).  Put on a polarizer and you see through that reflected light, straight through to the leaf’s natural color.

So how do you use a polarizer?  Easy, attach it to your lens (described in more detail later) and look through the viewfinder to see its effect.  Polarizers are designed to be able to rotate while attached to the lens.  Rotating it varies the effect.  You can just experiment by rotating it to see how much effect it produces.  For blue skies, the amount it affects your photo (if at all) depends on where the sun is located.  Basically it works best if the sun is directly to your side (left or right) and somewhat lower in the sky.  This also happens to be when most landscapers take their pictures anyway.  Polarizers have less (or no) effect when the sun is directly overhead, or directly in front of or behind you.  For ocean shots, again it’s best on an angle.  I usually try to aim at a 45 degree angle or so to the water.  Shooting straight down on water with a polarizer will probably have little effect.  But again, how many times would you be shooting straight down on water?  For oceans, as with foliage, glass, or anything else, just experiment by moving around and rotating the filter until it produces the desired effect.  Once you start taking pictures with a polarizer, you’ll wind up always wanting to have one with you.  They can be indispensable in enhancing your photos.

I mentioned that there were two main categories of filters that you’ll mainly use.  The first is the polarizer.  The second is the Neutral Density filter.  Unlike the polarizer, which is really just one filter, Neutral Density filters (or “ND” for short) are a “category” of filters.  You’ll buy a few of them, each having a different (but similar purpose).  So what is an ND filter?  Real easy:  it’s basically just a pair of sunglasses for your lens.  Yep, an ND filter is just a piece of glass with a gray coating on it that blocks some of the light, just like sunglasses.  So why would you want to use one?  There are three main reasons:
- You want to use a long shutter speed but it’s too bright out
- You want to use a wide-aperture but it’s too bright out
- A portion of the scene is too bright but the rest is normal, so you want to darken just the really bright part

Let’s take these scenarios one-by-one.  The first reason you’d want to use an ND filter is because you want a long shutter speed but it’s too bright out.  We’ve all seen the photo of the waterfall with the beautifully blurred, silky water.  This is achieved by using a long shutter speed, sometimes several seconds long.  Even with a small aperture such as F22, if you try to take a two-second exposure during the day, it’s going to be overexposed and way too bright.  Solution?  ND filter.  With an ND filter over your lens, it lets in less light, and you can use a long shutter speed without overexposing the photo.  How much light does an ND filter block?  Each ND filter you can buy tells you how many “stops” of light it will block.  A one-stop ND filter will block one-stop of light…meaning you can double your shutter speed once.  For example, if using no filter at all, the longest shutter speed you can achieve is one second without overexposing, attaching a one-stop ND filter will allow you to use a shutter speed of two seconds without overexposing.  A two-stop ND filter allows you to double the shutter speed twice.  So in our previous example, you’d be able to use a shutter speed of four seconds.  (1 second doubled is 2 seconds (first stop) and 2 seconds doubled is 4 seconds (second stop)).  A three-stop ND filter allows you to double your shutter speed three times.  Using our previous example, you could shoot for eight seconds.  They generally come in those three levels.  I personally use the 3-stop version (I figure I can always open the aperture to let a little more light in, but if I buy one that’s not dark enough, there’s nothing you can do at that point).

The second scenario, wanting to use a wide aperture in bright conditions, is very similar to the one above.  If you’re trying to blur the background by using a wide-open aperture, and it’s bright outside, it may be too bright for even your fastest shutter speed.  For example, at F1.8 during the day, you may go all the way to 1/4000th of a second for a correct exposure.  If it’s still too bright out, there’s nothing you can do with the camera, if that’s the fastest shutter speed your camera allows.  Use an ND filter to cut down the light.  A 3-stop ND filter will bring your shutter speed from 1/4000th to 1/500th.  (4000 to 2000, to 1000, to 500 is three stops).

The third category is one of the most important, and is probably the category where ND filters are used most frequently.  If you’re photographing a scene that has one portion that is really bright but other areas of the scene are dark or normal, you can use an ND filter to even-up the lighting.  For those of you who have read my article on HDR, you may remember that cameras are not great at taking pictures of scenes that have both really bright and really dark areas.  Generally, you have to pick just one area to focus your attention on, and the other area will just come out too bright (or dark), and you just have to live with it.  ND filters fix this problem.  How?  It’s pretty simple.  You use a special ND filter that is a piece of glass where only half of it has the gray coating – the other half is clear.  This is called a Graduated ND filter, ND Grad, or just Grad.  You attach the grad to your lens in such a way that the dark part of the filter covers the bright part of the scene, and the clear part covers the normal part.  Thus, it darkens just the bright part.  A classic example is the sunset.  When the sun is setting, the sky is usually much brighter than the land.  If you’re taking a landscape picture at sunset and you set your camera so that the sky is properly exposed, the land will be too dark.  If you set your camera to expose the land properly, the sky will be too bright.  Using an ND Grad, you can place the dark part of the filter over just the sky, leaving the clear part over the land.  Now you can take the picture and both areas will be properly exposed.

Sunset, Costa Rica

Sunset, Costa Rica

Like regular ND filters, ND Grads also come in a few versions, generally ranging from one to three stops.  They also come in two styles – hard edge and soft edge.  The soft-edge filters have a smoother transition from the clear area to the dark area of the filter, so you can’t really see the dividing line.  The hard-edge filters have a more abrupt transition and are useful when you know you can put the transition line right on the horizon.  I personally use the soft-edge, three-stop version.  “Conversationally”, it’s a 3-stop soft-edge ND grad.

Some might say that software solutions such as HDR make graduated ND filters unnecessary.  While there are some occasions where this may be the case, there are other times when an ND filter is the only real option.  For instance, for any scene where there are moving objects, it is much more difficult to take an HDR image because the objects will have moved from frame to frame, and when you composite the multiple images there will be alignment problems that have to be solved.  With graduated ND filters, there is no issue, since you’re only taking a single shot.  The other primary advantage of using filters is time.  It takes a considerable amount of time to create HDR images, especially ones that look natural.  When using filters, you’re capturing the image with the all of the  highlight and shadow detail from the start.  That being said, for scenes with complex highlight / shadow ranges like nighttime cityscapes, HDR is still a great option.

Let’s talk about how to physically attach and use these filters.

There are two main types of filters – screw-in filters and “filter systems”.

Screw-in filters are the easiest to use.  They’re circular pieces of glass that fit the size of lens you own.  They have little threads on them (like a screw) and you just screw them onto the front of your lens when you want to use it.  They come in various sizes to match all sizes of lenses.  If you have multiple lenses of varying sizes, you have two options: you can either buy a separate screw-in filter for each lens you own, or you can buy one filter that matches the largest lens you own (by large, I mean the lens with the largest diameter at the front of the lens), and then buy little “adapter rings” that let you put that filter on smaller lenses.  These rings are called step-up / step-down rings depending on what you need.  The advantage of using the adapter rings is that you only have to buy one filter, which is much cheaper than buying multiple filters.  The only real disadvantage of using adapter rings is that with wide angle lenses, the rings make the filter thicker, and you may get vignetting (vignetting is a darkening around the edges of the picture, sometimes due to the lens itself, sometimes due to the edges of a filter being visible in the frame).  Polarizers can often be used as a screw-in filter.


The other type of filter is a filter that belongs to a “filter system”.  A filter system allows for much more flexibility.  It consists of three main parts, a filter holder, adapter rings, and the filter itself.  Let’s talk about each.  A filter used in a filter system is just a plain piece of glass that is not attached to anything.  Holding it in your hand, it just looks like you cut out a square piece of window and are holding it raw in your hand.  By itself, it’s not really useful since there is no way to attach it to your lens.  That’s where the filter holder comes in.  A filter holder is a rectangular piece of plastic with little fitted slots that you slide the filters into, and it holds them tight and in place.  Sometimes a filter holder has multiple slots so you can stack filters on top of each other for various effects.  Finally, are the adapter rings.  An adapter ring is just a small inexpensive metal screw-in ring that you buy in the size(s) of your lenses.  The filter holder is made to easily attach to all the different sizes of adapter rings.  So you just buy a few inexpensive adapter rings for the lenses you own, and now the filter holder will fit all your lenses.  Since all the filters you own fit in the filter holder, you can now attach any filter to all your lenses.  There are several advantages to the filter system.  First, purely from a cost perspective, this is an economical solution.  You buy one filter holder, one filter for any kind of filter you need, and a few inexpensive adapter rings, and you’re all set.  Any filter can attach to all your lenses and you don’t have to buy multiple versions of the same filter to fit all your lenses.  Because the filter holders can be made relatively thin and wide, and the glass filters can be wide, these filters can be used on wide-angle lenses without worrying about vignetting.  Most importantly, filter systems are necessary for using ND Grad filters.  You can’t really use a screw-in ND Grad (although they do make them).  The reason is because when you are using an ND grad, you need to physically position the transition-line (where it goes from light to dark) in the right spot for your picture.  So if you’re taking a picture of a sunset, and the top 2/3rds of the pictures is a gorgeous sky, and the bottom 1/3rd is the ocean, you need to position the transition line right where the sky meets the ocean.  With a screw-in filter, there is no way to move the dividing line once the filter is screwed on.  With a filter system, you can slide the filter up and down in its holder to position the transition line right over the horizon.  The filter holder also rotates so you can have the transition line on an angle.

The only real disadvantage to a filter system is that for the most part they work best on a tripod, so you can’t be very mobile when you have them attached.  This is because the filter holder is designed to rotate (so you can adjust polarization or the transition line of ND grads, etc), and if you handhold the camera it has a tendency to rotate on you.  More importantly, if you move abruptly, it’s possible that the filter may slide out of its holder and fall to the ground.  Screw in filters allow for more flexibility with handholding the camera.

There are countless other types of filters as well.  There are filters that can enhance certain colors, filters that create soft-focus effects, some that create small 8-point stars over bright light sources (I use this once in a while), the list goes on and on.  I don’t normally rely solely on the use of these other types of filters too much because many of these effects can be replicated using software.  I’d rather have the “original” unfiltered version so that I can apply the effects after-the-fact and decide if I like it or not, or how much of the effect to apply.  On the other hand, since I’m also a fan of capturing the scene as much as I can “in-camera” without having to use software, if I have the time I will take two shots, one with the filter attached and one without.

Even in today’s digital age, there is still a need for traditional photography equipment like filters.  With all the software in the world, it’s still not possible to replicate the effects of a polarizer or ND filter during post-processing.  The use of these types of filters will certainly help to take your photography to the next level.

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.

Best,
Paul

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

Paul Timpa Photography's Facebook Page

Paul offers 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/

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