Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Shoot right at night – Tip #5 – Capture movement

When you’re capturing shots with a slow shutter speed of a half a second or more, look out for things that are moving in an interesting way to capture them.

The tail lights of cars moving away from you look great when they are caught as parallel strips of red light.

You can get a similar effect with cars and other traffic which moves perpendicular to you – in this case you will catch both the light from headlights and tail lights as they move across your path.



Helen Bradley

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Shoot right at night – Tip #1 – Get the light

When the sun goes down, a world of different lights opens up and it’s a great time to pull out your camera for some stunning photos. However, before you go out to shoot at night, there are some things to think about that will help you take great shots even when the lighting isn’t ideal.

Today we’re starting a new tip series – shooting right at night and here’s the first tip:

Make light or capture what little there is

At night, there’s obviously less light than there is during the day. So, to get good shots you either have to replace the missing light with a flash, or open up the aperture so more light gets in and slow the shutter speed so the camera gets enough light to register the image. You can also up the ISO – in the next few tips we’ll look at each of these options in more detail and find some great topics for shooting at night.



Helen Bradley

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Understand your camera’s settings – Part 3 – ISO

Image: ISO3200, f5.6, 1/80s – the high ISO gives good sensitivity to light allowing this image to be captured quite fast in a relatively dark NY subway station.

In part 3 of this series on understanding your camera’s manual settings I’ll explain how to combine a choice of ISO settings when varying Aperture and Shutter speed.

In addition to Aperture and Shutter speed you can also configure your camera’s ISO setting. You would do this to adjust for the situation where there is not enough light for a shot or where there is too much light.

ISO is the camera’s sensitivity to light and small ISO values such as 80 and 100 indicate low sensitivity so the camera needs more light to take the photo. High values like 400 and 800 (and even up to 6400 and beyond) increase the camera’s sensitivity to light and can be used when you need more light, for example, where the shutter speed or aperture you want to use can’t give the light you want.

Take care when using very large ISO values as these are susceptible to noise so, using a value of 1600 or more might give you a good exposure but the image may have a lot of digital noise as a result.

Small values like 100 and 200 should show little noise at all.

Image: ISO100 f/4.5 1/500s – in bright summer sunlight, the ISO 100 value reduces sensitivity to light still allowing for a fast shot.

Of course, even excessive amounts of noise are preferable to getting a blurred image because you couldn’t hold the camera steady long enough to take it.

While the Auto setting on your camera will ensure that you get a good photograph most of the time, for creative purposes being able to configure your camera to adjust either the aperture or the shutter speed will give you more and varied options for getting even better images.

Image: ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/15s – At dusk in a NY street, the high ISO gives good light sensitivity and the slow shutter speed allows the cars in the background to be blurred nicely.

Helen Bradley

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Understand your camera’s settings – Part 2 – Shutter Speed

Image: 1/320s, f7.1, ISO 1600

In part 2 of this series on understanding your camera’s settings I’ll explain working in Shutter Priority mode.

Shutter speed can be controlled manually by switching to Tv mode. You can then select the shutter speed yourself so you adjust the time the shutter is open for and the camera will adjust the aperture to give you a good exposure.

How to use shutter speed

Setting shutter speed is a creative tool too. You might choose a fast shutter speed when photographing a moving object and where you want to freeze its motion. The image at the top of this post, for example, was captured at 1/320s.

On the other hand, where you want the water in a waterfall or fountain to appear as a silky stream you would use a long shutter speed. Shutter speeds such as 1/250 of a second will freeze motion and shutter speeds of 1/30 a second or slower are considered to be slow.

This second version of the same fountain was shot at 1/3s at f/25 and the water is much silkier:

When you select shutter speed, your camera will show the aperture so you can preview this – on some cameras you may have to press the shutter release mechanism down halfway to see this.

If the camera doesn’t have a large or small enough aperture for the speed you’ve chosen it will indicate this using some warning system allowing you to adjust your shutter speed setting.

Using a tripod

Take care when selecting slow shutter speeds. Anything slower than 1/60th of a second will make it hard for you to hand hold the camera and keep it steady. If you’re using long lenses on a digital SLR, for example, you may not be able to hand hold the camera successfully at even quite fast shutter speeds.

A good rule of thumb is to use a tripod for shots slower than 1/the focal length of the lens so a 70-200mm lens at full zoom would need a tripod for shutter speeds slower than 1/200th second.

Helen Bradley

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Understand your cameras settings – Part 1 – Aperture

All digital SLRs and many point and shoots can operate in manual or semi-manual modes. If you capture most of your photos using Auto mode it’s time to look at some of the benefits you can get by switching to semi-manual operation.

With these modes you control the aperture or shutter speed and you get a chance to capture more creative photos. So how do you do this and what settings do you use? In this series, I’ll explain your camera’s Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority (Av and Tv) modes and also explain why your ISO setting  is important to understand too.

If your camera can operate in manual mode you’ll have settings such as M, Av, Tv and P on your camera’s dial. The two settings we’ll focus on are Av and Tv where you set the aperture or shutter speed yourself.

What is Aperture?

This begs the question, what is aperture and what is shutter speed? Aperture is, very simply, the size of the hole through which light enters your camera. The larger the hole, the more light gets in.

Aperture is described using an f number which is calculated using a complex formula. A rough rule of thumb is to think of aperture being a fraction so an f number (often called a f-stop) of f/2.8 is bigger than f/22 for example.

Understanding aperture

Aperture not only has a direct relationship to the amount of light let in to the camera, it also affects depth of field. When you use a large aperture such as f/2.8 you will get a small depth of field so only a small distance in front and behind the point of focus in the photograph will be in sharp focus and the remainder of the image will be out of focus.

Depth of field is a creative tool that many photographers use to their advantage. For example, when photographing a beautiful flower, you’ll want the focus to be on the flower and not the things behind it. Using a large aperture such as f/2.8 throws the background out of focus. The photograph at the top of this post is an example of a large aperture and a small depth of field.

On the other hand, using a small aperture such as f/8 or f/11 gives you a large depth of field so everything in the photograph will be in focus – useful when photographing landscapes for example.

The relationship between Aperture and Shutter speed

When you set the aperture using the Av setting on the camera, the camera sets the shutter speed to an appropriate value. This is because there is a direct correlation between aperture and shutter speed.

When you use a small aperture, only a small amount of light comes into the camera so you need to compensate for this by using a slow shutter speed to ensure you capture enough light.

On the flip side, when you use a large aperture such as f/2.8, you get lots of light so the camera will set a fast shutter speed.

When you use Av mode, you’re effectively saying, I’ll set the aperture I want and you – the camera – are to adjust the other settings to give me a good picture. When you are in Av mode, there will be a dial or other option you’ll use to set the desired aperture value.

Helen Bradley

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

Is your camera manual a door stop or a useful reference?

In the first flush of excitement of owning a new digital camera you’re probably like the rest of us and you read the camera manual. Well, you don’t actually read it but you sift through it far enough to find the ‘important bits’ like how to turn it on and how to view your images. You might also learn how to use a few of its settings and then you put it away. As long as you’re taking pretty good photos, is there any reason the manual shouldn’t stay on the shelf? Yes, there are. Your camera manual is chock full of good reasons for getting it down off the shelf. Reading it will show you more about the features it has for improving the quality of your images and for shooting special effects.

Improve image quality
Not all cameras come configured for shooting in the highest quality mode or for saving images with the lowest loss of data. This is because the memory cards which come with most cameras are so small they don’t hold many high quality/low compression images. If you’ve replaced your camera’s card with a better one (and chances are that you have), you will want to take images at the best possible quality. So, check your manual so you understand what quality settings are available and how to configure your camera to use these. Also ensure you’re using the lowest compression mode so that more data is not lost than is absolutely necessary when your photos are saved to the memory card. This is particularly important if you’re using an older camera with a low number of mega pixels – you want to retain as much image data as possible.

Changing ISO
If your camera is capable of some manual operation one of these features might be the ability to alter its ISO equivalency. ISO is a method of rating film’s sensitivity to light. The lower the ISO number the less sensitive the film is and it’s said to be slower film because the shutter must be open longer to make up for this lack of light sensitivity.

At the other end, high numbers indicate a high sensitivity to light and the film is said to be faster. Typically the film (or camera ISO equivalency), you’re most likely to use is in the range 100-400. So why wouldn’t you use ISO 400 all the time? While 400 film is fast and while it can freeze action and is handy where the light is poor, the downside is that the images it produces are grainy. In fact, the higher the ISO number, the more grainy the images are and this is true of film and digital images.

If your camera supports different ISO values – use higher numbers (400), on cloudy days or indoors – you might even find you can do without a flash with this setting. On a bright day, use 100 or 200 to get better results in the bright light.

This photo can be captured with a low ISO as the background is very light. You can also step up the exposure to ensure the subject is well lit even though the sky will be blown out.

White balance
Most cameras have a white balance adjustment which lets you adjust the image for the kind of light you’re shooting in. Sunlight has a different colour to the colour of the light you use when shooting indoors. If you don’t adjust white balance you will find images which you take indoors will have a yellow or a blue cast depending on what type of light source (incandescent or fluorescent) is used. You can adjust for this colour cast by setting your camera’s white balance setting to match the type of light you’re using.

This is one object photographed with a range of white balance settings – choose the one which gives the most desired effect.

Exposure controls
When shooting objects on light backgrounds or people standing in front of very light or back lit backgrounds you may find the object or person is too dark. This is because the camera is taking into account the light background when it’s setting its exposure. Even if your camera has no manual exposure control, you can generally increase or decrease exposure by one or two stops using an Exposure Value adjustment. Increase exposure to lighten the subject (even at the expense of ‘blowing out’ the background) or decrease it to darken the subject if there’s too much light.

From left to right are the central image shot using -2, -1, +1 and +2 exposure value settings.

Other features
There are numerous other features your camera has available and which you may not have realised were there when you purchased it. Look for options such as shooting in black and white or in sepia. In many cases a simple snapshot can take on the look of a work of art when shot in black and white. Look out too for opportunities to shoot in black and white in the early morning (just after sunrise) or when shooting close ups of children or animals.

By selecting the macro setting on your camera you can capture items close up and they will still be crisply in focus with a sophisticated depth of field effect.

Your camera may also offer a slower than usual shutter speed setting. This will require you to use a tripod to ensure the camera is kept steady while you’re shooting. Using a slow shutter speed gives great results at night or in low light situations where a flash doesn’t have the required range. For example use a slow shutter speed for fireworks to get the benefit of the shower of lights coming after the firework has exploded or to capture tail lights from moving vehicles.

Your camera will have a setting for saturation which you can boost to get wonderfully saturated photos like this.

Information on all these options can be gleaned from reading your camera’s manual. At the same time, look out for other options such as the ability to use PAL output format so you can plug your camera into a TV to replay your images on the TV screen. You can also purchase a power adapter for most digital cameras which lets you use mains power to save batteries in some indoor situations.

So, when should you read your camera’s manual? I suggest you read it when you first buy your camera so you’re able to get started using it. A week or two later, revisit the manual – you’ll be ready to learn more about other features at this time. Then, look at it again in about six months, by then you’ll have taken some shots you’re not happy with for one reason or another. You’ll be ready to look at more advanced tools such as white balance or exposure control to see if these would help avoid repeated problems in future.

Helen Bradley