Techniques

Jewelry Photography Tips

Jewelry photography is notoriously tricky,
but is an interesting subject to explore.

There are many reasons why you might want to photograph your jewelry. Perhaps you run a business and need to photograph your products for your website; maybe you have a special heirloom you want to immortalise for posterity; or you might just want to experiment and have some fun.

Whatever your reasons, jewelry photography can be surprisingly difficult – simply placing it on a table and snapping away is likely to result in a series of dull, lifeless, uninspiring photos that doesn’t show your jewelry in its best light.

Taking photos of jewelry requires some careful preparation and the patience to experiment with variations of lighting, positioning, and composition. By doing so, you’ll ensure that your photos come out sharp and stunning.

It’s All About Lighting

I can’t over-stress how important lighting is in jewelry photography. Hard, dark shadows (like those produced by your camera’s flash) can easily overpower the delicacy of the jewelry, distracting your attention away from what really matters. For this reason it’s important to light your jewelry with a soft light, and from all directions.

Fossil1

Diffuse lighting reduces distracting shadows.

The best way to achieve this is by using a light tent. To use it you simply place your jewelry inside, and set up your lighting on the outside. The thin walls allow the light through, but also scatter it, creating a diffused, soft light which lights the jewelry from all directions.

Set Up Your Camera

A tripod is an essential bit of kit for jewelry photography. You will be shooting very close up, and possibly using quite long exposure times. This makes camera shake a real possibility, and blur can easily ruin a jewelry photo.

Pair of gold rings on a dark surface

Use sharp focusing and a narrow depth of field to focus the viewer’s attention.

Focusing – use your camera’s point focusing mode, or better still use full manual focusing. Focus on the most important part of the jewelry, such as the gem on a ring or the face on a watch.

Aperture – the aperture size depends on the effect you want. If you want your jewelry to be completely in focus, use a small aperture. If you want just a part of your jewelry to be sharp, with the rest blurred, use a wider aperture. Experiment with different sizes to see which shows off your jewelry best.

Exposure time – if your camera is in automatic mode, it will try to compensate for the very light background by reducing the exposure time. This will leave you will a dull, grey image. If you have manual mode, use this instead and keep increasing the exposure time until you get a photo with the right colour background. If you are stuck with auto mode, use your camera’s exposure compensation to brighten the scene up.

Post Processing

Jewelry photography calls for absolute perfection and, no matter how carefully you set up your photo,
it is rare to achieve it straight out of the camera. Use a software package like Photoshop to crop your image,
adjust the levels, and sharpen everything up.

Pair of earrings on a reflective black surface

Experiment with creative compositions, and use different backgrounds and surfaces to alter the feel of your shots. Use a small amount of wax or glue to make is stand up. This can be particularly effective for items of jewelry such as broaches or pendants, allowing you to show off their detail in a different way.

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Creepy Crawlies & Their Webs!

Spider webs make for fascinating subjects,
but aren’t always easy to photograph.

Their delicate structure and fascinating shapes are wonderful to look at, and they are covered in interesting details which make great close up studies. It’s amazing just how different each spider web can be when you look at it closely. Combine this with varying surroundings, lighting, and weather conditions and you’ll soon discover that spider web photography offers a huge range of possibilities. Howerver it isn’t always easy – focusing in particular can be difficult, and it can take a bit of searching to find one with enough strands to make a good shot.

When to Shoot

The best time to photograph spider webs is on a still day. Due to their lightness, spider webs can easily get blown around in the wind, leading to problems with focusing and blurry photos. Sit & be patient, wait for the wind to die down.

Early morning tends to be the best time of day to shoot because there generally isn’t much wind. You also get the added bonus
of morning dew adorning your spider web.

If you can’t shoot on a still day, try to find a spider web in a sheltered spot where it won’t feel too much wind, and shoot in between gusts. An umbrella is also a great way to shield the web from the elements.

Choose Your Viewpoint

Look at the spider web from both sides to see if the light catches one side better than the other. Often the web can look entirely different on each side, so be sure to choose the best one!

Close one eye and move your head about to find a plain background behind your spider web. This helps the web to stand out.
Also make sure there are no distracting elements in the background which might draw attention away from the web.

Spider webs are a part of nature, so try to avoid including un-natural, man-made objects in the background, such as cars and buildings. Unless of course your aim is to photograph a spider web in an urban environment.

Set Up Your Equipment

Use a wide aperture to blur the background of your photo and focus the viewer’s attention on the spider web. Be aware that using a wide aperture will give you a narrow depth of field, so you need to be extra careful when focusing.

Use manual focus – auto focus will have a hard time focusing on the fine threads of your web, and will most likely end up focusing right through it to the background. Because of the wide aperture, it’s essential that your focusing is spot on, so take your time.

Use a tripod if at all possible. With such a narrow depth of field you want to minimise camera movement as much as possible,
and a tripod is the best way to do that.

Flash can sometimes enhance the spider web, bringing out details and making it stand out more from the background.
Other times, natural light works best, so experiment with both.

Composition

Zoom in – the most interesting part of a spider web is the centre, so get in close. Don’t try to photograph the entire web
because the threads will be too thin to see clearly.

Place the middle of the web off-centre. This usually creates a more interesting and balanced composition, but sometimes
the symmetry centre positioning can work well too.

Include the spider or a trapped insect to add a focal point to the scene and add additional interest.

Dew-covered spider webs look great – the water droplets thicken the web so that it shows up better, and they also weigh
the web down so that it sways less in the wind.

Have Fun !

Shooting The Moon

Moon photography is harder than it seems. Use these tips to get your lighting, camera settings, and composition spot on.

The Moon can be a tricky to photograph. It’s much brighter than you’d think, making it a challenge to find the right exposure,
and it’s also a lot smaller than it appears, meaning it’s easy to be left with photos of a disappointing dot of light rather than the impressive disc you expected.
A common misconception is that lunar photography is expensive. While it’s true that you can spend thousands on long focal length lenses, it’s also possible to get some fantastic results with the equipment you already own.

The following tips will teach you how to photograph the Moon like a pro, helping you to get great results from your astrophotography regardless of your budget or experience.

Know Your Moon Phases

As the Moon orbits around the Earth, sunlight hits it from different angles, causing a variety of appearances or ‘phases’.

Knowing the phases of the Moon comes in handy when photographing it.

Each phase gives the Moon a different look and feel. A full moon is the brightest, but it looks quite « flat » because the light is hitting it face-on. Gibbous and quarter moons tend to be the most interesting, as the side-lighting produces shadows which bring out the craters and mountains on the Moon’s surface. A crescent moon is the darkest, but can be used to punctuate an otherwise uninspiring night sky.

Shoot at the Right Time of Day

The best time to photograph the Moon is at twilight (just before sunrise or just after sunset), with the moon close to the horizon. At this time of day there’s residual light in the sky, which helps pick out details in the surroundings and add interesting colours
to the sky and clouds. This results in a more atmospheric photo.

Photograph the Moon at twilight for added atmosphere. You’ll find the level of light changing rapidly, so arrive early to give yourself plenty of time to set up and get ready. Different moon phases show up better against different brightnesses of sky,
so keep shooting throughout twilight to give yourself the best chance of getting a killer picture.

Try shooting at night to get a really crisp, clear Moon against a pitch black sky. This is particularly effective when using a long lens to crop in tightly. The moon can also be seen during the day, although it’s not as prominent so is best used to complement some other foreground interest rather than being the main subject itself. It’s a good idea to do a little bit of advanced planning, using a moonrise and moonset calculator to find a day where you’ll get the right moon phase at the right time of day.

Fill the Frame

If you can afford a long telephoto lens, you can get some fantastic, detailed images of the Moon by cropping in on it as tightly as possible. You’ll need to use the longest lens you have available – 300mm is considered minimum, with 800mm or longer preferred to be able to capture the details of the Moon’s surface.

Most digital SLRs have a cropped sensor rather than a full-frame one. This means that your lenses will have a greater effective focal length, allowing you to get away with using a shorter lens. To keep costs down, you can extend the focal length of an existing lens by using 1 or more teleconverters. For example, you could attach two 2x teleconverters to a 200mm lens to give it an effective focal length of 800mm. This will reduce the image quality slightly, but is preferable to enlarging a photo taken with the standard lens.

Include Foreground Interest

If you don’t have the budget to buy a long focal length lens then all is not lost. You can get some great photos of the Moon using pretty much any lens, even ones with a wide angle – you just have to adjust your composition accordingly.

Rather than placing the Moon as the main subject of the photo, include some other objects in the foreground, positioning the Moon in the background to add interest to the scene. Photographing the Moon through blades of grass or rising above silhouetted mountains adds atmosphere and context to the shot, so a shorter focal length needn’t be a handicap.

The drawback to this technique is that it’s often impossible to have both the moon and the scenery well exposed. If in doubt, underexpose – it’s better to have a darker foreground than an overexposed Moon. Alternatively, you can take 2 shots –
one exposed for the Moon and one for the surroundings – and then combine them later in Photoshop.

Reduce Vibrations for Sharpness

Camera shake can be a real problem in moon photography, particularly when using very long lenses. The slightest movement can cause noticeable blurring, ruining your shot. It’s important to minimise vibrations as follows:

Use a tripod – A sturdy, stable tripod is essential. On its own, this will reduce most camera shake, and protect against external sources of vibration such as the wind.

Trigger the shutter remotely – Use a cable or remote release to eliminate the shake caused by pressing the shutter button.
If you don’t own one of these, activate your camera’s self-timer for the same effect.

Use mirror lock-up – Even the movement of your camera’s internal mirror can blur your photo. Mirror lock-up mode (MLU) works by moving the mirror out of the way before you take the shot. If your camera has this setting, turn it on for extra sharpness.

Find the Right Camera Settings

Choosing the correct moon photography settings is critical, and can be one of the hardest things to get right. Because of the variety of shooting conditions, there are no one-size-fits-all camera settings that work in all situations, but there is a process you can follow each time.

Choose settings manually – Your camera’s autoexposure won’t cope with a bright Moon against a dark sky, so switch to full manual mode. Start with an aperture of f/11, your camera’s lowest ISO speed (say ISO 100), and a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second. Use your camera’s autofocus to focus on the moon, then switch to manual focus mode to lock the focusing distance.

Test and improve – Take a test shot and review it on your camera’s LCD screen, zooming right in to check the detail and exposure. Adjust settings accordingly and repeat the process. When using very long lenses, try to keep your shutter speed below 1/2 a second to reduce blur. With wider angles you can get away with longer exposures.

Use exposure bracketing – As an extra backup it’s a good idea to bracket your exposures. This means that even if your camera settings aren’t spot on, you’ll hopefully have at least 1 reasonable photo that can be salvaged in your editing software.

‘Cheat’ with Photoshop

You can use digital editing software to tweak your photos until they look just the way you want them. For example, you can combine multiple images so that the Moon and the surroundings are both perfectly exposed, or even reposition or resize the Moon to get that perfect composition.

Using software to manipulate your photos is controversial but can result in some great images. This is a subject that divides photographers, with purists insisting that photos should have minimal or no digital manipulation. However, even the professionals have been known to ‘fake’ their shots in this way, and there’s no denying it can result in some breathtaking images.

Moon photography is challenging but very rewarding when you finally get that perfect shot. It’s a process that can be learned and improved on, and once you’ve got the hang of it you’ll be able to use it in a number of creative ways, snapping some stunning photos in the process.

Light Painting – Let Your Creativity Flow!

With a long exposure, a simple light source and a pinch of creativity you can create stunning light painting shots with ease.

Painting with light is a fantastic photography technique where you illuminate parts of your scene with a torch or other light,
to add emphasis and colour to certain objects during a long exposure.
It is a very cheap and simple photography technique to try out, although it does take a certain amount of forethought
and experimentation to get your shots just right. This trial and error is half of the fun though, and you will learn a lot just by playing around.
There are two different types of light painting, each of which produces a very different effect. They can both be used to create some striking abstract effects, and are a great way to exercise your creativity.

What You’ll Need

  • Camera – one which allows you to take long exposures, preferably with a ‘bulb mode’ setting.
    Set it to its lowest ISO setting and use manual focusing.
  • Tripod – essential for shake-free images.
  • Light source – either a normal torch or a small bulb depending on which type of painting with light you want to try.
    If you don’t have a small bulb, try unscrewing the top of your torch to reveal the bulb.

Exposure Time

This is difficult to judge, so needs some experimentation. A good starting point is to carry out a trial run, where you start behind your camera and then run around your scene, illuminating the objects as you go. Time how long it takes you to do this, and then use that as a starting point for your exposure time.

If you have a lot of light painting to do, you may find that the illuminated areas come out too faint to make an impact.
To get around this you’ll need to split your scene up into logical areas and take multiple shorter exposures. These can later be combined in a software package like Photoshop. To combine your exposures, stack them on top of each other in separate layers and select « Screen » as the blend mode for each.

Painting with Light – ‘Illumination’ Technique

This technique works well when there’s very little natural light available, and involves using a torch with a wide beam to illuminate large areas of your scene at a time.

Sand sculpture at night

Use a torch to illuminate areas of your scene. Image by William Cho.

Open your shutter and then run around your scene, stopping to shine your torch on the objects or areas that you want illuminated for a few seconds at a time. You might need to take a few exposures to help you judge exactly how long to shine the torch for, but try to give each object in the scene roughly the same illumination time so that they all show up well.

Also remember to stay out of the line of sight of the camera when you’ve got the torch on or you’ll leave a silhouette in front
of the object you’re illuminating.

Painting with Light – ‘Light Streaks’ Technique

For this type of painting with light you’ll need a small bulb such as an LED torch or exposed torch bulb.

This time, rather than shining your light at objects, you want to keep it angled so that it is always visible by the camera.
Keep it moving through your scene and be careful with the speed you move at because that will affect the light’s brightness
in the final image.

You can either run randomly through your scene, weaving an interesting trail as you go, use the light to trace the outline of an object in your scene or just make some fun shapes.

Experimentation is the Key

Whichever painting with light technique you try, it’s very hard to nail settings such as exposure time at the first attempt,
so be prepared to experiment. Digital cameras have made this exceptionally easy because you can review your results within seconds of taking the photo.

As well as experimenting with settings, why not play around in other ways, for example:

  • Try using a combination of the illumination and light streak techniques in one photo.
  • Use a different light source, such as a candle, match or sparkler.
  • Use coloured bulbs and filters to give your light a different glow, perhaps changing colours for different parts of the scene.

Have fun !!

 

How to Photograph Lightning

Lightning photography is pretty tricky, requiring lots of patience and some luck, but it can also be one of the most fun and rewarding subjects to shoot.

Capturing a well exposed, well composed scene filled with interesting lightning bolts is quite demanding. The key to getting good shots is to be well prepared and get the camera’s settings just right. After that it’s a case of being patient and taking enough photos to give yourself a good chance that one or two will hit the mark.

Equipment :

Before heading out in search of a storm, you’ll need the following equipment:

Digital SLR – Compact cameras respond too slowly and don’t give you enough control over their settings,
making a DSLR a must for lightning photography.

Tripod – You’ll be using long exposures (perhaps 30 seconds or more), so some sort of camera support is essential.

Cable/remote release – Pressing the shutter button by hand causes vibrations which can result in a blurry photo.
A cable or remote shutter release will eliminate this problem.

Lens – Lightning can be photographed using almost any focal length lens, but a wide angle zoom (around 28-150mm) gives a good range of possibilities. Make sure the lens has a switch to put it into manual focus mode, as you’ll be using that to lock the focusing at infinity.

Location :

You want to position yourself around 6 to 10 miles away from the storm. Getting closer can be dangerous, and makes it difficult to shoot the lightning effectively. Setting up any further away can lead to the strikes appearing too small or dull in the final photo.


The easiest way to judge how far away you are is to count the time between a lightning bolt and the crack of thunder.
At a distance of 6 miles this time is 30 seconds.

Try to position yourself at right angles to the storm so that it moves across your field of view rather than towards or away from you. This is safer and keeps the storm in view for longer, giving you a better chance of getting some good pictures..

If possible, stay under the cover of a building or overhang.
This will keep you and your equipment dry if you get hit by a sudden downpour.

For safety, don’t stand within 50 feet of any tall objects like trees, overhead cables, or metal poles. Similarly, don’t use an umbrella. If shooting from a distance less than 6 miles, it’s best to do so from within a building or car.

Technique :

A lightning bolt lasts just a fraction of a second, and I used to wonder how photographers and their cameras could react quickly enough to capture them. As it turns out, they can’t. However, each initial strike is closely followed by a series of secondary bolts, and it’s these you capture.

Lightning photography relies a lot on luck, but with persistence and patience you can capture some incredible photos.

Begin by setting up your camera on its tripod and connecting the cable/remote release. Watch the storm for a few minutes and note where most of the activity is taking place, and which direction the storm is moving.

Aim your camera at the point with most lightning bolts, or slightly ahead so that you can follow its movement.
Looking through the viewfinder, choose a focal length that includes the lightning in the frame and which gives a pleasing composition.

Using either automatic or manual focusing, focus on something in the far distance. If your lens is marked with an « infinity » focus distance, you can use that. Once you’re happy with the focusing, switch the lens to manual mode. This will stop the camera trying to adjust the focus distance, and also speed up the camera’s reaction time when you press the shutter button.

Next, you have to be patient. Sit with your finger on the cable release and watch the sky carefully. Press the release as soon as you see a bolt of lightning, and with a bit of luck you’ll capture some of the secondary lightning strikes in your photo.

Photographing Lightning at Night :

Nighttime lightning photography is the easiest type, and the best one to try if you’ve never tried it before.

Lightning is easier to photograph at night, and can produce some really atmospheric photos.

Put your camera into Bulb mode (often marked with a « B »). In this mode, the shutter will stay open for as long as you’ve got your finger on the button/release. Use a low ISO (100-200) and choose an aperture of around f/5.6 to begin with.

When you see a lightning strike, press and hold the release button to open the shutter. Hold your finger down until you’ve seen several bolts flash across the frame, and then release it. When shooting at night there’s much less chance of overexposing,
so you can leave the shutter open for anything up to about 2 minutes. Around 30 seconds usually works well.

Once you’ve got a few shots, check them in detail on your camera’s LCD screen. If they’re too dark try a wider aperture,
longer exposure time, or higher ISO setting. Do the opposite if your shots are too light.

Also look out for blurring caused by the clouds moving across the sky, which is particularly common on windy nights. If ths happens, reduce your exposure time. You may also need to limit your exposure time if you’re shooting near a city, to prevent light pollution ruining the photo.

Daytime Lightning Photography :

Taking pictures of lightning in the day is more difficult than at night, because you also need to make sure that the surrounding environment is well exposed.

Put your camera into shutter priority mode. Select a shutter speed of 1/15 to 1/4 of a second and set the ISO as low as it’ll go (100-200). Take several test shots of the scenery, checking each one and adjusting your shutter speed until the scene is properly exposed.

Bear in mind that the faster the shutter speed, the harder it’ll be to capture the lightning, so you don’t want to increase it too much. Using a polarising or ND filter will reduce the exposure by 1 to 3 stops, allowing you to use a slower shutter speed.

Once you’ve found the right settings to expose your scene properly, follow the same technique as above, waiting for a bolt of lightning and then opening the shutter. The main difference between this and nighttime photography is the much shorter exposure time. This makes capturing a good lightning bolt more of a hit-and-miss affair, but keep persisting and you’ll get one eventually.

Have fun!

Sports/Action Photography Camera settings

Photographing sports and action is all about speed

Action and sports photography is challenging but very exciting. The key to getting good pictures is to set your camera up properly before the event begins, so that when things kick off you can forget about your settings and focus on the action.

The following camera settings are an excellent place to start. They work well in all situations and will help you get sharp,
detailed photos with plenty of atmosphere and interest.

Use a Fast Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is the single most important thing to get right in action photography. If yours isn’t set fast enough then you’ll be left with blurry, disappointing shots that no amount of post-processing will be able to salvage.

 A fast shutter speed is essential to freeze motion.

Start by putting your camera into Shutter Priority mode and choosing a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second.
This is a good starting point and should be fast enough for most sports and action.

If possible, take a few test shots before the main event starts so that you can check how sharp they are. If that’s not possible, periodically check your photos as you go. If you spot any blurring, switch to an even faster shutter speed. You may need to go as high as 1/1000 of a second for really fast sports like motor racing.

Open Your Aperture

To help you reach the high shutter speeds required, you’ll need to open your aperture up nice and wide. If you have a very fast lens (such as the f/2.8 and f/4 lenses that professional sports photographers invest in), then you may be able to get away with coming down from the maximum aperture by a stop or so.

However, if you’re using a cheaper lens with a maximum aperture of f/5.6 or smaller, you’ll need to open your lens up as wide as it will go to let in as much light as possible. This is particularly true when shooting indoors, as the lighting can be poor.

If you’re using a zoom lens it’s tempting to crop in as close as possible on your subject, but your lens’s aperture is narrowest at this end of the zoom range. It’s better to set your lens around the middle of its range as a good compromise between filling the frame and letting in enough light.

An added benefit of using a wide aperture is the shallow depth of field it produces. This blurs any background distractions and focuses your attention firmly on the players, producing an image with more impact and drama.

Increase Your ISO

Because you’re using such a fast shutter speed, your camera might struggle to properly expose the scene even with the aperture fully open. If this is the case then the only thing you can do is increase your ISO speed.

You should use the lowest ISO setting you can get away with, but there will be situations where you’ll have to push it higher than you’d like. This is frustrating but remember – it’s better to have a noisy photo than a blurry one.

Use Burst Mode

By definition, action and sports move quickly, and it can be difficult to keep up. Use your camera’s continuous shooting mode (often called burst mode) to take 4 or 6 shots at a time, giving you a much better chance of capturing a good image.

Bear in mind that shooting in burst mode will fill your memory card much faster than taking individual shots, so make sure yours has plenty of capacity, or take a spare along. If you’re running out of space, use half time or time-outs to delete some of your bad shots.

Shoot in JPEG

You might be surprised to read this piece of advice – after all, for most types of photography it’s generally accepted than shooting in RAW will give you better quality images, and allow you to do more tweaking in your editing software.

However, when photographing sports and action events, speed is more important than anything else. Using JPEG mode lets you to capture more pictures at a time in burst mode, and fit more images onto your memory card.

Admittedly the image quality won’t be quite as good as if you’d shot using RAW, but this is more than compensated for by the increased chances of getting that killer shot.

Perfect Your White Balance

When shooting outdoors, your camera’s automatic white balance will usually do a pretty good job of adjusting to the light. However, many action sports take place indoors under artificial lighting, and this can confuse your camera, producing shots with a noticeable greenish-yellow tint.

Rather than leaving things up to your camera, set your white balance to Fluorescent or Tungsten/Incandescent – take a few test shots before the event begins to check which one looks best. If you’ve got time, you could even set up a custom white balance to make sure your colours come out spot on.

Turn Your Flash Off

For most sports, you won’t be able to get very close to the action – that’s why the professional photographers need such long lenses. Being so far from your subject means that your flash will be practically useless, and will do nothing but drain your battery. Turn it off before you start shooting.

There are some rare circumstances where you can get close enough to the action for your flash to be of some use.
However, the bright bursts can distract players so it’s often better to leave your flash off to be on the safe side.

Tweak Your Focusing

Focusing on fast-moving subjects can be very tricky,
so it’s important to set your camera up to be as responsive and accurate as possible.

Start by switching from multi-point to single-point focusing, and use the focus point at the centre of the frame.
Now, when you compose a shot, your camera will focus on whatever’s in the centre rather than trying to keep everything acceptably sharp.
This is faster and also lets you tell your camera exactly what you want to focus on, rather than letting it guess.

By default, your camera will probably use « one shot » focusing, where you half-press the shutter button to lock the focus.
The problem with this is that your subject can move before you have chance to take the photo. Instead, use Continuous Focusing mode – this continually refocuses to keep the subject sharply focused at all times.

Action photography can be a tricky subject, but these camera settings will increase your chances of snapping some fantastic shots. The principles behind them are easy to apply to any sport, allowing you to quickly adapt and get back to concentrating on taking great photos.

Negative Space ??

Understanding and Using ‘Negative Space’ in Photography

Negative space is the area between and around objects in a photo. Use it to see shapes and sizes more effectively, and produce better composed images. Negative space, which is sometimes referred to as white space, is a concept that’s been used in art, design, architecture, and sculpture for hundreds of years. It’s equally useful in photography, and can be used to turn an average photo into a fantastic one.

Unfortunately it’s something that’s understood by relatively few people, but with a little bit of practice it can help you look at your photos in a new way, transforming your compositions and producing truly amazing results.

What is Negative Space?

Put simply, negative space is the area which surrounds the main subject in your photo which is known as the ‘positive space’.
So in the following example; the balloon in this image forms the positive space while the sky is the negative space.

Negative space defines and emphasises the main subject of a photo, drawing your eye to it. It provides ‘breathing room’,
giving your eyes somewhere to rest and preventing your image from appearing too cluttered with other ‘stuff’.
All of this adds up to a more engaging composition.

When used properly, negative space provides a natural balance against the positive space in a scene.
Getting this balance right is tricky and can be subjective, but it’s something you’ll get better at with time and practice.

How to Use Negative Space in Your Photography

Our brains are full of preconceived ideas about the way objects look, in terms of their size, shape, colour, texture, and so on. Unfortunately these preconceptions distort the way we view a scene, and this can lead to photos which look good in our mind but not so good in reality.

The key to overcoming these problems is to ignore the objects in the scene altogether and instead concentrate on the gaps between and around them. This forces you to pay more attention to your composition, and helps you see shapes and sizes more accurately.

When framing your photo, adjust your composition until the positive and negative spaces in the shot feel well balanced against one another. Be generous with the amount of empty space you leave, and don’t feel you have to cram something interesting into every square inch of the frame.

Something I love to do from time to time is go through my old pictures in Photoshop or Aperture, experimenting with different crops to see how they affect the overall feel of the shot. This is a great way to learn how to use negative space, and it’s amazing how a small change in composition can make a big difference to the effectiveness of a photo.

Woman framed against a train

Mastering the use of negative space takes time. We’re so used to focusing on the main subject in a scene that it can seem strange to treat it almost as an afterthought. However, doing so will make you consider each element in your scene more carefully,
leading to much stronger compositions.

And After All…You’re My WaterFall…

The Secrets of Stunning Waterfall Photography

Waterfalls are elegant, they have movement and an ever-changing character that make them beautiful to capture,
but they do present a number of practical and technical challenges which can make them difficult to shoot.
Follow some simple tips to master the technical and creative sides of photographing this fascinating subject.

Capture Their Motion

One of the most interesting things about waterfalls is the way they move. From the meandering flow of water across rocks
to the splash and spray of a crashing torrent, they’re always full of energy and excitement.

The key to capturing this movement is choosing the best camera settings before you start shooting.
So put your camera into Shutter Priority or Manual mode and set it up as follows.

Shutter Speed

Every waterfall is different, and there’s no single shutter speed to use, but if you want to capture movement in the water
you’ll need to use a slow shutter speed – generally somewhere from 0.3 seconds up to several seconds.
A good rule is to start with a speed of 1 second and take a test shot. Review it on your camera’s LCD screen and adjust until you get the correct level of blurring. Don’t worry if the scene is overexposed, we’ll adjust other settings to compensate for that.

Tripod

With such a low shutter speed you won’t be able to hand-hold your camera. A sturdy tripod is an essential accessory here.

ISO

Set your ISO as low as it will go (around ISO 100). This reduces your camera’s sensitivity, allowing you to use slower shutter speeds without overexposing the scene. It also has the added benefit of reducing the amount of digital noise in your photos.

Aperture

Using your lens’s narrowest aperture will again let you use a longer exposure time.
It will also give you the maximum depth of field, keeping as much of your scene in focus as possible.

Filters

If you still can’t get your camera to go slow enough you’ll need to use some filters to reduce the amount of light that’s being let in. Nature photographers swear by neutral density (ND) filters, which reduce the light without affecting the colours in the scene.
An excellent alternative is a polarising filter. This does the same job as an ND filter but has the added benefits of reducing reflections (for example from water, wet rocks, and leaves) and increasing colour saturation for a more vivid image.

Shoot at the Right Time of Day

Bright sunlight can easily ruin a waterfall photograph. The intense light casts strong shadows across the scene, making it difficult to get your expsosure right. It also causes hundreds of reflections in the water and wet scenery, which will show up as tiny white dots in your shot.

To avoid these problems, shoot around sunrise or sunset when the sun’s light is less intense and more diffuse.
These times of day make it easier to get a more even exposure, and the reduced light means you can use a slow shutter speed more readily. Overcast days produce excellent lighting conditions for the same reasons.

Look for an Unusual Viewpoint

When faced with a waterfall, most people will stand right on the bank of the river, a short way downstream, and point their camera directly at the waterfall, resulting in uninspiring photos that we’ve all seen a thousand times before. Spend some time exploring the surroundings to find a more interesting composition. Try photographing from high above, through trees or bushes, from behind the waterfall, or from just above the stream for a more unusual and creative viewpoint.

Include Scenery or People

For all their beauty,a lot of waterfalls look very similar to one another, and sometimes you get the feeling that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. A great way to overcome this is to include other elements that add interest to the scene.

Foreground rocks, bridges, and interesting plants all help to give your photo context. This gives the viewer a better sense of the place you were in, and allows them to « explore » the scene visually, creating a more engaging shot.
Including people is one of the surest ways to add interest to a photo. Waterfalls are no exception, and a well-placed person will create a focal point that might otherwise be lacking. People are also a great way to give your photo a sense of scale.

Shoot in Landscape

Because waterfalls tend to be tall and thin, most people hold their camera in portrait orientation without even thinking.
Again, this often produces a shot which is just like all the others. Holding your camera in landscape orientation may seem unnatural, but it will force you to take in more of the surroundings and be more creative with the way you frame the scene.

Waterfall photography can be a tricky subject to master. Getting the perfect shot requires patience, a methodical approach,
and a certain amount of experimentation, but the impact of a well-taken waterfall photo more than justifies the time and effort you’ve put in.

15 Super Sharp Tips!

Achieving super sharp images involves doing lots of small things as well as possible.

Achieving a high level of sharpness is one of the keys to a truly eye-catching picture.
Taking sharp photos is all about reducing camera shake to an absolute minimum. There are many different ways you can do this. Some apply to all situations, while others can only be used in certain circumstances, but each one helps reduce the amount of camera shake by a small fraction. The more methods you can use, the sharper your shots will be. These tips can be applied in all situations, and you should bear them in mind at all times, as they can make a big difference to any photograph.

1. Use the Sharpest Aperture

Camera lenses can only achieve their sharpest photos at one particular aperture. Typically 2 to 3 stops down from the widest aperture, putting it around f/8 on most lenses. Your choice of aperture should be based on other considerations first
(such as achieving an acceptable shutter speed and depth of field), but try to stay close to this optimum aperture wherever possible.

2. Switch to Single Point Autofocus

When focusing, most cameras will try to keep as much of the scene acceptably sharp as possible. This is fine when you want to
see detail everywhere, but it does mean that no one object will be super sharp. Single point focus mode. This tells your camera to focus sharply on just one point (typically in the centre of the frame). Before composing your shot, focus by aiming this point at your subject and half pressing the shutter. This will keep the subject as sharp as possible.

3. Lower Your ISO

The higher your ISO speed, the more digital noise you’ll get in your photo. This causes sharp details to appear fuzzy, affecting the overall sharpness of the image. Wherever possible, use your camera’s lowest ISO setting (typically around ISO 100 or 200), as long as it doesn’t negatively affect other settings such as your shutter speed.

4. Use a Better Lens

Good quality lenses make a big difference to the sharpness of your photos, and more expensive lenses are generally sharper than cheap ones. Obviously, changing a lens can be very costly, but think of it as an investment in better photos.

5. Remove Lens Filters

Filters reduce the sharpness of your lens, affecting the final image quality.
When they’re not needed, take them off to improve clarity.

6. Check Sharpness on Your LCD Screen

One of the great advantages of digital over film is that you can examine your photos immediately. After taking a shot, use your camera’s playback feature and zoom in to 100% to check how sharp it is. If you see any blurring, you can reshoot it there and then.

Improving Sharpness with a Tripod

For the ultimate in sharpness (which is, after all, what we’re aiming for) you need to use a tripod,
even if you’re shooting in daylight. As with lenses, good tripods are not cheap, but they’ll transform your photos.

 

7. Make Your Tripod Sturdy

The purpose of a tripod is to hold your camera as still as possible, so you need to make sure yours is nice and sturdy.
Avoid extending the center column and legs of your tripod more than is necessary. The taller you make your tripod, the more it will wobble, and the harder it’ll be to get pin sharp images. If your tripod has a hook underneath, hang something off it to provide extra stability. Many professionals carry an empty « rock bag » that they can fill with stones to give a good, heavy weight which will hold the tripod still even in strong winds.

8. Use a Remote Cable Release

Pressing the shutter button on your camera can cause minute shaking. You’d think this would be too small to make a difference, but it can be noticeable in the final photo. A cable release or remote control is an inexpensive way of avoiding this problem. Alternatively, use your camera’s self-timer – 2 seconds is plenty of time for any vibrations caused by touching the shutter button
to die down.

9. Use Mirror Lock-up

Vibration within the cameras is caused by the mirror in front of the sensor. When you press the shutter button, this mirror flicks up out of the way, and this can cause the camera to move slightly. Mirror lock-up (MLU) holds the mirror in its retracted position,
so that when you take the shot it doesn’t need to move. Most digital SLRs have this feature, and it can make a big difference to how sharp your photos turn out.

Taking Sharper Photos when Hand-holding

Sometimes it’s not possible to use a tripod. For example, you might be in a church where it’s not allowed, or you might be photographing an event where you have to move around quickly and don’t have time to carry and set up a tripod. In these situations you’ll have to hand-hold your camera, but there are still ways to maximise the sharpness of your shots.

10. Find a Makeshift Tripod

We’re surrounded by objects and surfaces that make perfect natural tripods. Resting your camera on a wall, or wedging your lens between the wires of a fence can help provide a bit more stability, holding your camera still and reducing blurring in your photos.

11. Increase Your Shutter Speed

A faster shutter speed is less susceptible to movement, so increase it as far as you can. As a bare minimum you should stick to
the rule of thumb that says to use a shutter speed of at least « 1/focal length ». So for a 100mm lens you’d want to use a speed of 1/100 of a second or faster.

12. Turn Image Stabilisation On

Although vibration reduction systems can cause problems when your camera is mounted on a tripod, they work wonders when you’re holding it. In optimum conditions they can give you as much as 3 extra stops of exposure, which can make the difference between a photo which is blurry and one which is super sharp.

13. Steady Yourself

When hand-holding your camera, the biggest source of vibration and movement is your body, so try to hold it as still as possible. Tuck your arms into your sides or lean up against a wall or tree for some extra support. When shooting, even your breathing can cause tiny movements in the camera, so try to breathe slowly and gently, and press the shutter button in between breaths when you’re relatively still.

14. Squeeze the Shutter Button

When pressing the shutter button, do so as gently as you can. Make sure your finger is in contact with the button to begin with (rather than hovering over it) and gradually squeeze down on it rather than pushing it quickly. Once the button is down,
hold your finger there until the camera has finished taking the shot.

Sharpening Photos in Editing Software

No matter how careful you are to keep vibrations to a minimum while shooting, most photos can still benefit from a bit of sharpening in a graphics program such as Photoshop.

15. Apply an Unsharp Mask

The unsharp mask is the photographer’s favourite tool for improving sharpness. It works by increasing the contrast along the edges in your image, producing better separation between objects and giving the impression of a sharper picture. To apply an unsharp mask in Photoshop, load your image and go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask. Adjust the settings to suit your scene; try starting with values of Amount 100%, Radius 1.5, Threshold 4 and tweaking from there.

Depth Of Field Takes Your Photos To A New Level !

Depth of field can be daunting to get to grips with,
but is actually a very simple concept to understand.

There are many technical aspects to photography which can seem daunting to the beginner photographer, and depth of field is one which causes much confusion. Thankfully, it is actually a very simple concept – the term « depth of field » simply refers to the area of the scene which appears well focused.
It is the product of three factors – the lens aperture, the focal length, and how far away from the camera the subject is positioned.

We’ll have a look at each of these three factors and look at how we can use them to control depth of field, using it to our advantage to isolate our subject or bring everything into sharp focus.

What is Depth of Field?

When we adjust our camera’s lens to focus on a subject it will only achieve perfect focus at one particular distance;
anything in front or behind this point will be blurred to a greater or lesser degree.

Diagram illustrating depth of field

Depth of field refers to the area around the perfect focal distance which appears acceptably sharp.

What Affects Depth of Field?

Depth of field is affected by three main factors:

  • Lens aperture diameter
  • Focal length
  • Distance from the subject

Aperture and Depth of Field

The aperture determines the diameter of the beam of light that the lens admits.
The wider the aperture, the wider the beam of light.
A wider beam is more susceptible to depth of field effects than a narrower beam.

Opening the aperture creates a narrow depth of field.
Using a wider aperture produces a shallower depth of field; using a narrower aperture gives a greater depth of field.

Focal Length and Depth of Field

Focal length is a measure of how much the lens magnifies a scene. The lens also magnifies differences in focus.
A longer focal length magnifies focus differences, resulting in a shallower depth of field.

Focus Distance and Depth of Field

The closer the subject is to the camera, the greater the relative distance from the front to the back of that object.
A high relative distance gives a corresponding reduction in how much of the object appears in focus.

Getting close to the subject narrows the depth of field.

Controlling Depth of Field

To achieve the results you want here’s a simple table with the rules of thumb :

To Increase Depth of Field To Decrease Depth of Field
Narrower aperture Wider aperture
Shorter focal length Longer focal length
Move away from subject Move towards subject
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