Photo Tips and Techniques

Everyday Photo Tips for Better Photography

How To Photograph Fireworks

A staple of any  celebration worth its while is the big fireworks display at the end. If you would like to capture the magic of the night, I’ve compiled some tips for you. Photographing fireworks is really fun and, if you’ve never done it, enormously satisfying. For many amateurs it falls into the “Wow, I didn’t know I could do that!” category—well, you can. And fireworks pictures are a wonderful exercise in manual photography—manual focus and manual exposure are the only way to go. (Don’t tell anyone, but it’s actually not the only way to go … some cameras have a Fireworks setting built right in – I write about that in my blog about “Making the most of your camera’s Fireworks function“) Here’s the idea. Fireworks are actually very bright and they evolve over time—usually a few seconds. So you want your shutter to be open for a relatively long time—probably 2 to 4 seconds. In the world of photography, that’s a long, long time. Long shutter speeds and bright subject matter add up to a low ISO number. ISO 100 or 200 should work fine. Yes, you’re shooting in the dark, but the fireworks are really bright. Don’t be fooled into thinking you need a high ISO number. A long shutter speed means if you want to take tack sharp pictures you’re going to need a tripod. If you don’t use a tripod you’re going to get slightly out-of-focus, mushy images that the impressionist painters would have loved, but I can practically guarantee you will like the sharp tripod versions better. If you don’t have a tripod,... read more

How to Photograph a Parade

Parades are not among newspaper photographers favorite assignments. Like kids playing in sprinklers on a hot day and fireworks on the Fourth of July, parades fall into the seen-one-seen-them-all category.  And based on my personal experience I tend to agree; I’ve taken very few photographs of parades that I really love. On the other hand, when people you love are featured in the parade photographs—whether they’re marching in the band or running out into the street to pick up Hershey kisses and bubble gum—you have pictures that capture a special time in someone’s life and a piece of our country’s texture. So for better or for worse, here are some things I’ve learned about photographing parades—in no particular order: Pray for a cloudy day. Virtually all outdoor events that happen in the middle of the day are going to look better if the light is soft and flattering. Midday sun is an uphill battle for all photographers. Join the club. Get to the parade early and find a spot with a simple background.  Good photography is made of simple building blocks and a great place to start is with a simple background. The early bird gets the simple backgrounds. If you find that spot in the shade you have found the Holy Grail of parade photography. Use a telephoto lens if you have one. It’s helpful in so many ways; it puts backgrounds out of focus, it helps you zoom in on parade details, and faces of people you love marching in the parade will be bigger in your pictures. Photograph the people you love from directly across the... read more

How To Photograph Flowers (Part 2/2)

Our photographic celebration of life itself continues with Part Two of How to Photograph Flowers.  If you missed Part One, you can find it here. Again, I’ve used many of the photographs you folks posted on our Facebook page as examples – thank you for your talents and inspiration!   11. KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN FOR CREATURES The symbiotic relationship between plants and animals is downright spiritual. But if you think photographing flowers by themselves can be difficult then wait until you ask a snail or even worse, a hummingbird to stick around for a few more frames.   12. CLOSE YOUR APERTURE (MORE THAN YOU THINK) The closer you get to a flower the more shallow your depth of field becomes. In other words, if you fill the frame of the flower head and you focus on the tip of one petal, the rest of the flower may be more out of focus than you would like. Generally, for most non-flower subjects, I always tell people to use the largest aperture they have if they want to put the background out of focus and having the background out of focus in your flower photographs can be wonderful. But when you get that close to a subject you may still be able to use F8 or F11 and have an out of focus background. Experimentation is required, but photographing flowers is a great way to come to grips with how f-stops and focal length and distance to subject all do their little dance and create out of focus or not so out of focus backgrounds.   13. USING AN... read more

How To Photograph Flowers (Part 1/2)

We’re proud to present a two part series of HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH FLOWERS photo tips. Many of the pictures were taken by people just like you.  They love photography and they love flowers and they were willing to get their knees dirty. That’s pretty much all it takes. (Part Two is available by clicking here)   1.  UNDERSTAND THE TWO DIFFERENT KINDS OF FLOWER PHOTOS First, there are the kind that celebrate nature all by itself. And then, there are flower photographs that include a human element. Both of them are valid and both of them can be extraordinarily powerful and beautiful. Flowers alone can feel like a celebration of life itself. When you include something in your photographs that’s man-made, there’s a hint of a relationship happening— and a wonderful relationship it is. Should I include a human element or not? It’s a personal, creative decision. There’s no right or wrong here—it’s just something to keep in mind. It’s two different feelings.   2. WATCH YOUR BACKGROUNDS This is practically the most important flower photo tip. You have to keep your eyes on the background—all the time; it will steal the show if you let it. Perhaps the easiest way to deal with a distracting background is to put it out of focus. There are a few ways to do that. Getting closer to the flower will put the background more out of focus. Using a larger aperture or a longer lens will also help. Knowing how to combine all three is what you need to master. (That’s what my Going Manual Course is all about). But make no... read more

Photographing Grandparents

Any visit with grandparents is an opportunity to add to the family photographic record— especially if they don’t live nearby. It’s not always easy or convenient to gather multiple generations in one spot—you can meet resistance at both ends of the age spectrum—but as the maker and keeper of family images it’s practically mandatory and always worth whatever it takes. Maybe these thoughts will help and inspire you. A picture of one child with all four of his grandparents (like the one of my family above) is practically the gold standard for grandparent photography—and not because I took the picture. It was literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and, I’m sad to say, is not going to happen again. If you’re lucky enough to be with all of the grandparents in one spot (it happens at weddings and graduations), try to pose each individual grandchild with the four family leaders. They will love you forever for taking the time.   FORMAL PORTRAITS AND CANDID SHOTS ARE IMPORTANT Yes, of course, shoot as many group shots as you can. Four generations of women are represented in this treasure by Cathy Rawl Edwards. But as with all group shots, when you tell the subjects you’re finished shooting, keep your eyes open. Those quiet, casual moments after the photo shoot, when people let their guard down, will often provide you with your favorite pictures as Cathy’s wide shot near the parking lot proves.   MAKE TIME FOR ONE-ON-ONE PHOTOS Any child lucky enough to spend one on one time with a favorite grandparent will treasure those pictures for a lifetime, whether they are  spontaneous... read more

Family Group Shots: What to Wear

Family portraits are pictures of people and faces and not pictures of clothes—this is not a fashion shoot. If the clothes dominate the picture then I think it’s going in the wrong direction. I think clothes in the official family picture need to be simple, elegant and timeless. They should not call attention to themselves. I could probably do weeks of photo tips about what to wear in photos—and I just may do some of that later. But the quick answer I always give when people ask what they should wear in the picture is this: Solids are good / bright colors are usually good No prints No plaids No printed words No fancy collars No solid whites Minimal solid blacks And no bell bottoms (I just say that to see in they’re listening) Most of these rules apply to color and black and white, by the way. Santa hats are OK for the Christmas card, I suppose. Seasonal sweaters make everything look, well, seasonal. I’m not crazy about the entire family wearing the official family sweater of the year but that’s a matter of personal taste. You would think you don’t have to tell people with reasonably good taste that their kids shouldn’t wear tie-dye or camouflage in the family Christmas photo but I’ve had to reject both. If I’m going to someone’s house to take a family portrait it’s not unusual for me to end up at their closet as they show me the possibilities. I think that cuts through a lot of back and forth and trying on outfits that aren’t quite right. If you just... read more

Finding Beautiful Light

Beautiful, soft portrait lighting is all around us if you know how to look for it. Scout your house and neighborhood for a place that has this gorgeous light and you’ll be ready to shoot spontaneous headshots that have a classic, professional look. By that I mean a place that has beautiful, flattering light and a simple, neutral background. Then, when you spontaneously want to shoot a simple headshot or small group you don’t have to flounder around wondering where in your house you can go–you’ve figured that out long in advance. It’s often next to a large window or an open door. It could be your garage. The soft light of a covered porch is a thing of beauty. I recently made this recommendation on my Facebook page. One of the fans commented back that she had found her “happy light” place. The photograph she attached proved that her discovery was aptly named. I loved the description. It works on so many levels. If you have a place you can confidently take photo subjects knowing that both of you are going to love the finished product, you can spend more time relating to the subject and less time dealing with a lamp in the background sticking out of someones’s head. And it’s very likely that there are locations within walking distance of where you live that can serve the same purpose. What you’re looking for is a place that’s out of the sun and the rain with open-air sides to let the light in. In the city, a neighborhood commuter train station could be your photo studio away... read more

A Simple Headshot

Whenever I address the intricacies of the simple headshot, I start with this graphic.  I used my wireless lighting kit—that’s one little portable flash, an umbrella and a light stand. Today I’d just like you to consider many of the things that go into a simple black and white portrait. It’s probably more than you would think. I’ve more than scratched the surface here, but there’s so much more, too. Lighting the human face is an art and requires not just technique, but... read more

Telling Stories with Details

Learning to recognize the details that tell stories when you are out there in the real world is an acquired skill. It’s actually one of the great benefits of being a photographer. It changes the way you see everything. We are surrounded with symbols and objects that are begging for us to point our cameras in their direction.   KEEP IT SIMPLE For whatever reason, Teddy has decided to mismatch his socks. There’s practically no way you can keep detail photographs simple enough. I did my very best to reduce it to the basic elements. I tried to find an appropriately bold color for the background to accent the shoes and socks. Notice there are no other clothes in the photograph. Skin, socks, shoes, grass, concrete— I couldn’t find anything else to eliminate. If I could have I would have.   PHOTOGRAPH THE FACE The human body is a never-ending source of wonderful detail shots and what could be more wonderful than a smile. If you photograph someone’s entire face it’s a portrait. If you get in close at the appropriate moment it’s a detail of pure joy.   PHOTOGRAPH THE HOLIDAY DETAILS   Holidays are always loaded with symbolic details. The elegant curved line of a pumpkin lid is iconic. And we don’t need to see Harry Potter’s face to know that he has worked his magic on this special night. Notice the nice touch of the glasses. Even I recognized them.   SURPRISE YOUR VIEWER There’s almost always a story behind details that seem out of context. Pink shoelaces in the rough-and-tumble sport of hockey?  The very... read more

Photographing Water

Beautiful light makes just about everything look good, but when you mix it with some water it’s almost hard to miss. Hopefully, you’ll find yourself bathed in both of them sometime soon. If you and your camera both get a little bit wet, don’t worry, it’s going to be alright. If I had to choose one lens for the beach it would probably be a telephoto. A long lens compresses your view of your swimmers, surfers and the waves. The trick is to stand back from your subject, zoom in as far as you can, and enjoy the sunshine and your camera. Then just let the action happen. They won’t be able to hear you yelling directions over the sound of the waves from that distance anyway.    LOOK FOR REFLECTIONS You won’t find reflections that look like this in the middle of the day when the sun is overhead, but you certainly will when the sun is low in the sky. As hard as it is to imagine, you may not even notice them when they’re happening, So keep your eyes open. Sure, when a reflection is photographed as beautifully as it is in this version by Missy Shew Johnson, it’s obvious, but trust me, this situation is more easy to overlook than you would think.   TRY A DRAMATIC SHOT There’s a formula for this picture and it doesn’t come along all that often. You need dramatic backlighting—that usually happens at the end of the day—and a nice dark background to let those water drops pop. Then, you want the fastest shutter speed you can get your... read more

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