Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Capture a Day in a Single Image

Looking for an incredible way to capture a favorite location or view? What about putting together a collage of all the changes in light and weather across a single day? This post will explore how best to go about creating a memorable single-day image like the one below.

(An aside: if you missed them, you can check out my shots from this week's eclipse on Facebook: .)
Photograph a Day in a Single Image | Boost Your Photography

Preparing for the Day

The first step is to choose an appropriate composition. Think about a location that will be impacted by both the rising and setting sun and one that will highlight the various transitions of the sun and sky throughout the day. You also want to choose a location that is easily accessible for you. The more times that you can visit and photograph the location through the day, the more options (and more potential slices) you will have to choose from.

As far as equipment, I strongly recommend using a tripod for these type of shots. A tripod will allow you to set up in approximately the same location and height each time, which will make it significantly easier to create the final merged image. (Read here How to Maximize Your Tripod.)

When I shot the series of photographs for the cityscape, above, I used the "high-tech" method of laying down a series of 'x marks the spot' sticks at the exact location of each leg of my tripod. Since I was shooting in a city park, this seemed like an easy and unobtrusive way of knowing exactly where to put my tripod each time I came back to shoot during the day.

Three Photographs for a Single Day | Boost Your Photography
Be creative with your location choices. The morning fog (left) inspired this three-image version.

Don't have a tripod? Just mark where you stood and then shoot from eye level. The series of three shots above were done free-hand using my point-and-shoot camera.

How to Photograph a Series of Day Shots

Once you have your location chosen, you will want to stake out a good day to take the photographs. Watch the weather, and find a day that will fit well with your schedule. Days with some cloud cover are ideal, as clouds add an extra dynamic to landscape shots. You want to arrive on location and set up before or during sunrise to get the earliest shots for your series. Consider using a program like The Photographer's Ephemeris to plot out exact sunrise and sunset times and locations.

The settings you use will ultimately depend on your scene and situation. I knew that with these landscape-style shots I wanted to maximize the depth of field. Because I was using a tripod for all shots, it also did not matter how long the shutter speed needed to be. So, I chose to shoot the majority of these shots in Aperture Priority Mode (A or Av) at f/22 and ISO 100. I also shot using Exposure Compensation and bracketing at plus-and-minus one stop in order to get a range of lighter and darker versions of each composition. (Questions about any of those settings? Read more about Aperture and the F/Stop Conundrum or All about Exposure or Troubleshooting Your Exposure.) The forest series was shot with my point-and-shoot using Program mode at ISO 100 and letting the camera choose the settings.

As mentioned already, I used a series of sticks to mark out the exact location of my tripod, so that I could be sure of shooting the same composition each time. After shooting the wide view of the scene (as used for the opening image), I also zoomed in and shot a 9-shot panorama version of the scene, to capture greater detail and record more pixels for potential larger prints.

Each individual photograph is also available for purchase.

Return as many times as possible during the day to photograph your scene. As it gets towards evening, plan on staying around and capturing the sunset, twilight, and evening shots all together. There is only about twenty minutes of elapsed time between the last two shots of my cityscape, for example. (Switch to Tungsten white balance for your deep evening shots to really accentuate the blues.)

Post-Processing: Creating the Collage

The final step is choosing your series of favorite shots and assembling the collage. The instructions below rely on Adobe Photoshop, but other collage programs or apps could also work.

First, select the entire series of photographs that you are planning to use, and copy and paste them into the same file. Then, select all of the photographs and choose the Edit -> Auto Align Layers option. I use the Auto setting. This will align all of the photographs together, eliminating any differences from your aim, composition, etc.

Auto-Aligning Layers in Photoshop | Boost Your Photography
Auto-Aligning the Layers will leave gaps along the edges where individual images do not overlap.

Use the crop tool to create your final composition. (Generally, aligning the layers will mean that there are now some gaps along the edges of certain images.) Think about the aspect ratio of your final shot before you crop: do you want to keep it as a 4x6 or an 8x10 or widescreen? (Read more about Aspect Ratio: Know Before You Crop.) For the version shown, I cropped to a 2:3 aspect ratio (4x6) but also did another version with a widescreen (1:2.35) aspect ratio.

Now you need to decide which portion of which picture to use as part of the final composition. Use guides to divide your composition into equal slices (or not, if you prefer). Then, click to select the top-most layer. Go to Layer -> Layer Mask -> Reveal All. This will add an all-white layer mask next to this layer. Now, use the select tool to select the sections of this image that you do not want to show.

The selected portion of the image will have a black layer mask added to hide it from view.
Click to select the layer mask, and then use the paint bucket tool to paint the selection black. This will hide that portion of the image from view. Repeat this process of adding a layer mask and selecting only the desired section of each of the images. Then you will have your final image - a collage across the day including a slice for each photograph!

Using Layers to Create Composition Image | Boost Your Photography
Final composition showing Layers Palette with black and white layer masks.

There you have it!  What will you photograph and create?  Share a link in the comments below!

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Eclipse Tonight! and A Year Ago on Boost Your Photography

You may have heard that tonight (April 14th or the early morning of April 15th) is an opportunity to watch and photograph a full lunar eclipse! I have only been successful once in capturing an eclipse and am hoping the weather cooperates tonight (ha!) for another.

Please click on the image above for more details and versions of the figure in different time zones.
Photo reused via Creative Commons license from

If you are interested, here are a few more useful links to get you prepared:
  • Tips for Photographing the Lunar Eclipse - this article and video will answer all your questions about the specifics of tonight's particular eclipse as well as provide some useful shooting advice and settings suggestions
  • How to Photograph a Lunar Eclipse - straight-forward and detailed, this article provides suggestions for the exact settings to try for successful eclipse photographs
Also, if you missed it, I had another guest post this week on Digital Photography School:

And now back to our regularly scheduled "A Year Ago on Boost Your Photography..."


  • Capture the Seasons: Rephotography. With Spring finally arriving, now is a great time to think about starting a seasonal series. This post offers useful suggestions for choosing an ideal location and making the commitment to return during the course of the year.

  • Macro and Close-Up Photography: Tips and Tricks. This is the fourth and final article in my guest post series on Photokonnexion. It includes an overview of suggestions for depth of field, shooting macro with and without a tripod, and how to combine various methods to achieve super close-in photographic results.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Teaching Kids Photography: Shooting Modes, Focus, and Exposure

Photography is a great hobby to share with kids, and the ever-increasing accessibility of point-and-shoot cameras and camera phones makes this even easier. This is the first article in an occasional series about Teaching Kids Photography. (You might even learn something new yourself!)

Teaching Photography: where to start?

Last semester, I ran a monthly Photography Club for upper elementary and middle school students. Many of the students had never really been given an opportunity to use a digital camera and were excited to learn. The biggest question in my mind, of course, was where to start?

I knew that one of my goals was to help teach them how to control their cameras and to get the kind of shots they envisioned. So, I decided to start with a brief overview of the commonly available shooting modes, so that they could immediately move beyond Auto and exert some measure of control over their camera.

Common Shooting Modes

Students either brought in a phone or camera from home or shared some of the few point-and-shoot cameras provided by myself and the school, so everyone had different menus and options to choose from. With that in mind, I only introduced some of the more common shooting modes that are widely available on digital cameras.

Photographing started right from the start. Here, a student captured me in motion, discussion shooting modes.

Below is an easier-to-read version of the slide that I was showing, detailing some of the most common shooting modes available on point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras.

Examples of Shooting Modes in Photography | Boost Your Photography

Macro and portrait modes were by-far the most popular. Later on, some kids chose to explore some of the more unusual shooting modes and effects, like taking pictures in 'toy camera' mode to make everything look small and dollhouse-like or fisheye-type effects. By understanding what mode to choose for a given photography situation, the kids were better-able to capture the kinds of shots they wanted.

Toy Camera Effect on the nearby construction site

Focus and Exposure

My other main lesson for our first meeting was the link between focus and exposure with point-and-shoot cameras. With a point-and-shoot camera, when you press the shutter down halfway, the camera locks focus. Pressing the shutter the rest of the way takes the picture. But what I wanted the kids to understand was that pushing the shutter down halfway also locks the exposure or how light or dark the final photograph appears. (For more technical details about exposure, especially with DSLR cameras, read All about Exposure and Troubleshooting Your Exposure.)

For our first experiment, I asked everyone to turn around and point their cameras at the window. Then, holding down the shutter halfway, I asked them to look at how the camera interpreted the scene. The second step was to change the composition slightly so that it included a good section of the wall next to the window and to repeat holding down the shutter. They were amazed at the dramatic differences in light and darks between the two views.

Focus and exposure locked at the center of the image.
Focus and exposure also locked at the center of the image.

This led to a quick discussion of the strategy of "Focus and Recompose." The idea here is that you first decide on the composition you want (say, a view out the window). Then, you hold the shutter halfway down and see if the version in the viewfinder matches how you wanted the scene to look. If not, change the composition slightly, depress the shutter halfway, and then move the camera back to the original composition. Even without knowing anything else about exposure or camera settings, the kids were easily able to control and manipulate the desired lightness and darkness in their photographs.

Photography Exploration

The most important part of any photography lesson, however, is the application. After the initial lesson and discussion described above, we took a forty-five minute slow-moving walking tour outside on the playground and nature trail. I hung back to answer questions, and the kids were free to explore and photograph whatever inspired them. The following are just a few small samples of their creativity during our first meeting. (I have deliberately left out identifiable photographs of the students themselves, so just imagine an additional quantity of portrait-style and "I'm taking a photo of you taking a photo of me!"-style shots here too.)

Close-up photograph of a milkweed pod
Exploring patterns from beneath the play equipment
An effort to capture the motion of jumping
Blur from intentional camera movement using a slower shutter speed
Shooting shadows with attitude

Conclusion: Teaching Kids Photography

There are endless different ways to teach children photography and to nurture a love of photographing and exploring the world around them. Since I was working with older kids (10-14 year olds), it made sense to start with some of the technical controls before letting them loose to explore. With younger children, you might want to focus more on just the idea of focus or on holding the camera still when shooting.

Where did you start with teaching children about photography? Share a tip or advice in the comments below!

Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is now available from Amazon. Get the most out of your camera with practical advice about the technical and creative aspects of DSLR photography that will have you taking beautiful pictures right away.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

GorillaPod Tripod Review

A recent re-posting of my earlier tripod article, Maximize Your Tripod, generated a lot of interest from readers who were not familiar with the GorillaPod line of flexible travel tripods. To that end, I thought it might be useful to provide a more in-depth review of the GorillaPod and some of the common scenarios for which it can prove quite useful.

GorillaPod Tripod Review | Boost Your Photography

What is a GorillaPod?

The GorillaPod is a line of tripods made by Joby that are constructed with flexible legs of multiple ball-shaped units that can be moved and manipulated in a variety of ways. There are several different varieties, so you want to be sure that you purchase one rated for your particular camera.

Joby GorillaPod GP3 Tripod Review | Boost Your Photography

The Joby GorillaPod original comes in several different colors and is rated for point-and-shoot cameras. The Joby GorillaPod grip tight has an adjustable grip stand to hold cell phones. The Joby GP3 GorillaPod is rated for DSLR cameras and is also available in a GP3 version with adjustable ball head. I have the basic version, which is what you will see pictured in the setup photographs, but I am strongly considering purchasing the adjustable ball head as an add-on (but more on why later). The heavier and bulkier Joby GP3 GorillaPod can also be used with point-and-shoot cameras, but I would not risk using a heavy DSLR camera on the lighter original version.

Portability and Ease of Use

The GorillaPod is very portable and easy to use. You simply screw the tripod into the tripod mount at the bottom of your camera. I find it easiest to hold my camera tightly upside-down and quickly rotate the GorillaPod around until it tightens. Because I generally wear my camera slung over one shoulder, I often leave the GorillaPod attached when moving from shot to shot, and it just hangs down underneath the camera. When not attached, even the larger Joby GP3 (at less than 10 inches long) fits easily into even a mid-range sized purse. (Add 2-3 inches for the version with the ball head.)

GorillaPod Tripod Review | Boost Your Photography

The legs are very easy to bend and manipulate, but at the same time, I have found that they are also quite solid and stable once you have finished adjusting them. You can pull the three legs apart and use the GorillaPod like a traditional tripod. You can use them to bend and wrap around something to hold the camera up or even suspended. You can even bend them down to nearly flat and allow you to aim and position your camera from down near ground level.

Compare GorillaPod and Full-Size Tripod | Boost Your Photography

The ability to set up your camera down near ground level is one of the most useful features of the GorillaPod. With a standard tripod, you are often limited in how low you can set up, as most heavy-duty full-scale tripods have a center pole that limits the minimum height of the tripod. The GorillaPod allows you to keep your camera close to the ground but also gives you the precision to adjust your aim and angle, which you don't have if you simply place your camera on the ground. This low viewpoint can give your photographs a unique perspective.

Joby GorilladPod Tripod Review | Boost Your Photography

My main complaint with my current GorillaPod, the Joby GP3, is that it is difficult to make minor adjustments to the position of the camera, such as those required to keep the camera perfectly level. Crooked horizons can frustrate any photographer, and they can be a particular problem with the GorillaPod (especially if you are shooting low at ground level and don't want to have to lie on your side to see through your viewfinder). This is where the adjustable ball head with level would come in extremely handy, as it would give you more minute precision and allow you to easily see whether your camera was aimed level.

GorillaPod Example Shots

These two photographs were taken from the same location, but the top version was shot from the minimum height of my full-scale tripod, and the bottom version was shot using the GorillaPod near ground level. I really like the wide-angle feel that the GorillaPod shot gives with the inclusion of the decking and the added context to the shot.

Motion Blur Merry-Go-Round Selfie Taken with GorillaPod | Boost Your Photography

This is my all-time favorite scenario for a GorillaPod and one of my all-time favorite selfies (it's even featured on my About page). Here, I used my GorillaPod to secure my camera onto the far pole of the merry-go-round. Then, I set the camera for a 10-second timer delay and had it shoot a series of six photographs at a time. All I had to do were choose my settings, set the focus, hit the shutter button, and start running!  Once I mentally had counted down to about 8, I jumped onto the merry-go-round and tried to keep smiling until the camera was done shooting the whole series.

GorillaPod Merry-Go-Round Setup | Boost Your Photography

Joby GorillaPod Conclusion

Overall, I strongly recommend the Joby line of GorillaPods. They are a fantastic option for a travel tripod, as even the heavy-duty versions are fairly small and portable, especially when compared to a full-scale tripod, and you can easily fit one in a purse, backpack, or camera case. If you have been looking for a tripod and are not sure that you want to make the jump to a full-size one, the GorillaPod is a great option. The flexible nature allows you to use it in a variety of common (and uncommon) situations, and it can really make a strong impact on your photography.

Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is now available from Amazon. Get the most out of your camera with practical advice about the technical and creative aspects of DSLR photography that will have you taking beautiful pictures right away.

Monday, April 7, 2014

5 Must-Read Articles on Food Photography

A well-done food photograph can make you stop in your tracks, drool a little bit, and immediately want to head out to the nearest restaurant or grocery store. This post is a collection of five must-read articles on how to dramatically improve your own food photography and ensure delicious-looking, drool-inducing images every time.

Styling and Props

Styling and Props: How to Find Your Style 

The first article, Styling and Props: how to find your style, comes from the blog What's for Lunch, Honey? a food blog based in Germany. Every image in this article has an incredible sense of style and tells an immediate and engaging story. The article itself is packed full of tips about how to find and decide upon accessories and lighting to create your own style and tell a unique story with your food photographs. I love her tips about picking up individual pieces of antique silverware and the stress on color combinations and coordinating your overall look.

Finding Props for Food Photography

The second article, Finding Props for Food Photography, is a guest post on Gourmande in the Kitchen by Naomi Robinson of Baker's Royale. Here, she deconstructs specific food photographs and explains where she obtained all of the background and accessory pieces, including example keywords for you to use when searching for similar items. A great resource for seeking out unique and inexpensive items to really add that punch to your food photographs.

Food Photography Set-Up and Lighting

Food Photography: a few of my tips and tricks 

This post, Food Photography: a few of my tips and tricks, comes from the food blog, Katie's Cucina. What I appreciate about this post is her inclusion of set-up shots of her food photographs, including how she uses a light tent to create amazing shots that look straight-out-of-the-kitchen. (As a bonus, it looks like the same light tent, the Square Perfect SP500, that I own, love, and have reviewed previously.) This behind-the-scenes peek offers a detailed look into how a great food photograph comes together, and she offers useful advice about composition and storytelling.

Composition and How To

Quick Tips to Improve Your Food Photography | Boost Your Photography

My own contribution to the conversation about food photography is the post, Thankful ... for Food Photography, which first appeared on the blog around Thanksgiving. The post includes details and examples for the heading topics of use natural light, watch the background, get in close, accessorize, go wide (aperture), and tell a story. Each topic includes an explanation and one or more example images to illustrate the point, which makes it easy to immediate take and apply these suggestions to your own food photographs.

Post-Processing Walk Through

Blueberries and a Basic Food Photography Post-Processing Tutorial

Now that you have planned, composed, and captured the perfect food photograph, you might want to do some additional primping and tweaking. If so, then this final post, Blueberries and a Basic Food Photography Post-Processing Tutorial is for you. This post from the web site Eyes Bigger Than My Stomach walks you through the workflow from straight out of camera (SOOC) original to final, finished product using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. This is an excellent 'how to' resource for those looking to use post-processing to do even more with their food photographs.

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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Looking for Feedback

As part of reaching our One Year Blogoversary milestone, I am continuously working to improve and meet your needs for photography advice and inspiration. I have put together a short (8 question) survey to gather your feedback about Boost Your Photography and seek input about future directions and posts. Please consider taking a few minutes of your time to share your thoughts. Click here to take the survey. Thanks!

Not interested in surveys? You can always leave feedback and advice in the comments or connect with Boost Your Photography through various social media outlets.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Make the Shot: Droplet Refraction

Keeping our theme of macro and droplet photography (Make the Shot: Water on CD), today's post gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the classic water droplet multiplicity shot.

Make the Shot: Droplet Refraction | Boost Your Photography

How to Shoot a Multidroplet Shot

You only need a few basic supplies to replicate a shot like the one above.

  • A piece of glass or glass dishware (I used the glass from a photo frame for an 8x10.)
  • Water spray bottle or eyedropper
  • Plastic wrap
  • Supports to hold up the glass (I used four pint glasses.)
  • Colorful patterned paper or fabrics (You can even use an image on your tablet.)
  • Tripod recommended (Read How to Maximize Your Tripod here.)
The setup, as shown below, is straightforward. Find a spot with a lot of natural light (preferable, but you can also try with indoor lighting too). Place the pint glasses far enough apart that you can easily slide your patterned paper, fabrics, or tablet underneath. Wrap to top of your glass or glass dishware with a piece of plastic wrap. (The plastic wrap will help the water bead up on the surface. Water sprayed on glass alone is more likely to simply run off and smear.)

Setup for Droplet Refraction | Boost Your Photography

Use the water spray bottle to cover the plastic-wrapped glass in beads of water. Spray using a fine mist setting. The longer you spray, the more the water will conglomerate and the bigger and bigger your droplets will be. The goal is to have an even collection of similar-sized droplets. (Alternatively, you could mix your water with a little glycerin to increase the surface tension. And/or you could use an eye dropper to carefully place evenly-spaced and sized drops.)

One you have your droplets looking the way you want them, you can lay out your first background pattern piece underneath the glass. (Wait until after you are done spraying to do this part, otherwise your paper will end up soaked.) Then, set up your tripod, if using. You will want to position your camera above the glass with the lens of the camera parallel to the glass. This will ensure even focus across as many droplets as possible. Consider using a close-up lens, extension tubesreverse ring mount adapter, or a macro lens to get an even closer-in shot of the droplets.

Unfocused Droplet Refraction | Boost Your Photography

You will need to shoot with a fairly narrow aperture (like f/14 or f/22) in order to get the entire droplet in focus from top to bottom. The photograph above was shot at the wide aperture of f/2.5, which has a very thin depth of field. In this shot, it is clear that only the top of the droplet is in focus. The sides of the droplet, in contrast, are already blurry and out-of-focus.

Make the Shot: Droplet Refraction | Boost Your Photography

This photograph was shot at f/14, which required a shutter speed of 1/3rd of a second. At that slow of a shutter, it is imperative to use a tripod, as any attempt at hand-holding for that long with result in visible camera blur and shake. Even at f/14, you may notice that the smaller droplets are not in focus but that you can clearly see the refracted and distorted views through the top and sides of the larger-sized droplets.

Play around with different shapes and styles of backdrops. 12x12 inch scrapbook paper works really well as a source for patterns, as it is easily obtained, inexpensive, and a large enough size to cover the entire refracted region in the droplets. Both the flowers and shamrocks above were scrapbook paper.

Droplet Refraction of Tablet Image | Boost Your Photography

For this image, I used a photograph of mine shown on a 7 inch tablet. Because of the smaller size of the tablet, compared to the 12-inch paper, you can actually see the edges of tablet and even the nearby window refracted in some of the droplets.

Water Droplet Refraction of a Flower | Boost Your Photography
Water Lily by Canoe photograph refracted in water droplets

You can also use a single image, rather than a repeating design or pattern. In the photograph above, each droplet is refracting a photograph of a single water lily. This was a 5 x 7 inch photograph, and the white edges of the image are visible in some of the droplets.

You can also see how the refracted image is rightside-up to our eyes but that the original photograph is upside-down. Keep in mind that refracted images will be reversed if you are using an image or pattern that has a discernible top and bottom.

What Will You Refract?

Water Droplets Refracting a Rose | Boost Your Photography

The droplet refraction possibilities are endless. What will you refract? Share a link in the comments below!

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