Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Top Tips for Better Back to School Photos

As I teacher myself, I am acutely aware of the steadily growing hum of back to school reminders! Now is the time to set aside a little time and think about capturing a series of shots to commemorate this special moment in your child's life. These top tips will help you get the shots you want with a minimum of fuss and effort.

Do Your Homework

Take some time beforehand to plan out the type of shot or shots you want to capture. Nothing ruins a kid's mood and willingness to cooperate than scrambling around during the shoot trying to find something. Assemble any props beforehand and think about the best location, lighting, and timing for your shoot. Schedule your shoot the week before school starts (or earlier) to avoid adding pressure on the actual first day.

Start by celebrating the event and including the year or grade level your child is starting. One quick idea is to make or print a sign specific to your child's grade level. You can create your own or download every year's worth of cute signs from the pin below, just follow the link.

Get your child involved. Ask them to bring together a few of their favorite things, favorite books, or objects that represent hobbies and activities. This post pinned below, Creative Photo Ideas for Back to School, walks you through how the photographer and her children picked out items to represent them for their Back to School shots. Kid cooperation and ownership leads to better smiles and interest when shooting!

Another popular idea is to use PicMonkey, Photoshop, or other post-processing apps or software to add in the grade level or other specific details about your child. Plan ahead for this by leaving a wide area of space around your shot. You could also photograph your child in front of a blank wall or holding a large chalkboard, whiteboard, or even blank poster board.

Or, think beyond the wall and get creative with your post-processing skills. The series of photographs below shows how you can use a collection of book spines and personalize them with information about your child and the new school year. (Not into Photoshop? You could easily duplicate this effect with some good old copy-and-paste here in the real world. Print or draw your own labels and wrap them around books to use when shooting.)

During the Shoot

Once you have everything assembled and ready to go, make sure to choose a good location (available natural light is a big plus). Backyards with continuous shade and leafy backgrounds can work well for more nature-themed shots, while indoors with strong window light and clean backgrounds can work well for indoor shots. Hang a patterned sheet from your curtain rod or pinned up on the wall for an instant backdrop. If you are not familiar with how to utilize window light indoors for portraits, please check out this helpful post below from It's Always Autumn.

Now you are ready to shoot. Have a mental list (or physical list) ready of the types of shots and poses you want to capture. Think about detail shots and close-ups as well as more standard full-body or head shots. (Not sure about posing? Check out these Top Tips for Photography Portraits and Posing for suggestions.) Kid-cooperation is always an uncertain thing, so do not push too hard or try to capture too many different ideas in one go.

Be ready with your settings. If you are a shoot-on-auto kind of shooter, think about trying Portrait mode. If you want to move beyond portrait, shoot in Aperture Priority (Av or A). Choose a wide aperture if you want a blurred background or a middle range aperture to keep your child and a wide range of props in focus. Set focus on the eyes (read Deciding Where to Focus for more details). Watch your shutter speed. With too slow of a shutter speed (like 1/50th or slower) your own movements may add noticeable "shake" to your photographs.

Finally, don't forget to go beyond "Say cheese!" Ask your child questions while shooting, to draw them out and get more natural-looking shots than just posed, canned smiles. Tell some funny jokes or ask them to tell you one. Have them talk about some of their hopes (or fears) about the new school year. Make it quick, make it fun, and make your shots count.

A Final Word of Advice

However you choose to do your child's Back to School photographs, please do not become "that parent." The first day of school while at school is not the time to be indulging your photographic urges. Once your child is at school and ready to start their first day, they need to be free to get down to the business of catching up with friends, meeting their teacher, and focusing in on their first activities and lessons.

Please do not be the parent who demands that their child sit and pose at their desk when they would much rather be meeting new friends. And please do not be the parent who is still in the classroom photographing when class is starting and the teacher is trying to get the year off to a great start. We teachers thank you.

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.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Capturing Motion in Photography

There are so many options for capturing and documenting motion in photography. This post provides an overview of methods for photographing motion with links to a plethora of articles with more details and information. The topic of motion has been broken down into three sub-categories: arresting motion, highlighting motion, and celebrating motion.

Capturing Motion in Photography | Boost Your Photography

(This month for the Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge we are working on popular photography subjects and styles. The week of August 17th will focus on motion. Join the Google+ Community to share your weekly photographs and receive feedback.)

Arresting Motion

One method for dealing with motion in photography is to use a quick shutter speed to make a moving subject appear frozen. This is often the strategy employed when photographing portraits, whether of people, pets, or wild animals. We want to capture the subject frozen in time, without noticeable blur, which can be tricky especially if you are dealing with fast moving pets or constantly-in-motion toddlers.

The post pinned above, Shutter Speed Guidelines, provides a quick-and-easy handout to help you remember what shutter speed to use in such a situation. If you want a quickly moving subject to appear still in your photograph, you want to use a shutter speed equal to or quicker than 1/250th of a second. You can get away with a slightly slower speed (like 1/125 or 1/60) if your subject is moving very slowly, but you may need an even quicker shutter speed (like 1/500) if you have a very quick subject like a cheetah or a car.

The limiting factor in freezing your subject is the amount of available light. Quicker shutter speeds require more light. If you are shooting in Shutter Priority Mode (S or Tv), start by setting your ISO to 100 and your shutter speed to 1/250. Your camera will choose an aperture. If there is not enough light or you do not have a lens with a wide enough aperture, then you may need to raise your ISO to get your shot. (Read more about Aperture and the F/Stop Conundrum or ISO Basics for details.)

Water Drop - Capturing Motion in Photography | Boost Your Photography

The other option is to add additional light to your scene, either by adding continuous light (lamps, for example) or by using a flash (whether on- or off-camera). The shot of the frozen water droplets, above, was shot at ISO 100, f/8, and 1/200th of a second. I wanted to use a mid-range aperture like f/8 to get more of the drop in focus, so I needed to use flash to compensate. You can see the bright reflection of the off-camera flash in the droplet itself.

Arresting motion and making a moving subject appear still is only one way to think about photographing motion. Sometimes you want to capture more of the feeling of motion in the shot, in which case you would want to focus on highlighting motion.

Highlighting Motion

Blur in a photograph is a good indication of motion, and blur can be used for both artistic and practical effects. Blur is often achieved through the use of a slower shutter speed. There are two main types of blur in a photograph: blur caused by a moving subject and blur caused by a moving camera. Let's begin with blur caused by a moving subject.

Cranes in Flight - Capturing Motion in Photography | Boost Your Photography

This photograph of cranes flying overhead was shot during sunset, and there was little available light. The settings were ISO 100, f/6.3, and 1/6th of a second. (F/6.3 was the widest aperture available for that lens zoomed out to the maximum.) Because of the slow shutter speed of 1/6th of a second, the rapidly flying cranes appear blurred through the motion of their wings and flight. This creates a more impressionistic image but one that clearly highlights the feeling of motion, more so than a photograph that captured them all frozen in mid-flight.

Capturing Motion in Photography | Boost Your Photography

This is another example of motion blur caused by a moving subject. Here, I used a tripod to make sure that the camera was stable. The photograph on the left was shot at ISO 100, f/1.8, 1/2th of a second (0.5"), and the photograph on the right was shot at ISO 100, f/1.8, 1/10th of a second while the sculpture was stationary. The blur of the subject contrasts against the stability of the stand holding it. Another great subject for motion blur is waterfalls. Read all about how to create smooth, silky waterfalls in the article Yes, Go Chasing Waterfalls.

You can use light in combination with very slow shutter speeds to create amazing photographs of motion. The post above, Light Painting: How to Spin an Orb, provides step-by-step directions for creating perfect orbs out of inexpensive little LED lights. You can also apply the same techniques to capturing Long Exposure Light Photographs at the Fair or by Spinning Fire with Steel Wool.

The second method for highlighting motion is called panning, where both the subject and the camera are moving. When panning, you want to use a slower shutter speed to highlight the motion, but you move your camera to follow your moving subject. This creates the effect of a static subject surrounded by motion blur of the background. Read the complete details about Panning in Photography here or click on the pin above.

Panning a Moose - Capturing Motion in Photography | Boost Your Photography

For this shot of the moose, I decided to try panning to highlight its lumbering motion. This photograph was shot at ISO 100, f/6.3, and 1/15th of a second. I moved the camera from left to right, keeping the moose in the left-hand side of the frame while the picture was being taken. This resulted in a nearly-still subject (the moose), with his motion conveyed through the blur of the trees and the leaves.

Celebrating Motion

Finally, you can really go all-out in your ability to capture and celebrate motion. These techniques are often grouped together under the term ICM or intentional camera movement (which also includes panning, above). You can read my detailed post about ICM over at Digital Photography School: Creative Reasons to Use Intentional Camera Movement.

Ferris Wheel Zoom Burst - Capturing Motion in Photography | Boost Your Photography

This photograph was taken using a method called a zoom burst, where you zoom your lens in or out while the photograph is taking. This one was shot at ISO 100, f/9, and 4 seconds, using my Tamron 18-270 mm lens, starting wide and zooming in. The spiral effect is created by the Ferris Wheel itself spinning during the shot.

ICM at the Fair - Capturing Motion in Photography | Boost Your Photography

This even more chaotic composition was created by zooming the lens and swinging the whole camera around in a random motion during the shot. The settings were ISO 100, f/22, and 5 seconds. The most fun thing about this technique is how difficult it can be to predict the final results, and you may be quite surprised at the outcome!

Summary: Capturing Motion in Photography

Motion is an inherent part of nearly all photography, and there are many, many techniques available for deciding how to capture motion. Think about what you want to convey about your subject - do you want to freeze a moving subject (arresting motion) or do you want to impart a feeling of motion to a moving subject (highlighting motion)? Perhaps you want to go a little wild and embrace intentional camera movement (celebrating motion). Whatever you choose, why not try something new? Feel free to share an example or advice in the comments below.

(Looking to grow more in your photography? Consider joining the BYP 52 Weeks Google+ Community to share your weekly photograph and see what others are capturing.)

Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is 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, August 13, 2014

A Year Ago on Boost Your Photography


A group of photographers, via Flickr and 365Project, joined together to do a month-long Book Club of Freeman Patterson's Photography and the Art of Seeing.
  • Summer Roundup. A quick look back to all the posts from last summer on Boost Your Photography, all in one place!

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Analyze to Improve Your Landscape Photographs

Landscapes are another classic photography subject, and this post will lay out the basics for quickly improving your landscape photographs by learning how to analyze landscape photographs.

Analyze to Improve Your Landscape Photographs | Boost Your Photography

(This month for the Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge we are working on popular photography subjects and styles. The week of August 10th will focus on landscapes. Join the Google+ Community to share your weekly photographs and receive feedback.)

Landscape Photography Basics: subjects and supplies

"Landscape" is a very general photography term, but most often one imagines a vast natural scene with everything in pin-sharp focus. While there are many different ways to photograph a landscape, this post will focus on this most traditional of approaches.

To begin, you need to find your subject. If you do not have travel plans lined up for an exotic locale or National Park this week, do not despair. Landscapes and vistas can be found in all sorts of places, if you just know how to look. Spend some time thinking about or, better yet, visiting some local parks in your neighborhood, town, or county.

The photograph above was shot at a local conservancy park, which was formerly a working farm. The shot has that vast landscape "feel" even though it only encompasses a single field in area. You do not need miles of visibility to capture a quality landscape shot.

Once you have a location in mind, spend some time planning out your shot. Do you want to shoot at a certain time of day? (The golden hour around sunrise and sunset lends gorgeous colors to landscape shots.) Think about where you want to position yourself to get the best composition. (Read more about the basics of composition in Perspective in Photography: Don't Just Stand There: Move Your Feet.) Many of the same tips from last week's post on sunrise and sunset photographs will also apply, especially watching the clouds and creating foreground interest (Read the details in 5 Easy Tips for Sunrise and Sunset Photographs.)

As for equipment, you will want to start with a wider angle lens (around 18-40 mm) and consider also using a tripod and remote shutter release. Many landscape photographs are shot at narrow apertures to achieve a wide depth of field, and these shots will be more successful with a tripod. (Read more on How to Maximize Your Tripod and about why to upgrade to an Inexpensive Remote Shutter Release.) Finally, consider using one or more filters for your landscape photographs. Circular polarizers and neutral density filters are common in landscape photography. (Get more details in this Introduction to Filters in Photography.)

Example Landscape Photography Analyses

There are many composition rules (well, more like guidelines) that can help you with your landscape photography, and many of these are the same rules we discussed in June for that month's Boost Your Photography 52 Weeks Challenge. (Click on any term to read more about the Rule of Thirds, Leading Lines, Filling the Frame, Orientation, and Using a Frame.) Rather than reiterate each of them again, let's analyze a few example landscape photographs and see what works. Knowing what to look for in a landscape photograph will help you know what to look for when setting up your own landscape shots.

Let's start with a longer look at the sunflower photograph from before. I really wanted to feature the cloud pattern above the sunflowers, so I used the rule of thirds to put the sunflowers in the bottom of the frame and the clouds across the top two-thirds. The vertical orientation adds to the feeling of height in the image and the sky. The sun had risen about a half-an-hour ago, so there is still a bit of the golden hour in the lighting.

The settings for this photograph were ISO 100, f/7.1, and 1/60th, and I used both a tripod and remote. The mid-range aperture keeps the first rows of sunflowers in focus but allows the rest of the background field to blur into bright yellow shapes. This gives an in-focus foreground of sunflowers, a blurred middle ground of the rest of the field of sunflowers, and the background border of the trees. Having each of these three elements helps add depth to the final photograph, even those the actual distance is only a few hundred feet.

Now, this is a landscape image that does rely on a vast view to create interest. Following the Rule of Thirds we find the location of the tiny, tiny people in the bottom left intersection point, contrasting with the largest of the carved structures in the upper right intersection point. This image also has a very clearly defined foreground, middle ground, and background. The rock outcropping at the bottom provides the foreground, providing an anchoring point for us as the viewer. (I was midway up a very large staircase at the time.) The main section of carvings and structures forms the foreground, and the curving road leads the eye through the image towards the mountains in the background. The light is directional, giving shadows to the people and the structures, and still contains a hint of the morning's golden glow.

Because I was traveling without a tripod, this image was captured at ISO 100, f/11, and a shutter speed of 1/125. This gave me a shutter speed quick enough to freeze the motion of the people and to safely handhold. The aperture of f/11 gives a reasonable depth of field, and the majority of the photograph appears in focus.

This is related to a photography concept known as "the hyperfocal distance." While this may sound confusing, the basic idea is that you do not always need to use the narrowest aperture to get the whole of your photograph in focus. If you know the hyperfocal distance for your lens, then you know at what distance you need to set your focal point to keep everything in focus. The chart above provides you with a rough set of guidelines. So, for the photograph above, shot at 20 mm with a crop camera, I needed to focus 6.2 ft away from me at f/11 to have everything from 3 feet to infinity in focus. If you want more details on the hyperfocal distance, click the pin to read the whole article.

Looking for more landscape composition tips and ideas? Check out this pinned post from Digital Photography School:

Analyze to Improve Your Landscape Photographs

Spend some time with a favorite landscape photograph and see if you can apply some of these same types of analyses. Think about what really makes that image stand out for you. Then, see if you can take those same ideas and principles and apply them to your own landscape photography. This is not about "imitating" another photograph or another photographer's style, but it is about learning what works and what you like and figuring out how to capture that for yourself.

Not sure where to start? Here are a few of the ideas we've discussed in this article for analyzing landscape photographs.

  • Think about the composition. Was the photographer using (or breaking) a specific rule or rules of composition? Think about the rule of thirds, leading lines, filling the frame, orientation, using a frame, and more.
  • Think about the foreground, middle ground, and background. Do you notice distinctions between all three in the photograph? How does (or does not) this give the photograph a sense of depth and dimension?
  • Think about the depth of field. Is the whole photograph sharp and in-focus? If so, how does that sharpness draw your eye in or around the image? If not, what do you notice about what the photographer chose to focus on and what is out-of-focus?
  • Think about the light. Can you tell what time of day this photograph was taken? How does the light influence the shadows or the colors of the photograph?
  • Think about the sky. How do the clouds or the colors of the sky work with the rest of the photograph? If the sky is interesting, emphasize it by including more sky in the final photograph. If the sky is less interesting, emphasize the land by including more of it in the final photograph - or compose to eliminate the sky altogether.

(Looking to grow more in your photography? Consider joining the BYP 52 Weeks Google+ Community to share your weekly photograph and see what others are capturing.)

Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is 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, August 6, 2014

Must Have Photography Processing Apps for Android/Apple

This is the second article in our series on Must Have Apps for phone/tablet photography. The first article focused on Camera Apps for Android and Apple, while this article will focus on the next step: apps for post-processing your photographs after you have taken them. (Huge thanks again to Steven, our local phone-photography expert, for his guidance and recommendations. See more of Steven's work here and .)

Must Have Photography Processing Apps for You Android/Apple Phone/Tablet | Boost Your Photography

For ease, I've broken this post-processing post into two sections: general apps for processing photographs (those with a lot of options) and specialized apps for processing photographs (those geared toward doing a specific thing very well). Many of these apps are free but offer in-app purchasing options. Whenever necessary, I have tried to make clear if a feature is only available as an add-on.

Apps for Processing Photographs - general

Snapseed (available free for Android and free iPhones and iPads) is by Nik software who were recently bought by Google who then offered the app for free across platforms. Snapseed offers a wide range of photo processing options ranging from basic corrections (straighten, rotate, crop, etc) to more advanced processing (brightness, ambiance, contrast, saturation, shadows, and warmth) and fun filters (black and white, vintage, HDR, grunge, tilt-shift, frames, and others). You can open photographs already saved on your phone or tablet or take a new picture to work with. (Snapseed is not a camera app but allows you to choose whether to use the default camera or another camera app to take the pictures.)

Snapshot from the entry options in Snapseed

Once you become accustomed to the workflow, Snapseed is a breeze to work with and allows you to fine tune your photographs in any number of ways. Within each processing option you can press on your image and swipe up or down to reveal different options (such as brightness, contrast, and grain within the Black & White option). Once you have selected one, swiping to the left or right decreasing or increases that particular effect. Many conversions also have presets that you can use and compare before choosing a favorite. While working you can always press and hold the "compare" button to see the image without the current effect. Any additional benefit of working with Snapseed is that you are always editing a copy of your original photograph and any changes you make will be saved as a separate image. You can also share images directly from Snapseed to Google+ or other social media apps.

Adobe Photoshop Express (available free for Android and free for iPhones and iPads) is a greatly slimmed down version of the popular post-processing software. Photoshop Express offers both specific processing and editing options as well as packaged "looks" (premium looks can be bought within the app). You can adjust the strength of a given look as well. You can crop, rotate, straighten, and flip your photograph, as well as adjust things like clarity, exposure, contrast, color temperature, and others (noise reduction is an add-on). You can also reduce red eye (options for people and pets), add a variety of frames, and attempt to remove blemishes.

Screen shot of different "looks" in Photoshop Express

The workflow for Photoshop Express is a little more intuitive than Snapseed - each option is adjustable through a slider bar underneath the photograph that can be used to increase or lessen the impact of that particular transformation. Just like with Snapseed, you are always editing a copy of the original photograph, and you can save multiple different edits of the same original image if you wish. You can also save your final images directly from within the app.

PicsArt Photo Studio (available free for Android and free for iPhones and iPads) is a community as well as an app. You can join the community to share work or see amazing examples of photo editing and manipulation accomplished using the PicsArt app, but you can also use the app without signing up for the community. PicsArt does have an ad bar along the bottom.

Screen shot of "Pencil" effect in PicsArt

PicsArt offers basic photo correction options including cropping, selecting, cloning, stretching, resizing, and adjusting curves and color. You can also choose from a wide range of effects in multiple categories (effects, blur, artistic, pop art, paper, distort, colors, and corrections). Once you have applied an effect you can use brushes to adjust how and where that effect is applied. PicsArt also lets you apply a variety of masks, drawings, text, lens flare, stickers, clip art, frames, and borders. The shop offers many more options at various prices. PicsArt also allows you to create collages of up to ten images. You can choose from a pre-arranged grid, frame, or freely size and organize your own images. Spend a little time looking at the Featured Images on PicsArt to get an idea about what the app has to offer.

Photo Studio (available free for Android and free for IPhones and iPads) is a very similarly-named app with some similar options, but Photo Studio has far fewer free options and more in-app purchases than the apps described above. Photo Studio will allow you to crop your image, but the focus is on adding filters, frames, effects, and stickers. You can also add text or sketch on your image. Photo Studio has collage options including picture frames and more free-style collages. This app might be one to skip unless it has a specific effect you simply "must have" (and will most likely pay extra for).

Screen shot in Photo Studio - frames and text added

Apps for Processing Photographs - specialized

Photo Grid Collage Maker (available free for Android and free for iPhone and iPad) is a quick-and-dirty app for making collages. You select the photos that you want, and then you can choose from a range of different layouts, as well as add text, stickers, filters, and background colors. Shaking the app changes the arrangement of the photos within the collage (which can be frustrating if you want a certain picture in a certain place). There are ads within the app as well as in-app purchases. Not a ton of flexibility but great if you need a collage on the go.

Krispy Kreme collage made with Photo Grid on my tablet - yum!

Image Blender (available for $2.99 for iPhone and iPad) or
Image Blender Instafusion (available free for Android phones but not tablets or $1.99 for Pro version) allow you to combine and overlay two images to create interesting effects.

Image Blender allows you to create multiexposure or blended images by combining multiple photographs into one finished image. There are several different colors, textures, and blend modes available, and you can easily adjust the relative proportion of each image when combined. You can also uses masks to selectively show only part of an image, which allows you to create composites as well as blends. You can save your work as well as share it to other social media apps.

Screenshot of Image Blender combining a photograph of a flower with one of a wrinkled  purple paper

Image Blender Instafusion gives you three opening options: blend, effects, and photo booth. With blend, you choose the two photographs that you want to combine, and then you have a wide range of different blend modes to choose from. You can choose images from your phone or take a new photograph. Each blend mode has different options with it as well. In the effects panel you can choose from a variety of different effects and filters to add to your image. The Photo Booth mode lets you apply finishing fixes (filters), add frames, and do basic edits including cropping, rotating, enhancing, and adjusting the brightness and contrast. You can save your work as well as share it to other social media apps. (Fair warning: shown above is the free app for Android, which has an ad bar across the bottom as well as occasional pop-up ads when moving from one option to another.)

InstaSize (available free for Android or $2.99 for ads free (upgrade within the app) and free for iPhone and iPad) is a useful one-trick pony of an app: it allows you to make any photograph into a square suitable for posting to Instagram. After taking or opening a picture, the InstaSize button will add a vertical or horizontal border to center your photograph within a square, or you can create a collage of multiple photographs within the square format. You can then use the Borders button to change the color or add a pattern to the border. You can also use the Layers option to add filters, stickers, overlays, and even text to your image. When finished, you can save or share directly to Instagram and other social media apps. If you are an avid Instagram-er and want to post images without cropping down to a square, it is a useful app to have. (Be sure to follow the links given for Apple, as there are many similarly-named apps.)

Instasize screen shot showing yellow border added to make a square

Summary: Post-Processing Apps

There are many, many post-processing apps available. Start with one of the basic workhorses: Snapseed or Photoshop Express. See what you can do, and see what you might still want to do that these apps might be missing. Then branch out into greater manipulation, collages, texts, etc. with PicsArt or Photo Studio.

If you need a quick collage, use Photo Grid. If you really like the idea of blending images together, then download Image Blender, and if you love your Instagram, then be sure to get InstaSize. You will be amazed at how much you can do with your photographs and your phone! (If you missed it, don't forget to check out the first post in this series Must Have Camera Apps for your Phone/Tablet.)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

5 Easy Tips for Better Sunrise and Sunset Photographs

5 Easy Tips for Better Sunrise and Sunset Photographs | Boost Your Photography

Sunrises and sunsets are a wildly popular subject for photography. This article will teach you a few simple tips that will make a dramatic impact in your sunrise and sunset shots.

(This month for the Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge we are working on popular photography subjects and styles. The week of August 3rd will focus on sunrises and sunsets. Join the Google+ Community to share your weekly photographs and receive feedback.)

Better Sunrise and Sunset Photographs

Tip 1 for Better Sunrise and Sunset Shots: Know When to Shoot | Boost Your Photography
Tip 1: Know When to Shoot

Timing is critical for sunrise and sunset photographs. For best results you want to be in position at least a half an hour to an hour beforehand and stay at least a half an hour to an hour afterwards. Sunlight will continue to strike the clouds and illuminate the sky for some time before the official sunrise and after the official sunset.

Sunrise and sunset times are quite easy to come by, just be sure that you are getting the timing for your specific location and time zone. Time and is a simple-to-use web site where you can search by location and receive sunrise and sunset times (and moon rise and moon set times) for a specific day or an entire month at a glance. The Photographers' Ephemeris is another excellent tool for determining sunrise and sunset times, but that leads us to tip #2 ...

Tip 2: Know Where to Shoot

Knowing when is only half the battle for sunrise and sunset shots. You also want to know where exactly in the sky to expect the sun to rise or set. This is when you will want to consult The Photographers' Ephemeris. The ephemeris is free to download on your computer or laptop, or you can pay to download the app onto your phone or tablet ($4.99 for Android or $8.99 for iPhones and iPads). (*Update: the downloadable version for desktops is being discontinued and replaced with a - still free - web version. Web version pictured below.)

The ephemeris provides you with sunrise, sunset, moon rise, and moon set times in addition to the angles at which each will be in the sky. You plot your location on the map, and then you can see exactly where the sun will line up when it rises, for example. If you want to capture the sun or moon relative to a specific location or landmark, you can move yourself around on the map and find out exactly where you would have to stand. (You can see more examples and specifics in the article Shoot the Moon with the Photographers' Ephemeris.) Try it on your computer, and once you realize you cannot live without it, invest in the app.

Tip 2 for Better Sunrise and Sunset Shots: Know Where to Shoot | Boost Your Photography

Tip 3: Watch the Clouds

The clouds will make or break your sunrise and sunset photographs. Too many clouds, and you will lose your ability to see the sunrise or sunset. Too few clouds, and you are left watching only subtle changes across a blue sky. Clouds often provide much of the drama and excitement in sunrise and sunset photographs. Clouds bounce and reflect the varying light of the sun, adding a wide range of colors and tones to your final image. Clouds create patterns and shapes that add interest and textures. If you want to shoot a better sunrise or sunset shot, you will want to cheer on the clouds.

Tip 3 for Better Sunrise and Sunset Shots: Watch the Clouds | Boost Your Photography
This photo is nothing without these amazing clouds.

Tip 4: Create Foreground Interest

A sunrise or sunset is just a sunrise or sunset unless you provide some additional interest within the frame. If you want to make your sunrise and sunset photographs stand out, then you need to pay attention to your foreground.

Tip 4 for Better Sunrise and Sunset Shots: Create Foreground Interest | Boost Your Photography

The strong, directional light of sunrise and sunset provides a great opportunity to play with silhouettes. Consider subjects with strong, identifiable shapes, like a lone tree, a single person, or a beach umbrella. Get down low to make your foreground objects larger and have more impact, like a large boulder in the sea or the waving blades of grass. Take some time to walk around your scene and experiment with different perspectives to add interest to your photograph. And if you really want to make your sunrise or sunset images pop ...

Tip 4b: Include Some Water

This is really an extension of the idea of foreground interest, but water is a clear winner when shooting sunrise and sunset shots. Ponds, rivers, lakes, or even the ocean create a vast canvas for your sunrise or sunset shots. Still water creates stunning reflections that can double the light and drama of the scene. Even moving water will reflect and bounce around the light, adding interest and color to your photographs.

Tip 4b for Better Sunrise and Sunset Shots: Include Some Water | Boost Your Photography

Larger bodies of water also provide a wide-open canvas for your photograph. Water can eliminate much of the clutter of daily life (telephone wires, that tree that blocks your view, and on and on). You often see a much wider expanse of the sky as well, allowing you more options: from expansive wide-angle shots to narrow, zoomed-in views.

Tip 5: Nail the Exposure

Sunrise and sunset shots are difficult for your camera to accurately choose the exposure, and if you let your camera control exposure you will find that the shots you take do not match the vision or grandeur of the sunrise or sunset you witnessed.

Option 1: Meter off the Blue Sky

You can use a patch of blue sky to "tell" your camera where to set the exposure and then recompose and take your photograph. With a point-and-shoot camera, point your camera at the patch of blue sky and then press and hold the shutter button half-way down. This will lock both the focus and the exposure. Move your camera back to the composition that you want and then push the button the rest of the way down to take the picture. (Read more about this strategy of "focus and recompose" in the article Teaching Kids Photography: shooting modes, focus, and exposure.)

Tip 5 for Better Sunrise and Sunset Shots: Meter off the blue sky | Boost Your Photography

With a DSLR camera, point your camera at the patch of sky and push the AE Lock button. (You may have to enable this button on your camera. Check your manual.) Then recompose for the composition that you wanted and press the shutter. (Read about this strategy more in depth in More on Exposure.)

Option 2: Use Exposure Compensation

If you cannot find a large enough patch of blue sky or you want a more consistent solution, then you should set your exposure compensation. On both point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras, you should have an exposure compensation line graph. (Some phone cameras and apps also have an exposure option.) For sunrises and sunsets, I have found that an exposure compensation of -1 often works well. You can either set your exposure compensation to -1 or use bracketing to shoot a series of shots (like, -1, 0, +1 or better yet, -2, -1, 0) and then choose your favorites later on your computer. An exposure of -1 makes it more likely that darker elements will become black silhouettes and that a bright sky will have more depth and drama. (Read more in the article Explaining Exposure and Exposure Compensation.)

Tip 5 for Better Sunrise and Sunset Shots: Use Exposure Compensation | Boost Your Photography

Sunrise and Sunset Photographs

Of course, as with most photography, the key elements in getting the best sunrise and sunset photographs are time and patience. Make a commitment this week and plan time in your schedule for photographing either a sunrise or sunset. Put all or just a few of these tips into practice, and see what kind of an impact they can make for you!

(Looking to grow more in your photography? Consider joining the BYP 52 Weeks Google+ Community to share your weekly photograph and see what others are capturing.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Must Have Photography Camera Apps for Your Android or iPhone Phone or Tablet

As the cameras on our phones become better and better, more and more photographers are finding that they are taking more if not most of their photographs on their phones instead of their larger cameras. This first in our series of Must Have Photography Apps will focus on camera-based apps for shooting better phone photos. Later articles will cover apps for post-processing and sharing photographs. Major thanks to Steven, our local phone-photography expert, for his guidance and recommendations. See more of Steven's work here and .

Camera Apps

There are many reasons to use a camera-based app instead of the default camera app that came with your phone or tablet. The main benefit to using these apps is that they each offer more options and control when you are shooting.

There are both pros and cons for applying effects while you are shooting instead of after. The biggest pro is that you can actually "see" the effect before you take the picture. This is especially handy if you are using the cropping feature - you can compose your photograph using the aspect ratio that you want rather than taking the picture first and hoping you have enough space to crop to the shape you wanted. The biggest con is that you cannot "undo" a filter after you have taken the photograph. (If you take a shot with a bokeh filter, for example, you cannot remove that filter to get a clean version of the shot.) In general, I recommend shooting a "clean" version of your photograph first and then applying filters and effects after.

Camera Zoom FX (available for Android phones and tablets, free version and $2.99 premium version) was named Favorite Android Camera App by LifeHacker last month. It has adjustable settings for shooting include focus mode, filters, white balance, a night photography mode, stability control*, timer*, voice activated shutter*, burst mode* (multiple shots in a row), and time lapse. (* are premium-only features.) There are also a variety of effects that you can add even before you take the picture, including frames, textures (most*), and bokeh*. You have the ability to choose an aspect ratio and "crop" your image even before shooting, and you can overlay several grid or horizon options for straight or rule of thirds or golden spiral* shooting.

Camera Zoom FX free version, showing Lomo "Cool Bluetone" and "Grungy White" frame effects

You can also take your picture first and use Camera Zoom FX to process and add effects to your photograph afterwards. You have access to all the features mentioned above (frames, cropping, filters, etc.) as well as a wide range of colors, distortion effects, collage options, and basic photograph correcting options including brightness, contrast, and saturation. You can also download additional "goodies" via in-app purchasing. In addition, you can edit photographs stored anywhere on your phone or tablet, not just those taken with the app. Finally, there is a share arrow that allows you to instantly share your photograph through a wide range of social media and other apps.

My recommendation would be to download the free version first, spend some time playing with it, and then upgrade if the premium features appeal to you. (I have the premium version of this app, as the different shooting modes and options come in handy.)

ProCapture (available for Android phones and tablets, free version and $3.99 version) is another flexible app that allows you to take photographs through the app. It has adjustable shooting modes including timer, burst mode, reduced noise, wide shot (stitches 3 images for a wide angle look), and panorama. You can also shoot with color effects added, adjust the white balance and choose a different exposure (plus or minus 2). The premium version includes touch to focus (Android 4.0+), higher resolution images, and eliminates the tiny pop-up adds in the bottom right corner of the free version. If you can ignore the ads, the free version is a good place to start with this app. (I have the free version only, as I have an older device so cannot use the 'touch to focus' option anyway.) You can share photographs directly from the app to other social media apps and accounts. Unlike Camera Zoom FX and Camera+, ProCapture does not offer other post-processing options. If you want to edit your photographs after you take them, you will need to use a dedicated processing app.

ProCapture free version showing ad placement and prominence

Camera+ (available for iPhone for $1.99 and iPad for $4.99) is a top-rated camera app for Apple users. There are 16 different shooting modes available to help you plan your shot, as well as the option to add flash, digital zoom (6x), or superimpose a grid for straight lines or rule of thirds accuracy. You can also use touch exposure and focus to lock exposure and focus separately.

After taking your picture, there are also many post-processing options available in "The Lab", like in Camera Zoom FX. You can adjust white balance, add sharpening, rotate or straighten, crop, fix red eye* (* iPad only), and add many different cool effects including frames, vignettes, and other overlays. There are also several border designs available, and you can type in your own captions. Finally, you can also share photographs directly from the app via email or other social media apps.

Screen Shot of Camera+ (courtesy of Steven) 

AutoStitch (available for free and $1.99 versions for Android phones, $1.99 for iPhone, $2.99 for iPad, not available for Android tablets) allows you to shoot better panorama photographs. While your phone likely comes with a built-in panorama mode, AutoStitch offers a wider variety of options, including the ability to shoot vertical and horizontal panoramas as well as to shoot a combination of the two for an extremely wide final view. Unlike panoramas with your default camera, AutoStitch saves the individual images as well as the stitched panorama. You can also upload photographs taken with another camera or phone and use AutoStitch to stitch them together. (The paid Android version provides larger file sizes up to 20 MB, advanced blending modes, and removes the watermark.)

Tips for stitching: you want your photographs to overlap at least 30% if not 50%. (The Apple version of the app provides a little viewing window of the previous picture to help you align them.) Subjects that are still work the best. Moving subjects, like flowers blowing in the window, often create an effect called "ghosting" where slightly different versions of the same flower from multiple pictures will appear in the final panorama. Take your photographs all the way across your field of view before moving up or down to take the next set. You are much less likely to miss a shot than if you are simply panning all about and shooting.

Screen shot of AutoStitch (free Android version) showing a 21-shot panorama

What Do You Use?

Do you use the default camera app for your phone photographs? Do you have a favorite camera app that we missed? Let us know in the comments! And stay tuned for the next article in this series, when we investigate post-processing apps.