Wednesday, July 31, 2013

August Photography Book Club: week 1

Welcome to the August Photography Book Club and our study of Freeman Patterson's Photography and the Art of Seeing. An overview about the Book Club and the ideas behind it are in this previous post. If you don’t have access to a copy of the book, you can still join in by participating in the exercises and reflections below. If you do have the book, you’ll have a lot more material to draw upon and work with.

For week 1 (August 1-10th), we will focus on the first two sections: Barriers to Seeing and Learning to Observe. Below, I’ve provided a few quotations and exercises that struck me from these sections. (All page numbers refer to the 2011 edition.)

Barriers to Seeing
“The purpose of this book is to help you improve your visual thinking – to observe more accurately, to develop your imagination, and to express a theme or subject more effectively with photographs” (pg. 5).

“Letting go of self is an essential precondition to real seeing … As long as you are worried about whether or not you will be able to make good pictures, or are concerned about enjoying yourself, you are unlikely either to make the best photographs you can or to experience the joy of photography to the fullest” (pg. 7).

In the first section, Patterson provides several photographs taken in or near his home, as well as a description of that “increased sensitivity” feeling one has when returning home and temporarily seeing your familiar space in an unfamiliar light. This week, try to see your home or your everyday surroundings in an unfamiliar way and capture that seeing in your photographs. Or, if you are traveling, capitalize on the unfamiliarity of being in a new place to heighten your awareness.
I was drawn to the pattern and texture of this red chair on my deck, and I particularly liked how this perspective created the slight blurring as your eyes move towards the bottom.  Red Chair by Archaeofrog on Flickr
Learning to Observe
The second section is divided into two main ideas: thinking sideways and relaxed attentiveness. Try one or both of these approaches and share how it impacted your thoughts or photography.

An exercise in thinking sideways: “Draw up a list of some photographic rules; then go out and break them.” So, for example, if you come up with the rule “Always hold your camera steady,” then go out and “Jump up and down in a forest, and press the shutter release as you jump” (pg.27). See how doing something different can teach you something new. Remember that “Your emotional reaction is every bit as important as your rational response” (pg. 28). Or try one of the many other exercises in thinking sideways provided in the book.
While spending time thinking and photographing underneath a pine tree in the yard, I was struck by the patterning of this partially opened pine cone. I decided to try breaking the rule of keeping objects in focus and liked how this blurry view emphasized the patterns. Unfocused Fractal by Archaeofrog on Flickr 
An exercise in relaxed attentiveness: “Set aside a minimum of three one-hour periods this week for making pictures … Assemble your basic photographic equipment … Choose something around your home – inside or outside – that you want to photograph” (pg. 37). For each period, spend the first 15-20 minutes sitting down, relaxing your body, and emptying your mind of everything. Only then should you “get up from the chair, pick up your camera, and start making photographs of the object you selected earlier … Stay relaxed, spend all the time you want observing your subject matter, and make only two or three pictures, if that is all you feel like … Simply enjoy yourself” (pg. 37). If you want to push yourself further, try his additional suggestions of spending time focusing your eyes on different details each time or in trying to see thing as only base shapes.

“You will have more ideas for photographs than you ever dreamed possible, and be itching to reveal your new awareness of the world around you” (pg. 40). Do you find this to be true for you?

Multiple Ways to Join the Book Club
Want to participate? Post a comment with your thoughts or a link to a picture you've taken for the Book Club and an explanation of how the book influenced your image. Or, you can post pictures and contribute to the discussion by joining the Photography Book Club Group on Flickr.

Enjoy, and I look forward to seeing your thoughts and images!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Spring Round Up

Ok, I know it's July and the height of summer, but this post is a chance to look back at all the posts published last spring. Perhaps you'll find something new that you missed the first time around.
Spinning Fire with Steel Wool Photography
For Beginners: explanations and overviews geared towards those wanting to get more out of their photography. Many of the 'tips and tricks' and 'inspired ideas' are also applicable.
Why Won't My Lens Focus?
Tips and Tricks: advice for getting the most of your camera and photography
Maximize your Tripod
Inspired Ideas: how to make the shot with specific photography ideas
Shoot the Moon with the Photographers' Ephemeris
Guest Posts on Inexpensive Close-Up Photography
Lego and water crown captured with a +4 close-up lens
Travel Photography
Signs can be humorous as well as informative
Stay Connected: don't miss a single post from Boost Your Photography

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Long Exposure Photography at the Fair(e)

The idea of being a ‘local tourist’ is a reminder that you don’t need to travel far to find something worth photographing – even if you’re looking for something out-of-the-ordinary. In an earlier post I discussed the possibilities of photographing a local Farmers’ Market. This post will offer tips and advice on how to have fun with long exposure photography at the fair(e).

Carnival Ride Long Exposure Photography Festival Ferris Wheel
Fairs and carnivals offer a wealth of photographic opportunities.
Long Exposure Carnival Rides by Archaeofrog on Flickr

Carnival rides are a staple of childhood memories of summer, and they can be a photographic gold mine. Spend a little time looking, and you might be surprised how easy it is to find a nearby state fair, county fair, church carnival, music festival, or school fundraiser that offers carnival rides. While this post will concentrate on taking pictures of rides at night, such fairs and festivals are also excellent opportunities for candid ‘street photography,’ amazing food shots, capturing performers, and many, many other types of photographs.

Preparation: what to bring

For shooting carnival rides at night, you will need to have a sturdy tripod in addition to your camera. (Read more about how to get the most out of your tripod here. Do not worry about using mirror lock up in this situation, as you want to be able to shoot quickly.) It also useful to have a remote shutter release for your camera. (I use this inexpensive corded shutter release from Amazon.) For lenses, you will want to bring a wide-angle lens to capture wide views of entire rides, such as a kit 18-55 mm lens. Don’t forget standard backup supplies either like spare batteries, an extra memory card, and a lens cloth or Lens Pen for cleaning. Keep in mind that fairs, festivals, and carnivals are often busy, crowded places and that you want to keep your gear to a minimum.

Ferris Wheel at Night Long Exposure Photograph
Ferris Wheel at Night by Archaeofrog on Flickr

Preparation: timing it right

For long exposure night photography, the key element in making stunning pictures is the timing. Many photographers are familiar with the term ‘golden hour,’ which refers to the period just after sunrise and just before sunset when the color of sunlight takes on its classic warm, golden tones. The ‘blue hour,’ however, is a less well-known term, and it refers to the period just before sunrise and just after sunset when the color of the sky takes on deep blue tones that are often more visible in photographs than to the naked eye. It is the balance between these deep blues in the sky and the lights from the carnival rides that makes for truly memorable photographs.

Timing is critical in getting the right look

The two images above show the importance of timing. The left-hand image was taken 15 minutes before sunset (ISO 100, f/22, and 0.6 seconds), while the right-hand image was taken 10 minutes after sunset (ISO 100, f/22, and 2 seconds). In the before sunset image, the brightness of the clouds and sky behind the ride diminishes the impact of the lights and motion, while in the after sunset image, the colors of the ride glow and really stand out. The picture below was taken another 15 minutes later, when the blue hour was in full swing (ISO 100, f/22, and 5 seconds).

Long exposure carnival ride during blue hour
Long Exposure Carnival Ride during the Blue Hour by Archaeofrog on Flickr

If you want to know approximately when the blue hour will occur in a given location, you can look up the sunset times. The blue hour generally begins a little while after sunset and lasts until about an hour afterwards. Some websites, such as the Blue Hour Site, allow you to put in a date and location, and it will provide more exact recommendations about the timing of the blue hour.

Does that mean you should plan to show up and only shoot during the blue hour? Of course not. I would recommend planning to arrive at least an hour or so early. This will give you time to walk around and scope out locations. Think about angles that will allow you to capture the rides from an interesting point-of-view or in relationship to each other. Also look for places where you can stand outside of the normal flow of traffic to avoid anyone accidentally running into you or your tripod. (This is also an excellent excuse to invite a friend along for some photography. Nothing keeps people out of your way like a group of two or more people with tripods.) Finally, pay attention to where other sources of light are located. Bright street lights can turn into star bursts at f/22 and add additional interest to your image.

This image was shot well after the blue hour, but the black sky really sets off the lights.
Long Exposure Carnival Rides by Archaeofrog on Flickr

Shooting Long Exposure Fair Photography

If you have a point-and-shoot camera, you can shoot carnival rides at night using the ‘long shutter’ or ‘night photography’ setting, which allows you to set a shutter speed of a second or longer. If you have a DSLR camera, this is one of those times when you will need to experiment with shooting in manual.

My process for shooting with my DSLR is as follows. First, determine the composition: set up the tripod, attach the camera and remote securely, and check the view through the viewfinder. Second, find a bright, visible, stationary part of the ride and set the focus, then switch the autofocus to off/manual focus. (Particularly if a ride involves a lot of movement, your autofocus might keep changing its focus and not take any images.) Third, if just starting and there is still decent light in the sky, turn the dial to Aperture Priority (AV) mode and set a narrow aperture, like f/22. Leave the ISO value low, like 100. Let the camera set the shutter speed and then take a test picture.

Make the Shot: How to shoot long exposure photographs at the fair or carnival | Boost Your Photography
Here, I set the focus while the ride was loading. Because this ride was swinging right at me, it would have confused the autofocus.

Now is when you need to make decisions about what you want to accomplish. Switch into manual mode, and keep the ISO at 100 and aperture at f/22. If the sky or the lights on the ride are too bright in your test image, choose a slightly faster shutter speed and take another picture. If the sky or the lights on the ride are too dark, choose a slower shutter speed and take another picture. Keep adjusting until you find a good balance for the ride you are shooting; then shoot away. Because the light will keep changing rapidly, you will need to keep watching your LCD screen and changing your values accordingly.

If you start shooting at or around sunset, you may find that a shutter speed of 0.3 seconds gives a reasonable exposure. By the time the blue hour rolls around, you will likely be able to get shutter speeds of up to 2 or 3 seconds. As the blue hour deepens, you can keep lengthening your shutter speed towards 5 or 8 seconds. If you continue shooting even later, you may find that longer shutter speeds start adding too much blur that you lose individual lights and patterns. In that case, you may want to start changing your aperture to a wider value instead of continuing to increase your shutter speed.

Ideas and Variations

Those are the basics of shooting long exposure night photography of carnival rides. The fun comes in trying out different angles and points-of-view and in seeing the effects of varying shutter speeds and apertures. Try getting up close underneath a ride to see how the view changes. Or try getting a longer ways back and lining up several rides in your composition. Take the time to observe and then shoot a ride during its entire process. Many rides rise up or sink down at the beginning and ending and including this vertical change may add extra interest to your image.

This image was shot from directly underneath the ride pictured above.
Long Exposure Fair Photography by Archaeofrog on Flickr

You should also consider less conventional approaches. See what happens when you zoom your lens in or out while taking a picture or pan your camera side-to-side on the tripod while shooting. Take your camera off the tripod entirely and see what kind of effects hand-holding can have at a slow shutter speed. If you find a suitable puddle, you can even get down low and play with puddle reflections too. (Read more about the puddle reflection technique here.) Your only limitation is your imagination.

Swing Ride Reflection by Archaeofrog on Flickr
Ferris Wheel Reflection by Archaeofrog on Flickr

Friday, July 19, 2013

August Photography Book Club: Photography and the Art of Seeing

Last month I wrote a post about the importance of accountability and suggested that "if you want to improve your photography, you need to find ways to engage and by challenged by the broader community. You need to be accountable." One of the ways I suggested to seek out accountability is to accept a challenge. So, for the month of August, I am offering you the challenge to participate in an online photography book club.

This image was capture as part of a photography scavenger hunt.  Your photography grows in community.

The book for August is Freeman Patterson's classic Photography and the Art of Seeing. Suitable for any camera and level of experience, this book focuses on the concept of 'seeing,' encompassing everything from observation, imagination, expression, and visual design. It should be an excellent opportunity for all of us to reflect, practice, and expand our photography.

Each week in August we will focus on a different set of themes from the book:
  • Week 1: August 1-10: Barriers to Seeing and Learning to Observe
  • Week 2: August 11-17: Learning to Imagine and Learning to Express
  • Week 3: August 18-24: Unique Properties of Photography
  • Week 4: August 25-31: Elements of Visual Design
I will be posting updates about the themes and exercises each week, as well as reflections and images from the previous week.

There are several versions of Photography and the Art of Seeing

I wanted to announce the book club well ahead of its start to give people who are interested time to track down a copy of the book. Photography and the Art of Seeing was first published in 1979 and has been updated several times, most recently in 2011. The majority of the text is the same across different editions (at least the 1985 and 2011 ones), although the example images have been updated, so you can certainly use older versions. My public library has several copies or it is available (new and used) from Amazon. Canadians can even order from Freeman Patterson's own website and get a personally-autographed copy. If you can't track down a copy, you can follow along here with the weekly posts and reflections.

I hope you'll consider joining in. I find that often when I read photography books I breeze right through the exercises or encouragements to get out there and shoot, so the lessons that I've learned from reading never get applied. Here's a chance for all of us to encourage and motivate each other to translate those lessons into actions and to make strides in our photographic journeys.

Interested?  Considering joining the Photography Book Club Flickr Group to post photographs and add to the discussion.

Trying to capture an abstract concept can really impact your photography.
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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Stacking Photographs: beyond star trails

In photography, 'stacking' is a term that refers to taking a series of shots, generally with the same settings, and combining them into one final image. It is a technique that is mostly commonly used in star trail photography. This article will look at how stacking is used in star trail photography but also how the same technique can be utilized for other photographic situations.

Stacking Photographs: how to capture star trails and more | Boost Your Photography

Star Trail Photography

There are generally two methods for taking star trail photographs. The first and more traditional method involves taking one very long exposure, often on the order of an hour or more. The second method involves taking a series of images over the course of a longer period of time and then combining these images through stacking to create the final star trail image.

There are many benefits to using the stacking approach for star trail photography. If your battery dies while taking a single hours-long image, you will lose the entire image. If your battery dies while taking a series of images for image stacking, you will only lose the current image. The stacking method also provides more protection from user error (say, shining a bright flashlight around and unintentionally illuminating the foreground) as you can just leave out that frame.

There are many different programs available for stacking photographs, and I use one called Star Stax, which is available as a free download for PC, Mac, or Linux: . The Star Stax web site also includes a very helpful tutorial with step-by-step instructions and screen shots about how the use the program. Processing time for a series of 20 shots was around 45 seconds.

Shooting a Stack of Photographs to Capture Star Trails

There are many web sites with useful tips and advice for shooting star trails using the stacking method. DIY Photography has a detailed step-by-step guide with recommendations for shooting both single-shot and stacked star trails. Another useful read with a step-by-step guide comes from Star Trails Academy, which also has an entire overview of star trails creation and tips.

To summarize the process:
  • You will need to find an area with dark skies (check the Dark Skies Finder) and a clear view towards Polaris, the North Star, if you want to see circling stars. Try to head out on a new moon or well after the sun and moon have set.
  • You will need your camera, a sturdy tripod, and a shutter remote capable of locking. (Even this $5 corded version will do the trick.)
  • You will want to shoot at a wide-open aperture for thirty seconds with as low of an ISO as you can use and still record the stars.
  • Either before or after you shoot your stack of photographs (or both), you should shoot at least one "dark frame," that is a shot with your lens cap on that is with the same settings as all your stacked shots. This allows the stacking program to eliminate some of the in-camera noise or hot pixels in the final stacked image.
Once you have those elements in place, it is up to you (and your battery) how long you want to shoot the images to combine into your stack. An hour or two will generally provide you with significant movement and the long, sweeping trails in classic star trails images. You can read the full details about how to combine those photographs in the article Better Star Trails with StarStaX.

Star Trails: a comedy of errors by Archaeofrog on Flickr

This stacked star trail image was created by combining 26 images, which were shot at 18mm (with my Canon T1i and Tamron 18-270mm lens) for 30 seconds at f/3.5 and ISO 800. These, plus one dark frame, were combined using StarStax. The total duration of the shot was only 13 minutes, after which I gave in to the fury of the mosquitoes and packed up. (There were other errors, including that my 'dark sky' spot happened to be next to a lively campground, hence the title of the shot.)

You may notice what look like several green shooting stars in the final image. These are actually light trails created by fireflies (or lightning bugs) flitting around the treetops in the foreground. Upon discovering these while processing the image stack, I realized there was another potential use for the stacking technique.

Fireflies: beyond star stacking

Earlier in the week I had been trying to capture the lights and movements of fireflies, but I had been discouraged at how difficult it was to make their trails visible in a photograph. Many fireflies tend to blink on-and-off while staying relatively still, meaning that they showed up as only bright dots that looked like hot pixels on my image. My best effort from that outing was the picture below, which was shot for 20 seconds at f/5.6 and ISO 200.

Stacking Photograph of Fireflies
Flying fireflies captured in one shot.

After my experiment in stacking for star trails, however, I realized that the same technique could be used to capture fireflies. By shooting a series of photographs using my tripod and identical settings, I could better capture a multitude of fireflies and more closely approximate the experience of seeing so many fireflies all at once.

Stacked photograph of fireflies
A Stack of Fireflies by Archaeofrog on Flickr

The image above was the outcome of my first effort at using stacking to photograph fireflies. This was a stack of 20 images which were shot at 18mm (with my Canon T1i and Tamron 18-270mm lens) for 30 seconds at f/4.5 and ISO 400. These were combined with two dark frames and one light painting frame (to illuminate the foreground and background) in StarStax. I tried several variations of the light painting frame (changing the opacity in Photoshop) to get a better balance between seeing some of the background and keeping the firefly streaks visible.

Stacked photograph of fireflies
Fireflies at Night by Archaeofrog on Flickr

This second image is a stack of 45 images, which were shot at 70 mm (with my Canon T1i and Tamron 18-270mm lens). I started with 20 seconds at f/9 and ISO 100, but I changed the settings as it continued to get darker. The final frames were shot at 30 seconds at f/5.6 and ISO 200. These were combined with two dark frames in StarStax. I did not need to use a light painting frame with this one, as it was bright enough when I started shooting to illuminate the foreground and background. An example of two of the individual frames are available to view on Flickr: single image of fireflies and another single image of fireflies.

Stacking Photographs

The stacking technique for photographs allows you to take a series of images over a period of time and combine them into one final image. While this technique is most commonly used to create star trail photographs, its applications are only limited by your imagination. For me, it solved the problem of trying to capture a lot of flying fireflies in one image, but the applications are endless.

Stacking Photographs: beyond star trails | Boost Your Photography
In this stack, the bright white streak was caused by a passing biker.

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

How Long Does Your Camera's Battery Last?

Do you know how long your camera’s battery lasts between charges? It’s more than just an academic question. Knowing the average life of your camera’s battery can help you plan ahead and avoid being stuck with a dead battery and missing the shot(s). There are also several steps you can take to lengthen your camera's battery life.

Promaster makes off-brand batteries for digital cameras

Battery life varies due to several factors. All actions undertaken by your camera rely on the battery. Using the LCD display to check and change your settings takes battery power. Reviewing or deleting your shots on the LCD display takes battery power. Using the LiveView function (using your LCD as the viewfinder) takes battery power. Turning off and turning on the camera again takes battery power. Leaving your camera on for a long period of time without powering down takes battery power.

You can minimize the impact of these actions in a few different ways. You can change the settings in your camera to choose a shorter ‘review time’ (how long an image is displayed on the LCD screen after you take the picture). Mine is set to 2 seconds, which is the minimum, unless I turn the feature off completely. You can change how quickly your camera ‘auto powers off’ and puts itself to sleep. Mine is set to 30 seconds, which is the minimum. Allowing your camera to auto power off quickly and simply leaving it on (rather than turning it off and on after shots) also saves battery life. You can also minimize your use of the LCD screen by only using LiveView when absolutely necessary and by not reviewing or deleting shots in-camera. In addition, some sources recommend always discharging your battery completely before recharging to maximize battery life over the lifetime of the battery.

Be sure to safeguard your batteries in cold weather

Another factor that impacts the battery life of your camera is the weather. Cold weather will wear down your battery much more quickly. If you are out shooting in cold weather, keep your spare batteries in a warm, interior pocket until you need them and be prepared to go through batteries rapidly. You may find that you are able to get additional shots out of a ‘dead’ battery after warming it back up again inside your jacket, but the impact will be minimal.

The final factor that impacts how long your camera’s battery will last is the types of shots you are taking. A longer shutter speed shot will take significantly more battery life than a rapid snap at 1/2000th of a second. If you are out shooting star trails or light painting or other types of shooting that require 20 or 30 seconds for the shutter, you will be able to get far less shots total than if you were shooting more rapidly.

Long exposure shots like these light trails wear down your battery more quickly

Determining your Camera’s Battery Life

There is a simply method for determining the life of your camera battery. Every time your camera’s battery gets low and you switch out your battery, your first photograph with the new battery should be of the old, low battery. (If you only have one battery, your first photograph after recharging your battery should be of the battery charger. You should also consider purchasing a second battery to avoid dead-battery disappointment. Several brands of off-brand batteries, such as Promaster and Sterlingtek are available at reduced prices compared to branded batteries and often work just as well. Just be sure to get the right model for your camera.)

Then, when you get home and review your shots on your computer, tag every shot of your old batteries with a consistent tag. (I use 'battery.' I know, inventive.) That way, you can do a search of the tag 'battery,' take a look at the shot numbers, and figure out the average life of your camera’s battery. You can also tell from the picture which battery you are measuring.

How Long Does Your Camera Battery Last? | Boost Your Photography
Reviewing your dead battery shots allows you to calculate average battery life.

For shooting with my Canon T1i, I have three batteries. The average shooting life of the Canon battery that came with the camera is around 850 shots. The average shooting life of the Promaster replacement battery is around 630 shots, and the average shooting life of the Sterlingtek replacement battery is around 680 shots. For shooting with my new Canon A4000IS point and shoot, the average shooting life of the Canon battery it came with is 300 shots.

It is a simple process to find out the average life of your camera’s battery and one that will help you avoid disappointment. There are also some easy steps to take to reduce how much of the battery you are using. So, the next time you replace the battery in your camera, remember to take a picture of the low battery. Simple!

This battery died near the top of Electric Peak in Yellowstone National Park

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Easy Photography Upgrade: Tri-fold Board

Everyone likes a quick and easy photography upgrade, and this is one you might have already – particularly if you have school-aged children who have recently had to do a science fair project or other poster presentation. Yes, I am talking about the humble tri-fold board.

The tri-fold board in its natural habitat: school presentations

Tri-fold boards come in many different colors and are available at most stores that stock school supplies or office equipment. You can get one on Amazon for around $5 US. When you’re finished, you can fold it away and easily stick it behind a desk or bookcase or under your bed. (Plus, you know you’ll be prepared the next time a ‘this-is-due-tomorrow-and-needs-to-be-on-a-display-board’ request comes your way.)

Tri-fold board as backdrop, used for the images below

Bowmore Islay Scotch product photography
Very little work was needed in Photoshop to turn this into a standard high key product shot.
Scotch Product Photography by Archaeofrog on Flickr

The tri-fold board makes an excellent backdrop, particularly for ‘high key’ style photographs, which are notable for their all-white backgrounds. The set-up above was outside on my porch to take advantage of the bright afternoon sun. A piece of white paper on a box made for a seamless stand, and I was able to take this well-lit photograph of a new bottle of scotch. A little bit of cloning in Photoshop removed the shadow and the line from the edge of the paper.

Red Glass Vase Shadow Play
Comparison of set up with tri-fold board as well as picture from that set up.
Red Vase Shadow Play by Archaeofrog on Flickr

You can also use a tri-fold board as an indoor backdrop. Here I was again using natural light, this time through the window, to capture the colors and patterns of the reflection of this glass vase. The tri-fold board provided the backdrop for the shadow. Then, by zooming in, I was able to eliminate the shadows of the bars in the window and highlight the shadow itself.

Tri-fold Board as Easy Photography Background and Reflection | Boost Your Photography

The tri-fold board can be used as a reflector as well as a backdrop or background. With this set-up, I used the back of the board for the background and the flap as a reflector. The white of the board helped reflect additional window light back at the bowl of eggs and reduce the harshness of the shadow.

Coffee drip photography
Coffee Drip by Archaeofrog on Flickr

You are not limited to using the tri-fold board in natural light either. Here I used it with indoor lighting and a flash to capture the bouncing drips of coffee falling into the mug. The flash fired at both the mug and the backdrop, which helped create the bright, high key effect.

A white tri-fold board is an easy and inexpensive photography upgrade. It functions well as a background or backdrop for high key photography or any image where you want a bright, white background. It can also serve as a reflector for bouncing light back on your subject. Its tri-fold structure allows it to stand up on its own in many situations. You might even want to consider getting several boards, depending on the colors and your use for them. A black board would be useful for low key shots that feature an all-black background, while a colored board could add some pop to your images.

You never know when it might come in handy. Strobist published an article recently about shooting your own passport photos that featured white poster board. Of course, I used my tri-fold board for mine.

Passport photograph set up
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Saturday, July 6, 2013

Make the Shot: spoon reflection photography

Looking for a creative shot that you can capture quickly and with materials found within your house? Look no further than spoon reflection photography.

Make the Shot: Spoon Reflection Photography | Boost Your Photography

As a child, you may have marveled at the reflective nature of your spoon (perhaps right before trying to breathe on it and stick it to your nose), but it may never have occurred to you to use it for your photography. I am very fond of reflections (for tips on excellent outdoor reflections see Puddle Reflection Photography) and after seeing this style of shot crop up several times on, I knew I had to give it a try.

Spoon reflection using a toile pattern by Archaeofrog on Flickr

The necessary materials are quite basic – your camera, a spoon, and an interesting design or pattern to reflect. I recommend using larger soup spoons to start. You can use all sorts of materials for the background and reflection. Both of the above images were created using 12” x12” pieces of patterned scrapbook paper, which can be bought quite cheaply as individual sheets or entire packs of various designs and colors at your local craft store. You can also use colorful or patterned table cloths, table runners, napkins, even book covers. Is it also helpful if you can prop the back of the background material up somewhat, which adds to the ‘infinite’ feel of the shot and blocks out anything else from appearing in the shot.

Set-up shot for spoon reflection photography. (The salt and paper shakers in the back were used to prop up the paper.)

It works best to set up your background and spoon on a raised surface, like a tabletop or counter, so that you can get your camera nearly level with that surface. This will help you see more reflection on the underside of the spoon. I also recommend putting your camera on a tripod, as you will need enough depth of field (narrow aperture) to keep the entire spoon in focus. Read about how to Maximize your Tripod for tips on using your tripod most effectively. For these shots, I used my zoom lens zoomed in to its furthest (270 mm, in my case) in order to fill the frame with the spoon and its reflection.

I recommend shooting in aperture priority mode so that you have control over how little or how much of the spoon and the background are in focus. In the shot above, an aperture of f/6.3 rendered the background (and some of the foreground) a complete blur. In contrast, in the shot below, an aperture of f/40 rendered much more of the reflection and foreground in focus. My favorite of the series (the second image in this post) was in between these two: an aperture of f/13 that provided a balance between the entire reflection in focus but the background blurred.

Don't limit yourself to just one spoon!
Double spoon reflection by Archaeofrog on Flickr

Those are the basics; the rest is up to you. Try different designs, different patterns, or different angles. Try more than one spoon or even other utensils. Have fun with it!

Spoon Reflection Photography | Boost Your Photography

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Travel Photography: Make a Shot List

I will admit that I often suffer from photographer’s regret after I return home from traveling. While I come home with plenty of pictures I enjoy and am proud of, I also start realizing and envisioning all the pictures I didn’t take or should have taken or wish I’d taken. But there is a solution to lessen regret: think ahead and make a shot list.

Travel Photography: make a shot list | Boost Your Photography
I wanted to be sure I took a shot highlighting all the variety of shapes and colors in Jordanian currency.

What is a Shot List?

A shot list is exactly what it sounds like: a list of shots that you intend to take. Shot lists have long been common among wedding photographers who often distribute such a checklist beforehand to get feedback from the bride, groom, and their families to make sure that all ‘must have’ shots are taken during the big day.

But why limit your ‘must haves’ to just wedding photography? The more you know about your photographic interests and priorities, the better equipped you’ll be to come home with the shots you want. You can Google ‘travel photography shot list’ and find plenty of checklists already out there, but for the best results, you want to create a list tailored to you. Or, there’s even an app for that, but it’s still only for iPhone users.

Do the Research

Even professional photographers admit to doing extensive research before they begin their photographic travels. Perfect shots of the full moon rising over an important landmark don’t happen by accident; they take planning. Download the Photographer’s Ephemeris and use it to plot sunrise, sunset, moon rise, and moon set times and angles. Learn to Shoot the Moon with the Photographer’s Ephemeris.

Using the Photographer's Ephemeris got me in the right place at the right time to get the moon rising right next to the Wisconsin State Capitol.
Full moon rising over Madison Capitol by Archaeofrog on Flickr

Look at travel guides for your destination or search for images online or on Flickr to see how other people have interpreted similar sights and scenes. I am not saying that you should copy what others have done, but seeing what is possible in a location might help spur your own ideas.

Sunset at the Tetons, view through a cabin window by Archaeofrog on Flickr

Look for books or articles about photographing your destination. Whenever I visit a new National Park, I always check to see if there is a listing for it in the National Audubon Society’s Guide to Photographing America's National Parks. Each brief chapter provides an overview of the park and its seasons along with a map of several top photography locations. Want to capture a perfect reflection of the Tetons in a still lake? It has the locations and best times of day. Need the classic image of sunset at Crater Lake? It will tell you which trails to take. Books like these can help you capture the ‘classic’ shots from your location, if that is something that is important to you.

Create the List

Most shot lists are organized into categories. Photojournalists often talk about including a range of views from establishing shots (wide landscapes that establish a sense of place) to people shots to the close-up detail shots. You can think about them as zooming in from wide to narrow, as well as including the in-between. The My Shot List app contains more than fifty different categories of shots to consider taking, organized by whether you are photographing in a city, town or village, National Park, or on a safari.

A predetermined shot list from someone else is only useful if it actually fits you, your interests, and your priorities, but it can be a good place to start. So, after you’ve done the research or read the lists of others, you need to set out for yourself a list of interests and priorities.

My most recent trip was an Alaskan cruise with a brief stay at Mount Rainier beforehand. This was my first time on a cruise, and I wanted to be sure to document both the experience of the cruise as well as the sights along the way. Some of the categories and sub-categories of my shot list included

Documenting the Cruise Itself
  • Establishing shots of the boat, docked and in port
  • Establishing shots from the boat, including outside and inside spaces
  • Establishing shot of the accommodations – room, etc.
  • People participating in cruise activities
  • Detail shots of food or drinks
  • Detail shots that highlight the theme of cruise as vacation

Collage of shots on the Golden Princess highlighting different categories from my shot list

Documenting Alaska
  • Establishing shots of the landscape and natural surroundings
  • Establishing shots of the cities visited
  • Signs for major points of interest and trail heads
  • Detail shots of unique flora and fauna
  • Detail shots on excursion events
  • Shots of my family participating in excursion events or other activities (posed and candid)

Use and Refine the List

The final step, of course, is to actually put your shot list into action. It could be a list written down on paper that you carry with you or a digital checklist that you keep with you on a note-taking app or in an email. Think about and refer to your list while you are traveling. Add things, subtract things, and cross things off the list as you go. You will find that having such a list and having gone through the process of creating it will help you stay focused and motivated in your photography. It will also help you bring home those shots that you might otherwise have overlooked.

Stateroom on the Golden Princess by Archaeofrog on Flickr

I almost didn’t get a shot of our room while on the cruise. After finally making it through the initial boarding process, we made it to our room, dumped our stuff, and immediately set out to explore the boat (and find lunch), which meant that I lost the opportunity to capture a pristine view of our room. The morning before we left though, mindful of my shot list, I gave myself a few minutes to tidy up, hide our packed luggage under the bed, out of view, and capture the untouched view of our room that I had wanted.

So, before you go on your next trip or even next photo walk, take a little bit of time to think about and reflect on what it is you are hoping to capture. Having a shot list, even if just in your mind, will help you come back with more of the shots you want.

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