Saturday, August 31, 2013

Panning in Photography

Panning is a photographic technique involving subjects in motion, where the subject is captured crisply but the background becomes a blur. This affect is achieved by moving the camera while taking the picture and matching the motion of the camera with that of the subject.

Panning in Photography | Boost Your Photography, panning, photography, motion, blur, ICM, intentional camera movement

Settings for Panning

Panning is a technique that requires practice and a steady hand. Some prefer to use a tripod to achieve a smooth movement, but I prefer to handhold the camera, which gives me free range of motion and the flexibility to adapt to the scene as it develops.

Since your subject (and the camera itself) will be moving, it can be difficult for the camera to maintain autofocus when panning. A good strategy is to use what street photographers call
'zone focusing' to set a manual focus point. With zone focusing, you choose an object at about the same distance as you expect your subject, set your focus on that object, and turn off autofocus. Your camera will remain focused at that distance, and your subject will be in focus if it is about the same distance away as the object you chose.

Panning Photography
You can see the blurred foreground outline of the tree that I used to set the focus for these panning shots.

For example, in the photograph above, I used a tree in the median to set the focus. Because I used a middle-of-the-range aperture (here, f/8 but the range of f/8 to f/11 works well) I knew that any bike coming down the street would be within the depth of field (area in focus) of the camera. The shutter speed of 1/6th of a second allowed for sufficient blur when moving the camera at the same speed of the biker.

A successful panning shot needs a long enough shutter speed to create the background blur. For a slower moving subject, such as a leisurely biker, a shutter speed of 1/20 to 1/6 th of a second will create blur, while with a faster biker you may be able to use a faster shutter like 1/40 or 1/100 th of a second. You can use an even quicker shutter speed for very fast objects like motorbikes, race cars, or fleeing animals.

Finding the correct combination of aperture and shutter speed will depend on both the speed of your subject and the lighting. (I recommend keeping your ISO as low as possible, such as ISO 100.) Begin with shutter priority, using the shutter guidelines above, and take a few test shots. If you have a hard time keeping the subject in focus the whole time, try a faster shutter speed. If you have a hard time seeing enough motion blur in the background, try for a longer shutter speed.

Techniques for Panning

The trick for panning is that you must be moving the camera at the same relative speed as the subject. Panning works best for subjects where the movement is perpendicular to your position, such as a car or biker going past on a road, while you are standing facing out across that road. You can also think of it as moving parallel to the plane of the photograph. Panning an object that is moving directly towards or away from you (straight on) is much more difficult.

Panning Photography of Cyclists Biking
Here, the slight curve to the background motion is because I was 'swooping' the camera rather than smoothly rotating.
In order to achieve the panning effect, you must be moving/rotating the camera smoothly at the same speed as the moving subject. You need to be able to push the shutter while following the subject in your viewfinder. Just like with your golf swing, it's all in the follow through: you want to be moving the camera before you hit the shutter and keep moving the camera and following the subject after you have hit the shutter. (Yes, full disclosure, I was on the golf team in high school.)

Another trick for keeping the subject crisp when panning a bicyclist is to find a location where the biker is coasting. If the biker is peddling, the legs will blur, even if you are able to pan the bike crisply. A peddling biker can add to the feeling of motion, but a completely still-looking biker can make the panning effect even more dramatic.

Panning Photography of Cyclists Biking
Here, panning highlights the contrast between the still and moving bikers.

Look for background interest when choosing your location for panning. In the image above, the still biker adds greatly to the feeling of motion when compared to the moving bikers. Bright colors or other contrasts can also add impact to your shot.

And that's the nuts and bolts of it. The main thing is to practice. You want to be able to keep your subject in the same place in your viewfinder while moving your camera smoothly. Keep an eye out for biking events or races, which would give you a wide range of subjects and many opportunities to practice.

Keep an eye out for interesting subjects!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Summer Round Up

With Back-to-School in full swing (or just around the corner, perhaps), it's time for our Summer Round Up: your one-stop spot for a look back at this summer's posts. Catch up on the Spring Round Up here.
Stacking Photographs: beyond star trails
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.
All about Exposure
Tips and Tricks: advice for getting the most of your camera and photography
Easy Photography Upgrade: the tri-fold board
Inspired Ideas: how to make the shot with specific photography ideas

Travel Photography

Travel Photography Must Haves
August Photography Book Club

Stay Connected: don't miss a single post from Archaeofrog Photography

Saturday, August 24, 2013

August Photography Book Club: week 4

It's the fourth and final week of the  August Photography Book Club and our study of Freeman Patterson's Photography and the Art of Seeing. I know this is a busy time for many of us, but I hope you will still read and participate as you are able. Catch up by reading any of the following or just jump right in from here.
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.
Exploring the impact of shutter speed by panning while shooting. Panning Experiment by Archaeofrog on Flickr.
To see more what others have been coming up with, take a look at the photographs on the Flickr group page or tagged bookclub-seeing1bookclub-seeing2, or bookclub-seeing3.

Week 4 will focus on the last sections in the book: Elements of Visual Design: Color, Principles of Visual Design, Working with Visual Design, and Photography and the Art of Seeing.sBelow, I've provided a few quotations that struck me from these sections and some suggestions for exercises. (All page numbers refer to the 2011 edition, and I've kept his Canadian spellings when quoting.)

Elements of Visual Design: color
This section continues the discussion of tone from last time and adds the element of color and the connection between color and emotional response. Patterson continues to emphasize the process of identifying a reason for an image, choosing a subject matter to express that theme, and now, considering the placement and size of the color(s). He also discusses how color can express time or harmony, and how colors are often perceived in relation to the other colors present.

"There is no 'correct' way to render the colours in this picture, but some ways will lead to more effective expression than others. Let your technique be determined by what needs to be expressed rather than by technical goals such as a search for colour harmony" (pg. 114).

He suggests an exercise in self-evaluation: "examine some of your old photographs. Try to determine the elements of visual design that have influenced you the most" (pg. 115). Then, challenge yourself to try something different: a series of monochromatic shots focusing on tones or of black-and-white images or of muted, monochromatic color or ...
Monochromatic take on snow. (This is actually a color image.) Winter Monochrome by Archaeofrog on Flickr
Principles of and Working with Visual Design
Patterson offers a theory of visual design centered on two main principles – simplicity and dynamics (tension) – and five secondary principles – dominance, balance, proportion, pattern and rhythm, and deformation (or distortion). He explains briefly about each of these major and minor principles, some ways to achieve them, and some ways to change and manipulate them.

About tension: "Our normal visual experience is dynamic, because the tension between the colours, shapes, sizes, and locations of things keeps our eyes constantly moving. Photographers control tension by the way they balance objects in the picture space" (pg. 119).

You can explore deformation by experimenting with how different lenses (and/or different focal lengths) influence the perspective of the final image. Choose a subject matter and photograph it with a wide angle lens, making sure the subject occupies a significant portion of the image. Now, zoom out to 50 mm (or switch lenses) and back up from your subject until it occupies roughly the same portion of the image. Take another image. (I suggest shooting in aperture priority mode to keep your aperture the same in all images.) Now zoom out to 100 mm, continue to back up and recompose, and shoot again. Continue zooming out and backing up until you have reached your longest zoom. Take some time to compare and evaluate your images. How have the images changed compared to each other? How has your subject become more or less deformed? Do you have a favorite of the series and why?
New Zealand Milford Sound, framing
Branches or other natural objects can create a 'frame' within your photograph that focuses the eye and emphasizes your subject. Milford Sound, New Zealand by Archaeofrog on Flickr
Patterson also suggests several guidelines to consider when applying the principles of visual design to a given situation. He asks us as photographers to consider the center of interest, the base, whether to fill the picture space, how and when to use a frame or a window, when to use a lack of perspective to our advantage, when to consider 'amputating' your subject, why we should concern ourselves only with 'appropriate color,' a reminder to consider exposure, and the importance of symbolism. Each of these topics could be the subject of a photographic exploration. Choose one (or more) to focus in on and see how it influences your photography. The series of photographs that follows this section offers additional ideas about some of these principles and guidelines.

Photography and the Art of Seeing
The last section in the book is more an application than a summary of all the points presented throughout. Patterson shares his own experiences with participating in some of the same challenges he has offered his students and his readers. (In the 2011 edition this includes spending an afternoon photographing a white plastic chair and playing with light in glassware, while the earliest editions include a study of a gravel quarry.) Find a similar object or subject or situation and see what you can come up with, now that you have this book and its lessons in mind.

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.

Parting words for the week: "Having made hundreds of compositions by the end of the afternoon, I realized that I had really only begun. That often happens when you play – one thing simply leads to another. There's no better way to learn. That's why we are all children first" (pg. 147).

Saturday, August 17, 2013

August Photography Book Club: week 3

It's week 3 of the August Photography Book Club and our study of Freeman Patterson's Photography and the Art of Seeing. Catch up by reading any of the following or just jump right in from here.
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.
Inviting by Archaeofrog on Flickr
Taken for week 2's concept of starting from a theme or idea and then seeking out a subject matter to express that theme.
To see more what others have been coming up with, take a look at the photographs on the Flickr group page or tagged bookclub-seeing1 and bookclub-seeing2.

Week 3 will focus on several smaller sections in the book: Unique properties of photography, How a camera sees space, Thinking about Visual Design, and Elements of Visual Design: Tone. Below, I've provided a few quotations that struck me from these sections and some suggestions for exercises. (All page numbers refer to the 2011 edition.)

Unique Properties of Photography and How a Camera Sees Space
Patterson begins by comparing and contrasting photography to other art forms, both two-dimensional and three-dimensional, and draws up a list of what he calls the "six fundamental characteristics of the photographic medium that distinguish it from other visual media" (pg. 83). These can be roughly summarized as
  1. With photography, you have "an already existing object in front of your lens" (pg. 84).
  2. "Photography has the capacity to render detail with a precision no other visual medium can match" (pg. 84).
  3. Photographers must act with the right timing for the moment or the image.
  4. Photographers have the potential to 'stop the world' with the speed of their exposures.
  5. Photography has a "special connection with chance" (pg. 85) but can still prepare to 'be lucky.'
  6. Photography is dependent on light. "One might say that a photographer paints with light" (pg. 86).
Patterson then moves into a discussion of how a camera can perceive a scene differently that we do with our eyes and warns that photographers must "be sensitive to any elements that will not be recorded as the eye perceives them" (pg. 88).
Using a slow shutter with a light source like the steel wool here allows you to capture a moment unlike what your eyes would be able to perceive. Read more about How to Spin Fire with Steel Wool.
Try to exploit one or more of these fundamental characteristics this week in your photography. See how 'stopping the world' (using a fast shutter speed) can change your perception of a scene or contrast with how you saw it with your eyes. (Here are some examples from the recent technique challenge of fast shutter speed.)
Using a fast shutter allows you to freeze a moment in time that you couldn't observe quickly enough with your eyes. Carefully timing and a healthy dose of luck captured this huge drop just as it fell.
Falling Water Drip Reflection by Archaeofrog on Flickr
Or, experiment with shooting fast moving or rapidly changing subjects in burst mode (several pictures at once). Take some time to sit down and analyze each image. Does one stand out as a better 'lucky' capture than another? What can you learn from that about capturing exactly the moment in only one shot?

Thinking about Visual Design and Tone
"A photographer works with two kinds of visual design – the design she [or he] observes in her [his] subject matter, and the design she [he] creates in her [his] photograph by the way she [he] arranges the subject matter" (pg. 101).

Patterson differentiates between ornamentation (frills and extras) and design (intention in composition) and challenges us to simplify our images by questioning the necessity of what we have decided to include in the frame. Try to draw this distinction in your own photographs this week. Can you eliminate the 'ornaments' to focus purely on the design? Share what you changed when trying this approach (or even a 'before' and 'after' comparison). What did you eliminate and why?

Patterson's section on tone focuses in on light, including both the quality (harshness or softness) and the direction (frontlighting, sidelighting, and backlighting) of that light. Light is then discussed in its relationship to line, shape, texture, and perspective. Try to experiment with light this week. Take a series of pictures changing the direction of the light (front, side, and back) by either moving your light source or moving yourself. See how this changes your image. Or, explore the idea of perspective: play with changing sharpness, relative size, relative location, or the obliqueness of objects in your photographs to see how their visual relationships change. You could even try a 'forced perspective' shot or an optical illusion by manipulating these relationships.
This photograph shows the impact of side lighting: harsh shadows and lack of detail on the unlit side.
One Light Portrait, Side Lighting by Archaeofrog on Flickr
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.

Parting words for the week: "Critics who scorn the 'lucky' chance of a photographer are suggesting an accident takes place when a photographer captures a unique event that lasts for only a moment, but it is no accident if the photographer anticipates the event and knows how to use his [or her] tools … A photographer has to hope for and prepare for 'lucky' chance" (pg. 85).

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Reflections on Week 1

As we continue the August Photography Book Club, I wanted to take a chance to step back and share some of the incredible images, discussions, and growth opportunities that have resulted from reading and photographing together through Freeman Patterson's Photography and the Art of Seeing.

(Want to join? Catch up by reading the overview about the Book Club and the summary and exercises from week 1 or just jump right in to week two from here. If you don't have access to a copy of the book, you can still join in by participating in the exercises and reflections on the blog posts.)

Barriers to Seeing
The first section of the book focused on observation and how to better explore your surroundings, including trying different perspectives or points of view, especially of usually 'familiar' subjects. Some even accepted the challenge of locking themselves in the bathroom to make ten images in twenty minutes!
Day 399 - All Alone on 365 Project
Day 399 - All Alone by Nada A.
Nada's reflection on her image:
Decided to put my camera down in the middle of a quiet street and see the view from that perspective. The gentlemen running in a conveniently bright red t-shirt was an accidental bonus. (See more of Nada's work on
A Study of Light and Color on 365 Project
A Study of Light and Color by Taffy Raphael
Taffy's reflection on her image:
The August book club is all about seeing in different ways. Today, I mostly did this through following the spirit of one of the exercises - stay close to home and look at things in new ways. In this image, I took several daytime shots of the grasses that were the star in "Sunset on the Marsh" (July 27th). All were daytime shots with various exposures. Then, I took the slightly overexposed one, edited it for an angled instead of vertical frame, then processed it in the four ways you see here, two monochrome with different tones and exposure and two color, one with color heightened and one with it more washed out. The natural bokeh didn't really change in structure, and interestingly, seemed to set off the grasses in pretty much the same way in the color versions. In the monochrome it more or less seems to blend into the grasses than set them off. A fun study this afternoon. (See more of Taffy's work on
BookClub1Collage on 365 Project
Book Club 1 Collage by Kathryn
Kathryn's reflection on her image:
These were a few of the photos I took when I locked myself in the bathroom for a half hour. The shapes and angles are what caught my attention. (See more of Kathryn's work on
Tomato leaves on 365 Project
Tomato Leaves by Molly
Molly's reflection on her image
Today I've followed another of the exercises for the August book club: Learning to Observe. This exercise involves choosing something inside or outside your home, then setting aside an hour, with the aim of spending the first 15-20 mins relaxing and emptying your mind before taking photos. Freeman Patterson's book claims that the outcome is that "you will have more ideas for photographs than you ever dreamed possible".

So being pretty hopeless at just relaxing, I used a relaxation CD first, then took photos of my tomato plants for 40 mins. And it was indeed true that I had so many ideas - I photographed leaves, stems, flowers, fruits, compost, plant supports, shadows on the wall behind. I looked at textures, shapes, colours, light and shadows. I even lay down on the grass to catch the leaves against the sky. Amazing! Getting down the 137 shots to one to post wasn't easy, but I chose this one because it shows some of the detail of the leaves, including some insects, and the little hairs on the stems. I also like the light behind the leaves.

Learning to Observe
The second section of the book challenged readers to 'think sideways' (break rules or push boundaries) and to try 'relaxed attentiveness' (extended observation). A key suggestion was to think of a rule of photography and go out and deliberately break it.
A Different Way of Seing 3 on 365 Project
A Different Way of Seeing 3 by Kathryn Marshall
Kathryn's reflection on her image:
"Letting go of self is an essential precondition to real seeing..." Freeman Patterson

I found this quote to be so true as I took pictures of a still life of three glass paperweights. Normally, I am really preoccupied about how to set up the still life and then how to take my shots of the still life. I am definitely not comfortable with taking pictures of still lifes. This was my third exercise in thinking sideways. I broke the rule of setting the correct exposure for my shots. I intentionally overexposed the shots. I found that just breaking this rule loosened up my thinking. Instead of being obsessed about the right way to shoot the still life, I found myself being enamored by the colors I saw in the glass paperweights and in their reflections. My first shots were overexposed and boring. This image was shot about midway during my series of still life shots, when I was lost in seeing the colors. Towards the end of the shot, my preoccupation with how I was shooting the still life took over again. I experienced both the rational response and the emotional response that Patterson writes about in his book, Photography and the Art of Seeing. I had another response when I saw this image. The camera was set for overexposure, but this photo does not look like my typical overexposure. I shake my head about this in disbelief.  (See more of Kathryn's work on
Photography Book Club 6 on 365 Project
Photography Book Club 6 by Ann LeFevre
Ann's reflection on her image:
My attention was caught by the shadow of a dining room chair cast on the floor this morning so I thought I would use them as my subject for the Photography Book Club. I went back to "breaking the rules" and once again composed a shot using a 50/50 balance as opposed to the rule of thirds. I like the way this came out and I also deliberately took the shot so that the heavier portion was on the top - something that I naturally avoid in my compositions. But this too, proved to be an interesting twist on the art of photography and I liked the result! (See more of Ann's work at
ICM Aspen on 365 Project
ICM Aspen by April
April's reflection on her image
I made a short list of rules to break, though I broke most all of them this past year. One of my favorite rules to break is the "hold the camera steady" rule. I have done intentional camera motion images before, though they have been horizontal. Today I tried vertical. Hmmmm....interesting, but I believe it makes me appreciate a more steady hand and clearer focus. (See more of April's work at 365
CNV00027 on 365 Project
CNV00027 by Laura
Laura's reflection on her image
Analog August & August Book Club - Learning to Observe thinking sideways entry. I decided to have this image out of focus. (See more of Laura's work at
Quilt in Motion on 365 Project
Quilt in Motion by Junko Yokota
Junko's reflection on her image
August Book Club: Exercise in Thinking Sideways, Breaking Rule One. Always Hold Your Camera Steady. I took a quilting class with Kaffe Fassett and Brandon Mably a number of years ago, and have never finished the quilt. It's pinned to my design board, and I decided to photograph it today. First, I took photos of it straight on. Then I moved up and down, as suggested in the book. I did not run towards it and click as my attic is too small for that. But then, I realized that the pattern was squares within squares, which called for a rounded shape so I swirled the camera around (can you use that word to describe a camera action?) and practiced various speeds to get the effect of the center flower square being relatively clear but all the ones around it blurred in motion. New for me, but it reminds me of the creative things that @vankrey is always doing. Reference photo of what the image looks like when not blurry: (See more of Junko's work on

To see more of what others have been coming up with, take a look at the photographs on the Flickr group page, posted to the 365project discussion board, or tagged bookclub-seeing1 or bookclub-seeing2.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

August Photography Book Club: week 2

It's week 2 of the August Photography Book Club and our study of Freeman Patterson's Photography and the Art of Seeing. Catch up by reading the overview about the Book Club and the summary and exercises from week 1 or just jump right in from here. 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.
End of result of spending 20 minutes taking 10 different images in the bathroom. I really liked the reflection here in the toothbrush holder.
I have been so impressed by the quality of the photographs and ideas being created and expressed already in week 1. To see what others have been coming up with, take a look at the photographs on the Flickr group page, posted to the 365project discussion board, or tagged bookclub-seeing1.

For week 2 (August 11-17th), we will focus on the second two sections: Learning to Imagine and Learning to Express. Below, I've provided a few quotations and exercises that struck me from these chapters. (All page numbers refer to the 2011 edition.)

Learning to Imagine
"The more sensory experiences you have, the more material your imagination has to work with. The photographer who observes his [or her] environment carefully, who lets his [or her] eyes linger on physical details, is feeding his [or her] imagination" (pg. 54).

This section explores the ideas of imagining and abstracting and how they contrast with the idea of labeling: "We look at a cup and what we see is 'cup-ness,' not the flaring rim, the curving handle, the mottled design, or the reflections of the windows on the side of the cup. In short, labels can limit the amount of material accessible to our imagination" (pg. 55).

Rather than focusing on such labels, Patterson encourages the photographer to go through a three step creative process: "First, you conceive or imagine a theme. Second, you find (that is, perceive) subject matter that expresses that theme or concept. Third, you conceive the best way to organize the subject matter and use your photographic tools" (pg. 56). This process of "abstracting and selecting help to make clear expression possible" (pg. 60).
Expressing 'calm' for a photography scavenger hunt. Calm by Archaeofrog on Flickr
Try some of the exercises in this section. For example, start by selecting an abstract subject (his example is 'tranquility'), and then ask yourself what subject matter best expresses this subject and why. Or, think about what tones or combination of tones would express that idea. Try to seek out and take photographs of that subject matter and/or those tones to express that subject.
Expressing 'chaos' for a photography scavenger hunt. Chaos by Archaeofrog on Flickr
Learning to Express
"The goal of your photography is effective expression" (pg. 64).

The challenge of this section is to focus your photography on learning to see what your subject matter can express rather than focusing in on your own self-expression. One exercise given is to take a hard-boiled egg (or other similarly mundane object) and make at least twenty photographs of it over the course of twenty-four hours, while trying to answer the question, "What does this egg express?" For inspiration, check out some of the mundane challenges on the 365project site such as mundane-screwdriver, mundane-toothbrush, or mundane-pen to name just a few. Patterson suggests that the sequence of photography should flow from seeing, then responding, and only then making photographs.
My entry for the 'mundane screwdriver' theme. (Not sure that this expresses something essential about a screwdriver, other than the pun.)
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.

And remember, "Good imagination can be infectious; catch it and pass it on to other photographers" (pg. 58).

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Keeping your Camera and Sensor Clean

A clean camera is a happy camera, and a dirty camera can turn an amazing shot into a gigantic mess. Rather than spending time cleaning up after your camera in post-processing, save time by keeping your camera clean in the first place.

Keeping your Camera Clean

Modern cameras are fairly well-sealed to protect their delicate inner workings from the potential dangers of everyday use, and some top-of-the-line DSLRs and point-and-shoot cameras offer an even higher level of protection: advertising weatherproofing or waterproofing to certain depths. There are still reasonable precautions you should take with any camera.

Avoid situations where dirt, grit, dust, sand, water, or spray can penetrate your camera. Does this mean you shouldn’t bring your camera to the beach? Of course not, but exercise some reasonable caution if you do. Have a safe, enclosed spot to keep your camera when you aren’t using it: a zippered case, clean pocket in your purse or backpack, etc. If you are taking your camera out on the water or boating, bring along a dry bag to secure it in when you are not shooting. (I use an 8L dry bag for my DSLR.)

Taken from the back of a double kayak near Ketchikan, Alaska. Clipped my dry bag onto the kayak when I wasn't using the camera.  Kayaking near Ketchikan by Archaeofrog on Flickr

If you’re really serious about water pictures, you can purchase a protective housing for your camera that allows you to operate it under water, but that is a significant investment. Personally, in case of rain, I usually have at least one gallon-sized plastic bag stashed with my gear. If you cut out one corner, stick your lens through, and re-attach the lens hood, you have a very rough, improvised rain hood for your camera. Works well in a pinch, and the open end of the bag leaves you room for your hands and face to operate the camera. An intact gallon-sized plastic bag is also useful to protect your camera from rain if you aren't shooting or for when you are bringing a cold camera into a warmer location. (Enclosing the cold camera in a sealed plastic bag allows the condensation from warming back up to form on the outside of the bag, rather than on or in your camera.)
I protected my camera with an improvised plastic bag hood to capture the snow as it came streaming down and then transferred it into an intact plastic bag just before bringing inside.

If you own a DSLR camera, consider purchasing a UV filter for each lens and leaving it on the lens at all times (unless you are using other filters). A UV filter offers some protection to your camera from UV rays but will not interfere with the color balance or quality of your images. Filters are easy to clean and, in a worst-case scenario, much cheaper to replace if scratched or permanently damaged. I use B+W UV filters on my lenses. When using or changing filters, always grip them by the edges to avoid fingerprints or grease from your hands. You should also purchase and use a lens hood which can protect against general human error, such as bumping your camera into things.

Cleaning your Camera

Even with care, your camera and your lens will get dirty. Smears, smudges, grime, and fingerprints are all clean-able problems, provided you have the right tools.

In an earlier post on Travel Photography Must Haves I discussed two cleaning products that I never travel without: a blower and a LensPen.  The blower serves as an initial step to remove large, visible debris from your lens or camera body, while the LensPen has a two-step process with first a soft brush to clean off remaining debris and then a flattened wiping end with a stored cleaning compound. The Giotto brand of rocket blowers are very well-regarded by photographers and come in multiple sizes, and the LensPen is small enough to fit easily in a purse or camera bag. Mine stays in my purse at all times.

LensPen showing both the brush and wiping ends

For more thorough cleaning, you may also want to invest in a liquid lens cleaning solution and a microfiber cloth or disposable wipes. The liquid cleaning solution may be necessary for persistent, sticky smudges. It is recommended that you spray the cloth or wipe, not the lens, with the solution and then clean in small, circular motions. Many cleaning kits with solution, wipes, or cloths are available online.

Another cleaning tool that I keep in my camera bag is a small, quick-dry towel designed for backpackers. The washcloth-equivalent size packs down small enough to throw into a pocket and can absorb a surprising amount of liquid. These are useful to have around in case of surprise rain, snow, fog, or spills.

Fog off Mount Rainier by Archaeofrog on Flickr

Cleaning your Camera Sensor

The final hurdle in keeping your camera clean is protecting your camera’s sensor. If you have a point-and-shoot camera, your sensor is generally well-protected, but if you have a DSLR or other interchangeable lens camera, your sensor is potentially exposed each time you change lenses.

To minimize damage to the sensor, you should try to only change lenses when your camera is off and when you are indoors or in a protected environment. Many photographers avoid changing lens outside or in windy or dusty conditions when at all possible. When changing lenses, keep your camera body pointing level or downward to avoid dust from the air settling down inside the camera body, and make the change as quickly as possible.

Most DSLR cameras have an option in the menu to enable automatic sensor cleaning. (Check your manual if you cannot easily find a ‘sensor cleaning’ tab in your menu options.) Each time you turn your camera on or off, it will engage in its own process to shake loose and remove internal debris. This process takes almost no time at all, and I leave it enabled at all times.

The time may come, however, despite your best efforts, when dust, debris, or smudges have accumulated on your sensor to the extent that automatic cleaning is not solving the problem. You may start noticing dots or smudge marks on your images that remain in the same place even when your recompose or use a different filter. To check for sensor debris, aim your camera at a blank area (blue sky or a white wall work well) and take a picture at your narrowest aperture, like f/22. View the resulting image on your computer at 100% magnification to search for tell-tale signs. (I often take two or more pictures aimed at different spots of the sky just to confirm.) Below is the result I found when I finally admitted to myself that it was time to get my sensor cleaned.

Visible Dust on Camera Sensor - keep your sensor clean | Boost Your Photography
Circles indicate only some of the dark spots and smudges from my dirty camera sensor.

You have a few options for cleaning your camera’s sensor. The first is to have it done professionally by your camera manufacturer. This process usually involved mailing off your camera to a distant workshop and getting it back several days or potentially weeks later. The second option is to have your sensor professionally cleaned by a local camera company or store. Many camera stores have someone on-site who has been trained to clean camera sensors properly, and you will generally have your camera back within a day or two.

The final option is to buy a camera sensor cleaning kit and do the process yourself. I am more than a bit squeamish when it comes to potentially messing up the insides of my camera, but you can find cleaning kits and full directions online.

In the end, I opted to get my sensor cleaned by my local camera store, and $50 US and two days later, I was able to re-take my sensor-testing image and pass with flying colors.

Pfew, all better!
Summary: keeping your camera and sensor clean

It is important to keep your camera and your camera sensor clean. A few simple precautions, like paying attention to your environment and surroundings, and having a safe, clean place to store your camera will go a long way towards keeping your camera clean. Be attentive when changing lenses or filters to avoid dust or debris getting into your camera’s sensor and fingerprints all over your lens glass or filters.

Keep up with cleaning your camera as needed, using simple tools like a blower, LensPen, liquid cleaning solution, and wipes or a microfiber cloth. Keep an eye on your sensor and look for the tell-tale smudges and smears that indicate you may need to consider getting it cleaned. Each of these steps will help your photographs turn out perfectly and unmarred by smears, smudges, or dust specks.

Have a favorite cleaning device or method I missed? Let me know in the comments.

Want more great ideas? Follow Boost Your Photography on Pinterest: Boost Your Photography