Saturday, December 28, 2013

Must Have Accessories for Your (New) Camera

Must Have Accessories for Your (New) DSLR Camera | Boost Your Photography

There is more to purchasing a new camera than just deciding about the body and lens(es). Once you have made that big decision, there are some follow-up accessory purchases that you should make. This post will provide a quick overview of the most common 'must have' accessories for your new camera.

UV Filter

A UV filter is a screw-on filter that protects both your lens and your camera body. It is easily cleaned and helps protect your lens from dirt and dust. A UV filter also cuts down on the impact of UV rays on your camera and sensor. When purchasing a UV filter, you need to know the diameter of your lens (indicated with the Ø symbol). Recommended brands for filters include B+W and Hoya. Read more about the importance of UV filters in this post on Lens Accessories.

Spare Battery

You should always have at least one spare battery on hand. That way, you do not have to worry about how many shots are left on your current battery. That way, when one battery gets low, you can immediately replace it with a fresh battery. Off-brand batteries are often available that match the battery that came with your camera: just do a search for the battery name. I use both Promaster and Sterlingtek batteries with my Canon. Read more about batteries in How Long Does Your Camera Battery Last?

Extra Memory Card

Along with a spare battery, you should also have an extra memory card on hand. Memory cards continue to fall in price and are often heavily discounted around the holidays. You can also purchase a small, waterproof and weather-sealed case to hold your spare cards. Read more in Travel Photography Must Haves.

Lens Cap Holder

Lens caps are small, fiddly, and often misplaced. These simple holders attach via adhesive to your lens cap and then you can wrap the band around your wrist or lens. A quick and easy way to keep track of your lens cap.


You want to be sure to keep your new camera clean. A LensPen is a handy double-sided cleaning tool for your camera lens. One end has a retractable brush for brushing away dust and particles, while the other end has and a flattened tip with a carbon cleaning compound. Use small circular motions to wipe away grime and fingerprints. The LensPen is so-called for its pen shape, which makes it easy to transport and keep one on hand when you go out shooting. Read more in Keeping Your Camera and Sensor Clean.

Camera Case

A camera case is an important, and often overlooked, camera accessory. There are two primary purposes for camera bags (carrying your camera and supplies when shooting and for holding your camera, lenses, and supplies at home), and you may want to consider different bags for both.

Think about the types of shooting that you do before purchasing a bag. For those who do a lot of street photography or want to remain inconspicuous, the Crumpler brand of camera bags are very popular, including the Crumpler 5 Million Dollar Bag, shown above. Backpack-style bags are popular with those who do a lot of traveling or like to change lenses often. Personally, unless I am traveling extensively, I keep my camera out when shooting and use my regular purse to carry accessories, filters, and my remote.

For home use, you also want to have a dedicated area or bag(s) for storing your camera, lenses, and other supplies. Keeping your photography equipment clean and organized will make it easier for you to use and access it whenever you need it. Since I know that I will not be traveling with this bag, I just use the inexpensive, not well-padded bulky bag that came with in the 'kit' with my DSLR camera and lenses. For traveling, I have a more compact, padded bag with a built-in waterproof cover: the Lowe Pro Nova.

Camera Wrap

Another often-overlooked camera accessory is a camera wrap. Rather than a case, a wrap is simply a neoprene sleeve for your camera. This is useful for times when you are traveling with your camera and not with a dedicated case. I often use my camera wrap to hold my camera in my purse when I am out traveling with my camera but not shooting at the time.

Remote Shutter Release

A remote shutter release allows you to operate your camera remotely – whether you are using a corded remote plugged into your camera or a wireless version. A remote is useful for keeping your camera stable when shooting with a tripod, triggering shots when you want to include yourself in the picture, and shooting pictures with a shutter speed longer than 30 seconds (using the Bulb setting). Read more in Easy Photography Upgrade: Get a Remote Shutter Release.


A tripod is a useful photography tool, and tripods come in many varieties and styles. You may want to consider buying two different tripods: a small travel tripod, like a GorillaPod, and a full-size tripod for more serious use.

A GorillaPod is a small, flexible tripod. You can use it like a traditional tripod, or you can manipulate the legs to wrap around something and hold up your camera. You can also buy a ball-head with level attachment. The ball-head is extremely useful, as it allows you to easily level your camera without re-adjusting the legs. If you purchase a GorillaPod, you want to buy the correct version for your size of camera, as there is a smaller, thinner version for point-and-shoot cameras and a larger, chunkier version for DSLRs.

If you are serious about wanting to use a tripod, then you will want to buy a full-size version as well. There are many varieties of full-size tripods, so you will need to decide which features are important for you. Pricier versions are often lighter or more compact. Many brands, like Vanguard, will come with a lifetime warranty. Take this into account when purchasing a tripod, as a larger investment now may be one that you do not need to ever make again. (I recently had an adjustment button on my Vanguard Alta break during rough transport, and my local camera store was able to ship it off and get it replaced for free within only two weeks. While it was tough to be without my tripod for those weeks, but it was well worth not having to buy a new one!)

Read more about How to Maximize Your Tripod.

Summary: Camera Accessories

There are many things to consider with your new camera, and this post has served just to highlight some of the most common and most useful ones. If you are just starting out, be sure to purchase, at minimum, a UV filter, an extra battery, a spare memory card, and a LensPen or other cleaning supplies. Then, as you can, think about adding a lens cap holder, a camera case and/or wrap, a remote shutter release, and a tripod and/or GorillaPod. You will find these invaluable as you continue on your photographic journey.

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.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Creative Christmastime Photography

Christmas is a holiday of love and lights and provides many opportunities for interesting and creative photographs. This post is meant to inspire your own Christmastime photographs with some ideas and examples of creative Christmas-themed images (and to give you some ideas of photographs you can take without bothering the rest of the family!).

Make the Tree Shine

You can add an extra sparkle to your Christmas tree by turning the lights into starbursts. You will need a tripod to hold the camera steady, and a remote shutter release will help. Use a wide angle lens, such as 18 mm. In aperture priority mode, set an ISO of 100 and an aperture of f/22. This narrow aperture will cause each miniature light to be rendered as a starburst. Read more about starbursts in my guest post on Digital Photography School.

Go for Silhouette

You can use just the glow of the Christmas tree to create interesting silhouettes. This is a great technique to use with children as well, as the glow of the lights mirrors the excitement for Christmas on their faces. Expose the scene for the Christmas tree and glow, before positioning the person or persons for the silhouettes. (Read more on Explaining Exposure and Exposure Compensation.) Try to use a mid-range or narrow aperture to amplify the glow and starburst effect. The photograph above was shot at ISO 100, f/8, and a shutter speed of 3.2 seconds. (Trying to get f/22 would have been a much, much longer shutter speed, and it would have been difficult for the subject to hold still that long without blur becoming evident in the final image.)

Use Bokeh

Two earlier posts this month explored the idea of bokeh and how to use it creatively in photographs: All about Bokeh and Shaped Bokeh. Christmas trees and other strings of Christmas lights offer an easy bokeh-filled background. You will need a lens with a wide aperture (like f/1.8 or f/3.5) for best results. For more details, read the previous posts.

In this photograph, the entire tree is used as a bokeh background for the statue. The implied shape of the tree is visible in the patterning of the bokeh and serves to form a connection between the two figures carrying home their Christmas tree and the real tree in the background. Using the entire tree as a bokeh shape can make an interesting backdrop for many kinds of shots.

Capture the Whole House

Outdoor holiday lights are another possible Christmas photography subject. Plan to photograph the lights on a clear night during the Blue Hour, which starts about 15-20 minutes after sunset. Read all of the details in the post on How to Photograph Outdoor Holiday Lights.

Focus on the Details

Christmas decorations and traditions make excellent subjects for a still life. Here, the Christmas cards and Christmas cookies are complemented by a glowing arrangement of ornaments and lights. Think about featuring a memorable or significant decoration in its own photograph. Below is a small vignette created with miniature Christmas houses and characters, made more special as this was taken the first Christmas after I received these from my grandmother.

Remember to Kick Back and Enjoy It

And of course, do not forget that Christmas is also a time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the holiday, surrounded by people you love. Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas!

Creative Christmastime Photography | Boost Your Photography

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

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Favorite Photography Books and Authors: part 2

This is the second in my two-part series about some of my favorite photography authors. The first part focused on authors who focus on broader ideas about photography, composition, and art. This post will explore authors who explain more of the technical side of photography.

Favorite Photography Books and Authors Part 2: Technical Side | Boost Your Photography

Bryan Peterson

Exposure is a complicated topic, and the several posts on this site about exposure have only begun to scratch the surface (All about Exposure and How to Fix Common Exposure Problems). Bryan Peterson's Understanding Exposure, now in its third edition, is a classic photography book. It is a combination of a technical 'how to' book about exposure and how to create the photographs that you want along with an inspiring collection of images and ideas that will inspire you and your photography.

Peterson breaks apart the different components of exposure and includes majors sections on aperture, shutter speed, and light. There is also a final section on filters and other more involved techniques and accessories. His clear explanations and simple directions will help clarify this difficult and oft-confusing topic.

Bryan Peterson also has a series of videos and articles sponsored by Adorama. His "You Keep Shooting" series is full of ideas and inspiration for specific types of styles and shots. If you are looking to learn a specific technique or need a new idea, this is a great resource.

Scott Kelby

Scott Kelby is a well-known photographer and author of many photography and Photoshop books. He also has a blog at His Digital Photography series, now at four books, covers common photography subjects and situations, and it is an excellent 'how to' series.

Kelby demystifies photography with sections like "Pro Tips for Getting Really Sharp Photos" or "Shooting Weddings like a Pro." Each book ends with what Kelby calls "Photo Recipes," which are the specific settings or techniques needed to take a photograph similar to his example. I found this section in particular helpful when I was first starting out, as his 'behind the scenes' insights make these types of shots feasible and attainable. The books are also written with a unique sense of humor, including section introductions that are humorous, off-kilter, and generally unrelated to anything within. Certainly an alternative to the dry, sleep-inducing tones of some instructional books.

Kelby is also a well-known Photoshop expert and offers workshops, books, and advice about using Photoshop for photography. For those of you interested in post-processing, you may find his resources helpful. He has written a series specific to each new version of Photoshop, so you can find a book tailored to exactly the software that you are using.


If you are looking for some photography reading this holiday season, you cannot go wrong with books by Michael Freeman, Freeman Patterson, Bryan Peterson, or Scott Kelby. Each can help you improve and boost your photography, whether it is through inspiration or compositional advice, specific instruction in a new technique or strategy, or help with your post-processing.

Do you have a favorite author I overlooked? Share your thoughts or links in the comments below.

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Favorite Photography Books and Authors: part 1

I love reading photography books and blogs, and I found that there are certain authors I return to again and again. This post is a two-part series about some of my favorite photography authors and the books all aspiring photographs should read: first, authors who push you beyond with bigger ideas about photography, composition, and art, and second, on authors who explain the details and technical sides of photography.

Favorite Photography Books and Authors Part 1: Big Ideas | Boost Your Photography

Michael Freeman

Michael Freeman is an amazing photographer and teacher. He has thought so hard and so deeply about photography, that his insights constantly challenge me in the ways that I think about and approach photography.

The first book of his that I owned was The Photographer's Eye: Field Guide (the essential handbook for traveling with your digital SLR camera). It is tiny, compact, and bursting will useful tips and advice. There are plenty of practical considerations about cameras and travel, but the most valuable sections for me have been the last three: Appreciating Light, Subjects, and Themes. What caught my attention when first reading was how interrelated these three categories were but how useful it was to consider each separately.

Only later did I realize that this book was a much smaller version of his masterpiece, The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photographs. This book has been recently updated with a 'graphic guide' version this past year.

What I appreciate in particular about Freeman's work is the amount of explanation and analysis that go into his understand of photography and composition. He can break down and interpret a photograph in ways that allow anyone to understand what he is seeing and what makes that photograph powerful. He continually challenges me to push myself further and to be more deliberate and thoughtful in my photography and composition. I think he has lessons for photographers of all levels and especially for those who might need a new push or inspiration in their work.

Freeman Patterson

I found out about the work of Freeman Patterson through a reflection on him by David DuChemin on his web site, (I highly recommend subscribing to his blog posts as well. Craft & Vision has an ever-expanding line of photography books, eBooks, and magazines, some of which are available to download for free.)

Patterson's book, Photography and the Art of Seeing, was the text chosen for our first ever Photography Book Club, hosted jointly through this blog and on the web site For the month of August 2013 a group of about thirty photographers spent the month working through four week-long challenges, based on the readings, photographs, and exercises found in this book.

Photography and the Art of Seeing focuses on the importance of observation, imagination, and expression in photography. Patterson integrates activities and advice into the different sections, to encourage you to go out and apply the ideas in the book directly to your own photography. He also ends each section with a selection of photographs to demonstrate how he puts his own ideas into practice. Those of us who participated in the Book Club all felt that this was a book that could stretch any photographer and inspired us to see and try new things in our photography. A great book if you are looking to be inspired to see in a new way.

You can read more about the Photography Book Club here:
The next post in this series will cover authors that do a great job of explaining more about the technical sides of photography.

What about you? Do you have a favorite photography author or book? Feel free to share in the comments below.

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

Saturday, December 14, 2013

How to Photograph Outdoor Holiday Lights

'Tis the season, at least here in the US, for home owners to brightly festoon their houses in vast quantities of small, twinkling lights. Whether you consider them Christmas lights, holiday lights, or just a fun excuse to run up the electricity bill, this article will give up the tips you need to take fabulous shots of outdoor holiday lights and light displays.

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A tripod is a must for tack-sharp night photographs, and a remote shutter release is helpful. (If you do not have a remote, you can use the 2-second or 10-second countdown feature on your camera. Corded remotes, however, are really inexpensive and worth the few bucks to pick up. Read more about them here.) You can use a point-and-shoot camera on night or long exposure settings, but you will have the most control over the final image if you shoot with a DSLR camera.


I prefer to shoot holiday lights in aperture priority mode at ISO 100 with a narrow aperture, like f/22. This can create a starburst effect, turning each tiny light into a miniature star. (Read more about how to create starbursts in my guest post over at Digital Photography School.) Even if you do not get full starbursts for each light, f/22 will help accentuate the glow.

I have found that Christmas lights often look best when shot a bit underexposed, as you still want something of a 'night' look to the final photograph and do not want your camera's sensor picking a shutter speed that will make the whole image look as bright as day. To that end, I recommend using exposure compensation and underexposing your image by one full stop. (You can find how to do this on most point-and-shoot cameras if you look deeply enough into the menus.)

The other option is to shoot bracketed and have the camera take a series of pictures at different exposure compensation values. If you are using this option, I recommend starting with the values of -2, -1, and 0. This will give you a range of options to choose from later.

Use Exposure Compensation to Get the Perfect Look for Your Holiday Lights | Boost Your Photography

Finally, you may want to consider taking your white balance (WB) off of Auto. If you shoot in RAW (or RAW + jpg), then you can leave the WB on Auto and choose the look you like best in post-processing. If you shoot in only JPEG, however, I recommend changing your white balance to tungsten or fluorescent. These will keep the skies blue, render the colors in the lights accurately, and not add a warm yellow or daytime glow to your images. You may want to shoot a series of images at different white balances and then decide. The set of photographs below were shot consecutively using a tripod, and the white balance was the only variable changed. You can see that the tungsten and fluorescent settings keep the snow and the houses white, while the other settings impart a yellow-orange glow to much of the scene.

Watch Your White Balance with Holiday Lights | Boost Your Photography
Comparison of White Balance (click here to see larger version on Flickr)


Timing is everything for making it an iconic holiday lights shot and not just another snapshot. The key is to take your photographs during the blue hour. The blue hour is the period of time (lasting approximately an hour) that occurs shortly before the sun begins to rise in the morning and shortly after the sun has set at night. During the blue hour, the sky becomes a deep blue color that serves as an excellent contrast to the glow of Christmas lights. Your camera will see a record this blue color deeply and more vibrantly than it may appear to your eyes, so you can keep shooting even after the sky has started to look 'black' to you.

Plan to Shoot Holiday Lights during the Blue Hour | Boost Your Photography
These pictures were taken only 15 minutes apart.

You also want to try and shoot during a night with clear skies. A clear sky allows for that deep blue color, unfiltered. Scattered clouds make for glorious sunsets but not for great blue skies. A completely overcast sky will actually look quite a bit yellow or orange, as it will reflect back the light pollution from any surrounding cities or urban areas. The other benefit of clear skies is that you might also be able to record stars, moon, or planets in conjunction with your holiday lights.

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There are many easy ways to figure out your timing for such shots. You can use a site like Blue Hour Site to get approximate timings for the blue hour in your area, or you can use a site like Time and Date or the Photographers' Ephemeris to determine the sunrise and sunset times. I have found that 15-20 minutes after sunset is the beginning of the best time for shooting holiday lights against stunning blue skies.


There are an endless number of ways to photograph and show off Christmas and holiday lights. The most traditional, of course, would be a straight on or just off-centered architecturally driven approach, where you include the whole house and are shooting from tripod or eye-level. If you want the walls of your house to appear straight, take the photograph from farther away (like across the street) and zoom in on the house. This will avoid the distortion common in architecture if you are too close to the building you are shooting.

You can also go for a less traditional look. Rather than including the whole house, choose a particular section or area of interest. Narrowing down the focus helps the viewer to see and appreciate all the details present in the scene, which might be lost in a broader composition.

holiday lights, Christmas lights, photography, how to, Santa, church

Think about adding other types of lights into the shot as well. For houses on busier streets, you may want to shoot a wider point of view and include the light trails of passing cars. These extra lights will add interest and a sense of movement to the picture.

holiday lights, Christmas lights, photography, how to

Finishing Touches for Houses

If you really want an above-and-beyond Christmas or holiday lights shot, there are a few finishing touches when it comes to lights and lighting. (A fresh dusting of snow is always appreciated too.) If you want your house to look warm and inviting, you should turn on the inside lights so that the windows glow brightly. This also applies to porch lights or street lamps. Their warm glowing will add to the overall ambiance of the final photograph.

Here the garage lights are too bright, but the interior lights add a warm glow.

Consider, however, turning off or temporarily disabling any flood lights or motion sensor lights that do not add to the overall composition. Flood lights lighting a house may add to the holiday effect, but bright motion lights streaming out from your garage will only blow out in the photograph and make everything too bright, as in the image above.

These seem like nit-picky kinds of things, but, as you can see from the examples, they can make a big impact in your overall photograph.


Christmas and holiday lights are a photographic gold mine this time of year. If you take a little bit of time to plan out your shot (shoot during the blue hour, turn on the inside lights, and bring along your tripod and remote), you will find it easy to capture memorable and delightful shots of your favorite lights displays. Enjoy!

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.