Saturday, May 31, 2014

Composition: Rule of Thirds

For the month of June the Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge will be looking at different composition techniques. (Join the Google+ Community to share your weekly photographs and receive feedback.) The "Rule of Thirds" is one of the most commonly cited of the rules of photography composition, so it makes sense to begin here.

What is the Rule of Thirds?

Rule of Thirds - Castle Geyser, Yellowstone | Boost Your Photography
This image of Castle Geyser is also available for purchase.

The Rule of Thirds is a simple piece of composition advice: take your scene and divide it into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. Now you have nine boxes and four points of intersection between your divisions. Use these points as guidelines for where to locate your subject within your photograph.

With the photograph of Castle Geyser, above, you can see that the bottom third of the image contains the foreground and reflection of the geyser, the middle third contains the background and the geyser itself, and the upper third contains more of the sky. The peak of the spray is located near the upper-right intersection point, while the base of the geyser is located at the lower-right point.

Comparison of the Rule of Thirds for Composition | Boost Your Photography

The graphic above offers a comparison of two different compositions of the same sunset, shot within a few moments of each other. The top composition has the sun centered vertically in the image, while the bottom composition has aligned the sun and the silhouette of the Capitol building at the lower two points, according to the Rule of Thirds. This version provides a more balanced composition, placing the two main focal points equally within the frame.

Rule of Thirds in Landscape Photography | Boost Your Photography

You can also think about the Rule of Thirds simply as either a horizontal guide or a vertical one. This photograph from the Badlands in South Dakota shows a rule of the horizontal Rule of Thirds: the bottom third contains mainly the gray rock, the middle third contains the formations, and the top third contains the sky. Locating the variations in the formations near the intersection points also helps add to the composition.

Think about the Rule of Thirds when Cropping | Boost Your Photography

You can also think about the Rule of Thirds after the fact. The original image was shot using the maximum zoom available to me at the time, and I knew that I would want to crop the image later to better emphasize the lone camel at sunrise. Using the Rule of Thirds, I chose the composition shown below, which brings much more focus and attention to the camel and also provides a good horizontal division between the foreground sand in the bottom third and the background formations and sky.

The Rule of Thirds - don't be exact | Boost Your Photography
This image is also available for purchase.

As with any advice, the Rule of Thirds are meant to be "more like guidelines" than a strict answer for what you must do every time. With the sunrise silhouette image above, I placed the horizon firmly in the middle to balance the sky and the reflections in the clouds. While the Capitol and the crew team are near-ish to the intersection points, it is not exact, nor should it be every time.

Don't miss an opportunity to bend the rules ... or even break them!

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, May 28, 2014

A Year Ago on Boost Your Photography


  • Light Painting: How to Spin an Orb. This article walks you step-by-step through the process of spinning and creating orbs with light painting. All you need is a bright LED light, a tripod for your camera, and a little bit of practice. You'll be surprised at how easy these are to do!
  • Travel Photography Must Haves. Don't leave for your next summer trip without making sure you have all the travel photography supplies you need! This quick article will get you started with all the basics for bringing back home amazing travel photographs.
  • Be a Local Tourist: Photograph a Farmers' Market. Photography opportunities are all around you. Take a trip to your local Farmers' Market to discover a wealth of photographic options. Practice your street or travel photography, zoom in on some curious details, or just wait for inspiration to strike!
  • Remember the Background and Move Your Feet. This article focuses on an oft-forgot point of composition: the background. Rather than getting sucked into your subject, take the time to pay attention to the background and see how moving your motion or perspective can make an immediate impact.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Happy Memorial Day!

Wishing you all a Happy Memorial Day and unofficial beginning of summer! With temperatures rising here and countdowns begun for the last days of school, summer is definitely in the air.

With that in mind, I have decided to scale back posting during the summer to my previous schedule of twice a week, on Wednesday and Saturdays. Wednesday posts will be a mixture of the current Monday and Wednesday posts (A Year Ago on Boost Your Photography, compilation posts of great articles and pins, as well as regular Boost Your Photography features like Inspired Ideas, Tips and Tricks, and other photography advice and inspiration). Saturday will continue to cover topics linked to the current Boost Your Photography 52 Weeks Challenge (#BYP52Weeks) - for June we will be exploring some of the basics of composition.

I'm hoping the relaxed schedule will allow a little more time for photography as well as travel and other summer adventures. Excited to keep sharing the journey with you!

Flag created using Shaped Bokeh.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

ISO Basics

ISO is a measure of the sensitivity of your camera's sensor to light. (The term ISO is an abbreviation for the International Organization for Standardization.) The higher the number of the ISO, the more light is recorded by your camera's sensor. The trade-off with raising the ISO value is an increase in "noise."

We are familiar with the concept of "grain" from film photography. In that process, the visible spots and speckles on the photograph were actual enlarged grains, a result of the chemical process used to develop high ISO film.

With digital cameras, the noise from higher ISO values is the result of the amplification of the light received by the camera's sensor. Increasing the ISO value increases this amplification, and increased amplification results in an increase in random fluctuations (like the sound of static in radio signals). These random fluctuations show up as the noise or brightly colored pixels visible in a high ISO image. Digital cameras continue to improve at their ability to deal with and reduce such fluctuations, resulting in less visibly noisy images even at higher ISO values.

ISO: a Visual Comparison

ISO Comparison at Full Size | Boost Your Photography

This sequence of shots offers a comparison of changing the ISO values from very low (ISO 100) to very high (ISO 12,800). Some cameras offer even higher ISO values. The effects of changing ISO are not always visible when viewing an image at a small size, like in the example above. To truly see and understand how ISO can impact a photograph, you need to look more closely.
ISO Comparison Zoomed In | Boost Your Photography

This sequence of shots offers a zoomed-in view of the same series of photographs as above. Now the impact of the changing ISO values becomes more obvious. Even as low as ISO 400 or 800, you begin to see the bright, off-color specks that signify digital noise. This noise becomes quite pronounced moving into ISO 3200 and beyond. At ISO 12,800, such noise is everywhere across the image.

Why Raise ISO?

You may be asking, "Why should I ever raise my ISO then, if I do not want noisy photographs?" The answer, of course, is that it depends. Specifically, it depends on the light. In low light situations, you have three options for getting enough light to capture the photograph that you want: open up your aperture to let in more light, use a longer shutter speed to let in more light, or use a higher ISO value to record more light.

There are limitations to all three options. You can only open up your aperture as wide as your lens can go, say f/1.8 or f/3.5. If your aperture is already wide open, then you need another option. (Read more on Aperture and the F/Stop Conundrum here.)

You can only slow down your shutter speed so much before you need to use a tripod or stable surface, otherwise "camera shake" will become obvious in your photograph. If you are trying to freeze motion with your image or photograph people without blur, then you may want to stick with a quicker shutter speed. (Read more on Shutter Speed Guidelines here.)

That leaves raising your ISO. Common situations where you may need to consider raising your ISO above 100 include shooting indoors, shooting in dim situations, or shooting at night without a tripod. In these kinds of situations, you need to decide how best to compromise between opening up your aperture, slowing down your shutter speed, and raising your ISO. The final decision comes down to how much noise is acceptable to you in your photograph. And that will depend on your situation, your style, and on how large you plan to print or use the final image ...

ISO and Print Size

An important consideration when raising your ISO when shooting is how you are planning to use those photographs. If you are planning to downsize them and share them online or print 4x6s for personal use, then you have much more latitude to shoot with higher ISO values. If you are planning to order a larger print or a 16x20 canvas, for example, then you should consider sticking to very low ISO values. (A good rule of thumb is to avoid using an ISO above 400 with an introductory-level DSLR if you want to make larger prints.) If you are planning to sell prints or image files, then you will definitely want to use a low ISO to avoid visible noise.

Compare ISO noise at 800 and 200 dpi | Boost Your Photography

The images above offer a comparison of the impact of ISO at different print sizes. Each square shows the approximate pixels and quality of one inch of the same image if printed as a 4x6 compared to a 16x20. (The original image was 4752 x 3168 pixels, giving the 4x6, above, an approximate resolution of 800 dpi and the 16x20, below, an approximate resolution of 200 dpi.) The larger the image is printed or viewed, the more obvious the noise is from a higher ISO value. Try viewing this image with each square as an actual inch on your screen, and you get an idea for what the final image would look like and for how visible the noise becomes with the larger print.

Controlling ISO: Program vs. Auto Mode

If you generally shoot in full Auto mode on your DSLR or point-and-shoot camera, consider making the switch to Program mode. The main difference between Auto and Program mode is that in Program mode, you set the ISO value for the camera, while in Auto mode, the camera sets the ISO value. In both modes, the camera will still choose the aperture and shutter speed for you.

Taking control of ISO can make a big difference in your final images. A common problem when shooting in Auto is coming home and downloading your photographs onto your computer only to realize that the camera was shooting at an extremely high ISO value. There is very little that can be done in post-processing to "save" an extremely noisy image. By shooting in Program mode, you are guaranteed to keep the ISO value where you want it and to only risk noise if you need to. Your Camera Zero default value for ISO should be 100 or the lowest value available for your camera. (Read more about Camera Zero and Default Settings here.)

Test Your Own ISO

The best way to understand ISO and your camera is to take your own series of test shots, using the full range of ISO values available. After downloading all the images to your computer, zoom in at 100% and scan around different regions of each photograph to see at which ISO value the photograph appears to be "too noisy" for your purposes. The newer and higher quality your camera, the more likely you will be to be able to "push" your ISO values higher with little or minimal impact on your final photographs. Knowing your own thresholds of acceptability will ensure that you get the image that you want every time.

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, May 21, 2014

Spring Roundup

Welcome to the Spring Round Up. This is a chance to look back at the posts from the last three months and catch up on any posts you might have missed.  You can also check out the previous round ups for Spring 2013, Summer 2013Fall 2013, and Winter 2013-2014.

Consider joining in the Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge! Our focus for May was on photography basics. In June we will be looking at different composition techniques. Join the Google+ Community to share your weekly photographs and receive feedback.

For Beginners

This is a collection of posts geared towards beginners or those who want to learn to do more with their camera. Many of the 'Tips and Tricks' and 'Inspired Ideas' posts will also be applicable. You can find other posts geared toward Beginners here or in the tab up top.

Shutter Speed:
an overview

Teaching Kids

What the ...
White Balance?

BYP 52 Weeks

Focus on

Deciding Just Where to Focus: Focus Points

Explaining Exposure and
Exposure Compensation

Shutter Speed
Creative Ideas for Shutter Speed
Creative Ideas Using Shutter Speed

Tips and Tricks

Advice for getting the most out of your camera and your photography. You can find more Tips and Tricks posts here or in the tab up top.

Tips to Improve Your Macro Photography

Product Review:
Close-Up Lenses

Macro Fakery:
Background Creation

Product Review:
Light Tent Kit

Focus Stacking for
Macro Photography

Tell a Story with
Easter Photographs

5 Food Photography

Tripod Review

Photographing Architecture
Watch Your Lines

Top Tips for Camera
Memory and Storage

Tripod Review

Inspired Ideas

This is a collection of posts containing ideas, both those that you can implement immediately and those that require a little more time, effort, and potential planning. You can find more Inspired Ideas here or in the tab up top.

Make the Shot:
Water on CDs

Make the Shot:
Droplet Refraction

Master the Heart-Shaped Shadow

Capture a Day
in a Single Image

Better Before/
After Photographs


Guest Posts

During the winter, I became a regular contributor to Digital Photography School. These are my posts that were published over on their site in the last few months.

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