Saturday, August 30, 2014

Blue Hour Photography

Blue Hour Photography: how to | Boost Your Photography
The Blue Hour is an incredible time for photography, but it is often less well-known than its flashy, warm precursor, the Golden Hour. The Blue Hour is that magical time of night when the sky turns a deep, dark blue that is captured beautifully by camera sensors. It has great potential for creating stand-out shots, especially of subjects like lit cities, glowing carnival lights, and light paintings. This post will explain the basics of the Blue Hour and how best to capture incredible Blue Hour shots.

Blue hour is also the weekly topic for the Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge. Consider joining the BYP 52 Weeks Google+ Community to share your weekly photograph and see what others are capturing.

When Is the Blue Hour?

The Blue Hour is not always an hour, and it is not always blue. But, it is generally the time just following the sunset and Golden Hour or just before the sunrise and Golden Hour, and it most often lasts between an hour and only a half an hour. You can guesstimate the Blue Hour by adding about 15 minutes onto the sunset time (or subtracting 15 minutes from sunrise), or you can visit the Blue Hour Site, which has a handy Blue Hour calculator and will provide estimated starting and ending times for the Blue Hour. (There is also a link to a Flickr group with a lot of inspirational Blue Hour photographs.)

Shooting During the Blue Hour

Many of the same tips for Better Sunrises and Sunsets are also applicable to shooting during the Blue Hour, especially knowing when and where to shoot, creating foreground interest, and nailing the exposure. Think about bringing and using a tripod when shooting during the Blue Hour, as the fading light will have you wanting longer shutter speeds (read more about How to Maximize Your Tripod or a review of the GorillaPod line of travel tripods).

Try Tungsten White Balance for the Blue Hour | Boost Your Photography

If you shoot in JPEG, you may want to adjust your white balance to "tungsten" when shooting during the Blue Hour, especially if you are shooting a city or other bright lights at night. Tungsten will deepen and accentuate the blue elements, often making for a more dramatic shot. If you shoot in RAW, you have the ability to choose Tungsten later in post-processing.

Keep an eye on your LCD and histogram when shooting during the Blue Hour, as the light will be changing rapidly. (See Demystifying the Histogram for more details on using your histogram.) One great strategy is to shoot bracketed shots using exposure compensation, which is available on most DSLR cameras. This allows you to shoot a series of photographs at varying exposure values, such as -1, 0, and 1, which is a good interval to use.

Use Exposure Compensation to Shoot Bracketed Shots during the Blue Hour | Boost Your Photography Use Exposure Compensation to Shoot Bracketed Shots during the Blue Hour | Boost Your Photography

Comparing the three photographs above on the right, you can see how the underexposed shot (-1) brings out a deeper blue color in the sky when compared to the normally exposed (0) and overexposed (+1) images. This series was taken very early at the start of the Blue Hour, which is why the blue color is not as pronounced.

The left-hand series of three exposures was taken 15 minutes later, when the Blue Hour was in full swing. The deep blue skies are much more apparent across all three exposures. If you like the deeper, darker color, you might still prefer the underexposed version, but you might also find yourself drawn to the cheerier lighter blues of the normally exposed or overexposed versions too. This is the benefit of shooting bracketed shots: you can choose your favorites after the event, and you can always change your mind. As the Blue Hour rolls to an end and the sky becomes black, you might find that only the overexposed version retains any of the blue color.

Ideas for Blue Hour Subjects

Cities shine during the Blue Hour - Blue Hour Photography | Boost Your Photography

Cityscapes. Cities are an ideal subject for Blur Hour photography. The bright lights and moving traffic create a great contrast to the changing blues of the night or early morning sky. In the photograph above, the frozen ice and water on the lake echo the brilliant blues of the sky. (The purples towards the bottom are from the light reflecting off the ice.)

Blue hour adds drama to light painting | Boost Your Photography

Lights and Light Painting. Playing with lights is a particularly fun way to use the Blue Hour. You can use a flashlight to "paint" color or brightness onto a subject, or you can write, paint, draw or swirl with lights to create intricate patterns and designs. All of them are complemented by the blue tones of the Blue Hour. Read Light Painting: How to Spin an Orb for more specifics.

Make the most of the Blue Hour when shooting carnival rides | Boost Your Photography

Fairs, Festivals, and Carnivals. Anywhere with bright carnival rides is a great location for Blue Hour photography. After the sun sets and the blue hues come out, you can capture incredible long exposure shots using your camera, tripod, and remote shutter release. Vary your shutter speed, angle, and timing to create a wide variety of photographs. The photographs above show the difference between shooting during the Blue Hour and shooting after. The second shot was taken about a half-an-hour after the first. The blue color really adds to the brightness and drama compared to the black.

Use the Blue Hour for sparklers, fireworks, and steel wool ... oh my! | Boost Your Photography

Sparklers, Fireworks, and Steel Wool. You can also create amazing Blue Hour photographs with sparklers, fireworks, or steel wool. Again, the bright lights look even more amazing against a blue backdrop. Sadly, not all communities schedule the timing of their fireworks displays around the precise Blue Hour (how thoughtless!), but you can choose the time if you are using sparklers or steel wool. Read more about Spinning Fire and Steel Wool Photography and/or Quick Tips for Better Fireworks Photographs for more details.


The Blue Hour is a fascinating photographic time of night (or morning) and one worth exploring. Think about the kinds of subjects that might work well for a Blue Hour shot and get out there and make it happen! Share your photographs in the comments below, or consider joining the BYP 52 Weeks Google+ Community to share your weekly photograph and see what others are capturing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Summer Round Up

Welcome to the Summer 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, Winter 2013-2014, and Spring 2014.

Consider joining in the Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge! In September we will continue with out theme of exploring photographic subjects and styles. 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.



Strategic White Balance

Demystifying the

Teaching Kids Photography 2

Capturing Motion

For Beginners: Composition

The focus for June was on properties of composition, so it makes sense to list those as a separate sub-category.

Rule of Thirds

Leading Lines

Composition: Fill the Frame

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.

Top Tips for Photography Portraits and Posing

Must Have
Camera Apps

Must Have Post-
Processing Apps

An Introduction
to Filters

How Do You Do
Black and White?

Better Back to
School Photos

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.

Quick Tips
for Fireworks

5 Tips for Better Sunrise and Sunset Photographs

Street Photography

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.

Stay Connected

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Street Photography

The gauntlet has been thrown this week for the Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge: street photography. Street photography is considered one of the most intimidating styles of photography: taking the photographer out of his/her comfort zone by getting out in public, interacting with strangers, or photographing on the fly. Even if you have never thought of yourself as a street photographer, you can learn a lot about yourself and your photography by giving it a try. Pushing yourself to try new things is a great way to grow.

Street Photography | Boost Your Photography

What is Street Photography?

Street photography is generally understood to mean a style or method of photography where the photographer is out of a studio environment (often but not exclusively on the streets) and capturing moments as they happen (often of strangers). Many street photographs are taken (or processed) in black and white and evoke the earlier days of film photography.

Tell a Story with Street Photography | Boost Your Photography

Street photography is all about telling a story. Many street photographs focus on interesting people, interesting locations, and interesting patterns. There are many different strategies and styles for street photography. Street photography is not a strength of mine, so I will turn the rest of this post over to three street photography experts. The three articles pinned below provide an overview of street photography, amazing example images, and some technical tips to help get you over your fear and into street photography.

Eric Kim

Eric Kim is highly regarded street photographer, who teaches street photography workshops to others and inspires with his amazing portfolio. If you want to learn about street photography, spend some time on his site and with his images. Or, if you want a short-cut approach, you can check out some of his many insightful articles over at Digital Photography School. One of my favorites, 10 Tips for the Aspiring Street Photographer, is also pinned below.

Valerie Jardin

Valerie Jardin is another incredible photographer, known for her street photography work and workshops. Her approachable writing style will inspire you and provide meaningful advice. A great place to start is her How to Approach Street Photography in 12 Easy Steps, pinned below.

Michael Walker-Toye

Still feeling nervous about trying street photography? Professional London photographer Michael Walker-Toye has the answers and encouragement you need. In Practical Tips to Build Your Street Photography Confidence, below, he shares his inside tips (my favorite - follow the tourists, then act like one).

Street Photography: take a deep breath and go for it

The challenge has been thrown. Get out of your house, out of your comfort zone, and give street photography a try this week. Like what you shoot? Share a link or a photograph with us in the comments below! Or consider joining the BYP 52 Weeks Google+ Community to share your weekly photograph and see what others are capturing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Top Tips for Better Back to School Photos

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

Do Your Homework

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

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

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

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

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

During the Shoot

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

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

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

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

A Final Word of Advice

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

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

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

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Capturing Motion in Photography

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

Capturing Motion in Photography | Boost Your Photography

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

Arresting Motion

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

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

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

Water Drop - Capturing Motion in Photography | Boost Your Photography

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

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

Highlighting Motion

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

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

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

Capturing Motion in Photography | Boost Your Photography

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Motion

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

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

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

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

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

Summary: Capturing Motion in Photography

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Year Ago on Boost Your Photography


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

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