Saturday, November 29, 2014

Great Gifts for Photographers (and Yourself)

The holiday sales season is upon us, which makes it a great time to think about finding the perfect gift for yourself or for other photographers in your life. These recommendations come from my own experience and are items that I adore and use constantly (with the exception of few aspirational listings at the end: hint, hint Santa).

Cheap Must Haves

Extra Batteries and Extra Memory Cards. Any photographer would be delighted to receive a spare battery or quality memory card as a gift. And if you are caught asking yourself the question, "How many is too many?" I believe the answer remains, "At least one more..." Links: camera batteriesmemory cards, or read more.

Informational and Inspirational Photography Books. I am an inveterate book reader, and I love photography books for their powers to inform and inspire. Some of my favorites include Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson, The Digital Photography How To series by Scott Kelby, The Photographer's Eye (and really everything) by Michael Freeman, and anything by Freeman Patterson.

A Set of Close-Up Lenses. These little babies screw on to the front of your lens, turning it into a powerful macro or close-up lens. Close-up lenses are a great way to experiment with macro photography and explore the details of the world around you. Links: close-up lenses or read more.

A Travel Tripod. The GorillaPod brand of travel tripods are small, inexpensive, and powerful. GorillaPods bring you the power of a tripod with a minimum investment, and their flexible nature allows you to use them in a wide variety of settings and situations. Links: GorillaPods or read more.

A Remote Shutter Release. A remote is an incredibly useful photography tool and one with endless applications. A simple, corded remote will set you back only a few bucks, and inexpensive wireless models can be found starting for just under $20. If you really want to step-it-up in the remote game, check out the Trigger Trap mobile, described below. Links: remote shutter releases or read more.

A Lens Pen. These handy lens cleaners are a must have for any photographer. The LensPen fits easily in your purse or camera bag and contains two cleaning ends - a brush for bigger debris and a rounded pad with a self-contained cleaning solution. Super useful. Links: Lens Pen.

Great Next Steps

A Quality Set of Filters. There are many kinds of filters for photography. I use UV filters daily for protection and to diminish unwanted flare in my photographs. Circular polarizers have amazing properties for emphasizing the blue in skies, changing reflections in water, and really making colors pop. A neutral density filter allows you to slow down your shutter speed to capture amazing long exposure shots, like slow, silky waterfalls or smeared, cloudy skies. Links: UV filterscircular polarizersneutral density filters, or read more.

A 50 mm Lens. Every DSLR owner should have a 50 mm lens. The 50 mm f/1.8 starts at around $100 and is an incredible upgrade from your kit lens. The wide aperture possibilities of f/1.8 are amazing and will revolutionize your photography, especially if you shoot indoors or fast-moving children or want that blurred, bokeh effect. Links: 50 mm lenses or read more.

A Durable Tripod. A serious photographer needs a series tripod. While a quality, durable tripod is an investment, think of it as a lifetime purchase. Tripods are meant to last, and most come with long-standing guarantees. When one of my tripod legs got bashed in and stuck on my Alta tripod, I only had to pay $10 in shipping to send it off to the company and received it back, good as new, in less than two weeks. Totally worth it. Link: full-size tripods or read more.

Bigger Splurges

Lightroom and Photoshop. Post-processing extends the power of your photographs and is a must-have if you are interested in working as any kind of event photographer. Buying Lightroom and Photoshop together gives you the batch processing power of Lightroom with the photo editing and manipulating powers of Photoshop, all in one convenient package. Links: Lightroom and Photoshop packages.

A Light Tent. A light tent is an incredibly powerful tool, especially if you are interested in product photography or showcasing smaller subject. Light tents are wonderful for photographing crafts, jewelry, or other items for selling online. They lend beautiful, even lighting and will really make your subject pop. Links: light tents or read more, product review.

A 10-Stop Neutral Density Filter. As mentioned earlier, a neutral density filter limits some of the light coming in to your camera lens, allowing you to use longer shutter speeds when shooting. The Lee Big Stopper 10-stop neutral density filter is the granddaddy of them all, reducing the incoming light by 10 full stops. These are the filters being used when you see the incredibly smooth flowing water shots or the impossibly silky waterfalls. This is one for my own wish list. Links: 10-stop neutral density filters.

Biggest Splurges

And now we get into the truly aspirational purchases.

Tamron 18-270mm16-300mm, or 28-300mm. The Tamron 18-270mm is my go-to lens and the one that is on my camera 90% of the time. I love this lens so much that I even wrote a post all about it recently over at Digital Photography School. This all-in-one zoom lens is perfect for traveling, parents, and anyone who prefers having a single lens with a lot of functionality. The 18-270mm version has recently been upgraded with the release of the 16-300mm, which also means that the 18-270mm can be had for even less. If you have a full frame camera, you should investigate the 28-300mm version for full frames. Links: Tamron 18-270mm, 16-300mm, and the 28-300mm or read more.

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 or Nikon 105mm f/2.8. This dedicated macro lens is one coveted by many photographers, and it has a wide applicability beyond macro and is a popular portrait lens as well. Now do not get me wrong, I love the fact that I can get macro effects with my close-up lenses and extension tubes, but if someone were to offer me this lens, it is one that I would never, ever turn down. If you love macro photography, this would be a great investment to make. Links: Canon 100 mm f/2.8 or Nikon 105mm f/2.8.

The Canon 7D Mark II. If I ever get up the guts (and the cash) to update my beloved camera body, this is where I will be looking. Amazing high-ISO performance, a 20+ megapixel sensor, and 10-frames per second, there are a lot of great things going on with the 7D Mark II. Here's to starting that letter to Santa ... Links: Canon 7D Mark II.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Year Ago on Boost Your Photography

The countdown is on until Cyber Monday! Email subscribers to Boost Your Photography should check their inboxes early for a special Cyber Monday deal ... !

(Not an email subscriber yet? There's still time to get on the list - sign up at the bottom of this post or using the subscribe via email box in the margin.)

Next month we will be paying attention to our shooting modes for the Boost Your Photography 52 Weeks Challenge. Join us to think about which mode you choose to shoot in and why.

  • Thankful for Food Photography. Thanksgiving got me thinking about food photography. This collection of quick tips will help you with the settings, strategies, and stylings to make a big difference in your food photography.
  • Yes, You Need a 50mm Lens. A 50mm lens is a major upgrade from your kit lenses, and this post lays out a series of arguments (and photographs) to show you what you might be missing. Plus, at around $100 USD, a 50mm lens is also a steal! 
  • Fall Photography Round Up. Catch up on three months worth of great posts in one place. The fall roundup has got you covered!

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Fall Photography Round Up

Welcome to the Fall Photography 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, Spring 2014, and Summer 2014.

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.

Depth of Field:
it's more than just aperture

Getting Started with
Macro Photography

Diptych: Double
the Power of Your Photograph

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.

How to Shoot Your Children
(with a Camera)

Find Time for
Photo Books

The Line: elements of
visual design, part 1

Must Have Apps to Assist Your Photography

Blue Hour

An Introduction to
Night Photography

Shape: elements of
visual design, part 2

Form / Volume: elements
of visual design, part 3

Texture: elements of
visual design, part 4

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.

Portrait Photography

How to Photograph

How to Photograph
Traffic Trails

How to Photograph
Ghosts in 1 Exposure

Spooky Levitation How To with Photoshop

the Seasons

Guest Posts

In addition to Boost Your Photography, I am also a regular contributor to Digital Photography School and Craftsy. These are my posts that were published over on their site in the last few months.

Stay Connected

Be sure you don't miss a single post from Boost Your Photography. You can sign up to receive new posts by email, using the 'Follow by Email' subscription box in the right-hand column. (Email addresses will never be sold or distributed.)

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Texture: elements of visual design, part 4

This month's Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge is focusing in on the basic elements of composition: line, shape, form or volume, texture, and color. This week your challenge is to pay attention to texture. See how thinking about texture can help you grow in your photography. (Click here to read part 1, The Linepart 2, Shape, and part 3, Form or Volume.)


My favorite definition of texture comes from Michael Freeman's The Complete Guide to Black and White Digital Photography, "Texture is structure and form on a small scale, meaning small relative to the view. And, because a texture is, by definition, something that is reasonably consistent over a substantial area of a surface, it is usually a repetitive structure" (page 54).

Just like form and volume, texture is often emphasized by strong, directional light. This type of light creates harsh shadows, bringing emphasis and attention to the variations in the texture of your subject. The photograph above, of the peeling paint, was shot under diffused, cloudy light, so there is no apparent direction in the light and no harsh shadows.

By contrast, the photograph above was shot under strong, direct sunlight, and you can see the deeper shadows in the ridges. Had the sun been coming from a lower side angle, rather than still fairly high overhead, the effect would have been even stronger.

Backlighting is another potential way to emphasize the texture of an object. With backlight, the light source is placed directly behind your subject, relative to the camera. This style of backlighting produces what is called "rim light" or light that is shining around and through the edges of your subject. This style of lighting works best to highlight the texture of fuzzy subjects and edges, like the chenille plant above.

Texture is also an interesting element to pursue at a macro or close-up level. The closer in you get to your subject, the easier it is to see and capture interesting variations in texture. With the leaf, above, a close-up shot reveals the various veins and ridges of the internal structure of the leaf. With the penny below, you can really see the different layers that make up the embossed design.

How Will You Use Texture?

Keep your eye out for interesting textures this week. Seek out different lighting situations and see how the texture appears to change. Share a link or a photograph in the comments below, or 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, November 19, 2014

How to Shoot Your Children (with a Camera)

A Guest Post by Elizabeth Van Orden

I have absolutely no evidence to support this, but I would be willing to bet that at least half of DSLR purchases are made with the intention of taking better photographs of children. If anyone does have any figures on this, please put them in the comments, so I know what I am talking about. The omniscient Google was quiet on this topic. Among those folks who shelled out good money to take better pictures without hiring a professional, most keep their lovely cameras in Auto mode and the resulting pictures are only scarcely better than a decent point and shoot. I say all of this lovingly because this is precisely how I started my journey – yep, I was pretty darned proud of this photo at the time:

Here are my top recommendations for taking better pictures of your own children:

1. Learn your camera and how to shoot in manual

That’s the top recommendation I can give any budding photographer. Do not buy any new toys until you have reached the full potential of your camera body and the lens or lenses that came with it. It probably came with some free basic editing software, too. Do not buy any editing programs until what comes straight out of your camera is pretty good. Learn the exposure triangle, i.e. how to balance aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, and then go to step 2 and 3, which are equally important in my mind. Katie’s book is a great resource. Read it!

2. Don’t amputate your children

There are plenty of cropping guides online, but don’t chop off your kids’ arms and legs when taking their photographs. You can always do a closer crop later, but once you’ve chopped off little Jimmy’s foot in the camera, it won’t grow back in Photoshop.

3. Let there be light

There are two times of day that will give you the best outdoor light: the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. Photographers generally refer to this time as “golden hour.” Pictures taken in the mid-day sun will usually have harsh shadowing or dappling (little bits of light) even under the shadiest tree. If you do shoot in the middle of the day, wait for a passing cloud or try to find some “open shade.” Open shade is a large shady area, for example under a tree, with limited light peeking through. Those light peeks, if they hit your child’s face, are distracting. I also recommend shooting in cloudy mode for white balance if you haven’t set a custom white balance. It’ll get you close enough. Another suggestion? Shoot on a cloudy day, you get beautiful flat light!

4. Can I get a little help, here?

I have a three year old. He wants to do everything himself and the last thing he wants to do is listen to my instructions for posing. He’ll sit next to me while I’m editing and say, “I don’t look very happy in that photo, do I?” My husband comes along, especially when I’m shooting with long lenses, to help keep my son content. The best place for your helper to stand and make faces at the baby/child? Directly behind you. If they’re off to the side, that’s where the kid is going to look.

5. Stoop to their level

Photographing kids is a little like gymnastics, one minute I’m on my belly on the ground, the next I’m running up a hill after them. Get down to their level – squat, on your stomach, sitting, whatever it takes so you’re at about their head level.

6. I feel the need for speed

As a rule of thumb, you want your shutter speed to be approximately twice the length of your lens. If you’re shooting a 50mm lens, you want it at least 1/100. Completely forget that rule when it comes to kids on the move. You need a shutter speed of at least 1/250. Heck, when I take leaf-toss photos with a 35mm lens, I bump that puppy up to 1/500 to 1/600.

7. Don’t bring your camera everywhere and don’t be a perfectionist

At the end of the day, I’m a mom and not a photojournalist assigned to document my child’s life. Do I miss out on some awesome photo opportunities? Every single day. My camera almost always stays at home for trips to the zoo, the park, birthday parties, etc. I love to photograph my son, but I love being a mom to my son even more. My cell phone is almost always nearby if I need a snapshot.
What I have said above are just some recommendations for taking better pictures of your children. Love is more important than any photo so don’t worry if your photography isn’t perfect. Life, love, and kids are messy; sometimes photos are, too. Just enjoy the ride and click away.

Elizabeth Van Orden is the owner and principle photographer at Elizabeth Van Orden Photography, LLC in the Chicago suburbs. To say she is self-taught would be an insult to the wonderful support network of mentors and friends who have helped her along her journey including her former roommate, Katie McEnaney. She is also a mom to three-year-old “K” who makes her keep her shutter speed at 1/500 most of the time.