January 31, 2009

Framing Close-ups

Inaccurate framing with window viewfinder

If you have tried making close-up, or macro, pictures of small objects like wildflowers or stamps, you may have been frustrated that your subject was not centered in the picture as you expected. This probably happened because you used the optical, or traditional window, viewfinder to frame your composition. But this window "looks" at your subject from a slightly different position than your camera's lens does. When the subject is farther away, this doesn't matter in the final result. But when your subject is close, framing with the window viewfinder can result in part of your subject being cut off, like in the first image above.

To solve this problem, use the LCD screen on the back of your camera to compose your photo. Because the screen displays what the lens sees, your framing will be more accurate.

Accurate framing with LCD screen

There are two exceptions to this advice. First, some compact (point & shoot) digital cameras have an electonic viewfinder (abbreviated EVF). This is a miniature LCD screen inside an eyepiece. It shows you what the lens sees so it is fine to use for your close-ups.

Second, if you are using a digital SLR (a camera with interchangeable lenses, such as a Canon Rebel or Nikon D40), its viewfinder also shows you what the lens sees. So you can compose your photo with confidence.

Accurate framing with SLR viewfinder

January 28, 2009

The Photographic Process

Winter Cottonwoods

If you love black & white photography, and even if you don't, check out Brooks Jensen's self-assigned project at this link. Brooks is the editor and publisher of Lenswork magazine, a fine-quality publication focused on black & white photography and the artistic process. For his project, Brooks is making 100 new prints in a year. And he's sharing these with the public along with his comments, both written and oral.

I admire his work! He can make prints that glow like silver (see the fish) and prints of beautiful light and form (see vase and curtain). And I think you will too! Check it out!

January 27, 2009

Share Pictures on Your Television

If you've ever tried to show several people your favorite shots on the back of your camera, you know it's hard for everyone to see the tiny image. You can display a much larger version of your photo if you use your television.

All digital cameras come with an AV (audio/visual) cable. On one end is a plug for the camera and on the other end are two different plugs (usually one yellow and one black) for the television. New televisions have connections for these plugs on the front of the set. Be sure the TV and your camera are turned off. Then plug in both ends of the cable.

Camera Connected to TV

Next, turn the television on and set it to Video. Turn on the camera and set it to Playback. Now the television screen acts like the screen on the back of your camera (which is blank). Use the camera controls to go forward and backward through the photos. You can also check your camera's menu (now displayed on the TV) for an "Auto Play" or "Slide Show" feature. This will automatically advance the pictures, making an instant slide show. When you're finished watching the pictures, turn off the camera and television before unplugging the cable.

Now the whole group can enjoy a big version of your favorite images!

Reveal Details with Flash

No Flash

If you've ever photographed someone standing in front of a window, you may have gotten a picture of them as a silhouette even though the background looked fine like the plant picture above. Your camera saw all the bright light coming through the window and set the exposure for that. But your subject wasn't in that light, so it was completely underexposed.

You can remedy this problem and reveal the subject's details by changing the flash to Fill or Force Flash. This causes the flash to fire even in bright light. The flash lights up your subject while leaving the background unaffected just as in the picture of the plant below. (You might need to change your camera to Program mode in order to have access to this flash setting. Check your camera manual.)

Fill Flash

You can also use this technique outside when your subject is in the shade and the background is bright with sun or snow. In the picture below, a tree to the left of the shot was shading the cattails in the foreground. The water behind the plants was in sun. Setting the flash to Fill or Force Flash brightened up the cattails, giving a second version of the scene.

No Flash

Fill Flash

It's always a good idea to take two shots when you are learning a new camera control. That way you have a before and after version to compare and can choose the picture you prefer.

January 25, 2009

Better Sunset Pictures

Sunset with automatic white balance

If you've been disappointed with the sunset and sunrise photos your digital camera has made, you're not alone. Many people feel their sunsets don't turn out as colorful as they remember from seeing them or even compared to their film images. You're not imagining it! Here's why.

All digital cameras have a color correction feature called White Balance. It's designed to correct the color casts you often see in indoor pictures, such as the orange cast of photos in your living room at night or the green cast in pictures of an office. Unfortunately, your camera can't tell the difference between the orange you don't want in your indoor photos and the orange you do want in your sunset pictures.

If you change the camera's White Balance setting from automatic (usually shown as AWB for "Automatic White Balance") to sunny or daylight (usually shown as an icon of the sun), the camera will record all the color of your sunrise or sunset as you saw it. (You may need to change your camera to Program mode to accomplish this.) No more dull skies for you!

Sunset with daylight white balance

Books about Night Photography

My favorite book on night photography is called Night Photography by Andrew Sanderson. While it's old enough to be focused entirely on film techniques, he does a great job talking about some of the considerations. And the black & white photos of English towns in snow are just great. There's also a new book out which I haven't seen that is dedicated to night photography with digital cameras. Check out Night and Low Light Photography, Professional Techniques from Experts for Artistic and Commercial Success by Jill Waterman.

Take Pictures at Night

Using any digital camera, you can take great photos at night. Just follow these three steps:
  1. Turn off the flash. This tells your camera to make the picture by recording the light that's already in the scene instead of making its own.
  2. Set your camera on a tripod or another steady support. The exposure will take a long time and you will get a blurry picture if you hold the camera.
  3. Use the self timer. If you jiggle the camera when you press the shutter button, the camera has time to settle down before it takes the picture.
To get the deep blue sky effect you see in this photo, wait to take your outside photo until 20-30 minutes after the sun has set. You can get a "blue" sky even on a cloudy evening.

If you'd like to delve deeply into night photography, check out these web sites: The Nocturnes and Lance Keimig's The Night Skye

Better Snow Pictures

Camera set on Auto

If you have trouble making your winter snow scenes look bright and fresh, here's a couple tips. The simplest way is to look for a Scene setting (often labeled SCN) on your camera that is a picture of a snowman. Using the Snow setting you can brighten your winter pictures like the one below.

Camera set on Snow Scene

Another way to accomplish a similar result is to use the Exposure Compensation control. You may have to switch your camera to Program mode in order to be able to use Exposure Compensation (also called Exposure Value or EV). Once in the Exposure Compensation screen, adjust the indicator from zero to +1 for a brighter result.

Exposure Compensation at 0

Exposure Compensation at +1

Now your snow pictures will appear brighter and whiter as you saw them.