December 1, 2010

Tips for Photographing Snow and Ice

Winter has officially arrived where I live in western Montana. After a week of below zero temperatures and about six inches of snow in the valleys, the icy world beckons! If you enjoy making pictures of snow scenes, here are some suggestions to improve your results.

Adjust the Exposure
Snow is actually brighter than the camera's exposure records it. To make your snow look pristine white, lighten the exposure but keep texture in the brightest areas. You can do this by using the Snow (or Beach) scene setting. Or you can set the Exposure Compensation to +1 for snow in direct sun or +1.5 for snow under overcast skies
  Camera's Exposure

Brighter Exposure

The most controlled method is using spot metering to measure the light on just the snow. (You will still need to adjust the exposure.) If your camera can display a histogram (a graph of the brightness in your photo), check it as a guide to an exposure that's brighter but not too bright. The graph should be shifted toward the right side instead of being in the middle. You can also practice on white subjects inside to figure out how much to lighten the exposure while still keeping important details. 

November 22, 2010

The Costco Connection with Adobe Photoshop Elements

Bannack State Park, Montana

Do you regularly use Costco's photo service for making prints of your digital pictures? If so, you may want to consider purchasing (or upgrading to) Photoshop Elements 9. According to Tim Grey's free Elements Weekly e-newsletter, if you buy a copy of Elements from Costco (and you must to get this feature), the program contains an option to order prints directly from Costco from inside Elements.

First, select the images you want to print. Then from the File menu, choose Order Prints and select the Costco option. You'll need to have an account at Costco to use this choice, but once it is set up, it makes ordering high-quality prints very easy.

I've ordered prints from my local Costco and been very happy with the results. And I've been using and teaching Elements since it came out. It's a powerful program for a very reasonable price ($99 retail). You can download a free trial (either Windows or Macintosh) to see what Elements 9 looks like from Adobe (though it will not contain the Costco print option).

October 21, 2010

Photographing Jack o' Lanterns

It's that spooky time of year again. Ghosts and goblins and witches all knocking on our doors for treats. Here's an article that gives good suggestions on photographing that carved pumpkin decorating your front steps. Enjoy!

Shooting the Ultimate Jack-o’-lantern

October 11, 2010

Easy Picture Resizing Online

Resized using

I've published an earlier post about one of the sizing issues important to digital photographers: shrinking the original picture to a size small enough for emailing or posting to Facebook or Flickr (or other online viewing sites). (See How Many Pixels Are Enough?) Lots of people who shoot digital pictures don't know how to use photo editing software to accomplish this. And, frankly, sometimes the steps are not that easy to understand or accomplish.

Today, Alyson Stanfield, Art Biz Coach, has posted two links to online picture resizing services. I've checked them out and they are definitely easy to use. Try either Resize Your Image or Shrink Pictures for a simple way to make email or social networking copies of your favorite photos! Your email recipients will be grateful!

September 28, 2010

14 Tips for Creative Fall Foliage Pictures

 The autumn equinox was last week (along with an amazing harvest full moon) and the trees around us in the northern hemisphere are beginning their annual display. Here are some easy tips for making memorable images of the vibrant colors. 
  • Shoot early or late in the day when the warm sunlight accentuates the autumn colors. The air is often stillest in the morning so leaves and other plants are not moving, ensuring your photos are sharp.
  • Shoot under overcast skies for richer color. Leave the sky out of the picture to focus attention on the leaves.
Read the whole article...

August 28, 2010

Inspiration for People Photographs

I've spent the past month practicing photographing friends as part of a class on learning to use my flash. I always have admired the work of excellent photojournalists, who seem to be able to create great portraits anywhere and make effective use of camera flash (supplemental or hot-shoe flash, not the built-in variety) while they're at it.

Street Musician
My instructor has been Paul Gero, one of the teachers at He has also been working on a blog project of one camera, one lens. The images represented in August are great! Check it out if you enjoy photographing people of all ages!

One Camera, One Lens, One Photo a Day for August

Scott & Jessica

July 12, 2010

Fixing Exposure Problems

In my earlier posts, I've talked about ways that you can adjust the brightness of your pictures. Even using Exposure Lock or Exposure Compensation, your pictures may turn out too light or too dark. Here are some possible causes and what you can do to prevent exposure problems in the future.

Exposure Compensation
One reason your photos may not be properly exposed is the new controls you've just been using. If you did not reset the Exposure Compensation marker back to zero after your last picture, your picture could be too light or too dark because the camera is still following your instructions! Check to be sure that exposure compensation is set to zero.

July 5, 2010

Getting the Exposure You Want, Part II

In my last article, I explained how you could get a different exposure for your shot by using a simple technique called Exposure Lock. This is a quick and easy method that is especially useful for landscapes or overall scenes. But exposure lock doesn't let you adjust how much lighter or darker your picture becomes. If you want to decide how much the exposure changes in your photo, you need a different control.

Exposure Compensation
Most digital cameras have a button or menu choice that lets you adjust the camera for a different exposure setting than the regular automatic one. This control is called exposure compensation or exposure value. In order to use it, you may need to change your camera from the regular automatic exposure mode to Program exposure mode (designated by the letter P).

  Program Mode

June 28, 2010

Getting the Exposure You Want, Part I

After sharp focus, good exposure is the next characteristic we want for our photographs. Most of the time, the camera's automatic exposure gives us a photo that's not too bright and not too dark. But sometimes the camera is wrong when it comes to exposure. How can we make the camera take a picture with a different brightness?

Exposure Lock
One way you can get a different exposure is very low tech and works on every camera in nearly every shooting mode (except Manual exposure mode). This is called exposure lock. When you press the shutter button half-way down to prepare to take a photo, the camera is making adjustments to a variety of automatic settings. One of these is exposure. The camera determines the exposure (or brightness) of the image based on what you have included in the frame.

For example, the picture at the beginning of this article is made up of half mountains and half sky with cloud. When I made this picture, I pointed the camera so that the scene was evenly divided between foreground hills and sky. The camera based its exposure on this and produced the photo.

Read the whole article...

June 23, 2010

Photographing Air Shows

The New York Institute of Photography, a correspondence photo school, is 100 years old this year. They have a great web site with lots of free articles on photography. In this month's newsletter is a piece about photographing planes at an air show. The author includes a brief slideshow with music. Check it out for some great tips and fun presentation!

June 18, 2010

What Is the Black Semi-Circle in My Flash Pictures?

In my last article, I talked about a common flash problem, over or under exposed pictures caused by the subject being too close or too far from the camera. Another flash problem is a black half circle appearing on the side of a vertical flash picture or on the bottom of a horizontal flash photo, like the example below.

 Flash shadow created by lens

There are two causes of this problem. The most common is being so close to your subject that the lens of the camera blocks some of the light from the flash. This creates a semi-circular shadow or black area in the lower part of the image. That is what happened in the close-up of the flowers above. The solution is either to turn off the flash or to move the camera back and zoom in on the subject instead.

No lens shadow without flash

The other cause of a dark shadow at the bottom or side of the picture comes from leaving the lens hood on the lens when using a digital SLR camera's built-in flash. Even if you are an appropriate distance from your subject, the lens hood interferes with the flash, blocking some of its light and casting a shadow. The same effect can happen if you have a lens with a large diameter attached to the camera and fire the built-in flash. The solution is to always remove a lens hood or to change to a lens with a smaller diameter before using the camera's built-in flash.

For a great tip on how to avoid the black shadow from your built-in flash, read David Wells' article about Using Built-in Flash.

June 12, 2010

Why Are My Flash Pictures Washed Out?

 Flash Indoors at Night

Flash is a very helpful accessory. It lets us take pictures when there is not enough natural light (such as at night). It can freeze a moving subject for a sharper photo. And it can improve colors of subjects photographed in classrooms or offices.

But sometimes the flash seems to ruin our photos. A common complaint is flash pictures that are overexposed or "washed out". The main reason is the subject being too close to the camera and its built-in flash. The best flash pictures happen when your subject is between 3 feet and 10 feet away. Any closer than 3 feet and your subject gets overexposed, looking almost like a ghost! Any farther than about 10 feet and your subject gets underexposed, looking dim and murky. 

  Nancy is washed out by the flash
Dale is too dark
How far is three feet? At least the length of your outstretched arm. So if you can reach out and touch your subject, you are too close and your flash picture will likely wash out. The solution is to back up one or two steps, zoom in for the original framing, and then take the photo.

How far is ten feet? No more than three or four steps away. So if you are five or six steps away, move in closer to be sure light from the flash will reach your subject.

In the picture at the beginning of this article, my cousin is sitting across the banquet table from me, about 5 feet away. So he and his new son are properly exposed by the flash. The rest of the banquet hall behind him is too far away to be lit by the flash, so it is very dark.

If you are trying to photograph several people, make sure they are all the same distance from the camera so the light from the flash reaches them evenly. For example, if you are photographing a group at a long table in a dim restaurant, don't shoot down the length of the table. Photograph across the table instead. If you want everyone in a single photo, ask the people on one side of the table to stand behind the people on the other side.

If you remember to keep the right distance from your subject when you are taking flash pictures, you will be able to prevent washed out and too dark photos.

June 9, 2010

Having Fun & Learning About Your Camera

If you're in a photographic slump or just don't know what to take a picture of, consider visiting the Rocky Mountain School of Photography's new blog, Paper Airplanes, and clicking on the Assignments link. Every month the school posts an article explaining some aspect of photography. Readers are invited to participate in the assignment which puts the article topic into practice. Photographers submit their favorite images (usually 3) that relate to the assignment and share what the experience was like for them.

Most recently, the assignments have been about two subjects that I think all photographers need to remember: perspective and fixed length lenses. To read about these and participate in the next assignment, visit the blog and wake up your photography skills!

June 5, 2010

Getting Sharper Pictures in Low Light Indoors

If you try to take pictures without using your flash indoors, you might get a blurry photo. This happens because the camera uses a longer exposure time to get enough light for a picture without the light from the flash. As a result of this longer exposure, you unintentionally wiggle the camera and that makes your picture blurry.

Blurry Indoor Picture with ISO 80
The solution is to change your camera's sensitivity to dim light, essentially helping it to "see in the dark." Some cameras call this setting "sensitivity"; others refer to it as "ISO." The control may be in a menu or on a button. Refer to your camera's manual for the details.

There are two ways to increase your camera's sensitivity to low light. If you are using Auto exposure mode (usually represented by a green square or camera icon), you may be able to change the sensitivity from Auto ISO to Hi ISO. If that option is not available, you may need to change your camera to Program exposure mode (usually represented by a P). Program exposure is still automatic, but you can override standard camera settings when you need to.

Program Exposure Mode


June 1, 2010

Compact Digital Cameras Used by Pro Photojournalist

Those of you with compact digital cameras might sometimes feel like you are not a "serious" photographer because you use a little camera. As the article in the link below describes, it's not the camera that makes good pictures, it's the photographer handling it. Read how Alex Majoli has taken award-winning photos with point-and-shoot digital cameras in war zones from China to Afghanistan to Iraq. And remember this story when any digital SLR owner wants to "dis" your equipment!

May 29, 2010

Use Scene Settings for Better Pictures

An article on the Digital Photography Review web site stated that scene modes on digital cameras were the least used feature. I was shocked and vowed immediately to do my part to change that.

So what are "scene modes"? These are shortcuts to better pictures of all kinds of subjects. Camera manufacturers provide tiny pictures, or icons, that represent common photographic subjects and situations. You select the icon that matches what you are taking a picture of and snap away. Scene settings are an automatic way to get better pictures than you might on regular Automatic mode.

Nearly all digital cameras have the two most common scene settings: "Landscape," represented by a mountain, and "Portrait," represented by a person's profile. Landscape scene mode is designed to help you get a colorful picture of a scenic vista with everything in sharp focus. 
Landscape Scene Mode

 Photographed with the Automatic setting

Photographed with the Landscape setting

Portrait scene mode is intended to help you take a sharp picture of a person with the background blurred. 

Portrait Scene Mode
You can even use the setting for a Portrait of a flower.

 Photographed with the Auto setting

Photographed with the Portrait scene setting

For the most dramatic results, stand close to your subject and have a distant background. The effect of this setting is more obvious with digital SLR cameras than compacts.

Another common scene mode is Action or Sports. Some compact digital cameras call it Kids & Pets. This scene setting helps you get a sharp picture of a moving subject.

Sports Scene Mode

Kids & Pets Scene Mode
  Photographed with the Sports scene setting

Compact digital cameras usually have far more scene settings to choose from than digital SLR cameras. My Canon Powershot A570 has half a dozen scene icons on the exposure dial on top of the camera. If I switch the dial to SCN, I can choose from even more scene settings using the menu. 

Scene Mode Setting
For summer time shots of colorful flowers, look for a "Foliage" setting. This scene mode makes the colors of flowers (and autumn leaves) more vibrant.
Foliage Scene Mode

Photographed with the Auto setting

 Photographed with the Foliage scene setting

Photographed with the Auto setting

Photographed with the Foliage scene setting
For winter snow scenes, look for a "Snow" setting. This scene mode makes the snow in your picture brighter and whiter.

Photographed with the Auto setting

Photographed with the Snow setting

The best way to practice with scene settings is to take one picture on the regular Auto setting. Then take a second picture with the matching Scene mode and compare the results. Sometimes you will like Auto better and sometimes the Scene version. 

So experiment with this feature and tell your friends so you are not missing out on this helpful digital camera feature. 

March 19, 2010

What Macro Equipment Should I Have?

Trillium in black & white, North Carolina
The kind of tools you need to get the most from a macro photography class depends on the type of camera you own. If you have a compact digital camera (one without interchangeable lenses), you generally do not need any extra camera equipment to take macro shots. Your camera’s close-focusing setting allows you to get the camera very close to subjects and still get sharp focus. Check your camera manual to see how close the camera can focus; 1 inch or closer is preferable.

If you have an SLR digital or film camera (one with interchangeable lenses), you do need at least one accessory in order to make macro photos. Just because you have a lens which is described as "macro" does not mean it is capable of true macro photography (reproducing subjects at half to full life size or larger). The "macro" description often just means it can focus relatively close for its focal length. For macro photography you have a couple different equipment options of varying prices.

Find out about close-up filters, extension tubes, macro lenses and tripods for macro photography by reading the rest of this article here.

12 Tips for Printing Great Photos

I recently gave a lecture about printing digital photos yourself or using a photo printing service. I focused on getting professional quality prints from either process. One of my students then shared this article from PC Magazine. It gives several useful suggestions for getting good results with automatic photo printing. Check it out!

12 Tips for Printing Great Photos

March 10, 2010

Amateurs Get Some Respect

Check out this great post from photographer David duChemin on what it means to be an amateur photographer! After you've read it, I think you'll join me in saying "Amateurs Unite!"

Just an Amateur?

February 1, 2010

Essential Digital Camera Wins!

Essential Digital Camera won a Golden Retrevo Award in the Photo & Video category! Thanks for your support!

January 27, 2010

100 Days in Glacier National Park

Mt. Reynolds, Logan Pass, Glacier National Park, Montana
In honor of Glacier National Park's centennial in 2010, photographer Chris Peterson, who runs Glacier Park Magazine and works for the Hungry Horse News weekly paper, decided to spend 100 consecutive days photographing in the park. He published a blog of his photos and will produce a special edition of the magazine. You can see some of his photos, read the captions detailing his adventures and learn more about his project at the links below.

Some of you might consider a project similar to this in your own area. It doesn't have to be a national park nor does it have to be 100 straight days. But any dedicated time spent photographing one subject yields photographs you wouldn't have made otherwise. My colleague John Snell has spent years photographing in Kentucky's Red River Gorge. His efforts have culminated in a book, Red River Gorge---The Eloquent Landscape, and three full-color calendars. Enjoy the adventure!

January 18, 2010

Help for Animals in Haiti

All of us have been affected by the stories and pictures of devastation in Haiti from the earthquake. Many have donated money, goods and services generously to help bring succor to the citizens of the capital.

I'd like to make a personal request that you remember the animals, domestic and wild, affected by this tragedy as well. Consider making a donation to the Humane Society, the ASPCA or other animal service organizations by visiting their websites.


Rescue dogs in Spain awaiting air transport to Haiti

January 12, 2010

Essential Digital Camera Nominated for Award

If you've been reading my blog for a while, I hope you've found the content interesting and useful. Another group has. Essential Digital Camera has been nominated for a Golden Retrevo Award. 

Retrevo is a leading consumer electronics shopping and review site visited by close to 6 million visitors a month. 

These awards honor the best and brightest independent bloggers of the gadget blogosphere. Nominations come from gadget enthusiasts as well as Retrevo's own panel of gadget experts. Read more about the award at:

Winners will be invited to participate with Retrevo to share their quality content with our users. 
To vote for Essential Digital Camera, click on this link:

Voting ends on Monday, January 25, 2010. Winners will be announced on February 1st.

Thanks for your support!

January 9, 2010

10 Easy Editing Steps to Enhance Your Photos

You have made that perfect picture and you want to share it with friends and family. Before you post it on Facebook, upload it to Flickr, email it to anyone or print it, take some time to bring out your photo's best qualities by doing some basic editing.

You do not need a fancy, expensive photo editing program to accomplish these steps. Picasa, a free editing program from Google for Windows and Mac computers, or iPhoto, often included free on Mac computers, has enough choices to enable you to accomplish these steps. Other programs may have come with your camera on a CD or DVD that you can install on your computer.

Most photo editing software has an "Auto Fix" button or menu choice. This is certainly worth trying. But sometimes this "one size fits all" kind of edit makes your picture look worse instead of better. In that case, knowing what choices to use in which order can help you make a good picture great!

Original photo from camera

These steps are the equivalent of what a photo lab does with your picture when you drop it off for printing. All digital camera photos, no matter how good they look on your computer, can be improved in 10 easy steps.

  1. Select
  2. Copy
  3. Rotate and/or straighten
  4. Crop
  5. Expose
  6. Color correct
  7. Size
  8. Sharpen
  9. Save
  10. Print or Email or Upload
If any of the changes makes your picture look worse instead of better, use the Undo feature of your editing software (or press Ctrl+Z on a Windows computer, Apple+Z on a Mac) to reverse the change. Then go on to the next step. 

Photo after editing with Picasa 

In future posts, I'll expand on these ten steps with more helpful tips and examples.

Remember, this is a very brief overview of editing your pictures. If you would like to learn more, check for classes or workshops offered in your area. Look up online videos for more advanced tips and techniques. Continue to practice improving your best photos. Just like using your digital camera, learning to enhance your pictures takes time! Enjoy the process!