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!