October 19, 2012

Simple Ways to Enhance Your Fall Photos

It's the time of year when Mother Nature puts on her most colorful clothes (in the northern hemisphere, anyway) and tempts all photographers out of their warm houses to record the fashion show. Here are some quick digital camera tips for getting more colorful shots of autumn foliage.

Use Scene Settings
Many cameras have a variety of Scene settings to automatically improve the photos of specific subjects. (If you've never used the scene settings on your camera, review my article on the topic here.) While I'm not aware of any scene choice specifically for fall colors, look for a Foliage setting, which intensifies the colors in your pictures. If you don't have a foliage choice, try the Sunset setting. It will also adjust the colors in your photos. Remember to take a shot on regular Automatic so you can compare the difference and see which one you prefer.

Taken on Automatic Setting

Taken with Foliage Setting

If you don't have such scene settings on your camera (as is true for many digital SLRs), then switch your camera to Program mode (letter P on the exposure dial) first. This is still an automatic setting but you can override the camera's choices and frequently end up with better photos using some of the following options.

Use Daylight or Cloudy White Balance
In automatic exposure modes, your camera's color correction feature is usually set to Automatic White Balance (AWB). Just like automatic exposure, the camera is making an educated guess about what the colors in your photo should look like. Unfortunately, this frequently results in dull colors of vivid subjects like sunsets and fall leaves. If you change the white balance from automatic to Daylight or Sunny (a sun icon), the camera will not need to guess at the colors and will give you a more vibrant picture. If you want to help Mother Nature along, you can try the Cloudy white balance choice (a cloud icon) to add more orange to the picture.

Automatic White Balance

Cloudy White Balance

Daylight White Balance

Adjust the Exposure Compensation
Another technique to use with your camera in Program exposure mode is changing the Exposure Compensation to darken the picture just a little. Using -1/3 or -2/3 Exposure Compensation is just enough to bring richness to the colors.

Regular Exposure
-1 Exposure Compensation,
a little too dark for me

Try a Different Picture Style
Most cameras allow you access to different picture styles (Canon), picture controls (Nikon) or parameters (both) where you can adjust how the camera records the intensity of colors. This is called different things depending on your camera brand & model. Nikon cameras have a Vivid picture control choice that makes all colors more saturated. Canon Powershot models have a My Colors menu where you can also choose Vivid colors. You can also try the Landscape picture style, which enhances blues and greens in most cases. (NOTE: This choice is NOT the same as the Landscape Scene setting, though you can experiment with that one, too.)

Older and more basic digital SLR cameras may not have these named picture styles. But they all have a Parameters setting or a similar menu where you can manually change how the camera records colors. In this menu is a choice for Saturation. If you increase this, then all colors in your pictures will be more vibrant.

Normal Saturation setting
+2 Saturation setting
Use with Caution
There are some drawbacks to changing the picture parameters, though. For one thing, you may not like the appearance of people in your photos. The enhanced colors tend to make skin tones look too red (a sunburn effect). And too high a setting on Saturation can cause the intense colors to "bleed" and destroy fine details like the veins in autumn leaves. So use these settings appropriately.

Mother Nature doesn't hold her show over if you procrastinate! So grab your camera, try some different settings and get out there making photos before wind, rain and time take their toll for another season.

October 12, 2012

Finding the Correct Order of Ink Cartridges in Your Printer

If your printer runs out of one color of ink, it's an easy matter to take out the empty cartridge and replace it with a full one. But if your printer runs out of multiple colors at the same time, and you remove all of them at once, you may not remember the proper order of the colors. If you load the wrong color in the wrong slot, the printer will not work.

The quickest way to find out the correct order of the ink cartridges is to access the ink levels information. The following steps are for an Epson printer, but you can follow similar steps for other printer brands. (Consult the printer manual for more information.)

Be sure your printer is on and connected to the computer before you start.

  1. Click on the Start button and choose Devices and Printers
  2. In the window, right click on the printer and choose Printing Preferences.
  3. Click on the Maintenance tab.
  4. Click on the Status Monitor icon.
  1. Open a Finder window.
  2. Choose Applications.
  3. Select Epson Printer Utility and then your printer model. 
  4. Click on the Status Monitor
You'll see a graphic displaying the ink cartridges and how much ink remains in each. These appear in the same order as they are in the printer. Replace the cartridges in the correct order.

Windows 7 Devices & Printers with Epson printer selected

Epson Printing Preferences main screen
Epson printer maintenance screen
showing Status Monitor at the top
Epson Status Monitor showing ink colors in order

In the future, when you need to replace multiple ink cartridges, take out only one cartridge at a time. That way you won't get confused about which cartridge goes where!

October 5, 2012

Getting the Exposure You Want for White or Black Subjects

One of the challenges of photography is creating an exposure that accurately depicts the subject. Most of the time, our digital cameras' automatic metering and exposure systems do an excellent job. But there are two types of subjects that our cameras need help with to create the best exposure: anything white and anything black.

Properly exposed white building at +1 2/3 stops

The problem arises because all light meters are designed to select a shutter speed, aperture and ISO to produce a medium brightness exposure. This is sometimes called a "middle gray" or "18% gray" exposure. All it means is that the brightness of the picture overall is halfway between pure white (without detail) and pure black (with no detail); hence, the short-hand of "middle gray".

But white subjects that take up 90% of the picture space or black subjects that fill 90% of the image area are NOT medium brightness. White subjects are much brighter than medium and black subjects are much darker than medium. So our job as the photographer is to add light to brighten the white subjects or subtract light to darken the black subjects. You can do this using the Exposure Compensation feature or manually adjust the shutter, aperture and/or ISO to achieve the same effect. (For more about Exposure Compensation, see my previous blog post here.)

But how much more or less light do you need for white or black subjects? This depends partly on personal taste, but the visual guideline is as bright or dark as you can and still see detail in the subject. You can do your own test for white and black subjects ahead of time and then know exactly how bright or dark to make each one. Here's how:

Testing for the Best White or Black Exposure
  1. Find an all white (or all black) subject outside. It should be large enough that you can completely fill the frame with white (or black). It should also have details in it to help you judge when your exposure adjustment has gone too far. The side of a building, a coat or shirt, or similar subjects with fine texture are perfect. (I don't recommend cars or trucks because the smooth metal does not provide enough visual texture for you to judge the results.)
  2. Be sure the subject is evenly lit. There should be no dappled light or large shadows falling on your subject. And the light should be constant while you take the entire series of photos. So avoid partly cloudy days in favor of completely clear or completely overcast weather.
  3. Set up your camera on a tripod and adjust the camera position and/or zoom setting to fill the frame with white (or black). There should be no other colors in the photos. If you are using a smaller subject, you may need to supply a white (or black) background.
  4. You can capture either JPEG or raw files. Choose the format you most commonly use.
  5. Set the camera to Program exposure mode. You can use other exposure modes as long as they give you access to the Exposure Compensation feature. These are normally the "letter" settings (P, M, A or Av, and S or Tv) and not the "picture" settings (portrait, landscape, action). Or you can carefully adjust your manual settings, preferably changing the shutter speed.
  6. Choose the camera's lowest ISO setting (usually 100 or 200). Do not use Auto ISO or the test won't be accurate.
  7. Change the camera's white balance to automatic (AWB).
  8. Make a series of 7 to 10 pictures, varying the exposure compensation by 1/3 steps.
    1. For a white subject, start with the Exposure Compensation set to zero (0) and take a photo at every plus 1/3 stop up to +2 (or +3 if your camera allows).
    2. For a black subject, start with the Exposure compensation set to zero (0) and take a photo at every minus 1/3 stop down to -2 (or -3 if your camera allows).
    3. You should see your photos get brighter or darker as you change the Exposure Compensation amount.
Series of 10 exposures of a white subject
starting at 0 compensation and
getting brighter by 1/3 stops to +3

Series of 10 exposures of a black subject
starting at 0 compensation and
getting darker by 1/3 stops to -3
  1. Download the photos to your computer and view them large on the monitor. I recommend you enlarge the photo to 100% view and look at all parts of the picture.
  2. Determine which exposure for the white subject is very bright but still retains details and texture. This is your ideal exposure adjustment for a white subject.
  3. Determine which exposure for the black subject is very dark but still retains details and texture. This is your ideal exposure adjustment for a black subject.
Best white exposure at +1 2/3 on the right
compared to loss of detail at +3 on the left

Best black exposure at -1 2/3 on the right
compared to loss of detail at -3 on the left

Now when you face a white or black subject, you will not have to guess about how much to adjust the exposure in order to get a photo with appropriate brightness. You may still need to make minor changes to the settings, depending on the shot and your intentions. For example, you can usually expose a black subject darker and a white subject brighter when they are in the light of an overcast day or the shade than when they are in direct sunlight.

Completing this little test should take a lot of the guesswork out of exposure! Try it for yourself!

October 4, 2012

October from Seasons of Montana 2012 calendar

"October" from this year's calendar featuring the seasons of western Montana. Look for my announcement for the 2013 calendar in the coming months!