Archive for April, 2017
Sometimes the hardest photos to take are the ones of the places we are most familiar with. When was the last time you took a walk through your own neighborhood and found interesting things to photograph? If you’re like many people, you probably haven’t spent a lot of time doing that at all. Usually, when we decide to go out in search of photographs, we leave the places that are familiar behind in favor of unfamiliar, new, and therefore interesting things to take pictures out. But if you ignore the photographic potential of your own neighborhood, you are actually doing yourself a disservice. Not only are you missing out on photographs that will be important to you personally in the years to come, you are also missing out on photographic opportunities that you didn’t even know existed.
##Exploring your neighborhood
Whether you live in the suburbs, in a rural community or in a city center, start by walking around your own neighborhood. Spend some time looking at the details. Try to see the place you live through the eyes of someone who doesn’t live there. Try to view your neighbor’s fence or that row of mailboxes in a different way. Are there any interesting textures or patterns that you might be able to capture? What about color? Are there any places that you’ve never explored in your own neighborhood? Let’s say you never really gone into the local mom-and-pop market, or you’ve never stood at the top of the hill at the end of your street. It could be that you’ve never really spent a lot of time walking around your neighborhood at all—if you make an effort to explore the once-unseen corners of your community, you’ll almost certainly find details that surprise you. And if you traverse your neighborhood on foot, you’ll also notice that things look really different from the sidewalk than they do from the driver’s seat of your car.
##Try to capture a sense of life where you live
Your neighborhood, like any neighborhood in the world, has its own unique qualities and personality. Things happen in your neighborhood roughly the same way they happen all over the world, but with a certain unique tempo. For example, it could be that your neighbor three doors down always begins his morning by retrieving the newspaper off of his driveway (yes, it’s true, some people do still subscribe to the morning paper). It could be that your other neighbor always goes for a jog or walks the dog. As the day progresses, neighbors get in cars, take their kids to school, or send older kids off to the bus stop. Shops open for business, people pick up coffee, people go to work, have lunch and come home again—and those routines change only as people move in and out of the neighborhood.
If you know your neighbors very well, start by informing them that you plan to spend a day photographing life in your neighborhood. If they know what you’re up to, they’re going to be less surprised (and possibly annoyed) when they see you out there first thing in the morning snapping pictures of them as they get to their cars to go to work. And if you don’t know your neighbors very well, try to focus on the less personal details, or use this project as an excuse to knock on doors and introduce yourself. Being open about what you’re doing is going to help avoid the perception that you’re a weird stalker with a camera—that’s the last thing you want said about you, especially in your own neighborhood. And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that you should always get permission to photograph someone else’s child—even if it’s somebody you know.
Now when you’re working on this project, don’t just hang back and shoot everything as it happens. Think about how you can capture life where you live in an interesting and unusual way—even if there isn’t much that happens in your neighborhood that could be classified as interesting or unusual. Try to get some close shots. Look at the details. For example, instead of just zooming in on your neighbor as she embarks on her morning walk with her dog, try to capture the expression on the dog’s face. Try to capture that moment when she first puts the leash on her dog’s collar. Zoom in, and capture those moments that transpire between people and animals, or between two people, or between people and whatever it is that happen to be doing.
##Street photography (even in the suburbs)
Neighborhoods and their personalities can vary a lot. You may live in an area that mostly has houses and not a lot of services—if that’s the case you may have to spread out a little and find the places where people congregate. Parks make good locations for this type of work, or you can go a little further and take photographs at cafés or corner stores. Even if you’re in the suburbs, this is still a form of street photography, so you’ll need to gather your courage. A lot of people find it exceedingly difficult to photograph strangers, and if that’s you, you’ll have to adopt a new strategy. For example, you can try stealth photography—a smart phone is great for that because you can pretend to be doing something else on it while you are secretly photographing suburbanites in their natural environment. You can also shoot from the hip, which is a technique that involves selecting a narrow aperture to assist with blind focusing, and taking pictures while your camera is hanging on a strap around your neck or literally at your hip. When you’re not looking through your viewfinder, people aren’t usually going to suspect that you’re taking photographs, and that will help you feel bolder. Shooting from the hip is fun but it does take some time to master, so if you’re not getting great results right away, keep trying. That one magical shot out of dozens that maybe didn’t work so well will really help get you hooked on this technique.
If you’re not planning to be stealthy, you can take one of a few different approaches. First, you can shoot first and not ask any questions later. A lot of street photographers just walk straight up to the person they want to photograph, take the picture, and walk away. Most of the time your subject is going to be so surprised that they won’t be able to think of anything to say to you before you disappear. Your next approach could be to simply strike up a conversation with your potential subject and then ask him whether or not you can take his picture. I think you’ll be surprised by how many people are flattered and perfectly willing to be your subject. Just keep in mind that you may get less natural photos, because your subject is naturally going to be attempting to pose for the camera. So once you’ve obtained permission, try to carry on the conversation so you can capture some natural expressions of the person laughing, or thinking seriously about serious questions. The less posed the photo will looks, the better.
If you don’t think photographing strangers (or even your neighbors) is necessarily for you, that doesn’t mean that you can’t still capture images of your neighborhood. Focus more on the non-animate elements of life where you live, such as fallen leaves on the sidewalk, or squirrels in the trees. If you live in a more rural area, try taking photographs of livestock or interesting outbuildings like barns and sheds. You could also shoot fences—weathered fences in particular make for interesting photos.
Suburban neighborhoods have occasionally been criticized for being a little cookie cutter. If your neighborhood fits into that mold, try to capture the repetitiveness of the houses and yards as a pattern. If there are any identical houses in your neighborhood, consider taking pictures of all of the similarities. For example, you can stand on the sidewalk and try to capture two or more identical homes in the same frame. You can do the same with similar mailboxes, similar cars, or similar people. Don’t forget those perfect, manicured lawns—the truth is that some people in suburban neighborhoods like to create a pretense that everything is perfect when it may not be, so if you can find the one flaw in that otherwise perfect landscape, capture it for a photo that contains some irony.
I won’t lie—photographing your own neighborhood can be a little bit of a challenge. It can be hard to find inspiration in ordinary places, and the place where you live can, on the surface, seem pretty ordinary. But the truth is that you can find something interesting to photograph no matter where you go, so if you’re not feeling inspired right away don’t worry, just keep looking around and eventually a subject will reveal itself to you.
1. Explore your neighborhood
2. Capture a sense of life where you live
– Photograph your neighbors (with permission)
– Try to find a unique perspective
3. Suburban street photography
– Use stealth techniques (smartphones, shooting from the hip)
– Shoot without asking, or
– Get to know your subject first, then ask permission
4. Look for patterns
– Photograph cookie-cutter houses or mailboxes
– Look for flaws
If you’re a beginning photographer, the concept of aperture can be a little confounding. Smaller numbers equal larger apertures? Smaller apertures equal larger numbers? That’s all pretty confusing.
Fortunately, modern cameras are designed to be easy for beginning photographers to use, which means that you may not have figured there was much point in learning about and understanding aperture, at least not right away. And because many modern cameras also have scene modes—which can help you make good choices about your camera’s settings without necessarily needing to understand what is happening behind the scenes—you have even less incentive to think about aperture.
But auto settings and scene modes can only take you so far, and at a certain point you’re going to want to have more creative freedom and control over your photos than what those automatic settings can give you. And one of the first things that you need to understand is what aperture can do for you creatively.
##Uses for a narrow aperture
In this article we’re going to focus specifically on the uses for a narrow aperture. When you select a narrow aperture, you are choosing to make the hole between your lens and your image sensor smaller. That smaller hole lets in less light, which limits your ability to shoot in low light conditions. But it does also do something positive for you—that narrower aperture gives your image a broader depth of field.
##Depth of field explained
Depth of field is the term used to describe the amount of a scene that remains in focus from foreground background. An image with very broad depth of field is completely sharp, from the foreground elements to the very distant background elements, while an image that has shallow depth of field may not have many sharp elements at all, beyond the subject or focus point itself. The reasons why you might choose a shallow depth of field over a broad one are creative. Shallow depth of field helps separate your subject from its background, while a broad depth of field maintains detail throughout a photograph.
The most common reason why you might select a narrow aperture is because you’re photographing a landscape. When you shoot a landscape, you typically want the entire scene to be in focus. If the entire scene is not in focus, it’s not really landscape—it’s an isolated object within a landscape. So when a photographer takes a photograph of a landscape, she will typically select a very narrow aperture of around f/22. If there is something in the very near foreground that needs to be kept in focus, it is even more important to keep that aperture narrow because you want that near object to be just as sharp as the distant ones.
Selecting a narrow aperture typically means selecting a slower shutter speed, so you may find that you can’t hand-hold your camera when you use a very narrow aperture, because your shutter speed will be too slow. Taking a photograph hand-held with a slow shutter speed can result in camera shake, which can give your photograph a jagged, blurry appearance. Except on a very bright day (and there’s a good argument for not shooting landscape photos on very bright days) it is a good idea to always bring a tripod along with you whenever you’re planning to shoot scenery.
Along with the tripod you will also need a remote release, which will allow you to make an exposure without actually touching your camera. During a long exposure, just pressing that shutter button can be enough to cause camera shake, so make sure you either have a remote release or that you use your camera’s self timer feature to count down around five seconds between the time you touch the button and the time the shutter opens.
Similarly, you’ll want to select a narrow aperture when shooting macro photos. A macro photo is any image taken at very close range of a very small object. When you get close to a tiny object such as insect or a small flower, you’ll notice that you get much shallower depth of field even at apertures that would normally give you good clarity from foreground to background. That’s because the closer you get your subject, the less depth of field you’re going to have overall—and at those very close ranges your depth of field can actually be measured in millimeters. So you need to use those narrow apertures in order to bring the more distant details into focus.
Just like with landscapes, you may find that you need a tripod when shooting macros. This isn’t just because of the slower shutter speeds you’ll have to use (although that does factor into it), it is also because the closer you get to your subject the more any camera shake will be magnified. That means that you can shoot at reasonably faster shutter speeds and still get some noticeable blur caused by the movement of your camera. And the movement of your camera may also throw your focus point off, so you’ll get sharpness in parts of the frame that you hadn’t intended, while those you did intend to be sharp will end up blurry.
Have you ever admired a photograph like this one:
This photographer did not use any fancy post-processing techniques or filters to achieve this effect. This effect can actually be produced simply by selecting a narrow aperture.
The starburst effect is actually a function of those aperture blades, or the overlapping pieces of material that help adjust the size of the aperture opening. When light passes through the smaller aperture opening, it bends around the edges of those blades, which is what creates the starburst rays.
In order to achieve this effect, you need hard points of light such as a string of Christmas lights or a row of bright streetlights. And because you’ll be shooting at narrow apertures in the dark, you will need longer shutter speeds—which, of course, means that you will absolutely have to have a tripod.
Remember that when you shoot after dark you can’t really trust your meter, so it’s a good idea to take a few bracketed exposures. To bracket your shots, shoot one that is at your camera’s recommended meter reading, and then check your screen to see if you like the results. If not, take a few shots that are reading as underexposed, and a few shots that are reading overexposed, depending on how much darker or brighter you want the scene to be. Remember to adjust your shutter speed, not your aperture. To achieve the starburst effect, your aperture needs to remain narrow—for the most dramatic effect, choose f/22.
You can also get starbursts during the day if you use a narrow aperture and include the sun in the frame. Again, metering a scene like this one will be a challenge—because the sun is such a bright light source, your meter may want to underexpose the scene to compensate for all of that light. Bracketing your shots is going to give you the best chance at good results.
##Car light trails
Light trails are a fun and creative way to capture some interesting photos, and they also require narrow apertures. The reason why you need narrow apertures to shoot light trails is because these scenes are often shot with very long exposures—and long exposures require narrow apertures. Those very long exposures, in turn, are necessary to get a complete trail from the left of the frame to the right (although the speed of the traffic does have some influence).
A tripod, of course, is an essential part of the gear you’ll need to shoot light trails, but you’ll also need a camera that can do “bulb” mode and a willingness to experiment. Select a narrow aperture and use a remote release to open the shutter just before a car enters the frame, and then close it again just after it leaves. Check your screen and make adjustments to your ISO and aperture as needed—again, for night scenes like this you can’t completely trust your meter.
There are other creative reasons for using a narrow aperture, and one of them is because you may find yourself wanting to use a slow shutter speed even though the sun is out. A good example of this might be when you’re shooting a waterfall. You know those beautiful, soft, misty-looking images of waterfalls, which seem more like fog than actual water? Those are all shot with a slow shutter speed, and you can’t achieve a slow shutter speed during the day unless you’re using a small aperture, or you happen to be in a very dark place.
I will say that sometimes the smallest available aperture on your camera isn’t necessarily going to be enough to allow for a slow enough shutter speed for that soft water effect. Sometimes you need a neutral density filter to help cut back on the amount of light in the scene. This is mostly going to be a problem when you’re shooting in a bright place, or at a bright time of day such as the late morning or early afternoon. If, however, you are shooting during the golden hour—that hour just after sunrise or just before sunset—there’s going to be less light overall and you will probably get some pretty good images just by selecting a small aperture and long shutter speed combination. Remember (again) that you do need to use a tripod any time you are shooting with a slow shutter speed.
If the concept of aperture is still new to you, and you’re still a little shaky on it overall, I recommend you put your camera in aperture priority mode and spend a day—and possibly part of your night as well—shooting photographs with a narrow aperture setting (remember: narrow aperture corresponds to larger f-numbers). I think you’ll find it that you are so pleased with some of the creative effects you’re able to achieve that you will wonder why you didn’t step outside of auto mode sooner.
1. What is aperture?
2. Depth of field explained
6. Car light trails
7. Moving water
So you know how you follow some people on Facebook with great interest but don’t actually ever talk to them? The urban dictionary calls that “creeping,” which is similar to stalking but without malicious intent. This week, I’m going to advocate doing something similar with other photographers, only instead of keeping track of their Facebook posts, you’re going to be keeping track of their Flickr posts, and the EXIF data attached to them. Continue Reading »
Over the years, I’ve talked to a lot of moms and dads about family photography and some of the common challenges they face. Complaints vary, of course, from getting moody teenagers to smile to capturing sports and other fast action. But one of the events that almost every parent tries to photograph that seems to cause the most frustration is the school play.
Many (if not most) schools have an annual play production, complete with costumes and props and a homegrown script. It’s a big moment for most those pint-sized stars—getting on stage in front of all those parents can be nerve-wracking, but every kid who does it experiences intense pride in what she’s accomplished when it’s all over. For this reason alone, parents attend those stage performances armed with their cameras and determined to capture the best photos possible. But so many of these parents come away from the experience frustrated and disappointed with the results. What can be done to guarantee good results when photographing plays? Read on to find out.
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Have you ever worried about theft? Now, when I ask this question, I don’t mean the tangible sort of theft that might happen if you leave your camera in an unlocked car or if you set your camera bag down next to your table while you have a cup of coffee. I mean that less tangible theft that can happen when you put your photography online, on a public forum like Flickr, Facebook or Instagram. Can someone take your photos and use them however they like? What sort of protection do you have from online theft, and what steps do you need to take to secure that protection? Keep reading for the information every photographer needs to have about copyright.
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If you weren’t planning to do any travelling this summer, you might want to do a little rethinking. Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to live in a 68 mile-wide band that stretches across the US from Newport, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina.
On August 21, 2017 the United States will be treated to the first total solar eclipse visible in the country since February of 1979—although the totality itself will only be visible to people living in or visiting that 68 mile wide band. For the rest of the US, only a partial eclipse will be visible—still a photo-worthy event, but not as spectacular as the total eclipse.
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