Using Your Digital Camera

Using Your Digital Camera

What makes one image more pleasing than another? By following A few simple steps about where to place elements within your pictures, you’d be surprised how much you can improve your photography.

Composition is the name given to the combination all the elements within the photo and their position in the scene. Compositional rules can be thought of as guides to help get better photos. Here are some key Techniques to keep up your sleeve.

Framing

Always fill the frame with your subject. If you are photographing a person, you can see them clearly and that they do not appear too small within the frame. The benefit of this is that you make the most use of all the pixels you have at your disposal. This is particularly important for digital cameras with lower resolution sensors.

Another framing tippers to use frames within frames. When taking a shot, don’t be afraid to use elements of your surroundings to frame a more distant part of the scene. Shooting through a window including the window frame is a good example, as is including overhanging branches or foliage.

Portrait or Landscape?

Like any other digital camera, yours can be used horizontally in its normal or landscape format. It can also be used upright in the vertical or portrait format.

While these names suggest the types of image you usually use each format to photograph, experiment to see which works best for a given shot. Often what Works one way might be made even better simply by turning the camera. 

Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds also known as the golden section, can be used to add tension and a dynamic field to your photos by careful placement of the main elements. First, imagine your digital camera’s display is split into a grid of 9 equal squares with two lines running horizontally across it and two lines running vertically across it down it. Non your display depending upon your digital camera’s display may have the ability to present these composition lines.

using your digital camera - the rule of thirds - www.darkphotography.org

if you place the subject on any of these lines, positioning specific elements within a photo where the lines intersect the image can have more impact. Try placing the horizontal lines across the top or bottom rather than across the center of a shot. or place a person at one of the intersections when you want to put them in contacts with the background in a landscape style photo.

Bulls-eye Composition 

This is when the main subject of the shot is smack in the center of the frame, and should be avoided unless you have a specific reason for doing it. This type of images less pleasing to the eye and lacks dynamism. However, good uses for such composition might include an emphasis on circular subjects in macro work, for dynamic effect.

Balance

You can create images with either equal or unequal balance. The balance you have elements within the photo balancing each side of the image, for example, two buildings of the same size.

Where you choose to use an equal balance you would have one prominent subject with another element in the scene placed on the other side of the frame that’s either closer or further away, whichever is best for the composition.

Place a big tree on one side, then a small rock or bush or person on the other side. Although a subjective technique, it is one that can prove very successful when the elements are positioned carefully.

Experiment

The last rule but probably the most important is to simply experiment. Like so many rules, these simple techniques can be broken or bent and by mixing them up your quickly learn how to get the best from your digital camera and have lots of fun in the process. 

Focus

Getting your images sharply focused is just a matter of pointing the camera at the subject and pressing the button, isn’t it? The focus is critical to good photos, and today’s cameras usually have an autofocus system which quickly gets things sharp. However, not using this properly can ruin an otherwise perfect shot.

Most digital cameras have a central autofocus target, indicated by a small square on the color screen or in the viewfinder. Many use multiple focus points, which ensure off-center subjects stay sharp.

But how many times have you taken a picture of family members side-by-side with a gap between them and the camera is focused on the wall behind? As you continue on in this post you will explore ways to prevent such problems.

Don’t Rush the Shutter Button

All digital cameras that use autofocus have a dual pressure shutter button. A first half press and hold activates the focusing and the in camera systems. Pause, and then you’ll get some form of focus confirmation such as a green LED in the optical viewfinder, and or a green icon displaying in or a beep.

Completely depress the shutter release once you have these confirmations to take your shot. Trying to take a shot in one big press won’t give time for the camera to set itself properly, and you risk taking a blurred photo every time.

Portraits

In portraiture, your intention is to take a picture of a person. This usually means a head and shoulders shot, or tightly cropped face, so always focus on the subject’s eyes.

If your camera allows control over which autofocus points you can use, select the central autofocus point, or the face priority autofocus system where applicable, and use it to focus.

Remember, this is activated by a half press of the shutter button. Hold the shutter button down and recompose the shot. With the subject in focus, complete the process by pressing the shutter button all the way down to take the shot.

Landscapes

To get a good landscape you need to ensure sharp focus from the foreground to the far distance. Begin by autofocusing on a prominent object in the distance. Haziness can hamper autofocus; if your digital camera uses a wide autofocus system. You can overcome this by not setting the focus to something nearby or at an edge of the frame. Then keep your camera steady, using a tripod or monopod if necessary.

Try using the cameras landscape scene mode, if it has one, as this optimizes camera settings for landscape work, or select a small aperture if using manual settings.

Macro Shots

Digital cameras offer some of their best results in close up or macro work. Some digital cameras can focus to within 1 cm of the subject, ensuring frame-filling shots, or even tiny details. However, you need to ensure the correct part of this subject is sharply focused.

Use a single autofocus point and recompose once it’s in focus. Also use a tripod, which helps keep things stable if you are using slower shutter speeds. Remember, for close-up work you can use the camera’s macro mode, or select a small aperture if using manual settings.

Small Groups

The problem of the autofocus locking onto the wall behind a group shot can be overcome by moving the subjects to reduce any gaps between them, or focus on one person’s face and then recompose. This way, you’ll ensure that the group, and not the wall behind them, is sharp. Again, try to use the face priority autofocus system.

Tips On Avoiding Autofocus Problems

Some subjects always cause autofocus systems problems, so here are ways to avoid them.

Parallel lines and regular patterns – for the autofocus to key on, try tilting the camera from landscape to portrait and refocusing, then recompose for the shot.

The dark – unless your digital camera has an autofocus emitter, this shines a beam of light out to help focusing, darkness or dark subjects provide nothing for the camera to focus on. To overcome this, get more light on the scene by turning on a light or two. Once the subject is illuminated set your focus to ensure the subject is clear and sharp, turn autofocus off, and then return the lighting to its previous state.

Low contrast – haze, a predominantly white or black subject that doesn’t provide the autofocus anything to focus upon can all present problems. You cannot change in the weather, so try looking for an alternative but prominent element of the scene to focus upon. Also use the cameras landscape mode, which ensures a small aperture is used.

The manual focus solution – alternatively, to help prevent any of the above problems, try using your camera’s manual focus mode, if it has one. By taking control of the focusingf yourself (check your cameras manual for operating instructions), particularly if you have the time to work on the photo, this will provide find control and you can check the results on the LCD too.

Megapixles, Memory Cards and Speed

Megapixles, Memory Cards and Speed

Knowing your megapixels and data can be a little confusing when you first start looking at cameras. You end up flooded with questions about how many megapixels you want, what kind of lens, what sort of photos you will use the camera for, and that’s before the upsell for extra equipment.

how many megapixels - example 1 - www.darkphotography.orgWhen looking at the sales pitch for a digital camera, it’s easy to understand why it can seem like an endless stream of information on all of the specs, particularly about the megapixels.

However, this is a critical aspect of any camera. Here, we will consider how many megapixels you’ll need. All digital cameras contain sensors, sometimes referred to as CCD or CMOS. The job of the sensor is to capture the light.

The sensor replaces the photographic film used older the cameras. The sensor is comprised of numerous tiny photosites that collect the light and convert into an electrical form, and then feed it to the cameras onboard computer.

How many megapixels?

how many megapixels - ultrapixel - www.darkphotography.org

A pixel is a tiny location on the sensor that contains the photosite, a microlens, and other electronics. The number of megapixels in your camera directly refers to the millions of pixels your sensor contains. A megapixel is a common term for 1 million pixels which is often abbreviated as 1MP.

The number of megapixels is important because the more megapixels your camera has, the more detail it can capture in the photographs you want to take. This also helps with high resolution, which is particularly handy if you want to print your pictures in larger formats.

How many megapixels should you get?

So how many megapixels should you get when you buy a digital camera? That answer depends largely on your budget, and what you want to do with your images. You’ll need fewer pixels to post your images on the Internet, so for snaps to go on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll get away with a low-cost option, maybe even just stick to using your phone.

how many megapixels - comparison - www.darkphotography.orgIf you have a need for higher quality images, then this is where you’ll see the expense begin to increase. Something to keep in mind is that large file sizes used online take a lot longer to load than compressed file sizes, so the amount of data in your images will need to be reduced for efficient online loading.

An interesting side note; a single frame of the 35-millimeter film contains the equivalent information of around 30 megapixels of data if it was translated across to a digital format.

When considering the file size of your images, sometimes you don’t need all that data. Optimizing your images to load quickly online is the trade-off to high-quality images, which your camera will only be capable of producing if you have sufficient megapixels.

Once you’re happy with how many megapixels you’ve got, the next consideration to make when purchasing your camera is the selection of a memory card has the capacity, and the speed for the images you are taking. Memory cards can seem very complex, but really they’re quite simple. All the memory card is, in basic terms, is a small computer chip that retains the data that makes up the image.

Select a memory card that has both a reasonable capacity and a fast write speed. The faster the write speed the quicker your camera will be able to process the images and move on to your next photo.

While traveling through Central America some years ago I was relying on a memory card that wrote at 45 megabits per second. This presented some challenges while taking photographs of lightning storms, where the camera was unable to be used between frames.

The speed at which the camera was able to write to the card limited my ability to shoot images quickly. Incidentally, I missed out on numerous lightning strikes as the camera wrote the data from the previous photo to the memory card.

For a faster memory card, you will pay more, but I consider this more of an investment than an expense when you consider the cost of not catching the photo you want to.

Faster and larger memory cards are relied upon particularly when shooting dual formats as JPEG and RAW. We will look At the benefits of shooting dual formats in the coming posts.

12 Ways To Find New Photography Inspiration

12 Ways To Find New Photography Inspiration

They say that ‘if you aim at nothing, you’ll usually hit it.’ So I encourage you to set some specific goals on your path to finding photography inspiration. Here are some tasty tips to inspire you – one for each month of the year which will help you improve your Dark Photography skills.

01 Print your images

Are your photographs destined to remain hidden on a dusty old hard drive forever, unseen by the world? Remember the buzz you once had in the pre-digital days (if you were around then), when you saw your photographs the first time in print?

Why not peruse your recent holiday snaps, and select your best work to be immortalized with ink on paper. Frame them and hang them on the walls in your home, or even give them away as gifts.

SnapFish is a great place to go to have your memories printed and bound. These make for some highly personalized gifts and will strike a chord with even the least sentimental types.

02 Update your camera gear

There comes a time when your old digital camera just doesn’t do your photography skills sufficient justice anymore. While point-and-shoot cameras are convenient and cheaper, they are restricted by their simplicity and do little to provide for true photography inspiration. As a user, you will not be able to fully control the settings, and they have a smaller sensor size too.

Unfortunately, the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ is still the truth when it comes to photographic equipment. Even a modestly priced entry-level DSLR and kit lens will produce sharper and bigger images. It will allow you to play with a wider aperture range, from at least f/4 to f/22, and a whole bunch of other settings.

If you’re into landscape photography, a sturdy tripod is a must. My preference is to go for a Manfrotto tripod, they are extremely sturdy, very well built, and by design, they’re able to take a range of heads for different situations. Another must is a polarising filter; this will help you take stunning photos as it is used to darken blue skies.

A shutter release  (cable or remote) is invaluable and will prevent camera shake during longer exposures. This is where you get that horrible blurry look even when you know your lens was perfectly focused. Choosing the right kind of shutter release for certain conditions is critical. I’ll let you in on a few tips in some other articles that will help you make the right choice for the different types of photography you will be exposed to.

A decent kit bag will protect your expensive gear. You don’t have to go for the top of the line Lowepro here, but if you do you’ll get more than years out of your investment. I’ve had my Lowepro since 1994 and it still going strong! Not only will this keep your gear safer from potential damage (unlike a flimsy bag) it will also enable you to have much more efficient access to it.

There’s nothing quite like the buzz of a new piece of kit to get the fires of photography inspiration burning bright; besides, you’ve worked hard and deserve to treat yourself. No, this isn’t a treat at all, is it? This is necessary!

03 Subscribe to a photography magazine

The racks of most bookshops are stacked with numerous photography magazines. One of my favorites is Digital SLR Photography, which boasts a higher standard of writing than found in other titles from the UK. Of course, these days you can subscribe to digital versions of magazines, and download them to your mobile device of choice.

For the digital nomad, this is a great way to be able to always have your library on hand with you to refer back to should you need. And let’s be honest; who want’s precious cabin baggage allowance consumed by magazines when you can view them on your chosen device that you’re going to have with you anyway?

04 Start a personal project

A popular pastime is to shoot a photo every day for 365 days. The idea is to force yourself into the habit of getting your camera out regularly, not just for holidays, or special occasions. Shoot ordinary events or items.

Dedicated 365 websites give tips and ideas. You could photograph a ‘selfie’ in the mirror to record your beard growth for 12 months, and then create a time lapse.

Another worthwhile project is to choose a specific number (e.g. 4) or a certain color (e.g. blue). Walk around town for a day, only shooting this topic. You will be amazed at how such a focused assignment will hone your observation skills.

The ultimate would be to jump on with one of our challenges and see how you go there. These are designed to push your skills that bit more and foster photography inspiration. Through participating in the challenges here you’ll be able to put your strengths to work and measure yourself against the skills and abilities of others. The challenges are designed to be a safe place to learn and enhance your skills while exploring your style.

05 Enter a photography competition

Success in a local, national or even international competition is not only a huge boost to your confidence, and reputation – you may collect some fantastic prizes too. Competitions range from promotional gimmicks at local events to non-profit organizations and magazines which run these on an annual basis.

Competitions are a great way to expose your work to a wider audience and broaden your skill set. The more prestigious competitions will normally charge an entry fee, particularly the umbrella organizations for professionals, where winners are highly acclaimed.

Do a Google search on photography competitions in my area, or photography competitions near me and see what comes up. Once you’ve found one that you like the look of, enter it and come back here to share with us in the forums the information about the competition. You may find others in the Dark Photography Tribe will be able to help (or they may even have entered the same competition themselves).

06 Get your work published

If you love to photograph in a specific niche and find your photography inspiration here (e.g. animals, gardens, fashion, children, or sports), and believe your images will withstand an editor’s scrutiny, why not reach out to them and email your favorite publication? Build a portfolio online to make it easy for them to view your work.

Many editors are consistently on the lookout for fresh takes on old topics. Follow up with a phone call, or better, a personal visit if you can. If you’re a competent wordsmith, even better, as you can often get paid more for quality writing than for just a handful of photos.

However, be warned: many editors are notorious for not replying, so you will need to be tenacious. Don’t give up! The team at Dark Photography are not to be discounted from your avenues of potential writing. Contact us to find out more and check out the criteria on what needs to be achieved for a submission to be published.

07 Learn how to post-process your pics

This is what often separates amateurish photos from professional-looking images: taking a few minutes in Photoshop or Lightroom and adjusting a few basic settings. Things like color correction, sharpness, and exposure curves are easily done. So is straightening a wonky horizon, or cropping your picture into a more pleasing frame.

Photoshop and Lightroom are popular with hobbyists as they are cheaper, stripped-down versions of Adobe’s flagship software. Beginners may find Faststone Image Viewer a simple yet powerful program – and best of all, it’s free.

08 Push yourself

Very rarely do great images come easy, and for some, neither does truly moving photography inspiration. Persistence pays off, and sometimes it’s just a matter of staying around longer on location, waiting for the right light. Admittedly it can be tough when it gets late and you are tired and cold, but hang in there. Getting out of bed earlier for that stunning sunrise shot might be a push, but the beauty you’ll witness will make it worth the sacrifice.

One photographer that has a capacity to catch the light in such an impressive way is Ken Duncan. Watch the trailer for Chasing The Light below and see what photography inspiration you discover in the amazing ideas that come to mind for your next Dark Photography adventure.

As a passionate Photographer, Ken has put his hand to many projects over the years and I’d go so far as to say that you would have probably seen his work at some time and not even know it. Ken was interviewed on Living The Bucket Lists’ Inspiration Ninjas series and shares an insight into what drives him as a contemporary Photographer and an Australian Icon.

Find a Photographer who has work that you like the look of, and see if you can figure out how they achieved the shots they did. See if you can re-create them in your own unique way. We would love to see what you have been able to achieve here. Join the forums and share your experiences.

Here’s a challenge; get out there and go the extra mile this year. Don’t settle for second best, even if it means embarking on solo missions when the family is sleeping or watching TV. Trust me, the sacrifice will be well and truly worth it.

09 Make money from your hobby

Nothing is more likely to fuel your photography inspiration than making some money along the way. There are numerous ways to earn a living from photography – it all depends on your skill level, personality type, and passions. While the market for more landscape calendars or greeting cards is saturated, there’s still room for tasteful stock images, particularly shots of people.

On-line micro-stock libraries such as iStockphoto.com will no longer provide a decent full-time income, but you could make some pocket money. Fortunately, there are still stock libraries that value their contributor’s images highly. If your images are accepted and sell regularly, you can expect to earn several thousand dollars every year, once you have built up a considerable body of quality work.

Of course, if you have the people skills and can think on your feet, wedding photography is where the real money is. As this competitive genre is seasonal, it can be supplemented by studio shoots or baby portraiture.

10 Join the club

Photo albums have now been replaced with online galleries. Host sites include Google Photos or Yahoo’s Flickr, but if you’re serious, why not build your own personal website?

This is no longer such a daunting task, as it was a few years ago. Cloud-based hosts include clikpic.com and wix.com where beautiful templates make DIY web design a breeze. The only downside is that if you really want to rank in the search engines then you will struggle if you are using some of these platforms. On your next Google search pay attention to how many Wix and Weebly type sites show up.

Another option is to set up a profile on a site like Dark Photography where you can showcase your work and provide others with photography inspiration while retaining full control of your images. We will soon have a means for you to do this, so make sure you bookmark our site, or better still subscribe and we will let you know when you can take advantage of this amazing update.

However, if you and computers don’t mix, you can always find a like-minded community of real humans in a local camera club. Have a look at what Meet Ups are in your area.

11 Take a photography course

Dark Photograph - photography master class course - photography inspirationOur friends at Photography Masterclass have put this awesome course together. Take advantage of their amazing course that will catapult your photography skills so far forward that you’ll amaze all of your friends with what you can do. Before you know it you will be a source of photography inspiration to others!

These are broken down into logical chunks that are so easy to follow and put into action. You’ll learn everything from how to effectively use your camera, right through to how to present your finished work. There are over 11 hours of training here that is exceptional.

Let’s be honest, most folks will benefit from attending at least one photography course, especially when they’re starting out. This needn’t be a 4-year university degree. Check out your local high school – many offer night classes for adults, and are great value for money.

Alternatively, many pro photographers run seasonal workshops on portraiture, wildlife or landscapes. You don’t have to go to an extraordinary expense to do this, just hit the road and explore your local area armed with some knowledge gained through an online course of your choice, or some techniques picked up in a couple of targeted and specific ebooks.


Dark Photograph - photography master class course - photography inspiration

The greatest chance you could give yourself is to brush up on the skills that you believe you need in order to get to the goals that you have. We’re confident that you’ll get a great deal of value from the course offered by Photography Masterclass.

12 Go on tour

To really improve your photography, you need to grab your camera, and practice, practice, practice. Perhaps the best way to fast-track your camera skills is on an intense weekend shooting on location under the watchful eye of an experienced guide?

He will transport you to the best spots at the best time of day, in the best light. This will ensure you capture great images.

Watch this space! We will be hosting workshops in the field where you will be able to join us on short photography getaways to unique locations. Not only will this help with fueling your photography inspiration, you’ll also get personal time with us. You will be able to receive coaching on the entire spectrum of Dark Photography. Dates and locations are yet to be announced, in the meantime, for more information, you can contact us.

Making Your Light Bigger

Making Your Light Bigger

If you want to make your photography light source larger, but don’t want to diffuse it with a softbox or scrim, you could bounce it off a wall, a reflector or fire it into an umbrella. Give this a try and see how the light source has gotten larger. I appreciate that most of you probably don’t have studio lights, and may never get them, but it is still important to know how to modify and shape light.

With digital photography, it is pretty easy to control the color casts on your final photo, so those work lights you can buy at any home repair type store work very well.

These will all work as beginner replacements for studio lights. They will need some post-processing to remove color casts, but it’s a low-cost way to get started. Caution is needed though, these are hot lights! Be careful about any sort of modification devices catching fire. There usually isn’t a problem, but never leave them unattended while they are turned on.

If you are after some inexpensive photography hacks subscribe to Dark Photography. I’ll show you how to make a soft lighting setup that you can use in your home to create some pretty stunning photos.

Flags, Dots, and Fingers

You will soon be able to manipulate your photography light source and create photos with your homemade $10 lights that will rival the best studio portraits. And you will be able to use them as hard or soft lights. Another way to shape light is by using flags, dots or fingers.

Flags are like taking one of the flaps in a barn door and just using that to block the light. They come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Generally, larger ones are called flags, if the flag is smaller and narrower in shape – it’s generally called a finger. If it is round, we call it a dot. In reality, they are all different sizes and shapes of the same thing; a way to block light from hitting some part of, or your entire subject.

Above are samples of a finger and a dot, a flag is the same thing, just larger. We don’t usually think of permanent, stationary objects as flags, but a tree trunk or an overhanging leaf-covered branch that blocks light from hitting your model would be the same concept.

What if we don’t want to completely block the light, but instead want to cast a specific shadow on our scene?

Imagine taking one of the above flags and cutting out a pattern. For example, cut away all but a big ‘T’ and when the light shines through it, it will cast a shadow that resembles the shadow cast by the panes in a window frame. Or you could cut out a pattern of leaves and have that pattern striking your backdrop to add to the complexity of your photography light source.

Hard Light

Hard Light

What is hard light?

We define a hard light as one that is small in relation to the subject, generally un-diffused and it creates hard-edged, dark shadows. What we are looking at here with hard light is the light quality and finding a suitable balance that provides the light quality we are after.

Our key light is the light that we are using as our main light source. It is the brightest light hitting your subject. Now let’s spend a minute or two discussing the light quality being emitted by our key light.

Is it “hard” light? Or is it “soft” light?

The sun is a hard light. It is unfiltered and un-diffused (unless it’s a cloudy day). Plus, it’s relatively intense and small in relation to our subject.

When a hard light hits a subject, intense highlights and sharp black shadows are created.  The gradation, or fall-off, of light from highlight to shadow, is sharp and very abrupt.

When you see an actor on stage being lit by a spotlight, it is emulating the sun in that it is a very hard, directional light. When you think of hard light, think of it like a spotlight hitting your subject.

This creates strong modeling of shapes and dramatically emphasizes outlines and forms. It is also useful to create mood. Imagine an athlete after a big game where he or she lost. Now imagine him, or her, sitting in the locker room. They are dejected – beaten. In your imaginary image was the locker room brightly lit? Or was it dark and brooding? You can convey a great deal of emotion with your lighting choices.

Classic Hard Light Use Cases

hard lightHow about those old film noir movies where they show a “has been – but never really was” boxer – it’s after the fight and they are in the locker room tending to their injuries. The scene almost always shows them alone or with their one and only supporter.

Imagine that scene. You can see every drop of sweat, the ragged edges of the cut above the grossly swollen eye. It’s all in stark relief. The room is dark or very dimly lit. It’s all done by using a hard light source and few if any fill lights. They are attempting to show you the fighter’s “bottom of the barrel” type existence. In fact, the whole film noir industry was built on hard light and shadows.

hard light

By the way, there are BIG BUCKS available to photographers who can duplicate the film noir (hard light) look in portraits!

This involves hairstyle and make-up too. Not just the light and shadows. The portrait of Gene Tierney, the 1940’s Hollywood Starlet, shows a butterfly lighting pattern.

Can you see why it is called that? Butterfly lighting is called butterfly lighting as a result of the shadow cast under the nose. Can you see the butterfly-shaped shadow now? You get this by putting the primary light source directly behind, and above the camera.

To make this a little easier to understand, you, as the photographer will be positioned below the light source in order to achieve this pattern. You will have seen this used extensively in glamour shots as it is a great way to create a shadow under the chin and cheeks. A  little sneaky tip, this is a more flattering type of light to use for subjects who have a few more years on the clock as it places less emphasis on wrinkles when compared to side lighting.

13 Bad Photography Habits That Can Ruin Your Photos

13 Bad Photography Habits That Can Ruin Your Photos

Do this simple test below. See if you have developed some of these bad photography habits. They are easy to pick up, but hard to shake off! For each bad habit, give yourself a test score. Finally, resolve to drop at least one of these habits this year.

01 Leave the Camera at Home

The best camera is the one you have with you – even if it’s on your smartphone. Not every photo you take is photography competition material, or is of commercial value. Regardless, a huge megapixel count and optimum lens quality on a DSLR is useless if left at home. You can see why tis is right up the top of the list of bad photography habits, right?

02 Rely on a Single Memory Card

Those little storage cards are hugely expensive, but the temptation to be frugal will bite you on the bum. Murphy’s Law states that your memory card will fill up precisely when you’re shooting that ‘money shot’; when the light is right; or when the entire group is all smiling at you. The remedy? Buy more memory cards.

03 Don’t Back Up Your Photos

I know a friend who fills up a memory card with images, then buys another, fill that up, then buys another – a dangerous habit! He recently confessed he’s lost some of his precious photos. Personally, I have experienced the pain of having a hard drive fail, losing more than a year’s commercial photography work. To be super-secure, you really should store your photographs in three different locations.

04 Chimp

Constantly checking your images on the LCD display is called chimping, and it’s a really bad photography habit. To be fair, there’s nothing wrong with it, per se, except if you’re into street photography, or at a wedding or party. You may miss that definitive moment, as you’re too engrossed in the perfectionistic tendency of chimping.

05 Shoot From Eye Level

Amateur shutterbugs tend to hold the camera at head-height. However, this will produce predictable results. When shooting in a location, learn to ‘work the scene’. Drop to your knees, or even lie on the ground, searching for fresh angles. An aerial perspective can be stunning. Remember that the best tool of composition is your feet.

06 Fail to Consider the Background

Look for a simple background behind your subject. For example, avoid having a telephone pole (in the distance) that appears to protrude from a person’s head. If you have a long lens, you can employ a narrow depth-of-field to blur the background. This will isolate your subject from the clutter beyond, achieving a degree of separation.

07 Center the Subject

Ignore the rules of composition at your peril. This bad photography habit is practiced all too often. If you want your photos to stand out, learn and use the Rule of Thirds, rather than place your focal point bang in the middle, like most folks do, (in blissful ignorance). Or, add dynamic by tilting your camera at an angle. Don’t forget to try different types of framing: portrait orientation versus landscape orientation. Or even a really wide panoramic crop.

08 Shoot Only in Bright Daylight

Confession time… I am guilty of this. Because I trained back in the bad old days of film, when strong light was necessary to capture good images, I became a fair-weather photographer. Also, I used compact digital cameras for a decade, which were hopeless in low light situations. So I was infatuated with clear, blue skies, as cloudy skies often washed out into a white haze.

However, under a harsh, midday sun, shadows are short and therefore objects do not look three-dimensional, lacking form. Human subjects may squint into the sun, or blink. Worse, they may have an ugly ‘sun-dial’ effect under their noses! Better to pose people in the shade.

Landscapers should learn to work with softer, diffused light – this is mandatory for waterfall scenes. Thunderclouds overhead will introduce a sense of foreboding that blue skies cannot. Golden hour lighting will exude warmer tones and longer shadows.

09 Don’t Read the Camera Manual

Same old story: you buy a new camera, put the box away and the camera’s manual stays inside the plastic bag. Perhaps you were too eager to use your new gadget. Well, now it’s time to dig out the manual and attack it with a highlighter pen. Not so much a bad photography, as a really obvious rookie mistake I guess, but still, it is often the source of lost opportunities in photography.

Be methodical, and diligently work through each function of your camera. You may find features you didn’t know existed!

10 Shoot on Auto

If you haven’t read the camera manual, your photos may suffer from the restrictions of shooting in Automatic mode. Modern cameras are amazing, and can produce great results on Auto, but not consistently. Better to take control yourself. Learn the semi-automatic shooting modes, such as Shutter or Aperture Priority. Then, if you are brave, try shooting on Manual.

11 Think that Post-Processing Can Fix Everything

This is a lazy habit to fall into. It’s much better to get a shot right in-camera, including the correct exposure, as blown-out highlights cannot be retrieved later. Another consideration is ensuring that the horizon is straight, or you will lose the edges of your image when rotating then cropping it on a computer. Use the 3 x 3 grid on your LCD display, or a spirit level fitted on the hot shoe.

If you shoot landscapes, buy some ND and ND Grad filters. The most useful filter is the Polariser, the effects of which cannot be replicated using software. Finally, it’s better to do a bit of gardening, removing distractions from a scene, than be forced to clone them out in Photoshop – tedious work!

12 Shoot Only JPEGs

JPEG files are compressed. Unfortunately, this narrows the dynamic range of your photographs, and changes the colour, according to the camera’s presets. This can’t be undone. Shoot using the RAW file format, as this is more forgiving. RAW allows you the latitude to correct exposure and colour, as well as sharpen the image, on computer software. Think of RAW files as digital negatives, that need processing and fine tuning.

13 Post Too Many Photos

We all take poor pictures, badly exposed or blurry… but there’s no need to inflict these on the unsuspecting public! Carefully select only your best images, then process these on the computer.

Also, display a variety of images on social media, or online galleries, but limit these to 3–5. Essentially, don’t submit minor variations of the same shot.

So, what’s your score? How many bad habits can you identify with? Tick these habits and tally up your total.

SCORING

1–3 habits: Wow! You are disciplined, and must have done a few photography courses.

4–6 habits: Not bad. But there is room for improvement.

7–9 habits: Don’t despair; there’s still hope for you.

10–13 habits: You need professional help!

Photo Exercise

Photo Exercise

Exercise 1

Here’s what you do; go into a field in the early morning, just after the sun clears the horizon. With the sun directly in front of you, get down low to the ground and scout around until you find a nicely shaped spider web.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Photo Exercise

Beautiful isn’t it? Now, as long as you’re there anyway, take a few shots for your collection. Get down low and fill the frame with the web. Don’t forget to pre-visualise and write everything in your notebook. Once you are done with that – make a mental note of exactly where the spider web is and go around to the other side of it. Now, with the sun at your back, what do you see? Is it as beautiful? Can you see it as well? Can you see it at all?

Hopefully, it will have some dewdrops on it. If not, bring a spray bottle of water with you and give it a gentle spritz.  By the way, spritzing “dewdrops” onto flowers and spider webs is an old professional trick. It makes them look so much better that few pros would go into the field without a spray bottle! Want bigger drops? Add some glycerin to the water.

The dew drops or the spritz of water should help you see the filaments of the web.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Photo Exercise

This is not just an exercise of hard light versus soft light. You are now learning a bit about the angle of light. When you put the finished photos side by side in your notebook, which one do you like best? Why? This exercise should help you to remember to always turn around and check the scene behind you when you are doing a photo session. By that I mean, the scene in front of you may be beautiful, but the scene behind you could be even better. The angle of the light can make a big difference.

Hmmm… I got a little off topic there, talking about light angle rather than talking about the light being hard. Let’s get back to hard light and talk about how to modify it.

Exercise 2

Go back and look at each of the ways we shape and control our hard light source, then try to figure out a way to manipulate the sun and your on camera flash using these techniques.

Can you make a snoot for your flash? How about a cookie?

Find ways to use flags to control the light hitting your scene.

Stop by a local camera store and ask them if they will show you a flag, a cookie, a snoot.

Just because these modifiers are generally used on studio lights, doesn’t mean that you can’t find a way to get the same look. Try making a snoot out of paper and tape it to your light.

Next time, we’ll go into soft light, you’re going to like this one!

Light Angles Matter

Light Angles Matter

Light angles can make a big difference to your photography. Using a side-glancing light to accent an item with shadows can soften and balance out your image. Hard light is great for that.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Angles MatterWhat about the face of a young girl wanting to be a model? How would you light her face? A glancing, hard light is going to show every blemish and line in her face. Do you think that she would want that type of photograph in her portfolio? Probably not!

By the way, she doesn’t have to be a model. Any woman is not going to like a photo that shows all her acne scars, and other bumps and bulges in her face. Boys and men generally care less than women, but they won’t like seeing every mark and blemish either.

Many model photographers use a hard light source – an on-camera flash – but they use a “ring flash” to fill in all the wrinkles and shadows from blemishes.

When considering light angles and the effects, there are several drawbacks to using a ring flash. First, there are problems with red-eyes. Second, it creates really odd looking round catch lights in the eyes. And third, since it eliminates shadows, you end up with a flat, 2D image. I recommend against using a ring flash for portrait work. If you need or want a hard light source, use one but put it at an angle to your subject. Then fill in the shadows as needed.

Want to see a masterful usage of angles with a hard light source? Pick up any bodybuilding magazine. They use a hard light source glancing across the body to define and visually enhance the muscles.

Consider the angle of your light. A hard light that is off to the side and glancing across the face (or body) will show every muscle, scar, pit, and bulge. But move that same light so that it is shining directly into the model, from the camera viewpoint, and you fill in all those facial anomalies, totally erase all their muscles and give your model smoother skin.

Sometimes when you are working with light angles, with a pretty girl, for example, shining the light directly into the face is a good thing, but try to avoid using a ring light.

The tradeoff is that you flatten the face and body, and lose most of the 3D effect you get from shadows. The shadow that defines shape is called “modeling”. Sometimes like with a bodybuilder – shining the light directly into the subject will ruin the portrait.

Every photographic situation has trade-offs, and the difference you will get with your light angles will be more than contrasting, trust me. It’s how you deal with them that will define your photographic vision or eye. Stepping away from taking photos of people for a second, here’s another example of how the angle of the light can change everything. Suppose you want to shoot a photo of a spider’s web.

Shooting spider webs can be done with hard light or soft light, but in my experience, hard light makes a more dramatic shot. With the hard light of the sun, it is easy to see the thin filaments of the web as well as the glistening dewdrops in the early morning; assuming of course that the angle is right.

If the sun is behind the web (shining towards you), the spider webs seem to pop up everywhere. But if you are looking for them with the sun at your back, you could spend all day searching and never find one!

Light angles can make some things completely disappear, take the next two photos for instance. There is a spider web in the below photo on the left. The below photo on the right is much less obvious as the light is at our back.

Light Qualities

Light Qualities

Previously we learned a bit about photography lighting and light qualities that have to be considered when you are planning your creative vision. Some of the questions to consider include; it hard light? Is it soft light? Does the light give off a white or yellow tone?

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Qualities Hard LightThis is a sample of how hard light can present on a subject. Notice how the distinction between light and shadow is very obvious. The lighter areas between the nose and lips, and on the chin are a stark contrast to the shadow cast by the nose running over onto the cheek.

Controlling hard light to achieve the desired effect is something that you should practice. When you can work with hard light confidently you can create some very appealing effects and draw on viewer emotion to get your audience to connect with your work in a way that they might otherwise not be able to.

Dark Photography - Starry Night and Aurora Photography - Light Qualities Soft LightThis is a sample of how soft light can appear on a subject. Notice how there are no strong distinctions between light and shadow, even the shadow cast between the right cheek and jawline under the layers of hair are quite subtle.

Look at how the balance of light and shadow moves down the neck, gently emphasizing the shape of the neck, rather than being bold and obvious, which would draw the viewers attention away from the eyes. Again, controlling the light to communicate what it is that you want to share with your audience is an art that needs to be mastered in the initial shoot; and not so much in post-production.

We’ve defined and discussed the key light in posts here, which is the main, or most powerful light, but we also need to consider the source of the light, the intensity, direction, and color. We’ve learned that shadow defines form. With no shadows, your subject will appear flat and two dimensional.  So to make our photos more realistic and more 3D, we need to give a lot of attention to the shadows.

Notice how the shadows make this photo of a mannequin look three dimensional as a result of the photography lighting? And, here is a sample of a photo with fewer shadows. Notice how it makes this real person looks more two dimensional (or flatter) than the mannequin photo?

Comparatively this photo of the young girl also looks faded and washed out when compared to the mannequin. There are so many things wrong with this photo, and through your Dark Photography journey, you will learn how to avoid taking photos that do not convey the message that you want.

We’ve also learned to study shadows. They are more important than most beginners to photography realize. In fact, in portrait photography, all six of the most popular lighting setups are named for the shadows they create! Broad light, narrow light, split light, loop light, butterfly light and Rembrandt light. Always ask yourself:

  • Are there any shadows?
  • What is their direction?
  • What about the shadow’s depth?

Remember: if the shadow is too dark, we lose all the facial details. If it is too light, we lose our roundness and 3D effect.

We’ve also learned that we can manipulate our shadows with photography lighting by adding in a secondary light called a fill light. The fill light is generally set opposite to the main, or key light, and adjusted so that its intensity is less than that of the key light. In this way, it fills in the shadow areas but doesn’t completely eliminate them. Your on-camera flash can be used as a fill light, so can white reflectors, walls, or even a van!

There are many different photography hacks that can provide you with the different results you are looking for, and many we will teach you that will cost you almost nothing to use compared to the commercial alternative. To get access to these you will need to subscribe to Dark Photography.

A key thing to remember is that a light source doesn’t have to actually generate the light; it can merely reflect light from another source. Are your shadows not dark enough? Try using a black reflector. Yes, that’s right, a black reflector!

We learned about raccoon eyes and several ways to fix them. We did several exercises to help sharpen our “creative eye” and learn to predict the effect of various light and shadows affecting our subject.

Here are a couple samples of raccoon eyes. Can you see why they are called raccoon eyes?

We learned how to take a lot of weight off our subjects by controlling the depth of shadows and the color of their clothing. We learned how to make our subjects look younger by filling in the shadows created by the wrinkles on their skin.

We’ve learned about the causes of the glare in our subject’s spectacles or sunglasses, and several easy ways to remove it. We’ve learned why studio photographers use umbrellas and softboxes in their photography lighting aresenal to soften and diffuse the light in order to control the shadows.

In this review of ambient light, we’ve briefly touched on and covered a lot of ground. It wouldn’t hurt you to go back and re-read about light shaping and snoots, and cookies and gobos. Re-do the photo exercises. Light and shadow is an important area to master.

Moving on – Let’s get more into hard light and how to shape and control it.

10 Commandments for Landsacapers

10 Commandments for Landsacapers

To take the stunning photographs you want to there is a lot more to consider than just the old point and shoot. Planning is the key and you will find that the more research and planing you do the less time you will need to spend trying to figure out the how. This will also reduce any potential expense you may encounter through the consumption of not just time, but other resources that don’t come freely.

Let’s explore the ten commandments for landscape photography that have helped us catch that exact shot we have been looking for.

The Photographer's Ephemeris - Dark Photography01 Use The Photographer’s Ephemeris to calculate the time and the path of the sun and moon as they set and rise. TPE is a great little app that has so many handy features built into it. You can set pins in the map to come back to at later dates and plan your attack to get the perfect position in those precious moments of the most creative soft light. The sun and the moon, just like the tide, wait for no man; so be prepared. You can find this great tool online at http://photoephemeris.com/

02 Check thy tide charts. With coastal scenes, an out-going tide will leave a pristine beach, free of footprints. Rocks will still be wet and hence, reflect the light.

03 Check thy gear before leaving home. Batteries must be charged; memory cards must be empty. The tripod shoe should be on the camera. Lenses and filters must be clean.

04 Arrive at thy location one hour early. If thou art relaxed, thou wilt be in a better frame of mind to produce great images.

05 Scout thy location thoroughly, looking for likely compositions. Pre-focus. Wait for the right light.

06 Use a hot shoe spirit level to keep the horizon straight. (This is very useful for video, or when shooting in the dark.) Alternatively, of course, if thou hast a recent-model DSLR, it may have an in-built level.

07 Tell someone exactly where thou art going.

08 Thou shalt look after thyself. Don’t forget to fuel up. Have snacks, hot drinks, music, warm clothes, first aid and cellphone.

09 Know thy gear. (Thou cannot see thy camera controls in the dark). When the sun is setting, thou wilt only have a short window of opportunity to capture the best light. Now is not the time to be fumbling around trying to read the manual in the impending darkness!

10 Thou shalt have fun! If it doesn’t work out, don’t fret. Pack up, go home and treat thyself to a hot shower or a decent meal. It is not uncommon for two out of three photo shoots to fail. That is, thou may not have bagged any great photos. But this can be par for the course, as one cannot completely control the vagaries of the weather… the wind, the tides, the clouds.

Indeed, it is precisely this uncertainty which makes Landscape Photography such an exciting pursuit.