June 30, 2011

#26 – Freeze or create motion with shutter speed.

You are a camera superhero.

Seriously – you have an incredible power at your fingertips, one that allows you to instantly freeze – or unfreeze time. Just like that.

All you need to do is lean on your shutter speed. Turn your camera to P, Av, Tv /S – instead of those wimpy Auto settings – and  just move your shutter speed up and down. Just remember that when you do this, you’re affecting the amount of light you’re getting into the camera. These settings should adjust the aperture (and sometimes ISO) accordingly.

Freeze most things – use a faster shutter speed.
When you change your shutter speed, you’re really changing what your camera sees. A fast shutter speed – like 1/500 – means your camera only looks around for 1/500th of a second. It won’t see much moving around in that amount of time, so it’ll freeze anything that’s moving less than a horse in full gallop.

Freeze everything – use your flash.
Remember when you were a kid and you went to Chuck E. Cheese and played in the strobe light room? You’d bounce around and everything would look frozen for the instant that the light was flashing. That’s what your onboard camera flash can do. It’ll shoot a burst of (mostly ugly) light to freeze stuff in motion – no matter what your shutter speed is.
Unfreeze everything – use a longer shutter speed.

Here’s the coolest thing of all. If you want to show something moving, you need to open up the shutter. Want to get a great shot of a pitcher throwing a baseball? Dial down to 1/30th of a second and see what happens. This is a great trick for fireworks. More on that tomorrow.

Advanced bonus: Here's how to do the shot above (it's hard, but a lot of fun). Open your shutter and move your camera in sync with the player. That way the background is blurred by the motion and the player stays sharp.

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June 23, 2011

Bonus – How to defeat a gym.

I’m going to my middle daughter’s Senior Kindergarten graduation today and two things are certain – I will weep unabashedly and there will be a room full of terrible photos taken.

The reason? Grad’s in a gym this year.

Gyms and ballrooms are the places photos go to die. Ugly lights. Shots taken too far away. Red eyes from the flash. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck.

You can do better. Just take the handful of minutes after you take your seat and adjust your camera’s settings to get fantastic photos:

1.         Turn your camera to the Av or S setting.
2.         Set the shutter speed to 1/60 or 1/80.
3.         Turn off your flash.

Take a picture. You should instantly notice two things – it’s possibly dark and the colours look all wrong. Easy to fix.

4.         Make sure the ISO is cranked nice and high.
Choose “Auto,” “High,” “800” or “1600.” The higher you go, the more grainy the photos, but you should be reasonably safe at 800.

5.          Change your white balance.

You need your white balance to match the colour in the room. If you’re under fluorescents, use the “fluorescent” setting, for example.

Now take another photo. The colours and exposure should look decent by now. Your next step is to make great memories. A few tips:

·      Get close with the camera (and turn off the digital zoom).
·      Isolate your child (either along or within the group.
·      Try some cool perspectives – low near the stage, off to the side, or with lots of headroom (my favourite).
·      Anticipate! If your child is getting a diploma, set up your focus with the kid before him or her. Press the shutter halfway and wait for your superstar to appear – then click!

June 22, 2011

#25 – Use the “Tv” or “S” setting for more control.

You just think they’re taunting you.

For years, you’ve been taking pictures using the “Auto” setting of your camera, or, on special occasions, the different scene settings light “Nighttime” or “Portrait.”

But you learned a long time ago that those settings are a bit of a scam. They take the control out of your hands and let the camera do way too much thinking for you. Of course there are those other settings – the ones you think are taunting you. There’s P, M, Av and Tv. You know they can make magic. You just don’t know how.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Using these settings is wicked easy and once you get the hang of each, you’ll never want to go back to the “Aquarium” ever again. Earlier this year, we covered off “P,” or “Program.” It’s a sort of luxury version of Auto that lets you play around with a few settings like White Balance for better photos.

And now that you’ve gotten the knack of ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed to let more light into the camera, you actually have some understanding of how to use the rest of those settings. I’ll start with the one I use most when I’m hanging with the family – “Tv” or “S.”

“Tv” stands for “Time Value.” “S” stands for “Shutter.” Most photographers simply call it “shutter priority.” You may have one of these settings, depending on the camera you own. This setting lets you set the minimum shutter speed for your photo. The camera does all the other calculations for you so you can focus on taking the picture.

Why you want to use “shutter priority”– more control.
Using this setting gives you a whole lot more control over your photo – and it can be really helpful indoors. You dial in a number like 1/60 (about the speed of someone walking slowly) and you know that no matter what happens, your subject shouldn’t be blurry because the shutter speed is wrong or too blown out because the flash went a lot crazy. One of my daughter’s is graduating tomorrow (another Tuesday) and it’s the setting I’ll be using. Go ahead and play with it. You’ll feel like a pro and make great memories while you’re at it.

What you can do with “shutter priority.”
·      Set the shutter speed (the camera sets the ISO and aperture).
·      Change the white balance.
·      Shift the exposure compensation.

When to use “shutter priority.”
·      Indoors.
·      When you’re not thinking about aperture.
·      Not using flash.

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June 17, 2011

Bonus – How to print a photo.

It’s going to happen.

For all the times you upload photos to Flickr, Instagram or your phone, there are going to be those rare occasions that you want a good printed copy – say a card for dad on Father’s Day. I don’t print much, but if I’m entering awards shows (hello Markham Fair!) I need to create copies that I like.

To get those copies, I try to keep things as simple as possible and I’ve created a list of three basic rules for getting ink on paper that looks like I want it to look.

Know thy printer (home edition).
Because your monitor isn’t telling you the truth most days, what you see on your printer is going to be different than what you see on your screen. Figure out what your printer is doing differently. Is it making the whole scene dark? Try bumping up the exposure. Are you getting a weird colour cast on your photo? Could be the colour temperature. No matter what, get to know your printer and how to get the most out of it using its settings and a little help from your editing software.

Know thy printer (Costco edition).
I actually don’t own a colour printer these days. If I’m printing, I go to a local lab that I know well. Take the time to pick one place to process your photos and print them out – and get to know the quirks of that printer. I like Costco a lot – cheap and decent prints (if I’m doing really high end stuff, I trek into Toronto and use Pikto). If you're printing something special, talk to the person at the counter (not on a Saturday if you value your life) and tell them what you're trying to do. They'll teach you the quirks if you ask.

One other thing about printing at a store – I like to go for matte (non-glossy) prints with a little white border. This is a personal preference, but I like the way these look – super sharp photos printed in the style that my grandmother used to use back in the day.

Figure out your software.
My mum used to have a nasty habit of printing out pictures that were all stretched and fuzzy – the result of not paying attention to the aspect ratio of the picture and the size of the file from her camera. You need to know these things and your basic photo software can help out a whole lot. Most software these days will guide you through the process pretty painlessly.

Buy good quality paper for good quality photos.
Ever taken a picture that started to fade in a year or two? That’s the acids in the paper doing the damage. If you want it to last, get yourself some archival photo paper, which is designed to keep your photos looking newer, longer.

June 15, 2011

#24 – Centre and recompose to beat shutter lag.

You can make your camera faster.

I was at a baby shower on the weekend when I ran into a woman who wasn’t all that happy with her Nikon point-and-shoot. There was too much of a delay when she pressed the shutter to take a picture.

The pros call this “shutter lag” and on point-and-shoot cameras it can be the difference between “wow” and “what am I looking at?” Milliseconds count a whole lot, especially when you’re trying to catch a bird taking off or a toddler doing the shimmy shimmy shake.

So do what I do and cheat. When it comes to taking a photo with autofocus, your camera will give you a bunch of options – full time autofocus, face detection, continuous tracking… I turn them all off because they let the camera do the thinking and  more often than not a thinking camera is a sloooooow camera.

Turn off the distractions and press the shutter halfway.
Instead, I turn off all the bells and whistles and work with the centre point of the autofocus on my camera. On some cameras it looks like a small box, on others it’s a cross hair. When I’m about to take a photo, I put my subject in the centre of the frame, right beneath that point and I press the shutter halfway.

Pressing it halfway engages your autofocus and you’ll often hear a double beep (or other sound) to let you know you did things right. This tells your camera that whatever was in the centre point when you pressed halfway is what it should focus on. Then, with my finger still pressing down halfway, I recompose the scene to put my subject where I want them – the left, the right, wherever. Because I’ve already told the camera what it needs to focus on, it won’t take any extra time to focus on the subject. As long as your little one doesn’t lurch at the camera, they’ll stay in focus. All you need to do is finish pressing the shutter when you’re ready. Instant photo.

The technique is called “centre and recompose,” but all that matters is that you just sped up your shutter lag by a whole lot – just like I did for the woman this weekend who is now the proud owner of a suddenly speedier Nikon point-and-shoot.

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June 9, 2011

Bonus – What I didn’t tell you about histograms.

There are days that I really miss That’s Incredible.

Remember the early ‘80s TV show that had the most unbelievable stunts and stories – like that guy who could catch bullets in his mouth. For a chatty ten-year-old in the pre-Internet world, that show was mindblowing.

One of my favourite segments was about this guy who could pick up an old school record album and tell you what song was on it – just by looking at the grooves. I’d still consider it a really, really cool feat – if it wasn’t for the fact that you can do pretty much the same thing with a histogram.

We talked about histogram’s in this week’s post. They’re the line graphs that describe you where all the dark (left side) and light (right side) parts of a photo. Most times, you use histograms to tell you if your photo is underexposed or overexposed. But here’s the cool part about histograms. You can pick out individual parts that are bright and dark, but by looking at the histogram. And if you can see it on the histogram, you can decide whether the photo is just right or needs some fixing. 

Here’s an easy example.

That’s an uncorrected photo I took of my son a few weeks ago. He looks pretty decent (minus the stains on the shirt and chocolate on the face), but the histogram is telling me something is really, really bright. If I look at the photo, I know exactly what that is – it’s the white background. But that’s the look I was going for. The boy looks fine – his shirt and face (except for the right side, but that’s on purpose) are smack dab in the middle of the histogram. How do I know? When I play around with the sliders to make the shirt brighter or darker, I can see the histogram change.

All you have to do is play around with the sliders and you too can figure out the histogram in no time flat. Now, that’s incredible.

June 8, 2011

#23 – Learn to read your histogram.

We all trust the most pathological of liars.

Oh sure, that very liar seems to have the best of intentions. It shows us what we think we want to see. It even almost gives us what we want. But when it comes to editing your photos, your camera’s LCD and your computer’s monitor rarely tell you the truth. What looks dark on the back of your camera looks bright on your laptop.

Every monitor (and camera LCD and cell phone screen) is a little bit different. Professional photographers spend hours with gadgets and software to calibrate monitors so things look just right. The thing is, there’s a super easy way to know the truth when it comes to editing your photo.

Say hello to the histogram.

The histogram is that little line graph you may have come across on your camera screen or in your photo editing program. At first glance it looks weird and confusing. But spend just a couple of minutes with it and you’ll be able to understand whether your image is

Your histogram measures light.
A histogram tells you if your photo – or parts of your photo – are too dark or too bright. For an average snapshot you want that graph to look nice and even, stretching all the way from the left side to the right side with nice flowing curves. There are lots of times you won’t want this exact look, but for your average, properly exposed photo, this is what you’re looking for.

The left side is the dark side.

You read the histogram from left to right. The left side shows you things that are dark – like a night sky for example. If everything is squished up on that left side, you know that your photo is too dark, no matter what your monitor or camera LCD says. Adjust ISO, aperture or shutter speed to compensate.

The right side is the bright side.

Everything pushed up against the right side of the histogram in that grad photo you’re taking?  Your image might be overexposed.  Again, you can dial down ISO, aperture and shutter speed.

Turn it on and try it for yourself.

Time to snag your computer’s manual. Turn on the histogram so that it shows up during every shot you take – it’s the ultimate helper in knowing if you got the shot.

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June 2, 2011

Bonus – What could go wrong?

Sometimes “The Mistake” isn’t really your fault.

I mentioned “The Mistake” in this week’s blog post – it’s the one glaring error that ruins an otherwise awesome photography. I’m infamous for taking pictures of kids with messy faces. I should catch that stuff, so I developed a mental checklist for every photo I take.

And then there’s the ones I can’t control quite as easily – like bumping the shutter speed button so that everything gets blurry and not noticing until 15 minutes (and 50 shots) later.

No matter what kind of camera you have, if it has a button for something, there’s a chance you’re going to push it at the wrong time and get something you never expected. The next time you snap a photo and you see something wrong with it, look at this quick cheat sheet for a little help…

Photos too blurry?
Is your…
·      Lens clean?
·      Digital zoom turned off?
·      Auto focus turned on?
·      Image stabilization turned on (not all cameras have this)?

Photos too dark?
Is your…
·      ISO high enough?
·      Aperture at a lower number (like 4)?
·      Shutter speed open wider (like 1/60)?
·      Flash on?
·      Environment too dark?

Photos too bright?
Can you…
·      Dial down your ISO, aperture or shutter speed?
·      Use the ND feature on some cameras?
·      Move somewhere darker?

Photos have a weird colour?
Do you have…
·      Some custom colour functions turned on by mistake?

Eyes red and crazy looking?
Can you…
·      Turn on red eye reduction?
·      Turn off the flash (it’s causing the red eye)?
·      Stop taking pictures of zombies?

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June 1, 2011

#22 – Think it through.

This happens to me way more often than I’m comfortable to admit.

I’ve got the right camera. The right look. The right pose. I take the picture. It looks fantastic on the back of my screen. Everybody’s happy and we move on.

Then I get home, download the pics to my computer and that’s when I notice it. I call it “The Mistake.” Something glaring and obvious. The light is coming from the wrong side. The baby’s face is covered with drool. There’s a sandbag in the bottom right corner of the frame (look behind the dress).

I didn’t start my work life as a professional photographer. I was a dad first – a dad who wanted to take better pics of his adorable kids (all six of them it turns out). I didn’t get a formal photo education and as such, I can – from time to time – forget to check a thing or two when I shoot.

The good news is that I built myself a little process to cut down on my potential photo hangover. You can too – here’s what you do.

Make a checklist before you shoot…
When I raise up my camera to take a shot, I run through a little checklist in my mind:

1.         Is my shutter speed at least 1/60 of a second?
2.         Is there too much/too little light?
3.         Is everything in focus that I want to be in focus?
4.         Is there anything in the shot I don’t want to be in the shot?
5.         Messy faces, out of place hairs, crinkled anything?
6.         Does anything look weird?

then check it after you shoot.
Those six questions are great beforehand, but be sure to ask them after you take the snapshot too. The problem, of course, is that you generally have a few seconds after you shoot the image to get another one (case in point: a birthday party). Learn to read your images quickly (or on a bigger screen) for the best results.