September 29, 2011

#38 – Turn off useless settings

I call them the “stupid” settings.

They’re the silly (sometimes ridiculous) settings that are often enabled when your camera comes out of the box – and they’re are messing up your moments. Some of them make your photos blurry. Some make your photos ugly. Some slow your camera down.

The funny thing is, you don’t really need any of these settings.

If you’ve been following along with Frame One over the last few months, you should be getting comfortable with your camera – which means you can take control of your settings and make the right decisions for your next snapshot. I find that when I let the camera do all the driving, my photos are hit-or-miss. Too bright. Too dark. Too out of focus.

Next time you pick up your camera, switch off these settings for better photos:

Digital Zoom – Makes photos look choppy
Digital zoom is a trick that uses on board software to zoom further into a photo, often pixelating the thing into a blurry mess. You can do the same thing in your photo editing software – just make sure you use a nice big photo size (“L” or “RAW”) to get the biggest picture possible.

Face Detection – Slows down your autofocus
You know what a face looks like, right? Do yourself a favour and use the camera’s autofocus to pick out faces. If you let the camera do it, things are going to sloooooow down. And if that happens, you might miss the shot.

“Auto” Mode – You know more about what your camera wants
A fabulous Frame One friend made me aware of this one (thanks Joan!). As I mentioned in one of my very first posts, don’t use the “Auto” setting (or the lame creative settings on most cameras). Because your camera is making all the decisions, you lose your ability to think about cool photos you can take. Try using “P” (super auto), “Tv” “Av or S” or “M” instead.

Colo(u)r Effects – Choose after you shoot
Black and white! Sepia! Colour switch! Who needs all this junk? Save the funky colour settings for when you get home and want to make the pics look great, or use them sparingly for a specific reason (i.e. shoot black and white for a day).

Flash  -- Kinda, sorta, sometimes
You know how I feel about on board flash in a point-and-shoot camera. Save yourself some heartache and banish it in just about every situation but these ones.

LAST CHANCE FOR A FREE CAMERA FROM FRAME ONE.  “Like” us on Facebook by September 30 and you’re automatically entered into a draw for a new Canon S95. Click here to get started. Ooo.

September 23, 2011

Bonus – How to take a better photo faster

I’m a lazy photographer.

I’d much rather spend my time taking my shots than setting than up – which can be a problem in my professional life. But it’s great for my personal photos. Who wants to spend time whizzing through menus and adjusting settings when mom’s standing there holding the baby? You could miss the moment.

Good thing you don’t have to.

Do a little planning ahead and you’ll find ways to shoot better photos a whole lot faster.

Look around.
Is it dark? Bright? Fluorescent lights? Messy kids faces? Think about your photo before you pick up your camera and you’ll know what settings you need to adjust.

Have a process.
Create a mental checklist for taking and editing your picture. The more times you follow the exact same process (look around, dial in your settings, talk to your subject, click), the faster and more confident you’ll get with the camera.

Use P, Av or TV.
You might not have time to calculate ISO, shutter speed or aperture – so let your camera do part (or all) of the work. Think about what your shooting and pick the mode that’s right for your situation. Shooting your daughter’s volleyball game? Use “Tv” and dial in a high shutter speed to freeze the action. Want to blur out that background? Go for a high aperture (lower number). Nighttime? Throw up your hands and let “P” do the driving.

Make a shortcut menu.
Some cameras let you put your favourite settings into a custom on screen menu. Use this feature. Love this feature. Mine is filled with “Erase All” photos, “Adjust Flash” and a few other custom settings. I use it every time I take a picture to customize my needs.

Practice the harder stuff.
Can you adjust your white balance without looking at your screen? How about changing the size of your photos (small, medium, large or RAW). Get good at these when you’re not taking photos and the next time you need the setting, you’ll be able to find and adjust the settings without thinking about them.

September 21, 2011

#37 – Steal ideas from great photographers.

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It’s ok to cheat.

Let’s face it, you’re not here on Frame One looking for ways to inspire your professional photography career. You’re here looking for ways to take a better photo.

And few people take better photos more consistently than professional photogs. They spent a lifetime honing posing and lighting skills so they can make a living with pictures that make you go “oh WOW.”

There is simply no crime in copying the work of the best.* By trying to recreate what they imagine, you’re learning what it takes. You’re getting better at everything – composition, preparation, angles, etc. In the meantime, you’re making your spouse/family/frienemies look at you and say “ooo, you’re amazing.”  
*just don’t enter it into any photo contests, ok?

My office is loaded with photo books (and links to photo websites). At this level, I don’t directly steal every part of an image, but I do use them for inspiration. Cool technique here. Smart post production there. Then I incorporate it into what I do every day. (Although the shot up above – was from the early days of my photo life. Stole it outright.)

Here are six of my favourite places to look. Flip through these photos yourself – then rip away!

1. – Brilliant portraits, post production and HDR work
2. -- Platon shows you how to get great portraits with a single light.
3. --  The famous photographer for famous people (and great ideas).
4. -- Wildlife that defies description.
5. -- A friend who has brilliant gift of understanding tone.
6. -- Nick Turpin is my favourite photographer – a lighting genius.
7. -- You have never seen wedding photography like this. 

September 16, 2011

Bonus – How to show off your photos (and more) on the big screen

I very nearly crippled myself in pursuit of this blog post.

I was all ready to talk about the days of the FotoMat, when you’d take in a roll of film and it’d take a couple of weeks to get it processed, and even when you did that, half the shots were blurry/grainy/overexposed. I even had a second paragraph mapped out where I’d say “isn’t it great that we can just put all our photos on the Interwebs and share them with our friends.” Finally, I’d wrap up by showing you three ways you could take those photos from your small screen, to your big screen.

Yeah, that would have made a great article. Except, as I was halfway through the daydream of how I was going to put it together, I dropped a 55” flat panel TV on my feet. That’s right. I had a new TV perched on the end of its box, ready to plug in so I could test the photo apps for this blog, when the thing slipped, dropped five inches and landed squarely behind my toes.

They may hurt like hell now, but I got a good story out of it. Actually, I got three good stories out of it. You see, there was a time when streaming photos, TV shows, movies and music to your TV was an absolute pain. I should know. My basement is a graveyard of mismatched solutions, from a cruddy Motorola product from 2001 to the original Xbox, hacked to run a Media Centre.

Thankfully, it’s not that hard to stream to your TV anymore. In fact, there are three really good solutions out there worth checking out:

Our goal around this house is simple – stream our stuff when and where we want it. So if the tweens want to watch Netflix in the living room, they can. If the smaller fries want music before bedtime, they can have that too. That’s the primary reason we’re an Apple house – you plug one gadget into the ecosystem and it works.

I’ve futzed and fiddled with dozens of solutions for streaming in my digital life and Apple TV – the 2.0 version, not the original – is exactly what we need around here. No frills. Connects to the computer to stream, plus YouTube, Vimeo and loads of online radio stations. We find ourselves using it at least five times a day – and it uses photos as a screensaver, drawing from an online library.

Drawbacks! To stream your content, you need to have a Mac that’s on and running iTunes. It’s super convenient for setup (less than 5 minutes), but a pain if you have your laptop on the road while the kids wanna watch Spongebob back at home. It could also do with a few more apps, which is something I didn’t expect to say – until I played with the Smart TV a little while later. One more thing – it takes awhile to download HD content from the iTunes store, so be warned.

My colleague Tej Babra got the chance to play with Intel’s Wireless Display technology earlier this summer and he was very impressed. Intel bakes the technology right into the chip, allowing you to connect your laptop to a WiDi enabled TV lickity split. WiDi mirrors your screen, so if you can see it on your laptop, you can see it on your TV. He streamed a whole lot of high definition stuff – YouTube, Vimeo, even Blu Rays – with amazing results. It works well and it’s easy to set up.

A few disclaimers. WiDi is a PC only product (no Macs need apply) and you have to be sure your computer comes with it built in. Best Buy recently put up a post that gives you a little more insight into how it all works. Tej found WiDi to be eventually plug and play – after he updated firmware and drivers across the board.

Smart TV – Way better than I expected.
I think the TV jumped on my feet on purpose. It was like it knew that I was thinking “Why bother take this out of the box. It’s just going to suck like pretty much every other home media streaming thingy.” The drop then, became a smackdown that said “don’t judge before you try.”

Good thing I didn’t because the thing is really solid. I got a 55” Samsung 7 Series (7900) that comes with a bunch of apps, from BBC News to the standard stuff – YouTube, Netflix, Facebook. The interface is reasonably well organized and launching into stuff is simple and straightforward. I had a YouTube clip up and running, four minutes after plugging the thing in.

It’s also killer good for photos. There are apps for Flickr and Picasa, plus you can access photos on Twitter or Facebook. It’s pretty impressive.

But it’s not perfect. More apps mean you’re going to have to sign in and signup for just about everything all over again. It helps that the Samsung comes with this funky double-sided remote (traditional remote on one side, keyboard on the other). Organization is good, but could be better. There was some lag in the HD YouTube clip I downloaded. That’s not a tonne of testing, but it is something of which to be aware. 

September 14, 2011

#36 – Turn your onboard flash back on (in these four situations).

Outside - no flash.
Outside - yes flash. 

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You did turn it off, didn't you?

Back in March, I broke up with the awful little light source on my camera. The punch of light the on board flash added to most scenes fried just about everything in its path and I was sick of it.

So, I turned it off.

I used natural light instead. I played around with ISO, aperture and shutter speed to get more light into the camera. I lit using external flashes (cheating, I know, I know).  I was totally winning that breakup.

Then, on Saturday, I came up against a situation where I was forced to crawl back on my hands and knees, begging the flash for forgiveness. We were at an amusement park,laying beneath the blinding sun. The kids found a statue of Snoopy and posed for a photo. One side of the shot looked great. Bright. Shiny. Fab.

The other side? Notsomuch. One of our kids was lost in the hard shadows that come with sunny days. I hung my head in the realization that the only way to get out of this one was to apologize to my flash and turn it on. That's right, the best time to use that onboard flash is in full sunlight. It acts as a sort of eraser on shadows, evening out the light and making things look better.

I begrudgingly admit that there are three other situations in which you might want to keep using that onboard flash:

When you want to freeze motion.
Flashes are like strobe lights – they have the ability to freeze whatever is in front of them in perfect sharpness and stillness. We’ll talk about this one a bit more in an upcoming post.

When you run out of light.
You’re at a restaurant and you want to take a picture of your friends. You’ve maxed out your ISO, aperture and shutter speed – and you still don’t have enough light.

Sigh. Turn on your flash – but do one other thing first. When you usually take a picture of a few people in a dark room, you typically get a nice burst of light on your friends and a dark, dark background. The reason for that? You’re close to your friends and light tends to fade quickly (photographers call it “fall off”). Instead of getting in close and shooting, back up a few feet and use your zoom – then take the photo. It should give you a little more light to work with.

When you want to try something cool.
Feeling funky? Feeling experimental? You can make that little flash do some nifty stuff. Much of it is advanced work, but here’s one anybody can try – bounce the flash. See, the light that comes off your flash is bright and harsh, but it doesn’t have to be. You need to bounce it off of something to make it soft and pleasing. 

I recently read a story about someone who wanted to take a photo of the dinner they were eating. They put a small white plate in front of the flash and directed it over to the side. Now the light that came off the flash was softer – and not directed at the pretty food. Then the photographer took a second plate and placed it in the way of the redirected light and bounced it over to the plate. To review: plate a few inches in front of the flash and directed to the side, theeeen a second plate off to the side, aimed at the dinner. The resulting photo was gorgeous and you’ve got a reason for a second honeymoon with your flash.

Wanna see more? "Like" Frame One on Facebook for tips, tricks and a whole bunch more. PLUS - we're giving away a shiny new Canon S95 if you "Like" us. 

September 8, 2011

Bonus – How I learned to take a photo

One of my first photos

School is for suckers.

This, of course, is not true for everyone – but when it comes to photography, I was able to get a much better education outside the classroom than I ever did inside one. To be honest, I’ve never really embraced school in any of its forms. I floated through high school, able to succeed because I wrote well. I got a university degree (in the world I actually work no less!), but didn’t really “learn” what I do until there was a paycheque attached.

I never even picked up my first camera until I was nearly 30.

The reason? Newborn baby. I took all sorts of awful snapshots those first couple of years and when Canon came out with its first consumer SLR, I hopped on board. I took a class and learned the basics, then took another class to learn the intermediates and, well, it wasn’t a fun time.

My real photo education has come from three places – the Internet, books by favourite photographers and trying stuff out for myself. If you’re like me and want to learn more about taking great pics without getting into study-mode, you might want to try these things out too.

The Internet – find stuff you like
I’m constantly looking for photo tips on the web. My big passion is lighting, so I spend a lot of time at (not recommended unless you’re a lighting nerd). I like surfing around, looking at great photos and emulating what I learn from them. For that I just hit Google or Flickr or by looking at the work of other photographers I admire.

·      Communities: Photojojo and Photography Talk
·      Blogs: Strobist, Chase Jarvis
·      Inspiration: Flickr, Chromasia

Books – Get to know Scott Kelby and Joe McNally
I got most of my “formal” learning from books – posing, lighting and inspiration. My all-time favourite is from celeb photographer Michael Grecco. “Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait” was an amazing read. Taught me tonnes about how to turn a great idea into a great photo. Others to think about:

·      Scott Kelby is your man when it comes to Photoshop and Lightroom
·      Joe McNally is a National Geographic photographer with a great eye and nifty insights. His stuff can be a bit technical, but it’s always worth a read

Experience – Screw up a whole lot

And one of my best photos.

There’s rarely a photo session I have where I don’t learn something big – a lot of which shows up in this blog. Missing a messy face or overexposing because I bumped a setting makes me better at taking photos. I’m still taking loads of pictures of my kids these days, it’s just that they look more professional and interesting than ever before.

Want to see more bonus stuff -- and talk tech with other photographers? Check out fab Frame One sponsors Intel Canada on Facebook.

September 7, 2011

#35 – Build a list of brilliant backgrounds.

I just knew you’d come in handy.

I’m in the car on my way to Best Buy last night when I notice the sky. It’s one of those flaming sunsets on one side, mixed with crazy dramatic clouds on the other. It’s got all the makings of a killer photo, except for the fact that I’m sitting in the Best Buy parking lot. It’s nice enough, but it’s not really the most photogenic place on the planet.

Luckily, I’ve built up a small list of locations in my town – locations where I know the background will make a killer good portrait, landscape or abstract. There are locations that I light professionally and others that look great at different times of the day. As the sun threatened to disappear off the horizon, I knew what I had to do --  go find the tree.

There’s this tree a couple of blocks from my place that I knew would look perfect in the right light. Last night provided the right light. I just needed to gun the car and get there while I still could.

I had my point-and-shoot with me, flipped it on over to “M” for manual mode and played around with the shutter speed, aperture and ISO, clicking between each change until I had something I liked. In the end, the tree did just what I thought it would – made my photo look superb.

Build your list of backgrounds and pull it out when the light’s right or when inspiration strikes:

  • Shady places for portraits
  • Cool patterns for behind subjects
  • Big locations for cloud-filled landscapes

September 2, 2011

What I did on my summer vacation – the office reset.

I’m starting to feel old.

While the personal odometer turned over to 40 this year, I didn’t give it much thought. But as I started to see that milestone in my rearview mirror, I began to realize I was having trouble viewing what was up ahead. Literally. My eyes were getting a little worse.

Over the past few years, I’ve cobbled together a pretty smart little office space for my life as a freelance writer and photographer. Laptop next to external monitor so I effectively have two monitors at which I can work. The second best laptop I could afford. Little extras like card readers ready and plugged in.

With my eyes the way they were, I thought – maybe it’s time for one of those office resets, the kind where you rethink everything to become more productive. It also helps that i love m sparkly new gadgets.

Here’s what I bought:

The biggest monitor I could find – Dell 30” IPS
The screen is massive and gorgeous. A friend tipped my off to a sale Dell was having, getting me the monitor for about $1100 and it’s been worth every penny. I now have enough screen real estate to host three Word documents at a time (yay!), use two complete browser windows or review dozens of photos at a time. If you’re ever in the market for a new monitor, skip the small fries and go for this one.

Extra Tip: if you want to run this thing on a Macbook Air, there’s an annoying trick to get it running. Avoid the mess of DVI cables and buy yourself a mini Display Port-to-Display Port.

The fastest, slimmest computer I could buy -- Macbook Air with Second Generation Core Intel i7
True, I just bought myself a Macbook Air back in January, but Apple products hold their value and I had no problem selling my original for a decent price. What I got in return was wonderfully surprising – my new machine tears through Lightroom. I have noticed a slight lag when I have a bunch of apps and Lightroom open at the same time, but I’m pretty happy overall.

Extra Tip: I’ve been using the BookArc stand for the Air to keep my desk nice and tidy and “Cordies” from Quirky to hang onto my cables when I need to take the laptop on the road. Both save time and keep the desk looking goodly.

The most important accessory I could use – two Magic Trackpads
Computer mice are great, but trackpads can be even better (save for precision Photoshop work). Combining Apple’s Magic Trackpad with the new Lion operating system is already saving me a bunch of time every day. I tend to keep multiple desktops open at a time (one for writing, one for communication, one for Web and one for media). With the trackpad, I just three finger swipe to get to the next desktop.

I love the trackpad so much that I actually use two of them. That way I just have to reach over – left or right handed – to do everything I need to do. I’m looking into software like MagicPrefs to customize some of my actions and get even more out of this wicked little slab.

I combine all of these things with just about the best thing I ever bought – a headset. I’ve probably gone through a half dozen of the things over my career, wearing them out taking copious notes during meetings. If I had to turn in all my productivity boosters, this is the last thing you’d get out of my hands.