Tag Archives: camera


16 Aug

One of the biggest frustrations for beginning photographers is blurry images.  You open your picture on the computer or print the photo only to discover that the main subject is out-of-focus.  In fact, it happens so much that novices think that an unfocused image is quite acceptable.

Getting the subject in focus is one of the most important concerns to pro photographers.  You may hear some refer to certain images as “tack sharp”.  This involves more than merely glancing at the LCD screen on the back of the camera.  The picture may look in focus on the small 3” screen, but only by zooming in to 100% can you really check the sharpness of the image.

Most of the time, blurry images are simply due to the vibrations caused by our hands, otherwise known as “camera shake”.  Nevertheless, photographers can take steps to ensure that their images are tack sharp.

10. Buy a VR or IS lens

Most new kit lenses come with vibration reduction (VR) or image stabilization (IS) technology, which compensates for camera shake while hand-holding the camera.  Although its effects may be slight, it could mean the difference between a blurry photo and a focused one.  Nevertheless, this technology isn’t going to help you get a perfectly sharp shot in really low lighting conditions.

9. Use TWO hands and keep the elbows close together

Have you seen tourists holding their cameras out with one hand to take a photo?  It’s a good bet that their image will be out-of-focus.  Two hands are always better than one to help stabilize the camera and minimize camera shake.  If you have a DSLR, place one hand under the lens to support it, and use the other hand for the shutter button.  Keep your elbows close together. This creates a stable platform, which reduces camera shake.

8. Hold the camera closer to you

Your hands shake more when you hold a heavy object farther away from your body.  Hold your digital camera near your face to reduce the vibrations caused by your hands.  If you have an eye-piece on the camera body, use it to get closer to the camera.

7. Obey the 1/60 Rule

When you press the shutter halfway down, the light meter calculates a shutter speed and an aperture value according to the available light in the scene.  Looking through the viewfinder, the number on the far left is the shutter speed (for Nikons anyway).  If it reads: “50,” it really means 1/50 of a second.  While hand-holding the camera, you want to take the picture at a shutter speed at or faster than 1/60.  Faster shutter speeds compensate for any vibrations from your hands.  Most of the time, the 1/60 rule is a great guideline, but it won’t help you in all shooting conditions.  For instance, your shutter speed needs to be higher than 1/60, if your subject is moving.  Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to check your shutter speed before you take a photo.  If it falls lower than 1/60 when hand-holding the camera, you can expect blurry results.

6. Increase your ISO

If your shutter speed is slower than 1/60, try increasing your ISO.  ISO involves the camera’s sensitivity to light and “bumping up” the ISO allows you to take photos at faster shutter speeds that compensate for camera shake.  Nonetheless, this technique has a cost.  It’s great that you can achieve high shutter speeds in low light, but you sacrifice image quality.  The more you increase your ISO, the grainier your images will look.  These grainy, unwanted pixels are called “noise.”   It’s a trade-off.  If you want to get the image in focus, you might have to sacrifice quality.  With today’s’ digital cameras, you can increase the ISO to 800 without much noise.

5. Shoot in Continuous Burst Mode

Ever see sports photographers hold their finger on the shutter and take a lot of photos all at once?  That’s a continuous burst!  The longer you hold the shutter button down, the more photos the camera takes.  Some cameras can shoot up to 9 frames per second in this mode.  And with this many images being created so quickly, one of them is bound to be in focus.  No matter what my subject is, I usually take 2-3 photos in continuous bust mode.

4. Use the Self-Timer

Sometimes you can introduce vibrations simply by clicking the shutter button.  Another way to avoid camera shake is to use the self-timer function on your digital camera.  Most self-timers are programmed for 2 or 10 seconds.  After placing the camera on a flat surface and turning on the self-timer, click the shutter to start the timer and then take your hands completely off the camera.  After the set amount of time, you’ll hear the camera create the image.  Since you aren’t touching the camera, there is no camera shake.  You get a sharp picture every time!

3. Use a Tripod

There is nothing more stable than a tripod, and pro photographers, who are obsessed with getting tack sharp images, use tripods all the time to avoid camera shake.  They also use a self-timer, remote trigger, or a cable release to take the exposure instead of pressing the camera’s shutter button.  If you want a tack sharp photo, use a tripod as much as possible.  I love mine!

2. Use the Single Point AF Method

Did you know you can tell the camera exactly what you want in focus?  When you press the shutter button halfway down, you’ll see a box or point light up in your viewfinder.  Whatever is in that box will be in focus.  First, make sure you set your AF (Auto Focus) area to “Single” rather than “Wide” or “Dynamic”.  Then use the joystick or multi-selector button on the back of the camera to move the point or box around.  Remember: you must engage the AF by pressing the shutter halfway down first.  With the multi-selector button, you can now choose what will be in focus!

1. Zoom In to Check Sharpness

After you take a photo, review it in playback mode on the LCD screen and zoom in to check the sharpness.  (There’s usually a magnification button on the back of the camera.) If the picture is blurry, you can immediately shoot again.  If you forget, the opportunity to retake the picture is gone. Get into the habit of checking your sharpness after every shot.  This takes persistence, but it will save you from being disappointed later on when you view the images on your computer screen.

Great Advice for All Photographers

16 Feb

In my last post, I mentioned how Ansel Adam’s powerful quote, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it,” becomes the guiding principle and foundation of the course.  In the next lesson, we look at quotes by other photographers and ask how we can incorporate their lessons into our own photography.  I’m going to ask you to do the same.  After reading each quote, ask yourself:
1. What does the quote mean to you?
2. How will this advice improve your photography?

“Get a Notebook. No photographer should be without one!” – Ansel Adams

All of my students are required to carry a notebook in their camera bag.  It’s a place for technical notes and shot lists, but it’s also easily accessible when you’re out in the field shooting and you forget how to do something.

“Take your dang camera with you everywhere! Cartier-Bresson took his camera with him everywhere—to the cleaners, to the cafe, to the cinema…he always had his trusty Leica M2 with him.” – Chris Orwig

I can’t stress this enough: It takes practice to be good at anything.  You’ve got to do your visual push-ups everyday.  The best way to do this is take your camera with you wherever you go.

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst. – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Don’t think that you can become a great photographer in one day or in a year.  You’ve got to put in the time.  You’ve got to spend a lot of time looking.  You’ve got to click the shutter and learn from your mistakes.  Ansel Adams is also famous for saying, “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop”.  And he’s a professional!

“Become a more interesting person” – Jay Maisel responding to a student who asked him how to create more interesting photographs.

I can’t resist adding another quote of Jay’s since he’s the Yoda of photography quotes: “You have to want to look before you can see.  There are a lot of people who think that the world and their life are boring.  They don’t want to look.  They’re negative outlook is what they bring to the world.  Life is a bore.  They don’t what to see possibilities; they’re not open to the world around them.  They don’t see colors or gestures.  You’ve got to want to look before you can see.  It’s what you bring to it.”  Essentially, living an enriched life makes you see the world rather than just look at it.

“Still of hand does not make up for emptiness of heart” – Rodney Smith
“The camera for an artist is just another tool. It is no more mechanical than a violin if you analyze it. Beyond the rudiments, it is up to the artist to create art, not the camera.” – Brett Weston

You can know all the camera techniques by heart and still miss the decisive moment.  While you may be able to hand-hold a camera at 1/15 of a second and get the shot in perfect focus, it doesn’t mean that your image will touch people’s lives.

“I always thought good photos were like good jokes. If you have to explain it, it just isn’t that good.” – Syl Arena

Your photos should speak for themselves.  If you find yourself explaining them, you need to work harder to tell the story visually.

“Photography is essentially an art of exclusion…It’s not always what you put in your frame – it’s sometimes what you leave out.” – David duChemin

The best images look effortless.  Just like a poet says so much in so little words, aim to reduce the concept to its essence by ruthlessly excluding all the elements that don’t add to the story.

“The difference between great photographers and a not so great photographers is that the great ones don’t show their crappy pictures.” – Rick Sammon

Edit fiercely.  Many of my photos end up in the trash.  I’m only interested in the keepers.

“Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.” – Imogen Cunningham

Never be truly satisfied.  Always have room for more photos and improvement.

Next Post: Three Things You Should Do with Your New Digital Camera

Make Pictures, Don’t Just Take Pictures

15 Feb

In one of my first lessons, students discuss how they usually take pictures and what they expect to learn from the class.  Most of their experience with cameras has been to see something, point their camera at it, and shoot it.  This point-and-shoot technique results in snapshots, or photos that are taken without much thought.  Anyone can do it.  It’s easy.  Most of the time, they shoot in Auto mode, so the camera actually decides how the image looks in the end.


Often the picture is of sentimental value. It’s a moment that the picture taker wants to remember.  So it’s not how the photo looks; it’s all about how the person, who took the picture, feels.  By itself, the photo doesn’t convey anything special.  Meaning is only given to the image by the sentimentalist.  In other words, the picture, shown to someone else, wouldn’t express the same nostalgia.  Furthermore, no consideration is given to distracting elements in the background (like the pole coming out of my head in the picture above), what is in focus, or the camera angle.  It’s simply a snapshot.

Students learn that to improve their photography, they must be able to communicate visually.  After several weeks of lessons, the students freely quote Ansel Adam’s mantra: “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”  The feeling that you want to express or remember is actually a part of the image and directly accessible to other viewers. Transforming the scene into a storytelling device is the major aim.

Once you decide to abandon the point-and-shoot approach, you start with a willful desire to create images.  You begin to look at the world through the eyes of an artist.  You understand that you have the ability to interpret the scene and manipulate it in a way to communicate your unique vision.  And the first step to creating visually interesting images is to take control of the camera!  If you’re going to interpret the scene, you’ve got to switch Auto mode off.

My students start their photographic trek on Program (P) mode, which is like Auto in some respects, but gives them greater control over the brightness and color of their photos.  Slowly but surely, they take control of the entire camera, working their way to Aperture Priority mode, then Shutter Speed Priority mode, and finally Manual mode.  With each step, they take further control of the camera and realize how they can communicate their unique vision to the viewer.  They see the world in a completely new way, and it results in visually interesting photos.

All great images start in the photographer’s mind.  When you make a picture, you visualize exactly what the photo will look like in print before ever clicking the shutter.  You think about all the elements in the scene and how they can complement each other. You think about the lighting, the background, and what elements should be included or excluded from the scene.  Try to make these creative decisions BEFORE you shoot.  Ask yourself:

More Visually Interesting

1. What story am I telling?
2. What is the subject?
3. What is in the background and foreground?
4. What parts of the scene compete with or distract attention away from the subject? How can I cut the clutter?
5. Am I close enough to the main subject?
6. What is my main source of light? Where do I want the light in my image?
7. What areas do I want to be in focus? What do I want to be out of focus?
8. What perspective do I want to shoot from?
9. Should the shot be in the horizontal format (landscape) or vertical format (portrait)?
10. Do I want to create a sense of movement?

Anyone can take a picture, but it requires a skilled photographer to tell a story in one still image.

Homework: Create a shot list.  Visually imagine pictures you’d like to create. Think about the scene as a movie director would.  What does the scene need? Think about location, casting, props, lighting, etc.

Next Post: How to be Creative – Advice from the Masters

Don’t shoot it, if it doesn’t excite you

11 Feb

Based on my last post, hopefully you just bought or received a new digital camera as a gift.  After you took it out of the box, I bet you just couldn’t wait to take pictures.  Lots of pictures!  Clicking the shutter button is completely irresistible!  Most novices start shooting away with abandon.

While it doesn’t cost anything to click the shutter several hundred times, if you really want to improve your photography, avoid the temptation to shoot everything – whether it moves or not.

In the first lesson with my students, I teach them one simple rule: Don’t shoot it, if it doesn’t excite you.  In other words, there should be a reason why you’re clicking the shutter button.  In the lesson, we look at different types of photography.  I show them a series of images: portraits, landscapes, wildlife, travel, sports, and night photos.  In an effort to show them what’s possible, I select only the best professional photos.  They marvel at the images, often exclaiming “Wow!” The goal of the lesson is for them to find their passion.  I ask them: What images stir something inside them?  Which photos make them jealous? (making them wish that they had taken the photo).  At the end of the slideshow, I ask them to select two categories that truly excite them.  Those are the types of photos that they should seek out and create.

My point is that your best images often include subjects that you’re most passionate about.  Shoot what you love, and you’ll be surprised how that passion comes across in your photography.  The novice, who tries to capture everything, usually ends up with nothing.  They’re just snapshots that don’t say much.  The first step to better photos is to find your passion and shoot it.

Next Post: From Snapshots to Great Shots

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Holiday Gift Guide for Beginning Photographers

5 Dec

Since I teach photography, December is the month when students, parents, and colleagues all ask me the same question: “What camera should I buy?”

I usually answer their question with some of my own: “What’s your budget?” “What kind of photos are you going to take?” “What size camera are you willing to carry around?” “Will you mainly stay in Auto mode or do you want to learn the art of photography?” After deciding on a camera, I remind them about all the accessories: cases, memory cards, batteries, lenses, filters, tripods, etc.  It’s also important to think about, “What are going to do with the photos after you take them?  Email?  Website?  Prints?”  “Are you willing to spend the time to process the photos in a software program, like Adobe Photoshop, or will you be satisfied with the image on the back of the camera?”

From those conversations comes the idea for this Holiday Gift Guide.  If you want to buy something for yourself this holiday season or a budding photographer this holiday season, this guide will help you choose the perfect present.

For the Enthusiast who is just starting out

Canon Powershot SX120 IS (2009 model) $170/£120 or SX130 IS (2010 model) $199/£150 – My students use the Powershot SX120 IS in my beginning digital photography class.  It’s compact and allows students to experiment and learn about Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO.  The camera also has a good range.  The zoom lens is the 35mm equivalent of 28mm at its widest and zooms into 336mm.  The LCD screen on the back of the camera is also very large at 3 inches.  When shooting in the daylight, the image quality is good; however, it doesn’t perform as well indoors, without having to use flash.  While the design is sleek and functional, the body is medium-sized – too big for a pocket but small enough to fit nicely in your hands or purse.  The best part about this camera is that it only uses two AA batteries, and if you buy Lithium batteries, the charge lasts a long time. This is a great camera for someone who is young and brand new to photography.  Only buy this model if you can’t afford the S95 or you prefer to zoom in on far away subjects for sports or wildlife photography.

Canon PowerShot S95 $370/£295 – The most compact, pocketable digital camera on the market today.  The image quality of this point and shoot camera is absolutely stunning!  The Powershot S95 also shoots video and comes with a f2.0 lens, which makes it easier to shoot in low light.  Like the SX120, it comes with face recognition auto-focusing, but the S95 has a better ISO range.  You can shoot up to 3200 ISO on this little camera.  The Powershot S95 comes with a rechargeable Li-ion battery and battery charger.  (I would also buy an extra NB-6L battery for $20, just in case.)  If you want to treat someone to a great camera this holiday, this is the one to get.  A member of my family might find this in her stocking this Christmas.

A Gift Card for Prints: Ever go to the store to get your photos printed and the color doesn’t look like the back of your camera or computer monitor?  There are plenty of printing labs available to consumers, but the ones that do the best color corrections are Mpix (U.S.A.) and Photobox (UK).  Buy the photographer on your list a gift card at Mpix and Photobox, and they will love the prints.

For the Hobbyist who has taken a photography course or two

Nikon D90 $740/£619 (Body Only) OR Canon EOS Rebel T2i $700 /550D £580 (Body Only) – Which one do you choose?  Canon and Nikon are a lot like Adidas and Nike.  You’ve got to try them on.  While the features are largely the same, the feel of the handgrip is very different.  Putting your hands on one of these big boys will let you know right away if it’s for you or not.  I’ve often found that Canon grips are for a smaller hand size, so I’ve recommended them to females.  However, you’ve got to test drive them yourself.  Also, ask yourself what brand do your friends have?  If they have Nikon, then it’s easier to borrow their gear and lenses.  Same with Canon.  Both of these entry-level DSLR cameras are excellent cameras.  You’ll be able to blur the background and play around with the depth of field more than a point and shoot camera.  You’ll also feel like a “real” photographer.  There’s no better sound than the clicking of the shutter on a DSLR camera.  Resist the temptation to buy the “kit” lens that comes with the camera with all your might.  The lenses that usually come with these cameras are not very sharp.  Once you become a seasoned photographer, you’ll realize that it’s not the camera that makes or breaks the photo, it’s the lens.  Just buy the Body only!  If you can’t afford these models, Nikon’s bargain entry-level DSLRs are the D3000 (Body Only) $450 and the D5000 (Body Only) $510. Canon’s entry-level DSLR is the Canon EOS Digital XS $440 / 1000D £300

Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VR II $710 / £480 OR Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS $575 / £390 – Instead of buying the kit lens that usually comes with the camera (usually an 18-55mm) and then having to buy another telephoto lens (usually 55-200mm) later on to extend the range of your zoom , why not buy a better quality lens and have two lenses in one?  Both Nikon and Canon make an 18-200mm zoom lens.  Both lenses have vibration reduction/image stabilization technology to help you hand-hold the camera in low light.  For the person who likes to take photos during vacations or business trips, this is the one lens that will do everything.  That said, it is expensive.  It’s about the same price as the camera.  Nevertheless, this is a lens that will last and make sharp images time after time.  If you never have ambitions to be a semi-pro or professional photographer, this is the only zoom lens you’ll ever need.

Nikon 50mm f1.8D AF $120 / £100 OR Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II $108 / £80 – This lens has a fixed-focal length of 50mm.  In other words, it doesn’t zoom in or out.  It’s always 50mm.  If you have aspirations to learn more about photography and become a serious photographer, this should be your first lens, not the 18-200mm zoom.  This lens is a super sharp lens that allows you to easily blur the background at f1.8.  You’ll learn a lot about photography using this lens because you’ll have to zoom with your feet.  This is one of my favorite lenses, and when my students purchase this lens, they never want to use anything else.

Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S VR $500 / £370 OR Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM $500 / £370 – If you’re serious about sports or wildlife photography and that’s about all you shoot, then the 70-300mm is the best lens for you.  You’ll be able to zoom into 300mm, which will bring the action up close and freeze subjects in their tracks.  This is an amazing value for a lens that extends to 300mm with vibration reduction/image stabilization technology. You’ll love the crisp images too.

Tiffen or Hoya UV Filters $16-40 / £8-30 – A UV filter is simply protection for your lens.  If you drop your camera and find that only your UV filter is shattered and not your expensive lens, you will thank me a hundred fold.  Anyone who doesn’t have this protective filter better have a darn good insurance policy on their lens.  Please Note: Make sure you get the right one by checking the thread size of the lens.  For instance, Nikon’s 70-300mm lens has a filter size of 67mm.

Cleaning Kit $20 – It doesn’t matter what brand you get, but every photographer needs a cleaning kit.  You want to protect your expensive gear from dust or else you’ll look at your images on the computer screen and see dots all over it.  And it won’t be on just one image; it’ll be on all of your photos.  After I use my camera, I clean my gear before putting it away.  This kit comes with all the essentials for cleaning your lens, but I would also purchase a Giotto blower for $10, which is the first line of defense against dust on your sensor.

Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography Book vol 1 $17 / £7 – If you want to learn the basics of travel, landscape, portraits, wildlife, and sports photography, this is the book for you.  Its layout is super easy to read.  Plus, there are tons of great tips and tricks of the trade.  Not only will you learn how to shoot like the pros, but you’ll laugh at Scott Kelby’s sense of humor.  The chapter on “How to Avoid Problems and Digital Headaches” will also save you time and money.  I highly recommend his book to get you started out in the right direction.  When you become more advanced, you’ll want to buy Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography Book Volume 2 and Volume 3.

Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson $15 / £10 – Without a doubt, this is the best book on the ins and outs of learning aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.  Many of the lessons that I teach to my middle school photography students come right out of this book.  Never again will you shoot in Auto mode. You’ll be using Aperture priority, Shutter Speed priority, and even Manual mode in no time.  Bryan Peterson’s accessible writing, fun exercises, and captivating images will inspire you to take your photography to the next level.

Lowepro Slingshot 202 AW $90 / £44 or Tamrac Aero Speedpack 85 (Photo/Laptop Backpack) $130 / £82 – Always get a bigger bag than you need.  Why?  Most likely you will add accessories over time, like extra batteries, extra memory cards, and more lenses.  While the Lowepro Slingshot is great for taking pictures around your neighborhood, the Tamrac Aero 85 is designed for airplane travel and shooting in distant places.  It also has room for a laptop.  This was my favorite bag for years.

SanDisk Extreme Class 10 High Performance Memory Cards – I have heard so many stories of people who buy cheap memory cards only to have these cards die on them.  If you want to protect your images, get better memory cards and keep them safe in a memory card holder/wallet.  These SD cards come in a variety of memory sizes – 2GB, 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, and even 32GB.  The most important aspect is how fast the data is written to the card and how long it takes to download the files to the computer.  At 30MB/s, these memory cards are extremely fast and affordable.  If you’re going on a trip, make sure to take more than one.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 $68 / £58 – Do you know how many times I’ve heard my students exclaim “Wow!” when they see the difference between an image right out of the camera versus a processed image in Photoshop?  Your images will look 10x better when they are processed using a photo editor.  And you don’t need the full version of Adobe Photoshop ($600) to make your photos look great.  Adobe Photoshop Elements is very powerful and a bargain that can’t be beat.  The time and energy you spend in front of the computer will definitely be worth it.

Joby GP3 Gorillapod SLR-Zoom Flexible Tripod for Digital SLR Cameras with Ballhead $55 / £60 – This flexible but strong tripod allows you to get the photos that no one else has.  The Gorillapod can wrap itself around almost anything – poles, bicycle handlebars, tree branches, etc.  I always tell my students to get their camera in a different place, and the Joby Gorillapod forces photographers to experiment and have fun while doing it.  This little tripod is perfect for low angle shoots, self-portraits, and night photography too.

Canon Lens Mug or Nikon Lens Mug – Last but not least is the ultimate present for the the photographer on your list.  It looks so much like a real camera lens that it fools everyone.  In recent months, there have been some very expensive versions of this mug online, but the place to go is Photojojo.com, where the Canon lens mug is only $24 and the Nikon lens mug is $30.  The lens cap is the lid!  What could be a better gift?  (Or you could play a dirty trick and make them think that you bought them a real lens.  They won’t be too happy with you, but it’s still an awesome prank!)

I hope this guide was helpful.  Please comment and let me know.  Happy Holidays!