How to Photograph Christmas Lights and Decorations
This is post from last year – just giving it a little bump – ’tis the season ‘n all!
I’ve finally got my tree and my decorations up. I know, I’m super slow but as my daughter’s birthday is in December we try to keep things separate so we don’t decorate for Christmas until her celebrations are through. This leaves everything a bit rushed so I’m kinda late getting around to trimming the tree and taking pictures of it but hopefully I’m not too late in sharing these tips with you on how to take some beautiful Christmassy pictures of your lights and decorations.
1. Turn off your flash. That’s right. Do not use a flash when shooting any kind of Christmas lights or anything that is illuminated for that matter. Most digital cameras will allow you to turn off the flash by way of a shortcut button on the back of the camera body although you might have to move out of Auto mode into P to manually override your Auto flash. This will depend on your camera model – dig out that manual if in doubt!
2. Raise your ISO. This will make your camera more sensitive to low light and give you a better chance and getting those beautiful sparkly lights. Again the ISO is usually controlled by a shortcut button on the back of your camera and how you can raise it will depend on your specific model. I suggest using an ISO rating of 800 to capture indoor Christmas lights.
3. Keep steady. Because you have turned off your flash, the camera now has to do something to let more light in and in most cameras that’s going to be slow the shutter speed down. When this happens, any kind of movement or camera shake will blur your image so use a tripod if you have one. If not improvise with a stack of books a table or anything steady to rest your camera on
4. If you want to take a picture of your little ones in front of the tree try using the night portrait mode in your cameras scene modes. You’ll recognize this icon as it has a little image of a person with stars. This is a combination of a slow shutter speed so that the twinkly lights are correctly exposed and a burst of flash to correctly expose your subject. It gives a great effect and its one of the only scene modes that I recommend to my students to use.
5. Get up close. Fill your frame with lights and close-ups of specific ornaments so that there is no doubt about what you are trying to capture. You may want to switch your camera to Macro mode to allow you to get super close.
Have fun trying to capture that Holiday feeling!
Halloween Photography Tips – Using Exposure Compensation
This is an old post I thought I’d give a little bump – ’tis the season ‘n all
There was great excitement in the Owens house last night when we carved out the pumpkins which have been sitting on the porch since last weekend’s visit to the pumpkin patch. I have to say that I love this American tradition! In Ireland, Halloween is more about fireworks and bonfires than pumpkin carving. Anyways, when we were finished making our jack-o’-lanterns we had, of course, to take photos and I thought that it would be a great opportunity to show you how sometimes, even when shooting at night, it’s better NOT to use flash. Read more
10 Tips for Great Fall Photos
There is very little that you can do wrong when faced with the wonderful beauty of the red, amber and golden foliage that fall bestows on us for a few weeks this time of year. Sometimes however, our pictures fail to live up to the beauty we saw in reality. Here are 10 tips to make sure what you see is what you get.
1. Shoot during the golden hours.
You’ve probably heard me talk about the Golden Hours before. This is the first hour after sunrise in the morning and the last hour of daylight in the evening when the light is at it’s richest. This will in turn give you the best light for shooting. It’s definitely worth your while to get up that little bit earlier just to see the impact that the light will have on your image.
2. Shoot after the rain.
This is another time when the air is at it’s clearest and hence the light has a great quality to it. It can also be really interesting to see how the we leaves reflect and play with the light.
3. Don’t forget about general composition rules .
This is the biggest mistake people make when shooting Fall Colors. They get so overwhelmed by the beauty surrounding them they forget things like using the Rule of Thirds, having a definite focal point and using lines to draw the viewer’s eye into the picture.
4. Don’t clutter your image with unnecessary stuff.
Keep it simple perhaps by concentrating on a few leaves or interesting trees.
5. Vary your angle
Look up into the trees and don’t forget the leaves on the ground.
6. Make use of contrasting colors.
Red berries contrasting with green leaves, orange leaves backdropped against a blue sky
7. If your sky is not a vibrant blue, then just omit it from your pictures.
Best to leave it out rather than have a dull washed out gray sky.
8. If your shooting with a DSLR,use a polarizer.
This will really help to saturate your colors.
9. Don’t forget to play around a little in Post Production.
Every image can benefit from a little tweaking in your photo editing software.
10. Have fun
and get out there before the display is gone again till next year
Got any more tips?
Please share them in the comments below.
Thinking of a Bridge Camera? – Nikon P100 Review
What’s a Bridge Camera?
I’m lucky enough to teach a wide variety of students in person and get my hands on so many different cameras. Lot’s of my students are DSLR users and some people just have a compact camera that they want to get the most from. But a trend I’ve been beginning to notice is the popularity of the bridge camera.
A bridge camera is not a DSLR – it doesn’t use the mirror system that a digital SLR uses, you can’t change the lenses and the sensor size is much smaller - but it’s not quite a compact either.
Bridge cameras usually have lots more features and mainly lots more controls than you get with the average point and shoot. The biggest bonus is usually the inclusion of a super dooper telephoto zoom lens. In the following article I’ve taken one of the very popular bridge cameras by Nikon – the P100, and reviewed it for you so you an get an ideas of what I mean by a bridge camera and if you’re thinking of buying a new camera, perhaps this is the next step for you.
A closer look at the Nikon P100
As you can see from the picture below, on first look, the Nikon P100 is a really compact little machine.
It weighs in at a mere 3lbs which means it’s perfect if your going to be traveling or out walking or even dare I say it fit, to into your diaper bag! It’s packed with really useful features, most of which you’ll find on most bridge cameras but some are unique to the P100. One of these is the 3 inch vari-angle LCD screen with you can pull out and adjust to suit your shooting position.
The camera comes with a brilliant Lithium ion battery and charger which, by all accounts, really holds it’s charge for a long time. I’m not really an advocate of buying a spare battery as they can be quite expensive. Instead I suggest that if you are going on a trip, just take your battery charger with you and charge up every night. Of course if your climbing in the Himalayas this might not apply…
Lots of Options
This means it’s the perfect camera for giving you an introduction to shooting in manual modes and enables you to really get creative with your shots. For those times when you don’t want to think too much about what your shooting, flip it to one of the 17 scene modes and you’ll be assured of a great result.
26X Optical Zoom Lens
Of course the best thing about the P100 as far as I’m concerned the lens. Not only do you get a 26mm wide-angle lens which will give you a much wide angle of view than most compact cameras, you also get a whopping 26 x optical zoom lens. If you wanted this type of magnification on your DSLR you’d have to pay a LOT of money, not to mention tote a massive bag around! And to have a 26mm wide angle in there as well means that scenery, big group shots or anything where you need to get more of the picture in, is a breeze.
Something which I’m usually not that into as I’m definitely a stills kinda gal is the High Definition 1080i video capabilities of this little camera. It is awesome! You even get stereo sound. This really would cut down on the amount of gear you’d need for a big trip.
Who is this camera best suited to?
I would say that this is a great camera for anyone who wants to challenge themselves a little more than what they can do with a simple point and shoot camera. It is definitely more bulky than a compact but what you get squeezed in there is that massive, high quality zoom lens. If wildlife, or travel is you thing – then this camera is definitely for you. Not ready to commit to a DSLR? Try out this bridge camera for lots of the manual control without the added bulk. If however you don’t think you’ll ever use the big zoom then maybe this isn’t the camera for you, although truthfully once you get used to a zoom this size it is difficult to adjust to not having one. I also think this in some ways this camera is ideally suited to females. The small size and grip might make it a little awkward in a guys hands – perhaps a little too small for them.
So just to give you an idea of what it is exactly I’m talking about when I say BIG zoom we took some pictures to show you what you can achieve without having to move your feet! Watch for the monument way far in the distance in the first shot.
As you can see that’s pretty powerful! The P100 also has the added bonus of an VR or Vibration Reduction – which means that every shot should be steady as a rock – really important when you have a big zoom like this.
Is it all good?
The one negative I see with the this camera is the electronic viewfinder as opposed to an optical viewfinder. Being a traditionalist I still like to use this type of camera by peeking throughout the viewfinder and the digital display just doesn’t do it for me. I guess it’s probably because I’m used to a DSLR. This probably wont make a difference to most of you though because most people are totally comfortable using the LCD screen to frame their shot.
So all in all I would give this camera very definite thumbs up, for the right person. As I have said many times there’s no camera where one size fits all and it’s important to choose the best camera to suit your own specific needs.
But if you like to travel, nature, birds or just the all round flexibility of having the convenience of a large telephoto zoom in a small package then the Nikon P100 is for you! Get Free Shipping from ordering here through Amazon.
P.S. Still not convinced? Check out what other consumers have to say about the P100 here.
Buying the Best Tripod for your DSLR
Last week I did something I’ve never done before…I faced the crowds and the stores in search of a bargain. Well, actually, I was working with a client – helping her choose some new photographic equipment. Amongst other things she was looking for the best tripod and was totally overwhelmed by the choices available to her. While shopping with her I could only come to the same conclusion that it is bewildering to even the seasoned photographer when buying a tripod and trying to figure out the best tripod for your needs. So I decided to put together this short guide in case any of you guys are heading out to shop for this vital accessory.
Do I really need a tripod?
Anyone who considers themselves a serious photographer really does need a tripod. I know, I know! They’re heavy and awkward to lug around but if you REALLY want that shot, that award winning, hang on the wall, amaze your friends shot, then you need to think seriously about using a tripod. Especially if you are a landscape photographer or shoot in low lighting conditions. For landscapes shot with a very high f number eg f/22, you absolutely need a tripod to steady your camera. In low light conditions, its absolutely pointless trying to achieve slow shutter speeds (anything slower than the focal length of your lens) without a tripod’s help. Macro photographers will also
drive themselves slowly insane without using a tripod and even in studio portrait shots its always useful to have a safe place to put your camera during takes. For still lifes, mounting your camera on a tripod allows you to change various settings while keeping the distance/ focal length exactly the same. This can save a lot of hassle when your trying to get the shot just right.
Anytime you go shopping for new photographic equipment you know your going to be dropping some (quite a bit of ) cash. Tripods are definitely not one of the cheapest photographic accessories but there are a wide variety of price points available. Your budget will dictate several things such as weight, added features, ease of use and functionality. One thing I will say is however try to extend your budget as much as possible because trying to use a cheap tripod could well put you off photography for life! For one, you don’t want to put your expensive camera body and lens on a flimsy – one puff of wind will knock it down- tripod. Also getting fingers pinched in difficult to maneuver leg hinges will drive you to distraction. Be prepared to spend a little more than you though you’d have to.
Is the best tripod, the heaviest?
Not necessarily as a heavy tripod that stays in the closet is no good to you compared with a light one that you are more inclined to bring with you! That being said you need a certain degree of stability – that’s the whole point right?! You can generally choose from Aluminium tripods or Carbon fibre tripods. My student ended up opting for the carbon fibre version of a Manfrotto she was looking at which was about $200 more than the aluminium one. She felt that given the amount of traveling she’d be doing with it, and all of the new weight restrictions on airline luggage limits it would be worth it to save the few pounds.
Aluminium tripods are heavier but can still provide decent support. If you’ll mostly be using your tripod in the same place then these would be fine. If your buying your tripod online – I highly recommend Amazon, do a weight comparison and physically get out the equivalent weight of bags of sugar or free weights if you have them, to see how heavy 5 lbs really is.
Separate Legs and Ball Head
Entry level tripods are generally a single unit of legs that are permanently attached to the head, which has a removable plate that can be screwed into the base of your camera. These are cheap and cheerful and can serve the beginner in photography very well. As you go up through the models of tripods you will notice that the legs and the heads can be purchased separately. This is to give the photographer more choice in the type of tripod best suited for his needs.
Check out the type of hinges on your tripod legs. They need to be able to released and locked quickly and easily (without pinching your fingers!) I like the quick release hinges as opposed to the screw-type ones as they maneuvered more quickly. Check and see how high the legs extend without raising the center column and also how low to the ground they go. This ability is really useful for macro shots, product photography and shooting sweeping landscapes with a great perspective. Added features here can be the middle column extending out to the side or inverting so that the camera is almost at ground level. The Manfrotto 055XPROB is an example of legs that have these features.
The head is the top part of the tripod which holds the camera and allows you to adjust it’s position. Again, here you have a few choices to make and again it will depend on the majority of the type of photography you shoot. If you do a lot of architecture and landscape photography a three-way pan head would be suitable for you. This allows you to fine tune and adjust each axis of the head individually. Great for precision but a little slow to use.
I much prefer the Ballhead type head. These are as they sound, like a ball and socket joint which allow you to manuever your camera in any direction quickly, easily and most importantly smoothly. My student opted for a grip action or joystick grip ball head which is super easier to manipulate and she loves it!
As like all things in the photographic world there are so many choices available and each person has a variety of needs I recommend that you do you research before running out and buying a tripod.
- Think about the things I’ve outlined above
- Think about the types of photography you’ll mostly be using it for
- Think about it as an investment
- And compare several products till you find the right one for you.
A great place to start is by checking out the Manfrotto range. I’ve been using (and selling) Manfrotto for 10 years and I find them excellent with a great range suitable for the beginner to the seasoned pro. You can check them out here at Amazon.com.
Happy (steady) snapping!
What’s that spot? – DSLR Cleaning
I just had an email from a student of mine who has started to notice some blurs and spots on her images. She’s cleaned her camera lens and her filters – where can this dirt be?
Well the fact of the matter is that there are tiny specs of dust inside her camera on the actual camera sensor. A DSLR’s sensor or CCD is an electromagnetic device and because of this, dust particulars are easily attracted to it. It’s a bit like the way dust attracts itself to your TV screen like a magnet – same concept.
Does my DSLR need Cleaning?
If you want to see if your camera has sensor dust try the following:
Set your camera’s aperture to f22 in the Aperture Priority mode.
Then take a few shots of a plain white piece of paper or if you have Photoshop or Photoshop Elements take a picture of a blank white canvas on your computer screen.
The result will look something like this:
Ugh! Black spots! that’s one dirty sensor!
The can be removed in Photoshop but it really is a pain to do lots of shots like this.
What you need is a little sensor cleaning!
DSLR Cleaning Tips
The problem is that cleaning this sensor can be a tricky job one and having been in the business, I never recommend doing it yourself. In my opinion, unless you are very confident and know precisely what it is you are attempting, leave this job to the professionals. Find your local camera service centre and ask for a service quotation which should include sensor cleaning. Then shop around till you find the best deal.
The best thing you can do is try to avoid this problem in the first place.
- Keep your camera body attached to a lens at all time. There is no need to separate the lens from the body unless your are changing lenses.
- When you are changing lenses do it as swiftly as possible and try not to do it in very dusty/sandy windy environments
- Store your camera in a specific camera kit bag link
- Vacuum out the inside of the bag on a regular basis
- If you do have to get your camera senor cleaned try and go to a local service centre where possible so that you can have a faster turn around time than mailing off your camera body back to the manufacturer.
If you are interested in cleaning your sensor yourself this is a really great website which goes through the procedure step by step.
Be warned though this is not my recommendation and if you mess up your sensor – bye bye warranty and sometimes byebye camera….
Best idea – keep it clean people!
Image thanks to petar_c http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceklic_petar/1208075186/
How do I Back Up My Pictures?
What was that I hear? “ I save them to CD…When I remember” or “ I print everything” hmmm or the best – “I don’t back up my pictures!”
Well, I’m not hear to judge you. I admit I’m not the world’s most organized person but I do try. I’m currently trying to gain control of my hard drive and it’s contents. Mostly my pictures. I couldn’t believe it when I opened Picasa last week and realized how much stuff is on there. I have so many photos on my hard drive! Especially since having my daughter. I’ve probably taken more photos this past year than I had in the previous 3 years. And they’re all just sitting there…waiting…until someday, I burn them onto DVDs and file them away, possibly even delete them to free up some space on the hard drive. Oh a girl can dream…
Now, I teach all my students the importance of a good “workflow”:
Take Pictures – transfer to computer (my choice – use Picasa) – delete Pictures off memory card – Edit –
Print or Share – BACK UP.
I’ve got to be honest. I’m great at the taking, uploading and could use a little improvement on the “share” but when it comes to remembering to Backup my pictures, I have failed miserably.
It’s constantly on my list of things do.
Or should I say it WAS constantly on my list of things to do. Now I don’t worry about it thanks to a cool online back up service called MOZY! For $4.95 a month they back up my entire hard drive . That’s unlimited storage. Pictures, documents – EVERYTHING! How awesome is that? It works away in the background, uploading any new files and storing them on their servers and I can honestly say I don’t even notice it doing it’s thing.
They’ve just recently redesigned their website and it’s super easy to use.
- Just sign up and give them your info. They even have a free service where you can get 2GB without paying a dime. I decided to go for the MozyHome Unlimited Plan though – for less than $5 a month for unlimited storage. It walks you through the necessary steps but basically you just do the following:
- Download MozyHome
- Then select the files you want them to back up (they give you a suggested list.)
- Over the next few days or weeks, depending on the size of your files, they back up your entire hard drive. (it took me 2 weeks).
- After that they periodically backup when your computer is idle.
Cool or what? No more CDs no more external hard drives No more “long finger.”
So go check it out before you regret it!
Remember: It’s not IF your hard-drive fails, but WHEN it fails. Don’t loose all those memories. Check out Mozy here - Trust me – you’ll sleep better at night!
Use this link and the coupon code AUGUST to get 10% off annual and biennial Mozy Unlimited or MozyPro
Christmas Time! How to Photograph Lights
This is a really great time of the year to get unique and magical pictures of your kids. One of the things that adds to the magic, is all the sparkly lights everywhere. From the lights on the trees, to the neighbor’s vibrantly decorated yard, there are excellent festive backdrops for holiday pictures everywhere. So why is it that when we try to photograph lights at night they disappear into the darkness?
What Usually Happens (what not to do!):
- We see a beautifully lit up scene and position our subject in front of this perfect Christmassy backdrop.
- We use our camera’s auto setting, the Auto Flash fires and the lights disappears into the background.
Here’s a shot I took at the weekend which demonstrates what happens when we use flash:
It’s a perfectly exposed shot but we don’t really get a feeling of the atmosphere of the picture. The background is beautifully lit by fairy lights but when the flash fires it throws the background into darkness.
How to Photograph Lights (do this instead)
So how to we accurately portray the scene as we see it?
- Simply set your camera to Night Scene Mode (the icon looks like a little man beside a moon and stars)
- Hold steady and shoot!
And here is the result:
What happens in Night Scene mode is the shutter stays open for longer than normal so the ambient lighting in the background is exposed. Then, the flash fires in order to expose your subject in the foreground.
The result is a well exposed subject and a perfectly exposed background . So we get the overall festive feeling of the picture.
Some things to remember when using this mode:
- Only use when the background is lit up and the lights are to be part of the picture.
- Hold your camera extra steady – that slow shutter speed will result in camera shake if you don’t
- Only use for very still subjects. My model was being unusually poised for this picture!
- If you have no subject (person) in shot you could try turning flash off altogether and raising your ISO
So go and find some cool illuminated backgrounds and take some Holiday pictures using Night Scene Mode.
P.S. This is a great method to use to photograph your Christmas tree and your living room when taking your picture for Capture the Magic! Be sure to read my post on this great way to catch Santa in the Act!
The Best Santa Picture without even leaving home
Most of you know that I’m the proud mom of a baby girl and this year I’m anticipating that Christmas will be even more fun than usual, having her around. I know I really should go and stand in line at the mall so she can get her first Santa picture but that doesn’t sound so appealing. So, since Santa will be paying us a visit this year I thought I would capture the event on camera on Christmas Eve.
How so I hear you say? You’ll never catch Santa in the act!
Well, thanks to a new website called Capture the Magic you can! These guys help you get a picture of Santa in your very own living room. You could even get a picture of him talking to the dog.
Set up your camera on Christmas Eve before the little ones head to bed and in the morning you have the proof of the pudding to show that the big man himself made an appearance.
Thrill your kids this Christmas! Catch Santa in YOUR house!
Continuous Shooting Mode – Learn a Mode Monday
For today’s Learn a Mode Monday I thought I’d try something a little different and post a video of how to use your continuous shooting mode. This mode is perfect for capturing fast moving subjects like wildlife, athletes and 11 month old babies!
Check it out and let me know your thoughts!
- So remember, for shooting fast moving objects look for your camera’s Continuous Shooting Mode button
- Keep your finger fully depressed on the shutter button and capture all that action!
A great way to use up an entire memory card