Photography Tips

Photography Tips: Getting Started Photographing Landscapes

Landscape photography is an enthralling experience for any budding photographer. I couldn't wait to get out there and try to become the next Ansel Adams. There's a ton of lovely scenes and natural landscapes all around us waiting to be captured in a vivid, alluring picture. It takes skill, knowledge and practice to master the art of shooting landscapes. I quickly discovered that Ansel knew more in his pinky than I did in my whole body. Never fear! Here are several helpful tips to help you start to create impressive landscape photos.

1. Bring the right equipment.

The primary equipment that you need to shoot landscapes include wide-angle lenses, a tripod, and a spare battery. Having a wide angle is essential in landscape photography so wide-angle lenses are great to use. Telephoto lenses are also handy, particularly if you need to shoot from a far distance. On my recent New Zealand trip I primarily used my 14-24mm and 28-300mm lenses. Certain times required me to zoom in tight to a mountain peak or a jumping dolphin.

Remember to use filters sparingly since too much polarization can result in odd shots that appear unnatural. Plus I don't like carrying that extra gear up the side of a mountain.

2. Find the best light.

To take photos with impact, you have to pick the best light setting. Shooting in the middle of the day is not advisable as the light is typically harsh and unappealing. But you can get lucky if the clouds are big and puffy like a Monet painting.

The best hours to shoot landscapes occur during sunrise and sunset. At these moments, the sun has a low angle hence creating long shadows that make interesting textures and details. This low warm lighting gives the subject better scale and depth. Make sure to stay AFTER sunset for a little while because you'll find some beautiful reds that might just show up.

3. Know the weather.

The weather condition on the day of your shoot will greatly affect the type of impression that you seek to create with your audience so always check weather forecasts before heading out. Clear, blue skies with various cloud shapes can add interest to your photos. Bad weather can also be worked to your advantage. Storms with dark, somber skies and ominous clouds can make for an engaging, eye-catching image. With a tinge of creativity, you can capture just the right scenic view that you're looking for.

4. Decide which element to favor.

The viewer's eye has to rest on something in the photo. You can add a strong point of interest like a tree, a mountain, a cloud in the sky or simply a bunch of colorful flowers. You can include an attractive object in the foreground like a fence or a branch. It will improve the depth of your image. You can also position the point of interest off the center for a more interesting composition, use lines and shapes to lead the viewer's eye, or include people for an awe-inspiring picture.

Try to tell a story in the landscape. With an interesting road or fence post you can craft the composition to relay a story. The best photos tell a story and a boring mountain is just a boring mountain.

Don't be easily discouraged when the images don't turn into something as wonderful as you imagined. Patience is the key. Some of my early landscapes are just awful. Keep in mind that practice makes perfect so just keep on shooting landscapes that pique your interest, continue to experiment and, of course, learn from your mistakes. Above all, enjoy your hobby and you'll see great results in time.


Post-Processing an Old Photo

Here's a little story I like to tell about martial arts and the way our brains work.

hen you're starting out in martial arts you're a white belt and this means you have no formal training. Then you get attacked! Someone jumped out to try and attack you you'd probably know what to do to defend yourself. You'd kick and punch and do the best to protect yourself.

hen you begin studying martial arts and you begin to over think everything. You start trying to remember everything you've learned in class and you rely less on instinct and more on schooling. 

nd then eventually you hope to become a black belt. And a black belt doesn't think anymore he's almost back to becoming a white belt again. Does that make sense? 

My point in telling you this story is based on something my friend Trey Ratcliff told me about beauty. He explained that the human brain is hardwired to recognize beauty. We know what colors work, we know what lines draw the eye, we know that beautiful water. We just know.

I found this old photo that I shot many moons ago before I knew anything about photography. I always loved this photo for some reason. I've learned quite a bit about photography over the past year and this photo falls into the sweet spot for beauty. The two old folks are right on the line of Phi and symmetry is also very nice.

I decided to take this old photo and turn it into black and white. Go ahead and dig through some of your old photos and I'll bet you'll find some beauty in your old shots.


Portrait Photography Using a Telephoto Lens

Portrait photographers often overlook a telephoto lens because many people are under the misconception that these lenses are only for stunning skylines and distant subjects. However, these versatile pieces of photography equipment can create stunning portraits that flatter your subject better than an 18mm lens. Using a telephoto lens when shooting portraits will help reduce distortion that can unfortunately occur with wide-angle lenses.

Shot with my 28-300mm

The focal length of telephoto lenses range from about 28mm to 800mm and above. The longer the focal length the more detail the lens can capture from a distance. It also means the lens is bigger, heavier and more expensive. Telephoto lenses can be separated into three types:

1. Short Telephoto Lenses - These range from 85mm to 135mm (your mileage may vary) and are perfect for shooting candid shots and portraits. For example, the short telephoto lenses allow you to take stunning pictures at weddings where you're close to your subjects yet you don't want to intrude in the process. These shorter lenses are lightweight, compact and easier to hand, which allows for fast shooting.

2. Medium Telephoto Lenses - Ranging from 135mm to 300mm, medium lenses are ideal for action and sport photographers who -- for example -- are standing on the sidelines but need to get close to where the action is. This type of photography requires proper aperture setting to minimize blur when shooting fast-moving subjects. 

3. Super Telephoto Lenses - Typically, these types of telephoto lenses -- which range from 300mm and beyond -- are used only in professional nature, wildlife and sports photography, and are not used for portraits.

Nikor 28-300mm lens

These are not hard and fast numbers and you can find a number of ranges to play with. For instance I've fallen in love with the 28-300mm Nikor lens that lets me stand back and zoom in tight for great portrait photos.

Longer lenses provide a shallow depth of field, which helps isolate the subjects from the background and creates a strong, pleasant image. However, remember not to stop down the camera's aperture too much and instead leave it a bit wide so you don't lose the depth of field. When shooting from below or above the subject, you can unintentionally lose the unwanted perspective. With a telephoto lens, you are able to step back from the subject and the farther away you are, the less noticeable the height difference will be. This provides you with a head on, level view. Keep in mind that these longer lenses generally require a higher shutter speed to prevent camera shake.

Using a telephoto lens can help you step out of your comfort zone and improve your photography no matter what level of experience you have under your belt. Plus it'll let you keep your distance from your subject so you can still get great portraits without standing in his/her face. 

Repix: A Fun Photo App for iPhone and iPad

I'm not one of those photographers who gets all high and mighty about retouching photos. I love post-processing and Repix for the iPhone and iPad takes processing and turns it into an art form. 

No more filters! Again, I love filters for the right photo like a little background blur on a portrait, etc. But Repix does away with the filters in favor of brushes to paint in special effects. It's like finger paint blending between the real world and the imagined. If you've ever used the amazing app Paper you know what I'm talking about. Repix, like Paper, gives you a handful of regular brushes for free. If you want more you'll pay for them inside the app. Brush packs are $1.99 or $4.99 for the whole kit and caboodle. Just pay the $5.00 and be done with it. 

Repix still has basic setting tweaks like contrast, brightness, saturation and more, but they're only here for small fixes. If you really want to fix your photo first I'd jump over to SnapSeed or iPhoto for iPad. Both great apps. 

Most of the free brushes felt gimmicky to me but some like Charcoal and Edger added some fun to the stock flower photos they provide. The real magic happens when you start playing with the paid brushes like Daubs or Van Gogh. I really felt like some of my painted photos would look great on my wall, or over a toilet at least. 

Don't worry you're not stuck with your camera roll photos to play with. In fact Repix lets you import photos from Facebook albums, Photo Stream but it won't let you get access to your synced iPhoto albums. That last part was a bummer as I have a synced album called Portfolio filled with my best photos. It would have been nice to bring in that sunset photo and do a little painting. Of course there are all kinds of ways around that like simply adding that photo to Photo Stream or Facebook. I have to think an update will change that limitation soon. 

Repix also lets you share your finished work of art out to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. It's a fun app that's sure to give some added flare to that butterfly photo. Here's a butterfly photo I shot with a few Repix brush effects added. What do you think?


Photography Tips: Lighting For Beginners

When it comes to photography, as they say, "lighting is everything". Whether you are just getting started as a professional photographer or are simply the person that pulls out their camera whenever a photo opportunity pops up, lighting has a huge effect on the end result of the photo. While professional studio lights can be quite costly, there are alternatives to studio lights that can provide the same effects for the beginning photographer. Here are some simple guidelines to help you get the perfectly lit shot.

Halogen Lighting For Indoor Shots

Halogen lamps work well for indoor photo shoots, and incandescent bulbs are also a good light source, as long as they have a higher wattage. Typically, fluorescent lights should not be used due to the fact that photos taken under this type of lighting tend to require a high level of color correction.

Light Reflectors and Diffusers

In order to soften the light in the room and minimize glare, you may need to incorporate a diffuser into your photo shoot. You can purchase diffusers at most camera equipment stores, and you can also use paper or plastic as a low cost alternative. It is important to note that halogen as well as incandescent bulbs can ignite the diffuser if it is set up close to the bulbs, so you want to make sure the paper or plastic is at a safe distance while remaining close enough to allow for the softened effect. White cardboard can be used to minimize shadows, and this can be purchased at any office supply store. You can also purchase silver reflectors from any camera equipment store. By adjusting your lights and experimenting with diffusers and reflectors, you will learn what works best for each particular shoot.

Multiple Light Sources

To minimize harsher shadows, take advantage of all the lighting sources that you have. You can also use one or two lights to light the background of the photo, and if any of your light sources have a dimmer, this is an easy way to experiment with various lighting effects.

I played around with a small light box on a dimmer for this photo of my daughter. I had her in front of some natural light but I aimed a small box off to the side to bring out her eyes. 

Practice Makes Perfect

While lighting your first few photo shoots may prove to be a bit challenging, the best thing about photography is that you can constantly experiment to achieve your desired effect. And through various lighting experimentation and test shoots, you never know: what you may consider a beginner's mishap may actually end up producing an amazing photo.

Adobe Lightroom 4: Tips and Tricks for Beginners

Adobe Lightroom 4

Photography is about capturing the moment. However, those moments can be improved later. Shooting in RAW format in your camera allows you almost limitless improvements using Adobe Lightroom, now on version 4. At first, this software may appear to be intimidating. It's designed for serious amateur and professional photographers, after all. (If all you want to do is crop or fix red eye, it's probably more than you need.) It also integrates with PhotoShop for even more complicated editing. If I'm not processing an HDR set of photos I'm likely using Trey Ratcliff's great Lightroom presets or some of my own.

Here are some tips for beginners.

1. Learn how to import your photos. Lightroom works on a database and workflow system - you have to import the photos before you can do anything with them. They're imported into the Lightroom Catalog, which will be the first thing you see when you open the program. On the left side of the bottom is an import button. You can either set a destination folder or just click "Add" to bring in all your photos in the folders they're already in. Make sure to use Copy to get files from a card.

2. If you're in a hurry, just use the Quick Develop function, especially if you're processing an entire batch of images. You can crop or adjust exposure on an entire folder of photos at once - so if all the pictures you took at that sporting event came out too light, you can fix them all, in one go, without worrying about numbers.

3. Use other people's presets. One very important thing newcomers to Lightroom can benefit from is free presets that more experienced users have made available. These allow you to set a ton of effects in just one click - they might not always work, but everything done in Lightroom can easily be redone. Again try Trey's presets, you won't be sorry. In fact I've used some of his presets to develop entire batches of baby photos I've taken. 

4. Be careful with your raw files. It's always best to convert to.dng, because Lightroom stores changes in the XMP file, not the image itself. This is fine until you send the photo to somebody else - they may not be able to see your edits. Use the import option to convert your files to.dng. Play around and see what works well for you. Mostly I keep everything in RAW and then I export as a high quality JPEG. So again, there are multiple ways that work. 

5. Don't move imported images except by using Lightroom. The temptation to just open the folders and move files around is very high - it's quicker, especially if you don't have the software running. However, if you do this, Lightroom will lose track of your files and not be able to open them.

Lightroom is a powerful tool with a great workflow, especially if you happen to take a lot of photos at a time. It can be intimidating, but once you know how to use it, it will save you a lot of time and aggravation.