general photography

best photography tips

April 24, 2012

best photography tips

There are numerous tips and ideas in photography that helped me improve as a photographer over the years. This came via magazines and books and other photographers. Many sources.

One of the best tips that helped me develop a style over time – when using a zoom lens, zoom to the longest focal length, and then frame your shot by walking forward or back, to where you have the composition that you want.

Doing so will result in the most compression in the image, helping to isolate my subject against an out-of-focus background. (Of course, using a long lens with a wide aperture makes the difference here.) I touched on this topic with a recent article: composition for full-length portraits – step back!

I would like to hear from other readers of the Tangents blog, what their best or favorite photography tips are.

And we’ll make it a contest for the best entry.
The contest has now closed, and a winner has been announced – check my comment #190

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Vivian Maier exhibition in New York

One of the most interesting stories unfolding in photography in recent years, was the accidental discovery of an incredible body of work by an unknown photographer, Vivian Maier. Incredible in terms of quality and the sheer volume of photographs. If you’re not familiar with the backstory  –  in 2007, John Maloof, a real estate agent in Chicago, who was working on a project documenting the one neighborhood in Chicago, discovered and bought a vast collection of negatives and prints of a completely unknown photographer, Vivian Maier.

What makes this story so interesting, is that Vivian Maier had an eye for street photography on par with the great names in photography. Then there is the fortunate twist to the story, in that the images and negatives landed up in the hands of someone like John Maloof who realized what a treasure he had stumbled upon and took care of this legacy with the attention it needed.

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photo session with the Fuji X100 – camera review

First of all, for those who haven’t heard of the Fuji X100 (vendor) yet, it is a beautiful retro-looking rangefinder-mimicking 12 megapixel digital point & shoot camera (with a fixed 35mm equivalent f2.0 lens), that gives remarkable image quality. That about sums it up.

For all those reasons, quite a buzz developed around this camera. Quite unlike anything since … oh, the Leica X1. Or the Olympus Pen EP-2. Or the Sony NEX-5. There was greater excitement building up around the Fuji X100 though than other cameras, specifically for its looks initially. And then when news hit about the incredible image quality, the excitement and interest became more substantial. It’s a hot item right now, and for good reason.

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how to carry your camera over your shoulder

An interesting comment came up in the article on choice of lenses for wedding photography. The observation was that the photographer, Lou, felt like he was the proverbial bull in a china shop when he carried two cameras over his shoulder. With the lenses protruding on either side, it was tough going through doorways without knocking something.

There are numerous camera strap solutions available on the market – rapid straps and holster systems. Most of them work well. I still like the old-fashioned camera strap on the camera. One thing I should mention here is that I really got to like the way the Canon bodies work. Attaching the strap to the bottom of the camera makes absolute sense. Then the camera dangles vertically, and it is easy to swipe the camera to the side under your elbow when it hangs from your shoulder.

I liked this so much that I got the Camdapter plate (vendor) to attach to the bottom of my Nikon bodies. This allows my Nikon cameras also to dangle vertically from my shoulder. Perfect. If I had to choose from scratch again, I’d probably settle for the Kirk plate. This too has a place for the camera strap to loop around, at the bottom of the camera. Perfect.

Now, it might not be immediately obvious when you pick the camera up and hoist it over your shoulder, but there are two ways to sling the camera …

You can have the lens dangling outwards, catching on everything, and knocking stuff over, and smacking little kids in the face … or you can turn the camera around, and tuck it behind your body under your elbow. Out of the way. Simple, and less of a hazard to people around you, and less of a danger to your own equipment.

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New to flash photography?  Start here!

In preparing the material for the just-completed webinar, Don’t Fear Your Flash, I had given some thought to where I should start with the material. Flash photography on one level is so simple once you “get it” … but from the outside, it can look intimidating and complex. I feel that flash photography is one of those subjects which start to make sense once you grasp a bunch-of-things simultaneously. But how to explain it all at once so that it makes sense?

So I wondered about where exactly I should start the material for the webinar. What should I start a seminar with when I have a 90 minute time limit? Camera settings? Aperture, ISO and shutter speed settings? Manual flash vs TTL flash? Metering for flash and ambient light?

During a test run with the Clickin Moms team who had arranged and hosted the webinar, I had to check voice levels, and was told to say something. I just started riffing on the idea of starting the webinar … and as I said, “where do we even start?” to the imagined audience, it hit me .. that’s exactly what we need to do. We just have to start. We just have to take those first photos!

We can spend too much time caught up in first trying to understand all the technical aspects and all the nuances of lighting. We can be too intimidated by all that to actually use a flash … when all we need to do as a start, is to actually start using the flash!

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The previous post about metering modes was all set to be part of the on-going theme where I look at search engine queries, answering a selection of 10 questions more specifically. But then it expanded into something longer than just a quick reply. Same with today’s post. It was going to be a short explanation, but then expanded into something which is probably better as a stand-alone post. The question was stated in an interesting way:

do natural light photographers always use fill flash?

The question curiously implies that you might not find natural light which is perfect. However, as photographers, that is something we’re constantly searching for: perfect light. It is out there, somewhere. So, resisting the temptation to just answer with a cheeky “no”, let’s consider an example of when you would not want or need fill-flash.

The thing with natural light, is that you have to look at it. You have to look at the direction of light. And see whether it gives you the quality of light that you need …

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which metering mode to use –
Matrix / Evaluative, or Center-weighted, or Spot-metering?

I noticed that search engine query come up in my web-stats – ‘which metering mode for outdoor photos’. So it might be a good idea to answer it specifically. Which metering mode should you use for outdoor photography?  Or for that matter any kind of photography?

Exposure metering technique is a topic too complex to cover completely in a single blog post. Besides, the definitive introductory book on this is readily available: Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera. If you struggle with exposure metering, then I strongly suggest his book.

That said, let’s have a look anyway at this conundrum – which exposure mode to use …

The basic approach is quite simple: Since I’m using manual exposure mode nearly exclusively, no matter which route I take to get to a specific shutter speed / aperture / ISO combination … I would be getting the exact same exposure regardless of which metering mode was used.

In this way, the metering technique is the essential factor, not the metering mode

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aperture and depth of field

A question that came up in the forum recently was whether an 70-200mm f4 zoom would give you the same kind of look that an f2.8 zoom would.

For me, the f2.8 aperture is essential, especially with a telephoto zoom. For the same scenario, it gives me a higher shutter speed than the f4 zoom. Or I can use a lower ISO. More importantly, since I often bounce flash in large areas, the f2.8 aperture gives me more chance of successfully bouncing my flash than an f4 aperture would.

But what does the change in depth-of-field look like?

Keeping in mind that the how much the background appears to be blurred, depends on a few things:
– the chosen aperture. The wider the aperture, the shallower the depth-of-field will be, giving a more blurry the background. (This is the main factor that affects how much the background will be blurred.)
– how far your subject is from the background,
– your chosen focal length.
– The bokeh of the lens will also affect whether the background appears more blurred, or less. (Note that bokeh and shallow depth-of-field are not the same thing.)

The change in depth-of-field is incremental. If you had to look at a photograph showing amazingly thin depth-of-field, you wouldn’t be able to tell just from the photograph alone, whether f2 was used or f2.8 … but a side-by-side comparison will reveal the answer. An individual image won’t. However, it will be obvious when an image was shot at f 8 or f11 (on a 200mm lens for example), compared to either f2 or f2.8 … we should be able to recognize that a shallow depth-of-field was not used on the f8 or f11 image.

There are hordes of examples of how depth-of-field changes with aperture. But I thought it might be interesting to see with an overlay of images, just how much the depth-of-field appears to change …

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Kate – a photo shoot in New York

Kate is from Ukraine and has a deep fascination for New York. As a present, Kate’s sister flew both of them out for a vacation here … and had me photograph Kate around New York yesterday. The idea was to get a mixture of portraits of Kate and some photos of Kate in obvious New York locales.

We started off in the Meat-Packing district because I wanted a photogenic spot that wasn’t too crowded during a weekday (in winter), so we could have an easy start to the photo session. Since Kate might not have been experienced with photo shoots, I thought this would be the gentlest start. From there we wandered around a few other chosen spots.

Shooting on my own, I brought along a 70-200mm f2.8 and a 24-70mm f2.8 and two speedlights. Even though this winter’s day was slightly overcast, giving us soft light, I still didn’t want to rely entirely on just the available light …

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why should you use a higher ISO?

The advice for optimal camera settings for best image quality are usually:
– use the lowest possible ISO:
– at an aperture about 3 stops down from maximum (the widest) aperture;
– at a shutter speed fast enough to avoid camera shake and unintentional subject movement.

Taking this general advice at face value, means using the camera at its base ISO, which would either be 100 ISO or 200 ISO. However, while this advice is sound in theory, in practice this doesn’t have direct consequence on my decision about my camera settings.

In terms of exposure settings, we obviously want correct exposure, even if ‘correct exposure’ is open to interpretation.  Now if we are using only available light, then we have what we have for that specific scenario. If the ambient light is low, we would need a higher ISO / wider aperture / slower shutter speed.  There’s no wriggle room here.

But if we’re using flash, why not use the flash to give us correct exposure at these optimal settings?  Why would we even go to a higher ISO?

The reason: when using flash on location, I am mostly concerned about balancing my flash with the ambient light. Or somehow taking my ambient light into account to give some context.  It just looks better!

Let’s get back to the photograph at the top:

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