Posted tagged ‘sharp’

Creative Christmas Photography: Episode 1

December 4, 2009

Ever wondered why your Christmas photographs lack a little pizzazz or atmosphere? 

Want to do it better? 

I’ve got some tips to help you, but firstly here’s some very important advice. 

If you are going away for Christmas then ensure that you’ve packed your digital camera.  Sounds simple, but it’s easy to forget.  Make sure your digital camera battery is fully charged – and take your spare battery and the charger.  Delete or transfer all of the files from your memory cards, and take spare cards – they’re really cheap these days.   You don’t want to miss the best shot because your card is full! 

Here’s the first tip… 

Photography Tip #1.  Get in close and fill the frame 

It’s very tempting to try and get everything about Christmas in just one photograph.  The classic image is the whole family round the Christmas lunch table, or round the tree.  By all means take that image, (in fact take three or four to avoid “blinks”), but also try and get lots of those magic little details that make up the whole; single tree decorations, the pile of presents, a nativity scene, mistletoe, sweets/chocolates, Christmas candles, holly berries, the wreath on the door, crackers, tinsel, the remains of the turkey, the flame on the Christmas pudding, in fact anything that says “Christmas”.  For the really small things you may need to set your camera to close-up or macro mode.  

"Christmas tree decoration" by Gale Photography

"Christmas tree decoration" by Gale Photography

Make sure when you are getting these details that you fill the frame with what you want to record.  Look at the subject, decide what the most important thing to record is, and record just that.  These simple compositions can work really well, and having unrelated objects in images can make them less successful. 

"Christmas wreath" by Gale Photography

"Christmas wreath" by Gale Photography

When you put your Christmas photographs together on a page, or show them on your digital media, they’ll tell a great story about your Christmas. 

Photography Tip #2. Christmas Tree Lights 

Photographing Christmas tree lights at home is something that can be tricky to do. The secret is to balance the lighting in the room and the tree lights.  You don’t need to use flash, so switch it off; the lights are already illuminated!  Put the camera on a tripod or table, and use the self-timer (to reduce vibration) and a long exposure so that you get some light from the room lights well as properly recording the tree lights.   Then try turning the room lights off and photographing the lights by themselves, and seeing how different it looks.  You may need to experiment with the White Balance setting (check your camera’s manual to see how to change this) to give the right colours. 

"Christmas tree lights" by Gale Photography

"Christmas tree lights" by Gale Photography

 Lights also make great images if they are very out of focus.  Try focussing on a close object so the lights go out of focus, and then reframe to make the lights your subject.  

"Christmas Tree lights bokeh" by Gale Photography

"Christmas Tree lights bokeh" by Gale Photography

Tip within a tip:  If you want to photograph displays of Christmas lights on the outside of a house, then your car makes a great “tripod”.  It’s great for getting sharper images without camera shake.  Turn off the engine, to reduce vibrations, and rest the camera on the car’s roof.  Again, you don’t need the camera’s flash turned on. The best time to photograph lights outside is at twilight after the sun has set, so there will still be a bit of light in the sky. 

So, there’s the first couple of tips for better Christmas photography.  Check again next week (or subscribe to our blog feed) for the next set of tips… 

…and have a great Christmas!!!


I’m so shallow.

November 6, 2009

While I was becoming a more serious SLR photographer, I was obsessive about getting everything in focus.  I think this came from having used box cameras that had small maximum apertures, and compact 35mm cameras that had wide-angle lenses.  Small lens apertures and wide-angle lenses lead to what’s called a “large depth of field”.  This means that everything from the foreground to the far background is in focus.  As I improved, I realised that you can get much more creative images if you control the focus point carefully, and limit what’s in focus to a small area.  It’s called a shallow depth of field.  Here’s an example:

"The Poppy" by Gale Photography

"The Poppy" by Gale Photography

I’ve focussed on the foreground poppy, used a telephoto lens and a wide lens aperture, to throw the background wire fence out of focus.  It makes for a much more evocative image, with a relevance to Remembrance Day. 

You can also use control of the focus area to make images that are ambiguous, and open to many interpretations.

"Sequins & lights" by Gale Photography

"Sequins & lights" by Gale Photography

The warm-toned out-of-focus circles in the background mimic the patterns of the in-focus sequins in the foreground, but we’re not sure what their spatial relationship is, or even their sizes.

With portraits you need to focus on the subject’s eyes.  If you let the rest of the image go soft, it allows the viewer to really concentrate on the “windows to the soul”, and gives great communication.  Here I’ve taken it to another level by only focusing on the nearer eye, which gives even more impact to the image.

"One eye in focus" by Gale Photography

"One eye in focus" by Gale Photography

If you are inspired to try and take these sort of images, the best way is to use a telephoto lens,  or zoom your compact camera’s lens out to its maximum, and use a wide lens aperture.

Have fun!

Shake, rattle and roll!

July 9, 2009

Many of you have got digital cameras.  

Given that almost every mobile phone now has a camera built into it, and also that everyone seems to have at least one digital compact camera in their household, I think there must be many more digital cameras in the UK now than there are people.  That’s a very interesting statistic.   It would be interesting to know how many of the people who have a digital camera have read the manual or been on a photographic training course…

creative camera movement blog image

The automatic focusing and exposure systems on newer cameras are simply extraordinary.  They can identify faces, allow you to choose which person is the most important in a group, and then follow that person around the frame as they move.  Some cameras even take two pictures in quick succession, compare them, and then tell you if the people in the pictures have blinked, thus giving you a chance to retake it.  10 years ago this would all have seemed like science fiction.

Despite all this marvellous technology there are still an awful lot of images out there that can be improved.  The main problem I see has been around for ages; it’s camera shake.  Camera shake gives you images that are not sharp, so you aren’t getting the benefit of all those shiny new pixels.  Here’s an example that I took for this post:

camera shake

So how can you stop camera shake?   The best way is to support the camera firmly during the exposure, and use the shortest shutter speed you can.  The trend for cameras to have a viewing screen on the back, and to not have an optical viewfinder hasn’t helped with supporting the camera.  Using the screen on the back forces you to hold the camera away from your body and this increases the risk of camera shake.  If you can, rest the camera on a wall, shelf, tree, or anything that will stop it from moving around as you take the picture.  I’ve even used the roof of my car – with the engine turned off of course. 

The second trend that increases the risk of camera shake is zooming the lens in order to get closer.  The more you zoom the more risk of shake there is.  If you can, it’s better to get closer to your subject by moving yourself and then using less zoom.   In these examples the first image shows shake, as I was further away and zoomed the lens as much as it would go.  Like the door and tiles image above, these two images were taken to deliberately to show how it can go wrong!

zoom shake 1

With this image I got closer to the flowers and used less zoom.  As you can see, the result is much sharper.

zoom shake 2

Digital cameras make it much easier to practice, so give it a try!

Once you have mastered the art of taking pictures without camera shake, you can move on to using it in a creative way, as shown in the first image of this post, and also below.

creative shake 1 watermarked

I’ll be writing more tips on improving your photography in future, so do keep checking the blog, or subscribe so you don’t miss any.