Taking Action Shots on your DSLR

photo-1445251836269-d158eaa028a6Sports photography, wildlife, and even snapshots of the kids, there are many occasions when you will want to stop action in your photographs.

Capturing moving subjects with pin-sharp images that are also well composed requires a certain degree of know-how. Here are some tips that will help make your action shots look truly professional.

Change the Autofocus Mode

To shoot sharp action photos, you will need to switch your autofocus mode to continuous (AI Servo on Canon and AF-C on Nikon).

In this mode, the camera constantly adjusts focus as it tracks a moving subject.

Continuous mode is also a predictive mode. It sets the focus to where it believes the subject will be after the split-second delay between the mirror rising and the shutter opening in the camera.

Know When to Use Manual Focus

In some sports, you can pretty much determine where a player is going to be (for instance, in cricket, the batsman will always be in front of the stumps).

If there is a very fast moving object (such as a cricket ball), the camera’s autofocus can get confused and struggle to keep up as it “searches” for focus. In cases like this, it is a good idea to use manual focus.

To do this, switch the camera to manual focus and focus on a preset point (such as the player or the stumps in cricket). You will be focused and ready to press the shutter as soon as the action is right.

Use AF Points

If you are shooting on continuous autofocus mode, then you are better off leaving the camera with multiple AF points activated so that it can choose its own focusing point.

When using manual focus, you may find that choosing a single AF point will give you more accurate images.

Use a Fast Shutter Speed

A fast shutter speed is required to freeze action so that it is pin-sharp. Begin with a shutter speed above 1/500. Some sports will require a minimum of 1/1000.

When experimenting, set the camera to TV / S mode (shutter priority). This allows you to choose the shutter speed and lets the camera to sort everything else out.

Use a Shallow Depth of Field

Action shots often look stronger if only the subject is sharp and the background is blurred. This gives a greater feeling of the speed to the subject.

To achieve this, use a small depth of field by adjusting your aperture to at least f/4. This adjustment will also help you get those faster shutter speeds.

Use Fill-In Flash

Your camera’s pop-up flash can be put to good use in action photography as a fill-in flash. First, it can be used to help illuminate your subject and to give you a wider range of apertures to play with.

Secondly, it can be used to create a technique called “flash and blur.” This happens when using a slow shutter speed and the flash is fired manually at the beginning of the shot. The result is that the subject is frozen while the background is filled with blurred streaks.

If relying on a pop-up flash, keep its range in mind. The flash may work well on a basketball court, but it may not reach to the other side of a baseball field. Also, watch to make sure that you do not get shadows while using a telephoto lens with the pop-up flash. It is more ideal to get a separate flashgun.

Change the ISO

If you have tried everything else and you still do not have enough light entering the camera to stop action, you can always increase your ISO. Be aware, however, that this will create more noise within your image.

How to Create an HDR Photo in Gimp

High-dynamic-range imaging (HDRI or HDR) is a technique used in imaging and photography to reproduce a greater dynamic range of luminosity than is possible with standard digital imaging or photographic techniques. The aim is to present the human eye with a similar range of luminance as that which, through the visual system, is familiar in everyday life. The human eye, through adaptation of the iris (and other methods) adjusts constantly to the broad dynamic changes ubiquitous in our environment.

In other words, make some really stunning and dramatic photos that POP! Using HDR techniques might seem a little complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it you will find it an easy way to create some amazing photos.

The tutorial below is another one using GIMP. You can apply the same techniques to Adobe Photoshop if that is your editor of choice.

Taking Minimalist Photos: When less is more

I’m not taking about less photo compression, though in that case too, the less you compress your photos the better they will turn out.

I’m talking about less is more when it comes to photo composition. Sometimes as you plan a photograph you will want to take in the entire scene, no matter how cluttered, or busy, it looks. Take a breath, step back, and consider focusing your attention on one particular subject, such as a particular tree, building, person, or animal.

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There are many guides on the web on how to capture excellent minimalist photography, so here we’ll just briefly mention the main rules:

Take care about subjects. You should accentuate your shot on one or few similar objects. It’s the first step to make your object dominate.
Pay attention to the background. You should choose plain backgrounds without any distraction elements (their influence can be eliminated with zooming).
Don’t afraid to use colors. You can choose contrasting or similar colors. Bright juicy splashes will make your shots look more impressive and your subject stand out from the background. At the same time if you choose different hues of one color you can also gain great results.
Delete unnecessary elements. If you think that there are some distractions on your shots you can safely crop or remove them. All the attention should be reverted on the main subject.
Take several shots of the same object. Don’t restrict yourself by taking one or two photos. Try different lighting, angles, focal lengths, exposures, etc.

Note that this is not a hard and fast rules. For example, when taking photos of urban areas, you may want to step back and take wide-angle photos consisting of several skyscrapers. This is fine and good, but also consider photos that focus on a particular building’s architectural features.

Tips for Taking Holiday Photos

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With the holiday season just around the corner, many of us will be toting our cameras to festivals, parties, and family gatherings to preserve our precious memories for years to come. Unfortunately, you might look back at some of your pictures and wonder why they were blurry, out of focus, or just not all that interesting. Whether you have a smartphone or DSLR, here are a few simple techniques you can use to make your photos not only stand out, but help you learn a bit more about photography along the way.

#1 Get down to eye level with the kids
While you might be tempted to pass the time visiting with adults and catching up with friends at holiday gatherings, some of the best photos years down the road often end up being the ones of kids. It’s fun to see them grow and change over time, and when browsing photo collections people will often linger on photos of children for all the memories they bring back. When you have your camera out, though, remember to get on eye level with the little ones! It can feel a bit strange to squat down or sit on the floor to get a good shot of your three-year-old niece while all the adults are visiting in the other room, but the results will be well worth it. It’s tempting to shoot down at kids from your eye level, but this often results in unflattering pictures that seem cold and distant. Putting yourself physically at the same level as the kids offers a much more interesting view of their world, and makes for photos that are far more personal and memorable.

#2 Adjust the ISO instead of using the flash
If you leave your camera on Automatic mode, you might notice the flash constantly going off which can result in washed-out colors and unnatural shadows across people’s faces. But if you try to disable the flash, your photos will often come out blurry or out of focus. To fix this, you can set your camera to Program mode instead of Auto, which will allow you to have more direct control over the ISO setting and get better shots in low-light conditions (like indoor holiday parties) without using the flash.

The higher you set your ISO, the less light your camera needs in order to take a photo. This is nice if you want to avoid blinding people with your flash, but the trade-off is that your pictures might look noisy or grainy. Fortunately, most modern cameras do a fine job even at ISO settings as high as 3200 or even 6400 – particularly if you just want to share the photos online or print at smaller sizes like 4×6.

Make sure to practice beforehand so you are comfortable not only setting the ISO, but knowing the limits of what your camera can do. But if used carefully, adjusting the ISO instead of using the flash can result in much better holiday photos with the added bonus of not blinding your guests or having to deal with red-eye corrections later on.

If you really want to use your camera to its full potential, ditch Auto or Program mode entirely and try shooting in aperture priority (A or Av) mode where you choose the lens aperture and ISO while your camera calculates the best shutter speed. Or you could try shutter priority (S or Tv) mode, where you choose the shutter speed (1/60 to 1/90 second are good starting points when shooting indoors, such as holiday gatherings) and ISO, and your camera figures out the best aperture. I would recommend getting lots of practice with these modes and making sure you know how to adjust your settings accordingly before the holidays, though. You don’t want to try something new for the first time when everyone is opening presents and have a bunch of dark or out of focus photos as a result!

Finally, it’s worth noting that many modern digital cameras have user-programmable Auto ISO settings. You can use this to tell your camera to select the best ISO when using the semi-automatic (A/Av, S/Tv, or P) modes but stay within a few parameters that you define. For instance, if you know that your camera gets too noisy above ISO 3200, you can set that to be the maximum allowable ISO but let your camera do the rest. Or you can also set a minimum shutter speed before the Auto ISO kicks in. If you don’t want to shoot anything slower than, say, 1/30 of a second, your camera will do everything in its power to maintain proper exposure by adjusting the ISO in order to stay above that shutter speed. This can be quite handy at holiday gatherings when you don’t want to spend all night fiddling with your camera’s menus and settings but also want to make sure you get the best shots possible without the pop-up flash constantly blinding your guests.

#3 Shoot moments, not poses
It might be tempting to run around with your camera at holiday parties barking out orders like “Smile,” “Look here!” and “Say Cheese!” But a better option is to be a little more discreet and attempt to shoot moments instead of poses. Capturing the essence of what people are doing – talking, laughing, opening presents, sharing a drink – often makes for much more interesting photos as well as better memories in years to come. There is certainly nothing wrong with posed photos or having people look at you and smile while you take their picture, but these often lack context aside from the clothes people have on. What else was happening? Who else was present? What sort of activities were people doing? By taking a documentary-style approach and shooting pictures of people just being themselves (particularly if you turn the distracting flash off and adjust the ISO instead) you will capture memories that will strike a chord years down the road.

#4 Know when to put your camera down
This might sound counter-intuitive for an article about how to get better holiday photos, but as the saying goes, there is a time for everything under the sun. This includes a time to shoot pictures and a time to just be with friends and family. Rather than 100 photos of your family opening presents, just take a handful and use the rest of your time to simply be with your loved ones and enjoy your time together. Try to be intentional when taking fewer photos, and the result will be more keepers that you want to look at years down the road instead of dozens and dozens of images of the same scene.

Tricks to Photographing Beer

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1. Warm Beer Is Your Friend
If you want your beer to be bubbly and frothy and gorgeous, then you want to go with warm beer. Not the best thing to drink, but a must for photography. Cold beer will not give you a whole lot of bubbles and in addition will cause your glass to fog up with condensation. If you’re going for a super-cold and refreshing look this may be ok, but if you want to see the beer clearly through the glass, keep it warm.

Fake condensation in this shot was made using light corn syrup and water.

Beverage Styling Tip: If you DO want to have the beer look super cold, try making fake condensation: take some light corn syrup mixed with some water and spritz it onto your beer glass or bottle. The ratio of corn syrup to water will depend on how large or small the droplets you want and requires a little experimentation. I use a toothbrush to spritz on the mixture and then a syringe or chopstick to drip individual droplets at strategic places. Once it dries you’ll have perfect condensation which won’t evaporate or move, which is handy when you’re trying to get that perfect shot. Even better, the “condensation” will wash off with warm water when you’re done.

2. Tall Glasses = Lotsa Bubbles
After some experimentation, I realized that a tall skinny glass with a small top will give you the best half-life on your bubbles. I’m sure there are all kinds of scientific reasons for this like surface tension and such, but for a zero-science guy like me I figured it out just by trial and error. Obviously if you’re shooting a particular kind of beer you need to take into account the correct type of glass. But for a straight up beer with bubbles shot, tall and skinny is the way to go. For the shoot for Feast I used a standard British pint glass for some of the shots, and then for others I picked up a clear plastic food storage container from the Container Store that was perfect for beer-bubble-detail shots I was shooting.

3. A Little Lint Goes a Long Way
When preparing for a photo shoot using glassware, removing every single piece of dust and lint is a must. After all, you don’t want any distracting dirt taking away from your photograph. However, when shooting a carbonated beverage like beer, sometimes a little lint is a good thing. After you meticulously clean your glassware, wipe down the inside with a non-lint-free rag or a paper towel. The tiny bits of lint that are left behind are generally invisible to your camera, but they grab onto the bubbles in the beer and make them stick to the inside of the glass. You don’t want to go overboard, but a few pieces of lint can make the difference when you’re trying to show bubbles.

4. Pinch of Salt
Turns out that if you drop a few pinches of salt into beer it will bubble like crazy. I found that this was a great way to reinvigorate my beer once the bubbles started to slow down and the head started to collapse. I tried a variety of different types of salt – rock salt, sea salt, kosher salt – but found that the ordinary fine grain table salt worked the best. When you sprinkle the salt into your beer make sure to do it evenly and across the whole glass or you’ll get uniform little streams of bubbles which don’t look natural.

5. Plan Ahead, Have Extra Beer
Obviously this quick little list of tips is not a complete “how to” for photographing beer – there are all kinds of different styles of beer and beer photography and these tips worked very well for the specific art direction for the magazine assignment. Every beer company has a different idea for what their beer should look like – color, size and shape of the head, the glassware it should be served in etc. So make sure that you have an idea of what your final shot is going to look like before you begin and plan from there. And make sure that you have plenty of beer to work with. Carbonated beverages are a living thing, and it always pays to have more than you’ll need, just in case it takes longer than you think to get the shot.

And after all, it’s not like that extra beer is going to go to waste. In fact, the best thing about shooting beer is that there is usually a lot of left over beer for a taste test. Just make sure you drink it cold … without added salt and lint.

10 Basic Thoughts When Taking Pictures

1. Look your subject in the eye
Direct eye contact can be as engaging in a picture as it is in real life. When taking a picture of someone, hold the camera at the person’s eye level to unleash the power of those magnetic gazes and mesmerizing smiles. For children, that means stooping to their level. And your subject need not always stare at the camera. All by itself that eye level angle will create a personal and inviting feeling that pulls you into the picture.

2. Use a plain background
A plain background shows off the subject you are photographing. When you look through the camera viewfinder, force yourself to study the area surrounding your subject. Make sure no poles grow from the head of your favorite niece and that no cars seem to dangle from her ears.

3. Use flash outdoors
Bright sun can create unattractive deep facial shadows. Eliminate the shadows by using your flash to lighten the face. When taking people pictures on sunny days, turn your flash on. You may have a choice of fill-flash mode or full-flash mode. If the person is within five feet, use the fill-flash mode; beyond five feet, the full-power mode may be required. With a digital camera, use the picture display panel to review the results.
On cloudy days, use the camera’s fill-flash mode if it has one. The flash will brighten up people’s faces and make them stand out. Also take a picture without the flash, because the soft light of overcast days sometimes gives quite pleasing results by itself.

4. Move in close
If your subject is smaller than a car, take a step or two closer before taking the picture and zoom in on your subject. Your goal is to fill the picture area with the subject you are photographing. Up close you can reveal telling details, like a sprinkle of freckles or an arched eyebrow.
But don’t get too close or your pictures will be blurry. The closest focusing distance for most cameras is about three feet, or about one step away from your camera. If you get closer than the closest focusing distance of your camera (see your manual to be sure), your pictures will be blurry.

5. Move it from the middle
Center-stage is a great place for a performer to be. However, the middle of your picture is not the best place for your subject. Bring your picture to life by simply moving your subject away from the middle of your picture. Start by playing tick-tack-toe with subject position. Imagine a tick-tack-toe grid in your viewfinder. Now place your important subject at one of the intersections of lines.
You’ll need to lock the focus if you have an auto-focus camera because most of them focus on whatever is in the center of the viewfinder.

6. Lock the focus
If your subject is not in the center of the picture, you need to lock the focus to create a sharp picture. Most auto-focus cameras focus on whatever is in the center of the picture. But to improve pictures, you will often want to move the subject away from the center of the picture. If you don’t want a blurred picture, you’ll need to first lock the focus with the subject in the middle and then recompose the picture so the subject is away from the middle.

Usually you can lock the focus in three steps. First, center the subject and press and hold the shutter button halfway down. Second, reposition your camera (while still holding the shutter button) so the subject is away from the center. And third, finish by pressing the shutter button all the way down to take the picture.

7. Know your flash’s range
The number one flash mistake is taking pictures beyond the flash’s range. Why is this a mistake? Because pictures taken beyond the maximum flash range will be too dark. For many cameras, the maximum flash range is less than fifteen feet—about five steps away.
What is your camera’s flash range? Look it up in your camera manual. Can’t find it? Then don’t take a chance. Position yourself so subjects are no farther than ten feet away. Film users can extend the flash range by using Kodak Max versatility or versatility plus film.

8. Watch the light
Next to the subject, the most important part of every picture is the light. It affects the appearance of everything you photograph. On a great-grandmother, bright sunlight from the side can enhance wrinkles. But the soft light of a cloudy day can subdue those same wrinkles.
Don’t like the light on your subject? Then move yourself or your subject. For landscapes, try to take pictures early or late in the day when the light is orangish and rakes across the land.

9. Take some vertical pictures
Is your camera vertically challenged? It is if you never turn it sideways to take a vertical picture. All sorts of things look better in a vertical picture. From a lighthouse near a cliff to the Eiffel Tower to your four-year-old niece jumping in a puddle. So next time out, make a conscious effort to turn your camera sideways and take some vertical pictures.

10. Be a picture director
Take control of your picture-taking and watch your pictures dramatically improve. Become a picture director, not just a passive picture-taker. A picture director takes charge. A picture director picks the location: “Everybody go outside to the backyard.” A picture director adds props: “Girls, put on your pink sunglasses.” A picture director arranges people: “Now move in close, and lean toward the camera.”