Shooting Big Cities at Night While Traveling Light

Serenity

You’re in a big, dreamy city at night. Mesmerized by the bright lights contrasting with the beautiful, deep blackness of the night sky, you want to take pictures and capture the stunning gorgeousness before you. However, if you don’t have a Full-Frame DSLR like a Canon 5D MK II or Nikon D700, then chances are that you will have a harder time capturing cleaner images as the smaller sensors don’t have the pixel density or algorithms programmed in to them to deliver the shots that you want. Here’s a couple of things to remember when you go out shooting at night and to get the image almost perfect the first time around with little post-process development.

The following article has been written after many trials with a Canon XSi and Olympus E-510. The former has an APS-C sized sensor while the latter is a 4/3rds camera. Each has their own limitations and differences that can be overcome while traveling with a small kit. I never shoot on Auto: it’s either Manual, Aperture, or Program for me. [Read more...]

Are You Getting Great Photos at Your Kid’s Soccer Games?

This is my son’s first year playing soccer. It’s been an entertaining couple of weeks. I’m fired up about the next month or so of soccer matches for a couple of reasons: (1) seeing my son experience team sports for the first time; and (2) great photo opportunities. It’s the latter reason that inspired this post.

So, are you getting great photos at your kid’s soccer games? If not, you should be. We’re going to look into some of the problems that could be keeping you from getting those memorable photos from every game.

Your Gear

First, let’s evaluate the camera and other gear that you’re using. If you’re you’ve got a point & shoot camera (I’ll call it a “P&S” for the sake of brevity), then you may be dealing with shutter lag, which can cause you to miss the moment. Shutter lag is the term used to describe the delay between the moment you press the shutter and the moment the camera captures the image.

If you’re using a SLR, then you know that when you press the shutter, the camera captures the image practically instantaneous. If you’re not familiar with these terms, a SLR (or DSLR) is a digital camera that uses an automatic mirror system placed between the lens and the image sensor to direct the image from the lens through the viewfinder where it can be viewed by the photographer. (Read more about it on Wikipedia); and a P&S camera is a still camera designed primarily for simple operation. Most of them use autofocus or focus free lenses for focusing and automatic systems for exposure as well. (Again, Wikipedia)

Whatever the camera is that you’re using, you can make it work for you on the sidelines. Obviously, a DSLR camera is going to make your job easier, but you can make a P&S camera work too (we’ll talk about technique here in a minute). A DSLR allows you to avail yourself to a variety of lenses that are more tailored to your specific subjects – in our case, little 2-legged monsters chasing after a ball. If you’re in shopping mode, consider the following options:

If you’re using a P&S, then there are some things that you could be doing to capture the action that you really wanted instead of a not-so-exciting image a few seconds later. I could tell you all about it; however, I’ll direct your attention to Ken Rockwell’s article that should get you up to speed on Preventing Shutter Lag.

Your Camera Settings

Moving on camera settings, let’s look at Sports Photography 101: Shutter Priority. Shutter Priority is a setting on your camera. You’ll find it on all DSLRs and on almost all P&S cameras now. The Shutter Priority setting allows you to take control of one variable that goes into the exposure and the camera will take care of the rest. On a nice sunny day, set your shutter priority to 1/500s (that’s 1/500 of a second). This is a relatively fast shutter speed – usually enough to “freeze” the action in a kids soccer game. If you’re shooting bigger kids or adults, you might want to bump that up to 1/800 or 1/1000 if you get some motion blur at 1/500s. Motion blur can be aesthetically pleasing in some circumstances too, so you have to make the call here.

If you’re having trouble figuring this setting out, then it’s time to dig out your manual and figure it out. Go ahead. Most manuals are fairly well written nowadays and, chances are, you can open up the table of contents and figure this out in 2 or 3 steps. Still have trouble? Ok, try turning the settings wheel to the symbol of the guy running . . . that’s “Sports Mode” (read: fast shutter speed) and will suffice if you need it to.

Your Technique

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Now that we’ve got the camera set to a high shutter speed, let’s look at technique. This is where great photos are made. Follow these three points and your photos will be better the next game:

  1. Use Both Hands. Seems like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised how many moms and dads are trying to use their digital P&S at arms length with one hand while cheering their kid on. Put your right hand along the right side of the camera with your index finger on the shutter release. Place your left hand underneath the camera and use it to “cup” the lens (obviously, this is easier form with a DSLR).
  2. Use the Optical Viewfinder. Remember what the world was like before digital cameras? Take a trip through time back to those days and put your eye up to the viewfinder (heck, even turn the LCD off). This, along with #1, will help you keep the camera steadier, which will result in prettier pictures.
  3. Pan. Huh? “Peter or frying?,” you say. Neither. You need to pan your camera with the action on the field. That is, follow your subject in the viewfinder. Once you get the hang of this, you can start monkeying with the shutter speed a bit for some cool panning effects.

Put #1, #2 and #3 together and you’re holding the camera up to your eye, with both hands, and following the action through the viewfinder only. Now when that great action moment arises, you’re anticipating it through the viewfinder and you aren’t rushing to get your camera out and snapping at who-knows-what. You end up with a great shot of your little soccer star because you knew how to use your camera and you exercised proper technique in capturing the moment.

Your Location on the Field

Setup locations are also important. As spectators, we are almost always on the sidelines with all of the parents. I have found that moving around the field can be very effective at getting different shots.

Seriously, there are only so many angles that you can get from a single seat. So, get up! Move behind the goal that your kid’s team in shooting at. Better yet, move behind the goal that your kid’s team is practicing at before the game. Everybody gets to take a shot at the goal before the game. And that’s the shot we all want anyway . . . right? I like sitting on the ground off to the side and behind the goal for a couple of reasons:

1. Staying low doesn’t draw as much attention as a goofy-looking dad standing where no other parents are at; and

2. Shooting from a point lower than your kid’s eye level, keeps the shots interesting and reveals features and expressions that you wouldn’t otherwise see on your kid’s face.

Additionally, look at what’s going on when stuff isn’t going on. Sometimes a lull in the action or a kid that’s not really “into” the game make for the best photo opportunities.

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Ok, that’s all I’ve got for now. Now go get some great photos and share them with the rest of us. Post’em on flickr, Zooomr or wherever and email me the link. If you do, I’ll feature some here on Photography Bay.

Extra Credit

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Finally, if all of this photography jargon still seems foreign to you, consider purchasing a good book for beginners like Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. Bryan is an excellent teacher. He’s great at breaking down intimidating concepts for the novice and explaining them on your level. The book breaks up exposure into the three fundamental elements that go into properly exposing a photo: aperture; shutter speed; and ISO (or, film speed). This is the book to buy for those who have only ever used a point and shoot camera or who always shoot their SLR on full auto mode (the little green rectangle setting). Simply reading this book will make you a better photographer overnight if you fall into these categories.

If you’ve got a basic handle on these concepts but not sure you really grasp the significance of one or all of them then you should consider adding this book to your library as well. Aside from the technical basics, Bryan teaches you how to look at a scene and capture a creative photo in addition to a properly exposed one.

Before you buy another camera, lens, flash, or any other gear, buy this book. It’ll be the best $15 you ever spend on your photography gear.

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[tags]photography, sports, soccer, diy, learn, how to, technique[/tags]

The Basics of Photography

DIY Photography has a new series, Back to Basics, underway. The first post in the series is on exposure. If you’re not familiar with the fundamentals of exposure, you should check it out.

Additionally, consider picking up a copy of Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. Bryan Peterson is an excellent teacher. He’s great at breaking down intimidating concepts for the novice and explaining them on your level. The book breaks up exposure into the three fundamental elements that go into properly exposing a photo: aperture; shutter speed; and ISO (or, film speed). This is the book to buy for those who have only ever used a point and shoot camera or who always shoot their SLR on full auto mode (the little green rectangle setting). Simply reading this book will make you a better photographer overnight if you fall into these categories.

If you’ve got a basic handle on these concepts but not sure you really grasp the significance of one or all of them then you should consider adding this book to your library as well. Aside from the technical basics, Bryan teaches you how to look at a scene and capture a creative photo in addition to a properly exposed one.

Before you buy another camera, lens, flash, or any other gear, buy this book if you’re wondering what you should spend you cash on. It’ll be the best $15 you ever spend on your photography gear.

[tags]photography, basics, exposure, learn, how-to, diy, bryan peterson, understanding[/tags]

Fast Bikes, Low Light and Fog

Makin’ the Gap

Originally uploaded by hawridger.


Here’s another shot from the 2007 NORBA Showdown at Sugar. This particular shot comes from part of the downhill course where there riders clear roughly a 10′ gap over a creek. Needless to say, they’re moving on at this point. That’s where my problem arose though.

Thankfully, it didn’t rain (much) at the race or I probably would have packed up my Canon Rebel XT and headed home. However, the conditions were less than ideal for shooting action shots. It was plenty overcast, this part of the course was complete under cover of trees, and it was rather foggy at times due to the elevation.

I think I would have felt fine without the fog; however, the fog really caused some lighting issues that I didn’t know how to resolve on-site. This left me with several photos that seemed washed out – like a white film over the whole image due to the moisture particles reflecting the flash. The only solution that I could come up with was in Lightroom – and this is where shooting RAW, I think, saved my butt. I was able to boost contrast and blacks enough to resolve the fog issue on the image for most shots so that they are now usable.

All of the photos at this creek jump has some fog in them (see gallery). Some more than others. I am satisfied with the post-processing results; however, I’d like to know what some of you guys (and gals) think about my lighting quagmire on-site. Is there a better solution for shooting in fog with my setup (particularly, you strobist wizards)? If not, is there something else that I need in order to be prepared for these conditions?

My setup: Canon Rebel XT, 18-55 Kit Lens for wides & Sigma 70-200 f/2.8; EX 420 Speedlight.

My settings: Shutter priority — Wides – roughly 1/60s to 1/125s with panning — Zooms – 1/200s minimum; ISO 400 (I really don’t like the grain above 400)

[tags]photography, lighting, fog, cycling, bike, mountain, biking, downhill, jump, strobist, canon, sigma, flash, how to[/tags]

Make People Look Thinner

Your subjects will appreciate you taking the time to read and put into practice these nine pointers from Sublime Light:

If you take enough photos of people, eventually you’ll photograph someone who is either a little heavier or thinks that they are. This is especially true for those of us in the U.S., where obesity rates are sky high. The good news for you is that there are a few tricks you can add to your bag to help make your subject look thinner. You’ll get the photo, your subject will be happy with it, and everyone wins.  (Read on for the specific pointers. . . .)

[tags]photography, portraits, howto, how to, diy, learn, fat, thin, thinner, skinny, digital, camera, lighting[/tags]

Do-it-Yourself Tungsten OmniBounce

Do-it-Yourself Tungsten OmniBounce

Originally uploaded by carpe icthus.


This popped up on a recent “strobist” search on flickr. I’m constantly surprised by the ingenuity of the strobist clan.

Notes from the photographer:

I had to shoot a giant gala tonight — close to 500 people. I knew most of the action would be happening in a place with very little light and a ceiling far too high to allow bounce flash. Furthermore, whatever ambient light there was would be VERY warm, about 2500K. And all I had was my no-frills SB-600.

So I went all McGuyver. I took the back of a reporter’s notebook (which would provide nice, warm bounce light to match the ambient), cut it down and fastened it to my flash with a sturdy rubber band. This is basically an industrial-strength, warm-light version of the old index card trick.

But I wanted a broad flash that would cover the frame, so I needed the top to fan out. I ran down to the coffee shop and got a few wooden coffee stirrers. I cut them to match the notebook and fastened them to each end with clips.

It looks silly, but worked marvelously.

[tags]diy, howto, flash, photography, strobist, nikon, sb-600[/tags]