Tech Tips

Many of these tips have been published in our newsletter or facebook. These are repeated and in some cases expanded in these pages.

To Use or Not Use a Tripodmovement-and-low-light

If you are like me, you think using a tripod is a great idea, but it slows you down and inhibits quick reactions. So I often tend not to use it - usually to the detriment of the images and sometimes the composition!

Here are some ideas of when you don't or can't use it, and how to use it effectively when you need it.

Situations for not using a tripod
Animals or subjects that move fast
No time to get tripod out
Flying insects
Birds in flight
Street photography
In a tight area

In other words, where your subject is moving and/or changing direction fast or you need to be unobtrusive. To combat the lack of a tripod, you need to make sure your shutter speed is high enough so you don't get camera shake (above 1/60th sec and turn on Anti-shake) as well as high enough to still movement if your subject is moving fast - like birds or insects in flight. You may need a high ISO to manage this if the light isn't bright enough.

Sometimes you can't get a decent photo without using a tripod.

Reasons for using a Tripod
When your shutter speed is low
Being exact on composition
Time Lapse
Using your camera remotely
For very small objects
Subjects up very high and more

One problem of using a tripod is you often put it in a spot and then you don't move - often missing out on other potential shots.
To combat this, park your tripod and walk around with your camera, viewing all the potential photo opportunities. Then choose your spot and put your camera on the tripod, take some photos and then move to the other sites you thought were good.


Photographing Autumn Colourscolours-of-autumn

Capturing the beautiful colours of Autumn can be both satisfying and joyful or disappointing. Sometimes your photos show what you see and sometimes they don't. It all depends on the light! (and sometimes your settings too).

When the sun is out or it is a bright,  lightly clouded  day - your colours will show bright and true. But if the day is cloudy and dull, you may see the bright colours, but the camera will see something else.

Sunny Days - The best time for photos is early morning or late afternoon when the sun is low and makes everything look attractive. At mid day the sun creates the wrong sorts of shadows and you can get dappled light which makes it hard to see detail easily.Try taking photos with the light shining through the leaves for a different effect. Slightly underexpose for a richer colour. Use a Daylight white balance (WB).

Cloudy Days - the time of the day is less critical for getting good photographs. The light is even, so you don't have light and dark patches causing distraction. If it is a bright cloudy day, this could bring out some richness in the colours, especially if it has recently rained. Try a Cloudy White Balance to warm up the colours.

Rain can create wonderful opportunities for photos. It brings out the colours of the leaves creates rivulets for leaves to float down or in and more. And if the sun comes out afterwards, you will have some wonderful opportunities for some spectacular images. Watch for sparkles on droplets too.

Heavy Clouds, Dull Day - It may be better to photograph for a bleak look, especially if it is windy. If it is windy, try getting leaves blowing or trees leaning with the leaves blowing off it. If you want to brighten up the colours you could experiment with a shade WB or even in Picture Styles, they may have an Autumn Leaves setting. If you do want the bleak look - put your WB on Daylight for a blueish appearance or even try Black & White.


Back Light - How to Use itback-lit-composite

An image with Back Light can look magical. It glows, shows edges, insides of plants and creatures and much more. However it is often difficult to get the right exposure.

 Expose for the Subject. Firstly, you need to get the light meter in your camera to ignore the strong sun and expose for the subject. You can do this by using Spot Exposure or some cameras now have a setting for Partial (Strong Back Light). If you use either of these two settings, make sure you reset it back to Centre Weighted or Matrix (Evaluative)

Then you have to decide whether to make it lighter or darker for purely visual reasons. Use the +/- button if you are using Aperture or Shutter Speed Priority or if you are using Manual Exposure, use your light meter gauge to the + side or - side.

Stopping flare is also a problem (unless you think it looks atmospheric). This is caused by the sun hitting the surface of the lens. You can hide the sun behind a tree trunk or if you are shooting small objects you will need to shade your lens. This will bring back the contrast to the image.

The sun in your eyes is another problem you can encounter. The back screen can also be almost impossible to see let alone take any photos!  You and the screen need to be shaded by anything you can think of. This is where a long suffering companion is useful to hold some shade over your face & camera.

Try several exposures. Some will look better lighter as long as you can see detail, but many will look better somewhat underexposed to show rich tones and detail in the translucent sections.

Enjoy experimenting!






Showing Depth in a Holelight-in-holes

Holes are funny things - if the light doesn't shine into them they just look like a black round disc. Especially on a 2 dimensional photograph.
You actually need to shine the light in at an angle so it lights one side of the hole and then reflects to the other side - but not as brightly. This will create the feeling of shape.

You can have the reverse situation happening when you are in a dark building or cave and there is a deep hole in the ceiling. The light has to strike the edges and reflect down to light up the surrounding materials

The photos illustrate the different light and its effect. The top left are lava tubes, but the holes look like black blobs because the light is diffuse - non directional. The bottom left shows a tube with light shining down it, showing depth and texture. The one on the right is the reverse, the light bounces around an reflects down into the room.

Photographing Small Fast Moving Subjectsmovement-series-comp

Have you tried to photograph a small fast moving subject and been totally frustrated because it doesn't stop long enough to be able to focus on, or a flower in the breeze that keeps moving? Or an active creature that you get in focus – but you lose the feeling of what it is doing.
What can you do?

To still the movement you need very high shutter speeds, sometimes 1/800th sec & above, but too high and the subject looks frozen. You can reduce the shutter speed a bit so that most of the body is sharp but the wings can be moving – maybe down to 1/500th or lower. Juggling the exact speed to get enough blur to look like it is moving, but not too much so the wings disappear is a lot of trial and error. And depends on the subject and how fast it is moving.

For fast moving subjects that flit about, find a spot where they are likely to come, and wait. Then you may get a series of shots. Use auto focus for this.

How you display your shots can change how they look. A series of still shots, although each individual shot does not show movement, showing them as a series can. For instance, a Digger Wasp in picture 1 can be digging, picture 2 pushing soil back, picture 3 & 4, carying a pebble
away and so on.

When something is blowing gently in the wind, find the still point, pre-focus and wait until the breeze drops and it returns there. 

Another choice is to use your movie setting. This would be particularly good for creatures
digging holes, where the dirt is flying out or the insect is carrying stones away, or legs moving rapidly. Also it is good for butterflies flying or flowers blowing in the breeze.

Beware though - Make sure you know how your movie setting works on your camera before you start. Each camera is different. It may not be as simple as pressing a button! You will also need a high capacity, high speed memory card. I got caught out on both counts and missed the shots of a digger wasp digging a hole.

High Contrast Scenesredwood trunks dro

We have all seen them and tried to photograph them. Large areas in bright light and another area in shadow. What do you expose for? If you expose for the shadow, the bright area will be way too bright with next to no detail. If you expose for the bright area, the shadows will be near black. If you go in between, neither will be good. So ... what can you do? 

1. You can take two separate photos, one that exposes for the bright areas & one for the dark. Then in Photoshop or similar, you combine the two images - removing the areas that you don't want, to expose the correct value underneath. Thi.s is particularly good if you use RAW as you can have a lot more control over the detail of the shadows & highlights

2. You can use the HDR or DRO (Dynamic Range Optimisation) in your camera, which lightens the dark areas and darkens the light areas. It only works in JPeg though not RAW.  If you shoot in JPeg & RAW you could have the option of using either system.

Read your manual or Google your cameras system to see how yours works. Some cameras only lighten the shadows and leave the highlights as is. Others alter both. Each camera is different and has several levels it can operate on from just a bit to heavy contrast reduction (without dulling the image). Your next step is to test your camera on a subject at the different levels, to see what you like. What you use may change for different scenes.

Be careful using it as sometimes it can be over used, which can make your scene look strange.

Where are All Your Photos?

Many of us have a huge collection of photos that are rarely seen by you and no one else does either. 

photobooks2Get your best photos out of your computer and on your wall or into photobooks. You can then look at your best work often and take books to show people.
I make many small books - 20x20cm on particular subjects like birds, insects, flowers, B&W, landscaprs etc. I put 1 photo on each page so I see the images at a reasonable size.
Then if I go on a holiday or trip, I make a larger book and have it as memories of great times and/or documenting the information and images. The larger size enables me to put my best photos large on a single page or even a double page spread and multiple photos on other pages.

I use a cost effective, high quality basic company for these books. I use The PhotobookClub which gives a very reasonable book for an affordable price and then, If I want to showcase the best of the best, I will use a top quality ones like PicPress or Asuka Books and be prepared to pay. The images in these books would be more like photographic quality than book quality.

I also get my favourite images printed large at a high quality photo lab and get these images framed. For general high quality priting I use Photobarn in Burwood and for professional printing - Nulab or The Edge. I love looking at these images and never tire of them.
You may say that it is expensive to do this - but think about this. How much do you spend on your equipment? How much time do you invest in taking the photos and editing them?

Do you really want to leave your best images unseen in your computer? Use them as wall art instead of buying some other picture.

dull-light-comparisonPhotographing in Dull Light

We have all had times when you have arrived a great location and the light is heavy and overcast. Your subjects don't inspire you as there is no directional light to give it a lift. What do you do?
Option 1 - Pack up your gear & go to the pub!
This you would do if you had a landscape that you particularly wanted (unless you wanted a bleak or stormy effect). With insect life and similar you would get all the richness and detail you require, but without that added dimension.

Option 2 - Look for different subjects that require diffuse light.
On small subjects like flowers, you can modify the light with a reflector to add directional light or a gobo by subtracting light to create light & shade. You can also add a very controlled amount of flash.
On larger objects like railway stations look for verandahs, archways, inside with window light, stairwells etc. The roof stops top light and the side light is comes from the open walls or windows. This can give beautiful images with a lot of richness and colour depth. It is graet for Black & White also.

Diffuse Light can also bring out the richness in some colours - especially if you are up close.Some images above, could not effectively be taken in bright light because the contrast between the bright light and the shadowed areas would have been too great.
Meter for the darker areas. Then check there is enough detail in the highlights. Some modification in post prduction may be necessary to bring in the highlight details. If the otside light was strong or it was a sunny day, you would need to combine two exposures to achieve the same results, but it may not look as good, or it may not look 'right'

blue-sky-vs-exposure-of-subjectHow do you Keep Skies Blue?

The reason skies photograph blue sometimes and white other times and how to modify it.

How Do you Keep Skies Blue?
I am sure you have all taken some lovely photos of scenes that have a blue sky, but the resulting photo has a white sky. What happened?

It all has to do with light! (sound familiar). If you photograph your scene, with the light behind you and your subject is in full sun also, then you will get a photo with a blue sky. If your subject is in the shade and you take the exposure off that, then the sky will be many stops brighter and will look pale blue or white because it will be over exposed.If your subject is in very bright sun then the sky could end up a very deep blue.

Ways of Making the Sky More Blue

1. You can use a graduated filter that darkens the top and fades as it approaches the horizon / subject. (This was commonly used in film days). The Cokin filter system involves a holder that screws on the front of the lens and has slots for square filters that slide in.

2. Selectively adjust the exposure in Photoshop. If the sky is just light blue, you could select the sky and darken it using levels. If the sky photographs white, you would need to take two exposures - one exposed for the subject and the other exposed for the sky. In P hotoshop, you would combine the 2 photos and erase the part you don't want, using a layer mask.

3. Add a graduated filter in Photoshop to darken the sky. This works if the sky has some colour in it - not if it is white.

4. You can also use a polarizing filter which will darken the sky and make it more blue. It may not make a white sky dark blue but it may help. If you use this method, you need to get a filter that is made for digital- it is called a circular polarizing filter.

Experiment with these techniques and see what works for you.

added-light-comparisonUsing Flash - How to Make it Look Good

The aim is to make flash look like natural light at its best

Flash on Camera can produce a harsh Look. Most people avoid using flash because it makes their photos look flat, have harsh shadows, loose details in the whites & many more horrible effects! Is this what you find? One of the reasons for this is from not using the available adjustments while the other is the inflexibility of where the flash is mounted.

The main culprit is the small flash on your camera or even an expensive external flash that fits on your hot shoe but not used correctly. The flash is in a fixed place and you can't move it to a better position to make the light more aesthetic.

To improve the light of the flash, use the flash adjustment in your camera. You have a +/- control to make your flash brighter or duller. This can stop or reduce the over exposure of the whites that often happens (not so bad with the add on flash). With the add on flash, if it has the ability to point the head upwards, you can bounce the light off the ceiling or another white object to soften the light or change its angle. When you change the angle you have the ability to create an interesting angle of light. However, you are still restricted to the flash being on the camera.

2nd flash unit with a wireless control to your camera, is the best fix. You can then hold or put the flash on a stand at an angle to the subject, creating a pleasant lighting effect. A further light can be used as a backlight for a different effect. You need to control the strength of each flash so that you have a main light and a reduced power light. This stops harsh shadows but allows soft shadows to show shape of the subject. You can also use flash diffusers - fabric or other white filters to further soften the light.

A slow shutter speed is to allow the ambient light (light around your subject) to be recorded to stop the hard black backgrounds. Change your flash settings to slow shutter sync. so that the shutter speed can record a normal exposure - then the flash can highlight your subject. This is good for dull light, night light or inside when you want the view through the window to be exposed properly. You will probably need to use a tripod!

LED lights can do this as well, now that they are getting stronger, good colour and cheaper. The benefit is you can see where the light goes. They may not be quite as strong as a flash so you might not be able to have small apertures at a long distance. The initial cost is lower too.

This is only an overview. It needs considerable study and practice to master the use of flash light. Don't be put off though, start with a simple set up and practice and then experiment.

Bees-flying-feedingShutter Speed & Insects in Flight

Capturing moving subjects is a challenge but when they are flying as well it adds another dimension.

Do you make everything stop or only part of it so it has the feeling of movement? Both look good if done well.

Shutter speed is the key. If you wish to still the movements of bees for  example, you may need to have a speed of around 1/800th sec or higher if you wish to still the wings as well. . Assuming your focus is accurate your subject will be sharp.

To show partial movement, eg wings moving your shutter speed can come down. For this bee (see photo) to 1/500th sec.

Try following the insect whilst looking through the viewfinder, focussing, and when you have it sharp, squeeze the shutter gently. You could try multiple frame shooting (burst) to see if you get several shots to choose from. Working on a tripod will be difficult unless you have a flower you can line up on and wait. This is one instance where hand holding with a lens that has good image stabilisation is probably the best choice.

Try manual exposure for consistency. Auto exposure could give very variable results as the moment you press the shutter button, it will take the reading from whatever is in view. Because the subject is small and the exposure point might see the background rather than the insect, it could be shade or sun! 

Experiment with different shutter speeds. Find a plant with good nectar so the insects stay long enough to get lots of shots. The best time to get this is on a winless, sunny day just after cold and rainy days. Then the insects will be hungry and the flowers full of nectar as the insects haven't been warm enough to come out and feed.

Full sun is a bonus as it allows you to have very high shutter speeds whilst keeping a low ISO. In Winter or late Autumn the angle of the sun is also low enough to have light from the side even if it is approaching mid day. This angled light means you can avoid top light, which creates shadows in the wrong places.

These shots where taken during a Back to Basics Level 1 Class as we were practising focus and exposure. Our students got some wonderful shots as well!

Enjoy Shooting!

Which ISO Should I Use? 

I often get asked this question. There is no easy answer.
You start with low  ISO's  for bright light  and as the light gets lower  you can increase the ISO to maintain your shutter speed and aperture. 

Then you factor in the down sides of higher ISO's. Low ISO's give you the highest quality image with the best detail and maximum tonal range. As the ISO increases these features reduce. Today the software modifies the noise to make the images look pretty good but as the ISO gets really high and if you enlarge your image you can see the compromises that have been made.

So ... the aim is to keep your ISO as low as feasible, keep your f-stop at  the desired point for your chosen depth of field, which only gives you the shutter speed to alter to get the correct exposure. This usually means a low shutter speed which of course means using a tripod. If your subject doesn't move, this is fine.

If you can't have a very slow shutter speed. then it is a juggling act to be able to keep the depth of field you want and have an ISO that is not too high!

Moon Eclipse Photography


Photographing the Moon during an Eclipse
So many things have to be right to get good photos of the moon during an eclipse or some other event.
Firstly, the weather has to be good and clear. The last one I took, there was a haze in the sky which dulled the image.
Next, you have to have a clear view. If the event happens when the moon is rising, there are ali sorts of items in the way. If that is the case, you need to scout for a good location before the event.
Prepare your equipment. You need a good telephoto lens - minimum of 200mm focal length but preferably more. The photos above where taken with a 500mm lens. A torch is handy so you can see when changing settings.
A good sturdy tripod is essential for sharp images, particularly when the eclipse is at its peak - your shutter speed may be as low as a few seconds! Also, you can set your camera up and come back at intervals and take some more photos without having to re set everything.
Exposures. After you have found the moon in your viewfinder/screen, you need to set your exposures. At the start, the moon is very bright and you could have it at  100 ISO, f8 at 1/ 100sec. Check the image and see if there is enough detail in the moon. If not - make the shutter speed quicker. As there is less of the moon showing, you will need to adjust the exposure by using a longer shutter speed or increasing the ISO.
Almost no Light to see with. When the eclipse is at its peak as there is so little light, it may be hard to see the image in the viewfinder / screen as the light is so low. The image might look very dotty, but it won't look like that after you have taken it. Your camera may not be able to assess the desired shutter speed either so you will have to experiment. At full Eclipse my readings were ISO 1600, f8 at 1 second. At very high ISO's the image had multi coloured spots in it!
The Light Returns. After that the light increases, you need to slowly change your settings back again and then quicker as the moon gets brighter again.
A Series of Photos
The image above was a compilation of seven shots. This was done in photoshop after I had adjusted each one to be the same size and reasonably correct light values.
Try it at the next event. Usually the moon is on the horizon and very large at dusk in mid winter. You have to be very organised and quick for that one though.

Benefits of Using Aperture Priority over Programmedepth-of-field-demonstration2

It's great. You have progressed from using full Auto to Programme which means you can overide the settings the camera chooses. Now you have taken control, and you can get better exposures.

The next step is to take control of Aperture. This means you can control how much of your subject is in focus.  In other words - the Depth of Field

Why is this important? Because how much of your subject is in focus - whether it be a small or large amount. Eg. a shallow Depth of Field would give you a beautiful blurry background like you could use when taking a portrait, whereas a large Depth of Field would allow all the pickets to be sharp if you where photographing down the line of a picket fence or a medium Depth of Field to allow the end ones to start being less sharp, giving the feel of depth. This is the essence of Photography!

Depth of Field changes how your image looks
 whereas changing shutter speed, other than stilling movement, does not change the essence of the image. Depth of Field can tell a story, give feeling and controls where the eye looks.

So, if you have your camera set on P and don't alter the f-stop, The camera selects the f-stop without knowing what you are trying to create! Hence you don't have control of the look of your image. By selecting Aperture Priority (A or Av) you select the f-stop and then the camera selects the shutterspeed. You can then continue to adjust the expoure, if needed, by using the +/- button as usual which will now only change the shutter speed. Watch out though that your shutter speed doesn't go so low that you can't hand hold the camera without getting camera shake.

You can also use Manual (M) and choose both settings yourself, skipping the stage of using the +/- button.

backlit-cosmos-flowerCreating Black Backgrounds for Stunning Flower Photos

Or how to get a black background when you don't have one!

Many subjects look stunning on a black or dark background, but often you are taking photos where you don't have one. There are a few ways you can create them One is by using a flash, which I won't be discussing and the other is using strong light.

Firstly, it is better if the subject isn't dark too, otherwise, some parts that are in shadow might not be seen clearly.

  • Put your subject (or find one) in strong light or sun
  • Position it so the background (mid tone or dark) is in shade
  • take your exposure only from the subject

Your background will now go dark or black!

The background behind this flower was a mid green fence. I have used things like tree trunks, dark shadows and other similar things. I have even used a dark jacket on or off a person, pieces of black velvet or anything else dark. The key thing is to make sure the background is in shade. Even black velvet in the same light as your subject, won't show up as black. The texture will be visible and it will look light black or dark grey.

This happens because of the huge difference in the amount of light between full sun and shade. It is impossible to record detail in both in the one picture.

High Contrast Light

Summer sun is very strong and produces strong shadows. We can see into these shadows because our eyes almost instantly adjust between the light and shadow. Our camera sensors, film and the paper we print photos on can't see detail in both, so we have to find ways of changing the light to shade ratio before we photograph.

On a small scale this can be achieved. With large scale scenes however it is often best to wait till the light is softer like early or later in the day. You can use a reflector like a white card or silver foil to reflect light into the shadow, thus reducing the contrast and producing a pleasing image. Alternatively you can reduce the light on the sunny side of the object by screening it with a semi clear plastic bag or white translucent fabric or similar.

Viewing Your Photos in Strong Light

Have you been having trouble evaluating the photos you have just taken? You try and look at the back screen but you can't be sure if what you are seeing is correct or if the screen is compensating for the sun or you can't see any image at all! Join the club.
• Try tucking the camera under a jacket
• Walking into some dense shade
• Carry a piece of black velvetand stick your head and camera under it like the old photographers did 
• If you have a viewfinder, look through that during revue. Some cameras with electronic viewfinders will allow you to see the playback image this way and with your eye seald to the eyecup, it avoids the extraneous light.

Lens Hoods

Light or sun hitting the lens creates flare which can make your images or parts of them look hazy or have spots or streaks of light on them. Occasionally it can look awesome!.

You put a hat on or hold a hand to shield your eyes so you can see properly. A lens hood does the same. If you are shooting directly into the sun, you may need to hold additional shade over the lens as well.

A hood for telephoto lenses is a must. It adds contrast and depth of colour to the image even if the sun isn't hitting the glass. If you are using a wide angle lens, only a very minimal wide hood is used, otherwise you get vignetting.



When you photograph a moving subject, you have two choices.
1. Still the movement to capture a moment in time
2. Show the subject moving and accept there will be some blurring. It gives the 'feeling' of movement

In the first one you need a fast shutter speed, how fast depends on the speed of the subject. A good starting point is 1/250. If there is still movement in your image, try a higher speed - 1/500 sec

To show movement - start at 1/15th sec and go slower to 1/4 or more to show more movement.

Evaluate your images. See how they make you feel!
Enjoy experimenting.

Macro Secrets

hover-flyThey are not really secrets - but techniques I have learnt along the way. Macro photography still follows all the rules of good photography, but it is more critical to get everything exactly right.

• 1mm out on focus, could mean a leg instead of an eye is the sharpest point
• Tripod use can be critical, especially in low light.
• A heavy or long lens could still wobble on a light tripod. Weigh it down with a sand bag or you may need a sturdier tripod
• Good light with subtle shadows is important. Use reflectors & diffusers.
• Use diopters to get even closer
• Make sure you enlarge the image when you check for focus & exposure

Happy photographing!

Photo: Hover Fly feeding
This photo was taken at Maranoa Gardens during a Macro Workshop

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