#Photo3 – Three Essential Accessories

A weekly trio of top photo tips

The accessory is the vital extra component that usually makes life easier no matter what hobby or craft it is associated with. In photography, there are a whole wealth of accessories available to purchase. Some bad, some good. Some you just can’t do without! So, let’s take a look at those must-haves and see if you ask yourself – why have I not got one of those!!

Spirit Level

Simple in design, their sole purpose is to keep things looking straight and level. In photography, this means the horizon and if this isn’t straight, the whole picture looks wrong. A simple hotshoe-mounted spirit level, avoids this faux pas and every landscaper should not leave home without one. Manufacturers have realised this too and now incorporate one into the camera. If yours isn’t one of these latest models however, go spend the best ten pound you will ever spend.

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#Photo3 – Keep it Sharp

A weekly trio of top photo tips

Bad composition in an image can be overlooked. Poor light can be taken into account and even distractions can often be carefully cloned out. An unsharp result however, is usually just fit for the bin! There’s two causes for an un-sharp image- poor focusing and camera shake. Autofocus means the focus issue is a rare one, but camera shake needs nipping in the bud. So, here’s how to avoid it ruining your pictures.

Tripod

The easiest way to achieve pin sharp images, especially when shooting landscapes, is to use a tripod. The tripod holds your camera steady during long exposures so you don’t have to. This will allow you the flexibility to choose the aperture of your choice, without worrying about camera shake, as well as the added benefit of slowing you down and making you think about your compositions more. You shouldn’t really be shooting landscapes without one, so make it part of your on-location workflow to ensure all you stunning views are pin-sharp.

Use a tripod to aid image quality and composition

Image Stabilising

This modern feature, that is either built into the camera lens or the camera body itself, is like a magician’s trick! Take a picture at a low shutter speed with it switched off and your image is blurred. Take the picture again, with IS switched on and bingo, a beautiful sharp result! This brilliant feature makes hand-held shots so much easier to do. Modern cameras have allowed you to achieve pin-sharp images even taken at 1-second, which is astounding. So, if you don’t have a tripod with you, especially if shooting with a telephoto lens, make sure this magic feature is switched on.

Brace yourself

Now while image stabilising can correct a lot of user-induced camera shake. There are ways you can help the system too. Do keep an eye on your shutter speeds when hand-holding. Keeping the shutter speeds higher, by either opening up the aperture or increasing the ISO, will help guarantee a sharp result. Making sure your stance is good, will also go a long way to maximise sharp results. Avoid shooting at arm’s length, tuck your elbows in close to your body or use solid objects, such as a wall to lean against for extra support. Combine all three and your images should always perfect. Now, just that composition to nail…!

How you hold the camera makes all the difference

You can read more about getting sharp results in my eGuides. These are available as part of an e6 subscription or to purchase separately. www.e6subscription.co.uk

#Photo3 – Three Rule-of-Thirds Techniques

A weekly trio of top photo tips

The rule-of-thirds composition technique often gets a hard time in photography. It’s one of the most simple and effective rules to apply to an image, yet often is attacked for being too bland and obvious and the first rule that you should break to be more original. However, I’m here to defend the rule-of-thirds. It’s a great rule, does it job well and can make or break an image and in my book, that makes it a winner!

Divide your scene

The classic use of the rule of thirds, is to use it for the positioning of a key subject in the framing of a scene. Instead of putting it dead centre, you instead divide your scene into segments and cross-points with four dividing lines, with the crossing points of these lines being the rule’s ideal placement for your main subject. This takes the subject, just off-centre, to a more natural area of your frame, one that the brain responds to as being pleasing and easy on the eye.

A classic use of the rule-of-thirds

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#Photo3 – Matrix Metering Alternatives

A weekly trio of top photo tips

Matrix metering or evaluative metering as it is also known, is the modern and tried & tested standard metering mode for digital cameras. The camera evaluates the whole picture, taking into account subject and scene and calculates the correct exposure for a great picture. Most of the time it works well, but it’s not infallible. There are situations and lighting conditions that can confuse it. In these circumstances, or just when you want to take more control, there are other options.

Centre-Weighted

Before matrix metering, the most common metering mode a camera had was centre-weighted metering. This is going back to the days of film cameras, but many modern digital cameras still have this as an option. As the name suggests it takes a reading from the whole frame, but biases its readings from the centre of the frame, where it expects you to be placing the main subject (of course, this isn’t necessarily the ideal for most compositions!). It’s still a good general one for measuring portraits and landscapes, but like matrix metering, it can get easily fooled in tricky lighting conditions.

Centre-weighted metering

Partial

To take more control of your metering measurements, select partial metering. This takes a reading from the central part of the frame (usually designated in the viewfinder by a large circle etching). Unlike centre-weighted metering however, it not only ignores the rest of the frame, but you can usually lock and hold the reading, by half-pressing the shutter button, so you can recompose and not have to place your subject dead-centre. Used with care you can achieve accurate exposures every time, even in tricky light such as shooting backlit subjects.

Partial metering

Spot

Taking things further, spot metering takes a reading only from the small circle in the centre of your viewfinder. Point this at any area of the scene or subject and you can take small and accurate readings or even multiple readings, which the camera will evaluate. Where you point the spot-meter has to be taken into consideration however. Ideally, this should be from an 18% reflective grey area, as this is how your camera sees the world. Pavement or grass matches this tone and therefore these subjects make ideal areas to take a reading from, whereas white or black areas or subjects for instance, will require a 2-stop exposure adjustment to keep them at their correct density.

Spot metering

You can read more about camera metering and exposures in my eGuides. These are available as part of an e6 subscription or to purchase separately. www.e6subscription.co.uk

#Photo3 – Three Uses of the Polariser

A weekly trio of top photo tips

As digital progresses and Photoshop becomes more advanced, there’s certain filters that we could do without and let Photoshop replicate instead. Graduated filters are one such example, but there is one filter the image editor can’t replace. One filter that has many uses and refuses to be replaced by modern technology (for now!). Step forward the polariser. Probably the most useful filter you can buy and one every photographer should have in their gadget bag. Here’s just three examples of its versatility…

Boost the Sky

A polarising filter removes the polarised component of the light waves in the air and thus, darkens the sky. Add in some fluffy white cumulus clouds and you have a beautiful contrast that adds impact to a sunny day scene. Include a subject featuring warm colours, such as yellow and red and again you have contrast, but here contrasting with the cool, deep blue of a polarised sky. And of course, your chosen subject will also be polarised, boosting its colours to a rich, vivid saturation.

Barn in buttercup meadows, Muker, North Yorkshire Dales

Use a polarisaer filter to boost a blue sky, as well as enrich the other colours in the scene

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#Photo3 – Long Exposure Subjects

A weekly trio of top photo tips

If you’re yearning to make your images more creative, then an easy way to achieve this is by extending your exposure times. Of course, simply putting your camera in its Bulb mode and leaving the shutter open for a couple of minutes is just going to lead to very over-exposed images! However, place an extreme ND filter, such as a Big Stopper over the lens at the same time and BINGO! Beautiful, evocative images, full of creativity and movement. But what subjects and locations work the best for these type of images? Well, seeing as you ask…

Coast

To use the full potential of a long exposure, you need lots of movement in your images and at the coast, you have that aplenty. Not only can you capture movement in the clouds in the sky, but with an abundance of water at your disposal, you have a second element to blur with a 6, 10 or even 15 stop ND filter. The results work best if you can also place a static subject in the frame for the other elements to move around. Luckily, at the coast you have these too. Piers, groynes, rocks, harbour walls and marker posts all make suitable subjects, making the coast a great place to shoot long exposures.

Whitby, North Yorkshire

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#Photo3 – Three Really Useful Photo Apps

A weekly trio of top photo tips

Everyone carries a smartphone around with them these days. Whether its Android or iOS, Samsung or Apple, these computers in our pockets are a resource of information (and can make phone calls too!) and every photographer should have one. Besides being useful for a quick burst of Angry Birds or whatever your favourite waste of time is, the apps available can be very useful for the creative photographer. So, here are my three favourite photography apps for your smartphone.

LongTime Exposure Calculator  iOS Free (Android alternative: Exposure Calculator)

Extreme ND filters are very popular with photographers now and rightly so. These filters open a whole world of creativity and whilst results can be a clichéd, they are a lot of fun to create and the results are always breath-taking. Calculating the exposure times with a 10 or 15 stop ND filter attached can be tricky however and you can soon run out of fingers trying to figure out the new required shutter speed. This app therefore takes all the guesswork and maths out of the equation and gives you a clear and easy way to calculate how many minutes an ND filter requires at 4pm on a cloudy day. If you use LEE Filters, then they have a very similar version of their own, which is well worth a look too.

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LongTime Exposure Calculator

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#Photo3 – Three Advantages to Prime Lenses

A weekly trio of top photo tips

Zoom lenses are great, aren’t they? They cover several focal lengths all in the one lens. You can zoom in to distant subjects with it or shoot something close-up, all without even moving your feet. They offer great value for money and whilst they might have average maximum apertures, combined with a high ISO, you can shoot in most situations and light conditions with them. So, with all that in mind, why would you even consider a prime lens? Well, let me give you three reasons why you should in fact, consider a prime lens.

Speed

One big advantage of a prime lens is that they are fast. Yes, primes have speed on their side. You may be thinking here, Craig what are you on about! What exactly is a fast lens? Well, the term refers to their maximum aperture and this is usually wider than any equivalent zoom. So, whilst your favourite zoom lens may only have an f4 or even an f2.8 maximum aperture, a prime lens may have an f1.8 or even f0.95 maximum aperture. What this means, is more light coming in through the lens. More light means quicker focusing, brighter viewfinder, more bokeh effect (shallow depth of field), better low light capabilities and less need for high ISO settings, so ultimately better quality images too. Yes, a fast lens, i.e. a prime lens, is all good news.

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Many primes also have a depth of field scale

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Open Wide – the bokeh effect

The aesthetic quality of blur produced in the out of focus parts of an image is known as bokeh (pronounced boh ka). Bokeh can also be defined as the way the lens produces out-of-focus points of light. This is the effect the lens design has on out-of-focus highlights in the background which mimic the lens aperture blade’s shape inside the lens. These may be perfect circles or they may appear as hexagonal shapes, with a good lens rendering these as soft looking circles, making the bokeh effect less distracting.

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Olympus E-M1, 12mm, 1/6400 @f2

Creative landscapes

A different mindset needs to come into play when shooting landscapes which feature bokeh. If you swop f16 to shooting at f1.8 instead, then you need to consider your composition carefully as well. Using a wide angle, you will need to be nice and close to a foreground subject, just so that you can achieve a suitable bokeh effect. So, fill the bottom of the frame with this and focus carefully on this subject. Check the image afterwards for sharpness and use the depth-of-field preview if your camera has one. You may not be able to reduce your out-of-focus part of the frame to a series of soft circles, but you will produce a nice sense of depth with your results

You can read more about bokeh in my eGuide ‘Open Wide’, available as part of an e6 subscription or to purchase separately. www.e6subscription.co.uk

 

Beyond the Grave & into the Red

For my infrared project having the right subject to shoot was key. Infrared doesn’t work on every subject. Well, the actual process does, but the successful result is a bit more subjective. Some of the results I have seen published or on the web have often been a bit cliché, even if they work well within that cliché. So, I was looking for a subject that would suit the medium that perhaps hadn’t been done before, or was just less-photographed. In fact, this combination happened the other way around. I’d had the subject in mind for a while, but needed a technique to give it an edge. And so my Beyond the Grave idea was brought to fruition. I wanted to photograph cemeteries and the ‘Into the Red’ tag was the infrared medium I would capture them in.

The camera I used or should I say camera’s, were my Olympus EM1 and EP5. These are the camera’s I use for all my photography and they were actually ideal for this medium. The filter I used was a Hoya R72 Infrared filter. I purchased it in 67mm size, big enough for my standard zoom and I also purchased a couple of step-down rings so I could use it on other lenses too, if required.

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Brompton Cemetery, London.  Olympus E-P5, 10mm, ISO 800, Hoya R72.

This filter absorbs at least 10 stops of light, so it’s a bit like using a Big Stopper filter. This effectively means using the camera on a tripod, as the resulting exposures, even on the bright days, lasted several seconds. This was going to be one of a few downsides shooting with this filter rather than with a converted infrared camera, as I wouldn’t be able to get away with any handheld shooting. The other issue was movement. Subject blur from foliage, important for infrared, was not going to look very pleasing on the final result, so a lack of wind and therefore a calm day was preferred.

Now, as I say the OMD camera’s, especially the EM1 were ideal for shooting with this filter, as it avoids a third issue, composition. Because the filter is so dark, I would normally have to compose the scene without the filter in place, then once happy with my position, focus, screw the filter on and take the picture. If moved position again, I would normally have to take the filter off and repeat the process. Not so with the Olympus system. These cameras have a mode called Live Boost, which increases the intensity of the rear screen and electronic viewfinder view for when using strong filters such as this. This meant I could ‘see through’ the filter enough to compose and fine-tune the focus without forever taking the filter on and off. A godsend, I can tell you!

You can read more about infrared project shooting cemeteries in my eGuide ‘Beyond the Grave & into the Red’, available as part of an e6 Premium subscription. www.e6subscription.co.uk

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