6 New Year’s Resolutions Every Photographer Should Make in 2012

23 Comments
Jan 1 2012

Happy New Year Everyone! Every year I vow to become a better photographer. Last year I set some pretty lofty New Year’s resolutions for myself. This year I have very different plans that involve a little bit of travel — watch for an exciting announcement coming very soon ;) In the meantime, here are a few photography and life resolutions that I hope will help you on your quest to becoming a great photographer!

1. I will learn how to use my gear.

15mm fisheye in Times Square. Photo by Scott Meinzer.

This is a resolution that everyone should commit to. If you don’t know how to use your gear, you will never get constant photos. Anyone can capture a happy accident on Auto, but a good photographer knows how take well-exposed, composed shots in any lighting situation. Moments happen so quickly that if you can’t react almost instantaneously, you’ll always be a few seconds behind that perfect shot.

Bay Bridge at Sunrise, San Francisco

Sunrise over the Bay Bridge in San Francisco.

If you are a beginner, I recommend reading your camera manual cover to cover. It’s tedious, but knowing the button to switch on live view or how to change your picture quality settings to RAW is important. Every time you get a new piece of gear, it’s wise to read the manual. I recently got a new flash and didn’t read the manual before doing a shoot. “How different could it be from my last flash,” I foolishly thought. Apparently, it was different enough that it made me delay a shoot for 30 minutes while I figured out how to detach my new flash from my camera. Fail.

2. I will practice my technical skills.

Parliament Buildings, Victoria, BC

HDR of the Parliament buildings in Victoria, BC.

Once you’ve mastered how to use your camera, then it’s all about practising using it. Most of us start shooting without any previous knowledge about photography. Taking snap shots of your family vacation is very different from shooting a fashion shoot. I’ve taken photos since I was about 5 years old, but I didn’t become aware of composition and lighting until about 4 years ago when I got my first dSLR. I initially shunned spending time learning photographic technique, thinking that my natural ability would just carry me through until I magically learnt technical skills.

I was fine shooting random landscapes and some “casual” portrait sessions, but when I was hired to shoot someone’s wedding with rented gear I’d never used I was way out of my depth. I mistakenly thought that if I rented tons of professional gear, I’d just get great shots by pressing the shutter button. How very, very wrong I was. Firstly, I didn’t know how to use the gear and secondly, I had no clue how to deal with the extreme lighting conditions of shooting a wedding, like direct sun, dark banquet halls, and fluorescent change rooms. At the time, I didn’t even know how to identify different light.

Pink Rose.

Rose macro shot at f/2.8.

While you can learn a lot about how to take great shots by doing, there is no substitute for knowing the actual technical skills necessary to take consistent shots. I’m not saying you have to know the math behind different f-stops, but you should know what an f-number is and that f/2 gives you a shallower depth of field than f/8 and when you should use one versus the other. All of this information is available online. It’s just a few Google searches away.

3. I will take more pictures.

Epic clouds at Disneyland shot with an iPhone 4 & Camera+.

I take about 200 photos a day on average. These days, I spend most of my time shooting with my iPhone. Regardless of what I’m doing or how busy I am I take photos. I’ll take photos of my wait in the Starbucks line, or my morning bagel, or my feet at a dentist appointment. I annoy my friends and family taking pictures of them everyday. While these photos are a documentary of my daily life, I’d say that about 99% of these shots would be considered rubbish to the outside artistic world. But, the other 1% are actually considered good photos that people might want to buy and stick on their wall.

The simple fact that I take so many photos, gives me way better odds that one of my photos will be great. The one thing I notice most about beginner photographers is how few photos they take. I would say the ratio of crap to good shots is about 30:1. We live in a digital age, where data is cheap, so there is no limit on how many shots you can take. Fill up your memory card, take 20 shots of a single piece of grass making sure the focus is tack sharp and the exposure is perfect.

4. I will not be limited by the gear I own.

Times Square October Snow Storm

Times Square shot with an iPhone 4S using Camera+ CrossProcess FX.

Any camera can take a great picture. You can shoot a magazine cover with an iPhone or an award winning photo on a $10 plastic point and shoot. Never feel inferior to other photographers because they are sporting a $10,000 lens. When I first started shooting professionally, I shot with an entry-level Canon Rebel and one lens. Early on, I was invited to cover a nature photography workshop in Jackson Hole. Everyone had a giant luggage bag full of the very best gear money could buy, and I was there with my tiny Rebel and a $19 tripod. The other photographers joked about my crappy tripod and the fact that I was shooting a dramatic landscape with a 50mm lens. “You really can’t get nature shots without spending a bajillion dollars on this camera and this lens and this Gitzo carbon fibre tripod. Feel how light it is!”

I felt horrible. I confided about how I felt to Steve Simon, a legendary documentary photographer and one of the mentors at the workshop without a ton of gear. During the workshop, Steve toted around his Nikon and one lens in a small canvas shoulder bag. He didn’t shoot the landscapes, but instead focused on the people taking the photos. He was interested in the faces and the moments, rather than the landscape that had been shot a million times by Ansel Adams. Steve taught me that you don’t have to be limited by your gear, but rather shift your focus to what your gear is best at capturing. If you really need that $2500 70-200mm IS L lens, you can always rent it for $30.

5. I will learn to edit my photos and critique my own photos.

I get a lot of emails from people asking me to critique their photos. I’m always happy to help guide new photographers in the right direction, but ultimately it’s up to you to learn how to critique your own photos. Photography is art and the judgement of art is relative. I prefer photographs that are “pretty” with bright colours, beautiful models, sunsets, magic hour light, and bokeh. If you presented me with a photo of a gorgeous model on a beach with warm glowing light and a pile of stunning bokeh, I’d totally fave it. But that is just me and what I like. Some people think my style of photography is trite and unrealistic, preferring raw, gritty black and white images of street scenes.

Almost anyone can tell you whether a photograph is composed and exposed well, but does it capture a meaningful moment, does it say something about the world, does it present a new concept or change the way I feel someone feels about a subject? It’s up to you to decide what your answers and and present them in your own personal photographic style.

Once you’ve decided on a style, don’t let anyone shake your vision. People will inevitably disagree with your style, say mean things about your photos, and tell you how your photos would be much better if you did things their way. I get feedback like this almost daily. Almost every photographer I know, even the amazing, Trey Ratcliff of Stuck in Customs does. Unless someone I really respect gives me meaningful criticism, I ignore the noise.

6. I will not give up on a potentially great shot

Santa Monica Pier Sunset

Persistence was the key to this shot of the Santa Monica Pier.

Sometimes a great shot is snapped in seconds, other times it takes 4 long hours of freezing your butt off. I can relate to feeling tired, cold, sore, and frustrated as a photographer, but if there is anything I have learnt over the years, it’s never walk away from a potentially great shot. Odds are that if you just wait longer or try harder, you will get the shot, especially if you have right conditions for a great shot like billowing clouds, magic light, or a gorgeous subject.

Never say, “I’ll just come back tomorrow” or “I’ll get that shot later”. You never will. Persevere through your sore neck, cold feet, and frustration and get that shot now, especially if you are traveling. I have never regretted staying an extra two hours to get a magical shots. I have always painfully regretted not stopping to get a shot, but I never regret staying to the bitter end of a glorious sunset to get a perfect shot.

California Poppies shot with an iPhone 4S & Camera+’s Magic Hour FX.

Now I just shoot until I can’t shoot anymore. I stop the car and jump out and shoot when I see a rainbow. Always think, “this is my only opportunity to get this shot,” so make sure I nail it before I leave.

Whether you are taking your very first photo in 2012 or your 50,000th, I encourage everyone to keep taking photos and sharing them. Adventure out into the world more this year and don’t stop believing in yourself and your photography. Quick, grab your camera – there are amazing photos out there just waiting to be captured!

10 tips for taking great holiday iPhone photos

4 Comments
Dec 20 2011

Holidays are the perfect time to capture magic moments with friends and family and take the time get creative with your photography. Here are some simple tips to get the best photos from your iPhone.

1. Shoot outdoor lights before it gets too dark

Holiday lights on the BC Parliament buildings.

The best time to capture outdoor festive lights with an iPhone is during “blue hour” just before it goes completely dark. Catching the lights while you have enough ambient light will help you avoid getting blurry photos. You can help by using both hands to steady your iPhone while using the stabilizer mode. If you plan on doing a lot of night photography consider investing in a little tripod, the Glif or the Gymbl Pro make great options. Avoid leaning your iPhone on walls or ledges unless you have a protective case, one gust of air or curious cat paw can send your beloved iPhone tumbling onto the hard, unforgiving concrete floor.

2. Capture the sentimental details

My favourite ornament lit with a small twinkle light.

It’s the small sentimental things that make your holiday special. Take shots of your favourite ornament, candles, table placings, and bows on gifts. To get great macro shots, position your iPhone at least 2″ away from your subject and tap the screen to focus. Use a second finger to get the proper exposure. Make sure you don’t get too close or the iPhone won’t focus! Also, you may want to add a bit of external light. For the above shot, I held a small twinkle light in front of the ornament to get more light on Santa and the reindeer.

Olloclip macro lens accessory on the iPhone 4S.

Olloclip macro lens accessory. For this lens, you have to get within a 1/8th of a inch to your subject to get focus which is almost impossible to do without a tripod.

3. Use your headphones as a remote to snap shots in low light

Using my headphone as a remote for holiday macro shots.

One of the challenges with taking great holiday shots in low light is camera shake. If you are shooting ornaments in a dimly lit room use a tripod and your headphones as a cable release.

4. Change your perspective by shooting from a low angle

Different perspective of the Parliament building lights with a low angled shot.

The beauty of shooting with an iPhone is that you can easily move it around and even position it on the floor to get really interesting shots. Changing the angle that you shoot from changes the size of your subject and also plays on the the light and shade and patterns on objects. Get low and make presents look huge as your kids tear open gifts. Play with perspective by shooting from underneath the tree or below a plate of cookies.

5. Use focus settings to capture amazing bokeh lights

Background bokeh can add interest to macro shots.

One way to get “wow” holiday shots from your iPhone is to position an object in the foreground of a lit tree or some twinkle lights. The lights in the background will become small out of focus light circles called “bokeh”. The trick is to position the object at least 5-10ft away from the lights. Tap to focus on the object and make sure the lights in the background are out of focus, then adjust the exposure by tapping with your second finger. If you aren’t getting any bokeh, you need to move the object further away from the background lights.

6. Compose and fill the frame for great holiday portraits

Squatchi fills the frame for this magic holiday memory.

Photographs of your friends and family are the most precious holiday memories. It’s easy to forget to compose shots with an iPhone, so turn on the grid mode and fill the frame with your subject by getting close and cropping out any background distractions. Since my friends and family are shy, Squatchi agreed to pose for me amid a fervent present wrapping session.

7. Focus on one point of interest

Swirling Snow Globe.

Holiday photos can often get cluttered with people, colours, and lights that all distract from what you are shooting. Use the Depth of Field FX in Camera+ to blur out the distractions and bring your subject to the forefront. Tap on your photo in the Lightbox and hit FX. You’ll find Depth of Field in the Special FXs.

8. Use Photo flash light to capture beautiful food photos

Holiday cheesecake lit with photo flashlight.

In between eating plates of cookies, brightly wrapped chocolates, and delicious buffets of yum, snap some photos of your holiday treats. iPhone food photography can turn ugly pretty quickly if you don’t light things properly, so if you are in a dimly lit room or restaurant, instantly add light by using photo flashlight (a continuos light source). Just tap on the flash icon in the shooting screen and choose the photo flashlight icon. Tap on your subject to get focus. Tap again with a second finger to get a second exposure point to get the perfect exposure.

9. Tell the story with captions

Make sure you capture the “story” of your holidays from decorating cookies to putting up decorations to loved ones arriving at holiday gatherings. Tell the story of these moments by adding fun captions. First, add a border and then tap the captions button.

10. Head outdoors for winter nature shots

Snapping a winter sunset.

You can capture some of the most spectacular sunsets during winter. Photograph barren frozen landscapes with stark silhouetted trees, or snow covered winter berries. It’s hard to get good photos if your hands are cold! Get some touch-screen compatible gloves so you can use your iPhone outside in cold temperatures. When your hards aren’t freezing you can spend the time to compose and focus on taking great shots.

Magic memories only happen once. Good thing you always have your iPhone in your pocket!

Using VolumeSnap and your headphones as a remote control for Camera+

No Comments
Dec 18 2011

VolumeSnap on Camera+ makes shooting a breeze.

One of the challenges with taking great iPhone photos is trying to take clear photos with minimal camera shake. Using the on-screen shutter button was challenging and extremely frustrating, especially in low light or whilst eating chicken wings. To solve this problem, especially the “greasy fingers on screen issue”, Camera+ added the ability to take a photo using the volume controls on your iPhone. After a few initial “hiccups”, we are thrilled to have VolumeSnap back in Camera+!

VolumeSnap allows you to hold your iPhone like a real camera steady your shots with both hands and quickly snap shots avoiding camera shake. The great part about VolumeSnap is that it also works with the volume up control on your headphones. Just plug in your headphones and snap photos with the volume up “+” button.

Use your headphones volume controls as a cable release.

While we’ve seen some huge improvements on the low light capability of the iPhone 4S, sometimes it’s necessary to use a tripod to avoid getting blurry photos when there isn’t enough ambient light like in a dimly lit room, outside at night, or shooting macros. For these shots, you can use your headphones as a cable shutter release to snap the photo without touching your iPhone creating camera shake.

Use VolumeSnap on your headphones to avoid camera shake with macros.

Ahh, the iPhone self-taken shot. I think we all tired of our seeing giant out-of-focus arms in self-taken iPhone shots of us and our bf/gf/bff/frenemy. Just pop in your headphone and trigger the shot from a distance that’s flattering your your arm as well as your face. Remember you can also tap to get a better exposure if your shot is blowing out.

Snapping photos with your headphones is an excellent way to get incredibly candid street shots or in places where some mean security will yell at you for taking photos which happens to me almost every day. No need for full ninja gear anymore, you can listen to music while surreptitiously snapping shots with your headphones. Works like a charm!

Do you have any useful tips for using VolumeSnap to get great shots? Let us know in the comments below!

Check out Camera+ if you don’t already have it!

How to take beautiful Christmas tree bokeh shots

11 Comments
Dec 15 2011

Happy Holidays Bokehlicious Mickey Ears

Happy Holidays!!

One of my favourite parts about the holidays is taking pictures of the sparkly decorations on the tree.  I thought I would share some tips on how to take great ornament photos with beautiful bokeh, those lovely blurred circle light points in the background.

Bokeh is determined by the focal length of your camera, the distance from your camera to the subject, the distance from your subject to the background, and your aperture.

Technically, the best bokeh is achieved with a long lens (85mm and up) with a wide aperture (under f/3.0) with a short focal distance from the subject and long focal distance from the subject and background where the light points are.

For the Mickey Mouse shot, I mounted my camera on a tripod, so it was easier to focus and not get camera shake or noise from using a high ISO. I placed my little tree about 2 feet in front of a window. When it was dark the lights reflected against the window giving me huge bokeh lights. I placed the Mickey Ears on the side of the tree near the back so that I had about a third of the tree in the frame and the rest was black with the reflected bokeh circles.

I actually lit Mickey a bit by pointing the led lights on the tree towards him. This is obviously a lot easier on a fake tree than a real tree :P I used a 100mm macro lens so I could get up really close Mickey and set my aperture to f/2.8 to get enormous bokeh lights. I exposed for Mickey, while making sure I didn’t blow out the led lights on the tree too much.

Here is an example of the same ornament set up with different lenses set at their widest aperture. As you can see the longer the lens creates larger bokeh. But each set up creates a neat effect. If you are shooting with a wider angled lens, I suggest clumping more lights together for more wow!

This makes a fun photography project for a chilly winter day that your whole family can enjoy. So gather up all the shutterbugs in your house and snap your favourite decorations. Remember to share your favourites when you are done!

My 18 Favorite Portrait Photos & How I Created Them

35 Comments
Oct 25 2011

lovely Siri, not the iOS Siri ;)

Beautiful Siri. Canon 5DMKII + 85mm f/1.8, 1/60, f/2.5, ISO 100.

I use cheap and simple set-ups for my portraits. You can achieve most of these looks with one or two flashes ($350), some Alien Bees Cyber Sync wireless triggers ($120), a basic umbrella kit ($70), a foldable disc reflector ($40) or foam core boards ($2), and some coloured gels ($10). While some of these were taken with my pro-level Canon 5DMKII ($3500), many were taken with my old entry-level dSLR, the Canon Xti/400D ($350). You can take amazing portraits with any camera, the key is great lighting. Here are 18 of my favourite portraits and the details on how I shot and lit them:

For the above outdoor shot of Siri (the model, not your iOS girlfriend), I used a basic 2 flash set-up to liven up a dull location. I lit her face with one 580EX flash shot through an umbrella directly in front of her about 3 ft away. To fill the shadows on the lower right side of her face, I used a silver reflector to bounce the light from the flash. The second 430EX flash was shot camera left behind her to light her hair. The flashes were triggered wirelessly with the Alien Bees Cyber Syncs.

Nicole's Baby Blues

Nicole. Canon 5DMkII, 85mm f/1.8 lens, 1/80, f/2.2, ISO 100.

This was my very first shoot with my new 5DMKII. I photographed Nicole in a bus stop as it was getting dusky. Not the most glamorous location, but I noticed that the lights of the cars driving were making lovely bokeh circles in the background. I used a simple one flash set-up: One 580EX flash, shot through an umbrella above and slightly left of camera about 3 ft away from her face. The closer the light source is to the subject, the softer the light. Using a shoot through umbrella also gives a lovely catch light in your subject’s eyes. If you are not a fan of the reflection of the spokes you can always clone them out in Photoshop.

AJ vintage

AJ. Canon 5DMKII + 85mm f/1.8, 1/200, f/2.0, ISO 100.

I used one of my favourite, easy set-ups on this shoot with singer, AJ. She was back lit with the sun through a large open window which gave her a natural hair light and a single strobe was shot through a large umbrella on 1/16 power to fill her face. The background was blown out and bokeh’d which I really like for this look. I used Photoshop to create a faux vintage cross-processed look. Click here for a video tutorial on how to create a similar look.

*i found you*

Kara. 5DMKII, 85mm f/1.8, 1/200 @ f/2.8, ISO 100.

This shoot was quite experimental. I wanted to completely blow out my background and create lens flare that wrapped around my subject. I used back lighting with a bare strobe (580EX) at 1/16th power directly behind Kara slightly to the right. I played with different camera positions to get the extreme lens flare that I wanted. This shot was a bit of a happy accident because the placement of the lens flare was difficult to predict. To balance the light on her face, I placed a 430EX directly in front of her about 2 ft away & diffused the light through an umbrella. This was shot at a very wide aperture (f/2.8) so I had to make sure to get my focus tack sharp on her eye, as everything else was out of focus.

Kylee Epp Promo Shot

Lovely Kylee. Canon 85mm f/1.8.

This summery outdoor shot was backlit with the sun and then lit from the front with a 430EX flash with a 1/4 CTO gel (orange to give the image warmth) which was shot through a 52 inch umbrella at 1/4 power and triggered using a more expensive wireless trigger, the Pocket Wizard Plus II. If you want to go with the Pocket wizards, the gold standard of wireless triggers, but way more expensive than the Alien Bees, I suggest getting 2 FlexTT5s. They are the most versatile and can be used as both a transmitter and a receiver.

Stunning Shauna

Shauna. Canon Xti, 24-105 f/4.0 lens, 88mm, f/5.0, 1/200, ISO 100

This girl could be a CoverGirl. She was so natural and comfortable in front of the camera. Working with a great model makes a photographer’s job so much easier. She was backlit by sun with a 580EX shot through large umbrella 10 degrees to the right to fill. I shot this at f/5.0 which is slightly higher than I normally shoot at because I wanted to make sure I had sharp focus of her entire face and hair.

*eyes wide shut*

Bella. Canon 5DMKII + 85mm f/1.8 lens, 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 100.

I actually shot this photo through a glass window, so it has a slightly hazy appearance. I used two off-camera strobes: One behind the subject (bare) lighting the background, one in front with a shoot-through umbrella).

*Runaway*

Taravat. Canon 5DMKII + 85mm f/1.8, 1/125 @ f/3.5, ISO 100.

My model was freezing during this wintery shoot, so we huddled in a back alley. I was almost ready to give up on the shoot because there was no light. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a car coming slowly towards us. I asked Taravat give me a lost/mysterious expression and I snapped this. I lit her with a very simple set up: One 430EX flash shot at 1/8th power shot through an umbrella.

*i don't love you anymore*

Katherine. Canon 5DMKII, 85mm f/1.8, 1/500 at f/5.0, ISO 100.

Sometimes all you need is magic hour natural light & white reflector. Easy peasy. I experimented with faux Redscale processing in post to give it a distinctive look and without the processing the background was lacklustre and uninteresting.

light in love

AJ. Canon 5DMKII + 85mm f/1.8, f/2.0, 1/80, ISO 100.

This was actually the first test shot of a shoot with lovely AJ. I was figuring out my camera & flash settings and the flash was dialed up too high so it blew out the top corner of the shot. I used a bare flash at 1/4 power, positioned behind her head, slightly right, triggered with Cyber Syncs. I am definitely breaking the cardinal rule of exposure, but I feel like it works here. It’s is blown out & harsh, yet blurry & soft. The subsequent shots weren’t nearly as interesting, and ultimately the artist chose this shot. Rules in photography are great guidelines, but as an artist you can chose to break and bend them to suit your vision. Plus, who doesn’t like breaking rules?

Beautiful Shauna

Shauna. Canon XSi, 85mm f/1.8 lens, f/3.5, 1/200.

I positioned Shauna so she was backlit by sun creating a nice hair light. I use this technique again and again. Backlight the subject with the sun, front fill the face with soft, even light from a strobe and a shoot through umbrella. For this I used a 580EX shot through umbrella 30 degrees to the right to fill. The 85mm f/1.8 lens creates really nice bokeh in the background.

Stephanie

Stephanie. Canon Xti + 85mm f/1.8, 1/125 at f/4.5, ISO 100.

This outdoor dusk shot was lit with one 580EX 1/4 power shot through umbrella above & slightly to the right of Stephanie.

Jay

Jay. Canon 5DMKII, 85mm f/1.8, 1/200 at f/4.0, ISO 100.

Again, the same easy one strobe set up: a 580EX shot through a large umbrella about 2ft from Jay’s face. Getting the light source close to your subject is the key to nice even, soft lighting. If you don’t have a flash, you can achieve a similar effect using a white bounce or foam core board that you can pick up in any craft store for $2. Just reflect the light source evenly on the subject’s face.

franziska's rainbow eyes

Franziska. Canon Xti (400D) + 50mm f/1.4

Another shot without any flashes. I was a bit nervous using stands and flashes around a pool and I had enough light to go without, so I just used the soft magic hour light and a silver bounce. If you shoot an hour before sunset you get beautiful light without any harsh shadows. You have to be quick though, it only lasts about 45 minutes!

Bella & Bokeh

Bella. Canon XSi, 50mm f/1.4, 1/80, f/2.0, ISO 100.

I wanted to try a moody night shot with city light background bokeh, so I set up a cool strobey night shoot with model Bella on my apartment balcony in Vancouver. I used a 430EX shot on full power shot through window with blinds closed, camera left to hit the side of her face and body. Another 580EX at 1/4 power shot through umbrella held 50cm in front of Bella’s face by my assistant. Both strobes triggered with Alien Bees CyberSync Triggers.

Pete Cashmore

Pete. Canon 5DMKII +85mm f/1.8, 1/200 at f/3.5, ISO 100.

I coaxed my more famous half, into being photographed with the same one strobe set-up I’ve been using during the windy, rainy spring months: A 580EX shot set on M at 35mm, 1/8th power, shot through umbrella placed directly infront approx. 2 ft. away. I added a lot more contrast and the blue background colour (previously boring and grey) through post-processing.

*beauty*

Siri. 5DMKII, 85mm f/1.8, 1/125, f/2.5, ISO 100.

This final shot uses those little coloured gels I mentioned. I used a 580EX shot through umbrella directly infront of Siri and a 430EX flash with full CTO gel (orange) shot behind Siri, camera left to light her hair. I held a silver bounce infront and below of Siri, slightly right of camera to fill her face. The bokeh in the background is actually rain being lit by the flash. And yes, she was very cold!

I hope this helps inspire you to take some amazing shots! Once you figure out a few simple lighting techniques, you’ll be on your way to creating beautiful portraits. Feel free to share your shots below :)

Night Photography: A Guide on How to Shoot Long Exposures

23 Comments
Oct 16 2011

Golden Jubilee Bridge & the London Eye

Golden Jubilee Bridge & the London Eye. 16-35mm. 6s at f/8.0, ISO 100.

Many beginner photographers ask me how to take great night shots, so I thought I would share some simple tips for taking long exposures.

First, here is a list of the gear that will help you get a clear, sharp image:

1. Tripod:
You need to keep your camera as steady as possible, so unless you can find a ledge, wall or post that you can set your camera on you’ll need a tripod. I use the Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 Carbon Fiber 3 Section Tripod, with a Manfrotto 498RC2 Ball Head ($500). You don’t need a tripod this expensive, but avoid the $29.99 ones you buy at your local drug store. I had one of these and I nearly lost my camera in the ocean because it was so unsteady and frail. With tripods you pay more for lightweight models. For me this is important because I have a bad back, so I need something that is no more than 4 lbs. But, if you are a big buff photog, you can probably manage something a bit heavier. ;)

Lisa Bettany night shoot in Austin

Setting up a shot in Austin, TX at last year’s SXSW.

2. Remote Cable Release
You want to avoid any camera shake during long exposures, so it’s best if you use a cable release remote to trigger the shutter. I prefer the wired models to the wireless ones because they always work and batteries always have this nasty habit of failing when you need them most. Cable releases are camera specific, so make sure you get the right model. If you don’t have a remote, you can always set your camera to 10s self-timer mode which will give your camera enough time to settle after you press the button and hopefully not cause any movement in your shot. I often use this method and it works fine, but if you are planning on doing a lot of night photography or self-portraits a remote is a good investment.

3. Lens Hood.
I rarely use lens hoods during the day because I love lens flare, but over-powering street lights can ruin night shots. If you plan on shooting in a well-lit city make sure you bring your lens hood!

4. Flash Light or head lamp or cell phone.
If it’s dark and you drop your lens cap in a bush, or you need to change lenses on a windy beach, or you need to change your camera’s settings in the pitch black, you’ll thank yourself for carrying a flash light! Cell phones are decent, but sometimes they don’t have enough light to see what you are doing. If you want to be hard core, you can buy a little LED head lamp that you can wear during your night shooting escapades. I used one when I was shooting out in the bush in Jackson Hole. Would I wear one in NYC? Not so much. :P

While I can’t give you a specific camera setting to use for night photography because every situation is different, here is a general guideline.

My Birthday Night view of Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco. 5DMKII + 16-35mm, 10s at f5.0, 1SO 100.

1. Set your camera on Manual (M):
You’ll need full control of the Aperture and Shutter speed of your camera for night photography. If you use your camera’s Auto settings your photos will either turn out too dark, or with a lot of unwanted movement or ghosting of lights. If you’ve never used your camera’s Manual settings, I encourage you to head out one night and give it a try!

2. Use a shutter speed from 5s-15s.
Longer shutter = My photo is too dark, I need more light. I took the above photo just after sunset and there was still a lot of light, so I only needed a 3.2s exposure to get enough light in my shot. 30 minutes later, I needed to increase my shutter speed to 10 seconds to get the same exposure. If it’s totally pitch black, or you want to capture star trails, you may need to use a shutter speed of 30s or more. In this case, switch your camera to Bulb mode. You can trigger when you want your exposure to start and end. I use my iPhone’s timer to keep track of time.

3. Keep your ISO as low as possible.
I always shoot on ISO 100 to get the least noise as possible. Since you are using a tripod you don’t need to increase your ISO to get a brighter exposure.

Santa Monica Pier Sunset

Santa Monica Pier Sunset. Canon 5DMKII + 24-70 f/2.8L, 3.2s at f/22, ISO 100.

4. Set your Aperture for the optimal depth of field that you want.
There are two main aperture settings for night photography.

Shoot with your aperture wide open (f/1.4-f/4 depending on your lens). Wide Aperture = More light. Use this if your subject will benefit from a shallow depth of field for example, a lit fountain in front of a building where you want the fountain to be in focus and the building slightly blurred. You can also use a wide aperture if you don’t have a tripod or want to stop any movement in your shot because your shutter speed will be much faster if your aperture is wide. Note: Using a wide aperture will give street lights in your photo a slight halo, so if you don’t like the look of this use a higher aperture.

Shoot with a smaller aperture (f/9.0 and higher). Use this if you want everything in focus. It works best to capture landscapes, cityscapes, car tail lights with motion blur, water or star trails. Also, using a smaller aperture will give street lights a “star-like” effect which can yield really cool photos.

If you want to play it safe you can shoot right in the middle around f/5.0-f/8.0.

The Knight bus at Big Ben, Palace of Westminster

Palace of Westminster, 5DMKII+16-35mm, 8s at f/8.0, ISO 100.

5. Catch Focus, even in the pitch black!
Most cameras will have difficulty focusing using auto-focus in dark conditions. Auto-focusing can work at night if you your subject has enough light, like a well-lit bridge or building, but more often than not you’ll have to use Manual focus. If you are trying to shoot a dark statue, you can shine a flash light beam on the statue and grab your focus that way or use Live View. To use Live View, simply turn it on, increase your ISO so that you can see your subject more clearly, pick something to focus on, zoom in, manually focus and turn Live View off, reset your ISO settings to 100/200 and you are ready to go. If you don’t have Live View, then you can use infinity focus (the ∞ symbol) on the distance indicator of your lens. Place the dot or mark right in between the ∞ and your focus will be infinite. Some lenses aren’t tack sharp at infinity focus so make sure you test out your lens before taking any important shots.

I hope that this guide helps keep you motivated and inspired to get out and take some night photos. Please share your shots in the comments or on your Google+ page. Can’t wait to see your shots! :)

Photoshop Tutorial: Nostalgia FX from Camera+

6 Comments
Sep 25 2011

Many people have asked me for a Photoshop breakdown on Camera+ FXs, so I thought I’d share the secrets behind one of my favourite FXs from the new I ♥ Analog pack, Nostalgia!

My original idea for Nostalgia was actually based on an old photograph of my mum taken in the early 70s. I loved the slight cross-processed look and the slightly yellowy aged look.

You can use the first few steps, minus the texture layers, to create a really easy vintage cross-processed look on your photos.

Persistence Pays in Photography

23 Comments
Sep 6 2011

Santa Monica Pier at Sunset

Canon 5DMKII + 24-70mm f/2.8, 43mm, f/16, 10s, ISO 100.

After my big move out of my San Francisco apartment, I thought I’d take myself and my wonderful mum, who helped my move, on a little California photo vacation before heading back East. It’s always been a dream of mine to shoot the Santa Monica pier after seeing it in a number of movies/tv shows, so last night I trekked out onto the sandy beach and snapped this shot.

This shot was all about persistence. When I arrived at the beach, it was quite foggy and the light wasn’t great. The colours were muted, the sky was grey and there were a lot of pesky tourists parked right in the middle of my shot. After waiting for almost an hour, the sky suddenly turned a gorgeous shade of purple with a misty pink horizon. So, I had my sky. Next, I needed a great reflection of the lights on the pier.

My shoreside set up. About to get drenched!

I tried a number of different angles on the beach and levels on my tripod. Unfortunately, the sweet spot for the reflection and composition was very close to the shoreline which meant that when a large wave came in, I was calf-deep in salty ocean goodness. I also had to time my 10s exposure just as the waves were pulling out so that the sand was wet enough to create the best reflection.

Santa Monica Pier

Setting up the shot.

Next came the ferris wheel spin. Much to my chagrin, the ferris wheel spun very sporadically and with numerous lighting patterns. It was hit or miss, so I had to take a lot of shots. I took over 100 shots waiting for the perfect combo of tide out, good reflections, and ferris wheel spin and this photo was my very last shot. Needless to say, my mum was not impressed that this whole process took nearly 1 1/2 hours of “one more photo”. She had long since put her tripod and camera away and was hopping up and down to keep warm.

When we got back, she wasn’t really happy with the photos she took. She lamented about the fact that her less expensive, Canon XSi (450D) couldn’t take as good pictures as my 5DMKII, but I said that the difference between our photos wasn’t the fact that I had the better camera, but that I persisted longer to get the shot.

Over the past 2 years, I’ve taken almost 30,000 pictures with my 5DMKII. My first shot was out of focus. My 100th shot was over-exposed. My 1607 shot was completely black. My 3056 shot needed a lot of post-processing. But, this shot, my 29,604 shot was great straight out of the camera. Why? Because I had 29,603 shots to practice my skills, so that when I finally got to this beach to take a shot I dreamt about for years, I knew what camera settings to use, how to compose the shot, and to wait an hour and a half for great light.

The bad news is you can’t skip the steps it takes to learn how to use your camera settings, compose great shots, and perfect light. But, the good news is that anyone with a relentless determination and passion can go to this exact spot and take an equally great photo.

Staten Island Ferry Terminal, Manhattan

4 Comments
Aug 19 2011

Staten Island Ferry Terminal, Manhattan (Whitehall Station)
5DMKII + 16-35mm, 3 exposures, f/5.6, ISO 100, handheld.

It was a smokin’ hot Sunday afternoon in NYC when I shot this. I crouched down and waited for the crowds to pass before I snapped this shot. There are limitless locations to shoot in NYC. As a little summer project, I’m gradually working my way around the city capturing the best of NYC.

What are your end of summer photography projects?

25 Amazing Camera+ Photos

8 Comments
Aug 17 2011

Click to see all 25 amazing photos full-size!

I am constantly amazed by the photos people create with Camera+. It’s truly inspiring that everyone from a professional photographer to a hobbyist to someone who has never picked up a camera before can create extraordinarily beautiful photos with their iPhone.

I am ecstatic that so many people are exploring their creative side, sharing their photos online, and becoming bonafide iPhoneographers. Over the past year, I’ve seen some breathtaking images taken with Camera+ especially since we added our biggest processing breakthrough and instant “make better” button, Clarity.

I’ve hand-picked some of my favourite images to share with you today. Take a look through these inspirational photos and leave a comment to let us know what you think! For hints on how to take great shots like these, look at the recipes below each image showing the scene mode, crop, effect, and border used to edit the photo.

http://campl.us/amazing25