Posts Tagged ‘photography tips’

10 tips for taking great holiday iPhone photos

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!

How to take beautiful Christmas tree bokeh shots

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!

View from the Aria, Las Vegas

Apr 19 2011

View from the Aria, Las Vegas
5DMKII + 16-35mm, 2 shots + Photomatix.

I was back in Vegas for NAB last week after some travel to Orlando & NYC… Pretty nice view from the Aria! The windows are pretty dirty so it was hard to avoid the blotchiness… but you get the idea :P I had to place my lens right up to the glass to avoid the room glare (even with all the lights turned off). It was tricky to get the angle using a tripod, so I had to hold the tripod in place while I shot. I used a black sweater to seal the lens against the window blocking all reflections on the window. Of course I forgot my lens hood, which would’ve helped the situation just a tad. :P

Anatomy of a photo: San Francisco Bay Bridge Rainbow

Dec 24 2010

San Francisco Rainbow over the Bay Bridge 5DMKII+16-35mm, 1/80 @ f/8.0, ISO 125.

Mother nature is on fire these days! As a follow-up to Tuesday’s gorgeous lunar eclipse, I was fortunate to catch a shot of this spectacular end-to-end rainbow over the Bay Bridge. Since there is so much chatter about it being real or fake or completely imagined, I thought I would share the anatomy of  how I took and processed this shot.

When the rainbow first appeared it was quite faint in the middle. I actually grabbed my iPhone first and started snapping shots.

Over the next few minutes, the rainbow grew stronger and formed a complete end to end rainbow across the sky… I grabbed my 5DMKII and started furiously snapping away at around 1/80 at f/8.0 ISO 100 with my beautiful 16-35mm lens. After the rainbow faded, I imported the photos into Lightroom.

I always use compare mode in the library to view the images in side-by-side comparison. It makes it much easier to pick the best shot, which in this case was the one on the right with the most sunlight and vibrant rainbow.

After choosing my favourite, I did basic RAW processing in Lightroom. Straight out of the camera, RAW images look flat — lacking contrast and saturation of colours. RAW images do not represent what your eye sees, which is why you have to process them to bring out details, contrast, and saturation of colours. For this image, I wanted the contrast to be quite heavy. I increased the contrast to +100 so that the shadows of the building would stand out in the water and the clouds in the sky would be more distinct. I also increased the vibrance to +30 to liven up the entire image and make the rainbow look more like what it did in real life.

After I pulled a bit of colour and contrast into the photo, I exported the file into Photoshop (command+e). Immediately, I noticed all of the lovely rain splotches and streaks from the window, including a giant dark spot in the middle of the rainbow. I used the healing and clone brushes to zap those splotches.

The streaks were hard to completely clean up, but I used a fine clone brush set to a 50% opacity to try to preserve the details as much as possible.

On areas that were a bit too smudged I used the lasso tool to select the area and added a noise filter of 1.1% to make them blend a bit more into the original picture. After I cleaned the image up, I duplicated the layer and set the blending mode to Overlay 85% to bring out more details in the sky. I wanted the buildings to remain as is, so I added a mask to the layer and painted them out.

I’m a big fan of highly saturated colour, so I increased the saturation +30 at 75% Opacity. This is where I’m taking a few leniences with reality. I think it adds to the surrealism of the shot, but you can experiment with it to find a good balance for you in your photos.

I wanted the clouds to stand out even more so I created a Curves layer and pulled the middle up to 136, 113. Then, I inverted the layer (command+i) and used a white brush to accent the white areas of the clouds. I repeated this with a Curves layer set to 101, 138 to accentuate the darker clouds.

I then imported the photo back into Lightroom by saving the file. For the final touches, I increased the Clarity +11 (to give the bridge a bit more contrast and sharpness), reduced the Noise a smidge by tweaking Luninance +15 and added a Vignette -11. I always add a subtle vignette to all my photos to draw the eye into the centre of the image.

Before: RAW image straight out of camera

After: Processed with Lightroom and Photoshop
San Francisco Rainbow over the Bay Bridge

Hope this helped you get a bit of insight behind my work flow and how I created this image. Processing is subject to personal taste, and what looks like the perfect image to me might look like a hot mess to someone else. For me, vibrant colours, high contrast, and emphasizing certain eye catching points in photos is part of my photographic style that I’ve developed over the years. :)

Mostly Lisa’s Last Minute Holiday Shopping Guide for Photographers

Dec 19 2010

For those of you procrastinate on holiday shopping until the last minute, I understand your pain. We are indeed kindred spirits.. :P Here is a quick list to hopefully help you find some excellent photography gifts.

1. The Canon S95 ($369)

This little compact camera will knock your socks off. Excellent low light capabilities and great sharpness and vibrancy. The price fluctuates a lot on Amazon, so check it on B&H and Adorama as well.

2. Blackrapid RS-W1 Camera Strap for Girls or the RS-7 for Boys ($58)

I have used Black Rapid straps for the past two years and my neck personally thanks me on a daily basis. I couldn’t live with out this strap. Plus, the new girlie model looks much better with evening wear :P

3. Canon 50mm f/1.4

My first lens and one of my favourites. Great for portraits and food shots. A lot of new parents love this lens for baby photos. Tack sharp and super light to carry. If the $400 price tag is too much, get the 50mm f/1.8. At $100 it is a steal for a f/1.8 lens. If you shoot Nikon try their 50mm f/1.4.

4. Canon 100mm f/2.8L $879

If you have the $$, this lens says “I love you” on so many levels. This lens is one of the most beautiful lenses I’ve worked with. A must for photographers that love macros. It also works as an amazing portrait lens.

5. Moo Postcards ($19.99 for 10)

An excellent sentimental gift from one photographer to another or someone special. I just made postcards of my Disneyland trip and they turned out sensational. You won’t be able to get these before Xmas, so make an IOU for the New Year.

6. Wescott Collapsible Umbrella Flash Kit ($69)

For $69 this is an excellent off-camera flash kit. It’s $50 off right now, so it’s a great time to buy it. I’ve been really happy with my new lighting set-up from Wescott, so I highly recommend their stuff.  :)

Lisa's new Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod!

7. Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 Carbon Fiber 3 Section Tripod $400

This tripod has changed my life. I have nearly dunked my dSLR into a river several times because of a crappy tripod. It really is an investment for keeping your camera safe. This tripod is so secure, even for bigger lenses and light to carry for a massive tripod. If $400 seems too steep for a tripod, then try the Manfrotto 190CXPRO3 ($259). It’s a bit more weighty, but still a great tripod.

8. Manfrotto 498RC2 Ball Head with Quick Release $129

Again, another recent purchase I couldn’t be happier with. It’s not a super expensive ball head, but it works excellently and the quick release is a game changer. You can mount your camera in seconds and release it even quicker.

5dMKII video set up

9. Rode VideoMic Directional Video Condenser Microphone ($149)

This is the best lightweight directional mic out there. Great for shooting videos with the 7D or 5DMKIIs. Improves sound quality 10 fold. I’ve had mine for over 3 years, throughout the 2010 Olympics, and it’s still one of my most used pieces of gear.

10. Canon 430EX II Flash ($265) or the Nikon SB-600 ($219)

If you are thinking of doing portrait work or shooting events, you need a flash. The 430 is smaller and lighter than the 580EX and works well as an on-camera flash and as a second flash for off-camera strobist stuff. I have used it as a main strobe for portraits as well. I can’t speak for the Nikon version but David Hobby likes the Nikon SB-600 so I guess it’s good. There is a newer model, the SB-700 ($259) that’s worth a look as well.

11. Lumiquest LQ-119 The Softbox III ($38) AND the Sto-Fen Omni-bounce ($13)

Both are essential for an event photographer! I’ve been using an Omni-bounce for events and personal photos — like my trip to Disneyland. The Omni works great for shots of one or two people, but isn’t great for big groups, which you get a lot of at conferences and weddings. This is why you need something a bit beefier like the Lumiquest Softbox to direct nice soft, diffused light on your subjects!

12. Rosco’s Strobist Collection, 55 Piece Gel Filter Kit ($10)

Flash light generally makes people look like the undead, so slap on a nice orange gel and everyone will look like they just got back from a week in Hawaii. As well as being corrective filters, you can also use these gels to create fun and cool experimental photos.

Wescott TD5 Spiderlite

13. Spiderlite TD5 Head ($363)

I just got one and I love it. Continuous light is perfect for video and great for stills. If you are a photographer that does both video and stills, this is an excellent lighting head. The daylight balanced fluorescents stay cool even when they’ve been on for hours. And I know because my boyfriend is currently using one as a lamp :| Not impressed.

14. Adobe Lightroom 3 ($299)

In all honesty, this is one of the best gifts you can give a photographer. My pictures would not look nearly as good without Lightroom. It’s noise reduction software alone is worth the price. I do almost all my RAW processing in Lightroom before I work on my shots in Photoshop. You can do almost everything in Lightroom, including dodging & burning and painting and trust me once you learn how to unlock the power of Lighroom — photographic glory will be yours!

15. Photojojo’s Bokeh Kit for dSLRs ($25)

Seriously fun and very addictive for bokeh nuts especially with a tree full of sparkly lights nearby…

16. Oh Snap! Camera Necklace ($18)

Cute little gift for the female photographer in your life.

Those are my recommendations without any affiliations or freebees :P, so these are all things I use and love. I hope my list helps ease your holiday shopping whoas a little or maybe gives you some ideas to put on your wish list for 2011!

5 Tips for Taking Great Vacation Photos

Nov 27 2010

Mostly Lisa on Paradise Pier, California Adventureland

I just finished processing my snaps from my fabulous Disneyland birthday weekend and I thought I’d share some tips and tricks for getting great vacation photos.

As a die-hard photographer, I understand the tendency to want to capture every single moment of life, rather than experience it. While this will result in more photos of your trip, it may not result in the best photos. After a day of continuous snapping and being asked to smile and pose, even the most enthusiastic subjects will look like annoyed-looking grumps in your photos.

Fireworks above Sleeping Beauty's Castle, Disneyland

Instead of continuously shooting throughout the day, pick three or four times for posed family photos in front of main landmarks, and casually snap candids the rest of the time. Know when to put away your dSLR and just enjoy the day.

Disneyland Lollipop Bokeh
Taken while Pete was distracted by brightly coloured sweets. :)

All this goes out the window if there is amazing light. In that case, give your kids $10, point to the nearest ice cream store, and say, “Yay!! Ice cream!!” I find I can capture a lot of great shots when people are distracted with food or shiny things. I call it the “distract and snap” method.

Pete & Mickey PretzelOh look! A Mickey pretzel!

2. Pack the right gear

Oh Hai Disneyland!
5DMKII + 16-35mm + 430EX with an Omnibounce

On this trip to Disneyland, I brought minimal gear with me to the park because I knew that I would be trekking around a lot and going on bumpy, wet and generally gear-unfriendly rides. I brought my 5DMKII with the 16-35mm f/2.8, 430EX flash, Canon SD 1300 point & shoot, and my iPhone 4.

Pete in front of the Matterhorn, Disneyland
Pete waiting for the Monorail in Tomorrowland.

I only brought one lens because I find that I can capture great scene shots at 16mm and great people pictures at 35mm. Plus, it’s relatively small and unobtrusive. A 35mm, 24-70mm or a 18-55mm kit lens would work as well.

View from the Grand Californian
View from my hotel room at the Grand Californian.

If you are missing a zoom lens or wide angle, use a point and shoot or phone to grab these shots. Remember it’s all about about capturing moments, not perfect photographs.

2. Bring extra memory cards & batteries

Esmerelda, Main Street, Disneyland
Esmerelda, Main Street, Disneyland

I usually have 4 X 8GB cards and an extra battery for my dSLR on me at all times. I tore through all of these on this trip, especially when I was taking video. So depending on what you are shooting, I would recommend having at least 4 cards with you, if not more. Always pack an extra battery and make sure you charge your phone the night before.

Woody Vinylmation
Toy Story’s “Woody” in Vinylmation store.

3. Capture the story

While it’s great to capture the big breathtaking scenic moments of your vacation, try to capture all the seemingly mundane moments in between to connect all your images into a story of your trip.

Mickey Mouse Waffle

Snap a picture of your breakfast, the view from your hotel window, your family getting ready to go out, your boyfriend checking his feeds during dinner :-|, or any little candid moment you’d like to remember.
Pete Cashmore getting his RSS on :P

I find that these shots are the ones I really cherish, because they remind me of my experience, rather than the place itself. I love this shot of my epic R2D2 “Mostly Lisa” Mouse Ears getting made.

My R2D2 Mickey Ears getting made

MostlyLisa's R2D2 Mickey Ears

4. Capture the entire scene

Paradise Pier, California Adventureland
Paradise Pier, California Adventureland

Always take a step back and capture the full scene. It’s a good opportunity to actually focus on your photography for a moment. I usually try to grab a few good shots when I’m waiting in lines for food, transport or Space Mountain :)

Space Mountain, Disneyland
Space Mountain!

To maximize your photo taking, set your camera to burst mode, so you can fire off a bunch of shots really quickly. Another way you can increase your chances of getting a great shot is by bracketing the exposure to +2 and -2 EV. This way when you fire off three shots in burst mode, you get three shots of varied exposure: 1. Over-exposed; 2. Normally exposed; & 3. Under-exposed.

Mark Twain Riverboat, Disneyland
Mark Twain Riverboat, Disneyland

5. Don’t forget to get in the picture too!


Cotton candy & magic hour in California Adventureland.

There are so many times when I come back from a trip and realize there are no pictures of me, almost as if I wasn’t there. I know most photographers hate being photographed, but your loved ones and demanding Facebook friends will appreciate a few pictures with you in them :P Before you pass of your camera, make sure it’s set up correctly so that anyone can just click the shutter. I usually set up the frame and settings on someone and then swap with that person, so all my settings are correct.


Point and shoot shot of Pete & I after a ride on Indiana Jones.

I’m not keen on strangers handling my dSLR, so if I want a shot with me and someone, I’ll either set up my point and shoot on a little gorilla pod and use a timer or just hand hold it. NB. Hand holding a dSLR is not recommended unless you’ve got the guns to support it :P

Mickey Mouse Toys at Disneyland

I look forward to seeing all of your shots of the upcoming holiday season!!!

How to take great landscape photos with your iPhone

Jun 27 2010

My video tutorial this week focuses on how to take great landscape photos with your iPhone. I will be running another Mostly Lisa Photo of the Week contest to encourage you to share your best Camera+ photo and win great prizes.

Jump to Contest details.

iPhone Magic Hour Shots
Kitsilano Beach. FX: Redscale.

1. Shoot during Sunrise or Sunset

The quality of light is one of the most important things in great scenery shots. Ideally, you want to shoot landscapes either at sunrise or sunset when the light is the most even and the colours are the most brilliant. Try to avoid shooting in harsh, high-contrast light around mid-day. 

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5 Ways to Take Great Street Photos with your iPhone

Jun 19 2010

The first step to taking great photos is getting outside and taking a lot photos. I know it’s scary to step away from your Apple control station and out into the cruel world, but I know you can do it. We can do it together.

1. Capture the Big Picture

When you arrive at a location try to take a picture that captures the entire scene. Take a step back and try to compose your shot so that you get all the action in one shot.

Empire State, FX: Hipster + Vintage border.

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Win My Dream 5DMKII Camera Rig!

Jun 8 2010

I’m just about to fall asleep for the first time in 41 hours. The launch of Camera+, the iPhone photo App I’ve been working on with Taptaptap, coupled with iPhone 4  buzz, the AT&T fail, and general WWDC pandemonium.

I just wanted to let everyone, especially budding photographers, about this ridiculous promotion we are doing for Camera+  to win my dream camera rig (valued at over $10,000).
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Camera+, The Ultimate iPhone Photo App

Jun 7 2010

Best iPhone Camera App Ever and my first App ; )

Camera+, the App that I’ve been working on for over a year, is now available in the App Store.

Woooo! *does a happy dance*

If you’ve been following my Twitter, Tumblr or Flickr stream, you’ve probably noticed a lot of iPhone shots pop up recently from my trips to New York and San Francisco. Now I can finally share the amazing app that created all those cool FXs!

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