Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love this time of year with its focus on celebration, gratitude and family time. I have a lot to be grateful for, both with my journey as a photography enthusiast and as my journey as the owner of BetterPhoto for the past 15 and a half years.
I keep a Gratitude Journal and every morning, during what I call my “Morning My Time” routine, I write at least 10 things that I am most grateful for.
The following are a few of the things I most appreciate and celebrate the most when it comes to photography and BetterPhoto.
The appreciation of light: How photography has taught me to appreciate light (I’m especially appreciating it right now, btw, when the skies are dark and overcast in the Pacific Northwest).
Great friends: BetterPhoto has led me to some of the world’s most wonderful people – both on Team BetterPhoto and in the amazing BetterPhoto community… people who are kind, supportive, and compassionate, as well as super creative!
Guilt-free travel: We’ve had so many fun journeys as we’ve led photography workshops, conducted awesome BetterPhoto summits and filmed award-winning photography DVDs.
Creative productivity: The joy and pride one feels upon completing a book. I am particularly grateful to Amphoto and Kerry Drager and particularly proud of The BetterPhoto Guide to Nature Photography, and BetterPhoto Basics. But I love them all.
God’s guidance: We’ve survived a dot com crash and a recession! God guiding Denise and I back around 2000 to avoid the dot com crash and the whole angel investor thing because it just did not make sense to us. This one move caused us to survive the dot com bubble burst.
Magic memories recorded for our future: I have beautiful records of the big milestone events in my life… my time with my sweet sunshine – my wife Denise… our travels to Russia when we adopted our three beautiful children… all of the fun family trips and adventures we’ve enjoyed, as well as our many magic moments here at home.
And I most appreciate YOU. You’ve been a magnificent member of our great group, and I thank you.
I believe in you and your creative abilities and want to make sure you know how much I appreciate your courage in stepping up to live a creative life.
BetterPhoto and photography have been very good to me, and I thank God for the many blessings I’ve been given over the years.
Mark this date: Saturday, November 19th. Yes, the Worldwide BetterPhoto Meetup Day is just a couple of days away!
It's a day when photo enthusiasts will gather in locations around the world - to get out and shoot, discuss photography, swap tips and techniques, and in general, to share a common passion of photography.
It's not difficult to get nice photos outdoors, with or without flash, in daylight conditions. But for beautiful images at night, or in very dark locations like museums, the techniques differ.
Here's why. No flash unit can illuminate the entire scene. And when flash is not used, the shutter speed may be very long, perhaps several seconds. Then, even the best image stabilizer system cannot prevent photos that are blurred by camera shake. The best solution is to use a large, rigid tripod for maximum stability.
It would be ideal to always use a large, rock steady tripod when shooting in dark locations. That was not possible at the spectacular Notre Dame cathedral (in Montreal, Canada) for example, so I relied on the other techniques to make blur-free photos. (Handheld; ISO 1600; 1/13 sec.) Photo: Peter K. Burian
But in the real world, it's rarely that simple. For example, you will not always be carrying a hefty tripod and it wouldn't be practical to use on a busy urban street. As well, many venues prohibit the use of that accessory because it gets in the way of other visitors. In either case, different strategies will be necessary. Start by setting the camera's Flash mode to Off and try the following.
Use a small support accessory: In some locations you may be allowed to use mini or table-top tripod, or a Gorillapod (see https://joby.com/gorillapod); such accessories are compact and are convenient to carry when traveling. The small device may not provide maximum stability however, so also consider the next two tips.
Set a High ISO: When shooting in low light without a tripod, you'll need to use a high ISO to get a nice, bright photo at a fast shutter speed. Most cameras will not set such a high level with Auto ISO, so you'll need to do so yourself. Start with ISO 1600. If the shutter speed is still longer than about 1/30 sec. when using the kit zoom lens, try ISO 3200. (When the camera is on a small support device, but you're not sure that's its fully stable, ISO 800 may provide an adequately fast shutter speed of 1/10 sec.)
Take some insurance shots. Any time you're not absolutely certain that you can totally avoid problems caused by camera shake, try this. Make sure the image stabilizer is on. Set the Drive mode to Continuous and take three shots of the scene in a single burst. Typically, the second or third will be the technically best.
Whenever you must shoot hand-held, also brace the camera or your elbows on a solid object for a bit of extra support. And if your camera is equipped with a viewfinder, use that instead of composing shots on the LCD screen. Hold the equipment with two hands, firmly against your body and pressed against your forehead, to reduce the risk of blurring caused by shake. Use one or more of the recommended solutions and you should be able to get some stunning images of colourful night scenes or gorgeous interiors.
"If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough". This observation was made by WW II photo journalist Robert Capa and it's the most useful advice for improving your photos instantly.
In a nutshell, this means making images with a single primary subject, large in the frame, and excluding elements that might be distracting. Signs, poles, trash cans and parked cars rarely add much of value to your photos. Exclude and simplify by walking closer to the subject or by zooming-in to fill the frame.
A close-up photo is great because it eliminates any unrelated elements that might draw the viewer's eye away from the subject. Of course, you won't always want to frame a subject this tightly, as discussed in the additional comments. Photo: Peter K. Burian
And if you're really serious about making stronger photos, also consider these additional techniques:
Find a centre of interest. Instead of forcing the viewer’s eye to roam around a picture, searching for something to observe, be sure to include an obvious subject. Whether that’s a Royal guardsman in London or a colourful boat on a vast stretch of the Mississippi River, make it the focal point of the image to achieve your intended purpose.
Present a clear message. Not every digital photo needs to be made with a telephoto lens. In fact, you may often want to make a wide angle composition. In that case, find a shooting position that will enable you to exclude as much clutter, or as ,many unrelated elements, as possible. Move in fairly close and perhaps shoot your wide angle photo from a high or a low angle; framing certain types of subjects against a rich blue sky for example, can work well.
Include supporting elements. You won't always want to zoom in too tightly on a single subject, such as a person's face. Sometimes it's important to include elements that support the theme of your image. In a photo of a wood carver in a market, for example, the tools of his trade are an essential part of an environmental portrait. But plan to exclude the ceramic knick knacks in the stall beside his, or anything else that does not jibe with the message of your photo.
No matter what types of photography you prefer, these techniques should help to improve the visual impact of your pictures. And here are two extra tips as a bonus. When a subject is vertical, turn your camera on its side; a vertical shot should eliminate clutter or empty space beside your centre of interest. And finally, when a photo is almost "good enough" don't hesitate to use tools in image editing software: crop out, or clone out, the last few distracting elements.
BetterPhoto instructor and pro photographer Lynne Eodice offers a great rundown on White Balance. Check it out:
"If you were shooting in color back in the film days," says Lynne Eodice, "you had to buy a film that matched the color temperature of your primary light source. For example, if you were shooting indoors under tungsten light conditions, you bought tungsten-balanced film. For daylight, you bought daylight-balanced film. Today, digital cameras solve the color-balance problem with a control called White Balance, which tells the camera exactly what light source you’ll be using."
Most cameras offer you a choice of WB settings, points out Lynne Eodice. Here's her rundown:
Auto WB – This is the default setting, in which the camera measures the color of light and makes a guess about the source. In many situations, it works fine. But if you want to zero in on the best setting for your lighting situation, you might want to fine-tune it further. Read on!
Daylight – This is comparable to the daylight film of yesteryear, but is more bluish-white in tone.
Shade – This setting adds a slight warm, reddish cast to counteract the blue cast of shady conditions. This is the setting you should use when shooting in the shade or on very cloudy days.
Cloudy Day – This setting warms up the cool tones on a cloudy day, but not as much as the Shade setting. It gives a pleasant, late-afternoon look to outdoor scenes, and is my setting of choice for most outdoor shooting, even on a sunny day.
Tungsten – This setting adds a little blue to absorb some the excess red tones of interior tungsten lighting, and will give you nice, neutral tones indoors.
Fluorescent – This setting will counteract the cool, greenish tone of fluorescent lighting, although various fluorescent bulbs produce different types of light.