We’ve probably all been there; waiting for the perfect moment to take a photo of a waterfall, or the ocean. We hope that what we see in the viewfinder is the way it will turn out once we’ve transferred our images from our memory card to our computers. And if you’re like me, you’ve been disappointed more than once. That rushing water has been stopped in time, the lens and camera picking up individual water drops instead of showing the water gushing past the viewer.
How can it be so hard to show speed and motion in photography? What controls it?
The answer is simple; shutter speed. If you read my blog on shutter speed and aperture, you know that the shutter speed controls the amount of time that the light, let in from the lens, is allowed to hit the sensor. The higher the shutter speed the less time the light is allowed to hit the sensor, thus you are able to stop motion, or blur it, depending on the effect you want to create.
If you were to set up your tripod in front of a beautiful waterfall, hoping to catch the rushing water in a gorgeous, almost ethereal display of motion and blur, but not knowing about shutter speed you used something like 1/250 of a second. This would capture the water in a very brief time span and because it is so brief you would be able to see individual drops of water, instead of what you want and that is to show the speed and force in which this water is flowing.
Many people use their pop-up flash when taking photos of water and are almost always confused as to why the image doesn’t look the way it did in person. This is because the shutter speed used with that pop-up flash is fast enough to stop the water in motion. The effect is then false and unflattering.
The photo to the left was shot in the Lake District, in Northern England. A place of unparalleled beauty. I set my tripod up near the middle of this river and using a polarizing filter to do two things: 1. to make the grey sky bluer and 2. to make it possible for me to reach really slow shutter speeds so that a lot of water would pass by the sensor and it would then look like it was going really fast.
Whenever you’re shooting water you want to have shutter speeds of 30 seconds or more. This will allow enough water to pass by the lens that it gives that awesome sensation of going fast. I know photographers that use shutters speeds of 2-3 minutes in order to make the image as cool and ethereal as possible.
In order to use those slow shutter speeds one needs to use polarizing filters and really low ISOs, 50 or less. And always remember to use a tripod, or your images are not going to turn out well at all.
The above doesn’t just relate to water. You can use slower shutter speeds to capture motion with anything. A bicycle race in which you want to convey speed, a football match where you want to show someone running quickly, etc. Slower shutter speeds are a clever way to enhance your photography and show your subject in a different light.
How to take photos in a restaurant for your blog, Facebook, etc.
We’ve all been there. Sitting in a dark, corner table of a fantastic restaurant, wishing that we had more light, so we didn’t have to use that terrible built-in flash. Perhaps the meal was one of the best we’ve ever eaten and the one thing that would have made it better is gorgeous photos to post to our website, Facebook page, or blog. When we get home the results are less than spectacular. Usually, the flash creates hot-spots on anything reflective on the table. Including, stemware, cutlery and crockery. The grain from the high ISO used also is a very annoying factor in low-light, restaurant photography. There are some easy solutions to this.
How to get great photos in any restaurant:
1. Diffused sunlight – The quickest and easiest way to get great photos is to shoot with available, indirect sunlight. This could be choosing a table outside, under an umbrella, where the sunlight would be diffused by the umbrella. This method is by far the best for achieving excellent photos.
2. Get a table by the window – If there are no outdoor tables available, or it’s too cold, rainy, etc. there are other methods. One trick is to ask the reservations desk if you can have a table by the window when booking. If they say no, than ask when the next available seating is when a window is available. Don’t be embarrassed to push it and insist. They are there to serve you.
3. Use fast lenses – Outdoor and window tables work during the daylight, but what about dining in the evening, when the sun is down and there’s nothing but the available light in the restaurant? This is where it gets tricky. For those with point-and-shoot cameras you don’t have many options. To achieve really brilliant results indoors, using dim light, you need to get yourself a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera, which has the ability to swap lenses. That is, one that doesn’t just have a single fixed lens. My favorite beginner camera (as of this writing) is the Nikon D40. But any of the newer Canons, Nikons, etc. will work. I don’t use Nikon anymore, but I’ve found that you can get a really good deal on the D40 on eBay, or Amazon. The lens is really what matters. You want a fast lens. Meaning, a lens which lets in a lot of light. One that has a large aperture, (amount of light let in reflects aperture size) f1.8, or f2.8 lets in lots of light and are called large apertures, or fast lenses. Despite their small numbers. Anything smaller (f4.0 and above) and you’re going to have trouble. Unless you have IS (image stabilization) on your lens.
4. Use image preview – I have found that having image preview on my camera works very well for restaurant photography. This is built-in to almost all point-and-shot cameras, but is still very limited on DSLRs. The reason I find it so helpful is because I don’t have to hold the camera up to my face to shoot. This can be very distracting when taking photos in nice restaurants especially. With image preview, you look at the LCD screen on the back of the camera and focus your photograph without having to bring the camera above your food.
5. Shoot at table level, not eye level – When shooting food you want to always strive to photograph at an angle which is 10-40 degrees from the table. Meaning, don’t take food shots at eye level. We humans always see our food at eye level and it’s more intriguing when we see it at the actual level the food is at. About 10 degrees above the plate is perfect.
6. Get in close – I see way too many food bloggers shooting with wide-angle lenses and as a result the photographs aren’t attractive. There is way too much going on in the foreground and background, when really, all we want to see is the food. So unless you want to highlight some specific areas of the table, or the restaurant, get in close.
7. Don’t use your built-in flash – Built-in flash tends to flatten an image and make it dull. Try to utilize one of the methods above first and if all else fails, flip that flash, but only in an emergency.
And finally, don’t discount your photo editing software. Even bland, flat images can be saved using the curves function.
Today you can find top quality, used equipment for a fraction of the price new. Get yourself a good DSLR and 50mm f1.8 lens and your restaurant and food photography will really start to shine.
How to take great photographs at night
Have you ever tried to take a photo at night, outside, and it came out terrible? Perhaps you were on vacation and saw a postcard of cars whizzing by the Eiffel Tower, streams of light from the headlights in the foreground and the beautiful monument in the background. When you tried to replicate the image, it was a far cry from what you envisioned.
There’s a reason for this. Night photography follows the same rules as any other photograph. That is, when an image is not taken using the general principles of photography, errors occur. Photography literally means, writing with light. If you don’t have enough light, or you don’t take the available light that you do have into account, you’re going to end up with rubbish photographs.
Here’s how to take great photos at night. Obviously, like with anything in photography, this is subject to various techniques. My technique for getting the shot may be different than others. But, as you can see from my photography website I have taken some decent night shots.
1. USE A TRIPOD! I cannot stress this enough. In fact, as your photography skills grow, you will find that it is almost impossible to live without a tripod.
2. Learn the manual setting on your camera and what shutter speed and aperture have to do with it. I’ve written an article on that also.
3. Use a shutter release cable. These can be purchased at almost any good camera store. This will help with the camera vibration. It’s a small cord that can be attached to your camera, which allows you to take your finger off of the shutter release button. Dampening vibration.
4. If your camera has it, use the mirror lockup function. All DSLRs have a mirror, which, when you look through the viewfinder, reflects the image from the lens, so you can see what the lens is seeing. This causes vibration in the camera and can lead to blurry photos.
Ok, you have all the ingredients to make a great photo at night. Here’s how to put them all together:
Using your tripod, set up the shot which you think is most pleasing to the eye. Set your camera to manual and if possible, set your mirror lockup function. Use your in-camera light meter to determine what the best exposure will be. For instance, if you’re using an aperture of f11 and an ISO of 100, you might get a reading of 2 seconds, or more. Here is where it gets interesting; the slower your shutter speed, the more action you’re going to record. Meaning, if you have a shutter speed of 10 seconds and within those 10 seconds 35 cars speed by your image, in your foreground, you’re going to capture a lot of streaming lights. This is quite a nice effect in night photography. The shutter speed and aperture will work together to give you the sort of image you’re looking for. Maybe you don’t care about streaming lights, then don’t worry about having super long shutter speeds.
One thing to make a note of, the aperture really doesn’t matter here. Anything above say, f5.6 is fine for night photos. You’re not too concerned with capturing depth of field in the foreground and background. This is especially true for cityscapes. I have shot at f2.8 at times and had very similar results as f11. Because everything I’m shooting is so far away. My lens is focused at infinity to be exact.
Also, ISOs of 100 or 200 are fine here. In fact, they’re preferable. Remember, we’re not trying to stop the action. We’re trying to capture it in the timeframe of our shutter speed.
It’s really no more complicated than that. Think about the effect you want to create; long shutter speeds to capture the foreground and background movement and making sure your camera is steady and that there is no vibrations, which could blur your image.
That’s how I do it anyway.
Basic photography lesson – What is Shutter Speed and Aperture?
When I first started taking photos I was 14. I had a Minolta (something or other) and the manual that came with it was far too confusing. So, I set it to auto and let the camera do all the work. I was shocked to find that most of my photos were completely useless. Not at all like what I saw in the photography magazines I would peruse on occasion. The automatic and program functions on your camera do one thing, they get a neutral image that most people will be happy with. But what if you want more? What if you want to take a photo at night? What do you do then? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people standing in front of the Eiffel Tower hand-holding their cameras, using their built-in flash and expecting to get a good result. Your flash is powerful, but not powerful enough to light up the Eiffel Tower. What if you want to stop a car going 60 miles per hour? There is a way to improve your photography and get away from the dull, boring automatic and program buttons.
But first, you need to understand what these terms mean:
Aperture – If you’re using a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera with interchangeable lenses, aperture actually has nothing to do with the camera itself. The aperture blades reside inside the lenses. They open and close depending on the amount of light you want to enter the camera and hit your sensor. A wide aperture, one that is lowest in number, for instance f1.8, will create a very limited depth of field. That is, if you’re focusing on the subject in the foreground, the background will be completely blurry. And likewise, if you’re focusing on a subject in the background your foreground will be blurry. With aperture it’s possible to create very nice, artistic effects. It’s as simple as that.
Shutter Speed – The shutter speed monitors the amount of time the light coming in from the lens, regulated by the aperture, is allowed to hit the sensor. Fast shutter speeds stop motion, slow shutter speeds give a nice blur effect. However, too slow a shutter speed, without enough light being let in will produce very blurry, unusable shots.
And there it is. So, get out of the habit of taking photos in auto, or program and use your manual, shutter speed, or aperture setting. And have fun!
In summary: Aperture = the amount of light let into the camera by the lens. Creates depth of field.
Shutter Speed = the time the light is let in for.
Combined they create Exposure. And photography is all about getting good exposures. More on that later.