Backyard Bird Photography – In The Snow

Snow Day – Birds Abound

We don’t get much snow just north of Atlanta, but when we do, I grab my camera and start snapping!Cardinal in the SnowAs you might guess, birds don’t take time out when it snows. They still need to eat. That’s where my backyard set up comes in. This male cardinal was just the next in line to get to the feeder. Birds are literally lined up to partake of the scrumptious sunflower mix.

The Key To Good Bird Photos

You may think that the best equipment is the key, but, in my humble opinion, the real key factor in getting great backyard bird pictures is getting the birds into position. After all, if you don’t have an opportunity, the most expensive camera in the world will be of little benefit.

I make it a priority to keep the feeders full. “My birds” know they can depend on having something to eat in good times and bad.

My little Canon T4i is very capable when the birds are 3′ to 10′ away.
Check out this handsome male Eastern Blue Bird. He was posing long enough to sport a topping of snow.Bluebird with snow on its head

Bird Feeder Placement

Another key ingredient is to get the birds in their natural environment. It was really important to place the feeders within easy photo distance of a nearby tree. Here is another male cardinal in that tree. Notice that he has a sunflower seed in his mouth – he just hopped onto the branch from the feeder.

Male Cardinal in the snowSince the branch is only about 12′ from my window, I can easily get lots of photos like this. The snow makes these beautiful red birds look their best.

If you don’t have a tree near your feeders, you can “fake it” by clamping a branch on the feeder pole. Or, in my case, I can clamp the branch to my deck railing to get an even closer shot. (the shot above has been cropped by about 50%)

I had to take this photo (below). The red is so outstanding against the white snow as this guy was sitting in the willow tree.

Male Cardinal with snow covered branches

So, what equipment is really important for taking great photos of backyard birds in the snow? I suggest a really good glass cleaner and some paper towels.

A camera is also kind of important.

Photography Tips – Perspective

Get a Fresh Perspective

I changed perspective by getting lower and closer.

I changed perspective by getting lower and closer.

You’ve undoubtedly heard this expression, “get a fresh perspective,” but in photography, changing perspective can truly give you a new perspective.

I had a young photographer in one of my classes just tell me that she now had a new “favorite” type of photography after doing an assignment that involved taking pictures of the same still life setup from different angles and distances. More about that assignment later.

The object of this post is simple: If you ever get bored with the kinds of shots you are taking, or you can’t decide what to shoot, simply shoot with perspective in mind.

What is Perspective?

Perspective can mean a couple of things in photography. In fact, there are some who think about something like the picture below when they hear the term. This is a picture using Forced Perspective, which is manipulating two or more subjects to look like they are out of proportion to one another. Take a look at this picture.

104/365: Eiffel crushing

Two guys appear to be holding the Eiffel Tower from toppling over. (Picture by Ben Smith, on Flickr.)

These kinds of pictures are pretty cool, and, honestly, it’s not that hard to do. You just need some patience and very little know-how. Kids absolutely love to take these kinds of pictures. And it is a great way to get them motivated to take more photos and expand their knowledge.perspective1

But in most types of photography, age is not a limiting factor. Adults can have fun too, as you can see from the Eiffel Tower picture above.

So, after showing my students the picture of the Eiffel Tower being squished by two mere mortal hands, I set them loose to take some similar photos.

The results were fantastic! And I’m not just talking about image quality, because many of the pictures were blurry and poorly exposed.

What really happened that was exciting is that they got totally into the assignment. They loved the idea, and they loved their own results.

I highly recommend doing this on your own or with your kids. It is an invigorating exercise – creating excitement and energy in your photography experience. It is really good if you are struggling with “brain lock” about what to photograph next.

How This Picture Was Made

So, the idea is to position one person or object far away from the camera and another much closer to the camera.

The photographer become a director, moving people or objects to just the right place so the picture will “appear” real.

The most difficult part is getting both people (or objects) to be in focus at the same time. This is done by not having the camera too close to the closer subject. Instead, use the zoom lens of the camera to bring everything closer (even though it is not close at all).

Here is an example of a picture that is not quite perfect.

Tree/people perspective photographyIf the photographer had stepped back from the “little tree” (it’s really just a weed) and used the zoom on the camera, the two girls would have been more in focus. As it is, they are quite blurry. But the idea is excellent.

Changing Your Perspective

While forced perspective shots are very fun and exciting, there is a another kind of perspective photography that is quite different from forced perspective. What you do is change the way you see, compose, and photograph the subject or subjects.

One easy way to get started is to use still life or small objects. Take some articles from around your house and arrange them on a table. We used some books and bottles, musical instruments, and pine cones.

Here is one example of the resulting pictures.

bottles with perspectiveThe original scene looked like this:

original bottle pictureDon’t you agree that the change in angle and distance from the objects made the picture more interesting???

Take another look at the close-up of the bottles. Can you see that the bottles kind of tilt into the middle of the photo? That distortion adds interest to the picture. The entire scene requires the viewer to look closer to figure out what was done to get the photo… “Exactly what did the photographer do in order to grab my interest like this?”

Another Look At Perspective

During this assignment, we had the added benefit of having lots of art equipment laying around, but we also had some old cameras.

Here is a series of photos taken by one of the students using an ancient camera as the subject.

old camera - normal viewThe shot above is a nice picture because of the subject – an extremely old camera – but other than that, there is not much to hold one’s interest.

When the camera is photographed from a different angle and from much closer, we have a new perspective. Here it is…

Old Camera up closeAnd here’s another one with some overexposure due to backlighting. It is a unique shot because of the highlight and the composition, having the subject off center.

Old Camera Lens - a new perspectiveOne more shot, taking this idea of changing angles to the extreme. This time, the student got down below the old camera. It definitely makes you take a second look, doesn’t it?

New perspective of the old camera - from down lowTake Your Photography To The Next Level

As you read and study about photography, you see plenty of technical writing focusing on technique and analysis of the way a camera operates. What shutter speed is best? Choose the right f-stop. What about white balance?

Sometimes this information is so scientific and obscure that it makes one’s head hurt. Using the creative side of the brain allows you (or your students) to take some excellent pictures without having to get a degree in engineering or computer science.

It’s fun, exciting, and it keeps us coming back for more.

Cat Portrait With Canon Rebel And 320ex Speedlite

How to take a Cat Portrait with your Canon DSLR camera.

It’s a beautiful spring morning and Lizzy the cat is enjoying the sunshine coming through her favorite portrait with Canon Rebel and 320ex speedlite

She looks gorgeous! So I took the picture, and here is the result, but please read below to get the whole story, because there is a secret to getting a photo like this.

As great as she looks, my first thought is that if I try to take her picture, it will look terrible. The light behind her is just too bright. The camera will adjust the exposure for that bright background, and Lizzy will be too dark.

Then I say to myself, “Why did you buy that Canon 320ex Speedlite if you’re not going to use it?

I then respond, “This is the perfect opportunity!” (Self conversations are OK according to the late Zig Ziglar, as long as you don’t catch yourself asking, “What did you say?”)

So here is what I did to get my camera ready..

Canon speedlite with softbox

Here is the setup


  • Attach my Canon 320ex Speedlite to my Canon T4i.
  • Attach a Canon 50mm f1.8 lens
  • Attach a Fotodiox 6″ by 8″ softbox to the front of the Speedlite.
  • Set the mode dial to Tv (Shutter priority).
  • Set the shutter speed to 1/200 sec. (see more below about why I did this).
  • Start snapping.

This is about the cheapest setup one can use for portraits. The add-ons are really inexpensive – check the list below for prices and availability.

By the way, I took about 15 pictures, and they all turned out great, lighting-wise. Some of them were not so fantastic as far as her cooperation was concerned. But my wife stepped in and helped by attracting her attention. Important tip: it works really well if you have someone working with you to keep your pet interested.

Now for some details and explanations about the shot.

First, I chose a Canon 50mm f1.8 lens. Some call this lens the “nifty fifty” – it is actually the number one lens sold by Canon. It’s dirt cheap as far as lenses go – only about $125. But it takes great pictures, especially portraits.

Second, I chose to use a flash even though I personally dislike flash photography. If at all possible, I will not use a flash. In this case, though, the light from the window behind the cat was way too bright. I had to make some compensation to get a decent shot. The flash was the answer – but not just a flash – I added a softbox.

The Softbox: it’s a way of softening the light so that there is less chance of harsh shadows. In this case, I used a Fotodiox softbox. Got it from Amazon for less than $12.

Why Shutter Priority? I have to admit that I am not very well acquainted with flash, but I know that I can get the flash to cooperate with my little bit of knowledge by using a fill flash technique. I do this by setting the shutter to 1/200 sec, which is called the “sync speed” for the Canon Rebel. This is the fastest shutter speed you can use when a flash is in place. I don’t know all the technical stuff, but it works. Try it. The important thing is to set your shutter speed at the highest sync speed for your particular camera, usually 1/200 or 1/250 sec.

When you set the shutter speed, your camera will select the proper aperture, or lens opening. In my case, the aperture was f4.0.

Here’s a little tip for using a fill flash if you don’t have a softbox or even a separate flash. Use a white paper towel or toilet tissue to cover the flash. This will act as to diffuse the light and eliminate tell-tale flash shadows.

Finally, here is a list of gear with links to purchase at Amazon. If you use these links, you get Amazon’s great service and pricing, but I also benefit by getting a few cents for each purchase.

How To Take A Selfie With Your DSLR

Selfies are really popular right now.

In fact, my granddaughter told me taking a selfie is part of her morning routine. Get up, brush teeth, put on make-up, eat breakfast, take a selfie, go to school.

Here is a typical selfie:

selfie with a phoneAnd do you know about the “duck face”? It’s a trend that has taken over the teenage world. Take a look:

duck face selfie

Even us older folks do it (selfies, not duck faces). Here’s one of me.

selfieBut notice that this picture does not have the typical earmarks of a selfie.

How do you take a picture of yourself and have it look like someone else took it?

Here’s how I did this one:

I happen to have a Canon Rebel T3i and T4i, so I set up one and held one. I put a floor lamp where I would stand and focused on the lamp shade, then I turned off auto-focus so the camera would not re-focus. Then I set the camera on its 10-sec timer and pressed the shutter button. Ten seconds is a long time; plenty of time to move the lamp and take my place.

Of course, I personally don’t do selfies every day, but I do need a profile picture now and again. And if you are in the same boat, take a look at the video I created about how to do just that.

The price of a T3i has never been better. And, honestly, the two cameras have almost the same features. I don’t understand why there is such a big difference in price.. check it out below.

5 Tips For Low Light Photography

Taking pictures with very little light is a challenging, yet rewarding endeavor. This is one aspect of photography that does take some planning and knowledge of your camera.

Practice and planning are key to success.
Light Years
(Justin Kern not only used planning and practice, he used some very advanced techniques to get this final image. It is not one that many novices can accomplish, but it is worthy of our goals. “Shoot for the stars,” and you will eventually be able to do this.)

Here are 5 tips that may help you get a better picture.

1. Use a tripod. This is actually not just a tip, it is essential for low-light photography. When you are using shutter speeds of a second or more, it is impossible to hold your camera steady to get a sharp picture.

Of course, you can use a solid surface such as a retaining wall or a rock as a substitute tripod, but you will be limiting the flexibility you get with a tripod in that you are able to move your tripod, whereas a wall is pretty permanent.

low-light photography - use a tripodFor the photo of Garret Lake above, I was on my way to work when I was stopped dead by this scene. I did not have my tripod, so I placed my Canon Rebel on a fence post to take this picture.

Set the mode dial to Manual2. Shoot in Manual Mode. I know this is not for the first time shooter, but it is yet another reason for practicing before the big event. (If your situation gives you time, this is an excellent time to practice.) Many times the camera will not interpret the light the way you see it.

3. Include a foreground element for interest. In my picture of Garrett Lake above, notice how the foreground foliage adds interest to the picture. In the photo below, the photographer used some usually unattractive discarded tires. Try this technique, it will produce some really interesting results. Now, not every item adds interest, so experimenting is highly recommended.
Magenta at Dusk — Under the Pier

4. Use a timer or shutter release button. If your picture uses a slow shutter speed (which it will using low-light), just pressing the shutter button can cause camera shake and ruin your image. The “no-frill” solution to this is setting your camera on a timer. My Canon Rebel has a 2-sec or a 10-sec setting. I use the 2-sec timer – it is very effective in eliminating camera shake.

Alternatively, you can purchase a remote shutter button. The one I use has a short cord, and it costs only a few bucks. Wireless shutter release buttons are more expensive, but they give the photographer more flexibility.

5. Check your settings. I include this tip in almost all of my posts about learning to be a better photographer, because I don’t think I’m alone when I say this.. I have lost many shots because I did not check my settings before shooting.

My most common mistakes include leaving the 10-sec timer on and having the wrong ISO selected. Just sayin’.. check ‘em (the settings).

Here are a few pretty nice photos demonstrating low-light photography.
Bridge Over Some Water
Nikon 200mm Low Light Test shot
Music and Lights

Some pictures are from Attribution given in that images are linked to the original photos.

Now, it’s time to grab your camera and start shooting!

How To Do Flower Macro Photography – Tips For Amateur Photographers

Flower Macro Photography Is Fun

Plus, as an added bonus, taking pictures of flowers builds your confidence as a photographer.

flower macro - sunflower in perfect condition

Consider these benefits:

  • No client to deal with, therefore, no negative feedback
  • They don’t blink and ruin a great shot
  • They stay where you put them
  • They won’t miss the appointment

Flowers are your friends!


aking these kinds of pictures is not very hard, even if you don’t own the best equipment. The best way to start is by calling up some patience from within. Patience is the key because you probably won’t get your best shot the first time you press the shutter button. In fact, it may take many shots before you get some you are satisfied with.

Here are the key points for flower macro photography:

  1. The lighting is crucial
  2. Image sharpness is also critical
  3. A blurry background can make or mess up your picture
  4. A perfect flower gives you a much better chance of success

Once again, notice that equipment is not mentioned. Because you can modify your equipment so that it works for you in this kind of photography.

magnolia flower macro

OK, let’s dive in and see how these photos are done.

1. Lighting is crucial

Photography is all about light, and flower macros are no different. You want nice soft (as opposed to harsh) lighting. And natural light is the best kind. Some of the best light will be available in front of windows or in shaded areas. As a rookie, you definitely want to avoid dappled light or direct sunlight in the middle of a bright day.

If you are photographing a flower in a pot, this part is easy. Just move the flower. But if you are taking pictures of flowers in natural settings outside, plan your shot for early or late in the day. And if that is not possible, use some kind of light diffuser like an umbrella or even a piece of white cloth like a white shirt stretched across a tennis racket.

2. Sharpness will make or break your photo

Macro photography MUST have sharp focus on the subject. If the pictures ain’t sharp, delete ‘em. Seriously. Don’t keep out of focus pictures on your computer. They take up valuable space, and you will never use them.. because they are not sharp.

In order to take great, sharp pictures, get help. Help comes from a tripod or some other way to steady your camera. I personally have used lots of different ways to steady my camera. Rocks, tables, chairs, garbage cans, and camera bags are just a few suggestions.

3. Try for a blurry background.

While a sharp focus is critical, having the background out of focus will add just as much to your flower image. You want your flower to “pop” out and be noticed. If the background distracts, that is not possible.

There are three ways to get a blurry background.

  • The first way is to use a very large aperture. This is possible with one of the better cameras. Set your camera on Aperture mode and select the setting with the smallest number (f 1.8 is a good example).
  • The second way to get a blurry background is to use the Macro setting on your camera. Macro usually is represented by a little tulip icon on the mode dial.
  • The third way is to move the flower farther away from the background. The farther away the background is, the blurrier it will be.

4. Choose a perfect flower.

Maybe this should have been the first item in the list. After all, it is really important that the petals are flawless. Pay attention to this detail. If you are not photographing the entire flower, pick the part of the flower that is perfect. Flaws that are not in the picture don’t matter.

So now, back to the idea of patience. If you are new to flower macro photography, keep at it. Think about what you want to accomplish with your picture and work at it. Adjust the light, or steady your camera, or work on getting the blurry background.

When all three of these come together, you will be more likely to be proud of your picture.

Now it’s your turn. Get your camera and get to work.

There are many more ways to improve your photography. Sign up for my Free resource book: 13 Ways to Instantly Improve Your Photography Without Spending a Dime. Just enter your email address below.

How To Teach Kids Photography – 5 Ways To Guide Kids To Be Better Photographers

I actually do teach Kids Photography. Really, it’s part of my job.Panasonic Point and shoot camera

That’s what qualifies me to write about the things I have learned about teaching them about taking pictures and building their photographic skills.

Here are 5 things I have learned about teaching kids photography.

Tip #1 – Learn to speak in basic terms. Continue reading

Canon EF 50mm f1.8 – Second Lens For Canon DSLR Cameras

Discover the Canon EF 50mm f1.8 Lens

Will she get a Canon 50mm lens?

She needs a Canon EF 50mm f1.8 lens to move to the next level of photography.

When you have been around photography for a long time, you start to take some things for granted. It just occurred to me that there are lots of new DSLR users who are looking for a good lens to supplement the kit lens that was purchased with their camera, and they don’t know which one to choose.

I highly recommend the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens as a second lens, especially if you are on a limited budget. Continue reading

My New Canon EF-S 60mm Macro

I do believe that it’s love at first snap!

This is one of the first shots I took with this new macro lens.

This is one of the first shots I took with this new macro lens.

My Very First EF-S Lens

I have been wanting a Canon ef-s 60mm macro lens for quite some time. I just needed a good excuse to get it, and, of course, I needed the cash. Well, this week the stars were all lined up perfectly, and this afternoon, the lens was delivered before I arrived home.

Made this video about the EF-S 60mm lens with the grandkids.. such fun!

It is actually my very first EF-S lens at any focal length. This kind of lens is only for DSLR cameras that are not full frame. They are referenced as “crop sensor” or APS-C sensor cameras. The reason I have not purchased one before is that I intended to eventually get a full frame camera. However, I am totally satisfied with my Rebels. And I am not going pro anytime soon. EF-S lenses also work on other Canon models, such as 60D, 70D, and 7D, which are really powerful, darn near professional cameras.

When I wrote this post, I had only taken about 15 shots, but every one was totally acceptable with respect to quality and sharpness. It could be photography heaven LOL

Most of the pictures I shot were very close up, but here is one where I stepped back a couple of feet..
tickseed flowers with Canon EF-S 60mm macro lens
Not bad, right?

Value For Bucks

In my humble opinion, this lens is pretty darn good. It costs about $350, which is an excellent price for an honest-to-goodness macro lens.

One of the most important things to check when looking for a lens is what others think about it. In the case of the Canon EF-S 60mm macro, it has a 4.8 star rating. That is an awesome rating.

(If you are interested in purchasing, please use the link to Amazon. Amazon is a trusted online seller, and it will help me to keep doing what I love to do – take more pictures and maintain my website.)

Photography Tips for Beginners – Shooting in Manual Mode

Photography Tips for Beginners - don't speak geekCan Someone Explain Manual Mode in Plain English?

I think we take things for granted at times, and it usually happens in the area where we are most comfortable.

For instance, if you love to cook, it’s easy to talk about cooking and use the jargon of the cooking world.

Or, if you are really good at tennis, your language reflects your knowledge.

But what happens if you meet someone who knows very little about your area of comfort? She knows nothing about the meaning of 15-Love or Deuce (in tennis), or he can’t comprehend what you mean when you talk about letting your dough rest (cooking terms).

That’s where I’m coming from in this article. I’m assuming you are looking for a novice’s explanation of some of the most common photography tips you read about from lots of different sources.

To be honest, I was inspired to do this when I read an article at It is now on my personal recommended reading list when I feel myself getting too geeky with my photography lingo.

Not so long ago, I posted an article about “5 Photography Tips For Digital SLR Photography Beginners.” They are 5 really good ideas.

However, I was thinking that there are a few more photography tips for beginners that did not make it into the article.

The ideas represented in this article are meant to give you some added incentive to “go deeper” than just using your DSLR as a point and shoot camera. By the way, I actually did recommend using your camera like a point and shoot model in the previous article, but you should not stay on Auto by any means.

It’s true, your DSLR has been created in a way that will make your shots better simply because of the larger sensor (physically larger, not “megapixels larger”). But you really do need to get more creative and adventurous with your photography to get better.

Getting more creative may lead you to some really horrible shots at first, but stick with it and you will get better. Trust me. I know this is true, because I was there myself.

OK, so here is my first photo tip:

Set the mode dial to ManualShoot manual.

You read it right! Set your mode dial to the big M. When you do, expect the worst, but don’t allow discouragement. Look at it as an adventure.

One hint as you start on this adventure is to move the mode dial to P and partially press the shutter button. Look at the settings the camera would select as you focus on your chosen subject. This will give you a starting point when you move to Manual.

**note: Don’t do this for the first time at a major event. Do it when you can afford to make mistakes.

Once you have set your mode dial, take a big breath.. you are now in the adventure zone – total control. From here, there are three things to adjust, Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO (don’t freak, read on for the explanation). These three things control how your picture will look.

large and small aperturesAperture means the size of the lens opening, and it is also referred to as f-stop. As you select a lower number, the opening of the lens gets bigger. Higher numbers mean the opening gets smaller. Keep in mind that the way the numbers work seems backwards.. don’t worry, you will get used to this.

  • Larger opening (smaller number like f/4) = more light
  • Smaller opening (larger number like f/11) = less light

(aperture illustration is from Wikimedia Commons)

Shutter Speed is how fast the camera’s shutter opens and closes. This is measured in seconds or fractions of seconds. For instance, the fastest shutter speed on a Canon Rebel is 1/4000 of a second. The higher the number, the more light will get into the camera. (When looking at fractions, the higher the number on the bottom, the faster the shutter speed. So 1/500 is a faster shutter speed than 1/50.)

ISO has something to do with Light Sensitivity of your camera’s sensor. Think about it as an acronym for Is the Sun On (credit for this idea). As you change the ISO, you change the way your camera is affected by the available light.

Under normal, sunny conditions, you want to set your ISO to its lowest point. On most cameras that is 100. When there is less light, change your ISO to a higher number.

Why change the ISO at all? When there is less light, your settings have to change to compensate and get enough light into the camera to record a well exposed picture. And, if you are trying to hold your camera rather than have it steadied on a tripod, your shutter speed must be fast enough so that the image is not blurred by your own movement. Being able to increase the ISO will also allow you to increase the shutter speed.

Now you can start practicing! Check the picture in the LCD after each shot. As you play with the settings, really pay attention to what happens to your image. When you change one setting, you will probably have to change another setting to compensate for the amount of light.

Here are a few ways to experiment with the Manual Mode:

  • Change the Aperture value to see what happens, and pay particular attention to how much of the picture is in focus. Wider lens openings create blurry backgrounds while smaller openings put more of the picture in focus.
  • Change the shutter speed to see how much you can slow it down before you can no longer hold your camera steady enough for a sharp photo. Also try to figure out how fast your shutter has to operate to stop action.
  • Test the ISO in dark areas to see how high you can go before you pictures start to get grainy.

By the way, as you shoot in Manual Mode, you will be learning more about exposure than you ever thought you could.  Come back and post a comment about your experience.

Happy Shooting!