We don’t get much snow just north of Atlanta, but when we do, I grab my camera and start snapping!As 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.
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.
Since 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If 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.
The original scene looked like this:
Don’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.
The 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…
And 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.
One 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?
Take 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.
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 window.
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..
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).
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.
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:
And do you know about the “duck face”? It’s a trend that has taken over the teenage world. Take a look:
Even us older folks do it (selfies, not duck faces). Here’s one of me.
But 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.
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. (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.
For 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.
2. 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.
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.
Some pictures are from Flickr.com. Attribution given in that images are linked to the original photos.
Now, it’s time to grab your camera and start shooting!
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 ourfifthhouse.com. It is now on my personal recommended reading list when I feel myself getting too geeky with my photography lingo.
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:
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.
Aperture 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
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 ourfifthhouse.com 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.
I am big into macro photography. It’s what got me hooked on photography in the first place.
I will never forget the picture. In fact, it’s still on the wall of my office. It’s nothing spectacular to anyone else, but to me, it’s very special. It is the hook that wouldn’t let go. And even though it was taken with a simple little 3-megapixel Olympus point and shoot camera, I felt like a pro when I saw it in print.
This photo is not a true “macro photo,” by definition. However, it is somewhat close up, and I had the camera on the macro setting. What captured my attention was the colors and the texture.
I have now graduated to a more sophisticated camera, a Canon Rebel. In fact I have more than one Rebel (you know this if you have read some of my other posts).
Here is a photo I took early this morning using the photography tip outlined below:
The key to the photography tip I am about to share with you is that it can be done with any Canon Rebel newer than a T2i. That means if you have a T3i, T4i, T5i, T3, or SL1, you can do this. There may be other cameras that have the Live View feature I discuss in this article, but I am not sure which ones do, so I am limited to the Rebel lineup in my recommendations for a camera.
Here is a brief outline of the technique:
Set your camera on a tripod – absolutely necessary for this to work well.
Choose the aperture (Av) setting on the top mode dial.
Use the top dial to choose an aperture – for macro, a higher number like f/9.0 or f/22 is usually the right choice rather than a lower number (in the video, I used f/9.0)
Find the little switch on your lens and move it off AF (auto focus) to Manual focus
Change your Drive Mode to Self-timer, either 2 seconds or 10 seconds.
Activate “Live View”
Use the focus ring on your lens to get the focus as close as possible.
Press the zoom button once or twice to enlarge the Live View preview by 5x or 10x respectively.
Fine tune the focus using the focus ring on your lens while the digital zoom is at 5x or 10x.
Press the shutter button and wait for the timer to record your image.
Please note: the picture will be captured at full size (the way it looks before you press the 5x or 10x zoom button). It will not be the image you see in the zoom window. This has confused some folks who think that “what you see is what you get.” The zoom feature is merely to allow you to fine-tune your focus.
This video explains the whole process..
Sample shots from the Canon Rebel T3i – Macro Photography
Notice in the photos above that one of them was taken with a true macro lens and the other was taken with the kit lens. It is obvious that a macro lens is far better than the kit lens, although, I must admit that the newer STM kit lens is much better than the older one.
There is, however, an option for transforming your normal lens, including the kit lens, into a macro-type lens. It involves lens accessories.
First, you can use extension tubes. These come in a variety of packages, but if you get Fotodiox tubes, they are less than $15. The problem is that they do not allow the camera to auto-focus, but since you are following the advice above, you will be using manual focus anyway, so go for it!
Second, you can get some very inexpensive lens filters that will transform your normal non-macro lens into a close-up lens. Just make sure you get the right size so that it will screw onto the lens you plan to use. The Rebel T3i Kit lens takes a 58mm filter.
There is still another option. Recently, I posted a “macro photography tips” article about how you can capture macro images without a macro lens; you simply reverse your regular lens. This is the cheapest method for close ups.
Hopefully, these macro photography tips will give you something to think about next time you shoot.
I love taking pictures of flowers, especially in my own yard. Flower photography has risen to the top as my favorite thing to photograph. I have been waiting for my first Dahlia to bloom (and I mean EVER – I never knew there was such a flower), and today I received the reward for my patience.
There are actually dahlia clubs and societies. I have several varieties planted around my yard. Our friends who own a nursery in Montana introduced us to these amazing flowers. Maybe I will be joining one of those societies someday. (LOL – I’m not really a “society” kind of guy.)
The method I used for this shot is not exactly a beginner’s photography technique, but it is not too difficult. I will try to explain the method so you can try it with your camera.
I took this in manual mode so that I could darken the background. I also used a new softbox attachment for my speedlite flash so I could close the aperture (larger number = closed more). When you don’t have enough light to illuminate the entire area, the flash will lighten the flower. I really like the way it turned out.
You can do the same thing without the Speedlite. Just set your Rebel on Manual and choose a shutter speed of 1/200. This is the “sync” speed of your Rebel, meaning that when you are using a flash, the shutter speed can’t go any faster than 1/200.
Choose an aperture that is a fairly high number. This will close the aperture and darken the background while the flash lights the subject. If there is a bright sun, this may not work as well, but you can try using something to shade the subject if there is too much light.
Here is another example of the same method. (These are not dahlias)
Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 lens @ 28mm
Canon Speedlite 320ex with Fotodiox 6″ x 8″ softbox
If you have any questions about the method or explanation, please feel free to leave a comment.
Reverse Lens Macro is the really cheap way to get started with actual Macro Photography
This will be quick. You will discover how to take an actual macro shot with your kit lens (or any lens for that matter). It will work with any digital SLR camera, but I will be using a Canon Rebel T3i. Note that with a T3i you can use Live View in your LCD panel.
Make sure you read the whole article or watch the video all the way through to find out how you can greatly improve the quality of your reverse lens shots.
The picture on the right was taken with my Canon T3i and the Kit Lens. The camera was set on the Macro setting on the mode dial (the setting is the one that looks like a tulip flower). This is not a true macro photo, even though it was taken on the right setting. The Kit Lens just is not capable of taking a true macro.
I disconnected the lens and turned it around, holding it tightly against the lens opening and took this next shot. You can see a major difference in how much of the frame is filled with the flower. Now, this is a macro photograph.
So this can be done with any lens you have in your camera bag. The most common lens for reverse macro photography is the 50mm f1.8, but the kit lens works almost as well.
The down side is that you can’t adjust the aperture, which means there is very little depth of field (the picture will have an area in focus, but just a few millimeters in front or behind that focus area is blurry.
But, Fear not! Just watch the video and pay attention to the second half to find out how you can increase the depth of field.
I also recommend that you get a Reversal Ring for you camera. They are very cheap and they will allow you much more control and accuracy, since you don’t have to hold the lens and camera together and keep them steady at the same time.
Watch the video. As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”