Tips and Techniques

Canoe Dig It?

Fujifilm Natura 1600 film is a specialty film stock best used in low light, but it can handle beach lighting situations as long as your camera can compensate. The grain in the photo doesn’t work with the subject and scene. This shot would have been better with something ASA 100 or 200.

Here’s a tip for all us forgetful folks:  Write down the film stock you’re using on a strip of masking tape and stick that on the back of your camera. 

Shot with a Ricoh GR1 point and shoot.


What a busy, crazy month its been since I wrote about wanting to post photography fundamentals here on Sorry if I’ve kept you waiting, but here we go. I’d like to start out this series with a topic that befuddles many beginners: exposure.

Details in both shadow and highlight make this a properly exposed photo

Definition of Exposure

So, what is exposure? The definition of exposure, according to Wikipedia, is “the total amount of light allowed to fall on the photographic medium  during the process of taking a photograph.” In simpler words, it’s the amount of light that hits your film to produce an image.

Three variables determine a photograph’s exposure. The first is aperture (which is just another word for “opening”). The second is shutter speed (the amount of time your camera lets in light). The third is ISO (the sensitivity of your film to light). The first two variables regulate the amount of light that enters a camera. The third determines how much light is needed to burn an image onto the recording medium (the higher the ISO, the less light needed for a shot). Understanding the relationship among these three variables is fundamental to our understanding of what exposure is and how to control it.

The Drinking Glass Analogy

The Drinking Glass Analogy

There are several analogies used to illustrate this relationship, but my favorite is the one that uses a drinking glass, a faucet and some water.  You can actually go and do this in real life, just to drive the point in.

The drinking glass represents a blank frame of film, while the water represents light. In order to create a photo, you have to fill that glass up by opening the tap and letting the water flow. Now, you can open the tap just a little bit to let the water drip out slowly. Or, you can open it wide to fill that glass up fast. The tap represents your first control, aperture. The second control is shutter speed, which is represented by the time you keep the faucet running. The third variable, ISO, is represented by the size of your glass. If ISO 50 is a huge Slurpee cup, ISO 800 is a shot glass. (more…)

Fireworks Shuttleworth

Photo by SWSmith Photography

Just two days until we bid farewell to the year that was 2011 and welcome in the Year of Our Lord 2012, most likely with wonderfully excessive displays of pyrotechnomania. And while I don’t recommend strapping Roman candles to your boobs and setting them alight (a la Katy Perry), I do encourage everyone to crank up their cameras for some firework photography. While luck factors a lot in shooting pyrotechnics, there are some techniques to put into play to improve your shots. To help those who may not have a clue how to go about capturing a massive chrysanthemum bloom in the sky or a Catherine wheel in furious spin, here are ten of the best tips I’ve learned.

2008 first Fireworks

Photo by Daita

1. Go full manual
Forget aperture priority or shutter speed priority or full-on auto. If you want to take even decent firework shots, you’ve got to get a camera that lets you adjust your controls (speed, aperture, focus) manually. If you rely on your camera’s on-board metering system, chances are, their readings will be out of whack.

2. Set your shutter speed to B(ulb)
A slow shutter speed is key to capturing a nighttime mid-air explosion in all its glory. It takes time for a pyrotechnic starburst to achieve its maximum diameter, and you’ll want your shutter to be open all that time. With the Bulb setting, you have control over how long your shutter will stay open, long or short. I typically play around from 5 to 10 seconds. Also, you never really know when the next rocket will go off, so keeping your shutter open longer increases your chances of catching a few choice explosions.


Photo by Probably Okay!


Have a ball this Christmas!

With just under 24 hours before we hit Christmas – in this slice of the world, at least – this might be a tad late. But, if you live around these parts, chances are great that you won’t be taking down your Christmas lights until well into the new year. There’s still time to do this!

By “this,” I mean using creative aperture techniques to add shape to background lights and highlights. See the above photo? Look at the stars. See how they shine for you. No, that is not a Photoshop trick. I’ve transformed the pinpricks of light coming from a string of Christmas lights into five-point stars by modifying the shape of my camera lens’ aperture. In this case, I am using my favorite lens for this type of shot: the Lensbaby 2.0. If you don’t know what a Lensbaby is, just follow this link.

Lensbaby lenses don’t have adjustable iris apertures the way most lenses do. To adjust the opening, either to open it wide or stop it down, you have to insert aperture disks manually onto the front of the lens. Normally, those aperture disks just have circular holes punched into them, corresponding to a particular aperture size, say f/8 or f/2. What’s neat is you can also have aperture disks with different shaped holes. In this case, a star-shaped hole. (more…)

Bored with your double exposures? Tired of your supersampling? Here’s one cool tip I came across recently from Rene Nob of Lomomanila. It involves a supersampler and its four lenses, double exposures and two positive/negative masks. I won’t ruin the thrill of the hunt by posting the tip here, but here’s a sample:

Image by Rene Nob

To learn how to do this, click here.

Aside from stereo cards and stereo pairs in books, Brian May’s OWL stereoscope may also be used to view the growing number of 3D videos popping up on YouTube. Watching Wile E. Coyote getting the crap beat out of him by cruel karmic fate is hella fun when it feels like you’re in the video.

For those who don’t have a stereoscope, YouTube provides other 3D viewing options: red-cyan, green-magenta or blue-yellow glasses, interleaved rows, columns or checkerboard, monitor, or (of which I am biased for) stereo pair. No compatibility for the polarized glasses you’ve swiped from the cinema.

I’ve been watching these videos on the YouTube app for iPad, which presents the videos at a more-or-less correct fit for the OWL. Going full-screen is not an option. Now while side-by-side stereo pair viewing does reduce the aspect ratio from widescreen to something close to 4:3, it maintains the true color of the video. When you’re watching a Looney Tunes clip, true color makes all the difference.

If you’re interested in ordering a stereo viewer, you can order an OWL from the London Stereoscopic Company. Alternatively, you could either learn to freeview stereo pairs or construct your own viewer, here and here.

Watching 3D videos with the OWL Stereoscope


Walk On

No trip to Beijing is complete without a visit to the Forbidden City, which truly deserves a day or two (more even) in your itinerary. Unfortunately we only had a couple of hours to walk through the site’s vast grounds. Better than nothing, of course, and I took the opportunity to practice street photography, which candidly frames human subjects within their environmental context.  It’s quite the challenge for me, a natural introvert, to take photos of strangers in public but I manned up and just did it.

The best advice from experienced street photographers I’ve put to practice is to smile while you’re taking photos. A natural smile, mind you, never creepy. Meter for ambient light and set your camera’s aperture and shutter speed well in advance, so you don’t waste time fiddling with your dials just when you see a shot coming together. When you find a backdrop you really like, compose the shot in advance, pre-focus on a sweet spot and just wait for a subject to walk into the frame. You can also keep your aperture as narrow as possible for maximum depth of field to keep things in sharp focus.

For these shots I used my vintage Olympus PEN S.  It’s small and discreet, and hardly makes a sound.  Its 30mm lens is wide enough to capture huge chunks of scenery and gives great depth of field. Perfect for street photography.

Fashion Rampage

(Okay, for this shot above I cheated: these aren’t strangers.)

Forbidden Walk

Open Window


I’ve yet to figure out if WordPress has a Readmore function, so I’ll cap this at five shots. If you want to see more from this set, feel free to view the collection at my Flickr account. Add me as a contact and I’ll add you back. Good night!

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