Capture Your Winter Wonderland

A snowy landscape is an inspiring image, and to bring your winter wonderland center stage, it helps to include another object that can create contrast. An exclusively snowy image may not provide enough visual interest, but even shadows can create a compelling addition to the composition. If you shoot early or late in the day, the sun’s low angle can cast long shadows and contrast to other aspects of the image. Simply adjusting your camera angle based on the sun’s position can change or impact your final result, which can be a fantastic asset when experimenting with different approaches to this subject.

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Photographing Holiday Lights: The Basics

Some people think that you need an expensive camera or an elaborate setup to photograph holiday lights, but in truth, you can work wonders with a standard point-and-shoot and a little knowledge of how to balance light.

Flash Not Necessary: When it comes to photographing the season’s lights, the decorative version may be all you need for proper illumination. In fact, when it comes to Christmas trees and other indoor decorations, a closely positioned flash can overpower the scene and create a washed-out effect. It’s often better to try photographing the lights first and examine the results. Oftentimes, the holiday lighting is more than capable of standing on its own and actually shines better when left alone.

Incorporating Ambient Light: Photographing holiday lights means keeping track of the diminishing ambient light—most notably, the sun as it sets. You’ll get the best results photographing lights BEFORE it gets dark. During the dusk period, you’ll find a nice balance of diminishing ambient light contrasting with the holiday lights, which means you’ll be able to see more objects in the background.

Try Tungsten: Set your custom white balance to tungsten, just as you would if you were photographing something indoors without using a flash. Holiday lights are balanced for tungsten lighting and this will give your images a warm contrast between the sky/background and the lights.

Bring Your Tripod: Using a tripod is especially important in shooting holiday lights. It will provide stability, which is particularly critical with low-light photography, and will keep your shot properly framed as you continue shooting as the evening light transitions to black.

Take Ten Shots (Over Ten Minutes): Once you have everything set, begin taking a photograph every minute or so. Your eyes may not register the gradual changes so track the time with your watch or cell phone. Then, shoot every minute or so over a 10-15 minute period. You’ll see the changes in evening lighting as you scroll though your shots.

There’s no one right answer when it comes to photographing holiday lights, and this is actually a good thing. Each situation is different, so feel free to apply these tips and then experiment based upon the results. There are few things more fun than an impromptu holiday photo safari, so grab your gear a bit before twilight and enjoy the experience!

Foodie Photography

Nothing showcases the holiday festivities like food photography, and for foodies across the country, December offers nonstop picture-taking opportunities. For those who want to highlight the festivities and feasts, here are a few tips to feature your favorite dishes:

Check Details in Advance: The focus should be on the food. Don’t let stray details like items of clutter or a mismatched plate compete with your mouthwatering subject. Keep serving dishes simple and elegant and check for items that you don’t want to include in your shot.

Try a Tripod: Avoid introducing camera shake into your images. A tripod will provide stability and allow you to experiment with your settings based on your lighting conditions and other factors. Your shutter speed may very well be slower for these shots so the stability a tripod provides will be important in retaining sharpness.

Frame Tight & Try Angles: Shoot closer than you normally would and experiment with angles. Some of the most successful food bloggers create their fabulous foodie photos by photographing from various angles. Experimentation is a fun part of this experience and you may discover a new trick or two!

Incorporate Holiday Lighting: How you choose to use lighting can impact your images in dramatic ways. A willingness to experiment with position, available light and aperture will all culminate into a successful photo session. You can use small, ‘twinkle’ lights or tea lights to add an element of festivity to your images. You may want to ‘burn in’ your lighting, which simply means using a slower shutter speed for your lens to capture the proper lighting effect. Small shifts in shutter speed and lighting can create big changes, take the time to play and decide which combination works best for you. Happy Holidays!

Spooky Snaps: Getting Ghoulishly Great Photos

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Halloween kicks off the beginning of the holiday season with kids of all ages waiting to don their superhero costumes in search of free candy. However, sometimes the hustle of the day and juggling daily demands keeps us from capturing the evening’s events the way we had hoped. Don’t’ worry – we’re here to help! We’ve compiled some of our favorite tips to help you prepare to photograph the entire evening as all the fun unfolds.

Start Early: Don’t wait to start taking pictures until everyone is already dressed and ready to hit the sidewalks–-their excitement may make them less enthusiastic about posing for photos. Some of the best photos involve candid images featuring the kids’ excitement in getting ready for the evening. Painting their faces, putting on a tiara, tying on a cape – these moments are ideal in showcasing the anticipation of Halloween festivities.

Shooting the Scenery: It’s easy to forget to photograph our surroundings when there are so many great costumes on display. With that in mind, some of the decorations needn’t take second stage. For example, for jack-o-lantern shots, make sure to zoom in close and fill the frame. The lantern is likely lit so keep your flash off as it may overpower the image and create a ‘hot spot’ on its surface. Play with interesting angles, shooting low and upward to give the effect of impending doom and added spookiness.

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Gaze Through the Glass: If you have a glass pane on your front door, try having the kids look through while you shoot from the other side. Just remember to turn your flash off so light doesn’t bounce off the glass.

Make a Run for It: Consider taking a few pictures of your kids running down the sidewalk with their treat bags in tow. Make sure your ISO is at a higher setting to catch the movement and pick your perfect spot to shoot before you let them run free.

Nighttime Shots: The right flash distance can make all the difference when it comes to creating that perfect image. Most cameras have a flash that is effective somewhere between five and ten feet from the subject; just don’t stand too close or else you may find your picture looks too bright or overexposed.

Stupendous Sports Pics

Fall is in full swing, so bring on the football, soccer and other outdoor events! When it comes to photographing outdoors amongst the crowd, it helps to have an accessory to navigate the obstacles that stand between you and that perfect goal shot. A monopod is just the thing to help you position yourself on the sidelines. In addition to providing stability for your camera – a must when photographing action – a monopod is light and easy to manipulate, including lifting it at angles to photograph around or over a crowd. While a tripod may prove cumbersome in tight situations, a monopod remains mobile, allowing you to float amongst the crowd to capture that perfect moment in time. Stop by and browse our selection of monopods.

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Tips for Shooting Indoor Events

When photographing indoor events, we are often less than pleased with the resulting images. They are often dark and grainy, and many time the colors just don’t seem right.

Lighting conditions vary greatly in theaters, convention centers, sports arenas, and other public spaces. Not only might they be dimly lit, but different types of light fixtures cast a different color of light on your subjects.

With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you capture better images.

– With the growing popularity of cell phone cameras, people are often lured into a false sense of security when taking pictures at indoor events. Sure, they are real quick and convenient, but they cannot compare to the quality of a digital camera. The sensors are very small and the flashes (if any) are very weak. They work fine for Facebook and posting online, but fall short of expectations for prints and enlargements.

– Indoor shots are often blurry and out-of-focus, often due to the slow shutter speeds needed for low-light shooting. If the venue is poorly lit, you could try using a flash. An add-on flash is better than the camera’s pop-up flash, for it offers more power, and being further above the lens, it reduces the likelihood of “red-eye”. You can also try to increase your camera’s ISO setting (the sensitivity of the sensor to light) for better exposures. Be careful, though…higher ISO settings can add “noise” or muddiness to your image.

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– If the color of your image is “off”, you should try changing the camera’s White Balance setting. Find the menu or button labeled WB, and try the different settings until you get a more accurate color tone. Fluorescent lights cast a blue-green tint on scenes. Tungsten or incandescent lights cast a warmer orange tint. Adjusting the white balance lets the camera compensate to get better skin tones.

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– When posing groups, often a tripod and remote shutter release can help. They hold the camera steady for sharper images, and allow you to focus your attention on the smiles. Switching your shutter release to “continuous” allows you to quickly take multiple shots, increasing your chance of getting all the eyes open.

– Photographers who shoot weddings and events have found that lenses with fast apertures (f/2.8 or faster) deliver better images in low light settings. The larger glass elements perform better with less light, allowing for faster shutter speeds and lower ISO settings. These will result in better quality images and less blurring of action. The down side is the higher cost of these lenses.

My best advice is to practice! Know how to change your shooting modes, how to adjust the ISO and white balance, and to do them quickly and in the dark. If you can, visit the venue before the event and try to see what the lighting will be like. A little bit of preparation can go a long ways toward getting some lasting images!

By Guest Blogger Marty DeWitt

Creating a “Self-Assignment”

Ways to challenge yourself to become a better photographer

Over the years, I have been involved with several different groups and organizations with a shared interest in photography. Many of those years were with the Sioux Falls Camera Club, where judged competitions helped us strive for better techniques and encouraged us to try new things.

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As an off-shoot of those days, I found a personal technique to help when I occasionally found myself in a photographic “rut.” I’m referring to a self-assignment, where I focus my efforts on a specific subject or technique for a period of time. During that time, I experiment with different settings, angles, techniques, or utilize different accessories to expand my shooting abilities.

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In the past, I have tackled long-exposure water shots, night and star photography, painting with light, back-lighting, macro photography, and even with black and white captures…a throw-back to the good old days. These have each caused me to look differently at subjects I’ve photographed for years, and to hone new skills for capturing images with new life.

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For a good place to start, I would suggest trying something totally different from where your interests currently lie. If you are a nature or landscape photographer, spend some time shooting portraits with a friend or family member. Kids are great to photograph, especially when they’re not aware of it!

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If you want to excel in wildlife photography, especially with birds of prey, try spending some time at a sporting event or race track. Shooting a different type and pace of action may be helpful in honing your skills at tracking an eagle in flight.

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If you aspire to be a portrait photographer, spending some time shooting macro and close-up subjects might give you a better understanding of critical depth of field. The world of macro is also full of great abstracts of color, patterns and textures, all of which might inspire a fine art photographer into being.

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If you want to really challenge yourself, try photographing a scene or subject differently once each day for a month. The catch is – you only get one shot!

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The idea is to expand your photographic horizons. In much the same way that our Harold’s Photo classes encourage you to move away from the automatic “Green Box” on your control dial, you can force yourself to explore new ways of looking at the world through your viewfinder. It will help keep you fresh and inspired. And who knows, it may just end up opening a door to a new career path!

By Guest Blogger Marty DeWitt