No Two Shots are the Same

Everyone gets there at one point or another. “I don’t want to drive far to photograph new scenery and I’ve already visited everything worth photographing here.” You get lazy and lose motivation to shoot on your free time.

That’s the moment you need to kick your creativity into gear. The truth is you could photograph the same exact scene a million different ways. No two photos are ever the same. Always train your eye to view a subject from various perspectives. Best of all, you may capture a photo of the scene you like more.

A perfect example of why no two photos are ever the same!

Photography is first and foremost an art. If you don’t put in a creative effort, your resulting work is going to be lackluster.

A Wide-Angle Approach

I’m geeking out a bit today. I picked-up a new wide-angle lens and decided I should do a blog post about it. This isn’t so much a review as it is a look at how photo gear can help take your photography in different directions. If you’ve read my first blog you’ll know that I’m a “talent before gear” type of photographer. I’ve seen amazing shots taken on a basic point and shoot Kodak. With that said, the right gear can certainly benefit your craft!

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Back to the wide-angle lens. I’ve always been an avid landscape and nature photographer. With standard lenses, you run into issue with field of view, slow focusing, depth of field, chromatic aberrations… I won’t bore you with all the factors involved in choosing a lens. Simply put, this new lens kicks ass when it comes to landscape photography. Just take a look for yourself:

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At the end of the day, we are all limited to our budgets. I’d love to get my hands on that $2,000 45mm Nikon Tilt-Shift lens, but that’s just not happening any time soon. I encourage every aspiring photographer to assess their needs. I purchase lenses I know will suit my shooting style. Or, maybe they allow me to venture into a style I have not yet dabbled in. Photo gear can be expensive, but if it helps to grow your passion, it’s certainly worth it.

Get those “Money Shots”

I’ll be honest. Sometimes being on a shoot… scratch that, every time I’m on a shoot I get a tad nervous. Nerves bring the best out in your work. It’s totally normal to feel them. What matters is how you channel those nerves to produce quality work.

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I’ve come across a trick. It’s nothing ground-breaking, but it helps give me some piece of mind when I’m on a job. Focus on your “Money Shots” and experiment with everything else. Get the shots you know you’re going to be most proud of. Capture crucial events and moments throughout the day. Secure the important shots you know your client is expecting. Then, experiment and try something unique with the rest of your shots.

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You can’t grow as a photographer if you don’t ever step out of your comfort zone. Shooting a gig for a client can be nerve wrecking. But a little experimentation re-sparks your creativity and can help you channel your nerves to produce amazing images.

Becoming a Manual Photographer: ISO

So, you’ve been practicing dialing in your shutter speeds and aperture on your camera and now you’re back for more. Great, because today we’re going to cover the final element of the exposure triangle: ISO. The final step to becoming a manual photographer involves utilizing the three manual functions of your camera in unison to capture a perfect exposure. This might all sound a bit overwhelming, but don’t worry too much. Luckily, your camera has nifty little tool to help you with that as well!

So, to start, what exactly is ISO? ISO actually originates from the days of film photography. It essentially measured your specific roll of film’s sensitivity to light. This affected what conditions you could use your film in. For example: A high sensitivity film roll would suite night photographers best, where a low sensitivity film might not capture enough light to produce a proper image in a dark setting. A range of different ISO rolls once flooded the market:

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You might be asking, “Why so many different types of film? Why not always use a high ISO film? One could then shoot in both dark or light situations.” While that is true in theory, there is one disadvantage to high ISO film. The more sensitive a film is to light, the more grainy an image it produces. Often, shooting at extremely high ISO settings results in grainy images that look as though they’ve had a crappy Instagram filter applied, as you can see below:

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The same holds true for digital photography, however ISO on your DSLR is digitally adjustable. Much in the same way film works, the ISO setting on your digital camera adjusts the image sensor’s sensitivity to light. Modern DSLRs offer a range of settings to play with in the varying lighting conditions you might encounter when you are out shooting. So, a general rule of thumb is to shoot at the lowest sensitivity possible to reduce grain.

But how do you know what all these settings will produce? If you take into account shutter speeds, aperture, and ISO, that’s a lot of trial and error to experiment with, right? Not quite so; All film SLR and modern DSLR cameras have a nifty, built-in light meter. This generally appears at the bottom of your viewfinder when you look through the eyepiece. This meter has a needle that will shift from left to right as you tweak camera settings. The goal is to get the needle dead-center on the meter as is seen below. This indicates that your camera will produce a properly exposed image given your current lighting conditions.

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The go-to settings you want to tweak first are aperture (learn more) and shutter speeds (learn more). When these settings fail to produce a properly exposed image, you may have to resort to lowering or raising your ISO to get the light meter as close to center as possible. With that said, always remember your camera is just a machine. It uses sensors and programming to predict which settings will look best. But photography is highly subjective. At the end of the day, you are the photographer. Rules are often meant to be broken and only you can decide what settings will produce a desired outcome.

That’s really all there is to it! Okay not really, there are hundreds of other settings and sub-menus you can dig through in your camera’s settings. Just look at the massive manual that came bundled with it! Because DSLRs vary from make and model, I recommend reading through it to familiarize yourself with your camera. However, the fundamental settings I covered in this Manual Photographer series are universal and serve as the foundation for manual photography. Every other setting your camera has builds upon these fundamental three. Now that your well-equipped, it’s time to practice. The best way to hone your skills is to get the heck out of the house and start shooting!

Becoming a Manual Photographer: Shutter Speeds

I’m back! I took a week off from blogging but I’m back as we continue our intro to manual photography series. Today we cover the second of the three major settings in manual photography: shutter speeds. If you haven’t yet read my first blog on aperture, click here.

Shutter speeds are actually an easy concept to understand. When you look through the viewfinder in your camera you are literally looking through the lens (TTL). You might be wondering then why the viewfinder in a camera isn’t located directly behind the lens. That’s because your camera’s image sensor (or film in traditional 35mm cameras) is located there. The viewfinder consists of a series of mirrors that allows the image from the lens to reach the eye-piece of the viewfinder, as can be seen below:Untitled-1

When you release your shutter button to take a photo, one of the mirrors in that series pops up for a designated period of time. This allows the light passing through your lens to be recorded onto your image sensor or film, resulting in a digital image or negative. You can control the amount of time your shutter remains open to allow more or less light into your camera. This will dictate how bright or dark your image becomes. Shutter speeds are measured in fractions of a second. Common shutter speeds range from a full second up to 1/1000 of a second.

This leads to another factor we must consider when selecting shutter speeds. While your shutter is open, your camera is capturing an image. However, still images do not function the same way video does. Any motion within your frame or motion of the camera itself can blur your image. The longer your shutter is open, the more susceptible it is to this blur. When shooting at low shutter speeds a tripod is absolutely necessary. Even a photographer’s breathing rate can affect the image at very low speeds!

Let’s observe the following waterfall photo I took a while back. In order to capture the ripples and droplets of the fast-moving water in vivid detail, I had to shoot at a relatively fast shutter speed. This particular photo was shot at 1/250 of a second. Sports photographers often shoot at very high shutter speeds to capture moving athletes in stunning detail.

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With that said, you are always encouraged to take artistic liberties and play with your shutter speeds in unique ways. Maybe you don’t want to capture your subject in crisp detail. Maybe you want to plop your camera on a tripod and slow the shutter down to create a cool light trail effect as can be seen below. Allowing the amusement park ride to blur in motion creates a sense of speed and the trailing lights add to the excitement of the photo. I shot this at 1/10 of a second. Admittedly, I was not using a tripod, however I always recommend using one at anything slower than 1/30 of a second. Don’t be a hero, no one has hands that steady!

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Join me next week when I cover the last element of manual photography: ISO, and show you how to utilize all three settings to master your compositions.

Becoming a Manual Photographer: Aperture

Today is the day! Today you become one with your camera; you become a Manual Photographer! In short, I’d like to share my first beginners camera tutorial. If you still have your camera dial set to auto, read on. Believe it or not, this is the easy stuff. Anyone can learn how to operate a camera; true greatness lies in the photographer’s eye. Nonetheless, understanding apertures, shutter speeds, and ISO are essential. Together, those three factors make up the basis of how your camera captures a photo. Or what is known as the Exposure Triangle:

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It’s time for you to switch your camera into manual mode and begin to understand the inner workings of your DSLR. I too found this intimidating at first. That’s why I am going to break down the concept of manual photography into a series of three posts. Today we are going to cover apertures or F-stops. Traditionally, aperture on a camera would be adjusted by turning an F-stop ring on the barrel of a lens. These days, DSLR allow you to digitally control aperture with a dial and digital display built into the camera body.

It doesn’t matter how you adjust the aperture on your camera, the same essential function occurs. Think about the aperture inside your camera lens like you would the human eye. Have you ever noticed when you walk out into the bright sun your pupils constrict? They shrink down to absorb less light, allowing your brain to process the image you are seeing. The moment you step into a dark room, your pupils dilate. They open wide to absorb more light when needed. The aperture inside of a camera lens functions much the same way. The difference is you control the aperture manually. As you can see below, F-stop numbers correlate inversely to the size of the aperture’s opening. The higher the number, the smaller the opening and the less light will make it to the camera’s sensor. Therefore the darker your image will be. The opposite is true lower F-stop values.

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Additionally, the aperture setting you select will affect what’s known as depth of field. The best way to demonstrate depth of field is through focus. A small opening (High F-stop number) will generally keep your entire frame in focus (bottom right). The larger you open your aperture (Low F-stop number), the more targeted your focus becomes (bottom left). At a high F-stop setting, such as f/22, only your subject will remain in focus. The foreground and background of the image becomes blurred.

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There are several other factors that affect your composition. In the coming weeks I will cover shutter speeds, ISO (also known as sensor sensitivity), and how you could utilize your camera’s internal light metering system to properly dial-in all of these confusing settings.

Location, location, location

“Okay, I have my camera. I feel inspired, but where do I go shoot? I’ve been down to [INSERT YOUR FAVORITE SCENIC LOCATION HERE] a ton of times. What’s next?”

I find myself asking these questions quite often. Location, location, location. Sometimes as a photographer I get so caught up on where I’m going to shoot that I forget to focus on what I’m going to shoot. The truth is, you can go to the same spot every day for a month and still be inspired by something there. The beauty of photography is that you aren’t simply capturing a scene, you’re freezing a moment in time. No two moments are ever the same! More importantly, there are a myriad of factors that can affect the outcome of your work. For example: seasons of the year, time of day, the people you choose to use as subjects, even your state of mind can have a drastic impact on your work. Take for instance the following photos, all of which were shot in my own backyard:

I know it sounds ridiculous to confine yourself to your backyard, but I challenge any photographer, novice or seasoned to go outside when you feel inspired and just start shooting. Take photos of everything you see within a three-block radius. Yes, you are likely to take A LOT of mundane photos, but in every 20 mundane photos you take, you’ll find a gem. One that truly strikes you; and it was sitting in your own backyard this entire time!