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Worth 1000 Words #004 -- Tips for Better Summer Photography
August 18, 2010
Hello

I hope you're enjoying the month of August! Welcome to this month's issue of "Worth a Thousand Words." You may notice that this month's issue is coming to you on Wednesday, rather than Monday. Wednesday will be the usual delivery day from now on.

This month's issue is packed with tips, exercises and the usual "cool stuff" link. Check out some summer photography tips, information on when you can (and can't!) hand-hold your camera, and a fun project called "Face Your Pockets." Enjoy!

Tips for Better Summer Photography

Those of us in the northern hemisphere are enjoying the beautiful summer weather right now. It’s a great time to get out and take pictures, while enjoying the sunshine. How can you make sure you capture great images? Here are a few tips for you:

Tip #1: Beware the harsh light. The very same sunshine that makes it great to be outside can actually be the worst light for your pictures. The bright, mid-day sun casts very harsh shadows, and produces a range of light to dark tones (called “dynamic range”) that is often too great for your sensor to properly record. This results in pictures with “blown out” highlights and “blocked up” shadows. To avoid this, try to shoot during what photographers like to term the “golden hour:” the half hour before and after sunrise and sunset. The light is warmer (more yellow in color) at this time of day, and casts softer shadows. If you are photographing people during the day, try to move them into the shade to avoid squinting eyes, and dark shadows on faces.

Tip #2: Make it personal. What makes your summer pictures special? You do! Use your unique perspective on the world to create personal images. You will treasure your images more if they tell the story of what summer means to you. Is it buying an ice cream when the ice cream truck comes through your neighborhood? Having a picnic in the park? Maybe it’s swimming in the lake at the cottage, or watching the kids draw chalk art on the sidewalk. Perhaps you prefer watching a street festival downtown. There are many iconic images that say “summer.” Work on creating something that says summer to you.

Tip #3: Color it hot! The colors you choose for the subjects in your image have a psychological impact on your viewer. Reds, oranges and yellows are considered warm colors, while blues and purples are cool. That means that if you photograph someone at the beach holding a red beach ball, wearing orange swim trunks, and walking on the golden sand, it will give a stronger impression of a hot day than if you photograph them with a green beach ball, wearing purple swim trunks, and standing beside a nice blue swimming pool. The latter image will look very refreshing, instead of hot. There’s no right or wrong! Think about the story you want to tell, and choose your colors accordingly.

The topic of this month’s Photo Challenge at Ultimate Photo Tips happens to be “summertime!” Put your images to the test, and submit one to the contest!

Creativity Exercise

Looking for inspiration to get the creative juices flowing? This month’s exercise sounds easy, but can be a challenge to do well, and will help you practice your exposure settings.

The project is to shoot the color white. The whole image should be white: eggs on a plate, bed linens, feathers on a white background, a bunch of white roses, … You get the idea! You will need to do the usual work to find a pleasing composition. The additional challenge is to make sure your image is well-exposed. You don’t want to blow out any highlights, but you can’t use your camera’s automatic exposure settings, or else your image will come out a dull grey. Tip: you’ll find that you need to manually over-expose your image (i.e., over the camera’s meter reading) by 1 to 2 stops to get your whites looking white. Open the aperture wider or use a longer shutter speed. Make sure you also have enough shadow detail to keep the image interesting; a completely white rectangle probably won’t make it past the art critics (at least not until you’ve made a big name for yourself ;-).

Something Every Photographer Needs to Know: Tip of the Month

When you need to use a longer shutter speed because the light is low, remember that you can’t hand-hold your camera. If you do, your images will be blurry because the slight motion of your hands will shake the camera. Even when you think the exposure is fast, the tiniest movement of the lens can cause blur.

The longest shutter speed at which you can hand-hold depends on the focal length of your lens. The longer the lens, the faster the shutter speed must be. The rule of thumb is that your shutter speed must be roughly equal to one over the focal length of your lens. That means that for a 200mm lens, you need at least a 1/200th of a second shutter speed to handhold without camera shake. A little faster is better, to be safe.

If the light conditions have you right on the borderline of an acceptable shutter speed, then try to anchor your body by leaning against a wall or tree, and keep your arms tucked in close to your body for added stability.

To avoid the issue altogether, you can try to add light to the scene through the use of flash or a continuous source lamp. Better yet, and the solution I always recommend if your subject is stationary, is to use a tripod. If you are travelling, and don’t want to carry a tripod or dish out the “professional fees” that some destinations (e.g., the Acropolis and Rome) are charging for tripod use, then check out the Joby Gorillapod. The latest version can handle up to 11lbs, and makes a portable alternative to a full-scale tripod. The legs are flexible, and can wrap around beams or railings if a flat surface is not available.

Too Cool Not to Share!

Face Your Pockets

Photography has long been used for both documentary and expressive purposes. Self-portraits are artists’ representations of themselves that both document who they are, and express something of their inner selves through creative interpretation. This month, I found a fun project where people are creating a specific kind of self-portrait using a scanner, instead of a camera. The idea of the Face Your Pockets project is that you must empty the contents of your pockets or purse onto the scanner, and place your face, or a portion of it, on the scanner too (close your eyes to protect them!). Press scan, and presto! You have an image to add to the collection -- one that gives a unique insight into who you are.

What’s New this Month at Ultimate Photo Tips

Photo Challenges

July’s photo challenge results are in! The topic was “After Dark.” Check out the winning image which is a beautiful shot of the harbor in St. John’s, Newfoundland at night.

The topic of August’s photo challenge is “Summertime.” Make it personal! What does summertime mean to you? I invite you to participate ! So far, there are images of sunflowers, the beach, canola fields and more! Submit your picture now. Once again, we’re delighted to see repeat entrants – welcome back!

See what images other people are submitting, and vote for your favorite.

Tony Sweet on Creativity

Watch for a podcast interview with renowned nature photographer Tony Sweet, coming in the next few weeks.


Happy shooting from Ultimate Photo Tips!
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