Worth a Thousand Words: Issue #008


Worth a Thousand Words, Issue #008 — 3 Tips for Better Holiday Photos
December 15, 2010
In this month’s issue, I share 3 tips to improve your holiday photos. Our “cool link” reminds us that there are pictures to be found in the most mundane of subjects. We also have a new holiday-inspired creativity exercise to challenge you. Finally, our tip of the month is for those of you in northern climes — how to photograph snow. Last, but certainly not least, guest writer Larry Monzcka brings us a new article on the website. What more could you ask for? Enjoy!

Three Tips for Better Holiday Photos

Be prepared! The secret to good action photography is anticipating the decisive moment before it happens. When you’re photographing people, you need to know (or guess!) what they’re going to do before they do it. Those magic moments when a child’s eyes light up as they open a gift are over in a second. Try to be one step ahead of them, and have your camera in position and ready. It helps to be watching the scene unfold through the viewfinder (or the CCD) so that your shot is already set up, and all you have to do is click. When the magic happens, make sure to shoot a few frames, too, to maximize your chances of capturing the perfect moment.

Ditch the distractions. When shooting candids of your family or friends, look for uncluttered backgrounds. When you’re taking a picture, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment, and to pay attention only to your subject. Although your brain is very good at filtering out distracting elements at the time you are taking the picture, those elements still get recorded by your camera. They will still show up in your picture unless you do something about them! You’ve probably heard me say this before, but it bears repeating: scan the entire frame to make sure there are no distractions. What’s Uncle Bob doing in the background? Is that a bright light turned on just above your friend’s head? Is Rover’s tail sticking into the edge of the frame? Is there left-over wrapping paper on the floor? If you see anything that doesn’t add to your story, then take a moment to recompose. Move your camera, move your subject, or move yourself!

Get in close for the details. Often when we’re photographing the holidays, we only think of taking pictures of our friends and family. This season, take a moment to look around and spot some of the details that are symbolic of the season, or particularly meaningful to you and your family. These images can help to paint a complete picture of the holiday. Perhaps a candle, a decoration, a wrapped gift, or a table setting would make a special memory. Get in close, and fill the frame with your chosen detail. Experiment, and try a few different angles to come up with an interesting composition.

Creativity Exercise

Have some fun this season photographing the holiday lights. This exercise can be done with a compact digital camera, or a DSLR, as long as you can manually set the shutter speed.

If you use a long shutter speed to photograph the holiday lights at night, you can achieve a variety of interesting effects. Try shutter speeds of 1/4 to 1/2 a second to start with. While the shutter is open, make deliberate movements with your camera. Try up and down, or pan sideways. This is one time that it’s okay to take the camera off the tripod at night! Your camera movement will create streaks of light in the direction of your movement. Experiment with longer shutter speeds of 1 or more seconds, too.

If you have a zoom lens for your camera, you can also zoom in or out during the long exposure. To achieve an even pattern of light, you will want to be on a tripod for this version of the exercise.

The beauty of digital is that you can experiment and see your results immediately, so you know what shutter speeds and camera movements are working best. Play! Have fun!

Something Every Photographer Needs to Know: Tip of the Month

Photographing Snow

This tip also applies to photographing white, sandy beaches, if you’re lucky enough to avoid the snow this winter!

Your camera’s exposure meter is designed to create an exposure that averages all the tones in the image to middle grey. If you have a lot of snow (or anything white) in your picture, the camera will compensate, and expose it to look like a dirty grey. To correct this, and make your snow look white, you need to overexpose your image by 1 to 2 stops. If you have a manual mode on your camera, then you can widen your aperture by one or two stops, or alternatively, slow your exposure by one or two stops. If your camera doesn’t have a manual mode, or you prefer a simpler method, then use your exposure compensation buttons (usually marked +1 or +2, and -1 or -2 to underexpose). Most compact digital cameras do have exposure compensation. As always, check your manual to see how it works on your particular camera model. And enjoy the snow!

Too Cool Not to Share!

The Lost Shoe Project

This month’s “cool link” is a great reminder that there are pictures to be found in the most mundane of subjects. Check out the photographer’s statement (under “I’m Lost”) and be inspired by the lesson of learning to “see” all over again. What wonders will you find, if you really start to observe your everyday world?

What’s New this Month at Ultimate Photo Tips

Details, Details!

Our special guest author, Larry Monzcka, is back with his sharp wit, and his photographic inspiration. Check out his article, “Details, Details,” in which he helps us plant our feet firmly on the ground, and improve our images by nailing down the details.

Photography Software Books

By reader request (thanks, Doug!), I’ve added a page for reviews of photography software books. Please share your favorites, and the ones you’ve found most useful. These could be books on Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, NIK, or any other photography-related software you use.

Photo Challenges

The topic of November’s photo challenge was “Bugs.” We had some lovely images, and not as many creepy ones as I feared ;-). Check out the wonderful winning image of a praying mantis and its shadow by Roberta from Tacoma, Washington, USA:

The topic for December’s challenge is “Pets.” Let’s see those pictures of your furry, four-footed friends. Or surprise us with a photo of a scaly or feathered pal! Try to capture some images that really show off their character.
I’m still out of town on a compassionate care leave taking care of my Dad, so this month’s example photos were kindly submitted by my friend Andrew, who has an ever-growing collection of dogs and cats!

Submit your pet images here:

Happy shooting, and happy holidays, from Ultimate Photo Tips!