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Basics Photography 07: Exposure is a comprehensive guide to the theory of exposure, explaining the fundamental relations
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Table of contents :
SECTION 1 - EXPOSURE
Introduction to Exposure
What is Photographic Exposure?
What is Aperture?
What is Shutter Speed?
How do Aperture and Shutter Speed Relate?
What is ISO?
SECTION 2 - SETTINGS
Introduction to Camera Settings
Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual Modes
Colour Temperature and White Balance
SECTION 3 - COMPOSITION
Introduction to Composition
Rule of Thirds
Centred Composition and Symmetry
Balancing Elements in the Frame
Fill the Frame
Leave Negative Space
Simplicity and Minimalism
Black and White
Isolate the Subject
Let the Background Provide Context
Let the Eye Wander Around the Scene
Rule of Space
Left to Right Rule
Rule of Odds
Patterns and Repetition
Diagonals and Triangles
Foreground Interest and Layers
Frame within a Frame
Add Human Interest
Change Your Point of View
The Decisive Moment
SECTION 4 - LIGHT
Introduction to Light
Morning Blue Hour
Dawn and Sunrise
Morning Golden Hour
Daytime – Sunny Weather
Daytime – Overcast Weather
Evening Golden Hour
Sunset and Dusk
Evening Blue Hour
Case Study: Rozenhoedkaai - Bruges
Outdoor Photography Essentials Easy to follow tutorials on exposure, camera settings, composition and light.
© Barry O’Carroll
If someone ever tells you ….
“Your camera takes really nice pictures.”
Just reply ….
“Thanks. I taught it everything it knows”
To my good friend José
who introduced me to photography.
Gracias mi amigo.
About the Images in this Book All of the sample photographs in this book were taken by me unless otherwise stated. The photos were taken on a variety of devices including APS-C DSLRs, full frame DSLRs, compact cameras and mobile phones. All of these images are the property of the photographer and may not be used or reproduced without express permission. Visit bocphotography.com for print sales or to enquire about commercial, editorial or other licensing. You can also email me at [email protected] The diagrams and stock images were purchased from Adobe Stock and Shutterstock. A small number of images were downloaded from Unsplash and Wikimedia Commons. All photographs that are not my own are labelled with attributions. The photograph “Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare” by Henri Cartier-Bresson was licensed from Magnum Photos.
Introduction Welcome and thank-you for purchasing my eBook. I am a Dubliner with a love of photography and travel. My wife suggested writing a book most probably as a way of stopping me from rambling on to her about apertures and shutter Yup, that's me. speeds. One day as I was extolling the virtues of full frame cameras she told me to I should sit down write a book……. or maybe it was to get out and shut up. Either way, here’s my book. In it, you’ll find a series of easy to follow photography tutorials based on the presentations and talks I give at libraries and photography clubs around Ireland. I really enjoy teaching others about photography and sharing my passion for
the craft. Amazingly, there are people out there who actually want to listen to what I have to say! Photography enthusiasts are an odd bunch I guess. Writing the book has also given me the opportunity to share some of my own photography from my travels as well as from my wonderful home city of Dublin. As well as learning about photography, you’ll find some background information and stories from the places I’ve photographed over the years. The idea behind this book is simple. I tried to write the book I wish I'd had when taking my first steps in photography. Although many of the books I read back then were very good, a lot of them focused very much on the technical side of things. There was only ever a cursory nod to the “rule of thirds” or a few other composition techniques. The subject of light was barely given a few pages in many cases.
This book is divided into four sections. The first two deal with the technical side of photography: exposure and camera settings. Parts 3 and 4 however are completely dedicated to the more creative side of things: composition and light. It is often said in photography circles that there are three elements that make a great photograph: interesting subject, interesting composition and interesting light. With this in mind, half of this book is dedicated to two of these elements: composition and light. The word “Photography” comes from the Greek for “Drawing with Light” after all. I've done my best to inject some humour into the book too. Many photography books can be quite dry and technical. I do apologise in advance however for my often cringe inducing "dad jokes". As already mentioned, I have also recounted some of the stories behind some of the photos in the book. There were occasions when I went to
great lengths to get the shot. There were other occasions I got into trouble for getting the shot! The final point I'll make about the book itself is that it was laid out specifically to be read on a Kindle, tablet or mobile phone. Many photography books convert very awkwardly to this format so great care was made to make the layout clear and easy to follow on digital devices.
With my friend José in Malaga, 2005
Neither of us had grey hair yet …… since then, we’ve became dads. The thing I remember most about this restaurant was the stunning view of the mountains from the toilets. No really. I’ve always enjoyed travel but only took up photography during a trip to Andalusia many years ago where my good friend José taught me the basics with my little Olympus 3 megapixel digital camera. I don’t think my poor wife has ever forgiven him. Since then, I’ve spent years learning all I can about photography. I joined my local photography club to meet some fellow oddballs……. I mean photographers. I have since served as chairperson of the club, possibly as punishment for sins in a past life! Reading the book “Waiting for the Light” by English photographer David Noton was a watershed moment in my photography education. His focus on the importance of waiting
for the most interesting light completely changed my approach to my own photography. It also meant I had to start getting out of bed a lot earlier if I wanted to get better shots. This does not come naturally to me. Most mornings I look like I need serious medical intervention to be woken up. My preference subject wise is for urban landscapes. I love exploring new cities, towns and villages with my camera at the ready. Thankfully for me, photography and travel are made for each other. I also enjoy street photography and shooting landscapes in nature when I can. My favourite time for taking photos is early in the morning when only the real weirdos….. I mean dedicated photographers are out. It is a wonderful experience to have a city almost to yourself at this time. The evening blue hour is also a fantastic time for urban photography as the ambient light fades and the city lights begin to come to life.
One thing you won’t find in this book is lots of content about photographic equipment. I’m a bit of a minimalist when it comes to gear. Right now, I own a Canon 6d Mk ii camera with a couple of lenses, a sturdy tripod, a travel tripod, a few filters and a Black Rapid camera strap. All of this fits neatly inside a Think Tank Airport Essentials backpack. There’s even room for a spare pair of underpants when I’m travelling. I also have compact Panasonic ZS100 that I keep in my pocket pretty much all the time. You never know when a photographic opportunity will arise. The smaller camera is excellent for street photography too. It’s also easier to hide from my eternally wonderful and patient wife. “No dear. No photography on this trip. I promise”. I'm not a believer in spending a fortune on gear. Gear acquisition syndrome (G.A.S.) is a common affliction among photographers. New gear rarely makes you a better photographer unless you
know how to use it to achieve your creative vision. I've seen plenty of photographers with all the latest gear but whose photography is mediocre at best. I've known others who can take superb shots with the most basic of equipment. A simple camera phone is enough to get you started with the tutorials in this book. How do you know when it's time to upgrade your camera or buy a new lens? Again, the answer is simple: when your equipment can no longer keep up with your creative vision for the photograph you wish to create. When your gear cannot capture the photograph you have in your mind, then it's time to think of upgrading. On that note, I’ll leave it there. I hope you enjoy the book and that it helps you bring your photography to the next level.
You can view more of my photography and writing on my website and blog. Portfolio/Prints: bocphotography.com Blog: photographywithbarry.com
Introduction to Exposure Welcome the first section of the book. I mentioned in the introduction that it is often said that there are three elements that make a really great photograph: an interesting subject; interesting composition and interesting light. While there is certainly validity to this theory, the simple fact is that a photographer also has to understand the technical side of things to be able to produce great images. The first step in understanding this technical side is learning about photographic exposure. The next series of tutorials will cover the three elements that make up the so called exposure triangle: aperture, shutter speed and ISO: what they are and how they affect your photographs. We'll also take a look at some of the most common exposure issues and how to avoid or work around them.
What is photographic exposure? Exposure is the amount of light that enters the camera lens and hits the digital sensor or film. We can control the amount of light entering the lens by adjusting two settings: aperture and shutter speed (or exposure time). A third setting, ISO also has an effect on exposure. Together, aperture, shutter speed and ISO form what is called the “Exposure Triangle”. We will look at each of these three elements in more detail in the tutorials that follow.
Underexposure and overexposure. If not enough light enters the lens, the photo will be too dark or “underexposed”. Conversely, if too much light is allowed to enter the lens, the photo will be too bright or “overexposed”. How is exposure measured? Exposure is measured in stops. A stop is a doubling or halving of the amount of light let in to the lens when taking a photo. If you find that your photograph is underexposed, you will need to increase your exposure by a stop or more. If your photograph is overexposed, you will need to do the opposite and decrease your exposure by a stop or more. Stops can also be divided into 1/2 stops or 1/3 stops for more detailed adjustments.
There is no such thing really as the “perfect” exposure, only the right one for the scene you are capturing. Some photos like night shots are supposed to be dark. Photos taken in bright sunshine or in the snow are bright by their very nature. Photos taken on an overcast day will lie somewhere in the middle in terms of exposure. What is a histogram? A histogram is a graph that displays a visual representation of the spread of tones in a photograph. These tones range from the darkest shadows on the left of the graph to the mid-tones through to the brightest highlights on the right. Adobe Stock
Clipped shadows and blown highlights. The histogram allows you to check if any areas of the photograph are so dark that they are pure black and contain no detail whatsoever. These are known as “clipped shadows”. At the other end of the scale, the histogram will reveal if any areas of the image are so bright that they are pure white and also contain no detail. These areas are known as “blown highlights”. It is important to note that there are times when clipped shadows and blown highlights are unavoidable. Perhaps there is a dark corner of a cathedral or the bright lights of a street lamp in the frame. Remember that the histogram is only a guide. Very generally speaking, you will want to try avoid clipped shadows and blown highlights where possible. That said, I personally don’t mind a little clipping in the shadows as it adds some punch to the image.
R.T.F.M. All digital cameras will allow you to display a histogram when reviewing your photos on the back screen. Check your camera’s manual to see how to switch on this feature. Adobe Stock
There was a member of my photography club who used to tell the newer members to R.T.F.M. This stands for “Read the Manual”. I’ll let you figure out what the “F’ stands for yourself.
Examples of underexposed, overexposed and correctly exposed photographs.
Underexposed Photograph This photograph of Bachelor’s Walk in Dublin is too dark. It is underexposed by about 2 stops. Note how the histogram is bunched up to the left hand axis of the histogram. There are a lot of clipped shadows especially running through the middle of the photograph.
Overexposed Photograph This time, the same photograph is overexposed by roughly 2 stops. Notice how the histogram is now completely bunched up towards the right hand side of the graph as a result. There are a lot of blown highlights in this photograph. Some parts of the buildings to the left and areas of the sky contain no detail whatsoever.
Correctly Exposed Photograph This version of the photograph has the correct exposure for the scene in question. The histogram displays a good spread of tones from the shadows on the left through the midtones to the highlights on the right. This time, there is plenty of detail visible in all parts of the buildings and sky.
What is the highlights warning tool? There is also another tool available on all digital cameras that will help you avoid too many blown highlights. This is called the “highlights warning tool”. R.T.F.M. to learn how to activate it.
This is a feature that makes the blown out areas of your photograph flash in black on your back screen. This is a particularly useful tool as blown highlights are quite difficult to recover in postprocessing. I keep this tool turned on all the time.
What is aperture? The aperture is the opening in the lens that allows light to enter the camera and onto the sensor or film. The size of this opening can be adjusted by changing the aperture settings.
Lens Aperture Take a look at the picture of a lens aperture above. Notice the adjustable blades that can move to adjust the size of the opening through which the light enters the lens.
How is aperture size measured? The size of the aperture is measured in f-stops. Here’s where things get a bit weird though. The smaller the f-stop value, the wider the aperture. Conversely, the bigger the f-stop value ….. you’ve guessed it, the narrower the aperture. There are very reasonable and logical mathematical reasons for this which I have no intention of going into here simply because I am really terrible at maths. I used to think multiplication tables were something you bought at IKEA. Alternatively, we could just blame the French who invented photography. You see, they like to make things as complicated as possible just to confuse people from other countries. As I am married to a French woman, I can confirm that this is indeed the case. Their word for 90 is quatre-vingt-dix (4 twenties and ten) for crying out loud!
Take a look at this chart above which illustrates aperture values. Notice how the aperture value of f1.4 represents a very wide opening in the lens whereas the aperture value of f16 represents a much smaller opening. Each value from left to right represents a doubling of the amount of light entering the lens for a given time the shutter stays open (shutter speed). If we go from right to left they represent a halving of the light for the given shutter speed. These are standard values used on all cameras.
You will often see other f-stop values in between the values shown on the above chart such as f3.5 and f10. These allow us to be even more precise in our choice of aperture and resulting depth of field which we will know look at. What effect does our choice of aperture have on the look of our photograph? The most obvious effect the aperture setting has on our photograph is the depth of field. In simple terms, this refers to how much of our final image is acceptably sharp. In slightly more detailed terms it refers to the distance between the closest and farthest areas in a photo that appear acceptably sharp. If you set a wide aperture, the depth of field will be shallow. This means that only part of your final photograph will be sharp and the rest will be out of focus and blurred.
If you set a narrow aperture, the depth of field will be deep. This means that all of your photograph from the foreground to the background should be acceptably sharp.
Aperture: f22 This is very clear in the example above. When I used a narrow aperture of f22, the wine bottle and background are both sharp (deep depth of field).
Aperture: f1.8 When I switched to wide aperture of f1.8, the bottle is sharp but the background is now blurred (shallow depth of field). In both photographs, I focused on the bottle itself. The change in look resulting from using a very different aperture each time is very striking. Both shallow and deep depths of field have their uses which we will look at a little later
Wide Aperture / Shallow Depth of Field
I set a set a wide aperture of f3.5 when I took this photograph of a cat. I then focused on one of the cat’s eyes. This resulted in the cat being sharp while the background is out of focus and blurred. This can be a very useful technique when you want to separate your subject from your background. This is a technique that is frequently used by portrait photographers.
Take a look at the diagram above. You will see how I set a wide aperture of f3.5. I then focused on the cat’s eyes. This resulted in a very shallow depth of field. In this case, the depth of field extended from the tip of the cat’s nose to the back of its head. Anything in this zone is sharp. Anything in front or behind it (such as the leaves in the background) will be out of focus.
For very wide apertures such as f1.2, the depth of field may be no more than a few millimetres. This can make focusing very tricky especially if the subject (or photographer) is moving even slightly. A sturdy tripod and/or avoiding too much alcohol can be useful in this situation. You might notice that there is about double the amount of depth of field behind the point of focus as in front of it. We will come back to this point shortly. Although using a wide aperture to create a shallow depth of field is often used by portrait photographers, it can also be used creatively in other situations. Here are some more examples of photographs I took using a wide aperture in order to create a shallow depth of field for creative effect.
The Eiffel Tower – Miniature and Real
For this shot, I bought a small (and very classy) souvenir Eiffel Tower that lit up in a tasteful pink neon glow. I placed this on a wall and set up my camera and tripod. I set a fairly wide aperture of f4 and focused on the souvenir Eiffel Tower. This resulted in the mini tower being sharp while the real Eiffel Tower in the background is thrown out of focus and appears blurred. The Eiffel Tower has been photographed millions of times so it can be difficult to try to find a new way to capture this iconic symbol of Paris. This was a fun shot to create and now I have a very tasteful and elegant pink neon mini Eiffel Tower sitting in the centre of the mantelpiece. My wife is less enthusiastic about it funnily enough. Apparently, it lowers the tone of the room and clashes with the décor. Pffft.
Flowers by a Romanian Farmhouse I used a similar technique in this photo taken outside a Romanian farm house. I set a wide aperture of f4 and focused on the yellow flowers. The flowers closest to me where I set focus are sharp as a result and the farm house in the background is out of focus. Flowers and plants are an excellent subject for shallow depth of field photography.
Narrow Aperture / Deep Depth of Field
Dublin Docklands In this photo taken in the Dublin Docklands, I set a very narrow aperture of f16. This resulted in the entire scene from the dock cleat in the foreground to the elegant Samuel Beckett Bridge in the distance being in focus. Narrow apertures are often used in landscape photography when we want the entire scene to be as sharp as possible.
In the cat photo, we focused on the eyes as this is the area we wanted to be the most sharp. Where do we focus in a scene when we want everything to be sharp? The answer is about 1/3 the way up from the bottom of the frame. This is because (as I mentioned earlier), there is twice as much depth of field behind the point of focus as in front of it. Focusing a third the way up from the bottom of the frame maximises the depth of field. In the last photo, I focused where the red dot is. In the photo on the next page taken in the beautiful medieval city of Bruges, I wanted both the bridge and the buildings in the background to be sharp. A fairly narrow aperture setting of f11 was enough to ensure that the entire scene was acceptably sharp. For this shot, I focused on the top of the bridge where the red dot is.
Groenerei Canal in Bruges
Mid-Range Apertures We’ve now had a look at very wide apertures and very narrow apertures but what about the apertures that lie in the middle? I often use these apertures when I’m shooting hand held for something like street photography in the daytime. Aperture affects shutter speed and a mid-range aperture gives me enough depth of field combined with a fast enough shutter speed so that I don’t blur the photos through camera shake. I will discuss shutter speed and its relationship to aperture in more detail a little later in the book. For now, just know that wide apertures tend to result in faster shutter speeds and narrow apertures tend to result in slower shutter speeds.
Women by a Bridge in Venice While walking around Venice during the day, I set an aperture of about f8 for most shots like the one above. This allowed for fast shutter speeds and enough of depth of field to keep the entire photo acceptably sharp. It should also be noted that it is at these midrange apertures that lenses are often at their sharpest. When I want everything in a scene to be sharp, I try to use an aperture as close to these
mid-ranges as I can. Funnily enough, if you go too narrow with your aperture, your photos can actually become a little less sharp due to something called lens diffraction. For this reason, I tend to avoid going narrower than f16 (or f22 at a push). You can see in the bridge photo from Bruges that f11 actually allowed for more than enough depth of field to ensure the whole scene was sharp. I once accidentally set my aperture to an extremely narrow f32 while photographing the Eiffel Tower. I spent about half an hour taking photographs in the most beautiful morning light imaginable. You can imagine my disappointment when I realised that none of the images were sharp enough to use due to lens diffraction. Lesson learnt. Always double check your settings!
The chart above gives a visual representation of how your choice of aperture will affect the depth of field in your photograph. Notice how the narrower the aperture, the sharper the pyramid in the background is while the wider the aperture, the more blurred it is.
What is shutter speed? In the last tutorial we learnt that aperture referred to the opening in the camera lens that allows light to enter the camera and onto the digital sensor or film. The shutter speed refers to the amount of the time the aperture actually remains open to let the light in. Shutter speed can also be referred to as “exposure time”. This can range from extremely fast shutter speeds such as 1/10,000 of a second to extremely slow shutter speeds where the aperture can remain open for several minutes. How does your choice of shutter speed affect the look of your photograph? The most obvious effect your choice of shutter speed will have concerns any motion in the scene you are capturing. Fast shutter speeds will appear to freeze motion. You will often see this in sports
photography for example. Slower shutter speeds will do the opposite. They will blur motion. Rather unsurprisingly, this is known as motion blur. Both fast shutter speeds and slow shutter speeds can be used to great creative effect in many genres of photography.
Let’s take a look at these three photos of a colourful windmill. A different shutter speed has been used in each one.
In the first version, a fast shutter speed of 1/500 of a second has completely frozen the motion of the windmill. It looks as if it has completely stopped. In the second photo, a much slower shutter speed of 1/30 of a second has been used. Now 1/30 of a second may seem like a very fast shutter speed. In fact, it is slow enough to blur the motion of the fast spinning windmill. In the final photo, an even slower shutter speed of 1/4 of a second has made the spinning windmill look like a complete blur of colours. Slow shutter speeds that create this motion blur effect can be a great way of portraying movement in an otherwise static image. Using Fast Shutter Speeds to Freeze Motion Here are some more examples of how a fast shutter speed can be used to freeze a moment in time.
Cyclist on Merrion Square in Dublin I generally use fast shutter speeds when shooting street photography. Street photography is often about capturing a precise moment in time. The French street photographer Henri CartierBresson called it capturing the “decisive moment”. I will cover this idea in the final “Composition” section of the book. In this case, a shutter speed of 1/400 second froze in time the cyclist as he passed the historic Georgian buildings on Merrion Square on the Southside of Dublin City.
Rugby at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin As already mentioned, fast shutter speeds are often used in sports photography to freeze a precise moment in the game. In this case, a shutter speed of 1/500 second has captured the exact moment the ball was thrown into the air at this lineout during a rugby match featuring the mighty Leinster against Scarletts. Leinster won the match but I must admit that the Welsh were far more talented singers!
Seagull by the River Liffey in Dublin Wildlife photographers often use fast shutter speeds to freeze animals in motion and show the detail of the animal itself. I rarely take pictures of animals but this seagull in Dublin proved to be an interesting subject. A shutter speed of 1/400 second ensured I captured all the detail in his feathers. The cheeky b#####d stole my bag of chips a few seconds later.
Using slow shutter speeds to portray motion
Sonsbeek Waterfall in Arnhem As we saw with the windmill photographs earlier, slow shutter speeds can be used to blur motion. In this photograph of a waterfall in Arnhem, The Netherlands, a relatively slow shutter speed of 1/3 second is enough to blur the flowing water to create a pleasing hazy effect that portrays this sense of movement.
Grafton Street in Dublin In this photograph of a very busy Grafton Street in Dublin around Christmas time, I wanted to portray the movement of the people on the street as they milled about. A slow shutter speed of 1.6 seconds was enough to blur the people to achieve this. As mentioned earlier, capturing motion blur is an effective way of portraying movement in an otherwise static photograph.
Arcade du Cinquantenaire in Brussels Very long shutter speeds can be used creatively to capture light trails. In this case, a long shutter speed of 30 seconds has caused the lights from the moving cars to leave white and red streaks of light as they sped along the motorway below me. This is a commonly used technique in urban landscape photography. The low light at night time makes very slow shutter speeds possible.
Boat on a Beach in Hammamet Sometimes, we can use filters to slow down our shutter speed dramatically to create even more extreme effects. In this photo, I used a 10 stop neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light entering the lens down to 1/1000 of what it would be without the filter. This allowed me to set a very long shutter speed of 160 seconds. I used a rock steady tripod for
this shot as well as a shutter release cable in order to prevent shaking the camera when pressing the shutter. The almost 3 minute exposure time blurred the movement of the evening clouds as they moved slowly across the sky creating a very dramatic effect as well as blurring the water of the sea. Anything that wasn’t moving such as the boat remained sharp. The Importance of a Good Tripod When using slow shutter speeds, a high quality solid tripod is essential. I’d almost say it’s the most important piece of equipment for landscape photographers (who tend to use slow shutter speeds a lot). Adobe Stock
Even the slightest movement of the camera during a long exposure can cause camera shake and ruin the shot. A good heavy tripod also acts as a handy weapon when photographing the dodgier parts of a city. How do I know if a shutter speed is fast enough to hand hold without worrying about camera shake? There are times we don’t have a tripod with us or perhaps we are not permitted to use one at a particular location and we have no option but to shoot handheld. There is a simple trick to work out if your shutter speed is fast enough to do this without risking camera shake. Take a look at your focal length value on your lens (Focal length is covered in more detail in a later tutorial). This is a measure of the angle of view or how much you have zoomed in or out.
It is measured in millimetres with lower values signifying wider angles and higher values showing that your lens has zoomed in closer to the subject.
24-105 mm Lens Simply take your focal length, multiply it by 2 and then divide by 1. For example, a focal length of 60 mm multiplied by 2 is 120. This means that a shutter speed of 1/120 of a second is safe enough to prevent camera shake at this focal length.
That said, many modern cameras and lenses have image stabilisation features that actually allow you handhold your camera at much slower shutter speeds without risking camera shake. Be careful while typing. Adobe Stock
At this stage, I would like to point out the importance of being very careful when typing the term “shutter speed”. I was giving a presentation on this topic one evening at a photography club and was wondering why the audience looked perplexed and a little disturbed as I put up the title slide. My first slide had just informed my audience in giant letters that I was going to give them a detailed presentation about “Shitter Speed”. In my defence, “u” and “i” are right next to each other on the keyboard.
The chart above illustrates the effect your choice of shutter speed will have on capturing motion in the scene you are photographing. Notice that the faster shutter speeds freeze the motion of the person running while the slower exposure times blur the motion.
How do Aperture and Shutter Speed Relate? In the last two tutorials, we looked at aperture and shutter speed and how they affect the look of your photographs. In this tutorial we’re going to have a look at the relationship between aperture and shutter speed and how changing one affects the other. Let’s use a bucket of water as a way of illustrating this. Say we fill the bucket with water and then make a small hole in the bottom and let the water pour out into a basin underneath. Because the hole is quite small, the water will be relatively slow to fill up the basin. Let’s try again, this time with a larger hole in the bucket. Now, the water will pour out of the bucket much faster and also fill up the basin below much faster.
So, what on earth does this have to do with aperture and shutter speed? Think of the water as the light and the basin as the digital sensor. The hole we make in the bucket is the aperture.
With a small hole in the bucket, the water takes a relatively long time to fill up the basin. With a larger hole in the bucket, the water takes a relatively short time to fill up the basin. The same principal applies to photographic exposure. A narrow aperture in the lens means the light needed to make the exposure takes a relatively long time to enter the lens and reach the sensor. This results in a slower shutter speed. A wide aperture in the lens means the light needed to make the exposure takes a relatively short time to enter the lens and reach the sensor. This results in a faster shutter speed.
In a nutshell, we have learnt that generally speaking: Narrow apertures will result in slower shutter speeds and wide apertures will result in faster shutter speeds. We have also learnt that I have ruined two perfectly good buckets and should probably go and buy new ones before my wife finds out. Let’s take a look at this in practice. I took the following series of photographs in a little park near my home. You will see that in each photograph, I have used a different combination of aperture and shutter speed. Despite this, the exposure/brightness in each one is roughly the same. Take note of what happens to the shutter speed each time the aperture changes in the series. I started with a narrow aperture of f22 and finished with a wide aperture of f4.
You will see that setting narrow aperture of f22 in the first photo resulted in a shutter speed of 1/40 second. In the second photo, I set a wider aperture of f14. With a wider aperture now set, the shutter speed is now a much faster 1/125 second. At f8, the shutter speed is faster again at 1/320 second. Finally, with a wide aperture of f4, the exposure time is now a very fast 1/1,600 second. This tells us that different combinations of aperture and shutter speed can result in the same basic exposure/brightness. In certain photos however, there would be noticeable differences in terms of depth and field and motion blur. We also learnt that my wife will kill me if she finds out what I’ve done to those two buckets. I’d better go to the bucket shop A.S.A.P.
What is ISO? We’ve already looked at aperture and shutter speed in the previous tutorials. In this one, we are going to look at the third element of the exposure triangle: ISO. We will learn how the ISO setting works and how it affects your photograph. ISO is a tricky one to explain without getting into some very technical jargon. In this chapter, I will do my best to avoid this jargon. Let’s get technical…… not. I’ve written tutorials online about ISO before and received long, detailed and even angry messages from certain photographers who took serious issue at my explanation of ISO! Some people really need to get out more. One such person told me in no uncertain terms that I was an idiot and was completely wrong about ISO and that this was in fact the correct definition:
“ISO works by having amplifiers in the image sensor’s circuitry increase the gain before sending the analogue voltage read from the photon well to the A/D converter to be digitised. E.g.: If at ISO 100 the signal is 100 mV, we can get ISO 200 by using an amplifier to boost it to 200 mV. For ISO 1600, we can five-double it to 1600 mV, and so on.” So….. eh, what he said. I mean he’s not wrong but talk about taking the fun out of photography! I’m going to try to explain ISO in much simpler terms. Also, knowing the above does not necessarily make you a better photographer. So…. what is ISO? Increasing the ISO creates the impression that your camera’s sensor is more sensitive to light. It is in fact a little more complex than this. Most cameras have an ISO range that starts at a base of 50 or 100. This can then be increased into the thousands on most cameras.
Increasing the ISO value on your camera is bit like using an amplifier and microphone to make your voice sound louder. The loudness at which you actually speak doesn’t change but the amplifier takes the sound of your voice and makes it sound louder or “amplifies” it. ISO works in much the same way. When you increase the ISO value, the amount of light entering your camera remains the same.
However, your camera now amplifies this light in the same way the amplifier amplifies sound. This means that less light is now required in order to make the correct exposure for the scene you are photographing. This allows us to use much faster shutter speeds than if we were just using the base/lowest ISO of 50 or 100. The higher the ISO, the faster the possible shutter speed is. This can be useful when we are shooting in low light and don’t have a tripod. This could be at a location where tripods are not allowed for example. In these cases we have no choice but to shoot handheld. We saw in previous tutorials that low light can mean that the shutter speed becomes too slow to shoot handheld without risking camera shake. Increasing the ISO is a way around this.
As we also learnt in the last tutorial, using a wider aperture is another way of allowing us to use a faster shutter speed. If it’s too wide however we risk running into issues with not having enough depth of field to keep everything sharp enough. Increasing the ISO can be used in a number of situations: If you are shooting in a location that doesn’t allow tripods and the light is too low to shoot handheld. If you simply don’t have a tripod with you in a low light situation. If you need to increase your shutter speed significantly in order to freeze motion in a low light situation. When using a wider aperture to increase shutter speed is not an option due to depth of field issues.
So why not just increase your ISO all the time to ensure fast shutter speeds? In theory this sounds great. I can finally ditch the heavy tripod! The thing is that while increasing the ISO amplifies the light entering the camera and allows for faster shutter speeds, there is a trade off in terms of image quality. Let’s go back to the sound amplifier analogy from earlier. The amplifier will certainly make my voice sound louder but if I increase the volume settings too much, the sound quality will begin to degrade. The sound will be less clear. This is not so much of an issue for me as my singing voice sounds like a goose farting in the fog anyway. The same principal applies to ISO (not flatulent geese). As you increase the ISO value, the image will become “noisier” or grainier. Random specks of colour will begin to appear and degrade the image quality and detail.
Take a look at the following photos of a wine bottle photographed at different ISO settings:
The first one above was taken with the lowest possible ISO setting of 100. The shutter speed in this case was 1/40 of a second. This would actually be too slow to handhold without risking camera shake. I used a tripod so this was not an issue.
In this second photo, I’ve increased the ISO setting to 3,200. Now my shutter speed is a much faster 1/1250 of a second. I would have no problems handholding the camera at this speed. However, if you look very closely at the photo, you will see that the image quality has degraded somewhat. There is a lot of digital noise visible especially in the background. There is also a noticeable loss of clear detail.
Increasing the ISO is a balancing act. Sometimes, I’d rather have a reasonably sharp but slightly noisy image than a shot that is completely unusable due to camera shake. Digital noise can also be reduced to some extent in post-processing. Lack of sharpness due to camera shake however cannot be fixed afterwards. After taking the above photos I drank the wine that was left in the bottle. This had the effect of degrading the image quality from my own eyes quite significantly.
The chart above shows the effect increasing the ISO setting has on the digital noise levels in a photograph.
Does this mean I should avoid using very high ISO settings? Absolutely not; a lot of modern cameras actually handle high ISOs very well and produce high quality images with minimal digital noise. This is especially the case with full frame cameras. Take a look at the following photographs taken with a high ISO setting:
Staircase at Belfast City Hall
Belfast City Hall has a stunningly beautiful interior. Tripods are forbidden however. By increasing the ISO to 1,600, I was able to achieve a fast enough shutter speed of 1/100 second to be able to take this photo handheld. The full frame camera handled the high ISO very well with very little digital noise visible. On the next page is a photo I took while walking through the Temple Bar area of Dublin. I saw a musician playing under Merchant’s Arch and though he would make for a good subject. The area he was standing in was quite dark. It was one of those times when setting up a tripod may have meant missing the moment completely, so I just increased the ISO to 3,200 and took the photograph handheld. This enabled me to set a shutter speed of 1/400 second and avoid camera shake. As with the previous photograph, the full frame camera meant that the image quality suffered very little.
Merchant’s Arch in Temple Bar, Dublin
Introduction to Camera Settings Now that we've gotten to grips with the exposure triangle, we need to learn how to put it all into practice on your camera. In this section, we will look at the various semi-manual and manual camera modes and how to use them properly. Then, we move on to some of the other important settings such as metering modes, white balance, focusing methods, focal length and drive modes. Remember though that every camera brand works a little differently when it comes to these settings. Make sure to check your manual after you've read each tutorial to see how to adjust each setting on your camera. By the end of this section, you will hopefully have the knowledge to enable you to take full control of your camera's settings in order to create the photographs you have in your mind.
Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual Modes In this tutorial, we are going to look at how to use aperture priority, shutter priority and manual modes on your camera. These are the three modes that will allow you to take full control over the final look of your photograph. This is the part when we move away from the theory and onto the more practical aspects of photography. Before that however, we need to understand two important tools on your camera: the light meter and the exposure level scale. Light Meter The light meter in your camera measures the light from a given scene and lets you know if you have set the right combination of aperture and
shutter speed in order to ensure a correct exposure. Most cameras use a method called through the lens (TTL) metering to measure the light in a scene. You can also buy a hand held light meter for more accurate light metering if you wish. These are often used by portrait and model photographers who take detailed readings from a model's skin to ensure the correct exposure.
We will take a look at the various metering modes on your camera in a later tutorial. For now, we will concentrate on how to set the correct exposure with each of the semimanual and manual settings.
Exposure Level Scale
Your camera will display an exposure level scale like the one above. This can be viewed on the back screen and on the small screen on top of the camera if there is one. It may also be visible when you look through the viewfinder. Adobe Stock
Each whole number either side of the zero represents plus or minus a stop of exposure (brightness). In theory, when the right combination of aperture and shutter speed has been chosen, the little arrow/indicator will sit on the zero in the centre
of the scale. This means that your photo should be neither underexposed nor overexposed. This is not always the case but the scale acts as a good guide and starting point. Aperture Priority Mode Shutterstock
Aperture priority mode is one of the two semimanual modes. Put simply, you set the aperture manually and your camera then sets what it calculates to be the right shutter speed to ensure the correct exposure. The camera will set a shutter speed that makes the little arrow/indicator sit on the zero of the exposure level scale. To switch on this mode, turn the dial on the top of your camera to "A" or "Av" on Canon cameras. You then turn the corresponding dial to set the
aperture. Different camera brands may use different dials so check your manual. This is actually the shooting mode I tend to use 90% of the time. As I shoot a lot of urban landscapes, I usually set an aperture somewhere between f11 and f16 to ensure plenty of depth of field. The camera then selects the appropriate shutter speed.
Urban Landscape – Pont des Arts in Paris
I do however keep a close eye on the shutter speed set by the camera as I may want to avoid or create motion blur in my photo. As we learnt in a previous tutorial, setting a wider aperture will result in a faster shutter speed whereas setting narrow aperture will result in a much slower exposure time. It's a balancing act. Sometimes it takes a few attempts to get the right combination for the look you are hoping to achieve. The good news is that this becomes more intuitive with time and experience. Shutter Priority Mode Shutter priority mode is the second semimanual mode on your camera. When using this mode, you set the shutter speed
manually and the camera sets what it thinks is the right aperture to expose the scene correctly. As with aperture priority, the camera selects an aperture that makes the arrow/indicator sit on the zero of the exposure level scale. To turn on shutter priority mode, turn the dial to "S" or "Tv" on Canon cameras. This stands for "Time value". Then simply turn the corresponding dial to set your chosen shutter speed. This is a useful mode when shutter speed is critical to your photograph. Perhaps you want to ensure a very fast shutter speed to freeze motion. Conversely you may want to ensure a longer shutter speed to capture motion blur. Exposure Compensation Tool Although your camera's light meter does a reasonably good job at helping you set the correct exposure, it does get it wrong from time to time.
This is often the case with very dark or very bright scenes. Your light meter tries to measure every scene in terms of the mid-tones. This is fine on an overcast day with even light.
St. Mary’s Church in Clonsilla, Ireland Photographing a very bright scene like a snow covered landscape however will often lead to underexposure and grey snow! This is because your camera wants to see most of the scene as a
mid-tone rather than the bright scene we can see with our eyes.
Dark Passageway in Tunisia The same is true of very dark scenes that the camera will often overexpose as it tries to find that mid-tone. Scenes with high contrast containing both very bright areas and very dark areas can also prove tricky for your camera's light meter.
This is where the exposure compensation tool comes in. Press the button with the plus and minus signs like the one in the picture to activate this tool. Then, turn the dial to Shutterstock adjust the exposure. Check your manual to see which dial to turn. When you turn the dial, you can set the arrow or indicator on the exposure meter scale to plus or minus half a stop or a stop or more depending on whether you want to brighten or darken the exposure. Most cameras work in 1/3 stops too. Again, there will be a dial designated for this on your camera. Shutterstock
Exposure meter scale set to -1 stop
What happens when you use the exposure compensation tool? If you are using aperture priority mode, the camera will keep the aperture you set and adjust the shutter speed to allow more or less light in to brighten or darken the exposure. If you are using shutter priority mode, the camera will keep the shutter speed you set and adjust the aperture to allow more or less light in to brighten or darken the exposure. Manual Mode Here's the scary one! Manual mode.... Dun Dun Dun! It's actually not scary at all now that you know how to use the exposure level scale.
To activate manual mode, turn the mode dial to "M". On most cameras you then turn one dial to set the aperture and another to set the shutter speed. This time, you set both manually.
The best way to do this is to start with one or the other depending on the photo you wish to create. Often I will set my aperture first. Then I turn the shutter speed dial until the little arrow/indicator is sitting on the zero of the exposure level scale.
Sometimes I will make adjustments to both settings if I find for example that the aperture I set makes my shutter speed too slow or too fast for the effect I want to create. If after taking the photograph I find that it is underexposed or overexposed, I reset my aperture and shutter speed so that the arrow is sitting on plus or minus 1 for example to brighten or darken the exposure. It's the same idea as the exposure compensation tool except you can adjust both aperture and shutter speed to your liking. What is dynamic range? Dynamic range refers to the range of tones from very dark to very bright that your camera can capture accurately in a single photograph. Modern cameras tend to have very wide dynamic ranges which mean you can capture high contrast
scenes without clipped shadows or blown highlights. Exposure Bracketing There are times however when the range of tones is simply too great for your camera to handle. This is where exposure bracketing comes into play. If I am photographing a high contrast scene such as a cathedral with its dark alcoves and bright windows I will often take a series of photos ranging from -3 stops up to +3 stops. Individually, most of these photos look completely underexposed or overexposed. When I blend them together in post-processing however, I can create the perfect exposure that avoids clipped shadows or blown highlights. Take a look at this example where I blended six differently exposed photos of the interior of a cathedral to create one photo containing lots of detail throughout.
Six bracketed photos ranging from -3 exposure stops to +2 exposure stops
The final photograph consisting of the six blended photographs I was asked to leave the cathedral shortly after taking these shots. Apparently it’s “inappropriate” to wash your tripod legs in the baptismal font. There are many excellent tutorials online that can show you how to blend bracketed exposures using Photoshop and other post-processing software.
I often bracket my photos, taking three shots each time: one at -2 stops, one at zero and one +2 stops on the exposure level scale. Most cameras even have a mode that will do this automatically (Auto Exposure Bracketing/AEB).
This acts as an insurance policy if my middle exposure (zero) has clipped shadows or blown highlights. In our next chapter, we will look at the various metering modes on your camera.
Metering Modes In the last chapter, we learnt that the camera's light meter measures the light in the scene you are photographing. By doing this, it assists you in setting the right combination of aperture and shutter speed in order to expose the scene correctly. The light meter found in your camera is called a "reflected light meter". This means that it measures the light that is reflected off the elements in your scene or the specific subject you are photographing. On most cameras, there are three different metering modes: evaluative/matrix metering centre weighted metering spot metering
You can check your camera's manual to see how to switch between the various modes. Evaluative/Matrix Metering Adobe Stock This is the default metering mode on all digital cameras. In this mode the light meter divides the frame into a grid of zones. It then measures the light in each zone and works out the exposure accordingly.
Many cameras will also take into account which zone the focus point lies in and give greater importance to the light reading from this zone when calculating the exposure. This mode is ideal for most landscape photography as it measures light coming from different parts of the scene which may vary greatly. You may have one area illuminated by
sunlight while another is in deep shadow. It is most accurate however when shooting evenly lit scenes. This is the mode I use the vast majority of the time when shooting urban and natural landscape scenes.
Footbridge on the Rye Water in County Kildare This scene contains a mix of bright sunlit areas and dark shadows. The evaluative metering mode has done a good job in assisting me to set an
exposure that captures enough detail in both these bright and dark areas. This photograph was actually taken on a golf course. Shortly after taking this shot, a wayward golf ball missed my head by about two inches. Who ever said landscape photography isn’t a dangerous activity? I required several whiskeys in the bar afterwards to recover from the shock. Centre Weighted Metering When centre weighted mode is activated, it will come as no surprise that your light meter will give greater importance to the reading from the centre section of frame.
This mode can be useful for close up portraits or photos where your subject takes up the centre of the frame. This may be the case with product photography for example.
In difficult lighting situations such as when the subject is backlit, it allows you to expose the main subject more accurately. It would however lead to the background being quite overexposed.
Louvre Museum in Paris In this photograph of the Louvre in Paris, I wanted to capture all of the details in the building. Using centre weighted metering made this possible as the light meter measured the light from the centre of the scene where the building is.
You will notice however that while the building is well exposed, the area under the trees on the left is quite underexposed with very little detail visible in the shadows. Spot Metering When using spot metering, the light meter only measures the light from a very small area in the centre of the frame. This area covers only about 2-5% of the frame depending on the camera.
On some cameras, the light meter will take its reading from the small area where the focus point was placed rather than simply from the dead centre of the frame. This is used when it is critical that a very particular part of the image be exposed properly. This may
mean that the rest of the scene is underexposed or overexposed though. It is often used when photographing a dark subject against a bright background or a bright subject against a dark background. This would be useful when photographing a spotlit musician in a dark theatre. If you used evaluative metering in this case, the musician would be completely overexposed. Spot metering is often used by portrait photographers to ensure that the person being photographed is correctly exposed. By using spot metering while photographing this splashing strawberry, I was able to capture the detail on the strawberry itself. It does mean that the background is completely underexposed though. In this case however, I think it works. I wanted the background to be black to make the red strawberry stand out.
In this case I set the exposure using spot metering before I dropped the strawberry into the water. I simply photographed the strawberry in the same lighting conditions and kept the aperture and shutter speed settings I used for the subsequent water splash shots. I made sure to set a fast shutter speed to freeze the moment. Which metering mode should I use? As mentioned earlier, I tend to use evaluative/matrix metering most of the time as I mainly shoot urban and natural landscapes. I would say that this mode will do a decent job in most situations. If in doubt, it's the one to go with. That is not to say you shouldn't experiment with the others depending on the scene or subject you are photographing. They all do a good job in different types of lighting scenarios.
Colour Temperature and White Balance In this tutorial, we are going to take a look at the white balance setting on your camera. In short, adjusting the white balance allows you remove unrealistic colour casts from your photos. These colour casts can give your photos an orange, blue or even green tint. This is caused by differences in the colour temperature of the light source(s) in your scene. What is colour temperature? Colour temperature is the measurement of the hue of a given light source. This can range from very cool blue tinted light to very warm yellow or orange tinted light. Have you ever noticed how in the evening or morning time when the sun is low in the sky, it often bathes a scene a very attractive warm
golden light? Candle light is also an example of a light source with a warm colour temperature. On the other hand, the light from the midday sun will often cast a harsher and cooler blue tinted light. Shaded locations can also cast a cool light on the subjects you are photographing. Fluorescent lights will actually lead to a green colour cast in photographs! These colour casts are particularly noticeable on anything that is supposed to be white in the scene. Take a look at the following photographs taken at the same location. This first photograph of a boat house was taken under a harsh midday sun at the height of summer. Notice how the tones in the image are quite cool. In the second image, I photographed the same boathouse in autumn in the morning when the sun was low in the sky. Notice how much warmer the tones are on the boat house in particular.
Morning Golden Hour
I have no idea if they caught any fish by the way. I've tried fishing and the only thing I caught was a seagull that flew into my line as I cast out. Thankfully he managed to free himself but I decided it was best to retire before I managed to catch a swan or an owl or a possibly a badger. Fishing is not where my talents lie. Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, colour temperature! We tend not to take too much notice of colour casts as our eyes and brain do a good job at neutralising them. We simply don’t notice colour casts unless they are particularly strong. We can look at a white chair under a warm incandescent light bulb and it will still appear white to us. Our camera however, may produce a photograph where the chair comes out with an orange tint. Take a look at the example below.
In the first photo, the incandescent light bulb has caused the whole scene to take on a very warm orange tint. In the second photo, this has been neutralised by adjusting the white balance setting. The chairs are now white again.
Different types of light bulbs can give off light with colour temperatures ranging from a very cool blue to a warmer orange. Colour temperature is measured in Degrees Kelvin with warmer light represented by lower temperatures and cooler light by higher temperatures. This might seem counterintuitive at first (a bit like f-stops).
This chart shows a range of light sources and their corresponding Kelvin temperatures. You don't
need to know the temperatures off by heart by any means. It is a good idea however to know what types of light lead to warmer or cooler casts. Why is it important to neutralise colour casts? Being familiar with the effects of colour temperature is particularly important for certain types of photography. Portrait photographers are very careful to eliminate colour casts so that the subject’s skin tones look natural. Eliminating colour casts is also important in product photography to ensure an accurate representation of the true colours of the product in question. Have you ever bought something online that looks nothing like the colour you saw on screen when you receive it? This may be down to the photographer not correcting the white balance
properly. Alternatively, it may be an issue with the white balance settings on your screen. My sister is a wedding photographer and a good knowledge of colour temperature is vital for her work. She often tells me that if you get nothing else right on camera, get the dress right! Indoor lighting can often make a wedding dress look orange in photographs. It can also make a bride very unhappy with her wedding album.
Don’t upset the bride.
Correcting these colour casts is an essential part of her work. Nobody seems to care about the poor groom though. He can look like a tangerine and nobody seems to care. How can colour casts be removed with the white balance setting? The auto white balance setting works by your camera searching for what it thinks is a neutral tone in the scene and referencing everything else from that. This is not always particularly accurate however. When white balance is set to auto, your camera will often exaggerate the warm or cool temperature of the light source like we saw in the photos of a table and chairs earlier. Setting the correct white balance setting will neutralise the light colour temperature so that objects that are supposed to be white will actually appear white in the final photograph.
Here, you can see the main white balance settings available on most cameras. Let's say you are taking pictures of people indoors. As already mentioned, incandescent light bulbs tend to give off a very warm, orange tinted light. This can cause skin tones to look very unrealistic. Switching your white balance to the light bulb setting will counteract this by cooling down the colour tones in your photos. To neutralise colour casts and achieve more natural and realistic tones, simply set your white
balance to the setting that best matches the lighting conditions. Grey Cards and Custom White Balance Settings Earlier, we saw that capturing accurate colour tones is very important in certain types of photography such as portrait, wedding and product photography. For this reason, some photographers often use a tool called a grey card to set a more accurate custom white balance.
A grey card is.... well it's a grey card. More accurately, it is a card coloured with a mid-tone grey. These can be as large as a bicycle wheel or as small as a credit card.
There can also be black and white cards or sheets with a whole range of colours in a grid. These can also be used to correct the white balance especially in post-processing. In the tutorial on aperture priority, shutter priority and manual modes, we saw that your camera tries to see a scene in terms of the midtones. Once it finds what it considers to be a midtone it can use it as a reference to work out the exposure for the rest of the scene. White balance works in the same way. A grey card acts as a reference for the camera letting it know exactly what mid-grey in the scene should look like. Once it has this reference point, it can work out the other colour tones. This works best in controlled lighting, such as in a studio for example. Once you set the correct white balance using the grey card, you don't have to worry about it again unless you change the light source.
Obviously, this will not be the case for outdoor landscape photography when the light may be constantly changing. There may even be several different light sources in one scene. This can be a particular challenge when it comes to setting the white balance. How do you use a grey card to set a custom white balance? Every camera brand does this a little differently but the following description gives a basic idea of how the process works. 1. Take a picture of your grey card in which the card fills up the entire frame. This is easier with larger grey cards obviously. The card should be lit by the same light source you will be using on your subject. 2. Go to the custom white balance setting on your camera menu. It will ask you to choose
a reference image. Choose the photograph of the grey card you just took. Adobe Stock
3. Set your white balance setting to "custom" Your photographs should not have any unrealistic colour casts if you have completed this process properly. Some photographers repeat the process a few times to ensure the settings are absolutely accurate. Check your user manual to see how this process works on your camera Changing the White Balance in Post-Processing If you shoot in RAW format (and you should), you can actually change the white balance setting after you have taken the photograph. This can be done in RAW processing software such as Adobe Lightroom. I will discuss the advantages of the RAW format at the end of the book.
A grey card can also be used in this situation. Often a portrait photographer will take a photograph of the subject while they are holding a grey card. In post-production, they then use an "eye-dropper" tool to click on this grey card in the photo to let the software know where mid-grey is. The software adjusts the white balance accordingly. The photographer can then apply these settings to all of the other photographs taken during the session. Product photographers use the same method by placing a small grey card beside the product they are photographing. Do you always need to "fix" the white balance? If you are a portrait, wedding or product photographer, the answer will almost always be yes. For outdoor landscape photographers however, this may not necessarily be the case.
In many cases, I actually want to retain the warm tones in a photograph for artistic and aesthetic reasons. When photographing a sunrise or sunset for example, I want to retain those attractive warm tones. The same goes for taking photographs during the morning and evening golden hours. The warm side lighting at these times can make a scene look far more inviting and interesting than if photographed under the harsh midday sun or on a dull cloudy day. If I am photographing a candle lit scene, I will often want to portray the warmth and cosiness of the candlelight as it casts its glow on the subjects in the scene. There are occasions when "correcting" the white balance is not the preferred option. There are other times you may just partially correct the white balance to tone down particularly strong colour casts.
Human beings tend to have a preference for warm tones. Most of my best selling photographs were taken in warmer toned light. That is not to say that photos taken in cooler light are necessarily less attractive. It all depends on the mood you are trying to capture and portray. Take a look at how different white balance settings affect the mood of the scene below. Adobe Stock
The photo becomes less realistic and cooler/more blue the further to the left we go.
Here are some examples of photographs I took where I deliberately did not correct (or not much at least) the white balance in order to portray a particular mood.
Grand Canal Dock in Dublin In this photo from Grand Canal Dock in Dublin the sun has just risen and is casting a golden glow on the buildings along the water's edge. This is typical "golden hour" light which we will cover in more detail in the “Light” section.
Bridges of Prague This next photograph was taken from the hills of Letna Park in beautiful Prague. Notice how the cool blue tones of this overcast evening in Prague contrast with the warm tones of the buildings in the left of the frame. These are illuminated by warm yellow tinted incandescent light. I like the contrast between the cool and warm tones in the scene. Mixed light sources can often be a challenge when photographing cities in particular.
Notre Dame de Paris Take a look at the next two photographs of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The photograph on the left was taken in the middle of the day when the sun was high in the sky. The shot on the right was taken during the evening golden hour. What a difference in the tones a few hours make! This is one time when I definitely do not want to "correct" the white balance.
As an outdoor photographer, what white balance setting should I use? Personally, I tend to simply use the auto white balance setting when photographing outdoor scenes. I always make sure to shoot in RAW format. I then adjust the white balance in post-production to a setting that best matches the particular mood I am looking to portray. This is very easy to do using software such as Adobe Lightroom. There is no right or wrong way to do this. You may prefer to set the white balance in camera rather than changing it afterwards. The best thing to do is to get out and experiment and see what works best for the type of photography you enjoy doing. In our next tutorial, we will look at focal length and how it affects the look of your photographs.
Focal Length The focal length setting on your lens affects the angle of view when you point your camera at a scene or subject. This is measured in millimetres. The focal length values are displayed on your lens.
Focal Length Values Shorter focal lengths allow a wider angle of view whereas longer focal lengths produce a narrower field of view. This enables you to zoom in closer to subjects that are further away.
This chart illustrates the angles of view that correspond with different focal length settings.
How is focal length measured? The focal length is the distance between the lens and the point where the light that enters the lens converges before continuing on to the digital sensor or film. Take a look at the diagram below.
This point where the light converges is called the focal point. With zoom lenses, the focal length can be adjusted by turning the zoom ring on the lens to your desired setting. Here are brief descriptions of the main types of lenses and their focal lengths:
Wide Angle Wide angle lenses as the name suggests allow a wide angle of view. The focal length tends to range from about 10 to 24 mm.
Wide Angle Lens (10-20 mm) They are particularly useful for landscape photography as they allow you to capture wide vistas. I also use a wide angle lens for photographing the interiors of buildings.
Cividale del Friuli| 10 mm A focal length of 10 mm enabled me to capture the whole of the stone bridge in this scene with the picturesque northern Italian town of Cividale del Friuli in the background. The bridge in this photo is called the Ponte del Diavolo. Local legend says that the devil made a deal with the townspeople. He would build the bridge you see in the photo but in return, he got to keep the first soul to cross the bridge. The
clever residents of Cividale del Friuli then sent a cat across the bridge first much to the devil’s annoyance! The lesson for photographers is: Always check that your contract with a customer is absolutely watertight! Some lenses can produce an even wider angle of view. These are known as fisheye lenses and can have a focal length range of 8-10mm. They produce much more distorted images though.
Mid-Range Mid-range lenses fall somewhere in between wide angle and zoom lenses. They allow a field of view that ranges from moderate wide angle to moderate zoom, about 24-70 mm. This range most closely matches the human field of vision. It's without a doubt, the lens I use the most often due to its versatility.
Mid-Range Lens (24-70mm) Mid-range lenses have a wide range of uses from landscape and street photography to portraits.
Street Musician in Bucharest | 45 mm Zoom / Telephoto
Telephoto Lens (70-200 mm)
Zoom or telephoto lenses have a much narrower field of view. They have focal lengths that can range from 70 mm up to several hundred mm. Some super telephoto lenses have focal lengths of several thousand mm. Zoom/telephoto lenses are used to zoom in close to subjects and scenes that are relatively far away. They can also be used to zoom in close to a subject to capture close up detail.
Island of Coin de Mire in Mauritius | 125 mm A focal length of 125 mm allowed me to zoom right in on this fisherman on a small boat and the island behind him. I actually took this from my hotel room terrace.
One issue that often arises when using telephoto lenses is camera shake. Think about how difficult it is to keep binoculars on your subject when you have zoomed in on something very far away. The same principal applies to a camera with a long telephoto lens attached. For this reason, a sturdy tripod is essential when using these lenses. Prime Prime lenses have a fixed focal length i.e. you cannot zoom in or out. It's often said that you zoom with your feet when using a prime lens! They come in a range of focal lengths. Prime lenses tend to be very fast due to their very wide maximum apertures which are often as wide as f1.2. As we saw in a previous tutorial, wider apertures allow for much faster shutter speeds. These lenses also tend to be exceptionally sharp.
50 mm Prime Lens They can be used for a variety of subjects but they tend to be quite popular among portrait photographers in particular due to their sharpness. 50 mm prime lenses (known as a nifty fifty) are among the best-selling prime lenses. The baby portrait on the next page was taken by my sister with a 50 mm prime lens. It’s not just any baby either. He’s mine! I won him in a raffle!* *I did not actually win him in a raffle before anyone calls the police or child services. It was more like an auction type thing.
Louis | 50 mm (by Janet O’Carroll)
Macro Macro lenses are used for taking extremely detailed close up photographs of very small subjects such as flowers and insects. You can position the lens very close to the subject and focus from a very short distance of only a few centimetres.
100 mm Macro Lens
Macro lenses allow you to photograph your subject with a 1:1 ratio which results in highly detailed shots. This means that the size of the subject in real life is the same size as it’s reproduced on the sensor. For example, a small flower measuring 20 mm in diameter will still measure 20 mm in diameter when projected onto a 35 mm sensor.
Water Droplet Macro (by Vera Kuttelvaserova)
All in One The “all in one lens” is the "Jack of all trades" of lenses. They tend to have very wide focal length ranges often starting at a wide 18mm and go right up to a moderate telephoto focal length of 200mm. They are definitely useful for beginners who are learning what different focal lengths are capable of producing. They are also relatively inexpensive to purchase. The downside of “all in one” lenses is that they don't tend to be quite as sharp as lenses with narrower focal length ranges. They are also not particularly fast with maximum apertures of about f4. Focal Length and Perspective One of the most noticeable ways your choice of focal length affects the look of your photograph concerns perspective.
Wide angle lenses exaggerate perspective making different elements in your frame look further apart than in reality. Telephoto lenses have the opposite effect. They compress perspective making different elements in the frame seem close together than in reality. Take a look at these two photographs taken in Venice to see this effect in action.
Gondolas of Venice | 20 mm For this photo I used a wide angle lens and set a focal length of 20 mm. I set up my tripod right on the water's edge. The island and tower appear to be quite far away across the Venice Lagoon.
San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice | 60 mm For the next photo, I set up my tripod about 50 metres back from where I was standing for the first photo and zoomed in to 60 mm. Even at this moderate zoom, the island and church now appear much larger and closer to the water's edge. The perspective has been completely compressed. The elements in scene seem to be "stacked" much closer together. I still wouldn’t advise trying to swim to the island.
Focal Length and Depth of Field In a previous tutorial, we learnt that your choice of aperture has a major effect on the depth of field in your photograph. We saw that generally speaking, wide apertures result in a shallow depth of field and a blurred background. On the other hand, narrow apertures result in a deep depth of field where everything from the foreground to the background is sharp. Your choice of focal length also has an effect on the depth of field of your photograph. Short focal lengths (wide angle) allow for a deeper depth of field even at wider apertures. Long focal lengths (zoom/telephoto) result in much a shallower depth of field even at relatively narrow apertures.
Belfast City Hall Council Chamber | 24 mm In this photo of the interior of Belfast City Hall, I used a wide focal length of 24 mm to include as much if the council chamber as possible. At this wide angle, a relatively large aperture of f7.1 was enough to ensure that the whole scene was sharp from foreground to background. I used a wider aperture than I normally would in this situation as I was shooting hand held and so needed to ensure a fast exposure time to avoid
camera shake. I also used a high ISO setting of 3200 to guarantee a fast enough shutter speed.
Flowers in my Garden | 70 mm I used a focal length of 70 mm to zoom in close to these yellow flowers in order to capture plenty of detail. Even though I used a narrow aperture of f16, the depth of field is quite shallow with the flowers in the background being out of focus and blurred.
Focal Length and Crop Factor Adobe Stock
Digital camera sensors come in a variety of sizes. Full frame sensors measure 36 mm on the longest side. Full frame cameras tend to produce higher quality results with plenty of detail. They also perform very well at higher ISO settings. Cropped sensors are smaller than full frame sensors. The most common crop-sensor format is the APS-C format which measures a much smaller 23.6 mm on its longest side. This results a crop factor of about 1.5X. In practice this means that a focal length of 24 mm on a full frame camera will convert to 36 mm on an APS-C cropped sensor camera. Olympus four thirds cameras have a crop factor of 2X. This means that a focal length of 150 mm on a full frame camera becomes 300 mm. This can be useful for those who require plenty of zoom such as wildlife or sports photographers. Compact cameras can have even smaller sensors with much higher crop factors and huge zoom
capabilities as a result. These cameras are much smaller as well as more portable and discreet. I often use a compact one inch sensor camera for street photography for this reason. Large DSLR cameras and lenses tend to scare people, especially when thrown in their direction. Smaller sensors however do not produce results of the same quality as a full frame sensor. Digital noise can be a much bigger issue with smaller sensors especially in low light or at higher ISOs. That said, as camera technology advances, even smaller sensors perform better and better with each new camera model. Adobe Stock
Inside a Lens I do not recommend doing this to your own lens. In our next tutorial, we will take a look at the various focusing modes on your camera.
Focus Modes In this tutorial, we are going to look at the various focus modes and tools available on your camera. We will also see which situations they are best suited to. Finally, we'll look at how to focus on a landscape scene to ensure that everything from the foreground to the background is sharp. Autofocus Points
When you look through your camera's viewfinder or at the back screen you will see a number of
autofocus points like the ones in the previous picture. There can be anything from 3 to over a hundred. You use these points to tell your camera exactly where it should focus on in any given scene. If you set the autofocus point selection to automatic, your camera will examine the scene and focus where it thinks is the correct place. When you half press your shutter you will see the focus point(s) the camera has selected light up or change colour. This can obviously be a risky way of focusing as your camera can get it wrong and you end up with the most important part of your photograph being out of focus. I much prefer to choose my focus point manually to ensure that what I want be sharp is actually sharp. Check your camera’s manual to see how to do this. Using this method, you simply select an autofocus point that is closest to where you want the focus
to be. Hover that point over the exact spot you want to focus on and half-press the shutter to lock the focus on that location. While keeping the shutter half pressed you can then slightly re-compose the shot to create the exact composition you wish to use. Even though you have moved the camera slightly, it will stay focused on the spot where you half-pressed the shutter. Press the shutter fully down to take the shot. There are 3 main autofocus modes available on most cameras: Single Focus / One Shot Focus This is the most straightforward of the autofocus modes. You simply choose your focus point and take your shot in the way I described above. This is perfect for mostly static scenes such as landscapes, architecture or me sleeping on the couch after a large meal.
In this photo, I used single focus/one shot focus mode and selected the focus point you see in green. In this case the focus point was sitting exactly over the spot where I wanted to focus. If this was not the case, I could have slightly recomposed after half pressing the shutter with the focus point over the same spot. Al Servo Focus / Continuous Focus This mode is perfect for moving subjects. You lock focus in the same way as before by choosing a focus point and half pressing the shutter. This time however, your camera follows the moving
subject and keeps the focus locked onto it as you track it with your camera. AI servo/continuous focus is particularly useful for wildlife and sports photography where the subjects can move quickly. If you were photographing me playing football or even just running however, single focus would probably get the job done. Adobe Stock
Al servo/continuous focus mode is an essential tool for sports photographers (by Jeffrey F Lin).
Automatic Autofocus / AI Focus This mode is a combination of the previous two focus modes. The camera will use single focus mode if it detects that the subject is static. It can then automatically switch to Al servo / continuous mode if the subject suddenly moves or if you move your camera's focus from a static to a moving subject or vice versa.
Baseball (by John Torcasio)
This mode could be useful while photographing a batter at a baseball game (or batsman at a cricket match for my English readers). The batter will be relatively static while hitting the ball and then will suddenly start running. Automatic autofocus will switch from single focus to AI servo/continuous focus at this point allowing you to keep focus on the batter as he runs without having to manually switch modes. Being Irish, my knowledge of both baseball and cricket is extremely limited. Cricket is the one with horses right? Manual Focus
Autofocus/Manual Focus Switch
You can also switch your camera to manual focus and focus by turning the focus ring on the lens (pictured below). You can do this by eye and keep turning the ring until your subject is sharp. You need excellent eyesight for this however!
Alternatively, you can set focus by calculating the hyperfocal distance and manually setting the focus ring (pictured above) to this distance. This is a more advanced technique however. For those interested in learning how it works, I have covered it in the next tutorial.
Diopter Wheel Very few of us have perfect eyesight and this is where the diopter wheel comes in. This is located right beside your viewfinder. You can turn it until the subject looks sharp in your viewfinder. It basically adjusts your viewfinder until it roughly matches your glasses prescription.
Live View Focus Focusing with live view on the back screen is another way of focusing on your subject. You simply tap the location where you want the focus point to be with your finger. You can then move the focus point as required by dragging it on the screen or simply by tapping on a different location. I find this tool very useful for landscape photography. It makes focusing on the exact spot I want very easy. Face Detection Focus
Most back screens also have a face detection focus tool that will automatically lock focus on a face in a scene. Many are so accurate that they focus not just on the face but on the eyes to ensure maximum sharpness. Back Button Focus The back button focus allows you to separate the shutter button from the focusing process. Instead of locking focus by half pressing the shutter, you simply press the back button instead. The shutter is then only used to take the shot.
Pressing the back button once, sets focus using single focus mode. Holding down the back button switches your focus to AI servo/continuous focus mode. It could be used as an alternative option in the baseball photograph example. The difference is that you, rather than your camera choose the moment you switch from one mode to the other. Depth of Field Preview This button will set the lens to your chosen aperture as you preview the image through your viewfinder or in live view on the back screen. This gives you a more accurate idea of how the final photograph will look. This is especially useful when using a wide aperture to achieve a shallow depth of field. It allows us see if we have enough depth of field to keep our main subject sharp while deliberately blurring the background and/or foreground.
Where to Set Focus? In the tutorial on aperture, we saw that setting focus when shooting portraits, sports or wildlife is relatively straightforward. We simply focus on our main subject. In the case of portraits, we focus on the eyes. Often, we may not be concerned about the rest of the scene being particularly sharp. In fact, we may deliberately want the rest of the scene to be out of focus. When shooting landscapes however, we generally want everything from the foreground to the background to be sharp. Where do we set focus in this case? A good general rule of thumb is to set focus on a spot that is about 1/3 up from the bottom of the frame. We learnt in the aperture tutorial that there is about twice as much depth of field behind the point of focus than in front of it.
This means that setting the focus 1/3 up from the bottom of the frame and using a narrow aperture should result in the whole scene from the foreground to background being in focus and acceptably sharp. This is the method I use 99% of the time.
For this photograph of a restaurant on St. Mark's Square in Venice, I focused on the point where the red dot is. This ensures that everything from the restaurant chairs and tables to St. Mark's Basilica in the distance is sharp.
Hyperfocal Distance As mentioned earlier, calculating the hyperfocal distance is another way of setting focus in this situation. Done properly, it is a very effective and accurate method of focusing. It is useful in a number of situations when simply focusing on a point 1/3 up from the frame may not be accurate enough for the scene in question. It may even be impossible to use autofocus if using a very dark neutral density filter on your lens. We will look at how to calculate the hyperfocal distance and use it to set focus in the next tutorial.
Hyperfocal Distance This tutorial will explain what hyperfocal distance is, how to calculate it and how to use it to set focus. It is a little more advanced than the other tutorials in the book but you didn't think I was going to completely let you off without any of the more technical stuff now did you? For the vast majority of my urban landscape shots, I simply use the focusing technique I described in the previous tutorial i.e. I focus on a point about 1/3 up from the bottom of the frame. This works perfectly well in the majority of situations when you want the whole scene to be sharp. There are times however when using the hyperfocal distance to work out where I should focus can be very useful. The hyper what now? If you are looking for a tutorial full of complex mathematical formulae and discussions of the importance of the
“circle of confusion”, you won’t find it here! My aim is to create a very simple guide to using hyper focal distance that won’t give you a headache. What exactly is the hyperfocal distance? In short, the hyper focal distance is a point a certain distance away from your camera. If you focus on this point, everything halfway between the camera and this point and everything after this point all the way to infinity will be in acceptably sharp. Shutterstock
In the example above, the hyperfocal distance is where the red dot is. This means that everything from halfway between the camera lens (blue dot)
and the hyperfocal distance all the way to infinity will be in focus. The hyperfocal distance depends on the camera model, the focal length, the aperture used and whether or not there is a full moon. In a moment, we’ll look at how to calculate the hyperfocal distance using this information. So why use hyperfocal distance to focus in the first place? Put simply, this is the most accurate way of ensuring that you get the maximum sharpness and depth of field possible for the aperture you are using when photographing landscape scenes.
Landscape Photography at Glendalough in Ireland
How do you calculate the hyperfocal distance? Calculating the hyperfocal distance is actually easier than you would expect. You simply multiply the focal length (in millimetres) by itself and then divide the result by the circle of confusion multiplied by the f-stop value!!! Easy eh? While what I have just said is technically true, the good news is that you don’t need a degree in mathematics to work out the hyperfocal distance. There are plenty of smartphone apps out there that do all the calculations for you. All you need to know is: Your camera make and model. The focal length you are using for the shot. The aperture you are using for the shot. Your mother in law’s maiden name and blood type.
My favourite app for calculating hyper focal distance is HyperFocal Pro. This can downloaded for free from the Play Store or App Store. There are others out there but I find HyperFocal Pro to be very easy to use and it’s completely free. So, how do we use the app? I’m going to use a photo I took of the Charles Bridge in the beautiful city of Prague to
demonstrate how to calculate the hyperfocal distance using HyperFocal Pro. After you have chosen your aperture and composed your photo, just follow the following steps. 1. Find your make and model in the drop down list by tapping on the ‘camera’ field. In this case, I was using a now prehistoric Canon 40D. 2. Enter the focal length in the ‘lens’ field. In this case I was zoomed to 56 mm. You can check this value by looking at the markings on your lens. 3. Select your aperture value. In this case, I was using f14. 4. Next, tap on ‘Subject Distance’, and then simply tap the ‘use hfd’ button. You don’t need to type in a specific value here when calculating the hyperfocal distance. I’ll explain what happens if you do type in a specific value later.
You will see that the hyperfocal distance has been calculated for you at the bottom. In this case it is about 12.42 metres. You can then focus your lens to 12.42 metres. You can either use autofocus to focus on something that is 12.42 metres away or you can manually focus the lens. This now means that everything from half of the hyperfocal distance (6.21 metres) from the lens all the way to infinity will be sharp. As you can see, this is also illustrated in the diagram at the bottom of the app display.
If you look at the photo above, you will see that everything from the base of the bridge in the foreground to Prague Castle in the background is sharp. An hour later, after several Czech beers and something called ‘Becherovka‘, the scene seemed strangely blurred, even to the naked eye. Not even calculating the hyperfocal distance could fix it. Believe me, I tried. What happens if you type a specific distance into the ‘Subject Distance’ field? In step 4, I told you to ‘tap the ‘use hfd’ button’ in the ‘Subject Distance’ field. This means the app will calculate the hyperfocal distance allowing you to get as much depth of field as possible. What if you are not so concerned with the whole image being sharp? For example, you are photographing a deer with mountains in the background. You obviously want the deer to be sharp but maybe you're not so concerned about
the mountains. Let’s say the deer is 6 metres away from you. In the example above, we type in 6 metres to the ‘Subject Distance’ field. By doing this, the app no longer calculates the hyperfocal distance. Instead, it gives us an idea of how much depth of field we would have in front of and behind the deer that we focused on. In this case we focused on the deer, 6 metres away. The app then tells us that everything from 4.05 metres to 11.55 metres from the camera lens will be in sharp focus. Anything in front or behind this will not be sharp. In this case, it means that the mountains in the background will not be in sharp focus. This may not necessarily be a bad thing. In fact, we may want to blur the background to make the trees stand out. You can then change your aperture to get more or less depth of field as required. By now, the deer has probably wandered away so work quickly.
How do I focus my lens to the hyperfocal distance indicated by the app? There are 2 methods for doing this: 1. If the hyperfocal distance is quite close (less than 3 metres away), you can switch your lens to manual focus and turn the focus ring to the distance indicated. 2. If the hyperfocal distance is further away like in our first example (12.42 metres), it is easier to switch to autofocus and focus on something which is that distance away. How do we find something that is 12.42 metres away? Well, it’s a bit tricky. You could measure it out or simply make an estimate. I don't know about you but I don't tend to carry a long measuring tape with me at all times. If you want a really accurate measurement, you could use a rangefinder. I find that most of the time, simply estimating the distance works well.
Note that most cameras have a depth of field preview button which allows you to see exactly how much of the scene is in focus. We mentioned this in more detail in the last tutorial. Check your camera’s manual to see how this works on your model. Many lenses often have additional guides that help set the hyperfocal distance as accurately as possible. Again, check your manual for more information on how to use these guides. Leica lenses come with a personal butler to help you set the hyperfocal distance and make you tea while you take photos. Why not just set a narrow aperture and focus one third up from the bottom of the frame? I mentioned this method in the previous tutorial. This is a good rule of thumb for focusing on a landscape scene and will yield excellent results most of the time. If you were to set a narrow aperture of between f16 and f22 and focus one
third up from the bottom of the frame, you would get a decently sharp shot almost every time. That said, most lenses are at their absolute sharpest when the aperture is set somewhere between f8 and f11. If you can manage to use an aperture value in this range and still achieve the required depth of field, you obviously have the best chance of creating the sharpest photo possible. Calculating the hyperfocal distance using an aperture in this range will let you know if it’s possible to get everything you want in focus to be sharp. In an earlier tutorial, we learnt that at narrower apertures, images can actually begin to become a little soft. This is called diffraction. Sometimes, you may not be able to use an aperture in the f8 to f11 range as in the photograph taken in Prague above. I had to use f14 to get enough depth of field. I still got a very sharp image though even at f14. High quality
lenses will still perform very well at narrower apertures. What are the advantages of using hyperfocal distance to focus? It’s a very accurate way of ensuring maximum depth of field. It gives you a better chance of setting your aperture so that the lens is at its sharpest. When using certain neutral density filters, autofocus does not work. The filter is often simply too dark to focus through. Using the hyperfocal distance to focus solves this problem. Speaking about “hyperfocal distances” makes you sound intelligent. In our final camera settings tutorial, we will look at the various camera drive modes and timers on your DSLR.
Drive Modes In this tutorial, we will take a look at the main drive modes on your camera and when to use them. We will also cover the timer settings and other tools such as remote shutter and mirror lock up. These can all be used to ensure the highest quality photographs possible. There are two main drive modes you can use when taking photographs: single shot and continuous or burst mode. Single Shot Now pay close attention to this. It gets complicated. In single shot drive mode, you press the shutter once and the camera takes a single shot. I need to go lie down to recover after that.
This is the basic drive mode most photographers use most of the time. One click, one shot - simple as that. Continuous/Burst In continuous or burst mode, you press down the shutter but this time you keep it pressed. Your camera will keep taking Adobe Stock photographs until you take your finger off the shutter or the buffer/memory becomes full. There are often two continuous/burst drive modes: low and high. In high continuous/burst drive mode, the camera will take the photographs faster. The maximum speed it can take consecutive photos and amount of photos it can take at a time depend on a number of factors: The shutter speed used
The camera's buffer/memory size The file size of the photograph The speed of the memory card Continuous/burst drive is particularly useful in wildlife and sports photography. If you start shooting the moment a player takes a shot in a football match, the camera will keep taking photographs until the ball is in the back of the net or if I am playing, stuck in a bush several metres to the left or right of the goal.
Continuous/burst drive used to capture a skateboarder jumping off a kerb.
You can also use continuous/burst drive when you want to capture a series of images documenting a particular moment. You often see this in (bad) movies when private investigators take a series of photos in quick succession to catch their target in the act of cheating on a partner or some other nefarious activity.
For this photograph, I used continuous/burst drive to capture the exact moment the lemon landed in the water. Timers
All digital cameras come equipped with several timer options: usually a 10 second and 2 second timer. The 10 second timer can be useful when you want to include yourself in a family or group photo for example. Once you press the shutter, you then have 10 seconds to get into the frame yourself before the shot is taken. Usain Bolt only needs to use the 2 second timer to do the same. Personally, I use the 2 second timer whenever I am taking a long exposure shot using a tripod. Even pressing the shutter can be enough to cause camera shake and ruin your photograph. By using
the 2 second timer, your camera has a chance to settle again after you press the shutter. I often combine this with the auto exposure bracketing tool that I covered in the tutorial on aperture priority, shutter priority and manual modes. Once the 2 second timer is activated, I press the shutter and the camera then takes all three bracketed photos one after the other. I however, only need to press the shutter button once. I can then merge these three shots in post processing to achieve a better exposure with less clipped shadows or blown highlights. Take a look at the example below. In this case I used the 2 second timer combined with auto exposure bracketing to take these three bracketed shots of the Charles Bridge in Prague. I then blended them together to create the final image you see below. We saw this shot in the last chapter.
Charles Bridge - Prague Shutter Release Cable / Remote Control Another way of avoiding camera shake is to use a shutter release cable or remote control to take your photo. This avoids touching your camera at all when taking the shot. The shutter release cable simply attaches to your camera via a wire.
The remote control activates the shutter completely wirelessly.
Shutter Release Cable Some cameras even come with an accompanying smartphone app that allows you to control your camera from your phone. Not only can you control the shutter button from your phone, you can even see a live view of what your camera sees. You may even be able to focus and change the exposure settings such as
aperture and shutter speed remotely from your phone. My dad had a box brownie camera that didn't even have a viewfinder! You just pointed it in the general direction of your subject and hoped for the best! Camera technology sure has come on a bit since then. If ten years ago, someone had told me cameras would soon be able to fly on remote controlled drones, I'd have said they were crazy!
Box Brownie Camera / Drone Camera I wonder what amazing technological advances are coming next: a camera that makes phone calls? That would be so cool. We can always dream I guess.
Mirror Lock Up When you press the shutter button, the mirror in your camera lifts up to allow the light that enters the lens to reach your sensor. Even this tiny movement can be enough to cause camera shake. By activating mirror lock up, the mirror is moved out of the way and locked into the “up” position. You can then take your shot as normal although you will no longer be able to see scene through your viewfinder. Silent Shutter / Quiet Mode Many cameras have a silent shutter or quiet mode for those times you need to be more discreet, at a wedding for example. I once (deservedly) received a smack to the back of the head by an irked elderly gentleman after I rather noisily took a photograph inside an otherwise silent Orthodox church in Romania.
I might have avoided bodily harm had I remembered to activate the silent shutter mode.
The Offending Photograph We now move away from the technical aspects of photography and on to the more creative side of things. The next tutorial is the first in a series on composition.
Introduction to Composition When I teach people about composition in photography, I don’t really like to talk about “rules”. Nobody likes rules except maybe the heads of human resources departments or your old school principal.
You won’t get called to the principal’s office for not following composition rules. I promise. What I am presenting here is a list of composition “ideas”. They are designed to give you some ideas
for arranging the various elements in your frame and how to use those elements to create interesting photographs. What follows are not hard and fast rules that must be followed all the time and I would encourage you to find your own way to create interesting compositions. That said, many of these ideas in this section have been used in art and architecture for millennia and provide a good starting point to creating attractive and engaging compositions in your photographs. Many of these composition ideas can be used in combination with each other. Others seem to completely contradict each other and that’s ok. None of these ideas are more important or better than the others. After all, there is more than one way to cook an egg. Poached egg is obviously the best way though and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.
Rule of Thirds In my introduction I said I don’t like to talk about “rules” when it comes to photography. I then start my tutorial with the “rule of thirds”. Hey, I didn’t come up with the name. This way of composing your scene involves dividing the frame into nine equal rectangles, 3 across and 3 down. The idea is to place important elements in the scene such as the horizon or your subject along one of the lines. Placing your main subject on one of the points where the lines intersect is particularly effective too. People have a natural tendency to place the main subject right in the centre of the frame. This seems logical after all. Using the rule of thirds to place it off centre however can often result in a more pleasing and dynamic composition. Take a look at the following examples:
Maynooth - Ireland In this scene, you will notice that the horizon is sitting on the bottom horizontal line of the grid. This does not have to be exact by the way. It’s only meant to be a guide. The biggest tree in the scene is then aligned with the right hand vertical line. Many cameras allow you to activate a rule of thirds grid on your back screen when using live view as an aid to composition.
Temple Bar – Dublin In this example of a street photograph, I’ve placed the woman walking along the street on the point where two of the grid lines intersect. The cobbled street roughly occupies the bottom third of the frame; the building fronts occupy the middle third and the upper floors of the buildings occupy the top third. Having the rule of thirds grid activated in live view really helped me when I took this photograph.
Old Town Square – Prague In this cityscape taken in the beautiful Czech capital of Prague, I placed the horizon on the top horizontal line this time as most of the interesting elements in the scene are in the bottom portion of the frame. The Church of Our Lady before Týn sits where two lines intersect. Personally, I want to know what happened to Our Lady after Týn. I also want to know what Týn is.
Centred Composition and Symmetry Now that I’ve told you that it’s a good idea to not place your subject in the centre of the frame, I’m going to tell you to do the total opposite. There are plenty of occasions when a centred composition can be very effective. This is especially the case in scenes that are symmetrical. Architecture and engineering are often excellent candidates for a centred composition.
Ha’penny Bridge – Dublin
This view of the Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin is the perfect candidate for a centred composition.
Maynooth University – Ireland Centred and symmetrical compositions often work very well in a square cropped frame.
Dublin Docklands We often think of symmetry in the vertical sense of the term. Don’t forget that symmetry can also work horizontally. Reflections offer are a fantastic opportunity for horizontal symmetrical compositions. Morning and evening time are the best times to capture reflections like this. As the air cools at these times, the wind tends to drop. The next photo is an example of a centred composition of an architectural interior of Belfast City Hall in portrait format.
Belfast City Hall Interior
Golden Triangles The golden triangles composition method works in a very similar way to the rule of thirds. This time we use a series of diagonal lines to arrange the elements in the frame. In this case we draw a diagonal line from one corner to the other. It doesn’t matter which. We then draw smaller lines from the other corners to meet this line at a right angle as in the examples below. Diagonals can be a powerful composition tool as we will see in more detail later. It is often said that diagonals add dynamic tension to a scene. This is because diagonals are jarring to our sense of balance. We are used to flat, horizontal surfaces. This is what creates the sense of visual tension. You can also talk about dynamic tension to sound intelligent (or annoyingly pretentious) in front of your friends.
O’Connell Street – Dublin This photo of O’Connell Street in Dublin is an example of using the strong diagonals in the scene with the golden triangles principle. Notice how the light trails and tops of the buildings to the right align with the long diagonal line. The shorter diagonal to the left roughly aligns with the buildings on the other side of the street. As with the rule of thirds, this does not have to be exact. The diagonals act as a basic guide for arranging the elements in the scene.
Eiffel Tower – Paris This photograph of the Eiffel Tower is a subtle example of the golden triangles principle in action. The heads of the statues through to the bottom left hand base of the Eiffel Tower itself create an “implied” diagonal from one corner to the other. This is often the case with composition. Frequently, the lines that link elements in the scene are implied rather than explicit.
Golden Ratio What exactly is the golden ratio? Well it’s actually quite simple: two quantities are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities. See, told you it was easy. Ok, maybe that is a bit complex. Perhaps this mathematical formula will help make things a little clearer: Adobe Stock
What do you mean you’re even more confused now? The golden ratio can seem quite complicated at first but it’s actually a lot simpler when it seems. You don’t need to understand long winded definitions and mathematical formulae to use it.
The golden ratio is actually a slightly more complicated version of the rule of thirds and golden triangles combined. Rather than dividing the frame into equal rectangles, it is instead divided into a series of squares as in the example above. This is known as a “Phi Grid”. These squares are then used as a guide to add a spiral known as the “Fibonacci Spiral”. These squares, lines and spiral are then used to lay out the elements in the frame as with the rule of thirds and golden triangles.
The spiral is supposed to lead the eye around the frame and show us how the scene should flow. It’s a bit like an invisible leading line. We will look at leading lines in more detail shortly. Adobe Stock
A Blend of the Rule of Thirds and Golden Triangles The similarities with the rule of thirds and golden triangles becomes clearer once we add a few lines to the diagram. The golden ratio also divides the frame in to 9 parts although this time they are not all the same size and shape.
The diagonals we saw in the golden triangles examples can also be added here. It is believed that the golden ratio method of composition has been in existence for over 2,400 years having been devised by the Ancient Greeks. It is widely used in many types of art as well as architecture as a way of creating aesthetically pleasing compositions. It was particularly well employed in Renaissance art.
The Parthenon - Athens
It is believed that the golden ratio was used to lay out the proportions of buildings such as the Parthenon in Athens. Note how the golden ratio grid and spiral can be placed in different orientations. Adobe Stock
The golden ratio is often said to be quite prevelant in the natural world and that this may be one of the reasons that compositions that are based on it seem so attractive to us.
Now I have to admit something here. Not once have I ever set out to deliberately use the golden ratio in one of my photographic compositions! As an exercise, I went back through my photographs and discovered that I had used it inadvertantly a few times. In reality, I was probably just using the rule of thirds or golden triangles and accidently stumbled into golden ratio territory.
Women by a Bridge in Venice
Here is aperfect example of one of my accidental uses of the golden ratio. The side of the building lines up with the vertical line on the right and the Fibonacci Spiral leads us from the bottom left corner to the two women sitting by one of the many bridges that traverse the canals of Venice.
St. Anne’s Square Belfast Here is another accidental golden ratio example from the city of Belfast. I meant it. I swear!
Dancing in the Streets of Paris In this case the Fibonacci Spiral starts in the top right hand corner and finishes on the street mucician’s face. The fact that I accidently stumbled upon the golden ratio a few times shows how many of these composition “rules” may actually be manifestations of our internal aethetic preferences. Woah. Deep. It reminds us that these should be used as ideas and not strict rules.
Balancing Elements in the Frame The first composition idea we looked at was the rule of thirds. I told you that it was often a more attractive composition when you place the main subject to the side rather than in the middle of the frame. One issue with this is that on some occasions, the image can then appear to be “unbalanced”. One side of the frame is filled with our subject wheras the other side is relatively empty by comparison, creating a sort of lobsided feel to the image. One of the ways of avoiding this issue is to place another less prominent subject on the other side of the frame to create a sense of balance in the composition. In the next photograph, the ornate street lamp on the Pont Alexandre III in Paris dominates the left hand side of the Frame. This is counter-balanced by the distant Eiffel Tower in the otherwise relatively empty right hand side of the frame.
Pont Alexandre III and Eiffel Tower – Paris
San Giorgio Maggiore – Venice In this photograph, a lamppost once again dominates one side of the frame. The bell tower of San Giorgio Maggiore in the distance creates a sense of balance on the other side of the frame. This also has a secondary effect on the composition. The tower in the distance is obviously much taller than the lamppost. It obviously appears smaller in the photograph as it it is in the distance. This perspective effect helps add a sense of depth and scale to the scene.
Fill the Frame Filling the frame completely or almost completely with your subject can be another effective composition technique. This is a technique I like to use in architecture photographs in particular. By filling the frame with the building, I am inviting the viewer of the photograph to explore the details of the subject.
Notre Dame de Paris In this photograph of Notre Dame Cathedral and surrounding buidings, I have cropped my frame
very closely to the subject leaving very little space around the buildings themselves. There is only a small portion of sky visible. When displayed or printed in a large format, this allows us to examine the details such as the balconies on the building to the right or the flying butresses of Notre Dame Cathedral. The next photograph features my cat, I have completely filled the frame with his face leaving absolutely no space around him. I have even cropped out the edges of his head and mane. I did this as I wanted to focus on the textures on his fur and the details in his eyes. You may notice that this photograph also uses the rule of thirds with his eyes sitting along the top line of the rule of thirds grid. The various composition ideas can often be conbined like this. He is a lovely pet but you should see the state of our couch. He also loves children but he couldn’t eat a whole one.
Matt the Lion
Leave Negative Space Having told you that filling or balancing the frame works well as a composition technique, I am now once again going to suggest you do the exact opposite. I’d make a good politician I think. Leaving empty or negative space around your main subject focuses attention on the subject itself. Negative space means there is little to distract from the main point of interest.
Statue of Shiva – Mauritius
This photo of a giant statue of the Hindu god Shiva in Mauritius is a good example of using negative space. I have left plenty of space around the statue filled only by the sky and clouds around it. This focuses our attention on the statue itself while giving the main subject “space to breath” so to speak. The composition also creates a sense of simplicity. There is nothing complicated about the scene. It is a statue surrounded by sky, that is all. Simplicity is always a good idea when it comes to composition as we will see in the next section. The Tunisian flag in the next photograph is also surrounded by plenty of negative space. This flag sits on the walls of the beautiful Kasbah of Hammamet. There is a superb souk or market at the base of the kasbah. I manged to find a genuine Billy Vuitton handbag for my wife that the seller insisted was made from his beloved late camel.
Tunisian Flag at the Kasbah of Hammamet
Tree at Dawn – County Kildare In this photograph, I made use of a very simple and uncluttered background to focus attention on the tree. This photo makes use of negative space around the tree to add to this sense of simplicity and minimalism. Misty mornings provide excellent conditions for leaving negative space as the mist often fully or partially obscures potentially distracting elements in the background.
Simplicity and Minimalism Simplicity itself can be a powerful compositional tool. It is often said that “less is more”. Simplicity often means taking photos with uncomplicated backgrounds that don’t distract from the main subject.
Water Droplets on a Leaf In this first photo, I zoomed in on some water droplets on a leaf in a garden. It’s such a simple
subject but is also very beautiful because of that simplicity. A macro lens can be a very useful tool for creating these types of photos.
Bench in Golesti – Romania As with the water droplets photograph, a simple subject can make for a very pleasing composition. I this case, I noticed a simple bench at an outdoor museum in Golesti, Romania. I set up a very straightforward composition with the two trees on either side to frame the subject.
Black and White Black and white photography by its very nature simplifies a photograph by removing the distraction that is colour itself. By removing the colour from the scene, we can concentrate on the textures, tones and shapes in the frame. Take a look at the two versions of the same photograph on the next page. They were both taken on Grafton Street in Dublin during the preChristmas shopping period when the street was thronged with shoppers. To me, the colours in the first version actually distract from the content of the photograph: the Christmas lights; the shapes of the shopfronts and windows; and the people milling about. I think that the black and white version works a lot better in this particular case. The shapes and lights in the scene stand out much better. There is also more contrast between the
bright and dark tones in the frame which gives the second photograph a stronger visual impact.
Grafton Street - Dublin
Isolate the Subject Using a shallow depth of field to isolate your subject is a very effective way of simplifying your composition and letting your subject stand out.
Curious Cat For this photo, I set an aperture of f3.5 which is very wide and results in a blurred background. This focuses attention on the cat as the background is now less distracting. This technique is an excellent way to simplify a composition.
Let the Background Provide Context The background in your frame does not always act as a distraction. Often, it can provide context to the main subjects.
Seagull in Dublin This photograph doesn’t contain any old seagull. This is a Dublin seagull! The slightly blurred O’Connell Street in the background gives the subject some context. The fact that he was eating a bowl of coddle and drinking Lyons Tea when I spotted him also lets me know that he was indeed a Dublin seagull.
Dealul Mitropoliei – Bucharest I took this photograph of a rose at a monastery complex on the outskirts of Bucharest. Once again I blurred the background slightly but there is still enough detail to show the viewer the context that the rose was photographed in. This is a varioution of the “isolating the subject” guideline. In this case, we also blur the background to make the subject stand out but not so much that we completely obscure the context.
Let the Eye Wander Around the Scene This is the antithesis to the concept of simplicty and minimalism. There are occasions I like to take photographs with plenty happening in the frame.
Temple Lane – Dublin This photograph taken in Temple Bar is full of different characters and activity. In this case, the eye can wander around the frame noticing all the little details such as the flowers, the building details and various people walking, exiting a building or checking their phone outside a pub.
Rule of Space The rule of space relates to the direction the subject(s) in your photo are facing or moving towards. If you are taking a photo of a moving car for example, there should be more space left in the frame in front of the car than behind it. This implies that there is space in the frame for the car to move into.
Bateau Mouche and Conciergerie – Paris In this photo, the boat is placed on the left hand side of the frame as it moves from left to right.
Notice how there is a lot more space for the boat to move into in front of its direction of motion (to the right) than behind it. We can mentally imagine the boat moving into this space as it sails along the river. We also have a subconscious tendency to look forward to where an object is heading. In this case we look from left to right and take in the rest of the scene with the Conciergerie building along the quay and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. If the boat was up at the right hand side of the frame, this would lead us out of the photograph! In the next photograph, we see a gondola travelling along a canal towards the Bridge of Sighs. In this case, the gondola is at the base of the frame and is moving away from the viewer towards the space in the top of the frame. As in the previous photograph of a boat in Paris, the gondola has plenty of space in front of it to travel into.
Gondola by the Bridge of Sighs – Venice
The rule of space is often applied in other situations such as sports photography.
Aviva Stadium/Lansdowne Road – Dublin I took this photo on my phone camera a few years ago. Notice how the kicker (Johnny Sexton) is placed to the left of the frame and the ball is travelling into the space on the right. He made the kick by the way. As a kid my dad was able to lift me over the turnstiles at the old Lansdowne Road without a ticket. I don’t think he’d manage the same feat today. Since then, I’ve gained a few pounds and he’s had a hip replaced.
Left to Right Rule There is theory that says we “read” an image from left to right in the same way we would read text in a book or newspaper. For this reason, it is sometimes suggested that any motion portrayed in a photograph should flow from left to right.
Woman in the Tuileries Gardens – Paris The photo above follows the “left to right” rule. The woman walking in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris is walking from the left to the right of the frame. You’ll notice that the photo also adheres to the “rule of space” among others.
This is all very well but it assumes the viewer is from a country were text is read from left to right. Many languages are read from right to left such as Arabic for example. To be honest, I’ve seen plenty of fantastic photographs that “flow” from right to left.
Campo in Venice This photograph of a woman walking across a campo in Venice completely ignores the “left to right” rule. I don’t think this is an issue at all.
To me, what is important in this scene is the moment itself that has been captured, the surrounding buildings and the warm evening light. The direction the woman is walking didn’t even cross my mind when taking the photograph. I was once criticised by a judge for the fact that a woman in a different photo I took was walking from right to left. He told me it didn’t follow the “left to right” rule. I reminded the judge that the photo was taken in Tunisia where people read from right to left. I don’think he appreciated me challenging him and unsurprisingly, I didn’t win. This demonstrates why I’m very wary about talking about “rules” when it comes to composition. As I have already said several times now, it is best to view these “rules” as guidelines or ideas for composition rather than something that needs to be adhered to without question. Some also make more sense than others.
Rule of Odds Having just gone on a mini rant about “rules” in composition, I am now going to discuss one more of these “rules”: The Rule of Odds. In the world of photography, there are certainly plenty of “odds” but the “rule of odds” is something different entirely. The rule suggests that an image is more visually appealing if there are an odd number of subjects. The theory proposes that an even number of elements in a scene is distracting as the viewer is not sure which one to focus his or her attention on. An odd number of elements is seen as more natural and easier on the eye. As with the previous “left to right rule”, I think there are plenty of cases where this is not the case but it certainly can be applicable in certain situations. What if you have four children? How do you decide which one to leave out of the shot?
St. Mark’s Square – Venice The photo above is an example of a time when the rule of odds can be effective. I deliberately framed the scene to include three arches. I think that two arches would not have worked as well in this case and may have indeed divided the viewer’s attention. It also so happened that there were three people in the scene. The next photo was also taken on Saint Mark’s Square. This time, it breaks the “rule of odds” several times in the frame.
St Mark’s Square – Venice In this scene, there are two principal human subjects, four street lamps and two ornate columns, all even numbers. Does the photograph suffer as a result? I don’t think it does. It would also be a lot a trouble to get out my angle grinder to cut down one of the street lamps. As for the columns, I don’t know where I’d start. I’d need a very strong rope and a heavy truck at least. I could always ask one of the couple to leave the scene or ask somebosy else to join them I guess. Or I could just ignore the rule of odds.
Leading Lines Leading lines help lead the viewer through the image and focus attention on important elements. Anything from paths, walls, shadows, or patterns can be used as leading lines.
Eiffel Tower from Palais Chaillot In this photo of the Eiffel Tower, I used the patterns on the paving stones as leading lines. The lines on the ground all lead the viewer to the Eiffel Tower in the distance. You’ll also notice that I used a centred composition for this scene.
Tavira – Portugal
Once again, I have used the lines on the ground to lead the eye twards the bandstand in this little park in the Algarve town of Tavira.
St. Mark’s Square – Venice In this case, the pattern on the ground again leads us into the frame. The buildings lining the square also act as leading lines. They all lead the eye towards St. Mark’s Basilica and the Campanile at the end of the square. These three examples show us that centred compositions are often very effective when combined with leading lines.
Photos featuring leading lines do not have to be symmetrical of course. The leading lines do not even have to be straight.
County Kildare - Ireland In fact curved lines can be very attractive composition features especially “S” shapes. In this case, the path leads the viewer to the right of the frame before swinging in to the left towards the tree. I also made use of the rule of thirds and negative space when composing the shot.
Patterns and Repetition Human beings seem to be naturally attracted to patterns. They are visually attractive and suggest harmony. Patterns can be man made like a series of arches or natural like the petals on a flower. Incorporating patterns into your photographs is always a good way to create a pleasing composition. Patterns can often be used as leading lines. The photo on the next page was taken in the city of Monastir in Tunisia. I’ve used the pattern in the paving stones to lead the eye to the domed building. The building itself incorporates a pattern in the form of a series of arches. The domed roof also complements the rounded arches below. High contrast black and white conversions of your photo can really help emphasise any patterns or textures in the frame.
Monastir – Tunisia
Another interesting composition idea is to break the pattern. Take a look at the example below.
Odd One Out (By Martina) Rules are made to be broken and so are patterns! By making one candle a different colour and height, the photographer has created an interesting composition. This is a technique that can be used to make one particular element in the frame stand out. In this case, the eye immediately focuses on the red candle.
Diagonals and Triangles I already mentioned in the section on “golden triangles” that triangles and diagonals are said to add add “dynamic tension” to a photo. My mother in law also does an excellent job of adding tension to any scene. Horizontal lines and vertical lines suggest stability. If you see a person standing on a level horizontal surface, he will appear to be pretty stable unless he’s stumbling out of a pub at 2am. Put this same man on a sloping surface and he’ll seem even less stable. This creates a certain level of visual tension. We are not so used to diagonals in our every day life. They subconsciously suggest instability. Incorporating triangles and diagonals into our photos can help create this sense of ‘dynamic tension’. Take a look at the following examples of photos containing trianglular shapes and strong diagonal lines in the composition.
Samuel Beckett Bridge – Dublin This picture of the Samuel Beckett Bridge in Dublin incorporates plenty of triangles and diagonals into the scene. The bridge itself is an actual triangle (It’s actually supposed to represent a Celtic Harp on its side). There are also several ‘implied’ triangles in the frame Notice how the leading lines on the right of the frame are all diagonal and form triangles that all meet at the same point on the right hand side of the bridge.
Hotel de Ville – Paris In this photo of the Hotel de Ville in Paris, the implied triangles and diagonals create sense of dynamic tension. We are not used to seeing buildings leaning at such angles in our everyday life. It is slightly jarring to our sense of balance. This is what creates the visual tension. We also saw these “implied” lines in the section on golden triangles. A wide angle lens in the shot above has exaggerated the angles and diagonals.
Foreground Interest and Layers Including some foreground interest in the frame is a great way of adding a sense of depth to the scene. Photographs are 2D by nature. Including foreground interest in the frame is one of a number of techniques that can help give the scene a more 3D feel.
Sonsbeek Waterfall – Arnhem In this photograph of a waterfall in The Netherlands, the rocks in the river provided a
perfect source of foreground interest. Adding foreground interest works particularly well with wide-angle lenses.
Dublin Docklands The dock cleats along the quay provided the foreground interest in this shot. I think it adds a real sense of depth to the composition. The dock cleat in this scene was only a few metres in front of me when I took this photo. Including it in the frame portrays a sense of depth by incorporating
an element that I was quite close to as well as the bridge and buildings in the distance and everything in between them. A friend who was with me that evening tripped over one of the cleats and almost ended up getting a very close up view of the river. That’s one way of adding depth to the scene I guess. Foreground interest can be used as one as the layers in a scene. These layers lead the eye from the foreground through the middle distance and through to the background. In the next photograph of a canal in Bruges (which featured in the aperture tutorial), the bridge acts as foreground interest. The buildings along the canal provide the next layer in the middle distance. These buildings then lead the viewer through the image towards the more distant elements. Finally, the bell tower from a distant church rises from behind the other buildings in the background.
Groenerei Canal – Bruges
Frame within a Frame The “frame within a frame” is one of my personal favourite composition techniques. I enjoy looking for opportunities to put it into practice. Including a “frame within the frame” is another effective way of portraying depth in a scene. Look for elements such as windows, arches or overhanging branches to frame the scene with. The next two images are examples of times I used arches to frame my subject. The first was taken on St Mark’s Square in Venice. I used the archway to frame St Marks Basilica and the Campanile at the far end of the piazza. The use of scenery viewed through arches was a common feature of Renaissance painting as way of portraying depth. In the second photo, I used a rectangular arch to frame St. Anne’s Church in Belfast.
St. Mark’s Square – Venice
St Anne’s church – Belfast
Frames don’t have to be man-made objects such as arches or windows. Trees and branches make excellent framing devices. The “frame” does not even have to surround the entire scene to be effective like in the photo of a bench earlier.
Rye Water Bridge – County Kildare In this scene, the autumn trees create a frame either side of the stone bridge over the Rye Water River in Maynooth, County Kildare. The frame in this case does not completely surround the subject. Framing a subject with two objects either side can be a very effective framing technique.
Colour Combinations The use of colour itself is an often overlooked compositional tool. Colour theory is something that graphic designers, fashion designers and interior designers are all very familiar with. Adobe Stock
The Colour Wheel
Take a look at the colour wheel. You can see that the colours are arranged logically in the segments of a circle. Colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel are said to be “complementary colours”. These colours when used together can be visually very striking. As photographers, we can look for scenes that incorporate complementary colours as a way of creating attractive and striking compositions. Have you ever noticed how many movie posters have blue and yellow/orange colour schemes? This is done quite deliberately to create eye catching adverts. Blue and yellow or orange are particularly impactful when used together. Take a look at the next photograph which was taken in Paris. For some reason, the early night sky in Paris often gives off a purple hue. This actually contrasts very well with the incandescent yellow hued lighting on the buildings that line the River Seine, in this case the Institut de France.
This is because purple and yellow sit roughly opposite each other on the colour wheel.
Pont des Arts and Insitut de France The next photograph was taken at the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre in Dublin. The building was lit up red for Christmas. This was very striking against the deep blue of the early night sky. I love photographing cities during blue hour. In the section on “Light” we will look at the possibilities of blue hour in more detail.
Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre – Dublin
Customs House – Dublin The early morning deep blue sky and yellow hued lights on the Customs House in Dublin also make for a very eye-catching combination.
Juxtaposition Juxtaposition is very powerful composition tool in photography. Juxtaposition refers to the inclusion of two or more elements in a scene that can either contrast with each other or complement each other. Both approaches can be very effective and play an important part in enabling the photograph to tell a story.
Paris Book Sellers and Notre Dame Cathedral
Take a look at this photo taken in Paris. In the bottom half of the frame, we have the slightly rough and ready book stands full of clutter with posters hanging from the coverings. Rising above all of this however is the magnificent medieval Notre Dame Cathedral. This architectural gem is the epitome of order and structure unlike the unsophisticated but attractive book stalls below. They seem to be in direct contrast with each other yet they work well together. They both represent the city of Paris in different ways. They tell a story about two different elements of the French capital. Contrasting the old with the new is another interesting use of juxtaposition as a composition tool. In the next photograph, we can see some of the beautiful old buildings around the Hofvijver area in The Hague. These include the superb Mauritshuis Museum in the centre of the frame.
Rising above them however, are the modern skyscrapers of The Hague’s business district.
The Mauritshuis - The Hague I also like to contrast the natural environment with the built environment from time to time. I took the next photograph at the monastery in Bucharest from earlier. In this case I contrasted the natural flowers with the man-made church. I used the pink roses as my main foreground subject. I then set a wide aperture to slightly blur the church in the background while still keeping it recognisable.
Dealul Mitropoliei – Bucharest
Meyssac – France Juxtaposition isn’t only about portraying two contrasting elements. The photo above was taken in the picturesque little village of Meyssac in the Correze region of France. In this shot, the old Citroen 2CV car looks perfectly at home in front of the typical French bar/café in the background. The two elements complement each other perfectly. The man with his back to us in the cafe is the owner of the 2CV and he seemed surprised
when I asked if it was ok to take a picture of his car. He asked why I’d ever want to take a photo of “that old thing”. He didn’t seem to realise that he had unwittingly set up a quintessentially French scene by parking in front of that particular café.
Here is another shot I took in the same location. In this case I blended the photograph with a picture of some old paper in post-processing. This gives the image a vintage or even painting like feeling. Adding an old texture to a photograph like this can lead to very interesting results.
Add Human Interest As a mostly urban and landscape photographer, I sometimes forget how adding some human interest to the frame can make a photograph far more interesting as well as giving a sense of scale.
Cyclist in Bruges This photograph taken on a misty morning in Bruges would not be nearly as interesting without the man crossing the bridge on his bicycle.
Ponte Romana – Tavira Including a person or people in the scene you are photographing also gives a sense of scale to the surroundings. The person at the end of the bridge in this photo occupies a tiny part of the frame but completely transforms the image in my opinion. Including people in your composition often requires patience and luck. For both of the previous photographs, I had to wait for the right people to enter the frame. I will discuss this idea of waiting for the “decisive moment” shortly.
Change Your Point of View Most photos are taken from eye level. In my case, that’s barely over 5 feet! Getting high up or low down can be a way of creating a more interesting and original composition of a familiar subject. I’ve often seen wildlife photographers lying in the mud on their bellies to get the perfect shot. Whenever I plan a trip to somewhere new, I always research the possibilities to take some bird’s eye photos. Most cities and towns usually have a high building or bell tower you can climb to get some shots from high above your surroundings. Just make sure they allow tripods if you plan to bring one. The next photograph was taken from the top of the famous Belfry of Bruges. Climbing this tower allowed me to capture a spectacular wide angle panorama of the square and rooftops of the gorgeous gabled buildings below.
Markt Square – Bruges I had to work extremely hard to get this shot of Markt Square in the heart of Bruges. For a start, I had to lug my camera gear up 366 narrow steps to the top of the Belfry. Now thankfully I’m in shape. Well I mean, round is a shape isn’t it? As I wheezed my way to the summit, I think some of my fellow climbers were worried I might require medical attention. I actually met a guy whose office was right at the top of the belfry. He told me that he made the
trip up and down the tower several times a day in a suit whereas I looked like I’d just climbed Everest, he barely broke sweat. The viewing area beside the bells themselves is difficult to take photographs from with a SLR as each window is covered in chicken wire. This meant I had to hold my camera high above my head, pull in the chicken wire and shoot blindly towards the square below all the while hoping the security guard didn’t see me. I took over a hundred shots like this, most of which were very crooked or featured the chicken wire as a major part of the composition. I finally got the shot above after about half an hour of effort that involved increasingly dark muttering and cursing under my breath. We go to Paris for the next two photographs. Cities often look at their most spectacular at night especially when photographed from above.
Paris – City of Light When you think of places in Paris to climb up high, you immediately think of the Eiffel Tower. The problem with shooting from the top of Paris’ most iconic structure is that you can’t include the Eiffel Tower in your shot! This is why the Montparnasse Tower in the south of the city is a much better location to capture a bird’s eye view of the City of Light. The Montparnasse Tower is a pretty ugly building too
so being on top of it has the added advantage that you can’t see it while you are up there. This photograph was taken just after sunset while there was still some colour in the sky. I waited for the moment the Eiffel Tower sparkled as it does for one minute on the hour, every hour throughout the night.
Eiffel Tower Paris I returned to photograph the Eiffel Tower several years later. This time, I took my shot while
standing at its base and pointing my camera up. This was also a perfect occasion to use a centred composition due to the symmetrical subject.
Ballyhoura – County Limerick Sometimes you have to go to great effort to get a more interesting angle. In this case, I had to wade into the stream in my wellies in order to photograph this stream in County Limerick. The water was freezing. I know because I stood in it for half an hour waiting for the sun to come out.
The Decisive Moment The idea of the “decisive moment” in photography is of course most associated with the great French street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. But what did Cartier-Bresson mean by the “Decisive Moment”? The great man himself said the following: “Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera” In the case of Henri Cartier-Bresson, this meant clicking the camera at the exact moment a man leaped over a puddle behind Gare Saint Lazare or capturing the fleeting cheeky expression of a French boy as he joyfully carried a bottle of wine in each hand through the streets of Paris. The following collection of photographs showcases a few examples of my own efforts to capture some “decisive moments”.
Behind the Gare Saint Lazare © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos
Bruges – Belgium In this photograph, a cyclist crosses one of the many stone bridges that cross the canals of the handsome medieval city of Bruges in Belgium. This was one of those occasions when I had to wait for that exact right moment to press the shutter. I crouched beside a canal side wall, composed my shot and waited…. and waited…. and waited some more.
Every so often, someone would cycle across the bridge but the shot would be ruined by a car coming in the opposite direction or perhaps the cyclist would look too modern for the mood I was trying to create in the final photograph - very inconsiderate in my opinion! Finally, after about 45 minutes, I saw the gentleman you can see in the photo approaching the bridge. I waited until he was right in front of the light coloured building you see right behind him so he would stand out and pressed the shutter. I knew straight away I’d gotten the shot I wanted from this location. I think it was worth the wait. This was by far my favourite photo from the trip. I was quite lucky as there was a car coming from the opposite direction ready to spoil my shot. Thankfully for me the cyclist just beat him to the bridge. I believe he will be taking part in the Tour de France this year.
Keizersgracht Canal – Amsterdam I took this shot along Keizersgracht Canal in Amsterdam. In this instance I wanted to capture the light trails of one of the many boats that whiz along the waterways of the Dutch capital. Most of the boats made a slow left turn at this intersection leading to some very awkward looking light trails. Finally, one speedy little vessel shot straight through the scene providing me with the straight light trails I was looking to capture.
Pont d’Arcole - Paris The next shot comes from one of my favourite photography locations: Paris. The French capital is one of the places Henri Cartier-Bresson plied his trade after all. It’s a superb location for street photography. In the shot above, I captured the moment a couple danced to a street musician on the Pont d’Arcole. This was one of those lucky moments as
I just happened across the scene as I was walking towards Notre Dame Cathedral. The guy with the cigarette leaning against the railing between the guitarist and the dancers seems completely unimpressed by the whole thing. Maybe he just prefers Johnny Hallyday.
Phoenix Park Tearooms – Dublin I was incredibly lucky to be in the right place at the right time while taking photographs at the Tea Rooms near Dublin Zoo. This Victorian era
building is an attractive subject in itself but as I was framing the shot, an opportunity to capture a very human “decisive moment” arose. A young couple entered the frame and shared a kiss at the entrance to the Tea Rooms as they said their goodbyes. Capturing this momentary act of tenderness turned a decent shot into something much more special. We move to North Africa for the next shot, the entrance to the Souk of Hammamet in Tunisia to be exact. This archway into the busy market area seemed liked the perfect location to get an interesting shot. Again, this required some patience and a lot of unsuccessful attempts to capture the right person as they entered the souk. After about half an hour, I finally managed to get the shot I was after. Notice how the person is framed by the archway. As I mentioned earlier, arches are perfect for using the “frame within a frame” technique.
Hammamet - Tunisia
The idea of the decisive moment is a concept that you should always keep in mind when you head out with your camera. Some of the photos in this series were captured as a result of being patient and waiting for that moment of interest to happen. Others were a result of sheer good luck and being in the right place at the right time. Either way, there is always a great sense of satisfaction when you succeed in freezing some never to be repeated moment in time simply by pressing your camera’s shutter at exactly the right second. The next time you are out taking photographs; don’t just start clicking as soon as you find an interesting location. Take a look around the scene and see what the possibilities are for capturing a “decisive moment”. I’d prefer to wait in order to take one special shot than several mediocre ones.
Conclusion Several times in this section on composition, I have told you that it is often possible to combine two or more of the composition ideas I’ve covered in one photograph.
Arcade du Cinquantenaire – Brussels This shot taken in Brussels combines several of the ideas we covered in this section: centred composition, symmetry, rule of thirds, leading lines, rule of odds, framing and colour theory.
Obviously, it would be impossible to have all of these composition ideas in your head as you are out shooting. Your brain would melt! However, a good exercise is to try to use one or two of them each time you go out with your camera After a while, you’ll find that a lot of these techniques become ingrained. You will begin to use them naturally without having to think about them. As you can see from the golden ratio, I used one of them without even realising it! I would also encourage you to ignore these guidelines completely when you think it will make for a more interesting composition. As I said at the beginning, these are ideas, not rules that must be obeyed at all times! Many of the ideas here however will help you come up with interesting ways of composing your photographs. In the next section we will look at light and how the right light can transform your photographs.
Introduction to Light When is the best time of the day to take photographs outdoors? What are the ideal weather conditions for outdoor photography? Why should I take photographs during golden hour and blue hour? What can I photograph on a dull cloudy day for example? What can I photograph when it’s raining? How does the guy who drives the snowplough get to work in the morning? This series of tutorials on light and weather conditions aims to answer most of these questions and more. Photography is all about light. To be more precise, photography is all about the quality of the light. This can be a particular challenge for outdoor/landscape photographers. A photographer photographing a model in a studio has complete control over the lighting conditions. Studio lights can be easily adjusted depending on the desired result.
Dublin Docklands in the Dawn Light This is not the case for us outdoor photographers. We regularly find ourselves at the mercy of the weather and lighting conditions on any given day. Coming from Ireland, where the weather can change by the minute, I understand this challenge only too well. I once came home from a 30 minute shoot soaking wet, freezing cold and sunburnt! When the light and conditions co-operate however, the results can be spectacular. It is the quality of light that can turn a photograph from decent to something special. Luck often plays a
role in this of course. Sometimes, a period of beautiful light may only last a few seconds. That said, doing some research in advance and making the effort to be in a location at the right time will dramatically increase your chances of finding a quality of light that will bring your photograph up a level or two. In this series of tutorials, I’m going to go through the different times of the day and explain what type of light we might typically expect at that time and what kind of photography produces attractive results at these times. I’ll also take a look at the types of photos that work best in various weather conditions in particular conditions that we would view as being challenging for photography. Some of the photos presented in this section have appeared in previous tutorials to explain other techniques. I have done my best however to feature different photos where possible.
Morning Blue Hour We most often associate blue hour with the evening but we often forget that there is a morning blue hour too! This is the period when the darkness of the night is beginning to lift and the sky takes on a deep blue colour just before the dawn. Using the word “hour” is bit of a misnomer. Blue hour can last from a few minutes to several hours. Depending on the time of year and your latitude, the morning blue hour can be anything from about half an hour to several hours before sunrise. Blue hour is by far the best time to capture night photos, especially in cities. There is just enough ambient light to balance the city illuminations with the darkness of the sky. When the sky is black, there is often too much contrast between the black of the sky leading to exposure issues. The deep navy tones of the blue
hour sky also tend to provide a more attractive background to the foreground scene. Funnily enough, most of my Dublin night time photos were actually taken in the morning!
Ha’penny Bridge – Dublin The Ha’penny Bridge is one of the most recognizable landmarks in my home city. I love photographing cities during the morning blue hour. Often, it feels like I have the whole place to myself at this time. In this photo, the deep shade
of blue in the sky is very apparent. See how more attractive this is than a pure black sky.
The Customs House – Dublin The Customs House is another well-known building in Dublin. Many people are surprised when I tell them this photo was actually taken in the morning! You can see the sky beginning to brighten in the right of the frame as the sun (although still below the horizon) begins to light up the sky. The next photograph was taken on St. Mark’s Square in Venice during the morning blue hour.
St. Mark’s Square – Venice
St Mark’s Square is usually packed with tourists and trinket sellers all day long. At 6 am however, during the morning blue hour, I had the place to myself. The only other people on the piazza were another photographer and a man gently sweeping the ground with an old-fashioned broom. As my wife can confirm, I am not a morning person but it really is worth the effort to drag oneself from the cosiness of a warm bed to visit a famous location before the crowds arrive. I tried to visit the basilica later in the day with my wife and two year-old son later on that day. It turns out toddlers don’t really like dark medieval churches all that much. He didn’t really appreciate the Byzantine art and Venetian architecture as much as I’d hoped. I don’t think such screams had been heard in Venice since Napoleon attacked the area over 200 years ago. He much preferred chasing pigeons on St. Mark’s Square (my son, not Napoleon).
Arc de Triomphe – Paris
The final morning blue hour photograph in this series was taken on an autumn morning at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Thankfully the illuminations were still lighting up this impressive monument at this time. This is not always the case in the morning. I was actually very lucky to get this shot. I had to wait about fifteen minutes for an airport bus that was blocking this view to move out of the way. Being patient is a very important part of successful photography. The Arc de Triomphe was of course commissioned by our pigeon chasing friend Napoleon to celebrate his many military victories. He never got to see his vision completed however as the arch was not completed until 1836, fifteen years after his death. There was actually a plan (before Napoleon came along) to erect a giant elephant in this spot. How different my photograph might have been.
Dawn and Sunrise Dawn is a great time for natural landscapes. The period just before sunrise is one of my favourite times to take photos. Often at this time, the light has a slightly more subtle almost pastel feel than the time just after sunset for example. As the day gradually moves from blue hour to dawn, the lighting conditions begin to change dramatically.
County Kildare - Ireland
This photo was taken near my former university town of Maynooth in County Kildare. As the sunrise approaches, the sky often contains some really beautiful colours. You can see the soft orange glow of the soon to rise sun merge with the soft pink tones of the dawn sky. The ever brightening sky also allowed me to capture a silhouette of the tree on the river bank. Dawn is an excellent time for photographing silhouettes.
Ha’penny Bridge – Dublin
This photo of the Ha’penny Bridge was taken about twenty minutes later than the morning blue hour example in the morning blue hour tutorial. It was taken from the other side of the bridge this time. Although the sun is still just below the horizon in this shot, its light has illuminated the clouds above in an attractive pink hue. A little bit of scattered cloud at this time is often preferable as the light from the sun bounces off the underside of these leading to some beautiful colours. What a difference twenty minutes makes! As I said in the introduction to this section, interesting light may only last a few minutes or even seconds in some cases. This scene will look completely different later with the harsher light of the midday sun….. or under heavy rain as it’s in Ireland! It really is worth it to get up early to capture a scene in such interesting and attractive light.
Eiffel Tower – Paris As with St. Mark’s Square in Venice, the area I took this photo from is usually crowded with hordes of tourists. At 6 am however, I had the place to myself with the exception of a very drunk Parisian who would randomly wander into the frame every so often. Again, you can see how capturing silhouettes against the colourful sky is often an option when taking photographs at dawn.
As I was leaving, my drunken friend was chatting up one of the golden statues. I hope he was successful. I was certainly rooting for him.
Dublin Docklands Shooting directly towards the area where then sun will soon rise can produce dramatic results. In this photo of the Dublin Docklands, I have pointed the camera towards the mouth of the River Liffey to the east. You can see the orange glow of the sun on the horizon which contrasts really beautifully with the purple hues in the early morning sky. Think back to the section on colour
combinations tutorial in the composition section. These are two colours that can be very striking when featured together.
County Kildare – Ireland Taking a photograph just at the moment the sun is about to emerge from below the horizon can produce stunning results if the conditions are just right. In the photograph above, this light lasted only a few seconds. I was also lucky that the windless conditions created beautiful reflections.
Arc de Triomphe In the previous tutorial, I featured a photograph the Arc de Triomphe taken during the morning blue hour. The photograph above was taken from a very similar angle about 30 minutes after the blue hour one when the soft dawn light had taken over the scene. Again, I was very lucky to get this shot at all. The illuminations on the monument switched off only a few seconds after I took this photo.
Morning Golden Hour Most novice photographers know about the virtues of shooting at golden hour and with good reason too. The light at this time can help produce stunning results. The golden hour refers to the period just after the sun rises or just before it sets. In this tutorial we are going to focus on the photographic possibilities during the morning golden hour. I’m sure you’ve noticed how the light of the early morning sunrise and its evening sunset counterpart often bathe buildings or a landscape scene in a beautiful golden glow. This golden warm tone is due to the fact that the sun is lower in the sky in the morning and evening. This means its light passes through more of the atmosphere which scatters the bluer cooler light in the colour spectrum. This leaves us with the warmer red, orange, and yellow tones.
Notre Dame de Paris and Ile de la Cité I took this photo from behind Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris just after sunrise. Notice how the early morning sun bathes the whole scene in a wonderful golden light. As the day goes on and the sun climbs higher, the light loses this warm toned quality and becomes harsher and cooler. In the tutorial on colour temperature and white balance, we saw a comparison of the façade of Notre Dame Cathedral taken during the day time and during golden hour. The difference in the tones and overall feel of the photograph was very
striking. In that tutorial, we saw how different light sources can affect the white balance and colour tones in a scene. We learnt that often it is desirable to keep these tones (especially warm tones) rather than trying to correct them.
County Kildare – Ireland Autumn/Fall is a particularly good time for golden hour landscape photography. The golden light really makes the already warm tones in the scene really pop. Look at the light on side of the
boathouse. This shot was taken a few seconds after the sun had risen when the light was at its absolute warmest.
County Kildare – Ireland This photo was taken at the same location as the last one. The warm early morning light is really evident on the bridge. I was very lucky that morning as one of the local swans would obligingly drift into frame now and then. I named him Henry. He was very tasty.
Grand Canal Dock – Dublin The final morning golden hour photos in this series all come from Dublin. In the photo above, the buildings along Grand Canal Dock are bathed in the early morning golden light. The next two photos were taken on the same morning a few minutes later at the nearby Samuel Beckett Bridge. In both images, the golden light on the buildings is combined with some beautiful colours in the
sky created by the warm toned light from the low sun bouncing off the underside of the clouds.
Sir John Rogerson’s Quay – Dublin
Samuel Beckett Bridge – Dublin
Daytime – Sunny Weather I take the vast majority of my photographs in the morning and evening when the light is at its most interesting. The midday light from the high sun tends to be harsher and cooler than the softer side lighting of the morning and evening. Generally speaking, it tends not to be the best time for outdoor photography. This is not to say that there are no opportunities to take excellent photographs during the day. Over the years, I’ve discovered that there are a number of situations where strong daytime sunlight can be used effectively. Black and White Strong sunlight tends to highlight the tones and textures in the scenes as well as creating strong shadows. For this reason, high contrast black and white photography is often a suitable option on sunny days especially on sunny days when there is plenty of scattered cloud in the sky. Take a look at
these next two photos I took on my phone camera on a chilly January late morning.
Copper Coast – Waterford
This scene was photographed on a bright sunny day along the Copper Coast in County Waterford. The location was interesting and the composition is solid with the arrangement roughly following the rule of thirds. The colour shot is lacking something though. The light is very harsh and is quite cool in terms of colour temperature. Look what happens when we convert the photograph to black and white however. Suddenly the contrast of the clouds against the sky and the different tones throughout the image become much more apparent and striking. The second photograph definitely has more visual impact. There is a more “dramatic” feel to the shot. This is a good example of how shooting with black and white photographs in mind can be very effective in strong daytime light. The next pages contain a few more examples of black and white photographs captured in harsh sunlight.
College Chapel at Maynooth University
La Conciergerie and River Seine - Paris
Long Exposures I find that sunny days with plenty of scattered cloud are an excellent opportunity to try some long exposure photography. The photograph below was taken using a 10 stop neutral density filter. This allowed me to slow the shutter speed down to a very long 55 seconds, something that would normally be impossible in the daytime.
Upper Lake – Glendalough The long exposure time of almost a minute allowed me to capture the motion blur of the clouds as they moved across the sky. Combining
this with a high contrast black and white conversion creates a photo with plenty of impact.
Promenade in Hammamet – Tunisa In this photograph, I used an infra-red filter. Not only did this allowed me to use a slow shutter speed of 22 seconds leading to plenty of motion blur in the clouds. Infra-red filters create images with a completely red hue in the colour version. This can then be used to create a high contrast black and white version of the photograph.
Markt Square – Bruges You are of course not completely limited to black and white photography in the strong midday sun. In the photo above, I again used a 10 stop neutral density filter to capture the motion blur of the clouds with a long exposure. It also has the effect of making most of the people in the scene disappear. Anybody moving the frame did not show up in the photograph. Bold colours like those on the beautiful Flemish style buildings in the scene are accentuated by strong sunlight.
Bold Colours As I have just said, subjects with bold colours can be look very striking when photographed in the strong direct light of the daytime.
Golesti – Romania The strong midday sun has really made the yellow flowers stand out in this photograph taken outside a Romanian farmhouse. Getting the exposure settings right can be tricky when there is mix of strong light and deep shadows in a scene.
Dealul Mitropoliei – Bucharest As in the last photograph, we can see that the bold colours of flowers are particularly vibrant when photographed in strong sunlight. We saw this photograph in the previous section on composition. It was in a church very close to this spot that I received a smack to the head by a disgruntled worshipper. Later that evening I almost got arrested for photographing the Romanian National Parliament building. I don’t think they’ll ever let me back in to their country.
Countries in Southern Europe with plenty of bright whitewashed buildings with splashes of colour are almost always bathed in bright light.
Castro Marim – Portugal I like how the colour of the oranges contrasts with the bright white of the church and the deep blue sky in this little village in the Algarve. Narrow streets are good candidates for daytime photography as the high sun illuminates the street which is usually in deep shadow.
Tavira – Portugal
Portugal also contains buildings with some really beautiful colours. Again, the strong daytime sunlight makes these colours pop as well as bringing out the textures on the surfaces.
Tavira Portugal I noticed this beautiful ochre coloured building in Tavira while out for a walk and couldn’t resist taking a photo of it on my camera phone.
Dappled Light Searching for dappled light on a sunny day can lead to some very interesting photographic opportunities. Dappled light refers to that spotted light which typically shines through gaps in a tree canopy. This softens the harshness of the light.
Sonsbeek Waterfall – Arnhem The dappled light in this wooded area of a park in the Dutch city of Arnhem made for an attractive photograph of this waterfall.
Tavira – Portugal The dappled light from the overhanging leaves of a tree has created an interesting mix of light and shadow on this little square in Tavira, A lot of the photos I took in Tavira were actually taken on my phone camera. It is often said that the best camera is the one you have with you. It’s actually quite a pleasant experience to go for a leisurely stroll without all the heavy camera equipment. I have since bough a compact camera
that I keep on me almost all the time in case an interesting photographic opportunity crops up. This camera has a one inch sensor which is significantly bigger than the tiny sensor in a phone which itself is capable of producing decent results. This means I can take high quality photos without being weighed down by lots of gear.
Cooley Peninsula – County Louth The dappled light in this forest led to an interesting photograph with plenty of contrast between the light and shadow in the scene.
Shooting Architecture in Strong Light Sunny days with a completely clear blue sky are rarely conducive to capturing the more artistic style photos. Aside from the harsh light, the cloudless sky can seem uninteresting and devoid of drama. Such days, however, can be very suitable for architecture photography. In this case, it is the form, shapes, angles, and colours that are the most important elements of the shot. A clear blue sky does not distract from the main subject of the photo. As we have already seen, the strong daytime light accentuates detail, colours and textures in the architecture being photographed. The photographs of my local council building on the next page were taken for use in brochures and online. They are not meant to be framed as art but rather to show off the architectural features, textures and shapes of the building being photographed.
Fingal County Council Office – Blanchardstown Notice how the shadows in the first photo lead the eye to the buildings. In the second photograph, the trees act as a framing device for the building. There is also juxtaposition between the natural trees and man-made building in the
second image. The person walking to the right of the frame along provides human interest and a sense of scale.
I quite like the “DNA” sculpture that rises from the water. You will notice that this photograph of the building contains plenty of strong diagonals and triangles. We learnt earlier that this adds a sense of “dynamic tension” to the scene. They also contrast with the curve of the building. These are all techniques we covered in more detail in the composition section. I hope you were paying attention!
Avoiding the Strong Light Finding dappled light is a good way of reducing the harshness of the midday sun. Another method is to avoid it altogether. I know this book is called “Outdoor Photography Essentials” but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t consider moving inside or at least out of the strong light.
College Chapel – Maynooth The strong sunlight streaming through the windows of this church has created an interesting
contrast between the light and shadow in the scene. Churches provide excellent subjects for indoor photography when the light outside is too strong or uninteresting.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert – Brussels Ornate covered galleries like this one in Brussels are fantastic locations for daytime photography or if it’s pouring rain as was the case when I took this shot. Paris and London also have some superb examples of these covered galleries.
The whole scene looks wonderfully grand and genteel. It has the effect of transporting one back to the nineteenth century. I feel like I should be wearing a top hat while sporting a magnificent handlebar moustache and monocle as I stroll along with my carved wooden cane. I don’t know how such a look would be perceived back in Dublin. Although with all the hipsters around now, I might get away with it. The photograph on the next page was taken in Bucharest. You may have noticed that a lot of major cities and towns seem to have at least one street that is covered by a canopy of umbrellas suspended above it. These streets can make for very interesting photography locations in the daytime. The umbrellas have the effect of softening the light in the scene as well as providing a vibrant splash of colour or multiple colours as in the next photograph.
Piata Odeon - Bucharest
English Market – Cork Markets can be excellent locations for indoor photography. There is always plenty of activity to capture. Many of these markets take place in interesting buildings such as the English Market in Cork City above. I really liked the wooden beams in the roof as well as the interesting patterns in the paving. This is another shot I took on my camera phone while out for a stroll.
Archways through buildings are another good location for avoiding strong light.
Hammamet – Tunisia The entrance to the souk of Hammamet provided me with an opportunity to get out of the strong North African midday sun. Being Irish; this was probably a good idea anyway. After ten minutes in the sun, I look like a beetroot with a fever. In the next photograph, I captured a street musician playing the saxophone in the archway
that leads into the Temple Bar district of Dublin.
Merchant’s Arch – Dublin
Daytime – Overcast Weather A lot of outdoor photographers often write off cloudy overcast days. On a cloudy day, the light tends to very flat and not particularly interesting or dramatic. There was a time when I rarely took out my camera on days like this. I’ve come to realise however that there are in fact certain types of photography that are very well suited to overcast conditions. The flat light of a cloudy sky can act as a giant soft box creating a soft even light that makes setting exposure easy and is perfect for a range of subjects. Capturing Details You can use these days to focus on details rather than vast sweeping landscapes. The even light makes it easier to capture small details in flowers and plants for example without worrying about harsh shadows obscuring part of the subject. The next two photographs were taken in gardens on an overcast day.
Water Droplets on a Leaf
Street Photography Capturing detail at street level is another great option on a cloudy day. The even light makes setting the exposure easy. You set it once and you don’t really have to worry about it again unless the light changes dramatically. This leaves you free to concentrate on finding interesting street scenes to capture such as these two women sitting having a chat by a bridge in Venice.
Venice – Italy
Bucharest – Romania Cloudy days create the perfect conditions for shooting environmental street portraits like this one of a violinist in Bucharest. The cloud filtered light is better than any studio lighting! Overcast days are great for capturing the details on building facades. The sky was not particularly interesting the day I took this next shot in Venice so I just left it out completely and concentrated on this rustic house facade in a tiny courtyard.
House Façade in Venice Streetscapes are actually much easier to capture in flat light. Take a look at the two photos on the next page. They were both taken on Temple Lane in Dublin. In the first one, the light was too strong leaving one side of the street in deep shadow. In the second one, the overcast light allowed me to capture all of the detail in the scene.
This version has plenty of exposure problems with clipped shadows and blown highlights.
The flat light allows all the detail to be captured.
Venice - Italy There is plenty of detail in all of the textures in this Venetian streetscape thanks to the even light.
O Donoghue’s Pub – Dublin
Merrion Square – Dublin Black and white street photography is also a great option on overcast days.
Wildlife Photography The flat light of a cloudy day is ideal for wildlife photography. Once again, the light on such days lights the scene very evenly, making it possible to capture plenty of detail. As with street photography, you can concentrate your efforts on your subject matter rather than fiddling with exposure settings.
Phoenix Park – Dublin I rarely photograph wildlife but I was lucky to be there when this herd of deer crossed the Phoenix Park in Dublin. One deer suddenly stopped and looked back, possibly remembering he’d forgotten to turn off the immersion that morning.
Minimalist Style Photography
Doge’s Palace and San Giorgio Maggiore – Venice Featureless overcast skies are perfect for photographers who prefer a more minimalist feel to their images. The lack of detail in the sky above focuses the viewer on the street lamp and the church of San Giorgio in the distance. I’ve become increasingly interested in this more minimalist style photography recently. Most of my photos feature plenty of detail and bold colours. It’s nice to try something different every so often and move out of your comfort zone.
Evening Golden Hour We now move away from the daytime and start to take a look at the types of light we see from late in the day until darkness falls. Just like the period just after sunrise, the time just before sunset is an excellent time for outdoor photography. As is the case during the morning golden hour, the sunlight has a warm, golden quality during its evening counterpart.
Notre Dame Cathedral – Paris
Notre Dame Cathedral seems to glow during the evening golden hour in this photo. The term “golden hour” is again misleading. On the evening I took this photo, the golden hour light only lasted about 30 minutes. The long days of mid-summer provide the longest golden “hour” whereas, in the depths of winter, the golden hour light may only last a few minutes. My own frequently overcast country of Ireland often gets no golden hour at all such is the cloud cover! It’s useful to keep a close eye on weather reports to increase your chances of being in location when the light is likely to enhance your photos. Sometimes it works out and at other times it doesn’t. When it doesn’t work out, put the camera away and simply enjoy the location. As photographers we sometimes forget to put the camera away from time to time and take in our surroundings with our own eyes and ears rather than through a lens.
Mauritshuis – The Hague The evening golden hour light casts a warm glow on the Mauritsuis Museum in The Hague. This superb little museum contains masterpieces such as “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” by Vermeer as well as works by Rembrandt and Rubens. My sister lived in The Hague at the time and lent me a bicycle to get around this very pleasant city. Unfortunately, it was designed for a 6 foot 5 Dutchman not a 5 foot 5 Irishman. I struggled to
keep it under control at the best of times never mind on the cobbled streets that are criss-crossed with tram tracks. I managed to get the wheels stuck in these tracks more than once. When this happens, you have a simple choice to make: Do I fall to the left or to the right? I tried both.
Doge’s Palace – Venice The elegant Doge’s Palace in Venice looks even more stunning than usual when its facade is painted with the golden light of the evening time. The wide angle lens has exaggerated the perspective and angles. It can be tricky to keep the verticals actually vertical with such lenses.
If you are very lucky, you might be able to capture a golden hour sunburst in the evening.
Paris from the Montparnasse Tower The photo above is a prime example of being in the right place at the right time. I was having a drink at the café at the top of the Montparnasse Tower in Paris when I noticed a beautiful golden hour sunburst over the city outside. I knew this light wouldn’t last long so I had to run up two flights of stairs with tripod legs flailing in all directions, throwing several small children out of my way as I did so. Thankfully, I just about
made it in time to capture the last of the sunburst as it bathed the city below in its golden light. Scenery also looks particularly beautiful during the golden hour especially just before sunset.
Mediterranean Sea at Nabeul – Tunisia The very last light of the day has illuminated the rocks in the foreground with a soft warm light. A few seconds later, the sun disappeared beneath the horizon and the light was gone. It had only lasted a few seconds like this.
Sunset and Dusk The few minutes just before the sun disappears below the horizon is a fantastic time to capture something special. Often, there will be a sunburst on the horizon at this time. It usually only lasts a few seconds though so it’s important to have your shot set up in advance and be ready to go at the “decisive moment”.
Hammamet – Tunisia
This photo was taken among the fishing boats by the Kasbah in Hammamet, Tunisia. Sunny Tunisia has some wonderful golden hour light almost every single day. As at sunrise, a little cloud is always welcome at sunset as the low sun illuminates the undersides of the clouds in a variety of warm tones. The colours in the sky on this particular evening were absolutely spectacular. Dusk is the period just after the sun has set but there is still some colour left in the sky especially on the horizon where the sun has just set. Often, we get an attractive orange afterglow and some stunning colours in the clouds at this time. The tones tend to be little more vivid at dusk than at dawn. The next photograph is a perfect example of how cloud can add interest to a dusk scene. This image would not have nearly the same impact if the sky had been clear.
Ponte Romana - Tavira I took this photo near the Ponte Romana just after the sun had set. The sun, though below the horizon by now had painted the underside of the clouds above in with a slight orange tint. There is also a lovely balance between the light left in the sky and the street lights and illuminations on buildings such as the church on top of the hill in the distance. Don’t despair however if you are greeted with a clear sky in the evening. The following shots from
Place de la Concorde and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris were both taken on clear evenings as dusk was descending on the city. Despite the lack of clouds, they both work in their own way.
Place de la Concorde – Paris Like at dawn, dusk is a perfect time to capture silhouettes. This photo of one of the fountains on Place de la Concorde was taken against the coral tones of the post-sunset sky.
The silhouette of the Eiffel Tower in the distance seems closer than in reality. This is due to the effects of using a relatively longer focal length of 70 mm. We learnt about how zooming in on a scene like this compresses perspective in the tutorial on focal length.
Louvre Pyramid – Paris The afterglow of the setting sun is clear in the above photo. The sun had just set behind the famous glass pyramid at the Louvre Museum
creating a pleasing silhouette against the warm orange glow of the sky just above the horizon. By now, the city lights were beginning to switch on and dusk was beginning to gradually transition into the blue hour phase of the evening.
Grand Canal – Venice On the evening I took the above photograph, I had taken a series of golden hour photographs at the Ponte dell'Accademia over the Grand Canal in Venice but was a little disappointed with the results. The lack of cloud in the sky meant that
the images were a little lacking in drama. They were fine but nothing particularly special. I spent some time sitting on the steps of the bridge deleting images from the camera to make space and was about to head back to my rented apartment when I noticed that the sky had turned to a very delicate pastel tone of apricot. The scene had been completely transformed once the sun had dipped below the horizon. I went back on to the bridge and took the shot above. It goes to show once again that patience is so important in photography. Just because the light is not good right not does not mean it won’t improve in even a few minutes. One of my favourite landscape photographers David Noton often speaks about the importance of “waiting for the light”. In fact it’s the title of his first book. I’d highly recommend that you check out his photography and books. They certainly had a big influence on my own photography.
Evening Blue Hour The evening blue hour is, without doubt, the best time for capturing cityscapes. Although the morning blue hour is also a fantastic time for urban photography, often the lights that illuminate the city’s landmarks have been switched off by then. As during the morning blue hour, there is still enough ambient light to create a nice balance between the sky above and the buildings below. As mentioned earlier, the deep blue sky at this time is arguably more attractive than the pure black sky we see later in the night. Earlier, we saw a photograph of the area around the Ponte Romana in Tavira at Dusk. About twenty minutes later, the blue hour was just beginning to descend on the scene. Take a look at how the scene has changed. I used a wider angle lens this time to capture the drama of the scattered clouds in the sky.
Ponte Romana – Tavira By now, the sky has begun to turn to a deep shade of blue. There is a still a little light left from the setting sun to give a pinkish tint to the undersides of the clouds. I first visited Tavira a few years ago with a group of photographer friends. Our first night was spent in a convivial local tavern were we sampled a range of local Portuguese drinks purely in the name of cultural discovery you understand. It was all very civilised and only one of our party suffered any injuries of note after tumbling on the
way home. Thankfully, her nose broke her fall. I promise we didn’t nickname her “Potato Nose” for the rest of the trip.
Grand Canal Dock - Dublin Architecture looks fantastic at blue hour. The contrast between the building interior lights and the dark blue of the sky is very pleasing. The next photograph has already been featured in the tutorial on focal length. It was taken in Venice and depicts a row of the famous city gondolas with the island and church of San Giorgio Maggiore in the distance.
Gondolas of Venice This well-photographed location in Venice is frequently captured in the morning with the sun rising in the background with stunning results. My trip here at morning time didn’t really work out due to a cloudy sky so I returned to try something a little different at blue hour. The low light of blue hour allows for longer shutter speeds. I used this to my advantage in the above photo to set a 30 second exposure time. This allowed me to capture the motion blur of the gondolas as they bobbed up and down in the water.
Belfast City Hall I took this shot of Belfast City Hall on a freezing February evening. Every time I look at this photograph I can still feel the cold that I felt while out with my camera that evening. I mentioned earlier that the tones of blue hour tend to make for more attractive photographs than are possible later in the night when the sky has turned to pure black. Take a look at the two photos on the next page. They were both taken at the same location in Bruges. One was taken when the sky had turned black while the second was taken at blue hour.
Burg Square late at Night
Burg Square at Blue Hour
Notice the relative lack of detail in the buildings in the first photo compared to the second one. There are a lot of overexposed areas too, especially in the bright windows. This is due to the high contrast between the dark sky and brightly illuminated buildings. The camera can struggle to capture the full range of tones in this instance. There is more ambient light left over in the sky in the second shot making the scene easier to expose for and allowing me to capture more detail in the architecture. In the second image, we can clearly see the variety of textures and colours on the building. In the late night image, the building appears a uniform shade of yellow from the artificial light illuminating the facade. I also think that the deep blue sky of blue hour makes for a far more attractive backdrop than the solid black sky of late night.
Night-time I’ve been telling how the black night sky is not particularly attractive for capturing urban landscapes. This does not mean you should put your camera away as the night gets darker. As usual, I am about to tell you to do the complete opposite of what I just said. There are still plenty of photography opportunities at this time. As was the case with strong sunlight, the pure black of the late night sky often looks better in black and white photographs than in their colour counterparts. The next photograph was taken on a narrow street in Prague looking toward the tower of the town hall. In this case, the contrast of the illuminated buildings contrasts well with the dark night sky. Exposure can still be tricky at this time. I took 3 bracketed exposures to make this photo.
Town Hall – Prague
Samuel Beckett Bridge – Dublin In this photograph of the Samuel Beckett Bridge and National Conference Centre in Dublin, the strong geometric shapes of the bridge really pop against the dark night sky. The colour version of this shot does not work as well. Colour photography is also a possibility at this time. Often however, I tend to shoot at street level in order to completely leave out dark sky entirely. The next photograph was taken in Venice outside one of the fanciest restaurants in the city.
Ristorante Quadri – Venice
For this shot, I decided to focus in on a couple who were watching a mini orchestra performing outside the famous Ristorante Quadri. Dining at this particular opulent eatery will require you remortgage your home and sell your first born child. Two coffees alone will set you back about €30! A shutter speed of 1.3 seconds helped create some motion blur as the violinist played. It also makes it look as if he has two heads. After taking this shot, I discretely listened in on the couple’s conversation as they debated which of their children they would sell to pay for their meal. Personally, I’d go by future earning potential. This being the city of Antonio Vivaldi, I expected to hear the melodious refrains of “The Four Seasons” filling the night air. Instead, they appeared to be playing “Radio Gaga” by the genius that is Freddie Mercury and Queen. I do wonder what Vivaldi’s opinion of “Fat Bottomed Girls” would have been though.
Het Plein – The Hague Leaving out the sky completely and focusing on subjects at street level is a good option for night photography. I really liked the warm glow from the fire heater at this café in The Hague. Only including a little of the dark night sky in the frame avoids the issue of exposure difficulties caused by too much contrast between the sky and the scene below. This next photo of taken in Belfast is an example of this.
Cathedral Quarter – Belfast I loved the red glow from the lights above this street in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter.
Rain We often have a tendency to put the camera away when it rains. Rain, however, can present some great opportunities for some very interesting and original photographs.
St. Mark’s Basilica – Venice Rainy evenings are great for capturing reflections. On my first evening in Venice, St Mark’s Square was still covered in large puddles from the previous day’s Aqua Alto (flooding) and rain.
In this shot, I was able to capture the reflection of the exquisite facade of St. Mark’s Basilica in one of the huge puddles that covered the piazza at blue hour. I did ruin my shoes though.
Val d’Europe – Paris The combination of wet paving, reflections and evening sunlight can make for some very interesting and unusual photos. I took this shot on my phone at Val d’Europe near Disneyland Paris.
Stormy Conditions In the last photo, we saw that rare but beautiful combination of a dark moody sky combined with the golden evening light. It’s a really special combination but it doesn’t occur too often.
Prague from the Town Hall Tower I was lucky to capture this unusual combination of light and dark while at the top of the Town Hall Tower in Prague. This brief moment of light contrasted beautifully with the dark stormy sky.
Snow I mentioned in the tutorial on exposure settings that is often necessary to overexpose your shot slightly when shooting in snowy conditions in order to avoid the snow turning out grey in the photograph.
St, Mary’s Church – Clonsilla You don’t always have to travel far to take interesting photographs. This church is only a fifteen minute walk from my front door.
Mist There is nothing more atmospheric than a misty morning. Having the opportunity to photograph a scene bathed in mist can often be a simple matter of luck. Keeping a close eye on the weather forecast can increase your chances though.
County Kildare – Ireland Morning and evenings tend to be the best times for mist particularly in areas of grassland. On this particular morning, I was lucky to find my
shooting location covered in a low lying mist over the frosty grass. I sometimes refer to dawn as “pink hour” for obvious reasons.
County Kildare – Ireland This shot was taken on the same morning. The ducks on the river are shrouded in the mist that hangs over the water. The next few photographs were taken on a misty morning in Bruges. Black and white photography works really well with moody misty scenes.
Groenerei Canal - Bruges
In this photograph taken along the Groenerei Canal in Bruges, the stone bridge in the foreground is well defined with plenty of contrast whereas the buildings in the background seem faded by the mist in the air. This layering of stronger tones over faded tones can help create a sense of depth in the scene.
Rozenhoedkaai - Bruges In this photograph taken along Rozenhoedkaii (Quay of the Rosary) in Bruges, the mist has made the famous belfry on the right almost vanish.
Gruuthuse Hof – Bruges The misty early morning conditions combined with completely empty streets gives an eerie feel to this streetscape from Bruges. There is actually a church tower in the background that has been completely obscured by the mist. Depending on where you live, misty conditions like this don’t come along all that often so it’s always exciting when it happens. It gives you the chance to photograph a familiar location in a unique way.
Backlight Photographing backlit subjects can lead to very striking photographs. Getting the exposure right can be very challenging though.
County Kildare – Ireland Winter time can be a fantastic time of year to shoot interesting photos during the daytime. In winter time, the sun stays low in the sky all day long. This means it casts long shadows and creates interesting side and backlighting.
The photo above was taken late on a winter morning well after the golden hour. Normally, the best light is long gone by then. As it was winter, however, the sun was still very low in the sky and caused the trees to cast long shadows across the scene. I set up the shot with the sun positioned behind one of the trees and took three separate exposures at -2, 0 and +2 on the exposure level scale. I then blended the three shots in postproduction. This photograph would have been impossible to create from a single exposure. The contrast between the brightest areas and darkest shadows was simply too great for the camera to handle. A single exposure would have had a lot of clipped shadows or blown highlights or even both together. Blending multiple exposures is a way around this problem.
Now, I’m no dendrologist, so I’m afraid my descriptions of the trees I photographed will be limited to ‘Yup, that’s definitely a tree alright’. I may be able to say if it’s ‘big tree’ but that’s about it I’m afraid.
County Kildare- Ireland This shot was taken not too far from the last one. This time I was out with the camera on a bright autumn morning. Once again, I positioned myself
with the sun behind a tree to take advantage of the backlighting. This type of light can really make a scene like this glow. It is particularly effective when combined with the warm autumnal tones I encountered that morning. I can also confirm that these are indeed “big” trees. They also have trunks, many branches and a lot of leaves. Maybe I’m getting the hang of this dendrology thing after all! I actually studied French and History at nearby Maynooth University many years ago but never once bothered to make the twenty minute walk to the Carton Estate where these photographs were taken. I must have been far too busy drinking beer and partying studying very diligently and engaging in deep discussions about eighteenth century French literature and philosophy with my fellow scholars.
St. Stephen’s Green – Dublin The final example of a backlit photograph comes from St. Stephen’s Green in the heart of Dublin City Centre. Shooting into the light meant underexposing the background in order to expose for the water. I think this is actually quite effective and allows the golden glow of the backlit water fountain to really stand out from the dark tones of the background.
Case Study: Rozenhoedkaai - Bruges Let’s finish by taking a look at a selection of photos taken at the same location at different times of the day. This will allow us to see how different light and conditions can dramatically affect the look and feel of the final photograph. The photographs that follow were all taken at Rozenhoedkaai in Bruges. This is one of the bestknown views of this gorgeous medieval city. It’s easy to see why this location is so popular with photographers. A collection of pretty Flemish brick buildings surround the waters of the canal basin while the famous octagonal Belfry of Bruges towers over the scene. The Rozenhoedkaai area was a salt port during the middle ages. Ships laden with salt would moor here to deliver and load their merchandise. Salt was an important and expensive commodity in medieval times and no doubt contributed to the wealth of Bruges. Today, the merchant ships
laden with salt have been replaced by small tour boats laden with tourists, Bruges’s modern source of wealth. Version 1 – Daytime
This first shot which features one of these tour boats was taken pretty much in the middle of the day. It’s a decent enough shot but the daytime light is quite harsh and not particularly interesting. It could work in a tourist brochure perhaps but I don’t think that it is the type of shot I would frame and hang on the wall.
It’s often in the evening time that things really start to get interesting. This is when the most interesting light and tones begin to appear in the scene as long as the weather cooperates. Unfortunately, the sky was covered in a layer of steely grey cloud during the evening golden hour so I headed to a nearby bar and hoped that the clouds would clear in time for dusk and blue hour. As luck would have it, they did. Luck often plays a major role in capturing that special shot. By now however, I had consumed quite a few glasses of a local beer/rocket fuel called Steenbrugge. I stumbled out of the bar into a totally transformed scene. My sense of balance had been totally transformed too. Thank goodness for tripods. With a rather diminished sense of coordination, I somehow managed to set up my tripod and point the camera at the ever changing scene in front of me.
Version 2 – Early Dusk
By now the remaining clouds were painted in a pink/coral tone by the recently set sun. As you can see, this made for a far more attractive and interesting photo than the daytime version. This light only lasted a few minutes so it’s important to be patient and ready to shoot when the conditions are right. Not being drunk probably helps too. Only a few minutes later, the scene had changed dramatically. The light had dipped and the sky
had turned a beautiful shade of purple. By now the lights illuminating the buildings had come on. Version 3 – Late Dusk
Version 4 – Blue Hour
About 15 minutes later and blue hour had descended on the city of Bruges. There was still a purple afterglow from the sunset but most of the sky had turned a deep shade of blue. These four shots all taken on the same day illustrate just how much the changing light and weather conditions can completely transform the look and feel of the location you are photographing. 5 Tips for Increasing the Odds of Getting that Special Shot with Great Light 1. Check sunrise and sunset times at your location. I like to be at a location about an hour before sunrise or an hour before sunset. This allows me to photograph the scene during the best of the dawn, golden and blue hour light. 2. Check where the sun will rise and set at your location. This allows you plan in advance where to be positioned to capture the sunrise or
sunset. You will also know from which direction the golden hour light will be coming from. 3. Check the weather forecast in advance to increase your chances of being at your location when the light is at its most interesting. 4. Be patient. Sometimes a moment of great light may only last a few seconds as the clouds briefly clear and the sunlight peeks through. Sometimes waiting for that magic moment pays off. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s definitely worth trying though. 5. Try to be reasonably sober when heading out with your camera. Drinking several large glasses of 6.5% proof Belgian beer beforehand is generally not advisable. These tips will increase your odds of being in the right place at the right time. As we know however, sometimes it comes down to pure luck.
Conclusion Congratulations if you made it this far. There is absolutely no doubt now that you must be as weird passionate about photography as I am. I hope you enjoyed the book and that it helps you bring your photography to the next level. I’ll finish off with a few random tips to help you continue to improve and enjoy your photography: Give yourself small projects based on the tutorials in this book. For example, you could go out with the intention of looking for symmetrical scenes to practice centred composition. You might also try finding situations where using a shallow depth of field could make in interesting photograph. You could also pick certain subjects as a project. I love photographing bridges for example.
Be patient. I covered this in more detail in the tutorial on the "decisive moment". Patience is essential to creating interesting photographs. Slow down; think quality over quantity.
Plan ahead. Before heading out to photograph a location, do some preparation and research. Check the weather forecast as well as sunrise and sunset times. Look up
photographs that others have taken there as inspiration. Exploring Google Maps and Street View is a great way of researching points of view in unfamiliar locations. Joining a camera club can be a great way of improving your photography. It's also a great social outlet and you get to meet people who share your passion. You can spend hours boring each other about hyper focal distance metering modes! Don't worry too much about other people's opinions of your photographs especially online. There are some people out who love to put others down especially anonymously on the internet. Don't get disheartened by these people. They tend to live in their parent's basement anyway. If you like it, that's what's most important.
If ever you find yourself stuck in a creative rut, take a break. Put the camera away for a while and spend some time consuming photography rather than creating it. Look up different photographers and seek inspiration. Before long, the ideas will start flowing again. Creative ruts happen to all photographers from time to time. Don't worry when it happens to you (and it will). They can actually be great opportunities to come up with new ideas and bring your photography in a new direction. Just be patient.
Shoot in RAW format. RAW files contain a huge amount of information. Shooting in RAW format allows you to recover more details from shadow and highlight areas if the exposure is tricky. Learn the basics of post-processing software such as Lightroom and Photoshop. There are tons of tutorials available online. Postprocessing can really enhance your photographs. It can't fix a poor photograph however. Don't take photographs in in Orthodox churches in Bucharest. It's not worth the bruising. Put the camera away from time to time. As photographers, we sometimes forget to put the camera away now and then and just
enjoy the location. This is a common issue in the era of smartphones. How many times have you seen people at a concert watch the entire show through their camera screen? During every trip I go on, I make sure to put aside plenty of time to fully experience the place I am visiting with my own senses and not just through my lens. Finally, enjoy yourself. Have fun when you're out with your camera. Photograph subjects that interest you. Thanks for reading. Now get out there and turn your creative vision into great photographs. You've got this!
Barry Portfolio/prints: bocphotography.com Blog: photographywithbarry.com