Greetings, my fellow photo nerds! Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve surely noticed that camera manufacturers constantly come out with newer, better, lighter, faster, snazzier cameras. And while there’s no denying that the image quality of today’s cameras is astonishing, when you want to create striking and memorable photos, is a new camera really where you should be spending your money?
Because when it comes down to it, a great photo is the result of you being in the right place at the right time in order to press the shutter button. And it’s that moment that matters, whether you’re shooting with a modern technological marvel, or a an ancient point and shoot.
In other words, if you want to capture amazing photos, you should invest in experiences, not new equipment.
Let me give you an example: I took this photo in 2007 with a camera that was released in 2005 and it’s still one of my favorite photos and best selling prints. What makes the image is not the camera I used but rather the light, the scene, and the magic of the moment. It was the fact that I invested my time, money, and energy into the experience of backpacking to this lake.
Similarly, I took each of these photos with various cameras that aren’t even manufactured anymore because they’re considered obsolete by today’s standards. And yet, they’re all photos I’m very proud to have in my portfolio, and which helped me build my career as a nature photographer. In each case it was the moment, and the application of my creative vision that made the photo, not so much the camera I used. These photos are the result of seeking out beautiful experiences, not beautiful pieces of equipment.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I do believe that good gear is good and better gear can be better. But think hard about where you really want to invest yourself. If you only have a certain amount of money to spend, are you going to create memorable photos by buying a new camera, or by spending that same money on the opportunity to photograph something that makes your heart sing? If you’re fortunate enough to be able to invest in the equipment AND the experiences, then more power to you. But if you have to choose between the two, then the choice is clear. Because I guarantee you that when you look back at your photos years down the road, you’re going to remember those magical moments, not the box you used to capture them.
What’s up, photo homies? (Phomies) What happens if you’d like to shoot some nice long exposures but either the light is too bright or you don’t have any filters? Well using the, ahem, “Cripps Method” 🙂 you can double, triple, or even 10-tuple your shutter speed without blowing out your image.
First, make sure you’re using a remote, get your camera on a tripod, and set the shooting mode to Continuous High. Then, in your Camera menu, head down to Multiple Exposure. For the Nikon shooters select Single Photo, Auto Gain On. For the Canon photographers use “Average” mode. Then crank the number of shots crank up as high as you can, mosh down on your remote, and let the camera do its thang!
During any long exposure you can think of the camera as taking an average of all the things going on in the scene during the exposure. This is why oceans, for example, look like mist in a long exposure: because the waves are moving and crashing everywhere and the camera is averaging all that out.
Well when you select the Auto Gain/Average function in the multiple exposure mode your camera is creating an average of all the photos you take, so it’s basically like creating a long exposure from a bunch of shorter ones. In other words, a single 20 second exposure looks exactly the same as 10 2-second exposures smashed together in camera.
Which means that if the longest shutter speed you can get to is 1/6 second, but you can take 6 shots in multiple exposure mode, well then you actually got yourself a 1 second equivalent shot. Or say you’re shooting something like a D810 that can take 10 ME shots. If you can get your shutter to 3 seconds but any brighter will blow the photo out, then in ME mode you can actually create a 30-second equivalent exposure.And this technique is infinitely expandable so if you can shoot a 30-second shot normally then in Multiple Exposure mode you can create a minutes-long photo. How friggin cool is that!??
And a word to the wise if you’re shooting something like clouds, make sure to turn of Long Exposure Noise Reduction, otherwise you’ll end up with gaps in the final image.
And there you have it; a quick and easy hack to open up your creative possibilities.
Rather than using the adjustment brush and gradient tools in ACR / LR you can often obtain more control over your images by double or triple-processing a single raw file and combining those separate edits in Photoshop. Check out the video to see how it’s done.
In photography there is often an obsession with the latest, most expensive gear, and the coolest new toys. And there can be a sense that if you don’t have a camera you had to mortgage your house to buy, a lens that cost as much as a year at Yale, a whole slew of filters, a fancy remote, and a private helicopter to get you to the right spots that you’re not going to be able to take any good photos.
Well don’t you worry because this is a complete myth and I’m here to tell you exactly what equipment you need to take amazing nature photos. It’s less than you think.
1) A Camera
First things first, you have to have a camera that lets you adjust aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and WB. That’s important because it allows you to do things like control what people look at in your photo, change the mood and feel of your image, bring out certain colors, and make other creative decisions about what you want your photo to look like. And making creative decision is how you elevate your photography from snapshot to art.
And as long as you have that capability there is absolutely no need to spend a fortune. In fact, some of my own best selling photos, like this one, were taken with an entry level camera that you can’t even buy anymore because it’s considered obsolete. So worry less about the model you buy, because all modern digital cameras are amazing machines, and just make sure it’s got the ability to change aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and WB and you’ll be good to go.
2) A Lens
Ultimately a good lens will play a more crucial role in Getting The Shot than your camera does. The right lens helps you create the compositions you want, get the perspectives you need, and capture all the beautiful details of your subject. Rather than getting one lens that does everything just ok I recommend getting one lens that’s great at whatever it is you’re most interested in.
Wide lenses [focal length overlay] are generally good for landscape photography, mid range lenses work great for portraits and single subjects, and telephotos work for wildlife. Now those are by no means rigid classifications but it’s a good starting point in you’re not sure what’s what.
Now I hate to tell you, but you did not pick a cheap hobby, like skiing. 🙂 Which means that good glass can be expensive but you can almost always find excellent 3rd party alternatives to the big name brands. And Ebay and Craigslist are also great places to find deals.
3) A Tripod
I can hear you now…
“Do I reallly nnneeeeeed a tripod??”
Mmm, welllll, YES. At least yes if you ever want to be able to take photos like this [sunset photo] or this [waterfall photo]. A good tripod not only gives you a stable base to shoot from for the highest quality shots and ability to do long exposures. But it also gives you consistency, which is the best thing you can ask for when you’re dialing in that perfect shot.
As far what kind of tripod to get, I highly recommend getting one with a ball head for their ease of use. This kind of thing will annoy you to no end. And personally I like twisting leg locks rather than the toggles because they’re easier to clean and less likely to break.
When buying your tripod take a deep breath, spend a little money, and get something good. Otherwise I guarantee you will ultimately spend twice as much by buying a crappy tripod, then a slightly better one, then a slightly better one, then finally a good one.
And that’s it! Believe it or not, everything else is optional. But with a camera, a good lens, a sturdy tripod, and a healthy dose of can do spirit, you’ll be able to create photos you’re proud of.
Are you struggling with manual mode, frustrated by the seeming impossibility of getting a perfect exposure? Well here’s a super easy three step process to nail your exposure every time.
[Step 1] – Compose, Set Aperture, Focus. First, set up your composition and adjust your aperture and focus to get the right depth of field. If you’re not sure how to do this, check out this tutorial.
[Step 2] – Meter to the Middle. With your metering set to matrix or evaluative*, adjust your shutter speed till the light meter is dead smack in the middle and take a picture.
*this will give your light meter the best overall sense of the scene’s brightness.
[Step 3] – Rinse and Repeat. Of course by Rinse I actually mean look at your histogram and see if there are any big spikes all the way on the left, which means you have clipped shadows and your photo is underexposed, or more likely, see if there are spikes all the way on the right, which means your highlights are blown out and your photo is over exposed.
Then all you have to do is adjust your shutter speed, faster to fix over exposure, slower to fix under exposure, and take another shot. Review the histogram again and tweak as necessary. You’ll have a perfect exposure in no time flat, no matter what kind of scene you’re shooting.
Finally, just a quick note that many modern cameras have a preview histogram available in Live View, which makes metering somewhat obsolete. But if you don’t have that feature, or you don’t like using live view, or you just like to understand more about what your camera is doing, then this tried and true technique I’ve just laid out will be your bread and butter.
A user-friendly guide to understanding exposure in digital photography.
If you’ve ever taken a statistics class you surely now have an innate phobia of histograms. But fear not, because this article is not a math pop quiz, and your camera’s histogram is not intended to give you cold sweats. Nay, it’s simply a tool to help you determine whether or not your photo is exposed well.
First things first, let me make a little disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to help you understand in a practical sense what the histogram on your camera is and what it’s used for. Because of that, and since I don’t think it’s important to get bogged down in the nitty gritty minutiae of the subject, when I say “The Histogram” I’m very generically referring to the white histogram which your camera displays during playback.
Yup, that thing, right there
So that white histogram, what that is, is your camera’s best guess of all the brightness values in your photo. Here’s what it displays: the horizontal axis of the histogram shows all the brightness values in your photo, from Black all the way on the left, to Middle Gray in the dead center, to White on the far right. And the vertical axis of your histogram represents how many pixels have that particular brightness value. In other words, the more pixels you have at a certain brightness value in your photo, the bigger the corresponding spike on the histogram will be.
Let’s take a look at a specific example to see if we can understand what’s going on. Here’s a middle gray image, exciting:
Are you not entertained???
Every single one of the pixels in this image are middle gray. There is no black, no white, and nothing else except middle gray. So when we look at the histogram for this photo we should expect to see a spike of pixels in the dead center, and nothing else. Indeed, that’s what Photoshop shows us as the histogram, a spike right in the middle:
Similarly, if this was a pure black image we’d see a single spike all the way on the left hand side of the histogram, and if it were pure white we’d see a spike all the way on the right. But let’s skip past those examples to something a little more interesting. Here’s a photo of some trees and mountains on a very gray day.
As you can see there are three very distinct tonal regions in the image: very dark areas in the tree branches, mildly dark areas in the mountains, and lighter areas in the sky. In other words, there are lots of very dark pixels, lots of medium dark pixels, lots of light pixels, and not a lot of anything else. So looking at a histogram of this image we should expect to see three large spikes, representing those individual tonal regions, and indeed we do!
Well this is all very interesting, professor, but what do I do with this information? I’m so glad you asked! Since we now understand that a histogram is your camera’s way of representing all the brightness values in your image, you can use it to find out if you have any clipped shadows or clipped highlights. In other words, the histogram tells you if your photo is under-exposed, over exposed, and if you’ve lost image data from clipping.
The Perfect Histogram?
Ha, just kidding! It’s a myth that there is such a thing as a perfect histogram. However, there are a few standard guidelines you can follow to make sure yours is as good as possible.
Avoid spikes all the way on the right, which means you’ve got blown out highlights. This is a common issue with digital cameras because they have very little capability to retain highlight detail. If you’ve got a spike on the far right, you should decrease your exposure.
Avoid spikes on the left. Conversely, spikes on the left mean you have clipped shadows. Although it’s surprisingly difficult to fully clip shadow detail with modern DSLRs it’s still something to watch out for. If you have this problem you should increase your exposure.
Generally speaking you’ll have the best image quality if you expose your photo as brightly as possible, up to the point that you start clipping highlight detail. However, this is a subtlety that most people don’t need to concern themselves with, and as long as your histogram is somewhere in the middle between black and white you’ll be good to go!
As you can see, the histogram is an amazing tool for digital photographers trying to perfect their exposures.
Where it Gets a Little More Complicated
Now that I’ve just spent the past few minutes telling you how the histogram is the greatest thing since sliced bread I get to tell you that it’s actually not completely accurate, oops. You see, your camera’s histogram is not based on your raw photo data, but rather on an 8-bit jpeg version of your photo, using whatever picture control/style you have dialed in (Landscape, Portrait, Vivid, Neutral, etc). Since these picture controls can add saturation, contrast, and other effects to your images it means that the histogram your camera is showing you doesn’t represent the actual raw photo data. So in order to see the absolute most accurate representation of your raw file you should use a picture control/style that has as little contrast/saturation/clarity/sharpness added as possible.
Additionally, the histogram that we’ve been talking about also doesn’t necessarily show if you have any clipping in your individual color channels. So in order to fully, and pedantically, make the most of your histogram and understand completely what it’s telling you, you should also review your individual Red, Green, and Blue histograms to make sure you’re not clipping that data as well.
So that’s the histogram in a nutshell. Learn to understand what it’s saying and it’ll be your new best friend. Because who needs actual human friends when you have data to analyze?
If you’d like to understand even more about the histogram, I’d check out these detailed articles. In them you’ll find comprehensive discussions of the different kinds of histograms (RGB vs. Luminosity), how they’re formed from the individual color channel information, and how color affects luminosity. This information won’t necessarily make you a better photographer, but it will make your head spin! 🙂
Of the three points in the exposure triangle, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, ISO is probably the least well understood and most incorrectly utilized. So what does it mean, what does it do, and when is the right time to adjust it?
Well ISO stands for interoscillating systematized oppopotamus, and I think it’s pretty clear what that means.
In truth, all ISO represents is your camera’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the camera is, so the less light it needs to make a good exposure. Conversely, the lower your ISO, the less sensitive the camera is so the more light it needs to make photo.
If you think back to our teacup example [overlay], you can think of ISO as the size of the cup you’re filling up. The higher your ISO the smaller the cup is so the less water is needed to fill it up.
Which means that we have three ways of affecting our photo’s exposure: by adjusting the aperture, which controls depth of field. By adjusting the shutter speed, which controls motion within the photo. Or by adjusting ISO, which controls, well wait, what does ISO control?
Creatively speaking, essentially nothing! Which is why for 90% of what you shoot you should set your ISO to its lowest native setting and then forget about it. This low setting gives you the least amount of noise and the highest dynamic range, in other words, the best quality image, so it’s a good place to be.
But if it doesn’t have a specific creative effect, there has to be some other reason ISO’s included in your camera right? And there is! ISO can be adjusted to manipulated one of the other exposure settings, aperture, or most commonly shutter speed. In other words, you can change your ISO in order to target a specific shutter speed.
Let me give you an example: say I’m shooting albatross in the French Frigate Shoals and I want to freeze them in midair, capturing all the details of their feathers. I put my camera in aperture priority, choose an f-stop of 5.6 for a little DOF. I’m at ISO 100 and the camera selects a shutter speed of 1/160 in order to get a good exposure. Sounds fast, but when I look at the photo it’s full of motion blur. Poop.
But now I know I can manipulate my shutter speed with a little tweak of the ISO, so I crank it up three stops to 800, which makes the camera much more sensitive to light, so it has no choice but to make the shutter speed three stops faster in order to compensate. That gives a new shutter speed of 1/1250, very fast, and now when I snap a pic the details are razor sharp.
Or how about something completely different? Recently I was out at Mono Lake at night and I wanted to get a picture of the starfield just as I saw it, with those thousands of bright pinpoints. Well believe it or this is the same idea as the albatross shoot, just on a different scale. With my camera at f/8, and ISO 100, I calculated I’d need a shutter speed of 17,000 seconds to get a decent exposure; that’s almost five hours.
So how can I shorten my shutter speed? Exactly right, increase my ISO. By upping it to 400, I was able to reduce the shutter speed from 5 hours to just 74 minutes, which gave me a look like this. But that’s still not pinpoints, soooo, I need to shorten my shutter speed even further, again by increasing the ISO. By cranking it up to 12,800 and opening up my aperture some to let more light in I was able to get that shutter speed down to 15 seconds, and finally, I got my pinpoints.
Just be aware that increasing ISO like this does come at a cost of an increased amount of noise or grain in your photos, ehich reduces detail and dynamic range. Just like everything in photography there’s always a compromise.
And there you have it, ISO in a nutshell. Leave it alone most of the time unless you’re deliberately targeting a specific shutter speed. Now I talked about targeting faster shutter speeds.
Learn to easily increase color and tone separation in Photoshop to tease out amazing effects in your photos.
If you’d like to see the rest of my editing process and exactly how I took this straight out of camera photo and processed it to look like this in its final form, you can check out the complete PS walkthrough by clicking here.
As always, thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this article please share it with your friends, give it a thumbs up, and subscribe to Professional Photography Tips, the absolute best place on the web to learn to become a better photographer.
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