Photography Mistakes: Stop Screwing Up Your Shots!

Episode Transcript:

Photographers: are you tired of taking pictures like this? [footage of tripod collapsing, me falling over, tumbling down a hill, and landing in a heap. Stupid nodding face.]

Now there’s a better way! So pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and learn how to stop screwing up those shots.

[opening credits]

Hi everybody, Josh Cripps here with Professional Photography Tips. In my years as a photographer I’ve made a lot of mistakes and screwed up some pretty great photos as a result. (Wait, I’ve been at ISO 84000 this whole time??? Nooooooo!!!!!!!)

As a consequence I’ve developed a shooting checklist that helps me take the best possible photos. Now, this list won’t necessarily make you a better photographer, but it will prevent you from making the painful mistakes I have, and stop you from screwing up that great shot right in front of you.

[Before the Shoot]

Before you go out to shoot you should always make sure you have a charged battery in your camera and a spare in your bag. Also check that you have a sufficiently empty memory card loaded, again with a spare or two in your bag. Sounds ridiculously obvious but I guarantee you it’s only a matter of time until you forget one or the other so it’s always best to double check.

You also want to make sure your camera is set to shoot raw (plus jpeg if that’s your thing), that the image size is set to Large, and that you’re in the picture control you like. I’m a neutral guy myself.

It’s always good to ensure you’re in the right mode, like manual or aperture priority, and your shot type is set to single release, or mirror up, or whatever floats your particular boat. There’s nothing like pressing the shutter button at the critical moment and not realizing you’re in self timer. You’ll also want to use a remote to minimize camera shake.

Lastly, because I’m a set it and forget it type of guy, I’ll put my ISO where I think it needs to be, usually 100, and only change it during the shoot if conditions warrant.

[During the shoot]

Here’s where things get a little more interesting. Once you have your composition set up make sure your tripod legs are locked down, your ballhead is tight, and your camera plate is secure so that you don’t get saggy camera syndrome.

Also make sure to check your focus and depth of field. If you’re not paying attention it’s way too easy to bump your focus ring and poof, there goes your razor sharp landscape.

Before you take a shot inspect the front of your lens and filters for any dust or water drops and clean those off. This is especially important when shooting at high f-numbers, or when shooting into the sun. You’ll also want to clean your image sensor and the rear element of lens regularly to minimize problems there.

Now take your shot. No matter what metering mode you used or whether you’re in aperture priority or manual, you need to double check your histogram! Also check out the highlight warning (officially called The Blinkies) and adjust your exposure as necessary. If you can’t get the whole dynamic range captured in one shot then bracket a few exposures to blend later.

Next, zoom in on your image and check around the corners and edges of your frame for distracting elements or important elements that are being cut off. Adjust your composition if needed. You also want to look out for lens flare; if you’ve got it, block the offending light source and take another shot to blend in later.

I also like to bracket a few shots for white balance. Even though you can easily adjust WB in post changing it in the field can make you approach the scene in a different way and you want the opportunity to change things while you actually can.

Lastly, if you’re shooting something that’s moving like water, try different shutter speeds to see what different looks you get.

Once you’ve done all this make subtle changes to your composition and repeat the whole process. Then make big changes to your composition and repeat the whole process. That way you’ve got a multitude of different shots to choose from, all of them as good as can possibly be. Oh, and always stick around until the light is completely gone, because you never know when it might blow up!

[After the shoot]

Celebrate because you nailed it! I know some of these seem painfully obvious, but I actually have made every single one of these mistakes, so hopefully you can learn from my errors. As always, thanks for watching and be sure to check out my other videos. And if you liked this you can subscribe for weekly photo tips and techniques. Also visit my website for landscape photography, tutorials, workshops and more. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting!

Get Perfect Focus and Depth of Field in Your Landscape Photos

Want photos that are tack-sharp from front to back? Well that’s as easy as manually removing a corn-syrup based, artificially-flavored confectionery product from the infantile grasp of a newly-born homo sapiens. Greetings, humans. Josh Cripps here with Professional Photography Tips showing how you can nail the focus and depth of field in your landscape photos to get everything sharp from front to back.

To get sufficient depth of field back in the old days of film you had to rely on an in-depth understanding of the theory of focal lengths, apertures, and hyperfocal distances. Then once you’d dialed in your compositions and settings you’d squint through the viewfinder, hold down the depth of field preview button, and hit go.

Now this is still a totally acceptable way to get good DOF for your shots, and paired with enough experience this technical approach can yield wonderful results. But thanks to the advent of digital cameras we now have a tool that makes getting the right focus and DOF even easier, and much less technical: and that tool is live view. Here’s how it works:

  • Set up your composition and as a starting point dial in an aperture of f/8. For many lenses f/8 is just about the sharpest aperture, so if we can shoot there it’s a good deal. Focus about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom of the frame, then make sure you’re in manual focus..
  • Now enter live view. With some cameras (particularly Nikons) going into live view will automatically stop the aperture in your lens down to the aperture you set. But with many other cameras you’ll have to hit your DOF preview button to get the lens to stop down. In any case that’s what you want, because the live view feed is now showing you the exact focus and DOF you have currently dialed in.
  • Let’s zoom in to the immediate foreground. If it’s sharp then zoom in on the background. If that’s sharp too, congratulations! You’ve nailed your focus and DOF.
  • But if either your foreground or background is soft, it means we need to make some adjustments to our focus point and/or our aperture. Let’s start with the focus.
  • If your foreground is soft, manually pull your focus closer until your foreground is in sharp focus. Now check your background; if that’s still sharp you win! But if your b/g is soft it means you need to increase your Depth of Field by stopping down a bit. Try changing to f/11 or f/16. Once you’ve made the change to your aperture you’ll have to exit live view and come back into it, or release and repress the DOF preview button.
  • Similarly, if it was your background that was soft originally, push your focus further away until the background is sharp. If your foreground is still sharp you’re done! But if you f/g is soft you’ll need to stop down.
  • Just keep repeating this process until your foreground and background are sharp and you’ll have nailed the focus and DOF for your shot.

Be aware that the more you stop down the softer the details in your photo will become, not because of focus, but because of something called diffraction. Compare these details shot at f/22 versus these shot at f/8. So you may reach a point of diminishing returns where your image just doesn’t get any sharper.

And in some situations you might also reach the physical limits of your lens. You’ve stopped all the way down and either your background or foreground is still out of focus. So what do you do? In this case you have three good options:

  1. Get farther away from your foreground subject. Relatively speaking this puts your foreground and background closer together, making your required depth of field less.
  2. Zoom out or use a wide lens. The wider you get the more forgiving depth of field and focus becomes. In other words, it’s way easier to get an entire scene in focus at 14mm than it is at 50mm.
  3. Think more abstractly: If you can’t get everything in your shot in focus with a deep depth of field try the complete opposite: use a shallow DOF to enhance just one part of the scene.
  4. Focus stack. Set your lens to its sharpest aperture and take multiple shots of your scene, adjusting the focus point each time until you have a sharp shot for each part of your scene from the immediate foreground through to the mid ground and on to the background. You can then auto-align and auto-blend these in Photoshop to get a completely sharp master image. Don’t worry, I’ll be doing another video on focus stacking down the road.

As always, thanks for watching! Soon we’ll be looking at exactly how to get that amazing silky look while shooting waterfalls so be sure to subscribe.

Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:

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7 Powerful Photography Tips for Amazing Photos

Episode Transcript:

Hi all, welcome to Professional Photography Tips. I’m Josh Cripps, and I’m going to show you how you can take amazing photos using any camera….all by understanding 7 simple principles of photography.

Now these principles are totally subjective, dramatically over-simplified, and the list is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive. Nevertheless, if you’re new to photography and wondering how to improve your images, this is a great place to start. So let’s dive in!

Principle #1 – Fill the frame with what you like

This is the most important rule of photography and the only rule you should never break. See this great picture of a flower? NO! This is much better. Zooming is ok, but the best zoom lens is your legs, so get closer!

Am I close enough? No. Am I close enough? No. Am I close enough?…….Maybe.

This goes for everything you want to shoot, landscapes, portraits, wildlife, sea monkeys. Get rid of all the extra space in the frame and fill it with what you like. Boring blue sky not exciting you? Get rid of it! Tree branches, lunchboxes, random people, and other clutter getting in the way of your subject, ditch it! Philosophically this is your task every time you take a photo: Figure out what the picture is really about, fill the frame with those things, and get rid of everything else.

Principle #2 – Simplify and exaggerate!

A good photo is like a caricature: it simplifies and exaggerates. Now that you’ve figured out what to put in your photo, think about how you can exaggerate its characteristics.

Use contrasting colors to make your subject stand out. Use other objects to create scale, big or small. Use a long shutter speed to emphasize movement. Zoom in on one particular feature.

Change your perspective, your focal length, or your white balance to emphasize certain characteristics. Simplify and exaggerate and you will create photos with focus and punch.

Principle #3 – Don’t center your subject.

Instead, use the rule of thirds: divide your photo up into an imaginary tic tac toe board and put the most important elements of your photo on the horizontal and vertical lines.

So instead of this (show middle framed tree), try this (offset to one side). Instead of this (horizon in the middle), do this (horizon at the top). Hot damn our photos are looking better already.

The major exception to the rule of thirds is anytime you want two parts of your photo to have equal weight. Reflections, abstracts, counterpoint, and juxtaposition are all great times to use the rule of halves, or quarters, or 1/pi or, or whatever feels right.

Principle #4 – Create Depth!

Use what’s called a near-far composition to create depth and pull people into your photo. By putting a foreground subject close to your camera and a background subject far away from your camera you give a sense of context to your image. You also create 3-dimensional depth and a sense of perspective.

If you have a wide angle lens you can use this technique to great effect by going all the way wide and getting super close to your foreground subject. This wide angle near far technique is absolutely awesome for drawing people into your images and making viewers feel like they’re standing in your photo.

Principle #5 – Connect The Dots and Create a Visual Pathway.

If you have multiple subjects in your photo (really common in landscape photography) then the story of your photo is about the connection between those subjects. Your viewer will intuit that connection 10 times better if you use lines to connect those subjects. We call these “leading lines” because they lead from element to another. Leading lines are also a great way to lead your viewers on a visual journey into your photo.

Anything can be a good leading or connecting line if you use the right perspective. Use a river to connect your foreground to your background. Use a sand dune’s ridge to draw the viewer’s eye through your frame. A crack in the ice or the lines in a piece of sandstone. No matter how you use them, leading lines are an awesome way to connect your main elements and create a visual journey for your viewers.

Principle #6 – Perspective is Everything

One of the best ways to make somebody say, Hey! That’s an interesting photo! is to show them something they’ve never seen before. We spend our whole lives walking around looking at the world from eye level, so why take a picture from eye level? It’s the same old, boring perspective. I mean hey, this field looks great from up here.

But what about from down here? It’s a whole new world, baby! So get low, get high, get upside down, and show the world your perspective.

Principle #7 – Lighting is Everything

Unfortunately the normal time to be out doing things (i.e. the middle of the day) is often the worst time for photography because of the harsh quality of light and shadow. So what can you do? The best solution photographically is to come back another time. Sunrises and sunsets generally offer the most interesting skies and the most even, flattering light.

Or you can move into the shade. Shady and cloudy conditions offer nice, soft light that’s very flattering for things like portraits or flower photography.

But sometimes coming back isn’t practical; you’re here now and never again. So what do you do? Simple! Use directional lighting to your advantage. While shooting toward the sun can create some dramatic effects it’s often problematic because it makes your subject go totally dark. Shoot with the sun, or put the sun at an angle and you’ll have a much easier time of getting a good exposure.

But if the best view is right at the sun, then expose for the brightest part of the scene. Digital cameras ahave almost zero capacity to retain detail in highlight areas, but an amazing capacity to retain detail in shadowy areas. You’ll be amazed by how much detail you can pull out of the shadows with a little post-processing, even with those iPhone shots. So expose for the highlights, recover the shadows, and you will have dynamic photos.

Principle #8 – Break all the Rules

Finally, Break all the rules except #1. Photography isn’t about following rules, it’s about showing people how you see the world. Don’t be afraid to experiment or go out on a limb. As long as there’s some method to your madness you are creating art. So get out there and shoot!

As always thanks for watching. Be sure to check out last week’s video and don’t forget to subscribe for weekly photography tips and techniques. For landscape photography, tutorials, workshops and more, visit my website, joshuacripps dot com. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting!

4 things you can do RIGHT NOW to be a better photographer

Episode transcript:

Hi all, Josh Cripps here and I’m going to show you 4 things you can do RIGHT NOW to become a better photographer

1) Shoot jpeg only (for the next week)

Ok, before you shut off the video hear me out. There’s so much you can do to a raw file in post processing that it often creates lazy technique in the field. Oh, the photo’s underexposed? I’ll just fix it in post. Color, contrast, saturation screwed up? I’ll just fix it in post. But what if you can’t fix it in post? What if all your choices are more or less locked in when you press the shutter button?

Why then you’d really have to take the time to understand what metering is and how to use it. You’ll have to understand what a histogram is and how to use it. You’ll have to take a moment to consider your color scheme and choose your white balance appropriately. To think about noise levels and choose your ISO.

When your options are limited on the back end of post processing, it forces your in-field technique to become a lot better. And if you can take a poor photo and make it good in post, imagine what you could do with a good photo! So try shooting jpeg for the next week and watch your technique improve

2) Shoot vertical

Most landscape photos are done in the horizontal orientation. I mean, heck, it’s even called Landscape format. If horizontal horizontal horizontal describes your shooting style, force yourself to only shoot in the vertical orientation for the next few weeks.

It will feel really restrictive at first, but stick with it, because restrictions are what put the mind into creative overdrive and you will find yourself doing really unique things to fill the frame.

You will be forced to simplify your compositions and clear away any extraneous clutter or empty space on the left and right sides of your shot.

And on top of that it forces you to look at the world in a different way: up and down, as opposed to the normal side to side we live our daily lives in.

That rearranegment of space can bring a fascinating new perspective to your work. And for you wide angle shooters, going vertical with a wide angle lets you get down right on top of your foreground subjects, increasing visual punch and drawing your viewers into the frame.

3) Take 50 steps

From wherever you are right now, grab your camera and take exactly 50 steps. Stop and do not move from that spot until you have taken a photo that you find interesting. Then take exactly 50 more steps and repeat the process. Then again and again.

Pretty soon your usual ways of looking at the world will go right out the window and before you know it you will find yourself hunched over searching the ground, or staring straight up at the trees or buildings, or zooming in on some tiny detail.

Do this enough and you begin to realize there’s beauty and wonder all around us, it just takes a little eye training and the right perspective to see it. Which means that the next time you head out to shoot, you’ll start to notice things you never even realized were there.

4) Use a tripod

Yes, tripods can be clunky, cumbersome, and a barrier to flexibility and creativity. But that’s only at first, and it’s well worth pushing through the hassles of getting used to shooting with a tripod because a tripod offers some serious advantages to the landscape photographer.

First, they improve the technical quality of your shots. By eliminating hand or wind shake from your images you’ll see noticeably crisper details in your shots, which makes a huge difference when you go to print.

Secondly, tripods enable long exposure photos. From silky water motion to streaking clouds, you simply cannot take shots like these without a solid foundation for your camera to rest on.

Finally, the most underrated but incredibly valuable feature of tripods is that they allow consistency and subtle adjustments in your compositions. If you’re shooting handheld and reviewing each shot each time you can only get so close to where you want to be. A tripod lets you approach your killer shot methodically, isolating one variable at a time: exposure, filter placement, compositional tweaks, until you’ve absolutely nailed it.

Ok guys, that’s it. Hope you enjoyed those four simple things you can do to boost your photography to the next level. Don’t forget to subscribe for weekly photography tips and techniques, and for landscape photography, tutorials, workshops and more, visit my website, joshuacripps dot com. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting!