Posts by Category: How To Take…

Advice on specific photographic situations.

How To Take… Fireworks

Posted by Caz on Sunday, 6th November 2011

At this time of year photographers love to have a go at taking firework shots. They are not always successful, as it’s a bit more tricky than it looks. So I thought I would give you a few tips for the next time you see some pyrotechnics.

  • Turn off flash – it won’t do you any good
  • Use Manual focus – set the focus on your lens to something which is close to where the fireworks are going off and leave it there
  • Use a tripod – you won’t get sharp images unless you do
  • Use a low ISO setting (eg ISO100) – for the best quality without noise
  • Use a high f-stop – such as f/9, to give you good depth of field
  • Use a wide-angle lens – the widest you’ve got, the better. You can always zoom in a bit when you see where the fireworks are going off
  • Use a cable release – this will help you avoid camera shake when you press the shutter
  • Use live view – if your camera has it, this can help you compose your pictures without having to have your eye glued to the viewfinder – then you can observe the action a little better
  • Use the BULB setting – if your camera has it (or the longest shutter speed if not). This means the shutter is open for as long as you keep your finger on the button. Experiment with different shutter speeds to see what you get

Here’s the technique I used – camera on a tripod, with cable release, full manual focus and full manual exposure – set f/9 and use BULB with a cable release. Watch the fireworks as they go off, try holding the shutter open for different lengths of time to see what you get with the firework trails.

These are some of the shots I took at the local fireworks display yesterday:

1 second exposure

1 second exposure

2 second exposure

2 second exposure

3 second exposure

3 second exposure

5 second exposure

5 second exposure

7 second exposure

7 second exposure

Bringing Out The Texture

Posted by Caz on Thursday, 17th March 2011

This week’a 52 Themes 2011 Group challenge is Texture.  In photographs, texture is often enhanced by side-lighting coming in from an agle – usually the more acute, the better. This produces longer shadows and so the difference between light and shade is more pronounced. It’s been a pretty grotty week weatherwise, so I thought I better make my own light to complete this challenge. I decided to get the props box out and have a look to see what I could use.

Overhead lighting from a desk lamp

Overhead lighting from a desk lamp

Strong side-lighting from the lamp laying down

Strong side-lighting from the lamp

Having found some rather nice textured and coloured paper in the box, I did some experiments with the desk lamp.

First I tried overhead lighting – which inevitably made for colourful but very “flat” images. Then I lay the lamp on its side and shot with the light coming at a very sharp angle to the paper. Guess which worked out best?

Here are some side-by-side comparison shots with the same composition, in each lighting scenario:

Side view - flat lighting

Side view - flat lighting

Side view - side lighting

Side view - side lighting

Top view - flat lighting

Top view - flat lighting

Top view - side lighting

Top view - side lighting

In the end, I went with a different composition for Day #1172, but still chose the strong side-lighting version to show up the texture to greatest effect.

Of course, when you’re outdoors and want to get better texture pictures, you will either have to wait for the sun to come out, or use flash – but much like the desk lamp, this should be off-camera to one side to give you the best results.

Bokeh-O-Matic

Posted by Caz on Sunday, 23rd January 2011

What The Heck Is Bokeh Anyway?

In the last few years, bokeh has become a popular buzzword amongst photographers. Many folks are not really sure what it means, however. During 2008, I had a go at taking a picture to illustrate the meaning on Day #155. The definition is thus:

Bokeh n. a term for the subjective aesthetic quality of out-of-focus areas of a photographic image. [Jap. bokeh, blur]

That Still Doesn’t Mean Much!

OK, here’s another way to show it. The image below has a very narrow depth of field. The beads at the bottom are in focus but as you go further towards the top, the image blurs – that’s bokeh.

Shiny beads with receding focus

Shiny beads with receding focus

Alternatively, you could go for a shot where everything is deliberately out of focus:

Bokeh, bokeh, everywhere

Bokeh, bokeh, everywhere

OK, So Now What?

You’ll see shots exhibiting bokeh all over the place on Flickr. But sometimes, you may notice ones which not only have the round or 5/7-sided blurred shapes, but also other more unexpected variants such as hearts or stars. How to go about getting a shot like this? Well, I did some googling over Christmas and found a handy tutorial, the principles of which I’ll explain here.

The Bokeh-O-Matic

I decided to make myself a little gadget which would help me get custom bokeh whenever I wanted it. Enter the Bokeh-O-Matic:

Custom Bokeh Masks

Custom Bokeh Masks

Main mask fits on the front of the 60mm lens

Main mask fits on the front of the 60mm lens

In the centre of the above image is a circle of black cartridge paper, just large enough to fit snugly into the filter threads and cover the front of my 60mm f/2.8 macro lens (and my trusty old 50mm f/1.8 too) – see left. Bokeh works best when you have a lens with a large maximum aperture.

I covered this mask with sellotape, cutting out the central square, and put two “ears” on the sides so I could easily grab it from the front of the lens when finished with.

On it’s own, this won’t give you very much apart from a bad case of vignetting.

Custom bokeh mask added

Custom bokeh mask added

However, apply one of the smaller custom masks to the front and stick it on with sellotape or just hold it in place and rotate to see how the bokeh pattern changes your image (see right).

For this lens, a mask hole of no more than about 5mm at the widest point seemed to produce the best results. You could try your own experiments with the size of custom mask.

Applying this combo to the front of your lens will of course reduce the amount of light getting to the sensor quite dramatically, and longer shutter speeds will be required, so beware of camera shake (a different kettle of fish to artistic focus blur).

Show Me Some Pretty Pictures!

Here is a selection of images taken with various masks in front of the lens:

One large triangle

One large triangle

Crosses

Crosses

How About Clubs?

How About Clubs?

Christmas bells

Christmas bells

Six tiny triangles

Six tiny triangles

I see stars!

I see stars!

Have A Go

Have a go yourself at creating your own bokeh-o-matic for fun backgrounds. My favourite from today’s shoot was the one with hearts, which I chose for Day #1119.

How To Take… Water Splashes

Posted by Caz on Tuesday, 29th January 2008

I’ve often seen other people’s photos of water splashing into a surface and thought I should have a go at it myself. With the My Year In Pictures project, I’ve kept a list of subjects I should try, to give some inspiration on days when it’s not nice outdoors or I just can’t think what to take.

Today, I had a go at some macro shots of water splashes. It’s harder than it looks! You need a fast shutter speed to freeze the action, and a small aperture to give you maximum depth of field. Both of which mean you will have to use a high ISO setting and/or flood the image with light.

Some photographers use a high-speed stroboscopic flash to do the job for them – it recharges in a fraction of a second and allows several shots to be taken in one burst. But I don’t have one, so I dug out an old 1000W video lamp from the back of a cupboard and tried that:

[Setup in my kitchen – bowl of water on stripey wrapping paper; camera turned vertically on tripod on left; the 1000W video light on second tripod to the right]

[Closer view of the camera and bowl with water bottle cap just seen at the top]

I was using my Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 lens, fitted with a 12mm extension tube which allowed much closer focussing and greater magnification.

After much trial and error with the placement of the bowl, focus, position of the light and camera settings, I came up with the following as a reasonable set-up:

  • ISO speed: 500
  • Shutter speed: 1/1250th
  • Aperture: f/6.3

I had tried using 1/1000th and f/4.0 but they weren’t as sharp as I’d have liked – so I moved the light closer to the subject and got a better exposure.

The trick then is to drop a broken stream of water from the nozzle of a drinking water bottle with a sports cap. I had pre-focussed on a fork poked into the surface of the water (to get a proper focus point, otherwise you are focussed on the wrapping paper below which is no good for the splashes).

Then you have to try and aim the water drops into the same place as the fork was, whilst holding down the shutter button – I had the camera on high-speed motor drive. Take tens of shots and find the best half dozen!

[Splash! The water surface breaks up nicely when the first drops hit]

[Gravity Well – I like the way the falling stream makes a hole in the surface]

[Bubble Group – taking shots after the disturbances have died down can be equally rewarding]

The last picture here and my Pic of the Day for Day #29 show that you don’t always have to photograph the turbulence to get some good pictures – handy if you don’t have high speed motor drive.

I’ll certainly be having another go at this sort of picture, perhaps with some different backgrounds and lighting. Why not give it a shot too?

How To Take… Kids Portraits

Posted by Caz on Friday, 26th October 2007

I’m not a great proponent of formal portrait for adults, let alone kids. They rarely sit still and pose how you’d like, and I find the pictures usually end up looking stilted and a bit false. I admire photographers who can get good results from the studio, but I prefer a more candid approach.

Here are a selection of pictures I’ve taken of friends’ kiddies.

[Alexander in front of a window, natural light. His mum was behind me]

[Lizzie getting very sticky when we were out having a cake. The table was in a covered courtyard with a great skylight above]

[Alexander gets a push from Dad. Overcast day, so I got rid of as much sky as possible from the composition. At the playground can be a great place for action shots.]

[Conor & Meghan posing in an old wing chair. Natural daylight from a patio door, and a tight crop to get rid of any background intrusions]

[William – was playing with his mum’s hat, as we were about to go out. A bit of fill-in flash gave catchlights in the eyes, without being too harsh on his face]

It’s best to get the children in question doing something – perhaps playing with their toys or dressing up. Or, if you’re lucky, “caught in the act” of getting sticky, etc.

Of course, if the children aren’t yours, you should always get their parents’ permission before taking their picture.