December 17, 2017

Photographing Christmas and Holiday Events

Well it’s that time of the year again, Christmas season. For some us that means trying to squeeze in some time to get out with the camera and shoot some of those special outdoor Christmas light displays or maybe it’s just getting photos of the family on Christmas day. A lot of you might be trying out that new camera with the hopes of getting some great photos. But either way, whether you are photographing the symbolic subjects of the holidays or your friends and family, getting creative with your composition certainly cannot hurt. This means that by paying special attention to how you organize the various elements in each photo, you too can create your own set of great holiday memories.


For Better Family and Group Portraits

 
One of the most important things to keep in mind when photographing groups and families is this: you absolutely must take a lot of photos. There is often a great deal of pressure when photographing groups. A lot of people are uncomfortable having their picture taken and want the experience to be over quickly. Plus, you need to work quickly in order to get the job done (within the limits of their patience) and to try keep the experience as fun and friendly as possible. It seems like there is always someone blinking or looking off to the side or facing another member of the group, having a large number of photos will give you the best chances of catching everyone looking their best.


 
Shoot First, Ask Questions Later  

This tip is especially true if your subject is a child opening a gift or playing with a gift for the first time - you know that within a split second, the whole scene can change. There are often just a few brief moments when that "magic spark" appears. Of course this means having your camera on hand and the batteries fully charged and its always a good idea to have back-up batteries ready also. After all, you can't capture the moment if you don't have your camera turned on and ready to go. Remember, you have to be ready to press that shutter button in a moment's notice, anticipating when the magic spark will surface. If you have a digital camera that suffers from a bit of a delay when taking the picture, then you will have to become even more intuitive and skilled at anticipating the moment. Another good tip; make sure you have enough space on your memory card and carry an extra card with you. Too often people will run out of space and either have to delete some photos or end their shooting for the day. Remember, these days’ memory cards are very inexpensive, so pick up an extra one and you’ll be glad you did. 



Fill Your Frame
 
One of the most common mistakes I see in Christmas photos (or any photo really) is that people often end up with shots of their subjects way off in the distance or on the other side of a room with lots of space all around them. One of the simplest tips I can give you is to just fill your frame with your subject. You do this two ways, either by using your zoom, or just getting up and moving yourself in closer. Easy huh? While this is one of the simplest tips I ever give it is one that can have the most profound impact on your shots. Try it out, you’ll be amazed.


Photographing Christmas Lights

The best time to shoot is before it gets totally dark, plus arriving around sunset will give you time to plan your shot before the good light happens. Try to compose your shots with as much sky as possible, getting down real low. It's always a good idea to be shooting in RAW mode, but if your not, remember to set your white-balance to Tungsten. All those little bulbs are tungsten balanced and as an added bonus your sky will look even better. Needless to say, you’ll need a way to steady your camera, preferably a tripod or mono-pod or even a beanbag for those long exposures. Plus a remote trigger or cable can come in real handy. Shoot a test shot every minute or so constantly checking the LCD. Sometime between sunset and full dark skies, your Christmas lights and the ambient light with start to mix beautifully. Usually you’ll have about a 10-minute window with nice light. After that, the good light will fade very quickly and you will know it is gone when your photos start looking like the "bad light" photos you used to take.
  


Bonus Tips:

If you plan to use flash, nothing screams point-and-shoot like using a pop-up flash on-camera. We're not shooting motor vehicle photos right?  Red-eye reduction is nice, but a shoe-mounted flash is so much better if you own one and your camera has a hotshoe for it. When shooting indoors, not only can you bounce off of a wall or ceiling you can add a diffuser and make it hard to know a flash was used at all. Of course you might be able to avoid using flash at all by using a nice wide aperture like f2.8 or f/4 and bumping up your ISO a little, but a little fill-flash helps to lighten up your shadow areas and can really add some dimension to your photograph.


Remember, it’s always a good idea to plan ahead, maybe even making a check list of the things to remember like batteries, extra flash cards etc. Another good tip if your using a new camera, take some time and read (or re-read) your manual and get to know its buttons and features so you can use them even better. I can’t tell you how important this is.


Well until my next post, I hope you all have a very safe and happy holiday season and remember, as always, keep shooting and have some fun!


 

November 15, 2017

Getting your prints to match your screen



Here’s a problem I see so many people having when they try to make prints from their home PC, maybe this has happened to you?

You go out shooting to an event or a nice location and you take a photo that you just have to print up. You bring it into Photoshop and make all your little changes to get it to look just right. But then you send it to your printer and it comes out of your printer way darker than you see it on your monitor?  

Don’t freak out, it isn’t your printers fault.  It’s actually because our monitor screens are backlit and our paper isn’t. So when you try to print photos, they will generally always look darker than they did on screen.

Here’s what I do to solve this problem. Right when you’re done tweaking your photo, make a duplicate of your background layer. Sometimes you might have a bunch of layers, if you do, make sure you top layer is selected and hit Ctrl+Alt+Shift keys and tap the letter E. This will put a flattened copy of all your layers on top of the layers stack. Now tap Ctrl + J to make a copy of that layer and change that layers blend mode from Normal to Screen. This will make the whole image way too bright. Next just lower the Opacity of the Screen layer to 20% and make a test print. I say 20% because that’s what works on my printer. Yours may vary,  so if yours is still too dark, try increasing it to 25% and so on until you find your printers sweet spot. To make things even easier, I created an Action to do this and assigned one of the F keys on top of my keyboard to do this with one button.

I hope this tip helps you out. Remember, as always, keep shooting and have some fun!

October 18, 2017

Halloween Photo opportunities

Hello to all my blogger friends. I hope you're enjoying the change of season and getting out with your camera to capture all that Fall has to offer. I feel very fortunate because I live in New England and in my area we definitely have four seasons, each with its own special flavors and colors which makes for some fantastic photo opportunities. Around here, the humid days of summer have given away to crisp cool days with clear air and bright blue skies. These are the perfect combinations for taking beautiful photographs. Not only that, but the sun is lower in the sky providing wonderful long shadows in early morning and late afternoon. So conditions are perfect for photographers - amateur or professional - to get out there and take some great pictures. 
One of the things I really enjoy about the Fall are the Halloween displays and decorations. To me this means everything from all the cute kids in costumes to spooky haunted houses and the eerie glowing jack-o’-lanterns. 


I can remember when I was a kid there were a lot more homes decorated for Halloween than there are these days and personally, I really miss them. Luckily for me, there is one home not too far from me, that is decorated to the hilt every year. This person really gets into Halloween and goes all out decorating his yard and I have come to make it a habit to swing by every year because his home is a must see event. 

When I first found this place, I stumbled upon it totally by accident.  It all began one afternoon in late September a few years back that I had some free time and was out riding my motorcycle. In my travels I happened to be just riding around checking out the foliage, and I saw the homeowner out in his yard setting it up. I saw how much work the guy put into his display and I decided to stop to check it out and speak with the man.

 

You could tell by his enthusiasm that this was his favorite holiday and that he was really getting into it. He told me that it takes him over a week just to set up his display and that he uses one of his vacation weeks every year just to get it ready. He also told me that he has his display lit up for the entire month of October and he welcomes all visitors to come by and check it out.


This was my cue and I told him I was a local photographer and gave him one of my business cards. I told him that I really loved Halloween displays myself also. I asked him if he would mind if I took a few shots with my point and shoot while I was there and he told me to feel free. All the time I was taking photos, he was giving me the history of his display. We still had a few more hours of daylight so I could only image what it would look like all lit up. 
I told him that I would really love to come back early some evening with another camera and some equipment and take some serious photos. He told me to feel free and come back anytime. Like always, I offered to send him some images and told him that he could go online check them out. 

A few days later I had a chance to go check out his display. The weather was perfect and his yard had everything from witches flying across the yard and zombies and monsters everywhere. It looked so cool all lit up, he really spared nothing. He even had a make-shift movie theater where kids could come by on weekends to see classic horror films like the Wolfman and Dracula. Nice huh?

Well, to make a short story even longer, I’ve been back quite a few times over the years and I still enjoy it. Night-time photography is a tough subject for many people but with a little practice and some careful planning, you can get some really great shots of Halloween displays yourself. For myself, shooting Halloween displays like his, I approach these just like I would any other low light photography situation. For these photos here, I went with just one lens, a Canon 24-105mm ƒ4.0 set wide open, ISO set somewhere between 800 - 1600, with the flash set to rear curtain sync. In situations like this you want to be as steady as possible so I brought along my trusty monopod to steady my camera. I had also brought two external speedlights (with wireless triggers) and a light stand. I had one flash in the hotshoe and the other on the stand, running both with a wireless commander. For the shots here I had to try to avoid getting spectators in my shots. Sometimes that just takes a little patience. When lit correctly, my goal is to avoid shadows and specular highlights whenever I can, but that’s what you always want anyway right? 


Over the years I’ve told a lot of friends and fellow photographer friends about this display and personally I hope he puts it up for many years.  I hope you enjoyed this post and find some interesting things to photograph this Fall in your area also. 
Remember, as always, keep shooting and have some fun!
 
© D. Gould Photography