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Tips, Tricks and Reviews for Photo Hobbyists

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Reasonable Expectations Will Save You Grief

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My friend’s little brother plays varsity soccer and I was asked to take some pictures of a game. Although I’m not a sports photographer, I do have some equipment geared for sports photography and some experience shooting sports so I loaded up my gear and headed out to the field. What I saw amazed me. No, I wasn’t amazed by the action on the field but at the action on the sidelines.

A few moms and dads were lined up and armed with point-and-shoot cameras. They would take a shot, look at the LCD, scratch their heads then try again and repeat the same look of confusion and frustration.
A little into the game one mom/photographer came up and asked point-blank: What’s wrong with my camera?

“Nothing’s wrong with your camera,” I told her. Then before she thought I meant something was wrong with her I explained – the digital compact camera she was using wasn’t the right tool for the job.
If camera manufacturers do one thing that really irks me it’s this: They set the general public up for disappointment.

Too often, camera companies set expectations too high among consumers as to what digital cameras can do. These ads are fairly similar regardless of the manufacturer. Most of the time, it’s mom or dad standing on the playing field sidelines with point-and-shoot camera at the ready to catch a photo of little Jane or Johnny making the winning touchdown or goal.

So soccer moms and dads go to the nearest big-box electronics retailer, buy a moderately-priced compact camera and head off to take photos of the kids with visions of Sports Illustrated-quality photos dancing in their heads.

Then the disappointment comes. Most of the photos are motion blurred or out of focus. Heads are chopped off. Instead of a picture of the game-winning goal, there’s a picture of someone’s blurry foot and a disembodied hand sticking out of the corner of the frame.

Sound familiar?

That’s because camera manufacturers typically use images in advertising campaigns taken by professional photographers with pro-level equipment. If you look real hard at some ads, there will even be a disclaimer that says the “sample” images included on the product pages are “representative” or “enhanced.” This is what you should be thinking: These images were taken by a professional with professional gear and don’t expect the same outcomes.

Don’t get me wrong. For the average consumer, a $175 compact will cover most photographic needs. But be realistic. It won’t do what professional gear, lighting and experience will do.
Camera companies owe it to consumers to display images that are truly representative of what the camera can do. Consumers won’t feel disappointed or jilted if camera companies set realistic expectations.
Unfortunately, consumers who become discouraged by their camera’s performance stop trying. The camera collects dust and becomes an expensive paperweight. Don’t fall into that trap. Keep shooting and keep making images. Just realize the limits of the equipment.

Good luck and keep shooting!

Written by jeremyparce

March 11, 2009 at 11:00 am

Identifying Your Wants and Needs

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There are many reasons to purchase a digital camera and a plethora of cameras to choose from. Finding the right camera for your needs is easy – if you do your homework.

A digital camera is a tool just like a hammer or screwdriver. Just as you would select the correct hand-tool for the job, you really need to select the right camera for your needs. Before making a purchase, spend a few minutes evaluating what you want from your camera.

Here are a few key questions to ask yourself prior to making a buying decision:

What Do You Want to Accomplish?
What is your main purpose for buying a camera? If you’re primarily going to use the camera for special events, i.e. birthdays, holiday parties, and family gatherings, then you can probably limit your search to compact digital cameras. These cameras offer all the bells-and-whistles you need at a very affordable price. There’s no need to make the plunge into the DSLR realm if you just need an “event” camera. First, DSLRs are heavier than most point-and-shoots and usually more expensive. So, save your money and find a well-equipped point-and-shoot.

If you’re going to use your camera primarily for Web postings such as MySpace and Facebook, then a compact digital camera with a lower megapixel count – which also generally means less money – will be perfect.
DSLRs are the perfect camera if you’re an advanced amateur, serious photo hobbyist, photography student, budding pro, or are a seasoned photographer. Although more expensive than point-and-shoots, these cameras offer the most creative freedom and choices available. Even the lowest-priced DSLR are powerhouses when it comes to creative freedom.

Who Will Use the Camera?
Who will be the primary user of the camera? This is a very important question. As a rule, the more technology available, the more time it takes to learn how to use the equipment.

If the camera you’re going to purchase is for the family, meaning everyone in the house is going to be using it, then a simple, compact digital camera is probably your best bet. A basic, compact digital camera minimizes the number of user-defined choices and is relatively simple to operate.

But just because these cameras are relatively inexpensive, they still offer the ability to take great pictures. These cameras have complex computer functions that really take the guesswork out of taking images.

Purchasing a digital camera should not be a snap decision. You should weigh your options and consider what features you need and want. Once you have narrowed down your list of possible cameras, then research them and take them out for a test drive in a store. The happier you are with your camera, the more likely you’ll be to use it.

Written by jeremyparce

March 11, 2009 at 9:00 am

Look For Different Views

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Too often, beginning photographers lock their bodies into one position and don’t move. They stand, they shoot their subjects standing and they never look for anything out of the ordinary.

That’s too bad. Some nice images can be made by shooting from different angles. Get above your subject and photograph down; get below you subject and photograph up. Move around and try different distances and various points-of-view. You’ll never know what you’ll get until you try.

Don't be afraid to 'break the rules.' Interesting images can be made by trying different angles and different points-of-view. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Don't be afraid to 'break the rules.' Interesting images can be made by trying different angles and different points-of-view. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Some Tips:

  • When photographing children at play, look for the small actions. Zoom in and focus on what they do with their hands or focus solely on their expressions.
  • Shoot tight: Don’t be afraid to zoom in and get tight on the subject.
  • Look at the eyes: Some people are just really expressive with their eyes. Zoom in and get close.
  • Legs and feet: Good action shots can be made from zooming in on the feet and legs, especially in sporting events. Play around with different shutter speeds to show more action through motion blur.
  • Break the rules: Don’t be afraid to break any rule you’ve heard about photography. Breaking the rules can lead to great images.
  • Play with ISO settings: Different ISO settings will give you different looks. The higher the ISO – 800 and above – the more grain. Try it and see if your images look different.

Remember, you can’t learn unless you make tons of mistakes. Trust me, I should have learned a lot by the number of mistakes I’ve made. It’s been said that Thomas Edison was once asked how he felt about failing so many times inventing the light bulb. Allegedly, his reply was, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Whether he said it or not, it’s a good quote to work by. You can’t fail at photography, but you sure can find many ways some techniques don’t work. That’s OK. The good thing about digital photography is you don’t “waste” film. If you don’t like it, delete it and keep trying.

Good luck and keep shooting!

Written by jeremyparce

March 10, 2009 at 10:00 am

Sports Photography: Catching the Action

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Sports photography is tough. In fact, I think it’s one of the more difficult forms of photography because it is a balancing act. A good sports image should balance emotion with action and it’s a tough wire to walk.

If you have an interest in sports photography or are thinking of a career as a photojournalist, then you should spend some time looking at great sports images and studying the photographers who make them.

Try to anticipate the action so you're not always shooting "behind the game." (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Try to anticipate the action so you're not always shooting "behind the game." (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Here’s a few samples you should check out:

  • Bob Martin: Bob Martin is a top sports photographer located in the UK. Martin has photographed the last ten Summer and Winter Olympics and has been published in numerous publications including Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, Life Magazine and Stern.
  • Brad Mangin:  California-based photographer Brad Mangin is a regular contributor to Sports Illustrated and Major League Baseball Photos. Mangin is also a founding owner of SportsShooter.com.
  • Dave Black:  Dave Black’s images have appeared in Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, and ESPN. He also conducts workshops in sports photography.

Some Simple Tips
For the most part, readers of this Website are amateur photographers and students. With that said, if you’re reading this and are interested in sports photography, it’s probably because you have a kid in sports or are a student wanting to hone you sports shooting techniques. While I’m not an expert in sports photography, I want to share a few basic tips that should help you make better images.

  • Get tight: Don’t be afraid to zoom in tight on the action. Zoom in and catch the up-close action.
  • Use Different Shutter Speeds: Try different shutter speeds to capture images with a different look. The slower the shutter speed, the more motion blur. Sometimes you can make an interesting image with just the right amount of motion blur to give the subject a sense of movement.
  • Look at the Faces: Sports photography isn’t just about the action on the field, it’s about the emotion of the athletes. Try shooting tight on the athlete’s faces and look for images that express emotion.
  • Predict Movement: Try to predict the games actions. Look for key players and watch as they move about the field. Try to guess where the action is going to be so you’re not  “behind the game.”
  • Keep Both Eyes Open: Good action photographers have the ability to keep both eyes open: one eye in the viewfinder and one eye tracking action.
  • Move Around: If possible, move around the field or court for different views. Also, try sitting and kneeling in addition to standing. You can get some interesting photos just by changing your body position.

Don’t Be ‘That Guy’
If you’re on a crowded sideline or court, remember to respect the other photographers who are also there. I want to mention this because of an experience that happened to me a few years back.

I was assigned to photograph an Ohio State football game and the sideline was packed with photographers. I got there early, found a spot that I wanted and set up shop. On my left was a photographer from the local Columbus, Ohio, newspaper and to my right was a photographer on assignment for a national sports magazine.

Everything was working quite well as me and my neighbors shot for the first quarter. During the second quarter, another photographer from a regional newspaper decided he wanted where we were and started pushing, squirming and squeezing his way in between me and the guy on the right. A field marshal noticed what was going on and this photographer was promptly removed from the area.

Don’t be “that guy.” If you happen to find yourself on a crowded sideline, remember to use a little courtesy.

Extra Tip
If you’re a student and happen to get a field pass to photograph your school’s team, let me add a few more tips. First, don’t cheer. You’re there to do a job and not to be a cheerleader. If you want to cheer for your team, stay in the stands or tryout for the cheerleading team. Second, don’t wear school colors. Again, you’re there to do a job. Dress as neutral as possible. Finally, don’t “chimp.” “Chimping” is the act of reviewing every shot you take on the LCD screen the moment you get a chance. Some people will tell you not to chimp because it looks unprofessional. I will give you a practical reason: It will drain your batteries faster than you can imagine. A sporting event is going to be pretty taxing on your batteries, so help conserve batteries and don’t drain the batteries faster by reviewing every single image. A periodic check is OK but don’t become a chimp.

Good luck and keep shooting!

Written by jeremyparce

March 8, 2009 at 8:06 pm

Keep Your Eyes Open and Be Patient

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Since photography is a form of visual communication, it seems a little silly to tell photographers-in-training to keep their eyes open. Once you start concentrating on composition, camera adjustments and the like, however, it’s easy to forgot to just stop and look.

There’s a whole world going on outside of your camera lens and you have to train yourself not to be too myopic. It’s not easy. As you’re learning the steps to go through to make a good image such as making sure you have the correct ISO, white balance, aperture and shutter values selected and making sure a ton of other things that can go wrong, don’t, you simply forget to look.

Digital cameras have made the whole photographic process much easier and has brought photography to even more people, which are all good things. The downside, however, is that people spend less time composing good images and more time “spraying-and-praying,” a term I heard once for someone who just takes a whole lot of pictures and prays one of them turns out OK.

In photography, we measure time in fractions of a second and as any photographer knows, a whole lot goes on in 1/250th of a second. That’s why it’s important to keep your eyes open and learn to anticipate an event.

Patience is also a virtue not lost on photographers. I know I have spent countless hours waiting for something to happen in front of my lens and it seems right when I’m about to give up hope, an opportunity presents itself.

Be patient and keep a lookout for good images to appear. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Be patient and keep a lookout for good images to appear. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

I use for an example this picture of a little boy riding the lamb. I was sent to cover a fair in Gallup, New Mexico, and it was the last assignment of the day. It was hot and I wanted nothing more than to shoot the assignment and go back to the hotel and in the air condition. Yet, nothing was visually pleasing. It was the typical fairground scene and there were no images that really made me happy. Then I heard over the loudspeaker an announcement asking any children who wanted to participate in the “mutton bustin’” to report to the arena.

I decided I would go and see what “mutton bustin’” was because it at least sounded interesting. Then I saw this little boy with his flame-throwing helmet and I knew the image was going to happen.

An occasional good image may be chalked up to accident or luck. To successfully, time-after-time, make good images isn’t luck or happenstance. It’s training and using your knowledge to work to your advantage.

Good luck and keep shooting!

Written by jeremyparce

February 25, 2009 at 12:21 am

Give Images Depth: Use the Foreground, Mid-ground and Background

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Although a photograph is two-dimensional, you can create a sense of depth in your photo by creatively using the foreground, mid-ground and background.

You have to think of your image as a canvass and work to make all of the layers in your canvass work to your advantage. You don’t want the layers to compete and you don’t want the viewer to lose the message you’re attempting to convey in the image. You want all of the layers to work in harmony to keep your viewer on message.

Again, like most techniques, this tip won’t work for all images. It’s up to you to play around and see what works best for each situation.

How it Works
The idea for this technique is to show depth, meaning that there is something between the background and foreground or the background and the subject. The way to do this, is it insert another item into the mid-ground.

Look at the motocross photo (Example 1) for a better idea. Motorcycle number 138 is still the subject of the photo but the motocross rider in blue helps separate the subject from the red-rock background. Thus, it provides a sense of depth.

Example 1. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Example 1. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Depth can also provide tension in the image. It can show spatial differences in subjects, thus providing a sense of tension. For example, look at the motorcycle race photo, Example 2. By capturing an image that shows the three motorcycles staggered, it creates a sense of tension. We know, just by looking at the image, there’s a race and these three competitors are very close to one another.

Example 2. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Example 2. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Trying adding some depth to your images by creatively weaving all of the layers together. It will help you make better, more visually-compelling photos.

Good luck and keep shooting!

Written by jeremyparce

February 22, 2009 at 8:03 pm

Tilted Horizons: Maybe, Maybe Not

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Of all the techniques a photographer can use to create a sense of motion in an image, tilted horizons are one of the gray areas. Some people like them; some don’t. Some photos look good with a tilted horizon; some don’t.

Tilted horizons are created by holding the camera off-level. It’s a technique used to give a sense of motion or to throw the viewer off angle. It’s a technique that can easily backfire as some images just really don’t look good tilted no matter what you do.

Sometimes a tilted horizon really expresses a sense of motion. It's a good technique but not applicable to every shot you're going to make. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Sometimes a tilted horizon really expresses a sense of motion. It's a good technique but not applicable to every shot you're going to make. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

But don’t be afraid to try it. You never know when you’re gonna make an image that looks good.

Here’s some tips to follow when shooting a tilted horizon:

  • Don’t make the tilt look accidental. If you’re going to tilt the horizon, it has to demonstrate that you did it on purpose or else it looks like an “oops” moment.
  • Try different degrees of tilt. Move your camera different degrees between true horizontal and true vertical.
  • Make sure the angle you use compliments the directional movement you want to emphasize.
  • Don’t make the tilted image the only photo you take of the subject. The tilted horizon shot should be one of those “let’s see if this works” photos, and not “all of the eggs in one basket” photo.

Good luck and keep shooting!

Written by jeremyparce

February 21, 2009 at 4:15 pm

Photo Tips: The Two-Minute Portrait

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The words, “smile and say cheese!” usually does not mark the beginning of a great portrait. As a beginning/novice photographer, you probably want to make portraits that “look professional” but lack the information on how to do so.
It’s simple if you follow some very basic steps. Here are some tips that will have you making great portraits in less time than you would think.

Step 1: Get the right background

If you want to highlight the subject, don’t allow the background to compete with the subject for the viewer’s attention. Busy, noisy and loud backgrounds distract from the subject unless you’re very experienced and have a great lighting setup and even then it’s a crapshoot.
Keep the background simple. Backgrounds with solid, neutral colors work best. A white wall is ideal but any solid color works.

A simple background and good natural lighting will help you make great portraits. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

A simple background and good natural lighting will help you make great portraits. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Step 2: Get Good Lighting
Unless you’re using a shoe-mounted flash or other pro-quality lighting, find a strong source of natural light. A portrait near a window where there is a good quantity of light is ideal or go outside where natural light is plentiful.
Remember, the sun should be to the side of your subject. If the subject is looking directly into the sun his/her eyes will squint and if the sun is behind the subject, you’ll get an underexposure.
The popup flash on your camera will probably ruin a good portrait with cast shadows so try to avoid using the popup flash.
If you are using a shoe-mounted flash, then try bouncing the flash instead of shooting with the flash pointed directly at the subject.

Step 3: Get Vertical
Horizontally aligned portraits don’t really allow you to utilize your frame the best. Shoot vertical instead so you get more up-and-down room. Even better, shoot the portrait both horizontally and vertically and see for yourself which photo looks better.

Step 4: Get the Right Emotion
Portrait subjects don’t always have to smile. Believe it or not, that’s a tough habit to break for some photographers. Don’t get me wrong, smiling is OK but try to make it less forced. A nice, natural smile will outshine a “Say Cheese!” photo anytime.

Step 5: Get Close
Try to fill the frame with your subject. Try getting close and then work you way back.

Don't be afraid to get close to your subject. Try different distances for different looks. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Don't be afraid to get close to your subject. Try different distances for different looks. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Bonus Tip:
Don’t forget to try the images in both color AND black and white. B&W will help really well if you want to focus more on the subject than the color of clothing or background colors. Plus, B&W gives an image a nice, “classy” feel.

Good luck and keep shooting!

Written by jeremyparce

February 20, 2009 at 3:15 am

Expressing Personality Isn’t Just for ‘People Photos’

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If you have a pet, you know how expressive they can be and you know that each one has a unique personality.
Why not express your pet’s personality in a photograph?
You don’t have to have an elaborate set up nor do you need any specialized equipment. All you need is a little time to follow your pet around and a little patience to wait for the right moment.

Newton, our 7 month old Schnoodle, is extremely curious so I thought an image of his nose would help express his curiosity. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Newton, our 7 month old Schnoodle, is extremely curious so I thought an image of his nose would help express his curiosity. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

How To Do It
First, figure out what your pet’s personality is. Is he lazy? Playful? Curious? Well, find a way to illustrate the emotion in a photograph.
The key to a good pet photo is patience. Give him time to settle in and get used to the camera. As soon as your pet is tired of you, he’ll go back to being himself and that’s when you’ll get your best shots.

Remember, compose the shot. Look for interesting ways to illustrate the message about your pet’s personality. Also, try to keep your background simple and use the largest aperture value you have available in order to keep the background from competing with the subject. Also, the largest aperture value will allow you to use the fastest shutter speed available for the aperture setting. This will help reduce blurred images as animals are prone to quick movements.

With a little time and patience, you should get some images that really showcases your four-legged friend’s true colors.

Good luck and keep shooting!

Written by jeremyparce

February 20, 2009 at 12:20 am

Photo Ideas: Photo Opportunities Around the House

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I’ve heard it many, many times from students and it’s generally said with a slight whine, “There’s NOTHING to photograph!”

There’s always SOMETHING to photograph. Even if you photographed every single item in your home, there’s always a different way to do it.

That’s what makes photography fun and interesting. There’s almost always something new to shoot and almost always a new way to shoot the same subject differently.

Hey, you’ve already made a fairly decent financial investment in your camera so don’t let the money go to waste. Plus, with digital photography, it doesn’t cost a dime to take photos, review them or edit them. You never know, you might nail a shot that would make a nice print.

Here are a few ideas for those times you just can’t think of anything to photograph:

Take a walk around the kitchen and look for different subjects. Here, packages of coffee made an interesting composition. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Take a walk around the kitchen and look for different subjects. Here, packages of coffee made an interesting composition. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

  • The Kitchen: If your house is anything like mine, the kitchen is the epicenter of activity. It’s not just where food is prepared and eaten, it’s the place to sit and talk, think, argue, and reconcile. It’s also the site for epic games of Rook but that’s for another time. The kitchen is also overflowing with color. Fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, pots, pans, cans, bowls … the list could go on forever. Spend some time looking around the kitchen and see if you can’t come up with a few photo subjects.
  • The Garage: The garage is another place full of photographic subjects waiting to be photographed. Hand tools, garden tools, even old bottles make for interesting subjects.
  • Curio Cabinets: If you have a macro lens, the curio cabinet can be a treasure trove of ideas. Make portraits out of figurines, dolls or any other collectable you might have.
  • Follow the Pets: Become a photojournalist and document your pets’ day. Spend some time following them around and document what they do.
I spent about 10 minutes looking around outside for something to photograph and found this faucet valve. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

I spent about 10 minutes looking around outside for something to photograph and found this faucet valve. (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Here’s another tip: If you don’t want to focus on color, try black and white. B&W photos will also help you focus more on texture and less on color. And remember, compose  your images in order to communicate your message.

There are always things to photograph come rain or shine, outdoors or in. It’s up to you to get creative.

Good luck and keep shooting!

Written by jeremyparce

February 18, 2009 at 10:28 pm