If Jack Frost has been nipping at your fingers, toes, and photos, we have tips to help you get the best pictures you can.
If you've ever noticed how beautiful lights can look when they are out of focus, you'll probably already have realised that we're about to enter the high season of everything that's awesome in the field of bokeh-liciousness. That's right - Christmas lights are pretty much the holy grail for gorgeous out of focus light effects. But how do you create the effect?
Step 1 - Pick the right lens
One of the most important things you're going to need to capture good bokeh, is that you need some great out-of-focus areas to begin with. So: Grab your lens that has the widest aperture (so, the smallest f-stop number). If you've got a prime lens, that's probably your best bet, but it's also possible to use a long zoom lens.
If you're shooting with a zoom lens, you'll want to zoom in, and focus on something close to you to get the maximum depth of field effect you're looking for in this particular case.
Step 2 - Pick the right aperture
The next step is aperture. If I'm shooting exclusively for depth of field, I'll be shooting in Aperture Priority. Start in the biggest aperture you have (the smallest number, remember? If that doesn't make sense, quickly brush up on your skills with our Why is the F-stop scale so weird article).
Don't blindly go for the largest aperture though - it's a good starting point, but I often find that on some of my lenses, that means the foreground is a bit much - experiment to find the best settings!
Step 3 - Find a foreground
A big blurry mess can be abstract and interesting, but let's be honest: It isn't storytelling, which - as we know - is one of the most important things about photography. So: In addition to the beautiful blurry mess, you also need to think about what the story is that you're trying to convey. If it's Christmas, it shouldn't be hard - get baubles, presents, kids, or food into the photo as well, and you're probably half-way there.
Step 4 - Keep experimenting!
The world of bokeh is lots of fun - so keep that lens stopped wide open and start pointing it at light sources. Busy cities, gorgeous christmas trees, and even the TV can be a great source of beauty. Have fun, explore, and do share some of your best results in the comments!
Finally, don't forget that bokeh isn't just for the background - if you're feeling brave and adventurous, switch things around and get your background in focus instead - like in this great example from Mikko.
In the run-up to the festive season, it's possible that people will be taking more photos than usual. Parties, pretty lights, and present-opening, afford ample opportunity to take photos and share them on social media. However, research recently commissioned by the online learning company lynda.com revealed some interesting facts about people's photo-taking habits. Aside from the fact that 64% of Brits now use smartphones or tablets to take photos, it would also seem that quite a few people are also too intimidated by the process, or by technology, to have a go themselves. Based on the figures that came out of the survey, we've put together five tips to help anyone who might feel a bit afraid of photography to start taking better photos without too much fuss.
1. Read the manual
60% of the people questioned spent fewer than 30 minutes learning how to use their cameras properly. Whether you use a smartphone, a point-and-shoot, or an interchangeable lens camera, read the manual. Or the destructions, as we call them. Understanding the capabilities of your picture-taking device will have a noticeable impact on what you can achieve with it.
2. Get closer
Apparently, only about 45% of the sample made any attempt to improve the composition of their photos. Our top tip: get closer. And if you're working with a smartphone, get closer physically; don't rely on digital zoom.
3. Think about what you're photographing
Of those surveyed, 71% responded that they relied on the law of averages to return a decent photo. They work on the principle that if they take lots of shots, at least one should work out. Our advice? Slow down and think about what you're doing. What story are you trying to tell? A little contemplation should bring you better results than aerosol clicking.
4. Editing doesn't have to hurt your head
Almost everyone who responded to the survey stated that they wanted to be able to make their photos look better, but the majority didn't feel that they have the skills to do so. While you can't turn a sow's ear into a silk purse, it is possible to make a few fundamental edits to a photo and elevate it from ordinary to much better looking.
There are three simple adjustments that you should make to every photo you take: to the crop, the colour, and the contrast. They're not time-consuming or complicated and can be accomplished with a basic editing package. You don't need to master Photoshop—or fork out for it—to make them.
5. Invest in a little education
As few as one-in-fifty of the survey group made use of any training to help them improve their photography. Seeing as the photographer is the most significant element in creating a great photo, doing a little learning will help enormously in the quest for better images. The good news is that by reading this, you've made a start. To help you even more, you can try a book or two or sign-up to any number of courses. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands out there. Obviously lynda.com, which commissioned the research would like you to look there, but may we suggest that you take a look at the Photocritic Photography School. It's free!
There's an adage which suggests that your life will be easier if you choose not to work with children or animals. Eh... I disagree. While photographing both children and animals can be highly demanding and occasionally somewhat frustrating, it's also wildly satisfying. Some of my favourite photos in my archive are of my nieces and nephews or of the animals that have galloped and jumped and hopped and tumbled and gallumphed and snoozed through my life. And I've had immense fun doing it. Seeing as the holidays are pretty much upon us, thereby increasing the chances that you might want or need to take photos of small people, now seems as good a time as any to present you with the Photocritic guide to photographing children. There are two crucial attributes to photographing children. First, patience. You will require it in bucket-loads. Second, you need to remember to think like a child. I doubt that you sprang fully-formed from your father's thigh, like Athene, so cast your mind back and try to remember what thrilled and bored you and interested and irritated you as a little one. By getting into their mindset, you'll give yourself heaps more opportunities to capture great photos of them.
With those two factors at the forefront of your mind, let's move on.
The best photos of children come when you get down to their level. Apart from it being so much easier for little people to relate to someone who's on their level, your photos won't take on an awkward, condescending air. Sure, every now and again photographing from above works a treat, but mostly it's about capturing life on their level. That means getting down on your knees or belly and seeing the world from your subject's-eye view.
Give them something to do
If you want natural smiles and pictures of unhibited child-like joy, for heaven's sake do not attempt to pose a little one and elicit a grin with the power of 'cheese!' It might look terribly sophisticated to have them dressed in their party outfits and posing as if butter wouldn't melt in their mouths, but I doubt that's an accurate reflection of them or the most fun way they've ever spent 20 minutes.
Let them play.
If they're opening presents, you have plenty of opportunities for looks of concentration, puzzlement, wonder, and excitement flooding their faces.
Be quick with the exposure settings
They're going to be moving fast—children usually do—so unless you want motion blur in your photos, it means that your camera will need to be moving fast, too. Think about a fast shutter speed, a fast aperture, and a fast ISO if you need it.
With a large aperture you can let plenty of light onto the sensor, which will allow for a fast shutter speed, and it'll keep the background blurred, too. You might not necessarily want an out-of-focus background, but if it's cluttered or untidy, it will draw your viewer's eye to your subject.
As with any other portrait, the eyes need to be in focus when you're photographing children. It's the first place your viewer will look and if the eyes are out of focus, her or his interest will wander. Rather than using one-shot auto-focus, you might find that your purposes are best served by either continuous auto-focus or intelligent auto-focus to keep the subject sharp even when it's on the move.
When you're setting up a shoot, sure some studio lights might be a good idea to help get the photos that you want. But for those times when you're sitting on the floor surrounded by scraps of wrapping paper? They're probably not what you want. I'm not that fond of on-camera flash around babies and small people, either. It can be far too harsh and startling for them. Make the most of the light that you have, and bring out a reflector if you need one.
If you're not enjoying yourself, neither will the kids whom you are trying to photograph. And why should they? Smile, talk to them, take an interest in what they're doing. The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed they'll be, which makes things better for everyone.
Here in the northern hemisphere, the shortest day is fast approaching and whether we like it or not, much of our photography will be of the low-light variety. We've put together some suggestions for coping as best you can when things are a little dim and the light with wish you wish to draw is a scarce commodity.
Look for the light
This might sound terribly obvious, but it's a fundamental of photography: look for the light in your scene and use it to your advantage. Use the light from streetlamps, from candles, from the moon to illuminate your subject—even be the subject—and create interesting shadows in your photos.
Do not be afraid of high ISO
While a too-high ISO can be responsible for noisy, grainy photos, advancements in sensor technology mean that it's possible to push ISO much higher than was previously acceptable to get the shot you want. Remember: a little grain can be better than motion blur; if you shoot in Raw, images can be cleaned up; a black and white conversion can produce noise-negating miracles.
Open up your aperture
The wider the aperture you select, the more light you'll let onto the sensor and the faster shutter speed and lower ISO you'll be able to use. This will of course come with the caveat of a shallower depth-of-field, but that can be applied creatively.
Watch your shutter speed
A slower shutter speed will permit more light to reach the sensor, but it also has the potential to introduce motion blur if it isn't sufficiently fast to freeze the action in your scene, as well as camera shake if you're hand-holding your camera. Sometimes, however, motion blur contributes to the story that you wish to tell, so don't dismiss it entirely.
Consider a tripod
The general rule for hand-holding a camera is that you shouldn't do it if your shutter speed dips below the inverse of the focal length of the lens you're using. Thus, for a 50mm lens, you shouldn't attempt to hand-hold your camera using a shutter speed slower than about 1/60 second. If you find that you need to go slower, you might wish to bring out your tripod. Think about a remote shutter release, too.
Which metering mode are you using?
If you adhere to matrix or multi-segment metering, your camera will attempt to adequately expose the entire scene. That might not be what you want if you're looking to play with light and shadow. For dramatically lit shots, switch to spot metering and meter from the illuminated area that you wish to be in focus. This will maintain dark shadows while correctly exposing the point-of-focus.
Dial in some exposure compensation
Spot-metering might not be appropriate for your scene, but at the same time, matrix or multi-segmented could render it over-exposed. If that's the case, try dialling in a stop or two of negative exposure compensation.
How are you focusing?
Auto-focus can struggle to hit its mark in low-light situations, in which case manual focus might render better results if you're both confident enough using it and the scene isn't changing so fast that you miss the photo opportunity. Should auto-focus be the better option, ensure that you're using one-shot auto-focus. Try, too, shining a light where you wish your camera to focus. The illumination will assist it in locking-on to the point-of-focus.
Make use of reflection
Whether it's reflection off of pale clothing, off of glass, polished metal, or liquid, or from a reflector, keep an eye out for reflected light and put it to use in your shots. That might be making reflections on water the focus of your photo, but it can also be bouncing back reflected light to illuminate shadows.
Shoot in Raw
If you're not already shooting in Raw, switch now. Not only will help you to tidy up any noise in your shots, or even to adjust the exposure a little if necessary, but it will allow you to adjust the white balance of your photos more effectively. Accurately white balancing low-light shots can be tricky; the more flexibility that you have, the better.
How warm or cool is your light source? Or are you working with mixed light sources? If you're shooting by candle light, you can set the light temperature on your camera to more accurately render colours in your photos. For mixed-light sources, remember to white balance according to the light falling on your subject. If you're shooting in Raw, you might find that adjusting the white balance in post-processing will give you the most accurate result.
Use the darkness
Finally, have fun with the darkness and put it to creative use. Let reflections dance or shadows draw you in to moody scenes. Low-light might force you to think for a moment, but remember that you often have longer than you think you do, and experimenting is half the fun.
The end of term is drawing nigh and primary schools across the country are preparing to roll out their annual festive act featuring a miserable Mary, a startled Joseph, three kings, a flock of shepherds, a mega-flock of sheep, and likely a rendition of that well-known Christmas classic, 'Let it Go'. If you're a proud parent, doting aunt or uncle, or adoring grandparent and want to capture the event on camera, what's the best way of going about it?
Little people and the law
First of all, if anyone tries to tell you that you're prohibited from photographing the nativity play because of data protection tell them that they're wrong. The Information Commissioner's Office has stated quite clearly that family members wanting to photograph or video their children's (or grandchildren's, nieces', nephews' &c) school plays in no way violate data protection regulations, provided that it is for personal use. So ner! (Insert sticky-out tongue here.)
Individual schools might have tighter regulations relating to photographing their pupils, especially if any of them are looked-after children—that's young people who are in the care of their local authorities, and most likely are being fostered, are in care, or are in the process of being adopted—whose identities need to be protected. If photos of them made their way onto social media sites, it could lead to difficult, or even nasty, situations. Please do bear that in mind.
Get in before the act
If you're really intent on getting the best photos of the show, ask the school if you can drop by for the dress rehearsal. Everything should run just as it would for the real thing, but the children won't feel under pressure from a huge audience and you should be at liberty to move about to get into the best positions without disturbing any other spectators. It also means that you get two bites of the mince pie: one to photograph it, and another to enjoy it and swell with pride like a Christmas pudding in a steamer.
Of course, the school might not want the dress rehearsal descending into the production's semi-official photo-shoot or it might not be convenient for you to attend. In which case, you'll need to make sure that you're at the real thing in time to get the best seat. Ideally you want to be close to the front, but make sure you consider your fellow audience-members. They're just as invested in this production as you are and will not appreciate their enjoyment of the show being obscured by you and your kit wriggling, fidgeting, and readjusting.
Selecting the kit
The best camera is the one that you have with you. If you've only a smartphone or a point-and-shoot, so be it. The important thing to remember is to turn off the flash. First, it likely won't have a discernible impact on the shot; second, it will distract the Angel Gabriel. If you can, bump up the ISO to give you the best chance of getting a blur-free image. It might be as noisy as Hark the Herald Angels Sing, but grain beats blur.
For anyone with an interchangeable lens camera, I'd advise selecting one lens and sticking with it if you're photographing the real thing. You don't want to be changing lens mid-performance. It will disturb the audience and possibly the cast, and you might well miss something crucial in the process. You have more latitude at the dress rehearsal, though.
Ideally, you want something fast, with a focal range to enable wide-angle and zoomed-in shots, and image stabilisation to help defy blur. We're not all blessed with these sorts of lenses, so select the fastest glass you have. You're going to need all the light you can get.
The two key points for performance photography have already been mentioned: turn off the flash and set the ISO as high as you reasonably can. You should be shooting in Raw anyway, but if you're not, go make the change the now. Skin tones under stage lights will thank you for it.
Plays and shows are fast-moving things: you're going to need a fast shutter speed coupled with a fast aperture to capture anything that isn't as fluffy as a sheep. Around 1/100 second should freeze action, but if you want to capture the blur of dancers spinning, you can always slow it down!
Switch your auto-focusing mode from one-shot auto-focus to something that can help you capture moving subjects; either Continuous/Servo or Intelligent/Automatic auto-focus should help you.
When it comes to metering, you might find that if you want to capture illuminated faces, switching to spot metering will give you the best chance of doing so. Just remember to meter what's in the light: if you accidentally meter off the dark backdrop, you'll end up with a ridiculously over-exposed image. For anyone with a smartphone, tap your focus box onto your subject's face: it'll meter better and do its best to get the subject sharp.
It's already been mentioned, but it's so important, we'll re-state it: don't distract the cast and don't disturb or obstruct the view of anyone else in the audience. You need to be as discreet as possible. Keep your elbows in and noise to a minimum. And for heaven's sake, don't stand up.
If you can, try to take a photo of every person on stage, and those who've worked behind the scenes, too. You don't want anyone feeling left out. And in contravention of our general guidance, take lots of photos. It's the best way to ensure that you capture the action because things happen so fast.
Don't forget to keep an eye out for things that are happening away from the main action, too. Small children get bored, pull faces, and do cute and funny things. These are always worth capturing if you spot them.
Finally: enjoy it. Don't become so focused on taking photos that you miss your daughter's big line or your son's solo. They're meant to be the stars of the show and the centre of your attention, not your photos!
You are into taking photos, obviously – so what do you do with them? Many of you probably make online galleries, or you create prints to hang on your walls – or perhaps you even sell prints to others. Eventually, as photography progresses from a mild interest via passionate hobby and into the realms of what could be seen as a professional career, you are going to have to create a portfolio of your images, to show to prospective clients.
Heck, even if you have no clients, you will still want to make a portfolio. Imagine how great it’ll be to show the grandkids!
So, you are a photographer, and you want to make a portfolio. I have had to do this a few times, and I have fucked up a few times, so I learned all of this the harshest way possible. Ah well – on with the show
Into the Mist (Territorial Army III) by Photocritic.org, on Flickr
If you want to show your pictures in a gallery, you will need to make a selection of images around a theme of some sort. If you just run around and snap pictures, you will have to scrutinize them, to find out what they really are about. If there is no connection whatsoever between them, you might want to consider not making a portfolio, and rather concentrate on taking more pictures.
Why is a theme important? Well, although single pictures can be interesting, galleries tend to be interested in offering its visitors with a journey. Pick an emotion, and explore it visually, or perhaps a situation or a place. As long as there is some kind of “red thread” tying your images into a whole, you’ll be all right.
Make sure that the images are in a logical order – either cronological, or through mood development. Be prepared that you will probably have to talk the person you are presenting your portfolio to through all the pictures, so if you have some kind of story prepared, all the better. If you decide to mix colour prints and black and white prints, you’d better have a very good explanation as to why.
A good selection of images is 10-20. If you have several themes, make different portfolios, and present them separately.
This type of portfolio is the photographic equivalent of a “Best Of…” album.
Image libraries are the other extreme – here, it is okay to have a large batch of single, non-interconnected images, as this is not what the target audience is looking for. What they are looking for, however, is genericicity and perfection. The more generic the image is, the bigger the chance somebody will use it, as it is adaptable for many different situations.
If your image has a flaw, ditch it. If your image is only slightly out of focus, ditch it. If your image has brand names or visible logos in it, chances are it is worthless in connection with image libraries. If you do not have model releases for the people in your images, get rid of the pictures.
In short: Make sure you only show your very best images. It is better to pitch 3 perfect pictures than 15 good ones, but that don’t stand out from the mass. You should aim for 7-15 great pictures, however.
Strongly emotive photos can help your portfolio shine
If you are making a commercial portfolio, be prepared to make it focussed. You might need to change your portfolio around depending on who you are pitching it to. If you are pitching fashion work, make sure you have 5-6 pictures from each series you have done, to show that you can consistently take good pictures. If you are doing product photography, make sure that you do the same: Same product from various angles etc.
If you try to pitch your general skills as a photographer, make sure that you make several portfolios. One for portraiture, one for nature, one for product photography, etc. That way, the person reviewing your portfolio can mentally prepare for something else. Also, it allows you to show only the portfolios that are relevant for the job you are doing.
If you have gotten pictures in print (especially viable if you are planning to do freelance news photography), include both prints and newspaper clippings – side by side on adjecent pages is good.
This is what people ask about most: How do you present your portfolio?
For School Use Only by Photocritic.org, on Flickr
First of all, make sure that your prints are of the best quality possible. This means that they should be of a decent size (approximate A4 / letter size is an ideal tradeoff between presentability and portability)
As for the actual presentation of the portfolio, the answer is difficult to offer. Although a nice leather folder with high-quality plastic inlays to keep your images in offers a good initial impact, it may not be ideal, as the plastic may introduce sheen and / or reflections on the images, making them difficult to see.
In the past, I have seen portfolios that are presented as pictures mounted on cardboard, even loose pictures in a rolodex-style folder. You could consider getting a mini- easel that you can place the images on individually. That allows you and the reviewer to take a few steps away from the images – an especially good bonus if that is how the images are meant to be seen.
Creativity is a big bonus – if you manage to come up with a good way to present your portfolio effectively, it probably means you are doing the right thing. Don’t fall for the temptation to show your images on a computer screen or data projector, however, unless this is how they are meant to be presented. If you only have slides, there is no way around showing it on a slide projector, but if there is any way you won’t have to bring and / or arrange a projector, it is better.
Oh, and it is all in the attitude. Go in there, be sure of yourself, talk, talk, talk, and don’t for a second let up that you had even slightly considered the possibility of them not liking your images. You’d be amazed what difference it makes.
In the run-up to Christmas, the guys from Just Go Do It have a great project lined up: 30 challenges for 30 different days, ranging from self portraits, nature photographs, candid photographs, photographs starting with B... All manner of awesome challenges. Best of all? The challenge is so simple: If you are given 24 hours to photograph Happiness, could you? How about Play? How about 'This Year'? Each of the individual challenges are so eminently... Reachable! So - grab the list, and get snapping.
I'll be giving it a shot (or 30) this year. Keep an eye on my Flickr stream to see how I'm getting on!. Join in the fun!
A bird has just tweeted in my ear that today is International Food Photography Day. We've already quite a few articles here on Photocritic that delve into the mystery of making brown gack look tasty and cold chicken appear hot. But seeing as most people aren't going to be pulling out their dSLRs in Le Gavroche or the French Laundry to take photos of their dinner (or at least, I hope not), we thought that we'd focus on smartphone food photography today, for when you don't have a controllable aperture or variable shutter speeds at your disposal.
1. Get closer
We probably sound like a broken record here at Photocritic, urging people to get closer, but we really do mean it. And we definitely mean it for food photography. Lean in.
2. Look for the light
Use natural light, and lots of it, to photograph food. Avoid flash wherever possible, especially smartphone flash. It's rarely a good look.
3. Alter your angles.
Experiment with different angles when it comes to food photography. Up high, down low, looking across your food. Give it a whirl!
4. Check the background
You really do not want clutter distracting from your food. So check for spills, crumbs, and cruet sets in the background. Think about using this tip in conjunction with getting closer and altering your angles for maximum impact.
5. Unwobble the white balance
Wobbly white balance can manage to make even the most delicious, fragrant, and beautiful dish look unappetising. Whites need to look white and not tinged with mouldy greens or unnatural blues. Fire-up Snapseed, load up your image, and push that 'Warmth' slider around until the colours look right.
6. Sprinkle some editing magic
As well as adjusting the white balance of your food photos, don't forget to give them a quick crop if they need it—especially to slice away anything extraneous or distracting in the background—and to increase the brightness and contrast a smidge. That will give your image a bolder and more appealing feel.
I don't tend to add filters to my food photos, but if that's your thing, Mayfair gives reliably good results in Instagram, I like Vanilla in EyeEm, and ColorVibe is good in Flickr. But it doesn't hurt to play around yourself!
7. Be selective
It doesn't matter how tasty your chickpea curry actually is, making it look appealing can be very difficult without some serious styling. The colours are dull and the textures uninteresting. The best photos of food make you want to reach into the image and snatch the cherry off of the top of the cake. They tend to be bright and full of feeling. So be selective in what you photograph. Think about colour, texture, and pattern.
And now you can put your new-found skills to use by entering the Fujifilm and Pink Lady Snap the Rainbow competition!
Making money from photography can be hard. Between 'rights for reach', Getty permitting non-commercial use of some its images for free, falling stock percentages, and embedding rather than purchasing for website use, it feels as if there's a grizzly trend for photographers to make money in ways that uses their images as income generation leads, rather than income generators.
I'm far from keen on this descent of the photograph from product to income lead generator, but whining about the situation won't cure it. Rather, you need to harness all of your assets and put them to work for you. Even if you are continuing to make money from your photography, or if you're an amateur who doesn't sell their work, it is worth capitalising on your website views to have some other means of bringing in some pennies, especially if you find yourself thinking 'If only I had a pound for every time some bought a Really Good Widget on my recommendation!' Maybe you should consider affiliate marketing?
What is affiliate marketing?
The theory behind affiliate marketing is fairly simple. You form some kind of partnership with companies and retailers related to your sphere of operation. If and when you mention their products or products that they sell on your website, maybe in an article or perhaps in an advertising box or a banner, you include a unique tracking link to their website or webstore. Should your readers click on that link and make a purchase, you get a kick-back from the sale. If you promote a product, consciously or not, you might as well benefit from it.
Which companies offer affiliate schemes?
There's a welter of photography-related companies that run affiliate schemes that you can incorprate into your website. You can choose from retailers and e-tailers such as Adorama, Amazon, B&H, Jessops, and Waterstones. Plenty of printers and print firms offer affiliate schemes: Moo, Photobox, Shutterfly, and Snapfish, for example. Our publishers, Ilex, runs an affiliate scheme. And so does Triggertrap.
Which affiliate schemes should I join?
First, you really need to think about the content that you produce and the nature of your readership. You'll do best out of affiliate marketing if you form partnerships with companies that will appeal to your readers. After that, you need to decide on how mercenary you want to be. Are you prepared to link readers to any company in order to capitalise on their spending? Or are you more discerning and will use your affiliate links as more of an endorsement? If you're always using a particular product and singing its praises, encouraging other people to use it, why not make some pin-money from that?
What do the links look like and how do I use them?
Generally speaking there are two forms of affiliate marketing you can use: links and banners. When you form an affiliate partnership with a company, you'll be provided with a dedicated affiliate link. Every time that you mention the company or any of the products that it sells, you link to its website or the product in its webshop and add the affiliate link to the end of the URL.
For example, say I ran the Really Good Widget Company and you signed up as an affiliate partner. I'd give you an affiliate link which might look like ?afl=101. If you mentioned one of my Really Good Widgets in a blog post or article, you would link to its page in my webstore and apend ?afl=101 to its URL. If a reader clicked the link and bought a Widget, I'd give you a percentage of that sale.
Affiliate links can take a little time to insert: you need to hunt down the webpage to which you want to link and add your unique affiliate code, but it's not too much of a faff, especially if you were already going to link there. If you're handy with coding, you can write a bookmark to automatically add your code to a URL with a click.
As well as these links, some companies provide affiliate linked banners and boxes that you can insert into your website which look like advertising. If your readers click through from your website to their webstores and make a purchase, you'll receive a share of the sale. Provided that you can easily include a banner or some advertising boxes on your website, these are simple to use.
How much can I expect to earn?
How long is a piece of string? For a start, I don't think that I've found two affiliate schemes that offer the same rewards. Ilex offers a 15% share of each sale; Triggertrap starts with a 5% share of the order value, but that rises to 10% after you generate 50 sales. Other companies are less generous, with 3 or 4% shares of order values. And it depends on the expiration length of your affiliate links, too. Some companies provide 7-day cookies but others offer 30-day cookies. This means that when someone clicks through a link, they don't necessarily have to make the purchase immediately. With a 7-day cookie they could return within the following week and buy their Really Good Widget and you'd still get your fee; but with a 30-day cookie, their click is remembered for almost a month.
Do take note of the scheme's minimum payment sum, too. Some companies set a high threshold and you'll need to generate a lot of sales before you can reap the benefits in cash. Also give some consideration to payment method. Cashing an international cheque is expensive. Do you have or want to have a Paypal account? Is an electronic bank transfer best?
You also need to deploy your affiliate links effectively. Bombarding your readers or viewers with affiliate links that you've shoe-horned into blog posts or image captions at every opportunity might not win you many favours. But if you used a technique mentioned in an Ilex book, link to the book when you blog about it. If you shot an image using Triggertrap, link to Triggertrap when you caption it. You need to be positive about your linking, but not overly enthusiastic.
I'm sure that there are some people who've managed to sustain their empires through affiliate marketing alone, but they're likely very scarce. Don't expect affiliate marketing to make you a fortune, but with careful management it will be preferable to a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
Is there anything else I need to know?
Some companies want you to have a minimum number of visitors to your site each month before you can sign up. It helps to have your figures to hand before you try to forge any partnerships.
Finally, signing up for a US-based affiliate programme when you're extra-US can be a headache when it comes to the IRS. I know this from experience. Affiliate marketing is meant to make you money, not cost you money in terms of time or frustration; do consider fiscal geography when signing up for an affiliate programme.
Great! Where do I sign up?
Most companies that offer affiliate marketing have a link at the foot of their websites. This will take you through to an affiliate programme portal, which is usually operated by a third party. Affiliate Window is popular. Triggertrap uses LeadDyno. For some you need to provide quite a bit of information from the outset, others are quite minimalist.
Once you've done that, you'll be given your affiliate code and banners to include on your website. Then you can start to watch the pennies roll in.
Autofocus is such a wonder-tool in our cameras that I'm sure quite a few of us have no idea how we ever managed to take tack-sharp photos without it. But how many of us actually use it to its full potential? There's a bit more to auto-focus than the single or one shot default. Without further ado, here's a quick primer into the different auto-focusing modes you're likely to find on your camera, and when best to make use of them.
One or Single shot
This is probably what you think of as 'auto-focus'. You point your camera at your subject, you line up your auto-focusing points over it, you half-depress the shutter button, and the camera attempts to focus on the subject. When it finds focus, it 'locks' onto it until you complete the depression of the shutter button or release it and re-focus your shot. This mode is great for most subjects that don’t move a lot.
Canon calls this mode 'One shot'; you'll see it marked as 'AF-S' on Nikon, Fujifilm, and Sony cameras; Olympus refers to it as S-AF and Pentax as AF.S.
Continuous or Servo mode
When you're shooting fast-moving subjects and want to keep them in focus, try using continuous or servo mode. While you half-depress the shutter release button, the camera will repeat the auto-focusing operation in order to keep your subject sharp as it moves across the frame.
Canon reckons its servo mode can track subjects approaching or receding at upto 50 kilometres per hour, making it good for capturing plenty of sports.
Nikon, Fujifilm, and Sony refer to this mode as AF-C; it's marked as AI Servo on Canon cameras; on a Pentax you'll see it as AF.C; and it's C-AF on an Olympus camera.
Intelligent or Automatic auto-focus
'Intelligent' focus is a half-way house between single shot and continuous auto-focus. When you half-depress the shutter button, the camera is set to recognise movement in the subject. For subjects that don't move, the camera will use one shot auto-focusing. Should it detect movement from the subject, it will automatically switch to continuous auto-focus and start to track the subject.
While this mode might seem like the best of both worlds, and it can be very handy particularly if you're photographing children or animals, it can sometimes be a bit of a let-down and isn't quite fast enough to deliver the results you want.
Canon calls this mode AI Focus AF. It's AF-A on Nikon and Sony cameras, while Pentax refers to it as AF.A.
It was learning to align the focusing markers in an SLR that first got me hooked on photography, almost 30 years ago. Back in the early 80s, auto-focus was only just beginning to make its way into cameras. Now we often wonder how we cope without it. But still, there are times when auto-focus simply won't do and you need to switch to manual focus, maybe for macro shots or some landscapes. If there's no obvious manual focus option on your camera, try looking on your lens: there's likely a switch to be flicked there.
Often, but not always, your camera will help you by beeping or flashing when it thinks that you might have achieved focus on your subject. If you're using live view rather than through the lens, try using the manual focus assist option that lots of cameras have now. Rather than displaying the full frame, it zooms in on the area where you've focused, making it easier to hone in with precision on your subject. It's a useful tool to demonstrate just how big a difference a small adjustment can make to your focusing, too.
Exploiting your camera's capabilities
Your camera is gifted with heaps of different tools to help you get the shots that you envisage; there's more to it than exposure and metering. Don't forget to make use of them - that's why they're there!
Historically, split toning was used when developing photos from negatives. Two different toners would be used one after the other in order to produce different colours in the highlights and shadows of an image. For example, follow selenium with gold and you'll produce purple-blue mid-tones; or use sepia and then blue for sepia highlights, blue shadows, and green mid-tones. The effect could be altered by using different papers, too. While chemical split toning isn't an exact science, it does offer some compelling effects for your photos and can give them an entirely different feel. You can use it to add warmth or to cool down an image; you might want to introduce a blue tint, or an orange cast.
Now, split toning is more likely to be achieved using the dedicated split toning panel in Lightroom, or with a colour balance adjustment layer in Photoshop, and it is far more controllable. If you've not ventured into the split toning panel, the degree of variation that it offers you might be a little overwhelming; it can radically alter your photo in a ways that you might not anticipate. That shouldn't stop you from experimenting, and to get you started, here are some suggestions. And don't forget that if you're working in Lightroom, nothing can't be undone.
A quick introduction
If you're using Lightroom, the split toning panel allows you to select the colours that you would like to emphasise in both the highlights and the shadows, the saturation for each of these tones, and then the balance between them.
If you find using the sliders to control these adjustments a little too abstract, click on the colour swatches beside 'Highlight' and 'Shadow' and use the eyedropper to select the precise colour you'd like for each.
The balance slider places more emphasis on either the highlights or shadows. Once you've selected your highlight and shadow tones, move it about a bit to see which direction, if any, you prefer.
Black and white
The original black and white conversion of Willie's portrait is coming up quite grey-green in tone. By adding some muted browns—that in the shadow very pale—you can introduce a great deal more warmth to the image and bring about an almost-sepia tone.
This photo was taken fairly early in the morning, on a day when the cloud didn't lift. While the light was wonderfully diffuse, it wasn't especially warm. Even after correcting the white balance, it still felt as if it needed to be brought to life. By adjusting the highlights and shadow tones, it meant I could introduce a more golden-hour feel to the photo.
You don't need to push too far into the oranges or yellows to intensify the warmth in a photo: sticking to browns and beiges might be enough.
Of course, if you wanted to do the opposite and bring about a colder feel to a photo, you would do that by applying more silvery-blue tones, greys, greens, and even some yellows, to the shadows and highlights.
Until now, I've used fairly similar highlight and shadow tones in my split toning adjustments. But for a cross-processed effect, you need to select contrasting colours for your highlight and shadow tones: green and magenta, or cyan and yellow, for example. Which you apply will depend on whether you're looking for a warmer or cooler over all effect.
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By adding a graduated filter, upping the contrast and saturation, and reducing the clarity, you can create a fake toy camera look. We've a tutorial for that, in case you'd like to give it a go.
Split tone away!
The best way to get a feel for split toning is to try it for yourself and see what you can achieve using it. Remember: if you don't like it, you can undo it.
Halley's Comet made its last swoop past earth in February 1986. I remember it well because I was in primary school at the time, learning about the Norman Conquest. In addition to the boos, hisses, and cheers elicited by the key players and the confusion surrounding Harold Godwinson's death, Halley's Comet plays a starring role in the Bayeux Tapestry, which documents the invasion of a loosely termed 'England' by William of Normandy and his cronies. That we had the opportunity to experience the same celestial phenomenon as the people we were learning about, all of whom lived 900 years before us, was rather special. The timing could not have been better for a memorable series of lessons.
Seeing as Halley's Comet is on a 76 year schedule, it isn't expected again in all its glory until July 2061; however, we are being treated to an impromptu meteor shower in the next few days. The comet is likely to deposit a trail of cosmic dust into our atmosphere on 21 and 22 October 2014, giving us a shooting star display visible to the naked eye.
If that isn't an excuse for trying a little night photography, I don't know what is. So apart from the hoping for clear skies, what else can you do to maximise your chances of capturing the tail lights of Halley's Comet?
Whatever means you use to take your photos, capturing a meteor shower is fundamentally the same process: shooting a series of long exposures. There are a few options for how you go about it, but once you know that bit, it's fairly simple.
The darker the sky, the better the chance you will have of being able to see the streaks of light as the comet's dust burns through the atmosphere. Ideally, then, you need to be somewhere that doesn't suffer from too much light pollution and has an uninhibited view of the sky. Open and accessible heath- or park-land that's relatively far from city lights is ideal; just be certain you're not venturing somewhere you shouldn't, either because the land is privately owned or you're disturbing a sleeping bull! I'd advise not going alone, either. Shooting in secluded or isolated locations is not necessarily a solitary activity.
Shooting the night sky means long exposures, so you're going to need a tripod, and an intervalometer will ensure the best results, although you can get by without one. Naturally we recommend Triggertrap, especially because its star trail mode makes life easy, but your mileage may vary. For your lens, a fast, wide-angle lens is advisable. You're never quite certain where they'll start or where they'll end, so the wide-angle provides you with sufficient flexibilty, and it gives you the option to introduce an interesting foreground to the shot, too. The darkness of the sky means that you need fast glass to let in enough light. And an empty memory card is a good idea: you'll be taking a lot of images.
The set up
While shooting stars can turn up anywhere, they are most likely to cluster around a single point called the radiant. Don't aim your camera directly at the radiant, when you've worked out where it is, but about 45° to one side of it. You also want to compose the frame so that it is visually interesting beyond just the shooting stars. Think about including something intriguing in the foreground. Turn off the auto-focus, use as wide an aperture as you dare—you might not want it all the way open for sharpness—and focus to infinity.
The best option to photograph a meteor shower is very similar to capturing a star trail image, when you compile a series of long exposures shot over a significant period of time into a single image, but with a few key differences. You can read our star trail tutorial here, and if you'd like to shoot a star trail image that hopefully captures some shooting stars, go right ahead. Otherwise, you can tweak the process and use it as the basis to capture a series of photos from which you'll select the ones that show shooting stars streaking across them.
What are these tweaks you'll need to make, then? First and most obviously, you'll not compile all of your frames into a single image that charts the movement of the celestial bodies across the heavens. Instead, you'll pluck out the indvidual images displaying shooting stars, or maybe composite several images showing shooting stars.
Second, you might need to use a slightly shorter shutter speed than you would with a star trails sequence, to ensure that you don't capture the turn of the earth. With a star trails shot, the movement of the earth is exactly what you want, but with single meteor images, not so much. Between 10 and 25 seconds is recommended, but a few test shots should help you to decide what you need to use. This slightly shorter shutter speed will require you to adjust the ISO to get a good exposure, too.
Finally, you can chance not taking your series of images with very short intervals between them, as you would with a star trails sequence, but leave the gaps a little longer. That means you might miss a few opportunities, but the law of averages suggests that if you shoot over a period of a few hours, the odd photo will have a shooting star zooming across it.
When you have set the focus and established your shutter speed and ISO, you will need to set your intervalometer as you would for a recording a time-lapse sequence, using the exposure time that worked best in your test shots. If you're using Triggertrap's star trail mode, set the exposure time that you established in testing with your chosen interval between frames, and select the number of frames you want to take. With a slightly longer interval between frames, say five or ten seconds, you could shoot for hours!
If you don't have an intervalometer, there's no reason why you can't try your hand at meteor shower photography. Instead of relying on a remote triggering device to release your camera's shutter, you'll be doing it yourself, which might get tiresome. Just as you would with a star trail-based sequence, aim your camera in the right spot and focus to infinity. With your camera in manual mode, use the widest aperture you can, select a shutter speed between 10 and 25 seconds, adjust the ISO accordingly, and press that trigger. Over, and over, and over, again!
Remember to keep warm, and here's hoping for clear skies.
As a photographer, you're usually aiming to ensure that your photos are well-exposed and have an even tonal distribution. If you were to look at the histograms from these images, the data would be spread across them. Neither the shadows nor the highlights would be 'clipped', or have areas that are so dark or so light, respectively, that they contain no data. If you were to look at these images, they would look 'right', and be pleasing to the eye.
However, that isn't always going to be the kind of story that you want to tell. On occasion, you are going to want to convey a dark and brooding narrative, maybe even so far as to be menacing, that delves into darkness. You will look to shoot a low-key image.
Identifying low-key images
Low-key photography is a style of taking pictures that focuses on producing shots that mostly include dark tones—a person in a dark room with only a tiny bit of light on their face is a good example. You might have noticed how products are often shot using low-key photography, too.
If you were to look at the histogram of a low-key image, you'd see that the majority of the data are pushed towards the left-hand side. Don't worry that your shadows might be clipped: it's a part of the look.
Setting up a low-key shot
You're aiming for extreme contrast in a low-key shot, with most of the image dark or even fully black with just a little of subject highlighted to draw the viewer's eye. Since a lack of lack is your primary tool in taking a low-key photo, it's actually fairly easy to set up and while you do need extensive control over your light source, don't think that you require an elaborate studio.
One method of getting the low-key feel is to place the subject in a dark room, then turn the light on in an adjacent room. Open the door just enough to get the right amount of light on your subject, but not enough to light up the background.
Another means to getting a low-key feel is with candle-light, which can elicit a suitably gothic feel, or by using a torch. Torches are easy to direct and definitely cheap! If you want to start manipulating light in your photography but don't yet have the means or desire to go the whole hog with flashes or a studio set-up, low-key is a good option.
You will certainly need to be in manual mode in order to achieve a low-key shot. If you leave it to your camera to decide on optimal metering, it will try to over-expose the scene and ruin the effect. Using spot-metering to expose for the sliver of light, wherever it might be, is a good idea, too. This will help to keep that area light but the shadows dark.
The general rule is to keep things dark. Complete blackness around your subject (or even as part of your subject) is perfectly acceptable.
Processing low-key images
Ideally, the combination of manual control and carefully manipulated light means that you won't need to adjust the exposure beyond the odd tweak to the blacks or the highlights to ensure that they're sufficiently dark or light. It is worth considering converting your low-key images to black and white: initially, this can help you to identify and perfect the contrast in low-key images but over all it can help to increase the drama and mood in the photo.
More unusual ways of looking at things, remembering rules, and then breaking those rules, are in my lovely book, The Rules of Photography and When to Break Them. It's available as an e-book and in a dead tree version (UK, US).
The number of photos of cats floating about the Intergoogles is testimony to how much we love photographing animals. But I bet we could all do it a bit better, whether they're our pets, cows on the closest farm, or gazelles in the wild. We've put together our top tips, dos and don't, and favourite recommendations for animal photography.
Pets and domesticated animals
Photographing pets is distinctly similar to photographing children: get down to their level, gird yourself with patience, and be ready to move fast. Much like my favourite photos of my nieces and nephews, many of my favourite photos of animals have been captured sitting (or crouching, in the case of mucky straw) on the floor, allowing them to play about me and simply being ready to capture kittens, lambs, hens, dogs, and various assorted being cute or idiosyncratic.
The chances are that you'll be exhausted and maybe a bit dirty at the end of it, but you should have some good photos. There is, of course, a bit more to it than that.
When it comes to taking photos of animals, some things should be on the checklist every time.
Get the eyes in focus - just like a portrait of a human, your viewers will be looking to make eye-contact with the subject, so get the eyes sharp.
Capture spirit - again, it's the same with humans, you need the photograph to convey the playfulness, the inquisitiveness, or the quirkiness of the animal.
The subject needs to be doing something - it doesn't matter if it's a dog asleep in a contrived position or a kitten chasing a toy, there needs to be something of interest happening in the shot.
Consider the background - you don't want clutter or a litter tray in the background of your photos, so pay attention to where you're taking them.
Be respectful - Don't do anything that hurts or distresses an animal for the sake of a photo. Don't pick up rabbits by their ears, provoke dogs, or yank horses' chiffneys or headcollars. Not only will the animal not like you for it, but it's unacceptable behaviour.
Depending on the type of photo you're trying to take, you will need to make some choices. There's no right or wrong to these points; they're up for consideration.
Flash - Some people say avoid it altogether, others say use it judiciously. I'd say for heavens sake don't startle a sleeping dog or potentially damage a very young animal's eyes with flash, but used properly, you can produce some cracking shots with artificial light.
Kit - I've photographed animals with all sorts of camera and lens combinations. Sometimes, it's been a case of grabbing what's closest, so my iPhone, to ensure that I didn't miss the moment. Then again, I've headed down to the yard armed with all manner of lenses and a dSLR for photographing horses. Remember the adage that the best camera is the one you have with you, but don't forget to think about what you're trying to achieve with your photos, from portraits to macros to action shots, and select your kit appropriately.
Use a fast shutter speed - Unless you're trying panning, do aim to keep your shutter speed as fast as possible to avoid motion blur, particularly if you're aiming to capture animals at play. Up the ISO if you need to; noise is easier to fix than blur.
Consider your angles and proximity - while it's advisable to get down to the same level as your subjects, do consider shooting from above and below, too. The key here is to consider what you're doing and the story you're telling, rather than reverting to the default of standing up to shoot.
As well as the usual recommendation of getting closer, have you considered getting really close to your subject? Macro and abstract shots can work wonderfully to intrigue, inspire, and give a different perspective on your subject.
Grabbing their attention - I talk to dogs, use toys for cats, and make clip-clopping noises to encourage horses to prick their ears. If you know your pet, you'll know how to distract it or attract its attention. If the subject isn't your pet, talk to its owner.
Cats scratch, dogs bite, and horses kick. They're also sentient and can be unpredictable. Don't do anything to upset your subjects or that endangers you. It's common sense, really.
While photographing pets is similar to photographing children, you might notice some similarities between wildlife and sports photography. You're going to be out in the elements, watching for the perfect moment, and most likely with a big lens. However, wildlife photography isn't restricted to the African savannah. There are squirrels in the park, birds in the woods, spiders in their webs, and wild monkeys in the Thai temple complexes. You don't have to travel to exotic locations to take wonderful wildlife photos. And if you are fortunate enough to be going on safari, you can always get in some practice with deer at home.
Know your subject - If you want to make the most out of your subject, then you need to know what to expect from it. Where are you likely to find it? When is it active? When does it feed? What should and shouldn't you do around it? There's little point arriving in the Serengeti in June and expecting to see wildebeest, as by then they'll be on their way to the Masai Mara.
Know your kit - In order to be able to capture the wildlife images of your wildest dreams, you need to be intimately acquainted with your kit and understand its precise capabilities. How many extra stops does your image stabilisation really give you? What's the slowest speed at which you can hand-hold your camera? How high can you push your ISO before noise really becomes a problem? What's the optimal aperture for sharpness with your lenses? Do any of them have a proclivity to flare?
The better that you know your kit, the less time you'll have to spend fiddling and faffing and the more likely you are to make a crucial moment.
Use support - You might not necessarily want to use a tripod: it could be too cumbersome and too slow to move, but the chances are you'll need some kind of support for your camera when out in the field, particularly if you're using a long lens. Think about all of the options, from monopods to beanbags, and decide which one will work best for you.
Be prepared - This isn't just about ensuring that you have the right camera kit with you and to hand, but also the right personal kit. In addition to cameras, lenses, filters, supports, remote triggers, batteries, and memory cards, you need to be dressed appropriately for the conditions and with changes of clothes if necessary. If you're as much as a feast for mosquitoes as I am, you'll need suitable insect repellant. You need to consider food and drink and appropriate storage for it. Do you require permits or a guide? And don't forget your sunscreen.
Capture action - The same as with pets and domesticated animals, aim to photograph action. Or at least if an animal is doing nothing, it needs to be doing nothing in an interesting way, for example with a glorious sunrise behind it, or curled up asleep in an unlikely pose.
Wide and close - You might well be using a long lens to photograph wildlife just to get close enough to identify it, but don't restrict yourself to close-ups. Think about placing your subject in its environment and providing it with context. Primarily, this is important for story-telling, but if you have travelled a long way to experience something magical, you'll want to record that, too.
Conversely, abstract close-ups can make for very striking photos. Don't be afraid to experiment!
Consider the light - While it probably should go without saying to think carefully about the quality, quantity, and direction of light, it's worth repeating. You might well find that as well as providing the best light for photography, the golden hours are also when many animals are at their most active.
Be careful and enjoy - Just as with pet and domesticated animal photography, be careful and be respectful. Don't do anything to endanger yourself or your subjects. Remember to adhere to the required codes and to clean up after yourself.
Finally, remember to enjoy it. Absorb the atmosphere and don't be afraid to put down your camera, either. Sometimes the picture in your memory can be better than the one taken by your camera.
Earlier this week an infographic design agency, NeoMam Studios, sent us an infographic about 'smoasting' which they'd produced on behalf of print company Photobox. Once I'd got over the shock of awful elision of 'social media' and 'boast' to form the ghastly portmanteau word 'smoast', there was one particular statistic that caught my eye. Take a look at the infographic and guess which it was.
Despite the prevalence of Instagram, the host of editing features that are built into apps such as EyeEm, Facebook, and Twitter, and the plethora of free-to-download editing programmes, only 28% of photos are cropped or styled in some way? Wow! I am surprised. And it's something I think deserves remedying.
While Team Photocritic advocates getting as much right in-camera as possible—you'll certainly not be able to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse—we're not beyond a little post-processing, either. If it's good enough for Cecil Beaton and Horst, it's good enough for us, too. A snip here and a swipe there can elevate an ordinary image into something a bit more special.
This isn't about air-brushing away half of someone's thigh, but about making minor adjustments to three specific areas: the crop, the colour, and the contrast. Here at Photocritic we call them The Three Cs. They're not complicated and they'll make a world of difference.
However well composed you think your image is, it will almost certainly benefit from having a few pixels shaved off it. It might be a case of reinforcing the rule of thirds, removing a bit of unwanted background that crept into the frame, or getting a bit closer to your subject.
At the same time as cropping, make sure to straighten your image, too. Unless you are deliberately tilting the frame for creative reasons, uprights should be upright and horizons should be level. When lines that are expected to be upright or level are wonky, it has an unpleasant impact on our sense of balance. By correcting wonky lines, you'll produce a stronger image.
Light has a temperature, and depending on the source of the light, or the time of day if it’s the sun, that temperature will vary. When the temperature varies, so does the colour of the light. As a general rule, we don’t notice the variation because our eyes cleverly adjust to the changes. Our cameras on the other hand aren’t quite so clever.
Have you ever noticed how white objects in your photos can show up with blue or yellow casts? That’s because the white balance in your photo was off.
It's a relatively easy correction to make using the 'Warmth' or 'White Balance' function in an editing programme. If you think the whites are looking a bit too blue (or if an image looks a little 'cold' over all), nudge the slider to the right. If the whites are too reddish in tone, or the photo looks a bit warm, slide it to the right. It's a case of trial and error to make the right adjustment, but the more that you practise it, the better you'll understand the shortcomings of your camera and how it reacts to different types of light.
Now if you want to intensify or tone down your colours, you can do so using the saturation slider. I don't recommend bumping up the saturation too much; it can result in a cartoon effect rather than a photo!
Contrast is the difference between the dark and light tones in your photos. Images shot on bright sunny days tend to have a lot of contrast, with dark shadows and bright highlights, but those taken in fog won’t have a great deal of tonal variation and will be low contrast. From time to time, you’ll want a low-contrast image, but, generally speaking, your photos can be improved by increasing the contrast a touch. It brings definition and depth to them.
Don’t go overboard, though, as too much of a good thing can turn bad. You’ll find that if you over-cook the contrast you’ll lose too much detail and end up with an ugly image. Subtlety beats brickbats.
If you use Snapseed to make your edits, it's worth getting to know the ambiance slider, too. I've often found that this is a preferable alternative to the contrast slider.
At this point, any other adjustments are gravy. I'm a fan of Snapseed's 'centre focus' options and often apply one of those. You might want to play with a tilt-shift effect. Or there's the waterfall of filters you can try in any programme, but you might find that you prefer your own edits to prefabricated filters, now.
Oh, and don't forget that it all starts with a decent photo, so check out our eight tips for better smartphone photos, too.
The sheer scope of Photoshop means that when you first open it up, and indeed for a good long while thereafter, it can be a little—or even a lot—overwhelming. It offers you so many possibilities that deciding where to start can be an agony of choice. Whatever bells and whistles Photoshop might offer you, one of its biggest boons is most certainly layers, making them one of the first things with which you should experiment.
A brief explanation
Layers are what allow you to edit non-destructively, so that any adjustment that you make can be easily amended or even removed altogether without having an impact on your other edits, or your original files. The most common description that you will hear about the layers function is that it resembles a pile of transparencies, each of which contains information comprising the final image and can be altered individually. How many layers can each image have? As many as your operating system can support.
Some layers might contain images, effects—for example shadowing—or text. Other layers, however, could appear devoid of content. These are adjustment layers, and they hold the information that governs the edits made to the image as a whole, or to given areas of it. This way, you can alter how something looks without destroying the original image.
You can name layers individually, so rather than trying to remember that Layer 23 adjusts the luminosity of the unicorn’s coat, you can call it ‘Unicorn coat luminosity.’
If you want to create composite images, layer masks will be essential to your work. A layer mask will allow you to place one image over another and mask selected areas of the upper layer from view. Effectively, this allows you to see through it to the image below, thereby creating a montage. Of course, you’re not restricted to just two layers when it comes to compositing; you can include as many as you need.
Going to the Industrial Opera
To give you some idea of what layer masks can achieve and how you can use them, I created an incongruous scene of an industrial sunset reflected in the lenses of a genteel pair of antique opera glasses.
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Choosing your story
Having a clear idea of the story that I wanted to tell with the image was the first step. It meant that I didn't have to engage in too many changes and I was able to line up the images and accoutrements I needed. Of course things will evolve as you create them, but I would advise starting out with at least a basic 'recipe'.
Deciding on the light
As contradictory as it might sound, surreal images need to be grounded in reality to ensure that they're believable. Unless you're creating a Peter Pan-type figure, objects need shadows, for example. In this case, I needed to check that how my image reflected in the glasses was accurate, even if it were several degrees from reality. I did this using a pair of sunglasses and a torch to look for reflections.
How many layers?
My torch experimentations determined that I couldn't use one copy of the sunset scene to cover both lenses; the angles were wrong. It needed to be positioned separately over each lens of the opera glass. That meant importing the sunset image twice, onto two different layers.
Background and Layer 1
I started by making the opera glasses my background layer and then imported the first sunset layer and then added a layer mask by clicking on the Create new layer mask button at the bottom of the Layers panel.
I decreased the sunset layer’s opacity to about 40% to help me to scale it down to the size that I wanted and shift it into place over the opera glasses' lens.
Scale images at Edit>Transform>Scale; hold down the shift key to maintain proportions when adjusting the size.
Brushing away the excess
Happy that my sunset layer was in the right place, it was time to mask the parts of it that interfered with the image of the opera glasses. I did this by using the brush tool and the layer mask to 'paint away' the areas of the sunset scene that I didn't want visible.
When you're choosing what to show and what to hide in a layer mask, you paint with black to hide anything extraneous. If you paint away something and change your mind, switch the brush colour to white and it will reveal it.
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I zoomed in close and used a relatively small brush with a mid-size feather to get the edge that I wanted.
When I was satisfied with my handiwork, I played around with the opacity and blending mode options to determine how the layers meshed together over each other to finalise the effect I wanted. Opacity and blending modes are the subject of a whole other article, but in this instance I set the opacity to 100% and opted for a screen blend.
Sunset over the second lens
With the second lens, it was a very similar process, except that I positioned the image of the sunset differently across the lens.
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I selected the screen blend again, and adjusted the opacity until I was happy with the result.
Flattening and saving
Happy with my handiwork, I saved the image as a PSD file before flattening the layers and saving it as a JPEG file.
Having saved my 'finished' version as a PSD file meant that I was able to return to it for adjustments, or to try other looks having laid the ground work. One of the alternative views I created of it was to insert a black & white adjustment layer above the background layer to create black-and-white opera glasses with coloured lenses.
More where this came from!
This image, together with lots of advice on creating surreal images through in-camera and compositing techniques as well as examples from surreal masters such as Miss Aniela, can be found in my book Surreal Photography: Creating the Impossible. Right now it has been selected by the fickle finger of Amazon super-deals and is available for the bargain price of 1 penny or 2 cents; there's no telling how long it might last, so why not give it a try? Even if you don't own a Kindle, you can download a Kindle reading app for free to use on your smartphone or tablet.
Photos that feature milky-smooth flowing water seem to have a Marmite effect on people: they're either loved or hated. I'm often rather ambivalent towards them, but it doesn't mean that it isn't a useful technique to have up your sleeve if you're faced with a weir or waterfall and you want to capture an image with smooth-looking water that has a sense of flow to it.
There's no great secret to shooting a photo that has water flowing through it that looks smooth: it's done using a long exposure. The slow shutter speed captures the the water as it moves, making it blurred. The blur, in this instance, gives the water a smooth appearance.
Shooting long exposures in daylight hours comes with an inherent problem, however. Over-exposure. Our cameras' sensors are capable of detecting far more light than we think they are, and even using the lowest possible ISO and smallest available aperture, a long exposure can result in an over-exposed photo when taking during the day. To get around this irritation, you might want to try a neutral density (ND) filter over your lens.
ND filters are grey filters that cut down the amount of light that enters your lens without affecting the colour of your images. They come in different grades, or densities, blocking out between one stop and 12 stops of light. Screw one over your lens and you'll give yourself a great deal more flexibility when it comes to shooting daytime long exposures.
Then of course you'll need a tripod. You might want to capture the motion blur of the water, but you'll want to avoid camera-shake and the rest of the scene getting the wobbles. Even though you'll be using a very small aperture with an enormous depth-of-field, still think carefully about your framing of the shot and its point-of-focus. Make sure it's telling a story.
Obviously you'll need to have your camera in manual mode to ensure that you can adjust the shutter speed, ISO, and aperture to get the photo that you want. Almost certainly you will need to use the lowest ISO and smallest aperture avalable. When it comes to shutter speed, you might find that you need to venture into bulb mode to get the shutter speed you need. And we recommend that you use a remote shutter release to prevent jolting your camera on its tripod and shifting its focus, too.
Then it's a case of hitting the cable release and leaving the camera to do its thing.
We spend quite a bit of time discussing sharing our images here, there, and yon on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as on custom-built platforms such as Photoswarm or Photoshelter, but we don't tend to talk so much, if at all, about good old Wordpress. I've no idea why we tend to overlook CMSs—perhaps because there's an assumption that you should know what you're doing if you have one—but at least for once, I thought we'd change that. [gallery ids="6934,6938,6939,6935,6936"]
Wordpress benefits from a huge number of plugins that you can use to augment your website-running experience, from free ones to premium ones, to plugins that block spam to those that manage your editorial calendar. But if you want to insert a simple gallery of images into a Wordpress post, there's no plugin required. You can manage it directly the Add Media function. It's not the most glamorous of galleries—it doesn't offer a carousel, for example—but it does allow you to sample a selection of images.
Create a new post
That's an obvious place to start. Give it a title, add the text that you want, create some tags; all the usual.
Hit the Add Media button
Go to add images just as you usually would. Hit the Add Media button towards the top left of the page.
Select Create Gallery
You'll automatically find yourself on the Insert Media panel. On its top left you'll see three options: Insert Media, where you already are; Create Gallery; and Set Featured Image. (There's Insert from URL just below those, too.) Choose Create Gallery.
Upload or select your images
If you've already uploaded the images to your Media Library, go ahead and select them now. Otherwise choose the Upload Files tab and go ahead and upload your chosen images from your computer as you usually would.
Create your gallery
When you've selected your images, press the 'Create a new gallery' button at the bottom right of the page.
Now you get to organise your gallery, deciding on the order in which you want the images to appear (drag-and-drop to re-arrange them), in how many columns you'd like them arranged, and whether you'd like the images to link through to an attachment page when a viewer clicks on them. Don't forget to add captions if you need them, too. Do that beneath each image. Tap Insert Gallery and you're done!
If you'd like to try a carousel of images, you might want to check out the Jetpack plugin, but otherwise, this should keep you in image galleries for the moment.
If you'd like to try a more unusual approach to lighting a photo, whether that's because you want to experiment or because you don't have access to studio lights, you might want to consider light painting. This isn't the type of light painting when you make patterns and shapes and designs with light sources to create your image, but using light sources to illuminate your scene during a long exposure. At its simplest, it involves outing the lights, setting your camera to bulb mode, and using a torch to 'paint' light onto your subject. Want to give it a go? Read on!
You don't need anything especially fancy for light painting: a camera on a tripod, a scene that you want to illuminate, and a torch are the minimum requirements. You might find it easier to control your camera's shutter using a cable release for flexibility and when you're more confident you might want to try some more advanced techniques, but let's start here.
Imagining your scene
Before embarking on your light painting adventure, it's best to think about the scene that you want to illuminate and the story that you want to tell. While you might herald some impressive results from waving your torch about in random formations, that's unlkely to result in the image that you anticipated. Take a little time to consider your subject and how you want to light it.
Scene set and lighting scenarios imagined, you need to secure your camera on your tripod and select your exposure. For light painting, try bulb mode controlled by a cable release, a low ISO, and an aperture that gives you the look you want. You'll need to manually focus on your subject, too!
Turn out the lights and start your long exposure.
Use your torch to begin to paint light over your subject. There's going to be some trial and error involved in getting the effect that you want, but that's half of the fun! Not keen on what you see? Try it again!
Stretching your creativity
When you've mastered the basics, you can push your experimentations further. Try introducing coloured light to your images by covering your torch with coloured gels, or even sweetie wrappers. You can make cut-out filters to shape your light. Or direct your light more accurately with a snoot manufactured from cardboard and gaffer tape. You're not limited to inside, either. Try light painting buildings and monuments or flower pots - whatever takes your fancy and you've sufficient fire-power to illuminate!
This is something that doesn't have to cost the earth but can render some fabulous results.
Much of this, including all the images, is based on the fantastic How to paint a still life with light tutorial found on Triggertrap's How-To microsite, and it's reproduced with permission. Triggertrap How-To is full of great content for making the most of your camera. You should take a look.