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The Art of Composition – 9 Rules For Better Photography

Wed March 18, 2015

Who hasn’t heard of the Rule of Thirds when learning about composition? Or, the power of diagonal lines? And other similar composition rules? Somehow they just look too simple to be effective, right? But how many of us, having learned all those composition rules actually go out and use them?

Editorial photographer Steve McCurry apparently does, as the video below based on his beautiful award-winning pictures attest to.

As you watch the video, keep these 9 composition tips in mind:

  1. Rule of Thirds – points of interest where our eyes are naturally drawn to
  2. Leading Lines – lead eyes into the picture
  3. Diagonals – create movement
  4. Framing – use natural frames
  5. Figure to Ground – contrast between the subject (in the foreground) and the background
  6. Fill the Frame – get close to your subject
  7. Center Dominant Eye – if not while taking the picture, then when cropping for display
  8. Patterns and Repetition – aesthetically pleasing and especially effective when suddenly interrupted by your subject
  9. Symmetry

View the video:

Tutorials, Videos

Arthur Morris Bird Photography Tutorials

Sun March 8, 2015

Bird Photography with Arthur Morris

Renowned bird photographer Arthur Morris demonstrates the techniques, settings and gear he uses to capture beautiful photos of birds in flight. The setting is the Bosque del Apache in New Mexico early mornings until bright daylight. He shares the exposures he uses to freeze action as well as to depict blur, to photograph silhouettes, the use of the histogram, AI Servo AF, tripod and tele-extenders.

There are seven video tutorials:

  1. Location scouting for the perfect shot
    Learn how to position yourself against the light and wind when photographing outside and how to use both elements creatively in your photos.
  2. One Shot and AI Servo AF
    Learn how to capture fast moving subjects using One Shot AF, AI Servo AF, Back Button AF, various multi-point AF, orientation linked AF and more.
  3. Sunrise and Sunset Blurs and Silhouettes
    Arthur shows how to take advantage of light and time of day, to create beautiful, artistic images of birds in flight, and dynamic silhouettes.
  4. Getting the right exposure
    Different factors are involved when achieving proper exposure in your photos. Learn how tools like Evaluative Metering, Highlight Alert and Histograms help you achieve this.
  5. Arthur’s Gear Bag
    From cameras and lenses to apparel and accessories, see what gear renowned wildlife photographer Arthur Morris brings with him on a typical trip and why.
  6. Camera settings
    Learn how features like Picture Style, White Balance, Back Button AF and other custom settings can help you capture beautiful photos of fast-moving wildlife.
  7. Tele-Extenders
    See how attaching a tele-extender to your lens can allow you to zoom in closer and how it affects your f-stop.

Even though the gear used is Canon EOS DLSRs and lenses, these techniques should be applicable to DSLRs, mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras and telephoto lenses from other brands.


Have Some Audacity: Databend Your Images

Sat July 19, 2014

We are so spoiled these days with all the nifty image filter effects that we can apply in-camera, in post-processing, as well as in social sites like Instagram. But, just as photography has its Lomography, what if you could also do your very own experimental image filter effects?

Enter Audacity®, a free, open source, cross-platform software for recording and editing sounds. Yes, sounds! But it turns out you can also input your image files into Audacity and use its sound filters to make it do some cool image filter effect tricks on image files.

Here is my BEFORE image (click to download source image):

I applied the Echo sound effect to the source and presto you can see the AFTER image below:

Continue Reading »


Understanding… Exposure Compensation

Tue July 8, 2014

Do you find that some of your pictures are correctly exposed for the main subject but the background (usually the sky) is overexposed? Or, perhaps, you are at a loss why your background is perfectly exposed, leaving your main subject in the dark? Just what is exposure compensation and why would you want to use it? When do you use it? And, how can you use it to obtain pictures that are perfectly exposed in all areas of your scene? We’ve updated our tutorial on Exposure Compensation to include a section on High Dynamic Range.

Find all the answers in our WHAT IS… Exposure Compensation tutorial.

Tutorials, Videos

DIY: Build A $5 DSLR LCD Hood

Fri July 4, 2014

Most digital camera LCDs don’t fare too well in bright sunlight. The image displayed is washed out and it can be quite challenging composing on the LCD. If you have a viewfinder, it helps tremendously. However, when you are filming a movie, you do really depend a lot on the larger image displayed on the LCD. One solution to the washed out LCD in bright sunlight is to purchase an LCD Hood. If you do lots of filming in bright sunlight, the expense is fully justified. But, if you only do it occasionally, you may want to consider the following DIY option.

An LCD Hood is a cover for your DSLR’s LCD to block out the sun’s rays so you can have a clear unwashed view in bright light. Why spend $200 for an LCD hood when you can easily build one for around $5 from items you probably already have lying at home? In this Youtube video, user Knoptop shows how to build one.

From Knoptop

There are other designs out there but we found this one easy to understand and it seems to require less effort and no maths. 😉 The one problem you may have is to find a container that is the right size for your LCD.


Shooting Mode Dial: Shutter-Priority AE

Thu July 3, 2014

The (Shooting) Mode Dial is the round dial sitting on the top of your camera, usually on the top right side (viewing from the rear). It has different settings marked on it, such as Auto, PASM, and perhaps C, SCN, etc., depending on your camera. Most beginners leave it on the Auto setting (in the picture above, it’s the iA setting), which tells the camera to go ahead and make all the exposure decisions for you.

Enthusiast photographers may opt to choose one of the other settings, usually one of the PASM settings, giving them more control over the exposure. In this article, we look at the Shutter-Priority AE shooting mode, what it is, why you would want to use it and a couple of practical ways how you can make use of it for more creative photography.

Continue Reading »


Celebrate Independence Day With Creative Fireworks Photography

Tue July 1, 2014

Most of us can shoot good fireworks pictures by simply pointing at the sky and taking a snapshot of the exploding cascade of colors. But after dozens, if not hundreds of such photos, you tire quickly of them. This is when it’s time to get creative with your fireworks photography: instead of simply shooting the fireworks themselves, consider shooting a landscape with fireworks in it.

You can choose recognizable buildings and scenery, or some element that looks interesting at night.

This means that you may have to scout the area ahead of time to find the right perspective and a composition that you like. You need an interesting foreground and/or background, and lots of unobstructed sky space.

When scouting a place, one thing that you may not consider that will ruin all your preparations is that, if it is a public place where a lot of people will congregate to watch the fireworks show, then you may have lots of people standing in front of you when the event starts, perhaps obscuring the scene you have so carefully composed earlier when the place was empty. So, some kind of higher ground may be preferable.


  • With fireworks photography, long exposures are common, and so a sturdy tripod is a must.
  • A small flashlight (or your cellphone plus the light app) can help you see in the dark to experiment and change settings on your camera.
  • Lens cap, a (black) card or hat/cap to put in front of your camera lens when the shutter is open and you are waiting for the next explosion to occur. Or, do as many of us do: use your hand (but do not touch the glass element of your lens for that wil leave a smudge that will get recorded).

Exposure Settings
If you have a point-and-shoot camera, chances are there will be a Fireworks scene mode that you can use. This will usually leave the shutter open for about 3 to 4 seconds.

With an Interchangeable Lens Camera, you have more options in choosing shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

Remember that, if you include a scene in your picture, you are then exposing for the scene. You may want to choose a low ISO for the best image quality. This will also give you a longer shutter speed to record more than one fireworks explosion.

One important choice is whether you like to capture the trail and, if so, whether you prefer it to be fat or thin. This is where you decide on whether to use a big (fat trail) or small aperture (thin trail). I prefer to leave the trail out of my fireworks picture completely and expose only for the shimmering colors after the explosion.

I find the explosion itself too bright and it usually results in a big overexposed blob of light in the sky. By waiting just a second or so later after the explosion, I uncover the lens to capture the fully bloomed and falling sparks, then cover the lens and wait for the next explosion. This way, you are still exposing for the scene and capturing interesting fireworks without overexposing your shot.

Continue reading for more tips in our Fireworks Tutorial.


A Beginner’s Guide to RAW File Format

Mon June 30, 2014

If you are just starting out in photography — or if you have used been shooting JPEG exclusively — and wondered just what shooting in RAW means, here’s a primer on it.

Understanding RAW File Format

When you take a picture in JPEG file format with your digital camera, a couple of things happen before the image is even saved to memory card:

  • The image sensor gathers the information from its photosites, converts it from analog to digital, and holds it for further processing. At this stage, the image data captured can be thought of as being “unprocessed” — or, RAW data.
  • If you have specified white balance, sharpening, contrast, saturation, filter effects, etc., these are applied to the RAW data.
  • If you have specified image quality and size, these are also applied to the RAW data.
  • The resulting image is a JPEG image, processed (“in-camera process”), and compressed, which is then written to your memory card.

After you have transferred the image from your memory card to your PC, you may decide to further process it (“post-processing”) in an image editing software, such as Photoshop. Most photographers will usually adjust levels and sharpen the image a bit.

Continue Reading »


Tutorial: Photographing the Moon

Mon April 29, 2013

Have you ever tried to photograph the moon only to be disappointed with the result? Perhaps the moon was too small in your picture? Or, the picture was not sharp? Or, the moon was overexposed so that you lost the detail of the craters on the surface?

This One-Pager™ tutorial lists the minimum equipment you’ll need, the settings to set on your camera, and the all-important post-processing that will allow you to take great pictures of the moon.

Read our tutorial: HOW TO… Photograph the Moon.


Tutorial: What Is… Aperture?

Mon February 25, 2013

What’s the big deal about aperture? Should you know anything about it when comparing cameras (or lenses)? Does the terms f/stop, f/value, aperture value confuse you?

Consider that for light to expose the image sensor, it must be let inside the camera. The aperture is that hole that is opened to allow light to enter your camera. It can also work in combination as a shutter so that it opens to let light in and closes to stop light from getting in. The amount of time it stays open is called the shutter speed. For cameras that have a separate shutter, the aperture will stay opened at the value you dial in (or the camera automatically dials in) while the shutter will open and close to limit the time light exposes the image sensor.

The aperture is the size of the lens opening. You adjust its size depending on the light intensity. The less light there is, the wider you may have to open the aperture. A large aperture is denoted by a small number, e.g. F1.8 or f/1.8, while a small aperture is denoted by a large number, e.g. F16 or f/16. A “fast” lens is one with a large maximum aperture.

Learn all about aperture in our tutorial: What Is… Aperture?


Tutorial: Understanding the Histogram

Mon February 18, 2013

The histogram display in your camera may seem like a confusing graph and you may have wondered what it has to do with getting a well-exposed picture. Though you may never need to use it on our modern cameras that make smart decisions, there are still lighting situations when a histogram sheds light on what you will be recording on your image sensor. Reading the histogram is not difficult when you know how to do it, and Goldilocks gives us a hand in this tutorial to help us get the exposure “just right.”

Read our tutorial: Goldilocks and the Three Histograms.


Tutorial: Optical vs. Digital Zoom — Which Is Better?

Sun January 6, 2013

Implying Motion While Zooming

Whereas an optical zoom uses the optics (lens) of the digital camera to move you closer to your subject, a digital zoom simply uses a portion of the existing image and enlarges it digitally.

Enlarging the image digitally reduces picture quality, and should therefore usually be avoided. However, a judicious use of digital zoom may sometimes yield images that are of quite acceptable quality, especially in small prints. So, use with caution.

Some manufacturers label their lenses with the “total zoom” by multiplying the optical with the digital. Ignore total zoom claims because you can use any multiplier digital zoom you want in an image editing software.

What is important when comparing digital cameras is the optical zoom. Digital zoom can always be achieved later in an image editing software, such as Photoshop, so should not really be a determining factor when choosing a digital camera.

In the picture above, we used optical zoom to imply motion while zooming. This technique is only possible if your camera has a manual zoom ring. You need to set a slow shutter speed (so that your camera will record the zooming process), focus on the subject in the middle at wide-angle, then as you trip the shutter, zoom in at the same time. It’s best if your camera is on a tripod so that the only blurriness recorded is the result of the zoom and not of camera shake. The central part of the image should remain sharp. This technique is very effectively used in sports to accentuate and dramatize the action.

Read our Optical vs. Digital Zoom tutorial.

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