Thursday, July 3, 2014

How to take awesome fireworks photos

We are in a full throttle summer and festivities and celebrations are abound, accompanied by colourful fireworks to close the day. Here I compiled a list of tips you may use if you want to capture stunning firework images:

  • First of all, forget the [AUTO] setting; the exposure conditions change too rapidly and drastically for cameras to calculate the best exposure. In this case we have to tell them what to do by using the manual mode; fortunately, even popular Point&Shoot cameras can be set to manual. 
  • The ISO setting will control how sensitive the sensor is. Remember that fireworks are really bright so there is no need to bump the ISO value to the roof, no matter if we are shooting at night. In the pictures shown here I used ISO 400.
  • The Aperture value will control how open or close the lens will be during the shot, letting more or less light entering to the sensor.  For fireworks this value can be set to a high f-number. In DSLR cameras, a value greater than f/11 is good as it will help to make sure everything is sharp. Point&Shoot cameras may get up to f/8, which is still OK considering their sensor size.
  • The Shutter speed will control how long the shutter will stay open; the longer it stays open, the more light will enter to the sensor.  For our fireworks we want to use a relatively long duration, something around 5 seconds; with this value we should be able to see the fireworks from the moment they are launched until the moment they explode, everything in the same frame.
  • Put the camera in a steady surface; if you have a tripod, even better.  With a camera open for 5 seconds you don't want any movement affecting your exposure.
  • Following the same idea, a cable release is a great tool to avoid any kind of motion. Even the slight movement from our finger pressing the shutter may get capture as blur in the final image.

Of course, these are just some recommendations; it's up to you to start playing with some values and see their effect in the picture. Sometimes trial and error may give you wonderful surprises.

I hope all my Canadian friends have had a great Canada Day and for my American friends, have a nice Fourth of July.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A new DSLR! Now what?

Congratulations on your new camera! Your new DSLR will help you to get pictures like never before. But if you really want to take advantage of this wonderful new toy, you will need to get comfortable moving away from the  AUTO  setting, at least once in a while.

When you use the  AUTO  setting in your camera, the image is analyzed and the internal "computer" will decide what settings it will change. In very general terms, if the camera sees a predominant bright blueish area in the frame, this means you want to shoot a landscape. If it sees an big oval shape, with round objects on the upper half, this is a portrait. With faster and more modern cameras, this technology can even see more than one face at the same time and recognize them if you have a name for them.

Sometimes the camera computer seems a little too intrusive and you may want to override it. There are occasions when you may want to have a different perspective, or you want to be a little more creative and the camera will not let you.

Aperture Priority mode is one of the options that can give you more freedom to create; in Canon cameras this is indicated with the  Av  icon, in Nikon it is just  A . This option controls how open or close the lens will be during the exposure. As a direct consequence, opening the lens will let more light enter into the camera sensor, giving you opportunity to improve your composition in low light conditions.

Another advantage of shooting in Aperture Priority mode is the ability to control how deep your focus is. Wide apertures will allow you to blur the scene background, making it less cluttered and giving it a "smooth" texture, all this to help you put more emphasis on your main subject (foreground). This technique is commonly used in many photography genres like portraits, close-ups or macro photography.

Math! Sweet Math


On the other hand, closing the aperture will give you more of the scene in focus, and certainly less light to the sensor. Landscapes or architectural photography take advantage of very small apertures as they usually present a sharp foreground, midground and background in the same photo.
IBM Building
Seattle, WA

Absolute World Towers (a.k.a. Marilyn Monroe towers)
Mississauga, ON

One caveat to consider is how the aperture scale is presented; at first sight it is not very intuitive. Just keep in mind that the smaller the number is, the wider the aperture you'll get. There is a reasonable physics explanation for that, but we'll leave it for another time. The scale may go from "/ 3.5" as the widest aperture to "/ 22" as the smallest setting. More expensive lenses can open up to "f / 2.8" or even "f / 1.4"; yes, "f / 2.8" is wider than "f / 3.5"... and "f / 1.4" is even wider than "f / 2.8". Enough with the numbers. A more detailed and boring explanation can be found at

Now that you know how Aperture Priority works, don't be afraid to use this option as part of your creative photography. The more you practice, the more you'll be able to get stunning images.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Newborn Photography

One of the challenges I had recently was photographing a baby, a really young and cute baby.  Of course I did all the obvious research about lighting conditions, lens selection, backdrop choices and some different poses I could use.  However, all that technical knowledge is not enough to survive a session like this.  Patience is your best allied, besides the baby's mother, of course.
I ended up with very solid images but also with a really good learning experience.  These are some of the points I learned:
  • The baby is the boss and everything will spin around his/her awesome cuteness
  • If you have a Plan A, make sure you have a Plan B, and Plan C, and maybe Plan D
  • You will never have enough backdrop.  Babies will decide when it's time to change it by "marking the zone", if you know what I mean
  • It's always easier to pose babies when they are asleep; that's the reason why this kind of sessions must be done during their first 10 days of age
  • An area heater is always convenient to keep the baby warm and cozy, and avoid "marking the zone"
  • Mom should always be around
  • Have different hats or mittens so you can play with color combinations

Of course, there are many other points to consider but the list will go on and on.  This is just a brief summary of things I will have to consider for my next newborn session.
I must say, I ended up enjoying these sessions more than I expected.  To me, it's always a pleasure capturing their cuteness at such an early stage.
Last but not least, thanks to the happy parents for putting their trust on me capturing the images of their new baby.