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Are You Making These 3 ISO Mistakes?

When a photographer makes the courageous leap away from the “auto” setting on their camera, they have to keep a dozen things in mind every time they compose a shot. Shooting in manual mode allows for individual control of shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and focus point (among other things), and often takes a while to get the hang of. One must master the concepts and execution of all the technological aspects of digital photography, but once that happens the quality of work can improve exponentially. Of the main pieces that go into making a digital image is the ISO, which represents your camera’s sensitivity to light. It has a direct correlation, meaning that a low ISO reflects a low sensitivity and a high ISO indicates a high sensitivity. Taking that one step further, an image shot with a low ISO is going to be darker than one shot with a high ISO. Most digital cameras on the market today have an ISO range of 100-6,400, and since it is an international standard, you can know that a setting of 800 is the same everywhere, whether your camera came from China, Russia, or anywhere else in the world. Many photographers understand the basic function of ISO, but fail to really grasp its nuances and fail to finesse its settings to give more depth and quality to their images. Regardless of whether you’re a brand new beginner or a semi-pro, chances are good that you’ve made at least one of these mistakes. Using the same setting regardless of light conditions Yes, there are plenty of people out there who focus all their time and energy on the shutter speed-aperture relationship and ignore their ISO altogether. Sadly, this third component is so crucial in balancing everything out and resulting in a more deliberate photo quality. When you leave your ISO at say, 1000, your outdoor images may be grainy and your indoor images may still be too dark. This puts a lot of burden on the aperture and shutter speed to try and make up the difference here, and the results are rarely nice. Don’t be afraid to move around your ISO and find the right balance where you can still get the action or movement you need and the depth of focus you want. Never touching this setting is a surefire way to disappointment. Only using extremes Some new ‘photogs’ only consider light in its two extremes: bright sunlight and dark; or more simply, outdoors and indoors. And while those two light environments will require vastly different camera settings, much of our lives happens somewhere in the middle. Most places are neither bright nor completely dim, so it’s important to know how to use the middle swath of ISO to best complement these scenarios. There are a lot of beginners who think the lowest setting of ISO100 is the only one appropriate for outdoor work, while the highest possible ISO (3200 or 6400, typically) is what’s needed for any kind of indoor photography. Both instances are wrong and can lead to poor image quality and yet many people immediately jump to how they could have changed their aperture or shutter speed in order to have avoided it. But ISO has more power than people think- don’t get stuck in the “all or nothing” game with light sensitivity. Learn to play around in the middle.  Don’t assume that every house party needs an ISO of 6400, and don’t assume that every landscape shot is bright enough to get away with an ISO of 100. Relying on post-processing to fix it There are...

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Digital Photography: Why Metering Modes Matter

  Metering matters. As you can see in our image of a catnap, changing the metering configuration makes a big difference in the brightness of a picture. Correctly setting the metering mode will ensure your photographs have the best exposure possible. This is especially important for high-contrast scenes, like the example above. What does metering mean? And what are the different settings? Continue reading and we’ll explain metering and introduce three common modes. Applying these concepts will make an instantaneous improvement in your photography skills! The Meaning of Metering Metering is how the camera sets exposure. Specifically, the camera meters the incoming light to set the shutter speed and aperture correctly. Remember exposure is based on the quickness of the shutter, the width of the aperture, and the ISO setting. You can now see how metering directly relates to exposure. It is important to understand this only applies when the camera itself is in certain modes – such as Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, or Manual. (The on-camera symbols for these modes vary) Stepping out of Automatic mode lets you have more control over your photographs. We’ll teach you about three metering modes below to help you develop new skills beyond automatic snap shots. 1. Matrix/Evaluative Mode Multi-zone metering is the camera measuring the levels of light across the scene and combing the readings to set the exposure (Matrix on Nikon, Evaluative on Canon). This mode typically prevents under exposing or over exposing the image. We recommend using this mode when the subject and surroundings are similarly bright. Our catnap picture shows an even level of exposure and detail with this setting. Here is another example taken with multi-zone metering. Notice how the brightness of the scene is similar throughout.   2. Center-Weighted Metering Center-weighted metering is giving the highest consideration of brightness to the center area of the image. This mode is consistently named on Nikon and Canon cameras. This is a less common setting as the lighting conditions that require center weighting are rare in nature photography. The difference in our example is that the picture as a whole looks under-exposed. The metering considered the white light right next to the black cat and adjusted for that brightness. It read it so bright that the rest of the image ended up too dark; therefore, center-weighted metering is the wrong mode to use with this scene. Let’s look at an example that required center-weighted metering. Notice the wide range of contrast between the plant in shadow and the back-lighting from the sun on the rock. Setting the camera to concentrate the metering on the center lets the plant be well-exposed, and it’s irrelevant that the sunny area is over-exposed. We recommend this mode when the subject is centered and its surroundings are considerably different in brightness. 3. Spot Metering Spot metering determines the exposure by considering a circle at the center of the scene. This mode is also called the same thing on both Nikon and Canon models. How big is the circle? Not very – it ranges between 1 – 5%. Let’s consider our example, as spot metering creates a drastically different image. The camera read the brightness of the black cat, which is much darker than the rest of the scene. The exposure shows the most detail in our sleeping subject, but much of the picture is over-exposed. We introduce spot metering to our students for photographs that are all about exposing the subject correctly. What better example to consider than a circular moon against a black sky. Obviously exposing for the brightness of the moon...

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Adobe Photoshop© Tutorial: How to Perk Up Your Digital Images

As a Photoshop© instructor, one common complaint I get a lot from older photographers is that their digital images just don’t have the “snap” and “color” of their film images. In the days of yore when we shot only with film, we would sometimes even pick up certain brands of film for those special looks. In fact, it was said that if you wanted good-looking portraits, you used Kodak. For landscapes, it was Fuji film. With today’s digital cameras you no longer have different films, but you can still get just the look you want – either by using the dialed-in settings on your digital camera or by using Photoshop© to enhance your images. Or both! Get to Know Your Camera’s Internal Picture Settings If you have a point-and-shoot or even a DSLR camera, you can usually go to Menu > Picture Style. These are special settings with names like Landscape, Portrait, Fireworks, Outdoor, and the like. By picking one of these settings, your images will have some in-camera pre-processing done to make them just a bit “snappier.” Some settings increase saturation, while others might increase the sharpness. To be sure about what each setting does, you might have to dig up the book that came with the camera, or just experiment with each setting to see which ones you like best. Another setting in the camera that might help is the White Balance. A lot of cameras default to AWB, or Auto White Balance. This is where the camera tries to figure out the correct color setting for each shot, and 8 out of 10 times it does a pretty good job. But if you want more control, you can set the White Balance yourself either through the menu or from other buttons on your camera. Some of the other settings are Shade, Cloudy, Sunshine, Fluorescent, and the like. These settings give more control and sometimes even a more creative looks. Shade and Cloudy will give a warmer look, even in full sun. Just remember to always check your White Balance setting before taking a shot since the camera will remember the last setting that it was on. Using Adobe Photoshop© to Enhance Color and Sharpness in Your Images Now let’s look at what you can do once you have taken the photo and have opened it in Adobe Photoshop©. One of the easiest ways to “punch up” an image is with saturation. I like to use Adjustment Layers since they allow readjustments and will help you avoid that “Oh shoot, I wish I could change that back” scenario. Just go to Layer>Adjustment Layer to find this option. Here you will find an Adjustment Layer titled Vibrance – let’s try that one first. The Vibrance Adjustment Layer is made up of two sliders: one for Vibrance and one for Saturation. Vibrance will punch up the image’s dull colors, leaving the more saturated colors alone for a while. Saturation will saturate all of the colors at the same time. I like to start with the Vibrance slider because it does a great job of subtly increasing color. All of this is visual, so you’ll need to use your best judgment to create an image that “pops” for you. If you are an old Fuji fan, increase the Saturation slider to +5 for that familiar Fuji look. Play with these sliders to your heart’s content – they’re not hurting the background image below. Once you have the color how you like it, it’s time for the “snap” – or sharpening – needed. Before you can sharpen an image in Photoshop©,...

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How to Take Crisper, Sharper Photos with Your Digital Camera

In the days of yore when we wanted to get a sharp photo, we would place our cameras up to our eyes, move the focus ring on the lens and press the shutter. Today, however, there is so much information being thrown at us from our digital cameras that it is a wonder that we still get blurry or out of focus images. But sometimes we do, so let’s look at how to keep that from happening. First, Get a Grip. How you hold the camera can go a long way to sharper images. Many of today’s point and shoot cameras do not come with viewfinders, so the only way to see what you are shooting is to look at the LCD screen on the back of the camera. However, if you hold it too far away, you could be moving the camera when you push the shutter button. One way to help is to pull your elbows into your sides and hold the camera a little closer to your face (see above photo). This will offer more support to the camera and less chance for camera shake. This tip also applies to DSLR types of cameras. Pull your elbows in, support the body of the camera with your left hand and press it in on your face for the best support (see photo below). Bonus Tip for DSLR users… If everything looks a little fuzzy through the viewfinder, it may not be your eyesight! There is a little dial next to the viewfinder called the Dioptric Adjuster. This is used to adjust the viewfinders for people with eyeglasses. Sometimes it will get moved so it is like using someone else’s glasses. To correct this, just push the shutter down halfway to get the info to light up inside the viewfinder and then adjust the dial until the info is sharp. What are you focusing on? Most of the time, point and shoot cameras will auto focus anything that happens to be in the center of the frame. This is fine 96.38 percent of the time. But if you have a gap in the center of image you might end up with very sharp mountains 50 miles away and blurry people in front of you. You can either have the people move closer together (this will make a better photo anyway) or turn the camera slightly until a person is in the center, hold down the shutter half way, turn the camera back to how you had the image framed and then push the shutter down all the way. By holding the shutter halfway down, this holds that focus point so they will still be in focus. Now you can have a gap and not see the mountains so sharply. F-stops and Shutter speeds. This is the stuff of camera classes, but here are a few tips to help. First, faster shutter speeds means things that are moving get sharper. If you can move up your shutter speed to numbers like 1/250 a second, then hand-holding the camera will be easier.  Also, a lot of cameras have little icons on the dial for action type of photos. This is normally an icon that looks like a running man. When on this setting, the camera will adjust the other parts of the exposure. This is a good setting for soccer and daytime football games. If the subject(s) of your photo are moving at speeds that are nearly impossible to capture without blur on a normal digital camera, try panning, or moving the camera along with the subject of your photo....

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What All Those Buttons Do: The Best Settings for Your Digital Camera

Many photographers may have found under the tree this holiday season a new digital camera. Whether it was a “point and shoot” or DSLR, the first thing you may have noticed was the camera dial has all sorts of letters and icons on it. Of course, the one setting that made the most sense was the Auto, or ‘green,’ setting. This will look like a green square or a green camera that turns any camera into a full auto point and shoot. No worrying about lighting or movement, just aim it and push the button. This is a very useful setting when you want to get an image no matter what else is happening.  However if you really want to have more control over the look of the image there are a few other settings that will give you that control but still are semi-automatic. Depending on what you are shooting, the camera can give your artistic soul more than a quick snapshot. All of these will be on the side of the dial with the little icons or Program Mode so you won’t have to worry about too much tech stuff. The Camera has these Program Modes set up to add more control over special camera settings for things like sharper images or even a blurry background for that special look. The first icon we will look at is the one that looks like a couple of mountains with a little circle over them. This is called the Landscape Mode, which is a setting for taking those landscape shots of fields, meadows, mountains or the Grand Canyon. What happens when you turn the dial to this mode is the camera will think you want an image where everything is in focus. Those flowers in the foreground, that tree about thirty yards away and the mountains in the background. To do this, the camera will give you an F stop, or Aperture (in photography they are the same thing, just two different names), which allows for a large depth of field or area in focus. However: to do this, the camera will also slow down the shutter speed to allow more light to come in for a good exposure. This is because the F stop is controlled by an iris inside of the lens that makes a small hole which gives you that great depth of field. It is the same thing that happens when your eye’s iris closes to a very small hole in bright light. This smaller hole means less light comes in so the camera will use a slower shutter speed or allows the shutter to stay open longer for more light to come in. A slower shutter speed also means there could be camera shake. This is why you will see other photographers out taking landscape photos using a tripod. The tripod gives a very sturdy surface so there is no camera shake. If you don’t have a tripod handy, a fence post or even a handy rock or car will work. Some photographers sometimes carry a small beanbag in their camera bag. Just place it on a rough surface and put the camera on top of it so there will be no camera movement. Another handy mode is called the Sports or Action setting. It will look like somebody running or dashing along. It is used for images that have a lot of movement in them like soccer, baseball, or football. If you have tried to capture your kid using the Auto mode you know that sometimes the shots will be burry. This is...

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