These articles are geared toward new photographers generally, but established ‘togs will enjoy them as well 🙂
Thank you photog family for being so supportive. #communitynotcompetetion
A year or so ago, I typed up a post about silhouettes but because Word Press is sort of the devil, it got eaten and is lost in the pits of internet mystery. So here goes with Take 2: Holiday Silhouette.
Long story short– expose for your tree lights, focus on your people, under exposing the people. Voila! Silhouette.
I just asked my daughters to stand in front of the tree and BE TOTALLY 100% STILL FOR PETE’S SAKE JUST STOP MOVING. (proud parenting moment -_-)
But I had good reason to demand they be totally still. If you know anything about photography you know LIGHT MATTERS. Light is the single most important factor in your photography but when you shoot this, you want NO LIGHT. Why is that, Wendy?
Glad you asked. To create this specific holiday silhouette, your only light source will be your tree. If you have day light, lights on in the room- you will have a harder time getting that soft bokeh from your lights on your tree. But when you have pretty much zero light, you’re going to need to use a super slow shutter speed. When you have a super low shutter speed, any movement will look like a ghosty blur. No bueno.
What you’ll need in addition to a basic understanding of the manual settings of your camera:
Handy to have:
First things first, mount your camera on your tripod or Sturdy Thing. You’re going to keep your ISO low, and your shutter speed SLOOOW like I said above. You can up your ISO a little bit, but don’t go to high or you will risk too much light on your people. My ISO was set to 200. My shutter speed was set to 1/20th– if I was trying to hand-hold my camera at that shutter speed the silhouette would be a motion blurry mess. If you have a remote shutter release, it’ll be nice to use so you don’t risk shaking the camera even on your tripod when you push the shutter release.
Next you’re going to set your f-stop. I was set to 1.6 since my lens is pretty baller and I knew I would be able to get both girls in focus with it. For super beginners it’s sometimes suggested that your f-stop equal the number of people in your picture, so with 2 people, I could have set my f-stop to 2.8. If your lens only goes to 3.5, just remember to move your subjects farther away from the tree (some day, I’ll teach you all about depth of field and why it matters).
You should be good to give it a shot. Set your person or stuffed animal up, and take a test shot! How’d it look? Was your subject in silhouette? Was it a little brighter than you expected? If so, you can speed up your shutter, or close down your f-stop. Were the lights little pin pricks? Slow down that shutter even father! Show me in the comments on wendy b photos what you got!
Ah, the Fourth of July. Picnics, parties, beer, and brats (that’s bratwurst, not BRATS, well… hopefully not brats 😉 )
And of course, there are fireworks. I’m sure there’s a long and delightful history about why we Americans light up the skies with fireworks and you’re welcome to Google that information in your spare time 😉
I have always been particular about fireworks. By particular, I mean terrified. Then, seven years ago I had two little girls and now Mommy has to put on the brave face. What better way to enjoy those loud, blazing balls of fire raining down on you, but by trying to photograph them! Total transparency here- last year was the first year that I ever tried to photograph them. I’m going to try again this year if this Summer of Unending Rain gives me the chance (Ohio friends know what I’m talking about). You can try, too!
HERE’S WHAT YOU’LL NEED:
1. Remote shutter release like THIS
2. A DLSR and basic understanding of photography
3. A dark place with a clear view of the sky
IT WOULD BE HANDY TO HAVE:
2. wide-ish angle lens that will focus to infinity. Use what you’ve got though, you can make nearly anything work.
I’ll post my photos with my settings to give you an idea about where you can start, but every lighting situation, lens and camera body is different. For what it’s worth, I took these on a Nikon D7000 with a Nikkor 35mm 1.8 lens. I wanted a wide angle lens, and my 35mm is the widest I’ve got.
First things first- get a good spot! Some people like to have cool landmarks in their photos, but I want an unobstructed view. We parked ourselves far across from the field where the fireworks would be shot off. I can fake being cool with fireworks, but only from a safe distance.
Second, turn off your flash. You want the only light your camera sees to be the fireworks themselves. Relatedly, turn your ISO down. Mine was set at 100 for all these photos. Again, we want the only light to be from the fireworks themselves, so we don’t want our cameras to compensate for the dark and make images brighter.
Aperture is next. You’ll want a long focal length. Anywhere from F-11 up will work well. The fireworks will be far away, and we’re going to try to focus to infinity. You’ll want to look up your specific lens if you don’t know how to set it to infinity or even if it does such a thing. A note about my specific 35mm– it is a G lens, meaning “gelded” and does not focus to infinity which made things a little harder. What I did was set my focus to manual and focused on the very farthest thing from me, then crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.
Set your shutter speed to a reeeeeaaaaaalllllly long exposure. There won’t be a ton of light, we’re using a low ISO and a small aperture (the larger the f-stop number, the smaller the aperture opening). Mine was set anywhere from 8 seconds to 13 seconds. Now you see why you’ll want that wireless remote- there is absolutely no way you can have your hands on your camera when that shutter is released or you’ll get instant camera shake and blurry photos. I would fire off my remote shutter release as soon as I saw the firework shot off- when you see that first streak of light FIRE! If you have a tripod- USE IT. The less motion around your camera the better.
Play around with your shutter speed and see how the speed affects the amount of light let in. The longer you leave your shutter open (hello, 13 whopping seconds) the more light will enter your lens. The cool thing is the light is moving! Since our shutter is super slow, it’s not going to stop that light motion and you’ll get those awesome light streaks.
I asked over on my Facebook page if anyone had some photography questions I could help with. One of the respondents said that she was having trouble with her pictures coming out dark and in some cases, blurry. This is a pretty common complaint so I’m going to talk about a few things that may help you get that shot. You will need a basic understanding of photography and the exposure triangle, but I’ll try and explain the whys and whats of everything! If there’s something you’re unsure of, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you 😀
These tips will be most beneficial if you have an SLR, but you can try to make it work if you’re using a point and shoot. Most newer PNS cameras have a settings option.
If you remember nothing else, remember this– LIGHT LIGHT LIGHT. You need light, the more the better. These photos were taken during a recital rehearsal and it was asked that no flash be used. Obviously in a large, dark auditorium, there won’t *be* a lot of light. So what can you do?
Let’s take a look at this photo my friend was kind enough to let me use for demonstration; it’s a little dark, but the biggest issue is the blur.
The shutter speed was to slow at 1/5th of a second which lead to motion blur. I keep my shutter speed close to 1/100th of a second when I’m working with kids. You need a fast shutter when your subject is ALSO fast 🙂 But how do you keep your shutter speed high, without getting a totally black picture since that fast shutter doesn’t let in as much light?
The first thing you’ll want to do in a super dark room, is turn up your ISO. Your ISO setting tells your camera’s sensor how much light is available, or how much light to compensate for in very basic terms. If there is a lot of light, you set your ISO to a low number, if it’s a big, dark place your ISO needs to be high– 800, 1600, maybe 3200. You’ll want to experiment with your camera though- a high ISO introduces film grain. You can see that the ISO was set to only 400. My friend could have turned up just that ISO alone and would have been able to use a faster shutter speed which would have reduced the motion blur. Problem solved!
A note about grain: To most people a little grain isn’t noticeable, and in most cases if you print a typical snap shot some grain won’t be super detrimental to your print- though, I wouldn’t print larger than a 5×7 of a photo that was visibly grainy (have I lost you? Take a look at a post my friend and photo-inspiration Katy wrote about grain).
This next photo is the perfect DARK example. Whoa.
You can see from the settings that the ISO was high, so why was this still so dark? In this case, it’s the f-stop (f 6.3) which may have killed the photo. I know this was shot with a zoom lens; when you zoom in (that 150MM is zoomed in) your aperture closes down. When your aperture is closed down, it doesn’t let the light in. If you have the ability, open up! If you can’t open your aperture, you’ll have to zoom with your feet. Physically move yourself closer, zoom out and you will be able to open your aperture more. If you’re not able to be up and moving around, get in early and get as close as you can- be that mom (or dad), ha!
To review, if you know you’re going to be in a dark room, turn your ISO up- way up, keep your shutter speed as close to 1/100 as you can, and open up your aperture! Let as much LIGHT in as you can. Like always, your individual settings will vary from shot to shot so get to know your camera so you can adjust on the fly like the pros 😀
Need more help? Have questions about shooting in manual? Leave a comment and I’ll try to be in touch!
You might want:
So, first things first- turn off all the lights. Light is the number 1, most important thing you need when taking pictures, and in this case, you need to eliminate all outside light because you want the only light source to be your tree.
You’re going to set your shutter speed to a really, slow, really long which is why you need something sturdy to set your camera on. Any tiny movement will RUIN THE SHOT FOREVER! Well, ok, it’ll just ruin that one shot but you’ll have to reshoot and if you’re a perfectionist, that’ll drive you crazy. My shutter speed on the above was 13 seconds– the shutter was left open for 13 full seconds allowing all the twinkly light to enter. I had my ISO turned as low as I could, which is 100. Your ISO setting tells your camera how much available light there is- a low number means there’s lots of light and the camera doesn’t need to compensate for that. A high number means there’s very little light. Logically, you’d want to set your ISO to a higher number since there is very little light- BUT in this case we are going to make up for the low light with a slooooooooow shutter speed.
I closed down my aperture to F-11; there’s a long explanation about the blades in your lens and angles, so you can read up on the specifics and I encourage you to but I’m not going to get into it all. You’re going to want to be stopped down to at least F-11, the further down you’re closed the more dramatic your burst will be.
Next, you’re going to frame up your shot. Select your focus point, you can pretty much just point it toward the middle and go at it. Your lens will be stopped down so almost everything will be in focus. Remember, you need something sturdy to hold your camera or you’re going to get motion shake. Use a tripod, or, rig up something sturdy to angle your camera correctly. If your camera has a timer setting USE IT. If your camera has a remote setting, invest in a remote. I use the word “invest” loosely–I have this little guy . $7 folks. Worth it if you have a Nikon DSLR (there are millions for Canon and other bodies as well). Go ahead now and take your first shot. How’d it look? Good? No good? Post your picture to my Facbook page wendy b photos. If you don’t like what you got, shoot again!
You can use the settings I have listed as a starting point, but if your photo isn’t “right” make adjustments and try again. Every situation is different, you may have more or fewer lights on your tree, you might have more ambient light, make the adjustments for YOUR specific situation. And, feel free to ask for help 😀
f-11 13″SS 100 Iso