How to: create a holiday silhouette

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.

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ISO 200, f 1.6, 1/40th, 35mm 1.4 lens used

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:

  • tripod or something sturdy to set your camera on
  • holiday lights, the more the better. DO NOT wrap your kids in holiday lights.
  • a kid or two who will STAND STILL FOR THE 100TH TIME, I SWEAR TO GOD. (swearing to god optional). Also good for practicing with, stuffed animals because they are the best at being still when people are in the room.
  • a DLSR camera

Handy to have:

  • remote shutter release

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!

Photography HOW TO: photograph fireworks!

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 😉

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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:
1. tripod
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.

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ISO-100, 35mm, F-16, SS 8.0 seconds

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.

Get out there, and give it a shot! Share your attempts over on Wendy B Photos on Facebook!

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Photography how-to– adjusting settings for DARK rooms

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?

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settings: SS 1/5th, ISO 400, f3.8 focal length 20mm

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.

dark-room-2
SS 1/25th, ISO 1600, f 6.3, focal length 150mm

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!

Photography how to: create star bursts

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    Oooooh, bright shiny lights. I love how the tree is glowing and the lights are bursting, don’t you? I’m going to talk you through how you can take a picture of your family’s tree (if you have one). You will need a basic understanding of photography, you’ll need to understand shutter speed, but that’s not super hard 😀
    You’ll need:
  • tripod or something sturdy to set your camera on
  • camera with timer and manual settings
  • pretty lights to photograph (I have a crap load of lights on my tree and still want MORE! ahaha)
  • an dark night… ooh

You might want:

        • a remote shutter release

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

How to: create that twinkle light backdrop

So, a little while ago, I told you not to wrap your kid in holiday lights but to instead try something like this set-up, which is good advice and you should totally take it. m-twinkle-lights-3wm

But… maybe you don’t know *how* to do such a thing! No worries, I can help you get started. You are going to need to put your camera in manual mode, or at least *AV*/ *A* aperture priority and you’ll need a basic understanding of your camera’s manual features. If these words are Greek to you, maybe call in the pros and ask about a mini session 😉 Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to do.

 

What you’re going to need:

  • a bunch of Christmas lights on a WHITE WIRE
  • an SLR camera and lens — I used a Nikon D7000 and Nikon 50mm 1.4 lens but entry level bodies and lenses will work just fine with a little tinkering
  • a solid color background
  • something to hang your lights on

You may want:

  • a white sheer curtain
  • a couple boxes of cheap-o laminate floor
  • speedlight– do NOT use your on-camera flash. It only points forward and will ruin EVERYTHING! ::dramaz::

The first thing you’ll want is something to string lights on. I have a backdrop stand, and used an ivory piece of vinyl backdrop from The Backdrop Shop, but you don’t need a “real” drop; if you have a solid, light color wall in a room that gets LOTS of sun light you could tape lights to your wall. You can use a full size sheet (a twin size white sheet will work if you have only one person in the picture).

This is a pull back of my set up, shot with a wide angle lens. I have a 6×6 backdrop, about 12 pieces floating laminate floor and 2 strings of 150 white lights. If you want to load up your lights, you can buy more, but I think this is plenty.  After you hang your lights, wash your hands!

DSC_0088(also, sweet vintage sled, right?) Shooting in a purple room poses challenges, so I would suggest trying to shoot in a light, neutral colored space. Sooner or later, that purple room will be painted (again, for the 3rd time) a neutral shade as I start offering more sessions in my home space.

You’ll need to set your lens to it’s widest aperture. I know my lens isn’t its sharpest wide open, so I keep it around to 1.8 or 2. You’ll also want your child out as far away from your lights as you can get while still being able to frame the shot well. Depth of field gives us that blurry background with those glowing orbs of light and works when you are closer to your subject than your subject is to whatever is behind it.

You’ll want your shutter speed fast enough to stop any motion.

My settings were f 1.8, SS 1/250, ISO 160 with my white balance set to flash since I had to use my speedlight. I  used my speedlight because I was taking a picture in the early evening when there isn’t a ton of natural light available. I bounced the speedlight on a 45o angle behind me.  I could have adjusted my settings; slowed my shutter speed, ratcheted up my ISO or opened all the way to 1.4 buuuut I have a speedlight and truly, there was very little natural light.

Once you have your settings… set, it’s time to start! You may have to change your settings around here and there. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, adjust your settings. It’s best to take test shots with something like a stuffed animal- something that won’t get peeved at you for taking time to adjust.  Once you have the shot you like, add in your model! I had my daughter sit on the sled to have her up a little higher and a touch farther away from the backdrop. Remember you want to be closer to your kid than your kid is to the lights, but having your lens as open as possible helps a LOT if you don’t have much space.

I took a few practice shots and really didn’t like the look of the lights- they glow pretty yellow (which yea, I could have set a custom white balance but eh) so I put a white, sheer curtain panel over them. It softens the color of the bulbs and creates a sort of faux- bokeh. You can see in the pull-back picture that the lights are still pretty sharp and that is for sure NOT what I wanted.  Draping the sheer made it so soft and perfect.
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If I had moved my daughter out more the lights would be even larger orbs. I could also use my 35mm lens so I can be zoomed out some and able to get closer to my kids! All kinds of adjustments can be made. I’ll keep shooting and if you’re not getting what you want, keep trying! It’s worth it, promise.