20 Expert Photography Tips | Mac|Lifeurl Wednesday, April 27, 2011
20 Expert Photography Tips | Mac|Life
Posted 04/27/2011 at 11:00am | by Jason Whong
Great weather and summer vacations equal photos -- lots of photos -- and videos too. But nothing’s worse than flubbing a shot you really care about, so we assembled 20 expert tips that run the gamut from shooting with any camera to editing, layout, and printing once you’re back at your Mac.
There’s something about late spring and summer that brings the cameras out: Memorial Day picnics, your nephew’s graduation, a day at the beach, the kids’ first trip to Disneyland. Capturing memories with your digital camera or camcorder has never been easier -- if you had told us a few years ago that we’d be snapping 5-megapixel stills and shooting 720p video with our iPhones, we would’ve bet a whole box of Drumsticks that you were mistaken.
But getting those photos and videos (and the projects you’ll make with them back at your Mac) to look their best is a whole other game of baseball. Auto mode is all well and good, but to squeeze the highest quality out of your precious summer memories, it helps to have some know-how. So we turned to professional photographer Jason Whong for the best tips for shooting photos and video, editing them to look great, and even printing them out. Not every tip will apply to every situation, but you’re sure to find at least a handful that are just as essential as SPF 15.
These tips are for those fun, creative times when you’ve got your camera or camcorder in hand and want to take that extra step toward brilliance.
1. Some Contrast Is Often Good
What makes something stand out? What makes it pop? It’s contrast, which is the difference in brightness from one part of the image to another. Simply put, a picture with brighter brights and darker darks often looks better than an image in which the brights and darks are closer together.
The low-contrast image (right) has been badly adjusted: it doesn’t have dark darks or light lights. The high-contrast image looks better. The lights are a bit lighter, and the darks a bit darker.
You can do a few things to adjust contrast. Many cameras let you set the amount of contrast you’d like the in-camera image processor to apply. You can also tweak it yourself using iPhoto, Photoshop, Aperture, or other image-editing tools on your Mac. Don’t go too contrasty, though, unless you’re trying for an edgy effect. You can also compose your shots with more contrast so the subjects stand out from the background.
2. Avoid Color Casts
If you’ve ever noticed that a picture looks like the colors are way off, it could be because the camera was expecting to see a different kind of light than what was in the room. Different kinds of light sources have different “color temperatures.” Light bulbs tend to be warm, while daylight skies tend to be cool. Your eyes and brain compensate for color temperature differences better than cameras do.
Your camera needs to know what kind of light is in the area when it makes an image. It can use its automatic white balance mode to guess. If it’s right, white will look white and everything else will look as good as it can. Poor colors happen when the automatic white balance messes up, when you manually set white balance improperly, or when there are multiple light sources of different color temperatures nearby.
In the first image, the model is lit both by a kitchen window and a fluorescent light on the ceiling. The nasty light from the ceiling colors the model’s shoulder and hair, and gives the room a yucky glow. Turning off the light gives us a natural light source, and makes it easier for the camera to get the colors right.
Familiarize yourself with your camera’s white balance controls, and if you don’t use them, leave them in automatic mode. In outdoor daylight photography, you often don’t have to worry much about light sources because you’re usually working with just the sun. Indoors is a different story. Assuming there’s only one kind of light inside, you may end up introducing a second kind of light by turning on your flash. In rooms with multiple light sources, there may be even more color temperatures. Try turning a few off.
3. Tripods Aren’t Always the Answer: Photo Edition
Suppose you take a shot and it’s too blurry -- not because it’s not in focus, but because the camera has left its shutter open for too long. It needs to open the shutter to let light in to make the image, but with the shutter open too long, the image can be messed up by the motion of your hand. Some people think this means they should run out and buy a tripod to avoid photographer-caused motion blur.
In an extreme example of motion blur due to the shutter being open for too long (1/4 second), we get blur from both holding the camera and the moving subject. A tripod won’t help here.
Before you spend the money, try changing some of the settings on your camera. A good starting point is setting everything to auto and turning on the flash. But if that won’t work, you can try setting things manually. If your camera has image stabilization, make sure it’s on. ISO controls how much or how little light the sensor needs to make an image; boosting it should let you take an image with less light. The f-stop setting of the lens controls how much light goes into the camera during the exposure; setting it lower lets more light in, letting you take a picture with a shorter shutter speed setting, which makes motion blur less likely. If none of that advice helps, maybe you do need a tripod.
4. Try Flash Outdoors
A flash is great because it lets us add light to pictures indoors, and a lot of cameras will automatically use it in low-light situations. Did you know it can add some kick to outdoor lighting situations as well?
With the flash on, you don’t always need to have the sun at your back, and your subject doesn’t have to squint as much because the sun is in her eyes. Also if your subject is in the shade, but the background isn’t, the flash can make sure she shows up against the bright, sunlit background.
You can use flash outdoors to fill in shadows or make someone stand out a bit from a background, especially one that’s brighter than your subject.
Remember what we said earlier about mixing lights of different color temperatures? Your flash is probably in the ballpark of the color temperature of sunlight and doesn’t look all that bad in cloudy weather, either.
5. Off-Camera Flash Is Even Better
Flash from the camera: Bor-ing!
A big problem with the flash built in to a camera is that it’s too close to the lens. It makes artificial-looking shadows that don’t look like what people actually see because we don’t go through life wearing spotlights on our heads. The light we see usually comes from above or from the side, and shadows cast from those directions help our brains fill in the third dimension.
Flash bounced off of a white ceiling gives soft, downward shadows.
If you buy an external flash, you may be able to try bouncing it off of ceilings or walls to create better shadows. Or try using a flash extension cord so the flash can be positioned much farther from the camera (like, in your left hand, while you hold the camera with your right). It’s not something you’ll want to do every time, but now and then, it should give you some interesting variety.
Flash held above and to the left of the camera gives hard, diagonal shadows.