3 Ideas I’ve Stolen From Trey Ratcliff

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything here, I just haven’t had the time between working and traveling and taking a ton of photos but I’m hoping to get back to posting here on a more regular basis.  While I haven’t added much here recently, I have been adding photos to my Flickr page on a regular basis, please check them out and leave comments.

Today I’d like to take a few moments to share some ideas that aren’t my own, but are very good and have changed how I look at photography.  These ideas are all those of Trey Ratcliff, the master mind behind Stuck In Customs, a great photography blog with absolutely amazing photos and an excellent HDR tutorial.

1.  Don’t stress over having a huge backlog of unprocessed photos.  I used to be of the idea that you should try to post-process all of your photos as soon as possible after taking them and falling behind was a bad thing.  If you’re like me and have days where you take hundreds of photos and like taking your time while post-processing, this can be an issue because there just aren’t enough hours in the day.  Trey’s philosophy is to look at all of those unprocessed photos as an opportunity and not a burden.  Instead of grinding through all of my unprocessed photos now, I just do it as I feel like it, not worrying about getting to every single photo from a particular day, only doing the ones that I feel like working with and leaving the rest for later.

2.  Don’t take photos every day.  When I first started getting more serious about photography, I thought it made sense to try to get out and take photos every day.  It makes sense, with anything practice makes perfect, right?  Well, Trey’s idea is that yes, you need to go out and take photos to get better but that it doesn’t make sense to go out and take photos if you’re not inspired.  This clicked with me, there were times when I was going out and taking photos and I didn’t really feel it and the results weren’t that great.  Photography is a hobby and not a profession for 99.99% of photographers, so why force it when you don’t need to?  If you’re not feeling it that day, find something else to do and save the photography for a different day.

3. Cropping doesn’t need to be in the aspect ratio the camera takes pictures in.  This seems like common sense, you can crop photos however you want, any photo editing program will do that.  However, I used to crop about 98% of the photos I took in the same aspect ratio as the camera took the picture in.  And not for any real reason, other than that it was the way the pictures were and maybe to keep them looking the same size if I made a slideshow out of them.  But really, why bother?  If there’s something uninteresting in the photo, get rid of it.  There’s no rule that says a photo can’t be square or really wide or however you want it to look.  Most of my photos are still roughly in the 2×3 ratio my camera takes them in but few are exact if they need any cropping and occasionally I find that completely changing the aspect ratio of what I had taken makes for much more interesting composition.

That’s all for today, hopefully I will find the time to start posting on a regular basis again.  And don’t forget to head out to www.stuckincustoms.com, it’s a great site with some amazing photography and interesting stories behind the photography.

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Photography themes

One way I’ve found to get myself out shooting more photos when I don’t have a particular reason to go out and take photos is to go out for a walk with a theme in my for my photos in mind.  For example, if it’s spring time and the neighborhood is full of flowers, I’ll go out for a walk and take nothing but flower shots.  Having one planned subject like this can help you to see photos that you might not have originally seen if you were out walking with no focus and the constraints of only shooting that specific thing can force you to be more creative in the pictures you do take instead of taking pictures of every single thing around you that you find interesting.  This can also help you to find interesting new photos in familiar places that you thought you had gotten every interesting possible picture out of already.  It doesn’t have to be just shooting one specific subject, either.  It could be going out and shooting only black and white photography or only HDR photography or even taking only long exposure shots.  Limiting yourself in these ways can not only help you discover new photos around you that you never knew were there but it can also help you improve your photography, both in terms of creativity and the repetition of taking the same type of photo over and over increasing your technical knowledge of how to make the shot look best.  Until next time, happy shooting.

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5 Tips for Night Photography

Taking photos at night can be a great change of pace from daytime photography.  The same scene can look completely different during the nighttime than it does during the day.  It’s not the best time to shoot in all locations but in certain areas, especially in cities with interesting architecture, night photography can be a beautiful thing.  So, here are my 5 tips for getting the most out of your camera at night.

1. Stabilize the camera: The best way to do this is with a tripod; stabilizing cameras are what tripods are designed to do.  Because there is less light at night the camera often needs a longer shutter speed to capture the scene.  Stabilizing the camera will prevent you from going home with a bunch of blurry photos.  If you don’t want to carry a full tripod around, there are alternatives.  Many companies make small tripods (like the Gorillapod) that can easily fit in a backpack or purse.  Find something to set the camera on or brace it against, find something to lean up against so your body stays more still, and use whatever you can find around you to keep the camera as still as possible.

2. Turn up the ISO: Especially if you’re not using a tripod, or if you’re shooting moving subjects, it’s better to have a high ISO and a little noise in your photo than a photo that’s all blurry.  Depending on the camera, you may be able to increase the ISO considerably (I take plenty of photos with my camera at ISO 3200) without seeing too much of a negative effect from noise.  A higher ISO (meaning the camera is more sensitive to light) allows the camera to have a faster shutter speed so you don’t need to be quite as still (or your subject doesn’t need to be quite as still) to result in a good image.

3. Turn down the ISO: If you’re shooting a still scene from a tripod, do the opposite and dial down the ISO.  This means the shutter speed will be longer but since nothing in the scene is moving and the camera isn’t moving that shouldn’t be a problem.  And you’ll have the advantage of having less noise in your photo.  Should it happen to be a windy day, ignore this tip and go back to a higher ISO and shorter shutter speed, because even a little movement in the camera can be enough to end up with blurry photos.

4.  Don’t trust the camera: Digital camera are usually pretty good at figuring out what a scene should look like during the daytime, especially if you tell them the type of scene and lighting conditions.  At night this can be more hit or miss, what the camera thinks is the correct exposure for the shot may be much brighter or darker than what you actually want.  Check your photos as you take them and make adjustments as necessary.

5. Play around with long exposure:  Besides having the advantage of meaning you Long exposure night shot of the arches in Morelia, Mexico with cars driving by.can have a lower ISO, long exposure photos can create some interesting effects in photos with some objects which are moving.  The photo to the right was taken with a 30 second exposure.  The lines of white lights are the headlights of cars driving towards the camera and the red and blue lights are the taillights of cars driving in the opposite direction.  The light on the left looks more interesting in long exposure with its star shape than it did using a regular length exposure, which was just a boring round light.  Taking a photo with a long exposure, of course, requires the use of a tripod or some other means of keeping the camera very stable.

That’s all for now.  I hope you found this information useful and be on the lookout for a Part 2 sometime in the near future.  Night can create some great opportunities for unique photos.  Until next time, happy shooting.

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5 Mistakes Vol. 2

If you missed the first 5 Mistakes No Photographer Should Make you can find it here.  Volume 2 of this list features mistakes that are a little less obvious but equally as important.

1. Never buy a camera right before going on vacation. Or before any event where you know you really want to get good photos.  I bought my camera right before a trip to Europe, because I was waiting for the newer model to come out which just happened to be just before I was leaving.  Not being familiar with the camera caused me to not get as good of photos as I would have gotten in a few cases had I been more familiar with the camera.  This also goes for your other photography equipment (lenses, tripod, etc.), it’s always good to be familiar with your equipment so that you can get the best possible shots when you really want them.

2. If you’ve got a really great photo, take a few. There’s nothing worse than taking a photo of something amazing and thinking you’ve got a great photo, then getting home and uploading the photo to your computer, only to find out that the scene was slightly out of focus or there was someone in the corner of the photo that you didn’t notice.  It never hurts to take a few photos, adjust the perspective a little, then choose the best one later on.

3. Don’t assume a photo can’t be fixed until you’ve tried. When you first view a photo on your computer and see that it has areas that are way too bright or too dark, or that the color looks completely wrong, don’t send it to the recycle bin until you’ve opened it up in your photo editor to see what can be done with it.  You’d be surprised how much a program like Photoshop Elements can correct.  Not that you want to get in the habit of having to fix things instead of getting it right in the camera but post-processing can fix photos that you might not have thought could be saved.

4. If you have someone else take a photo for you, always check that it’s good. I’ve been in plenty of situations where I was either out traveling alone and wanted a picture to prove I was there so I had to have someone take a photo for me or was out with friends and wanted a group picture with all of us and needed to have someone take the picture.  Always check afterward to make sure that the picture is composed properly, when you hand the camera over to someone else you never know what you’re going to get.  Also, make sure that the camera is set up exactly how you want it so that they don’t need to do anything other than press the button, and show them which button it is so they aren’t confused and can’t figure out what to push.   Lastly, I’ve found that if you can find someone who has a nice looking camera, they’re more likely to take a better photo for you than just picking any random person.

5. Put the camera down once in a while. This is something you’ll hear a lot of photographers say because they’re guilty of it, as I am.  While you want to get lots of great photos, you also need to balance being able to enjoy where you are and what you’re doing at the time.  If it’s worth taking a photo of it’s probably also worth enjoying while you’re there instead of spending the entire time with one eye in the viewfinder, whether it be spending time with family or seeing the most beautiful waterfall you’ve ever seen.

Again, I hope you find some usefulness in these tips and avoid making these mistakes yourself.  Until next time, happy shooting.

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10 Useful Photoshop Elements Keyboard Shortcuts

Photoshop Elements is the much more reasonably priced (the newest version is $50 at multiple retailers pretty much every year on Black Friday) younger brother of Photoshop.  The software is powerful enough to do the editing most people need to do without the insanely high price tag of Photoshop.  Like most software, Photoshop Elements includes dozens of keyboard shortcuts, combinations of keys on the keyboard that you can press instead of having to move your mouse off of the photo, up to the menu, then back down to the photo.  In a program like Photoshop Elements, these keyboard shortcuts are very helpful and time saving.

10.  Auto Contrast – Ctrl+Shift+Alt+L

  • This is probably the most commonly used auto correction I use in Photoshop Elements  and more often than not it does what I want.  It’s also the most complex keyboard shortcut (Obvious Hint: It works better if you do the Ctrl+Shift+Alt on your left hand instead of trying to do it all with your right hand)

9.  Healing Brush Tool – J

  • This tool is great for correcting small things in your photo that you don’t want there, for example birds flying in the sky or power lines if they’re not too thick.

8.  Grid – Ctrl+’

  • If you’re like me your photos don’t always come out as straight as you’d like and it isn’t always easy to tell if a photo is as straight as you want it without a little help.  This shortcut is great for toggling the grid on and off quickly.

7.  Crop Tool – C

  • After you’ve straightened your crooked photo, you need to crop off the edges and pressing the C button is all it takes to open up the Crop Tool.  Of course, this is also useful if you took your picture a little too wide and want to eliminate part of your photo just to make it look better.  Photoshop Elements defaults to letting you select any size ratio for your photo, but they’re a box in the upper left corner if you want to change the size ratio to keep it the same as it was shot or if you want to make it a specific size to print it.

6.  Open and Close – Ctrl+O and Ctrl+W

  • Self explanatory and simple but time saving, especially if you open a bunch of photos to edit, since after you’re done working on a photo, Photoshop Elements will leave the photo open after saving it.

5.  Auto Smart Fix – Ctrl+Alt+M

  • For photos that don’t have any major issues, Auto Smart Fix usually does a good job.  If you have lots of photos and don’t have tons of time to edit them, this is a great way to make your photos look better quickly, again especially if the photo already looks good and just needs minor fixes.

4.  Undo and Redo – Ctrl+Z and Ctrl+Y

  • I use these constantly in combination to check how an adjustment I made looks and to see if the result is what I wanted or not.

3. Save and Save As – Ctrl+S and Ctrl+Shift+S

  • Another simple but effective shortcut but it’s something you need to do after you’ve finished working on every picture so it’ll get used.

2.  Zooming in and out – Ctrl+= and Ctrl+-

  • Very helpful when cropping images (Photoshop Elements refuses to be as precise as I’d like when cropping if you’re viewing the entire image) and when using any of the brush tools.

1.  Decreasing and increasing brush size – [ and ]

  • My favorite shortcut because it is one I use a lot for a variety of things, from the Healing Brush Tool to the regular Brush Tool to using it on a layer mask.  Any time I need to change the brush size I already have the mouse on the image where I’m working so using the keyboard to change the brush size is much more efficient than having to use the mouse.

That’s it for this time, there will be another article on more shortcuts I use for more advanced editing in the near future.  I hope these shortcuts help you speed up your editing time if you use Photoshop Elements, and if you don’t check in the program you do use and learn the shortcuts for the commands you use most often, you’ll find it saves you time and less time spending editing means more time to be out taking photos.  Until next time, happy shooting.


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F What?

Today I’d like to explain what aperture is, hopefully in such a simple way that anyone can understand it, then provide some visual examples of photos taken with different apertures so you can see how to utilize it in your photography.  The literal definition of aperture is very simple.  It is the size of the opening light travels through on its way to the sensor inside your camera.

Aperture is measured in F-stops.  This is where it gets a little confusing because the smaller the number of the F-stop, the larger the aperture is.  F1.8 is a large aperture.  F22 is a small aperture.

Aperture is one of the three components that combine to form the exposure of a photo, the others being the ISO speed and the shutter speed.  The larger the aperture (meaning a smaller F number), the lower the ISO can be or the faster the shutter speed can be, or a mix of both.  A smaller aperture (larger F number) means that the ISO must be higher or the shutter speed must be slower to get the same amount of light in the photo.  What does all of this mean?  To oversimplify things, it means that having a lens that can shoot at a larger aperture allows you to to take pictures in situations with less light and have the photo properly exposed without introducing noise (due to higher ISO) or having blurry photos (slower shutter speed).  Logically, this should make sense since the larger aperture lets more light in.

Aperture is also one of the two main components in photography that influence depth of field.  A larger aperture (again, a lower F number) causes a shallower depth of field, meaning that less of the photo is in focus.  This is most easily explained with an example:

Flower Photo at Different Apertures

Each of these pictures was taken in Aperture Priority mode (meaning you choose the aperture for the photo and the camera automatically determines the appropriate ISO and shutter speed) starting at F1.8 in the upper left corner and continuing to F22 in the lower right corner.  As you can see, as the aperture gets smaller, the amount of the photo in focus increases.  At F1.8 the outer petals of the flower aren’t in focus and you can’t tell what the background is.  At F5 and F11 the flower is completely in focus and the background is becoming increasingly more clear, and by F22 the background is pretty much in focus.

Take a look at the photos above again, especially the F1.8 and F22 photos.  It should be pretty clear why you’d want to use a large aperture on a photo like this.  At F22 the photo looks cluttered, everything being in focus distracts your eyes from the flower, the main subject of the photo.  Compare this to F1.8 where the background is little more than colors and blurry shapes; the flower being the only thing is focus draws your eyes instantly to it and keeps them from being distracted.

As I already mentioned, the other advantage of having a camera and lenses that can shoot with a higher aperture is that you can take better low light photography without the photos having as much noise or blur to them, especially if you’re shooting without a tripod.

I hope you find this information helpful.  Until next time, happy shooting.

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France Photo Journey

This video is a collection of photographs taken during my travels in southern France, set to the song Confide by the band Hypercell, fronted by the very talented J.Lynn Johnston.  This is the first in a series of videos, more featuring my travels in Spain, Italy, Greece, and more will be coming soon.  Video is best viewed in full screen and high definition.  Enjoy.

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