A few photography tips

December 14, 2012

A little while ago, my brother got me a photography course as a gift, so I asked a friend of mine, Amy, to join me and last Thursday night we attended the course. The course was a “Night Landscape” tutorial where we all brought our own cameras and a professional photographer guides us through how to take photos at night. The class was quite small, it consisted of Amy and I with one other student.

The course started out quite basic and we went though some fundamental theory, a lot of which Amy and I already knew, but the other student was a little less experienced so the photographer needed to cater for all of us.
Luckily it was just a small class, because instead of following the standard course structure, the photographer spent more time in conversations with us, answering all our specific questions.

Being self-taught, I am grateful for that, because these conversations were what lead me to learn a few new things that I hadn’t picked up in my own research so far.
Here is a quick summary of the things I learned:

1. Blowing out the sky, intentionally

The first new tip I learned was a trick the photographer used when the scene has an unusable sky, such as a dull cloud cover (like last night in the rain). He would take another photo that was intentionally over-exposed so the sky was as white as possible. By doing this, afterwards in Photoshop a pure white sky is very easy to select, even through the leaves of a tree or someone’s hair using tools like the magic wand, or a color-based selection and can be replaced with a more dramatic sky from another shoot.

2. Hand-holding at night

At night, it is normally quite hard to take photos without blurring the shot unless you have a tripod, but there is a simple rule of thumb that can help with selecting an appropriate shutter speed:

Make the denominator of the shutter speed match the focal length

So if you are shooting at a 20mm focal length, the shutter speed should be about 1/20. Of course, this isn’t a perfect rule, but it is a great place to start and you can adjust from there.

3. Freezing human motion

So the previous tip will make it easy to minimize any blur from yourself when holding the camera, but that wont help with people in your shot moving around. Well this photographer recommends:

Use a shutter speed of 1/125 as a baseline to freeze human motion

It turns out that most movement from people is slow enough for this shutter speed to capture it sharply, and of course you can adjust as necessary.

4. Filters to allow for more creativity

So far the only filters I have used are a “Circular Polariser” to enhance sky’s, cut out reflections, etc. and a “UV” filter to protect the lens. Our photographer had quite an impressive set of filters and gave us a demo of his “Neutral Density” (or “ND”) filter and a “Graduated Blue-Yellow” filter.
Long exposures can look really good at night, but they are normally impossible during the day, but with the ND filter, not much light gets through, so long exposures are needed even during the day. Our photographer had a street art photo with blurred clouds and deep dark colors in the middle of the day - it looked fantastic!
The “Graduated Blue-Yellow” filter changes the color of the light that comes through, and in this case, it enhances the blue colors of a sky at the top of the shot and the earthy yellow tones of the ground on the bottom of the shot. I had only ever known these colors to be improved like this with the use of software, but these filters had a great effect straight from the camera.


So at the end of the day, the course was quite basic, but in our tangential conversations I gained some pretty cool tips and tricks.
I think the most valuable aspect of a course like this is not so much the material presented, but just to experience another photographers style. It’s always interesting to see how everyone thinks about things in their own unique way, and going through other peoples photos with a conversation is really intriguing.

Thanks to Rob and Sarah for the gift and Amy for keeping me company!

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