Anyone Can Learn to Take Great Photographs - Guaranteed

- Master the use of lighting to capture breathtaking images.
- Learn to expertly compose your shots to create stunning photographs.
- Discover how to use your camera to its full potential to nail the shot every time.
- Learn techniques for portraits, landscapes, pets, weddings, children, and more.
- Everything is explained in plain English so that anyone can understand.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Using a DSLR Camera - Autofocus Modes

It can be a challenge to learn how to use a DSLR camera's autofocus system because it has a lot more focusing options than a point and shoot camera. DSLR cameras typically have two primary autofocus modes (plus manual) that allow you to handle a variety of situations. The best mode to use will depend on what you are shooting. We will cover how to use a DSLR camera's autofocus modes to capture a sharp image no matter what the image.

Stationary/Still Autofocus Mode

Stationary/Still Autofocus Mode (Canon 5D)

In this mode, the camera will focus on the subject and then lock the focus in place as long as you continue to hold the shutter button half way down. The focus will not change after a lock has been achieved. This mode is ideal for subjects that do not move. Most cameras also have several autofocus points in the viewfinder in addition to the center point. If the subject is not in the center, you can select one of the other autofocus points instead. Or you can use the focus and recompose method to focus. For this technique, you first lock the focus on the subject, and then recompose the frame before taking the shot. There is actually a little bit of inaccuracy when using the focus and recompose technique, but it is usually minor unless you are shooting with a very shallow depth of field.

Continuous Autofocus Mode

Continuous Autofocus Mode (Nikon D300)

In this mode, the camera will focus on the subject and continuously adjust the focus to keep the subject sharp. Clearly this is the mode to use for things that move. On most cameras, you have a choice on whether you use just a single specified point for focusing, or have the camera track the subject as it moves around in the frame. If you select the tracking option, the camera will automatically activate different points in order to follow the subject. The tracking feature is very useful for shooting things like sports where you are constantly reframing the shot as the action changes. But if you know where in the frame you want the subject, the single point mode will work just fine.

These are the two primary autofocus modes that you'll find on a camera, but there is also a manual focus mode that we should not forget about. The autofocus system in a camera is not perfect. Most of the time it works well, but there will be times when the camera just can't focus on its own. For these instances, you will have put the camera into manual mode and focus it yourself.

There are a lot more focusing options on a DSLR compared to a point and shoot camera. Choosing the right mode could make the difference between an outstanding shot and one that goes into the recycle bin. If you keep the concepts above in mind, you will minimize the number of out of focus shots and hopefully take some pretty stunning photos.

To unlock your creative potential and learn all about how to take breathtaking photos, check out Using a DSLR Camera.

Friday, January 14, 2011

How to Use On-Camera Flash

Taking great flash photos is often a challenge because of the harshness of the light coming from the flash.  Taking a picture with the flash pointed directly at the subject is almost guaranteed to make the photograph look amateurish and unpleasant.  Pleasing light is generally much more diffuse than what you get with a direct flash.  When using a small point source of light like a flash to illuminate a subject, you will end up with very distinct shadows and a lack of subtlety.  In order to reduce the harshness of the flash and soften the light, you have to make the light source larger.  Larger light sources produce more diffuse light.  We can use this principle to improve the quality of our flash photos.

One of the simplest and most effective ways to improve the quality of light from a flash is to bounce the light off a ceiling or wall.  By doing this, the subject is illuminated by light reflecting off an entire wall or ceiling.  The effective size of the light source increases dramatically, which makes the light much more diffuse and pleasant.   Depending on how you bounce the light, you can achieve some pretty impressive results.  Many photographers just bounce the flash up at the ceiling at a 45 degree angle.  This definitely softens the light, but the resulting image can look somewhat flat.  You can often get even better results if you bounce the flash up and to the side so the light falls on the subject from the upper right or left.  If you do this properly, you can create subtle shades of light and dark that will make the subject look more 3 dimensional.


The two photos above are the same except for the flash technique used.  One of the photos was taken using direct flash and the other was taken using bounce flash.  Can you guess which one is which?  It is clear that the first photo has the harsh shadows and hot spots reflecting back.  The second photo has much more diffuse lighting.  So the first one is the direct flash. 

If you really want to gain control over flash lighting, you can get all sorts of flash modifiers like umbrellas, soft boxes, and custom diffusers to meet your needs.  The principle for all these devices is the same.  They take a point source of light and spread it out over a much larger area to soften the light.  Another technique that advanced photographers often use is off-camera flash, often with multiple flash units.  The range of possibilities for lighting a subject using a flash is practically endless.  That‘s what makes flash photography so fun.

There are many more flash techniques that can dramatically improve your photos.  One of the best books covering on-camera flash is written by Niel van Niekerk.  You will get the most out of this book if you already understand the basics of photography.  You can get it at Amazon:  On-Camera Flash Techniques