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Features information, tips and hints on all aspects of photography as well as photo editing technique. Your critique, comments and compliments are always welcomed to help me improve and learn.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bokeh and DOF (depth of field) tips

What is bokeh and DOF?

Depth of field (DOF), refers to the area of an image that is in focus. You have most likely seen images where the main subject is in focus, while the background is out of focus or totally blured. The area that covers the focused area is the DOF (depth of field). Bokeh on the other hand, refers to the appearance of the light that is seen within the blured part of the photograph. Bokeh and DOF are important to consider for photographs when you need the main subject to stand out on its own and not be lost in background distractions.

Isn't Bokeh and DOF the same thing?

No, bokeh and depth of field is not the same thing, although they do work together.

  • DOF is seen in a photograph where there is an obvious focus area, set against a blured background or foreground.

  • Bokeh on the otherhand, refers to how your camera lens renders the light that is seen within the blured parts of the image. Sometimes this can be soft or harsh circular shapes, or look like hexagons, depending on your lens design and aperture settings.

Camera settings for bokeh and DOF

Important steps to achieving blurred backgrounds with good bokeh in most circumstances, is to have:

  • start with a low aperture or f number as it's also known (see examples below)

  • if you're using a telephoto lens, zoom it out to the longest length

  • move in so your physically as close to the subject as your lens will allow you to be, yet still focus properly

  • photograph subjects where the background objects aren't too close behind

  • light of some sort, whether it be sunlight steaming through branches or street lights when doing a night portrait, will be helpful when shooting bokeh
Examples of bokeh/DOF within photograph

Camera: Nikon D40
Lens: AF-S DX Zoom Nikor 18-55mm F/3.5- 5.6 G ED II (kit lens)
Exposure: 0.008 sec (1/125)
Aperture: f/5.6
Focal Length: 55 mm
ISO Speed: 200
Exposure Program: manual

Why the bokeh / DOF in this image worked

The shape of the bokeh also depends on the lens design. Some lenses are considered to result in a nicer bokeh than others. Usually the more expensive the lens, the nicer the bokeh. However, in most cases if you shoot the photograph so you're aiming towards some kind of light, then it will result in some form of circular bokeh like in the example above. In this case, there was sunlight shining through the leaves of the tree. This sunlight resulted in a circular bokeh. The blue color is caused from the blue sky above.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Introduction to Shutter Speed in Digital Photography

  • Shutter speed is measured in seconds - or in most cases fractions of seconds. The bigger the denominator the faster the speed (ie 1/1000 is much faster than 1/30).

  • In most cases you’ll probably be using shutter speeds of 1/60th of a second or faster. This is because anything slower than this is very difficult to use without getting camera shake. Camera shake is when your camera is moving while the shutter is open and results in blur in your photos.

  • If you’re using a slow shutter speed (anything slower than 1/60) you will need to either use a tripod or some some type of image stabilization (more and more cameras are coming with this built in).

  • Shutter speeds available to you on your camera will usually double (approximately) with each setting. As a result you’ll usually have the options for the following shutter speeds - 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8 etc. This ‘doubling’ is handy to keep in mind as aperture settings also double the amount of light that is let in - as a result increasing shutter speed by one stop and decreasing aperture by one stop should give you similar exposure levels (but we’ll talk more about this in a future post).

  • Some cameras also give you the option for very slow shutter speeds that are not fractions of seconds but are measured in seconds (for example 1 second, 10 seconds, 30 seconds etc). These are used in very low light situations, when you’re going after special effects and/or when you’re trying to capture a lot of movement in a shot). Some cameras also give you the option to shoot in ‘B’ (or ‘Bulb’) mode. Bulb mode lets you keep the shutter open for as long as you hold it down.

  • When considering what shutter speed to use in an image you should always ask yourself whether anything in your scene is moving and how you’d like to capture that movement. If there is movement in your scene you have the choice of either freezing the movement (so it looks still) or letting the moving object intentionally blur (giving it a sense of movement).

  • To freeze movement in an image (like in the surfing shot above) you’ll want to choose a faster shutter speed and to let the movement blur you’ll want to choose a slower shutter speed. The actual speeds you should choose will vary depending upon the speed of the subject in your shot and how much you want it to be blurred.

Motion is not always bad - I spoke to one digital camera owner last week who told me that he always used fast shutter speeds and couldn’t understand why anyone would want motion in their images. There are times when motion is good. For example when you’re taking a photo of a waterfall and want to show how fast the water is flowing, or when you’re taking a shot of a racing car and want to give it a feeling of speed, or when you’re taking a shot of a star scape and want to show how the stars move over a longer period of time etc. In all of these instances choosing a longer shutter speed will be the way to go. However in all of these cases you need to use a tripod or you’ll run the risk of ruining the shots by adding camera movement (a different type of blur than motion blur).

Focal length and Shutter Speed - another thing to consider when choosing shutter speed is the focal length of the lens you’re using. Longer focal lengths will accentuate the amount of camera shake you have and so you’ll need to choose a faster shutter speed (unless you have image stabilization in your lens or camera). The ‘rule’ of thumb to use with focal length in non image stabilized situations) is to choose a shutter speed with a denominator that is larger than the focal length of the lens. For example if you have a lens that is 50mm 1/60th is probably ok but if you have a 200mm lens you’ll probably want to shoot at around 1/250.

Introduction to Aperture in Digital Photography

What is Aperture?

Aperture is ‘the size of the opening in the lens when a picture is taken.’

When you hit the shutter release button of your camera a hole opens up that allows your cameras image sensor to catch a glimpse of the scene you’re wanting to capture. The aperture that you set impacts the size of that hole. The larger the hole the more light that gets in - the smaller the hole the less light.

Aperture is measured in ‘f-stops’. You’ll often see them referred to here at Digital Photography School as f/number - for example f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6,f/8,f/22 etc. Moving from one f-stop to the next doubles or halves the size of the amount of opening in your lens (and the amount of light getting through). Keep in mind that a change in shutter speed from one stop to the next doubles or halves the amount of light that gets in also - this means if you increase one and decrease the other you let the same amount of light in - very handy to keep in mind).

Depth of Field and Aperture

There are a number of results of changing the aperture of your shots that you’ll want to keep in mind as you consider your setting but the most noticeable one will be the depth of field that your shot will have.
Depth of Field (DOF) is that amount of your shot that will be in focus.

Large depth
of field means that most of your image will be in focus whether it’s close to your camera or far away (like the picture on top where both the foreground and background are largely in focus - taken with an aperture of f/22).

Small (or shallow) depth of field means that only part of the image will be in focus and the rest will be fuzzy. Aperture has a big impact upon depth of field. Large aperture (remember it’s a smaller number) will decrease depth of field while small aperture (larger numbers) will give you larger depth of field.

The first picture on the left was taken with an aperture of f/22. The f/22 picture has both the flower and the bud in focus and you’re able to make out the shape of the fence and leaves in the background.

The f/2.8 shot has the left flower in focus (or parts of it) but the depth of field is very shallow and the background is thrown out of focus and the bud to the right of the flower is also less in focus due to it being slightly further away from the camera when the shot was taken.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Flash Technique

A basic guide showing the principles of flash photography.

Manual Metering standard setting (DSLR user only)

Use "manual metering" for this setting.
This is the standard setting when taking photos for manual metering. Just remember this few settings and you will be on your way to take great photos.

How To Make Money From Micro Stock Photography?

Stock photography agents are companies that represent photographers and sell their photographs "right of use" graphic artists, news papers and advertising companies. One of the evolving domains in stock photography is called "micro stock". A micro stock agency, as the name implies, is a stock agency that deals with low (micro) price - about a dollar - photographs. Usually the micro stock agencies will restrict the uses allowed for a photograph.

Filtering and Choosing Photographs

When you are choosing your portfolio, consider the following point:
Does your photograph has a value as an illustration or as a concept or idea that a customer can benefit from? For example, a photograph of a businessman in a suit climbing a mountain will sell better that a macro shot of a mosquito on a pinhead. A lady holding a disk in one hand and a handful of dollar notes on the other hand, will sell better the a photograph of a hippopotamus chasing a koala bear. This has nothing to do with the quality of the photographs. The micro stock agencies and their customers are looking for clear ideas and concepts that their clients can use.

Preparing the Photograph

Before uploading your photographs to a micro stock agency site, you need to make sure you comply with the following guide lines:

  • The picture should be uploaded in JPEG format with minimal compression (some sites allow for RAW image upload as well)
  • Most sites require that you upload your photographs in their original resolution. Do not resize the image.
  • The guys who verify the images you have submitted are very sensitive to noise and granularity. Try looking at your photo in a 100% magnification to verify you do not "suffer" from noise. If in doubt use tools to remove the noise such as Noise Ninja or Neat Image
  • The photograph must not have any copyright material or trade marks. This includes bottle labels, T-shirts with logo, or any other product that has a trademark. Remove those logos using Photoshop.
  • For any picture that contains persons that can be identified, you must enclose a Model Release Form - this form shows the consent of your object to be photographed. If you photographed yourself, include a Model Release Form signed by you. Here are shutterstock’s model release forms, and here are dreamstime's model release forms, there are also some generic Model Release Forms on the web.

Choosing Keywords

If you will not index your photographs with good keywords, you will never get good exposure on the micro stock site. You are competing against some 1,000,000 (yes that is more than one million) pictures and about 25,000 photographs added weekly. My suggestion is put allot of effort into the keyword that you use. If you have good pictures that customers can use, attaching good keywords will give you the best rating and maximum downloads. So, how do you select your keywords? The best way is to look at similar photographs uploaded by other users to get ideas. For the following picture of two wine bottles I used the following set of keywords:

Keywords use for this picture

alcohol, bar, Bordeaux, bottle, cater, celebrate, celebration, contain, cork, culinary, diagonal, dining, dinner, drunk, empty, ferment, fine, full, fun, glass, goblet, grape, isolated, juice, label, liquid, menu, pair, party, pinot, pub, restaurant, Riesling, romantic, two, vineyard, white, wine

Recommended Sites

There are many micro stock sites, some better. Since most contracts are not exclusive, I recommend using several micro stock agencies in parallel. Here are some recommended sites

Bigstockphoto - Yet another great site for photographers. They pay 50c or 1$ per image downloaded. And they allow to get paid after only 30$ has accumulated. They will approve photos in about three days. They allow FTP upload.

Fotolia - Fotolia is a rising star in the field of stock photography. They usually pay more then 50% of the commission to the photographer, and allow you to set your own price. They are one of the fastest to approve photographs. Another nice thing is the way you can get your money. They will allow you to make a paypal cashout once you've hit the 2 dollar mark.

Shutter Stock - This is the leading micro stock agency today. Shutterstock’s business model allows a customer to make a subscription and during the subscription period the customer can download 25 pictures a day. This model encourages downloads, and indeed you will get allot of downloads. The photographers earn 25c per download, and additional 5c if the customer also requested to burn the image on a CD. There are also broader uses licenses that the client can buy for additional payment. The site is very friendly. It has an FTP upload option and pictures are approved within a day or two.

Dreams Time - This is a less known site, but still very popular with the clients, and gets great sells. The basic price per image is 1$ (or 2$ for full resolution) out of which the photographer gets 50%.
The site is very friendly. It has an FTP upload option and pictures are usually approved within a three days. - 123rf is a relatively new agency which is doing well. They are still small, so if you are good standing out is easy. They pay 50% of each sale to the photographer - nice. Another nice feature is email notification once your images has been approved or rejected.

Lucky Oliver - Lucky Oliver has been around for some time now, but they still small enough so you can easily get noticed if you are good.
They have a very fresh design that is fun to use. They payment starts at 30% and get higher if you give Lucky Oliver exclusivity and stay around to get allot of downloads (those 30% translated to 0.3 to 6 Dollars depending on picture size)

Stockxpert - Stockxpert is another good micro stock agency. They have good FTP support, and they will approve your photos within days. 50% out of each download goes to the photographer.

iStockPhoto - Istock Photo is another big micro stock agency. They pay something between 20% to 40%, but the image is sold for 1-12 dollars so there is a chance of a nice payoff. Also as a photographer progresses, he/she gets more % out of every sale.

CanStockPhoto - They pay 50% for guest/member download and 0.25 USD for subscription download. They are a great agency, with a little cluttered design.

Feature Pics - A very nice agency - they let you set a price for your stock photos or set the percentage that you want to earn.

- photostockplus gives a great variety of products you can sell. They
will not only sell your photos, but put them on mugs, shirts and more.
photostockplus also provides great resources for event photographers

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Horizontal or Vertical Photos?

Horizontal or Vertical?

Many photographers never think to turn their cameras on their sides
to capture a vertical image. Horizontal photographs are sometimes
referred to as "landscape," while vertical photos are referred to as

If you are taking a photograph of a single person, then it's
probably a good idea to take it vertically. This will prevent the
person from being surrounded by blank space. Even when you are
shooting actual landscapes, you might find that a vertical view
makes for a more dynamic composition.

Always ask yourself if horizontal or vertical would be better before
you take a photograph. It may be readily apparent, based on your
subject and its surroundings. If it isn't, take one of each shot and
decide which you like better when you see the prints.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Kek Lok Si Trip

The Buddhist temple of Kek Lok Si is situated in (H)Air Itam, a suburb of Georgetown. You can make that by local bus from the Komtar, but you can also make it by taxi. I prefer taxi, because the taxi takes me up the hill (the Kek Lok Si is halfway on a hill). I like to walk down, but not to walk up the hill in a tropical climate.
Taxi ride from the KOmtar in Georgetown will cost you about RM20.-

The temple was begun in 1890 and, from all appearances, construction really hasn't ever stopped. And it's still going on! The temple is supposedly the largest in Malaysia.
The Kek Lok Si project was inspired by the chief monk of the Goddess of Mercy Temple of Pitt Street. With the support of the consular representative of China in Penang, the project received the sanction of the Manchu Emperor Kuang Hsi, who bestowed a tablet and gift of 70,000 volumes of the Imperial Edition of the Buddhist Sutras.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Seven Tips for Taking Great Photos

Shoot at the highest resolution you can

While high-res pictures will take up more space on your
digital camera's memory card, shooting big gives you the
most flexibility later. Shooting at a higher resolution
guarantees that when the magic strikes, you've captured
the picture at the highest quality level. So whether you
want to crop the picture to show a special detail or print
at a large size, you'll have plenty of detail to work

Get comfortable with your digital camera settings

In addition to auto, most digital cameras have a variety
of settings calibrated for special situations-like the
bright light of the beach, or the muted light of a museum.
Take a moment to familiarize yourself with these before
you start shooting. This will let you adjust settings
without consulting your manual.

Take lots of pictures

The best way to get good photos is to shoot often. Try
shooting the same subject from a variety of angles: low,
high, side view, close up and far away. If your camera
lets you, also experiment with different settings when
you shoot.

Use the Rule of Thirds to compose photos

When you compose a picture, imagine a tic-tac-toe grid
over your digital camera's LCD screen or viewfinder. The
vertical and horizontal lines divide the image into
thirds. Experiment with placing the subject off center-
right or left-or higher or lower. This is called the Rule
of Thirds, and using it will result in fresher, more
interesting photos.

Think in terms of stories

Imagine you're taking pictures at your son's third
birthday party. Before it starts, think about the
different activities, and plan to shoot parts of each
one. Also, strive to show the emotion in the moment:
Delighted grads throwing their mortar boards high in the
air, the big inhale before the birthday candles are blown
out-look for moments such as these that express the
feeling of what you're photographing. This will let you
tell the story in pictures-perfect for scrapbooks, albums,
or sharing online.

Shoot against a simple background

Whether you're shooting a portrait, a landscape, or a
quick snapshot, make sure there aren't any distracting
elements in the shot. Trees sticking out of heads, or
wires dangling will inevitably draw the eye away from
the subject. So when you're ready to shoot, double check
that the background is simple and sets off your subject
to its best advantage.

Maximize natural light

Light can transform an ordinary photo into one that evokes
emotion and captures the essence of the moment. So shoot
during the "beauty" hours of early morning and late day,
when natural light is most even and flattering. Avoid the
bright light of midday, which can cast harsh shadows and
flatten out colors.

When shooting indoors, let in as much light as you can.
Open curtains, turn on lights-but avoid using your flash
as it causes shadows and color distortion.