Night Sky Photography Tips

Star Trails

jiDue to the Earth’s rotation about its axis, it seems that the light from stars moves in circles around the celestial pole. These movements are detectable after about 5 to 10 minutes, and can be traced by your camera in the form of a streak. To photograph this magical effect, you need a sturdy tripod and lots of patience. Focus the lens to infinity and set the camera’s mode at Manual or Bulb shooting mode. With the use of a cable release you will capture the stars moving across the sky. These exposures can be a few minutes to several hours long. If you keep few things in mind, such as the timing, composition, and power of the battery, you can make photographing star trails simpler for you.

Find the Right Location

The best place to view and photograph the night sky is in the rural countryside because cities have artificial lights which cause a phenomenon known as light pollution. You need to get away from artificial lights in order to see the stars well. A truly dark sky is preferred, but artificial lights keep the night sky from being truly dark. Many beginners aim at capturing the longest star trails by keeping the shutter open for long periods of time. However, they tend to underestimate the impact generated by ambient light in the sky, which can be hard to notice at times. In addition, residual light (such as moonlight) can have a devastating impact on long shutter speed photos. This is because when you keep the shutter open for say, nearly 20 minutes, an hour after the sunset, the camera may perceive it as a day shot. Similarly, a full moon night photo with an exposure time of around 10 minutes could also look like a day shot. Therefore, it is best to attempt such a picture with either a new moon, or well before the moonrise or after the moonset. The light emerging from the stars would be more evident at this time and the picture would be perfect.

Use Long Shutter Speeds

When photographing the night sky with a long exposure, exposures of 15 minutes or longer will show the rotation of the Earth. You’ll need a wide-angle lens and a sturdy tripod, of course. You’ll want to use a cable release to eliminate camera shake of any kind, as it will RUIN your photo. Focus the lens to infinity and set the camera to B “Bulb” shooting mode. Set your aperture between f/2.8 and f/4 for optimal results, and depress the remote to open the shutter. You should keep your ISO at 100 to keep the digital noise at a minimum, because the sky is so dark and less prone to producing digital noise when the exposure is above 15 seconds. To complete the photo after your desired elapsed time, depress the remote again, and release the shutter.

Auroras and Polar Lights

Photographing the atmospheric phenomenon of aurora borealis is a challenge for photographers. This difficulty is due to frequent spectacular changes in the brightness of the light. The charged solar particles move very fast and sometimes get hidden making it impossible to shoot them. However, if you follow these tips, you will be able to get the best aurora borealis photos. Anchor your camera on a strong tripod to keep it steady for longer exposures. Set the ISO at the range of 100 to 400. Shutter speed can be as long as 30 seconds depending on the amount of light available. Do not rely on the built-in light meter, which is better left for day time use. Although any kind of lens will do for aurora borealis photography, you should choose a wide-angle and faster lens.

Cloudy Skies

As the light begins to fall, look at the cloudy skies. Watch the colors and how they merge though the cloud. Even though it is dark, you should try using an 80A blue cooling filter to enhance the blue cast of the sky and to reduce the yellow cast from the artifical lights. Use a wide-angle lens and opt for longer exposures. You can first try a few test shots, and then assess them carefully on your digital camera. You should be able to decide on the best range of exposures to capture some good photographs of an overcast sky.

The Perks of Switching Camera Systems

The choice of the first camera system is an exciting one. Why would it not be? You get to pick the first camera to buy, the first lens, and you spend so much time reading reviews, forums and asking friends for advice. I know I did – some eight years ago, I was admiring such cameras as the Canon 30D and 40D, and was seriously eyeing the 400D which was then within the budget of a teenager me. Nikon D200 looked out of this world and the then-announced D300 was a camera of dreams. All of these models, now obsolete from a technological standpoint (much like the D700 I now own and love), were as desirable as any current equipment you can think of. Maybe even more so, since the refresh cycle was longer and digital photography in general not as widespread as it is today.

Yes, the choice of the first camera and lens is a very exciting one. But, inevitably and at some point, a different question arises for just about all of us, and one much less pleasant – should you stick with your first decision or is the grass truly greener somewhere else?

The Law of Leapfrogging

One of the main reasons why someone would want to switch from one system to another (besides curiosity) is current technology that the manufacturer-in-question might have. More specifically, it could be the current camera or lens lineup and how it stacks up against competition. No two manufacturers have ever been equal in all areas at the same time, so they tend to be attractive for different reasons. Here is an obvious example: at this time, Nikon is arguably the most capable DSLR manufacturer in terms of sensor performance (and in no small part thanks to Sony’s excellent sensors). Full-frame Nikon cameras seem to deliver the best dynamic range and ISO performance at the highest resolution in the industry. However, Canon is still arguably the leader when it comes to lenses. There are more available choices and the mount itself seems to be more “future-proof” too – it is completely electronic and physically larger, so it has the potential to support lenses Nikon would really struggle with. So a Canon shooter might be tempted by the sheer image quality delivered by the Nikon D810, while a Nikon shooter might crave some of the lenses Canon has on offer, such as the EF 85mm f/1.2L or perhaps the lightweight super telephoto options such as the EF 400mm f/5.6L

But the truth is, this situation is very much temporary. Alright, so there is no actual “Leapfrogging Law” as such, I made that up. But if you look back, you’ll notice a pattern – camera and lens makers tend to leapfrog one another every few years. If we take a look at what was happening with these two manufacturers about a decade ago, the situation was quite different. I remember Canon used to have the advantage in both image quality and lenses, while Nikon did not even have a full-frame camera in its lineup! In other words, one system may be lagging behind in one area, but the situation might flip around pretty quickly if one company leads in technology innovation or design. If Canon releases a high-resolution camera with matching dynamic range and ISO performance and Nikon releases more great lenses, differences between the two will diminish even further.

Does it mean that all Canon users should switch to Nikon just because it currently shines in image quality? On the other hand, just because Canon seems to have less issues with its products and a great lens selection, should Nikon users jump over? Of course not. The situation is temporary, and camera industry has become very dynamic over the last five years or so. All it takes is one bright individual to come up with an idea, one innovative bold move, and everything might turn upside down in an instant. Deciding to switch to another system because, at this particular time, it seems to be the “better” one, is at the very least rather hasty. I am not saying you should not switch – if you find yourself thinking about it, there is a chance, however slim (let’s be honest), that you might really be missing something important that another system is able to offer. But the current technology alone is no reason to switch most of the time. Should you decide otherwise, you may find yourself switching systems every two years or so. And this stands true for all camera systems, not just DSLRs

The Excitement

As I have already mentioned, choosing the first camera is exciting. It is the sense of that very same excitement that often gets us thinking (or agonizing) whether we should try a new system, and a sense of our curiosity. It is also, more often than not, something to just shrug off. Don’t get me wrong, excitement is a very important feeling, one that pushes us forward; and I am not the only one to think so. A new camera, and especially one that you are yet to familiarize yourself with invites you to use it. And yet, eventually, that curiosity certainly wears off. It always does. We are excited to move into a new house, drive a new car or visit a beautiful location for the first time. But after weeks and months, that same excitement is no longer there and we simply get used to it.

Instead, search for excitement in the process of photography itself: in learning new things and not in the tools you use. If you are excited about your equipment, great. It can be a powerful engine for your creativity initially. Just don’t rely on it to stay that way for a long time…

Getting Serious About It

So what should be a good reason to switch? To answer that, it is very important to put the curiosity and excitement created by the prospect of owning something new and unfamiliar aside, and look at things objectively. Why we choose a particular system in the first place is not just because of its current technology, but a few other things as well. So, to start with, you need a clear idea of what you are looking for in a camera system and what your priorities are: what lenses and accessories you need, whether size and weight matter, what format are you looking for and so on. Start fresh, as if you don’t yet own a camera, and write it all down. Once you have done that, explore your choices, see which camera manufacturers offer that which you need, or are heading there. Find out which specific cameras would suit your needs the most. Then, see if the equipment you already own falls out of that list, maybe the reason you are considering to switch is in fact curiosity and excitement, and not an actual need? Or perhaps it is not a new system that you need, but merely an update of the tools you already have?

Once you know your potential choices, consider one final factor – comfort. Whenever I am asked by a beginner photographer which road to choose, the first advice I always give is this: hold each camera in your hand and see which one fits – both literally and figuratively – better. Just see which one is more comfortable and natural to handle. We can get used to any tool, true, but that first impression of comfort is a good start, a good indication of what to look more closely at. That is one of the reasons why I ended up with Nikon, even though I prefer some of Canon’s ergonomic choices (ISO button on the top left, Nikon?). Nikon cameras just sit perfectly in my hands.

Finally, we get back to the question of current technology. It could be a good reason, despite what I said, but not because some manufacturer might have progressed in certain areas more than others. If you feel that another manufacturer has the lenses and the cameras that suit your purpose perfectly, and it has been so for a number of years, you may not lose anything by trying your luck. But you will only truly win if your current system is actually not enough for your needs. And not the camera you own, but the whole system, the whole lineup of equipment on offer. For example, a Canon 5D Mark III is significantly better in most respects than my old D700. However, my D700 also happens to be sufficient for my uses at this time. More than that, should I outgrow that camera, the Nikon system I chose has newer and more capable equipment that leaves no reason for me to make a jump to Canon. I would say exactly the same thing if I had chosen Canon eight years ago too – it’s not really about these two specific manufacturers (I merely chose them as the most obvious and easy-to-compare examples), but camera manufacturers in general. So here is an advice: to find out whether you actually need to switch to a different manufacturer, or if the issue is somehow different and requires a different solution, stop reading about new equipment. Go out and use yours. See if there is anything that’s really missing, and not just “missing” because rivals have it.

Sentiments Matter

I never thought that tools should be just tools – my perspective has always been that even a slight personal attachment can lead to good things. Even if merely a wish to use the said tools more often. Many of you would disagree, I expect, but here is something that’s quite difficult to argue with: using tools that you actually don’t like (as in, feel something negative towards) will ruin the experience and the process. So sentiments do matter. One of the main reasons I chose Fujifilm (and I am not afraid to admit), was the design. I think the X-Pro1 is a beautiful product, as is the X100S, as is the X-E2; and I learned to appreciate beautifully designed objects. It is far from being the most important aspect of the system for me. Very far from it. And yet it is something that makes me like the gear that bit better, and enjoy using it more than I would otherwise

On a different note, there is a certain brand I would rather not mention (to avoid potentially offending someone) that has released just one camera that I really liked. It has nothing to do with the manufacturer itself or how good and advanced the cameras are. I just never wanted to own one of those tools – they don’t click with me. There is a chance I would come up with as good of a result with this manufacturer’s cameras, since from a purely objective point of view, those are great tools. But I don’t like them, as silly as that may sound. It is not criticism, just a personal sentiment, or lack of one.

In short, focus on equipment you actually like. Don’t make affection more important than it should be – I really don’t think a sports photographer should be using one of Olympus PEN models rather than a DSLR just because they are more stylish. And yet owning and using equipment you really like will only serve as a stimulus to use it more for the purpose you bought it for in the first place, which is always a good thing.

Two Systems Is Not A Bad Thing

Compact camera systems are a breath of fresh air in the camera industry. If before the whole boom of mirrorless cameras you had a choice of different, but essentially very similar DSLR systems (which made owning two DSLR systems rather pointless in many cases), mirrorless cameras from Olympus, Sony, Fujifilm and other manufacturers offer something truly different. Not better, not worse – I don’t believe in such generalizations. But different. Mirrorless cameras have their strengths and weaknesses when compared to DSLRs. More importantly, the two systems seem to complete one another very well. One gives you diminutive size and weight, while the other delivers dependable, uncompromising performance and speed in any situation

Now, if you only own one camera and it is enough for your needs, you’ll have to make the difficult choice – decide not only on the manufacturer, but also on the type of camera you need. So that means you will end up choosing between mirrorless and DSLR at some point. If, however, you need or plan to own two cameras and like your current DSLR system, but also think you could really use a mirrorless camera for, say travel photography, by all means go for it. I now use Fujifilm and Nikon, and I would be hard pressed to say which one is the “main” system – I find Nikon to be safer and more dependable during weddings (although that is merely an unsupported-by-facts feeling), while Fujifilm seems to be more quirky, discreet and fun to use, especially for personal and casual work. And it makes more sense for me to own a Fujifilm and a Nikon, rather than two Nikon DSLR camera bodies.

Are there any real downsides to owning two systems? The main one is the amount of bespoke accessories, batteries and chargers that can’t be interchanged, as well as the potentially increased cost. Post-processing might also be an issue, since different RAW files react differently to the same adjustments.

The Question of Price

It is a general belief that changing a system to another is expensive, and this very belief also serves as the main stop, holding so many photographers from actually doing it. Sometimes, it really is expensive. But I would still call it a myth. Why? The reason why so many tend to label switching camera systems as expensive, is because photographers usually don’t think about buying equipment used, even though the equipment they are selling is.

If you are switching to another system, you end up selling your old equipment. Now, given that your old equipment was indeed “old”, as in – used and not brand new, the logical choice would be to…buy the different system used, too. In other words, exchange used equipment of one manufacturer into used equipment of another. Which, given the same condition, class and generation of equipment, should prove to be very similar in price. It may be a little bit cheaper or a little bit more expensive, but not excessively so. But if you sell the old system and go for brand new tools, you end up spending way more. If you think about it, it is very similar to updating every single piece of gear that you own to a brand new copy. Which, too, would be expensive. Basically, in such a case, one is paying not just for changing their system, which really should not cost all that much and could potentially even refund some of the initial investment – one is also paying for receiving brand new equipment, and that is why you feel the financial impact on your wallet

Mind you, there is a downside to purchasing used equipment. First, you can always get cheated if you are not careful (read our article about buying used cameras and buying used lenses). Second, it may take a while to find each piece of the kit that you need in good condition.

Final Words

Deciding on whether to switch to a different camera system or not is not an easy task. It takes a lot of objectivity to separate real reasons from the often false “grass is greener on the other side” feeling, as well as to tame excitement and curiosity that eventually tends to wear off. Truth be told, such a move is rarely truly necessary. And in most cases, I would simply advise one to go out and shoot. But there are exceptions, of course. If you know your reasons are real and important, regardless whether they are based on the need of better performance or pure sentiment towards a particular brand, don’t hesitate to do it. Just remember, once you have a camera and a lens mounted on it, rivals don’t matter and other systems don’t matter. What you do with the tools you own – that is what’s important. In the end, it is always the same advice: go out, shoot and most importantly learn

Top 10 Digital Photography Tips

Compose in Thirds

To use the rule of thirds, imagine four lines, two lying horizontally across the image and two vertical creating nine even squares. Some images will look best with the focal point in the center square, but placing the subject off center will often create a more aesthetically composed photograph. When a photograph is composed using the rule of thirds the eyes will wander the frame. A picture composed by the rule of thirds is more interesting and pleasing to the eye.

Camera shake or blur is something that can plague any photographer and here are some ways to avoid it. First, you need to learn how to hold your camera properly; use both hands, one around the body and one around the lens and hold the camera close to your body for support. Also make sure you are using a shutter speed that matches the lens focal length. So if you’re using a 100mm lens, then your shutter speed should be no lower than 1/100th of a second. Use a tripod or monopod whenever possible. In lieu of this, use a tree or a wall to stabilize the camera.

The Sunny 16 Rule

Avoid Camera Shake

The idea with the Sunny 16 rule is that we can use it to predict how to meter our camera on a sunny outdoor day. So when in that situation, choose an aperture of f/16 and 1/100th of a second shutter speed (provided you are using ISO 100). You should have a sharp image that is neither under or over exposed. This rule is useful if you don’t have a functioning light meter or if your camera doesn’t have an LCD screen to review the image.

Use a Polarizing Filter

If you can only buy one filter for your lens, make it a polarizer. This filter helps reduce reflections from water as well as metal and glass; it improves the colors of the sky and foliage, and it will protect your lens too. There’s no reason why you can’t leave it on for all of your photography. The recommended kind of polarizer is circular because these allow your camera to use TTL (through the lens) metering (i.e. Auto exposure).

Create a Sense of Depth

When photographing landscapes it really helps to create a sense of depth, in other words, make the viewer feel like they are there. Use a wide-angle lens for a panoramic view and a small aperture of f/16 or smaller to keep the foreground and background sharp. Placing an object or person in the foreground helps give a sense of scale and emphasizes how far away the distance is. Use a tripod if possible, as a small aperture usually requires a slower shutter speed.

Use Simple Backgrounds

The simple approach is usually the best in digital photography, and you have to decide what needs to be in the shot, while not including anything that is a distraction. If possible, choose a plain background – in other words, neutral colors and simple patterns. You want the eye to be drawn to the focal point of the image rather than a patch of color or an odd building in the background. This is vital in a shot where the model is placed off center.

Don’t Use Flash Indoors

Flash can look harsh and unnatural especially for indoor portraits. Therefore, there are various ways you can take an image indoors without resorting to flash. First, push the ISO up – usually ISO 800 to 1600 will make a big difference for the shutter speed you can choose. Use the widest aperture possible – this way more light will reach the sensor and you will have a nice blurred background. Using a tripod or an I.S. (Image Stabilization) lens is also a great way to avoid blur.

Choose the Right ISO

The ISO setting determines how sensitive your camera is to light and also how fine the grain of your image. The ISO we choose depends on the situation – when it’s dark we need to push the ISO up to a higher number, say anything from 400 – 3200 as this will make the camera more sensitive to light and then we can avoid blurring. On sunny days we can choose ISO 100 or the Auto setting as we have more light to work with.

Pan to Create Motion

If you want to capture a subject in motion, then use the panning technique. To do this, choose a shutter speed around two steps lower than necessary – so for 1/250, we’d choose 1/60. Keep your camera on the subject with your finger half way down on the shutter to lock the focus and when ready, take the photo, remembering to follow them as they move. Use a tripod or monopod if possible to avoid camera shake and get clear movement lines.

Experiment with Shutter Speed

Don’t be afraid to play with the shutter speed to create some interesting effects. When taking a night time shot, use a tripod and try shooting with the shutter speed set at 4 seconds. You will see that the movement of the object is captured along with some light trails. If you choose a faster shutter speed of say 1/250th of a second, the trails will not be as long or bright; instead you will freeze the action. This technique works well if you are using a tripod and if you are photographing a moving object.

Top 10 Digital Photography Mistakes

Blurry Pictures

One of the top complaints from amateur photographers is that their images have come out blurry. The simple answer to this problem usually is that there isn’t enough light reaching the sensor, so the camera struggles to take a sharp image. Various ways to solve this issue include using a tripod or a monopod (a must in low light conditions!), choosing a higher ISO setting for faster shutter speeds or using flash to freeze any movement.

Too Much Contrast

A photograph with too much contrast has a strong difference between light (highlight) and darker (shadow) areas of the image. This is very apparent in photographs taken on a sunny day. Use flash to fill in the dark shadowy areas of the image and try underexposing the image by one or two stops to see the difference it makes.

Red-Eye

Although red-eye can easily be corrected with an image editing software, it’s a great idea to know how to prevent it from occurring. Red-eye appears commonly in light-eyed people when the camera flash reflects off the retinas in their eyes. You can prevent red-eye by avoiding your camera’s built-in flash whenever possible, also many cameras have an automatic red-eye reduction mode. Another technique is to have your subject look away from the camera for the photo, in order to avoid the reflection in their eyes. One last trick is if the room can be made brighter to allow maximum light into the subject’s eyes, their pupils will shrink due to the brighter light. Though for most situations, this may not be practical.

Off-Colors

Off-colors, or color casts are a well known problem in digital photography. In digital imaging we can use the white balance (WB) settings to deal with this problem. Choose “auto” or the proper WB settings for the scenario. For example, an indoor photograph tends to look orange because the incandescent (tungsten) light bulb emits “warm” or orange light. The tungsten setting devised for this scenario will add blue to balance it out.

Less is More

When framing and composing our photograph, we want to create something interesting for the eye but at the same time avoid excessive distractions. Normally, one main focal point or area is enough. If you have a focal point in the background and a distraction (like rocks) in the foreground, crop the image by zooming in to avoid the distracting item. This effect also may be done later with your image editing software. The point is to have a photo where the eye is drawn to the main attraction.

Subject is Too Far

In every photograph we shoot, we want something engaging in the frame. If your subject is too far away, it will not make much impact. You can move closer by using a good quality telephoto zoom lens or we can crop the image later with your image editing software. Remember to shoot the image at the highest resolution possible because cropping reduces the quality.

Low Resolution

Shooting at a low resolution may allow you to store more images on your memory card, but it is a bad idea. Using a low resolution setting means that the image quality will suffer, and you won’t be able to print large photographs without noticing the pixels. Additionally, every time you save a jpeg file it loses some quality. If you start off with a small file, your editing options will be very limited. Buy additional memory cards and take your photos with higher resolution and avoid low quality files!

Too Much Noise

Digital noise is analogous to grain on a film photograph, those unsightly little speckles on your image. The higher the ISO the more noise will appear, and the more you enlarge the image the more you can see noise. Night time images are prone to noise as the camera struggles to record detail. To reduce noise, use the largest image quality setting and always use a tripod so that you can choose the lowest ISO setting without causing blur.

Underexposed Pictures

An underexposed image is one that is too dark because there wasn’t enough light reaching the sensor when the image was taken. If you see on your LCD screen that an image looks too shadowy and underexposed, you can try opening the aperture to allow more light in. You can also adjust the exposure on a DSLR, selecting the ‘+’ to add more light, usually in ½ stop increments.

Overexposed Pictures

If your photograph is too bright and lacking in detail, then it is overexposed. This means there is too much light hitting the sensor. Overexposure can be particularly bad on bright days or with light colored subjects. To correct for overexposure, you can try underexposing the image by choosing -0.5 or -1 and seeing if more detail has been retained. Additionally, use spot metering for accurate results – pick a grey mid-toned area in your image as the guideline.

10 Quick Tips to Fix Your Bad Photos

Digital photography has democratized the medium. More people are taking more photos than ever before, and they’re sharing them online with friends and family in record numbers. It’s easy to place the blame on the camera (or your smartphone) if your images aren’t as nice as some others you see online, but by following a few guidelines you can improve the quality of your photos—without having to shell out big bucks for a new camera. Keep these 10 easy tips in mind next time you head out to capture the world around you. And if you have any tips that have helped you take better pictures, please share them in the comments section.

1. Get Basic Composition Down. The heart of a photograph is its composition—the position of different elements in a frame. The easiest rule of thumb to learn and remember is the Rule of Thirds. Basically, you’ll want to break your frame into nine squares of roughly equal size. Try and align the subject of your photo along these lines and intersections and imagine the main image divided over these nine boxes. This gives you a more dramatic, visually interesting shot than one where you subject is located dead center. Many cameras have a rule of thirds grid overlay that you can activate when shooting.

2. Adjust Exposure Compensation. As long as you aren’t shooting in full manual mode, your digital camera is making decisions that determine the exposure of a photo—in English, how light or dark the shot appears. Generally speaking, a camera looks at a scene and tries to determine the appropriate exposure based on the correct lighting of an 18-percent gray card, which is why there are special scene modes for snow—without them, the camera would try to make the white snow gray.

If a photo is too light or dark you can either delve through the dozens of scene modes that are available in modern point-and-shoot cameras, or simply dial in a bit of exposure compensation. Many cameras have a physical button or dial for this, identified by a +/- symbol. If your photo is too dark, move the scale up above zero; if too light, move it down a bit.

3. Choose the Right Mode. Your camera is likely to have scores of shooting modes, ranging from fully automatic operation to very specific scene modes. If you’re shooting fast action you can put the camera into Shutter Priority (“S”) mode and increase the speed at which a photo is taken—setting it to 1/125 second or faster will help to freeze action, and for really quick subjects (like the hummingbird below), use as short a speed as possible to freeze motion. In lower light you can use Aperture Priority (“A”) mode to make sure as much light is entering the lens as possible, or if you’re shooting landscapes on a tripod you can close the lens’s iris to increase depth of field, keeping everything in sharp focus from the foreground to the horizon. If you’re a D-SLR shooter, you’re more likely to use the A or S modes, while point-and-shoot cameras will often feature more specific modes that cater to activities like sports, low-light use, or landscape shooting.

4. Think About Lighting. Pay attention to how much light you have and where it’s coming from when taking your photos. If you’re shooting outdoors, be careful not to take photos of a person when the sun is at their back. If you’re grabbing a photo in front of a monument or landmark and don’t have the flexibility to adjust your position you can use the camera’s flash to fill in shadows. You may have to manually activate the flash, as there’s a good chance that the camera will think that it’s unnecessary on a bright day.

5. Use Your Flash Wisely. Many a photo has been foiled by a flash firing too close to a subject. If your friends and family look like Casper the Friendly Ghost when you photograph them, chances are that you’re too close when snapping your photos. If you need to activate the flash, back up a bit and zoom in to get the proper framing. If things are still to bright—or too dark—check and see if flash compensation is an option. Many cameras allow you to adjust the power of the flash, which can help to add better balance to your flash-assisted photos. Adding just a little bit of light makes it possible to fill in shadows, resulting in a more natural-looking photo.

6. Add a Flash Diffuser. If dialing down flash power isn’t an option, you can also add a diffuser to help spread the light out. Smaller flashes aren’t able spread light across a large surface area, giving your subjects a deer-in-the-headlights look. Point-and-shoot users can tape a bit of wax paper over the flash to soften its output. D-SLR users are best served by using an empty 35mm film canister—the milky variety used by Kodak—with a bit cut out so that it fits snugly over the flash. Photojojo has a tutorial that will walk you through the steps. If you don’t have any film canisters lying around, try asking at your local drug store or department store minilab—they’re bound to have dozens sitting in a drawer, and will gladly part with one. If making your own diffuser doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, consider the Gary Fong Puffer, a $22 accessory that will look a bit more professional when mounted on your camera.

7. Watch Your White Balance. Your camera will try and set white balance automatically based on the type of light in which you’re shooting. Different light casts different types of color—sunlight is very blue, tungsten lighting is yellow, and fluorescent is a bit green. In many cases, the camera will automatically detect what type of lighting you’re under and adjust the color in photos so that they look natural. But when White Balance isn’t right, you can get results like you see above—the image on the left is correctly balanced, and the one on the right is way off. If you’re shooting under mixed lighting, or if the camera is just having a hard time figuring things out, you can set the white balance manually. On most point and shoots you’ll have to dive into the shooting menu to adjust this, but many D-SLRs have a dedicated White Balance button, often labeled “WB.” You can correct color in iPhoto or Picasa later on, but you’ll get better-looking photos if you get the white balance right in the first place.

8. Use a Tripod or Monopod. Sometimes, the best way to get your shot perfect is to take some extra time. Using a tripod will allow you to set up framing, and can come in handy—along with your camera’s self-timer—for getting that shot of you and the kids in front of Mount Rushmore. You can get away with an inexpensive tripod if you’re a point-and-shoot user, although spending a bit more on a brand like Manfrotto or Gitzo will result in much less frustration than with the bargain brands that you’ll find at the local five and dime. D-SLR users should definitely put care into selecting a tripod, as a set of legs and a head that are sturdy enough to hold the camera are paramount.

If you’re more of a run-and-gun shooter, a monopod—which is just like it sounds, a tripod with two of its legs missing—will help you stabilize your shots. Great for use at zoos and sporting events, a monopod is supplemented by your two legs in order to add stability to your camera—without the sometimes-cumbersome setup and breakdown required with a good tripod.

9. Be Selective. It’s easy to take hundreds of photos in a few hours when shooting digitally. But don’t just dump your memory card and upload all of the images to Facebook. You should spend some time going through your photos so you can eliminate redundant shots and discard photos that may be out of focus or poorly composed. It’s better to post a few dozen great photos by themselves rather than the same good photos hiding among hundreds of not-so-good ones.

10. Don’t Forget to Post-Process. Consider using a program like Picasa or iPhoto to organize your photos. Either will allow you to crop, color-correct, adjust exposure, remove red-eye, and perform other basic editing tasks. Performing some very basic editing on a photo can help improve its quality drastically. Cropping a bit can help with composition, and you can also rotate a photo so that horizon lines are straight. Getting your photos right in-camera is the larger goal, but there’s no harm in a bit of retouching.

The Ultimate Guide to Buying a New Camera

So you’re about to embark on a thrilling journey—buying a shiny new camera!! Exciting! If you haven’t purchased one of these magical devices before you might be a bit intimidated. What are all the different types? What accessories do you actually need? What do all those crazy letters and numbers mean?

There are so many options available it can be difficult to know where to start.Worry not, brave explorer. This guide is designed to teach you everything you need to know about buying a camera, so you can feel confident when you make that delightful purchase.

Psst! This guide is chock full of general information about cameras, lenses, and more. But if you’re looking for specific photography equipment recommendations, you’ll want to mosey on over to our incredibly thorough Recommended Photography Equipment page! Enjoy!
Table O’ Contents

This is an absolutely epic guide. If you’re brand new to cameras and photography, we recommend reading it start to finish, for the ultimate learning experience.

But if you’re just interested in a certain topic, feel free to make use of the magical Table O’ Contents below. Simply clicky click where you want to jump!

(Pro Tip: After clicking on one of the links in the Table O’ Contents, you can hit back on your browser to hop on back to the top of the page here.)

  • Types of Cameras
  • Essential Features
  • Additional Features
  • Brands
  • Lenses
  • Accessories
  • Software
  • Where To Buy
  • Price
  • The Big Idea

Now sit back, get comfy, and let the camera buying adventure commence! Onward!

There are a ton of different types of cameras, from little point-and-shoots to big fancy DSLRs. Let’s take a look at the different types, and what makes them each unique!
DSLRs

When you think of a big, fancy, expensive camera, you’re probably picturing a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera. These cameras are made up of two main parts—the body and the lens. The lenses can be taken off and changed (aka interchangeable). But you’ll need both parts – the body and the lens – in order to take a photo. DSLRs feature a mirror that allows you to actually look through the lens as you compose your image. This gives you the most accurate idea of what your final image will look like when you take the photo.

Baby Photography Tips

Click Away!

voBabies are unpredictable so therefore tears and tantrums are to be expected. Don’t be afraid to keep the camera shooting rather than waiting for that perfect pose or moment because somewhere in 30 consecutive shots will be one winner. Presuming you have a good amount of natural daylight, choose an ISO of 100-400 and use a wide aperture (f/2.8-f/8) for a shallow DOF (depth of field). Use continuous shooting mode on your camera to capture 2, 3, 4, or 5 photos in a couple of seconds.

Check the Lighting

For the best baby shots, photograph during the daytime when there is plenty of natural daylight. Natural light gives a soft focus look to the baby’s skin. Use window light if possible and avoid the harsh sun because it tends to casts shadows and is also unhealthy for the baby’s skin. A standard lens of 50mm is ideal for this kind of image. Turn the mode dial to AV (Aperture Priority) mode, select a high ISO and a wide aperture. Let the camera choose the correct shutter speed. Use an external flash (with a diffuser) to fill in any dark spots.

Smile for me Baby

When photographing babies, you may need to “ham it up” to elicit a reaction. This can include making funny faces, playing hide and seek from behind a piece of cloth, or making goofy clucking noises. There are so many ways you can coax a smile onto an infant’s lips. Get “your better half” to coax that perfect expression, as you set up the shot. You should work fast to capture the moment so choose a fast shutter speed of 1/500s or more, use a wide aperture (f/1.8-f/4) for a blurred background and shoots

Simple Backgrounds

Simple baby shots are usually the best; there is no need for cluttered or overly bright backgrounds. A great way to get a photo that looks professional is to get some white, grey or beige cloth and lay it over two chairs. Place the cloth near a large window with the baby on it with some toys. Turn the mode dial to AV (Aperture Priority) mode and select your desired aperture. Feel free to push the ISO up if the window light is not very bright. Spot meter on the baby’s face and focus on the baby’s eyes.

Make it Memorable

To take memorable pictures try to capture the baby engaged in an activity, or with family and friends. Siblings, especially if they are close in age can add extra interest to the photograph – get them playing together, eating or interacting as friends. Keep back and don’t try to force friendliness – let the children do what they do. Take the photos from the background, so as not to disrupt them. Seat the kids in an uncluttered area that has lots of natural light, like a large window. Use the auto settings to make sure you get a sharp image, and let the camera choose flash if it is necessary.

Be Adventurous

Black and white images are classic and timeless, and are perfect for photographing babies! Turn the mode dial to AV (Aperture Priority) mode and select a large aperture for a soft and blurred background. Use the spot metering mode and meter on the baby’s face. When shooting in monochrome consider contrast; black and white backgrounds will be the most striking, and contrast in the lighting will also give a dramatic effect.

Freezing Water

Contributing editor Jim Richardson is a photojournalist recognized for his explorations of small-town life. His photos appear frequently in National Geographic magazine.

Perhaps unlocking one creative door opens another.

Somehow that’s how I felt dashing back to the Zodiacs to leave Thistle Fjord in Iceland, flush with confidence from my photographic encounter with the bird wing. If I could break through that creative barrier, what other challenges would succumb to me?

Then I remembered the cascading waterfall near our landing site. Nothing huge, just crystal clear waters sweeping past the ancient farm and dancing down over the rocks to the sea. With a couple of minutes to spare, perhaps I could pull off one more image.

First, a bit of photographic background. Waterfall pictures are moving perilously close to being clichés. I say “close” because I doubt we humans will ever lose our fascination with the delights of cascading water plunging dramatically from on high. But … the techniques used to capture waterfall pictures have become standard fare. The most common current rage is to use a long, very slow shutter speed to turn the water into silky, silvery curtains of liquid smoothness. And lovely pictures they are. It’s just that the style has been done over and over by countless photographers. Me, too—guilty as charged.

The method is simple, even if accomplishing it takes a bit of gear. You simply use a slow shutter speed, usually a half a second or longer, maybe up to as long as 30 seconds. The water in motion blurs to become as smooth as glass. The trick is getting that long shutter speed in broad daylight. You can crank the f-stop all the way down, use the lowest ISO your camera can manage, and still not get there. This is where you need to have a good, strong neutral density (ND) filter, which will cut out enough light to make the long exposure time possible. (Oh, and it should go without saying, you’ll need your tripod or a very conveniently placed rock to set your camera on.)

Well, I didn’t have either an ND filter or my tripod along, which—as it turned out—was a very good thing. That meant I couldn’t fall back on my old tricks and would have to try something new.

But there was more than mere necessity at work here. This waterfall, this setting on the coast of Iceland, was all about bracing clarity, energy, and the freshness of the moment. It was not about serenity and peacefulness, which the usual silky-water picture would have implied. Besides not having the gear to take that picture, I wanted something else.

So I went to the opposite extreme, which is often the most refreshing way out of a creative trap. I decided to try totally freezing the water with a very high shutter speed. In this case that was 1/2500 of a second, which turned the sparkling water into crystallized glass, full of dazzling shapes and totally unexpected textures. My eye could see nothing of this. It was the act of photography that revealed the possibilities.

So I kept exploring the nuances, moving closer to the side of the waterfall, able to get within mere inches of the water (without drowning my Nikon D3), seeing how getting lower put the glasslike water up against the azure sky. Held still in space, the water suggested something I knew was impossible: transparent lava.

In the end the image seemed more appropriate to this starkly beautiful land, so raw and new, so of the moment. In the middle of all this my faithful fedora blew off into the stream and up into the pool above me. Then it came swirling back by, where I could grab it, now sopping wet, but a good omen of luck within my reach

DSLR vs Point and Shoot Camera

Why would you pick DSLR vs Point and Shoot Camera or vice-versa? As DSLRs are becoming more and more affordable, a lot of people are wondering if it is time for them to switch to a DSLR and toss their point and shoot cameras. Nowadays, point and shoot cameras have a long list of features and capabilities, compared to even slightly older versions. GPS, face-detection, smile detection and many other new technologies are making their way into the point and shoot market, over-saturating it with new cameras and making it more difficult for people to choose the right camera for their needs. A similar thing is also happening in the DSLR world, where manufacturers are dividing the market into multiple segments, trying to capture a range of potential customers: from entry-level to advanced professional. But one thing for sure – there are many people, who are stuck in the middle, trying to decide whether they want to stay with their point and shoots, or bite the bullet and switch to a DSLR.

In this article, I will go through the advantages and disadvantages of both DSLRs and point and shoots, so that you can evaluate what’s best for your needs and make the right decision. So, if you are one of those people who are stuck in the middle, this article is for you.

Anyway, let’s analyze the advantages of point and shoot cameras:

  • First and foremost, it is the Size. You can simply slip them into your pocket and carry them anywhere. Heck, some of the new phones have excellent cameras and you don’t even need a dedicated point and shoot camera anymore…hitting those ski slopes and keeping good memories is easier than ever.
  • Weight. Most point and shoot cameras are very light weight. You do not need extra bags, tripods or other accessories to carry around. There are, however, advanced “SLR-like” point and shoot cameras that tend to get bigger and bulkier, due to their super zoom capabilities.
  • Fixed lens. All point and shoot cameras come with fixed lenses. You don’t sweat in trying to change lenses.
  • Massive Depth of Field. In layman’s terms, it means that point and shoot cameras typically cannot separate foreground from background, bringing everything in focus and making the entire scene look sharp. This could be both good and bad.
  • Price. A point-and-shoot camera is always going to be cheaper to purchase and maintain than a DSLR.

Disadvantages of point and shoot cameras:

  • Quality. Due to the smaller size of the camera sensor, point and shoots are no match to DSLRs when it comes to image quality, even with more Megapixels.
  • Downside of a large depth of field. While a point and shoot gets your entire scene nicely in focus, there is not much you can do to isolate your subject from the background and make it look soft and blurry. With DSLR cameras and special lenses, you can get a very shallow depth of field and completely isolate your foreground from the background.
  • Adaptability. Point and shoot cameras are not upgradable. You cannot change their lenses or mount external flashes (with the exception of some high-end models) and the number of external accessories is limited to the brand and make of the camera.
  • Limited control. Unlike DSLRs, point and shoot cameras give much less control over the process of taking pictures. In many compact point and shoot cameras, there is very limited control over aperture and shutter speed, there is no distance marking on the lens and the cameras are tougher to control in manual mode.
  • Shooting in the dark. Point-and-shoot cameras do not have good capabilities for night photography.
  • Inability to capture wide-angle shots. Most point and shoot cameras have lenses that start at 30-35mm, which means that you cannot fit much of the scene and would have to stand back to capture more.
  • Most point and shoot cameras are limited in how fast they can capture an image. Point and shoots are not designed for sports and action photography.Now, let’s talk about the main advantages DSLRs:
    • Better image quality. A DSLR camera typically has a much bigger sensor than a point and shoot camera – a point and shoot typically has a sensor area that is only about 3-5% of a full frame DSLR sensor. Having a big sensor helps to get images that have much less noise (noise is the grain you typically see in a picture) and much better overall image quality.
    • Better sensitivity to light. Less noise means that you can work in very dim environments and capture photographs that you would never be able to with a point and shoot camera.
    • Shutter and focus speeds. DSLRs can acquire focus very quickly and take multiple shots per second. Professional DSLRs are capable of capturing up to 10 frames per second. All professional action and sports photography is done with SLRs.
    • You see what you shoot. A DSLR is constructed with reflex mirrors, which means that you look through the lens, instead of a see-through hole in the camera.
    • Flexible Controls. DSLRs are not necessarily created for “simplicity” as most point and shoots are. So, you will typically find a lot more buttons and controls on a DSLR than on a point and shoot. Once you learn how to use those controls, you can quickly change settings, if necessary.
    • Better investment. Generally, DSLR cameras hold their values much better than point and shoots. Although no digital camera can be considered a good investment, chances of selling your DSLR at a reasonably good price are much higher than even a slightly used point and shoot camera. Our Nikon D80 that we first bought was sold for about 10% less than what we bought it for after a year of moderate use.
    • Ability to use different lenses. There is a big array of lenses that can be mounted and used on DSLRs, from super wide angle to telephoto, depending on your needs. My husband uses long telephoto lenses such as the Nikon 300mm f/4.0 for his bird photography, while I primarily shoot with portrait lenses such as the Nikon 50mm f/1.4. On point and shoots, you are limited to the “optical zoom” of the camera lens. DSLR lenses are also much better optically compared to lenses in point and shoot cameras.
    • Full control over depth of field. You are fully in charge of isolating foreground from background or bring everything in focus through aperture control of the lens. Some portrait and telephoto lenses can really isolate your subjects and create a creamy and beautiful background blur, also known as “bokeh“.
    • Weather sealing. Forget about using a point and shoot in challenging weather conditions. While point and shoot cameras are only suited for normal use, higher-end DSLRs can withstand dust, moisture, rain and snow and severely cold weather. My husband often shoots landscapes in subzero temperatures with his DSLR and he has never had a problem with it.
    • Solid construction. DSLRs are built to last. While there are some parts that are made of tough plastic, the professional DSLRs are made of magnesium-alloy and can take a lot of physical abuse, while point and shoots would quickly break down.
      • High price tag. DSLR cameras are more expensive than point and shoot cameras. Even a used, entry-level DSLR is probably going to cost more than an advanced point and shoot. But the expense does not stop with the camera – good lenses typically cost more than the camera itself and you will have to cash out on other accessories (larger camera bags, filters, memory cards, etc). To get started, an entry-level camera with a kit lens will cost you anywhere between $500-800. That’s just the initial cost. Overtime, you might spend three times as much on accessories alone.
      • Complexity. DSLR cameras are quite complex to work with. Once you buy a DSLR, you will need to invest a lot of time to learn the main features and figure out what all the buttons do. Some people get easily frustrated with this process. With a DSLR, you will have to learn how to be patient.
      • Ongoing maintenance. The cost of maintenance on a DSLR is much higher than on a point and shoot. The camera sensor can get dirty and dust can get into lenses. While all manufacturers have some sort of a warranty period, there is no guarantee that things will keep on working when the warranty expires. Obviously, the cost of repair on DSLRs and lenses can get outrageously expensive. You will have to learn how to care for your camera and lenses to prevent dust accumulation and other mechanical problems.
      • Weight and Size. These babies are big and heavy! It took me a while to get used to the size and the weight of my camera. My neck would hurt so badly from carrying the camera around. We ended up purchasing special straps to ease the pain. Weight also makes it hard to hold the camera still and you will have to learn how to properly hold it to have less blur in your pictures.
      • Noise. Due to the nature of DSLRs and their construction, every time the shutter opens and closes, there is a substantial amount of noise that comes out of the camera. Some newer cameras now have a special “Quiet” mode (such as Nikon D600), which helps lower the noise.

      I am not going to ask if you’ve reached the limit of your point and shoot camera, because most likely, you haven’t. Personally, I used to shoot everything in auto mode, trusting the camera to do all the work for me. I didn’t think about the settings or functions and to be honest, I don’t even remember changing any camera settings, because I didn’t care. If a picture didn’t come out right, I would always blame the camera, thinking that only a DSLR would produce a better image. Now that I know how to use a DSLR, every once in a while when I get a hold of a point and shoot, I realize that it was me who didn’t know how to take pictures, not the camera. But owning a DSLR pushed me to learn photography and get to know the basics such as ISO, aperture and shutter speed. I didn’t think about any of those before, because they were all pre-determined for me by my simple and easy to use point and shoot.

      So, keeping in mind all your needs, ask yourself these simple questions to find out if you really need a DSLR:

      1. Am I ready to invest my time and a considerable amount of money into a DSLR?
      2. Am I willing to learn about photography and the camera?
      3. Do I need a more advanced camera for more than just family pictures?
      4. Can my business or family benefit from this purchase?

      Then weigh in the advantages and disadvantages from the above list and see what you are leaning to. If you are leaning towards purchasing a DSLR, please take a look at my husband’s DSLR purchase guide. He gives nice pointers on what to pay attention to while purchasing a new camera. Oh, one more thing, do NOT toss your old point and shoot, because you might need it someday!

      Here is my quick story to end this article:
      As a mother of two children, it is very important for me to preserve my family memories in forms of pictures. I always wanted to have a big album, full of beautiful pictures of my family for us to go back and look at in the future. I didn’t think about cameras or lenses, because I thought that if I wasn’t able to capture those special moments with my point and shoot camera, I could always hire a photographer to take our pictures. But soon after, I realized that there are too many of those special moments that happen in our lives (first smile on my child’s face, first walk, etc.) and it is not always practical and, in some cases impossible, to hire a photographer to save those memories. While trying to document those moments with what I have, I quickly started getting frustrated with bad pictures and memories that were lost forever. I was getting tired of thinking “I wish that image was better” or “I wish it was not as blurry” and really wanted to do something about it. Two years ago, my husband and I finally made the decision to upgrade to a DSLR and I am grateful that we did, because not only am I able to photograph my family and my kids, but also, I always had a passion for photography and I now have the right tools to fulfill my dream of becoming a professional photographer.

      If you have enjoyed this article, please check out our in-depth Level 1 Photography Basics Course, where we explore all the basics of photography in much more detail. It is an intensive, 5+ hour course with enough material to not only get you started today, but also to serve as a reference material in the future

The 10 best digital cameras in 2016

OK, we admit it, it’s an impossible question. The best camera for a pro photographer is a million miles from the best camera for an adventure sports nut. So what we’ve done is pick out what we think are the standout cameras in their fields. This may be because they have the most amazing features and specifications, because they’re amazing value for what they offer or because they are just brilliant at the job they’ve been designed for.

Along the way we’ll explain some of the jargon and the differences between cameras, though if you need a bit more help deciding what kind of camera you need, you can get a lot more information from our special step-by-step guide: What camera should I buy?

On the other hand, you may already have a clear idea of the kind of camera you want, in which case you could go straight to one of our more specific camera buying guides

  • Best bridge camera
  • Best travel camera
  • Best high-end compact
  • Best DSLR
  • Best DSLR for beginners
  • Best full frame DSLR
  • Best CSC/mirrorless camera
  • Best CSC for beginners

New and exciting cameras are coming out all the time, of course, and we’ve got a whole bunch on our shortlist that we want to get in for a proper review, including the latest models from Nikon, Olympus, Canon and Fuji.

If you want to know what else might be coming along during 2016, take a look at our in-depth Camera Rumors 2016 article.