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Photography Lighting Tips

Capturing Lightning

Photographing lightning is similar to shooting fireworks. Both require an open shutter which is a long exposure, but the trick is shooting at a large aperature or f/stop (smaller number like f/4). © David Sanders If you shoot at f/16, the lightning looks like thread on your photo and not very dramatic. This is a single burst of lighting  (one bolt that flashed for brief second) and captured at f/5.0 at a 30 second exposure at ISO 100. I didn′t use a lightning trigger or similar device, just a long exposure, big aperture, and a little bit of luck.

How to Create a Stellar Still Life Lighting Setup for Cheap!

1) Get a box approx twice the size of the largest piece you want to photograph. 2) Cut out front, side walls and top of the box, (leave the back and bottom intact) leaving a shell structure. 3) Cover the top and sides with trace paper, or translucent photo diffusion. It doesent have to be one large sheet, you can scotch tape pieces together. 4) Cover the bottom and back in white paper that swoops at the back edge so you wont get a shadow or see a hard line in the photos. Place box in bright direct midday sun and spin it so the the light comes in from the top and sides, with no direct light coming in the front. 5) Point the camera in from the front. Set the camera on a tripod, to make sure photos are sharp. 6) Set camera on Aperture priority. 7) Shoot at f16 to get everything in focus. ~ Or for the shallow depth of field effect shoot at f2.8 or f4.

Rain Rain Go Away

© Rick Wright Ah, who said you can′t go out and play in the rain with your camera? Especially when exploring a new camera, rain or shine is my motto! In fact, the overcast skies and slight darkness are a perfect time to learn a few tricks for shooting in low light. I spotted these two amazing flowers while walking along a lake road—utterly glowing with color. Diffuse light (from overcast skies) is terrific for flowers as it evens out the light and produces rich saturated color. I opened my lens fully to ƒ2.8 and bumped up my ISO to 200 to get a 1/40th second shutter (right at the edge of being safely handheld). I could have used ISO 400 for more stability, but didn′t want more noise/grain as those petals should look velvety. Instead of faster ISOs, try this extra steadying technique while hand-holding any low light shot. Switch on the self-timer and let the camera release the shutter for you, rather than your clumsy, motion-inducing finger. It works great. I also added some light by adjusting my +/- exposure control by +.07. It brightened up the shadows just the right amount, and ƒ2.8 gave a nice soft effect in the background.

Create Drama

© Adam Stoltman, NY DPA Instructor Use silouhettes to create drama.  The powerful outlines of New York′s 59th Street bridge and skyline are enhanced by the purposeful silouhetting of the buildings against the setting sun.

Turn On Your Night Light

Digital photography has opened many doors for trying anything and everything new. It allows a photographer to try new methods, experiment without risk of the unknown, and simply play. Unrivaled in this regard is the shooting of night and low light scenes. No longer do we need to wait until the film is developed to see if the exposure was correct or if an effect worked positively. Simply fire away and adjust on the spot. Additionally, with merge to HDR software getting better all the time, the range of tones that can be captured in a scene is almost limitless. Technical Considerations: Check your camera manual to see if you have Long Exposure Noise Reduction. If so, turn it ON as it will save you time in front of the computer trying to get rid of noise and grain in the image. While it does add in camera processing time, it’s well worth the wait. Use a tripod to ensure you’ll get a sharp image during the long time the shutter remains open. If you intend to bracket for merge to HDR images, using a tripod will help ensure the images properly overlap and remain in register when imported into the software. Use a cable release to prevent jarring the camera. © Russ Burden Add More Light: A technique that’s fun to try is called Light Painting. It can be done using a flash or with a powerful flashlight. I prefer the flashlight technique as it adds a bit of warmth to the scene due to the color temperature of the light vs flash. With the shutter open for approximately 30 seconds, “paint” the primary subject with the light by “brushing” the beam over it using many even and consistent passes. At the end of the exposure, let the file process in camera and check the effect on the LCD. Adjust the time of the painting and duration of the shutter speed accordingly after looking at the result and the corresponding histogram. Use Brightly LIt and Colorful Subjects: Find subjects that emit a lot of light and color. Most major cities have an area where this can be found. A mall at night is also a good option. The most magical time at which to start shooting is just before the sky gets black. This twilight time works well in that natural light provides separation between the structure and the sky. Keep shooting when the sky goes black as you’ll still be rewarded with great images. © Russ Burden Create Effects: Night photography is unique unto itself but taking it a step farther can provide you with many fantastic photographs. A standardly used effect is to zoom the lens during the exposure. Experiment with zooming the lens quickly or slowly, zooming from the wide to telephoto setting or visa versa, or leaving the lens at a fixed focal point for part of the exposure and zooming for just a portion. Once you’re done zooming, don’t overlook photographing portions of the structure rather than the entire facade. Try multiple exposures or deliberately moving the camera during the exposure. Let your mind wander to places and techniques you’re never tried. Remember, it’s digital and the results are but a glance away from the LCD. © Russ Burden To learn more about this topic, join me on one of my Photographic Nature Tours. Visit and click on the NATURE TOURS button for more information. Also, pick up a copy of my new book, Amphoto’s Complete Book of Photography. You can purchase a signed copy directly from me or visit your local book store or Amazon. Contact me at to order yours.

Use Camera RAW White Balance to Create Moods

Serious photographers know that capturing the image is simply the first step in the digital process. Most tend to capture in RAW. It provides options that jpg captures can’t. One of these relates to white balance. Striving to get the proper white balance is high on all photographer’s minds. So much so, camera manufacturers put a lot of R&D money into making sure that each and every camera body that rolls off the assembly line provides specific color parameters relative to the white balance setting the photographer chooses. While some photographers prefer the warm look of a Cloudy setting, many simply leave the white balance on Auto and tweak the look in camera RAW. This is what got me thinking about the topic of this article. Rather than simply tweak the color, why not go all out and create a totally new look to the capture? Experimenting with white balance is not something that will work with every subject. The obvious is with people. Purple and blue skin tones aren’t natural. On the other hand, if the end result is to create a special effect or to grab the viewer’s attention using a contemporary twist, go for it. Should you choose to go this route, make sure the entire image fits the look rather than having it appear to be a mistake. To get started with your white balance experimenting, I suggest you go through your files and pick out a few pics of multiple subjects. Make copies and place them in an appropriately named folder. Open them in your camera RAW converter and begin to play using the various color pull down options - see the screen shot as a reference. Subjects that make good starting points are silhouettes and night time scenes. As a quick reference, here’s a basic description of each setting: As Shot: the color is based on how the camera was set at capture Auto: the RAW converter chooses what it thinks is proper Daylight: accurate color as if shot during mid day hours Cloudy: similar to daylight but more yellow Shade: similar to cloudy but with even more yellow Tungsten: heavy emphasis toward blue Fluorescent: heavy emphasis toward magenta Flash: close to daylight with a bit less magenta Custom: Changes as soon as any of the above defaults are tweaked Take a look at the results of the accompanying images. As you can see, the entire feel of the image changes based on the chosen white balance. The As Shot version provided a great capture with very neutral hues and was representative of what existed at the time I pressed the shutter. In playing with the pull downs, I next went to Shade. As described above, the image took on a much warmer yellow hue. In converting the image to Tungsten, a strong blue color was imparted to the image. If you were looking to create a moonlit appearance, it would be a great setting to use. Finally, the Fluorescent setting produced an image with a magenta cast. Try using it for sunrises and sunsets to add warmth to the scene. To learn more about this topic, join me on one of my Photographic Nature Tours. Visit and click on the NATURE TOURS button for more information. Also, pick up a copy of my new book, Amphoto’s Complete Book of Photography. You can purchase a signed copy directly from me or visit your local book store or Amazon. Contact me at   to order your signed copy

Beauty In Motion

This photo of a newly married couple shot in the coastal town of San Carlos, Mexico, illustrates a creative use of fill-flash. As the couple danced on the beach with the sun having already set, I shot at a half second to capture a little of the horizon line and the deep colors of the sky. Because it was dark enough outside, the flash stopped the couple during their dance, yet with no other available light, they didn′t become blurred because of the long exposure. By having a long exposure, the camera movement in the background helped give a sense of movement to their dancing, even though they are not blurred, but yet it is obvious they are in movement. © David Sanders

Use Exposure Compensation to Get White Snow

When shooting scenes like this, you’ll need to use exposure compensation in order to get white snow. In both of these images, I used +1.3 stops. Shooting at the metered setting will likely give you dingy grey snow since the meter is overwhelmed by all of the white in the scene. As an alternative, you can meter off of another object. In the water pump, metering on the red pump yielded nearly the same exposure value as I got by using exposure compensation when metering off the snow. To do this, you’ll need to have an exposure lock feature that will let you recompose the image after metering. This is often called AEL. © Jon Canfield © Jon Canfield © Jon Canfield

Shoot Into the Light

While leading my nature photo tours, participants often hear me say, “It’s all about the light.” Whether it’s the soft warm glow of sunrise / sunset, directional side light that enhances a landscape, soft overcast light that works so well for photographing people, or direct front light, the bottom line is the quality of the light is of great magnitude in determining the success of the image. Regardless of the direction from where the light originates, learning how to read it and knowing how it will impact a subject is essential to becoming a better photographer. Of the three primary lighting directions, backlight is the least often used as it presents challenges that are difficult to overcome. However, when used properly, backlit images have a tremendous amount of impact and seem to pop off the page. ©Russ Burden Beginning photographers often hear that they should avoid photographing backlit subjects. The classic stereotyped message they’re told is to shoot with the sun behind their back so the subject is front lit. While this does hold validity in that it presents a situation to easily obtain proper exposures, the light is flat and lacks interest. Backlighting is so much more intriguing and exciting. The purpose of photographing a backlit subject is to make it glow as the subject is rim lit in a halo of luminance. If the subject possesses translucent qualities, the effect is enhanced as it appears to be lit from within. Another purpose is to silhouette the subject to emphasize its shape and form. Make sure the background is strong, simple, and has a lot of color to prevent it from distracting the viewer from focusing on the outlined subject. Challenges - Exposure and Flare:Exposure: If capturing a silhouette is the primary focus of the image, take a meter reading from the area behind the subject. In the accompanying image of the bird in the water, I simply took a reading off the water in an area where there was no glare reflecting off its surface. I locked that exposure into the camera by pressing half way down on the shutter, recomposed the image and then made the picture. In a situation where the primary silhouetted subject takes up a large portion of the frame, the above technique becomes imperative or else the resulting image will be overexposed. The camera reads the large black silhouette thinking it needs to falsely open up the exposure and the result is a  gray silhouette with an overexposed background. When in doubt, if the shooting situation makes it practical, bracket the exposure. If it remains consistent, compensate the exposure to the minus side.  ©Russ Burden Flare: If the sun shines directly into the lens, the chance of getting a flare spot in the image is greatly increased. The use of a lens hood becomes essential to lessen the chance. But sometimes this isn’t enough. Stop the lens down and press the depth of field preview button as this will reveal if flare is impacting the picture. If so, carefully place a shadow across the front of the lens with your hand, a hat, newspaper, etc. The trick is to create a shadow across the front element without getting the item that creates the shadow in the image. If possible, find an element in the composition that minimizes the potential by placing the sun behind it as in the accompanying photo of the tree, rock monolith, and sun. ©Russ Burden To learn more about this topic, join me on one of my Photographic Nature Tours. Visit and click on the NATURE TOURS button for more information. Also, pick up a copy of my new book, Amphoto’s Complete Book of Photography. You can purchase a signed copy directly from me or visit your local book store or Amazon. Contact me at to order your signed copy.  

Flaming Rosetta

I was hired recently to do a promotional shot for a new coffee house in Philadelphia that was gaining a lot of attention for their perfectly brewed coffee. They requested I come by and get a shot of a freshly minted rosetta (foam art) by the shop′s favorite barista. The shoot couldn′t be done in my studio (with controlled lighting), so I had to think a bit on my feet. In addition to working with the available indoor lighting, I was also under a time pressure to get something recorded before the rosetta fell apart in the foam. By the third latte, I settled on using their gas fireplace (looks real doesn′t it?) as a backdrop. © Rick Wright I shot a middle aperture (ƒ8) to get most of the cup and saucer in focus (while using a 100mm lens). A faux crocodile bench acted as a "table". After I got this shot, I realized how nicely the background flames paralleled the similar flame-like shapes in the rosetta itself. Other than ambient light, I did place one more lamp high up shooting down on the coffee cup. This image later appeared in Philadelphia Style Magazine.

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