Places Research Task Robyn hay

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What is camera shake?

Camera Shake can occur when hand-holding your camera. No matter how steady you think you are holding it, you can never stand perfectly still and this slight movement shows up in your photos as a blurriness or lack of sharpness.

Ways to prevent camera shake:

Use a Tripod: The biggest reason for camera shake is your own movement so if you do have a tripod it is a good idea to use it, as your camera will be steady which is essential when you need to use a longer exposure.

Use a Shutter Release Button: Even with a tripod you can still get camera shake when you press the shutter. A shutter release cable is a wire that plugs into your camera and gives you a new shutter button, this means that you can take your photographs without even having to touch the camera.

Use the Timer: Another way to avoid shake when you press the shutter is to use your camera timer. You simply press the shutter and a few seconds later, the camera takes the shot automatically.

Making Yourself Stable: If you don't have a tripod or the situation dictates you can’t use one , there are severals ways you can reduce camera shake. The most important thing is too make yourself as stable as possible. If you don't feel as though you are balanced you could crouch down onto your knees to keep you as balanced as possible.

Make the Camera Stable: If there’s something around you that could help keep the camera steady, don’t forget to use it. If you’re out in the mountains there will probably be a rock that you could use to rest the camera on. Out in the fields? Use a fence post. Trying to get low down? Rest the gear on the floor. If you don’t have the tools, there are plenty of ways to improvise but the best way to avoid camera shake really is to remove yourself and let other tools or objects keep the camera steady for you.

Vr prevents camera shake

Inside the camera there is a mechanism to adjust the glass lenses slightly which will reduce the movements of your hands. VR will give you a few shutter stops back. For example if you can’t quite get the right amount of lighting to have a shutter speed at 1/320 of a second, the VR will allow you to go down to 1/125 of a second which is around a 4 second drop and this would be ideal. Majority of the time this will give you enough light to correctly expose your image. VR can typically make lenses cost a bit extra but they are still cheaper than a fast lens.

How shutter speed prevents camera shake:

Camera shake can be avoided by using a faster shutter speed. It’s more noticeable when using lenses with a long focal length. The longer your lens is the more you will need to increase your shutter speed to help to avoid camera shake. You should use a minimum shutter speed of 1/focal length. So if you are using a 200mm lens you should use a shutter speed of 1/200 . This will usually guarantee that the shutter speed won’t be open long enough to catch the movement of your hand, or wont be as noticeable on your final image. You shouldn't try and hand hold your camera anything lower than 1/60 of a second, if you do you are going to get camera shake as it is impossible to hold the camera steady for the length of time.

Shutter release:

A remote shutter release is a remote way to trigger your camera shutter without touching your camera. One of the main reasons to buy a shutter release remote is to prevent camera shake when photographing under high magnification or when using a slow shutter speed. The reason to use a shutter release remote to prevent camera shake is that it is very difficult to press the release button on your camera with out nudging the camera even in the slightest.


A self timer trips the shutter after a certain amount of time delay. The delay of the shutter is usually around 10 seconds before the exposure is made, but the delay can be shorter on some cameras and can go as slow as a two second wait.The self timer is normally used to allow the photographer enough time to get into the picture instead of being behind the camera. However it can still be used in other ways such as a hands off time exposure. This will hep to prevent camera shake. While using the self timer it will be best to make sure that the camera is as steady as you can possibly make it or camera shake may still occur, you can do this by either using a tripod or even placing it on somethings as simple as a beanbag.


How to Use a Tripod

When dealing with slow shutter speeds, a solid tripod is a must-have tool for eliminating camera shake and capturing sharp photographs. Although setting up a tripod and effectively utilizing it for photography needs at first sounds simple and self-explanatory. Even though you could own the most expensive tripod on the market and know exactly what to do to yield razor sharp images, your images could still be suffering from poor framing choices.

Invest in a Good Tripod System

Before getting into the topic of using tripods, highlight the importance of investing in a good tripod system is important. Unfortunately, many of us end up making poor choices when it comes to purchasing tripods. Don’t go waisting time experimenting with different tripods and invest in a good tripod system sooner than later. Keep in mind that good tripods often do not come with a head, so make sure to carefully pick a solid head for your tripod as well. The type of head you pick will depend on what you shoot, but the most common type on the market today is a ballhead, which does well for various photography needs.

When to Use a Tripod

It is important to know when you need to use a tripod. Shooting hand-held is effortless compared to setting up a tripod and mounting the camera on it, which is why many of us prefer shooting hand-held when possible. Although most modern cameras are capable of producing excellent results with very low noise levels at high ISOs and this has certainly reduced the need to use tripods, tripods are still preferred in low-light situations, especially when one desires highest quality images with little or no noise on high-resolution cameras. Since there are so many variables involved, such as camera hand-holding technique, shutter speed, ISO performance, sensor size, focal length, image stabilization, lens sharpness and camera to subject distance, there is no magic formula for figuring out exactly when a tripod must be used.

Some things to consider:

Weight: if gear is very heavy, it is best to avoid hand-holding it, especially when photographing for extended periods of time. Trying to hand-hold a 600mm f/4 lens with a professional DSLR will quickly tire your hands, even if you work out every day.

Photography Genres: Landscape, Macro, Architecture and some other photography genres might require tripod use for precision, framing and consistency, even if light conditions are good. One might want to introduce intentional motion blur, such as when photographing waterfalls, moving clouds and other movements. Also, some specific techniques such as Panorama, HDR, Timelapse and Exposure Blending might also require tripod use.

Hand-Holding Technique, Reciprocal Rule and Image Stabilization: knowing how to properly hand-hold your camera is important, but if shutter speed is too low, you might still be introducing camera shake. As a general guideline, the reciprocal rule works quite well, which basically says that your shutter speed should be at least what the focal length is. For example, if you are photographing with a 300mm lens, your shutter speed should be at least 1/300 of a second. If you have a crop sensor camera, make sure to multiply the focal length with the crop factor. Lastly, if you have image stabilization in your camera or on your lens, turn it on and know that you can lower your shutter speed below the reciprocal rule by two stops or more (depends on image stabilization effectiveness and your hand-holding technique).

ISO Performance and Acceptable Level of Noise: some of the modern full-frame cameras are capable of producing superb images at high ISOs without introducing too much noise, losing lots of dynamic range and colors. However, there is always a fine line between what the camera can do and what your preference is in terms of what you consider acceptable. Some photographers do not mind seeing lots of noise, while others are bothered by even a hint of it. Decide what you consider acceptable for your camera and if the conditions call for higher ISOs, you will know when tripod use will be mandatory.

Output Size: how large you are planning to print or display your images is also important. If you need amazing pixel-level quality for those large billboard-size prints or ultra high-resolution monitors, you might need to shoot at low ISO levels, which result in slower shutter speeds. However, if you are not interested in printing and only want to showcase your images on the web, then you could take advantage of resizing / down-sampling of images, which will drastically reduce blur, noise and other problems in images.

Focal Length and Subject Distance: the longer the lens, the faster your shutter speed will need to be to yield sharp images when shooting hand-held. Subject distance is also important – if the subject is far away and represents a small part of your frame, poor sharpness will be much more obvious.

Camera and Lens Resolution: The more resolution your camera has, the more demanding it will be on your lenses and your hand-holding technique, so keep this in mind.

Setting Up Tripod

Tripod Placement and Leveling: Before you start setting up the tripod, first identify where it will be placed. While most locations have firm and flat grounds making it easy to set up a tripod, some places can be very tricky, requiring some of the tripod feet to be extended shorter or longer to be fully secure. Always make sure that the tripod base is properly leveled – use those bubble levels on the tripod legs. You want the load in the center of the tripod to be distributed evenly to all three legs. The last thing you want is accidents with your gear crashing down! Also, be extremely careful about placing tripod feet on anything that moves or can potentially break (thin ice, sand, etc).

Extend Thick Leg Sections First: My Gitzo Traveler tripod is lightweight, but its legs are quite thin on the bottom. If I only need to use one or two sections, I will be extending the thicker ones and leaving out the thin ones, because it will make the tripod more stable. The same goes for all other tripods – the top sections are always going to be the thickest and the strongest.

Fully Open Up the Legs: All tripods will have stopping points where the legs will not open up any further. Always make sure to spread those legs all the way – you do not want heavy equipment to suddenly spread legs when shooting, potentially ruining not only your shot, but also your equipment.

Leg Placement: When placing your tripod, it is a good idea to point of the tripod legs towards the subject / scene middle, so that you could stand between the other two legs.

Use Center Column as a Last Resort: I avoid center columns / posts like plague, but sometimes I have no other choice when my equipment needs to be physically higher. I always make sure to extend all the legs first and if that’s not enough, only then use it. Why? Because center columns always destabilize your setup – it is a single point of connection versus three. If you do use the center column, always make sure that the tripod base is leveled, so that the center post is in vertical orientation – you do not want to angle it, as the weight of the camera might make your tripod fall on the heavy side.

Secure Your Camera / Lens Tightly: To avoid potential accidents, always make sure to secure your camera or lens tightly. Once you mount your gear, hold it with your hands and try to move it. There should be no wiggling or shaking of any sort.

Camera L Bracket: When mounting your camera on the tripod head, it is always a good idea to use an L Bracket instead of a single plate on the bottom of the camera. With a regular plate, your camera will be heavier on one side in portrait orientation, which might not be secure. L Brackets can be expensive, as they are made specifically for each camera, but they are worth the investment in the long run.

Long / Heavy Lens Mounting: If you are using a heavy lens, always make sure to mount the lens on your tripod using its tripod collar, instead of mounting your camera and letting your lens hang off the mount. Not only will you keep your camera safe from potentially breaking or bending the lens mount, but you will also end up with a much more stable setup.

Head Flip Lock Release Considerations: Flip locks are nice and convenient, but you always have to make sure that the plates are of the right size for your head. This is especially important for Arca-Swiss plates, which can vary in size depending on the country and manufacturer.

Tripod Hook: If your tripod is equipped with a hook on the bottom, or perhaps in the center column, hanging your camera bag or a sandbag can provide extra stability. However, if it is very windy and your bag is not heavy enough, it could have a detrimental effect, potentially destabilizing your setup.

Using Tripod

Camera Strap: Camera straps are convenient to have on your camera, but once mounted on a tripod, can cause camera shake in windy situations.

Shoot at Base ISO and Turn Off Auto ISO: Most cameras have the least amount of noise and the highest dynamic range at their base ISO (usually between ISO 64 and 200), so use the lowest native setting. Make sure to turn off Auto ISO.

Use Cable Release: Squeezing the shutter release with your fingers will surely cause camera shake, so it is a good idea to use a remote / cable release.

Self Timer: Adding a two+ second delay with self-timer is usually a good idea, especially if you do not have a remote / cable release.

Mirror Up: If you have a DSLR, its mirror causes a lot of vibration when it moves up before each exposure. Using Mirror Up will raise the mirror first, then you can wait a little before taking the shot. Mirror Up requires a remote / cable release.

Exposure Delay: If your camera has exposure delay feature and you do not have a remote / cable release, exposure delay mode can help effectively eliminate camera shake. With exposure delay, the camera mirror will go up, then the camera will wait for a specified time before taking a picture. On some cameras you can specify the amount of time to wait. Some cameras allow you to use a self timer in combination with exposure delay.

Electronic Front Curtain Shutter: A number of new DSLRs (like Nikon D810) and mirrorless cameras have the Electronic Front Curtain Shutter feature. With this feature turned on, the camera will not operate its shutter mechanism at the beginning of the exposure, which can completely eliminate any kind of camera shake. If you are shooting with a DSLR, you will have to be in Mirror Up mode though and there might be other limitations. Although this feature is usually off by default, I would recommend to turn it on and use it actively.

Turn Off Image Stabilization: Unless your lens has a specific image stabilization mode to be used on tripods, you should always keep it turned off. When your gear is on a stable setup, you do not want image stabilization to try to compensate for movement that is not there.

Built in Camera Flash

How to Take Better Pictures using Just the Pop up Flash

For many photographers they don't like using only the built in flash, it makes them cringe. The reason being is that if it isn't The dreaded pop-up flash. altered carefully the pop up flash gives a very harsh direct right that doesn't look natural at all. With this happening it means that the result of your photographs will be flat every time because the harsh light from the flash will take away all shadows that would have added depth or texture to the photograph. If the pop up flash is used too close to the subject and the flash intensity it not adjusted accordingly it can overexpose the subject. With these negative results pop up flash has been given a bad reputation, however with that said there are many situations where this feature can improve your photography a significant amount and can even be a life saver. Pop up flash is normally used for people just starting out with photography and aren't confident enough to invest in the flash gear the professionals use. Although it is said that people starting out photography are the main people to use pop up flash professionals find them selfs in an unexpected situation where they are going to need to use it. Knowing how to use pop up flash will not only improve your photography it will also help you get the most of your pictures in a pinch.

Knowing your limits:

Pop up flash doesn't get the power itself unlike and external flash unit. Pop up flash will get the power from the camera battery itself. As it is sharing this power with all the other camera functions the power of the pop up flash is very limited compared to an external flash. For the flash not to use all of the cameras battery life it isn't nearly as bright or far reaching as an external flash that you can invest in, these limits mean that you need to be aware of the working range of the pop up flash.

Most pop-up flashes have a range of around 2 to 12 feet. If you aren't sure of the range of your pop up flash it will be in the cameras manual. Without being aware of this range, you may be taking pictures in which the subject is outside the range of your flash, causing it to be underexposed. You can increase this range by increasing your ISO, or altering the flash compensation.

For extremely distant subjects, such as at concerts or sporting events, it is best to turn the flash off completely, bump up the ISO, and let the ambient light do its work. Using your flash in situations such as this will only make the group of people in front of you bright and sharp, while everything you wanted correctly exposed is poorly lit or not lit at all. Know the limitations of your flash, and when it is best to let the camera’s other functions step in.

Use Flash Compensation:

This is different from exposure compensation. Exposure compensation makes your photograph brighter or darker by changing the exposure that was automatically selected by the camera. Flash compensation is similar, but makes your photograph brighter or darker by adjusting the intensity of the flash rather than the exposure. Using flash compensation will help you achieve the proper exposure and assist you in getting around the many limitations of your built-in flash.

Your camera does not always choose the optimal flash power when firing the pop up flash. Once in a while you may want to increase or decrease the amount of light from your flash from what your camera finds suitable. If your photos are coming out with an overexposed subject adjusting the flash compensation can change those blown out highlights into a photo with correct exposure.

The amount you adjust it will depend on the ambient lighting and the results you hope to achieve. When shooting close to a subject or in a dark or shady location you will want to turn the power down so its not to over expose. However if you are shooting outdoors in bright sunlight or far from your subject you will most likely want to turn the power up.

To adjust the flash compensation, you will need to be in Manual, Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority modes (M, A, or S on Nikon; M, Av, or Tv on Canon). The flash compensation setting is usually marked by a lightning bolt along side the +/- symbol. Refer to your manual for finding the flash compensation settings on your particular camera. when this has been selected you will be able to adjust the flash power up or down. Play around with the settings until you achieve the exposure that you are looking for. Knowing this feature on your camera is a great asset for taking better pictures with your pop-up flash.

Your Flash isn't Nocturnal:

Your flash isn’t for using only when it is dark. One of the most useful functions of your camera’s pop up flash is the ability to use it as a fill flash especially in broad daylight. It may seem strange using your camera’s flash when the sun is high in the sky but that is when you will most need to use it. Using a fill flash can really make a difference in your images by lightening dark shadows, brightening colors, and creating depth. It is one of the easiest techniques to master and will give your photos an edge without having to spend hours in Lightroom or Photoshop.

If you have ever shot a portrait outside in full sun you know how difficult it is. Standing in direct sunlight causes harsh shadows to fall across your subject’s face creating dark shadows beneath the eyes and hiding important facial details. Rather than moving to the shade or spending hours post processing try turning on your camera’s pop up flash. By adding some light from your flash those once harsh shadows become softened adding in much of the lost detail. As a nice bonus the flash also adds a bright ‘catch light’ effect to the subject’s eyes.

Play around with various strengths of the flash until you get the correct exposure. In especially bright situations try dialing up the flash compensation one or two more stops. This can give you the additional effect of darkening the background behind the subject giving your photo some drama. You can also try combining two exposures one using natural lighting and one taken using the fill flash. This technique will allow you to vary the strength of the flash and alter the background independently of the subject during post processing.

Fill Flash

Your fill flash is also a lifesaver when it comes to backlit portraits. Try taking a picture of someone in front of a window on Auto mode and you’ll end up with a silhouette. This is because your camera thinks that the scene has enough light and your subject is well exposed. Unfortunately that is not the case. Override these settings by turning your flash on. This will give you a properly exposed subject rather than a dark shadow.

Using a fill flash is great for taking portraits, but can be used in nature photography too, adding greater color and depth of field. Try using the flash the next time you are shooting in the great outdoors, and notice the difference just a little light makes.

There are many uses for the fill flash, so many that not all of them can be covered here. Using your pop-up flash as a fill flash is an easy technique to learn, and will make a significant difference in your photos. Try it the next time you are taking photos outdoors and you will be glad you did.

DIY Diffusing and Bouncing:

One of the main disadvantages of your camera’s pop up flash is the harshness and intensity of the light. This is due to the fact that the flash originates from such a small area. The smaller the area that the light originates from the harsher that light source will be. Because your camera’s flash is designed to fit compactly inside of the camera it is one of the harshest light sources you can come by. There are special tools designed to alter and diffuse this light, but you may not always have these tools at your side. In this case, it is useful to know a few tips and tricks for creating a softer light using just your pop-up flash.

One of the ways in which you can soften the light is by diffusing it. A diffuser works to increase the size of your light source, thus softening it. This is why you will see photographers shooting with umbrellas or softboxes. But these tools are cumbersome, and not always at our disposal. In cases where you are stuck with just your camera you can improvise a diffuser using tissue paper, thin cotton velum paper, or any similar material. Hold (or carefully tape) the mock-diffuser to your flash and fire away. You should notice an instant difference when shooting with a diffused flash as opposed to a direct flash.


When shooting with diffused light, it is important to note that because the light is being decreased, so is your range. Any diffuser you use will dim the light, so you will need to experiment with the flash compensation to get the results you want.

Another way to soften the flash is by bouncing it off of the ceiling turning the room into a giant softbox. The light from the flash hits the ceiling which softens the light by spreading it throughout the room. Note that this technique will only work indoors and in smaller-sized rooms.

While the pop up flash on your camera is stationary you can still bounce the light using a small white card. Hold the card at a 45 degree angle in front of your flash and take your shot. The light should hit the card bounce to the ceiling and spread out into a nice soft light. Experiment with the light intensity and card angle until you get the best results. This technique isn’t perfect but most times will do in a pinch.

Using Slow Sync Flash

When taking photographs in low light you usually have two options; use the flash or decrease your shutter speed. Using the flash illuminates your subject but will often leave it washed out, overexposed, and feeling very flat. When firing the flash your camera also defaults to a faster shutter speed giving no time to collect ambient lighting this makes the background very dark. The other option is to turn off the flash and slow down your shutter speed. This may be an acceptable solution if you have a tripod and a stationary subject but if your subject is moving or you don’t have a steady hand your shot will be entirely blur.

Slow Sync flash is the happy medium. With Slow Sync flash your flash will go off along with a slower shutter speed. This means that the flash is fired exposing your subject well but the shutter stays open so the ambient light has time to go in and fill in the rest of the image rather than leaving you with a dark background. If you are using the flash and your images are turning out flat and boring try Slow Sync flash. Using this setting will give your images dimension and color. Try adjusting the settings to see what kind of results you can get by decreasing the shutter speed or changing the flash compensation. Once you become familiar with this setting you will never want to go back to Auto again.

Light Trails:

Light Trails continue to be popular subject matter for many photographers and they can actually be a great training ground for those wanting to get their cameras out of manual mode and to experiment with shooting in low light at longer exposures.

What is Light Trail?

When you set your camera's shutter speed to a very low level, the light is captured by camera sensors for a longer period of time. Your camera is exposed to light for about more than 20 - 25 seconds (30 seconds of exposure time is ideal to capture light trails). The best location to capture these light trail are the busy city roads, where your camera sensors track, record and capture light from every passing vehicle. The long exposure time and slow shutter speed causes the lights to appear as colorful streaks moving across the image.

Setting up the shot:

Timing: People think that the middle of the night is the best time for light trail photography which it can be however it is also very effective to do just as the sun is going down or even just after. When shooting at this time it means that you that you won't only capture the light from the cars but you will also capture some of the ambient light in the sky which can add a nice atmospheric effect to your shot. when shooting earlier in he evening it may mean that you capture more cars in your shit due to it being close to rush hour.

Creative Perspectives: Get down low or find a place looking down on your scene that will create an unusual angle.

Location: These kind of shots are normally taken somewhere near a road, however there’s more to think about than that. Try and find location that adds interest to the shot in some way. This might be one where there are well lit buildings along the road, one where multiple roads merge together to create light trails in different directions, on the bend of a road so that the trails sweep through the image, near a roundabout so the trails create circular shapes, in the middle of dual carriageways (on a triaffic island) so that you get traffic coming in two directions etc.

Framing: The normal ‘rules’ of composition apply in this type of photography. Images need some sort of point/s of interest, the rule of thirds can be applied effectively, draw the eyes into your image using lines smartly, foregrounds and backgrounds should add to and not distract from the image.


Aperture and Shutter Speed: As the ambient light and speed of cars will differ in every situation there’s no one exposure combination that will work in every setting. Although some people have found that shooting with a shutter speed between 10 and 20 seconds means that will give the cars enough time to move through the frame and apertures are around the mid tern preferably starting with something around f/8.

The best way to figure out the correct shutter speed and aperture is to start with the shutter speed around 10-20 seconds and a f/ stop of 8 and take a few snap shots to see if your photographs are over or under exposed and will also be able to see whether the length of the exposure is long enough to let cars travel through the frame in the way that you are wanting. If you find that your shots are overexposed then close your aperture down by increase the f/ stop number and if it is underexposed open it up by decreasing the f/ stop number. If you are wanting the lights of the cars to go through the frame for longer its best going for a longer shutter speed and if you want them to travel less through the frame then the shutter speed can be shortened to the correct speed that you want it at. You must keep in mind that the aperture also impacts the depth field.

Histogram: One thing to watch out for is letting any light source in your image (whether it be headlights, street lights etc) washing out your image. Lights that burn too bright can cause distractions and draw the eye of your viewer away from focal points which can ruin your shot. One way to quickly check out if there’s any area in your shot that is overexposed to this degree is to view the histogram on your shot. If there are areas that are blown out you’ll have a graph with a right hand side that is too high on the graph. Learn more about histograms here.

Choose a low ISO setting will give you images with as little noise as possible.

Manual Focus: In low light situations cameras can struggle to get focusing locked correctly. The last thing you want is for your camera to be in and out of focus just as you need to hit the shutter release. Switch to manual focus and make sure your focus is upon a part of your image that is visually strong.

Light Painting

How do you do it?

Open the shutter using your locking release and walk into your scene and start lighting the objects in the camera view using your flashlight. It sounds simple but can be quite tricky to get just the right amount of light in different places, not get yourself in the image, and still get a good overall exposure.

Getting Started – Setting up

Set up your camera on tripod with remote attached or set up to fire the camera

Turn off any image stabilization (IS or VR) on your lens

Turn OFF “long exposure noise reduction” unless you have a lot of patience. What it does it takes a second exposure of equal length of just black, then merges it with your shot to get rid of the noise. But if you’re doing a 2 minute exposure, you have to wait another 2 minutes to review your image and be able shoot again. I don’t use it, and because we’re on a low ISO noise shouldn’t be a big factor.

Low ISO ideally 100 or 200

Aperture: start around f/5.6, depending on your scene, then adjust from there if you want more or less depth of field. Keep in mind the smaller aperture you use, each stop you close down doubles the amount of time you need to be painting and exposing. So a 60 second exposure at f/5.6 becomes an 8 minute exposure at f/16.

Shutter speed: start around 60 seconds. I’ve done enough night photography to know that’ll get you pretty close for most moonlit scenes. You may have to adjust faster (shorter exposure) or longer depending on whether it’s a full moon, or there’s some stray light in the scene, and how bright your flashlight is.


White balance: I generally choose “incandescent” or “tungsten” White Balance Preset when doing light painting because I know that will balance correctly for my flashlight. I let the rest of the scene fall where it may color wise

Focus: your camera has a hard time focusing at night and will “hunt” unless you find focus and lock it for all your exposures. If your camera has back button focus capabilities I’d suggest using that, if not you can focus and then turn it to manual focus so it doesn’t attempt to refocus when you hit the shutter release. You can try to focus using manual but keep in mind if your camera can’t see in the dark, neither can you! So to achieve focus use your flashlight, and if you have a friend along, get them to light up the part of the object you want to focus on. Then either use your auto focus and lock it, or manually focus and then don’t touch it!

Manual mode or BULB: for exposure set it to manual. That way the camera is not trying to guess the correct exposure. We’ll be setting it and leaving it for the most part, just like our focus. For exposures longer than 30 seconds (30″ on your camera) you’ll need to find and use your BULB setting. On many cameras it is right after 30 seconds on the shutter speed scale, one some there’s a B option on your mode dial on top of your camera.

ISO – how low can you go?! This is where it gets counter intuitive because your gut may be telling you that it’s dark out so you need a higher ISO, right? Well in certain situations like shooting the moon, a starry sky, or northern lights where you want a faster shutter speed – then you might need a higher ISO. But for this purpose and most of the times you are on a tripod it is always best to choose the lowest ISO possible. Noise in your image increases with changes in 3 things: higher ISO, long exposures and in blue or dark areas of your scene. We’re already pushing the long exposure boundaries and night is ALL blue, so keeping the ISO low will minimize the noise best we can.

Setting up your Base Exposure

Before you start “painting” take a test shot, without the flashlight, of the scene as it is with no additional light added

Review that image and make sure you have a good overall exposure of the scene, with it perhaps just a little on the dark side (histogram should be mostly inclined to the left side)

When you are happy with the exposure, adjust your settings so that you have a long enough shutter speed to easily get into the scene and light the subject with your flashlight before the shutter closes (at least 30 seconds). You may have to go to a smaller aperture to do so.

Once you know your exposure and your shutter speed is at least 30 seconds long, you can get started. If you can bring a friend along they can press the shutter release for you, so you can go in and out of the scene without returning to the camera after each shot to press it again. Or a wireless remote comes in handy here too


How to Use a Reflector

In the world of photography, nothing happens without light. In most cases, there are two types of light that photographers work with: natural light and artificial light. Although I often find myself using artificial light sources, I prefer using natural light whenever possible and consider myself to be a natural light photographer. One of the tools that has made the biggest difference to my natural light photography (and, for that matter, studio photography) is a reflector. In this guide, I will show you how to use a reflector effectively to enhance your photographs by simply bouncing natural light.

Choosing a Reflector

If you have never purchased a reflector before, the options that you find once you start looking might be overwhelming. There are large and small reflectors. There are round, rectangular and triangular reflectors. There are white, gold and silver reflectors, as well as combinations of these three colors with names like Sunfire, SoftSilver, Zebra and Sparkling Sun.

One of the first things you’ll want to decide on is the size of reflector you’ll need. If you’re mainly shooting individual portraits, a smaller reflector might work better for you than a larger one. Of course, a larger reflector will generally produce a larger area of softer light, but larger reflectors are also more difficult to handle, so there is a compromise to be made. A 42″ reflector is a pretty common size that is a nice combination of ease of use and nice light.

Once you know the general size you’re looking for, you can start looking at different brands and shapes. You’ll find reflectors that have handles, brackets or frames. You’ll also find reflectors that don’t have any fancy features. You’ll usually pay a premium and have fewer options if you choose a reflector that has a handle or a frame, but the added ease of use might just make it worth the extra money.

Using a Reflector

There are just about as many ways to use a reflector as there are reflector options. You can hold it yourself, have an assistant hold it, have your subject hold it, lean it on something or buy a stand made specifically to hold it. You can even have your subject sit on it.

Natural Light

Everyone will have their own preferences for how and when to use a reflector with natural light, but I’m going to tell you a few of the situations where I prefer to use one. I encourage everyone to experiment with different reflector materials and lighting situations to find out what works best for you.

The majority of my photos consist of backlighting. Before I started using reflectors, I just blew out the background and was happy. Once I started using reflectors I discovered I could start bringing a bit of the background back into my shots by decreasing the difference in exposure for my subject and background. For my backlit shots, whether it’s mid-day or the golden hour, I typically hold a white reflector right next to my face so it fills my subject with light that’s coming from almost directly in front of them.

As with any light source, the larger it is relative to your subject, the softer the light is going to be. I prefer to use reflectors to provide a soft fill light, so I usually use the white or white/silver side and try to get them as close to my subject as possible. If there’s not a lot of light to work with and I have to use the silver side, I’ll move the reflector farther from my subject so the light doesn’t overpower the natural light and still just acts as a fill.

A reflector does just what it says: it reflects light. If you’re using a silver or gold side, do not let your subject look directly at it, especially in full sun! The last thing you want to do is temporarily blind them. Seeing where the light is landing when you’re using a gold or silver reflector is easy. When you’re using a white reflector it’s a little bit harder. The best method I have found for using a white reflector is to move it back and forth and watch the light on your subject. The change might be subtle, but you’ll be able to find the right angle for your reflector with a little practice.

Although it sounds obvious, if you’re having a hard time finding the reflected light on your subject, make sure that light is actually hitting the reflector. Many times a branch or even your subject will be casting a shadow on the reflector, greatly reducing how much light is being reflected.

How to Control and Modify Your Lighting With Flags

Lighting can be a complicated subject. From light sources, to modifiers, and color temperature, there are so many things to take into consideration. You probably know of many ways to alter your light with reflectors and diffusers.

However, what do you do when you have too much light, or the light isn’t behaving the way you need to produce your final image? You could start from scratch and choose a different light source and modifier, or you could opt for a different setup altogether. There is another way – flags.

What are flags?

At the most basic, flags are anything that can used to block or cut light from anywhere it isn’t wanted. Have you ever closed a blind or a curtain to block glare from a television screen? That blind is acting as a flag. Another example would be the sun visor in your car. What other examples can you think of? These instances from day to day life can help you figure out the use of flags much quicker.

Building an image

When you are working on an image that has many steps as part of the setup process, it’s important to take your time and build up your image one step at a time. Start with putting your subject in place and choosing your composition. From there, you can pick how you want to light it. Once those three things are in place, you can add or take away from the scene one step at a time, ensuring things are perfect before you move on to the next step.


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