What to know when shooting in snow

Tired of dull, gray snow scenes? Having trouble taking bright, white snow photographs? Here is what to know when shooting snow!

Early cameras did not have built in light meters. You either had to guess at the exposure based on previous tests or later using a handheld light meter. It was easier when using a flash bulb such as on a press camera you see used in the movies because the exposure with a flash bulb is based on distance – basically the time it takes for the light to bounce off the subject and come back to the camera.

Eventually light meters were included in the camera design. But the most important thing to remember about light meters is that are measuring the object they are pointed at and are trying to calculate the exposure to represent the subject at what is known as 18% gray.

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As the majority of snapshot with cameras are people and assumed Caucasian or Asian skin tones, the camera manufactures assumed that most of the time photographers would want to expose for this 18% gray tone.

This means that every time you take a picture of something that is not 18% gray or in that range, the exposure is most likely to be over or under exposed.

Take a picture of a 18% gray wall and it will correctly expose as 18% gray. Take a picture of a white painted wall, white wedding dress or snow and it will come out underexposed or gray.

Take a photo of a black wall or a black frying pan and it will come out overexposed or gray instead of black.

This is why its important to understand how to use your exposure compensation controls on your camera to purposely under expose or over expose your scene to get the right exposure.

Over expose to get white snow, under expose to get true black scenes. You have to “fool” or “trick” your build in exposure meter to get the right settings.

Another method would be to shot a 18% gray card and then enter those setting into the camera in manual mode. Or use a light meter to take the ambient light measurements. Rather than metering reflected light, this setting on a hand held light meter measures the light falling on the scene.

Why 18% Gray?  Is it really 18% or more like 12%?  Does it really matter?

The story goes that Ansel Adams came up with the “18% gray” figure. Back in the hay day of film photography he was developing the zone system and needed to define a “middle gray”. It was a judgment call. Eventually, the idea caught on, but film and camera companies picked their own middle gray. It is a fun fact that your digital camera probably uses something more like 12% gray as middle gray.

Whatever the number, the idea behind middle gray is not that is “reflects 50% of the light”. Or even that “it is half way between absorbing all light (pure black) and reflecting all light (pure white)”. It has to do with your perception.

Your eyes are logarithmic detectors. That is, if a source gets brighter by a factor of 4, it will only seem brighter by a factor of 2 to you. If it increases by a factor of 32, it will only seem brighter by a factor of 5. If it increases in brightness by a factor of 128, it will only seem 7 times brighter to you.

The above are not the actual numbers. As you can imagine, measuring how bright things seem to people is very tricky, and varies from person to person. The important thing is that it is this weird logarithmic nature of your eyes that keeps middle gray from being 50%.

 

  1. How to use a gray card to determine exposure

Set your camera to manual shooting mode. Select the ISO and aperture you wish to use for your shot.

Set your camera’s metering mode to Spot Metering. This will allow the camera to read a very small area only, helpful if you only have a small gray card. You only want it to read the light off the reflector only, not the entire scene.

Set your focus point to single and choose the center one. Your camera will meter the same place it focuses.

Aim your camera at the gray card and press the shutter button part way down to take a reading. Looking in your viewfinder (eye piece) adjust the shutter speed until it gives you a reading of “0” (zero).

Take a test shot of the model (or subject) and the gray card similar to the one above. (You’ll be able to use this in part four below also.)

Review the histogram – you should have a perfect exposure with the gray card and all tones falling in the correct zones.

Bird Photography on the Cheap

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Seems like photography enthusiasts drift toward bird photography at some point in their lives. They are either a birder who wants to capture their life list in photos or a amateur photographer who is looking for a great subject that gets they out of the house. In either case, most of these would be bird photographers come to me with questions about how to improve their photographs. Namely they want to product photographs of the quality they see in their birding books and in National Geographic magazine.

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The problem lays in trying to compete with professionals who write off insanely expensive cameras and glass and will stalk their subjects for three weeks in some exotic location paid for by the magazine. This is why as a photographer trying to make a living on their work, I don’t want anything to do with bird photography. The quality long lenses can cost $5,000 to $25,000 and the top cameras can cost over $3,000. That’s a lot of equipment money to try to make a profit on and the market for bird photography is over-saturated and not even all that in demand in the first place. Low demand and high costs of equipment. Not a good formula for turning a profit.

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And then there is the travel costs. Unless you have a lot of exotic birds in your backyard, you will have to travel to find them. A birder friend of mine recently took a cruise to South America and the Galápagos Islands. She had a great time and added something like 900+ birds to her life list but also came back with a lot of blurry bird photos. But I disgress…

 

Bird Photography on the Cheap

Birds are tiny!  They represent a small fraction of your total view.  With your eyes you might focus in on the birds and disregard the surrounding but when you take a photograph of them, you realize how small they really are compared to the overall landscape.  So you are going to have to get close – either physically or optically.

So you don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on long expensive lenses like the Canon EF 600mm that costs about $10K.

Tip One – Buy a lens aimed at the photo enthusiast market instead of the professional level lens such as this Sigma lens.  You can also rent lenses to test them out or while on vacation although renting a lens isn’t cheap,  It can cost hundreds of dollars to rent a huge lens.

Tip Two – Get a bridge camera with a built in long lens.  These are birders favorites as they provide plenty of zoom at a low cost.

Tip Three – Get closer to the birds.   This is the cheapest way to get close up photos of birds,  Set out some food and hunker down in a blind and wait for the birds to come to you.  You can photograph the birds with shorter range lenses if you are closer to them.

Tip Four – Crop in your photos.  Just because you see a photograph of a bird in a magazine and it looks like the photographer is right on top of the bird doesn’t mean they didn’t crop the photo.  Birds are tiny, crop in for maximum impact.

Tip Five – Create a feeding station and put plenty of perches around for more natural photographs.

All About Food Styling

Food styling is the art of arranging food so that it looks tasty and fresh. This is important in a number of situations, particularly when the food is being photographed. For instance, the pictures of food that you see in cook books, magazines, advertisements, and menus have been styled.

Recommended book:  Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera

Behind every mouth-watering image of food is a dedicated food stylist whose job it is to consider, plan, and perfect every detail from the curve of an apple stem to the fan of a shrimp tail. In Food Styling, master stylist Delores Custer presents the definitive reference in the field—complete with detailed information on essential tools and useful equipment, step-by-step guidance on achieving the perfect shot, and a wealth of tried-and-true techniques for everything from voluminous frosting to mile-high sandwiches. Based on her thirty years of experience styling for advertising, magazines, books, television, and film, Custer shares her expert guidance on how to achieve stunning visual perfection for all media.

What is a food stylist? – A food stylist is a culinary professional whose job is to prepare food for photography, video or film. Making food photogenic is no easy task, and the best food stylists come to the job armed with an array of techniques to make meals look their best – even if it means replacing pancake syrup with 30-weight motor oil.

Food Styling for Stunning Food Photography

Take Better Photos With The New Camera

Learn to use that new camera

Did you get a new camera for Christmas?  Are you hoping that this new shiny piece of technological wonder will bring you better pictures in the future?

Chances are a new camera can be a step in the right direction for taking better pictures but only if you develop your craft.  Here are some tips for getting better photographs from that new camera.

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Read the manual

Yeah, I know.  You’re not the type who needs to read manuals.  You figured out the lawnmower no problem.  But the modern digital single lens reflect camera (DSLR) is one complicated piece of technology.  Within that thick, poorly translated tome of information is a whole lot of usesless features you will want to ignore and a whole lot of important settings information that you will want to read, reread and practice with and then refer back to every once in a while.

Pay particular attention to the section that describe quality settings – RAW vs. JPEG and size/quality of files.  Also how to set White Balence, ISO, Exposure compensation and how to find Aperture Priority mode.

Unfortunately today’s cameras are crammed with all sorts of gee whiz features that look great on the box or coming out of a sales persons mouth — things like special in camera filters and special setting for things like “beach, snow, vacation, pets” etc but if you know the basics of photography you don’t need all of that crap, you can just use Exposure compensation.

I look at my old film camera – the Olympus OM-G and it had everything a photographer needed and nothing else.  Aperture exposure mode, manual mode, bulb mode and that’s it.  Plus a ASA/ISO dial and an exposure compensation adjustment.  White balance was cooked into the film.

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Know your equipment

So get out the manual.  Learn what every dial, button and menu on your camera does and how to use it.  Get your settings the way you want them and shoot a lot of photos, evaluate the results, come back to the manual, make adjustments and keep on learning your equipment until you don’t have to even think about your equipment and you can concentrate totally on the subject you are trying to capture.

I’ve had my Canon 6D and I’m still discovering new things on this camera but when I come across a scene I want to capture, I know the camera well enough and have my settings set up in custom menus that nine times out of ten I manage to capture what I’m trying to capture.

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Know Everything About Exposure

Learn the three sides of the exposure triangle – ISO, Shutterspeed and Aperature and know how to change them on your new camera.

The Allure of Black and White Photography

The Allure of Black and White Photography

Black and white photography: Compared to the old days, color photography today is so easy.  It used to be that setting up a black and white lab at home was relatively easy.  I mean it still would take securing a dark place, maybe a large closet or blacked out bathroom, mixing up chemicals – developer, stop, fix and handling the enlarger, photo sensitive paper, negatives, trays of chemicals, rinsing setup and drying area.  Simple as pie right?

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“Colour is everything, black and white is more.” – Dominic Rouse

But developing color negatives and prints took the process to a whole new level of complexity with more chemical processes that were really out of the realm of most darkrooms.  Even today in art schools and high schools that still have traditional darkroom set ups, a color set up is extremely rare.  The equipment needed, chemicals required and temperamental quality of color film and paper is just something usually left to a lab.

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“One very important difference between color and monochromatic photography is this: in black and white you suggest; in color you state. Much can be implied by suggestion, but statement demands certainty… absolute certainty.” – Paul Outerbridge

 

But now with digital camera, computers and color printers, color photography is relatively easy.  So why the continuing allure of black and white photography?  The photographer as artist uses all elements at their disposal from the subject to the composition, to the equipment and the final processing of the image.

The conceptual idea of Modernist photography is look at this, look at how photography interprets the world: through light, lens, glass, film, paper, brain and eye.

Black and white photography’s appeal is the removal of color information and the ability to drill down to the tonal range of the light and the essence of the subject.  Often my black and white still lifes or perhaps a photograph of an old barn is a study of shapes, texture and light rather than color.  Lines, age, weathering, shapes and subject rather than reds, yellows, greens, blues etc.

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This still life image of fruit in bowl came about with the exploration of texture in black and white photography. It came about over a few years of collecting objects with deep texture, the old worn wooden planks are actually “raccoon” stretchers – a simple plank of wood used in the skinning of raccoon. I found a bunch of them in an old barn reclaiming business in Windsor, Vermont. The wooden bowl is a family heirloom past down through the generations. It was probably hand turned by a family member or family friend. Finishing off the composition is a trio of ripe pears with a beautiful textured skin and gorgeous lighting that has been dodged and burned to bring out the highlights.

“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls!”
― Ted Grant
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When you process a color image its easy to get bogged down in non-essential elements that don’t really contribute to the communication of your concept.  White balance, tone, saturation, vibrancy etc can all attribute to the pleasing aspects of a color image but does the color processing contribute much to the message of the image?

In black and white processing the artist is free to work on the essence of the subject, bring out the texture and detail of the old car slowly rotting in the snow or the wrinkles on a time worn face.  The drama of the scene can be enhanced by working the highlights and dark areas.  Or as Ansel Adams put it:

Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.” – Ansel Adams

 
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I think it’s because it was an emotional story, and emotions come through much stronger in black and white. Colour is distracting in a way, it pleases the eye but it doesn’t necessarily reach the heart.” ― Kim Hunter

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One sees differently with color photography than black-and-white… in short, visualization must be modified by the specific nature of the equipment and materials being used.” – Ansel Adams

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Color is descriptive. Black and white is interpretive.” – Elliott Erwitt

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To purchase prints or to see more examples of black and white photography by Edward M. Fielding – click here

Ideas for better dog photos

Dog Photography Ideas

A few ideas to spark some creativity in your dog photography. A few years back when I was looking for willing subjects to model for me, my cute little rescue westie was constantly looking for some attention, so I figured why not use him as a model? He liked the attention as well as the treats and we started on a journey that eventually lead to the book “the Quotable Westie” which as become popular among dog lovers and as a gift item.

Dog Photo Books

Its just a little book but its full of great concepts and ideas the two of us explored. This series lead to photographing some of his friends. Eventually a second book of pug photos was released as well as an ever expanding collection of fine art photographs and other artwork on my Fine Art America portfolio. The black and white “Portrait of a Westie” even landed on the home page of Fine Art America for about six months and has been purchase as prints as well as on products such as cell phone cases and throw pillows via Fine Art America’s sister site – Pixels.com.

This photograph of Tiki the Westie wrapped in a towel looking rather regal is one of my bestselling dog photographs in my portfolio.

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Meanwhile this image of Tiki the Westie is probably the most widely seen since it ended up on a nationally distributed Halloween card.  You might spot it this season as it often makes a return to the card shelves this time of year.  Last time Halloween season I spotted it at Target.
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My dog Tiki loves to model. He sees the studio lights as a way to get treats. With other dogs its not so easy. Usually I try to clear the room of distractions so the dogs aren’t looking for their masters, use lots of treats and have a squeaky to handy for getting those priceless expressions.
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See more dog photographs at: http://edward-fielding.pixels.com/art/dog

Little gift book of cute pug photographs
Pugs by Edward M. Fielding

Pugs book

Right Place Right Time – Lucky Photography

Vintage Tractor Photography Prints

Lucky Photography

Driving around Prince Edward Island after dinner with a car full of teenagers, I spotted this row of beautiful old antique tractors lit with incredible light from the setting sun. Now in these situations I have to make a calculation in my head within seconds. First is there anyone behind me before I slam on the brakes, second is there any where to pull over and third am I ready for the complaints from the passengers who really just want to get to our destination.

Believe me there are so many times I’m happy to ignore the protests! In photography, the photographer does rely on a lot of serendipitous moments but these moments favor the prepared. Its all about always looking for photograph opportunities and then having the skills to be able to pull the image off.

Make Your Own Luck

1. Learning to see images
2. Always having a camera on hand
3. Practicing constantly
4. Giving yourself opportunities
5. Returning to locations
6. Taking advantage of good light
7. Working quickly and with purpose
8. Making not taking photographs
9. Putting yourself in front of interesting subjects.
10. Walking for driving down that unknown street.

Vintage Tractor Art Online

The lighthouse photograph above came about over years of revisiting the same area.  Conditions were “lucky” on this occasion of going back to the same area and exploring it thoroughly to capture the best light, the best clouds, the best angle etc.  More hard work than luck.  The lucky part is when the sun and clouds cooperated.

Luck and Photography

It has been said that photography is the art form where luck matters most. True enough. And anyone can get that one lucky shot in their life time. But when you look over the career of a great photographer and start seeing one “lucky” shot after another, you start to realize there has to be a bit of planning behind all of those lucky shots.

This “storm chaser” shot below was very lucky.  Probably lucky I didn’t get killed.  But I didn’t go chasing a wall cloud, the storm came to us.  I took this shot from the porch of a little cottage we rented on Prince Edward Island.  Lucky, although I was prepared with my tripod and camera equipment.

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MOST PEOPLE ARE NOT skilled photographers, but if you’ve taken enough pictures in your life, you’ve surely turned up some good ones —
a snapshot or two that made you think, “Maybe I have a knack for this.”Boston Globe

Lucky Shots Take Time

People just starting out in photography look at great photos and have a desire to create the same amazing photograph right away.  The problem is looking at a small sample of a photographers lifetime of work.  Keep in mind that you are looking at the best of a photographer’s portfolio over a long period of time.  Luck will present itself within a long time frame.  Play blackjack, roulette, the lottery or slot machines long enough and you will win at some point.

Same with photography.  Invest the time and energy to create your own luck and it will happen.

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Sometimes luck comes in the form of a vintage car parked in the exact right spot at the exact time you happen to be there with your camera.

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More lucky and not so lucky photography – www.edwardfielding.com

Lisa Kaiser’s Tips for selling art

One of my fellow Fine Art America artists, Lisa Kaiser recently put together a list of tips for selling art online.  She was getting a bit annoyed by all of the art selling experts that seem to be popping up these days with expensive books and courses about selling art.

The bottom line is success is a lot of hard work and a lot of luck and every artist’s career will take a different path.  Its fun to listen to stories of how successful artist got to where they are, but no one can hope to follow the exact path another artist took.

Lisa Kaiser’s Tips for Selling Art

About Lisa:

“Lisa Kaiser Art is a lively gallery designed to provide artwork to compliment today’s personal spaces, work or corporate environments. With 23 years of splattering paint, brushing it in every which direction, sponging, murals and more in various mediums, I’m able to offer new works every week on a regular basis.”

In other words, Lisa works!  This really is the greatest tip for selling art.  Actually do the work.  Work your art and tell people about it.  Let people see you the artist and your process.  And with that, let me present Lisa’s tips:

 

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Part one: When shall I succeed?

1. Develop a habit working right now. Success is boring.

2. Write about what you’ve been doing with your artwork.

3. Notice who reads and likes what you do.

Part II: Who do you sell to?

4. Who wants your art? Develop a relationship with them and have them sell your work.

5. How do you get those relationships? Find out who loves your art and embrace their values.

Part III Where do I show my work?

6. Be on as many social sites as you can manage without gaining fifty lbs and destroying your back.

7. Blog, and advertise daily.

8. You tube yourself painting every Thursday.

9. Be confident, creative and fun.

Last Part: What to do?

10. Know what types of art sell like dogs, beautiful nudes, colorful cows, rock stars, football players, landscapes etc and paint things other people want on their wall.

11. Show your work locally and bring folks to your website by uploading images from your website.

Photography Skill: How to work a scene

Professional photographers have a term for exploring ALL of the possibilities of a location. Its called “working the scene”. The typical amateur photographer hops off the bus, follows the crowd over to the designated “Kodak Moment” photo spot, waits their turn in line and takes the same show that has been taken by millions of photographers before them.

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Back in the film days when every shot represented real money being spent, I can understand wanting to get that one “safe bet” iconic tourist shot and then perhaps worrying about how many shots you have left on the roll.  But in the digital age there is no excuse for not exploring a scene from a variety of angles.  Go ahead and take the most obvious shot. The first shot that everyone takes.  Then once that shot is out of the way, take some time to look around and explore the area.

Work The Scene

Move your physical body, not just the zoom lens.  This is when prime lens are really great for beginning photographers because a fixed focal length lens really forces one to move around a scene and look for compositions.  Walk around, look behind you, look down from a higher vantage point, look up from a low vantage point, seek out something unique.

I created this little video just to give you a since of how I might explore a scene here at an old barn complex in Windsor, Vermont.

In the end you are seeking to find a unique vantage point, something compelling, something that perhaps hasn’t been seen before which is especially important if you are photographing a well worn out subject matter.
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It’s also important to return to a scene at different times of day and different seasons.  The photographs above was taken at the same barn complex when there was snow on the ground.

Learn More About Working The Scene

Eric Kim’s video goes deeper into the concept of exploring or working a scene with classic street photographers:

Tips for Sharper Landscape Photographs

If you’ve grown up with Ansel Adams posters on the wall, you’ve been brainwashed into thinking that good landscape photographs must have edge to edge, back and front, sharpness.  Everything from the soda can at your feet to the mist on top of the far away mountaintop has to be tack sharp.

The problems is that trying to achieve the same results as Ansel Adams 8×10 view camera is difficult to achieve with a DSLR set up.  The physics are impossible to replicate between the two very different types of cameras and the very different “sensor” sizes.

Better Sharpness Is Within Your Grasp

Sharper landscape photographs can be made by following the following tips.  Mind you these tips work for all levels of lenses from consumer to pro grade lenses.  And they work pretty much for any camera set up from cell phone to pro level DSLR camera.  Just don’t expect to achieve view camera like results.

Stabilize Your Camera

All cameras, except for specially made out focus cameras like the Diana plastic lens toy camera, are designed to achieve sharp images.  All lenses are designed to create a single sharp focus area.  So any equipment can create sharp images if used properly.

The challenge to achieving sharp images typically comes down to eliminating motion blur.  Motion blur is when the camera moves during the exposure.

The trick is to eliminate an chance of motion during the exposure.  The best way to achieve this is to lock your camera down on a tripod.  Or rest it on a bean bag or if you are hand holding, to lock in your elbows to your body to create the most stable platform.

Tips for using a Tripod

  • Use a heavy duty tripod, not some flimsy cheap junk that will wobble with the wind.
  • Lock down your camera.  Tighten all bolts and joints.  You want to create a solid connection between the camera and the ground.
  • Hang a weight from the center column of the tripod.
  • Put a bean bag on TOP of the camera to hold it down.

Faster Shutter Speed = Sharper Photos

Faster shutter speeds will increase the likely-hood of getting a sharper image.  You should only attempt hand holding a camera at a shutter speed equal to the focal length of the lens you are using.  35mm should be used at shutter speeds of 1/30 and faster for example.  But to be safe, shoot at double the focal length and practice good camera holding techniques such as bracing your elbows against your body and rolling your finger over the shutter button.

You can get faster shutter speeds by:

  • Increasing the ISO – the trade off is more noise
  • Opening up the aperture (higher numbers) – the trade off is less depth of field
  • Shooting on bright sunny days – the trade off is harsh shadows.

Tips for Greater Depth of Field

Greater depth of field increases the illusion of a sharper over all image.  Only one plane within the photograph is truly at the sharpest point possible but a greater depth of field or DOF makes the areas not in focus less apparent.

  • Smaller apertures increase depth of field – but if you go too far you can lose sharpness
  • Wide angle lenses have greater depth of field
  • Mirrorless cameras have greater depth of field than full framed mirrored cameras.
  • Try shooting at F11 or F16 which is in the middle range of most lenses which is typically the sweet spot of sharpness.  Going to the extremes like F22 may lead to less sharp imaged due to diffraction.  Diffraction is an optical effect which limits the total resolution of your photography — no matter how many megapixels your camera may have. It happens because light begins to disperse or “diffract” when passing through a small opening (such as your camera’s aperture).

Since your camera is most likely on a tripod, focus can be done carefully and deliberately.

  • Switch of any lens stabilization when on a tripod.
  • Use “live view” so you can zoom in with the LCD screen and focus precisely.
  • Focus on third of the way into the view.  Objects closer in the scene will be scrutinized more closely then features in the distance.  We expect distant objects to be less focused.
  • Use “Mirror Lock” up to eliminate vibrations due to the slapping of the mirror during exposure.
  • Use a cable release or the timer feature to let your camera settle down before taking the shot.
  • Don’t touch the tripod during the exposure.

Use Prime Lenses

Prime lenses are non-zoom lenses.  Single focal length lenses are designed to achieve maximized sharpness in a single spot, while zoom lenses are inherently a compromise in design.  Prime lenses as a rule will provide sharper images.  Also prime lenses aren’t as likely to slip out of focus during the exposure.  Shooting down or up with a zoom can lead to movement of the lens.

Summary for Sharper Landscape Photographs

  • Stabilize your camera
  • Focus carefully
  • Step down the aperture
  • Have fun!