Category Archives: Photography Books, Tips, & Ideas 2009 – 2010

Digital Photography Master Class -Assignment: Still Life

 It’s been a long time since I have posted an assignment from Tom Ang’s book. I guess I just got busy with other things and didn’t give it a thought.

Well; I pulled the book off the shelf the other day and blew off the dust so that I could pick another assignment to do.

This time I tried a Still Life. Ok, so I didn’t actually set up the scene I cheated on that part and used a Nativity set. We were visiting D’s parents and my mother-in-law had a big beautiful Nativity set on a table near a window in the dinning room. I squeezed by where family members were having fun being “word smiths” while playing a board game and I took a couple of shots, my attempt at a still life.

Tom Ang writes, ” Formerly a favorite genre of photography, still life has faded in popularity… Nonetheless, there is still great work to be created on a smaller scale…”

The assignment brief reads: “Using as many or as few light sources as you wish, create an atmospheric still life… Control the lighting and shade meticulously so that no manipulation of tone, color, or object is later needed. Try various exposure settings to learn the effect on tonality…”

and a couple of the points to remember were:
use a high-resolution
shoot in raw
small apertures maximize DOF

Ok, drum roll time………………. here’s what I ended up with.

It may not be the most spectacular still life image you’ve every seen, but I think it’s alright.

I had 3 light sources on this, the overhead light in the room, a bit of soft wintry light coming through the window behind, and the on camera pop up flash (with my own DIY diffuser attached).

I did try a couple exposures and angles but liked this one best; because of the way you seem to be looking over Joseph’s shoulder to admire baby Jesus, and you can see Mary’s face as she watches over him. I also really liked the way the lighting made everything look like golden silk.

The settings I used for this image were: shutter 1/200 – aperture f/4.5 – ISO 100 – focal length 84mm.

If you missed any of my other posts about Digital Photography Master Class just follow these links! 

Assignment: Urban Nature
Assignment: Basic Image Enhancement
Assignment: Pet Portrait
Assignment: City Streets

And now to do some reading in the new book I got for Christmas, Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson (3rd edition).

‘Night all!

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A Dozen Tips For Taking Holiday Photos

Let’s face it. The holiday season is here. I was thinking about this and hope to get some good shots of family members over the next few weeks. I’ll be visiting #4’s farm for Thanksgiving, hanging around home for Christmas, and maybe visiting the in-laws for New Years. (D hasn’t said anything about that one yet.) I thought before the first bite of turkey I would share some tips with you on taking those holiday photos. If you’ve got more tips please share them in the comments so we can all learn from each other.

1. Keep your main subject off-center, you know the old rule of thirds. Place Grandma towards the right of your viewfinder with that delicious golden brown turkey on the table off in the background towards the left. Keep the focus on Grandma’s eyes and you’ll get both a great shot of her as well as a remembrance of the holiday meal.

2. Avoid your pop up flash indoors when you can. I know you’re saying, “but I  need my flash!”. Do you really? Sometimes yes, it will help to stop motion and light up a dark room, but sometimes no. Everyone knows about red-eye and harsh shadows. Yuck. Open your aperture as wide as you dare to get in lots of light, turn up your ISO if you can just not so high that it causes that ugly noise. Try shooting with your subject next to a window with  natural light coming in. Don’t get the window behind your subject or you’ll end up with a silhouette. If you are shooting at night turn on as many lights as you can. Oh, and don’t forget portraits by candle light can be nice too. Just be sure to tell them to hold very still and use a tripod.

3. Fill the frame by moving in closer. Take a shot of that delicious golden brown turkey up close and let the rest of the table fall a bit out of focus. Yummy! (use a wider aperture to get those backgrounds nice and soft)

4. You can’t avoid those group shots so be ready. Keep in mind that you can’t please everyone with one shot so take lots and lots and lots and… well you get the idea. Get everyone in close, arrange them in groups and levels. Maybe pull that couch out just a bit so some can stand behind, some can sit on the arms, children in their parents laps, and teens on the floor in front. Narrow your aperture to get everyone in focus, turn on lots of lights, and use a tripod. Don’t forget to set the timer and get yourself in the shot too! This is one you might have to use that flash for just tell everyone not to look directly at it; that will help cut down the red-eye.

5. Shooting Christmas lights or ornaments on your tree? Open up that aperture nice and wide. Focus on one light or one ornament and let the rest fall into a nice soft  bokeh. These look great taken in a darker room with the tree lights on, just be sure to use a tripod.

6. Make sure to get close up shots of the kids faces as they open those gifts. Their expressions on Christmas morning are, as the commercial says, priceless. Remember to be careful of that pop up flash. You might check out what I’ve done with my flash for an idea of something you could try in a pinch. 

7. When shooting the  kids get down on the floor and shoot from eye level. We’ve all seen those shots taken from above looking down on them; that rarely works.

8. Make a quick check of the background. Looking through the viewfinder do you see a tree growing out of  Uncle Fred’s head? I don’t think it’s suppose to be there. Take a step to the side or ask him to move a little.

9. Include those four-legged furry friends. If they will sit for a photo shoot get them in there. You can chronicle the growth of your child and Rover every year as they sit near the tree. Who’s growing faster?

10. Go candid. Don’t make all your shots posed. Lurk around the corner and catch Aunt Martha stirring up that turkey soup, sneak up on neighbor Sue standing under the mistletoe, is that cousin Pete playing that video game? Those fun moments are the ones you’ll really want to remember.

11. Get better snow shots by increasing your exposure just a bit. If you don’t have full manual controls look for the little +1 or +2 symbol. Try shooting with +2 for a brighter more true to life scene. Just don’t forget to change it back when your done!

12. And finally; be prepared. Make sure your batteries are charged and you have plenty of film or memory cards at hand. You don’t want to miss out on the perfect shot of Grandpa napping after dinner because your batteries died.