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How to Take Great Flower Photos

I know that many out there want to improve their photography in one aspect. Flower photography. With gardening as popular as it is this shouldn’t be a surprise. Flower photography while looking like one of the simplest forms of photography can quickly become one of the most difficult. Here are a few tips for you. (Keeping in mind that basic good photography skills are always used.)

1. Soft diffuse light. Today it’s very overcast outside, and if there were any flowers in bloom today would be the perfect day for capturing some great images. Soft diffuse light enhances color saturation, so if you wondered how or why pro photographers flower images seem so deep in color this is one of the reasons why. (There are exceptions to this rule. I do some flower photography is bright or dappled sunlight but I’m usually trying to get an effect of light passing through the petals.)

2. Slow film speed. 200 speed or less. The slower speed films have greater detail and for flowers you’re going to need to get close anyway and you want the nice sharp detail of a slower speed of film. I use 100 speed for my flower photography.

3. Tripod. Use one for this type of photography. Set up your shot, get everything in sharp focus, and then shoot. A tripod will keep your camera from moving on you and allow you to get the sharp detail you will need.

4. Look for great colors, a flower in full bloom next to a bud, and don’t shoot on windy days. Keep contrast and color in mind at all times and try different compositions each time you take a shot.

Flower photography can be a lot of fun especially if the flowers are your own.

How to Compose Landscapes

by: Jan Linden

There really are no effective formulas for composing good landscapes. Nonetheless, the general suggestions that follow can probably help you get better ones.

1. Every landscape should have a focal point. This is the center of interest, the part of the picture your eye is drawn to. It can be a distant mountain, the facade of a building, or a clump of trees. Without a focal point, your landscape will likely fall flat.

2. Make sure the subject is big enough. If you use a wide-angle lens, a distant focal point such as a mountain may be too small or the sea may seem to trail off into nothing but water. Your eye seeks a center of interest. If there is none, it will simply wander off to infinity because there is nothing in the picture to hold your attention. A small main subject can express the vastness and grandeur of a scene, but if this isn't your aim, move closer to the main subject and reframe the shot. If the main subject is still too far away or you can't get closer, use a longer lens.

3. Let the subject guide your approach. If the main subject area contains people, experiment with placing them nearer or farther from the camera to achieve different-sized images. Some images can be more effective if they look large and overpowering. Small figures emphasize the vastness of a woodland area.

4. Pay attention to subject placement. Impressive or dynamic subjects (for example, the plant in picture on left) can often be centrally placed. Medium-sized landscape images are usually more effective when placed off-center (such as leaves and tree trunks in picture above).

5. Consider framing your subject. Dramatic central subjects generally don't require framing, but other landscape subjects are usually improved by framing. Without some framing, the main subject at a distance appears lost in the enlarged print or projection. The foremost framing device is foliage. An arch, doorway, or natural rock formation can also serve as a useful frame to lead the viewer's eye.

6. Keep the frame in focus. In landscape photography, it's important that both the frame and the subject be sharp. Visually, an out-of-focus frame is usually disturbing and draws attention away from the main subject. If depth of field is insufficient, shift the focus point or stop the lens down.

7. Create the illusion of depth. Giving the feeling of three-dimensional space enhances landscapes. Placing different subjects or framing elements at different planes helps the picture hold the viewer.

8. Use contrasting colors. A subject wearing a bright red, blue, or yellow jacket that's carefully placed within a landscape can perk up a dullish scene. Usually, such subjects should be kept at a sufficient distance within the picture frame or they will tend to take over and dominate the entire picture.

9. Keep your camera level. Almost all good landscapes are made with the camera held as level as possible. Don't be tempted to point your lens up too far. If you do, you will create apparent perspective distortion, and objects will appear to be falling over backward. The closer you are to your main subject, the more important this is. Use a shoe-mounted bubble level.

How to Take Big Suns in Photography

by: Jan Linden

Sure, these pictures may border on cliches, but they are cliches that never fail to grab us. We're all suckers for that frame-filling drama of Ol' Sol looming large on the horizon.

And we all know how to get those shots of big suns - just shoot the horizon with that fabulously expensive, super-speed, extralow-dispersion glass, apochromatic tele, right?

Wrong. You need a long lens, sure, but it needn't be a budget buster. Some very good 500mm mirror lenses come in under $200, store price. There are all-glass 400mm, 500mm, and 600mm designs from major independents that sell for $300-500. And you can make an existing tele longer by using a teleconverter. That fine 300mm f/4 you bought for nature work, for example, can be converted to a 600mm f/8 with a 2X converter. That's a pretty good focal length for big suns. Using a 3X converter will make a 900mm f/12, and so on.

Besides a tele, you need a sturdy tripod - flimsy travel models need not apply. For one thing, focusing and framing through a long tele is far easier if the rig is well supported. For another thing, even a little shake can blur a long-tele shot.

A spot or limited-area meter helps, although it is not essential. An overall meter reading with an SLR will generally be far too high, resulting in a shot that's too dark - even if the desired effect is a silhouette. Most big-sun shooters use the strategy of spotmetering an area of the sky near but not immediately adjacent to the sun - an area in which some sky tone appears. This will give you a silhouette reading that will still maintain a little shadow detail.

And how do you focus and compose with that big burning disk staring you right in the eye? First, if everything in your frame is a long distance from the camera, setting the lens to infinity is the easiest way to focus without being dazzled. Otherwise, you may prefocuse the camera with the sun just out of the frame. You can often recompose the scene by holding your eye a little away from the finder to avoid being temporarily blinded by the sun.

The best big-sun shots are the ones that don't rely solely on the sun; the big sun, in fact, is best used as a background. The landscape, the harbor scene, the city skyline - each picture should stand on its own for it to work with a big sun behind it.

There is a pitfall here, though. Even with objects at a far distance, they can still be out of the plane of focus of the sun, due to the effective shallow depth of long lenses. Generally, the sun can stand to be a little soft, so try focusing on the nearest large object in the composition. Also, use small apertures and check the depth-of-field preview.

Big-sun shots can, on occasion, be surprisingly colorless; the sky around the sun can range from blank white to dull gray. A filter is called for here, from the standard warming (81A and similar) for a warm sky tone, to amber for richer color, to full orange for an exaggerated effect.

Photographing Memories of a Trip

Tell a Story
Always think how your prints will look when you show them to your friends and relatives. You'll be narrating a story at the time so take shots to illustrate your story. Take photos of your traveling companions before you leave home, while traveling to the airport, and when you get back. Hopefully you'll see a change in your sun tan! Photograph yourselves in front of "Welcome to..." signs to use as "chapter headings."

Take a Small Camera
Despite having a lot of large 'professional' equipment, the camera I use most often with friends is a small, "compact" camera. I have a really tiny model that I can slip easily into a pocket and carry around with me. That way, whenever something unexpected and fun happens, I'm ready to capture the moment.

Photographing People
The most useful tip for photographing people is to get closer. Try and fill the frame with just the faces. Ask your subjects to stand or sit closer together, so there's less "wasted" space in the photo. Turn the flash on, even when you're outdoors, to highlight the faces.

Understand Your Flash
I often see people trying to photograph a live show or concert. Unfortunately this is almost impossible to do with a normal camera. Most on-camera flash units are only effective for about eight to ten feet - anything further away will just appear black on the photo. Whenever you use a flash indoors, make sure that you're between two and eight feet from your subject.

Don't Forget the Fun!
Many of the fun times occur between sights. Capture these with "ordinary" shots - checking in, waiting in line, at the shops, having dinner with friends, with people you meet.

Don't Forget You!
The problem with being the photographer is that you don't appear in the photos. Stand your camera on a wall or table and use the self-timer feature, or ask someone else to take the photo. Chances are they'll have a camera too and will ask you to return the favor!

What Makes A Postcard-Perfect Photograph?

Four elements are common to all good photographs: simplicity, composition, lighting, and practice.

Simplicity is actually a deceptively difficult element to capture. What you as a photographer need to do is let the camera help you simplify the things you see in front of you. You begin with a very busy canvas (everything in view) and have to work to simplify by eliminating some of the contents. You can do this either by getting physically closer to your subject, or by using a telephoto lens to zoom in and crop the shot tighter. When you photograph a person, for example, photograph his or her face only, rather than the whole person.

Composition is equally important. An artist's technique, called the "golden mean," is to divide the picture into imaginary thirds both vertically and horizontally, like a tic-tac-toe board. Then, place the subject of the photo on or near those imaginary lines or their intersections. Study photographs that you like and you'll see that almost every one has thirds that you can find.

Lighting is the third key ingredient. Photos that win competitions almost always show a skilled use of light. Try to photograph only at dawn, in the late afternoon, and at dusk, when the low angle of the sun produces rich, warm colors and long shadows. Avoid shooting at noon, a time when light is very "flat."

Practice: Taking photographs that you like won't take a lot of special, expensive equipment. But it will take lots of trial and error. Even professional photographers take many photographs of the same subject to get just one that they like. Remember, only practice makes perfect!