So you’re loving your DSLR, be it Canon, Nikon, Sony, or whatever makes your heart flutter and inner camera geek emerge. You’ve been snapping away when you’re out with family, friends, and pets and feel like you’re stuck in a rut. Maybe you think the only way to improve your photography is to upgrade your camera. A more expensive camera with more a greater dynamic range or graduating from crop sensor to full frame. But before you do that, try a couple different things first.
Do you shoot with only auto settings?
Portrait, sports, landscape modes have their purposes; maybe you’re on the go and don’t have the time to evaluate the scene to set your own settings. Being in full control of your equipment can greatly improve your photographs, but how would you do that? Practice, lots of practice with the exposure triangle (learn more about the exposure triangle). There will be a lot of photos with horrible exposure and then there will be a time when you look at a scene and automatically know what settings would make your photo exactly what you want.
Do you still have the kit lens?
Kit lens, what’s a kit lens you may ask. It’s the lens that came with your camera. Kit lens work great, but if that’s the only one you use think about investing in a prime lens. I would recommend a prime lens, because you can have the aperture wide open and have the beautiful bokeh (blurred background) with a sharp subject. Looks into all the different focal lengths for prime lens, personally I have the Canon 85mm 1.8 (why I chose this lens), but even something as simple as the nifty fifty would be awesome.
What time of day do you shoot?
Believe it or not, but the time of day and weather can really affect the look and quality of your photos. If you shoot in the middle of the day, the sun is high in the sky and shadows are really harsh. You know when you squint your eyes because of the bright sun? Yeah, it’s not ideal for your eyes and your camera to flatter your subject, unless that’s the vibe you’re going for. Well, you probably have heard of Golden Hour, and it’s truly golden and amazing. It’s within the two hours after sunrise and before sunset; the soft golden light is super flattering and you can create some beautiful backlit photos (how I set up my backlit photos). If you aren’t able to photograph during the golden hour, look for soft, even shade during the midday sun and set the exposure for the shade even if you have to overexpose the sunny background. And something else you can do is wait for an overcast day, the clouds softening the sun is like a giant soft box, creating soft shadows and flattering light.
So, if you’re still thinking of upgrading your camera, I would recommend that you have mastered the exposure triangle in manual, have fast glass (wide aperture range in a lens), understand the lighting for locations and subjects, or else you might be a little disappointed that your new, expensive camera isn’t taking amazing pictures for you. It’s because you create the images, the camera just captures your creativity.
I read more about the lens and looked at comparisons of different prime focal lengths. There’s so many options, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 100mm, made by Canon, Sigma, Tamron, and every lens has their uses. I wanted a lens that would flatter people and animals and noticed the 35mm focal length worked well for the wide angle range without too much distortion, and then the nifty fifty, fantastic plastic, was a great all purpose prime, but once again I liked the look and feel of the 85mm. The 85 compresses the subject which flatters and as a fast piece of glass with it’s wide aperture, I could create the delicious bokeh.
I hinted to my hubby that all I wanted for Christmas was the 85mm. And even though it arrived after Christmas, the wait was worth it. I spent all of January only using my new lens to properly learn how to utilize it in landscapes, birds, and people portraits. My 85mm is still one of my favorite lens with its bokeh and compression for portraits of my pups and portraits of families.
One of the most important things is to always remember to expose for your subject, just forget about the background. When you’re photographing a person, make sure to shoot for their skin tone of their face (or lightest color, especially if it’s white). You don’t want your subject to become grainy in post processing because you exposed for the background. It’s okay if the background is overexposed, because it will help bring the focus to your subject.
But how do you know if you’ve properly exposed for your subject? This is when your utilize the light meter, which you can see as you look through the viewfinder usually located along the bottom plane. Also, check to make sure your metering mode is on spot, which will help pinpoint the metering of a certain point.
As always, practice and don’t be discouraged if there’s more mistakes than successes. Everything takes time, but the more time you make to practice, the better you will improve.
Here are a couple backlit beauties that I captured during Golden Hour. You will notice that the sun is just out of frame in the upper left corner and the couple is in the sun, but directly in between me and my light source. The background is over exposed, but my models look wonderful, soft, and happy. I used my Canon 85mm 1.8 lens with settings f/2.2, 1/400, ISO 200.
I would say aperture is the classic professional photographer calling card. A wide open aperture (smallest number, like f1.8) creates the wonderful blurred, bokeh backgrounds. My prime lens creates speckled, soft backgrounds, especially when your subject is close to you and the background is as far away as possible. And if your aperture is stopped down (larger number, like f11) a greater range will be in focus which might work well for landscape or a large family portrait.
If you’re photographing kids or animals, you want to make sure your shutter speed is fast enough to freeze the motion. And if you want to brighten a dark landscape or blur moving water, your shutter speed needs to be long enough to achieve what you want to create. And another use for shutter speed is when you have a lens with no IM (image stabilization), you need to have your shutter speed greater than the focal length or else the image might be blurred.
Anywhere dark or dimly lit, the ISO is the underdog to brighten up your exposure. Sure you might have your aperture wide open and your shutter speed the slowest you dare to keep things sharp, but your ISO is the one to battle the darkness, but it’s easy to overdo. If you bump up your ISO too much, your image might become grainy and still a little dark.
It’s all a balancing act...
When you decide to capture a moment, decide what’s the most important part of the triangle for your image. If it’s a running animal or playing child, then I would say the shutter speed is really important so that your moving subject is in focus. Then again, you might want the amazing bokeh with your laughing little one, so you want the aperture wide open. Something to try for this would be to set your aperture how you want it, up the shutter speed to freeze any motion and then set the ISO up to pick up any slack left. So on a sunny day, my camera settings might be f2.0, 1/500 (or more if very sunny), and 100 ISO (maybe 200+ if in shade). The best way to learn is to do; practice everyday, even if a little everyday. The more you practice, the better you will be, because every scenario is different with subject, lighting, and location. There’s no way for anyone to tell you what your settings should be until you’re there and in the thick of it.
Above are two images, taken three years apart. On the left is an image I took within the first month of learning the exposure triangle and looking back I see how I could have improved. I had the aperture at its widest allowed by my kit lens and my shutter speed was way too high, thus my ISO needed to be higher than necessary. It’s a clear image with a decent composition in a backyard all in shade. The image on the right, was taken a couple weeks ago after years of practice with the exposure triangle. The settings are near perfect; the aperture is wide open just melting away the background, the shutter speed is plenty fast to freeze any motion, and the ISO is at it’s lowest to minimize any grain. Plus, my subject (my pup, Coal), is in full sun with no distracting shadows on his body and I really like the composition even if I was semi-squatting to be on his eye level. (If you want to see the camera settings, select/click on the images to read the captions with my settings.)
One more little tip is to shoot in RAW, instead of JPEG, especially if you edit your images in Lightroom or PhotoShop there’s a lot more wiggle room when it comes to making adjustments. The easiest way to explain it is that RAW records all the raw data and the image will look dull SOOC (Straight Out Of Camera). While a JPEG will be saved on your memory card compressed and with contrast, so the image will look more complete and normal SOOC, but you will be limited with any adjustments when it comes to editing.
Have you been wanting to learn more about horses so that you can draw them more realistically? Have you been wanting to learn how to paint in watercolor?
Well, if so, you're in luck! This fall I'm teaching Drawing Horses 101 and starting my series of Watercolors Made Easy classes. The classes will be held in Keizer and Newberg, Oregon, but if you are interested in taking private classes or hosting a Watercolors Made Easy party class, please let me know!
Here is my class schedule and you can stay up to date by subscribing to my newsletter.
Drawing Horses 101
Fridays, starting October 20 from 9 am - 12 pm at Keizer Art Association
6 classes for $150
Watercolors Made Easy: Red Fox
Friday, November 10 from 6 pm - 9 pm at Anvil Academy
All supplies included for $75
Watercolors Made Easy: Red Barn in Snow
Friday, December 8 from 6 pm - 9 pm at Anvil Academy
All supplies included for $75
If you know someone who would might be interested in taking a class, please share this with them!
Once you get to know me, you'll notice that I love horses. Growing up I had Stardust, a Welsh/Shetland Pony, as my best friend. I know it sounds cliche, but it's all true. I guess you could say I never outgrew the "horse crazy" phase many girls go through. I don't own any horses now, but I still get my horse fix and inspiration.
A couple years ago I found a place out near Eagle Creek, Oregon with many horses of all shapes in sizes ranging from giant Drum Horses, elegant Arabians, shy mules, to fuzzy burros. Many of these critters had been rescued and found a forever, loving home. Over the years I have been inspired by going out to get my horse fix. And now I want to share my inspiration with fellow artists.
This June was the second annual Drum Horse Artists Workshop, complete with a variety of equine models that participants pet and learned anatomy first hand, sketched from life, and watch me gave a watercolor painting demonstration. Plus, we were graced with two little Drum Horse fillies for art inspiration. Unfortunately, it was over 90° F that day, so we ended the workshop early. The same (heat wave) weather happened last June, so I'm highly considering changing my workshop to be at the end of September.
If you would like to sign up for my next workshop, please contact me to receive the information so you don't miss out! During your time at my one day workshop, you can meet many horses, mules, and donkeys, all the while knowing that while you're learning, you are helping the rescued equines because 40% goes directly to the rescue.
I hope you stay awhile. This is my journal where I will talk about my paintings, processes, photography & adventures, post processing, social media, and more.