Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Black & White Basics


 Seems like some people really like B&W portraits, and some people don't...  I do.  I like the simplicity of B&W images.  Generally I think the best portraits are simple, without a lot of busy, distracting elements.  Removing the color from an image helps to simplify the photo and really concentrate the viewer's focus on the subject.

     Actually "black & white" is not very accurate- I prefer images that have a subtle warm color tone.  This "duo-tone" look is more pleasing for portraits.  True black and white portraits can make the subject look very cold and lifeless- typically not the look we're going for.  Nonetheless, I will continue to use the term black & white, even though we all can agree that black & white doesn't really mean black & white :)
     Some images seem to make better B&W's than others.  Usually I find that simple, close-up shots work the best.  But I don't really know how good an image will look in B&W until I try it.  When converting to B&W, there are two key elements that I always add.  First is the warm color tone we already talked about, and Second is Contrast.  B&W images look great with a lot of contrast.  (Lightroom users- also try adding some Clarity)

     You don't need special software to create B&W's, but if you want to get serious about it, there are some great applications out there designed just for B&W conversion.  The most popular is Nik Software's - Silver Effects Pro 2.  It's pretty awesome and it is free to try for 15 days.


      I always recommend Google's Picasa photo editing software for novice photographers.  I used Picasa exclusively for a long time.  It's very very capable, and it's very very FREE!  Because it has become a very popular editing platform, I wanted to put together a short tutorial on converting B&W images in Picasa.  So, even though I'm one of those people who HATES hearing the sound of my own voice- I thought a screen video would be best to explain the procedure.     --

              B&W Conversion in Picasa from tim wyler on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Expression Over Perfection

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     "Expression over Perfection" - common phraseology in portrait photography, simply means the technical aspects of a photo: lighting, composition, exposure, tone, etc...  will always take a back seat to the expression and emotion of your subject.  Yeah, all that other stuff is really important... But great expression is way better than technical perfection.  I've learned that portrait photography is about 25% technical, 25% creative, and 90% interactive.  Simple mathematics.


photo jabber blog by tim wyler
simple digital photography portrait tips

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Shooting Long

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     I shot this photo of young Reed at his family's home last Fall.  It was a great session with a great family.  I had a lot of fun and I think we came away with some pretty good images.  But Reed was not particularly interested in having his photo made this day.  Sometimes that makes it more fun.  These little ones can be squirrelly and evasive...I like the challenge.  And these shots often turn out to be the best images because they capture the child in a natural state, with real expression and emotion.
     Armed with my long tele-zoom lens, I managed to grab this shot as he popped up from behind a hill.  I love shooting portraits with a long lens.  This photo was taken at a focal length of 214mm.  You can see how the long focal length compresses the foreground and the background in the photo.  It's possible to get a similar look by shooting at a wide aperture setting, but I just really prefer the more isolated look I get from the long lens.
     When running and gunning with quick moving subjects, it's usually best to stick with ambient light.  This shot was lit by the sunlight coming in from camera left.  A thin overcast cloud layer diffused the sun slightly and provided a great soft light.

Hope you like,
photo jabber blog by tim wyler
digital photography tips and techniques for new dslr shooters

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

the Digital Photography Book

     Scott Kelby's "The Digital Photography Book volume 1" is the best selling photography book in the history of the planet.  Kelby's laid-back, whimsical teaching style and easy reading explanations make the book a must-read for novice photographers.  I highly recommend this book.  Volume 1 was quickly followed up by a second volume, then a third... all hugely successful.

If you have not already read them, Volumes 1,2&3 can be purchased
 as a box set- from Amazon

     A lengthy break followed the third book.  But now, soon to be released, "The Digital Photography Book Part 4" is available for pre-order.  Although I haven't read it, I have no doubt that part 4 will be just as popular as the first three.  It's appropriate that the word "volume" in the title has now been replaced by "part".  The old titles could easily be wrongly interpreted as being re-writes of their previous volume.  Actually each book builds on the teachings of the previous book.  Readers can advance through the series as their skill level increases.  

     If you have completed the first three books, Part 4 is available for pre-order -

All of the books in the series are also available in Kindle versions.

     BTW if you are not familiar, Scott Kelby has written just over a Zillion books on digital photography, lighting, composition, Lightroom and Photoshop.  Kelby is the founder of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals and Kelby Media Group.  KelbyTraining .com provides online video classes, taught by world-class instructors, in virtually everything relating to photography and photoshop.  These are some really outstanding resources for photographers who are looking to improve their game.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Go With the Flow

Patience...  Don't try to force the shot - This is me talking to myself.  More often than not, the picture I had pre-envisioned in my head doesn't materialize.  I've learned to just go with the flow and see what happens.  And sometimes... what happens is the best shot of the day!

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photo jabber blog by tim wyler
simple tips and techniques for making better pictures

Monday, February 20, 2012

Bending the Rules

     In a previous post entitled Magic Hour I mentioned the ideal times for shooting outdoor portraits being morning and evening.  Mid-day overhead sunlight is awfully harsh and contrasty.  Another post, Soft Window Light warns against using your on-camera flash for portraits.  But rules are meant to be broken, or at least bent.  In this post we will do a little bending.
     So let's face it, we can't control everything.  Sometimes we need to take pictures outdoors, under harsh mid-day sun.  Understanding it's not the ideal light, there are a couple of tips we can follow to help improve the look of our sunny subjects.  
     First - set your camera's White Balance setting to "Cloudy". This will give your subject's skin a slightly warmer tone.  If you want to go even warmer, try "Shade".  Second step - turn ON your camera's flash.  Your "fill flash" will help fill in the hard shadows and even out the light on your subject.  Remember if you are using a small built-in flash, you will need to be in fairly close, probably 6-8 feet, in order for your flash to be effective.  
     Hope this helps.


photo jabber by tim wyler
simple tips and techniques for taking better pictures

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Photosynth for iPhone

Snow Creek Resort
photosynth for iphone

     It's become my favorite iPhone camera app.......  and it's made by Microsoft???!!  Weird but true.
Photosynth for iPhone is an app (by Microsoft) that makes it simple to create panorama images right in the phone.  Take a series of photos in one slow sweeping motion, and Photosynth will automatically stitch together the frames to create the pano.  You can then crop and save the photo to your camera roll.
     Awesome for creating ultra-wide angle shots of scenery, events, etc...  Or fun for just goofing around.  Oh and BTW....   It's FREE!!!

Highly recommended-

Get it in the App Store

Nassau Bahamas
photosynth for iphone

Joplin Aftermath
photosynth for iphone

Arvest Ballpark
photosynth for iphone

Razorback Stadium
photosynth for iphone

Falcon 50EX
photosynth for iphone

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photo jabber blog by tim wyler
simple digital photography tips and techniques

Thursday, February 16, 2012


     Add more interest to your portraits by changing your perspective. Shoot from an angle of view that is slightly different from what we normally see. This will give your portraits more impact and often enhance your subjects.

Get Low-  When photographing kids, get down on their level.

Get Lower-  You gotta get dirty sometimes.  
Usually the least comfortable you are, the better the shot.

Now Higher-  Bring a stepladder!  
Shooting down from above is considered a safe shot, it almost always looks good.
Don't get crazy, just a little higher than your normal standing position.

You may not need that ladder for some..

     Mix it up a little, try a few different angles for each shot.  Sometimes you won't know which looks better until you see the images on the screen.  

     *Note:  Shooting adult subjects from above often gives a flattering, slimming effect.  More importantly, the opposite is very true when shooting from below.  Avoid shooting adults from a low angle at close range- they won't like the photo.

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photo jabber blog by tim wyler
simple digital photography tips and techniques

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Soft Window Light

     Want to get studio-like results for your indoor home portraits?
Does your house have a window?

     Large Light = Soft Light.  Soft Light = Pretty Portraits

     Studios use giant soft boxes and other large diffusers to produce soft light.  The larger the light source, the softer the light will be on your subject.  This is why you Never Never Ever want to take indoor portraits with your built-in camera flash.  The tiny flash will produce harsh, ugly light and give your subject a very flat, washed-out look.  It's not good.  Please don't do it.
     Okay, we agree.  So now turn Off your flash, and go find a large window.  Instant Soft Box!  Sit your subject close to the window.  In the above photo, the pretty girl is sitting to the side of the window, but near the back.  Other words- the window is to her side and out in front of her.  You may want to seat your subject facing toward the window, with head turned toward the camera.  Experiment with different positions, many great looks are possible.  
     note: North-facing windows are nice because the light is pretty constant regardless of the sun's position.  Remember the larger the window, the softer the light.

     Hope you like.

photo jabber blog by tim wyler
simple digital photography tips and techniques

Monday, February 13, 2012

It's Snowing!

     It's been a crazy mild Winter around here, but the snow is finally flying in Northwest Arkansas.  Seems like an appropriate time for a post on shooting photos in the snow.  If you've ever tried it, you probably already know that snow is tricky, getting good exposures can be a challenge.  Your camera's automatic metering system is very smart.....and it is also very very dumb.  The meter doesn't know it's Winter time, and it does not know that all that snow on the ground is suppose to be bright white.  The meter just sees all that white and thinks "too bright!", and therefore reduces exposure to darken the scene to a more neutral level.  This usually results in very dark images of drab, grayish looking snow.  Problem is we don't want our snow to be drab and gray, we want our snow bright and white as nature intended!

     Fortunately the camera companies are aware that their metering systems are not perfect, and they were kind enough to give us something called Exposure Compensation (EV Comp).  This allows us humans to "over-ride" the cameras automatic settings and easily tweak the brightness up or down as we see fit.  Snow shooting is the perfect situation for using EV Comp.
     So next time you are out shooting in the snow, try this.  Put you camera in "P" Program Mode, and dial in +1 stop of EV Comp.  This is a good starting point, you may need as much as +2 to get proper exposure.

Shot with 0 EV Comp.
(too dark and grey)  notice the histogram is heavy near the center of the exposure range-

For the next shot I adjusted Exposure Compensation..

EV Comp set to +1.3

(brighter and whiter snow!)  notice the histogram weighted far to the right-

     Ideally your snow will be as bright as possible without clipping detail (blowing out).  Use your camera's highlight warning to help you tweak your adjustments.  Increase EV Comp until the highlight warning is blinking at you, then reduce your adjustment by 1/3 of a stop or so.  With just a couple of test shots you can quickly get your exposure nailed down.

     Another consideration when shooting snowy scenes is White Balance.  Often your Auto WB will render the scene a little too blue.  Try setting your cameras WB setting to Cloudy.  You can also try bumping the WB slider in your post-processing software slightly to the right.

     Now, if you are shooting with a compact camera you have no worries.  Many compact cameras will have a menu setting for snow.  This setting will automatically bump up the exposure a stop or two, basically a semi-auto exposure compensation.  Look for this in your camera's scene modes.

    And Lastly-  Bundle Up!  It's Cold out there!!
photo jabber blog by tim wyler
simple digital photography tips and techniques

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bargain Alert!

     I use Photoshop Elements 10 for my heavy editing.  Elements consists of three different editing modes - Guided, Quick, and Full.  The different modes, with their advancing levels of complexity and capability allow the software to grow with you as your abilities progress.  For advanced users, the Full edit mode has around 90% of the photo editing capability of Photoshop CS5 for a fraction of the cost.
     For video editing, Premiere Elements is a very popular platform that is also very capable and easy to learn.  This package deal is currently selling on Amazon for half-price! 
  Here's the Link-   Click Here

Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements 10

by Adobe
Windows Vista / 7 / XP, Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard

List Price:$149.99
Price:$73.99 & this item ships for FREE with Super Saver ShippingDetails
You Save:$76.00 (51%                                                                                                                                                      

photo jabber blog by tim wyler
simple digital photography tips and techniques

Friday, February 10, 2012

Magic Hour

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250mm f5.6 1/80 sec.

     Whether you're shooting landscapes or portraits, with a DSLR, a Polaroid, or an iPhone, this one simple tip is virtually guaranteed to always always dramatically increase the amazingness of your outdoor photos!  The Magic Hour (or Golden Hour) actually occurs a couple of times per day.  The first hour of daylight and the last hour of daylight are without question, the premier shooting times for nearly any type of outdoor photo.  Low on the horizon, the sun's light is softened and diffused by the atmosphere, producing a warm, soft glow that bathes your subject and makes images look awesome.
     Try this test - Take a photo at 1pm.  Then go back out and take the exact same shot just before sunset.  You'll be amazed at how much you're photography improved in just a few hours :)

photo jabber blog by tim wyler
simple digital photography tips and techniques

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Exposure Triangle pt.1 - ISO

   Recently I was at a high school basketball game to take pictures of my daughters who were part of a pre-game dance routine.  It was Homecoming night and several members of the Homecoming court were seated in the stands, dressed in their gowns, awaiting the big half-time ceremony.  The father of one of the girls in front of us, toting a Canon Rebel asked if I could give him some advice.  Seemed in the dimly lit gymnasium all of his photos were looking very blurry.  I explained that this is a very common problem.  Gymnasiums usually appear pretty bright to our eyes, but actually even the nicer newer gyms are typically very poorly lit.  Using his cameras default settings, the dim lighting was driving his shutter speed down so slow that all of his shots were blurred.
     This is where the Exposure triangle comes in......  at least one corner of it - ISO.  Photography is all about recording light.  When you press the shutter button, light travels into the lens, through the Aperture opening, bounces around in the top of the camera a bit, passes through the open Shutter and finally strikes the cameras sensor.  Three main elements here comprise what is commonly referred to as the Exposure Triangle - 1. Aperture (the size of the lens opening), 2. Shutter speed (how long the shutter remains open), and finally 3. ISO.  I S Who?? What?   ISO is simply the sensitivity level of the cameras sensor.  (remember the ASA number on the film boxes?  Same thing)   The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the sensor becomes, and therefore less light is required to make a good exposure.  A very low ISO number such as 100, will typically be used outdoors on a sunny day.  In the very bright sunlight the sensor need not be very sensitive to record ample light.  Inside a high school gymnasium however, is a very different scene.
     So getting back the Homecoming ceremony, how do we fix Dad's burry photo issue?  First, I had him do the unthinkable - take the mode dial out of the green Auto mode!!  It has to happen sometime!  "P" mode is a good place to start.  "P" stands for Program Mode.  With the mode dial selected to Program mode, the camera will still automatically set your Aperture and Shutter speed for you, but you have the freedom to change other settings such as White Balance, Focus Points, and of course ISO.  So next we accessed the ISO selection, (on Canon DSLR's look for an ISO button on the top of the camera) and we cranked the ISO number way up.  In this case the maximum ISO for his camera was 1600, so that's what we selected.  some cameras today will go much higher, but 1600 - 3200 is usually sufficient for gym light.  So that's it!  With his ISO set to 1600 the sensor is much more light sensitive.  The camera will still set the shutter speed automatically, but it can now use a much faster shutter speed due to the increased sensitivity.  The faster shutter speed means less blur caused by camera shake and moving subjects. We can see a little bit of how each point on the Exposure Triangle affects the other points.  In other words- ISO affects Shutter Speed affects Aperture affects ISO affects Aperture affects Shutter Speed..............  and so on.
     Easy enough right?  Just select "P" on your mode selector, then adjust your ISO up to around 1600.  Your shutter speed will get faster and your blurry photos will get sharper.  BUT.... there is a catch :(  Everything in photography is a compromise.  Here it is - The higher your ISO, the more grainy (or noisy) the image will be.  The amount of noise in the photo varies with different camera models.  Some of the newest and greatest DSLR's produce amazingly clean images even at incredibly high ISO's.  Generally speaking, a noisy image is better than a blurry image.  This is especially true considering most images will only be viewed on a computer screen or in small prints, and will likely never be blown up to large size.  When viewing at typical size, even moderate noise is barely noticeable to most folks.  So don't get too overly concerned with noise.  Good exposure is priority one.


photo jabber blog by tim wyler
simple digital photography tips and techniques

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Unplanned Moments

     This is one of my favorite shots from a recent portrait shoot I did for some friends. The scene was completely unscripted. I had just finished shooting with one of the other kids on the staircase when I noticed that big brother had found a nice spot to sit and play. I loved the simplicity of the scene. The backlighting from the windows and the leading lines in the hardwood floor give the photo some nice depth. I was shooting with a 50mm lens with an aperture setting of f2.2. The wide aperture gives the image a shallow depth of field, resulting in the soft, blurred foreground and background.  Lighting was from my on-camera speedlight with a bounce diffuser attached.  I would have preferred to set up my off-camera flash with a shoot-though umbrella for this shot, but I knew I would lose the moment if I didn't move quick.
     Often the unplanned shots are the real gems.  We have to keep an eye out for those moments, and be ready to quickly change gears and get the shot.  When working with kids, the great moments never last long.    Many times I have wanted to say "WAIT!  I wasn't ready, now do that cute thing again!..."  By that point it's a missed shot :(  We just have to be ready next time.

Hope you like.
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