Category Archives: Tips

Tutorial #12: Understanding Metering Modes

Aside from Auto Focus, understanding Metering Modes is a prevalent issue for beginning photographers. Learning more about these settings will help you be prepared to shoot quickly so you don’t miss or screw up important shots. It’s nothing complicated, the only real issue is not knowing.


The best time to use these modes is when shooting with AV/Aperture Priority mode, TV/Shutter Priority mode or any of the other modes that don’t require full Manual or full Auto settings.

01. Center Weighted: This mode will average out the the exposure of the center of the image. This works well for portraits or close ups of objects that take up most of the image’s central area.

The reading is taken from a larger central area.

02. Spot or Partial: This mode will take a reading from a small 5% (spot) to 15% (partial) spot at the center of the frame. Some high end cameras will allow you to choose a point (usually an AF point) from which to get the exposure. Use this when you want to expose for small objects while ignoring most of the background. Good for back-lit images.

The reading is taken from a small spot in the center.

03. Matrix or Evaluative: This is often the default, but it can help you get some advanced auto metering. It allows you to use this in combination with auto focus points which I describe in detail in my last tutorial [Understanding Auto Focus]. It will take an average of the entire scene but place priority on the AF point selected.

Priority is placed on the selected focus area.

Button layout on a Canon 60D. 

The Exposure Mode screen on a Canon 60D.

Auto Exposure Lock [AE-L] Button:

This button allows you to lock the exposure taken when you half press the shutter button. The camera will not take another reading until you either attempt to change the AF point or actually take a shot. This is useful if combined with specific modes, such as spot/partial metering, so you are able to re-compose the shot after getting a reading from a small area.

The Auto Exposure lock typically looks like an asterisk.

For more info on exposure such as EV Values see my other tutorial: [Explaining Exposure]. Then you’ll be ready for my [HDR Photography] tutorial.

Tutorial #11: Understanding Auto Focus

The most often ignored or unknown settings for most beginners often deal with Auto Focus. I often see people accidentally change these settings then wonder why their camera “isn’t focusing properly anymore.” The following info should do away with all the frustration that results from just not knowing how your camera works.


The first most important thing to become familiar with are auto focus points and how to select them. The number of points and where they are situated depends on the make and model of the camera but there are a few typical configurations such as the 9 point system used on most entry to mid-range canon cameras. There is an option to manually select a point or to have the camera decide which point or combination of points to use.

You will typically see something like this in your viewfinder:

This is the dedicated Auto Focus Point Button on a Canon 60D. Although it may be elsewhere on other models it is labeled with “AF.”


The AF button will take you to the selection screen. The default setting is “Automatic”

You can then select any point you want with any of the scroll wheels or arrow buttons.


There are 2 types of focus sensors. They are distinguished by how they are able to focus. Point can focus by finding contrast with vertical lines in a scene or by finding contrast with horizontal lines. Larger max apertures on lenses will allow for more accurate focus. Most cameras will focus with any lens with a max aperture of 5.6 or larger. (there are hacks that will allow for smaller max apertures found on some third party lenses) The reason for larger apertures providing more accuracy is because the focus sensors require a lot of light to be more accurate at detecting contrast.

The vertical line sensor is the most common type. It detects horizontal lines. (once again photography names things so that you can get confused by it opposite meaning, lol.) The other, more accurate type, is the cross type sensor which detects both horizontal and vertical lines in a scene. This type can be typically found at the center point and a few surrounding points in higher end cameras.

The red crosses are cross type sensors, the blue lines are vertical line sensors.

Of course if you rotate the camera into portrait mode those vertical line sensors will now detect contrast with vertical lines instead of horizontal…


Autofocus deals with two settings and of course the Af/Mf switch on the lens. Some lenses let you adjust focus manually while set to auto others do not and attempting to can damage the lens.

01 Auto Focus Modes

The first thing to decide is what mode you should use. There is a setting for use on non moving objects and a setting for tracking moving objects.

Single shot Mode:

Canon calls it “One Shot” and Nikon calls it “AF-S” others might call it something else. When the shutter is half pressed, this setting focuses on a subject once then holds that focus.
You can put this to use by focusing and re-composing a shot without changing focus. It can be better put to use by combining it with the use of different focus points.

02 Continuous Mode:

Canon calls it AI Servo, Nikon calls it AF-C mode. Both allow constant focusing on selected focus points. This mode is best for moving objects because it continuously tracks an object to re-adjust focus should it’s position change before the shot is taken.

03 Automatic

Sometimes there will be a third setting that will automatically detect which mode to use. This typically doesn’t work very well and it’s better to choose a mode yourself. Canon calls it AI Focus, Nikon calls it AF-A.


Now that you know how to use auto focus and a bit about how it works it can really help improve your compositions and how quickly you can prepare yourself to take a shot.

Selecting ONE SHOT mode and combining it with using the center point then quickly recomposing the shot is one way to quickly autofocus on a particular part of a scene. Otherwise you can try to quickly select the point you think will fall over the part of the scene you want in focus. If you want to control of where to focus and avoid out of focus photos it’s best to manually choose your focus point.

Here are some samples of compositions and the points I selected during shooting. With enough practice, you will learn where the sensor will be able to achieve focus as well as which focus point to select for optimal sharp focus.

At times the focus points have actually influenced my compositions to a certain degree. Depending on which part of a scene i want in focus, I will tilt the camera so that a selected point falls on the subject. It’s made for some pretty interesting compositions particularly when shooting events .

Tutorial #10: Motion Blur & Panning

These colder months mean shorter days with less light and more opportunities to use slower shutter speeds without needing ND filters, so this is a good time to go over this topic…

Motion Blur and Panning both illustrate movement in a still image. Not unlike Futurist painter Giacomo Balla’s Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash seeing the image trail shows the position of an object elapsed over a period of time. In the case of a photo that time frame would be dependant on a slow shutter speed.

For some reason anytime I think of motion blur this painting always comes to mind.
Dynasim of a Dog on a Leash 
The faster an object is moving the faster of a shutter speed you can get away with using while still capturing motion blur. Anything 1/30 and slower is a good place to start. Something like 1/10 is ideal – especially if you aren’t using a tripod. Just remember there’s a difference between camera shake and motion blur. At least one thing in the photo must be in sharp focus otherwise the blur in your photo is just undesirable camera shake.
If your lens has some sort of image stabilization and you’re using a wide angle you can get away with using pretty slow shutter speeds and no tripod. The image below I shot handheld with a shutter speed of 1/4.

17th & Beaumont
If a scene is fairly well lit it’s possible to show down the shutter speed just enough to capture motion by closing up the aperture as much as possible. I shot this carnival ride in late afternoon light at a shutter of 1/15 with the aperture stopped down to f/22.

Carnival Ride
In some cases you can use a flash set with a second curtain shutter to get a trailing effect and a sharp well lit image. What a second curtain shutter does is make the flash go off right before the exposure ends rather than right after the shutter first opens. Doing this makes the trails appear to drag behind the subject in movement rather than through it.
The other way to depict movement in an image is a technique called Panning which involves the camera following the object in movement so the background is blurred rather than the subject. It can be tricky to get the speed in which u swipe the camera to keep up with the moving subject, and the only way to really master it is practice and a lot of trial and error.
I panned the image below at 1/5 on a tripod by just swiveling the tripod to follow the ambulance as it passed by.
Ambulance Pan

This pan I shot handheld with a shutter of 1/40. The shutter was a bit fast so the background blur is very subtle but the subject still pops in comparison.
Cat Walk

There’s a lot to be explored with motion blur whether it’s adding a sense of movement to something that doesn’t move or using it to isolate a the subject just as bokeh does. Just be prepared to take a lot of shots without expecting them all to even be usable.

Tutorial #9: White Balance

White Balance is getting neutral colors such as whites and grays to appear neutral in a photo by compensating for the temperature or tint of available light. Often the color temperature chosen is based on an artistic decision. It’s important to know how to set it so you have control over whatever it is you want. Shooting in RAW will allow you to adjust the white balance in ways that aren’t possible with jpgs. In the days of film, you had to use film specifically designed for certain temperatures of light or filters to correct white balance.
The hotter the light the bluer it appears, but according to color theory, artistically choosing for it to appear golden or red gives a feeling of warmth whereas making it blue makes it appear cold. This color association is why typically food will be shot in warmer temperatures – it’s more appetizing – and things like ice will look best cooler.

You can always shoot using one of the camera presets. In most situations these or Auto White Balance [AWB] will work fine, but custom white balance is always the most accurate. Even if you want to adjust it later when editing it’s best to get it right when shooting.
The typical presets are: Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, White Fluorescent Light, and Flash. I’ve made this chart with the Kelvin measurement for some typical light situations:

If you want more accuracy use the “Custom White Balance” setting. You will need something white like a sheet of paper to photograph a sample from. Some higher end cameras will let you choose the actual temperature number like in the chart above. Here’s is what you would do on a Canon. I used a Rebel T1i in the example.

First, you will need to take a photo of something completely white under the lighting conditions you will be shooting in.

Press the menu button, go to the second screen and select Custom WB.
Then you’ll need to select the photo you took of something white.
Then when you press the “Set” button to select OK it’s set.
It will remind you to set the White Balance to Custom.
You can do that in the White Balance Menu. On the Canon Rebels it’s the up arrow labeled WB

Post Processing:

There are 2 variables to adjust: Temperature and Tint. Temperature determines how blue [cool] or red [warm] the whites appear. Tint is the balance of green and magenta – similar to color balance settings on a tv. Different types of light sources produce different tints and temperatures of light. Most fluorescent lights produce a green tint, daylight has a cool temperature, and incandescent bulbs produce very warm light.
To edit in Camera Raw you adjust the the sliders for Temperature and Tint as desired. It’s a pretty intuitive interface.

Although the best way to edit white balance is to shoot and edit in RAW, you can make adjustments in Photoshop by using “Hue/Saturation” to adjust tint if the photo is too green. Sliding “Hue” to the left will add more magenta hues and sliding to the right will make it greener.

Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation
shortcuts: ctrl+alt+U or cmd+option+U
For non-destructive editing use:
Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation…
To adjust the temperature the easiest thing to do is use “Photo Filter.” Select the desired filter and adjust the density until you get the result you want, or even use a custom color to use as a filter.

Image > Adjustments > Photo Filter…
For non-destructive editng:Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Photo Filter…

The Results:
  The images are in order of warm, neutral, cool.

Tutorial #7: Macro Photography for Under $10

Macro lenses are expensive, so good thing there are cheaper ways to do macro photography. I’ll go over Reverse Lens Mounting and a bit on using extension tubes.
Supplies: First, I’ll go over the things you will need and some you might want to have…
01. A tripod (optional)

02. An SLR camera with a kit lens or any lens 50mm or wider.

03. A reverse mount ring (optional but recommended)

04. AND/OR An extension tube

Shooting Tip 01: Aperture Size & Depth of Field
The results will have a very shallow depth of field, so you will need a small aperture to increase the depth of field enough to have a decent amount of the image in focus rather than just a couple of millimeters. You will want to set the aperture to f/11 or f/16. You might not be able to see much when composing the shot if there isn’t a lot of ambient light, but it can mean the difference between this:

and this:

Shooting Tip 02: Manual Aperture Hack
If you’re shooting Canon and the lens you’re using doesn’t allow manual aperture control there is a “depth of field preview” button right underneath the lens release button. This button temporarily sets the aperture so that you can preview the depth of field by closing up the aperture to the setting of your choosing. Normally, the aperture is set to the max aperture [wide open]. I don’t really see the difference in its intended use, but it has a much more useful purpose.

Just set the aperture in the camera’s settings and press the DOF button while removing the lens. It will hold the aperture setting once removed.
Shooting Tip 03: Lighting
The lack of light from using a very small aperture will likely cause you to need more light and even a higher ISO to avoid camera shake. A flash can come in handy. Sometimes, you can get away with using a built in flash if you can figure out how to bounce the light just right, but you will probably need an external flash or some other light source. It could even be something you already have lying around like a desk lamp…
Shooting Tip 04: Focal Length & Magnification 
The wider the angle (the shorter the focal length) the more magnification you will get. My favorite focal length to use when shooting bugs is 35mm. Using an ultra wide lens will produce some extreme macro shots like the ones i posted below taken with the 10-22mm lens.
The Camel Logo on a Cigarette
Eye Shadow

 Shooting Tip 05: Focusing 
You will need to manual focus each shot. It helps to physically move the lens [and yourself] back and forth to focus once you have the focal length and the focus set. Once you try it out you’ll get a feel for the limitation of how it the lens is able to focus. You will need to be so close you are nearly touching the subject – especially with shorter focal lengths [18mm] 


Method 01: Free-lensing
Reverse Free-lensing is probably the cheapest method. It’s possible to do it with just the kit lens, and no extra attachments need to be purchased. In this method all you do is hold your kit lens reversed in front of your lens-less camera. You will also get a tilt-shift effect depending on how you hold the lens. There are a few drawback such as, dust getting into the camera and lens and light leaks. Here is a photo I took with a 10-22mm wide angle lens of my hair. You can clearly see my terrible split ends. :-/

Method 02: Using a Reverse Mount Ring
A Reverse Mount Ring can be purchases anywhere online for anywhere between $4 & $8. It’s probably best to purchase a common size like a 58mm ring and just get step up or step down rings for any other lens sizes. To use it, just attach the ring to the filter end of the lens and then attach to the camera. I find this to be the best way to get good macro shots. I don’t have to worry about light leaks or dropping the lens. Dust (and other things) can still enter the open end of the lens. I once had a jumping spider jump right into the lens! D:

I eventually got the spider out… This guy, actually:

Method 03: Extension Tube
Using a 50mm lens and an extension tube can give you similar results to reverse mounting, but extension tubes can cost $10 or more. It simply attaches between the lens and the camera to increase the focal length, but it doesn’t do much to increase working distance. You still need to get extremely close to focus on a subject.

Method 04: Combination
You can go on to combine the extension tube and a reverse mount ring to get even more magnification, but it still wont increase working distance and the depth of field may become too shallow. But of course, you can experiment with that if you like…
The Results:
I find that my best shots were taken with the reverse mount ring method.

I even shot some stereoscopic 3D macro shots, so you can get pretty creative with this stuff. [Cross your eyes until you see the 3D effect]

and to give you a better idea of the scale of some of these things…

If you want to see more examples, check out the Flickr Set with all my Reverse Mount Macro Shots.

Sure, a real macro lens will give you some good working distance, but the point here is really to have fun doing macro photography for under $10. You get what you pay for, sort of…

Neutral Density Filters

Neutral Density (ND) Filters are used when you want to use a very large aperture to get heavy background blur, or to use a slow shutter speed to get motion blur in very bright light. Here’s a quick guide so you can find the right filter.

*There are also Graduated ND Filters that affect only one half of the filter to balance out the exposure in scenes like landscapes where the sky is much brighter than the ground (sunsets). 

Film vs Digital Tip: On Exposure

When you plan on post processing your photos there is a trick you can use to get more detail in the lights and darks in one exposure. For digital, underexposing a bit [up to -2/3 of a stop] is best for retaining details in the highlights. It’s not difficult to pull detail from dark areas in digital photos with an image editing program, but blown out highlights can’t be recovered. For film, overexposing [+2/3 of a stop or even more] works best for capturing and retaining details.

The reason comes down to the way each format captures images (and how as well, don’t rule out film as irrelevant just yet). If your capturing negatives, then the area that the light hits on the film turns dark. These dark areas on the film are actually the highlights when transfered as a positive print. Exposing it longer captures more detail throughout and there is more to work with than just clear film. The opposite is true of digital because it’s not capturing a negative. The area the light hits is corresponds to the highlights. Overexposing will lead to less detail to work with.

In addition to that, digital sensors don’t have the ability to capture a wide range of values in the highlight end of the spectrum. Negative film is special in that it is able to retain remarkable amounts of detail even in somewhat extreme overexposure. Details can later be recovered when printing or converting to digital. A white digital image is basically the same as a clear negative…if that all makes any sense…

So why should you care about this? No more washed out skies in landscape photos! :-)


The Reciprocal Rule in Photography

This might be a lesser known tidbit about when to use or not to use a tripod. It all depends on the focal length of your lens. As a guide, you should be sure that your shutter speed is at or faster than the reciprocal of you focal length – otherwise use a tripod to be safe and avoid camera shake.

So…if the focal length on the lens is set to 50mm AND you’re using a full-frame (such as a Mark II) or 35mm film camera, then you would need a shutter speed of 1/50 or faster [50/1 = 1/50]. If you’re camera has a crop factor like the x1.6 crop on most Canons or the x1.5 crop on Nikons then you multiply the focal length the lens is set to by the crop factor number and THEN use the reciprocal of that number [50mm: 50 x 1.6 = 80 = 80/1 = 1/80].