Tag Archives: tutorial

Tutorial #3: Shooting Fireworks

Introduction: Fourth of July is right around the corner, so obviously that means fireworks and the photographing of said fireworks…There a few things you need to know to shoot some fireworks photos like these:
Fireworks 01  
Supplies: The first and most important thing you need (other than a camera) is a sturdy tripod, and a good location to shoot. If it’s a big public fireworks show you’ll want to do some research on exactly where the fireworks will be and arrive extra early to get a good spot. For SLRs the lens you choose will depend on your location. If you are shooting from afar then you can use a telephoto lens. If you are up close or want shots that include the surrounding landscape you might want to opt for more of a wide angle. If you’re shooting on an SLR you can purchase a remote shutter release so you can shoot without creating any camera shake. Otherwise, you can just use the timer function on the camera – of course this gives you less control of when you can start an exposure because of the wait time.
Shooting: Once you have properly planned your location and are all set up, you’ll need to adjust your camera’s settings. Manual settings (M) are really the only way to shoot good fireworks photos, so check to see that your camera allows for the following settings.
A low ISO, such as 100 is ideal coupled with a slow shutter speed of 2 seconds. On an SLR, if you use a remote shutter, you can opt to set it to bulb and you determine how long you leave the shutter open. This may be useful if you want to suddenly close the shutter and take a new exposure because something more interesting has just popped up. Either way, 2 seconds is a good amount of time to capture a firework from the explosion to the time it disperses.
You will also want to set  your camera/lens to manual focus. Focusing on infinity will work on some lenses, or you can wait for one of the fireworks to go off, try to auto-focus on it and then switch the lens to manual focus to lock it. Just be sure to not accidentally change the focus later.
The trick is to listen for the firework pops as a sign to start your exposure and end it when the sparks have dispersed. Practicing with different start times for the exposure might give you some interesting results…


This is what happens if you press the shutter right when the burst is almost done dispersing.

It might take a bit of practice, but following these tips will give you the fundamentals for shooting some great fireworks shots.

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! :-)


Tutorial #2: Tips for Shooting in Bright Sunlight

Introduction: The start of Summer means the likely-hood of extra free time, and yeah, that also means taking photos of all the fun you will be having with all that extra free time. The problem is you just can’t seem to get good shots in that harsh, bright spotlight/heat-lamp that is the Sun. Well, here are some things you might want to know for shooting some great portraits AND landscapes in bright sunlight. You will likely need to have a copy of your camera’s manual to know how to change everything for your specific camera, and really you should always have a copy of your manual with you. Personally I always keep a PDF copy on my phone…just in case.

*If you’d like to see a larger view of any of my photos, just click the photo. They link right to my flickr page.

Tip 01: If you’re using a camera that has manual exposure control and you want to try getting away from using those auto settings then you might want to use the Sunny 16 Rule. The Sunny 16 Rule is basically this:

 You choose an ISO setting and your shutter speed will be the nearest reciprocal of that number. Meaning that if you choose an ISO of 100, then you should set your shutter speed to 1/100 [100/1 = 1/100]. The nearest whole step shutter speed to 1/100 will be will be 1/125 if you’d like to stick to only whole values. The aperture setting will depend on the lighting conditions as shown in the chart. 
Tip 02: For Shooting Portraits, this might seem like the most obvious thing; seek out open SHADE! Find some trees to stand under…ANYTHING that shields the direct sunlight.
In the Shade
It may seem like the more light the better but the angle of direct midday sunlight will create some unpleasant shadows on the subject’s face. With shade you avoid all of this:
In the Sunlight
Tip 03: In direct overhead sunlight or backlit situations in which you don’t want a silhouette, you can always use a fill flash. That is just a fancy way of saying turn the flash on to fill in the shadows from the harsh overhead light or to compensate for back-lighting. The results will be something like this:
With Fill Flash
Much. Better.
You can use fill flash in shade as well. You may notice in the first photo that the sky in the background is washed out, but if you expose correctly for the sky your subject will be too dark.

Exposed for the Sky

That is because there is a limited dynamic range of lightness and darkness values that can be captured in one shot by a camera’s sensor or film. By adding a fill flash, both the foreground and background get correct exposure.

With Fill Flash in the Shade

Tip 04: An important thing to consider is the ISO setting. Be aware of your ISO setting! That setting determines your camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. Keep it at a setting like 100 or even lower if available on your camera. If you’re still using film, for some reason, then you’re stuck with whatever ISO film you’ve purchased. High ISOs aren’t very useful in bright light and will only result in noisy photos. (There are times when a high ISO and flash combination will be useful, such as a low-light situation, but i’ll go into that some other time.)

Tip 05: For shooting landscapes, a major problem is often washed or blown out skies. There are a number of things you can do to fix that, but if you don’t plan on doing any photo editing AND you own an SLR you might want to invest in a circular polarizing filter. A polarizing filter will make the sky a darker blue and remove harsh reflections from shiny surfaces.

Before Filter ReflectionsWith Polarizing Filter No Reflection

Before & After

No Polarizing FilterWith Polarizing Filter

They’re like polarized sunglasses for your camera. Just be sure to get one that fits the diameter of your lens. They aren’t very expensive, around $20 for a 58mm filter that would fit on most kit lenses.

Polarizing Filter

Again, if you’re using a camera with more advanced settings you might want to go manual for those landscape shots. Definitely apply the Sunny 16 Rule here. Again, keep your ISO as low as possible and use a polarizing filter if available. To get greater depth of field, so that you have as much of the foreground AND background in focus as possible, you might want to look into calculating the Hyperfocal Distance for the settings you’re using (I will later be making a tutorial on how to do this).


You can likely skip the tripod in the bright light but you MIGHT still want to use one to make sure the photo is perfectly level. If you want to know a bit more about when you should use a tripod refer to my previous post, The Reciprocal Rule in Photography.

That concludes the basics you need to know to get better control of the available natural light so you can take shots like this too…

The Church Ruins

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].

Tutorial #1: Bokeh Shapes

Tutorial #1 Bokeh Shapes: Introduction Tutorial #1 Bokeh Shapes: Supplies

Tutorial #1: Bokeh Shapes, a set on Flickr.

…and my first tutorial is officially completed. read it. Follow it. Take cool pics. You’re welcome. In the future, i hope to cover tutorials for some of the more unexplored shooting techniques…i just need to do some research and organize a list of what’s NOT out there – which isn’t much – but MAYBE I’ll have a slightly better [more entertaining] approach. :D

The format I chose for this tutorial is in the form of a Flickr set. I’m planning on making all the future tutorials in the same format (with accompanying images). So…just click on the top photo or the link above for the full tutorial.