It’s a gray day in San Diego (yeah, I know, crazy) so I’m feeling the need to add a bit of color into life: meet the color wheel. Color Wheel, you. You, color wheel. Now that you’ve been properly introduced…color-wheelFirst, a view into the dorkiness that is me: I loooooooove color wheels. I still remember the first time I learned about the color wheel, I was in sixth grade art class wearing one of my dad’s old button down shirts, backwards, as my art smock….I even remember the assignment we got that day: create an abstract painting using two complimentary colors. Mine was purple and yellow. Seriously, just LOOK at that color wheel. Isn’t it just gorgeous?? …. I told you I was a dork.


Next, definitions.


1) Primary Colors: Traditionally, the primary colors are red, blue and yellow. Originally, it was thought that these colors could be combined in different ways to create all other colors on the color wheel. Eventually, this was disproven but the thought still prevails.


2) Complimentary Colors: The colors found directly across from one another on the color wheel–blue/orange, purple/yellow, red/green. Two colors are complimentary if, when mixed together, they create a neutral gray color. As a fun side note, when you stare at one color for an extended period of time then look at a white piece of paper/wall/etc, the color’s complimentary color will “appear” in the white area. Neat, huh?


3) Analogous Colors: These are the colors found next to each other on the color wheel, such as orange, yellow-orange and yellow.


So why do the color wheel and these definitions matter? Because color matters. Color breathes life into photos, creates harmony or discord, evokes emotion and associations–powerful stuff when creating strong images.


Take a look at these examples:


1) Primary colors have the potential to evoke emotions of simplicity, purity, strength, especially when combined with strong lines and simple objects (here I use blue and red as my primary colors):




2)Using complimentary colors can create interesting contrasts and highlight certain things within the image (notice the orange hair/freckles and blue necklace):




3) Analogous colors have a harmonious, calming effect and add to the serenity of an image (here, yellow/yellow-green/green with a pop of white and black neutrals):




Next time you’re out and about with your camera, pay attention to color as you’re shooting: color is your friend.


Happy shooting!

Kids and pets: every photographer, amateur or professional, has taken AT LEAST a zillion photos of them. Here are some tips for anyone who’s wished they could take even better photos of their kids/pets.


1) Rule numero uno, always, is get down on their level, kids and pets. Now, as I’ve always said, rules were made to be broken…but only if they’re broken intentionally. So back to rule numero uno…get down on their level.




2) Engage them (both kids and pets)  in some sort of activity so you can catch them “in the moment”. They’ll stay a little more stationary, stop giving you the wide fake grin (if they’re kids that is…pets tend not to smile usually) and just act like themselves.




3) One of the biggest challenges to taking pictures of kids and pets is getting them to hold still–they just have so much energy! Engaging them in a slower activity can help…but what if they just won’t sit still or, worse, actively avoid getting their picture taken? First, stop making it about the picture. The worst thing you can do, especially for the kid who seems to move just BECAUSE you’re taking his picture, is to tell him to “Say Cheese!” or “Smile!” Make picture taking a game of sorts, asking them silly questions to direct their attention to you or telling them to close their eyes and then on the count of three open them and yell “Yippee!”. Then click their picture as they collapse in a fit of giggles. Basically, get them to forget the camera is there and THEN start shooting.




4) Another challenge is literally focusing on kids and pets when you have a point and shoot camera (which tend to have slow focusing speeds). The trick is to hold the shutter down half way to focus on your subject…and then wait until the perfect moment to release the shutter (push it down the whole way). This way, when the perfect moment occurs, you won’t miss it because your shutter is taking so long to focus. If your subject is moving, you can still do this–just make sure to follow the subject with the camera. That is to say, as your subject moves to the right, your camera moves to the right to make sure s/he’s framed the way you want; as your subject moves left, the camera moves left, and so on.


5) HAVE FUN!!! (And patience doesn’t hurt, either)



So we’ve all been the victim of it and perhaps some of us have even been the perpetrators of it…attack of the giant photos. You know the story, you get a cute photo of your Aunt Susie’s new puppy, right click to open it and BAM, the photo is HUGE, takes up your whole browser and you have to scroll just to see if the dog is a beagle or a Great Dane. Sorta like this (except this is a guy, not a puppy….but you knew that):




But what’s a person to do to prevent these future attacks? Well, you can’t do much to prevent an attack on you…but you CAN ensure that you are never ever again the perpetrator of such an attack. How? It’s called resizing your image for the web. High resolution (meant for printing) image are usually anywhere between 1500 and 3500 pixels across, whereas an image is best viewed online between 600 and 800 pixels across, with the longest side being no larger than 1000 pixels (as a general rule). Big difference, right? You betcha. When someone sends an image via email at full resolution, you get attacked by the giant photo. By simply resizing it, your viewers can happily look at your new puppy with no fear.


There are many ways to make this happen, but probably the easiest and most user friendly (assuming you have email set up in Outlook or the like) is to simply right click on the image you want to send (or, in the case of wanting to send several images, highlight all those images and then right click), click on “send to” in the box that pops up and click on “mail recipient”. It’ll ask you what size you want the image(s) to be and then attach it directly to your email.


If you want to send an image from, say, Google (in other words, an online email account), I recommend doing one of two things: 1) upload your photos to Flickr or Picasa or a similar online photo sharing program, which will automatically resize your images for optimal web viewing and then send the link to the album via email; OR 2) download a free photo editing program like Splashup to resize and edit your photos before sending them via email. The added bonus of a program like SplashUp is not only is it free and resizes your images, you can also do things like increase the saturation, turn your photo into a black and white or even sepia image, add fun text boxes, etc. Just a couple extra minutes of your time optimizing your photos will make many a happy viewer (and you’ll get to hear “ooooo, such a cute puppy” instead of “ooooo, such a cute puppy eyeball” that much more often).


And remember….only YOU can prevent giant photo attacks.

This past weekend I had the privilege of spending time with one of my close friends, Abby, and her boyfriend, Brandon, while they were visiting San Diego for the week. The last day they were here, we visited the San Diego Birch Aquarium and it got me to thinking about a really practical photography tip for my  Tuesday Tidbit: shooting through glass (a window, an aquarium, etc). I shot all of the photos below with a simple point and shoot camera.

Before I learned anything about photography, my pictures of animals at the zoo and/or aquarium would usually look like this:



Boo for Direct Flash


Not the best photo, right? The reason it looks like this is that when I hold the camera parallel to the glass in front of me, the flash goes off, travels from the camera to the glass and then shoots right back towards the camera, creating that bright light at the top.

One way to avoid that, but still use flash, is to hold your camera at an angle to the glass while shooting. This keeps the flash from going directly back into the lens. Remember high school physics? Angle of incidence is equal to angle of refraction yada yada yada…same deal here. The result isn’t fabulous (you can still see a bit of flare usually and the light is pretty flat) but it’s better:



One thumb up for Flash at an Angle

The best way (in my opinion) to get a good shot through glass is to not use flash at all. This means you might need to find a way to hold the camera steady to avoid camera blur if there’s not much light, such as in this aquarium, but the results will be much better–no flare, true to life light, etc. For this shot, I simply braced the camera against the ledge in front of the glass and did my thing:



Two thumbs up and a triple cheer for no flash!

First things first – a point and shoot and an SLR are two different types of cameras. The main difference between a point and shoot and an SLR camera is in what you see when you take a picture. Using an SLR, what you see through the viewfinder is what you get; using a point and shoot, what you see through the viewfinder is…almost what you get. Now, to the average user, the difference in the point and shoot is going to be so small as to not even warrant conversation. But to a photographer, it matters. I’ll explain…read on.


Point and Shoot Cameras: A point and shoot camera is what most people associate with a regular ol’ consumer camera, the type that most of us have and bring with us to parties, family gatherings, etc. You know what I’m talking about…a small silver/black/whatever rectangular body, wrist band on the side, one lens on the front that zooms in and out…


This type of camera gets its name from the fact that,  well, you can simply point and shoot: aim the camera at your subject, press a button, and bam you’ve got a picture (and then everyone comes running up saying “Can I see it??”). The camera might have some settings like “nighttime” or “macro” or “party”, but the settings are in the end still controlled by the camera (a glorified tiny computer) instead of the user. The camera takes a light reading, decides what the aperature and shutter speed should be, etc.


The other difference (as I mentioned earlier) is that a point and shoot uses one lens to show the image through the viewfinder and another to record the image on the viewfinder, meaning what you see isn’t what you get. To the average eye, the difference in the images won’t be noticeable…UNLESS you have your finger in front of the lens but don’t see it through the viewfinder. It happens to me all the time… But for the most part, this isn’t really an issue for a basic photo.


SLR (Single Lens Reflex): SLRs get their name from the viewing system they have. Every SLR system is created so that what you see through the viewfinder is what you get on film even though the viewfinder is not in direct line with the lens. This is achieved by use of a light prism and a mirror. When looking through the viewfinder, the light enters the lens, hits a mirror lined up with the lens at the back of the camera, and shoots up into the prism at the top of the camera which in turn sends the light out of the viewfinder so you are, in fact, seeing the light as it’s reflected off the subject. When the shutter button is pressed, the mirror retracts, allowing the light to travel straight ahead onto the film/sensor and be recorded.


The other major factor with SLRs is the amount of control a user has. Yes, a user can just throw the camera into automatic mode (which essentially just creates a really fancy looking point and shoot) but a user also has an huge amount of creative control over the final image by manipulating the aperture and shutter speed.


So……now that you know all this, you can now make other people’s faces go blank by asking “Do you know the difference between a point and shoot and SLR camera?” :) Isn’t that fun??

First, an explanation on shutter speed. It’s simple, really–the longer the shutter of a camera is open, the more light comes in. Therefore, if we have a dark environment (not much light), we leave the shutter open a while to allow enough light into the camera to register on the film/sensor; if we have a ton of light (a bright sunny day for example), we only need to leave the shutter open a brief period to properly expose the image. When we add more light, the camera’s shutter speed can be faster and we can, in essence, freeze a moment in time. Shutter only open for 1/2000 of a second? You’ve captured 1/2000 of a second in time.


But the longer you have the shutter open, the more opportunity there is for having “camera shake” (blurry pictures). This is because if your camera is moving from you holding it, the camera is going to record all that movement while the shutter is open–even if you’re holding the camera as still as you possibly can, the camera will still register movement from you breathing, for example. For the point and shoot camera users out there, this is why your flash will suddenly pop up as you’re getting ready to take the picture–it’s the machine’s way of telling you that you need to add some light to the environment to avoid camera blur.


Now, in some cases, photographers want some motion blur. Usually we don’t want blur from camera shake but rather blur from movement; this is called “dragging the shutter”. It’s a great way of conveying movement and energy to the viewer, as in the example of a photo I took a few years ago of an amazingly energetic swing-dancing duo:




In this case, I wanted to have the feel of a bustling dance floor but also capture a moment in time while the dancers did their thing. This was achieved by keeping the shutter open awhile (to get the motion blur of the dancers behind the duo) and then flashing a burst of light (in this case, the flash on the camera) a split second to freeze the duo in that last moment before the shutter closed. One thing to note, “dragging the shutter” requires a camera that has the capabilities to pop the flash just before the shutter closes, called “rear (or second) curtain sync”. If you don’t have that on your camera, you can also experiment with leaving the shutter open and then flicking the lights on or shining a flashlight on your subject just before the shutter closes…it’ll just take several tries to get it right.


So now that you know all this, you can join the Broadway stars and see your name in lights. It takes a tripod (to avoide camera blur), a dark environment (inside or outside is fine) a light source (in the example below, we actually used my husband’s Treo Touchscreen phone!!), someone to press the shutter of the camera, some experimenting and a little (ok, a lot) of practice in writing your name in the air…backwards. The trick is to start writing your name right when the shutter opens and be finished by the time the shutter closes. By popping the camera’s flash at the very end, you can illuminate the “writer” as well. The result? Pure awesomeness. Have fun!



Depth of Field

May 4, 2011

So, why would you care at all about aperture anyway? Or shutter speed for that matter? We’ll start with why you’d care about aperture. Take for example, the photo below. See the effect of having just a bit in focus and the rest blurry? This is achieved when you have your aperture wide open (a large hole as opposed to a small hole). You might heat photographers saying they’re shooting “wide open”…this is what they mean, shooting with a wide aperture, resulting in some parts of the photo being out of focus. To make sure that everything is in focus instead (say you’re shooting a landscape and want both the foreground and the background to be in focus), you’d shoot with a narrower aperture (smaller hole).


Aperture is referred to as an “F-stop”. The confusing part is that a lower F-Stop is a wider hole. In other words, a larger hole equals a smaller number. So increased depth of field (the blurry part) is a result of a lower aperture, increased sharpness across the photo is a result of a higher aperture. With me so far?

Stay tuned for next week’s Tuesday Tidbit when we talk about why you should care about shutter speed (aka how to manipulate photos via shutter speed). And I’ll show you a cool trick you can try at home! Seriously, it’s my favoritest camera trick ever. :)

Every Tuesday, I bring you a tidbit of information to help you improve your images, learn more about the technical aspects of photography and generally just “talk shop”. This week is about understanding Aperture and Shutter Speed.

Images are created by recording the amount of light that falls onto the film or the digital sensor of a camera. The lens of the camera gathers the light reflected off a subject, converges it at a point on the focal plane, inverts the image and the light travels to the sensor of the camera, creating an exposed image of the subject.


Aperture: A camera lens has not only glass we see at the front of the lens but also an aperture that narrows and widens to control how much light enters the lens. The aperture is like the iris of our eyes–a bigger aperture lets more light in, a smaller aperture lets less light in.


The shutter: Look at the image above and imagine there is a door immediately in front of the camera sensor. By controlling how long that door (the shutter) is open, we can control the amount of time the film/sensor is exposed to the light coming through the aperture. Like a door of a house being open to the outside world, the longer the shutter is open, the more light is cast on the film/sensor.

How Aperture and Shutter Speed work together: The best way I’ve ever heard this described is in John Hedgecoe’s The New Manual of Photography. Hedgecoe writes: “The exposure process is like filling a glass with water. The glass is the film (or digital chip) and the water is the light. To fill the glass (expose the film), the faucet is turned on partially or fully (the aperture)–the amount affects how long the tap needs to run before teh glass is full (the shutter speed).” In other words, a wider aperture requires a shorter shutter speed to correctly expose the image in the camera; a narrower aperture requires a longer shutter speed.

Next Tuesday, we’ll talk about the affects you can get from having a wider or narrower aperture.

The rule of thirds is used by visual artists of all kinds. The idea is basically this: when you compose a scene (whether it’s on canvas or in your camera’s viewfinder), you can make the scene stronger by positioning the most important elements at the intersections of imaginary lines that break the frame up into thirds (two horizontal and two vertical lines that form a nine part grid). Of course there are arguments as to *why* we do this–some say it creates energy and tension while others say it creates a feeling of balance in the photo. Personally I agree with the latter, but you be the judge.


The photographs below demonstrate this rule. Notice that the first image goes beyond simply placing the important part (the subjects’ heads) at the intersecting lines but strengthens the photo by having the edge of the bench fall along the bottom line. This is similar to placing a landscape scene with the horizon at one of the horizontal lines as opposed to directly in the middle.




Now look at this image, in which I’ve placed the subject directly in the middle of the frame. Does this image *feel* different than the images above?



Like all rules, they were made to be broken. So don’t feel that you MUST follow it from now on. As you can see in the photo above, sometimes the strongest images DO break the rules. But you can’t break the rules if you don’t know them…