Category Archives: Photography Tips

Photo Lessons

This weekend I gave two 3-hour photo lessons to two very enthusiastic photographers. It was fun for me, and I think they benefited from the time we spent together. Both Saturday and Sunday we started indoors covering techniques and composition. Then we moved outside to practice what was discussed, answer questions, and touch on other topics in the field.

Saturday was sunny, but when we headed to the Etna Library area the sun was softened by some high clouds. This allowed some nice flower photos that otherwise would be poor in bright sun. We photographed mostly with shallow depth of field to blur the background.  I like this one because of the background colors.

And then there were some fast-moving bees to try to capture.

One simple thing I stress when teaching is that if the sky is not dramatic and does not contribute to the photo, try to eliminate it. Previously I had photographed the nearby barn with very beautiful skies, but this day the sky was white. So I practiced another simple composition tip — sometimes a piece of the subject can be better than the whole.

Sunday afternoon we headed to Hanover and the Dartmouth campus. The other option was Moose Mountain, but it was way too sunny for that. The woods are too contrasty for good photos with full sun. But architecture is often excellent on a sunny day. So we took some photos of buildings. I suggested focusing on details rather than trying to get it all in. And I pointed out that sometimes shadows are an important part of the composition. 


I showed how to get a sun star. It is caused by diffraction (bending of light) at the edges of the lens diaphragm. It is strongest when the physical size of the aperture is small, which means both a large f/number and a wide angle lens. At any f/stop, the aperture is 10 times smaller at 20 mm than at a focal length of 200 mm. I wanted to create one at the very top of Baker Library, but a tree got in the way and blocked the sun. So I put the sun star on the top of another building.

We tried some panning. I showed how to create some motion blurs by zooming during exposure with a slow shutter speed.


While we were walking and looking for the next interesting subject, I got a few photos of people on the Green and along the streets.


It was a good weekend.

Hayes Farm Park and Trescott Ridge Wetlands

On Wednesday I led a photo walk at the Hayes Farm Park and Trescott Ridge Wetlands.  We visited the King Bird Sanctuary along the way. It was a beautiful spring day. The blooms on the trees were a bit past peak — missed that by about a week.  You can see photos I took in the King Bird Sanctuary four days earlier by clicking HERE.

I gave a few photo tips before the walk started. I have also included other photo tips and suggestions in the Blog.

One of the tips I started with was, if the sky is blank and uninteresting consider minimizing or eliminating the sky in your photos. Many “landscape” photos can be much better without the sky. But not this day — the clouds were beautiful.  I made the above photo shortly before people started arriving.

Here is a photo I took right next to the parking area at the Etna Library. It nicely illustrated using color contrast in photos — here the complimentary colors of red/purple and green.

As we walked through the area we found some interrupted ferns. “Interrupted” describes the gap in the middle of the blade left by the fertile portions after they wither and eventually fall off. This photo nicely illustrates tonal contrast.  There is only one hue (color) in the photo. The image is carried by the difference in tones between the dark fertile spore-bearing pinnae and the lighter sterile fronds.

I took two photos to show the effect of sun on flower photos.  Most photos of flowers are better on overcast days.  For this example, Gail simply held my hat so as to shade the flower. 


When we got to a nice grouping of mushrooms that were growing on some wood chips, I carefully shaded them with my body when I took the photo.

A dandelion provided an example of aperture on depth of field.


I took a photo of a wild strawberry flower putting it slightly off-center.

Near the end of the walk a few of us took a short detour to see a huge yellow birch. I photographed it backlit by the afternoon sun.

As the walk was nearing its end we found a crab spider had captured a wasp on a Golden Alexander wildflower. These flowers are attractive to many kinds of insects seeking pollen or nectar, especially short-tongued bees, wasps, flies, and beetles. It is a member of the Carrot family.

I took out my macro lens to make the photo below — actually not specifically a macro lens but my small LX7 camera that can focus to less than a half inch. If you study the photo you can see the two eyes of the spider on either side of one of the wings of the wasp.

I had decided in advance to walk home after the workshop. My wife was in the library with another group, and we only brought one car to save a parking space for both groups. On my way up King Road I took a pair of photos that illustrate a tip I gave at the beginning of the photo walk. Be sure to take both horizontal and vertical photos — don’t get stuck just using your camera in the easier-to-hold landscape mode. If you have both you can later decide which you like better. If you have only one then the decision is easier, but perhaps not as rewarding.








There was also a beautiful stone wall that I could use to illustrate another tip. What is it? Does this stone wall look long?

One way to make a subject like this look longer is to not show the ends. Showing the ends limit the length of the wall.

A nice cluster of white birch gave me a chance to illustrate some of the tricks to convey the feeling of three-dimensions in two-dimensional photos. An obvious one is to have some object in front of others. Another way is to use size contrast as I did here with the trees.

Since the group had walked down from the King Bird Sanctuary into a bit of the Trescott Ridge Wetlands on a very sunny day — not a good time for photography in a forest — my wife and I hiked through this area to Woodcock Lane Thursday morning before the rain started. The photo below illustrates using diagonal lines in your compositions.

A fern fiddle-head gave me another chance to play with tonal contrast and depth of field, f/5.6 in this case.

Two minutes later I took the photo below at f/18 to get a lot of depth of field. Too many photographers shoot only on Auto which often sets the camera lens at f/5.6. And too many photographers who are just beginning to use Aperture Priority leave their camera set to f/5.6.  In both of these cases deep depth of field cannot be captured.

I hope these simple photo lessons were helpful. And do visit the Hayes Farm Park and Trescott Ridge Wetlands sometime. There are normally plenty of parking spaces in the library parking lot.

Perspective and Light

I recently took this photo of tracks in my yard. This is the way I took it with the bottom of the photo nearest me. But the tracks look “wrong”. If you study them, some or all look raised rather than depressed like they should be. How could this happen?  I remembered part of a lesson from the Photo Classes I teach and that provided the answer.

Here is a photo of a muffin pan.  Are the “dimples” for the muffins concave (inward) or convex (outward) in this view?

Here is another view of the same muffin pan.  Are the “dimples” for the muffins concave or convex in this view?

Most people will answer concave for the first view and convex for the second view. So what?  So what is the point of all this? What is the trick I am playing on you?

In fact I only took ONE photo of the muffin pan. The two image above are identical.  All I did was rotate one 180 degrees. 

We are accustomed to light coming from above and that conditioning is what causes us to sometimes misinterpret what we see. Photos don’t (often) lie, but our brains can fool us.

Back to the tracks in the snow.  Here is another view.  Again, I only took one photo — this one is rotated 180 degrees to cause the light to come from the top of the photo. Now the tracks look indented like they should be. You can compare it with the photo at the top of this article.

So the next time you are photographing animal tracks, or muffin tins, you might consider orienting the light “properly” or rotating the resultant photo.



Multiple Exposure Experiments

This weekend I played around a bit with a relatively new camera. Like many recent digital cameras, it will capture multiple exposures, putting 2 to 10 photos on one image. I did this occasionally in the slide film days, but it is easier and less expensive to experiment with this technique using a digital camera.

The book, “PHOTO IMPRESSIONISM and the Subjective Image“, co-authored by Freeman Patterson and André Gallant has examples of two types of creative multiple exposures made on slide film.  Freeman would put 9 to 25 exposures of a single subject on a single transparency moving the camera slightly between exposures. Andre’s favorite technique was to combine a sharp and a very out of focus image of the same subject.  He mainly did this by sandwiching two transparencies, but it can also be done in-camera on a single piece of film.

Both of these techniques can be done in-camera with many digital cameras. However, André’s montage approach can also be simulated with a single exposure by blending the original and a blurred layer in Photoshop or just by adding negative Clarity in Adobe Camera Raw. It is also possible to simulate Freeman’s technique in Photoshop from one or more single exposures, but this is a bit more laborious. But wait, while writing this blog I decided to create Action in Photoshop to simulate Freeman’s technique with a single image. You can see the results at the end of the blog.

Below is an in-camera digital version of André’s in/out of focus technique that I made today. If you try this, remember to open your lens wide when you take the out-of-focus shot or it will not be as blurry as you might wish.


My new camera has four multiple exposure overlay modes: Add, Average, Lighten, and Darken. An older camera had just Auto Gain On or Off.  Off is identical to Add and On is identical to Average.

Add simply overlays the images without adjusting the exposures (“gain”, although gain really means reduction). If you take a series of photos using Add or Gain Off without adjusting the Exposure Compensation, the result will likely be very overexposed. However, if you use this feature and, say take 9 exposures each at EC = -3, you can get a multiple exposure with a factor of 8 faster shutter speed than you can with Average, all other things being the same.

Average or Auto Gain On is the “normal” mode most would use.  It adjusts each exposure so the result will be properly exposed. It is useful, for example, to smooth out moving water if conditions do not allow a slow enough shutter speed.

Lighten chooses only the brightest pixels from the shots to use in the composite. It is a useful mode for overlapping fireworks at night, although this can also be done in Photoshop with multiple images stacked on layers set to the Lighten Blend Mode.

Darken chooses only the darkest pixels from the shots to use in the composite. It is a useful mode for a subject in motion against a light background.

The slide show below has 10-shot multi-exposure images made totally in-camera except for some minor adjustments and the mirroring of one image. For these I used the Darken mode since I basically had a moving subject against a light background. (Actually the amaryllis was stationary near a window and I moved the camera.) These images were made yesterday when the plant only had one blossom fully open.

Here is a 10-shot multiple exposure using Average made October 5, 2017 during a great fall foliage season, at least in NH.

If you have a camera with these capabilities you might enjoy experimenting with multiple exposures. And if you want to see some beautiful examples of multi-exposures, get the book mentioned above.

I promised earlier I would show what I did “automatically” with an Action in Photoshop.  I created an Action that would duplicate a layer, rotate the copy 5 degrees, and repeat this 9 times. The Action then selected all Copy layers and changed their Blend Mode to Darken.  I then selected some images, pretty much at random, from a folder of recent photos in Bridge and used Batch to run this Action on all of them.  I sat back and waited and then discarded some of the resultant images.  But a few were interesting.  Here they are.

The left-side images below are the created one and the right ones in each pair are the original capture.

Perhaps I will create another Action that rotates and/or translates and/or distorts each copy layer by an ever increasing amount. That might be neat. But, as Will Lange says, “I’ve got to get back to work.”