Posts Tagged ‘Photograph’

How to Photograph the Sheer Beauty of Soap Bubbles

16 Jan

Most of us are fascinated by soap bubbles and love playing with them since childhood. Watching bubbles float in the air and burst is a pleasure every child and even adults enjoy. Soap bubbles have an exciting range of color and textures. When light shines onto a bubble it displays vivid color that changes swiftly. Even though we see them on regular basis, we never actually observe them so closely to enjoy the thrilling beauty they hold within.

They are stunning, amusing and mesmerizing but extremely short-lived. Soap bubbles usually last only for a few seconds and then burst either on their own or upon contact with another object. So how can you capture these beautiful soap bubbles and keep it forever? Let’s find out.

Soap Bubbles 01

What gear do you need?

First, we’ll talk about the camera gear you need for photographing soap bubbles. These photos can be taken with any DSLR or even compact camera if it is capable of firing an external flash. And for the lens, it’s better to use a macro lens but if you don’t have one, any lens will work fine.

Get or make a large light source

The most important aspect of soap bubble photography is the light source rather than a camera. It requires a large light source. If you have a studio light with a large softbox or beauty dish that will work great. But if you don’t have one, it doesn’t mean that you can’t take this type of photo. It can be done by using off-camera flash with a DIY softbox too.

For a DIY softbox, make a frame of two by two feet by using wood or iron wire and wrap it in white cotton cloth or butter paper. This frame, combined with an off-camera flash, will give the same impact as studio flash with a softbox.

And if you don’t have an external flash, you may place this frame near the window (or hang a white bed sheet over a window) and use sunlight as your light source. The possibilities are endless, you just need to use your imagination.

Steady the camera

You will also need a tripod so you can fix your camera on it and free your hands to blow bubbles. If you have a shutter release cable (remote trigger) it would be great to use that as well.

Other supplies

Other than this, get a piece of black cloth or black paper to use as a backdrop. You’ll also need soap solution to blow bubbles. You can buy it from local stores or make it at home by adding two tablespoons of liquid soap and one tablespoon of glycerine in half cup of water and leave it overnight.


Okay, now we have everything, let’s start shooting. First, switch-on your music system and start playing your favorite album. It’s not necessary but it’s always good to listen to music while you shoot.

Now pour soap solution into a small bowl and place it on a table. Put a black cloth or black paper behind the bowl and set up your light source. Your light should be very near to the bubble (just 2-3 inches). If you want your bubbles to look like a floating planet, place the light source right above the bubble otherwise place it at 45 degrees downward.

Soap Bubbles 19

Soap Bubbles 12

Set your camera on the tripod and attach the shutter release cable. Set a narrow aperture between f/11-f/16, so you can get deep depth of field and get the entire bubble in focus. Focus manually and change other settings like shutter speed and ISO according to the light. Now use a straw to blow bubbles and start clicking.

Problems and Solutions

Once you blow the bubble, you’ll notice that it doesn’t have the swirls of colors which you were expecting. Wait a few seconds, and the colors will begin emerging, which is your cue to start clicking pictures.

Soap Bubbles 14

Soap Bubbles 15

Also, keep a close watch on the surface of the bubble. If it starts looking transparent, it means that the bubble is about to burst. To increase its lifespan, use a straw and blow on the bubble slightly. This will also add some unique texture to it.

If you are using homemade soap solution which you made using the formula I talked about earlier, soap bubbles will have a longer life but if you are using other soap solution, bubbles will burst in very short time. If that’s happening, adding a few drop of glycerine will increase its lifespan.

I also discovered that the temperature and the humidity of room play an important role in increasing the life of a soap bubble. If the temperature of the room is hot or atmosphere too dry, the bubbles would burst very quickly. This happens because soap bubbles have a layer of water between two thin layers of soap and when the water evaporates, it bursts. This is why it has a shorter lifespan in hot and dry environments.

So, by adding glycerine and lowering the temperature of the room, you can increase the lifespan of the bubble up to five minutes. Soap bubbles show a whole range of colors and textures from their formation until they burst. Every second you’ll find different colors and patterns and you can get lots of different shots with just one bubble.

Soap Bubbles 09


If everything has been set up properly, there is no need for heavy post-processing. Just level adjustments, some cleaning, cropping and sharpening would be enough and your image end up looking like scenes from the movie Interstellar.

At last, keep trying until you get the desired results and share your photos in the comments below.

The post How to Photograph the Sheer Beauty of Soap Bubbles by Ramakant Sharda appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

05 Jan

In 1928, Andre Kertész took an iconic photo of a fork resting on a bowl. It’s called “La Fourchette”. Despite its simplicity, or maybe because of it, the photo is striking. The separate parts of the composition are banal—a bowl, a fork, and a table—but the photo is a superb study in light and form. Bold shadows emphasize shape and create a visual intrigue that holds the viewer’s attention.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

With Kertész’s photo forever lodged in my mind, I’ve taken many photos of crockery and cutlery over the years. Stopping for something to eat or drink is a reason to take the camera out rather than put it away. Although I have a modest collection of antique knives, forks, and spoons at home, eating out while finding new tableware to photograph is part of the fun.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

Cameras and lenses

You can use any camera to photograph tableware, obviously, but some close-up capability is useful. Smartphones and compact cameras are ideal, as they allow extreme close-ups with lots of depth of field. Cameras with bigger sensors effectively give less depth of field, and often you’ll want lots of it. Also, a small camera is easier to use discreetly at a restaurant table.

Working with shadows

To imitate the Kertész fork photo you need directional light. If you’re taking photos at an eatery, look for lighting opportunities before choosing a table. Window light is directional on a sunny day if there are no net curtains or frosted glass installed.

Bare, clear-glass bulbs create bolder shadows than a fluorescent bulb or shaded light. A table lamp with a tapered coolie shade makes a good makeshift studio light if you move it close to your subject, as it forces its strongest light downwards.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

Once you’ve identified a suitable light source for creating shadows, how do you make the most of it? Adjusting the position and distance of the light, if possible, will alter the intensity of the shadow. Look at the Kertész photo and you’ll see there is very little mid-tone detail—it’s a high-contrast photo that emphasizes shape.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

Aside from the depth and definition of the shadow, its angle also plays a significant role. A fork or other utensil resting on the edge of a concave bowl or plate creates an elongated shadow. This distorted shape contrasts with the realistic outline that is cast onto a flat surface with the light at a right angle to the subject.

Looking at form

Not by accident did Kertész choose a fork for his tabletop photo. No other piece of cutlery is as intriguingly formed. However, many types of tableware are elegantly designed, so it’s worth looking closely for photo opportunities. Intricate details often make good photos. As well, you can combine multiple items to make the composition more appealing. The graceful lines of several stacked spoons make a good photo, for instance.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

Making the most of reflections

When you take photos of shiny silverware, glassware, or cups filled with tea and other beverages, inevitably you’ll see some reflections. Some of these are to be avoided, but you don’t usually want a reflection of yourself in the photo.

On the other hand, the success of the photo might hinge on a good reflection of other cutlery items or perhaps an ornate window or furnishing nearby. This is always worth watching out for one way or another.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

Whether through shadows or reflections, look for interplay between the different items on the table. At home, try using a mirrored surface to create intriguing cutlery compositions. Place items carefully so that they harmonize rather than merely obstruct each other.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

Tabletops and backdrops

Whenever a tabletop forms part of your composition, you must make sure that it doesn’t detract from the photo. Just like any background, it has the power to make or break the whole image.

Don’t include it at all if it has a distracting pattern or texture. Look closely at any grain or joins to make sure nothing works against the flow of the photo. In some cases, a well-lit or interesting table surface may play a strong role in the picture. If that isn’t so, it should be low-key.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

Fancy silverware

Once you’ve exhausted photo possibilities based on light and form, it’s always worth examining the little design flourishes found on a lot of fancy tableware. For this minute examination of detail, you definitely need a macro lens or the close-up facility of a cell phone or compact camera.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery

Armed with close-up capability, you’ll see all kinds of photo chances at a micro-level. Look for little twists and turns in the metal, hallmarks, or even blemishes. These small details often look great when gathered together in a book or printed as a triptych, for example.

How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery


I hope this article inspires you to take great photos at mealtimes, though you must be careful not to spoil the enjoyment of those around you. Take your photos quickly and discreetly. You’ll see cafes and diners in a whole new light. Bonne dégustation.

The post How to Photograph Crockery and Cutlery by Glenn Harper appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

23 Dec

I love experimenting with different techniques and ideas. So when our editor here at dPS, Darlene, asked if someone was willing to try out a technique and experiment with fireworks. I jumped at the chance. I love being creative and pushing the limits of new ideas. Her idea for an article about creating artistic images of fireworks came from this article – Bloom or boom? Photographer captures the moment fireworks erupt into life – creating amazing images that look like flowers.

How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

Here’s a fairly typical image of fireworks.

Successful recreation

I loved the look of the images and this type of artistic experimentation is right up my alley. I try this type of stuff all the time. Sometimes it works. Other times it’s not such a success, but the point is to learn and grow as an artist and photographer.

These first set of shots were taken using the technique described by the photographer in the article. Yes, it is copying someone else’s technique, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Imitation can lead to ingenuity. I used a long exposure and then tried to time my movements of the focus ring with the explosion of the fireworks. Timing is everything with this technique, and it’s hard to master. It took me almost the entire fireworks display to get some images that copied his technique.

Note: you don’t need to crank the focus ring. A small movement out of focus will create the desired effect.

How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

I like the look of these fireworks. The explosions remind me of flower petals.

How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

These blurred images of the firework create a more artistic and impressionistic image.

It’s okay to fail!

I’m quite satisfied with the look of these images. I used a 70-200mm lens and set the exposure at 0.6 seconds, with an aperture of f/2.8 and ISO 250. It worked fairly well. The timing was by far the hardest part of this whole endeavor.

I had an awful lot of failed images. There were times when the shot was too far out of focus. The result was some really nice bokeh lights that I’ve since used as image overlays. Usually, black and white art shots and blended them in to create light and interest. Every shot can have a use, so don’t always delete your “failures”.

How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

In this case, I turned to focus ring too far and created some pretty bokeh.

How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

While the colors are pretty, this one is a fail too.

The images that were never planned

Other images didn’t turn out exactly as the other photographer’s work but I think the results are still successful. The images are pretty and have turned out to be successful images for birthday cards.

I still used the same technique he did, but I didn’t get the timing correct so these images don’t have the same look as the first ones. They are still appealing though and there is nothing wrong with these unexpected surprises.

How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

I accidentally moved the camera while turning the focus ring. It’s a mistake but I still like the effect.

How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

I love this shot. The lights remind me of popcorn for some reason.

How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

These lights remind me of rain or comets.

Using fireworks was tough. The timing was very difficult to master. I was only able to capture a handful of shots during the 30-minute firework display. This fact led to another experiment. This time sparklers were used. The night was fairly windy so I used my garage as a studio.

Pushing the experiment further

NOTE: Lesson learned – wait for a night when there is no wind to shoot with sparklers. The fumes from the sparklers filled the garage, and I had a headache after shooting. Of course, I should have thought of this before attempting, but when in the moment…

For the following shots, I used the same premise as I did shooting the fireworks. The one difference was my f-stop. This was my mistake. I set my camera to f/16. This was a huge mistake on my part. I couldn’t replicate the out of focus look for my photos. You need to use a wide open aperture for the experiment to be successful. As a result, the images I created are considerably different from the impressionistic flowers created at the fireworks. There are still a lot of interesting images in this collection, but it wasn’t the look I was hoping to capture.

How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

I used a longer lens for this shot but didn’t use the focus ring.

How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

I love how this seems to look like exploding rain.

Making mistakes

The settings for these shots used a range in aperture from f/16 to f/32. They are still pretty I think, and I will find a use for them for sure.

The next step in the experiment involved getting closer to the sparklers and capturing something different. I attached an extension tube to my lens and got very close to the sparkler. Perhaps a little too close, it is possible to damage your sensor by shooting something too bright. The aperture was small however so this may have saved my camera.

How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

This quick phone shot my son took shows the distance between the camera and sparkler with the extension tube in place.

Using an extension tube

Here are the results of the experiment. The images allow us to see how the base of the sparkler ignites. These are also interesting images and worth the time it took to create them.

How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

I used my 12mm extension tube on my 50mm prime lens for this shot.

How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

Here’s a shot where I captured the sparks as they fell from the sparkler.

Being creative in post-processing

It was also fun to play with color during the post-processing stage. An adjustment to the color temperature slider changed the sparkler lights from a warm yellow to an intense orange.

Again this is all experimentation. The process may not result in a finished image, but it’s all about playing with settings and trying to create different effects in your photography.

How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

I simply moved the slider to adjust the color of the light.

How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

I adjusted this shot using the split-tone sliders in Lightroom.

Trying one more time

Naturally, the experiment continued with a second try at the sparkler images. This time I set a much wider aperture. Here are the results using the same method as I used to create the firework images.

How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

I like the effect of the wide open aperture. Only a few of the sparks remained in focus.

While the sparklers did not recreate the blooming flower impressionistic type effect, I still like the look of these shots. The sparkler allowed me to focus more easily on the task at hand. While I still had to move quickly it wasn’t as rushed as shooting the fireworks. Both activities were enjoyable and challenging in their own way.

How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

The focus here is more exact.

How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

There are some unique lines created by the flares in this image.

Give it a shot!

It’s almost New Years and time for fireworks once again. Share with us some of your experiments and results. It doesn’t have to be fireworks. You could use lights or flashlights. Be creative! Show us what you’ve created!

My next experiment will involve spinning the sparkler while I shoot. What kind of effect will that create?

How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images

Just one more shot.

If you want some tips on shooting fireworks with a more traditional approach try these articles: 

  • 15 Tips for Successful Fireworks Photography
  • How to Photograph Fireworks

The post How to Photograph Fireworks to Create Impressionistic Images by Erin Fitzgibbon appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to photograph the northern lights

17 Dec

After publishing my recent 2017 Gear of the Year article, in which I highlighted a lens I used for shooting the aurora borealis, numerous people reached out to ask if I would write a follow-up article on how to photograph auroras. So, I decided to team up with DPReview contributor, astrophotographer, and aurora tour guide, José Francisco Salgado, to share some insight into capturing this amazing natural phenomena.

The aurora is the Earth’s own special effects show, seen here from Grundarfjörður, Iceland.
ISO 2500 | 30 sec. | F2.8
Photo by José Franciso Salgado

What causes the lights?

The Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, are natural displays of light that occur in the upper part of Earth’s atmosphere due to interaction between charged particles from the Sun and the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere.

The Sun releases charged particles (including electrons) into space in a continuous stream, called solar wind, as well as in sudden and violent releases called Coronal Mass Ejections. Several days after leaving the Sun, these particles can reach our planet. Most are deflected by the Earth’s magnetic field, but some find themselves inside the magnetic field and populate reservoirs within the field. Different events, including interactions with the solar wind, accelerate these particles towards an oval around the magnetic poles.

The Northern Lights are produced when these charged particles, guided by the magnetic field of the Earth, precipitate through the atmosphere and collide with nitrogen and oxygen. These collisions lead to atomic processes called ionization and excitation, which result in the emission of lights of varying color. A corresponding phenomenon in the southern hemisphere is called the Southern Lights, or aurora australis.

The aurora occurs when charged particles, guided by the Earth’s magnetic field, collide with nitrogen molecules and oxygen atoms in the upper atmosphere.
ISO 6400 | 3 sec. | F2.8
Photo by José Francisco Salgado

Getting to where the auroras are visible

Auroras are typically produced in a band known as the auroral zone, which can be 3° to 6° wide in latitude and between 10° and 20° from the geomagnetic poles. This means that auroras are normally seen at very high latitudes (north and south). The region where auroras occur at any given time is called called the auroral oval. Auroras are also produced in the dayside of the Earth, but since sunlight is about a million times brighter this renders them invisible during the day.

Although it’s easier to see auroras at higher latitudes, solar activity can cause the auroral oval to enlarge, making them visible at lower latitudes, including the northern regions of the continental US. Since geomagnetic activity responds to solar activity several days later, it’s possible to forecast auroral activity to help with your planning.

NOAA provides long-term (3 days) and short-term (30 min) aurora forecasts online. Also, there are several alert systems including email notifications from or smartphone apps that can provide alerts when the aurora is active at your location, such as My Aurora Forecast & Alerts (iPhone; Android) and Aurorasaurus (iPhone; Android).

NOAA’s 30-minute forecast shows the intensity and location of the aurora forecast for the time shown at the top of the map.

When Northern Lights are forecast to be visible, find an open field with an unobstructed view of the north. If you don’t want to wait for that to happen, or if you want to see the most intense aurora, you’ll need to move to higher latitudes. Before traveling to a particular northern location, consider three factors:

  • Is the location within the auroral zone?
  • Is the weather usually clear at that location during the month you’re planning to visit? (Clouds occur at much lower altitudes than auroras, which occur above 100 km.)
  • Will local light pollution impede your observations and photography? The website can be of assistance here.

Some locations to consider are:

  • Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Yellowknife, NT, Canada
  • Churchill, MB, Canada
  • Outside Reykjavik, Iceland
  • Norwegian Lapland, Norway
  • Swedish Lapland, Sweden
  • Finnish Lapland, Finland
  • Stewart Island, New Zealand
  • Ushuaia, Argentina
  • Antarctica
Photographing the Northern (or Southern) Lights is not very difficult, but you do need to get to a location where you can see them. One of the advantages of shooting from frozen lakes in Yellowknife, Canada, is the unobstructed views they provide of the entire sky.
ISO 5000 | 5 sec. | F2.8

Remember, locations at extreme latitudes will have almost no nighttime close to the summer solstice, so avoid visiting these place from mid-April to mid-August in the northern hemisphere, or mid-October to mid-February in the southern hemisphere.


There’s no ‘correct’ gear for taking pictures of the auroras, but having the right equipment can translate into higher quality images and provide more creative options.

Camera: A camera with a full frame sensor will provide better high ISO performance than those with smaller sensors. That said, modern sensors are extraordinarily good, and it’s possible to get great aurora photos even if you don’t have a full frame sensor, so don’t let that stop you. On a recent trip, some friends of ours captured great aurora pictures using a Sony RX100 III, a camera with a 1”-type sensor.

This photo was captured using a Sony RX100 III, a camera with a 1″-type sensor. The Big Dipper and Ursa Major can be seen in the sky behind the aurora.
ISO 3200 | 6 sec. | F1.8
Photo by Steve and Colleen McClure

Lens: A fast, wide lens will let you capture as much light as possible. Anything wider than 24mm will work, though a 14mm or 16mm lens will allow for more dramatic shots. A lens with a maximum aperture of F2.8 is a good starting point, but faster is better. For example, a lens with an aperture of F1.8 has 2.5x the light gathering ability of a F2.8 lens. That’s a big difference in low light.

Tripod: Exposures are usually measured in seconds, so a sturdy tripod is a must. ‘Sturdy’ is the key word. It doesn’t have to be a fancy, state of the art carbon fiber model. As long as it holds your camera steady it will do the trick.

There are some optional accessories worth considering as well. If you plan to capture time-lapse sequences, an intervalometer is required, and these are included on many cameras today. A remote trigger, such as a cable release or smartphone app, will make it easy to trigger the shutter without touching your camera. Finally, since you’re working in the dark, a headlamp that allows you to see what you’re doing while leaving your hands free to work will be useful. (Fellow observers will appreciate you using a headlamp with a red light.)

Footage from The Legend of the Northern Lights, a film shot and produced by José Francisco Salgado to augment symphony orchestra concerts. These time-lapse sequences were shot in 2014 with the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G lens on a Nikon D4 and D3s.

Taking photos

Shooting aurora isn’t technically difficult, but every night is different and you may need to experiment a bit. It’s best to operate your camera in manual mode, with manual focus, for predictable, consistent results.

File format: Set your camera to capture Raw files. This provides the best image quality and the most latitude for making adjustments in post processing, particularly useful if you need to tweak settings like exposure or white balance. Don’t depend on a manufacturer’s baked-in Jpeg profile.

Focus: Focusing directly on the aurora is little bit like trying to focus on smoke. Fortunately, relative to your position, the aurora is effectively at infinity. It may be tempting to just rotate the focus ring on your lens to the infinity marker, but on many lenses that’s really more of an approximation.

Aurora in Canada’s Northwest Territories.
ISO 3200 | 4 sec. | F2.8
Photo by Dale Baskin

If you’re focusing at night, use your camera’s live view feature. Point the camera at the brightest star you can see, magnify the view to the maximum, and rotate the focus ring until the disk of the star looks the smallest. Once you think you’ve achieved critical focus, take a test shot and review the image for sharpness. If adjustment is needed, repeat.

Once focus is achieved, a useful technique is to lock the focus ring in place with gaffer’s tape to prevent it from moving. Alternatively, you can place marks on the lens with a marker in order to return the ring to the same position. These methods can also be used if you want to focus on a distant object during the day and save the focus position for later.

Aperture: Set your lens to its widest aperture to let in as much light as possible. If you’re concerned about optical performance wide open you can stop the lens down a bit, but doing so will quickly reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor. If at all possible, shoot at F2.8 or wider.

Shutter speed: Optimal shutter speed will depend on the brightness of the aurora and how quickly it’s moving. A short shutter speed will capture detail and structure that would otherwise be averaged out over a longer exposure. On the other hand, a slight motion blur can make an aurora photo more aesthetically pleasing. Take a few test shots to find the optimal balance, but 5-10 seconds is a good starting point to work from.

If the lights are dancing around quickly, shorter shutter speeds will let you capture more of the detail and structure of the aurora that would be otherwise be averaged out in a longer exposure.
ISO 1600 | 3.2 sec. | F1.8
Photo by Dale Baskin

ISO: Set your ISO to the highest level that gives you acceptably clean results on your camera. This will allow you to keep shutter speeds as low as possible in order to capture more detail in the aurora. Depending on conditions, you may be able to get by with ISO 800, though you may have to go to 6400 or higher.

Long exposure noise reduction: If you’re planning to take individual photos, turning this on will provide some benefit; however, it will effectively double exposure time while the camera shoots a dark frame. If you plan to shoot time-lapse sequences, leave this feature off to avoid long delays between exposures.

Other considerations

Embrace the landscape. Part of what makes the aurora interesting are the remote places where it’s frequently seen. In Alaska, photos may contain mountains. In northern Canada, it might be silhouettes of trees in the taiga forest. Iceland might present you with glaciers. Each place is unique and part of the story behind the photo.

Embrace landscape features and even man-made objects to enhance your aurora photos.
ISO 6400 | 8 sec. | F2.8
Photo by José Francisco Salgado

When creating compositions, think about other features or objects you could include. Snow and water can reflect light from the aurora, though in very different ways. Man-made structures can provide interesting elements in a scene or silhouettes. Since a wide aperture will produce a shallow depth of field, avoid objects close to the camera unless you want them to be way out of focus on purpose.

Know your equipment. Depending on where you are, aurora can quickly go from being a slow, undulating wave to a rapidly moving, multi-colored light show. Be prepared to shift gears and adjust your settings quickly to avoid missing great photo opportunities.

Finally, be patient. Mother Nature works on her own schedule, and you’ll need to work around it. If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying. It’s worth it.

José Francisco Salgado, PhD is an Emmy-nominated astronomer, science photographer, visual artist, and public speaker who creates multimedia works that communicate science in engaging ways. His Science & Symphony films through KV 265 have been presented in 200 concerts and lectures in 15 countries.

José Francisco is a seasoned night sky and aurora photographer and filmmaker. If you would like to view, photograph, and learn about the Northern Lights then you can inquire about his Borealis Science & Photo Tours in Yellowknife, Canada.

You can follow him on: Flickr, Instagram, 500px, Facebook, and Twitter

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What it’s like to photograph a sandstorm

06 Dec

This article was originally published on Photography Life, and is being republished in full on DPReview with express permission from Spencer Cox.

One of the windiest nights I’ve ever taken pictures turned into perhaps the single most rewarding—and frightening—landscape photography experience of my life. I was on the Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley, a place I had visited twice in the past, though under much tamer conditions. This night, the gusts of wind were far greater than I had seen before, and they kicked up a layer of sand that made for amazing sunset photos. But as the day came to a close, it was clear I had entered uncharted waters.

Even before sunset, the wind was fairly heavy. Sand stung at my feet, but it wasn’t any worse than a breezy day at the beach. I had a scarf over my nose and mouth to avoid inhaling too much dust, and I wore sunglasses to protect my eyes.

It was a beautiful sunset. The clouds were something special—patchy, orange, blue, and dark. The atmosphere was perfect for photography. Over the course of an hour, I made a series of mad dashes from dune to dune in search of the best composition, and I captured a handful of shots I liked along the way. The whole time, in the distance, one dark cloud was lower than the rest. Although it stood out somewhat, I filed it away in the back of my mind as I focused on capturing other parts of the landscape.

Soon, the day had ended. The sun dipped out of view, and the light began to fade even further. I saw, then, how far I had traveled. I was already at the tallest dune, which rose next to me in a gentle slope. The best colors in the sky had ended, but I decided to climb this last peak to see the view before turning back for the night.

That was when the air began to change. The low, dark cloud I noticed earlier had grown much closer, and the reality of my situation became obvious: this was not a typical low-hanging cloud, but, instead, a sandstorm. The wind picked up in powerful gusts, and I took a photo.

NIKON D800E + 35mm f/1.8 @ 35mm, ISO 100, 1.3 seconds, f/16.0
On the lefthand side of the image, you can see the front edge of the sandstorm approaching.

For half a second, everything was completely still. The sky dimmed and turned dirty. I started to hear sifting noises, and a thin layer of dust fell on my shoulders and backpack.

When the wind picked up again, much faster than before, it was a completely different world. I stood looking ahead, unable to see the next dune in any direction. As the atmosphere thickened, darkness fell rapidly. I pulled out my flashlight, which illuminated swirls of sand racing through the air.

When the wind picked up again, much faster than before, it was a completely different world.

After bracing myself into the ground, I went through the inevitable safety checks. Was my GPS still working? Check. Did I have enough water to last the night, in case of a true emergency? Check. But even then, it’s hard to feel completely safe at a time like this.

The storm didn’t seem natural. Or, instead, it seemed too natural. The power of the wind and sand was overwhelming. If you want to feel completely helpless in the face of the world’s chaos, get lost in a sandstorm.

Of course, I wasn’t truly lost. The GPS had found a path back, pointing to where my car sat in the distance (though I no longer saw it, or the road). I started moving in that direction.

It soon became apparent that my progress was slow. Indeed, I thought I was walking in circles, despite following the GPS’s recommended route. To be clear, it didn’t just seem like I might be walking in circles. I truly believed I was going around the same sand dune over and over, retracing my own footprints as the wind blew them away.

Especially in a situation like this, I am inclined to trust technology. I know that a GPS is far more likely than a clueless photographer to pinpoint its location in a sandstorm. But I was thankful to have packed along a backup GPS, which I pulled out now to calculate the same route—sending another signal to perfectly-placed satellites flying thousands of kilometers overhead. When that, too, confirmed the same path, I knew to stifle my intuition and follow the light back home.

To describe the rest of the hike, the best comparison I can make is to say that it felt like walking on an ocean. I would climb up a dune, shine my flashlight ahead, and then step down into darkness. And this repeated itself for an hour—up, down, up—on waves of sand.

To describe the rest of the hike, the best comparison I can make is to say that it felt like walking on an ocean.

Then, suddenly, I was at the car. I threw my backpack on the back seat, climbed in, and closed the door. That moment was absolutely eerie.

The constant push of wind and sand suddenly stopped; even as the car shook in the breeze, it felt like everything was absolute silence. The dim glow of the reading light overhead seemed like the only island in the entire world. I was back—back to a refuge from the relentless wind and sand. I was also back to civilization, where, surreally, the nearest town was a five minute drive away.

The fact that I could order a burger moments after I had been inside of new sand dunes forming was amazing, and deeply unsettling.

Writing this, I’m on the third floor of a huge building with glowing lights, and, a few hundred feet away, tall waves are crashing ashore. It’s nighttime, and there is a light drizzle. Heavy winds are whipping around. A car just drove past.

We’re living in shelters that we created at the doorstep of a storm, and it’s so incredibly difficult to remember that. It shouldn’t take an otherworldly night of photography to put things like this into perspective; it should be at the core of who we are.

Landscape photography is a strange art. I’ve realized that my true motivation for taking pictures is not to create beautiful images. Instead, it’s to be out there — walking into a sandstorm, surrounding by waves of dunes — to watch the planet change so spectacularly.

Spencer Cox is a landscape photographer and writer who spends his free time… taking landscape photos and writing. It works out well. His photos have gained international recognition and awards, and his work has been displayed worldwide, including at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

To contact Spencer directly or view more of his work, visit his website at Spencer Cox Photography. Or, follow him on Facebook and 500px.

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What to Photograph on Vacation When You’re Feeling Uninspired

28 Nov

Vacation is a great time not only to recharge and relax but also to practice your travel photography skills. Whether you’re a pro with lots of gear, or a hobbyist with your first camera, there are plenty of photo opportunities in a new place. In fact, there can be so many that you can easily get overwhelmed or uninspired to shoot anything at all.

If you hit a wall and don’t know what to photograph while traveling, here are some ways to fire up your creativity.

What to Photograph on Vacation When You're Feeling Uninspired

1. Shoot with a different lens

An easy way to literally change your perspective of the world is to use a lens you don’t normally shoot with. Trade your zoom lens for a prime and notice the way you view and capture the world from a fixed focal length.

If you usually shoot close-ups, try your hand at shooting wide, or vice-versa. If cost is an issue, invest in affordable or third-party lens options, or simply rent a lens.

2. Change up your camera

Similar to the point above, try your hand and shooting with a totally different camera. If you normally shoot with a DSLR, restrict yourself to shooting with a point and shoot or even your cell phone. Many small, compact cameras have improved greatly in image quality, and they might surprise you with their quailty.

By giving yourself a new technical challenge, you’ll open up room for creativity.

Mobile phone photography - What to Photograph on Vacation When You're Feeling Uninspired

3. Put yourself on assignment

One of the best ways to shoot more is to have an objective or project in mind. Even if you’re not on official assignment, you can invent a similar scenario. Think of the ideal photography project that you’d want to do for a client, such as luxury vacation photos of Mexico, and aim to make that photo portfolio.

These are the type of personal project that you could easily use later in your portfolio if you ever seek out paid, professional work.

4. Start a themed personal project

On the note of personal projects, here’s an easy one that you can do over the course of one trip or many. Pick out a theme or photography subject that interests you and capture versions of it in new places you travel.

As an example, you could photograph cultural foods unique to the region you’re in and put them in an album of “Ethnic Foods from Around the World.” Or focus on a topic such as unique doors of Italy, as I did on a recent trip.

Having a theme helps you focus and gives you something to look out for and photograph as you travel.

personal project photos  - What to Photograph on Vacation When You're Feeling Uninspired

This photo came about by simply talking to a beekeeper about my personal project surrounding farms. Before I knew it, I was suited up and having close encounters with honeybees.

5. Take advantage of Golden and Blue Hour

There are certain times of day when just about everything looks photogenic thanks to the positioning of the sun. While sunset and sunrise are obvious times of day, also consider Golden and Blue Hour, those times of the day just before/after sunrise and sunset.

On most days, this is when the lighting gets the most dramatic and optimal for shooting in natural lighting.

6. Do some research

If you’re in a new part of the world and don’t know what to photograph, check out what others have shot before. Go online and check Instagram hashtags or do a Google image search for the town you’re in. Find the iconic shots that others have taken and visit those places yourself.

Not only does this put you on a fun discovery quest, but it also gives you a chance to put your own unique twist on famous places.

travel photography tips - What to Photograph on Vacation When You're Feeling Uninspired

This photo came about thanks to poking around Google Maps and Google Image search.

7. Find some meetups

Thanks to social media and the availability of quality camera gear, there are talented photographers in just about every corner of the world. And odds are, there are easy ways to meet them in person. Try to attend Insta Meets or Meet-Ups for photographers in new places that you visit.

Or if you follow and admire a certain photographer’s work on social media, shoot them a message and see if they would like to meet and shoot in person. These are great ways connect to locals and get inspired to shoot in a new place.

8. Just go shoot (or don’t)

If you’ve reached the end of this article and still feel overwhelmed, just pick up any camera you have and go out and shoot! Don’t worry about finding the perfect image; just snap away at whatever inspires you.

Or keep your camera in your bag and just enjoy the moment. Sometimes, a little break from photography is exactly what you need to inspire your creativity.

travel photography tips - What to Photograph on Vacation When You're Feeling Uninspired

Sometimes the perfect photo unfolds in front of you when you least expect it.

Over to You

What tips do you have for getting past a creative slump? Please let us know in the comments below!

mobile phone photography - What to Photograph on Vacation When You're Feeling Uninspired

Did you know that smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S8 can capture lightning? I gave it a shot on a pure whim and captured this image.

travel photography tips

Attending a cultural performance might inspire your creativity as well. Milan, Italy.

The post What to Photograph on Vacation When You’re Feeling Uninspired by Suzi Pratt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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5 Tips for How to Photograph in Any Kind of Weather

23 Nov

If you live anywhere in the northern hemisphere, you must have realized by now that fall is over and winter is slowly but surely creeping up on us. The days are getting shorter, the leaves are changing color (or gone) and here in Chicago, the rain is your constant companion until it gets replaced by snow!

Now if you are primarily an outdoor natural light photographer, you quickly understand that one of the most challenging aspects of your work is the fact that you are so dependent on the weather. You have very little control over it in spite of what the weather man says!

Photographing landscapes in any weather - fog

The weather can change almost instantly and ruin some of the best-laid plans for photography excursions and photoshoots. One of the best things you can do is to be prepared to photograph in any kind of weather. With these few simple tips and prep-work, you can continue working in the natural outdoor light as opposed to indoor studio light.

#1 – Full Sun / Bright Light

The sun in all its glory is a beautiful light source and can make any subject pop. Regarded by some as the ideal photographing conditions, bright sun can create a scenario where you have beautiful light and the ability to experiment with shadows.

Sure, some people may think that bright light is bad for portraits, but it all comes down to how you use the light. A great tip for photographing in the bright midday sun is taking pictures in open shade. This is when you position your subject in a shady part of the frame that’s closer to the light. You can also use a reflector if needed to bounce light from the sun onto the subject.

Add a fill light

You can also choose to use a flash to light your subject. In a pinch, use a natural reflector like a bright sidewalk or light color building to do the same if a flash or reflector is not handy. When you are photographing landscapes, it is likely that the whole scene is evenly fit. Here you can try exposing for the whole scene or even underexpose a tad in order to not blow out the sky and retain some detail in the clouds.

Of course, if you are photographing in raw these edits can be done in post-processing also.

Photographing portraits in any weather - full sun

This image was taken at the brightest time of day during a visit to the Coliseum in Rome. There was no open shade and I just couldn’t place the subject in any other spot because it was so crowded. Plus the intent of this image was to showcase my daughter in Rome for her class project that was all about ancient Rome. So this is the best I could do given my limitations. You can see the shadows on her face and on her shoulder!

Photographing landscapes in any weather - bright sun

I wanted to capture the essence of the Tuscan countryside – rolling hills, vineyards and tiny villages. There was no real shade or even too many clouds in the sky so I just took this wide angle shot to showcase the expanse of the countryside and the hills that make up the beauty of Tuscany.

#2 – Cloudy / Overcast skies

Photographers love overcast skies. Here the clouds act as a large natural diffuser and spread the light from the sun evenly all over the surface area. Overcast days are known for their diffused light. For some photographers, these are ideal conditions for shooting portraits as your subject will be evenly lit and there are no undesirable shadows or harsh lighting. If you find this type of light too flat and lacking dimension, you can always add an external flash to add some drama to your images.

Photographing in any weather - cloudy skies

The day was cloudy and overcast with rain predicted in the forecast for this family photo shoot. I had to add some warmth in post-production because everyone was looking a little washed out. The positive to the overcast sky is that there were no harsh shadows to deal with.

If you’re shooting landscapes in this type of weather, you will soon realize that a gray sky doesn’t add much to the scene. This is not to say that these types of images are bad. I try and photograph architecture shots with some creative negative space when dealing with overcast skies. I find that this sort of weather is great for bringing focus to the subject alone without any distraction from a blue sky and puffy clouds.

If you want to add some drama to a landscape shot during overcast conditions, perhaps you can wait for some dark, stormy could to roll on in and capture the weather-related drama in your landscape shot.

Photographing landscapes in any weather - cloudy skies

It had just rained in Vrindhavan, India and the dark clouds were slowly moving out. The day was overcast and since I did not have too much time at the banks of the river, I chose to showcase the temple with a reflection in the water to add some interest and drama.

#3 – Rain

A rainy day presents its own challenge in terms of keeping expensive gear and your subject dry and comfortable. You can always use an umbrella to protect your gear and as a creative prop in your portrait shots by simply using it as part of the shoot. As an alternative, look for areas that are shielded from the rain, such as alleyways, tree canopies, building overhangs, and other such elements.

Try taking a wide-angle shot that takes in the area, subject, and the atmosphere to tell your story and make it a little bit more interesting. The biggest challenge you face is the need to protect your gear as well as be creative in your shots. There are many options out there to protect your gear but sometimes just a simple grocery bag over the camera will do the trick!

Photographing landscapes in any weather - rain

Driving through Theodore National Park just after the rain rendered the landscape such a vibrant array of green and yellow.

Photographing portraits in any weather - rain

Photographing in the rain or snow for that matter presents another challenge in that the rain/snow may cause your autofocus to change mid-shoot. A good tip would be to focus on the subject and then lock it. Also, try using a lens hood so no rain/snow falls on the actual lens surface. My feathered friend was either having a bath in the rain or waiting patiently for me to leave so he could get back to his hunting! I lost focus a couple of time but then used the focus lock (or you can use back button focus) and the lens hood to eliminate that problem.

Photographing portraits in any weather - rain

I absolutely love photographing these birds and luckily for me, they come often to the pond behind my house. My lens was well protected but I got drenched during this shoot.

#4 – Fog

I don’t know about you, but the fog is probably my favorite kind of weather in which to photograph. I love the way fog adds an element of mystique and interest without doing much. In technical terms, on a foggy day, the water particles in the air redirect the light rays, spreading them out more evenly. This almost acts like a giant softbox along the area in the fog giving you beautiful diffused light.

Experiment in the fog to find the camera settings that best suit your needs but I have found that foggy conditions require longer exposures than normal since you are essentially dealing with overall less light. You can use a tripod to help reduce any camera shake. Keep in mind that like snow, fog is reflective, and it can fool your camera’s meter into thinking that there’s more light in the scene there actually is. Use exposure compensation just as you would when shooting a snowy landscape and even overexpose by a few stops if needed.

Other considerations

Again, if you photograph in RAW you can always edit to taste in post-processing. But I have found that when your image is underexposed, increasing the exposure in post-production adds noise in the shadows.

Another thing to note is that on foggy days finding focus might be an issue because everything around you is hazy and not quite clear. Here you can use manual focusing if your camera is having trouble focusing on the subject among all the fog.

Photographing landscapes in any weather - fog

Fog adds just the right kind of magic to any landscape in my opinion. I have been known to stop the car, stand in the middle of the road to document landscapes such as these….don’t judge!

bad weather - fog

The best kind of fog is when you have a deserted beach, sea stacks and tiny humans having fun exploring the tidal pools!

#5 – Snow

If you’re taking pictures as it’s snowing, be sure to cover your camera as it is essentially the same as shooting in rain. If you are out and about after it has snowed, keep in mind that the road conditions and walkways can be treacherous.

I have slipped and fallen a couple of times in the snow with my gear and it always makes me very nervous. The worse was when I fell in Yellowstone National Park right before attending a Winter Landscapes workshop. My wide angle lens suffered some damage and I was unable to use it during the class because let’s face it, Yellowstone is in the middle of nowhere so no chance of an urgent repair!

Another thing to ensure is adequate protection for yourself from the elements. Being outside in the snow can get quite uncomfortable especially if you are outdoors for an extended period of time. Make sure you cover your extremities from overexposure to the elements. Hand warmers and foot warmers are great for keeping fingers and toes warm and cozy when out photographing in the cold.

Also, keep in mind that camera batteries tend to drain faster in colder weather, so ensure that you have fully charged spare batteries handy. From a technical standpoint, snow is a very reflective surface, so ensure that your camera is metering effectively and not blowing out the snow if it is part of your frame.

Photographing portraits in any weather - snow

My biggest tip for photographing in the snow – wear layers and thermals. Then the sky is the limit in terms of the amount of fun you can have! I tend to underexpose just a tiny bit so that I don’t lose all detail in the snow.


I hope you have realized by now that mastering photography in any weather conditions really boils down to being prepared and knowing exactly what to expect. Go out and practice in each of these situations so that you know all the things that you need to be aware of. Then the next time the weather gods decide to have a little fun at your expense, you will be well prepared.

Do you have any other tips to help master photography in any weather, feel free to let the community know in the comments section below.

The post 5 Tips for How to Photograph in Any Kind of Weather by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Photograph Agility Events and Other Dog Sports

22 Oct

Humans and horses aren’t the only athletes to reach massive feats – dogs do too! From the athletic sighthounds to the driven border collies, dogs have been competing in a slew of sports on the world stage since before you were born. Some of the most popular athletic canine sports include agility, dock diving, frisbee, flyball, barn hunt, nose work, weight pulling, lure coursing, and herding.

How to Photograph Agility Events and Other Dog Sports

Possibly the most well-recognized of these sports is agility, in which a dog has to race through obstacles (such as jumps, weave poles, tunnels, dog walks, A-frames, and teeters) with their handler. This fast-paced sport has been captivating dog photographers for years, but yet there remain so few agility photographers.

Some quit from frustration due to the degree of difficulty to photograph, while others find the long hours hard to manage. Whatever the reason, this article is here to make it easier for you! Many of these tips can be applied universally to all canine competitions, as most have these three things in common: action, speed, and unpredictability.

How to Photograph Agility Events and Other Dog Sports

Let’s start with equipment. You can’t photograph if you don’ a have camera. Here are the ideal gear recommendations for doing photography of dog sports.

The Right Camera

As most of the dog sports listed involve speed, you’re going to need a fast camera. Similar to photographing human sporting events such as football and baseball, the speed of your camera will determine what moments you can capture.

How to Photograph Agility Events and Other Dog Sports

You want to ensure that your shutter closes at the exact moment you want it to, or is able to capture an entire sequence of movement (which is what many competitors love to see from action photographers). The more frames per second your camera can shoot, the more sequence shots you can capture.

To anyone wanting to get very serious into this type of photography, I always recommend purchasing a DSLR that has a strong inclination towards action photography due to its frames-per-second, such as the Canon 7D (the 7D Mark II is the newest model – 10 frames per second), the Canon 1D-X Mark II (14 fps), the Nikon D5 (12 fps). I am sure there are additional Nikon (as well as other brands) equivalents with faster speeds, but I am versed in Canon so you’ll have to do your research.

How to Photograph Dog Agility Events and Other Canine Sports

Choose the Right Lens

The key to dog sports photography is to interfere as little as possible with the event going on. That means shooting from a distance so that your activity doesn’t distract the dogs from their task. As such, most (if not all) agility photographers will work with a telephoto or zoom lens. This allows you to be far enough away from the subject so as to not affect their performance while being able to zoom in tightly and capture some beautiful compositions.

My favorite lens for dog sports photography is the Canon 70-200mm F/2.8 L IS USM II. But I have seen many other photographers inclined toward the 300mm or 400mm range to get even closer to the dogs without needing to get in the way physically.

Finding a lens that has a maximum aperture of f/2.8, or around that range, is a great idea in order to isolate the dog from the rather cluttered frame. Since agility rings can make a photograph look chaotic due to a number of obstacles in close proximity to your subject, getting a lens that can shoot at f/2.8 will also all you to blur or soften some of the distracting elements in the background.

Camera Settings

Your settings will make a noticeable difference in your ease-of-shooting. Besides needing to shoot with a very fast shutter speed to freeze the action (1/1000th at a minimum but I personally like to shoot at 1/3000th and faster), there are a few other things you can do to get sharp images. Many new cameras have technological advancements that make action photography significantly easier than it has been in the past, such as new autofocus mechanisms. However, what the majority of new and old cameras have in common in regards to settings are the focus mode and burst (drive mode).

How to Photograph Agility Events and Other Dog Sports

First, change your focus mode to Continuous Focus Mode (AI Servo for Canon users or AF-C for Nikon users). This mode allows your camera to lock onto your subject and follow the dog around as it moves, preventing you from consistently needing to refocus. Where new technology comes into play are the additional customizations for your this mode.

Some new cameras allow you to either use the Continuous Focus Mode presets or make your own that pertain to what you are shooting. For example, on the Canon 7D Mark II, you can tell the camera how your subject moves and what obstacles may be present by adjusting the various levels of sporadic movement, obstacle interference, and more.

There are even presets for erratically moving subjects and following the subject despite obstacles getting in the subject’s way. I usually tell the camera that my subjects are moving erratically in multiple directions and that there are many obstacles in the way when photographing agility. In cameras that do not have this feature, your AI Servo (AF-C) is still a good focusing mode choice.

Next, take advantage of the frames-per-second your camera offers by using burst mode (high-speed drive mode). You can ensure that you get the right shot by setting your camera to burst mode (where you take multiple photographs in a row while pressing down on the shutter) and shooting with a fast shutter speed to freeze the action. Like I mentioned previously, competitors love sequence shots. The only way to get these cool sequences is by shooting in burst mode!

Shooting Technique

Partnered with your gear and your camera settings, your shooting technique will make or break your results. The most common technique that I see used for dog sports photography is to pre-focus on an obstacle and wait for the dog to get there. But I believe you miss a lot of key moments when you do that, especially since dogs can be unpredictable (and even though the obstacle is a part of the course, that doesn’t mean the dog will comply).

Be prepared to practice the art of panning. Panning is moving your camera horizontally with the subject’s movement. You synchronize your camera movement with that of the subject moving parallel to you. I find it easiest to focus on the dog while it is waiting to be released by the owner and then follow the dog throughout the course.

In agility, the course is preset and the handler must memorize it, and then lead the dog through. This makes panning much easier because, by the second or third dog, you will know the course by heart. With other sports where the movement is more unpredictable, like frisbee (where the dog has to catch frisbees before they touch the ground), just use your best judgment on where you think the dog is going to go. This takes practice, but nothing comes without practice!

How to Photograph Dog Agility Events and Other Canine Sports

Alongside panning, another tip to get the most dynamic actions shots is to photograph from the subject’s eye level. Be prepared to spend a lot of time on your knees as the dogs go through the obstacle course. This allows viewers to relate to the subject (as is the psychological nature of photography) and gives them an idea of the height the dog is jumping which aids in how dramatic the photograph appears.

In agility, depending on the type of organization that is governing that sporting trial, you may or may not have to shoot through a fence. If there is a fence, it is often full of large gaping holes that you can photograph through.

How to Photograph Dog Agility Events and Other Canine Sports

Now that you have our gear set, before running off to excitedly photography some cool dogs, there are several important rules and considerations to keep in mind while photographing these canine superstars. Please follow them to respect the owners and for the dog’s safety.

Ask for Permission before Photographing Events

Always ask for permission before photographing any dog sporting events. You do not want to tarnish your reputation by being asked to leave (even if you are only photographing for your portfolio, experience, or fun).

How to Photograph Agility Events and Other Dog Sports

Some clubs (such as a few that I work with) have an official photographer and do not allow outside photography to take place. Other clubs may have a vending fee and request liability insurance for all photographers wishing to make a profit from photographing the event. A few clubs do not even allow photographers in the first place. Always ask for permission. Asking also opens up the door to developing a great relationship with the people putting on the event.

Do Not Distract the Dogs

As tempting as it is to cheer when a cute dog does an obstacle well, or to make noises to have the dog look at you, please don’t. These dogs are there doing a very important job – showing off their skills! Agility trials and other competitive events are expensive for the handler to enter, the dogs train for many hours to compete, and they want to have just as much fun as you are having.

As such, we must all be respectful of each other. Much like you wouldn’t want someone trying to distract you while you work, these dogs don’t want that either. Make sure you aren’t photographing too loudly or too close to the obstacles, and try not to make any noise that could thwart a dog’s attention away from their handler.

If a Dog Comes Up to You, Ignore the Dog

Not all dogs have iron-clad self-control, especially the novice dogs that are still learning the ropes in the trialing world. If a dog happens to notice you while in the ring, turn your head, body, and camera away from the dog. If a dog runs up to you while in the ring, ignore the dog. Turn away, and do not pet or talk to the dog. The best way to help the dog focus back on their handler is to not pay the dog any mind.

How to Photograph Agility Events and Other Dog Sports

Be Considerate of the Competitor’s Wishes

If a competitor comes up to you and asks you not to photograph their dog, please be respectful of their request. As much as you want to photograph all of the dogs that come through, some owners may not want you to (and that’s okay). There are a hundred different reasons why someone might not want their dog photographed while the dog is competing.

Do Not Pet a Dog without Asking, Even at a Dog Sport Event

As much as this should be common sense, many people forget that even at dog events, you should still not pet a dog without consulting with their owner. Though many dogs are beautifully trained at dog sporting events, not all are friendly with people. As this is not a conformation dog show where a judge has to touch and handle a dog, not all of the dogs at an agility trial, herding event, or other sports like being petted by people (and the owners are not obligated to teach their dog to tolerate strangers petting them).

Do Not Set-Up Inside the Competition Ring without Consent

Some organizations that govern dog sporting events require a fence to be placed around the competition course. Though you may sometimes be able to set-up inside the boundary rather than outside of it, do not do so without consulting the competition judge or the trial secretary. Setting up inside the boundary can be a safety hazard for both you and the competitors. So if you are granted permission, listen to where the judge tells you to stay.

Don’t Set-Up Too Close to the Weave Poles and Tunnels

This is a lesser-known consideration that does not apply to all, but I have seen it applied to many in my career as a dog sports photographer. Some dogs get spooked or distracted if a photographer sets up in front of the exit of a tunnel, as the dog cannot see you until it leaves the tunnel. Likewise, some dogs get terribly distracted from doing their weaves if they see you at the weave pole entrance of exit.

These two obstacles tend to be a bit more difficult for some dogs than jumps or dog walks, and you want to ensure that you don’t add extra stress for them Instead, set up further away and use your zoom lens to capture the dog speeding out of the tunnel!

Don’t Eat Near the Competition Ring While Dogs are Running

Another common-sense piece of advice that goes ignored far too often is to not eat near the ring while the dogs are competing. The smell of a delicious hot dog could encourage even the most driven dog to forget what they’re doing and come ask for some food.

Now that you’re an expert, here are some tips and tricks to help you out:

Pay Attention to the Course

The easiest way to photograph a sporting event is to know where your subjects are going to go! For agility, there is a 15-minute walkthrough before a course begins in which the competitors learn the course. Watch them, or even participate in the walkthrough yourself, and learn about the route. For sports that don’t have walkthroughs, try and figure out what the course set-up is using logical reasoning.

Listen to the Briefing

Before a trial begins, most events will have a competitor briefing. Participate in the briefing to learn valuable information about the event that is about to take place. As well, the briefing is a great time to introduce yourself to the competitors.

Don’t Stress About Photographing All of the Obstacles at Once

This took me years to figure out. You do not need to worry about photographing every single obstacle in every single course. The courses get changed several times throughout the day, the sun will move every hour, and nearly all of the dogs will run at least three more times before they leave the event.

It saves a lot of time, energy, and stress to only focus on a few obstacles that you know you can photograph well (whether it be due to the lighting and/or the obstacle’s proximity to you) per course. If you come in the morning and stay until the end in the later afternoon, you will most definitely photograph everyone’s dog doing every single obstacle.

When Organizing, Sort Photos by Class or Jump Height

The real challenge comes after the photo shoot: how to make sure the competitors can find their dog (or you can find their dog). I find that organizing your images by class (every dog sports event has different classes, often named for their difficulty level) helps immensely.

For dog agility, sometimes photographing by jump height can be just as beneficial. Do keep in mind that height changes per organization that governs the agility trial. There are three organizations in the US that set the rules for their agility trials: The American Kennel Club, the United States Dog Agility Association, and the North American Dog Agility Council. Each of these has their own jump heights and class names.

Ask for the Run Order

It’s completely acceptable to ask for the run order from the trial secretary or someone higher up in order to help you organize the dog photographs. Do keep in mind that the run order may change throughout the competition, so listen to the announcements and keep notes on what changes are being made.

Knee Pads are Your Best Friend

Since you ideally want to photograph from the dog’s eye level, you will spend hours on your knees. Skating knee pads are a great idea to reduce the amount of bruising and pressure to your knees. Trust me, you’re going to want to do this after several trials of black and blue knees.

Stay Hydrated

Dog sporting events are long, tiresome, and depending on your location, can be very hot. Make sure that you stay hydrated and take care of yourself, even when you’re wrapped up in the shoot. Bring a cooler with plenty of water, and a backpack with snacks or food that you can eat during your breaks. Fruit is a great snack, it’s healthy and will give you a bit of an energy boost from the sugar.

That being said, I often break my no-junk-food routine at dog sporting events because the sweets and fast food are quick, easy, filling, and can help keep me going!

Don’t Forget to Photograph the Novice Dogs

Don’t leave out the new guys! Many of the advanced competitors have hundreds of photographs of their canine athletes over the years, but the novice dogs are brand new and probably don’t have any at all. So be sure to capture photographs of the new kids on the block. They will thank you immensely for them.

It Is Possible to Photograph More Than One Ring at a Time

This takes a bit of practice and stamina, but it is absolutely possible to photograph more than one ring at a time. In agility and some other sports, two different rings can be running simultaneously. Often, the rings will be very close to each other. If you position yourself between the two rings, and time the obstacles correctly, you will have enough time to turn from one ring to the other and photograph both. This is how I get photographs of both the novice dogs and the advanced dogs while they are running at the same time.

Most Importantly, Have Fun

Don’t lose sight of why you are there – to have fun! These events are long, tiresome, and chaotic, but are so rewarding. The photography is challenging and addicting. But don’t forget to have fun!

The post How to Photograph Agility Events and Other Dog Sports by Anabel DFlux appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Photograph the Aurora Borealis – Nature’s Night Light

14 Sep

The Valkyrior, the “Dance of the Spirits,” polar lights, Goddess of the dawn, the mythical firefoxes of Lapland, the Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis. By any name, Aurora has intrigued, scared, excited, and fascinated humans since the dawn of time.

Named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas, in Northern latitudes, they are known as the Aurora Borealis (or the Northern Lights), in Southern latitudes (e.g., Antarctica, South America, New Zealand, and Australia), the Aurora Australis (or the Southern Lights).

How to Photograph the Aurora Borealis - Nature's Night Light

These phenomena are commonly visible between 60 and 72 degrees north and south latitudes, which place them in a ring just within the Arctic and Antarctic polar circles. Aurora sightings, while occasionally seen at lower latitudes are not as common. Thus, making the trek to extreme Northern or Southern latitudes is a necessity if you want greater viewing opportunities along with greater success in photographing the Aurora.

If you are interested in learning more about exactly what the Aurora are, where they come from, and what produces the various colors that often accompany an Auroral display, there are countless books you can read and websites that one may search for this information.

How to Photograph the Aurora Borealis - Nature's Night Light

This article will provide you with insider tips on how to successfully photograph the Aurora. Return home with lasting memories and images of one of life’s most amazing experiences.

Okay, I am ready to photograph my first Aurora – now what?

Observing and photographing the Aurora is subject to local weather conditions, patience, geographic location, dark sky venue, patience, minimal ambient light, patience, being in the right place at the right time, patience and some luck.

How to Photograph the Aurora Borealis - Nature's Night Light

You see a central theme developing here, patience. If you are not willing to spend time in the field, sometimes in extremely cold weather, your opportunity for both bragging rights and capturing that awesome image, will be severely limited.

When all is said and done, you are at the complete mercy of the Sun, Earth, solar winds, nature and space. The Aurora is not a man-made light show, the cosmos rule here.

So, beyond patience, what does it take to capture that jaw-dropping image of this wonderful phenomena?

Location, Location, Location

Your first challenge is getting yourself to the right location in either the Southern or Northern hemisphere that will maximize your potential and opportunity to see the Aurora.

The best Northern hemisphere latitude is within the Auroral zone – between latitude 65 to 72 degrees. In the Northern hemisphere, you will need to head to destination cities laying on or slightly above the Auroral zone (also referred to as an Auroral oval, is centered about the magnetic poles) and north of the Arctic Circle.

How to Photograph the Aurora Borealis - Nature's Night Light

You will stand a good chance of viewing the Aurora, if you head to Tromsø, Norway, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada or Bettles, Alaska. Other excellent choices are Svalbard, Norway, Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, Kakslauttanen, Finland, Kangerlussuaq, Greenland and Reykjavik, Iceland. This is only a representative list as there are many Northern latitude cities, which make good Aurora viewing destinations.

Under the right conditions, you can see the Aurora Australis from Ushuaia, Argentina, Tasmania, Australia, Stewart Island, New Zealand and the Southern tip of South Africa, all destinations more easily accessible in the Southern hemisphere.

Estote Parati (Be Prepared)

Photographing the Aurora by its very nature requires heading out at night. Here are some things to watch out for and prepare.

  • Be aware of your surroundings, especially if you are visiting unfamiliar territory, a foreign country, or even your own neighborhood park.
  • Take extreme caution when walking in deep snow, ice, and across frozen bodies of water. You may not be able to see or identify potential hazards.
  • Team up with someone as excited about viewing and photographing the Aurora as you are or who is just willing to sit in a nearby warm car, in case you need support. Always ensure you head out with a full tank of gas.
  • Conduct visual reconnaissance during the day, identify potential ground hazards, layout a destination path and test snow and ice conditions en route to your evening’s photographic destination.
  • Let someone know your planned photographic destination(s) and anticipated return time, especially if you are headed out on your own.
  • Don’t count on your mobile phone working if you are far from service towers or in a foreign country.
  • At all times consider your intended shooting location and ensure that you comply with all local laws regarding access to properties (private and public), lakes, bridges, etc.

How to Photograph the Aurora Borealis - Nature's Night Light

Dress for Success

Dressing for the location, season, and weather conditions are essential both for your safety and for the ability to remain outside for an extended period of time in potentially body-numbing temperatures.

  • Wear many wicking, warm, and insulating layers and consider clothing appropriate for the local geographic and weather conditions.
  • Protect your entire body from exposure to what will probably be the coldest temperatures you may ever experience.
  • Carry a fully charged torch/flashlight (although wearing a headlamp frees up your hands).
  • Outfit your torch or headlamp with a red light or filter. The red light allows you to easily see where you are walking yet, preserves your night vision so you can easily and quickly operate your camera.
  • Pack chemical hand and foot warmers. Take more than you think you will need because you will need more than you think.
  • Use extra hand warmers to keep your camera batteries warm. This helps to extend their useful life in extremely cold conditions.
  • Invest in a really good pair of boots, e.g., affordable military surplus Bunny boots are rated to -60F (-51.11C) in cold, dry climates.
  • Bring a warm (non-alcoholic) drink and a snack, it may be a long night.

How to Photograph the Aurora Borealis - Nature's Night Light

Camera Equipment

You really don’t need much technical equipment to photograph the Aurora but there are some essential kit items you simply cannot do without.


A camera with interchangeable lenses will be best, but in principle, any camera can be used, even your mobile phone. Handholding your mobile phone, attempting to capture a shimmering, undulating Aurora, will not produce the same quality image that you can get with a digital camera, supported by a sturdy tripod, using a remote shutter release. This, however, should not stop you from capturing that moment and preserving the memory.

Be sure to keep your camera dry and avoid contact with snow or moisture. When walking about, it is always a smart idea to place your camera in a large zip lock plastic bag. Should you trip, slip or accidentally drop your camera (numb fingers will do that to you) in the snow, your camera body will stay dry and protected from the elements and the lens free from moisture, grime, etc.

DPS Aurora Article Image 7


To take in as much of the sky as possible and a bit of interesting foreground, using a wide or super wide-angle lens (focal length between 10mm and 24mm, with an aperture of f/1.2-2.8) will give the best results overall. In reality, almost any lens will work, keep in mind, however, your images will look different than those you see posted on the web, taken with wide or super wide-angle lenses.

Prior to your first shot, focus your camera at a distant point, back off slightly from the infinity setting and then turn off the autofocus feature on your lens. Given the dark sky, you don’t want your camera and lens trying to automatically focus on an ever-changing, moving Aurora. Locking in on manual focus, set slightly south of infinity, will give you well-focused images.

If the temperature warrants a brief duck into your car for a “warmup,” leave your camera and tripod safely outside. Bringing your camera into a nice warm car and then back out again into frigid arctic temps, will cause lens fogging, condensation, and other nasties to potentially damage your camera.

Read more on shooting in tough conditions here: How to Take Care of Your Camera in Cold Weather.

DPS Aurora Article Image 8

If you notice lint, dust or any other foreign material on your lens, NEVER blow on it. Your warm breath will instantly fog the lens. Depending on the ambient temperature outside, even small traces of moisture vapor in your breath may crystallize and freeze your lens, rendering it useless until it defrosts. Use only a lens brush pen or dry microfiber lens cleaning cloth.

Sturdy Tripod

To avoid blurring your picture due to camera movement, shaky hands, or unsteady footing on snow or ice, a sturdy tripod is essential. If you will be photographing in arctic conditions, be certain that your tripod is up to the task. Plastic tripod legs will snap in extremely cold temperatures.

Here are a few tripod options to check out:

  • Product Review: Polaroid Carbon-Fiber Travel Tripod and Varipod
  • Benro FGP18C SystemGo Plus Travel Tripod with B2 Ball Head – Review
  • Induro PHQ-3 Head and CT-214 Tripod [REVIEW]
  • Review of the K&F Concept TC2534 Lightweight Carbon Fiber Tripod

Remote Shutter Release

A remote shutter release, designed to be used with your camera, provides important benefits in obtaining that memorable photo of the Aurora. First, it will be invaluable in its contribution to creating sharper images by reducing camera shake, which occurs naturally when you depress the shutter release. Secondly, for longer exposures, which may be necessary depending on changing atmospheric conditions and your ISO setting, you can hold the shutter open without physically touching the camera’s shutter release button.

Memory Cards

Pack extra memory cards, having formatted them prior to going outside. Backup and clear your memory cards prior to your next outing. Extra cards are essential if you do not have a means to download each evening’s images to a backup device. Plan to use a single card each evening you head out. If you shoot all of your Aurora images on a single card, and that card fails, for whatever reason, well – enough said.

DPS Aurora Article Image 10

Spare Batteries

Photographing in cold temperatures drains batteries very quickly, photographing in arctic temperatures drains batteries exponentially faster. Always pack extra camera batteries. Running out of fully charged batteries when the Aurora is on full display is heartbreaking, especially when proper preparation would have prevented this situation.

Keep all extra batteries in an interior pocket of your jacket, close to your body. Trapped body heat, created by your insulated jacket and multiple layers of clothing will help keep the batteries reasonably warm, holding the charge longer.

Airtight Waterproof Dry-bag

Tough, waterproof and airtight, a dry-bag is essential. It protects your camera’s sensitive internal optics and circuitry from moisture and condensation buildup that occurs due to the extreme fluctuation in temperature when you bring your camera inside after a long evening photographing outside in sub-zero temperatures. Lens fogging and damage to your camera itself may occur if you don’t let your camera acclimatize gradually to the warm inside temperatures.

DPS Aurora Article Image 11

Prior to going inside for the evening, slip your camera into the dry-bag, roll and seal it tightly and then bring the bag and your camera inside. While there is no official rule as to the length of time your camera should remain in the dry-bag, a good rule-of-thumb is to let the camera sit in the bag for two to four hours. That’s plenty of time to acclimatize to the much warmer indoor temperature and for you to remove multiple layers of clothing and secure a warm beverage of choice.

Include several small bags of silica, moisture absorbing dry-packs in the dry-bag prior to sealing it. The silica protects against mildew, corrosion, fogging and condensation, which might damage your camera’s sensitive electronics.

Taking that Memorable Aurora Picture

While the mechanics of taking a picture of the Aurora are not complex, there are a few guidelines that will enhance your success of taking that amazing and memorable picture.

DPS Aurora Article Image 12

1. Select and shoot in the RAW format – this will provide you with the maximum amount of digital information needed to create a final image.

2. Remove the protective clear, polarizing or UV filter on your lens prior to going out to photograph the Aurora. The UV filter will likely cause concentric rings to appear in your final image.

3. Set your camera to M (manual) and turn off the camera’s flash settings.

4. Dial the lens focus ring to infinity and back off slightly.

5. Turn OFF any autofocus capabilities associated with your lens. You don’t want the autofocus feature of your lens attempting to continually refocus on the quickly moving, shifting Aurora.

DPS Aurora Article Image 13

6. Open up the aperture as wide as possible. This is when the f-number is as low as possible, i.e. f/1.2 – f/2.8 or lower for many prime and pro lenses, or f/3.5 or f/4 for many consumer zoom lenses.

7. Set the shutter speed to Bulb. This allows you to use the remote shutter release necessary to keep the shutter open for longer exposures. Depending on the intensity and movement of the Aurora, you may need to hold the shutter open anywhere between three and 12 seconds. Check your image using your camera’s live view function (if so equipped). Too long of an exposure time will tend to blur both the Aurora and the stars as they move across the sky.

DPS Aurora Article Image 14

8. Determine the proper ISO setting. This is somewhat both a technical and a personal decision. Technical as it will depend on the type of camera you have and the camera’s inherent ISO range. Personal depends on how much noise you are willing to live with in your image, again as a factor of an increasingly higher ISO setting. Start off with an initial ISO setting of 800 and adjust as your personal preferences and the photographic conditions warrant.

9. Bring and use a sturdy tripod. You want sharp Aurora images and to keep your camera as still as possible. If you don’t have a tripod, you can use a beanbag, flat rock, or another solid surface. Do not touch the camera until it is done exposing, and shield it from the wind if you can.

DPS Aurora Article Image 15

10. When possible, include a contrasting foreground. The Aurora by its very nature looks best when photographed to include a foreground, which provides scale, context, and perspective. A suitable foreground can be a tree, a building, fellow photographer, a car, etc.

11. Consider joining a professional tour if (a) this may be your first trip to the Arctic or (b) you are headed to a new international destination. Most professional “Aurora hunting” tour operators have many years of seasonal experience are very familiar with the local area, best viewing venues, are eager for you to see and photograph the Aurora and know where you can tread both safely and legally.

DPS Aurora Article Image 16

Ah…The Amazing Aurora

Being present during Aurora’s magical dance fills the observer with wonder, awe, and excitement and the experience often leaves one speechless. Capturing the Aurora in a photograph preserves that experience for a lifetime.

I hope that you may be fortunate enough to be at the right place, during the right months, at the right time, to observe and photograph Aurora’s magical dance.

DPS Aurora Article Image 19

For most of us, getting to the dance is not easy. But once there, none of the logistics, long flights, cost, or cold, make a difference. You are witness to the most spectacular light show orchestrated by Mother Nature.

The next time you gaze into the night sky, be assured that the Aurora is there dancing the night away…just waiting for you.

The post How to Photograph the Aurora Borealis – Nature’s Night Light by Al Marcella appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Photographer travels around the globe to photograph all her Facebook friends

09 Aug
Ahna Anomaly, San Francisco, California

Social networks have changed the meaning of friendship. They might be called Facebook ‘friends,’ but we might not have seen some of these people in a long time, or even met them in person. With this paradigm in mind, photographer Tanja Alexia Hollander decided to take friendship back out of the virtual and into the real world, by visiting and photographing all of her 626 Facebook friends.

Since 2011 she has been traveling around the USA and to countries as far as the UK, Belgium, France, Greece, and Malaysia to meet her friends in their homes, take their portrait and share real-life experiences with them.

Shannon Lam and Maury Browning, Sungai Long, Malaysia

According to MASS MoCA in North Adams, MA, where Hollander’s Are you really my friend? is currently on display, the project turned from a personal documentary on friendship into,

“…an exploration of contemporary culture, relationships, generosity and compassion, family structure, community-building, storytelling, meal-sharing, the economy and class, the relationship between technology and travel in the 21st century, social networking, memory, and the history of the portrait.”

Mary Bok with Surely and Honey the dogs, Camden, Maine

You can see all the images and learn more about Are you really my friend? on the project website. You can also follow Tanja Alexia Hollander on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to find out about her ongoing work.

All images courtesy of Tanja Hollander and MASS MoCA, used with permission

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