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When photographing sunsets, the incorrect exposure is sometimes the best exposure. By bracketing exposures in 1/3- to 1/2-stop increments above and below the light meter's recommended "correct" exposure settings, you can create very evocative images. Besides conveying an interesting mood, bracketing also ensures a successful shoot and provides editing options later. Digital photographers, who can see the results immediately, also should bracket exposures to ensure the future option of "stitching" two slightly varied exposures together, combining the best shadow details and highlights. It's good insurance that costs nothing.
Getting a great shot of your friends in the bright midday light is one of the toughest things to do. Although this tip runs counter to what you've heard all you life, have them stand with their backs to the sun. You'll notice your faces will be evenly lit, and there will be a lot less squinting. You might have to shade your lens, but this is the right approach. They'll love you for it.
Keep It Simple
The best way to present a clear message in a photograph is to keep the composition simple. The fewer elements you have to work with, the easier it is to design a pleasing image and control the viewer's eye movement. There are several ways to simplify a composition, but the primary method is to move in closer to the main subject. Whether you physically move the camera position closer or zoom in optically, getting closer allows you to fill the frame with the subject, paring the composition down to its essential components. It removes visual distractions from the edges of the frame, eliminates superfluous elements and defocuses the background. Shallow depth of field helps to isolate the subject from a busy background by blurring objectionable clutter, and may even create soft pools of complementary color behind the subject.
Nature photographers get excited about storm light. They relish the buildup and release of a storm. When the leading and trailing edges clash with the sun, the light display can be magical. Exposures can be tricky when bright shafts of sunlight pierce through dark storm clouds. Expose for the brightest areas of the scene, and bracket your exposures to ensure getting the best balance of highlights and shadows. This gives you options when editing the images later. Modern photographic equipment can tolerate brief exposure to moisture, but be sure to pack a towel, a large plastic bag and a collapsible umbrella in case you get caught in a downpour, and seek shelter when lightning is present.
Check the Weather
Nature can be powerful and unforgiving. It's important to research the locations you'll be photographing, and be informed of the potential dangers the wilderness presents. Arizona's slot canyons are prone to torrents of runoff during the summer monsoons, and flash floods have claimed the lives of seasoned canyoneers. So timing is everything. Check the latest weather conditions before entering a canyon.
No Speed Limits
When photographing water, there are no absolutes. The laws of physics dictate some of the choices you make, and personal taste dictates others. Consider this: Water can be a solid, liquid or gas, and it takes on the color and shape of the container in which it's held. As a subject, it truly is a chameleon. What you have to decide is which facet you want to capture. So, the next time you're photographing moving water, try using different shutter speeds. Start with 1/500 second, then 1/125 second. If the light is low enough, try shooting at 1/15 second or less. Look at the results on your computer, weighing motion with depth of field. The choice is yours.
Whether you're a photojournalist producing an essay for a major travel magazine or a weekend shutterbug in charge of documenting your family vacation, the process is basically the same. One of the first things you'll need is an "establishing shot," a photograph that lets the viewer know where the action is taking place. Among other things, this photo needs to say something about the mood or atmosphere. It won't necessarily be the first scene you photograph, or the first thing that happens during your vacation, but it should establish the context for your "essay." After that, shoot away.
Follow the Focus
Whether you're shooting scenics, sports or wildlife, here are some tips from longtime professional photographer John McDonough. New cameras are getting better all the time. If you're in the market, look for something that will allow you to shoot in a variety of situations. Highly recommended are digital single-lens reflex cameras (dSLR) for their interchangeable lenses and shorter shutter delay. In addition to that, the image quality using higher ISOs with the larger dSLR sensors has never been better. If you decide to shoot moving subjects, practice and learn to follow the action. Rather than reacting, work on anticipating what will happen next. As you become more confident, begin to crop your images in the camera's viewfinder.
Because of the mechanics of sensor design, digital images always look a little softer than they really are. Almost all digital photographs can be improved with some sharpening. When software sharpens an image, it looks for an edge and then bumps up the contrast along that edge. So it doesn't have much effect on a clear blue sky, but dramatic effect on something with a lot of texture, like a brick wall. Over-sharpening can wreck a photograph. The resultant halos make edges look artificial and magnify the noise. Sharpening can always be added to a photograph, but once applied, it can't be undone. So don't go crazy.
When shooting close-ups, careful consideration should be given to the interplay of composition and depth of field. On one hand, you want the critical portions of your subject to be sharp and in focus. On the other hand, choosing the amount of detail in the background can greatly change the feel and effectiveness of your final image. This is simply a matter of choice. Try photographing the same object using different f-stops. If you are using the "aperture priority" mode, the camera will choose the appropriate shutter speed as you change the lens opening. With today's digital technology, you can then check the LCD on the back of the camera and choose the image you like.
Low Light Situations
In low-light situations, using an on-camera strobe (flash) along with a slow shutter speed can be both beneficial and, at times, necessary. Using this technique will allow you to create very interesting effects that are not always predictable. The flash both illuminates and freezes the foreground while the background becomes more evenly lit due to the long exposure. If you are hand-holding the camera or there is motion, the resulting backgrounds can appear streaked or blurred. To try this, use the "night scene mode" built into the menu or
program of your camera. If you prefer to shoot in the manual mode, use a shutter speed of between 1/10 and a full second. — Jeff Kida
Photographing Point Imperial
Point Imperial is the highest point on the Grand Canyon's North Rim. It stands at 8,800 feet. Sunrise and early morning — other than stormy weather — offer the best times to photograph this area. Most times the camera points southeast toward Mount Hayden and the maze of side canyons beyond. Because there's little room at the main overlook, I usually try to arrive early to claim a decent spot, an important point if you're working with a tripod. Views to the north and northeast up Marble Canyon and on to the Paria Plateau are also appealing in early morning light. Take a long lens for this view and consider using a polarizing filter — the angle is just right for summer morning photography. — Gary Ladd
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PortfolioSee a sampling of photographs from the portfolio featured in this month's issue of Arizona Highways... [more]
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