Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tips to take A Sharp Photograph

Sharp as a Razor!

We all want to take photographs that have a clean, razor sharp quality to it. But often times we get something that falls a tad short of that (i.e. a blurry mess that like the internal organs of a cricket). Here are a few tips that can be used to improve the sharpness of any photograph.

  1. Tripod - this is the simplest way to improve the quality of a photography for anyone. Using a tripod will reduce any camera shake that handholding will create. Cheap ones can be purchased for $15-20, and the high end ones can be $200-300-400 and more. I do recommend a mid end tripod with with a bit more weight to it to improve stability.
  2. Cable Release or Self-Timer - each time the shutter button is pressed, the camera will have a very slight movement (even on a tripod). Using a cable release/wireless remote for the camera will enure no movement at all happens. If you don't have one, many cameras have a self-timer feature. That will allow you to press the shutter button and your camera will have a few seconds to stabilize. And voila - a sharper image!
  3. Image Stabilization Off - what? Am I insane? Perhaps, but that's another matter. When your camera has IS on (or VR, SR, or whatever your brand calls it), it looks for movement and compensates for it. However, since you have your camera on a tripod and the mirror locked (above), there is no movement. However, your camera doesn't know that. It assumes there will be movement, and thus creates movement to adjust for nothing. Turning off this feature will make for sharper photographs when using a tripod.
  4. Low ISO - many digial cameras have the ability to select the ISO from typcially 100 (sometimes 50) to 1600 or even much higher. Since ISO is the sensor's sensitivity to light, a higher ISO is used in lower light conditions to shoot without a flash. However, higher ISO will also cause more noise in a photograph. To get a very sharp image, the lowest possible ISO needs to be used.
Using these tips will lead to sharper photographs that are sure to please all. However, if you need to hand hold the camera, I recommend you use a "burst" or sports more to take several photos in succession. You increase your chances of having a photograph that is very clear.

Finally, always review your photograph after taking it and zoom in to see the details. If you find the image is not as sharp as you like, you will still be able to take another photograph. If you check when you get home, it will be too late and the picture will be gone!

What is HDR?


I've had a few friends ask me about HDR and what it is. So I thought I would write a short blog on it to help out. Short, only because I only know how to do it (sort of), but know very little about the technical side.

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. In a nutshell, HDR deals with the range of brightness in a scene. Typically, film or digital sensors have a limited range of dark and light that it can record. However, if we had access to more of the range in the scene, we could adjust the contrast, brightness, etc to enhance the scene to more like we saw it, or even past that. Perhaps into a surreal state taht could not possibly exist.

There are various programs that will perform HDR processing. Photoshop CS2 has the capability if you are using JPG files. However, this will then require at least three (or more, in odd internvals) of pictures of the same scene, but with different exposure values in each one. For example, if you have a scene you want to HDR process, take it at +0 EV, -1 EV, and +1 EV. Several DSLR cameras will do this for you with their Exposure Bracketing feature. The camera will either take the three shots automatically for you with one press of the button, or will require you to press the shutter release three times. I generally don't use Photoshop for HDR processing. Nor do I shoot in JPG format. If you to, remember to use a TRIPOD for your shots, and a remote shutter release if you can (to avoid any camera shake).

The other format you can shot in, which is better for HDR, is Camera RAW. Many DSLRs have this feature. Essentially, the RAW format is a data file of all the information that your camera sensor took in, but with none of the processing that your camera does after the shot is taken (i.e no white balance, colour correction, etc). It also contains more data in the file than can be seen. This allows the photographer to do a single file rather than 3 or more. However, three of more is recommened for best results.

The program I use is Photomatix. It is pretty cheap (about $99 US) and works really well with camera RAW format. Rather than going through how to use it, I will post the link of the site that has the tutorial I found that teaches you how to use it.

For examples of HDR pictures, just check out many of my posts on this site.


  • Photomatix -
  • Photomatix tutorial -
  • Photoshop CS2 HDR tutorial -

Photograph: Snowbirds

Photography at the Canadian Air Show

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
: 2008
Camera: Canon 40D, 70-200mm L f/4 lens
Settings: ISO 100, f/5, 1/250 second, 200mm
Support: Manfrotto monopod
Filters: circular polarizing

Details: I took many photos this summer when I went to see the Canadian Air Show this summer with my girlfriend. It was a good reason to use my 70-200mm L lens and a great way to enjoy a sunny day (except for the sunburn - ouch!). This is my favourite photo from that day. Some key things to note here are as follows.
  • Bring a zoom lens with you to an air show as you know your subject is far away. You will want to get in nice and close for a great photograph.
  • Monopod or tripods are a good idea. When zoomed in so much, every bit of movement in your body is magnified. I choose a monopod to help stabilize as my subject was moving. Had it been a stationary subject I would have chosen a tripod for even better stability and thus a clearer photography.
  • Circular polarizing filters can help create a lot more contrast in a photograph, especially against nice, blue skies. However, note the rules of the polarizing filter - it only works if the sun is to your left, right, or directly overhead. It won't work when the sun is behind or ahead of you.

Processing: HDR processing was used to bring the colours out a bit more. Also, some cropping was need to get the exact composition I wanted in my photography.

Photo: Classic Car

Sunset on the Porsche

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
: 2008
Camera: Canon 40D, 17-85mm f/4-5.6 lens
Settings: ISO 100, f/6.3, 1/30 second, 56mm
Support: hand held

Details: this shot was taken while I was in Grand Bend on a golf trip with some coworkers. We were just walking towards a restaurant for dinner and I noticed an awesome, classic Porsche on the street with the setting sun hitting the car. This was an opportunity that I didn't want to pass on, so I took a few quick snaps of the car. In this shot I angled myself so I can get the sun beaming through the windshield, some shadow casting of the car, and some awesome reflection from the clean metal.

My best advice to give is always take the shot when you see it. I will guarantee if you decide to come back later, you car will be gone, the sun will be down, of whatever you wanted to photography is not the same. Great moments happen, and each one is unique and temporary. Take the shot when you can.

Processing: HDR processing with Photomatix to bring out the colours more. The original shot did not have as vibrant a range of the sunset, the car dials, or the reflection from the metal.

Photo: Ka-Boom!

May 24 Fireworks

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
: 2008
Camera: Canon 40D, 17-85mm f/4-5.6 lens
Settings: ISO 200, f/8, 3 seconds, 33mm
Other: tripod

: I went to the Canada Day Fireworks this year and wanted to test out my camera. I did a bit of research into taking Fireworks and here are the key things to do.

a) Use a tripod. I insist. :) Since you are shooting in low light conditions and will want use a longer exposure, a tripod is absolutely required.
b) Setup early. Lots of people love fireworks and you will often find it hard to get a good place for pictures if you arrive late. I recommend you setup 45-60 minutes early. Find a place that will have a good direct line of the action. Remember that lots of people will be there soon so ensure your location will not have people's heads in the way. A find a small hill, at the top of stairs, etc will be good. Also ensure that you won't block anyone else's view.
c) Compose the scene. If you know where the fireworks will explode, compose your shot before hand. Ideally, I like to have something interesting in the picture as well like water, an interesting building, and sometimes it's cool to get the crowd as they as watching the display (to get the human side in your picture). You may need to readjust a few times during the shoot. Review your photos after the first few shots and after each adjustment to ensure they are in focus and have the right composure.
d) Dial in your aperture. You want a wide enough one to ensure enough light comes through, yet still have some good clarity of foreground and background. I've used f/8, but you could go down or up a stop or two and still be good. Experiment and find what will work for you.
e) Shutter release. This is the tricky part. Catching them. Now there are two ways. Set your shutter speed to 2-3 seconds, and press the button just after your one of them flying up but before they explode. However, this is hit and miss. I recommend that you get a remove shutter release (wired or wireless). Then, with the camera shutter set to "bulb" mode, all I do is press my remote to open the shutter and then press it again to close it after the firework explodes. Typically my exposure will be 2-4 seconds long.
f) ISO. As with any shot, always try to shot as ISO 100 to reduce noise. In this case, I used 200 as it worked out pretty good.

Processing: this shot had some colour cleanup in Adobe Bridge, and was cropped a bit from the original.

This site has some good info on Fireworks shots as well. Check it out.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Borrowed Style

Reach for the Sky

: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
: 2008
Camera: Canon 40D, 17-85mm f/4-5.6 lens
Settings: ISO 100, f/8, 1/400 second, 100mm

: This is one of my pictures for an assignment from the course I took (Develop Your Photography, TWI). The assignment was to replicate either the style or theme of another photographer. I chose the style of Simon Chaput (link to Fifty One gallery below where his work can be found). His work with buildings is characterized by B&W shots with start contrasts between light and dark.

In my first session I found I could not get any pictures with the right amount of contrast (note I was shooting in colour and converted to B&W after). The next session I was able to hit paydirt with many shots. Here is what you need to do:

First, you will need to take shots either early in the morning or later in the evening when the sun is lower. This makes darker, longer shadows. Next, you want the right exposure to make the dark areas darker. The key is to not let the camera take a reading from the overall scene as it will try to balance the light and dark. Instead, zoom into the well lit area and take an exposure reading (usually by pressing the shutter release halfway in). Note the speed and f-stop. Then put the camera in manual mode, set the f-stop and speed, recompose for the shot you want, and click away! Essentially, you will be using a faster shutter speed than normal for the scene. This will keep the light areas clear and the shadows very dark.

Processing: The shot was then processed in Camera RAW (part of Photoshop CS3), where I easily removed all the colour from the photo. I did no other processing to this photo (aside the copyright watermark).


HDR and a Polorizing Filter

The Steeple

: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
: 2008
Camera: Canon 40D, 70-200mm L f/4 lens
Settings: ISO 100, f/4, 1/640 second, 70mm
Other: circular polarizing filter
Details: This was one of my first shots with the 70-200mm L lens I bought this summer. I was walking around my place taking various pictures to test the lens, including a few of this Portuguese church. I needed to have a high shutter speed as I was at 70mm, the lighting was starting to get darker, and I had a filter on. The circular polarizing filter provided an important level of contrast of the clouds to the blue sky, as well enhanced the details in the structure. The key to note with these filters: they only work properly when the sun is to the left, right, or directly overhead of the camera. If the sun is behind or ahead of the camera, they will not work well. I will post more info on these filters at a later time.
Processing: HDR processing in Photomatix. This processing was a single file HDR processing, which is only possible if you shoot in camera RAW mode (available on many DSLRs, but needs software/plug-ins that can read the file type). If shooting in JPG, I would have needed a tripod and taken at least three pictures of the scene with different exposure settings (i.e. 0, +1, -1). Many DSLRs have Exposure bracketing that will help speed this process.

Passing Lights

Passing Lights

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
: 2008
Camera: Canon 40D, 17-85mm f/4-5.6 lens
Settings: ISO 200, f/22, 30 seconds, 21mm
Other: mounted on a tripod (required)
Details: After seeing so many night pictures with the cool car-light streaking effect, I had to try this myself. I used a larger F number (22 in this case) to get better front to back clarity, and a very long exposure (due to the low light and large F-stop). Ensure your camera is on a tripod as hand holding will not work, and even renting it on a flat surface may not work well. You may need to experiment with various speeds to get the right exposure.
Processing: Signature added in Photoshop CS3.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Empire of New York

The Empire of New York

: New York City, New York, USA
Year: 2008
Camera: Canon 40D, 17-85mm f/4-5.6 lens
Settings: ISO 400, f/9.0, 1/320 speed, 20mm
Other: I believe I had my circular-polarizing filter on.
Details: On my trip to New York I was walking around snapping some pictures and had the fortune to see some awesome sunlight beans streaking around the Empire State building. Given the somewhat lower lighting conditions but the need to hand hold the camera, I had the ISO set to 400. My aperture was set to 9.0 for some good clarity throughout the picture. This is also a good example of experimenting with different angles when shooting various subjects.
Processing: HDR processing to get a more pronounced effect of the sunlight.

Photo: Statue of Liberty

Sweet Lady Liberty

: New York City, New York, USA
Year: 2008
Camera: Canon 40D, 70-200mm f/4-5.6 lens
Settings: ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/250 speed, 200mm
Details: This shot was taken in the morning while on the ferry to Liberty Island during my trip to NYC (awesome city!). I was playing with my new 70-200mm lens with this shot. With the boat moving about, I use my monopod to help steady my camera. Monopods are great as they are light weight, fold up nicely, and sometimes allowed where tripods are not. In this case, if I didn't have a monopod I would have had a blurry shot, even with the Image Stabilizer on the lens.
Processing: some minor HDR processing was done to make the colours pop out a bit more.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Photo: Grand Bend Sunset

Grand Bend Sunset

Location: Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada
Year: 2008
Camera: Canon 40D, 17-85mm f/4-5.6 lens
Settings: ISO 100, f/14, 1/15 speed, 85mm focal length
Details: This shot was taken at sun set at the beach in Grand Bend, Ontario. Since I took this shot with a small aperture and slow shutter speed, I needed to stabilize the camera. Not having any of my tripods with me, I was able to rest the camera on a flat wooden hand rail that was along the beach. I set the camera's self-timer to 2 seconds, composed the frame, pressed the button, and kept my hands of the camera. Using the self-timer is a great way to reduce camera shake that occurs when your pressing the camera button.
Processing: This photo had some minimal single file HDR processing to bring the colours out a bit more. I also added my signature on the bottom of the picture with Photoshop CS3.

Resource Centre

My education in photography has been from many sources: the internet, books I've read, lessons, looking at professional/fine art photos for inspiration, and just plain experimenting with the shots I take. I encourage everyone interested in photography to learn from all those sources and any others that they can. I have listed some here to help you get started.

Books - Education
  • The Digital Photography Book, vol 1, Scott Kelby
  • The Digital Photography Book, vol 2, Scott Kelby
  • The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book, Scott Kelby
  • The Moment it Clicks, Joe McNally
  • Best Tips and Techniques for Digital Photography, Lark Books
  • Mastering HDR Photography, Michael Freeman
  • Understanding Shutter Speed, Bryan Peterson
  • Understanding Exposure, Bryan Peterson
Books - Artists
  • The Waterfall Projects - Olivo Barbieri
  • New Zealand Aotearoa, Craig Potton
  • Albert Watson
  • Develop Your Photography, Toronto Image Works

My Gear

For those of you who are similar to me and like knowing about gadgets, hardware, equipment, etc., I decided to list my camera gear. I have listed my gear in order of how often I use it (95% are now taken with the first camera).

1. Canon 40D Digital SLR - 10 MegaPixels
  • 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens
  • 70-200mm f/4.oL USM lens
  • 50mm f/1.8 lens
  • 580 EX II Speedlite
  • 2-3 flash snoots (created myself)
  • Alien Bee CyberSync - wireless flash transmitter and receiver
  • Seculine Twin1 R3-TRC Wireless Shutter Control
  • Circular Polarizing Filter
  • UV Filters on all lense
2. Canon SD630 PowerShot Elph - 6.0 MegaPixels
  • Handy little point and shot camera that I've had for a few years. Works really well.
3. Olympus Stylus 850 SW - 8.0 MegaPixels

  • Purchased for very specific features:
  • Shock Proof to 5 ft
  • Water Proof to 10 ft
  • Freeze Proof to -8 degrees Celsius
4. Minolta Maxxium 7000 - film
  • 50mm f/1.4 lens
  • Blacks TZ-7000 flash
5. P-Sharan STD-35 Pinhole Camera - film
  • Made of cardboard and uses 35mm file (I have not yet assembled this - Christmas break project)
6. Other Gear
  • Manfrotto 055XB Tripod
  • Manfrotto 679B Monopod
  • Manfrotto 488 RC2 Ballhead
  • Optex KT2000 Tripod
  • Joby Gorillapod
  • SLS-LS8 light stand
  • White shoot-through/reflective umbrella


I've decided to write this blog to share some of my photos and the techniques behind taking them. While I am certainly not an expert or pro photographer, I have been learning a lot about the subject lately. After sharing some of my photos with friends, I've received a lot of positive feedback which inspired me to write here.

I hope you find this blog interesting!