Breaking the Rules of Photography

Last week I spent an awesome afternoon with my wedding photographer Matt Elliott discussing all things photography.IMG_3114 What I enjoyed most about chatting with him was the fact that he has ignored or flat out rejected many of the accepted rules of photography - and his work is still AMAZING!

I often find myself getting so caught up in the rules of photography and forget that my work is meant to be a reflection of my own creative self.

Creativity and how you express it shouldn't be about rules!

I guess I haven't found my own particular "style" of photography yet, but that comes with time and practice, and for now I am happy to meet myself where I'm at, and be happy with the leaps and bounds I have made since I first picked up my camera.

My inspiration comes in fits and bursts, and I'm OK with that.

My desire to learn about photography comes and goes. That's OK too.

What I do know is, when the mood strikes me and I do go out and practice photography I completely lose track of time, I become impervious to the weather and I feel pretty damn happy.

That's pretty awesome. Don't you think?IMG_3110

Here's some of what I learnt from Matt.

There is no right or wrong way to take landscape shots. 

Last year I took part in a great one day Landscape photography course which I did learn a lot from, but I was told at the start of the day to set my camera to Manual, ISO 100 and F-stop 16 and leave it there.

I have used these settings for my landscape shots ever since. No questions asked, no messing with the rules.

I have never considered that there is a better or worse way. I just took this on as gospel and never took the time to experiment with my own creativity.

After speaking with Matt my opinion on landscape photography has changed quite dramatically. While I'm not saying the settings above won't get you an amazing shot, I am saying there ARE other ways to go about it and it's always a good thing to try out different techniques to find your own way.

All of my shots in this post were taken with Matt's suggestion of trying out Aperture Priority mode, low f-stop, and auto ISO. With these settings, the camera takes care of shutter speed.

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I was really surprised when he told me that most of his landscape shots were taken with a wide open aperture (aka shallow depth of field), but he did a great job at explaining that how and where you focus is more important. You can use low aperture and still get a large depth of field.

So for the shot above, I focused on the larger tree to the right, so everything in front of that tree is in focus, and the tree is far enough away from me to have everything behind it in focus too. If I had focused on the grass right in front of me everything after that would be out of focus though.

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When it comes to composition, the best thing you can do is keep practicing!

There's no quick way to learn better composition techniques, you just have to keep trying out different shots until you see what you like.

I find composition is often the hardest part, and I have been known to actually google popular photography spots to see how other photographers have shot the same scene. While there's nothing wrong with that, it is still good to go out on your own and try to find the shot you love.

There's so much to Lightroom I didn't know about.

Like this super handy little tool, which you can use to straighten your horizon without the guesswork! Just use it between two points along your wonky horizon and it automatically straightens the image for you. How did I not know about this before!scshot

OK, that's all for today. So now I just gotta go and do some practice!

I will update again soon with some new shots.

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Better Bokeh in 5 Simple Steps

Once upon a time I had no clue what Bokeh was, let alone how the hell to pronounce it! Boh-kee. Bokay. Bo-keh. IMG_2618

According to a post I read recently, "bouquet" is most commonly agreed upon as correct.

So bokeh (bouquet) - I personally enjoy saying Boh-kee- is a technical term used for that nice blurry effect which you get in the out of focus areas of your photographs when you use a shallow depth of field.

Today I have 5 steps to practice for better bokeh.

1. Understand Depth of Field

Depth of field refers to the areas in your photograph which are in and out of focus. Shallow depth of field will create more out of focus areas and consequently more bokeh. A greater depth of field will ensure that more of your photograph is in focus. Remember a shallow depth of field means using a small f-stop value for a large aperture, and deep depth of field requires large f-stop numbers for narrow aperture.

To create beautiful bokeh use a shallow depth of field and a longer focal length (zoom in more).

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2. Different lenses create different Bokeh

While equipment doesn't always matter, all lenses are not equal, and this is especially evident when it comes to achieving beautiful bokeh. The circular or octagonal shape of a lens aperture is determined by how many blades are used to create the aperture opening and if they are curved or square edged.

Generally speaking a more expensive lens will use more aperture blades which are also rounded. This effectively creates a circular shaped aperture which is reflected in the bokeh.

IMG_28763. Get up close and personal

In the image above I had my aperture set at f/4.0 and you can see the reflected circles in the bokeh. Recreate this effect by zooming in close to your subject and by also making sure the background isn't too far away. You can see in the image below of the Kookaburra that although the background is still nicely blurred I haven't managed the same circular effect because the background is further away from the subject.

For absolutely stunning bokeh in images with a far away background choose a lens with a large aperture (f/1.4, f/1.8).

IMG_28584. Use the background effectively

When bokeh is your primary goal it can be easy to simply set your aperture to the lowest value and hope for the best, but this isn't going to get you the best results. Keep in mind that the background of your image is also important and offers perspective and valued details to your photograph as a whole.

Rather than simply trying to create a blurry background, focus instead on how you want your subject to be captured. Practice using DOF to find the right aperture to ensure what is and isn't in focus and what the eye is naturally drawn to. IMG_2885

5. Experiment

When you understand how depth of field and bokeh are related it's fun to experiment with different angle and perspectives to tell a different story. Instead of just focusing on having a blurry background, try blurry objects in the foreground.

Utilize your creativity and fun with it!

IMG_2887These photos were taken on a sunny winter afternoon in the Dandenong Ranges at SkyHigh.

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Photo of the Day: Prairie Dogs

I spent a hot afternoon at San Francisco Zoo today, and seeing these little Prairie Dogs was the best part of my day.  Due to the heat, most of the Zoo's animals were resting in the shade, but not these guys.

These two were hanging out sharing their bits of straw.

Well worth the visit in the heat!

This was shot at ISO 800, 80mm, f/5 at 1/800 sec on my 75-300mm lens.

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Photography at the Zoo

Photographing animals requires one thing above all else; Patience.

Whether you're photographing your own cat or dog at home, or if you're in an exotic location with wild animals, capturing them at the right moment when they are doing something amazing is difficult.

ISO 800, 100mm, f/4 at 1/40 Sec

You can't ask animals to change position or move to a new location. You have to wait for them to be in the right place and in the right light.

You can't ask them to do something interesting to make your photo better. You just have to wait until they do it, and be ready to capture it.

The only way you can get better at photographing animals is to observe and wait and practice.

A great place to do this is at your local Zoo. You get to practice photographing animals, and your entry fee goes to rare and endangered species conservation and research.

While I was in Portland a few weeks back I spent an afternoon at the Oregon Zoo to practice my skills. It was a rainy overcast day which is great for avoiding dark shadows and high contrast, but also meant there was less light to enable fast shutter speeds.

I had to go really high with my ISO settings (remember ISO increases/decreases your cameras sensitivity to light, but also increases noise at high ISO), and with my camera (which is a little old) this means an increase in grain. With full frame cameras you can set your ISO quite high without it affecting the quality of your photos, but not so much with cropped sensor, older cameras like mine.

I still have a long way to go when it comes to photographing animals/birds/any moving object, but I really enjoyed practicing at the Zoo.

Here's 5 quick tips for photography at the Zoo

1. Observe and learn

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Observe your subject and get to know some of it's habits, then find a position that works - no distracting wire or smudges on the glass- and stay there. You will notice certain patterns of behavior by simply observing them, and if you practice patience you can simply wait for your subject to come back into the frame you have set up. If you know you have a spot which works, it doesn't help to try chasing your subject around from outside the enclosure.

2. Minimize distraction

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Set up your shots with minimal distracting elements by getting in close and focusing on the eyes of your subject.

If you have to shoot through glass find a clean spot (or wipe it clean yourself) and get in close with a lens hood to avoid reflections.

If you have to shoot through wire get up close and use a high aperture (low f stop number) to ensure the camera doesn't focus on the wire.

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Either try to capture your subject so it seems like they're not enclosed, or use the enclosure as part of your image.

3. Get to know your camera

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While you are observing your subject take some practice shots to see whats going to work. There's nothing worse than missing an awesome shot because you haven't adjusted your settings.

If you want to freeze motion you need fast shutter speeds (1/500 sec or more), high ISO and wide open aperture. Use TV mode for action shots.

If you're shooting in low light you can increase aperture, and set the ISO quite high in order to decrease the shutter speed.

Practice with all three settings to find what works.

4. Be OK with imperfection

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Don't obsess over getting the perfect shot the first time. Think of each photograph as a lesson which you can learn more from.

Don't stress if you can't get a shot of a particular subject (the lion enclosure had huge sheets of filthy glass in front of it making it impossible to get a shot of them). It's ok if some of your shots don't work out.

Learn from each experience.

5. Enjoy the moment

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Don't forget to take time to actually appreciate where you are and what you are experiencing.

Consider the incredible animals you get to see and be respectful of the Zoo rules (don't try to climb on anything to get a better shot).

Conservation Zoo's conduct research and do what they can for endangered species.

If you are so inclined you can help out by purchasing a Zoo membership or even by volunteering.

If you are interested in photographing wildlife go to your local Zoo and practice your skills.

Here's a few extra shots from my afternoon at the Zoo.

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Photojojo Camera Lens for Smartphones

30 Days of Smartphone Photography Day 26

Previously in my 30 day smartphone challenge I showed you my Photojojo wide/macro camera phone lens.IMG_1725

Today I have a quick how to and overview of all three lenses. Photojojo has all sorts of cool bits and pieces and I got this 3 pack of lenses (Fisheye, Polarizer and Wide/Macro) for $49.00. Photojojo claims these lenses will fit on any phone model, but be warned some phone covers won't work with these lenses and the magnetic ring. IMG_1741

Each lens comes with these little magnetic rings which you attach to your camera around the lens. You get a few extras too so no worries if it falls off (this hasn't happened to me and I have had the same ring on for a month now).IMG_1733Clean your lens and the area around it, then after removing the backing paper attach the sticky ring carefully to your camera. Make sure its lined up because they are kinda hard to move once stuck. You can remove the ring when you want to get it off, but it does leave some sticky residue.

Press the ring firmly onto your phone lens, then leave it to stick for at least half an hour before you try attaching a lens.

The lens simply magnetically attaches to the ring. IMG_1745

Easy! You're good to go. IMG_1743

Here's what each lens does

Fisheye

The Fisheye lens is a very wide angled lens which gives a hemispherical looking photograph as shown below. The first photo is from my phone camera as is at the same distance as the second photo with the Fisheye lens. The Fisheye lens takes in a 180 degree view and distorts everything so it appears like a bubble (or fishbowl).

This lens is really cool if you want to take photo's of scenes too wide for your regular camera, or if you just want to add a touch of wackiness.

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20140708_160116Polarizer

A polarizing lens is designed to block light at certain angles, produce more saturated colors and help to block reflected light from windows or water.  The lens helps to create a vibrant image so you don't have to do as much (or any) post processing. The first shot is my camera as is, and the second is with the polarizer attached.

The green of the trees definitely looks greener and the caravan in the left corner is much less blown out, but the sky is basically the same.

Use this lens on bright sunny days or if there is a lot of reflective light to capture beautiful vibrant images.

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Wide/Macro

The wide/macro lens lets you take extra wide angle shots or super close ups.  The lens comes in two parts and you simply unscrew the wide angle top off the macro lens to use the macro function. Both together make the wide angle lens.IMG_1759

IMG_1758The first two photos below are as close as I could get to the lenses without my phone camera losing focus. The third image was taken with the macro attached and you can see how much closer I was able to get. There is much more detail and you get a nice blurred effect in the parts of the photo which are out of focus. You need to get very close with the macro lens to get a focused shot (between 10-20mm).

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The wide angle (shown in the second photo below) creates quite a lot of distortion, especially in the corners. You can crop your image to get rid of the dark corners though. This lens is similar to the Fisheye, just less intense.

Use this lens for wide landscapes.

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Having a few extra lenses for your phone camera makes taking photos much more fun. I really like the wide/angle macro for getting close up detail.

If you're getting bored with your phone camera, there's nothing better than getting yourself re-inspired with a new lens.

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5 Motivation Tips for Photographers

30 Days of Smartphone Photography Day 25

Sometimes I have zero motivation to get out of the house and take photos. It's too hot. It's too rainy. The light isn't right. I don't want to get up that early!

20140702_210821Whatever the reason, my motivation to get out an take photographs comes and goes.

Sometimes I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing and I get so caught up hours can pass without me realizing!

Sometimes I look at my photographs, let little frustrations get the better of me and feel like I should stop even trying.

And then, also, sometimes I prefer to just enjoy a moment and not let my camera take over.

Whatever your reason for lacking motivation to get out and practice your skills, today I have 5 simple tips to re-inspire you

1. Experiment. Photograph the mundane. Snap something you wouldn't usually bother photographing and find beauty in expected places. Have a look around your house or in your backyard and think of capturing textures, colours and unnoticed objects. The best thing about photography is the unlimited number of methods/skills/techniques to experiment with. You won't know if you like a particular technique until you try it.

2. Go for a walk or ride your bike to an unfamiliar location. Sometimes the simple act of discovering a new location, object or scene is all you need to get going again. Take a walk around your neighbourhood, ride a different way to work, venture out at different times of the day to see how the light changes a scene. Since I have been travelling, one of the things I have enjoyed the most is simply leaving the house and seeing where the day takes me. I stop and photograph whatever captures my attention.

3. Be inspired by others. When I am lacking motivation I find one of the best ways to get re-inspired is to see what other photographers are doing. Flickr is great for this since you can explore by particular topics, camera type (including smartphone) and you can also see what settings the photographer uses. Flickr is also really useful for seeing how other photographers have captured a particular location. If it's a popular location there will usually be quite a few photos and it will help give you an idea of how you would like to set up when you are there. You might be surprised to see a familiar location captured in a way that makes it seem entirely different to how you know it.

4. Participate in a short course or join a community. Last year I did a one day landscape photography course and was kind of blown away at how much I learned in one day! It really is incredible how much you can learn from a passionate professional. If you don't want to take a course you can join a community to share your photographs and get feedback. By simply talking about photography you gain new understanding.

5. Take your camera with you wherever you go. I have managed to get this habit to stick finally. No matter what I am doing or where I am going I take my camera, smartphone and any extra lenses which fit in my small camera bag. Even if I I only end up taking one photo, that's still better than leaving my gear at home. I used to feel self conscious about taking photos while I was out with other people and would try to rush to get a photo and move on. Now I stop and take my time. If I really can't stay for long, when I can I will go back to the same location to get more shots.

Of course there's many other things you can do to get re-inspired but there's just a few from me.

While my motivation comes and goes, my interest in learning about photography only grows stronger each time I learn something new, get a new piece of equipment or capture an awesome shot.

I hope this post has helped to inspire you to get out and continue learning too!

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