Month: October 2016

DSLR or Mirrorless Cameras Which is Right for You?

Have you considered switching to a mirrorless camera system from your DSLR? Or are you upgrading fro a point and shoot and want to know which system is the right choice for you? This video from Phil Steele may help you understand the differences and make a decision that’s sound.

If you found that helpful you can learn more from Phil over on his website Steele Training.

Soe Lin

By Soe Lin

You can also see more info on mirrorless cameras and the differences between them and SLRs in these dPS articles:

You can also vote and see the results of our poll on mirrorless cameras here.

The post DSLR or Mirrorless Cameras Which is Right for You? by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

5 Easy Tips for Photographing Babies Outdoors

When it comes to photographing babies under two years old (and newborns), most people immediately think of studios with elaborate backdrops and lots of available headbands, hats, and props. There’s nothing wrong with that type of photography for children, but if you don’t have access to a studio space of your own, you have to get a little creative.


More and more, I’m discovering that I love to photograph both newborns and young babies outdoors. Yes, I often take even 5-10 day old little babies outside for at least part of their session. If you’d like to give it a try as well, here are five simple tips to help get you started while also keeping the little guys and gals safe.

1. Settle them inside


When it comes to newborns, you’ll find that they settle best when they’re very warm. This means that if you want to photograph a baby outdoors, you will typically be more successful if you begin indoors. Inside, swaddle the baby up tightly. Keep in mind that babies like to be warm, so you may want to leave them in pyjamas under the swaddle. Then rock them while playing white noise or making sushing sounds until they are nice and sleepy. Next, lay the baby in a basket or bowl that has been lined with a fluffy blanket and let them settle. Once the baby has settled in, carry the whole thing outdoors.


Sometimes, photographing babies outdoors can be a bit of a race against time, as any big gust of wind or loud noise can startle them awake. For best success, scout out a location that’s close to the house before you begin. Also, even in the most ideal situations, there are times when a baby just won’t stay settled outdoors. If you experience that, don’t sweat it, just move on.

Recently, I tried to take a baby outdoors on several occasions, and each time she woke up crying before I could get even a single shot. So with permission, I cut a few flowers and brought them inside, and photographed the baby inside with the flowers instead (see photo above). Just be flexible. If you can’t bring the newborn outside, consider ways to bring the outdoors in.

2. Have someone hold them


If you primarily shoot on location, you’ll find that not all families have a great space for family portraits indoors. Sometimes the physical shape or size of the room isn’t particularly conducive to a group portrait, or the decor doesn’t quite match the desired aesthetic. Sometimes families just have beautiful outdoor spaces that I love to showcase.

Regardless of the scenario, I often find myself asking mom or dad to hold the baby during a few family portraits outdoors. Particularly if the family has expressed an interest in “lifestyle” or “candid” images, as nature can tend to feel less stuffy and conservative than an indoor studio setup.


Even if you experience a baby that won’t settle outdoors in a basket or bowl, keep in mind that being held in mom or dad’s arms may be an entirely different story. Sometimes babies just want to be held. Don’t be afraid to experiment with both scenarios until you discover what works best for each individual baby and family.

3. Shade them appropriately


Whether you’re placing a baby in some vessel or having a parent hold them outdoors, it is really important to make sure that they’re shaded appropriately. Both newborns and older babies have very sensitive skin, and the last thing you want is for them to get a sunburn for the sake of some photos (it’s also better light for portraits). If you’re not able to find shade naturally available, some alternative options are a large umbrella (patio or beach umbrellas work well), or even a reflector held directly overhead.

When dealing with dappled light through trees, I sometimes position mom or dad strategically just out of frame so that they block any light that may fall on baby’s face or body.

4. Try to contain walkers and crawlers


When it comes to photographing older babies outdoors, there’s a sweet spot between sitting babies and crawling babies when outdoor photography is easiest. That said, you won’t always be working with the ideal developmental stage because all babies hit those stages at different ages. So, it’s best to be prepared with a few tricks up your sleeve to make photographing walkers and crawlers a little bit easier.


I usually start by laying a quilt or blanket down on the ground. Some babies will not crawl off the blanket because they hate how the grass feels on their bare hands and feet. This is typically not a solution that lasts for the duration of the session without causing frustration, but can sometimes buy you a few stationary minutes. Other than the blanket trick, I have used galvanized wash tubs, old crates, toddler sized chairs, and wagons, to help contain older babies outdoors.

When using any of these props, please be safe. Use a spotter if necessary to prevent tumbles, and don’t be afraid to use composite images (combine two shots) if needed so that someone can have a hand on the baby at all times.

5. If you can’t contain them, entertain them


If sitters, walkers, and crawlers aren’t happy being contained, your next best bet is to just roll with it. Don’t push things, or you’ll likely to end up with a baby in tears, and nobody wants that at a photo session.

At the first signs of frustration, transition to games or activities that will entertain the baby, then keep taking pictures. Many babies and early walkers love to hold hands and stand or walk, so let them. Have mom or dad pick up the baby overhead and play airplane. Play a game of chase. You’ll be surprised at the opportunities for candid images of the family having fun together, as well as the number of opportunities for images that have a portrait feel to them as well.


Do you have any other tips for photographing newborns or young babies outdoors? If so, please chime in the comments below.

The post 5 Easy Tips for Photographing Babies Outdoors by Meredith Clark appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

Tips for Using the Blur Filters in Photoshop

For most photographers before they even press that shutter button, they have already pictured the type of shot in their heads. What exactly do I mean by that?

Well for example, a sports photographer may use a panning technique to shoot a moving sports car so that the background is out of focus to convey a dynamic shot of motion. Or maybe you are a portrait photographer and you want your subject set against a wonderful bokeh in the background.

Field Blur in Photoshop

Shallow DOF on the photo to the left. A Field Blur filter using Photoshop was added to create a greater depth of field look to the photo on the right.

In-camera blur versus done in Photoshop

All these techniques can be done in-camera. But sometimes due to time, technical constraints, or other factors, getting that desired shot in-camera isn’t always possible.

In this article, I will take a look at the Blur filters in Photoshop and demonstrate how useful these effects can be when applied in post-production. Whether you want to create a motion blur effect or simply blur part of the image to create a shallow-depth-of-field look.

When Photoshop CS6 was released Adobe added three new filters: Field Blur, Iris Blur, and Tilt-Shift. This brought the tally up to 14 different types of Blur effects in Photoshop. These new blur features were impressive.

Blur filters in Photoshop

First, let’s take a look at few and where you access them in Photoshop. I’m using Photoshop CS6. Go up to the Menu Bar > Filter and select Blur. I’m not going to describe all of them. Instead, I will concentrate on the few that I use the most but feel free to experiment with the others.


Where the different Blur filters are located in Adobe Photoshop.

Some of the filters I’ve never used let alone tried, such as Blur and Blur More. Here are some blur filters which include my personal favorites:

  • Gaussian Blur
  • Field Blur
  • Radial Blur
  • Motion Blur
  • Average Blur
  • Lens Blur

If you take a look at the following images, you can see the subtle, and not so subtle differences, each blur filter has on the same image, which are white lines on a black background.


Normal whites lines on a black background – no blur effect. A Shape Blur filter was applied to the same image on the left.


Gaussian Blur was applied to the image on the left and Radial Blur was applied to the image on the right.


A Lens Blur was applied to the image on the left and a Motion Blur was applied to the image on the right.

Gaussian Blur

I use Gaussian Blur the most out of all of the blur filters. It is my general workhorse for blurring parts of an image and for softening the edges of a layer mask. It can also reduce noise in an image.

Field Blur

Field Blur works great when you want to focus on an area of your photo, such as the foreground or background. You apply a pin on the part of the image where you want the focus left as it is. Then reduce the Radius to 0px, which can be done either by using the slider in the top right part of the menu or by dragging the white bar around the pin until blurring disappears. Place another pin or pins on the image where you want to blur the focus. The default setting is 15px Radius.


Sunflowers in France – one is smiling while the others are wilting due to the intense heat.


Applying the pins on the image where I want the focus to remain, and others where I want it blurry.


I applied the Field Blur to blur out the poor wilting sunflowers so that the focus was on the smiling sunflower.

Note: If you have version Photoshop CS6 13.1 or Photoshop CC, you can apply these blur filters to Smart Objects. That’s a big plus.

What I found particularly impressive when either of these three blur tools are accessed is the separate panel for creating Bokeh. Read this dPS article if you want to know how to create a Bokeh effect in Photoshop.

Radial Blur

Pick up any magazine or newspaper where you see photos of cars being advertised. If you look closely, you will see some images of cars where the motion effects were applied in post-production. Reflections, the wheels of the car, and the background are the usual tell-tale areas.


An animated Gif to illustrate the Radial and Motion Blur effects applied to the wheels and parts of the car and the background.

Let’s take for example, the wheels of a car. A Radial Blur could be used here to create the effect of the wheels spinning around.


Radial Blur applied twice to the front rim part of the wheel.

In the example above, I first selected the wheel rim and part of the tire using the pen tool (See Note below). The pen tool saves the selection and I can edit it later if needed. This selection was placed on its own layer and converted it to a Smart Object. I applied two Radial blurs. For the first method, I used Spin; Quality Best with a 8px blur. I then applied another Radial blur using the Zoom method; Quality Best at 6px blur.

Motion Blur

For the background and other parts of the car, I used the Motion Blur effect. I duplicated the image and converted it to a Smart Object. The car was isolated with the pen tool and I applied a layer mask so that when the motion blur is applied, it affects the background only and not the car. You will notice a little ghosting around the rear of the car.


Radial Blur was applied to the wheels. Motion Blur was applied to the side panel, rear side window, and to the background.

Ideally, you would also cut out the car from the duplicated image and clone the area back in with the surrounding sky, trees, and road.

Disclaimer: I’m in no way inferring here in this article that to convey motion to a static shot of a car that all you need to do is apply Radial and Motion blur effects. Far from it. I fully appreciate that more techniques are involved, along with time, skill, and effort, to pull off a professional retouching job.

Note: I feel the Spin Blur Filter in Photoshop CC is definitely a much improved version of the Radial Blur. You add a pin over the part of your image. Click and drag the ellipse’s borders to resize it, or you can also click and drag the handles to reshape and rotate it. It’s much faster and intuitive to use. You have more control and it works on Smart Objects. The effect is also more realistic in my opinion.

Average Blur

This is a filter I don’t use that often but I wanted to demonstrate how to use it to remove color casts on your photos.

With your image already opened, duplicate the layer. Go up to Filter > Blur > Average. It will turn the image to a solid color by producing an average of all colors in the image. Add a Levels Adjustment layer. Click on the middle eyedropper tool and click anywhere on the solid color layer. This samples a gray point in your image. Turn off the visibility of this layer and you will see the difference, the color cast has been removed. It’s not perfect though, and you may find that further editing is required.


How to apply the Average Blur in Photoshop.


A solid average colour is calculated, which is blue. Add a Level Adjustment Layer and click on the middle eyedropper tool.


By selecting the gray eyedropper tool and clicking on the image, the blue colour changes to grey.


The colour cast has been removed.

Lens Blur

The Lens Blur filter is probably my favorite of all of them if I had to choose one. It does a fantastic job of replicating the shallow DOF (Depth-of-Field) look normally achieved in-camera. While Field Blur also does a great job of this, I still prefer the Lens Blur method as you can import a depth map. That is an alpha channel which stores the selection as an editable grayscale mask in the Channels panel.

An example

In this image of the rhino taken at Dublin Zoo, I was too far away and I didn’t have a telephoto lens with me to get a nice shallow depth of field to blur out the background.


A rhino taken at Dublin Zoo.

So in Photoshop, I selected the rhino using the Quick Selection and Refine Edge tools. I saved this selection and named it. The selection or mask is now permanently stored as an alpha channel. To access it, I opened up the Channels panel and selected the alpha channel called rhino. By holding down on the Cmd/Ctrl key and pressing the letter I, it inverts the mask. The rhino is now black. Remember black conceals, white reveals on masks. Next, I clicked on the RGB layer to go back to the Layers panel.

I now need a layer mask for the foreground as I only want the background to appear blurred. Follow these steps to do the same:

Create a new layer and click on the Gradient Tool. Go up to the Gradient Editor and make sure you choose the preset Foreground to Background. Start near the bottom of the image while holding down the Shift key and drag upwards. It may take a few tries but you want a nice transition from black to white, similar to the image below.


Open up the Gradient Editor and set the preset to Foreground-Background.

Open up your Channels panel again and duplicate any of the red, green, or blue channels and name this gradient. You now have two separate channel layers; one with the rhino and the other with the gradient for the foreground.


Duplicating the gradient channel to create one alpha channel.

Bear with me for the next few steps!

In order to create just one alpha channel to load as a depth map for the Lens Blur filter, we need to copy the rhino selection onto the gradient layer. So duplicate the gradient channel by right clicking on the layer or dragging the layer to the bottom of the Layers panel to the icon “Create new channel”. Name it rhino mask in this instance.

Hold down the Cmd/Ctrl key and click on the rhino layer. You will see the marching ants around the rhino and the border. Go up to the Menu Bar > Select > Inverse. Now the marching ants are just around the shape of the rhino. Go back up to the Menu Bar > Edit > Fill with Black. Click on the RGB layer and go back to the Layers panel.


After inverting the selection of the rhino, you can now fill it with Black.


Now we have the rhino mask and the foreground mask on the one channel ready for the Lens Blur filter as a depth map.

Now we are ready to load this channel as a depth map into the Lens Blur filter. Duplicate the layer, or if you have a new version of Photoshop convert it to a Smart Object.

A separate dialog box appears and the image will initially be blurry. Go to where it says Source and click on None. A drop down menu appears and you can select the channel you have just created, in this case “rhino mask”. Adjust the radius value and click the Ok button.


Selecting the channel rhino mask in the Lens Blur filter


The depth map has been applied and a shallow depth of field has been created.


I hope this article was helpful and your eyes aren’t too blurry from reading it.

Do you use Blur filters in Photoshop? What are your favorite ones? Please share your comments below.

The post Tips for Using the Blur Filters in Photoshop by Sarah Hipwell appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

How to Capture the Perfect Action Shot in Sports Photography

Sports photography is a fun challenge for any photographer. There is plenty of intensity and emotion to be found at any competitive event. These elements combine to create the potential for some truly memorable images.

At the same time, the speed and unpredictability of some games can be intimidating. Especially if you are used to dealing with slower-moving subjects, like portraits or landscapes.

Never fear! This article will arm you with helpful knowledge so that your next brush with sports photography will result in some fantastic captures.

Getting your settings right

A soccer player about to kick a soccer ball, captured with a high shutter speed

This image was taken at 1/1600th of a second, which freezes the action completely. This super fast shutter speed is possible because there is a lot of sunlight.

Chances are that you’ve probably taken your fair share of blurry sports photo. Typically, players or athletes are moving at high speeds, and your camera doesn’t necessarily know for itself how to compensate.

Freezing the action

If you want to freeze the action in a photo, you’ll need to use to choose a fast shutter speed. But, how fast does it need to be? Well, that depends on the sport. 1/250th of a second should be enough to freeze kids playing soccer, but you’ll need to go a lot faster if you want to capture a baseball in mid-flight. Experiment and find what shutter speed you need to use in order to produce sharp images.

Adding motion

On the other hand, you can also experiment with slowing down the shutter speed and panning your camera throughout the picture to create a sense of speed and movement. It takes a bit of practice to get right, but if you match the speed of your subject, you can hold them in focus while the directional blur emphasizes the sense of movement.

Whenever possible, you will want to use a wide aperture, such as f/3.5 or lower. This will create a narrow depth-of-field, and helps the players to stand out, as the background distractions will be blurred.

Two soccer players fighting for the ball with spectators watching the game behind them

This image was shot at an aperture of f/2.8 so that the spectators in the background don’t distract from the players chasing the ball.

If the sport is being held outside during overcast conditions or indoors with consistent lighting, consider using manual exposure mode and settings. It may take a bit of time to figure out, but you’ll get much more reliable and consistent images.

Pick your spots

When you first arrive at the field, arena, gym or track, consider all of your potential angles and options. Your options will be different depending on whether you have a short or a long zoom lens.

For many sports, you won’t be able to cover every angle. Getting up close with a wide-angle lens means you won’t be able to capture plays on the other side of the field. While using a long zoom means you may struggle to capture play right in front of you.

Find the “sweet spots” – the places on the field of play which are the perfect distance away for your camera and lens combination. You’re going to get your best images when the play is in these areas. Rather than trying to get an incredible picture when play is far away on the other side of the field, be patient and prepare so that you make the most out of every opportunity when play is in your sweet spots.

A hockey player tries to deke around the goaltender

When I stand near the benches with a 70-200mm lens, this play in front of the net is right in my sweet spot, which allows for strong composition.

Where possible, it’s a good idea to put yourself in a position where the players will be coming towards you. This allows you to see faces and get a better sense of depth than if you shoot from the sidelines and get a side profile view of everyone.

A female soccer player attempts to dribble the ball through two defenders

Get in the middle of the action

If you want to take a sports photo that will be memorable, you need to bring the viewer in as close as possible. Typically, this means using a zoom lens like the 70-200mm. If you don’t have a long zoom lens, simply get as close as possible to the field.

Perspective changes quite a bit as you zoom in. A wide-angle shot looks very different than a shot with full zoom (long telephoto). Consider how you can use this change in perspective to find some unique captures.

Many first-time sports photographers are nervous to zoom right into the middle of the action. Yes, it does come with some risks. You’re likely to snap plenty of frames where an unexpected zig or zag took the player partially out of the image. This is part of sports photography. Even the professionals aren’t able to nail the perfect shot every time.

A hockey picture where the focus has missed

In this shot, the referee passed in front of the camera and messed up the focus. Don’t feel upset if some pictures turn out like this! These kinds of images will be very familiar to any sports photographer.

Risks sometimes pay off

If you have trouble following the play, it definitely is an option to play it safe by taking a wider shot and then cropping in closer afterward. But by taking a high risk, high reward approach to composition will result in some magnificent images!

Another reason to use zoom: To capture expressions!

The most memorable sports shots show faces full of emotion – whether that is the joy of the game, the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.

Image of hockey players celebrating on the ice after a goal

Image of two soccer players laughing while preparing for a corner kick

Timing is everything

There seems to be a furious competition between manufacturers to see who can make a camera that takes the most images per second.

Burst mode is an incredibly useful tool for sports photography, but all too often it can be a crutch. Just because you can take 10 pictures in one second doesn’t mean you should.

Soccer players attempting to head the ball into the net from a corner kick

Having the ability to take pictures in bursts should be secondary to anticipating the action. Understanding of the game and having a sense for what is going to happen next is more important than burst mode in every case. If you return from every event with thousands of pictures, all taken a fraction of a second apart, it’s going to be a strenuous job of sorting and finding the keepers.

With that said, burst mode can be a great tool if you don’t want to miss any opportunities and have lots of room on your card.

Lastly, don’t spend the whole game chimping! Chimping is when you get so caught up checking out all of your sweet pictures on your camera’s LCD screen that you miss an incredible play that happens right in front of you. Your pictures will still be there when the game is over. Focus on getting your shot!

Hitting your focus

Having the perfect settings, composition and timing won’t count for anything if you miss your focus.

With the possibility for spectators, colourful advertisements, and other players in the background of your images, your camera’s focus might wander and lock onto the wrong target.

For sports photography especially, you might want to consider using back button focus. With this method, your focus is controlled by a button on the back of your camera, which you can reach with your thumb. The shutter button doesn’t influence the focus at all.

By separating the actions of focusing and taking the picture, you will have greater control and independence over both roles. You may need to consult the manual for information on how to switch your camera to back button focus.

An sports action shot of hockey players fighting for the puck

Focus modes

Your camera comes with different focus modes that you can use to get more reliable results, even when dealing with fast and unpredictable subjects. The process for selecting these modes will be a bit different for every camera, so consult your manual for information on how to switch to these options.

First off, you can allow your camera to use all the focus points to determine the best target to lock onto. This can often go wrong, however, as the camera may choose the wrong point, leaving you with an out-of-focus image.

You can get a bit more specific with zone focus, which allows you to select a group of focus points that the camera uses to determine what it focuses on. This focus mode gives up greater control over what the camera locks onto, but still leaves some room for error.

If you want to be very precise, single point focus allows you focus based on just one point of your choosing. This is great if you want to focus on a specific player in a group. The drawback is that is may not be as accurate, and you may need to be very steady in order to stay locked on target.

Shows all the different focus modes

This image shows three different focus modes as seen through a Canon 7D: Full Auto Focus, Single Point Focus, and Zone Focus

You can also select how the focus will track. These settings may have different names from manufacturer to manufacturer, but they do the same thing.

Continuous or AF-C (Nikon) / AI Servo (Canon):  In this mode, your focus will constantly seek for as long as you are holding your focus button down. This is ideal for moving subjects, and should be your first choice for sports.

Single or AF-S (Nikon) / One Shot (Canon):  In this mode, your focus will find a target and lock, even if you continue to hold down your focus button. While this is often slightly more accurate than servo focus, your subject may have already moved out of focus by the time you take the shot.

AF-A (Nikon) / AI Focus (Canon):  This mode is an intelligent blending of the two previous modes – it will determine if the target is moving and will lock or track accordingly.

Making the most of the focus technology your camera has to offer will play a big role in snapping some excellent sports shots!

Bonus tips and tricks

If you are photographing a car race or a long jump event, it can be a real challenge to track your subject in action. A fast moving car or runner isn’t an easy target for a lot of cameras.

One surefire way to hit your focus even under these tricky conditions is to prefocus. When using this technique, you pick a spot somewhere ahead on the track to carefully set your focus. Then, when your subject comes through, you simply snap the picture and voila!

Two hockey players in mid air after a body check collision

If you want to add drama and action to your images, consider shooting from a lower angle. This perspective can often make athletes seem heroic or larger than life. Shooting from a lower angle also means the background will show spectators or the opponents behind the player, giving a better sense of the setting and action.

Take Lots of Pictures!

When you get home and load the images on your computer, you’re going to find that many of your shots have missed focus, have players in awkward or unflattering angles, or other annoying distractions. This is perfectly normal! It isn’t easy to capture the chaos of sports, and you’re going to need to throw out a lot of shots.

Over time, as your feel for the game from behind the camera improves and as you begin to master these techniques, you will find yourself coming home with more and more keepers!

The post How to Capture the Perfect Action Shot in Sports Photography by Frank Myrland appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Categories: Digital

Tips for Getting Started with Coastal Photography

Many of us start out treating coastal photography the same as landscape photography. There are a lot of similarities. For both, you head out into the great outdoors, often to remote locations. You need a tripod and a remote shutter release for stabilization. You are capturing an entire scene rather than a discrete item or person. You want a deep depth of field. And so on.

But there are also differences between the two. In fact, treating coastal photography the same as landscape photography could leave you woefully unprepared when you head out. It could also lead to confusion as to how to set up and expose your photos. This article will help you get started with coastal photography, even if you are already familiar with outdoor shooting generally.


What to bring with you

There are two items you’ll need to add to your kit before you head out to do coastal photography. Both are filters, and you may have one of them, but they are both critical.

Neutral density filter

The first is a neutral density filter. In fact, you will probably want more than one since they come in different strengths. If you are not familiar with these filters, they restrict the amount of light allowed into your camera. Why would you want to do that? So you can slow down your shutter speed and allow the waves or the clouds to move through your frame while you are exposing the picture. That will smooth things out for you.

We’ll talk more about using them later, but for now just know that you’ll need one. I would start with a 10-stop neutral density filter, which is about as powerful as you will ever need. You can then add lesser strength filters like 6-stop and 3-stop filters later.

Graduated neutral density filter


Drop-in style filter system with a graduated neutral density filter on the right.

The second item you will need is a graduated neutral density filter (aka grad ND). You may already have this one since it is also useful for landscape photography. However, it is remarkably useful in coastal photography and you will use it all the time. In landscape photography, you may have trees, mountains, or other items sticking up into the sky such that you cannot use the grad ND.

In coastal photography, however, very often the horizon line is clear and unbroken in your picture. It makes is easy to use the grad ND in a lot more situations. For this reason you will use it all the time. In addition, the sky is often a significant portion of your picture in coastal photography. So making the sky look its best is incredibly important.


Where to go

Now that you have the right gear, it is time to head out. Before you do, spend some time thinking about where you will go. When you first get started in coastal photography, you will have a tendency to go one of two places: either a scenic overlook or a beach. Both have problems though, so let me explain a bit.

A great view does not always translate into a great picture. Therefore, just going to a scenic overlook will often not result in great photos. It can, so I’m not saying to avoid them, but just be aware of a few problems you are going to face. The primary problem is that you will have difficulty establishing any sort of foreground. You are up too high, and there is usually nothing to use to bring the viewer into the picture. We’ll talk more about composition in a minute, but for now just understand that you often need to get down near the coast and sometimes even get right behind something to set up an interesting composition.

On the beach

When you do manage to get right next to the coast, often that will be on a beach. Beaches are great, but they have their own problems when it comes to composition. After all, a beach is just a bunch of sand, and that’s hardly something that is going to look great in your picture. You need to find something to use as a subject or at least a center of interest. Sometimes that’s a physical object in the sand (boulder, boat, moss, etc.), or it might be a pattern in the sand itself.

The best places to go are where there are interesting features to use as foreground, and you can get down to the coast. While I just warned about beaches, very often they are the best place. They allow you access to the coast, easy parking, etc. Just don’t stay in the middle of the beach. Look for interesting features, walk to the periphery, or even go beyond the beach.


When to go

Next you need to decide when to go take your coastal photos. This one is easy. You want to go before sunrise or at sunset.

While this tip is easy, it is also absolutely critical. The sky will often take up a healthy chunk of your picture, so you need it to be interesting. Further, if you go in the middle of the day, you will face harsh contrasts that will ruin your picture. Avoid doing that whenever possible.

This leads to another problem, which is access. Many beaches and scenic coastal areas are closed and blocked off until sunrise or even later. You’ll miss the best light waiting around for them to open. Pay attention to opening hours and access to make sure you can get your shot.


How to compose your coastal photos

When it comes to composing your pictures, you always want to think about the foreground, subject or center of interest, and the background. You’ll generally want to set these up in your picture according to the Rule of Thirds.


Let’s start with the easy one first, the background. In coastal photography, the background of your picture will usually be the sky. That’s one of the reasons why heading out before dawn or at sunset is so important. The sky just looks better at those times. When it comes to composition, the background will be determined by how the sky looks. Therefore, you hardly need to think about the background of your picture.


That leaves the foreground and some sort of subject or center of interest to worry about. The subject is very important, but it varies dramatically from person to person and scene to scene. It can be a physical thing like boulders or plants, or it can be a man-made item like a boat or a lighthouse. Your subject can even be an intangible thing like a leading line or a shape. Just make sure there is something tying the picture together. If you don’t, you will be left with a mere snapshot.

And finally we get to the foreground. This is often the hardest part of the picture to set up, but at the same time it is also the most important. You want to use foreground to create a sense that your viewer can walk into the picture. If you are on the beach, look for interesting sand patterns to use. Otherwise, look for rocks, boulders, or vegetation that can serve this purpose. Of course, the water and waves will often serve as your foreground. How this looks will depend largely on how you expose the picture, we’ll cover that next.


How to expose your coastal photography

In coastal photography, your exposure controls affect more than just how bright or dark your picture looks. Your exposure controls also affect much more than just depth of field (aperture) or digital noise (ISO). How you expose your picture will also control things like the the subject and mood. That is partially true in other forms of photography, but it is especially true in coastal photography.

This is because your exposure settings will control how the water and waves appear in your picture. Specifically, how fast or slow you set your shutter speed will change the look of the water. If you want to stress the power and harshness of the sea, use a fast shutter speed (faster than 1/250th of a second). That will stop the action of the moving water. To create a sense of movement, use a slower shutter speed (between 1/8 second and 1 second). For a more serene scene, you can blur out the water entirely by using a very slow shutter speed (longer than 10 seconds). This is just a introduction to this concept, but to see the full range of options, check out this article: 7 Tips to Help Improve Your Seascape Photos by Controlling the Waves.

To go about using these different shutter speeds you can start by making sure you are in Manual mode and moving your aperture and ISO. To use a faster shutter speed, make your aperture a little larger (a smaller f-number) and your ISO a little higher. More often, however, you’ll want to use a slower shutter speed, for which can you should stop down your aperture to a small setting (f/16 – f/22) and use your lowest native ISO (usually ISO 100).


Using the neutral density filter

Frequently, however, there will be too much light to use the slow shutter speed you want. That’s where the neutral density filters come in. When you attach one of these filters to the front of your lens, it will restrict the amount of light allowed into your camera. That will allow you to use a slower shutter speed to achieve a proper exposure (without overexposing your picture).

Let’s make this a little more concrete with some specific numbers. Let’s say you have your shot set up with a correct exposure and you are at 1/50th of a second for your shutter speed, and your aperture is set at f/16 with an ISO of 100. You have a 6-stop neutral density filter in your bag, and you want to use a much slower shutter speed to create some blur in the water. In that case, attach the neutral density filter to your lens and now the amount of light coming into your camera is restricted by 6 stops. If you do nothing else, your picture will be severely underexposed (probably pitch black). This allows you to increase (i.e., slow down) the shutter speed by 6 stops to achieve a proper exposure, and the slow shutter speed desired.


Let’s walk through the process of slowing down the shutter speed by 6 stops, which you will do manually.

  • Remember that a stop is a doubling of light, so slowing the shutter speed by the first stop from our starting point of 1/50th of the second will move it to 1/25th of a second.
  • After that, moving it another stop will get you to 1/13th of a second.
  • Next is 1/6th of a second.
  • 4 stops is ? or 0.3 seconds.
  • 5 stops is ? of a second
  • Finally, slowing the shutter speed by 6 stops will result in a shutter speed of 1.3 seconds.

Take the picture with that shutter speed and your picture should be properly exposed with a nice blur to the water.


This is just one example, and there are a lot of variations you can do on that. For example, you could use a 10 stop neutral density filter instead. That would allow you to set your shutter speed as slow as 20 seconds in our scenario above. That would really blur out the water. You can also adjust the aperture and ISO to bring the shutter speed in exactly where you want it.

You’ll note in our example above, we could have made our aperture smaller (to f/22 in most lenses) and restricted the amount of light by another stop. Or we could have increased the aperture or the ISO to increase the exposure and use a slightly faster shutter speed. Think of these controls as fine tuning after you have your neutral density filter on your lens.


Getting started with coastal photography conclusion

Hopefully you now have a little better sense of where to go, when to go, and how to set up your shots for coastal photography. Armed with this knowledge, just head to the coast when you can and put these tips to work.

But be careful – the coast can be a harsh and unforgiving environment for both your equipment and for you. That said, I think you’ll find there is no better place to be than on a coast at sunrise or sunset.

The post Tips for Getting Started with Coastal Photography by Jim Hamel appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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