Adventures, Photography, And more

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Adding a Sense of Movement to Avaition photos

Aviation photos can be tricky. If you put your camera onto a sports mode (if you have it) and take a picture of a plane in the sky you can end up with a photo of an airplane hanging in the middle of a blue sky. It almost looks like a model and not a real photo.

Hanging Aircraft

The interstate cadet in this photo just looks like it hanging by strings

One way to get around this is to try and use some techniques to give the plane some movement. In the photo below I have slowed the shutter speed down to make the props be a little blurry. This adds some movement into the picture. In this case the aircraft also takes up more of the frame which helps to make it more interesting when the background is only sky.

Liberator with blurred propeller blades

The blurred propellers adds some movement to this photo.

Another way to add movement is to add a background with more than just sky to give it context. In this picture we can see the blurred props, but also the mountains emphasize the turn, making the movement of the aircraft’s turn stand out. The aircraft is also photographed from the front. In general there is a greater sense of movement when looking towards the front of the plane rather than the side or from the rear.

Liberator head on

The mountains in the background provide a static reference for the airplanes attitude to emphasize the turn

Placement in the frame can also add a sense of movement. People often interpret diagonal lines with a sense of movement. As an illustration below I have a plane at an airshow with smoke on. The smoke starts in the corner of the frame as the plane moves towards the centre. This provides a sense of movement as the viewer of the photo traces the plane and smoke diagonally with their eyes creating the sense of movement.

Diagonal Aviation Example

Gene Soucy's aircraft dives out of the corner of the frame to give a sense of movement

A final technique is to use panning. In this technique the shutter speed must be slow. Pan with the aircraft in your viewfinder/LCD and click the shutter button. When you click the shutter button make sure you keep moving the camera following the aircraft until the pictures has finished being taken. This can create a photo with a sharp aircraft but the background being blurred giving a sense of speed.

Panning Aviation Example

The blurred background caused by the panning technique give a sense of speed to the Cessna Citation

As with all photography, these are guidelines and sometimes the exact opposite can produce a stunning photo. However these are some good tools to use to create more dynamic aviation photos.


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Returning to a previous location, Shannon Falls

One aspect of capturing better photos is to return to a location. For outdoor areas conditions can change giving different shots and perspectives that were not possible before. You can also return knowing what shots did and did not work allowing you to explore different possibilities to expand on what went well or to avoid what does not work.

This summer I returned to Shannon Falls. There was more water coming down the falls compared to last time I had visited. On my previous trip I was not happy with the results I had and only posted one photo of the falls that I was marginally happy with. This time I was tempted to take similar photos as the ones from the year before. Knowing that they did not work last year I decided to be more creative and get some crops and wider angles instead of just a picture of the waterfall itself.

Previous Year’s Photos

Shannon Falls 2010

Shannon Falls 2010

This Year’s Photos

Close up of a small section of shannon falls

Close up of a small section of the falls

The top of Shannon Falls

The top of the falls

Visitors View of Shannon Falls

Visitors View of Shannon Falls

I am quite happy about the photos I shot by returning to the location and trying something different. Hopefully I will return again in the near future and try to get something new out of a visit to Shannon Falls. A link to the full Gallery with more shots of the Falls and “The Chief” can be found at my photo site

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Depth of Field – Aperture

There are many ways to effect the depth of field. Depth of field is the distance that is in focus. This post is going to demonstrate how aperture changes the depth of field.

Aperture is one of the easiest ways to change the depth of field and that is why I am going to talk about it first. The aperture is the size of the opening in the lens that lets how much light goes into the camera. Aperture is measured as a ratio and common ratios include f2.8, f4, f5.6, f11 and f16. For one reason or another newcomers to photography can find this difficult to remember so I recommend thinking of it like this. A small aperture number means a small depth of field, a large aperture number means a large depth of field.

As usual, you can find the gory technical details on aperture on widipedia. We are going to focus on how it affects your composition, and in this regard it is quite easy.

Lets take a look at this photo taken with an aperture of f4.5

Picture of a garden taken with a 50mm lens at f4.5

Garden picture taken with a 50mm lens with the aperture set to f4.5

If we take a look at the plant closest to the camera we can see that only the leaf in the middle of the plant is completely in focus. The leaf closest to the camera is a little blurry and some of the leaves that are farther away also start to get blury. The plants in the background also have a blurry look to them.

Now lets look at a photo of the same subject, this time with the aperture set to f16.

Picture of a garden taken with a 50mm lens at f16

Garden picture taken with a 50mm lens with the aperture set to f16

Now the plant closes to the camera is completely in focus with none of it being blurry. Furthermore the other plants in the background, while not in focus, are more more defined and we can see some of their detail.

So how do we use this in the composition of our photos? If we want the subject of our photos to be separated from what is going on around them, like a person on a busy street, then we can choose an aperture with a small number like f5.6, f4, f2.8 etc to separate the subject from the background. If the subject of our photo is a landscape we may want everything in the photo to be in focus all the way to the horizon. In this case we take an aperture with a large number like f16 or f22.

And that is all there is too it, the smaller the number the less of the photo is in focus, the larger the aperture number, more of the photo will be in focus.

Remember though, that aperture is just one way to manipulate depth of field. Check back later to see other ways to change the depth of field in a photo.

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Scouting and composition

For many photos you have to be in the right place at the right time.  How do some photographers always seem to be in the right place at the right time?  One of the tools they use is scouting.  I am always on the look for that next photo location.

For the last few years I have driven by a farm with horses.  The farm is on a hill providing a nice angle to shoot down on to the horses.  I took some pictures of the horses but the pictures were unremarkable.  I later discovered that the fields the horses were on bloomed with buttercup flowers in June.   Now I knew that this would be the perfect location for taking a picture of horses in flowers.  I tried to bring my camera along whenever I knew I would go passed the field hoping for a shot.  Most of the time the horses were too far away.  Sometimes they were close enough but the lighting was too dark.  The butter cup only lasts a couple months so most of the time the flowers were not there.

Well after a year from when I first identified the photo opportunity it all came together and I finally got the shot I wanted.

Dreamy Look of a colt in a Field of buttercup

Scouting this location eventually led to this photo of a colt in a field of buttercup

The trick to this photo was scouting this location a year earlier and identifying this a s a place where I could get a great shot.  Here are some on scouting locations.

  • Try going to new places and finding a new idea for a photograph.  Be open to possibilities, don’t dismiss an idea because the chance for a photo is not there at that moment.
  • If you see a potential photo and you can’t take it at the time make sure to take a picture anyways to remind yourself.  Write down the location and your photo idea.
  • Determine what conditions you need to make your vision become reality. If the photo can only happen certain times of the year I make an entry in my calendar so next time I can take the photo I will be reminded to do it.  Note the time of day, weather and conditions you want for your vision to become reality.  For the horse photo above I put in my calendar to remind me on June 1st  to try and take a photo of horses in the butter cup field.
  • When conditions look like they have been met find a way to get out to take the photo.
  • Remember that photos don’t always go as planned so embrace the conditions you have and make the most of each opportunity

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Focal Length And Composition

Do you ever take pictures for one reason and then later find a use for them beyond their original purpose?  That is what happened to me on a recent hike.  At the top of the mountain where our group stopped for lunch I  took pictures of us with the mountains in the background.  After reviewing the pictures I found that I used a variety of focal lengths and thought it would make a great tutorial on the effects of focal length.

Now for those of you who love physics and want the technical explanation you can go to wikipedia.  The rest of this post will focus on the effect of focal length with as little technical jargon and how to use it to compose your photos.

But first, lets get the technical part of the discussion out of the way in one paragraph.  Focal length is measured in millimeters.  The shorter the focal length is the larger the field of view will be and the more of the scene you are photographing will fit in the picture.  The longer the focal length is the smaller the field of view will be and less of the scene around you will fit in the picture but what is in the picture will be magnified to be closer.  The easy way  to remember this is the longer focal length (the larger the number) the more you are “zoomed in”.  The shorter the focal length, the smaller the number, the more you are “zoomed out”.  Zooming out shows you more information and allows you to fit more in your frame.  Zooming in allows you to focus on a particularly feature.

Still with me?  Good.  Focal length has one other effect on composition.  It changes how close object appear to be to each other.  The longer the focal length the closer objects appear together, the shorter the focal length the farther object appear from each other.

So I lied and that was two paragraphs but let us look at what this does in our photos.

To demonstrate the effects of focal length I have three picture taken at 3 different focal lengths.  First lets take a look at a photo taken with a focal length of 45mm.

Picture of the Border Peaks at 45mm demonstrating a normal perspective

A photo with myself as the subject and the Canadian Border Peaks showing a normal perspective.

Here we can see myself at the top of Elk Mountain looking at the cascade mountains in the background.  Over my right shoulder is a mountain known as the Canada Border Peaks as it is just on the Canadian side of the US/Canada Border.  The 45mm focal length is considered close to “normal” meaning objects look about the same distance in photos as they do in real life.  Now lets take a look at how a wide focal length of 16mm changes how the scenery looks.

Picture of the Border Peaks at 16mm demonstrating exagerated perspective

A self portrait with myself as the subject and the cascade mountain range as the backdrop.

The wider focal length (e.g. Zoomed Out) has captured a wider field of view.  Not only can we see the Canada Border Peaks in the photo, but we can see many other mountains as well.  Also take not of how far away the Canada Border Peaks look now.  They appear small and a great distance away.  The final example I zoomed in using a focal length of 80mm.

Picture of the Border Peaks at 80mm demonstrating normal perspective

A photo with my fellow hikers as the subject and the Canadian Border Peaks looking closer then they actually are.

Here the hikers are sitting right where I was standing in the last two photos.  The Canada Border Peaks looks much closer than in either of the two photos, even thought the subjects have not moved positions.  The field of view is also narrower.  I purposely chose this longer  focal length as it allowed me to show off our hiking group while emphasizing the scenery.

So how do we use focal length to our advantage when composing our photos?  If we want to separate our subjects from the background then we use a shorter focal length (zoomed out).  If we want to compress our subject and the background as I did with the last photo, then we zoom in and use a longer focal length.  If we need to include a wider field of view to capture a larger scene we can use the shorter focal length and if we want to focus on a feature farther away we need a longer focal length.

With digital cameras it is easy to experiment.  The best way to learn is to try this out.  Simply set up some objects and photograph them using different focal lengths.