Prescriptions for Better Photos
Are you mystified by light spots in your photos like the one here? They're not ghostly spirits or film flaws, they're flare: unwanted light bouncing through the lens onto the film or digital sensor from a bright source, such as the sun, streetlights at night, or lamps indoors. The spots are visual echoes of the source. Here's how to beat flare:
• Shade the lens. As long as the bright object is outside the image frame, the trick is to keep its light from hitting the front of your lens. A lenshood should suffice. If it needs help, try an umbrella, a hat, or your hand. The FlareBuster, a clever flare-blocking card on an adjustable arm that connects to your camera via the hot-shoe ($30 direct, www.flarebuster.com), performs the same task.
• Move to the shadow. If possible, move your camera so that something blocks the bright light. If the flare source is actually in the frame, you may be stuck, but here are two hopes:
• Clean up. Remove all filters and clean the lens glass to eliminate reflection sites, which are a cause of flare.
• Recompose. Sometimes the slightest camera shift removes the flare. As a last resort, recompose to remove the bright source from the frame.
Less filling looks great: You know that adding flash to outdoor portraits helps fill in shadows, especially in bright sunlight. But do your shots now look artificially lit? Use the flash exposure compensation on your built-in or accessory unit to reduce the flash output.
Prescription: -1 EV to start, up to -2 EV.
THE BETTER WAY
An OK Way: Zoom in close to a person, landscape feature, interesting object, whatever, to make it big in the frame. But…If the background provides context, or is full of interesting stuff on its own.
The Better Way: Move in close with your feet, not your lens, then zoom out to a wide angle to fit the subject of interest in the frame. Add some camera tilt and you'll really get a different look!
Bonus tip: Try a vertical while you're at it.
WHAT'S THAT BUTTON FOR?
Depth-of-field preview: How many times have you read (in this magazine, even) to check your depth of field? How many times have you said, um, how?
1. The button: Usually obscure, and often unmarked, a small button or lever somewhere on the body of your film or digital SLR. Not all cameras have them. Check your camera manual for existence and location.
2. What it does: It mechanically makes the diaphragm in the lens close down to the aperture (f-stop) you've set on the camera. It may work only in manual and aperture-priority mode, sometimes program auto.
3. Why? The lenses on SLRs keep the aperture open wide so that you can see the image nice and bright in the viewfinder. It closes down only at the moment of exposure, then pops back open again.
But to see the depth of field (how much in front of and behind your subject will be in good focus) you have to view through the diaphragm when it's closed (stopped) down to the aperture you (or the camera) have set. The button does that.
4. How? Press the button, and the viewfinder image will get dark. It's supposed to do that. And of course you can't see anything, at least very well. Here's the trick: You have to let your eye acclimate to the dark image. Keep your eye glommed to that viewfinder. Close the other eye. Cup your hands around the viewfinder (a tripod helps here). Outside, wear a peaked cap or a floppy hat and shade the viewfinder with it.
You should be able to make out the image now. Everything in focus that you want in focus? No? Use a bigger f-number (f/8, f/11, f/16). Too much in focus? Use a smaller f-number (f/4, f/2.8, f/2).
AND JUST WHERE IS IT?
Depth-of-field preview is the little diaphragm icon on Pentax/Samsung DSLR on/off switches. On other cameras it's even more obscure.
Power play: You need to charge your digital camera's batteries (and maybe your laptop, and maybe your handheld GPS) before your next shoot…which you're about to drive to. For $20 (street) the Coleman Compact Power Inverter provides small devices with 90 watts of 120-volt AC current. It plugs into the cigarette lighter jack and features one standard AC outlet.
If you need more juice, Coleman offers a 200-watt model that fits in the cup holder for $30, and a 400-watt job for $50 (street prices). At outdoor stores such as Cabela's (www.cabelas.com).
30 SECOND PHOTOSHOP
Fast color mix: Want to add words to your image but have no idea what color to use? You'll never go wrong with a shade sampled from your photo. While you're using the text tool, double-click the color box in the Options Bar at the top of the screen. Use the dropper to click and pick a color from your picture. The result? Instant design perfection.
Problem: Full-tilt boogie. You have your usual wide-angle zoom on the camera and you're shooting a landmark building…but with a focal length to fill the frame with the building, you have to tilt the camera up, and now all the parallel lines converge! (And of course you don't have a $1,500 tilt-shift lens.)
Fake it! Zoom out to the widest focal length on your lens (that's right) and back up until the entire building will fit in the frame with the camera held level to the ground. Yes, you now have all that foreground at the bottom. Crop it out later, and no one will know you don't have a $1,500 tilt-shift lens.