Archive for the ‘How to…’ Category

7 Tips for Perfect Sunrise and Sunset Photos

July 30, 2009

“Early Madness”
© Copyright Camil Seisanu

Everyone loves beautiful sunrise and sunset photos. And sure, it’s easy to go outside when the sun is coming up or going down, snap the shutter, and appreciate the photos. But if your photos don’t always look as good as you think they should, heed these 7 tips from Yanik’s Photo School. Then you too can shoot beautiful sunrise and sunset photos like Camil Seisanu’s “Early Madness” shown above.

I have listed the tips below in a prioritized order.

1. Scouting. It’s very important to plan ahead and look for the perfect places to capture the rising and setting sun. Consider the path the sun will take during the day and verify that you can shoot around any obstacles, such as buildings and trees. Keep in mind that the sun’s path varies throughout the year. For example, during the winter, the sun stays lower on the horizon. Check your local weather forecast for the daily times of sunrises and sunsets; Yahoo! Weather is a good resource for that.

2. Composition. Composition is key for great photos, especially sunrise and sunset photos. For these photos, we have a tendency to shoot in (horizontal) landscape format, but it’s also a good idea to get creative and try shooting in (vertical) portrait format, as Camil has done with his photo above. Also try using the Rule of Thirds, instead of centering the sun in the middle of your photos. Learn more about composition in the Photobird Daily article “Composition Is Key“.

3. Arrive early and stay late. Don’t pack up and leave right when the sun goes down. The color show is just about to begin! Some of the best colors will appear before the sun rises and after it sets. Stick around for a while and keep shooting because the colors will change, even slightly, every minute. Bring your tripod along as it will help you use longer shutter speeds to capture more light when the sky is darker.

4. Look behind you. Yes, while you think all the action might be where the sun is headed, when you turn around, you’ll see the radiant colors that the sun is painting on the landscape. You may see a building in a vibrant orange color or the sun coloring the clouds above. The best, most colorful light is usually when the sun is low on the horizon, or even just below the horizon.

5. Exposure. Try underexposing your shots between 1 and 2 stops to get rich, vibrant colors. Or you can try overexposing your shots which will result in pastel, less saturated colors. To do this easily, use the EV (Exposure Value) button if you have one on your camera. It’s something you need to experiment with to get the effect you are looking for.

6. Setting your white balance. You should also experiment with different white balance settings to get the look you desire. Keep in mind that as the sun moves through the sky, you may find it necessary to change your white balance setting to adjust for the color tones in the sky and landscape around you. If you have a camera with presets, you should try the “Sunset” preset. One of the first things I do when I pick up a camera is change the white balance setting to “Cloudy”, which saturates the colors in the scene and makes them more vibrant. If you shoot in RAW format, you can change the white balance setting later in software on your computer. As with most things in photography, you’ll need to experiment with the white balance setting to get your desired look.

7. Don’t look straight at the sun! No one looks directly at the sun even with sunglasses on, and we shouldn’t look directly at the sun with cameras either. You could damage your eyesight, and your camera can be damaged by direct sunlight through the lens if exposed for too long. Basically, if it would hurt your eyes by looking at it, then don’t photograph it. Most people can look at sunrises and sunsets because the sun is low on the horizon, or below the horizon, and the earth’s atmosphere diffuses the sunlight so it’s not as powerful as if it was at full strength at mid-day.


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Your Photos are Private on

July 29, 2009

“Home Impressions #5″
© Copyright Rafa Torcida

Most of you want to keep your photos private. You don’t want your photos exposed so that anyone on the Internet can see them. You only want your family and friends to see your photos.

Fortunately,, the easy way to share your photos, was built with exactly that idea. When you sign up for your account, your photo albums are automatically private. There’s nothing you need to do to make them private. No one knows about your photo albums until you start telling your family and friends about them.

On the other hand, a relatively small group of people want to share some of their photos with the world. People like Vicki Tinnon, David Cresine, Robert Romero, Mark Prinz, and Rafa Torcida to name a few, enjoy the exposure of sharing their photos and getting feedback. They all have submitted photos for the Photobird Photo of the Hour, which is your opportunity to share your favorite photos with the rest of the world. Rafa Torcida’s photo “Home Impressions #5” is shown above.

Fortunately, allows you to do it all. You can keep your photos private, or you can share your photos with the world, or you can do a mixture of both. For example, you can see my photo albums at But what you can’t see — unless I tell you about it — is that I have a hidden album with pictures of Florida in it. If you look at my photo albums, you won’t see my “Florida” photo album shown there. But if I give you the direct link,, you can click on that link and see my Florida photo album. It’s a secret, hidden photo album that can only be seen if I give you the link. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have known it’s there.

Another option you have, in case you think people might be able to guess the names of your hidden albums, is to password protect one, some, or all of your photo albums. When you password protect your photo albums, you require your visitors to type in a password to view the photos in your photo album.

To make all of this even easier, for both hidden albums and password protected albums, and even for things like comments and ratings on your photos and albums, you can set up one album with password protection, for example, and all of the albums within that album will also be password protected. It’s a clever feature that makes it easy to keep some of your photos private while you share your favorite photos with the world. You can read how easy it is in our Photobird Daily article entitled “Show Off Your Photos, and Keep Some Private“.

All of these options are included at no additional cost when you sign up for your Photobird account. There are no extra fees, no gimmicks, no ads, no spam.

If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below or send me a message directly and privately.


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Black and White Landscape Photography

July 28, 2009

“Stream at sunrise, Scarborough State Beach, Rhode Island 1995”
© Copyright William Neill

When we think of landscape photos, we usually think of great color and earthen tones, such as greens, browns, blues, and other colors that Mother Nature provides in a particular landscape. So it may come as a surprise that landscape photos also work well in black and white, but you really need to know what you’re doing to make black and white landscape photos look good.

I generally prefer color photos, but when black and white photos are done well, I really like them and I’m inspired by them. I’ve written before in the Photobird Daily about my thoughts on black and white photos:

Award-winning photographer William Neill has been living in the Yosemite National Park area since 1977 and received the Sierra Club’s Ansel Adams Award for conservation photography in 1995. In his article “Meditations in Monochrome” on Michael Reichmann’s The Luminous Landscape website, William shares with us his perspectives and tips on shooting and processing black and white landscape digital photos.

William Neill introduces his article by bridging the gap with the majority of people who see in color. He writes: “Even though I am primarily a color landscape photographer, many of my favorite landscape images are black and white photographs.” William begins with a history of his photographic background, starting with the two semesters of black and white photography that he took in college in the 1970s. Even though he committed his career to working in color, he challenged himself to make color photographs that “display the best aspects of black and white composition in terms of graphic design, inject expressive seeing, and use the colors of nature judicially and subtly.” Ansel Adams even complimented William by saying that William’s color photographs demonstrated that he “saw” in black and white.

Here’s a couple of tips on shooting black and white photos that William Neill shares in his article:

  • Graphic quality and exposure quality are most important. Consider how colors translate to grays. William writes, “Because black and white images do not depend on colors for impact, black and white compositions are often better designed, and so your ability to compose may well improve by working in black and white!”
  • Use software such as Adobe Lightroom for visually testing the strength of images to be converted from color to black and white. Some images just don’t translate and finding the right images to convert takes some trial and error.

More tips on working with software to edit images for conversion to black and white can be found in William Neill’s article “Meditations in Monochrome“.


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Know Your Rights

July 27, 2009

© Copyright Mike Saunders

When photographing in public, photographers may find themselves confronted by unwitting subjects who, for whatever reason, would clearly like to stay out of the picture, thank you very much.

This article on provides a good overview of your rights as a photographer and is a good resource for photographers who spend a significant amount of time snapping photos in public. The article contains informative links to detailed books and PDF documents about photographers’ rights in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

The most important points to remember are:

  1. You have the right to take a photograph anywhere in public, but it’s best to obtain permission in advance when photographing on private property, such as in a shopping mall.
  2. Nobody has the right to confiscate your camera or ask you to delete a photograph. Once you’ve taken the picture, it’s yours.
  3. You can take pictures of anyone in public. But as a matter of common courtesy, it’s important to remain polite and respectful of others by not engaging in outright harassment.

For more details regarding your rights as a photographer, review the following excellent resources, provided by the article on


The Photographer’s Right PDF
The Law, In Plain English, For Photographers


Photography Laws in Canada
Photographers Rights @ Photojunkie


Photographer’s Rights in the UK


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Liven Up Your Camera Angles

July 22, 2009

Photo from Ed Krimen’s “Fort Funston” album
© Copyright Ed Krimen

The distance between the camera lens and your subject, and the angle of the shot itself, can greatly influence the shot’s resulting impact.

In this article on, Jason Paterson writes that he is tired of looking at photos of subjects shot straight on at eye-level. He believes we can all learn to take more dynamic and, therefore, more visually interesting photographs by simply changing the position of the camera.

Here are some of the camera angles he suggests:

  1. Lower Angles. When you shoot from beneath the subject, you give the subject a feeling of power.
  2. Higher Angles. When shot from above, a subject often appears smaller or less significant.
  3. Tilted or “Dutch” Angles. These photos can produce a feeling of energy or excitement, or leave the viewer with a feeling that not all is right.
  4. Framed Angles. Use the environment to frame your subject, which is a technique we discussed in greater depth in this article in the Photobird Daily.

You can also consider the viewpoint of each photo:

  1. Subjective. The subject appears to be looking at the camera and interacting with it as though it were a person.
  2. Objective. The subject appears to be oblivious to the camera.

Be sure to read Jason’s complete article for additional thoughts on this subject.


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How to Photograph Rainbows

July 20, 2009

© Copyright Peter Horner

Rainbows can be a fickle subject to photograph. They only come out when the atmospheric conditions are just right and, even then, they usually don’t stick around for long. Capturing one with your camera and keeping it true to the awe-inspiring splendor that motivated you to get out your camera in the first place, can present a formidable challenge to any photographer.

This article by Jason Paterson of greatly demystifies the process of capturing these wondrous spectral images on camera, like lightning in a bottle.

Jason recommends the following:

  1. Consider your framing carefully. If your background looks bad, the resulting picture will look bad no matter how beautiful the rainbow is.
  2. Use a polarizing filter. This will allow you to get the most vivid and saturated colors from both the sky and the surrounding scenery. More information about polarizing filters can be found at this link.
  3. Use a tripod and a low shutter speed. When you use the polarizing filter, you’re going to lose light. The tripod will make sure the picture remains sharply in focus.

Be sure to read the complete article for additional tips.


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A Recipe for Photographing Food

July 15, 2009

Photo © Copyright Michael Ray

Most of us are probably too busy eating food to photograph it. However, if you’ve ever wondered what goes on at a food photography shoot, be sure to check out this interesting piece on the Food Photography blog.

Michael Ray is a professional food photographer. His final shot is shown above, worthy of inclusion in bon appétit magazine. In this article, he details the forty steps he took to get there.

It all starts with a sample image, supplied by the Art Director, in order to provide the basic “feel” for the shot. In this instance, the idea was to capture a picnic table outdoors. The first two dozen or so shots show how the background and foreground elements combine with lighting and focus to compose a shot that satisfied the client.

Just like actors on a film set, food also has stand-ins for lighting. Check out step 26: While the chicken stays warm in its trailer (er, microwave oven?), a piece of wood is used to help fine-tune the lighting. In fact, the food doesn’t join the shot until step 28. If you listen closely, you can almost hear the prima donna ear of corn say, “Can we shoot this thing already? It’s getting cold out here!” while a sycophantic production assistant slathers its backside in warm butter.


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Get Started with Photography Books

July 14, 2009

Photography books are helpful when you’re getting started with photography and need the fundamentals.

Photography books are also helpful when you want to learn more about a specific type of photography, such as portrait photography, night and low-light photography, and HDR photography.

After you’ve learned everything you can from books, you can learn even more online, such as by searching the Photobird Daily.

Here’s a chronological list of photography books that we’ve written about here in the Photobird Daily. The list of books is separated between beginner’s books and advanced books.

All of the photography books are available from, and if you’re one of the winners of the Photobird Photo Contest for July 2009, you can buy the books with your $50 gift card! The Photobird Photo Contest is free to enter. Enter here!

If you’re looking to purchase only one photography book to get started with, I recommend either Understanding Exposure or Photographer’s Exposure Handbook.

For beginners:

Digital SLR Handbook, by John Freeman

Photographer’s Exposure Handbook

PhoDOGraphy, by Kim Levin

Excerpt: How to Photograph Dogs and Cats Together

Hands-On Digital Photography, by George Schaub

Understanding Exposure, by Bryan Peterson

Excerpt: The Importance of Exposure

The Art of People Photography

Excerpt: Posing Basics

Beyond Portraiture, by Bryan Peterson

Baby Face

More advanced:

Fashion Photography, by Bruce Smith

Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait

Night & Low-Light Photography, by Jill Waterman

Mastering HDR Photography, by Michael Freeman

Understanding Shutter Speed

Before you buy Understanding Exposure or anything else on, please click one of our links to on this page or anywhere on For each product you buy after your click, we receive a small referral fee, at no additional cost to you. Your clicks and purchases allow us to continue to publish the Photobird Daily and the Photobird Learning Center. Thank you for your support!


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How to Photograph the Stars

July 13, 2009

“Andromeda Galaxy”
© Copyright Paul LeFevre

If you ever wanted to photograph the stars, summertime is a good time to start. There are more opportunities for clear skies and the weather is warmer, which is important because you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors at night.

Astrophotographer Paul LeFevre shares some tips on how to shoot the stars in an article at You may not want to invest in multi-scope, multi-refractor camera systems right away, but you can still photograph the stars using these tips below:

1. Do it in the dark. Cities and suburbs have a lot of light pollution which not only makes it difficult to see stars with the naked eye but also causes a loss of contrast and detail in your photos, according to Paul LeFevre. High altitude, remote locations are best.

2. Go for comfort. You’ll be at high altitudes in the cold for long periods of time while you shoot long exposures, so wear warm clothing, bring something hot to drink, a comfortable chair, and a lot of batteries or an AC adapter if there’s a power source.

3. Find those stars. Use a tracking chart or software such as SkyMap Pro to figure out patterns in the sky and then align your camera system accordingly.

4. Maintain star alignment. According to, “The earth rotates 1 degree every 4 minutes — so in a 4-hour exposure, your astral body has moved 60 degrees away from you. Buy a tracking mount, which compensates by rotating slowly the opposite direction. The Min-EQ tabletop mount with tracking motor starts at $88 (street); sturdier versions for both telescope and camera go for $600 (street). A cheap solution is a ‘barn door’ mount, which tracks manually using two hinged boards.”

Read the article at for more tips and details. A more in-depth article by Paul LeFevre entitled “How-To: Astrophotography 101” is also at Paul LeFevre’s website is at .

Follow these tips and perhaps one day you’ll be featured in the Astronomy Picture of the Day, a great website which we’ve covered many times before in the Photobird Daily.


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What is the RAW File Format?

July 8, 2009

“Giving Me Advice”
© Copyright Vicki Tinnon

You may be reading a lot these days about the RAW file format and wondering, “Is it right for me?” You might also be asking yourself “What is it?” and “Why would I want to use it over JPEG?”

Well, the simple fact of the matter is that most of you will likely want to stick with the JPEG (or JPG) file format — that is, unless you do a lot of editing with photo editing software. Read on and we’ll explain. (Fortunately, we have the assistance of this savvy, little woodland creature in the photo shown above entitled “Giving Me Advice“, by Vicki Tinnon.)

JPEG is a universally-accepted and standardized file format that can be read by just about every computer operating system and software application on the market today. It’s the de-facto file format for most digital point-and-shoot cameras. The problem with JPEGs is that they are highly compressed. While this helps to make the file sizes smaller so that you can get more pictures on your memory card, the very act of compression removes some data from each of your pictures. Because of this, JPEG files do not technically have the same high quality as RAW files, which use what is called “lossless compression”.

To make matters worse — and here’s the rub — every time you resave a JPEG file, you risk recompressing it, which can make your pictures look even worse.

It’s these frustrations with JPEG’s “lossy compression” that have led most professional photographers to the RAW file format. But this relatively new format is not without its own drawbacks, which is why it is still not universally accepted and, therefore, still rarely used by amateur and hobbyist photographers today.

The main issue with RAW is that there is currently no standardization or even agreement among camera manufacturers, or even among camera models from the same manufacturer, on its technical specification. Yes, there are essentially two flavors: uncompressed and “virtually lossless”, which contains minimal compression, but Nikon uses the NEF extension, Canon uses the CR2 extension, and Olympus uses the ORF extension. Adobe Systems is marketing a RAW standard called DNG (Digital Negative), and they provide a free converter for both Windows and Macintosh users which converts camera RAW files from various camera manufacturers into DNG files. However, you still need to invest in a software program that supports this file format in order for it to be usable. Conveniently, Adobe also sells Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, and Lightroom, which use the DNG file format.

So, what file format do I recommend that you use? Well, if you’re doing a lot of photo editing, you may wish to investigate working with your camera’s RAW format or the DNG format. Otherwise, I’d advise you to continue to use JPEG and to wait until a clear RAW standard emerges.

If you’d like to read more about JPEG versus RAW, this article on provides a good summary from the perspective of someone who uses RAW exclusively.


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