What Are Histograms? A Photographer’s Guide

Color histogram

Histograms are the solution to a fundamental problem in photography: Our eyes don’t always tell the truth. Have you ever been in a dark room, turned on your phone, and felt it blind you like nobody’s business? The same thing can happen in photography. Several times, I’ve taken pictures at night, and they look great on my camera’s LCD — until I open them the next day on my computer and realize they’re all hopelessly underexposed. Enter the histogram. This is one of the best ways to know exactly, mathematically, the brightness of your pixels. So, let’s dive in.

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Photography Life

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My 3 key tips to taking outdoor low-light photos

Road trips and memory making are good for the soul.

My family loaded up and traveled from Tulsa to Dallas, a little more than four hours, to witness the magic of The Lantern Fest.

I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:
I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:
I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:

I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:
I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:
I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:

We enjoyed s’mores by the campfire and live music leading up to the release of hundreds of glowing balls of light. The kids were able to sit down and decorate their lanterns that later they lit on fire and released.

I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:
I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:

I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:
I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:

It’s truly a sight to see. There’s something very dreamy about glowing light in the dark. I️t was like living out a scene from Tangled. Plan to attend if this type of festival ever ventures nearby.

I️ knew I wanted to capture all of the details leading into the evening with just my Canon 5D Mark III and a single lens. Honestly though, I had never shot in the dark without additional equipment.

I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:

I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:

I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:

I wasn’t really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I️ pulled it off:

1. Use a slow shutter speed

When shooting in the dark or low-light settings it’s important to have a really steady grip, proper equipment or adequate lighting such as off camera flash.

I used a long exposure to capture the images you see here. I handheld my camera for all of the shots captured which resulted in some blur on moving objects.

Even if you have a solid, stable camera the subject is still moving somewhat. With a slow shutter speed you will see movement blurred in the final capture. Even the slightest movement will be picked up.

Although you see some movement in several of my images, I️ actually enjoy it in these photos. Having a slow shutter speed increases the camera shake or lack of focus in your images so a tripod can be helpful. I overshot during the festival to ensure a few good, usable captures.

I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:

If you’re not using a tripod to stable your camera for the slow shutter speed, there’s a few things you can do to minimize motion blur:

  • Tuck your elbows into your stomach to help stabilize your arms so they’re not moving about.
  • Take a breath and hold it before you press the shutter so you’re moving less.
  • Find a tree stump, car or something more solid to rest your elbows on to act somewhat like a tripod for the camera.
  • Wear your camera’s neck strap around your neck. Pull it away from you so there’s no lack in the strap. It sounds counter-intuitive but the pull will help balance the camera.

I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:

I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:

2. Use a high ISO

Don’t be scared of grain in your images. It’s almost impossible to capture images in the dark without grain.

You can always do a little post processing magic to clean them up. You can run Portraiture over the images or utilize luminance to help make the grain more subtle. The more exposure you bring in, the more noticeable grain you will see. Embrace the moodiness.

Related: 6 Tips for embracing low-light and high ISO photos

I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:
I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:

I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:
I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:

3. Use a smaller lens

I captured these images with the Canon 35L lens. If you use a long focal lens like a 70-200 you risk more camera shake since the lens is longer and heavier.

I captured these wide open at an aperture of f/1.4. I wanted the lanterns to be in the compression… like little balls of light similar to when you shoot Christmas light bokeh. A fish eye lens would’ve been a fun addition to take to this type of event.

I wasn't really sure what the outcome would be but I ventured through the murky waters of shooting in the dark. With a little trial and error, I made a little magic happen. Here’s how I pulled it off:

This was the first time my kids had the opportunity to experience a lantern festival and it was truly magical. My goal when capturing these images was to focus on the elements of the story and document that magic.

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Is Fuji X-T2 and XF 100-400mm Ready for Bird Photography?

Roseate spoonbill 1

When I decided to sell my professional Nikon cameras and glass and make the switch to Fujifilm, the question I had was “will I still be able to photograph birds?” During spring migration last year, I was fortunate enough to be able to get a hold of the Fujifilm XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens. In this article, I will let you know how the X-T2 and XF 100-400mm combo stacked up for bird photography.

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Photography Life

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Exposing with the Zone System: An easy how-to guide

My favorite way to meter in camera and get beautiful and intentional SOOC (straight out of the camera) images is with the Zone System method of metering.

The Zone System method was developed by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer in the 1930’s for film photography but it is also a great tool for digital photography.

When I first started researching the Zone System I have to admit that I was very overwhelmed. Now, instead of worrying about zone numbers, I only worry about the actual color of what I am metering from.

To explain it very simply, each color tone falls into a particular zone on your camera’s meter. Because each color correlates to a particular value on your meter, you are able to tell the camera exactly how to expose the image using spot metering.

The Zone Method has 10 zones but for digital photography, there are only 5 zones that apply to your camera’s meter. This is key because it means that you won’t always be trying to get your in-camera meter to 0.

By thinking of your metering values in colors, it doesn’t matter what kind of light you are in, you will always able to achieve correct exposure. The metering value itself for each color never changes but your settings (ISO, shutter speed, aperture) will change each time to adjust for the light.

Each color tone falls into a particular zone on your camera’s meter. Because each color correlates to a particular value on your meter, you're able to...

Each color tone falls into a particular zone on your camera’s meter. Because each color correlates to a particular value on your meter, you're able to...

When looking at your cameras meter, you will see smaller dots/lines that each represent each 1/3 of a stop and larger dots/lines that represent a full stop of light each.

Once you learn the metering value for each color, you will move your in-camera meter by changing your settings (ISO, shutter speed, aperture) to be at that corresponding spot on your meter for correct exposure. For example, the color white will always meter at +2 (2 full stops from 0) on your camera’s meter.

Like I mentioned above, a common mistake is assuming that you will always meter at 0 no matter what color you are metering from. This was a mistake that I practiced when I first starting shooting in manual mode.

When I would hear about metering something above 0, it sounded like my image would be overexposed. I thought this way for a long time and didn’t realize that exposing this way was actually exposing correctly.

Have you ever tried to meter white at 0? The image will be underexposed and look dark – not truly white.

Each color tone falls into a particular zone on your camera’s meter. Because each color correlates to a particular value on your meter, you're able to...

This chart below shows very simply how to remember the value for each color. Like I previously mentioned, the color white meters at +2. Pastel colors meter at +1, middle gray/primary colors meter at 0, deep colors meter at -1, and black meters at -2.

Of course, you can get more specific for each color on your meter using 1/3 of a stop but those general guidelines are a great place to start. The best part is that once you learn the values for each color/tone, it will never change.

If you are not sure about a specific color, start with those general guidelines and then always make sure to watch your histogram for a more exact metering value and exposure.

Each color tone falls into a particular zone on your camera’s meter. Because each color correlates to a particular value on your meter, you're able to...

When you use spot metering, your camera samples from a small area in your viewfinder.

On most Canon cameras, the metering area is the very center of your viewfinder – right where your middle focal point is. No matter if your focal point is in the middle or somewhere else, you will want to make sure that you place the color you are metering from in that middle area.

On a Nikon camera, your active focal point is where your camera meters. Just simply place that active point over the color to meter. Filling as much of the frame as possible with that color is not necessary but can be very helpful. Our in-camera meters can be tricked easily and so using a solid color that fills the frame can help eliminate some potential troubleshooting issues.

Once you move your camera away from that solid color, it is normal to see your meter jump around. I most often meter somewhere completely different than where I am focusing. When I take a step back to focus and compose the shot to how I would like it in-camera, I will see my meter jump all over the place because multiple colors are now being seen by my camera.

Once you have metered and changed your settings (ISO, shutter speed, aperture) for the light, your metering value is locked in until you change those settings again. You won’t need to change your settings until the light changes. Simply ignore your jumpy meter.

Each color tone falls into a particular zone on your camera’s meter. Because each color correlates to a particular value on your meter, you're able to...

Each color tone falls into a particular zone on your camera’s meter. Because each color correlates to a particular value on your meter, you're able to...

Having a simple and yet very consistent system for metering can give you more confidence and freedom in your ability to shoot in any situation. It isn’t always practical to meter from your subject’s cheek (think fast moving toddler or a bride walking down the aisle) and using the Zone System to meter makes it possible to meter from anywhere in the scene that is in the same light as your subject.

No matter what method you are using to meter, you are metering for the light.

Metering from the brightest spot of light on your subject (or somewhere else that is in the same light as your subject) will help you avoid any true overexposure in your highlights.

Your settings will change each time you pick up your camera, but the Zone System color values will be constant and give you beautiful SOOC images.

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Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR Announcement

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR

Nikon is under a lot of pressure in 2018, because this is the year that the public is anticipating hot new products from the company, especially the highly anticipated full-frame mirrorless camera that the company is currently working on. The very first product that Nikon has launched in 2018 is a lens – it is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR – a beast of a lens targeted specifically at sports and wildlife photographers and videographers. Many Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR shooters have been waiting for a replacement to the lens and it looks like Nikon didn’t just deliver an update – the 180-400mm is a whole new lens with a completely revamped optical design and engineering. At $ 12,399 MSRP, it is the second most expensive lens in Nikon’s line-up after the exotic Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR and for a good reason, if you were to look into what Nikon has packed into it. Without a doubt, it is a marvel of a lens, something that is soon to become one of the most desirable lenses in Nikon’s arsenal. Read on to find out why.

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Photography Life

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