Taking photos of the stars

I love the stars, there is nothing better than laying down on a grass field, far away from the city lights and just looking up at the night sky. If you are like me than you will want to try to capture the beauty of the

Photo by Dan Newton
stars on your camera. Ben Canales is an amazing night time photographer, he has put together a basic video guide to takeing some amazing night time photos.

Some things to keep in mind when taking photos of the stars:

  • Have a plan and know where you are going.
  • Prepare: check the weather, bring a flashlight, know your camera, check your camera, bring and use a tripod and preset your camera.
  • Turn off auto-focus.
  • Use your cameras timer to reduce camera movement.
  • Take photos in RAW (if available).
  • Crank up your ISO (2000-4000).
  • Open up the aperture.
  • The rule of 600 or 400 helps you determine the max exposure you can set your camera to, before you will see star trails.
    • For full frame cameras take 600 and divide it by the focal length of your lens.
    • For crop body cameras take 400 and divide it by the focal length of your lens.
    • If you have a 20mm lens, take 600/20 = 30 seconds so you can set your camera to 30 seconds, or 400/20 = 20 seconds.
  • Watch out for clouds.
  • Point your camera away from cities otherwise light pollution may show up in your photos.
  • Take lots of photos.
  • Take some time to enjoy the sky and have fun.

Photo by Dan Newton

If you liked this then make sure you check out our Low Light Photography Tips- Infographic and our three part series on low light photography: Low Light Photography TipsLow Light Cameras and Equipment, and Fixing Underexposed Photos.

low light photography
Snapsort’s Low Light Photography Infographic

How camera lenses are made

Have you ever wondered how camera lenses are made? Discovery Channel’s “How it’s Made” produced a segment a few years ago on the process of assembling a lens.

According to the video it takes 6 weeks to make an lens and optical glass can costs up to $1000 per kilogram, no wonder lenses are so expensive.

Image credit: Photographs by Duncan Meeder

Five Tips for Excellent Portraits

One – When shooting in a studio with a strobe light, shoot with a long lens (like a 70-200, towards the end of the focal length) in manual mode. Start at a shutter speed of 1/125, ISO at 100, and the aperture at f/11.0. Tweak slightly from there if necessary. When shooting in continuous light, use aperture priority mode at about f/11 with an ISO 400. Use a tripod, and auto focus using the subject’s eyes as the focus point.

Two – When shooting portraits outdoors, start with the “sunny f/16” rule of thumb (ISO 200, shutter speed 1/200 to 1/250, aperture f/16). Prevent harsh shadows on the face by avoiding light that comes from directly overhead (like the sun). Find some shade and use a reflector to bounce light up into the face if necessary. You’ll be surprised at how well even the most indirect ambient light reflects.

Three – Take continuous shots. Put your camera in continuous shooting mode and shoot in short bursts to capture a series of shots, thereby increasing the likelihood that the shot will be in focus, composed correctly, the subject won’t be blinking, etc. This works especially well for children who have a hard time being still for extended periods of time.

Four – If you are uncertain about the specific exposure settings required for your conditions, shoot in bracketed mode. In bracketed shooting mode, the camera will take a succession of shots with the first shot being the baseline point that the camera reads for correct exposure (or that you manually set). The second shot will stop down from that exposure point according to how you set it up (for example, bracketing with a half-stop, 3/4 of a stop, or a full stop) and the third shot will stop up from that baselined exposure point. In this manner you can capture three exposure samples and use the one that is the most successful. Use this in tandem with continuous shooting mode so that it won’t be necessary to press the shutter button three times in order to capture the three exposures.

Five – Shoot in aperture priority mode. Most often you will have a clear idea of the depth of field that you desire in your shot – a lower aperture number for more background blurring (or bokeh), and a higher aperture number to have more of the subject and background in focus. Shooting in aperture priority mode will allow the camera to choose the correct shutter speed for the lighting conditions.

Photo credit: Alex Dang on Flickr Creative Commons

Photography Tips for a Road Trip

My husband waits patiently while I take a photo of the Grand Tetons.
My husband waits patiently while I take a photo of the Grand Tetons.

A road trip is an ideal way to actually travel the miles between Point A and Point B. You have the opportunity to see and experience so much more about the country you live in, and the world you live in, when you’re driving it and not flying over it.

By its very nature, a road trip provides ample opportunities for photography. Out-the-window shots can be tricky because you’re moving and thereby creating a difficult environment from which to get a clear photograph. My recommendation is to roll down the window so you remove the risk of glare, have the driver slow down as much as is possible under the circumstances, and use a very fast lens and/or shutter speed to “stop” the motion (alternatively, if you’re actually going for a sense of motion, use a slower shutter speed). Keep the camera’s strap around your neck if you have to lean out, and don’t point the lens directly into the wind to protect it from dust (and bugs!). Make sure your lens is affixed with a UV filter and hood, to provide further protection.

When pulling off to the side of the road to get a shot, make sure you choose a safe spot, without any blind corners or turn-offs. Get well off the road to put some distance between you and the passing traffic. Always pay attention to your surroundings. Ideally, use lookout points or rest areas, or other sites purposefully built to provide the opportunity to pull off the road. Never stop on a bridge or a road too narrow for two cars to pass, and always face in the direction the traffic is traveling.

Keep your gear handy, not packed in the trunk or in the back seat. Things come up on you, and pass you by, at great speed when travelling by car. Use a telephoto lens (with Image Stabilization or Vibration Reduction) to pull in subjects that the road doesn’t take you directly toward. Make sure the windows are up and the air vents are pointed away from you whenever you change lenses, to minimize the amount of dust that gets into the inner workings of your camera. Practice changing lenses inside a pillow case (or even an old-school black bag), which is an excellent way to keep dust out of the camera.

One trick I’ve used on road trips is to lay the tripod across the back seat of the car, legs extended and ready to go. That way all I had to do was hop out of the stopped car, grab the tripod, snap the camera in place, and shoot. If you happen to have a second camera body just leave it attached to the tripod. Lay the whole assembly on a blanket on the back seat, and keep another camera in your lap for hand-held shots.

Happy road-tripping!

Recommended cameras:
Nikon D3100
Canon Rebel T3i
Pentax K-r

Recommended lenses:
Nikkor 18-35mm f/3.5-5.6
Tamoron 70-300mm f/4-5.6
Canon 135mm f/2.8

Photo credit: Tiffany Joyce

Tips for Photographing in Low Light

Taking photos in low light takes some practise to perfect, we have put together a great guide to help you master the art of low light photograph. Low light cameras and equipmentfixing underexposed photos and even a infographic on low light photography tips to bring it all together. We hope you enjoy.

Drums, shot at 1/6 of a second using f/2.8, ISO 1600
Drums, shot at 1/6 of a second using f/2.8, ISO 1600

Sometimes we want to take photographs under low lighting conditions without using a flash. It could be that we don’t want to cause a distraction during a ceremony or formal event. Perhaps flash isn’t allowed, such as during many concerts or performances. Or maybe we just like the ambiance that the use of the available light creates. Whatever the reason, it is reassuring to know that we can take quality photographs, even in dim lighting, without the use of a flash.

One – Crank up the ISO. The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the camera’s sensor is to the light that is reaching it. My Canon 7D’s highest ISO is 6400 (I haven’t purchased the expansion), and I’ve used that setting to photograph bands at night clubs with some pretty good results. The additional noise that is generated by using a high ISO can be filtered out somewhat in post-processing. Sometimes the extra grain adds a little something special to the shot. Shooting in RAW format allows for the most flexibility in post-processing.

Two – Use a larger aperture. The larger the aperture, the more light is entering the lens. Shooting at f/5.6 lets in more light than shooting at f/18 (remember, the lower the number, the larger the aperture).

Three – Slow down the shutter speed. More light is captured the longer the shutter remains open. Keep in mind that a good “rule of thumb” for clear hand-held shots is no slower than 1/60th of a second. Use a tripod if you’re shooting at anything slower than that, though I have had success at slower hand-held shots using lenses with image stabilization.

Four – If you do have to use a flash, try to avoid the on-camera pop-up. It tends to flatten the appearance of the image because the light is hitting the subject directly. Invest in an off-camera flash, angle light so that it is not directly in front of the subject, and use reflective surfaces and diffusers to soften the light. Strategically placed constant light (such as tungsten lamps using soft white bulbs) work excellently for providing additional ambient light without sacrificing the atmosphere of the setting.

Five – Use your camera’s exposure compensation capabilities. The scale on many of today’s DSLR’s allow from -3 to +3 stops in 1/3 stop increments (my 7D is +/-5). Dial the exposure compensation to the positive side to purposefully “overexpose” the photograph.

Photo credit: Tiffany Joyce