Monday, 23 December 2013

The 12 Tips of Christmas - Part 2

This past Christmas, I posting 12 tips to improve your photography on my Facebook page ( As Facebook has limited room to post, I'm expanding those tips in this blog. Stay tuned for all twelve tips (some by themselves and some combined), and if you want even more, join me for one of my photo courses!

The Twelve Tips of Christmas

Tip # 11 - Use your Camera Tools

"Understand how shutter speed affects motion in your image - to freeze it or to blur it. Understand how aperture affects depth of field, and how ISO affects how light is captured. These might sound complicated, but they are foundational to understanding how your camera works. Taking some time to understand these concepts and learn how to adjust these settings will help you understand why your camera is producing the image it is, or why it didn't come out the way you wanted it to."

Note: these first couple of tips are technical, and take a little longer to explain, but bear with me... they are necessary to learn if you really want to get to the fun stuff - like learning music before playing the piano, you need to know the basics before you can be a virtuoso.

In my last post I covered the three legs of the photography "stool" that affect exposure. Every camera may adjust these three "tools" in different ways, but they all are adjusting the same three methods of balancing exposure. Understanding how they affect your image will allow you to be creative as you compose your photograph. 

Changing these settings is important to keep your exposure correct, but they are also used to make your image more interesting. Getting to know these tools will help you obtain a good clear image - they also let you be creative in your composition. In this post, I want to delve a little further into how you use those tools to create the image you are looking for.


I'm going to start from the other end of the three legs - the ISO. Remember ISO defines how sensitive the sensor (or film) is to light. A higher ISO number, or faster film, will capture the same image exposure in a much shorter time.

Changing the ISO does not affect your image from the perspective of blur or crispness directly (although it can affect the graininess of your image), but it does give you the opportunity to play with the other two "legs" (Shutter and aperture) in ways you could not if the sensitivity of your film were fixed.

For instance, say you want a fast shutter speed and small aperture (higher f-stop), but you are taking the image in a dark room. You probably won't be able to if you are taking the image at 100 ISO. To get a correct exposure, you need to increase the aperture size (lower f-stop) which will shorten the depth of field, or slow the shutter speed, which could create motion blur.

The solution: Increase your ISO to a point where you can pick the shutter speed and aperture you want. Of course you have to be careful not to go too far, or you image might be so grainy you will destroy it's quality.

ISO doesn't directly allow you creativity in your composition, but it does allows you to use the other two tools more effectively and enables their ability to allow for creativity.


As was discussed in the previous post, changing the aperture will change the depth-of-field of your image. A shorter depth-of-field will blur the background while a larger depth-of-field will keep everything crisp. 

This is where the fun begins. Changing aperture allow you to be more creative in your photography and improve your images. Note that I am not going to include images with these examples intentionally. Imagine the image in your head as you would when you are taking the photo. Imagine changing the settings and take that photo. Practice it with your camera.

Let's say you are taking a portrait of your child opening a Christmas present. The subject is the child and the joy on their face. Perhaps It is important to have some context and the tree in the background shows it is Christmas, but the tree is not really the subject. So you position yourself so the tree is behind your daughter and focus clearly on their eyes. You increase your aperture as wide as possible for your camera and take the photo. The resulting image shows the joy on their face. You see lights blurred around her and green behind them. You are immediately drawn to her angelic face and are not distracted by the Christmas balls and tinsel!

On the other hand, perhaps you are taking a photo of the ice covered fields from the recent ice storm across Ontario. You want to capture the crisp reflections of sunlight in the rippling ice sheets which look like glowing oceans of frozen waves. If you open your aperture wide, you will only capture a small portion in focus and the rest will become a blur. In this case, you want to stop down your aperture to a larger value (smaller aperture) so that you get the maximum depth-of-field and keep as much of your image as possible in focus.

There is no right or wrong way to do this - it is about using your tools to be more creative. 

It's all about your subject and creating an image that best captures them. Using aperture simplifies your image and draws your viewers attention to your subject. Always remember, though, as you adjust your aperture, you will need to adjust your ISO and/or shutter speed to compensate for the change in light entering the camera.

If you are interested, you can find depth-of-field calculator apps and web pages to help you get just the right depth-of-field for your particular camera and aperture setting such as this one (which also has a good explanation of depth-of-field). This might help you learn the tools as well, but in the end they should become second nature.

Shutter Speed

As previously discussed, changing the shutter speed can affect blur in your image and give you sense of motion in your image. This again can allow you a great deal of creativity in capturing your subject.

Let's say your kids like to tear off the Christmas wrapping paper in a mad frenzy with paper flying every which way. You have a choice here, where you set your shutter speed. Either one can produce a really cool image.

If you make your shutter speed faster, all motion in the image will be stopped. As your son throws pieces of wrapping paper in the air and they float down gently back to the ground, a fast shutter speed will instantly freeze the paper pieces in mid air, giving them a snowflake like feeling as they gently drifting down over his head.

On the other hand, if you slow your shutter speed, his hands and the paper pieces will be come a blur of motion indicating the frenzied action.

Neither way is "right" or "wrong". Each gives you a different way to portray the scene and each produces a different mood or feeling. How you set your shutter speed will affect how your viewer feels when they look at the image, so the decision of which shutter speed to use is both a technical one, and an emotional one. 

How are you feeling when the image presents itself to you? What do you see? Do you see the frenzied motion, or are you captured by the little pieces of paper floating down? How can you best adjust your settings to portray that feeling in your image?

Using the "tools"

Using these settings, or "tools" to create the image the way you want it to look is the real fun of photography. Learning to control the tools allows you to capture not just an image, but a glimpse, a fleeting feeling connected to that moment.

It might also be important to note that the person viewing your image may have an entirely different feeling when looking at the motion or blur than you do having been there at the moment. Working to produce a similar feeling can be a challenge, but then the variety of perspectives can be interesting too.

If your images are not grabbing you when you view them, consider how you are using your tools. how can you improve the image so that the subject jumps off the page at you and makes you feel what you did when you took the image. Get to know those tools so you don't have to think too long about them when you see an opportunity. Get to know how to quickly adjust them on your camera so that you are ready when the opportunity presents itself.

Now you are ready to not only capture a photograph, but you are beginning to capture a moment.

Read more on any of the other Tips:

Part 1 - Get to know your gear
Part 2 - Use your camera tools
Part 3 - Use Composition Rules
Part 4 - Tell a Story, and Keep it Simple
Part 5 - Put yourself in a good spot, Be creative
Part 6 - Change it up, Make it Unique
Part 7 - Get the shot quick, be brutal and show your best work

(c) 2013 Gary Scott - Gary's Lens Photography

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The 12 Tips of Christmas - Part 1

Most of my posts so far have been geared to the bride or family who's photos are being taken. I am going to shift gears for a little bit now. This year, in the twelve days leading up to Christmas, I have been posting on my Facebook page ( 12 tips to improve your photography. As Facebook has limited room to post, I'm going to expand on those tips in the blog. Stay tuned for all twelve tips (some by themselves and some combined), and if you want even more, join me for one of my photo courses!

The Twelve Tips of Christmas

Tip # 12 - Get to know your gear (Know your camera)

"Before taking any photos, get to know your camera. Read the manual (yeah I know, what's a manual, right?) Find out how to change settings and work on mastering them so when it comes time to take the photo, you are not fiddling with the dials trying to remember how to pick the best setting for your image. Better cameras do not make better photos - the photographer does. Get to know your equipment and your photos will improve!"

Note: these first couple of tips are technical, and take a little longer to explain, but bear with me... they are necessary to learn if you really want to get to the fun stuff - like learning music before playing the piano, you need to know the basics before you can be a virtuoso.

A camera can seem like a complicated device, and manufacturers have both made them more complicated and tried to simplify them at the same time. When all is said and done, though, every camera is basically the same. It is simply a light proof box with an opening to let light in and a light sensitive "recording media" on the other end. Not that long ago that media was film.Today it is a digital sensor.

There have, of course, been a lot of improvements on the design, automation, tricks and tweaks, that have made the camera take better, faster, clearer photos, but in the end, every camera fits into that definition.

With a TTL (through the lens) Camera, light enters through the lens and the diaphragm (which can be changed to adjust aperture), reflects off a mirror, through a penta-prism and onto a piece of ground glass to reach your eye. When you snap the shutter the mirror flips up, the shutter opens briefly and the image is captured on the media. 

While that might sound complicated, it is just the mechanism used to compose your image and control the amount of light that reaches the sensitive material - to control the exposure.

Exposure in every camera is controlled in one of three ways - how much time the media is exposed for (the shutter speed), how much light is allowed in the camera (the aperture) and how sensitive the media is to light (the ISO). No matter how complicated the camera may seem, or how many different dials and settings the camera may have, they are all about balancing those three legs on the exposure "stool". If you adjust one, you have to adjust the other two to balance the exposure of the image.


The aperture is the size of the hole through which light can enter the camera. The larger the hole, the lower the "f-stop" number, so an F-1.8 aperture lets in much more light than an F-4 or F11 aperture.

The interesting thing about aperture is that it controls the depth-of-field (not to be confused with focal length, which is a function of the zoom of the lens). The depth-of-field is the distance in front of and behind the point at which your camera lens is focused the most clearly. It can be said to be the two distances between which the image is "in-focus".
The trees behind this couple are blurred by using a shallow
depth-of-field. The focus point point is on the bride and groom.

Practically, what this means is that a smaller depth of field will blur objects in the image behind the focal point and in front of it - such as when photographing a portrait of a face with the background blurred - and a larger depth of field will keep as much as possible in focus - such as when you are photographing a mountain landscape and everything from the rocks in the foreground to the mountain behind is in crisp focus.

Adjusting the aperture to a larger value (and thereby making the hole smaller), will increase the depth-of-field, but will also decrease the amount of light entering the camera. This must be compensated for by adjusting the Shutter Speed and ISO.

Shutter Speed

The shutter is the mechanism in the camera that opens and closes in some fashion to begin and end allowing the light to enter the camera. The speed is usually expressed as a fraction of a second, so a shutter speed of 60 usually represents 1/60th of a second, and a shutter speed of 125 represents 1/125th of a second. Camera shutters are getting faster and faster, and better cameras can open and close their shutter in 1/8000th or even smaller fractions of a second.

A slower shutter speed and panning
the camera gives the impression of motion.
Shutter speed will affect motion blur in your image. In some cases this can be a good thing - a slower shutter will let you see the blur in an arm in motion as it throws a ball, or in water as it travels over a waterfall. But in other cases, it is not so desirable - a slower shutter speed can show the motion of your hand while holding the camera, making the image much less crisp and sometimes unusable.

On the other end of the spectrum, a fast shutter speed can freeze motion; for instance, the ball leaving the pitcher's hand can appear crisp and frozen in mid air with a fast shutter speed. Keeping the shutter speed at a higher value can help to eliminate the shake from an unsteady hand holding the camera.

Adjusting the shutter speed to a higher (faster) value also limits the amount of light that is entering the camera and aperture and ISO must be adjusted to balance the exposure properly.


ISO (which simply stands for International Standards Association) is a rating of how sensitive the film or sensor is to light.

The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the material is to light. Double the number is 2 times as sensitive to light, so an ISO of 200 is twice as sensitive to light as ISO 100, and ISO 400 twice as sensitive as 200 and so on.

As the recording material becomes more sensitive to light, it also becomes more sensitive to "noise" or graininess, so extending your ISO too high can leave your images looking mottled and "noisy". You may have noticed this when you take a picture in a dark room. As sensors are improving, the amount of noise in the higher ISO's is being reduced and good cameras (at writing) can get as high as 12,000 ISO without significantly reducing the quality of the image (depending on the use case).

Adjusting the ISO higher means that the material is more sensitive to light and the camera can take the image "faster", so the shutter speed needs to be increased, or the aperture needs to be stopped down.

Changing the ISO can be very useful, then so that you can achieve the right shutter speed and aperture you are looking for, allowing you to be more creative given different amounts of light. 


How you combine these three "legs" of the stool is where you can get creative. 

Read more on any of the other Tips:

Part 1 - Get to know your gear
Part 2 - Use your camera tools
Part 3 - Use Composition Rules
Part 4 - Tell a Story, and Keep it Simple
Part 5 - Put yourself in a good spot, Be creative
Part 6 - Change it up, Make it Unique
Part 7 - Get the shot quick, be brutal and show your best work

(c) 2013 Gary Scott - Gary's Lens Photography

Monday, 9 December 2013

What if the weather is bad for my wedding?

What is the best weather for a wedding? Sunshine, clouds, rain? Planning the date of your event well ahead of time, you never know what the weather is going to be like, and you can't really change it, so what is a bride to do? And from a photography perspective, how will it affect your images?

Unless you are having your wedding entirely outdoors (for which I hope you have prepared a backup plan), there is really nothing to fear. Different kinds of weather only require different photography techniques and can all produce wonderful photos.

Sunny Days

Most brides think that a bright sunny day is what they should hope for, but with bright harsh sunlight comes stark shadows and high contrast which can be very difficult to work with. 

The same bright light and dark shadows, however, can also produce some very dramatic images. Photos taken on these days can be very striking and although it's not always desired, the lighting can be used to enhance lines and details in surfaces, blow out highlights, or create striking silhouettes. 

Of course it is possible to use shade to reduce the stark effects of the sun and blue skies make an awesome background to any photo. 

Some shade can be used not only to keep the party cool, but to mute the shadows. 

Light modifiers - reflectors, scrims or perhaps even some flash can be used to decrease the sharpness of the shadows and make the images more pleasing.

Rainy Days

Rainy days bring out the colours in greens and flowers. Even while under a shelter, the vivid colours can light up the background of a scene. Moisture hangs onto plants in a way that gives a slight sheen and brightens colour. Add a slightly muted sunlight and less dramatic contrast and the colours can pop right off the page (or screen). 

Although it was raining outside on this wedding
day, the colours on the leaves and the deck
were vibrant and the light balanced
nicely with inside the house.
If it rains all day, shaded or sheltered areas can be used to keep the wedding party dry, while the rain itself can add to the atmosphere in the background of your photograph. 

It doesn't usually rain all day long either; There are often breaks when a wedding party can sneak out from under the shelter to capture some amazing images. 

If you're not afraid to get a little bit wet, photographs under umbrellas or even right out in the rain can be a lot of fun and provide an expression of who the couple are - timidly hiding under an umbrella, or boldly stepping in the puddles.

Dull Days

Dull, overcast days might seem drab and undesirable, but they can also provide some awesome lighting for photos. 

Diffused lighting can be much less harsh and more even on faces. Photographers pay big money for large softboxes to distribute light across their subjects - on a dull day, the sky becomes one very large (and free) softbox.

On a dull day, the sky itself might not be very attractive - bland and gray - but the subject of your wedding photos is not the sky - it's you! So getting closer to you and leaving out the sky, or putting a wall or other texture behind you, can create a pleasing, lower contrast photo with plenty of appeal.

Where shadows are desired on a dull day, off-camera flash can be used to add drama and contrast back into the image.

Torrential Downpours

Although the weather was fine on the wedding day,
this bride chose to have her photos taken in a more
formal studio setting.
Torential downpours? Blinding snowstorms?

Perhaps you don't want to go outside in that kind of weather. I wouldn't blame you! I don't think I do either.

Well, for those situations, there is always studio lighting with backdrops, the inside of the church itself, or the location of your reception. 

It's not the worst situation, honest. Having formal photos taken in the sanctuary of the church you were married in can be a great way to capture the location and your wedding party together. The decorations in some older churches can be very romantic and full of romance.

Even if the weather is great, you might still want to consider some of your formal bride and groom images in the building.

Studio lighting can also be used to bring out textures and highlights that are very difficult to control when outside, and a plain background can be less distracting, highlighting the bride and groom more clearly. 

Some brides will consider using a studio setup even when the weather is great outside!

Don't Worry

Above all, I hope you see by now that no matter what the weather is, you don't need to worry about your photos. If you have a professional photographer who knows how to deal with each situation, they will work with what God provides you on your wedding day and create some splendid images!

All you need to think about is enjoying your wedding day and celebrating your marriage! 

Leave the task of getting great photos to your photographer.

(c) 2013 Gary Scott - Gary's Lens Photography

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Does it make a difference if your photographer is a man or a woman?

OK, I'm not trying to start a debate on the merits of the sexes. But the question does come up. As a wedding photographer, I remain very professional when it comes to the bride getting in her dress. I stay out until the bride is comfortable with me being there, and I still get great shots of the bridesmaids getting her ready. After all, if she's not comfortable with the photographer being there, she probably isn't comfortable with the pictures that would be taken either.

Really the question is, what style of photography do  you prefer, and yes, it can make a difference if you hire a man or a woman to do your photography. It can make a difference between two women, or two men as well. Everyone has a different style. Of course, to generalize too much would be wrong, and if a photographer is good, they can likely imitate any style they choose, but every photographer tends to lean more to one style or another.

What do I mean by style?

One way to look at a style is as the "type" of photography - Landscape, Sports, Fashion, Journalism. Each of these forms of photography has it's own "style". But each can have styles within their form - for example, you can choose to shoot black and white or colour in any of these "types".

The "style" I am referring to here is the treatment of the subject and the composition, rather than the type of photography; being formal, or edgy, or modern, or artistic, relaxed or strictly posed.

Style can be used to enhance any image and "feeling". Often styles can be produced in post processing, though they can also be created with photographic techniques in camera. Some photographers rely on photo processing to give their images a certain pastel colour, or a vintage look. Others prefer a clean, crisp look to their images with lots of detail. The end goal in all cases is to have the viewer engage in an image and evoke an emotion.

I could be going out on a limb here, but when I at images produced by women (particularly in the wedding and family photography fields), they tend towards pastel, soft focus, dreamy, or vintage colour. When I look at photos produced by men, they tend to be more detailed, crisp, and "real" looking. Of course, neither is "wrong", and certainly a good photographer of either gender can produce images of either variety, but there does appear to be this tendency.

Personally, (perhaps because I am a guy) I prefer a crisp, clean image in camera. Post processing can be done on a clean image to produce almost any effect after the image is taken, whereas an image shot with soft focus cannot be made more crisp. Sometimes, a softened effect is even used to hide some poor photography.

On the other hand, if a photographer is working towards a certain style, why should they spend hours of post processing when they can do it in-camera? Again, there is no right and wrong, only choices.

What style are you looking for?

I realise all that may sound a little confusing. As the person hiring the photographer, you should consider what kind of style you are looking for. If you hire a good photographer, they should be able to work with that style, but they will appreciate that you have something in mind, and if they don't like working in that style, they can let you know.

Working with a style is something a professional photographer can bring to the table that a big box store portrait studio cannot. The pro can work with you to create a style that goes beyond changing backgrounds and a half dozen canned poses. It can reflect the character of the subject (you, your kids, or your wedding).

When you are choosing a photographer, find one who's images resonate with you. Imagine their pictures hanging on your walls - does the style fit with who you are and what you are looking for? Do the images speak to you or are they simply pictures?

My style...

So, after all that, what is my style? Well, I am a guy. My style tends towards the "real" look. Blurred background (bokeh) is fine and useful, but the subject must be sharp, drawing your eye to the key location in the image and happen naturally. Most of my "effects" are done in post processing, and I'm willing to experiment a little with you to achieve a look and feel you may have in mind.

As to composition, I'm willing to be adventurous and try new things. The basic rules are there to guide us, but often rules are made to be broken and in a creative space are usually broken for good reasons.

I love the romance of a wedding and the spontaneity of it. My images try to capture that without too much interference and are usually adjusted by my own vantage point more than by direction of the subjects.

The photo session is a different matter, and in that space, we work collaboratively to create some awesome images, most likely with some posing involved.

I have been known to use softening effects or colours to enhance an image, but I do use them sparingly as I think they can sometimes take away from the quality of an image, even though they can improve the mood.

So does it make a difference if your photographer is a man or a woman? Not really - if they are good, they can provide you with whatever images you need - and if they are not good, why are you hiring them? But do take some time to discuss style with your photographer. It will be as important to them as it is to you and the images you receive.

(c) 2013 Gary Scott - Gary's Lens Photography