Winter Photography

The weather outside is frightful, but the pictures can still be delightful. Online tips not your favorite way of learning? Stop in Saturday, December 21st for our Focus Sesson, “Winter Photography”.

We’ve compiled several previous blog posts filled with tips and tricks to get the best out of your camera this winter.

From “Winter Shooting Tips

Shooting in the winter (especially when snowing, sleeting or below freezing) can certainly be a challenge.

Here are a few pointers to make your winter shooting that much easier.

Batteries – The number of frames you can take can drop dramatically the colder it gets especially below 30. When you plan on shooting outside for an extended period of time keep one or two spare batteries in a coat or pants pocket that is warm and close to the body. As soon as your low battery indicator flashes stop shooting and rotate a warm battery into the camera.

Rain, Sleet and Snow – Always keep an inexpensive plastic bag in the bottom of your camera bag. If you get caught out in precipitation simply put your entire camera bag inside and make your way back. If you need to shoot in rain, sleet, or snow you can always purchase an Aquapac or any protective rain-sleeve to protect your camera and lens from damage.

Polarizing Filters – Great for reducing glare especially off of snow and glass. Colors always look better when glare is reduced. Don’t stack your filters and remember to remove your polarizer when it gets darker or you move inside. Always remember – a polarizer can cut the amount of light entering the lens in half ( 1 f-stop).

Hand Warmers – this years addition to the list comes from outdoor sports enthusiasts. Available at most sporting goods stores and for about $2 can keep your hands warm for 4 – 6 hours. Special versions are available to keep your toes warm as well.

From “How to Get White Snow

Why are my snow pictures dull grey?
Here’s the first in some winter picture taking tips that we are putting together. A common complaint we hear when people bring their winter pictures in is – “my pictures look dull,” “the snow looks grey, not white.”   Read on for the short and the long answer.

White snow with camera at plus 1
The picture you see is the one above with white snow . . .
The picture your camera captures has grey snow as shown below.
Why is my snow grey
So the question is – How do I get white snow?
The short answer is you need to overexpose by using the Exposure Compensation +/- feature on your camera. Using the exposure compensation automatically makes this adjustment so your camera still can remain fully automatic. In the case of a Nikon you would press the +/- button while rotating the control wheel until +1.0 shows in the display. Your owners manual will explain this in detail or feel free to stop by the store to learn how to make the settings on your camera. Be sure to take some test shots so you get the hang of how this works. If less of your image is taken up with the snow you can try the + 0.7 or + 0.3 setting to reduce the brightening effect.
After taking your snow photos just remember to turn the exposure compensation +/- back to zero.

The more technical answer

This is all caused by a camera’s meter system which is designed to see “18% grey” ( the solid gray image to the left ). Essentially anytime you take a picture that is predominantly white or black the camera will make the wrong exposure. Since the cameras meter can only see grey, an “average scene”, we only need to make adjustments when our scene is predominantly white or black. Luckily 98% of what most of us shoot are scenes with average lighting values and need no adjustment.
Predominantly white scenes ( think Snow, white sand beaches, clouds )will be moved toward grey so we must over expose from .5 – 1.5 stops to get true white by using the +/-.
Predominantly black scenes ( think black cars, black buildings, black sand beaches )will be moved toward grey so we must under expose .5 – 1.5 stops to get true black by using the +/-.
A future tutorial will explain how to get perfect exposures using a grey card.

Using histograms to further understand

For those familiar with histograms we can further look into diagnosing our exposure. The histograms are shown below with both our camera exposure and with exposure compensation set on + 1.0. Histograms are available in almost any digital camera including point and shoots and most imaging programs like Photoshop Elements.

A histogram is just a map of the tonal values in our image from black (left most point) to white (right most point) with the height representing how much of the image is at a particular level of brightness. Your histogram will look the same in camera and when you open that image up in your imaging program.

^Black Middle^Grey White^

Grey snow historgram - normal exposure

In the grey snow example above our histogram has a good deal of room before the white point on the right so the image represented by this histogram is a shade of grey not white. By overexposing one stop ( +/- +1.0) the camera automatically adjusts and allows 1 extra stop or twice the amount of light. As you can see from the histogram below we still have a small amount of room before the white point (this room indicates we have not blown out our highlights. If this histogram started all the way to the right and did not build to a peak, this would indicate over exposure and blown out highlights. The fix would be to reduce the exposure compensation from +1.0 to +0.7 and check again. The peak will move to the left each time you reduce your exposure. More on histograms in an upcoming tutorial.

White snow when overexposed histogram


What to Do With Christmas Lights

Whether you’re trying to get the perfect shot of your decorated home, taking family photos in front of the tree, or using the lights to get an interesting photo, Christmas Lights can be tricky to photograph. Each situation requires different gear and a different camera set up.

Photographing Your Home

With photos of homes lit by Christmas lights, you’re going to want a closed down aperture, a slow shutter speed, and a low ISO. With a closed down aperture(F/11, f/16), you’ll get plenty of depth of focus so everything from your windows to the trees in the distance will be in focus. The slow shutter speed will allow you to properly expose your image, and the low ISO will keep noise in your photo to a minimum. Because your shutter speed with be slower then 1/60th of a second, you’re going to need a tripod to hold the camera steady. For a unique look, try throwing a colored gel on your flash and setting it off once during the photo.

Photographing your Family In Front of Christmas Lights

To take the best photos involving both your family or another subject in front of Christmas lights involves using a flash. Place the camera on a Tripod and set the flash to rear curtain sync. This will fire the flash at the end of your photo. Allowing a slow shutter speed to expose the lights, then the flash to illuminate your subject in the front of the image. To join the picture, use a wireless remote or set the camera to a 10 second delay.

Using Christmas Lights to Create An Interesting Photo

BCC Employee Juline Moreland’s creative recycling of film canisters says both “Happy Holidays” and “Don’t Forget Your Camera”.

One of my favorite aspects of Christmas lights, are how they look when they fall out of your depth of focus. Each small bulb becomes an otherworldly  glowing ball of light. Use a lens with a wide aperture (f/1.8, f/1.4) to allow only a sliver of focus in your image. Thus creating an interesting and beautiful background to your subjects.

We hope you’ll enjoy this beautiful weather, but remember to stay safe. Should you have any questions of comments feel free to stop in at Bergen County Camera, comment on this post, or message us on our Facebook page.

Holiday Picture Taking Challenges

Thanks to everyone who contributed to our list of greatest holiday photo challenges. Please feel free to post a comment if you have any thoughts or additional questions!

Happy Holidays!

General Lighting Suggestions

  • Balance daylight, flash and Christmas lights
  • Indoor Photography – Proper Flash Technique

For those of us looking to get a nice balanced exposure when using flash here’s a few things to try. If you camera has a flash compensation (not exposure compensation), try dialing back the power to – 0.7 or -0.5 to moderate the impact the intense flash will have in your image. Turn up your ISO to 400 or 800, this will brighten the backgrounds up and make your pictures look more natural. Not sure how to proceed, check your manual or stop by for a quick tutorial. To balance daylight, flash and Christmas lights in the same image can be a challenge that in some cases goes beyond what your camera may be capable in a single image. For those who are interested, High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography takes the best highlights, shadows and overall exposure for different image elements from two or more images. If you are using an external flash, you can buy various diffusers that help smooth and even out the light put out by the flash. Look on our calendar of events soon for our list of January free “Focus Sessions” that may include Flash Photography and Flash Diffusion. Focus Session take place on various Saturdays at 9:30 am in Westwood and 10:30 am in Englewood and last about 30 minutes.

For indoor shots be sure to remove your polarizer filter – just leave your protective UV on your lens – never stack filters.

Nighttime Photography of Holiday Lights

Rockefeller Center Tree with point and shoot

Photo: Gerri Facchine

To get nighttime photographs of Christmas lights here are some recommended items – warm gloves, hand warmers, hat, an extra battery in a warm pocket, tripod & camera shutter release. The self timer can be used to trigger the shutter in a pinch without shaking the camera. Just set it to two seconds, gently trigger the shutter and make sure you are clear of the camera when the shutter trips (this minimizes any potential shake). It’s also a good idea to bracket your exposures. This means take a variety of exposures so that you will be able to choose the best one. You can easily make these adjustments using the exposure compensation ( the +/- button) on your camera. Take the normal exposure (if too dark – try +1, +2 or +3) (if too light try -1, -2 or -3 ).  With this approach you should be able to capture just the right exposure. If you are doing extended night photography on a really cold night, or you left your camera in a cold car for an extended period, the battery life will be shortened – that’s why you keep a backup in a warm pocket so that you can keep shooting.

Even a point and shoot camera can capture nighttime images (see Rockefeller Center above) just as long as the camera is steadied on a mini tripod or solid surface.

If you have a subject in the foreground, you can use your camera’s slow synch feature with the flash to illuminate the foreground and background. Don’t forget to put your flash back to the normal mode when you are done. Not sure how to set your camera – check your manual or stop by either Bergen County Camera location for a quick tutorial.

Getting Better People Shots

  • Making sure everyone looks good
  • Kids Opening Presents
  • How to photograph children so they look natural – lots of pictures my kid turning or running away from the camera
  • Catching good candid shots of people without food or drink in the way

One of the first suggestions you will hear our store manager Paul Carretta suggesting is be ready for the shot. This means your camera is on, your lens cap is off, and your camera is zoomed to the widest setting so you a ready to go at a seconds notice. How many times have you or have you seen someone pick up a camera to take a picture with a lens cap on or the camera turned off! If you have a red-eye reduction mode on your camera that produces a barrage of flash and lights, turn if off – especially with large groups. With red-eye flash modes, most people are uncertain which flash is the real flash and tend to be in many states of preparedness – this hurts your candid photography. A little preparation goes a long way to getting candid uncluttered images. When setting up, be aware of your background, watch for plants behind people heads, do some quick cleanup of anything that may clutter up your image.

Use your high speed setting to take a rapid sequence of images – just be sure to pick the best one. Choosing the best image can be a challenge, so if you are having a tough time, stop by the store we’ll be glad to help.

When it comes to opening presents, candid photography in this situation is usually the best mixed in with a few attempts to pose the shot. Often with kids the more you can blend in the smoother this whole process will go. Experiment with flash and existing light – no flash – high ISO which will help you blend in more to capture those candid moments. Always take a few test shots to make sure your settings work. Take lots of shots and review your results, get a critique and modify your technique as you learn what works and what doesn’t”

How to capture a performance – plays and ballet

How to photograph a holiday performance

An adjustable SLR camera with a fast lens, tripod or monopod, with a powerful add on flash is your best bet to capture performance photography. Always check the venue to be sure what type of photography and whether flash is allowed. A very important reminder is your built in flash on Point and Shoot and SLR cameras reach no further than 10 feet! If you attempt pictures further away, you capture a very dark image and the brightly illuminated seat back just in front of you. A hot shoe mounted flash can boost your flash range to over 50 feet.

With an add on flash or with built in flash closer than 12′

A monopod is great for taking the weight off and allowing your camera to be in a ready position. Shoot with your camera on program to start and make adjustments with your +/- (exposure compensation) depending on whether your pictures are looking too bright or too dark. If you are using your built in flash try raising your ISO – with a powerful shoe mounted flash try ISO 800 or higher.

Without flash

A monopod, fast (low f number lens) this is where a 50mm f1.4 lens can greatly enhance your existing light photography in combination with a higher ISO – ( 800, 1600 or 3200). Just be aware that the higher you raise your ISO the more noise (like film grain) your image will have. Raise the ISO only high enough to capture your subject. The example above was photographed with a 85mm lens at ISO 400 at 1/125th at f2.8.  If you lens is a f5.6 you would need to set your ISO to 1600 to achieve the same f-stop and shutter speed. Another tip is to shoot at the peak of action (i.e. someone is neither going up or going down for a brief instant) or to wait for a lull in the action.