View of the Drew | Andrew Halpern Photography

Camera Technique



1/60s . f/4.0 . ISO 400 . 18 mm (Foil-reflected flash)

Here’s a cute shot of my dog Bandit.  I used my foil-reflected flash trick in order to get it.  I actually have this shot framed by the window.

Enjoying the sun (Carl Schurz Park, NYC)

1/1600 . f/5.6 . ISO 320 . 250 mm

Sports mode is useful not just for sports.  Anytime you want to freeze action, or you are unsure about whether something will move, you can quickly switch to sports mode.

It’s useful to understand exactly what “sports mode”  actually does if you decide to use it on your camera. The reason why I like it a lot is because it quickly changes three key settings at once.

  1. It changes your autofocus to AI Servo.  AI Servo will continually adjust the focus of your lens while your finger is half-pressing the shutter button.  It is *very* useful for moving objects.
  2. It changes your autofocus to use all your focal points at once.  Usually I use the single, center focus point to focus my shots so that I have full control.  The issue with moving objects is that you usually aren’t fast enough to make sure the focus is on the center point.
  3. It forces your shutter speed to be very fast, so as to freeze the action.  Usually this will also force the aperture to open to its widest.

Photosnobs will sometimes call the scene presets “dummy modes.”  Well if they can help me snag a shot, then I’m happy to be a dummy.

Foil is your friend

Foil Flash Reflector

Foil Flash Reflector

So why did I do this to my camera you might ask? Well, I’m sure you’ve experienced poor results from your own-board flash. Direct flash usually creates ugly, harsh shadows and looks very unappealing. To remedy this, the easiest way is to bounce the flash light off another surface.

Normally, this involves buying an external flash for a few hundred dollars. That’s definitely the best way.

But the cheap way is to make a reflector for you on-board flash. I did this using Aluminum foil. If you try, make sure to grab enough foil that you xan fold it at least 3 times for thickness sake. Then simply mold it into the flash seat area so that it will stay in one place while shooting.  To get the best exposure, you might need to change the flash-exposure compensation, or increase your ISO.  Consult your camera manual on how to do this.

Oh and one last thing, be sure to close your eyes quickly when the flash goes off because it’ll be in your face.

Sun setting on a city church

1/500s . f/4 . ISO 100 . 50 mm

Not too long ago (before 2008), in order to get this shot with an SLR, one had to look through the glass viewfinder. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy looking directly at the sun, it’s not so good for your eyes.

If I’m shooting directly (or semi-directly) at the sun like this, I’ll try to use the LCD to compose my shot to avoid looking at the sun.

Another tip for these shots is that usually the sun will make the shot very hazy, but that is just the nature of the beast. In order to rectify this, I use high contrast and the blacks slider in Lightroom.

Golden Hour

St. Marks Plaza, Venice

San Marco's Plaza, Venice @ 19:21 — 1/100s . f/7.1 . ISO 200 . 18 mm

Golden hour is a magical time for photography.  The light comes in at nearly a horizontal angle which seems to improve the clarity of shots and give them a rich, warm feel.  Roger Moffatt, who runs an online calculator where you can calculate the hour for your area, defines it as: “the first and last hour of sunlight in the day when the special quality of light yields particularly beautiful photographs”.  There are also golden hour calculators available for Android as well as iPhone.

Notice in this shot of San Marco’s plaza you can see how the sun affects the shadows in this shot.  Many of my best photographs come during Golden Hour because the light is much clearer, and there isn’t as much glare as noontime.

Flowers on Park Avenue

Flowers on Park Avenue

1/1600s . f/11.0 . ISO 800 . 50 mm

It’s helpful to stoop low sometimes when you are shooting.  You’ll look a bit strange but you can get some very interesting angles.

Here’s a nice shot I took the other day of the flowers on Park Avenue.   If I were to re-do this shot I might try to widen my aperture (ie lower f number)  in order to blur out more of that busy background.  It’s tricky though because I don’t think I’d want it totally blurred though because otherwise there’d be no sense you are even in New York.

Rain, Rain Go Away

Rain rain go away, the girls are here to play

1/6s . f/3.5 . ISO 1600 . 18 mm

One of the main things to look for in a new lens (or a hand-me-down lens), is Image Stabilization (IS for Canon et al, VR for Nikon). The lens name itself usually tells you whether the lens has this feature. The importance of this cannot be underestimated.

Without IS, the normal rule of thumb to follow with shutter speed is this:  the slowest shutter speed you can use without your hand shaking is 1 divided by the effective focal length. Effective focal length refers to the 35mm equivalent focal length which in this case is 18*1.6 or about 29mm.  (See my FAQ for more info on crop-factors.). 

So without IS, the slowest hand-held shutter speed I would be able to use here would be around 1/30th of a second.

With IS, you can hand-hold the camera with much slower shutter speeds. For this shot, it allowed me to use a nice, slow shutter speed of 1/6th of a second which made the cars blur nicely in the background.

Pay attention to your settings

Subway Station (59th st. Columbus Circle, NYC)

59th St. Columbus Circle Subway Station, NYC | 1/60 * f/4.0, iso1600, 55mm

I try to include the camera settings in my image captions because I think you learn a lot from them (I know I do). Always examine the camera settings on your own shots and try to examine them on other people’s. If you are using Google Chrome as your browser, an amazing browser extension that you can install is called “Fittr Flickr“.  This will allow you to examine all the camera settings people use on Flickr.  Read the rest of this entry »

Otherworldly Oxford Sign

Headington Park Sign.  Flash Zoom effect done in Camera

1/10s . f/8.0 . ISO 400 . 18 mm, (Headington Hill, Oxford, England)

Photos of signs can be boring.  But not this one!  This zoom effect is one of my favorites to experiment with. The entire effect is done in the camera!  How do you do it?  Well, in yesterday’s post, I discussed the 2nd curtain flash and how it enables you to sort of get two shutter speeds.

In order to get this shot, you’ll need a zoom lens and some kind of SLR.  Here is the setup.  Set the camera to 2nd curtain flash, and use a fairly slow shutter speed (like 1/10th of a second). Zoom in all the way on your lens and center the subject.  Do not press the shutter yet.

Now, here’s where the magic comes in.  You are going to zoom out DURING the shot.  What happens when you do this, is the light from the flash illuminates the subject (here it’s the sign) so that remains clear, however the flash light won’t reach the background and the background will have a zoomed out motion blur. Pretty neat.

Experiment with 2nd curtain flash.  Trust me you’ll like it.

Two Girls, One Cab

Two girls, One Cab (Location Unknown, NYC)

1/30s . f/5.6 . ISO 1600 . 18 mm

Here is a fun shot of two girls in a cab at night.  I was able to get this motion blur by setting my camera for “second curtain flash” using my camera’s on-board flash (look at your camera’s instructions to access this setting).

A good explanation of the mechanics of 2nd curtain flash is found at this article at Digital Photography School.  By using a slower shutter speed AND the 2nd curtain flash, you effectively get two shutter speeds.  The foreground (in this shot, the cab) will be frozen while the background will be blurred.  To get the motion effect, I also used a panning technique here.  A lot of photographers try to avoid the on-board flash like the plague because it usually looks poor, but it CAN be used artistically.

To Toggle Full Screen:
Press F11 (Windows) or Cmd-Shift-F (Mac)