Welcome to (The Occasional) Photo Tip of the Day! Please also visit my main site jeffwignall.com. Text and photographs Copyright 2016 Jeff Wignall.

“The best way out is always through.”

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Crank Up the ISO for Night Shots

For those of you who don't live in New England (or watch TV news) we had a bit of a blizzard here this past weekend. Considering that nothing (at least nothing I know about yet) blew off my house and the snow was powdery and easy to shovel, it was actually kind of a fun storm. The wind howled mercilessly and at times I thought the entire house was going to get lifted off its foundations and dropped in a snowy Oz. It didn't.

It was too cold and windy to go out shooting the day after the storm, but by that night I was really restless to shoot some pictures. I noticed the little spiral tree on my front lawn looked pretty from my office window (on the second floor), so opened the window and tried to get a shot. There was a small bookcase in the way, so I couldn't get a tripod close enough to the window to frame the shot I wanted. There was also a roof overhang in the way, so I actually had to lean out of the window (keep in mind it was about 15 degrees out and the wind was still howling) to get this shot using a 70-300mm Nikkor zoom on my D90 body. But the only light was from the tree and so, without a tripod to steady the camera (the lens has no image stabilization), I had to use the max ISO of 3200. I have rarely had to use that speed before, so it seemed like a good experiment anyway. But even at that top ISO speed, I had to shoot at a shutter speed of 1/60 second (at f/4). And trust me, steadying the camera on a snowy window sill with the wind hitting me at 40 mph was still an adventure. Luckily I don't think any neighbors were watching in the middle of the night.

I think the quality of the shot is pretty good considering the high ISO. I can see noise pretty obviously in the snow at the bottom of the frame, but it's not a distraction. And the colors in the lights themselves are pretty true to their real colors. So, while I would probably not use such a high speed as my first option, when the situation calls for it, it's nice to know I can go there. Of course, some cameras claim a top ISO of 100,000 these days (for shooting what exactly--bats in a cave at midnight?), but 3,200 did a good job here. The next evening I went outside and shot the same tree (from street level) on a tripod at ISO 200 and that shot is posted below--you can tell me if you see much of a quality difference. (It is better, no question--but the question is: by how much?) I'm going back out tonight to shoot it from the street with a longer lens--I'll play some more then!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Solstice...and a New Mark Borax Book!

What an unusual bunch of events on the winter solstice this year! Within 24 hours we had: the winter solstice, a full moon and a total lunar eclipse. My astrologer friend Mark Borax must be going nuts with the possibilities up in Vermont! And speaking of Mark, he has a brand new book out Cosmic Weather Report: Notes from the Edge of the Universe.  I've read some exceprts using Amazon's "Look Inside" feature and it appears to be another fascinating book from Mark. Mark co-authored the book with his mentor, legendary astrologer Ellias Lonsdale. If you (or any friends) are interested in what's happening--astrologically-speaking--in the Universe around us, I'm sure you'll get a lot of out this new book. Ellias and Mark provide a really in-depth and very readable look at current and future astronomical events.

Of course, I personally pay more attention to the particular alignment of my cats' whiskers as they sleep in the recliner, but that's just me. But seriously, I've known Mark almost as far as I can remember in life and I know that he is deeply connected to the Universe in ways that most people probably couldn't conceive until they have known him a while. If there is anyone I trust to deliver a weather report from the Cosmos, it's Mark.

Fine, but how about some photo talk Wignall! OK! This shot was taken at Peck's Mill Pond (where, one summer night long ago, Mark and I sat in my car on the way home from a night of cold beer and blues in Westport and watched the Raven Inn burn to the ground) in Stratford, Connecticut last year during a spring snowstorm. (I actually think I blogged about this shot once before because I had to remove a beer bottle floating in the water--but it was 40 years after the fire, so I don't think it was a beer bottle we left behind). But here's the tip for this photo: I really wanted the shapes of the trees to create a bold pattern and to stand out against the snow--and, in particular, to pop out of the reflection. So, I first used curves in Photoshop to set the dynamic range (contrast) to hold detail in the highlights, but I still wanted more bite in the shapes of the trees. The simplest way was to use the "selective color" tool (you'll find it buy clicking on the half-circle shape at the bottom of the layers palette) and select the "black" color channel. Then I increased the black by about 70% (sliding the slider to the right). That provided a lot more black in the dark shapes without affecting any other part of the image.

You see, I can still talk about photography when I have to! I  think Frank was beginning to doubt me! And jumping back to the Universe: Hey, we get a few more minutes of daylight each day for the next three months! My father used to say that by Lincoln's birthday there is light in the sky until 6 p.m. (which was the time he drove in the driveway from work every day). Thanks Pop! That little marker in the world of daylight gets me through the dark cold days of December and January!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Crash Course Book in "Top 10" Amazon Photo Books

I'm not sure what caused the sudden surge in sales, but the book that I wrote that is based on this blog Jeff Wignall's Digital Photography Crash Course: 2 Minute Tips for Better Photos (Lark Photography Book) made it to the top 3,000 books (among all books) on Amazon today. And it landed in the "Top 10" of all photo books. In other words, it's a bestseller. As I said, the book grew out of this blog and it features roughly 150 or so tips that each began as a posting on this blog. The tips were expanded in most cases and I added extra illustrations, but the real genesis of the idea was this blog. What's really amazing to me is that the book is selling even better than my flagship book, The NEW Joy of Digital Photography (Lark Photography Book). Go figure! The Crash Course book was reviewed this week on a few blogs--including a major photo blog in Australia--so perhaps that is helping. In any case, I love having another bestseller! I'm sure you can find it at the local Barnes & Noble if you are looking for a last minute gift (and who isn't?).

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Life lessons from "It's a Wonderful Life"

I just happened to stumble on this interesting article today called "Lessons in Manliness from 'It's a Wonderful Life.'" Worth a read. Don't worry, we'll get back to photography eventually. Or not.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Give a Gift to the Homeless

this festive time of year, Mr. Scrooge, it is more than usually 
desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and 
Ebenezer: Are there no prisons?Sometimes the best way to help yourself is to help others. At this time of year, especially here in the northeast, it's brutally cold even for the walk from the car to the front door. Imagine living outside in this weather. Every day. I found the article below online and I'm reprinting it here (without permission, I'm sure the author won't mind) exactly as I found it, with all the links, etc. Please read it. And if you have an extra pair of gloves in the house, toss them in your pocket or your car and next time you see someone who might be spending their winter on the streets, stop and hand it to them. I know this has nothing to do with photography, but how are you going to see great pictures if the homeless people around you are invisible?

Be selfish, give a gift to a homeless person 

by Doc Gurley

Both gratitude and altruism are good for your health and there's nothing like giving a gift to a homeless person to help you experience both. Here are some easy, practical, cheap ways to be selfish and give a gift to a homless person.

This time of year, no matter what your worldview, religion or culture, it's hard, as you hurry past the homeless huddled on the street, to not feel like Scrooge. Whether you're taking your family to the Nutcracker, or pounding the pavement for a job yourself, walking past so many shivering mounds of human misery takes a toll on the psyche. Maybe your kids are tugging on your arm, asking why can't something be done? Maybe you (like so many of us) just don't feel comfortable handing out bits, or even wads, of cash. So what can YOU do to make a small difference? Here, folks, is the Annual Doc Gurley Homeless Gift Guide, with tips for how you too can safely give an affordable, life-saving gift to the neediest among us. Because when it comes to the homeless, that's when, truly, The Giving Is Easy. And once you see how simple and rewarding it can be to drop a gift with a homeless person, be sure to pass the word along. Email friends, post your efforts on Facebook or MySpace. Put together gifts to have in your car for those awkward moments when you're waiting at an intersection, staring at a scrawled "anything helps, even a smile" cardboard sign. It will change the whole tenor of your life.

At this festive time of year, Mr. Scrooge, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute. Ebenezer: Are there no prisons?

Still feeling reluctant to throw together a homeless gift? Keep in mind that, when it comes to your health, studies show that acts of altruism benefit YOU - your life satisfaction, your overall level of contentment, and even how long you live. If altruism was a drug, it would outsell Viagra.

Still not convinced? Channel some of your Niner frustration into a slightly different competitive arena. Hey, we've got to do something to redeem our city's good name - in the compassion-for-the-homeless nationwide stakes, San Francisco and Berkeley won top slots for Meanest Cities in America.

Still not convinced? Well, when it comes to gifts for the homeless, I'm not exaggerating about that life-saving part. How often can you give a simple gift, for less than 5 bucks, that can actually save the life of someone you pass each day? Now that's effective gifting. Life on the streets takes a lethal toll, and many people die unacknowledged.

How To Give:

Safety first - for you and your gift recipient. While many of us realize that giving an obvious gift to a street person might attract unwanted attention to yourself, you may not be aware that you could also be making your gift-recipient a target for assault later. When it comes to handing out a gift, here's what you mutter to yourself as you do it (hey, you'll blend in even more!): Discreet, discreet - the motto on the street. The safest and best way to gift a street person is to do what you already do - give small gifts to the folks you predictably pass on your usual routes, whether you're going to work, going out to dinner, or heading to a movie. Keep a gift handy and, instead of bending over to drop a buck in a cup, put your bag on the ground and keep going. Don't break stride, avoid getting into long conversations. Don't make a show of giving gifts around a large area and certainly don't go into areas your don't know. I'd say don't gift alone, or in isolated areas, and don't give gifts to crowds. Gift should be given in plain bags - no bows, no garish colors, no Tiffany sacks. It's nice, though, to tuck inside a small bow or giftcard ("From Me, To You"). You wouldn't wave money around, and the same applies to your gift. Anytime you might consider handing someone a dollar, hand him/her a gift instead. And do it as discreetly, and with as little fanfare.

What To Give:

1) Earning power is primo. One of the best possible presents is something that helps a homeless person earn some cash. Consider buying a harmonica, recorder, or sheet music for the a cappella singer who starts to sound hoarse by the end of rush hour. If your neighborhood, like one in Berkeley, has a street person who paints tiny abstracts on rocks to earn some bucks, a set of acrylics or a handful of Sharpies could be a life-saver. Finally, anyone who's ever had to dumpster-dive knows the value of some study work gloves, or a pair of fingerless mitts. But what if you don't know someone's talents? Never fear. You can still spontaneously give any homeless person a great present. Consider some of these types of gifts -

2) Hats, scarves and gloves. Any of these are heart-warming (literally) gifts, especially this time of year. Prices range anywhere from $9.99 or $4.99 for men's items at Target and Longs, to all of $1 at the (of course) Dollar General Store. Homeless people try to blend, because the streets are not a good place to attract attention. For that reason, choose gender neutral colors that won't show wear and tear so fast (navy, brown, black). And if you're giving any clothing item, it's nice to leave the tag in place. Lots of homeless people have gotten unfortunate cases of lice and scabies from accepting used articles, so it's reassuring to know, if you're the recipient, that what you're getting is new. Coats are really nice, but hard to hand out discreetly, and expensive to buy in quantity - but if you can provide them, go for it! Another lovely present is a pair of sweatpants. Sweatpants are both gender and size neutral. Buy men's large in dark colors, regardless of who you're gifting ($19.99 Target and other stores).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Santa's Favorite Book of Digital Basics

Around this time of year I always get a panicked call from Santa's Workshop asking me if I have written a really basic book on digital photography that the old bearded gent can hand out with confidence. And this year, thankfully, I was able to say yes! (And trust me, they were more than grateful at the North Pole book warehouse!) In May Lark Books released Focus on Digital Photography Basics (A Lark Photography Book), a really handsome and fun little book that, I think, is perfect for kids or adults getting their first digital camera.

There is nothing about this book will scare off anyone and the techno talk is kept to an absolute minimum--on top of which, it's so full of nicely reproduced photos that even if all you did was look at the photos and read the captions it would be a fun read. I cover the entire gamut of camera basics in the book including: types of cameras (and why there are different kinds of digital cameras), what the term "resolution" means, what pixels are, a really basic look at the different types of lenses that are available and the accessories that you might want. But much of the book is devoted the more fun and creative aspects of photography--composition, natural light, shooting photos of your kids and pets, taking pretty sunsets, etc.

It's a really simple book and yet I think it covers a tremendous amount of ground. I shot almost all of the photos and the reproduction is extremely nice. (I'm told the elves are particularly smitten with the photo of the penguin on page 109! Who knew?) Oops, I better go, the Candy Cane phone is ringing again and you know who that is!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Don't Forget to Photograph the Decorations

I grew up in a house where Christmas wasn't Christmas until my mother had turned the inside of the house into a living Hallmark card: there were decorations everywhere. There was no tabletop, no rocking chair, no lamp that escaped without at least one red bow or a red candle. Even the big wonderful tabby cat, Brandy, that I had back then had to wear the occasional red bow (and trust me, it took nerves of steel to try to get him to cooperate with such a scheme). Tragically, I seem to have inherited the affliction--I spend the weeks before Christmas puttering around the house putting together silly little still-life scenes and hanging bows on things. Pathetic, I know.

But one good thing that comes out of this mild obsession (other than that the house looks cheery and the cats have something new to play with) is that I have little still life subjects all around to photograph. I shot the photo here while sitting at my dining room table flipping through the junk mail. I looked up and saw that beautiful afternoon light coming through the blinds and illuminating the scene--so naturally I had to grab the camera and take a few shots. I ended up using the photo in my book Jeff Wignall's Digital Photography Crash Course: 2 Minute Tips for Better Photos (Lark Photography Book). Amazing to me that such innocent photographic moments end up in the pages of a book, but again, that's the fun thing about photography, you never know what will become of your photos. I'm also thinking of using this shot on some homemade cards this year.

So this year when you're putting up a tree or just hanging some greens on the front door, take time to photograph them--maybe next year you can use one of the photos on a Christmas card.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holiday Photo Book Suggestions

Books make great holiday gifts and throughout my life some of the best Christmas presents I've ever received were great  photo books. If you're looking for a good photo book to give as a gift, look at my holiday photography book guide. I've chosen a few dozen books that are aimed at a variety of different photo interests and learning levels.

Books inspire, they educate, they're fun and they last a lifetime. I've had some of my favorite photo books for more than 40 years--gifts from my parents that thankfully knew the value of having great books in the house. My mother never missed an opportunity to encourage my photography, my writing and my wanderlust with books.

By the way, the book pictured here is Michael Freeman's fantastic book The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos. Michael is one of my favorite photographers and authors and this is one of his finest books. Feel free to email me if you're looking for a book on a particular topic, I'll be happy to help you find one.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Help with Buying a Digital Camera

If you're thinking of buying someone (or yourself) a new digital camera this holiday season, you know what a confusing task it can be! It seems like newer cameras with more features are introduced everyday (it seems that way and it's probably true). In addition to the help below, I've have a written a camera-buying guide that you'll find on my website and it might help you sort things out a bit.

One of the things that changes rapidly is just the types or categories of cameras available--while you once only had to choose between a point-and-shoot or a DSLR (digital single-lens-reflex), now there are  new categories like advanced zoom cameras, mirrorless DSLR cameras and, of course, some very sophisticated cell-phone cameras. While my buying guide doesn't make specific camera suggestions, it does provide an overview of camera types/categories and what you should for and what you can expect from each type of camera. 

Whenever someone asks me (which is almost every day!) which camera to buy I suggest that they make a list of things they need from a new camera to help them narrow down not only the type of camera that will best suit their needs, but even help with comparing specific brands and models. If you take a few moments to answer the questions below, you'll find that choosing a camera will probably come down to just a few different models and your job will be a lot simpler. Here are the primary things I think you should consider:

  • How much do you want to spend on a camera?
  • Is the camera for you or is it a gift?
  • Is size and weight a big consideration?
  • Do you want to carry this camera in a purse or pocket or are you willing to carry a shoulder bag just for your camera?
  • How long have you been taking pictures?
  • Do you have a passion for photography? (Or does the person you're giving it to?)
  • What subjects do you want to photograph? 
  • Do you mainly want to shoot snapshots of the family, or are you hoping to photograph specialty subjects like sports, wildlife, birds, etc.?
  • Do you want to add more lenses at some future date?
  • Do you want the power of an accessory flash or is a built-in flash powerful enough (keeping in mind the range of a built-in flash is probably limited to 12' or so)?
  • Does a camera that's waterproof matter? (If you live near the beach, that might be a consideration.)
  • What brands do you feel comfortable with? Generally people feel more confident buying a brand that they already own or use--or that a friend suggests. Most of us are very brand loyal. I use Nikon DSLR cameras, for example, but own Canon, Olympus and Kodak point-and-shoot and zoom cameras. I like them all.
  • Does image-stabilization (anti-camera-shake technology) mean a lot to you? If your hands aren't steady or if you shoot in low light a lot, that might be a big consideration.
  • Do you want to download photos via wireless technology? (A growing trend.)
  • Does the color of the camera matter? (What?!)
  • Finally, are you going to replace this camera a year from now when something new comes out?
Answer these questions and you'll have a much better picture of what you or your lucky friend wants and needs. I strongly suggest that you print out these questions and jot down your answers and then bring the page with you to the camera store. These are some of the questions that a good camera salesperson will want to ask you and if you have the answers ready, it can save you (and them) a lot of time--and probably save you some money. And prepared customers get much better customer service from busy salespeople.

One other question I get asked a lot is whether it's better to buy a camera locally or online. Good question! If you have a good local camera shop, I strongly suggest you go see them (and go on a weekday morning and you'll get a lot more personal attention) because nothing beats good advice from an experienced camera salesperson. I don't like big box stores or electronic stores--the people there have to know too much about too many products to keep up--and lots of them are on commission. But I also buy a lot of gear online and I find it very helpful to read others' reviews on sites like Amazon Search Amazon.com for digital cameras because you get to read honest reviews based on personal experiences. Yes, some reviews are stupid and talk more about shipping experiences than the cameras, but most are about the product and are very useful.

Also, places like B&H (highly recommended--see ad in the side margin) and Amazon (highly recommended) have the best prices you'll find. Personally, I'm often willing to pay a little more for in-person service, but for speed and cheap prices, you can't be a good online site. But know the site before you buy--never buy online strictly by price. There are a lot of scam sites out there. Stick with Amazon or B&H.

Feel free to print this article or email it to friends. Email me if you have questions.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Another Great Neon Sign is Gone

Some of you are probably familiar with the shot above--I've used it in at least one of my books and variations of it have been shown on this blog. I also have the shot in my Flickr Photostream and the other day I got a message from Flickr member Rick Ibsen that the sign was destroyed in a winter storm in March of 2010. The motel apparently switched hands around that time also and the sign isn't going to be replaced. Below is a shot of the sign after the storm shot by Rick (for more of Rick's great photos, check out Rick Ibsen's Flickr Photostream).

I always tell my students and readers: when you see something great, shoot it--you never know if you'll get the chance again. It's easy to drive by something neat and say, "Oh, I'll come back and shoot that another time." But fate does not always cooperate so nicely. It will only take five minutes out of your life to shoot something interesting and you'll always be happy that you did--and that goes for old friends, favorite trees and the pear ripening in the morning sun on the windowsill, as well.  Let your camera be your instant journaling machine.

By the way, speaking of old friends (!), if you're looking for some cool books to buy for one of them, check out my photo book suggestions on my main site.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Close Encouter: Windsufer vs. the Coast Guard

I took this shot about two weeks ago, a few minutes after I shot the one below--and it's the same windsurfer (Mike Colombo) in both shots. And if you're wondering what the big spray is all about, you won't believe this...

Before I ended up photographing windsurfers at the Stratford (Connecticut) seawall, I had driven over to the nearby airport to see if I could catch a glimpse of President Obama, who was in town to hold an election rally at Harbor Yard Arena in Bridgeport. And I actually did get a quick glimpse of him whizzing by in his motorcade (I'll run one of those photos later in the week). While I was driving down what we call the Burma Road that runs through the Great Meadows marshland (part of the Stuart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge), I noticed a Coast Guard boat in the marsh at the foot of the main runway--obviously there to protect the President. There were also five big Chinook helicopters on the runway, so I knew that the Prez had landed and was either at the airport or enroute to Bridgeport.

Anyway, an hour or so later, I did catch a glimpse of Obama's limo and motorcade as it sped back to the airport. Funny, it was just me and a half dozen kids from a nearby neighborhood standing on the corner where we saw him. He waved, but the windows were up and he was on the far side of the limo, so basically what you saw was the shape of a head and a palm waving. Well, anyway, I can say I photographed him!

But on the way home after that, I decided to drive by the seawall (as I always do) to see what was happening. Seeing a half dozen or more windsurfers I, of course, stopped to shoot. I'd been shooting for about a half hour when I saw the Coast Guard boat that had been in the marsh heading up along the coast, right off of the seawall, presumably heading back to New London or wherever it had come from. Since I wasn't shooting a windsurfer at that moment, I focused on the boat and tracked him as he headed east moving at a fairly good clip--apparently a little too good.

The Sound was a bit rough (wind being the reason there were so many windsurfers) and I shot a half dozen or so frames of the CG boat as it moved by--and an instant later I realized it was on a collision course with Mike. Apparently the captain of the boat realized it at the same instant and pulled a very hard fast turn to starboard, right into a wave and into the wind. The collision of the boat and the waves sent up an enormous spray (blow up the photo and you'll see just how huge it was) that completely engulfed the CG boat! Amazing! And I was focused right on the scene--capturing both the CG boat and Mike in the same frame.

How close were they? Pretty damn close if you ask me.  I don't know if there was a real risk of collision or not (I think there was), but it was certain that the CG boat did not see the windsurfer. Also, the windsurfer was on the correct side of the boat, was under sail and was a smaller craft--so had the right of way on all three counts. I also think the CG boat was very far in on the shoal--though there's probably nothing wrong with that. And the seas were rough, so visibility was tough for everyone, but since that was the case, you'd think the boat would have been traveling a bit slower.

Anyway, every one survived and so there was a happy ending. And I not only got a good shot, but a good story. Amazing though that I was focused right on the boat when the incident occurred--which is why I tell everyone that your camera is no good sitting at home or in a case. Imagine the headlines if a boat that had been guarding the President had been in a collision that day!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Surf's Up Dude: Go Find an Action Subject!

This time of year is kind of an off time for scenic photos outdoors--at least here in New England. The leaves are pretty much gone, the pumpkins have been picked and the days are getting shorter. But there is a lot of sports action at this time of year--football is in full swing, the outdoor rinks will be frozen soon and, believe it or not, there are still people playing in the water.

I photographed windsurfer Mike Colombo off of the seawall in Stratford, Connecticut last weekend and it was quite a challenge to get a good sharp photograph of someone moving so incredibly fast. The day was a bit gray and the wind was really blowing, so just holding the camera steady was a challenge too; I tried using a tripod but the windsurfers (there were probably 6 or 8 there) were whipping by so fast that the tripod, while great for holding my 70-300mm lens steady, did slow down my reactions a bit. This photo was shot using the tripod (a Manfrotto 3021), however, because Mike was heading right toward me and it was easy to predict where he was heading.

The keys to stopping this kind of action and getting good focus are to set your camera to its highest burst rate (if you have that option) and to place your autofocus in the "continuous" mode. In this mode the camera will continue to fire whether the focus is exact or not, so it's a bit risky, but at least the camera won't balk when you press the shutter. I shot this with a Nikon D90 and I have to tell you, most of the frames are extremely sharp and well focused--and I give a lot of credit to Nikon's predictive autofocus. I also give some credit to the fact that last summer I spent a lot of time photographing high speed subjects, including the Blue Angels and really practiced with the various focusing/metering/burst combinations. You can't just show up and start shooting with action subjects like this, you really need to study the action modes in advance and keeping working at it.

In my next posting I'm going to show you an incredible shot of Mike in a near collision with a U.S. Coastguard boat...a very exciting shot! And trust me, the collision would not have been his fault!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

If you're trying to get shots of Halloween lights, try the night-portrait mode to get a good mix of existing lights and flash. There's a free tutorial for the night portrait mode on my main site. And boy do I miss being a kid and coming home with a pillowcase full of candy!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Simple Solution for Creating Soft Flash

One of the problems of using on-camera flash to photograph people indoors is that the light is very harsh and direct causing a ton of problems with glaring highlights and deep shadows. I shot this portrait, for example, of a woman at her desk for a local oil-delivery company. Because it's a busy office and the spaces are tight, there was no room (or time) to set up a big umbrellas or softbox. Instead, I used a Nikon SB800 on-camera flash (mounted on a Nikon D90 body) and used a Lumiquest Pocket Bouncer attached to the flash to soften the light. By bouncing the light into the plastic diffuser (the flash is aimed up into it rather that directly at the subject), it creates a much larger reflective surface for the flash to bounce off of and so softens the light--remember: the larger the diffuser, the softer the light.  As you can see in this shot, there are no really dark shadows of the woman behind here as there would be with direct on-camera flash and the lighting on her face is soft and even.

The Pocket Bouncer is just a triangular white piece of plastic that attaches to your flash (by Velcro or a strap) that softens the light without diminishing the power noticeably. But why read about it, why not let the inventor, Quest Couch (how's that for a cool name?) demonstrate it in the video below:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The NEW Joy of Digital Photography is here!

The NEW Joy of Digital Photography is now available on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. This is a complete revision of the book with hundreds of new photos and tons of new text--literally everything in the book has been updated. I think this is the best book I've ever written and it's a great introduction not just to all things digital, but to photography (design, composition, lighting, technique) in general. The book sold over 80,000 copies when it was first published in 2005 and this is the first major revision. A great holiday gift! I'll write more about the book in the days to come, but right now you can read several extensive excerpts (on "People" photography) on the Black Star Rising blog. And here's the direct link to it on Amazon The NEW Joy of Digital Photography (A Lark Photography Book).

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blackstar Rising Featuring "NEW Joy" Excerpts

I'm really happy to tell you two things about my newest book The NEW Joy of Digital Photography (A Lark Photography Book):  First, it's being released in just a few days (in fact, Barnes & Noble may already have it in stock online) and I'm pretty psyched. I worked hard (along with the staff of Lark Books) completely revising and updating this bestselling book and I'm so happy to see it hitting the bookstores. The original sold more than 80,000 copies and reached an amazing #41 among all books on Amazon--it actually passed both Bob Dylan's and Bill Clinton's autobiographies on the bestseller lists (all three were released approximately the same time)!

But secondly, the book is being excerpted all this week on the great Blackstar Rising blog. Blackstar Rising is the blog of the legendary photojournalism agency Black Star and it's an honor and a lot of fun to have my book featured on their blog--so I hope you'll visit their blog and become a regular reader. Blackstar is excerpting the chapter on people photography, so it should appeal to a lot of readers.

The photo above was shot by my good friend Michelle Frick and it's one of my favorite photos in the book (the book, by the way, contains around 400-500 photos, I think, and while most of them are mine, there are a lot of terrific photos by talented photographers like Michelle). I really think that Michelle's photo transcends being just a great baby photo and enters the realm of fine art. I find it a very beautiful and comforting photo--and (hint, hint), I'm hoping to hang it on a wall in my home someday. Incidentally, Michelle is a former student of mine from BetterPhoto.com and in the few years I've known her she's grown from a really ambitious student into one of the best people/portrait photographers in the state of Texas.

I hope you enJOY the new book! (Can you tell I'm excited to see it released?)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Getty Takes a Closer Look at Earliest Photos

I found the following story from the Los Angeles Times online today and thought it would be of interest--it's a new look at the very first photos ever made and some of the news may change the history of photography:

Getty Takes a Closer Look at the Origins of Photography

Historians seem to agree that the first photographic images were created around 1825 by Joseph Nicephore Niépce, a French scientist who experimented with various imagery techniques, including heliographs made on pewter plates.

This week, the Getty Conservation Institute is presenting research that reveals new details about how Niépce created those first photographic likenesses. Working with the National Media Museum in Bradford, England, the Getty said that one of Niépce's images, titled "Un Clair de Lune," that was thought to be a photograph enhanced with etching is actually a photograph without any hand tooling at all.

"That was something of a big surprise," said Dusan Stulik, a senior scientist at the Getty who has been involved in the project. "Our research has provided us with a deeper and broader understanding of his work than we had before."

To create his early photographs, Niépce used pewter plates and a resin-like material that helped the plate accept images, according to the Getty.

In 1827, Niépce brought some of these plates to England to demonstrate his techniques to The Royal Society, but he was unable to share his experiments due to problems at the institution at the time.
The Getty is presenting its historical findings at a conference this week in England at the National Media Museum. The museum houses three of the four known surviving plates taken to England by Niépce. The remaining plate is on display at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, where it is known as the "First Photograph."

During his career, Niépce worked on and off with Louis Daguerre, who is often credited with pioneering the art of photography with the daguerreotype.

-- David Ng
Photo: "Un Clair de Lune" by Niépce. Credit: Getty Conservation Institute

By the way:  If you are interested in the history of photography, Naomi Rosenblum's A World History of Photography is a great book to read!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Solomon Burke, RIP: Always Keep a Diamond in Your Mind

The great soul singer Solomon Burke passed away today. He was the greatest of them all and how glad I feel that I got to see him in concert.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Autumn in Kyoto: Be Inspired

This is an incredibly beautiful video that I found on Youtube. Hopefully it will inspire some creative ideas for your own autumn photos.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Infinity Valley

Just having fun in Photoshop recently: took a shot of Monument Valley in Utah (on the Arizona border) and repeated it shrinking the size each time. The first thing I did was select an area of the scene, copy it, then I used the Edit>Tranform>Scale command to shrink it. After that I just used the Edit>Transform>Again command and shrank it a bit more. Very easy and fun to play with. But click the photo to see it full size and the effect is more fun. I'll explain the technique in more detail if anyone is interested.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Wildlife Photo Tutorial with Cristina Mittermeier

You might have noticed that I'm running a lot of videos this week and there are two good reasons for that: One is that it's easy to post them and the other is that Youtube is full of great photo-related videos. Today's posting is about photographing wildlife and was shot on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. You hear so much horrible news coming out of Mexico, it's nice to see something positive filmed there. Enjoy! Visit Cristina's site for more of her beautiful photos.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Panasonic Lumix GH-2: Includes 3D!

One of the big hits at Photokina 2010 was the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 16.05 MP Live MOS Interchangeable Lens Camera with 3-inch Free-Angle Touch Screen LCD and 14-42mm Hybrid Lens (Black)

Chase Jarvis Does the Nikon D7000

I have no idea who Chase Jarvis is, but this is a pretty cool video made with (and featuring) the recently announced Nikon D7000.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nikkor Fast Tele Lens Update: 200mm f/2 Lens

OK, in a perfect world where I'm wildly wealthy and price is no object when it comes to buying the toys I want, add this to the list: Nikon has announced an update of their Nikkor 200mm f/2 lens. The announcement was made at Photokina, the every-other-year trade show held in Cologne, Germany.

I've always been a big fan of prime lenses and this NIKKOR 200mm F2G ED VRII lens is very fast indeed. Fast lenses are somewhat less of a necessity (I think) these days with ISO speeds in the 6400+ range being common, but having such a fast lens still makes it much simpler to see in dark situations (concerts, indoor sports, wildlife at twilight) and that's a big deal to me. Remember, you're always viewing through the lens' maximum aperture.

The biggest news about the update of this lens is the addition of  Nikon's VRII stabilization technology. Nikon claims it provides up to four stops of correction and if that's true, zowie. Yes, I still think you should use a tripod, but a lot of times (concerts, for example) that's not possible. And according to the CNET report I read: "The VRII has a Tripod Detection Mode for the tiny vibrations on a tripod, allowing the VR to stay turned on even when on a tripod...It has Internal Focusing(IF), so the barrel of the lens does not change in length as it is focusing."

Price? (You had to ask?):  Suggested retail is $5995. "Dear Santa..."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Man Who Walks in the Sky

I shot this photo last week at the Guilford Fair in Connecticut. Nothing has been retouched and he's not walking on high wire--want to take a guess what he's doing? That horizontal wire behind him is just an electric wire, the one with flags is rigging for something unrelated.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What's Hot at Photokina 2010!

Photokina, in case you're new to the world of photo trade shows, is the granddaddy of all photo trade shows and is held every other year in the lovely city of Cologne, Germany. It's a massive show that goes on for a week and even at the end of the week, after walking for (no joke) miles of aisles, you feel like you've only scratched the surface of the show. I didn't go to this year's show, but there's a lot of product news starting to come out and so I'll post some of the highlights here and add more in the days to come. By the way, I've been to the show in the past and have to say I had a blast.

One of Nikon's big announcements is the new Nikon D7000 DSLR. The camera represents a brand new DSLR camera generation and falls between the Nikon D5000 and the D90.  It is aimed at the serious amateur photographer and offers a full package of camera-settings for creative photography as well as videography.
The Olympus E5 is a 12.3 megapixel camera and the newest Olympus Four Thirds DSLR camera and is the successor to their very popular E3 camera and is designed for semi-pro and professional photographers (or, obviously, anyone else that can afford it). I have always loved Olympus cameras and I think that their grace and beauty gets lost sometimes in the Nikon/Canon wars. One of the coolest features of this camera is a 3" rotating LCD--and until you've used an articulated LCD, you can't imagine how useful they really become (allowing you to hold the camera over your head in a crowd, for example, and still see the LCD clearly).
And lest you should think that there has been any abatement in the ever-blossoming megapixel ascent, there hasn't. Sony has introduced the 16.2 megapixel Sony a580. One of the really interesting features here is Auto HDR! HDR (high-dynamic-range imaging) is the process of recording multiple exposures of a single subject in order to capture an image that handles the full dynamic range of the subject (in other words, a very contrasty subject) without losing either highlights or shadow detail. Normally this is a slow procedure where you set each exposure manually--but Sony has now automated it. Neat! The camera can also fire at a very speedy 7 frames-per-second. The Sony A580 is also able to record Full HD video in 1920x1080i resolution and AVCHD format.

OK, enough equipment talk for now.

Oh, by the way, when you're at the newsstand, pick up a copy of the October issue of Popular Photography, my "Traveling Photographer" column this month is about the monarch butterfly migration. Wow, did I even tell you I'm now writing a monthly column for Pop? I better blog that!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fiverr: They'll Do Anything (almost) for $5!

How would you like a guy (or a girl) to dress up in a hotdog costume and dance to the song of your choice and then post a video of it on Youtube? Sounds like a great birthday card to me! And you can get this strange-but-true service done for you for a mere $5. 

OK, this isn't necessarily a photo tip, but I have to tell you about one of the coolest, most fun websites I've seen in ages:  it's called Fiverr. It's a site that advertises strange things that people will do for you (to promote a business, for example) for $5--just my kind of site! 

Here are just a few of the odd things you can get done for a mere five-buck bill:

  • Get 10 flyers for your business posted around a popular campus in Miami.
  •  Advertise your site on some guy's arm for a week!
  • Have a guy put on a Spiderman suit and walk around Sydney, Australia all day advertising your site. (Sounds good to me--I have a lot of readers down under!)
  • Have a really cute babe hold up a sign advertising your website or business. (Let's hope people take time to notice the sign.)
  • Learn how to get into the music business.
  • Get five of your photos manipulated in Photoshop.
  • Have someone help you pick out a Halloween costume (people need help with this?).
You get the idea. You can find someone to do almost any strange thing you like for $5. I'm going to try find a few to creatively promote my two new books Jeff Wignall's Digital Photography Crash Course: 2 Minute Tips for Better Photos and The NEW Joy of Digital Photography (A Lark Photography Book).  There's this one guy that will write whatever I want on his hairless guinea pig and then send me a photo...

You simply have to check out the site. By the way, I won't send you $5 but if you click on one of the Google ads on MY site, you'll help pay for it :)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

World Trade Center Memorial

This is a memorial to the victims of the World Trade Center attack. It is located on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River in Jersey City. The Manhattan skyline is in the background and it looks out on exactly where the WTC once stood. The memorial was created by an actual beam from the WTC and has been adorned with various mementos, angels, American flags, etc. Ironically, this memorial is just a short drive from Liberty State Park where you catch the ferry to visit the Statue of Liberty. It has always seemed stunning to me that tourists were on Liberty Island, visiting the Statue when 9-11 happened--and from that great monument to liberty, they watched America being attacked.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Share the Love--Join Digital Image Cafe

I've always felt that one of the best ways to improve your photography and to get more out of your picture taking is to join some type of photo community--whether it's a local camera club, taking an adult-ed class in your hometown or an by joining an online community. Online communities are especially appealing because you can participate when you have time and join only activities that are important to you. You can come home after a long day of working (or shooting!) and post your newest images for others to see and enjoy (and critique) and (what else?) talk with others about cameras.

One of the most interesting online communities I've come across is the Digital Image Cafe. One of the neat features of the Cafe is their online-gallery hosting service that comes with membership ($29/year); you can post up to 100 of your images in your own gallery. They also host a number of great contests, including Photo of the Day, Photo of the Month and Photo of the Year contests. And the prizes (that include some of my books) are great--in 2009 they gave away $69,000 in prizes! (In fact, Digital Image Cafe was one of the primary sources for photos for my book Winning Digital Photo Contests (Lark Photography Book -- so you never know where entering a contest can lead!) Plus, every month they give away Lark Photo books just for belonging to the community. There is a full list of member benefits on their site.

I'll also post this info on my Winning Digital Photo Contests blog--and I hope you'll share that blog with some of your friends.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Audubon's "Birds in Focus" Contest Deadline is September 7th!

Got bird photos? If you're an avid bird photographer (pro or amateur, there are separate categories) you should check out the annual Audubon "Birds in Focus" competition--the deadline is September 7th though, so no procrastinating. Prizes include all-expenses-paid trips for two to some very exotic destinations!

You'll find all the details on my new Winning Digital Photo Contests blog. I just posting a reminder here in case you haven't yet seen my new blog. You can read a bit more about this amazing photo there, too--shot by Rob Palmer and featured in my book Winning Digital Photo Contests (Lark Photography Book). What, you don't own the book? You're waiting for a sign from above? Consider yourself signed.  (Photo Copyright Rob Palmer)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Frame Flowers Against Black for Drama

One of the problems of photographing close-ups of flowers is that there is usually a lot of clutter around them. You can use sticks and tripod legs and things to try to keep some of this scrub out of the frame, or limit your depth of field to just your subject (use a wide aperture to limit depth of field) so that the background is out of focus, but it's still there. One way to get a nice clean and dramatic look in flower photos is to use a black background. I carry around a big piece of black fabric and also some pieces of black poster board (about a buck a sheet at craft stores). Then when I find a flower I want to isolate, I slip the background in a foot or two behind the flowers (to keep it totally out of focus and with no reflections or bits of white lint showing up).

I used a sheet of back fabric (slung over a lawn chair a few feet behind the flowers) to photograph these bleeding heart flowers in my garden and, just by good fortune, the fabric was in shadow while the flowers were in sunlight. The added contract of sun against shade helps too. I did, however, also use a small amount of fill-in flash because I wanted more depth of field than I was getting and turning on the flash helped me shoot at a smaller aperture (I was working, as always, in the aperture-priority mode) of f/22. Again, because the flash was several feet away from the black fabric (the flash was only about a foot from the flowers), there was no chance of light picking up folds in the fabric, etc. Later in Photoshop I also used the selective color tool to make sure the black was very black.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Nikon International Photo Contest Almost Here!

The very prestigious Nikon International Photo Contest is about to begin accepting entries--check out my Winning Picture blog for full details! The contest is open to amateurs and pros and there are lots of Nikon cameras as prizes!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It's a blog, it's a book: It's Jeff Wignall's Digital Photography Crash Course Book!

I have a new book out:  Jeff Wignall's Digital Photography Crash Course! And here's the really fun thing about it: the book is based on and was inspired by this blog. When I started this blog about three years ago, I had an idea that someday I'd like to gather the "best of" the tips from it, expand them and then publish a book of them--and that's exactly what I did. The book, published by Lark Books, was just released today and it features around 150 expanded and illustrated tips--most of them inspired by postings in this blog. One nice aspect of the book is that there is no beginning and no end--you can just flip through it and stop wherever the spirit moves you or the topic interests you. And most of the tips are just two-pages long, so there's no heavy-duty reading--just a lot of fun, quick tips that you can use immediately to improve your photos. The book covers everything from how to photograph carnival rides at night to taking great close-ups to meditating your way to a deeper understanding of your subjects. The book is so new that I haven't even opened the case of them that arrived today from the publisher, but in the next few days I'll give you more of a run down on the table of contents. Or you can just go ahead and order it from Amazon immediately!

Friday, August 13, 2010

National Geographic Photo Contest: Win $10,000

Have a shot you think is good enough to be in National Geographic? They'd like to see it! The annual National Geographic photo contest is underway--get the details on my new Winning Digital Photo Contests blog. Grand prize is $10,000 and publication in the magazine!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lost Ansel Adams Masterpieces--or No?

Perhaps you've read in the news that a guy named Rick Norsigian from California found a box full of glass-plate negatives that he--and apparently a lot of other folks--believe to be lost Ansel Adams negatives. If they can prove that, the negatives have an estimated value of $200 million. But a lot of folks, including several of Adams' former assistants and members of his family, believe that the photos were not taken by the famed landscape shooter. Rather, the latest theory suggests, they were shot by an unknown (until now) photographer named Earl Brooks. If so, they are probably worth nothing more than spare change. There is even a documentary being made about the find and the search for the real photographer behind the negatives. Whoever shot them, it's a pretty fascinating story and it has drawn a lot of media attention, including this nice story in the Los Angeles Times. Just the thought that a small box of glass negatives could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars is something to ponder!

Photos: Comparison of photos of the Jeffrey pine in Yosemite. On left is a print owned by Marian Walton that she says was taken in 1923 by her uncle, Earl Brooks. Credit: Photographer(s) in dispute/Marian Walton. At right is an image made from a negative that Rick Norsigian found 10 years ago and attributes to Ansel Adams.  Credit: Rick Norsigian Collection