10 Great Tips to Take Better Photos

I am very proud to announce that my first eBook about photograph is out today. It’s a book I have been working on over the last year—on and off, of course. Now it’s finally available. For me this is a natural extension of my desire to teach and help anyone interested in taking better picture. The eBook (and the next to come) will be an addition to the workshops I teach all over the world as well as my online workshops.

10 Great Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Point-and-Shoot Camera addresses a handful of challenges that most photographers struggle with. Over 45 pages this eBook will give you a handful of great tips (and some more background to better understand the camera) to improve you photos and make your photos connect with the viewers. The intention is to help you make better pictures without getting too technical or talk too much about visual language or composition.

My intention has also been to make it affordable to most people, which means that for only 5 dollars you get access to download the eBook (as a PDF-document) .

10 Great Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Point-and-Shoot Camera is packed with useful information, tips and great photography. The language is down to earth and not technical at all. It aims for photographers not quite confident with the photographic process yet, but who want to learn more and improve their photography. If you are struggling with getting your photos look good or too often find that your photos don’t quite capture what you had in mind then 10 Great Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Point-and-Shoot Camera is a book for you.

To get this book published is for me very exciting. I have for a long time wanted to publish my own series of photo books. And this is the first one. In other words; in the future more books will come, both for beginners and advanced photographers. More than anything I want to put together a book about the creative process, which is something I have already started working on.

So stay in tune for more. However, for now, maybe 10 Great Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Point-and-Shoot Camera is worth looking up. You can get it by clicking the button below. It will take you to the web site where you can order the book.

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The New Visual Language

I come from a tradition of classical story telling with my photos. It’s the way documentary photographers have emphasized both content and moment in the stories each of their photographs tell. My friend and colleague, Sven Creutzmann, comes from the same tradition. And this—you may call it traditional visual language—is what we teach in our workshop, like the one in Cuba earlier this month.

We are not stuck in the way we see photography and of course let each student develop his or her own voice. At least that’s what we try to stress for ourselves as well as the students and that’s really our focus. Even though we believe in the classical use of visual language, I think it’s fair to say that we are both open to other approaches in ways of shooting and expressing oneself.

Nevertheless, over the last many years, we have seen a shift in how for instance award winning documentary photography are less and less accentuating the clear story telling, and we have both been puzzled by this change. In documentary photography, a more artistic or ambiguous approach has become more prevalent. Personally, I like photos that are open to interpretations, in which the message is not clearly set by the photographer, and where there are layers of understanding embedded in the photo. However, the photos that win these contests have quite often baffled both Sven and me.

It’s the postmodern or even post-postmodern school of young photographers that are now dominating the spearhead of photojournalism. It’s a kind of photography that is often described as deconstructed in which traditional rules or guidelines are broken in order to create a new visual language. Again, I am one who promotes not following any rules or established guidelines. However, I have found a lot of this new photography rather boring, drab and uninteresting. As I wrote in my post The Emperor’s New Clothes? a couple of years ago, the postmodern approach is often plain and boring—almost as intended—but is raised to the sky by pretentious acclamation.

I admit. This sounds like an old, outdated photographer ranting about times that are changing. And maybe I am. Still, I have always been one to push myself and try to go into unknown territory. So, after Sven and I were done with this year’s photo workshop, we decided to sit down and figure out what this new visual language is. We looked up a bunch of award winning photographers and tried to deconstruct their deconstructed photography. I tell you, the result was quite surprising.

To quickly sum up what we found: One aspect that we took away was the fact that a lot of the photography we looked at for us would have been mistakes we wouldn’t have selected and certainly not submitted to any photo competitions. Furthermore and to be more specific, we found that these photos often put elements in the foreground that are unsharp and add a visual disorder to the imagery. Photographers who shoot with this new visual language move further back or move out of the story (whereas I always teach that you cannot get close enough). They seem to capture in-between-moments where Sven and I have trained ourselves to be able to capture the peak of a moment. They use less wide-angle lenses and they often shoot reflections or through windows or openings. They often include weird details or something that is not quite clear what is and often the composition is static or symmetric. Their photos are often simplified and does not try to build a story, at least not in a classical sense, and part of this is that they often do not include moments at all (not only off-moments as already mentioned) nor people. Finally, we found that many of these photos are heavily worked over in post-production.

One thing that puzzled us was why some of these approaches were used, until a friend of us who is not a photographer, told us that maybe it’s to leave more open to interpretation instead of showing a clear-cut story, simply to be less clear. Of course, that is at least part of it.

Deconstructing is one thing, though. After having done so, Sven and I went out in the streets of Havana and tried to shoot with this new visual language as a template. At first, it felt a little weird and uncomfortable, but it didn’t take long before both of us got a sense of freedom in our shooting. The next couple of hours we completely lost ourselves in the process and captured thousands of photos. We had fun, we felt inspired and it was simply liberating to do something completely different.

Even the result took us aback. I am not saying this is amazing work, by far. But it certainly gave me a different perspective (you can judge by yourself). I think I am more open to the new visual language. Furthermore, I am sure I will pick up what this lesson taught me. It won’t shift my photography completely, but I have gotten a new tool in my photographic tool box. I really enjoyed this new visual language. Of course, by now what is new has already moved ahead to a new place. But that’s OK. I will just have to repeat this exercise every so often.

See Beyond the Subject

If you believe there is beauty and interesting stuff around you, you will see it, more and more, as you open yourself up. You just need a willingness to explore and find what’s extraordinary in the ordinary things around you. Seeing beyond the subject is a good way to expand you vision. For more on this topic, look up the practical tip I wrote in the post See Beyond the Subject on Blue Hour Photo Workshop’s blog.

A Low Hanging Sun

Learning to understand and use light is one of the key elements to make your photographs stand out. But it’s also a challenging skill to master. Light can come in so many forms and have so many qualities. If you want to handle light, the best way is to practice one kind at a time.

On my workshop blog, I have written about one that almost never fails to produce captivating photos. If you are an experience photographer you probably already know all I am writing in the post, but otherwise, check it out on Blue Hour Photo Workshops.

Natural Light Indoor

Nothing beats natural light. It’s versatile, always changing like a facet, thus always surprising and so beautiful. Even in places, you recon you would need to use artificial light; you may take advantage of natural light. Think indoor. Your first thought may be to turn on the flash, but instead of its harsh and contrasting result, here is a different approach.

If you are interested in this practical tip, you will find more about it on Blue Hour Photo Workshop’s blog.

Capturing the Atmosphere in Night Photos

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One of the changes coming with my «new» blog this year will be a complete new layout. This is still work in progress. However in addition, throughout the year, I will add new features to my blog, and today I introduce one of them.

Every so often, I will publish practical tips about how to get better photos. This blog, though, is mostly about creativity and although it’s based on my approach to photography I hope it have relevance to other creative disciplines as well. Thus, very concrete tips on shooting don’t really belong here. Instead, I will post them on the educational blog for Blue Hour Photo Workshops and only make a reference with a link here on In Flow.

This is the first tip I will present this way:

When you want to capture photos in the night, there is in particular one thing you should be aware of. Obviously everything is going to be darker and thus you would most likely need to use a tripod or at least amp up the ISO-setting significantly. Otherwise, the captured photo will be very blurry—which of course can be used creatively if that’s your intention.

However, what I really have in mind is quite something different. Look up this super advise for better night photos.

On a different note: As announced a couple of times I will draw a winner who will be able to participate in my online photo workshop «Finding Your Photographic Voice» later in May. The deadline is now passed and the drawing will take place later this week. The winner will be announced in my blog post on Monday.

Collect and Save for Times of Sparseness

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In your creative endeavour, have you ever had the feeling that you are staring into a blank wall? Nothing is wanting to be expressed through you. You have no idea what to photograph. Or you have a blank canvas or a white screen in front of you, and nothing, absolutely nothing will make its way from your mind to the medium—whatever the medium is.

I am sure you have. As everybody who is engaging in a creative adventure, has. I, for one, certainly have many a time. Not long ago, I simply could not take one single photo, it was as if all of me simply didn’t want to photograph, every muscle resisting even the thought of bringing out the camera. My mind was empty. Nothing. Nada.

That’s when collecting raw materials comes in handy. Over the last year or so, I had written down ideas for photo projects I might want to pursue one day. Now I dug out that list and found an idea that could be worthwhile trying out, despite my lack of creative energy. Before I knew it, I was thoroughly engaged in the process.

We have all heard of writer’s block. It happens to not only writers, but anyone doing any kind of creative work. One way to get out of the rut is to collect raw materials whenever you encounter something that seems interesting. Then, in times of emptiness and standstill, you have a list of ideas that can help you back on the creative track again.

Creativity comes from making associations and connections, and toying with convergences of thoughts; seeing things in a new way—extrapolating, expounding, and using different perspectives that allow new concepts to be seen. All those processes begin with pre-existing materials that trigger new ideas. Raw materials.

Raw materials are words, images, objects, concepts, structures, and other stimuli already in existence that give you a place to start and banish the bewilderment of blankness. Raw materials seduce you to take something in your own unique direction by rearranging, modifying, using an aspect of, repackaging, tweaking, springing off of it, and adding your personal twist. These actions are some of the most effective ways of being creative.

Like Twyla Tharp, the renowned American dancer, choreographer, and author, points out: «Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds into my creativity. But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it, and use it.»

Twyla Tharp collects boxes with anything she finds interesting, no matter whether it’s relevant for her present project or not. If something attracts her attention she collects it. This is almost like magical boxes full of unresolved ideas, available for her whenever she needs something to spring off from.

We can all learn from Tharp. Anyone working in some creative way should collect raw materials. It can be objects, words, thoughts, yes, anything; the important thing is to collect them when you encounter them. Put them in a box or write them down in your notebook or on your cell phone. Immediately. Do not wait until your mind is empty and you stare at that blankness.

About her boxes, Tharp furthermore says: «A box is like soil to me. It’s basic, earthly, elemental. It’s home. It’s what I can always go back to when I need to regroup and keep my bearings. Knowing that the box is always there gives me freedom to venture out, be bold, dare to fall flat on my face. Before you can think out of the box, you have to start with a box.»

Do you have a box—literally or figuratively—that you collect raw materials in for later use?

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Fujifilm X-10 with the zoom set 7.1 mm, equally to 28 mm for a full frame camera. Shutter speed: 1/400 of a second. Aperture: f/3.2. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

The Blessing of Insecurity

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I believe insecurity is good for the shooting process. When you are out in the world with your digital camera and see something, you raise the camera, frame, and make a photograph. Nine times out of ten, you will look at the screen and respond to what you see previewed there and maybe try again. You might repeat this process three or four times before you «see» the result you want or expect on the screen. Then you move on.

When shooting with film, obviously you don’t have the benefit of seeing the results immediately, so you work with some degree of insecurity, having no idea if you «got it». Actually, the thought of «I got it» isn’t part of the equation at all. The instinct is more to stay within the relationship you established when you responded to something in the first place. You keep working, shooting, and keep trying as many variations as your attention allows. Your attention is not continuously shifting between the world and your tools.

I was brought up with film, so to speak; therefore, it’s been natural for me to adapt a similar opus operandi when shooting digital. What I have noticed in my own process is that photographs that interest me on my contact sheets or in the editing of the shoot later on are often far from what had grabbed my attention initially. Most are the seventh, eight or later variation into the investigation.

With this in mind, you should ask yourself if, by being able to look at your results immediately, you are just confirming what you immediately responded to and capturing what you expect? Or are you actually using the «preview» as a tool to keep working and to discover something transcendent, beyond your expectation? There is capacity for both to happen. You just need to avoid the feeling of self-satisfaction that disrupts the shooting and results in only the former and not the latter.

Another argument for not looking at the preview screen during the shooting process is the fact that you take your eyes off the subject when doing so. You might actually miss the Picture with capital P because of this defocus. (I wrote about this in my post A Curse and a Blessing).

I would like to suggest shooting photographs without looking at them in the moment. Work with a bit of insecurity lingering over your shoulder and see what happens. Put black tape over the preview screen if the draw to look at it is too great—which of course requires that you have a viewfinder to see what you actually shoot (or you can even playing with not seeing what you photograph. You are maybe in for an interesting surprise).

Do you use the preview screen all the time? Or do you take chances and turn it off?

Facts about the photo: It was taken with a Lumix LX7 using a 4.7 zoom setting (the equivalent of a 24 mm full frame lens). Shutter speed: 1/1000 of a second. Aperture: f/2.8. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Controlling the Flash

Tivolivakt ved Coney Island, Brooklyn

Do you want to have full control of the flash? Here comes an explanation that will get you on the way to really be able to master the use of flash—at least flash mounted on the camera. There is of course a lot more to flash photography, but that will have to way to another time—and many more posts. This tip here will hopefully without too much work help you understand how you can control the flash in some ways.

Before we start, as you may know; in October last year I started what I called a new instalment for me. On and off I wanted to show and write about simple tips, tips that can improve anyone’s photography. I have written about using long shutter speed to make different photos, I have talked about moving close to the subject to create relationships and I have mentioned how you can using natural reflections—such as sunshine reflected from the streets in through doors—to create beautiful light in your photos.

Alas, I have also had a couple of posts about how to get most out of the camera-mounted flash or the built-in flash on compact cameras. It’s time to take the flash one step further. As written in previous posts you can adjust the amount of flash that is emitted by dialling up or down the flash compensation dial. At the same time you can also adjust the general exposure by the exposure compensation dial where you can make the picture darker or lighter by increments of ⅓ or ½ exposure values (E.V.). The latter will influence both the exposure of the available light as well as the exposure by the flash.

Now this means that you can actually adjust the ratio between the available light and the flash light and thus fine-tune your exposure. This may sound a little complicated, but hopefully it is not. Try to think—when using a combination of both available light and flash—that you are taken two images at once, one with available light and the other with the flash. These two images are then superimposed upon each other (of course this all happens as one exposure in the camera. What I am writing here is just to create a visual image in order to understand how the camera is dealing with the combination of available light and flash).

The flash light has a limited range and will only affect objects closer than one and half to three meters (or yards) away from the flash head depending on the maximum emitted light possible from the flash. The available light, on the other hand, will expose everything within the frame, up front and in the background. Now let’s go back to this idea of two different exposures superimposed upon each other. First the camera takes a photo with the available light and then one, in which it adds the flash (again this is not how it actually happens; it all happens in one take, naturally). Now if the exposure by the available light is correct and makes a perfectly exposed photo, then when you add a flash on top of this the objects that are close enough to be reached by the light from the flash will be overexpose. The rest, further away, will still be perfectly exposed (only by the available light). To compensate for this the camera needs to underexpose the available light on whatever is reached by the light from the flash. However, the camera cannot do this partially, thus everything will be underexposed in the first photo taken only by the available light. And then when you now add the flash, those objects in the reach of the flash will get added light and thus (if everything is correctly added) be properly exposed while the background will be somewhat underexposed—which is generally quit OK.

This is usually done automatically by the camera, and can be used in different ways as I wrote in the previous posts about flash photography.

Now I want to raise the stakes. So far I haven’t been dealing with situations where the available light is different in different parts of the scene. Particularly when the foreground is dark and the background is well illuminated, the use of flash can improve the photo significantly. In this case you can get around the problem by thinking that the background is going to be exposed only by the available light hitting it while the foreground is illuminated by only the flash.

You work it out this way: Figure out the correct exposure for the background. In many ways setting the camera to Manual exposure mode is the simplest in this case, but if don’t want to I suggest selecting Aperture Priority mode (if you have a compact camera set the mode to Slow Sync). You may have to underexpose the subject since the foreground is so dark and will influence the cameras evaluation for a suggested exposure. Maybe start with dialling in –1 E.V. At this point you have a background that is exposed as you want to.

Now it’s time to add the flash. Turn it on. Give it a try without any compensation. Since the foreground is dark, it might be just the perfect exposure. If you are not quite happy with the exposure from the flash, just dial up or down the flash compensation dial till you have what you want. One thing to keep in mind: Sometimes when you are in Aperture Priority mode and turn on the flash the camera will automatically underexpose the general exposure. In this case you will have to compensate for this, by making the available light brighter. For instance, you may have to go from –1 E.V to no compensation at all—or even more like +⅓ E.V. However, since this compensation also will affects the exposure of the light from the flash, you have to do an equal amount of compensation on the flash, but the opposite way. So in the example above, you will either need to set the flash to –1 E.V. or -1⅓ E.V.

The photo above is an example in which I used this technique. I used the available light to expose the background and the sky and then used a flash to light the guy in front. (By the way it’s a photo I have shown before on this blog).

If you have any questions to this technique, please don’t hesitate to ask in comments below. I will answer to the best of my abilities.

For the previous posts on flash photography, please look up: Flash Away the Shadows, A Flashy Look and Flash for the Night.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon T90 camera (with analogue film) and a 24 mm lens. It was captured at ½ a second and f/2.8 (set to expose the background as I wanted it). Flash was added and set to -⅓ E.V. No tripod. Finally the photo was scanned and processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Flash for the Night

Kullgruvearbeider ferdig med dagens skift

Last week in my series of simple, practical tips to enhance your photography, I wrote about using flash to accentuate contrast, colour saturation and draw the focus to the main object within the frame. In the post I also made a point of not using the on-camera flash when you would usually think of using it, that is when the subject is dark and badly lit. Usually that will only result in – when for instance photographing people – people in the foreground being burned out completely by the flash light with white faces and every thing else in the background going pitch black.

The technique for using the on-camera flash for some special effects that I mentioned in A Flashy Look, I pointed out was only to be applied in daylight, not when it’s dark. However I wasn’t telling the whole truth then, because the same technique can actually be used when it’s dark. You just have to be aware of the side effect that comes with this technique.

Because you are mixing available light and flash with this technique the shutter speed will often be longer than what is usually recommend for handheld camera use. Of course you can crank up the ISO-setting, but then maybe you don’t need the flash at all. So, once again this technique is best for achieving some special effects. The effect when using it in darker environments or when it’s dark is a combination of a subject that appears both ghost-like and rendered sharply at the same time. The reason is the combination of a longer shutter speed and a very short burst of flash light. The former renders the subject blurred while the latter render is frozen and sharp. The two shapes then seem to be superimposed on top of each other.

The technique is exactly the same as I explained in the post A Flashy Look. Select Aperture Priority mode on your camera (although other modes may work too, but that differs from one camera to another). If you have a point and shoot camera, put the mode to slow sync. Turn on the flash, shoot and let the camera do the rest. Because you choose either Aperture Priority mode or slow sync the camera will set the camera speed so you get a correct exposure of the available light in combination with the light from the flash.

Usually when shooting handheld you are recommended to not use a slower shutter speed than either 1/125 of a second or 1/60 of a second, because of possible camera shake. But with this technique I describe here you can easily use the camera handheld down to at least one second. Keep in mind, though, that the longer the exposure time, the more ghost-like or halo like the image will look like. However, creatively used, this can produce some both special and interesting results.

Have fun experimenting with you flash!