Improvised graduated neutral density filter

Posted by on February 13, 2017 in Filters, It's too bright, It's too dark, Tips | 0 comments

A graduated neutral density filter (GND) is a piece of glass that is darker at one end than at the other, as the ‘graduated’ bit in its name suggests.

Its main use is to balance out the brightness of a scene when part is well-lit and another part is less well illuminated, for example a landscape shot across a field where the land is much darker than the sky.

If you expose for the land the sky will be over-exposed, whilst if you expose for the sky the ground will be under-exposed. The solution is to balance the brightness of the two so one exposure works for both.

The usual way to achieve this is to use a neutral density filter to reduce the brightness of the sky. By holding it in front of the lens with the dark glass covering the sky and the clear glass covering the ground part the brightness is balanced out, and the result is an evenly exposed shot.

The technique relies on you having the right ND filter with you, of course. If you’ve forgotten your ND filters all is not lost though, so long as the demarkation between bright and dark is a straight line.

Mount your camera on a tripod and dial in settings to give you a two or three-second exposure that’s right for the dark area.

Hold a piece of black card, material or even your camera strap in front of the lens, aligning it with the horizon so you cover only the excessively bright sky area.

Press the shutter release and move the card/camera strap out of the way half-way through the exposure. This gives the bright area half the exposure time given to the dark area.

If the effect isn’t quite right, try varying the time you keep the sky covered until you get the right effect.

If you hold the cover so its edge aligns with the dividing line on your image, and move it away sharply, it wont show up in your image.

It’s perhaps not as good as an expensive GND filter, and it really only works when there is a straight line, but it’s a technique that can turn an impossible shot into a successful one.


Black background in daylight

Posted by on February 13, 2017 in It's too bright, Tips | 0 comments

There are occasions when a dark or even jet-black background would look good, but you are in a well-lit location. Perhaps you want to shoot a portrait but the background is distracting, or you want to make the subject standout from the background in a dramatic way?

The simple solution is to tell your camera that your subject is very brightly lit and make sure it exposes for just the subject. The background will then be under-exposed whilst the subject is exposed correctly.

Here’s how to do it.

Set your ISO to the lowest value possible. That’s usually ISO 100.

Set up your flash gun, and set the shutter speed to whatever the sync speed is for your flash (often 1/60 or 1/200).

Focus on the subject and if not already in manual mode, switch to manual so that auto focus won’t change anything after the focus is set.

Adjust the aperture until the shot seems totally dark. This usually means using an f-number at the high end, f/18, f/22 or above.

Take the shot with your flash on full power. The result should be a correctly exposed subject with a black background. If the subject is over-exposed, reduce the flash power and try again until you achieve the result you want.

Can’t focus in the dark? Use a laser pointer.

Posted by on February 12, 2017 in Focusing, It's too dark, Tips | 0 comments

Focusing well in low-light conditions can be a pain. Autofocus relies on the camera finding areas with good contrast, but when it’s dull, overcast or actual darkness, these areas don’t exist. The lens will hunt to and fro,never finding a proper focus.

Manual focus can be just as frustrating, peering through the eyepiece and trying to see what’s out there when edges and surfaces have no distinct features.

You can sometimes use a torch / flashlight to illuminate the scene whilst you set the focus, but this is not always practical. The target may be too far away, the bright light could ruin your night-sight or scare away the animal you want to photograph or, as I was, you might be in a dark cathedral trying to work out how to focus exactly on a roof carving a long way above you.

The easy solution is to use a low-cost laser pointer pen. These produce a tight beam that delivers a small, bright, crisp, circle of light to the target and, by small, I mean perhaps 1cm across at 100m.

Having checked that you wont shine the light into anyone’s eyes, (take into account any possible reflections too!) point the laser at the target and focus on the dot of light.

Use the manual focus setting as ‘autofocus’ will try to re-focus as soon as you switch off the laser!

Red and green laser pens both work well, though I prefer to work with a green light for two reasons: Green is brighter and it does not look like a gun sight illuminating a target, so people are far less concerned by it!

You can prop the laser pen on a convenient surface, hold it in place with gum,or go a little upmarket and superglue one to a cheap spirit-level hotshoe attachment so it clips directly onto your camera.

Obviously, use some common-sense with this tip. If a laser beam is likely to cause any damage, alarm or concern, don’t do anything until you’ve checked / gained permission and warned anyone who might need a warning. I don’t want you coming back and complaining because you shone a red laser dot on a police officer who then shot you!

Flash is too bright and harsh? Use toilet paper!

Posted by on February 12, 2017 in It's too bright, Tips | 0 comments

There can be times when, even with your flash set to its lowest power setting, the result is still a little too harsh or bright. Typically the image shows burnt-out areas or hard shadows, neither of which are very flattering for portrait work, and may not be desirable in other situations such as landscapes and architectural work.

An easy solution is to fit a diffuser to the flash head, essentially an opaque white cover that softens the light. These can be bought, or you can make your own from a bit of thin opaque white plastic, such as a yoghurt or cream carton.

In an emergency though, toilet or tissue paper will do the job. Just wrap it around the flash head to diffuse the light. More layers result in softer, less powerful light,whilst fewer layers obviously allow more light through the impromptu diffuser.