Instagram Tips // Instagram is too much F#$%ing Work!

Sometimes it feels like the time I spend posting, hashtagging, captioning is a total time suck. A few tools and tips that can help but really a conversation with you - how are you feeling about Instagram these days?

Auto Publishing

Services like can help schedule your posts to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Now at least for Instagram, they've finally enabled auto-publishing, saving you from getting the phone out just to post! Check it out at


Hashtags take forever, especially for those wanting to put out 30 for each post. uses hashtag groups to save time, but you need to change it up. Fortunately, it's hashtag suggestion feature will help a bit, but it needs to be fleshed out more. Instead just stalk your local Instagrammers to see what the popular tags are for your area and try to incorporate some when you can.

Image Tips

Your image quality matters!

  • Bright images with a strong white point draw people into the photos
  • Level your horizon, that's that little extra to make people think your photo is worth a like
  • Clear subjects have to count, get rid of distracting elements so there's a strong focus on your subject


Connect with your viewer, you need to sell yourself with a good caption for the photo.

  • The personal story behind the photo
  • How the image was captured
  • Or ask a question, just make it a good one!

Locations of In-Flight Photos


So what the heck did you just shoot a photo of out the plane? As we’re back from Joshua Tree here’s a quick tip for traveling if your the type that loves the window seat for photos. It’s not that hard and gives you a rough idea where you took the shot.

  • So when you take photos off your phone typically it stays in the time zone that you started in which works out in this case. That gets saved to the photo's metadata which you can get to by hitting info (under … at the top right in android) or pulling it up in Lightroom (bottom of the right panel in the library).

  • Go to or and pull up your flight info. Without paying for a plan Flightradar24 only gives you the last 7 days free, Flightaware is 14 days or 4 months with a free account. I’m including both as you might miss the first one coming back from a trip.


Flightradar24 (, in this case, is the easy one. Simply convert your time to UTC, in my case “5:59pm edt to utc” in google brings up 9:59 PM which is 21:59 in military time. So then hit play, skip to that time, and there we go. Albeit the data is usually off a bit but gets you in the ballpark. I shooting a bit behind the plane so this shot is a bit northeast of what the site says. Making this Bullfrog Bay in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area with Mt Ellsworth and Mt Holmes in the background.FlightAware (

  1. Get your takeoff time off the site.

  1. Go to and subtract your shot time by the takeoff time.

  1. Hit play and skip ahead to your shot time. In comparison, this map isn’t as helpful but overall you get the area and can find it in google maps. If you click on the three lines at the top right of the map you can switch between map sources to get some city names to find in google maps.

How-to: Photograph the Milky Way

Simple tips and tricks for getting the best milky way photos - from when to go, where to go and what gear to use.

When to Shoot


March to October is good but the best times to see the galactic core is late April to late July here in the Northern Hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere February to October with the galactic core best visible during June and July - The galactic core is arguably the most interesting and most photogenic section of the milky - So take a moment and add a calendar reminder to watch this video again in the spring.You also want nights with no moon - this means a new moon or dates when the moon is below the horizon - a quick search online yields lots of helpful info. On iOS and Android, I love Photopills it has at a glance moon info as well as rise/set times for the Galactic core for your location AND a mode that lets you overlay the night sky & milky way on the landscape where you are standing!


Someplace with low amounts of light pollution - to figure out the closest dark skies visit website Dark site Finder - Yellow is eh, Green is ok, blue is good, black is even better. But don’t let this stop you from trying - Your milky way shots might not be the best but at least get out, practice and develop the skills so when you end up at the right time and place you can get THE SHOT.DO include interesting foreground elements - rocks, trees, mountains, something to ground your viewer on earth while giving them a taste of the stars above.


Irix Firefly

Irix Firefly

You need a sturdy tripod - I have my favorites listed below. As for lens choice. Full Frame equivalents of 14 to 30 work well for me. The IRIX firefly is my current budget favorite - I have a review of several lenses perfect for astrophotography linked below. You could go fisheye or shoot a panorama if you have a full view of the sky with little light pollution.

Camera Settings

Get manual focus during the day and then tape or lock your focus ring at that point.

  • Aperture - Use the widest your lens allows - f/2.8 is great wider is even better Kit lenses at f/3.5 are a possibility too.

  • Shutter speed - Probably about 20 seconds but follow the 500 rule and keep that shutter speed as short as possible so stars are pinpoints and not streaks. Taking multiple shots and stacking for lower noise higher detail is an option too - I haven’t done that yet - I have been happy with single shots.

  • ISO You are probably going to end up around 1600 - lower if you have a faster lens than f/2.8 - higher if you have a slower lens.


In Post

Post Processing I typically cool the image - brighten overall image but especially the stars by increasing the highlights and I use a brush to increase the brightness of the milky way and a second brush to decrease the brightness of the darker sections - overall increasing contrast and making the milky way stand out more. 

Photographing Cities - Tips & Tricks for Better Photos

I have some tips and recommendations for getting better photos in historic cities like Edinburgh Scotland- What to look for, how to frame, what is the best focal length for city photography and the best time of day for photographing in the old historic streets. Filmed on location in Edinburgh Scotland and London England.  

Make Your Fall Color Photography and Editing Pop

It's that time of the year, fall color is here, and Toby is in New England with McKay Live for the Fall Color Tour. Watch these videos for your go to source to get the best shots you can this season. For a fall color map for your area you can check the Smoky Mountains site here: Editing Tips for Fall Colors

Photography Tips for Havana/Cuba

After spending three weeks in Cuba I share some tips for photographing Havana, the old buildings, the American cars and the people of Cuba!

Cuba Photography DO NOTs:

  • Never photo the police in uniform
  • Don't photo all white dressed people

Don't be rude and stick your camera in people's faces.   You are visiting their home not a zoo.  

Cuba Photography DOs:

Strike up a conversation before asking if you may take a photo. 

Puebo toma una photo.

If you know a little more Spanish you could strike up a conversation with people and ask if you can see or visit their home.  As I said I was invited into multiple homes and I feel it's pretty special to be treated so generously.  Feel free to offer something in exchange. Another way to make friends is to bring gifts.  Stickers for the kids,  candy too.  Pens are highly valued by the people at the market and is a nice gesture if you spend a few minutes with a camera in their face.  And on our McKay trips a few people brought the Insta print cameras and those were a huge hit with the young and the old,  it's very nice to share the images with the people you are capturing.  Watch your step.  Holes,  poop,  slippery marble and more.


I shot for most of the trip with a full frame camera and a 50mm lens.  Great combination. a7RII with Sigma MC-11 Adapter and Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART series lens.  (links go to B&H Photo for prices - Your purchase of gear through my links is part of my income and keeps me in business)If I saw an interesting person I would have my camera ready before I asked for permission.  You get a more natural look if you are ready to snap the photo right after you ask. The longer you take the less likely you are to get a genuine expression.Wide angle lenses can be fun with all of the curves of the car. Crop: Tokina 11-16 f/2.8Telephoto for sneakier street photography - Suggested 70-200 F/4

Locations for shooting.  

There is no shortage of photo ops in Havana no matter where you explore but for the most authentic Havana experience I would stay near Central ParkPrado Ave Also listed on maps as Paseo de Marti separates central Havana from the old city.  Fantastic photo opportunities on the broad Ave and central park has a great collection of old American cars for hire and photography.  If you want the less shiny American cars, just head down any back street,  they really are everywhere. a few blocks left or right off Prado and you will quickly find the colors,  the crumbling walls and more to photograph,  really you even get that on Prado though they are trying to restore the buildings along the Avenue. square,  Cathedral square and arms square give you a taste of restored and historic Havana.  Obispo Avenue is a car free Avenue that runs from arms square to central park.  This is a more touristy stretch but offers lots to see and places to eat.  Again I encourage you to venture off onto the side streets,  I did this day and night and felt safe at all times. Sunrise and sunset from Malecón, Havana, Cuba(sea wall) and the fort is great for sunset and city skyline plus the Cannon shot ceremony at 9pm every night.  You pay to get in but consider paying 1 cuc more to get up on the roof which comes with a free drink,  best view of the ceremony and a good view of the city.  If you only want the city view stay down below on the fort walls. theater,  across from Central Park is lit beautifully at night. And the capital currently being restored will be beautiful. will be interesting to see what happens to Cuba and especially havana over the next few years as tourism increases.  McKay Photography is making plans to return, Email David Here I’m interested in Cuba next year!More photos from Cuba: Want to travel with me to some place other than Cuba? Maybe Croatia? Vietname? Iceland? More information and more locations listed at

Tips & Ideas: Photographing Fire

MMM Lobster

Safety first, you're playing with fire so take a few precautions.
  • Plan ahead where things are going to go and do a dry run before it gets too dark.
  • Fire is bad, water is good, but water is also bad for a camera. Remember to have a bucket of water to put the fire but don’t fill it so full that it's going to spill everywhere if you accidently knock it over.
  • Wear cotton or wool will burn normally so you can take it off in a hurry if it does catch fire. Materials like polyester and nylon will melt onto you and then you're going in for a trip to the ER.
  • Remember your camera is plastic, don’t get it too close to the fire if possible. If you still want to be close shroud the camera in something that isn’t immediately going to burn up to protect it.
  • Watch where the fire and especially the embers are going. Keep track of your lighter and any gas so you don’t cause any accidents.
  • Finally if you live in California don’t play with fire, it’s the last thing you guys need at the moment.
Composition & ExposureIMG_5720

Just because it's a bit chaotic doesn’t mean fire cannot be composed correctly. Take the time to setup your shot and get the rule of thirds going or break the rules and go for another angle. Remember fire can be very versatile for shooting as a main element to a photo, a supporting character for the subject, a fiery background, or just a light source for another subject.Normally when you look at a subject the default for your camera is evaluative metering. In this case the whole area is used to determine what the exposure should be, which for fire is bad to a degree. Setting up for a center weighted average or spot metering allows for a more accurate method of finding the correct exposure settings, especially in modes such as P, and Av.Shooting fire on its own can be easy as it's a lightsource but shooting multiple elements in low light with fire can be hard as it's not emitting a lot of light. With fire your best option is to underexpose your shot and bring it back in post for the most detail. For those using the automated modes your best bet would be to drop exposure compensation around to -2 or lower, for manual it's a bit trickier. Like always for a low light shot using a tripod would be recommended and a remote also helps remove camera shake.Depending on the amount light the fire is putting out its going to be a low ISO of 100-400 with an aperture of F/8 or so to get plenty of detail, the big issue is speed. As its a lightsource if you are only shooting fire you can go with a faster aperture at the cost of ISO and lock the fire in place. If you're shooting people with fire it depends on the amount of light. If it's daytime you can stick with the above rule but if its night you're going to have to raise the ISO and sacrifice speed. Remember to check your image preview for the “blinkies” aka clipping warnings (for canon hit info while reviewing an image) as your underexposing you don’t want to accidentally lose part of the photo that you need to bring back later.The goal would be to have a fast shutter speed to freeze the fire, but it's not a perfect world, and if you're trying to get enough light for a portrait that's just not going to happen. In low light there isn’t one correct answer to fix your problem but rather three major options. Since the fire wouldn’t be the main subject in a portrait you exposure to get the person with the glow of the fire rather than the fire itself as it would be overexposed. Alternatively get the best of both by using Photoshop to combine multiple exposures (camera bracketing certainly helps). If worst comes to worst and your problem is low light you can always add more and fight the fire with a flash.If you try to shoot with a flash you need to add to the light, not beat it, so its hard to pull off correctly. You need to set a low flash exposure compensation of -2 to -3 which dims it down enough that you're not losing the fire. In the case of a portrait or another subject separate from the fire snooting your flash helps keep it away from the flames as it makes it go from a shotgun effect to a focused beam. While they do sell snoots for speedlights online in a pinch there are plenty of DIY approaches that work. As your flash is set for a daytime white balance you will have an issue with color, a orange gel would be best otherwise you will have to fix it in post.Expoimaging Rogue Gels Universal Lighting Filter Kit is Available From B&H and Amazon


Try to Think Outside the BoxIMG_4971Lots of things use fire or create fire so try to think of things beyond your standard campfire such as:

  • Hot air balloons
  • Fire starters, starting a fire
  • Firefighting or a wildfire
  • Matches being lit, lighters
  • Tobacco: cigar, cigarette, or a pipe
  • Volcano or magma
  • Making glass or steel

Elementsfire-ice-06While fire is versatile it's also complicated, remember that you’ve got multiple elements of a fire to use and that it's a also an element by itself. Try shooting embers coming off the fire, smoke being lit up by the fire, show heat through the air refracting light, or even shoot through the fire to get the wavy texture. As an element itself try pairing it up with an opposite such as fire and water or another similar element such as fire and steel.For fire and ice shots real ice works but Acrylic ice still looks the same to the camera. With fake ice it can take a bit more abuse and won’t melt screwing up an entire image. As acrylic ice gets quite expensive for professional grade,, you can try to buy something cheap I.E. Good acrylic ice is hand made while the cheaper variety is mold made, they will have a few bubbles and seams that you will have to edit in post.For something different try adding fire to a water and ice photo for a new look on a overused trick. by Von Wong, taken with a smartphone if you can believe itAs they put out a lot of light you can draw with fire and sparklers. With Toby’s article below you can try this yourself. You can try drawing words with a sparkler, making lines in the sky of fire, to even complicated effects such as wings of fire from Von Wong. FireWant to try a fire and black background shot? If you want a lot of fire in a small spot for abstract fire photos use a ping pong ball. An actual ping pong ball, not the cheap plastic ones,  are made out of nitrocellulose which combined with the large air ratio burn strong for a photo. You won’t have time for a lot of photos with one but being relatively cheap you can go through a few to get the photo you want. With a ISO 100, mid range to high aperture, and high shutter speed as long as it's somewhat dark out your background will become solid black.Colorcolor-Edit Fire is not just one color so you have the opportunity to think out of the box. While the standard flame is nice you can get blue through a torch or alcohol for example. Using chemicals or photoshop you can extend that to many more colors. Not to mention the multiple colors and patterns of a firework you have to work with creatively.You can use household chemicals to make a rainbow of fire or go for just a ethereal green flame. As a bit of a warning some of these can be a bit toxic, others a bit smelly, do it outdoors so you have proper ventilation. Soaking wood in the chemical or adding a bit beforehand to the fuel provides the longest amount of flame but it does take a bit longer to get everything ready. For photos where you just need a small fire using methanol in a small dish provides the best color, commonly found in Heet antifreeze for cars.How to Make Colored FireColored Fire - Where to Find Metal Salts for ColorantsIf you just want something quick and easy they sell rainbow color packets to throw in a campfire (small fire not bomb-fire). They burn up fast but make for a short show you can shoot with a bit of color. They are quite cheap on amazon for a 12 pack so it’s worth a shot if you're interested. method you can use for constant color is tiki fuel. You can it find at your local Walmart in green, red, and blue. always you have the option of cheating to get your desired result as well. In lightroom reduce the saturation of the photos then use split toning to change the flame to the color you want. Since there is only the fire and black in this case it's a bit easier. Choose a color in Hue for highlights and adjust the saturation to get the desired color.If you have more items and a background it gets a bit trickier. Since you cannot effect the image on a global scale you have to use local adjustments to a similar effect. Set desaturation and a color effect then paint over only the fire. It’s a bit heavy handed of an approach as it requires you to be quite exact in painting and effects everything painted. Painting gets a bit challenging to near impossible if there is background color showing through the flame. Photoshop would do better but if you don’t have photoshop this way will work in a pinch.In Photoshop the process is somewhat the same, just use a hue/saturation layer to accomplish the same effect. Create a hue adjustment layer in place of split toning (layers > new adjustment layer > hue/saturation). Where it's set for the master channel select yellow and drag the hue to the color you want then repeat for red. If you need to only affect part of the image select the layer mask for the adjustment layer (white box on layer panel next to the hue layer name). First turn the effect off by inverting the layer mask with the invert tool image > adjustments > invert. At this point with a white brush you can paint the effect back on where it's needed.ScienceThe PyroboardGet your inner science geek on with a bit of fire!

  • A Fire Tornado
  • Reigniting Smoke
    • Most people don’t realize it but smoke is flammable, with good timing you can actually catch it burning. Get a candle going and blow it out, when the smoke rises light it again with a match and it will relight. With the camera on burst mode you can actually shoot the flame running down the smoke.
  • Ruben’s Tube, Sound + Fire!
    • Not a DIY but ask around, you might find someone in your area with a Ruben’s Tube. If you remember from any science demos this is a pipe using fire to visualize sound. The Pyroboard photo is actually a 3d representation of this demo.
  • Fire in a Bottle
    • Get a glass bottle and add a tablespoon of rubbing alcohol. Shake vigorously. Timing is a bit tricky but if you start a burst of photos while your lighting the vapor you can photograph a explosion.

FireworksIMG_9829With July 4th coming up it’s time again for some fireworks photos. Definitely one of the more colorful things you can shoot it makes for a nice shot and an easy one at that using the the DPR articles below.

  • Fireworks:
  • Macro Sparks:
  • Sparks with Steel Wool:
  • Remember the black snake fireworks you used as a kid that grew when you lit them? Well now you can try the same thing, in mass, and its actually pretty cheap overall. Make yourself a army of growing snakes by following the recipe below.
    • 4 parts sugar + 1 part baking soda, add rubbing alcohol or lighter fluid and light. Ammonium Nitrate instead of sugar has a stronger effect but is more expensive.
  • Paper Lanterns & Other Special Eventslantern-fest
    • Check your area to see if they have any special firework events. Using my state of Michigan for example Grand Rapids has a Lantern Fest each year in October.


Backgroundsfire-wall-10Wall of Sparks via Steel WoolUnlike spinning steel wool you can get sparks oriented with your subject which makes for a nice background for a portrait.  This one requires a bit of elevation to get the effect which gets a bit tricky as you're going to end up with someone on a ladder or up in a tree with an extension cord. It makes for a nice effect as unlike the spinning sparks this creates a shower background. You can even add to the show by integrating the background, for example having a couple hold an umbrella that's getting hit by a few sparks that are falling.Take chimney starter (or a pipe with a catch on the end) and add a layer of steel wool, use a 9v battery or lighter to get it started. Now use a hair dryer or even better a heat gun to blow air through the pipe and unlike spinning it this way you can get a wall of sparks oriented straight with your subject. By doing this behind your subject you can use gravity to feed the sparks down while walking left or right to make a complete wall.Wall of FireFor a bit more of a dramatic background that adds contrast to a photo you can try making a firewall. Essentially its the same process as lightpainting but done on a much larger scale. Like the wall of sparks above it does require a bit of help but makes for a great shot overall. and cooking just go together, and it’s an excuse to pull the grill out this weekend. For you foodies it's a nice way to stand out for fire photos and makes for a nice photo overall. As a bonus you get some nice food so its a win-win.

  • Grilling
  • Cooking with alcohol
  • Over a campfire
  • Cooking with a wok
  • Cooking for show, such as the Benihana Onion Volcano
  • Birthday cake

Melinda FireLeave It to the ProsLastly be safe, no unnecessary risks for a photo, if you think it might be dangerous it's best to avoid it. One of the local photographers in town here has a scar on his hand from trying to hold two steel balls while they were on fire. That said if you know someone trained to do it, or have an event in town, take a few shots just be safe doing it.

  • Fire dancing, breathing, eating, swords, poi, etc
  • Holding fire
  • Being on fire
  • Big explosions
  • Flaming aerosol
  • Flash paper
  • Fire arrows

Don’t forget to enter this weeks fire Instagram challenge ‪#‎PRTV_Fire

Sony a7 Mark II Tips - Better Battery Life & More

Quick tips for a better experience with the Sony a7 Mark IISony a7 Mark II Tips

  1. Back Button Focus (more about back button focus)
  2. Set center button for quick focus point selection
  3. In low light use center of frame for faster and more accurate focusing
  4. Increase battery life
    1. Turn of Pre-AF
    2. Turn ON Airplane Mode
    3. Buy a USB battery backup to charge your camera while out and about. Recommended USB Battery: Buy from B&H
  5. Buy a prime lens - I recommend the Sony 35mm f/2.8: Buy from B&H

Have a tip? Leave a comment.

Tips for Sharper Images

I published a video with five tips for getting sharper images with your DSLR. The comments and tips left by the DPR community where excellent and I used those in a second video - both videos are embedded below - sometimes though a quick text list is preferred over a video- here are all of the tips.

Tips for Sharper Images:

Sweet Spot

Don’t shoot wide open(wide open refers to your aperture). Stop down which means close your aperture down from its maximum. Sharpest photos for many lenses are going to occur between f/5.6 and f/9 and this is referred to as the sweet spot.  This sweet spot varies from lens to lens but f/8 is usually a safe bet for the sharpest images with any lens.    Please don't take this tip as a suggestion to only shoot with your prime lens, that might open up to f/1.8 or wider, at only f/8 - use that when you have enough light and you don't care about depth of field. Use your judgement when shooting and find a compromise  - Don't always shoot at f/8 and don't always shoot wide open.

Fast Enough Shutter Speed -

Keep your shutter speed faster than your focal length and keep your shutter speed fast enough to freeze moving subjects. This is a tip that I have talked about before but again and again I hear from readers with blurry images simply because their shutter speed was slower than their focal length.  If you have an image stabilized lens you can cheat a little and go slower but you will need to practice, test and review your shots to see how slow a shutter speed you can reliably hand-hold.  And remember that image stabilization doesn't help with moving subjects.  See the chart below for some suggestions on shutter speeds for moving subjects. These are just starting points and the higher shutter speeds should be used when the subject is moving across the frame as opposed to toward and away from you.

Subject Suggested Shutter Speed
Walking 1/60 - 1/125th
Dancing 1/160 (Slow Dancing)- 1/250th (Crazy Dancing)
Running 1/200th - 1/250th
Soccer /Football 1/250th - 1/500th
Horses, Dogs Running 1/320th - 1/1000th
Car Racings 1/1000th - 1/2000th

Center Focus PointUse your center focus point so you know exactly what you are focusing on. When you let the camera use all the focus points it may poorly determine where it should focus and you will end up with your subject blurry simply because the subject is not in focus.  Switch to and use your center focus point so that YOU know where you are focusing.  How to switch your focus point? Bonus - the center focus point is often more accurate than the surrounding points.   Be careful about recomposing after focus if shooting at wider apertures.


If you are using a tripod make sure Image Stabilization is off.  Some IS systems can be fooled when on a tripod and actually compensate for movement that isn't there creating soft images.  Mostly seen at slower shutter speeds.  IS = Image Satbilzation, VR = Vibration Reduction, OS = Optical Stabilization, VC = Vibration Compensation.  See my full glossary of lens terms/acronyms.

Keep your ISO low

The higher the ISO of your images the noisier or more grainy they are going to look and this will decrease the perceived sharpness of the image.  This is one of the reasons I am not a fan of Auto ISO- it can be quick to go higher than you need causing very noisy images.  If you must choose between slow shutter speed and higher ISO go ahead and increase your ISO.  Noise can often be reduced in post process and motion blur can't (although photoshop is working on it)

Additional Tips for better/sharper images submitted by viewers/readers

Make sure your lens(es) are clean.  A quick swipe with a soft lens cloth should do the trick.If your subject has eyes - human or otherwise - those should be what you focus on. This becomes especially important when working at a shallow depth of field(wide apertures).Be careful not to move the camera when you push the shutter button - big movements change composition and smaller movements shake the camera.  Use the two second timer if no tripod is available and hold camera as steady as possible. I used that technique to take this photo or a waterfall without a tripod. Using the 2-second timer allowed me to concentrate and hold the camera as steady as possible with no change when the camera snapped the photo.Use the camera's high speed drive mode - Fire off a series of shots and one is likely to be sharper than the others.  Use this when your subject is moving or you are working at dangerously slow shutter speeds(and have no other options)And keep in mind the the sharpest lens is a good tripod and a good tripod head.  Having a good tripod that can hold the camera rock steady will allow you to shoot at slower shutter speeds so you can keep your ISO down and your aperture up for sharp images.

Family & Group Photo Tips

I thought I would take a few moments and offer some advice and tips for getting a nice group photo. I mostly had Thanksgiving and the Winter Holidays in mind as I wrote these but  apply to group photos anytime. Have some tips of your own? I'd love to hear, leave a comment below.Take the photo soon after everyone has arrived. Don't wait - people will drink, slop food on their faces and generally get more disheveled looking as the afternoon/evening goes on. Maybe this is just my family but timing leads into the next tip...If you all are gathering earlier in the day you should have good light - warm enough to be outside? Light will be the best out there. Gather everyone just inside shade -under a porch, near a pine tree - just make sure the shade is even - you don't want sun spots on people's faces and you don't want people facing into the sun. Chilly outside? Gather inside near a window - basically your popup flash should be last resort so any natural light you can find will be helpful. Not sure if the spot you picked will work well? Practice on a guinea pig...Copyright Tobias GelstonInstead of practicing on the whole group and struggling or feeling pressured, grab a guinea pig for a few moments of practice before you call everyone over. Younger kids that are old enough to stay still for a few are often willing - have them model for you while you get your settings right and after you take a couple of photos spend a moment pixel peeping, use the zoom button to enlarge the reviewed photos and make sure subject is in focus and light is good...I like manual mode where you are in complete charge of the camera. Set the shutter speed around 1/200 of a second - fast enough to make sure everyone is frozen. Now determine your aperture - one small row of people in front of you? You can safely shoot fairly wide(if your lens allows) but if you are nervous f/4 is a safe bet. Big enough group that you are dealing with more than one row of people? f/5.6 is better. Once you decide you aperture you should look at your exposure meter and adjust your ISO to center the meter or expose just to the right of center...Everything all set? bring in the whole group and get them to squeeze together. There is something about photos that emphasizes distance between subjects so what might seem like a friendly gap between two looks like a family feud / canyon in the photo so really get them squeezing and that often encourages some friendly laughter too.Do you need to be part of the group? Self timer is one option and many models will allow several photos to be fired off at the end of the countdown - this gives you options, the general rule of thumb is at least one photo per person in the group. The more you take the more likely you are to have one where everyone's eyes are open and no one is making that weird face. Have a camera with WiFi built in? Use it as the remote but again make sure everything is setup before you slip into the group photo.Got younger kids in the group - I trick them into looking at the camera by asking them if they see the bird in the lens- seems mean as I write it but always seems to help in getting their attention directed toward the camera. Bribes work too and are totally fare game - whatever it takes to get the photo :)Bonus Tips/Suggestions:- Make sure you turn IS (Image Stabilizer) off if the camera will be on a tripod- Get Candids too - don't just do the group photo and don't let everyone pose all night- Snap some photos of the food too

HOW-TO: Sparkler Photos - Long Exposure Light Painting

For many summer means fireworks and sparklers - here are my quick tips(with video) on capturing cool photos using sparklers or really any small light source.

You need:

  • Camera with control over manual settings

  • Tripod

  • Flashlight or cell phone (for low light focusing help) OR Hotshoe LED light

  • Pile of sparklers or a glow stick or small flash light - any light source really

  • Remote shutter release - Not mandatory but helpful (Recommended cheap one)

First task is to do this all safely.  Don't hurt anyone in an effort to get a photo and make sure you are complying with all fireworks and sparkler laws in your area - beautiful photos can be made with glow sticks, flash lights and other non-dangerous light sources.

Your shutter speeds are going to range from 2 seconds on up to Bulb mode so the use of a tripod is a must.  

Setup your camera - manual mode (M), a good starting point is a 5 second shutter speed, ISO 200 and an aperture around f/4.5.

Have your subject stand still and hold up a small light source so you can focus on them, either auto focus or manual, zoom in. After you get focus switch to manual so that the camera isn't struggling to get focus in the dark.  You can also use back button focus to avoid this issue. They can now put away the little flash light

Once you have focus have them light the sparkler and start moving it around.  Use the remote release to trigger the shutter or gently press the shutter button on the camera (you really need to be careful not to wiggle the camera when you press the button, alternatively you can use the self-timer: 2-sec delay but that does require a bit more coordination with your subject.

A third option is to use the remote shutter release and BULB mode in your camera.  In the T4i/T5i bulb mode is activated by setting the camera to M and increasing the shutter speed past 30 seconds. This doesn't mean the shutter has to be longer than 30 seconds for your exposures, it will just stay open as long as you hold the shutter release button down.  This is great if someone is trying to write their name with a sparkler, you hold it down just as long  as it takes the subject, when you release the button the shutter closes. With sparklers I notice that the slower you move them the more sparky trails you get - fast moving sparklers leave a more smooth line of light.   You are limited by your imagination!

Video: Sparkler Photos - Long Exposure Light Painting

Related Video - How To Photograph Fireworks

Super Moon? Super Crop!

Scroll down for general moon photography tips.supermoonA few times a year we hear that the next full moon is a SUPER MOON. The media loves to talk this up with the SUPER MOON headlines everywhere and while the size difference isn't THAT impressive - More info here about the size (the Moon will appear up to 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than an average full moon).Super Moon or not -any full moon is a great opportunity to get out and shoot the moon. Few of us have zoom lenses large enough to capture the stunning shots but we can get close enough with some cropping to at least impress your friends. The image below was shot with a 200mm zoom on a full frame sensor and then heavily cropped.moonrealMore recently I snapped this image at 400mm on Full frame and cropped. 

Moon Photography Tips:

1) Plan - what time is the moon rising in your area? Setting? You can certainly capture the moon in the sky but it will often look small and unimpressive.  Better shots often incorporate some of the scenery so if you can capture it closer to the horizon the better.2) Knowing where the moon will break the horizon and travel as it rises is important - the offers apps that track the path of celestial objects including the moon.   I also use this app to plan for sunrise and sunset shoots and during wedding work.3) Get off AUTO mode.  When shooting a small bright object on a very dark sky your camera is going to be easily confused and often the moon will be captured as a featureless white blob.    Better is to shoot MANUAL and good starting values  ISO 200, Aperture f/8 and shutter speed 1/125 to 1/250 of a second.  These are just starting values, depending on the conditions in your area - city lights, clouds, you may need to adjust. If you are photographing a thin crescent moon your shutter speed may be much slower - a second or even two.NOTE: Eclipsed Moon is much less bright - You are going to need to open the aperture wider, slow your shutter speed and adjust ISO accordingly.4) Tripod and manual focus.  If you are using a longer zoom lens you will need a tripod to steady and either use center focus point or even better is to use manual focus and zoom live view to check focus.5) Review your shots as you take them, again zoom in on the images when you review to check focus and exposure levels.  I have been fooled in the past thinking I was capturing sharp images of the moon and only once I looked at them on the computer realized they were all a little soft.I'd love to see some full moon shots on my Facebook page or Instagram tag me! 

How to Capture Lightning

The first rule of lightning photography is to be safe.   Do NOT put yourself in any danger to get a photo, ever. 

The story behind the photo.   With spring comes thunderstorms and I had been paying attention to the weather reports and thinking about possible vantage points.  I was looking for some place with enough elevation to get a good view without being at the top of a mountain myself.  I also wanted a view that was going to be fairly clear or artificial light, with longer shutter speeds those lights can really ruin a scene.  Though there are plenty of shots with cityscapes and lightning, but the area I am in doesn't really offer that.     I used my knowledge of the area and Google Earth to scout potential vantage points settling on a location that gave me a good view of the Connecticut river valley.

I brought my 5D Mark III, tripod and Triggertrap app on an iPad.    Now I don't have any pictures of the setup in the car, I was shooting out of the car window with the tripod spread around my lap.  It was not the most comfortable and roomy setup but I could live with it.  Truthfully I didn't end up using the Triggertrap app, for no reason other than I pulled up and lightning was happening so I rushed to setup everything. I should have taken a moment to plug in the app, the Star Trail Mode would be perfect for lightning photos.

Triggertrap Star Trails

Yes, contrary to popular belief you don't try to capture lightning by watching for a bolt and quickly pressing the shutter button - you will not be fast enough. What you do is shoot long exposures - anywhere from 6 seconds to 30 seconds can give you good results.  So the shutter is open, the sensor is recording a fairly dark scene and hopefully during the time the shutter is opening a strike will happen.   I have heard from one of my readers that if a strike happens in the middle of an exposure it is a good idea to throw  a black cloth over the lens to keep any more light from entering and potentially ruining the image.  I may try that in a future shoot.

Now when I first set up I took a few long exposures to get a sense of my composition, it was quite difficult to get a sense through live view or the view finder, so you can raise your ISO way up for a few test photos, this way your shutter speed only needs to be a few seconds - these aren't keepers, just trying to get a feel for what the camera will capture.

001_10.0 sec at f - 7.1It is a good thing I took her advice and adjusted my horizon, I would have cut off even more of this bolt.I was shooting around 40mm on a full frame camera.  That is about 22mm on a crop sensor camera like the Canon T4i/T5i.30 shots later I captured what would turn out to be the best of the night- Rollover to see the unprocessed straight out of the camera shot.  38mm on full frame at ISO 400, f/10 and 20.0 seconds shutter speed.

[himage]003_20.0 sec at f - 10

004_20.0 sec at f - 10[/himage]

I continued shooting for another 30 minutes, another 40 shots and captured a few more bolts but the storm fell apart and low level clouds rolled in making it difficult to capture individual bolts[gallery ids="3623,3622,3621,3620,3619,3624" orderby="rand"]SO if you read all of this, or skipped to this point let me give you the moral of the story.

  1. Be Safe
  2. You have a higher probability of making a cool photo with planning. Gear, Location and Knowledge all need to be considered in your planning.
  3. Be patient - I sat in my car, rain coming in the window for over an hour, in this case I was enjoying myself so it wasn't a hardship but you can't expect to roll up/show up to someplace and instantly snap something magical. Don't count on luck. Anytime I think about luck I think about Las vegas, none of those casinos are hurting for money, luck is NOT on our side most of the time.


Quick Tips for Better Photos - Video Playlist

I have been on a bit of a tear lately producing shorter, tip filled videos.   I have those in a playlist that will be updated as more are added.  Drop me a line on my Facebook page if you have suggestions for topics that should be covered in a future video.   Tip topics so far: A reason to own a prime, Using your center focus point for more conistent focus, especially in low light, and why you can't change your exposure in Manual mode. . or can you ;) 

Be a Better Photographer Tip #53 [Project 365 & Gimmicks]

Confession - I totally made up the tip number!Now that we have that out of the way let me share a startling tip - to be a better photographer you need to practice. And by practice I mean take pictures, lots of pictures, shocking, I know. Now if you aren't shooting for a living, it can be easy to let days, even weeks go by, where you barely pick up the camera. Not to mention your subjects(kids, pets, better half) can get a bit tired of a camera in their face all the time. I have two suggestions for you and they can be combined for a good bit of fun and learning. The first suggestion is to start a 365 project, the goal being to take a photo a day for a year. This is challenging on many levels and to be honest I have never made it a full year despite starting a few times.  There are few better ways to grow as a photographer and increase your skill than carrying your camera with you everywhere and always looking for your photo of the day. And you will, always be looking for that new photo or even better you will be making a photo and it doesn't matter if it is at 8 in the morning or 11:58pm. Every single day you will be learning and thinking about photography. If that sounds a bit exhausting it certainly can be, but just like you need to work your muscles to exhaustion to see physical improvement you need to work your brain to see improvement. Three years after my last failed attempt I am still intensely proud of some of the photos I made, not necessarily because each image is perfect, it may be the fun I had creating the image, the conditions I was forced to shoot in or the new places I discovered around the corner from my house.A few photos from my 365 projectWorried about finding subject matter for a photo a day?  This brings up my second suggestion - Create a gimmick.   Last year I was in a craft store and saw a package of googly eyes and my eyes on stuff photo series began and now I not only get to create a photo but I often try to create more of a story.  A good photo usually tells a story and suddenly I am the photographer AND the director of each of these little mini-shoots. Now I hope I don't sound crazy. I am not going too deep down the rabbit hole, but with some of the photos I decide which way my subject should look, what is in the frame and all of the elements that tell the desired story.  These subjects never get bored or wander off giving me the time I need to work on my photo.    So grab some googly eyes or a lego mini figure or whatever you have laying around.Start taking and making photos and telling stories.Two fungi walk into a bar   I just talked myself into starting a new 365 - The new year is right around the corner and that seems as good a time to start as any - Who wants in?