Established 1988

Category: Tips and Tricks

Finding Your Creative Bent

judy portrait

Judy Griffin

Etobicoke Camera Club

Unfortunately there is no cut and dried approach or magic formula for developing creativity.  We are all different; the way we visualize and process the world around us. To some, creativity comes easily while for others it feels like an impasse.

The photographer needs to see beyond the ordinary and push the boundaries to develop new ways to capture and enhance images. Often a good way to start is to look at other photographers’ work to get ideas and then put your own spin on the concepts. Perhaps sign up for a course which specializes in creative photography.

Of course, the photographer has to have technical skill using the camera, but that may provide only technically competent images.  The principals of composition and design are there as the backbone to your craft, but sometimes breaking the rules can give you the creativity you seek.

The photographer has to be willing to loosen up and be playful. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try various ways to capture your subject, and use different techniques in your favourite digital editing software to make your images more imaginative and inspiring:

  • play with zooming, panning, and camera movement (rotating, swirling, swooping, etc.) to see the world in a new way. IMAGE – Autumn Gold


  • Use various shutter speeds to play with motion and see the effect. Long exposures for clouds and water can give a beautiful silky appearance.
  • try an unorthodox point of view to present your subject,
  • use different lenses and focal lengths to change the perspective and relationship of elements in your image.
  • use different apertures creatively to alter the depth of field and the sharpness in your images.
  • be alert to the potential of subject matter for post production in an altered way. Try to imagine what you might be able to do with a subject, graphic elements, or textures to bring an original and creative approach to your work.
  • play with filters, montages, texture layers, Ortons, and blend modes in your post production software to alter your images and give them an innovative edge. IMAGE – Midnight Rider


  • your planned day may have been a bust, but there may be hidden gems if you are willing to look for them. Our planned photography was to visit an exciting area full of scenic and natural beauty.  However our vehicle was acting erratically so we spent a good portion of the day at a garage. While there, I noticed an interesting wall to photograph and thought about its wonderful potential. In post production, I played with ideas and allowed my imagination to create this final image of The Watcher.


  • don’t be afraid to fail! You can’t improve and expand your creative side if you never take chances and think “outside the box”.

Above all, enjoy the creative process and have fun with your photography.

Bring Your Own Light

Bringing Your Own Light - Kevin Chan

Kevin Chan

Oakville Camera Club

Why settle for boring or unflattering light? Just bring your own instead and unleash your creativity! Remote off-camera flashes are powerful and portable tools that can bring your portraits to the next level. They have provided me with the flexibility and confidence to shoot on-location portraiture in all types of challenging environments and conditions.

Getting the flash off-camera breaks photographers away from the limitations of on-axis and bounce flash. While this can be very effective, it’s not entirely conducive to creative portraits. Most Nikon and Canon cameras come with built-in infrared triggers, which are convenient and affordable. Radio triggers are an alternative that allows for greater flexibility in flash placement and orientation. Regardless of the system, being able to place flashes anywhere is advantageous big advantage.

Be dynamic in your use of flash! Speedlights are extremely portable flashes that let you adjust your light very quickly. Studio lights tend to be heavier and more cumbersome with limited flexibility. Take advantage of this mobility and try different types of light as you shoot: sidelight, backlight, fill, overhead, butterfly, or even Rembrandt. Add variety to your images by changing locations of your flashes often. Switching diffusers is another option, giving a completely different look in the same place.

The most common light modifiers for portraiture are umbrellas and softboxes. Umbrellas are easy to use and straightforward. Try shoot-through umbrellas for a softer and flattering look. Slightly different are softboxes, which give beautiful, controllable light. Being able to control light falloff and spill is a key strength of softboxes which is often underused by photographers. Consider the addition of grids or gobos to control your light even further – these are great for picky situations or tight locations.

When using light creatively, I strongly recommend to shooting in manual and setting your flashes accordingly. TTL is convenient, but lacks consistency and control. Dynamic or interesting lighting can be a delicate balance between flash and ambient light, which is easier to achieve with manual settings. Be sure to check that your triggers sync consistently with your camera at its highest sync speed. This enables you to get the most effective power out of your flashes. It can be intimidating at first, but it is well worth the learning effort.

I always encourage experimentation when learning to use flash. There is no set recipe for flash photography; it is very much a learned skill. It’s often best to start simple with flash setups that you are comfortable with. After getting a few shots, progress into more complicated or ‘untested’ setups. Be sure to not restrict yourself to always using the same types of lighting!

Being able to light effectively and creatively is an invaluable skill for portrait photographers. Practice and a bit of experimentation goes a long way in developing your flash photography abilities, regardless of skill level. Expand your options and give off-camera flash a try! Master your lighting modifiers and setups – this is the key to creating great portraits under the most challenging conditions.

Bringing Your Own Light - Article Image

The ‘Sweet Spot’ of your Lens

Bob Fowler
Richmond Hill Camera Club

The ‘Sweet Spot’ of a lens usually refers to the aperture at which its images are at their sharpest, but it can refer, additionally, to the optimal focal length for sharpness as well as for the absence of various distortions from the true characteristics of the scene in terms of factors like colour and symmetry.

All lenses differ considerably in what their sweet spot(s) is(are).  Let’s look at some of the very broad issues.  I’ll deal with aperture and sharpness in this discussion, but similar arguments can be made for the other ‘distortion’ factors as well.

Only your own testing will tell you where the sharpness sweet spot  of your lens is – i.e. what is the optimum aperture for the sharpest image.  Very often it is in the middle area of apertures between f5.6 and f11, and seldom at the extreme wide open end or the smallest aperture (highest number).  F1.8 on an f1.8 prime lens is unlikely to be the sweet spot for that lens.

Just as the price of a lens can vary significantly, so can the size of the range of sweet spots; and usually they vary together.  The most expensive lens will have more sweet spot apertures available than the cheapest lens, other things being equal.

The latter one-to-one correspondence will be most evident for full-frame cameras using lenses made specifically for their full-frame sensors.  Cheaper lenses will have fewer sweet spot options, both for sharpness and for the other distortion factors briefly mentioned above.

APS-C cameras sporting APS-C lenses will have similar issues.  However, APS-C cameras fitted with full-frame size lenses will have a distinct advantage.  Because their sensors address only the middle part of the lens and not the far edges, where the relevant quality  tends to vary; they experience less quality fall-off at apertures that would be noticeable on their full-frame camera cousins.  This means that cheaper lenses do not necessarily mean severe penalties in sharpness at certain apertures  that more expensive lenses would normally compensate for.  It means that a full-frame ‘kit lens’ on an APS-C camera can be a very good performer at the right apertures (and focal lengths).

What to take from this. 

1)    If you have a full-frame camera, invest in the best glass you can afford, or assemble a good collection of lenses, each tested to determine their fewer, but perfectly useful, sweet spots.

2)    If you have an APC-S camera do the same as 1) OR choose a full-frame version of the lenses you purchase rather than the APS-C.  Also, do not part too readily with your kit lens, for it too has sweet spot areas that can be just as sharp as expensive replacements.  Just test to find them.

Have a Great 2013!


Planning & Preparation

Tug boats in harbour at night,Tim Story

Latow Photographers Guild

When we hear a photographer talk about the planning and preparation that went into the creation of an image, we are likely to envision photography done in studios, planned interior shots or maybe a trip to a far off country. Indeed these types of photography require planning and preparation of the subject matter, but most photographers stay closer to home, shoot outside in available light and go looking for subjects to capture when they have time. Will planning and preparation help under these circumstances? Absolutely!

The tug boats are docked in the same area of Hamilton harbour 52 weeks of the year. How much planning is required to capture a subject this large, mostly stationary and easily accessible? How hard can it be? Unlike photography done under controlled conditions, I have little to no control over the elements for this image. Weather conditions, direction and type of lighting, subject placement and subject availability are out of my direct control. By understanding the impact all the variables will have on the final image will greatly increases my odds of capturing the image I want in an uncontrolled environment.

I wanted to capture the tug boats with a mood not normally seen by the thousands of people walking by on the Waterfront Trail every day. I decided a night shot would meet this challenge. For this type of night shot I am totally dependent on manmade lighting. I began to regularly visit the site after dark to see what lights were on and how they illuminated the subject, if at all. It was crucial the lights attached to the boats to be illuminating for the final image, so I turned to the people managing the tug boats I had met during the previous winter months. With some carefully worded questions I had an approximate date when the boats might be worked on at night.

I wanted the lights from the boats to be captured as reflections on the water, so winds have to be 5km or less in speed or the reflections will be lost in the ripples. Too much wind will also cause the boats to bob up and down resulting in a blurred image with the long exposure times used for night time shuts. All of the variables will have to come together the week on May 6-12, 2012 when they “might” be working on the boats It has been two weeks since I started planning and preparing for the actual moment and I haven`t even taken a picture yet!

Remember the only physical control I have over this image is the time of day I can visit the tug boats. It’s my planning, research and understanding of the photographic variables that will capture the image I have envisioned during the week of May 6-12. Finally at 1:36am on May 12 all of the variables came together, the lights were on and the entire bay was calm.

In the end it took roughly a month of patience and planning to capture the image I envisioned. Most of the time in the field was only minutes per visit to better understand the scenes variables with most planning being done from my  home. So yes, planning and researching your next photograph when you have limited time to spend in the field will show in the finished image.

The image was captured on a Nikon D800, in 14 bit RAW, at 200mm, f8, ISO 400 with a 6 second exposure on a Gitzo tripod, mirror locked up and the shutter was activated with a cable release.

If you have any questions or comments, please email me at



Easy Abstracts

Allan Flagel of the Don Mills Camera ClubAllan Flagel of the Don Mills Camera Club

Rarely do I ever walk past a puddle or pool of water without checking out the reflections on its surface.

If there is a slight breeze blowing, the gentle ripples can produce some amazing abstract designs. These lend themselves to colour images with blobs of luscious hues or black and white prints with interesting patterns, graphic shapes and lines.

The trick to getting artistic-looking results is to use the correct lens, filter and shutter speed. Here I am taking for granted that you have already had plenty of practice in honing your sense of seeing (not just looking) and that you have a good grasp of what constitutes a pleasing composition. These of course are prerequisites, before you even start walking around your reflecting surface, hunting for your image.

For you see, just very minor shifts in camera location can produce totally different results. In fact, every picture that you take of the moving surface of the water will be unique. It is virtually impossible to take two identical images!

  1. Correct lens: this would be a telephoto zoom in the 70-300 mm range. This makes it very easy to isolate many different great images.
  2. Filter: a polarizer is often used to reduce reflections, but here we are using it to just take the sheen off the surface, to intensify the reflection, colours and contrast. You should rotate the filter to get just the correct amount of reflection that you desire.
  3. Shutter speed: this is the most important part, to produce clean, crisp reflections and not blurry messes. Usually 1/250 s or faster is preferred. This also allows you to shoot hand-held for easier hunting while you are stalking your amazing reflections.

These abstracts have the feature that they can turn the most mundane objects into incredible works of art. This technique can also be used on reflections in shop windows, chrome on cars and curved mirrors.
Images can be totally abstract, with unrecognizable subjects, or just altered enough to be intriguing.

It is totally up to you and your imagination plus the conditions of course.

Having said all that, you can still have fun with a simple little P & S (if you don’t feel like dragging out all of the suggested gear above) as the pictures included will illustrate, taken while I was on holiday in the Caribbean.

Yacht Reflection

Yacht Reflection

Glass Roof

Glass Roof


The ‘Crop Factor’

Bob Fowler
Richmond Hill Camera Club

Recently at Photokina in Germany it became apparent that some major camera manufacturers are concentrating on bringing full-frame digital cameras to market at more affordable prices.  Why might you be interested in a ‘full-frame’ (i.e. large sensor-equipped) camera?

Two reasons, mainly:

  1. Generally  larger information advantages of a larger sensor (more and larger pixels with positive consequences for image quality and less noise in low-light situations).
  2. Better control of depth of field.

This time I have concentrated on how the larger sensor helped achieve the second aim, namely how it affected the camera’s depth of field (dof).

All other factors being equal [focal length, distance from subject, and aperture setting (f-stop)] the size of the sensor makes a major difference in the dof possible in an image.

If one uses the full-frame dof as a base, one can calculate the equivalent f-stop effect of the other sensor sizes by multiplying the f-stop  of the chosen camera by its crop factor.  Thus, if your APS-C camera has a crop factor of 1.5 and the full-frame camera’s f-stop is f8, your equivalent f-stop effect will be f11, and if your camera phone’s crop factor is 5.6, your equivalent f-stop effect will be f22, probably its highest possible setting and enough to get from camera to infinity as a dof.  Similarly a 4-thirds style camera would have an equivalent f16 result on its hands. This matters a great deal if you are trying to achieve a narrow depth of field for purposes of portrait photography or just to separate out your subject from distracting background matter.

As the sensor  size decreases, the need to manipulate the other dof factors becomes increasingly necessary and can make the desirable result more difficult to achieve, though to some degree possible.

This forms part, but not the only part by any means, of the decision to spend the extra money for a full-frame digital camera.