Take Better Outdoor Photos

Summer is here! And with summer come rich opportunities for practicing and showcasing your photography skills.

Here are some quick tips for getting better pictures outside this year…

Better Outdoor Photos - Tip #1: When shooting outdoors, think overcast, dawn and dusk.

The first and last light of day almost always provides breathtaking opportunities, wherever you are. Late afternoon provides good photo opportunities too.

If you're not an early riser, make it a point to get out a few times before dawn to see what you've been missing. Pick a beautiful park, mountain or beach near you and sit there as the first light of day paints the sky, and begins to illuminate the ground below.

Sunrise is one of the most magnificent sights in nature. Wherever you are, start taking shots of these early mornings, and you'll begin to have a feel for how fast light changes, and the marvelous opportunities it opens up.

It's the same with sunsets. Sunsets are as good (or better) than sunrises. Check your local paper for the sunrise and sunset times. Make sure you're in position a good half-hour before the event begins.

Do this, and you'll see how fast the light changes minute to minute, and you'll even feel the changes in mood as the light changes from day to night.

Also, during the day be aware of how clouds can change the light -- again, sometimes in minutes.

Please note, you want to avoid shooting in harsh midday sun -- that is when the sun is directly overhead -- it's the worst type of lighting for outdoor photography.

However, sometimes life does not wait for sunset. There are a few things you can do when stuck with the choice of shooting in harsh mid-day light or not getting the shot at all.

Try using open shade (but not partially shaded with bright spots -- this will only cause problems) and be sure to use the shade setting on your camera if you have it. If your camera has a fill flash setting use it, even in the brightness of day, it will balance out your subject and the bright scene behind.

Sunny f-16 rule -- In case you need to set exposure manually on a sunny day, remember the sunny f-16 rule: In midday sunlight, set the aperture to f/16 and the shutter speed to the reciprocal of the ISO. So if you're shooting at ISO 200, the exposure is f/16 at 1/200. This rule works when shooting a subject that is front-lit on a cloudless or nearly cloudless day.

Better Outdoor Photos - Tip #2: Experiment with shadows.

See this week's e-letter issue on working with shadows and reflections.

Generally, you want the sun at your back or on the side when shooting. But you could experiment with photographing silhouettes by shooting into the sun for dramatic effect.

Better Outdoor Photos - Tip #3: Size is important…

The light source for any photo (except special effects) should be many times larger than your subject. Compare the quality of light in a photograph shot with an on-camera flash to one shot at dusk, when the entire sky is the light source.

Better Outdoor Photos - Tip #4: "Guide" the viewer's eye.

The human eye will always be directed to the brightest area of a photograph. Try to give the most important part of your photo the most light. Check the background for objects reflecting more light than your subject and change the composition to eliminate them.

Better Outdoor Photos - Tip #5: Long exposures at twilight.

After the sun goes down, there is usually not enough light to record a normal photo. But using a tripod and long exposure can open up a brand new world of photography. This is where a digital camera comes in handy.

When you use this technique to shoot a highway after sunset (using a tripod and 30- second exposure) car head lights and taillights turn into long, colorful patterns. Since most light meters can't determine a correct exposure for special effects, these images require a lot of trial and error. A digital camera with a post view screen can let you know immediately how your exposure is working.

The amount of time the shutter is open (5 to 60 seconds) in combination with the correct f/stop can produce amazing images. It's just a matter of finding the right exposure for each situation.

Better Outdoor Photos - Tip #6: Fill flash at sunset.

Great photos contain a great or good subject along with a great or good background. Sunsets make some of the best backgrounds so at sunset make sure you're prepared.

The colors of a sunset only last a few minutes so you need to plan ahead and have your family, friends or models ready. Select a location that has a clear view of the horizon and place your subject directly in line with the color on the horizon. The trick is to match the flash output with light from the sunset.

A tripod and digital camera with a post view screen make this technique very easy. Select an f/stop and adjust the flash output for your subject while using the shutter speed for the right exposure for the sunset. One combination will be perfect. This will take some practice, but the results can be very dramatic.

Better Outdoor Photos - Tip #7: Turn an overcast day into a winning photo -- particularly for portraits.

We've already talked about daylight. But what about overcast days?

Overcast days produce a very low level of light, but this light is very high quality. The problem you face when shooting a photo on an overcast day is that your light meter will read all the light in the sky and underexpose your subject.

Now, the secret to turning this kind of light into a striking photo is to keep the sky out of the frame.

Because overcast daylight is soft and diffused, it makes it the best lighting for portrait photography (a natural soft box). Unfortunately, it isn't always overcast when you take portraits. So, you might try to shoot a portrait in the early morning or late afternoon, depending on the schedules of your family members.

If taking an indoor photo, try to light the scene so that you don't need a flash. Use the sunlight coming in through the windows (again keeping in mind early morning and late afternoon as the best times) or even household lamps. The point is to avoid harsh shadows.

But if the weather isn't cooperating to give you the perfect light for your indoor photo, use an on-camera flash. This is a separate flash unit that fits into the hot-shoe on top of the camera, it's not the same things as the flash built into your camera. Use the in-camera flash as a last resort.

Even better again is a flash unit with a dedicated cord that lets you move the unit away from the camera body. If you have this equipment, try bouncing the flash off the ceiling by pointing it up at a 60-degree angle. The light becomes more diffused, and that helps to minimize shadows in your portraits.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]