The Best Colors Come From the Best Exposures

Gretag-Macbeth ColorChecker

Gretag-Macbeth ColorChecker

This has to be one of the best kept photographic secrets: The more accurate your exposures are, the better your colors will be. Why? If your exposures are off, the colors in your photograph will shift in different directions. You can correct the exposure in post processing, but you can’t correct the color shifts. Since the colors shift in different directions, if you try to correct one color (as you will see below), the other colors will get even worse.

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Your Camera Does NOT Capture Reality! – And What To Do About It.

O'Haver Lake, Mt. Ouray, Colorado

O’Haver Lake, Mt. Ouray, Colorado.

You have heard it said a lot, and maybe said it yourself: “This picture doesn’t do the scene justice.” That is often true and for several reasons. One is that digital cameras do not capture reality. No matter how fancy or expensive, digital cameras simply do not capture what your eyes see. That is also true with film cameras. All color photographic films have different color characteristics. Some have better reds, others have better greens or blues. Some are more saturated and others less saturated. But none of them are totally color realistic. So why don’t digital cameras give you realistic images and what can you do about it?

Originally posted December 16, 2015. Revised and re-posted January 18, 2022.

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How To Work With A Model (or Anybody Else) When The Windchill is 4°

Selina

Selina, Downtown Columbus Ohio. Windchill 4°.

You would think a windchill of 4° Fahrenheit (-16°C) would be too cold for a photo shoot, but not with some models. We booked this January shoot weeks in advance so we knew it would be cold, but we had no idea how cold until the day arrived. Here’s the story behind this image and how to work with a model (or anybody else) when it is so cold.

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Testing Your Camera’s Snow Exposure Latitude

Cascade, Barry, and Coxe Glaciers

Cascade, Barry, and Coxe Glaciers, Prince William Sound, Alaska

The “snow exposure latitude” for every camera is different. You won’t find it in your camera’s manual but it is easy to determine with a do-it-yourself test. Why does it matter? If you don’t know the snow exposure latitude for your camera and how to apply it to your images, the color and quality of your winter photos will suffer.

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Metering Nighttime Winter Scenes

Twilight, Rocky Mountain National Park.

Twilight, Rocky Mountain National Park. Sirius, Canis Major, Orion, Taurus, the Hyades star cluster, and the Pleiades star cluster are all visible in the fading light. Click for a larger version.

You can photograph the night sky year around, but winter brings an added bonus: SNOW! When you don’t have the benefit of moonlight, most of the year land forms a dark to black silhouetted skyline against the night sky. In winter you have the possibility of including the highly reflective snow. You can see both in this photo. Any place not covered with snow is very dark to black. Having reflective snow is why winter is the favorite time of year for a lot of photographers to go out and photograph the night sky.

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Metering Wildlife in the Snow, Part Two

Cougar

Cougar

Most wildlife are medium to dark in tone, making them a challenge to meter properly in the bright, white tones of winter. If you trust one of your camera’s automatic exposure modes, the odds are good you won’t get the best exposure. If you switch over to manual exposure and make the right decisions, you can get great exposures and better quality photos (more about that later).

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Metering Wildlife in the Snow, Part One

Elk in the Snow, Rocky Mountain National Park

Elk in the Snow, Horseshoe Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Metering dark toned wildlife in the snow is a major exposure challenge. It is usually best to avoid large “burned out” areas (washed out, featureless white) in a nature or landscape photograph, but with properly exposed snow, the wildlife can be so dark as to lose all texture. On other hand, metering for the wildlife can burn out the snow. So what do you do? And what about the complications of metering white animals?

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Metering Daytime Winter Scenes

Mount Hunter from a Bush Plane. Denali National Park. Alaska.

Mount Hunter from a Bush Plane. Denali National Park. Alaska.

Metering for scenes with a lot of snow can be tricky since the bright snow fools the camera meter. I see a lot of winter photos with gray snow, which means the camera meter did exactly what it was designed to do. The solution is quite simple provided you know what to do.

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“How To” Series: Winter Photography

Last Light on El Capitan, Yosemite National Park

Last Light on El Capitan, Yosemite National Park

In addition to all of the usual photographic challenges, winter provides some extra complications, especially in terms of metering. So I began this series of articles on winter photography. Check out the links below. The articles will help you meet the unique challenges of winter photography. So get out there, have fun, and create some great winter images!

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Buyer’s Guide: Recommendations For The Best Photography Equipment, Software, Books, Magazines, DVDs, Online Photo Labs, and More

Welcome to my online buying guide for photographers. With over 75 articles it is one of the most comprehensive buyer’s guides on the web.

I get lots of photo questions, and many of them begin with “What is the best . . . .” They usually come from photographers or someone who is shopping for a photographer.

My “best of the best” series recommends the best photo gear, accessories, software, books, DVDs, online photo labs, and a whole lot more. Thanks to the information in these articles I get emails from photographers thanking me for saving them time, frustration, and a lot of money.

This article is published annually in November with regular updates. Most recent update: December 31, 2021.

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Soybean Harvest at Sunset

Soybean harvest at sunset near Hatfield Missouri.

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine asked if I would get some images when the time to harvest soybeans came around. I told her the perfect image would be at sunrise or sunset with a nice sky and the combine kicking up some dust. When it was time for the harvest we had two cloudy days which would make for boring images. Finally, on the third day the clouds were breaking up in the afternoon and it looked more promising. I hopped in my car and drove to the harvest location.

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How to Photograph A Recital and Other Stage Performances

Beth Presler, Senior Violin Recital, Shaw Auditorium, Graceland University, Lamoni Iowa

The first thing to do is to ask permission ahead of time. Some places do not allow photography during the performance or they limit the number of photographers. In this case, Beth asked me to photograph her recital and I was the official photographer. One of the keys to photographing an event is not to become a serious distraction from the main event. That means not doing a lot of wandering around, and certainly not getting in front of people who are watching the event. Be as discreet as possible. If you need to move during a performance, if at all possible do it during the applause between numbers.

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Violinist in the Snow

Beth playing her violin in the snow.

This is one of my all time favorite winter images. On a prior photo shoot, Beth and I went out into the cold and snow to create images. She played her violin while I took pictures. It was her first time shooting in the cold and snow and she was a real trooper. For that shoot she wore her long black concert dress. The snow melted not long after that, but we decide if another day came along with the right conditions we wanted to shoot in the now again.

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House Finch in the Snow

House Finch with Sunflower Seed

Thanks to the weather and the recommendations from U.S. medical experts that this is not the time to be traveling, I have been doing much more photography than usual of the birds visiting our bird feeders. This male House Finch had just grabbed a black oil sunflower seed and was getting ready to eat it.

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How To Work With A Model (or Anybody Else) When The Windchill is 4°

Selina

Selina, Downtown Columbus Ohio. Windchill 4°.

You would think a windchill of 4° Fahrenheit (-16°C) would be too cold for a photo shoot, but not with some models. We booked this January shoot weeks in advance so we knew it would be cold, but we had no idea how cold until the day arrived. Here’s the story behind this image and how to work with a model (or anybody else) when it is so cold.

Continue reading

Testing Your Camera’s Snow Exposure Latitude

Cascade, Barry, and Coxe Glaciers

Cascade, Barry, and Coxe Glaciers, Prince William Sound, Alaska

The “snow exposure latitude” for every camera is different. You won’t find it in your camera’s manual but it is easy to determine with a do-it-yourself test. Why does it matter? If you don’t know the snow exposure latitude for your camera and how to apply it to your images, the color and quality of your winter photos will suffer.

Continue reading

Metering Nighttime Winter Scenes

Twilight, Rocky Mountain National Park.

Twilight, Rocky Mountain National Park. Sirius, Canis Major, Orion, Taurus, the Hyades star cluster, and the Pleiades star cluster are all visible in the fading light. Click for a larger version.

You can photograph the night sky year around, but winter brings an added bonus: SNOW! When you don’t have the benefit of moonlight, most of the year land forms a dark to black silhouetted skyline against the night sky. In winter you have the possibility of including the highly reflective snow. You can see both in this photo. Any place not covered with snow is very dark to black. Having reflective snow is why winter is the favorite time of year for a lot of photographers to go out and photograph the night sky.

Continue reading