How did I do that?

While not claiming to be an expert myself many people are asking me how to achieve the “freeze” effect as in my photo of “Old Jetty Piles at Lough Neagh” see below:

Old Piles2

Lough Neagh Jetty

Well here goes:

Choose the focus of your subject on something that does not move ie. the pile posts in the water.

Water moves so this will become frozen in the image giving the effect, water is the most popular but moving car head/tail lights are another possibility. Just look for something static among moving surroundings. Water with a ripple or a moving waterfall/river/waves is best.

Set your camera to manual, very important, since the camera software will try to adjust the settings/focus to what it sees rather than what you want if it’s in automatic. Use the lowest ISO setting of your camera usually 100.

The lighting is important also and will depend on many things like time of day and atmospheric conditions. Your settings will depend on the light and if it’s calm, stormy, overcast, shade, day, night, windy or raining these will dictate these settings.

The following 10 steps should help you achieve an image with the frozen effect.

Step 1 – Set the camera up on a tripod, this is essential.

Step 2 – Choose a lens to suit the desired result, ie. wide angle for a wide landscape or a narrow lens for a close-cropped image.

Step 3 – Focus on your main static subject as sharply as possible.

Step 4 – Adjust the lens aperture to achieve the desired depth of field, ie. blurred surroundings or sharper surroundings.

Step 5 – Note the speed setting that gives the correct exposure for the image. This will probably be too fast in order to achieve the cotton candy effect of the moving water for example. Don’t change the ISO.

Step 6 – Fit an ND (Neutral Density) grey filter to the lens. This will slow the speed and be depending on the light conditions you will need to experiment with different strengths of the filter. A circular adjustable filter is good but a good quality slide in square filter is better.

Step 7 – Try to achieve a very slow speed by adjusting the filter to achieve a setting somewhere above 5 seconds but make sure the exposure remains spot on and change the filter strength if required to achieve this. Do not change focus, camera position or aperture and you will need to start again.

Step 8 – Camera shake will ruin your image so to avoid this is very important. A remote switch is perfect but if you don’t have one then set the camera shutter to activate after 2 seconds this will have the same result. Setting the camera to mirror lockup at the same time will be even better to avoid camera shake.

Step 9 – Once set up check the speed and if it is above 30 seconds you will need to set the camera to Bulb (see link). In this case, you will need to do some calculations to discover the speed timing to give the perfect exposure (there are tables online). These calculations are difficult but modern technology gives us the answer. The ultimate time setting will depend on the light/filter strength and many apps for mobile phones are available (see link). This will give a speed setting and will give a signal when reached. The only other option is to take a number of shots at different timings and look at the results which is a bit hit and miss.

Step 10 – Finally take your shot and if you have followed the above the result will be an image that can be post-processed if necessary to achieve what you desire.

Some examples.

A speed setting table.


Images at the end of Summertime.

Took some bird photos at Lough Neagh today. Summertime is over, the clocks go back and the days are getting shorter. The birds and animals are preparing for the hard winter days ahead.

robin on post2

A beautiful little Robin on a fence post.


wagtail and spider3

A Grey Wagtail with a spider in its beak.

A Squirrel hunting for nuts.

grey squirrel 2

Grey Squirrel

Some images of Autumn

A Chestnut


willow 2 nik

Weeping Willow

Fireworks over Craigavon Lake

fireworks 1

Halloween Fireworks

fireworks 2

Halloween Fireworks

Podcast Page

Check out these weekly Podcasts on my Podcast page to Learn about Photography and some cool recipes I will be putting up different ones every Sunday so follow me for more………

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Tutorials

If you’re trying to decide whether to use Lightroom, this Introduction video from “Lightroom Made Easy” explains why photographers need Adobe Lightroom, and how it’s different from other image editing software.

Black Bean Stir Fry

This is an easy option, plenty for two, and very inexpensive, just as good as your take away. 200 g beef shredded, 5 spring onions, 3 garlic cloves finely chopped, 1 green pepper, a hand full of bean sprouts, 1 cm ginger finely chopped, Half a sheet of noodles, A splash of soy, A few mushrooms (not compulsory), About 150 ml Black Bean sauce and Oil for cooking. In the wok add the ginger and garlic, then the onions and stir a lot. Add the peppers, stirring Add the meat, stirring. Cook for about 3 minutes or so. Add the mushrooms and cook for a further two minutes. Add the black bean sauce and the noodles. Cook for another 3 minutes and then serve. Simple!

Camera RAW and Photoshop Lightroom.

The Program

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is a must-have program for any serious photographer either amateur or professional. It has a vast range of features and added extras that are head and shoulders above the competition, but despite this, it is still a friendly and easy to use program. You can post process, sort, rate, manipulate and publish your photos to virtually every medium and these are just a sample of what you can do.

This blog is my attempt to demystify Camera RAW and Lightroom a little and help my readers who own it now or are contemplating using it.

The RAW File Format

*The first thing you should understand about Lightroom is that it’s basically a RAW file converter. Someone new to Lightroom Software and digital cameras, in general, may find the statement is not all that clear. That is why it’s best to say something first about RAW file format and what RAW is. It may sound a bit complicated, but actually, it is really simple to understand.

What is a RAW File?

A RAW image file is also known as digital negative and this can give you a pretty good idea of how RAW can be compared to old-style film photography. Simply put, a RAW file is information gathered directly from a camera’s image sensor without any sort of digital adjustment. Just as in the past a film was first of all developed chemically to form a negative (Colour or Black and White) which was then further processed to create the final print. So too, the RAW file taken from the camera’s memory card needs to be adjusted and enhanced to create a final digital image that can be printed or shared online etc.  To photograph in RAW format, you need to set it in your camera settings,  usually, you can find it among image quality settings in the camera menu (refer to the camera’s manual for instructions).

So too, the RAW file taken from the camera’s memory card needs to be adjusted and enhanced to create a final digital image that can be printed or shared online etc.  To photograph in RAW format, you need to set it in your camera settings,  usually, you can find it among image quality settings in the camera menu (refer to the camera’s manual for instructions).

RAW isn’t a file extension, like *.jpg or *.png files, different manufacturers use different file extensions. Nikon has *.nef, Canon uses *.cr2, Fujifilm has *.raf and Adobe has the widely popular *.dng format. DNG is universal and can “store” any other file format inside it.

The key word is information because RAW files are not images, they are files containing information just like any other computer file. RAW files need to be decoded by specific software or codecs to be viewed as actual photographs. In short, RAW files carry a lot more information inside them and are more flexible than say JPEG images. More information means a little bit more resolution and lots more dynamic range (colour information and detail is hidden in dark and light portions of an image). Flexibility means taking control into your hands. Instead of allowing your camera to choose how much sharpening, noise reduction, contrast, saturation, etc., to apply to a photograph you just captured as in JPEG, you make those decisions yourself.  RAW files when opened look flat but you can convert them to exactly how you want them to look as JPEG images.

What is a RAW File Converter?

A RAW converter is a program that decodes the information stored within the file so that you can see it as an image. Secondly, it allows you to tweak the RAW file, manipulate all the information stored within it and save it as a simple graphical image file, such as JPEG.

Now you might say that even after you’ve set your camera to RAW file format, you can still see the image on your camera’s LCD screen no problem. Moreover, it’s not “flat” at all, but has quite vivid colours and decent contrast. That’s because often a RAW file has a JPEG preview stored inside so that you can view it quickly on the back of your camera.

A Summary of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (which I will simply call Lightroom or LR) is a RAW image converter, simple as that. However, in addition to providing the basic functionality of a basic RAW converter, Adobe has built Lightroom to be the only post-processing application many photographers will need nine times out of ten. With each new version, Lightroom gains more and more new features. These features allow photographers to use it from start to finish. So if you plan to make a photo album, Lightroom has that functionality. With all its tools and no-nonsense user interface, Lightroom lets the photographer organize, post-process, print and share photographs, all in one environment. Lightroom’s party piece is its focus on speed when working with multiple images (think hundreds or even thousands). This is made easier by the simple process of copying and pasting all of the available adjustments into plugins known as presets. Presets can be downloaded or created by the user very like recording a set of adjustments and applying the same to other similar files. Another great feature is none-destructive editing. It helps make sure original files remain intact and allows you to tweak, set or cancel any adjustments at any time. Such sophistication makes it pretty special for aspiring photographers.

The images below show the three main lightroom screens of Library, Develop and Map

Who is Lightroom for?

Well, if you’re the kind of person like me who takes a lot of images, particularly, but not exclusively, in RAW format, Lightroom is just right for you too. It’s very good for photographers with professional aspirations. It’s also good if you just want better control over the look of your images. It doesn’t even matter if you only photograph your family and friends as long as you keep in mind that Lightroom is a professional tool for photographers. That means there’s quite a steep learning curve which is very much worth it in the end.

Please note that LR supports regular image formats as well as RAW files, such as TIFF and JPEG but, understandably, many of the available RAW settings will not work or will not work to their fullest potential. Still, it can be extremely useful to JPEG and RAW shooters alike, especially those who want to process a large number of images quickly.

Click this link to  Visit my Podcast Page on this website to hear a set of Lightroom tutorials beginning with tutorial 1.

Follow My Blog to hear more or click the book cover to view/buy on Amazon



How to take Long Exposure Images

This is my edited version of a long exposure tutorial found at Click Here as acknowledged by me. The Lough Neagh Image is my own and is copyright.

1. Why Use Long Exposure?

Really long exposures, exposures in excess of several minutes create surreal, dreamlike images. They are mostly created using Neutral Density filters (ND), think of sunglasses for your lens to extend exposure times far in excess of what could be achieved by simply decreasing ISO and stopping down your aperture. Long exposures create a sense of mystery. They softly blur anything that moves. Clouds become streaks, water takes on a cotton candy-like appearance and people either disappear or become ghosted figures. But the most important perk to using a very long exposure is that it simplifies the composition. It strips down an image to the basics: lines, shapes, and tone.

2. Equipment

Obviously, you will need a DSLR camera, wide angle lens, tripod, cable/remote release, fully charged batteries, you will also need solid Neutral Density filters. ND filters decrease the amount of light entering the lens. ND filters allow you to slow your shutter speeds from fractions of a second to lengths in excess of several minutes, even in daylight.

Other items you might need include:

  • Exposure conversion chart or better still an app (there are lots of free long exposure apps available for your cell phone, search “long exposure calculators”)
  • Something to cover your camera to stop light leaks
  • A timer (I use my phone app)
  • A Sturdy Tripod
  • Lots of patience!
  • Warm waterproof clothing depending on the weather.

3. ND Filters

ND is short for Neutral Density, sometimes referred to as a “grey filter” or “dark glass”. A perfect ND filter should filter all the visible colours of light equally. This means that an ND filter shouldn’t have any effect on the colours in your image. Unfortunately, with very long exposures this is not always true. If you are taking exposures, in excess of five minutes, you will sometimes pick up a pink or magenta colour cast. This is because higher wavelength light (infrared) is not completely blocked by some ND filters and builds upon the sensor. Adjusting the white balance during post processing will usually repair this pink cast. In addition, many filter manufacturers now combine ND filters with IR blocking capability, but these are more expensive. To avoid this colour cast completely, many photographers choose to convert their long exposures into black and white.

NOTE: Graduated ND filters are clear on the bottom half and become darker to the top half. Graduated ND filters are used when the dynamic range of the scene is too high to record. They are often used in landscapes to darken a bright sky. For long exposure photography, you will need Solid ND filters. These filters, as the name implies, are a dark from top to bottom. You will also need a filter holder if using rectangular filters. (see below)

ND Filter Types

ND filters come in two varieties, circular screw-in and rectangular. The latter requires a holder that attaches to the front of your lens. You then slide the rectangular filter into the holder. I prefer the screw-in variety because they are easier to attach and have less chance of light leakage. When you are buying an ND filter, buy one that fits your largest diameter lens. If you have smaller diameter lenses that you would like to use the filter on, buy a step-up ring. A step-up ring allows you to couple the larger diameter filter threads of the filter to smaller diameter threads on a lens. The photo shows a rectangular graduated ND filter and Solid filter set available at at only £14.99 it includes:-

A Neutral Density ND Filter Set ND2 ND4 ND8 + Gradual Neutral Density ND Filter G.ND2 G.ND4 G.ND8 + 9pcs Ring Adapter (49mm 52mm 55mm 58mm 62mm 67mm 72mm 77mm 82mm) + Filter Holder + Filter Case for Cokin p series for Canon, Nikon, Sony LF6

Click the photo and go directly to Amazon to order.

Screw in ND Filters are similar to any lens filter, in that they screw into the end of your lens. There are two types, fixed strength and adjustable strength. The fixed type is of a stated strength and cannot be adjusted while the adjustable types are like polarising lens filters which can be turned to adjust their strength by a ring on the edge of the filter.

The picture shows- CameraPlus – Professional 77mm Slim S-PRO1 MC Neutral Density ND 3.0 Filter 1000x – 10 Stops + Free aluminium screw-in filter caps.

Click the photo and go directly to Amazon to order.

ND Filter Strengths

ND filters are rated according to how much light they block. The darker the filter, the less light is transmitted through it. Less light corresponds to longer exposures. When you choose an ND filter you will find that different manufacturers use different systems to describe the strength of their filters but generally, the filters are rated in stops, therefore, a 10-stop filter reduces exposure by 10, 6-stop by 6 and so on. If you plan on taking your long exposures during the day, I would suggest purchasing a 10-stop and 6-stop filter. These can be stacked together to produce a total of 16-stops. A circular polarizer is equivalent to approximately a 2-stop reduction in light and can also be stacked with your ND filters. Although you can stack multiple filters together, do not stack more than two as vignetting will become very visible in the resulting images.


4. Subjects

When you are looking for subjects that make for good long exposure photographs, pick a scene that has both stationary objects and something that moves. The movement can be found in water, clouds, traffic and people. Here are a few examples of great subjects.
• Pilings or piers with a very low distant horizon
• Dock or harbour – be careful with moored boats “bobbing” in the water, as they will appear as ghosts!
• Tight shots of buildings showing only walls and clouds
• Wide landscapes with rolling fog or dramatic clouds
• Isolated old buildings with blowing grass and moving clouds

Old Piles2

Old Jetty Piles at Lough Neagh N. Ireland

©Christopher Cosgrove

5. Taking Very Long Exposures

Long exposures take a long time! They are the exact opposite of “point and shoot” photography. Long exposures take a lot of thought and planning before you press the shutter. NOTE: the setting up must first be completed WITHOUT the ND filter attached or if using an adjustable at the lowest stop setting. A definite must is a cable release or remote timer, imagine holding the shutter button for several minutes and you will realise why a shutter release lock is imperative.


When you arrive at your shoot location, take some time deciding where the best vantage point is. Walk around and take several regular exposures and evaluate these on the back of your camera. Should you move a bit to the left or right? How high do you want the horizon? Are there any distracting elements at the edges of the frame? Once you are satisfied with your composition, set up your tripod and attach your camera. You may still need to do a little tweaking of the composition before your final long exposure. Once you are set up on your tripod, attach a cable release or a remote timer and select the lowest ISO on your camera. Make sure that vibration reduction is turned off if it is available on your lens. Then again double-check the framing of your shot.

Choose Your Aperture

With your camera in aperture priority, select a relatively small aperture (f/8 or smaller). Apertures between f/8 and f/11 are typically the sweet spot for a lens. Assuming you are using a wide-angle lens (24mm or wider), these apertures will give you lots of depth of field and sharp focus from edge to edge. I try to avoid using f/22 and smaller apertures to minimize diffraction. Diffraction is the softness that occurs due to light bending around the diaphragm blades. It becomes much more apparent at very small apertures.


Switch your camera to manual focus and focus your shot, this is important to prevent auto re-focussing occurring later. I usually focus 3-6 feet in front of the camera. This assures that you have both your foreground and background sharply in focus. Check your focus on the back of the camera using live view and magnification. Be aware though, diffraction may become unacceptable at very small apertures, as I mentioned above. Take a photo and check your image for focus. If necessary, readjust the focus. It is a good idea to place a piece of gaffer tape over the focus ring to ensure it doesn’t accidentally get moved once you have established focus. All of this composition and focus work is done without the ND filter(s) attached. You will find that with ND filters on the front of your lens, you will not be able to see out your viewfinder! The display will be too dark to compose, let alone focus.

Shutter Speed

The next step is to determine how long your exposure should be once you attach the ND filters. After you put the ND filters on your lens, your camera will not be able to meter. You must calculate the correct exposure based on the strength of your ND filters and the pre-ND exposure. Before attaching the filters, measure the exposure using a spot meter or your camera’s internal meter (press the shutter half way down). I often take a couple of “regular” exposures at this time and evaluate my histogram to confirm that the exposure is correct before attaching the ND filters. Note the shutter speed. Remember that a stop of light is the doubling or halving of the total amount of light that hits the sensor. A three-stop ND filter, for example, extends your shutter speed by three full stops. So, if your original metering gave you a shutter speed of 1/125s, with a three-stop filter you would increase that to 1/15s (1/125s to 1/60s is one stop, 1/60s to 1/30s is two stops, and 1/30s to 1/15s is three stops). However, to really slow the exposure you will want around 16 stops of light reduction. With a 16-stop filter, the mathematics can get a bit tedious. Use a chart or better still a phone app to help you convert. On a chart in the ‘No Filter’ row, find your metered shutter speed. From here, drop down to the row describing the ND filter strength you are using. Where this row and column intersect is your new converted shutter speed. Alternatively, download an exposure calculator onto your phone and follow its instructions. With a 16-stops filter (a 6-stop and 10-stop stacked together), that 1/125s initial exposure turns into 8 minutes!

Taking the Shot

With your filtered shutter speed calculated, switch the camera to manual mode. Set the aperture you chose in section 5.2. Set your shutter speed to bulb. Making sure that your focus is correct, and that your tripod head is securely locked down, carefully attach your ND filter or set your adjustable filter. To prevent any light from leaking into the camera, cover your camera and lens with a dark cloth or jacket and secure it with clips, especially if it is windy. During very long exposures, light has a way of sneaking into your camera, particularly through the viewfinder. You are now ready to take the picture. Using a cable release, press and lock the shutter open. Set a timer on your watch or phone, sit back, relax, and plug in your music while you wait.  When your timer goes off, unlock the cable release to stop the exposure. Don’t worry if your exposure is not exact. With exposures of several minutes, leaving the shutter open a few extra seconds will not affect your overall exposure.

6. Some Tips

Check your histogram. I often find my images need a longer exposure than what I initially calculated. If your histogram is bunched up on the left, increase your exposure time by a stop. That means doubling the length of the exposure. If you took an eight-minute exposure, try 16 minutes. I usually shoot three shots of each image and bracket each one by ½ or a full stop, depending on the dynamic range of the composition. In Photoshop you can merge the images using layers and layer masks. Make sure you are shooting in raw. This will give you the most latitude when you are processing your images. Turn off the noise reduction in your camera. With these long exposures, your sensor will heat up, and you will see a lot of noise in your images. However, using the in-camera noise reduction tends to cause a loss of detail. I prefer to deal with noise in post processing so I have complete control over how much and how it is applied. In addition, using noise reduction doubles your exposure time. Noise reduction takes a second photo immediately after the first, only this time the shutter remains closed. This ‘dark frame’ is used to electronically subtract the noise from the initial photograph. I enjoy the slower pace of long exposure photography, but not enough to double the length of each exposure! Let your sensor cool off a few minutes between exposures. This will help to mitigate some of the noise that builds up when the sensor gets hot. Make sure you have a fully charged battery and a couple of spare ones in your bag. Long exposures, especially in colder weather, consume batteries very quickly.

7. Final Thoughts

Creating images using very long exposures are a refreshing change from shooting “regular” photographs. They force you to think very carefully about your composition. A single shot can take upwards of 45 minutes to an hour from conception to completion, including bracketing. It reminds me of the film days before digital when every shot was carefully thought out and calculated. You could not afford to shoot hundreds of images hoping for one keeper. As an afterthought, if you are taking long exposures of the sea to get the cotton candy effect of waves be very careful to check the tides after all in 45 minutes to 1-hour exposure and composition times the tide can come in and at best interrupt the shot but at worst take your camera and gear away on a wave or even cut you off from land, think about your location carefully.

Macro Photography

Macro photography is one of the most popular forms of photography and with good reason. It is easily accessible, and it is a very broad genre of photography. Studio pros can enjoy taking macro shots of leaves, flowers, and sluggish insects, maintaining total control over lighting. Nature lovers can spend hours outside, searching for hidden treasures among flowers and leaves. Plus, in non-photogenic locations, like many people’s backyards, macro photography makes it possible to take great images of nature without travelling at all. In this article, I will provide some tips and ideas to help you take your macro photography to the next level.

buterfly 1

Female Common Blue Butterfly


Along with all the benefits of macro photography, there are some technical hurdles that you must cross. Physics comes into play in macro photography in ways that are not as relevant to other genres, which is the main reason why I wrote this guide — I hope to clear up the most intimidating aspects of macro photography for beginners, and perhaps suggest some tips for seasoned macro photographers along the way.

1. Magnification

Macro photography has to do with the size that your subject is projected onto your camera’s sensor. If you have a one-inch subject, its projection at “life-size” would be one inch on the camera’s sensor. An object which fills one inch of the sensor will fill most of the resulting photo since the sensors in typical DSLRs are no more than 1.5 inches long.
When an object is projected at life-size onto the sensor, it is at “1:1 magnification”.

2. Working Distance

Working distance is the distance between your sensor and your subject at the closest possible focus distance of your lens. The longer the working distance, the easier it is to stay away from your subject and if that subject is skittish or dangerous, a large working distance is fairly useful. A working distance of ten inches means that, with a camera/lens combo of eight inches long, the front of your lens will be two inches from the subject at its closest focusing distance. The best macro lenses, as you might expect, have large working distances the working distance increases as the focal length of the lens increases.  Also, as your working distance increases your magnification decreases. At 1:4 magnification, for example, you don’t need to be nearly as close to your subject as you would if you want to photograph it at 1:1 magnification. There are, of course, a lot of technical terms related to macro photography, but the most crucial are the concept of magnification. Once you understand the differences between, say, life-sized images and 1:4 images, you already know the most crucial macro-specific terminology that you’ll come across. Macro photography is extremely accessible, which is what makes it so popular among both beginners and professionals.

3. Depth of Field

For most types of photography, your typical plane of focus will be somewhere between five feet and infinity. At this distance, an aperture of f/8 or f/11 typically will render the entire scene within the depth of field — some items may be a bit out of focus, but they still should be recognizable (discounting extreme telephoto shots, of course). The closer towards the lens that you focus, though, the smaller the depth of field becomes, even at the same aperture settings. The depth of field gradually becomes so tiny that it can be difficult to get your entire subject to appear in focus. In macro photography, especially, this can be a huge issue. It gets to the point that you won’t be able to have a fly’s head and feet appear sharp at the same time, even though they are just millimetres apart. The thin depth of field leads into another difficulty in macro photography: general lack of light. First, at close distances, your camera itself will usually block some light from reaching your subject. Also, an on-camera flash may not be at the proper angle to illuminate something that is just a couple inches from the lens. Further, to compensate for the magnified vibration inherent in macro photography, you will need to use a much faster shutter speed than usual. Add these issues to the fact that your aperture will be extremely small (so that you get a tolerable depth of field), and your photos quickly start to look like you left your lens cap on, even in the middle of the day. So, how do you fix this? There are a few ways, each with their own compromises.

Honey Bee

Bee on a Thistle Flower

4. Open it Up

You may choose to live with a minuscule depth of field for your macro photography — minuscule to the point that you won’t be able to get an entire ant head to appear sharp. Just open your lens’s aperture as wide as possible (or stop it down just a bit), and you’re set to take macro photos. The benefit to this approach is that you don’t have to worry about complex lighting setups or software fixes to make your macro photos look good. The downside is that it becomes nearly impossible to focus your lens hand-held at the closest magnifications since there is essentially no depth of field. This method works best if you are trying to take photos of subjects that are at least a few inches across, but it is almost impossible to use if you want photos at 1:1 or 1:2 magnification.

5. Stop it Down

The next method (my personal favourite) is to stop down the aperture to a small value. By small, I mean between f/16 and f/32, with f/22 being a relative sweet spot. The upside to using such a small aperture is that it’s easier to focus (though still tough), and your depth of field becomes manageable. On the flip side, a flash becomes almost mandatory because you have lost so much light, and diffraction starts to come into play. Still, an f/22 shot with diffraction looks far sharper than an f/5.6 shot where none of your subjects is in focus.

6. Stack it

Another method is focus stacking. It involves taking your photos at apertures where diffraction is less visible (usually f/8 or f/11) but the depth of field is minuscule. To counteract this tiny depth of field, you take several photos at different focus distances, and you combine the best parts of each photo in post-processing. For example, you can take one photo where a bug’s eyes are in focus, one where the wings are in focus, and a third where the back legs are in focus. Then, you can combine them all into a fully-focused bug photo. There are two upsides to this method: image quality is at its highest because diffraction does not rob sharpness, and depth of field can be extended artificially so that even relatively large bugs or plants can be completely in focus. The downsides are numerous, however: focus stacking is typically completely confined to studio and tripod work because the precision focus is required. Another downside is the time involved: for maximum quality, dozens of photos are often combined into one picture, meaning it may take hours of photography and processing to create the final result. You also need specific software to combine focus-stacked images (such as Photoshop or Helicon Focus). The biggest issue, though, is that your subjects need to be completely still. It is possible to find bugs that aren’t moving, but it isn’t always easy. This method works best for plants, or bugs that are sleeping (try the early morning). This is also a fairly costly option because you’ll need a decent amount of dedicated equipment. A solid tripod, a tripod head, a macro focusing rail, and special software are all requirements for the most dedicated focus stackers. Ultimately, one of the most difficult parts of macro photography is trying to get a large enough depth of field to cover your subject. Many macro photographers use a combination of the above methods — I tend to use a flash and a small aperture, but I also use a wide aperture quite a bit for larger subjects (dragonflies and lizards, for example). I have, a few times, used focus stacking, but not as often as the other two methods. As your skill grows, you’ll begin to see which scenarios demand each of these methods, and you’ll be able to set your camera appropriately.

Damsel 2

Damsel Fly


7. Focusing

In high-magnification macro photography, the amount of your subject that is in focus won’t be more than a couple of millimetres, even at f/32. It can be tough to place the focus accurately on a bug, considering that your pulse alone probably makes your hands jump more than a couple of millimetres. You will want to take your photos in between breaths and heartbeats, or else you won’t get anything in focus. At this distance, too, the autofocus system in even the newest DSLRs cannot keep up with your hand movements. Trying to use any of the autofocus modes is an exercise in frustration, since (especially at 1:1 magnification) it is truly impossible for the camera to lock onto a subject. All is not lost, though. It is still possible to get sharp macro photos at 1:1 magnification, even handheld. If you’re working with the camera on a tripod, you don’t need to use any of the following information — instead, you can use autofocus or live-view manual focus without any issues.


A Lilly

8. How to Focus

You will almost certainly be focusing manually at 1:1 macro distances, since the autofocus system in any camera cannot work fast enough to counteract your hand movements. However, this may not mean what you think it does. Many photographers try to use manual focus incorrectly for macro photos; they attempt to hold the camera as steadily as possible and turn the focus ring left or right to focus, taking the photo when the viewfinder image looks sharp. Although this is the best way to focus manually for non-macro photos, it will never work for handheld macro photography — your hand movements from focusing will make the frame even shakier, and it will become impossible to change focus quickly. The best way to work handheld is to set your macro lens at a certain focus distance, usually around 1:1, and then to leave the focus ring at that position. To focus, slowly rock the camera forwards and backwards on a stick or monopod, millimetres at a time, while looking through the viewfinder. When the viewfinder image is sharp, take the photo. Simple as that! Although this method is not perfect, it gives me about a 50% keeper rate for 1:1 photos of fly-sized bugs. This may seem low, but it is very difficult to do better without a tripod. With practice, you should be able to improve your keeper rate even further (and you don’t need a monopod or stick — it just helps).

9. Other Magnifications

If you aren’t trying to magnify your subject as much as possible, autofocus is generally more accurate for macro photography. If your subject is more than four or five inches long, you start to lose the benefits of manual focus. I recommend AF-C / Continuous mode (AI-Servo for Canon users) because tiny hand movements will still throw your subject in and out of focus at these magnifications, which wouldn’t be clearly visible in the viewfinder.

10. Where to Focus

When you are hand-holding the camera for macro photos, especially at 1:1 or 1:2, the depth of field will rarely be large enough for the whole bug to be completely in focus, even at f/22 or f/32. To counteract the tiny depth of field, you can try to place the bug parallel against the plane of focus. In the photo below (not a 1:1 macro, but the point stands), the damselfly is almost entirely in focus, despite the tiny depth of field. In other photos, you will need to choose which part of the bug “deserves” to be in focus. Although it varies depending on what I’m trying to emphasize in the photo, I usually focus on a bug’s eyes, since they tend to be the most important part of the image. However, for certain subjects, I care more about the wing pattern than about the eyes — ladybugs, for example, fall into this category.

11. Composition

Obviously, even in macro photography, the basics of a pleasing composition are no different than usual. It is still important to balance the compositional weight of your frame, for example, and you have to exclude extraneous details from your frame just as you would in other genres of photography. However, being macro photography, there are some aspects of composition which stand out more than they otherwise would.

Eye of a Damsel Fly

A Dragonfly about to Pounce on a Fly

12. The Background

One of the main tips for composition in macro photography is to be aware of the background. Since the background will be far out of focus, it is important to know how to make it look how you want. From a low angle, for example, you could get an out-of-focus blue sky in your photo. From a different angle, your background could turn the colour of autumn leaves. Green grass complements many subjects, as well. If you bring friends on your macro expeditions, you can even consider asking them to hold something that would make a good background. Be creative! When you know your different options, experimentation can show you the best way to make your subject stand out (or blend in) against the background. The photo below is attention-grabbing because of the contrast of the bright orange dragonfly against the cooler, green background. Also, something interesting can happen with the background in macro photography as you focus closer to your subject. If you use a flash to illuminate a scene at 1:1 or 1:2 magnification, you may find that the background of the image turns dark, if not completely black. This happens because of a property of light: as your distance from a light source doubles, the amount of light you receive cuts in four.  For example, a flower five feet from a lamp gets four times the light that it would ten feet from a lamp. In macro photography, your “lamp” is your flash, and it will probably be about two or three inches from your subject. See where this gets interesting? If your background is a couple feet from your subject, it will be essentially black. A flash is much brighter than daylight, and even the mid-day sun may not be strong enough to brighten the background. It is important to know how certain colours can work to balance each other out, in terms of composition. Reds and oranges stand out and draw the eye’s attention, whereas blue-green colours will naturally fade into the background. It is also worth mentioning that the more attention-grabbing colours do not need to take up much of the photo to be effective. In the ladybug picture at the very top of this article, for example, I knew that I didn’t need to focus super close to the ladybug — if I had, the vivid red would have overpowered the soft, aqua-coloured background.

13. Angles

Another tip to remember for macro photography is that the angle of the camera can throw things in and out of focus. According to basic geometry, any three points in space can be connected by one plane, no matter where those points are. The practicality of this law in photography is that at least three items, even if they are at different distances from the camera at first, can always be brought into the same plane of focus in a photo. Now, if the three objects are, say, the head of a crab and its two front claws, this is easy to put into practice — all that you need to do is move around the camera until the three objects are within the same plane of focus.

14. Colours

Lastly, with macro photography, colours are extremely pronounced. Shooting in your camera’s RAW format is always important, but it is especially crucial to make the most of macro photography’s colour detail. A major reason for such vivid colours is the small amount of air between the lens and the subject. The moment that light waves hit anything, even air molecules, the rays start to scatter. The more air between you and your subject, the more that the subject’s light is scattered into the atmosphere. This is why distant objects look so hazy. In macro photography, you’re minimizing this distance significantly, which means that your colours and contrast are going to be more pronounced. This effect isn’t immediately obvious, but as you look closer at your macro photos, you’ll probably realize that they are more vivid directly out of the camera. The foggier that the atmosphere becomes, the punchier that macro photos look in comparison to distant scenes. Also, as you focus closer to something, your lens will be able to pick up tiny colour detail that normally is not visible. For example, each compound eye on a fly is a slightly different colour. We see their eyes as red because that’s the colour they average towards, but a macro lens will see much more. Because of this detail, colours in macro photography generally will look more pronounced.

Spider Web

A Spider in its Web with Pearls of Dew

15. Approaching Your Subject

Bugs are skittish. Dragonflies, for example, tend to scatter when anything enters their field of view, and smaller bugs tend to fly whenever they feel like it. Approaching a restless bug is as much about luck as it is science. Still, there are some techniques that you can put into place. These techniques vary depending upon the bug that you photograph. For dragonflies (and damselflies), it is best to move slowly. Dragonflies instinctively fly when anything moves directly towards them or directly away from them, sometimes even if that movement is slow. My guess is that this behaviour occurs because dragonflies associate backwards movement with the instant right before a predator pounces. However, side-to-side motion does not affect a dragonfly much at all, especially if you sway like a tree would. To approach a dragonfly successfully, try taking a small step forward, rocking (slowly) side-to-side for several seconds, then taking another step forward. If you wait ten or fifteen seconds between steps, a dragonfly will generally forget that you exist. Using this technique has allowed me to get within an inch of a dragonfly, leading to great photographic opportunities. Bees, on the other hand, do not get scared easily. They are always very focused on their task, and they’ll only leave a flower after they’ve gotten the pollen they need. Don’t make crazy movements, of course, but you don’t need to be obsessively slow and quiet. The hardest part about photographing bees is they are rarely still. To get a good bee photo, it is easiest to pre-focus on one point on a flower, then wait for a nearby bee to crawl over that area. It may take some time, depending on the willingness of your subject, but it can be a helpful technique if the bee is moving too fast to follow by any other method. Flies are a bit more skittish, but still easy enough to photograph. The best part about flies is that they typically do not react to slow movement in any way. They are easy to approach without scaring them away — just be sure to avoid sudden movements, and change your camera settings slowly. The annoying thing about photographing flies is that they don’t like to stick in any one place for long. So, approach flies quickly, but be slow and deliberate about it. Easy enough? With non-flying bugs, you clearly wouldn’t need to worry about scaring them away. Ladybugs, grasshoppers, and some ants, for example, can fly, but they typically do not. At the very least, they aren’t really scared by photographers (with grasshoppers being the most skittish of the bunch). The issue is that these bugs tend to walk very quickly, making it tough to focus on them properly. Butterflies are very sensitive if you move close to them, but they are very easy to stand back and photograph. Luckily, since they are so large, you don’t need to get too close to them in the first place. Spiders are a photographer’s best friend. Most of them hardly move at all, and they are large enough that they are easy to get in focus. Spider webs can look great in photos, but some webs are just distracting. Try photographing jumping spiders, since they rarely move, and they look “more cute” up close than most spiders. Not to mention, they are generally harmless (they rarely bite, and it isn’t typically worse than a mosquito bite if they do). For tiny bugs, your best hope is to avoid getting your shadow over them. This is a good tip for approaching most bugs, but tiny insects, in particular, tend to ignore you if you don’t get between them and the sun. These bugs are the only ones which seem affected by the flash from a camera — not all small bugs, of course, but some will jump every time that you fire your flash.

Dandylion Seed Head

A Dandelion Seed Head

 The Checklist

  • Buy a monopod or get practice of holding the camera as still as possible.
  • Use a strong flash and a flash diffuser to soften your light (try experimenting with cardboard, tin foil, and paper towels. Duct tape never hurts, either).
  • Put a macro lens on your camera and set it to manual focus.
  • Set your camera properly. For 1:1 macros that use a flash, put the camera in manual mode and switch to the fastest shutter speed that still syncs (typically 1/200 or 1/250 second). Turn the aperture to f/22 for starters — if you want more or less depth of field, adjust accordingly. Set the ISO to whichever value gives an accurate exposure of a leaf when the flash fires in manual mode at roughly 1/4 power (anymore flash power, and you risk the flash taking too long to recharge between exposures, losing you the ability to take multiple photos of each scene).
  • Switch the flash to TTL (automatic) mode. To get an accurate exposure, you will probably need to increase your flash exposure compensation by a couple of stops.
  • Find a bug that lands long enough for you to photograph it — hopefully, one that is the size of a housefly or larger.
  • Focus (using the techniques in this article), and take the picture! Watch out for dust spots in the editing stage, and you’re done. 

A Chestnut Bursting

Hopefully, these tips have given you some ideas of how to improve your macro photos. The technical aspects of macro photography are certainly important, but, as with most genres of photography, the practical considerations of composition and finding subjects are far more relevant to creating great photos. And, with macro photography, these subjects may be no further than your backyard. If you can brave some dirt and mosquitoes, you’ll be able to find hidden treasures almost anywhere.

All Images ©Christopher A Cosgrove 2017
 Macro Tutorial Abridged Ref:


10 Tips on how to photograph Landscapes


These 10 tips can help you improve your Landscape Photography:

1. Research

Research and research again. Choose an area of interest either when in the locality or if you intend to make a special trip, do your research first. Find the location on google maps and google satellite, see how it looks, what’s nearby and so on. Search online for photos from other photographers who have been there, magazine articles, guide books, Photobooks or even tourist postcards.

2. Use a Tripod

For a landscape photographer, a tripod is a most important tool because, although the scene won’t move, you will need time to set up and prepare your shot.  What a tripod will do is make your camera firm and steady making movement either zero or minimal. Therefore unintended blur will not be present in your photo, but although, as I have said the scene won’t move, elements within it can move. This could be water, leaves, grass or clouds etc. this is where intentional blur becomes a factor. Having a tripod will allow for motion to blur in a way that the photographer can use to enhance the final shot.

3. Find a good Composition

Composition basically mean how the elements mix in your frame and form into a perfect combination for your shot. When it comes to landscape photography, you should look for a great place to set up your camera. You can consider the angle, position, and elements in your proposed shot. Imagine this, you’re on a mountain you can see a forest, a lake other mountains and the sky.  Create a composition by putting the lake and forest in the foreground, the other mountains in the middle ground, and the sky in the background. These are the basics of a good composition.

4. Always Use Manual Mode

If you using DSLR or any camera that capable of manual mode, then you should use manual mode because in it you can fully control your camera’s settings. If you use auto mode, the camera’s internal computer will make decisions for you and you may end up with over or under exposed parts in the final photograph. What usually happens is you can see a beautiful, colourful sky, but the foreground is completely black. The reason, when using auto focus, your camera will calculate the light from brightest part of the scene and then reduce the light received by the camera to make the sky correctly exposed but the land is under exposed. The best way to fix this is to use a neutral density graduated filter in manual mode and adjust the settings yourself. More below on graduated filters.

5. Know the Best Time

The time of day when you take a landscape photograph is also very important. It’s because the light will look different at different times of the day. When it comes to landscape photography usually the morning or evening at sunrise or sunset are the best for light. Take note that different places have different sunrise and sunset times. These can be found by referring to internet weather forecast sites. That way you will know the best time to arrive and be sure to allow an hour to set up. Don’t be in a hurry to leave too early at sunset either because in the half hour after the sun sets the colours can be amazing.

6. Use Camera Raw

Most DSLRs give the option of shooting in CAMERA RAW. So what is it and why should you use it? Camera Raw is an answer to the limitations of the JPG file format, the original file type developed specifically for digital photography by the Joint Photographic Experts Group. When shooting in JPG, a combination of you and your camera make decisions about the kind of image captured and stored as a digital file. When shooting in JPG, these decisions are processed and rendered, and then defined in the limited number of colours of a Red Green Blue (RGB) colour space. While it may seem like it means that it is a simpler way to capture an image file format, you would be wrong. RGB, the most common format for digital JPG photography, is more limited than the full spectrum of colours your eye can see. RAW files literally capture a larger range of colour, with minimal in-camera processing, allowing photographers to change the image as they see fit later, rather than as the camera sees fit. Therefore Camera RAW allows for more and better post processing of a Landscape Photo in an image editor such as Photoshop.

7. Use the Correct Lens

Landscapes are normally wide angle shots to capture as much of the scene as possible. There is nothing more satisfying for a landscape photographer than capturing an image that displays the grandeur and beauty of nature. That’s why behind every good landscape photographer is a good wide-angle lens. No other photographic tool is so important in capturing and conveying the grandeur of a scene. So why wide angle and what do the numbers in mm and the f numbers tell you about the lens and which one to choose. Generally speaking, wide-angle lenses are those that have a focal length of wider than around 35mm — though that’s not a hard-and-fast rule, as perspective has some bearing on what is wide enough for your subject. Shoot a forest from a few yards away, and you might want a 14mm lens to cover everything. Shoot that same forest from a few miles away, and a 50mm might do the trick. The f number refers to the aperture which is the hole in the shutter through which the light travels. The bigger the hole the more light can go through it. Now the confusion the smaller f number the larger the hole, therefore, f1.4 is larger than f8. So which to use? f1.4 allows more light in therefore speed increases but Depth of Field (DOF) reduces f8 is smaller, therefore, less light and slower speed but inversely DOF increases. So what does this all mean? DOF controls the sharpness over distance therefore short DOF gives a much tighter area of sharpness and again inversely long DOF and the sharpness can be over a longer distance.  It all depends on what you the photographers want in your images. Short DOF and the foreground or background can be blurred while a long DOF and the image is sharper front to back. For landscape photography, it’s a matter of choice that you must make. This is a simplified explanation so check out a few how to websites or videos to get the full picture.

8. Adjust for the Correct Exposure and use a Graduated Filter

Correct Exposure is critical for all photography. In photography, exposure is the unit of measurement for the total amount of light permitted to reach the electronic sensor during the process of taking a photograph. The three main controls your digital camera uses to control exposure are the shutter speed, aperture and ISO. If you would like to learn more about your DSLR, click here.  As explained above in Tip 4 in order to balance the exposure between lights and darks an ND graduated filter is the best choice. Briefly, a Neutral Density (ND) Graduated Filter is used to darken a background that’s significantly lighter than the foreground. Since so many scenes in nature contain a greater range of light than our cameras can record, graduated ND filters are a staple in the landscape photographer’s bag. They act like sunglasses and are darker at the top gradually becoming clear towards the bottom. Therefore the sky is darkened and the land is lightened you can then set the overall exposure correctly.

9. Use the Timer or a Remote Shutter Release to Minimise Camera Shake

No matter how steady you can hold a camera the simple act of pressing the shutter release can cause what is known as camera shake. The best way to avoid camera shake is to use a tripod and remotely activate the shutter by the timer or a shutter release, in this way you are not in contact with the camera and shake is eliminated.

10. Use a Good Photo Editor

Photo editing software comes in many prices and ease of usage. Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom are almost the standards, they are not cheap but will suit most post processing situations. Free or very cheap editors are available but are usually difficult to use or lacking in the ability to achieve good results easily. Post processing is a very debatable subject which I can’t go into here but once you take your image it will invariably contain flaws, post processing can remove these flaws and while some people overuse software to correct their images it is always better to eliminate flaws at the time the shutter is released instead of later. Post processing can correct the inevitable “photo-bomb” like an unnoticed person in the distance crossing a perfectly natural landscape. It can also straighten a slanted horizon or correct badly exposed corners of the shot. In every occasion, time-consuming corrections are better avoided rather relying on post processing software. This is best cured by developing a good eye for detail, like seeing the electricity cable crossing the sky, the photo bomber approaching, a satellite dish showing behind a medieval building and moving the frame to avoid them. Learn photo editing with Photoshop.

Finally, I highly recommend using presets to very quickly enhance an otherwise bland Landscape. Presets are ready-made editing tools that can be used on any photograph, to learn more about presets click here.

©Copyright Christopher Cosgrove 2017


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