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How to Photograph Lights

Fairy lights, Christmas lights and street lights. We are attracted to lights. And they look amazing in pictures. The following tips can be applied in many lighting situations, so use them as a guideline and add your own creativity. We'll focus on two ways photographers like to capture lights. 1. Christmas lights Keep your camera steady. You're going to be shooting in low light, and will need to keep the shutter open a bit longer, so you need a tripod. Or you could try keeping the camera steady by resting your arm on a table or chair etc. The longer your exposure time, the more stable your support needs to be. Keep your ISO low and your shutter slow. This is to keep noise or grain to a minimum. Think of capturing a smooth, creamy background. The ambient light in your room will add warmth and context to your picture. You just don't want your shutter so slow that your lights no longer stand out against the dark room. Focus for creativity. Not all the lights need to be in focus. Shoot from an angle and open up your aperture to blur your background. But if you want them all in focus, stand back or shoot with a wider angle lens. Close down your aperture to something like f16 or smaller and you will also start to notice small starbursts around the individual twinkles of the lights. Try using manual focus. Twist the focus ring until the image becomes blurry. This will bring out the bokeh from the lights, making your image glow with colour! This combined with a slow shutter will give a nice warm feel to your image. Avoid using flash. A direct flash will tend to flatten your images and you’ll lose the ambient glow of the fairy lights. If you need to use flash to add some light, lower it's power, and bounce it off the ceiling or a wall to diffuse the light.
2. Models and fairy lights
Make sure you use the right lens. You want your subject to be in focus with quite a blurred or ‘bokeh’ background. To achieve the ‘bokeh’ look, use a lens that has a very shallow depth of field (a very wide aperture). Lenses that have f1.8, f1.4, f1.2 apertures are the perfect lenses. The lower the number, the better your ‘bokeh’.
Stay close. To get the pretty bokeh lights and blurred background, you want to stand around about an arm's length from your model. The closer you are to your subject, the shallower your depth of field will be.
Ask your model to hold one end of the lights and you (the photographer) hold the other end. The lights should come from your model out to your lens to give your picture depth, but get creative with the positioning. Wrap them around hands, props, even the front of your lens. Try using more or less lights to change the mood. Make sure your focus is on your model's eyes. Keep your ambient light low, or shoot at twilight. You want light but not too much, to create a soft, warm, moody feel to your pictures. Give these tips a go and add your own creativity. We want to see what you come up with, so please share them with us on Instagram or Facebook. Let us know what tips helped you most, and share any tips you've discovered!

Beginners guide to off-camera flash

Why off-camera flash?

  1. You can shoot at any time of the day or night, and control your lighting conditions. This means you can take great photos at mid-day on a bright sunny day, after the sun goes down and on a dark, overcast day.
  2. Flash makes colours pop or eliminates unwanted colour casts.
  3. You can control where and how much light hits your subject.
  4. You have control over ambient exposure. Like the sky and the light on your backlit subjects, or the night lights in the distance and your subject in the foreground.
  5. You can put the light behind your subject for dramatic effects.
You will need:
  • A compatible flash or two with a rotating head and both TTL (through the lens) and manual abilities
  • A wireless trigger and receiver set. This is how your camera communicates with your flash. The transmitter mounts onto the hot shoe of your camera, the receiver attaches to your flash.
  • A tripod or lightstand. A lightstand is ideal because you can add light modifiers like an umbrella, or soft box. Whichever way you decide, the sturdier the better.

What is TTL? 
This is where you let the camera decide how much light the flash is to emit. TTL (Through the Lens) is when your flash sends out a pre-flash to assess the scene. This tells the flash how much light it needs to flash to make a good exposure. TTL is good to use when your subject is moving quickly and distance or lighting conditions are changing.    You can still make adjustments to the flash exposure in TTL, you would use exposure compensation on your flash like you would on you camera, by adjusting the amount of light by +/- 1/3 stop increments.
Why use Manual?
In Manual, you get to decide how much light your flash emits. Sometimes the lighting in a scene might be a bit 'confusing' for a flash in TTL mode. Like maybe sunlight is lighting half a room but you want to expose for the entire space. Or maybe you want to let ambient light in as well as light up your subject. So in Manual mode, you can turn the 'power' up or down for more control over the amount of light added to your scene.
In Manual mode you can control the zoom, or how wide the flash's beam of light is. In TTL  mode, your camera will read the zoom on your lens and automatically set your zoom on your flash. If you need wider coverage you would use manual mode to change the zoom to a wider setting. The effect of the size of the beam is kind of like a hose head with an adjustable stream. A wider setting sprays the light and it lands closer to you, whereas a narrower beam of light is like the 'jet' setting. It hits a narrower area and goes further. 

Set up your camera
  1. Shutter speed. Every camera has a 'sync speed'. A common maximum sync speed is 1/250 of a second. In this case the camera's shutter speed must be 1/250 or less. Otherwise the bottom part of your image will not be lit at all, and you'll get a big black line in your photo. A slower shutter speed will let more ambient light in. 
  2. Aperture. This controls how much flash will light your scene. The lower the number, the more more power you get. If your flash is too bright, raise the aperture number.
  3. ISO. This is another way to control the amount of light from your camera. Increase ISO for more flash, decrease it to turn the light down.

1. Manual mode
Learn how to use the manual settings. At night, using your camera’s Auto exposure mode risks an automatic boost to your ISO, and auto-focusing your lens becomes significantly less effective.
2. Stay steady
Use a steady tripod and remote shutter release to ensure image sharpness in low light. Practice using them so you can set them up quickly and make rapid adjustments in the dark.
3. Know the best time
Learn sunrise and sunset times and the moon’s phase for your destination to make the most of picture opportunities related to these elements.
4. Arrive early
Arriving at your destination before dark will enable you to scout the area and set up your gear in daylight conditions, and will also allow you to gradually accustom your eyes to darkness.
5. Shoot in RAW
Set your camera to record images in raw file format. This will allow you greater control in finessing contrast, color temperature, or white balance settings of your image files in post processing.
6. Use your Histogram
Check your histogram. Don’t trust the exposure displayed on your camera’s LCD. To ensure correct exposure, learn how to access and interpret the image histogram and blinking highlights.
7. Long Exposure NR
Long Exposure Noise Reduction can be a good or bad. Good - it gives you a clean image straight out of the camera. Bad - When LENR is turned on most cameras will be inoperable during that process.
8. Take Notes
Take careful notes about your exposure settings while you are shooting so to better analyze your decision-making after downloading the images. Night photography presents many variables.

  • Camera with manual settings
  • Sturdy tripod (that can handle wind)
  • Cable release or remote with timer/lock
  • ND Filters (when shooting long exposures in the light)

1. Slow Down or Speed Up Your Shutter Speed
The amount of time that the camera’s shutter is open determines how much subject movement the camera’s image sensor will ‘see’. 
For example, if your shutter speed is fast (eg 1/4000th of a second) it will ‘freeze’ subject movement. If you select a longer shutter speed (eg 1/10th of a second) any movement your subject makes will produce ‘motion blur’.

Shutter speed: Choose fast to freeze and slow to smooth

Another thing to consider is how much light you want in your exposure.  A longer shutter speed lets more light into your camera, on the other hand fast shutter speeds reduce the light hitting the sensor. Too much light will over expose the image, but not enough light will leave your image dark and under exposed.
To help balance out your exposure while shooting in Manual mode, try adjusting your ISO settings and your aperture size to control the light.
Shutter Priority Mode is allows you to set just your shutter speed and the camera chooses other settings (like Aperture) to ensure the shot is well exposed. It’s a very handy mode to play with as it ensures you get the movement effect that you’re after but also generally well exposed shots. 
For super long exposures, you can reduce the light further by using an ND filter.

2. Panning

The basic idea behind 'panning' is that you pan your camera along with the moving subject before you shoot, so you get a sharp subject but a blurred background to give the image a feeling of movement and speed. It’s particularly useful for capturing fast moving subjects like a car, running pet, cyclist etc.Panning seems to work best with subjects moving in a straight line parallel to the camera or so that you can predict where they are moving to.
  • Select a slightly slower shutter speed than you normally do. 
  • Position yourself in a place where your view of the subject will not be obstructed by anyone or anything else.
  • Check the background. If there are distracting shapes or colors it could prove to be distracting in the final image. 
  • As the subject approaches track it with your cameraFor extra support, use a monopod or tripod with a panning head.
  • Use your focus tracking function to let the camera do the focusing for you as you track your subject by half pressing the shutter button (depending upon it’s speed and whether it can keep up with the subject). If your camera doesn’t have fast enough auto focus you’ll need to pre-focus your camera on the spot that you’ll end up releasing the shutter.
  • Keep panning momentarily after you take the shot to allow for any lag your camera may have, so you will have a smooth shot.

3. Slow Sync Flash
This function sets your camera to shoot with both a longer shutter speed as well as firing the flash. This means you get a sharp image of your main subject as well as some ambient light from the background and foreground.Your camera might let you manually set exposure length and flash strength but on many compact cameras it’s preset as an automatic shooting mode, often called ‘night mode’ where the camera selects the slower shutter speed and flash strength for you.

If your camera lets you control the flash manually, it might give you a couple of options, either 'rear curtain sync' or 'front curtain sync'. These basically let you decide when to fire your flash during the long exposure.
Rear curtain tells your camera to fire at the end of the exposure. When you press the shutter the exposure begins, light hits your sensor or film and just before the shutter closes your flash fires, freezing your subject, but leaving a trail from where the movement started.
Front curtain is the opposite. the flash will fire when press the shutter, then your shutter will remain open for the duration of the selected exposure. The movement of the subject will be captured after the freeze.

Both techniques can give your image a real impact.

4. Zooming

You can add motion by zooming (physically rotating) your lens during the exposure. Use an exposure of around 1 second, or even longer to make it easier. A tripod is important for a shutter speed like this. Zoom in and lock focus on the main part of your subject first. Back button focus is very helpful here if you have that capability on your camera. As the focal length changes, it can result in an abstract effect, and is great fun to experiment with.

Enjoy this challenge, keep experimenting. Upload your results to our enter our challenge. We'd love to see what you come up with!

5 tips to get you started...


  • Camera with manual settings, including 'Bulb'
  • Sturdy tripod (that can handle wind)
  • Cable release or remote with timer/lock
  • Extra battery if possible, because long exposures and cold weather decrease battery power
  • Lens hood to avoid peripheral light leaks
  • A timer (like on a phone) if not on your remote
  • Small flashlight, headlamp (or phone) so you can see what you're doing
  • Powerful flashlight with adjustable beam for painting, or for 'steel wool' photography: steel wool, gloves, string, a metal whisk and a lighter (take extreme care with this technique, it can be dangerous)
  • Warm clothes, preferably black

  • Shoot in RAW if you can
  • Set your White balance to suit your light source. Try 'Tungsten' or 'Flourescent'
  • Set your focus to 'one shot' focus, you don't want it to 'track'
  • Attach your camera to tripod and turn off 'IS' or 'VR' on the lens 
  • Set the shooting mode to 'Bulb' and your exposure mode to 'Manual'
  • Keep your ISO at 100 or 200 if you can, to minimize noise
  • Aperture: start off at f5.6 and then adjust it when testing your exposure to control your depth of field
  • Shutter Speed is best on 'Bulb' so you can expose longer than 30seconds
  • Take a test shot, and make sure your exposure's a little on the dark side 


Try to get away from 'light pollution'. A bright full moon or city lights will interfere with your light painting, because your camera will record any light entering the lens.
Do you want to 'paint' around a subject? Or do you want to paint patterns? Look for a subject that will look interesting 'painted'.
If you want to try 'steel wool' photography (pictured) you will need to be sure to find a location near water, like the beach, and far from dry grass or anything that could catch fire. It would be good to get the needed permission before you start.

Get a buddy to light up your subject with the flashlight and focus your lens. Once you've set the focus, use your focus lock feature to keep it there, or focus manually and don't touch the lens once it's set.

If you're ready to shoot, turn off your headlamp or phone light, and be ready with your light source for painting. Hit the shutter button on your cable release and lock it there while someone times the exposure. Because you're wearing black, you can move in and out of the scene as you 'paint'. Keep moving with the light to avoid bright hot spots. Adjust the beam on the flashlight to change the effect, and create interest. The closer the light source is to the subject, the sharper the 'painting' lines will be.

Once you've taken your first shot, keep experimenting. Share your results with us. We'd love to see what you come up with!

What is Reflection Photography?

Reflection photography is when you use reflective surfaces to create an artistic image of a scene. Reflections come in many different forms, from dramatic landscapes to detailed macro. So here are a few basic techniques to help you achieve better results when photographing reflections.

You will need:

  • Camera.
  • Wide Angle Lens (recommended but not necessary). Technically, any lens will work for reflection photography. A wide angle lens will allow you to capture more in your image. A zoom lens or a prime lens may be better suited depending on what you plan to photograph, so it’s a good idea to keep a couple of different lenses with you.
  • Tripod (for shooting in low light or with slow shutter speeds).
  • Shutter Release Cable (for long exposures).
  • A polarizing filter will help you to control the amount of surface shine from the water.
  • A graduated neutral density filter will help ensure that the sky isn't overexposed. It also allows longer shutter speeds, so water in your scene is smoother.
  • Props are also a great way to add your own creative twist. For example, a glass orb can be added to create a spherical reflection. Antique mirrors are also a great prop to bring a whimsical vibe into your images.

Depth of field

Select a high f-number such as f/11 or higher, the way the eye perceives the subject at this depth of field will enhance the reflection effect.


Try focusing on the subject, then trying focusing on the reflection. This can produce quite varied results and will affect how much attention you draw to the reflection. Try getting in close and crop to details of a scene. 


Think about the angle of the light and how it affects the reflection. Explore different viewpoints to find the angle at which the reflection is most effective.
When looking for reflections in water and landscapes, go when the light is at it's best, either early in the day before the sun is high in the sky, or in the evening as the sun is setting. Experiment with slightly longer shutter speeds to smooth out the water.

Scout out The Right Location

The most common reflective surface is water, but that doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to only water-based locations. Reflection photography can be created anywhere. It can be inspiring to take a moment to look for reflective surfaces.
Arrive at the location early enough to check out cloud coverage and the sun’s position. Since reflection photography is all about the light reflecting off of objects, these are important aspects to take into consideration before shooting. Observe your surroundings for any polished surfaces that catch the eye. Once you uncover a good location, take the time to view it from different angles and find the best approach.

Shiny surfaces

There are plenty of reflective surfaces that we encounter in everyday life such as mirrors, glass, metal, ceramic tiles and even varnished wood. 
Shiny surfaces like these don't absorb light, so if using artificial lighting, think carefully about the amount and angle of the light on your surface. You may want to experiment with lighting from above or behind your subject. This also applies to the use of flash, which will probably be limited as the light will often just bounce straight back at you.
Check that your surface is clear of scratches and fingerprints, especially when focusing in on detail within the reflection. Flat surfaces are easier to work with, as they will give more complete reflections.


Puddles are often overlooked, but are usually shallow and found in protected areas, which means that they are likely to hold smooth, still water. They also provide a variety of options for subjects and compositions.
The trick with capturing amazing reflection is to get down low to get as close to the surface of the puddle as possible. This also makes small puddles look bigger. Use your hand or a tripod to steady your camera and keep it out of contact with the water. 
Wet roadways or stone paving and pillars often become highly reflective when wet. Be on the look out just after it rained for some unique reflection opportunities.

The variety of potential shots is huge with reflections, get out there and explore the places you go daily and capture them!

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