How to photograph trees – part 1

Trees are never camera shy so they don’t get up and walk away, but that doesn’t mean they are always easy subjects to photograph. Let’s take a look at some very basic techniques.

A singular tree photographed in summer

A singular tree photographed in summer

You don’t need to head for wild countryside to photograph trees – they are everywhere in our towns and cities; in parks, gardens and gracing the sides of major roads. Sometimes the very strangeness of a tree’s position actually makes a picture worthwhile. Of course, trees – and their branches and leaves can be used to frame other subjects such as landscapes and buildings, but some are definitely worth attention as a subject in their own right.

Once again, I want you to think entirely in visual terms – don’t let yourself get carried away by the scent of a tree’s sweet blossom, or by the gentle rustling of the leaves in the breeze. Enjoy these things by all means, but your camera will not record smells or sounds.

Unless you are photographing trees in full blossom, or late in the year when their leaves turn to warm autumn colours, most trees have green leaves and brown branches – yes, I know there are copper beech trees and silver birch – so capturing a kaleidoscope of colour is not normally your main priority. Usually, shape, form and texture take over and become paramount. This means, of course, that the direction and the quality of the light are vital ingredients for successful photographs. Good composition plays a major role, too, and backgrounds must be chosen with great care.

It is not always essential – or desirable to include the whole tree in your picture. Often just a part of it can have a stronger visual appeal, so explore your subjects thoroughly, looking at them from all angles and thinking about whether or not to crop in tightly or include some of the surroundings to give the picture context. One of the best things about trees is that they cannot just get up and walk away (unless it’s an Ent*), so the chances are you will have plenty of time to consider your composition. Of course the light can change dramatically very quickly, so always be prepared to press the button when things are just right.

The same tree photographed in winter

The same tree photographed in winter

Normally, I like to photograph trees in winter when they are bare of leaves. Then you can see the shape and form of the branches. This is the same tree photographed both in summer and in winter from almost exactly the same spot. This time I prefer the summer shot ‘A’. This tree’s branches are far too symmetrical to be interesting when their clothing of leaves have been removed ‘B’. The summertime shot is also helped by the white puffy clouds in the sky and the intense green of the grass.

In ‘C’, sidelight has emphasized the shape of each individual tree in this long avenue. A small telephoto lens has been used to compress the perspective a little. I would like to have moved much further back and used a longer telephoto, perhaps a 200mm, to exaggerate this effect even more, but this was impossible due to the lie of the land. Despite the foreshortening of perspective, the curving shape of the road helps take the eye into the picture

* Purely for Tolkein fans.

An avenue of trees photographed with a small telephoto lens

An avenue of trees photographed with a small telephoto lens

Photography at Christmas

Christmas will offer all you photographers countless opportunities for wonderful pictures. Perhaps you have already been out with your camera photographing the Christmas lights in your neighbourhood. If you have children, then Christmas will be an absolute joy. So don’t miss the opportunity to photograph your little ones unwrapping their presents on Christmas morning. And don’t be too nervous of using flash – provided you can separate the flash, it can produce some excellent results if used sensibly, especially if you can separate  the flash a little to one side of the camera. That’s the basic technique I used here.

Photograph of Santa Clause by Philip DunnJust to get you in the mood I’ve posted a very simple shot of dear old Santa. I persuaded him to pose for a picture the other evening when he popped in to inspect our chimney to make quite sure he could get down it on Christmas Eve with his sack full of presents.

As is so often the case in these situations, it is best to keep things dead simple and uncomplicated – after all, Santa is a busy man and I was lucky he spared me just a few minutes to take his picture.

I sat Santa in a darkened room lit only by the Christmas lights behind him.

The camera was on a tripod.

Shutter speed ½ sec f13

ISO 100

A flash was held off camera to my left.

A reflector was positioned to my right.

I simply pressed the shutter button with one hand and fired the flash manually with my other hand. The ½ sec exposure ensured that the Christmas lights appear nicely in the background, and the reflector has filled the shadows nicely.

The only other work has been to add a slight gaussian blur after selecting an oval area around Santa’s face. This has helped concentrate attention onto his features and expression.

Last year I posted a couple of articles about Christmas photography. They might help…

Yo ho ho – Merry Christmas everyone :-)

Photography DVD feedback

Launching a brand new instructional photography DVD onto the market is an exciting venture – and a bit scary until you get the first responses to all the work you’ve put into producing them. You never quite know how they will be received until photographers have watched them for the first time. Well, since I launched Better Photography – Portraits in Natural Light just one week ago, the orders have been coming in thick and fast and we’ve been making two trips a day to the post office with the DVD packages. So far, DVDs have been dispatched to Toronto, Alaska, Australia, Denmark, Germany and Turkey – and of course all over the UK. I know that a lot of those DVDs will wrapped by Santa and put under the Christmas tree.

The first feedback came in very quickly and was very positive. It is particularly rewarding that the vast majority of sales so far have been to photographers who bought the first DVD – Better Photography – Light and Composition.

Here is a small selection of some of the emails – and notes on Christmas cards – that I have received so far. Yes, I know I’ve used some of these comments elsewhere on PhotoActive – but I’m proud of them! Your feedback is always welcome. It will help make the next photography DVD even better, so please keep it coming.

I also appreciate your comments about the way payment through PayPal is working with your credit cards. Generally this is fine, although the way PayPal lay out their payment page, it does make it appear that you need a PayPal account to use your card. This is NOT the case. Just go carefully and you will see how to enter your card details without being a PayPal member.

Just spent a wet Saturday afternoon watching your new DVD. Very enjoyable, useful and glad to see you still employing a straight forward, relaxed and informative style.
An afternoon well spent!!
Best wishes to you for Christmas and the New Year.
Rob Golding

Many thanks Philip received the dvd today (Saturday) and like a good book once I started watching it I had to see it to the end!  I like to wish you and your family a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
Neil Murray

Thanks for the DVD – excellent
Best wishes
John Hamshaw

Hey Philip,
Thanks, Got the dvd yesterday and couldn’t wait to play it. great. There’s loads of helpful stuff on there and you get it across in a way everyone should understand. Easily as good as your first dvd – I only got that a couple of weeks ago because I’m pretty new to photography. Can highly recommend anyone to buy. When’s the next dvdcoming out?
Gonna save my pennies and come on a hol.
Jim McKinney

Quite agree with Jim. This dvd has really helped me. I think you have got a gift Philip being able to put across complicated subjects in a simple way.
Im Mason

I messed up Andrew Otto’s order from Germany. Andrew ordered both DVDs and I send him two of the same. I immediately sent him the correct DVD and told him to pass on the spare copy to another photographer with my compliments. This was Andrew’s response…

Well now, that is mighty generous of you, thanks a lot. You too, have a great christmas – and should you ever think of organising a photo holiday in our near Passau, just let me know ;-)

You never know, Andrew, I might do just that – provided we can enjoy the same wonderful facilities for Photography Holidays we get in Menorca!

The colour of light in photography – part 2

Professional tricks
Knowing how to use colour temperature can often save the day for a professional photographer. I was sent by The Times Magazine to photograph Newlyn in Cornwall. A tight deadline meant I had just one day to do the pictures. My brief was for a couple of very colourful pictures – there were spaces in the magazine waiting for my pictures.

Mixing different colour temperatures can create vibrant colours in your pictures. In this case, the high temperature blue light of dawn has been mixed with low temperature tungsten light. Flash has been used to light the lobster pot

Mixing different colour temperatures can create vibrant colours in your pictures. In this case, the high temperature blue light of dawn has been mixed with low temperature tungsten light. Flash has been used to light the lobster pot

It rained solidly all day and colour was in very short supply. When the rain stopped just before darkness, I quickly set about getting my first colourful picture – using the blue light of dusk mixed with the golden light of a floodlight at the end of the pier. I found a youngster fishing and asked him to come and sit under this tungsten floodlight with his fishing rod.

So I had one picture, but needed another. It was now dark, but I knew I would have a second bite at the Mixed Light cherry – before dawn. That night in the darkness, before I went back to my hotel, I dragged an old lobster pot into a chosen position beneath the red navigation light at the end of the harbour wall. Everything was set for early next morning. I was back on the quayside well before dawn. I knew exactly what I was going to do – I set up my tripod and fixed a 24mm lens to the camera. The lobster pot was lit with  flash from the side. A long exposure captured the low temperature glow of the navigation light and the lights of the trawlers in the distance, while the high temperature blue light of the pre-dawn sky added fantastic colour contrast.

Those pictures were on the picture desk later that morning and they appeared in The Times Magazine that same weekend.

An understanding of colour temperature (the Kelvin Scale – see part 1) – and how to mix those colours – had saved the day and provided me with two very colourful travel pictures.

Lord Kelvin - reading up on how he can confuse 21st century digital photographersWilliam Thompson, Lord Kelvin 1824-1907
Next time you set the ‘cloudy’ or ‘light bulb’ icon on your WB settings, spare a thought for Lord Kelvin, he was quite a man. He not only quantified the Kelvin Scale of absolute temperature, he was a Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Glasgow University. He developed the science of thermodynamics, invented the mirror galvanometer, a telegraph message receiver, and supervised the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable. He published 660 scientific papers, the first at the age of 16. He was a champion rower and founded Glasgow University Music Society.
He was knighted in 1866 and created Baron Kelvin of Largs in 1892. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.
I don’t know whether he ever took any inspiring photographs using colour temperature – but then, it was all black and white photography in those days.

When shooting mixed light situations, try setting your WB to the ‘sunny’ icon. This will lock the WB at around 5500K and accentuate both the low temperature tungsten light AND the high temperature blue natural light of dusk or pre-dawn. But experiment for the best results – every situation is different and sometimes setting your White Balance on AWB can be very effective.
Go back to part 1 The colour of light in photography

Portraits in Natural Light DVD clip

In this short video clip from my new photography DVD ‘Better Photography, Portraits in Natural Light’ I touch on poses, lighting, exposure, depth of field, tripods, White Balance, reflectors and ISO. There’s even a bit (just a little bit) about props – how about that in less than 4 minutes! Let me know if you spot anything else.

The reason for posting it here, even though I’ve already embedded the same clip in the web pages for the DVDs themselves, is because I’m aware that some of you wait for blog alerts before you know what I’m up to. So please consider yourselves alerted. The new photography DVD is definitely here an available.

I’ve chosen a clip that I hope will be of value to you even if you don’t buy the whole DVD, but then you really will be missing out. The thing I have found so tremendously rewarding so far is that so many photographers who bought my first DVD ‘Better Photography – Light and Composition’, have come back for more and bought ‘Portraits in Natural Light’. All I can say to that is – thank you. I know you will not be disappointed with the new DVD.

I have put up an offer to save £3 if you buy both DVDs.
Find out more about Better Photography Portraits in Natural Light.
Enjoy the clip – and please bear in mind it is low resolution

NEW- Better Photography DVD: Portraits

Philip Dunn’s new Better Photography DVD – Portraits in Natural Light – is now on sale here on the PhotoActive website. This is the second DVD in the PhotoGuru Series and makes an ideal Christmas present for anyone interested in photography.

Buy Philip Dunn’s NEW Better Photography DVD – Portraits in Natural Light

Philip Dunn's new PhotoGuru DVD - Portraits in Natural Light

NEW Better Photography DVD - Portraits in natural light

The theme of this latest PhotoGuru DVD is portraiture. My aim is to show how, with some professional photography tricks and techniques, you can take better portraits with any camera. I demonstrate that with a little understanding of light, lenses and poses, you can create really powerful and interesting portraits without the expense and trouble of using photography studio lights.

Among the many techniques demonstrated in the latest photography DVD are:

- How to put your model at ease
– How you can keep ‘cool’ and gain confidence as the photographer
– How to use window light to very best effect
– How to choose backgrounds for your pictures
– How to use different colours to chance the mood of your portrait
– Using props and finding suitable locations
– Get the most from simple light reflectors
– Choosing the right camera gear

There’s a great deal more, of course, including real-life portrait sessions and an on-location portrait shoot that pulls all these photography techniques together. As anyone who has been to me for photography tuition, or bought the first Better Photography DVD, will know, the tutorial is all in non-teckie language.

All pre-paid Better Photography DVDs will be mailed out today.

The new Better Photography DVD costs just £14.95 including postage in UK and makes the ideal Christmas present for anyone interested in learning how to improve their photography.


Philip Dunn's new PhotoGuru DVD - Portraits in Natural Light

The colour of light in photography – part 1

An understanding of the colour, or temperature, of light is essential if you want to get the most from every subject and all situations. Not least because when you understand what’s going on you can take steps to avoid simple mistakes. It will also open up the most wonderful opportunities for capturing and emphasising colours in situations when you might otherwise be tempted to put away your camera.

Low temperature light from the midnight sun in Iceland

Low temperature light from the midnight sun in Iceland

In the days of film, we often had to put a ‘warm-up’ filter over our lens. These 81 series filters were tinted slightly amber in colour and took away the blue cast in a picture taken on an overcast, cloudy day. That’s because our Daylight colour film was formulated to produce correct colours – whites as pure white etc – on a sunny day with a few puffy clouds in the sky. Now, with digital, there’s not need for filters, all we need do is adjust our White Balance (WB) setting. It’s great, we even have the luxury of Auto White Balance (AWB). This acts like a sliding scale, correcting a little too much blue or a too much yellow in the light either side of ‘daylight’. AWB is not the answer to everything, but it’s good.

The colour (temperature) of light is measured on the Kelvin Scale, and our Daylight colour film was formulated to produce correct colours at around 5,500K (Kelvin). The same principle applies to our digital cameras. When the sky clouds over the temperature of the light actually goes up the Kelvin Scale. Maybe to around 7,000K. In deep shade on a sunny day the light can be very blue indeed – very high colour temperature. Perhaps about 8-9,000K.

Photographing light temperature by gaslight

Photographing light temperature by gaslight

Don’t panic! You don’t need to remember these numbers, but they do give you an idea of what’s going on. When you know what’s happening, you can use these different colours of light to create the most beautiful effects – and you can often change things by taking control of your WB settings on the camera. Understanding colour temperature opens up the most wonderful opportunities to manipulate things in the camera when you actually take the picture.

You’ll notice that what we naturally think of as ‘cold’, blue light is, in photographic terms, actually high temperature light on the Kelvin Scale. What people normally think of as ‘warm’ golden light (the yellow light from tungsten light bulbs, candles etc.), is in fact low temperature light. A tungsten light bulb is around 2,500K.

Unless you adjust your WB setting to Tungsten – that’s usually indicated by the little icon of a light bulb, or take a Custom WB setting, pictures taken in the light of ordinary light bulbs will have a yellow colour cast.

These massive differences in colour temperature can be used to great effect, particularly at twilight after the sun has set. There will not be a lot of light in these condition – it’s going dark – but what there is will be very blue (high temperature) indeed. As it is going dark, people will be switching on the lights in their houses (those light bulbs giving yellow light). This is a great opportunity to ‘mix’ these different light colour. You can produce pictures with deep blue outlines of the buildings with strong yellow light coming though windows. It’s called Mixed Light and can be highly effective. Advertising photographers use this trick all the time to make a subject such as a hotel look warm and inviting from the outside.

Sunlight in the foreground - high temperature blue light in the shade

Sunlight in the foreground - high temperature blue light in the shade

Top photograph
The rich golden light on this wall is actually caused by the midnight sun in Iceland. This is very low temperature yellow light. To maximise this colour, try setting your WB to the ‘cloudy’ icon. This will emphasise the golden effect even more

Middle photograph
The low temperature yellow glow of the gas lights – yes this gentleman still had gas lights – has not been entirely corrected with WB set on AWB. This has injected extra atmosphere to the picture – and notice how blue the light is outside the window

Lower photograph
Different colour temperatures are very noticeable here. The wall on which the melon sits is actually the same colour (from the same pot of paint) as that on the house in the background. The foreground wall is lit by soft, direct sunlight and has a natural white colour. The house in the background is in shadow and lit only by indirect reflected light from a blue sky – that is very blue high temperature light

Go to Part 2 The colour of light in photography

Philip Dunn's new PhotoGuru DVD - Portraits in Natural Light

Making Pictures Happen Photography weekend

We’ve just had a great photography weekend here in Galloway with a group of keen photographers from all over the UK. The theme of the weekend was Making Pictures Happen – one of my pet subjects. Ten photographers came and what a smashing group it was.

Hard at work in Kirkcudbright harbour and getting to grips with a telephoto and a monopod

Hard at work in Kirkcudbright harbour and getting to grips with a telephoto and a monopod


This is Choiti using her Nikon compact - it produced some beautiful results

This is Choiti using her Nikon compact - it produced some beautiful results


The photo group try photographing into the light - backlight!

The photo group try photographing into the light - backlight!


The photoactive paparazzi in the High Street, Kirkcudbright

The photoactive paparazzi in the High Street, Kirkcudbright


One of the problems with photography on the Galloway coast is that it gets so terribly crowded!!

One of the problems with photography on the Galloway coast is that it gets so terribly crowded!!


Seeing red - taking close-up photographs of the fishing boats in the harbour

Seeing red - taking close-up photographs of the fishing boats in the harbour


Saturday morning started with me looking at everyone’s photographs and offering constructive advice. Then I did an ‘installation’ of my Light Monkey and Rectangle Monkey. Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but it works – as anyone who has bought my instructional DVD – Light and Composition will know, those monkeys represent understanding – vital knowledge that will enable you to see and capture better photographs. So it’s not quite as daft as it might sound.

I want those make-believe monkeys to be sitting on my students’ shoulders and nagging them about the light and composition all the time, even when they have not got a camera in their hands. I’m always at pains to stress that you do not need a camera to practice an understanding of light or composition – you can do it anywhere, anytime, just by looking and observing.

We were out in the town and on the harbourside during the afternoon. I like to let everyone do their own thing while I move around to help wherever I can. It never ceases to amaze me how many different photographs a group of photographers can come up with from a session like this – every one sees the place differently. I set a couple of exercises using wide angle and telephoto lenses and that really made people think hard about their composition and the different effects these lenses can create.

After a warming cup of tea back at the hotel, we popped out again to capture ‘mixed light’ – that magical, but brief, light opportunity the comes as it is almost dark and the street lights and house lights are switched on to create a massive range of colour temperatures.

We had planned to spend Sunday morning looking though our photographs from the previous day, but the weather was so crisp and spectacular that we quickly organised an outing, and after chipping and spraying the ice of the vehicles, we set off though to one of my favourite spots on the beautiful Galloway coast, just a few minutes from the Selkirk Arms Hotel. What a fantastic morning of photography we had. The clarity of the light was marvellous and everyone light monkey and rectangle monkey was doing somersaults with excitement.

I have posted some of the pictures of the group, but later, as they send me some of their pictures, I will try to post them here for you to see. I will also post an extraordinary photograph taken by one of the group Steve Quale. He produced an amazing shot in his small portfolio. It shows a lightning strike, which he says he just caught on his little Nikon compact camera while he was out fishing. It is something very special and I’ll post it soon.

If you’d like to join me for one of the these very special photography weekends, the next on is from 23rd-25th January 2009 at The Selkirk Arms Hotel here in Kirkcudbright. The fully inclusive cost is £380 and full details can be found on the Photography Courses pages