The Findlay Photography Club was started in October of 2012.  Membership is FREE & open to anyone who is interested in taking their photography to the next level & who is willing to learn to shoot manually (i.e. not let the camera make ALL the decisions).  All experience levels are welcome.
        In addition to meeting the 3rd Monday of most months, we occasionally have photo ops & other events to help you practice your technique.

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PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS for NEW SHUTTERBUGS    smiley face with camera

        The following are some basic tips that will get you started taking better photos whether you use a “point & shoot” camera, a camera phone, or an SLR.   This tutorial is geared mainly toward the novice digital photographer.  If you have any questions about this basic material or about more advanced techniques, please feel free to contact me.   I'll attempt to answer them for you or at least point you in the right direction.

        The term “point & shoot” is really a misnomer.  Although cameras are getting “smarter,” they still don’t know what they’re taking a picture of.   Some do recognize faces, but what if you’re trying to take a picture of a statue with tourists all around?  You’d want the statue in focus & not the tourists.   What if your subject is moving?  What if you’re photographing a low-contrast, snowy scene?  What if you want to add a pleasing blur to an otherwise ugly background?   What if the sun is behind your subject?  What if the subject is outside the camera’s flash or sensor range?  All these situations require some basic knowledge that will go a long way toward producing a vastly better image than is produced by your camera’s Auto setting.

Focus Correctly
        By far, the most common mistake I see is the blurry photo.  Your camera doesn’t know whether you want the people in the foreground or the scenic background to be in focus.   You have to tell it what to focus on by placing your subject within the camera’s focusing square, which is usually found in the center of your viewfinder or LCD screen.   If you are close enough, aim for people’s eyes.  If you’re farther away, aim for their head.  If you’re taking a picture of a group, aim for the head of someone in the middle row.   If you’re taking a picture of an object with a flat texture like a painted wall, aim for a part of that object that has some texture like a window frame or a picture hanging on that wall.

        Once your focusing square is correctly aimed, press the shutter release halfway down & hold it there until the camera finishes focusing.   It has finished focusing when it’s done making noise & a focus indicator dot appears in your viewfinder or on your LCD.   People who press the shutter release all the way down in one single motion are more likely to experience blurring.   Once the focus is locked & while you’ve got the shutter release pressed halfway, you also have the opportunity to recompose the picture so that the subject isn’t smack dab in the center (see the Compose an Interesting Photo section below).  The subject will remain in focus so long as you don’t let up on the shutter release & so long as your subject hasn’t moved nearer to or farther from you.  Now … you can finish pressing the shutter release the rest of the way.

        When you’re in low light or your subject is moving, motion blur can occur even though you focused properly.  To avoid motion blur in low light, use a flash, or if your subject is not moving, you can put your camera on a tripod & use the self–timer release to avoid the motion blur introduced by pressing the shutter release.  To avoid motion blur when your subject is moving, use a flash or select a faster shutter speed, a higher ISO, or a more appropriate exposure mode such as Sports mode.

Set the Correct Exposure Mode
        Your camera doesn’t know what’s in the scene.   You must give it some idea of whether you’re photographing a moving subject, a night scene, an indoor scene, etc… so that it can choose an appropriate shutter speed, aperture, & ISO for that situation.   Of course, we at the Findlay Photography Club encourage members to use only Manual Exposure mode, but I'll discuss Auto & Scene modes here for those who are not members.   A moving subject requires different settings than a stationary subject … a daylight scene needs different settings than a night scene, etc…   You can set the following exposure modes:
  • Program or Auto mode – This mode is the most user-friendly of all the modes since the camera chooses all the settings for you; but it’s not very good for people who like to take nice photos.   Its convenience is tempered by the fact that you’re essentially gambling that the camera is going to pick the right settings for that particular situation.  And if you don’t zoom in on your LCD to check for blurriness, you might have an unpleasant surprise when you view it later on your computer.  The best time to find that a picture is blurry is when you just took it & you still have the opportunity to retake it.

  • Scene modes – These modes are relatively user-friendly & are better than using Program or Auto mode.  The names of these modes vary by camera manufacturer, so I’d refer you to your user’s guide for a better understanding of when to set each mode.  If you choose wisely from these modes, you can avoid having to learn about the Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, & Manual modes.

    • Sports or Action mode – for moving subjects
    • Portrait mode – for portraits (indoor or outdoor)
    • Night Portrait mode – for night shots on a tripod when you want to capture people with a flash & a naturally lit background
    • Landscape mode – for daytime scenic shots
    • Night Snapshot mode – for night shots on a tripod without people
    • Macro mode – for close-up shots (within inches of a flower for example)
    • Snow, Water, & Fireworks modes

    Although convenient, these modes might not fire the flash in a situation where it would be helpful.  For example, if the camera senses enough light at noon in an outdoor shot, it won’t fire the flash.  You’re subject will have harsh shadows in his eyes … something that would have been avoided if the flash had been set & fired properly.  The camera doesn’t know if you’re taking a picture of a person or a statue.

  • Aperture Priority mode – Users pick the aperture & ISO, & the camera calculates the shutter speed.   This mode is great for scenery & blurring backgrounds, but you may need a tripod if the shutter speed chosen by the camera is slower than minimum handhold speed, which is approximately 1 over the focal length … or a couple of stops slower if using Vibration Reduction or Image Stabilization.

  • Shutter Priority mode – Users pick the shutter speed & ISO, & the camera calculates the aperture.   This mode is great for moving subjects and avoiding motion blur.  A shutter speed of 1/125 or 1/250 of a second will freeze most motion, but depends on how fast the subject is moving & whether the subject is moving across the scene or toward/away from the camera.

  • Manual Mode – Advanced users can pick the shutter speed, aperture, & ISO that will produce the exposure they’re looking for.  This mode is great for situations where you want total control of the exposure, but it requires a little advanced knowledge of both photography & how to use a light meter or the camera’s metering system.

Use the Flash
        Always use a flash if your subject is within the flash’s range, which is usually under 20 feet for pop-up flashes & varies depending on camera settings.  Consult your user’s guide for details.   I shake my head every time I see flashes going off in a stadium or arena where the poor flash has no chance whatsoever of hitting the subject on the field or stage hundreds of feet away.   Pick a different mode & save your batteries & flashtube.

        Motion blur can result at slower shutter speeds from the simple act of pressing the shutter release & is even worse for moving subjects.  So, if you’re indoors, avoid motion blur by using a flash & even a tripod if your subject is still.  Always use the self-timer release & a tripod when practical … even in broad daylight.   Using flash will also keep the camera from increasing the ISO setting to compensate for low light levels … thus keeping your image from becoming grainy.

        Unless you’re using direct light from a window or a professional DSLR & fast lens, standard indoor lighting alone is usually insufficient to obtain a non-blurred, non-grainy image.   If you’re outdoors in the shade, a flash will add a nice catch-light to the eyes avoiding the dreaded “dead-eyes” look.   If you’re in open sunlight, you might think that you wouldn’t need a flash.   You’d be wrong.  A flash will fill in the shadows cast by the harsh sunlight & give you a much better & normal-contrast image.

Avoid Auto White Balance … Set Your White Balance (WB) Manually!!!
        Never count on your camera’s Auto WB setting.   Even the most expensive professional cameras have trouble judging WB automatically.   Auto WB usually gives photos a slight blue color cast & less vibrant colors than if you set the WB manually.   Setting your WB is simple, & other than focusing properly, is the best thing you can do to improve your photography.

        Light reflection is responsible for the colors we see, & different types of light reflect different colors.   Start by looking at a sheet of white paper in direct sunlight; it appears white.   Now go into the shade.   Your brain subconsciously compensates & tells you it’s still white, but the paper is now actually a shade of blue.   If you took a picture of this paper in the shade with your camera’s WB set to Sunlight, the photo & paper would have a blue hue.   Now take the paper indoors & turn on an incandescent/tungsten light.   The paper now looks yellow.   A fluorescent light would give it a sickly green hue.   This is why it is necessary to tell your camera what type of light is on your subject.   By setting the camera to Shade, Incandescent, or Fluorescent, respectively, you’re telling the camera to compensate for that color of light, & you end up with a picture that has spectacular colors as if it were shot in direct sunlight.   The Cloudy setting should be used on an overcast day, not if just a single cloud lies between your subject & the sun.   Flash WB is very close to Sunlight WB, so when using a flash in direct sunlight, you can choose either setting.

        Incorrect WB settings can be used in artistic ways.   Use the Incandescent setting to give a cold blue hue to a sunny scene.   Use the Cloudy setting with a flash or in direct sunlight to give your subject a warmer (yellower) skin tone.   The Cloudy setting can also be used to warm up a sunny scene.   Use the Sunlight or Flash setting for sunsets or fireworks (with a tripod) to get a true representation of colors, or … to bring out the reds, set your camera to Cloudy (or Shade for a really dramatic effect).   Remember, most Christmas lights are tungsten, so use the Incandescent setting with a tripod at night; this has the added benefit of giving the snow a cold blue hue.

Use a Tripod
        ALWAYS use a tripod when you have the time.   Daytime scenic shots will look sharper, & it’s a must if doing night shots or indoor shots without a flash.   An inexpensive, flexible pocket-sized tripod is good for aiming your light-weight point & shoot, which is harder to do if you just set the camera on a table or some other object.

        Also, ALWAYS use your self-timer function when using a tripod.   The simple act of pressing the shutter release button produces enough camera movement to blur the photo.  The blur might not be too noticeable in a daylight shot, but it will be noticeable in a low-light situation.  By using the self-timer function, the picture will be taken once you are no longer touching the camera.

Compose an Interesting Photo
  • Avoid putting people in the very center of a photo if you can.
  • Avoid positioning the horizon line halfway up the photo.  Keeping it above or below that point will look better.
  • Avoid telephone poles & tree branches that are directly behind your subject.  Since the photo will be 2-dimensional, poles & branches would appear to be growing out of your subject’s head.
  • Avoid the amputee look.  Crop above a person’s elbows or knees unless the person’s hand or foot comes back into frame.

  • Use the Rule of Thirds.  Divide the scene into thirds with 2 horizontal & 2 vertical lines, & then place important compositional elements like people either along those lines or at their intersection.
  • Get down!
    • Why shoot at an altitude of 5–6 feet like everyone else does?  Get down to ground level & check out a new perspective on things.
    • Taking a photo from a unique angle can add much interest to your photo.
    • For portraits, get down to the level of kids & pets.
  • Get up!  When your subject is standing, shooting from above makes the hips look skinnier since things that are farther from the camera are always smaller … & vice versa.
  • Look for diagonal lines formed by a fence row, a tree branch, a person’s arm, the tilt of a head, etc… or create a diagonal yourself by tilting the camera left or right.   Diagonals can make a common snapshot more interesting.

  • Posing Tips:
    • Always turn your subject 45 degrees from the camera to make them look skinnier.
    • If a joint bends, bend it.
    • Avoid smiling until the last second to prevent that tense, forced look.

Organize Your Photos
        Ever been annoyed when you can’t find a photo you want to show someone?   You search through folders, or worse yet, swap CDs in & out of your computer trying to find it.   When you have just a few pictures, organization doesn’t seem necessary; but it’s easy to accumulate hundreds or thousands of them over just a few years.   You can thank the digital age for that.   At some point you’re going to wish you had organized better from the start.   Using specialized software to catalog your photos is the ideal way to go, but not essential.   If you name & tag them properly & organize them in appropriately-named folders, you’ll likely be able to find what you need when you need it.

Here are the basic steps for better organization:
  1. Upload the pics to your computer using a card reader.
            Avoid connecting your camera directly to the computer via USB since a household power failure, a camera battery failure, or an electronic “hiccup” can result in the loss of your photos.   It’s far safer & faster to use a card reader.   Once the photos are on your computer, do not delete them off your card until you have backed up your computer.

  2. Sort through & discard all the bad ones.
            Pictures of your finger or pictures that are blurry, majorly overexposed, majorly underexposed, back-lit, poorly composed, etc… should be discarded.   There are few ways to bore your friends more than to make them sit through a slideshow of poorly-shot pictures.   A blurry photo cannot be rescued; so unless it’s a photo of Bigfoot, get rid of it … though blurry pics of this mythical beast seem to be the norm.   If a photo represents a memory for you, but it’s not the nicest of pics, keep it separate from the ones you show people.   The next time you ask a friend if he or she would like to see some photos, you’ll more likely get a more enthusiastic “yes” if you didn’t bore the snot out of them with technically bad pictures the last time.

  3. Once the bad ones are gone, rename the “keepers.”
            Use an appropriate name & number like “Florida 2008 – 001.jpg.”   You might be tempted to get too specific with the name by naming a photo “Beach – 001.jpg” for example.   Doing this will eventually get you multiple files named “Beach – 001.jpg” in different folders representing different vacations, which is fine unless you want to someday bring them all into one folder for a themed slideshow or other project.   You’ll need to rename them all before you put them in a folder together.   I’ll discuss a better solution in a moment.

  4. Store your “keepers” in an appropriately named folder.
            Use folder names such as “Florida 2008” for the example I used in the previous step, & then place that folder inside of another folder named “Vacations.”

  5. Tag each photo with keywords.
            Use keywords like “family, beach, sunset, Billy, Suzy, meals, birthday, etc.”   Cataloging software makes this task very easy.   By doing this, you can later use the software to find ALL of Sally's birthday photos in just a few seconds no matter what folder they’re in.   And if you’re ever looking for a specific photo from a vacation, but you don’t remember which, just type in the keyword rather than searching through lots of pictures in multiple folders.

            And don’t count on CDs/DVDs as reliable storage media unless you keep 2 complete back-up sets & re-burn them at regular intervals.   Writable CDs & DVDs are not meant to be reliable long term storage.   Audio CDs & video DVDs are “pressed,” not burned, & thus last much longer than the ones you burn for yourself.

  7. Reformat your card.
            Once your computer is backed up, reformat the card in your camera, not on your computer.   Reformatting readies a card for use in a specific camera.   Your computer doesn’t know what type of camera you’re putting the card into, & thus just does a general formatting of the card.   Reformatting wipes ALL photos from the card and is preferable to just deleting your photos, since simple deletion can be insufficient & lead to errors on the card & potential future data loss.

        Last, a warning to those who use Photoshop Elements or other image-editing software.   Never work on your original photo.  Always work on a copy.   As technology improves & as your abilities improve, you’ll find that you can go back to a photo you took a decade ago & “re-develop” it into a much better photo.   You can’t do that if you adjusted the original.  Most image editing is destructive, meaning that each time you edit a photo, more damage is done.   And if you’re editing compressed formats such as jpeg, image degradation can be visible in as little as 3 open/save cycles in a photo editing progam.   If you’re going to edit an image over multiple sessions, use a lossless format such as TIFF or PSD.


        Exposure is all about how much light your camera’s CCD or CMOS sensor receives & essentially how sensitive that sensor is to the light.  Increasing exposure or sensitivity will result in a lighter picture, & decreasing those settings will result in a darker picture.  A photo that is too light is called overexposed & should have had at least one of the 3 exposure settings turned down.   A dark underexposed picture needs increased exposure.  What follows is a very basic explanation of the 3 factors that need to come together to create the perfectly-exposed picture.

ISO Basics
        Think of the ISO setting as representing the camera sensor’s sensitivity to light.  The higher the number, the more sensitive the sensor is to light.   ISOs range from 50 to 6400+, & doubling this number is equivalent to doubling the exposure.   Raising the ISO allows you to use smaller apertures (to get greater depth of field) & faster shutter speeds (to freeze action) while maintaining the desired exposure.   Increase this setting when you’re taking a night or indoor shot without a flash.   Higher ISOs may result in a grainier image, but it will help you to avoid motion blur & to photograph subjects when a flash is impractical.  
  • 100–200 is good for portraits & tripod photography.
  • 400–800 is good for medium light shots.
  • 1600–3200 is good for indoor shots without a flash, but you will get some grain.

Shutter Speed Basics
        The shutter speed is the time it takes the camera’s shutter to open & close.  The longer the shutter stays open, the more light strikes your camera’s CCD or CMOS sensor.   This speed (in most instances) is represented by a fraction of a second, but the shutter can stay open up to 30 seconds or longer for some nighttime exposures.

        The practical “full” shutter speeds are:   1s 1⁄2s 1⁄4 1⁄8 1⁄15 1⁄30 1⁄60 1⁄125 1⁄250 1⁄500.   Like the aperture, shutter speeds exist both above & below these practical stops & can be adjusted in increments of 1⁄3 or 1⁄2 of a stop.  Choosing the next slower shutter speed doubles the amount of light that hits the camera’s sensor.  So, going from a shutter speed of 1⁄250 of a second to 1⁄125 of a second essentially doubles the exposure.

        Fast-moving subjects require faster shutter speeds to avoid motion blur, & slower-moving subjects can use slower shutter speeds.   1⁄125s or 1⁄250s are standard shutter speeds for everyday use.  A runner may require a shutter speed of 1⁄500s & a fastball, 1⁄1000s to avoid motion blur.   A waterfall takes on a pleasing blur around 1⁄15s to 1⁄8s, depending on the speed of the water (use a tripod, a narrow aperture, a low ISO, & shoot in low light or use a Neutral Density filter to ensure you'll be able to use the slower shutter speed without overexposing the picture).  A single firework may require a 1⁄2 second exposure, whereas a longer shutter speed is needed to capture a frame full of fireworks.

        Shutter Priority mode allows you to control how long the shutter is open.  The longer the shutter is open, the more likely a moving subject will blur.   You set the shutter speed (& ISO) based on your subject’s speed, & the camera adjusts the aperture to get the proper exposure.  

Aperture Basics
        The aperture is the hole through which light passes after it has passed through your lens & before it strikes your camera’s CCD or CMOS sensor.   Its size is represented by an f/number (or f/stop).  Photographers use the terms f/number, f/stop, & aperture interchangeably.  The f/number is the opposite of what one would expect.  The higher the f/number, the narrower the aperture, & vice versa.  If you think of the number as a denominator (f/denominator) like most shutter speeds, you’ll grasp the concept more easily.

        The practical “full” f/stops are:   f/2  f/2.8  f/4  f/5.6  f/8  f/11  f/16   f/22, but f/stops exist both above & below these practical f/stops, & partial f/stops exist between each of these “full” f/stops.   The aperture can usually be adjusted in 1/3 or 1/2 stop increments.

        Widening the aperture by one full f/stop doubles the amount of light that hits the camera’s sensor.  So, going from an f/stop of f/11 to f/8 essentially doubles the exposure.

        A wider aperture (f/stop) is represented by smaller f/numbers like f/5.6, f/4.0, & below.   A wider aperture will give you a shallower depth of field where the subject will be in focus but everything in front of & behind the subject will be out of focus.

        A narrower aperture (f/stop) is represented by larger f/numbers like f/16, f/22, & above.   A narrower aperture will give you a deeper depth of field where the subject will be in focus & much more of the stuff in front of & behind the subject will also be in focus.   Use narrower apertures (f/11 & above) for scenery to keep as much as possible in focus.   Use wider apertures (f/5.6 & below) for portraits to throw the background out of focus.

        A lens' sharpest aperture is usually 2 stops narrower than its widest aperture.  That would be f/8 for an f/4 lens.  Avoid shooting at a lens' widest 2 & narrowest 2 apertures to avoid lens artifact & diffration.

        Aperture Priority mode allows you to control how much of the scene in front of & behind your subject is in sharp focus (of course this also depends on accurate focusing on your subject, the distance from the subject, & the focal length).   You set the aperture (& ISO) based on the desired depth of field, & the camera adjusts the shutter speed to get the proper exposure.  

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