YMC Photo-A-Day Challenge: April 2014

Join our challenge and enter to win a YMC prize pack!

YMC Photo-A-Day Challenge: April 2014

It's almost here . . . the spring weather. I can feel it. Sort of. Maybe. At least the birds are chirping in the morning, so something has to be changing, right? In anticipation of the fact that our entryways will soon not be covered by salt and piles of snowpants, boots, and mittens, why not spring clean our creative ruts and start taking some photos?

To help you out, I've created a photo-a-day challenge. Just follow the prompts below for each day in April and take a photo that fits the theme in some way. Be creative!

You can take your pictures with ANY camera. I suspect that some days I'll be using my dSLR and on others I'll be using my iPhone. This exercise is about starting to notice the world around you in different ways, and stretching your creative muscles.

We really want to see the pictures you take, so if you'd like to share, please use the hashtag #YMCPhotoADay when uploading your photos to a social media platform. If you'd like to see what everyone else is taking, once April starts you should check out Tagboard and search #YMCPhotoADay. All the photos posted to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Google+ with that hashtag will be aggregated into one place. (Note: if you post your photo on your personal blog or Flickr, but then link to it on one of those social networks and use the hashtag, it will still show up on Tagboard.) Remember, if you want everyone to be able to see your photos, confirm that your Twitter or Instagram account isn't set to private, and that your Facebook or Google+ posts are set to public for that photo. Be kind and leave encouraging comments for each other on those photo posts! 

Here are the prompts for April:

To encourage you, we're giving away a YMC Prize Pack: a YMC community mug, a USB key, and a YMC t-shirt! To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment below with the permalink or direct URL to the photo (or status update) to one of your photos that you posted using the #YMCPhotoADay hashtag. Remember that it will need to be set to "public" so we can see it! You have until May 1, 2014 to enter. You must be a YMC member, and please be sure you've registered your email address in our commenting system so we can contact you if you win.

Not sure how to find the direct URL for your status update? Check out this information for Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Facebook.

Yummy Rules and Regs: You must be a member to win. Click to sign up! It's free and filled with perks. One comment per member. Entries accepted until May 1, 2014. Contest open to Canadian residents (excluding Quebec). Winners will be picked using www.random.orgSee full contest rules.

Looking for some photography help? Check out my Photography 101 posts.


Photography 101: Understanding Shutter Speed

Capture motion by picking the right shutter speed

Photography 101: Understanding Shutter Speed

The second element in the Exposure Triangle is shutter speed. Your shutter speed represents the amount of time that the camera’s shutter stays open when you’re taking a photograph. The longer the shutter speed is open, the more light reaches your camera's sensor.

While aperture affects how much of your photo is in focus around the subject, shutter speed affects blur.

Shutter speed is a wonderful tool in the creative photo-making process, as it lets you freeze water mid-drop or smooth it out into a milk-like flow. (Some of these effects, however, are a bit tricky if you’re not using a tripod.)

On your camera, shutter speeds are represented in seconds:

1/60 is equal to 1/60th of a second (which may be shown as 0”60 on your camera).

The number after the quotation mark is the denominator of the fraction of the second, and the number before the quotation mark represents number of full seconds that the shutter will be open.

(If you see “B” or “Bulb” mode, that means that the shutter will stay open for as long as you are holding down the shutter or the cable release.)

Generally speaking, most cameras have shutter speed settings that double the shutter speed with each “stop,” as follows:











½ a second is twice as fast as 1 second, etc.

Since shutter speed impacts blur, you need to make sure that you can hold the camera steady for the length of time that your shutter will be open. If you can’t, then you need to use a tripod, monopod, or some other form of stabilization.

The basic rule of thumb is that you can’t hand-hold a camera for a shutter speed of less than 1/60 of a second, OR the shutter speed that is represented by the following equation:

1/the focal length of your lens

If you are using 50mm lens, you may be able to hand-hold a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second. If you’re using your zoom lens out to 200mm, then you’d need to have a shutter speed that is no lower than 1/200th of a second.  Remember that these are guidelines. Some photographers may be able to successfully hand-hold at slightly slower speeds, while others (like me) may want to set their shutter speed a stop faster.

Tip for those of you using a point-and-shoot camera: many cameras offer the option of setting a minimum shutter speed in your settings. I’d recommend using this option and setting it to 1/60th of a second.  This way, even if you’re shooting in Automatic Mode, your camera will prevent you from taking a blurry picture.

Now that you know the basics about hand-holding and shutter speed, what happens at different shutter speeds?

Check out these guidelines for when to use different shutter speeds:

This is just a sampling—different cameras will have different shutter speeds available to the photographer.

Also, these are just guidelines and other exposure factors may influence your shutter speed. If you need to use a really fast shutter speed, then you may need to adjust your aperture or ISO in order to let more light into your sensor. 

For example, if you want to take pictures of your child while he or she is playing hockey, you’d probably want to start a shutter speed of 1/500. Unfortunately, most arenas aren’t as bright as you think they are, so you’ll probably have to increase your ISO pretty high (and get a grainier photo) in order to freeze that motion.  Before you crank the ISO up too high, however, try a test shot at a lower shutter speed (therefore letting more light in) to see if you can still get a sharp photograph. Depending on your camera, you can always choose a large aperture, as well, but that will impact your focus area.

You may want to also try showing motion instead of freezing it. To do this, you need to try panning. The goal is to keep your subject in focus, with the background blurred in a way that illustrates the motion. To do this, you focus on your subject and keep the subject (parallel to you) in the same location in the frame. Turn your body (not your arms) and move with the subject parallel to you for the duration of the shutter speed. Panning is hard, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it right away!

If locking in your shutter speed is the most important element to your photograph, you can use Shutter Priority on your camera to set your shutter speed and let the camera do the work to determine the appropriate ISO and Aperture to properly expose your shot. Shutter priority is shown as Tv on some cameras (Canon) and Mode S on others (Nikon). Read your manual to determine how to find it on your camera. This function is also available on most point-and-shoots, so don’t think you’re left out if you aren’t shooting with a dSLR!

Happy shooting!

Click here for all of the Photography 101 posts.


Hero image by Nevit Dilmen.


Photography 101: Understanding ISO

How to have your (Grainy) cake and eat it, too

Photography 101: Understanding ISO

We’ve looked at how aperture impacts the depth of field of your photographs, and how shutter speed addresses motion blur. Now it’s time to add the last corner of the Exposure Triangle: ISO. Very simply, your ISO setting changes your camera’s sensitivity to light and affects how much grain or noise there will be in your photo.

If you ever shot with a film camera, the concept of ISO will be familiar. Back then, you picked the sensitivity of your film that you needed for your shooting conditions. Low light? ISO 800 or 1600 film. Bright light? ISO 100 film. Wanted to add graininess for interest? Pick that high ISO film.

Now that we are (happily) in the digital age, ISO is a setting on your camera that impacts the amount of light reaching your sensor. The higher the ISO, the more light it lets in.  Each “jump” in ISO is usually double that of the previous setting. ISO works together with aperture and shutter speed to properly expose your photo.

I look at ISO as the way to almost have your cake and eat it, too. When you can’t compromise on your depth of field (or have no larger aperture to choose on your camera) and you need a certain shutter speed to avoid motion blur, your only other option for getting additional light into your camera is to raise your ISO. The only trade-off is how grainy or noisy your picture is going to be.

Different cameras have a different ISO range. My point-and-shoot goes from ISO 80 to ISO 6400. My dSLR ranges from ISO 100 to ISO 25600. Unless your camera is spectacular at dealing with high sensitivities, try to avoid going over ISO 3200. The folks over at DPReview have a great feature for comparing ISO results: Studio ISO Comparison. In identical lighting conditions, they tested different cameras to see how they dealt with ISO. Look your camera up and zoom in on the images for each of the ISO settings they provide—you’ll notice how grainy your camera will get at high ISO settings.

Here's a quick explanation of the ISO scale (again, each camera has a different ISO range):

How much does noise matter in a photograph? I firmly believe that only the photographer can answer that question for each photo. Sure, noise can be distracting and take the sharpness out of a photograph, but sometimes that is okay. Other times, we want to add graininess to get a rougher feel to the picture. Often when I sacrifice colour and convert a photo to black and white if I think it’s too grainy, I end up loving the picture more.

Play with your ISO settings and see what happens; hands-on learning is the best way to understand photography.

Happy shooting!

Click here for all of the Photography 101 posts!


Original hero image via Wikimedia Commons.