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Frozen Water Piece

A crisp coating of frost can transform any shot, from rural landscape to close-ups in your garden.

Whatever the subject, the approach is the same – a fast one! A touch of sunlight, a degree or so rise in temperature and the magic’s gone.

This may work to your advantage, allowing you to contrast cool, frost-covered shadows against warm, sunlit areas of a scene.


Ice Flower


If you’re working with close-up subjects, make sure you don’t breathe on them or knock them as you move your tripod around and try and frame the shot against a dark background in order to make the frosted edging stand out.


Frost transforms things into artwork. On leaves and vegetation, subtle edge and vein patterns stand out boldly as intriguing designs.


ice flower       Frost


On window panes frost patterns can be fascinating. Again, it’s mainly a matter of checking out your local weather forecast, knowing your surroundings, what to expect, and getting there with your camera before it melts!


Ice Flowers


Freezing Rain

A special instance of ice is freezing rain. Look for interesting things—grasses, leaves, branches, and twigs, etc., encased in it. Exposure can be tricky with the reflected light, so bracket your exposures!


Freezing Rain Sculpture      Frost and Ice



Spikes of ice formed when ice or snow is melted by sunlight or some other heat source, and the resulting melted water runs or drips into an area where the temperature is below the freezing point, causing the water to refreeze. Over time continued water runoff/dripping causes the icicle to grow. Icicles can be found under roof edges of buildings and on branches and twigs, etc. Whether solitary or in groups, they can be very photogenic when back or side lit or hanging against a dark background.


Frozen Water        Icicles on Lantern



Here is a special ice situation to look out for: it snows, then turns mild and rainy, then suddenly cold snaps. Objects like wooden fences often store the melting water or clear ice from the rain and cold snap, producing some very unusual subjects.


Iced Fence



Air bubbles trapped in the ice and cracks as the ice begins to melt produce interesting and often intricate shapes, which when shot with a macro lens, result in a large collection of abstract shots. Look towards the edges of ponds, lakes and streams too for areas where leaves and other debris have got trapped in the ice. Near waterfalls, even if it’s not cold enough to freeze their movement, look for nearby plants, grass and rocks that water’s splashed on to as it could have frozen, resulting in stalagmites and other shapes forming on them.


Frozen Water        Frozen Ice Bubbles


Be safe

A macro lens will get you close to the patterns in the ice but don’t put yourself in a position where you or your kit could end up in the freezing water. Instead, use a telephoto lens to pull the detail to you.

Reflection problems

To cut down on reflections and glare, particularly when you’re trying to show what’s stuck inside the ice, fit a polarising filter. If a polarising filter doesn’t cut down the reflections as much as you’d like, try standing so you block some of the light/reflection coming from the sky. This will make your shot darker however so keep an eye on your exposure, checking your histogram and using a longer shutter speed, if needs be, to pull more light into your shot.


Side lighting can help create more texture in your images but do remember ice can melt quite quickly when the sun is out so don’t work too slowly and keep shooting as different patterns will begin to form as more of the ice vanishes.


Darker backgrounds will help give the ice more punch but aren’t a necessity. Although, if you want to ensure you have a dark background every time, put a piece of dark material or card in your camera bag that you can substitute as needs be.

Your camera may be fooled

Large light, white areas can fool your camera into underexposing your shot so make sure you regularly check your histogram and use exposure compensation (+1 or +1.5) to give the ice that glisten everyone expects to see. Most cameras have this feature

Enjoy and awaken the creativity inside of you! 🙂

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Twilight Photography – Twilight is a magical time for photography. Rather than packing up and heading home when the sun sets, you might be surprised by what you can capture if you just stick around a little longer. Twilight often gives the sky a lovely blue glow, so this time of night or morning is often referred to as the “blue hour” by photographers. There are various phases of sunrise and sunset, however each phase repeats itself twice a day – once during sunrise and once again at sunset.


Philadelphia at dawn


A tripod is an essential piece of equipment for twilight photography. A tripod allows you to take rock-solid photographs, regardless of shutter speed. The low light common to twilight often requires a longer shutter speed, up to those measured in full seconds.

Twilight phases at Sunrise:

-Astronomical twilight
-Nautical twilight
-Civil twilight


The phases of twilight at sunset are the same just in the opposite order.

Let’s begin with sunrise and discuss each phase separately.

The length of twilight before sunrise and after sunset is heavily influenced by the latitude of the observer; therefore I will not discuss the length of each twilight phase since it is highly variable.

The first phase of morning twilight is known as astronomical twilight. This period of twilight occurs when the center of the sun is between 12° and 18° degrees below the horizon and slowly increases before day time officially begins.


Haleakala Sunrise in Maui


Most casual observers would consider the entire sky already fully dark even when astronomical twilight is just ending in the morning. Atmospheric colors consist of deep dark blue toward the horizon, and completely black when facing west. Astronomical twilight really brings cityscape photos to life. The deep blue mixed with warm artificial lights from city buildings, streets, and cars produce nice contrasts. Arguably, this is the best time to photograph cityscapes, but this clearly depends what you’re attempting to capture. Images during all twilight phases and during sunrise require a tripod. The photo will be blurry, regardless if your lens has vibration reduction or image stabilization.

Nautical twilight is when the center of the sun is between 6° and 12° below the horizon. The primary color cast across the atmosphere is usually a deep blue hue with noticeable orange and yellow tones at the horizon due to the rising sun. Light will begin appearing quickly throughout this phase, and the blue sky will get begin to get brighter and paler. Details will become easier to distinguish but will lack most edge definition. Again, cityscape photographs are nicely produced during this phase. Silhouettes begin to look interesting, and get better in the next twilight phase.


Venice at Dawn, Italy


Civil twilight is the brightest phase of twilight and begins when the geometric center of the sun is 6° below the horizon and ends at 0° sunrise/sunset. The horizon is clearly visible and shadows are easily discernable. Objects are clearly defined and no additional light is needed in most cases. The light cast during this phase can be anywhere from warm golden tones to cool pink tones. During civil twilight, the colors of the sky are going to change quickly. Colors of pale yellow, neon red, and bright orange will dominate the sky. If clouds are present they begin changing colors, first from soft pink then to deep ruby red. When looking westward you can see the twilight wedge, which is a mixture of Earth’s shadow and scattered light.

The pink and blue hues of the twilight wedge are separated by multiple layers. Most landscape photos begin coming to life as available light increases and details become obvious.


Gracie the Labrador Retriever        Venice at Dawn, Italy


When the sun finally rises, deep ruby red and dark pink colors splash all over the terrain. Shadows come alive and retain purple and blue hues due to scattered light. The contrasts of red and blue are at a pinnacle, and will arguably provide for the best landscape pictures. The mixture of colors and shadows helps distinguish form, shape, and texture, and these compositional elements should be utilized. The color of light is quickly changing from red to yellow, and you must react very fast if you decide to change composition or frame.


Arabien Desert, UAE


As the sun continues to rise in the sky, colors shift from yellow to white. This is why the first hour of sunrise and sunset is called the “golden hour“, because red light shifts to gold. You can find more info on sunrise/sunset photography here.

The appropriate settings for twilight photography will vary, depending on your scene, your vision, and the ambient brightness. I often start in either aperture or shutter priority mode, depending on my goals, and then switch to manual shooting to adjust the exposure if needed.

Happy shooting!


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Photographic Excellence: How to critic your own photos

It has been said the most difficult thing for man to do is to judge his or her creative work, objectively.

Be honest, can you tell when your work seems to be missing something? More importantly do you know what it is that’s missing? You can only improve your photos if you set a high photo standard to compare yourself against.

When Time-Life selected 250 photos for the Great Photographers volume of their Time-Life Photography series; they chose 68 photographers out of thousands. Those editors defined “great” photographers based on three main factors.




3 Characteristics of a Great Photographer

The first factor was intent. What did the photographer have in mind when he took the photo, and did he achieve it? For example, did the photographer successfully make the viewer feel empathy when taking pictures of survivors of a major natural disaster?

The second factor was technical skill. Did the photographer show a thorough understanding of composition, light, exposure, and design?

The final factor was consistency. Did the photographer have just one or two great shots, or did they produce success time and time again?.

Intent, skill, and consistency are the same three factors that will determine your own greatness. Study the masters like Ansel Adams, Larry Burrows, Richard Avedon and Annie Leibovitz and you will see these three factors again and again. But the question remains, how do you get from where you are now to that level?

Have you ever heard the phrase, “being your own worse critic”? By the very nature of the words being used, most people tend to think of that as a negative phrase, when in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. To learn and grow in photography, you have to be strong enough to admit what does and does not work in your photos.

To that end, here is a strength and weakness checklist for you to use when reviewing your own photographs. It’s not complicated, just look at your photo and mark whether it is strong or weak. There is no middle gray; your image either succeeds or it does not. Once you know your weaknesses you can work on improving in those areas.


Photo Critique Checklist

Intent – Could any viewer look at this photo and know what you had in mind?

Emotional Impact – Can this photo be described with words of emotion, like peace, calmness, anger, rage, joy, or sadness? Does your photo make an emotional statement?

Center of interest – When composing your images do you successfully direct your viewer’s attention to a specific point? Would the viewer know where your center of interest is?




Illusion of depth– Have you used framing, balance, contrast, and other art concepts to make your image jump off the page, or does it just sit there?

Subject/background contrast – Shooting a portrait of someone with black hair against a black background in not usually a good idea. Does your subject stand out?

Personal style – Ansel Adams was known for extreme illusion of depth and all planes in very sharp focus. There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment. How will others describe your unique approach?

Selective focus – Do you choose where the viewer will look? If the background is just as sharp as the foreground, things can become very visually confusing.


Against All Odds


Composition – Do you consistently use the rule of thirds, formal or informal balance, and leading lines? Take control of where the viewer’s eyes are most likely to fall in your image.

Exposure – Do you always shoot at whatever the camera says, or do you take control of the light? Can you see details in your shadows? Have you ever used a reflector or bounced a flash as opposed to straight on?


Lake scenery in Pennsylvania


Story telling – Is there a feeling of movement within your image, or does it just sit there? Does it leave anything to the imagination, or is it just a statement of what is? If your image doesn’t tell a story, there is no reason to give it a second glance. Great photos make you want to look again and again.

Knowing what areas to improve is the first step in becoming a better photographer,

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Manhattan Bridge connects Manhattan with Brooklyn.

Using lines in photography is a very powerful method of improving the composition of photos. Properly used, lines can significantly increase the impact of images. Lines serve to affect photographic composition in two ways. First, they serve to create a mood. Second, they lead the eye through the photograph. By affecting mood, lines add emotional content to images. By leading the viewer’s eye, they keep the viewer’s attention focused on the image.


There are five different types of lines which can be a leading composition in your photographs


  • Horizontal
  • Vertical
  • Diagonal
  • Jagged and irregular
  • Converging



Horizontal lines convey a sense of homeostasis (lack of change). This use in an image often projects a feeling that an image, or part of one, is somehow frozen at a point in time. They can also split a photograph in different parts. In addition, they can serve to provide a contrast with more dynamic parts of an image.

Desert, Mojave



Vertical lines can project either a mood of stability or peace.. They can be found in rock formations, power line poles, and vertical lines of buildings. Proper use of vertical lines can also impart an impression of peace and tranquility.

Philadelphia Highrises      woodlands in pennsylvania



Diagonal lines can convey a sense of action or make an image more dynamic. For this reason, diagonals are a very powerful tool. Diagonal lines can be formed, not only of objects such as streets or sidewalks, but also of color. For instance, a diagonal section of color can add drama to a flower image. Examples of diagonals are plentiful: roads, streams, waves, and branches are but a few examples of objects that can be utilized in a diagonal manner.

5th Avenue and Central Park in NYC.      Table Row in Philadelphia

Jagged and Irregular

Jagged and irregular lines take us one step further on the continuum of emotion and feeling. They often impart a sense of unease, tension, or fear to the viewer of the image. Heavy use of jagged and irregular lines can cause a negative feeling in the viewer (which may be exactly what the photographer intended). Therefore, they are the tools of choice for the photographer who wants to create a feeling of disquiet or agitation in the viewer. Examples can be found in roots, a crocodile’s teeth, stark mountain peaks, and the twisted metal of an automobile wreck.

ice coated tree branch


In a photograph with converging lines you will find guidance and ease. The whole picture radiates order and seems organized in a very relaxing way. They can be found in very high buildings being photographed from an extreme angle or using a spot to photograph where the vanishing point lies in the middle of the scenery.

one_world_observation_tower_by_annette_schreiber       Pier in North Carolina, Outer Banks.

Leading the Eye

As powerful as lines are in helping to create a mood in an image, they become even more powerful when they are also used to direct the viewer’s attention. When using lines to direct the viewer’s attention, two rules need to be followed. First, make sure that the lines always point toward the most important object in the image. This will direct the viewer’s attention directly to that object. Second, make sure that the lines never point outside of the image. Lines that point outside the image will make the viewer’s eye leave the image. This weakens the image and may result in the viewer losing interest in the image entirely.


Figure out for yourself which message you would like to convey and use lines to help you make the photograph an interesting one.

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There are lots of ingredients that go into making a spectacular photograph, but the most important is for the picture to be in sharp focus. Even the slightest blur takes away from the picture, no matter how good the subject, lighting, and color. Photographers have somewhat varying opinions on what constitutes a tack sharp picture, but generally, a tack sharp photograph has good, clean lines.

Desert, Mojave

There are several things you can do to increase your chances of getting that coveted tack sharp picture.

Hand-Held Digital Photography Tips

If you’re holding your camera in your hand, brace your arms against your sides to help steady the camera. If your camera has anti-shake technology, such as Vibration Reduction (VR) or Image Stabilization (IS) that can be switched on and off, this is the time to have it turned on.

You can also lean against a sturdy object that’s handy, and help keep yourself and your camera steady. Alternatively, lean or lay your camera or lens on some readily available sturdy object to help steady the camera.

Fountain at World Financial Center        NYC Ground Zero

Getting those tack sharp photos while hand-holding your camera can be difficult, so to increase your chances of getting that perfect shot, use the burst or continuous shooting mode to take several shots at once. That increases your chances that at least one of the pictures will be in sharp focus.


Tripods for Better Focus

There’s no getting around the fact that it’s easier to get a sharp photo using a tripod. You just can’t hold the camera as steady as a tripod will. And like most things in life, with a tripod you get what you pay for. A cheap tripod will help, but it won’t hold your camera rock steady like a more expensive tripod will. The moral of the story is to buy the best tripod you can reasonably afford.

The more expensive tripods don’t come with the head attached. You have to buy it separately, but that means you get to choose what suits you best. To get a sharp photo, buy a quality ball head that won’t let your camera slowly slide to one side.

death valley

If you’re going somewhere where carrying a tripod just won’t work, beanbags make a nice cushion for cameras in these settings. They cushion your camera, helping to steady it and increase your ability to situate the camera to focus on the subject you want.

To improve your chances of a tack sharp photo even more, use a cable release instead of pressing the shutter. It may not seem like much, but the movement from pressing the shutter will make the camera move enough to prevent getting those sharp photos.

If you don’t have a cable release, the self timer will also work. It allows you to press the shutter, while giving the camera time to stabilize before it actually takes the picture.


Advanced Photography Secrets for Sharp Shots

If you have a DSLR camera, there are even more ways to make sure your camera stays steady while taking pictures.

The first is to use mirror lock-up. This locks your camera’s mirror in the up position so when you take a picture the mirror doesn’t move until after the picture is taken, limiting the movement inside the camera. This means to take a picture, you will have to press the shutter release button twice on your remote or cable release (you’re not going to all this trouble and pressing the shutter release on the camera, are you?). The first press lifts the mirror and the second press actually takes the picture.

Venice, Canal, Adria, Italy

The second method is to turn off the Vibration Reduction or Image Stabilization. That may sound counter productive, but when you’ve stabilized your camera with a tripod and other methods, the vibration reduction keeps looking for shakes/movements. If there isn’t any movement, the vibration reduction actually causes some shaking while looking. A good rule of thumb is to keep these turned off when shooting with a tripod, and only turn them on when you’re hand-holding the camera.

One last way to increase the sharpness of your pictures is to have good glass. The lens you use makes a big difference. A quality lens with good glass is more expensive of course, but it’s another instance of getting what you pay for. Think of it as an investment in great photos.

Use as many methods as you can to steady your camera, and you’ll have a much better chance of getting lovely tack sharp photographs.


Have fun!