Online SLR Simulator

Sometimes the best way to learn is to play, and Canon has done a fantastic job with their SLR simulator. You can try various modes (manual, shutter priority, and aperture priority), experiment with shutter, aperture, and ISO sensitivity controls, and see simulated results online. They also have a great page that explains the controls.

While this simulator is by Canon, the same basics apply to all other cameras with manual controls.

12 Weeks to Better Photography

For several years I’ve offered a free online course: 12 Weeks to Better Photography, or as many knew it on Twitter, 12WBP.  A lot of you have asked for the course in ebook format instead of weekly emails, and I’m in the process of reworking the material.

I’m looking for a few volunteers willing to read the final draft and provide frank feedback. Please let me know if you’re interested!

Black and White Conversion in Lightroom

I’m in the process of re-editing images from my 2007 trip to Death Valley. While I still enjoy the creative aspects of shooting and developing black and white film, when travelling shooting digital offers convenience, flexibility, and a lower cost.

Some digital cameras offer built-in greyscale conversion, and some of the latest models such as the Nikon D7000 also include simulated filters. However, if you’re photographing landscapes I strongly recommend shooting RAW and converting in post.

I use Lightroom for most of my editing these days, and the product includes a number of good presets for black and white conversion. I usually try them first. However, in this case the original image is very flat so I went the manual route.


First, I adjusted the image, slightly tweaking the black level, brightness and contrast. Since the majority of the digital information was in the middle of the range, I left the exposure level alone.


Next, I used the Tone Cure to significantly increase the contrast. I spent most of the time here. Note that the sliders at the bottom of the histogram set the areas of the curve (regions) that are changed by the Highlights, Lights, Darks, and Shadows sliders.


Finally, I converted to B&W by selecting “B&W” and tweak the mix slightly.


Depending on where the image is to be used I likely would tweak this some more, but as you can see even such a flat colour image can be turned into a reasonable black and white image.                                 



If you’re looking for more advanced information, Adobe has a great video tutorial.  Happy converting!

Photos in front of the Christmas Tree

This time of year many of us want pics of the kids in front of the tree to send to relatives, printing on cards, etc.  Shooting these images can be a challenge because lights on the tree are warm (colour temperature) and not that bright.  Using a flash or strobes (which are much cooler) will result in images that are difficult to colour balance and if you run your flash and camera on auto it will usually wash out the tree lights.

Here’s a quick recipe to get you going:

1) Mount your camera on a tripod and use a cable release (or self timer if a cable release isn’t available and your subjects will hold still that long). Turn your flash off.

2) Use tungsten light (i.e. standard light bulbs) to light your subjects. I use an inexpensive hot light that takes a standard size bulb and a 10-inch reflector.  This year I used a common 100w bulb and placed it high and center. Move it closer or further away until the tree light, ornaments, and the face of your subjects have the look you want. Be creative – use room lights, lights with clamps, or whatever you have.  Just try to stick to the same colour temperature to preserve the balance and help achieve that warm look.

3) Set your camera in aperture priority mode (“A”) and select the smallest aperture (i.e. largest f-number) that still results in a shutter speed higher than 1/10. You may need to adjust your ISO to a higher number, such as 400. f5.6 at 1/20th or faster would be ideal, but you may not get there.  Some of my favourite shots this year were at f2.8, 1/15th, ISO 400. With large apertures pay careful attention to focus and depth of field. If your camera allows you to “zoom” in while viewing images, use that feature to check for focus and sharpness, especially if photographing kids that don’t hold perfectly still.

4) If you have an advanced camera you can set your white balance manually. If not (or if you don’t want to) just shoot with auto white balance and adjust in Lightroom or your favourite photo editor after the shoot.  3000k is a good starting point.