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Thunderclouds and lightning strikes

Taking impressive photos of lightning storms

Natural phenomena arouse a particularly great photographic interest in many of us. Thunderclouds and lightning are a popular subject. In order to be able to capture such weather events, you need some luck and some technical skills. Since thunderstorms are only partly predictable for a certain region as well as relatively temporary, a thorough preparation is recommendable for the eventuality.

Your safety always comes first

The enchanting photo motifs of thunderclouds and flashes should always be taken from a safe location, because the risks of thunderstorms should not be underestimated. Shooting from the inside of a house or a car can also be an appropriate location, despite the presence of windows in between. Perhaps the raindrops on the windscreen offer a special charm for the photo.

So always remember: Your safety comes first. You should always keep a sufficient distance to the thunderstorm.

Which camera settings you should use with a DSLR

First, you should select the desired image section so that an interesting scenery can be seen. We also recommend a small focal length, which makes it possible to take large photographs of the surroundings and the sky and thus increases the probability of catching a flash.

Ideally, you should use a camera that allows you to make manual adjustments, such as an SLR camera. The camera settings depend on the time of day or night when the pictures are taken. Night shots of thunderstorms are particularly interesting. A high exposure value, i.e. a long exposure, is recommended. The shutter speed, which usually lasts several seconds – depending on the frequency of the thunderstorms – requires a stable and quiet exposure of the camera. A stand – preferably a tripod – is therefore the ideal companion for these shots. Furthermore, a remote shutter release is recommended, which can also be replaced by the self-timer or an interval function of the respective camera, so that you do not blur the picture by pressing the shutter release.

Blitz schlägt bei Nacht in ein Feld ein

The long exposure time should be set depending on possible light sources, such as street lighting or moonlight.

Since a long exposure time does not produce good results in daylight photography, you should use a neutral density filter during the day. This ND filter is a suitable tool for blocking excess incoming light. The exposure time should be adjusted again and again, as the lighting conditions can tend to vary greatly. The ISO values of such photographs should be in the range from ISO 100 to ISO 200. The aperture must be set individually depending on the situation. You should adjust the f-number in relation to the exposure time. The longer the exposure time, the less the contours of the clouds can be seen in your photos. An average aperture value of 8 tends to be a good start.

You should also adjust the focus manually, as the autofocus of a camera is not suitable for such brief snapshots. The short period of time during which the flash is visible is usually not sufficient for automatic focusing. The focus should be set to infinity. Alternatively, you can select a point further away within the image section for focusing.

Blitz schlägt in Berge ein – das helle Licht zwischen dunkelblauen Wolken ist gut erkennbar

Alternative to DSLR – Take photos of lightning with compact cameras and smartphones

Thunderstorms often occur unexpectedly and of course you are not always prepared for them. Since the SLR camera and its lenses are not always at hand, thunderstorms and flashes can also be photographed with compact cameras and smartphone cameras. The result is of course a different one than with professional equipment and manual adjustment possibilities.

Smartphone cameras offer numerous filters and settings that allow us to take photos of ever higher quality. If the aperture, the exposure time and the ISO value can be set manually, the relevant conditions for the success of such photos are met. In addition, burst mode functions make it easier to capture thunderstorms. With this method, numerous photos are taken one after the other in the shortest possible time, among which a good result can certainly be found.

You can also use apps that allow you to insert or even photograph a flash up to three seconds after the event. For Android devices, there is the Lightning Camera app, for iOS users the iLightningCam Lite app.

Nowadays, manual focusing can also be used with some compact cameras. If the essential parameters can also be set manually, there’s hardly anything standing in the way of your dream photo. As with SLR shots, a tripod and a remote or self-timer are also useful when shooting with a smartphone or compact camera. Subsequent image processing completes the results of the photographs.

Conclusion

The best results can be achieved with SLR cameras and the corresponding manual settings. Although some smartphone cameras also offer manual adjustment options such as ISO values and f-numbers, it is almost impossible to adjust the focus to infinity. Only a lot of patience, some luck and subsequent image processing remain for the smartphone photographers. Alternatively, you still have to resort to additional apps.

And always remember: In the mountains, at home or on holiday – never endanger yourself. Good luck trying it out!

Planespotting – The right way to take photos of planes

The fascination of capturing the giants of the skies in impressive shots is called planespotting. Similar to sports photography, the challenge of planespotting lies in taking pictures of the rapid aircraft in motion. To achieve this, however, a few things must be done.

We’ll tell you what you should keep in mind when photographing airplanes, what weather and camera settings are recommended, and which apps will help you find airplanes in your area.

Recommended camera equipment for aircraft photography

You should use a system camera (DSLRs or DSLM) and a long focal length lens for planespotting. In some cases, bridge cameras may also be useful. However, they must have a particularly good zoom capability. Cameras with an APS-C sensor are well suited for this kind of photography due to the smaller image detail. In direct comparison to cameras with a full format sensor, the APS-C sensor displays the aircraft larger.

You won’t be able to avoid the use of telephoto lenses when planespotting. The airplanes are usually far away and there is only a limited possibility to approach them. Lenses with a focal length range of 55 – 250 mm already offer a good start. It is also beneficial if your lens has a built-in image stabiliser. In photography at higher focal lengths, blurring occurs even with slight shaking.

Planespotterin fotografiert startendes Flugzeug

Preparation – Scouting airports

Airports offer different possibilities for planespotting. Some have their own areas for aircraft enthusiasts and plane-spotters, while others may have a hill next to the airport site from which you have a particularly good view of your subject. If you are planning to take your photo at a certain airport, it is worthwhile to inform yourself about the local conditions in good time. You can contact the airport itself or look at the relevant planespotter forums where photographers exchange tips and information. Some airports even offer special planespotter tours of the airport grounds, where photographers are taken to particularly good spots.

Special care is required with planespotting outside of Europe. In some countries, planespotting at the airport is a criminal offence. Therefore, you should find out in advance whether planespotting is permitted at all at the location of your choice.

The best wheather conditions for planespotting

Varying wheather brings fresh wind into your photos. Clear blue skies with bight sunshine or clouds and rain – Impressive shots of planes can be achieved in nearly any wheather at all. Exceptions are thick layers of fog that block the view to the airplane.

Use the weather to your advantage and include it in your shots. When it rains, reflections may appear on the airplane or the runway, which can be beautifully incorporated into the image. Spray dripping off the airplane gives your pictures even more authenticity. Nevertheless, you should protect your camera from external weather influences. Despite splash water protection, the camera may otherwise be damaged during longer periods of rain.

Avoid photographing airplanes in strong midday sun. This will make the aircraft more evenly illuminated and prevent hard shadows from forming on the aircraft. In any case, make sure that you do not photograph against the sunlight.

Aircraft approaching for landing

In this picture, the aircraft appears to be at a standstill, as even the rotors are almost completely sharp. Such a result can only be achieved with a very short exposure time. The cloudy background adds depth to the image.

Camera settings for photographing airplanes

Beginners and professionals alike appreciate the comfort of the automatic aperture and aperture control. With automatic aperture control (S or TV mode), you select a value for the exposure time. The appropriate aperture is then automatically selected by the camera depending on the ISO value used. In Aperture Priority, it is the same. You select an aperture value and the exposure time is determined automatically.

You should use your camera’s special focus for moving subjects. For Canon cameras this is called “AI Servo”, whereas Nikon uses the name “AF-C”. The focus designation may vary depending on the manufacturer.

When choosing the exposure time, always remember that airplanes still travel at speeds between 200 and 300 km/h at take-off and landing. Planespotting basically offers you two ways to display the aircraft.

Would you like to display the aircraft and its surroundings as sharply as possible and prevent blurring effects at all costs? Then you should choose a short exposure time, about the value of 1/1000 sec. Depending on the speed of the airplane, the short exposure time causes your subject and its surroundings to freeze. The choice of a very short exposure time is not always possible due to external weather conditions. If there is not enough light, you have to cut back on the ISO or aperture value to maintain the short exposure time. In addition, your images will quickly lose their dynamic range.

Alternatively, you can capture the movement of the aircraft in the recording. The plane will be sharp, but the foreground and background will be blurred. As a guide, select exposure times around 1/100s. Place the focus point on a specific area of the aircraft, such as the fuselage, and follow the movement of the aircraft with the shutter release button pressed halfway. Concentrate on the movement of the aircraft and make sure that the automatic focus is always on the desired area. Press the shutter-release button all the way down to take the picture. This technique is also known as “drag” and is often used in sports photography.

Lufthansa Airbus A320 at landing

The aircraft appears sharp in the image, while the foreground and background are blurred. The picture gives the viewer a feeling of how fast the plane must have been when landing.

Just as important as choosing a suitable exposure time is determining the aperture value. If you select an open aperture, your image will have limited depth of field and the aircraft will only be sharply focused over small areas. A small aperture gives more depth to the image and focuses the aircraft over larger areas. However, the camera then needs much more light or a longer exposure time. Exactly this is problematic with planespotting due to the high speeds.

Apps for tracking airplanes

Planning plays an important role in planespotting. This is especially true for those who want to photograph a particularly rare aircraft. “Plane Tracking” apps are particularly well suited to get an overview of air traffic. You can track the flights in your area, but also on several continents and obtain helpful details on aircraft type, flight duration or destination.

The app “Plane Finder” performs very well in the iOS App Store as well as in Android’s Google Play Store with average ratings and offers many useful features. On both platforms, the app is available in a free (“Lite”) version and a paid version with some additional features. The extended version has, among other things, an augmented reality mode in which airplanes in the sky are identified with the help of the camera. In addition, more information on individual flights can be viewed.

Besides the “Plane Finder” app there are also a lot of other apps that have similar functions and are worth testing.

Conclusion

Planespotting offers many impressive ways to display aircraft. With the help of telephoto lenses with high focal length values and various shooting techniques, even less experienced photographers can create exciting photos. Comprehensive planning is at least as important as the correct execution. The planning can be made a lot easier with the right Smartphone App which reveals many helpful details of the air traffic to planespotters, such as aircraft type, flight route or the destination of the flight.

 

Taking photos in the forest – the supreme discipline of landscape photography

Come rain or come shine –forests have great potential for extraordinary photos in any weather and at any time of the year or day. However, many photographers don’t date to approach the photo location ‘forest’. The reason for this is that taking pictures in the forest is regarded as one of the most difficult disciplines of photography. The ideal image composition and the right lighting conditions for successful forest photography are the most difficult to master. But don’t let this discourage you.

In this article, we will explain to you why you should use the low sun and what effect a little fog in the morning can have on the picture motif. You will also find various tips on how to return from your trip to the forest with a perfect photo.

Preparation and camera equipment for the forest expedition

The equipment for a trip to the forest naturally includes sturdy shoes with a slip-resistant sole. In rainy weather, you should also bring a rain jacket, waterproof overpants and a hat. A pair of long hiking trousers is also recommended. Even in good weather you should wear long trousers and socks, as these protect you from prickly plants and ticks.

Of course the photographer should not forget the most important thing: the camera. For forest photography, you can use a compact camera, a system camera or a reflex camera. The latter is characterised by a wide variety of settings. Important parameters such as exposure time, aperture value and ISO can be manually adjusted to the difficult conditions in the forest. Compact cameras, on the other hand, often have various modes with pre-configured settings for different situations and photo subjects, but they quickly reach their limits under poor light conditions.

In addition, a tripod, a remote shutter release, filters and various lenses make for useful photo equipment in the forest.  For example, a wide-angle lens enhances the size ratio between fore- and background, while a telephoto lens compresses or exposes objects. For close-ups, use the macro lens. You can use a polarization filter to enhance the leaf green and the blue sky and to reduce reflections. To create a special atmosphere in forest photographs, you can also use a grey gradient filter. Ideally, you should store the camera and accessories in a photo bag or a backpack with integrated rain protection.

Camera settings for forest photography

The parameters ISO value, aperture and exposure time need to be adjusted to each other. The best way to get the ideal values is to try them out. If you use a tripod to take pictures in the forest, you can choose a longer exposure time and thus stick to the standard ISO value (between 100 and 200). Use a higher ISO value, a lower exposure time and the image stabiliser for flexible shots without a tripod.

You should keep the ISO values in moderate ranges, though, as too high values quickly lead to image noise. As for the aperture: The more closed it is, the greater the depth of field in the image. Use the manual focus for perfect shots and the histogram to control the exposure.

Aufnahme von Baumkronen im Herbst aus der Froschperspektive

Special lighting conditions in the forest

Light conditions vary greatly in the forest. In sunshine, you may find overexposed or completely black areas while a cloudy sky may offer a very limited dynamic range.

Shaky or blurred images can be the result of sparse light. That is why you should check the results on your display and try a higher ISO value if your photos are blurred. Ideally, you should work with fast lenses and a large aperture, but these are very expensive.

Possible angles and photographing subjects

If you change your perspective or angle you bring variety into your photos – try shooting from a squatting position, lying down or sitting. Frog and bird’s eye views turn your photos into special shots.

Your pictures become really special taken from the frog’s or bird’s eye perspectives. To spare yourself from sitting on the forest ground, it’s wise to bring a plastig bag or similar to sit on.

Keep an eye out for details. As the forst is a living space for plants and animals, there are countless fascinating things to find for your photos. Roots, old and young trees,small plants such as ferns or moss, leaves, cobwebs, mushrooms, streams and rocks are just a small selection of the little wonders a forest has to offer. These details will be vital to your photo.

Capturing the colours and moods of the forest

Fog – Mystical forest images

The mystical mood of the forest can only be captured in a very tight window of time – preferably the early morning hours. The special combination of low direct sun and varying densities of fog create a mysterious atmosphere. Take a wide variety of pictures, with the sun streaming in from the side as well as with backlight. An even more mysterious mood is created when you include ripe cobwebs, mossy soils, ferns, loose undergrowth, hoarfrost, or dew drops in your scenario. You also get a very interesting picture when you combine old and young trees in one photo.

There is no such thing as bad wheather

Don’t let the rain get you down. On the contrary, use it to your advantage! After a good fall of rain, forests shine in the richest colours. Often times, there is even lighting in this kind of wheather, the contract is low and the colours come out very nicely. Everything seems fresher.

Fall and winter also create the perfect conditions for unique pictures thanks to colourful falling leaves and pure white snow around green conifers with the sun in a low position.

When the sun is shining

The combination of light and shade creates a particularly pretty bokeh effect for backlight shots. Both in the early morning ours and the early evening hours the available sunlight provides for beautiful moods in the backlight. Direct sunlight, however, produces strong colours and dramatic shades.

Mystisches Waldbild mit Nebel am Morgen

  • The best format for your photos is RAW. It enables you to edit your photos in more detail on your computer than a JPEG file would, for example when it comes to increasing the dynamic range of the image.
  • To make sure you don’t miss the perfect photo, we recommend working with bracketing.
  • Take all the time you need for choosing the subject and composing the image. Scan your surroundings and take close-up photos with a shallow depth of field.
  • Go to you favourite spot in the forest in different wheather and take in the many captivating impressions.
  • Use vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines such as forest paths, streams or rows of trees. For example, use a curtain of leaves with an opening as a natural frame for the motif of your image. This way, you can direct the viewer’s gaze beautifully.
  • Bring order into your picture. A good image composition is decisive for the image effect. It lends depth to the image and directs the viewer’s gaze to specific areas of the image. Make use of foreground, middle and background.

Conclusion

The right behaviour is very important for your trip to the forest. Avoid making to much noise, don’t light any fires, take any trash with you, and don’t harm the plants. Pulling off branches that are in the way will not help you get the perfect picture.

You should be able to take extraordinary pictures in any wheather at all, except perhaps in a storm. Depending on the season, you will capture a wide variety of impressions. A forest has countless fantastic photo opportunities to offer. With a little practice, you can also deal with the limited amount of light and high contrast. Bring light into the chaos of the forest by highlighting individual objects specifically.

The forest has much to offer. You can enjoy your hobby, get some fresh air and bask in the quiet serenity. Take your camera and make your way straight to the nearest forest.

App introduction: Photo Pills

In the App Store and the Google Play Store you can find a collection of apps for all kinds of situations. This is equally true for photography. But there are not only programs for image processing. Especially in the fields of landscape and astrophotography, the Photo Pills app has made a name for itself.

Among others, this app offers you:

  • Information about the exact course of the sun, moon, its phases, and the Milky Way.
  • Various features and tools to avoid unwanted shadows and take full advantage of the blue and golden hours.
  • A finder function to determine the perfect time for your dream scenario.
  • Two augmented reality modes that simulate the course of the sun, moon and Milky Way so that you are perfectly prepared.

All the information and applications of the Photo Pills App make it easy for you to always be in the right place at the right time and to skillfully plan, stage, and capture the various light moods of the sun, the moon, or the Milky Way for your own shots. You will learn how to use all these functions correctly in this post.

The Photo Pills Planner: A useful companion in landscape photography

Location, display, and meaning

The most extensive and important feature of the app is the Photo Pills Planner. When you open it, the first thing that catches your eye is a satellite map. On this map you will find an orange pin with several lines emerging from it. This pin always shows your current location when the app is opened for the first time, provided you grant the app access to your location. However, the pin does not necessarily have to represent the current location, but can be placed at the position from where you want to take the photo. You can touch the pin with your finger and move it to the desired location. Alternatively, you can tap anywhere with your finger for a long time, causing the pin to jump to the desired position.

Screenshots der App Photo Pills, die die verschiedenen Bereiche des Planers zeigen.

Several coloured lines emerge from the pin. There is a thick yellow line, a thick orange line, and a thinner line that can change its colour between yellow and orange. The thick yellow line represents the sunrise and the thick orange line the sunset. The thinner line represents the current position of the sun. If the mode is changed from sun to moon, the orange-yellow lines disappear and new lines appear in blue tones. Here, too, the brighter thick line represents the rising of the moon and the thicker darker line the setting of the moon. The same goes for the thinner line, which indicates the position of the moon.

The mode can be changed by clicking on the sun symbol in the field above the map (information bar). The sun symbol changes to a moon symbol. If you click on the field again, both the lines of the sun and the lines of the moon will be displayed.

Movements over time

The third part of the Photo Pills Planner is the timeline, which can be found directly below the map. This timeline displays the current date and time in its default setting. If you move the timeline to the left or to the right, not only the date and time will change, but also the alignment of the lines. As the thin lines approach a sunset or moonset, the colour of the line becomes darker. As a sunrise or moonset approaches, they become brighter. But time and date cannot only be changed by dragging the bar. To enter a specific time, simply tap the clock to enter the information manually. This lets you make larger jumps, especially when it comes to the date.

Below the timeline is the last part of the planner, the options bar, which contains other useful features. These include the Finder, two augmented reality modes, and other features, but more on that later.

Sun, Moon, and Milky Way always in focus with the help of the information bar

Position of sun, moon, and azimuth

Beside the change between the courses of sun and moon, the information bar contains a lot of other information and settings. The basic position of the bar gives us insight about the azimuth, the height and the phase of the celestial bodies sun and moon. The term azimuth refers to a horizontal angle that aligns itself with the points of the compass.

Screenshots der App Photo Pills, die die verschiedenen Bereiche des Planers zeigen.

If you swipe your finger once to the left on the bar, more detailed information about the rising and setting of the sun and moon will appear. You can also switch between the individual phases of the moon by clicking on the large round symbol. You should pay attention to the changes of the date in the timeline to find out when the next moon phase, for example new moon, occurs. Next follow the exact times of the blue and golden hours, which both bring wonderful light moods that every landscape photographer likes to use for their pictures.

Visibility of the Milky Way

The next two tabs in the information bar deal with the Milky Way. By clicking on the left Milky Way symbol in the first of the two tabs, several circles around the orange pin and two thick lines in light and dark grey appear on the map. The light grey line stands for the time when the Milky Way becomes visible and the dark grey line for the disappearance of the Milky Way.

Screenshots der App Photo Pills, die die beiden Reiter zum Thema Milchstrasse in der Informationsleiste zeigen.

If you move the timeline into the blue area, i.e. into the night, the Milky Way also appears in the form of a dotted, curved line. Here, the accumulation of several thicker points represents the galactic center of the Milky Way. Furthermore, the curvilinear line gives an idea of how the Milky Way will be seen in the sky. If it is very bulbous, then the Milky Way extends horizontally across the sky. However, if it is close to the centre line, the Milky Way will rise vertically into the sky.  The exact time of visibility, the azimuth, and the height of the Galactic Center are also specified in this section of the information bar. The second tab for the Milky Way, in the form of a blue scale, indicates how well the Milky Way will be visible in the sky. If the bars are filled, the Milky Way can be seen well on the horizon.

Pin-to-Pin geodetic info

By swiping from the starting position to the right, further options open up. The first is pin-to-pin geodetic info. By clicking on the button, a second pin in black appears on the map. This pin should be placed on the desired motif. Once this is done, you can quickly see whether the sunset is behind the desired motif on the chosen day. Looking at the first picture in the illustration below, it is easy to see that the desired scenario cannot be captured at this time. However, by moving the timeline, you can determine the correct time. In our example, this would have already been on October 6 and is now in the past. The next suitable date is almost a year in the future – so the motif can no longer be photographed in the near future.

In addition, the course of the sun must be observed. If this line is dotted when the desired motif is reached, this means that the sun is already too low and has therefore disappeared behind the horizon.

Screenshots der App Photo Pills, die die Pin-zu-Pin Option und das Schattenwurf-Tool in der Informationsleiste zeigen.

Calculating shadow cast

The second option, which results from swiping to the right in the information bar, is a tool to estimate the shadowfall of a building or a tall tree. In order to use this function, however, it is necessary to find out about the height of the building or to be able to estimate it well. Once the building has been selected with the orange pin and a height has been entered in the information bar, the shadow is displayed in the form of a black line. This allows you to determine in advance which side of a building should not be photographed due to the amount of shadow.

The Options Bar – Find, schedule, and share with friends

Simply find a dream scenario

The information bar already offers many possibilities to find the right place and the right time for the perfect photo. Especially the pin-to-pin geodetic info is very handy if you want to take a photo of a motive with the sun or moon rising or setting behind it. It is easy to find out whether this arrangement is available on the desired day. If this is not the case, it is very tedious to find the suitable time by moving the timeline. The Find function in the options bar can help with this.

Screenshots der App Photo Pills, die die Finder-Funktion in der Optionenleiste zeigen.

When selecting the Finder function, there are four different constellations of criteria that can be searched for: “Sun at Azimuth”, “Sun at Azimuth and Height”, “Moon at Azimuth”, and “Moon at Azimuth and Height”. In order to be able to determine more precisely how and where the sun or moon should stand for the planned image, it is advisable to select “at azimuth and altitude”. Once the azimuth, altitude, and desired time period have been determined, the app displays a list of exact dates where you will find the desired scenario at the desired location.

: Screenshots der App Photo Pills, die die beiden Augumented Reality Modi der Optionenleiste zeigen.

Augmented Reality – Simulating photo motifs

In addition, the options bar contains two AR modes (Augmented Reality). These two modes are more or less Live View modes that display the position of different celestial bodies using the smartphone camera. The AR mode is responsible for the course of the sun and the Night AR for the course of the moon and the Milky Way. By using these modes, the exact position of the desired celestial body can be simulated on site, so that you can align the camera to the situation in advance. If one of these modes is activated, the current point in time is displayed for the time being, but here, too, the point in time can be shifted on the screen by swiping to the left or right in order to determine the exact point in time at the correct position.

Save and share with friends

In addition to the Finder option and the AR modes, the options bar also lets you save your own project and then even share it. To do this, press the “Save” button and select “Plan”.  You now have the choice of overwriting an existing plan or creating a new one. Once you have given it a name and created it, go back to the main menu and select the category “My stuff” at the top and then select the plans. If the plan is opened in this mode, a field called “Action” will appear at the bottom right, through which you can send your plan by SMS, WhatsApp, or e-mail. This is especially useful for sharing plans with a friend who is also a photography enthusiast to go on a photo tour together.

Conclusion

The Photo Pills App with its extensive planner is a very useful aid for all enthusiastic landscape or astrophotographers who don’t like to leave their success to chance. The numerous options to plan light moods and the positions of different celestial bodies increase the chances enormously to come home with successful and impressive photos from your photo tour. The app is available in the App Store for CHF 10 – we think it’s a worthwhile investment.

Yellow flower in focus

Tips for Nature Photography – Photographing Plants and Flowers Correctly

Walking through blooming landscapes or strolling through your own garden – the beauty of flowers fascinates and inspires. But trying to capture the colourful splendour of the flowers or the richness of detail of the stigma with their camera, many amateur photographers experience disappointment. Because, truth be told, it’s not that easy to take a really good picture of a flower – as a whole or in detail.

Rote Blumen

Camera and lens – the right technique for perfect flower photos

In general, you can use any camera to take a picture of a plant. Many models come with automatic settings that make it possible to take pictures of flowers reasonably well. Nevertheless, the perfect image will probably only be created when you manually set all variables. Therefore, it is best to use an SLR camera.

Macro lenses with a focal length of 50 or 60 mm are suitable for photographing flowers – especially for close-ups rich in detail. Alternatively, a portrait telephoto lens with a focal length of approximately 90 mm can also be used.

However, if the selected plant motif is a tree, a wide-angle lens would be more useful.

Aperture and Shutter Speed – Camera Settings for Plant Photography

The shorter the shutter speed, the lower the risk that the plant photo will be blurred or blurred. Unfortunately, blurring is a big problem when taking flower pictures, because even a little wind is enough to move the delicate flowers and grasses.

A shutter speed of 250ths of a second or even less reduces this risk. However, since a high depth of field is often required for a successful picture of plants, a small aperture must be selected – high f-numbers between 11 and 22 are the best choice. The small aperture means that the shutter speed must be longer though to ensure sufficient exposure.

Water lilies

Image with a high depth of field – areas in front of and behind the focal point are also in focus

If you want a lot of blur in the image section as a design element, you can work with a large aperture; the f-number is selected accordingly low. The larger aperture means that comparatively more light falls on the lens, so that shorter shutter speeds are sufficient for a good exposure of the photo.

Flowers in white and purple

Photo with little depth of field – large parts of the image are blurred.

The theory may sound complicated, but with a little trial and error you can put it into practice. It is important to always take several shots and to vary the aperture and shutter speed in order to get the best shot.

Choosing the subject

Of course it is a matter of taste and it depends on the situation if you want to take a picture of a complete plant with its surroundings, a close-up of a flower or just a small part of the plant.

Nevertheless, there are some basic rules to follow when selecting a subject. In plant photography, it is usually elements in the background, blurred or sharp, that ultimately disturb the composition of the image. These can be signs like in a botanical garden or parts of fences or houses. However, other plants or parts of plants can also have a negative influence on the composition of the image.

blume_pflanzen_pusteblume

Try to let the entire image section have an effect on you in the viewfinder and vary the image section. Even unusual – and mostly uncomfortable – perspectives can make taking a picture of a flower more interesting. When photographing small flowers, for example, it may be necessary to take pictures close to the ground and encounter the plant at eye level. Cameras with swivelling displays facilitate these shots. If you take photos of flowers from above, you can often beautifully depict the floral symmetry, but you run the risk of having a very unsettled and dark background in the picture, as soil and undergrowth are not too decorative. If you’re set on taking images from above, it is recommended to use a shallow depth of field in the image in order to create a blurry background.

You should also be careful when selecting the flower to be photographed. In nature, small imperfections such as wilted edges or insect holes may not be disturbing, but in macro photography, these very imperfections appear oversized and interfere with the visual effect.

The most important aspects of flower photography are creative approaches and a little patience. Usually it is necessary to experiment with the camera settings, but also the image details, until the perfect flower image is created.

Close-up of the moon

Lunar Photography – Camera settings and tips

As the brightest and largest celestial body of the night, the moon is often chosen as the gateway to astrophotography. We will show you how to take a clear picture of the wandering moon from the very beginning, which is about 380,000 km away.

The right equipment to photograph the moon

Taking a good picture of the moon is possible even with simple photo equipment. A half-frame camera even has one advantage over a full-frame camera: the crop factor. This feature narrows the field of view and thus, the moon occupies more of the image area. Even with the smaller digital cameras and system cameras you can take good photographs, if the zoom is powerful enough.

A tripod is particularly important for taking detailed pictures over such a huge distance. The equipment is most stable just above the ground. Therefore, work as closely to the ground as possible, even if it is not very comfortable. To further reduce camera shaking, we recommend using a remote shutter release or setting the self-timer with a delay of 2 seconds.

While a wide-angle lens is used for star photography to capture as many stars as possible, a telephoto lens is more suitable for moon photography. For the moon to appear as large as possible on the image, you must be able to zoom in at the widest possible angle. The focal length should be at least 200 mm.

The right settings for lunar images

The moon is a small bright spot in the big black night sky, so automatic functions will only work poorly. Apart from the focus, everything is adjusted manually.

First, check that the image stabiliser is turned off. Its work is done by the tripod. Also make sure the flash is off. If you are working with an SLR, you should also turn on the mirror lock-up. This will cause the camera to release with a slight delay and prevent camera shaking.

Now find the moon with the viewfinder or Live View and place it in the middle of your section. Exposure metering can be done manually or using spot metering. You can transfer the spot metering values to manual mode to easily vary the image section later. For focal lengths greater than 200 mm, the shutter speeds must be kept very low, because even the slightest shocks can blur the image.

As the moon moves, long exposure and shutter speeds are not an option. The exposure time should remain within a range of 1/20-1/60. The ISO-values should be kept as low as possible. Start with a value of 100 and find your sweet spot. The balance between exposure and ISO is critical. Since the moon moves quite fast, motion blurring can occur. Then shorten the exposure time and increase the ISO value.

If possible, fade out two levels. If your lens has the open aperture f/2.8, close the aperture to f/4 or f/5.6. With these settings, the lenses usually achieve their best image quality and the moon’s surface is reproduced in detail.

Capturing the phases of the moon

When it comes to lunar photography, many people first think of the full moon. But similar to portrait photography, the most exciting images are not created frontally in full exposure, but when the light comes from the side. Just the same, you can see the relief and its craters on the moon much better when it is illuminated from the side. Use a lunar calendar when planning your photos. The night should also be very clear. The higher the moon is, the less the layers of air affect the image quality.

Tip: The most beautiful structures can be seen when the moon is about 6 days old, i.e. 6 days after the full moon.

Moon shot at crescent

Source: ©René Gropp – www.renegropp.de

The right place for lunar photography

Decisive for lunar photography is a strong contrast between the bright moon and the black night sky. Therefore, try to take your pictures in a place with as little ambient light as possible. Drive out of the city and look for a free, elevated surface. On the Internet you can find light pollution maps for all of Europe that can help you find a suitable place nearby.

The post-processing of the lunar images

Even if the files are large and take a long time to process, it is worth taking such detailed pictures in RAW format. With software such as Photoshop or Lightroom you can work out the moon craters and shadows with the settings sharpness, white balance, tonal value, and shadows well. If you have caught a low moon, it can even be coloured yellow or red. You can emphasise these colours on your computer afterwards, in order to get particularly interesting pictures of the moon.

You can also take several pictures one after the other and then “stack” them with the help of software, i.e. layer several pictures. The similar photos are superimposed, and details and contrasts are sharply worked out.

Mondaufgang über einer Bergkette

If you want to stage the moon close to the horizon with trees, roofs or towers, it is advisable to take at least two pictures: once with the scenery in focus and then another with the moon surface in focus. If you put these pictures together on the computer, you will create exciting picture compositions.

As is so often the case in photography, trial and error is key. The different phases of the moon, the locations, and variations of the equipment create very different images of the celestial body.

Vehicle photography – Dynamic photography of cars and other vehicles

They are part of our everyday lives and take us from A to B: small or large, fast or slow, road or rail, cars, trucks, or trains. They all have something in common – they are great photo subjects. The art of vehicle photography usually lies in depicting the objects that seem so dynamic to us in a lively way.

In this article you will find out what you should consider for good preparation and how you can achieve particularly harmonious photos.

How to be optimally prepared

First, you should consider what type of vehicle you want to show. For maximum flexibility, use a lens with a wide focal length range. If you choose car photography, a medium to long focal length lens will do. If, on the other hand, you prefer to photograph trucks, trains and similarly large vehicles or if you also want to capture the surroundings, you should choose a lens with lower focal lengths or a wide-angle lens.

For successful outdoor photos, the use of a polarizing filter is also recommended. This prevents unwanted reflections on non-metallic surfaces. Although the full effect of the polarizing filter unfolds primarily on non-metallic surfaces, it nevertheless reduces reflections of the paint to a certain extent. In addition, you should avoid taking pictures in direct sunlight, as it often casts unpleasant and hard shadows. It is therefore better to shoot your subject in a sun-protected environment.

To avoid undesirable weather influences, warehouses or parking garages in particular can be a good place for a photo shoot. Experiment with the location of the vehicle and the lighting on site. The lights of the vehicle can also be used for the shooting. If the location does not offer enough light, you can use a tripod and/or a powerful fixed focal length lens.

Impressive photography of standing vehicles

With stationary vehicles you generally have many possibilities to create a picture to your liking. If the vehicle is photographed from a low angle, for example, it appears particularly powerful. The opposite effect can be achieved if the vehicle is photographed from a higher angle. Try different perspectives and see how the composition of your image changes.

Close-ups of certain vehicle parts are particularly interesting for vehicle photography. In cars, for example, the rims and brake discs, the interior with the steering wheel, gear stick and dashboard or even the engine block can provide excellent images. Go into detail and you will be rewarded with special shots.

Detailansicht eines grünen Oldtimers

Skilfully staging moving vehicles

In contrast to stationary vehicles and sports photography, it is important to keep the shutter speed low when shooting moving subjects so that dynamic objects can be displayed sharply. Ideally, the focus option for moving subjects should be selected in the camera settings at the start. In this setting, autofocus moves with the subject and allows precise focusing. For Canon cameras, this type of focus is called the AI Servo, whereas Nikon uses the AF-C designation. The designation can therefore vary depending on the camera type.

Basically, there are two approaches to the photography of moving vehicles:

With the “panning” technique, you focus on the desired vehicle and follow its movement. You should follow a sports car that passes you on a horizontal axis in the appropriate direction with the camera. For optimal results, look at the car from a distance through the viewfinder, keep the shutter release button pressed halfway and follow the direction of travel at a steady speed. The biggest advantage of this approach is that it creates a realistic image of the situation. By following the vehicle, blurring effects occur away from the focused subject, which suggest the high speed of the vehicle and represent it in a coherent dynamic.

Red train photographed in motion

With the technique of panning, vehicles appear sharp. A glance at the blurred surroundings of the train reveals that it is moving. This effect allows the dynamics of the vehicles to be reproduced credibly.

 

The second approach would be to photograph the vehicle with a very short shutter speed. If you select about 1/1000 second, the car will be frozen. On the one hand, the essential components of the vehicle and its surroundings are sharply depicted, on the other hand, the image loses its dynamics and expressiveness. In order to still make the image look exciting, the camera can be set to a low aperture value such as f/2.8. As a result, the area far away from the focused subject appears less sharp and a beautiful bokeh effect is created.

Blue rally car drives on winding mountain track

The rally car focused in the middle appears sharp, while the foreground and background are slightly blurred. In contrast to the previous photo, the surroundings are not blurred here, but are still easily recognisable. The rims of the car also seem to stand still.

 

Excursus: Long-term exposure for vehicle photography at night

At night you have the opportunity for a very special kind of vehicle photography. The headlights of cars or trains can be captured with the camera over several seconds with the help of a long-time exposure. The movement of the vehicles causes a single light source to be displayed in several places and entire light trails to form. This effect gives the images a very special touch, even if this is not classic vehicle photography, because the car or train is not the focus.
Tip: In order to achieve sharp results, you should always use a tripod and, if necessary, a remote shutter release.

Durch Langzeitbelichtung entstandene Lichtspuren von Autobeleuchtung

Safety when taking pictures of moving cars and trains

Despite all the euphoria for your subject, you should always keep an eye on your surroundings. In particular, you should avoid getting too close to moving vehicles. A certain safety distance should also be maintained when photographing vehicles. Never endanger yourself or others just to take a promising picture.

Conclusion

Vehicle photography offers almost endless possibilities for presenting a vehicle harmoniously. The right preparation and the choice of a suitable location play an important role. Despite all the preparations, the importance of creativity and experimentation should never be underestimated. The use of a suitable technique rounds off the result of your work and allows you to represent the vehicle of your choice according to your own ideas.

Black silhouette of a landscape with a castle under a starry sky

Avoid rookie mistakes: Photographing stars correctly

During a daytime photo tour, the hours and minutes can fly by, and all of the sudden it’s dark. This seems like a great opportunity for a few night shots with a sky full of twinkling stars. For successful shots of stars or the Milky Way, however, a few things have to be considered.

We will explain to you how to capture an impressive night sky effectively and which mistakes to avoid.

Mistake no. 1: Looking out of the window to get a weather forecast

Almost every passionate amateur photographer is tempted to go outside with their camera when the weather is good. But while nice weather during the day makes for good photos, other factors play an important role in star photography. The moon phase has a decisive influence, since during a full moon, many stars are over-illuminated by the light of the moon. Consequently, the four days before and after new moon are best suited for impressive night shots. You can find out the moon phases by looking at the lunar calendar, which you can find on numerous web pages and apps.

Furthermore, you get a better shot of stars in cold air than in warm air, as it is clearer. After rain, which also provides clear air, there is also a particularly good chance of photographing a beautiful night sky. If, however, cold, clear air is added to a snow-covered area, this can become a problem. The white snow reflects light and the stars in your photo will be hard to see. The months of March to May and September to October are particularly suitable for nocturnal photo tours.

Mistake no. 2: Mysterious astronomy

As already mentioned, it requires some background knowledge about the moon and its phases to catch good conditions for star photography. Knowledge about the constellations and the Milky Way is also very helpful for an impressive image composition. That’s why it’s always useful to bring a star map with you. The most practical way to do so is using an app on a smartphone. For example, the free app SkyView® (iOS / Android) shows both the locations of different constellations and the locations of the sun, moon, planets and even satellites. In addition, this app has a search function that leads you to the specific position of a constellation or another celestial body.

Screenshots der App Sky View: Startbild, Live-View-Modus und Such-Funktion

The image shows the live view mode and the search area of the SkyView® app. The two images in the middle show the current position of the moon and a nearby constellation.

Another very useful app is called PhotoPills (iOS / Android). This app is not free of charge, but offers a lot of helpful functionalities. It gives you exact information about the course of the sun, the moon and the milky way at your specific location, which you can view in Live View mode. The app also shows you the phases of the moon and sun as well as the golden and blue hour. To plan individual photo sessions, you can use a planner that shows you precisely in which hours it is particularly worthwhile to take pictures outside.

Independent of star photography, this app offers a large selection of cameras, so that you can adapt the uses specifically to your own camera. With the help of this tuning, the app can give you numerous tips for different settings options with regards to exposure, depth of field, object distance and much more. For better understanding, the app provides operating instructions and YouTube tutorials.

Screenshots der App PhotoPills: Übersicht der Anwendungen, Live-View-Modus der Milchstrasse, Planer und Startbild

This image shows a short overview of some different uses as well as the course of the Milky Way in Live View mode and the planner in the PhotoPills app.

Mistake no. 3: There are stars everywhere

The statement “There are stars everywhere” is technically true and yet they cannot be admired from everywhere. Especially in big cities there is a lot of light pollution due to the many lanterns, traffic and also the illuminated advertisements of countless shops. This means that it never really gets dark. That is why you should go to a place far away from the city to photograph stars. The less ambient light, the better the conditions for a successful shooting at night. On top of that, a higher point, such as a hill, a mountain or a starting point, helps to get a clear view.

Mistake no. 4: Taking pictures with Autofocus

Before we start with the settings, some questions regarding the equipment have to be answered. Full-format cameras offer the best conditions for taking pictures of the night sky because of their large sensor, which has fewer problems with noise behaviour at high ISO values. However, this doesn’t mean that a good shot cannot also be taken with a camera with a smaller sensor, such as an APS-C sensor.

But the body of the camera does not do the work all by itself. The lens plays a significant role. Above all, the lens should be as wide-angled and powerful as possible and allow an aperture of four or less. Autofocus does not play a role when choosing the lens for star photography, since the focus in star photography is set manually anyway.

Photographs of the night sky are always taken with an open aperture. This means that the smallest aperture available is chosen to capture as much light as possible. The most complicated step is to focus on infinity. With some lenses, the infinity sign is shown directly on the focus ring, which makes the adjustment much easier. If this image is not available, it is possible to focus on a very distant object during the day in order to then place a mark on the lens yourself. This is only possible with lenses that let you rotate the lens ring infinitely, though.

The Live View mode can be useful to check the focus. Since this can be magnified tenfold, it is easier to see whether the point has actually been focused. If this is not the case, you can readjust the focus in a few small steps.

Eine Strasse und ein See bei Nacht. Der dunkle Himmel zeigt die Milchstrasse.

This collage shows two pictures taken at night, in which the Milky Way is perfectly staged. These two photos were taken with a Sony Alpha 7 II and a 24-70 mm Zeiss lens. The following settings were used to take the pictures: Focus on infinity, ISO value between 4000 and 8000, aperture 4, exposure time 25 seconds. ©Andreas Franke – www.andysign-fotografie.de

The ISO value in photography should ideally be kept rather low to avoid noise in the image. When photographing stars, however, you should use quite high values in order to get the best image effect. Depending on the camera model, ISO values between 1600 and 8000 are used. Therefore, it is even more important to shoot in clear air as this reduces noise considerably.

Once all settings have been adjusted, the image can be captured with an exposure time of 15 to 30 seconds. However, do not expose for more than 30 seconds, as the circular stars will turn into stripes. Due to the long exposure time, using a tripod is recommended. In addition, a remote shutter release can be a great help to prevent shaking caused by releasing the shutter.

Mistake no. 5: Only aiming the camera at the sky

The starry night sky and above all the Milky Way are extremely impressive. Nevertheless, a picture that only shows the sky can quickly become boring. The right tension can be created by bringing in other image elements, such as a tree, a street, a building or the silhouette of a landscape.

Silhouette einer Landschaft mit einer Burg unter einem Sternenhimmel und die Silhouette einer Bank unter der sichtbaren Milchstrasse

The photo on the right shows a bench illuminated by the light pollution of a city and the visible Milky Way. This motif shows how the scattered light of a city can be used to design images. ©Andreas Franke – www.andysign-fotografie.de

Conclusion

Photographing the starry night sky involves a number of preparations, but considering them will produce impressive results. So be experimental, play with ISO values and exposure times, and include objects and stray light from streets or cities in your image design. Practice makes perfect.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Andreas Franke, who not only impressed us with his incredible photos, but also helped us create this article with valuable advice.

Merken

Birds in flight – Fascinating photos of flying birds

Photographing birds can be very easy – as long as they sit and keep still. When they fly through the air, it’s a different story. The great distance to the focussed object as well as the fast and sometimes unpredictable movement of the bird can make taking pictures of flying birds very difficult. Even experienced photographers often need plenty of attempts to take a really good picture. For beginners this means: You can’t get around practicing.

We explain the basics of bird photography, the technical requirements involved and offer you tips for a successful hunt for the flying bird picture.

(Getting to) Know the subject

The dynamics of flying birds are complex, making it difficult for photographers to take pictures of them. Large birds such as geese, ducks, storks, herons, and seagulls are generally easier to capture than smaller species. On the one hand, they are easier to spot and photograph on a large scale, on the other hand they move more slowly and predictably. Small birds such as sparrows, tits, kingfishers and swifts or even bats move much faster and more unsteadily and often change direction completely unpredictably. It is therefore a real challenge to get them in front of the lens at all.

Seagull flying in front of a cloudy sky © René Gropp

Seagull flying in front of a cloudy sky © René Gropp

For practicing it’s worth choosing a place with a lot of air traffic, where the birds are used to humans. They are then often less shy and you can get closer. The proximity to feeding houses may also help.

Over time you will get to know the peculiarities of the flight behaviour of certain birds and you will be able to adjust yourself accordingly when taking photographs.

The technique

Although many things are possible with the handy companions – flying birds cannot be photographed with a smartphone or a compact camera – and at best as distant black dots. With a bridge camera and a zoom lens, you can give slower birds a try. A DSLR with a fast telephoto lens is still the best choice for bird photography. Depending on the crop factor, focal lengths of 300 to 500 mm are generally recommended. With shorter focal lengths, it is possible to take pictures, as long as you can get close enough to the birds, i.e. they do not fly too high.

Opinions vary regarding the use of a tripod. Depending on the weight of the camera and the specific purpose, a tripod can be either useful or a hindrance. For professionals there are tripods with so-called cardan heads, which function like a swing. These are however expensive and a bit of an exaggeration for a hobby photographer who occasionally wants to swivel the tripod head. A good compromise between flexibility and stability can also be achieved with a simple monopod.

Camera settings

Ideally, photographers align themselves with the sun behind them. Exposure is easier and shadows are soft. Since the birds do not wait for their cue, all relevant camera settings should be adjusted before the start of the photo session.

Focussing a flying bird is not easy because of the varying background and the changing distances. If the autofocus is too slow it may become a problem. Adjusting to the tracking autofocus or the automatic focus adjustment is recommended. With Nikon this mode is called AF-C (Autofocus-Continous) and with Canon it is called AI-Servo. Some Nikon cameras also offer the possibility of 3D tracking, which also takes the colour of the objects into account and also “rediscovers ” them when they get out of focus temporarily.

The exposure time should be as short as possible to freeze the movement on the image. The S (Tv) mode – i.e. Shutter Priority – is useful for this. The exposure time is selected manually, the aperture adjusts automatically. In order to prevent camera shake, the exposure time should not exceed 1/1000 s, preferably even less. It is also possible to set the shutter speed and aperture with ISO automatic.

Black and white photo of a flying crow © René Gropp

Exposure time 1/1600 s; focal length 300 mm – nevertheless the wingtips of the crow are out of focus © René Gropp

Often, blurred wings are a desired effect as they give the image a natural and dynamic look. However, it is essential that the bird is otherwise sharply captured. Image stabilisers can be helpful here.

With a little practice, slightly longer exposure times can be used as a stylistic device: For special dynamics you can follow the movement of the bird by following the flight path of the bird exactly with your lens. The bird itself is then sharply depicted, while the background becomes blurred. This effect is particularly beautiful with a background that is homogeneous in structure and colour.

Birds of prey gliding in front of a blue sky © René Gropp

Birds of prey gliding in front of a blue sky © René Gropp

In some situations, it may be useful to specify the ISO setting for the camera. White birds, for example, can quickly become overexposed or underexposed depending on the background or terrain they are flying against. This is especially the case with blue skies or reflective water surfaces.

Burst mode and sports mode

Very handy for finding the best shots in the end: The continuous shooting function or burt mode allows you to take several pictures per second. When taking pictures of flying birds, the chance of taking the winning shot increases if you take a lot of pictures.

Beginners can also try out the results in the camera’s sports mode. It is designed for fast movements and can take good snapshots without having to make a lot of manual adjustments.

Conclusion

Photographing flying birds is one of the more difficult disciplines. A DSLR with a fast telephoto lens and a fast autofocus is the ideal equipment. Short exposure times allow for sharp images and the “panning” of the camera creates interesting effects. With a little experience, you can reduce the amount of rejects, but even experienced bird photographers need a lot of approaches to get a breathtaking picture.