Category Archives: Photography techniques

Choices, it’s all about choices

Sometimes I like to play with my photography but that usually ends with me having to make choices. It’s hard to decide which few photos (of many shot) to spend time editing.

Then a choice has to be made about how to use the final photo. Will one become a print? On regular paper? On canvas? Metal? Wood? Some other medium or a product like a mug or coaster or something? And if so, what? Or will it or another version be used for social media banners or a blog post highlight?

I went to the local Dollar Store today and bought a single, large Christmas ornament to play with. I roamed around the yard hanging the ornament from the branches of a blue spruce, a regular spruce, a lilac tree devoid of leaves, set among the branches of a burning bush – you get the idea. I put it anywhere I thought I could make it look interesting.

I narrowed my selection down to a few of the forty images that I shot and played with them. Now it’s down to the final ones and I need help. Have a look at the images below and let me know which one you like the best. It would really help if you could tell me WHY you made the choice you did; but if not, that’s ok. Also, any suggestions you might have about an end-use for your chosen image would be helpful too. Just leave a comment for this post with your photo selection and anything else you’d care to say!

To encourage participation, I’m offering a random surprise prize to be drawn on Friday evening from among the respondents to my ‘quiz’ – so get your answers in to have a chance to win something!

And, here are the contestants in the Choices line-up!

#1 Red and White Christmas ball


#2 Red and White Christmas ball


#3 Red and White Christmas ball


#4 Red and White Christmas ball


#5 Red and White Christmas ball

Also posted in BLOG, Christmas, Christmas decor, photography, seasons Tagged , |

FAQ: What to look for in a horse / human portrait.

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When it comes to photos of horses and their people, the first thing I look for is evidence of a connection between the two. Although the technical aspects of the photograph such as exposure, focus, depth of field, etc. are important, if I had to choose, I’d take a photo with obvious emotion over a technically perfect image.

The photo above was shot mid-afternoon in harsh lighting conditions. Ideal? Far from it. The man’s hat and part of his face are slightly ‘blown out’ while the horse’s face is in the shadow of a nearby tree.

So, why did I choose this image to answer the question? Because there is an obvious connection between the man and the horse. It shows not only in the way in which the man is hugging and snuggling with the horse, but also in the way the horse responds with total relaxation. A horse that doesn’t trust the human handler will not relax like that, softening its eyes while still appearing alert and aware of its surroundings (note the upright, forward facing ears).

To get good portraits you need to know your subjects well – not just the person, but also the horse and what behaviours demonstrate the mood you want to portray.

Then, you need to consider the technical aspects. What ISO, F/stop, shutter speed, lens and lens focal length do you need? And why? Do you really understand how these components work together to deliver the image you had in mind?


My personal preference is to open the aperture to a medium-wide setting (f/5.6 – 6.3). I do this for two reasons: to blur the background and also to ensure that both horse and person are in focus. If you open your aperture as wide as your lens allows, you risk having one or the other subject slightly or totally out of focus. If you close your shutter down too much, you ‘ll have a much greater depth of field and the background will also be in focus.

Shutter Speed

Depending on the lens you are using,  your shutter speed should be one at which you can safely hand-hold your camera (generally 1/focal length) or more. With living, breathing and possibly moving subjects, I like to increase the shutter speed more than the minimum required to make sure that my subjects are tack sharp in the image.


The general rule of thumb is to use the lowest ISO possible – but that will depend on your situation. The lower the ISO the cleaner (less digital noise) your image will have. But, in a mixed light or shadowy situation, upping the ISO will mean you get the shot at a reasonable exposure, even if you do end up with a bit of ‘noise’ (that can be dealt with during processing).

Best Exposure

Initially I create my settings in the order above. Then, I usually take a test shot and check the histogram on the back of the camera. Depending on what I see (too dark, too light, blown out highlights, etc.) I will then adjust my settings, always having the end result in mind. It won’t help, for example, to open my aperture to increase my exposure if I end up with a blurry subject. Depending on what your desired end result is, you may choose to blow out a background and ignore what the histogram is telling you. Just remember to make conscious choices.

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Also posted in BLOG, FAQ, horse photography, horse portraits, photography Tagged , , , |

Little ones

Mason profile _DSF2180

Photographing “little ones” is always a challenge. They don’t sit still. They wiggle and squirm. And they have moods.

That said, this young fellow, Mason, was a joy to shoot. He is my friend’s grandson and he is one of the happiest babies I’ve ever photographed. Not a grump. Not a whimper. Nothing negative. Nada. He just enjoyed the experience – and so did I.

That said, there are a few things to keep in mind if you are photographing little ones. Don’t waste time. Their period of ‘happiness’ and cooperation is usually quite short. Make sure you’ve already selected your camera settings and set up any lighting that you are planning to use before you get the child in position.

I recommend using a wide aperture (somewhere between f/2.8 and f/5.6 depending on the circumstances) and a relatively fast shutter speed (1/250 or even 1/500 or more) to keep your little one’s features in focus. A blurred background is nice. Blurred eyes? Not so much. Because small people move a lot and unpredictably, that fast shutter speed will save your bacon!

If you are not using any studio lights or external flash (NOT ON CAMERA FLASH) and relying completely on ambient or natural light, be prepared to increase your ISO,  due to the higher shutter speed, to get the exposure you need to show off the child’s facial features.

So – go and enjoy photographing little ones – capturing those moments forever.

Also posted in BLOG, family, photography Tagged , |

Framing your photo – a tip

I had a lengthy discussion today with a couple of people about framing photos. Not literally putting a frame on a printed photo, but instead, in terms of composing the image in-camera.

One thing that I suggested was that, if your sky is boring (practically a solid grey or pale blue devoid of cloud or colour interest) you should minimize it by changing your perspective on the image. Get high in a tree or on a ladder or go low to the ground. It will make a world of difference to the finished image.

Hay tedded for drying in the field

Hay tedded for drying in the field

For example, this sky was incredibly dull, but the dandelions and weeds on the side of the road created interest in the rows of tedded hay in the field behind stretching to infinity beyond the horizon. This same photo taken from a standing position, with the horizon centered to provide equal space to the sky and the field, would have been incredibly dull with a lot of boring blue cloudless sky occupying the top half of the image.

The following photo was taken the next morning at dawn. The rows had been baled and now it’s a slightly different story. The rising sun created interesting shadows beside the bales but I still relied on the roadside grass and weeds to create interest and lead the viewer’s eye into the field to the lone tree standing in the background again against an essentially dull sky.

Round bales at dawn

Round bales at dawn

So, when you’re out shooting a scene that you love, consider changing your perspective to take the photo from OK to “wow”!

Also posted in BLOG, farming, photography, seasons Tagged , , , , , |

First Gallery Exhibit!

You’re invited to the Grand Opening of my very first gallery exhibit. The exhibit, sponsored by Photo Moncton International, features works by seven Maritime photographers and we are all thrilled to be there.

If you can’t make it to the opening, do drop in sometime during the month-long exhibit to check it out. You won’t be disappointed. I’m delighted to have my works exhibited alongside those of so many talented photographers.

Ceci tags - poster - revised

Also posted in BLOG, Canada, horse photos, photography

Life long learning

I’m a life long learning addict. I firmly believe that the moment we stop learning new things, having new thoughts, we begin to experience a slow and agonizing death. So, I make an effort every day to try and learn something new, develop a new skill or enhance an existing one.

Today’s lesson involved practicing my macro photography. I’ve had a lovely lens and complementary ring flash for a couple of years now, but really hadn’t spent a lot of time trying to improve my skills with this fascinating tool. This morning I decided to remedy that situation and placed the lens and flash on my camera and headed out into the garden to see what I could do.

I’ll spare you the many images that were blurry, over- or under-exposed (and there were many of each), but eventually I did get a collection of some that aren’t too bad. I’ll most definitely want to keep on learning this most fascinating of photography topics.

For those getting into it – do realize that your focal plane is razor thin. In other words, if you move your camera a teensy fraction of an inch closer or further away from your subject, focus is totally lost. Patience is definitely a key factor in this genre of photography – something I most definitely need to keep on learning.

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The nice thing about macro photography is that you can do it any time and any where. If the weather is dismal, find objects in your home or studio and capture wee bits of it. I did that when I first got my lens, and promptly got rid of a set of steak knives that I suddenly discovered were dreadfully rusted and disgusting to see. Ewwww.

Flowers, insects or any object with texture make terrific subjects for the macro photographer. So, grab your lens and have some fun. For lens recommendations just google your camera + macro lenses and you’ll find an array from which to choose. Many people really like the (approx) 100mm macro lenses.

So, go on learning throughout your life – and have fun!

Also posted in BLOG, learning, photography Tagged , , , |

Photography in low light

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Photography can be a hobby, a career and a passion. I’ve been a photographer for longer than I’d care to divulge and have shot events at the Princess Louise Park Show Centre in Sussex, NB, for over a decade. It is probably THE most challenging environment in which to work for several reasons. The lighting is dreadful. The large arena lights are halogens with dusty covers that provide dim pools of light periodically throughout the 95 x 200 foot competition space. The footing material absorbs light (although it’s nice for the horses’ legs!). There are huge garage-style doors on all sides that are usually open to allow air and natural light into the space – and they provide ample opportunity to shoot silhouettes, whether you want to or not, because of the back-light they create.

In addition, in the case of dressage, barrel racing, pole bending, reining – essentially any equine sport involving a fixed pattern – photographers may not be inside the ring and must shoot from the perimeter, limiting your options for avoiding bad lighting situations. AND, it’s not normally a good idea to use a flash with horses for two reasons: a) it could startle them and cause a mis-step and lost points for the competitor; and b) if the flash is reflected in the horse’s eye you get that dreadful “dead eye” look (sort of like red-eye in people, but worse!).

So, what can you do?

Depending on the type of camera you own, you can increase the ISO sensitivity (the shots in the gallery were done at ISO 3200 or higher). That helps capture more light on your sensor but you do run the risk of increased ‘noise’ (speckles) throughout your image and in particular on the subject of your shot. Noise can be addressed in your editing process – but if you have hundreds of shots from an event, that is both time consuming and frustrating.

If you camera allows you to select specific focus points, choose a single one and plant it on your subject for each shot. That way your camera light meter reads the subject, not the ambient light, and will warn you if the photo is going to be underexposed (too dark) so you can adjust something to compensate. Or, depending on the ‘mode’ in which you’re shooting, you can set your exposure compensation to increase the exposure by one or two stops, lightening each photo.

At sport events like a horse show, your subject is in constant motion. So, to get a clear shot it’s critical that you use a fast enough shutter speed – at least 1/500 or more, depending on how quickly the subject is moving. Otherwise your shots will be blurry.

If you have a camera (e.g. DSLR) that allows you to adjust your aperture (f/stop) and your lens is capable of opening up to a wide setting (e.g. f/2.8 or more) be careful. The lower the aperture number, the wider the lens opens during each shot, and you create a very shallow depth of field (you know, that thing that creates ‘bokeh’ and a blurred background?). If it’s TOO shallow then not only will your background be blurred, but so will your subject. In a situation like the one above, I try never to go wider than f/5.6 for that reason.

So there you go – low light and backlit situations present challenges to photographers, but they can be overcome.

Thanks to my ‘models’, Jennifer Brett-Hanson of Hampton Riding Centre, and Micky!

Also posted in BLOG, GALLERY, New Brunswick, photo editing, photography Tagged , |

Express Yourself

Are you thinking about joining us at the Sharpen Your Focus Photography Workshop? I thought you might like to have some idea what you can expect beyond the simple itinerary.

I believe that photography is just one of the art forms that allows each of us to express ourselves, our unique perspective on any given subject. When we click that shutter button, we are capturing a moment in time that will never happen again and telling our own unique story about a subject – whether it is a landscape, a person, pet, building or bug.

And expressing yourself should bring you joy. Shooting subjects that you are passionate about allows you to share that passion and the reasons WHY you are passionate about them as well. You are unique and so is your viewpoint. Make photographs because you love to make photographs and it gives you pleasure. It is fun.

Creativity comes from deep within us. Photography teaches us to truly see the world around us, from the most minute bug to the power of a grand vista, and it allows us to share what we see with others. Photography is a journey that never ends – there is always something new to see and capture, or something old to capture in a new way.

During our Sharpen Your Focus Photography Workshop my goal is to help you feed your photographic soul. We’ll eat (and photograph) delicious food. As a group of creative people, we’ll spend time together inspiring each other and simply enjoying the experiences. That’s when the best ideas will happen and you will have some excellent photo opportunities.

People have travelled thousands of kilometres to find subject to photograph when some of the most magnificent subjects are right in their own backyards. I’ve done it myself. But, since Saint John, New Brunswick, is the oldest incorporated city in Canada and has some of the most amazing historical sites and architecture, it is well worth spending a week-end exploring just one small corner to see what this grand old city has to offer.

Spaces in the workshop are limited and registrations will close when full or by the end of March, whichever comes first. So, if you are thinking about joining us, don’t waste time. Sign up soon.

See you in Saint John!

Workshop Ad

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Sharpen Your Focus



Freedom is the ability to think and act as one wants without hindrance or restraint and no where is that definition more applicable than when it refers to photography. The ability to create the images you want without being limited by the automatic settings on your camera means the art you create is limited only by your imagination, not by the technology in your hands.

The saying “knowledge is power” is true. It is the power to choose, the power to create, the power to share a vision. On-going education means always increasing your knowledge and seeking out enlightening experiences.

Coming up in mid-April I’ll be hosting a week-end workshop called  “Sharpen Your Focus” with historic Saint John as the backdrop for the adventure. Sign up for my newsletter to receive details on how you can participate or flip to the Sharpen Your Focus Photography Workshop page.

Also posted in BLOG, photography, preparing for a photo shoot Tagged , |

Painting with light

Learning how to paint with light, back in March I posted a couple of photos of rings of fire. Since then a few people have been asking me for details on how it was done – so here we go.

First of all, make sure you are in a safe place where sparks won’t ignite anyone’s house, forest, field or other flammable items!

Line up an assistant – in my case a courageous spouse who was willing to risk self-immolation in my pursuit of art.

Supplies – a 5′ or so length of chain, a cheap (dollar store) wire basking whisk, some 000 or finer steel wool and a BBQ lighter

Up in the pitch dark of the night, we attached the whisk to the length of chain and stuffed the bulb of the whisk full of loose, very fine, steel wool. Then at  6:a.m. on a dark, still morning in March we went out into the snow covered field behind our house.

I set up my tripod and camera (Canon 1DMKIV) with my 40mm f/2.8 lens and corded remote shutter release. Hubby positioned himself about 25′ away (and I hoped my camera wouldn’t get burned) and lit the steel wool on fire (it burns remarkable well – and FAST). As he began to twirl the chain, I started snapping!

Getting started

Getting started

Once he was ‘up to speed’ with twirling the whisk, I shot a series of images ending up with this one:

Ring of Fire_web 2

For those who want to duplicate the effort, my settings were : ISO 200, f/11, 10.0ss

And that’s what you do to entertain yourself in New Brunswick, Canada, on a cold winter’s night.

Also posted in BLOG, photography, winter Tagged , , |