All posts tagged reciprocity

Most people have heard that taking photos in mid-day sun is generally considered a bad idea. The high angle of the sun causes very harsh shadows on your subjects, and their faces often end up a squinty, scragly mess due to the very bright light. That’s why photographers do most of their people shooting in the 2 hours or so just before sunset or what is known as “The Golden Hour”.

Golden Hour Portrait Nikon D300 16mm 1/320s f/13

Photographers love “The Golden Hour” because the setting sun produces a beautiful, soft, flattering light with a nice warm glow that makes everyone look their best. Just take notice sometime of how many wedding photographers schedule formal shoots during “The Golden Hour”, it’s not by accident.

Although shooting during “The Golden Hour” is likely to produce some beautiful photos for you, there is a problem. The light doesn’t last very long, and photographers have to work quickly in order to get all their shots done in time before they lose the light to the setting sun. It always amazes me how many people pack up their cameras and go home once the sun has set. Yes, it’s true, your people shots are probably over once the sun sets, but with the warm summer weather you can shoot some amazing landscapes just after sunset during what we call “The Blue Hour”.

“The Blue Hour” is that magic time when the sun has set just below the horizon but there is still some light in the sky. It extends right up until the last bit of light has drained from the sky. If you’ve ever stopped to look up at this time you’ll notice that if the sky is clear it takes on this amazing deep blue color. This is also the time that street lights, architectural lights, and signs start to come on which makes for some beautiful summer scenes for you to photograph.

Restaurant lights during “The Blue Hour” Nikon D300 1/30s f/2.8

Shooting during the “The Blue Hour” is a whole different ball game than shooting during “The Golden Hour”. This is because during “The Golden Hour” you have beautiful sunlight to light up your scene, but during “The Blue Hour” the sun has set and you’re basically shooting at night time. This requires some form of stabilization for your camera, because in order to shoot during “The Blue Hour” you need to use a slow shutter speed in order to be able to capture your scene with the reduced light levels.

Take this photo I shot recently at Disneyland during “The Blue Hour”. I happened to shoot it with a very fast lens, which means it has a very large Aperture. As such, I was able to shoot this photo at a shutter speed of 1/30s and still hand-hold the camera. However, if you didn’t have a particularly fast lens that cost almost $1000 like I do, you’d be using a standard lens with the values below. For more information about Aperture and Shutter Speed, see some of our previous blog posts.

Most standard lenses have a maximum aperture size of f/4. This is one-stop larger than the f/2.8 lens that I was using. Using reciprocity (again see some of our previous blog articles for more info) if I was to shoot this same photo with a lens using an Aperture value of f/4 then I would have to use a shutter speed of 1/15s. This would be too slow to hand-hold to shoot a photo with acceptable sharpness, so I’d have to introduce some form of stabilization for the camera in order to get a good resulting photograph.

There are many options that you can use to stabilize your camera for night time photography. The most common method is to mount your camera on a tripod. However, there are other options as well, you could also use a monopod, a gorillapod, or even just a trash-can or other stabile object to place your camera on.

There are tons of different kinds of tripods available. Some of the many options available are the material the tripod is made out of, aluminum, carbon fiber, or even plastic, how large the tripod extends 2 segments or 3 segments, and even whether the legs fold completely flat or inverted for easy travel. Naturally this means the prices on tripods can vary wildly depending on the options you decide to take, anywhere from an inexpensive $15 tripod you can find in Walmart or Target to large professional travel models costing in excess of $1200.

Velbon DF-60 Tripod (Photo courtesy of Velbon)

I could do an entire article alone on the many different options for tripods, but here are a few things to keep in mind when purchasing one. If you’re going to be traveling a lot with it and weight is a factor, go for a carbon-fiber tripod. Although more expensive you can’t beat the sturdiness, rigidity, and light weight. For flexibility when composing your shots make sure it has at least a pan-head, and for the ultimate in exploiting all camera positions go with a ball-head instead. Plus one of the most important things to look for is to make sure that the first section of leg extensions gets the tripod up to or almost up to your regular height. The first leg sections are the most sturdy so you want to make sure the tripod will be at a comfortable height while getting the most stability out of it.

If the idea of lugging around a full tripod, especially to a theme park, makes you cringe, you’re not alone. It can be very tedious to carry around one of these with you for a full day, plus a lot of places don’t allow them, and when using them at venues that do you need to take extra care that nobody is going to trip over or hurt themselves because of your tripod. So as a great alternative I would suggest a monopod.

Velbon Monopod E64 (photo courtesy of Velbon)

A monopod is just as the name suggests, it’s basically a single retractable stick that you mount your camera on top of. It gives you extra stability for using lower shutter speeds, but not the full support that you would receive from a tripod. The advantages are they are much smaller to use and carry around, they take up very little space in front of you even when extended and in use, plus they can be used in a lot of places that tripods cannot. If you look up to policies of most places they clearly state “No tripod use allowed”, but they never say anything about a monopod. Sure it’s a play on semantics depending on how you look at it, but it is a valid argument to make if questioned while using one.

Monopods are also usually cheaper than tripods and do not require pan or ball-heads as since it is a single stick you can basically tilt it in any direction that you need to. In addition they are much more compact to simply fold up and stick in a bag than a tripod is. Plus as an added bonus they actually can help you carry a very heavy camera rig as you are now supporting it with your hands on a stick rather than hanging it around your neck. Basically the options on monopods are more limited than tripods, simply a choice of what materials it’s made out of and/or how high it extends.

Still think a monopod is too large to carry around? Don’t want to be accused of carrying a cane? No problem, I have one more stabilization alternative for you, and it’s one that I highly recommend and use myself. Why not choose a gorillapod?

Gorillapod (Photo courtesy of Joby)

A gorillapod is in essence a mini tripod with segmented and articulated joints covered in rubber, this makes the legs flexible and actually allows you to wrap them right around any railing, tree or other oddly shaped stable object, to give your camera a rock-solid platform to shoot from.

They make several different models depending on which camera you are going to use with it, including ones for the smallest point-and-shoots all the way up to large professional video cameras. For the ultimate flexibility in mounting your camera, don’t forget to add the ball-head made specifically for your gorillapod. This allows you to pan and tilt your camera on top of your gorillapod for an infinite number of mounting combinations.

I use my gorillapod all the time, it’s so convenient to throw in a bag and then poof have a mini tripod that you can mount almost anywhere at a moments notice.

Now that the weather is warm and the light is perfect, get out there and start taking some “Blue Hour” photos! You’ll be amazed at some of the results, as long as you have some sort of stabilization for your camera. With the plethora of choices out there you shouldn’t have too difficult of a time finding the right solution that will be convenient and user-friendly for you.

Paradise Pier at Blue Hour Nikon D300 16mm 1/4s f/11

Scott Dengrove is a professional photographer from the NYC area. Scott’s work has been featured in many national photography competitions and published in several nationally circulated magazines and publications. In addition, his work can currently be seen in 2 exhibits at Cosi® restaurants in New York and Connecticut and a traveling exhibit entitled “America: Coast to Coast”. For more information, and to see more of Scott’s work visit his website at and connect with him on his Facebook page at

I’d like to continue our series on exposure modes. I know it’s been a while, I was just waiting for your comments and photos from the last post. It’s ok, I forgive you, I know you were just waiting until we got to the manual exposure modes so your creative juices can flow free 🙂 So we pick up where we left off with Aperture Priority Mode (A).

Aperture Priority Mode is the first semi-manual mode that we’ll discuss. This is the first opportunity for you to have some say on how your camera sets it’s exposure. So let’s get to it. What is Aperture Priority Mode?

Aperture Priority Mode allows you to manually set the aperture on the camera and then have the camera set the shutter speed automatically. As you recall from our previous discussions, aperture, controls the size of the opening of the shutter, or how much light is allowed to hit your film or digital sensor during the time the shutter is open. It is measured in f-stops. So why would you want to set your aperture manually when your camera does a perfectly good job of setting it in P-Mode?

Well, you may recall that aperture not only controls the amount light entering the shutter, but also has the side effect of controlling your….come on, you know this one, depth-of-field! This is an excellent reason to override the camera’s settings and set the aperture yourself. Say your taking a portrait of a beautiful model in a lovely woodland setting…what’s that? No models around you say? No problem, let’s say you’re taking a portrait of your cute as can be 10 year old in a lovely woodland setting. Huh? No woods near you….hmmm ok you’re taking a portrait of your cute as can be 10 year old in a very crowded city park.

This situation is even better, you have all these other people around, and even worse they are in the background of this lovely photo that you are trying to take! What are you to do? You turn to Aperture Priority Mode (A) of course. By manually taking over control of the aperture and using a very large aperture setting of say f/1.8 or f/2.8 you can take that beautiful photo of your cute 10 year old and have all those people in the background become just a blur, so the cuteness of your subject shines right through. Like in the example below:

Bird with shallow depth-of-field

Bird with shallow depth-of-field f/2.8

Ok so my cute 10 year old happens to be a bird 🙂 The point is that this photo has a very shallow depth-of-field and a lovely blurred background because of the large aperture setting of f/2.8 that was used. Working with the camera in Aperture Priority Mode (A) allowed me to manually set the aperture to f/2.8 and ensure that setting is what the camera would use when it took the photo.

Now those of you have been reading carefully, might think I’ve made a mistake about something. You might even think I’ve completely lost it, because it seems I’ve made that mistake in more than one place. You may be thinking, “dingus over here doesn’t know that 2.8 is a small number..he keeps saying that f/2.8 is a large aperture, how can that be??!!” Let me assure you it is no mistake, and it is something that does take getting used to.

You can think of it like fractions, 1/2 is bigger than 1/10 even though 10 is a larger number. It turns out that aperture numbers work the same way. The larger the f-stop value the smaller the aperture size. You can see an example of this below:

Aperture sizes and depth-of-field (Courtesy of

Aperture sizes and depth-of-field (Courtesy of

The diagram above clearly illustrates that the larger the aperture, the smaller the f-stop number. You can also see that the larger the aperture, the more shallow your depth-of-field becomes. This is why photographers love to get lenses with the largest aperture possible. Since a larger aperture lets more light in, this allows you to use a faster shutter-speed when shooting in low-light (remember reciprocity from our previous discussion). For those of you that own DSLR cameras, you may have noticed that the lens that is included has an aperture range of approx. f/3.5 – f/5.6. This means that the largest aperture that can be set is f/3.5 and as you “rack-out” your zoom the largest aperture your lens can achieve is only f/5.6. By the way, to rack-out, means to zoom your lens out to the maximum focal length.

This is why camera companies can afford to include these lenses in the kit with your camera. As you can see they do not have a particularly large aperture. Or as we say in the industry, they are not very “fast” lenses. A lens that has a larger aperture compared to another lens is referred to as “faster”. The faster a lens is, the larger the aperture setting that can be used, and also the more expensive it is! You will find that most people who shoot with the lens that came with their camera always feel they cannot get great photos in low-light situations. This is because as we’ve seen before the kit lens is usually not very fast, or the camera companies wouldn’t be able to afford to give it away. It is not uncommon for a photographer to buy a faster lens, either an f/2.8 or f/1.4 after shooting with the kit lens for a while.

We’ve learned before that when shooting portraits a large aperture is usually used to achieve a nice shallow depth-of-field. So what if we’re shooting landscapes? Well for that we want just the opposite, we want to use a very small aperture like f/16 or f/22 (remember small aperture, large f-stop). This will give us a very large depth-of-field or high degree of sharpness throughout the photo. This is exactly what we want for landscapes. Picture a beautiful mountain scene with water, hills, trees, in a photo like this we want to make sure that everything in the scene from the water in front to the mountains in the distance are nice and sharp. How do we do this? With a small aperture of course!  Take a look at the example below:

Reservoir, large depth-of-field, f/16

Reservoir, large depth-of-field, f/16

Wow, look at that, not only is everything in the photo nice and sharp because of the small aperture we used, but the content of the photo actually matches what I was describing, how unusual 🙂 By the way when we want to refer to an area in the photo which stretches on as far as the eye can see past the horizon, such as the one above, we refer to that point as infinity. So for a photo like this you would actually set your focus to infinity when taking the shot.

Now that you have a new creative tool under your belt, go out and start shooting! Don’t be afraid to experiment with your aperture settings. Try out what we talked about above, or mix it up a bit. Sometimes using an unconventional aperture setting can create some very interesting results. Shooting in Aperture Priority Mode (A) really opens up a whole new world of creative possibilities. I actually find that I shoot in Aperture Priority Mode about 90% of the time. And don’t forget that the camera still sets the shutter speed automatically, so the camera still ensures that you get a nice even exposure. That is until next time when we discuss Shutter Priority Mode (S).

Until then, please feel free to comment, ask questions, and absolutely send or post some results!