Let's Focus

I often get the question from photographers ‘Why are my photos out of focus?’ Which leads to … ‘Is there something wrong with my camera?’

I tell people, it is all about balance.

So, how do you find this elusive balance?

More often than not, the photos aren’t out of focus, so much as they are blurry from movement (either of the object or camera shake from the movement of your hands while you take the photo). There is a difference between a focusing problem and a motion blur problem, but they can look very similar! Out of focus means that you (or the camera) did not focus on a specific spot. Sometimes you can actually find that the camera chose to focus on a different spot than you would have liked it to. There are several factors that play into this:

If you are using autofocus, your camera usually focuses on either the brightest object in the frame, or the closest object in the frame. There are ways to override this, but each camera is different. Here are a few of the options you might want to consider and look into in your manual.

1. Can you change the focus point of your camera? There may be options to focus on the centre, the entire scene or to choose a specific area to focus on. What is your camera currently set to focus on and how do you change it?

2. On my camera, I use automatic / centre focusing. I put my centre point on the part of the picture that I want in focus, hold my shutter release half way to lock focus and then reframe my photo before pressing the shutter release all the way. Not all cameras allow you to do this, but many do.

3. Can you choose to shoot on manual focus and trust your eyes to tell you when the subject of your photo is in focus? This is the tried and true way, but it does count on you having good eyesight and your subject being stationary. It does not work as well with moving objects.

4. Want to make sure that your entire photo (or as close as possible) is in focus? Try shooting with an aperature of F16 – F32. This gives the greatest depth of field. If you focus on something mid-distance from the camera, most of what is closer to the camera and further away should also be in focus. Of course, there are exceptions to this, such as if something is extremely close to the lens, it may still not be fully in focus. But, this is a trick that can help you in a lot of situations.

5. Want to make sure that only one part of your photo is in focus? Try shooting with F2.8 – F5.6. Focus on the subject of your photo and then reframe to line it up the way you’d like. Your subject will be in sharp focus, but you’ll see that everything else quickly becomes out of focus. Tried this but it looks like nothing is in focus? Try once more and focus manually on your subject. If it still doesn’t work, change your aperature from F4 to F5.6 or F2.8 to F4. Don’t forget to adjust your shutter speed or iso to compensate so that you still get a properly lit photo.

6. If you are seeing ‘ghosting’ in your photos where the image looks like it has a bit of a shadow, this is likely due to either the movement of your hands when you are taking the photo, or the movement of the object itself. This happens when your shutter speed is too slow. Most people can hand hold their camera at about 1/60th of a second, depending on the length and weight of the lens they are using. When I use my 70 – 200 lens, I can only hand-hold at 1/200th of a second. If you are getting ghosting, you need to increase the shutter speed. For example, if you are at 1/10th, change it to 1/125th. This will also mean you will have to adjust your iso and / or aperture accordingly to still get the proper lighting for your shot. Or, keep the 1/10th of a second, but put your camera on a tripod to reduce camera shake. This will only help if the ghosting was caused by your own movement. If the object is blowing in the wind, you will still see movement of the object at 1/10th of a second.

Always use protection

Photo tip: Always use protection!

Protect your lens folks!
Filters are expensive, but they are part of the whole kit and caboodle and I’m a strong believer that they are worth their price ($40-$100 per lens depending on the brand you buy).

Filters protect your lens from dust, scratches, rain and the elements in general on a daily basis. Lose your lens cap? At least you have a filter on so that your lens isn’t taking all of this daily abuse.

And, when you have an incident like I did where you drop your lens, face down on some rocks on the banks of Lake Titicaca, Peru … it might just save your sanity!

There it was, my 5D MK II, face down on the rocky beach …

Pretty much everyone in the group turned to look, and I’m pretty sure my face was white.

I picked it up off the ground and looked at the damage.


After letting Clever (our local leader) know that he could continue explaining to the group, I half paid attention and half studied the damage. The entire filter was smashed. The question was, did the smashed glass from the filter hit the lens? A filter is $60-$100 to replace. The lens is about $1000 to replace.

I slowly and tentatively unscrewed the filter from the lens. I could hear the glass shifting and starting to come loose. I had no idea what I was going to find behind that filter. Would my lens be equally as shattered? Finally, when the filter was off, I could see the lens. It had not broken, which was a good start, but with the shards of glass and dust all over it, I couldn’t really see how much damage there was.

A little in shock, I decided to just ignore the damage for the time being, pay attention to the day’s plans and deal with it later.

When I reached my home stay (about an hour later), I took a closer look. I carefully used my blower & lens pen brush to dust the remaining glass off the lens and held it up in the sun light. Miraculously, the filter had sustained all of the damage and the lens came out perfectly fine. As far as I can tell, not even a scratch. Guess it was my lucky day!

Wake up early and see the sunrise!

Photo tip: Wake up early & see the sunrise!

As hard as it was to get up before sunrise while I was in the Dominican Republic on hire for a Destination Wedding, I am so very glad I did.

Early morning sun is soft, beautiful, yet dramatic. It is quiet, peaceful and very few people are around for sunrise, so you have your location all to yourself and your camera! It is a very relaxing and mindful way to practice your photography skills and creativity.

When you meter for your photo, take a reading off of your subject or the ground not off the sun. If you point toward the sun your camera will be fooled and your photo will not turn out as you had imagined. If you take a meter reading off your subject and put the sunrise in the photo you’ll have better luck in getting your subject exposed properly, but the sky / sun may still be over exposed in the background.

A couple of tips to get your subject and sky closer to the same level of brightness to bring out the best in your photographs …

Wait until the sun is behind clouds to make it more diffused and less contrasty.

Use a little bit of fill flash (if you know how) to brighten your subjects just slightly so that the sun in the background isn’t over exposed and blown out in your photo.

Choose the setting you think is correct, then bracket your exposure both over and under exposed and compare the difference on your computer when you get home. Then, next time you shoot at sunrise you’ll know better what to expect!

Dominican Republic Sunrise
Dominican Republic Sunrise

Ask Permission

Photo tip: Ask Permission.

Imagine how you would feel if you were walking down the street of your home town and out of the corner of your eye you saw someone with a 70-200 mm lens pointed right at you. You’d probably wonder why they wanted a photo of you, what would it be used for and where would it end up? You might even try to ‘hide’ by putting your hand up to scratch your face, or getting off the street at the next corner and taking an alternate route. Or, you may approach the person and ask them what they are photographing. Summed up, this is how most people feel regardless of their nationality.

Just because you are in someone else’s country doesn’t mean that taking photos is ok. Yes, as traveler’s and photographers we want to capture things around us. But, it is our duty to make sure that we understand the customs, beliefs and rules of the places we are traveling to.

In most countries, photographing government officials is taboo, if not flat out illegal. Unless of course they are on display for that purpose at a landmark or tourist attraction.

In some countries, such as Peru, many people believe that the camera captures your soul, so they do not want to be photographed at all. It is important to be aware of this and respectful.

Want to photograph someone? Why not ask them if they mind? It only takes a moment and it could lead to a really interesting conversation!

Don’t know how to speak the language? Learn a few basic phrases and watch for body language to tell you whether the person understands and is giving their permission.

If all else fails, use your own body language. Smiling and pointing at a person and then back at your camera is universally understandable … as is the shake of the head side to side for no, or the nod of the head up and down for yes.

Look for colour and patterns

Photo tip: Look for colour or patterns!

When you are traveling, no matter where it may be – close to home or far away, take time to look around for colour and patterns! Think about Bermuda and their colourful architecture … The beach with it’s powerful waves and lines in the sand, fishing villages all around the world, architecture new or old (think Havana, Cuba or Dubai!)

Wherever you are traveling, strong lines, beautiful light and bright colours can be captured separately or together for outstanding images for your portfolio.

Beach – Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos Islands
Orange Rocks – Prince Edward Island, Canada
Colorful Fishing Village – St. Pierre & Miquelon, France
Yellow flowers – New Orleans, Louisana, USA
Weaving – Ccaccaccollo, Peru

Experience It!

Photo Tip: Experience it!

As tourists, we often tend to get a little snap-happy when we visit a new location. We try to capture everything that surrounds us, and are often under time constraints to do so. Maybe our tour bus has only stopped for an hour long visit in a city, but if you are lucky, you have an afternoon free to explore at your leisure.

Before you start taking pictures, start with a deep breath. Look around and take a moment to enjoy your surroundings. Often once we raise our camera to our eye we change modes and want to create beautiful photographs. I challenge you to make sure you take time to also enjoy the experience of the city. It is through living, feeling, connecting and doing hands on activities with locals that you truly get a feel for the community or city you are visiting. When you feel the connection, then it is time to raise your camera and capture that feeling. If you can wait … these photos will be far more meaningful to you then the 360 degree spin you did to capture everything without experiencing any of it.

Temperature Control

Temperature Control

Have you ever stepped out of your hotel on to the streets of a humid destination, lifted your camera up to take photos of the activity on the street and been met by a cloudy, foggy lens? You rapidly try to wipe the fog off the lens, but to no avail, it returns almost instantly. So much for that shot of the monks walking down the street … all I see now is their backs about a block away. This happened to me several times in Myanmar this summer.

Although there is no instant fix once your lens has fogged, there are things you can do preventatively!

Keep your gear at a study temperature. This is very difficult when you are going from hot and humid weather to the beautiful air conditioning in the hotel. But, remember your camera doesn’t have feelings. It doesn’t need to cool off like we do!
Keep your backpack / camera gear stored in the shade when possible when you are outside.

Carry an umbrella to keep the hot sun off both you and your camera gear.

Try to minimize how often you go from the hot sun to air conditioned locations.

Try to keep the air conditioning to temperate, not as cold as you want to be after 40 degree heat.

Keep your camera gear in a bag or backpack, possibly in a closet out of the direct stream of cold air

Keep your camera gear in the bathroom if it is not too damp, with the door closed to keep the air conditioning out (I did this a lot in South East Asia)

Give your gear time to acclimatize. If you cannot avoid going from cool air conditioning to blazing hot sun, make sure you plan sufficient time for your camera to adjust to the new temperature. When you leave the cold air your lens (and mirror inside the camera) will almost automatically fog, just like your spectacles do! Because there is so much glass in a lens and they can be very thick, it takes time for all of the layers of glass to warm up and the fog to go away. If you want to be able to shoot clearly at 8:30am, you should consider warming your gear up half an hour to an hour prior.

Pack silica gels or other absorbent materials. Keep your silica gel packs from that new leather jacket, your new shoes or any other products that might be prone to moisture. Stick the little packs in around your camera gear to help absorb moisture whenever you are in a humid climate.

South East Asia – Chapter 16 – Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

Probably the biggest tourist attraction in Yangon is the enormous Shwedagon Pagoda. Nearly 25 000 people visit it per day on the weekend. Although, most of this is actually locals, not tourists.

We only spent about an hour wandering around the inside area of the Pagoda, but I could have spent much longer! Thankfully, our local guide took us to have our astrology reading done where we sat in the coolness of one of the buildings, out of the scorching mid-day sun. After our astrology readings, we bought the flowers as per each of our readings and then used them as an offering to the shrine for our day of birth, where we also poured an uneven number of cups of water on our symbols.

Here’s a quick little photo essay. Put your sunglasses on and get ready for a whirlwind of gold!

South East Asia – Chapter 13 – Morning Photo Walk

At our welcome meeting on day 1 I had been pleasantly surprised to learn that our tour leader, JP, had a growing interest and a great eye for photography.

He mentioned getting up early the next morning to do a morning wander and photo walk. I was interested, but so tired! I was still adjusting to jet lag. Several of the other travelers were considering it, but no one really wanted to commit to getting up at 5am. In the end, we told JP not to come as none of us could commit. Eventually, he decided he was going regardless and would be at the hotel to see if anyone wanted to join him.

Well, I couldn’t stand him up!

Myself, Iris and Kiley woke up extra early that morning and joined JP for a walk to an even less touristy district of the city. It wasn’t even that hard to wake up. Afterall, the roosters started crowing sometime between 4:30am and 5am and in that time you’d also hear loud speaker announcements or music throughout the streets as the monks wound their way through town taking offerings.

Being low season and an up and coming destination, Yangon wasn’t very touristy to begin with. In the first two days I had seen no more than a dozen tourists (not a word of a lie).

We strolled along Strand road for about 15 minutes until we came to a pagoda. We entered through the gates and wandered through a small local market while it was still quite dark. It’s quite amazing how the city wakes up so early and is on the move before the crack of dawn.

By 6:00am the sky was starting to get a bit lighter and more people were up and moving around. The market stalls were beginning to open and in the distance, we could see monks beginning to line up for their walk through the streets to collect food and money.

We headed toward the monks and after double checking with JP, he assured me that it would be fine to take photos and interact with them. In fact, they didn’t have nearly as many rules and restrictions as I thought.

For some reason, I thought that monks were not ever allowed to speak. Is this the way it is in other cultures, or just during certain times? I’m still yet to find that out. But, these monks were allowed to speak and many of them knew English quite well. They were a mixture of shy and curious, confident and awkward. Some of them were happy to have their photo taken, others politely turned away.

I tried not to be too intrusive, not getting too close and only photographing them if I had made eye contact or asked their permission. Most of them were happy to have their photo taken, but didn’t freely smile.

This is where JP came in extra handy. He had seen all of this a million times, so he was happy to make funny faces and get the monks laughing so that we could get great photos.

I chatted a little bit in English with a few of them. Honestly, they are really friendly and often want to practice their English, but I think I was more shy than they were as I felt like somehow I was still being disrespectful by photographing them.

After about 20 minutes of wandering around, starring at and taking photos of monks a man came over to JP and invited us in to the monastery for breakfast. Of course we joined them! What a lovely opportunity … the kind that you can’t recreate or find in a guide book, the kind that is local and just happens.

Volunteers, or families donate their time regularly to cook food for the monks. This morning, the family was inviting us in to join them. We took off our shoes and headed in through a couple of rooms to a spot where about 40 or so locals were seated and filling their bellies with hot delicious food.

We were quickly seated and several of the men kept us busy chatting in English while they served up rice and fish soup. For garnish, there were fried crunchy bits, cilantro, chili flakes and …

And then came the sticky rice. OH sweet sticky rice. I could have eaten an entire plate full of this deliciousness. Sticky and cut into small ½ inch squares, it was sweet and absolutely divine.

After we had nearly finished our typical, local breakfast, Iris wanted a photo with a couple of the locals. Moments after that, locals were rushing over to get photos of all of us with them for their own keepsakes with their cameras.

Breakfast at a monastery in Yangon, Myanmar
Breakfast at a monastery in Yangon, Myanmar

Such an interesting turn of events, being on the other end of the lens. What can you do though? You go to another country and take tones of pictures of them, you can’t say no when they want to photograph you because you are equally foreign and beautiful to them!

It was really such a special morning when we all really got a feel for the warmth and generosity of the local Myanmar people. We were complete strangers, invading their space and they wanted to give to us, treat us well, feed us and do good deeds.

I’ve learned that the Buddist way of life is far beyond the generosity and caring even of a little old East coast – Canadian. Everything they do in Myanmar comes from the heart with a warm smile and no material alterior motive. Simply the motive to do good, be better and eventually reach a state of nirvana where they have done good deeds all of their life.

It certainly takes you back to a simplistic thought process and reminds you of what’s important in life. Friends, family, experiences, your happiness, health and well-being … not material items. It reminds you to be kind to others, no matter what your situation and that money doesn’t buy happiness.

Do you love Canon?

My very first SLR camera was a Pentax film camera. It was a great start into the world of photography and served me well for many years. I bought it in 1998 at London Drugs in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Oh the memories!

When I decided to pursue photography further, as more than just a hobby, I switched to Canon and I have loved it ever since.

People ask me all the time … which is better? Canon or Nikon. My answer is always the same. Whichever you prefer to shoot with. Canon is better for some things, Nikon better for others. I’ve been a Canon-girl for at least 10 years now, so Canon is my preference, but only because I know it so well.

I met a photographer named Bob Davis at PartnerCon in New Orleans in 2010. He shot Eva Langoria’s wedding. At the time, a lot of Halifax photographers were in a big tizzy and had decided that Nikon was better than Canon so several of them were switching ALL of their gear over to Nikon. A huge undertaking and a huge investment. People were asking me if I was going to switch because so and so was switching. Hell no. If I were going to switch it would be for a good reason, not because so and so had decided to! Silly question.

In the back of my mind I’ve always said to myself … Bob Davis who shot Eva Langoria’s Wedding with Canon 5D gear gets phenomenal photos and works with celebrities, I think I can probably *suffer* through using the same equipment he does.

Just goes to show, although equipment is important in photography, it really is the brains and creativity behind the equipment that make or break a photo.

Cheers to Canon … I love you!

They are running a Fantasy Contest right now to win a fantasy dream kit. I’ve chosen the Adventure kit with a 70-300 mm lens. What will you choose?

It takes 1 minute to sign up and they really are just looking for new likes on their Facebook page. You can opt in to their newsletter, or not, up to you.

Hope you’ll sign up through this link below for your chance to win. Canon has always served me well and I don’t plan on giving up on them any time soon!