Nick Carver Photography Blog

Photography Tips, Tutorials, & Videos

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Featured Testimonial: Online Courses

A student of my Introduction to DSLR Photography Online Course said the following in a recent email to me:

I'm using the Sony Nex-5N. I of course realize it's mirrorless, but the lessons are very applicable. I bought a huge book written JUST for the NEX, but had already learned more in the first 3 lessons [of your online course]. I especially appreciate the combination reading/video/practical application. Getting it into my brain through 3 modalities is proving very effective for me. It's interesting how even after a couple days, I am beginning to see things in and around the house differently. [Enrolling in your course] was a good move and I'm reasonably sure I will be purchasing the rest of the courses after this. Should have bought the bundle, but experience has shown me I either don't commit or the material is less than expected. Neither has been the case this time. Thanks. 

- Steve V.

It always feels good to receive unsolicited testimonials like this. Learn more about my "Introduction to DSLR Photography" online course here.

DIY: Tripod Snow/Sand Shoes

DIY Tripod Snow Shoes

I shoot at the beach quite often, so my tripod sees a lot of sand. The sand and salt water ain't no big deal because I always clean my tripod after a trip to the coast, but one thing that drives me nuts is when my tripod sinks in the sand as the tide washes in and out around it. Whenever the waves swirl around those legs, the thing just starts sinking like Indiana Jones in quicksand. And since I use long shutter speeds quite often when shooting seascapes, this phenomenon has forced me to stick to rocky areas or timing my shots to finish before the water reaches me.

So I had the brilliant idea (after years of putting up with this problem) to steal the brilliant idea of other photographers and utilize some "snow shoes" to prevent the sinkage. I haven't had a chance to try them out yet, but the concept is solid - give the tripod legs a wider foot, and hopefully the water will be able to swirl around them all sunset long without the quicksand effect. To be honest, I'm skeptical and my hopes aren't high, but we'll see.

Being the DIY kind of guy I am, I thought I'd make my own. With $30 or so worth of materials, you can make your own, too. But if you're smart, you'll just buy these ready-made ones by Manfrotto. And wouldn't you know it, they're about $30. My home made ones may not be cheaper, but at least they're uglier. Wait...aw, man. But mine do secure higher up on the legs, so maybe they're more secure. But probably not...

Anyway, here's what you'll need

  • 3x adjustable flag pole brackets - like these
  • 1x package of furniture sliders - like these
  • 1x washing machine & dishwasher hose 1.75"x7/8"x2' (not like what you think, see the pictures below)
  • 12x machine screws 3/4" long with nuts
  • Sharpie
  • Awl

Step 1: Remove the foam padding from the furniture sliders

DIY Tripod Snow Shoes

DIY Tripod Snow Shoes

Step 2: Set the flag pole bracket on the upside-down furniture slider and mark the screw hole openings with a Sharpie

DIY Tripod Snow Shoes

DIY Tripod Snow Shoes

Step 3: Poke holes through each Sharpie marking with an awl

DIY Tripod Snow Shoes

Step 4: Attach the flag pole bracket to the furniture slider with screws and nuts

Step 5: Cut a piece of the rubber hose to slide into the flag pole bracket - make it just long enough to stick out about 1/2"

This little length of rubber hose protects your tripod legs, fills the gap in the flag bracket for a tight fit, and gives something for the tightening screw to brace against. Make sure the rubber hose can fit over your tripod legs before buying it. If your tripod legs are thicker than mine, you may not need it at all.

DIY Tripod Snow Shoes

DIY Tripod Snow Shoes

DIY Tripod Snow Shoes

Step 6: Repeat 2 more times

DIY Tripod Snow Shoes

So there you go. Now you have 3 adjustable tripod all-terrain shoes. Use the screw on the side of the flag pole bracket to tighten the shoe to the tripod. And don't worry about scuffing up your tripod because the rubber tube inside provides more than enough protection.

Enjoy your ugly, DIY, may-or-may-not-be-as-good-as-the-real-thing tripod shoes!

Photography Tips: Backlighting with Plants

Skill Level: Beginner

When beginners set out to photograph things like flowers and leaves, the natural inclination is to approach the subject from the front, in sunlight, with the sun hitting the front of your subject. It makes sense after all - you need some light on your subject in order for the camera to take a picture. There's even the old adage in photography to shoot with the sun to your back.

But this approach to photographing a subject tends to yield boring results. Front lighting (that is, when the light is hitting the front of your subject) just isn't interesting. Front lighting flattens out your subject, squashing depth. Think of deer in headlights or on-camera flash. It may get the job done in terms of being able to see your subject, but it definitely isn't pretty.

You could, of course, utilize side lighting to rake across your subject and create depth. You could also opt for overhead lighting which, depending on how strong the light source is, may or may not be flattering. Better yet, you could utilize soft lighting like that of an overcast day. But one really fun and really interesting use of light in photographing plants is backlighting.

Backlighting (that is, when the light is coming towards you from behind your subject) gives semi-translucent subjects like leaves, flower petals, and ice crystals a sort of glowing effect that adds a nice bit of "pop" to your photo. With brightly colors flowers and fall leaves, backlighting can be a great way to accentuate the color, making the pigment glow like a neon sign. It's also a great way to bring out all the little veins and texture in a leaf.

And if you can position yourself so that the backlit plant has a dark, shadowed background, those leaves or flower petals will glow like fireworks on the fourth of July. Check out these examples to see what I mean:

Finding backlighting is easy. Just head outside on sunny afternoon or morning and find yourself a leaf or flower in direct sunlight. But instead of approaching the subject from the front (where the light is hitting), move around to the back of it so that the sunlight is coming towards you. This works best when the sun is lower in the sky. So avoid high noon and stick to morning or afternoon. But don't worry, this doesn't have to be done right at sunrise or sunset.

Working with backlighting can be a little tricky. To make it easier on yourself, keep these points in mind:

  • You don't want the sunlight actually hitting the front of your lens. Your lens needs to be shaded by a tree, overhang, lens hood, or a carefully placed free hand. If the sunlight does hit the front of your lens, you'll get lens flare - that's those little semi-translucent circles of red, orange, green or purple spread across your picture.
  • You don't need to have the sun directly in front of you to get backlighting. The sun can be quite a bit higher or to the left or right of the picture. But if you get the glow on your subject, all is good.
  • Unless you're shooting in manual, your camera may want to make the picture too dark as a result of the backlighting. Camera's don't do very well with backlighting. Make sure you stay in control of the brightness by using the exposure compensation tool on your camera.
  • Try the picture at different brightnesses using the exposure compensation tool. A much darker or lighter version may look really cool.
  • Your camera may have a hard time focusing when working with backlighting. You may need to manually focus your lens.

When winter rolls around, try backlighting on icicles or frost-covered plants to get a great sparkly effect. Like this:

Backlighting can keep you busy for hours when photographing flowers and leaves. So the next time you're out enjoying nature's beauty, give backlighting a try.