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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How to Photograph at Night

The unique magical qualities of nighttime photography offers endless artistic opportunities to a photographer. As light diminishes from the evening sky, colors stand out and energy is visible across city streets. But without the presence of the sun in the sky, effectively capturing images become much more difficult. So how should you go about taking pictures at night?

1. Remember that the darker it gets, the longer exposure you need to shoot (in order to compensate for the lack of light). Hence, the earlier you photograph, the easier and generally more rewarding your images will be. In my opinion, the best time to shoot is during blue hour, the time period after sunset where the sky is reliably blue no matter what the weather was throughout the day.

2. Its crucial you bring a tripod. Tripods are used to steady cameras which is important when your shutter is open for a long period of time. Make sure to use a self-timer, remote control, or cable release to initiate the photograph or the tripod will become pointless (as you'll shake the camera when you click the shutter). Don't worry, you can get a decent tripod for just $25, although more substantial ones are more pricey. Often times when you don't have access to a tripod, you can improvise by finding some form of a brace or steadying material.

3. Understanding manual exposures is key so you can manipulate any problems that arise with auto exposure (because often times the lack of light confuses your metering). I suggest you shoot in RAW mode so you can fix later issues and aperture priority mode to help control depth of field and sharpness.

4. Bracketing or taking various exposures are key to ensuring you get the best images possible. Bracketing is the altering of various camera settings to assure you got the best image possible and give you options on the final photograph. In the case of nighttime photography, ISO, aperture, and exposure would be the ideal settings to experiment with. Also make sure to take multiple shots in case a shot was too blurry or wrongly exposed (make sure to use your photo histogram).

5. Experiment with unnatural lighting. Often times using flashlights or a detached flash unit creates dramatic results. Remember that when your flash is on your camera it can only illuminate a few feet ahead of its base and dilutes the color of elements beyond its range. Also, consider the fact that the degree of movement a exposure captures is based on the exposures length and the speed of the movement.

-Nighttime Cityscapes- There are two important factors in shooting a cityscape: vantage points and color. Most cities have some form of overlook or skyscraper that provide unique vantage points and dramatic views of the city. These provide perfect locales for you to set up your tripod. Another essential element in taking a powerful cityscape is color. Without color in the sky or on the streets of the city, the camera will expose the image as simply various shades of white. Since lights are nearly always on in a city, all you need is a few seconds' exposure to capture a captivating photograph.

-Star Trails- When shooting star trails, use a shutter release cable (which gives you the ability to keep your shutter open for hours on end) and keep the shutter open for at least an hour (even though minute movements are visible after a few moments). To make for a more interesting image, I often include illuminated foreground subjects that help draw the eye to the skies.

-Fireworks- Fireworks are one of the most colorful and dramatic displays that night skies have to offer, yet they bring some challenges to photographers. I usually shoot fireworks on few seconds' exposures, but it requires plenty of bracketing to get the perfect shot. Remember that incorporating silhouettes, harbors, cityscapes, etc. generally is more captivating than a telephoto shot of colored fireworks alone.

Tom Sawyer's Christmas Tree Farm
-Fireplaces- The orange glow of fire ambers offers unique visual opportunities and adds an atmospheric feeling to your images when they are correctly executed.You can use a few seconds' exposure to capture the blur of the people who stand around the edges of the fire and enable you to take advantage of the glow on their faces.

Images are copyright Chase Guttman and Peter Guttman.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Basic Rules of Framing Captivating Compositions

Composition- Composition is the process of visually organizing the essential elements of your image through the unique framing of your camera. Composition serves as an anchor for the eyes of your viewer as they scan an image, and therefore it is probably the most crucial tool a photographer can use to tell a story. A well composed image is measured by its ability to convey the photographer's message. Even though many professional photographers utilize the basic rules outlined below, the following are simply guidelines. For amateurs, these guidelines are important, until that is they understand when to break them. In general, go with your primary instinct because rules cannot cater (apply) to every situation.

-Framing and Viewpoint- Framing is the most basic part of a well composed image, and acts as a larger category for the other rules. Framing has to do with how you contain all the elements you hope to capture. Good framing includes just the key elements of your image while omitting objects that detract from the larger picture. Also, keeping the horizon perfectly parallel and straight is a fundamental framing strategy that most should observe. Often times, to get the best framing you must change perspective, move around, and crop out objects using a magnified lens. Although framing is a basic principle of composition it's harder to master than you think.

-Rules of Thirds- The rule of thirds is based on the idea of a photo being divided into three imaginary horizontal and vertical sectors. Placing a subject along the dividing points of these lines creates alluring imagery because the main subject is placed off-center. This creates more visually interesting photos because of the way it naturally draws the eye.

-Filling the Frame and Balance- It's important that you fill the frame of your images so you get intimate with your subject. Without having a connection to your subject, your viewer will think less of him or her, and hence your story as a whole. This doesn't mean negative space (which is an empty visual region) is discouraged, but it should be used artistically. However, when negative space becomes superfluous you begin wasting valuable image "real estate." The concept of image balance also derives from the idea of negative space. The rule states that negative space should at least have "balanced" elements, although I believe this rule is flawed because  the absence of balance can be used artistically.

-Patterns- Patterns can be approached in two unique ways: keeping a pattern consistent and undermining a pattern by putting something out of place. The ultimate goal with patterns is to trick the eye into seeing more then what is really present. In some cases, patterns also serve as a visual line from the foreground to the background, pushing the eye to inspect every inch of the composition. Undermining a pattern, on the other hand, is also very effective. This means having one out of place item in the middle of an otherwise consistent pattern. This unique approach adds contrast to your image and has certain qualities that can connect with the viewer.

-Simplicity- Simplistic framing can often times be the most artistic way to shoot because when concentrating on basic elements your story can be told successfully without any other distractions. By focusing on one given thing you can attract your viewer's attention on exactly what you want them to see. To accomplish this you must have plainly colored backdrops (generally, black is the best), and subjects that strongly contrast with the clean background. This supports the idea of the power of"negative space," or an empty area of an image.

-Symmetry- Symmetry makes the eye wander all across an image, which is pleasing to the mind of your viewer. Symmetry also often echoes your scene, giving emphasis to the story you're trying to tell. In the image to the right, symmetry is also acting as leading lines that attract the eye upward.

-Lines- Using converging, diagonal, horizontal, and vertical lines in your photographs makes for an interesting composition. Lines act as a director of traffic for your viewers' eye. This helps your viewer focus on the key points of the image and in doing so you're also adding an amusing component to your shot. Remember a line can be the tracks of a train, the fencing on a hill, a cloud formation, or a fallen tree branch, whatever forms a line in your image can be used to your artistic advantage.

-Texture- Texture is the incorporation of a unique surface to an image. Texture helps your images really come alive and make your viewer feel like they are there.

-Depth of Field and Backdrop- Depth of field is the field or space within an image that is in focus. So, a wide depth of field, means that nearly everything, if not everything, is in focus. On the other hand, a small depth of field means that elements only a very specific distance from the camera's lens are in focus. Depth of field helps direct attention to the elements of your choice. Remember depth of field is dependent on lens (wide angle lenses have a greater depth of field than a telephoto lenses) and the aperture you shoot at.

I hope everyone had a merry Christmas and happy new year! Images are copyright Chase Guttman and Peter Guttman.

Are you still interested in learning about composition? Read these guides by Digital Photography School:

The Facts of ISO

ISO- A camera's sensitivity to light. ISO controls the possible interactions and combination's between shutter speed and aperture. ISO settings hence indicate to the camera sensor how the shutter speed and aperture must interact to compensate for its given lighting situation. A higher ISO makes for greater sensitivity to the light, which is ideal for low light situations. A lower ISO setting, on the other hand, is better suited for recording brighter scenes.

A higher ISO can lead to image "noise." Noise is the  graininess of an image that results from the image sensor from becoming "contaminated."* The larger an image sensor (a buying point to consider) you have, the more then this can be minimized. DSLR's, generally speaking, have an advantage at this because of their larger sensors. Also certain post-processing tools on software's like Photoshop can also drastically reduce the problem.

Things to Consider about ISO-
1. The smaller the ISO you shoot at the less noise will be present in your images and the higher quality the end photograph will be.
2. For outdoor shooting and in bright scenes, lower your ISO to its minimum settings for the highest quality. High ISO will generally be unneeded, because other settings can make up for any lighting problems.
3. For low light situations I use ISO as a last resort. When ISO needs to be utilized, I experiment with the lowest possible setting. For amateur shooters I suggest making your camera decide upon ISO automatically, by putting it on auto.
4. The larger the camera sensor the less likely noise will appear in your images.

So next time you go out to photograph consider ISO.

*People's approach to image noise differs because its based on personal preference. Back in the days when film was prevalent, people selected film rolls based on the the extent of grainyness in the shots they developed. This is because people use grain as an artistic tool while others find it undesirable.

How to Work With Subjects/Models

In photography, working with people can be a rewarding but frustrating endeavor. Guiding people to achieve artistry requires great communication and decent person on person chemistry. While we already covered the technical and artistic side of portrait photography (, this is a guide to actually working with your subjects. The following guide is applicable for clients, models, friends, and family.

1. Build a positive relationship with your subject. When you establish a rapport not only does your subjects act more natural around you but it helps establish a line of communication between you two. This leads to better work efficiency and a better connection with your subject. One way I accomplish this is by letting your subject co-create the photograph. As we talk about the ethical approach of photography, its important to point out its not all about the end photograph. What goes around comes around you should always treat others with respect (especially clients).

2. Its important to discuss goals and expectations before you even whip out the camera (as discussed in my tips of dealing with clients: so there are no surprises for either of the parties involved. Establishing expectations is also an important factor of being efficient, both at the time of the shot and during post-processing.

3. Be clear and patient with your subject. You must successfully communicate with them to accomplish artistry. This goes back to point number two, establish expectations. Clear expectations ahead of time avoid later confusion. In organizing your image, you as the photographer must act as a set and art director.  On another note, be patient and flexible with the subject and don't assume they know exactly what your instructions mean.

4. Comfort your subject. Compliment and point out what they're doing right. No matter who you're photographing, they need to know they are meeting your expectations. Positive feedback sets a good mood, which also improves work flow.

5. As when setting up any scene you must pay attention to the small details. What looks out of place should be removed. Be a director of everything in the scenes you record.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Distinction Between RAW and JPEG File Types

First what is RAW and JPEG? RAW and JPEG are the abbreviated names for the types of digital files your camera stores on your memory card. If you're familiar with computers you know that files are saved in different formats so it can be used universally in a certain program. The format you shoot in is important because it essentially decides the quality, usability, and visual look of your images. So what are the differences?

In short, JPEG is a compressed and processed file. When you shoot in JPEG, your camera only saves a portion of the "information" or quality it can capture to save room for more images (Note: the amount of compression of quality is dependent on the type of JPEG you tell your camera to shoot in). Furthermore, between the time you click the shutter and your image is saved to your memory card, in JPEG the image is "developed" or changed to some extent. The images saturation, contrast, and sharpness is often modified for fast processing. This is often problematic because such a change cannot be undone after the fact.

RAW on the other hand is untouched and stands in its full file. As the name suggests, the camera file is raw, meaning nothing is done to the image itself. This doesn't mean the image can't be altered in the future, but rather in the second of the shot no part of the image is changed.  Another distinction between RAW and JPEG, is that in RAW all the information that can be possibly recorded is saved. This causes slower image processing and less room for further pictures (RAW can take up to 4x as much space as a JPEG file).

Now we will the compare the pros and cons of each format: 

Pros-  1. Each image takes less space so there is more memory on your camera or computer
           2. Images are easier to view and alter on post-processing programs
           3. Images are easier to share and can be used more universally
Cons- 1. Some of your images information and quality is lost due to compression
           2. Images are changed to a certain extent when saved to a memory card and such changes can't be undone. This gives you less control over the final result of your image.

Pros-  1. No information or quality is lost when take the picture
           2. Gives you more power in the outcome/look of your final photograph
Cons- 1. Can't be instantly used or shared because of developing time
           2. Continuous shooting is slightly slower (not good for action photography)
           3. Uncompressed files take up to 4x as much space, meaning you need a good memory card and computer
           4. Requires certain programs to use and process (if you have Adobe Lightroom, Apple Aperture, Adobe Photoshop, or Nikon Capture, you're fine).

So which will work for me and what do you recommend? 
The choice between JPEG and RAW is dependent on what kind of photography you do. For casual shooters or action photographers I recommend the highest quality of JPEG.  For serious amateurs or professionals, RAW is crucial because it offers the highest of quality images. In most cameras there is a JPEG+RAW option that offers the best of both worlds (that's what I shoot in), but unfortunately takes up even more space.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Post-Processing Programs

Photoshop- Photoshop is the most commonly used post-processing program that brings a lot to the table. Being the pioneer in photography editing software, Photoshop allows for every detail of your photo to be altered in hundreds of ways. The biggest benefit of Photoshop is the layers options that allows for successful blending and masking of elements. Photoshop is expensive and has a huge learning curve (created for the advanced editor), but for those who invest time in it will be quite rewarded. So is this the right software for you? Photoshop is intended for those who want to spend hours perfecting a photograph and getting every detail right, but for a casual shooter I would look elsewhere.

Lightroom- I call Lightroom the simplified Photoshop. Still with hundreds of options, Lightroom is built for photographers who need to work with a large collection of images and need efficiency. Lightroom was built with a great work flow and the ability to apply simple edits quickly. Lightroom is more straight forward and has less of a learning curve than Photoshop, which is good for casual shooters. Lightroom is really a photo library, a post-processing tool, and a print and web gallery maker all in one. So is this the right software for you? If you have a large library that needs to be edited quickly (and also in detail), then this is right for you. But it really isn't Photoshop or Lightroom, both have their own advantages and shortcomings and many photographers have both for specific uses.

Aperture- Aperture is another program designed for fast work flow. Aperture is a blazingly quick software that allows for general edits on your images, and provides the user with numerous brushes for specific edits. One of the cooler features of Aperture is faces and places. It allows the photographer to tag a subject, and the program (with relative success) identifies other images of the person and compiles it in a folder. Places, allows for images to be placed on a world map, so the photographs can be organized by location. One shortcoming of Aperture is the inability to edit individual pixels.  So is this the right software for you? First you must note this program only runs on a Mac computer. Also if your using iPhoto, Aperture is a needed upgrade if you want to seriously edit and organize your images. But for a shooter who needs to efficiently make high-quality alterations, this is ideal.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Your Guide to Interesting Action Photography

Action photography is a field that every photographer comes across in their career and should know how to shoot. Here is a photographers guide to getting that dizzying animal image or an eye-appealing basketball dunk shot. 

1. Balance aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Consider the fact that a fast shutter speed* freezes a given moment, while slower speeds record blurs and add a sense of energy to your shots.  You must ask yourself what is more effective here? If you find recording blurry movement appealing than you can use the pan technique or the still technique to achieve those effects. Panning involves moving your camera at the speed of the object your photographing, keeping your subject sharp and backgrounds blurry. The opposite occurs when you have a long exposure (or shutter speed) and don't move the camera with the object. Also remember that a wider aperture** makes faster shutter speeds possible, because it compensates for likely underexposure, while smaller apertures allow for long exposures (note that the aperture you shoot at effects the images depth of field***). A similar idea applies to ISO†, the higher it is the better it would work for fast shutter speeds.

2.  Equipment wise, having an arsenal of very fast and stable, wide and telephoto lens' are ideal. Carrying an extensive camera bag though can be problematic because most great action photos hinge on the ability to move around quickly. On the issue of focusing, usually automatic modes are your best chance, but preset focuses will work as well.

3. For sports photographers there are two issues that are important in giving you better photo opportunities. For one, knowing the sport gives a photographer a great advantage. They know which player to watch for, where to aim the lens, when to click the shutter and where to stand. Secondly, access is key. You don't want to photograph images of a touchdown from a upper deck where everything below just looks like a clutter.

4. Shoot lots of images. For faster continuous shooting, photograph in JPEG format not RAW (explained here: 

Helpful Definitions
*how long light is permitted into the camera in order to record the scene.
**how wide a space light is permitted to enter the lens
***the field or space that is focused. A small depth of field means only an area that is a specific distance from the camera will be sharp.
†a camera's sensitivity to light, serves a purpose similar to aperture.
‡a lens with a strong zoom, meaning isolating a small and tight area of the setting. In contrast to wide angle lens (which are lenses with a large scope on a scene), telephoto lenses have a small depth of field.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tutorial: Making Sense of Your Photo Histogram

 Image histograms is a crucial tool for digital photographers, in their analysis of exposure. For those who don't know what a photo histogram is, it is a graph that shows how bright and how dark your images are through a break down of pixels. The left side of a photo histogram represents dark pixels, hence a histogram with "tall bars," especially on the extreme left end of the diagram indicate an underexposed image. The right side, on the other hand, represents bright pixels, so the opposite rule applies. In these extreme cases of underexposure and overexposure you must use manual settings to compensate for the error. These graphs are useful because often times the image you see on your monitor can misrepresent the actual image, and a histogram actually tells us if our images are correctly exposed. So what does an ideal histogram look like?

Copyright Geoff Lawrence

This histogram shows a balance between dark and bright pixels with no pure white or black pixels (this can be concluded because of the absence of bars on either of the diagrams edges or ends) thus, it could be considered a correctly exposed image. The following are examples of incorrectly exposed images because of the uneven balance on the graph of bright and dark pixels. Another noticeable problem is the presence of the bars on the extreme ends of the graph.

Copyright Geoff Lawrence
But of course like every established rule in photography it can and should be broken. Dark images and bright images can be artistic, and histograms do not represent the value of a given image, so its up to you to utilize the histogram properly.

If your skilled at photo editing software, such as Photoshop or Aperture you can get the best of both highlights and shadows through the photo blend technique or various other adjustment options. To read more about all of this visit:

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Winter Traditions: Santacon

A premature holiday celebration, Santacon, is the annual spree of thousands of mischievous Santas throughout the boroughs of New York City. The celebrants start out in eleven different spots around the city and crowd the subways and the sidewalks in an effort to join each other in one secretive location. Participants dress in creative and colorful costumes, ranging from reindeer, to elves, to Christmas trees, to presents, and everything from ZZ Top Santas to Gangster Santas, surprising children and tourists alike. The event is really a "joyous" bar crawl, where Santas fill up in bars, sing dirty versions of classic carols, dance on strip poles (with clothes), give unconventional gifts, play wacky games, and party. This year the eleven different groups (each with hundreds of Santa participants) rendezvous at Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. The locations are changed every year and are not unveiled until hours before in an attempt to avoid a police presence. Santacon is a must see spectacle, with a growing number of celebrants every year and cooler locations. And if you don't live in NYC  don't worry, it's an international event:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

How to Put Together the Best Portfolio Possible (Five Tips)

If you've been following us on Facebook or Twitter you know, at this point, about me winning the Young Travel Photographer of the Year Award. Out of thirty-thousand participants from over seventy countries, I was chosen the winner for my age group. My winning images will be featured in a book, an exhibition in England, and as part of large scale press releases. If you're interested in the winning images, they were chosen from  my Guatemala portfolio seen in this past blog post: Or you can see the winners' galleries here: You may be asking, how is this all relevant to the title? Well, in order to be  successful in photography competitions, you must have a portfolio to start from.

These are my 5 tips to putting together the best possible overall portfolio-

1. To put it simply, edit down your images!  Portfolios ideally consist of 20-40 cohesive images that flow together, demonstrate your style and show range (if you're good at multiple niches you may want to consider creating multiple portfolios). To do so, often times you need to edit out thousands of images. I accomplish this by either recalling successful photo shoots to look through, or by quickly browsing through the large picture thumbnails of my library. A good rule of thumb for editing your images is looking from a customer's point of view. Think of your audience! Is your "worst" image in your portfolio still good enough to encourage potential clients who don't see anything else? Remember, a portfolio is only as good as its weakest link.

2. Look for unique and visually compelling photographs for your portfolio. Remember to not only show amazing shots, but ones that are hard to take and shows range.

3. When creating any type of portfolio, presentation is important. If the portfolio is intended for online use, I recommend having a clean background that doesn't detract from your shots. When creating a physical copy of your portfolio I suggest printing large copies of your work on glossy paper and using acid-free plastic sheets as covers. Your physical portfolio should be able to be adjusted and transported around. Remember outside presentation is also significant, so it may be worth it to invest in a cool case for your images as well.

4. Both online and physical portfolios should show-off accolades and publishing of your work.

5. When creating portfolios for clients, know what they want ahead of time: stylistically, artistically, or topically. If they haven't provided anything specific just bring your best work. For more on the client process, read a past post:

My suggestion for making online galleries of your work is SmugMug and Wix.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Snowy Weather: Winter Photography

To celebrate the emergence of the holidays in all of its cold (and snowy) forms, we are giving you six simple tips to creating more powerful images that include snow.

1. In winter weather, to frame the best compositions look for single objects that contrast with the scene's otherwise monochromatic look. If this is hard to come by, look for man-made objects that fit into the scene and contribute to the warm feeling of the image. On dreary days, I would recommend removing the sky from your framing, unless the sky is required to tell the story.

2. As I mentioned in my tips to making your landscape shots special, blue hour is a great time to photograph. Blue hour is a short period of time after sunset where the sky is reliably blue (no matter what the day's weather was). The lighting during that time makes it easy to shoot decorations and displays, and furthermore helps to add a warm mystique to your image. If you're a morning person, winter photographs are just as spectacular in the morning. I suggest waking up early for the unique reflections and colors a sunrise has to offer.

3. If you're trying to capture the snow actually falling, shoot at a slow exposure to capture the motion, or simply flash the scene to freeze the moment and capture the crystals of the snow.

4. Include people! The cold winter weather means that people of all ages grab their colorful jacket that has been sitting in their closet for the past year. Use this to your advantage, by creating a contrast between the white snow and the red, yellow, blue, green and orange clothes.

5. Remember that snow very easily tricks your automatic white balance and ISO settings. Make sure to look at your image histogram (if possible) or your image preview, and try to compensate for all errors through manual settings.

6. Protect your camera and protect yourself! Prepare all camera equipment in advance and try to bring extra batteries with you (cold weather can drain battery levels). Make sure that you are bundled up as well.

Now go out, be safe and enjoy the holiday season. 

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Biography and Contact Information

Chase Guttman is a talented and passionate, award-winning photographer having shot everything from landscapes to wildlife to portraits and events all around the world. Chase Guttman is also an affordable NYC assignment photographer, ready to fulfill your photographic wishes with his distinct style and attention to detail. He also runs this popular photography tips and guide blog, with weekly insights into photography that helps everyone from amateurs to pros better their photographic skill. Visit us at our website:

For all questions, comments, suggestions or concerns of both technical and artistical nature, please feel free to e-mail us at: