Any photo you take can be improved with just a little thought about the composition. Getting better at composition is something you can do at any point in your learning. That’s why if you’re shooting photos in auto mode, then learning these composition tips is going to be a quick win. You will point and shoot better, this will increase your confidence and then you’ll feel able to go on and learn even more photography skills. Universal composition tips It doesn’t matter what kind of camera you are using – phone, DSLR, a go pro or an antique. The simplest composition tips apply to every one. I’ve already written extensively on composition tips in the 30 part blog series “Judging a Photograph” and it’s got a mention in most of…View Post
If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen on my stories that I gave a “heads up” a couple of weeks ago, that Harrogate’s cherry blossom was about to come out for bank holiday weekend. I was a bit surprised at how many hundreds of people watched those stories. Blogging is a job I can do in my pyjamas a lot of the time, but not if I’m going to be in a video. I may need to change my personal routine!
Getting back to Harrogate’s cherry blossom, there are two main avenues of the trees on the Stray, one of which is divided by a line of horse chestnut and bordered by daffodils. They are very long avenues indeed and are truly stunning in full bloom. They usually flower the last week of April but were late this year due to the long winter. The blooms last only two weeks – less if it’s very hot or windy.
Use optical zoom for a beautiful perspective looking straight down the avenues of trees. Optical zoom will allow you to really fill the background of your shots with abundant pink blossom, all condensed together to look really thick and lush. (Read last week’s blog post about optical zoom for some simple tips). A tripod would be a good idea. Check out my tips for equipment on the Shop page.
In strong sun you will do better if your camera is in the shade. For photos of people, put them in the shade too. They’re less likely to be over-exposed. It also means they won’t be screwing up their eyes. Cloudy days give better results.
If you’re trying to take photos only with a phone camera and you don’t have much optical zoom, then look for alternative angles. Get something close-up in the foreground like a dangling blossom or a daffodil. Maybe shoot the avenue sideways on. Take portraits with cherry blossom in the background.
Visiting Harrogate’s Cherry Blossom Avenues
Harrogate’s cherry blossom avenues are situated near the Prince of Wales roundabout, Leeds Road and York Place. If you’re lucky you may be able to park close by for free on Stray Rein. You may also find a spot in the Tewit Well Avenue residential area.
It’s easy to reach by train or bus as it’s a short walk from Harrogate’s main station. Both cherry blossom avenues meet at the point where Station Parade joins York Place. Grid reference 53.988425, -1.535504. The number 36 bus goes stops by the trees.
It can get fairly busy, as it’s quite a well-known seasonal attraction. It’s also a main walking route for residents so you will have to be patient as people walk in and out of your shot. If you’re really dedicated to the best shots, perhaps go at dawn.
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I am no daredevil, and I don’t even have very good balance on a bike, but I have discovered the joy of mountain biking. When we’re out cycling with our children we want to get away from parked cars and traffic. I want to give the children both the safety of off-road cycling combined with the freedom to ride at their own pace. Forest trails provide a perfect answer for us. We’ve discovered mountain biking (MTB) centres with clearly mapped routes, facilities and parking. Most important for us is the discovery of green trails for beginners.
Belle was only 7 when we tackled our first green mountain biking trail in Dalby Forest, East Yorkshire. In fact, she had point blank refused to learn to ride a bike until just three months earlier. If a 7 year old who has just learned to ride a bike can do a mountain bike trail, I think anyone can!
Trail Types and Locations
The green trail in Yorkshire’s Dalby Forest is quite long (12 miles) and we didn’t do all of it the first time, but our youngest girl managed fine. We’ve done it several times since. This green trail at Dalby is mainly gentle slopes but for a few steep bits the girls did push the bikes. It is all dirt tracks or thin gravel.
After beginner green level, blue trails are the next level up in mountain biking, but that’s not usually much of a stretch. For example at Hamsterley Forest in County Durham, blue trails are signposted for beginners. Red trails are difficult and black trails are severe or competition standard.
We have taken our bikes to other forest trails; most significant of those is Afan Forest in south Wales. We liked this mountain biking centre for the views of the Welsh mountains and also some spacious bike skills areas. These are short loops where you can practice riding on narrow, raised or bumpy tracks with slopes and bends. Dalby Forest has a bike skills area too, just where the green route passes the barbecue field. The most adventurous can take off down what looks rather like a ski jumping slope!
Halfords have a beginner’s MTB guide to help you find suitable trails near you and equipment. The guide will even help you understand the slang (Amazing; I have never before understood the slang!).
Mountain biking is beautiful
In summer the forests are full of wild flowers, butterflies and singing birds. The tall pines smell fragrant and little streams have darting damsel flies. A blue jay flew right up to us when we were mountain biking in Hamsterley Forest. We’ve seen hares, stoats and shrews dart across our path. There are picnic spots in the forest and shade on a warm day. There is some peace too; on a bank holiday when even Dalby overflow car park was rammed, we cycled for hours on the green route without seeing a soul.
What bike will I need?
We have been careful to buy the right bikes for the terrain. We are true Yorkshire cheapskates so it’s great that we haven’t had to spend a lot. The bikes we’ve chosen are hardtail mountain bikes which have front suspension. That makes a huge difference to your hands and arms on rough surfaces and gravel. We didn’t buy full suspension bikes because these tend to be much heavier, and with four bikes to carry, we would have gone over the loading weight limit on the car.
Rugged tyres are important for mountain biking, but for occasional trips on green and blue trails we didn’t need to get anything too special. Smooth road tyres would slip, and really fat tyres have too much friction, so a mid-range choice is fine.
Beginners’ MTB Checklist
- Always wear a helmet. I strongly recommend gloves and clothes which cover the knees, because gravel can be sharp.
- Check your bikes are mechanically sound and be prepared in case you puncture or break down.
- Be careful on rough or slippery surfaces, especially corners. Go slow until your skills improve.
- Everyone should carry water – for drinking and washing any grazes (we’ve only ever had one real fall between us).
- Food and toilets will be out of reach for hours so visit the loo before setting off and take snacks.
- Set a rule about catching up and waiting for each other so you don’t get separated or strung out.
- Have a printed map – don’t rely simply on cell phone service and signposts in these remote areas.
If you try mountain biking with your family then perhaps you’ll discover a new talent and work your way up to the red routes. Even if you don’t take it that far, there’s a huge range of moderate blue routes all over the country. So, do you fancy it? Let me know your plans in the comments!
I’m always glad of my super lightweight camera on long bike rides – read more in Adventures with a Little Camera.
Cycling and camping together? Make this folding waste bin for your tent.
I produced this blog post as part of a paid relationship with Halfords. All opinions are my own.
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If you have bought yourself a “proper” camera then you will no doubt be hoping to get better shots with that than you did with just your phone. We all keep reading that smartphone cameras are getting better, so the pressure is on to prove the value of other cameras.
Optical zoom lenses
The first and simplest thing which your “proper” camera can do better is to zoom. I’m talking about optical zoom, where the lens on the camera changes the perspective, not a digital zoom which is just an in-camera crop. The vast majority of compacts, bridge cameras and the most popular DSLR lenses all have a decent optical zoom. (You can get fixed focal length lenses which have different benefits, but they’re not as commonplace).
Most phones don’t have optical zoom, and the ones that do are extremely limited. That is because a phone is thin, and you just cannot fit enough glass into that tiny space. I explained more about this in “Better Photos with a Phone Camera; the Limits of Zoom”
What to do with your zoom?
You can get some lovely wildlife shots with a long telephoto lens, but there’s much more to it than that. Don’t use zoom as an excuse to save you the trouble of walking closer to your subject. It’s not like your TV remote, allowing you to sit on your backside!
Optical zoom can compress the perspective of the image. That makes things which are far away look as if they are really close to the things that are nearby. This can have a beautiful effect when you are taking a photo of a long avenue of trees, or a distant range of hills.
Zoom can also make your product and still life shots more interesting by getting rid of mismatched sizes and making things look more realistic. In the pictured example of the tea set the first shot is taken with slightly wide angle. It’s approximately the same wide angle as the average phone camera. The tea cup in front looks strangely large, and the big jug at the back looks too small. It doesn’t look realistic.
The second photo is taken with almost 300mm telephoto zoom. Everything in the tea set is now in proportion, and it’s more pleasing that way. It’s a much higher quality image.
Take a look at the flatlay of the tea set and you will see how spread out it all is. That shows what a difference the optical zoom can make. That’s what I mean about compressing the perspective when you use optical zoom.
Tips and Issues with Optical Zoom
300mm telephoto zoom is a big zoom, and it does introduce a few problems. It’s hard to get everything in focus and camera shake is a risk. But you don’t need to go to town with a massive zoom like this, just a bit of optical zoom will improve a shot. Next time you’re in a restaurant and you want a photo of your meal, walk about six feet away and zoom in. I think you’ll be pleased with the result.
You can also get lovely portraits using a bit of zoom. This works especially well to get nice candid outdoor shots of young children. The can be more natural when they don’t feel the camera is intruding.
Focus tips: When your taking a zoomed shot of a variety of objects, focus about one third of the distance into the shot. For the telephoto shot of the tea set I focused on the left-hand cup, and not all the tea set is in focus. For more about focus, read the previous blog in this series, “Photography in Auto Mode part 2; Using Focus Points”
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I’m going to show you some detail about how I took photos for one of my recent blog posts. Earlier this week I published “Teenagers Bedroom Makeover with Grey, Marble and Copper“. I decided to take the photos for this blog post using my android phone which is an LG G6.
Here are the reasons I am using a phone instead of my Canon DSLR or my Sony:
Extreme wide angle photos
The LG G6 phone is unusual because it has a very wide angle option on the camera; much wider than any lens I have for another camera. Belle’s bedroom is far smaller than it looks in the photos. Even by squashing myself against the opposite wall, I was struggling to fit in the top and bottom of the tall furniture with a regular camera lens.
Great interior natural light
Usually I wouldn’t be using a phone as it would risk the quality of my photos in poor indoor light. However not only was it a very bright sunny day but Belle’s room is almost entirely white and the light diffused very evenly through the slats in the white blind.
The LG G6 has manual functions
I figured that if I struggled to get good photos on auto then I could switch to manual. On the LG G6 I can adjust ISO and shutter speed most easily, and it’s possible to get quite a lot of control. However the room was so bright I didn’t bother in the end.
I don’t need very fine quality pixels in the final shot
The quality of my DSLR is noticeably better than any phone when I blow a photo up large. However for photos published on the internet, 1920 pixels wide is almost always going to be more than enough. There is more than enough quality when using a phone for that purpose.
Using a phone with bendy edges
With very wide angle shots all the vertical edges in the shot bend unnaturally. This does look quite weird. It is worse at the edges of the photo. I used the distortion adjustment slider to reduce the effect, although I can’t get rid of it completely.
Have you ever tried extreme wide angle photography? Tell me about it in the comments.
Related reading: How to Fake it as an Interiors Photographer