This post contains sponsored and affiliate links. It is Belle’s 13th birthday this Spring and she asked use if she could have a bedroom makeover as a gift from us, her parents. We thought this was a good idea as her room was still decorated in the pale orange and teddy bear stencils which we had put up before she was born. I don’t think a teenager’s bedroom looks right with teddy bear stencils! Colours and accents Belle chose colours and patterns. She wanted white walls with one grey accent wall. I was apprehensive as grey is the colour of rainclouds, gloom and John Major’s spitting image puppet. I thought a white room would be cold like living in an igloo. When the grey went on the wall I was…View Post
I’m going to share my autofocus tips in this blog for people who are using phone cameras, DSLRs on auto mode or any other camera on auto mode. All cameras have focus points and they can be used creatively.
Like me, you want to take better photos (does that feeling ever go?) but I’m not going to launch straight in on a lecture about aperture/shutter speed/ISO. The technical waffle can wait. Instead I want to help you point and shoot better, as a first step. I think that if you get some quick wins, that you’ll feel more confident and enthusiastic. Then you’ll be happier to learn more detail later.
In the previous blog we started with holding your camera right. It’s much more important than you think, and this applies to DSLRs, phones and every camera in between. My favourite tip from last week is to hold the camera lower, at waist or chest level for a more interesting shot.
Easy Focus shouldn’t mean Sloppy Focus
Focusing may seem obvious but so many people miss it. In fact it’s becoming a real problem on BBC news where they often focus on the building behind the person who is talking. It’s distracting.
Smartphone camera focus
If you don’t know already, then on a phone you just need to tap the screen on the point where you want it to focus. As soon as the sun comes out, Instagram is full of ice cream cones being held up with a view behind. I’ve done it myself! You want the ice cream to be in focus, and the background can be blurry. So get your thumb to tap the ice cream on the screen before you shoot.
Central focus points and half button press
With a DSLR or other camera you have more options. Use the focus points that you can see on the screen or through the viewfinder. This is usually a square, cross or some dots in the centre of the image. Your shutter button can be pressed half way down, and it will focus on those centre points. If you’ve never tried pressing the shutter button half way and holding it before, then practice this as it’s so useful. It doesn’t take a picture until you press it all the way down.
Here’s the trick you want to use: Put the focus points over the person or object that you most want to be in sharp focus, press the shutter button half way down, hold it, and move the camera slightly to re-frame your image. Then press the button harder and it takes the shot.
In the example with the tea set (pictured) the camera naturally wants to focus in the middle which is the distant fence and not the tea set itself. So I point the camera at the teapot, press the button halfway, hold it, move the camera back into position and finish pressing the button.
Intelligent Auto Focus
Many cameras in auto mode have facial recognition and intelligent focus. The camera may figure out for itself that you don’t want to focus on the fence in the background. It will draw a box or a cross over the area where it thinks you want to focus. That is great as long as it gets it right. Watch to see where it highlights for a focus area each time. This will help you learn how your camera is “thinking”.
In my family we have a number of photography enthusiasts and several very different cameras between us. When I swap with someone else I always have to re-think what I am doing. The only way I can get consistent results with different cameras is by developing a good personal discipline of always watching the detail on the camera display. It’s a good habit to start. In auto mode your camera is making a lot of clever guesses. When you regularly don’t get what you want in auto mode, then you’re ready to learn something new.
Do you often get the wrong part of your shot in focus? Let me know how you get on with these tips.
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There is finally a bit of Spring colour about. The trees are so late budding but this gave me an opportunity to take this view of Knaresborough castle without it being too much hidden by the trees.
Last week I posted the blog “Photography in Auto Mode – Tips for Improving Photos” which is the start of a new blog series. In that blog post I talked about how much you can improve a photo by taking it from lower down, such as from waist level. For this flower bed I’ve gone even lower. My foot has recovered enough from surgery to allow me to crouch sometimes, so that’s good!
Knaresborough for Visitors
Knaresborough is a charming North Yorkshire town with very ancient history, wonderful views down into the gorge, steep paths and quaint alleys to explore and some good tea shops. Not to be missed if you’re ever nearby! It’s also famous for the bed race. Teams of runners push a hospital bed (with someone on it) on a course around the town streets, against the clock. It’s immensely competitive and people come from all over the world to see it or take part.
The Knaresborough bed race takes place on the second Saturday in June. If you want to plan a visit you can use this discount code for £25 off accommodation with AirBnb or find more options for family travel on my Shop page.
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Taking a trip from one coast to another is a fun challenge. It is satisfying to tick off the miles seeing the sights from sea to shining sea. In the north of England the distance between coasts is not far. The Roman Emperor Hadrian picked one of the narrowest points of the British Isles for his wall, and accidentally invented a coast to coast route.
Coast to coast in a family car
While the Roman armies may have marched energetically all along Hadrian’s wall, I’m going to make this a bit easier and suggest a coast to coast road trip by car. I’ve picked a route which expands on Hadrian’s idea. There are so many things to do between Newcastle and the Lake District coast. Taking in Northumberland and Cumbria, this really is a fabulous area for a family holiday.
1. Enjoy Music at the Sage
The Sage arts venue is a stunning building in Gateshead with regular music events for all ages. It’s worth a visit just to admire the amazing architecture and the views along the waterfront.
2. Try out Falconry
One of many fun things to do in Newcastle is to take part in a falconry activity, which doesn’t need to cost a fortune if you book through Groupon. It’s special to get up close to some amazing birds of prey and to learn to fly them from the professionals.
3. Photograph exotic animals
One more Newcastle activity I found on Groupon before we move on to the next location: Improve your photography at a workshop with a difference. Your models for the event are exotic animals. Combine your love of animals and photography while getting some unique shots.
4. Explore a Roman Fort
There are endless chances to discover Roman remains on this route but Vindolanda Fort is one of the biggest Roman sites. Built to garrison the army guarding the wall, discoveries are still being made there.
5. Swim outdoors at Haltwhistle
This little northern town with a cute name has three heated outdoor swimming pools. There aren’t many outdoor pools in the north so it’s quite special, and there’s a nice flume too. It’s run by the council so it’s great value and a popular tourist attraction.
6. Cycle in the North Pennines
I’m going to share a secret with you – there is better family cycling here than there is in the cycling capital of the Yorkshire Dales. As it’s “just” an AONB (not a national park) the North Pennines has less tourists and very few cars. This AONB is as big as the Dales and as beautiful as any area of the Pennine chain, yet quieter.
7. Visit Carlisle Castle
I don’t know about you, but for us no family holiday is complete without a castle visit. Carlisle has a nice big castle which has been on this strategic point near the Scottish border for over 900 years.
8. Get out on a Lake
Hire a canoe and have an adventure in the Lake district. Or if you don’t want to risk getting wet, take a ride on an historic steam boat.
9. Ride a Narrow Gauge Railway
We do love our railway treats! From the Lake District coast at Ravenglass you can catch the La’al Ratty miniature steam train for a ride of 7 miles up to Eskdale. Explore the beautiful meadows in the hill country and ride back again.
Do you like the idea of taking a coast to coast trip in this part of the world? Perhaps you’re located north of here and actually this is “coast to coast” in the south! Let me know in the comments.
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More road trips on the blog: How we planned our American Midwest road trip.
I’ve had some people get in touch with me recently to say they are shooting photos in auto but would like to know how to use more of their camera functions to get the most from it. Some people have DSLRs, others have bridge cameras or similar. All of these have an auto mode. Also phone photography is 99% shot on auto as well. There’s a lot of photography on auto mode going on.
If you one of these “stuck on auto” photographers, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are taking bad photos. It is possible to shoot great photos on auto. Perhaps you understand the limitations of your camera and work well within those. Or you might just be lucky.
Auto mode is designed to make you lucky. Somewhere in the world there are labs full of software engineers busting a gut to make your camera really damn lucky!
Is Learning Manual Mode Important?
A lot of people find that learning manual mode is a bit of a slog. It’s not a quick win; it does take quite a bit of time to get to grips. There are three things to control at once, which are the “exposure triangle” of ISO, shutter speed and aperture. On top of that you’re thinking about your composition and focus. By the time you’ve done all that the butterfly has flown away or your child is tired of smiling and you have missed the shot.
If you’ve got an expensive DSLR then I think you really should plan to learn how it works. Don’t squander your investment. If you have a cheaper camera or even just use a phone, it’s worth learning this too. Once you have this knowledge it will serve you well when you’re using any camera in any mode, because you will understand how light is captured. You can have lots of insight into all the modes on your camera, and also better understand how your camera is “guessing” in auto mode.
Starting with Auto Mode and Improving from there
While learning all about your DSLR is on your “to do” list, there are plenty of ways to improve your auto mode photography. I’m going to share a few of my favourite tips over the course of the next few weeks.
Today I have some tips on how to hold your camera right. This is really worth thinking about.
Get a level photo.
If your horizon is wonky, your photo immediately looks faulty. It’s off-putting to the viewer. I do this all the time and I joke that I have right-hand dropsy disease. In fact it’s really easy to fix. Every half decent editing programme has a rotate function. Often it’s within the crop function, like on Lightroom. On my phone I have Snapseed, and it’s under Tools->Rotate.
Get a steady photo
Hold your camera as still as you can. Keep your feet firmly planted, your elbows close to your body. It could still be blurry if there is not enough light. In auto mode when it’s gloomy, the camera will leave the shutter open for long enough to pick up tiny shakes from your body. So make sure there’s good light.
Camera shake happens at a different point for different people and situations. Some people just have steady hands. Also if you use zoom then you will risk more camera shake. A wide angle shot – such as you get with your phone – is less likely to have camera shake. I’ll write more about using shutter speed for sharpness in future. For now the first step to solve this in auto mode is to use plenty of light.
Hold your camera lower
Your waist can really transform your shots! Chest or waist level is usually a better place to hold your camera than at eye level. It makes for a more interesting perspective, and it also eliminates some strange diagonal effects that come from looking down on subjects.
A lower angle will give you a more interesting composition. Test this out next time you’re taking a photo of a table laid with food. Take one shot from eye level and another from your waist.
Next week I’ll have some more tips for better photography with auto modes. Keep following for more tips in this series.