Creative Exposure

Creative Exposure

We already know the three basic elements of our camera that affect the exposure. In this article, we are going to discuss the effect of each element, how they are going to affect our images and the pro and cons of the different settings.


An aperture is the opening of our lens that can be adjusted to change the diameter of the opening. Given that there are many combinations of aperture and shutter speed setting that will give us correct exposure, what aperture are we going to use to give us best result? Are all apertures giving us same result besides affecting faster or slower shutter speed? The answer is definitely no. Let’s look at the effect of aperture setting:

The larger aperture like F2.8 besides giving a lot of light to go through the lens, it has a very nice effect of creating shallow depth of field that allows us to isolate the main subject and make it stand out from the background. Large apertures are typically used in portrait photography when we want to make the person very sharp against the blurry background.


On the other hand, the small aperture like F16, F22 or smaller will give us more depth of field, meaning more area or distance behind or in front of the focus point will appear in focus or sharp. This is typically desired in landscape photography where we would like to see both foreground and background clearly.


Shutter speed

Shutter speed is the time duration of opening and closing of the shutter. How does it affect the image? Well, a fast shutter speed like 1/400 of a second has the ability to freeze the moment. For wild life or animal photography, in order to achieve sharp images, the shutter speed has to be fast due to the fast moving subject. Similarly for sport photography, fast shutter speed has to be used if sharp image is the priority. On the other hand, slow shutter speed sometime is more desired as slightly blur image shows the speed, the motion of the subject better than sharp images.

Slow shutter speed sometime can be used to create artistic images to show the mood, the atmosphere. For water scene like waterfall or wave, slow shutter speed that produce silky, misty water surface are worth to try out.



Does ISO affect the quality of the images? The answer is definitely yes. That is because although high ISO allow us to take images under low light situation, there is a side effect of producing noise in the image that often are not desired. Higher ISO will produce more noise than low ISO. It is good practice to test out the high ISO image quality of your camera. However, it is better to get a slightly noisy image than a blur image so crank up the ISO if necessary. There are few photography software like lightroom or neatimage that can reduce the noise in your images while maintain certain level of details and quality.

Exposure elements

Exposure elements

In my last article, I explained what the basic of exposure is. In this article, we are going to go beyond that to understand further. We are going to go through the three elements namely Aperture, Shutter speed and ISO that affect the exposure.


What is aperture? An aperture is a hole or an opening of your lens that can be adjusted to make the opening larger or small to control the amount of light reaching the film or image sensor.


We are not going to the details of the F number or how it is calculated. However, the important thing to remember is the smaller the F number like F1, F1.4, F2, F2.8, the larger the aperture opening, the larger the number like F16, F22, F32, the smaller the aperture opening.

Shutter Speed

At the back of the camera between the lens and the film/sensor, there is a shutter curtain which opens when the photograph is taken. Shutter speed or exposure time is the effective length of time a camera’s shutter is open.

1/8000, 1/4000, 1/2000, 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, ¼, ½, 1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 30

These are typical shutter speed a camera supports ranging from 1/8000 second to 30 seconds.

Below is the cross section view of a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera. You can see the opening of the lens which is the aperture and the shutter which open and close when taking photo.



The ISO in photography is the sensitivity of the film or image sensor to the light

Higher ISO numbers like ISO 1600, IO 3200 mean the sensor is more sensitive to the light. Lower ISO number like ISO 100 or ISO 200 mean the sensor is less sensitive to the light.


These three elements work together to determine the exposure and there are many combinations of these three elements that will produce “correct” exposure, meaning producing image close to 18 % gray.

For example, under certain condition and giving a fixed ISO number of say ISO 400, an aperture setting of F8 with shutter speed of 1/125 will give us correct exposure. If we change the aperture setting to say F5.6, the shutter speed that will give us correct exposure is 1/250.

ISO Aperture Shutter speed
400 F8 1/125
400 F5.6 1/250
400 F4 1/500


In another word, the amount of light doubles going from F8 to F5.6 and from F5.6 to F4. The amount of light also double from shutter speed of 1/500 to 1/250 and to 1/125.  We can complete this calculation with the following:

The amount of light reaching sensor doubles following the arrow direction:

Aperture: F22, F16, F11, F8, F5.6, F4, F2.8

Shutter speed: 1/8000, 1/4000, 1/2000, 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, ¼, ½, 1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 30

ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400

Fortunately all the modern camera have auto mode feature to auto set the ISO, aperture and speed for us. If we would like more control, there are manual mode or semi manual mode like aperture priority and shutter speed priority where we set one of the value and the camera will automatically decide the other setting for us. We will talk more about that in next article.

Photography – Exposure


What is exposure?

Exposure is simply the amount of light capturing on photosensitive material like film or digital sensor.

What is correct exposure?

How much light should hit the sensor for how long?

How does the camera determine the “correct exposure? The camera has a small device inside called exposure meter or light meter that measure the amount of light hitting the sensor. It is the cumulative of light over a  duration that results in total amount of light falling on the sensor. The camera compares the result of total amount of light with a standard that is equivalent to 18 percent gray. Brighter than 18% gray, the camera will treat it as over exposed. Darker than 18% gray, the camera will treat it as under exposed.

Here is the example of 18% gray.


Will the camera meter always give us correct exposure all the time?

Well, the answer is no and that is why the decent camera will have those manual buttons for us to override the setting provided by the camera.

The camera exposure metering is based on 18% gray so it provides the setting (aperture and shutter speed combination) to produce 18% gray or the mid-tone photo. Do we want all out photos to look like 18% gray mid-tone? Definitely no. Sometime we want white, sometime we want black.

For the extreme cases below, when we take the photo for the black board or the white board. What do we get straight out from the camera? Gray, 18% gray.



Without doing anything or just using the auto mode from the camera, we are going to get under or over exposure photos under these condition. How do we change it? We can compensate for it with the exposure compensation button +/- of most camera since we know the reason behind the wrong exposure setting of the camera.

For the black board example, our camera thought it is under exposed if it give us black because it wants to give us gray and that result in over exposed photo. What we need to do is simply subtract light by compensate to the – side.

For the white board example, it is the opposite that our camera thought it is over exposed if it give us white because it wants to give us gray and that result in under exposed photo. What we need to do is simply add light by compensate to the + side.


This applies to the scenario of beach, snow, water reflection or white wall background. Our camera meter will think it is very bright and will under expose the shot, we need to add light by compensate + to make white white and not gray.

On the other hand, in the case of black wall or subject with dark background, our camera meter will think it is not bright enough and will over expose the shot, we need to subtract light by compensate – to make black black and not gray.

Where to learn photography?

There are many places/options where you can learn photography.

With digital camera and internet, photography knowledge has become much more affordable to learn and much more accessible to everyone.

Learn from photography books.

There are tons of photography books out there. Try to start with your local library, the books there may be old but you will still learn a lot from those books as the fundamental of photography does not changed much. The basic of getting proper exposure is critical regardless whether it is film or digital. You can also go visit your local book store to browse through the more up-to-date books and magazines. Subscribe to monthly magazine is also a good idea as most magazines will cover different basic fundamentals and new techniques in each issue. Online book store is another option to search for good photography books and you can read the review before buying.

Learn from the internet and YouTube

Nowadays you can learn almost anything from the internet. Just do a search in Google or YouTube and you can find many tutorials and tips and many of them are free of charge.  However, the free information available sometime is less organized and less comprehensive compared to paid version of online courses, videos and DVDs. There are also many free eBooks available online thanks to many generous contributors who are willing to share their knowledge.

Learn from local photography society and social media group

In most towns or cities, there are local photography societies that offer basic photography classes that are either free or at a low price for their members.  Try to find out what photography societies are available in your area. It will be also beneficial just to join the outing or photograph sharing session.

With the popularity of social media like Facebook, it is easier than before to find groups of people having same interests and passion as you. Create a Facebook account if you have not, you can search within Facebook to find photography groups that are active in your area. It will be fun just to learn from each other.

Attend photography workshop

Another option for you is to attend photography workshops. This might cost more but a good workshop from the pro will be worth the price. Depends on topic, the workshop could be 1 day workshop, 2 day workshop to maybe a whole week. Do your research for the workshops available in your area and pay attention to the feedback or review, especially feedback from your society members or group members.

There are also many online workshops, some are free and some charge quite a bit but typically online workshop will be less expensive.

One of the well-known names of online photography course is CreativeLive. Most of their online courses are scheduled on weekend. All you need to do is register in advance and spare a couple days of your time. Creativelive features top professional photographers from various fields including world class professional wedding photographers, commercial photographers, fashion photographers, portrait and family photographers. Other topics like photoshop editing, retouching and many other courses related to photography knowledge, post-production, photography business are also available. Check out their website for coming courses and you can watch it live free. Yes, all the courses are free to watch when they broadcast it live. If you like the course, you can opt to purchase the DVDs at a reasonable price.

Where to learn photography? There are certainly many other places and options you can start learning photography including going to college if you are serious about making photography as your career.

Where to sell photos online?

Sell photos online is probably easier than you think! There are many online sites you can sell your photos and most of them cost you nothing to get started. If you are thinking to make some extra bulks from your hobby to contribute to your next photography trip or new gear, it is worth to check out the sites listed below. However, if you are thinking to make a living from selling photo online, it will require a lot of hard works as well as ability to produce good quality photos. It is achievable but very challenging as it is a very competitive market now in terms of number of contributors selling photos and number of photos already available online.

Stock photo agency sites

These stock photo sites are the agents that host the photos for their contributors, i.e. the photographers or visual artists. They fulfill the needs of their customers such as advertisement companies, designers, publishers and any companies or individual who needs the photos for their creative assignments. Instead of hiring photographer and models to shoot a specific photo, these customers can choose from millions of stock photos that already available and usually at a lower cost. Stock photo sites can be categorized into right-managed stock (traditional stock photo) and royalty-free stock (micro stock)

Differences between Right-Managed and Royalty-Free

Rights-managed offers photo contents to be rented out through discussion of the specific fee for a particular use. It grants clients specific rights and the right to prevent others from using it.

The royalty-free model permits customers unlimited use, in which they only have to pay royalties for the first purchase. This significantly cuts down on the prices and allows much more freedom in using the content licensed.

Royalty free micro stock sites:

  • Shutterstock:
    • US site based in NY city
    • The leading micro stock sites hosting over 100 million stock photos and illustrations. Photographers need to get accepted as contributors through initial review.
    • Offer subscription as well as per image download
  • Istockphoto:
    • Canada stock photo site based in Calgary. Acquired by Getty Image in 2006
    • The first and well established micro stock photo site. It offers exclusive program for photographers to contribute exclusively to them, the return is higher royalty rate.
    • Offer subscription as well as per image download
  • Dreamtime
    • US microstock photo site based in Tennessee
    • Sell photo and get 25%-60% of every sale.
    • No subscription, only offer per image download now.
  • Fotolia
    • A microstock photo agency that is based inNew York
    • Offer both subscription and per image download
  • 123rf
    • A microstock photo site with HQ in Hong Kong
    • Offer both subscription and per image download

Right-managed macro stock sites:

  • Alamy
    • A right-managed stock site based in United Kingdom
      • Also offer royalty free model now
    • Royalty rate for photographer is very attractive at 50%
    • Photo quality requirement is generally higher than royalty free micro stock sites and the royalty per image use is usually much higher. However, sales/downloads are less frequent.
  • Getty Image
    • A right-managed stock site based in Seattle, USA.
    • Acquired Istockphoto in 2006, offer royalty free stock photos as well.

Print On Demand (POD) sites:

These sites allow photographers to sell prints through their printing and finishing. Photographers get paid the mark-up price for their photos whenever customers purchased the photo print, canvas print, and metal print or with other finishing like framing, etc.

  • Fine Art America
    • A leading site on fine art photo printing.
    • Photographer can start with free account which allows them to have 25 photos available for sale. Premium account cost US$30 a year and it allows unlimited number of photos submission plus many other cool features, including a personalized website.
  • Redbubble and Zazzle

Where to get free pictures for blogs?

Where to get free pictures for blogs?

A picture tells a thousand words!  That is very true, a relevant picture will help give the reader idea what the blog or article is all about. That is why many bloggers like to add pictures to their post. Beside this, the colour and shapes in the pictures will also make the post more visual pleasing, more engaging and help the post stands out from the rest.

The question is where do we find pictures that are relevant and free to use? Although we can easily find tons of pictures in the internet by clicking o f a button, we must carefully select pictures that are relevant to our topics and more importantly make sure they are copy right free before using them on our blog.

Below are some places where you can find free pictures. Make sure you carefully check from the sites the licensing, usage restriction, terms and condition on any pictures you plan to use in your blog.


  1. XCHNG : Considered by many as the world’s leading free stock photo site. Hundreds of thousands of free stock photos available. You can search by categories or by keywords.


  1. Flickr: A place where many people store and share pictures online.

It is a good resource for pictures but the pictures belong to each individual member. Check the Creative Commons license of each picture before use. Some can only be used for non-commercial purposes, some require you give the photographers credit, etc.


  1. Dreamtime: A micro stock site which also has a free section that offers free stock photos. Check out their easy to use interface. Can’t find what you are looking for? You can opt for paying a small fee and there are tons of high resolution pictures available here.


  1. StockVault: A site offers more than 38,000 free pictures


  1. FreeRangeStock: A site where photographers shares their pictures for free but rewards with the site’s advertisement revenue.


  1. Google creative commons image search: Use Google’s image search to find creative common image. Go to google image search’s advanced image search option and under the usage rights choose “free to use, share, even commercially” for example.


  1. Microsoft’s offers some nice free pictures and clip arts.


  1. FreePhoto: A site that offers > 130,000 free pictures for private non-commercial use on the internet.


  1. Wylio: A site that let you find free pictures for your blog. A relatively new site but the search is easy to use.


  1. Lastly, why not capture the picture yourself? With high quality, high resolution digital camera getting cheaper and cheaper, it may be good idea to invest in a camera, the basic fundamental knowledge of digital photography as well as photo editing. Check back often for information on these topics.

Well, there are many other sites that offer free pictures but the list above should help you get started and know where to get free pictures for blog.

Travel Photography – Tibet

In 2011, I had the chance to travel to majestic Tibet, roof of the world, for two weeks. Here I would like to share some of the photos I captured during the trip.

Potala Palace, the world’s highest and most magnificent palace is the most important symbol of Lhasa and Tibet. The palace is mainly composed of the Red Palace and the White palace, the highest in the middle of the Red Palace is an important place for religious ceremonies. The White House is mainly for the Dalai Lama’s daily and political activities. There are a number of annexes as well. Visiting route to the Potala Palace is fixed so you can only go along the travel route guide.

Mount Everest, is the world’s highest mountain. Its peak is 8,848 metres (29,029 ft) above sea level. Mount Everest is located in the Mahalangur mountain range in Nepal. The Everest’s summit point is part of the international border between China and Nepal.

Rongbuk monastery, a Tibetan Nyingma monastery, located at elevation of about 5100 meters, is the world’s highest monastery. Rongbuk Monastery is near the north Mount Everest (the world’s highest mountain) base camp. View from here toward south, you can see Mount Everest like a huge pyramid, towering among the world’s highest peaks, magnificent. Rongbuk Monastery is only about 20 km from Mount Everest, since ancient times, the Tibetan people has regarded Mount Everest as the God. Visitors can stay overnight at the monastery. It is a wonderful place for photographer. The view is absolute breathtaking. You could take photos from dusk to dawn, including star-trail and Milkyway photo if you are lucky enough.

Mount Kailash is the main peak of the Gangdese Mountains in China, the second peak of the Gangdese Mountains in China. It is one of the most beautiful and top ten most famous mountains in China. It is 6656 meters above sea level and it lies near the Sutlej River, the Indus River, the Karnali River and the Brahmaputra River. It is considered a sacred mountain in some of the oldest religions in Asia including Bon, Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.


Tibetan Plateau

Average elevation of Tibetan Plateau exceeds 4,500 metres; it is sometimes called the Third Pole (the third pole besides North Pole and South Pole) . It is the world’s highest and largest plateau that contains the headwaters of most of the streams in surrounding regions. It has tens of thousands of glaciers and travelling across the plateau means you are likely to go through some of the most winding roads of the world as you can see from the photos below.


Yamdrok Lake

Yamdrok Lake is called the most beautiful water in the world. The Tibetan means ‘green jade lake on the pasture’. Yamdrok is known as one of the sacred lakes. It is the nearest sacred Lake to Lhasa (only two to three hours drive) and is accessible all year around. The lake is partially freezes during winter. The source of its water comes from the surrounding snow-capped mountains and there is no outlet for the lake water. The water level is maintained by the vaporization.

Useful tips for portrait photography

Useful tips for portrait photography

Portrait Lens

What lenses are best or more suitable for portrait photography?

Usually the mid-tele lens ranges from 70mm – 135mm to 200mm are best for portraits because of its less distortion and more flattering characteristic.

Check out Stephen Eastwood’s web site for the effect of lens distortion. He has nice images of head shots  taken with lenses from 19mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, 100mm, 135mm, 200mm, 230mm to 350mm. You can clearly see the effect of lens on the model’s face. The wider the lens, the more distortion you will get.


Camera level when shooting portrait

To get normal perspective with mid-tele lens, for half length shot, shoot at the chest level as shown below:


For full length shot, shoot at lower level close to waist level as shown in the picture below:


However, you could try shoot from lower angle to lengthen the legs if you would like to make the person looks taller in the picture.


Catch light

Catch light is the bright spot or reflection in the eyes. It adds energy and liveliness to the portraits.

Here are some examples of portraits with catch light.


The question is how to get or create catch light?

Well, the eyes have to face the bright area. For indoor, the window especially large window will create beautiful catch light when the eyes are facing the bright window. For outdoor, you could look for bright building, patch of light in the part, sky or any reflective surface. If you can find any of those, the last resort is to use fill flash to create one.

Here is an example of portrait with and without catch light, same location, same time.


Best time to take portrait photo?

  • Early morning and later evening
    • Low angled light, softer light that eliminate the hash shallow
    • Warmer, golden light
  • Bright overcast day
    • The overcast sky will be like a giant softbox that soften the harsh sun light
    • Overcast day is good for flower shots too
  • What about bright sunny midday?
    • Sun is a tiny light source in this case that will create harsh shallow.
    • Look for open shade to avoid the harsh shallow or try backlit shot instead.
  • For indoor, as long as there is enough window light which is not direct sun light.

The basic rule is the larger the light source, the softer and better the light, the smaller the light source like the bright sunny day sun (sun is huge but in this case it is like a small dot of light source), the harsher the light. The closer to the large light source like the window, the softer the light.

One useful tip is when photography baby or kids, place them closer to the large window and the light will wrap around their face, creating beautiful light with very smooth transition from highlight to shadow.

Angle of View

Change your angle of view. Do not always shoot at your eye level.

The angle of view we are talking here is not how much area the lens can cover but rather the view difference caused by pointing the angle of the camera and lens.

When taking photo, most people will just hold the camera at their eye level while standing straight, that is why most photos’ angle of view looks similar. What we need to do is from time to time change the angle of view by trying low angle and high angle to get different perspective.

Below are some examples of low angle shot. As you can see, low angle shot can really bring a strong visual impact. Note that the low-angle shots are not purely bottom-up, horizontal angle shots close to the ground from the main subject can also be regarded as a low-angle shot.

p27   p26



These are shot from camera level very close to the ground and pointing upwards. Combine with using wide angle lens, the images emphasise and exaggerate the distance and the how high the beach volleyball players or the lion dancer jump.

Another useful tip is when photographing kids or pets, try lowering you camera level until same level as them. Shoot at their eye level to see their world instead of very common and boring adults’ view point from high to low.

p21 p22


A nice bonus for lowering your camera level is you will get nice reflection if the surface of the floor is shining and reflective as shown in the photo below. The trick is moving your camera very close to the shinning surface as if the camera almost touching surface.


See how wonderful the reflection is that add interests to the image.

High angle shots are basically taken by camera level relatively higher than the main subjects and usually pointing downwards.

Below are some examples of high angle shot.




For some sport event like the dragon boat race in the photo above, it is nice to move to higher ground to shoot from top so that the subjects (dragon boats in this case) are separated instead of merging together when shot from same level as the boat.


Photography is art, but it is also like science that requires different experiments and many attempts to find the right angle and composition. Have fun, go out and try shooting from different angles that you never tried before.

Photography Basics – Where to focus?

Today we are going to talk about some simple tips for you to get tack sharp photograph for both portraits and landscape photography.

For serious portrait photography, very often we are going to use large aperture to get shallow depth of field. The purpose is to isolate the main subject to make it stand out from the background (especially in limited space with distractive background). With shallow depth of filed, where do we place the camera’s focus point to focus is becoming important.

Where do we focus for portrait shot?

Full length portrait shot

p16 Focus on the face

As shown in the photo above, the best point to focus to get sharp, in focus image is to focus on the face as the most important part of portrait is the face which has to be in focus.

For half-length portrait shot or head shot

If we move in closer to the subject, focus on the face is no longer sufficient especially if we are using large aperture which has very shallow depth of field. Relatively, eyes are more important than other features in portrait so we need to focus on the eyes. Eyes in sharp focus with out of focus nose or lips are better than out of focus eyes.

If the subject is close to the camera and is not squarely facing the camera (which is nice to have in portrait photography to create more flattering image), the tips is to focus on the eye that is closer to camera. Under this situation, we are not able to keep both eyes in focus if we are using larger aperture and the solution is just keep the closest eye in focus and sharp.

Below are some examples of where to focus for half-length portraits:

p17 Focus on the eye / closest eye

p18 Focus on the closest eye

Many photographers are used to use the center auto-focus point; half press the shutter release to focus and then recompose to get better composition before releasing the shutter to take the shot. This is generally okay for most shots except when extreme shallow depth of field is introduced by lens with every large aperture like F2.8 and below. Slight change of plane of focus can cause the image to be soft due to out of focus. The better solution is to switch the camera’s auto-focus point.


Where should we focus when taking landscape photography?

For landscape photography, generally we would like to keep almost everything in focus, from foreground to the background in distance. To achieve this, we need to dial down the aperture setting by using small aperture, i.e. F11, F16 and F22. Besides the aperture setting to get the maximum depth of field possible, where we focus also play a role to get more range in focus.



The general guideline is to focus on a point that is one-third of the way into the scene to get the maximum depth of field. Focus closer if there is obvious foreground that you think must be sharp. For landscape that has a specific point of interest, you may ignore this general guideline and place your focus point on the main subject instead.