Photo Tips

by Nature Photographer Garry Conway

Magic Hour

Well, it’s more like a magic 15 minutes. I saw this first in a book on Gardens by Freeman Patterson. When he photographed the gardens he did so just after sun set. There is about a 15 minute period after the sun goes down or before it rises when the lighting is very even, few shadows and low contrast. This moment gives photographs a very lovely soft light effect.

Photographs too light or dark?

Most cameras have a button on them that adjusts the exposure called Exposure Value Compensation. If your camera doesn’t have it as a button it might be available through one of the menu choices. Once pressed or selected a graphic bar will appear on screen. If you move the centre mark right toward the plus sign the next shot you take will be lighter. If you move it toward the minus sign the next shot will be darker. This is very useful in tricky lighting situations such as shooting sunsets, snow on a sunny day or water reflections. Keep in mind that some cameras will EVgraphremember this setting after you turn the camera off and when you turn it on again you might wonder why your photo exposures are too light or too dark. Its a very useful tool but remember to reset it back to the centre position when you finish using it.

Moon light photography

Photographing during the two or three days surrounding a full moon can be very rewarding. Pre-plan your outing during the daylight so there won’t be any surprises after dark. For night shots you will need a tripod or other solid surface to place your camera on. Night shooting usually requires slow shutter speeds that will make your photographs blurry if the camera is handheld. If you are shooting landscapes you will want an area that is well lit by the moon and they will require slower shutter speeds. Vary your exposure in order to achieve more dramatic results. You can use the Photographs too light or dark technique above to change the exposure.

If you are photographing the full moon keep in mind that the moon travels quickly across the sky. When using a moderate telephoto lens such as a 200mm you will need at least 125th of a second shutter speed to record the shapes inside the moon and have a clear sharp photograph. You may have to open the lens aperture to a lower number (f-stop) and increase the ISO setting if your photographs are too dark.


The Thirds Rule
When you are composing photographs, mentally divide your viewing screen into thirds – vertically and horizontally (some cameras will show this as an on screen grid). As a general rule your subject should not be in the Centre Third of the frame. Horizon lines should be in the bottom or top third of your frame. If you are trying to show cloud structures or sunset colours then position the horizon line in the bottom third to make the sky take up more of the frame. If your subject is a field then place the horizon line in the top third so the field takes up more of the frame.

Subject Direction
If your subject is moving or suggests movement, where you place the subject in the picture frame can be important. When shooting a person or animal they should be moving into the picture rather than out of it. If the subject is moving from left to right it should be placed in the left third of your frame. Of course the reverse applies. The reason for this is – when a person views your photograph their eyes travel around the image according to clues that you as the photographer have given them. If they see a person walking from left to right and you have placed them in the right side of your photograph, the viewer’s attention will automatically be taken to the right – right out of your photograph.

Composition Rule Number 3
Break the rules frequently. Rules are simply guidelines to help you compose your shot. If I can’t decide how I want to compose a photograph I’ll mentally refer back to the Rules of Composition and often that’s all I need to do to make my decision. That decision might mean breaking the rules or using them. Sometimes breaking the rules is what is needed to get the shot you want.


Achieving sharp well composed close-ups can be challenging. Most close-ups are shot using a macro lens. Nikon cameras refer to this as a micro lens rather than macro. Some cameras will also have a macro setting on the camera shown by an icon that looks like a tulip. Not all cameras have this feature.

One of the challenges when shooting close-ups is deciding where to focus your camera. The focal point needs to be precisely at the location that you want to be in focus. In close-up photography the distance between the front of the image and the back of the images that is in focus (referred to as “depth of field”) is very short and the closer the camera is to the subject the shorter the in-focus distance becomes. When photographing flowers for example, if you focus on the end of the pistil or stamens the base of the petal could be out of focus.

Depth of field can be controlled to some extent by stopping down the cameras aperture. If the camera is set to an aperture opening or f-stop of 2.8 the depth of field will be very short compared to an f-stop setting of 16 or even 22.

In some shots you may want a short depth of field in order to draw attention to the area you want people to view in your photograph, as this will blur the background and foreground, drawing attention to the sharp area.

The f-stop or aperture opening size also controls the amount of light that enters the camera. If you shoot at f22 you or the camera’s automatic function must compensate for this reduced light either by using a slower shutter speed and/or by increasing the ISO.

Most macro photographs are taken with the camera on a tripod in order to prevent camera shake when shooting at slow shutter speeds which may be necessary if you want to increase the depth of field.

Note: A Point and Shot camera with smaller light sensitive cells have more depth of field than a larger DSLR or full frame camera.

Photographing Butterflies

Photographing butterflies requires patience. I have found that when I see a butterfly I want to photograph the first thing I do is take my first photographs from some distance away. I’ll likely not use or even keep these but this provides me with an introduction to the butterfly. I move slowly closer, all the while photographing one or two shots each couple of steps until I reach my optimum distance for the shot I really want. In most situations the butterfly will remain in position as long as your movements are slow and easy, any sudden movement or sounds and the butterfly will move away. Often the butterfly will open its wings and wait for me to take a few good shots before moving on. This doesn’t always work but the butterfly will not stay if you move to quickly or you wait till the last moment before taking the shot, they need to get used to you, the camera and its sounds.

If you are hoping to get a close-up of the butterfly there are a couple of technical considerations. In close-up photography there is very little depth of field (the distance from front to back that is in focus). You can increase the depth of field by using a higher f-stop number on your lens aperture say from f-2.8 to f-16 as an example.

Where you focus is important;

a) if you are trying for a shot of the butterflies head you will want to focus on the front of the butterfly’s head or even the eyes if you can,

b) if you are above the butterfly and shooting down on open wings then try and get your camera as perpendicular to the open wings as possible, this will help you achieve a sharp, in focus shot of the overall wing span,

c) if the wings are closed and it is a side view you want then try and position the camera perpendicular to the side of the closed wing.

As a way of generating interest in your photographs look for unique situations or contexts for your photos, a butterfly feeding, colour contrast between the butterfly and the flower it is feeding on or maybe a torn wing.

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