the tokyomagic list of supersexy wordpress plugins

the tokyomagic list of super sexy wordpress plugins

THE TOKYOMAGIC LIST OF SUPER SEXY WORDPRESS PLUGINS

I’ve been using wordpress for a number of years now and it’s safe to say I have a small of love for it. Aside from a few issues it’s a super useful platform that gives you a large amount of control over your site and has a boat load of plugins that support the main platform. I have used many…….many plugins for different reasons and to different degrees of satisfaction.

The below list is something I wanted to put together for any curious soul and it is in no order of importance. There is only one plugin that I think everyone should have kids with…you’ll find that further down the page. This plugin is the ultimate super sexy wordpress plugin.

So here it is a list of plugins that I use on this site and the reasons why I use them. Some are premium, others are free and some are not here because they proved to be useless or didn’t work.

ADMIN SECTION WORDPRESS PLUGINS

admin section wordpress plugins

Admin Collapse Subpages

If you have multiple pages and posts that sit underneath a parent category and you don’t want to use the default filtering system inside wordpress, then this plugin gives those categories a collapsible + and – sign. It has made shifting through pages a lot easier as there is substantially less pagination to deal with.

Duplicate Page

If you need to duplicate a post or a page, this does exactly that. Handy for posts and pages that have similar setups and saves you time recreating those setups.

Link Checker

If you have a large site with many internal and external links, manually checking links to see if they work is an impossible task. Link checker does this for you and gives you a list of broken links and where they are on your site for you to fix. Will save years of time. Download it, use it.

Envanto Market

If you own wordpress, then you more than likely will have an evanto account. This plugin links directly into your account and allows you to install purchases directly on your site as opposed to download and then uploading them. A simple time saving plugin.

MainWP

If you run multiple sites outside of multi-site setup, you will know the pain of keeping everything updated. This plugin allows you to create a multi-site like setup that will check for out of date plugins, themes and wordpress versions. It’s a bit hit and miss with reliability but it has made updating the sites I run a much easier and less depressing task. It just requires some stability work to be done and it will be a download and use recommendation from me for people in the same boat.

Simple Local Avatars

Having to create a gravatar account for each user to simply have an avatar for that user is just pointless. It apparently has some SEO benefits, but I suspect it only benefits larger more established sites who became established because of their content, not their gravatar account. This plugin allows you to assign an avatar to a user on site. Simple. It works. Download, use it.

WP Hide Plugin Updates and Warnings

A now defunct plugin I use to hide the multiple plugin popup notifications that appear at the top of each page. There needs to be an actual fix inside wordpress to solve this as the more plugins you install the more notification you get and the further down each page you have to scroll to get to the actual content you want to work on.

CONTENT CREATION WORDPRESS PLUGINS

content creation wordpress plugins

WPBakery Page Builder

Page builders. I remember when life was a shortcode mess. There was little difference between hand coding a page and using short codes. Pages were impossible to read and box model control was done on a separate section or via a child theme css file. This was mainly because wordpress never set out in life as a CMS system; it was a blogging platform that was competing with many other platforms for world domination. Shortcodes were the first solution to structuring pages for theme developers.

Then page builders came along and made working with wordpress enjoyable. Effectively they were a development of macromedia’s (now adobe) dreamweaver WYSIWYG editor, except useful. And functional. There are a couple now fighting for domination. I use this page builder as the UI is logical. I’ve tried elementor, and like guttenberg it’s a good idea with poor implementation. Trying to find options to control columns and then control the box model for each column required multiple Google searches. WPBPB I worked out how to use almost straight out of the can. It’s improved over the years and odds on it will slow your page with some unneeded code, but if your site is based on a decent platform like siteground (the one I use) then this additional bloat becomes meaningless. It has a vast array of supporting free and premium feature enriching plugins, but out of the can it works well.

Classic Editor

Guttenberg, the new block based editor/page builder from wordpress was supposed to give a ‘visual composer’ like experience. The reality for me is that it fails miserably as the layout of tools and options are confusing and hidden. It’s a good idea, but with extremely poor implementation. The classic editor plugin gives you the ability to select the classic editor from the point of both page and post creation and editing.

iframe

Iframes are generally old methods of presenting content on pages. The method is now largely frowned on. I use it for very select reasons as creating an iframe in-code on a page.post can be a chore. This plugin creates a short code and does the work for you should you need an iframe.

iThemeland Button For VC

Websites and buttons go hand in hand. They let the user know what is clickable. Most page builders and theme come with some type of button builder. Most of them are utterly useless. This is the only one so far that I have found that is feature rich. The UI will take time to get used to, and is its only downfall, but the buttons it creates are superb and you have full control of effect style, colours/images and the box model.

PanoPress

This plugin is used specifically to display the virtual tours I have produced. Its years out of date, but it still works.

Smash Balloon Instagram Feed

If you want to display your insta feed like I have in the wedding section of the site, this will do just that and in a clean fashion. Simple to use, and I’ve had no problems so far.

TinyMCE Advanced

This plugin adds functionality to wordpresses classic text editor. You can use this plugin to control what you see in the navigation section of the text editor. It’s a staple of many wordpress sites. Download it, use it.

Social Snap

This little plugin creates the social share link you see right underneath this section. Super easy to setup. There is a free and a paid for version.

Timetable

I use this on a client’s site. It’s a responsive timetable plugin that lets you create……timetables. It’s used for class times. It’s a little clunky under the hood and could do with more customisation features but it does the job.

S.E.O. WORDPRESS PLUGINS

seo wordpress plugins

Rank Math SEO

This is a new one for me, an alternative to Yoast SEO. The behemoth of wordpress SEO plugins. For SEO performance I have not had time to assess if it’s any good, but it does have some very nice sitemap and redirection features which mean I don’t need separate plugins for either. The sitemap itself also does not list wordpress core pages from what I can tell, which means the below plugin is not negatively affected by it. Download it, try it, let me know how you get on with it.

SECURITY WORDPRESS PLUGINS

security wordpress plugin

Wordfence

Wordfence is one of the more well used security plugins. It allows me to lock limits and permanently ban (including myself on occasion) any ip attached to a failed login. Since I started using this plugin runs on my sites have virtually disappeared. There is a free version and a paid for one. If you are running a tip top business the paid one is worth the money.

Rename wp-login

Security. The default wordpress login page is known by anyone who has ever installed wordpress: sitename.xxx/wp-login.php. Leaving this in place creates backdoor access for those wonderful arseholes, hackers. This mixed with a login limit/ban plugin will beef up the security of your site. There are other ways in, but a good security plugin will patch those holes.

WEBSITE OPTIMISATION WORDPRESS PLUGINS

website optimisation wordpress plugins

SG Optimizer

This is specific to anyone using the siteground hosting platform. It’s an epically wonderful plugin that boosts your site performance by tapping into siteground server features. If you are on siteground this gets auto-installed with each wordpress installation.

Stop Generating Unnecessary Thumbnails

Thumbnails. Holy effing christ. I didn’t know about wordpress’s obsession with thumbnails until I downloaded the media library from my old wedding site. WordPress will allow every plugin on your site to create any and all sizes of thumbnails the plugin authors think they need in order for their plugin to operate. Idiots (in the specific aspect, hero’s in others). This single aspect of wordpress will fill your site server allocation up faster than anything else. In some instances I had 60 replications of a single image on a site that had thousands of images. Once I had sorted everything out I worked out wordpress and the idiot authors of all the plugins i use (except this one, this person is a god to me) had turned 2 gigs worth of images into around 26gb.

This entire aspect of wordpress will ruin your server performance and severely limit your site if it’s based, like mine is, on large numbers of images. This one single plugin is the most important one for me when using wordpress. It does exactly what it says, it stops wordpress from filling your server with unnecessary images. Everytime I upload an image it creates a single 160×160 thumbnail for use in the admin section. I have not noticed any performance issues since using this plugins, only benefits.

Stop what you are doing, download it, use it, praise it, make a shrine for it……marry it.

MEDIA LIBRARY MANAGEMENT WORDPRESS PLUGINS

media library wordpress plugins

WP Real Media Library

WordPress out of the box is absolutely useless at organising images. By default your images will be put into a month/year folder order that you can see via some ftp software. Logically this gives no structure to image storage and no url structure for seo. This plugin gives the ability to organise your media uploads into a file category similar to how most operating systems work. It will also create a url structure for those images based on the folder names. If you produce a large number of images that follow a sequential numbering system, then there is an option to organise those images by that number system which makes adding them to posts or page en masse much easier.

Physical Custom Upload Dir for Real Media Library

The meat on the bones of the above plugin. This I believe is a required and free plugin for WP Real Media library and does the task of creating the folders you add inside the above plugin.

Media Library Assistant

This is a work horse of tag generation. If you are files and on a large scale and you don’t want to spend three weeks writing alt tag description of each image, this plugin will act as a bulk updater for almost all fields that can be edited on an uploaded file. I use it primarily for alt tag creation for the wedding photos I upload.

WP Real Thumbnail Generator

Sometimes you may or may not need to regenerate thumbnails. This plugin does just that. This is a plugin that forms part of the WP Real Media library house of joy. It was recommended, so I purchased it. It’s functional and does exactly what it says it will do…..

Plugin Types I don’t Currently Use

Back-up plugins

I don’t use a backup plugin as my host does daily backups, and i don’t post daily to the site so if it was ever brought down, running a backup from cpanel is an easy task. HOWEVER! If you run a site that is generating content daily or uses woocommerce as an ecommerce platform, look into the multitude of back-up options available. Most of them now link with one of the many cloud storage options available.

Revision & Database Optimisation Plugins

Revisions occur whenever you save a page or a post and they get logged in the database. The more pages and posts you have, the more revisions there will be and the more your database becomes bloated and slowed. Ive just started using WP Sweep to clean revisions from the site and clean up the database in general. But, if you do use one of the many database optimisation plugins make sure you back your website up first because some of them have been reported to break peoples sites.

I am also trailing a code edit in the wp-config file “define (‘WP_POST_REVISIONS’, 3);”. I will assess if this is effective in the future.

As with all plugins, install them one at a time and test them. WordPress is notorious for plugin conflicts causing sites to break. Installing one at a time allows you to see if the new plugin causes are any adverse effects to your site.

Do you have any wordpress plugins that you use that you couldn’t live without? Post them below in the comments section and let us all know why you use them and what makes them so god damn awesome.

TUTORIAL – Getting To Know Your Camera

getting to know your camera header image

Photography is as personal as the tools you use. There is no right or wrong camera as each model has its pro’s and con’s and these are distributed between the features you want and the price you are willing to pay to have them. I get asked all the time if I prefer Nikon over Canon with the person asking expecting some sort of Android Vs iOS or PC Vs Mac reply. My answer is this. If I had the money I would have a Nikon setup, a Canon setup, a Sony setup and if I was that rich a Hasselblad setup (the supercar of the camera world). Why? Because they all do different things well. The market has shaped the products produced by all those companies and each has something to offer a person looking to create imagery. And this is more of a personal gripe, but if you find yourself in a heated debate about which brand is better without any reference to image making on both a practical and emotional level, then you have well and truly missed the point of photography.

So what is my brand of choice? I use Nikon because when I bought my first camera the D70 was the best value for the money at that time and the guy in the shop advised my to buy that over the classic 350D. Nowadays there isn’t a great difference between the models of all the major brands in any given price bracket. My mind wanders between some hefty megapixel beast, or the practicalities and reality of a 20-24mp camera body and the smaller storage required for them. I dont shoot press so I have no need for wifi. As of writing I have the following bodies for the following reasons:

Main event work body

Nikon
D750

Studio camera

Nikon
D800

Out and about

Nikon
Coolpix A

Mobile filming rig

Google Pixel 2
Osmo Mobile 2

This list of gear has evolved over a period of time based on my own needs and money available. Your choice will come down to what your friends use, what the magazines and websites recommend, what you think you like and what you can actually afford. It’s worth adding that most top end smart phones do an absolutely amazing job of creating images and are actually little media machines with apps that allow creative possibilities for someone who may not want to invest in a dSLR/Computer setup. Lenses from the likes of Moment and Moondog open up a world of endless creative possibilities.

But despite the glory that camera bodies are sold on, they only help facilitate the process of image creation. The most important part of the photographic system is the lens. The quality of the glass you use will affect the sharpness, contrast, bokeh and colour quality of the photograph you take. Most beginner kits fulfil all the basic requirements and there is no need to splash out thousands of pounds on gear you will not need or understand how to use. Plus, you need to work out how to use that lens first before you move onto other lenses so you actually know why you need them.

SETTING YOUR CAMERA UP CORRECTLY

All of the examples I will be giving are aimed at dSLR’s, but most top end point-and-shoot camera’s have all the basic functionality of a dSLR so most of what is written below you can use. It is important to have your camera setup correctly. This makes creating photographs and editing them an easier process, allowing more time to be spent on creative editing, and less time on corrective and re-constructive editing. So, before we go any further attach your lens, remove the lens cap, insert a memory card, put the battery in (I know, I know this is obvious) and turn the camera on!

SET YOUR FILE TYPE TO RAW

Try to always shoot in your cameras native RAW file format. This file type will give you greater detail and more options when editing. JPEGS, even lossless ones, compress the image you take. They do serve a purpose in some workflows but in general try to avoid using them.

It is worth noting that the preview image you see on your camera’s rear screen is an interpretation of the photograph you have just taken based on the options selected in your camera image optimisation settings. If you are shooting jpeg then you will see the camera preview when you open your photograph on your computer, but, if you are shooting RAW the photograph WILL appear visually different from the preview on the back of your camera when loaded into Camera RAW or Lightroom. Do not panic or get frustrated, all editing software has a default setting for RAW files it uses when they are imported. There are ways to get around this using import presets and I will show you how to do this at a later date.

Set your camera to record photographs in RAW format.

nikon d750 file type menu settings

SET ALL IN CAMERA IMAGE OPTIMISATION SETTINGS TO ZERO

If you have set your file type to RAW, then all of these settings will not affect the RAW file that is produced as they can all be set during import in post. These settings affect jpeg files. So, why shoot jpeg after being told to shoot RAW? The option exists for people who do not have access to a computer to edit their images, if they are printing directly from the camera or if they have limited hard drive storage. They also exist for people shooting jpeg as a back-up for fast network distribution (sports photographers for example). If you are using your camera for one of these purposes then it will be trial and error, as is the case with all editing, to find the ideal settings for your particular use.

These settings will also affect what you see on your camera’s display. I use them specifically to get as much light out of the screen as possible so i can see as much detail as possible. When you are working in a dynamic environment like a wedding or a sports competition, you don’t want to be fighting with the rear display to guess if you have nailed the exposure. Having a flat image that allows you to make that assessment quickly is the priority for me as I dont want my thinking to be side tracked by technical issues like this. I want to look at the image, check it and then move on.

The settings i change are increasing the display brightness to max (this setting is usually on a different menu option) and then dropping the contrast to the lowest minus number.

Find your image optimisation menu and leave all settings as neutral as possible or at zero.

Nikon d750 set picture control

TURN OFF ALL IN CAMERA NOISE REDUCTION

Turn off your cameras noise reduction and never turn it on again. For RAW it won’t matter when editing on your PC but it will affect what you see on the back of your camera. If you shoot jpeg it will affect the final file. Your editing software does a better job at managing noise. I have seen many MANY times on various online sites people claiming using editing software is cheating. Firstly, what are you trying win? Secondly it is not “cheating” to use editing software to create a specific artistic look, or to use such software for image retouching and reconstruction. This IS part of the process of producing photographs. Manipulation of what you see in front of you when taking a photograph starts with how you use light to shape contrast and colour, then what lens you use to create the perspective of the scene you are capturing, to the camera body you you, through to how you choose to manipulate pixels on the computer. In the days of film, the typeof film you used and the processes you used in the darkroom affected how the final photograph turned out.

Turn off in camera noise reduction.

turn off all in camera noise reduction

SET THE COLOUR SPACE TO sRGB

Your digital camera uses a mathematical model known as a colour space to help the capture and interpretation of colour from what you see as colour (the visible spectrum) to the digital format via the camera’s imaging sensor and on board computer. In your camera these are based on red, green and blue colour values. Most cameras will allow you to choose the colour space in a image optimising menu buried somewhere deep in its menu system (if you dont know where it is have a look and find it now). Usually you are given a choice of sRGB or AdobeRGB.

Adobe RGB is a specialist colour space that compresses colour values and requires specific software to uncompress them. It has roughly 35% move colour available to it than sRGB but comes with some major draw backs most notably that no major publishing platform uses it. But, it has a larger colour spectrum available and makes ideal for printing.

sRGB is the world standard for digital images and is used in printing and on the Internet (there is a trick to improving colour accuracy on the net in photoshop, again I will talk about this at a later date). It has also been around much longer AdobeRGB so all the standards used in modern display technology uses this colour space.

There is debate about which is better to use. Adobe RGB will give you more colour in your image and if you have a monitor that supports display those colours and a printing process that does too then shoot in this colour space. As most of your photographs will end up on the net on instagram, 500px, facebook, deviant art or some other photo community then setting your camera to sRGB will allow it to produce images that reproduce the colour and tone that is supported on most modern display (monitors, tv, smart phones etc). As you progress and if you start to shoot for printed reproduction then switching to AdobeRGB will be a more preferable option.

To begin with select sRGB in your camera menu.

set the cameras colour space to sRGB

CHECK WHITE BALANCE AND SET TO AUTO

We all think we know what white is. In the physical sense we perceive white when all of the colour sensitive cone cells in the human eye are stimulated in nearly equal amounts. But, we interpret white differently in many different natural colour environments and are able to distinguish it even in warm or cold colour environments. Cameras have a white balance setting so they can render colours and neutral tones correctly in a given colour light environment in an attempt to keep what we think is white, as white. Hence the term white balance (sometimes called grey-balance). White balance is an entirely different subject together, on which many books have been written. The important thing to remember here is that, as a beginner, getting that white as accurate as possible is not important yet as there are other area’s to focus on like composition and camera techniques. This is why all good dSLR’s and top end point and shoots have an auto white balance mode.

The majority of all colour problems in a photograph will be down to the assigned white balance. If you shoot RAW this will not be as much of a problem as it can be altered afterwards, but if you shoot in jpeg it will be harder to correct. Most of the time when I shoot in RAW I leave the white balance set to auto as it allows me to spend less time checking a photographs colour and more time concentrating on the job at hand. This dosnt mean it should be ignored, there are jobs when taking a manual white balance reading or shooting a grey card are required for colour accuracy as your final product has to match the subject being captured. But altering the colour of a photograph to suit a time of day or a specific mood will be part of your creative process.

Set your cameras white balance to auto.

set the cameras white balance to auto

EXPOSURE METERING

The grandfather of dull photography lessons, so what is it? Basically it is the mechanism that allows your camera to work out the correct exposure for the scene you are photographing. There are usually four options: Matrix, Centre-weighted, spot and highlight weighted. For the purpose of this lesson, set the camera to Matrix metering as this setting calculates an exposure based on the overall scene and usually nails it most of the time. If i’m shooting in aperture priority i usually use matrix in conjunction with the exposure compensation setting (the +/- button) to fine tune the exposure.

Centre weighted, whilst monitoring the overall scene, pays more attention to the centre of the frame. Spot metering meters a small circle in the middle of your frame and then calculates exposure. Highlight-weighted aims to reduce loss of details in highlights which is handy for unbalanced situations.

th dslr exposure meter

CHECK ISO AND SET TO THE APPROPRIATE LEVEL

What is ISO and what is the appropriate level to set it to. ISO is one of those things that can confuse beginners at first, but it isn’t a vastly hard concept to get your head around.

ISO (International Organization of Standards) is the sensitivity of your camera’s imaging sensor. It is one point of the exposure triangle (we will get to this at the bottom of the page) ISO was originally used to describe the sensitivity of photographic film and has been passed over to the digital world as an equivalent measurement system. A low number of iso 50 -200 equals low sensitivity, low levels of noise in your image, smooth gradients, accurate colour representation and fine details. A high number, iso 1200 – 6400, will result in a high sensitivity, visible levels of noise, rough gradients, poor representation of colour and a loss in fine detail. Both have their advantages and disadvantages depending on the situation you find yourself shooting in which I will talk about later.

With all of this in mind what is the appropriate level? Try the following. If you have strong light set the iso as low as possible (this includes good sunlight and any type of flash or direct lighting). As the light source gets weaker increase the iso. To give you some situational examples:

Shooting a landscape or a portrait using flash then you would aim to keep the iso low.

Photographing sports then raising the iso to about 500 allows you to have faster shutter speeds with aa aperture of f/5 – f/5.6 which should make your shots nice and crispy.

If you are shooting the milky way then you would use iso 1600-2400 with a 20 second exposure (or higher with a sony body) or if you were trying to photograph moving subjects in a low light situation to keep your shutter speed around 100th of a second.

If you are in a situation where light levels are changing, but you want to keep the shutter speed and aperture the same then use auto iso.

The only real way to understand when and how to use different iso levels is to experiment, but use the above as a guide.

Nikon d750's iso menu

CHOOSE AND USE THE CORRECT EXPOSURE MODE

All worthwhile cameras come with the standard four exposure modes:

Manual (M)

Aperture-Priority Auto (A)

Shutter-Priority Auto (S)

Programmed Auto (P)

Exposure modes control the relationship between the lenses aperture blades (these control the amount and angle of light travelling through the lens) and the shutter mechanism.

Manual – will give you full control over how long the shutter mechanism remains open and the depth of field (the area of the photograph in focus) as controlled by the aperture. Practically, it is good for studio work and conditions where light levels are consistent.

Aperture priority – will allow you to set the depth of field for any given focal length whilst the camera works out the correct shutter speed. This is useful for when you are working fast and want full control over you depth of field, like at a wedding or an outdoors portrait shoot, or if you are using exposure bracketing (a technique involving taking several photographs of a composition at different exposures).

Shutter priority – is best suited to situations where your subject is moving fast, like sports, where you want the shutter speed to remain constant.

Programmed Priority – I have still yet to find a practical use for this exposure mode, I’m sure there is one but it does sit lonely and unused on my camera. I suspect it is for complete beginners who just want to use their camera before learning all of the settings. Nothing wrong with that….as long as you learn the other settings!

Experiment with these four settings, DO NOT get stuck using only one because you find them confusing. The exposure modes are the key to capturing a near correctly exposed photograph and knowing when to use them will come with time and experimentation.

The two modes I have only ever used in my work are Manual and Aperture Priority. I use manual shutter in three specific situations.

1) In the studio where I am using controlled lighting and radio triggers.

2) When i am using auto-iso. When I shoot events like a wedding or sports, I keep the aperture and shutter fixed and let the auto-iso do the job. You can define the range the iso can go to so you can prevent the camera from going above a certain iso level.

3) When I am shooting panoramas with a tilt shift. The tilt shift I own plays tricks with the aperture priority setting on my camera. So I work out my shutter speed on my central image and then keep that fixed along with fixing iso and aperture.

Aperture priority is the mode I use when I have no control over the light intensity. If you are shooting HDR’s outside then you can use aperture priority. And the same goes for outdoor portraits. You can do most things with manual exposure, but if you’re concentrated on your subject and the light intensity changes you will get your exposure wrong.

the exposure control dial that most dSLRs come with

SETTING THE CORRECT SHUTTER SPEED AND APERTURE

Setting the shutter speed and aperture are the other two points of the exposure triangle. Most cameras have an electronic analog exposure display (see photo above) which you can find either in the viewfinder, on the rear LCD or on the control panel (if your camera has one). What we are trying to do with this 99% of the time is to get the indicator mark to land on the zero in the middle of the scale (the optimal exposure). There are a many different combinations of shutter speed and aperture to get the optimal exposure, but what we are trying to do is take a creative image not a mathematically accurate one. The type of exposure mode will determine which one of these you set. If you are shooting in full manual, then you will need to set both shutter and apertures. If you are shooting in aperture priority, then you will only need to change the aperture as the camera does the work with the shutter speed.

lens aperture f/1.4

f/1.4

lens aperture f/3.5

f/3.5

lens aperture f/16

f/16

The lens aperture is a set of blades that acts to narrow light as it enters the lens. This mechanism controls what is known as depth of field. To set the depth of field you will need to alter the apertures f-number. A low f number (f/2.8) will let lots of light through the lens, increasing your shutter speed and will give you a thin area of sharp focus. This will give you an out of focus background which is ideal for creative portraiture, sport and macro work. A high f number (f/10 to f/22) reduces the amount of light passing through the lens, lowering the shutter speed and gives us a deep area of focus. It is good for capturing scenes that are expansive like landscapes or architecture and for studio portrait work.

Setting your camera’s shutter speed will be dependent upon what exposure mode you have selected. If you are using aperture-priority then the shutter speed will be worked out for you. To see this in action, set your camera to aperture priority and simply move the camera around. You will see the shutter speed reading changing. If you point your camera at a scene with lots of light the shutter speed increases and becomes very fast. Most dSLR’s have a maximum shutter speed of either 1/4000th or 1/8000th of a second. If you point the camera at a scene with low light levels, like in a room or in a forest, the shutter speed will reduce. Again, there is a maximum in camera limit to this which is 30 seconds on most models. If you are using manual exposure mode then you will now need to adjust the shutter speed to get the optimal exposure. As mentioned before, try to get the indicator mark to land on the zero in the middle of the scale.

TUTORIAL - Getting To Know Your Camera 1

All of the information you need to calculate the best exposure for your photo can be found: on the rear screen by pressing, on most cameras, the info button; in the viewfinder and on the top LCD as pictured above.

THE EXPOSURE TRIANGLE

the exposure triangle

As mentioned further up your exposure is controlled by the aperture, shutter speed & ISO settings and each one has an effect on the other. Exposure starts with setting the aperture as this is the prime creative point when building your composition. After checking the shutter speed, if it is to slow then increase the ISO until the shutter speed is fast enough.

Examples

Shooting a long exposure at night you would use a long shutter speed, a wide aperture and a low ISO to reduce noise.

Shooting a creative/focused portrait during the day you would use a narrow depth of field, a fast shutter speed and a low ISO. If the exposure is still to bright you would use a ND filter to balance the exposure

Photographing sports you would set your aperture and shutter speed but set the ISO to auto. This way you control motion blur with shutter speed, control depth of field for the desired creative effect but allow iso to account for changes in light intensity.

The only real way to learn how this relationship works is to spend a small amount of time just experimenting with each element in different light situations.

There is also another tool on your camera that is available to you to help you decide if your exposure is accurate. Press the play button on the rear of camera and have a look at the camera’s histogram which shows the distribution of tones from pure black to pure white. If the level chart is stacked to the right, your shot is over exposed. If it is stacked to the left, it is underexposed.

all cameras have a playback display that shows each images histogram.

TUTORIAL – How to Hold & Support Your Camera.

using a tripod to photograph the sky

Before I crack on its important to ask the following question ‘does it really matter how you hold your camera?’ For the most part yes, but as long as you are getting the shot you want and enjoying what you are doing then it is all good. What I am going to try and do here is explain, based on my own experience, why holding and supporting a camera in certain ways will be able to improve your overall experience and hopefully make taking photos easier and more fun.

So, why is it important to know how to hold a camera properly? Stability, comfort when shooting (mainly on your lower back and your hands) and to make manipulating the camera controls easier in any given situation. Cameras are built so that the right hand controls operations on the right hand side of the camera, such as the shutter mechanism and control dials. The left hand controls the lens rings and any controls that exist on the left hand side of the camera.

The many different ways a camera can be supported.

Most of the time what you should hopefully be trying to achieve is a photograph that is in focus, that has your chosen subject clearly visible and that is well composed. To achieve this you need to know the main methods available that are used to support and hold your camera . These include:

  • Handheld
  • Tripod
  • Monopod
  • Object assisted
  • Clamps

Hand holding a camera – this will be the main way you will hold your camera when you start off and in most shooting situations until you start to focus on specific area’s of photography. Hand holding a camera allows to you to move around, interact with whatever it is you are photographing and in general be more immediately responsive to the shooting situation.

From personal experience there are prefered ways to hold your camera and these aim to increase its stability and to take stress off of your body. The lens is usually heavier than the camera body and this can place strain on your fingers, wrist, elbows and lower back if you do not support the lens.  The aim is to support the weight of the lens with one hand, and use your other hand in a relaxed fashion to control the dials and shutter release.

The right and wrong ways to hold a camera

 

support the lens, manipulate the camera, don't shit your pants.This is Rob. He is a particularly talented chap with a camera and you can find his work here.

For me the above is my prefered way to hand hold a camera. Left hand open and relaxed with the lens smack bang in your palm with your left elbow close into your body in line with your shoulder. This supports the weight of the camera in your palm, allows you to manipulate the lens rings easily and by bringing your elbow towards your body it takes the strain off your shoulders and lower back. Now, because your left arm is doing all the right things you should find that your right hand is more relaxed gripping the camera. You can modify aperture and shutter controls, you can focus lock without it looking like your sat on the toilet. Something else you will find with a relaxed right hand and stable left arm is that it will reduce the amount of muscular shake caused by excessive tension in your right hand and shoulders. This will allow your to shoot for longer periods and will increase stability in low light situations, should you not have all the latest VR lenses and high ISO performance camera bodies and you are choosing to shoot flash free.

It is also worth noting here that standing with your feet shoulder width apart and your right foot slightly back will also help with the overall comfort and stability thing we are going for here. With your feet positioned in this way it allows you to keep the camera inside your overall stance and adjust your body backwards. This is explained a little more below.

Now a couple of incorrect ways to hold your camera.

how not to hold a camera

I’ve seen both of these being used with fairly weighty looking DSLRs. The left one I call ‘the smartphone grip’ and the right one is just hilarious. Let’s call it flying the airplane. The problem with both of these holding ‘techniques’ is that they leave the heaviest and most important part of the camera system unsupported. If you are using a manual focus or zoom lens this means you have move your hand from the body to the lens and back again which takes time and causes the entire system, for a brief period of time to be held in one hand. This will cause your camera to drop and odds on you might miss your shot. Also, if you are using a zoom lens, you need control of that zoom ring for creative purposes. You need to put yourself in a position where you can respond to what it is you are shooting. For example quickly switching between a close up shot of a wedding couple to a wider context type shot. You will also have the added fun of creating unneeded tension and strain in your wrists and fingers which will lead to tendonitis and strain issues long term.

The image on the right shows Rob gripping the top of the lens. Try this method at home and ask yourself if your right hand feels relaxed. Odds on it doesn’t; now imagine having that weighty ‘stress’ feeling there for a few hours. For future reference a lot of mid to top end lenses are usually full of heavy glass and metal and most modern camera bodies are designed to be relatively light making the camera/lens system front heavy. Supporting the lens on your left hands palm puts you in control when panning, titling and moving and stops your hands from getting tired. If you are using a small prime lens, support the camera by placing the underside of it on the palm of your left hand. This will take the weight of the camera system and allow you to manipulate the focus and (if you have one on your lens) the zoom ring. The only time when it is even remotely viable to hold a lens like this is when you have the lens supported by a tripod or monopod and that lens is 400mm plus in size. Even then it is a position that will be temporary and not a permanent hold.

And the last thing to notice is the position of Rob’s arm. They are wide and away from his body reducing his ability to control the camera for our desired in-focus, non-‘wobbly’ shot. Shooting like this over long periods of time will cause tension and strain in your shoulders, neck and back which long term can cause some quite serious medical problems with these areas.

STABLE AND UNSTABLE POSITIONS

It’s not just holding the camera correctly which is important, but also how you’re standing or crouched when you are taking your photo. There are so many different body positions you can end up in and most of the time what you are doing will dictate what gymnastic pose you will pull to capture that marvellous photo you are after. But, having a good base posture to use in the majority of situations will help with keeping you relaxed, the camera still, and, most importantly, prevent postural imbalances from building up leading to long term health problems.

stable and unstable body positionsThe above image shows two correct techniques on the left, and two incorrect techniques on the right. The very left technique is good for photos where you need to get a lower position. I try and create a tripod effect between my left foot, right knee and right foot. I sit my butt on my right heel and rest my left elbow on my left knee. this creates a surprisingly stable posture to work with.

The next standing pose, as discussed further up the page, is the one you should ideally use when moving about. Notice that the feet are about shoulder width apart and the right foot is about half a pace behind the left, turned outward slightly. This creates a nice stable bridge in the lower body that allows you to move backwards and forwards between both feet if needed. It also allows your abdominals to remain relaxed for panning. It also keeps the camera inside of whole standing position. Relaxed postures starts from the feet and moves up the body.

The two poses on the right are both unstable. If you stand with your feet in line you abdomen is likely to stiffen up a bit to compensate for where the camera is. If you need to move forwards and backwards on your feet, you will either have to lean or step forward, causing shake in the camera and increasing the chance of a shaky shot. Sometimes a shaky shot is cool, most of the time they end up in the trash. If you are bent over, as the right stance shows, you will be putting a lot of strain in the middle of your body, especially your lower and mid back. This will cause your muscles to stiffen and will affect how you take your photo. Long term you could do yourself some damage if you use stances that do not put you in balance. If you need to and are freely able to, just walk forward.

Rhythmic breathing is also a very important to help keep you relaxed. In many mediation-based disciplines, breathing out relaxes the body, and you can apply this to taking photographs. Always try and take a photo when you are breathing out as this is when you will be most relaxed.

the odd places you find yourself

BUT! despite all this advice on remaining in control and relaxed sometimes you just won’t be able to get into a comfortable position to take your photograph. The occasion might arise when you have to go beyond the point of normality to get a shot. During my time as a photographer I have balanced on top of walls, leant over the edge of tall buildings and wedged myself into the corner of various climbing gyms (sometimes on a rope) to get the shots that I needed. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

using a tripod to photograph the skyTripods have been around for a long time and have improved with advancements in technology and materials. Modern tripods are usually reasonably light, strong and stable but with all things in life, you get what you pay for. “What would I use a tripod for?” I imagine you, the budding new photographer, is saying. Tripods can be used in the following situations:

  1. where you need to have the shutter open for a long period of time (night shots, landscapes, interiors).
  2. if you are being excessively precise about your composition (interiors and architecture).
  3. if you are using it to support a heavy lens or nodal system (sports or virtual images).
  4. if you are shooting for composite work and you need to replicate camera position across multiple shoots.
  5. If you are using a tilt shift to shoot a panorama.
  6. Shooting an HDR image.
  7. Portraiture.
  8. As a walking stick.

Along with the tripod you also have the tripod head, which takes many different shapes and forms. The two more popular heads include the three-axis head and the ball head and both have their pros and cons. Try to stay away from the cheaper tripods that have linked legs as they will probably break faster and will also restrict what you can use your tripod for. The more ‘pro’ orientated tripods allows different positioning of the legs which can help greatly with awkward placement. Examples of cheaper pro level tripods include the Velbon Ultra Rexi L Travel Tripod and the 7 Day Shop travel-pro tripod. Both of these options are compact when folded down and lightweight. My current tripod of use is a Three Legged Thing that I picked up for cheap on Wex. Whatever it is you go for do your research and find out what others think about the products you are looking at. Budget is a need for many of us, but there is simply no point in buying cheap crap if it will only hinder what you are trying to achieve.

Monopods are used primarily to support the longer focal length zoom lenses (200mm and above) and to provide added stability in lower light conditions. Monopods are the popular choice with wildlife and sports photographers as they are less cumbersome than a tripod. Odds on to begin with you won’t have a need for one but as you progress you might find you will end up requiring one. You can also use these as a walking stick.

for that ultra low angle use a rockObject Assisted is fairly straightforward: you use whatever is in your vicinity to support your camera. Whilst we all love our gear and think we will have everything we need with us at all times, sometimes you will be caught short and will have to forge a solution from whatever is near-by. It’s not pro, but as long as it does the job, nothing else really matters. You can use a concrete post, the floor, a lens cap, a chair or anything else that will allow you to keep your camera still should the situation arise. Door frames and walls are also other viable options as well when you need to support the camera by wedging it at the join between the lens and camera bottom or if you need to increase your own stability.

In the past I have also used a studio clamp to position my camera in places where none of the above have been viable options to use (see photo above). This method is very specific and does not apply to all situations but, again, knowing it is an option will help you should the situation occur.

photo clamping a camera to a bedOther Ways to Support Your Camera…

There are of course other methods used to support a camera and these include gorilla pods, camera dollies, time lapse devices and sliders, drones for aerial photography and very, very tall posts used for virtual aerial panorama and real estate work. All of these items are very job specific and you will not need to own or use them to begin with. The equipment you buy will be dependent on the task at hand – where ever your photography takes you.


So, hopefully you now have a solid understanding of how to hold your camera and the different methods available to support it when you are not shooting handheld. When you are starting out, it’s worth buying a tripod and learning the basics of where and when you should use it. It will also open up areas of photography that would otherwise be impractical without a tripod.

Remember: it is important to get yourself into the right body position, ensuring you don’t do yourself any long term physical damage. Make sure the camera is correctly supported to reduce shaky and blurry photographs and relax yourself mentally so you can concentrate on taking a great shot. In the next Photography for Beginners article we will start to look at what your subject might be and some of the basic principles of photography.

A note on how much equipment to carry…

I recently had a conversation with another photographer, who had to go into Hospital to have an operation on his back, correcting damage caused by carrying lots of heavy gear in a backpack whilst doing wondrous photography-type things. This is a worse case scenario but can very easily happen if you keep carrying heavy bags for prolonged periods of time. You need to think of your body long term and the damage excess strain will cause. A little tip is this. If you find picking up your bag difficult because of its weight then it is too heavy. Odds on you are probably doing what I did in the picture below, and packing for every eventuality. Forward plan what you are going to shoot and if you need to pack lots of gear then consider using two bags: one main gear bag and one bag for carrying another lens and flash gun, along with all of your batteries and memory cards. And Tablets. And Laptops….

im just being a little bit stupid here