Photographing children

Author: Vicki Uthe


I have been volunteering with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops for about 18 months and have had the pleasure of working several photo 101 and 102 classes. I love these workshops because the room is filled with people new to photography. And if they are not new then they are at a point in their journey where they want to find out more about what the camera can do. As we move through the room and introduce ourselves a question that is often asked is: What do you like to shoot? Several answers seem to emerge. It seems to be either flowers and landscapes, I don’t know yet or GRANDCHILDREN! This posting is about how to capture the spirit of the child.

I graduated from Northern Arizona University in 1986 with a degree in Krauss_visit_July_2015-7191Photojournalism where I spent three and a half years shooting sporting events for the NAU Athletic program. Back then it was all film and mistakes were made. Nowadays you can take a few frames, adjust and keep on shooting! Pixels are FREE! The more you shoot the better your chances of catching that priceless expression. Here are some things to consider:

For best results shoot outdoors where flash is not an issue. The lighting will be better for stopping the movement of the kids. Set the ISO at 400 for starters. Set the shutter speed (shutter priority) to at least 1/250 (of a second) but that depends on how long your lens is. As a rule, set your shutter speed to AT LEAST the fraction of a second of your focal length. For example, if you are shooting with a 70-300 you’ll want to set your shutter speed at 1/300 to prevent blurry pictures due to camera shake. The aperture should set itself in shutter priority mode. Okay, now you’re set. Of course you will adjust as necessary.

I prefer shooting with a longer lens to take myself out of the mix. Candid images are my favorite portraits. I believe these images were all shot with over a 100 mm focal length.

An important thing to remember with children is to get low. Get at their level. If crouching is difficult then set yourself up in a chair with a long enough lens that you have a clear view of the play area. If your camera gets heavy, put it on a monopod. Keep your eye in the viewfinder, set your camera for rear button focus, set your shooting to AI Servo (Canon) so the focus is continuous on the subject and shoot away! Burst mode helps. I like the fast burst. I anticipate action, push down the shutter and see what I get later. Once I toss out all the shots with weird faces and closed eyes there is usually a keeper among them.


The biggest thing to remember is to have your camera close by…always. Whether it’s a point and shoot or a DSLR remember, it’s just a tool. Once you learn how to operate your tool you will get spectacular shots. Don’t be scared. Again, pixels are free.   Don’t be scared to get out there and push that shutter release.

Vicki Uthe is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Caught Without a Tripod in Low Light?

Author: Sara Goodnick

© Sara Goodnick

© Sara Goodnick

When traveling, unless you are on a photography trip, I find it is sometimes impossible to bring along even a small tripod. But sometimes you come across images that simply must be captured. Maybe it’s getting late, or it’s nighttime, or maybe you are in a cathedral or other building that allows photography, but not flash. There is a solution, so don’t leave your camera back in your hotel room.

© Sara Goodnick

© Sara Goodnick

While definitely not ideal, you can still manage acceptable, and maybe exceptional, images, if you use your imagination. Look for anything such as a railing, fencepost, wall, bench, or table to brace your camera. I try different camera settings depending on the situation. Manual is usually what I prefer for the control it allows, but if I am on a quick-moving tour, I set it on P, and just work on a good composition. Sometimes the Shutter Priority is better if there is much chance of camera movement even after being braced on something. Then, if at all possible, use the timer to trigger the shutter release instead of your finger.

© Sara Goodnick

© Sara Goodnick

These images were captured in Rome recently using these methods. I used Lightroom and a laptop to finesse them, but will probably do a little more work on them when I get to a desktop computer. And I have some memories of a delightful visit even going tripod-less.

Sara Goodnick is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Old Way of Focusing

Author: Vern West
All images © Vern West

Back in the film days at the advent of auto focus lenses there were two options for initiating focus. The first one was initiated by the shutter button. This is the way most of us have our cameras set up today. Your camera probably came this way by default from the manufacturer. The other way was to initiate auto focus using a button on the back of the camera and the shutter button only controlled exposure and shutter release. This method usually had to be reprogrammed through the menu system on the camera. Most modern digital cameras still have the option for back button focus and in many ways it solves some focus and exposure issues that we all have to try and deal with.

Let’s look at some of these issues.

  • First we decide what we want to be in focus (our subject) but then we recompose to get the desired composition. One way is to move the focus point around to put it on the subject. Of course this assumes that there is a focus point that falls on the subject and gives us the desired composition. If it doesn’t we have to depress the shutter button ½ way to lock the focus and then recompose the frame. This may cause the exposure to be over or under because the holding the shutter button ½ way down also locks the exposure and that is not always the correct exposure after we reframe for composition.
  • If the subject is stationary such as a mountain then the focus is achieved and locked until after the shutter is released. Canon calls this One Shot. Nikon calls it Single AF. In this case the camera will give an audible beep when focus is achieved as well as visual indication in the view finder. If the subject were to move the focus would not change and that subject would be out of focus.
  • In the case of moving subject set your camera to AI Servo (Canon) or AF-C (Nikon) and the camera lens will try to follow the subject. For a moving subject only a visual indication shows in the viewfinder.
  • Exposure is set where ever the focus point is adjusted and is usually affected by the overall scene brightness. There are several exposure options that you can set but this is a discussion for another time. As an example, if your subject is darker colored, and you lock the exposure by depressing the shutter ½ way, but the overall scene is bright you camera meter can be fooled into over exposing the image.

Now let’s look at moving the focus to a button on the back of the camera. You may have to read your manual to determine how to achieve this but with

some practice it will become natural. When you do this there will be a learning process because you are probably used to just pressing the shutter release for everything.

  • Set your focus mode to AI Servo (or whatever your camera calls the continuous mode). You won’t hear the beep anymore but you will get a visual

    Image-1. © Vern West

    indication of focus.

  • On my Canon camera I have the * button set to initiate AF.  This is where you may have to use your manual to get your camera setup properly
  • I usually leave the focus point set to the middle position, on most cameras this is the most accurate focus point anyway. I also usually have the exposure set to evaluative although I change it depending on the subject.

So now we can look at some real world scenarios.

  • When you are photographing a stationary subject, put the focus point on the subject and momentarily depress the back focus button. Now you are free to recompose and take the photo, in fact as long as you or your subject do not move you do not have to refocus and the camera will set the exposure when the shutter is depressed. This can be particularly helpful when photographing birds with a telephoto lens and the lens keeps hunting for focus on a small subject in a tree.
  • When you are photographing a moving subject such as a flying bird or panning such as with a bicycle and running dog all you need to do is keep your thumb on the back button and the focus is set to continuous it will track the subject.

  • When you want the lens in manual focus while doing a macro shot of a cactus flower and Cactus Wren flies in and lands on the cactus next to you. You are immediately able to take a properly focused image of the bird by depressing the back button focus button instead of having to fumble with a switch on the lens or finding some menu item. A Cactus Wren may not hang around long enough for you to get set up. This ability to change from manual focus to AF quickly is one of the advantages that I really use and value.
  • This past spring my wife, Barbra & I were scouting for a good place to photograph the full moonrise. We saw a pair of Gila Woodpeckers flying into a hole in a saguaro, feeding baby chicks. When photographing flying birds like this you must pre-focus and then shift the lens to manual because the bird is moving too quickly for the lens to achieve focus. I simply pointed the lens at the hole, pressed and released the back button to achieve focus and I was ready to capture the action.

  • The proper way to do a stitch panorama is to set you lens to manual focus so each frame is not focused at a different point. Instead of switching the lens from AF to manual and back again, I simply press and release the back button focus as appropriate.


Is this a better way to autofocus your camera. It all depends on how you work and what your preferences are for switching AF back and forth from single shot, continuous and manual. Give it a try, it might work as well for you as it does for me.

Vern West is an avid nature and wildlife photographer and a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.


Arizona Falls – Close to Home

Author: Christina Heinle


Arizona Falls  is one of those quirky places you’re not sure what to think but it’s a great place to photograph, is almost always open and its free.  The historic importance of this now modern structure is hidden by the everyday observer.  According to the Salt River Project (SRP) website, in the late 1800’s people came to Arizona Falls to picnic, party and dance.  In 1902 the first Phoenix hydroelectric plant opened and ran until 1950 when it was shut down. In 2003 it reopened and now generates 750 kilowatts that can power up to 750 homes.

Arizona Falls is located at G.R. Herberger Park at 56th Street and Indian School in Phoenix, Arizona.


Christina Heinle is a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Angle of Light

Author: Amy Horn

adams - Pumice & PinesRecently, I came across a 1947 Arizona Highways portfolio of photographs by Ansel Adams captured at Sunset Crater. The most interesting photo to me was “Pumice & Pines” with its strong use of shape and form. So, I jumped in the car and drove to Sunset Crater to capture the late afternoon light. I definitely had trees in my mind so when I came across this large snag (standing dead tree) a few feet off the trail. I was inspired. I treated this

Final image with B/W processing

Final image with B/W processing

tree like any other subject and walked around it to find the best angle and light. As the sun was lowering in the sky I didn’t have much time and didn’t have much access to front light so I evaluated side and back light.

The first image is of the tree with warm, side light showing the strength of the snag and its isolation from other trees. It reminded me of a figure guarding the walkway. Then, I moved around to the East to capture back light and was intrigued at how the branches created such a different image. Now, I had a silhouette of this guardian and knew this was my shot. I quickly adjusted my position to capture more of the tree and stopped down my lens to capture a “sunburst.” The sun lowered to a perfect spot on the snag and I captured the image with my Nikon D600, 24-120mm lens at 48mm, 400 ISO, 1/640 and f/14. For variety, I converted the image in post processing to a black/white and added a little vignette for drama. I enjoy looking at photographs from the masters and from my students. Evaluating light and getting inspired is all part of the journey.

Amy Horn is a professor of photography at Northern Arizona University and instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. To see her current schedule view or

The Psychology of Color in Photography

Author: Joel Wolfson


I went through my best selling fine art images and found that most of them had a predominant presence of yellow in them. Why would that be? Because colors affect us both psychologically and physiologically. Yellow imparts a sense of warmth, cheerfulness and comfort. It is welcoming and stimulates mental activity. So it makes sense that more people would buy the images that impart these attributes and emotions. Color alone may not make your photograph a success but colors and their meaning are often overlooked by photographers.

The next time you’re shooting color photographs, think about what the colors in the image will impart to the viewer. How colors affect us is an extensive topic and I don’t claim to be a psychologist- but below is a condensed list and guideline you can use as another tool to help you convey what it is you’re trying to get across to the viewer. There are many studies and articles published online if you want to research it more. In the meantime here’s my quick guide for photographers:

Red– action, passion, danger, heat, love. Increases metabolism and respiration rate.

Blue– tranquility, calmness. Decreases metabolism.

Yellow– warmth, comfort, cheerfulness. Stimulates mental activity and is welcoming.

Green– growth, freshness, renewal, harmony. Most restful to the human eye.

Orange– movement, joy, creativity, energy. Increases oxygen supply to the brain.

Purple– power, prestige, creativity, ambition.

I would like to note that psychological aspects of color will vary with different cultures. These differences may be narrowing due to the internet but what I’ve discussed here is based on studies and information gathered in the United States and Canada.

Joel Wolfson is an instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

3 Keys to Dazzling Macro Photography

Author: Dean Hueber

purple flower

copyright Dean Hueber

1) Size Matters:  Size, in this case, is the size of your images’ depth of field.  You want your subject in focus, which is not to say that limited focus can not be a creative tool, but in my opinion far too many macro closeups suffer from a lack of critical sharpness, especially when you want to make large prints.  Consider using image stitching software, such as Helicon Focus, that combines multiple images shot at different focus points within your subject, to achieve increased depth of field.  Most of my flower macro shots, for example, are created by combining 3 to 25 images.  The higher number of shots result from being extremely close to the subject when you shoot it.  The closer you are to your subject, the less depth of field you will have, all other things being equal, so if you want extreme closeups of subjects rendered extremely sharply, multiple shots will be required.

cactus blossom2) Background is Critical: The background should be simple and non-distracting; sunny spots, bright rocks, etc. compete with your subject for attention, as do patterns that are too complicated.  Consider cleaning up that background before shooting (remove the grass that is too close to your flower), changing your composition and camera angle to remove a bright area in the background, or using a solid colored drop-cloth to create a simpler background when your compositional choice would result in too busy a background.  You also want to generally limit the depth of field of your background, i.e. ensure that it is relatively blurry. Many good macro subjects are lost in the chaos of a background out of control, so by controlling the background you ensure that your subject gets the attention it deserves!

Dew Drops on Poppy

Dew Drops on Poppy

3) Shady is Better: Generally speaking, macro photography benefits from soft, diffused light rather than direct sunlight on the subject.  Cloudy days, for example, create even, soft light which flatters your subject and enhances colors.  Sunlight can sometimes be used to enhance macro photography, such as backlighting to illuminate textures, but even then I’d generally soften the sunlight with a handheld diffuser rather than have bright sunlight on my subject.  The contrast between sunlit and shadow is often too great, leaving the image with hot spots and too little shadow detail.  Once you’ve captured your image in soft light, a quick levels adjustment via photoshop will allow you to adjust your black point and white point so that your colors are richly saturated and fill the spectrum from light to dark.  Selective levels adjustments allow you to further fine-tune the image.

Dean Hueber is a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshop and an avid nature photographer.