Archive for the ‘Photography tips’ Category

Rule of Thirds: Be sure to BREAK this photography rule AFTER you learn it!

Friday, March 14th, 2008

Would you like to improve your photography?  In a split second?  Then try “splitting” your frame.  Into thirds. It’s a tried-and-true photographic compositional technique called the “Rule of Thirds.”Photographer by Sheree Zielke

Once you’ve learned the rule, you should break it.  But only with intent.

Read on . . .


Travel Accessories: Marking Your Possessions for Easy Return to YOU!

Monday, March 3rd, 2008


Do you like good service?  How about great new products?  Especially products that make your life easier?


Me, too.


And, if like me, you travel a great deal, you know that any product or service that will make your travel experience better, is very welcome.  I have found at least one.


Read on . .



How to Lose Your Camera and Achieve Instant Fame in 2 Easy Steps

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

You’ve just returned from your vacation.  You had a good time – partied hard, did a few things that maybe you shouldn’t have done, and took the pictures to prove it.  But now you realize you have misplaced your digital camera.  Is there anything worse than a lost camera full of vacation photos?  Yes.

It’s having those private pictures show up on the Internet for the entire world to see.

That’s the brainchild of University of Winnipeg student, Matt Preprost.  This newest Web guru has created a site designed to help unite lost digital photos and cameras with their (embarrassed?) owners.  It’s called,

Preprost’s wild idea has already netted results.  In only the first few days of the site’s launch, photos were reunited with their takers.

A combination of your creativity and Matt’s site, could be your ticket to fame…read on…


New Zealand Fiordlands: Explore for a Truly Wild and Wonderful Experience!

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Dusky Sound and David by Sheree Zielke

If you are native to the lands of the Northern Hemisphere, then Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds may mean very little to you; Nancy, Charles, and George Sound will mean even less.  But if you visit New Zealand, down in the Southern Hemisphere, you’ll find all these places; they are part of the Fiordland National Park, on the southwesterly corner of New Zealand’s south island.

But if you have ever visited North America’s northwest coastline, in particular, the coasts of Oregon, British Columbia, and Alaska, then the topography of these wild and richly forested terrains may seem familiar.Chairs with a view in the New Zealand Sounds by Sheree Zielke

Perhaps the most satisfying way to visit these New Zealand Sounds is by land but local tour companies offer exploration nor only by foot, shuttle van, and tour bus, but via watercraft, and by air.  Air seems to be the most efficient way to take in the 1.2 million hectares of wilderness that make up the Fiordland, but a guided walk might be considered more effective.  That’s if you have the time.  Try these sites: Hike South and Ultimate Hikes.

Waterfalls in Milford Sound by Sheree ZielkeBut failing that, take a cruise up into the sounds.  Besides the huge cruise lines that visit the Sounds, there is also a large assortment of smaller cruise vessels.  Expect rainy weather and heavy mists; this is a temperate rain forest.  The rains give rise to pretty multiple waterfalls coursing down through lush green forested mountains.  You might even catch a glorious rainbow as it cuts its way through the grey mist.

Our ship, the Celebrity Mercury, had three Sounds on its itinerary: Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds.  We reached Dusky Sound early in the morning, amidst gray skies, churning waters, and heavy mist.  The short trip into Dusky was interesting, but the light was such that no outstanding photographs could be taken.

Doubtful Sound was just that, doubtful.  And in fact, high winds and rough waters meant that our ship, including a fellow cruise ship, the Statendam, had to pass by.  But the picturesque Milford Sound still lay ahead.Statendam cruise ship by Sheree Zielke

Milford Sound (it was agreed by other passengers who were experienced in the Sounds) was the more majestic and more beautiful, with its dozens of waterfalls and pretty coastline.  Many compared it to Alaska or the northern coastline of British Columbia with its misty timber forests, and moody gray waters.

Wildlife is supposed to be abundant in these largely uninhabited sounds although we didn’t see any of the fur-bearing seals, penguins, or dolphins said to make these sounds their home.

For more information on the New Zealand Fiordlands, read this stunning National Geographic account by author, Kennedy Warne.

Milford Sound banks by Sheree Zielke

Photography Tip: When taking photos in the Fiordland sounds, push your digital camera’s “exposure compensation” setting to a “negative” number to ensure a clearer, less misty picture.  You can always brighten your shots later in your computer’s photo manipulation program.

Sheree Zielke

Napier, New Zealand: A Wine Lover & Architectural Buff’s Paradise

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Napier Building by Sheree Zielke
There is no reason to leave Napier in order to have a good time; this town was designed for day visitors.  But whether you choose to just walk around for the day, or grab a cab or tour shuttle, a visitor can’t fail to enjoy their visit to one of New Zealand’s most charming port cities.

Napier is the capital of the Hawke’s Bay province; Europeans began making this Maori area their home after Captain Cook did his explorations in 1769.  By the 1850s, Napier was a bustling centre home to seafarers, businessmen, and missionaries.

Napier Sign by Sheree ZielkeIn 1931, Napier’s buildings were destroyed in an earthquake, and subsequent fire.  If you are into geological history, visit the Hawke’s Bay museum on the Marine Parade (Napier’s main street) for all the details, and photographs of the event.  Following the town’s destruction, immediate rebuilding of the area took place leading to an abundance of charming homes and office buildings created in the art deco style.  Art deco guided walks, bus tours, and vintage deco car tours are offered to all architectural aficionados who can’t get enough of the 30s.  An Art Deco Festival is held in February complete with vintage cars and vintage costumes.

Marineland, New Zealand’s only marine zoo is on Marine Parade, easily reached by taxi or by walking from the Visitor’s Centre.  Open 7 days a week, Marineland houses a variety of animals and birds including seals, penguins, and cormorants.  Or, between November and February, spend the day at Splash Planet, Napier’s water park.  There’s also the Ocean Spa, with its salt water saunas, and the Par 2 Miniature Golf course.  And for the real duffers, there is the world class Cape Kidnappers Golf Course near by; it’s ranked among the top 50 golf courses in the world.

Napier is home to some of the finest wineries in the world.  Where there was once a tiny handful, only 5, there are now 52 wineries crowded in and around Napier (eastern side of the North Island), and its twin city, Hastings.  Some of the best known include the massive Craggy Range Winery and Sileni Estate.  But for charm and a more personal experience, Mission Estate and Brooksfield are absolute must-sees; their wines (try Mission Estate’s award-winning ice wine) are outstanding.

Organized tours into Napier’s wine country can be picked up from outside the Visitor’s Centre, or any taxi driver can take you around to 2 or 3 vineyards in under 3 hours ($60 per hour – per car, not per person).  And while touring, be sure to visit the TeMata Cheese Company to sample savoury feta, brie, and blue cheese, or visit the Silky Oak Chocolate Company, and its chocolate museum.Silky Oak Chocolate Co by Sheree Zielke

If you are into wildlife tours, many tours to see the gannets of Hawke’s Bay are offered right outside Napier’s Visitor’s Centre.  Choose from the Cape Kidnappers Wilderness Safaris, or the Gannet Safaris.

When arriving in Napier via cruise ship, you can opt for your cruise ship’s shuttle bus (usually about $4 per person one way), or you can jump into a cab ($10 for the car one way).  But don’t expect to walk out of this working port; like Naples, Italy, you will be stopped by local authorities.  You must leave the port via shuttle or taxi.Napier Port Sign by Sheree Zielke

Tip #1:  Leave your ship in the early morning and visit the “Olive Branch Bread Company.”  Purchase a crescent-shaped fluted loaf (they call it a croissant, but it isn’t one).  You are in for a treat when you bite into this delectable savoury bread because inside you’ll find candied fried onions.  The bread crust is dotted with black olives, rock salt and rosemary.  The bakery is easily reached from the Visitor’s Centre; it’s on Hastings Street, at the corner of Albion Street.  You’ll be disappointed if you miss this bakery in the morning because it closes in the afternoon.Napier Bakery by Sheree Zielke

Tip #2: When re-boarding your cruise ship, be prepared to have your wine taken into custody; ship management does not want you drinking locally purchased wine in your stateroom.  The wine will be returned to you on the last night of your voyage.  This restriction will vary from ship to ship; the Grand Princess, for instance, was a little less stringent about this rule than the Celebrity Mercury.

Sheree Zielke

New Zealand & Australia: Are they worth a 14-hour flight?

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

New Zealand & Australia – Celebrity (Mercury) Cruise January 2008

Are you feeling iffy about the possibility of a cruise off the coasts Down Under?  Does a 14+ hour plane ride sound too daunting?  If so, you are not alone.  But here I am to tell you  that I not only survived the flight, but I have had one of the best exotic vacations ever.  Read on.

We live in Western Canada so our flight originated out of Calgary.  From there we flew to Los Angeles, and from there (after 2 very warm hours on the tarmac) we flew to Auckland, New Zealand (in “cattle car” class — you know what I mean, the cheap cramped seats with minimal service).  But we had no option for an upgrade, so we accepted things as they were.

The flight, oddly enough, turned out to be not as gruelling as we had anticipated.  There is ample room on the Air New Zealand plane to move about (to ease leg swelling), and the TV in the headrest is filled with programs and recent movie selections.

The seats are crammed together, but not horribly so.  Unless, you are very large person, you should find them bearable.   We hit some rocky air pockets, but for the most part, the flight was uneventful.

We arrived to gray skies in Auckland; a crew of Celebrity cruise ship people were there to greet us.  We were escorted to a large tour coach (bus) and taken for a spin around Auckland before boarding the Mercury ship.  It was an unexpected surprise — and a very pleasant one at that.  Especially the morning tea at the Winter Garden Pavilion.

The ship’s management used the time very efficiently and did our initial boarding clearance at the Auckland museum, where we took a quick 20-30 minute tour of an amazing museum, before re-boarding our coach.  We were given a bit of a tour of the Auckland harbour and then taken to the ship, where we were allowed to board early.  It was a wonderful surprise, and so welcome after all the time we had spent on planes and in airports.

For insider tips, cruising tips, reviews on the Celebrity Mercury, reviews and hi-lights of the New Zealand and Austrailian ports-of-call, visit this blog this month. 

You will find a wealth of information — information that will hopefully lead you to a positive decision about a Down Under vacation. 

Sheree Zielke

Photographing Children While Traveling: Shoot With Caution!

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

She was a cute little thing, this tiny Mexican miss, but something felt amiss.  After taking pictures of many charming waifs while traveling, this one just felt wrong.  She seemed willing to have her picture taken, but she also seemed uncomfortable. I didn’t snap the shot and instead asked the preschooler where her parents were.  Who was taking care of her?

She understood my question and told me she was with her cousin.  She indicated a ditch to her left.  At first I saw no one, but then the head of a young teen popped up.  The teen shot me a guilty smile and I realized then, with disappointment, that it was a routine.  The little girl was being exploited for photographs by her older cousin, who skulked in the ditch awaiting the exchange of her compliant pose for a dollar.  The joy of capturing a native child in her natural environment fled and I was left with a hollow ache of pity.

The poor in parts of the world like Roatan, Jamaica, and Mexico have figured out there are many tourists with expensive cameras and pockets full of money who will happily fork over a buck or two for a shot of a little native cutie.  I am content with that arrangement when the unspoken agreement is in your face like the beggar woman with her baby outside the Vatican, or the street smart boys in Roatan, Honduras, but not when it is done furtively, like the teen in the ditch.  That is too much like prostitution.  Or worse.  Child abuse.

The famous National Geographic Afghan Girl shot happened a long time ago.  Things have changed dramatically since then, with capitalism replacing innocence.  And with the high incidence of child abuse around the world, innocent photographers must be careful not to be part of the problem.  So, I usually don’t take a picture of a child unless I have some form of permission, or I am in a very public setting and the child is part of that setting.  Like on a pier or at a parade.

My concerns would end at the crafty teen making a few bucks off his little cousin were it not for his more questionable fellow natives.  While in Acapulco, my husband and I were approached a couple of times by both men and women shoving photo albums in our face filled with pictures of children.  We couldn’t quite understand everything they were saying but we were definitely not being sold a picture; we were being offered children.  We were stunned.  And I vowed that as a photographer I would not encourage the exploitation of these children.

Teaching digital cameras and photography allows me to share my views with students.  I encourage those in my class to resist the urge to snap and run.  I suggest chatting with children first, getting down on one, knee eye-to-eye with them.  I also suggest talking with their parents, if they are around.

In many cases, children will be alone, especially in the port towns.  The children who hang out at the pier are unafraid of strangers and expect to be photographed.  Many parade about like miniature street vendors with packs of gum or small toys for sale.  But they know the tourist with the camera is really after a photo.  And they will oblige.

I always travel with American dollar bills or Euros depending upon which continent I am on.  I think it’s fair to give a child, especially the poor ones, a reward for posing.  But I conduct this transaction in public places only.  And I usually do this in the presence of a parent; usually an adult woman whom I guess is the mother.  No grey area that way; your actions will be viewed as completely above board.

Sometimes, I take family pictures as you will get a better photo of a child after developing a rapport with the child, parent or both.  Avoid dealing with a child off the beaten track; stay to the more public places.  Understand that children in the heavily touristed areas are both poor and jaded; they expect to be paid, so pay them.  

And ask yourself a few questions when you meet up with those very willing children.  Are they there of their own volition?  Do they see any part of the dollars they are given for posing?  Do they stand for hours and hours waiting for the kindly ignorant tourists to arrive?  Have they been set up by a family member to obediently wait like seaside doxies the arrival of photographers?  Are they being exploited?

Now do you still want the shot?

Sheree Zielke

Got the Shakes? Tips for avoiding blur when using your digital camera.

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

Got the shakes? Don’t confuse out-of-focus blur with artistic blur when shooting with your digital camera.  Artistic blur can be quite pleasing especially when shooting action photos.  Panning while shooting sports or street scenes can yield some highly dramatic shots, but blur, due to a poorly focused camera, is not acceptable; it’s simply bad photography.

Tips for setting your camera under LOW LIGHT conditions!

Do you like shooting sunrises?  Sunsets?  In the bush shots?  Nighttime events?  Concert hall shots?  Due to the camera’s need to open the aperture and slow down the shutter speed, under low-light conditions, blur is unavoidable if you are hand-holding your camera.  Here are some tips to help you achieve better photos.

Tip #1: Get your camera out of your hand.  If you don’t have a tripod then “jam” your camera down onto something like a bean bag or a balloon filled with sand.   Set it on a fence railing or a flat rock, anything, just to get it out of your hand.  Then use your self-timer.  Select the option in your camera’s drive menu, focus your camera with a half push on the shutter button, and then a full push to activate the self-timer.  By the time your camera takes the picture, it will be perfectly still.

Tip #2: Hate carrying around that cumbersome metal tripod?  Try a mono-pod, or better still, a cool twistable tripod called a, “Gorillapod,” or a “Bottle Cap” tripod.   The Gorillapod is an ingenious device that allows a photographer to twist the bendable legs onto any surface, like a tree or fence post.  While it’s not strong enough to hold a very large camera with heavy battery pack, it is perfect for most other digital cameras.  The Bottle Cap tripod, on the other hand, uses a simple pop bottle as a stand.  Here’s a great review on both devices.

Tip #3: Change your ISO.  This is your digital camera’s “film” speed.  Of course, you don’t have any film, but this is the digital equivalent of old-fashioned film speeds.  Set your ISO to 50 or 100 in bright daylight, but opt for larger (faster) speeds like 400 or 800 in low-light conditions.

Tip #4: Slow down your camera’s shutter speed, after placing your camera on a tripod or a firm level surface.  Select “shutter priority” and then allow your camera to automatically set the camera’s aperture opening.

Tip #5: Open your camera’s aperture wider using a SMALLER F-stop number (remember the smaller the number, the wider the opening).  Opt for “aperture priority,” set your F-stop, and allow your camera to automatically set the shutter speed.

Tip #6: Choose one of your camera’s scene modes like sunset, or night scene which is normally represented by a crescent moon with a star icon.  The camera will set all the necessary parameters, but you must still jam the camera or set it on a tripod.


Modern day digital cameras are very clever with all their bells and whistles, but a photographer is still better off making some decisions on his or her own.  Remember the issue of digital lag?  The more the camera must decide, while in AUTO mode, the slower the camera’s response will be.

In addition, some things never change.  People shake!  No one can hand-hold a camera in low light, and expect in-focus shots.  A tripod was a must with film cameras and it is still a must for digital cameras.  And with the advent of clever devices like the Gorillapod and the Bottle Cap Tripod, there is no excuse not to have clear well-focused shots under lowlight conditions.

P.S. If you aren’t using another clever device called photo management software, you are missing the boat.  PicaJet will assist you in locating a specific digital photograph weeks, if not years later.  Give this award-winning software a try.

Sheree Zielke

Digital Camera MEGA Memory Card Tips

Friday, November 16th, 2007

Oh the JOY!  And the GRIEF!

Camcorder users must have memory cards with LARGE capacity memory storage.  But the average still digital camera user—does not!  And in fact, using a memory card with a storage capacity of over 1GB (gigabyte) is foolhardy. 


With Sony’s release of its mega memory 8 and 16 GB memory sticks for videographers, can mega memory cards be far behind for digital cameras that shoot still photographs?  Apparently not.  Other camera manufacturers are peppering the marketplace with bigger faster memory cards like the SanDisk 16GB CF Extreme III.  But my caution is to think before you leap up to these massive capacity memory cards.  Here’s why…



Digital camera memory cards come under a number of titles, with the most common being:  Compact Flash, xD Card, Memory Stick, SecureDigital, SmartMedia, and MicroDrive.  And while these miniature hard drives differ widely in name, most offer increasing memory capacity.  And that’s good news for professional photographers, but a nasty temptation for the average point and shooter.


It sounds like a magnificent idea, doesn’t it?  Plug in a massive memory card and then fire away.  Select a reasonable resolution and compression level in your camera, and the average Joe photographer could load thousands of images to a 2GB card.  But it’s not the memory card’s memory size that is a problem; it’s the card’s physical size.


This weekend, my grandkids haphazardly managed to lose my Nintendo DS Brain Age game card—it just disappeared.  I could hardly blame them because the darn thing is so tiny.  So are digital camera memory cards.  Some memory cards are so tiny you could pick your teeth with them.  So, what does the average photographer do when, towards the end of his vacation, he loses one of his tiny memory cards?  Cry? Hit something? Curse?  Probably all three.  But it doesn’t have to be that way. 


Keep your digital images safe—don’t put all your eggs in one basket!


1)                Buy several smaller memory cards (512, 1GB).  Split up your photographs so that if a card goes missing, you haven’t lost all your photos.  Hopefully, you haven’t lost the card with the prize-winning sunset shot.

2)                Don’t fill your MEGA (2GB, 8GB, 16GB) memory cards to capacity.  If you need the larger cards because you are saving some of your files in “raw,” fine, but share your digital images among several memory cards.  Use a memory card storage case, like the iPorter xSD or just a simple plastic storage box; turn over your used cards, inside the case, so you know they are “full.”  In an emergency, you could always grab one, and add a few more shots.

3)                Clean your camera’s memory cards every night.  Travel with your laptop, or a small external drive like a Wolverine.  I ensure I never lose my photos by loading all photos to my laptop’s hard drive, and a second set to my Wolverine.  I carry my laptop onto the plane; the Wolverine is packed in my checked luggage.  One way or the other, my digital images make it home.



4)                Re-format your memory cards (in your camera ONLY) once you have cleared them of photos.  Digital camera memory cards are tiny drives—their brains (bits and bytes) get addled just like a computer’s hard drive.  And like a computer, the cards need defragmenting (re-formatting) to keep them working properly.  Or, they will act up.  You’ll know you have card error when your digital images overlap each other.


As an average shooter, don’t be seduced by the mega memory cards—buy several cards with smaller memories instead, and a memory card storage case.  When one of your memory cards goes missing, you will breathe a sigh of relief because you still have the others.


And be sure to manage your photographs well—use a photo filing and indexing program like PicaJet to make your photographs easily accessible.




Sheree Zielke

Photographing Cats: How to Avoid the Glassy Green-Eyed Monster

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

A Great Trick for Photographing a Cat!

We all have pets we love–pets we love to photograph.  But it’s so difficult getting a well-exposed shot without an ugly glassy-eyed stare.  In addition, pets (especially an I-do-as-I-please-when-I-feel-like-it cat) tend not to cooperate with our picture-taking efforts.  But you can trick them into cooperating.

This is a picture of my cat, Winnie.  Winnie by Sheree ZielkeShe is a contrary old beast who will sit still long enough for me to set up my shot, and then as if responding to some inner psychic voice, she moves off,  just as I snap the picture.  Wretched animal! 

In addition, since she is an indoor cat, I must use additional lighting–like my camera’s flash.  That usually results in an ugly glassy-eyed shot, worse than any red eye.  Because a cat’s pupils are so wide, the flash hi-lights the light receptor cells in the back of the animal’s eyes…and that just isn’t pretty.  Photographing her was a huge challenge, until I discovered this trick.

Cashing in on Winnie’s natural curiosity and cat instincts, here’s how I got this picture.  I lay back on my bed, with a bedside lamp beside me (one of those natural daylight lamps).  I forced my camera’s on-board flash OFF.  I set my ISO to 200, left the white balance on AUTO,  and then waited for her to become interested in what I was doing.  That was the easy part since cats like light, especially light that moves around. 

So, while handholding my compact digital in one hand, I used the other hand to wiggle the lamp.  As a result, Winnie turned her complete attention to the lamp, and since the lamplight was beaming down on her, she was completely lit.  That meant I didn’t have to worry about low light conditions, a slower shutter speed, and resulting camera shake. I easily snapped this pretty picture. 

Another thing that helped was shooting the picture at an angle to her eyes; angles definitely help to avoid a greenish glassy stare. 

More tips:  Use your exposure compensation–especially when photographing an animal that is largely all dark or all light.  Here is a good rule of thumb: 

  1. White cat against a darker background?  The cat will be overexposed so decrease your exposure compensation.  (The problem is that the camera metres the dark background and decides more light is needed in the photograph, thus blowing out the white cat.)
  2. Black cat against a lighter background? The cat will be underexposed so increase your exposure compensation.  (The camera decides less light is needed because of all the light, thus underexposing the dark cat.)
  3. Opt for “spot” metering (as opposed to center, average, or matrix metering) when shooting the above subjects; it will help, but will not entirely correct the situation without an exposure compensation adjustment.

Sheree Zielke