Category Archives: Photography Tips

How To Shoot The Blue Hour

Carla Coulson Blue hour

Florence by Carla Coulson taken in winter

Have you ever wondered how to shoot the blue hour – that magic twilight when the sun has set but the night is yet to fully descend?

I shot the blue hour over and over again and used it as a ‘get out of jail’ card when I was shooting travel stories for magazines and needed a good shot of a city with atmosphere or wanted to have a little fun like with Christmas decorations in Place Vendome (see below).

I even used this technique on miserable, rainy winter days in Europe because even the blue hour works under these conditions – love the blue hour.

What is the blue hour?

The blue hour isn’t actually an hour, it should be called the blue fifteen minutes instead!! After the sun has set and the pink in the sky fades, the colour temperature cools as the sun has gone. This cooling of the colour temperature produces a beautiful blue and it lasts between 10 and 15 minutes before the balance is overridden with the black of the night.

Carla Coulson Blue hour 2

Florence by Carla Coulson taken in Winter

When does it work best?

I find there needs to be a good balance of city and street lights to achieve this result. If you want to shoot a building or city to create this effect they need to be sufficiently lit otherwise you will have a lot of dark areas and bright points. When the city or building is well lit you have more of a balance in the image.

I tried this once on a private home in Provence and too make sure it was lit well enough we turned on all the inside lights, all the outside lights and added lanterns for more points of light.

Most cities turn their street and monuments lights on right around the blue hour. I have stood waiting in the cold throughout the years begging those lights to come on before the blue was gone and nearly every city turned them on in time  (thanks guys).

ChristmasPlaceVendome Carla Coulson

Christmas Place Vendome My French Life Copyright by Carla Coulson

How to do it:

1. Check the time the sunsets where you want to shoot with a program like this

2. Go at least 30 mins before the sunsets and set up your tripod and find your frame because once the light fades you gotta be quick.

3. Work out your focus point before the light fades as it can be tricky once the sun has set.. Technically dark for autofocus and for your eyes if you haven’t got great eyesight.

4. Work on a low ISO of around 400 will still give you room to move with F-Stops..I find working on ISO of 100 gives you little choice with the F-Stops and depth of field.

5. Start checking the light meter once the sun has gone because you are about to lose stops of light quickly.

6. Do a test and check focus whilst there is still light

7. Set your camera on self timer or use a remote shutter release so you aren’t touching the shutter when the photo is being taken. You will be working on long shutter speeds so any movement can blur the photo.

8. I normally take photos throughout the 15 mins to see which effect I like. You will need to keep changing the exposure based on the light dropping. Often in the early shots the sky is more cyan blue and then towards the end a little more deeper royal blue.

9. Note on clear blue sky days the blue is more prominent that on grey cloudy days.

10. Once the ‘fifteen minutes’ are up the sky becomes black and the streets lights give a very strong golden cast. The ‘blur hour’  has passed.

I hope this helps you have a little fun taking shots of a place or special thing you love.

“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.” Victor Hugo




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Photographing Your First Book

Books Carla Coulson  Some of my books rubbing up against my heroes..

Nothing like a new start, a new week and a New Year that brings so many new projects and hope.

I love hope!

I have been preparing images and a presentation for the upcoming Caravan Travel Photography Workshop in Puglia and going through 12 years of images. This is such a wonderful process in itself, like looking through a visual diary of your life, moments in time, familiar faces and ones you have forgotten.

Grandfather Naples Carla Couls

I like to think I remember every photo but even I found some lovely surprises.

Trawling back through the images from now to the beginning of photography school, through projects such as Naples A Way Of Love, Paris Tango and and all the way to Italian Joy I had a thought that may just help you shoot your first book.

Carla Coulson Italian Joy

When you are at the beginning of anything you have ‘things’ that money can’t buy – endless oodles of enthusiasm, no expectations,  the joy at looking at the world as though you have just seen and ‘felt’ it for the first time and shooting what you love.

Sunbaker Carla Coulson Italian Joy

The cameras I invested in in the early years were like new toys for me and I couldn’t get enough of them. My underwater camera meant even at the beach I could explore photography from a new angle.

Carla Coulson Italian Joy

The photos that ended up in Italian Joy were a product of innate curiosity of life, the burning desire to take photos that said or made you feel something, sheer unadulterated happiness and untiring enthusiasm that would have me out in the rain, the wind, the snow… asking fishermen (that I didn’t know) to board their boats and shoot them.. holding my breath and shooting ladies underwater.. treading water whilst kids jumped off the rocks one after the other waiting for that perfect moment ….and stalking lovers in train stations.

Italian Joy Carla Coulson

The photos I took in those early years are still some of my favourites because they were taken for sheer pleasure and love of photography with no end use in mind. They were photos born of freedom.

And this my dear friends is your advantage when shooting for a ‘probable’ first book.

Carla Coulson Italian Joy

Some things I notice in my photos looking back:

1. I shot ‘my’ world, the people around me, people who would give me access, my friends, family, Florentines and Popi

2. I was obsessed with movement, I shot vespas over and over again

3. I was also obsessed with religious iconography in Italy and drawn to every tabernacle on a street corner, statues of Madonna’s in churches and religious art (I have thousands of images).

4. I loved the innate elegance of Italians and would stop well-dressed people in the street and ask if I could take a photo (yep I was obsessed).

5. I loved shooting love in all it’s expressions…

6. I shot things that made me laugh (still do)..

7. I shot almost exclusively in the early years in black and white…(and I never felt the pressure to shoot in colour)

Made in Italy Carla Coulson Italian joy

 All Photos Copyright Carla Coulson Italian Joy

So here are are some tips if you are at the beginning of your photography career and hope one day to shoot/write a book.

1. Shoot what you love and don’t question it.

2. Shoot what is accessible and don’t ask yourself where it will fit?

3. The world needs original books so if you think it isn’t mainstream enough.. Keep shooting you are probably onto something.

4. If you are shooting a well known subject put your spin on it.

5. Take the photos you love and trust your inner ‘photographer’s voice’.

I hope this little insight helps you on your path.

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” Elliott Erwitt



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‘M’ is for Manual Photography Week 4 – Exposure

dslr-viewfinder-meta copy

Original Image via here

Dearest Manual Enthusiasts

If you have made it this far my sincere congratulations. I know there seems like a lot to plough through (hey we’re just getting started) but once you have mastered the basics of manual photography it’s about practice and moving onto some more advanced concepts.

Today I want to chat about exposure because this is the zenith of photography. And you need to know how to correctly expose your images.

A correctly exposed image is simply the right combination of an F-Stop, Shutter Speed and ISO. Yep girls, that is how easy it all is!!

Now I can hear you saying but what is the right combination of F-Stops and Shutter Speeds?

Think of it like a recipe, you have the choice of many ingredients and depending on how you want your cake or photo to turn out on which ingredients you choose.

You can start by choosing an F-Stop or by choosing a shutter speed you want to work on or an ISO. Depending on what light you are shooting you will need to consider the ISO so select one that you think suits the lighting conditions.

Now choose an F-Stop that you would like to work with and find something you want to photograph.

Once you have done that, look into your viewfinder and at the bottom of the image you should see a slider like in the above image. This indicates if your image is correctly exposed or not.

To expose your image correctly adjust your F-Stop or Shutter Speed so that the slider finishes right in the centre. As you move your dials watch closely and you will see it move.

Trouble Shooting:

If your dial will no longer move you may need to adjust up or down your ISO as your ISO doesn’t match the light conditions and the F-Stop/Shutter speed combination you want to work with.

Once you have found the right exposure re-check your shutter speed and make sure it is above 1/125 second if you want to hand hold your camera otherwise you will have camera shake. If it’s not consider changing the F-Stop to compensate for it.

If you have found the right exposure you but want to change F-Stop or Shutter speed, remember that you can’t change one without the other otherwise your image will be under or over exposed. For eg. If you were working at F-8 1/250 sec and wanted to shoot with F-5.6 you would need to adjust your shutter speed to 1/500 sec.. Why because when you go from F-8 to F5.6 you are doubling the light coming into the camera and to compensate you need to change your shutter speed so that it will take this ‘adjustment away’. From 1/250 to 1/500 sec you are halving the amount of light coming into your camera..

There are somethings that will trick your camera into exposing the image incorrectly, like a pure white wall or a pure black wall or a back lit image. For this exercise try and avoid these.

When you have found the right combination and your slider is directly underneath the indicator take a pic and voila it should be correctly exposed.

I hope these past 4 weeks have helped you make the jump from automatic to manual. If you were lost at any point my suggestion would be to go back and try again. Sometimes the concepts are a little slow to sink in.

Wishing you wonderful photos and much enjoyment taking your digital SLR off road.




“Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.” Albert Camus

‘M’ is for Manual Photography Week 3 – ISO and Depth of Field

F2.8 50 mm lens carla coulson

PHOTO 1: Depth of field – Shot at F2.8mm Note the focus point doesn’t change in the following images. Wallpaper, book, phone, most of tulips and chair in foreground blurry. Click on photo to read all text

A big fabulous good morning to you as I am about to leave for Sydney.

This is the 3rd post in the series ‘M’ is for Manual photography and it is for those of you who want to get off automatic on your fab digital SLR and head on over to manual. You can catch the first two posts here  Your Camera and F-Stops and Shutter Speeds .

So here we go on one of the most exciting things about photography and something all the girls love. Good old depth of field.

Depth of Field

The depth of field refers to the amount of distance in your photo that is in focus from your focal point (the point you choose to focus on). Yep with manual photography we get to decide what we want in focus and what we want blurry.

Now here is the brain bender for all of us! There is double whammy bonus that is associated with F-Stops. Not not only do F-Stops control the amount of  light coming  into your camera (which you saw in Week 2 they also control the depth of field).

Are you still with me?

So we learnt last week that F-Stops halve or double the amount of light coming into your camera as we change them but something else happens.. drum roll….

Yep, girls it’s called more blur or less blur and it is one of the most fabulous techniques in photography.

So let’s talk about the difference in depth of field of our F-Stops.

When you choose a point to focus on in your image known as focal point that is the point you want to be sharp. There is a ‘field’ of space that is in focus other than the focal point depending on the F-Stop you have chosen.

I did a  little example for you starting with F2.8 changing to F5.6 then F8 then F22. The top shot (Photo 1) was shot at F2.8 and I focus on St Gennaro the little statue and you can see very little other than the stack of photos he is sitting on is in focus and maybe one of the tulips.

F5.6 50 mm carla coulson

PHOTO 2: F5.6 same focal point on St Gennaro

In Photo 2 I didn’t change the focus point here I only changed the F-Stop and the shutter speed. Changing From F2.8 to F56 meant I gained a lot more depth of field. If you have a look at the line on the right it has lengthened from the first shot. The foreground is in focus (not  the chair)  and more of the tulip flowers are in focus.

F8 50 mm lens carla coulson

PHOTO 3: F8 – Same focal point on St Gennaro

In Photo 3 I have kept the same focal point and changed the FStop to F8 and I am gaining more depth of field. You will see the line on the right stretches from in front of the chair right back to the tip of the book. The red phone is also starting to come into focus and the wallpaper is far less blurry than in Photo 1.

F22 50 mm Carla coulson PHOTO 4: F22 – The focal point is still on St Gennaro

In Photo 4 I went from F8 to F22 and you can see everything is in focus from the white chair in the foreground to the crazy wallpaper including the book, the orchid and the phone. F22 is the big kahuna of FStops, you know you want everything in focus this is your starting point.

F2- Only the focal point is in focus and a couple of mm behind it and the rest of the photo and background is soft blur.

F2.8- Still a very shallow depth of field but a little more field than the F2

F4 – More depth of field but still considered a shallow depth of field

F5.6 – A middle of the road depth of field that you will still have blur in the background

F8 – Good when shooting more than one person who are on different planes

F16 – Almost all the image is in focus

F22 – The whole world is almost in focus from the point of focus to the infinity of the background..



Image via Fuji


Remember in the old days when you wanted to take some photos you would buy a roll of film. Often the person at the camera shop would ask you would you like a 100, 200 or 400 etc?

These numbers referred to ISO or sometimes ASA and they are the numbers that determine the sensitivity of the film. You would choose your film based on the ‘amount’ of light you were going to shoot in or the effect you wanted.

The higher you go in the ISO numbers the more sensitive the film or ISO becomes which basically means it’s like gaining stops of light. So if you went from a 400 ISO to an 800 ISO it’s like doubling the light that will enter your camera. The same concept as we saw with F-stops and Shutter speeds (say for example you were working at 1/125 second, F4, ISO 400 but you wanted to shoot at 1/125 second F5.6 to have more depth of field you could go up  800 ISO and that would give you an extra stop of light you need via the sensibility of the film/digital).

Now let’s talk about light for a second because that’s the basis of photography.

When is there lots of light and when is there less light?

Midday in the middle of summer is about the most natural light you can have.

When you go into the shade on a sunny day there is less light than standing the in full sun.

In summer in the morning or the evening the light is softer, less harsh or strong than at midday so technically there is less light.

In winter the light has different angles and is softer than in summer and for example on a Parisian’s winter day the light is very low .

Entering a building you are dramatically reducing the amount of light that your camera will see.

Twilight hour as the sun is going you are loosing light.

Night – very low light

So it is really important that you understand what kind of light you are shooting in as this will help you choose your ISO. If you were shooting hand held (not on a tripod)  the following may help you select your ISO.

ISO Number – Light conditions

100 – Bright sunny day tonnes of light – Low grain/noise

200 – You have a little more flexibility with 200 than 100 like gaining a stop of light – low grain/noise

400 – Good for lower light conditions, cloudy, shady – Grain/noise

800 -  Shooting hand held inside or as the light is fading around twilight

1600 – Photo journalists often used this ISO as if they wanted to shoot inside or outside they had a lot of flexibility

3200 – Shooting at night or in low light interiors hand held – Really Grainy

You will see from the list above that as you go up in ISO your images will have more grain or noise. Everything in photography is a trade-off.

Now the key with ISO is about what light you are shooting in. In the old days say I wanted to shoot in bright sunlight (ie tonnes of light) I would have chosen a 100 ISO film and that is exactly what I would choose now on my digital dial.  Why? Because having a lot of light I don’t need to compensate by using more sensitivity with my ISO.

Now we are really lucky with digital because instead of having a roll of film in our camera that doesn’t suit the lighting conditions we can simply change the ISO setting on our camera by pressing the ISO button and rolling our dial.

I would suggest you do some tests of your own like I did in the above example with F-Stops to see what happens before your eyes and blow the images up on your screen. It’s magic.

Also press down your ISO button and see what happens. You should see the numbers moving along the bottom when looking through the viewfinder.

You’re almost there.. Next week exposure and once you have nailed that you are on your way.

Best of luck

“Balance of light is the problem, not the amount. Balance between shadows and highlights determines where the emphasis goes in the picture…make sure the major light in a picture falls at right angles to the camera.” Elliot Erwitt




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‘M’ is for Manual Photography Week 2 – F-Stops and Shutter Speeds


F-Stops on my Leica M8 start at F2 then move to F2.8, F4, F5.6, F8 and up to F16..

Hello Manual Enthusiasts,

Thanks for joining me again in this foray into manual photography. In case you missed last week ‘Your Camera‘ you can catch it here.

Today I am just dealing  with the two subjects that control light coming into your camera, F-Stops and Shutter Speeds.

Now I am going to show you how things work on my Leica (which has fewer buttons and gadgets like analogue camera’s had) and is much simpler to get your head around than all the digital numbers that appear on our LCD screens.

Tomorrow’s post will be about Depth of Field and Exposure so stay tuned.

What is an F-Stop??

You will see on the lens above that there are numbers 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6 and they keep going on this camera right up to F16. These numbers are the F-stops and by moving the ring and selecting a different number you are opening or closing the lens and letting more or less light in to the camera.

Now heres the confusing thing for us girls. A bloke designed this for sure because in my opinion it’s the wrong way around.

Small numbers like F2 or F2.8 mean ‘more light’ entering your camera and high numbers like F16 means ‘less light’ entering your camera.

Now wouldn’t it have made more sense to do it the other way around???

So you have to think like a bloke (illogically.. ha ha guys) when you want more or less light

Small numbers = equal lots of light

High Numbers = not much light

What happens when you go from F2.8 to F4? Basically you are halving the light that enters your camera.. If you go from F2.8 to F2 you are doubling the light. Just a little detail to know that as you move along the scale from one F-Stop to the next you are doubling or halving the light entering your camera. This can be a big deal and save your shot if you are working with low light (that’s why good camera lenses cost a lot of money because they have low F-Stops such as F2).

Have a look at the image below and you will see the black circles are the lens and the white circles are the lens openings. You  will see at F22 the opening is really small (not much light coming in) and F2.8 really large (loads of light coming).



fstops demystified Image via Pinterest

Now on fancy digital SLR cameras you no longer simply move the ring on the outside of the camera (unless you are lucky) to change F-Stops you have to use one of your selectors. Now in my case on my Canon 5D I use the wheel on the back of the camera to select the F-Stop. See image below with stars!

So if you are looking into your viewfinder and move this wheel (on my camera yours may be different) you should see the numbers changing along the bottom of the image.

wheel to change f-stop


Shutter Speed

I love shutter speed! It’s the area where we get to choose whether we want motion blur or our action frozen in time…

The shutter wheel dial again on my Leica is just a simple wheel and this is how you should think of shutter speed even if you have a fancy digital SLR.


 Shutter speed wheel and values on my Leica M8

Shutter speeds work in fractions of a second and as you move up the scale from  1/30, 1/60,1/125/1/250, 1/500 you are doing two things:

1. Letting less light into your camera because the speed is faster and the shutter is open for less time

2. Changing how your image is captured. The higher the shutter speed such as 1/500 the more likely movement in your photo will be frozen, at a 1/30 second you will have lots of blur.

wayne chick 4

Image shot at 1/30 second. You can really see the blur here..

Carla Coulson Wayne Chick

Shot at 1/125 second.. Here she is moving towards me and curtseying so  there is a little movement of her hair etc but you can see the dress clearly unlike in the top shot.

Some examples:

1/30 second -  Great if you want camera shake or movement blur

1/60 second – If you don’t have steady hands anything from here down (1/30 etc) will have camera shake and motion blur when capturing movement

1/125 second – My starting point if I don’t want camera shake and when I want to capture slow movement without too much blur

1/250 second – Good for freezing movement such as fast walking or slow biking

1/500 second – Good for freezing movement of a car or scooter

1/1000 second – Good for freezing movement of a Ferrari

1/2000 second – Good for freezing movement of a Lamborghini!

How to change your shutter speed on your fab digital SLR?  On my Canon 5D I need to use the wheel on the top of my camera. When looking through the viewfinder I can see the shutter speeds changing as I move the wheel. On your camera it may be in the same position, if not you need to locate it.

I think that is enough for today!  I will be posting Exposure and Depth of Field next week so stay tuned.

Have a great day.

“I wish more people felt that photography was an adventure the same as life itself and felt that their individual feelings were worth expressing. To me, that makes photography more exciting.” Harry Callahan




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