I love living here in Albany. Most people don’t realize that New York is anything other than a huge city. But Albany is a great place. And it is the state capitol, too. It is beautiful almost any time of year but it can be especially nice in the fall and spring, with all the leaves changing colors or flowers blooming. Here are some of my favorite places and subjects for photos here in Albany:

If you are interested in buildings, then we certainly have a treat for you. The New York State Capitol building is amazing. This five-story building celebrates three different architectural styles. It is also lit up beautifully at night. The grounds around it are very well manicured and there are some lovely flowers and trees out front depending on the season.

If you are looking for a more urban setting, keep walking around Empire State Plaza. There are modern art sculptures, a pedestrian bridge, and some war memorials. You’ll feel as if you were in a lovely and bustling city.

On the other hand, we have lots of parks and green spaces. Washington Park is a great place to take pictures. It is 84 acres of well-maintained parkland. There are an incredible number of tree species to give you just the right look for your pictures. There is also a Tulip Festival every spring, which is another great setting for photos. There are a bunch of statues and monuments as you walk around. A good one is the King Memorial Fountain. Many of the houses lining the park were designed by famous architects, and several governors have lived there. The lake house is also a beautiful place in the park itself.

If you are looking for more pristine and undisturbed surroundings, I recommend John Boyd Thacher State Park in nearby Voorheesville. It is especially nice in the fall. There are lots of trails – including the famous Indian Ladder Trail. This park alsofeatures several underground streams and some falls, which make lovely backdrops for pictures.

Another beautiful place to visit is Historic Cherry Hill. This museum is a great way to learn about the history of New York through the lives of the Van Rensselaer family, who owned the home from the time it was built in 1787 through the last member of the family’s death in 1963. The grounds there are also pretty nice if you want outdoor pictures. Plus the yellow color of the building creates a great backdrop.

These are just a few of the great places you can use for landscapes and portrait backgrounds around the area. I hope that you come to visit and take a look at these locations. If you live around here and you think I’ve missed somewhere, let me know in the comments and maybe I’ll add it in a future post!

Do you have one of those big, professional looking DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) cameras? Do you have any idea how to use the settings on it?

If you are like most people, you answer yes to the first question and no to the second.

I’m going to briefly go over three different terms for you: aperture, ISO and shutter speed. These can all be adjusted in the manual settings on a DSLR camera to take better pictures. Look through the instructions for your camera in order to learn where these settings are displayed and how to adjust them, since every camera is different. Knowing what these terms mean and how they affect your photos can take your picture from good to great.

The first term is aperture. What it means: the size of the hole in the lens which allows light in. Also represented as: f-stop. The smaller the f-stop, the larger the aperture. What it does: adjusts the depth-of-field. A large f-stop number brings more objects in both the foreground and background into focus. A small f-stop will create a sharper foreground and the background will be more blurry. For something like a portrait, a small f-stop will allow you to create more attention on the subject of your photo. A large f-stop is good for landscapes, where you want the whole picture to be in focus.

The next term is ISO. What it stands for: International Standards Organization. What it means: how sensitive your camera is to light. What it does: lets you know what kind of light conditions you can use. The lower the ISO, the less “noise” will be in the picture in low-light conditions. Many cameras now have a low ISO of 100. Use the lowest settings possible in lower light conditions. A faster ISO will make your sensor more sensitive, which allows it to take pictures faster. If you are at a concert or somewhere else where flash would be ineffective, up your ISO to get a better picture.

That brings us to our last term, shutter speed. What it means: the length of time the camera’s shutter is open. The faster the shutter speed, the faster the shutter opens and closes. How it is represented: in fractions of a second. Usually you will see it listed as a number and “ where “ means a second. You want a faster shutter speed when taking pictures of movement when you want to freeze the action. You use a longer shutter speed to create things like motion blur. The longer your shutter speed, the more important it is to either securely hold the camera or have it on a tripod. If your camera doesn’t have a long enough shutter speed for what you want to do, you should be able to find a remote trigger that will extend it for you.

Knowing how to use these settings can help you take better photos with your digital camera. I recommend testing out all three of these settings on simple subjects around your house before you attempt to use them on something that will really matter to you.

When we are taking a picture of loved ones, whether it is one person or a large group, we usually have no problem composing the photo. Center the person (or people) in the frame and take the photo. Often they are standing in front of something interesting, like a famous landmark or other piece of scenery. However, those kinds of pictures are all we know how to do. If we want to make the picture more visually interesting, or when we take a picture of just scenery, we feel lost.

First, let’s talk about what composition is: it is all of the things that make up the photo. The subject, the color, the lighting. All of these things are part of the composition of any photograph. If these things are portrayed in a pleasing way, you’ll have an attractive photograph. You have probably taken a picture that was off-centered or at an odd angle. Most of the time, once you see what you have done, you are disappointed with the results.

So how can you compose a photo that is interesting and looks good? Here are some ideas for you:

Think about what you want the main focus to be. That’s where you are going to aim your camera. Sure you may be standing in front of a forest full of gorgeous trees but you still want to choose one of them to be the focal point. Our brains naturally filter out all the things that we aren’t interested in when we’re looking at something, but you don’t have that ability with a picture (until the editing process at least) so get close to the subject. Remove as much empty space as you can from the picture so that your subject is clear. If you know anything about lenses and selective focus, this is the time to use them. There is a reason you want to capture a specific view or moment in time. Make it the star of the photo.

If you find yourself always putting the subject dead center of the frame, your pictures will start to look repetitive and boring. Use a professional technique called The Rule of Thirds. You mentally divide the picture into three equal sized parts and then try to balance out the three sections. This takes a little practice.

Use lines to your advantage. Whether it is intentional or not, our eyes follow any visual lines we see. It could be a wall, a road, the side of a building. You get the idea. Use the natural lines around you to draw attention to your subject. See where your eye naturally travels and why, and use that to help you compose your picture.

Move around. Sometimes simply changing an angle can make the picture much better. For example, if you often take pictures of your kids, take some pictures from the ground. Or get down to their eye level. You would be surprised at how often this makes for a better shot.

Take more than one picture of something. Especially now that pictures are digital and you can simply erase the ones that don’t look good, there is nothing to stop you from trying different things with your pictures. Have fun with it and your pictures will be more interesting to look at.