Things to try in November

01 The Aurora Borealis by Bjørn Jørgensen

01 The Aurora Borealis by Bjørn Jørgensen

01 The Aurora Borealis © Bjørn Jørgensen

01 Shoot the light fantastic – head north to photograph the Aurora Borealis

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, are at their most dramatic from November to February, so now’s the time to dig out your winter woolies and head north for the light show of a lifetime. They’re at their best in countries above or near the Arctic Circle, but they can be seen as far south as the Shetland Islands, and even the Scottish Highlands if the conditions are right.Wherever you choose to go, the key to capturing the lights on camera is patience, as Norwegian landscape pro Bjørn Jørgensen advises: “The Northern Lights can appear all of a sudden, and disappear just as fast, so you need to be prepared to spend several nights out in the cold without seeing so much as a glimpse.”

“You also need a lens in the 12-24mm range to include as much of the sky as possible, and exposure times need to be kept quite short because the lights move surprisingly quickly. Any longer than about ten seconds results in an indistinct blur. On dark nights this inevitably means having to increase the ISO, so you also need a camera than can cope with high ISOs. Unfortunately, grain is impossible to avoid – it’s the price you pay for getting images of the world’s most breathtaking natural spectacle.”

Get started today…

* Your chances of seeing the Northern Lights are much higher when the earth is being hit by a solar storm – check out for information on the weather in space.

* The darker the surroundings are, the brighter and more powerful the auroras will seem, so avoid locations near towns or cities, which produce a lot of light pollution.

* Try to include some of the landscape and surroundings in the frame, because this helps to add depth and context to the photo.

* Shooting in raw is essential – you’ll need the extra flexibility raw offers when post-processing the files, not least to keep noise to a minimum.

02 Photograph food – cook up a storm and shoot the results

You only have to peruse the display tables at your local book shop to realise that food photography has a style all its own. Slick, stylised and heavily dependent on photographic technique, it offers a great way to develop your still-life and lighting skills.But be warned: shooting food isn’t as easy it looks. Professional food photographer Marie-Louise Avery, who’s worked with everyone from Gordon Ramsay to Nigella Lawson, has this advice for aspiring photo foodies: “The trick is to make it look as effortless as possible, and this usually takes a lot of effort! The key is soft, even lighting. Any shadows will kill food. I work in a light, airy studio with windows on three sides. If I only have one window to work with I use a curved reflector to wrap light around the whole subject.”

Get started today…

* Keep the background clean and clutter-free – if you’re photographing food, you should concentrate on the food.

* For a quick-fix lighting solution, position your main light source at a 45° angle behind the subject, and a reflector opposite it in front of the subject.

* Focus on, and expose for, the front point of the food – this tends to over-expose the rest of the shot slightly, resulting in light and airy images.

* Don’t just shoot whatever’s on the plate – arrange things or line them up so that you have what I call a hero point to focus on, such as the edge of a coffee cup or the seeds of a tomato.

03 Play with fire and smoke – photograph incense trails to create eerie abstract compositions

With the nights closing in, there’s no better time to batten down the hatches and embark on a few indoor photographic projects. So why not try photographing smoke trails, which you can then process to create a still life with a difference. All you need is a sheet of black velvet, a flashgun, and an incense stick. As our art and still-life guru Ben Brain explains, the key to this technique is focusing: “Autofocus will hunt back and forth, searching for a sharp edge to lock on to, so you need to pre-focus on, say, the tip of the incense stick, and then switch to manual mode to lock the focus. The room also needs to be draught-proof, otherwise the smoke will swirl too much. This works best in a darkened room with the smoke lit from the side, so a wireless trigger, or off-camera flash cord, is also a good idea.”

Get started today…

* Take hundreds of shots – subtle differences in the swirls can make all the difference to the final shot.

* Try using a fly swatter or a sheet of card to create additional swirls.

* Set your flash to manual to take more control of the lighting.

* To process your shots, invert them in Photoshop by going to Image>Adjustments>Invert and then use a Colour Balance Adjustment Layer to add a coloured tint.

04 Book a winter photo workshop – transform your nature shots by spending a week with a pro

Have you ever dreamt of being a professional landscape or wildlife photographer, but don’t have the time or the money to make it happen? Then a professionally run photo holiday might be just the ticket. “I’ve been fortunate enough to lead photography tours all over the world, and the one thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter what level you’re at,” says nature and wildlife professional Mark Hamblin. “More advanced photographers are able to shoot landscapes and animals that they wouldn’t have the knowledge or confidence to seek out on their own, while beginners are able to benefit from the knowledge of the professional leading the group, and their fellow photographers. Most nature photographers – pros included – simply don’t have the time to get out into the wilds as often as they’d like, so by getting away from the daily grind and immersing themselves in photography for a week or more they often learn more in that week that they would in a whole year on their own.”

Get started today…

* If a week is too long, consider spending a day with a pro closer to home, either in a small group workshop or on a one-to-one basis.

* A good source of inspiration for both landscape and wildlife photography is the website, which showcases the work of 20 of the UK’s best-known nature photographers.

05 A Touch of frost by Guy Edwardes

05 A Touch of frost © Guy Edwardes

05 Photograph a touch of frost – make the most of cold nights and clear skies to shoot seasonal scenics

For frost to form, you need cold nights and clear skies – thankfully, completely clear skies are much easier to forecast than rain. “It also needs to be still, as any breeze will blow the moisture away before it has a chance to freeze,” says landscape pro Guy Edwardes. “The only thing you need to be wary of is frost or condensation forming on your lens. To get around this I actually leave my camera gear outside overnight.”

Get started today…

* Frost tends to form in hollows, so bear this in mind when considering locations.

* Get in position early – once the sun rises, the frost will burn off in a matter of minutes.

* Vary focal length, angle and composition to get a variety of shots.

* To expose frost correctly, take a meter reading off the frost and dial in +1.5 stops of exposure compensation.

06 Home in on indoor portraits – take home studio portraits without using studio lights

You might think that to shoot professional-looking studio shots at home, you need to invest in a professional home studio kit, but in fact all you need is a flash with a manual setting, a collapsible softbox and a wireless flash trigger. “People get hung up on studio flash,” says social and portrait photographer Brett Harkness, “but for head-and-shoulder shots, dedicated flash softboxes are just as effective.” Lastolite’s Ezyboxes come in three sizes – 38cm, 60cm and 76cm – and can be attached to most flashes. They fold flat for storage and take just minutes to assemble, making them great for location shoots too.

Get started today…

* When using a flash-mounted softbox, simply set your flash to manual and adjust the power to get the correct exposure for the aperture.

* Even if you haven’t got a wireless flash trigger, you can still use an Ezybox on camera, either by pointing it directly at the subject, or by bouncing it off a wall or the ceiling.

07 Shoot architecture in HDR – bring buildings to life by combining multiple exposures

High Dynamic Range (HDR) techniques are typically used to bring out every last flake of paint in gritty urban scenes, or every speck of stubble in a character portrait. But they can also be used for more traditional subjects to bring out details in shadows and highlights, and to make the colours really pop. This technique is very effective for architectural images shot at dusk. To get your own HDR shots at dusk, follow these tips from low-light wizard Steve Sharp…

Get started today…

* Wait until it’s almost dark – so that the sky is almost as dark as the foreground – to ensure that it won’t burn out. If you time it right, you’ll only need three exposures (each 1-2 stops apart) to cover the whole tonal range: one for the shadows, one for midtones and one for the highlights.

* You can create an HDR conversion using the Merge to HDR command in Photoshop, but I prefer the Exposure Blending option in Photomatix Pro. The Topaz Adjust plug-in is great at teasing out detail in shadows and highlights.

08 Design a calendar – create a seasonal gift that keeps giving all year round

Most of us enjoy taking photos of our family and friends, but often these records of our treasured memories remain buried on a hard drive. One solution is to revisit your family photos in the run-up to Christmas, edit them down to your favourite few dozen, and then use them to create a professional-looking photo calendar, which you can then enjoy for a whole year without even having to turn on your computer. And best of all, they make great gifts.

Get started today…

* There are dozens of companies offering online design and printing services – try or

* When you’re laying out your calendar, try to keep it seasonal, so people in scarves and hats don’t appear on the June page, for example.

* Keep composition and content varied for each month, and think of themes that might link the images for each month together, such as subject or colour.

09 Hit the streets by David Clapp

09 Hit the streets © David Clapp

09 Hit the streets – Develop an eye for quirky and creative urban images

You can produce images that combine architectural and street photography in an original way by thinking laterally – all you need is a little patience. “It’s about developing an eye for out-of-the-ordinary things that might make for a good subject,” says travel and landscape pro David Clapp. “In this shot of a billboard in Tokyo, the subject is the pink face in the poster. I took loads of frames, but when the lad in the pink top passed in front of the lens, I knew I had the shot I wanted.”

“The shot of the train driver waiting on the platform was also a happy accident. He put his briefcase in the right place, and looked to the right just as the train sped into the station.”

Get started today…

* Don’t be afraid to ask people to move or pose if it will improve your composition – nine times out of ten, they’ll be happy to oblige.

* Look out for colours, shapes and other graphic elements, such as shadows.

* Be creative with shutter speed: to blur people, you need a shutter speed of around ½ sec; to blur a passing train or bus 1/30 sec should be slow enough.

* Try using a tripod to frame your shot, then use a remote shutter release to capture the world as it passes by unawares.