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Archive for the ‘photo tips’ Category

I came up with this neat little memory/visual trick to let me know at a glance the charge state of my NiMh batteries. It’s really simple. If your batteries are fresh from the charger, orient all the positive ends in the same direction when you store them. If your batteries have been used, simply flip one of the batteries (I charge in units of four) around so that three will show the positive ends, and the fourth will be, of course, negative and the indicator of your batteries’ condition. The photo below illustrates what a set ready for recharge looks like. 

 

If the batteries arent all showing the same pole, its time for a recharge!

If the batteries aren't all showing the same pole, it's time for a recharge!

 One more battery-related tip…look for the new low-discharge NiMh batteries. Instead of draining 1% of their power per DAY, these babies will lose 1% of their juice over a MONTH! That means you can toss ’em into your camera bag and be confident that they’ll be ready to work six months from now. They cost a bit more but, for my money, they’re worth it.

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Don’t be one of those people who say “I wish I had my camera with me” after something truly spectacular happens. Carry your camera with you wherever you go! If you’re unable ot carry a bulky DSLR, grab a point and shoot with a sensor chip of at least 3 megapixels resolution and stick it in your purse or jacket pocket.

You never know when you’ll be witness to a great photo situation and, believe me, you’ll kick yourself if you can’t lay hands on something with a lens when you do.

My personal choice for a carry-everywhere camera? The Canon Powershot G10. It’s one of the few point-and-shoot cameras with RAW capability and is reasonably inexpensive. If you’re interested in something cheaper, the earlier model, the G9, is very nice too. We’re talking $500 or less, fyi. Yeah, photography ain’t a cheap hobby…

While we’re at it, set your camera to auto ISO, aperture priority (set to f/5.6) and, if you’ve got it, set image stabilization ON. Setting your camera in this manner will leave you prepared to capture photos in almost any situation

So make a habit of taking your camera along…you just might make a picture that’ll reward you for it!

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Here’s a short list of things to do now that you’ve got your dream camera:

  • Get a set of NiMh batteries…and a spare. Look for the new batteries that are labeled low discharge. This variety will keep a charge longer. On average, they lose only 1-2% of their charge per month. They’re worth the extra bucks.
  • Buy a carrying case. Don’t look to break the bank for a case. Your local Wal-Mart or Target carries a variety of cheap cases. Find one that will hold your camera, batteries, cards and, if needed, extra lenses. A case will protect your bag from dust, rain and prying eyes. Shy away from the ones with camera company logos emblazoned on them because they scream “steal me” to thieves.
  • Toss the memory card that came with the camera (for point and shoots, it’s usually 32MB or so…totally worthless) and invest in a 4GB card. Memory card prices are at a record low, take advantage of it now.
  • Read the manual! I can never say it enough. I know many are poorly written but slog through it a dozen pages at a time till you’ve read it all. It’ll be time well spent.
  • Get out there and practice. While practice won’t necessarily make you perfect, it will make you better. Take advantage of the instant feedback digital imaging provides to make a lot of photos and experiment with all the settings on your camera. Find which ones work best for you and get familiar with your “little friend.”  Delete the bad ones after you download them, never in the field. Remember, shoot in haste, delete at leisure.

One final tip. Find a friend with a similar passion for photography. It’s a great way to stay motivated as you learn to use your new camera. It’ll also give you a buddy to attend photo walks with!

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During a recent photo walk, I was hard-pressed to find something interesting to shoot at the chosen venue. Instead of being satisfied with the usual night shot of decorated trees and other holiday lighting, I pulled out an old-school technique (yep, from the days of film!) to add some interest to my evening’s shoot.  It’s basically a time exposure/zoom. It’s easy to do and, with the right subject, will produce some wonderful effects. The key here is to experiment and not be happy with your first try.

What this effect looks like straight from the chip.

What this effect looks like straight from the chip.

 

Here we go, step-by-step:

  • Start by mounting your camera (with your favorite zoom lens attached) to a sturdy tripod. What you’ll be doing next requires a solid foundation. 
  • Next, line up your shot so the optical center (dead center of your frame) falls in the middle of your subject (or maybe not, remember my earlier call for experimentation here?). Your image will zoom out from this spot, so you want to get this right.
  • Set your camera to manual focus and manual exposure. Focus on your subject, lock up mirror (if possible).
  • Start with these settings: ISO 100, f/16, 30 seconds (this is for an exposure after the sun’s been down for an hour or so…black sky).
  • Slowly press your shutter release and, after a few seconds, slowly zoom your lens.
  • Check your LCD and repeat. I should have put you in the ballpark and you should have said “ahhhhhh, ooooohhh” at your results.

The key here is to play around and have fun with this technique. A zoom made after 15 seconds have passed will make the underlying lights more dominant. A slow zoom from start to finish will have a completely different effect. I was happy with my resulting images and, with a little help from Photoshop, one eventually became my Christmas card!

Finished image with a little liquid filter applied a'la Photoshop.

 

Okay, now go experience some holiday joy using my little tip. Please, please, please share your experiences using this technique here (and give us the URL for your work so we can enjoy it too!).

Happy Holidays,

Dennis

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The one filter that you absolutely, positively need in your bag is the circular polarizer. A polarizer is a filter that polarizes the light going through it to noticeably darken blue skies, reduce reflections and increase color saturation in your photos. The “circular” in its name means your auto focus and auto exposure systems won’t be affected by the polarized light and will focus and meter normally. Regular, non-circular polarizers are a little cheaper but won’t offer this extremely useful feature.

Polarizers are two pieces of polarized, coated glass that rotate relative to each other to increase or decrease the polarizing effect. Depending upon how much you rotate the filter, the effect can be subtle or quite dramatic.

Non-polarized, right, polarizer at max, left. Note saturated trees, sky at left.

Non-polarized, left, polarizer at max, right. Note saturated trees, sky at right.

The standard filter minuses apply here. Circular polarizers are expensive and will put two, not one additional layer of glass between you and your subject. (If you remember my earlier post about filters, you’ll remember that anytime you put glass in front of your camera, it causes some degree of image degradation.) Oh, and they’ll cost you at least one f-stop in exposure…depending on how much polarizing you do (i.e. if your base exposure is f/8, you’ll need to shoot at f/5.6 or thereabouts with a polarizer). Add to the pluses the added saturation, reflection control and the ability to double as a neutral density filter.

I think the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to polarizing filters.

Using a polarizer is simple, just rotate the filter as you look through the viewfinder. When you see the amount of sky darkening/saturation/reflection elimination you like, make the picture. Understand that if you change your camera’s orientation to the subject (i.e. change from a horizontal to vertical shot), you’ll need to re-adjust your polarizer.

I picked up a trick long ago that helps me quickly see where the maximum amount of polarization will take place. You simply make an “L” with your thumb and index finger, point your index finger at the sun and pretend your thumb is tracing an imaginary line across the sky. With that line in mind, the area of sky on the shadow side of your thumb will get the most benefit from the polarizer. A subject in front of that line will not see any benefit from a polarizer.

Hopefully, this photo shows how its done.

Hopefully, this photo shows the area of maximum effect.

So, if you’re still unconvinced about the value of a polarizing filter, borrow one from another photographer (that’s another benefit of attending photo walks…well-equipped photogs!) and give it a few turns (literally). I think you’ll see why I made room in my camera bag for this “must-have” filter.

Buy one.

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Tomorrow (August 23) is the day set for a world-wide photo walk sponsored by the National Association of Photoshop Professionals. I’m leading the walk in Newport News, Virginia and, if you’re new to photo walks, here’s a list of things you can do to make the event more enjoyable.

  • Wear comfortable shoes. Most photo walks last a couple hours. Wear shoes that allow you to be mobile on and off the beaten path. Who knows were you’ll find that “once in a lifetime” photo?!
  • Bring a camera and a couple lenses. No need to bring everything in your camera bag to one of these. For example, I’m planning to bring a camera, a wide zoom, a tele zoom, flash and extension tube. That’s it. The point of these photo walks is photography, not weightlifting. Don’t bring along more than you want to carry for a couple hours.
  • Have enough memory cards. Estimate how much free space you’ll need, then bring 50% more. No one likes to run out of memory space in the middle of great photo opportunities.
  • Listen to the weather forecast and dress accordingly.
  • Introduce yourself! Don’t be shy. A photo walk is a social event! Have fun and meet new people who share your love of photography. Maybe they’ll share their lenses with you!
  • Afterwards, upload your best photos and comment on other people’s pictures. I know you want to see their photos….and they want to see yours too! Share tips and don’t be shy about asking others how the “got  that shot.”

It’s not too late to sign up for a walk in your area. Check this website for cities with photo walks near you. Get out there and have some fun!

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Want to hold your camera for long exposures without having to resort to a flash or tripod? It’s not hard to do once you learn the proper way to hold your camera! The trick is as simple as putting your arms close to your body. As the photo below illustrates, doing this eliminates the “flying elbows” syndrome that is at the root of camera unsteadiness. 

I learned to shoot this way years ago from the late Eddie Adams. He showed me that by simply tucking my elbows into my sides, I could steady myself enough to consistently shoot sharp photos at slow shutter speeds. That one tip has followed me throughout my career. In fact, I can still handhold my camera at shutter speeds as slow as 1/15th of a second! Give it a try and see if it helps your available light shooting. Please post how this tip worked/didn’t work for you!

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