Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Take the picture!

One of the biggest advantages of shooting digital cameras is that there is no film, and no developing cost for each photograph. After purchasing the camera and memory card(s) it costs the same whether you shoot 3 photographs or 300. So, take more photos! Take a few from in front, move to the side and shoot some more. Move again and shoot some more. Change the camera from landscape to portrait. Tilt the camera a little and try a different angle. When you get home and down load the shots, so what if 95 out of 100 aren't awesome. Just delete the dogs, and enjoy the 5 you probably wouldn't have taken with a film camera.

Now for a two fer tip:

When you look through your days photos, if you have some dogs, delete them! They won't get better with age. Just delete the ones that are badly focused, catching someone with their eyes closed or mouth full, poorly lit, blurry or whatever. Just delete them! This is going to save you from sorting through thousands of them later on. Don't ask me how I know!

Having a way to deal with your photos from beginning to end is going to make you life a lot easier. I'll write about how I deal with that next time.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How to beat shutter lag

The biggest thing I hear folks complaining about with their new point and shoot cameras is the time between when they push the shutter button and when the picture is actually taken. That effect is called shutter lag. Lag doesn't affect DSLRs, that's a major reason why folks want the DSLRs!

Shutter lag is not your friend! If people are moving around and they're trying to capture a shot, it's blurred. Even if they are still it can be an issue. The key to understanding shutter lag , and working around it, is to understand what happens when you press down the shutter button. In the point and shoots, when you look at the screen, then press the button here's what happens (roughly). First, there is the travel time for you to push the button down (which should be the same as a DSLR). Then when the button reaches the half way point, the camera starts to "hunt" for a focus point, then focuses on that point, then the actual shutter is triggered and the image is collected. This can take from 1/5th of a second to much larger lag times, depending on the lighting and the camera itself. Dark areas take longer to focus than well lit areas. The solution lies in eliminating the hunting and focusing time. If you are taking a photo of a group, focus on them by pushing the button half way down, you'll see the camera lock on to your subject (hopefully). Now tell them to look your way and get the shot by finishing pushing the button down. Since the camera doesn't have to focus, the shot is taken right away. You can do the same thing with an action shot. Figure out where the action is going to be, pre-focus before the subject gets into the action zone, then continue to hold the button half way down till the subject gets to your preselected spot, then push the button all the way. Voila` in-focus pics!

If there is nothing to focus on that is at the point the action is going to occur, you need to pre-focus on a nearby point the same distance away from you with similar lighting, keep the button pressed down and then aim the camera at the focus point you like. Finish pressing the shutter down when the subject walks, floats, flys or stumbles into the prefocused point, then take the shot!
For example, say you are on a parade route with an empty street in front of you, and you know the float is going to make a great shot, but you don't want it blurred. If you point to the empty street, there is nothing to pre-focus on. Find a phone pole or crowd member that is the same distance from you as your predicted float spot. Pre-focus by pressing the shutter half way, keep it pre-focused by holding the button down, now pre-aim the camera where you wanted to take the shot, then wait for the float to enter the shot, and take it. Easy peasy!

Give it a shot, and report back if this tip helped you out!


Monday, December 3, 2007


Get them! The books on the sidebar are all good sources of information that I have and highly recommend. They'll help shorten your learning curve and get you to better pictures, faster. The Magic Lantern books are great books that are guides to using the specific model you have. They fill in for the gaps in the user manual. Get the guide for your camera.

Those books are all going to help you with technique. Technique is half the battle. You have to know what you want to shoot, and how it will look after you get the shot. The photos I like the best are the ones that match what I saw before I even pushed the shutter. For vision, I recommend checking out the local library. There are some great books there to see how it's was done in the past. I also like going to the book store bargain aisle and buying the discounted books on photography that are sitting there. Its a great way to look at the photos, see what other photographers have done and try to figure out how they were taken if it's not already described. I like to buy any other photo guides at a discount too. There's usually a few good tips, even if the book was written 20 years ago. Good photography is good, no matter when it was written. Don't just look at photo books, look at the painting books too. The rules for paintings are often applicable to photography too.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Which DSLR should I get?

Well... that depends on what you want to do and what you already have. If you already have a Digital Single Lense Reflex (DSLR) , and a group of lenses for it, then you'll probably want the next generation from the same company. For example, I have a Canon Digital Rebel XT, a few nice lenses for it, batteries and the 430ex Canon Flash. If I bought a Nikon as an upgrade, none of my current lenses (or glass as we photo heads say) would work on the Nikons, so, I'd have to start all over getting new glass and accessories. Until Canon makes me really mad, or Nikon comes out with some over the top technology, I'm pretty much married to Canon.

If you don't already have a DSLR then it's wide open for you. This is a great time to be buying a DSLR ! The technology rocks and the prices are great! For some folks, the choice between brands can take on religous overtones, similar to the Mac vs PC world. For me, I'm in the "see which one you like the most today" camp. While there are minor technical differences between Canon and Nikon, they don't really make a whole lot of difference for most folks as long as you are comparing similar price points. The $600 dollar Canon is going to give you about the same quality image as the $600 Nikon. Ditto at the $1000 units and the $2000... When folks ask me what to get, I tell them to go to the store and handle both the Canon and the Nikon units. Buy the one that fits their hands best. See if one has a better eyepiece than the other. I've not mentioned the other brands because I'm not that familiar with them, and they are playing catch up to the leaders. Most of the pros I know of use the Nikon and Canon lines.

Don't get caught up in the megapixel race! If most of your prints are going to be 4x6s, 5x7s and occasional 8x10s, then, anything over 5 megapixel is going to suit you just fine. If you are frequently going to be shooting for 16x20s then 8 or 10 megapixels is going to work well for you too.

I said it was important to know what kind of photography you're going to be doing. If you are interested in action photography like football and soccer games then you'll want to take into account the number of frames per second (FPS) and the number of shots that the camera can store in a burst of shots. My Digital Rebel is good for ~3.5 fps. I'm interested in getting the new Rebel 40 D because it can shoot ~6 fps when I'm photographing horses and riders. The extra FPS help to be sure to catch all the action and expressions.
If you're mainly interested in shooting snapshots of friends, landscapes and some nature shots, then maybe you don't need the additional frames per second. There may be some other features that would drive me to the 40 D over the Rebel, Rebel XT, Rebel XTi, 5D, 20 D, and 30D, leaving the Mark cameras out because they are high end pro cameras costing $3-8K.

I'd say if this is your first DSLR, then it's probably a good idea to spend $800 to $1000 for the kit and see how much you are really going to get into it. After a while with the kit, you add some decent lenses and then work your way up the camera ladder, using the high end lenses I'll recommend later!

Next time... Books!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Where To Buy Your Next Camera

My first tip for you!

This is going to be a U.S. specific tip for now. International readers can chime in in the comments if they know of reputable dealers in their part of the world.

Having been in retail for a while in my past life, I have no problem recommending making a purchase at your local store, especially if it is staffed by knowledgeable sales staff. If they don't know a thing about the cameras and lenses and can't give you good advice, then I'd certainly not feel bad about going in and looking at the camera you might be interested in and seeing how it looks and feels. Don't string the clerk along though and waste their time if you have no intention of purchasing there. I'd be willing to pay a premium to make the purchase at the local store if they
1) give good service
2) Stand behind the purchase (really a subset of the service qualifier)
3) Are willing to work with you to hold your hand for the purchase.

How much of a premium is up to you, but 10-20 percent seems fair. If you are pretty sure you want a certain model, it can't hurt to ask them to price match the price you found on the net, including the shipping. Even if they can't match the price, they may throw in some valuable extras. You've got nothing to lose...

Lets say you can't find a local shop worth a darn though. Which Internet store should you consider. Well, princess, you have to remember what your mom always told you "If it's too good to be true, it's too good to be true". I highly recommend Amazon.com, Adorama.com, and B&H Photo for new purchases. You can use Froogle.com to look for lower prices, but, it's very much a buyer beware world out there, especially for sites for stores in Brooklyn New York. No one seems to know why Brooklyn is a center for sleazy photography suppliers, but it's just a fact of life. I know that not all Brooklyn stores are bad, it's just a red flag....

I like the recommended sites because they have been around for a while, they have a reputation for taking decent care of most of their customers (no store is going to please every single customer) and fair prices.
They are NOT known for scams like selling you a camera then calling you "to verify the order" and trying to "sell" you things that should already be in the kit that they've stripped out. I've heard of some of the scammers actually cursing out the customers for failing to purchase the add ons, then cancelling the order if the sale doesn't include overpriced add ons. If you do some price searches and find a camera that sells for $800 at all three recommended sites on sale for only $379, that should set off some alarms. Before making the purchase, check resellerratings.com for the company in questions reputation. Be skeptical... that $379 bargain may be a big nightmare.

What about Ebay? Ebay has some awesome bargains. It's also full of scam artists if you aren't careful. It's truly caveat emptor on Ebay. All the usual Ebay precautions are in place. Check the sellers reputation. I wouldn't buy from any store that has less than 500 or so ratings, a couple of thousand is better! If it's an individual, use good judgement, but look for a bunch of good ratings, hopefully by different buyers. Read the description. Make sure you know what's in the package, and how that compares to what's in the Amazon package. Don't forget to check shipping! $49.95 to ship by mail for a 99 cent purchase kind of kills the pleasure. In the end, you have to weigh whether the money you save buying on Ebay is worth the agitation/risk... If it's your first Ebay purchase, I think I'd stick to the recommended sites above.

I don't have any connection to any of the companies I listed above, they're just companies I know of that I can recommend.

The New Blog

Those of you that know me, know I'm way into photography. I've learned a few things that I'd like to pass on, to benefit both of us. I'll try to show examples if the tip is mine. I'll be updating the blog frequently with new stuff from me, or links to other sites of interest. Leave your comments so we can do this photo thing together. Onwards!