Monday, June 23, 2008

Dave’s DRAFT Photography FAQs

These are some FAQs I wrote for the forum. They're a fun group of folks. I'll post more of the FAQ in the next few days.

I took it on myself to answer some of the questions that are FAQs to help as many forum readers as possible and relieve folks of answering oft repeated questions.

These are all my opinion(s) so far. I tired to write it as generic to Nikon and Canon,but I'm a Canon guy, with limited Nikon knowledge. Answers are not exhaustive, just covering the highlights, quickly. I’m open to suggestions, edits and updated answers. If there's nothing too controversial or just outright wrong maybe we can get a sticky on it later. If folks want to use this elsewhere, I'd like to get the credit for it....

What books do you recommend for beginners?
Firstly, you have to read the manual from the camera company. The Magic Lantern manual for your camera is a good starting point too.
Once you know where the buttons are, the books below are proven winners:
Bryan Peterson’s “Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera (Updated Edition)” Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography Book, Volumes 1&2 Scott Kelby’s book about whatever version of Photoshop you have Rick Sammon's Complete Guide to Digital Photography 2.0: Taking, Making, Editing, Storing, Printing, and Sharing Better Digital Images Featuring Adobe Photoshop Elements (Paperback). Rick is associated with MPIX. He’s also a great teacher. Any book by John Shaw

These books are linked over on the right.

I don’t understand FStops, ISOs and shutter speeds. I’ll never get it!
Yes you will, after you read Bryan Peterson’s book above.

I’m just starting out and using my on camera flash, how can I make the photos better?
Stop it! They are notorious for giving blown out, snap-shotty photos, not professional looking at all. You need to look into working with available light, a factory strobe, or moving to off camera flash and strobes.

Off camera flash is too hard to figure out.
No, you can do it. is a great resource for learning off camera flash. Start in the 101 section.

Which off camera flash should I get?
That depends. You can get the factory flash for your hotshoe, or go with Vivitar or Metz units. Strobist likes the Nikon SBs and Vivitar Flash units. Check out for the normal flash units. Alien Bees are highly recommended for studio work on this board. Generally get the highest rated AB unit you can so you aren’t underpowered in the future.

Which wireless triggers do you recommend for off camera flash and strobes?
Pocket Wizards are the top of the line choice, especially for pros that are outside their studios that must have ultimate reliability, especially a long way from their camera. Ebay triggers from Gadget Infinity are much less expensive and only slightly less reliable. Their range is much less than the PWs, but still perfectly serviceable, especially in a studio situation. Radio Poppers are on the horizon, and look interesting, but aren’t ready to go yet.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Photography Mini Book Review

Joe McNally has a book that just came out, "The Moment It Clicks: Photography secrets from one of the world's top shooters" I just got it today. Joe has a long list of credentials and accomplishments, including being a photographer for both Life and National Geographic. The book is awesome! It has a rule to live by (photographically), how to apply the rule, and a story about the shot on the opposite page that exemplifies the rule. Get the book, now. I'm only 20 pages into it and I'm blown away. For your convenience, it's in the books I recommend list over there on the top right of the blog!

Air Travelling with batteries

As I noted below, there is a bunch of talk on the blogs about the new rules for airline travel with lithium batteries. Here are the bullet rules from the website :
  • Spare batteries are the batteries you carry separately from the devices they power. When batteries are installed in a device, they are not considered spare batteries.
  • You may not pack a spare lithium battery in your checked baggage
  • You may bring spare lithium batteries with you in carry-on baggage – see our spare battery tips and how-to sections to find out how to pack spare batteries safely!
  • Even though we recommend carrying your devices with you in carry-on baggage as well, if you must bring one in checked baggage, you may check it with the batteries installed.
Basically, the rules are for big batteries that go on video cameras and laptops. Our hand held digital camera batteries are ok. If you are going to carry lithium batteries in your carry on, put them in the case you got when you bought the batteries, in zip lock bags (one battery per zip lock), or put some electrical tape over the contacts. The point of that is that you don't want the batteries to short out, and possibly catch fire.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Memory Cards

Here are a few thoughts on memory cards.

Get some extra, especially if you are going on a long trip. There is nothing worse than trying to decide which files you can delete when you run out of space and don't have any cards with you. They're cheap. I'm a big fan of Go there and look at the photo and storage sections to find great buys. I've bought cards I didn't think I needed when they were super cheap. Last Black Friday I picked up a couple of 2 gig Sandisk Cards for $15 bucks each!

Some folks swear they have to have the fastest speed cards out. Maybe they make a difference, but I doubt it. The write speed of a card affects how fast you can take photos, especially in a sports or burst mode where you are firing off a whole string of shots. So, having a higher speed card is good, but there are limits. The limits are based on the fact that cameras have little computers in them that can write at a maximum write speed to the cards installed in them. You want a memory card that writes at least as fast as the camera can write to it. If you camera writes at 5 megs a second, then a card that reads at 50 megs a second is a waste of money. Faster reading and writing cards are most useful when installed in a card reader on your home computer where the higher read and write speeds might matter. You can check the specs for your camera in the owners manual.

Formatting memory cards should only be done in the camera, not on your home computer. The camera writes some stuff in there that the computer doesn't. If the camera doesn't find the right information, then stuff might not work as planned. Generally, you should format the card each time you use it. Pros download used memory cards to their computers, sort through them and create backups of everything they don't delete out of hand. Then and only then, they format the cards in the camera they will be used on, then put them in the ready to use stack.

Dealing with Memory Card issues in the next post!


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Catch Lights

The last post, I talked about catch lights. Look at the eyes on these sea-gulls. Which looks more alive to you?
For me it's the second one, with the little glint in the eye.
Posted by Picasa

The eyes have it

If you are taking a photo of a living thing, you must show the eyes. Which of the two shots of the robin are more interesting? They should also be in focus. It doesn't matter if only one eye is in focus, if thats a look you are going for, but, at least one has to be good!
To put this in practice, make sure your viewfinder or display is set to show the focus points, then focus on the eye(s) and recompose if you like, but make sure to get the eyes right!
Its even better if you can get that little glimmer in the eye. It's called a catch light. Catch lights add interest. If you need to, wait a second to get the catch lights.

Posted by Picasa

Monday, January 7, 2008

File management / work flow using Picasa

2 posts ago I said I'd talk about file management the next post. I guess I lied. Anyways, here is the post:

If you talk to 100 photographers you'll hear at least a hundred different ways to handle the workflow from taking the photograph to working on it to printing and storing it.

I'm a big fan of using Picasa, available free from Google. Go to the linked site, download the software to your desktop, double click it to install it and let it do it's thing. Once it's installed, Picassa asks if you want it to look on your drive for photographs. Go ahead and let Picasa catalog your photos. Picasa will look in your documents folders, on your desktop and anywhere else you point it to.

Once it's installed, when you plug in your camera's memory card, the computer will give you the option to use Picasa to download and edit the photos. When you click on Picasa, it will pop up a window that shows the first file on the card, and a pane with all the rest of the files. I click on the import all button, and then click on the safe delete to delete the files from the memory card as soon as Picasa is sure all the files are on my hard drive. Other folks might leave them on the memory card and burn all the original files to a cd or DVD. It's on you how you want to proceed. I don't do the extra burn because I use an external hard drive to back up my files. no need to burn CDs and have the portable hard drive back up to. Your milage may vary!

When you download the files, you need to tell Picasa which folder to put them in. I use a filing scheme that is based on the date I took most of the photos, and a few key words. So, for example today I took some photos at Silver Lake, the folder I put the files in is "2008-01-07 Silver lake robins". I put the year first because if I put it 01-07-2008, then the computer will sort 01-10-2007 after 01-07-2008, which I don't like. Then, if I have 01-10-2006, all the 01s come first in the sort, then the 02s, thent he 03s.... it's a big mess. Having the key words allows me to use Picasa's search functions later to find the pics.
As I mentioned earlier, I like to go through my photos and delete the dogs immediately. Here's how I do that in Picasa. When I get to the library of photos, I use the arrow keys to move through them. Each photo that I like I use the star function on to put a star on the photo in Picasa's database. The photos I don't like because they are blurry, or whatever, I don't put a star on. When I get to the end of the files, I go back to the library, click on the "Select Starred Photos" button to select all the photos I liked. What I really want to do though, is to select the files I don't like, right? So, I either use the ctrl-i keys to invert the selection (now i have all the dogs selected) or right click on any selected starred photo and right click on the invert selection text. Either way, I have now selected all the non-starred dogs. Then I hit the delete button and watch them all disappear. Life is good!
You need to be ruthless with this. at 3-5 megs each, depending on the camera you have, it won't take long for an active shooter to fill her hard drive. So, always remember, Delete your dogs early, and often!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Batteries, or, I wish I owned a piece of Sterlingtek

Get some extra batteries that are the right size for your camera. Batteries are the fuel for your digital camera. If they die, and you have no spares, you are done shooting for the day. If your luck is like mine, the batteries will die 5 minutes before the best light or the hottest action starts. I like to have 2 extra sets for the photographic suspenders and belt world I live in.

If I know I'm going to be shooting a bunch of photos tomorrow, I make sure all 3 batteries are charged up the night before by charging them and keeping watch, changing the known charged batteries out with the other batteries as soon as the status light goes from charging to charged.
None of the batteries are nickel cadmium anymore, so the worries about the batteries developing memories are unfounded. If you have an older camera with nicad batteries, it's time to look into lithium ion batteries, or better yet, a new camera!

I have a camera bag that has multiple zipper pockets. I keep fresh memory cards and batteries in one section, and the used ones in another zipper pocket. When the batteries are most of the way discharged, I switch out a charged battery with the dead one, and put the dead one in the dead battery/full memory card section. No confusion, no fuss, no muss. I don't wait till the battery is totally dead before changing it. I guarantee that if you do wait till it croaks, the croakage (now i'm a wordsmith!) will happen at the least convenient time. I change it out when the battery indicator gets down to one section left, and there's a lull in the action. Thats why I have 2 spares. If I ever head out of the country, where I have any doubts about power, I'll have even more spares all fully charged. Batteries are cheap. missed photos on a once in a lifetime trip will haunt you.

I know what you're thinking "But, Dave, they're expensive!"

If you're talking factory batteries, you're right. Instead, get some from I've had great luck with the generic batteries they carry. Sterlingtek claims they are higher capacity in milliamphours (mah) than the factory batteries. I don't have any way to test them, but, they do last longer than the factory batteries that have come with my cameras., so I'll accept the claims. The Sterlingtek batteries cost about 1/3 the factory cost. You can get 2 higher capacity spares for less than the price of a single factory lower capacity battery. More power, less cost. Sounds like a winner to me.

Some folks only feel comfortable using the factory batteries. The factories have used fears, uncertainties and doubts (FUDs) to try to convince the world that failure to use factory original batteries at 3 times the cost of gernerics can lead to explosions, halitosis, rotting body parts falling off and other maladies. On the forums I've seen, no one has ever complained about a failure of the Sterlingtek product leading to anything bad happening. So, for what it's worth, I recommend them.

There's some nonsense going on with new regulations by the federal government about taking batteries containing lithium onto airplanes. I haven't gotten to the bottom of it yet. I'll report back on that later.