Friday, February 24, 2012

Chapter Ten: Through the Looking Glass (and Fence)

Taken through a chain link fence
I had the opportunity to visit the local zoo recently and I don't know about how the animals are contained at your zoos but a lot of them are kept behind chain link fences in mine so shooting pictures of them can get kind of tricky.  There is a simple trick to make chain link fences almost disappear from the pictures but it does require some gear.  You're going to need a telephoto lens.  Something over 100 mm.  Preferably 200 mm +.  Here's the part that may be a little scary to some new photographers - you're going to have to switch your lens from automatic to manual (there should be a switch probably on the lens itself somewhere).  You see, the reason the chain link shows up in the pictures is because the camera thinks that is what you're trying to focus the camera on which makes focusing on the animals difficult in automatic mode.  You'll want to shoot zoomed out towards the telephoto end.  Then you'll want to manually focus the image so that the chain link disappears while the animal is still in focus (there should be a ring somewhere on your lens for this).  That's the tricky part.  Since you'll be manually focusing, you'll definitely want to make sure you review the photo on the LCD screen and zoom in to 100% and look around to make sure the photo is in focus.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lesson Nine: Pay attention to where you are shooting

Something that may or may not be obvious is that you want to pay attention to where you are shooting.  Are you shooting indoors or outdoors?  One thing that I frequently forget to do is to remove the polarizing filter I have in front of my lens.  All of my lenses have polarizing filters in front of them to protect them from scratches.  This is great if I'm shooting outdoors because it protects the lens as well as gets rid of unwanted reflections but if I'm shooting indoors, it also prevents light from entering the camera body and sensor.  This means that I have to hold the camera steady for a longer amount of time to get a decent looking shot and to prevent camera blur.  The easiest way to prevent this is to obviously remember to take the polarizing filter off when shooting indoors.  This will ensure that you can shoot with a faster shutter speed and still get non-blurry images even in lower-light settings.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lesson Eight: Shoot in Raw

Save yourself some time and a lot of headache and just shoot in Raw format.  The standard format for most pictures you've seen on the web or elsewhere is jpeg and most of the pictures you'll take will eventually be converted to jpeg.  So, why bother shooting in Raw if you have to convert to jpeg eventually anyways?  Well,  there's a couple of reasons.  First off, when you shoot in Raw, the camera captures a lot more data than if you were to shoot in jpeg.  This does, however, lead to one of the few drawbacks in shooting in Raw - it takes up a lot of memory on your memory card.  I mean a LOT!  You can search the internet if you're interested in how much more memory Raw files take up than Jpeg files.  The main reason to shoot in Raw format is that you can undo many of the mistakes you may have made as far as choosing settings on the camera.  Because of this ability, people commonly refer to your Raw file as your digital negative.  There are very few feelings worse than a picture ruined because you forgot to change a setting back to where it's supposed to be and very few feelings better than pulling a photo out of photo oblivion by shooting in Raw.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lesson Seven: The Sharpness Triad, Part III

So you've opened the aperture as wide as you can and you've set the appropriate shutter speed and you still can't get a sharp picture.  What can you do?  Well, as a last resort, you can try increasing the ISO.  What exactly does that do?  Well, it increases the sensitivity of the camera's sensor to light so you don't need to open the aperture as wide or keep the shutter open as long.  So you're probably asking yourself if it can do all that, why not just shoot constantly in the highest ISO your camera can shoot?  Well, it turns out that the higher the ISO (i.e. the more sensitive the sensor is to light), the more grainy the picture turns out which is not always a bad thing especially if that is the kind of look you're going for and, of course, a grainy picture is better than no picture at all.   

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lesson Six: The Sharpness Triad, Part II

Last time we talked about aperture which is the first part of the sharpness triad.  If you've tried to open your aperture to its widest setting and still can't get the picture sharp, the next thing you can try is to adjust the shutter speed.  Here's the way the relationship between aperture and shutter speed works.  The bigger the aperture, the less the amount of time the shutter should have to remain open to let enough light in to get a sharp picture.  Here's a little experiment you can try at home.  Set your camera mode to shutter priority (Tv mode).  Now set the shutter speed to it's fastest setting which should be 1/x second where x is a number.  You want x to be the largest number on your camera.  Go ahead and take a picture.  Now change the shutter speed to the second fastest setting.  Take the same picture.  Now keep doing this, decreasing the shutter speed.  You should notice that as the shutter remains open longer, the picture will get brighter up to a certain point where you'll start noticing blurry pictures (usually when the camera is hand-held and the shutter speed is set to a couple of seconds or more).  What's happening here is the camera is taking the picture even though there is not enough light (leading to the dark pictures).  You've told the camera (by selecting Tv mode) that I don't care that there's not enough light.  Just take the picture and close the shutter after x seconds has passed.  As the shutter remains open longer, you are letting more and more light in (accounting for the picture getting brighter) until you get to a point where you can no longer hold the camera perfectly still for the full duration that the shutter remains open (leading to the blurry image).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Lesson Five: The Sharpness Triad, Part I

In general, whether a picture turns out sharp or blurry will depend on three things.  If it does not turn out well, you can adjust one, two, or all three of these things to increase your chances of getting a better/ sharper picture.  The first thing to look into is the aperture.  As mentioned before, the aperature is the hole that lets light into the camera and since photography (literally 'light-writing'), at its most base level is dependent on light, the size of the aperature is an extremely important element in this equation.  The other two elements which we will discuss at a later time are shutter speed and ISO.  The bigger the aperature (remember, an aperture of f/4 is bigger than an aperture of f/8, see Lesson Two for a refresher), the more light gets in which means that the shutter has to remain open for a shorter amount of time to get a sharp picture.   

Friday, July 15, 2011

Lesson Four: Cameras need batteries

I learned this lesson the hard way.  My wife and I were watching the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetary when my batteries died.  Luckily, my camera also takes standard AA batteries so I got some at the souvenir shop so I could continue shooting the rest of the day but I missed getting pictures of the changing of the guard.  So, before you head out to take photos, make sure you charged your camera batteries the night before. 

More than likely, your camera came with one battery.  You'll definitely want to invest in a second one.  You can probably get a generic battery for your camera on for about $20.  Keep in mind that there are several factors that determine how long your battery will last.  If you have your LCD screen on, your batteries will drain a lot faster than if you didn't.  If you use flash, that will drain your batteries more quickly.  If you are shooting in a cold environment, your batteries will drain faster than shooting in a warm enviroment.  The older your battery is, the faster it will drain.  Keep all of this in mind before you leave so you'll know how many batteries you'll need to bring.