Read About Carl's Travels
I've completed a few photo tours of our great country and lived to write about it. To read about my misadventures along the way, please visit my blog Travels into Wild America.
A word of warning. You may want to be near a box of tissues and a bathroom. Tears of laughter are frequently reported.
1 = Basic 2 = Intermediate
3 = Advanced
D = Requires DSLR
QT = Quick Tips
Welcome to our How-To Articles & News
My name is Carl Spence and I've been behind a camera for more than 50 years. I've created this place where a novice or professional can come to learn about this awesome art form. I believe anyone can take different and inspiring photographs, whatever their camera. There are no secrets here, just plain talk cutting through the myth that great photographs can only be achieved with a degree, and some very pricey equipment.
My wish for you is simple. Through sharing my knowledge and talent, providing encouragement and resources, I hope to inspire you towards snapping your dream photos while enjoying yourself, and this great medium as much as I do.
Everyone learns differently. Some people like to read while others grasp new ideas by watching a video tutorial. So to be as thorough as possible, my instruction uses different forms of media whenever possible.
A Lot Happens in 50 Years!
I’ve been pointing a camera at just about anyone, and anything for more than half a century. I’ve used large speed graphic box cameras, numerous SLR and DSLR 35mm cameras, medium format single and double lens cameras, rangefinder cameras, pocket digital cameras, phone cameras, and I even shot with the Nikon F, the first production SLR.
O.K. This last bit might sound like “Blah… Blah... Blah...” to many of you. What it all boils down to is this. This isn’t my first time at the rodeo, and I’ve picked up a few shortcuts and tips along the way, all of which I’m delighted to share with anyone who wants to learn from this old guy.
So…Are you ready to be the break-out photographer in your family, or with coworkers?
Can you already envision your photo hanging over your mantle?
How about an entire wall for your family, and friends?
Well if you’re ready, so are we.
I hope you enjoy this information, and please give me a hollah’ to let me know what you think, and how you’re doing.
Thank you, Carl Spence
Use Depth of Focus and Dark Cloths to Make Problems Disappear
How often have you been at to zoo or aquarium and been disappointed because your photos have annoying fences or glare that ruin the scene. Did you know that many professionals use a couple of simple tricks to make these distractions fade away? With a little understanding about your camera and some practice, you too can take photos that look as if you just got back from the African savanna or a South Seas coral reef.
Before I can divulge the secret to the magic disappearing act, we need to understand why the problems show up. Let’s take them one at a time.
Annoying chain link fences between you and the subject. No one wants these protective barriers to actually go away. I am not looking forward to an angry tiger asserting his right to eat my sandwich. But we can make it appear that the fence has been removed by using the focus range of our camera.
Cameras have an iris between the lens sections that opens and closes just like the iris in our eyes. When it is closed down to a small opening (or aperture), the distance from front to back that appears in focus is deep. When the aperture is wide open, the apparent range of focus is less. As an example, let’s consider that we are shooting a set of flowers in our garden. The flowers are spread out from front to back. The pansies are up front, tulips are behind the pansies, and the irises are filling the background. If we focus the camera on the pansies with a small aperture, the tulips and iris will also be in focus. This is called a wide Depth of Field (think “Depth of Focus”). I however, we change the aperture to its widest, the tulips become a little fuzzy and the background iris are just a blur of color with little detail.
So it seems that changing the aperture will make objects in front of or behind the main subject become ether clearer or more unfocused. In fact, it is possible to make objects in the very near foreground become so out of focus that they seem to disappear. And so now we have a way to remove that fence.
Setting Up the Shot Through a Fence
Here’s how to set up for the shot. First, if your camera has an aperture priority setting, use it. It will be on a large dial, often on top of the camera. Look for the letters “Av” (aperture value), “Ap” (aperture priority), or just the letter “A”. This setting tells the camera that you want to control the iris in the lens to insure a specific aperture. The camera will then adjust the shutter speed to insure the correct exposure. Set your aperture at the lowest number that your camera will allow, such as 2.8, 3.5 or 4.0. Keep away from the larger numbers like 5.6, 8, or 11. Next, position yourself very close to the fence with the lens centered between the links for the least obstruction. Focus on the tiger, or whatever else you wish to photograph. Take the shot. Look closely at the result. If there are slight remnants of the fence showing try using a dark cloth, jacket, or even just your hand to block the sun from shining onto the fence near the camera and try again.
Pocket Camera Problem
Now for the bad news! I often praise the ability of new pocket cameras to get awesome photos that used to require expensive cameras and years of knowledge. It is a fact that the introduction of digital sensors and computer chips into these small cameras have opened up the world of the professional to the average weekend photo hobbyist. But those big expensive cameras are still selling off the shelves. That's because there are some areas where they provide options that the smaller cameras still have difficulty. Depth of Field is one such area. Because of the very small lenses in pocket cameras, the control of focus is limited. Put simply; the smaller the lens, the more that everything will look clear even at large apertures even when you don't want. So if you stood next to a friend who is using a large DSLR with a telephoto lens attached, he would have more ability to blur the fence than you. But you still have a good chance and its well worth the effort. If you have a zoom control, use the telephoto end(Zoom in) of the range rather than the wide angle setting. This will also help decrease the Depth of Field.
Setting Up the Shot Through Glass
Now let’s talk about those ugly reflections when you shoot through glass, such as at the aquarium or of a diorama in the museum. Just as we used a dark cloth or jacket to hide the sun on the fence, we can hide the reflections from getting to the glass. Get close to the glass, set your aperture to its lowest setting if you want to also remove smudges or dirt from the glass. Then hold the jacket so that it is shielding the glass where the reflections show. Move it around to locate the best position, and take the shot. This technique is more suitable to all kinds of cameras because you are not relying on the camera’s features as much as your ability to block the light.
By the way, this tip can also come in handy for shooting from a moving car. A woman at one of my classes was complaining that her husband would never stop so that she could take photos. Her attempts at shooting through the windshield or side windows often revealed lots of close-ups of dead bugs. I ran into her a few days later and she showed me some great pictures that she got using this tip. I don’t know if it helped her marriage. But I’m sure that her family and friends will enjoy her vacations photos more.
How to Use Shutter, Aperture, and ISO to Get Great Photos.
Today's cameras have made taking great looking photos available to everyone. When my grandson was only two, he was able to hold a pocket camera, set to the automatic mode and capture delightful shots from his perspective. The reason it all works so well, is the tiny computer built into today’s cameras.
In automatic mode, we turn over the technical side of photography to the computer. This lets us concentrate on the people, places, and ambiance of the moment. I always recommend using the automatic mode when the conditions are suitable. But often the camera’s computer lets me down. The subject or the entire scene is blurred. Have you ever tried to take a photograph of a high school basketball game only to leave with a series of streaks where the players should be?
How do I know when I need to take more control? And what settings need changing?
If you want to learn when and how to take control when the auto mode lets you down, first understand a few simple facts about the camera and how it works. With the exception of a few artistic photographers that want to step outside the lines, all photos need to be correctly exposed. This simply means that for each shot, there is only one correct amount of light that should reach the sensor. It doesn't matter if it is early morning with its subtle dim colors, high noon with bright skies overhead, or indoors at your cousin's wedding. Get the correct amount of light to hit the sensor and the photo will look fine.
In the past, photographers had to use hand-held exposure meters to read the light and then set the camera to achieve the correct exposure. Our cameras have the light meter built in and the internal computer will adjust the settings for us. So why do some of our photos look fine while others resemble a Jackson Pollock abstract painting? It all about the way the camera settings are made.
It's all about the settings.
Although there is only one correct exposure, the way that the camera is set will affect how the photo will look. This is because there is not just one device, but three that all work together to adjust the end result. Shutters can be set to fast or slow. Apertures can be wide or narrow. And the ISO can change the sensitivity of the sensor to the light that records the image.
Think of it like trying to fill a child's inflatable wading pool by carrying water from the kitchen sink. You make choices that can affect how the job gets done. The pool, full of water is like the photo having the correct exposure. The size of the bucket is like the sensor's ISO setting, the larger the bucket, the fewer trips you need to make. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the sensor is to the light and so the less time it needs to be exposed to it. Simply put, a high ISO equals a big bucket and the job gets done faster. If the ISO is set low, more time will be needed to get enough light onto the sensor. Just as if a small bucket is used, it will take more time to get enough water to the pool. But we're not done yet.
At the kitchen sink we have other choices. We could turn the faucet just a bit and a thin trickle of water would fall into the bucket. Or with the faucet wide open, the water flow would be far greater and the bucket would fill much faster. This is like the camera’s aperture. Like the iris in our eye that opens or closes as we look at scenes with different brightness, the camera has an iris inside the lens. If it is set to a small opening, or aperture, a little light gets through. At a large aperture, much more light heads for the sensor.
The last choice we can make at the sink is how long to keep the faucet open. If we let it run for a minute, the bucket will fill to the top. But if we prefer to carry less water and stop after twenty seconds, the bucket is less than half full. Less water means more trips. Our camera has a way to time the amount of light getting to the sensor; just as we can control how long to keep the faucet open. It is the shutter, a set of curtains in front of the sensor that open for whatever length of time we wish. A long opening means that more light gets through. Set the shutter to a short or fast setting and we restrict the light. Just like timing how long the faucet is open.
By now you have probably noticed that each of these choices affects each other. If we use a large bucket but only fill it for fifteen seconds, it is the same as using a small bucket. If we only open the faucet half way, we can still fill the bucket but we must wait longer. If we want to get the pool full as fast as possible, we will use the largest bucket, open the faucet wide, and keep it open until the bucket is full. We will make fewer trips, but have to carry more water each time. If our back pain is of more concern, we could use a smaller bucket and make more trips with less water each time. Or we could use the large bucket but only fill it half way... same result.
How it all comes together.
Now here's where it all comes together to give you the control you want to capture that awesome dunk shot at the basketball game. Let's imagine that the neighbor's dog likes to run over and bite your leg. If we carry more water with each trip, we lessen the chance that the dog will see us. We have three ways to control how fast it will take to get the pool full quickly and avoid the dog. We could use a large bucket, wide opening at the faucet, or keep the water running longer each time to insure the bucket gets full. If we want to stop, or freeze the fast action at the basketball game, we also need to speed up the time it takes to get the correct amount of light to the camera sensor. Like the faucet, we can open the lens to a wide aperture. This lets the greatest amount light pass toward the shutter. Therefore it needs to be open for less time, just like the faucet needs less time to fill the bucket if it is wide open. And if that isn’t enough, we can increase the ISO, making the sensor capture more light just like using a larger bucket. This will reduce the number of trips thus avoiding the dog and, for our photo, blurry players.
So why, you may ask, don't the camera manufactures lock the settings to the fastest shutter speed so our basketball photos are always fine? In fact, you can get just a camera. Those cheap, disposable box cameras are preset for outdoor photos in daylight. But they have their limits. We couldn't take photos of cousin Alice's wedding inside the dark church. And forget about sunsets or the family in front of Cinderella's Castle after dark. You see, there are many kinds of photos that we want to take. Each requires different choices and we need the controls to allow us to get the desired result. Yes, we could add a flash to provide more light, but that too has its limits. Ever take a photo from the back of the church, only to have the last five rows to show? Or try taking a shot of the Rolling Stones concert at Madison Square Garden with a flash. You will have an awesome photo of section 1B, rows 95 to 102... But Mick will be obscured in the vast black background. Flash just isn't able to go very far.
So here are the simple choices that you can make to get your photos to show what you were experiencing:
If you need to freeze action, choose a fast shutter speed like 500 or 1000. That will stop more blurring. If the action is still too fast, increase the ISO to 400, 800, or 1600.
If you have lots of light but your landscapes are fuzzy in the foreground or background, close the aperture to 11, 16, or 22. That will increase the depth of focus, but the shutter speed will have to slow to get the correct exposure. That's why you want lots of light. If you try a small aperture at dawn, you will need a tripod.
If you are taking a head and shoulder portrait and you want the distracting background to get out of focus, use a large aperture, like 3.5 or 4. The shutter will speed up to compensate.
How to do it.
Now here is what you have been waiting for. How do I set the camera to control the shutter speed, aperture, or ISO? Well the trick is in knowing the secret codes on your camera’s dial. The one that's normally set to AUTO, look for a setting marked "Sp", or "Tv", or just "S". These stand for "Shutter Priority" mode. This is the setting that gives you control over the shutter speed. When the camera is set here, you can increase or decrease the shutter speed by using the control knob or, on some cameras the left and right arrow buttons. On the screen you will notice that the shutter speed will change as you use the controls. Shutter speeds are large numbers like 125, 500, or 2000. Apertures are shown in small numbers such as 3.5, 5.6, 8, or 11. Once you choose the shutter speed, the camera will lock it and you will see the aperture number's move to compensate as the light changes.
Suppose you wish to lock in the aperture to control the depth of focus and let the camera choose the correct shutter speed. Then look for a setting on the mode dial marked "Ap", "Av", or "A". These stand for "Aperture Priority" mode. Use small numbers like 3.5 or 4 to give a narrow focus range for close-up portraits or flowers, and high numbers like 8 or 11 for everything to be clear from your feet to the mountains in the background.
Finally let's talk a bit about ISO. This is perhaps the least understood setting under your control. As I mentioned earlier, ISO controls the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor. In the days of film, we choose the film based on its ISO. For outdoor shots in bright sunlight, we used ISO 25 film. To photograph a museum where flash was restricted, we choose ISO 400. And for a little of both, we would buy an ISO 100 film. With digital cameras, these choices, and many more are built in.
So use the same rules. For bright light use ISO 100. For indoors use ISO 400. But if you need more sensitivity, to allow for the shutter speed to be faster and freeze the basketball jump shot, use ISO 800 or 1600. The camera will automatically take the new setting into consideration. Then freeze the action by setting the mode dial to shutter priority and use a high shutter speed.
General Rule: Use Auto Mode whenever conditions allow.
Like most things in life there are often undesirable side effects. High ISO settings introduce a problem called noise that can make your photos look sandy or spotted. So keep the ISO at 100 when you don't need the extra sensitivity for low light or indoor action shots. High aperture numbers can force the shutter speed to be too low to hand-hold the camera without getting shaky results. High shutter speeds will force the camera to set the widest aperture and even that might not allow enough light to enter through the lens. So as a general rule, use the "AUTO" setting whenever the conditions are normal with bright light and little motion.
So try these new options. Get that mode dial off of AUTO and shoot some indoor, action, or close-up photos. Learn how to choose which mode is right for the conditions. And take lots of practice shots. They don't cost anything but your time, and you might enjoy controlling the camera instead of having to live with the decisions the AUTO mode makes.
Turn On the Grid: How to improve your photos just by turning on this feature found in most cameras.
Are your horizons running down hill?
Here is a simple trick that can make a big difference in the photos you take. You return home from vacation to find some of your photos are tilted. The horizon is running downhill to the left or right. This is a very common problem that can happen to anyone.
You feel rushed or are swept up in the excitement of the moment. Maybe it’s your family’s first trip to Disney World or your eldest daughter’s wedding. All you want is to capture your family’s special moments to enjoy for years to come. In your eagerness to “fit it all in”, you rush to take the picture and quickly move on to your next great shot.
What you see isn’t always what you get.
A scene itself can look different through the viewfinder or on the small screen on the back of your camera. Terrain is not always horizontal across the entire scene and your eyes can be easily fooled. Mountains, tree lines and shorelines are a few ways nature can trick your senses.
Don’t blame yourself. Even professional photographers who have been shooting for many years get tipped photos from time to time. But the good news is that many cameras have a built-in guide to help you get it right.
The optional viewing screen grid displays a set of two horizontal and two vertical lines that split the scene into thirds. These lines will not show in your photos, but they appear in the viewfinder and are a great aid to framing and composition.
The same applies for vertical lines of buildings and interior rooms.
They also remind you of the “Rule of Thirds” which helps you position the primary subject at the most pleasing location. (See my Rule of Thirds article.)
Since the horizontal lines divide the frame into thirds, you can easily move the horizon up or down to emphasize ether the foreground or the sky.
The vertical lines act as a guide when taking multiple-shot panoramas that need to be overlapped.
“How do you turn on the grid?”
When I show the grid in my classes, many people are amazed that they never knew about it. It is normally off when you get a new camera. So you have to turn it on. That brings us to the big question. “How do you turn on the grid”? The answer is a little different for each camera. I can’t explain the steps for each camera and model available, but I can point you in the right direction and trust you'll find the secret for yourself.
Search your camera manual or menu settings.
First, find the camera’s manual. If it is lost, try downloading a copy from the camera manufacturer’s web site. If it has an index, look up the word “grid” and see if there is a detailed description telling how to turn it on. If that fails, look through the menu settings in your camera. Press the menu button and carefully look through each menu option for the word “grid”. If you find it, remember the current setting, then choose that option and see if you can change the setting to “on”.
Your camera may have more than one grid available. If so, choose the one I described above with two horizontal and two vertical lines. Once the grid is turned on you should be able to press the menu button again to exit the menu system. If all went well the grid is now displayed over the scene on your viewing screen.
If all else fails visit your local camera shop.
Don’t get frustrated if you’re having trouble finding a grid setting. Most new pocket cameras have this option. But if your camera is older, perhaps it’s not available. If you find the grid menu option, but can’t turn it on, try reading the manual to learn how to change menu settings. It varies for many cameras. But once you learn the correct steps, it’s simple to change settings in the future. If all else fails, bring your camera to the store where you bought it or any nearby photo shop. The salesmen are usually familiar with the workings of each brand and will be happy to help.
So get that grid showing and see how much your photos improve. Good Luck!
Probably the single most common problem with photos is blurring caused by too little light and camera movement. Of course a tripod is the best way to overcome this, but tripods are not a welcome addition to the casual photographer on vacation with the family. In fact many museums, churches and other public places restrict the use of tripods because of tripping hazards. Monopods are a bit better since they are lighter to carry and don't take up a lot of floor space, and are often more able to get ignored by official staff. But, here again carrying a monopod can often cramp that free spirit we enjoy on vacation.
So here is a tip that will let you get those tough low light shots and still keep yourself out of the geek tourist club. The Dog Leash Monopod is simple to use, can hide in the pocket of your camera bad or even a pocket or handbag and still be able to get the job done.
Purchase a standard dog leash at your nearest pet store or supermarket. The type doesn’t matter. Leather or chain will each work as well. I like the chain type because along with a small padlock it can also be used to secure my camera bag to plumbing in the restroom or a chair in an airport waiting area. In any case choose one that works for you. Be sure it has a loop on one end and is at least as long as you are tall.
Putting it to Use:
I will describe its use with a DSLR, but the same process applies to a smaller pocket camera. More on that later... Place the loop around your lens, close to the camera body where it will not restrict movement of the focus or zoom controls. Now drop the free end to the ground and while holding your camera in front of your face, step on the leash. Now slowly pull up to apply tension to the leash. Hold the camera in the usual manner, locking your elbows to your sides. You now have a steady monopod as long as you keep tension on the leash. I know it seems strange, since we are used to having the support take the weight of our camera. But just a moderate amount of upward tension on the leash will provide the same effect as a monopod without the bulk and inconvenience of having to carry a larger piece of equipment.
If you are using a small pocket camera, try looping the strap around the camera itself. Be careful not to obstruct the auto focus sensor or any other control. If your camera is too small, loop the leash between your thumb and first finger of your right hand. This is the hand that presses the shutter button and it will need the most support.
The dog leash monopod is inexpensive, unobtrusive and should you find an adorable wide eyed stray puppy on you travels, you are prepared to adopt the needy orphan on the spot. I have used this approach many times and I find little difference between using a monopod or a dog leash in terms of the ability to reduce camera movement in low light conditions. However, unlike the dog leash, a monopod will also allow a heavy camera to rest. This becomes a very worthwhile consideration when carrying heavy equipment over long distances or for many hours. But if all you want is a simple way to steady your camera consider this canine accessory.
Get the Right Camera to Unlock Your Artistic Creativity.
Without a doubt, the most asked question I get at one of my classes or photo tours is "What camera should I buy?". Please understand that cameras just capture light, and photographers create photos. You can't buy your way into taking great photographs. It takes practice, failure, and a willingness to try again. So turn down your "get the right camera" volume, and increase your "find my artistic creativity" setting. But eventually, you will need to consider what tool you want to use to create those artistic masterpieces. I'll try to outline the best way to approach buying a camera so you get what you need, and don't waste money on the things you'll never use.
Wish-list or Wallet?
A boat is often defined as a hole in the water into which you pour money. Cameras can also take on a similar feel. There is always a newer, better model being announced, so it’s often difficult to know what you need and if upgrading is wise. This article gives you ways to evaluate your needs and save you a bit of hard earned money along the way.
A camera is a tool to capture the slices of life we see and wish to remember. Since cameras are always evolving, you should settle on the features that meet your current needs and budget. By waiting to upgrade, you gain two significant advantages. First you save money until you absolutely must have a particular new feature. Secondly, you save more money by delaying buying that model until a newer one is about to be released at a reduced price.
The Best Way to Decide Upon Which Camera to Buy is to Ask,
“What Do I Need NOW, and What Should I Save For in the Future?”
Pocket or Backpack?
The first decision is whether to choose a small pocket sized digital camera, or a larger DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) with accessory lenses. The answer depends on your available cash, the degree to which you enjoy taking photos, and what you may want to photograph. Small cameras have most of the features of their larger and pricey big brothers, and are great for vacation and family photos. They are also perfect for those artistic landscapes that you may wish to capture.
Don’t underestimate the modern pocket camera. They typically feature fine optics, image stabilization to reduce blur from hand-holding in dim light, built in flashes for close indoor family shots, and optical zooms that mimic expensive DSLR lenses. All this in a palm sized package for less than $300.
On the other hand, you need a DSLR to create certain photographs. Images beyond the limits of the pocket set. But these are not typically the type of photographs that you may ever want to take. Here are a few situations that require a DSLR: Very long telephoto: I once took a wonderful photograph of the space shuttle launch that filled the frame from twelve miles away. It absolutely required a DSLR and a special lens. Wildlife photographers have the same requirements since close contact with a grizzly is not wise and birds in flight wait for no man. Very wide angle: Some subjects require extreme wide-angle lenses. Saint Mark’s Square, Notre Dame Cathedral, and The McCoy family reunion group shot… you get the idea. DSLR cameras also give you more choices in lenses, flash, and control over the look of the photograph. For these and other reasons all professional photographers require DSLR cameras and are very willing to pay extra for them.
Pick Your Features
My Recommendation for Essential Features in a Pocket Camera.
At least an eight megapixel sensor. This will let you print an 11 X 17 inch photo of Aunt Esther to hang at the top of the stairs. OK, you don’t have an Aunt Esther and can’t imagine ever printing anything larger than an 8 X 10. In that case a five megapixel sensor will do just fine. But… what if you need to crop your photo to remove unwanted objects, or to emphasize the important subject in your photo? Having those three extra megapixels will help a lot because the remaining image will still have enough resolution to produce a fine 8 X 10 print. But don’t think that the megapixels are the first consideration. Simply put, if the camera has eight to twelve megapixels, it is all you will ever need. I have made many high quality 8 X 10 prints from 2 megapixel cameras. Other factors, like those below should drive your decision.
Digital Zoom Should Never be Considered When Buying a Camera.
Digital zoom is just a way to crop the image inside the camera. In other words, the camera will crop out a smaller part of the scene from its sensor. This is not real zooming because it reduces the resolution (megapixels) of the image. If you want to crop, do it later on the computer, with better software before printing. Choose the highest optical zoom that your budget will allow. Then you will be able to take wide angle, as well as telephoto shots with ease, and get great results from the printer. At a minimum, you need 4x optical zoom. But today’s cameras now have 8x, 12x, even 20x optical zoom built into their lens. To me, this is a primary feature to consider. In one lens, we are now able to get the same range of angles (wide to narrow zooming) that require three or more lenses on a DSLR. So give a lot of consideration to the optical zoom “X” number.
A built-in flash. Most pocket cameras come with flash units. But just in case, be sure to check. Otherwise you'll be paying almost as much again for an external flash later. That said, don’t expect these small flashes to light anything more than a few feet away. They are fine for holiday photos indoors, and to illuminate the family at night at the carnival. But don’t expect to capture the next Stones concert from the cheap seats.
Image stabilization. Not long ago I would have left this as an option instead of essential feature. But the technology has improved and the cost gone down to the point where this is well worth including. With image Stabilization, you are able to hand-hold the camera in low light without blurry photos caused by the camera shaking in your hand.
At least a three inch LCD screen for viewing. Anything smaller is old technology and too poor for comfort. The screen is important because you use it to view and compose your pictures and review the results. You need an LCD screen that is bright enough for use outdoors in direct sunlight, and large enough to easily evaluate your shot. Digital photography’s best feature is that we are freed from the cost and delay of film processing. If your photo is not perfect, just take it over on the spot. The worst feeling is finding problems when you're making prints that you could have corrected had you discovered them when you were taking the picture. So insist on a bright, clear LCD screen that you can view, even if you have to hold the camera above your head to shoot over the crowd surrounding the Pope mobile.
Exposure Compensation is Possibly the Single Most
Useful Feature You Can Have.
Exposure compensation. The ability to easily adjust the exposure to lighten or darken the image is perhaps the single most useful feature you can have. Cameras are programmed to produce “average” exposures based on the way that most of the world reflects light. But there are lots of times when your scene is not “average”. The kids building that snowman on the front lawn will come out with grey snow unless you can adjust the exposure to brighten the scene. That blue sky with white puffy clouds outside the window will disappear unless you can darken the setting.
Get a camera that feels good in your hands. Herman Munster won’t be happy with a petite, purse-sized masterpiece of engineering. Consider shape and size carefully. Where will the camera reside when not in your hand? In a case on your belt, then a small thin camera works best. Slung over your shoulder from a long strap, then you may prefer a larger camera. In any case, visit a camera store and test drive a few. You don’t need to buy it there, but even if you find a great value on the internet, handle one first.
Don't take the salesman too seriously. Lets face it, the camera shop's salesman has one primary job. To get you and your money as far apart as he can. He will woo you with wonderful techno-babble, appeal to your desire to have the newest features, and never really consider what is best for you and the way you want to photograph. The main reason to even visit the photo shop is to get your hands on a few cameras to see how they feel. Do your research ahead of time. Determine your priorities. Be your own expert before you talk with a salesman. And consider on-line stores. Often you will see significant savings, good warranties and return policies, and a wider range of choices. Now, I'm not opposed to supporting your local merchant. Without local camera stores getting to know what feels good to us would be much harder. But calculate how much that one-on-one service is worth to you. Don't feel guilty if you find the perfect camera by shopping around in the store and then choose to buy it on-line, especially if it saves you enough to get a spare battery or extra memory card.
I hope that these tips will help you to find the perfect pocket camera. If you are salivating over upgrading to a DSLR, please read my post about How to Buy the Right DSLR Camera. No matter what you choose, remember it's all about having fun.
A word of CAUTION! Cameras and lenses are VERY susceptible to damage from condensation getting inside. This happens when the cameras or lenses are moved from warm to cold climates, or from cold to warm. Condensation can cause rusting of the electrical components, and mold forming on the internal glass. Both problems are very expensive to fix.
Follow These Steps to Prevent Lens Condensation
- Before changing climates, place the camera and lens into a large zip-lock bag.
- Squeeze the extra air out of the bag, and seal it tight.
- Move inside, or outside as needed, but DO NOT open the bag for at least 15 minutes, more if the temperature difference is great. This will allow the camera, and lens to adjust to the new temperature without causing condensation.
This technique works because when you squeeze the Zip-Lock before sealing it, you remove the moisture-laden air that would cause condensation when the temperature changes.
- When you feel that the camera, and lens have adjusted to the new temperature, you may open the bag and remove them.
- Use the same process before you move back inside or outside, which ever is the case.
TIP: As a general rule, I leave at lease one camera locked in my car for use on cold mornings. Since it is not heated, it doesn't need to be protected from condensation. That way, I can get up before dawn, drive to a predetermined location, and start shooting as soon as I arrive. No need for the zip-lock bag. If the gear changes from one temperature to another slowly, there is no condensation buildup. The problem only happens when you take it quickly from a warm environment to a cold one, or vice-versa.
How to Blur Your Background Using Depth of Field and Really Make Your Photos Pop!
“Depth of Field” is a phrase that is often used in photography articles, magazines, and manuals. It’s one of those confusing uses of the Photography language that often form barriers of understanding which separate the pros from the novices. I don’t particularly care for that practice. Be it computers, mortgage documents, or photography, I think we need to try to improve the process of communication, not add to the confusion. So, let’s call it “Depth of Focus” or DOF for short. That is really what we are talking about.
DOF is Your Range of Clear Focus from the Front to the Back of a Scene.
What is DOF?
DOF is a simple concept, but one that confuses many people. It refers to the range of clear focus from front to back in a scene. Although we live with DOF all the time, we never need to give it much thought until we try to take a photograph. Our eyes, like a camera, are limited in the range they can focus. But our eyes are connected to that supercomputer we call a brain, and so they can adjust very quickly. If you are reading this on your computer, your eyes are focused at about two or three feet. When someone enters from across the room, you look up and instantly refocus on them. At that point, the computer screen is blurred or out of focus. When you return your gaze to the computer, your eyes again refocus and the friend across the room loses sharpness. So, for any given distance, what you see clearly is limited by where you place your eyes to focus. This is Depth of Focus. It’s true for eyes, camera lenses, and even pinhole cameras without lenses. We’ll talk about these later.
You Have Control Over How Deep the Range of Clarity Appears.
The important idea is that there is a limited range of clarity when we try to take the three dimensional world and represent it onto a two dimensional photo. If near objects are in focus, distant ones may be fuzzy, and vise versa. Notice I said “may” be fuzzy. I didn’t say “will” be fuzzy. That’s because we have control over how deep the range of clarity appears. You’ve seen lots of landscapes that were tack sharp from the flowers in the foreground to the mountains twenty miles away. You have also seen close-up photos of people with a background only a few feet away so blurry that it's unrecognizable. How can there be both a deep DOF in the landscape and a very shallow DOF with the people? The primary reason is aperture.
How Does Aperture Affect DOF?
Most cameras have an adjustable iris, just like the one in your eye, that opens and closes to adjust the light passing through your camera lens. The size of the hole the iris makes determines how much of your scene is sharp or not so sharp. This hole is the Aperture ,and controls how much light from your scene passes through your lens to the camera's sensor where your photograph is recorded. A large hole lets in more light, a small hole lets in less light, and there are multiple options in-between each changing your DOF.
Now here’s the really cool part. When the iris is wide open, the Depth of Focus is narrow. This shot was taken with an aperture of f-2.
When the iris is closed to only a pinhole, the DOF is deep. This shot was taken with an aperture of f-16.
So that gives us, as photographers, lots of control over the look of the photo that is taken. Open the iris to get a narrow DOF and the girl stands out in front of a fuzzy background. Close the iris and stretch the DOF from the girl to infinity for a breathtaking vista. There is, however a catch.
When the iris is changed, the amount of light coming through the lens also changes. We need to adjust for this by changing the time that the shutter is open to allow the sensor to be exposed. If we use a small aperture to gain a deep DOF, the light passing toward the shutter and sensor is greatly reduced. So, to compensate we need to keep the shutter open longer. OK, that’s easy. But wait… If the shutter is open too long, moving subjects, like cars or people will blur in the photo. So to get the deep DOF I need for my great landscape, I have to live with blurry birds flying overhead. Well, not quite. There is some help available. Most cameras allow the sensitivity of the sensor that records the image to be changed. If I can’t change the aperture, and that makes the required shutter speed too slow, I can increase the ISO to make the sensor require less light to make a correct exposure. Then I can increase the shutter speed to freeze the birds. But, as with many things in life, there are side effects. Too high an ISO setting can introduce “noise” or a stippled look to smoother parts of the photo, like the sky. This is why pros increase the ISO only as a last resort. And that gets us to why the professional photographers will spend thousands of dollars for cameras that don’t seem to have more features than the pocket models we can buy for a couple of hundred dollars.
There are other factors that can help to control DOF, exposure, and motion. Lenses that open much wider to let in more light will allow for faster shutter speeds. But those extra wide apertures cause distortions in the photos. So high grade glass which is precision shaped is needed to eliminate them. That’s expensive. If you frame 8x10 prints of your photos as gifts for friends, the simple lens in your pocket camera is fine. But if you need to create wall size posters or you have to crop a small section from an image and expand it, an expensive lens is a necessity. And there are some situations when only the big, expensive cameras will get the shot. I once photographed a space shuttle launch at night from twelve miles away. The image filled the frame. I printed it onto posters that were 13 x 19 inches. That required a high quality telephoto lens and a very heavy tripod. No pocket camera has that ability.
Another factor that affects DOF is the focal length of the lens. Sorry for using a technical term. Focal length is just a way to designate the angle that a lens sees. Telephoto lenses see narrow angles and therefore make it seem as if you are closer to your subject. Very handy when shooting temperamental wildlife. Wide angle lenses, as their name implies do just the opposite and let you fit all the family into the frame for the Thanksgiving portrait. But these different lenses have different DOF qualities. Long, telephoto lenses produce narrower Depth of Focus, The wider the lens, the more the DOF increases.
Depth of Focus is also affected by the size of your camera. If a very small lens is used to squeeze into a compact pocket camera, the DOF will be deeper than from a lens with the same angle on a larger DSLR camera. All that means is, don’t expect to get quite as much background blur when shooting close-ups in the rose garden using a pocket camera. Distance is also a factor. The closer you are to your subject, the narrower the DOF. That’s why extreme close-up photos of lady bugs on a flower’s petal will always blur most of the flower. These extreme close-ups are called macro photography, and it is a specialty unto itself.
So let’s finish with some handy ways to use these new ideas in the field. If you are using a pocket camera, expect that most of your photos will have a deep Depth of Focus. But if you take close-up shots, use the Aperture Priority setting ( Av, Ap, or A ) to lock in the DOF that you want. Deep DOF requires high aperture numbers like 8 or 11. For narrow DOF, use the widest aperture that your camera will allow, such as 2.8, 3.5 or 4. If you get a warning that the shutter speed is to slow to hand-hold the camera ( a shaky hand symbol ), increase the ISO until the warning goes away. In any case, use a tripod or find something to support the camera for much better results.
If you have a DSLR, your options are greater. You can affect the DOF in landscapes by adjusting the aperture as explained above. Remember that the longer the lens, the narrower the DOF and vice versa. So if you want very deep DOF, use a wide angle lens and move closer. If you want to blur the background, foreground, or both try a telephoto lens and move back to frame the same scene. The bit about using a tripod or firm support holds even more so for you. Unlike the simple pocket cameras, DSLRs have more moving parts that must be steadied for sharp images.
Oh… by the way. Remember that I said I would talk more about pinhole cameras that don’t have lenses. Well here is a bit of trivia that can save your day. When photography first started, cameras were simply a box with a pinhole punched into one end and a film plate attached to the other end. The size of the pinhole determined the aperture. And just like today’s cameras with adjustable irises, the same rules of optics apply. So a small pinhole produces a deeper Depth of Focus than a larger one. Here’s the part about saving your day. Take a needle and with pliers, hold it in a flame until it heats up a bit. Then use the needle to punch a small hole into an expired credit card or something similar. Keep this card in your wallet or purse. If you ever forget your reading glasses and can’t quite decipher the print on that train timetable or medicine bottle, hold the card up to your eye. You will be amazed at how the narrow DOF of the pinhole will improve your ability to read the fine print.
So you have a DSLR. You’re in the big leagues now. Lots of new toys, tools and photographic options. And lots of chances to spend your money. Of all the photographic purchases you’ll make over the course of your life time, lenses are by far the greatest, and often most foolish expenses you will make. So here are a few tips to stack the odds on your side.
The Truth About Spending Your Hard Earned Cash
for Photography Equipment.
Buying lenses is like looking into the future. Think long term, not immediate need. Here’s the real truth about spending for photographic equipment. Cameras come and cameras go. I guarantee you that getting the latest camera with the most advanced features is a fleeting high followed by a hard reality when a newer, better, and sometimes cheaper option soon follows. Lenses, on the other hand, rarely change. Improvements are often decades apart, and frankly they aren’t that big a deal. So your cameras will change every few years as you need the latest features, but your lenses will stay with you for a lifetime. Getting it right has a long term payback.
The Best Approach to Buying Your Lenses.
The best way to approach the process of buying lenses is to look at the big picture. Determine what you reasonably expect to do with your photography over the next ten years, and setup a plan to buy the best lenses for meeting your goals. Here are a couple of examples:
You hope to become a professional photographer, shoot weddings, portraits, sporting events etc. This is where getting the BEST lenses will pay off both in your ability to get the shots you want, and achieving the high quality necessary for images you want to print large or cropped significantly. Good lenses also remove unsightly aberrations that detract from the high quality you aim to produce. So you need to buy fast lenses to shoot in dimly lit reception halls. You need lenses that are protected from rain, or dust with good seals. And you need them to last for a very long time. To obtain these qualities lenses require specially shaped glass, coatings to reduce glare, tight tolerances to protect the inside from the environment, and materials that will last. This means more money. There is no way around it. You can’t get the performance of a Porsche at the price of a Chevy.
You like taking photos, but don’t plan on becoming professional. You want good results without breaking into the kid’s college fund. Your needs are far less demanding than the professional. Don’t waste your money for the features that you will never really need. If you shoot in a dark church on that trip to Rome, steady the camera on a bench or against a pillar. Increase the ISO. You have other options to get a good exposure rather than spending $2000 for a fast lens. As for aberrations, they normally can be corrected on the computer. And frankly, your family and friends won’t even notice them unless you make very, very large prints. Get the less expensive lenses and just remember to protect them and your camera from the elements, such as rain, or the wind blowing dust around, or at the beach where the sand and salt in the air can force its way inside. A large plastic bag can do the job nicely.
So right about now you’re thinking…”O.K. smart guy, How can I take a picture with my camera and lens in bag?” Well here’s my insider tip as veteran professional photographer with over half a century of experience. Just trace the lens front onto the bottom of the bag, cut your circle out being sure to cut a bit inside the line, match up your lens with the hole, and attach a UV filter to the end to hold the bag in place. Keep the bag zipped up and adjust the controls from the outside. Voila!
Why Not To Rely on a Kit Lens
Buying the Right Lens
Most consumer model DSLR cameras come with a kit lens. It isn’t always the best option to start with. These lenses are usually in the middle of the zoom range, giving you the least amount of options. The better approach is to buy the body and first lens separately. You may pay a few dollars more, but you will have a single lens that will meet your needs for years.
Buy a Long Range Zoom for Your First Lens
Buy a zoom lens with a long range. You want to get a wide angle to moderate telephoto into one lens. A lens in the range of 28 – 135 mm is a good choice. On a smaller sensor camera, typical to consumer models this will get you the ability to shoot small groups indoors as well as isolate the Lincoln Memorial from the steps of the Capital.
Buy a Ultra-Wide Zoom for Your Second Lens
Your next lens should probably be a ultra-wide angle zoom in the 10-24 mm range. This will add the ability to get everyone in at the Thanksgiving table shot. That’s it, unless you want to try some unusual shots like bugs up close, where a macro lens is needed.
If you want to head toward the professional side of photography, you need to spend lots more for each lens except for your first, the long range zoom lens with a wide angle. There are expensive models of these, but they are not worth the money. Buy the cheaper version as your first lens. The ability to do it all in one lens has significant drawbacks for the professional. Even though the large camera companies are producing wide zoom range lenses in the professional price range, you are better off from an optics standpoint with getting shorter range zooms. The quality of the images will be far better.
What are The “Perfect Three Lenses”
Professionals who shoot weddings, landscapes, and portraits almost always get the following lenses which are known in the biz as the “perfect three”.
- A fast mid-range zoom such as a 24-70mm, f2.8 best for most routine shots.
- A medium telephoto like a 70-200mm, f2.8 for portraits and landscapes.
- An ultra-wide zoom like a 16-35mm, f2.8 great for your getting-it-all-in wedding, or landscapes.
Hint: If portraits are a large part of a professionals business, the addition of a super-fast prime (non-zoom) portrait lens like a 85mm, f1.2 or f1.8 provides great background control, and contrast.
Lenses: Newer Does Not Mean Better
When to Buy a Lens
Don’t get all your lenses at once. It’s too expensive a hit at one time. Marriages have been lost by making this mistake. Buy good lenses as you need them, not as you want them. As new models are produced, older versions may reduce in price. And as I mentioned earlier, the new models don’t usually add much. Camera manufactures have been “updating” long-standing models with newer versions to force higher prices out of the newer customers. Professionals know better and are not often willing to spend $1000 more for virtually the same lens. When a 24-70mm was recently replaced with a newer model, the price of the older lens jumped by $800 simply due to demand from knowing professionals.
What You Must Know About Manufacturer’s Warranties
Buying Your Lens: New verses Used
New lenses come in two varieties. American distributed and foreign distributed. They are both the same lens, with the same manufacturer’s warranty. But the American distributer won’t service foreign acquired lenses. So if you get one, consider that you may need to ship a damaged or misaligned lens to Japan for repair. Usually the small savings at purchase time isn’t worth the risk of high shipping costs if something goes wrong.
The Most Important Things to Ask for When Buying Used Lenses
Used lenses can be a great bargain or headache. So shop wisely. Buy used lenses from large, respected dealers only. Insist on at least a 90 day warranty. Ask if they cleaned the lens and had its alignment and optics checked. If you see a great bargain on eBay, be careful. The last owner may have loved his equipment just as you do and a wonderful savings for a well cared for lens will be your reward. However, he might be dumping the lens that the toddler dropped down the stairs. You won’t know ahead of time. Ask for a 30 day trial period. Use eBay’s escrow option, or PayPal to insure that you can return the lens for a full refund. When it arrives, take it to a professional who can bench test it. Or take a series of shots of a yardstick or tape measure to check that its focus is correct. Hold it to your ear as you turn the zoom and focus adjustments slowly to listen for sand or erratic spots. It should be silk smooth and silent. If it has autofocus, check that it is spot on. Try autofocus and then manual focus of the same object about 10 feet away. They should agree. If there is image stabilization built into the lens, hold it while standing on one foot. The view through the lens should be steady, even though you aren’t.
How to Care for Your New Lens
Once you have you new lens, keep it clean. A UV filter will protect the front from dust and damage. A soft brush will wipe away dust before it gets inside through the focus and zoom controls. Keep it in a nice padded camera bag when not in use. And protect it from side bumps as you carry it on your camera. If you treat your lenses well, they will give you great results for a lifetime of photography.
You May Find These Related Posts Interesting:
How to Prevent Condensation and Keep Your Expensive Lenses Safe
How to Buy the Right DSLR Camera
Before reading this post you may want to read this previous post:
How to Buy the Right Pocket Camera which includes what "basic" features and functions to consider when buying a camera.
Things to Consider When Buying a DSLR Camera.
What's More Important the Camera or Your Lenses?
Price range has to come first. But this is not a simple issue. Because you are considering a DSLR, the most important feature isn’t the camera. It’s the lenses that you will use. By far, over the years you will spend more money on lenses than on camera bodies, unless you’re a sucker for every camera ad in the magazine. So first choose which manufacturer’s lenses you want to use. This decision will lock you into a brand for many years. Once you own half a dozen lenses, it’s very hard to divorce the brand for the latest new feature from the competition. None of your existing lenses will fit onto the new brand, and you will have to spend a fortune to make the switch (just like real life, isn’t it?).
Camera Bodies Come and Go But Your Lenses are Forever
Now here’s the good news. Having chosen a brand, the same lenses, with some minor exceptions, will fit onto all of that manufacture’s bodies. And to add to the excitement, lower priced bodies often have most of the features you’ll want. The expensive “advanced amateur” and “professional” camera bodies emphasize materials, such as magnesium instead of aluminum; water and dirt protection; and specialized functions, like very high bursts of images within a few seconds. These are essential for shooting Amazon wildlife, but are not that useful at Disney World.
First, let’s talk about the three levels of bodies that may be available from a manufacturer.
Consumer: This is the low end, characterized by lots of plastic and cool sounding names. The insides will often use the same sensor, microprocessor and features found on the higher end models. So what’s the difference? Don’t drop it! The professional who spent $8,000 for his camera body expects that it will take a reasonable amount of abuse. If you get an $800 model, don’t expect much sympathy from the customer relations hot-line after you chase your camera bouncing down to the Colorado River from the top of the Grand Canyon.
Advanced Amateur or Pro-sumer: This middle level is preferred by the serious hobbyists and most professionals. Bodies in the group are found in the $2,000 to $4,000 range. They have more metal instead of plastic, better sealing from the elements, and will often be the first group to offer the latest features. But since most of the money that a manufacturer gets is from the consumer group, they soon are forced to include the new gizmos in those cameras also, usually within a year.
Professional: This group top of the line and not for us. How do I know? Because, if you are a professional who needs an $8,000 camera body, you are not reading this. You work for National Geographic, and you probably got you editor to cough up the money anyway.
How to Approach Buying a DSLR
So now, let’s consider the approach to use in buying a DSLR. I’ll assume we are interested in consumer or advanced amateur models. If you really like photography, I mean like as in, “I’ll be getting up at three AM, dear to shoot the pigeons at sunrise”, like photography. Then you may want to consider advanced amateur models from Canon or Nikon. For the past twenty years, these two manufactures have been dueling for the professional and semi-pro market to the point that few professionals use any other brand. These companies have the money to develop new and better lens designs, more feature laden camera bodies, and the marketing to keep the cash flowing. Use a Nikon or Canon and you will get the best quality for your money, period. That said, don’t think that these two are your only choices. There are awesome cameras and lenses coming from a dozen other manufacturers. If another brand feels right to you, go for it. Just remember, whatever your choice, you’re getting married to it and a divorce can be expensive.
Starter Lenses and Your Camera Body
Oh yes… money is the key word. The top lenses are expensive, as well as the latest bodies. But over the long haul, investing in any of the top brands will serve you well, indeed. If this is your desire, I suggest starting with a good zoom lens in the moderate wide-angle to moderate telephoto range, perhaps 24mm – 70mm. Later you could augment this with a longer telephoto zoom such as a 70mm – 200mm. Next buy the body. This is less of a decision since it is meant to last just a few years until you wish to get a newer model with the latest features. Here price is the most useful factor. Since you spent a good deal of money on a quality lens, get whatever the checkbook will allow for the body.
Beware of the Camera "Bundle"
Notice I didn’t suggest that you get a body and lens together as a set. These “bundles” are inviting, however the lenses included are usually of a poorer quality. Although, in all honesty, I have a couple and use them often. The main reason I suggest that you buy the body and lens separately is to choose the high quality lens. This will last your lifetime, and then you can pass it on to one of the kids. Professionals often say, “Put your money in the glass”. Only go for the bundle if money is too tight to opt for the good lens just now. The “kit” lens from the bundled set will serve you well until you can afford to upgrade.
Stabilization Feature: Camera Body vs. Your Lens
The features desirable in a DSLR are not very different from the pocket cameras. You want at least eight megapixels, a quality LCD screen, and image stabilization. How that stabilization is achieved is something you need to consider. The process of stabilizing the image has taken two divergent paths. Some manufacturers, such as Canon have chosen to put the stabilizing mechanics into their lenses. The disadvantage of this approach is that a little more money is added onto the cost of each lens with this feature. Other manufacturers put the mechanism into the body. This means that you pay only once and all of your lenses will produce stabilized images.
So why pay for stabilization in your lens? Because only if the stabilization is in the lens can its affect be seen in the viewfinder, a very good feature for long telephoto work. Stabilization in the camera body is only apparent once the picture has been taken and can be viewed on the LCD screen or in a print. There is also a case to be made that having the stabilization in each lens means you achieve the optimum stabilization for that particular lens configuration.
So which way should you go? Again it depends on all of the other factors I mentioned earlier. If you choose Canon for their optics, you have to accept the fact that you will pay for image stabilization when you buy lenses. If you like Olympus, (a great consumer brand, by the way), you have to accept that their stabilization is in the body, and won’t be seen through the viewfinder before the picture is taken.
Weighting in on Camera Weight.
Like the pocket cameras, a DSLR should feel good in your hands. As the price increases, so does the weight. This is due to more glass with wider maximum apertures, metal bodies instead of plastic, and add-on options such as vertical grips with extra capacity battery chambers. The result is that most professionals have developed large biceps or hire Sherpa footmen to carry their equipment. If weight is a discomfort to you, stay with the consumer bodies and less add-on gadgets.
Tips to Get the Most Value When Buying a Consumer Camera.
Now, for those of you who don’t want to break the bank on a lifetime hobby, here are a few tips to get the most value from a consumer level camera. Lower end DSLR cameras and lenses have come a very long way. They virtually didn’t exist only a few years ago. Now they comprise most of the DSLR market and it’s growing. All this means is more value and lower prices. Understanding this fact should encourage you to shop around for the best camera to meet your type of photography.
I would suggest this setup as a good starting point. Image stabilization in the body is available in many consumer cameras now. A zoom lens with a very long range, such as an 18mm to 200mm is a good first step. Add to that a wide angle in the 10mm to 16mm range for those wide indoor situations, a small camera backpack, and a tripod and the whole deal should run you under $3,000 if you shop around.
One other accessory that you should consider for a DSLR is a 2x tele-converter (sometimes called a tele-extender). This is an optical device that goes between the camera body and the lens. It effectively doubles the focal length of any lens attached to it. So now your 200mm zoom becomes a 400mm. You would expect to pay in excess of $2,500 for a 400mm lens. The tele-converter costs under $300. Great deal, isn’t it? Well you knew there had to be some catch. The tele-converter will reduce the amount of light getting to the sensor by 2 stops (or 75%). So you MUST use a tripod. And don’t expect auto-focus to work either. But for a few hundred dollars and a little manual focusing you now have the ability to get a great shot of Keith, or Justin from those cheap seats.
Round off your new camera system with a few filters.
A Circular Polarizer is a must for darkening skies in landscapes. It really brings out those puffy clouds. It’s also great for reducing glare on the surface of lakes, streams and other wet scenes such as streets or autumn foliage after a rain. This greatly improves how the final photograph looks.
A UV filter which reduces ultra-violet light (no big deal) is a great way to protect the front of your expensive lenses. It won’t reduce the amount of light and costs a lot less to replace than to have scratches removed from your lens.
At the risk of alienating landscape photographers everywhere, here is one of the secret ways to get great daylight shots of those jaw-dropping vistas. First, let me explain the problem. Our eyes are very good at quickly switching our concentration to different points within a scene. As we focus on the foreground with its deep shadows, our eyes quickly open to let in more light. When we concentrate on the bright sky, with the setting sun bouncing off of the cumulous clouds, our eyes narrow to reduce the light. As a result, we always see the world in front of us correctly. Cameras can’t do that. They take in the entire scene even though the range from darkest shadows to brightest sky is too much for the sensor to handle. Our pictures, therefore ether have shadows with no detail or skies that are overexposed and all white.
Graduated Neutral Density filter: Sunglasses for Your Camera
The Graduated Neutral Density filter will darken the sky while leaving the foreground as is. These are rectangular filters that are dark at the top and clear at the bottom. Where the different shades meet in the middle, it is softly faded to eliminate any sharp line showing up in the photo. Some fanatics buy special square filter holders to accept them. That is a waste of money and time.
Since with a DSLR you see through the lens, just hold the filter in front of the lens (it can touch) and position it so that the dark part covers the sky and the middle is near the horizon. Than snap the picture. Put the filter back in its protective case and tuck it into your bag or as I do, my back pocket. I’ve had many a quizzical stare at my backside because I forgot that my filter was still sticking out of my back pocket as I entered a fancy restaurant or some other formal event. Graduated Neutral Density Filters are well worth their cost. I haven’t had that much attention given to my backside since I turned forty.
4. Finally, I want to mention the other things that must be in your bag as you leave the store.
Whether you buy a pocket camera or DSLR, you need to get an extra battery. It’s a well known fact, the only time your battery will die is when you are taking the once-in-a-lifetime shot of Shamu jumping out of the pool and landing on the pretzel stand. Cold weather also has the effect of draining a battery much faster than in the heat of summer. So buy an extra battery, keep it charged, and carry it with you.
You should also have a least three memory cards. I advocate against using large capacity cards. If they go wrong, or you fumble and drop it into Niagara Falls, you have lost everything from this vacation and also last Christmas, and, Oh Yah, little Samantha’s fifth birthday too. Get 2GB cards. They are cheap and they will still allow you to record a few hundred images. Why three memory cards? One for the camera, one for your pocket, and one for your wife’s pocket... because you forgot to put the spare in your pocket. Don’t get cheap on me. You just spent a lot on a camera, a few more dollars for spare cards is a good idea.
When you get home, plug in the batteries to charge, read the manual, and dream of all of those wonderful three AM trips to photograph the pigeons at dawn.
Related Blog Posts:
The Smart Way to Buy Lenses for Your DSLR
How to Prevent Condensation and Keep Your Expensive Lenses Safe
Congratulations to Kit Mohr for his first spread in Sports Illustrated featuring home run queen Lauren Chamberlain!
Kit's been photographing the National Pro Fastpitch (NFP) team the USSSA Pride for a couple of seasons this year earning the position of official USSSA Pride League Photographer. Kit's photos of NPF star Lauren Chamberlain are featured in the June 22, 2015 SI article shown below.
Kit Mohr Sports Illustrated photos of NFP player Lauren Chamberlain.USSSA Pride League Photographer
Kit's artist's eye has given this national softball team a new look to accompany their rising popularity. Kit's got to know the team and it shows in their staged candid shots. Obviously the team is comfortable in front of Kit's lens.
"For the best of the best, nothing shows off USSSA Pride like being on the field. Photographing this team in action made for a lot of high energy shots and a lot of sunscreen.
USSSA Pride is a team made up of a diverse batch of personality and energy. This year's head shots made for a fun day of seeing each player open up and have fun with being on center stage. One of my favorite parts however, was how interactive they were with each other trying to get each other to laugh or “give a good evil eye”. They truly are a team on and off field." --- Kit Mohr
You can check out the entire team's photos at http://kitmohr.com/in-league/. And while you're there check out the rest of Kit's work. Whether it's a softball team, a couples shoot, wedding, or fine art photography, Kit's unmistakable style, technique, and artistic vision make for beautiful art whatever the subject and medium. (Kit's a painter too :-))
Again we here at Carl Spence Photography are proud to count Kit among our own and send out a BIG Congrats!
Keep 'em coming Kit.
Your friends at Carl Spence Photography
Fine Art Photographer Kit Mohr started as a Featured Photographer at Carl Spence Photography seven months ago. "Kit's experience with film and digital photography, combined with his creativity, artistic eye, and easy collaboration with his subjects, makes him the perfect fit for the position of Director of Photographic Services.", remarked Carl Spence at the announcement of Kit's promotion.
"I am very excited to continue my partnership with Carl Spence Photography. As the Director of Photographic Services, I hope to extend our shared vision of the true potential of fine art photography through the collaboration of the advancements of the digital photographic media and visceral quality of traditional film." ~ Kit Mohr
Kit is already considered a great asset to our family. We are confident and excited to see the wonderful work, and ideas, he'll bring to his new position as a collaborator in the continued growth of Carl Spence Photography.
Email Kit at [email protected]
Visit Kit's gallery at KitMohr.CarlSpencePhotography.com
Carl's etherial image titled "Surf, Sand, and Fog - Oregon" is awarded Second Place in the Annual Spring show at the Taunton Art Assn. in Taunton, Massachusetts. The Trescott Street Gallery, which has featured Carl's work in the past, is showing the prize winning work from June 3rd to the 15th. In commenting on the award, Carl expressed his gratitude to the Assn. and Gallery for their continued support of the arts.
The winning photograph was taken on an early morning near the Oregon / Washington border during one of Carl's "Grand Tours" of North America. Carl explains, "I was taken by the subtle variations between sand, surf, and morning fog as I set up on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific. The scene reminded me of a Japenese watercolor painting. The Low light required a tripod and cable release. I quickly set up and took the shot. In an instant the scene had completely changed. Once again I was glad that I had my equipment ready for quick use".
Read Carl's Travel Blog from his Grand Tours - "Into Wild America".
Kit Mohr's “20 Foot Waiting” Receives The Warren Cove Award in The Fine Art of Photography, 2013
Exhibition in Plymouth MA.
Kit Won One of Only 15 Prizes Awarded in The Show
For more details about Kit’s participation in this juried exhibit
please see Blog post,
Kit Mohr Wins Entry Into The Fine Art of Photography Juried Exhibition in Plymouth MA, with Her Fine Art Prints
From The Plymouth Center for the Arts Press Release-
On Saturday April 6th, more than 500 people attended the Reception and Award Ceremony for
The Fine Art of Photography, 3rd Annual Juried Photography Exhibition…
Congratulations to the winners:
Kit Mohr received “The Warren Cove” award for her photograph, “20 Foot Waiting”. Following is the Judge’s Note describing what they saw in Kit’s photograph that won her the “Most Compelling Image” award, which is accompanied by $100.00.
|" A mysterious and irresistible image, darkly immersed in anxiety. The onlooker pleads for more details. The oddly balanced composition plays to the tension of the subject and presents its drama exceedingly well in black and white where there is truth. Good use of the value scale with the crisp starched white dress against the dark forest floor, abandoned and alone."
“20 Foot Waiting” is the second of four photographs in Kit’s Dress Chronicle. The shot was taken on a back road outside of Tallahassee, FL. Kristin and her model, Masha Ciampittiello, drove around for almost an hour searching for the perfect spot. This road with its subtle hill pulls you out of the vanishing background to the foreground where the model waits.
All three of Kit’s photographs are published in the Show Catalog containing all 220 photographs along with a list of the winners and Judges’ Notes, which may be purchased in PDF, iBook or printed format.
Links for Kit
The Dress Chronicle photo shoot is built around the model, Masha Ciampittiello, as seen in each of the four photographs. My intention is to make visible the internal dialogue of past and present reality. The images speak both to the narrative experience in whole, and to the individual moments in part. –Kristin Mohr
email: [email protected]
Kit Mohr Wins Entry Into The Fine Art of Photography Juried Exhibition in Plymouth MA, with His Fine Art Prints
Kit is One of Eleven Photographers Who Have Three Photos
in the Prestigious Show
In February Kit selected six photographs to submit to The Plymouth Guild for the Arts juried photography only exhibit, The Fine Art of Photography. In all, 243 Artists submitted 848 photographs for admittance into the spring show.
In the weeks that followed the judges reviewed every anonymous entry individually and together, numerous times until they reach a decision on the final 220 photographs for exhibition.
The judges Francine Weiss and Peter Vanderwalker are highly regarded in their professions with national recognition. Francine Weiss is a specialist in the history of photography and American visual culture. Peter Vanderwalker is a freelance photographer whose work interprets both the natural and man-made environments.
Kit is a Fine Art Photographer based in the Central Florida area.
He began photography at age 11 with his father as his guide. Kit graduated from Florida State University with a Cum Laude Degree in Fine Arts, and a minor in Psychology. His first love is for film which is evident by his Plymouth entries seen below.
Kit specializes in film and dark room techniques, and is a master of the black & white format making great use of a wide tonal range which conveys great scale and depth in his work.
Kit is known for his “Chronicles”, short sequences of images that reflect a story he glimpses within his clients as he works with them. His first two entries accepted for the Plymouth show are from his Dress Chronicle, while the third is from a trip to the Netherlands.
Dress 1- Ice Nine
Dress-1 or Ice Nine was shot using the exposure of room temperature air to freezing glass. The goal was to capture the image just as the glass began to fog so that the model's face would be lost in the surroundings. Thus leading the eye to seek by way of focus for familiar imagery, to where it eventually lands on the somewhat unusual sash collecting around the model's feet.
Dress 2- 20 Foot Waiting
The second image in The Dress Chronicle is 20 Foot Waiting. The shot was taken on a back road outside of Tallahassee, FL. "We had driven around for almost an hour when we found this road with it's subtle hill that pulls you out of the vanishing background to the foreground where the model waits."
Links for Kit Mohr:
email: [email protected]
View the Dress Chronicle and his Fine Art Gallery