Carl Spence Photography | Blog
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.


Subscribe below to be alerted when new posts are added.  Enjoy and thank you.

Carl Spence


Welcome to  our How-To Techniques and News Blog

This is a place where novice or professional can come to learn about this awesome art form.  All of us here at Carl Spence Photography are highly skilled professionals itching to help you take different and inspiring photographs, whatever your 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. 

Our wish for you is simple.  Through sharing our knowledge and talents, providing encouragement and resources, we hope to inspire you towards snapping your dream photos while enjoying yourself, and this great medium as much as we do.

We know everyone learns differently.  Some people like to read while others grasp new ideas by watching a video tutorial, or listening to an audio recording.  So to be as thorough as possible, you’ll find our instruction using many 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, and my talented friends.

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.

We hope you enjoy these posts, and please give us a hollah’ to let us know what you think, and how you’re doing.

Thank you,  Carl Spence and the staff at Carl Spence Photography




Kit Mohr pics featured in Sports Illustrated

July 26, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

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 ChamberlainKit 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  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



Carl Spence Photography Announces Kit Mohr as Director of Photographic Services

June 28, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Kit cut B&WKit cut B&W

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

Visit Kit's gallery at


Carl takes Second Place at Taunton Art Assn. Show

June 05, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Surf, Sand and Fog - Oregon

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".


The Smart Way to Buy Lenses for Your DSLR

May 07, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

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.

Plan Ahead

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”. 

  1. A fast mid-range zoom such as a 24-70mm, f2.8 best for most routine shots. 
  2. A medium telephoto like a 70-200mm, f2.8 for portraits and landscapes. 
  3. 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

How to Buy the Right DSLR Camera

April 27, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

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.

Camera Bodies

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

How to Buy the Right Pocket Camera

April 27, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

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.

  •  A higher optical zoom.  The optical zoom is the range of magnification that can be produced by the lens.  Not to be confused with a digital zoom, which is a cheap and utterly shabby way that camera manufacturers fool people into thinking that the camera has more to offer than it really does.  

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.

Kit Mohr Wins “Most Compelling Image” Award in The Fine Art of Photography, 2013 Show

April 08, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

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

Kristin Mohr Warren Cove Certificate for "20 Foot Waiting" "The Fine Art of Photography" ExhibitMost Compelling award Plymouth 2013

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:

Kristin MohrDress-2, 20 Foot Waiting

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.

Judge's Note
" 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



Kit Mohr Gets 3 Photographs into The Fine Art of Photography Juried Exhibition in Plymouth MA

March 15, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

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.

Plymouth Entries

Kristin Mohr Dress Chronicle 1-Ice Nine accepted into juried The Fine Art of Photography 2013 exhibition 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

Kristin Mohr 20 Foot Waiting accepted into juried The Fine Art of Photography 2013 exhibition in Plymouth MA 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."



Photographer Kristin MohrForced Space Forced Spaced

Links for Kit Mohr:

Kit's BIO


View the Dress Chronicle and his Fine Art Gallery

What's Your Focus? - Using DOF to Make Your Photos POP!

February 02, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

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.


Deep of Field sample with a very blurry background. f-2, a wide apertureWhat's your Focus Using DOF to make your photos pop image F2


When the iris is closed to only a pinhole, the DOF is deep.  This shot was taken with an aperture of f-16.

Depth of Field sample with a very sharp background. f-16:narrow aperture What's your Focus Using DOF to make your photos pop image F16


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.

How to Prevent Condensation and Keep Your Expensive Lenses Safe

January 27, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

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 

  1. Before changing climates, place the camera and lens into a large zip-lock bag. 
  2. Squeeze the extra air out  of the bag, and seal it tight. 
  3. 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. 
  4. When you feel that the camera, and lens have adjusted to the new temperature, you may open the bag and remove them. 
  5. 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.