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Foto Friday #3

August 5, 2011

Happy Friday! It’s been a long week and I am pretty excited for the weekend. I am still planning to write about ISO settings soon, but it’s time for Foto Friday today.

This is a photo of my wife taken shortly after she got a new haircut. This is the first time she decided to go with shorter hair. I really love the look.

For this shot I used the “nifty fifty” lens, or more specifically, the EF 50mm f1.8 II. Its a cheap little all plastic lens. It seems like it’s more of a Happy Meal toy instead of a piece of camera equipment. Surprisingly, it works pretty well some of the time. I have to say that I find that using this lens is kind of hit or miss. Some shots seem great while others come out terrible.

I think this shot would be considered a hit. The planets all aligned or something and the shot turned out really nice. Only natural window light was used to make this photo. It was taken in our house with the dining room windows to camera right and the living room windows further away to camera left. You can see the catch light in her eye from the dining room window. I enhanced the contrast a bit in Lightroom and did some very minor retouching in Photoshop.

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Canon 40D, EF 50mm f1.8 II - f1.8 1/160 ISO 500

Shutter Speed

August 2, 2011

In my previous post I described what the aperture setting on a camera does. Today I will explain shutter speed.

The shutter is a mechanical device in the body of the camera, whereas the aperture is actually in the lens. Quite simply, the shutter opens and closes in order to expose the image sensor to light. The amount of time the shutter stays open is part of what determines the exposure of an image. In lower light situations, the shutter needs to stay open longer in order for enough light to accumulate on the sensor and make the proper exposure. Conversely, more light means that the shutter does not need to stay open as long.  Shutter speed works hand in hand with the aperture setting and the ISO setting to determine a proper exposure for a photo.  Wider apertures (more light entering the camera lens) and higher ISO settings (light sensitivity of the image sensor) will allow you to use a faster shutter speed which is usually desireable in order to avoid blurry photos from camera shake or motion in the scene.

Here is a photo of a the shutter mechanism from a Canon 5D mk II camera.

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When slower shutter speeds are used, you run the risk of having blurry photos when hand holding the camera, because even the slightest movement can cause camera shake. A good rule of thumb to avoid camera shake is to use a shutter speed that is 1/focal length. For example, if you are shooting with a 50mm lens, you would want to choose a shutter speed of at least 1/50 of a second. Of course, that shutter speed may still not be slow enough to make a proper exposure. In that case, you may need to choose a wider aperture or raise the ISO. (I will talk about ISO in the next post). Doing one or both of these will allow you to shoot with a higher shutter speed since both methods increase the amount of light hitting the image sensor.

Many modern lenses and cameras have built in stabilization in order to allow you to use slower shutter speed and compensate for camera shake. The other option is to put the camera on a tripod which should effectively eliminate all camera shake. Using a tripod, however, is not always convenient.

The other side effect of slower shutter speeds is that you won’t be able to freeze the action. For example, if someone is moving they will be a blur in the image because the shutter stayed open long enough for them to change position.

Here is a photo that my older daughter made using a very slow shutter speed. You can see that the image is not sharp at all.  This shutter speed for this photo was 1/8 of a second.  It can be very difficult to hand hold a camera and make sharp images at such a slow shutter speed.

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Nikon D60, 18-55mm VR @ 40mm f5.6 1/8 ISO 1600

In order to freeze motion or action in a photo, you will need to be in a place with enough light that will allow you to choose a higher shutter speed and still make a proper exposure. In normal daylight, this is usually not an issue. Once you get above about 1/250 of a second, you should be able to freeze most movement in a scene.

This shot below was from a kids’ soccer game that I shot. You can see that the player and the ball are completely sharp and the action is frozen.  This shot was taken with shutter speed of 1/1250 of a second.

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Canon 40D, EF 70-200mm f4L @ 70mm f4 1/1250 ISO 800

While shutter speed is part of determining the overall exposure of a photo, it is important to remember that as the shutter speed slows down in low light situations, you run the risk of blurry photos.  This can be a problem with many consumer grade camera since they typically don’t offer very wide aperture lenses and using the high ISO values can produce a lot of noise in the photos (see my post on noise reduction).  Using a flash can certainly help in low light, but if you prefer the look of natural light, you will need to practice a good technique for keeping the camera steady while hand holding it, or use a tripod.

What is Aperture?

August 1, 2011

Lately I have found myself explaining camera settings to people and I’ve found that many times they don’t quite understand the “exposure triangle”. The exposure triangle consists of aperture, shutter speed and ISO and how they interact to produce the proper exposure for a photo. In this blog post I am going to attempt to explain, as simply as possible, what aperture is. In future posts I will explain the other two and hopefully bring it all together. I’m not going to get all technical because, quite frankly, I don’t know all the science behind it. I just know what it does.

First off, the aperture in a camera lens is the opening through which light passes. Think of it like the pupils in your eyes. Just like a pupil, the aperture can change size. The wider the aperture opens, the more light that can pass through it. Conversely, the narrower the aperture, the less light that can pass through. Simple, right?

The confusion tends to come from the aperture value used to denote a wide opening versus a narrow one. The term f-stop is used to describe the diameter of the aperture opening. A lower f-stop number means a wider opening. A higher number means a narrower opening.
Check out this diagram below showing some common f-stop values and their relative size to each other. Notice, for example, that an f-stop of f2.8 is wider than f5.6.

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All you really need to do is remember that the lower the number is, the wider the opening, and thus more light entering the camera and hitting the sensor. I think sometimes this just seems to be the opposite from the way we normally think, so it confuses people.

The amount of light hitting the sensor is clearly part of what makes up the exposure of an image. In a low light situation such as inside a room that is not well lit, or in a church where you may not be able to use a flash, it helps to have a lens that has a wide aperture setting. Using the widest aperture will allow the camera to pick up as much ambient light as possible. The more ambient light the camera lens can gather, the faster the shutter speed can be and still produce the correct exposure for the photo. I will write more about shutter speed in a later post, however the faster the shutter speed, the better chance you will have of making a photo that isn’t blurry due possible movement of the camera while holding it in your hands.

The aperture setting also has another effect besides the exposure. It affects the depth of field in the photo. Wider apertures produce a shallower depth of field. This means the subject is in focus while the background is out of focus. Narrower apertures produce more depth of field so that more elements of the image are in focus.

Here is an example of a photo made using a wide aperture. Notice how the background is very out of focus. This is the result of using an extremely wide aperture of f1.2.

Canon 5D, EF 85mm f1.2L @ f1.2 1/200 ISO 800

Try experimenting with different apertures. Set your camera to use the Aperture Priority mode (usually “Av” or “A” on the mode dial) and try different apertures. Watch how the camera adjusts the shutter speed automatically to make the exposure. Notice how the shutter speed slows down as your aperture number gets higher (narrowing the aperture more and more is called “stopping down”). Take multiple pictures of the same subject using different apertures and notice how the background comes more into focus as you “stop down”.

Using different aperture settings allows you to get creative with the look of your photos by changing the depth of field. At the same time wider apertures allow you to shoot in low light and still use a decent shutter speed to make sharp images. I will talk more about shutter speed soon and describe more about how it relates to the aperture. I hope this helps. :-).

Deployed

July 30, 2011

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I just want to take a moment to write about my friend Jay who leaves today for several weeks of training in Texas before heading over to Afghanistan for a six month deployment with the National Guard. Jay might look familiar since it was his wedding I shot a few weeks ago. He will be stationed at a forward operating base that most likely isn’t in the safest of places. (What places are safe in Afghanistan anyway?) Luckily, military bases these days are hooked up with internet access, so he’ll be able to keep in touch with friends and family, especially his new wife. I wish you well Jay. Stay safe and we’ll see you when you get back!

Feel free to post comments for Jay below.

Foto Friday #2

July 29, 2011

I was going through my photo libraries and came across this HDR image that I did a while back.  In case you don’t know, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range.  By using multiple images of the same scene taken at different exposure values, one can combine those exposures into one image that has a higher dynamic range than a standard photo.  Cameras do not have the same dynamic range as our eyes do, which is why, for example, if you are taking a photo of a sunset, typically the camera will expose for the bright sun and then the foreground looks very dark.  To our eyes, we can see the sky and the foreground just fine, but the camera can’t capture such a wide range of lighting.

This is a photo of an old auto shop building in Colchester, CT.  I liked how the run down look of the building and the pavement lent itself to the somewhat edgy look that can be achieved by HDR and some editing in Photoshop.

This image was made with a Canon 40D, EF-S 17-55mm IS lens at 17mm, F9, ISO 200.  The shutter speeds for the 5 exposures were 1/1250, 1/640, 1/320, 1/160, 1/80
The 5 images were then combined and tone mapped in Photomatix Pro and then edited in Photoshop.

(Click on the image to view a larger version.)

Noise Reduction in Lightroom 3

July 26, 2011

One of my favorite features in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 is the Noise Reduction. “Noise” is the result of using higher ISO settings on your camera. If you have ever shot with a point and shoot camera in a dark room, you have probably ended up with quite a bit of noise in your images. It appears as tiny spots of color throughout the darker areas of the image. This is color noise. You may also notice an overall graininess in the image. This is luminance noise.
So, if you end up with noise by using a high ISO, why would you bother using it then? Quite simply, ISO is how sensitive the image sensor is to light. If you are in low light situations, you will tend to want to turn up the ISO setting in order to enable you to use a faster shutter speed to make the shot. The faster the shutter speed, the less likely you are to have blurry images because of camera movement while holding the camera.

The image below is cropped from a larger image so you can see what I am talking about. This was shot in a dark room with only a few colored lights. I used the highest normal ISO that my Canon 40D can go to, ISO 1600. At f2.8 for the aperture setting, I was able to get a shutter speed of 1/40 second. Not a very fast shutter speed, but with the Image Stabilization in the lens and a good technique for holding the camera, you can obtain reasonably sharp images in the low lighting.  (Click on the photo to view a larger version.)

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Assuming you are looking at this on a Mac or PC screen (it might be tough to see the noise on a mobile device’s small screen) you can see tiny colored pixels throughout the dark areas of the image. You can also see the grainy luminance noise.

Here is a shot of the noise reduction settings for this image. I’m just showing that they were completely zeroed out to show how much noise is actually in the original RAW image file.

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I use several presets that I have setup to apply a specific amount of noise reduction to an image, depending on the ISO used. For lower ISO values, I use one that only adds a small amount of noise reduction. For higher ISO’s, I use a preset that applies more. Presets make it easier to make the changes without having to manually change the values with the setting sliders.

This next image is the same crop as above, but with the noise reduction applied. You should be able to see quite a difference in the amount of noise. (Click on the photo to view a larger version.)

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Here are the noise reduction settings for this version:

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The noise reduction in Lightroom 3 is definitely a great feature. It allows you to shoot in low light situations, use a high ISO and not worry so much about noisy, grainy images. This was a major update to the almost non-existent noise reduction in Lightroom 2.

Here is the full size version of the file for reference.

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Canon 40D, EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 IS @ f2.8 1/40 ISO 1600

Foto Friday

July 22, 2011

I’m thinking about starting a new thing here on the blog. “Foto Friday”. I know the spelling of Photo is off, but it goes better with Friday. Actually, that’s how it is spelled in Spanish too. 🙂
I’m going to try to post a favorite photo of mine or maybe even from other photographers. I will include the EXIF information as well, unless it’s not available for some reason. If possible, I will also include information about how the shot was made. i.e. Lighting, camera, lens, etc.

For this photo, I used an Alien Bees B800 in a 22″ White Beauty Dish which was positioned overhead.
Canon 40D with an EF-S 17-55mm at 55mm. f8 1/250 ISO 125

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Off Camera Flash

July 21, 2011

I have been on more of a natural light photography kick lately, however one of my favorite things about photography is using off camera lighting. I have used both small flashes as well as studio strobes and they both offer many options for creating more depth, drama and beauty to your photos. In this blog post, I want to concentrate more on small flash units and how to get them off camera. Before I go on, I have to give credit to probably THE best source of information about off camera flash, strobist.com. Check it out if you want to learn more.

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The photo above was made using a Canon 580 EX II flash fired through a white umbrella at camera right. It was triggered by Radio Popper JrX’s

The first step in off camera flash, is to buy a flash. Duh! I use Canon cameras and Canon flashes, however when using a flash off the camera, the brand doesn’t always matter. That being said, most people would probably want to start with a flash made by the same company as their camera, since there are definitely times when you will need to use the flash ON the camera too.

The second step is to have a method of triggering the flash once it is not attached to hot shoe on top of the camera. The cheapest method of getting the flash off the camera is to use a sync cord. You can get a 15 foot cord for about $15-20. The cord plugs unto a jack on the side of the camera and goes to the input on the flash. Obviously there are limitations to using a cord. You are limited by the length of it and it can create a tripping hazard for both you and your subjects.
It is also possible to trigger other flashes via an optical slave. An optical slave can either be built into the flash unit already or added separately as an additional module that connects to the flash. The optical slave senses the light from the flash that is triggered by the sync cord and then causes it’s flash to trigger as well.

My preferred method for triggering the flash is to use radio triggers. I use Radio Popper JrX units that allow me to be completely wireless and fire the flashes from a good distance away if necessary.

The transmitter (center) sits in the hot shoe of the camera and sends the signal to the receivers which are attached to the flash units. All you need is a short cord to go from the receiver to the input on the flash.

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This photo shows how the receiver is connected to the flash unit via a short cable. I use velcro to attach the receiver to the side of the flash.

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With both the radio triggers and the sync cord, the flash is set to manual mode. In manual, you dial in the power level of the flash to get the desired amount of lighting power. Both Canon and Nikon offer TTL solutions for automating the amount of light power. TTL means “Through The Lens”. Essentially, TTL uses the metering built into the camera to figure out how much light the flash needs to emit to make the proper exposure based on what the meter is reading through the lens. Canon calls their version ETTL II and Nikon calls theirs iTTL. Both Canon and Nikon sell infrared transmitters that sit in the hot shoe on the camera and send a signal to the flash telling it to fire and how much power to put out. In addition, if you have more than one flash unit, one of them can be used on camera as a transmitter to fire the off camera flash. Some Canon and Nikon cameras can also trigger an off camera flash by using the built-in pop-up flash on the camera. Either of these methods offer a wireless TTL solution, where the camera does the math to figure out the amount of light you need.

There are limitations to using infrared transmitters or triggering one flash with another mounted on the camera. This method is line of sight, so if anything gets in the way, the flash may not fire. Also, the distance of the flash to the camera is limited because the signal doesn’t travel very far.

The ultimate TTL solution is now offered by Pocket Wizard. They make wireless transmitter and receiver units that use a radio signal to transmit the TTL signal. They have models for both Canon and Nikon. By using radio signal, the line of site and distance problems are overcome.
The MiniTT1 sits in the camera hot shoe and transmits the TTL signal to the FlexTT5 transceiver attached to a flash unit.

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The FlexTT5 transceiver is both a transmitter and receiver in one, so it can also be used on the camera to transmit to other FlexTT5’s attached to flash units.

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I have not personally used the Pocket Wizard products myself, but their Plus II has been an industry standard radio transceiver for years.

I would recommend that you start out with one flash unit made to go with your camera model and just use a sync cord. As you begin to learn the nuances of setting the power level for the flash and getting the results you want, think about moving to a wireless solution. Wireless opens up a lot of possibilities with off camera lighting and can take your photography to the next level.

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This photo was made using an Alien Bee B800 strobe in a 22″ beauty dish. The strobe was triggered with Radio Popper JrX’s.

Jay and Sara’s Wedding

July 20, 2011

Here is a sampling of the photos from Jay and Sara’s wedding on July 9th, 2011 at Tradition Golf Club in Windsor, CT.

Think Tank Photo Affiliate Program

July 19, 2011

Shoulder Bag to Belt Pack - The Speed Convertibles

After posting my review of the Think Tank Photo Retrospective Lens Changer 3 bag the other day, I was contacted my Think Tank Photo to be part of their Affiliate Program. You gotta love the power of social media on the internet! Anyway, the deal is that if you use use the affiliate links I post in my blog to take you to their site, and purchase something that is more than $50, you get a free gift. This gift is usually some kind of camera bag or other item. You can choose your free gift at checkout. At the same time, I get a little something, so it’s really a win, win situation.

I hope you will try out their products because you will not be sorry. I was very impressed with the high quality of their stuff. Many other well know photographers in the industry also swear by their camera bags. I currently have their Airport International V 2.0 bag on my short term wish list. The bag is great because it’s designed to meet the size requirements for overhead compartments on both domestic and international flights.

Thanks for checking out my blog. 🙂

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