Archive for 2011

Macro Photography

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Strictly speaking macro photography is close-up photography where the image size is life size or greater. So that means if you are photographing something 1cm across then the image that forms on the film or digital sensor must be at least 1cm across. Of course since we always enlarge the image from the film/sensor the viewed image ends up many times larger than real life.

macro

Having established the rule that macro is 1:1 or greater, macro is nowadays anything that is done with the little flower symbol set on the camera – and this is invariably a far cry from life-size reproduction. So I am now going to ignore the rule and for the rest of this article treat macro as another word for close-up photography.

My first ‘proper’ macro lens was the superb Tamron SP90 which, in it’s pre-digital incarnation, allowed half life-size reproduction on 35mm film. True macro (1:1) required the use of a matching extension tube, which I rarely used. I’m currently using Canon’s 100mm EF macro, a lens which creates images up to life-size and focuses as close as 31cm (about 12″).

Macro lenses are available from the big two in a variety of focal lengths. When I used the Tamron on a 35mm camera its 90mm focal length made it incredibly useful for two reasons: it functioned as an excellent portrait lens; and its moderately telephoto focal length meant I didn’t have to get quite as close to flighty insects in order to fill the frame. The 100mm Canon I now use, because of the 1.6x crop factor is effectively a 160mm telephoto. This is excellent for insects still, but just a little long for portraits. There are other advantages, however. The lens hood (ET-67 available to purchase separately), is very deep, so that extra distance you get from the 160mm means there’s generally enough room in the studio to get some light into the small space between end of hood and the subject.

And just in case you think you need to fork out hundreds of pounds on a dSLR and macro lens, here are a couple of images I took with a 5 megapixel bridge camera (Minolta Dimage A1) several years ago.

PICT0016

damselfly

The chocolate curls image is my most popular image on microstock sites and I’ve sold many copies of it. It was taken in the garden with the camera on a tripod. I used the self-timer to trip the shutter – thus avoiding jerking the camera when the shutter release was pressed. The damselfly was captured while I was wandering around the Dorothy Clive Gardens.

Subjects for macro photography are everywhere. I frequently go for a wander around my garden to see what I can find. It’s largely a matter of starting to take pictures and then as you become more familiar with the process you ‘get your eye in’ and start to see potential subjects everywhere. Here is one I took just a couple of days ago.

Pulsatilla

Macro shooting, like most other photography, can be done indoors and outdoors. Indoor macro photography has some very distinct benefits over shooting outdoors so I will look at these two aspects separately.

Indoors
Almost anything you have in your home is a potential subject for macro photography – from a close-up of your partner’s eye to a pile of coloured pencils.

Lego Truck

You will need a tripod for this. The Joby Gorillapod is a particularly useful lightweight tabletop tripod useful for low-level shots outdoors too. The tripod gives you two huge advantages over handholding. The obvious one is eliminating any softening of the image as a result of camera-shake. The other is that it frees you up to concentrate on the composition. With the camera locked in place you can continue to make minute adjustments to your subject, check it in the viewfinder/screen… tweak it again… and again… until everything is the way you saw the image in your mind. This really is a very pleasant way to work and allows you not only to exert fine control over the way the subject is presented but also over the light and shadow too.

Rose

Whether you are using window light, portable, or studio, flash remember that the use of white paper/card is invaluable for lifting shadows and reducing contrast. With a tripod too, shutter speeds can be relatively slow, though sometimes a touch of flash is need to add a little sparkle – but using flash doesn’t mean it has to provide all of the light for the exposure, be aware that you can balance it with window light to create quite pleasing effects.

Peppers

When shooting indoors with subjects that you’ve had on display. Watch out for dust particles. They really stand out once you get close to life-size reproduction. So keep an anti-static cloth handy.

Outdoors
Again a tripod is useful and back in my film days when I was selling a lot of flower and garden images the camera was almost permanently tripod mounted and the Tamron SP90 rarely off the camera. However, for insects – like butterflies and dragonflies – a tripod is a bit of a hindrance as they rarely co-operate by remaining in one place for long. They can also be quite difficult to approach closely – this is where the longer focal length macro lenses like the Canon 180mm or the Nikon 200mm come into their own. One place that I found the Canon 100mm 2.8 macro really useful was in the butterfly house at Chester Zoo.

Butterfly Houses

Butterfly houses are a great place to practise macro photography – the butterflies are generally much larger than out in the real world (at least in the UK) and so much easier to get frame-filling images. Lots of nectar sources often mean that feeding butterflies will remain stationary long enough for you to grab a few shots.

_MG_3620

If you look carefully among the foliage you can also find colourful and exotic caterpillars feeding and since caterpillars are really slow movers you can take your time, watch the background, and capture some stunning images.

_MG_3602

Butterfly houses are hot, humid greenhouses because they re-create tropical forests. On a cold day, this means that the minute you take the lens cap off, the cold lens is covered in condensation. On a warm day the lens is just covered in less condensation. Wiping it off is a waste of time until the glass has warmed up. One really hot day I was surprised to find the glass stayed clear but that’s the only time I haven’t had to hang around waiting for the camera to warm up. For the same reason, if using a dSLR, change the lens before you go in, if you open your camera up inside then you increase the chance of condensation forming in the interior of the camera and on the sensor – and that’s one place you can’t wipe it off.

_MG_3574

Depth of Field

Depth of Field is the portion of the image (measured as a distance from front to back) that is in sharp focus. This area of sharp focus changes as the aperture changes. Smaller apertures (larger f numbers e.g. f11, f16) mean greater depth of field, Larger apertures (e.g. f2.8, f4) mean very shallow depth of field. But there is another factor that affects this area of sharp focus. The nearer the subject is to the camera, the shallower the depth of field for a given aperture. At macro distances the depth of field, even with small apertures, can be measured in millimetres.

f2.8

f2.8

f5.6

f5.6

f16

f16

You can see this as a severe limitation, or you can choose to see it as a beautiful way to focus attention on the part of the image that is really important. Using a tripod means that you have total freedom to choose the aperture, large or small, that is most appropriate from a pictorial point of view, since you don’t have to worry about camera shake when using slow shutter speeds.

Backgrounds
Watch your backgrounds. It is so easy to become wrapped up in the subject that the background is largely ignored – only to realise when you view the images on your computer that there are unsightly blobs, lines and other distracting elements that you didn’t notice at the time. You can also use the aperture to throw a background out of focus as in the shot of a tulip below.

f16

f16

f8

f8

f2.8

f2.8

If you are photographing flowers then dead stems show up as highlight lines that immediately pull the eye away from the subject. Nowadays it is possible to remove these things in a photo editor like Photoshop, but life is much easier if minimal post-processing is necessary. Usually a slight change of position is all that is needed to remove unsightly objects from view. I also tuck pieces of offending foliage, or dead flower heads out of the way – be careful not to damage plants in any way if you are shooting in someone else’s garden.

Manual focus
When you are working really close and the depth of field is quite shallow, it is a bit of a lottery to allow the camera to choose the point of focus and the best pictures are made when the photographer is in charge – not the camera. So switch to manual focus so that you can accurately direct the viewer’s attention to the correct part of the image. When I’m working in my studio I use the live-view screen on my Canon dSLR, switched to maximum magnification. This is just a little easier than using the viewfinder when the camera is at around waist height on a tripod.

Conclusion

Macro photography, in some form, is possible with most cameras. But you will only achieve consistently good images if you learn the limitations of your equipment. When using a compact you need to know if that blurred image is because the subject was closer than the camera can focus or because of a slow shutter speed and camera-shake? Bridge cameras and dSLRs have their limitations too. The benefit of the dSLR is that spending money can remove the limitation. Let me know if you find this information useful and let me see some of your images. Contact details on the website www.hadfieldsphotography.co.uk

Macro Photography Kit for Beginners
Canon 1100D
50mm f2.5 Macro
Tripod + head
cable release

Macro Photography Kit for the More Advanced User
Canon 60D
100mm 2.8L Macro
Manfrotto tripod
Manfrotto head
Cable release

I recommend Canon equipment because I’ve been using it since 1977. I have no doubt that Nikon equipment is just as good – I am just not as familiar with it as I am with Canon.

Michael Hadfield

NB All images in this post are copyright Hadfield’s Photography. If you want to use any of them, then rather than steal them, just drop me an email with details of what you want them for. If it’s non-profit, and I get a link back, I’ll probably let you use them for free, and certainly give you a better quality copy than you’ll get by grabbing the image from this page.


Popularity: 72% [?]

Painting With Light

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

I was out the other evening with some friends doing a little paranormal investigation. While they were messing about looking for EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena) with digital recorders and electromagnetic disturbances with a KII meter I was busy with my camera doing some fun photography.

We were at a place called Lydiate Abbey, unsurprisingly located in a village called Lydiate, around 10 miles or so north of the much better known place called Liverpool – that’s the original Liverpool in the UK. The Abbey, however, was not an abbey at all but a ruined chapel dedicated to St. Catherine and this was what I intended to photograph – in the dark. I wanted to create an emotive, slightly spooky looking image and the technique I was going to use was something I’d read about many years ago but had never actually attempted. The technique, as you’ve probably realised from the title is called ‘Painting with Light’. But in the days when I read about this technique, film was King and the results could be very hit and miss simply because you had to wait for development and printing in order to assess the results.

The kind of situation where Painting with Light is a useful technique is when you have a large area to light and you haven’t got loads of studio strobes or the strobes would have to be in the picture. Places like building interiors, especially if the building is poorly lit.

What the technique involves is setting up your camera on a tripod, locking the shutter open on the bulb setting, and then walking round with a hand held flashgun firing off sufficient flashes to illuminate a section of the subject, then moving on and repeating until the whole area has been lit. Being mindful, of course, that you don’t illuminate yourself with the flash, or point the flash directly towards the camera.

The equipment you need to do this successfully is as follows:
A sturdy tripod.
A camera with a ‘bulb’ setting that will accept a remote cable release.
A locking cable release.
A portable flashgun.

My gear consisted of a Canon 40D with 17-85mm EF-S, Canon remote release, my trusty old Benbo Mk I tripod which is very heavy, very solid, and must be getting on for 30 years old. And finally, the most important bit of kit for this exercise my Metz 58 AF-1. The higher the guide number of the flash the easier the job will be because the flashgun will produce more light per burst.
A head torch is a particularly good bit of kit for night time photography. I do a lot of photography in the dark when on these sort of investigations and since the camera needs light to autofocus, shining a light on the subject is essential but very difficult to do with a hand-held torch. Fastened on my head, it’s out of the way of the camera and points directly at whatever the camera is pointing at.

I found myself a suitable location where I could get the angle of the church just the way I wanted it, set the camera up, decided to focus manually using the distance scale on the lens (estimating the distance from camera to subject). This was easier than attempting to obtain and maintain a focus lock for each exposure. It meant I could forget about looking through the viewfinder once the camera was lined up. Then I set the shutter speed to bulb – bulb is a hangover from the days when flashguns actually used bulbs and the bulbs were single use. You opened the shutter, fired the bulb (the light from the bulb making the exposure) and then closed the shutter. On modern cameras the bulb setting is just the same, the shutter remains open as long as you keep your finger pressed down on the shutter release. As soon as you release the shutter button, the shutter closes. This is why you need a locking remote cable release. You have to keep your ‘finger’ on the shutter at the same time you are wandering around with your flashgun. With the remote release I use you can lock the shutter open by pressing the button down and forward.

Right, so shutter open and sensor recording whatever light happens to find its way onto it, I headed for the building, and with the flash set to manual full power fired off one flash between each set of buttresses and the base of the tower and the top of the tower. Headed back to the camera, closed the shutter and checked the results. Disappointing – barely anything registered.

The interesting thing about film and digital sensors is that they are essentially photon counters. Within some limits (this gets us into the territory of Reciprocity Law failure, which is not something we need to get into here) as long as light is hitting the sensor the light is recorded. So it doesn’t matter if all the light needed to make an image arrives in a fraction of a second or arrives over a longer period of time – the effect is cumulative.

So I opened the lens up 2 stops from f16 to f8 and repeated the exercise. Much better. But still a little faint. The building was now visible, but one of my friends had wandered into shot taking photographs while the shutter was open and so I had a series of ‘starbursts’ decorating one area of the image.

The Second Exposure

The Second Exposure

I waited until everyone had gone inside the building and increased exposure by another stop by using four flashes at each location instead of two. Much, much better and with the interior of the building nicely illuminated by the photography taking place inside. If I’d been on my own I could have achieved this effect by going inside and firing off a few flashes myself.

Third Exposure

Third Exposure

Looking at the two images, the ‘spoiled’ one has nicer atmosphere but is just too dark, overall. There was sodium street lighting about 100yds away and this is causing the orange tint and the tree shadows. The final image has the building much better illuminated but the patches of light on the grass are a little too bright. So I used Photoshop to cut out the street light created tree shadows from the first image and pasted them over the bright grass, removed some torches from the left-hand side, toned down the brightest light in the church interior just a touch, and the result is quite acceptable.

You’ll notice that the shutter was open long enough for the stars to register their movement across the heavens and for the moon (hidden just beneath the roof line next to the tower) to considerably lift the sky from the black that it appeared to the eye.

Lydiate Abbey final

One word of warning, working on uneven ground in the dark is potentially dangerous so watch your step – and remember, black tripod legs in the dark are almost invisible.

Michael Hadfield


Popularity: 48% [?]

Fujifilm FinePix X100 Digital Camera Review

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Fujifilm FinePix X100 Digital Camera Review

fuji x100 front

This modern classic is a retro-styled gem. The Fuji Finepix X100 has the appearance of a ‘real’ camera. With its brown leather ER case open at the front it looks just like a high quality film camera from about half a century ago. The top and bottom plates are constructed of magnesium alloy, while the knobs on the top are beautifully knurled metal wheels that rotate comfortably, and click cleanly into their stops – and, joy of joys, the exposure can be set without even turning the camera on. It even has a little threaded hole in the centre of the shutter release to take one of those nice braided flexible shutter release cables with the metal plunger. Still got a couple of those lying around somewhere.

fuji x100 back

Hybrid Viewfinder
There is a little lever on the front of the Fuji Finepix X100 that looks very like the old clockwork self-timer switch found on film SLRs, but it isn’t. It’s actually an easily accessible switch that innovatively turns the optical viewfinder into an electronic one (EVF).

X100 viewfinder_1

But even with the optical viewfinder you still get shooting data like shutter speed, aperture, ISO and histogram overlaid on the image along with a bright outline showing what is going to appear on the final image – the brightness of this overlay varies depending on ambient light levels so it doesn’t disappear in bright sunshine. And the best thing of all about an optical viewfinder – the brighter the sunshine, the better it gets, the exact opposite of the typical compact camera LCD screen. But this optical viewfinder shows the area outside of the image too so you can see who’s about to walk into your picture and when.

The EVF is ok, it’s just that after looking through the optical viewfinder you won’t want to use it – unless you have to (see Not So Good below).

Lens

X100 f2.8, 1/250 sec, ISO200

X100 f2.8, 1/250 sec, ISO200


The lens you get with the Fuji Finepix X100 is 23mm (35mm in 35mm-speak) – a moderate wide-angle. Maximum aperture is f2 so plenty of scope here for available light photography. This lens has a built in Neutral Density (ND) filter that allows for a 3-stop exposure increase. The ND filter can be switched into the light path as desired. This is great for bright conditions when you really want to use a wide aperture to throw the background well out of focus, but there’s just too much light around. It focuses down to 10cm so it’s useful for close-up work too.

Some may see the lack of a zoom lens, or even interchangeable lenses as a real problem – especially since zooms are now ‘normal’ on compact cameras. But what Fuji have done with this fixed focal length lens is to squeeze the very best image quality from the sensor and at the same time force you to take better pictures. You will take excellent images with the Fuji Finepix X100 if you get up close and intimate. This is especially so if you use this camera for what it is best suited for, and that’s candid street photography. Getting close really lifts images away from the snapshot and towards great photography. That’s not to say you won’t enjoy taking landscapes and family portraits, but the street is where the Fuji Finepix X100 will feel most at home and where many of its design features come into their own.

Sensor
Unusually for a compact camera the Fuji Finepix X100 has an APS-C sized sensor. This is the same size sensor used by the majority of digital SLRs and along with its 12.3 megapixels means that picture quality is first class. The sensor is connected to Fuji’s brand new EXR image processor which features improved resolution, high sensitivity, low noise and increased dynamic range. Fuji states that this is the highest quality processor in any Finepix camera to date. If Cartier-Bresson were alive today, he may well have enjoyed using this camera.

Innovation
One of the really nifty aspects of the design of the f2 lens for the Fuji Finepix X100 is that the rear lens element sits just 5.6mm away from the sensor. Fuji’s incorporation of the large rear lens element into the body of the camera means that the lens itself protrudes only slightly from the body creating that beautifully slim profile. In order to achieve this slimness of lens Fuji had to redesign their sensor microlens to allow a greater angle of incidence. Clever stuff that just means the Fuji Finepix X100 looks really cool and still takes great pictures.

Usability

X100 f4, 1/15 sec, ISO200

X100 f4, 1/15 sec, ISO200

In use what I love about the Fuji Finepix X100 is the ability to set the aperture between f2 and f16 with a ring on the lens, and set the shutter speed with one of the knurled rings on the top plate.

Incidentally this aperture ring was added quite late in the design process only because Fuji listened to a group of Professional Photographers who finally managed to convince Fuji’s designers of its value. Be great if more camera manufacturers did this too. But it isn’t a mechanical ring like on older film cameras. Each aperture setting is just a switch that tells the camera what aperture to set when the shutter is pressed.

Exposure compensation can be dialled in with a knob to the right of the shutter speed dial. There’s also a great little electronic spirit level to keep those horizons straight. I’m always losing important bits off the edges of the frame because my horizons are never horizontal and I have to keep straightening them in Lightroom so this is a really useful feature. Best accessory I ever bought was a little hot-shoe spirit level I used to keep permanently attached to my Mamiya RZ67.

The lens incorporates an almost silent leaf shutter (unlike the focal plane shutters of SLRs, digital or otherwise) and with no noisy mirror to flip out of the way this camera is almost silent in operation – as long as you remember to switch off the confirmatory beeps. So silent in fact it’s a little difficult to know when you’ve taken the picture. But great if you don’t want people to know that you’re actually taking pictures.

X100 f2.8, 1/340 sec, ISO200

X100 f2.8, 1/340 sec, ISO200


The Digital Stuff

A useful range of bracketing features are available with the Fuji Finepix X100.

Exposure at up to 1 stop in 1/3 stop intervals.
I love this one – Film Simulation Bracketing so you can pretend you really are back in the old days with some good old Fuji films: Provia, Velvia, and Astia
Dynamic Range Bracketing at 100%, 200%, & 400%
And finally ISO Sensitivity Bracketing same range as Exposure.

Not so good
A lens hood is available as an optional extra. I think, for the price, this should definitely be included in the box.
Tripod bush positioned in such a way that the camera needs to be removed from the tripod in order to change batteries or memory card.
Plastic battery compartment door.
No image stabilisation, but that, and the viewfinder, may well help you to discover the art of holding a camera steady.
Want to autofocus closer than 80cm, then you need to switch to macro mode, which means you have to use the EVF and then switch back. Of course you could just switch to manual focusing…
SLR users will find auto-focusing slow. If speed is important then manual pre-focusing is the order of the day.
Because the manual focus is electronic rather than mechanical it is not as rapid to use as on a dSLR.
Write speeds are a little slow, but this is only a problem if you want to take a burst of images.

Plus points
Shutter lag almost non-existent.
Handling is a breeze, with ease of changing exposure settings while the camera is held up to your eye.
Motion panoramas – like Sony’s Cybershot.
Image quality is excellent and better than some dSLRs
Noise barely noticeable right through the ISO range from 100 – 12,800

In the box
· Fujifilm Finepix X100
· Li-ion battery NP-95
· Battery charger BC-65N
· Shoulder strap
· USB cable
· Lens cap
· Metal strap clip
· Protective cover
· Clip attaching tool
· CD-ROM (Viewer software, Raw File converter*)
· Owner’s manual
· Viewer software: Windows7/Vista/XP, Mac OS X 10.9 – 10.6, Raw file converter: Windows7/Vista/XP


Conclusion

This camera is new, innovative and a complete change in direction from more of the same – not just tweaking megapixel counts, and re-arranging button layouts to make you think that the upgrade is something much more than it is. This is a lovely camera – not perfect by any means, but something that you will feel proud to own and be seen with. Surprisingly this camera does actually live up to all the pre-launch hype. There is going to be a huge demand for this camera so place your order now.

If you hold it in your hand, you’ll want one.

Its Rivals

Read my review

Read my review


Popularity: 80% [?]

Nikon L22 Compact Digital Camera Review

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Nikon L22
The Nikon L22 is a 12 megapixel compact digital camera available (depending on where you buy it) in red, black, silver, or blue. It has a 3.6x optical zoom (35mm equiv 37 – 134mm) which is a barely wide-angle to useful telephoto. For the price, this camera has a quality feel to it with a limited number of controls making it easy to master. The view screen is recessed slightly to protect it when you lay the camera down.

The Nikon L22 is a basic compact camera so there is very little to it. It has a decent resolution, 16 scene modes, ‘advanced anti-blur technology’ to help remove or reduce the effects of camera-shake (caused by hand holding at slow shutter speeds when light levels are low).

The Nikon L22 also possesses Easy-Auto Mode where the camera calculates range, light levels and subject type in order to assess which Scene Mode will give you the best results. This camera not only detects faces it also waits until the subject smiles before making the exposure (I’m waiting for them to invent the camera that goes out on its own and brings back great pictures all by itself – the photographer seems to be being phased out). It claims to detect and focus on up to 12 faces at a time and then automatically remove any red-eye that the camera’s flash created. This is a great idea in theory, but it does slow down operation and you have to wait for the camera to decide so in this mode it’s a little more difficult to capture images spontaneously. But still great if you just want to point and shoot.

Like most digital cameras these days, the Nikon L22 has a movie mode so you can capture movie clips to embarrass your friends on facebook or YouTube.

On the downside you can’t set the ISO yourself., the wide-angle could do with being a touch wider and the image stabilisation is electronic (which means the blurry image is doctored electronically).

On the plus side the Nikon L22 takes great pictures and is a simple no nonsense compact camera that gives good value for the price.

Power source is a couple of cheap and easily available AA batteries that last a reasonable period of time.

Conclusion: The Nikon L22 is an easy to use, basic camera that has the ability to produce clear sharp images usable for prints or sharing on-line. Definitely one for the short list if your budget is under £100.

Useful things in the box:
Camera
Strap
USB cable
CD

The competition:




Popularity: 28% [?]

Fun Things to Photograph on a Wet Day

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Ever planned a day out indulging in your favourite hobby (photography, naturally) only to wake up to the sound of raindrops hitting the window like gravel on a drum. Well rather than roll over and snuggle down into the quilt, why not get creative, pick up your camera and discover what do indoors instead. I remember the first time I tried this, I ended up with one of my photographs gracing the pages of Practical Photography – and I even got paid for the privilege.

Indoor photography is very entertaining and if all you have is a camera, then that’s just exactly what you need. If you have a flash gun, you have a little more versatility. If you have several flashguns, there’s little you won’t be able to achieve. Stuff you have lying around the house can be pressed into service. Windows, table lamps, torches, even candles can all be pressed into service to provide that beautiful play of light and shadow that will lift your images above the ordinary. Bits of plywood, mdf or hardboard from the shed make excellent backgrounds, and if there’s a bit of leftover paint you can make use of that too. Although you may not have any lying around I have quite a few pieces of mount board for framing that I frequently make use of – so next time you’re near an art supply shop, pop in and get a few sheets in different colours. White boards not only make great backgrounds but also make really good reflectors to fill in shadow areas. Quite often the only light I use is a single flash coupled with a large white mount board to bounce a little light back into the shadow side of the subject.

A tripod is really handy, I find the tabletop Joby Gorillapod really useful. Otherwise you will have to find some other way to support your camera – books are handy for this. And if you don’t have a cable release use the self-timer to fire the shutter. Unless you are using flash, light levels indoors will be much lower than outside, consequently shutter speeds will be slow and if you try to hand hold your camera you will just get blurry photographs – that’s why your camera needs to be supported. Try it with and without and you’ll see the reason when you look at your images. Finally, you will need a table. I have a small folding one that that I just use for photography. It provides me with a lovely reflective black surface (see the Lego Truck, below). And is the perfect height for small objects. Before I got this I just commandeered the dining table for a little while. Once I even used two speaker cabinets to support a Perspex shelf so I could light some transparent glassware from below using a Metz flashgun resting on the floor and pointing upwards.

Unless your camera has an effective macro setting you may have to choose large objects so you can still fill the frame at the closest focusing distance. The more the subject fills the frame, the less background you have to worry about and the more impact your photography will have.

You will probably have lots of your own ideas by now, but if you need a little inspiration to get you started, here are seven suggestions.

1. Flowers

Rose

Flowers are a good choice, because of their own inherent beauty they photograph well. Choose a background that complements the colour of the flowers. Think about how you are going to light it, if you use window light be aware that light levels drop off quite dramatically across the width of a typical room. If you use a single flash, use it off the camera and even consider lighting the flower from behind so that the petals glow with transmitted light.

2. Fruit

Peppers

Fruit is that staple of the still life or you might consider the odd vegetable too. Use a single fruit like an orange and practice lighting it from different directions, side, top, front, back, and if you’ve got something translucent or transparent to stand it on (or even an old lightbox from your film days) then you can even light it from beneath. Just doing this teaches you a lot about lighting. When you tire of that, add a few different fruits to make a still life, add some props – a bowl, a knife and a sliced fruit perhaps. Let your imagination have fun.

3. Food

Mousse

Food is one of my favourite subjects: cake, cookies, chocolate, cook something or persuade someone else to do that and dress it up, napkins on the table, a fork, glass, wine so that your photograph looks like you caught it just in time before someone ate it. With food photography it is the accessories and background that make or break the picture.

4. Ornaments

Lego Truck

Ornaments, toys even, can be pressed into service. Be mindful though that if you are taking close-ups that scratches and marks will be more obvious and may need a lot of Photoshopping to correct afterwards. Take your photograph from an unusual angle so the object is not seen the way it normally is.

5. Pets

Sully

If you have pets in the house then press them into service as models. Spend an hour or two stalking them and playing with and watching for a cute pose. Make sure you focus on their eyes. Just be mindful if they start to tire of the game. Leave them in peace and come back to it a little later. Check out CritterStudio if you want to see how it’s done.

6. Family & Friends

V

Members of your family, or friends, may be persuaded to model for you. If you are using window light you may want to consider using a white board, a sheet or some other white surface to provide a little fill to lighten the shadow side of the face.

7. Puzzles

Puzzle

Go around the house and make a collection of about a dozen or so objects and then take close-ups from unusual angles. Go into your photo-editing software and assemble them together as one jpeg and then email it to all your friends and ask them to identify the objects.

And if all this gives you that taste of adventure and you realise that you could do so much better with a small equipment upgrade then check out these cameras and maybe have a look at some low cost lighting to give you that creative edge so you can continue to enjoy your hobby whatever the weather.

Michael Hadfield


Popularity: 53% [?]

Sony alpha NEX-5 Review

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Sony Alpha NEX-5 Review

The Sony alpha NEX-5 is “The world’s smallest lightest interchangeable lens camera”.

NEX 5

Reading the spec the Sony alpha NEX-5 sounds like the most amazing camera ever invented, I just can’t get over the fact that they made the body smaller than the lens diameter. Still that’s just my SLR preference speaking. What the Sony alpha NEX-5 is is a mirrorless, interchangeable lens, system camera. The system is very small, but clearly Sony have tapped into the market niche opened up by Panasonic and Olympus with their Micro Four-Thirds system, and it will grow. This camera, with its 16mm (24mm equiv) pancake lens is light and will slip into a pocket or a bag quite comfortably. And what this gives you is SLR quality JPEG or RAW images straight from the camera.

Still, the Sony alpha NEX-5 has a hefty price tag, so what do you get for your money?

The advertised selling points:
· DSLR-quality images with 14.2 megapixels Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor (The HD added to the HPS on the sensor just means that you can crop, in camera, to a 16:9 ratio)
· AVCHD Full HD 1920x1080i video (that’s technical for it’s a video camera too – it also does MP4 at 720p if you prefer)
· High-speed shooting up to 7fps
· Sweep Panorama (you click the shutter and ‘sweep’ your camera across the scene, and the NEX stitches it all together into one image)
· 7.5cm/3″ tilt-angle TruBlack LCD, with 920,000 dots
· Simple operation with on-screen Help Guide (hints and tips to help you take better pictures built in to the camera – it’s a book, it’s a video-cam, it’s a panoramic cam…)
· E-mount interchangeable lens system
· Sony claims the battery is good for 330 shots (though this will vary depending on view screen usage)
· ISO200 – 12800
· Max image size 4592×3056 (3:2)
· Max panorama size 12,416×1,856
· Stylish magnesium body
· 1.5x crop sensor (for ex-35mm users, multiply lens focal length by 1.5 to get the 35mm equivalent lens power)
· Jpeg & RAW
· Takes memory Stick and SD

NEX 16mm F2.8 pancake lens

The Magnesium alloy body, which despite its tinyness, allows a good two-handed grip, has a real quality feel. A range of 3 ‘E’ lenses is available at the time of writing: a 16mm F2.8 pancake; a standard 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 stabilized zoom; and a stabilized 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 superzoom. Now although Sony is marketing the NEX range under its alpha brand, these cameras do not take alpha mount lenses (I don’t pretend to understand this), the NEX range has its own E-mount range. However with the purchase of the LA-EA1 Camera Mount Adapter it allows you to make use of your collection of alpha DSLR lenses. This adapter is also compatible with A-mount optics by Konica-Minolta.

NEX E18-200mm F3.5-6.3 telephoto zoom lens

One of the features that made me smile is “Background Defocus Control – Just turn the jog dial to adjust depth of focus and see beautiful blur effects previewed on screen. Create professional-looking images with a crisp foreground subject against a smoothly blurred background, just like a DSLR camera” This is a highly hyped aperture control, but of course to people who just want to click and have a great picture, ‘aperture’ is starting to sound scarily technical. All cameras have this (they don’t all let you control it) – it’s the hole the light goes through. But as soon as you mention something like f5.6 you’ve probably lost a lot of customers, so this is a clever move on Sony’s part to sell you something you can’t not have in a camera as a new feature – brilliant! Hat’s off to you Sony.

The sweep panoramic feature needs a little practise but works acceptably well. And is so much easier than using stitching software to join up a series of separate images.

The flash is not built into the camera, but comes in the box and has a guide number of 7, which is not very powerful but will be adequate for the indoor social situations where it is most likely to be used.

Still, you probably want to know if it’s worth buying, and I think it is. For a compact camera the picture quality is very good, the menus are simple, clear, and helpful as well as giving you handy hints and tips, not only on the camera’s use, but also on photography. And if you just want to point and click, that works very well, and if you want to get a bit more involved with the creative side, you can do that too. And if like me, you like a proper viewfinder – you can have one, it’s an optional accessory. But if the price is just a little high, you might want to consider the NEX 3 almost identical, slightly different body shape, not made of magnesium and around £80 cheaper.

Michael Hadfield


Popularity: 75% [?]

How to Take Better Pet Pictures

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

How to Take Better Pet Pictures by Michael Hadfield
Our pets are part of the family and it’s so important to include them in the family album and have a record of them growing up and enjoying themselves. But pets, especially dogs, are lively and sometimes difficult to capture well. So here are a few tips and tricks that we use in CritterStudio that will help you to take pictures you’ll be proud to hang on your wall.

1 The Eyes Have It

_MG_1836

The eyes are the single most important features in a pet photograph. They must be in focus and you must be able to see them, unless you are shooting a profile, in which case you can get away with seeing just one eye looking straight ahead. Watch for the direction of the gaze, too much eye white looks very unattractive, so catch your pet looking at you when you click the shutter. Eye contact in an image creates an intimacy that is otherwise lacking. This intimacy is what creates the emotional response that you seek to capture when you view the picture – the ‘ahhh’ factor, if you like. Have a look here for some examples.

2 Had Enough
If you are having a photography session with your pet, then be mindful of their level of fascination with what’s going on. Different animals will have a different tolerance to being posed so you need to watch out for the warning signs indicating a loss of interest. When they start to get fed-up stop and give them a rest or continue on another occasion. I find that dogs, in the studio, will generally take about 30 – 40 minutes of me sticking a lens in their face and firing bright lights at them. That’s plenty of time to get some excellent shots, but it’s pointless to continue after that because their lack of alertness will show in the photograph.

3 Ready… Camera… Action…

IMG_0164

Movement takes practice, and a little knowledge of how your camera works, to capture well, so don’t be put off if your first attempts don’t come out the way you want them to. So even though your action shots are more difficult to pull off, with a digital camera, you can shoot away as much as you like. I am not, however, suggesting the ‘machine gun’ approach that many people use with digital SLRs. Just click the shutter, critically inspect your image on the camera’s view screen and use that to learn how to improve your timing – and your photographs. Be aware that on many cameras, especially low-end compacts, there is quite a delay between pressing the shutter button and the shutter actually firing, so you will have to learn to adapt to this, pressing the shutter a few moments before the point at which you want to capture your pet. If this is preventing you from getting the images you want then consider investing in an entry level Digital SLR like the Canon EOS 1000D or Nikon D3000 Aim to catch the peak of the action, switch your camera to shutter priority (Tv), and set the value to either 1/500, or faster, in order to freeze the action, or around 1/30 (you may also need to switch on Image Stabilisation with this speed) to create a very attractive blur that will show the movement off nicely. You may have to burrow into the camera’s menu system to change these settings on a compact digital camera. They are usually easier to find on a dSLR

4 Be Relaxed
Pets have minds of their own. Some are more sedentary than others, but they are unpredictable and taking pictures of them requires a very different approach to, say, producing a portrait of a person who will respond to direction. Because of this, patience is your biggest ally. You need a willingness to wait and watch and be ready to click the shutter when everything is just so. If you are impatient, or in a hurry to get your pictures then you will probably be disappointed with the results. Animals do not have our concept of time and you will produce much better results if you can slip into their timeless state while you seek to capture images of them.

5 See What You Don’t See

Holly copy

The background can make or break a photograph. Backgrounds that are sympathetic to the subject will almost be unnoticed, but how often have you looked at an otherwise good image and found that something in the background was pulling your eye away from the subject? The reason we so often get unsightly backgrounds is that the eye tends to focus on the centre of interest and ignore everything else. So you need to make a conscious effort to sweep your eye around the frame (whether you are using a traditional viewfinder or a viewscreen) to see what else you are photographing along with your pet. Things to watch out for are bits of other people, strong lines (pavement, posts) that cut through the subject, bright colours (red/yellow/orange especially), anything in fact that catches the eye and draws attention away from the subject. Natural backgrounds – rocks, foliage, sea/sand, sky – tend to work very well. Watch out also for clutter and litter.

6 How Close
Robert Capa once said “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” And he wasn’t suggesting that you use your zoom control to zoom in or Photoshop to crop out the excess and create the illusion of closeness. When you are physically close to your subject there is an interaction between you and your subject that shows in the photograph. It makes the subject of the photograph more real, more alive. This is so crucial with pet photographs as often the photographs are all we have left to keep that memory alive. So make sure they are good ones.

7 If You Haven’t Got It, You Can’t Use It
Your camera needs to be with you when you are out with your pet (and I don’t mean the camera in your phone). If you haven’t got it, then you cannot capture your pet in that cute, once in a blue moon action; that spectacular pattern of mud or mess; or that loving way your pet looks into your eyes asking for forgiveness because they just know they’ve done something wrong. So make it a point to carry your camera and if your camera is a heavy DSLR then buy a high quality compact like the Canon PowerShot G12 to keep in your pocket. That way you will never miss that special moment and create a collection of photographs of your pet that you can be proud of.

Have fun.

Michael Hadfield is one of the photographers running CritterStudio. CritterStudio is a successful Pet Photography business, creating beautiful images of your pet to hang on your wall.


Popularity: 73% [?]

Best Digital Photography Books – The Long And The Short Of Ben’s Books

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Best Digital Photography Books – The Long And The Short Of Ben’s Books
By Rika Susan

CompDigPhoto

One of the best digital photography books for you would be the book that answers the specific questions YOU have about digital photography!

The incredible explosion over the last couple of years in the field of digital photography, combined with the affordability of excellent digital cameras, has resulted in the publication of some of the best digital photography books seen yet.

The best digital photography books include books giving a detailed overview of the field, as well as the more specialized ones. This category is coming to the fore as digital photography is applied to an increasing number of the traditional fields of photography.

Among the best digital photography books, you will therefore encounter a bewildering array of titles.

The specialized topics covered in the best digital photography books include digital night photography, digital black and white photography, digital portrait photography, digital infra-red photography, digital photography lighting, and even setting up digital photography studios.

If you’re just starting out on the digital photography road, one of the best digital photography books to read is probably Ben Long’s revised and highly acclaimed ‘Complete Digital Photography’.

For someone who wants to buy a first digital camera, or upgrade to a better model, this book includes some very useful information on what to take into consideration when shopping around.

Judged one of the best digital photography books available, it is neither too basic, nor too specialized, and is excellent at bridging the gap between the film and digital worlds. It explains the technical aspects of digital photography with clarity, and can serve as a thorough guide for shooting, and editing your photos in Photoshop.

The best digital photography books give a novice a good grasp of the subject. Ben Long’s book certainly does this, by explaining everything from how the image is captured on the sensor, right through to printing and presenting the final image.

He spends a good part on digital ‘darkroom’ techniques, and introduces his readers to a variety of useful concepts for achieving the desired effects.

Ben Long, who is highly regarded as author of some of the best digital photography books, divides ‘Complete Digital Photography’ into four sections. The first part provides basic technical information to assist you when reading the rest of the book.

Most of the best digital photography books devote a section to giving you the necessary information upon which to make a buying decision. Even though many new cameras have appeared on the shelves since publication, the second part of this volume gives you an insight into which features you should be aware of when buying your digital camera.

In the third part of ‘Complete Digital Photography’, Ben Long gets down to actual shooting and shows you how to choose exposure, how to use a histogram, when and how to use a flash, and much more. All the techniques the best digital photography books usually illustrate, are detailed here.

Lastly, the book deals with digital editing and correction techniques, and also shows you how to go about printing your images. The CD that comes with the book, has what you need to complete the tutorials in the book, as well as many full-color images from the book.

As one of the best digital photography books, ‘Complete Digital Photography’ offers a truly comprehensive course that will bring out the best in you and your camera.

Another book by Ben Long, ‘Getting Started with Camera Raw: How to Make Better Pictures Using Photoshop and Photoshop Elements’, also deserves a place among the best digital photography books. This is one of the more specialized titles. Everything about RAW is detailed, from explaining what RAW is, why and how it is used, the image editing processes involved, to useful tips.

Apart from being the author of more than one of the best digital photography books, Long is also known for excellent series of articles. In ‘Framed and Exposed’ he explores how to give your prints an edge, how to shoot at night, how to buy photo printers, how to control digital camera image noise, and how to use Adobe Photoshop.

With his wealth of experience and knowledge, it is no wonder that he has written what is considered to be some of the best digital photography books!

For more information visit Best-Digital-Photography.com

Rika Susan of http://www.Article-Alert.com researches, writes, and publishes full-time on the Web. Copyright of this article: 2006 Rika Susan. This article may be reprinted if the resource box and hyperlinks are left intact.

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Popularity: 23% [?]

Digital Photography Tips and Tricks Part 2 – Digital Landscape Photography

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Digital Photography Tips and Tricks Part 2 – Digital Landscape Photography
By Dominique Vangheel

Since the camera was invented in 1888 photographers have shown great interest to capture landscapes. That is probably even more true today, in the age of digital photography, than it has ever been before. Both amateur and professional photographers show their interest in digital landscape photography.

Digital photography technology has been in the process of constant development. Now it has reached a point where even amateur photographers are capable of capturing amazing scenery with wonderful photos. With the right technical knowledge and some imaginative power, you can create mind-blowing pictures.

Whether you are a professional who needs a refresher or an enthusiastic amateur photographer, you will find the following information helpful to you.

The Importance of Location in Digital Landscape Photography

The selection of the right location is key in digital landscape photography. Before you choose a location, you should consider the purpose of your photograph. If you want to capture photos to hang them in your bedroom, you should think of serenity, peace or calm and look for such locations as a mountain range, seascape or moorelands. If your purpose is an exhibition then you should consider anger or fury to bring out a striking impact. Thus, always keep in mind the emotional effect your photos will give and what you want to accomplish with your photo.

The Importance of Composition in Digital Landscape Photography

Try to keep you image simple and uncluttered. You should remove any distractions from your photograph. This will help you bring more prominence to your focus subject as your viewers eye will not drift as much. Also try to include some form of foreground interest into the image. When you take a photo of only the main subject it will look only half as good as the same picture but with some foreground and background in it to give the whole piece perspective. A good rule is to follow the ‘Rule Of Thirds’. So split your photo in three equal parts horizontally and also vertically, so that you have nine squares. The bottom row is for the foreground, the top row is for the background. Keep your main focus subject off-center, away from the middle of the frame. As a result, your photo will look more dynamic, and ultimately more interesting to view.

The Focal Point in Digital Landscape Photography

An important part of the composition of your image is the focal point, which attracts the viewers’ eye, such as a lighthouse, a boat on the ocean etc. This will ensure that your photo has a dimension and sense of scale. If you apply this technique, it will help prevent the image from looking too bland or boring. You will not have to use something mainstream as your focal point; in fact, it is more eye-catching and interesting when you choose something completely out of the ordinary. But the main point is to pick one main subject for your photo.

Digital Landscape Photography and the Time of Day

The quality and the effect of the light on your photos will depend on the part of the day you select for your photography. Suppose when the sun rises, shadows are weaker and pastel colors more apparent in your shots. Atmospheric haze is also at its lowest in the morning. But the light becomes more contrasting and harsh as the day progresses and is at its strongest during the middle of the day. If you want maximum color impact then you should shoot your picture with the sun behind you, or to one side. A favorite time to landscape photographers is the evening when the sun sets and you can get that warm, rich glow which works extremely well for landscape images. Thus, select the particular time of the day for the particular effect you want from your image.

Digital Landscape Photography and Capturing the Perfect Moment

A good photographer should try to get sufficient control over the situation and him/herself to take the perfect shot, not just any shot. So, do not remain satisfied with second rate shots just because factors seem to turn against you. If, for example, you cannot get the shot you want because it starts to rain, that’s too bad, come back another time for that shot. However, do not consider it as a set back. Rather let your imagination work freely and then try to capture shots only possible when it is raining!

As a last suggestion, pay some attention to the right equipment. The most expensive kit does not guarantee that you will take superb shots. But you can take some simple items that make it easier for you to create great digital landscape photography. These items are a camera bag, a tripod and a lens cleaning cloth. A camera bag, which is both protective and sturdy, is essential if you are walking over rugged areas. A tripod can be very handy to have with you to keep your camera stable and to help you take the right image. A simple lens cleaning cloth may prove an important tool when the whether is rough.

These are some of the most important tips to great digital landscape photography. In the end, a lot of it comes down to practice and being conscious about what you want to create. Armed with these tips you should be able to put a real sense of purpose in your next digital landscape photography session. And I bet you that the results will then speak for themselves!

Want more digital photography tips and tricks? Then check out the Tips ‘n Tricks eZine.
Dominique Vangheel is a devoted fan of digital photography. He works to gather information, tips and news for digital camera users. Visit Your Digital Photography for more information on digital photography.

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Popularity: 19% [?]

Canon Powershot G12 Digital Camera

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Canon G12
Great upgrade from Canon the Powershot G12, Canon’s replacement for the G11.
* Excellent low light shooting with a 10.0 Megapixel high-sensitivity (up to ISO 3200) CCD
* Canon 5x optical zoom with optical Image Stabilizer and Hybrid IS (this compensates for shift-based movement common when hand-holding for macro/close-up shots)
* Electronic Spirit Level to keep those horizons horizontal, and a proper optical viewfinder
* Full Manual control with Front Dial, ISO adjustment, RAW & DPP software
* HD Movies (720p) with stereo sound and HDMI
* Auto High Dynamic range (but you need a tripod for this)
* flip out view screen (These are great when you want to shoot from exciting low level viewpoints. Saves having to lie on the floor to see which way the camera is pointing).

Canon G12 back

Lovely camera. Perfect if you want a high quality compact, or just as a handy spare for those days you don’t want to lug your heavy SLR kit all over the place. And it doesn’t matter how much you know about photography because for the beginner there are loads of preset picture modes, while the experienced photographer can enjoy total control with Manual, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority exposure modes.

This camera also allows you to shoot with a whole stack of aspect ratios, 3:2, 4:3, 1:1, 16:9 and 4:5 to save cropping in your photo editor later. I like the idea 1:1 – same as a Hasselblad.

You might also want to consider a Canon Speedlight so that you are fully equipped with a high quality portable light source wherever you are. You’ll find a Speedlight packs a much bigger punch than the built in flash, and, with a Canon Off-Camera Shoe Cord OC-E3, or a Canon Flash Speedlite Wireless Remote Transmitter ST-E2 you’ll have a lot more versatility and be able to be a little more creative with your flash lighting. I personally never use a camera’s built in flash gun, apart from not usually having enough power for what I want, they are too close to the lens (so the modelling from the light is not attractive) and they also eat into the camera’s battery power, so not using the built in flash means I can take more pictures before I need a recharge. The G12 has a hot shoe that will take an accessory flashgun, a remote cable, or a wireless transmitter.

Canon Powershot G12
Highly Recommended

Popularity: 100% [?]