Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Autumn in The Utah Mountains

This is a beautiful time of year in the northern hemisphere, and Utah is certainly no exception.  My wife and I went for a drive Sunday afternoon to capture these beautiful colors.  Monday she was watching a local magazine program on television and they had a guest on talking about the beautiful colors and the best places to capture them.  #1 on his list of the 5 best places was exactly where we had been to capture these.  Hopefully you can see why.  Since this is a photography blog I'll point out a couple things.  When going out to capture the color of fall don't forget to get some up close as well as distance shots.  I like to shoot in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is at an angle to give you highlights and shadows.  In the distance shots shown here the sun was angled toward me, but that was the best direction to get the most color, so I used Photoshop to burn in some of the more distant hillside.  I also had a polarizing filter to help capture the color at it's best.  Hopefully it's not too late to get out there and capture some of the beauty and color of fall.  Or if you are in a different part of the world, mark your calendar for when the best time is so you don't miss it.

I'm working on the next installment of the 10 Cool Features of Your Digital Camera You Should Learn and Use series. This next one (I may have to make it more than one) will be about the Scene Modes found on many of the Point & Shoot cameras, so come back soon and check them out.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Getting Up Close and Personal with Macro Mode

This is the 4th installment in a series about 10 Cool Features of Your Digital Camera You Should Learn and Use.

I love beautiful flowers. Most of us do. As a photographer I’m very visual so I love the colors, the vibrancy, the shades, the intricate details. My wife loves all that and she loves the smells. As of yet we can’t help you with preserving the smells, but we certainly can all the rest.

That little camera you are carrying around probably has a button or a dial setting that looks something like this:


If you haven’t used it yet it’s high time that you did. That little flower symbol means “Macro” mode. It sets your camera up to take extreme close up shots such as this one.
(To find out how it is set up on your camera you’ll have to get your manual and look in the Table of Contents or the index for “Macro”.)

These little flowers are tiny. They are probably no bigger than about half of a ladies natural (not the great big fake acrylic or gel ones) fingernail on her little finger.  One of the first things you might notice about this is that only the very end flowers are in focus. When a camera focuses on something there will always be a certain area that is in focus and a certain area that is not. Sometimes, especially if the subject is quite a distance from the camera, you will not see the area that is not in focus, but if you were to put an object much closer to the lens it would be out of focus. This area is called depth of field, or DOF. The closer the camera is to the subject the shallower the depth of field (DOF).

This is often as much of an advantage as it is a disadvantage. As you can see in both the photo above and the one below it makes your eye go to the subject that is in focus because the background (and sometimes foreground) is blurred. Creative photographers and film makers have used this effect advantageously since photography was discovered.

Can you alter the Depth of Field (DOF)? Yes, there are two ways, one I alluded to above, and that is get the subject further from the camera. The problem is that in Macro photography that precisely contradicts what we are trying to do. The whole point is to get up close. The other is through the f stop. The lower the f stop the larger the lens is open. The larger the lens is open the shallower the DOF. Or you can remember it by the lower the f stop the lower the DOF. Take a good look at these four photos. I focused on the fine hairs on the outside of the flower in the center, making sure there were flowers both closer and further from the lens so you can see the effect of the f stop on DOF both in front of and behind the point of focus. Don't forget that you can see any photo much larger by simply clicking on it.

Photo #1 is with the lens wide open at f 2.0

#2 is at f 5.6

#3 is at f 11

#4 is at f 22

By the way I went over to my neighbors yard today -while nobody was home- and took these and some other sample pictures because their flowers are much denser and holding up better than ours this year. While I was there this big honey bee flew in to gather some pollen and I quickly snapped a couple pics before he got away. This is the better of the two.

Now I said my neighbors’ flowers were denser and holding up better, but I didn’t say we didn’t have any pretty ones. Early this summer I took what may still be the # 1 favorite macro shot that I have taken. There are two places you can see it. It is the photo of the little orange –what I call – Crab Claws that are part of my blog banner and in this article I wrote when I took the photos. I took advantage of the DOF and put a black cloth behind the flowers to eliminate the distracting flower pot that they were in.

Macro is fun! And, it’s one of the best ways to impress your family and friends with your photo skills. So your assignment for the next few days is to get out and get some macro pictures.  Notice that not all my macros were of flowers.  Those photos of the camera dials and buttons were macro also.

As always I would love to hear from you and please include links to your favorite macro shots in your comments so we can all enjoy them.

In the next installment we'll takle those handy little "Scene Modes" that came with your camera.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom - Part II

Do you remember clear back to the post that started all this: 10 Cool Features of Your Digital Camera You Should Learn and Use?  In it I declared that the “Zoom” feature was first on the list because it’s the one feature that almost everybody who had picked up a digital camera had used. Then in Zoom, Zoom, Zoom – Part I I said I had gone through numerous cameras each time getting more and more zoom. What I didn’t tell you is that I very rarely use the maximum zoom.
(Note: Zoom – Part I was all about the difference between optical (lens) and digital (electronic magic). In case you didn’t notice, I don’t use digital zoom. So unless I specifically mention it, anything I say about zoom in this or future posts refers strictly to optical zoom.)

There are a few things you ought to know about how zooming in and out might affect the image more than just how much of it fills the frame.

Altering Reality With Your Zoom
Not far from where I live used to be a favorite place for hunting ducks, and on the opening day of the season the hunters would be lined up along the banks of the lake so it made an easy photo to just shoot  down the line of a dozen or so hunters. In that evening’s paper was a photograph that looked like all the hunters were standing shoulder to shoulder. You’d think that as the shells ejected from their guns they would hit the guy next to them. Actually there were several yards between each one, so how did they do that?

The fact is that the more the telephoto the more it compacts the images in the lens. If you had to read that three times and are still not sure what it meant, let me illustrate.

Check out these photos of traffic coming down the interstate. In the first photo it looks like traffic is fairly heavy. Look how close the cars and trucks appear to be to each other.

That photo is taken at a very powerful zoom, approximately 18 times more telephoto than the second photo where you can see the same cars and trucks and in reality they are quite spread out and there is plenty of room. The effect is so dramatic that you may have a hard time believing that I didn’t do some trickery. Well I didn’t and I’ll prove it. If you look real close you’ll see several things. Go to the first photo again and look at the white lane marker lines. See how short and close together they look, also look how compacted the trucks look. Now, look at the lane marker lines and the truck trailers in the second photo. You know they are actually the same length but the long telephoto lens has just compressed them in photo 1.

Does this mean you should not use a long telephoto? It certainly doesn’t. After all, you might be like the newspaper photographer and want to intentionally alter reality to make your point. Depending on the point you’re trying to make you could use one photo to say how bad traffic is getting on I-15 even in the middle of the day, or you could zoom out to the wide angle and point out how the new lanes have made everything so much better. The important thing is that you are aware of this effect when you are choosing your perspective.

Wide Angle to Telephoto
In order to meet consumer demands camera manufacturers are making their zoom lenses go from wide angle to telephoto. What that means to you is that what is considered a person’s normal eye view is somewhere in between the two extremes (usually closer to the wide angle end). When you are zoomed all the way out on today’s lenses you are “seeing” wider than normal and of course zooming in to telephoto is like picking up a pair of binoculars. I talked about the effects of zooming in above, now a quick note about wide angle. When you are at full wide angle chances are very great that at some point the photo will begin to distort. The corners of the photo will turn toward each other. Even the most expensive lenses will do it at some point. Some lenses, called fish eye lenses, will make as square object into a complete circle.

Look at these exciting compositions of a genuine brick wall.  For these photos I used the most basic camera we had in the house. It’s the same one I used for the optical/digital zoom samples in Zoom – Part I. I went out looking for some straight lines and found them right on the side of my house. The first photo is with the lens just slightly zoomed in. You’ll see that all the bricks and mortar are in a nice straight line.

 In photo #2 the house appears to be slightly pregnant. You may see it better if you move back a little. This is great because next time a photo makes you look fat you can just say that they must have taken it at full wide angle with a cheaper lens. The truth is this will probably never have much effect on your pictures, but be aware that the effect may there.

A couple more points you should be aware of as you enjoy your zoom capabilities.

  • If you’re using more than about a 3x to 4x zoom, especially in less than bright sunlight, you should probably use a tripod or find some other good way to steady your camera. Think about it. If it’s enlarging the image by 4x it is also magnifying any movement by 4x and even at 1/125th of a second or less, you could get motion blur and ruin your great picture.
  • Speaking of less than bright sunlight, the more you zoom in the less light your lens can take in. So if you are in a low light situation and your lens has to be wide open the more you zoom in the longer the exposure has to be and the more likely you’ll get motion blur. Then it is doubly important to have something like a tripod to steady your camera.
When I used to teach some live photography classes I always talked about the difference between being a picture maker and a picture taker. If you’re reading this you’re probably the former, or would like to be, so please don’t let the convenience of your zoom rob you from getting out there and trying new angles and directions on whatever it is you like to photograph.

Your assignment for this lesson in zoom is to go out with your own camera and do what I did.
  • Find something that is evenly spaced coming towards you, even a row of fence posts would do, and then photograph it at full telephoto and full wide angle and examine the photos.
  • Find some straight lines, like the bricks on a building, and photograph them in full wide angle and then zoomed in just a little bit and see what your lens does to the full wide angle one.  Every lens is different and you may get no effect or you may be worse than mine.
  • Get out there and take some pictures and have fun.
 Remember, I always look forward to reading your thoughts or questions, so don't be afraid to leave a comment.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom - Part I

This is the second post in my basic photography series about  10 Cool Features of Your Digital Camera You Should Learn and Use.  Since every camera is different I recommend you have your camera's manual handy to read what it says about your zoom features.  Check in the index at the back of the book under "zoom" or "optical zoom" and "digital zoom".  Not all cameras have both optical and digital zoom.

I was reading my granddaughters Facebook post the other day and she said “I love, love, love, the rain”. Well I could post that “I love, love, love, zoom”. Before I bought my digital SLR (the changeable lens type) I probably bought 4 or 5 “point & shoot” cameras primarily to get a better zoom. I love having the POWER to zoom in and get close.

When you bought your camera it may have been similar to my wife’s and advertised something like 24x zoom. When you looked a little closer you saw that it had 6x Optical and 4x Digital zoom. When I wrote the intro to this series I suggested you turn your digital zoom off. Why would I say that?

The net result of digital zoom is that it simply makes the dots bigger. This ain't like diamonds - bigger isn't better. What I mean by that is that your photo is made up of tiny square dots. If you have a “5 megapixels” camera, like the one I'll be using for my examples, that means that there are somewhere around 5,000,000 dots -that’s a lot of dots- making up that photograph and as long as you are in optical (lens) zoom mode you’re using all of them, but the instant you go into digital (electronic magic) zoom all you are really doing is making the same size photo with fewer dots. If you use fewer dots to make the same size photo each dot has to be bigger to fill the same space.  In other words, more pixels (optical zoom) means more clarity and fewer pixels (digital zoom) means less clarity.  For example:

Here I have taken a square about 27 pixels wide from one of the photos below and dramatically enlarged them just to show how the pixels make up the photo.

This shows what happens if you do just a 3x digital zoom on those pixels to fill the same space. Notice how large each pixel is and that you get much less detail. This is essentially what happens when you do a 3x digital zoom in your camera.

The camera I used to shoot my example photos is the one I described above with a 6x optical (lens) and 4x digital (electronic) zoom, making a combined zoom of 24x. If you zoom to the maximum of 4x digital then you now have the same quality as if you had taken 5,000,000 divided by 4 or about 1.2 megapixel. So if you have a 5x or 6x digital zoom you will have even fewer pixels. Why would you pay for a 5 megapixels camera and then intentionally choose to take 1 or even less megapixels photos?

Perhaps you are not planning to print the photos, you’re just going to email them to friends or post them on Facebook.  So, maybe it’s not all that important, unless you get that once in a lifetime great photo that you would just love to make into a large print to hang on your wall.  You decide, but just so you can make an informed decision I’m going to show you some more examples.

(Please note that if you want to compare the photos below even better you can see them enlarged by  clicking on each photo.)

Shot at full wide angle we're using all 5,000,000 pixels.  (This is also an example of composition. . .  really bad composition, but an example nonetheless.)

Zooming in to the maximum optical zoom of 6x and I still get to keep all my megapixels*.

By using the maximum digital zoom I’m able to get in very close, at an equivalent of 24 times closer than on the first photo above and 4x closer than with the optical zoom. Pretty impressive. Remember though that I now have the same quality as if I were using only 1.6 megapixels* and as long as you keep it small like this it really doesn't look too bad.

But by picking up my camera and walking that same four times closer to the subject I can stay in optical zoom mode and get essentially the same view and I’m back up to the full 5 megapixels*. Can you see the difference?  HINT: look at the wood grain and the ends of the boards on the roof. You'll see it much better if you click on the photo and enlarge it.

Okay, maybe there are times you can’t just pick up the camera and get four or five (depending on your camera’s digital zoom) times closer, so there may be times when you can actually use the digital zoom but I think those would be the exception. Open your manual and learn how to turn digital zoom off and on so that you don’t accidentally use it when you don’t have to.  (HINT:  It's probably somewhere in the menus not on some button or dial on the camera body.)

Zoom is too important to end here. Stay tuned for a few more tips on using zoom in a follow up post – Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, Part II. I think this post was a little more technical than I like to get so future posts will be less about how your camera works and more about having fun with your camera. Meanwhile get out there with your camera (and manual) and practice, practice, practice. Here is the assignment for this post:

  1. Learn how to turn digital zoom on and off.
  2. Make a few photos at full wide angle, full optical telephoto and full digital telephoto and study them for the effects.
This isn’t part of the assignment, but I’d love to hear your thoughts and invite you to leave a link to your photos if you put it online so we can go look at them.

*Just for clarification, even if you clicked on the photos above to see them larger you still weren't getting all 5 megapixels.  I reduced the photos down (equally) to a much more reasonable size so they didn't take forever to load on your computer.  I just wanted you to see an example of the difference.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Which Do You Like Better?

I mentioned several posts ago that I participate on a web site where I post my photos and other photographers and artists of all skill levels review each others work and I also review their works.  They also have contests, and I have entered a couple of them. . . No wins yet.  I entered a photo the other day in a contest for photos made with a long exposure.  I submitted a night photo of a car coming up a winding mountain road.   After submitting my entry I started second guessing myself and thought there was another very similar one that might have been better.  The exposure for both photos was 60 seconds long.  The top one had the lens closed down to f22 and was just a little after dusk, while the second one was shot a little later when it was darker with the lens opened up to f4.7.   

I won't tell you which one I entered, but I'd like you to look at these two and tell me which one you like better and why. Of course it's too late to change so if I submitted the wrong one then that's my bad.

Hey! Stay tuned for the continuation of "10 Cool Features". I'll have articles and assignments coming up very soon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

10 Cool Features of Your Digital Camera You Should Learn and Use

According to a detailed scientific study; on September 1, 2009 76.8% of U.S. Households own a stand alone digital camera and of those households they take an average of 57 photos per year. Also 97.68% have never taken a photo in anything other than full auto mode. Okay I made that all up, but it sounded pretty good didn’t it? As I’ve talked to people who love their photos, but don’t consider themselves to be photographers or even serious hobbyists, it seems most of them know very little about their investment in digital photography. Since you are reading this you are probably not the average digital camera owner or you want to break out of those ranks. So I’ve found 10 cool features that most decent little digital cameras have that you will want to learn and use. Today I’m just going to list them with a really short reason why you should learn and use this feature. Then over the next few weeks we’ll explore each of these in more detail, complete with practice assignments. So grab your camera, charge up the battery, and since every camera is different you’ll need to find that long lost instruction manual and let’s get busy.

1. Zoom/Digital Zoom
I put the zoom feature first, because it is the feature that probably most people are already familiar with. I just can’t imagine that there are more than a handful of people who have picked up a digital camera that haven’t used the zoom. But, I’ll bet there are many who don’t know the difference between optical (lens) and digital (electronic) zoom. The short answer is - turn your digital zoom off.
Link: Digital Zoom Part I.         Link: Digital Zoom Part II

2. Macro
Whether it’s a setting on the control dial or its own button every digital camera worth buying has a macro feature. This is your chance to get up close and personal. I believe in Photography Phor Phun and the macro feature will add to that phun.
Link: Getting Up Close and Personal with Macro Mode

3. Scene Modes
Marketing guys (that includes gals) have figured out that the more features they can list on how to make this new toy easy and fun the more they will sell. So they show you how this camera takes beautiful portraits, stops a runner mid-stride, captures the most beautiful bikini babe on the beach with perfect exposure, etc. etc. etc. Well, turns out some of these work pretty good. We’ll explain how those work and play with them a little.
Link: Using Scene Modes       Link:  Closer Look at Scene Modes

4. Movie Mode
My wife’s camera calls it the “Motion Image Mode”. Maybe somebody has copyrighted the name “Movie Mode”, and I’m about to get in trouble. Oh well. . . . There are times when a still photo just won’t do. You should know when and how to use the “movie mode”.
Link:  Movie Mode

5. Burst Mode
You’ve got your own little Evil Kneivel at home with her new jump she’s built out of a couple 2X4s and plywood. She’s about to catch "big air" (at least 4 ½ inches) and you need to capture it. You could use movie mode, but the resolution is too low, you want something you can print with decent results. But how do you capture the right moment. With burst mode you’ve got a lot better chance at that perfect action shot.
Link: Burst Mode

6. Flash Controls
Isn’t that little flash great, well, assuming you don’t have your finger in front of it when it fires, or you have a cure for the dreaded “red eye”. Then of course there are the times it goes off when you don’t want it to, and what about those dark pockets in the eyes or under the hat brim when you’d really like to see those baby blues sparkle. Your flash will do that.
Link:  Flash Controls

7. Self Timer
“Excuse me sir, would you mind taking a picture of us here in front of the Eiffel Tower with my Camera?  Oh sorry, you don’t speak English.”. . . “Excuse me Ma'am. . . . .”. And that’s not the only reason you should know about the self timer gadget.
Link:  Using your Self-Timer

8. Auto Bracketing and EV

The new cameras have done a pretty good job of getting the exposure right on 90% of your photos, but sometimes even they can get confused. Even most of the idiot-proofed cameras have a way for you to adjust the exposure yourself, or maybe even better, automatically take multiple shots at different exposures and let you pick the best afterward.
Link:  Your Auto Bracketing Feature

9. EXIF Data
In the olden days any photographer worth his salt, (I don’t know what that means, it’s one of those olden day phrases) wouldn’t be caught without his camera and a pocket notebook and a pencil to record the date, time, exposure data etc. Today, your camera does all that for you. It’s right there in the file.
Link:  Learn About Your EXIF Information

10. Printing from Camera

86.3% of the people polled said their #1 complaint about digital cameras is they don’t have any prints. You probably guessed that I made that one up too, but seriously, stand up comedians and comic strip writers make jokes about that. With today’s cameras and printers there is no excuse for not having perfect prints when you want them.

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