Sunday, December 18, 2011

Shooting at family events, flash, and courtesy

One place you will regularly see a lot of cameras and camcorders is kids concerts and plays. Parents want to record the event for posterity and to show all the friends and relatives at parties and gatherings. This is an incredible thing to do. Those memories are so precious. There are a couple things that are very important to know or think about when at these events though. Some of it is about courtesy, and some is technical on getting photos of the event. Let's talk technical first.

Camcorders don't usually have to many issues, well other than sound quality. At sometime down the road I will start putting up some posts on video and will start to address things like poor audio. But today I want to focus on still photography. At first it would seem like there is a lot of light coming from the stage. You will realize when you meter it with the camera though that there really is not much light. The first thing most people do is to turn on their flash. That would seem to make sense, except light falls of (techy geek alert) on an inverse square law. In other words, if you increase the distance from the light source by double you reduce your available light by three fourths (you have a quarter of the light you had closer). In non-geek speak, your flash is only good for a short distance, and the things closest to the camera will be a whole heck of a lot brighter than the things farther away. You should expect the on camera flash to only be a reliable light source for maybe somewhere in the area of 15 to 20 feet max, and less if you have a narrower aperture. If you have a speedlight on a hotshoe you will get more power, and might make 25 to 30 feet if you have a really powerful one. But most people are sitting at least 30 feet away from the stage. And the light is diffusing very fast.

There is one other problem with camera flash with a stage production, color temperature. All light has color. The light from a strobe is considered white, and the same as noon day sun. The lights used for stage productions are definitely NOT white (I am going to stay away from all the discussion of color temperature and how it is measured at this point). So if you use a strobe some things will look really odd compared to others as far as color is concerned. You will spend a lot of time try to rectify that in Photoshop afterwards.

The big challenge with photographing the kids is getting a high enough shutter speed so that they are not all blurry. You can use a slow shutter speed and a tripod if they are standing completely still, but how often will that happen? Using a prime lens or expensive zoom will help get a very wide aperture. That is one place to get some light and increase shutter speed, but it rarely is enough. And most people are using zoom lenses that have a max aperture somewhere between f/3.5 and f/5.6 usually. That is much slower than the f/1.8 from my favorite 50mm prime. With the prime lens I get a lot of light, but lose a lot of flexibility because I need to be very close to stage but yet not so close that people at the front of the stage are too close. So a zoom lens works better. But where do we go to get enough light to get decent shutter speed then? When I teach my classes in photography I always tell my students we have a final haven of last resort for light. It technically does not increase light, but the effect is the same. We can go do ISO. ISO "increases" the sensitivity of the image sensor so that it does not take as much light to get a photo. So we crank up the ISO and now we get a good shutter speed. But there is a negative to high ISO, digital noise. So the photo will not be as clean and crisp as it would be with a nice low ISO. You will get good light though, and not need a flash or get motion blur.

The shot above was shot at ISO 3200, which is the max my Nikon D80 will go to. I was able to get a shutter speed of 1/80th of a second at an aperture of f/5.6 for that. The photo is soft, and I needed to use some noise reduction in Aperture on the photo, but it is plenty good for the family album. And I was able to shoot all night long for other shots just like that. This is also why my next body will be the D7000. The D7000 will do amazing high ISO photography, much better than my D80. The Nikon D5100 has the same image sensor, so you can get high ISO for less money than the D7000 too. The D7000 will shoot comfortably at ISO 6400 (a whole stop faster than ISO 3200) and tops out at ISO 12,500. When people ask me for recommendations for cameras, I always ask them what they are going to shoot. If they are going to do a lot of kids programs or other low light photography, and want a DSLR, I will recommend either the Nikon D5100 or D7000. Nikon has just totally outdone themselves when they came out with these two cameras.

Now the little lecture on courtesy. We talked about how the flash really does not do much unless you are really close to the stage. Another thing that using a flash during a concert, ballet, or play will do is just annoy the living daylights out of your neighbors at the concert. There is nothing more disconcerting at a play or concert than to have a flash popping off every two minutes. It is even worse when you realize the gadget is doing nothing for the peoples photos. I would rather have someone talking than popping off a flash on a camera. I will say it is downright hilarious when I see people with speedlights (like at this concert) pointed up at a black 50 foot ceiling thinking they will get some sort of bounce flash effect. The 100 foot round trip for the light is crazy enough, and then you add in the lack of reflectivity of a black ceiling and there would be more light from a little pocket flashlight. Oh, and since we are on the topic of courtesy, make sure you turn off the focus assist light. That is the little red or green light that comes on when you press the shutter button half way down. Just like the strobe, it is not going to do anything other than annoy your neighbors. For focus there WILL be enough light from the stage. And if you are using a DSLR then you can always manual focus too.

I hope this helps everyone the next time they are at a presentation by their kids or grandkids. And I wish you good shooting.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Light drawing

When I am teaching my class I have a number of different exercises to practice different techniques with the camera. When we get to shutter speed and are talking about slow shutter we work with light drawing. It is amazing all the Ooos and Ahhs that the students exclaim as soon as we do the first one.

I don't explain to them what we are doing until after the first photo. I have them put their cameras on the tripod, give them the settings (ISO 100, f/8, 15 seconds shutter on manual), then I have them set to manual  focus and focus on me where I am going to stand. Then we turn the lights in the room off and I give them a countdown to hit the shutter release. Then I draw. When they look at the results and see what is on the screen they are just totally amazed. From that point on we take turns with who will draw.

This is an easy and fun project for learning slow shutter speed and what it does. So far I have done all my pictures with a single light and a single color. One of these days I am going to try multiple colors and lights. I think I can do it. It will be interesting. What I have learned is that when I get ready I need to mentally think of a sheet of paper in front of me. My body is the reference point for where the middle of the paper is. Then as I draw I try to imagine the ink on the page in front of me. This has allowed me to start to get pretty good at putting stuff up that actually looks like something. I think if I can keep the mental image good enough I might even be able to switch lights to start to add more detail and colors in. I guess I have the next post. Time to go light shopping.

What is really amazing with this is it is something you can do at family gatherings as well. It will work with any camera that has a manual setting where you can set the camera properly. You will also need manual focus or the camera will just totally freak out with nothing real to focus on. All bridge cameras and DSLRs should work. Many point and shoots will work but not all. You will also need a tripod or a table that is just the right height or something else steady to put the camera on. Hey, this is a great thing to do with that tripod you get for Christmas from your family reading my recent past post on gift ideas.

So see what kind of creativity your family has. I bet the teens will like it the most. The light does not have to be a lot. I used the "flashlight" on my Droid 2 camera phone for these. I am planning on picking up a few of those cheap $2.00 LED flashlights from the store for future attempts. Then I am going to get some colored cellophane or some colored strobe gels to tape over some of them for different colors to draw with.

If you create something and post it on line make sure to post the link in the comments below. It would be interesting to see what others come up with. And I think for the next post I am going to try to do a more colorful version of the Christmas tree up above. It will be interesting.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas or Hanukkah List 2011

Well we are less than a month from Christmas. I never thought about doing this post until this last week. So, although it should have been out before Thanksgiving, here it is anyway. Of course we all know that cameras and camera equipment do not a good photographer make. However, we also know that the right tools can make the job much easier. So we always drool over this or that item. Sometimes we don't even know we want/need something until we see another photographer shooting with it.

This first item is something that I never thought about putting on my list until this summer when I saw a couple people with them. It never occurred to me that my strap that came with my venerable D80 was not really all that well designed. That is until I saw someone using a BlackRapid strap. These are awesome. I am definitely getting one (cannot believe I have not already rushed out to get it). Now I need to wait until after the holidays in case someone decides to get one for me (hint hint). The strap will let the camera hang so comfortably at your side (instead of bouncing off your chest) until you need it. Then with one swift and natural move it is up in place to shoot. They have several, including a strap specifically for women.

They have video on their site showing the use of the strap too. Make sure to check it out.

The second thing that is like a must have for any photographer is a tripod. This is especially needed for low light photography. It also works nice if you want to take photos of yourself. There are a lot of really good tripods out there. And let's face it, it's a tripod. Nothing revolutionary about them. The biggest differences will be first, in the material it is made out of, and second, the head on top and how well it works. Don't feel you need to go expensive unless you have a need for extreme light weight, or really stiff or something. I happen to stand 6'6" tall. My venerable cheap tripod that I got from Walmart 26 years ago has worked well, but it has always been short. I was in Best Buy the other day and found something pretty amazing. A Sunpak tripod that is listed as standing 72" tall! Now this is something where design matters a lot. I think they measure these without the center post extended too, because once I extended the center post all the way up it would put the camera above my eye level. At $99 it is more expensive than my $49 cheapy, and it weighed about twice as much, but it is totally worth it. They had a really nice Manfrotto that was very tall to, but for me I am not quite ready to spend two Franklins on a tripod yet.

For stocking stuffers you can never go wrong with memory cards. I always recommend to buy a name brand card. Do not go cheap on these. The last thing you want is a memory card failure during your parents 50th wedding anniversary or your child's 1st birthday!  There are some really good places to go for memory cards. I usually go through or for computer related stuff and memory cards, but you could go to or for your cards too. You will find them a lot cheaper on line than in a brick and mortar store.

If you have someone that wants to move beyond a point and shoot and start to get more involved in photography, then I would recommend one of the FujiFilm bridge cameras. I think I would go right to the top of the line of these with the FujiFilm HS20 camera. This is just a downright awesome camera for someone that wants to have a wide range of features without spending a mint on lenses and such. I started my serious digital photography with a FujiFilm S5200 and loved it. I put several people in the HS10 and they adore the camera. Yeah it has a bit of shutter lag compared to my D80 and has a touch more digital noise at higher ISOs, but for around $450 you have a camera that will do focal lengths from 28mm to 720mm with an optical stabilized lens, macro photography, has a hot shoe for external flash, and even does video.

One of the really important things for those that shoot a DSLR is lenses. There are a lot of choices here and it can get really confusing at times. Remember that for any particular focal length there are several "right" choices between brands, and even sometimes slight differences in models. I am going to list here some of what I consider top choices.

One lens that I think is a must lens in anyones camera bag is the 50mm f/1.8 lens. It is just a top notch solid all around lens. The aperture is so wide and lets in so much light. When you want to take photos of family inside a house or kids at a concert this is a great lens to have. Sure it is not a zoom lens, and you might have to crop later if you cannot get quite close enough, but you will have the light you need. Canon has one for you Canon shooters out there. If you are shooting Nikon you will want the G model if you have like a D5100, D40, D3100, or one of the other low end bodies that does not have a focus motor in the body. If you have something like my trusty D80 or the D7000 I drool over or a D300 etc. you can get the less expensive model of the 50mm.

I love Sigma lenses too. If you are looking for a really nice and inexpensive zoom lens then Sigma is a very nice way to go. A good all around lens for kids sports and other outside shooting is the 50mm to 200 mm lens. It is wide enough at the bottom end for some nice portraits, but will reach out and touch someone too. This particular Sigma lens has optical stabilization (OS - on Nikon lenses it is called VR and on Canon lenses it is called IS) for the low price of $159. They also have an 18 mm to 200 mm that is both without OS and with OS for the lens. Keep in mind that the links I have are for the Nikon mount version. If you shoot Canon or some other body make sure you get a compatible mount lens.

If you plan on shooting birds or wildlife and need even more reach Sigma has a lens for that too. They have a really nice 70-300mm lens that will do macro photography too. It does not have OS, but is a really nice camera. If you are shooting outside in the sun with fast shutter speed it should be fine (oh and with that tripod you got this Christmas). They also have the same lens with OS. I cannot stress how important the extra focal length is if you want to get wildlife that is a ways out there. The nice thing is that these Sigma lenses will not break the bank.

For Canon shooters I really am not the person to recommend anything with camera bodies. I shoot Nikon and FujiFilm. Those are what I know. Sorry. For those that shoot Nikon, well we are still waiting on an announcement for a D400 or a D800 or any of the other rumored upper end bodies. If you are looking for something this year though to replace an older body there are a couple really nice choices. Either the D5100 or the D7000. Both of these cameras have the same image sensor in them. So they both do AWESOME for high ISO shooting. I mean incredibly awesome!!! If you shoot a lot of low light then these bodies will rock your socks off. I am gunning for the D7000 personally. The D5100 is a definite entry level body. It does not have a focus motor built in. It also will not run as a commander for the Nikon Creative Lighting System. It has fewer focal points, and slower frames per second. But it is also something $400 less than the D7000. If you are looking for shooting family photos then it is a solid choice. But if you want to do sports, or get more serious in shooting then spend the money for the D7000. It is just rock solid. If you need the rapid shooting of continuous frames per second on it though, and want to go above 10 frames before the buffer fills, you will need to shoot JPG AND you will need a memory card that is the UHS-1 specification so you get a faster card. Yes they are more expensive, but well worth it if you need a longer burst of shots. I cannot say enough about either of the cameras, but especially the D7000. Personally I would steer away from the D3100. For only $200 more you get a lot more camera.

Well I hope this holiday season gets you exactly what you want. I put a few suggestions here. If you have others (I know a lot was left out here) put them in the comments below. I am anxious to hear what others think are needed items for shooting.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Continuous lighting pt. 2

So last time I showed photos for a single utility light that I rigged up for putting on a traditional light stand and to use the umbrella holder to have an umbrella on the light. 500 watts of light. Sounds like a lot. But when you start shooting you will realize how very little it really is. You can get the lights in pairs.... AND already mounted on a tripod for you. It runs about $30 more or less for these. The set I had included a handle on the light bar. The light bar could come off the tripod and be used by itself. This is the best setup if you can find it.

What I did was to drill three holes in the handle. I did three because I was not exactly sure where I would put the umbrella. I ended up using the middle one. Interestingly this was the first I drilled. The umbrella does not lock into place. I suppose I could put some sort of clamp on it. I tried to find like a rubber O ring that would slide snuggly over the umbrella post and then slide a second on the other side, but was not successful. I suppose it is out there. But the rig works pretty good, and supplies twice the light. I cannot angle the light up or down so it has to go level with the model. But it works at least.

The thing is hot though. If your studio (or wherever you are shooting) runs on the cold side it won't take long for people to be plenty warm. If it runs on the warm side then you will be plenty hot later. I think the best place for a setup like this would be doing photo sessions of sleeping babies, or newborn shoots. This way you don't disturb the babies with sudden bright flashes of light. For sleeping babies the warm lights will probably keep them nice and comfy for the shoot and help them stay asleep.

It also works good for times you want to play around with slower shutter and need continuous lighting for that. I use it in my photography classes for that purpose. It works pretty well. But I will tell you right now that it is not nearly as much light as you would expect it to be. Unless you are running a camera with a really wide aperture you just flat out will not get enough light to do decent shutter speed for like a portrait shoot or something. It works pretty decent with my 50mm f/1.8 lens, but shooting a kit lens is just a nightmare. Especially one of the 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 since at 5.6 you are just way to narrow an aperture. There are a number of good reasons to shoot primes in a portrait session though and this is just one of them.

Well this Friday I am going to post a Christmas wish list posting. I will put up some things that I think should be in just about anyones photography oriented Christmas (or Hanukkah) gift list. It will not be all inclusive, but will be a pretty good list anyway. So look forward to that. And then you can hint to friends and relatives to take a look at the blog. Maybe even say something like "he is spot on with that XXX item on the list" to help them realize which ones are the good choices for you.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Inexpensive continuous light setup Pt 1

Sometimes people want to do studio shots of family or friends. The biggest challenge with doing studio shoots is lighting. Most people will go the route of strobe lights. These will either be AC powered lights or speedlights that are battery powered. These work well and supply a lot of light. The main challenge is that they are expensive. They also have the challenge that the light meter in the camera will not work with them. So they are a little tricky to learn to use.

The alternative is continuous light. There are very few really good options for photographers for inexpensive continuous light though. You will need a lot of light. But there is a very inexpensive option if you want to get just a little creative. Go to your local home improvement store like Home Depot or Lowes. Get the halogen utility lights. You can get a single light that will put out 500 watts of light for about $15 to $20 dollars. You can get duals that also include a nice tripod stand for just over $30 that will give you 1,000 watts of light. But you need to be able to mount them and affix umbrellas to help modify the light. We will look at the single 500 watt unit in this blog post. You will take the stand off the bottom of the light. Then you will get hold of one of the brass light adapter studs that will fit in an adapter on a light stand. Bolt it to the bracket at the bottom of the light.

Once you get the stud on the bottom of the light it is ready to be put on the light stand. You will need to get hold of a light stand for about $20 and an umbrella bracket for another $17 from your local camera store or someplace light B&H Photo. You will also need an umbrella, either a white translucent or one of the opaque black back umbrellas with silver or gold reflective inside.

Now you have a nice 500 watt continuous light. It is a bit on the hot side, but it will give you a lot of light. You will most likely need to shoot at somewhere between ISO 400 and ISO 800 to get a reasonable shutter speed. If you are using a prime lens like the 50mm f/1.8 lens you will be able to get good shutter speed at ISO 400.

Now you can get some really nice studio shots like this one above. You can use the light meter in the camera. You will see what the shot will look like as far as lighting well before shooting the shot. And it will cost you a fraction of strobes. Next time we will look at the modification of the dual light setup.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Do you need a new camera??

My main camera is a Nikon D80 DSLR. I love my camera. It has been a good friend for me. Well as much of a friend as a bit of technology can be. Since I use a Nikon camera I constantly keep up on the news for Nikon equipment. The current buzz is what might come out in the next week or two for new camera models for Nikon. Are they going to release a replacement for the now aging D300? Rumor has it that there is a D400 waiting in the wings. Or are they going to update the D700 with a new entry level full frame body called the D800? The rumors are flying fast, and people are talking about which new camera they "just must have" this Christmas season.

I need to admit at this point that I have been drooling over getting a D7000 body ever since I tried one out at our local camera store. I have totally fallen in love with the high ISO capabilities of the camera. There are a number of times I want to shoot natural light but need way more ISO to get the shutter speed I am looking for. So now I annoy my wife on a regular basis about the camera that I "just must have".

Well with all this talk about the D7000 that I so "need", or the possible new cameras due out soon, you would think that you need the biggest and best camera to be able to function as a decent photographer. All the talk about the hardware would make you think that the hardware is the most important thing in the world for a good photograph. But if this is so, how could we have great photos from digital cameras even a couple years ago?

My first relatively serious digital camera was actually NOT a DSLR. It was a lowly Fujifilm S5200 bridge or superzoom camera. For those that are not familiar with the terms bridge or superzoom camera, these are cameras that look like DSLR cameras, but the lens does not come off. My current favorite bridge camera is the Fujifilm HS20. That camera lens can go from 24mm all the way to 720mm focal length. It will do macro, has a hot shoe for flash, and all the different modes like a DSLR. The S5200 was a somewhat more limited version of that. I shot for a long time with that camera.

One night I went to the local hockey game. I was in the second to the top row of seats at the arena. I had my humble S5200. This was going to be a real test of the camera. I had a monopod with me to help hold the camera a little steady. Then I started to shoot away. It is amazing what I got. Granted, I think I could have done a little better at times with framing. Trying to capture the right shot with sports is so hard. Things are always moving so fast. The nice thing with digital though is that you can take a larger number of photos to try to capture the action.

Now I will admit that if I had my coveted D7000 camera I might have gotten even more good shots, and maybe even more phenomenal shots. I would have been able to capture more images faster with the camera. I could have used higher ISO and gotten better shutter speed. But I will have to say that I think my lowly camera did a pretty fair job of the task at hand.

So does a person need expensive equipment, or the latest thing out? Well I will grant you that better equipment will let you do things that the less expensive equipment won't do. But when it comes down to it, does the better equipment do enough better to justify the expense? Also, are you missing great photos because of an equipment limitation, or is it a limitation of your skills as a photographer?

When I hear a person ask if they should buy thus and such a camera the first thing I will usually ask is if there is something that their current camera just is not doing for them. Do they know that they have run into a limitation of their equipment? Or are they just getting equipment envy because some friend or relative has more expensive gear? If you are really feeling limited by your equipment then go ahead and upgrade. Maybe you do need to shoot 6 frames per second instead of just 3. But know what you want to gain. Then try out the new camera. This is where renting equipment comes in really handy. You can give it a real workout for like a week and see if it really will make a difference.

Oh, and if you decide you don't really want that D7000, well feel free to get my snail mail address and send it to me. I am sure I can put it to good use.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

When high ISO is good

As photographers we are always looking for the perfect picture. A number of things make up the perfect picture. Composition is very important. Getting the story across is important. The wow factor is important (it is so cool to hear people go Oooo when they see one of my photos). Technical perfection in lighting and color and clarity are also part of the perfect picture. So one of the "rules" is to shoot very low ISO settings on the camera. We all know that as ISO increases so does grain/noise (grain in film - noise in digital). Interestingly grain sometimes can be very artistic. Noise on the other hand is almost always bad. So technology is not always a good thing. But that is a totally different philosophical discussion. So the question is, "if noise is bad and high ISO gives noise why do they put high ISO settings on cameras?", right?

Well the answer is actually pretty simple. A high ISO gives you a chance to get photos that you otherwise would never be able to get. We want perfection, but sometimes it is unachievable. Maybe perfection is overrated. Life is not perfect. If our photos are to represent life then maybe perfect is not so perfect. Sorry, I am waxing philosophical again. Anyway, there are times where there simply is not enough light to get what you want/need in a photo. This epiphany came to me one day while reading one of my favorite photography books (one that every photographer should have BTW), Joe McNally's "The Moment it Clicks". It is one of the most unique photography books you will ever see. It is just plain fun to read for almost anyone. So there is one photo in the book that Joe took of Jason Robards. He talks about how the lighting was bad, the film was high ISO, but he only had the moment. So he got the shot. It is awesome. It is not perfect, but it is awesome. And more important he got the photo.

I live near Grand Rapids, MI and we have a now three year old arts competition called ArtPrize (held in the fall). This is an art competition for the rest of us. Much to the chagrin of the fancy art community all the artwork is judged by the common people that show up and walk around. It is a very populist event. You register and then can vote on what art you like the best. This year there are well over a thousand artists with items in the competition. Well I was walking around the other night enjoying ArtPrize. I had gone down with the camera club for a photo walk about. Near the end of the night I broke off and was just wandering. In one area there was a band playing on stage. They were actually very good BTW. Anyway, I so wanted to get photos of them, good photos. But the light was not what you would call conducive to high shutter speeds needed for very animated musicians. Even with my 50mm f/1.8 fast lens I could not get the shutter speed at lower ISOs. So I took my Nikon D80 and just cranked on that ISO setting. Ran it all the way up into the stratosphere (which is not nearly as high as a D7000 or D3, but it is what I had).

Now I am finally getting decent shutter speeds. Somewhere between 1/100 and 1/125 for most shots. I am a very brazen photographer. I will just get right in the mix and start shooting until someone kicks me out. So I got right to the edge of the stage and started to click away. It was a phenomenal time. I love music (good music - not things like RAP - of which I still doubt the music moniker). So they were playing awesome music, the muses were in the air doing their thing, and I was in photography heaven. And in the process I got awesome photos, not perfect photos, but awesome photos.

I thought at the time I had some good stuff (one of the advantages of digital over film - instant feedback), but you never know for sure until you get home and get the photos on the big screen on the computer. When I got home I was completely pleased. If you look at the full size image and start to pixel peek you can see the noise, but when you simply look at the photo, really just take it in as art, then it all just works. Just like Joe's photo of Jason Robards, I only had the moment and the environment I was handed. I was able to throw caution to the wind and make art that works.

I am regularly drooling over the Nikon D7000 (and in my wildest dreams a D700 or D3), but raising a family and not doing photography as a professional (not yet anyway), I settle for my D80. I got my lowly D80 used off from eBay. So it is even second hand to boot. but it is a glorious camera. The reason I mention this is that so many people think it is all about the camera. Yes the camera does make a difference at some level, but the best camera is the one you have with you. Most of what makes a photo awesome are things like composition and lighting.

Could these photos of been better with a different body? Maybe. A D7000, or even the lowly D5100 (which has the same image sensor as the D7000) would have had less noise. But I had what I had. Some people would have simply not taken the photos because they would have been scared to run up to such a high ISO. I see people paralyzed by "the rules" and will not take risks. In the process, or in the misguided idea that only perfection works, they miss great photographs. This goes right along with don't be real quick to delete photos based on the looks of them on the tiny little screen on the camera. It lies. I have looked at photos I thought were sucky on the camera, but on the computer they were really good, sometimes with a little salvage work, but good. I have seen photos I thought were awesome on the camera but then on the big screen they were totally destined for the trash bin.

So in conclusion, the time to use high ISO is when there simply is not enough light. You might still throw the photo away, but then again, you might end up putting it on your wall. I can promise you that one or two of these will get printed and hung on the wall. Now I just need to figure out which I like best. Either that or I need to win the lotto so I can buy a really huge house with lots of walls to hang photos on.

Friday, September 16, 2011

It has been a bit since my last post. A lot has gone on this fall. One of the things that happened was a chance to attend a Native American PowWow here in West Michigan. It was a wonderful time with perfect Michigan fall weather. The photo ops were wonderful too. When they did the grand entrance dance they specifically gave permission for photos of the dance. I was able to get some great photos. I was shooting with my favorite 50mm f/1.8 lens. Of course when you shoot with a prime lens and are limited in how close you can get to people you need to definitely do some post processing of the photos. This is a lot like the work we would do in the darkroom in the old days cropping photos on the enlarger when making prints. Well I decided to share with you two of the photos showing before and after on the photos, and some of my thoughts on the process.

The first thing to understand is that in the old days of film keeping in mind the work in the darkroom was just as much a part of photography as was the actual camera work at the shoot. Now days instead of a physical darkroom we have a virtual darkroom using our favorite photo editing program. So on to the first photo.

The same week I took these photos I had read a great article on Chase Jarvis' website on how to process lots of photos so that you can get to a manageable number, or the good ones, pretty quickly. The article, Photo editing 101 star rating, was excellent. I don't know why I never thought of this myself, but it is a great way to get through photos. And since I can easily shoot several cards of photos in a day, well the lesson was really helpful! One thing that was mentioned was that you will fairly quickly find some photos that you really love right away. This is one of them that by the second star pass I knew it would make the cut all the way through. But I also knew it would need some darkroom work. If I had been doing more of like a staged planned shoot then I could have gotten a better start, but this was an event. The first thing I noticed was that although the man in blue was the central theme of the photo, there were a lot of distractions. When I get photos of people I want them to really stand out. This guy kind of was kind of lost in a lot of noise and clutter. So I knew I would need to crop the photo.

Even after I cropped the photo I did not like the background. It was still too busy. So I had two choices, I could blur the background so much that he really stood out, or I could minimize the exposure of the background with vignetting. I decided to go with the vignetting. Now time for an important art philosophy comment. Not everyone likes vignettes. I know a number of photographers that are not fans of vignettes at all. It is just like with black and white. I love B&W photography, and my wife dislikes it. So I have learned not to get her opinion on B&W, because she will complain that I took the color out.

Anyway, as I said, I went with the vignette. The tool in Apple Aperture is actually pretty nice for laying in the vignette. The one thing I wish the programs like Aperture and Photoshop would do is to let you set a center for the vignette. I would like to be able to do an off center effect at times. But I do like how it came out. Now the man pops from the background and becomes the central feature of the photo. I did also make some minor adjustments to the vibrancy and saturation, because I like rich colors.

The second photo took a little for me to grow into. It is the same man, but there was a lot more clutter. Actually I was not real sure early on if I would use it until I actually cropped the photo. It was so busy. He was so small in the photo. I liked the pose and the dance step. I did notice that pretty quickly. But I was not sure if I would be able to get him to pop out of the photo in the way I like to see in a photo.

Well it might make for a bit of a boring blog, but I decided for the vignette again. The thing was that putting the vignette on this one really isolated him from the rest of the background. I also used a significant crop on the photo. I regularly say that megapixels don't matter. For the most part that is true. But when you get situations like this they do. When you crop a photo you are dumping pixels, and possibly a lot of them, like in this photo. The more pixels you have in the photo, the more you will have left after the edit. If you have a low megapixel camera and need to chop a lot out of the photo you might not have enough afterwards for a good print.

So both of these are photos I love. Both of them needed some editing. Being one with the camera for these photos meant in part to be mindful and willing to use my digital darkroom. If I was shooting film like I used to years ago with the Canon fTB and prime lenses, I would be doing the same thing with the enlarger in the darkroom as I did in these photos. I just turned 50 a couple weeks ago, so I have been doing photography off and on now. I spent a fair amount of time in the darkroom too. And, although our editing software makes things easier and faster, it is very similar to what we used to do.

My wife is probably one of my most difficult critics to please. When I showed her the photo she said "Wow", which for her is a lot! I have a feeling that this will be one that will get printed and hung on the wall in my office. Well one of these two. I do have a couple more photos from that day that I will use in the next blog. I will talk more about my thought process when I discuss those in that one.

One final note. I did all the work on these photos using only Apple Aperture. If I was using Adobe Lightroom I could have done the same. I did not need to use Photoshop for any of these. I still use Photoshop for some edits, but it is amazing how much can be done in Aperture or Lightroom, and a lot faster than going through them in Photoshop. If you have not tried out either program then do yourself a favor and download a 30 day trial and check them out. I think you will be very impressed with the workflow using those programs.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

What is a stop?

One of the main keys to good photography is exposure. This is also one of the big mysteries.  When I am teaching classes and we are using manual mode the first question is what should I set my camera to for the exposure?  What the person wants to know is three settings, ISO, shutter speed, and aperture.  My stock answer is “it depends”, because it really does depend. The big key is what effects are you looking for in the photo. The other answer could be, “the combination that gets you the proper exposure”. The reason for this is that there are many different combinations that will get you a proper exposure.

You can go a fast shutter and wide aperture and you stop motion (either the subject or camera shake) and get a shallow depth of field. You can go with slow shutter and narrow aperture and you get a very large depth of field, but if something moves you get blur. You can go fast shutter, narrow aperture, and a high ISO, and you get big depth of field and stop motion, but you also get digital noise in the photo. It is all about what affects you want (or compromises you are willing to make) to get the shot. So it really does depend.

As you are trying to find the right combination you will move the settings of each of these three settings in specific and related increments. The measurement for exposure is the stop. You might have heard the phrase “bring your aperture down a stop”, when people are talking about the exposure. Or when reading about vibration reduction (Nikon term – for Canon it is image stabilization – and for Sigma lenses it is optical stabilization) you might see the phrase “gives 4 stops of stabilization” (more on what that means in a minute). At the very basic level a stop difference means you are either doubling or halving the light that gets to the film or image sensor (yes it is the same for film and digital). Initially everything was pretty much measured in full stops. Technically you could have infinite adjustments for shutter and aperture, but the industry has agreed to increment things in either full stops, half stops, or third stops.

Well this probably sounds all boring and mathy. I suppose it is. But if you can at least get a good basic understanding of the relationship then it will help you pick and adjust your settings. It will also help when purchasing equipment. You will see references to stops regularly. You will also need to know the basic increments when evaluating different equipment.

So let’s start with an example or two on how this affects your actual photography shoot. Say you are out doing a shoot of some kids. You want a clear clean photo without digital noise. So you set ISO to 100 (the lower the number the less noise). You initially set your f-stop to f/8 because that is the real sweet spot of the lens (this is a whole different discussion on lens quality and construction). You adjust your shutter speed until the light meter shows a proper exposure and you end up with 1/60th of a second. Not a bad setup, except that kids are constantly moving. So you might be lucky to get one good photo out of five. The rest are blurry from motion. So you think “I need to get to at least 1/250th of a second. This is a change of two full stops. You know you don’t want to adjust ISO because you don’t want the digital noise. So you need to adjust aperture. Well if you move from f/8 to f/4 then you are dropping aperture by two full stops. You can now go to 1/250th of a second for shutter and still have a proper exposure. Tada, you have now used all that mathy stuff to get you where you need to be.

Or let’s say you are shooting with a 50mm f/1.8 at f/1.8 and the depth of field is just too short (a fast lens is not always the solution). So you increase by a stop and a third to f/2.8 to get a little more depth of field. Again, ISO is always a last resort adjustment. If you were at 1/500th of a second for shutter you would need to drop to 1/200th of a second to keep the same exposure.

To be a little honest here, I don’t have all the different numbers memorized.  I know some of them, but not all of them. I use a chart when writing. When I am “in the field” doing shoots what I simply do is to count the number of clicks I am making in the first adjustment to know how many clicks to make in the other adjustment. So if I increase shutter by two clicks then I will decrease aperture by two clicks. Then I chimp a couple shots (take a shot and look at the LCD screen and go Ooo Ooo Ooo) to see if I have what I want.

Another place that this knowledge of stops helps is with choosing new equipment. Let’s say you are trying to decide between a 55mm to 200mm zoom lens that is f/3.5 at 55mm and a 50mm f/1.8 lens. Well you are going to get two full stops more light with the prime lens. This means you could go from a shutter speed of 1/30 and move to 1/125th for a shot. This could be the difference of using flash or increasing your ISO to get a natural light shot. Don’t forget that your depth of field shortens up, but maybe that is OK.

Let’s talk again about vibration reduction. You have two lenses that you are considering. Both are the same focal length and aperture capabilities. One has vibration reduction that says you will get three stops of stabilization, and the other does not have that. Keep in mind that image stabilization only affects movement in the camera and NOT the subject moving. If you get the lens without the VR and you need to shoot at 1/500th to get a still photo, then you could get the VR lens and shoot at 1/60th and still get a clear blur free photo. This is especially important with telephoto lenses. The rule of thumb is that you always want to be at least as fast as the reciprocal of the focal length. So if you are shooting a 200mm lens you should be at least 1/200 or faster. For a 500mm it would be 1/500th or faster. So now you can decide if that extra $400 is worth it to be able to handhold the lens at 1/60th of a second. The numbers (three full stops of reduction) are not just numbers, but have actual meaning for your shooting.

Exposure compensation is also measured in stops. So when I talk about that in the next blog post what we talked about here will make a lot more sense.  One other point, Remember that ISO is the last refuge to get a faster shutter or narrower aperture. Digital noise is the bain of digital photography. In film you would get grain. Surprisingly at times grain could be a good thing. Digital noise is almost never good. So that is why digital cameras don’t have an ISO priority setting. You will almost never adjust that. That is starting to change with the high ISO capabilities of some of the newest cameras. And full frame sensor cameras are better at high ISO than crop sensor cameras. But you will want to still go as slow as possible for ISO to get your best looking shot.

Have fun shooting and take some time to practice making these adjustments back and forth to get used to them. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Creativity and the Lensbaby

Recently I got a Lensbaby lens. I picked the least expensive model, the Muse. I will say it is a very interesting little lens. The thing with the Lensbaby is that it does not give you typical photos at all. The lens has different optics that can drop into the main lens body. The double optic is the clearest of the lenses. And from there you have the single optic, the plastic, etc. Each one is softer. They also have a sweet spot of focus and the rest of the image falls off into interesting blurs. This is not blur like out of the depth of field blur. This is much more artistic than that. You get very unusual photos with it. I think I like the lens a lot, but it is a temperamental bugger too. Here is a shot I took with the lens.

Notice how the person is in focus and a lot of the rest of the picture is blurred. Even the sax, which is in the same focus plane as the person is out of focus. This is the idea of the sweet spot. The interesting challenge with the Muse is that you have an accordion rubber tube that you need to squeeze to compress to focus. And you also have to tilt the thing around with your fingers to get the sweet spot in the right place in the frame. And while holding it in place you then need to depress the shutter without losing the setup. It is quite the gymnastic stunt with your hands to pull it off. Sometimes it does not work as you would want, getting things not really where you want them.

Here instead of the man's face being in focus I slipped and got the shirt. Not quite what I had in mind. I suppose in some respect it is not a bad photo, but totally not my goal. Some of the photos were even worse. I will say that it takes a lot of practice to get the Muse to work the way you want it to. I am hoping to get the Composer at some point, hoping to have more control over it than I do with the Muse. We will see. But I will say that when everything clicks and you get the shot you want it is just a stupendous thing.

So I know I will keep shooting with it and see if I can get to the point of being more consistent. The Muse is nice in the sense that it is very spontaneous. So for something like a concert that is always moving there is a fluidity to using it that works really well. Recently another photographer said to me "one thing nice about the Muse is that you will NEVER get that same shot again... ever!" and I suppose she was right. There really is never a way to ever truly duplicate the shot exactly the same way a second time.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Organization of photos

I often get questions about how to organize photos. This was always a challenge with film. It is even more of a challenge now with digital. Now we can quickly amass thousands of photos to try to keep track of. So how does one organize all of those photos? Well I am sure there are a lot of different ways to do it, but here is what I have worked out over the years and seems to work really well.

The first thing I do on my hard drive below my pictures folder is to create a folder for each year. So I have a 2011 folder and a 2010 folder and a 2009 folder etc. Obviously then the photos that are taken in a particular year will go below that years master folder. This way if you can remember what year the photos were from then you will know right where to start. It also helps when trying to figure out if that vacation to XXX was in 2008 or 2009. Solves many a family discussion.

Now below the year folder I create folders for each event. I name the folder with the four digit year then the two digit month and the two digit day followed by the name of the event. So it might be like "2011-08-30 Daughters Birthday party" for a folder name. This will make the folders fall in order through the year. And the name helps find the event. I love to use Photoshop Elements to get the photos on the hard drive because I can also tell the program to name each of the photos with the same name as the folder. That way I don't have a bunch of photos just named DSCXXXXX. I am starting to use Aperture to import photos. I am thinking there has to be a way to get that program to do the same, but have not found it yet.

Sometimes you will have an event that spans several days. An example would be summer vacation. So at that point I do a folder in the year that is titled the year and month. So like "2011-08 Summer Vacation" and then below that I would put folders for each special event for the vacation or maybe just put all the photos in that same folder. This is where giving the pictures a common name helps. So you could name the photos in groups like "beach day" and "dinner at Panchos" inside the summer vacation folder. That way it is easy to find the main event and all the photos from that event are all together.

So there is how I organize things. I am sure others have some cool tips too. Feel free to put them in the comments. I look forward to hearing what you all do.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Understanding lenses and apertures

I teach beginning photography at a local community ed program (might be starting with a second one too). One of the things that constantly comes up is apertures and why some lenses can get wider apertures than others. And then, to make things even more complicated, why some lenses don't seem to always have the same setting for the widest aperture. So let's talk a little about aperture and see if we can figure this out without getting too geeky. 

First, just so we know we are all on the same page, aperture is the opening in the lens that lets the light through into the camera body. In almost all cameras this opening is variable and can be adjusted. The measurement for the opening is called the f-stop. This is where we could jump off the cliff into sheer geek heaven, but I will resist. At a high level the number you are looking at is a fraction. It is the ratio of the opening to the focal length of the lens. This is why it is always written as f over something. So you might have f/8 or f/3.5. See how the number is at the bottom of the fraction? This is why the smaller the number the bigger the hole. So if you have a smaller f-stop you have a wider opening. It is one of those funky math things. OK, pressing the geek off button now. 

So the first thing we can see is that the aperture is something that is in the lens. The size of the aperture is always a function of the lens, never the camera body. Just like shutter speed is all about the camera body and not the lens. Oh, I am talking specifications of equipment here. It made sense in my mind... haha. When lenses are put together then each one will have certain limitations of aperture. When you purchase a lens you will see an f-stop listed for that lens. The value listed will always be the widest that the aperture can open up. Typically people really don't worry about how far they can stop down a lens. They want wider open most of the time. So you have to dig deeper into the specs to find the smallest the aperture will go. 

The fastest lenses.... oh wait, maybe I should explain fastest here. Photographers will refer to a lens as either fast or slow. This is not an indication of how quickly you can put it on and off the camera. They are actually talking about how wide the aperture will go. The wider the aperture will go then the faster you can set the shutter speed for a proper exposure, everything else being the same. So the aperture of a lens in indirectly fast or slow because of the effect on shutter speed. Thing of aperture and shutter speed as being a tug of war or a see saw relationship. If you set a proper exposure, then you change either aperture or shutter, then the other needs to change as well but in the opposite direction. 

OK, back to fast lenses. So the fastest lenses will be prime or fixed focal length lenses. (GEEK ALERT) This is all about optics and lens design and the number of elements in the lens. And.... oh wait... no geeking out. OK, you just need to trust me on the design thing. The prime lenses can simply open up wider than a zoom lens. So like my favorite lens in my bag is my 50mm f/1.8 prime lens. It is an extremely fast lens. I can get natural light shots with a decent shutter speed and a very slow ISO like this one. 

This shot was able to be taken without a flash indoors just hand holding the camera. This is the benefit of a fast lens. Notice also that the background is blurry. This is a secondary feature of wide open apertures. It may be good or not depending on the photo you are taking. The other thing about primes is that they only have a single f-stop listed for the widest aperture setting. Some zooms are that way too. They will only list a single f-stop. They will also have a very big price tag. 

So most zooms have two numbers listed on them. A common kit lens to go along with entry level DSLR cameras is an 18 -55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. Ahhh see the two numbers for the f-stop? I won't complicate this with more geekyness other than saying remember how we talked about the aperture measurement being a function of the ratio between the opening and the focal length of the lens? Well on less expensive lenses the actual aperture will only open so far. Now as you change the focal length of the lens you start to change that ratio. The aperture does not actually change inside, the focal length changes. So in effect you change the f-stop of the lens without touching the aperture. In really expensive lenses they have a way to get around this to actually change the aperture as you change focal length so you can maintain the same opening to focal length ratio. So that lens I just talked about has a maximum opening of f/3.5 when you are at 18mm and a maximum opening of f/5.6 when you are at 55mm. 

So here is the interesting thing. Let's say you are shooting manual mode on your camera. You are at 18mm and set yourself to f/3.5 for the aperture and say are at 1/250 of a sec for shutter speed. Then you decide to zoom all the way in for a close up. You forget to check your light meter and readjust your shutter speed. So you are now at f/5.6 at 1/250th and your picture ends up one and a third stops too dark. Opps, that was not intended or expected. If you are shooting in aperture priority then the camera will automatically adjust your shutter speed down to 1/100th of a second. If you are shooting sports you now have a blurry picture. Hmmm, this is getting a little complicated. Well that is one of the challenges of a zoom lens. I am mentioning it to make sure you stay mindful of what will happen. 

This is one of the benefits of a DSLR is that you can chose a prime lens that is very fast for some shooting, and a zoom when aperture is not as important. I am a huge fan of bridge or superzoom cameras. I personally thing that Fujifilm makes the best of them. Their top of the line bridge camera is the HS20EXR. Since it is a bridge camera it does not have interchangeable lenses. So you are stuck with an f-stop range of f/2.8-5.6 on it. Not a bad lens at all. But it is what it is. Oh that camera has an effective focal range of 24-720mm. WOW!!! Talk about incredible zoom! Oh I am starting to drift from aperture. 

So now you know what the term fast lens means, why some lenses have two numbers for aperture, and why some people love prime lenses. I hope this helps a bit. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Shooting fireworks

The last post was all about using long shutter speed for doing night time shots and the need to use a remote trigger for the shutter. Well that and a tripod of course. Well this last weekend I had another chance for doing some photography that involves long shutter speeds. Where I lived had a festival that ended with fireworks.  I posted the photos on one of the email groups I am on for photography. I got responses asking how to set the camera for doing fireworks. Well I think that fireworks make for a great followup topic on long shutter speed.

Here is the thing with fireworks. You will use a long shutter speed to get a beautiful shot of them. There is not a single setting that works best. The longer the shot the more fireworks explosions that will be in the shot. Of course fireworks are pretty random since you never know for sure when they will shoot them off (unless you are running the display). So there is a bit of fun randomness in your photos that you will not be able to predict. But in general you will want a shutter speed somewhere between 15 and 25 seconds usually. Try different lengths and see what you get for the photos.

Of course you will want to use either a timer or a remote trigger to open the shutter. If you don't then you will end up with blurry fireworks just like our blurry cityscape in the last post. I don't have a remote trigger yet so I had to go with the 2 second timer. I would depress the shutter when I heard the poof of the mortar going off launching the firework skyward. It was pretty good timing actually.

For the ISO I was running 100. That will give the best shot with the least amount of digital noise. Interestingly fireworks are pretty bright. The background is not, but that is one of the beauty of it too right? So you can go with the slow ISO and be OK. Also I went with an aperture of f/8 since that is pretty close to the sweet spot for most lenses where you get the least problems with any lens design issues. The closer you get to either full open or full close the lens could tend toward some unwanted little "features" that affect the photo. And then for the focus you will obviously use manual focus and set the focus to the most distant focus on the lens. As far as lens selection, I was using my Tamron 28-80mm lens and had it set to 28. I kind of wished I had an 18mm lens that night. There were some times where the firework was outside of the field of view. Most of the shots were inside pretty well though so it all worked out anyway.

I think that the most interesting thing about shooting fireworks is that the first thought for camera settings is not what actually would be correct. Most of the time people think since it is dark they want wide open aperture and high ISO. They also figure since fireworks are so far off that they will want a telephoto lens. All of these are of course incorrect. And we have already talked about how a tripod is not enough with long shutter speeds, but that you also need to use some sort of remote triggering for your shutter. So see if there are any fireworks displays in your area and have a grand time shooting. Play with your shutter settings and see what you get for different settings. Hopefully they will shoot enough fireworks at one time to get something like the photo I call Fire Palms (below).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Using timer or remote triggers

I was recently down in downtown Grand Rapids one night doing some nighttime photography. I was using a long shutter speed to be able to get the photos of the night lights of the cityscape. I was using a tripod for all the shots since I was doing long shutter speeds. Most people would think that this is enough to be able to get a good shot. Well the challenge is that when you push the shutter button, no matter how careful you are, you will most likely move the camera some. If your shutter speed is like 1 to 3 seconds that movement could be a significant portion of the photo. And then you will end up with a blurry photo when it should be picture perfect (pun intended). You will end up with something like this (click on the photos for a close up).

The photo is a little blurry. Really small you cannot really tell (like on the camera LCD), but when you look at it larger it is really obvious. So what you need to do instead is to get the shutter to trigger without your hand on the camera. You can use a remote trigger. These can be wireless or wired. But that way you can trip the shutter without any possible chance of jarring the camera and end up with a clear photo.

Another example of a blurry photo from having the hand on the camera that I took that night.

If you don't have a shutter trigger then the other way that you can get a nice clear photo is to use the shutter timer. Most people think that the timer is just for getting yourself in the photo. They will look at the 2 second setting and wonder "how could anyone ever get into the shot in 2 seconds?" when looking at the different timer selections. Well you cannot, and that is not the reason for a 2 second setting. It is for triggering the camera on a shot like this.

Now I was able to press the shutter button on the camera, get my hand off the camera body, and give it time to settle down totally still before the shutter opened up. And I was able to get a completely clear photo with a longer shutter speed.

By the way, my tripod is a cheap Walmart special that I bought 25 years ago for around $50. It still works just fine after all these years. So you don't need to invest a ton of money on expensive tripods. Save on the tripod and invest in a good wired or wireless remote trigger. Some of them will even allow for repeated shots taken at a set time interval. So you can get the trigger to do double or triple duty.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

It is the details that matter

Sorry it has been so long since the last post. I have been very busy with the holidays and with doing a lot of shooting. I decided though to go to a couple photos I took just over a month ago. One of the things Grand Rapids is known for is the all volunteer Arts Festival that happens the first full weekend of June. I love going down, especially with my camera. Well my favorite thing is listening to the Jazz music. There was a gal that was singing on the last day. She was an awesome singer with great stage presence.

Well while she was singing on stage a bunch of people were dancing near the back of the audience area in an open area. One of them was incredible to watch. She was so fluid... like watching water flow effortlessly down a woodland brook. She was totally enjoying life and was completely immersed in the moment. I think she was with a group that were like a dance club or something. She danced with several of the guys in the same group. Anyway, I got a lot of nice shots of the dancing. As I was going through the photos and weeding out the non-keepers I noticed two shots taken one after the other. As I was looking at them to decide which to dump and which to keep the final criteria was a very minor detail. The first photo, the non-keeper (except it ended up on here) is this one.

Not a bad photo. The frame is filled. I wish the other guy in the red in the background was not there, but to photoshop him out and make it look good would be a nightmare and a half. But then when I looked at the next photo...
what I saw was motion in the photo. The pose is just a bit different, not much, just a little. But that little bit gives the real sense of motion to the photo. It does not look static like the first. It really makes the photo pop. It is the attention to detail that makes all the difference in the world. The guy in the red is still there. Oh well, it is not like I am entering this in a contest, or that it is for the Time magazine cover. But it does bug me when I look at it. Well if I wanted to do perfect it would have been in a studio or some other controlled environment, right? Of course right.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Preserving memories

This particular blog post is going to deal with photography of the past. I am currently in the middle of a project to scan literally thousands of family photos into the computer. I am digitizing all the prints, slides, and negatives for a number of reasons. The first is so that I can easily share them with family members. The second is to get some of the photos posted on line and maybe crowd source to get information on long lost information on ancestors of the past. The third is to archive the photos in a manner that is easy to back up and protect. Fourth, I will be able to use the photos in many other digital projects down the road. I might even make some of them into really cool holiday presents too. As I have been working on the beginnings of the project I have learned a number of things to make the project go better and easily store the information I want.

I am not going to go into details at this point as to what equipment you need. I will leave that to a future post. Currently I am doing prints that I don't have negatives or slides for. I am using a Lexmark all-in-one printer to scan in. I will talk more about this scanner and the future scanner I am planning on purchasing down the road. I will tell you that after much consideration, and talking to a great friend (thank you very much Kathy!!!) that I did finally come up with the best way to organize the photos on the hard drive. I created folders for each decade. Then I put all the photos from a particular decade into the associated folder. I thought about trying to organize by family member or family grouping, but there were just too many photos that had multiple families represented. Geography really did not make a lot of sense, and for the older photos often I did not have clear geographical information. I could often pinpoint the decade. And when I did not know it for sure I knew I was within one or two. At that point it gets me close enough, and if I get some information down the road from the Internet or other family members I can easily move the particular ones that I was off on.

Second, I had a number of photos with annotations on the back. At first I was going to add them in EXIF tags. But I did not really like that way a whole lot. Then I ran into some old photos that had annotations in the white margins of the photos. It did not take me long to realize that worked really well. I am using a Mac. On the Mac if you open up a photo in the built in Preview program one of the things you can do is annotate the photo. At first I typed the annotation right on the photo. Then I got wise. When I created the photo I would pull the crop lines such that I had a white space below the photo where I could write the information I wanted. Talk about handy. And if I want to create something with the photo without any writing on it I can just crop out the annotation area.

So here is a photo of my Great Grandpa Berry at Pioneer Park in 1958 taking his snuff. And since it is annotated at the bottom of the photo the information is there now for all the people I share the photo with. And years from now that information will not be lost.

Here is a photo with a whole line of people. I put the line up in the annotation in the same order as the people in the photo. Or at least that is the order in the photo. It looks correct from the couple of people I have been able to identify. I am really curious about Uncle Ivan. I did not know I had an Uncle Ivan, and yet I see him in a lot of the photos. So when I go to the reunion next month I am hoping to get more information on him maybe.

The other thing in capturing these photos is that over time they had faded. So the photo of my Great Grandfather taking his snuff was looking like this.

The nice thing about digitizing the photo was that I was able to easily bring back much of the lost detail in the photo. Now it is much nicer looking than the actual photo print I have. The photo that included Uncle Ivan? Well the original print looks like this....

I also have one of Aunt Inez (she is in that group photo too) that looked like this originally.

Now I am able to get it to look like this....

Much easier to see details. Restoring that detail is very easy actually. You will simply use the levels tool in Photoshop Elements (PSE), or other photoshop style editor. My problem here was I needed to bring up the blacks. Or would that be bring them down? Well make them more distinct. I know that I could probably get much more creative trying to bring back more detail, but with thousands to do it is just unrealistic to get to crazy with the detail. In those famous words.... "it is good enough." So I have something that really works well now. A good scan, a quick tweak in PSE. And some annotation in Preview. And now I have captured and saved a family memory. It can be put in genealogy programs, maybe printed on a coffee mug or post card, and saved off site to protect it.

If you have the original negatives you should scan from those instead of the prints. You will get a much better more clear capture. This is one thing to consider when looking at scanners (which we will talk about at some point). Also, the scanners that can do negatives can do slides as well. I need to get my scanner for that, but in the meantime I am working my way through the prints.

Oh, if you are using a Mac then try out the built in Image Capture program to scan the images in. It works WONDERFUL! You can even put multiple prints on the scanner and tell it to auto detect the different prints. Then you double check the crop lines, and have it scan in all of them at once. You can usually do between three and six prints at a time depending on the size of the print. Makes the work go quite fast. And I am scanning at 1200 DPI. I tried both 1200 and 2400. I found that I did not really gain much of anything in detail, and my files were twice the size (spelled getting huge).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Yes size IS important!!

This time I am not going to be posting any photos in my photo blog. But this is a very important topic to cover. What I am going to talk about is the size of photos. We are going to talk pixels today. Pixel is short for picture element. Don't ask me where the x came from, I have no idea. I suppose it is not that important either. What is important is that a photograph is made up of a whole bunch of little dots. Each of these dots is a pixel. You can measure a photograph by the dimension of the number of pixels across by the number of pixels down. Multiply those two numbers and you have the megapixels of the photograph (so that is what a megapixel is - wow thought it was more complicated than that).

If you talk about a computer screen resolution you are talking pixels. So a screen might be 640 x 480 (0.3 megapixels) or 1024 x 768 (0.7 megapixels). When you talk about an HD television you will see either 720P or 1080P when they talk about resolution. The 720 or 1080 is telling you how many pixels top to bottom there are (technically scan lines but it is the same concept - well LCD panels - oh forget it.. we still have 720 pixels.. trust me). The photograph out of your camera is going to have much larger dimensions. If you go into your camera you should be able to actually adjust the image size that the camera will take. That adjusts the megapixels of the photograph because it is reducing or increasing the number of pixels across and down. The camera will usually tell you what the dimensions are.

Time at this point in the blog to skewer a sacred cow. Megapixels is one of the worst measurements for quality of a camera. What most people will tell you is that you need a lot of megapixels to be able to print the photo, especially if you are going to make a large print. I use the website SmugMug for purchasing photos and hosting them too. They do an awesome job making fantastic professional photos. They have a web page in the help section that tells the minimum resolution for different size prints. The minimum size for a 36 by 36 print (which I would consider a very large print - wink) is 2160 x 2160. Well if we multiply those two numbers together we get 4.6 megapixel! And an 8 by 10 only needs 750 x 935 or 0.7 megapixel! So you can get an extremely small photo printed quite large.

There is a good reason to shoot very large photos though. When you crop a photo you are removing pixels. So if you are shooting with a very short lens, like a 50mm, and cannot get very close then if you have a lot of pixels in the photo your final product from a crop will still be large. But if you are shooting nice and tight then you can reduce your image size and get more photos on the memory card (and on your hard drive). Think about this, every pixel takes up some size in the photo. The more pixels the larger the file and the more space it will take.

Talking about size, what about photos for the web? Remember that we talked about a computer screen being measured in pixels. When you look at the screens the sizes, even on the largest of screens, are fairly small in megapixel terms. Most wide screens are somewhere between 1200 and 1900 pixels across. So any photo that is larger than that needs to be downsized to fit on the screen. If we have a lot of pixels in a photo we have a very large file. If you take a large file and in the html code (in the settings for the picture in the web page editor) simply say to display it at a particular size it does not change the actual size of the file. It is only telling the browser to zoom out on the photo. So that very large file still needs to download to the computer. Ever wonder why some web pages take so crazy long to open? If they have a lot of photos it is probably that the photos are very large.

So how do we fix that? You need to resize the image. Use your favorite photo editor and find the image resize feature (I use Photoshop Elements). Many web pages limit the area that the page is actually using to either 800 pixels across or 1024 across. So if you resize proportionally and set the width to like 800 pixels then you will get a good size file. You will find that the file size moves down from the original 4 or 6 or 8 MB file to something around maybe 80 KB or 120 KB or something. A file that is much smaller and will load way faster. It will be a bit on the small side to print so you will want to save it as a separate file than the original, but you now have an awesome file for the web. You can also email it much easier to friends and family too!

To summarize, you don't need a ton of megapixels to get a good print. Pretty much all the cameras out today will give you more than enough size in the image. You can reduce the image size in your camera if your shots are nice and tight and you won't need to crop later. If you are going to put the photo on the web then resize it down to something between 800 and 1024 pixels wide. Always keep the original photo intact so that you can go back to it if you need... well you should always keep the original of good photos. You never know when you might need it.

Good shooting!!