Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Circular Polarizer: The most amazing filter.

The polarizing filter is one of the most useful filters there is. It should be a part of every photographer’s kit

So, what does this filter do and how does it affect my pictures? First, you have to understand that light is made up of “photons”. Any light source (flash, sun, lamp) is giving off billions of photons. When these photons hit an object (face, car, landscape) and are reflected into our eyes, we sense the color and number (intensity) of the photons and our brain turns this into a picture.
However, photons have a hidden property, and that is polarity. A photons polarity is measured in degrees (0-360), just like on a compass. When light hits a non-metallic surface (glass, water, anything reflective but metals), it’s polarity shifts. Our eyes can’t tell the difference between the original photons and the shifted photons.

When you use a polarizing filter, it can block any light that has been shifted. This means that the glare off of a window will disappear because all the shifted photons (light) have been blocked. The usually result is that when looking at glass or a pool of water, you see through the glass or water and the glare disappears. This magical property allows you to take a picture and see a world without glare!

Glare is the enemy of all Photographers! So, why is glare bad?

  • Reflections off someone’s glasses can ruin a picture.
  • Glare hides what’s behind glass or below the surface of a pool of water.
  • Glare hides the beauty of a great paint job (i.e. cars, boats, …).

A Polarizer has many effects on pictures you take:

  • Glare reduction: By rotating the filter, you can virtually eliminate any glare except that caused by metallic objects (e.g. chrome)
  • Greener plants
  • Bluer sky’s
  • Generally more saturated colors without changing color balance
  • Increases contrast with black & white film

How to select the correct Polarizing filter:Many of today's cameras use semi-silvered mirrors or prisms to split the light entering the viewfinder in order to calculate exposure and focusing distance. PL (Linear Polarizing) filters can sometimes interact with these items to give unpredictable exposure or focusing. Experts recommend that you choose a Circular Polarizing filter unless you have a manual focus camera which has no beam splitter.

To find a great selection of Circular Polarizers, go to Keith's Cameras

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tripods – An Essential tool for any photographer

The first thing you should buy after you purchase a camera is a Tripod. You may not use one every time you shoot, but there will be times when you just can’t do without one.

Sharper pictures, especially in low light. You or your camera can sometimes decide to use a slow shutter speed in order to capture a picture. This happens most often when there is little available and a flash can not be used. Typical situations are: nighttime, sunset, sunrise, inside a Museum or Church. If you don’t use a Tripod or something else to stabilize the camera, the pictures will appear blurry. This happens because your body moves just a tiny bit every time your heart beats. When your body moves, so does the camera. To isolate your camera from your heart, use a Tripod.

Getting yourself in the picture. Most cameras have a timer function. This timer is designed to let you press the shutter release and then race in front of the camera so you can get in a picture with the rest of your friends. The only problem is focusing the camera before you have to do your mad dash. With a Tripod, you point the camera, press the shutter release and then run. Ten seconds later you have a picture that includes you!

Taking a number of pictures from the same point. There are many times when it makes sense to take a number of pictures from the same point in space.

  • Exposure Bracketing. This is when you take multiple pictures of the same subject with different exposures. This is done to make sure that at least one of your pictures turns out OK

  • Time Lapse: You want to show the same subject at different times of the day.

  • Panorama: You take a number of pictures of a landscape, with each one using a different angle. Useful when you want to capture a mountain range or something that doesn’t fit in the usual 8x10 print.

So, like that green credit card, Tripods, Don’t leave home without one!

For a great selection of Tripods, go to Keith's Cameras.

Friday, November 21, 2008

New Nickel Metal Hydride batteries

Starting out with Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMh) batteries
This article will help you get the most from a new set of NiMh batteries for your camera or portable electronic device

So, you just purchased a set of AA NiMh (Nickel Metal Hydride) batteries and you are anxious to try them out. Wait! Before you can use them, you need to change them first. Your first assumption would be that you charge them for a few hours and they’re good to go. Wrong!

The first time you charge your new NiMh batteries you should let them charge all night. The general rule of thumb is that you should charge the batteries 3 (three) times longer than the rating of the charger. If you have a 15 minute charger, charge them at least an hour. If you have a two hour charger, charge for at least 6 hours. If you have a overnight charger, let them charge for at least 24 hours.

Why does it take so long the first time? The batteries you received have probably never been charged. They are completely dead, or very close to it. When a charger says that it charges batteries in 15 minutes or 2 hours, it really means that it “Recharges” the batteries in that time. The only exception to this rule is the Hybrid NiMh batteries which come pre-charged.

Now for a couple of dirty little secrets about NiMh batteries.
  1. They don’t hold a charge for long periods of time (except for the Hybrid NiMh). You should never count on a NiMh battery holding its charge for more than a month. So, use these batteries for something that you constantly use, not something you stick in a drawer for a rainy day.
  2. The first couple of times you use them, they may not last very long. I don’t know why this happens, but sometimes a new set of batteries will apparently charge up properly, and then seem to die after about 10 minutes of use. Don’t Panic! This only happens about 20% of the time to a new set of batteries. If you recharge them again, they’ll last two or three times longer than the first time. After the third recharge, they’ll last much longer than your old Alkaline batteries.

Now for the Good News! NiMh batteries can be recharged up to 1000 (one thousand) times. So, you can charge them once a month and they’ll still out live you!

Monday, November 17, 2008

What Good is a Megapixel and Why Should I Care?

This article will help you understand what a Pixel and a Megapixel are and why they matter to you.

In this digital age, everyone enjoys taking pictures without the hassle of film, but few understand the most basic metric of a Digital Camera: the Mega Pixel.

First, let’s define the “Pixel”. A pixel is just a “picture element”. A picture element is one of many squares on the camera image sensor. The pixels are arranged in a rectangular grid1. Think of a giant piece of graph paper. It has horizontal and vertical lines all equally spaced. Each pixel captures the colors that fell on that intersection and how bright they were. The cameras sensor has a pixel sensor at the intersection of each horizontal and vertical line. The camera takes millions of these pixels and puts them together to create an image of your best friend or that perfect sunset

The information in all the pixels in an image tells a computer how to “paint” the picture you took on either a display or a printer. The process used to paint your picture on a display (monitor, LCD, laptop) is much different than the process used when printing. The difference between printing and displaying creates a huge amount of confusion for most people, even many professionals’ photographers.

All computer displays are low resolution devices. The average display shows only 72 to 90 DPI (Dots Per linear Inch). Your eyes automatically fill in the gaps between the dots on the screen, giving the impression that the picture looks better than it really is. This is helped by the fact that most people stay at least 18 inches from their display. If you put your eyes right up against the display, you’ll see that the pictures is made up of a bunch of squares of different colors and that it isn’t quite as pretty as it looked when you were further away.

A printer is a high resolution device. The minimum resolution on most printers is around 300 DPI or LPI (Lines Per Inch). This means that it takes over four times more pixels per linear inch to make a good print than it does to have a pleasing image on an electronic display device (monitor, LCD, laptop). In reality, it takes 16 (sixteen) times more pixels to make a good print because an image is made up of a rectangular arrangement of pixels (two dimensions not just one).

When you bring a printed picture close to your eye, you should not be able to see any squares or individual dots. That’s because the printer creates dots of color that are too small for the human eye to see without a magnifying glass. Since the dots on a printer are too small to see, the human eye blends them all together. Generally, printed material is easier on the eye and causes less strain because the eye believes that the image is identical to the real thing.

So, how many Megapixels do you need for:

  • A good web picture: 0.4 MP. This assumes the image is about 650 x 650 pixels
  • A good 4x6 print: 2.1 MP This assumes 300 DPI resolution (4 inch x 300 DPI) x (6 inch x 300 DPI)
  • A good 5x7 print: 3.2 MP
  • A good 8x10 print: 7.2 MP
  • A good 16x20 print: 15.5 MP This assumes 2202 DPI resolution (20 in x 220 DPI) x (16 in x 220 DPI)

1 This is not physically true. Each camera maker has their own way of creating sensors. However, each camera maker converts their sensors output to look like it was taken with a rectangular grid of sensors when it writes it to your memory card.

2 For a 16x20 print, you need less DPI because you hold the print farther away then you would for a 8x10 print.

Friday, November 14, 2008

How to Choose a Camera

Choosing a camera is a tricky undertaking. Digital Cameras today cost significantly more than the 35mm or APS film cameras of yesteryear. A good digital camera will cost at least $100 and can cost as much as a new car. Nobody can afford to throw that much money at something without getting something great in return.

The first step in finding a great camera is to decide what you want to use the camera for. Some of the usual reasons are:

  • Social picture taking. You want to take pictures of friends and family at social events such as parties or Holidays.
  • Preserving and Sharing Memories. The first steps of a baby, a prom date, ...
  • Landscapes: You want to capture things you find beautiful such as: sunsets, scenery, landscapes, flowers, ...
  • Portrait. You want to take great pictures of people, great enough to blow up and show others.
  • Product Photograph. You want to take pictures of things to sell them, such as on Ebay.

Memories and Social event cameras.

If you are taking pictures for social events, or to preserve memories, you can easily use a compact Digital Camera such as the Pentax Optio series or the Fuji FinePix series. These cameras are “Point and Shoot” which means that you don’t need to understand much to take a great picture.
If you need to conserve money, pick the camera that just enough Mega Pixels to meet your current and future needs. A 3 Mega Pixel Camera will produce very good 5x7 pictures. If you want an 8x10 to give to family, you should hold out for a 5 to 6 Mega Pixel Camera. If you want to make bigger pictures, you’ll need to move up to a 9 Mega Pixel camera.

If you are out to capture the beauty found in nature, you’ll need more than a point and shoot camera. You’ll need:

  • A good zoom lens. The zoom lens should be at least a “optical” 5X lens. This means that the telephoto setting of the lens should put you 5 times closer to the subject than the wide angle setting. This makes it much easier to “compose” your picture without moving about or hiking great distances. If you are willing to invest in the future, you should consider a SLR or DSLR which has interchangeable lenses. Interchangeable lenses have much better optics and are more flexible. A DSLR “system” (camera and a few lenses) will cost two to five times more than a camera with a fixed lens.
  • 5 or more Mega Pixels. If you just want a 8x10 print, you can get by with a 5 Mega Pixel camera. If you want a 16x20 inch print or bigger, you’ll need a minimum of 9 Mega Pixels.
  • Creative controls: These controls on a camera tell the camera what type of picture you are taking: Outside daylight, portrait, snow scape, beach picture, etc.. This helps the camera adjust it’s calculation of the exposure needed to get a great picture. The most powerful mode of all is the “Manual” mode, which forces you to set the parameters of the camera to get a great shot. The Manual mode should only be used by advanced amateurs.
  • Macro lens capability. If you want to take close up pictures of flowers or insects, this is a must. If small things don’t interest you, skip this feature.
  • A “Hot Shoe”. A Hot Shoe is a place to attach an external flash on a camera, usually on the top of the camera. If you are going to be very serious about macro type pictures, you may need a “macro flash” which will require a camera with a Hot Shoe. A Hot Shoe is also very useful if you need to take portraits.

A good portrait is one that shows the soul of the subjects. To see the soul accurately, you need to get close to your subjects. A camera with a lens that allows you to fill the viewfinder with a face at 4 feet is perfect. In addition, the camera should have:

  • Close up zoom lens (35mm to 135mm in 35mm camera equivalent). The zoom lens allows you to compose the picture without moving around.
  • Great Auto focus capability. The camera must be able to focus in both bright light and low light. The camera should also have the ability to allow you to specify the focus point. Most cameras allow you to pick one of 6 possible focus points.
  • A Spot Exposure mode. A spot exposure mode calculates the exposure based on the light hitting a small “spot” in the center of the viewfinder. Most exposures are calculated based on the overall light hitting the viewfinder. This can cause problems when the background of a picture has more light hitting it or coming from it than the person you are taking a picture of.
  • Built in flash, used only for emergencies.
  • Hot Shoe for external flash. An external flash unit can reduce or even eliminate “Red Eye”
  • Fully Manual mode for exposure. If you work with big external flash units, there is no “automatic flash”, you have to use a flash meter to measure the light, and set your camera accordingly.
  • 6 Mega Pixels or more in resolution. If you want magazine quality, you’ll need 10 Mega Pixels or more.
  • Lens filters. Your lens should allow you to attach lens filters to it. A lens filter can give you a great deal of control over the colors in a picture, the softness of the focus, as well as many other things.
  • PC flash connector. This isn’t actually required, but can certainly is handy when connecting to external flash units (i.e. big umbrella flash units)
  • Image Stabilization if possible. This is not a real requirement, but ...

Product Photography
Product photography can cover a very broad range, from web based displays to Fashion Magazine spreads. This sections be limited to Web based displays (i.e. Ebay, pictures on this site, ...).
A good camera for web based product pictures would have:

  • 2 or more Mega Pixels
  • Zoom lens. 3 X optical at a minimum.
  • Macro lens capability. You’ll need this to get close to the small products you photograph.
  • Small built in flash.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tips on Flash Photography

Derived from the Photo Marketing Association editorial bank

by Alfred DeBat

A digital camera’s built-in flash unit is a useful tool for better photographs. However, photographers should learn when to use flash, and when not to. If you have been relying only upon the camera’s automatic flash function, here are a few things to know.

First, read the camera instruction book and learn how to turn off the flash, and how to employ the “force-flash” function (makes the camera’s flash operate in bright light). Usually, both functions are displayed on LCD menus as a “lightning bolt” (force-flash) and lightning in a circle crossed with a line (off).

Flash will sometimes ruin a picture if a photo is being made through glass, such as photographing a painting under glass in a museum, or taking a photo through a bus window. Generally, it would be better to make a longer exposure without flash, if you can steady the camera or use a tripod.

If you want to take a moody, atmospheric photo in fog or at dusk, turn the flash off to retain the look of the fading evening light. Often these pictorial effects are quite beautiful, particularly at or just after sunset.

Remember that most built-in flash units have a very short effective range, usually a maximum of from 8 feet to 15 feet. That means subjects farther away will be badly underexposed. One way to get around this shortcoming is to purchase a stronger auxiliary flash unit that can be attached to the camera. Frequently, more expensive cameras have a “hot shoe” flash contact at the top of the camera so that a supplementary flash unit can be attached — camera manufacturers often offer special integrated flash units.

Flash can be used in bright sunlight to eliminate shadows on subjects’ faces. This technique is called “fill-flash” (it “fills” in the shadows) and requires the force-flash setting. Fill-flash cannot only be used when subjects are in the shade, but also in bright sunlight when people squint. Here you place the subjects with their backs to the sun and employ fill-flash for their faces. If you get it just right, the sun becomes a backlight halo for the subjects’ hair.

Some cameras have a night photography flash setting (usually a symbol of moon and stars, plus a flash — check your instruction book). With this setting, the camera takes a long exposure of the night scene (you may need a tripod) plus a flash exposure. The idea is to have a person in the foreground of the scene illuminated by the flash (who also will stand still for the ongoing long exposure). For example, you can take a night flash photo of your wife with the illuminated Eiffel Tower behind her for a memorable picture of Paris.

The same setting can be used creatively by slightly jiggling the camera immediately after the flash. Since the flash freezes a sharp image, moving the camera during the long exposure makes the night lights dance around your subject.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bringing Out the Hidden Artist

From the PMA editorial bank

Everybody has an artistic side. Are you ready to break with convention to bring it to the surface? Here is a list of some of the conventional rules and suggestions on how to break them.

1. Conventional Rule 1. Place your subject one-third of the way from the left or right side of the frame, facing inward toward the center of the frame. Artistic License. Set your subject to the far side of the frame, looking outward. You’ll need a strong visual element to pull this one off, not your run-of-the-mill subject. Example: A tall, mysterious man in a trench coat (what is he looking at that we can’t see?), a child laughing hysterically (at what?), a tree or an old building getting ready to fall out of the scene (we can almost hear the crash).

2. Conventional Rule 2. Photograph people from eye-level for a "natural-looking" shot. Artistic License. Shoot the subject from way below or above eye level. Shoot from a balcony someone peering crane-necked up at you. Or capture your subject looking down as you shoot up from a flat-on-the-back position.

3. Conventional Rule 3. Separate your subject from the background. Artistic License. Have your subject disappear into the background—so that only a close examination of the scene will reveal it. A single seashell on a beach full of rocks—all the same size--is a good example.

4. Conventional Rule 4. Picture nature as it really is. Artistic License. Picture nature as you really see it. Don’t be afraid to use props. An apple tree loaded with fruit—and a hangman’s noose dangling from one branch—is a loaded image. It may not be what people expect—but, then again, giving people what they expect is not the goal of a true artist