Monday, January 26, 2015

Is color or black and white better?? - Episode 204

DO NOT fall into this trap. Please? You will grow faster as a photographer, and make smarter business decisions...

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Microsoft invents something to aid photographers - Episode 203

Ok so they did not specifically have photographers in mind, but after watching the video below, you are going to want the Microsoft Holo lens.

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Support This Bill On Photography - Episode 202

Please support this bill!!!

If HR 5893 is passed, it will be a great day for photographers.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

The Right Way To Pick Out A Lens

So you are ready to buy a new lens. You have saved up some money and ready to branch out a bit and get something else. But what lens to get? After all, there is probably 3,000 lenses made from a variety of manufacturers, that will mount to your camera. That is a lot of sorting to do. So how can you choose which one is right for you?

1) How about budget? That is probably the biggest variable right there. You can only buy what you have cash to buy. If $1000 is your budget, then you can instantly rule out anything priced higher than that.

2) What are your needs? This is one that causes beginners to stumble a bit. I get emails all the time asking for guidance on choosing a lens and when I ask what their needs are I usually get the following answer: "I want something to shoot portraits, my kid's baseball game, some landscape, and I would like to be able to get into macro." Well that is a bit too much to ask from one lens. So narrow that down. What is the single biggest use you plan on applying your lens to? That should narrow that pool down even further.

3) Variable or fixed? There are 2 main lens types. A fixed focal length lens means that it does not zoom in or out. Your feet are used to zoom in or out. A variable zoom lens means that the lens does some of that work for you. And a really good variable zoom lens - if used properly - is like using a box full of fixed focal length lenses. We discuss how to best use your lens here. But before you jump all over a variable zoom based on that statement, understand that these typically have negatives to them as well. First of all, unless you spend a small fortune for that variable zoom lens, a fixed focal length lens tends to offer sharper images. For the most part. Depending on the lens. 

4) MTF chart. Here is where I insert some opinion on the subject and tell you that if you cannot see the MTF chart for a given lens, then it should not even be considered. An MTF chart can tell you just how sharp and clear of a picture you can produce with that lens. And that, my friends, is a big deal. Here is what an MTF chart looks like...
Here is how you read that set of graphs above, and tell whether that lens is a good one or not.

  1. The left hand vertical line measures the amount of light getting through the lens. No lens can let 100 percent of the light through. But the closer to the top of the chart the lines are, the more light gets through. The more light, the better.
  2. The horizontal line represents the center of the lens to the outside edge. So all the way to the left means dead in the middle of the lens, and all the way to the right is the outside edge.
  3. The higher up the chart the thick lines are, the higher the contrast. Meaning more clarity.
  4. The higher up the chart the thin line are, the sharper the lens will be.
  5. The black lines show the lens at it's widest aperture setting, while the blue lines show the lens stopped down to f/8.
  6. Anything above an 8, or the second horizontal line from the top, is considered excellent.
Using that information, we can see that this lens is super sharp at wide open at all focal lengths. That is hard for a variable zoom lens to do. But this lens does it. This is the brand new 24-70 F/2.8II from Canon. And it may be THE sharpest lens ever produced from any manufacturer every. That is why Canon charges over $2,000 for it.

Let's take another look at a much cheaper 50mm F/1.8 lens from the same company for comparison.
Remember everything from the list above and compare the two lenses. You can quickly tell that this lens is not near as sharp, and does not offer near the same level of clarity that the first lens does. This lens, however,  is valued at just over $100. Plus it is a fixed focal length lens at 50mm versus a variable focal length from 24mm to 70mm.

Big difference.

So going through my list from top to bottom, first find out your budget, then narrow that down by need, and finally compare that smaller list with the MTF chart by going to the manufacturer's website. That will allow you to make a good decision on what is best for you.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A pro's thoughts on using auto ISO and exposure compensation, and why you should stop using them.

I just got an email question concerning Episode 96 where I tell you to easily take a sunset of sunrise photo with little to no editing. If you have not seen that, you should watch that first, because I teach a bit about a technique that I call "The Bounce".

After watching that video, someone emailed me a really great question with some valid points and wondered if I could expand on why I did it the way that I did it. Here is question...

"What I didn't get with your tutorial was the fact that you started at ISO 400 when your camera metered at 1/2000 (it shows you had a lot more than the rule of thumb required to keep a steady shot). If you’d set your camera at 1/500 the exposure would be the same and less degrading, since increasing the ISO sensitivity can significantly degrade image quality. It does not make any since. The other thing was the fact that you thought that you had to come out of aperture priority to under exposed your shot, when all you had to do was to use exposure compensation. Remember your camera go +5 or -5 stops under from any metered subject. You might’ve been bombed with comments for this one. A friend saw your video and asked me if it was a good guide. All I said to him was that “good” is a very subjective thing in this context."

In typing up my response, I thought I would share it with all of you as I explain why you should stop using both Auto ISO and Exposure Compensation. I believe I have very valid reasons that will greatly speed up your learning if you are an admitted user of either feature of your camera. I hope you agree, and even if you don't now, you will eventually. I promise. Take it to the bank.


First of all let's talk about ISO. It is a common misconception in the beginning that all shots, if done at ISO 100, will be buttery smooth, but anything after that rapidly degrades in quality. That may have been true in the beginning for digital, but no longer. The truth is that there is not a DSLR on the planet under 10 years old that you can see a difference from ISO 100 to ISO 400. If all things are equal, and the photo is properly exposed, you simply cannot see the difference. No matter if it is the cheapest Canon Rebel to the most expensive Nikon D4.

“If all things are equal and the image is properly exposed.” Even when zooming into 100% on your editing viewer, you will doubtfully see any noticeable difference.

ISO noise first begins to show itself in the shadow areas of your photo, and/or as you begin to increase exposure or brightness in editing. So if the scene is decently lit - as in shooting anything outdoors in daylight conditions - or your exposure is already pretty close to perfect so that you don't have to start cranking on the brightness or exposure in your editing tool like Lightroom, Photoshop, etc. - then you won't see one whisker of a difference.

Try it and see. If you can only see minuscule differences under good light and proper exposure while zoomed into the photo at 100%, then that is no difference that anyone would ever actually see.

So if no one can see it, then why not give myself an extra cushion by raising it to the 400 and giving myself more room for having a faster shutter speed? I have taken many, many Golden Hour portraits with an aperture of f/2.8 and ISO 400 that I was only able to get a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second. Which is pushing the minimums if your lens is 100mm in focal length or longer like most good portrait lenses are. Why? Because remember that it is a rule of thumb to be equal in your shutter speed to the focal length of the lens when shooting hand held. This minimizes any blurring caused by YOU moving the camera.

So as a rule, I never go under 400. With some exception, of course. It gives me extra shutter speed should I need it. It is the reason that so many wildlife photographers will shoot birds in flight under good light as high as ISO 1000 or even higher. They use really long lenses, and their subjects are moving rapidly, and they need really fast shutter times. if they are shooting in favorable Golden Hour light, those faster shutter times are difficult without cranking on the ISO. And if they don't have grainy horrible shots of starlings in flight in the evening hours, why should you expect different results? ...IF THE EXPOSURe IS CORRECT...

(You are more than welcome to properly diagnose my skill set by visiting my complete portfolio online at You will find many portraits shot at ISO 1000 to 2000 and never be able to tell because I ensure that the photo is properly exposed to begin with. )

Proper exposure is key for controlling ISO noise. Please understand that. Without that, everything I just said gets tossed out of the window.

Now let’s address the whole exposure compensation thing. I am fully aware of the feature as it is found in all modern DSLR cameras. But there are a couple of things that need to be addressed with exposure compensation.

First of all, please understand that I teach. So I am always doing things that are gradually progressing your understanding, knowledge, and skill. Getting you to bounce out of a priority mode is one teaching technique that I use quite often. Taking a brief trip into full manual and then coming back to the safety of a semi-automatic mode, while not diving straight into it and getting crappy results because you are not fully familiar and comfortable with shooting full manual just yet, has proven to really aid my class takers in learning.

Remember that any priority mode, be it Aperture priority mode, or Shutter priority mode, is still an automatic mode. I call it semi-automatic, however, as your brain is choosing one variable, while you are completely allowing the brain in the camera to decide the other variable.

I should pause here and expand further and tell you that if you are not already aware of it, most DSLR cameras have an auto ISO mode as well. Auto ISO mode allows you to pick a threshold of stops or a range of variables that you will allow the camera to operate in as far as ISO is concerned. You could, for example, choose the ISO range to be 100 to 800, and it would never go below 100 or higher than 800. If you are using this, I beg you to consider stopping that. The reason will become apparent in a second. But I think it is the worse thing camera manufacturers have ever added as far as features go. It makes you more dependent on the brain of the camera instead of the brain in your head.

Let’s assume for a second that you don’t use this crutch at all….

When you are operating in say Aperture Priority mode shooting portraits in the park during the golden hour, here are some things that are going through your brain - and I know I am chasing a rabbit trail, but please bare with me.

Let's say I am using a 100mm telephoto lens for my portraits. I need to make sure that my shutter speed never goes below 1/100th of a second to ensure that no blurring is created by me shaking the camera.  I am also thinking that I want some good background blur so I want my aperture to be at F/2.8 to help make that happen. I also need to make sure that my ISO is set to something that is conducive for me to get both the shutter speed and the image results I am looking for.

So I choose my ISO to be 400 because I know no normal human being is ever going to see the difference between 100 and 400 if I get a good exposure. If I shoot my portrait in complete shade in the last hour of daylight late in the day, then I am going to be pushing my shutter speeds close to the limit of acceptance. At ISO 400, I have a better chance at being over my minimum of 1/100th of a second. So ISO 400 it is.

Next I only have to dial into Aperture priority mode and choose F/2.8. As I am looking through my viewfinder, I will pay close attention to my shutter speeds and make sure they are over 1/100th. If  I were in auto ISO, the camera’s brain may choose the lower ISO and then my shutter speed would tend to sit on the slower side. By taking control of that variable and choosing it, as well as choosing the Aperture value, the only variable that I need to keep track of is the shutter speed. Period. The other 2 variables for exposure are already locked in.

This frees up my brain for thinking about posing, composition, backgrounds, etc. Let’s face it, we think about a lot trying to get the best picture we can. I need as much of my brain free as possible.

So lets jump back to what were discussing before. Aperture priority mode is a semi-automatic mode where you release partial control of the exposure to the brain of the camera.

Now let me as you a question. If you could walk into any room or environment, asses the lighting with your eyes only, and tell yourself the following, “If I place my subject over there in that lighting, I will need a shutter speed of 1/800th of a second, ISO of 400, and an aperture of F/4.5.” Then if you took that picture and were almost spot on, would that not be a good place for you to be in as far as knowledge and experience is concerned? Would that not make you more effective as a photographer?

Well of course it would. Because it would mean that the complete control of the image was under the authority of your brain, and not the unpredictable decisions of the brain in the camera.

And let’s face it. You camera will be prone to making unpredictable decisions. If you doubt this, I can prove it. Simply put a lens on the camera and choose a focal length that you won’t change. Say set for 50mm. Then dial in aperture priory mode, and choose F/5.6. Next choose the ISO like I have instructed with any fixed amount. Say ISO 100. Then mount it to a tripod and take the picture. Take 10 in a row. All the same. If there is just the slightest variance at all, say a limb moved because of the wind, or a cloud partially covered the sun, or a person slightly shifted position in the frame, your exposure and the results of those 10 shots will not be identical. Why? Because the metering in the camera is seeing those variances and trying to recalculate what is needed.

But if I can slowly ween you off of priority mode and into the realm of full manual, your result will be predictable and consistent. Emphasis on slowly.  The more control you take from the camera, the more competent you can potentially be as a photographer.

As such, I developed a teaching mechanism called The Bounce. Take once shot in aperture priority mode where you have also chosen the ISO value, look at the shot, and determine the changes needed for the exposure. Do you want it brighter or darker? Then bounce over to full manual, dial in the exact same variables, but change the shutter speed to adjust. For a brighter image, slow it down, for a darker image, speed it up. Simple.

But why not use exposure compensation, you asked? Because those inconsistencies and unpredictability's will still exist by allowing the camera’s brain to choose the other variable instead of you. With experience you will see that if you try it as you suggested, your one stop of light removed with vary from time to time. Sometimes it will be less of a stop, and sometimes more. Because the original assessment of what the shot needs for proper exposure for the image - determined by the brain of the camera and not your brain - will tend to be slightly different every time you take the shot. Remember that it won’t recall the settings from the last shot. So if the first shot was F/5.6, ISO 400, and 1/250, then next time it looks it may think it should be F/5.6, ISO 400, 1/200th. That means that when you dial in a stop of light removal using exposure compensation, that one stop of light removed is determine off of the new shutter speed of 1/200th instead of the first one you took at 1/250th.

Now if you have read through all of the paragraphs of explanation and consider me to be silly, I will make the following prediction for you. As you continue to push yourself in your photography - IF -you continue to push yourself in your photography, you will come to these same conclusion eventually on your own. Promise.

It is not bragging for me to tell you that I can blindly choose a proper exposure for any environment, and quickly determine how to expose any situation for any desired result, by simply looking at the light in the room. Any seasoned photographer with as much experience as I have shooting full manual can. I am trying to take my audience, and slowly push them into that same position. Because once you are there in your understanding, the only thing that will hold you back is your own creativity.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Time Lapse of Time Square Dropping The Ball

Here is a great time lapse of the ball dropping in New York at New Years...

Nikon Embraces Gay Families In Latest Comercials

As a part of Nikon's "I AM" ad initiative, Nikon has chosen a gay black couple with 3 kids in Atlanta as the current face of their company. Kordale and Kaleb, the two dads in the image above, showed off a selfie grabbed in the bathroom while they were doing their kids hair before school one morning. They posted it on their Instagram page and the image went viral. Shortly after, Nikon came calling. See the full story in the video below. If you are seeing this on our Daily newsletter, you will need to follow the link back to this website to see the video.

Canon Pledges $100 million in expansion

The town of Newport News, VA got a boost to it's corporate economic situation when Canon announced an expansion of their facilities there that would pump $100 million dollars into economy. The money will filter out through contractors that will be building and adding onto their facilities. However the news was not as rosy as it first appeared.

Most of the contracting will likely come from outside of the area, and the expansion will only produce 60 new jobs. However, none of those new jobs will involve hiring from outside of the company, but rather from inside with people already employed by Canon.

The facility has nothing to do with their camera business, even though they were the number 2 camera used last year, but rather help facilitate building more printer cartridges for their growing printer business.

Politicians are calling it a win, but local residents feel more like they got a big giant "Psych!" hollered at them.

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