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Posts Tagged ‘how to’

HOW TO: Comfort and Flexibility In The Field

October 8, 2011 9 comments

Imagine how annoying our lives would be without camera bags and camera straps. Our pockets would be bulging and spilling over with lenses, filters, cable releases, batteries and all sorts of other paraphernalia. We would be spending most of our time picking stuff up off the ground rather than shooting.

I have been through a whole gamut of camera bags, from the small square shoulder bags to a photographer’s vest, all the way up to a large photo backpack. Each one has served me well over the years and I have kept them around to store older camera gear. Last year I was in the market for a new bag. I wanted an option that was smaller in size, would hold all the gear I use now, and could be carried comfortably.

The go-to bag I am using now is a crossover of two styles. It is not a large backpack nor is it a small shoulder bag. It is worn like a backpack, but with only one strap crossing over your chest, rather than the two shoulder straps of a traditional backpack. When you need something from the bag, you sling it around front to access the main compartments, without having to take it off. It has the easy access of a small shoulder bag, but stays securely on, leaving your hands free. I can also carry it as a bag with a handle if I want to, so it provides me with the flexibility of use I need.

Some folks like to take every piece of gear with them at all times, and options are available if you need a bag designed to hold gobs of equipment. Other folks carry just enough for what they are anticipating to need on their shoot, and options are available if you want to take your camera and a few small items. I fall somewhere in-between, so my crossover bag fits my current needs perfectly.

If your old bag is on it’s last legs, or you just feel the need to upgrade, there are more choices available now than ever before. Over the years, manufacturers have developed designs to fit anyone’s requirements. There are shoulder bags, backpacks, pouches, waist packs, holsters and vests, just to name a few. Many of them are customizable with removable inserts, multiple pockets with several different ways to access compartments. Most are made with modern materials that are weather-resistant, durable and lightweight. Others are still made with classic materials, such as canvas and have an aged appearance.

Camera straps are another item I have changed out over the years. Straps that come packaged with most cameras are typically a one-size-fits-all. Aftermarket straps can be found in many configurations, styles and colors. And most are designed with a higher level of comfort and ease of use. Long straps, short straps, wrist straps, and heavily padded straps are just a few of the choices.

The strap I am using now is super comfortable and easy to attach to the camera. It can be made into a small handle by removing the shoulder pad and reattaching the quick disconnects. So I actually get two straps in one.

When you need to take your equipment in the field, comfort and flexibility will make your outings more productive and enjoyable.

HOW TO: Five-In-One Reflectors

September 30, 2011 16 comments

Not long ago I ordered a 5-in-1 collapsable disk reflector, which was recommended to me by another outdoor photographer. Basically, to replace the mangled piece of poster board I was using to add fill-light on subjects. The poster board worked pretty well, although not the most convenient way of doing things. The 5-in-1 reflector is easier to use and fits inside my camera bag.

Featuring a removable cover, the reflector has five different surfaces that are used to reflect light, diffuse light, or block light from your subject. The white side is for normal fill-light, a translucent side to diffuse light, silver for strong fill, a gold side for warm light and black side to block or absorb light. It unfolds to 22 inches in diameter, folds down to eight inches and even comes with a carrying pouch. The whole thing weighs about a half pound so it is quite portable. There are larger sizes available, but for around 20 bucks I figured I would give the smaller size a try.

Earlier this week, I decided to experiment by shooting the abundance of snapdragons in one of our front garden beds. We had missed these snaps while doing last year’s fall clean-up and they had re-seeded themselves throughout the bed. Just what I was looking for to play with my new gadget, especially since most of the snaps were in dappled morning sunlight.

I have to admit, it was a little challenging to look through the viewfinder, hold the cable release in one hand and the reflector in the other hand. Only because it was so breezy. My usual assistant (aka, my wife), was not available at the time, so I had to make do on my own. I composed the shot and adjusted the camera settings where I wanted them. Then leaned away from the tripod and held the reflector where it needed to be for that shot. With the cable release, I fired off a few shots, but you could do the same with a self-timer. Not only did the reflector fill in the shadows nicely, but it also helped block the wind. At the end of the session, I had quite a few keepers.

I will say, my biggest coordination test was folding the darn thing back up the first time. And if I am honest…several times after. No instructions came with the reflector on how to fold it up. So, I looked around on YouTube and believe it or not, I found a dozen instructional folding videos showing how to get the pesky thing back into its carrying bag. Obviously, I was not the only person failing this test.

So, if you are using a piece of poster board or some other method to add fill-light, you may just want to give one of these reflectors a try. I think you will like the convenience and the results. I know I do. Now that I can fold it back up in five seconds flat.

BACK TO BASICS: Composition

September 21, 2011 14 comments

Composition and Trusting Your Instincts

The windows are centered horizontally and the grasses in the lower left add interest.

Good photos have good composition. There are several guidelines for achieving a good composition, but these are not hard and fast rules. Oftentimes what looks right to you is the best composition. In other words, trust your instincts too.

Try keeping it simple. Reduce the scene to only what is needed to tell your story. This eliminates visual confusion and draws attention to your subject. Your eye won’t have to wander around the entire image trying to find what to focus on.

There is a basic formula for composition called the Rule of Thirds. Divide your frame into three equal sections, either vertically or horizontally. Place objects of interest off center, either closer to the top third or to the bottom third of the frame. Or on the left or right side. Using this rule can make for a more interesting composition, rather than placing your horizon line smack dab in the middle.

Changing the orientation of the camera from horizontal to vertical can completely change the look of an image. Trees and tall buildings can often look better in a vertical format.

Lines that lead your eye into the scene such as a winding road fading off into the horizon, or the ripples made by swimming ducks in a pond, add interest to your image. Looking up at tall buildings could lead your eyes to dramatic skies. Change your position if you need to, and find that leading line for your scene.

You can also use foreground objects such as doorways, buildings or trees to frame your subject, so it becomes the center of interest.

The combination of a few simple rules and trusting your instincts are solid guidelines to follow. Basically, it looks good to you and feels right…take the shot.

HOW TO: Ball Heads

September 18, 2011 10 comments

Well, I did it. I finally broke down and bought myself a new gadget. After realizing the loose change in the kitchen junk drawer had gotten totally out of control, I tallied up my pile of treasure and realized there was almost enough to pay for a ball head for my tripod. This was the one piece of camera gear that had been on my wish list for a few months. I had installed one on my monopod not long ago, and after experiencing the ease of use, I just had to get one for the tripod.

My old tripod head had three knobs, each controlling one of the three axis. One for vertical, one for horizontal and one for rotation left or right. The new ball head has one knob that allows you to adjust all three at the same time. You loosen the knob, adjust the camera to your desired position, then tighten the knob. One knob on the new setup versus three on the old. How cool is that.

The ball head also has friction control knob, allowing micro adjustments to be made without completely loosening the ball head. In addition, a separate control allows you to rotate the camera left or right, without even having to loosen the ball head at all. This control is especially handy for panoramics.

My new tripod/ball head combo passed the test with flying colors earlier this week. I was on location at a local orchard and market doing both an indoor and outdoor shoot. And even though it was early in the morning, the shop was already busy with customers. Setting up and composing shots of fruit, vegetables, flowers and other market items, while staying out of everyone’s way, was made much easier and quicker with the ball head.

In a very short time, working the camera and ball head has become second nature. I find myself not even looking for the knobs from my old setup any more.

If you are looking to upgrade your tripod with a ball head and are not sure if you will like it, head on over to your local camera store and check them out. They come in many sizes and price ranges, and I think you will be happy with the convenience they offer. I know I am.

HOW TO: Polarizing Filters

September 4, 2011 10 comments

I know, I know, I’ve said it before…polarizing filter, polarizing filter, polarizing filter. But I find these filters to be one of the most useful filters you can use. I have one with my camera gear at all times.

One of the most common uses of these filters is to darken skies from a washed out or light blue sky to much deeper or darker blue. This will also make clouds stand out with more definition. These filters can also be used to eliminate haze in a scene caused by water vapor in the air, which can make colors more vibrant…depending on how far you rotate the outer ring. If you are photographing a mountain stream or a lake with blue sky in the background, you can darken the sky and eliminate reflections on the water at the same time for a more dramatic effect.

There are two basic types of polarizing filters. One is a linear filter which is used for manual focus cameras. The other is the circular type, which are used on autofocus cameras.

Polarizing filters are constructed of two pieces of glass with a special coating that filters out scattered light waves. The glass is set into a pair of rings. One is threaded to mount onto the front of your lens and the other rotates to adjust the amount of polarization you desire.

These filters have the greatest effect when you are 90 degrees to the sun. You can determine this quite easily. Stand with your shoulder perpendicular to the sun. Anything you photograph either in front or behind you will be affected by the use of a polarizer. Shooting towards the sun will have no effect.

Polarizing filters do cut down an the amount of light that enters your camera (1.5 stops or more) so you will have to adjust accordingly. If you shoot in auto mode, the camera will pretty much take care of things for you. If you shoot in manual mode, you will need to adjust either the aperture or the shutter speed to compensate for the loss of light.

Depending on how bright the day is and how dark your polarizing filter is, I highly recommend using a tripod or monopod to avoid camera shake and to aid in composition.

The photo in this post was taken in December of last year using a polarizer. The sky was light blue, but I wanted to exaggerate the contrast of the snow covered branches against the sky and punch up the color.

What’s really cool about polarizing filters is that you can adjust the filter to get the effect that YOU want. Rotate the front ring and dial in a little, or dial in a lot.

If you like what you see…take the photo.

BACK TO BASICS: Buying A Camera

August 13, 2011 3 comments

There are many things to consider when purchasing a new camera, but if you keep the basics in mind, it does not have to be difficult. By asking yourself a few simple questions and doing a bit of research, you can gain the knowledge you need to buy a camera that will fit your individual requirements.

One of the most obvious, but important questions to consider, is how you will be using your new camera. The answer will help you define the features you want and need.

Do you want to take photographs of family birthday parties or children’s sporting events, of your vacation, garden, or scenic landscapes? Or do you want a camera that is more specialized for taking macro photography, as an example?

Does your new camera need to be weather resistant? Will you be shooting outdoors in all types of weather? Or do you have more indoor applications?

Do you want the camera to make all the decisions for you? Or do you want the ability to have more manual control, and for example, be able to set your own exposure?

Do you have previous experience in photography? Do you understand the basics of aperture, shutter speeds, focal length and composition? Do you want a camera you can use with the knowledge you have now? Or do you want a camera that will give you more features allowing you to learn more about photography?

Do you take a lot of photos, or are you a special event shooter?

Is size and portability important? Would a compact point-n-shoot fit your needs, or would a DSLR allowing you the option to change lenses be a better fit?

What is your budget? Will you need additional equipment like a camera bag, tripod, or specialized filters? Will you be printing your photos or posting them in online galleries?

When I made my latest camera purchase, I spent some time with my research, compared several different brands and narrowed my selection down to two options that I liked. And I originally thought I was going to purchase Camera “A” versus Camera “B”. Then I went to a camera store and held both cameras in my hand. I realized that I liked the feel, weight, overall build, menus and brightness of the viewfinder in Camera “B”. I ended up buying the Nikon and have been very happy with my purchase ever since.

One of the resources that I found invaluable is a website that I trust and am comfortable sharing with you: cameralabs.com. I found their reviews to be unbiased and their site includes comparisons of all major brand cameras in all price ranges.

Another one of my favorite sources is Outdoor Photographer magazine. As a photographer who specializes in the outdoors, this is a no brainer for me and I have been a subscriber since the magazine started. However, one of the main reasons I recommend this publication is that it is filled with information for everyone, from beginners to advanced photographers. And the featured photography is not too shabby either.

Nowadays, cameras are packed with amazing features, some of which you may find useful and some you may never use. Irregardless, technology has come a long way since the days of film. You can keep it simple or get more advanced. The choice is yours to make. And I am confident that if you stick to a few simple basics, you will find the camera that best suits you.

BACK TO BASICS: Tripods, Monopods and Cable Releases

August 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Of all the equipment available to photographers, in my opinion, the tripod is one of the most important. After I purchased my first camera and lens, it was the next item on my list.

The primary function of a tripod is to provide stability for the camera. And because of the time it takes to set up, you are forced to slow down. You will find yourself taking more time with composition to eliminate unwanted or distracting elements from the scene. And to experiment with exposure, depth of field and ultimately achieving a sharper image.

Though not as sturdy as a tripod, a monopod will provide an increase in stability versus hand-held, in those situations where it is not practical to set up a tripod. I find myself pulling out my monopod at a crowded location, such as at a sporting event, car show or flower show.

Tripods and monopods come in all styles and materials. Aluminum, carbon fiber and wood are the most common. Prices range from $25.00 to as much as you would like to spend. Cost is dependent on the type of material, weight and features. I’ve been using my one Bogen 3021 tripod for twenty-plus years, so I can say with confidence, it was a worthwhile investment.

Another accessory I find handy is a cable release. I use it whenever my camera is mounted to a tripod, due to the slower shutter speeds I am shooting and to avoid camera movement caused by pressing the shutter release with my finger. I use an electronic cable release, but you can use the self-timer built into the camera as a substitute, although it is less convenient.

One of my rules of photography is to never go on a shoot without a tripod, or at least a monopod. But I don’t always follow my own rules. There is nothing more frustrating to be in the field and realize you forgot your pod. Makes me wish I had stuck a big red sign on my dashboard that reads “Did you bring your tripod today?”

On those occasions when I find myself pod-less, I have turned myself into a human-pod. I squat down, tuck my elbows in, hold my breath and fire away. Only problem is, sometimes I lose the feeling in my legs and standing up is a real challenge. So, my recommendation to you is: always remember your pod. Or go make yourself a really big red sign to put on your dashboard. Right now. I’ll do it if you’ll do it…

BACK TO BASICS: How To Hold Your Camera

In this Back To Basics series, I would like to start at the beginning with how to hold your camera when taking a photograph. It seems simple enough, I know. But if you do not support your camera correctly, you run the risk of camera shake. This can cause fuzzy and out of focus photographs. So why frustrate yourself?

Holding a camera properly is easy to do and will become second nature in no time. The right hand should be positioned so that the grip is held by the last 3 fingers, and your forefinger is on the shutter release. Your left hand should be positioned palm facing up, to cradle the lens and/or bottom of the camera body. No extended pinkies here…we are not having high tea in a fancy restaurant. Besides, you wouldn’t want your fingers in the photograph.

When you position your hands this way, you tend to tuck your elbows in, making your body and camera one unit. When you look through the viewfinder in this position, there is less chance for camera shake which equals sharper photographs.

There are cameras with live view monitors on the back of the camera that allow you to compose and take photographs looking at the monitor, rather than through the viewfinder. This can be very handy in some instances. But it has been my experience that holding my arms out in front of me doesn’t work so well. First, gravity shows itself, then the excitement of getting that shot comes into play, or maybe you are in a crowd of people and someone bumps into you. You’re gonna get a fuzzy photograph.

I am not saying this is the only correct way to support your camera. For instance, Joe McNally has developed his own style of holding his equipment. And it works for him. Check out his video link at the bottom of this post. Even if his method does not work for you, you should get a kick out of the video. I know I did.

There is a lot of technology built into cameras today. Even if you have a vibration reduction system in your camera, it can only do so much. It is still up to you as the photographer behind the lens to capture the best image you can. Getting in the habit of holding your camera correctly will increase your odds of clear, crisp images.

Joe McNally’s DaGrip: