Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nikon News

Nikon introduced some new cameras and lenses today. One of the cameras is the D3000, which may replace the D40 (my top recommended camera for moms.) So if you are into having the latest, greatest, most expensive stuff, the D3000 should be available in the near future. If you are into having a great camera at a great price, keep an eye on the D40 because prices may drop. I would still highly recommend the D40 which is currently being sold for $150 less than the price the D3000 will be sold for ($600.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How to Choose a Shutter Speed Part Two

As I mentioned in Part One, one of the main factors that should influence what shutter speed you choose when photographing is your focal length. (Focal length is the number indicating how far you are zoomed in or out. For example, 18mm or 50mm.) Focal length is important because it affects how much our inability to hold a camera still influences our photographs.
No matter how hard you try, you can't hold your camera completely still. So if your shutter speed is too long (or slow), your entire image will be blurry because of the camera's movement during the picture capturing process. Unlike motion blur caused by subject movement, this type of blur is almost always bad. It looks something like this:

So how fast does our shutter speed have to be to prevent this type of blur? It depends on focal length. The longer your focal length (the more you are zoomed in) the more your lens magnifies or exaggerates your hand movements. You can see this when you zoom into 200mm or so and notice that everything seems wobbly. So the more you zoom in, the faster your shutter speed needs to be.
It is tough to set rules for preventing this kind of blur because different people can hold their cameras more or less still. Also, you may use a shutter speed that would be considered "dangerously slow," and still happen to get a sharp picture. But in general, you can use this equation to determine a safe shutter speed:

1/(focal length x 1.5) = slowest safe shutter speed*

So at 50mm, 1/(50 x 1.5) = 1/75 or faster.
At 200mm, 1/(200 x 1.5) = 1/300 or faster.
At 18mm, 1/(18 x 1.5) = 1/27 or faster.

Remember that this is a starting point, not a law. You may find that you have particularly steady hands and can go a little slower, or that you have shaky hands and need faster shutter speeds. But if you notice motion blur in parts of your image that were not moving, you need a faster shutter speed.
Note, this does not account for Vibration Reduction/Image Stabilization.
* This equation is for DX cameras which include most DSLRs under $2000. For full frame digital cameras, or film cameras the equation would be 1/focal length.

Monday, July 27, 2009

How to Choose a Shutter Speed Part One

(If you haven't read our other posts about shutter speed, click here for some important foundational information.)

When taking control of your camera's exposure, one of the first things to consider is what shutter speeds are "allowable" for the lighting conditions under which you are photographing. The answer to this depends on two main factors:
  1. The speed at which your subject is moving
  2. The focal length at which you are photographing
We'll tackle the first issue today . . .
If you want your subject to appear still, then your shutter speed must be fast enough to "freeze" any motion. Here are a few bench marks to keep in mind.
  • If you are photographing people who are trying to stand still (and doing a good job of it) then 1/60 is a safe shutter speed. If you need to go slower, you can fire off a few pictures in a row and maybe get a sharp one, but the more people in the picture, the more likely someone will be a bit blurry.
  • If your kids are walking around, playing, or running around outside, you want to be up to 1/125 or even 1/250 to be safe.
  • If you are taking pictures of kids swinging a bat or driving a race car, you'll need a shutter speed of 1/500 or faster.
  • If you are photographing a rock that isn't moving, any speed is safe as far as subject movement, but then photographer movement comes into play.
Keep in mind these are guidelines. You can always try something slower if you want, or you may need something faster than what I've suggested. Just remember to think about this when you are controlling your shutter speed.
Also keep in mind that these are guidelines for freezing the motion. If your subject is moving, you need to consider whether or not you want it to appear still and sharp or you want to allow for some motion blur. Sometimes motion blur is a good thing, so don't get locked into thinking you need sharp, motion-free images.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Picture of the Week

Here are the crucial settings for this picture:
  • Shutter Speed: 1/30
  • Aperture: f3.3
  • ISO: 200
  • White Balance: Flash
  • Focal Length: 50mm

Friday, July 24, 2009

How to Control Aperture

Like shutter speed, aperture is one of two factors that determine how much light your camera's sensor is exposed to when you take a picture (exposure.) Controlling your aperture gives you more control over exposure and more control over how your image looks. The simplest way to begin experimenting with aperture is to put your camera in "aperture-priority" mode. To accomplish this, rotate your camera's control dial (indicated below) to "A" if you have a nikon camera like the D40 or "Av" if you have a canon camera.

In shutter priority mode, winding the command dial (indicated below) will change your shutter speed and your camera will do the rest of the work to produce a correct exposure. (If you have a camera with two control wheels, then the one on the front may control aperture in this mode.) As you peer through your viewfinder, you will see a number with an "f" in front of it changing as you wind. That number indicates your aperture. Remember that as that number gets larger, your aperture gets smaller.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Aperture and Depth of Field

While there are different reasons to take control of your lens' aperture, the most common reason to control your aperture is to affect the depth of field. Depth of field (DOF) refers to how much of your image appears sharp or in focus. Controlling DOF allows you to make background or foreground elements appear blurry to focus attention on your subject like this:

Most people are fond of the above affect, particularly for portraits. However, there are also times when you might want as much in focus as possible, like this:

Controlling aperture gives you the most direct control over DOF. Observe the differences in the following images.

This gives you a taste of what you can do with aperture. Will explore it more and talk about how to control it over the next few days.

Monday, July 20, 2009

What is Aperture?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Picture of the Week

Here are the crucial settings for this picture:
  • Shutter Speed: 1/125
  • Aperture: f5.6
  • ISO: 200
  • White Balance: Sunny
  • Focal Length: 62mm

Friday, July 17, 2009

Travel Photography Tips: Paraguay

I spent the last week with some missionaries in the Chaco region of Paraguay. Here are a few pictures I took and some travel photography tips to go along with them.
1. If you want to take pictures of a person close by, ask permission. I've rarely had people tell me no. This guy seemed flattered. You can typically get better pictures if you aren't trying to disguise the fact that you are taking them.
2. Spend time walking. As you walk you have more time to look around and it's easier to stop and take a picture. Take your time so you can take it all in.
3. In my experience kids love to see pictures of themselves, so show them the pictures you are taking. In poorer areas especially, some kids have never seen themselves on a camera. These boys would jump this string and then huddle around me to see themselves in mid-air (even though I couldn't speak a word of their tribal language.)
4. Whether you are traveling or not, the best time to take pictures on a clear day is when the sun is low in the sky (morning or evening.) Take advantage of what people call "the golden hour."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Composition: Crooked Camera

If you are a perfectionist like me, you probably notice when a picture is just a bit askew. It's like the person was standing on a hill to take a picture or one of his legs is shorter than the other. Whatever the reason, it just doesn't look right. So when you are trying to hold your camera straight, make sure it's straight.
However, don't feel like you always have to have your camera in either the horizontal or vertical position. Sometimes tilting your camera off of the axis can make your image much more interesting - just make sure it looks like you did it on purpose.
Check out these examples:

Monday, July 6, 2009

How Many Megapixels Do You Need?

Recently a reader asked about purchasing a camera with more megapixels than the Nikon D40 which I recommend. Since I don't expect many people to be reading the comments on a month-old post, I figure this subject is worth a post all its own.
The short answer is this: Six megapixels is plenty for almost anybody. It is definitely plenty for photo-moms.
Six megapixels is more than enough resolution for websites, emails and pictures up to 8x10. I've even seen poster size prints from six-megapixel cameras that look stunning. Are any photo-moms printing bigger than that? If you aspire to sell your photos to stock photography agencies, you might want more mega-pixels, but otherwise six is plenty. If you want a different camera for another reason and it comes with the megapixels, go for it, but don't let a smooth talking salesman sell you on pixels.
I have a small point and shoot camera that can do ten megapixels, but I set it to six to have smaller files.
If you want to read a more technical and verbose article about this, click here.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Picture of the Week

Happy 4th of July!
Here are the crucial settings for this picture:
  • Shutter Speed: 1/30
  • Aperture: f5.6
  • ISO: 220 (picked by auto-ISO)
  • White Balance: Sunny
  • Focal Length: 50mm

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Photographing Fireworks