Category Archives: Gear

More or Less

How much of a subject should be included in the image?  That’s always a compositional question: exactly where should you position the edge of the frame?  When shooting with a fixed focal length lens, you really don’t have a choice unless you can physically change your location.  If you’re using a zoom lens, you have an almost unlimited choice.  Of course, no matter the lens you could always crop the image afterwards, but all cropping is lossy and personally I hate to throw away data.

So just how much, or how little, needs to be included?  Consider these two images.  Your thoughts?  Is the roller too small in the frame, the elephant too tight?  What do you think?

 

Lilac-breasted roller.

Elephant.

 

T/S Stitch

I like photographing with my Tilt/Shift lenses.  Besides using them for single image photos, I’ll often use them to make stitched images.  I keep the tilt and shift functions in different axis, so that I can tilt to reposition the plane of focus, and still be able to shift left and right.  If my camera is mounted in a horizontal position, the resulting image when stitched in Photoshop is in a panoramic format.  But if I mount the camera vertically, and then shift left and right, the final image is just slightly squarer than 4 x 5 proportions.  Why do this?  Easy answer: file size.  With my D800E, the final 16-bit file is roughly 400 MB.

Autumn maple leaves.In the Bald Hills, Redwoods National Park.Sandstone wall, Nevada.Torres del Paine, Chile.Columbia Gorge, Oregon.White Sands National Monument, New Mexico.Valley of Fire, Nevada.Columbia Gorge, Oregon.Snow in the Sonoran desert, Arizona.Abraham Lake, Alberta.

D800 + ND = Magenta cast

Images taken with heavy ND filters will occasionally show a strong magenta cast.  Almost all ND filters transmit some infrared wavelengths, and this IR light is one of the primary causes of the magenta cast.  At the same time, some digital camera sensors are more sensitive to IR than others, and in my experience the Nikon D800/D800E twins fall into this group.  However, for most situations there is a simple solution.

My favorite ND filter is the 7-stop Tiffen IRND 2.1 (which I think is an excellent bargain in terms of ND filters).  But even this filter, with has some IR control as part of its design, can result in magenta contamination.  Here’s a frame taken at the edge of a waterfall using this filter and my D800E, with the lens pointing almost straight down.  The resulting image is a worst case example.

 

The solution I’ve found:  close the camera’s eyepiece shutter.  No matter if mirror lockup is used, or the timer delay, or whatever…close the eyepiece shutter.  Under any circumstance, the D800/D800E cameras are very sensitive to light coming through the eyepiece, so closing the eyepiece whenever shooting from a tripod is a good idea.  In the above example, the eyepiece is open and positioned toward the sky.  Here’s another shot, same situation as the previous image, but with the eyepiece shutter closed.  Big difference.

 

Oldies

I’ve got an external hard drive I rarely access.  On that drive are files from years ago, some film scans dating back to the days of Photoshop 3, and images taken with a number of my earliest digital cameras.  A couple of days ago I was searching for an old photo, and ended up looking at those files.  I thought you might like to see some “ancient history,” a couple of images taken in 2004.

 

Wheat fields and elevator, Whitman County, Washington.
Nikon D100, Nikon 500mm lens.

Arctic tundra and frost, Denali National Park, Alaska.
Kodak SLR/n camera.

The Kodak SLR/n was a “high-megapixel” camera (13.5 megapixels) based on a modified Nikon N80 film camera body.  Not a very user friendly camera, it took Nikon lenses and was produced for only 15 months, from February 2004 until the end of May 2005.  Focal length metadata was not recorded by the camera, so I can only guess that this was shot with a Nikon 105mm macro.  Kodak also offered a version with a Canon lens mount, the SLR/c, although the body was based on a Sigma design.

Nikon D800 Action

I read this question time after time on Web forums:  “Can the Nikon D800 be used for wildlife photography?”  Well, why not?  Here are two full frame images taken last week during a short stop I made at Bosque del Apache.  Both images: D800E, Nikon 600mm, ISO400, early morning light.   FYI, I don’t have the extra battery pack for the camera so the motor drive rate is 4 frames/second.   Anyone else remember when 4 frames/second would have been considered pretty amazing?  Remember winding film with your thumb?

 

 

 

 

Frost

Here at my house we had great hoarfrost overnight.   I went out to photograph — I found these along a rural fenceline — but after about one hour it started to rain.  So much for the frost…but I made good use of that one hour.  Nikon D800E and 200mm Micro – a killer closeup combo.

 

 

 

 

PACKING

For me, 2013 has been a long-distance travel year.  A “short hop” this year has meant at least five or six hours in the air.  I’m really tired of the longer flights, but right now I’m in the midst of packing for another long flight.

Besides all the usual camera, clothes, and computer stuff, what do I take?  Here’s a list of some odds and ends, in no particular order:

  • A three-outlet electrical jack.  Even notice that most hotel rooms only have two outlets, one of which is generally located somewhere inaccessible under the bed?
  • If I’m traveling internationally, I carry a 120/220 volt power strip with a built–in surge protector and USB ports, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00B8B9ERK?psc=1.   Added to this are several of the necessary electrical plug adapters.
  • A short roll of electrical tape.  I also have multiple strips of gaffers tape stuck on the inside flaps of my camera pack.
  • A tube of super glue.
  • Brightly colored elastic hair bands (not for my use, since I’m really shy of hair on top, a subject which we don’t need to discuss).  These are a cheap and easy way to wrap cables and cords, and the bright colors help me find those cables when I drop some in a dimly lit room.
  • A small tool kit: a selection of allen wrenches (hex keys), small screwdrivers, plus an extra rubber ring that goes around the eyepiece on my camera (anyone else ever lose one of these?).
  • A couple of large rubber bands, great for getting a grip on stuck filters.
  • A Leatherman “Micra” tool.
  • About 15 feet of lightweight parachute cord.
  • Several binder clips, used to clamp things together.
  • A couple of mini-carabiners.
  • Several trash compactor bags, much stronger that standard plastic garbage bags.

I keep PDF versions of my camera manuals on both my smartphone and my Kindle.  I also have a flash card wallet filled with older cards that are now too small capacity for my day-to-day use.  This lives in my wheeled duffel, along with an extra card reader.  Not that I’m paranoid, but I imagine being at some remote location and losing my flash cards, or having my card reader die.  I would be saying words that most people would not want to hear.

 

RUN A TEST

I was recently in a photographic situation where high ISO was required.  I was shooting with a group, and I was asked as to the highest usable ISO.  My answer:  it  depends on several factors.

  1. Every camera has different high ISO liabilities.  What does your camera do?
  2. How much noise is acceptable to you?
  3. What are you going to do with your images?  Downsizing a file removes noise, so you can get away with a lot if all you’re going to do with the image is posting it to the Web.  Making large prints, however, is another matter.

I suggested that everyone run one simple test.  Mount the camera on a tripod, and shoot the exact same scene, changing the ISO by one stop between frames.  Since ISO values work in straight numerical doubles, this means simply doubling the ISO number every time: 400, 800, 1600, 3200, etc.  Open the resulting images, and decide for yourself what is acceptable. It doesn’t matter in the least what you actually photograph, as this is only a test.  Subject matter is no big deal.  You just need to know how far you can push the ISO and still get acceptable results.

Easy, right?  The next day we were, as expected, in the same situation where higher ISOs were needed.  I asked the group how many of them had run my suggested test, since we had known exactly what we were going to be photographing on the new day.  The answer: no one, none, nobody.

Folks, you gotta take some responsibility here.  You really need to run some tests, and testing some basic concepts is not difficult to do.  Just shoot some comparison frames.  Test IS/VR on and off, at both fast and slow shutter speeds.  Test for the lowest shutter speed you can handhold and get acceptable results.  Test long exposure noise reduction on and off.  Test TTL fill flash settings.  Don’t believe anything you read on the Web — including what I say — until you’re tested with your equipment, and your reasons for photographing, and your criteria for what is “good.”

An ISO test is so simple.  And once you’re shot those frames, you now have them to use in testing noise reduction methods.  Lightroom noise reduction only?  Noise reduction software (since free trial versions are available)?

Like I said, it doesn’t matter what you photograph.  Here’s a 1:1 crop from a shot I took in my garage.  Great image, huh?  But it would work fine as an ISO test.  And speaking of which, just what ISO was used?  Hint:  the camera was my Nikon D4.

 

1:1 crop of ISO test photo.

MAKING CHANGES

In a recent discussion with three other photographers, I commented that I’m constantly changing how my cameras function, depending on my subject matter at any one particular moment.  I was rather surprised when the others responded that they never did this.  All three said the only change their ever made was to the ISO in use.

To be honest, I was rather shocked.  Was I really the odd man out here?

So what changes do I make?  (Some of my answers are specific to my Nikons.)

ISO.  I certainly do change the ISO, especially when I need a faster shutter speed.  At times I turn on Auto-ISO, where the camera sets whatever ISO is needed to maintain my selected shutter speed/aperture combination.

MOTOR DRIVE RATE.  I use the fastest frame rate for critter work, single frame advance for everything else.

MIRROR LOCKUP.  “No” for moving subjects, “yes” for everything else.

METERING PATTERN.  Matrix (evaluative) most of the time, Spot for precise areas.

LCD BRIGHTNESS.  In bright sunlight, viewing the LCD is difficult.  I set the brightness as high as possible in that condition (which makes the LCD much easier to view) and lower the brightness when I’m not in bright sunlight.

THE IN-CAMERA TIME AND DATE.  I rename my files when I download, using YYMMDD at the beginning of the file name, which automatically organizes my files chronologically.  I change date and time as I travel, so that all the files match my itinerary.

EXPOSURE DELAY.  I use a remote release whenever possible, but often use the 3-second delay mode for totally static subjects (where I’m not trying to time lulls in the wind or other movement).

EXPOSURE MODE.  While most of the time I use Aperture Priority, I change to Manual exposure when I want to maintain a given exposure value.  For example, consider a dark bison in winter snow.  If the light is not changing, there is one correct exposure value.  But a fairly wide shot would be mostly white snow, while a tight shot would be mostly dark bison.  Any autoexposure mode would change the exposure depending on how much of the frame was light-toned or dark-toned, but manual exposure would be consistent.

CROP MODE ON MY D800E.  Full frame most of the time; 1.2X crop when I know I will be cropping a bit in post-processing (the smaller file size also gives a slightly faster frame rate, while making the buffer clear a tad quicker).

AF MODE.  I use single point AF for landscapes and static subjects (although generally I’ll also manually tweak focus).  For moving subjects, I almost always use 3D focus tracking, which automatically shifts the primary focus point to follow the movement of the subject.  This is my favorite action AF mode, as I can concentrate on composition and don’t have to keep an AF point centered on the subject.  If I switch from 3D AF, it’s to 21 point AF.  In this mode I have to select the primary AF point, which works best when I know exactly which way the subject will be moving across the frame.  I can’t imagine myself using the same AF mode for all my work.

So what do you do?

The Edge of Light

We photographers like to work early and late in the day.  For many people, getting up early – really early – is difficult (to say the least!).  Luckily, I’m pretty much a morning type person.  As far as I’m concerned, 9:00 PM is almost the middle of the night.

Here are three frames, taken a week ago, at about 5:00 AM.  These are from a small lake I’ve been working.  All three frames were shot from the same location, with my Nikon D4 handheld at ISO 1600, and the new Nikon 80-400mm lens.  Just in passing, I’m very impressed with this lens, to the point that I’m thinking about selling my Nikon 200-400mm f/4 if anyone’s interested.