Very Upper Arm

By Roger (13 Mar 2014)

While you're thinking of putting emotion and feeling into your photos, don't forget the stepchild of artistic attitudes – humor. As “serious” artists, we prefer to concentrate on “deeper and more meaningful” topics. OK, I'll buy that, but we don't have to confine ourselves to only those serious subjects. Photos that make you smile can, also, have deep and meaningful effects. How else can you explain all the inane kitten and puppy photos that clog the interwebs?

Humor can be a hard topic because there are so many interpretations of what is funny, and these vary from person to person and place to place. There are no guaranteed formulas to evoke laughter or even a chuckle. I've seen this in my own family. I consider myself to be riotously funny, but my children frequently just roll their eyes at my antics and jokes. I'm not sure why they are so challenged, but I'm pretty sure it's my wife's fault.

Animal photos are, indeed, very popular, but, really, are you laughing at the photo or the “witty” comments someone has appended to the photo? Maybe both? I don't find the photos that humorous, but that may be because I'm not a pet owner. I have taken an occasional photo of my children's pets in cute situations, but I'm not sure they qualify as humor. Would you consider this as funny?

One of the very few times this dog sat still during the entire Christmas holiday!

One of the very few times this dog sat still during the entire Christmas holiday!

Speaking of fuzzy, little animals, children are a great subject for humorous photos. They draw your viewer in with the cute factor and provoke a smile with some silly behavior. Usually, the child doesn't even know they're doing something funny; they're just being themselves. Those are my favorite shots to get.

She has no idea what she's doing, but she's watched her dad wander the beach with this thing.

She has no idea what she's doing, but she's watched her dad wander the beach with this thing.

He's not sure why everyone is so excited about this wedding ceremony.

He's not sure why everyone is so excited about this wedding ceremony.

Props can help you create a humorous shot. The props can be staged locations, as in the egg photo. There are probably a million similar shots to that one – heck, everybody in the county put a kid inside the egg and took a snapshot. But you don't care if that child belongs to your family. (And she does – you can tell that by how cute she is.)

The props might be perfectly natural to the scene you are shooting, but help to tell the humorous story, like the empty raft. Part of humor is timing, and I was really happy with the timing here.  I had made many shots at this small waterfall during the day, and I knew I could count on several people being dumped here.

Nantahala River, NC

Nantahala River, NC

Comparing this to that can be humorous. The man on the right is shorter than some, but certainly not tiny. However, he is standing next to Kevin McBride, who was a professional boxer (he knocked out Mike Tyson) and is a BIG man.

Harvard campus, Boston, MA

Harvard campus, Boston, MA

Look for things out of synch with the scene. Incongruity is always a winner.  This is a Texan, defending the Alamo. How in the world did they lose if they had that technology? Sam Houston must have missed that text.

At the Alamo, San Antonio, TX

At the Alamo, San Antonio, TX

I think it's harder for me to find humorous shots without people in them, but this one almost qualifies. When I was in the old historic section of Krakow, Poland, it was nigh impossible to find a parking spot. When I walked around the corner, I saw an open spot near a cathedral. As I looked up at the cathedral, I saw this image. The angels and saint, directly above the open spot. I laughed and took the shot.

Krakow, Poland

Krakow, Poland

Unless you're creating situations on purpose, you may have to look around to find humorous photographs; however, rest assured, they are out there. Be alert and look for them. They may not be the next masterpiece you print big, on canvas, and hang on your wall, but they keep the fun in photography. That's why I do this stuff.

*** If you're still trying to figure out the strange title of this blog, go to Google, and look up the name of the bone in your upper arm. ;-)

Back to Basics

By Roger (20 Feb 2014)

It's been a while since we blogged with some basic tips, and it's easy to get caught up in certain aspects of photography and forget or disregard them. Going back to the basics can often help you fix problems you're having. So, here are a few basics to keep in mind.

First and foremost, read your owner's manual. You might think this is a no-brainer, but many photographers blow right by this step. You should know how your camera works. Period. Most camera companies have apps that make it possible for you to carry a copy of their manual on your phone or tablet. I'm not going to tell you I sit around reading my manual on Friday nights for some light entertainment, but I review it frequently, especially the capabilities that I don't use all the time.

Unless you're four years old, there is no excuse for not reading the camera manual before you go out.

Unless you're four years old, there is no excuse for not reading the camera manual before you go out.

Once you've read the manual, learn all the buttons and dials on your camera. You should be able to find all of them with your eyes closed. When your muscle memory handles the settings, you can concentrate your effort on creativity, instead of taking your eyes away from your subject to figure out which way to turn your dials. This can make the difference in getting the shot or missing it.

When the green flag flies, you have to know how your camera works.

When the green flag flies, you have to know how your camera works.

Now, that you've got the camera figured out, it's time to learn your menu system. You can fine tune your camera's features in there. Set your custom white balance; photo resolution; and, how your memory cards will operate. Remember, there is a small computer inside your digital cameras. Have you got the latest firmware installed? Check your manufacture's website and verify your version in the menu.

I always set my cameras on the highest resolution available (Raw for me). I see no reason to do any of the lower resolutions since I can export my files at lower resolutions as needed. My camera has two memory cards, so I set the second card as a backup. I've never had a card go bad on me, but that doesn't mean I should get careless. I would rather have a backup than use the second card for more photos.

Don't forget your camera's comfort features. Those photographers with imperfect eyesight should set the diopters in your viewfinder to avoid using glasses. In my menus, I use the option to insert my name into the metadata of every photo I take. If your menu system has the option of setting up a favorites page, do it. I use this for my most frequently changed options, so I don't have to go through several different menu pages to get where I want to be. I keep my camera's clock on this page. I want to ensure my watch and camera clock are synchronized. When I'm shooting people I don't know, I give them a card with the time from my watch, so they can request a copy of the photo. Not everyone asks for one, but, if they do, I can easily find their file in my photo stream.

If any of these guys had slowed down and asked for a copy of the photo, I could have given them my card with a synchronized time.  ;-)

If any of these guys had slowed down and asked for a copy of the photo, I could have given them my card with a synchronized time.  ;-)

As I said earlier, with everything in its place, I don't worry about the camera anymore. If I miss a shot, it almost always means I can see the problem when I look in the mirror. Man, I hate it when that happens. So, get your basics down, and go have some fun making photographs.

Camera Sharp

By Roger  (7 Nov 2013)

While Mark is blogging about sharpness in post-processing, I thought this might be a good time to remind you about things you can do, before post-processing, to ensure your photos start at peak sharpness.  We're not talking about poor focus or shallow depth of field – that is a different, if related, topic. We're talking about getting the best you can from your equipment. Rather than go into the science of lens and sensor resolution, I will concentrate on techniques to improve your results before you move into your software.

If you look at photography every day, one of the first things you notice is whether or not the photo is sharp.  A non-photographer viewer may not consciously be aware of why one photo looks better than another, but, in a side-by-side comparison, they will almost always say the sharper photo is the “better” one. Too many photographers have loose standards on sharpness, and this degrades the quality and effectiveness of their photographs. Therefore, as a discriminator, sharpness can make your photos “better” than the norm.

Let's start with the easiest way to improve the sharpness in your photography – buy and use a good tripod. A tripod provides a stable base for your camera and eliminates the most common problem of camera shake.  Monopods are useful when tripods are not practical or allowed (most museums, for example). There are a million reasons photographers don't follow this advice, but the fact remains that the tripod is a great tool for ensuring sharp images.

Please don't go out and buy a flimsy tripod that costs only $10.  It won't properly hold your gear steady; you'll hate it; and you'll leave it behind.  Short-sighted photographers will buy several tripods, in succession, each costing a little more than the last, before they surrender and buy a quality tripod.  A good tripod costs more upfront but will never need to be replaced.  I like the carbon fiber ones that are lighter; don't transmit cold or heat; and don't rust.  When you use a tripod and cable/remote release, you're already doing more than most photographers to ensure your photos are sharp.

Use a tripod and cable release for sharper photographs. 

Use a tripod and cable release for sharper photographs. 

 When you aren't using a tripod, use the proper camera holding technique.  I first learned steady hold techniques in the military when "shooting" meant using a weapon.  The basics are identical.  You should grip with your right hand and support with your left, keeping your arms as close to your body as possible; this will keep you steady.  I won't buy a compact camera without a viewfinder.  Watch as most people try to compose their photo on the LCD panel, with their arms out in front of them, and you can see how unstable this process can be.  Joe McNally has a great demonstration of the proper way to do this on YouTube (link).

This is not the stance you want to take for sharp photographs. 

This is not the stance you want to take for sharp photographs. 

Camera settings can also be helpful.  The higher the speed, the more likely you are to achieve sharpness, especially when hand-holding the camera.  There is simply less time for any camera shake to impact your sharpness.  A good rule of thumb, when you are off the tripod, is to keep your shutter speed above 1/125.  When you have a zoom lens, use the focal length as a guide for shutter speed. So, if you're using a 70-200mm zoom, set the shutter speed faster than 1/200 of a second.  You should use manual mode or shutter priority if you know know you need to be at a certain shutter speed to freeze all motion.

I used a very fast shutter speed to freeze the galloping horse and the flying dirt and grass at the Montpelier Hunt Races. 

I used a very fast shutter speed to freeze the galloping horse and the flying dirt and grass at the Montpelier Hunt Races. 

Don't forget you can use a higher ISO setting to further increase the available shutter speed for your camera.  Newer cameras don't even begin to show noise until you start pushing your ISO to 1600.  As always, you have to make the compromises between shutter speed, lens aperture, and ISO.  If your only decision is for sharpness, I'd make the adjustments in that order.

Finally, here is something that may be a little controversial to some folks.  I never put protective filters on my lenses.  Those UV or haze filters were pushed back in the film days to reduce a color cast on the film, and I never bought that story back then, either.  With today's post-processing, you can eliminate any color cast in about two seconds.  The only filters I will use are polarizing or neutral density filters, and those are removed right after I use them.  The filters most people buy are poor quality glass, or, sometimes, plastic.  Why would you want to put that on the front of your expensive lens?  High quality filters, made of optical quality glass, cost well over $150.  I've seen them priced as high as $300.  Is that what you bought for your lens or did you pay less than $50 for a filter, based on the advice of a guy who profits greatly from its sale?

Yes, I know what that guy at the camera store said when you bought the lens, “It will protect your lens.”  A lens hood will protect the front element just as well.  In 35 years, I've never scratched a lens.  Here is the sad tale of the only time my camera and lens hit the marble floor (link). A filter would not have protected the lens, and the elements weren't damaged.  You decide for yourself, but filters – especially cheap ones – can interfere with the sharpness of your photos.

Of course, all this assumes your aim is to create photographs with the maximum sharpness.  There are times that maximum sharpness may not be desired.  You may want to depict speed with motion blur.  Or, maybe, your goal is to create an ethereal world of esoteric blur for your art.  OK, go for it.  You should, still, understand all the factors to increase sharpness, but only you can determine which ones you'll use the next time you press the shutter.

There are times for less-than-sharp photos. 

There are times for less-than-sharp photos. 

Riding the Stupid Train

I'm not tolerant of stupid people. That's not a political statement; I'm just admitting to being prejudiced against them. The only thing that aggravates me more than stupid people is when I become one of them. For some unknown reason, I join their ranks waaaay too often. That really gets me riled.

My latest journey on the “Stupid Train” came while I was on my trip to Poland. For the first time in 35 years, I seriously damaged my photography equipment and ruined my consistent record of good behavior. My camera was ripped off a perfectly stable table and collided with an equally stable floor. Both the camera and lens, immediately, became heavy lumps of metal and glass, incapable of rendering photographs. Apparently, you shouldn't leave your camera strap dangling over the edge of the table where legs and feet can become entangled.

I know you can't tell from the calm words above, but I was very unhappy about the whole affair – still am.

So, let me set the scene. If this was a movie, it would begin with a beautiful sunrise. It was a Thursday, in a foreign land. I got up early to photograph the main square in Poznan, while the light was pretty. I wanted to shoot some architectural details before it got too crowded. Lots of folks were out early because it was a national holiday. Everything was swell, but the background music was becoming ominous.

Poznan, PolandI came back to the Hotel Brovaria for breakfast, camera safely in its bag and on the floor. I had a pleasant conversation with a Brit photographer, also on holiday, and went upstairs to download and backup the morning's catch. (I didn't hear the background music growing darker.)

Hotel Brovaria, Poznan, PolandWith the camera out of the bag, placed on the earlier-mentioned table, so I could extract the memory cards, I set to work. Turning in the computer chair to replace the cards, post download, my foot snagged the camera strap. The movie goes to slow-motion as the strap goes taut and pulls the camera inextricably towards the stone floor. The movie speeds up, and camera and lens hit the floor. I scream like some little kid who just watched his puppy get hit by a car; clutch my chest; and fade to darkness, dead to a heart attack.

OK, maybe I'm being a bit over dramatic. Did I mention it was a holiday, so all stores were closed? And the wedding ceremony that was the catalyst for my trip was the very next day? And because of airline weight restrictions and my over confidence from never damaging gear meant I didn't have a backup camera? I believe some drama on my part was appropriate.

Broken 70-200mm lens

Of course, there is a commercial in my movie. Picture a dignified photographer explaining how to protect yourself from the financial ruin of this situation: “This is why we have insurance. You have insured your gear, right?”

You may be covered by your home-owner's insurance, but you should check. Those policies can be restrictive and tend to pay at depreciated rates. I needed to open a separate, high value policy to cover my gear. It has no deductible and is a replacement policy. Prices on these policies vary wildly, so do some research before you settle on a particular company.

The policy requirements have an additional advantage; they require you to list the serial numbers and value of all your equipment. You should have that handy any way, but most people don't think about this until their gear is stolen or damaged. You may be surprised by how much you're carrying around in your camera bag. (And don't forget to list your camera bags, too.)

Bonus tip: Don't let your spouse see the total value unless they are also into photography. ;-)

The movie did have a happy ending. The wedding began at 3 p.m., so, at 9 a.m., I was at the closest store with camera gear – the Polish version of Best Buy. I grabbed the best Nikon they had in stock, a D5200. I bought an extra battery and some SD chips. I drove back to the venue; charged the batteries; and practiced holding the camera (it is really small compared to my normal cameras). The D5200 doesn't have the features and speed of my D4, but the photos are just fine. Obviously, my other Nikon lenses were compatible. I just had to adapt to the cropped sensor.

wedding detail photographThe moral of the story is: Don't let your camera strap dangle off the table, and insure your gear. My 70-200 lens is already repaired and back in my bag. Nikon is just about finished repairing the camera, and I should have it back, this week, before I leave for the Gettysburg for the re-enactments.

If you're looking for a brand new Nikon D5200, with 17-55 mm kits lens, drop me an email. Such a deal I have for you.... I promise I wasn't using this camera during my latest ride on the Stupid Train.